Monday, August 14, 2017

Cayuse Release Weekend in Walla Walla

Trip date: April 2016

April means Cayuse Release Weekend, the annual pilgrimage to collect my only cult wine and taste around the charming town of Walla Walla. This time I was also on a mission to bring home a few cases of rosé for the arrival of summer.

My friend Chris and I headed east, his first time, and we decided to drive across the Columbia Gorge as it was a brilliant spring day. It was interesting to see that the makeshift campground where I spent much of my late 20's partying at is now all paved with proper fire pits, picnic tables, and tent pads.

We arrived in town and immediately stopped at Gramercy who always has a member's party that same weekend. I've been a fan of Gramercy wine for years now, the quality is amazing. If you haven't been I really recommend a visit (ask if they have any Picpoul!)

However lovely Walla Walla is, it is not without a few flaws; one of them being the lack of good, affordable hotels close to downtown. In years past I have always stayed at the Holiday Inn Express- not posh but well priced. This time we chose to stay at the newly opened Courtyard Marriott. For the same price as the HI we were within walking distance to the wineries, bars, and restaurants downtown. Very nice!

We checked out the bar and although the service was great, the drinks were made with overly sweet mixers. Stick to whiskey neat or on the rocks here I'd say.

We walked to Brasserie Four, one of my favorite restaurants, and had an excellent meal complete with escargot. I really love their escargot!
The next morning we drove over the state line into northern Oregon and onto the Cayuse property. This is the only time Cayuse does any type of tasting, and it's only for members. My friends know that I don't roll out with handcarts of Cayuse, just a few bottles to keep things interesting, such as my 2014 Cailloux Vineyards Syrah which The Wine Advocate just gave 100 points!

The folks here put on a great party and now that the new cellar is open there are beautiful views of the vineyards and much more space for everyone. They had an awesome spread of both passed small bites and stations of hand carved Iberico ham and cheeses. And of course, there was a lot of wine to taste!

Taking advantage of the warm and sunny day we headed to Sleight of Hand, got a few glasses and sat outside while listening to winemaker Trey's rock music play on vinyl from inside.

We dropped the car back off at the hotel and set out to go tasting at some new (to me) wineries.

First up, Trust. I really liked the wines here, very solid Syrahs with excellent QPR! Recommend giving them a taste!
Seven Hills, which is a classic in Walla Walla, but I had never been to a tasting there. We loved everything and ended up buying a lot! And good thing as the winery was sold in 2016 so upcoming vintages will be different. Their rosé was especially lovely.

DaMa. Nope. Overpriced, underdone. And the tasting came with some serious high-pressure sales pitch. YMMV.

Final stop at Otis Kenyon left us on a high note. Lovely wines, some which came home with me, and a fun staff and tasting room. Another one I'd recommend!
It was time for dinner and we had reservations at Whitehouse Crawford. I absolutely love the space here and my meals are always good, not fantastic but good. Walla Walla also needs more restaurants.
The next morning I had a nice visit with my friend Abra who moved to Walla Walla from Seattle to study wine making. We were able to sit outside in her garden with our tea in the sunshine and catch up. The weather can be so great over there in the spring!

Before leaving town Chris and I had a fantastic breakfast at Bacon & Eggs which is now on Main Street in downtown! So handy!

We had one more tasting, at Kerloo as I had been told they were doing a good rosé and indeed they were. Rosé goals were achieved and the trunk was just about full.
We got on the road heading west, this time going through Tri Cities and Yakima, but made a little stop at Owen Roe's new tasting rooms high on a hill in Union Gap.

This is another winery I've been a fan of since first tasting them in Willamette Valley, Oregon. The new Washington space is awesome and I had a chance to taste some wines I am familiar with as well as some new ones. Absolutely make a stop here if you are passing by!
I missed this year's Release Weekend as I was in Palm Springs soaking up some vitamin D with friends. I will most likely miss next year's as well because of the same. First world problems and all that. Here's looking to 2019!

Pssst... If you're in Seattle you can taste Walla Walla greats such as Sleight of Hand, Kerloo, Rotie, Waters, and more at SoDo Urban Works!

All wine weekend photos here!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Cellar Dwellers Do Napa

Trip date: January 2016

A few years ago my friend Lorraine invited me to sit in as a guest at her Cellar Dwellers wine tasting. They were a group of 12 who got together regularly to eat, drink, and discuss delicious things. I knew most of the people in the group, though not well, and also had the pleasure of meeting some new friends; John, Amanda, Benson & Kel. That was June 19th, 2013.

