Monday, December 28, 2009

Doppio Passo Primitivo Salento 2007

All too often, I think of Italian red wines as lightweight party favors.  Tasty, maybe even interesting, but ultimately with not enough guts to handle anything tougher than a slice of lasagna.  I know, I know, that's a completely unjustified attitude.  But it's just a knee-jerk reaction.  I regularly buy Italian reds because I know how delicious they can be.  And I know that some of them have the stuff to fit in even on tables that aren't covered by red and white checkered cloths.

Doppio Passo Primitivo is such a wine.  This Primitivo is very dark – one can barely see through it when it's held up to the light.  The nose of black cherry or cherry cola also shows a lot of the earth.  The mouthfeel is medium-full and the palate is alive with a very rich and earthy taste – currants and cherries mostly.  It strikes me as the dark side of Zinfandel.  Not too surprising since Zinfandel and Primitivo grapes are international cousins of a sort.  The best part is there's no need for decanting.  This wine is as smooth as silk right out of the bottle!

Doppio Passo Primitivo Salento 2007 

Varietal:  100% Primitivo
Appelation:  Italy > Puglia > Salento

Vintage:  2007 
Alcohol Level:  13.5%
Price:  $18
Acquisition disclaimer:  I bought this wine.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2006

I'm one guy who loves grocery shopping with my wife.  Denise calls out the specific need of the moment, I quickly proceed to the proper aisle and pick it up, returning to her and the basket in what I'm sure is a blinding flash of light.  There, I find her still weighing the advantages of the various bread products, spices or pasta.  When we get to the produce department - where she judges me underskilled - she cuts me loose and tells me she'll find me in the wine department when she's done.  Oh, joy!  Time to shop for something really interesting.

Denise always goes grocery shopping fully armed with a fistful of manufacturer coupons.  Once, she gave me one of those precious slips of paper.  It was for two dollars off a Ravenswood product. 

After apologizing profusely to the old lady I nearly knocked down as I spun on my heels and left the produce area, I went to see which of the Ravenswood wines would come home with us.

One of the things I really like about Ravenswood - and there is a lot to like - is that they make so many different wines, it seems there is always something new on the shelf from them.  My choice was the Lodi Old Vine Zin, 2006, which listed at $14.  I got it on sale and with the coupon the price came down to $8.

The wine is very dark both in color and taste.  That's to be expected with a healthy part of the makeup consisting of Petite Sirah.  There's a little bit of Carignane thrown in, too, which makes me wonder if this is a field blend.  I've seen some references to the grapes of lesser percentage being "blended in."  That would indicate a "no" to the field blend question, but that would be somewhat unusual for old California vines.

The nose bears raspberries and plums, and the richness of the bouquet indicates the year and a half this wine spent in French oak.  Dark fruit takes center stage on the palate, with a certain spicy note waiting in the wings.  The palate is jammy with blackberries and plums, big, dark plums the way they taste when you get a little of the skin with the fruit.

 At 14.5% abv, the wine does have a bit of kick to it, and the tannins are quite healthy, too.  It settles down nicely after a bit of time, though.  In a rare state of being out nearly every night of a recent workweek, this bottle was opened on a Monday and finished on a Saturday.  A full five days stoppered really allowed it to calm down to a point of being soft and intense.  The mouthfeel is quite full-bodied, there's nice acidity and a good show of tannins.  I detected a bit of anise and some cocoa notes in the finish.

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2006

Varietal:  78% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 1% Carignane

Appellation:  California > Lodi

Vintage:  2006

Alcohol Level:  14.5%

Price:  $14 (after sale price and coupon, $8)

Acquisition disclaimer:  Bought it myself

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Vidigal Douro Vinho Tinto 2005

The Christmas season of 2009 was full of hustling and bustling and running about, as most Christmas seasons are.  Denise and I took a break after visiting the Glendale Galleria - which is the perfect time for a break - and stopped to check out a wine store I had not been to before.  At 55 Degree Wine I was met with such a wide assortment of possibilities I felt a bit daunted.  After much evaluation, I managed to pick up a few bottles to take home.  This wine, Vidigal Douro, was one of them.

I felt I had been lax in exploring Portuguese wines of late, and the grapes involved - 60% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta Amarela - seemed very interesting.  I was familiar with Touriga Nacional.  It's the main grape variety used in making Porto.  The Douro region is where Porto comes from, and you can taste the flavor of port in this wine.  It plays remarkably well without the sweetness of Port.  The wine's earthiness really dominates the flavor profile, so don't expect a fruit bomb with this one, at least not in the California style.  

It's a medium-bodied wine with a dark, inky color you cannot see through.  A ruby red tinge around the edge looks quite lovely.  On the nose, expect black cherry with leathery, cedar notes.  The palate shows the wine to be dry with a distinct lack of sweetness.  It strikes me as a rather prunish taste, but I certainly don't mean that to be off-putting.  The acidity is good and some backend heat dies down after 45 minutes of breathing. 

Vidigal's website lists the Douro as “not currently available in the U.S.”  Obviously, that's not quite true, and I am glad it's not.  We paired this wine with our incredible rib roast for Christmas Eve dinner, and it was a stunning hit.  It seems made for beef.

Vidigal Douro Vinho Tinto 2005

Varietal:  60% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta Amarela
Appelation:  Portugal > Douro
Vintage:  2005
Alcohol Level:  14%
Price:  $14
Acquisition disclaimer:  I bought this wine.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

55 Degree Wine

I love shopping at a wine store that's new to me.  Tiny boutiques,  huge warehouses, corner liquor stores, grocery store wine aisles - it doesn't matter to me.  I love the discovery of finding what sort of wine delights the owner of the establishment.  Often, that's exactly what you'll find on the shelves.

I recently purchased a Groupon to be redeemed at 55 Degree Wine in Atwater Village.  I had intended to drop into the place for some time, but hadn't found the opportunity.  Having what amounted to a two-for-one deal to redeem, and a Christmas shopping trip to the Glendale Galleria, gave me the impetus to do my shopping here.

55 Degree Wine in Glendale55 Degree Wine occupies a portion of a nondescript strip mall set back off Glendale Boulevard, just east of the Golden State Freeway.  Inside, the store is narrow and long with the shelves running from the door to the cashier's table.  It's so full of wine there's barely space enough to turn around.

Founder Andy Hasroun sat at the cashier's table and had a conversation with me while I shopped.  He peeked out from under his pork pie hat to talk to me and other customers who happened in to the store.  He seemed very young for a pork pie hat, but everyone who wears a pork pie hat these days seems too young for it.

