At some point in January shit got real. After spending most of November and December walking around in a Peppermint Gingerbread Latte daze saying “We’ll just take care of that after the holidays. We’ll deal with that after the new year”, we woke up abruptly one day to discover that Gingerbread Lattes were gone, the date on the calendar was 2014 and the time to take care of stuff was NOW. Plus there was all sorts of crazy stuff going on in LA in January. Hell, in one week we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake by lighting Glendora on fire and announced the Academy Award nominations. And brother, if you think Glendora’s on fire- you should see American Hustle– 10 nominations! (our thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims of all the disasters anytime anywhere blah blah blah blah)
Plus, we had the Golden Globes and watched the Foreign Press present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Woody Allen. This reignited the 20 year old debate about whether Woody Allen is, like, a MOLESTER molester or just kinda molester-y. Personally, I wasn’t really interested in debating whether the Hollywood Foreign Press should have given an award to a man about whom the best thing you can say is “He would NEVER have sex with his child before she turns 18”. Seriously- you’re expecting moral considerations from a bunch of Europeans? That’s like getting worked up over R. Kelley getting a lifetime achievement award from NAMBLA. I was, though, outraged by the fact that he didn’t bother to actually show up and accept the award. For someone as needy, insecure and recognition-starved as me that’s totally mind blowing. I can’t imagine passing up a chance to get an award, hell the Nazi party could give me an award for Stereotype of the Year, and I would show up to accept with a big hook nose, sack full of money and bottle of Passover wine made from Christian blood.
At least he had Dianne Keaton to drunkenly accept the award for him while wearing a shirt and tie and looking like Granny Hall in an Annie Hall Halloween costume. Keaton reminded us that Allen has worked with 179 of our Finest Actresses (180 total when you count Christina Ricci) and that he only fucked one of their daughters. So, statistically speaking, he’s barely a pervert at all! Give that man a trophy! No, seriously, give it to him, he’s a genius. The only reason to deny him the award is Curse of the Jade Scorpion– and possibly Celebrity.
Anyhow, after such an exciting week and crazy start to the year, we needed to get away for a mid-January break so we decided to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by wine tasting in Santa Barbara County because nothing says “we’re honoring the legacy of a great Civil Rights leader” like sipping Viognier in the countryside with a whole bunch of people who unironically tie sweaters around their necks. #ivebeentothemountaintop #theyhadgreatpinot
If you’ve never gone wine tasting in California, it’s one of the most disgustingly delightful things you could possibly do. Just picture it- it’s a 78 degree day (the Pleasantness Vortex is killing us out here- and it’s gonna get even worse when Mid-Winter Balminess Ernie strikes), the sun is shining, the rolling hills are….rolling, and all you have to do is taste wine, talk about wine, buy wine then find another winery and do it again. Find me the religion that guarantees this is what heaven is like, and I’ll convert in a second. Best. Near Death Experience. Ever (You’re in a tunnel, there’s a bright light, you walk towards it, a beautiful voice beckons to you saying “You can pick 5 wines from our regular tasting list for $10 or add three Reserve wines for $15. Tasting is free if you join the club…join the club…join the club…it’s not your time to join the club”) And aside from the sheer sensory delight of drinking some of the world’s best wine in some of the world’s best weather with some of the world’s best scenery, it’s the only socially acceptable ways to be drunk before noon when you’re older than 22 aside from Sunday brunch, watching World Cup Soccer and talking to your parents about their will.
We stayed in Solvang. With its windmills, quaint architecture and liberal use of the letter Ø, Solvang is the perfect little Danish town- especially because it’s not in fucking Denmark but in beautiful Santa Barbara County instead- so what you lose in free health care, you make up for in palm trees. It’s kind of like somebody decided to stage Hamlet in southern California but forgot to tell the Set Designer until it was much too late and then was like, fuck it, good enough. It’s like a town in Denmark from the creators of the Bacon Bowl and Pajama Jeans:
Narrator: You love visiting Denmark but it’s always so cold (black and white – All American family in Hawaiian shirts and shorts shivering in the snow in Copenhagen)
Narrator: And the airfares are always so expensive (mother and father looking very gravely at a computer screen with extremely expensive airfares. )
Narrator: And then, when you get there- nobody speaks English- just try ordering lunch at a restaurant (All American family at restaurant trying to communicate with a waitress in traditional Danish garb. Waitress shakes her head and shrugs.)
