Tag Archives: Armida

Last Wines at the Old House

Yes, we’ve moved, from our old house near the Livermore Valley wine region to our new house a bit further north in Sonoma County. One of the many issues with the move was moving the wine collection. The easiest way to deal with the problem was to reduce the number of bottles we had to move. We still had a couple hundred bottles left to move, but we did have fun drinking those last bottles. Here’s the lineup over the last days at the old house:

Armida Winery, 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel/Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley
Donkey and Goat, 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado County
Pessagno, 2011 Zinfandel, Idyll Times Vineyard, San Benito County
Soquel Vineyards, 2012 Trinity (red blend), California
Tobin James, 2010 Ballistic Zinfandel, Paso Robles

Armida Winery 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel and Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley

Armida Winery 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel and Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley

Yes, we drink a lot of Zinfandel. It’s a good value wine, both at the low end (price-wise) and the high end (high end of the Zinfandel range). It’s also a grape that lends itself to different styles, from big bold fruity wines to more complex layered wines, all of which can be very tasty.

The Il Campo is an excellent Zinfandel blend from Winemaker B at Armida. It’s a field blend, so it’s a bit difficult to say how much of what went in, but likely it’s somewhere around 75 – 80% Zinfandel.

Donkey and Goat 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado

Donkey and Goat 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado

Donkey and Goat is relatively new to us, with our first and only visit there 2 years ago. A Berkeley winery, sourcing grapes from all over Northern California, this Grenache was very good, surprisingly good. Actually, you’ll see Grenache (or Garnacha from Spain) mentioned in a couple of future posts. Grenache, while one of the big three Rhone grapes — Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre — is rarely made as a single varietal, especially in California. Syrah, yes, but not Grenache, nor Mouvedre. When Grenache is grown well and made well, it’s a really nice treat. Not too big a wine, not too big body, really good with food.

Pessagno 2011 Zinfandel, San Benito County, Idyll Times Vineyard

Pessagno 2011 Zinfandel, San Benito County, Idyll Times Vineyard

The Pessagno is a bit more in the understated style for Zinfandel, and this has been outstanding from our first taste at the winery to the two bottles we’ve opened. (I’m kicking myself now for not buying more when we were there. But of course, then we’d have had to move those bottles, so probably just as well.)

Soquel Vineyards 2012 Trinity Rosso (red blend), California

Soquel Vineyards 2012 Trinity Rosso (red blend), California

The Soquel Trinity is consistently, year after year, one of the best low end red blends, now matter what grapes they’re using. Soquel Vineyards is either number 1 or 2 on our Santa Cruz Mountains wineries hit list. They’ve been building great wines, and providing a great tasting experience, for a couple of decades now, longer than most in that area. We’ve talked about their wines and tasting room a few times in this blog; just search on Soquel to find those posts.

Tobin James 2010 Zinfandel "Ballistic", Paso Robles

Tobin James 2010 Zinfandel “Ballistic”, Paso Robles

The Ballistic Zin is the flagship for Tobin James, a classic big juicy jammy Zinfandel from the East side of Paso Robles. They’re almost the last winery heading east on Hwy 46, but worth the extra couple of miles to visit the tasting room.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Zin and Pinot and Pints, Oh My!

My cousin came to town between Christmas and New Years Day, and had one day for sightseeing with us. We hadn’t seen Diego for about 13 years, as he’s from the branch of the family that’s based in Argentina, although he’s currently living in Spain. He was traveling with his girlfriend who, as it turns out, is currently living and teaching English in Spain, but grew up only 30 minutes from us here in the Bay Area. We decided to spend the day up in Sonoma County, eating and drinking and seeing some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, and also seeing our boys and their families.

