Jacuzzi Family Vineyards: Savoring Sonoma

It’s a good thing we got ahead of ourselves in February, because our March was far too busy to allow for any wine tasting. I went on two separate business trips, a friend of ours was in San Francisco from New Zealand, and Mike had many deadlines to meet. It’s unusual for us to have a month where we don’t get out of town, but in March we didn’t even manage to taste any wine in Monterey County, which may be the first month on record where that’s happened.

Our palates were primed, our feet were itchy (with the urge to take to the road, not with athlete’s foot), and our blog was feeling abandoned. Fortunately, our friends Luke and Mary invited us to visit their favorite wineries in Sonoma, as well as Luke’s family’s farm.

We meant to wait until after we dropped their kids off, really we did. But we passed so many great wineries on the way that it was inevitable someone would crack. In the end, it was Luke who could no longer resist. Mary brought the kids to the farm while Luke, Mike and I went to a winery that, surprisingly, Luke had never tasted at before: Jacuzzi Family Winery.

Jacuzzi Family Winery fountain
I tried to hot tub in their fountain. They were not amused.

Yes, that Jacuzzi. The wine is named after the family that built aircraft propellers and pumps and eventually invented the famous hot tub that their last name has become synonymous with. Much like their spa tubs, their winery is an immersive experience. (Okay, okay, the bad hot tub jokes will end here. Maybe.)

The Vibe

From the moment we stepped into Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, I thought, “This must be what Napa is like.” By and large, the wineries we’ve visited to date have been small family affairs. While Jacuzzi Family Vineyards is also a family affair — the owner, Fred Cline, is the grandson of Vanteriano Jacuzzi — both the family and the affair seem rather larger than what we’re used to.

Jacuzzi Family Winery
This is just one tasting room. There's an additional room for olive oil tasting, plus a covered back patio, plus that patio with the fountain - it's ginormous!

There were three tour buses in the parking lot when we came in, but we were still easily able to find a spot at the bar.

Jacuzzi Family Winery
Mike and Luke held back the crowds just long enough for me to take this photo.

Mike, ever the craftsman, immediately noted the detailed woodwork that ran throughout the tasting room. I noticed the jewelry, the Italian accoutrements, and the general country-Italian-villa-teleported-to-Sonoma sense. I also noticed that there were no purse hooks, which anyone who reads this blog will know is a particular hang-up of mine. (Hey, I said there wouldn’t be any bad Jacuzzi jokes…I never said there wouldn’t be any bad jokes.)

The Wines

Jacuzzi Family Winery
Cary was awesome!

Cary, the tasting room associate who was kind enough to pour for us, was friendly and efficient and told us everything we might want to know about the wines. Much to our surprise, we each got to taste six wines for free. Eighteen wines on the list, three people tasting…could we hit them all?

Sadly, the whole “sharing” strategy didn’t occur to us until about halfway through. But we did taste a large portion of the list nonetheless.

Jacuzzi Family Winery
Luke and Mike discuss sharing wine...in a manly fashion.

Fred Cline also owns Cline Cellars, whose Ancient Vines Zinfandel we’re a fan of. He established Jacuzzi so he could create some wines that referenced his Italian heritage. I am no expert on Italian wines, but I can say that these wines were delicious. I encourage Mr. Cline to continue exploring his Italian heritage!

Tocai Friuliano, Alexander Valley, 2009: Italy may have been banned from using this name for their wines because the Hungarians are concerned it will be confused with the unrelated and prestigious Tokaji, but Jacuzzi has stuck with the traditional name.

No matter what you call it, this enjoyable country white is a pleasure to drink. This one was tart with hints of lemon and grapefruit, but softer than a Pinot Grigio. Mike tasted some pineapple in there, and said that on first impression it was tart, but then it mellowed. (Kind of like me!) And as I’m typing this, I’m wondering why the heck we didn’t get a bottle to add to our cellar…

Arneis, Paicines, 2010: The great thing about tasting at a winery that’s doing something other than Rhône-style wines is that sometimes you get to taste something you’ve never heard of. I’d never heard of Arneis or Paicines. Wikipedia tells me that Arneis is a type of grape grown in the Piedmont region of Italy, while Paicines is a San Benito County AVA.

