Friday, April 30, 2010

Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc 2008

On a recent - and rare - weekday off, my wife and I decided to try a place that had been on our radar for a while, Henry's Hat.  It's a sister restaurant to Luna Park.  Considering the gender of the name, maybe it's a brother restaurant.  It's some close family tie, at any rate, but it is more of a sports bar inside than Luna Park.  We had lunch there on a nice, warm spring afternoon.  That had me looking on the "white" side of the wine list.

I don't see Valley of the Moon offered at too many restaurants, and I also don't see too many Pinot Blancs.  The planets seemed to be in alignment, so It was an easy choice.

It was just about a perfect wine for a sunny lunch.  Bright lemon zest and some tropical notes on the nose lead to a taste that incorporates pears and apples.  The minerals are fabulous and the wine is very easy drinking while finishing with a crisp zing.  It's a blend of grapes from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma County, 99% Pinot Blanc with 1% Chardonnay in the mix.

I loved it.  Too bad I couldn't make it last until my Baja tacos arrived.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A New Winery in Paso Robles

One of my many Central Coast friends has alerted me to the opening of a new winery in Paso Robles.  In an area so heavily populated by wineries, it may be tough for a newcomer to get noticed.  I hope not, because it sounds like this winery could be something special.

Niner Wine Estates is scheduled to open Saturday May 1, 2010 in Paso's westside wine community after ten years of preparation.  Richard Niner has poured a decade of planning into this winery in hopes of pouring some great wine for you.  May 1st will be his chance to do so, in the new facility's Hospitality Center.  The public is invited to stop in and have a complimentary tasting while getting a preview of the wine and food programs Niner Wine will be offering in the future.

Niner Wine Estates' roster of award-winning wines has already grown to include winemaker Amanda Cramer's Bordeaux, Rhone and Italian varietial wines, including their flagship Bordeaux blend, "Fog Catcher."

The Hospitality Center - a rustic stone barn - houses the tasting room and a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen where they plan to offer culinary programs as early as the summer.  They even have their own in-house wine education staff and plan to welcome visiting chefs from time to time.

The structure is designed to reflect and accentuate its natural surroundings.  Big windows will offer a nice view of Heart Hill, a heart-shaped clump of oak trees, and Niner has made sure his is to be the first winery on the Central Coast to meet LEED certification standards through the U.S. Green Building Council, with final certification to be awarded in a matter of months.

The winery's estate vineyards are Heart Hill Vineyard and Bootjack Ranch.  Heart Hill Vineyard has already provided fruit for the 2009 vintage, while Bootjack Ranch supplies the balance of fruit for the Niner Wine Estates portfolio.  It is located on the east side of Paso Robles.

To attend the Niner Wine Estates' Grand Opening and have a complimentary tasting, visit the Hospitality Center located at 2400 Highway 46 West in Paso Robles, Saturday and Sunday May 1st and 2nd between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.  Regular business hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. seven days a week.  The regular tasting fee for a sampling of 5 wines is $10.00 per person.

Tasting Event: Revenge of the Merlot

The Revenge of the Merlot tasting event staged by Ian Blackburn's Learn About Wine was praised up and down in the social media the next day, and with good reason. His program was yet another in a long line of classy, comfortable tasting events - the kind he has become known for.

Held at Elevate, a lounge on the 21st floor of 811 Wilshire, just down the hall from Takami Sushi, Revenge displayed the wines of well over two dozen wineries. Most of those pouring were from California except a handful of Washington wineries, an outfit from Tuscany and an importer with an array of Chilean wines.

Every wine poured was worthy of praise, some more than others. I'll get to my tasting notes shortly. The wine was my focus, since I tasted in the afternoon. I understand from some who attended the main show in the evening that it was nothing short of splendid. Several "downtowners" noted they enjoyed the opportunity to have an event like Revenge in their 'hood and even more commented on the rockin' after-party party hosted by Richard Blade.

