Tag: sonoma coast

Gluttony Punished

Gluttony Punished

A while back our friends Inna and Igor – fellow wine afficionados – proposed a novel idea for a wine tasting:  a side-by-side tasting of the same varietal – in this case, Pinot Noir. What made this proposal particularly novel is that all four wines would be from the same producer, Etude Wines.  We have visited Etude on two occasions and posted about our very first visit there last summer (Wine With A ‘Tude.).  On our visit to Etude we sampled Pinot Noir from vineyards in Napa Valley’s Carneros region.  Our friends’ proposed tasting would consist of four Etude Pinot Noir wines that were new to us:  one from Sonoma Coast, two from the Santa Barbara area, and one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

We didn’t spend too much time thinking about the proposal, quickly agreeing to the idea and setting a date for the tasting.  When we arrived at our friends’ house we saw right away how seriously they were taking the tasting endeavor.

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This is serious wine tasting

Not only were the wines poured but there was a tasting sheet to write notes and comments and tally scores.  Like all athletic endeavors, wine tasting needs the right level of hydration and nourishment.

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Mom always said “Don’t drink on an empty stomach”

When we took our seats at the table each of us sized up the wines and took a few minutes reading the labels and tried to find some nugget of information that would give us an edge in the wine tasting challenge.  For the record, the four wines were:

2014 Etude Ellengach Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

2014 Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County)

2014 Etude North Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County)

2014 Etude Yamhill Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley (Oregon)

While there were no financial stakes in this great wine taste-off, pride was certaintly at stake and each of the four participants was hoping to show off his or her wine acumen and ability to distinguish aromas and flavors.  For the first several minutes only murmurs could be heard as we lifted the glasses and tried to make sense of the different color shades in each glass.  Hmmm, the first one looks slightly darker than the second, perhaps that signifies that it was grown in a hotter climate and the grapes ripened more?  Then came the sniffing excercise – trying to identify aromas that would distinguish the four Pinot Noir wines from each other.

Looking back, we have to laugh a little bit because we set ourselves up for quite a challenge:  identifying which wines came from which region even though 3 of the 4 wines are from California and two of them were from wine regions separate by just a few miles.  Finally we got to the tasting, which resulted in more murmurs and mutterings under our breath and furious note-taking.  After each wine we confidently assigned it to a region only to furiously cross it out immediately after tasting the next wine and confidently jotting a region down next to it. By the fourth wine almost every confident prediction had been changed to something else, changed back, and then changed again.

When we finally made our collective way through the four Etude Pinot Noir wines and made our “matches” to wine region, the time came to uncover the bottles and reveal their geographic identity.  Despite all of our cumulative years of wine tasting, the best effort in the wine tasting match was 2 out of 4, with at least two of us guessing only 1 out of 4.  Stubborn people that we are, we decided to do a second round of tasting, mixing the wines up again and trying to apply the lessons learned from the first round.  Memory is somewhat hazy after the amount of wine consumed but I recall that no one did better in the second round than the first.  Naturally, we concluded that another round of tasting would be a good idea, for some reason expecting that the cumulative effect of the two previous rounds of tasting would promote greater accuracy.  Round 3 was no more impressive than than the earlier efforts; clearly none of us is ready to take on the Master Sommelier exam just yet.

Rather than proceed to a round 4 we decided instead to polish off the remaining Pinot Noir and enjoy them just for their own sake, with no competition involved.  To top off the afternoon we enjoyed a fantastic lunch paired with one of the Croatian wines that we will soon be introducing to the United States market.

John & Irene Ingersoll

July 18, 2017

 

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You don’t have to swim upstream to eat here

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Sunset backdrop to the union of the Russian River and the Pacific Ocean

One of our favorite destinations in California is the town of Jenner, a spot known as the “River’s End” where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. There is something majestic about two bodies of water coming together and this particular location is no exception.  On top of a bluff overlooking this amazing spot sits a fantastic restaurant called …River’s End.  We wonder if they considered “Ocean’s Beginning?  That would have been more optimistic, we think; more of a “glass half full” way of describing the meeting point of river and ocean. But we have to admit that “River’s End” does have a poetic ring to it.

