It’s Crabtastic! The 2017 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival

Dungeness Crab, ready to goGreat news!  There’s still time to join in on the 2017 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival, a countywide celebration between January 20 and 29.  You’ll find family-style crab and cioppino feeds, gourmet winemaker dinners, food and wine tasting opportunities, craft breweries, a crabcake competition, and fishing and whale watching adventures in this rural county of striking natural beauty just 90 miles north of San Francisco and 145 miles west of Sacramento.

Throughout the ten-day Festival, you’ll find fresh cracked crab on the menu at Little River Inn (in Little River), or you can create your own party with freshly caught (and cooked) crab from Noyo Fish Company (in Fort Bragg) or the Fish Peddler (in Ukiah).  If you’re looking for something to pair with your crab, Mendocino County abounds with premium wineries specializing in sparkling wines, Alsatian white wines, Pinot Noirs, Italian red wines, and plenty of stellar blends.  Or, you can explore the beer offerings at Anderson Valley Brewing Company (Boonville), Mendocino Brewing Company (Ukiah) and North Coast Brewing Company (Fort Bragg).

Mendocino Skunk Train

Mendocino County Skunk Train

For adventure, your choices include crab fishing or whale watching trips with Telstar Charters, kayaking with Liquid Fusion Kayaking, horseback riding at Ricochet Ridge Ranch, canoe or bike rentals from Catch a Canoe and Bicycles, Too!, Land Rover tours around endangered hoof stock animals at B. Bryan Preserve, an exploration of the tallest lighthouse on the Pacific Coast at the Point Arena Lighthouse, or a ride on the restored rail cars of the historic Skunk Train.

We’ll offer highlights of the Crab, Wine & Beer Festival and the County’s offerings below (including information about the awesome Crab Cake Cook-Off and Wine Tasting Competition on January 28) but you can also follow this link to the extensive Festival Brochure.
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Get Out Of The House: Winter WINEland 25th Anniversary

2017 Winter WinelandAre you stuck inside, yearning to be outside (and better yet, drinking wine at the same time)?  If so, maybe you should spend this weekend planning next weekend.  A wonderful Sonoma County wine event, Winter WINEland, welcomes you to over 100 wineries throughout the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys on January 14 and 15 between 11 am and 4 pm each day.  You and your friends can try limited production wines, embark on winery tours, and perhaps meet the actual winemakers.

This year is Winter WINEland’s 25th Anniversary, and participating wineries include Davis Family Vineyards, Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Fritz Underground Winery, Hawley Winery, Kokomo Winery, La Crema Winery, Martorana Family Winery, Silver Oak Cellars, West Wines and Zichichi Family Vineyard.

Lancaster Estate

Lancaster Estate

Winter WINEland attendees can enjoy wine tasting at all of the participating wineries that weekend, and advance ticket prices are just $45 per person for both days or $35 for Sunday January 15 only (plus tax and a small service charge).  Designated Driver tickets are $5 for either one or both days. To purchase advance tickets (before the end of Monday) and/or to see the complete list of participating wineries, please go here. If you miss the advance purchase window, prices during the weekend itself will increase to $60 for both days, or $45 for Sunday only (and Designated Driver tickets will be $10).

The 2017 Winter WINEland, sponsored by the Wine Road, offers over 100 premium Sonoma County wineries to choose from and each of the participating wineries will highlight a particular vintage, varietal, or vertical tasting during the event. The bad news is now you have to choose which ones to visit (but if you keep reading we’ll try to help with that).
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An Offer You Can’t Refuse: The 2016 Napa Valley Film Festival

2016-nvff-programThe official program for the 2016 Napa Valley Film Festival was recently released and if you’re a fan of film festivals you should definitely think about attending.  If you’ve never gone to a film festival before, this is a great venue to introduce yourself to the concept. What makes a film festival more than just “going to the movies” is the live participation of writers, directors, actors and producers in Q&A sessions following practically every screening. And, if you’re a fan of excellent films, great wine, and outstanding food, then you absolutely need to make your way to the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF) between November 9-13, 2016.  Keep reading and we’ll try to convince you to grab that credit card and start typing right now.

Reason #1 to attend the NVFF: Excellent films, including several that are already receiving Oscar buzz. The Napa Valley Film Festival will include showings of 20th Century Women (starring Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning), Lion (Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman), and Bleed For This (Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart and Katey Sagal). You’ll also be able to see Captain Fantastic (Viggo Mortensen), Mr. Church (Eddie Murphy), Elle (Isabelle Huppert) and Miss Sloane (Jessica Chastain).

political-animals-posterThe Film Festival will have about 120 narrative, documentary and short films from around the world culled out of the over 1,000 films submitted for consideration.  The 2016 NVFF Artistic Director and Program Manager were generally looking for three things: films with a sense of hope or uplifting motivations, films that focus on the power of the individual, and films that plumb the intricacies of relationships. That’s while you’ll find narrative films such as 11:55, The Book of Love, and Sticky Notes as well as documentaries Farewell Ferris Wheel and Political Animals at the Festival.

