Wine tasting: An afternoon at Silver Mountain Vineyards

A few months ago, the JCC had a wine tasting featuring local Santa Cruz Mountain wineries. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but, as I recall, there were no wine sales that day, only chocolates and other goodies. We did, however, sign up for some email lists — and one of those wineries, Silver Mountain Vineyards, had a tasting today. The weather was lovely, so after services and lunch, we left Jeff at home with his homework and headed into the hills.

We decided to skip the Chardonnay and the Rose of Pinot Noir, so the first wine we had was the 2004 Miller Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir. I’m not sure it was the ideal wine to start with — it was chewy, with lots of mouth feel and a very long finish. It went well with the Beemster XO Gouda they were serving, but by itself, it was rather overpowering.

The next wine on offer was the 2004 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir. That was a different story — lots of fruit (plum, in particular), good by itself or with the munchies on hand, and very good with 52% cocoa dark chocolate slivers.

After that, we sampled two of their Bordeaux-style blends: Oscar’s Wild Red, which didn’t impress either of us very strongly, and the 2002 Alloy, which was pleasantly spicy, with a medium finish.

More cheese, crackers, and cashews were called for, and then it was time to hit the Zins. They had two available, both from the same vineyard in Lodi, the 2001, which was light and fruity, and the 2000, which was tarter and had some definite clove flavors.

More munchies followed, and then, despite our general disinterest in Chardonnay, we were persuaded to try the 2004 Chardonnay (I could hear John Cleese’s voice from Wine for the Confused suggesting it was not a good idea to tar all wines made from a particular grape with the same brush). I’m glad we did, because it was a very pleasant wine — slightly minerally, very soft, and nicely fruity.

We left with a mixed case (Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, the Alloy, both Zins, and four bottles of the 04 Chardonnay), and memberships in both their wine clubs. Fortunately, IBM’s alcohol policy has changed over the years, and I can have them ship the wine to work instead of having to drive up into the mountains to get it (the last mile, on Miller Cut-Off, was unnerving for someone who lives in the flatlands) — but if the release happens during good weather, there are worse ways to save a few bucks on shipping.

We probably shouldn’t visit too many more wineries for a while. But it sure is a nice way to spend a weekend afternoon!

Tweets from a trip to Tesla Vintners (Livermore)

The Northern California chapter of the Rensselaer Alumni Association sponsored a lunch and wine tasting at Tesla Vintners in Livermore. I tweeted mini-reviews via iPhone as I tasted:

  • started with “singing winemaker” Sherzando – nice and sweet, would be better with dessert than as the first sip of the day
  • Red Skye Sauvignon Blanc – nice, lots of body, long finish
  • Singing Winemaker Raspberry Sparkling – I could easily drink too much of this!

Then it was time for lunch. All I could eat was the pasta in Alfredo sauce and the bread, since everything else had pork, which was a shame, because there was a lovely garlic aroma that wasn’t in my food. But the wine and the tweets kept flowing:

  • Patty’s Passion goes well with pasta
  • Red Skye Chardonnay – good for a Chardonnay, unoaked, but not gonna make me a fan
  • Red Skye Zinfandel – smoky, would go nicely with beef. Long finish, nicely tannic.
  • Patty’s Passion is good without pasta, too – I think the trunk is going to be loaded on the way home. I’ll have to wait to be sure I’m not!
  • Singing Winemaker Framboise – good by itself, but even better with the chocolate tasting cup.
  • The “serving size” on the chocolate cups is 2 cups, but I’ll restrain myself

After the raffle (we didn’t win anything), we adjourned to the tasting room, the cash register, and home:

  • Con Amore port – tawny, 4 years barrel-aged, being released on the 19th…we shall return!
  • Home again, with a case of yummy wine (1 Raspberry Sparkling, 2 Sauvignon Blanc, 2 Sherzando, 2 Zinfandel, 4 Patty’s Passion, 1 Framboise)

Definitely a nice way to spend the day, and writing my notes via Twitter meant I didn’t have to worry about losing them! (Though I’m not sure they got posted in exactly the order I sent them, which is odd)

No Leopard for me!