We have been to River’s End (both the restaurant and the location) several times in the past and chose it as the place to culminate a special 80th birthday weekend for the father (and father-in-law) of the authors of this blog.  We had family coming from across the country for the occasion and wanted to share one of our favorite spots with them.  There were seven of us in total and we made the hour-and-a-half drive from our home in Napa Valley to the Sonoma Coast.  For the birthday boy, the drive ended up being half of the fun, as the trip started in Carneros and cut through the heart of Sonoma wine country, past dairy farms and horse ranges, and, for the final stretch, through Bodega Bay and up the coast along Highway 1.

When we finally arrived at the restaurant, it was about 3:30 in the afternoon and the heat and sun of Napa seemed far away. The temperature on the coast was 20-25 degrees lower than when we started and there was a fair amount of fog shrouding the last part of the river and the entrance to the Pacific Ocean.

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View of the Russian River from the wrap-around deck at River’s End
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Taking a break from kayaking
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River, meet ocean; ocean, meet river.
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River’s End wrap-around deck
After finally getting everyone out of the caravan of cars and into the restaurant, we were very pleased to see that the restaurant staff set us up with a long table against the window with amazing views of the river and ocean.  Every visit to River’s End restaurant should be structured with ample time to hang out on the deck and just take in the sights.  For 2016, Open Table named River’s End one of the 100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America.

We would be remiss if we failed to mention the patience and flexibility of the staff and the kitchen. Although we anticipated arriving by 2:30, because of traffic and other delays, we did not arrive until 3:30 – the exact time the kitchen closes to allow the chef and cooks to transition to the evening service.  Despite our tardiness, the staff helped us get our orders in and were very attentive and friendly throughout our meal.

Often, restaurants with great views have, well, great views and nothing else to recommend them.  River’s End is not one of those restaurants. They have an excellent menu, a superb chef in Martin Recoder, and sources its dishes locally from Sonoma farms and the Russian River itself.  We were lucky enough to be visiting during salmon season, when the King Salmon run along the Pacific coast and spawn in the rivers.  Several of us did order the Wild Pacific King Salmon entrée along a couple of salmon-inspired appetizers.  One of the best things about River’s End is that they change the menu frequently based on seasonal availability of vegetables and seafood.  The Wild Pacific King Salmon menu is available through October.  Everyone in our party had some type of salmon dish, all of them beautifully prepared and artistically presented.

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River’s End Salmon Crudo
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River’s End Vegetable Napoleon

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River’s End Technicolor Beet Salad

As you can see, the food at River’s End is fit for foodies. In addition to these culinary gems, we also recommend the Petaluma Duck Confit rolls, the tomato and watermelon soup, and the petrale sole. Everything was delicious and felt appropriately unique and special for a birthday as important as #80.  For those that enjoy quality wine with your meal, River’s End offers a comprehensive wine list with a strong representation of local wines from Sonoma County and Napa Valley.

Almost every time we go to River’s End, we plan a beach trip either before or after we eat.  Goat Rock Beach is across the river from the restaurant and is normally a must-visit.  Given the size of our caravan, and the advanced ages of some of the crew, we opted against a trek down to the beach. Because we were not ready to go home, though, we stopped off at our other favorite Jenner spot, Cafe Aquatica, which is just down the hill from River’s End.

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Cafe Aquatica in Jenner, California
Like the restaurant, Cafe Aquatica is right on the water – the Russian River.  However, unlike River’s End, which is on a bluff, Aquatica is at river level.  As a result, you can get your coffee, sit on the bank of the Russian River and enjoy the serenity and natural beauty.  If you fancy a bite, Cafe Aquatica serves organic sandwiches and salads that are also sourced from local ingredients.  A perfect day for us would be lunch at Cafe Aquatica, followed by a trip to Goat Rock Beach, and finished off with dinner at River’s End.  Next time!

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 26, 2016

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Kayak Launch right behind Cafe Aquatica
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Fog rolling into the Russian River from the Pacific Ocean