Wine Tasting on the West Side of Paso Robles

Paso_Westside_CoverWe recently visited Paso Robles, California on a picture perfect fall weekend.  The air had a cool, crisp feel, and the vineyards were full of color, delighting us with shades of yellow, red, and orange.

We picked three wineries for our Saturday afternoon adventure;  Thacher Winery, Halter Ranch, and HammerSky Vineyards. Armed with a cooler of cheeses and prosciutto, we headed out 46 West to our first winery of the day. Continue reading

7 Must Visit Tasting Rooms in Woodinville, WA

woodinville_WAA good friend of ours recently asked where they should take some out-of-town friends who are big wine drinkers. So we put together a list and sent it over. It then occurred to me that others may be interested in that same list. Here is it – enjoy and let me know if you feel some must-visits were inadvertently left off the list.

(1) JM Cellars – we are surprised at how many locals are unaware of this little gem. Trick is, they are only open Fri thru Sun from 11-4. Awesome grounds, good wine, unique experience and they usually serve cheese, crackers and salami. And if you happen to be a member, their pick-up parties are insane! Lamb burgers – enough said.

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Yakima Valley, WA

When the pressures of life demand some downtime and you don’t have a vacation on the horizon, we suggest a weekend road trip to Yakima Valley wine country.  Here you will sample what is sure to become among the elite wine regions here in Washington State.

As California transplants we have soft spot for golden hills scattered with orchards, groves and vineyards. Valleys that wind endlessly through gorgeous back country which seems to transport you miles from civilization. That euphoric feeling of stumbling on a “hidden gem” tasting room tucked in such obscurity that it was surly undiscovered until your arrival. And the destination wineries perched on bluffs with cinematic views ideal for sampling an array of whites, reds and rosé. If Walla Walla is Napa 15 years ago, then Yakima Valley would be Paso Robles 20 years ago. Well, at least that’s our opinion – here are a few photos to judge for yourself!

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Wenatchee, WA Day 2

View while climbing to Red Top Lookout

Day two brought more sunshine and an opportunity to take full advantage of our drive back to Seattle. First things first, we had to find some breakfast. We stumbled on a fantastic little nook called the Wild Huckleberry – I went with the sausage and apple omelet while Jen opted for a well-balanced mix of eggs, bacon and French Toast. It was a very “folksy” restaurant with the clientele and staff teaming up to give that perfect “locals-only” vibe. With a bellies full, we said goodbye to Wenatchee and made our way back up Washington State Route 2 for more exploration.

Wild Huckleberry in Wenatchee

The drive was beautiful as we wound our way through the cascades on 97 towards I90. Along the way we happened to pick a side road for a little adventure; after 8 miles of climbing on a dirt road we ended up finding a hidden gem in Red Top Lookout which offered some of the most stunning views we have ever seen! Who knew that we could stumble onto something this amazing!

Back in the car we decided to hunt down a small snack to tie us over until dinner. We tried Roslyn (where Northern Exposure was filmed) but left without finding what we were looking for. By chance we stopped at the Suncadia Resort just outside of Roslyn and really lucked out! We ordered a few Rieslings, a small meat and cheese plate and a Tuna Tartar – an absolutely perfect mix to get us home!

Roslyn Cafe, Washington
Suncadia Resort view from our table

Reflecting on our weekend get-a-away, we realized that as newbies to the state of Washington, we have so much to see. Lake Chelan is one of our next destinations along with Orcas Island and Friday Harbor. So much to do, and with so much time to do it! Nice. For more pics from this little get-a-way, CLICK HERE >>

Wenatchee, WA Day 1

Now we realize that we have not been posting as often as we should. The answer? Micro posts! So here goes…

We decided to tour our new state and took a trip to Wentachee. The route included a portion of Natioal Geographic’s “top scenic routes in America” known as the Cascade Loop. We actually saw the outside temp car themometer hit 101! An ice cold beer, yummy brat and a cool ice cream in the bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth helped bring our core temps down. So far this famous loop has definitely lived up to its reputation. Pictures to follow.

From there we visited a winery, sipped wine and played backgammon alongside the Columbia River. Now we are about to dive into a delicious meal at the local Public House McGlinns. Wood fired nachos followed by a wood fired pizza is sure to do the trick for our ravenous hunger!