As San Benito is over 50 miles from Sonoma, this AVA clearly doesn’t count, but that doesn’t mean the wine wasn’t great! It was similar to the tocai friuliano, but mellower; Mike noticed that the acidity emerged later and it was overall not as tart. This makes sense, as Wikipedia tells me that this grape was used to soften the harsh edges of the Nebbiolo grape in wines from the Barolo region.

And no, Mom, if Wikipedia told me to jump off a bridge, I wouldn’t. Unless it was a really cool bridge.

Bianco di Sei Sorelle Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, 2009: This grape was named after the six original Jacuzzi sisters of the generation that originally emigrated to the U.S., and the label bears their photo. The bottle, unlike most of the wines from Jacuzzi, is a country jug style.

This wine has a great nose, which reminded me of slightly sugared flowers. I tasted hints of dry mead when I sipped it. Of course, when I said that, Luke looked at me like I was crazy, so your mileage may vary. Mike found it acidic.

Moscato Bianco, Alexander Valley, 2010: The scent reminded me of the syrup used to pack canned peaches. Mike smelled pineapple, banana and melon. It wasn’t quite a dessert wine, but it was close! Mike’s tasting notes are — and I quote — “Creamy, gentle flavor with a suggestion of orange marshmallow circus peanuts.” I think he really likes marshmallow circus peanuts, though, so that’s a positive review. This would be great with some cheese, or maybe a fruit plate. And once again, I am lamenting not having it in my wine cellar…

Nebbiolo, Carneros, 2009: On to the reds! I smelled cherries and raspberries here; Mike smelled a hint of chocolate. As I sipped, I found the skins very present, with a hint of cherry in front. Mike tasted chocolate and felt it was a bit spicy, with nice acidity.

Sangiovese, Sonoma Coast, 2009: Mike is not the only one who has strange associations with smells and tastes while tasting wine. On this Sangiovese, I smelled oak and band aids. This isn’t the first time I’ve smelled band aids when I’ve sniffed a wine, and it won’t be the last. It’s not an unpleasant smell, by the way. Am I the only one who ever smells this? Clearly Mike didn’t; his notes say “mellow fruit nose.”

I found the flavor very rich, and felt this would go well with a steak. (Says the vegetarian.) Mike found it warm, but a little reserved — which is exactly what I thought of him when we first met.

Primitivo, Lake County, 2008: Cary told us as she poured it that this wine is “a little on the young side.” The scent was unusual, cinnamon and spicy pepper with underlying blackberries. Mike smelled charcoal, fruit, tobacco and lipstick. For me, the taste followed right along with the smell: blackberries, spice and a little astringency. Mike tasted fruit with slight vanilla and ester components, and some nice acidity that emerged late in the arc.

Barbera, Mendocino County, 2009: There was something on both the nose and palate on this one that was a little plasticy for me. The smell had hints of coffee, and the flavor had a slight hint of stewed prunes, with a little chocolate aftertaste. Mike’s experience was very different. His notes say: “Almost meaty aroma. The taste – wow! Explosion of fruit and vanilla. Reminiscent of berries and cream. Acidity is just right. Noted that the flavor – not the mouthfeel – has a thickness to it.”

Rosso di Settle Fratelli Merlot, Carneros, 2009: As the chardonnay is named for the six sisters, so this is named for the seven brothers. (Mike said that perhaps they should have a rosé named for seven brides. But I digress.) Mike said it smelled like cremé brulee, a combination of vanilla and toasted sugar, and he wasn’t wrong, but I also smelled a rich fruit underlining that. For me this tasted of caramel, oak and a deep meaty grape flavor, for him it tasted of creme brulee dusted with cocoa powder and a tannic floor. Either way, this was a yum.

