Friday, December 19, 2014

Dry Up And Make Amarone

Amarone della Valpolicella is a rich Italian wine made from dried grapes.  The heightened  flavors, aromas, color and tannins of Amarone owe everything to its production technique.  A bottle of Masi Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2009, was provided by a public relations firm for review.

Masi owner Raffaele Boscaini is the seventh generation to run his family's wine estate.  The Masi website calls Amarone a "modern wine with an ancient heart."  It is imported in the US by Kobrand.  The wine has a slightly higher alcohol content than many wines - 15% abv - and it retails for $63.

Senior editor Alison Napjus, of Wine Spectator, says, "What’s impressive about Amarone is that it's a wine that can be enjoyed in its youth - it's very personable - and it also has the capacity to age, and a lot of that has to do with the production technique, appassimento."

In appassimento, the bunches of grapes - Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara - are placed in trays to dry out.  They spend several months in this drying process.  The grapes are left lighter and more concentrated after the loss of that water weight.

The  2009 Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico had a broken cork, but it was pushed down into the bottle without much of a problem and with no serious floaties.  The palate shows beautiful dried meat and dried fruit, roasted coffee beans, cherry, black olive and spices - mainly clove.  The tannins are quite prominent, as is everything else about this wine which Will Not Be Ignored.  It really overmatched the pasta and red sauce, but hit a good mark with the Buffalo Gorgonzola.  However, drinking this wine with cheese is like using a Ferrari to drive the two blocks to the store.  Have a steak.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Drink Pink: Dolin Rosé Of Malibu

Malibu made its name long ago as one of the wealthiest places for surf and sun.  A bottle of SPF 50 sunscreen and a long board strapped to the top of your van will provide you with some great fun - until the sets stop rolling in or the security guards chase you off the private beach, whichever comes first.  When the fun is over, the fun's not really over.  There is always wine.

Wine is easy to find in Malibu.  It's in all the restaurants and there are a couple of tasting rooms along PCH.  Up in the hills, a bit off the surfboard beat, there are vines, thousands of them.  Malibu has over four dozen vineyards and is now enjoying its recently approved status as a bona fide American Viticultural Area, or AVA.

Elliott Dolin has spent time both as a professional musician and as a real estate investor.  He never really gave any thought to making wine.  In 2006 he and his wife planted an acre of Chardonnay vines in their expansive backyard - they simply thought a vineyard would look nice on the hillside.  Quickly, Dolin’s passing fancy became a focal point of his life.

Dolin’s winemaker Kirby Anderson is a non-interventionist in the winery, the better to showcase the characteristics of the vineyard.  He says Dolin’s Malibu fruit speaks for itself.  "I try to always keep my emotions in check when making wine," he says, "but the potential of the Dolin Vineyard is so tremendous that I can't help but get excited."

The fine folks at Jarvis Communications provided this wine for the purpose of review.

The 2012 Dolin Malibu Estate Rosé is 100% Central Coast Pinot Noir, carries an alcohol content of 13.5% abv and is contained under natural cork.  One-third of the pink wine spent 8 months in neutral oak, while two-thirds stayed in stainless steel after fermentation in same.

This rosé has melon and berry on the nose, with a shade of green showing.  A nice cherry flavor appears with a bit of candy, but a strong herbal presence balances the fruit.  Food pairings will abound with the lovely, fresh acidity, and the hint of green on the finish underscores the savory aspect.  Leave it open for a while, and it starts to show a delightful bit of funk.


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Monday, December 15, 2014

Lodi Cinsault: Onesta Bechthold Vineyard

Cinsault, that oh-so-blendable grape, got a moment in the spotlight during a Lodi Wines virtual tasting event recently, and it made the most of its time in the spotlight.

The subjects of the soirée were four wines produced from grapes grown in Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard.  Bechthold is Lodi’s oldest vineyard - planted in 1886 - and the Cinsault vines there are ancient monsters - the kind winemakers respond to in the same way a starving man eyes a steak dinner.  Their reactions are basic, monosyllabic and guttural.  "Need! Want!"

Lodi Wine notes that old vines "tend to produce more intense wines because older vines naturally set lower crops."  The lower a vineyard’s yield, the more concentrated the aromas and flavors from those grapes.  "Bechthold’s old vines… continue to thrive while regulating their own fruit production, without a lot of human intervention:  the hallmark of 'old vine' viticulture."

Turley Cellars’ Tegan Passalacqua claims, "Bechthold Vineyard defies what a lot of people think of Lodi wines.  It makes a red wine that is not heavy, not high in alcohol, but rather, light and refreshing.  It reminds me of crus Beaujolais in some ways – it has structure, but also high drinkability, and its aromatics are intoxicating, extremely perfumed."  It's great for the holidays, by the way.

Onesta winemaker Jillian Johnson says they put "a little Bechthold in almost every wine we made" in the five years she spent at Bonny Doon Vineyard.  "There didn't seem to be a wine that a little Bechthold Cinsault couldn't improve," Johnson said.

Bechthold Vineyard's head trained vines - organically grown and dry farmed - take the full spotlight in Onesta's Cinsault.  The wine is born of the single vineyard and raised nine months in neutral oak barrels.  It has been said that this wine has the weight of Pinot Noir and the fruity nature of Zinfandel, but I quibble a bit with both observations.  It's a tad beefier than a typical Pinot, and a bit more savory than a typical Zin.

Alcohol trips the meter at 14.5%, but I would guess that to be a low estimate.  Tannins are forceful and persistent, right through the finish.  Only 370 cases of this wine were made, so it qualifies as a precious commodity.  The $29 price tag seems a bargain, considering what is in the bottle.

Aromas of raspberry, cherry and strawberry are joined by nutmeg and cinnamon.  The spices really leap out at me, and there is a tart and savory aspect - downright tarry on the second night open - to all that fruitiness.  The palate shows a tartness, too, and the fruit goes on for days, with a great level of acidity to offer as a bonus.  Onesta's Bechthold Cinsault is made for food, and the bigger and beefier the food is, so much the better.

