Showing posts tagged wine
I’m currently decanting a 2004 Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine Chateauneuf-Du-Pape. This bottle was a gift I’ve been saving for a special occasion. Or one special enough. I just needed a reason to open it. Can’t wait, I’ve loved every one I’ve had the pleasure of tasting.
I’ve been to Avignon in the heart of the Rhone valley and toured vineyards with CDP wines. The standards to be a CDP are very high so you are in for a treat!
The Santa Maria Valley – My Favorite LA Getaway
Los Angelians often brag that one of the perks of living in Lala land is that you can ski in the morning and feel the warmth of the sun setting on the beach all in the same day…if you want to (no one ever does). The sentiment serves to show our variety of getaways. Whatever you love – sun, surf, sand, sailing, fishing, hiking, drinking, golfing – we have it all within a stones’ throw of our home. So when I tell you a two day trip to Santa Ynez is my favorite local vacation that means it’s more than just a wine and dine experience.
Made famous by the movie Sideways, The Santa Maria Valley, which lies just north of Santa Barbara, is literally about two hours from your doorstep. But let’s not use the scenes from the movie to paint our picture. In my opinion, aside from the gorgeous rolling hills used as a backdrop for the mens’ excursion, the movie doesn’t depict the culture you’ll find in the wine region at all. You can mimic their motel, grape gustling experience if you’d like, but I’d suggest staying at one of the beautiful inns, visiting the vineyards to hear the history of each label, and discovering world-renowned chefs who offer their cuisine in the comfort of a historic home. Sounds wonderful and it won’t break your bank. Want to hear more…
Below I offer a guide for the wine enthusiast, the outdoorsman, and everyone else in between.
Everything you’re about to read involves you being as comfortable as possible. Don’t pack heels, forget the blazers. All you’ll need is a t-shirt and shorts for the day and a button-down and blouse (if that) to pair with jeans. The area couldn’t be more laid back.
Now that that’s out of the way…..
THE MAP IS EASY
To get there, you’ll take the 101 North for a lovely drive up the coast. Two hours later, bam, they’re pouring you a glass of Pinot.
In the area are three tee-nincy towns: Santa Ynez is the smallest, Solvang is modeled on a Danish theme complete with windmill, and in Los Olivos you’ll find cute stores and fairs. All three less than five minutes away from each other so you will probably hit all three easily.
The vineyards (and an Indian casino I don’t recommend) reside in the coutryside surrounding the area. You can either hire a driver through your hotel/inn/motel, or safely visit a few without driving your car into the pasture.
WHERE TO REST YOUR HEAD
I have traveled the world and hands down The Santa Ynez Inn offers one of my favorite hospitality experiences. Since college I have been enjoying their establishment that looks luxurious, feels like home, and has a small staff attending to my every need. The antique décor is traditional and plush while the amenities in such a small spot will blow your socks off. Within your room you can sink into a large bed made with Frette linens, sip wine by the fire, rinse off the day in a marble shower or full-sized Jacuzzi tub, or relax in the steam shower. I know it sounds amazing, but you won’t want to stay in there all day long. Every day at five they offer local wines by the fire in the living room where you can meet other guests who have yet to let me down with their stories. You’ll dine in the same space in the morning for their complimentary breakfast that offers two distinct plates of deliciousness (my favorite being the banana pancakes and the cheddar quiche). In my opinion the Inn is part of the Santa Ynez experience worth every penny. My rates have ranged from $200 - $350 a night depending on the room.
There are other beautiful places to stay, but I have not wanted to venture elsewhere. The Fess Parker in Los Olivos is one of the other acclaimed Inns in the area with comprable rates.
If you’re looking for something a little less expensive, there are plenty available. The Inn is part of the vacay for me, but most would rather see more outside than indoors. You really can’t go wrong in the area.