Narrator: Don’t you wish there was a better way to go to Denmark? (Family looks at camera and nods “yes”.) Well now you can! From the people who brought you Chia Obama and Perfect Fit Button Jeans it’s SOLVANG! (suddenly everything is in color, family is in beautiful sunny Solvang looking happy and surprised)
Narrator: Just three hours from Los Angeles with an average temperature of 60 degrees, it’s the perfect way enjoy to enjoy Denmark without all the hassle and expense of going to Denmark. And the best part of all – everybody speaks English (family laughing and joking with English speaking American waitress in traditional Danish garb) or Spanish (Latino family laughing and joking with Latino waitress in traditional Danish garb). So say goodbye to overpriced airfares and snow and say Ola to Solvang!
Latino Family & Waitress: Ola Solvang!
So, ok, sure- maybe Solvang isn’t exactly authentic- not so much Danish as Dane-ish- but it’s still a great place to stay if you’re going wine tasting. With its two star motels, many smorgasbords and plentiful souvenir shops it’s got everything the traveler with low standards could possibly dream of. But, of course, the best part is the proximity to all the wonderful wineries of Santa Barbara County and the many tasting rooms in Los Olivos (Spanish for “oh, those olives”.) Never been wine tasting? Well, here’s what you can expect on a typical day out:
Winery #1- Tentative First Steps “Uhm, yeah, I like the smell of this wine. It’s…uhm…good. And the taste is….good, too. This wine is…you know….good? Maybe I’ll stop back by later and buy a bottle”
Winery #2– Building Confidence “Yeah yeah- I totally taste agree with the winemaker about the floral nose but there’s a hint of lemongrass as well and I’m definitely tasting the honeydew melon and lychee fruit although I would say there’s a strong grapefruit flavor and a touch of pineapple on the finish. Was this aged in steel or oak? I’ll take five bottles. What else you got?”
Winery #3– Exuberance “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO AMAZING. I love this Syrah. This is like the best Syrah I’ve ever had- I’m totally getting a case of that. And that Grenache is totally fantastic, too- I’ve gotta get a case of that. Plus two cases of the Almond Champagne. And, hell yeah, I’ll join the wine club! Four bottles – twice a month? That’s perfect! This is the greatest place I’ve ever been in my WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE.
Lunch break- Picnic at Winery #3 featuring Bottle of Wine and More Exhuberance “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO AMAZING. I can’t believe how good this sandwich is. It’s like the creaminess of the peanut butter just collides with the sweetness of the jelly and it’s a total flavor explosion. And who knew Pinot Noir went so well with Goober Grape???? And these Oscar Mayer Lunchables. PERFECTION. This is the greatest lunch I’ve ever eaten in my WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE.
Wineries #4 – #7- Blur When you get home, you might ask yourself “when did I buy this fucking bottle of Port?” Winery #6, my friend. Winery #6.
Winery #8- Nap time If you love 5 PM hangovers- you’ll love wine tasting! So that’s the rundown of the day- but what about the tasting itself? Well, here are some helpful tips that will let you make the most of your tasting experience. Remember, though- wine tasting is extremely subjective. There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to taste wine. These are just things you can use so you don’t look like such a retard out there:
The Swirl: Don’t worry, it’s totally ok to drink your wine without swirling it while you’re out wine tasting. I mean, you’re already wearing that tobacco juice stained wife beater, rainbow suspenders and trucker hat offering “25 cent Mustache Rides” so why not compete the impression by guzzling down your wine like a hog at a trough without swirling it? Look, not swirling is fine when you do your guest spot on Moonshiners but when you’re tasting- that wine better be swirling around like American culture going down the drain (because everyone’s watching Moonshiners.) It’s very simple. Just grab the glass by the stem and move it in a circle and the wine will slosh around accordingly. Keep doing this until the wine is fully aerated and everybody has noticed that you’re swirling. And don’t hold back- you simply can’t swirl too vigorously! Unless of course, hypothetically you have a particularly full glass and…oh, I don’t know…let’s say you’re standing next to your wife…at a really fancy winery event….and you swirl really vigorously. And…uhm….well it wouldn’t be good. Hypothetically of course.