On Twitter, @OnestaWines helped us out with some tasting notes: "black cherry, cinnamon, violets, Bay leaf, hint of lavender and tea."  @BigNoseWino tweeted that it "explodes with strawberry, spiced rhubarb pie; wild berries; big spicy kicker on finish."  @martindredmond liked the Rhônshness of it, showing " a bit of funk! Nice contrast to cherry, strawberry, and spice profile. Elegant too!"  @NorCalWine loved the "drying herb, earth, rare beef and meaty spice," while @thismyhappiness loved "the deep fruit ... Elegant. From the 'vineyard of the year' in CA!"


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Friday, December 12, 2014

Paul Hobbs' Big, Fat California Pinot Noir

This Pinot Noir is huge.  Remember how they used to say "big, fat California Chardonnay?"  That was back before they became "lean, steely California Chardonnays."  Is California Pinot Noir taking possession of that big, fat monicker - since Chardonnay isn't using it anymore?

The Paul Hobbs 2012 Pinot Noir is a cuvée of five different soils, six different clones and seven different Russian River Valley vineyards.

Fermented in steel tanks, the wine aged for eleven months in small French oak barrels, just under half of which were new - meaning you get a "big" end result from them.  That's where the spontaneous malolactic fermentation occurred, which gives the wine a leg up when it comes to feeling big in the mouth.  Three percent of the grapes were pressed whole cluster, adding an herbal touch to the proceedings.

First of all, it's extremely dark wine.  Up to the light, I can't see my fingers on the other side of the glass.  Isn't Pinot Noir supposed to look a little on the thin side?  Taking a whiff, I think I'm smelling six Pinots at once.  The aromas are there - tart raspberry, black tea, coffee - but they are super-concentrated.  Flavor, it's got, too - and plenty of it.  Red currant, black raspberry, spice and an earthy streak that's made to pair with mushrooms.  It goes great with roasted potatoes and carrots, too.

This Pinot Noir is huge, so if you are looking to be finessed, keep looking.  If you like your wine on the "blunt force trauma" end of the spectrum, however, here ya go.  It does get darker and tamer sipping it over three nights, but does not lose a bit of its massive character.  Enjoy it with whatever meat will be straining the supports of your holiday table, roasted root vegetables and a handful of cashews.  Happy Holidays.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bonny Doon's Heart Has Its Rieslings

The wines of Randall Grahm are so good,you may wonder why he feels the needs to funny them up with eye-catching iconic images and puns.  To sell them, of course, is the answer.  Any wine producer will tell you how hard it is to get the attention of the wine-buying general public, and they'll tell you this with lots of hand-wringing and brow-mopping included.  


Grahm - Bonny Doon Vineyard's winemaker and President For Life - gets written up a lot as the rodeo clown of the wine world, and that is unfair. What he is, is a world-class winemaker who happens to know a little about marketing that product.  To hear him tell it, a little is all he knows.  He's a quiet and reserved guy when it comes to self-promotion - but when it comes to extolling the virtues of his wines, and presenting them in an appealing, attention-getting manner, he is Barnum and Bailey rolled into one wine-soaked ball of "Step right up!"  He's the Mad Men of the grape world.  He knows how to get it out there.

He also knows that no matter how good the wine is, if it doesn't catch the eye of the casual shopper, it won't jump off the shelf on its own.

So, we get great label art, we get great notes - he's an acclaimed writer - and we get puns.  Now, I'm not sure how well puns sell anything.  I remember a Halloween party I attended, dressed in a full black cape with a plastic fish head strapped over my nose.  All night long I got, "What the hell are you supposed to be?"  My answer - "Cape Cod!" - didn't exactly win me any new friends.  It may have even cost me some old ones.  Never dress as a pun for Halloween - it simply isn't appreciated.

On the wine bottle, things may be different.  If kittens, toilet plungers and a bear in a rowboat sell wine, why not a pun - and a pretty good one, at that - with some great label art and a cool back-label paragraph thrown in for good measure.

The Heart Has Its Rieslings gets it out there.  It's a name that pulls in the wine shopper, and is paired with art that is good to look at as well.  Will it sell?  We'll see.  If it doesn't, it's a shame - but Grahm will have a cellar full of great Riesling aging away doon under the house.

This Riesling is a 2013 cuvèe of grapes from two spots - Ventana Vineyard in Monterey County and Wirz Vineyard in San Benito County.  It comes in at a super-low 9.5% abv and has residual sugar measuring three percent.  

The nose is just about dead-on perfect, with slightly honeyed pear graced with an earthy measure and just a little touch of petrol.  It's really a beautiful sniff.  On the palate, just a hint of sweetness lies on the beautiful peach, pear and apple flavors with a strident streak of acidity running through it.  The wine finishes earthy, sweet and luscious.

Fans of Riesling that pushes the needle to the sweet side of the meter will love this.  Grahm states on the label the wine is made from "every so botrytised grapes" and should "reward a long-term commitment to cellaring."  Good luck making that commitment.  Buy extra bottles.


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Monday, December 8, 2014

Jacquart Champagne

As October turned toward trick-or-treat, I was treated to a small tasting of Champagnes from Jacquart of Riems, France.  The tasting took place at one of my favorite Los Angeles cheese shops, Artisan Cheese Gallery on Ventura Boulevard, so the treats were plenty.  Mrs. Now And Zin sent me there with instructions to enjoy the tasting and don’t come home empty-handed.

Jacquart’s head winemaker, Floriane Eznack, was quoted in The Drinks Business when she joined the house in 2011, “My role is not to make a big change but to define the style and stick to it.”   The style, as she defines it, is smooth and textured, with a focus on bright acidity.

The Mosaic Collection was introduced to mark Jacquart’s 50th anniversary.  It’s a fine tribute to the house, if the three wines I tasted are an indication.  Any - or all - will be welcome at holiday festivities of any sort.

