The wine reviews are based on the following scale:
XXX = Exceptionally Cool
XX = Fo' Shizzle (Highly Recommended)
X = Gets It Done (Recommended)
I’m staring at two oversized suitcases. One filled with clothes. The other, shoes.
It’s a three day trip, forchristsakes!
Yes, my intrepid editor, Angelina, is coming with me.
I wanted to take the convertible. But, of course, the suitcases wouldn’t fit. So we’re taking the SUV. To Monterey. Convertible country. Nice. At least her hair will be perfect.
We don’t travel together much. I think this is only the second time. Probably because I don’t want to find myself sitting in Angelina’s husband’s dental chair, strapped down, mouth wide open to hear him ask, “Is it safe?”
Angelina pops a CD in. Akon: "Smack That"
She was born the wrong color.
I love Monterey. The city. The coastline. The wine and food. The free press trips. Oops, that one slipped.
Yes, this was arranged for us. Word! Although we’d never favor/dis a place or a wine (just people) because of that, we want to be transparent. We travel Casper-style.
Our goal was to discover up-and-coming young(er) winemakers and/or female winemakers. Wine X, as you know, tries to present alternatives to the rich, white guy winemaker/owner types. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Smack that. Definitely. 'Specially if it buys you shoes...
Our first stop was Cima Collina, to visit with winemaker Annette Hoff. The winery is located in a warehouse-type building in the city of Marina, about 1/2 hour north of Monterey. (They have since opened a tasting room - pictured above - in Carmel). It was a convenient stop since we were headed down from the Bay Area. To be honest, never heard of this winery. Which is good. Always excited to discover new wines.
Sadly, we weren't exactly greeted with anything approaching excitement. "Loathing" is a better description. Probably because they didn’t know what to make of a shabbily-dressed, six foot tall white guy (I’m not a slave to fashion… by any means) and a five foot tall, 80 pound Indian women who looks like she just stepped off the fashion runway in Paris. (It was her shoes, I’m sure.)
After a brief introduction, we head into the cellar (warehouse) to sample. Now, I had told Angelina to wear clothes/shoes that could be stained. Since spitting isn’t always… accurate, and splatter happens… Did she listen? No. She also didn’t listen to me when she went to Champagne (France) on her first press trip. I told her to pack tennis shoes for the day (while touring vineyards and wineries), and her Pradas for dinner. The first day, in CFMs I’m sure, she got stuck in the mud in a vineyard. ‘Course, she did get rescued by some tall, young, attractive French winemaker…
Anyway. Here’s what we liked at Cima Collina:
XXX Cima Collina
2005 Pinot Noir
Chula Vina Vineyard - Monterey County $28
Great flaves, mouthfeel and rich body. A wonderful start.
After Cima Collina we headed for Alex’s Brewery, a local (Marina) brewpub to check out the beer. I’m a beer hound. Love checkin’ out local pubs, brew houses, etc. Alex’s is a rather, er, interesting place. The regs buy their own English-style mugs, are assigned a number (which is placed on the mug), then the mugs are hung on hooks from the ceiling. When the reg comes in for a cold one, their mug is retrieved via a stick, and the reg gets a discounted beer (or seven).
Currently, we’re intrigued by Bill, mug #130, who’s discussing receding hairlines while watching "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" Bill’s musing whether becoming a millionaire allows you to have a receding hairline, a la Trump, or makes it compulsory to get hairplugs in order to get hot chicks.
Suddenly it hits me. I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with a birthday present for Angelina. I found it. Her own mug at Alex’s. She looks horrified. It's like I'm promising her a personalized portrait wall at Target.
Smack that. I’ll keep looking.
Here’s the brews to check out at Alex’s:
Sig Sur Golden – nice and lemony, a bright summer ale.
Dragon Slayer – hoppy and bitter.
Monterey Bay Wheat – fairly creamy and a bit whimpy.
Ramsay's Fat Lip – yummy. Best of all.
Triple B – kinda flat and okay.
Black Prince – malty and not bad,
They serve food as well, but only items that “George Foreman can cook." Sandwiches, salads, fish 'n chips, bangers 'n beans… so be careful. ('Specially if you work at our mag, where we don't have health insurance.)
