Monthly Archives: February 2011

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.

Concannon Winery and Underdog Wine Bar

My cousins were in town visiting from Los Angeles and we had a few hours to kill.  So in thinking what we could do, the answer was to go to the Livermore Wine Region.  I had heard that there was a new restaurant at the Concannon Winery so that is where we headed.  The staff greeted us very nicely.  This was around 12:30 on a Friday afternoon January 2011.  We each spent the $10.00 for the tasting (which includes keeping the logo wine glass).  We were poured their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and their Petite Sirah (which they are known most for).  We enjoyed tasting their wines and had a good time doing it.  They have a lot of room to roam while sipping the wine.  Their tasting room is filled with great items for sale.  We purchased some chocolate bites that we sampled with our Petite Sirah.


After the wine tasting we went over to the restaurant check-in area, which is on the opposite side of the tasting room bar.  The restaurant is called the Underdog Wine Bar.  We were seated right away.  Inside the restaurant there are two large rooms.  One is smaller than the other and has a beautiful bar and a few tables.  The larger room has another beautiful bar and quite a few tables and chairs.  The décor is all done with dark woods and has a very nice ambiance.  Along
the hallway down to the restaurant from the winery there is a lot of
the Concannon Winery family history posted for your reading enjoyment. 
We opted to sit outside as the sky was blue and the temperature was in the mid to high 60’s.  There was a bit of a breeze but where we sat we were blocked from most of it.  Outside they have a few tables with chairs and a few couches with a coffee table in front of it.  None of us ordered wine with lunch as we had just enjoyed our tasting.  Karen ordered Orange and Thyme Marinated Olives and Brown Sugar Rosemary Cashews and Almonds for us all to share.  After a bit Karen ordered the Ahi Tuna Tartar Tower and Rod and I ordered the Panini with Prosciutto and Gruyere Cheese for our main lunch entree.  Everyone enjoyed their dishes.  It was very relaxing sitting outside.  Some families had opted to bring their picnic lunch and went onto the lawn and enjoyed at the tables provided.  The three of us shared a dessert, Petite Sirah Marinated Fresh Berries with Vanilla Bean Sabayon.  Very delicious!  The service was very good and even though the menu seemed a little bit limited, there was something on it that everyone enjoyed.  Their hours are Thursday thru Saturday 12:00 – 10:00 and Sunday thru Wednesday 12:00 – 8:00.  

Winter Wineland, Northern Sonoma County – Day Two was very fortunate to receive two complementary tickets to the 2011 Winter Wineland Weekend.  This is a weekend in which over 140 wineries in the Russian River Region, from Santa Rosa through Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Healdsburg and Dry Creek Valley get together to let wine lovers experience the different wineries.  The theme this year was “Education and Art”.  Some of the wineries are not normally open to the public, some by are by appointment only but on this weekend all the participants are open and ready to receive you.  More wineries than not offered food to be sampled with their wines.  Larry and I went through the map and listing and tried to locate wineries that we either haven’t been to or haven’t been to in a long time.

Day 2 – Sunday January 16 – We had slept over at our son and daughter-in-laws house in Santa Rosa, so we were able to get a later start.  We left about 10:30 and headed way up north to Silver Oak Winery up in Geyserville.

Silver Oak Winery – It seemed like a good idea to go way up north to start out the day and then go south from there.  When you arrive at Silver Oak Winery you walk through their stone foyer where there is a beautiful fountain.  They were pouring the first of two Cabernets there by the fountain.  We enjoyed the view, went into one of their barrel rooms where they were pouring the other wine.  In there they were also serving a mushroom cake and had information on sustainable farming.


                           Silver Oak Barrel Room                                                              Silver Oak Foyer with Fountain

Geyser Peak – We went to Geyser Peak one because it was on our way south from Silver Oak, but more because we were familiar with their Sauvignon Blanc.  They were a bit crowded in their tasting room.  We sampled some of their wines but they weren’t pouring the Sauvignon Blanc.  So we left rather quickly and were disappointed.


                               Geyser Peak Winery                                                                       Geyser Peak Winery                                    

Frick Winery – We had heard about Frick Winery but had never been.  It’s a very cute house like building with a front garden, a fire pit and a picnic table.  We went inside and just so happen to have Bill Frick the owner and winemaker pour for us.  He makes Rhone varietals and blends.  We did a vertical tasting of their Syrah from ’03 to ’08.  That was fun.  People were roasting hot dogs and making s’mores out in front using the fire pit.


                                        Frick Winery                                                    Roasting Hot Dogs and S’mores at Frick Winery

Kachina Vineyards – To get to this winery you have to go up their very, very long driveway.  This driveway takes you way up into the woods.  Once you are at the winery it is very quiet and private.  They make Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and a Zinfandel Port.  They were pouring in their barrel room.  They are only open by appointment normally.  They have some nice picnic tables outside to take in the view.  Sonoma Chocolatiers were there passing out truffles made with their Zin Port.