Floriane Eznack, photo courtesy maison.com
The Brut Mosaique sports some flinty toast aromas along with apples and pears. Three grapes are used, Chardonnay (35-40%), Pinot Noir (35-40%) and Pinot Meunier (25-35%). There is a minimum of 20% reserve wine in the mix, which receives a light dosage and more than three years of aging.  Flavors are toasty, with apples and lime zest leading to a rich, long finish.  It’s the flagship Jacquart cuvée.

For the Jacquart Rosé Mosaique, Pinot Noir - vinified as a red wine - brings the color and structure, while Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier play their roles, too.  This pretty wine brings a funky, toasty quality on the nose, with red fruit smelling very nice.  Great acidity makes the sip quite refreshing, while flavors of toasty cherries and strawberries are a delight.

The Jacquart Blanc de Blancs 2006 vintage shows apple and citrus on the nose, with a lovely palate of lemon peel and a slight hint of toast.  All Chardonnay, the wine leaves me wanting more, with a beautiful expression of creme brûlée on the finish.


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Friday, December 5, 2014

Lodi Cinsault: Estate Crush

If you have more than a casual relationship with wines made from the Cinsault grape, you may already be a grape geek.  On the other purple-stained hand, you may enjoy Cinsault all the time without even knowing it.  It is a grape often blended with other, more famous grapes.  It's a role player in many rosé wines of Provence, it's in the mix of beaucoup Rhône blends and it even stands alone in Lodi, California.

A while back a few wine-loving social media users shook hands with some of the best Cinsault in California.  The topic was the stunningly complex, ancient-vine Cinsault wines from the famous Bechthold Vineyard.  Since Cinsault is a great grape for the holiday table, here is one of the wines featured in that Twitter tasting event.

Lodi custom crush facility Estate Crush helps the general public crush, vinify and bottle the fruit of the vine.  They also reserve a little space for their own interests.  I suppose, if you get a chance to make Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard fruit, it's perfectly OK to kick out that guy making wine from berries he found growing along the side of the road.

Only 100 cases of the Cinsault were produced, and it's a gem that hits only a modest 13.8% abv on the alcohol scale.  Considering the lofty numbers clocked by many of Lodi's big red wines, this is pretty much like water. It certainly tastes better than water, though.

I was provided with a sample for the purpose of the social media tasting event.  What were some of the folks on Twitter saying about the wine?  I'm so glad you asked.

@Lodi_Wine noted that, "@estatecrush Cinsault was made with minimal intervention 2 showcase the fruit & vineyard."   @sperkovich liked the aromas and flavors: "Lovely rhubarb pie nose, strawberries & lite spiced finishing clean."  A tribute from @norcalwine: "Estate Crush Cinsault dials up intensity, palate weight, but still very balanced. Earth, drying herb," adding later, "I'd be very happy with a bottle of Estate Crush Cinsault & a plate of lamb sausage with couscous."  @CharlesComm brought it all home: "Thanksgiving anyone?"  It'll work well in December, too.

This wine has a medium-light tint and a  nose that displays a serious savory side, which borders on funkiness.  On the palate, flavors of black cherry, raspberry, strawberry and red berries are downplayed by the savory aspect. The acidity level is just about perfect, and the tannins are firm.  An earthy streak runs through it all and lasts well into the finish. 



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gifted Vermentino: La Ginestraia

Never question an Italian wine given as a gift, especially when given by an Italian.  I suppose it is a testament to the high quality of Italian wines available in the U.S. that people say you can order an Italian wine in a restaurant without a worry that it might not be good.  I have found that to be true in Los Angeles, even with wines that couldn’t sell for any more than ten dollars per bottle retail.  This gifted Vermentino probably cost up around $20.  Our friends, Guido and Tina,  gave this wine to us for no reason other than this: they like us.  However good the wines tastes, it will be hard to beat the feeling we got from their act of giving it.

Riviera Ligure di Ponente is a DOC of Liguria, north-western Italy, stretching west from Genoa along the Ligurian Sea.  It covers red and white wines from the provinces of Imperia and Savona in the western part of Liguria.

The main white-wine grape in the region is Pigato - what the locals call Vermentino.  The two grapes have been shown through DNA testing - you may have missed that episode of CSI: Liguria - to be the very same grape.  It appears in some sources, though, that the local growers disagree with that claim, saying that the grapes look different and make wines that taste different.  The crisp and refreshing wines made from Pigato pair well with the foods favored in the local cuisine.  Pesto pasta, fish and shellfish are all good matches.

Irene Virbila wrote about the 2011 vintage of this wine in the Los Angeles Times: “La Ginestraia is a new venture for Marco Brangero of Brangero in Diano d'Alba in Piedmont, already well known for his Dolcetto d'Alba.  The grapes for La Ginestraia come from a vineyard in Ortovero, seven miles inland from the Mediterranean, that dates from the 1700s.”  The La Ginestraia Vermentino is very moderate on alcohol, hitting only 12% abv.

Yellow-gold in the glass, this 2013 Ligurian wine delivers what we want from the Vermentino grape - the ocean, sea air, salt spray, salinity.  There's fruit in the nose, but it's the savory quality that gets us going, makes our eyes glaze over while perusing a wine list.  How can we seriously consider a Chardonnay or a Riesling when there is Vermentino in the house?

Apricot, citrus and a pineapple tangent burst forth on the palate, but they are the horses racing under the savory whip of minerality.  The acidity is great, the alcohol is in check and the lemon zest finish wants to stay forever.


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Monday, December 1, 2014

Bokisch Vineyards Tempranillo 2012

Markus and Liz Bokisch took one look at Lodi and fell in love with it.  The property they bought reminded both of them of their respective family origins, and more to the point, reminded Markus of his childhood summers visiting family in Spain.  Their focus on Iberian grape varieties is the result of these family memories, we are all the richer for it.

The whole story was explained to me by the happy couple on a visit to Los Angeles, during which they poured their wines for an event at Edgar Poureshagh’s 3Twenty Wine Lounge.  They don’t know how to play it cool, fortunately.  Their love of wine and passion for making it is apparent in every story they tell.