Reason #2 to attend the NVFF: The parties! If you move quickly, you may be able to get tickets for Celebrity Tributes (honoring artists such as Lee Daniels and Kurt Russell), the Festival Gala (featuring wines and delicacies from Napa Valley’s wineries and chefs), the Festival Awards Ceremony (where both juried and audience awards are announced), or attendee favorites such as a Friday Night Bash at the interior design gallery space Martin Showroom, or an opening night Pool Party with a thermal water mineral pool at Indian Springs.  And then, there are always the official (and unofficial) After Parties each night.
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Time to Visit Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-SeaIsn’t it time you visited (or revisited) Carmel-by-the-Sea, the charming European-style village where pretty much everything is within walking distance including shops, restaurants and the Pacific Ocean?  This romantic and pet-friendly city is home to over 100 art galleries and antique shops, the white sand Carmel Beach, and is currently celebrating its Centennial with events leading to a parade on Saturday, October 29 led by former mayor Clint Eastwood (yes, THAT Clint Eastwood). Unless you’ve been here lately you may not realize how much Carmel-by-the-Sea has to offer as a wine country destination for you and your friends.

Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea actually has 15 wine tasting rooms to visit and enjoy, or there is a Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Passport for $65 which entitles you to a $10 flight at nine tasting rooms. The Passport doesn’t expire so you can spread your tasting visits over days or months if you prefer. You’ll also find restaurants with locally focused wine lists, liquor stores with wonderful selections, and several worthwhile Happy Hour destinations all in town.

Talbott Vineyards

Talbott Vineyards

Complimenting the tasting rooms in Carmel-by-the-Sea are the over 20 wineries and tasting rooms of nearby Carmel Valley, just a short drive away through gently rolling hills, majestic oak groves, acclaimed golf courses and renowned hotel and spa properties.  Carmel Valley wineries can be visited individually or with a Cellar Pass for $50 offering the ability to enjoy a standard flight at eight wineries (and the Passholder has up to 12 months to do that).

Keep reading and we’ll tell you about our personal favorites in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel Valley for wineries, restaurants, and other treats.  We’ll also point out celebrations and activities coming up this fall you may want to factor into your travel plans (including Taste of Carmel events later this week).

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Wine & Spirits Top 100: Looking Forward to a Monday

Wine and Spirits Top 100 Wineries

Selection of Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries

So, here’s a delightful way to wrap up a Monday:  the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting is coming to San Francisco in two weeks, on October 10.  This 13th annual event showcases Wine & Spirits’ favorite 100 wineries from the last year along with local chefs and artisanal purveyors serving small bites to complement the wines.  Over the past year the folks at Wine & Spirits tasted over 14,000 bottlings and these one hundred wineries came out on top, consistently delivering quality wines. The Top 100 Tasting takes place between 6:30 and 8:30 pm at City View at METREON (135 4th Street, San Francisco) and if you move quickly you can still buy tickets (including a chance to start tasting an hour earlier than most people).

Champagne Being PouredIf you purchase tickets, you can start your evening by tasting and comparing Champagnes from Pascal Doquet, Egly-Ouriet, Krug, Pierre Paillard and Louis Roederer and pairing them with Oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co..  Then, you can sample other white wines made from varietals such as Chardonnay (Domaine Laroche), Chenin Blanc (Domaine des Baumard), Pinot Gris (King Estate) and Riesling (Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard).

Deovlet Wines

Pinot Noir from Deovlet Wines

For red wines, pours at the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting should include Pinot Noir (Deovlet Wines), Sangiovese (Rocca di Montegrossi), Tempranillo (Pago de los Capellanes), Cabernet Franc (El Enemigo), Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Creek Vineyards), Syrah (Radio-Coteau) and Zinfandel (Storybook Mountain Vineyards).

Then, to wrap up the evening, you can enjoy tastes such as a Riesling dessert wine from Chateau Ste. Michelle, Madeira from Blandy’s, Port from Ramos Pinto, and/or small bites from purveyors Dandelion Chocolate or o’cacao.