"We have 90, 95% Italian wines in here," Andy explained.  "Some Portuguese, some from Spain, a little from all parts of the world.  Mostly Italian, though."  His accounting is probably accurate, as I performed a slightly more than cursory examination to find amid the rows of Italians only half a row or so of Portuguese and Spanish wines, a handful of Germans, a few Champagnes and two California wines.  "Nearly all the wines in the store come from very small producers - less than a thousand cases per year.  That can be a good thing, or a bad thing."  "How's that?" I asked, taking the bait perfectly with my Jack Webb impersonation.  "The good thing is that all the wines are of the quality you can expect only from a small producer.  The bad thing is, when you come back to get more of a wine you loved, it may not be here."

That would be unfortunate, but I'm guessing you'd be able to find something else you like without too much trouble.

Even though it was too early for the tasting in the cellar, Andy insisted I go downstairs and have a look.  It's cold down there - I'd say about 55 degrees - and dark, too.  That's all the better for storing the wine.  Several tables and a small bar awaited the evening's wine lovers, with an array of bottles and glasses at the ready.  It looks like a very comfortable place to have a tasting.  You might be well advised to bring a sweater or jacket if you plan to stay awhile.  Staying awhile seems to be a distinct possibility.

The tastings are held nightly except Mondays, beginning at 6:00 p.m.  (5:00 on weekends) and run until 10:00 p.m. (11:00 on Saturdays.)  The wine and cheese menus change weekly, and there are special wine flights each night.  The room is also available for private events.

The prices at 55 Degree Wine didn't seem too bad.  There aren't too many $10-and-under bottles, but quite a few between $10 and $20.  There are plenty of wines in the $100 neighborhood, too.  I didn't run across too many labels I recognized, but Italian wine is not my strong suit.  There's plenty of choice in grape varieties and all of Italy's wine regions seemed to be represented.  My visit resulted in three choices which I took home.  From Portugal I chose the Vidigal Vinho Tinto 2005  Douro made from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Amarela.  My Italian selection was the Doppio Passo  Primitivo  2007  Salento, and from Lake County I took the Line 39 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I had this wine recently with a different design on the label, and I liked it quite a lot.

Andy's store isn't exactly geographically convenient for me, but I'm sure I will visit again sooner rather than later.  It's a wine store that makes it worth going a bit out of your way.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne NV Brut

Denise and I opened a small bottle of Feuillatte "1/4" I had picked up recently.  I've seen it in various stores this season, usually near the checkout stand as a point-of-purchase item.  The bottle is only 187ml, so I suppose they are marketing them as stocking stuffers.  Neither of us drink a lot of sparkling wine, so the size was great for us to just sample it.  It pours out to about a flute and a half.  I've seen it listed at $10, but I got it for $4 at a sale.  As you can see in the image, there is also a rose version.

 We wanted to pair the Feuillatte with some cheeses we had picked up at the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop and Andrew's Cheese Shop in Santa Monica.  It was a chilly night, the Christmas tree was fully lit and decorated and White Christmas was on TV.  A perfect night for some Champagne and cheese.

Feuillatte is the number-one selling brand of Champagne in France and number-three worldwide.  They are now being distributed in the U.S. by Washington's Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.  To say Feuillatte is a large producer is an understatement.  From the press release: "With the support of its 5,000 wine growers, the Centre Vinicole-Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte benefits from an extensive and rich supply of quality grapes, representing 7% of the Champagne wines produced."  

The grapes used in this bottling are 20% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Meunier.  There is an extremely yeasty nose, almost barnyard-like in funkiness.  The mouthfeel is full and creamy with plenty of small bubbles which persist for a long time after pouring.  There's a lemon zest component and the flavor of almonds.  The wine gives me the feeling of ginger ale.

The Feuillatte went very well with the creamy Minuet cheese by Andante Dairy.  The dairy recommends a Chenin Blanc from Vouvray or a Gruner Veltliner, but this Champagne was quite serviceable with it.  It fit even better with Truffle Tremor cheese by Cypress Grove Chevre out of Arcata, CA.  The real discovery of the night was finding that the Truffle Tremor went great - scratch that - fantastic with Liqueur de Chataigne, or chestnut liqueur. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tasting Room Notes: Sort This Out Cellars

Sort This Out Cellars is a wine producer based in the Santa Ynez Valley of California's Central Coast. They obtain grapes from all over the Golden State, however, and put forth a lineup of wines that are actually produced at the nearby Terravant Wine Company.

With an annual production of 1500 cases, Sort This Out Cellars is definitely boutique. And with so much competition on the wine horizon, the vintner lives by an inventive marketing plan that almost puts the actual wine - which is pretty good - in a backseat.

When you visit the website, or certainly when you step into the tasting room, it's Vegas, Baby in a more or less relentless fashion. From the labels on the bottles to the graphics and ad copy to the music playing over the sound system - Sort This Out offers up a full line of Rat Pack-era Vegas kitsch.

The wines have names like "Viva Las Vegas," "Ante Up" and "Suited." The "Suited" labels are fashioned after "gentlemen's playing cards" of the '40s and '50s, but look to me more like those lusciously-drawn Vargas-style beauties from Playboy magazine. In the tasting room, the concept is helped along by a soundtrack of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy interspersed with enough Sammy, Frank and Dean to make you think you need to roll some dice now.

The "Suited" line also features a special Holiday Merlot 2006. It's 100% Merlot and the card promises black cherry and strawberry flavors with earthy, spicy notes. They recommend their mulled wine mixture to use with it, if you like that sort of thing. It's a visually engaging label with a 1960s-Playboy-cartoon-style snow bunny gracing it.

Here are my thoughts from the tasting:

There were seven wines on the "Tasting Card," and an eighth was thrown in at a customer's request.

"Viva Las Vegas Pinot Grigio 2006 ($15) - Tart and nutty, with lemon peel and pineapple. Very crisp.

"Suited" Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($17) - Grassy nose with a very tropical taste. Notes of mango, pineapple.

"Suited" Sangiovese Rosato 2007 ($15) - 100% Sanjo. Stainless steel. Lovely cherry and strawberry notes. Dry.

"Suited" Merlot 2006 ($20) - 100% Merlot. Earth and smoke. Easy to drink. Comes in Holiday label, too.

"Ante Up" Rollers Reserve Syrah 2005 ($24) - 100% Syrah from Santa Barbara County. Bit of barnyard on the nose. Quite earthy. Finishes well.

VinoNostra "This Wine of Ours" Red Wine 2006 ($36) - The blend is a secret. Only 100 cases made. Smooth with coffee notes.

Film Noir Pinot Noir 2007 ($50) - 100 cases. Cherry and vanilla on the nose with an intriguing flavor of coconut and toasted vanilla.

All in all, if you need a gift for a wine drinker who can't get to Vegas enough, you can't go wrong at Sort This Out Cellars. But don't be too quick to pigeonhole them as simple novelty. The wines are good, and worth checking out on their own merit.