I got to keep my seat and over the last 4 years these friends have been there for me in so many ways. And so many times. They are full of love, laughter, amazing taste, extraordinary skills, and are just all-around-great people that I feel so lucky to know. This week Kel passed away unexpectedly and now I am reeling from the sudden void he's left. I know the others are feeling it as well.

I only knew Kel a short while but I had so many awesome times with him both as part of the group and separately. Last January Cellar Dwellers (missing Sandra & Travis who were on a round-the-world-trip) decided to take our wine tasting on the road to the Napa area; I started this post before Kel left us, it seems fitting to finish it now.  

Our flight was delayed out of SeaTac so it was later than we planned when 6 of us finally touched down in Santa Rosa, got our rental van, and drove to The Retreat where we were meeting 4 other Cellar Dwellers and Sarah's parents, who were all cooking a gorgeous dinner for us. Each of us had our own bottle of the olive oil that the Lawers produce at our table setting.

Sarah's parents, David and Betsy, own Lawer Estates winery and vacation rentals in Calistoga where the 10 of us would be staying. After dinner we split up with 6 of us going to The Lodge, and the other 4 staying at The Farmhouse in the Vineyards. All of these properties are absolutely wonderful and I couldn't recommend them more!

The next morning was cool and drizzly, but we weren't too bothered as we were heading to the Culinary Institute of America to take a wine class called "Tasting Like a Pro". The 2 1/2  hour class was super fun and our group will forever disagree over the flavor charactistics of oak.
CIA Greystone has a lot of courses and if you're into food and/or wine it's a great thing to do while in the Napa area.

All that wine drinking, I mean tasting, had us ready for an afternoon cocktail and some lunch. We chose nearby Goose & Gander. There were many orders of Fried Chicken Sandwiches and the house burger outfitted with gruyere and bacon.
Main Street was perfect for window shopping, loading up on Model Bakery English muffins for the house, and doing a little wine tasting at Orin Swift before hitting the grocery store and heading back to The Lodge.
Lorraine and I made cocktails that night, Sonja and Gavin cooked a delicious dinner, and the others tried to conquer a giant puzzle. Afterward, Kel baked chocolate chip cookies, including gluten free ones for Sarah and Sonja taught us all to play a dice game. It felt like one big happy family!
We were up and out of the houses early the next day (minus Benson who was stuck in bed with a cold) to make our tasting appointment with the winemaker at Lioco, Kai Kliegl.  Pretty much everything here was fantastic including the Pinot Noirs. I think Lioco has become a CD fave and I know a few of us get very excited when we see their rosés in our shops in the summer.
Sarah's parents kindly invited us to have lunch with them at the Mayacama Country Club in nearby Santa Rosa. And because David is super generous, he brought both a 1999 and a 2003 Silver Oak for us to enjoy with lunch. Those Cabs definitely called for a burger!
We stopped for a little shopping at the Bottle Barn, which has great prices on booze and some things you can't get in Seattle. The back of our van continued to fill as we went to our afternoon tasting at Two Shepherds Wines. Our group was very divided on the wines here, they're pretty high acid, even for this girl. But they did have this super cute dog!

Before dinner we had the chance to stop into Lawer Estates and do a little wine shopping! Back at The Lodge, Lorraine and I mixed up some more drinks while Benson and Kel made a fabulous dinner served with lots of wine. There were more tipsy games at the dinner table as well. So fun!
The next morning was absolutely gorgeous so Sonja and I walked to The Farmhouse property and through the woods and vineyards. Everything was dormant as it was January, but it was still so beautiful!
It was our last morning and back at The Lodge the final pieces were laid in the puzzle, the last of the English muffins were toasted, we packed our bags and checked out of our lovely house.

Our final wine appointment was an over-the-top private tour and tasting at Ridge Vineyards. Ridge is one of the oldest vineyards in the Sonoma Valley and is very famous for coming in 5th at the Judgement of Paris.
The tour took place both in the vineyard and in the cellars and was quite interesting. We were then led to a private room and tasted through 5 wines. It was absolutely excellent. And then we all pulled out our wallets and did some more shopping!
We had a bit of time to kill before our flight so we drove to Healdsburg and walked around the quaint town. Pre-flight meals at In-n-Out Burger were obtained before unloading our van at Santa Rosa airport. Alaska Airlines allows each passenger flying out of STS to check a case of wine for free and boy did we take advantage of that!

