Monday, March 13, 2017

Suds and Snow in the Sierras

This past January we went up to Tahoe.  Seeing as I'm not a winter sports guy I don't go to Tahoe very often. Maggie hadn't ever been and a bunch of friends were renting a house in Tahoma so we joined the party.  We got really lucky that the biggest storm in years just happened to dump hella snow a couple days before we got there and then the weather was gorgeous the entire time we were up there.

On our way up, we stopped at Fifty-Fifty Brewing in Northstar Village for lunch and some delicious crisp beers.  Their beers reminded me a lot of Maine Beer Company due to the crisp and bright flavors.  I'm guessing they have a great water supply either a spring or snow melt.  You can really taste the difference between breweries that use fresh water and those that are stuck with municipal supplies.  We each got a flight of 5 beers.  Maggie stayed on the lighter side ranging from a golden ale to pale ales while I started hoppy and ended dark and brooding with 3 IPAs, a porter, and a stout aged in a Cognac Barrel.  I was a little apprehensive about ordering a barrel aged stout because the last few ones that I had tasted more than root beer than stout.  The waiter talked me into it because apparently the brewery is known for their barrel aged stouts.  Maggie loved all of her choices and there wasn't much sharing.  I found the ale brewed with lemongrass to be interesting but much more of a summer beer than an its 30 degrees outside and I need something to warm me up sort of beer.  The session IPA reminded me of Sculpin's Mango Even Keel so much it was uncanny.  The Rye IPA was delicious.  The porter was one of the best porters I've had in a long time with lots of vanilla and coffee notes.  The stout was by far the best barrel aged beer I've ever had.  Maybe its the Cognac barrel instead of the usual bourbon or maybe they have a superior technique.  I'm not sure but either way its damn good.  The Cognac isn't over powering it still tastes like a stout but with subtle notes that seemed just outside of my grasp.  The only bad part of the experience was the pulled pork in our nachos was a little too sweet and we probably should have gone with the chicken because everything else in the nachos was just what we needed.

When we got to the cabin the power was out.  This was back in January when the big storms were rolling through California.  In order to help warm us up we had an impromptu whiskey tasting.  I brought Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey and my friends brought 4 Roses small batch bourbon, Templeton Rye, and Basil Hayden.  The Hudson was my favorite.  It was more smooth than the rest and the flavors are on point.  The Basil Hayden and 4 Roses were also very good.  The Templeton Rye was too harsh for me.  I can't tell you too much about the night but there was a glow in the dark puzzle and lots of beers involved.

The next day we went snowshoeing in Sugar Pine State Park.  We rented snow shoes and poles for $11 for half a day at a nearby rental place.  Parking in the park was $5.  This was a great value day.  The day started overcast but as we tromped through the powder the sky opened into a brilliant blue.  Snowshoeing is a great way to enjoy the beauty that is Tahoe.  Its not as easy as walking but its a hell of a lot easier than walking in deep snow.  Its a good work out especially with the falling and getting up part.  Thats just extra exercise and laughter.  Nothing wrong with that...

On our way back home to the Bay we stopped at Kingvale to do some sledding.  It cost $10 to park and then $10 each to sled.  I always think of sledding as being just for kids and it looks kind of blah but in reality it's terrifying!  I have no problem riding down a hill at 40mph on a bike but a sled just goes where it wants to go and any attempt to lean or steer results in an uncontrolled spin. Actually, sledding made me realize that its for kids because they heal faster and their spines are made of elastic.  There was a short slope with lane dividers and a longer one without.  As you may know its nearly impossible to steer a sled so the open one added extra adrenaline because at any moment my 230lbs could plow into some kid.  Good thing we all signed waivers before we were allowed on the slopes.  The two lower slopes were pretty busy so we wandered up the hill and found 3rd slope with divided lanes that we had pretty much to ourselves and a hispanic family a few lanes over.  We didn't get injured and we had a blast.