With that preamble, here’s our agenda for one day in the wine country:

• Wine tasting at Armida Winery
• Lunch at Matteo’s Cocina Latina in Healdsburg
• Wine tasting at Woodenhead
• Hiking in the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
• Dinner at Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol
• Ice cream at Sub Zero in Sebastopol

Wine tasting at Armida was an easy choice, because our son Brandon, aka Winemaker B, is the winemaker at Armida. Moreover, the views are great, and so is the wine. Brandon gave us a tour of Armida, which started with a quick taste in the tasting room, and finished there as well. The zinfandels were a hit with our guests, and a bottle of the Reserve PoiZin (with the coffin package) went home to Diego’s girlfriend’s family.

Matteo's Cocina Latina in Healdsburg serves some of the best Mexican food in the Bay Area.

Matteo’s Cocina Latina in Healdsburg serves some of the best Mexican food in the Bay Area.

Lunch at Matteo’s was another easy choice. Great Mexican food, but not the conventional Mexican-American fare. This is a restaurant that has been in the top 100 in the Bay Area according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which is a pretty elite list given the quality of food in the Bay Area.

We had time for another winery between lunch and the Armstrong Redwoods, and so wanted something relatively convenient to the drive from Healdsburg to Guerneville. This narrowed down our winery choices to only about 50. Woodenhead was chosen because of their emphasis on Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, because we had recently opened our last bottle of Woodenhead Pinot Noir and needed to buy more, because they have a nice, cozy, comfortable tasting room and because the view from the deck outside the tasting room is quite nice. Certainly our stop there didn’t disappoint anyone.

My cousin Diego and his girlfriend on the left, Lori and I on the right, at the Colonel Armstrong redwood tree

My cousin Diego and his girlfriend on the left, Lori and I on the right, at the Colonel Armstrong redwood tree

From there we went to the Armstrong Redwoods. Until a visitor stands next to one of those Coastal Redwood trees, the numbers that you read – hundreds of feet in height, tens of feet in diameter, more than 1,000 years old – are just numbers. Then you experience it in person, and realize what those numbers mean. It’s awe inspiring, and spiritual, in a way that can only be felt, and not read about.

Dinner was a family gathering at the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol. While the Russian River Valley and surrounding areas are now known mostly for wine and redwoods, this was once a great area for growing hops and brewing beer. Well, the hop vines are gone, but this area is now one of the great areas for craft beer brewing in California. Hopmonk brews a few of its own, but also has other local craft beers on tap. All the adults at the table had the Hopmonk brews, and we were quite impressed. On top of that, the food was very good, and they were able to easily accommodate and provide good service to a large group, ranging from 2 year olds to their grandparents.

Finally, even though it was the middle of winter, we needed dessert, and Sub Zero beckoned. This is a new ice cream store in the Barlow center, which makes their ice cream to order by combining the raw ingredients in a bowl, mixing them together and then freezing them on the spot using liquid nitrogen. Their claim is that this technique produces a creamier ice cream, and since texture is a big part of taste, this should improve the ice cream. The ice cream was very good, but even better was eating with everyone around the fire pit outside the store, then working off the ice cream by chasing a granddaughter around the area, and being chased by her.

I’m not sure a day could be any better.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Qupé Is Central Coast Syrah

Family legend has it that my parents used to trade Dodgers tickets for Qupé wine. According to Bob Lindquist, owner/winemaker of Qupé Winery, there was at least one discussion about that, but it never happened. So it’s just legend. We do know that my parents met Bob just after he started Qupé, while he was still working at another winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. Lori and I will take credit for that, since we were living in Santa Barbara at the time, and took my parents to that other winery. Shortly after, my job took us to the East Coast, but my parents kept up the relationship with Bob over the next 30+ years.

30+ years of wines in the Qupé library.

30+ years of wines in the Qupé library.

