For city people living in the land of the Great Outdoors, the word trek means “wine trek.” Our necessary equipment consists of a sturdy vehicle complete with a designated driver and five companions. Five is the ideal number in case the wine trek destination craps out in offerings by the glass — a full bottle will give you a glass each, and be something so exciting you can’t pass it up. This is our form of urban camping.
At Natasha’s, go through the side entrance directly to the bar, camp out at a small table, and order the duck and the Maine crab cake apps. Now for the wine trek, or as they say in Portland, Oregon, “it’s time for pinot envy.” Order a bottle of Rex Hill, Dundee Hills, Oregon Cuvee Pinot Noir, 2002, $50; and a bottle of Girardin Santenay, Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir), 2003, $54. Pinot Noir is a stupidly elusive grape to make great wine from. Ho-hum wine, possibly; mediocre wine, usually; but not in either of these instances.
Sitting, enjoying, and taking it all in while drinking these velvety, exotic, and illusively scented wines is the city dweller’s version of catching a record-size bass and immediately spotting a rare species of bird. The interior of the coolly Asian-inspired Natasha’s does beat the hell out of sitting in your sorry-assed tent being chewed up by the local insects.
Our next stop is Blue, that early-beat-styled place with art all over the walls and a small stage featuring all manner of eclectic musical acts. Order up some apps (the hummus and marinara meatballs are good bets) and jump into the wines. Artano Temperanillo, Rioja, 2004, $6 a glass, and especially the Clay Station Petite Sirah, Lodi, California, 2002, $7. Petite Sirah is a rare and overlooked species of grape, more powerful and gutsy than the shiraz (not a relative), and made of sterner stuff. This is the perfect place to enjoy this wine, and it becomes apparent when the evening’s entertainment arrives — the blues dynamos Meantone and Samuel James. With the fierce ringing of their resonator guitars, and the intense earthy and smoky flavor of the petite syrah, the place transforms into the wildest of whitewater rapids. This is urban camping at its best, and you didn’t even have to build a fire. This beatnik place has an evolving wine scene to match its creative and exciting music.
Let’s get organic. Or was that biodynamic? Upon entering Silly’s you experience the ultimate ’60s garage-sale look. They need to pipe in that psychedelic anthem, “In-a-gadda-da-vida,” through a feather boa lampshade to make it perfect. This is camping in the old, faded-orange VW bus. This time it is parked in the middle of the organic vineyard and garden. Order up the fried tofu (what else?) and get ready for an experience of pre “cup cake land” beverages. La Rocca Vineyards White Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills, California, 2004, $6 a glass. Totally unlike the standard white zin in that you can actually picture the old dude in the vat of grapes just moshing away. The Sierra foothills are rugged and organic, and this is their taste. Mas de la Dame, Provence, France, 2003, $7 a glass. A southern French red that drops your bus into a field of lilac and sage with those same flavors and smells pouring from your glass. There are many distinct wines by the glass here and these organic smells and flavors give you a taste of the original and unique. The name may be Silly’s, but don’t take this place for granted.