Going to the high country? Eat your liver & onions first.

Today may be #NationalPiDay, but it’s also #ThrowbackThursday. With apologies to my vegan and vegetarian friends, I dig back into the winehiker witiculture archive to bring you a post I originally published in September 2006:

“Going to the high country? Eat your liver & onions first.”

Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Winehiker Witiculture

So you want to ramble the ridges, shred the bowls and bag the peaks? And you want your body to deliver peak performance under more extreme environmental conditions than you’re used to at sea level? And you want to impress your friends, too?

Ever hear of “hypoxia?” Some call it mountain sickness. Call it what you will, it’s the effect of reduced atmospheric pressure at altitude coupled with an insufficient supply of oxygen to the body. Every person can have different symptoms when suffering from hypoxia; some of the common symptoms are lightheadedness, dizziness, and reduced vision. When your purpose is to enjoy some backcountry beauty on foot, ski, or bike, you don’t want your body to fail. So how do you compensate for reduced oxygen and air pressure levels? You make sure you give your body what it needs before you go to the high country.

It’s been documented…

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Wine and hiking blog now fully searchable

SUNNYVALE, CALIFORNIA, October 25, 2006 – Russ Beebe, author of the Winehiker Witiculture wine and hiking blog and owner of californiawinehikes.com, today announced that his blog is fully searchable for all current and archived content.

“With Google’s Co-op Custom Search Engine, I can now offer my readers a powerful way to find articles they once read days, weeks, or months ago without having to remember which category I placed my post in, and without having to tediously scroll through numerous pages,” remarked Russ. “It’s a valuable tool for me as well. As a regular blogger, I tend to occasionally refer to prior posts via hyperlink to engage the reader in historical perspective.”

In the announcement of its Custom Search Engine program the day before, Google states that users of the beta program can add a custom search feature to their websites “in two easy steps”. And while Russ is no web developer, he was able to add a custom search feature to his blog within minutes.

Russ soon plans to use Google’s AdSense for Search program to capitalize on the traffic to his blog.

Read more about Google’s Co-op Custom Search Engine.

California Wine Hikes offers guided hikes and small-group experiences that combine the best of Nature, wine, fine food & accommodations in the California wine country. Special “winehiking” packages are available. Many tours sell out and guests should book early. For information and easy online booking, visit www.californiawinehikes.com.


Wine Review: 2005 Twisted Oak Viognier

18 winehiker points*

I’ve had a bit of a commitment lately. What a pain in the neck it has been. Shoot, if it hadn’t been for a nearly two-week-long bout of pinched nerves in the cervical spine – the recurring detritus of an old diving board injury – I would have helped myself to this lovely and complex Viognier from Twisted Oak a little sooner. After all, it’s been chilling in my fridge all this time just waiting for me to pop its Twisted cork.

But I wanted to wait until I could actually tilt my head back far enough to gargle it.

The winehiker rates the 2005 Viognier offering from Twisted Oak Winery of Vallecito, California. Note the handy rubber chicken.

The winehiker rates the 2005 Viognier offering from Twisted Oak Winery of Vallecito, California.
Note the handy rubber chicken.

You may recall a recent post in which I reviewed the 2004 Twisted Oak Tempranillo. Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak Winery, had sent me the Tempranillo as well as this Viognier.** I admit that I am more a fan of reds (which good native Californian isn’t?), so I had tried the Tempranillo first, and liked it. But my coexisting notion at the time was that the Viognier would be even better.

I’m glad I waited. After a number of missed days at the office, the hot showers, the ice packs, the constant stretching, and the multiple chiropractic visits, finally, a relatively relaxing day at work and a night with no commitments — other than making a date to contemplate the sound of one cork popping.

So I opened, and I poured.

I am no longer tense. I live, now, in the present. Cool, clear, and golden it is. Even chilled, the scent of this Viognier bears promise, with a characteristic floral note. As it warms over the course of a few minutes’ hand-swirling, I detect layers of apples, pears, apricots, nutmeg.

I am pretty sure I have a winner on my hands. But at this point, I haven’t yet engaged my tongue.

I sip. And I savor. My eyeballs rush involuntarily, sanguinely, up into my head.

A lingering moment on the palate yields a near-perfect blend of sweetness and acidity that I find most refreshing. With a balanced astringency and a super-silky, almost chewy mouthfeel, plus a taste of allspice and white raisins, this wine breathes, tastes, and feels like a wine that my friends (and yours) will find memorable, whether on a Summer day or a Fall evening. As for the finish, I say “hello” to only an acquaintance of acidity and tannin.

