A nice refreshing change of pace during your Carmel wine tasting is Caraccioli for their amazing bubbles. These are not just sparkling wines, suds, or sweet sparklers. These sparkling wines could not be more French. Not only is the winemaker from France, he gained his fame for making sparkling wines while he was the winemaker for Roederer.
For example, their brut rose may be pink but it’s got pride. Bright fruit of pomegranate and strawberry dominate with layers of yeasty biscuits. A cuvee of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir had no skin contact so it looks like a sparkling white wine with the aroma of a nutty cheese. Its crisp green apple and citrus make your mouth water while you’re swirling. Finally, another cuvee just a year older has more almond flavor with lemon curd and mellow tart crispness. All have their own unique personalities yet are all lovely in their traditional style.
Stop by their tasting room on a Friday or Saturday night when they stay open until 10 PM.
Probably the biggest surprise from Monterey County wines is how multifaceted and deliciously versatile their Pinot Noirs have become. Reading about how similar the Santa Rita Hills are to Burgundy, one assumes those are the tops. While they are delightful in their classic style, Monterey County has all its own characteristically succulent Pinots that deviate from the classical with beauty and provocative confidence.
In downtown Carmel, Wrath serves two completely different styles of Chardonnay that are worth comparing. One has tropical fruit of zesty pear and ripe pineapple with a body of banana and vanilla sweetness. The next has apricot and creamy lemon with an aroma of toasted vanilla. You may doubt they are even the same grape.
Wrath’s whole cluster fermented Pinot Noir not only has the standard earth and spice that make Pinot followers light up. It’s also got tremendous cherry, berry, and plum with layers of eucalyptus, cola, and light pepper. A long finish fills your mouth with velvet, reminding you of its brilliance.
For a chance to gaze hungrily at Dirty Harry in the flesh, and you know you want to, head to his restaurant/inn/sheep ranch, known to locals as “The Mission.” Clint Eastwood is often spotted on site and sometimes even plays piano in the restaurant’s piano bar.
The menu runs through the red meat and potato standards. But, if you’re not hungry enough for a prime rib dinner, you could always order this open face prime rib sandwich with true horseradish shavings for the true grit that feels lucky enough.
Prime Rib Sandwich
Tourists from all parts are drawn to the coast like they’ve never seen the color blue before. Whatever language they speak, there’s something about gazing out at the land’s end that makes them stop and sigh. Cool ocean breezes and a mist in the air is also what Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines love to be near. The Albatross Ridge vineyards are the closest vineyards to the coast in Carmel Valley so they naturally grow these grapes with a bounty of flavors that rise from planting grapes in the most suitable environment. In their small tasting room downtown, they pour several of these coastal varietals that grow at different elevations and distances from the ocean so you can taste the flavors that represent a location.
Explore their unfined and unfiltered wines (even if you’re a vegan) for genuine fruit flavor with little manipulation. Theirs is one of the most uniquely different Chardonnays discovered on this journey. It started with a pineapple and creme brulee body but had a whiff of seashells or sea salt minerality. A rose of Pinot Noir is as refreshing as watermelon at a sunny picnic. But their two Pinot Noirs allow you to taste how the volcanic soil near Soledad produces a darker juicer and more meaty wine. Both Pinots have nice crisp acidity that holds its nice plump fruit together. But ripe cherry and black currant fruit flavors in the first Pinot allow for more oak flavor to emerge like vanilla, nutmeg, and caramel. Taste side by side if you really want to be blown away.
Movie and music buffs will love the Silvestri tasting room in Carmel because the owner proprietor made his living making music for many Hollywood movies. His music plays in the tasting room while movie posters flash on screen.
Their white wines are on the sweeter side. A Pinot Blanc has apricot, lime, and nice melon flavor but sweet apple dominates. Their unoaked Chardonnay has a grassy green apple quality which is tart but lemon meringue puts it on the sweet side. A Pinot Noir from Carmel Valley has dark cherry with a bunch of spice and very little earth. Cinnamon and nutmeg occur to you as you feel the slightly smokey essence. Finally, they serve their big boy. A Syrah has big dark heady aromas of plum and berry with licorice and smoke. A tart crisp cranberry acidity rounds out the layers in this wine and balances it. Strength and structure is what you may like about this Syrah.
