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Restaurants & Bars 4

Sonoma Report - Five Wineries and The Fig Cafe

nja | May 17, 200408:52 PM

Spent last Monday in Carneros and Sonoma, showing out of town guests the pleasures of the wine country. See link for background. Forgive the vague wine notes: was too busy sheparding eight visitors around.

Managed to make the 10:15am tour at this gorgeous winery. Didn't care too much for the tour: was mostly spent watching a video then standing in an observation deck while the tour guide talked way too fast and dismissed all but the most rudimentary questions. Might have been more interesting on a bottling day, which is never Monday, otherwise call ahead. Same tour guide was also obnoxiously pushy with the wine club while we were enjoying our round of tastes on the patio. Still, very nice CA sparkling wines and a few decent though not great still pinots, all in a breathtaking setting. Bought a few bruts and rosés. Go for tasting but for a sparkling wine tour, I recommend Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Chandon, or Kornell.

Another stunning location: modern, artsy structure built into the mountainside with a sweeping views of Carneros and even San Francisco. Large, museum-like tasting room. Whites were very oaky and buttery. Reds were okay. Nobody bought anything.

Didn't think they want to go here again, but all were enthusiastic. Picnicked in the lovely garden, watched turtles swim in pond, and tasted some wines. One staffer was giving out ridiculously small pours, not even enough to get a good read on the aroma, so it's hard to now provide reliable conclusions. Was disappointed by this year's mourvedre, enjoyed trying all six zins, others bought bottles of the Carneros Syrah and Vin Blanc. Still dig this place for good yet inexpensive wines.

Most strict with paying for tasting, demanding payment up front. Enjoyed the rosé and bought two bottles for $12 each (though only $7/each with tasting fee credit). Always fun to try all the zins. Didn't care for the Rhone grape wines.

Blech. Didn't enjoy any wines. Felt very touristy. Were pouring and pushing a library 1996 Chardonnay that was completely spent, though staff tried to convince us it was now just perfect.

Good wine selection, yes. But more surprised by the great beer selection. Maybe not quite as many Belgians as Plumpjack Noe, but still quite a few of the good ones and had a much larger selection of beers from the rest of the world. A top notch beer store.

Enjoyed pints of Pilsner Urquell, Fat Tire, and Bass while waiting for mothers to get spa treatments. I don't know about anyone else, but I find a beer in the early evening after a day of wine tasting to be extremely refreshing and revitalizing. Who needs the spa?

Finished the evening with a great meal at the fig cafe in Glen Ellen. No reservations accepted, but our party of now seven were sat immediately. Probably the only non-locals there. Free corkage on Mondays so opened bottles of Domaine Carneros and a 1999 Navarro Mourvedre.

Food was very good and reasonably priced. Can no longer remember everything, but recall:
- special salmon over morel mushrooms, a great seasonal dish. Fish a little too done near the ends but center part of filet was still medium.
- Hanger steak frites, really tasty steak with excellent though imperfect fries, need to be a hair thinner and crisper.
- Pot roast, very tender and deeply flavored meat, great with the mourvedre.
- Pizza, thin crackery crust with good cheese, fresh artichoke hearts, and several bulbs (yes, not cloves but bulbs) worth of sweet roasted garlic.
- Fig salad, great salad with pancetta, figs, goat cheese, and slightly sweet dressing.
- Mussels, some of the best mussels I've had in a long time, very fresh, tender, with great pernod sauce.
Disappointments were the potato leek soup, which was thin and not very flavorful, and two desserts (brownie and bread pudding), which did not have enough fat in them and were therefore very dry.

Service was fine. A little slow with opening the wines but since corkage is free I suppose that's to be expected.

A great day. Thanks to those who helped with the planning.



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