Scoop Scoops: Our 5 Favorite Ice Cream Treats in Mexico

July has been National Ice Cream Month ever since Ronald Reagan made it so during his presidency in 1984. He also decreed that the third Sunday in July is National Ice Cream Day. Anyway, to celebrate we thought we’d share the scoop on the best scoops we’ve found during our 14 months of road tripping through Mexico. We’re not even dessert people, but here in Mexico they definitely scream for ice cream. In no particular order, here are five of our favorite finds.

1. Every region of Mexico is known for some sort of signature food. The state of Michoacan is the undisputed ice-cream state. You’ll find ice cream shops throughout the country claiming to make Michoacan-style ice cream. But to get the real stuff, you’ve got to go to Michoacan—preferably Patzcuaro. Every day in this Pueblo Magico women set up ice cream stands under the arches that ring the lovely main plaza. Peruse the wares, but rest assured that every one of the dozens of flavors (corn, blackberry, chocolate, coffee, durian, guava, cheese) are homemade and totally natural. Full of real local fruit, real sugar (not corn syrup) and rich cream these treats (mere pennies per scoop) are rich and gooey.  And addictive.

The mouth-watering display at Helados Torres in Hidalgo del Parral, Mexico.

2. Hidalgo del Parral in Northern Mexico has many claims to fame. This is were Pancho Villa was gunned down, for example. And the city was instrumental in the country’s silver, gold, zinc and copper mining heyday. It’s also got one hell of an ice cream parlor. Right downtown off the Plaza de Armas you will find Helados Torres. Big, shiny, bright and featuring a display of homemade, all-natural gelato-esque delights like you’ve never seen, each vibrantly colored container topped with a pleasing display of the ingredients inside. Their ice cream (helado in Spanish) is as delicious to look at as it is to eat.

3. The Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon on the Champs-Elysees-inspired Paseo Montejo in Merida inYucatan State is an institution where you’re likely to find families and first-daters enjoying massive portions of homemade creations that straddle the line between ice cream and sorbet—creamy and deeply flavored without the heaviness of cream or the shallow iciness of sorbet. The mango is so true-to-life in both color and flavor that it seems like you’re eating the miraculously whipped and frozen fruit itself.

Just one of the ice cream vendors selling an extremely unusual selection of flavors around the main plaza in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico.

4. Most people who bother to stop in the town of Dolores Hidalgo come to see the site where father Miguel Hidalgo delivered his famous speech (grito) on September 16, 1810 helping to ignite the Mexican Independence movement. This is an awesome reason to come and a compelling piece of Mexican history—particularly given the fact that 2010 is the 20oth anniversary of the speech and Mexico’s Independence movement. But there’s one more unique offering in the town of Dolores de Hidalgo that shouldn’t be missed. The half dozen or so mobile carts in the town’s main plaza may look like regular ice cream vendors, but read the list of flavors–pig skin, corn, beer, shrimp, tequila, rose, mole–and you see why they’re unique. Once you’ve decided on an exotic flavor, your ice cream comes in an awesome freshly-made cone. A word of warning however: these vendors are dangerously generous and it’s easy to fill up just on the samples they offer of each flavor as you’re trying to make up your mind. We ended up with more than a dozen tasting spoons in our hands before we decided to try the mole ice cream (rich, salty, chocolaty and sweet with just a touch of spice).

5. Not all of our favorite Mexican ice cream is found on the street. At Hacienda Xcanantun outside Merida in inYucatan State, the gourmet fare is as much of a draw as the luxuriously restored hacienda hotel.  You will enjoy your entire meal here but order their rich and subtly sweet roasted tomato tart for dessert and you’ll get two scoops of deliciously confusing (sweet/fresh/green/cream) homemade basil ice cream (made with basil from an organic garden in the neighboring village) on top. We recently heard restaurant critic Gael Greene says she “doesn’t like lawn clippings in her dessert” in reference to basil ice cream. Then again she color-coordinates her shirts to match her frumpilly antique hats.


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Goodbye, Guadalajara

All told we’ve now spent more than three months in and around Guadalajara and, as we prepare to finally move on, we wanted to share a few of heartfelt and (we hope) helpful observations about Mexico’s second largest city.

The Zócalo is anchored by the Guadalajara Cathedral or Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima.

 

Best fish tacos: Taco Fish on La Paz. Yeah, 16 pesos is a whole lot to pay for a taco in Mexico, but this street spot slings expertly fried fish and shrimp tacos with all the fixin’s. The crowd speaks for itself. Warning: unless you’re an NFL quarterback (Go Saints!) do NOT order more than two. They’re huge as well as delicious.