The nice thing about a tasting event is that all the wines poured are probably good. What kind of winery wouldn't bring their best? Some at Revenge tried to sneak in one or two of their top line Cabs, but the date was reserved for Merlot, so it was Merlot I tasted.  Here's what I liked:

Merlot, Napa Valley 2007 - 10% Carneros fruit; really nice structure
Merlot 2002 - 45% Carneros - lush and earthy; lots of graphite; drinking very well; star

Merlot, California, Lot 2, Multi-Vintage - blend of '06 '07 '08; smokey with dark fruit; half sourced from Paso Robles, half from Santa Barbara County; star

Clos du Val
Merlot, Napa Valley 2006 - great earthy aroma; dark fruit and pencil lead

Michael Black Vineyard 06 - really aromatic; hint of lavender on nose and palate

Merlot Napa 2007; a blend of vineyards; earthy blackberry
Merlot, Three Palms Vineyard, Napa 2006 - 1st wine they made, back in the '70s; dark fruit and earth; dense and chewy; star

Gundlach Bundschu
Estate Merlot, Sonoma, Rhinefarm Vineyard 2006; interesting nose; more acidity than most; less oak; Star

Hidden Oak
Merlot, Paso Robles, James Vineyard 2006 - fruity and unfettered
Encanto - Merlot 60%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%; very fruity with smoke; very slight graphite note

Krupp Bros
Merlot, Napa, Stagecoach Vineyard 2005 - 100% Merlot; bright but gamey with smoke; star
The Advocate, Stagecoach Vineyard 2006 - Bordeaux blend; 42% Merlot, 32% Mslbec, 26% Petit Verdot; bright, light nose, smokey and earthy; one of the biggest of the show; tannins very lively; driest of the bunch; star

L'Ecole No 41
Merlot, Columbia Valley, 2006 - bright and fruity; blended with Cab Franc, Petit Verdot & Cab Sauvignon
Merlot, Walla Walla Valley Estate, Seven Hills Vineyard 2007 - single vineyard; darker and earthier than the '06; blended with Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon

Merlot, Columbia Valley 2006 - blended with Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc & Petit Verdot; smokey and bright

The Malibu Estate Merlot 2006 - Devon Vineyard; complex and fresh with spices apparent

Twomey Cellars 
Merlot, Napa Valley 2005 - fruit from Calistoga; smokey nose and taste; 4% Cab Franc

Ty Caton
Merlot, Sonoma Valley 2008 - unique flavor profile; chocolate note, maybe a chocolate mint; quite nice; 12% Syrah, 6% Petite Sirah; star

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monte Antico Toscana 2006

My favorite Italian restaurant in Los Angeles is Il Buco.  It's actually in Beverly Hills, but it's on Robertson, which feels more like L.A. than B.H. to me.  I think an Italian restaurant should always have a good wine list, and Il Buco's menu has plenty of nice choices from Italy as well as California.

It's great to find a restaurant you call your favorite, but it's even better when the personnel at the restaurant make you feel as if you are their favorite customer.  Even if my wife and I haven't been in to dine there in a couple of months, they always remember us and greet us warmly.  The food is delicious, too, so it's rare that we don't see them for longer than a few weeks at a time.

I usually dine fairly light there, so white wine is my usual choice.  This time, I was in the mood for a big rosso.

After a brief scan of the wine list, I settled on the Monte Antico Toscana.  Deeply hued and sporting a big cherry nose, the wine is best described as huge.  Mouth watering tannins - which probably could have settled down a bit more had I a little more time to linger with it - made me wish I had ordered a dish with a big meat sauce, but it paired well with the pizza we had decided upon.  Big berries and plums on the palate and enough acidity to pair it with whatever you'd like make it a great tasting and versatile dinner wine.

The big Tuscan is 75% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  I understand the grapes come from 25-year-old vines.  2006 is said to be a superb Sangiovese year, and from this wine I'd believe it.  The cost was only $8 per glass.

