As the Super Bowl approaches I find myself thinking of the “Rotation”, the three locales where most Super Bowls are played. Miami, New Orleans and Southern California have mild winter weather, excellent accommodations and each is a popular place to visit. But for variety, the NFL sometimes chooses to host the game somewhere else entirely: like New Jersey.
If my weekend getaway wine tasting rotation is Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles then what’s my New Jersey? I’m still not sure, but my Tampa (host to four Super Bowls) is Carmel Valley. It is uncharacteristically sunny for being so close to notoriously foggy Monterey, has several great places to stay, and is always fun to visit. This coastal valley is also a scenic gem.
Carmel Valley Village, located about six miles from Highway 1, is now home to more than 30 tasting rooms. My favorite first stop is Bernardus. The building is not fancy and the tasting room, while of decent size, has a low ceiling and casual ambience. Belly up to the bar and you will invariably be greeted by a knowledgeable, gregarious and generous pour person. Bernardus crafts fine single vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the best local vineyards, including Rosella’s, Sierra Mar, Ingrid’s, Tondre, Garys’ and Pisoni. (Would you like one Gary or two with that?). But don’t be distracted by Bernardus’ focus on Pinot and Chardonnay; if they offer you a taste of a Cabernet, or their estate grown flagship, a red blend called Marinus, do yourself a favor and kindly accept. We’ve had the great fortune of trying many stately Napa cabs, but my wife considers the Bernardus Ocean Block Cabernet to be the best she’s ever tasted.
Many of the grapes used at Bernardus are grown in the nearby Santa Lucia Highlands, but Ingrid’s Vineyard is in the valley, surrounding Bernardus Lodge. If you’re looking for a top end place to stay in the valley, Bernardus Lodge, located about two miles from the village, is highly recommended. If you’re on a budget, watch for the specials at Quail Lodge where you can secure excellent accommodations at bargain prices. Bring your putter if you do; the lodge has many excellent putting greens located on the lush grounds that surround the lodge. Or bring all your sticks and take in 18 holes right on the property.
If you get hungry, you won’t regret walking across the street to Baja Cantina and Grill, where you can enjoy excellent, original Mexican recipes and refreshments. Monday night is my favorite when they specialize in American style barbeque.
A visit to Carmel Valley Village wouldn’t be complete without stopping in at Talbott Vineyards on Pilot Road, just off Carmel Valley Road.
The first thing you’ll notice when you enter is owner Robb Talbott’s motorcycle collection. Restoring classic bikes is one of Talbott’s many pursuits. Another is growing amazing grapes, both at his Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands and Diamond T on a mountaintop near Carmel Valley. Like Bernardus, Talbott primarily features locally grown Pinots and Chardonnays. The selection and quality is outstanding and I was impressed by our pour person’s breadth of knowledge. Talbott wines are fairly widely distributed, so you might be able to find a Kali Hart or Logan Pinot or Chardonnay at a store near you. If not, you’ll just have to visit.