Sunday, January 31, 2010

"They Got This Recession On" Wines, Part 9

I've been knocking back quite a bit of cheap wine lately, not by design but by chance.  Fortunately for me, the wines haven't been all that bad as a rule, and I haven't been chained to them.  Besides, drinking cheap wine gives me a chance to use the title line for this series yet again. 

I was talking with my friend Dominick the other day - he's a wine novice - and he asked me if there was a correlation between price and quality.  I explained to him that the chances of running across a poorly made wine are probably greater on the bottom shelf than the top.  But I also explained that the best wine in the world is the one you like best.  Your personal palate is the one and only arbiter of whether or not a wine is "good."  If it costs $5, great.  If it costs $500, I hope you can afford to have it as often as you like.

Montpellier Vineyards Pinot Noir 2008

I bought this wine on the strength of a restaurant tasting recently.  Denise actually selected it, but I signed off on it, too.  Now I honestly can't recall what I liked about this wine.  Maybe its earthy, herbal character attracted me.  Possibly it was the cola notes.  Now, however, I'm struck - almost as if slapped in the face - with a medicinal edge for which I have no fondness.  The fruit didn't materialize the way I remembered at the tasting. As a parting shot, I'm left with a bitter taste on the finish.

Variety:  Pinot Noir
Appellation:  California
Vintage:  2008
Alcohol Level:  12.5% abv
Price:  $7
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author

Loyola Marymount Wine Classic 2010

Loyola Wine Classic

The field house at Loyola Marymount University was the setting for the 2010 Loyola Wine Classic.  The crowd that pushed its way into the cavernous gymnasium couldn't have been more excited if it were the Final Four being held there.  A gigantic crowd surged around the perimeter of the structure, tasting some of the finest wines available in California and exchanging notes with friends about what should be tried next.

So great was the throng that it was difficult for me to push toward the tables and have a taste myself.  Once there, it was difficult to maintain position for more than a couple of hurried samples.  I did manage to let myself be carried along with the crowd often enough to sample quite a few wines, most of which were exemplary.  It was impossible to use the crowd as a barometer of what was most popular - every table seemed to have a waiting line snaking away from it.

For what it's worth, William Cole Vineyards appeared to be the first winery to run out of their supply.  The pourer chirped, "I usually am."  Is it because so many people lined up to sample, because he poured large tastes or because he simply didn't bring as much as everyone else?  I don't know.  Neither did the student who was working the floor.  We had a bit of a laugh over it, though.

Here are the notable wines I tried, which is to say, every wine I tried.  Everything was good.  My favorites are noted as such and are in italics.

Loyola Wine Classic

Arns Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - big, bold nose - slightly medicinal notes

Cafaro Cellars Merlot 2006 - nice, toasty nose - great fruit

Falcone Family Vineyards Annate NV - Syrah/Cab Sauvignon/Petite Sirah blend  46/34/20% - big Paso Robles nose and flavor

Foxen Vineyards Range 30 West 2006 -  Merlot/Cab Sauvignon - tons of earth, very smooth - a fave

Foxen Chardonnay Bien Nacido 2008 - big nose, sort of grassy - rish taste

Miner Family Winery The Oracle 2005 - Bordeaux blend of 5 grapes - v intense, smooth as silk - a fave

Ortman Family Vineyards Paso Robles Sangiovese 2007 - bright cherry nose, cherry coke palate - a fave

Ortman Edna Valley Chardonnay - big, rich nose - outdoorsy taste

Paradigm Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - great nose - lushly earthy - a fave

Red Cap Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2007 - both with tons of graphite and both delicious

Saddleback Cellars Viognier 2008 - huge floral nose, tropical palate - a fave

Lane Tanner Haka by Labrynth Tempranillo 2008 - very smooth and fruity

Lane Tanner Haka by Labrynth Petite Sirah 2008 - dark and spicy nose and taste - a fave

Lane Tanner Haka by Labrynth Free Bird 2008 - Merlot/Tempranillo blend with traces of Petit Verdot and Cab S - great fruit

Vinoce Vineyard - Cabernet Franc/Cab Suvignon and Merlot 2006 - fab nose, wonderfully dense - a fave

WesMar Winery Pinot Noir Balletto Vineyard 2007 - mellow, tea-like flavor

White Rock Vineyards Claret 2005 - wonderful graphite and penetrating dryness - a fave

ZD Wines Chardonnay 2008 - grapes from 4 regions - nose like a campfire

Pasadena PinotFest 2010, 2nd Annual

Pasadena PinotFest
I made a sort of "wine resolution" at the beginning of the year to drink more Pinot Noir.  To that end, this month I have attended not one but two big tasting events featuring Pinot Noir.  The most recent, the Pasadena PinotFest, was held at the University Club of Pasadena on January 30.  I had not been to the venerable facility since my friends Jerry and Robin had their wedding reception there.  It was a jumpin' joint that night, but the wine crowd got the room rockin', too.

A full house made their way from winery table to winery table, stopping to refresh their palates at a major cheese station, a carving table for assorted meats and a wonderful island where succulent braised short ribs were served atop a pile of cheesy grits.  Pleasure abounded from wall to wall.

Pasadena PinotFestNearly 50 wineries were represented, and not all of them felt obliged to restrict their pours to Pinot Noir.  Quite a few brought Chardonnays and Syrahs with them, while I did see one Pinot Gris and a rose.  It was a Pinot Noir rose, however.

Pasadena PinotFest

Although the room was crowded, I was able to make it in good fashion up and down the aisles.  At no time was it difficult to get close enough to the pourers to hear what they had to say about the wines.  In fact, at an event earlier in the month, I had some difficulty getting close to the Clos Pepe table.  This time around, winemaker Wes Hagen was able to devote his entire attention to my questions for several minutes.  That's probably not the way he would have preferred it, but it worked very well for me.

Pasadena PinotFest

Hagen poured some of his prized rose to start.  He explained that for this pink wine, his grapes are taken a full six weeks before other Pinot growers begin harvesting.  He feels he can get full fruit flavor without letting the grapes possibly get overripe.  I agree.  The Clos Pepe rose has one of the best fruit presences I can remember tasting in a pink wine.  Moreover, his Pinot Noir seems almost like an extension of the rose rather than a different wine entirely.

