Pacific NW: Willamette Valley and drive to Seattle

Stopped in at the Sweet Oregon Berry Co again for another round of raspberry and pumpkin hand pies, then headed to our old favorite Arborbrook Vineyards. Per usual, the tasting here was good, it’s really too bad the shipping is so expensive (why we chose to leave the wine club a few years back). We picked up two bottles of the Heritage Cuvee (one as a gift) and a bottle of the Guadalupe Pinot Gris, which waived our
$10 tasting fee.

more yellow vines

Arborbrook tasting room

At this point it was nearly noon, so we began our drive back to Seattle. Our friends live in South Seattle, so we met them at their place, then drove a short way to Franklin Park to let their girls run around and wear off some energy while the adults chatted. It was a beautiful fall afternoon so lots of people had the same idea!

sneak peek of downtown from Jefferson Park

Dinner was at Super Six, a Hawaiian/Pan-Asian restaurant. Thankfully we had reservations as they were busy on a Saturday night! My pork ragu noodles were very good and Eric’s Asian salad with Huli-huli chicken was also delicious. The malasada donuts for dessert were good but overpriced – $4 but you had to pay $1.50 extra to get them filled with a tiny bit of cream? The fresh chocolate chip cookie with sea salt was amazing, definitely recommended. Most importantly, we were glad to catch up with our friends.

After bidding everyone good night we drove up to Redmond to check into our hotel, relaxing with more episodes of Stranger Things 2.

Pacific NW: Willamette Valley, day 2

We met our friend from college, Nate Wall, at Day Wines for a tasting and tour. Got to try a bunch of different wines and have a great conversation about wine making methods.

orange wine @ Day Camp  gourds!

Our next destination was Sweet Oregon Berry Co, for their delicious hand pies. Eric got raspberry and I tried the seasonal pumpkin hand pie, and both were great. Our timing was good too, as this was the last weekend they would be open for the season!

Re-fortified we continued to Carlton to visit Cana’s Feast, a winery that had caught our eye on the 2016 trip with some unusual white and red varietals. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any whites open for tasting, only one rose and several reds. My favorites were the “Rhone” style wines, the Syrah and Joie de Vivre. Eric wound up buying a bottle of the Arneis white we wanted to try as well. As a side note, they have a big patio that is quite inviting.

Cana's Feast tasting room

On our way to the Argyle tasting, we passed by the new Dominio IV tasting room and stopped in to search out my favorite tempranillo, the Technicolor Bat. They didn’t have any in stock but we picked up a 2015 Viognier and a 2011 Tempranillo that was drinking well, according to the wine manager.

The last stop of the day was our members tasting at Argyle.  We were greeted at the door with a sparkling rose and once the group was assembled, our host Tim led to the Spirit House tasting room where we tried the 2014 Argyle Vintage Brut, 2007 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut (Eric’s fave), 2015 Argyle Riesling Spirithouse, 2015 Argyle Pinot Noir Nuthouse and the 2015 Argyle Pinot Noir Cowhouse. After the tasting we got a tour of the facilities, including the RD bubbles and magnums. All in all, a great member’s tasting experience and awesome perk for being a wine club member.

member's tasting @ Argyle

Argyle Winery

We headed back to the hotel room and watched the sunset with a glass of wine on the back lawn before heading to Dundee Bistro for dinner. I enjoyed a half dozen of oysters and an olive pizza with a De Ponte Melon de Borgonoune, while Eric ordered the butter lettuce salad and a margherita pizza alongside an apricot ale.

After another full day we went back to the room to watch Stranger Things season 2. :)

Italy 2017: daytrip to Chianti

There are many, many options to explore the Chianti region via daytrips from Florence. We immediately ruled out any that involved being on a bus with 50+ other people, so that left small van tours and private tours. In the end, we decided to spend more money and booked a private tour with Avventure Bellissime for the four of us that included visits to two wineries and three hillside towns. A good mix of scenery and wine tasting!

Simon, our driver, picked us up promptly at the hotel at 9:30am and we drove just out of town to Michelangelo Piazza where we had uninterrupted panoramic views of Florence. Stunning.

view from Piazzale Michelangelo

The road transitioned from city to green countryside very quickly, with many charming villas and valley views as we climbed into the hills south of Florence. Our first stop was Montefioralle, a tiny hilltop village, where we walked around and got a little history of the area.


