Sunday, January 30, 2011

Marsupials, Wine & Friends in Yarra Valley

I had mentioned to the Webbers, owners of De Bortoli Wine, that I was interested in going to the Healesville Animal Sanctuary and the next thing I knew Leann was on the phone making arrangements for my visit!  I didn’t mind taking a little wine break to play with some of Australia’s native animals.

The Steve and Leanne picked me up first thing in the morning from Chateau Yering.  I had enjoyed my stay there but was excited to see Australia's animals. Along the way they told me about the local produce market, led by apples and cherries, and pointed out some of the 70 local wineries in this area.  We also drove straight through the town of Healesville, full of cafes, small hotels, a brewery, stores and restaurants.

At the Healesville Animal Sanctuary, my day was planned and guided by John and John, who are among the 65 staff and 260 volunteer guides at this massive zoo.  Between the two of them they knew everything there was to know about the sanctuary and the animals and birds native to Australia – all that they have there.  Over 300,000 people pass through each year and they had quite a day planned for me. I was glad I had my walking shoes (actually, my favorite FitFlops) on.

I started off at the platypus section where I got to pet a platypus (as much as he let me, they are squiggly creatures!).   From there it was off to the koalas. I didn’t realize before that these marsupials sleep 21 hours a day and though they were awake, they didn’t want to get down from the tree!  I did some gentle petting and watched them in awe before we took off for the kangaroos. There was no sleeping for these adorable creatures, who love to eat off your hands, rub against your legs and don’t mind being pet!  (All of the experiences I had are available to the general public too under their Magic Moments program.)

After I left the kangaroos, we went to catch the Spirits of the Sky show.  This cannot be missed as some of the world’s most beautiful birds (all native to Australia) fly around the audience under their instructor’s guidance.  I took a break from the animals for lunch at the Harvest Restaurant, which is far from your average zoo cafeteria.  The food here is closer to gourmet, with a huge menu, as well as wine and cappuccino.  I had a delicious Lamb Souvlaki and a latte, before John came back to take me on a tour of some of the animals I missed.

I actually didn’t know there was really an animal called a Tasmanian Devil (I thought it was just a cartoon character) and I was even more surprised that they are nearing extinction because of a virus that veterinarians are having trouble identifying and curing. I also saw my first Dingo, a member of the wolf family that dates back 20,000 years.

In addition to housing and showcasing the animals, the Healesville Animal Sanctuary has the Australian Wildlife Center hospital to care for rescued animals and help breeds like the Tasmanian devil survive. Unlike any zoo I have ever seen, the examining rooms, operating area and even autopsy section are open for the public to see.  There is also a large project at Healesville to breed rare and endangered species.

Steve Webber picked me up at the animal sanctuary and we were off to check out some more Yarra Valley vineyards.  We stopped by Tarrawarra Estate, which offers breathtaking views of the valley, as well as contemporary art exhibits and, of course, wine. We drove through the sections of the valleys and Steve explained about the sub valleys, which face the east and get great morning sun, producing some of the best wine in the valley.  He also told me that I should check out Toolangi for great chardonnay, before we headed over to De Bortoli.

De Bortoli is the second largest wine producer in the area and they make wine under 20 different labels.  Their property includes a restaurant, winery, tasting bar and cheese shop, where they make their own cheeses.  It would have been impossible to taste all of their wines, many of which are blended with an unusual mixture of grapes, like the La Boheme line, which contains Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Rolle in Act One; Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in the Act Two Rose; and Riesling and Gewürztraminer in Act Three.  All three are definitely worth trying and going to be released in the U.S. in the near future.

The grapes De Bortoli uses in their wine are the best they can find from their vineyards around the valley and down in the Mornington Peninsula. The De Bortoli Reserve Riesling was handpicked at Dixon’s Creek and was developed by a German winemaker with a very light nose and a strong grapefruit presence. The Estate Grown Chardonnay comes from four different vineyards and picked up its oak and spice from 9-10 months in oak casks.  The PHI Chardonnay is from a 2008 single vineyard and is very smoky, with lots of tobacco and the mineral it picks up from the higher altitude, making an excellent Chardonnay.  De Bortoli also makes some sparkling wines, including the Rococo Blanc de Blanc, but their prize is the De Bortoli Yarra Valley Syrah and the PHI Pinot.