Another big favorite for me was Row 11 Russian River Valley 2007.  The spices were so delicious this one really did make my eyes open wide.  According to the pourer, winemaker Richard de los Reyes makes New World Pinot Noir by selecting the "best vineyards, in the best appellations and taking the best rows."  She explained that's where the name, Row 11, comes from.  Reyes can walk any vineyard in California and select any row he likes.  He apparently likes Row 11.

Pasadena PinotFest

I was also taken with the Windstream 2008 Pinot.  It's a big, floral, rich wine which is, I'm told, "the winemaker's baby."  Winemaker Anthony Riboli, of the Los Angeles winemaking Riboli Family, really impressed me with this wine.

Pasadena PinotFest

The Pasadena PinotFest served as a fundraiser for Hillsides, a Pasadena-based nonprofit organization doing good work for Southern California's children.  If you weren't able to help by attending, please click on their name and explore other opportunities to help.

Here are some of the wines I sampled (all are Pinot Noir):

Ampelos Lambda 2006 - very good

Ampelos Rho 2006 Barrel Select - excellent, bright and earthy on nose and palate

Ampelos Fiddlestix Vineyard 2007 - subdued fruit, somewhat green

Alma Rosa  Santa Rita Hills 2007 - nice and earthy

Alma Rosa La Encantada Vineyard 2005 - wild nose, got a lot of attention from other tasters while I was there

Badge 2006 - complex nose, spicy taste

Baileyana Grand Fire Peak Cuvee 2007 - earthy and full

Cargasacchi Point Concepcion Salsipuedes 2008 - barnyard nose, nice mineral profile

Cargasacchi Estate, Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard 2007 - brighter and more vibrant than Concepcion

Clos Pepe Rose 2009 - strawberry, 11.5% abv, great fruit presence, very "real"

Clos Pepe 2006 - like and "extension" of the rose, darker and fuller

Clos Pepe 2007 - even fruitier and fuller than '06

Derby 2006 - very good nose

Ken Brown Santa Maria Valley 2007 - violets

Ken Brown Sta. Rita Hills 2007 - great sense of earth

Ken Brown Clos Pepe Vineyard 2007 - dark and brooding

Loring 2008 - like candy on the nose

Loring Gary's Vineyard 2008 - herbaceous, bright and delicious

Marimar Don Miguel Vineyard 2006 - lovely and dark

Marimar Dona Margarita Vineyard 2006 - big nose, subdued fruit

Row 11 Russian River 2007 - OMG! great spices

Stephen Ross Chorro Creek 2007 - nice minerals

Tin House 2005 - very nice earth, big, sourced in Edna Valley

Windstream 2008 - very big taste, floral and rich, "winemaker's baby"

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Off The Beaten Path: SoCal Wine Tasting

Southern California has a wealth of wine tasting opportunities.  No matter where you are in Southern California, you probably have a nice tasting event coming up in the next few days in or near your neighborhood.  Let's fire up the GPS and get off the well-traveled trail to explore a few hidden gems of Southern California wine tasting.

Rosso Wine ShopGlendale - Rosso Wine Shop
3459 1/2 North Verdugo Road
Glendale, CA 91208
Rosso is a small but interesting wine store which carries not only the expected Italian, but also French, Spanish and California wines that are hand picked by the owner.  "Everyday wines that won't break the bank" is how it's summed up on the website.  Rosso's website is a worthy read, because it contains links to corkage fees for a number of Southern California restaurants, a list of Farmers Markets and a slew of wine region maps.  Rosso's tastings are held on Fridays and Saturdays under expert guidance.  Any questions you may have will be answered in knowledgeable fashion.  The tastings generally only cost $10.  By the way, if you're hungry when you stop in, La Cabanita Mexican Restaurant is just two doors down.  Bag two birds and only park the car once.

San Dimas Wine Shop and Tasting RoomSan Dimas - San Dimas Wine Shop and Tasting Room
225 W Bonita Avenue
San Dimas, CA 91773-3008
Wine tasting is not so much an event here as it is a natural occurance.  As long as the store is open, so are the wine bottles.  There's a different menu each week which changes on Tuesdays and usually costs in the neighborhood of $12 to $15.  Each Sunday they offer a different bubbly by the glass.  Fine wines, micro-brewed beer and artisan cheeses are revered at this full-service wine store.  It's a good place to know about the next time you're in beautiful downtown San Dimas.

Off The VineSan Pedro - Off The Vine
491 6th Street
Suite 103
San Pedro, CA  90731
Michael and Alison Koth started from scratch with this little dream of theirs, and they have made it blossom into an integral part of their community.  Tastings are held Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and most are themed.  Relax in The Map Room, get a cheese plate if you like, and take a tour of a wine region, variety or style.  There's no hurry, by the way.  The tastings last for hours.  Off The Vine also offers occasional dinners, tours and cruises tailored for wine lovers.  They have partnered with local restaurants that charge no corkage on wines purchased at Off The Vine, and even have a "Wine Tasting and a Show" promotion with an area theater!

All Corked UpSanta Clarita - All Corked Up
26340 Diamond Place
Santa Clarita, CA  91350
866.4ACU.WINE (9463)
It's a wine bar.  No, it's a wine store.  Well, it's both.  Depends on which door you use to enter.  It's actually more - it's also a restaurant with some really fabulous food, and a wine storage facility, too.  All Corked Up is hidden away, even by Santa Clarita standards.  They're in a business park and hidden from the view of the main road - you should definitely call for directions if you don't know your way around.  Once you find them, you'll most likely be glad you went to the trouble.  The bar area - up front - is upscale and comfortable.  A long bar and a room full of tables offer plenty of space to relax, swirl, sniff and taste.  In the back area is the store, where you can find bottles of the great wines you just tasted.  There's live music on a regular basis and special tasting events are never too far away. Be sure to write down the directions or throw down bread crumbs on your way there - you'll want to return.