Hailing from the Jahant and Mokelumne River AVAs, the 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Tempranillo is a tale of two vineyards and two different soil types.  Liberty Oaks and Las Cerezas vineyards sport volcanic clay loam and silty loam, in which the twelve-year-old vines grow.  Consisting of 90% Duero clone Tempranillo grapes, a 10% splash of the prized Bokisch Graciano grapes are thrown in at no extra charge, "in the tradition of the Rioja."

The back label shows that, "Like its Iberian counterpart in the Ribera del Duero, this wine displays luscious aromas of cherry and cassis, finishing with hints of cocoa and spice."  I was supplied a sample of this wine for the purpose of review.

Aging occurs over a period of 18 months in French and American oak barrels and the wine's alcohol content is 14.5% abv.  685 cases were produced, and the suggested retail price is $23.  Bokisch Vineyards is certified green for sustainable wine growing practices by the Lodi Rules Program.

The Bokisch Tempranillo is medium dark, allowing just enough light through the glass to outline the fingers holding it.  Its nose is very Rioja, with cherry and blackberry paving a path for some really great oak spice - aromas of an old baseball glove and a half a box of cigars hit me quickly.  Clove, nutmeg and some extremely delicious savory notes follow.  The palate brings very dark fruit and more of that savory action with plenty of oak effect showing here, too.



Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Whole Foods Market part 2

Another holiday season is upon us, and the fine folks at Whole Foods Markets have another selection of wines that are perfect for the holidays. Not only are they holiday-ready, but they are on the shelves at wine-equipped Whole Foods stores.  As usual, they are priced so you can splurge a little on the turkey, or the ham, or the standing rib roast, or whatever you have in mind to highlight your holiday feast.

Ashley Hawkins, a representative of Whole Foods Markets, says this year's WFM holiday picks, "showcase a wide variety of wines from a perfect-for-turkey-and-ham silky Sonoma County Pinot Noir to a French Chardonnay-Viognier with a round, fruity softness that pairs well with yams and cranberry."

Some of the the wines were tasted in a virtual tasting event on Twitter a couple of weeks back, and another Twitter Tasting is set for Thursday December 4, 2014. See the wines below.  I'll be writing about the wines separately, but you can get an idea of what to expect with the descriptions from Whole Foods, shown below, along with their favorite food pairing for each.  “*” denotes a wine which is available only at Whole Foods Markets.

Pick up a bottle or two and join the social media crowd for both of these Twitter tastings.  Follow along in the hashtag #WFMWine to get the full effect of the fun that can be found while tasting and tweeting.

Thursday December 4, 2014, 7-8 CT
* Globerati Sauvignon Blanc

"From the Central Valley of Chile, this bright, fresh white has aromas of lemon and grapefruit with a hint of honeysuckle, and mineral notes are balanced with a green apple acidity.
Pairings: Mitica Campo de Montalban, Manhattan clam chowder, shrimp cocktail, mussels, sliced pears."

* Bubo Cabernet Sauvignon

"Surprisingly fruity, pleasant and approachable with a touch of green pepper aroma, this red has flavors of blackberries and ripe plums that accentuate the juiciness of this easy drinking wine.
Pairings: Ford Farms Seaside Cheddar, cranberry turkey sandwiches, veggie lasagna, cassoulet, beef enchiladas."

* Charles and Charles CL Merlot Red Blend

"There is an attractive baked biscuit aroma in this inky, hearty red. Black and blue fruits come forward and then recede into a rich, elegant, full-bodied finish.
Pairings: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, steak and Guinness pie, twice baked potatoes, buttery pastry crusts."

* H&G Priorat


"Earthy, herbaceous aromas in this brick red wine lead to a refined minerality and complex dark fruit flavors. The terroir of Priorat, Spain proudly shows in the glass.
Pairings: Guilloteau Fromager d’Affinois, barbecue, hearty veggie stews, Brunswick stew, grilled ribeye."



on November 13, 2014
Pizzolato Organic Pinot Grigio

"Stone fruit aromas give way to an enticing minerality and vibrant acidity in this organically grown Italian white.
Pairings: Oro del Tiempe Piave Vecchio, delicate seafood, shellfish, lemon vinaigrette, citrus fruit salad"

* Sea Pines Russian River Chardonnay

"Subtle aromas belie big flavors of green apple, lemon and vanilla bean. A pleasant richness hints at the use of just the right amount of oak for a lovely balance.
Pairings: Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, poached turbot, Cornish hens, chowders, lobster bisque, cream sauces."

* Bodegas Belgrano Malbec

"With aromas of warm spices and stewed blueberry flavors that mingle with woodsy hints of smoke, this textbook Argentine malbec has a roundness that makes for an easy drinking classic.
Pairings: Hennings Cranberry Orange."

* Leyenda del Castillo Rioja

"Mineral, earthy aromas are found in this deep garnet Spanish red. With bright, sunny fruit flavors like ripe cherries, this Rioja has a lingering, well-balanced finish.
Pairings: Mitica Mahon, grilled meats, pork chops, eggplant marinara, charred steaks."



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

California Grenache: Bonny Doon Cuvée R 2012

"There is a place in our hearts for Grenache at Bonny Doon Vineyard," states the winery's new website.  "It is the misunderstood, Ugly Duckling cépage par excellence."   The Now And Zin California Grenache series threw the spotlight on this misjudged, maligned and magnificent grape.

The grapes for the Bonny Doon Grenache Cuvée R 2012 were grown in the Rancho Solo Vineyard, formerly the Ca' del Solo Vineyard in Monterey County town of Soledad.  Winemaker Randall Grahm says he has planted it at the new vineyard in San Juan Bautista. "It looks promising."  Grahm says, "This was the most impressive single batch of Grenache fruit I have ever chanced to encounter chez Doon."  And he has encountered quite a few.

If you want to get downright geeky about the grapes, Grahm reveals that the fruit for this wine was grown "from a selected clone of Grenache alleged to have originated from an extremely well-regarded, let’s rephrase that, from the most well-regarded domain in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, one known for making 100% Grenache cuvées of atypical elegance."