I like Viognier this way – tapered layers of sweetness, structure, and finish. And I’m not typically a white wine drinker.

Nevertheless, I’ve grown to love Viognier, and nearly all of them from the Sierra Foothills of California, in my experience, have been top-notch concoctions. It’s no less so for this fruit of the proud and merry folk at Twisted Oak up in Calaveras County. Just ask El Jefe and Fermento – they know what they’re doing.

$22.00 at Twisted Oak Winery.
Disclosure: This wine was sent to me for review courtesy of Twisted Oak Winery.

*Rated on the 20-point Davis scale with this wine scoring sheet.
**Jeff also sent me a rubber chicken.


Buy Fine Wine at Great Prices – A Strategy

Today’s guest author is Walt Ballenberger, founder of Beaux Voyages, which provides active tours in France including bike tours, wine tours, and Tour de France bike tours. He has lived and worked in France and speaks the language fluently.

Some years ago in a book by Lee Iacocca, who was President of Ford Motor Co. prior to taking over Chrysler Corp. and leading them out of bankruptcy, I read that Mr. Iacocca’s boss, Henry Ford II, drank two bottles of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild every day. Two bottles per day is an awful lot and wouldn’t be advisable, but I did like the thought of drinking fine wine every day. Today, depending on the vintage, two bottles of Chateau Lafite can cost upwards of $1,000 or even more. If your name is Henry Ford you can no doubt afford this, but most of us have to settle for something a little less prestigious for our nightly dinner pairing.

The point of this article is simple: one can drink good, sometimes even excellent wines, at very reasonable prices.

The easiest way to do this is to wait for your local liquor store to have their periodic sales. For example, about once a month a large liquor store nearby our home, which carries a reasonably good selection of wines from around the world, has a sale for 15% off for those on their “family plan”. So that’s obviously the time to stock up.

The next question is which wines to choose. Unless you already know some good producers and have your favorites, the best guides are the little tags which give wine ratings by wine critics such as Robert Parker of “The Wine Advocate,” the “Wine Spectator,” and The Wine Enthusiast,” among others. Most good liquor stores make a point to display these tags for the wines that the critics have tasted. As an example of wine ratings, here are the criteria used by Robert Parker, considered by many to be the foremost of wine critics:

96-100 An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.

90-95 An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.

80-89 A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.

70-79 An average wine with little distinction except that it is soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.

60-69 A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.

50-59 A wine deemed to be unacceptable.

To be sure, you will not find fine wines rated at 96 or above on the cheap, 15% off or not! However, it is entirely possible to find wines rated in the upper 80′s (very good) or even low 90′s (low outstanding range) for good prices, often $10 or less on sale! If your wine or liquor store does not display the ratings tags, suggest that they do so, or if necessary find another store that does.

The main advantage of the above strategy is that you are basing your purchases on some opinion. If you simply choose a wine without knowing anything about it, you might still find a pleasurable bottle, but the chances of success are considerably diminished.

Another resource for choosing fine wines is a good local wine specialty shop. In our town we have a shop run by a young man who is extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of wine, from vineyard practices to production to tasting, and he is truly passionate about the subject. I have learned to trust his judgment, and when he recommends a wine, I can count on it being a good choice. Of course he needs to charge more than the large volume liquor stores for his wines, but his knowledgeable inputs more than make up for the extra cost. So I routinely make a point to pick up some bottles at this shop in addition to stocking up as described above.

If you can afford to purchase and cellar great fine wines, then by all means go for it. But if your wine budget is a little more down to earth, try the procedure outlined above. I have found the wines recommended by the critics are almost always good, (nothing is foolproof, however, as evidenced by a solidly mediocre Tuscan wine we tried last week), but you’ll be pleased most of the time. Personally I like the choices of Robert Parker as well as those of The Wine Spectator. Also, I like to learn what I can about the wine, the grapes used, and also production methods used such as oak aging, malolactic fermentation, etc. This is easily accomplished using the LaRousse Encyclopedia of Wine or other reference books. The more you learn about wine the more you will enjoy the experience, and you’ll also learn more about how fine wines make food taste better. And as the old adage goes, “life is too short to drink bad wine”.


I want a bionic spine

I’ve been taking a forced break from blogging over these past few days due to a recurring neck injury. It’s been difficult to hold my head up (without support and Advil) for more than about 2 hours without more pain and fatigue.

So, I’ve been doing the right thing by babying it while I wait for the chiropractor to fit me in to today’s schedule. You know – things like lying down a lot, applying ice, limited yoga.

And no blogging.

When I can sit down again to stress-free writing, I’ll follow up with some photos and a tall tarantula tale from Sunday’s Henry Coe hike.