The Wine CountrySignal Hill - The Wine Country
2301 Redondo Avenue
Signal Hill, CA 90755
No mistaking this place.  It's a full-bore wine store.  They do pour a taste or two from time to time, though.  Regular tastings occur on Thursday and Saturday afternoons, with more in-depth classes on most Friday and some Wednesday nights.  The Wine Country's website provides a clutch of information and even a Philosophy of Wine.  In that lengthy treatise, the notion of wine made for the marketplace is rejected and a more terroir-driven product is embraced.  It is this type of wine they strive to present in the store.

PhlightWhittier - Phlight
6724 Bright Avenue
Whittier, CA 90601
In historic Uptown Whittier, Phlight is a wine and tapas bar near the intersection of Philadelphia and Bright.  They serve daily flights of 3 wines for $12,  4 for $16.  Their wines are excellent, with a list that looks to be about half Californian and half Spanish, Argentine and Australian.  An occasional wine from Italy, Germany and New Zealand may show up on the menu, too.  Visit their website and you'll find that Phlight is the dream of an enterprising young couple who want to give something back to their hometown.  It appears they are giving a lot, as Phlight has become quite the hotspot in Uptown Whittier.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ca' del Solo Albarino 2008

Bonny Doon Vineyard's Randall Grahm has two driving forces in the present phase of his arc as a winemaker.  One is to make wines which express a sense of place - terroir - and the other is to achieve and maintain a green attitude toward winemaking.  With his Ca' del Solo Albarino, he makes great strides on both counts.

His terroir is fully on display in this wine, a zesty and mineral-laden representation of the earth from his Salinas Valley vineyard.  It is also certified Biodynamic, a front-burner issue for Grahm these days.  Grahm's needs have been met with this beautiful white - and so have ours.

The wine pours up a pale yellow-green in the glass.  It's wonderfully aromatic, with floral notes, a ton of citrus and plenty of minerals. It has a nose that keeps you busy.  It's one of those wines that smells so good you might have to remind yourself to drink it.  Please don't forget to do so.  On the palate, this Albarino is nice and crisp, a very clean taste - zesty is the word that keeps popping into my head - and it finishes clean.

Grahm has a proclivity for unheralded grapes.  While Albarino doesn't really qualify as unheralded for me, the other two grapes in the mix are decidedly lesser stars.  Loureiro and Treixadura both hail from northern Portugal and are used mainly as blending grapes in crisp, dry white wines.

Variety:  75% Albarino, 21% Loureiro, 4% Treixadura
Appellation:  California > Monterey County
Vineyard:  Ca' del Solo
Vintage:  2008
Alcohol Level:  12.8%
Price:  $20
Acquisition disclaimer:  Provided for purpose of review

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wine Events Coming up in 2010

Wine Tasting CaliforniaPasadena PinotFest, 2nd Annual
Jan 24-30
Noir Food & Wine
40 North Mentor Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
Jan 24 7:00 p.m. – Brian Loring Winemaker Dinner - $129
Jan 29 5:00 p.m. - Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe Tasting - $20
Jan 30 3:00 p.m. - Public Grand Tasting - $75 advance, $89 at door.
Attendance is limited to 350.
Each night during PinotFest Noir Food & Wine will feature flights of the Pinots from some of the participating wineries. $20-$30
All three events available for $200
Loyola Marymount University Wine Classic
Jan 31  2:00-5:00 p.m.
Loyola Marymount University
1 LMU Drive
LA CA 90045
More than 150 California boutiuque wineries will be featured.  A silent auction of specialty wines and products will be featured.  Proceeds benefit LMU student scholarships.
$90, $80 if purchased by January 15
Stars of Santa Barbara, 7th Annual
Wednesday, February 3
7:00-9:30 p.m.
The Peninsula Hotel, Beverly Hills
9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd
Beverly Hills, Ca 90212
Attendance is limited to 125.
Cost: $120.  Limited number of discount tickets are available at Goldstar for $69 while they last.
The wine education group Learn About Wine will stage this event spotlighting 116 wines from the Santa Barbara area.  Participating wineries are set to include such luminaries as Ampelos, Carr, Dierberg, La Fenetre, Lucas & Lewellen, Riverbench, Sanford, Tantara and Zaca Mesa.
Valentine'N Wine Passport Weekend
Feb 12 - 15  Noon-5:00 p.m.
Participating Wineries of Ventura County
Seven wineries in Ventura County are hosting this tasting tour.  Bella Victorian Vineyard, Cantara Cellars, Herzog Wine Cellars, Rancho Ventavo Cellars, Old Creek Ranch Winery, Casa Barranca and Camarillo Custom Crush are the stops along the way, all within shouting distance of the 101 Freeway between Highway 23 and Highway 33.
$35 advance, $40 during event
Top 100 Cabs of the Napa Valley
Feb 13 3:00-6:00 p.m.
Bayleaf Restaurant
2025 Monticello Road
Napa, CA 94558
A judged blind tasting of the Top 100 Cabs of the Napa Valley is the highlight, but you'll enjoy tasting the top Cabs in the land that's known for them.  Hors d'ouevres will be served.  Judges will taste and score over 400 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines several days prior to the event.  They will be ranked from 1 to 100 for you to taste them.
Attendance is limited to 300.
$95 $135 at door
Madera Wine Trail's Wine and Chocolate Weekend
Feb 13 - 14 Noon-5:00 p.m.
Wineries of the Madera Wine Trail
9400 Road 36
Madera, CA 93636
Wine and cocolate delights for those in the Central Valley over Valentine's weekend.
Edge of L.A. 1st Ever International Wine Festival
Apr 10 2:00-6:00 p.m.
Michael's of Tuscany
470 W. 7th
San Pedro, CA
Over 40 wineries will be represented, hailing from all over the world.  Favorites from California will be featured alongside French, Eastern European, Aussie and more.  There's a Winemaker Dinner following the event and a silent auction.  Proceeds benefit charities.
Cost: $50 - $500.  Limited number of tickets available.