Montepulciano, Tracy Hills, 2009: I smelled chocolate frosted caramel and toasted oak. I couldn’t put my finger on the complex, subtle flavor, but Mike called it wood smoke, fruit and a hint of vanilla, with soft tannins.

Lagrein, Paso Robles, 2008: After watching Mike and I share all our tastings, Luke just couldn’t resist any more and gave us each a sip of his wine. To me, the nose had stewed prunes with a little sugar; Luke got spice. The flavor was tart but complex with a hint of oak.

There were three reserve wines also available for tasting for $1 each, but Cary was kind enough to comp us. I’ll try not to let that influence my reviews.

Pina Prosecco, Asolo Italy, 2010: I always thought it was pronounced pro-CESS-oh, but Luke and Cary put me straight; it’s pro-SEK-oh. This one was a little dryer than what I’m used to. There was acid and a hint of almond on the nose, and the taste was of citrus with that same hint of almond underlining it. Mike felt the flavor had an added richness you don’t find in standard sparkling white.

Valeriano, Carneros, 2007: This had chocolate covered plums on the nose and a nutty and tart flavor. Mike smelled vanilla and berries and tasted fruit and tobacco notes.

Late Harvest Aleatico, Sonoma Valley, 2008: This grape isn’t frequently planted, Cary told us, but according to Wikipedia there is something of an Aleatico trend beginning. (I know, Wikipedia again! So sue me!) I smelled sugar, strawberry, raspberry and cream; Mike smelled dried pineapple. I tasted a hint of yeast along with sugared plum; Mike tasted raisins, prunes and pineapple.

This was a great way to kick off what we knew would be an exceptional day. We tasted from a wide range of AVAs, but under our rules only four counted: Alexander Valley, Sonoma Coast, Carneros and Sonoma Valley.

Our progress: Two months, 16 appellations. Wait, WHAT?

When we first conceived this project back in November and December, we originally thought we’d visit 20 wine appellations. Then we decided to stretch ourselves and try for 40. We added a clause stating that “we can only count Monterey County appellations if it’s December and we’re desperate” because, frankly, we thought we’d need it.

As of February 28, to our surprise, we discovered we’re already 40% of the way there.

If we’d really done our research, we probably wouldn’t have been so surprised. There are easily over 60 AVAs within a five-hour drive of Monterey, and that’s not even including the AVAs within Monterey County! It seems that everywhere there’s a bit of land in California, someone is planting vineyards, and someone else is demanding that the wine region be split into ever-smaller appellations.

A key trip in reaching this total was our visit to Lodi. We actually expected to rack up more AVAs in Lodi than we did. In 2006, the Alcohol Trade and Tax Bureau approved seven sub-appellations for Lodi. However, much to my surprise (and possibly Mike’s), most wineries seem to be sticking with the overarching Lodi AVA for now.

We’re not going to get cocky just yet. We may not be able to visit any wineries in March at all, as I’m on the road for a couple of conferences — and, unfortunately, have not been able to add any wine-tasting trips onto the end of those excursions. But now the question becomes: if we achieve our goal with months to spare, what do we do next? See how many appellations we can achieve? Pick one appellation and try to drink every wine within it? Switch to beer?

Lucas and Lewellen: 40th Birthday Road Trip

Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards
1645 Copenhagen Drive, Solvang, California 93463 (map)

From Mandolina, we walked straight down the block to Lucas and Lewellen. The tasting room is beautiful and elegant, with an extremely long bar that can handle many people.

Tommy and Judy, the friendly, lively tasting staffers, are more than up to the task. They kept the conversation going and gently joked with everyone in the tasting room, creating a very enjoyable atmosphere. It was like being at your friendly, charming friends’ home, if your friend had a 30-foot dark wood tasting bar and an endless supply of amazing wine.

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2006 Sparkling Wine: I’m not normally a huge fan of sparkling wines, but this is one I would be glad to give a good home to. In my belly! The smell had notes of toffee and caramel and the taste was warm, a little tangy, with a hint of savory caramel at the end.