Montefioralle  Montefioralle

How do you know a wine is officially a Chianti Classico? Look for the black rooster on the label!

A quick stop in the nearby town of Greve in Chianti allowed us an hour to shop at the Saturday market and people watch. I picked up a couple tea towels for a few euros but I thought the painted pottery was too expensive for the quality.

Saturday Market - Greve in Chianti
scooters and modern art  meat shop in Greve in Chianti

Simon stopped to let us take some photos and then it was on to our first winery of the day (and lunch) at Castello di Monterinaldi.

Tuscany views

Tuscany views

Upon arrival, we had a brief tour of the winery which included large concrete fermenters (as opposed to stainless steel) and a look at their extensive barrelling caves. The dessert wine stays in a barrel for 5 years!

Castello di Monterinaldi

concrete vats @ Castello di Monterinaldi  wine barrels @ Castello di Monterinaldi

Castello di Monterinaldi

The grounds were very well landscaped with lovely views, and they even had a two story chicken coop. But enough exploring, it was time for lunch! We were shown into a private room with a huge platter of antipasto and the hostess poured us our first taste of the rose. The antipasto was followed by tagliatelle bolognese, a chicken dish with dessert wine reduction, and an apricot tart for dessert. Everything was really tasty and paired well with the Tuscan wines. Even though there was another group with us on the short tour, we had separate rooms for lunch, so it really felt private and special.

pre-lunch @ Castello di Monterinaldi 

Our last hilltown of the tour was Castellina in Chianti – a charming little town with old walls and wine cellars. We walked through the Via delle Volte, a stone arched passageway, and did some shopping in the main square.

Via delle Volte in Castellina in Chianti  fountain in Castellina in Chianti

Castellina in Chianti

Our last stop of the day was a wine tour and tasting at Casa Emma.

Casa Emma

views from Casa Emma

The weather was fine, so we were able to sit out on the balcony overlooking the vineyards while we enjoyed our four wines accompanied by bread and cheese drizzled with their house balsamic vinegar. Our notes are below…

  1. Chianti Classico (90% sangiovese) – paprika smokiness, cherry and leather (2014). Nice tartness, residual smokiness. Lt.caramel. Goulash ready.
  2. Vignalparco Chianti Classico (100% sangiovese) – jammier, dry finish. Much less smoke. Preferred #1
  3. Chianti Classico Riserva #3 – reserve, quite refined. Much less acidity. Could definitely sit for a few years.
  4. Soloìo I.G.T. (100% merlot) – berry and floral, quite light and pleasant. Very interesting.

Overall, I was happy with our choice to do the private tour. Simon was a knowledgeable guide and we never felt rushed. I don’t know how hard it would be to schedule wine tastings in this area without a guide, but I think that’s something we may explore on our next visit.

Seattle 2015: Woodinville Wineries

Most of the wineries we visited had a $10 tasting fee that was waived with purchase. No one minded if we split a tasting and more often than not we also had a chance to try a few extra unlisted bottles that were open behind the counter.


Novelty Hill Januik – As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, we realized that we had been here before but it had been several years. On this visit Eric tried the Sauvignon Blanc, Rousanne, Rose, and Riesling. I sampled a few of the reds, one from each section of their tasting list: Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a Sangiovese. The wines were OK, but the tasting fee waiver was the highest we saw on this trip, with a three bottle purchase needed to cover one $10 tasting fee.

EfesteEfeste – We had a great tasting here, so much so that we ended up joining the wine club! Our wine pourer was the owner himself and as we got chatting about the wine, he started giving us samples of various bottles open behind the counter. Afterwards, we even sat down and chatted in an otherwise empty tasting room because the rain had scared all the locals away. Their loss! Our pours: Lola Chardonnay (little oak, big mineral-ness), 2013 Evergreen Riesling (lemon zest with minerals), 2013 Sauvage Sauvignon Blanc (drinks like a Chardonnay, rich & full), 2011 Nana Bordeaux Blend (tobacco & fruit), 2011 Ceidleigh Syrah (evergreen & black pepper), 2011 Upright Merlot (berries, chocolate, tasty) 2011 Big Papa Cabernet Sauvignon (chewy & big), 2014 Old Field Estate Rose (strawberry) and Final Final Red (big & fruity). Definitely recommended.