On a smaller scale - but just as enjoyable -my friends at Pourtal in Santa Monica, The Wine House in West L.A., Wally's in Westwood, Rosso and 55 Degree Wine in Glendale, K&L in Hollywood, Off The Vine in San Pedro and All Corked Up in Santa Clarita all sponsor regular tastings and special events.  Check the website of your favorite wine hang and pay them a visit!  Always remember to drink responsibly.  That includes tastings, too.  If you don't have a designated driver, that's why they have spit buckets.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"They Got This Recession On" Wines, Part 8

Mouton Cadet Blanc Bordeaux 2008

It's January as I take the Mouton Cadet in hand.  It's been in my rack since the warmer weather and other bright, shiny objects have been bumping it off the pedestal for quite some time.  The amazing reds of winter, I have decided, shall take a back seat today.  

I don't feel that I drink enough French wine.  I'm such a fanboy for California's Central Coast that I just don't seem to get around to Bordeaux as often as I would like.  Why not do so with a wine from a legendary name?  Baron Philippe de Rothschild seems legendary enough.

Aah, but I have forgotten - they got this recession on.  No matter.  This legendary Bordeaux cost a mere $8 at Trader Joe's.  As a matter of fact, Mouton Cadet got its start in the not-so-hot economic times of the 1930s.  Baron Phillippe determined the 1930 vintage was not of high enough quality and proceeded to declassify it, taking the Chateau label off the bottle and creating a new brand - Cadet, since he was the youngest in the family.  The wine has undergone a number of changes through its history, but has built a solid reputation for affordable quality.

This white wine is a pale golden hue in the glass.  The nose is ruled by Sauvignon Blanc, with aromas of grassiness and wet sidewalk showing the mineral aspect.  Grapefruit zest is also abundant.  I taste the crisp tartness of the Sauvignon Blanc and get a mellow edge from the Semillon and Muscadelle.  Cadet finishes very clean and leaves the palate feeling completely refreshed.

Variety:  60% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, 10% Muscadelle
Appellation:  France > Bordeaux
Vintage:  2008
Alcohol Level:  12%
Price:  $8
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Zinology At Pourtal

Zinology at PourtalFans of Zinfandel - and similar grapes Primitivo and Plavac Mali - will want to get to Pourtal in Santa Monica for their Tasting Tour of some favorites from California, Italy and Croatia.  Eight of the taps in Pourtal's Enomatic system have been converted over to these big, flavorful wines and will be ready for tasting through the middle of February.  You can swing by anytime it's convenient for you.  Pourtal has the Tasting Tour itinerary in PDF form.

Pourtal's Sommelier Rachel Bryan put together an interesting mix.  It's heavy on the Zinfandel with five California Zins included.  Dashe, Ridge, Quivira, Four Vines and Turley are the representatives from the Golden State.  Two Italian Primitivos - from Guttarolo and Vigneti Reale - and a Croation Plavac Mali from Dingac Peljesac round out the world tour.  Bryan explains why Zin's roots are mysterious: "Some say California Zinfandel came from the Croatian grape, Plavac Mali, stopping by Italy, where they call it Primitivo. All wine grapes have roots from Western Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, however their exact origins are sometimes unknown, disputed, or have been genetically proven. Zinfandel's origins have been the subject of dispute since the 1800’s."

All three grapes in this Tasting Tour are said to be related.  Whether or not they are, the similarities are undeniable and worth experiencing.

Pourtal Wine Tasting Bar
104 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tamas Estates Barbera 2006

One of the great things about giving gifts to your friends is that sometimes they give you gifts right back.  Denise made a wonderful three-cheese rigatoni dish last week to give to our friend Sioux-z.  Sioux-z looks forward to receiving anything that's stamped "From Denise's Kitchen."  She's almost as big a fan of my wife's cooking as I am, and that says a lot.  With several days notice, and knowing we say "yes" to wine, she very thoughtfully procured a gift for us in return for the rigatoni.  I have a glass of it beside me as I write this.

Tamas Estates - despite the European-looking name and a wine list that would fit in nicely in an Italian restaurant - is located in California's Livermore Valley.  Livermore is up the 680 from San Jose and just east of Pleasanton.  Besides the Barbera, Tamas also produces several other Cal-Italia wines.  Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, and their Vino Rosso blend.  They also make a "Prima Classe Riserva" which, I understand, combines a super-Tuscan blend with a Barbera Port.  Yummy.  The Barbera has had a half hour to breathe, so let's dive in!

Upon opening, the wine carries a lot of heat - it requires a full hour to settle down.  Once it did, though, it was very mellow.  The next night it was ready to go upon unscrewing the cap.  The Barbera's color is very dark, so dark I can barely see through it.  The nose gives notes of a brambly blackberry and a toasty vanilla.  On the palate there's big fruit and a high acidity level.  I'm thinking this wine would be great with sausage or even a steak.  Maybe I'll buy another bottle and be prepared for Denise's next rigatoni night!

Winemaker:  Chris Graves
Variety:  100% Barbera
Appellation:  California > San Francisco Bay > Alameda > Livermore Valley
Vintage:  2006

Alcohol Level:  13.5%
Price:  $13
Acquisition disclaimer:  Gift from a friend

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Weil Estate Riesling Rheingau 2007

When I talk to people about trying to find a wine that smells like gasoline, it's generally accepted as a joke.  Unless, of course, I'm talking to someone who knows Riesling.  On a recent visit to the Wine House in West Los Angeles, I asked about just that.  

They're very helpful at the Wine House, and when I asked for help in finding a Riesling with a good strong hint of petrol, the response was quick and accurate.  Robert Weil's Estate Riesling is as dry as a bone and as German as a Volkswagen.  The pale yellow color looks tame enough, but the nose brings that petrol aroma along with a floral note.  The wine tastes tart, with bracing minerals and a well-balanced acidity. 

Varietal:  100% Riesling
Appelation:  Germany > Rheingau
Vintage:  2007
Alcohol Level:  11.5% abv
Price:  $15
Acquisition Disclaimer:  Purchased by author

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Valpanera Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2007

This Italian red wine is produced from a single variety of grape, the Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, named for the red stem on which it grows.  This grape dates back to around the first century, and there aren't too many things about which you can say that.  If you've never heard of the grape before - and many casual wine drinkers in America haven't - understand that they've been working with it in Italy for a long time, so they really know what they are doing.