It retails for $48, but is only available to Bonny Doon’s DEWN Club members.   Cuvée R rocks a 14.9% abv number, so it’s a rather potent quaff.  The label art cartoon by Gary Taxali is worth at least a portion of the price.

The Cuvée R Grenache is extremely dark, with no light getting through the glass.  Upon opening, the nose was rather tight, a situation that resolves itself over time.  One sip makes it clear this is a very tasty, dark and delicious wine, but it’s not a big ol' California fruit stand.  This Grenache is dark, like the forest.  A nice level of acidity is refreshing in the mouth - but not the sort that takes your breath away - and the tannins are firm, provide a lively mate for meat.  Actually, the tannins seem to increase over the three nights I had this bottle open - quite the reverse of what I would have expected.  On the first night, the wine seemed a little dull, blunted.  On the second night it was a much livelier experience and by the third night it was brighter still.

The wine is full in the mouth and smooth as a bonus.  Not a bad choice for the holiday table.


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Monday, November 24, 2014

Sucker For Syrah - My Wine Weakness

If Syrah is for suckers, as some marketing types would have you believe, then include me in.  I'm a sucker for Syrah.  I love the austere and funky feel of cool-climate Syrah maybe just a tad more than I love the big jammy kiss that warm-climate Syrah lays on me.  But I'm a sucker for both ends of the Syrah spectrum.

I love Syrah from the Rhône Valley; I love it from Argentina; I love it from the rolling hills north of Santa Barbara; I love Syrah from Tuscany and Texas, from downtown to upstate, from Natchez to Mobile, from Memphis to Saint Joe, wherever the four winds blow.  Someone told me once that I should have named my site "Now And Syrah," which would have been worthy of consideration had there been any sense to the phrase.

The folks at Cornerstone Cellars, who provided the Stepping Stone Napa Valley Syrah 2012 for review, are of the belief that the southern Napa Valley is an exciting region for Syrah, and who am I to argue?  Their Black Label Syrah project seeks out mature Syrah vineyards that can produce wines with a distinct personality, unique to their site.  Cornerstone's Managing Partner, Craig Camp, says "in 2012 that led us to the heights of Atlas Peak and the Soda Canyon Vineyard. This is a classic mountain syrah," he goes on, "with depth and power balanced by a fine structure and rich tannins.  Certainly this is Syrah that will reward those patient enough to cellar it."  I wish I were so patient.

The yields from the rocky well drained soils of the mountain vineyard were rather low, so only 160 cases were produced, in addition to a couple dozen magnums.  Barrel aging took place over 18 months in French Burgundy oak, 40% of which was brand new.  Retail is $40.

Camp notes that 2012 was a classic vintage, offering "a steady parade of glorious, warm sunny days and cool nights which allowed the fruit to enjoy long, even ripening.

The Stepping Stone Syrah is very dark, in color and style.  Aromas of cassis, tar, meat, tobacco and a whiff of smoke come together in tantalizing fashion, showing the effects of that new oak.  There is a very dense feel in the mouth, full and rich, with blackberry, plums, black pepper, sage, nutmeg and eucalyptus.  Vibrant acidity and pronounced tannins really serve food pairings well, and the herbal sensations last on the finish, which has great length.  Cornerstone recommends it with braised meats, but you can make mine a ribeye.  It's a beautiful experience.



Sunday, November 23, 2014

SBA Urges US to #DineSmall on Small Business Saturday

I was asked to reprint an article about the #DineSmall effort for Small Business Saturday Night, which is coming up on November 29, 2014.  Many people will be out doing some holiday shopping that weekend, and hopefully helping their local economies by patronizing small business.  The Small Business Association is jumping on social media with the #DineSmall campaign.  They are asking shoppers who dine out to keep the thinking behind #SmallBizSat in mind when selecting a dining option.

The article,by SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet - actually a blog post published on sba.gov on November 20, 2014 - makes the appeal very well and is republished here in its entirety.


#DineSmall on Small Business Saturday November 29 
"November 29th is Small Business Saturday – a day circled on the calendar of savvy entrepreneurs across America. 
"Small businesses are the engine of our economy and create two out of three new jobs. Seven in 10 Americans are now aware that the day after Black Friday is a time to shop small and support local economic growth. This year, the SBA is helping to expand this important day into the evening to support entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry. 
"This year, America’s bars and restaurants are extending the hours on the daylong festivities by promoting Small Business Saturday Night. The SBA is partnering with the National Restaurant Association to encourage families who shop small to #DineSmall at local restaurants and watering holes in the evening. We’re also encouraging small business merchants to extend their hours so they can take advantage of increased nighttime foot traffic. 
"Nine out of 10 restaurants have less than 50 employees, and 80 percent of restaurant owners start their careers in entry-level positions. So the #DineSmall movement is this year’s important new way to support the proprietors who give Main Street its unique flavor. 
"Now in its fifth year, Small Business Saturday has become a time for small businesses to harness the power of social media to attract new customers into their shops and restaurants. Last year, two out of every three holiday shoppers purchased a gift they found on social media. Half of all holiday sales now are influenced by digital interactions. Purchases may still be happening predominately in person, but the influencing is happening online. Social marketing is virtualizing what has always happened on the soccer field and over the backyard fence. 
"To grow momentum this year, I’m inviting restaurants to promote #DineSmall by sharing their special menus for Small Business Saturday Night. Owners and chefs are invited to share their menus on social media using the #ShowUsYourMenu tag. It’s a great way to promote what your restaurant is doing to cater to America’s small shoppers.  
"We all have a stake in seeing foot traffic increase on Main Street; local spending means local jobs and local growth. Holiday shoppers shouldn’t let Nov. 29 pass without investing in your local economy, and entrepreneurs should have a multi-pronged strategy to use this day to drive food and beverage sales and showcase your local business. 
"Join the conversation today on Twitter (#SmallBizSat, #DineSmall and #ShowUsYourMenu) and spread the word about Nov. 29 and what a big difference shopping and dining small can make."