Best old-guy bar: Molacho. There’s no sign. Go to the corner of Alcalde and Juan Manuel right in downtown and take the stairs off Juan Manuel up to the bar which is on the second floor above the Farmacias Guadalajara on the corner. What you’ll get is old guys galore (including one playing a baby grand piano, if you’re lucky) plus botanas (free bar snacks) galore, including tacos and tostadas and even soup. People rave about a place called Cantina La Fuente, but we found it to be too big and not very welcoming. Plus, there’s no baby grand piano and no botanas.

 

Palacio de Gobierno in Guadalajara, one of the few historic buildings left standing in the city.

 

Most disturbing corporate mascot: The Farmacias Similares guy. Okay, this is a national chain of pharmacies and you see them all over Mexico. However, there seemed to be even more of them than usual in Guadalajara–all with some poor guy dressed up like the chain’s perpetually smiling fake pharmacist mascot prancing around out front. There’s just something about this guy that makes us want to whack him in the head…

This kid likes the ubiquitous Farmacias Similares mascot way more than we do.

 

Best market and best market vendor: In Guadalajara the impressively massive Mercado Libertad gets all the attention and it MUST be visited. But our favorite go-to market (as in we went there every single day for lunch and sometimes later for dinner too) was the comparatively tiny Mercado Corona. Great food vendors (from tacos to seafood to carnitas) and the second floor is full of stalls selling potions and lotions and sprays meant to fix anything that might possibly be wrong with your life. Want more success at work? Pick up a can of Call Client, whose label proclaims that it contains “Genuine Spray.” Got problems with gossipy friends or a chatty-Cathy spouse? Both are easily handled by a product called “Shut Your Mouth.” Even better than that is our favorite market vendor, the perpetually happy man who runs a small health-food/juice bar stand on the market’s first floor. Not only did he make the best aguas frescas (water infused with fresh fruit) we’ve had in Mexico, he always spent time to help us with our Spanish too. tip: mix strawberry (fresa) with lime (limon).

Smartest urban quirk: the walking/running man.Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city (after the vastly more-huge Mexico City) and it runs remarkably smoothly thanks to a whole host of tools and rules that keep even the sometimes congested downtown under control. One such tool is liberal installation of fabulous crosswalk lights that now only countdown the number of seconds that you have left to cross the street but also displays a moving human who speeds up its pace as the seconds tick away. If nothing else, this walking/running man made us smile every morning on our way to Spanish language school. Mexico City could learn a lesson here.

 

Best totally different places to see live music: Casa  Bariachi and On the Rocks. Guadalajarans (aka Tapatios) love their live music–from traditional Mariachi (which Tapatios will claim was invented in Guadalajara) to modern rock. Our favorite place to see massive mariachi bands with a rotating cast of sit-in starts is Casa Bariachi, an enormous festive place that is almost always packed with tables full of Mexican families or Mexican women on a raucous (tequila-fueled) ladies’ night out. It’s unbeatable. For live rock we stumbled upon a place called On the Rocks which is run by a gregarious guy named Isaac who makes sure the waitresses are smiley and speedy and the bands (which usually play covers of US and European rock songs in English and in Spanish) are of high quality. His own band performs on Wednesday nights.

Most confusing moment: trying to figure out when/where the futbol (soccer) games were. Guadalajarans, like most Mexicans, are crazy for soccer. Here the two top teams are Chivas and the Liones Negros. We were understandably anxious to see one or both teams play, but our initial research on their official team web sites and the local sports pages left us totally confused about where and when the teams were playing. We even asked friends with much better Spanish than ours to do the same. None of us could figure it out. When we finally did get the hang of how to know which team was the home team and, therefore, where the  game was taking place we’d already missed a bunch of matched. We never did get to a game…

Most uninhibited fountain: Along a pedestrian mall in downtown Guadalajara is a fountain. That’s not the the remarkable part. The remarkable part is that the fountain consists of a group of small boys cast in bronze, all of them peeing into the center of the fountain. It’s called the “kids peeing” fountain.

Yep. This is a fountain full of bronze boys peeing.

 

Greatest family ever: the Delgadillo/Sanchez/Hellyer clan. The generosity, help, support and overall wonderfulness of every single member of this family not only made our time in Guadalajara immeasurably easier and more enjoyable but also added to our understanding of one of the greatest things about Mexico in general: the generosity and pride of the people. We literally can’t thank them enough for feeding us and letting us stay with them and putting up with our rickety Spanish and making us feel like we were part of the family. We look forward to continuing the friendships we started in the Guadalajara area long after we’ve moved on.