Il Buco is located at 107 N Robertson Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top Champagne Brut

There was a bit of a cause for celebration at our place recently.  Oh, OK, I'll tell you.  We have an App for iPhone and iPodTouch in the iTunes App Store!  It's called Dr Insult, and you can click the link to find out more about him if you like.  If you'd rather read about the Champagne, that's what follows.

If you've been making Champagne since 1785, you must be doing something right.  Actually no longer owned by anyone related to Florens-Louis Heidsieck, Heidsieck & Co. makes what many consider to be one of the better Champagnes available at an affordable price.  The Monopole Blue Top is a non-vintage bubbly at 12% abv.  

The sparkler pours up a lush golden color in the glass, with plenty of tiny little bubbles.  The nose carries a yeasty scent, but it does not cover up the floral and fruit components.  The yeasty funk rides along as an equal partner in this bouquet.  I smell pears and candied apple, too.  The mouthfeel is just gorgeous - silky smooth and creamy, with not a trace of carbonation.  It's a full-bodied Champagne, too, offering plenty of heft along with some tantalizing flavors.  Heath bar and toast come to the forefront for me, with apples and a trace of citrus following.  A toasted candy profile lingers on the finish.

Variety:  70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier
Appellation:  France > Champagne
Vintage:  NV
Alcohol Level:  12% abv
Price:  $16 (375ml bottle)
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hess Collection Mount Veeder 19 Block Cuvée 2007

I wanted a Tempranillo at Cafe 322, the one on the wine list.  We had made our way to Sierra Madre, practically on the other end of the earth on a Friday night, after all.  I thought I should have a right to expect that the one wine on the rather extensive list that I wanted could be mine.  It could not.

We had come, Denise and I and Rob and Tricia, to see and hear the wonderful Jack Sheldon and his quartet.  The drive was easier than expected from Mid-Wilshire but still a bit of a pain for anyone who has had the glow rubbed off of driving in Southern California.  Our arrival at the Cafe had come not a moment too soon, and when I plopped myself down in a ringside seat immediately next to the stage, I went right for the wine list and my eyes went right for a Tempranillo.

The waitress explained that it was no longer available.  She did, however, offer a substitute.  It must have been a wine they were trying to move a lot of, because I thought it was rather strange for her to offer me a Napa Valley blend of Bordeaux and Rhone grapes in place of the Tempranillo.

At any rate, not wishing to interrupt Sheldon's performance any more than I already had, I accepted a glass of Hess Collection Mount Veeder 19 Block Cuvée.

It cost a mere $10 per glass, and offered up the expected aromas of rich black cherry, cedar and vanilla.  The effect of the wood was obvious in both the nose and the palate.  A great taste full of spice and cherry cola, with notes of tobacco and tar and something almost sweet, was more than adequate for my enjoyment.

The blend is 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 4% Syrah, 4% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot.  Alcohol content is a hefty 14.6% abv.  This wine spent 16 months in French Oak, half of which was new.  The Hess Veeder Summit Vineyard, from which these grapes came, has altitudes ranging from 1,300 to 2,000 feet above sea level.

By the way, Sheldon's quartet kicked ass.  He alternated blowing that trumpet and taking it easy while his band took solos.  Great solos.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lompoc Wine Trail

Wine country.  Ahhh, the fresh air, the beautiful hills, the morning fog, the ocean breeze.  Yes, wine country is sensory delight overload.  So join me, won't you, as we travel in the Now and Zin Grapemobile to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  Hunh?  Oh, you think the word "ghetto" doesn't belong with the phrase "wine country," right?  Think again.  And while you're thinking, watch this video from the website

Lompoc Wine Ghetto

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto makes up the large part of what is being billed as the Lompoc Wine Trail (hook up with their Facebook page).  The Lompoc Valley is actually quite beautiful, and deserves to be known as "the Gateway to the Santa Rita Hills wine country."  The Lompoc Wine Ghetto, as the name suggests, is a more down and dirty version of wine country, an industrial park where a handful of winemakers take care of the business end of the beauty.

