|Wow that's a fierce wind. Good thing Melissa sewed my eyes shut before we left to protect them from the elements.|
But Melissa and I wanted to celebrate our one-year anniversary (can you believe it!) by going away for the weekend. We thought about a number of places, but Sonoma became the instant winner when we realized that Baguette Quartette, who played at our wedding, would be playing in Sonoma 365 days later on our anniversary.
Here's the thing, though. We thought of it as a road trip, but Sonoma just isn't that far away. It took us an hour on a week-end. An hour! My evening commute can be that long. We kept commenting that maybe we should plan more day trips up there, so that we can become the stereotypical Bay Areans that the rest of the country rolls their eyes about ('cause, you know, we're not already. Really.)
We arrived in Sonoma a little too early to check into our hotel, so we went, wait for it, wine-tasting! No shock, I know. But, hey, with two wine articles on deck at different magazines, it's practically my job.
Looking on a map, it's easy to see that Sonoma and Napa are practically on top of each other. But one dares not ever say "How different are they, really?" In Napa, Sonoma is where the hicks live, and they don't know how to make wine. In Sonoma, Napa has become a sprawling mess, overrun by the unwashed masses who have been tricked into liking the monotonous wines produced there. Needless to say, neither view is exactly right.
|OK. So the folks who work at Arrowood do not have a view that sucks.|
We have a friend who spends his weekends pouring at Ravenswood, but he was away that weekend, so he recommended some places for us to go (not Ravenswood, which is a zoo on the weekends). Our first stop was Arrowood (I hate places that drop letters in confusing ways). They had three tastings, a "classic", a "limited", and a "merlot flight". Melissa went for the classic, I went for the limited. Over the last couple years, I have become very used to spitting out wine that I'm tasting. Aside from the whole getting drunk thing, some argue that the alcohol will begin to dull your senses, making you taste less effectively. But boy, what a way to stick out in a California tasting room (I once had a tasting room employee figure out I was a wine writer simply because I was spitting and making tasting notes). Most people at least poured out all but the first swallow, but still. No wonder people like all these wines.
Yes, yes, yes. Off the soapbox and onto the wines. I'm not exactly sold on the Sonoma wine scene, even after spending the weekend there, but at Arrowood we had some good wines. Melissa and I traded glasses after each of us had tasted. My favorites (even then only plusses in my notebook, not stars) were the 2001 Cote de Lune Blanc and the newly-released 2002 Viognier. Of the first, I said "grassy, apple, floral soap, nice acidity, long acid finish but flavor doesn't linger". Of the second, "classic smell of peaches, with some Riesling-esque aromas and peppery spice notes that are more dominant on the palate. A modest acidity". We did notice that the "classic" wines Melissa had ordered were more one-dimensional than the "limited" wines I had ordered. All of our favorites were from the "limited" list.
Next we went to Imagery, conveniently located on the same property. Melissa found a wine she liked there, a Pinot Noir rosé. I found the wines definitely not very interesting but we got a couple bottles of our favorites (we have a large wine rack which has long since overflown into boxes on the floor and a small apartment; we do not buy in bulk much at the moment).
For dinner, we went to Sonoma Saveurs which got put on the map when animal activists trashed the place before it opened last year. Why target this business? Because Sonoma Saveurs specializes in foie gras products and by-products. That means the duck breast is actually a magret, the breast of a duck raised for foie gras. One of the owners of Sonoma Saveurs is Guillermo Gonzalez, the owner of Sonoma Foie Gras. So I have a sentimental attachment to the restaurant, since I'm well along in an article about foie gras ethics which I'm writing. As it happens, Guillermo was having dinner there that night, so I got a chance to finally meet him after speaking with him on the phone a number of times.
The food at Sonoma Saveurs is delicious. I've eaten lunch there once before, where I had the charcuterie platter which included a foie gras mousse. This time, Melissa and I split a butter lettuce salad and we each got a duck burger, made with magret and foie gras ground together. Sonoma Saveurs' menu has a handy wine and food pairing guide so that you can pick an appropriate style of wine to go with a given dish. It's a great system: color-coded squares steer you towards something with an appropriate amount of weight to go with the food (because ideally the restaurant staff has a better idea than you) but still leaving you a number of choices.
The wines themselves are part of the Sonoma-centric focus of the restaurant; all the wines are from the surrounding area. In fact, the ducks, who are raised near Stockton, probably had to go further than any of the wines on the menu. The wine list is modest but well-focused on the cuisine, and of course stays consistent with the restaurant's goal of being intertwined with its local community (one might argue that this is more necessary than normal when you are the center of quite a bit of controversy).
Because we were having wine by the glass, our choices were more limited. We each went for the Deerfield Sauvignon Blanc to go with the salad, and a Curotti Zinfandel to go with the duck burger. I don't know why I continue to order California Sauvignon Blancs. Even the best of them are middling approximations of the great Sauvignon Blancs of the world. And most are just flaccid and boring. This was the latter. Sauvignon Blanc should have an acidity that makes your eyes light up and your spine tingle. It should not melt away like a whisper on the wind. And the Curotti was, not bad, but very unexpected, and not a good match with the duck burger. It smelled of boysenberry jam and even tasted sweet on the palate. Under different circumstances I would have enjoyed it quite a bit, but not with that food. Perhaps if it were served with a sweeter main course. Despite this, their general wine recommendations are spot on as far as I'm concerned; we just picked unsatisfying examples of the guides our colored squares offered.
|Why, O Why did I go for the Sauvignon Blanc?|
So then we were off to the concert. The band is wonderful, specializing in Parisian café music of the '30s and earlier. I kept a close eye on Melissa when they played at our wedding; I was worried she might leave me at the altar (or the fireplace, in our case) for Odile Lavault, the charismatic lead singer of the band. They got the crowd involved and happy.
The next day, we toodled about Sonoma (see, we're toodling now, just like those stereotypical Bay Areans at the top of this post). We wandered into the stores (lots of wine stores on the town square) and meandered about until we left and came home.
But we came home to dinner at Citron, one of Oakland's best restaurants. So hold on a bit for that post.
Maybe it is time we start making more trips into our wine country. There's Mendocino, and the Alexander and Anderson Valleys, and the Russian River... hmm, when are we free again?