Karen is all ears sitting on one of the whimsical sculptures by Alejandro Colunga in Plaza Tapatía in front of the mural-filled Hospicio Cabañas.


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Forget Fruitcake – Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

Christmas, as you might expect, is a big deal in Mexico and the season stretches all the way to January 6–aka Three Kings Day (Día de Reyes in Spanish). In some parts of the country this is day on which children get their presents, not December 25.

Three Kings Day is also celebrated with its own special cake called a rosca de reyes. A particularly massive and popular bakery in Mexico City called Ideal actually shuts down production of all other goodies in the days leading up to January 6 and focuses exclusively on churning out tens of thousands of rosca de reyes cakes which are duly gobbled up by the masses.

In Guadalajara the Colegio Gastronomico Internacional charges its budding chefs with the task of baking a rosca de reyes that measures 1,500 feet (500 meters) long. That’s more than a quarter of a mile of cake! This we had to see. We have to admit we were a bit disappointed to discover that it’s not one continuous cake, but a series of three food (1 meter) long sections lined up end to end. However, it tasted great and went perfectly with the mugs of hot chocolate they were also handing out.

Part of the quarter mile long rosca de reyes cake baked every year by chefs-in-training at the Colegio Gastronomic Internacional in Guadalajara.

 

A warning about the good old rosca de reyes, however. Each and every one is loaded with white plastic representations of the baby Jesus (inserted after baking so they don’t melt). If your piece of the cake contains one, you could break a tooth plus you’re responsible for throwing a party on February 2 at which you must supply tamales for everyone.

Have we mentioned how much this country loves any old excuse to throw  a party?

Serving up the 1,500 foot long rosca de reyes baked by chefs-in-training at the Colegio Gastronomic Internacional in Guadalajara.

Want the recipe? Check out the piece we did for TheLatinKitchen.com about this epic Christmas cake which includes the official recipe from the Colegio Gastronomic Internacional. 


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WAY Off the Train – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico

This post is part 3 of 9 in the series Copper Canyon, Mexico

Most visitors to the Copper Canyon get off the train once during the entire trip. Our goal, however, was to use the train as a lovely tool to get deep into the canyon where we would get off the train as often as possible. WAY off the train.

After leaving our truck behind with friends we got back on the good old CHEPE, but only long enough to get to the town of Cuiteco where it was pretty much immediately clear that this small town doesn’t see much in the way of tourists.

We checked into the lone hotel in town (though a new guest house called Mirador de Cuiteco is nearing completion) which is owned by members of the Balderama family and was built and furnished with cast-offs from the upscale chain of Balderama Hotels. The place was like a graveyard for 1970s hotel furnishings–mostly in a good way.

An unexpected dash of fancy hotel service may be the most successful hand-me-down here–despite the fact that we are the only guests in a budget guesthouse in a tiny town we returned to our room after dinner and discovered that someone had lit the fire in our fireplace while we were out. Lovely.

Wandering through town friendly inhabitants showered us with greetings of “buenos tardes” and though it would be hard to say that anything of note actually goes on in Cuiteco, the peacefulness (and short walk to a lovely waterfall and swimming hole) is reason enough to spend a day if you’ve got the time.

Tarahumara children at the school in Cuiteco.

Tarahumara children at school in Cuiteco.

A nice hike from Cuiteco brings you to this nice waterfal with a great swimming hole. Regretfully the morning we were there it was too cold for that.

A scenic one hour (one way) hike from Cuiteco (take a guide, there are tricky turns) brought us to this waterfall and swimming hole. Regretfully, the morning we were there it was too chilly to jump in.

Karedn keeping warm by the fire in our room in Cuiteco.

Karen warming up by the massive fireplace in our room in Cuiteco.

 

The next morning Alberto Lopez picked us up in Cuiteco for the short drive to Cerocauhi and that’s about when the laughing started. This guy is great–knows the area, speaks excellent English and loves to have a good time whenever humanly possible. He was so much fun that we basically didn’t stop laughing for the rest of the day as Alberto showed us around.

San Francisco Javier de Cerocahui church in Cerocahui. Don't miss the hysterical "English" translation of the story of the church in a frame by the front door.

San Francisco Javier de Cerocahui church in Cerocahui. Don't miss the hysterical "English" translation of the story of the church in a frame by the front door.

Approaching the Urique canyon a short drive from Cusarare.

Approaching the massive Urique canyon just a short drive from Cerocahui.

 

First stop: Gallego viewpoint above the town of Cerocahui. Here we got amazing views down into Urique Canyon (the deepest in the Copper Canyon network). From where we stood at the viewpoint–which is currently undergoing a major upgrade with proper bathrooms, new vantage points and more guardrails being installed–the Urique River and the town of Urique were comically small at 4,300 feet below us.

