Sourdough, Memorial Day Weekend, Wine

Lori’s sourdough loaf.

Lori has been working on her sourdough starter, just like everyone else in the Bay Area, California and the world.  She calls her starter “Seymour”.  Technically it should be called Audrey II, but everyone remembers the name Seymour, and the line “Feed me!”, and so the starter became Seymour.  (The only other thing you remember from Little Shop of Horrors is Steve Martin as the dentist.) 

The key to enjoying sourdough, though, is not the starter, it’s what you do with the starter.  Sure, anyone can make a loaf of bread.  Almost anyone; I couldn’t.  But what about dinner rolls, which can conveniently become slider buns?  What about sourdough pancakes and waffles?  (Shout out to our friend Marybeth Binder who made the glass mosaic custom backsplash for our stove when we renovated the kitchen a couple of years ago.)  Personal opinion is that the blueberry sourdough waffles were much better than the pancakes. The crunchy and soft of the waffles just worked.

For the sliders, I worked from another recipe from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.  It was modified to half ground chicken, half ground beef, with grated zucchini, diced onions, minced garlic and jalapenos added in, plus spices like cumin.  Then there was a yogurt sauce, with lemon zest and juice, and sumac.  Really good; might not ever make a conventional hamburger again.  We paired that with a bottle of 2017 St. Anne’s Crossing Primativo, Sonoma Valley, Shumahi Vineyard.  Great dinner. 

Pink Pinot Noir for Memorial Day barbeque.
Lori practicing 6 foot social distancing in our backyard.

The sourdough blueberry waffles were brunch on Memorial Day.  For dinner, a social distancing dinner in our backyard with kids and grandkids, we did a simple chicken barbeque with corn on the cob and a salad.  It was a warm day, and roses were the order of the day.  We opened two roses of Pinot Noir, one the 2017 from Balletto Vineyards, the other the 2018 Lazy Creek Vineyards (now owned by Ferrari Carano).  Both were quite nice, and had more body and bite than usual for rose of Pinot Noir.   

2015 FEL (Cliff Lede) Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley: delicious.

Last, but certainly not least, was the bottle of 2015 FEL Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, that we opened Saturday with dinner.  We didn’t cook, but supported one of our local restaurants and brought in dinner from Valette.  Great restaurant in Healdsburg, when you get a chance to travel to the wine country again.  FEL is the second label from Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa (named from Cliff’s mother’s initials), which we visited about 3 years ago, just after the 2017 Tubbs Fire.  This was a really nice Pinot Noir when we visited, and even better now.  A great example of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. 

L’Chaim,

Larry

Smoked Sausage and Lentil Stew with Pinot Noir

Here’s a nice easy recipe for our busy days staying at home.  It takes a little bit of preparation in sautéing the onions, carrots and celery, but really the prep work takes less than 30 minutes.  Then into the crock pot, and don’t think about it for 7-8 hours.  When ready, open a bottle of wine (no shortage of wine in our house), and enjoy your dinner!  The recipe is here

2014 Luminous Hills Estate Grown Pinot Noir, Oregon, Yamhill-Carlton

For the stew, I opened the wine fridge and grabbed a bottle of 2014 Luminous Hills Estate Grown Pinot Noir, Oregon, Yamhill-Carlton.  We visited Luminous Hills sister winery, Seven of Hearts, about 3 ½ years ago, and wrote about that fun visit.  That trip was my first time spending a long weekend tasting Oregon Pinot Noir, and I loved it.  The Luminous Hills Pinot was one of our favorites, with a really nice balance to it when we first tasted, and again when we opened the other night with the stew.  Not overly fruity, but a good balance between the fruit and the acid, slightly lighter body, with a bit of earthiness to it.  It showed well with the stew, or the stew showed well with the wine, or they both paired quite well, depending on your point of view. 

Pepé providing writing help.

I occasionally get a bit of writing help from our kitten, Pepé (black and white and named in honor of Pepé Le Pew, my father’s favorite cartoon character).  Here you can see him looking over my shoulder checking my work. 

L’Chaim,

Larry

Wine, Food and Shelter-in-Place

Thank you to The Princess Bride.

Sometimes a movie will have the exact message for the time we’re in.  The Princess Bride gives us the Pit of Despair, but it also gives us hope in a few ways.  (“He’s only mostly dead,” comes to mind.)  And the good guys do win in the end, exacting their revenge, the romantic leads coming together and riding off into the sunset.  So I hope everyone is doing well; stay safe! 