Sort This Out Cellars had their tasting room in Buellton since 2008,which is where I visited them.  They have since moved to a brand new location, in Solvang.

Disclaimer: My tasting experience was provided at no charge for the purpose of review.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ancient Peaks Holiday Open House

Ancient Peaks margarita Vineyard

Take a break from the holiday rush at Ancient Peaks Winery for an evening of mostly old-fashioned fun.  The fun happens Thursday December 17, 2009 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the winery's tasting room in Santa Margarita.  You can take a hayride through the streets of the small town north of San Luis Obispo, enjoy some live music, snack on cookies and appetizers and take the chill off with hot apple cider.  You will undoubtedly want to do a little wine tasting, too.  The featured wines will include the new release 2007 vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah.

This event is complimentary, although guests are encouraged to bring a $5 donation or the equivalent in canned food goods to benefit the Food Bank of San Luis Obispo County.

The live music will be provided by guitarist Mike Maguire, who will play acoustic classic rock, and local artist Bill Mulder will display his original landscapes.

Ancient Peaks Winery tasting room is located at 22720 El Camino in Santa Margarita.  You can find more information by visiting the Ancient Peaks Winery website or by calling 805.365.7045.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"They Got This Recession On" Wines, Part 5

Santa Rita Carmenere Reserva 2007 is a dark place to go.  Fortunately. I'm not afraid of the dark.  In fact, I kind of like it when the lights are out.  That's what happens when you hold a glass of this Carmenere up to the light - darkness ensues.  It's an inky purple color which literally lets no light pass through.  The aromas are just as dark: blackberries that have been tromped down into a muddy trail come to mind.  There's also a spiciness, possibly anise and maybe some nutmeg.  It's an intriguing nose.  The taste follows suit.  It's dark and brooding on the palate, certainly not a fruitfest.  I would imagine this to be a wine that is not to everyone's liking.  But if you have a fondness for the dark side of the vineyard, this may be just for you.  For only $8, it really has a lot to offer.

Winemaker:  Andres Ilabaca
Varietal:  Carmenere
Appelation:  Chile > Valle Central > Rapel Valley
Vintage:  2007
Alcohol Level:  14.1%
Price:  $8 (on sale)
Acquisition disclaimer:  I bought this wine at BevMo.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Firestone Discoveries" Targets Millennials

Firestone DiscoveriesLos Olivos winery Firestone Vineyard has launched a new wine brand designed to appeal to Millennials, or the generation which began appearing roughly in the 1980s.  The Santa Barbara County producer has hooked into the net-savvy qualities of Millennials in a multi-pronged effort to get next to a rapidly growing segment of wine drinkers through their new brand, Firestone Discoveries.

Using the tag line "Ignite The Senses," Firestone's campaign seeks to associate their wine with a lifestyle that's exciting to wine drinkers who have recently come of age.  Tie-ins with Twitter, YouTube and Facebook will appear along the way as the winery reaches out to Millenial wine drinkers specifically and enthusiatically.  One aspect of the marketing plan - "Culinary Treks" - will actively involve consumers in exotic hiking and travel promotions to take place throughout the year.  These events are designed to spotlight how Firestone Discoveries fit with different cultural foods and experiences.

The wines themselves are described as "bright, fresh and fruit-forward" and sound as youthful as the demographic slice at which they are aimed.  Available in fine wine retail shops and restaurants nationwide, the Firestone Discoveries Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot sell for a suggested retail price of $9.99.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"They Got This Recession On" Wines, Part 4

Fess Parker Frontier Red Lot 91 is the latest in a series of non-vintage wines from Fess Parker's respected Santa Barbara County winery.  Their website lists the wine at $12, but it sells at some places for $10, and I got a bottle from Los Angeles Wine Company for $8.

The wine is a blend of six Rhone varietals, and it really drinks like an actual Rhone Valley wine rather than a California facsimile.  The nose features blackberry and spices in a very dark setting.  An herbal quality seems to come through a layer of smoke.  On the palate, Frontier Red has a dark edge as well, with plenty of smoky fruit and a licorice component adding to the dark flavors.  I picked up a bit of graphite, too.  Frontier Red drank better each of the three nights it was open.

It's got a medium-mouthfeel, which is rather surprising considering the grapes involved.  I thought of it at first as "thin," but later I felt that might be a bit harsh, since the taste is so good.  I do prefer a bigger feel on my palate, though.  I would recommend giving it some time to settle down, either sitting in the glass or by decanting.

My wife used some of it in a spaghetti sauce she made, and the result was fabulous.  Naturally, the wine paired extremely well with that sauce.

Winemaker:  Fess Parker
Varietal:  56% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 13% Carignane, 5% Sangiovese, 5% Cinsault & 1% Mourvedre 
Appelation:  California > Santa Barbara County
Vineyard:  Camp Four Vineyard (Santa Ynez Valley); Starlane Vineyard (Santa Barbara County); Rodney's Vineyard (Santa Ynez Valley)
Vintage:  NV
Alcohol Level:  15.5%
Price:  $8 (list $12)
Acquisition disclaimer:  I paid for this wine, on sale.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Line 39 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Line 39 Cabernet was recommended to me by a friend of mine who shares my somewhat obsessive passion for wine.  Nicolas wrote me an email after running into me at a wine store.  Yes, we run into each other at wine stores - in Los Angeles.  "One of the wines I picked up was really very nice.  You should pick up a bottle!"  So the wife and I piled into the car the next day and went back over to the West Side.  "Oh, yeah, we had a few cases of that, but we ran out.  We should get more in a few days."  Well, it must be good if they ran out of it.  In a few days I got a text from Nicolas.  "Line 39 is in!"  Back to the West Side we went, and this time I was not denied.  Fortunately, Nicolas was right.  It is a good wine. 

Location, location, location.  Line 39 refers to the latitude on which the winery is located.  Is that a good latitude for wine?  Well, Washington D.C. and Pyongyang North Korea are listed just either side of latitude 39, so I'd say based on that information, the jury is still out.  However, Line 39 happens to run right through Lake County, California.  That's just north of a place called Napa Valley, so maybe it's not such a bad location after all.

The wine is very smooth if you give it a half hour or so to open itself.  I pick up aromas like raspberries and cigar box.  On the palate, I get blackberry, strawberry and a bit of a cranberry edge.  There is some smoke and earth coming forth, too.  It's a deep ruby color, almost opaque.  I always imagine that means a bit more complexity is lurking in there.  I don't know if that's true, but it's a nice thought.

