A few weeks ago, some friends who live close by invited me over to their house for a light lunch to meet some British folks they do a house exchange with periodically. Since I hail from England myself, they thought it would be nice for me to meet them—and it was.
I had just bought a bottle of Nicholson’s 2008 Estate Chardonnay ($24), Santa Cruz Mountains, and so this would be the perfect libation to have with a variety of cheeses, salad, salami and pickles.
Vino di Nonno – California Red Wine
Nonno’s Italian Cafe is one of the most unpretentious little places on the map of California. It’s also a treasure trove of wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. Situated atop a hill in the beautiful Redwood Estates, it’s an easy drive from Santa Cruz, threading one’s way through majestic redwood trees to Nonno’s bucolic setting. Restaurant owner Ralph di Tullio is passionate about wine, so much so that as well as running his very busy restaurant, he even makes his own wine—Vino di Nonno, a California red wine which sells for $12 at his restaurant. “I buy the components from different Santa Cruz Mountains wineries and we make our own blend,” he says. “This particular one is 65 percent Tempranillo, 33 percent Petite Sirah and 2 percent Viognier. It’s a non-vintage blend of several years,” he adds.
A fellow Brit and good friend, Emma, was in Santa Cruz recently, visiting from London, and it’s always a pleasure to show visitors our wonderful area. Having been to this neck of the woods before, Emma particularly loves Capitola Village, so we headed there for a stroll around and then to Paradise Beach Grille for a glass or two of wine.
Paradise Beach Grille carries quite a few of our local wines and, of course, I always choose local when it’s available. On this particularly warm afternoon, a Clos LaChance Chardonnay is just the ticket. It’s an upbeat refreshing wine, full of tropical fruit, apples and pear flavors with a flinty mineral finish.
Taking a sip of Vino Tabi’s 2009 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, is a joyful experience. Lots of butterscotch and candied pear on the nose is the first hint that this is a worthwhile juice. And in the mouth, there are flavors of baked apple, light buttery oak and a touch of nutmeg—ending with a delicate light vanilla finish. This delicious and tantalizing wine is well worth the price of $24.
Winery owner Katie Fox works incessantly to craft her fine wines. When last I saw her at the beginning of November, she was relieved that harvest was over and can now concentrate on other wine-related events her winery is involved in.
As most people like Chardonnay, this is a good wine to have around over the Thanksgiving holidays. Most white wine drinkers can’t always handle red, but you can count on red wine drinkers being able to drink white. It’s good to have a variety of wine in stock to give people choices, but Chardonnay is a safe bet for most.
Villa Del Monte Winery’s 2010 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains Regan Vineyard ($25), is a wonderful wine to open up when guests first arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. With its crisp tropical fruit flavors and buttery finish, this lightly oaked Chardonnay goes well with cheese, fruit, nuts—and other hors d’oeuvres set out for people to munch on before the main meal. And it would, of course, go perfectly well with turkey and all the trimmings.
Pinot Noir 2008
Dozens of bottles of wine had been generously donated by Muccigrosso Vineyards for silent auction at a fundraiser I attended recently. The event was for a friend’s brother whose house needs remodeling—as he’s now wheelchair bound after brain surgery. Held at Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery—whose owners had donated their beautiful location and gallons of wine—the turnout was amazing and several thousand dollars were raised. I find the wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains to be extraordinarily generous in supporting the community. Hunter Hill and Muccigrosso wineries are but two of the many in the area who step up to the plate to give a helping hand when needed.
Pinot Noir 2009
Ever since Café Rio opened its doors recently – with brand new owners at the helm – this lovely ocean-view restaurant has done extraordinarily well. Restaurant news spreads quickly in the Santa Cruz area, and the word is that Café Rio has regained its reputation of old and is serving up some excellent food, including their famous and much-loved sand dabs.
Dying to check the new vibe, I finally get there with a friend for a light dinner from the bar menu – knowing ahead of time that I would order of one of my favorites – seared ahi tuna. We also order some delicious smoked salmon and tender deep-fried calamari.