4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the tag “Wine”

California Coast, Vineyards and Food For the Sol (by Carmen)

Four feet dangling over the sand

Point A: Home base in Los Angeles

Point B: Friend’s wedding in Sonoma

There are various ways to get from point A to B, but Nathan and I chose to take it slow. A mini road trip to enjoy the changing landscapes of the California coast was in order. As we pulled out of LA the hip beaches quickly gave way to rocky shores lined with oak trees. First stop: Santa Barbara.

Sunset in Santa Barbara

Rocky central coast beach

Nathan has fond memories of Santa Barbara based on the many family camping vacations that took place here in his youth. My family enjoyed Santa Barbara as well but since they aren’t exactly the camping sort, they had different reasons. One of them was La Super Rica.  We happened upon this gem years ago after learning that it was one of Julia child’s favorites. We went and we fell in love. The love has since spread to Nathan and his family.  Indeed, it has become Nathan’s favorite Mexican restaurant in California!

La Super Rica lunch (and dinner)

This little white and blue, divey looking shack is now a Santa Barbara institution.  It is not a typical California burrito stand; it’s better than that. Instead it serves much more authentic and complexly flavored dishes, often on heavenly handmade tortillas. On this occasion, Nathan and I indulged in a veggie tamal (corn husk stuffed with maize dough) covered in crema, rich rajas (sautéed Anaheim pepper strips), delicious chicken sopes, and a queso fundido (melted cheese) studded with chorizo and onions.  Add a Jamaica drink and our feast came in at under $30. Best deal ever.

Rolling Paso Robles hills

From Santa Barbara we made our way to Pismo Beach, a cute little town right on the water. Our mission here was to make our way to Sans Liege, a special little winery with vineyards around the Paso Robles area. In their tasting room we enjoyed smooth whites, reds and rosés poured by a winemaker with a heavy French accent.

Wildflowers at Tres Sabores

“Yeah…I’m standing in my food been. Your point is?”

We set up camp for the night and headed off the next morning through the rolling hills towards Napa. Nathan and I were lucky enough to be invited to the rehearsal dinner at our favorite winery, Tres Sabores.  The wines, staff, ambiance of this special place are all cozy and laid back, somewhat rare qualities in Napa.

Spring Lake campground

View from Rockpile Winery in Sonoma

After dinner we set up camp again, this time at the charming Spring Lake.  With all the wedding activities we didn’t have time to go tasting but just being in the area brought back nostalgic memories of wine tastings past.

Barrels of wine

Old truck

Finally we made it to point B, the beautiful wedding on a Sonoma winery. The vintage truck at the entrance set the easy going Sonoma chic tone for everything. After the touching ceremony we enjoyed delicious food, good people and a rocking dance floor.  Really, what more could you ask for? Congratulations Julia and Jonathan!

The bright and shiny Sol Food

Pollo al horno at Sol Food

To finish off a great weekend we headed over to another amazing restaurant, Sol Food.  Basically, the food at this Puerto Rican eatery is too good for words. My thoughts while eating here usually start with “how” as in, “How do they get this chicken soooo tender? How is this rice so wonderfully garlicky? How is this shrimp so perfectly fried? How is all their food just so damn good???” I love everything the chefs send out of the kitchen at Sol Food but the customer gets to put the finishing touch. On each table there is a bright orange, tangy hot sauce that is the perfect balance of spicy and sour. As soon as the plates touch the table Nathan excitedly douses everything and I happily let him.

Schwieger vineyard

Wine country was a wonderful part of our life per-year off.  California is beautiful with its rolling hills green trees and vineyards.  It was a great way to be reintroduced to the Bay Area as we spend the next couple weeks catching up with old friends and attending yet another wedding!


Cozy Cafayate (by Carmen)

Cafayate enamored us from the beginning. Even on the bus ride into town we were admiring the neat streets and cozy feel of the place.  Like many Argentine towns Cafayate is organized in colonial Spanish grid system with a central square.

Alfajores factory by night

Just off the square was a sweet alfajores factory with traditional flavors such as coconut and chocolate dipped, as well as some unusual ones like lime.

A dozen delicious empanadas

Wood-fired empanada oven

But we could not survive on sweets alone. Across the street from our hostel we were enticed by iron wood-burning ovens puffing smoke.  Inside were trays upon trays of salteñas (empanadas filled with meat, onions, olives and hard-boiled eggs).  We ordered a dozen along with wine and soda water to make a spritzer (very popular in these parts).

Red cliffs and cactus

The next day was Sunday, which in small town Argentina means everything shuts down.  So we decided to go on a hike.  Based on the guidebook and information from the hostel we chose a 4 hour trek to a waterfall deep in a canyon.  We were expecting a moderately difficult but fairly straightforward hike. Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Canyon and creek

Cafayate waterfall

The “trail” was often difficult to find and involved a lot of scrambling up cliffs. The path kept disappearing into the river that carved the canyon.  These were no simple crossings but some of the most difficult I’ve ever encountered.  They stressed me out but Nathan happily skipped from boulder to rock like a pro. (Though he was less happy when I accidently knocked him into the water as he tried to help me cross.  Twice!)  The invisible path, the river crossings, and the lack of any other hikers started to get to me. But with tired muscles and soggy boots we survived the hike, happy to have enjoyed the spectacular scenery.  The waterfall was beautiful, gushing 10 meters into the red rocks below.

