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Choo Choo...All aboard the (Monterey) Wine Trolley

My birthday is this week. My two best friends and I had planned to spend the weekend before in Big Sur, but the destruction of the Pfeiffer Canyon bridge put some dampers on that plan. So instead we decided to go to Monterey and devote a whole day to wine tasting. Nobody wanted to be the designated driver so we opted to take the Monterey Wine Trolley. The tour runs daily with pickup at 11 a.m. and return at 4 p.m. Prices range from $109 to $175 per person but all tiers include round trip transportation to and back from the Carmel Valley, lunch at Roux and multiple tastings. We opted for the $109 tickets which allowed us tastings at three of over a dozen tasting rooms.

Our first stop was Joyce Vineyards. I have some familiarity with them since my dad is a fan of their wines. He actually just served their Grenache a few months ago during the Superbowl and last year I finally broke open their 2009 Merlot which had been in my rack for several years. Their tasting allows you to taste five of six wines available. One of my friends shared with me so I could taste all six. The first wine was a 2016 Dry Riesling, which had the classic notes of stone fruit. It was followed by an 2016 Albariño I found too sweet. The next wine was my favorite of all of the wines I tasted at Joyce, a 2016 Rosé that was a blend of Gamay and Grenache. I have a strong preference for Rosé wines that are from Rhône varietals. They also poured a 2015 Pinot Noir, 2015 Grenache and a 2015 Syrah. These three reds were good, but far too young to be consumed this year. As someone who has had aged Joyce wines I recommend sticking them in your cellar for a few years prior to cracking them open.

After Joyce, we headed over to Roux. The Wine Trolley tickets includes an appetizer, sangria and a choice of three different entrees. Roux's wine list is one of the most diverse and extensive I've seen. In eight pages you will find bottles ranging in price from $32 to $1800. Their domestic offerings are quite heavy on California though I spotted a few Oregon wines. On the international level they offer wines from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, Hungry, Italy, France, New Zealand and Portugal. They also offer 3 oz pours ($5-$14) and 6 oz pours ($8-$38). If wine isn't your thing they also serve beer. The food was fantastic but the portions were small so we ended up hitting the local market for a few extra snacks like Truffle chips and pineapple upside down cake.

Since we couldn't actually go to Big Sur we went to the next best thing, Big Sur Vineyards. Their tasting consisted of five different wines, a 2015 Rosé, 2014 Chardonnay, 2013 Pinot Noir, 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve and a 2014 blend called Big Sur Red. One of the things I loved about this tasting room is the rosemary crackers they served with the tasting. The rosemary crackers helped bring out the notes in the wine especially with the Chardonnay. It has inspired me to cook this recipe soon. The 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir was my favorite here and worth the $45/per bottle cost.

Our last and my favorite stop was Heller Estates. It was my favorite for both its wines and it's bubbly welcoming tasting room staff. Heller Estates is an Organic Winery that has a history going back to the 1970's. Speaking of the 1970's they poured us a 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon that is one of the best wines I've ever had. It smelled like an attic but tasted like heaven. Even better they have reserve wines from the 1970's through 1990's for as low as $60. We lucked out because the day before was their Cabernet through the Decades event. Regularly they offer two tastings, a classic and a premium tasting-both include six pours. The classic tasting which we did included a 2013 Chardonnay, 2015 Kiss of California white blend, 2014 Chenin Blanc, 2013 Merlot, 2012 Malbec and 2014 Cabernet Sauvington. I also tasted their 1997 Cabernet Sauvington and their 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvington separate from the classic tasting.

This was one of the funnest wine tastings I've ever had and I've gone to a lot of wine tastings. One of the best things about the Monterey Wine Trolley is that since over a dozen winieries are represented you could ride it four or five times and still go to a tasting room you haven't been to. Pictures below with more to come soon. With that in mind I'll be riding the Wine Trolley again. What's the favorite wine tasting/tour you have been on?

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