Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wine tasting in Carmel Valley (with a sculpture garden thrown in for good measure)...

There's nothing quite like starting a day of wine tasting at 10.30am, but that's what we did on our recent jaunt up the coast. We've lived in L.A. since March 2008 and this was the first time we'd ventured into infamous Californian wine growing country.

Chateau Julien
Carmel Valley wine tasting at Chateau Julien
After arriving in a foggy Carmel-by-Sea the previous day, we'd enjoyed an evening meal at Casanova, one of the restaurants we'd discovered about six years ago. This experience though wasn't as good as my memory suggested it should be (it's a three course meal, with copious amounts of antipasto, regardless of what you're in the mood for).
Casanova restaurant Carmel
It was also a more cavernous place than I remembered and unfortunately we were seated near a table of screaming children for a part of our meal (never a nice way to spend an evening).

Inside Chateau Julien's wine tasting room
Chateau Julien Carmel Valley wine tasting
Anyway I digress, getting back to our fun-filled wine tasting adventure. The sun broke through the morning mists and we started our day at Chateau Julien in Carmel Valley. Daily wine tasting starts at 10.30am, whilst most of the other vineyards open their doors from 11am.
Chateau Julien Carmel Valley
I'm not the biggest wine drinker in the world and definitely prefer a red to white (mainly with a meal), but we still sampled an assortment of wines and even purchased a bottle or two on our first stop of the day.

The wine tasting itself was free courtesy of a VIP flyer found in our hotel reception (keep your eyes peeled for those).
Chateau Julien wine tasting Carmel Valley
A short ten minute drive up the road and you reach a selection of other vineyard tasting rooms conveniently clustered close to each other. Next on our random list was Talbott Vineyards.

Talbott Vineyards tasting room
Talbott vineyards Carmel Valley
I'm pleased to say we weren't the only alcoholics, I mean wine connoisseurs, up and about that early in the morning. However we had been informed it wasn't the busiest time of the year, as that was imminent with harvest time just around the corner.

Inside Talbott Vineyards wine tasting room
Talbott wine tasting Carmel ValleyTalbott vineyards Carmel Valley wine tasting
Our next selection of wines was a bit heavy on the Chardonnay for my liking, but you have to try these things and my palate was saved by a couple of sips of red wine (and a few water biscuits to soak up the alcohol). Six tasting glasses of wine cost around $8.
Jason wine tasting at Talbotts Carmel Valley
Carmel Valley isn't as famous or well known for their wines as other Californian regions like Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara or Sonoma, but they seemed perfectly acceptable to me. In the back of my mind though, I was on the hunt for that perfect red that makes your taste buds go crazy when you take a sip.

Inside Georis Vineyard shop
Georis vineyards Carmel Valley wine tasting
Next on the list and right next door to Talbott Vineyards was the Georgis estate wine tasting venue. Here it was a bit more expensive at $15 for a mix of five wines, but bigger measures and a small plate of cheese and crackers (easily enough to share with all these consecutive wine tastings).
Georis wine tasting Carmel
You taste the wines in the pretty, sheltered garden and you also get a fun tasting sheet to write down your guesses at the flavours in the wine. They also have two other $20 tastings for a different selection of wines.
Georis wine tasting in Carmel Valley
Another short drive took us to the Heller Estate Organic Vineyards tasting room.

Heller Estate Organic Vineyards
Heller Estate Carmel Valley wine tasting
Not only were these wines organic, they also tasted great too. More wine was purchased and our tasting fee wavered.

Inside the Heller Estate tasting room
Carmel Valley Heller Estate wine tasting
Heller Carmel Valley wine tasting
Not only was there wine to sample, but also a small sculpture garden to enjoy (made important as one of the sculptures, 'The Dancers', features on the wine label for the vineyard).

Toby Heller Sculpture Garden
at Heller Estate Tasting Room
Toby Heller sculpture Carmel Valley

The Dancers
The Dancers sculpture Toby Heller Carmel

Tulips
Tulips sculpture Toby Heller Carmel
Prince
Prince Sculpture Toby HellerToby Heller Frog Prince sculpture
They were not the most revolutionary pieces of art, but they were fun to look at after a few glasses of wine on a hot sunny day.

Lovers
Lovers sculpture Toby Heller
La Femme
La Femme sculpture Toby Heller
Kiss
Toby Heller Kiss sculptureKiss sculpture by Toby Heller

Flower
Flower sculpture by Toby Heller

Brothers
Toby Heller Brothers sculpture
By this stage of the early afternoon we were all feeling a bit of wine tasting fatigue. Usually you spend time traveling between vineyards in the hills and have a chance to recover, rather than simply popping next door for your next selection.

So we decided to leave the valley behind and head back in to Carmel with one last stop at the tasting room for Morgan Wineries.

Morgan Wineries tasting room in Carmel
Taste Morgan wine tasting in Carmel
I'm very partial to a glass of rose on a hot summer's day (or any day with a 'y' in it), and this was the only tasting room to offer a rose to try (tick, bottle purchased). They also had a lovely Grenache to try (another tick), which was a refreshing change from all the Cabernets and Pinot Noirs on offer earlier. Sadly we couldn't find any sparkling wine to sample though. (You know how I like my bubbles).

And with that last tasting, we merrily headed to Il Fornaio in Carmel for a delicious late lunch of pasta and pizza to absorb all that wine.

More of the further delights of Carmel tomorrow...

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