Headed to Monterey!
Monterey Plaza Hotel
We were very delighted to learn that our crib for the trip was the Monterey Plaza Hotel. Cannery Row, on the water, and in the middle of everything. The service is impeccable, and the views stunning. However, the one item missing is wireless Internet. Hello? You’d think for the price that they charge…
And this takes me a bit off course, but I travel a lot. And every time that I stay in an expensive hotel there’s never any wireless, or you have to pay throught he nose to use it. (The Plaza wanted an $8 minimum for each session. Yeah, I’ll get back to you on that!) Yet, when I stay in a cheap(er) place, there’s not only wireless, it’s free. What up wit dat!? Motel 6 rocks! And according to my intrepid editor, Vijay Nagar New Delhi India also rocks. Uh, in terms of Internet access. Otherwise don't bother.
Despite no wireless, the Monterey Plaza is wonderful. (Hint: the Starbucks down the street has wireless. It saved our trip.) Make sure to check out the Spa, then have a nightcap at Schooner’s Bistro On The Bay or the Duck Club Grill, both on the lower level. They overlook the bay.
A Taste of Monterey
Our next stop is just walking distance away. A Taste of Monterey is a wine bar slash tchotchke whore slash learning center kinda place. And yes, it overlooks the bay. Stunning views while you sip and spend and listen to the wannabes discuss their last wine club shipment.
We didn’t want to spend a whole lotta time here, but it’s a great place to sample most (if not all) of the local wines in one place. So we bellied up to the bar and asked owner Ken Rauh to choose a few of his faves from the area. Here’s the one that stood out:
XX+ Chateau Christina 2003 Merlot $50
Probably one of the best merlots I’ve tasted from this area. Pretty fruit, smooth body and beautiful round finish.
After A taste of Monterey we took a nice walk along the shore path, which follows the bay for miles. Did Angelina bring walking shoes as I recommended?
Smack those blisters. Though if I keep smirking, I may get smacked myself.
Dinner was hosted by PortaBella Restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Joining us was Christina Curas from the visitors bureau; Sabrine Rodems, co-winemaker for San Saba Vineyards/Bocage; and James Ewart, winemaker for Monterra Winery.
At dinners like these it’s always interesting to watch winemakers/pr people jockey for attention. Kinda like the Kentucky Derby where they all start out together, then one breaks out and never gives up the lead.
That would be Sabrine Rodems.
She’s a trip. And it wasn’t all about wine (thank God!). She got rolling and nothing was gonna stop her. Talk about a bullet train. We leaned everything about her, her family, her friends, her enemies… (For $10 we’ll send you the transcript.)
Best part, and I mean this in an affectionate way, is that she plays with her hair while she talks. Nothing aggressive, but a steady run-your-fingers-through-your-do kinda thing. The woman came in with a chic, Orlando Pita-esque crop and left with a head of hair that looked like she'd been through Hurricane Katrina. But it was the steady transformation that kept Angelina and I on the edge of our seats. It totally made our night. And I mean that sincerely.
As for the food, everyone was very pleased with what they ordered. I, well, felt they overcooked my Paella a bit, but the rest was tasty. And the wines, well here’s our notes:
(NOTE: San Saba/Bocage decided not to send us samples.)
X Joe Blow Wine Company
A nice, easy-drinking white blend of chardonnay, viognier and chenin blanc.
A fab Riesling with crisp, dry fruit and a wonderful long lingering finish.
Monterey County $11
A great everyday red for those (like me) on a tight(er) budget.
2005 Pinot Noir
A lighter-style pinot, well balanced and nice spice on the finish.
After dinner Angelina and I headed back to cannery Row looking for some nightlife. Dream on. The city’s dead after 8pm. Well, most of it anyway. We found some life (and live music) at Sly Mcfly’s. It’d have to do. We ordered a beer and martini and sat back to watch. If you wanna get some local, and I mean LOCAL, Monterey flavor, have a few at Sly’s – sit back and watch the show. It’s better than reality TV. Flavor Flav has nothing on the local....flavor.
