What's great in wine, beer, fine dining,
places to stay, & places to visit
in California State

Friday, 10 January 2014 23:19

January 10, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Twisted Rivers Primitivo bottle Picmonkey

2011 Primitivo


Producer: Twisted Rivers

Appellation: Clarksburg (California)

Alcohol: 14%

Suggested Retail:


“Bright cherry and raspberry aspects from this wine made from the Primitivo grape, a 'close cousin' to the more familiar Zinfandel. The fruit comes from the Clarksburg AVA, an area just south of Sacramento, and has been vinified by Gary Branham, a veteran California winemaker, who has made great Sonoma Zinfandels under his own Branham Estate label. In the background of that cherry/berry flavor is a subtle brambly and slightly spicy undertone reminiscent of white pepper. This is a medium-bodied wine and much more food-friendly than syrupy, high-alcohol reds.”

Food Affinity: “Pizza, Italian dishes incorporating tomatoes or tomato sauces, dry-rubbed barbecued ribs, enchiladas with a bit of heat.”

Sunday, 13 October 2013 02:04

Celebrating a Decade at Serrano

Bruce Canepa with 21 Duesenberg PicmonkeyBruce Canepa with first Duesenberg

by Dan Clarke

Sunday was the Niello Concours at Serrano. The Serrano Country Club setting doesn't have an ocean view, but references were made to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, nonetheless. If this 10th year tradition in the El Dorado Hills area just east of Sacramento doesn't quite have the panache of Pebble, it's still a damned fine car show. The event honored Rolls Royce, as it did in its inaugural edition a decade ago. Also celebrated at this October 6th gathering were the 50 year anniversaries of Lamborghini and the Porsche 911.

This year's Grand Marshall was Bruce Canepa, famed for his racing career and, more recently, for his high-end automobile restoration business in the Santa Cruz area. It was his Scotts Valley shop that restored the entry judged 2013's Best of Show, a 1921 Duesenberg A Bender Coupe. The car was purchased new by current owner James Castle, Jr's grandfather. And it was the first production Duesenberg ever built. How's that for provenance?

XK140 Jim Perell PicmonkeyJim Perell with his heirloom JaguarI walk through the gate and see so many gorgeous vehicles it's hard to know where to start. There are some very valuable automobiles here on the lawn, but nothing is roped off. Though everything is very accessible, common sense tells me that it would be very bad form to touch these cars or drip one's drink over somebody's gleaming bodywork. I soon discover that many of the owners are in the vicinity of their cars and are friendly and happy to talk about their entries.

First to catch my eye is a 1956 Jaguar XK140. It's a convertible or drop head coupe in British parlance. It is unrestored and is entered in the Preservation Class. I ask a dapper fellow standing nearby if he is the owner. Jim Perall says he is. Turns out he is the second owner of this car. Jim remembers he was about seven or eight years old the day he and his Dad drove this Jaguar home from a Southern California dealership. Except for the new leather in the cockpit, everything else is as original as they day it was purchased. Apparently, it still runs well. We share some conversation and I learn a lot about his car. Later Jim will be seen, microphone in hand, chatting with car owners as they wait to drive their winning entries up to the reviewing stand to receive their awards.

Auburn Boattail Speedster PicmonkeySupercharged Auburn Boattail Speedster

Wandering among all this elegant machinery I meet a couple of other owners. They seem to be enjoying the day as much as I am. Everybody has his favorites, but none of the entries could really be faulted.

Some evoke good memories, like a red '62 Impala convertible—the fabled Chevy 409—and the '65 Sunbeam Tiger, a British sports car fitted with an American V8 engine, à la the AC Cobra. Others are from a time long before mine, but almost make me wish I were even older so that I might have experienced them when they were on the road—the 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster, for instance.