Elevation Cellars – We had a quick tasting here and found the wines to be just okay. Unfortunately they didn’t have their flagship Riesling open for tasting. Our pours: 2014 Sauvignon Blanc (raisin, honey-melon), 2011 Jammin’ (‘pizza wine’), 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (dry, high tannins), 2011 Merlot (fruity w/ a bite), 2010 Monolith (inky, rich & fruity).


Sparkman Cellars – We were a bit disappointed in our tasting here. Parking was difficult but we found an opening around the corner. The tasting room itself was relatively quiet, with an odd selection of country music playing. More importantly though, the wine just didn’t impress us, as we found it priced quite high compared the flavor. We asked for a quick try of the Riesling since it was open and that was the bottle we wound up getting to offset the $10 tasting fee. Our pours: 2014 Apparition (dry and mineraly), 2013 Wilderness (brown sugar, light pepper), 2012 Ruby Leigh (violets!), 2013 Holler Cabernet (fruity but ordinary), 2013 Darkness Syrah (inky black, mild sweetness), 2014 Birdie Riesling (light & flinty).

Ancestry Cellars – I knew this place had a few more whites to choose from so we headed here next. It’s a small tasting room shared with another winery and the winemaker/owner was pouring our tasting for us. Our choices: 2014 Rejouissant Savignon Blanc (balanced, some acid), 2014 Reunion Chardonnay (clean, a bit nutty), 2014 Le Cortege Chenin Blanc (light peach, apricot, lemon), 2013 Reminiscence Riesling (German nose, peach, medium sweet), 2012 Di Donato Sangiovese (dry & spicy), 2011 La Soer (violet & tobacco, 2012 Le Frere (fruity, semi-dry), 2011 Reserve Cabernet (brown sugar and fruit). We really enjoyed out tasting here, definitely recommended.

Davenport CellarsDavenport Cellars – Once again, the owners were working the counter here, and we enjoyed our conversations with them. Of note was the Fume Blanc taste comparison –  Leandra preferred the creamier 2012, Eric the more acidic 2013. So good that we returned for a glass each as our final stop on Sunday (along with some Seattle Seahawks on the TV). Our choices: 2013 Meritage Blanc (medium acidity, some mineral-ness), 2012 & 2013 Fume Blanc (2012 was creamy w/ coconut; 2013 was crisp and tropical), 2012 Zinfindel (fruit & spice, brown sugar), 2010 R.D.H. (pepper & tart cherry). Additionally, the winemaker recommended J&A’s across the parking lot, so Eric scooted out to give them a try while I went on to the reds.

J & A’s Winery – I eventually joined Eric at J&A’s (just when the rose was being poured because my timing is good like that). He was really impressed with the whites on offer and I enjoyed the Tempranillo. After discovering they could track down a cardboard shipper for us, we wound up buying 9 bottles, rounded out by Venture Cellars (below). Our pours: 2012 Sirius Sipper (tropical & crisp), 2013 Roussanne (white peach, pineapple, star fruit), 2014 First Blush (strawberry & passion fruit), 2011 Riesling (earthy), 2014 Chardonnay (nice fruit).

Venture Cellars – Sharing the space with J&A’s, we tried their lineup and really liked what they were doing too. I don’t have tasting notes for this round but we did leave with two bottles of the 2013 Chardonnay and one bottle of the 2010 Barrel 72 (red).

The owners/winemakers for both J&A’s and Venture were very gracious to stay past their normal closing, and we heartily recommend a visit to their operations.


Laura Ashton Cellars – Nice tasting room with a view of courtyard (and fall color). We decided to split a Reserve Tasting for $10 (waived with a $30 purchase). Our choices: 2013 Riesling (pineapple, light mineral-ness), 2013 Roussane (zesty w/ good acidity), 2012 Semillon (good richness and honeysuckle), 2011 Cuvee Estelle (black currants, very aromatic), and 2011 Reserve Syrah (black pepper and herbal lavender).

