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Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Sipping Pretty: It's springtime in Pinot Paradise.

Budding Selections

Pinot Paradise. Herbed fries. Urban wine tastings--everything for the spring palette.

By Steve Billings

Spring is sprung. And it's almost time to trade in those full-bodied, fireside reds for something more appropriate to local driving conditions. One such sipper is Bargetto's 2003 California Pinot Grigio. I had this for the first time on a warm day last year at Pescadero's Harley Farms Goat Dairy while sampling Dee Harley's bright, fresh chevres, and again recently at Bargetto's tasting room, which, if you've never been, is situated above Soquel Creek off of Main St. in Soquel. I was reminded why I liked this wine in the first place: it has a pretty, floral, honeysuckle nose, good mouth feel and a slightly spicy lingering finish that is not bitter and makes it perfect for sipping.

A few other ways to get your wine on come courtesy of the SCMWA (Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association), the trade association sponsoring two coming events in conjunction with area wineries.

First, on April 10, Testarossa Vineyards (300-A College Ave., Los Gatos) hosts the appellation's first-ever Pinot Paradise at its tasting room in Los Gatos, featuring a diverse selection of Santa Cruz Mountain pinot noir. Participants will sip pinot along with hors d'oeuvres prepared by the likes of California Cafe Old Town, Carmel Cheese Shop, The Grapevine Wine & Cheese Shop, Forbes Mill Steak House, Il Fornaio @ Hyatt Sainte Claire, Le Papillon, Restaurant O, Sestri and Viva!. Despite great demand, the movie Sideways will not be shown at the event. Rather, a support group for those who haven't seen it, led by a licensed therapist, will take place instead. People are encouraged to share stories about why they think what they're drinking isn't cool enough. Merlot-lovers welcome. Call SCMWA (831-479-9463), or visit www.scmwa.com in advance for tickets. I've heard rumors the event is close to selling out!

If, for some reason, you can't get yourself two tickets to paradise, don't fret. The following weekend, on Saturday, April 16, from 11am-5pm, SCMWA presents its Spring Passport Program, allowing participants access to roughly 40 area wineries, many of which open their doors only on Passport days. This is the best way to sneak a peak at some of the smaller, hidden gems of our appellation. Passports cost $25 dollars, are good for the program life and can be purchased in advance from SCMWA or at participating wineries the day of the event. If you plan to partake, carpool and procure a designated driver. If all of your friends are lushes, remember, pregnant women and folks on antibiotics make great chauffeurs. Seriously, the roads in the mountains are windy and narrow and tasting rooms aren't bars. Be responsible!

Fried Goldies Brown

Congratulations are in order for all 2005 Metro Santa Cruz Goldies winners. Though I agree that Jack's downtown has Gold Medal-worthy fries, I know of a little Westside joint that rolls deep and fries a spud worthy of Belgian endorsement. Better known for souvlaki and gyros, Vasili's Greek Restaurant turns out a wonderful medium-gauge, judiciously salted and herb-sprinkled fry, an order of which could stem a potato famine and feed the entire frickin' IRA. If you're on Mission Street and looking for a new lunch fix, order their lunch special with the Meatball Gyro. $7.95 gets you one hell of a Greek sandwich, fries and a drink. That's an order.

Urban Vintage or Back to Boozing

The Storrs family started the urban winery in Santa Cruz, but now the Westside industrial area is budding with production facilities and new places to sample finished goods of the vine. Though Bonny Doon Vineyard produces its wines on Ingalls Street, it doesn't currently have any tasting open to the public there. Right next door in the Kelly's Bakery building, check out the non-interventionist, chardo- and pinot-centric wines of Pelican Ranch (402 Ingalls St. #21, Fri-Sun, 12-5pm), then continue down Swift Street and peek in on Alexander Cellars and Sarticious Spirits (427 Swift St., Fri-Sun, 12-5pm).

If you appreciate zinfandel, you'll want to do the wine tasting, but the crown jewel here is the lovely, eclectic, aromatic gin produced by Jeff Alexander and Mark Karakas under the Sarticious label.

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From the April 6-13, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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