San Diego Part II: Orfila

If the perfect seventy-degree weather and constant dreamy ocean breezes get to be too much for you, then a trek inland is the thing to do.  About 30 minutes outside of San Diego, near the city of Escondido, you will find the San Pasqual Valley, home of Orfila Vineyards and Winery.


Fifteen miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, Orfila bills itself as an “ultra-premium boutique winery nestled in the picturesque San Pasqual Valley.”  Other than Orfila’s vineyards I did not see much of the San Pasqual Valley that I considered picturesque, but I had to remind myself that the region is still in the grips of a severe drought.  The green leafy vines made the surrounding dusty, rocky hillsides look alien.  Standing among the vines and looking at those dry hills was almost physically uncomfortable as the contrast was so shocking.  Yet, these rocky hills boast excellent soil for wine, and Orfila capitalizes on the “vast potential for Rhône style wines, having determined that the soil conditions were similar to the Mediterranean region. More than 40 acres of the Orfila estate are now dedicated to Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot, Montepulciano, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne grapes.”  Escondido tends to have a typical Mediterranean climate with warm summers and cool wet winters.  Kinda perfect, right?


Cab sav vines in the foreground and those rocky hills beyond. I kept thinking to myself “I think they filmed ‘M*A*S*H’ here.”

Whoever designed Orfila’s reception patio positioned it in the most perfect spot as we were drawn to it like magnets.  We were armed with box lunches but immediately surrendered to the charms of the patio and to the fact that Orfila staff were already pouring a lovely little Pinot Blanc to start the tasting.


That dreamy patio sports a grape arbor on the far side, under which our tasting began. I can assure you there is no better spot for a tasting. The Orfila staff laid out a cheese board that defies description (and kept me too busy to snap a photo).

The temperature was in the eighties and climbing but a delicious breeze kept sneaking up the hill and blowing over the patio.  Quite frankly, it was difficult to get up and leave when an informal vineyard tour began.  Fortunately, we walked all of 100 feet and found ourselves among the Cabernet Sauvignon vines, and the talk began…


Among the vines…lovely little cab savs.


More of the same…

A bright and energetic young man named Doug gave an informative yet lively vineyard talk, giving us all the fun facts without getting too steeped in details.  You couldn’t help but notice how much Doug loved the place and he put us in all the best spots:  in the shade of mature trees with undulating rows of cab sav vines as backdrop; smack-dab in the center of the winery’s hundreds of oak barrels all sleeping on their sides; on the best corner of that massive patio where that wonderful breeze kept nudging us and playing with our hair.  We tasted six or eight wines, all good, but the standouts were the Pinot Blanc and the Sangiovese.  A tip of the glass to winemaker Justin Mund who, as Doug tells it, splits his time between wine-making and surfing.

This winery tour was a very laid back affair and, to my mind, perfect.  We were never hurried and took our time enjoying the view and the breeze and the wine and the cheese.

Click here to learn all about Orfila.



San Diego Part I: Tartine



If I lived anywhere near San Diego I would be a regular at Tartine.  Perched on the corner of First St. and Orange Ave. on the gorgeous island of Coronado, Tartine overlooks Centennial Park and a view of San Diego bay.

A European Style Cafe

Having been to a handful of European cafes I must say that Tartine has nailed that atmosphere.  From the patio seating to the intimate table arrangements Tartine draws you in.  The staff is very friendly; much to our delight we struck up conversations with several staff over the course of our (too short) evening.  We witnessed a constant flow of locals popping in to pick up dessert or a breakfast pastry, all neatly boxed in a tasteful square white Tartine box.  Our “to-go” box contained a shortbread cookie, an Anzac cookie, and a chunk of sour cream coffee cake.  Is there an emoticon for drooling?


Some wonderful wine blogger posted a photo of this very same board on Twitter.


A pair of boards of pears.

For dinner I enjoyed the fresh seafood of the day:  pan roasted golden grouper with Meyer lemon, roasted vegetables, pistachio pea tendrils, and pesto.  I had never had pistachio pea tendrils but to my delight they were delicious, a bit like sprouts but bigger and better, and a nice touch both taste-wise and visually.  Dinner was every bit as wonderful as it sounds and I regret that I consumed it before I even thought to photograph it.   My husband let me nibble a bit of his risotto which had a spicy Mexican flair and some shoepeg corn.   Ten hours of travel tends to make one ravenous but this meal was one to savor, and the excellent meal with a view of the sun setting on the bay made all that travel time worth it.