Bentley 1948 PicmonkeySaoutchik Bentley -- such elegance!Many are far removed from any world I ever experienced, such as the 1948 Saoutchik Bodied Bentley Mark VI (in periwinkle blue). Some newer vehicles like the 2013 McLaren MP4-12C are exotic by any definition. It looks like it should only be driven an astronaut. Driving home I admit to a little jealousy (what car guy wouldn't want to possess any of these beauties?), but console myself in the thought that I don't have spend the money to maintain such a classic or worry about that inevitable fender-bender if I chose to drive it. The Niello Concours at Serrano was a beautiful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The 2014 edition is on my calendar.

Editor's note: Photos for this article were shot with an iphone. At the Facebook page of this event we found a link to really wonderful pictures shot by Tyler Visger. It's beautiful work and is worth checking out http://tylervisger.com/2013-niello-concours-at-serrano/

Friday, 11 October 2013 16:32

Pumpkins Two Ways

by Dan Clarke

Sometimes we discourage publicists from sending products we just don't think sound very interesting. However, in the case of the two interpretations of seasonal beer that arrived recently, we were intrigued.

Two accomplished brewers collaborated on the project not to produce one beer, but to come at the pumpkin-theme from different perspectives: Shaun Sullivan, the brewmaster at San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewery and his friend Dick Cantwell of Elysian Brewing in Seattle. Both beers are available in cans labeled “HE SAID,” but sporting different colors and stories of the beers inside them.

Each of these beers contains 8.2% alcohol by volume. Their “recipes,” as included in the information accompanying our two samples, follow:


 HE SAID Tripel can Picmonkey

HE SAID Belgian-Style Tripel

“The story starts in 2010 when Dick Cantwell walked into our San Francisco pub. We'd heard about his little pumpkin fest and wanted to get together to brew a pumpkin beer like no other.: a Belgian-style Tripel brewed with pumpkin, galangal and tarragon. In a dark colored can.

Malts: 2-Row, Aromatic, Belgian Candi Sugar

Special Ingredients: Pumpkin Puree, Pumpkin Juice

Hops: German Northern Brewer, US Golding, Sterling

Spices: Galangal, Tarragon

Yeast: Trappist Ale Yeast”


HE SAID Porter can Picmonkey


HE SAID Baltic-Style Porter

“The story starts in 1999 when Shaun O'Sullivan walked into my Seattle pub. He'd heard about my massive pumpkin fest and wanted to get together and brew a pumpkin beer like no other: a Baltic-style Porter brewed with pumpkin , caraway and cinnamon. In a light colored can.

Malts: 2-Row, Carafa II, Cara-Vienne, Dark Munich, Carafa III

Special Ingredients: Pumpkin Puree, Pumpkin Juice

Hops: German Northern Brewer, Sturian Golding

Spices: Vietnamese Cinnamon, Caraway Seed

Yeast: German Lager Yeast”


The pumpkin beers are being marketed together--two 12-ounce cans of each interpretation in a four-pack. Since they're distributed just during this autumn, tasting and reporting wasn't to be put off. The project seemed like fun and I thought we'd invoke the principle of a jury, rather than just one reviewer, for whatever coverage we might do. With just one can of each beer, we weren't really outfitted for a party, but I decided to convene an ad-hoc tasting panel. The staff and customers at The Shack in Sacramento are among the area's most knowledgeable. And my car knows the way there.


Five people tasted with me. They included one customer and four of the staff (one from the kitchen, three from front of the house). It wasn't a competition, but when you have two different interpretations of the same subject it's only natural that folks would take a “which one's better?” approach. Following are some of the comments:


Sean Montgomery:  (re the Tripel) “Really good because it actually tastes like pumpkin and not just cinnamon and allspice like most pumpkin beer.” (re. the Porter) “Just doesn't work. It's a little medicinal for me. A little cigarette ashy.”Jen Witek PicmonkeyJen Witek


Jen Witek:  (re the Tripel) “Excellent. Absolutely fabulous.” (re. the Porter) “O.K., but I much prefer the other.”

Christopher Fairman Oct 09 2013 PicmonkeyChristopher Fairman

Chris Delgado:  “They were both easy drinking.”


Christopher Fairman:  (re the Tripel) “This really tastes like a pumpkin pie (with whipped cream). I would drink this.” (re the Porter) “It's revolting.”