ENJOYING THE GRAPES
MY two favorite brands of wine only offer tours of their vineyards by appointment, which I have yet to make because they have tasting rooms in town. You can find Au Bon Climat at Tastes of The Valley in Solvang and Byron at The Bench in Los Olivos.
Other than that, I can’t say there is a bad vineyard to visit. They are all beautiful and boast expansive views of the region. I’m a fan of Zaca Masa because of their Chardonnay and Vigonier, Firestone (as in Andrew Firestone) has a beautiful property, not only offers substantial wine, but also a great selevtion of grapeseed oil that I love to cook with.
If you travel up Foxen Canyon Road you can hit a lot of the bigger names in one swoop. Once you pass Los Olivos, you will hit Firestone, Curtis, Koehler, Fess Parker, Zaca Mesa, and finally end up a little further down at Foxen.
I would also suggest Rusack and Rideau because they are easy to access and offer great tastings.
Grab some cheese and crackers from the local market so you can spread out a picnic when you’re tummy starts to grumble during one of your tastings.
And don’t forget to stop off at a roadside tasting, like good BBQ, sometimes you’ll be surprised you’ll find your favorite where you would least expect it.
If you only want to explore the countryside via vineyard for one day, there are other ways to explore on your second day. You can stroll through the towns, possibly catch a local fair full of local artists and vendors. Horseback riding, cycling, and paragliding are also nearby. On my most recent visit, I went paragliding over a rolling hill that overlooked the ocean. I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not at all scary or dangerous. You don’t even have to leave the ground to enjoy the glide and get a pretty good workout.
NOW IT’S TIME TO WINE AND DINE
What goes better with wine than food! Some of the world’s best culinary talents have opened establishments in small houses to create an intimate dining experience based on the local farms.
As one local told me, “the prices are all the same, you just have to decide what you’re looking for.”
The fan favorite restaurant of tourists and locals is The Ballard Inn. Don’t be scared off by formal menu, the food is approachable and you don’t have change into slacks.
Other places you should consider:
Now if you’re lucky, you’ve brought along your love and you’ll top this all off with great sex. What? It’s a romantic trip in my mind, but I have also visited with a group and my Mom, so it’s really open to everyone. You’ll see students from UCSB chatting up retired couples. There is no one too old, too young, too trendy, too broke, who can’t find something they love in The Santa Ynez Valley.
For more info, check out the region’s website.
Now pack up a duffel and hit the road!
(**Full Disclosure - “Friend” discount was given for my room at The Santa Ynez Inn because I have been coming for years. I was happy to translate that into a media discount and write about one of my favorite places in the USA. All tastings, meals, andexcursions were paid in full.)
Good fruit with soft tannins, this Italian blend is a welcome change to a Pinot Noir. If you’re craving a Malbec, but don’t want a Malbec, this is going to be too tannic and earthy for you. Just opt for a pinot.
As I type (at 10:18pm) my tongue is still salivating after each sip, but in a good way. The kick pairs well with the sugar in my chocolate cake :)
I picked up this bottle at Cova, a great wine bar off Washington, on my way home from benjy’s on a whim. I thought the selection would be out of my price range, so I was oh-so-pleased when they suggested an “amazing red” for $14.99. I found it for you here for $8.99. You’re welcome!
House of Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand)
A friend of mine brought this bottle of wine over a few days ago. The empty bottle is still hanging around because I want to find more! We really enjoyed it.
It is a medium bodied Sauv Blanc that isn’t too sweet. Good fruit flavors and a little buttery. Quite lovely in our opinion.
I’m still on the hunt to find it locally (I honestly haven’t checked around yet), but here’s where you can get it online. In this case, I’m sure the year doesn’t matter, it’s one of those solid, affordable buys that always tastes good.
I wish I could say the girls and I are SUPER SPECIAL for being able to taste wine with Gary. Turns out, he pretty much does the same thing with all of his fans every month! If you’re looking to learn more about wine and have fun doing it, join Gary’s wine club. There are 3 different levels/price points… I’ll let him explain. Watch the video.