Winemaker:  Cecchetti Wine Company
Varietal:  Cabernet Sauvignon
Appelation:  California > Lake County
Vintage:  2006
Alcohol Level:  14.5%
Price:  $10
Acquisition disclaimer:  I bought this wine myself.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tasting Event: Pourtal - Cradle of Wine

Santa Monica's 7-month-old wine hang, Pourtal, kicked off their December program with a pouring party Tuesday night.  Featured were the distributors of all the wines to be spotlighted during the month of December.  The wines are part of the "Cradle of Wine" series, in which Pourtal will take an in-depth look at - and taste of - wines from the Republic of Georgia, Israel, Lebanon, Bosnia and Croatia.  Representatives of the distributors who bring these wines to the U.S. will pour and talk about them, as they did Tuesday night.

The event to kick off the series found the room in party mode, with a friendly and boisterous crowd filling the area.  In addition to the "Cradle of Wine" tastes, also available were the samples from the Enomatic wine system, which delved into other areas.  Since they are available all the time, I decided to stick with the wines being poured by the distributors.

The Republic of Georgia was represented by Greg Alonzo of Terrell Wines.  He boasted that Georgia is the birthplace of wine, since the region's winemaking is traced back around 8,000 years.  Alonzo told me "Georgia has around 500 grape varieties, but only 38 are grown for commercial viticulture."  My favorite of the four Georgian wines Alonzo poured was the Mildiani Saperavi.  Saperavi is the most important red wine grape grown in the republic, and produces a hearty and distinctive wine that would probably appeal to most American wine lovers.  I thought there was a strong resemblance to Zinfandel in this wine.  The Teliani Valley Khvanchkara was also a hit with me.  Made from Alexandria & Mudzhuretuli grapes, this semi-sweet red had a beautiful bouquet and was all about raspberries.  I had the semi-sweet white as well.  The Teliani Valley Tvishi is made from Tsolikauri grapes and is floral on the nose with a refreshing minerality to edge the moderate sweetness.

Israel's wine industry was represented by Rob Fogarty of Yarden Wines.  Fogarty poured a very nice 2008 Golan Heights Moscato that held some nice effervescence along with the sweetness.  It was quite refreshing, and could work well before or after dinner.  There were also two from Israeli Wines Direct which I did not get the chance to sample.

A wine from Bosnia and one from the Dalmation Coast of Croatia were poured by Michael Morales of the Blue Danube Wine Company.  The 2007 Citluk "Herceg" was the Bosnian entry.  Made from Zilavka, Bena and Krkosija grapes, this white wine was light and a little bit sweet on the finish.  The 2007 Bibich Riserva is made from grapes - Babich, Plavina and Lasin - which are related to Zinfandel.  That doesn't surprise, since Zinfandel's roots come from Croatia.  The dark fruit and peppery highlights seemed right at home in California.

I have saved the most unusual for last.  Going into this event, I expected to find many different and unusual tastes.  This was largely not the case, as many of the wines I sampled seemed designed for an American palate.  The Lebanese wines offered a healthy dose of that "different" I was expecting.  The three wines from Chateau Musar were highlighted by stories of winemaker Serge Hochar growing Cabernet on a hillside just outside Beirut; skipping vintages due to war raging right around the property; and having difficulty getting enough labor to work the land and harvest the grapes because of the danger.  With all that stood in the way, it's no wonder the wines produced here were a labor of love.

The Cuvee White is made of Obaideh and Merwah grapes, which would translate loosely to Chardonnay and Semillon.  It has a musty funkiness that rivals any Sauvignon Blanc I've tasted, but without the acidic edge.  The Cuvee Rouge is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignane, always in equal measure.  The Hochar Pere et Fils is the winemaker's response to a request from the distributor for something "a little more sellable."  These wines are very distinctive, to a fault, perhaps.  They are not for everyone's palate, but if you're looking for a wine adventure, they certainly qualify.

All in all, Pourtal got the month - and the "Cradle of Wine" series - off to a rousing start.  December is jam-packed with events - there are at least six in a ten-day span - so check their calendar to plan your favorites.  The people behind Pourtal are as friendly as they can be.  If the music is too loud when you are there, ask them to adjust it.  No doubt they will be happy to oblige.  

Stephen Abronson, the proprietor has put together a good room and wine director Rachel Bryan has made some good choices in the wine dispensers.  Small plates are served, with a great cheese selection from Andrew's Cheese Shop and hand-crafted flatbreads from Full Of Life.  Their Autumn Salad was delicious.  There's a small outdoor patio in front with some heaters, in case your party would like to people-watch along the boulevard.  

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Menage a Trois 2007

I love autumn.  I live in Southern California, so that's not exactly the same sentiment you get when someone from, say, Vermont claims to like autumn.  They get a real autumn in Vermont, complete with changing colors and the onset of cold weather.  Here in Southern California we get fire season.

I actually like the low humidity a lot - as long as it doesn't mean raging brush fires - and when that first cool snap finally comes, I wish there were some brightly colored fallen leaves to run through.  The closest we get to that is a palm frond or two blown down in the gusty winds.  As I write this it's a chilly 57 degrees outside!  (Pause for laughter from everywhere else.)

One way I can celebrate autumn - even without the foliage - is with a nice red wine.  I'm so drawn to whites and roses all summer that my shift into reds serves as my foliage change.  You'll be seeing a lot more reds in this space in the coming months.  If they all taste as good as this one, I'll consider Autumn 2009 a success.

Despite the French monicker, Menage a Trois is a California blend of Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine pours up a very deep red.  It has quite a fragrant nose, due partially to the grapes and partially to the French and American oak used in the barrels.  The dark fruit comes across strong and rich as I sniff it, and there's a trace of smokiness.  They say the Zin is for jamminess, the Merlot is for mellow and the Cabernet is for backbone.  That's pretty much the way it comes across on the palate.  Fruit is huge - blackberries mostly - and there is some smoke flavor along with a trace of pencil lead.  A spicy, peppery taste also comes forth.  It's a little bit rough at first, but let it sit a half hour or so and it should be nice and mellow.  It's priced quite well, $10 at Cost Plus World Market.  At 13.5% abv, the alcohol doesn't knock you over like some Zins do these days.

Winemaker:  Folie A Deux Winery

Varietal:  Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon

Appelation:  California > Napa Valley

Vintage:  2007

Alcohol Level:  13.5%

Price:  $10

Acquisition disclaimer:  This wine was purchased by the author; $10

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Infinity Central Coast White Blend 2008

As I may have mentioned before, I'm a sucker for blends.  I love finding out what winemakers can do with a couple of beakers and a graduated cylinder.  I was in K&L in Hollywood and could not remember having ever tasted a Grenache Blanc/Viognier blend.  I like both varietals a lot, and was immediately curious to find out what would happen when the grapes met.

My curiosity was further piqued to find that Infinity is a Central Coast wine. I thoroughly believe in exploring wines produced near me.  This takes me back time and time again to the Central Coast, to enjoy its wines and beauty.