Cervaro della Sala

Cervaro della Sala from Marchesi Antinori

If that isn’t enough to fill your evening, you still have wines from another 80 wineries and food samples from over another dozen food purveyors to choose from.  General Admission tickets for the Top 100 Tasting can be purchased for $125 each and come with a one-year subscription to Wine & Spirits magazine. Or, you can splurge for a Collector’s Admission ticket which provides you entrance one hour earlier (at 5:30 pm) and the opportunity to taste ten special bottlings curated by the Wine & Spirits editorial staff. To buy your tickets, please go here soon before the event sells out.
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Start Salivating Now: The 2016 Wine & Food Affair

2016 Wine & Food AffairGrab your phone and text your friends because it’s time to head to Sonoma County for the annual Wine & Food Affair on November 5 and 6. Foodies, Cooks, and Wine Lovers (or people who are all three) will find over 100 wineries to choose from, each preparing a special dish to sample along with the perfect pairing wine.  If you like what you’re tasting at the 18th annual Wine & Food Affair, you can buy the wine right there (possibly at a discount) and then go home and download the recipes from the event website so you can recreate the experience whenever you want.

Chalk Hill Estate

Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay

Last year, our favorite food and wine pairing was the Stuhlmuller Vineyards Estate Zinfandel along with Peppered Duck Breast with Blackberry Jam. Our favorite combination involving white wine was the Chalk Hill Estate Estate Chardonnay with a Savory Flan with Fresh Herbs.  We also enjoyed Sunce Winery’s Viognier with a  Tinga de Pollo Tostada, Acorn Winery’s Dolcetto with Mushroom Arancini and Blue Cheese Aioli and Balletto Vineyards’ Russian River Pinot Noir with Ratatouille in a Pastry Tart Shell.

As you can see, there is an impressive array of foods and wine at Wine & Food Affair.  In fact, our favorite wines last year encompassed Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Vermentino, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Charbono, Dolcetto, Grenache, Sangiovese, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.

Sunce Winery

Tinga de Pollo Tostada from Sunce Winery

The 2016 festivities take place November 5-6 between 11 am and 4 pm each day. Tickets are $80 per person for both days or $60 per person for Sunday participation only. Designated Driver tickets are just $30 per person for the whole weekend which allows the DD to enjoy the food and non-alcoholic beverages offered.  You should know that Wine & Food Affair sells out each year so you should really go here soon to purchase tickets (but realize this event is for adults only so no one under 21 is allowed, including babies or children of any age).
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Happy Hour in Napa: More than Pizza and Potato Skins

1313 Main

1313 Main, one of 30 Napa Happy Hour destinations

Do you need to find a good Happy Hour in Napa but aren’t sure where to go?  Well, we’re here to help with a list of 30 (yep, 30!) restaurants offering Happy Hour specials all within the Napa city limits (and 20 of those are in walking distance of each other downtown). Are you craving Margaritas and Nachos? Go to Frida’s. Pale Ale and Potato Skins? Downtown Joe’s. Guinness and Garlic Bread?  Il Posto. Sake and Oysters? Eiko’s. Tecate and Tacos?  Compadres.  Chardonnay and Chicken Liver?  1313 Main.  Just make sure to aim for the bar area, as Happy Hour special prices usually do not extend to the main dining rooms.

If you feel being in Napa means you should be drinking wine at Happy Hour, your easiest choice may be The Q with wines (and actually, their entire bar menu) at ½ price so you can enjoy Roederer Estate Brut, Groth Sauvignon Blanc or Truchard Pinot Noir for just $6 a glass.   Or, chip in with friends and buy a bottle of Frank Family Chardonnay, Flora Springs Merlot or Lagier Meredith Syrah for under $30.  Napa also has plenty of non-wine beverages at Happy Hour prices such as Sangria (Napa Valley Bistro), the classic Old-Fashioned cocktail (TORC), a Bombay Gin Martini (Crush), a Moscow Mule (Uva) a Turkish Beer (Tarla), or about 30 different beers on tap including a handful of house label pints at a discount during Happy Hour (Napa Palisades Saloon).

Jalapeno Guacamole

Jalapeño Guacamole at the Grill at Silverado

Napa’s Happy Hour food options stretch far beyond Nachos and Potato Skins (not that there’s anything wrong with those).  You’ve got Truffle Popcorn (Carpe Diem), Roasted Jalapeño Guacamole (The Grill at Silverado), Garlic Fries (Pear Southern Bistro), Maple Glaze Brussels Sprouts (Hop Creek), Queso Fundido (Napkins), Spaghetti alla Bolognese (Allegria) or Argentine Empanadas (Grace’s Table) at discounted prices if you go at the right time.  Or, you can swing over to Forge for their version of a “PB&J” – Margherita Pizza, choice of draft Beer, and a shot of Jameson’s for just $15.

Happy Hour Dips at Tarla

Hummus, Baba Ghanoush and Tzatziki at Tarla

Keep reading and we’ll tell you about Napa’s opportunities for great food and drinks at reduced prices.  Of course, Happy Hour items (and prices) are subject to change so you may want to start working your way through the list below soon.  If it helps, many of these establishments extend Happy Hour discounts to the weekends as well (Thanks for that, Ca’ Momi, Frida’s, Il Posto, Napkins, Tarla and TORC).
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