California

California vermouth? T.W. Hollister answers, Of course!

California vermouth? T.W. Hollister answers, Of course!

You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that vermouth (or vermut) is having a moment, both in Spain and the U.S. Our own history with fortified wine muddled with botanicals and aged in a barrel goes back a few decades when Lillet was still hip in certain suburban settings. We were quite taken with the ice-cold, slightly sweet and bitter aperitif when the late, great mystery and suspense writer Andrew Coburn poured us some on his back deck one evening. He'd picked up the habit on the French set of Un dimanche de flic, a film adaptation of his novel, Off Duty. Lillet is not vermouth, but they are kissing cousins. In today's vermouth fever, almost any aromatized wine passes muster...Read More
Contour Pinot Noir hits sweet spot for casual red

Contour Pinot Noir hits sweet spot for casual red

When the calendar advances to September, our appetites go “click.” Immediately we start craving fall dishes that cry out for red wine. So we're already on the hunt for this year's house red. Ideally, we want a bottle with the fortitude to stand up to fall flavors—at a price suitable for everyday drinking. And because we usually drink white wine, we'd like it to display soft tannins and restrained alcohol. Give us this day our daily red. Contour Pinot Noir 2017 is a contender this year. This vintage tones down the high alcohol of previous years, coming in at 13.8%. That's still nearly two points higher than an entry-level negociant Burgundy, but it does add a nice sweet note. (Around 14%, alcohol can masquerade as...Read More
‘L.A. Cookbook’ surveys top tastes of La La Land

‘L.A. Cookbook’ surveys top tastes of La La Land

Reading Alison Clare Steingold's new book, The L.A. Cookbook , makes us want to eat our way through Los Angeles. Her compilation of 100 recipes from some of the city's best restaurants, bakeries, and bars includes everything from whitefish salad to black cod in miso, from adobo chicken with mole sauce to black-eyed pea falafel tacos. Of course, you'll also find a great burger, fluffy pancakes, and a rhubarb-berry pie with a lattice crust. But the book is primarily a celebration of the international flavor of the L.A. dining scene. We don't have a California trip in the works right now, but we were happy to find new uses for a couple of culinary ingredients that we've brought home from recent travels. Earlier this year,...Read More
Moshin calculates exceptional biodynamic Pinot Noir

Moshin calculates exceptional biodynamic Pinot Noir

You could say that Rick Moshin (above) is a calculating fellow. Before the proprietor and winemaker at Moshin Vineyards (10295 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-5499, moshinvineyards.com) got into the business, he was a math instructor at San Jose State. The skills have served him well. He keeps the big picture of winemaking in his head like a blackboard full of calculations while still managing to pay attention to every detail. His wines are like elegant solutions to complex problems. They have a kind of Pythagorean grace. “Biodynamic is the wave of the future,” he said when we visited him in November. He's not doctrinaire about it. The most important principles, he believes, are those that treat the soil like a living organism that constantly recycles whatever...Read More
Costeaux proves one cannot live on wine alone

Costeaux proves one cannot live on wine alone

The most famous of Persian poet Omar Khayyam's quatrains suggests that “paradise enough” consists of a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and his beloved beside him in the wilderness. Healdsburg has dozens of potential wine suppliers to the paradise picnic, but the loaf have to come from Costeaux French Bakery (417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-1913, costeaux.com). We were already well-acquainted with Costeaux's breads before we ever stepped foot in the downtown bakery and cafe. Honor Mansion makes most of its breakfast goodies from scratch, but there's no homecooked substitute for the Cinnamon Walnut loaf from Costeaux. (We know. We tried and failed to get the recipe.) It's a hand-rolled eggy bread dense with chopped walnuts and aromatic cinnamon. Sweet icing glazes the top...Read More
Thomas George evokes Burgundy in Russian River

Thomas George evokes Burgundy in Russian River

Westside Road in Healdsburg is the cool end of the Russian River Valley. That's just fine by Thomas and George Baker, founders of Thomas George Estates Winery (8075 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-8031, thomasgeorgeestates.com). When geography gives you cool vineyards in this part of Sonoma, you focus on the stars of Burgundy: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Since launching the winery in 2008, the Bakers have assembled four select vineyards to grow both varietals. These small-lot artisanal wines tend to spotlight individual vineyards, although the winery does make one blend from each grape. The winery tunnels into the hillside beneath the Baker Ridge Vineyard. Although the operation does have some stainless steel tanks and oak barrels, the dominant vessels are concrete eggs. The vessels have been gaining...Read More
California cuisine comes full circle at Dry Creek Kitchen

California cuisine comes full circle at Dry Creek Kitchen

What began in northern California when Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 has evolved into the easy sophistication of Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen (317 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-431-0330, drycreekkitchen.com). Chez Panisse launched so-called California cuisine, the forerunner of the farm-to-table dining revolution. A generation younger than Waters, New York-born and trained Palmer became the leading apostle of progressive American cooking by the late 1980s. In 2003, he opened Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg to celebrate Sonoma's bounty and wine country lifestyle. It's a pretty place. Located in the Hotel Healdsburg (another Palmer Group property), Dry Creek Kitchen has garden terrace dining when the weather cooperates and a striking dining room when it doesn't. Some of the tables sit by the semi-open kitchen, where...Read More
Trattore: a little bit of Rhône, a whole lot of rock and roll

Trattore: a little bit of Rhône, a whole lot of rock and roll

Walking into the tasting room at Trattore, it's easy to expect that the sound system might be blasting Kenny Chesney's 1999 country hit “She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy.” A beautifully restored 1967 Huber tractor greets visitors as they come in the door. Tim and Mary Louise Huber have about a dozen tractors, half of which work the land. And their Trattore Farms (7878 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville, 707-431-7200, trattorefarms.com) is simply named after the iconic farm vehicle. The Hubers' 40-acre operation sits on the steep hillsides of the Dry Creek Valley just over the line from Healdsburg in Geyserville. Those hills look a lot like the Côtes du Rhône, and Rhône varietals dominate in Trattore's vineyards. The other prominent grape in the 4,000-case annual production...Read More
Sonoma Cider stands out in heart of wine country

Sonoma Cider stands out in heart of wine country

The 20 or so downtown wine-tasting rooms in Healdsburg are almost an embarrassment of riches. Sometimes there's just too much of a good thing. That's what the folks at Sonoma Cider thought when they opened Taproom (44F Mill Street, Healdsburg, 707-723-7018, sonomacider.com) in a former warehouse about a block south of the plaza last October. There's a no-nonsense air to the building that houses several 3,000-gallon and 6,000-gallon fermentation tanks, a bar with a giant screen TV, and a casual restaurant. Father/son duo David and Robert Cordtz launched Sonoma Cider in 2013. They take their cider seriously, but Taproom is free of pretense. “This is less upscale than wine-tasting,” says Taproom manager Kole Christen. “People can try something crisp and fresh. This is a place...Read More
Comstock embodies Sonoma wine country living

Comstock embodies Sonoma wine country living

The success of the 2004 film Sideways made California Merlot unpopular for a while. But the dip in that red's reputation might have made helped clear the way for the winery and tasting room at Comstock Wines (1290 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-723-3011, comstockwines.com, tastings $20-$50). The photo above looks out the back of Comstock's tasting room to old Merlot vineyards. (That's a blue heron flying over the vines.) Many more vines were sacrificed to clear ground to build the winery, tasting room facility, and wine club residence. But not too many. Founded in 2012 using much older vineyards, Comstock still makes an outstanding Merlot that shows the restraint of the cooler Dry Creek Valley climate but bursts with black currant and violets. Currently producing...Read More