Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mendo a go-go

Twisty roads full of "kiss-your-butt" turns, various brilliant shades of green moss, heavy gray skies, an inn with a cozy wood-paneled library (and a rumored ghost), and divine wine (hello, my newfound love for Alsatian varietals!). Ahhhh, Mendocino County, what has taken me so long to find you?

B & I headed down to Mendocino County a couple days after Christmas, shooting down I-5 then over to Hwy 20 under a sky threatening snow on a windy road that led us to Clear Lake, where we stopped at Shannon Ridge and Steele wineries. In a school house more than a century old, we tasted Shannon Ridge's wines (and were the only customers most of the time), and were impressed by the Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Syrah. However the whites were far too cold, but the tasting rooms attendants were more than happy to chat while we waited for the pours to warm up so we could get a better sense of their flavors. On a side note, I just don't get why so many tasting rooms can't seem to serve whites at a proper temperature -- more often than not they're either too cold or too warm. If I was working in/managing a tasting room I would surely want to present the product in the best possible manner!

From there we headed to Kelseyville, home of Steele, which we discovered through a knock-out Zin at District, the SOMA wine bar on 3rd & Townsend in SF. While we weren't thrilled with the wines on the tasting menu, the winery is quite prolific, offering a bevy of varietals under 4 labels. So we blindly purchased bottles that included the Steele DuPratt Zin, the Writer's Block Grenache, Santa Barbara Pinto Noir, Shooting Star Barbera (on recommendation from a wine club member in the tasting room; we had it later that night in our quaint hotel and it was a fruit-forward, full mouthfeel treat), and a Sauvignon Blanc (after all, Lake County is known for that varietal, one of our favs).

We made Hopland our base, although we didn't see much of it except for the Hopland Inn, a 19-century hotel built for SF's high-society. It had a terrific restaurant & bistro and the decadent library was the favorite gathering spot for visitors. My only complaint was we didn't sleep all that well despite a comfy bed -- I'm going to blame it on the ghost that supposedly haunts the place (although we didn't hear any spooky noises). There are at least 5 wineries within walking distance of the inn, but we departed the next morning for a full day in the Anderson Valley.

Heading past countless sheep, cows, and moss-covered trees and fences, we started at Handley, where we gawked at the winemaker's amazing art collection that spanned the globe and is reflected by the tribal patterns on the delicious bottles of Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Mendocino Ridge Zin we picked up there. We stopped by Husch, and while we were charmed by the tiny, rose-bush laden tasting room, we weren't blown away by the wines.

Our experience at Lazy Creek was better -- after driving along a road lined with ferns and moss-covered rocks and trees, we came to the farmstead where the family lived and worked. Early mini daffodils contrasted brightly against the dormant vines and one of the owners/mom directed us to the extremely low-key tasting room manned by the vineyard manager Jaime. The Gew├╝rztraminer was crisp & refreshing, leading us to anticipate taking a bottle with us to the next Asian meal we have out, but the "sparkling" Gewurtz was to die for, exploding in our mouths despite the visual lack of bubbles.

Navarro was another highlight, as we liked almost everything they had on the tasting menu and joined the excellent-value wine club (~$95 for two, SIX TO EIGHT bottle shipments 2x year!). The winery has lovely grounds and a view that will be even better in nicer weather. We also stopped in at Breggo, a new winery that is yet to have its own vineyards but has bought some lovely Sauv Blanc & Pinot Noir, and Rett there insisted we visit Esterlina, which was two miles up the hill from Handley. So we trekked back up that way and had a great time sitting down with "Pinot Patty" and working our way through a variety of whites & reds, including lovely Pinot Gris, Riesling, and a red blend. We munched on huge sandwiches from Lemon's deli in Philo and admired what we could of the fogged-in view in a place that felt like a friend's attic hideaway.

While Mendo was just my speed for a leisurely post-Christmas jaunt, it's on to NYE tomorrow night and the techno gods must be appeased! We're off to the blasthaus party in SF, where French dj & vocalist Miss Kittin is the featured headliner, with support from local favs from Kontrol (Alland Byallo & Nikola Baytala) and Sunset (Solar) among others. The night promises to be a gold-dusted affair, with a balloon drop, champagne (OK, it's likely to be sparkling wine...) toast, and naughty gold-clad revelers reminiscent of LoveFest! I'm ready to pre-party with some Privat Laieta Cava and Scharffenberger Brut, both recommended by the helpful John at Beltramo's in Redwood City. Hello 2008!