When Ralph DiTullio of Nonno’s Italian Cafe called to invite me to lunch at La Rusticana d’Orsa, I accepted immediately. La Rusticana is hardly ever open to the public, and this was my golden opportunity to visit the winery and try some of their gorgeous wines.
A group of about 20 people meet up at Nonno’s—an Aladdin’s cave of wine. DiTullio’s passion for this beverage shows in his collection of wines from all over the world, plus an outstanding array from the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. Cafe, deli and wine bar rolled into one, Nonno’s is truly a charming place. Wine tastings are held most Saturdays—and there’s a bocce ball court to add to the fun.
The owners of La Rusticana, Frank and Marilyn Dorsa, bought the estate in Los Gatos years ago and have dedicated their time to getting their 40-acre property exactly as they want it. It’s an exquisite place—full of bronze statues, beautiful fountains, lily ponds and breathtaking gardens. One could be in Italy on the most magnificent property, but here we are in Los Gatos, hidden away in the rolling hills.
DiTullio, an ebullient fellow who loves wine and food, immediately pours some La Rusticana wine for our group—a glass to carry with us as we go on a tour of the property. I had been here some years ago, but the estate is even more stunning now.
There are those times in one’s wine-drinking life when a beautiful Rosé is like an epiphany. Drinking the popular Chardonnays and Merlots as often as we do, sometimes the thought of a Rosé wine never comes into the picture. How often do you order a Rosé when you’re out to dinner? It’s easy to forget about the Rosés of this world when confronted with a plethora of reds and whites.
Stopping by Vino Tabi’s tasting room one afternoon, winemaker Katie Fox said, “Try this Rosé. I just love it.” She was referring to her Rosé of Zinfandel 2008 Central Coast ($22 and available only at the winery). One sip and I was smitten. A very pretty coral-ruby color, this excellent wine has a very definite essence of chocolate and strawberries—with just a hint of rhubarb. It’s not cloyingly sweet as are some Rosés—and in fact has quite a tart cherry finish.
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Lois and Michael Sones met at sea when they were both working on a cruise ship in the mid-1980s – hence the nautical theme of their white wine – Canción del mar. Even their bottle labels, which are beautiful and eye-catching, continue this theme and depict the bow of a boat with a masthead of Minerva holding a bunch of grapes.
Sones Cellars started out in a very small way, as most wineries do, but I have now noticed their wines all over town in one store or another. Michael Sones is getting due recognition for making some superb handcrafted wines. As well as Canción del mar, the winery produces Petite Syrah and Zinfandel.
Every time I drive past the little red schoolhouse on Summit Road in Los Gatos, I think of the story behind it. When Dave Moulton, owner and winemaker at Burrell School, started in the wine business back in the early ’70s, his wife Anne could not believe that they were actually going to live in the old – make that “historic” – schoolhouse. Even with all the history behind it (it was built in 1890), to be living and working from this spot seemed a bit inconvenient, to say the least. But fast forward to today. Burrell School is one of the best-known wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation – and Dave is hailed for producing some of the best local wines on the market.
A visit to Martin Ranch is nothing short of an adventure. The address alone encapsulates the location – Redwood Retreat Road. It’s actually a very easy drive going over Hecker Pass and making a left on Watsonville Road—but I followed my Mapquest and drove down a long dirt road from Summit Road before I got to my destination. But all is right with the world when you get there. Martin Ranch is beautiful and the view is breathtaking. And the occasion was Martin Ranch’s annual wine club members’ barbecue.
Although Thomas Fogarty is known mostly for making top-of-the-line wines, the winery also turns out a low-key Chardonnay called Skyline, which sells for about $15—a modest price to pay for a lovely crisp wine. The 2008 Skyline is fermented and aged in stainless steel. Because it is not aged in the finest oak barrels doesn’t mean it’s not worthy. Au contraire—this Chardonnay has a bright clean finish that’s unpretentious and delicious. Of course, a good Chardonnay that’s been aged in the finest French oak barrels is bound to be superior, but then you’ll be paying a lot more, too. The Skyline is named after Skyline Boulevard where the winery sits—at 2,000 feet above sea level – and where they claim the Skyline strip to be “the ribbon that adorns the Santa Cruz Mountains.” This particular wine comes with a screw cap, but don’t let that put you off. Many wineries these days are going that route, even though many people are not happy about it. I still prefer the “old-fashioned” cork, though.
At a recent dinner at Aquarius restaurant in the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz, I order the Skyline 2007 to go with my entrée of California White Bass—a lovely pairing with the succulent fish. I always try to drink local wines when I’m dining around town, and I was pleased to see that Aquarius has quite a few wines from our Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. They also do wine flights where you can taste a flight of three—and order a few “Bar Bites” if you get the munchies. It’s an all-round beautiful restaurant—esthetically stunning and with impressive food to match.
Two of the wonderful local wines that Aquarius carries, Heart O’ The Mountain Pinot Noir and Black Ridge Pinot Noir, were served at the restaurant’s recent celebratory opening. And what a party it was! As well as an abundance of delicious food and wine, there were synchronized swimmers in the hotel’s pool, and fire dancers on the beach. The place was packed with invitees having an absolutely wonderful time. We were even greeted at the door with a glass of champagne.
Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards, 19501 Skyline Blvd., Woodside, (650) 851-6777, fogartywinery.com. Open for wine tasting Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tasting fee is $8 and $12, but complimentary on Wednesdays. Aquarius, 175 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, 460-5012.
Johnny’s Harborside is doing an ongoing “Raise a Glass” fundraiser for local teachers. Until Jan. 1, 2010, they will be donating $1 a glass or flight and $4 per bottle of all Ventana wines. With the funds raised, Johnny’s will be partnering with the Institute of HeartMath to offer free training to local teachers.
Johnny’s Harborside Restaurant & Bar, 493 Lake Ave., Santa Cruz, 479-3430, johnnysharborside.com.