Lori and Rigel at the top of Foothill Regional Park, after she broke her wing, before shelter-in-place.

This shelter-in-place thing has been complicated by the fact that Lori broke her arm (two places, elbow and wrist) just before shelter-in-place went into effect in our area.  Also, Lori has allergies and asthma, both of which place her in a higher risk category with COVID-19.  Combined together it means I’ve been doing the shopping and cooking.  Not crazy about doing the shopping, but I’m having fun cooking.  It’s been interesting also because we’re finding new ways to use leftovers.  Have to use the leftovers; don’t want to waste food at this time, or really any time.  One of our favorites is to use the leftover vegetables in a frittata.  There’s a nice recipe on our website here, just keep the eggs and cheese and change the ingredients to whatever is in the refrigerator. 

Wine has been going well too.  We may not have 3 months of food in the house, but we’ve got more than 3 years worth of wine.  There’s also been a special event, as I had a birthday recently.  Here are some of our recent meal highlights: 

Star Lane Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon “Roots”, Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara County

Lamb Tagine Smothered in Onions, with Star Lane Vineyard 2011 Happy Canyon (Santa Barbara) Cabernet Sauvignon “Roots”.  The lamb shanks slow cook in one pan, the onions slow cook in another pan, then they come together for an hour in the oven.  Melts in your mouth.  Add a really nice Cab, and it’s a great dinner.  Also had artichokes with this meal, as it’s Spring and artichokes are fresh and selling for 2 for $3 at the local Oliver’s Market.

By the way, the lamb shank bones made a great stock for a soup, adding lentils, beans, rice and some vegetables. Very hearty soup, and very good with the rest of the Star Lane Roots.

Soquel Vineyards 2013 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, Lester Family Vineyard, Partners’ Reserve

Falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, tzatziki and cucumber, with Soquel Vineyards 2013 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, Partners’ Reserve.  Homemade everything except the pita bread, and it was wonderful.  Soquel Vineyards has been a favorite Pinot Noir of ours for 20 years now, and this bottle reminded us of how good their wines are, and how good a Pinot Noir can be. 

Martorana Family Wines 2016 Mozzafiato, Dry Creek Valley, a wonderful red blend.

Neighborhood wine party:  Maybe shouldn’t have done it, but needed to see and talk to and share stories with other people.  So we organized a small get together with two other couples (the next two houses), used one of their patios, brought our own wine and stayed 6 feet apart.  Religiously.  Went in the side gate, not through their house.  Drank a lot of wine, which felt pretty darn good that evening.  In this case, we were drinking a Martorana Family Winery 2016 Mozzafiato, a Dry Creek Valley blend.  Pretty sure Zinfandel was the main component, but likely it had a few other grapes hanging out; couldn’t find the exact blend.  Really nice. 

Tres Sabores 2013 Zinfandel, Rutherford Estate, Napa Valley

Not everything we’re cooking is gourmet. The Tres Sabores 2013 Zinfandel, from their Rutherford Estate in Napa Valley, was opened for a dinner of sloppy joes. OK, we made up our own spice mix, and we used a combination of bulk sausage and ground chicken instead of ground beef, but it was still sloppy joes. Darn good comfort food, with a darn good wine.

While we hope this is over soon, we’re hoping even more for the health and safety of our family, friends, community, country and world.  This isn’t an abstract 6-degrees-of-separation thing for us, as we know at least one person that’s been hospitalized and put on a ventilator.  Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones. 

L’Chaim,

Larry

Winter Wine Tasting

The remains of Soda Rock Winery’s main building.

We had some friends visiting us last week, and as we like to do with visitors, we took them wine tasting. This was winter wine tasting, with gloomy skies and temperature not much warmer than 50 F.  We didn’t let the weather slow us down.

So sad: Soda Rock Winery.

We started off at Soda Rock Winery; thought we should support them after the damage they took in the Kincade fire a few months back.  Soda Rock had one of the most memorable buildings in Sonoma County, but the fire took care of that.  The brick front and the wild boar statue are still standing, as is their barn-like building. The rest is gone, with just twisted metal and ash still remaining.  They’ve moved their tasting into the barn, added some space heaters and some lights, and it’s like they’re a startup winery with the tasting being done in the barrel room.  

Soda Rock’s “new” tasting room.

Soda Rock is in the Alexander Valley, and as such focuses on the Bordeaux varietals that grow best in that area.  We tasted through wines that employed the five primary grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. The single varietal wines and the blends were quite good, and the help in the tasting room was great. Knocked down by the fire, but Soda Rock is roaring back.

