Rounded up a friend last Wednesday to go wine tasting in Livermore. Maggie and I have talked about doing this for over a year and had it planned on the calendar for at least two months. She and I visited Steven Kent, Ruby Hill and Rubino and didn’t leave town until 1PM because I had a previously scheduled lunch date with neighbors.
I have the nicest neighbors! Cindy, Joan and Nancy treated me to California Pizza Kitchen. It was the perfect lunch. I had half turkey club sandwich and a salad. My girlfriends even brought me gifts! A hand made knit scarf and cute blank stationary cards made by Joan, an adorable house plant from Nancy and pasta making tools and copies of favorite family recipes from Cindy and her Italian mother in law. It was already the best day possible and I have gratitude for these women in my life.
Back to the day in Livermore… Maggie and I met over 6 years ago at our neighborhood garden club. Again, how lucky I am to live in this great neighborhood! You could say we bonded over garden walks, compost and Portlands’ chocolate tastings meeting. She and her husband have also lived in the neighborhood for 20 plus years. She is a red wine lover and wanted to take a day trip with me since she follows me on Instagram and sees the adventures I take.
She had called the day before to make appointments, but didn’t have much luck. I explained how I will usually “wing it” and drive around until I find an interesting location or side street that looks inviting. That system works in Napa, St. Helena and Healdsburg, but not so much in Livermore. We learned that they have 55 wineries there, and only 10 are open on Wednesdays. I guess my poor planning bit me in the bum that day, but we made the best of it. After all, how many wines can one taste anyway?
Maggie happened to have two free tastings at Steven Kent from a dinner auction item, so we started there. Instead of a flight, I asked for a pour of their 2016 SVS Cabernet Sauvignon from their Casa de Vinas Vineyard. Instead, our attendant would only pour me a little at a time. I thought this was a little strange, but I went along with it. Maggie wasn’t interested in the white varieties and only asked for the red varietals.
We learned Steven Kent Mirassou is a sixth generation member of America’s oldest winemaking family. Starting Steven Kent Winery in 1996, he specialized in Bordeaux grapes crafting small lot vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon.
The tasting room was dark, small and empty except for us and one other couple. We weren’t exactly welcomed with warm open arms either. We didn’t stay long hoping we would find a better experience elsewhere.
Maggie had done some research and knew that Ruby Hills Winery was open. Neither of us had tasted there before. I had been to the club years ago when my niece Jasmine and I attended a National Charity League Senior Presents program there. It was a special place, so I was excited to check out their winery.
We weren’t disappointed although our Google Maps took us up over the hill in the middle of nowhere before we realized we were going in the wrong direction. I don’t think the WiFi was working, so we got a little lost. That isn’t an uncommon thing for me, unfortunately. The Ruby Hill building is enormous and grand with many country decorations inside adorning the walls. They sold jewelry, dark chocolate caramels from Something Sweet Chocolates, Rubino Estates Winery Orange Blossom and Wild Thistle Honey and of course wine. They also had a nice deli counter with many types of cheese, hummus, prosciutto, salami crackers and chips. I appreciate this gesture so people can enjoy their wine with food in case they are hungry.
We were treated with the utmost care and respect at Rubino and I would highly recommend it. Our sommelier was friendly, helpful and easy going. She allowed Maggie to taste the reds of her choice from both the Estate Flight at $15 per person and the Jewel Flight at $20.00 per person. And she took off the tasting fee since she purchased two bottles of the 2014 Intesa for $34.00. Maggie really knows her wine and spits after she tastes. I tried a splash of just the 2015 Jewel Zinfandel which received 92 points from Wine Enthusiast and that was enough for me.
We read about the Mello Cielo Vineyard Experience for groups which includes a tasting, then two hour tour on their vintage wine bus. Then a visit to Ruby Hill’s modern on-site production facility where one can see the winemaking process from vine to bottle. Our garden club members may take advantage of this opportunity. A few wanted to join us on our Livermore day out, but I only learned about it the day before. The private tour will require a minimum of eight people and a maximum of 14. There are two tours available daily, 11:15AM and 2:15PM and reservations should be made a week in advance. The price is $35.00 for non-members. Club members are only $30.00 and are allowed to bring one guest. Looks like a good time.
Mia took care of us at Rubino Estates Winery open since March of 2013, and is conveniently located around the corner from Ruby Hills, open since 2007. Both Wineries are owned by the Callahan’s, the Lloyd’s and the Brown’s. They call this the Cal-Ital Winery only an hour South of Napa Valley. They feature exciting Italian varietals such as Barbera, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo as well as the classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Mia’s family is from Sicily, so we had a nice time chatting about my recent time in Tuscany.
Maggie enjoyed Rubino’s wine tasting experience and we agreed to each bring home a bottle so that her tasting was free. I refrained from drinking, since I was the designated driver.
Rubino sells cheese at their deli counter with flavors such as Black pepper, Tennessee Whiskey, Basil Asiago, Espresso, Balsamic, Raspberry, Rosemary Olive Oil, and Chipotle that pair with each wine. Fantastic! The tasting room is 8,000 square feet and it’s nestled in between 150 acres of vineyards. Bocce ball courts are open Monday through Friday first come first serve.
Maggie and I didn’t take advantage of the food or bocce entertainment this time since we wanted to get back before the Bay Area commute traffic took hold on Highway 680. But we did stop off at a nursery to check out the flowers which seemed appropriate being that we are garden lovers. I bought a small lemon verbena because the one I had last year died in the frost. It’s a beautiful fragrant leaf and nice in iced tea or lemonade.
My day with Maggie was delightful and adventurous. Maybe next time we will bring the rest of the garden club clan with us to experience the great wines of the Livermore Valley.
Here’s my recipe for Orange Poppyseed Pancakes with Ricotta. It’s perfect for a Sunday Brunch with family and friends.
Orange Poppyseed Pancakes with Ricotta
Serves 4 people
1 C unbleached All PurposeFlour
½ C Almond Flour
¼ C Granulated Sugar
1 t Kosher Salt
1 t baking powder
½ C plus 2 T Ricotta Cheese
3 whole eggs separated
1 ½ C Milk
½ C Heavy Whipping Cream
1 t Rum Extract
1 t Orange Extract
1 T Orange Zest
⅛ C Poppy seeds
Unsalted butter used for skillet
Confectioners sugar for dusting
Pure maple syrup
In a blender, place 3 egg yolks (whites to go in a stand mixer), milk, cream, ricotta, extracts. Blend on low until combined.
In a small bowl mix all purpose flour, almond flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Pour into blender and mix with wet ingredients on low and batter is smooth.
In the stand mixer, using a wire whisk, mix the room temperature egg whites and a tiny pinch of salt until small peaks form.
Add the whipped egg whites to blender in three increments mixing well, but not for too long.
Using your large nonstick skillet, melt 1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter on medium heat. Pour or ladel about 1/2 C of the batter onto the hot skillet and sprinkle with about ½ t poppy seeds and cook for about 2 minutes or until edges are golden. Flip carefully and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes more until pancake is cooked thoroughly. No one likes a wet on the inside pancake.
I fold mine like a crepe, folding it onto itself twice like an omelette. Eat right away or keep in a low oven in a baking dish. Serve with fresh fruit peaches, strawberries or blueberries or whatever is in season and pure maple syrup. Mine were perfect all by themselves and didn’t need adorning other than a shake of confectioners sugar.
Thank you for reading and sharing my blog. Hope I’ve inspired you to take get away day and enjoy a glass of wine or two. And here’s a glimpse of what Venice Italy was like.