This week’s tasty Tuesday treat is not about baking. It’s not even about cooking. This time I’m blogging about another gastronomic love—wine. Ooooh, how I love it so. When I moved to the Bay Area almost 8 years ago, I realized that I didn’t really know much about wine. Well, living 90 minutes away from Northern California’s wine country I’ve certainly learned a lot more! Here are just a few nuggets:
- I tend to prefer the laid back feel of Sonoma wineries like Wellington and Larson. The wines are great, as is the value, and the family style greeting truly makes one feel welcome.
- V. Sattui is consistently on lists of Napa’s best wineries because it actually is among the best. They have a wide selection of wines and host a weekend barbecue, which makes it quite the homey lunchtime location.
- There are great wineries right here in Oakland, practically in my backyard.
This last note was a bit of a shock to me. Wineries right here in Oakland? Who knew? I have to admit, I tried them out somewhat skeptically and I never thought I’d blog about it. That is, until blogger the drunken cyclist laid down a challenge to wine bloggers. Blog about wine, but focus on a specific theme. This month’s theme: transportation. Now, I’m not specifically a wine blogger, but I’m a blogger and I like wine. And, perhaps more importantly for this particular theme, I’m a transportation nerd.
You see, to enjoy great wines in the Bay Area, the typical options are: drive to wine country; hire a limo; board a bus tour; or even take a train. My friend, however, discovered an even better way to explore some local wineries: East Bay Winery Bike Tours. What better way for a wine-loving transportation nerd to explore the East Bay? Would you like to visit Oakland’s less traveled parks and trails? Would you like to taste a variety of local-made wines? Would you like to meet a bunch of cool people? How about a little exercise while doing all this? Then this is the tour for you!
Owner/tour guide Jon will, of course, arrange the tour of 3-4 very interesting wineries. He will provide lunch. He will provide a bike and helmet if you don’t have them. He will give you the basics of biking etiquette. He will even carry the wines for you! If you have your own bike and panniers, great. But if not, all you need to do is pay a small fee and show up.
And I really do recommend that you give it a try! Meet near Oakland’s historic Jack London Square to begin your 18-mile oenophile experience. That may seem like a lot if you’re not an avid cyclist, but don’t worry. There’s plenty of time for resting and tasting. The ride in between each of the wineries is comfortably flat. For the most part no segment of the trip is longer than about 3 or 4 miles at a time. Luckily, we were blessed with a temperate, sunny day for our ride. And, along the trip we passed through Aquatic Park and hit a few East Bay neighborhoods that one might not typically visit on bike.
On our tour, we visited Stage Left Cellars and Urban Legend Cellars in Oakland and Urbano Cellars in Berkeley. We started the day at Stage Left, which might be my favorite among them. They specialize in tasty Grenache, Viognier, and Syrah, which is enough of a draw for me. But given my own recent transition, I have special love for anyone who decides to switch from typical office jobs to follow their passion later in life, just as owners Melinda Doty & Rich Williams have done. With names like, “the Opportunist”, “the Scenic Route” or my fave, “the Go Getter”, they inject their story into their delectable wines. Their tasting room is only open the first of the month and by appointment, but well worth the visit.
Next we biked over to Urbano Cellars, where you can get their yummy, reasonably-priced 4th Street red in a refillable bottle. Once you’ve finished, just return the bottle for them to sanitize and take home a new one. No need for recycling or adaptive reuse. Or try their “zesty zinfandel” if you’re into robust flavor. The eucalyptus notes deliver a spicy kick. Their tasting room is in a nicely remodeled industrial building, with many influences for the jewelry designer in me.
After Urbano Cellars it was time to refuel. We made our way to a trailside park to enjoy sandwiches on focaccia, with pickled jicama for garnish and chocolate chip cookies for dessert—all freshly made. During lunch we had a chance to chat with our well-informed guide, get to know the each other, and trade stories about the day before heading over to our last winery of the day, Urban Legend.
Urban Legend has a whimsical, artsy theme to their tasting room. Whether you’re a fan of syrah, cuvee, or pinot, you’re sure to find something to your liking. They have lots on offer, but Undici (Italian for 11) tops my list: a Chianti blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. How could you go wrong with a wine inspired by “This is Spinal Tap”? Like Stage Left, this artsy spot is also connected to the local Jack London art scene, and a great place to visit during Oakland Art Murmur’s Saturday Stroll.
All told, this tour is a great way to travel around the East Bay, with the added bonus of trying some interesting, tasty wines. Even locals will find something new to experience, whether along the ride or a direct stop at one of the wineries. If, however, you’re a tourist planning to visit the Bay Area, note that several East Bay wineries are now on my list of recommendations. Don’t get me wrong, do visit the traditional wineries. Napa and Sonoma are picturesque stops for the avid wine drinker and, as such, not to be missed.
But if you’re pressed for time, have done Napa before, or simply want a different experience, head on over to the East Bay’s local wineries. And if you feel for a bit of exercise as well or simply want to indulge in the guidance of oenophile Jon Zalon, check out East Bay Winery Bike Tours. You won’t be sorry.