When the objective is not the goal

It’s not often that I’ll catch a Sunday football game, since I’m usually out sauntering along a trail somewhere. It doesn’t really matter that I’m missing this ritualized violence anyway, since I’m working in an environment in which there’s quite an assortment of 49er and Raiders fans who all dish out the Monday morning chatter at each other to a degree ever-so-slightly below gonzo fanaticism. All I have to do to find out who won over whom or which player is wearing too much bling is just keep my ears open.

Or tune ’em out.

So this morning I learned that two people got arrested at last week’s Raiders/Niners game for having sex in the stands.

Let’s see: the Raiders still haven’t won a game this season. Instead, they’ve lost five straight games. At this rate, I’m surprised more bored football fans aren’t getting it on in the seats.

In a comment on the incident, one of my Raider-fan colleagues remarked, “Well, at least somebody scored.”


An Arachnoid Prediction for Friday the 13th

The harmless Hairy Mygalomorph

The harmless Hairy Mygalomorph.

Sunday morning, I’ll be meeting a few of my fellow hikers for coffee prior to embarking on the long and winding East Dunne grade out of Morgan Hill. From our coffee rendezvous, it will take one full hour to motor down Highway 101, up 10 twisty miles of East Dunne blacktop, and over the high ridge to the Henry Coe State Park Visitor Center.

It’s a fine drive, if you like narrow, tortuous mountain roads. When we finally get to where we’re going, we’ll have quite an expanse of state park acreage to revel in. This park is, after all, a hiker’s dream: it’s home to more than 250 miles of trails and ranch roads, deep wooded canyons, large lakes, and rolling meadowlands in its over 87,000 acres. Not to mention the little apples of the big berry Manzanita trees. (Yes, they actually are trees here in this park.) Nor the bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, mountain lions, turkey vultures, and javelinas.

Yep, we two-legged varmints will be in good company. We’re going to hike for nearly six hours Sunday, but we’ll only see a fraction of the park. If we were to spend a week, we’d still only see a fraction of it. It’s that big. And it’s anything but flat.

No matter – we’ll still soak in quite a bit of the park’s ample freedom. Our hike will take us to the site of an old mineral springs resort and to the park’s most popular swimming hole a mile farther along. Not sure we’ll swim, being that it’s now October and the nights (and probably the creek) are chilly, but the brave among us might dip a toe in for a brief exciting moment. Along the way downcanyon to the Hole, however, we’ll enjoy 13 creek crossings and survey what’s left of Madrone Soda Springs Resort, a creekside health spa that thrived during the horse and buggy era.

There’s not much left of the resort these days. The buildings and the dance pavilion were dismantled during World War II; the wood was trucked to the Central Valley where it was used to build houses during a time when wood was hard to come by. All we’ll see are a few concrete steps, fragments of the foundation, a stone cooler built into a hillside (no wine stashed in there, though – I’ve looked), and some of the larger remnants that have washed downstream.

After we arrive at the confluence of Coyote Creek, we’ll wander over to the natural pool at China Hole, which is deep enough to dive into during the early summer months – not that I would do that with my boots on. The Hole has a small, sandy beach and lots of big flat boulders for picnicking, sunning, and snoozing. In early Fall, this creekside oasis should be a great place to enjoy lunch. That is, if the ticks aren’t swarming like they did this past January.

After lunch, we’ll get serious. Needless to say, any time you venture downcanyon to a streambed, there’s only one way to go, and that’s up; the hike back up over Middle Ridge is an honorable one. It won’t hurt, however, to pause every few breaths just to enjoy the views, to the south and east, of untold distant blue ridges.

I’ll make what should be an easy prediction: now that it’s mid-October, we’ll see at least one marauding tarantula. (After all, Coe Park just held its annual TarantulaFest last weekend.) If we do see one, I hope to share a photo or two with you of the furry little bugger crawling up some lucky gal’s arm.

[Editor’s note: my prediction bore true! See my follow-up trip report.]


Why it’s hard to imagine living without wine

Alder Yarrow over at Vinography confesses that one of his recurring prayers is “May there never be a time when wine loses its magic for me.”

With wine and friends, we celebrate the magic in our daily lives.

With wine and friends, we celebrate the magic in our daily lives.

Amen, Alder, amen.

Alder goes on to say much that I concur with:

“Sometimes this feels vaguely religious. I have such faith in the mystical conversion of simple grapes into something that transcends its origins, even as it transcends fruit itself. I give thanks for the magic of aromas of honeysuckle, caramel, mint and chocolate created solely by wood and grape juice.”