Kel I love you and will miss you so damn much. I'm so lucky to know this group of wonderful people and I look forward to recounting many memories of you, continuing to learn about you, and hopefully coming to terms with the loss of you. But I'll never forget you. xoxo

All trip photos here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Maui Girl's Trip

Trip date: March 2017

I don't know about you but when one of my friends says "hey, I got this great deal for 5-nights at the Westin Kaanapali Resort, want to join?" chances are slim to none that I'm going to say no! Especially when I've taken advantage of that same deal in Maui and Kauai and know the resort is wonderful!

I cashed in some miles for a First Class ticket on Alaska Air and had an easy 6 1/2 hour non-stop flight to the Valley Island. Although I did almost miss the flight as I had my earbuds in while standing outside the gate and was thinking that they were late in boarding; turns out they boarded right before I walked up and they were ready to close the gate when I finally asked the agent what the hold up was. Dumb!

Normally the flight is a bit shorter but we had 1180 mph headwinds and a fair amount of turbulence! Thank god for free Mai Tais!

Judy was waiting for me at the airport in our complimentary rental car and we made the 1-hour drive to the Westin Resort. We checked into our room on the 2nd floor in Building 4 which had a nice lanai but no view. More importantly, we made it down to the bar just in time for Happy Hour Mai Tais which we enjoyed by the outdoor firepit. It was an early night for both of us after long flights (Judy had flown all day from North Carolina!)

Judy and I have very different schedules, so while she was up before dawn each day, I woke up around 8, went for a beach walk/run, and then settled into breakfast at the Westin. As with the resort in Kauai, they have the program that if you don't want daily housekeeping you can have one free buffet breakfast each day. She took the buffet while I ordered something different off the menu daily.

Kaanapali Beach has a nice little beach front walk that follows the shore and winds through some of the other resorts. The first morning Judy joined me & we followed the trail towards the east for about 2-miles round trip. It was absolutely beautiful out and a perfect temperature! When we finished I had this delicious breakfast of fried egg, spam, and fried rice. With a mimosa of course!

After I did a bit of work back in the room, we headed out to lunch at Star Noodle. We'd both been before but it is delicious so we were happy to go back. We had fried wontons, chicken wings, and the Vietnamese crepe which were all good, but that crepe is amazing!

Judy then drove us to the adorable town of Makawao, which I had never been to before. It didn't take long to walk up and down the main street with its old wooden buildings. We popped into a few shops, including Maui Antiques which is owned by the brother in law of my neighborhood coffee shop, and browsed the little farmer's market.

It's a sweet little town to stop in if you're driving around this part of the island. Very artsy and interestingly located on the mid-slopes of Maui’s Haleakala volcano.

From here we continued on to the North Shore, hoping to score a seat at the bar at Mama's Fish House but unfortunately they were packed full. We settled for some amazing views of the waves, rocks, and surfers.

Back to Kaanapali we rolled up to the super old-school Kaanapali Beach Hotel and got seats at their outdoor tiki bar. This place is amazing in a John Ritter kind-of-way!

It was Happy Hour but the special is only on the drink of the day which was something like a tequila sunrise. We were there for tiki drinks! Two Tropical Itches were delivered to us by the man himself, Dale, complete with actual back scratchers. And a lot of dark rum! This place was a hoot!

Judy decided to stay at the resort that night while I took the handy shuttle into Lahaina. I thought I might have dinner at Fleetwood's which a friend had recommended but as soon as I sat at the bar and ordered a drink, the noise and the ambiance completely turned me off. I felt like I was in a southern California strip mall. I basically was. So I walked down to my old stand by, Kimo's. This place is practically in my family history.

Dinner at the bar, which is open-air, sounds of the surf hitting the rocks, live local music, and fresh catch in a butter caper sauce. Delish! I took an Uber home after as I had just missed the shuttle and didn't feel like waiting around for the next.

The next morning Judy joined me again and we walked the opposite direction on the beach path. After breakfast and a bit of work for me, we met back up at our beach chairs and umbrella that we rented for the day at the low price of $40. The entire day was spent soaking up the sun, sipping on rose, swimming in the warm water, spotting a turtle close to shore and a lot of whales farther out!