Next morning we head to Parsonage, located in Carmel Valley, to meet with winemaker Frank Melicia. It’s a small, family-run operation, that concentrates on cab, merlot and syrah. Since they didn’t send us any samples, it’s hard to recommend any of their wines.
Lunch is with Dan Tudor of Tudor wines. We met him at Café Rustica, which is in Carmel Valley Village, not far from Parsonage. Dan’s a cool guy – surfs (pic above), snowboards, and is up on the latest technology, which is rare in the wine industry. (A lot of wine industry personnel are still discovering fire.) His media kit’s on a flash stick, which is always welcomed/preferred to the mounds on paper kits we have to lug back from these trips. Honestly, I have to bring a separate empty suitcase to haul back all of the crap, er, propaganda wineries want to saddle me with. But here’s an inside scoop: I (and a lot of journalists) don’t lug that stuff back. It ends up in the 86 bin. So any wineries reading this, save some paper and money and send it to me when I get back. Better yet, put it on a flash stick.
Tudor concentrates on pinot noir grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands (which we will visit tomorrow). They also have a second label, Radog. Angelina loved the label. She can be superficial like that. Here are the wines to look for:
2005 Pinot Noir
Santa Lucia Highlands $40
A lotta oak, but if you like that add another “X.”
2005 Sauvignon Blanc
Arroyo Seco – Monterey $18
Nice grass/hay and citrus flaves, a bit warm (alc) but nice lingering finish.
2006 Dry Gewurztraminer
Monterey County $18
Floral spices, nice apricot and citrus body with a bit of a sticky finish.
The lunch at Café Rustica was very nice. The have an outdoor patio that’s relaxing, and the food presented by chef Julien Belliard was tasty.
Chateau Julien. Probably one of the most recognized wineries in the region. More touristy than most, and that’s a good thing. Many of the wineries in Carmel Valley are small, and don’t have tasting rooms. This is a chill place to stop, taste and relax in their garden-like setting.
We met with winemaker Marta Kraftzeck and marketing director Kristin Horton. Here’s what we liked:
X Chateau Julien
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
Monterey County $10
Nice red and black fruit, some spice and a nice rounding finish.
Au revoir. Auf Wiedersehen. Namaste and see ya.
A little down time; check email before dinner. Then on to Bouchee, located in Carmel-by-the-Sea. (Guess they couldn’t book any restaurants in Monterey.)
Bouchee is a sexy, intimate place, with a great wine selection (both for dining and take out). We did a chef’s table sort of thing, where they set up a table near the open kitchen. Corby Hagen, general manager/sommelier, did an excellent job selecting the wines for the dinner, which was fab. And I mean FAB.
At this point I should mention that Angelina doesn’t eat. Ever. Well, maybe a carrot stick once in a while. She’s a raw food person (a vegan that doesn’t eat anything cooked), so between her extreme diet and my food allergies (no eggs or anything from a cow), we kept the restaurants hoppin’. And I must say, they all did an excellent job accommodating us. I didn’t get sick, and Angelina didn’t… eat.
After Bouchee we had a quick drink at Luca, same owners as Bouchee. It’s a cool place to hang. Much more up beat than Bouchee. Check it out, nice louche vibe.
Sly’s once again for the show. Honestly, it’s addicting.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Next morning we head for the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. No words to describe what we saw.
Now we’re off to the Santa Lucia Highlands to meet up with Charlie and Joe Wagner at Mer Soleil and Belle Glos. Charlie and Joe are the grandsons of Chuck (Charlie) Wagner who founded Caymus Vineyards in Napa. In addition to grapes, they grow lemons (lots of them) as a hedge bet against a damaged grape crop (rain, God, etc.) or a damaged lemon crop (frost in December). Makes sense.
Charlie and Joe neglected to send us samples, so not much to recommend from them.
Paraiso Vineyards hosts a luncheon with fellow winemakers Chris Weidemann (Pelerin) and Karl Wente (Wente Vineyards). Wente doesn’t have a facility in Monterey, but they grow a lot of their grapes here. Whatever. If a tree falls in the forest...