The wine is a very deep red color, so deep I can barely see light through it.  It is aged anywhere from eight to twelve months - in stainless steel.  A red wine aged in steel may surprise you, but it's not uncommon to find it done that way in Italy.  The fruit really comes through in the nose - quite dark yet inviting.  I smell blackberries and currants.

It sits medium full in the mouth and has a very clean taste due to the lack of wood.  On the palate it's equally fruity with a deliciously dark flavor.  Smokey doesn't quite describe it, but it's close.  Earthy, almost musty might be a little closer to the truth.

Let it sit awhile before enjoying it and you'll be rewarded with a smooth, clean-tasting red.  Denise used it in a crock pot melange of potatoes and carrots and it really imparted a wonderful flavor.  Plus, when she used the wine to cook the dish it made the two a perfect match.  It's really a delightful find. 

Variety: 100% Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 
Appelation: Italy > Friuli-Venezia Giulia > Friuli Aquileia 
Vintage: 2007 
Alcohol Level: 12.5% abv 
Price: $23 
Acquisition disclaimer: Purchased by author

Pinot Days Southern California, Grand Tasting

In the film Sideways Miles delivers a wonderful monologue about why he likes Pinot Noir.  He talks at length about the "thin-skinned, temperamental" grape which "needs constant care and attention" in order to thrive.  Miles calls Pinot Noir's flavors "the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet."  It's obvious Miles has a deep and abiding respect not only for the grape, but for those growers who have what it takes to "coax it into its fullest expression."

Sunday January 17th, 2010 there was a celebration of the Pinot Noir grape, those who do the coaxing and those who take the raw ingredients in hand and make the magic happpen.  In Santa Monica Airport's Barker Hangar, nearly a hundred wine producers gathered to pour their Pinots and talk about them to interested individuals during the Pinot Days Grand Tasting.

The picture at left shows the crowd of "trade tasters" who began filing in at 11:00 a.m.  When the general admittance started two hours later, space became considerably harder to find.  The Pinot Noir kept flowing, though.  Wide open and in plentiful supply at some tables, hidden behind a mass of humanity at others, the wine was the star at each.  Most producers brought out their 2006 and 2007 vintages, while some featured a fresh-faced 2008.  There was even one 2009 I spotted.  It was a rose.  From Pinot Noir, of course.

At this type of event, I judge the most popular wines by counting how many times I have to make my way around the facility before I can muscle in to those oh-so-desirable tables.  There were five notable wineries at Pinot Days which required me to make several laps around Barker Hangar before the crowd subsided enough to allow a bit of access.

The crowd at Flying Goat practically went away by the second time I passed.  Their loss.  Flying Goat's '07 Dierberg Vineyard was a fabulous wine with hints of spearmint.

I was able to taste at Merry Edwards the third time around.  I liked the Sonoma Coast Pinot better than the Klopp Ranch, but both were fine efforts, lush and dark.

It was my fifth pass before I could sample the wares from Hitching Post.  They served a nice array, including their Cork Dancer with its lovely nose and vanilla candy scents.  St. Rita's Earth features just that, a healthy dose of Santa Rita Hills terroir.  Highliner has sweet aromas, firm tannins and layer after layer of flavors.  It seemed to be a real crowd pleaser.

Just across the aisle was J Vineyards. I made it through on the fifth time around here, too.  Their Nicole's Vineyard Pinot was perhaps the fullest mouthfeel I experienced all day.  It's a very smooth and deep wine.

By my admittedly unscientific method, Clos Pepe Vineyards was by far the busiest for the longest.  It was my sixth time around the hangar before I finally gave in and stood in line to taste Wes Hagen's Pinot Noir.  It was worth the wait.  The 2006 showed a lot of depth.  Hagen even brought along a Pinot Noir Rose, 2009, which was not too sweet and not too tart.  Each time I had passed, Hagen was literally holding court.  Pouring his wine while firing off fast-paced repartee with the faithful, listing the wines he had available for tasting, which included "one for the true believers."  Hagen was obviously enjoying his time pouring for the public.  At one point when he was hidden by the throng of people surging towards him I heard him remark, to no one in particular, "I learned everything I know about table tasting at La Super Rica!  Talk to everybody!"  And that he did.  Hagen is a good follow on Twitter, by the way.  When not referencing Santa Barbara's most popular taqueria, he sometimes waxes poetic.  The man has a gift for haiku.

In all, I tasted 47 wines at Pinot Days.  By the end of my session my palate had gone into a Pinot Daze, so I had to call it quits.  I did manage to taste from all the wineries I had set out to taste from, and a few I hadn't.  Here are some that captured my attention:

C. Donatiello Maddie's Vineyard - a minty note I liked a lot

Carr Vineyards & Winery Three Vineyards Pinot and Turner Vineyard Pinot - both show excellent minerals and a flowery component, the latter a bit more delicate

Demetria Estate - '07 has a lively nose and a bit of tartness on the palate; '06 has lots of depth

Derby Wine Estates - nice nose, earthy palate

Dutton-Goldfield Winery - '07 McDougall Vineyard has peppery notes; '07 Sanchietti Vineyard was one of my favorites

Fess Parker's '08 Santa Barbara County - a great nose and a dark quality; '07 Bien Nacido really fills the mouth well; '07 Pommard Clone was no slouch

Ketcham Estate '07 Ketcham Vineyard - a wonderfully expressive Pinot

La Fenetre - two great wines and an amusing good cop/good cop show from Josh Klapper and Adam Leeman

MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast - a very full mouthfeel and a smooth drinker

McIntyre Vineyards '07 Estate - violets and a more rustic feel than '06 Estate, which I found very appealing

Friday, January 15, 2010

"They Got This Recession On" Wines, Part 7

I'm a relative novice in the area of wines from South Africa.  But I like Chenin Blanc, and I've heard a lot of good things about South African Chenin Blanc, so I had my eyes open for a good opportunity.  Along comes a South African Chenin Blanc that costs under ten dollars.  How could I say no?  Let's bust this recession South Africa style.