That evening I made us rum old fashions with pineapple garnish served with Maui potato chips for aperos. Cuz we are fancy like that!

We grabbed the hotel shuttle to Whaler's Village and had drinks and dinner at the Hula Grill. The thing you are going for here is the beach-side atmosphere, of which there is plenty! Our server was also really great and as they are owned by the same group as Kimo's, he let me order the butter caper sauce on my fish even though that isn't on their menu.

Saturday I took my run/walk to the beach where I had to jump over logs and avoid the tide coming in. It was such a gorgeous morning! After our Mimosa happy hour breakfast ($5 until 11 am!), Judy and I checked out the pool farther from our building. It's all black tile and felt a bit colder. I wasn't a fan even though the pool closer to us had a kid-attracting water slide in it.

It was time for lunch so we decided to get sandwiches and pie at Leoda's which is just delicious! On our way back we stopped at the Jodo Mission in Lahaina and walked around, checking out the Big Buddha (one of the largest outside of Asia) as well as the strange cemetery in the sand.

That night we chilled out at the resort: Happy Hour Mai Tais, the lighting of the tiki torches, another glorious sunset, and a pretty good dinner at the hotel.

Sunday morning's walk was quite special as there was a 400 lb Monk seal sleeping on the beach! Judy had seen it when she was up before dawn and it was still there when I went out at the more respectable 8am.

The Hawaiin Monk seal is one of the most endangered species in the world, only 1100 or so left. They are frequently caught up in fishing debris and drown, they were also hunted to the brink of extinction in prior years. Luckily this guy had a wonderful volunteer who roped off the area for him, allowing him to rest undisturbed, while she informed the onlookers about their plight.

Monk seals are especially rare in Maui as there are only about 150 of them around the main islands. It was fantastic that we both got to see this one and a wonderful start to our last full day!

We did a rinse and repeat day at the beach and I spotted even more whales than I had the other day!

That night we went to Sansei Sushi in Kapalua, which strangely has a location here in Seattle! It was good, not great.

Last day. One last beach walk/run.

One last Mimosa Happy Hour breakfast with fried rice.

One last (breaching!) whale spotting from my $50/ 1 hour Uber.

One last Mai Tai at the airport.

One last view of Maui.

All Maui photos are here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Northern Spain Wrap Up: Madrid

Trip date: November 2015

Northern Spain Trip Day 10

The four-hour drive from Lograño to Madrid was pleasantly uneventful. We made a quick stop about 1/2 way at a highway rest stop; in Europe these have restaurants, shops, gas, etc. 

Our driver Antonio calculated that we had driven 3000 kilometers/ 1864 miles over the course of the 10-day trip! He was really the best!

We checked into the NH Madrid Paseo Prado which is in an excellent location but needs to update their rooms. Judy and my room was large with a sunken living room and shag carpet, and black marble bathroom! Chica-bow!

We loaded in our van for one last ride as Antonio dropped us off at Botin for lunch and we said our goodbyes to him. 

Botin is known as one of the oldest continuously running restaurants in the world (and of course Hemingway ate there). They are also known for their suckling pig. This was my 3rd time eating at Botin, every time has been fun and the pig is always good. I had better wine at this meal however!

After lunch we walked through the main streets of Madrid, most of our group hadn't been before and they would only have this day. Judy and I were staying an extra night and had our own plans for the following days so we happily followed along. 

Gerry took us into Lhardy, which is a really traditional old-school restaurant. He showed us how in the front room you can just stop in for a little break, serve yourself from the collections of wine, port, sherry, etc. and also serve yourself some hot broth from the gorgeous silver urn. There's also a little shop with lots of delicious items to take home. I've gotta stop back in here on my next trip!

That evening, Judy and I went and had big delicious gintonics at the Hotel Urban before meeting the group. The service has gone down a bit since I was last here but the bartender still made us delicious and gorgeous drinks and treated us to a few little apero snacks.

We then met everyone for drinks and beautiful appetizers on the rooftop bar at the Palacio de Cibeles where the chef sat with us and chatted about food, drinks, and Madrid. It was a super fun and lively way to start the evening. And it is an absolutely beautiful building with great views.  