There was a bit of confusion about lunch, mainly, they thought I was a vegetarian. I’m not. I hate vegetables. Well, anything green (except salad). And don’t even show me a Brussels sprout. I’ll hurl. Honestly. So they made me special veggie sandwiches. (Gee, thanks. I didn’t get you anything.) And I was starving. It was not looking good. Angelina was very happy with her lettuce leaf, and I managed to pick my way through a coupla sandwiches to satiate my starvation. At this point, our meals should be a reality show.
Here are the wines to look for from these producers:
(Pelerin decided not to send us their wines.)
Santa Lucia Highlands $14
Pretty floral notes, nice balance and a crisp, lingering finish.
Santa Lucia Highlands $14
A step above their 2005. Absolutely gorgeous!
Wedding Hill - Santa Lucia Highlands $45
Black and blue fruit, some spice and a nice round lingering finish.
2005 Pinot Noir
Santa Lucia Highlands $25
A very elegant wine, medium-bodied, beautiful fruit, spice and a wonderful lingering finish.
2005 Pinot Noir
West Terrace - Santa Lucia Highlands $40
A stunning wine. Elegant, smooth and everything you’d expect from this region.
Eagle's Perch - Santa Lucia Highlands $35
Nice crisp tropical and citrus fruit and a little sticky on the finish.
Riverbank – Monterey $12
Beautiful floral nose, crisp citrus and apricot flaves and a wonderful lingering finish.
2005 Pinot Noir
Reliz Creek – Monterey $21
Dried red fruits, some spice, medium-bodied and a nice finish.
Our next stop was Hahn Estates to meet with winemaker Paul Clifton. Hahn also produces Smith & Hook wines and, until last year, that big red rooster wine called Rex Goliath. Never really understood the appeal of that wine. And the name sounds like a porn star. But they sold a shit load of it. ‘Course, Bronco sells a shit load of Two Buck chuck, but I digress.
Nothing to recommend here, since Hahn decided that Wine X isn’t worthy of their wines. Perhaps if we go into porn?
Next stop: Stonewall Vineyard, with Estancia’s director of winemaking, Robert Cook, and director of vineyards (Monterey), Jason Melvin. Since I worked at Franciscan Vineyards (who owns Estancia – both now owned by Constellation Brands) before starting Wine X, I felt it necessary to trade war stories about working in the cellar, working crush and, of course, working for Agustin Huneeus. Ah, the good ol’ days. (I think I was one of the few that actually got along with Agustin. Maybe ‘cause he knew I’d be reviewing his wines in the near future). Maybe.
Here’s the wines from Estancia to look for:
2004 Pinot Noir
Stonewall Vineyard - Santa Lucia Highlands $25
Pretty red fruit aromas, nice spicy body and a wonderful lingering finish.
2005 Pinot Grigio
Clean, crisp, little sticky but nice flaves in the lingering finish.
Red Wine - Paso Robles $33
Pretty straightforward red wine, balanced and a nice rounding finish.
Pinnacles Ranches - Monterey $12
Like above, pretty straightforward with nice fruit and a crisp finish.
Dinner that eve was at Montrio, which is on the main drag in Monterey. Meeting us there was Hugh Reimers and Sam Burton from Twin Fin. Linda Parker, who organized our trip, also joined us. If you like big, noisy restaurants, this is your place. And I don’t mean that in a bad TGIF way. Sometimes it’s good to be in the middle of organized chaos.
The food a Montrio was delish. And here’s what to look for from Twin Fin:
X Twin Fin
2005 Pinot Grigio
Soft, smooth, a bit tangy and a nice crisp finish.
XX Twin Fin
2006 Sunset Rose
Pretty fruit aromas, off-dry and a well-balanced, lingering finish.
XX Twin Fin
Nice black, red and blue fruit, some smoke, well balanced and a spicy lingering finish.
The night was young, so we wandered down to Lallapalooza, a martini-style bar just a few doors away. (Check out their list!) This is the hot spot for young adults (and those of us who still think we’re young adults). Great atmosphere, good looking people, tasty tattooed bartenders, and a great beer selection. Oh, and a very imaginative martini menu. A must stop.
Well, that’s it. Till my next trip…
Oh, in case you’re interested…
Akon, Smack That, Konvicted