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Today was gorgeous and warm again so we went for a hike at the end of the day with our friend Andrew. The views of the Channel Islands were clear and beautiful. After the hike we grilled teriyaki chicken & vegetable kebabs and roasted some potatoes. Naturally our conversation turned to wine. Andrew made a comment about Syrah being “okay” and went on to say that he’d never had one that really ‘zinged’ him. I took this as a personal challenge; the gauntlet was thrown! I opened two different Syrahs. The first one the 2004 Skyhawk Lane Syrah (San Luis Obispo County, Alamo Creek Vineyards) is a big, intense Syrah with jammy fruit flavors with a nice long finish. Next, we opened a 2003 Ethan Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley, Purisima Mountain Vineyard). This wine is like a velvet hammer – beautifully smooth on the palate, heavy with condensed blackberry, cassis and white pepper flavors with a satisfying, long finish. We had bottle number 1357 of 3575…it was the second to the last bottle we have left. I will be sad to see the last one go, because it is drinking so well right now. Maybe I can talk Ethan into finding a few more bottles for me in his cellar? I hope so. Ethan’s father is award winning winemaker Robert Lindquist, of Qupé. I can assure you, the apple doesn’t fall far from the proverbial tree in that family. As far as our little Syrah Challenge, the wines definitely ‘zinged’ Andrew. He said, “Wow, I didn’t know Syrah could taste so good.” I love a good challenge.

Jason and I went hiking up the Romero Canyon trail – and ran into Laura Sanchez of the magazine Destination Wine Country. I’ve written a few articles for the publication and so I pitched Laura on a few story ideas and we chatted about how things are going at the magazine. She gave me the news that Destination Wine Country was re-designing its website and should launch the new site soon. After our hike, Jason and I came home and cooled off with the 2007 Carr Pinot Gris. This un-oaked wine (aged in stainless steel for 5 months) has tart apple and mineral notes. The Carr tasting room is located on the Urban Wine Trail, right in downtown Santa Barbara. If you happen to be in town, stop by to taste wines from a number of small production labels.  After we got cleaned up after our hike, we headed down the street to watch the Super Bowl with our neighbors Jo and Daniel and their friends from Los Angeles, Courtney and Mike. We brought along bottles to share, the 2004 Red Head Ranch Zinfandel (Paso Robles) and the 2006 Cleb Syrah of Rose (Santa Barbara). The 2006 Cleb Syrah Rosé is a wonderful, dry Rosé – with so much character and complexity it is like a pink wine masquerading as a red one. The 2004 Red Head Ranch is one of our favorite old vine Zinfandels because of its condensed, bold cherry jam and spice flavors. It has an amazingly long finish and paired really well with Super Bowl chili! There were only 362 cases of this wine made – which is too bad, because it is awesome! The 2006 Cleb Syrah Rosé is a wonderful, dry Rosé – with so much character and complexity it seems to be masquerading as a red wine. From what gleaned from the loud outbursts from the guys, the Super Bowl was a very exciting one – I quite frankly was more interested in the wine (and the commercials). Go team!

I headed out to Los Olivos today to work at the Tre Anelli tasting room. Any day at the tasting room is a great one. I work with fabulous people and I get to make wine tasters happy all day long! Tre Anelli is especially fun, because the wines very small production and are only sold at the tasting room.  Stop by, say “Hello”, and sample some awesome wines – be sure to mention you read about Tre Anelli here on After a fun day at the tasting room, I met Jason at Los Arroyos in Montecito for dinner. Los Arroyos serves authentic tasting Northern Mexican food and yummy margaritas. The Arroyo Burrito is wonderful – full of halibut, shrimp, roasted vegetables, black beans, sour cream and guacamole. Another one of our favorites is the Burrito Mojado which consists of your choice of chicken or steak, black beans, rice guacamole and sour cream. It is topped with a savory, spicy red sauce. After dinner we headed home and opened a lovely 2005 Malbec from Opolo. This wine has soft, velvety tannins and tasted of black cherry and stone fruit. What a wonderful way to end the day!

