Bargain Gourmet in Sonoma

13 04 2009

California Wine country is well known for its gourmet food and fine dining but you don’t have to blow your tasting room budget on three meals a day. The free palate-cleansing crackers should not end up being your only source of sustinence, either. There are many options for the smart foodie traveller who can’t shell out the dough. The following establishments are three locations to find gourmet food at non-gourmet prices.

First up is the Dry Creek General Store on Dry Creek Road north of Healdsburg. Dry Creek Road is chock full of wineries and the General Store is in the perfect location for lunch or early dinner.

general store

The Dry Creek General Store specializes in fresh gigunda-sized deli sandwiches that run about $6-10. They sell wine on-premis–good wine–and also bait and fishing licenses. Attached to the store is a biker bar if you just want to cosey on up and have a beer with the locals and bust on some tourists.

The Glen Ellen Village Market is the most casual selection and is best for taking food out for a picnic or in our case, back to our B&B so we could enjoy the solitude.  Located in the tiny town of Glen Ellen, convenient to the southern Sonoma Valley wineries, the market has a fine selection of pre-made food, wine, and cheeses.  If you are staying in a location with a kitchen, the fresh produce and meats are ideal for cooking your own gourmet meal. 


The Oakville Grocery, with locations in Healdsburg and Oakville, is on the higher end of budget gourmet food options. It’s possible to get a little overwhelmed in this place and walk out with a picnic basket worth $50 if you aren’t careful. But the joy of having an entire grocery at your disposal is that you can edit your choices and still leave with a gourmet lunch for under $20. World-class deli meats, cheeses, soups, salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods–the list goes on.

Tripadvisor has some other reviews of the grocery.


The key to eating well in wine country is to take advantage of the groceries and markets that are never hard to find. Paired with the abundance of outside seating and the great weather, you can eat healthy and high-end in one of the most scenic areas in the United States.


Paradise Ridge Hoenselaars Zinfandel

1 05 2008

Early in 2008, my wife and I revisited one of our favorite places: Sonoma Valley. We were lucky enough to meet many winemakers, taste their wines, tour their cellars/wineries, and get a general overall sense of who they are. One of the more interesting stops was at Paradise Ridge. The family-run winery is small, and in a very unusual, slightly out-of-the-way location, but they are producing some quality wines, and they have an excellent atmosphere. We were there during barrel tasting weekend, giving us the opportunity to sample some of their futures in addition to their current releases.

One wine that we brought home with us was their 2005 Hoenselaars vineyard zinfandel. The wine undergoes a multi-day cold soak followed by open-top co-fermentation of a field-blend consisting of 8% petite sirah, 4% syrah, and the remainder zinfandel. Right away I noticed a few things about the wines here. They are very clean and straightforward. Also, all the wines are produced with co-fermented fruit, so the varietal lines are very successfully blurred. The color on this wine is quite nice, with a soft, velvety dark hue and a near purple gemstone rim, it has a deep rich color that is very pleasing. Despite a high alcohol content of 14.5% the wine was well balanced. In fact, it felt so clean as to be almost a little boring. The fruit came through as roasted or very ripe (but not spoiled) and the tannins were minimal. The wild-berry and jammy qualities on the front and mid-palates were nice, and the fairly lengthy tannic finish was enjoyable.

Paradise Ridge Winery

This might be a personal thing, but I feel that the co-fermentation process muddles a wine. It seems confused as to what exactly it might really be. I enjoyed this wine but it did not amaze or astound at any level. The petite sirah seems to provide most of the backbone with the zinfandel bringing in the fruit qualities of the wine, but overall the extremely clean style feels almost Lysol fresh – sort of overly washed and scrubbed of all its innate qualities. As a younger winery with new facilities, I don’t know if the native yeasts are just falling a little short or if the wine was so strongly fined, filtered, and otherwise tidied up that it really fell short on the soul aspect.

To sum up: zinfandel, petite sirah, and syrah; 14.5% ABV; co-fermented in open tanks. This is a very clean wine that needs to loosen up a little. It is soft roasted and highly ripened fruits like wild berries and dark cherries. A good, solid wine, not excellent, but certainly very good. From the winery, cost was US$32.

Outdoor art exhibit

The Best Honeymoon (Part 1)

26 04 2008
It was fairly easy for us to decide on a destination for our honeymoon. We aren’t beach people. I had never really been on a vacation where I didn’t feel compelled to wake up at the crack of dawn and go sightseeing all day. Our time (and money) was limited, and since I had enough frequent flyer miles for one free domestic ticket, that narrowed our options as well.

During the 4 years that we were together, my husband and I had become quite the foodies and wine lovers (he somewhat of a snob and me just really wanting to try as many varieties as I can) so California wine country immediately made the most sense.

I’m a huge planner. My husband isn’t. But because I was so busy planning the wedding, he took charge and took care of all arrangements, except for lodging, which I refused to give up all control of. It was nice not having to worry about reservations and itineraries, although instead I worried that we would get to Sonoma and wander aimlessly, with no maps or plans. But, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, and instead of being anal, I would periodically ask casually what he was planning for us.

The wedding happened, and it was more amazing than I ever thought it would be, and the next afternoon we were on our way to California. I had never been so excited for a vacation in my life. Sure, I had been to some amazing places with my family and on my own, and even with my husband, but this was an entirely different vacation. Devoid of any site- seeing pressure and gourmet food around every corner, it was like being royalty for a week.