From the Vine: A good start for 2020 in wine country
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From the Vine

From the Vine: A good start for 2020 in wine country

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In Santa Barbara County (SBC) wine country, there are always wine events happening monthly that are educational, delicious, and loads of fun. And with the wide array of wine specialists we have, from Burgundy to Rhone varieties and blends, you can usually have your choice of wine varieties that please you most.

The Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week goes on today, Jan. 26, through Jan. 31, offering a special three-course tasting menu for only $20.20 per person —an outstanding deal! That said, the restaurants highly recommend advance reservations. You can check online to see the menus in most participating restaurants at www. visitsyv .com. As an added bonus, some local hotels are offering special pricing for overnight accommodations during this time period. If you don’t have a designated driver, I highly recommend this choice.

One interesting option is the Los Olivos Wine Merchant, who can forget their memorable scenes in the movie “Sideways?” For a mere $20.20 you can get their special three-course menu with a choice of soup or salad, choice of sage fettuccini, buttermilk fried chicken, or rock shrimp risotto, with a sweet finish of the house-made carrot cake. That’s a downright good value price for a three-course meal, and they offer a wide array of well chosen local wines. Read all about them on www. Winemerchantcafe .com.

My favorite chef, and I always love those whose restaurants offer the best wine lists, is Chef Budi Kazali of the Gathering Table at the Ballard Inn. When I was one of four judges for Central Coast Magazine (now defunct) during the ultimate chef contest, Chef Budi handily earned the award. He out-cooked two dozen of the best chefs from Monterey to Ventura.

Not surprisingly, his restaurant week menu isn’t available, it’s chosen on a nightly basis. That’s much like the world-class restaurant Chez Panisse by Chef Alice Waters in Berkeley. I guarantee that you will experience a very unique dinner at the Gathering Table, as I always have. There is one limitation, the $20.20 menu is only available on Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But if you are interested for this Sunday night, the last Sunday of January), do call to inquire as you might just be able to get a reservation. You can make reservations at www. Ballardinn .com.

There is one more good value offering I must add. It’s at the Hitching Post II in Buellton, where you will find the widest assortment of choices of entrees I’ve seen at any restaurant during restaurant week in either county.

The three-course dinner includes soup or salad choice, and a bittersweet chocolate tart, but there are many choices of entrees. You can order a portobello mushroom stuffed with eggplant jam or fresh chicken breast for only $20.20, or choose the slightly more expensive top sirloin and quail combo for only $32.20. Other great choices such as New York steak and fresh fish are priced in between. Now here’s the kicker, you can buy a full bottle of their fine Hometown 2017 pinot noir, also priced at the ubiquitous $20.20. If you love the wine, and I did, you can get a bottle or more to take home for only $18.20 each. Learn more at www. Hitchingpost2 .com.

In San Luis Obispo County (SLO), there are some great year-round events to take note of in your calendar. In rural SLO, the Baileyana tasting room on Orcutt Road also offers tastings of their other brands, which are Tangent, True Myth, and Zocker.

Although the kick-off of the 2020 concert series was yesterday, Jan. 25, you didn’t miss out on this consumer friendly concert event. On the last Saturday of each month, they will feature a free concert and some great local food trucks from which you can buy lunch or snacks. No tickets are required to get into the tasting room. Although I’m sure you could bring along your own picnic lunch, no alcohol from other producers is permitted.

And why bring anything else when you have so many good choices in white and red wines under the Baileyana, Tangent, True Myth, and Zocker labels. If you’ve never visited them, you’re in for many delightful discoveries. Their tasting room, originally built in 1909, is the historic Independence Schoolhouse in Edna Valley. The Niven family restored the great schoolhouse, and it sits proudly amid the lush green grapevines of Edna Valley. Get the details about all of these fine brands at www. Nivenfamilywines .com.

Lastly, but hardly least, today marks the last six days of the SLO County Restaurant Month. One of the participating wineries in Paso Robles, Niner Wine Estates on Hwy. 46 West, offers a special three-course menu paired with their wines for visitors, as well as offering their regular menu. In the past I have enjoyed several excellent meals paired with their delicious wines in the tasting room restaurant. The dining room is open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and reservations are recommended. Learn more at www. Ninerwine .com.

Bon appetit!

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