The Webbers hospitality went into the evening as they took me to dinner at Innocent Bystander, a restaurant/winery/coffee brewery that has pizza with think and flaky crust that reminds me of New York, and let me stay in their beautiful cottage over looking one of their vineyards.  In the morning it was back to Melbourne, where I finished up my Australian Open coverage before heading to South Australia for more wine, marsupials, and hopefully friends even half as hospitable as the Webbers of De Bortoli!

Friday, January 28, 2011

More Wine & Chateau in Yarra

After a delicious breakfast of a tomato & cheese omelet, fruit, pan au chocolat and a latte, I took a walk down the driveway of Chateau Yering and turned into the lot for Yering Station Winery.

Winemaker William (Willy) Lunn was my guide for the day.  He explained to me how Yering Station Winery planted its first vines in 1838 on the property of a cattle farm. The barn still stands and is used for functions like farmers markets, and the Yering Station store does sell local food items, but the main product here now is wine.   It wasn’t until the late 1980s that became the case as it had gone back to producing cattle during and after the depression before additional planting was done in the early to mid 1960s.

Yering Station is the third largest in Yarra Valley, behind Domaine Chandon and De Bortoli.  They produce 12 different wines from the valley floor and also work with Devaux Champagne in France.  The processing of the grapes – which are both hand and machine picked – is done outside.  All of the barreled wine is put in French Oak and bottled under screw caps. The reserve labels are produced on small scale, only when the wine warrants it and Yering Station is working with technology that can actually lead them there before the wine is even tasted.  They use a machine called EM38-MK2 to map the soil of the vineyards through sonic waves.  Using this information, they can then change the irrigation as needed.

The translation of technology to wine works for the still and sparkling wines of Yering Station.  The Yarrabank 2005 Cuvee Sparkling is a 50-50 Pinot Noir-Chardonnay blend from the upper Yarra valley, which is high elevation. It’s pretty dry, but has a strong citrus back.  The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, is very light with more grapefruit notes and very refreshing. The White Blend is an interesting mix of Viognier and two grapes I’m not too familiar with. Marsanne and Roussane. It was a little oaky with fruit and spices, a subtle flavor that will go better with food than on its own.

At Yering Station I also tasted a 2008 Yarra Valley Sangiovese that was full of strawberry flavor, with a little spice.  It was just dry enough to be complex, but the fruit kept it a bit sweet.  Another interesting wine is the Yarra Valley Heathcote from 2007, the year a major frost wiped out a lot of the valley’s fruit. This wine is 95% Shiraz with just 5% Viognier.  It’s strong in dark fruit, especially cherry, for a dry red wine.  On the other spectrum, the Pinot Gris dessert wine is a delicious treat.  And speaking of delicious, there is a restaurant at Yering Station with quite a gourmet menu. 

Over lunch I got to take the Rose, made from 100% pinot noir, with a strong strawberry nose and a bit of sweetness, despite its lack of residual sugar.  I cannot bring myself  to  consider eating the kangaroo, which ,my lunch partner told me was tender and lean, but I really enjoyed the Eggplant tortilla, more of a lasagna of potato and eggplant.  We finished with some interesting desserts and then Willy said something to me that I was starting to hear quite a bit of since arriving.  It seems that in Australia, the winemakers finish their day with a beer!  As he put it, “It takes a lot of beer to make good wine.”   It is referred to in Yarra as “cleansing ale.” If you’d like to visit Yering Station, tours are on request only. The tasting room, however, is open seven days a week, as is the restaurant.

The walk back from Yering Station Winery to Chateau Yering is beautiful as the colorful trees and flowers lined the walkway. The grounds here are as beautiful as the inside of the Chateau and it’s definitely a place I’d like to come back to.  I might actually be able to relax here and put the computer away if I had the time!