A view of the Urique Canyon with the small town of Urique at the bottom.

The Urique Canyon and the town of Urique way down at the bottom.

The Urique canyon with the Urique river and the town of Urique 4,300 feet below, from the Gallego viewpoint.

The Urique canyon as seen from the Gallego viewpoint with the Urique River and the town of Urique 4,300 feet below.

 

After the viewpoint Alberto expertly navigated us down the twisting, turning dirt road that switchbacks its way down to the bottom of the Urique canyon. It’s not the hairiest road we’ve ever been on, but the drops are dramatic and there’s not a guardrail in sight. Oh, and it descends about a mile in elevation in the space of just 15 miles of driving.

By the time we reached the bottom we were starving and Alberto knew just the place to go: Restaurante Plaza on the main drag (you can’t miss it–there’s only one main drag and the restaurant is hot pink). He also knew what to order: a cold cerveza (for everyone but him) and matates (stone bowls also used for grinding) filled with a dish called aguachile.

No, it’s not just chile water as the name would imply. This stunner is a kind of thin, spicy Mexican tomato soup absolutely full of peeled fresh shrimp. We each must have had nearly a pound of shrimp apiece and, yes, we ate them all. Not bad for around 70 pesos.

Once we reached the bottom of the canton we stopped for a great meal -- Aguachile.

The steep and windy drive down into the Urique Canyon was rewarded with a meal of aguachile in the town of Urique.

Looking down the Urique river.

The Urique River.

 

The drive back up and out of Urique proved easier than the drive down and soon Alberto had us back in Cerocahui where we checked into his shiny new guest house called Hotel Centro Jade right on the town square (look for Alberto or his wife Francia at the Bahuchivo train station and they’ll whisk you off to paradise). We can recommend it because it’s spotless, economical (about 500 pesos for  room that will sleep 3-4 people) and comfortable. Each room even has it’s own small patio. And you can’t beat the hosts!

The next morning Francia, took us on a short hike to a nearby waterfall that tumbles through a natural bridge in the rock face, along with their elated yellow lab. We don’t own a dog (except for Grady, but he’s stuffed and doesn’t hike well). However, a well-behaved dog like Muneko (which means “little doll”) always makes a hike better with its full-throttle glee.

Near the trail head to the waterfall we also got a glimpse of a new zip line that has been put up. Sadly, the man who operates it was out of town so we couldn’t take a ride.

Fetch! Yet another waterfall, this one a short hike outside of Cusarare.

Alberto and Francia's lovely dog, Muneko, made our trip to a waterfall near their guesthouse in Cerocahui extra special--and extra damp.

Blue corn, the staple of the Tarahumara diet is left to dry on the stalk.

Blue corn, a staple of the Tarahumara diet, is left to dry on the stalk.

 

After our morning walk it was time to get back on the train at nearby Bahuichivo station and head for the town of Temoris. Temoris is a mining town that very, very few people ever visit. However, we discovered a lovely place to stay (the Nuevo Hotel) and a great place to eat (Gaby’s). We also found geologists exploring the area for mining potential (hi Larry and crew) and they were all happy to show and tell us about their work. If you’re into rocks, this is the place for you!

Corn stalks drying in a field outside of Temoris.

Corn stalks drying in the sun near Temoris.

We love us some In-N-Out burger, but something doesn't seem quite right here.

We love us some In-N-Out Burger, but something doesn't seem quite right about this one in Temoris...

A view from the road from the village of Temoris, down to the train station. Part of the U-shaped train bridge is visible below.

Part of the U-shaped train bridge at the Temoris station as seen from the road that winds up the valley to the town of Temoris.


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Did You Miss Us?

You’re right. We were headed south, as in south of Mexico City. But then stuff changed (surprise) and we had to head north again. For the past three months (but who’s counting?) on a forced pit stop in California, so our posts have been few and far between. However, we had our reasons.

First, we needed to fix damage done to our truck after a taxi hit us a few months ago in Mexico and that turned out to be more of a fight than we expected, but hardly worth blogging about (we like you too much to subject you to the drama that ultimately unfolded). Suffice to say, we are NOT fans of GNP insurance and the profoundly incompetent “foreign client service” our claim received. That means you, Mr. Solis.

We also spent a lot of time working on new business ideas in an attempt to generate some funds to keep our Trans-Americas Journey rolling along. Most of you know about the time and energy we put into our video application and follow up hustling to try and land a Really Goode Job–a six month gig as social media wine country lifestyle correspondents for Murphy-Goode Winery.

