Pet Friendly Wine Tasting in Carmel-by-the-Sea!

On our weekend getaway to Carmel last month, we had such a gorgeous Saturday morning walking along the beach and hitting some trails. When we got back to town, we were ready for some serious grub. Over the summer when we were in town, Carrie at the Hofsas House Hotel had recommended Lafayette Kitchen and Cafe, a cozy French bistro that is ideal for breakfast. Much like our tradition to always stop at Dametra, Lafayette has become our newest “must-eat” spot.

Nestled on Dolores Street down a cobble-stone alley way along with cute dress shops and art galleries, Lafayette boasts an un-assuming menu that is bursting with flavor and, keeping to its French roots, their portions are modest. We’ve never left with a “food coma” and it feels good. My Ratatouille scramble hit the spot, yet my highlight was the artistically crafted latte. A perfect blend of espresso and steamed milk, and the sprinkle of cinnamon on top sealed the deal. If I could get my caffeine fix at Lafayette everyday, I would.

And, since they are a French cafe, Mike says their bread, served on the side with your breakfast plate, lives up to its expectations. Superb!

My perfect Latte from Lafayette.
Wine Walk kick off at Schied Wines!

When in Carmel-by-the-Sea, one activity not to be missed is fitting in some wine tasting. With Monterey County’s distinct climate (air in the southern part of the county usually warms at noon each day and rises, cool air from the Bay fills the void left by the rising warm air), some of the best wine varietals in the country are being grown in the area, and the wineries to be had (or should I say, sipped?) fill the tree-lined streets of the adorable Carmel Village.

With Hammy and Nova in tow, we decided to do some wine tasting and utilize our Wine Walk Passports. These passports are hands down the best way to experience the wines of Carmel and Monterey County. Once purchased from the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, these passports never expire and entitle you to a “Wine Walk Flight” of 3 to 5 1 oz. pours at your choice of any 10 of the 13 participating tasting rooms. Added perk? All of the wineries on the passport are dog friendly! We were a bit skeptical to bring ours along, but, they were champs for the most part and enjoyed watching mom and dad sip some whites and reds.

We began at Schied Vineyards. An open, air-y tasting room, Al Schied founded the Monterey Farming Corporation 46 years ago and over that time span, the winery has seen several changes (including buying out other labels and the name change to Al’s namesake in the 90’s) and clearly continues to exist and thrive in the county due to Schied’s can-do attitude and financial planning background.

We started with their 2016 Gewurztraminer. Grown locally at their Viento Vineyard, “Gewürz” is German for “spice” yet I tasted mostly sweet, floral notes and the residual sugar and bright acidity listed in the notes were very present. Something I have learned to spot a great Gewurztraminer is in the shade. Take a look in your glass and give it a few swirls; it should be  a pink-ish shade with a hint of brown. Schied’s had both of these elements with its citrus notes.

Photo: Michael Farah.

While many bring to mind Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon when they think of red wines, I’m a firm believer that Dolcetto should be right there in the red party and in Monterey County, they do, too. While more of an obscure wine, Dolcetto means “Little Sweet One”. It’s name does not actually refer to the sugar content, but rather is an endearing moniker for this much-loved yet lesser-known variety and much like the Gewurztraminer, I jump at the chance for a glass when I see it listed.

An inaugural release, Schied’s Dolcetto was brimming with notes of currant and plum on the first nose. My first sip revealed jam and cherries, and then a little “pop” of pepper-y spice. While we all know I am not much of a red meat lover, this would be a fantastic bottle to pair with a lamb chop or steak.

After our first stop, we were ready to experience some more of Carmel’s finest wineries. While you can easily follow the Wine Walk map, we definitely were taking the pups into account and scouted out the tasting rooms that seemed suitable for them to hang out. Enter Silvestri Vineyards. An intimate space between 7th and San Carlos Avenue, this tasting room screamed “fun” for Mike and me as their walls are adorned with movie posters and a TV screen with rotating posters of classic movies. Turns out the winemaker is Alan Silvestri, award-winning film composer whose work you have certainly heard in some “small” productions like the Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Lilo and Stitch and soon, his work will be heard in Ready Player One.