I had it all figured out. We were going to meet some friends for dinner in downtown Los Gatos this evening at 7pm — that would give me enough time to pick up Leopard beforehand.

So we left home just before 6, expecting to be parked by 6:05. But the traffic on North Santa Cruz was horrible, and going over to University didn’t improve matters. Finally, I detoured to the secret parking lot between Santa Cruz and University on the north side of Hwy 9, several blocks from the restaurant, let alone the Apple Store.

But that was OK; I could easily carry the Leopard box around. For that matter, it’d be easy enough to carry a new Mac mini.

But first we had to get to the store. And even the sidewalks were rather crowded. With dogs. In costumes. And their owners. And people giving the dogs treats.

Yes, it was Howlin’ Halloween in Los Gatos.

We pressed on. And as we crossed Bachman, I noticed something else odd — the stores and restaurants were dark, including the place we had reservations. And they stayed dark all the way up Santa Cruz, past the Apple Store. Most of the stores were closed, but not the Apple Store — they had a long line of people waiting, and every few seconds, someone would leave the store with a bag and a smile.

Since part of my hidden agenda for the evening involved having Diane try out an iMac, I decided to skip the store (somehow, much of the system’s charm would be lost if it was powered down) and accompanied Diane and Jeff to Borders in Old Town, which was brightly lit.

I tried calling the restaurant, but they didn’t answer their phone. So I called our friends, and we decided to try somewhere else, Di Ciccio’s in San Jose. As we left the bookstore, I saw that the lights were on again on Santa Cruz — I called the restaurant we’d planned to eat at and cancelled our reservation. They said, “but the power is back on”, but it was too late.

I hadn’t been to Di Ciccio’s in more than 15 years — not for any particular reason, but then again, there was no good reason to go there, either. The ownership had changed in the last couple of years, and I’d definitely be more eager to go back now. The food was quite tasty, even if the portions were too large; I’d rather have had a bit less food and saved a couple of bucks. We had a Clos la Chance 2005 Pinot Noir, which was very enjoyable, and which was priced quite fairly ($32, versus $30 at the winery or $25 from K&L).

And then we came home. I thought about going back downtown and getting my copy of Leopard, but on further reflection, a walk with Diane seemed like a better idea. And that’s what we did.

(Of course, I haven’t given up completely on Leopard — I’m making a backup of my existing disk so I’ll be ready for the upgrade. Tomorrow. Or Sunday. As John Gruber points out, “no one ever got hurt by waiting a week or two to install a new OS.” But where’s the fun in that?)

A parting shot

My group at work has a tradition of going offsite once a month for lunch; we take turns picking a place, and the host has the awesome responsibility of dividing the check.

Today’s lunch was a little different, though.

Lunch at Zeni

It was sort of a retirement lunch for B; he was originally going to retire at the end of this month when his wife retired, but decided to postpone it until the end of October, and then to work a couple of days a week, mostly from home, as a contractor. But we had lunch today anyway, at Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant. This was my second experience with Ethiopian food, and was much more enjoyable than my first, many years ago; I’m still not a big fan of injera, but it’s really just a carrier anyway, and the rest of the food was quite tasty (I especially liked the chicken and lamb).

Today wasn’t really the day I would have chosen for a food experiment, though; Yom Kippur starts in a couple of hours, and I want to be properly fueled as preparation. So we’re off to one of our usual haunts, Su’s Mongolian Barbecue — and today, I’ll probably have seconds for a change.

Shana Tova!

Preserving vital information

One of the many ways I use this blog is as a dumping ground for information I might need again later. Sometimes, it’s helpful to other people; other times, it’s just for me.

So I was shocked to discover that I hadn’t blogged about the most important datum I acquired on my trip to Scotland back in July/August 2005: the name of the brand of sherbet lemons I’d been hunting for a decade.