The Smell: OK- so you’ve swirled- it is time to drink yet? NO! First you’ve got to smell it. Now, you might think you know all about smelling things before you drink them but you can’t just shove the wine under your spouse’s nose and say “smell that” like you do with lumpy milk. No, smelling wine is something you’ve gotta do yourself- so what you want to do is raise up the glass (BONUS POINTS: Tilt the glass sideways when you lift the glass, look at the color and nod appreciatively at the fact that it is, in fact, wine colored and not fluorescent blue or polka dotted, which, just so you’re clear, would NOT be as good. Now-do you have to do this? No. But did DaVinci have to paint the Mona Lisa with a cryptic and unknowable smile that is still debated centuries later? Did Axl Rose have to sing the last “child” as “Chi-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ild?” Did Richard Sherman have to trash talk Michael Crabtree after winning the NFC Championship? Actually not. Not at all. It was tasteless, selfish and inappropriate and the fact that I criticize him clearly makes me a racist cause apparently in 2014 bad sportsmanship is a goddamn Civil Rights issue. Come on people, I love liberal outrage as much as the next guilt ridden white guy- but why can’t we get pissed off about the right stuff any more? Rome is burning here and we’re protesting that Nero isn’t playing enough songs by minority writers.) stick your nose deep inside like Groucho Marx performing cunnilingus on Margaret Dumont (Duck Soup- Director’s Cut- see it) and breathe in the scent. Then say a bunch of shit about fruit and flowers- only do it with confidence so that nobody questions you. It’s better if you refer to things that nobody has actually ever smelled. Seriously- do you know what lychee smells like? Of course you don’t – nobody does- that’s why it’s the perfect wine thing to say. Remember- wine tasting is like porn- everybody’s faking it- so just make it sound good.
The Taste: This is the best part. You’re gonna want to enjoy this. Remember- you don’t need to slug it down like tequila or brace for impact like Manischewitz. This isn’t some Concord Grape Blackberry Flavored Kosher Diabetic Baby Vomit or Almaden White Zin in a box- this is the good stuff- an explosion of flavors and textures and smells. Comparing crappy wine to good wine is like comparing Kool Aid to Kool Aid made from rainbows and ground up unicorn bones (only less earthy and more fruit forward than that, with a lychee and honeysuckle aroma). In fact, maybe if Jews actually left Elijah a nice Santa Ynez Pinot Noir or jammy Paso Robles Zinfandel he might actually fucking show up once in a while- I mean, the Goyim know what time it is- you don’t see them leaving Matzo and Mansichewitz for Santa- hell no! They leave milk and cookies and that’s why their Messiah brings them presents and ours never comes.
The Face: So, I’ve got a lot of friends who are smarter than me. Like, much smarter. Like, for them a good day at work is when their new book about political theory gets a good write up in the New Republic and for me a good day is fixing the beer taps at the theatre without getting saturated in suds #livingthedream. So, when they tell me about what they are working on and I have absolutely no comprehension of it, I’ve mastered the use of a particular facial expression. An expression that says- “yes, yes, I understand perfectly and I’m thinking very deeply about what you are saying” while inside my head a donkey sleeps peacefully under a tree with flies buzzing around it’s head. I use this same look when I’m wine tasting and I want to appear really intelligent and thoughtful even though I have absolutely nothing intelligent and thoughtful to say. It’s brilliant! And on the off chance that you’re one of those people I make that face to- just pretend you didn’t read this- seriously- I totally understand everything you’re telling me about robotics and nano-technology! Pay no attention to the slumbering donkey behind the curtain. On the other hand, there are some faces you want to avoid making
Yuck! What is “Sauvignon Blanc” French for battery acid or somethin’??
So are there, like, special pink grapes that you use for rose?
Woo-Hoo! I’ll get another case of that almond champagne!
I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot! Right?? Right??? From the movie??? Get it???? (they get it)
And now, just to show you how seriously I take all this- I’m gonna do something I don’t think I’ve ever done before and provide some actually useful information (Heavens to Murgatroyd!). So- here goes:
Actual Useful Information:
Remember that part of Sideways where Paul Giamatti gushes about Pinot Noir? No, no the other part. No- I mean that other one. Right- there you go. So- the Pinot he was drinking was actually a Lucas & Lewellen 2001 release- and as someone who once owned a few bottles of that, it’s totally gush-worthy. In fact, just thinking of it now makes me drool like Pavlov’s dog- assuming, of course, that the dog enjoyed a silky, full bodied, fruit forward California Pinot and, let’s face it, what dog doesn’t? (Mine. It’s Napa Cab or nothing with that snob. Son of a bitch is costing me a fortune.) And speaking of Cabs- they make some terrific Cabernet Sauvignons there- including the always astonishing Cote Del Sol (which is Danish for “you’re gonna spend more on this wine than you really feel comfortable with. Deal with it”.) So- the Lucas & Lewellen tasting room is all laid back, upscale charm in dark wood with a stainless steel bar offering French style wines.
