Santa Barbara Wine Country

Here are the main highlights of my trip to Santa Barbara. We stayed at the Hadsten Inn and Spa. Location wise, Solvang is the best jumping off point to all the wineries. Food wise, definitely hit Brothers’ Restaurant at Mattei’s Inn and Los Olivos Grocery Store for some snacks to go with all that wine.


One of many tasting rooms, this is definitely part of the hook and look of Gainey.  Romantic and intimate this place looks like the site for weddings and events. Along with that however goes mediocre wine that isn’t too memorable. Most of it is drinkable, but none worth the price point or the heavy luggage to buy back. I would say this would be a pass for my next trip. Sorry Sideways!

Beckmen Vineyards

One of my favorite wineries in this region by far, Beckmen puts thought and time into every bottle. It was very hard to choose, but we ended up with a case of the marsanne. My sister bought a case of one of the whites. The tasting room is a lackluster basic room with the usual  tshirts and trinkets. What it lacks in presentation, the wine more than makes up for in taste. I recently bought the Grenache which is more widely available to a party and it was deliciously jammy yet complex. I am a fan!

Blair Fox

This little gem is a part of the stretch of tasting rooms found in Los Olivos.  The main event is really the syrah from this little vineyard. It definitely leaves an impression and hits all the right notes. With the blessing of demi-god Robert Parker, their wines are becoming more and more widely available outside the local area. Complex with good spice and character, I would reach for their Syrah above all else.


I’ve had some pretty tasty wines from this particular winery while perusing various stores in Chicago and NYC. So when I had the opportunity to go to the tasting room, I jumped. Unfortunately, my expectations fell a little short. Maybe it was the fact that my expectations had been high, but the pours seemed uninteresting but drinkable.  All the glasses were consistently good, but not great and definitely not worth some of the price points.  I would say stick with the edited selection of your local wine store, there is a reason why certain bottles gain their popularity.

Cold Heaven

The wines from this relatively new winery are definitely a labor of love and it shows. Focusing mainly on viognier, Cold Heaven brings out the complexity and elegance this particular varietal deserves.  What struck me the most about these wines is their ability to develop over time and open up like a red.  Many viogniers and whites are ready for the drinking the minute the cork is popped, but with these you miss out on an astounding development of character. The sommelier was kind enough to show us the difference between a bottle opened from the day before and one opened a few minutes ago. Both were delightful, but the former had a mellower character and developed a whole new flavor profile.  I would buy a couple bottles from here just to open and see what happens over time. The Saints and Sinners was one of my favorites.

Taste of the Valleys

Located in the heart of Solvang, this little tasting room has a well edited list of the brightest and best of the local wineries. If you are afraid of missing that one great find this is the place to seek it out at the end or beginning of your trip.  If I had to do it all over again, I think I would have come here first instead of towards the end of the trip to get a sense of where I wanted to visit. The best part of this place is their offerings of Au Bon Climat, lovingly nicknamed ABC. ABC doesn’t have their own tasting room so this is the place to go to get some tastes in.

Au Bon Climat

Don’t let the guy in the mullet on the homepage fool you, Jim Clendenen definitely knows what he’s doing. ABC has some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of this region.  Silky smooth with a leaning towards the Burgundian style of wine making, this winery plays to my heart strings, but not so much to my wallet. Like a true Burgundian the price point is a little steep for some of my favorites, however I suspect the cheaper bottles would age into beauties given a little time. Buy for now and drink for later.

Jam Jar 2009 Sweet Shiraz

Trader Joe’s has done it again! This is an incredibly drinkable read with a sweetness that is very approachable. Though it does make you think it is a great affordable staple. At 9 smackers, its a crowd pleaser, great for bbqs and pork based foods.

