It has been one of those days. A non-stop schedule, late lunch, no evening appetite… but a hankering for the right kind of wine. You know, something that can be sipped alone, no apps or meal necessary. Something fruity, yet not over the top. A wine with a hint of minerality and, well, dare I admit… I’m in the mood for a hint of leather. Call me a bad girl!
This wine is just what #TGIF ordered and perfect for an early evening toast to welcome the weekend. A bottle of Castillo de Monséran Garnacha from Cariñena in the heart of Aragón in Spain. I’ve been bottle whipped.
The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has included Spain’s “La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa Vine and Wine Cultural Landscape” in the list of candidates to be declared part of their World Heritage List. This great honor for the region reflects the growth and importance that the Rioja wine has rapidly acquired through the years.
The power of high quality wine has gone further than expected. Not only has it attracted the attention and respect of the international wine community to Spain, but it has inspired
Gran Reserva (Vintage) one of Spain’s best quality and most successful telenovelas. As if that weren’t enough, it has even broken geographical and often tense political boundaries between two Spanish provinces: La Rioja and the Basque Country where the wine is jointly produced. La Rioja wine has given a common identity to this Spanish region as they share the success of their wine.
The coexistence of the Atlantic and Mediterranean climate is what makes it possible to develop one of the world’s tastiest wines that also offers better guarantees regarding the quality and authenticity of their product as they are one of the few regions that require the wine to be bottled at the source for all of its production.
The production of wine from La Rioja is divided into three areas:
- La Rioja Alavesa: South of the province of √Ålava, in the left bank of the Ebro River, it is responsible for 20% of the total wine production. The red wines are aromatic, balanced, tasty, intense and vivid in color, very fruity, medium-grade and medium acidity.
- La Rioja Alta: Northwestern region of La Rioja, their vineyards make up 42% of the production. The wines are fresh and aromatic, a less intense and less vivid color, it is light tasting, intermediate grade and medium to high acidity.
- La Rioja Baja: Northeast of La Rioja and southwest of Navarra, on both banks of the Ebro River. The produce 38% of the wines. Their red wines are of a very deep color, low aromatic, high grade, with a wide body and low acidity.
La Rioja region is one of the greatest charms of Spain with its landscape of large vineyards and historic wineries. If declared a World Heritage Site it would certainly benefit from increased tourism in the region and, not only that, but also to promote its wonderful history and current wine production to better establish the Rioja brand and surely increase its sales worldwide.
Now that Diego has adjusted to life in the backseat of the car, it means we can venture a bit further than we’ve been able to in the past few months. As world travelers, I can’t even begin to describe our relief. So, when San Francisco popped up as our next travel adventure, we traded in airport security lines for a leisurely drive along Highway 1.
We stopped to stretch our legs, grab some coffee, and feed the baby in Arroyo Grande, California. We found this beautiful river and took a nice evening stroll.
Family Car Trip Travel Tip: When planning a road trip, plan to stop often and be conservative with your estimated time of arrival. We quickly realized Diego needed a break about every 2-3 hours, so we’d plan on exploring a new town. Turns out, we actually saw more traveling with the baby because it forced us to slow down and take the time to explore. Without Diego, we never would have taken this beautiful walk in Arroyo Grande.
Our destination for the night was the rustic luxury of the Fogcatcher Inn in Cambria. Located on the ocean with gorgeous views, it’s the perfect place for romance or a fun stopover with the family. Tip: Each room has a fireplace! We arrived just in time for a sunset walk along the boardwalk. Our only regret is not arriving early enough to walk around downtown in daylight.
Oceanviews at the Fogcatcher Inn, Cambria
Starving after a long drive, the wonderful lady at the front desk helped us pick the perfect place for dinner – we headed to Robin’s Restaurant for “handcrafted global cuisine.” The vegetarian options seemed endless and Ricardo couldn’t decide between Slipper Lobster Tail Enchiladas or the Tandoori Chicken. Although we wanted to linger, our waitress easily read the situation (ahem, baby in tow very late in the evening after a long drive) and got us in and out of the restaurant fairly quickly. We were so grateful.
We spent a leisurely morning enjoying the full breakfast that came with our room at the Fogcatcher Inn and then took a stroll along the beach boardwalk. Tip: Bring bug spray. Sad we couldn’t stay another night, we grabbed a last minute tea from the lobby (free!) and headed towards Big Sur.
Tip: Always overestimate the time you think you need driving through Big Sur. You will be stopping every couple of miles to take pictures. It’s also the perfect place to spend a few hours hiking.
Of course, no trip through Big Sur would be complete without the obligatory stop at Nepenthe Restaurant to soak up the sunshine and ocean view. This was our second time eating lunch here and, once again, we found the food to be ‘just okay’ and way overpriced. If you stop to eat here, remember you are paying for the spectacular view, not the food. Instead, we’d highly recommend stopping here for a leisurely beer or glass of wine on the back deck. Tip: parking can be difficult if you arrive at peak times.
The view from Nepenthe Restaurant in Big Sur
Nestled at the foot of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State is Port Angeles, a picturesque town known by many as the Gateway to Olympic National Park. Visitors and residents alike appreciate the natural, serene environment that combines the evergreen mountain air with fresh, salty seawater from the Strait of Juan de Fuca truly making this destination a breath of fresh air.