The Sobhani Industrial Park at 12th and Industrial Way is the heart of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  It has been since the late 1990s.  That's when Rick Longoria (Longoria Wines) became the first winemaker to base his operations at the industrial park. It was simply more convenient for him to get his grapes from his vineyard to Lompoc rather than the long route of going around the mountains and back into the Santa Ynez Valley.  Others followed his lead and, voila!  Instant wine ghetto.

I've seen the LWG referred to as a "warehouse district," but that's really being kind.  It's a rambling, metal building, with no adornment visible unless the winery put it there.  But the more than 20 wineries that inhabit the space didn't come because it was pretty.  They came because it was cheaper than using their expensive - and productive - vineyard land to house a winemaking facility.  Some came because they didn't have land at all, sourcing grapes from other growers.  These small producers can make their wines in a less expensive way, and since when did saving money not sound good to a small business?

You might get the idea that grouping together a bunch of businesses that are in competition with one another would foster a bitter and backbiting atmosphere.  That is not the case at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  These wineries actually work together.  They share equipment, keep an eye out for each other and help their neighbors when called upon.  The biggest benefit, from a winemaking viewpoint, is being close enough to a host of talented winemakers to be able to learn from their experience.

Peter Hunken, of Black Sheep Finds, Holus Bolus, Piedrasassi and formerly of Stolpman Vineyards says it's great to have some like-minded company around.  "Especially at harvest time, when you're at the facility late at night or all night," said Hunken.  "It's good to have some people doing the same thing.  It's nice to have someone to talk to."

Hunken not only makes wine in Lompoc, he lives there, too.  "Lompoc is more business-friendly than the unincorporated areas of the county where a lot of the winemakers live," he said.  If he had the choice of some nice vineyard land and Lompoc, which would win out?  "Well, I'd love to have a vineyard, but the big, fancy winery isn't a necessity for me.  I'm happy making wine here, and I relate to the blue-collar atmosphere in Lompoc.  Besides, I'm a surfer and I enjoy being this close to the ocean."

The work environment is casual, to say the least.  On my first visit, I stopped in at the Sea Smoke garage door to find the crew busily filling, corking and boxing wine bottles as fast as they could grab them off the conveyor belt.  Pink Floyd was blaring away as that red wine was being put into cases.

Palmina, Flying Goat, Samsara, Nicolaysen Family Vineyards, Fiddlehead and La Vie are all located in the LWG, with a number of other wineries in the northwest part of Lompoc, closer to the airport.

Some of the LWG's wine producers have moved west, if only a few blocks.  The Central Avenue location Ampelos now occupies is in an area becoming known as the "Pinot Prison."  Brewer-Clifton, Clos Pepe and Dragonette Cellars have also moved west in the city.

Piedrasassi's building also houses  Holus Bolus, Jelly Roll and Black Sheep Finds.  It's located on Chestnut Court, a sort of extension on Industrial Way.

Sea Smoke Cellars no longer makes wine in the LWG.  Victor Gallegos says they now have their own "modest building behind the WalMart parking lot."

Harrison-Clarke didn't just go uptown, they now have their own winery in Ballard Canyon.  They still sort and press grapes in Lompoc, though.

Presidio Winery has a tasting room in Solvang while Stolpman Vineyards pours in Los Olivos.  Not all of these have full-time tasting rooms, so if you plan to visit a particular producer in Lompoc, a phone call or email ahead of time is a good idea.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Claudia Grenache 2007

I was browsing in Santa Monica's Wine Expo recently, and spotted a single bottle of wine rolling around in a bin.  I thought, "That must be a pretty good one - they've been cleaned out of it!"  I picked it up for a closer look and discovered it was a California Grenache, but not from Paso Robles or the Santa Rita Hills.  It said Camarillo on the label.  I knew there were wines produced in Camarillo, but I had never tasted any.  Curiosity got the better of me, and I purchased the lonely, last bottle.