When that didn’t go our way we decided to harness the knowledge, confidence and ideas we gained during the MG process to create our own social media marketing consulting business for wineries in the Paso Robles area. And, so, Paso Winos was born. Reception to our services was good but slow and we simply couldn’t hang around for the additional months needed to really get clients on board–though we are eternally grateful to those wineries and wine folks who got what we were trying to do right off the bat and supported us (talking ’bout you Meg at Alta Colina, Terry and Marissa at Clautiere, Ryan at Wine for Water and the Paso Wine Centre and Brandy and crew at Donati Family Vineyard).

We still have a very exciting iron in the fire (hint) and we hope to have some great news shortly. In  the meantime, we’re back on the road and our first destination is a doozie: Havasu Falls!

We’ve hiked into the Grand Canyon from both the South and North rims of Grand Canyon National Park, but we’ve never explored the canyon in the Havasu Falls area. Owned and managed by the Havasupai tribe, the area is famous for its blue/green water (the word Havasu means  blue green water). The beauty of the area is legendary and in high demand, however, the tribe limits the number of camping permits it issues each day so it’s tough to get in.

We got in for three nights and we can’t wait to see the area. Devastating floods hit the area in August of 2008, nearly killing some hikers and radically changing the landscape and water flow, so we’ll let you know how it is once we manage to hike back out.

After Havasu we are returning to our beloved Telluride, Colorado and checking into the Mountain Lodge for a few days so we can take in the Blues & Brews music festival.  Buddy Guy! Bonnie Raitt! Joe Cocker! Anders Osborne! Plus a chance to see our friends music photographers Dino Perucci and Allison Murphy.

From Telluride we’re planning an excellent Colorado adventure including Colorado Wine Country (who knew?), the Bar Lazy J ranch for some epic-sounding horseback riding, Valhalla cabin to hang with our very own nordic goddess (hi Marca!) and enjoy two nights (count ‘em) of Galactic live at the Fox theater in Boulder. Toss in some 4-wheel driving around Ouray/Silverton and Ute Mountain and Hovenweep in Mesa Verde Country and you’ve got a great month.

After that? Two words for you: Copper Canyon! Then we promise it’s all South from there.

It’s sure nice to be back where we belong.


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Where to Wine: The LATEST List

We’ve been crazy about both travel and wine long enough to have amassed a list of some truly breathtaking places to enjoy awesome wine. We’re not selfish, so we’ve decided to start sending a quick Tweet about the best dive bars, five star bars, campsites, infinity edge bath tubs, mountain tops, riverside patios, BBQ joints and luxury hotels to enjoy a glass of wine at. Follow us on Twitter, then follow up right here on our blog where we’ll elaborate on each Tweet including photos, links, past Travel Journal entries from our web site and published reviews of the place. Most importantly,  we’ll also suggest a wine that pairs perfectly.

Glasses ready?

#7: September 10, 2009 NEW! NEW! NEW!

Where: Lake O’Hara campground, Yoho National Park, Alberta, Canada

Why: Iconic Lake O’Hara offers views of Mt. Lafroy and Victoria Peak on the Continental Divide plus grizzly bears, elk and other members of the Canadian Rockies Wildlife Top 5 list. The area is also a hiker’s paradise with one stunning route after another. Don’t miss the Alpine Loop which connects four separate trails into one epic 15 mile circuit that takes you through a range of mountain terrain from dense forest to above-the-tree line-scree. Some sections are  literally chiseled into the stony mountain face. The beauty of the place is such a draw that Parks Canada  restricts access to the area’s 30 coveted back country camp sites in order to reduce wear and tear on the land and safeguard crucial migration corridors for the area’s big mammals.

Which Wine: Manage to get a camping reservation at Lake O’Hara and you’ll want to celebrate. Thankfully the campground is mere steps from where a school bus drops you and your stuff off–more than accessible enough to bring along a couple of Nalgene or Camelbak or SIGG bottles full of wine. We suggest King Shag 2007 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The adorable penguin on the label of this extremely affordable and delicious New Zealand wine makes a nice addition to the existing wildlife.


#6: July 23, 2009

Where: Triple Creek Ranch Darby, Montana

Why: This is NOT a dude ranch. Yes, there are horses and cowboys and cabins and mountains and cattle and elk and saddles and a few dudes. However, this is a world class luxury hideaway which consistently tops travel magazines’ “Best/Top/Most” lists (if you believe in those sorts of things) and is a member of the elite Relais & Chateaux group. The wines here, housed in a glass-enclosed 3,000 bottle cellar, have earned Triple Creek  Ranch the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 2005 and, even better, a selection of those wines is included in the all-inclusive room rates (which are admittedly steep at $650-$2,495 double occupancy). Bottles are even re-stocked in your luxe cabin during your stay just in case you feel like a glass or two in your private hot tub. Read Karen’s full review of Triple Creek Ranch for www.itravelishop.com.

