WINESLACKER..the lazy drinker's guide. Another 'slacker yammering on about drinking.

March 21, 2010

Food and Wine Along the Way II…

Filed under: California,Justin Winery,Monte Bello,Restaurants,Santa Cruz Mountains — Dex Wineslacker @ 1:05 am

Restaurants of quality seem to radiate from the mothership of San Francisco.  The best of them, of course, feature a wine list including wine from one of the great wine producing areas of the world, California.  The Wineslacker and Lovely Companion dropped their back packs in Los Gatos, the night before the journey up the hill to Ridge, hit the local Trader Joes for provisions and sought out a local eatery that looked like it had a wine list.  They settled on the lively looking ViVa! (their exclamation point).  Bright, modern decor and a very well attended bar, they settled in for some Mediterranean cuisine and a local glass o’ supt’n.  They ended up sharing, as the ‘slacker IS a giver, a cracker crust Tuscan pizza and a fabulous butter-nut squash soup.  The ‘slacker ordering up a glass of Downhill’s “Susannah’s” Barbera, 2007 and the Delightful Traveling Companion, a Ventana, Monterey County Riesling, 2008.  The Downhill Barbera, a Los Gatos winery, turned out to be a light, fruity, very drinkable and enjoyable Barbera, one of the underestimated, more successful Italian varietals to translate to California.  The ‘slacker rarely meets a Barbera that he doesn’t like. The Ventana Riesling was excellent; fruity but not cloying, full of flavor but with great mouth feel: great examples of superior wine making from wineries practically in the neighborhood of the restaurant.

ViVa actually has a wide ranging wine list, with excellent examples of the local craft, including 36 wines by the glass, from a reasonable $6.50 a glass to $17 (for a Steele, “Stymie” Merlot, Lake County, ’06, you’re moderately better off to get the bottle for their price of $68).  Now, buying by the glass is like buying your morning coffee at Starbucks (ok, not THAT expensive).  However, if you’re like the ‘slacker, despite his shaky reputation, ya pretty much sticks to one or two glasses a meal.  So, you probably don’t need a bottle unless you have at least 4 people at the table, all of whom want the same wine. Buying wine by the glass allows for greater flexibility in your wine choice and a chance, if you’re friendly (and not suffering a transmittable disease), to taste at least two wines at an affordable price.

To get back to ViVa’s wine list, they include outstanding wines from the area including Rombauer, Fogarty, Steele, Kathryn Kennedy, Sarah’s Vineyard, Creekview, Downhill, around the corner, Justin, from Paso Robles, Bernardus, from Monterey, Storrs, from Santa Cruz Mountains, Heller Estate, from Carmel and other great choices, including a limited, but happy, selection of sparklers, including Dom Perignon, if you must splurge.

On the Southwest Rail at Nepenthe

Next time, the Wineslacker covers two classic restaurants in the Big Sur wilderness, one of which has been in business, under the same ownership, for over sixty (60) years. It’s older than the Wineslacker!

March 5, 2010

California Wine, Outside of Napa.

Filed under: Cabernet Sauvignon,Monte Bello,Ridge Wines,Santa Cruz Mountains,Zinfandel — Dex Wineslacker @ 2:00 am

The Unassuming Entrance to Ridge, Monte Bello

The most important thing the Wineslacker learned during his leisurely swing through coastal California last month is that this big bad recession is pounding the wine business just like it is almost every other business.  And the worst hit are those small individual wineries that are providing the most distinctive and interesting wines.  These small wineries are  not just run by rich guys that get a big tax write off when they lose money, but by men and women driven by their love of an ancient and excellent product and their fascination with the transformation of one of the world’s most interesting fruits into a long lived, delicious, interesting beverage that just happens to boost one’s enjoyment of friends, food and shared pleasure.  We, the dedicated fans of the product of their hard work and vision, need to step up and support these splendid individuals in their endeavors.  If they fade away because they can’t sell enough wine to feed their families and buy their equipment and supplies, we, wine lovers of the world, will be the poorer.  Get out there! Meet these wine makers! Get on the web and explore.  Go to Google Maps and put in “wineries near….[your address] and you’ll be surprised!  Spend some money, get some interesting wine that your wine buddies may never have heard of and keep some hard working wine maker going!  We’ll all benefit!