Dan Clarke:  (re. the Tripel) “Nose seems a little like mentholated cough drops, then more like pumpkin as I get used to it. Taste exhibits much more pumpkin quality.” (re. the Porter) “Not bad taste, but doesn't seem very 'pumpkiney'.”


Charlie Ellis PicmonkeyCharlie EllisCharlie Ellis:  (re. the Tripel) “It tastes like fall, but better because it has alcohol. I taste a little black olive.” (re. the Porter) “Had a little 'ashy' aftertaste. Thought it tasted of cardamom. I'd like to mix something with it (use as an ingredient in creating a dish).”


Editor's note: In addition to links to the websites of thousands of Lodging, Dining and Winery options, Taste California Travel's Resource Directory has links to the website of The Shack, as well as the sites of most of all the other beer centric establishments throughout California.


Wednesday, 03 July 2013 01:30

June 28, 2013 Beer Pick of the Week



Berryessa Double Tap Pint Picmonkey

Double Tap IPA


 Berryessa Brewing Company

 Location: Winters, Caifornia

 Style: Strong IPA

 Alcohol: 8.5%

 IBUs: 70+

 Serving style: Keg only at this time

 Availability: Year-round in Northern California


Appearance:  "Medium-amber"

Aroma:  "Floral hop aroma, but subtle compared to the floral hoppy taste."

Taste:  "Substantially bitter with a strong citrus flavor with floral undertones. It's pretty good."

Food Affinity:  "Dried sausage with fennel served with a sweet-hot, honey mustard and dark rye bread."

Sean Montgomery at Shack bar July 2 Picmonkey



Reviewed by Sean Montgomery, a homebrewer in Sacramento.


Thursday, 27 June 2013 23:19

2015 U.S. Senior Open Set for Sacramento


Del Paso CC PicmonkeyDel Paso Country Club in Sacramento.

The United States Golf Association has announcedthat Sacramento's storied Del Paso Country Club will play host to the 2015 U.S. Senior Open Championship June 22-28, 2015, .

With a list of past champions that includes such legends as Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin, the U.S. Senior Open is considered the world's premier championship in men's senior (ages 50 and over) golf.

A recent economic impact study done on the championship estimates that the U.S. Senior Open will pump an estimated $17 million into the Sacramento region's economy over seven days. More than 150,000 spectators are expected at Del Paso over the full week.

Del Paso, which underwent an $11.5 million makeover in 2007, has held USGA events before - the 1957 and 1976 U.S. Women's Amateurs, the 1960 Senior Women's Amateur and the 1982 U.S. Women's Open.  Thirty-three years after the USGA last set up shop at Del Paso, the 2015 U.S. Senior Open will come to Northern California for the first time ever.

The U.S. Senior Open features more than 15 hours of live television coverage on network and cable television and will be seen in 50 countries worldwide.

Tom Watson chipping PicmonkeyTom Watson is expected to be in the field for 2015 Senior Open at Del Paso.Current Champions Tour stars who can be expected to play in Sacramento are Fred Couples, Curtis Strange, Nick Price, Bernhard Langer, Peter Jacobsen, Mark O'Meara, Mark Calcavecchia and the ageless Irwin. Three-time major champion Vijay Singh turns 50 in 2013. Davis Love III turns 50 in 2014 and will be eligible to play, as will Sacramento native and Del Paso member Kevin Sutherland.

Since its inception in 1980, the U.S. Senior Open has been contested on some of the most famous courses in the world - Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C., Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, Mich., Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills, Colo., and Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

"Sacramento looks forward to hosting the 2015 U.S. Senior Open," said Mayor Kevin Johnson. "It's an exciting opportunity both to support our regional economy and to showcase Sacramento on a national and international stage."

Del Paso Country Club opened in 1916, making it the oldest private course in the Sacramento Valley. Renowned golf-course designer Kyle Phillips oversaw the re-design that was completed in 2006. The course was lengthened to the extent that it now measures more than 7,100 yards from the back tees. The renovation included switching to rye-grass fairways and bent-grass greens and constructing a first-rate practice facility that will be popular with the U.S. Senior Open contestants.