The day ended as the following would begin, in the company of the Webbers, owners of De Bortoli wine. Steve and Leanne invited me to join them and their daughters for a casual barbie. They poured some wine, put some steaks on the barbecue and we had some great conversation about wine and Australia.  As good as the gourmet meals have been, this was even better and the best welcome I had received Down Under.  It would only consider through my final day in Yarra Valley, which also happened to be Australia Day.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Yarra Valley Wine Welcome

The week before I left for Australia my trip was marred by changes and cancellations thanks to a certain TV host (whose name happens to begin with “O”).  It seems she swept through Australia, leaving a wake of hotels, restaurants and tourism boards tired and broke. Most of my plans had to be changed and I have been relying on the kindness of strangers a lot more than I ever had before.  Yarra Valley was one of the places that invited me with open arms at the last minute and they couldn’t have been more sincere.

I’ve done a lot of trips that included the Moet-Hennessy group, including Cognac, Napa and Champagne, so they were the first I contacted when I made the decision to go the Yarra Wine Region.  Mat Janes arranged for me to be picked up in Melbourne and I arrived at Domaine Chandon early evening after an enjoyable ride through the Victoria countryside.  Even at a quick glance, the vineyards were beautiful, lined in yellow roses. The winery has only been here since the 1980s and is a lot more modern than most of what you see in regions like Napa.

Chandon has a brasserie on the premises with views of the vineyards to enjoy while sipping their wine with small bites like cheese platters. The draw here is sparkling wine and all of theirs is made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or a combination of the two. Not all their grapes are grown here, though, as they also use some from other regions, including the colder Tasmania.

The property Chandon is on was a dairy farm at one time, but it’s all about the wine now. This place was built with wine tourism in mind and they welcome 200,000 people per year with three guided tours each day.  There is also a “Sunday School” that is all about wine education.  After touring the grounds and learning how Chandon machine picks their grapes for sparkling overnight, when they are the coolest, I got to taste a few of their wines.

The Chandon Z-D is a Blanc de Blanc, which means it is made 100% of Chardonnay. It is bone dry, but definitely zesty. The Tasmanian Cuvee is a single vineyard wine that is light and fresh, with hints of peach and nectarine.  The Chandon Prestige Cuvee (2002) is very fruity and rich, while the Pinot Noir Rose has a strong strawberry nose and holds the berry taste in a semi-dry finish. In contrast, the Pinot Noir is a dry wine that is fruit forward, with a tobacco and spice finish.  I noticed that the Pinot Noir from this region is drier than what I am used to in California, but that wasn’t the case with Chandon Chardonnay, a 2008 vintage that was citrusy and light, almost like a Sauvignon Blanc.

Mat and I left the winery and headed over to Chateau Yering, where I was staying the next two days. This Relais & Chateau property has the feel of an old country inn with a touch of luxury. My room was warm and inviting, with a balcony that offered perfect views and a bathroom that combined the old (stand alone tub) with the new (modern shower).   I also loved the soft, cuddly stuffed cat that was actually the “do not disturb” sign when he was placed outside the door.

We had a lot more wine to discuss and taste, so we did it over dinner at Chateau Yering's exclusive Eleonore’s Restaurant, where Chef Mathew Macartney works magic with the freshest ingredients, even when he has to deal with my allergies and need for well cooked meat.  Even the entrees (the word for appetizer in Australia) were exotic as Mat feasted on Char-Grilled Baby Snapper with Nori Vinaigrette, Spanner Crab Maki Roll, Daikon Spaghetti and Avocado Puree.  I had a “Vegetable Garden” of Organic Radishes, Artichokes, Truffle Jelly, Potato Couland Nasturium and Coulis Parmesan Mousse.  Both were delicious, as were our main dishes: Milk Fed Yeringberg Lamb, Heirloon Carrots, White Bean Puree, Olive Jam,. Eucalyptus Emulsion for Mat; and Roasted Grimaud Duck Breast, Smoked Banana Puree, Foie Gras Pacel, Pumpkin Pie and Baby Figs in a Pedro Ximenez Glaze. The desserts were just as exotic (and tasty) and, of course, it all went down best with Chandon’s Brut.

