Category Archives: Livermore

Livermore Taste of Terroir

A couple weeks ago I went to the Thursday night kick-off four day event of the Livermore Taste of Terroir. It was held at Casa Real Winery in Livermore. My friend Marybeth and I arrived at 5:00 for the one-hour VIP tasting hour before the doors were open at 6:00 to those who bought tickets to the event. When we went into the large room there were 17 different stations set up with local wineries pairing their wines with either restaurants or caterers from the East Bay. There were mostly red wines there but a there were some white wines as well. We got a sheet with a list of the wineries and food establishments so we could keep our personal score.

We sampled 8 red wines and 4 white wines in the three hours we were there. It was challenging to take notes and eat and drink all at the same time. We were given a plate with a cup holder for the wine glass. Most of the dishes were user friendly and we were able to pick them up with our fingers, some we had to use a fork. The challenging part was holding onto my notes and pen which ended up getting stuffed under my arm. They had some tables that we could stand at so we could actually put our wine glass down, eat the food, sip the wine and write up our notes.

Some of our favorite pairings of the night were: Longevity Wines was serving a pink Pinot Grigio paired with 1300 on Fillmore’s bbq shrimp n’ creamy grits. We each gave it a 7+. We also liked Page Mill Winery 2013 Vintner’s Select Chardonnay paired with Handles Gastropub’s roasted zucchini, corn and jalapeno potato cake topped with chipotle aioli. I gave it a 6+. The Wente Vineyards 2012 The Nth Degree Syrah was paired with The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards bbq Wente Estate beef and Emigh Ranch lamb sausage sandwich with a smoked eggplant aioli, cilantro and syrah pickled onions. I gave it a 7. And our personal favorite was Wood Family Vineyards which served their 2012 Big Wood Zinfandel paired with First Street Alehouse Mole’ pulled pork tacos with chipotle lime slaw. I gave this a 9. This was hands down our favorite pairing. We voted for Wood Family for our favorite red and Longevity Wines as our favorite white.

When you arrived at the event you were given two corks. These corks were to be used to vote for your favorite white and red wine and food pairing of the night. Around 7:45 they announced the winners. The peoples choice awards went to Longevity Wines pairing with 1300 on Fillmore for the whites and to Wood Family Vineyards with First Street Alehouse for the reds. As for the judging awards, (the judges were Nicholas Boer, food editor, Diablo Magazine; Rocky Fino, chef and cookbook author; and Sara Schneider, wine editor, Sunset Magazine) the first place went to Vasco Urbano Wine Company for their 2012 GSM “The Sheriff” paired with the Zephyr Grill and Bar house cured lamb bacon BLT. Second place went to Cuda Ridge Wines 2012 Cabernet Franc served with Posada Restaurant braised boneless pork ribs simmered in a tomatillo-cilantro sauce topped with charred creama. Third place went to Garre Vineyards and Winery with their 2010 Profound Secret served with the Garre Cafe all natural short rib papa rellenas; tomato and olive braised beef short rib encased in buttermilk whipped potatoes, deep fried with panko crust and finished with a Profound Secret gastrique.

We met all sorts of nice people, and we had the opportunity to sit outside for a while and listen to the live music and just watch all the people enjoying the event. There was a silent auction going on and there was a separate dessert room with items such as cupcakes on a stick, chocolate dipped strawberries, fresh berries, brie and assorted cookies. There were four wineries in the room serving ports and sweet wines to go with the desserts. On the patio there were some wineries serving their wines and sparkling wines as well, just not paired with any food.

This was a very fun evening. I would highly recommend this event for next year, it’s a great way to sample some of the best wines of Livermore Valley and have some great food paired with it.



Wine and Chocolate Tasting for Valentine’s Day

Last weekend I went with a couple of friends to Livermore to check out a couple wineries.  Some of the wineries were having a special chocolate and wine-pairing event for Valentine’s Day.  Both of the wineries we went to we had never been to before.  They were on Tesla Road but at least one mile farther east than I had been before. 