Laura Ashton Cellars

Gard Vintners – Our pourer at Laura Ashton gave us a free tasting card for Gard, so we headed there next. The main focus of the tasting room was the big screen showing the Seattle NFL game but the wines were enjoyable too. Our pours: 2014 Freya (apple & cinnamon), 2013 Viognier (clean, mildly floral), 2013 Pinot Gris (creamy, good value at $14), 2012 Grand Klasse Riesling (oak, white peach, dry), 2012 Grand Klasse Pinot Gris (oak, pineapple, flinty), 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (dry, pepper), 2012 Vaucluse Red Rhone Blend (rich & fruity), 2012 Malbec (dark fruit & leather).

Locust Cider – Located next door to Gard, we decided to take a break from wine and try some cider. We choose a tasting tray of four options: Original dry, Dark Cherry, Thai Ginger, and the Aged Washington Dessert apple ciders. My favorite was definitely the Thai ginger as I thought the original was too light. Eric liked the aged cider best.

Locust Ciderour purchases on the trip!
our haul for the trip — two cases!

Auckland wineries: Warkworth region

Our first choice for the day, Mahurangi River, was not open due to a private function, so we headed to Brick Bay. This is quite the site, with sculptures, gardens, sheep and a very modern building all in one. We started at the restaurant where we enjoyed a quick wine tasting, then decided to share a glass of rose on their pond-facing patio. While enjoying the view of the pond the weather cleared up, so we decided to pay for the sculpture garden walk. At $12USD/pp it took us about 90 minutes and offered some lovely views and creative pieces.

Brick Bay Winery

pond behind tasting room

posing w/ 'Reflective Thinker - Gnomes 1 & 2' by Gregor Kregar  'Tobias and the Angel' by Terry Stringer

'Aphasia' by Anton Parsons

'Mahoe' leaf by Jeff Thomson

Japanese Torii Gates with Eric  'Utopia' sign by John Reynolds

Our second stop, Omaha Bay Vineyards, started out fine. We enjoyed the tasting, and after seeing the nice deck, ordered two glasses (cab franc / chardonnay) to enjoy the weather and view. However, when we went to pay she charged us $10 per tasting in addition to the glasses. We countered that we split a tasting since Eric had the whites and I had the reds but she said we had more than five wines each so it was two tastings. No mention was made at any point of a charge for tastings and nothing was printed on the tasting list – I found this dishonest and it spoiled our otherwise good time here. Definitely wouldn’t go back or recommend this vineyard based on our experience.

Our third winery of the day, Ransom Wines, offered a nice tasting. All the wines were estate fruit and Eric found the whites to be especially interesting. We left with a bottle of the Cosmos Chardonnay.

We decided to make a stop at Tahi Bar for a quick drink before heading back to Auckland — I had the English Breakfast cider and Eric had the Farmhouse Pale Ale. Their tap was also one of the most unique we’ve ever experienced!

Porsche tap

A brief rainstorm pushed us inside where there wasn’t much space, but it was a good final stop on our daytrip.

Auckland wineries: Henderson and Kumeu regions


After landing in Auckland and checking into our hotel, we took a 30 minute drive up to Babich Wines. Being a Wednesday afternoon it was not busy; in fact, the tasting room was empty! Once we figured out how to contact the wine taster (a small doorbell near the cash register), we had a fun tasting with some interesting wines. Many of them are available in the US, so we focused on the varietals that would be harder to get overseas. In general, I thought the wines were solid and reasonably priced. I would have bought more if we lived here – they only charge $5 case for shipment anywhere on the North Island.

wine tasting @ Babich
quite the lineup!

We had enough time to visit another winery before closing, but our choice, Landmark Estates, didn’t seem to have a tasting room – at least we drove around and never found it!


Soljans Estate — a Croatian family-owned vineyard with a large tasting room. The young woman giving us the tasting didn’t seem to know that much about the wines but we liked their selection. The Pinotage, in particular, was a pleasant surprise. Eric’s favorite was the Kumeu Sauvignon Blanc.

Kumeu River Wines — Eric loved the Chardonnay here! Our pourer was friendly and had clearly just come in from picking grapes to talk about the wine in the small tasting room. I found their reds very drinkable and a great value. Definitely one of the top tastings we had in NZ, it was hard to leave with only a half bottle of the 2008 Hunting Hill Chardonnay. Next time!