Infinity is a blend of 60% Grenache Blanc and 40% Viognier.  It pours up a very pale golden color in the glass, with just a hint of color.  It looks very pure.  The nose is alive with wet driveway and grapefruit peel, even when fully chilled.  Tropical notes on the palate get a knife-edge assist from an assertive mineral streak and that citrus that stays in play.  The acidity seems nice enough at first but it drops off rather quickly; I'd like to see a little more acidity before speculating on the food pairing possibilities.  It's a great sipper, and may serve well in non-demanding food situations.  The finish sports a medium-long, last taste of the stones and citrus that dominate the wine's flavor profile.  My only quibble is the acidity, but with aromas and tastes like the ones offered here, I'd feel ashamed to complain too loudly. 

Winemaker:  La Fenetre

Varietal:  Grenache Blanc, Viognier

Appelation:  California > Central Coast > Santa Maria

Vintage:  2008

Alcohol Level:  13.5%

Price:  $10

Acquisition disclaimer:  I bought this wine myself.

Pourtal December 2009 Events

Pourtal, Santa Monica

Santa Monica's recent entry into the wine bar scene in Southern California is Pourtal, at 104 Santa Monica Boulevard.  "Steps from the beach," as the apartment ads say - only this place really is.

Pourtal not only has plenty of wine, they also have the gadgetry to compete.  The state-of-the-art, self-serve Enomatic sampling system offers 40 different wines along with 20 others by the glass. The wines are all available for purchase, either for drink-in or takehome.
December is an exciting month for Pourtal, as they are throwing the Klieg light on wines from what they are calling The Cradle of Wine, although it could be considered the cradle of nearly everything.  Wines from Hungary, Israel, Croatia, Montenegro, Lebanon and the Republic of Georgia will be featured in tasting events throughout December.  Six months of research turned up some old-world, traditional wines that are not commonly found.

The Cradle of Wine series begins Tuesday December 1st, when the importers of all the month's featured wines will be on hand to pour and answer questions from 7 to 10 p.m.

Each event during the month will be led by an importer, and will feature a discussion and hand poured tasting of small production wines not typically available in Los Angeles.  Featured wines from The Cradle of Wine will be dispensed from the Enomatic machine throughout December.

A menu of wine-friendly foods that pair well with the wines in the series will also be offered.  Selections will include mixed olives and dolmas, hummus, muhammara, spanakopita and lamb kofta, plus a selection of 20 or so artisinal cheeses.

The Cradle of Wine Hosted Events Schedule*

December 1, 7-10pm

The Cradle of Wine Program Launch with representatives from Israeli Wines Direct, Terrell Wines, Blue Danube Wine Company, Epic Wines, and Wine Warehouse showcasing wines from Hungary, Montenegro, Israel, Croatia, Lebanon and Republic of Georgia.  A Choice of 5 tastes for $10 (In addition to our featured 8 wines from the Enomatic Tasting Tour)

December 7, 7-9pm

Grower Champagne Tasting hosted by Adam Zuckert from Terry Theise Selections

$30 for Flight of 3 Champagnes - Chartogne-Taillet, Henri Goutorbe, Vilmart

December 8, 7-9pm.

Ramos Port Tasting hosted by Dirk Smits, from Maisons, Marques and Domaines

December 9, 7-9pm

Exclusive Central-Eastern European Wines from Blue Danube Wine Company hosted by Stetson Robbins

$10 for Flight of 5 Wines

December 10, 7-9pm

Chateau Musar from Lebanon hosted by Rebecca Mamoud

$10 for Flight of 3 Wines

December 14, 7-9pm

Republic of Georgia Tasting hosted by Gregory Alonzo of Terrell Wines

$10 for Flight of 3 Wines

December 17, 7-9pm

Israeli Tasting hosted by Bill Mendel, California Regional Manager, Yarden Wines

$10 for Flight of 4 Wines

December 22, 7-8:30pm

‘Bubbles’ hosted by Helena Centerwall

$20 for Flight of 3 Wines with Food Pairings

* Check back on Pourtal's website as additional events will be added.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Holiday Wines

Holiday WinesAsk twenty people which wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner, and you'll probably get about a hundred different answers.  Some swear by the Dynamic Duo, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.  Some say you can't go wrong with Pinot Noir.  Others are touting their bubbles, Merlots and Zins, oh my!  Personally, I have about a hundred different opinions myself.

The right wine can really make a holiday meal come alive.  Personal preference plays a big part in choosing what to drink for the holidays.  My first rule of wine pairing is, "There are no rules."  As you do the rest of the year, you should drink what you like and like what you drink.  If you would feel more confident in your holiday entertaining with some guidelines to follow, allow me to steer you in some good directions.

Wines for ThanksgivingFor starters, a big feast like a Thanksgiving or Christmas spread features so many different types of food and diverse taste elements, it is nearly impossible to choose just one wine to go with everything on the table.  You can match a Pinot Noir with the turkey, but what about the sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping?  The Riesling that goes so nicely with your holiday ham may be a bit overwhelmed by a standing rib roast.

If you really want all the food paired perfectly, you can turn your holiday meal into a tasting session - an interesting idea, admittedly not for everyone.  A dry white wine may serve reasonably well if there's no heavy beef on the table.  A good sparkling wine is cited by a number of wine pairing experts as the best way to go if you only want one wine on the table.  A dry sparkler can fit in well with nearly everything, even beef.  And how festive, anyway!  And even a nice dry rose should be tucked away somewhere, if only to serve as a great accompaniment to the inevitable turkey or ham sandwich the next day.

Here is a short list of wines I think would serve anyone well over the holidays.  You can use the varietal as a starting point and pick your favorites from there, or you can choose from my selections.  I am taking the liberty of keeping the price level of my suggestions mostly in the $20-and-under range.  Feel free to splurge on a $100 Cabernet to go with that Christmas roast if your wallet can take it.  If the holidays have your budget stretched thin, look here for some very nice wines that will add a little extra cheer to the season in affordable fashion.  I'm suggesting primarily California wines here, but feel free to make an international affair of it.  Champagne, after all, is the king of sparkling wines; nobody does Riesling like the Germans; and if you took the Zinfandel from the menu and replaced it with a nice Primitivo or Barbera, who really could argue the decision?

Champagne BottleIncluded on this list are a variety of wines that fall into one or more of the following categories which I feel address the holiday spirit:

  • Rich flavors

  • Full-bodied

  • Pairs well with roast, turkey or ham

  • Dessert wines

  • Bubbles

Chardonnay - It's the holidays.  Let's skip the pristine, austere beauty of the stainless steel Chardonnays.  Lay in a supply of rich, buttery Chards with seasonal flavors bursting forth from them.  Try -

Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch Chardonnay 2008 ($19) -  Described as having "aromas and flavors of honey, graham cracker, cinnamon and light floral notes," it is blended with small amounts of Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer.