First we went to Les Chenes Estate Vineyards .  We arrived about 3:15 in the afternoon.  There was a van full of people who had arrived before we did.  It was pretty busy there, but they were able to handle the crowds.  They split up the group to three different areas within the tasting room (which is in their barrel room).  We paid the $5.00 tasting fee, which comes off if you purchase wine.  We tasted their wines.  When we got to their Syrah they paired it with a chocolate soufflé (mousse like) in a cup served with a chocolate heart.  This was a nice pairing.  As we were sipping their Tawney Port we found that they had cheeses out for sampling.  They had a horseradish Cheddar, a jalapeno and cayenne Jack and smoked Gouda with bacon.  They were all very different and good.  Next to the cheeses they had an area where you could sample different mustards with pretzel sticks.  The mustards were good too.  My friends each bought some cheese.  The tasting room was very comfortable and right next door to the owner/winemaker, Richard Dixon’s, house.  The views from the winery were very nice.  They had one or two tables for picnicking if you wish. 

After that we went to Eagle Ridge Vineyards .  There tasting room was also in their barrel room that looked like a converted barn.  We arrived around 4:10 and were the last guests of the day for them.  We sat ourselves down on their barstools and sampled their wines.  They do not have a tasting fee.  I liked their ’08 Pinot Grigio.  They served us chocolate covered cake balls with their Petite Sirah.  That was a very nice combination.  We also sampled their ‘05, ’06 and ’07 Zinfandel, and their Cabernet Sauvignon and finally their “Mad “Lyn” Port.  I left there with a couple bottles of wine, as did my friends.  They don’t really have a place to picnic, but the views from the tasting room are beautiful.  You can see most of the Livermore Valley.  Jim Perry, the owner, was very nice and his friend Phil who was also pouring was great.  We had a lot of fun talking wine.

Once again, I’m going to highly recommend that you get out on the weekends and go to a winery or two that you have never been to.  If you don’t live near wineries, then go to a wine bar and sample some wines from different wineries.

One afternoon = Five wineries in Livermore Valley

Last Saturday I had to go into work for a few hours.  I had Larry drive me so afterwards he could pick me up and we could go wine tasting in the Livermore Valley.  I work in Livermore and we really wanted to visit a few wineries that we have heard about but not visited yet.  So Larry picked me up and off we went into the city of Livermore.  The city, which is large in size but small in reality.  You will find the downtown area with cute stores and good restaurants on First Street.  There are about four to five blocks with all the activity, which makes it easy to take a leisurely stroll and check out the goings on.

The first winery we went to was Ryhan Winery.  I had been there before but Larry had never been and it was close to the two wineries that Larry wanted to visit.  Ryhan winery was very nice; they had a very nice staff and some foods to pair with their different wines.  They offered pepper jack cheese, mozzeralla cheese, homemade chili chicken, olives marinated in different herbs and spices, and some chocolates.  Being a foodie I won’t go into details of what I would have done differently, but they made a great effort.  I liked their raspberry sparkling wine.  Larry and I both had their Syrah, which was pretty good; they also have a Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gricio and many others.  This was strictly a tasting room.  Their tasting fee is $5.00 but if you buy wine they don’t charge you.  Their hours are Friday 12-5, Sat/Sun 11:30-5:00 or by appointment.

Right next door to Ryhan Winery in the same attached building was Cuda Ridge Wines.  Larry Dino the winemaker and owner was there pouring the wines.  This was the winery, cellar and tasting room all in one spot.  Larry’s specialty is making Bordeaux style wines.  Cabernet Franc is one of their specialties.  We also tried a Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Zinfandel that is on a different label.  All of their wines are made from grapes they get in the Livermore Valley.  They opened their winery in 2007 and their tasting room this past fall ’09.  They produce 1100 cases at the present moment.  They will also be offering a Semillon and a Malbec.  The surroundings were very comfortable and Larry and his wife Margie were very hospitable.