Man Vintners Chenin Blanc 2009

Man Vintners is located in Paarl, in coastal South Africa northwest of Cape Town.  This is traditionally a white wine area, although reds are gaining in popularity there.  This steen - South African for "Chenin Blanc" - is produced in stainless steel, and it has crisp and clean flavors to show for it.  The wine is 13.5% abv and cost only $7 where I bought it, probably at a bit of a discount.  The nose shows a tropical and canteloupe profile that is quite pleasant, while on the palate are lime and orange peel.  It's a crisp, rather full mouthfeel.  The acidity seems a little lacking, making me think of it as a summertime porch wine.  It probably goes nicely with salads and light seafood, but I would like it on that warm afternoon out on the deck.

Varietal:  100% Chenin Blanc 
Appelation:  South Africa > Paarl
Vintage:  2009
Alcohol Level:  13.5% abv
Price:  $7
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wine Pairings With Santa Maria Barbecue

Santa Maria Barbecue BrochureCalifornia's Santa Maria Valley is home to what has been called, by some, the best barbecue in the world.  The Valley's Visitor Information site has produced a booklet featuring all you need to know about the Santa Maria Valley barbecue scene.

In addition to showcasing the rich history of Santa Maria Style Barbecue, the 14-page booklet features a list of restaurants and caterers specializing in the regional culinary tradition.  The booklet also contains recipes for Santa Maria Style Pinquito Beans and Santa Maria Style Barbecue Salsa, as well as pairing suggestions from 12 local wineries.

You can send off for it and wait for the mailman to bring it, or you can download the PDF file and get that immediate gratification for which the internet age is famous.

If you'd just like to see which Central Coast wines are recommended to pair with SMV BBQ, here is that excerpt directly from the brochure.

ADDAMO VINEYARDS - 2005 Syrah or 2005 Pinot Noir

RIVERBENCH VINEYARD AND WINERY - Estate Pinot Noir or Mesa Pinot Noir

BIEN NACIDO VINEYARDS - 2007 Bien Nacido Vineyards Syrah or 2007 Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir (coming in Spring of 2010)

BYRON WINERY - 2006 Tepusquet Syrah or Clone 667 Pinot Noir

CAMBRIA VINEYARD - 2006 Tepusquet Syrah or 2007 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir

COSTA DE ORO - 2008 Costa de Oro Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County or 2008 Costa de Oro Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County

COTTONWOOD CANYON WINERY - 2005 Bistro Syrah or 2002 Syroir (Syrah/Pinot Noir blend)

FOXEN VINEYARD - 2006 Syrah Williamson-Dore Vineyard or 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Vogelzang Vineyard

LUCAS AND LEWELLEN VINEYARDS - 2005 Lucas and Lewellen Merlot or 2004 Lucas and Lewellen Valley View Cabernet Sauvignon

TRES HERMANAS WINERY - Rosé of Syrah 2006 or Rosé of Syrah 2007

KENNETH VOLK VINEYARDS - 2006 Syrah, Nielson Vineyard or 2007 Negrette

RANCHO SISQUOC WINERY - 2007 Sisquoc Barbecue Red or 2008 Sylvaner

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wines For Rockers: Red Zeppelin

Red Zeppelin WineI ran across another rock'n'roll winery for your rocking and drinking pleasure. Red Zeppelin Winery is located in Cayucos, CA, just up Highway One from Morro Bay. It's an interesting part of California, and the Red Zeppelin wines are made of grapes taken from several nice areas near there. The fruit comes from Paso Robles, Monterey County and San Luis Obispo County.

Unlike other wines with rock'n'roll labels, Red Zeppelin seems to be a wine first and a marketing ploy second. I make this statement without the benefit of an actual tasting.  With what seems to be a good track record by the winemaker, a raft of awards and the fact that they've been doing it for a while now - since 1991 - I feel justified in biting on the hype.

One corner of Red Zeppelin's website describes a rather bizarre link between the dirigible on the label and Randall Grahm's Le Cigare Volant. It's worth reading. There, you'll also find that Red Zeppelin wines have won several awards and been praised by no less than the San Francisco Chronicle and Rachel Ray.

Their flagship wine is the Black Zeppelin 2005. This is a Paso Robles Syrah with a healthy dose of Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon blended with it. The Red Zeppelin Syrah 2005 hails from Bear Valley Vineyard in Monterey County. 99% Syrah, with 1% "white varietal." The Red Zeppelin Vinidiction is a non-vintage blend from Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties, with 55% Cab and 45% Syrah. Red Zeppelin also makes a line called White Zeppelin, featuring a Riesling, a Chardonnay and a Viognier.

These wines are a little hard to find. Other than the winery's website, only a handful of retailers carry the line. There does not appear to be a tasting room associated with the winery, and tours are not given.  On January 11th, 2009, Wine Woot was offering a three pack of reds - one of each - for just under $50.

Winemaker Stillman Brown seems to be a fun-loving winemaker, indeed. Click on Swillyidle to find out what else he's been up to.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Henkell Trocken Piccolo Dry-Sec Sparkling Wine NV

A leftover from the holidays, this German sparkler delivered a 187 ml serving that was serviceable, if not a really special wine.  The label is German, but the grapes came across the border.  Henkell Trocken is made up of French Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Blanc de Noir from French Pinot Noir and Chenin from Saumur.

The wine is 11.5% abv and pours up as a golden yellow in the glass.  The effervescence was rather slight, but the nose was very yeasty, offering lots of promise.  The palate came across very smooth, almost creamy, in fact.  There just didn't seem to to be a lot going on here.  That's a shame, since I generally find most sparkling wine a bit too bubbly and often quite sweet, especially in the lower price range.  Henkell Trocken is pleasant enough drink, it just didn't move the "wow meter" too much.

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc 
Vintage:  NV 
Alcohol Level:  11.5% abv 
Price:  $3 
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by author

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology" (review)

Been Doon So LongWhen a person takes his  passionate interests very seriously, he runs the risk of becoming a geek.  Ask anyone who has seen all the Star Trek movies more than once.  Ask anyone who has built a computer from scratch, for fun.  Ask Randall Grahm.