The Claudia Grenache is credited on the label as produced by Alonso Family Vineyards at Rolling Hills Vineyards of Camarillo.  Alonso Family Vineyards are in Agua Dulce, in Southern California's Antelope Valley.  A little detective work and a phone call to the 661 area code showed me that the grapes were actually sourced at the Alonso vineyard in Agua Dulce, and produced at Rolling Hills Vineyards in Camarillo, owned by Ed Pagor.

I was so curious because the wine has a distinctive flavor characteristic that I have only found in wines from the Antelope Valley.  It's a very old-world take, with a lot of the earth in it and a touch of minerality.

The wine's color is see-through ruby, and the nose shows plenty of wood.  There are a lot of bright, candy-cherry aromas.  The taste is very candied-up, too.  It's such a different style of cherry that it comes off as almost "fake," but in a good, earthy way.  I found I enjoyed the wine much more toward the end of the glass than the beginning.  I think I had to acclimate myself to the unusual characteristics.  I have found that to be the case every time I went wine tasting in the Antelope Valley.  The alcohol content is listed as 14.2% abv.

I understand that future vintages of the Alonso's wine will be produced closer to home, in the Agua Dulce area.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tasting Room: Alma Rosa, Buellton

Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards was founded in 1970 by Richard and Thekla Sanford.  Not only were they on board early in recognizing the Santa Rita Hills as a good place to grow grapes, they also were among the first to plant Pinot Noir there.  Alma Rosa is described on their website as "an enterprise dedicated to creating high quality wines and setting a benchmark for organic farming, sustainable agriculture methods, and environment-friendly commerce."  Oh, and their wines rock.

My visit occured on a day when there was considerable celebration at all the area wineries, and Alma Rosa was no exception. Going through the small tasting room to a back area where a band played something that sounded like the Grateful Dead's version of reggae, I settled into what seemed to be Hippie Heaven. Taking a cue from the warm and sunny afternoon weather, I decided to sample some white wines.

Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blanc 2007 - There's just a bit of oak on this wine.  A lemony, creamy pepper taste springs forth from a very lively and fresh, green nose.

La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2007 - A fresh nose is found here, too.  There's a little less oak influence.  With a very creamy mouthfeel, it's a pleasure to drink.

Santa Barbara County Pinot Gris 2008 - The fresh noses were out in force today.  A pear flavor dominates, but a bit of a tropical play figures in, too.  It's steel fermented and aged six months in French oak.

Pinot Gris La Encantada Vineyard 2007 - Apricot and tangerine flavor the wine after a floral nose.  Lots of minerals produce a crisp and clean palate.

Chardonnay El Jabali Vineyard 2006 - A woody nose greets you, but it's not overdone. Tropical flavors and pears rule the palate.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tasting Room: Lafond Winery and Vineyards, Buellton

Lafond Winery is in the beautiful vineyard land near Buellton, west of Highway 101 on Santa Rosa Road.  The Santa Rita Hills are lovely and they contain vineyards which produce some very special fruit.  

Pierre Lafond has been utilizing some of this special fruit since he started Santa Barbara Winery in 1962.  That was the first winery in Santa Barbara County since prohibition.  In 1971 Pierre planted Lafond Vineyard, then expanded his vineyard acreage in 1996.  The Santa Rita Hills winery began construction two years later and it opened to visitors in 2001.  

Award-winning winemaker Bruce McGuire came to Santa Barbara Winery in the early '80s and also oversees the wines of Lafond Winery.  McGuire helped pioneer Pinot Noir and Syrah in Santa Barbara County.  His talent shows in every bottle.