From there we went to Healdsburg, and had lunch at an old favorite, El Farolito. Great food, an impressive collection of Tequilas, and the ability to make those into great margaritas. However, there was another winery to go, so we held off on the hard stuff.

The entrance to Leo Steen Wines.

It was a short trip within Healdsburg to Leo Steen Wines, located not on the square but in the southeastern part of the town near the Russian River. Leo Hansen, the proprietor of Leo Steen Wines, joined us for the tasting. He has an interesting perspective on wines, wanting to make unique wines at reasonable prices (less than $35 per bottle). It’s also a nice place to sit and relax and taste. We spent about 1 1/2 hours there enjoying the wines and ambiance and good company.

Interesting art and decor inside the Leo Steen tasting room.

In particular, he is focusing on Chenin Blanc, with three different versions of this varietal, sourced from three different regions. One was from Mendocino County, one from Dry Creek Valley, and one from Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County). All good, all interesting with layers of flavor. There was also a Riesling, which was wonderful: tasted like a Riesling, smelled like a Riesling, but with just enough differences to let you know that you weren’t in Germany. The last wine we tasted was a Grenache (100%). There are starting to be a few solo Grenache wines made in California; this was one of the best we’ve tasted.

A relaxed tasting of Leo Steen wines.

No reason not to go tasting in the winter, and many good reasons to head out to the wineries.

L’Chaim,

Larry

No Wrong Wine for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving buffet, with (L -> R) squash soup, turkey, lamb, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and sourdough dinner rolls

There is always the question this time of year:  What wine(s) should I have with my holiday meal?  There are two answers that I give.  First, choose wines to go with the meal, and second, there are no wrong wines, so long as you enjoy the bottle.  Usually there are loads of appetizers, then you’re going to have the main course which could be any number of meats, alone or in combinations. 

For our Thanksgiving, we started with appetizers of plain brie, brie with jalapeño jam over it, liver pâté and hummus.  With that we served a 2015 Arista Riesling and a 2016 Pride Mountain Viognier.  When we needed to open up a red, we started with a bottle of the 2016 Armida PoiZin Reserve.  Then for the meal, which featured both turkey and leg of lamb (and squash soup, salad, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, homemade cranberry sauce and sourdough dinner rolls), we went with a magnum of 1992 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1995 Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Martini Cab was particularly interesting, because it was their generic California, low-end Cab, and still had the $7 Trader Joe’s price tag on it.  But it was made in a time where Cabs were all being made to age at least a bit, and it was still good.  Not great, but still good, still quite drinkable.  By the way, 13% alcohol for that Cab. 

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Tasting in North Dry Creek Valley; Harvest is Coming

Grapes are getting ripe! Harvest 2019 is coming.

Lori and I and son Jacob and cousin Diego went wine tasting in the northern part of Dry Creek Valley last weekend. Here’s a quick recap.

View from the tasting room deck at Zichichi Family Vineyard.

Our first stop was Zichichi Family Vineyard. We had last visited Zichichi probably about 8-10 years ago, and my recollection was that they were a nice small winery with a great view from the tasting room, making a classic Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. Well, the part of my memory that collects wine tasting notes seems to be in pretty good shape, because that’s exactly what we found. I would also add that the people behind the bar in their tasting room were quite enthusiastic and helpful (kudos to Rose). They were doing barrel tastings that day in the cellar, in addition to the normal tastings, and we left having ordered futures of the 2016 Zichichi Old Vine Zinfandel. Delicious.

Next was Sbragia Family Vineyards. We first went there 7 years ago for the Winter Wineland event, and go back regularly for the wines and the view. They sit up the hill toward Lake Sonoma at the very northern tip of Dry Creek Valley, and the view down the valley is great. Another enjoyable tasting experience there.

View of vineyard and Lake Sonoma from the picnic area at Gustafson Family Vineyards.

From Sbragia we drove past Lake Sonoma, heading west towards the coast through the hills to Gustafson Family Vineyards. (If you’re sensing a trend here with the “Family” vineyards, you’re correct, but it was completely coincidental for the day’s agenda.) We first tasted Gustafson wines at a Petite Sirah industry event in 2012, but it took us a couple of years after that to make the effort to drive to the winery. It’s worth it, for the views, for the nice people helping in the tasting room, and especially for the wines. The Heritage Tree Zinfandel is always a favorite of ours, as is the Petite Sirah, and their Syrah was also quite good. By the way, Gustafson also has a tasting room in Healdsburg, making it easy to taste their wines, but then you wouldn’t get the great view from the winery.