Ridge Winery, Santa Cruz Mountains

This year’s run to the Bay area and back, as usual business and pleasure, ran more to pleasure than business and included visits to two different wineries.  Different in so many ways. These wineries represented some of the great individuals of the California scene. Not just they as individuals, but the capital I individuals that really make the wine scene so interesting.  The first visit was to long time icon Paul Draper’s mountain top domain, Ridge, Monte Bello.  Established in 1885 by an Italian doctor from San Francisco, Osea Perrone, this is wine making with history. The good doctor ran a family operation, as pictures show, with great gusto and zeal, like many European transplants did in those days.  They were making wine as a necessity; wine for dinner, wine for families to enjoy with celebrations and festivals.  Wine as a part of the exuberance of life.  The vineyards went into disuse with time and eventually the disastrous prohibition era.  Interestingly, the vineyards and winery were eventually restored by a small group of Stanford engineers, who bought the property in the 1950s. Paul Draper, a self-taught winemaker with experience in France and Italy and from a wine producing experiment in Chile with his school chum, Fritz Maytag (of  Anchor Steam and Maytag Blue Cheese fame), was hired and in 1972 won 5th place at the now legendary Judgment of Paris, where California proved itself to be a player in world class wine.  The wine he made was Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon. Not being able to make enough Monte Bello Cab to keep the winery going, he turned to Zinfindel and became the first real champion of high end Zin.  Paul has kept to a vision of wine that has utilized high technology while staying true to the idea of terroir, the taste unique to the individual vineyard.  His vision has a hard core of long time customers and admirers, and his ability to stay to this vision is from the long time support of owner Otsuka Pharmaceuticals in Japan.  This ownership model has protected Paul Draper’s vision of wine from the the drift of public tastes and the temptation of marketers to cater to the lowest common denominator. Never the less one can’t imagine that the raw wind of economic disaster which has affected much of the high-end cult wines hasn’t affected Ridge, whose signature Monte Bello runs well over $100 a bottle.

The ‘slacker and his constant companion were knocked out by the beautiful winding drive up the hills from Los Gatos on Monte Bello Drive (you drive past the historic Jimsomare Vineyards where some of Ridge’s historic Cabs came from).  We were equally dazzled by the friendly reception by Hospitality Rep, Sara Teeter, who’s down to earth and good humored nature put us at ease immediately.  The grounds and the buildings at Ridge make you feel at comfortable and give you the feeling that you’ve arrived at what must be the genuine article; a wine maker’s home.  A simple Western American farm.  OK.  Not so simple.  But, a working winery without the glitz and garbage trinkets of so damn many “Wine Store” wineries.  The Sophisticated Companion and the ‘Slacker have been to wineries large and small, from the Vatican style to a simple mobile home tasting room, and they can tell you this was a memorable stop.  Sara gave us a quick history of the winery and showed us some great, vintage pictures of the earliest days of the winery.  She started pouring Ridge’s Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay and went through several of the current Zinfandels, including Lytton Springs, York Creek, Geyserville, Pagani Ranch (the ‘Slacker’s personal fav) on through some vintage Monte Bello’s opened the night before and finishing up with a gorgeous 2006 Monte Bello.  She pointed us up the hill to see more Ridge vineyards and at the crest of the hill, the Monte Bello crush pad, where an Italian-American doctor started crushing grapes over 120 years ago.  Sara also graciously mapped out other wineries of note and a group of restaurants with great food and great wine.  By the time the Wineslacker and Gallant Traveling Companion left, we felt we’d dipped deeply into California wine history as well as made a new friend. You can learn more about Ridge, other important California wine makers and the history of Zinfandel in California in what the ‘Slacker still considers one of the great books on California wine, David Darlington’s Zin, the History and Mystery of Zinfandel, from De Capo Press, 1991.

Regretfully, the ‘Slacker traveled on, but with his Happy Companion he soon immersed himself in the recently drenched beauty of highway 101 as it rises into San Francisco from the South, motored grandly over the Golden Gate Bridge and on into the Redwood forests.  More to come…

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