Sunday, November 23, 2008

Food, Wine, and the Joys of Spontaneity

On Saturday Steph and I decided to drive up to Santa Ynez to do a bit of wine tasting in my old stomping grounds. Unlike our usual method, in which we pack a picnic and plan out where exactly we want to go over the course of the day, this time we decided to go with a more spontaneous approach. I've been trying to embrace this "spontaneity" thing lately (which seems to have become much easier for me after my time in Malaysia and Thailand), and on Saturday it worked out quite nicely indeed. We didn't even know what we would be making for dinner when we set out in the morning (this would normally stress me out), but even that portion of the day ended up being awesome.
We started out at Curtis, where I worked in the tasting room for a few years when I lived in Santa Barbara. (The corner of the counter that I still think of as "mine" is shown below.) Most of the people I worked with there over the years have moved on, but there was a familiar face in the tasting room on Saturday and he poured us some really nice wines. From there we headed (far) up the road to Foxen for still more fantastic wine. Foxen is one of my favorite wineries in the area and I can't recall ever being disappointed with the quality of their wines. We drove over to Los Alamos next to stop at Bedford Thompson, where the fun is as much about great conversation with the winemaker as it is about the wine.
Our original vague plan (conceived on the drive up) was to head in to Los Olivos for lunch, but a winery in the opposite direction had just been recommended to us, so we instead went two doors down from Bedford Thompson to eat at the Quackenbush Cafe. With a menu of mostly sandwiches and salads (pretty much all of which look delicious) it was a great stop for lunch. I went with Dungeness Crab Cakes (plated atop on crispy wontons with a really nice coleslaw and served with a salad dressed in a nice balsamic vinaigrette), which were made pretty much entirely out of crab (minimal filler) and were seriously delicious. Steph ordered a smoked pork tenderloin sandwich with roasted yellow peppers and feta, which got good reviews as well.
After lunch we headed east on a dirt road. In theory, this road would eventually take us past Dierberg-Star Lane winery before intersecting with the 246 freeway. On the way we were treated to some breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys in the area (pictures below taken while our 90's station on XM radio was hilariously blasting "High Enough" by Damn Yankees), and eventually we arrived at the winery as promised. The wines here (particularly the Merlot and the Pinot) were pretty darn nice, though I found it funny that they gave separate glasses for Bordeaux and Burgandy varietals (which is good) but that neither glass had been properly cleaned (which is bad, particularly if you're implying that glassware is so important).
We intended to hit a couple wineries along the 246, but we didn't have a map (because we're too cool for such things) and ended up turning west (towards home) rather than east (towards those wineries), meaning we needed a new plan. We headed into Solvang at this point to check out Stolpman, where we hadn't tasted in a few years. After trying their wines again, I can't imagine why we stopped going for so long. I love everything they pour at Stolpman (their L'Avion Roussanne in particular kills me) and the staff are always extremely friendly and helpful.

We decided this was enough wine tasting for the day and headed back down the mountain to grab some groceries and cook up some yummy food. (Attempt at capturing the sunset behind us in the rear view mirror below...)
We knew we needed to make something to pair with a Syrah, since I had shipped almost a case of Syrah from my cellar in Portland to enjoy with friends here. In the end we pulled together ingredients for Grilled Tri-Tip with Roasted Onion and Blue Cheese Cream Sauce. We've made this a few times before, but we had to change things up a bit this time since our memory of the necessary ingredients was a bit inaccurate while we were grocery shopping... and it was te best the sauce has ever tasted. We are brilliant.
This was a really nice day with a mix of old and new. Today we're off to watch the Bucs game, then driving to LA for what promises to be an amazing concert. More on that later...

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