2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir: This smelled more like a white than a red, with a hint of honeyed tangerines. It tasted of lemons, underlined with caramel and blackberries.

2009 Riesling: Mmmmm. This smelled like strawberries and perfume. It tasted like strawberries and cream with a hint of cucumber on the finish.

2009 Viognier: This was surprisingly syrupy, with flavors of peaches and pears.

2005 Sommeil en Barrique: This Sauvignon Blanc smelled tart, but there was no tartness in the flavor; it tasted of caramel and pears.

Silver King port: They served this port in a dark chocolate tumbler, just a little smaller than a shot glass. It smelled yummy, savory and deep, like a really great flan. It tasted sweet and savory at the same time, and had notes of tobacco as well.

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Me, tasting room staffers Tommy and Judy and Mike, whose halo is showing.

Mandolina: 40th Birthday Road Trip

We told the folks at Presidio that we especially like trying wines from wineries that are offering wine in non-French styles. The folks at Presidio immediately told us to head down to Mandolina for our next tasting.

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While the interior decorating style of Mandolina may lean toward country French, the wines themselves are Italian through and through. The tasting room staff is friendly but not overbearing. They’re also very helpful; they recommended that we visit their sister winery Lucas and Lewellen and told us that if we dropped the Mandolina name, we’d get half-off our tasting. Awesome!

2008 Pinot Grigio: Surprisingly, this smelled like jasmine and tea. On the palate it was very well-balanced, with hints of citrus and a slight acid bite that was never overwhelming.

2009 Malvasia Bianca: I tasted melon, honey and sweet overripe kiwi.

2009 Moscato: The smell of this reminded me of soda pop. It tasted like pears and nectarines.

2009 Muscat Canelli: As I smelled this, I detected hints of cola, pear and lychee. It had a thick, almost oily mouth feel, with a bright pear taste at the finish.

2005 Bianco di Bianco: When I smelled this, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite dishes back when I wasn’t a vegetarian — chicken picatta. The scent reminded me of the best possible rendition of picatta sauce. This wine was very dry, but had a savory note on the finish.

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Mandolina’s tasting room staffer was so warm, friendly and helpful…and I never took down her name! If you’re reading this, please let me know so I can remedy my error!

Loring Wine Company: 40th Birthday Road Trip

We knew we only had time for one more winery. We dithered for a moment in the pouring rain, then dashed to Loring Wine Company for one reason: because their graphic design is darn cool. Little did we know that many of their grapes are sourced out of our very own Monterey County!

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Mike strikes a wine-tasting pose.

Loring focuses largely on pinot noir. I was feeling a little pinot-whelmed, but I bucked up, put on my big-girl palate and did my darndest to key into the fine distinctions between the various vinos on offer.

2009 Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay: This had a caramelized oak scent and tasted of honeyed oak with a hint of kiwi.

2009 Keefer Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley): I was surprised by the smell, which was a mix of oak and burnt popcorn. After that smell, the fruity taste was unexpected. Lest you think this was a fruit bomb, know that there was enough oak to round out the flavors.

2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: The smell reminded me strongly of Dr. Pepper. Its texture was surprisingly thick, almost syrupy, with light tannins at the end to add complexity.

2009 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir: Clearly I was in a soda pop state of mind, because this wine’s scent reminded me of nothing more than grape soda. It tasted like blueberries with heavy spice at the finish.

2009 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir: It smelled like a leather shop located next to a winery. Its flavor echoed the smell, with a little licorice to round the taste out.

2009 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir: My notes consist of “Candied fruit tannins YUM!!!”

2009 Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir: This smelled of caramel and leather, and tasted of burnt sugar and leather (but less sweet than that description implies).

2009 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir: This nose was loaded with musky tannins, but the flavor was full of fruit, like an alcoholic version of Izze’s Sparkling Blackberry juice.