Our hostess, Dorothea, was such a pleasure to chat with. When she noticed Mike and I admiring the posters, she explained the reason behind them, and shared with us a handy placard kept at the ready for wine-er’s interested to learn more about Silvestri and his remarkable career.

Check out this handsome fella we met walking to Silvestri!
A fun time at Dawn’s Dream! Photo: Michael Farah.

For Silvestri’s Wine Walk flight, you are treated to their 2015 Chardonnay, 2016 Rose, 2014 Syrah and the option to add-on their Rising Tide Pinot Noir for an extra $3. We opted to stick with the 3 and must admit, loved them all. The Rose, made from Pinot Noir grapes, was as smooth as silk to drink, while it’s notes were very strawberry. The notes mentioned kiwi, which I confess was not on my radar until it was brought to my attention. It was subtle, but definitely there–I also tasted some mango or papaya notes, as well.

Their Chardonnay was also a hit for Mike and me. While more on the buttery side (which I loved– I’m often a no oak Chardonnay lover, since that usually means less of a “buttery” taste but there’s nothing better than just the right amount of creamy notes to a white wine for me), it was a delicate, expert blend of butter, fruit and oak. The first nose definitely had tropical fruits, yet the first taste showed it’s chameleon-like ways. I would recommend Silvestri’s 2015 Chardonnay to anyone looking for a rich, fruity white wine, or if you’re already a buttery Chardonnay lover.

Last, but not least, was a sampling of their 2014 Syrah. Being the lone red to represent Silvestri’s tasting, I was more than pleased with it. Dark, bitter notes filled our palette; lots of blackberry and chocolate for me on both the first nose and sip. While this would be heavenly with a bite (or several) of dark chocolate, this Syrah is a treat on its own. Its medium tannins completed this rich and smooth red vino. I also could see enjoying this glass with a goat cheese, or as the notes suggested, a blue cheese.

Feeling fun (and just a little buzzed), we decided to hit up one more wine stop on our Saturday before heading to dinner. Dawn’s Dream not only has a fun, intriguing name, but enter their wine tasting room, and you will clearly see that they’re about having FUN. There’s a bathtub that greets you when you come in, and you know by the time you leave you will have a picture of yourself in there….most likely sipping some bubbly! Owned by local Dawn Galante, Dawn has built her life on free-thinker Henry David Thoreau’s belief that “Dreams are the touchstones of our character.”

Loved the bath tub holder for the candies.
Guess where we ended up after the tastings

The avid sports and outdoors girl’s dream has always been to help create dreams for others by giving her product, money or time to support nonprofit organizations from Carmel to Africa.  Dawn’s passion for helping women and children equals her passion for wine making. Dawn, who is the Mother of 5, has produced award-winning wines while maintaining a business model that allows for the opportunity to give back.

I loved that 3 of her Pinot Noirs’ namesakes are after her girls. Rachael, Alyssa and Nicole. We tried 2 out of the 3. The 2016 Rachael brought to mind sitting around a campfire roasting s’mores. A very woods-y aroma with lots of vanilla on the first nose (as listed), I did not detect the toasty caramel that was also listed. Until I took a nibble of the chocolates they had out to munch on. The richness and sweetness made that caramel note pop through. It was a great, full-bodied Pinot.

And, after visions of a warm woods lodge with an open fire, images of Springtime, hiking in a meadow sprung in my mind as we tasted Alyssa, Dawn’s 2nd 2016 Pinot Noir! Vibrant and bright, this Pinot had strong notes of blueberries and some orange zest. It would be such a great glass with a picnic lunch.

Much like Silvestri, I loved chatting with our hostesses. The staff was extremely personable and fun. The dogs settled in nicely and Hammy even made a friend when a little girl asked to pet him.

After our wine excursion, it was time to get ready to head to Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, and a Sunday brunch the next afternoon. Stay tuned to hear about our final day of wine-ing and dining with the dogs in tow, in Carmel-by-the-Sea! xo

(*Disclosure: I received passes to experience the Carmel Wine Walk. All opinions are my own.)