For our last dinner as a group we walked over to Casa Lucio for an old school dinner of jamon, boquerones, padron peppers, mushrooms with raw egg yolks, a Spanish style scampi, and an absolutely delicious rice pudding. And wine. And pacharan. As we do. 
The owner, Lucio Blázquez, was the star of his own show, greeting tables of regulars as well as those he had never met, making everyone feel as if they had all know each other for ages. It was a very fun last dinner. 

The next morning, Beth & John left to catch their flights home while Judy, George, Anne, Sheldon, Robin and I had a private tour of the Prado that Gerry arranged. It was so great to have such a passionate guide show us some of the highlights of this massive museum. 

Photos aren't allowed in the Prado so I can't point out all the sexy things going on in The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, or how time is taking its toll on a large equestrian painting and you can now see a shadow of where the horse's leg was originally painted, or the nightmare inducing effects of Goya's Satan Devouring His Child. So you'll just have to go and get a private guide yourself!

Now it was time for Judy and I to say goodbye to the others. We spent the rest of our afternoon lazily enjoying lunch and wine in Plaza Santa Ana, window shopping for capes, actually shopping for jamon at Enrique Tomas, and just generally wandering around. 

That evening we stopped into Le Venencia for sherry as the locals do. It's old school and inexpensive, and there are always a few characters bellied up to the bar to talk to. 

From here we made our way to Mercato San Miguel to have dinner by grazing the assortment of market stalls. The food we had didn't seem to be as high of quality as in the past but I was greeted by this mobile wine merchant so it wasn't a complete loss!

And don't get me wrong, we had some nice bites as well!
We decided that dessert was to be churros and chocolate at the very famous San Gines. Thankfully this place still rocks!
And we wrapped up our excellent day with gintonics at our hotel bar.

Day 11 for Judy and I, our own private tour if you will, started out with more chocolate and churros at Chocolat. I mean, why not? It was our last day!

And it was an absolutely gorgeous November day so we took advantage of the weather and walked all over Retiro Park. There were boaters, buskers, and even a beer in the sunshine for me. Such a great way to spend an afternoon!

For lunch Judy and I had reservations at Malacatin, recommended to me by one of my chef friends. This tavern dating from 1895 is known for their Cocido, or chickpea stew. 

We arrived and were seated in a big wooden booth, walls crowded with photos of matadors all around us. Then the stew, consisting of 14 individual items, started to arrive. Holy hell this meal was amazing! Luckily they warned us not to eat too much in the beginning!

From their website (English translations) here is what you get: Noodle Soup, Fatty Salt Pork for dipping, The Mercy of the Cabbage and Dried Ham Broth, Dried Ham Casserole, The Charm of the Castilian Chickpea, The Brave Hen Plucked to the Pot, The Serious Boiled Potato, The Spicy Chillies, The Juicy Pieces of Shank of Beef, The Gherkins in Vinegar, The Bizarre Chorizo of León, The Tasty Spring Onions, The Extreme Black Pudding of Extremadura, The Lack of Water from Lozoya. 
Hysterical! Delicious! I couldn't even get it all in my photo!

We then took the advice from another chef friend of mine and rolled to a hammam for a long soak, scrub, and massage. Ahhhhhhhh!

On our stroll the day before we had come across the Palace Hotel and their beautiful Rotunda Room. We decided to have a cocktail in the bar just off the room, the 1912 Museo Bar. Home to a collection of historical photos and curios from famous clients (Hemingway drank here! ha!) the bar feels very exclusive. We ordered gintonics for 25Euro each which came with no garnish! One and done!

Still pretty full from our epic lunch we decided to have a small bite at Taberna La Dolores in Plaza Jesus. This was an excellent neighborhood spot, we were the only foreigners, and we had house vermouth, jamon, matrimonials (cured and uncured anchovies), and chips. Perfect.

One last gintonic nightcap in our hotel bar, some sitting on the suitcase kind of packing, and the next morning we shared a 30-minute taxi to the airport for 30Euros. 

If you are interested in tours like this please take a look at my friend's Facebook Page for upcoming itineries. I guarantee they will always be delicious!

All Madrid photos here
Other posts on this trip:
Northern Spain Food & Wine Tour
Shellfish & Grapes in Galicia
On the Move in Galicia
Shooting Sidra in Asturias
Beef and Basque

Seafood All Around San Sebastian
One Night Only, Logroño!