Boy, at the end of this tasting, did I ever wish we’d booked the Super 8, Travelodge or Best Western that are all just a block away rather than booking a hotel all the way out in Thousand Oaks. (I’d wish this even more after we got to our allegedly-swank but actually-skanky hotel, but that’s another story.) Clearly, one of these days we’re going to have to book a weekend stay at one of those lodgings, just to try all the wineries in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Who’s coming with us?

Palmina: 40th Birthday Road Trip

For the day after my 40th birthday, we decided to go to a wine area we’d never been to before. But there were so many to choose from! Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang, Santa Barbara…Then I read a great comment from reader Christine in which she mentioned “the ‘ghetto’ in Lompoc.” Ghetto, huh? We were intrigued and had to give it a try.

A furious storm was battering the Central Coast as we tried to make our way down Highway One. We drove through Pismo Beach and past the campground we’d planned to camp at that night, only to find it closed. A bit further on, we found Highway One was closed and followed the detour signs…only to find that the detour was also closed! After close to another hour on the road, we finally got to Lompoc.

We weren’t sure if the tasting rooms would be open. The streets in Lompoc (pronounced Lohm-poke, as the locals pointed out to us) were rushing with water, so much so that at times it seemed like we were driving through a river. The power was out in every building we passed for blocks on end. But, miracle of miracles, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto appears to be on a different section of the power grid, and was brightly lit and awaiting us.

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto is the nickname for a small industrial park behind Lompoc Valley Medical Center. According to an article in the Lompoc Record, there are 12 tasting rooms in the eight industrial buildings that make up the Ghetto, although according to one person we spoke to that number may by now be as high as 20. Clearly, one could spend a weekend here, and someday we will, but on this day we only had a couple of hours before we had to forge on to our hastily-Hotwired hotel.

On Christine’s recommendation, our first stop was Palmina, one of the first wineries to open a tasting room in the Ghetto. Let me say right now, when Christine gives you advice, follow it! This was the first of her winning recommendations we visited in our trip, but it wouldn’t be the last.

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Palmina’s tasting room is charming, decorated in a country-Italian style that reflects the Italian heritage of their wines. In addition to their bottled wines, they also have house wines on tap that they will decant into bottles or growlers for patrons, an eco-friendly and budget-friendly option. While we were there, a regular from the Bakersfield area came by to have four growlers filled, a testament to the quality of the wine.

We got to taste both of the wines on tap. The Tavolo Bianco wasn’t complicated, just an easy-drinking white wine that I would enjoy having on hand at home. The Tavola Rosso had a chocolate and caramel nose and was very fruity with a deep caramel finish.

I had the same problem with this winery that I do in a really good bookstore: everything was so good, and I wanted to take every single one of these wines home!

2009 Tocai Friulano:  A little nugget of trivia for you wine nerds out there: This is the most widely planted grape in the Friulia area of Italy, and is unrelated to the Tokaji grape of Hungary or France’s Tokay d’Alsace. It had a saffron scent with a hint of sweetness and tasted citrusy, with a touch of minerals and a hint of maple syrup. If you were feeling decadent, this would make a great breakfast wine. And, for those of you keeping score, this Santa Ynez Valley appellation wine was our first new appellation of the day.

2009 Arnes: Our pourer described it as “oily,” and that’s true, but in a good way. It had a lively citrus taste and a honey-citrus scent.

2009 Dolcetto: This Santa Barbara County wine is meant to be drunk young, which is a darn good thing, because even if I had three cases of it in my house the bottles wouldn’t last through the year. It’s full of fruit and caramel with some sultry tannins at the end, and dangerously easy-drinking.

2006 Nebbiolo: At this point the tasting room staffer brought out some salami and cheese. The salami provided a good counterpoint to the Nebbiolo, Mike said, and I could believe it, because the wine smelled like salami! The tannins were strong but not at all unpleasant, and there was a hit of stewed plums toward the finish.

2008 Lagrein: We held this up to the light, which took one look at this wine and said, “Yeah, I’m gonna go somewhere else.” Seriously, this wine was utterly opaque. It smelled and tasted of blackberries and raisins. Delectable.