I don’t believe in much beyond rock, tree, sky, cloud, and friends, but here’s some magic I can believe in. After all, every bottle I open offers the delightful promise of uniqueness, the chance to taste something new. Contrast that to beer, which I also love. But with beer, I have different expectations – it’s supposed to be the same taste with every bottle, year upon year. The big breweries indeed spend untold sums ensuring that aspect; it’s an integral part of the brand.

Not so with wine.

Because with wine, it’s the prospect of subtle and pronounced variations in flavor, body, aroma, color, and finish that attract the lover of wine as well as the winemaker. As weather patterns and winemaking techniques change each season, so does a wine that may otherwise come from the same vineyard. As a drinker of wine, you want to switch brands if you want to open yourself to discovery. (But you don’t have to – that’s part of the allure.)

“Sameness” may have its place – after all, we buy cases and caselots of wine if we truly like it – but sameness may have more to do with the buying patterns of the jug-wine set than the pursuits of those (like me) who would tease and tempt their palates with a bounty of possibilities.

For this reason, and for the anticipation of the next bottle, Alder is right in suggesting that there’s a spiritual connection between us humans and the ephemeral fruit of the vine in which we discover, and rediscover, uncommon and extraordinary magic. It’s an Earth/body connection that continues to grow stronger within me – a connection and a magic that I can’t comprehend living this Life without.


Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Syrah

At our Syrah tasting event last Thursday evening, six of us compared six bottles of Syrah – four from California and two from France. It was a pretty good lineup, but the top three finishers were all from California’s Central Coast appellation. It was clear that all six of us who formed the night’s tasting panel have true California palates.

The colors in our glasses were a deep violet – two with a slight degree of gold banding about the edges – but the aromas and flavors were richly contrasting between spiciness, fruitiness, and smokiness. A moderate degree of chewiness was present in most; aroma, taste, texture, and finish all combined to generate an exceptionally high score in the night’s eventual winner.

None of these wines were older than the 2003 vintage, yet all are drinkable now.

Paired with our Syrah were whole-wheat seeded breads, a sharp Wisconsin Cheddar cheese, a softer Edam cheese, and an excellent sun-dried tomato/cream cheese fondue prepared in my kitchen by Chef Tanya. All were terrific accompaniments to our Syrah wines.

About the wines
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content) and the price per 750ml bottle. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. If no link is present, purchase information is not available online.

Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to tabulate my thoughts about each individual wine.

Group Ranking


2004 “R” Runquist, Paso Robles, California




2003 Thomas Fogarty, Fat Buck Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California




2004 Andrew Murray Tout Le Jours, Central Coast




2003 Mas Grand Plagniol, Costieres de Nimes, France




2004 Concannon Stampmaker’s, Livermore, Califronia




2004 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitages, France



Winehiker’s Ranking


2004 “R” Runquist, Paso Robles, California


2004 Andrew Murray Tout Le Jours, Central Coast


2003 Mas Grand Plagniol, Costieres de Nimes, France


2003 Thomas Fogarty, Fat Buck Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California


2004 Concannon Stampmaker’s, Livermore, Califronia


2004 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitages, France

In this tasting, the group scores, as well as my individual scores, were quite widespread; in both we had a clear favorite in the Runquist and a clear nonfavorite in the Darnaud, which exhibited an incredibly earthy taste. I loved the fruity aroma, the rich vanilla smokiness, and the velvet textures of the Runquist; the only criterion I did not score it highest on was finish, which lingered perhaps only 15-20 seconds. My selection for the evening was the Fogarty, purchased directly at the winery above Palo Alto; I had liked it enough to buy it this summer during a post-hike visit, but it was much more of a hit with the group than it was with me. Indeed, I liked the Plagniol more.

Winehiker’s Bottom Line
If you would buy a California-grown Syrah priced in the mid-twenties, you cannot go wrong should you choose to lay in a stock of the Runquist and the Fogarty.

*It would appear that Fogarty’s 2004 Fat Buck Ridge Syrah has gone up in price in the few short weeks since I purchased it; it’s now $50 per bottle.

Link payback

A step apart from some of the activities I often blog about are the activities of a very active woman from the Yellowstone area. Skye profiles herself as being into competitive shooting, fly fishing, cooking, and running, and she maintains that her goals are a 22-inch trout, a 20-lb. steelhead, and professional competence. Add to that her obvious love of the outdoors, wine, and good food, and she’s surely welcome in my part of the blogosphere.

I suspect Skye found me via Tom Chandler’s prolific and entertaining Trout Underground blog. She’s been linking to my blog, so I’ll close the karmic loop and give her blog, A Step Apart, an honest plug. Take a moment to give her a look-see.