"With the estimated hotel room nights upwards of 25,000, this will be one of the largest sporting events that Sacramento has ever hosted," said Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO Steve Hammond.  "The duration of the tournament, coupled with the international television exposure, positions Sacramento to realize the benefits of this event even after its conclusion."

The field at Del Paso will feature 156 professionals and amateurs, including all of the top players on the Champions Tour.

In the years leading up to 2015, the U.S. Senior Open will be held at Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich. (2012); Omaha Country Club in Omaha, Neb. (2013); and Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla. (2014).


Editor's Note: Readers anticipating a visit to the Sacramento area may want to check out Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. In it are links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well links to area wineries and brewpubs.

Saturday, 08 June 2013 22:49

Tasting in Classic Circumstances

by Dan Clarke

Sometimes I have to work on the weekends. Sometimes this is not such a bad thing.

Editing a publication that covers both wines and cars, I couldn't pass up Wine, Tunes & Classics. The wineries of Lake County had put together this event, which was to be held at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento. The museum is open year-round and has a fine permanent collection of cars. They also feature rotating exhibits and on this day they were to be celebrating the opening of Elegance in Motion: Cars of the Golden Age. Lake County wineries would be pouring. There would be some food and a live band, too. I had not visited a vineyard or winery in Lake County in a couple of years and it had been even longer since I'd been to the museum. It was time.Cad V16 nose iewCadillac elegance on a massive scale.

Entering the museum I hear music coming from an adjacent room. The band isn't playing the music of the age of elegance defined by the automobiles featured, but it s playing music I remember—tunes from the 50s and 60s. Happy music.

Winery pouring tables are arrayed against the walls of the main hall around the centerpiece exhibit, the roped-off display of these gorgeous cars that were joining the museum's ongoing collection through October 13th. When I get to the rope I am nose-to-nose with a Cadillac. It is a blue four-door convertible, a 1939 model, I think. It seems as big as a float in the Rose Parade. Years earlier when I acquired a pre-owned Coupe de Ville with a 500-cubic inch V8 engine, I thought I was really styling. This blue beauty is a V16 and way cooler.

Pierce Arrow front PicmonkeyArcher on radiator cap and headlamps springing from fenders are distinctive Pierce Arrow features.Inside the ropes there are other examples of this Golden Age of motoring, many whose names might be unfamiliar these days: Stutz, Deusenberg, Hispano-Suiza, Cord, Auburn, La Salle, Pierce Arrow, Packard—they might not be in motion, but they are undeniably elegant.

Driving down to this event I was thinking about Lake County. My first awareness of the wines was probably the Kendall Jackson Chardonnay that made such a spectacular debut 30 years ago. In those days the winery was in Lakeport. K-J has since become hugely successful, moved to Sonoma County and now sources grapes from all over the state. A few years later I was attending a dinner at the Buena Vista . Their Sauvignon Blanc was wonderful. Winemaker Jill Davis said that the grapes came not from the winery's own estate in Sonoma, but from Lake County. The wine had a purer expression of fruit than I had ever experienced with this variety. So I began paying more attention to Lake County.

When compared to the wine experience in neighboring Napa and Sonoma, Lake County has always been sort of a stepchild. It doesn't have the cachet of these regions, but important things are going on there. If those bent on making a lifestyle statements aren't developing vineyards and wineries in Lake County, savvy professionals in the wine business are.

I thought of Lake County people I had met over the years. I knew that some, like the late Bob Romougiere, wouldn't be in attendance. Orville and Karen McGoon had sold their Guenoc property a few years ago and presumably were living in happy retirement. The Holdenreids of Wildhurst Winery were among the first Lake County vintners I had met years ago. Might they be here? How about Jerry Brassfield and Kaj Ahlmann? They own neighboring properties (Brassfield Estates and Six Sigma) and Don Neal, another writer, and I had enjoyed an overhead tour of their vineyards in Jerry's helicopter a few years ago. As it turns out, many of the people in my Lake County memories aren't at this tasting. But most are still alive, at least, and still in the wine business. If I won't be renewing old acquaintances, I'll enjoy making new ones.