2009 Savoia: This was fruity with big, big tannins at the finish. I would need to drink this with some food in order to enjoy it.

We also got to try a surprise tasting while we were there.

2010 Pinot Grigio: This was bottled only two weeks before we tried it. It smelled of (cover your eyes, Mom!) sex and pineapple, and tasted like lemon zest and warm minerals.

Anglim Winery: 40th Birthday Road Trip

The tasting room for Anglim Winery is housed in Paso Robles’ historic train station. The rail tracks still run behind the building, and while we were there, the one Amtrak train of the day came through, as you can see by the photo below.

Amtrak train at Anglim Winery

Riders of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, might I suggest staying overnight in Paso Robles and making Anglim Winery your first stop? Trust me, you’ll thank me later. Steffanie Anglim, who poured for us, is lovely, the wines are great, and they often have cheeses out (we liked the Barely Buzzed from Beehive Cheese Company).

Anglim Winery

2008 Grenache Blanc: We were surprised to taste this again at Anglim. We’d never seen a grenache blanc before, and now we had two in one day! This was very different from Ortman’s version. It had a subtle smell of pears, and the flavor was reminiscent of clementines and the tartness of grapefruit (but none of the bitterness).

2007 Rousanne: This smelled of honey and kiwis; in fact, the scent reminded me powerfully of a honey kiwi ice cream I had on board an Air New Zealand flight from Melbourne to Auckland about nine years ago. It was very tasty, with flavors of honey and grapefruit.

2007 Pinot Noir: These grapes came from the Fiddlestix vineyard, the same vineyard from which Ortman sources the grapes for their pinot noir. The two share some flavor elements. This had an aroma of caramel and raspberries. When I tasted it, I was first hit with the “brulee” element of creme brulee. Then I tasted plums and blackberries, followed by leather at the finish.

2008 Pinot Noir: This smelled of honey, that brulee part of creme brulee, leather and fresh laundry. It was a fruit-forward wine with elements of caramel and a strong flavor of leather on the finish. It was my favorite pinot noir of the day.

2006 Grenache: It smelled like blackberries and coffee grounds. The flavor was well-rounded, reminiscent of raspberries and cherries, with tannins highlighted at the finish.

2007 Mourvèdre: I smelled peppers, spices and something savory. That savoriness was echoed in the taste, which had pepper paprika, bacon (says the vegetarian) and a hit of fruit that came right after the tannins. This was a complex wine I could drink for days just to try to get my head around it.

2005 Best Barrel Blend: This smelled like a great dinner, with aromas of spicy Spanish plums, tomatoes, pepperoni and steak. The complexity continued on the palate, with flavors of pepperoni, plum and blackberry.

2006 Cabernet Franc: I could only describe the scent as “spicy deep red.” As I tasted it, I got a hint of caramel, then a hard hit of pepper and spice, and a little bit of savory tannins on the finish.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: The smell was complex: vanilla, lacquer and a subtle scent of savory spices. My tasting notes are as follows: “Just YUM!!!!”

2006 Gorgeous Port: It lives up to its name. It was very savory for a port, with rich raisins and a flavor that reminded me, in the best possible way, of A-1 sauce. I cannot have A-1 sauce anymore due to food allergies, but I think I could happily replace it with Gorgeous Port three nights a week.

Ortman Family Vineyards: 40th Birthday Road Trip

Ortman Family Vineyards
1317 Park Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446 (map)

Things looked a little dicey due to work commitments, but in the end we were able to get out of town on my 40th birthday. Our first stop was a town we’d visited on our first vacation together, Paso Robles.

All of the winery tasting rooms we’d visited on that trip – the apparently-defunct Midlife Crisis, the recently-relocated Edward Sellars and the in-limbo Silverstone) are closed now, but downtown Paso is still loaded with great tasting rooms. For our first stop, we chose one that’s only been open for a few months: Ortman Family Vineyards.