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Friday, November 21, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Bonny Doon Vineyards

Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon Vineyard has been providing holiday-worthy wines for more years than I have been drinking them - at least more years than I have been obsessed with them.

Grahm - the eloquent Rhône Ranger - has his own obsessions with which to grapple.  A pioneering spirit if there ever was one, he is currently obsessed with growing grapevines from seeds, rather than from cuttings.  His experimentation in that arena is rather new, so there's nothing to report.  Yet.

Being late in the year, he has been keeping himself busy lately with the rigors of harvest and the business of bottling his latest releases.  It is those we put forth as suggestions for your holiday table - or your holiday chair, if you prefer.  The man's wines are not only a cinch to pair well with food, but they also go down real well in sipping and thinking mode.

From his recent email, all descriptions by Grahm:

"Harvest 2014 came and went like a freight train through California, and apart from apocalyptic intimations of drought-related devastation/ruination, it was a very good, relatively abundant, if not preternaturally early vintage.




2013 Le Cigare Blanc, "Beeswax Vineyard"  $28
(55% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 19% Picpoul)  We've made a very slight label change with this vintage.  An echo of the mineral character that we were able to express in the wonderful '11, but perhaps a tad richer on the palate. 1,965 cases produced.




2012 Syrah, "Le Pousseur"  $26
(48% Alamo Creek, 18% Bien Nacido, 18% Spanish  Springs, 16% Ventana)  From a number of cool climate sites, a fair amount of whole  clusters included, this is a savory Syrah of great restraint.  2,126 cases produced.




2013 Clos de Gilroy  $20
(75% Grenache, 17% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre)  Grenache from the impeccable Alta Loma vineyard in the Arroyo Seco (a relatively cool site in every sense),  a rather textbook Grenache, with a lovely mineral aspect.  3,400 cases produced.




2013 A Proper Claret  $16
(46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 13.5% Petit Verdot, 7.7% Syrah, .8% Petite Sirah)  Nothing of course "proper" about this wine; it is the febrile imagining of what a restrained, elegant Cabernet-based wine might taste like in the New World.  15,920 cases produced.




2010 Le Cigare Volant  $45
(28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre, 16% Carignane)  Continuing in our series of "Burgundian" vintages of Cigare with old-vine Cinsault playing a very important role in keeping the Syrah in check.  Yes, Carignane ain't a proper grape for faux-Châteauneuf.  We knew that, (but it does provide the wine a nice steely exoskeleton).  1,344 cases produced.




2010 Le Cigare Volant Réserve, "En bonbonne"  $79
This wine began life as precisely the same wine as the "normale," but was subject to élevage in glass, which has imparted a most unusual textural element and a great degree of savoriness. (Yeast lees are very rich in glutamate.)  547 cases produced.




2012 Contra  $18
(56% Carignane, 17% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 11% Mourvèdre, 1%  Cinsault)  Some (former) colleagues and wholesalers were not so keen about the old  "couch label" and persuaded me to change it to something a bit slicker and more  commercial (perhaps too kool for skool?).  We added a bit of cool climate syrah and grenache to the very old vine Carignane and Mourvèdre.4,720 cases produced.



2012 Grenache, "Cuvée R"  $48
This is a "special" selection of Grenache grown at what was formerly our "Ca' del Solo" Vineyard in Soledad, and is available exclusively to our DEWN Club members.  It seems to produce an extremely complex and concentrated Grenache.  (We're planting it at our new vineyard in San Juan Bautista and it looks incredibly promising).  593 cases produced.




2011 Syrah, "Bien Nacido Vyd., Block X"  $50
The ultra-consistent older Block X, planted with the "Estrella River" clone of Syrah (I suspect without any foundational evidence that it may actually be "Serine"), produces an extremely peppery, bacon-fat version of Syrah, far more consistently than modern clones.  463 cases produced.




2013 The Heart Has its Rieslings  $16
(52% San Benito County, 48% Monterey County)  From the Wirz Vineyard in San Benito and the Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco, this is a Kabinett style with 3% residual sugar.  2,912 cases produced.




2013 Vinferno  $24/375 ml.
(100% Grenache Blanc)  Not air-dried, frozen or botrytised, this is just very late harvested Grenache Blanc, but has appropriately enough, taken on a certain honeyed/beeswax character.  987 cases produced.


2011 Sparkling Syrah  $36
(Méthode traditionelle)  It's lately been an aspiration of mine to explore the wine styles that are most challenging to me.  I've always adored the idea of Sparkling Syrah (or Shiraz), but even James Halliday couldn't find one that I could abide.  Maybe it's maturation on my part or just a sudden shift in consciousness, but this is one I adore.  Only one small caveat: The wine is very, very fizzy, so please open with caution.  378 cases produced."


Randall Grahm
Bonny Doon Vineyard
1-888-819-6789
Tasting Room: 450 Highway 1, Davenport, CA 95041


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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cimarone Gran Premio Sangiovese 2012

courtesy NileGuide
Guido and Tina invited us to a Hindu vespers service, and we went with them.  The sanctuary  (left) is probably the quietest place in Los Angeles, and I was quietly happy to chalk up another event on the list of things I've done while living in L.A. which probably would not have occurred had I been elsewhere.  The list includes chainsaw juggling, performance art featuring stories told by trombones, an eight-hour stage play and a man playing piano upside down while drinking beer.  And that's just the stuff I planned to attend.

There are countless unplanned events - seeing crazy radio head guy outside of rock’n’roll Denny’s, watching parking lot standoffs, buying earthquake T-shirts sold on street corners hours after the temblor, driving home during a martial law curfew, and seeing a possum chased by a professional baseball player in the middle of a game.  These are the sort of events that make people shake their heads and say, "Only in L.A."

Back at the sanctuary during the quiet meditation time, Guido leaned over to me and whispered, "Christopher Isherwood said the nuns here all look like axe murderers."  My wife leaned over from the other side and whispered, "Don't fart."  Years of radio experience allowed me to keep a straight face through all the heckling.  That nun did look a little severe, though.