Our next stop was about 2 miles away.  These next two wineries are next to each other in a business park that fronts onto the main street.   The first winery we walked into was Occasio Winery.  They have a nice comfortable set up with a front room with the tasting counter, then behind that is a boardroom that can be used for a crowd up to 10 persons.  In that room they offer cheese and or lunch if you’re so inclined for your purpose.  Courtney was the person behind the counter pouring for us.  She was very nice and very knowledgeable.  We found out that the winery similar to Cuda Ridge had its first vintage in ’07 and opened their tasting room in the fall of ’09.  The owner and winemaker is John Kinney.  They currently are producing 500 cases of wine but very quickly will be up to 1,200 by the end of the year.  We got a small tour of the facilities.  They have a very nice sized laboratory.  Then the back area where the winery/cellar is was just the perfect size, room for growth yet small.  Back in the tasting room we tried a Pinot Gris ’08, a Sauvignon Blanc ’08*, a Rose of Zinfandel ’09* and a Zinfandel ’08*.  The future will be bringing a Petite Syrah, Fume Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend of some sort.  We really enjoyed the wines and bought 3 bottles*.  Their wine club membership is different where they give you 20% off all wine purchased.  Their tasting fee is $5.00 but that is taken off if you purchase wine.  Their hours are Friday 12-5, Sat/Sun 11:30 – 4:30 or by appointment.

Right next door was Nottingham Winery and Satyrs’ Pond Winery.  The winemaker/owner Jeff Cranor, makes the wines for both labels.  Justin and Chris helped us with our wine tasting experience.  Similar to Occasio the feel when you walk in was very comfortable.  Their tasting area was a bit more cramped.  But they also have room for you to wander around and look at the different artwork on the walls.  The owner’s brother Pat Cranor is a thriving artist in San Diego and he has quite a number of pieces for sale there.  Chris took us for a tour of the back, which is very large for their size winery.  They like to have enough room for their special events that they host.  We sampled the Viognier from Nottingham Cellars, which was floral but not overwhelming, as it can be.  Then we tried the Satyrs’ Pond Winery Lux Alba white blend, which is a Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend.  Then in a decanter we sampled Satyrs’ ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I really liked this.  Then in the next decanter we sampled Nottingham ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both were very good, smooth but the Satyrs’ had more potential I thought to lay down for a few years.  At the end Chris opened up the Nottingham Ralphi’s Red Blend, which is Merlot from Napa and Cabernet from Livermore.  At first this wine fell flat on the tongue.  But after a bit of swirling and waiting patiently for it to open it did so in a big way.  We had to buy one of those.  They charge a $5.00 tasting fee, which gets reimbursed if you purchase any wine.

After all of this, and I was done, Larry said do you want to go visit Linda and Earl at Cedar Mountain?  I said sure as it was only 2 minutes away.  So we went to see our old buddies.  Unfortunately they were busy but we got to sample their Sauvignon Blanc side by side with their Sauvignon Blanc Reserve.  Quite a difference – I liked the reserve better.  Then I tried their Chardonnay of which I have always felt that they make one of the best in the Livermore Valley.  We both had to sample their Tortuga Royale.  This is a port made by co-fermenting Blanches Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with Scharffen Berger 70% cacao powder and fortified with fine Eau De Vie Brandy.  You can only imagine how amazing this was.  There was just enough of the chocolate aroma and flavor with the grape flavor of the Cabernet and the brandy for the alcohol and smoothness.  I could have continued drinking this all afternoon!  However, we had grocery shopping to do etc.  Next time I’m there I’m going to buy one of those for my liquor cabinet.  For $25.00 it’s a fantastic gift for any wine lover!

So this concludes another wine tasting experience in Livermore Valley.  There are over 50 wineries there now and more popping up.  It’s a great place to go and sample wines without feeling any pressure.  I feel very fortunate that I live 20 minutes away!

Father’s Day Past – Tennis, Swimming, Kids, In-laws Lamb and Wine

Yesterday was Father’s Day.  Usually we have a casual day where the boys come here or we meet somewhere and go for a hike and have a bbq.  But this year it was different.  I came up with a brilliant idea to invite my in-laws up here for the weekend.  They were very excited about the offer, bought their Southwest tickets and then they were here.  We enjoyed a quiet afternoon together on Saturday of which included barbecuing chicken breast and serving it with avocado, bacon, lettuce and tomato.   For the evening we had a prior engagement to play bridge with our friends, and so Sherry and Al went to see the new movie “Proposal”.  At 11pm when we came home and our son Brandon and daughter-in-law Kim were on the couch watching TV and knitting.  Sherry and Al were just getting ready for bed and told us they enjoyed the movie.  We all said goodnight and off to bed we went to get our beauty sleep.