The subject came up in conversation today with a friend who’s about to leave for two weeks in Scotland; since he lives in Massachusetts, it’s not really convenient for him to bring me a couple of pounds of candy, but it would be impossible without the name. I checked my blog, and couldn’t find it. Eventually, I dug it out of my Lotus Notes mail, but that was by sheer happenstance.

So I shall blog it here. I strongly recommend Tilley’s Sherbet Lemons, as found in Woolworth’s in Glasgow.


Ah, Ralph’s!

I’m attending an internal IBM conference this week at IBM Research in Yorktown. While I don’t expect anything as personally interesting as the Ben Zander talk at TLE, I did get a chance to satisfy an urge on my way from JFK to the hotel.

Most people coming to a conference in Westchester County choose to fly into White Plains or LaGuardia, because of the shorter drive. I usually choose Kennedy, and there are two reasons. One, of course, is that I can get a nonstop, and that saves me time and removes one source of problems. But the other is that I can stop in Valley Stream and visit Ralph’s Italian Ices.

It’s not far out of the way, though there’s often a long line (tonight, it was 15 minutes long, and it wasn’t even a hot night). But it’s worth it — we just don’t have anything like it at home. I just wish I’d known about Ralph’s the entire time we were visiting Diane’s family in Valley Stream; we only discovered them about five years ago — that’s twenty-five years of visits wasted. At least in one sense.

And I have the return flight on Thursday afternoon, and then another trip next week…but I still won’t make a dent in the flavor list.

Pie redux

I got a nice comment on my Chocolate Peppermint Pecan Pie recipe (well timed, since I was just starting to make it for dinner tomorrow), asking for other cooking ideas.

I wish I could respond with some, but this is really the only recipe I’ve ever created (and even then, it was just a variation on the well-known pecan pie recipe on the Karo Syrup bottle). I did make hamburgers with cumin once — but that was widely considered a mistake, not to be repeated.

So I guess the idea is to be willing to experiment — to start from a known base and make small changes. Sometimes they’ll work; sometimes, you get cumin hamburgers.

Drive, he said!

We finished our Tucson stay with yet another trip to The Good Egg (one more visit and we get free meals!); then we picked up Diane’s Dad and SO and took them part-way to her son’s house. When we last saw them, they were sitting in the Wendy’s at the Outlets at Casa Grande, waiting to be picked up (this was, of course, according to plan, though it’s still somewhat disquieting to abandon family in the middle of the desert).

From there, we took our chances with Phoenix traffic (although the Jam Factor was Green according to XM Traffic, we sure hit some slow going), but it only took us an hour or so to get through the city. And at 1:30, we were once more seated in Silly Al’s Pizza in Quartzsite for another late lunch. The place was even smokier than last time, but still worth it.

I’m not sure that stopping for gas at the Flying J at Arizona Exit 1 was worthwhile, though — sure, we saved 40 or 50 cents a gallon compared to California prices, but we only needed 5.5 gallons, and there was a line at the pumps.

The rest of today’s driving was uneventful, though we did hit some slow traffic just after CA-60 branched off — slow enough that I tried out the “Detour” function on our Prius nav system. It told us to take the adjoining road, which was what I planned to do anyway.

We’re overnighting at the Dynasty Suites in Redlands, which is a fairly standard 3-diamond motel. The most interesting thing is that they play classical music in the parking lot — I’m almost afraid to ask why.

There are a ton of franchise restaurants near the hotel (Long John Silver’s, Arby’s, Taco Bell, and El Pollo Loco are all within a two-minute walk), but we hoped to do better. So I turned to the oracle — Google Maps. And it delivered Eastern Classic Thai Restaurant, which was a great find. Jeff ordered Thai Green Curry and ate all of it, so I can’t comment on it, but Diane and I traded our dishes. She ordered Mint Leaves Chicken (with sliced chicken rather than the default ground chicken), which was very tasty; I had “Crying Tiger”, which is grilled beef with a hot sauce on the side — delicious. The restaurant was almost empty, which is a shame given the quality (and reasonable price) — I would go back happily if I were ever in Redlands again.