Ortman Family Wines tasting room

Ortman Family Wines has a cozy tasting room loaded with works from local artists. They also, thoughtfully, have handbag hooks all around the tasting bar. I don’t think Mike ever notices these things, but I do and I’m very appreciative of them. (I do notice! – M)

Tasting room staffer Holly, who poured for us, was friendly and warm and very complimentary about my landmark birthday. The wines were lovely, but Holly would have made it enjoyable even if they’d been terrible.

Ortman Family Vineyards

2008 Grenache Blanc: Few people make whites out of grenache grapes. This was an unusual, but very enjoyable wine; in fact, its startling taste was part of what made it so enjoyable. It smelled of toffee and butterscotch, and tasted of toffee and minerals, with a satisfyingly balanced sour finish.

2008 Chardonnay: This wine comes from the Etna Valley appellation, adding yet another AVA to our list! It smelled warm and woody. Those warm wood flavors softened the acid edges of this chardonnay.

2008 Pinot Noir: And we continued to rack up the AVAs with this San Luis Obispo County wine! This smelled of butterscotch and fruit. It tasted of fruit and capsaicin, and when I say capsaicin I mean both a hint of the sweet start of a bell pepper as well as a spicy finish usually found in the more aggressive members of the capsicum family. Really enjoyable.

2007 Pinot Noir: This Santa Rita Hills wine was the third appellation of the day — and we’d only tasted four wines! It had a toffee-coated grape smell. The flavor was profoundly grape-y, with a little toffee and a hint of a bitter finish.

2008 Sangiovese: Sangiovese is a particular varietal that Mike is intrigued by. He’s searching for a flavor that he tasted once upon a time at Pomodoro Cucina Italiano years ago (with some other woman, ahem). I don’t know if he found it here, but I sure found this wine to be lovely. I smelled sugar, caramel, a little molé, and pepperoni. When I sipped it, there was fruit on the front and paprika at the finish. And, since this was from the Paso Robles AVA, it was our fourth AVA of the day!

2006 Syrah: Yum. This smelled of chocolate, coffee and toffee. It tasted of sour blackberries, pomegranate and a hint of cranberries.

2007 Cuvee Eddy: It smelled of stewed tomatoes, prunes and oaks. The tomato element was evident in the taste, as well. I eat tomatoes like they’re apples, so I loved this.

Michael David Winery: In Love with Lodi

When we first started planning our trip, friends told us, “You’re going to Lodi? Go to Michael David.” When I called the woman we rented a house from for the weekend, she said, “Oh, and of course, you must visit Michael David while you’re here.” We posted on Facebook that we were in Lodi, and friends commented, “So, are you going to Michael David?”

As our last stop on our way out of town, we went to Michael David.

Michael David Winery

The facility is definitely set up to handle large events such as Wine and Chocolate Weekend. There’s a lawn with picnic tables, the winemaking facility in which they’d set up a temporary bar, and their usual large tasting room. We got plenty of attention from the tasting room staffer despite the crowds.

And the wines? Well, all I have to say is, “Go to Michael David.”

Okay, okay, I have more to say than that.

2009 Incognito White: This viognier/chardonnay blend smelled like orange blossoms and had a strong floral quality when tasted. It was delicate and wonderful.

2009 Seven Heavenly Chards: This wine is a blend of Chardonnay grapes from seven different vineyards. It had a milder citrus smell than I expected. The flavor was also more complex that I’d anticipated. It had a smoky, savory mineral taste, like it had been slow roasted over a wood fire. This would go well with goose, turkey or pork (says the vegetarian).

2008 Incognito Rouge: It smelled of caramelized fruit, and had a food-friendly flavor with a high alcohol finish.

2008 Seven Deadly Zins: I’ve seen this at the store many times, but didn’t know the story behind it. The grapes come from seven regional growers, and are blended together to make this zin. It had a caramel lacquer scent, and a blackberry pine flavor with a hint of brown sugar.

2008 6th Sense Syrah: This wine smelled of blackberry and strawberry with a hint of mushroom and pepper, and tasted of caramel and blueberries with leather overtones.