Which Wine: The so-called “house wines,” which are included in the room rate, are absolutely delicious–or splurge and choose something from their wine list. We got turned onto Schlumberger Cuvee Klimt Brut Champagne during our stay here and the resort currently has a great bottle from Paso Robles on the list (L’Aventure, “Optimus” 2003).


#5: July 17, 2009

Where: Cafe Italia, El Paso

Why: Don’t let the strip mall location fool you. This BYOB pizzeria is the real thing, particularly if you’re a wine lover. They’ve got a real wood-fired brick pizza oven, feature organic and local homegrown veggies, all the mozzarella is homemade AND their corkage fee is just $1. That’s, like 1908 prices! Really, when we saw the corkage fee at the bottom the menu we thought it was a typo. The owner, Dan, will undoubtedly be on hand to make sure you fall in love with every bite and he’s always handy with the bottle opener. Generously sized and topped pizzas are just $14 (the Gracie’s is outstanding) and we recommend you go nuts and have Dan toss some silky, buttery prosciuto de parma  on top as well. The menu changes seasonally as well, giving you more reasons to return again and again.

Which Wine: That’s entirely (blissfully) up to you. That $1 corkage fee means you can bring  as many of your favorite bottles as you like or an armful of new ones to try.

 

#4 – July 8, 2009

Where: Non Solo Panino cafe in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico

Why: This pint-size cafe off a tranquil park in one of Mexico City’s most bohemian neighborhoods offers delicious salads, linger-inducing sidewalk tables, a riotous casts of chain-smoking and lap-dog-toting regulars and a short but refreshingly Italian wine list–all things that are in short supply in Mexico.

Which Wine: Does it matter at 25 pesos (roughly US$2) per very generously poured glass? Go nuts and get a whole liter of perfectly enjoyable vino della casa for $7.

 

#3 – July 1, 2009

Where: The bathtub in bungalow 16 at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, Florida

Why: With just 30 free-standing, thatched-roof, totally-luxe bungalows on the whole private island this award-winning hideaway in the Florida Keys is one of the most romantic spots on earth. Bungalow 16 has one of the most romantic bathtubs on earth–an elegantly curved copper monster right in the middle of the room with a chandelier hanging over it. Here’s Karen’s full review of Little Palm Island for www.itravelishop.com.

Which Wine: Start with the bottle of bubbly the resort gives you at check in then really work the room by ordering up the resort’s Romance Package. You’ll return to your room after dinner to discover an even better bottle of champagne, a specially drawn bath, chocolate covered strawberries and rose petals all over the place.

 

#2 – June 26, 2009

Where: Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park Campground

Why: This lightly-visited park offers a forest of ancient coastal redwoods so thick that the park remains largely trail-less and some roads have vehicle size restrictions. Campground sites are also shaded by towering redwoods, creating the perfect ambiance for a glass or two around the fire ring.

Which Wine: A camping standby for us is Goats do Roam, a no nonsense Rhone varietal blend made by a South African winemaker with a delicious sense of humor. We also love the sturdy constitution of this tasty red which helps it keep its balance even in the shifting temperatures that come with camping.

Wine+Redwoods_small

 

#1 – June 25, 2009

Where: The Lounge in the DiRoNA Award, Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and James Beard House award-winning Granary Restaurant at Spring Creek Ranch in Jackson, Wyoming.

Why: The Granary Lounge at Spring Creek Ranch offers more than a dozen wines by the glass at reasonable prices and more than a hundred old and new world bottles from the $20s to the $200s PLUS the best view of the Grand Teton mountain range in the area. Do yourself a favor and go at sunset. Here’s Karen’s review of Spring Creek Ranch for www.itravelishop.com.

Which Wine: The wine list at the Granary Lounge evolves constantly, however, we enjoyed a bottle of Dry Creek Vineyards 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon.

granary_new


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Veraison in Paso Robles

Friday morning we visited Alta Colina’s beautiful vineyards where we were treated to the first signs of veraison, the change in color of the grapes berries. The Mourvedre blocks were well on their way and the Syrah was just beginning. It was too beautiful to keep to ourselves.

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Paso Winos Go To: Clautiere Vineyard

It was a Twitter message that did it. 140 little characters about a crazy big sale on delicious 2005 Viognier and Roussanne that worked out to less than $100 a case. Huh?