The grounds of the winery are gorgeous and hospitable.  Everywhere you look the scenery is great, but there is one spot that really pops the cork.  Just to the right of the tasting room you can look across the vineyard to the hills on the other side.  The serenity in that spot is almost overwhelming.  It makes a great backdrop for snapshots, too.

The interior of the tasting room is fairly businesslike, with little of that wine country decor many wineries like to toss around.  The staff is quite friendly and very helpful, even when tending to a number of guests, as they were when I visited.  Even though there was a full house at the tasting bar, I received plenty of attention and had all my questions answered.  That may sound like business as usual, but I hate to think about how many times I've had a question in a tasting room and been told "I don't know."   Not here.

It was a very pleasant experience at Lafond, and the wines also had a bit to do with that.  Here is what I tasted:

Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay 2007 - A blend of grapes from several vineyards, this wine is clean and crisp.  It's fruity with minerals.  Refreshing enough, certainly, for the porch this summer, but the nice acidity will have it pairing well with food, too.

Lafond Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 - All estate-grown, this Chard has twice as much time in oak as the SRH.  It's quite smooth, and the effect of the wood quite noticeable.

Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2007 - All 8 Pinot Noir clones grown here contribute.  The wine is noted for earth, spice and lavender.

Lafond Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 - Four clones are in this one; it's bright and spicy with slight raspberry/cherry tones.

Lafond Vineyard Syrah Grenache - 60 Syrah and 40% Grenache, the nose is full of cherry and spice.  Earth, blackberry and cedar mark the palate.

Santa Rita Hills Syrah - 2008 - 58% of the fruit in this wine comes from the Lafond Vineyard.  It's a complex nose with hints of bell pepper.  There is big fruit in this one, but it's still rather young.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

La Fenêtre's Adopt-A-Barrel Program

The bad economy has many winemakers doing business a little differently in an effort to stay profitable, or perhaps, to stay in business.

Retail prices have dropped for some brands and tasting rooms have been hurried open to create new revenue streams.  Now we hear that the very winemaking equipment is being used to get those dollars flowing.

Santa Barbara winemaker Joshua Klapper at La Fenetre Wines has instituted a program he's calling "Adopt-A-Barrel."  Here's how it works: Pony up $1000 - the cost of a new barrel - and you can personalize your barrel any way you'd like, get two cases of the wine you have adopted, an invitation to an "'I Adopted A Barrel' Dinner" during the 2010 harvest and a personalized "Thank You" message on the website.  The "Thank You" will go directly on the wine's label if you adopt all the barrels for a given wine.

Klapper unabashadly says that "the rising cost of barrels set against the cash crunch our economy is in has necessitated some kind of action."  Is it a dire situation?  "Adopt a barrel or we start crushing for Gallo"?  Klapper assures me the scenario is not that severe.  This is a proactive measure designed to cover some production costs with a promotion which allows a nice spin to be placed upon it.  It gives a more interactive feel to the tried-and-true "futures program" and, Klapper hopes, will bring in extra money during a time of year when many small wine producers find themselves stretched a bit thin.

The winemaker explains that he is only buying 20 new barrels for 2010, and encourages those who wish to take part to get in early for the best choice of varieties and vineyards.  He is certainly lucky to be involved in a business which his customers find attractive in a participatory way.  How many folks would want to "Adopt-A-Vat" for Budweiser, or "Adopt-A-Grinder" for Jimmy Dean Sausage?  Not many, I'm guessing.  But wine drinkers always seem to want to be in on the action.

Well, here's your chance to have direct involvement with the winemaking process without even having to roll up your sleeves.  Just get those check-writing fingers limbered up.  If you'd like to find out more about Klapper's offer, you can email him - - or call him at 310-977-5615.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Edna Valley Vineyard Islay Peak Petite Sirah 2006

I have had both a Petite Sirah and an Edna Valley wine recently.  I thought I'd combine the two and jog down memory lane to a past visit to one of my favorite wine areas, and one of my favorite wineries there.  Here are my notes on that bottle:

"This is from Edna Valley Vineyard's tasting-room-only series of wines. A $20 purchase in their lovely and busy tasting room, this Petite Sirah from the San Luis Obispo area of California's Central Coast claims 14.5% abv.  There's a beautiful artistic rendering of a vineyard against the hills on the label, but no artist information.  It does look just like Edna Valley, though.