We were famished after sledding so we stopped for burgers in Auburn at the Auburn Ale House.  I have been through the upper portion of Auburn with all of its fast food joints numerous times but I didn't know there was a quaint little old town.  The Ale House had the best burger I've had in a long, long time.  It was cooked to perfection (medium rare) with just the right amount of juiciness and bacon.  We both had burgers.  I went with a stout on nitro and she had a golden ale we both enjoyed our beers but we were pretty much over drinking by the end of the weekend.  Since it is in the heart of gold country all of the beers are named after the gold rush.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Tamayo Family Vineyards

A little while back we visited Tamayo Family Vineyards in Brentwood.  We had gone to Brentwood to pick Cherries last June.  If you haven't gone to a U-pick Cherry orchard I highly recommend it.  You get a bucket and there are ladders near most of the trees but you can just pick them without the ladder.  We had planned on spending the afternoon picking.  We didn't really know how many cherries there would be but when we got there the trees were dripping with cherries. After picking 9lbs of cherries in about 30 minutes we had some time to go wine tasting.  (If this is a retelling of an older post I apologize.  I could have sworn I already wrote this entry but I can't find it.)  

So we went to google and yelp.  I had originally thought we were a lot closer to Livermore and since I've never been wine tasting there I was a little disappointed to see that we were about an hour away.  We found two wineries in the immediate area.  

The first one Hannah Nicole Winery was not our jam. If you like sweet wines you might like these, but if you like sweet wines you will probably be more satisfied by wines from less expensive retailers as the tasting fee was $10 for 5 pours and the reds were in the $30-$50 range.  We were less than impressed by their wines.  However it did seem like a happening spot as the winery was pretty full of people and there was some sort of live music happening on the grounds.

Tamayo Family Vineyards

Maggie found another winery about a mile away called Tamayo Family Vineyards.  They do tastings by appointment only so we were lucky to get a last minute tasting.  It is run by the husband and wife team of Jeff and Sara Tamayo.  As we drove up the driveway there was a winery in a barn on the right and an impressive house further up on the left. So we drove to the quaint barn which didn't have any parking or people which of course was the wrong place.  The Spanish styled estate has been in their family for generations and is a beautiful piece of property with a fountain, elegant stonework, and terra cotta roof.  We definitely felt out of place with our cherry picking clothes on but Sara met us out front and put our worries at ease with a glass of their lovely Bailey Viognier which is super floral and reasonably priced at $24.  

She then took us on a short tour of the vineyard, bee hives, chicken coop (because Maggie is obsessed with chickens), and the grounds where they have weddings and events.  Jeff joined us as we sat on their porch to taste some reds and munch on cheese and crackers.  Jeff had just come back from the East Coast (he arrived while we were walking on the grounds) and even though he was probably jet lagged he graciously joined us.  He even showed us their wine collection which has a dining table in the middle of the room for special events.  I smiled and nodded at the French wine's that he has since I don't really know much about old world wines other than generalities.  He had some older California offerings like Jordan and Chateau Montelena that made the wine nerd in me very happy.  Come to think of it, I feel like they did more to try to sell us on having a wedding/event there than trying to sell us wine, but when the wine is as good as there wine is they don't have to try to sell it.  They just have to open the bottle.

We loved their Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and the estate grown CANA.  The 2008 Pinot was dark and silky with sour cherry and earth notes accented by a touch of cola.  This sells on their website for $32 but is on sale for $16!  

The 2007 CANA is a red blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah, Mourvedre, Malbec, Carigagne, Alicante Bouschet, Tinta Cao, and Viognier.  Since it is a 2007 it has had plenty of time to mellow out the tannins from the bolder grapes in the bunch.  The wine exhibits dark berry aromas with hints of spices and layers of mocha and vanilla.  It has a medium to full body and soft mouthfeel.  The CANA retails for $30 on their website but is also currently on sale for half off!  All the prices of their wines are more than reasonable and those two being on sale is truly amazing!  