More to come…

Gettin’ Gourmet Safeco Park Style

A few weeks back we took our first trip to Safeco Field as Seattle residents. We were fortunate enough to luck into a few tickets from one of our Happy Hour Meetup Group members (thanks Margaret)!

Well it didn’t take us long to figure out where we belonged. While the youngsters were “whoopin’ it up” out in centerfield at the Beer Garden, we made a B line* to the Hit it Here Cafe for some tall beers and fancy appetizers. Upon a quick review of the menu we both zeroed in on a little taste of home and ordered a couple Firestone DBA’s. A few minutes later our 20 oz. brewskies arrived and we knew things were heading in the right direction.

Next we ordered up a shrimp bucket and paired it with a nice salami and hummus plate. Both were fantastic, great portions and quite tasty. We had to stop for a moment to realize that we were in fact at the ballpark. Now I know what some of you are saying, “How can you not have a dog at the park, or perhaps some cheesy Nachos”? But we’re here to tell you that those folks at the ballpark are evolving, and they are speaking our language. Fact is, you can get amazing seats, have a great dinner, catch a perfect view of the action and drink micro beers to your heart’s content.

With summer fast approaching, it’s fair to say that we will have our share of sun time in the bleachers and likely a round or two out at the raucous Beer Garden. But for those of you that may be thinking of taking in a game but want to step it up a bit, we highly recommend that you give the Hit it Here Cafe a try. They even have a lovely steak on the menu!

Batter up!

* A B line refers to the direction in which a bee flys after gathering nectar. Bees use the sun to navigate their way around and when they are ready to return to the hive they fly in a straight line back. This is why when someone is trying to get to their destination quickly they are said to be “making a B line”.

Food Tour at Pike Place Market

Bubblegum Wall Art at Pike Place Market

When people think of Seattle, they usually think of Pike Place Market. We’ve taken a few trips through the market, making our way though the flying fish, fresh flowers, and the many people both locals and tourists alike. No doubt, all the action and people make the Pike a little overwhelming the first few times. We keep talking about our good intentions of using Pike’s like any other local farmer’s market. The produce looks beautiful. The fish is always fresh. There’s even a butcher right inside the market – although he doesn’t seem to get as much traffic as the people throwing fish. Maybe he needs to start throwing some meat out into the crowd!

We had signed up for a restaurant tour of Belltown through one of our groups. The tour sounded great. We would visit 4-5 restaurants, a brew pub, and a wine bar, learning about the different establishments and of course tasting the best they had to offer. About a week before the tour, we got a note saying that the tour had been changed. Rather than a tour of Belltown restaurants, the group event had been changed to a walking tour of Pike Place. I was a little disappointed at first – we had already been to Pike’s a few times and was looking forward to exploring a new neighborhood. But, we decided to stay with the group and go on the Pike tour rather than back-out and wait for the original Belltown tour.

It was a rainy and very windy afternoon. We headed out to meet our group, battling the elements and looking for the meeting place. We had a little difficulty finding it. We actually recognized one of the Meetup people and joined him in our search for the start of the tour. People started to gather. Of course there was one person that couldn’t find the location which caused a little drama at the beginning. But after about 10-15 minutes, a rather boisterous little lady walked in and said ‘Helloooo Meetup Group!’. That was our guide. . .and we were off!

Now, when we heard this was a tour of Pike Place, we just assumed we would be making our way through the market, looking at raw fish and vegetables. Interestingly, we never actually walked through the market! We learned that the market is considered the whole area around the famous building.
Our guide started us off right away with a tasty little donut she had picked up at a stand in the market called the Daily Dozen Doughnut Company on her way to meet our group. Still warm, it was a great and delicious start to the tour. We later passed that donut stand and the line was enormous!
One of the most interesting parts of the tour to me was the history of the Market that she told us while we made our way down the street to the famous red neon sign we all know. My favorite history lesson was that in the late 60’s they paved over the original brick streets and in the 70’s began lobbying to tear down the market and build a convention center. What were they thinking!? As if avocado appliances and plaid clothing weren’t enough of a scar to leave for the next generation! Oh, one more interesting fact; a franchised business cannot move into Pike Place. Now, some might immediately say, ‘well, the original Starbucks is at Pikes’. That is true. But, the key word there is that it is the original. A business can start at the market and become a franchise, but not the other way around. Making the market a true original!
The DeLaurenti Meat Counter
DeLaurenti Cheese Counter