Recently bottled torrontés wine

Ok, time for the real reason we went to Cafayate – wine!  We learned in Mendoza that the white torrontés wine was from here.  But all the northern wineries also produced malbecs and cabernet sauvignons that were more tannic than those in the south. Our favorite winery of Cafayate, Nanni, is actually in the town itself.  It produced crisp torrontés that straddled the balance between sweet and dry.

Bodega de Esteco

Another great bodega was Esteco.  Beautiful setting, delicious wine, wide selection.  But they lost points for offering wines by the glass instead of a tasting.

Crazy llama building

There were many more: Finca Las Nubes for its excellent torrontés, El Transito for its rich cab, Domingo Hermanos for its goat cheese.

Cafayate typical street

Although we came here primarily to check out the wine scene, we ended up making many new friends.  An Aussie couple we met at a winery, a Swedish pair at an empanada lunch, and an English couple we shared wine and dinner with at the hostel.  Cafayate is just that kind of place.

Hermosa Mendoza (by Nathan)

Picturesque parque gerneral San Martín

Picturesque parque gerneral San Martín

It is exciting to be back in Argentina.  After three weeks of beautiful Brazil we were doing pretty well with the Portuguese.  Santiago spanish was incomprehensible to me.  They dropped all hard consonants, slurred the end of every word and spoke at rapid speed.  Although the Spanish is not the purest in Argentina, it was nice to descend from the majestic Andes into a place more familiar.  ¡Bienvenidos a Mendoza!

Ripe malbec grapes

Ripe malbec grapes

Our welcoming to Mendoza could not have been better.  Our first steps were met with a glass of malbec and an invitation to a homemade Italian dinner at our awesome accomodation, Hostal Lao.  Mmm licking my lips.

Harvesting grapes

Harvesting grapes

The malbec wine of the world is grown in Argentina and the bulk of it comes out of Mendoza.  Our timing was perfect and we arrived during the two weeks of harvest.  We tasted at several places and at each there was a flurry of work and the deliciously pungent smell of freshly crushed grape juice beginning fermentation.

Historic concrete vats

Historic concrete vats

The style of wine making is significantly different from what we see in northern and central California.  First of all, the vineyards are hundreds of years old and each cellar houses enormous concrete tanks.  At each vineyard we learned that they fermented, filtered and blended almost all of their wine entirely from these vats.  They also had their premium wines that they put in oak for three to six months.

Carmen biking to the next winery

Carmen biking to the next winery

The place to go for tasting wine is the Lujan De Cuyo area.  There are about fifty boutique wineries all with their own blends, cabernet, torrontes and of course malbec.  We rented a bike from Bacchus Bikes for $6USD and the owner gave us a map with his recommendations.  He even called ahead so that the wineries could expect us.  Each winery had an extensive walking tour through their facilities describing why their winemaking is superior.  Tours were mostly in English, but at times we would break into Spanish for clarity.

CarinaE vineyard

CarinaE vineyard

After the tour we would be led to a table overlooking the vineyard, or a pair of glasses tucked between rows of barrels in the cellar.  They would pour a delicious variety of wine and even the freshly pressed grape juice.

Our favorite winery was CarinaE which was actually in Maipu Valley.  We tasted an extensive variety of 14 different wines.  They were so good that we lugged two bottles around for two weeks afterwards.  The second best wines were at Alta, a bigger winery with an informative staff and generous pours.  We also tasted at Filosofos and Pulmony and at each place we learned a little bit more about wine and Argentina.

Mendoza bus and huge sidewalk trench

Mendoza bus and huge sidewalk trench

Back in town we had to be careful after our wine tastings.  The gutters of Mendoza are uncovered, meaning a nasty fall if you don’t pay attention!

Plate of food assembled at Govinda

Plate of food assembled at Govinda

Bife de chorizo at Don Mario

Bife de chorizo at Don Mario

We ate delicious food and we met new friends in Mendoza as well.  It was nice to get some satisfying veggies at the vegetarian per kilo restaurant Govinda.  Our new friends Nick and Caroline invited us to Don Mario for the biggest juiciest steak I have ever attempted to eat.  I learned that Argentinians can cook their meat, really good meat…just not in BsAs.

 Termas Cacheuta

Termas Cacheuta

We had an extra day so we decided to splurge and go to the Termas Cacheuta.  It was a spa tucked away inside a jagged and majestic canyon.  The pools varied from burn your back to freeze your ass.  We would bounce between the pools enjoying the various bubble jets and the time to relax.

Buffet lunch at  Termas Cacheuta

Buffet lunch at Termas Cacheuta

Lunch time meant that the pools cleared out and everyone rushed the buffet.  The choices were a large variety of veggies for a make-your-own salad and, of course, an asado of Argentinian meats.

Mini canyon and creek close to the termas

Mini canyon and creek close to the termas

Mendoza had some tantalizing tastes and beautiful views.  I was happy that we had the time to savor them both.

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