We also bought a jar of honey that their son makes from the bees on their property.  Its delicious. 

Lagunitas Night Time Ale

Autumn is finally kicking into gear here in the Bay Area.  The leaves are changing color and the temperature is dropping.  Time for some nice dark beers to warm our bellies while the rain pitter patters on the roof tops and the fire crackles in the fireplace.  Well we don't have a fireplace but the yule log channel can't be too far away...

I digress, last night I had the Lagunitas Night Time Ale.  Sometimes Lagunitas really hits the nail on the head, this is one of those times.  You get those coffee and chocolate notes that usually comes with a porter or stout and then there is  the 71 IBU from the hops which provides some bitterness but also some floral notes as well.  It comes in a 22 oz bomber and at 8% ABV that is enough for me these days.  I know some people will see that 8% and be turned off by it but I really couldn't detect the alcohol as far as taste goes.  So its a good offering to the night time ruckus and as always there is a fun bit of nonsense on the bottle which Lagunitas is known for and I always appreciate.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ballast Point's Flavored IPAs

Let me start this off by saying that I love many Ballast Point brews. The Grunion and Sculpin are amazing true to form beers. The grapefruit Sculpin is the first flavored beer that I have enjoyed since Marin Brew Co's Stinson Beach Peach in high school. I doubt I could get down with that today, but at the time it was great.

Grapefruit Sculpin:
The bitterness of the grapefruit matching the bitterness of the hops and the citrus aromas of the hops and grapefruit mingling together. Really beautiful beer if you haven't tried it yet go get a sixer.

Watermelon Dorado:
It just doesn't work for me. It's like a jolly rancher. I thought the bitterness of a double IPA would counter the sweetness of the watermelon but I was wrong. It's pretty much a wine cooler. Lame.
I hope this isn't what we will come to expect from BP now they were bought for a billion bucks by InBev or whatever inbev/budweiser/America is calling itself...

Pineapple Sculpin:
This beer lands a bit in between the two above. It is certainly much much better than the watermelon. The sweetness of the pineapple flavor carries a little too strongly for my liking but its not candy sweet. The bitterness of the Sculpin is subdued in my opinion but the girlfriend finds it too piney for her liking. Either way I don't think we will purchase it again. I could see this as a good companion to spicy food like a curry or maybe tacos.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Knee Deep Brewing Company Citra Extra Pale Ale

Tonight I had a refreshing, crisp Extra Pale Ale from Knee Deep Brewing Company in Lincoln, CA in the Sierra Foothills.  Its a single hop ale meaning they only used one varietal of hops in this case Citra which has been surging in popularity in recent years. As you would imagine from the name, Citra hops yield more citrus flavors such as grapefruit and lime than other hops.

At 7% alc/vol it is a little stronger than the average pale ale which I guess is where the "extra" in the label comes from.  The "extra" could also be because this is a lot hoppier (45 IBU) than most pale ales. As you can see in the picture below it is definitely not an "extra-pale" ale as the color is about average for a pale ale.

At $6.99 for a 22oz at Whole Foods (you can probably find it cheaper elsewhere) its a special occasion beer and to be honest there are better beers at this price point or lower, but if you really want to know what Citra hops taste like this a great specimen.  Its a great beer, but the price takes it out of being highly recommended.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Local Wines for the Holidays

This is my December column from the Marinscope Newspapers

When you are enjoying the holidays with your friends and family try pairing these wonderful local wines with your meals.

Point Reyes Vineyard's non-vintage blanc de blanc ($29) is grown sustainably just north of Point Reyes Station along highway 1. It is a wonderful sparkling wine with citrus, pear and a slight yeastiness on the nose. Upon the palate the citrus refines itself into lemon, the yeast becomes baked bread and there is a floral note reminiscent of orange blossoms. This is tart and crisp and would pair wonderfully with shellfish.