The Wine

With dinner I had the 2012 Patient Cottat “Le Grand Caillou” Sauvignon Blanc, Loire, France.  After a rather appropriate hit of pear on the nose this wine had crisp stone fruit and maybe a little melon on the palate and a bit of citrus on the finish.  It was the perfect accompaniment to the grouper.  I had enjoyed a Fournier Sauvignon Blanc many years before, and at the time I didn’t realize it was from Sancerre, so it was a delight to sample this wine.  My sister-in-law is from French-Canadian Fourniers and I keep hoping she will call me one day with the news that she has inherited a vineyard, at which point I will tag along with her to France and never be heard from again.  I digress…

One of the many things I liked about Tartine was the wine list.  Of the roughly 20 bottles offered, three were sparkling, one was rose, and there were about eight or nine bottles each of whites and reds.   Tartine offered blends and varietals along the spectrum from light to full.  It was a list that was not one bit overwhelming and personally I liked it this way.  I would rather be presented with a short list of carefully selected wine than be given pages and pages of options; I easily found a wine that I thought would complement my dinner, and it was, indeed, perfect.


Tartine’s open wine storage. There is even a shelf for IPA.

If I had been doing my job properly I would have documented my husband’s entree and wine, but alas, I was too – ahem – consumed by my own plate and glass.  He offered me both a bite and a sip, and I remember both being wonderful, but I was in the moment, too absorbed to make the proper notes.  I hope I get a do-over.

You can visit Tartine online at but it would be so much better if you visited in person.

Dear Anatoli

An open letter to Anatoli Levine who authors the always wonderful Talk-A-Vino.

Dear Anatoli,

When I read your blog I feel as though I am sitting across a table from you.  You write about the enjoyment of a glass so well.  Like this gem about the 2010 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings:

I talked about this magnificent wine a number of times already in this blog, so let me just quote myself: “First and foremost, it is a smell which doesn’t let you put the glass down. Fresh flowers, meadows, herbs, fresh summer air – it is all captured in the smell of this wine…”  

Wow.  Not only do I wish I could write like that, but what I really wish is that I could, um, smell like that.  I mean, while it would be nice to personally smell like fresh flowers and herbs and summer air, what I really mean is I wish I could perceive smells like you do.  I fear that I am missing out because I just can’t decipher the elements on the nose.  Most of the time I take a whiff of a glass and it smells vaguely fruity.  Or like tires.  I think you get my point.

But Anatoli, you inspired me and I did not give up and I am proud to report that at long last I can finally relate to your experience of not wanting to get my nose out of the glass.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESIt happened first with the 2011 Edna Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  I found this to be a lovely cab sav and it made such an impression on me that I made some tasting notes.  I wrote in my little journal that the nose was “sublime” for it was bursting with fresh blackberries, sweet and soft and almost warm, if you know what I mean.  There was of course great fruit on the palate with a little hint of coffee lingering on the finish.  I loved it.  I ran out and bought two more bottles.  Now, ostensibly these last two bottles were from the same case as that first glorious bottle but guess what?  Neither produced at all the same experience, either on the nose or on the palate.  [sigh]

(You’ve written about his before, too, about how one bottle makes your heart sing and when you share the next one with your friends it falls a little flat.  C’est la vie, Monsieur?)

 It’s funny; when it comes to buying hay for my horses, I smell the hay and I can decipher things like fresh air and sunlight.  I can tell if the hay was baled too wet and whether it is orchard grass or fescue or timothy just by feel and smell.  But wine?  I am afraid I don’t have that ability.  So it came as quite a surprise when I sniffed a glass of Pinot Noir and did not want to stop.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI chose the Wallace Brook Cellars 2011 Pinot Noir because it is a Willamette Valley Oregon wine and I find I cannot resist them.  I’ve never had this wine before but it is a lovely light red-violet in the glass, exactly what you’d expect.  And the nose?  Oh, a wonderful wash of soft fruit wrapped in a little blanket of floral notes.  It just sang of warm weather.  On the palate it cooed with bright red fruit, not at all sweet and almost tart like a berry with soft tannins.  Everything about this wine is warm and soft like a nice summer evening.  I like the low alcohol (only 12.9%) and I only paid about $17 for the bottle.