In that 30+ year interval, all Bob did was to build Qupé into the leading producer of Syrah on the Central Coast of California, establish the Central Coast as a valid and valuable growing region for Rhône varietals and establish himself as one of the godfathers of those varietals in the state. That’s quite a résumé. We reconnected with Bob at last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, and he was our first call when we starting planning our trip to the Santa Ynez Valley this year. He didn’t have a lot of spare time, so he invited us to come to the winery and share their daily staff lunch. As befits a godfather, he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: Come to the winery, located in the middle of the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard, taste Qupe and Au Bon Climat (ABC) wines (Au Bon Climat, headed by Santa Barbara Pinot Noir and Chardonnay pioneer Jim Clendenen, shares the winery with Qupe), and have lunch with Bob and the winery team.

This was one of the most memorable meals we’ve ever had. Kudos to Enrique, Bob’s cellar master, for the meal: flank steak, spare ribs, fava beans and kale, braised cabbage, salad and garlic bread, served buffet style in the winery. Aside from Bob and Enrique, joining us for lunch were Katie, their marketing person, Marc Piro, who while he has no official title is essentially the assistant winemaker, and Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, Bob’s wife. As we sat down at the table we noticed the line up of wines:

The lunch table at Qupé Winery.

The lunch table at Qupé Winery.

Qupé 2012 Syrah Central Coast
Verdad 2012 Tempranillo, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard
Armida 2013 Parmelee-Hill Zinfandel
Armida 2013 Il Campo, Dry Creek Valley (field blend of about 80% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, estate grown)
Qupé 2011 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, Highland Bench

Since they had to work after lunch, and we had to drive, there were individual spit cups lined up on the table, as well as larger buckets. You’ll notice some white wines in the photo, but since this was really a red wine meal, I quickly skipped and spit through the whites to get to the reds.

The Central Coast Syrah from Qupé is their largest production wine. Grapes from all three vineyards that they source from are included. This is a really nice Syrah, and at $20 per bottle it’s a great value.

Verdad Wines is Louisa’s brand. She’s been in the wine business for decades herself, starting on the sales and marketing side of the business. The Tempranillo grapes come from a vineyard Louisa and Bob planted in the Edna Valley area, closer to San Luis Obispo than to Santa Ynez. The vineyard, the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, is farmed biodynamically. Tempranillo is an underappreciated varietal in California, with our abundance of great reds. But Tempranillo, cared for properly, can have complexity and subtlety and can age well. I’m not sure how the Verdad wines will age, as we were drinking fairly young wines, but this was among the best Tempranillo we’ve had from California. While we drank and enjoyed the 2012 Tempranillo with lunch, we bought a bottle of both the 2012 and 2011, so we could compare vintages at some point in the future.

Armida is the winery our son, Brandon (Winemaker B), works for. We figured that a) bringing wine for lunch would be a good way to pay for lunch, and b) that bringing Zinfandel, the flagship grape for Armida, would be the way to go. Also, while there is Zinfandel grown in the Paso Robles area, there’s really none in Santa Barbara County, so Bob and team don’t get to try to many Zinfandels. The Il Campo was as expected, fruity and big, with the Petite Sirah boosting the body of the Zinfandel as it’s supposed to. The Parmelee-Hill was as we expected, but not what Bob expected. This vineyard is in Sonoma County, not too far from the Carneros region, and therefore is a much colder vineyard for Zinfandel than usual. And it produces a much more nuanced Zinfandel than most in California. Delicious.

One block of Bien Nacido Vineyard, near Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County

One block of Bien Nacido Vineyard, near Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County

The Qupé 2011 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, Highland Bench is the flagship wine for Qupé. Bob doesn’t make a huge amount of this wine; he can’t, there aren’t enough grapes in the block. But this wine gets special care, and it shows. This was Syrah with restraint, Syrah that was showing off its style on the catwalk and you wanted to see it from all angles, noticing the little touches and subtle flair in the execution. This was Syrah produced by an experienced hand, comfortable in his own skin, not trying to impress anyone but just making the wine he wants to make.

Best. Lunch. Ever.

L’Chaim,

Larry