2008 Petite Petit: Blackberry crush flavor. I would have said more, but someone knocked into my glass. I caught the glass, but the wine went everywhere, as you can see in the photo below:

Michael David Winery

2008 Earthquake Cab: This had a fruity blackberry nose with hints of poached apple. There was something sparkly and complex about it. It tasted of tart cherries and raspberries, and had the warmth of warm sugar without being overly sweet.

2008 Earthquake Zinfandel: This was my favorite zinfandel of the weekend. It had a cranberry blackberry nose and a flavor with layers of cranberry, basil, sage and crème bruleé.

2008 Lust Reserve Zinfandel: The nose was full of pepper and oregano, reflecting the wine’s creamy, spicy finish.

2006 Zinfandel Dessert Wine: This had a sweet plum scent. The flavor was something I very much enjoy, a sugared raisin taste with no acid and almost no alcohol hit. It had an aftertaste of brown sugar.

With this tasting, we really ended our trip to Lodi on a high note.

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Lodi Wine Cellars: In Love with Lodi

Lodi Wine Cellars is a team effort by several local winemakers, who have joined together to create a comfortable space at which they can all sell their wines. When we walked in, one of the winemakers was kicked back on a sofa in the corner, watching the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the big screen TV in the corner. Funny, since we’d just fled the crowds at the epicenter of the AT&T in order to come to Lodi!

Lodi Wine Cellars

That’s my purse under the bar. Winemakers and boyfriend, please note: I will love you a lot more if you put purse hooks under the bar.

McKay Cellars

McKay Cellars had a table set up at the back exclusively for tasting their wines. Our first sampling was an A/B test – at least that’s what I, being a geek, would call it. Others might call it “The Zin Challenge.” We were offered two different versions of the 2008 Equity Zin, and told to vote as to which one we liked.

Equity Zin #2 had a hint of soda pop on the nose, and was loaded with tasty cherries, berries and a savoy umami flavor when tasted.

Equity Zin #3 was less sweet but still had a fruity nose. It was still ripe with cherries and berries, but had a few more tannins.

I can’t actually remember which one I voted for, but I do remember that our party was split right down the middle and canceled each others’ votes out.

2007 Truluck’s Zinfandel: This wine got a double gold and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It smells of sweet grapes and has a fruity flavor, but with a complex, scotch-like finish.

Benson Ferry

Our group next sauntered over to the bar (see photo above) to sample wines from the other winery tasting at Lodi Wine Cellars, Benson Ferry. Benson Ferry also had a great painting on the wall and banners with their labels hanging from the ceiling.

2008 Chardonnay: This was a very citrus-y, mineral-y chardonnay. Very easy drinking. Mike noted that it had a burst of pineapple.

2009 Pinot Noir: This smells like something that Jules on Cougar Town would drink (raise your hand if you teared up at the death of Big Joe!). Its scent was loaded with prunes, pepper and cinnamon. The flavor was full, too, and “just darn tasty,” I wrote in my notes. It wasn’t too fruity nor too astringent, just 100% easy drinking.

2004 Shiraz: It smelled like caramelized plums and tasted like a savory braised plum creme brulee.

2006 93240 Old Vine Zinfandel: This Benson Ferry sublabel had a powdery raisin scent and a syrupy fruit and honey flavor. According to the tasting room staffer, it’s their most popular wine. I liked it, but it was not my favorite of the group.

2008 Benson Ferry Old Vine Zinfandel: This had a tart cherry scent and a flavor that was a mix of sweet cherries, brown sugar and toasted oak.

2006 9 x 9 Zinfandel: In case you haven’t caught on yet, Lodi less than threes Zinfandel (as the kids are saying nowadays). Or perhaps the reverse. Either way, this zinfandel had a ripe candy cherry scent. It tasted of robust fruit, but there didn’t seem to be many layers to it.

Port: This had a musky warm brown sugar and plum juice scent and a plum pudding sauce taste.