Coopers Creek Vineyard — Our hostess didn’t normally do wine tastings so she was a bit flustered at our presence; oddly, she also didn’t want to pour the reds for me while Eric was trying the whites so we were there twice as long as we needed to be. On the upside, the winery dog, Molly, was VERY friendly. This place sources their grapes from several places all over the country and we both thought the wines were pretty ordinary.


West Brook Winery – Beautiful setting with a big lawn area around a pond, we were surprised to be the only tasters on Sunday morning. The reds were okay but the whites were quite good. Wine was not available by the glass (?!?) but our hostess poured us a big ‘sample’ of whatever we wanted and we enjoyed it down by the pond on a picnic bench. We also scored a local area wine map which helped us pick out two more places to visit.

On our way to Matua Valley Wines we stopped in at a tiny vineyard, Twin Totara, that only grows cab franc and merlot. We had the opportunity to taste a four-year vertical of the reds and two vintages of the roses. Very interesting wine, and the winemaker himself was pouring. We had to make space in the luggage for a 2007 – it was a crazy good value at ~$14! If we had been in the US we would have left with a whole case. Easy.

West Brook Winery

Matua Valley Wines were solid — they had a free tasting of four reds and four whites so we each took a side. I absolutely loved the 2010 Merlot so I spent the $16 and got a glass to go with the very last of my liver pate and enjoyed both on the wrap-around balcony out back. Eric got a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc and joined me with some caramel corn. The beautiful views were blocked for several minutes by a pop-up rainstorm but we were protected.

Matua Valley Winery 

It was a wonderful way to end our time in New Zealand. Can’t wait to get back!

Sonoma County: Russian River Valley wine tasting

Porter Creek Vineyards — On our second visit to this charming tasting room we had an equally lovely visit. Jonathan was a friendly host full of suggestions and stories. Given the small tasting room they can get crowded quickly but on this morning we had the place to ourselves. We bought a bottle of the 2011 Carignane “Old Vine” (mild tannins, easy to drink) and a 2011 Zinfandel “Old Vine” (big and bold, would be good w/ stew).

Porter Creek tasting room

VML — This winery is relatively new (opened in 2011) by well-known winemaker Sonoma Co. Virginia Marie Lambrix. The outdoor seating area with tables and umbrellas was very relaxing and the landscaping was beautifully manicured. Even though we were outside the entire time, our host, Cameron, never let our tasting glass stay empty for more than a few moments before he appeared with the next wine. We left with two bottles each of the 2012 VML Sauvignon Blanc (slightly sweet, lime, passion fruit and peach) and the 2012 Bradford Mt Red Field Blend (cherry, bit of smoke, good value). Highly recommended and I can’t wait to get back here.

VML Vineyards

Moshin Vineyards — Another vineyard we’ve been to twice now, Moshin is always a good time with friendly staff and nice wines. The last time we left with a case of zinfandel and this time we got a case of the Promoshin white blend. Our other favorites were the 2012 Pinot Gris (crisp green apple and pear) and the 2009 Petite Sirah (chocolate-covered black cherry).

pinot noir tasting at Moshin

Korbel — Situated less than five minutes away from our B&B we decided to stop in after passing it numerous times on our way to other places. Eric tried a sparkling flight while I opted to try some of their still selections. There are a ton of champagne-style wines available here with varying degrees or sweetness and dryness. Eric stuck to the ones we couldn’t find by us and I was fairly impressed by their whites and reds. Eric’s favorite was the LePremier, a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, and mine was the Pinor Noir (medium dry w/ nice pepper and spice). The prices are good here so I think it would be a great place to pick up some wine and bubbly to drink with dinner or back at the B&B.


Hanna Winery — Our last winery of the trip, we stopped here because I was eager to try a place known for their whites, specifically sauvignon blanc. Alicia, our wine pourer, was very nice and we had the tasting room to ourselves on a sunny Sunday morning. We liked the sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noirs but the 2013 rose really impressed us. We didn’t have any more room our shippers, but we made room for a bottle in our suitcase!.

Hanna Vineyards
Hanna Vineyards tasting room in Sebastopol