He takes wine as he takes his other passions - very seriously, but in a not-so-serious sort of way.  That which he holds dear he treats with a razor-sharp wit.  The results are smartly funny and comically smart.

Literature is obviously something very close to his soul, yet he can throw down parodies of great works like a morning-show deejay throws down parodies of Michael Jackson songs.  He's the Weird Al Yankovic of the Dewey Decimal System.  His love and knowledge of wine is beyond question, yet he named his flagship wine after a French flying-saucer-in-the-vineyard story.  And a very serious wine it is.

Now Grahm has written a book in which he lets his geek flag fly.  Been Doon So Long starts with a pun utilizing his winery's name and continues with unabated geekness throughout.

Grahm's writing is rich and complex with layer upon layer peeling away to reveal nuances guaranteed to make the wine geek in you come out and party.

The founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard fills each page with his extensive oenological knowledge and expansive literary and historical references.  This is quite entertaining to a reader with some background knowledge about wine in general and Grahm specifically.  Anyone attempting to pierce this tome without at least a cursory exposure to his wry and sometimes tangled wit is treading ground which may prove to be too hard for tilling.

Grahm has written this book for those "in the know," and it will take either a vast bank of knowledge or constant Wikipedia usage to keep up with him.  Most of the humor - besides being unrelentingly oblique - is rooted nearly completely in wine lore.  In his Ten Ways You Know You’ve Met a Real Wine Geek, my favorite is number nine: "He has intimated that he would like to 'date' Jancis."  If you aren't aware that Jancis Robinson is a world-renowned wine authority the joke is clearly lost, and that is probably the most accessible item on the ten-item list which contains 16 footnotes.

Randall Grahm reads his bookThat said, the market for this book is most likely people who like Bonny Doon and Randall Grahm.  It may not be for everyone, but Grahm certainly knows his audience.

One chapter details the evolution of the labels of the Bonny Doon family, from the rather plain-looking early ones for the Bonny Doon Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, through "Old Telegram," "Le Cigare Volant," "Clos de Gilroy and "Ca del Solo" to "Cardinal Zin" and the beautifully understated label for "Ca del Solo Albarino."

A great portion of Been Doon So Long consists of parodies of great art.  Many of his literary parodies were created as promotional support for his wines.  In newsletters that were eagerly awaited by his fans, he hawked his wares in the various voices of Thomas Pynchon, Franz Kafka and James Joyce.  He even utilizes the hedonistic descriptive style of one Robert Parker.  My favorite is Don Quijones, the Man for Garnacha, or A Confederacy of Doonces.  A companion chapter has Grahm delving into the world of verse, taking poetic license with everything from The Inferno to Howl. Having these parodies collected in one volume is no doubt the best Christmas gift many of his fans received.

Writing about some of his recurring themes Grahm cites, "the banality of Chardonnay, the pretentiousness of Napa Valley, the banal pretentiousness of Napa Valley Chardonnay...lead to a heartfelt cry for tolerance of diverse wine styles and the oddball grape varieties."  As a wine drinker who is relentlessly drawn to to wines made from grapes little known to me, I relate well to his footnoted feelings of ABC, "Anything But Cabernet (or Chardonnay.)"  Nowadays, there are plenty of California winemakers dabbling in the Rhone varieties; any one of them might be referred to as a Rhone Ranger.  Grahm, in the mid 1980s, was, more or less, THE Rhone Ranger.  Just as the California wine pioneers before him did, Grahm's Bonny Doon helped pave the way for other dreamers who kicked clods of dirt in between their rows of Roussanne.

From a literary standpoint, Grahm seems pathologically obsessed with notation, footnotes appearing in his writing almost as frequently as adjectives.  This allows him to cram in triple the information that the normal structure of a sentence would allow.  I don't remember seeing it, but I'm sure somewhere within the pages there is a footnote within a footnote.  His full commitment to the obscure reference at least partially explains his dependence upon footnotes.

If that sounds a tad negative, please note - or footnote, if you will - that I really enjoy interesting reading, even when there is a dangerously long tangential offshoot waiting around every preposition.  Grahm's writing is indeed interesting.  I also admire a good obscure reference from time to time, as long as it is fully explained in the footnotes.

Anyone who has ever enjoyed a Bonny Doon wine could find something to like about Been Doon So Long.  Grahm relates wine to the worlds of song, story, stage and screen in a most entertaining fashion.  In a way, this book exhibits Grahm's roots and influences in the same way wine exhibits the roots and influences of the grapes.  It's his terroir on display here.  If you are in on the jokes, the book will have you convulsing in laughter.  If you are on the outside of his references looking in, better pay close attention to those footnotes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"They Got This Recession On" Wines, Part 6

Hopefully 2010 will bring us all much better financial positions.  That's where my heart is, but my head tells me not to start buying really expensive wines for the cellar just yet.  In fact, if it's getting darker just before your dawn, here's a pair of wines you could probably afford after just a few hours of hustling change.

Sutter Home Winery has a line of wines available at 7-11 stores - in the cooler - which are small but cheap.  The 187 ml pours come in plastic bottles with a screw cap.  They cost just under two bucks each with tax and CRV included.  If you have trouble with the metric system, 187 ml comes out to about 1/4 of a standard wine bottle.  That's either a generous restaurant pour or a stingy one at the Fuller household.

Sutter Home is a Napa Valley producer whose labels you must have seen at the supermarket.  They are one of those wineries which still produce a White Zinfandel.  This small-format line also includes a Chardonnay, a Pinot Grigio, a Merlot and a Cabernet.  We'll concern ourselves with the White Zin and the Merlot.

Sutter Home White Zinfandel 2008

This much-maligned wine offers a pinkish orange color, like a light salmon.  It looks rather nice in the glass.  There is raspberry and strawberry on the nose, which isn't too sweet smelling.  The palate does show some friendliness, but the cloying sweetness White Zin is infamous for is not present.  In fact, I would describe it as off-dry.  The 9.5% abv made me expect a much sweeter wine, but the grapes were harvested fairly early, sparing us from a sugar bomb.

The nose is probably more interesting than the palate, but not by much.  The wine's acidity is a tiny bit challenged, but it actually goes fairly well with a turkey sandwich.