In the morning Brandon and Kim made us a great breakfast, which consisted of fruit salad, scrambled eggs, bacon and homemade banana bread.  Just as we were finishing up with breakfast Jacob, my other son, came home with his dog Opal.  Opal is a 1 1/2 year old border collie/Queensland heeler mix.  She is a living tornado, but very sweet, overly friendly and very controlling; especially to our dog Elmer Fudd, who weights twice as much as she does.

After we cleaned up from breakfast we all got ready to go to the tennis courts and swimming pool for the afternoon.  Larry and I got our first tennis lesson from our boys.  We are now on our way to a tennis career!?  Sherry and Al watched, as they were reading and doing word search puzzles.  After we were all hot and sweaty we went to the pool.  It felt real good to cool off.

Coming home it was time to get serious with dinner preparations.  To go back a bit, on Friday, I bought the lamb shanks and made a marinade out of Cabernet, carrots, onion, lemon, chopped tomatoes, garlic, leeks, thyme, oregano, peppercorns, and bay leaves which cooked together for about 15 minutes.  Once the marinade cooled down I put it with the lamb shanks into a couple Ziploc Baggies to marinate overnight.  On Saturday I cooked the lamb for four hours as instructed in the recipe book, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert.  Once it cooled down, I put it into the refrigerator overnight.  This is what stage I was in when we came back home on Sunday.  I put the lamb into the oven to get the juices flowing again.  Then I removed the lamb shanks, strained the wine from the vegetables and put it in the fridge to cool down and for the fat to rise to the top.  I finished up my ABC Salad (avocado, beans and corn) and boiled the red potatoes.  Al helped by mashing the potatoes while I put in all the goodies.  I cooked down the lamb juices a bit and added in the almond chocolate picada.  This thickened up the jus and then I poured it over each shank and put back in the oven to re-warm for a half hour.  When it was time we all sat down to the ABC salad starter, which everyone really liked.  Some of us were still drinking the white wine while some couldn’t wait to get to the reds.  I reheated the potatoes as I heated up the wok to stir fry the spinach with some garlic and shallots.  Jacob helped me to plate each dish with a spoonful of garlic-cheese potatoes, the lamb shank, the spinach and pomegranate seeds and parsley as garnish.

      Lamb Shank, Garlic Mashed & Spinach

The wine we drank was very interesting.  Brandon and Kim had brought a bottle of Riesling from Te Whare Ra, New Zealand when they were there in April.  This happens to be one of our favorite wineries in New Zealand.   We all enjoyed it very much as we munched on my homemade Spicy Hummus and pita chips.  We also opened a Pacific Rim Riesling, which is another label from Randall Grahm of Bonnie Doon.  Both were good, the Pacific Rim was better after it warmed up a bit, but the Te Whare Ra was good all the way from the beginning to the end.

About 1 hour before dinner Larry opened up and decanted the red wines.  They were all Cabernet Sauvignon’s but from different years and different growing regions all in California.  My third choice, although it kept on opening up and improving while in my glass, was the Camellia Cellars 2002 Cabernet, Lencioni Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County.  My second choice was the Artesa Vineyards and Winery 1999 Napa Valley Cabernet and my favorite was the 1996 Murrieta’s Well, Livermore Valley, Vendimia Cabernet blend.  This blend consisted of 57% Cabernet, 24% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 8% Zinfandel.  All of these varietals made a very nice well-balanced blend that improved with its age.  Between the seven of us we drank nearly 5 bottles in a four-hour period.  To top off the night I served dessert, Larry’s request; deconstructed It’s It.  So I made oatmeal chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies, everyone had the choice of ice cream flavors from vanilla to chocolate to mint chip and I pour Hershey’s syrup all over the top.  Very good, fairly light dessert after the heavy dinner, and everyone had smiles their faces.

Last night Jacob drove home.  This morning Brandon and Kim got up early and left to go to work up in Santa Rosa and Larry took his parents back to the airport to fly home.  The weekend went fast, but like they say, quality vs. quantity is usually the better choice!