A little off the beat of Carmel’s steep sidewalks, Rio Grill is worth the drive. Clearly a local hang out, they serve pub food dressed up with just enough pizzazz. These baby back ribs tempt you with a Cayenne potato yam cake. Yet, the best thing on this plate was the coleslaw because it was laced with horseradish.
Half-Rack Barbecued BABY-BACK RIBS with coleslaw and cayenne potato yam cake. 21.50
It’s already covered in a previous post but some still don’t believe that addresses do not exist in Carmel. Mail gets delivered to a central post office and all residents pick up their mail from a central place. Directions are given with cross streets and detailed descriptions of the buildings. Seems like an inconvenience but residents have been living like this forever. Charming as it may seem, it makes you wonder how do pizzas get delivered in this town? How does a plumber know where to go–or worse, Santa?!
Most charming residents have resorted to naming their homes. Heck, if you pay over a mil for a home, you might as well buy a sign for it and get as creative as yer money can buy. Here’s a few top picks:
Good Day Sunshine
The Georis tasting room in downtown Carmel Valley Village has the most picturesque peaceful garden setting that can even make a rainy day enjoyable. Inside, a warm cozy fireplace warms your soul on windy cold afternoon or winter evening while the patio is welcoming on just about any day.
Their wines appeal to a wide audience. An educated palate will appreciate their European craftsmanship and a novice or anyone new to wine gets a great education from simply tasting these hand crafted wines that showcase the grape’s potential.
Their Sauvignon Blanc starts the tasting with the true grit grapefruit that is typical for this grape. But the flavor goes on and on with a big body and long finish rarely found in a crisp refreshing white. Their rose of Cabernet Franc is one you don’t see very often and you will most likely remember tasting. This grape’s thin skins ensure softer tannins, allowing the fruit flavor to shine.
Cabernet Franc may be a tough grape for some but Georis’ winemaker is a bit of an expert in its deep characteristics. Picked too soon it can taste too much like bell pepper and picked too late it doesn’t have the crisp acidity to round out its juicy body. Their 100% Cabernet Franc has a dense texture yet soft tannins and a hint of bell pepper without being overwhelming. A Meritage of the 5 Bordeaux varietals has delightful tart cherry and brazen berry flavors with a smoky burning fire pit of eucalyptus and a supple leather texture with licorice and anise on the long finish. Their Merlot has great cherry fabulousness with an elegant yet robust body. All are nicely done, pleasing a European wine lover’s palate.
One of the newest tasting rooms in Carmel Valley Village is one you shouldn’t miss, especially if you are a fan of Talbott’s wines. Their wines are made out of some of the same grapes.
Chock Rock pours a Pinot Blanc has nice plush apricot and tart peach with brilliant acidity that make it great with food or simply sipping porch side. A Chardonnay will surprise you with lots of lemon curd and tart green apple acidity yet a creamy body. Their Pinot Noir has black fruit of plum and dark cherry picked on the ripe side but plenty of acidity and structure that shows all that this estate vineyard can do. Then, a Pinot Noir reserve has plenty of that dark cherry with vanilla and a little earth. But its velvety smooth and rich texture is what makes this one stand out. The last one to surprise and not the least is their Syrah. It has such deep purple color it could turn your teeth blue. A little Pinot Noir blended in softens the tannins of this otherwise blueberry cupa coffee. Visit on a warm sunny day so that you can make use of the cool patio in front on the tasting room right on Carmel Valley Road.
This is a really nice bar to start off your evening or finish your long and winding day of wine tasting. They have a fun lively crew with plenty of delightful cocktails.
Their half chicken with truffle polenta and autumn vegetables was pretty good. But does this look like a red wine reduction?
Shelton Farms Half Chicken truffle polenta, autumn vegetables served with a red wine reduction
Order a cocktail and the four onion tart instead. It smelled delicious and appeared to be the chef’s specialty.