Cambria "Katherine's Vineyard" Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2006 ($19) -  Cambria says the nose is "deeply aromatic with apples, peaches, lime blossoms and vanilla," while the palate is "intense and powerful, yet surprisingly elegant and nuanced."

Cakebread Chardonnay Reserve, Carneros, Napa Valley 2006 ($55) - This is a splurge.  It's a rich and luscious Chardonnay that spent 15 months in French oak to bring holiday aromas like spiced apple.  It's a big, creamy wine with peach, apple and melon on the palate, along with toasty oak notes.

Holiday FeastRiesling - This is one of the more versatile white wines, owing in part to the fact that there are different styles of Riesling that taste very different from one another.  You can run the gamut from sweet to quite dry with Riesling.  All are food-friendly wines with a relatively low alcohol level.  Rieslings pair well with cheese, ham, seafood, vegetables, spicy food and even fruit plates.  Riesling purists prefer German.  Washington state and New York's Finger Lakes region also make good ones.  Try -

Trefethen Estate Napa Dry Riesling 2008 ($22) - This one is on the dry end of the spectrum.  Trefethen says the 2008 vintage has more tropical notes than usual, with aromas of "delicate jasmine flower, coupled with pineapple, guava, tarragon, and lemongrass."  The palate shows "cantaloupe, lemon, fennel, and especially white peaches playing off each other in delightful balance. A little bit of slate minerality rounds out the finish."

For a slightly sweeter take on the grape, Fess Parker's Santa Barbara County Riesling 2008 ($14) offers crsip acidity in an off-dry setting.

Wine BottlePinot Noir - Despite its reputation for being a finicky wine to make, Pinot Noir is a fairly affable wine on the holiday spread.  Pairing well with cheese and crackers - try Brie, Swiss or a nice Chevre - Pinot Noir also gets comfy with stuffed mushrooms, ham, turkey and duck.  Often featuring a cinnamon or clove flavor profile, Pinot Noir can be a hit with foods of a similar makeup.  Try -

Bogle Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2006 ($13) - Wine Spectator calls it "pure and complex, with ripe, vivid wild berry, raspberry and blackberry fruit...ending with a dillish oak edge."  Sounds tailor made for the Thanksgiving table.

Edna Valley Vineyards Paragon Pinot Noir ($22) - Their description makes me salivate: "Hints of rose petal, caramel and forest floor weave through the jammy fruit core. The mid-palate is pleasant and smooth with fine tannins. Subtle cola and perfume nuances alight the finish for lingering enjoyment of this pretty red wine. Enjoy with gamey flavors such as duck, venison or wild mushroom pasta."

Syrah - The dark fruit and peppery spiciness are a match made for smoked meats.  Big, fruity Syrahs will pair well with roast, ham or smoked turkey.  Try -

Stolpman Vineyards Estate Santa Ynez Syrah 2006 ($27) - International Wine Cellar says: "...perfumed bouquet of dark berries, Christmas spices, violet and and dark berry flavors stain the palate...long, juicy finish."

Mandolin Syrah Central Coast 2007 ($14) - Dark fruit and layers of spice and rich vanilla hit the holiday notes.  They run in tandem with a dense molasses, leather and plum profile.  Firm tannins make it ideal for for a roast or steaks.

Wine BottleZinfandel - Black cherry and blackberry often dominate the flavor profile of Zin to the point of jamminess.  It's can be a big wine that calls for big food.  Find a Zin with lighter profiles and bright fruit flavors to be more flexible in pairing it with lighter fare.  Try -

Cline Ancient Vines California Zinfandel 2007 ($18) - Cline says this one has "flavors of dark berries, coffee and chocolate with great vanilla oak character and a long lingering finish."  Some say it has a sweet, port-like side.  It also has the tannins to handle steaks, roast - or that barbecued turkey you've always wanted to serve.

Bogle "The Phantom" Red Blend 2006 ($15) - This is actually even parts Zin and Petite Sirah with a splash of Mourvedre.  It's luscious, with anise and figs on the nose and clove and vanilla peeking around the fruit on the palate.

Cabernet Sauvignon - Cabs find themselves at home before, during and after dinner.  Pair the big reds with blue cheese on the appetizer plate, heavy beef or smoked meats on the dinner table and even dark chocolate desserts.  Try -

Rutherford Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($18) - They describe their Cab as having "lush fruit aromas of raspberry and Bing cherry, hints of cedar box, bright mint and spicy cinnamon."  It's a full-bodied wine with silky tannins. Serve with blue cheese, marinated steaks or dark chocolate after dinner.

Francis Coppola Diamond Series Claret 2007 ($14) - Not a true Cab, it's a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  Aromas of plum, anise, dark chocolate and sweet spices will make it a hit for the holidays. Rich flavors of blackberry, currant and strawberry are festive and exciting, just like the season.

Trefethen HaLo 2004 ($175) - With bay leaf on the nose and clove and nutmeg in the flavor profile, this wine had me thinking of Christmas at first sniff.  I think this would pair fabulously with turkey - but at $175 a bottle, this may be better as one of the gifts under the tree.

Merlot - Complex and accessible at once, Merlot got such a bad rap pinned on it in the film Sideways that sales actually fell.  Hopefully, saner heads will prevail during the holiday season.  Different Merlots offer different pairing opportunities, so depending on whether the wine is full- or medium-bodied you can match with everything from roast to salmon.  A fictional character's ranting is no way to make decision on what wine to drink.  Try -

Silverado Napa Merlot 2004 ($25) - A medium-bodied wine that's abetted by 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, there's a nutty spiciness that duels with a sweet cherry flavor to produce a complex and enjoyable drink.

Robert Mondavi Napa Merlot 2006 ($17) - Wine Spectator says this Merlot "offers an appealing blend of structure and plushness, with currant and espresso aromas and black cherry and anise flavors."

Dessert Wines - Depending on your tolerance for sweets, dessert wines can complement an after dinner treat or stand alone and be the treat.  Late harvest varietals, muscat, Port and sherry all make for a delicious way to finish a feast.  The French do a particularly fine job with wines from Sauternais and Banyuls.  Try -

Bridlewood Syrah Port 2006 ($20) -  If the words "Syrah Port" don't do it for you, listen to these descriptive words from the the winemaker: "heady aromatics of blackberry, cassis and licorice...dark jammy fruit framed with spicy oak and vanilla accents...notes of strong dark chocolate with hints of pecan, tangerine peel and earth...soft chewy tannins and a sweet vanilla oak backdrop...luscious licorice finish."  Now, if my football teams don't win on Thanksgiving, I'll hardly care.

Mer Soleil Late 2004 ($34) - The Viognier grapes came down with a case of Botrytis, and that's good news all around.  This dessert wine is the result, a rich shade of gold with honey, apricot nectar and orange zest in the flavor profile.