We read that post at 3:45 and still managed to get to the Clautiere Vineyard tasting room (a 30 minute drive away) before it closed at 5. When we walked in we told the woman behind the bar that we were there because we’d just read a Tweet about the blow-out sale on cases of white. Her reaction “No way!”

Way.

Tweeting about an impromptu sale like this is a prime example of one of the many ways Twitter should be used by wineries for immediate results (ie, sales), though alarmingly few Paso Robles wineries are doing it. Yet.

But Clautiere has always been a leader, not a follower right down to its motto which is “a winery like no other.” Clautiere’s tasting room lives up to that motto with an electric palette, a penchant for harlequin prints and epic portraits. The owners themselves describe it as “Edward Scissor Hands meeting the Mad Hatter at the Moulin Rouge” and who are we to argue? Actually, the cartoony rendering of the tasting room on the winery’s web site is not that far off from the reality…

One of two lively tasting bars at Clautiere Vineyard.

One of two lively tasting bars at Clautiere Vineyard.

 

Oh, did we mention the basket of hats and piles of wigs for customers to try on and the shed out the back that’s full of even more costumes and fun house mirrors?

Which one goes with Mouvedre?

Which one goes with Mouvedre?

This wonderful wackiness is the brainchild of Clautiere owners Claudine and Terry (Clautiere, get it?) who between them have previous careers as a fashion designer, a welder, a landscape designer and a restauranteur. Now they make wine that’s fragrant and friendly and surprisingly serious given the eclectic surroundings.

We also love their latest brainstorm: a spin-off label called Two Cocky Sisters that’s meant to be an “economy buster” with a price tag of $11 per bottle. Essentially, they blend all of the leftovers together into deliciousness.

The painting that inspired the "economy buster" Two Cocky Sisters label at Clautiere Vineyard. Looks like they could bust more than just the economy...

The painting that inspired the "economy buster" Two Cocky Sisters label at Clautiere Vineyard. Looks like they could bust more than just the economy...

 

Speaking of blending, Clautiere does a full complement of single varietal wines, but they’re not afraid to throw in the kitchen sink. Their 2002 Grand Cru ($35), for example, is a happy mix of Syrah, Cuonoise, Grenache, Mouvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier. Just drink it. It’s a pleasant surprise to find many of Clautiere’s wines under 15% alcohol as well.

You’ll want to linger at the tasting room bar, but pull yourself away long enough to check out the Clautiere version on a winery gift shop. No dopey wine glass charms or bottle stoppers in the shape of dolphins. Nope. The Clautiere shop sells killer t-shirts that say things like A Day Without Wine is a Drag printed over a Warhol-esque photo of a male fan of the vineyard in a florescent wig.

 

Tasting room hours: Daily 12-5

Free or fee?: $5 (free for club members)

Bar snacks: None, but it was closing time when we arrived

Soundtrack: None, but it was closing time when we arrived

Bottle prices: $20-$69 (mostly in the $30s)

Wine club: Yes and accepting new members who can opt to receive two shipments of six or 12 bottles each every year and enjoy wine club member savings of 20%

What we walked out with: A mixed case of 2005 Viognier and 2005 Rousanne for 96 bucks people

More information: Nothing quite conveys the essence of this unique and tasty winery like an actual trip to the tasting room. Make your visit a doozy by signing up for Clautiere’s Cops Criminials Kimonos event on August 18 (free for cub memeber, $30 for the rest of us) and be treated to the full Clautiere effect with costumes (come dressed as your favorite cop, criminal or kimono wearer) plus food and great wine and probably wigs. Lots and lots of wigs.

 

More info: Winery profile from the Paso Robles Country Wine Alliance

A portion of the many varietals and blends offered by Clautiere Vineyard.
A portion of the many varietals and blends offered by Clautiere Vineyard.

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Paso Winos Go To: Alta Colina

Sharing. Sharing a bottle. Sharing advice. Even sharing wine making facilities and space. Sharing is a huge part of how wine gets made and why it’s so enjoyable to drink. Heck,  Alta Colina wouldn’t even have a tasting room except for the generous and sharing nature of their neighbors at Villacana (awesome women’s t-shirts in their tasting room, btw). Earlier this year Villacana owners Alex and Monica offered to let first-time winemaker Bob Tillman use their equipment and rented them an unused portion of their building so they could turn it into a cozy upstairs tasting room.

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This is where we met Meg after a short drive down Adelaida Road, one of the most scenic winery-laden byways in the Paso Robles area. Her family’s brand new winery just finished its first bottling (2007) from their 31 acre vineyard of Rhone varietals, some of which were bought by the venerated Justin Vineyards & Winery–a good sign in and of itself.