Tocatta, meanwhile, is owned by the same people, and and is all bright colors, kitschy merchandise and big, bold Italian style wines. It’s like that crazy Italian cousin who wears bangles and big colorful skirts and hugs just a little too much. You forgive her, though, because she always brings a kick ass bunch of wines with cool Italian names like Nebbiolo, Barbera and Nebbiolo-Barbera – which is the marriage of two great varietals who refuse to take each others’ names. Gotta feel bad for the kids.
Those are pretty much the only tasting rooms worth going to in Solvang. Los Olivos has a fuckton of really good ones- or, to use the European terminology a “Metric Fuckton”. The best ones of which are, in my opinion, Consilience & Tre Anelli, Alexander & Wayne, Arthur Earl, and Alta Maria but there are loads of others, including some I haven’t even tried yet. While they’ve got a wide range of wines, the area is best known for Rhone varietals like Syrah, Grenache, Pinot Noir- all grapes that are traditionally grown in…uhm…Rhone, which is….you know….France-ish. There are so many amazing tasting rooms in Los Olivos, in fact, that it was recently named Best Small Town in American by Me. I bet you thought I was gonna make up some magazine title, didn’t you? Cause that’s one of the jokes I use all the time according to OverusedJokesByEric.com – right up there with “Fuck the Patriots” and #HackidieHackHackHashtagJoke #noseriouslythatjokeisplayed
Keep in mind, though, that with Great Wine comes Great Douchebaggery- so you’ve gotta get there early in the day while the LA d-bags are still back in Silverlake carefully disheveling their hair and trying to figure out which asshole persona goes best with wine tasting (Smug Know-it-All Asshole Persona, natch. It goes with wine tasting like salmon and chardonnay or like being a pretentious twit and using the word “natch”) and the Morgan Stanley Douchebag Bicycle Team shows up en masse in their skin-tight matching bike jerseys to talk at the top of their lungs about HOW MANY TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS THEY HAVE IN THIS OR THAT ACCOUNT AND WHATEVER WILL THEY DO WITH ALLLLLLL THAT MONEY. Charming. When the revolution comes, I’m putting bike lanes to the Guillotine.
Beyond Los Olivos, there’s Zaca Mesa Winery on Foxen Canyon Road- an ideal picnic spot to savor your lunch with a bottle of their Z-Cuvee (a perfect pairing for Goober Grape and Lunchables). Then there’s Martian Ranch & Vinyard, where the disturbingly friendly wine pourer not only allowed us to taste anything we could possibly want she also let us pick the Pandora channel for the tasting room (Eagles, natch). Wrap up your day in the sorta-Old Westy charm of Los Alamos at Bedford where, if you’re lucky, the wine maker and his beard will gruffly pour you a Mourvedre that goes down the list of every delightful thing that a Mourvedre is supposed to do to the inside of your mouth and checks every box with precision like an engineer in horn-rimmed glasses at Mission Control.
Oh yeah, and you might need to eat, too. I guess. There haven’t always been a lot of great choices for this- there’s Paula’s Pancake House for breakfast- for Danish pancakes so big you could wrap baby Moses in them and send him down river, and the Hitching Post for dinner- an old school California steakhouse grilling up the perfect rebuttal for any debate with a vegan. The rest was all mediocre Danish food which is pretty mediocre to begin with as world cuisines go- right between Scottish and Schenectady. Fortunately, a lot of new places are opening up in the area and taking a “fuck Danish Cuisine and the abelskeiver it rode in on” stance with their cooking- so there are many better options that there used to be, like the Succulent Café.
OK, well, there you have it. The perfect mid-January getaway. If you live in California, I hope you’ll find this helpful and if you don’t live in California you have only yourself to blame. Better get here soon, though- if we don’t get any rain soon the whole damn place is going up in smoke. Thank god I’ve just got the right smoky Zinfandel to go with it. L’Chaim! (that’s Danish for “so long, suckers!”)