TGIF! It was such a gorgeous, warm January day (THIS is why we live in California, earthquakes or no earthquakes) that Jason decided to chill a 2007 Rosé of Syrah from Ampelos for us to have as our pre-dinner wine. This deeply pink colored wine is dry on the palate with serious backbone; this is definitely not one of those sticky-sweet pink wines! The flavors of the Syrah grapes really shine through – spice, berry and currant. With help from our friends Shannon, Betsy and Brendon we finished the wine and headed down the coast to Sly’s in Carpinteria. Sly’s was wonderful – high quality steaks, fresh Maine lobster – everything you’d want in a steakhouse, complete with a relaxed atmosphere and vintage car racing photos adorning the walls. I am especially fond of Sly’s traditional cocktail list featuring dandy drinks like the Gimlet, Zombie, Sazerac, Vesper, Old Fashioned (I especially love these because they remind me of my Dad), Manhattan and White Lady. My one and only complaint about Sly’s is its limited by-the-glass list– with only 7 red wines. It is a shame that the list doesn’t offer more local choices, especially since the restaurant is located a mere 45 minutes away from one of California’s best wine producing regions. Oh well, the vintage cocktails are so good that I don’t bother with the teeny-tiny wine list.

Tonight we had a family dinner with Susan and Jerry (Jason’s mom and stepdad). We had homemade ravioli, halibut, broccoli and a wonderful bottle of 2005 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. This wine is a real treat! This is the very same wine that was served to President-Elect Obama and 200 guests at the recent 2009 Inaugural Luncheon. I figure that Mr. Obama had a lot on his mind during that luncheon, but I sure hope he was able to take a few moments to enjoy the color (bright deep red), nose (raspberry, savory spices and earthy scents) and taste (black cherry, black raspberry and mocha) of this shining example of a California Pinot Noir. Hail to the chief!

We headed down to Venice, California to spend the entire day relaxing and catching up with our friends Mike and Sandra today. We brought a lovely 2002 Consilience Rhodes Vineyard  Zinfandel (Redwood Valley – Mendocino County) with us and a 2005 Christian Lazo Cabernet Franc from Paso Robles. Mike and Sandra raided their wine stash and brought out three more bottles, 2004 Arthur Earl Silver Label Syrah (Valley View Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley – Santa Barbara County), 2004 Heritage Valley Meritage (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot), and the 2003 Di Bruno Sangiovese, Stolpman Vineyards (Santa Barbara County). With all this great wine, we feasted on a wheel of smoked provolone-like cheese that Sandra and Mike smuggled into the US from Brazil. It was aged, tangy and salty and unlike any other cheese I’ve ever had. By the way, drop me a note if you know where I can order smoked provolone! We also had soprassetto and prosciutto and freshly baked olive bread. We tore off hunks of the olive bread and dipped it in B.R. Cohn olive oil and Los Olivos Grocery fig balsamic vinegar. Simple, but oh so good!

Dinner was a grilled tri-tip with a Mike’s homemade dry rub and roasted potatoes. My friends who are not from California tell me that this is a cut that is unique to the West Coast. So, if your butcher gives you a funny look when you ask for tri-tip, just tell him you want a “triangle roast” or “bottom sirloin butt”. And, if you happen to be in the central coast area try our local specialty, Santa Maria style tri-tip. The dry rub for this is basically a blend of salt, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder; some bbqers include other ingredients like rosemary or parsley. Mmmm…Meat and potatoes – I guess I am a mid-western girl at heart!

Jason and I brought home some amazing wines from our Ampelos tasting earlier this month, including the 2006 Lambda Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir’s flavors of black cherries with hints of earth and baking spices were the perfect partner for the grilled pork tenderloin. While many Pinots leave me wishing they had more “oomph”, this one delivered the goods with rich flavor, excellent balance and a long finish. A lovely bottle of wine and a simple meal at home – who says you have to go out for “date night”?

Tonight’s bottle is the 2004 Curran Sangiovese. This is a medium bodied, fruity Italian varietal which grows well in California’s central coast region. The Curran Sangiovese is more full-bodied and rich than its old world Italian counterpart. This is a decidedly food friendly wine, perfect for casual meals and any day that ends in “y”. I like this wine with pizza or pasta or any dish with a good level of acidity. Tonight we have it with kung pao noodles with vegetables and shrimp. An odd match, but it is one that works – the fruit and acid in the wine work beautifully with the exotic Chinese spices. Sangiovese is one of my favorite wines for lunchtime too, as it pairs well with lighter foods. Plus it often has a lower percentage of alcohol – so you CAN have a glass of wine at lunch!

I like to end my day with a glass of wine.  Tonight I am drinking the 2005 Curran Reeves’ Ranch Syrah. Winemaker Kris Curran is a favorite of mine because her wines are expressive yet balanced. Curran believes that fruit from the warmer areas of the Valley yield superior, more flavorful wines. However she doesn’t let the fruit get overly ripe which might result in jammy fruit bomb wine. Her 2005 syrah would be a fabulous partner to flank steak or some other red meat. Jason and I paired the wine with chicken in a chipotle sauce. I worried that the heat and spice of the chipotle would completely overpower the Syrah, however this unusual pairing was a successful marriage of tastes.

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