After our history lesson, we began to make our way into the Economy Building, which stands just to the left of the famous market sign, to our first food destination, the DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine shop. This is a great little wine and cheese shop along with a selection of cured meats. We received a little tour and sampled some of their goods. The stand out here was a cured rosemary salami made by the father of Mario Batali, of Food Network fame. We also learned that they do a free wine tasting with cheese every Saturday from 2:00 -4:00. Definitely on the list for a future Saturday afternoon.

Our next stop was a ‘bubblegum wall’. Now, coming from San Luis Obispo, home of the infamous Bubblegum Alley, we felt that Seattle stole our idea! Basically, this is a wall in the market that has thousands of pieces of gum on it – and I’m sure hundreds more get added every week. Luckily we didn’t sample anything here. Just a few snap shots and we were on our way.
Next stop was a little gelato store, Bottega Italiana. Not something I expected on a tour of the market, but it was some of the best gelato I’ve ever had. I am sure we will be making many trips there during the warmer summer months! We then headed back into the heart of the action. On our walk to the next destination our guide provided a little nugget from another market favorite. I don’t recall the name, but it was a light flakey crust with a potato and onion filling. We ate those as we walked, stopping by a fruit stand for a sample on our way to one of the more unique shops I’ve ever been to. The name of the shop was La Buona Tavola Truffle Cafe and Specialty Foods. It was a tiny little shop, the group barely fit around their sample table. They provided some of the most interesting and decadent samples of the day. My favorite was a little sprinkle of truffle salt. I had never heard of this, but it was delicious. Also sampled was a potato soup. First tasted plain, then with a little drizzle of truffle oil. We must go back. . .but for now, we were back on the move to a place I had discovered on a previous trip to Seattle back in November while Eric was at his interview – Pike Place Chowder.
Members of our tour, just after eating some Pike Place Chowder

Some of the best chowder we have ever had – and they have the awards to prove it. Rumor has it they are no longer allowed to enter their clam chowder into the Great Chowder Cook-off in Newport, Rhode Island. They wanted to allow someone else a chance at winning! A cup of chowder on the chilly Saturday afternoon was a great stop on this tour.

Our last stop with our tour guide was a restaurant called The Pink Door. No mysteries here, it has a pink door. No sign, just the door. We had heard about this restaurant from a few people but had never been in. We were sat at a large table with water, wine and several anti-pasta platters. This was where our tour concluded. It was a perfect end as we got to sit and chat with our new friends and hear a few more interesting tales about the market and its history, as well as some insight into other interesting stories of Seattle’s past. . .but that is for another day, and probably another tour.

The guide left us, but our group wasn’t ready to end the great afternoon we were having. We walked across the alley to a wine bar called The Tasting Room which specializes in boutique Washington wineries. We grabbed a table and did their ‘flight of the day’. One of the winemakers was there and he poured for us while describing the wines. It was a great end to the afternoon, chatting it up with some new friends whom we will see again shortly at another Meetup event!

Now, on to the Belltown Restaurant tour!

Interested in taking this tour?
To see more photos from our tour – click here>>

Woodinville, WA

Jen in front of JM Cellars
There are several things that made leaving California difficult; separation from close family and friends, the near perfect weather conditions (at least from Eric’s perspective) and quick access to private beaches that stretch the Central Coast that we have come to know and love. So when we started to think about making a life-changing move back in October of 2009, we knew that there were a number of amenities required in order to truly call that new place home. So how did Seattle stack up against those requirements?
  1. Close access to some of the country’s best restaurants? Check.
  2. Ability to take in some of nature’s most amazing views? Check.
  3. Abundance of sporting, music and outdoor events? Check.
  4. Close enough to Cali for a visit with relative ease? Check.
  5. Access to some of the finest wine in the US? Oh Yeah Baby!

