February 13, 2005

Il Fine Settimana di San Valentino--A food and wine tour

Tomorrow, E and I will probably do little-to-nothing special. But, this weekend was perfect, so we're happy to rest at home and do nothing.

We started by having friends over for dinner and stuffing ourselves full of frozen-and-baked-but-just-as-good-as-fresh elk bolognese, spinach salad with Wisconsin feta, red onions, orange tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette, freshly baked bread, wine, and dessert of cantucci in melted guittard french-vanilla chocolate. (Have I mentioned how much I enjoy cooking instead of studying on the weekends?)

Saturday, we slept in (scheduled rest day on the race training!) and then took off on the gorgeous drive to Amador County. Because it was February, the hills were a kermit green instead of the "golden" brown of the majority of the year. The weather was obviously confused, however, because it was warm, sunny, and clear. E commented that the windmills on the Altamont pass are often used in cheesy commercials selling the "future" and are a well-known Californian landmark. I had no idea, I'd been seeing them on road trips since my childhood. Given the green hills and blue sky, they were striking and gorgeous this trip, as opposed to the typical view they provide, which is merely interesting.

Finally, after a couple of hours of driving, we hit our first stop in Ione (a town we'd never visited on previous trips) Clos du Lac. They had a good table red for a reasonable price, a great petit verdot, a few other decent wine offerings, a five course food pairing, recipes for several of the courses, and, of course a gorgeous view of highway 88 and the hills it cuts a swath through.

After relaxing, eating each of the five mini-courses, and picking up a few bottles, we headed to our second stop in the bustling metropolis of Ione (pronounced "I own"), Nua Dair. Or rather, we tried to go to Nua Dair. We actually took a wrong turn and ended up driving past the Ione prison (contributing roughly 70% of the total population to the town) and juvenile detention facility (which looked like a really expensive boarding school). Eventually, we found Nua Dair and were greeted with enthusiasm. We were the only visitors at the time. A bus of 60 had passed by earlier, but thankfully we missed them. Nua Dair's food was good, the wine was decent, but the people--I love people who make wine as a vanity project. The owner told me he was a CPA and that it worked nicely because tax season is exactly the opposite of wine season. Immediately, my brain started spinning with plans of switching to the tax concentration and living a half-lawyer, half-winemaker life. Needless to say, E quickly pulled me out of there.

Stop 3: Bray Vineyards. Good syrah. Great U.S. senate soup. AMAZING olive oil from the French Creek Olive Oil Company (916-454-8570). Conveniently, we had almost run out of our favorite drizzling oil. French Creek had three different bottlings on sale, and each one could hold its own against Zampa without a problem--oh, but they are half the price, in prettier bottles, and made by local producers. We came home with too much olive oil, but I'm sure it'll make excellent gifts and food.

After wine-tasting, we were ready to relax, so we headed to the Wedgewood Inn for our sleeping quarters. It was quaint and full of goo-gahs, trinkets, doilees, antiques, etc. It was nice. I'm sure it was much more nice than I can appreciate. I felt how I'm sure others feel with me when I'm appreciating wine or food. I would have been just as happy in a spartan, clean, modern room with 1/10 the decoration. To each his own, I suppose. The owners, of course, were adorable and quirky, as was the dog, Wags. There's a reason why the focus in B&B is on the "bed" and the "breakfast" equally. The bed--I am not equipped to fully appreciate it (although, it served its purpose quite well, but it was wooden and full of carvings that looked old...I'm sure that's something worth appreciating to someone, to me, it was comfortable). But the breakfast--fresh squeezed orange juice, cheese blintzes in blueberry sauce, fruit in blueberry yogurt, bran muffin, and sausage--what do you think?

Today was more of the same. We hit Drytown Cellars for the screw cap demonstration. It was fun to see the bottles pass through the bottling line from start to finish. They ran the machinery so you could see the vacuum filler do its work (FAST!) as well as the capper, foiler, and labeler. I am now the proud owner of drytown cellars water in a screw top bottle. It's one of my favorite acquisitions of the trip. Drytown's wines are very reasonably priced and well-made. We picked up some every-day drinking bottles as well as some barbera futures for what was in the barrel and should be bottled this June.

We tried TKC winery and verified that like its neighbors on bell road, we're just not fans of anything they make. Wine is personal, so by all means, you should go see for yourself, but for us, there's just no need to go down that road.

Oddly enough, Dickson Road, the next road off of Shenandoah Road if you're coming south from Bell Road is home to three of our favorites: Vino Noceto, Domaine de la Terre Rouge, and newly discovered this trip, Serenidad. Serenidad is obviously a vanity project, the tasting room is in the garage in front of what appears to be their home. The only reason we found it this trip was because they'd posted two young boys with a sign pointing the way outside of Terre Rouge. We were happy they did though since they had a very enjoyable blended table red for $9 as well as a light pineapple and honey sauvignon blanc for $9.

To break up the drive home, we met up with some friends in Alameda (they got wine as a house-warming present) and enjoyed dinner at one of the greatest sushi restaurants in the bay area, Kamakura.

Alas, it was all so very wonderful, San Valentino, but now it's time to do taxes, the FAFSA and Finaid application. So, yeah, that's why we'll be doing nothing of note tomorrow. Happy valentines day to all of y'all.

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