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Wine Recommendations from a Thrillerchick

In Vino Veritas, part 4

J.T. Ellison

By J.T.


Day 4

Ledsen

We were at a bit of a loss in the morning. Truth be told, we didn’t want to leave. We needed to head to San Francisco later in the day, the forecast called for rain, and we hadn’t gotten ourselves into the heart of the Sonoma Valley yet. So we decided to Trust in Tara – our theme of the week – and put in an address we knew was on the north end of the Sonoma Valley. That way, we could drive, and anything we stumbled upon was fair game.

The drive was beautiful, though we got caught in the downtown district of Sonoma, which I thought was much more “city” than Napa. But when we cleared out of that, we were able to drive for about thirty minutes, gazing at the vineyards, feeling the slow seep of time. We spied a huge mansion in the distance, and the closer we got, the more interesting it looked. They had a sign that said Sangiovese in the front, so we stopped. (We really need a bumper sticker that says “I Brake for Sangiovese”.)

The estate was called Ledson. We’d never heard of it, and soon discovered that this was another wine club-only vineyard. Intrigued, we started the tasting. It was so nice to be inside looking out on the rainy day, to see the mist rolling through the valley, to be warm and dry on such a dreary day. We were in the capable hands of Austin Smith, wine consultant extraordinaire, who entertain as well as educated.

We chose an array of reds for our tasting, and got to work. I say work because it is, in a sense. Anyone can go into a tasting and drink wine. It takes some practice to be able to tell one wine from another, to ferret out your individual tastebuds, to be able to tell French oak from American. And trust me, with a little bit of training, anyone can do this. And to the folks in these vineyards, when they get a true oenophile at the bar, it’s like a light goes on inside them. They want to educate. They’ve got the finer details down, and are willing to share. I have to tell you, the most fun of the whole trip was being surrounded by fellow wine junkies.

We started with the 2005 Diamond Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon – lots of rose petals, blackberry and cherry, vanilla, with cranberries, cloves and toasted oak. YUM! Then were tried the 2005 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Another excellent wine, with lots of leather, anise and lilac which tasted of chocolate and black berries. The 2005 Mes Trois Amour is the California version of an Australian GSM – that’s a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre grapes – with cocoa and smoke, rich cherry and smoked molasses. The 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir had the characteristic rose petal, strawberries and cherry nose that we’d come to expect from the pinots, but with a surprising caramel and pepper finish.

The 2006 Knights Valley Sangiovese was dry and spicy, and the 2005 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandelwas incredibly jammy, with white pepper and plum and a touch of cinnamon. We had some of the 2005 Kinghts Valley Bellisimo, the gold medal winner in the World Wine Championships, that is a 57% Merlot 43% cab blend – luscious, fruity and spicy, and the 2005 Sonoma County Cèpage, which was smoky, leathery, with toasted oak and plums. Truly an excellent wine. The last one we tried was the 2006 California La Montagne, a 75% cabernet 25% sangiovese with raspberry, pepper, rose and lilac notes. It’s a Super Tuscan wine, and absolutely divine. We were sold. We joined the wine club, and Austin comped our tasting, a very nice touch.

And then we ate. Thankfully, there was the great little Café Citti right down the street, and we munched a pizza and cleansed our palates with salad and lots of water.

Cafe Citti view

Declaring our trip a success, we headed into rainy San Francisco. It was too cool to drive the Golden Gate Bridge into town, but the shock of being in a city was a sharp contrast to the lazy, indolent days we’d spent in the country. We decided on the spot that we are definitely country mice, with the exception of New York.

We drove around San Fran and dined in the rain at Capurro's on the wharf. I had clam chowder and crab cakes, and a lovely glass of 2005 Clos la Chance Zinfandel. Randy was dabbling in the pesto gnocchi again – I just can’t keep that man away from the gnocchi.

We did a minimum amount of strolling, got lost (Tara wasn’t happy with the heavy fog and kept sending us to the wrong street) so we accidentally ended up on Lombard Street. It was dark, but you can still see the crookedness. We did a run through the red light district (when I visited San Fran last, when I was 8, my dad got lost and ended up on that street. Twice. My mom was having kittens.)

Back at the Grand Hyatt, we had a cappuccino and birra in the lounge, then went back to our room. Looking down into Union Square, we saw a group of people, all dressed in black, looking like they were doing a protest. We found out a few minutes later that we were watching anarchists who’d just cracked windows all over the shopping district, causing thousands of dollars in damage. Um, yeah. Way to make a statement, guys – cracking a window at Neiman Marcus while wearing a ski mask is sure to change the world.

Day 5

Louise and JT

We had very special plans today. At noon, we were meeting our dear friend Louise and her sweet hubby Bruce for lunch at the Washington Square Bar and Grill. After we packed and managed to get the multiple bottles of wine we bought along the way shipped home, we headed to Washington Square.

Our dear Louise looked lovely, and kindly gifted me with a San Francisco compass, which I desperately needed. We had a brilliant meal (try the fish and chips, they are croquettes and really yummy) and a plain old fashioned cellar merlot. I was actually a bit wined out, if you can believe it.

After a couple of scintillating hours in our dear friends’ company, it was time to go home. We drove across the Bay Bridge into Oakland, and the fairy tale ended. Alas. But out luck held – even though we were an hour late turning the car in, they didn’t charge us an extra day. Southwest was on time, as always, and we got home safe and sound to a very, very happy kitty.

Bottles of wine have been rolling in, with almost daily visits from UPS. Our cellar restocked, now we’re planning our next outing. Italy? Oregon? Wherever we go, we’re sure to find good food, good wine, and make new friends.

Thanks for taking the journey with us. A new decade has begun, and I hope it brings great joy and success to us all.

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