Afterward, at their place, we had homemade lentil soup and cracked open Cimarone's 2012 Gran Premio Sangiovese.  It was served Italian style, in large shot glasses - which is very cool and continental but not good for swirling and sniffing.  We did our best anyway.

The estate grown grapes are from Three Creek Vineyard in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA.  Winemaker Andrew Murray created a lush and ripe wine that hits 14.5% abv on the alcohol meter.  Neutral French oak barrels were used for the aging process, which took place over 16 months.  Only 98 cases of this CalItalia wine were made.

Gran Premio's nose is dominated by black cherry and rich oak spice.  Even in the limited swirling space the aromas couldn't help but escape.  Flavor-wise, the fruit is a little more cherry than black cherry, while the effect of the oak is pronounced but not overplayed.  Clove notes grace the ripe, ripe, ripe fruit and spices add a nice angle that will be greatly appreciated during the holidays.


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Monday, November 17, 2014

Wine And Food: Los Angeles Indian Restaurant Gets It Right

We have all dined in at least one restaurant - many more, I'm sure - in which the wine list left much to be desired.  A flimsy little sheet of paper bearing the names of a few wines you passed up at Ralph's on your way to dinner is nothing for a wine lover to get excited about.  And isn't it a shame that so often, that's what a wine list is?

Owners can blame it on the distributor, blame it on the customers, blame it on the economy or blame it on the Stones.  The thing is, if you run a restaurant where adults are expected to dine - and you want to be taken seriously - you'd better bring something to the table besides the bill.

Given this blustery preamble, it may surprise you to learn that I will eventually get around to writing about a good experience here.  A Los Angeles Indian restaurant that Denise and I frequented - for its dependable food and convenient location - changed hands.  For several reasons, we thought this was probably a good thing.  

The wine list there was something I rarely bothered to scan.  It was completely unimaginative, appearing to be the result of the distributor's desire to push some cheap wine that was in large supply.  The restaurateur did not drink wine and had no feeling for wine or the way it complements food.

Under new ownership, as Cardamom, things are quite different.  British chef Manju Choudhury is responsible for the changes in the kitchen and the place has taken on the stylish look of a modern London restaurant.  The food has definitely stepped a notch or two, from "dependable" to inventive and delectable Indian-inspired cuisine.  The wine has made an even greater leap forward under the guidance of Stewart Prato of Southern Wine and Spirits.

What was, at the previous incarnation, a completely uninspired and misdirected wine list has been transformed in one that displays wines chosen specifically to compliment the spicy dishes.  Fresh, clean whites and reds that are not too heavy on oak are perfect choices for this type of food.  To nitpick, the  wine list is a little French-heavy.  Four of the five whites, the rosé and two of the three sparkling wines offered by-the-glass are from France.  (The lone non-Franco white is an Italian Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige.)  France accounts for four of the five reds, too, with Beaujolais making a welcome appearance alongside Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhône.  There is also an Argentine Malbec by the glass.

Breaking one of the cardinal rules of restaurant dining, Denise and I decided to go there on the first night they were open under the new regime - for our anniversary.  Expected missteps did not materialize, so we felt that Cardamom had earned a spot on our short list of favorites.

An amazing chutney tray is served with the papadum openers and the naan is more like Indian pizza than bread.  I like that thick, doughy naan, but Denise prefers the lighter, easily-tearable style.  The tandoori prawns were some of the best-tasting shrimp either of us had ever had, while the chef's curry is delicious - and very spicy.  

I chose the 2012 Marc Bredif Loire Vouvray to go with these dishes.  It was perfect with the shrimp, but a little too acidic for the curry - acidity and heat do not mesh well for my palate.  According to their website, the winery was “established in 1893 under the original name of Château les Roches.  In 1919 Marc Bredif took over from his uncle and renamed the property to mark the change of ownership."

The wine has a greenish tint in the glass.  Unfortunately, as is the case in many restaurants, it was improperly chilled.  The wine was ice cold and, as such, the aromas were difficult to sniff out.  The nose eventually offered minerals and flowers.  Denise claimed to get an aroma of cheese, Edam or Jarlsberg.

The wine's great acidity makes it a wonderful food wine, but just sipping it isn't too bad either. Minerals and citrus notes make for a refreshing mouthfeel.  It's a little too acidic for the spice of the chef's special curry but is perfect with the tandoori prawns.  

We mentioned on our way out of the restaurant that it was our anniversary.  The manager insisted that we sit down again and have a glass of bubbly to celebrate.  It was Barton & Guestier sparkling wine.  The Vin Mousseux de Qualité is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes which undergo a second fermentation in vats and three months of aging in vats while resting on the lees - the spent yeast cells - for added complexity and weight.  The wine offers fine bubbles, a fruity nose and peach on the palate.  

Before a week had passed we were back at a Cardamom again, this time with an occasion no more special than Thursday night.  The Sancerre fit the crab cutlet and the Shahee Jhinga lobster in cream sauce to a tee.

The Michel Girault La Siliciese Sancerre 2012 features a fresh lime nose that refreshes, and aromas of flowers that add a pretty side.  The palate shows a round mouthfeel, while citrus and herbs have a mingle on top of some really great acidity.  The long, green finish brings those herbs back into play. 


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Friday, November 14, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Joshua Klapper

A series on wines for the holidays.

A sommelier who became a winemaker, Joshua Klapper, is one of those vintners you will see a lot if you attend wine tasting events in Southern Californa.  He pours his La Fenêtre and À Coté wines with the fervor of a revivalist.  Most of the time, he is preaching to the choir.  That does not cause him to call off the sermon, though.  His name has become widely known since he joined the Santa Barbara County wine scene almost a decade ago.


Klapper's focus at La Fenêtre is making food-friendly wines.  He respects the Old World techniques and embraces the terroir of California's Central Coast. His wines are source fruit from some of the most famous vineyards around and he lets those grapes do most of the talking.