Pey-Marin's 2009 "Trois Filles" pinot noir ($39) is grown at several vineyards in West Marin with the majority hailing from the dry farmed and organically grown, Corda Vineyard. The wine was aged for 14 months on French oak barrels with 25% new oak. The long extraction period with a moderate percentage of new barrels balances the aromas of the fruit and the bouquet from the oak. The wine is a dark garnet color. On the nose there are layers of earth and spice with notes of sour cherry, raspberry, cinnamon, clove, and forest floor. On my tongue I tasted rich earthiness, bright cherry, raspberry, and cloves as well as some dark fruits and slight fresh leather notes. This is an old world style pinot that is more bouquet driven than fruit forward with a soft front to mid palate mouthfeel and bright acidity. This pinot noir will pair nicely with turkey.

Pacheco Ranch Winery's 2005 cabernet sauvignon ($25) is grown in Novato on an East facing hillside along highway 101. The nose is earthy with notes of eucalyptus and bell pepper. The earthiness carried through to the palate where I noticed dark cherry, cranberry, cloves, and rich tobacco. The tannins yield a gravely, astringent mouthfeel. The bold tannins will enable it to pair nicely with beef as tannins bind with the meat's proteins in your mouth making the meat more tender and juicy. This wine would also be great for making mulled wine.

Mulled wine reminds me of visiting my dad in Berlin and going to the Christmas markets where it is called glühwein. It is pretty easy to make, all you need is a decent bold red wine, a pot to heat it up in, spices, 1/3 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of brandy and an orange or a lemon, peeled and sliced (keep the peels for adding zest). The spices vary on individual tastes and traditions, but they all have cloves and cinnamon sticks at the center with other spices including ginger, allspice, cardamon, peppercorns, vanilla beans, and nutmeg. You put all of the ingredients into a pot and heat them up together for 30-60 minutes making sure not to let it boil. Play with the proportions to taste. Strain the mulled wine into mugs and serve warm to hot.

For dessert I recommend Charbay's pomegranate dessert wine ($45) made with 100% organic, tree-ripened pomegranates from the Central Valley. It exhibits intense pomegranate flavors with a slight minerality. The wine is sweet but not too sweet and is great when served chilled. I find fresh orange peel makes it even more festive or a splash of orange bitters will give it a bit of a kick. It goes great with roasted chestnuts or chocolate.

Point Reyes Vineyards is located at 12700 Hwy 1 in Point Reyes Station and is open for drop-ins Saturday and Sunday from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. For more information, call (415) 663-1011 or visit

Pey-Marin can be found at Insalata's, Il Fornaio, Marin Beverage, Whole Foods, Mill Valley Market, Ludwigs, and many other fine wine shops throughout Marin. For more information on Pey-Marin, call 455-9463 or visit

Pacheco Ranch Winery is located at 235 Alameda Del Prado Road in Novato, Ca 94949. For appointments call 883-5583. For more information visit

Charbay is available at The Buckeye Restaurant, Mill Valley Market, Rick's Wine Cellar, and other establishments throughout Marin. The tasting room is located at 4001 Spring Mountain Rd in St. Helena, California.. For more information, call (707) 963-9327 or visit

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Great Gift Idea - review

A while back I received a free sample from (They currently have a buy 3 for the price of 2 special going on right now!  Guaranteed to ship by Christmas if you order by the 20th.)  What sets apart from all the other online wine stores is they sell sample packs of the wine in 50ml or 100ml bottles so you get the "try before you buy" experience like you would in a real tasting room without the costs of traveling to wine country.  Depending on the pack that you order you get 4 to 6 small bottles of wine per pack and then you can buy the wines you like.  All the wines of this particular sample pack range in price from $15-20 per standard 750ml bottle.  The price of the 50ml sample packs range from $20-50 with the majority being $20-33.  The 100ml samples range widely from $4-18 dollars for a single small bottle.  The wineries range from ones I've never heard of to heavy hitters like LaetitiaSilver Oak, and Duckhorn.