I see a name I recognize, if not a face. The sign says Rosa d'Oro Vineyards and I remember that they had sent wine samples for review a few years ago. The recollection is less than vivid, but I'm pretty sure that I liked their wines. I meet owner Nick Buttitta, who is pouring several of his wines, one of which is a Barbera, a variety that appeals to both of us. After some talk about farming and food-friendly wines, we realize that we'll both be at the upcoming Barbera Festival in Amador County and decide to continue our conversation there.

Jed Steele is likely the longest-serving and best-known Lake County winemaker. One of the bottles on the table under the sign reading Steele Wines is a Zinfandel labeled “Writer's Block.” Of course I want to know more, but Jed isn't here and the women pouring, while very attractive, are considerably less knowledgeable than he is. The wine is tasty, but since it takes me two weeks to begin this article, a sip of Writer's Block doesn't appear to be an antidote for the condition.

At the Alienor table I meet owners Bonnie and David Weiss. David explains that they are involved primarily in the grape farming part of the operation. They are pouring a nice Sauvignon Blanc and their 2008 Grand Vin, an excellent proprietary blend, which seems very right bankish to me. Bonnie seems pleased that I have noticed and says that it is mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc and that a St. Emilion style is the intention of the winemaker.Tasters at Obsidian Ridge tableTasters get perspective from Clark Smith of Diamond Ridge.

In the two to three hours available to me I try to hit every one of the 19 winery tables. This would be difficult enough to accomplish, even without the distractions of the band and all those beautiful cars. As I appear in front of one table, the pourer and I do double takes, both thinking something like, “Don't I know you?” We share similar handles, his a first name and mine a surname. Clark Smith is a triple-threat performer in the wine game—a winemaker, an adjunct professor and an author (his Postmodern Winemaking is being published this summer) . We talk about the Diamond Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Franc and the composition of the 2008 “Aspects” he is pouring and the advantages of Lake County vineyards. He's damned knowledgeable about the winemaking process and often looks at issues in ways that fascinate me, yet seem to be just slightly beyond my ability to fully understand. Sometimes I feel that if I have one more glass of wine, I'll get it. On the other hand, maybe one less would clear the path to my enlightenment.

At another table I make the acquaintance of Bill Brunetti, and though he doesn't seem to have any direct connection to the winery for which he is pouring, he really knows about vineyards and wineries in the area and knows most of the people I mention having met from earlier visits. Turns out he is a Member of the Board of the Lake County Wine Grape Commission.

Couple Tasting by DeusenbergEven if it's not Jay and Daisy, the Deusenberg sets a Gatsbyesque toneBullion Creek Vineyards is another operation unfamiliar to me, but at their table I meet proprietor Richard Brand. He and his wife Gail grow Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the north side of Mount St. Helena in the Middletown area. He pours me a taste of their estate-bottled Cab and we spend some time discussing grape growing. Since his property is in the southern part of the county and not too far from Guenoc, I ask if he knew Orville and Karen, the former owners. He did and says to the best of his knowledge they are fully retired and living in Hawaii. Richard concurs when I say they were nice people. He tells me that in addition to their public involvement in ways civic and philanthropic, Orville contributed anonymously to many families in the area when they were in need.

Part of me thinks it would be just fine to stick around. The winery folks are convivial people and the tasters are becoming ever more so as the afternoon moves into evening. The band still sounds good. The finger food served to pair with some of the wines has been excellent and there may yet be some more of it. A few of the docents from the museum are here and could answer my questions about the cars. But timing an exit can be tricky business. I decide to leave on a high note and know that I'll return to both the California Automobile Museum and to the wine country of Lake County.