No sightseeing or geocaching today — driving was the priority of the day. It’ll be the priority tomorrow, too. 400 miles if we take the Grapevine.

Arizona (and other) Eats

We started the morning by sleeping late, following with the complementary breakfast at the Embassy Suites in Palm Desert, which was exactly what I expected it to be, and which was priced right, especially on an award stay.

Then it was time to hit the road for Tucson. We avoided stopping for lunch in Blythe, because it was far too early, but when we reached Quartzsite, Arizona, 20 body minutes but 80 clock minutes later, we decided it was time (especially given the lack of options farther up the road). We drove around a bit and ended up at Silly Al’s Pizza (the name was irresistable, though the building didn’t inspire confidence), where we enjoyed something unique in our experience: a cashew and mushroom pizza. It was pretty good, too, though the mushrooms were lost to the other flavors. My only complaint was that we were no longer in California, and so there were a lot of people smoking in the bar and other part of the restaurant — but I guess that’s what happens when you leave California. Recommended.

I would have liked to spend a little time looking around in Quartzsite — it looked like there was a permanent flea market in progress alongside the main road, with booths selling meteorites, books, and more, but we were on a mission. So we got back onto I-10, where we were delighted that the traffic was light, even through Phoenix, and we reached Tucson about 5:30 (Mountain Time), just 3-and-a-half hours after leaving Quartzsite. I suspect doing the math would result in a number that the Arizona Highway Patrol would officially disapprove, but we were being passed much more often than we were doing the passing. We drove to the Hilton, our home base for the next few days, and checked in. Diane helped Jeff with his lines for Tartuffe while I picked up dinner from New Delhi Palace. As soon as I arrived, one sniff told me that I’d made a mistake by ordering take-out — we should have eaten there, instead, to get the food at its freshest. But I was committed, so I brought it back to the hotel, where we all enjoyed a very pleasant meal (they were quite helpful and gave me dishes and utensils, since, of course, we didn’t have any!). Again, recommended.

And then we visited Diane’s dad and his SO, which was, of course, the main purpose of the trip.

Radio Hanukkah continued to be enjoyable, by the way; we especially liked the Debbie Friedman Hour…errr, Miriam’s Tent. The lighting of the National Menorah was, umm, interesting — I hadn’t expected it to be an all-Chabad operation. And, as we drove back to the hotel tonight, we enjoyed The 2000 Year-Old Man, which I don’t think Jeff had ever heard before in its pure form (though he’d seen the Simpsons version).

A much better Palm Desert dining experience

Last year, we stayed at the Palm Desert Embassy Suites on our way back home from Tucson. We’re here again, this time on our way to Tucson (let no one claim that we’re in a rut!), but fortunately, we did much better for dinner this time than last.

We dined at No-Da-Te, chosen by the scientific method of taking the first Asian restaurant we saw while walking down El Paseo. The salad, miso soup, and sashimi were excellent; the chicken teriyaki was only OK. I’d go back, but only for the fish.

Earlier today, we’d eaten at the Mountain Crossing Restaurant in Tehachapi; it was a fairly typical coffee shop — the people were very friendly, the food was OK (if a bit greasy). We were in Tehachapi because we decided to avoid the Grapevine — instead, we got off I-5 at SR 58 and took it all the way to SR 14, which brought us down to SR 138, which eventually met I-15, then I-215, and finally I-10. The way we went was 10 miles longer than the obvious route over the Grapevine, but most of it was also more relaxing. And, thanks to the miracle of XM, we had things to listen to the whole way, mostly Radio Hanukkah (I especially enjoyed the “Lights of Broadway” this morning), even though we were on the wrong side of the mountains for LA stations much of the time.