I hesitate to offer up any categorical slams on White Zin.  If it weren't for its great popularity during the 1980s, many old Zinfandel vines in California might have been uprooted in favor of some more profitable grape.  As a big fan of  "old-vine Zinfandel, " I am personally glad so many people drank White Zin a few decades ago.  I hoist a glass of it from time to time as a salute to those who knew not what cause they served.

Sutter Home's White Zinfandel is a very uncomplicated wine.  It's not a bad wine, it's just not a very interesting one.  It'll do in a recession, though.

Sutter Home Winery Merlot 2008

I'll go ahead and tell you now, I was not expecting a whole lot from this wine.  I got a lot more than my two dollar's worth from it, though.

The Merlot pours up a fairly dark ruby color in the glass.  Perfumy scents of blackberry, blueberry and some cherry cola are not shy about leaping from the glass.  The taste shows a really smokey black cherry quality.  It's quite smooth, even immediately upon opening the bottle.  The wine does have an interesting flavor profile and really feels full in the mouth. It's actually quite satisfying.  I'd be surprised to see someone identify this correctly in a blind tasting.

The tannins are good and the finish is dry and lingering.  If I had only $2 to my name and absolutely had to have a nice glass of wine, Sutter Home Merlot would do just fine.  In fact, I just may keep it on the "buy" list once this recession is over!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Wine Events for Early 2010

Wine tastingUCLA Extension: Vintage I
Tuesdays 6:30-930pm, starting January 12
UCLA Extension Building
10995 Le Conte Avenue #G33W
Los Angeles, CA 90024-1333
Vintage I is a 12 week course covering the complete spectrum of enology, from what makes a good vineyard site to an in-depth look at the classic grape varieties to a study of winemaking philosophies. This course lays the necessary groundwork for enrolling in Vintage II and Vintage III. Prerequisite: X 485 Introduction to Wine. Enrollment limited.
$750 for the course
Pinot Days of Southern California
Jan 17 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Barker Hanger
3021 Airport Ave. Suite 203
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Pinot Days spans four days - January 14-17 - and includes a couple of winemaker dinners and a small handful of in-store tasting sessions.  The event culminates with Sunday's Grand Tasting, in which more than 130 producers will pour 400 or so domestic Pinots.  You can talk to the winemakers while tasting the 2007 vintage so many have praised.  Food items which pair well with Pinot Noir will also be served.
Go Green Expo Los Angeles
Jan 22-24 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
Los Angeles Convention Center
1201 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015
They have an organic food and wine pavilion.
International Wine Festival
Jan 23 5:00-8:00 p.m.
Renaissance Hollywood Hotel
1755 North Highland Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90028
Sip and sample the wide world of wine.  International wines will be supplied by dozens of distributors.  Wines from Italy, Germany, Brazil, South Africa, Spain, Australia, Israel, France, and New Zealand are scheduled to appear in this United Nations of the vineyard. The Renaissance Hotel will also provide an assortment of cheeses and breads.
Pasadena PinotFest, 2nd Annual
Jan 24-30
Noir Food & Wine
40 North Mentor Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
Jan 24 7:00 p.m. – Brian Loring Winemaker Dinner - $129
Jan 29 5:00 p.m. - Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe Tasting - $20
Jan 30 3:00 p.m. - Public Grand Tasting - $75 advance, $89 at door.
Attendance is limited to 350.
Each night during PinotFest Noir Food & Wine will feature flights of the Pinots from some of the participating wineries. $20-$30
All three events available for $200


Valley of the World Wine and Food Festival, 12th Annual
Jan 30 6:00-9:00 p.m.
National Steinbeck Center
One Main Street
Salinas, CA  93901
Celebrating the wine and food of Monterey County will take all week - there are other events priced separately - but this Grand Tasting will culminate the experience.
$75, $140 per couple

Loyola Marymount University Wine Classic
Jan 31  2:00-5:00 p.m.
Loyola Marymount University
1 LMU Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90045
More than 150 California boutiuque wineries will be featured.  A silent auction of specialty wines and products will be featured.  Proceeds benefit LMU student scholarships.
$90, $80 if purchased by January 15


Stars of Santa Barbara, 7th Annual
Wednesday, February 3
7:00-9:30 p.m.
The Peninsula Hotel, Beverly Hills
9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd
Beverly Hills, Ca 90212

Attendance is limited to 125.

Cost: $120.  Limited number of discount tickets are available at Goldstar for $69 while they last.
The wine education group Learn About Wine will stage this event spotlighting 116 wines from the Santa Barbara area.  Participating wineries are set to include such luminaries as Ampelos, Carr, Dierberg, La Fenetre, Lucas & Lewellen, Riverbench, Sanford, Tantara and Zaca Mesa.
Top 100 Cabs of the Napa Valley
Feb 13 3:00-6:00 p.m.
Bayleaf Restaurant
2025 Monticello Road
Napa, CA 94558
A judged blind tasting of the Top 100 Cabs of the Napa Valley is the highlight, but you'll enjoy tasting the top Cabs in the land that's known for them.  Hors d'ouevres will be served.  Judges will taste and score over 400 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines several days prior to the event.  They will be ranked from 1 to 100 for your tasting pleasure.
Attendance is limited to 300.
$95, $135 at door


Madera Wine Trail Wine & Chocolate Weekend
Feb 13 - 14, 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Participating wineries
Madera, CA
Purchase a passport glass at any winery along the Madera Wine Trail, and enjoy some sweets for Valentine's weekend.
$20 advance, $25 day of event

On a smaller scale - but just as enjoyable - my friends at Pourtal in Santa Monica, The Wine House in West L.A., Wally's in Westwood, Rosso Wine Shop and 55 Degree Wine in Glendale, K&L Wines in Hollywood, Off The Vine in San Pedro and All Corked Up in Santa Clarita all sponsor regular tastings and special events.  Check the website of your favorite wine hang and pay them a visit in the new year!  Local Wine Events is a great place to check for wine events coming up, no matter where you live.  Always remember to drink responsibly.  That includes tastings, too.  If you don't have a designated driver, that's why they have spit buckets.