Whether it was the wine, the fresh country air or the comfort of the Chateau Yering, I had my best night’s sleep in preparation for my first full day in Yarra Valley, starting with a full, European style breakfast at the Chateau’s Sweetwater Café, followed by a tour, tasting and lunch at Yering Station Winery, and my introduction to the hospitality of the Webbers and their De Bortoli wine, all friends that Wine Australia introduced me to.

To visit the Yarra Valley check out 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Langham Luxury & Australian Open Partying

My Australian adventure includes a lot of hotel hopping which I look at as the chance to discover some new places.  Unfortunately, that often also means leaving places before I can totally check them out, but I do like to pass along any gems I find along the way.  Within Melbourne, The Langham definitely fits in this category.

One of my favorite aspects of The Langham was the hotel’s ability to combine the lap of luxury with down to earth friendliness.  It ranks among the most opulent hotels I’ve been at, with amenities such as doorbells on the room door, slippers and water bottles at your night table, breathtaking views from the windows (below) and a full wooden box of individually wrapped items of just about anything you could need in the bathroom, next to the large soaking tub.

I didn’t have a chance to experience The Langham’s spa, High Tea, Chocolate Spread, Melba Restaurant or Spa, but I did head down to the Aria Lounge.  Petra was as welcoming as the rest of the staff and she led me through the list of Australian and New Zealand wines as I tried Tyrell’s Lost Block Semillon (very light and refreshing), SkipJack Sauvignon Blanc (full of fruit) and Brown Brothers Crouchen Riesling, my final choice for an accompaniment to my cheese platter, which came with fruit and a delicious nut bread. 

Aria Lounge also offers a selection of sandwiches, oyster plates and kid’s fare, in a very relaxing atmosphere. In addition to the wine and a large spirits collection, they offer a nice selection of cocktails, including : Lungo Finale (St. Germain, Amaretto, Frangelico, Apple Juice, Marmelade and Ristrett); Green Fairy (Absinthe, Apple Schnapps, Passion Fruit and Apple Juice); and Angel (Gordon’s Gin, Cointreau, Lychee Puree and Sparkling Wine).

The Langham is in a great location by the Yarra River, where restaurants and coffee bars line the street. It’s also easy access to the Australian Open, where I’ve been spending a lot of my time.  I happen to be a big tennis fan (and writer), but there’s a lot more going on there than tennis.  It’s also a great place for wine lovers thanks to Australia’s very own Jacob’s Creek.  I will be heading to their winery next week.  In the meantime, I took a peak at what they had to offer Australian Open guests.

If you are lucky enough to get a corporate invite or purchase a package with inclusion, the Jacob’s Creek Heritage House across from Rod Laver Stadium is where you can experience fine dining along with some of their latest wines, which are not yet available for sale. If you don’t have connections, don’t worry, there are still plenty of options to enjoy Australia’s largest wine brand. Within the Melbourne Park grounds you will find their wines at 24 locations for a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc on a hot summer day or a Shiraz to enjoy with a barbecued steak at the Jacob’s Creek bar.   There are also sparkling wines and reserve collections you can sip while watching tennis on the giant screen (or enjoying sunsets).

The Australian Open, like many large tennis tournament these days, has become about more than the sport, in fact, Jacob’s Creek’s Paul Di Vito is free to call it “a carnival.”  There’s even an adults-only area within the Grand Slam Oval where Jacob’s Creek lounge chairs encourage relaxation and Heineken is also sold for an occasional break from wine.  If you are looking to sit down at a table for a meal, Café Arena is open to everyone and you can get wood fired pizzas with  wine by the glass or bottle. For Australia Day on January 25th, the wine will be poured while celebrity chef Pete Evans cooks on the barbie at the Jacob’s Creek wine bar.