Sparkling Wines - Champagne can get expensive, and for some it's that or nothing.  There are, however, plenty of good sparkling wines from places other than France.  A nice Italian Prosecco, a Spanich Cava or a California sparkler can make a festive showing, too.  Sparkling styles range from Extra Brut (the dryest), Brut, Extra Sec, Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux (the sweetest.)  Try -

Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut ($19) - The American arm of Louis Roederer produces this great-tasting, affordable sparkler with notes of cinnamon, creme brulee and baked apple.  They also make a pink bubbly with a touch of Pinot Noir for color.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine 2006 - This producer made America's first sparkling wine, back in 1965.  It's thought by many to be America's best sparkler, coming as close to real Champagne as it gets in the States.  An apple cobbler note on the palate should sit well with autumn celebrations.

Rhone-style white blends - These wines typically match up well with autumnal foods like squash, apples and chestnuts.  Look for blends involving Grenache Blanc, Roussanne or Marsanne.  Try -

Lone Madrone La Mezcla 2008 ($17) - An interesting Paso Robles blend of Grenache Blanc and Albarino!  Not only will it fit, it's a conversation starter.

Big House White 2008 ($8) - This white blend features Malvasia Bianca, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Roussanne.  Aromas of lemon meringue and wintermint grace the nose, while the palate enjoys tropical fruit and toast.  A wildly popular wine, it was listed atop Wine Enthusiast's "Top 100 Best Buys of 2009."

Rhone-style red blends - Look to Rhone-style reds for full-bodied, spicy wines that usually dip a bit more into the earthy, dark side of the flavor line.  They make an excellent partner to roast beef.  Try -

Tablas Creek "Cotes de Tablas" Red 2003 ($20) - Cherry liqueur, white pepper, leather and sage highlight this blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Counoise.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2005 ($32) - From the Bonny Doon website: "Aromas of spiced meat, kirsch, mushrooms, a soupçon of truffle and dark chocolate make for a richly perfumed red wine." This blend is mainly Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah, with some Carignane and Cinsault in the mix.

Suggested holiday meal:

  • Before the meal - Sparkling wine will set a celebratory mood.

  • With your cheese plate - Chardonnay or a bubbly with Brie; Riesling or dessert wine with blue cheese; Cab, Merlot or Zinfandel with cheddar; Riesling or a Rhone-style white with Swiss; Pinot Noir or Port with cream cheese.

  • For roast turkey breast - Viognier or Chardonnay are good.  Dark meat likes a Pinot Noir.

  • With the baked ham - Pinot Noir or Riesling.  A Beaujolais Nouveaux will work, and it is the season for it.

  • Beef roast or steaks - Call for Cabernet Sauvignon.

  • Goose or game - Pinot Noir.  A rich Chardonnay, Zinfandel or Merlot could fit, too.

  • Cornbread stuffing - Pinot Noir.  If it's made with sausage, break out a Syrah or Rhone-style Red.

  • Pumpkin & Pecan Pie - An aged cream sherry or tawny Port will bring out the brown spices in the pie; a white dessert wine like a late harvest Riesling, Viognier or Chardonnay will also provide a lip-smacking accompaniment to the holiday pie.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Opolo Sangiovese 2005

It was a tough day in the salt mines.  Quittin' time took forever and my steps were quick to leave.  I picked up my wife and we headed home in the darkness.  A few shared stories of the horrors of the day and an affirmation of how much we dislike the salt mines set me to thinking about what I would open at home.  I currently have a bountiful assortment of exciting prospects which overflow the confines of the small "wine cellar" that sits next to the bar.  I began to think of the Opolo Sangiovese I had picked up over the weekend and the drive home immediately became a little easier.  The horrors of the day seemed a little more distant.  The salt mines were just places to get...salt.  Enough salt.  Let's get home and have some good wine. 

Grown on a chalky hillside in western Paso Robles, these grapes had to struggle through hot days, temperature swings and lack of water.  (That sounds a lot like the salt mines.)  The wine was aged 18 months in American Oak.  I'm a sucker for Italian varietals, and I'm also a sucker for wines from Paso Robles.  I have very high hopes.

Opolo's Cal-Italia effort pours up as a beautiful purple, light showing through it very easily.  On the nose, cherries are abundant, even cherry cola.  There's a spicy element, too, like a peppery cinnamon.  The oak's influence can be felt.  The taste is quite fruity - black cherry - but with an earthy tone that is quite appealing.  As a matter of fact, it's such a hearty drink it seems to be trying to escape its varietal shackles.  It's a very Zin-like Sangiovese.  Not so appealing is the high alcohol content.  If consumed upon opening, it takes over on the palate to an unpleasant degree. The effect of the alcohol does diminish after about 45 minutes, so decant this wine or let it sit in the glass a while.  It's worth the wait.

Winemaker:  Opolo Vineyards

Varietal:  100% Sangiovese

Appellation:  California > Central Coast > Paso Robles

Vineyard:  Opolo

Vintage:  2005

Alcohol Level:  14.8%

Price:  $16

Acquisition:  Bought it myself

Wine For Rockers

Woodstock ChardonnayDark Side of the Moon CabernetWine-drinking rock fans can now enjoy wines that come labeled with iconic rock'n'roll imagery. Wines That Rock has launched three new wines - Forty Licks Merlot, Woodstock Chardonnay and The Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon. Each wine comes decked out in a label taken from the album covers by the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and the soundtrack to Woodstock.

Wines That Rock is a partnership between rock business management firm RZO and the Mendocino Wine Company. Not only do the wines appeal to classic rock fans' musical taste, they also strike a chord with their social consciousness. The wines feature what the company calls eco-friendly packaging and carbon neutrality in addition to the Menocino Wine Company's sustainable farming practices and use of green power from both solar and wind.

The wines sell for about $17 per bottle, $50 for a three-pack and discounts for six-packs and cases. Presently, the wines are available through the Wines That Rock website, but retail distribution should start in 2010. Additional classic pairings of wines and legendary rock albums and artwork will be available in the comings months.

This is not the first attempt to marry wine and rock'n'roll.

Forty Licks MerlotThe Mendocino Wine Company also features wines which echo rock imagery - Big Yellow Cab, Tusk'N Red and Zig Zag Zin. There is also a Lodi Zinfandel marketed under the name Deep Puple, with a label that evokes the psychedelic concert posters of the late 1960s.

This line of wines follows the lead of other wine producers marketing wines with labeling that features very familiar imagery which they hope consumers will recognize and be drawn to purchase.

I have not tasted the wines yet, nor have I read any critical reviews of them.  It would seem a sure bet, though, that - whether they are swill or swell - from the rock'n'roll connection alone Wines That Rock will find a ready-made audience.