Last on the list was Martorana Family Winery, out of the hills and back in Dry Creek Valley. We first visited Martorana about 7 or 8 years ago, and liked their wines and their story. They’ve been growing grapes for decades, but only recently have they begun making their own wine. Very nice wine, made from their organically farmed vineyards. Ask for Donna in the tasting room.

Trellised grape vines getting ready for the harvest.

Harvest is coming! The first grapes have already been picked (for sparkling wines), and the first grapes for the still wines could be picked as early as this week, depending on how the weather goes. Good luck to all the vineyard crews and winemaking teams; may you have a great harvest!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Mendocino Getaway

Goldeneye Winery tasting flight

My mother came up north to visit recently, and in addition to having her see her grandkids and great-grands we decided to take her up to Mendocino for a couple of days.  We started by picking up sandwiches at Big Johns market in Healdsburg.  Great place for grabbing your wine country picnic supplies, as they’ve got a large range of prepared foods in addition to the deli and custom sandwiches.  Our first stop was Hendy Woods State Park, near Philo in Anderson Valley.  The park is home to several stands of the huge coastal redwoods, and has the Navarro river running through it.  

After our picnic and a walk through one of the redwood groves, we continued up Anderson valley, stopping at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards.  Stacey the tasting room manager helped us with our tasting, starting with Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, then Syrah and finally Zinfandel.  All the wines were good, with the Viognier standing out as one of the best we had tasted in a long time.  

In Mendocino we checked in at the Alegria B & B, relaxing there for a bit before heading to dinner at the Little River Inn about 2 miles south of the town of Mendocino. They’ve been family owned and in business continuously for over 70 years, now with the third generation running the inn and restaurant. Excellent food — I had a nice bouillabaisse and Lori pork osso buco. Fresh ollolaberry compote a la mode for dessert was delicious. Then back to Mendocino to the Mendocino Headlands State Park, and viewing sunset over the ocean. 

The next day, after a delicious breakfast at Alegria, we headed up to Ft. Bragg to ride the Skunk Train.  Lunch was at Sea Pal at the Noyo Harbor, for the best fried fish I’ve had in quite a long time. Fresh cod, light batter, fresh frying oil with no residual taste, small pieces cooked perfectly.  I accompanied this with one of the 18 or so beers they have on tap, a Redwood Curtain special bitter ale. Sitting at a picnic table outside on the dock, watching the boats come and go and the crews clean the fresh caught fish, it was a great lunch. Then on to the Point Cabrillo Light Station, a lighthouse that’s been around for about 100 years.

Dinner that night at the Heritage House 5200 Restaurant, with another outstanding dinner. The highlight was again dessert, this time chocolate pot d’creme.  

Then the slow trip back home the next day, after another great breakfast at Alegria. We wandered around Mendocino for an hour, then had ice cream for lunch. Coming back through Anderson valley we tasted Pinot Noir at Goldeneye Winery. Our final stop was at Pennyroyal Farm, which we had visited earlier this year. This was just a buying stop, as we knew about their cheeses, and had just opened up a bottle of the Pennyroyal Pinot Noir the previous week. It’s a great value. 

So ended a nice weekend in Mendocino County.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Goat close up

Pennyroyal Farms Cheese Tasting

Goat close up
Close up with one of the goat herd at Pennyroyal Farms.

For a week in March the focus of Sonoma County turned slightly away from alcohol (wine and beer) to cheese, with the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival (CACF). Part of CACF is holding cheese education and tasting events at various creameries in the area.  Lori and I decided to attend the event at Pennyroyal Farm in Anderson Valley (Mendocino County).  Yes, not quite in Sonoma County, but only about an hour drive from our house.  

Here’s the agenda we had for the event:  

10:45 – 11:00              check in

11:00 – 12:00              tour of the farm

12:00 – 1:15                lunch in the creamery

1:15 – 2:45                  cheese tasting/pairing

Pennyroyal Farms makes cheese and wine, and raises the goats (lots of goats) and sheep for their wine. They also grow some of their own grapes.  They’ve got a great backstory:  two young women meet in the Fermentation Science major at U.C. Davis, one interested in wine, the other in cheese.  A few years later some land becomes available in Anderson Valley, and they join together as partners, realizing both their dreams together.  

The tour is fun and educational: vineyards, the goat barn for both the mature and baby goats, the milking shed, the cheese-making operation.  They’re not making their wine on site right now, but there are plans to expand the current buildings to add the winery facilities.  