Before I head back to tennis, I'm spending a few days in Yarra Valley, where I get to check out that region's wine from Domaine Chandon, De Bartoli and Yering Station.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Meeting Melbourne

It occurred to me when I was sitting at my computer in my suite at the Oaks at Market that I could be anywhere in the world at that moment and it wouldn’t have made a difference.  My first three days in Australia were spent taking a tram to watch tennis at Melbourne Park, coming back to my hotel and sitting in front of the computer until it was time to go to sleep.  It was definitely not the way an Australian adventure should be (though the tennis has certainly been good) and it was time for an immediate change.

I shut off the computer and actually left it in the room so I could travel light (we don't part often, so it wasn't easy).  I walked right past the tram and kept walking down Flinders Street, the main thoroughfare in Melbourne.  I noticed for the first time that my hotel is just a block from the Museum of Immigration, and a few more away from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image – currently featuring a Disney exhibition – and the National Gallery of Victoria.  I noted both on my to do list, as I walked through the streets filled with people walking in and out of shops and coffee houses, or watching the giant televisions in Federation Square that were broadcasting the matches.

Before I knew it, I had passed all the tram stations and was continuing the mile walk to the Australian Open matches at Melbourne Park.  I noticed for the first time the sign I kept walking by announcing free entry to press at the Melbourne Aquarium, something I’d love to do. I watched one of my favorite players (on and off the court), John Isner, lose a tough four and a half hour match, but like the other days when I walked past a smiling Venus Williams, Isner joking with camermen or Novak Djokovic playing soccer (excuse me, football) in the parking lot, I smiled and said hello to tennis friends I hadn’t really spent any time with since I arrived.  And, I made plans with photographer Cynthia Lum , a longtime friend, to see Melbourne at night.

Nighttime in Melbourne confirmed what I felt during the day, this is a fun city all around.  We went to Transport down at Federation Square.  It was full of people of all ages listening to 70s pop music (there’s a lot of that around here), weak drinks and lots of laughing.  The crowd was big considering countryman Bernard Tomic was playing Rafael Nadal on a screen in front of literally thousands.  People were picnicking, singing and literally dancing in the streets!

Cynthia and I took a walk down Swanston and looked at the city over the bridge, both wishing we had our cameras for the incredible view.  We walked a bit more, peaking in a few clubs before settling in for a drink at the Grand Hyatt Radii Bar.  I decided to seal the night with something sweet, and enjoyed a T Gallant Juliet Moscato, a perfectly tasty inexpensive Australian Wine.

After a good enough night's sleep, I packed up this morning and made my first hotel switch,  to the opulent Langham Melbourne. The weekend will be all about tennis (see my columns at College And Junior Tennis) before I embark on my first journey through Australian wine in Yarra Valley.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Voyage to Australia

For as long as I could remember, visiting Australia was at the top of my bucket list.  As a tennis journalist, I longed to cover the Australian Open.  As a travel and wine writer, I couldn’t wait to see and taste what this country had to offer.  The one thing I wasn’t anxious for was the long trip required to get Down Under.

I flew to Los Angeles a few days before my scheduled flight to Australia for practical reasons.  It is winter in the Midwest and the odds are good that it is going to snow at least once a week.  I didn’t want that snow day to prevent me from catching my flight to Melbourne and it was also a good excuse to spend a few days with my California cousins.  All went as predicted (including the storm that came after I took off, delaying flights).  I was safely on the West Coast, though, and made it to LAX in plenty of time for my 11:20 pm Qantas flight.

I have to say I was very disappointed in the Bradley International Terminal at LAX.  Shopping, restaurants, even internet access was virtually non-existent.  As much as I complain about the logistics of JFK, it has a world to offer in comparison.  I was also extremely disappointed to find out the flight was totally sold out and I wasn’t getting an upgrade.  Between my American Airlines (which joins with Qantas in the One World Alliance) status and my profession I am lucky enough that I fly first class more than not, and here I was heading on a 16 ½ hour flight in economy, the lowest of Qantas’ four classes!

