Wine Tasting in Monterey - Part 1

We left early on Friday morning, in hopes of beating the Los Angeles traffic, and headed for the central coast of California. The drive up Interstate 5 had us looking in the sky for glimpses of the Space Shuttle Endeavor (no luck seeing it along the way). The outside temperature was reaching the 80's by the time we drove through Paso Robles, and hooked up with the 101 freeway. The Salinas Valley was busy with workers picking fruit and harvesting lettuce. The grapevines on either side of the highway stretched for miles. We turned off at the town of Salinas, and the conversation turned to Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Soon we passed the old town of Spreckels, and the view of the old C&H sugar silos. We soon arrived in Monterey, and the temperature had dropped to the mid 50's.

Best Western Beach Resort
Our hotel was located right on the water. The Best Western Plus Beach Resort is a bit dated (it was originally the Holiday Inn) but the staff was great, and the location was perfect. The room looked out over the ocean, and the seals, dolphins and otters were a welcome sight for those of us who live in the mountains.

We had planned on doing some wine tasting on the way up, but really didn't see any tasting rooms along our route. We later found out that the few wineries that had tasting rooms at their vineyard, were fairly well spread out. Since we arrived so early, we drove to Fisherman's Wharf for a bowl of clam chowder, and a bottle of Ventana Chardonnay.

Our group consisted of 23 friends, wine club members, and their guests. I had been planning the trip for about six months, and arranged a tour for the entire group on Saturday, and researched the best restaurants in the area for dinner arrangements. Reservations were made months in advance, and the first test of the trip was dinner at Montrio Bistro (a converted fire station). The service, atmosphere and food met all expectations. The only drawback was how loud the place got, and with a large group, I missed out on the conversations at the other end of the table...but not their wine! Most of us ordered local wines. The hits of the evening were the Morgan Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, and the Bernardus "Marinus" Carmel Valley Bordeaux Blend.

Evan talking about artichokes
On Saturday morning we gathered in the lobby of our hotel, and I met Evan Oakes in front of the hotel. Evan owns a business specializing in agricultural tours, called Ag Venture Tours. We left about 10:00am and headed towards our first stop. As we drove through the Salinas Valley, Evan identified at least 25 different crops along the way. He filled us in on history, geography, geology and culture of the area. We arrived at our first stop, the Marilyn Remark Winery. We showed up a bit early, so spent some time walking around the neighboring artichoke field, and learned about the difference between perennial and annual artichokes.

Jim. Joel, Marilyn
Marilyn Remark is located at the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountains, along River Road (the main road for wine tasting in this area). The owners, Joel Burnstein and Marilyn Remark, met us in the tasting room, along with their golden retriever. Marilyn Remark specializes in Rhone varieties (unusual for this area). We tasted our way through whites, rose, and reds. These are all small lot production, with attention to the final product. If you are looking for an intimate wine tasting experience, where you can be one on one with the winemakers, this is a must.

Hahn Tasting Room
The next stop found us in the Santa Lucia Highlands (a series of alluvial fans that spread out from the Santa Lucia Mountains). He headed up the hill to Hahn Winery. The first thing you notice is the view. From the tasting room, you look across the Salinas Valley, and the Soledad Mission below. On the other side of the valley stands the Gabilan Mountains, the the Pinnacles National Monument. Hahn is the site of the Smith & Hook Horse Ranches. Now they are one of the larger wine producers in the region. The focus is on Pinot Noir, but Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon,  Pinot Gris, Viognier and Chardonnay are also in play. After a quick picnic lunch overlooking the valley below, we headed off to our next stop.

Cork tree at Paraiso
A little further up the road, we stopped at Paraiso Vineyards, also in the Santa Lucia Highlands. We all stopped at the entrance to gather around the cork tree. While the rest of the group went in to start tasting, I wondered over to the equipment yard to take a look at the mechanical picking machines that were being readied for the impending harvest. Back in the tasting room, Reisling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were presented. What I really liked was that I could buy the Pinot Noir in half bottles...and I did just that.

Our last stop was at Ventana Vineyards, in the Arroyo Seco AVA. When we arrive, there were a number of other people in the small tasting room, but the tasting room staff handed us glasses, and started pouring...and pouring...and pouring. Unlike the previous three wineries, who specialized in certain grape varieties, I felt like Ventana was all over the place. We tried Reisling, Gewurtztraminer, Chardonnay. Orange Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, Blends, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo. After a group shot in front of the barrels, we headed out to the vineyard, and tasted the ripe Tempranillo, Muscat, and Chardonnay grapes.

Group shot at Ventana
We arrived back at our hotel around 5:20pm, met up with another couple for some cheese and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. We had dinner reservations at Grasings in Carmel. Fourteen of us had a somewhat disappointing dinner. The food was good, not great (somewhat soggy abalone, and paella that was missing sausage). The problems started when we ordered wine from the wine list, and they were out of the wines we requested. Now, normally I would just pass this as a slip up by the sommelier, but....we were split into two different tables, and both tables ran into the same issue. When the wine was out of stock, the server recommended a different winery, that was "a better value" than the one we had ordered. The problem...at both tables, we were up-sold by $20 to $30 on the replacement wine. The service was so-so, and by the end of the evening, I thought our server was ready to quit. I hate to give a negative review, but this place deserves it. It was the most expensive meal of the weekend. We did have some good wines with the abalone: Talbott Chardonnay and Chalone Rose.

Friday through Saturday, we explored the foods and wines of Monterey/Carmel. Only one negative, and a bunch of positives. Check in for next weeks blog, for the adventures on Sunday and Monday, with a much smaller group. Sunday was the day for surprises.

1 comment:

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