For a change of pace I had pre-ordered the vegetarian meal for lunch, and it was delicious.  They served their Sauvignon Blanc and one of their Pinot Noirs with lunch, for a nice accompaniment.  Then we had the cheese tasting, and pairing with various drinks, including hard cider, wine and beer.  Their cheeses were all wonderful, but especially notable was the Laychee, a fresh cheese with a soft, spreadable texture that is hard to stop eating. (They only gave us enough for the tasting, but we bought more and brought it home, and it was hard to stop eating it!)  

Pennyroyal Farm picnic benches and view
Pennyroyal Farm is a great place for a picnic.

If you can find their cheese in the store or restaurant, don’t hesitate to purchase.  And if you’re in Anderson Valley for the wine or the beer (Anderson Valley Brewing Company is one of the best microbreweries around), take a break and go for the cheese.  Or bring a picnic lunch and buy a bottle of wine there.  You’ll enjoy your time at Pennyroyal Farms.  

L’Chaim,

Larry

Quick Harvest Update from Armida

I’ve been on the sorting table three days now at Armida, helping with Tina’s Block (Maple Vineyards) “Zinfandel”, Maple Vineyards Zinfandel and Petite Sirah and Pamelee Hill Vineyards Zinfandel. Tina’s Block Zinfandel is in quotes, because the 110 year old vines in Tina’s Block (in contrast to the 90+ year old vines in the rest of Maple Vineyards) are an interesting field blend of mostly Zinfandel, Carignane, Alicante Bouchet, Petit Sirah and some vines that remain unknown even after DNA testing at UC Davis. Harvest looks great at this point, with Armida having brought in about 95% of their grapes. I can’t remember ever seeing such a high percentage of great grapes: minimal rot, and most everything ripened optimally.

It was all hands on deck for harvest at Armida.

Brandon had one stretch of 13 straight days of getting grapes in. It was all hands on deck for that stretch, and Brandon even asked Dr. Doolittle for help, and the egret answered the call. The grandkids even came up, and while they didn’t “help”, spraying each other with water on the crush pad could be seen as helping to clean up. At least it kept them busy, until it was time for them to reflect on the harvest.

Contemplating the harvest.

I’m looking forward to tasting these wines in the barrel in a few months, then in bottle in a couple of years.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Santa Barbara Rhônes Revisited

A few years back Lori and I spent a few days in the Santa Maria/Santa Ynez Valley/Santa Barbara area doing some tasting. We had some great wine tasting experiences on that trip, but overall the best wines (and tasting experiences) were the Rhônes, the Syrahs, Grenaches and Mourvèdres and blends of those (typically called “GSMs”). Over the last month or so we’ve had a chance to open up these wines we tasted and bought, and Wow!

First, there was a 2010 Qupé Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard, opened the weekend we spent celebrated my mother’s 85th birthday. Big, yes, but more graceful than we usually get in a wine with this much fruit. “Graceful?” I was looking back on my notes from a Wine Bloggers’ Conference panel on Syrahs, and one of the participants compared Syrahs to the dancing hippos from Fantasia, at once big but surprisingly light on their feet and graceful. Opening the Qupé also reminded us of the visit to the Qupé winery (not the tasting room), and being invited to join Bob Lindquist and his team for lunch in the winery. One of our most memorable meals ever.

The second bottle opened, also in Mom’s honor, was the 2012 Carr Grenache, Santa Barbara County. It’s hard to adequately describe this wine, made from 100% Grenache, grown in a vineyard south of the city of Santa Barbara, pretty much where no other vineyards are located. Grenache fruit up front, both in the nose and the initial entry into your mouth, then this fullness in mouth like it’s expanding to fill all available space, then a lingering flavor in your mouth but without a lot of tannin. It’s time to order more of this from the husband and wife team, with the great tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara.

The last bottle was 2011 Harrison Clarke Vineyards Eve e Marie, Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County. Eve e Marie is a blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache from another husband and wife team. Actually, at that same Wine Bloggers’ Conference panel where panelists were describing Syrah as dancing hippos or thunderstorms or just dangerous, Hilarie Clarke Harrison stood out for her no-frills approach. This approach is embodied in their wines, made from grapes they grow themselves, harvest row by row, transport a few hundred yards to their winery, and make into wine. It was a pleasure to visit their vineyard and winery, to walk those rows of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre with Dave Harrison, and taste with Hilarie. It’s just good, very good, wine. This bottle was opened last week with some friends that mentioned that they were looking for good Syrah and GSM.

L’Chaim,

Larry