Thursday, May 22, 2008

Moving On (Up?)

So in honor of a new resolve to write some more, and a scheme to turn a lightly-traveled year into fodder for hometown writing, this site is migrating to a new service and address:

See you there!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Peru: Incas, Sloths, and a little Espanol

I have been quite neglectful in writing about our recent (increasingly less recent) trip to Peru. Before I tackle the trip in-depth, I thought I'd post a little teaser of our trip. We spent a spell in Cusco for some relaxation and Spanish lessons, hiked the Inca Trail, spent an indulgent night at Machu Picchu, took the train to Lake Titicaca for some kayaking about, jetted to the Amazon for some flora and fauna and a dose of rain, and then wrapped up in cosmopolitan Lima.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cali Style: Wine tasting in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica treats

So a week ago I took a little weekend jaunt to visit friends who live in Santa Monica. Aside from the general shock to the system of sunshine (I feel like a mole squinting in the sun when I go somewhere warm this time of year), we had a lovely and mellow time. We had a few choice treats in Santa Monica and spent a lovely Saturday exploring Santa Barbara wineries – an area made popular by the movie Sideways, but one I’d never been to. So, without further ado, a short commentary on finds:

Santa Monica treats:

Vanilla Bake Shop (512 Wilshire). Now, I’ve been to my fair share of cupcake joints, having lived in New York during the whole height of the Magnolia Bakery craze, but this joint has something going for it. In a completely genius move, in addition to regular cupcakes, they make mini versions. This not only allows you to taste more cupcakes with reduced calorie-guilt, but also allows them to charge even more per bite. Everyone wins! Although the red velvet cupcake could have used a little more cream and a little less sugar in its icing, the highlight was the Strawberries & Cream. It was a little bit of extra-light shortcake, a little bit of fresh whipped cream, and some fresh strawberry. Sure, it wouldn’t travel well, but it was a delicious afternoon treat. So thumbs up.

Santa Barbara Wine Tasting:

Los Olivos Café and Wine Merchant (2879 Grand Ave. in Los Olivos). A lovely wine country lunch spot on the main drag in Los Olivos. A satisfying burger to fortify ourselves for tasting and tasty pizzas. It’s attached to a well-stocked wine store with decent prizes and a deep selection of California wines, from Santa Barbara and beyond.

Consilience Wine Tasting Room. Just down Grand Ave. from the café, this was our first stop and, frankly, disappointing. I was eager when they had a Petite Sirah on their tasting list (j’aime petit sirah), but their wines were generally very high in alcohol and the 2005’s, the bulk of their tastings, were a bit young for drinking. But – the young woman manning the tasting room was delightful.

Daniel Gehrs Wines. Further down Grand Ave. was this tasting room, with serious Kenny Loggins playing in the background. The highlight was their 2005 Fireside Port from Amador County, served with a chunk of dark chocolate. However, it took serious restraint to keep myself from buying a case of their 2005 Paso Robles Syrah, for which they were running a case special of $10 a bottle.

Alma Rosa Winery. (7520 Santa Rosa Road in Buellton). Once we ventured out of Los Olivos and into the countryside, we headed to this gem, up a winding dirt road, over a stream (seriously) and in a cabin on the side of a hill. In addition to the fattest cat I have ever seen (apparently from eating picnic scraps) and the nicest porta-potties I’ve encountered (technology has definitely advanced), Alma Rosa had some delightful wines. Definitely a good picnic spot if it’s that kind of day. The hands down highlight was their 2005 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir, and their 2006 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blanc wasn’t half bad either.

Sanford Winery. (5010 Santa Rosa Road). Further down the winding Santa Rosa Road is this operation, somewhat slicker than the others. Apparently the Alma Rosa folks started this place, then sold out to a big company and moved down the road. It was pretty crowded by mid-afternoon, but still a friendly place. We were especially enamored with the chocolate covered blueberries on the tasting bar. A favorite (and bargain) here was their 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from the Santa Ynez Valley.

Fiddlehead Cellars. (606 Penna Drive in Davis). This place is so classic California wine boom. It’s basically a small warehouse space in one of those strips of warehouses where you’d find the UPS store next to a dog food distributor. What was so perfect was when we pulled up there were two Porsches out front – a convertible and an SUV – and their corresponding 50-something couples inside. The tasting room was manned by a delightful portly fellow, and won the award for best wines of the day. Their 2007 Pink Fiddle Rose, using Pinot Noir, was a smashing hit and their 2004 Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir, from the Santa Rita Hills was terrific. Certainly one of the day’s lessons was that the Santa Rita Hills make a decent Pinot Noir.