I received the "A Taste Adventure: Food Friendly Wines" sample pack ($30).  This consists of six 50ml bottles of wine.  Three whites and three reds, the line up was: 2011 Lake Chalice Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand; 2008 Chardonnay by Urraca from Mendoza, Argentina; 2009 Lucas & Lewellen Chenin Blanc from Santa Barbara County; 2010 Il Cuore "The Heart" Barbera from Mendocino County; 2009 Stickybeak Syrah from California; 2009 Penley Estate "Condor" Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Down Under.  

A bit of a warning for anytime you have having wine shipped to you.  First and foremost, if you can have it shipped to your work do that!  Someone 21+ will have to sign for it so they can't just leave it on your door step.  UPS is a pain in the butt to try and track what time something will be delivered.  If you are receiving from UPS and you cannot get deliveries at work and don't want to feel trapped at home all day waiting for a delivery, then you need to set up an account online with UPS (or possibly call them up) and then you can have the package delivered to the store and you can simply pick it up during normal business hours.

Now for the reviews:

2009 Lucas & Lewellen Chenin Blanc from Santa Barbara, CA is a tasty pale greenish-yellow wine with scents of green apple, pear, and tropical notes.  The wine is crisp and refreshing making it a very good summer white wine.  Pair it with raw oysters, tilapia, or other subtle fish dishes.

2011 Lake Chalice Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand is lacking the usual strong green/vegetative flavors that I have come to expect from an NZ Sauv.  This wine features tropical notes and hints of grapefruit and herbs on the nose. On the palate there are more tropical notes as well as lemon, lime, and slight herb notes as well.  Not the overpowering asparagus and such that we have come to expect from NZ.  The wine is has racing acidity and saying it is crisp is an understatement.  It is a little bizarre to have that much acidity without many green flavors, but as I'm not a fan of vegetative flavors (unless it pares with whatever I'm eating e.g. herbs in a Cab F. with an herb-encrusted roast) I liked it.

2008 Urraca Chardonnay from Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina:  I very rarely review Chardonnays, this is no exception.

2009 Stickybeak Syrah is made with grapes from three counties in California: Monterrey (57%), Napa (25%), and Sonoma (18%).  Monterrey and Sonoma are known for making great Syrahs and Napa is known for great Bordeaux varietals so I figured it would be pretty good and true to form which it is.  The wine has a lovely dark ruby color and the bouquet has heavy oak, cedar, and dark cigar notes with aromas of black fruits.  On the palate there is black plum, black pepper, vanilla, blackberry, concord grape, and a slight savory herbal element.  There is a lovely little coffee nuance on the finish.  The tannins are nice and round, but the acidity is a little high so it would be better with food than without.

2010 Il Cuore Barbera from Mendocino County, CA is very oaky and smokey with notes of concord grapes, sour cherry, and savory hints.  The acidity is bright as one should expect from a Barbera.

2009 Penley Estates "Condor" is a blend of 52% Shiraz and 48% Cab hailing from the Coonawarra region of Australia.  This is my favorite red of the group.  It was dark purple with a dark ruby rim.  The wine exploded  from the glass with jam, white peppercorns, and a little smokiness.  On my palate the jam and white pepper continued and were joined by fresh dark berries with herbal notes.  The tannins were soft and sultry with a little gravely astringency.  The wine is ready now and it will continue being wonderful for a few years to come.

So in conclusion this is a great way to try wines that you won't normally come across and if you aren't blessed with living near wine country then this is a much less expensive way to taste great wines than traveling to wine country.  Of course, traveling and experiencing is far more enjoyable for most people, but this is a great substitute.  This is also a great gift idea if you have a picky wine drinker (like me) on your Secret Santa list..