No doubt these are incredibly young vines (just three years old). However, the extremely refreshing and rounded white blend of Marsanne, Rousanne and Greanche Blanc, the pleasingly light GSM, two radically different Syrahs (one from grapes blended from different blocks of vines in the vineyard and one made exclusively from grapes grown in the mysteriously superior block #9) plus a pleasantly metallic/tobacco-laced Petite Syrah don’t taste like young’ins. (The winery’s viognier is still fermenting in the barrels but we can’t wait to taste that too.)

Prices are on the high end ($28-$48), which Meg explained as a conscious decision by her father who believes that the wine is and will continue to be worth the price (particularly the 2008 Claudia Cuvee and the 2007 Old 900 Syrah, if you ask us) so rather than start out with lower first-bottling prices then have to raise them on people Mr. Tillman wanted to set the bar where he feels it belongs from the outset.

 bottles

Tasting room hours: Thursday – Sunday 11AM – 5PM.

Free or fee?: $5 (free for wine club members)

Bar snacks: Wrapped morsels of Dove dark chocolate on the tasting room bar

Soundtrack: Billy Holiday

Bottle prices: $28-$48

Wine club: Yes and accepting new members. Alta Colina’s club offers a full 20% discount to members and only members of their wine club can buy the wonderfully earthy and seductive 2007 Old 900 Syrah (from the magical vineyard #9) and the already sturdy 2007 Ann’s Block Petite Syrah.

What we walked out with: A bottle of the super-refreshing and so-drinkable 2008 Claudia Cuvee white blend (for a limited time you can get a case of this stuff for $240!) and a bottle of 2007 Old 900 Syrah.

More info: Winery profile from the Paso Robles Country Wine Alliance    

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Paso Winos Go To: Paso Wine Center & Wine for Water

The name is awesome: Wine for Water. The idea is pretty awesome too–make money serving world-class wines made in Paso Robles, California (or at least made from grapes grown in Paso Robles) in a chic new downtown wine bar (rather dryly named the Paso Wine Center) and give ALL profits to Wine for Water. The charity then turns that wine money into water by using it to drill wells and install tough-as-nails pumps that supply fresh, clean water to some of the most water-starved people on the planet.

The whole shebang is the brain child of an alarmingly tall man named Ryan Boersma who’s built like a rock climber (because that’s what he is) and has the heart of a true millennial philanthropist. See a problem. Feel a problem. Fix a problem.

Ryan saw the clean water problem (one billion people don’t have clean drinking water right this very minute) during trips to India, Kazakhstan and Guatemala. As bad at the water situation is there, its even worse in Ethiopia so that’s where Ryan started solving the problem, using his own money to install the first Wine for Water well in early 2009 (each well costs about $5,000, will serve the entire community and will last for years).

While Wine for Water is certainly not the only charity focused on the issue of access to clean water, it is one of the most innovative for a number of reasons that add up to more water and less waste. First, Ryan realized that he can raise more money by opening the Paso Wine Center as a business, then donating all profits to Wine for Water vs. just trying to get direct tax-deductible donations to Wine for Water (which are still very much appreciated, by the way). Second, Ryan maximizes the effectiveness of every penny by partnering with an existing clean water action group in Africa which gives him access to pricey infrastructure stuff like vehicles so he doesn’t have to buy them himself. Third, all profits after operating costs (like staff salaries and rent for the Paso Wine Center) go straight to Wine for Water. ALL PROFITS.

Wine-Center

The Paso Wine Center has been open just six weeks and is slowly but surely attracting customers with its loft-like feel, inviting leather chairs and couches and bank of fancy enomatic wine-dispensing machines made in Italy that look like something out of The Jetsons’ kitchen. The enomatic system sucks the air out of an opened wine bottle, thus extending it’s shelf life–up to three weeks–after it’s opened. Ryan’s enomatic center dispenses nearly 50 different wines (about a hundred more are available by the bottle), with a refreshing focus on young labels and young/upstarty wine makers (one is called Chronic).

bar

Ryan’s goal, beyond keeping those leather sofas full and that enomatic system pumping, is for Wine for Water to install more than 100 wells in Ethiopia over the next 18 months, so start sipping! If you’re in Paso Robles on August 22 (and you should be because that’s the same weekend the annual and aweseme Olive Festival plus free concerts in the park and the city’s ), stop by the Downtown Park Ballroom (1232 Park Street) from 4-6:30 for a special fund raiser for Wine for Water. Forty (tax deductible) bucks gets you in the door where you’ll enjoy tastings of area wines from Booker, Saxum, L’Aventure, Torrin, Jada, Terry Hoage and others plus hors’devours and a really warm and fuzzy feeling inside (from helping such a worthy cause, not from the wine).


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