I understand why your favicon is a photo of you (it is you, isn’t it?) enjoying the bouquet of a wine.  It is such an important part of the experience and the way you write about it makes me crave the experience for myself.  The way you write about all facets of enjoying a wine reminds me to slow down and savor.  I still harbor fears that I may never enjoy a wine fully simply because I lack the sensory apparatus that makes one a oenophile.  But fear is never a good reason to stop trying, is it?




(This post was originally intended for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #9 and the topic was “fear.”)



The Rolex Tailgate Edition

I need not remind you that we are within a week of North America’s premier equestrian event Rolex Kentucky.  Every year I take a long weekend vacation away from my horses and journey to Kentucky Horse Park so that I may gawk at other peoples’ horses.  Odd?  Oh I think not.

As if three phases of competition (dressage, cross country, stadium jumping) weren’t enough fun, Rolex Kentucky decided to add tailgating to the lineup a few years ago.  I am totally against any changes to my beloved Rolex, but to my intense surprise and delight, tailgating is a hit.

In addition to my usual pre-Rolex preparations (rain gear, sunscreen, waterproof boots, sunglasses, 5 pairs of jeans, Rambo eventing seat)  this year I am also tasked with the wine list. I love my life!

I chose three wines – the plan was one each for dressage, cross country, and stadium jumping – but since tailgating only takes place on cross country day, instead I opted for a light, a medium, and a sort-of-full.  Now, I know you all are competent horsepeople who never go anywhere without a Leatherman in your pocket (and thus are never without a corkscrew) but for simplicity’s sake, all of these wines sport screw caps.  (Disclaimer:  This wine is for spectator consumption only; drinking and riding do not mix so if you are in the tack, keep the bottles closed.)  Without further ado…

Light:  Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier


If Lexington grants hot sunny weather you’ll be cranking this bottle open well before noon. Without taking your eyes off of the horse galloping past take a sniff of this wine and you’ll be met not with a whiff of horse sweat and saddle leather but instead with a nice hit of citrus.  This will follow through to the palate.  This is the wine you want on a hot day as it is crisp and very refreshing.  Every rider on course is hoping for a clean crisp finish which is exactly what this wine will give you, with the added bonus of a hint of pear.  If Lexington give us cold and rainy weather you’ll probably want to pass on the Pine Ridge and open up the Cigar Box or the Meiomi.

Medium:  Meiomi Pinot Noir


We all know that my favorite Pinots are from Oregon but this is one time I will break from tradition and go with a California Pinot Noir.  The Meiomi also is slightly outside of the $12 price range (after a 20% discount I paid about $15 for a bottle) and once you taste it you’ll understand my choice.  Like all good riding this wine is balanced.  In the glass it is a lovely red violet.  There is a bit of spice on the nose but the palate bursts with berries.  I enjoy sipping this wine very much, but it is also good with lighter fare (such as that typically laid out on a tailgate).  This wine will linger on your palate, still fresh,  but in a mellow kind of way.  It is the perfect complement to a day out with horses no matter the weather conditions.

Sort-of-full:  Cigar Box Malbec


I wrote (brilliantly, I might add) about Cigar Box a year ago in a post called Of Gauchos And Malbec.  This wine has an overall heftiness to it compared to the other two, and a fuller feel all around.  On the nose you may pick up a hint of tobacco.  The wine has a very smooth and pleasing feel in your mouth, full but not too bold, fruity but not too sweet.   I dare you not to proclaim “Tallyho!” after your first swig.  The most unbelievable thing to me is that Cigar Box Malbec sells for $10.99 a bottle making it a perfect tailgate wine.  It is a good choice if your tailgate plans also include grilled fare.  At the end of a long day of cross country riding the Cigar Box is just another way of celebrating a satisfying finish.


Here’s to good friends, good riding, and mostly, to good horses!

Happy Birthday, Baby

It seems impossible to believe but little $12 taste buds is one year old today.  (Is it a birthday or an anniversary?  Let’s go with birthday.)

I still react this way whenever cake is served.

I still react this way whenever cake is served.

I’m feeling a bit of pressure to do something momentous, something to mark the occasion.  I’m feeling like you all are expecting me to say “Well, after a year of drinking lots of wine and writing about it, what I can say is…” and that’s where things start to unravel a bit.