As much as the spoiled traveler in me hates to admit it, I survived the night in Qantas’ economy section, which had its good and bad points.  Yes, there’s not a lot of room and when the person in front of you is reclining (which is not unreasonable in the middle of the night) you cannot even attempt to put your tray table down without stabbing yourself in the chest, but it does offer a bit more space than you’ll find in the coach section of your average domestic cabin.  I was impressed with the fact that Qantas doesn’t totally skip amenities in the back of the plane, it just lowers the quality a bit.  The economy cabin, for example, didn’t receive the down pillow and blanket, which turned out to be a plus for allergic me; the headphones weren't top notch, though more than adequate; and a small bag included just a toothbrush with toothpaste and an eye mask, instead of high priced lotions.

I wasn’t at all pleased with dinner, a tasteless short rib and stale roll.  On the other hand, I thought the vegetable frittata breakfast was excellent and the croissant that came with it fresh and tasty.  We were given a bag with applesauce cookies, water, a granola bar and mints right after dinner, which was good since the “snacks throughout the night” that turned out to just be pretzels and apples.  While there wasn’t any other alcoholic beverages offered in coach, we were each given a small bottle of wine with dinner and I enjoyed the Australian Pinot Grigio, made by Juliet, though not as much as  the Cadbury Hot Chocolate – complete with marshmallows!

The flight had a few problems that weren’t anyone’s fault.  We hit quite a bit of turbulence just past the Hawaiian Islands that rivaled that of a roller coaster.  There were also endless issues with the movie channels, forcing constant resets, but I did still manage to watch more movies than I had in the last six months combined.  Since I was in the first row of economy I got a glance at Qantas’ Premium Economy cabin and didn’t see a lot of difference.  The seats were a bit larger and the meals served a bit more formally. I didn't have a chance to speak with anyone in there, but I certainly hope I'm able to experience more of what Qantas has on the way home..

We arrived in Australia over 32 hours after we left, if you include the 16  hour time difference.  The customs lines were a bit disorganized and the luggage took more than an hour to get, but I was soon off to start my three week trip, dropping off my luggage at the Oaks at Melbourne hotel and then on the tram for a day full of matches at the Australian Open.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More New York City Food, Fun & Spirits

A recent trip to New York City had me checking out a new hotel and eating at a place that brought back some old memories – with a little bit of sweating in between!

I absolutely loved The James Hotel in Chicago and couldn’t wait to see the brand new James Hotel in New York. I was a bit shocked when I got there as I’ve never seen two hotels with the same name (and there are only two in the chain so far) that were so completely different. In fact, the only thing I found they had in common was the modern furnishings with wonderful displays of artwork throughout the hotel.

The trip was a short (but definitely sweet) mother-daughter getaway so the hotel worked great for me. We also saw a lot of couples in the lobby who loved the view and the SoHo location. The ultra-modern design is a continued theme throughout the property, done by the Office for Design and Architecture in a collaboration with Perkins Eastman, and Amanda Sullivan from The James design team. Everything is open and inviting, as this area of Manhattan is known to be.

Unlike The James in Chicago, though, this is not a family hotel. All of the rooms just have one king size bed and they are fairly small, with the exception of the 1,300 square foot Penthouse Loft. The regular rooms do make up for it in décor if you don’t need the space. The views of Manhattan are amazing from your bed – or any other place in the hotel, for that matter. And speaking of the bed, the view of the bathroom toilet and shower from the clear wall looks like an invasion of privacy to those sitting on the bed, until you find the switch that brings down the beautifully painted blinds (left)!

After we settled into the room, we went down to the lobby area where they serve an evening cocktail hour of wine and cheese. The restaurant hasn’t opened here yet so the hotel provides this, as well as dessert at night and coffee and pastry in the morning. Sam and I ventured out for some dinner, but returned to check out Jimmy, the rooftop bar with its own swimming pool deck and the most breathtaking Manhattan Skyline views you can imagine. The drinks are a bit pricey, but they have unusual offerings. I definitely recommend The Royal Baby (Aquavit, Cherry Herring Liqueur, pineapple juice and fresh ginger) or the 12 Gauge Grog (Flor de Cana 7 year Rum, Goslings & Brugal Anejo Rums, passion fruit juice, bitters and Pusser’s Naval Rum).