Don't bogart that Cab, my friend.  Just pass it to me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Beaujolais Nouveau 2009

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!

Thursday November 19, 2009 is Beaujolais Nouveau day, the day when France's wine laws allow the vin de primeur to be rushed out to the waiting masses.

The wine of the Gamay grape barely has a chance get a cork put in it before being hurled out of the wineries at the stroke of midnight on the third Thursday of November.  There is only time for six weeks of fermentation, so if you've ever related to the Steve Martin line from The Jerk - "Bring us some fresh wine." - this may be for you.  Beloved by many as an unpretentious and easy-to-drink wine, it is also frowned upon by some as an immature, not-ready-for-prime-time player.

I spoke with wine expert Nicolas Soufflet to get a real Frenchman's perspective.

RF:  First, is this a wine we should be looking forward to at all?

NS:  "Due to the nature of Beaujolais Nouveau, it is obviously a very simple wine.  This does not necessary mean that it's a bad wine.  The marketing of it these past few years has brought a lot of pretty insipid juice to the forefront, your typical hangover wine if you ask me.  There are still a few who make pleasurable Beaujolais Nouveau, among them a small producer, Pierre-Marie Chermette Domaine du Vissoux.  He's one of those guys people have started relying on for a decent bottle."

RF:  What about a mature Beaujolais?  What do you like?

NS:  "I personally like the Beaujolais Crus.  My favorites are from the Morgon appellation, possibly the darkest of them. They are evidence that when treated and aged properly, Gamay can be an elegant grape and deliver good complexity and personality.  The number of Beaujolais Crus are up to ten now, with Régnié having been promoted from its previous Beaujolais-Villages status in 1988."

RF:  How important an event is Beaujolais Nouveau in France?  Is it really a big deal?

NS:  "In France, the Beaujolais Nouveau Day is a pretty big thing.  Mostly, it provides the French people with exactly what they want - an excuse to go to the cafe or bistro around the corner and mingle while enjoying a glass of wine.  Or two.  Or five.  I think the tradition goes back to the 1950's.  The style became very popular in the 1960s and in 1985 the third Thursday of November was established by the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine as the national release date.  The funny thing is, out of my own experience, the last time I did it I started with a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau and spent the rest of the evening drinking something else - to spare my stomach and my head, mainly.  You see, when a wine is as young as a Beaujolais Nouveau - even when it is good - it is usually very acidic.  You tend to feel it in the morning. "

Beaujolais Nouveau is obviously a tradition in France, but there are a few opportunities for Southern California Gamay lovers to get their grape on.

WineVineandDine and Victors Square Restaurant have a Beaujolais Nouveau dinner planned for November 19th at 7 p.m. with food prepared by chef Luis Pimienta.  Five different Beaujolais Nouveau wines will be served, along with a six-course dinner.  The price is $80 per person, which includes food, wine, tax and tip.  Victors Square Restaurant is located at 1917 N. Bronson Avenue, north of Franklin.  Call to make reservations - they are a must.  818.429.6770.

Beaujolais Nouveau will be paired with some crepes or escargots at one of four Creme de la Crepe locations in the South Bay.  It's November 19th from 6 to 9 p.m., and costs $25.

Rosso Wine Shop in Glendale has a November 19th celebration featuring Louis Tete's 2009 offering and some Franco-inspired food.  It's a $10 party and runs from 5 p.m. until closing.

Beaujolais Passions will be at the Petersen Automotive Museum this year.  The 7 p.m. - midnight event will feature tastes of the 2009 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau along with other wines and food.  Dancing, fun and networking are promised, along with the displays of the museum.  Admission is $20 advance, $30 at the door, and that includes one glass of the 2009 release.  Additional wine and culinary treats will be available for purchase.

Francophone Fest uses the day as a good excuse to bring together the French, French speakers or France lovers in an event that is presented "under the auspices of the consuls of France, Belgium, Lebanon and Quebec."  It may sound like you need consulate license plates on your car to get in, but it's actually open to all who have $20, $30 at the door.  Franophone Fest will be at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel November 19th from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.  Entertainment by French Tuesdays.

Fancifull Gift Baskets will bring an old-school celebration to Los Angeles.  November 20th (a day after the actual celebration day) from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Fancifull will pour a handcrafted wine from a small producer as well as other wines from their winter list.   They will also share samples from L'Artisan du Chocolat truffles, Maya Olive Oil, Soledad Goat Cheese, Nutland Nuts and John Kelly Chocolates.  All this for $10 in Los Angeles means you get the crowd without the papparrazi.  Reservations are a must. Visit Fancifull Gift Baskets to do so.

If you will be in Las Vegas for Beaujolais Nouveau day, or that weekend, Paris Las Vegas has plans to celebrate at their various restaurants through Sunday, November 22nd.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Domaine de Valmoissine 2007

My wife and I were out and about, flitting from one Sunday chore to another.  A lot of people find it tedious to spend a Sunday shopping - at the grocery.  We manage to get endless enjoyment from the simple things we do.  I got a great deal on a California Zinfandel in the wine department, and was sending out a message about it on Twitter (@randyfuller1, in case you're interested.)  My wife found me and asked what I was doing.  "Tweeting about this Ravenswood," I answered.  She rolled her eyes and began searching for the perfect pineapple.

Later we drove to the Westside and stopped into a discount wine place that is actually located in a storage facility.  Yeah, they've got a roll-up front door.  They also have some great prices.  And no, not everything my wife and I do has to do with wine.  She bought plenty of non-wine things at Ralph's.

Anyway, by the sheer fluke of timing we ran into a couple we know.  They were also wine shopping at this little place, and we enjoyed our brief visit at the checkout stand.  Nicolas is very knowledgeable about wine, and we made dinner plans and talked about the purchases he was making.  They left, and we went in, me asking my wife what she thought we should buy.  "Get that French wine Nicolas was buying."  To cut a long story off at the point probably just after you doze off, we did.  To no one's surprise, it was a good choice.

The Bottle:  A classic Burgundy bottle contains a Pinot Noir from the Vin de Pays des Côteaux de Verdun appellation.  After tasting it, I feel this is under billed as a "red table wine."  13.5% abv.  I purchased this at a Los Angeles discount shop for the pittance of $10.  A steal.

The Nose:  There's a lovely purple color with a red tint at the edges.  A sniff of the glass reveals a dark and earthy nose.  Quite a wonderful cherry fragrance.  My wife and I collaborated on the nose and decided it was cherries and blackberries on the forest floor, trod upon, with some wet stones thrown in for substance.

The Taste:  Soft tannins and a very well-rounded feel in the mouth make this wine feel right at home on the palate.  The fruit is right up front and loaded with ripe flavors of cherry and berries.  It's a very smooth wine.