So here’s the thing: if I were to pick one wine that embodied the whole $12 taste bud spirit, the wine that costs about $12 but always hits the mark, the wine that is there for you with meatloaf on Tuesday night and when friends pop over on Sunday, that wine would be…a little California Zinfandel called Temptation (I am actually drinking a glass now and having a bit of trouble typing).  I like this little wine both for what is inside the bottle as well as what’s outside.  Just look at that label. It has generated quite a few dinnertime conversations…

First of all, Eve has man arms (obviously from wrestling with temptation).  Adam has luxurious curly brown locks but Eve seems to be sporting a really bad perm.  The label depicts its own spin on the Original Sin as Eve is not dangling an apple in front of Adam, she’s holding grapes.  I’m just guessing here, but they’re probably Zinfandel grapes.  That said, I have never seen a vine quite so large that one could stand under it.  But clearly, I don’t get out much.

So of course the next thing one must ponder is what exactly is Eve saying to Adam as she hoists this bunch of grapes.  I think it’s something like “Adam, we could learn a little delayed gratification here and not eat the grapes right now but, you know, somehow ferment them for later enjoyment, perhaps with some barbecued ribs?”  However, Adam may be a little touchy about ribs.

Adam’s reply could be “Great idea Eve!  I could stomp the grapes with my feet and make them squishy like juice.”  Adam, with his face hidden in the shadow like that, is very difficult to read.  Enough about the outside of the bottle.

I may have mentioned that I am, as I write this, drinking a glass of Temptation.  I get a strong hit of cherry flavored Vick’s cough drops on the nose (I happen to like Vick’s so that’s not a bad thing) and a corresponding bit of black cherry on the palate.  This wine has a nice full and tingly mouthfeel, probably from tannins (but you know how I get confused about tannins).  We’ve had this wine with meatloaf, scrambled eggs, pizza, leftover pork roast, and just about every thing you can think of to grill.  It’s just kind of a nice go-to table wine.  It has also unseated my beloved Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin.

So here’s to you, my fellow bloggers (raising my glass) for making this first year of wine blogging so darn much fun.  I learn from you all every time I read a post, and I’m not sure how I got along without you.  *Clink*




The Long And Winding Post

The theme for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge is luck.

Everyone, meet "Lucky".

Everyone, meet “Lucky”.

Lucky the turtle is the creation of Montana artist Kirsten Kainz (Yep, another Kirsten.  Go us).  I procured Lucky as a gift for my husband who is the guy you see stopped alongside the road helping a turtle get across safely.  He keeps a pair of leather gloves in his car at all times just for this purpose.  He is brave enough to grab hold of a snapping turtle and move him safely off the road (this may or may not be a welcome gesture on the part of the turtle).  It literally swells my heart whenever my husband does this.

Did you know that turtles symbolize, among other things, home?  Yup.  Literally a “home on your back.”  There is also a bunch of symbolism in certain cultures about land and sea and the turtle bridging them, but to me, that whole “home” thing is what I find meaningful.

Which brings me to my point about home.   Other than Lucky no other turtles live with us, unless they are wild, outdoors, and beautifully adept at keeping their presence a secret.  I’m sure someone out there has befriended a snapping turtle and brought him into the house but I am just fine with enjoying live turtles in their wild state and keeping an artistic rendition of their turtleness in the house.  I love turtles, and all they symbolize, but I feel their place is in the wild and I am grateful, honestly, that we still see them creeping across the road from time to time.

Which brings me to my point about my husband.  I am glad he is moved to help turtles.  He is a very kind and thoughtful person (when he is not being inattentive).  Experiencing the humble act of moving a turtle across the road does, believe it or not, make one thankful for certain attributes of one’s partner.  I could not be married to a man that drove over a turtle, be it oblivious or otherwise.  Nope.  I wish to share my life and house and home with someone who is thoughtful and kind and respectful.

Which brings me to my point about wine.  When you share a life with someone you share many, many things:  bathrooms, favorites hoodies, Coen brothers’ movies, a hatred of fast food, a love of wine.  And wine, as we all know, is best when it is shared.  I rarely — okay, occasionally — drink a glass of wine alone.  I much prefer to share a glass with my husband.  I really do enjoy it more.  Everyone who writes a blog about wine eventually brings up the point that wine is best when it is enjoyed in good company.

And so our little tale of turtles, home, husbands, and wine comes to an end.  But a happy one, I hope.  Cheers.