(Photo via Port Angeles Downtown)
What you may not know is the Olympic Peninsula is also home to at least 8 wineries open to the public. In other words, you can ski or hike Hurricane Ridge in the morning and enjoy a glass of wine at Camaraderie Cellars in the afternoon! Or, if you’re up for it, take a long weekend and visit all 8 wineries!
Port Angeles is home to Harbinger Winery, Camaraderie Cellars, Black Diamond Winery, and Olympic Cellars. Located an hour east is Port Townsend, known for its restored Victorian homes and beautiful downtown. There you’ll find Eaglemount Wine & Cider, Sorensen Cellars, FairWinds Winery, and Finnriver Farm & Cidery.
We personally recommend a visit to Camaraderie Cellars in Port Angeles and Sorenson Cellars in Port Townsend. And for fellow cider fans… a visit to Alpenfire Cider (formerly Wildfire Cider), also near Port Townsend, is a definitive MUST.
If you only have 3 days for your wine adventure on the Olympic Peninsula, we suggest spending 2 in Port Angeles and the last day in Port Townsend before heading back to Seattle or your next destination. This will give you an opportunity to do some sightseeing between wineries. Because these are small, family-run wineries, don’t forget to call the wineries ahead of time to be sure they’ll be open during your visit.
Other things to do/see in Port Angeles:
Olympic National Park: Drive up to Hurricane Ridge for stunning views, skiing, or some of the best hiking in Washington State. Pack a picnic lunch, otherwise there’s an overpriced cafeteria that sells hamburgers, fries, and soup.
Lake Crescent: Also part of Olympic National Park, Lake Crescent lies about 18 miles west of Port Angeles. This lake is another great place for hiking or taking in the natural beauty of Washington State. Check out the Lake Crescent Lodge or The Log Cabin Resort if you’re interested in spending more time in the area. In the summertime, this is a popular swim spot for locals.
Salt Creek State Park: Whether you’re into camping or just want to explore the tide pools, this is a fun family-friendly spot where the kids can roam free.
Great eats in Port Angeles:
Michael’s Seafood & Steakhouse: One of the best restaurants in Port Angeles, Michael offers a gourmet selections and a great Happy Hour menu from 4-6pm daily. The Gnocchi and Baked Brie are personal favorites. As a bonus, there’s local wine on the list! This is always a great option if you can’t make it to a winery but really want to taste the fruits of their labor.
Toga’s Soup House: Once a fancy reservations-only restaurant perfect for an intimate dinner, Toga’s has reinvented itself as a popular lunch spot for soups, salads, and sandwiches. If you’re headed to Camaraderie Cellars, this is a great stopping point along the way.
Frugals: If you’re in the mood for a burger and fries to-go, Frugals is a small retro double drive-in fast food joint that has been an institution in Port Angeles since… well, forever. Their milkshakes are very popular, so check the flavor of the month!
Port Townsend recommendations:
(photo via Puget Sound Express)
The Rose Theater: This unique independent cinema is a must-see if you love beautiful theaters and foreign films. The popcorn is delicious and you can grab a glass of wine!
Fort Worden: A state park and conference center perfect for walks along the two-mile shore line. A lot of weekend art workshops are hosted here, so check local listings for dates.
Great eats in Port Townsend:
The Pizza Factory: This is where you’ll find the best pizza on the Olympic Peninsula. Grab a slice and people watch from a bench on the street.
Alchemy Bistro & Wine Bar: Is a description really necessary? The menu is great (pasta, lamb, seafood), but just remember the wine bar doesn’t open until 4pm. It’s also a nice place to hit up for appetizers and a glass of vino before a movie.
Port Angeles is an easy 2.5 hour drive from Seattle. Or, get there in 20 minutes with a direct flight from Boeing Field with Kenmore Air.
And now off to walk the plank to pop open a bottle of Pirate’s Plank Bone Dry from Alpenfire Cider! I challenge you to find a cider that we’d enjoy more…
Masút Vineyard & Winery owner Jacob Fetzer is a third generation winemaker who grew up on his family’s Fetzer Vineyards. No stranger to organic farming, Jake continues the practice today on his certified organic vineyard. Jake and his brother Ben take a very hands-on approach when it comes to winemaking, a skill demonstrated and modeled by their father, the late Bobby Fetzer.
This legacy of love and respect for the land coupled with healthy farming practices has paid off enormously because the Fetzer brothers have somehow managed to translate and infuse these values into each bottle of wine:
Relaxing with Masút Vineyard and Winery’s 2009 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir brings us back to what we’d imagine drinking wine with our great-grandparents would be like. There’s something about their Pinot Noir that evokes the feelings of refined, classy elegance.
This ruby red, well-balanced Pinot Noir from Mendocino offers a full-palate experience that’s so smooth, you’ll barely notice the tannins. With flavors of blackberry and black cherry jam, this wine wouldn’t be a Pinot Noir without that hint of earthiness. This elegant wine has been aged in French oak barrels for 10 months to give it a kiss of cocoa on the finish. It’s a great wine for drinking now either alone or with food.
Although this wine comes with a $40 price tag, it’s one of the few times I’d say IT’S WORTH EVERY PENNY!