We had to travel a bit too far to use him, but we ran into The James’ complimentary Pedicab driver, who is happy to take you around the immediate area. The James also offers guests free use of robes and slippers; wireless internet; daily newspapers; bottled water; and nightly turn down service with chocolate.

While SoHo is a great area to hang out and do designer shopping (or head to Canal Street to do knock-off shopping), we had decided to head down to the Times Square area and the first stop was Exhale Mind Body Spa. After all, when the second stop is calorie laden, you need to make some room. We definitely burned off some in Amy’s Core Fusion class. I loved the mix of pilates, yoga and aerobics. Exhale has many option for classes and also offers spa services and acupuncture at a growing list of locations throughout the U.S. I’m looking forward to trying some more of them.

I’m afraid we may not have burnt off enough calories for our final stop before heading out of Manhattan -- Junior’s Cheesecake. I used to go the original Brooklyn location as a kid (and loved the birthday cheesecakes my dad would bring home from there). The Times Square restaurant and store offer a lot more than cheesecake and we got started with some good old fashioned Matzoh Ball Soup and  Potato Pancakes. We were a bit concerned we wouldn’t even have room for dessert, but when the manager came by with plates of Chocolate Mousse, Pumpkin, Plain and Strawberry cheesecakes, we couldn’t resist taking a few bites (and taking the rest home).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Don’t Miss Pinot Days

I enjoyed some great California Pinots on my trip to Napa and Sonoma, but it was just a drop in the bucket (or, should I say barrel?) to Pinot Days, an event held in Chicago each year.  At just one location, you can taste some of California’s best, along with some wines from Oregon

Some of the wines I had tasted before and enjoyed before, like C. Donatiello, Cuavaison  and Inman Family Wines.  Kathleen Inman of Inman not only remembered me from my visit, but gave me a sneak peak of their new 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay because she remembered how much I liked that type of wine.  It was one of the best Chardonnays I’ve ever had and for $30 a bottle, I suggest you grab it while it’s available.

I sent my friend and colleague, Theresa Carter (a.k.a. The Local Tourist) to check out more of what I already knew was good and I want on a mission to find some more.  It wasn’t hard at all.  Domaine Chandon’s Pinot Mineur Carneros was excellent, with hints of lavendar, and is under $30.  I didn’t get to Three Sticks on my Sonoma trip, but am glad I find out their 2007 Durell Pinot Noir, a bit drier and fruit back than many others.  Ketchum Estate’s 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir was one of my favorites of the day, along with From Santa Maria, California, Tudor Wines offers a 2006 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir with a fruity finish.  Also from that state, Youngberg Hill Vineyard’s offerings included a very good 2006 Jordan Block Pinot Noir.  Morgan Winery also offered a few good Pinots from Santa Lucia Highlands, with the 2008 a bit more fruit forward to my liking.  Among the picks from a few Oregon wines,  Sokol Blosser had a wonderful 2008 Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir which was just released. 

You don't need to down all the wine at Pinot Days on an empty stomach.  There’s also cheese and water for everyone and food sampling in between the wine exhibits.  Salted Caramel offers some heavenly treats, as does Katherine Anne Confections, which brought Chocolate Truffles filled with treats like rum, and BTrue Bakery,  which makes delicious all natural cookies. Also sampling was Rick Bayliss’ Frontera, with some delicious Mexican food). 

Pinot Days is a non-profit company who is committed to raising money for various charities.  The Chicago event takes place at Navy Pier in November, so put that on your calendar if you live in the area.  Also check out the Pinot Days website for the different events they have in other parts of the country.  It’s a great way to taste a lot of wines for a reasonable price. Many of the wineries are represented by the owners and winemakers so you can experience dozens of wine visits in one room.