             Kachina Vineyards Barrel Room and Winery                                       Views from Kachina’s Vineyards Deck

Maurtison Winery – This winery is in its 6th generation of wine making.  They own 230 acres throughout the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys.  When we got there they were having the main tasting in their barrel room.  But first you walked into their tasting room and there they poured a white wine.  Then as you walked into the back they had it decorated with tiny white lights all over the stacked barrels.  They were pouring both bottled wines and wines from the barrel.  They had their vineyard manager sitting at a location ready to talk about different soil samples from Rockpile Vineyard.  They make estate Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.  From the Rockpile vineyard they do a Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Syrah, Malbec and some blends.


                               Mauritson Winery                                                                     Mauritson Winery Barrel Room

Armida Winery – When we arrived we lucked out and found a parking space near the tasting room.  It was crowded.  They had a football theme and had TV’s in different locations with the playoff games going.  We were hungry and so we went and got a plate of    sausage and smoked turkey.  We grabbed some wine and sat out on their beautiful deck, which overlooks their bocce ball court and lake.  They make Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Barbera, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and they are famous for their PoiZin.  Their winemaker was barrel tasting hisChardonnay and Zinfandel.  That was fun to try.


                        Armida Winery Tasting Room                                            Armida Winery Football Celebration and View

Michael Bernard – This is a new tasting room.  It just opened late summer 2010.  They have a very beautiful copper counter inside.  Their tasting room isn’t large but it wasn’t crowded feeling either.  They have a very nice deck with tables and chairs over looking their vineyards.  They make a sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and a blended wine. 


                            Michael Bernard                                                                  Michael Bernard Tasting Room

Hudson Street Wineries – We drove into the town of Healdsburg.  Just a few blocks off the square is the Hudson Street Wineries.  Here they host five different wineries.  It is just a tasting room in a small warehouse building.  They had plenty of parking across the street.  The wineries they pour there are Bluenose Wines, Rocking Z Vineyards, Sadler-Wells Wines, Teira Wines and Willowbrook Cellars.  The staff was nice.  They were service a French onion soup, very tasty.


                                                                                    Hudson Street Wineries Tasting Room

Longboard Vineyards – A few blocks from Hudson Street Wineries heading back towards the center of town we ran into Longboard Vineyards.  As you enter this winery you see about a dozen different longboard surfboards hanging from the ceiling.  They make a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Pinot Noir.  We got there near the end of the day so they were all out of the food they had been serving.  We had some troubles getting the staff to pour wine for us.  It is a nice tasting room and I would like to go back when it isn’t so crowded. 


                Longboard Vineyards Tasting Room                                                  Longboard Vineyards Tasting Room

Hauck Cellars – This tasting room is just a few doors down from the Healdsburg Square.  Parking is more challenging but worth the effort.  Both the owners Greg and Jennifer were pouring the wines.  We sampled their Sauvignon Blanc, Rose’ of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Meritage (which was on sale).  They also make a Petite Sirah and a Cabernet.  This was a very nice tasting room with items for sale.  They had a large counter and room to stand.


                                Hauck Cellars                                                                          Hauck Cellars Tasting Room

Selby – Just a few doors away from Hauck Cellars.  When we arrived their tasting room was packed.  But, they noticed us and we able to serve us wine.  The crowd there seemed to be having a good time and didn’t want to wander away.  They offer Sauvignon Blanc, Rose of Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Zinfandel.  They had their ’06 Chardonnay on sale, which we bought a case of for our son’s wedding this summer.


                                                                                    Selby Tasting Room

This day of wine tasting ended about 4:30.  We were pretty tired again.  Larry spit out all of his tasting so he was able to drive us around safely.  I however, just took little sips all day long.  We got back to the house and made some nachos to have before dinner.  We then had a nice birthday dinner for our son Brandon once he got home.  We enjoyed some more wine with dinner including a very good Windy Oaks Pinot Noir to go with the steaks.  We slept over that night as we were going to be watching Elli the next day so Kim could go to work.  The weekend was a huge success.  We went to 20 wineries in the two days.  Next trip up there will be the first weekend in March for the Barrel Tasting Weekend.  That is always fun.  We will have to go and explore more wineries that we’ve never been to.  Until then, Cheers!

Valley Performing Arts Center, Northridge – Grand Opening

Larry and I went on another road trip down to the Los Angeles area, Northridge to be exact.  Our primary reason to go down was to attend the gala of the grand opening of the Valley Performing Arts Center located in Northridge on the campus of CSUN.  My mother-in-law and father-in-law are large donators and bought a table to share with family and friends.  We drove down on Friday and got in just before the bad traffic started.  We had a nice dinner with Larry’s parents and his brother and family.  It was nice to have quiet quality time together.  Larry’s parent’s barbequed flank steak and we had roasted red potatoes and salad to round out the meal.  The boys opened three bottles of red wine.  One was over the hill and had to be thrown out later in the evening.

