On our first full day in CA, we planned on going to Alcatraz at 9 am to beat the crowds and the heat. I booked the tickets months ago. . . or so I thought. When we arrived in San Francisco and started laying out our itinerary, I couldn’t find the email confirmation for the tickets, and when I checked my bank account, I realized I had never been charged. We aren’t quite sure what happened because we remember booking them, but I guess the transaction timed out or something. At any rate, Alcatraz tickets are sold out sometimes weeks in advance, and we were not able to get them for that Friday. Plan B, whipped up by my wonderful husband, was a trip up to Sonoma. We weren’t sure if we were going to make it to Sonoma on this trip, so it was truly a bonus to be able to go. We were on East coast time = I was up at around 3:55 am. UGH! It’s vacation! I laid in bed but decided to get up a little after 6 and spent time reading blogs and work emails.
Hubs woke up and booked a Zip Car for us, a gorgeous BMW that was parked a few blocks away. I love Zip Car!
Before leaving we stopped by the hotel’s free morning coffee and tea table. We stayed at the Hotel Palomar, a Kimpton property, and we were thrilled with the rooms, the service, and the little perks like free coffee and hosted wine hour. The location was great, at Market and 4th, and we got a great deal. If we go back to San Francisco in November we will likely stay here again.
The coffee table was great; they even had hazelnut syrup and soy milk! It was the perfect way to start the day. On the way to get the car, we stopped at San Francisco’s famous Boudin for breakfast sandwiches. I had an egg and cheddar on sourdough, and not only was it delicious, but it held me all the way through to a 1:00 lunch. I love foods that keep me full!
Boudin is famous for its sourdough bread. I love the bread shaped like a crab!
The ride up to Sonoma was quick and just gorgeous. Lots of rolling hills, farms, and vineyards. Since we hadn’t planned on going up, we didn’t have tasting appointments as we did in Napa, so we decided to wing it.
Our first stop was at the Valley of the Moon winery where we enjoyed a tasting of a variety of wines, mostly reds. My favorite was the Carneros Pinot Noir. It had a deep red color and full flavor with a nice long finish. This winery unfortunately did not ship to Massachusetts, so we hope to go back someday to buy and package the wine to ship to ourselves.
Nothin like a little red wine at 10 am
We had a nice chat about the area with the lovely woman pouring at this winery, and we were encouraged to drive up to Healdsburg. Since we had never been here before, everything seemed far apart, but it wasn’t. We were in Healdsburg before we knew it and were faced with signs pointing to wineries in every direction. Healdsburg very quickly became my favorite place on earth.
We passed by the Mauritson Winery outside of Healdsburg where we stopped for a tasting and to play with their gorgeous yellow labs. Wine + dogs = bliss! Their property was just lovely with a comfortable outside seating area in addition to a nice, cool inside tasting area. The name of the game here was definitely Zinfandel, a wine that I am really not that familiar with. I really enjoyed all of the wines here, but the Dry Creek Zinfandel was the best by far. It was complex and round, and I loved hearing from the experts about the growing season in 2007 and how that contributed to the wine’s flavor and quality. So much goes into winemaking, and I can’t wait to learn more!
No paw shakes from this lady . . .
For lunch we backtracked to Healdsburg and ate at the Bear Republic Brewery and Restaurant. I ordered the shrimp Louis salad which was awesome, full of bay shrimp, avocado, hardboiled egg, crisp lettuce, and cucumbers. After my morning wine tasting, water and veggies felt great!
Our third winery of the day was further south, back near Sonoma. Gundlach Bundschu offers cave tours, a beautiful view of wine country fields and hills, a small pond, a picnic area, and gorgeous tasting room in addition to a rich history. Our pourer was very friendly, and we chatted about the area and were treated to a couple of extra pours to try wines that were not included in the tasting we chose. My favorite, above all was again the 2007 Zinfandel. It has a nose and front of mouth flavor of strawberry jam, so delicious, with a long finish at the back of the mouth. This tasting was a lot of fun, and really informative. We were able to try a lot, and we decided to join their wine club which means we signed up for 2 cases a year. The first 4 bottles arrive in a couple of weeks, and I can’t wait! It was so nice to not have to lug the wine back to Boston as I did when I visited the Willamette wine region last year.
Our final winery of the day was magical. Gloria Ferrer is located down a long road that goes between fields of grapes, then up a hill to the terraced tasting room. Holy gorgeous! A Spanish winery, Gloria Ferrer specializes in bubbly, and it was bubbly we drank. We tried a couple of wines, but the winner by far was the Va de Vi. (It’s about the wine!)
While I look like I am in pain in this photo, I was really having a good time. You couldn’t beat the view, the company, or the sparkling wine. They served us on the patio and included some spicy Spanish almonds. It was the perfect pairing to the bubbly, dry wine which to me had a sweet, yeasty, bread-like nose to it. Inhaling the smell of the wine with the sweet earthy smell of the surrounding area was heavenly.
Our drive back to San Francisco was nothing short of stunning. We made it just in time for our dinner reservation at Circa, where Top Chef contestant Erik Hopfinger is the Executive Chef.
We started with the hummus and tzatziki.
I love grilled bread. Its so simple, but so delicious. The hummus was a tiny bit smoky and spicy, and the cool cucumber laden yogurt added a nice creamy balance to it.
For our main courses we split the truffled lobster mac and cheese, the roast chicken with spinach and mashed potatoes, and of course, the parmesan truffle fries.
Carb heaven for me!
These were all true comfort foods and were perfect after a long day as the night got chillier. I had a few bites of the chicken which was juicy and tender and paired perfectly with the spinach, which was just amazing. I don’t often enjoy cooked spinach, but this still had some bite in it; it wasn’t mushy or overdone at all. The prices were very reasonable, and the food was just to die for. We cleaned the plates and left stuffed and satisfied. The atmosphere was sort of big city chic but with a level of comfort that made us feel right at home and perfectly relaxed. . . so much so that we were slightly falling asleep after our long day!
Chef Hopfinger was in the kitchen which was visible from our seats, and I wanted to say hi but didn’t. Maybe next time. . . I should probably get over my shyness if I ever want to work in the food and wine industry!
After that we drove around a bit, watched the sunset, took a spin through Castro, and called it a night fairly early, still adjusting to the time zone and totally happy after a day in the valley.
Question: If you drink wine, whats your favorite? Does it change with the seasons?
Tags: Carneros, Food, Gloria Ferrer, Gundlach Bundschu, Healdsburg, Mauritson, San Francisco, Sonoma, Sonoma County, sparkling wine, Tasting Room, wine, wine club, wine country, wine tasting, Zinfandel