Toulouse, The Goose, and Pinot Noir

This week at The Thirsty Kitten, one of us is on the slopes of Park City, Utah, skiing with his guy buddies while the other of us is home managing the teenage population under our roof. Of course, we will not name names because the Thirsty Kitten is nothing if not discrete.

Whenever Kip or I are traveling without the other, we have an agreement that the one at home can open any wine of his or her choice from the cellar and report back on it to the other. So this seems an appropriate week to toast to Toulouse Vineyards in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley where I recently had a lovely visit while on a girls’ weekend in Northern California. (OK, yes, I do get to have my fun, too.)

The Anderson Valley is a gorgeous wine region nestled between the northern edge of Sonoma County and the stunning Mendocino coast. Though perhaps less well known than its Napa and Sonoma neighbors, the wineries of the Anderson Valley make award winning wines that stack up beautifully against any other region’s offerings. Adding to the appeal, Anderson is more rustic and rural than Napa and Sonoma, giving it a laid-back charm that Kip and I find irresistable.

We visited Toulouse together in 2009, on the recommendation of our hosts at Ravenridge Cottages, the ever so hospitable Kurt and Jerry. We had no idea what a great time was in store for us as we settled into stools at the wine bar. As often happens on the less traveled wine roads, owner and winemaker Vern Boltz was there chatting with folks while we were tasting. He offered to give us a barrel tasting of the 2008 Pinot Noir that had been affected by smoke from huge forest fires in the valley during that growing season. We’d heard about the fires and read about them.  And now we were going to taste them! It was a magical experience as Vern talked us through his thoughts about the vintage and the impact of the smoke, while we sipped. (As an aside, Toulouse’s 2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ended up being chosen one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Wines of 2010, so clearly was none the worse for the fires.) We also got to meet Tess, the top winery dog at Toulouse, an excessively friendly yellow lab, who had recently been pictured in The Wine Spectator, in an article on Toulouse. Even though we are The Thirsty Kitten, we do adore thirsty dogs, as well.

Just a few weeks ago, I was back in the Anderson Valley with my dear friend from high school, Elizabeth.We had spent the day in the town of Mendocino, meandering the shops, taking photographs, eating good food, and enjoying spectacularly warm, sunny weather. We headed back to the Valley in late afternoon, leaving time for only one tasting before the 5:00 p.m. closing hour. Though it pained me to pass so many wonderful vineyards and not stop, I was certain that Toulouse was the place we should be that afternoon. We were not disappointed. Elizabeth and I enjoyed the same warm hospitality that Kip and I had experienced earlier.

Kathy at the wine bar poured for us and treated us royally.  She even snapped a picture of us (one of 7,000 or so that we took of ourselves that weekend). Vern was there, as well, and shared wines that had been bottled only that day, graciously giving us a preview of yummy wines soon to be available. Everything we tasted was lovely, but our hands-down girls’ favorite was the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir, the slightly higher end version of the wine that received 2010 Top 100 honors. Oh my goodness! Delicious, full-bodied Pinot, boatloads of dried cherries on the palate, with some vanilla and spice tossed in. I sent a few bottles home and sipped with Kip the next week. On opening, this wine hit you with flavors and a the smokiness of 2008 is definitely present.  But as it settles in the glass and opens fully, it is downright seductive.  We are happily giving it 4 out of 5 paws.

I should confess the one other factor that secretly makes Toulouse such a favorite for me.  Their logo is a goose.  A nickname I received in college, there are still some people in the world who think my real name is The Goose.

A side note on accommodations ~ for our girls getaway, Elizabeth and I rented a lovely 2 BR house through Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) that was right in Boonville– the heart of the Anderson Valley.  The Shooting Star rental house, located on an eco-friendly olive farm, has gracious space, lovely views, a wonderful host, and a delightful hot tub that is especially nice under full moon and stars with a glass of wine.

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