Now, we knew Washington made wine. There are many well known wine regions in the state – Yakima Valley, Walla Walla, and the Columbia Valley, to name a few. But all of those are several hours away, south and east of Seattle. So of course, we began exploring options closer to home – and we found Seattle’s answer to the vast array of wineries in California is Woodinville. This area, in many ways represents a little slice of home, boasting the most concentrated assortment of 90+ wines in the country! What’s better, it is just 30 short minutes from our downtown apartment in the heart of Seattle. While we don’t have the shear number of wineries available in California, there is clearly a passion for the art of winemaking in this region. It is an exciting opportunity to witness a wine boom that is not too different from that of Napa and Sonoma some 10 years back!

On the road to Woodinville

We arrived at our first chosen tasting room at JM Cellars around 2:30. The skies were a bit overcast and tiny droplets of rain appeared in fits, but not heavy enough to deter a walk around this small but incredibly beautiful estate. The tasting room is a converted home nested in the hills just above the town of Woodinville with sweeping views of neighboring Kirkland. It has a woodsy feel that reminded us of the Cambria Pines Lodge in California with towering trees, a glowing outdoor fire pit and various quaint seating areas perfect for sipping and chatting. Inside we found a very unique tasting room which was quite comfortable and warm, teeming with eager visitors pushing their glasses forward for another pour. We wasted no time in finding our way to the first available attendant who was just waiting to quench our thirst! A glace around our immediate surroundings revealed several award-winning wines, many of which appeared on the tasting menu! Here are a few shots of the gounds and tasting room to give you a feel…

JM Cellars – Warm and inviting fire pit
JM Cellars – Nice little retreat
JM Cellars – Indoor private sipping room
JM Cellars – Belly up to the wine bar!

With the warmth provided by JM Cellars, we were ready to head out to our next destination. After driving by a few tasting rooms in the area, we settled on one of the larger establishments in Columbia Winery primarily because we wanted to maximize our time and they stayed open until 6:00 PM! While this is a larger, more commercial facility, they do a great job employing a number of engaging and informed Wine Educators to enhance the tasting experience. They were pouring many of their top-tier wines versus the more commercial varietals that are typically found in grocery stores. Looking back, we really enjoyed our time there as we learned a lot about the Woodinville area as well as up-and-coming vineyard regions in Central and Eastern Washington. In fact, we both agree that we received more “attention” at Columbia than we did at JM Cellars.

As for the tasting room itself, it was enormous. It didn’t have the warm and cozy feel of other smaller wineries, but they did have a really nice outdoor seating area that would be lovely in the summer months. They also serve a variety of flatbreads including smoked Salmon, fresh basil and mozzarella among others. This will likely be a destination when family and friends come for a visit…plus, they do weddings!

 Columbia Winery – Main Entrance
Columbia Winery – Main tasting area
Columbia Winery – Store and small tasting area
There are many other wineries in this area that we still have to visit, not to mention returning to both of these great locations! Our Wine Educator at Columbia provided us a map with several of his favorites of the region highlighted – another day in wine county has already been planned! When the day was over and we reminisced on our spectacular time, we both realized that this was a very important experience for us as it represented yet another reinforcing event proving that we made the right decision in moving to Seattle!
To view the full gallery of Woodinville adventure, click here >>

La Carta Oaxaca, Ballard, WA

Family Style Seating at La Carta Oaxaca

So we just registered the Murano and got our new Washington plates. Decided to grab some food and selected a highly reviewed Mexican restaurant called La Carta Oaxaca in Ballard (a neighborhood in Seattle). After ordering our margaritas (yum) we were shown to out table, one that we shared elbow-to-elbow with 9 other people! I went with the house specialty, the Mole Pork…the bartender swears it is the best in the country. Jen ordered the Carna Asada, his second favorite! We’ll post our own review shortly. Now it is time to eat!

Ok, just finished and must admit that it was awesome! Holy Mole! Handing my phone to Jen for her review…”The carne asada was quite tasty! Thin, marinated steak, grilled to perfection with rice beans. Oh, and the margarita is very yummy!”

So there you have it, success! Now, if the table would just pick up our tab. Stay thirsty my friends. Ole!