Saturday I went to visit my aunt at her house.  After awhile an old friend of mine, Luanne, came over.  The three of us chatted about the old days, when my aunt would host a number of temple youth group functions at her house.  It brought back some good memories.  Luanne and I went out to lunch to have “quiet time” to get caught up.  We hadn’t seen each other for 30 years or so.  We were best friends when we were teenagers.  It was fun getting caught up with her life and talking about old times.  After lunch I went back to my in-laws and got all dolled-up.  The gala was a black-tie affair.

We were picked up by Larry’s brother and wife and we went to CSUN campus, only a 5-minute drive from the house. The performing arts center is a beautiful 3 story, fairly circular building with tons of glass windows overlooking campus.  There is one very large and dramatic staircase going up to the three stories, or you can of course take an elevator.  On each floor there is a no-host bar and some tables and chairs for lounging before the performance or during intermission.  The event started at 5:30 with hors ‘d oeuvres and cocktails.  I had a cosmopolitan and Larry had a margarita on the rocks.  The passed hors ‘d oeuvres were; tuna tartar on a corn tortilla chip served with a small dollop of wasabi and fish eggs, smoked salmon served on a potato chip, a potato pancake served with cooked apples and sour cream on top, asparagus wrapped with teriyaki beef, and a stuffed mushroom.  When this hour was over, we were seated in the performing arts center and were treated to a 90-minute variety performances.  There was a Shakespeare invocation with Benjamin Bratt, Tyne Daly, Keith David, Jane Kaczmarek, Steven Weber and Noah Wyle.  Then there was a ballet duet performance of Don Quixote.  Carol Vaness came out and did a song from an opera, one song solo the other with on of her students Andrew Lundsford.  After all of that they opened up the curtains and there was a whole band situated there.  On the left were the strings and clarinets.  On the right was the CSUN Jazz “A” band.  In the middle was the piano and percussion.  Besides the bands playing and having special guests both playing and conducting there were some singers like Monica Mancini (the daughter of Henry Mancini).  Dave Koz came out and played his saxophone and Atruro Sandoval came out and played his trumpet.  Andy Garcia even played his bongo drums.  There was a comedy act with Cheech Marin who is an alumnus of CSUN.  He came out with his wife who accompanied him playing the piano.  It was funny, but you had to have been there.  Davis Gaines came out and sang a song from Phantom of the Opera and Tyne Daly came out and sang a tune from Gypsy.  Some of the presenters of the evening were Calista Flockhart, Doris Roberts and Eric Stoltz.  When we saw that Calista was going to be there we were kidding around saying that wouldn’t it be cool if her husband came too!  You know, Harrison Ford.  Once we took our seat, no kidding, Harrison Ford was standing with their son about 15 feet away from me.  He was figuring out where their seats were.  I got so excited!  He ended up sitting in our row, but at the other end.  That was one of my highlights of the evening.

After the performance we were all led to a huge tent where 700 people were served dinner.  They was a 7-piece band on the front stage near the very large dance floor.  When we sat down the first course was already sitting there at our place.  It was a red, yellow and orange cluster of tomatoes sprinkled with fleur d’sel and composed with micro arugula, tossed with balsamic vinaigrette and topped with Burrata cheese.  The second course was braised boneless short ribs served with a mushroom bread custard, baby carrots, asparagus spears and crispy fried onion rings.  Then the dessert came that was called, Dessert Duo.  On the plate was a warm chocolate flourless cake topped with whipped cream and white and dark chocolate sauce, and a Meyer lemon berry meringue tart.  There were strawberries sliced in between the two items and a rolled chocolate candy stick.  It was beautiful.  Of course, everything was delicious.  There was a lot of food between the three courses, but I managed to have a sampling of everything.  We were served wine with dinner from Margerum Winery in Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County.  They were serving a Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc 2009 and a “M5 2008”, which is a Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blend using five grape varieties from twelve of the highest quality vineyards in Santa Barbara County, I enjoyed the M5, which was a nice blended wine.  People were mingling and dancing throughout the night.

It was a lovely night and well worth the price of the ticket.  And I want to thank my mother-in-law and father-in-law for treating us to such a beautiful affair.

Sunday we got up late and Dad made us homemade Belgium waffles and bacon for breakfast.  My friend Luanne came over to say hi to everyone there.  After that visit we packed up and drove over to my uncles house where my 96-year-old grandma is living.  We had a nice visit with them.  After that we then drove the 5 ½ hour drive home.  It was a very short weekend, not too relaxing but we saw a lot of family and friends and attended the gala of the Valley Performing Arts Center!