Give your nostrils something to smile about and your eyes something to chew when you pull up a chair to one of The Tasting Room's wine-laden tables. Your evening of wine-tertainment guest-stars a lineup of five or six boutique wines that are hand selected by the grape-washed hands of The Tasting Room's knowledgeable staff. Wine flights vary from week to week, but many of the selections hail from California's rich Central Coast, which, as the connoisseurs already know, has lands more fertile than a rabbit drinking oyster smoothies. The cozy spot also offers appetizers delivered from local restaurants for purchase while you sip.
Moravia Wine's Howard Hammond is the patriarch of the family vineyards. For Howard, farming is a family tradition that stretches back to the late 19th century, when his Danish ancestor, Hans Jacob Jeppesen, arrived in America aboard a Norwegian vessel named "Moravia." Today, Howard, his wife Barbara, and a new generation of Hammonds carry on that tradition at the family's vineyards, a 400-acre estate in West Fresno. There, they produce Moravia wine inside a World War II-era farm and equipment barn. The barn's interior has undergone major changes to accommodate the production process and frequent tasting events. But its exterior still uses the original brickwork, maintaining the building's character.
Las Flores Family Winery produces fine, handcrafted wine from local grapes. Two chums can enjoy a tasting tour (a $5 value per person) of the small boutique winery. Use the complimentary glass to taste the 2007 syrah ($16), whose liquid character sparkles with the honorable tastes of peppery spice, vanilla, and darkish berries, pairing perfectly with beef, lamb, veal, or hard cheese. The One Night Stand—a blend of merlot, tempranillo, syrah, and cabernet sauvignon ($20)—takes its name from the winery owners’ bedroom, which only has one nightstand. A superb all-purpose table wine, it features flavors of cherry, black pepper, and oak. Tongues will gladly wrap themselves around the light and fruity 2008 chardonnay ($17).
A Double Gold Medal award winner for its 2007 Lucas Vineyard Zinfandel at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, Ramos Torres Winery produces several Central Valley–grown wines under the direction of Oscar Ramos, who holds a degree in enology and a minor in enosophy (the study of wine's thoughts). An in-store wine tasting will let you and a beverage buddy tiptoe your taste buds through a selection of Ramos's varietals and fermented concoctions, which include the 2007 Vino Tinto, a careful blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and petit sirah. The 2007 Branches brims with intense fruit flavors, delighting palates with its blackberry notes and toasty finish, while the 2009 Conversations blends apricot aromas, muscat blanc, and the citrus sensations of orange muscat—tailor-made for sipping atop a bucking bronco. To keep vino-tasters from floating away and damaging the store's new ceiling fans, Ramos Torres Winery will weigh down wine-soaked bellies with a hearty spread of appetizers, including an assortment of artisan cheese and meats, seasonal fruits and vegetables, prosciutto-wrapped melon, and crostini.
To craft their signature dish?The New York Sizzle? the chefs of Steak & Grape Restaurant hand carve a choice cut of Angus steak. They sizzle up the meat in a special broiler until it's juicy and tender, and then serve it on a 600-degree plate with a decadent garlic butter. Servers bear the premium cuts out into the airy, rustic dining room, along with plates of handmade specialty burgers, fine pastas, and fresh seafood. Bartenders bustle about behind the sleek wood bar, uncorking bottles of fine wines beneath the glow of flat-screen TVs.
Cedar View Winery has spent the last decade perfecting their craft to produce distinctive wines with an emphasis on rare and eclectic varietals. The tour peels back the curtain to offer curious quaffers an inside look at the art and science of viniculture, narrating the epic journey of their flagship Alicante Bouschet grape from its infancy on the vine through the high hopes of graduation day, and onto the physical and spiritual crush of the fermentation process. At the end of the tour, older and wiser connoisseurs file into Cedar View’s elegantly appointed tasting room to test their freshly honed sommelier skills on six separate wines, as well as nibble on smoked-salmon finger sandwiches, balsamic-dressed grilled sausage, and other gourmet appetizers.