Klapper made a splash with his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and has now turned his talents to the Riesling grape as well.  He suggests a red and a white - always looking for balance - to make your holiday meal even more memorable.
2013 Dr Klapper Riesling, Santa Barbara County $22.50

"Nothing says holidays like Riesling. It is the best wine for thanksgiving as the acidity and touch of residual sugar make it pair well with everything on the table from turkey and stuffing, to mashed potatoes, to candied yams and cranberry sauce. Literally the perfect holiday wine."

"Pale straw color, with a hint of ‘spritz’ from the cold fermentation, the nose is bright with notes of lychee, white flowers, white pepper, and orange blossom. On the palate the entry has a hint of sweetness with vibrant acidity. The palate includes green apple Jolly Rancher, honey suckle, dried stone fruits (apricot and peach), and a touch of viscosity. The acidity makes the extremely long finish hint of fresh lemon, lime, and orange zest. Drink now-2016 (or cellar for a very long time cause old Riesling ROCKS!)"


2011 La Fenetre Pinot Noir, Presqu'ile Vineyard   $45

"Ditto for Pinot Noir, literally perfect with holiday fare.  Turkey, ham, fall root vegetables and mushrooms all pair extremely well with this wine.

"Planted in the late 1990’s (when the vineyard was called Addamo) the section our fruit comes from is one of the most perfectly manicured blocks of Pinot Noir I have ever seen. All clone 777, this part of Santa Maria, called the Solomon Hills, has been long recognized as a perfect terroir for dense, powerful, yet distinctly elegant fruit, which is the hallmark of the region.  Again for 2011 we did part of the fermentation whole cluster, which is a big component of this wine.

"Deep red, this wine has quite a bit of power.  The nose hints of cherry cola, cinnamon, and baking spices and the whole cluster adds a spicy, earthy element not unlike the smell of soil and red flowers after a warm spring rain.  I know it sounds crazy, but hey… this is what I do!  The palate is full, with a good amount of grip and fine tannin to balance the lushness of the Dijon Clone 777.  The long finish evokes cloves, a touch of vanilla bean, and almonds.  Drink 2014-2025+."

Best,

Joshua Klapper
La Fenêtre Wines
2705 Aviation Way #100
Santa Maria, CA 93455
Phone: 310-977-5615 • Fax: 888-834-1686
www.LaFenetreWines.com



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holiday Wines: Whole Foods Market

Another holiday season is upon us, and the fine folks at Whole Foods Markets have another selection of wines that are perfect for the holidays. Not only are they holiday-ready, but they are on the shelves at wine-equipped Whole Foods stores.  As usual, they are priced so you can splurge a little on the turkey, or the ham, or the standing rib roast, or whatever you have in mind to highlight your holiday feast.

Ashley Hawkins, a representative of Whole Foods Markets, says this year's WFM holiday picks, "showcase a wide variety of wines from a perfect-for-turkey-and-ham silky Sonoma County Pinot Noir to a French Chardonnay-Viognier with a round, fruity softness that pairs well with yams and cranberry."


The wines will be tasted in a pair of virtual tasting events set for Twitter on the dates you see below, along with the wines to be tweeted up during the respective tastings.  I'll be writing about the wines separately, but you can get an idea of what to expect with the descriptions from Whole Foods, shown below, along with their favorite food pairing for each.  “*” denotes a wine which is available only at Whole Foods Markets.


Pick up a bottle or two and join the social media crowd for both of these Twitter tastings.  Follow along in the hashtag #WFMWine to get the full effect of the fun that can be found while tasting and tweeting.


Thursday November 13, 2014, 7-8 CT
Pizzolato Organic Pinot Grigio

"Stone fruit aromas give way to an enticing minerality and vibrant acidity in this organically grown Italian white.
Pairings: Oro del Tiempe Piave Vecchio, delicate seafood, shellfish, lemon vinaigrette, citrus fruit salad"


* Sea Pines Russian River Chardonnay

"Subtle aromas belie big flavors of green apple, lemon and vanilla bean. A pleasant richness hints at the use of just the right amount of oak for a lovely balance.
Pairings: Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, poached turbot, Cornish hens, chowders, lobster bisque, cream sauces."


* Bodegas Belgrano Malbec

"With aromas of warm spices and stewed blueberry flavors that mingle with woodsy hints of smoke, this textbook Argentine malbec has a roundness that makes for an easy drinking classic.
Pairings: Hennings Cranberry Orange."


* Leyenda del Castillo Rioja

"Mineral, earthy aromas are found in this deep garnet Spanish red. With bright, sunny fruit flavors like ripe cherries, this Rioja has a lingering, well-balanced finish.
Pairings: Mitica Mahon, grilled meats, pork chops, eggplant marinara, charred steaks."


Thursday December 4, 2014, 7-8 CT
* Globerati Sauvignon Blanc

"From the Central Valley of Chile, this bright, fresh white has aromas of lemon and grapefruit with a hint of honeysuckle, and mineral notes are balanced with a green apple acidity.
Pairings: Mitica Campo de Montalban, Manhattan clam chowder, shrimp cocktail, mussels, sliced pears."


* Bubo Cabernet Sauvignon

"Surprisingly fruity, pleasant and approachable with a touch of green pepper aroma, this red has flavors of blackberries and ripe plums that accentuate the juiciness of this easy drinking wine.
Pairings: Ford Farms Seaside Cheddar, cranberry turkey sandwiches, veggie lasagna, cassoulet, beef enchiladas."


* Charles and Charles CL Merlot Red Blend

"There is an attractive baked biscuit aroma in this inky, hearty red. Black and blue fruits come forward and then recede into a rich, elegant, full-bodied finish.
Pairings: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, steak and Guinness pie, twice baked potatoes, buttery pastry crusts."


* H&G Priorat


"Earthy, herbaceous aromas in this brick red wine lead to a refined minerality and complex dark fruit flavors. The terroir of Priorat, Spain proudly shows in the glass.
Pairings: Guilloteau Fromager d’Affinois, barbecue, hearty veggie stews, Brunswick stew, grilled ribeye."