Cost: $9

Sip: jammy, fruit, a little spice, straight forward, very sweet

Sniff: light notes of cherries, stone fruit

Eat: BBQ, chinese food, pork

Rating: Not Bad

The Dregs: Chicken, Potato, Leek Soup

Chicken, Potato, Leek Soup
1.5 lbs Leeks (diced tender greens only)
5 cups chicken stock
3 Medium Potatoes cubed
1 small onion diced
4 boneless chicken thighs
Handful of fresh tarragon coarsely chopped
1 cup of white wine (cheap TJ’s Honeymoon works great!!)
Olive oil
1/6 cup heavy cream
3 garlic cloves peeled

1. Heat pan on high with olive oil
2. Brown chicken thighs
3. Take out thighs and set aside
4. Place leeks, garlic, and onion in pan
5. Add potatoes once leeks wilted
6. Pour in white wine
7. Sauté for few minutes
8. Pour in chicken stock and simmer until potatoes tender and soft
9. Dice chicken and add
9. Add in tarragon and heavy cream
10. Serve with crust bread

Old Moon Zinfandel

At 5.99 a bottle from Trader Joe’s this bottle is a complete stand out. I always have some on hand. Plummy with a surprising depth in character and a slight coat to the tongue that hints of tannin makes this incredibly well balanced. I would say it holds up to bottles at much higher price points. I love drinking this alone or having it with pastas, pizza, bbq, anything a red can hold up to.

Pizza and Pinot Noir

Tired of all the overpriced restaurant meals (and wines) and leery of the Friday night crowd, I hung out at a friend’s place instead last night. There were four of us, and we ordered three 10 inch pizzas to wash down with a bottle of Languedoc Pinot Noir (La Forge Estate Pinot Noir Reserve 2006 I brought from home (incidentally, I just trekked over to Nat Decants to take a look at her suggested pairing for meaty pizza, and pinot noir was up there on the list).

The wine was a cheap (relatively, in Singapore terms; do you know that the government charges a flat tax of $7.50 per bottle of wine that comes into Singapore?) bottle I had picked up on impulse at Denise Wines. My expectations were low, so I was pleasantly surprised by the wine. It had a light and fruity nose – strawberries, raspberries – and some cinammon in the finish. Nice and smooth tannins that went really well with our pizzas: a BBQ chicken one; one called the Sunshine Fantasy, which had boiled eggs, which I love; and a pepperoni and sausage one.

So, all in all, a delightfully pleasant, low-key evening punctuated with shouts of laughter. 🙂

My Bad Habit

While sharing a little post work drinking session with my fellow weekday warriors, I thumbed through the selection of wines at In Fine Spirits, ny new favorite watering hole. Being a few drinks in, I was at a loss for which direction I should take….cabernet sauvignon? viognier? barbera? I looked to my coworker who gave me a twisted smiley and offered to “take care of it.” In a moment I was handed a goblet of inky red goodness, with one sip I was hooked. It was a Petit Syrah blend from Napa called Bad Habit, aka Wendy Crack.  That’s right, its my new addiction. Since then I’ve returned to In Fine Spirits requesting glass after glass, regretting any substitutes. I even tracked down the vineyard and intended to take a detour during my trip to Napa, but unfortunately it was closed for the day. The owner was kind enough to send me a complimentary bottle of the new 2006 vintage. (YAY!!)  Needless to say this stuff is good. Amazing fruit with a raisiny depth and earthiness that lingers on the tongue. The nose matches giving you hints of the juicy grenache blended in. At about 30 bucks a bottle, this is pretty cheap Wendy crack.

Highland Park

When I was first introduced to whisky it served as a warning. My parents had received a bottle of crown royale that had come in a cobalt blue bottle and velvet bag, irresistable to a young girl who had a bizarre attraction to purple and velvet. They let me have a sip and I thought I was turned off of alcohol for life, the burn, the disgusting aftertaste….the burn. Little did I know that I’d become a scotch lover again years later. My new found love is the Highland Park 18 year. With notes of toffee caramel that lingers on the nose and tongue with just enough leather and smoke to make you feel how truly lux scotch can be the puppy just screams for a good cigar and a salty story.  Endorsed to me and a friend by an older gentleman and his wife who clearly knew their stuff, I am eternally greatful to these knowledgable strangers who had pitty on two young novices looking lost in the scotch aisle.