Friday, 22 February 2013 13:13

Sacramento Hosts Annual Autorama

by Dan Clarke

President of the Capitol City Auto Club Thunderbolts, Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian talked his fellow members into sponsoring a car show in November of 1950. Twenty-two entries were displayed at a downtown Chevrolet dealership and 500 spectators paid 74-cents each to attend (apparently, a price of 75 cents or more would have subjected the sponsors to a federal amusement tax). While the Thunderbolts car club backed out of involvement after a couple of years, Bagdasarian decided to go it alone, using the name “Autorama” for the first time in 1953 (that year Hollywood was experimenting with “Cinerama,” a revolutionary process that had the country abuzz with anticipation). Ownership and management of the show eventually passed to others, but every year the Sacramento Autorama, now held at Cal Expo, continues to display dazzling hot rods and custom cars.

While interest in modifying cars is pretty much world-wide these days, the phenomenon has its roots in California's car culture. A few of the cars entered in this February's show that we found interesting included:


Autorama Oldie RoadsterFord Roadster, an oldie.

40 Caddie Sophia Picmonkey"Sophia," a sleek 1940 Cadillac Coupe


















60 Dodge Dart Picmonkey1960 Dodge Dart awarded the H.A. Bagdasarian trophy as World's Most Beautiful Custom

Candy Apple Red MercMercury from the '49-'51 era. Candy Apple Red and Lake Pipes--Wow!

Friday, 25 January 2013 22:18

January 11, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

Camelot Cab S bottle Picmonkey



Cabernet Sauvignon (N/V)


Producer: Camelot Vineyards & Winery

Appellation: California

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $7


“Actually, this is a pretty nice Cabernet in a lighter style. Slightly herbal overtones with predominant blackberry and cherry flavors. Good value.”

Food affinity: “Stuffed breast of veal, Grilled chicken marinated in oil and vinegar dressing with red pepper flakes.”

Friday, 25 January 2013 22:13

January 04, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

Dry Creek 2011 Chenin Blanc Bottle Picmonkey

2011 Dry Chenin Blanc


Producer: Dry Creek Vineyard

Appellation: Clarksburg

Alcohol: 12.5%

Suggested Retail: $12


“Dry Creek Vineyard is situated, fittingly enough, in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County, but for years the winery has sourced Chenin Blanc grapes from an area more than a two-hour drive to the southeast. Clarksburg's vineyards lie along the banks of the Sacramento River just south of the State Captiol. Other grape varieties grown there produce good quality wines, but Chenin Blanc is the star of their show. Once very popular in California when made in a slightly sweet style, Chenin Blanc fell out of favor a couple of decades ago. What a shame. Wines like this dry Chenin Blanc merit comparison to examples from France's Loire Valley. They're worthy alternatives to the ubiquitous Chardonnay and much more affordable, but they deserve recognition for their own qualities.”

“The 2011 Dry Creek Chenin Blanc exhibits aromas of melon, with a little peach and citrus. Crisp and clean favors reminiscent of apple and citrus are there. Serve chilled, but not too col, so that the minerality will show through.”

Food Affinity: Would be fine with many chicken and fish dishes and even lighter treatments of veal. It's an absolutely wonderful choice with oysters and has been a frequent winner in a nationwide oyster and wine pairing competition sponsored by Washington's Taylor Shellfish Company.

Friday, 25 January 2013 22:07

December 28, 2012 Wine Pick of the Week


MET cab 09 bottle Picmonkey


2009 Cabernet Sauvignon


Producer: Mettler Family Vineyards

Appelleation: Lodi


Suggested Retail: $24.99


“A big wine and an attractive one. The Lodi appellation has long held a fine reputation for Zinfandel, but Cabernets like this show the region should not be dismissed lightly when considering their other varieties. Composition is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. We have tasted several vintages of Mettler Cabernet and this one seems the best yet.”

“Big—lots of fruit. Blueberry and plum qualities with some cedar and leather aspects.”

“More power than finesse, but a good example of the powerful, fruit-forward style at a decent price.”

Food Affinity: Many bold, red meat dishes come to mind. How about some prime rib beef bones slowly roasted in the oven or a Webber kettle?”

Page 5 of 7

Copyright © 2005 - 2017. Taste California Travel. All rights reserved. | Phoenix Website Design by CitrusKiwi