Saturday, May 29, 2010

Carmel Valley Scores; Georis Wins

People have told me that stress lifts the moment you come over the ridge into Carmel Valley. Doubtful? Believe it! Blood pressure down; stress factor down; happiness up! Today, we came for the wine, but fell in love with the restaurants, the people, the art, the scenery, and (most importantly, yes) the wine. In the type of town where you might get bored in 30 days, you might instead fall in love in 30 seconds. Instead of forging relationships over several years, you might instead become fast friends over tapas and a glass of Pinot Noir. We met a wonderfully gracious woman at Jan De Luz Antiques, who treated us (and our dog Cecil) like long lost friends. I don't know exactly what happened, but I like the guy who drove that charcoal Prius through town. My dog Cecil was happier, my heart was warmer, Squeak was squeakier, TheWife was ... well, TheWife is always great so I'll stop there but you get the picture.

Premiere wines in this region are typically Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but Carmel Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands also produce wonderful Syrah and (perhaps to a lesser extent) Merlot and Cabenet. Bernardus wines were fabulous from top to bottom, and fantasticly well made. Don't expect Rutherford dust, but do expect fabulous fruit at one-third the price. Wines at the Parsonage Valley Vineyards are also good, in a warm setting with art and friendly help (and the quilting by the patronage of the Parsons clan is unlike anything I've seen). We visited a few other places that were also nice, and didn't even get to some of the most accomplished wineries like Talbott and Galante. At more than one winery, we were admonished to stay away from any winery named Chateau anything (which we didn't follow... and wished that we had later). We advise you to do the same.

We were a merry party preparing to leave Carmel Valley, when we stumbled across Georis Winery on the way out. We pulled over to visit Talbots as our last stop, but were drawn into the lovely gardens around Georis (and the sign that said something like Good Wine and Good Friends). I've had several of their Merlot bottlings over the years -- and found them bipolar between fabulously structured giants and weedy-messes. Instead of just another tasting room, we found a lovely garden filled with brightly colored flowers, colors of all sorts, wonderful latin music, brightly colored birds, and a warmly confident environment. No false pretenses, just massively powerful red wine (Cabernet Franc, Merlot and several bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon). Our hostess was warm and engaging (and, like Joe, a surfer too), who made us feel right at home. She made us feel like anything was possible, and we ended up spending several hours in this wonderful oasis. We even had dinner from their sister restaurant Cafe Corkscrew next door (calamari, artichokes, cheese) -- magnificent!

With the economy being what it is, Joe Plonk joins few wine clubs (and has quit some very good ones). But, I happily joined the club at Georis -- thanks to the high quality of the wine, the friendly service, and a brief measure of serendipity that comes from getting a little lost.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Warm, friendly bubbles at J

Sonoma County includes both hugely fancy wineries and smaller garage affairs. When the Plonk traveling circus arrived at J Vineyards & Winery, we found an elegant winery full of the “beautiful people” that we typically try to avoid. Since the tasting bar was 3 people deep on all sides, we settled on the side of the room waiting our turn. J has long been one of our sparkling wine favorites, so we were happy to wait patiently for the next limo to leave.

As we chatted quietly, Mary, one of J’s staff members approached with a friendly smile and a tray of sparkling wine for our party. She warmly greeted us, and later found us a place at the end of the tasting bar – the perfect place for our merry group (including Cecil, our yellow labrador assistance dog).

Joe Plonk has frequently railed against poor tasting room service – and today has the pleasure to praise an ideal example of customer service. Our host Mary was friendly but not intrusive; knowledgeable but also listened to my blatherings about the wine; and was interested in our overall experience. I left J with a more favorable impression of the winery due to Mary making an extra effort to welcome us – which will certainly translate into sales the next time I’m trying to decide between Korbel, Piper, Mumm, etc.

Sonoma tasting room managers beware! This is the type of person typically found in the tasting room at Rubicon – and Francis’ new Sonoma winery extravaganza opens just down the road in July. Treat your good employees well, and don’t let them get away. Well done, Mary!

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, May 17, 2010

GiaDomella Wines: Russian River’s Oldest Secret

The highlight of this past weekend’s excursion to the Russia River Valley was our discovery of GiaDomella Wines. GiaDomella was everything a small winery should be – the highest quality wine but all the stuffiness of an impromptu neighborhood barbeque. Their wines include the 2007 GiaDomella Reserve Zinfandel, 2007 Russian River Valley Zinfandel, and 2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. All three were hugely fruit forward with firm (but not-too-dry) structure on the backend. We sampled a lot of wine last weekend, but these three bottlings were the best of the bunch. Their Reserve Zin is from 100 year old vines on their property, and ranks with the best zinfandels I’ve ever had. The wines aren’t Plonk-priced, but they’re also not unreasonably priced for the value delivered.

Arranged by friends, our party was warmly greeted by Richard and Victoria Passalacqua who graciously provided a private tasting of wines paired with cheese, salami and fruit. The Passalacquas, who undoubtedly could not have anticipated the traveling circus that is the Plonk family (Joe, TheWife, Squeak and her dog Cecil), made us feel more like family than guests.

If you haven’t heard of the Passalacqua family, it’s largely due to the fact that they historically have sold their grapes to other wineries in the area. Their fruit is sourced directly from their E Passalacqua Family Estate Vineyard, which has been in their family since the late 1890’s. They wisely, however, kept a small (but growing) amount of their best grapes for their own use. Their “GiaDomella” name is a combination of the names of Richard and Victoria’s three children -- Gianna, Dominic and Marcella. And, while you may not know them now, you will soon.

Best, Joe Plonk

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