"The aromas here are very pungent, and quite nice.  I get lots of big cherry, leathery notes, licorice, and a dark vibe from the aromas.  A bit of alcohol on the nose burns off after a resting time.  It's a very jammy smell, one that I find very inviting.

"The taste comes on a little hot at first - give it some time after pouring or decanting.  The flavor profile is a powerful followup of what was present on the nose.  The fruit is very forward, and it's a big blueberry fest.  It doesn't appear as dark and forbidding as suggested by the nose.  In fact, it's  very welcoming.  The tannins are a bit strong, but the structure is good and the finish is medium long.  I had this with some
Pinches Al Pastor tacos we brought home from the restaurant on Sunset Boulevard.  It fit quite well."

Variety:  Petite Sirah
Appellation: California > Central Coast
Vineyard:  Islay Peak
Vintage:  2006
Alcohol Level:  14.5% abv
Price:  $18
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author at the winery tasting room

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cornarea Roero Arneis 2007

Jeff Zimmitti - aka Joey Bagadonuts - at Rosso Wine Shop in Glendale has never steered me wrong.  His recommendations on wine have always been right on.  As a matter of fact, his recommendations on music have always been full of insight, too.  But that's for another blog.  Jeff's very first recommendation to me - about wine - was to carry home a bottle of the Cornarea Roero Arneis.  I'm glad I did.  This all took place a couple of years ago, and I made some notes about the wine.  Here they are:

"The Bottle is stately looking, with an oval front label. 12.5% abv.  It is 100% Arneis varietal, from the Roero Hills north and east of Alba in southeastern Piedmont.

"The Nose is very floral, and quite lively and inviting.  I'd say "honeysuckle" because that's what it reminds me of, but I can't be sure.

"The Taste is floral, with a nice streak of minerals.  There is some peach and apple, too.  A sort of nutty flavor decorates the finish. It went great with manchego cheese, and with an egg and sweet Italian sausage dish my wife whipped up while I was enjoying the wine."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Naiades Bodegas Naia 2005

Spanish wines always seem to amaze me.  I see images of smallish vines growing out of clumps of dusty rocks set about 10 feet apart from each other so there will be enough water for them all.  It seems a miracle that they grow at all, let alone produce fruit from which such wonderful wine is made.  I purchased this wine at a Spanish wine tasting event at Santa Clarita's All Corked Up some time ago.  I ran across my notes and thought I'd post it here because I loved it so much.

The bottle is a relatively big and clunky Burgundy-style container.  The label tells us the wine is from the Rueda region in northwest Spain.   It's 100% Verdejo from vines that are 90 years old, and sold at this event for $23, although it usually runs a bit more in stores.

Naiades has a golden-green tint in the glass, it's really a beautiful wine.  The citrus on the nose is a mixed plate of lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit.  There is a strong scent of minerals in there, too.

On the palate, it's mainly a grapefruit show, but not in an overpowering way.  That's good for me, as I'm not a huge fan of grapefruit.  There's enough peach, pear and even honeysuckle coming through to make it a lively and varied taste, and the minerality keeps things crisp and fresh.  It's not a favorite wine of mine for sipping, but pair this with a woven wheat cracker and some of that strong Danish Castella cheese from Trader Joe's, and it absolutely rocks.  I'm sure seafood of all sorts would find this a good mate, too.

Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author at a discounted price during a tasting event. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bogle Petite Sirah 2007

Don't you love it when you go to restaurant that had found itself  "off the list" for one reason or another, and find that it's back "on the list"?  That happened with Tart on Fairfax.  I don't remember why we stopped going there, but one night it was convenient and - lo and behold - there was a parking space right in front!  That was the clincher.  In we went, and right away the Bogle Petite Sirah jumped off the wine list at me.  It's a good wine, a very good one.  I'd had it before and was impressed with not only the aroma and taste but the price, too.  It seems like it was in the $10 per bottle range.  Here at Tart, $9 per glass.

The nose is full of cherry cola, with a lot of plum and blackberry in there.  You find that on the palate as well - tons of jammy dark fruit with a bit of an earthy taint that just hints of its presence.  It's darkly lush and quite intense.  I had the blackened tuna burgers appetizer and it went quite well with the seared tuna, hitting the nail on the head both with the charred exterior and the extremely rare interior.

Variety:  Petite Sirah
Appellation:  California
Vineyard:  Clarksburg and Lodi
Vintage:  2007
Alcohol Level:  13.5%
Price:  $9/glass
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Edna Valley Vineyard Paragon Chardonnay 2008

Edna Valley is one of my favorite wine areas to visit.  Do I say that too much?  This time I mean it.  From the rolling hills to the lovely vineyards to the zany, unofficial mayor of Edna Valley - and her eclectic restaurant - it's a place that reveals something new every time we go there.  Not that it's got any wild nightlife or exotic attractions - the wine and the wine people are enough to make us thirst for a return visit.  

Edna Valley Vineyard  is one of the "showier" places in Edna Valley.  Calling anything in Edna Valley "showy" may be a bit of a stretch, but Edna Valley Vineyard's facility - among a few others there - is definitely ready for visitors.

I wouldn't call their Paragon Chardonnay a wine that defines what Edna Valley is all about, but it certainly shows its address well.  A golden straw color in the glass, one would expect quite an influence from the oak in this wine.  The nose betrays some of that influence with a fairly good dash of spices.  There is also a nice whiff of pears and minerals.  The rocks are something I expect in any white wine from Edna Valley. 

The taste is pretty incredible.  I get the kind of sweet fruit flavor that's in a can of fruit, like pineapple, pears or peaches - that heavy juice in the can.  There's a good bit of citrus, lemon zest, too.  The wood comes through in healthy fashion, with strong notes of vanilla and traces of holiday spice.  This would be a great white on the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table.  But don't wait until then.

Variety:  Chardonnay
Appellation:  California > San Luis Obispo County > Edna Valley
Vineyard:  Paragon
Vintage:  2008
Alcohol Level:  13.9% abv
Price:  $11
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author at a wine store

Monday, April 12, 2010

Summerland Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2007

A recent Saturday took us to not one, but two movies.  We're not talking Netflix here, either.  These were bona fide, real live, sit-in-the-theater movie shows.  The Square was a bit of a disappointment.  Some Aussies took the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple and threw it in with some "movie helper."  They came up with a product that had plenty of the Coens' quirkiness but little of their inventiveness.  We saw it at one of the single-screen artifacts of Hollywood's past that dot Westwood Village, so it was worth a lot in the "experience" category.  Next, to Hollywood for some film noir at The Egyptian.  Broderick Crawford and Richard Conte in New York Confidential was the offering of the night.  We were very troubled that the audience laughed at some extremely inappropriate moments during the film.  It figured that a full house, which turned out to see a 1955 noir that hadn't been viewed since shortly after its release, would be somewhat reverent.  The misplaced laughs and hoots might have been more suitable at a midnight movie.  It's too bad they were allowed to ruin the event.  One of the actresses who appeared in the movie was present in the audience, as was Richard Conte's son.  I wonder what they thought of the crowd's reaction?

Aah, there.  I feel better now.  Let's go have an apres-noir snack at the venerable Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard.

Musso & Frank has a menu that runs the gamut from the extremely affordable to the ridiculously expensive, with not too much in between.  The wine list tells the same story, running from Beringer to Opus One.  By the glass, their selections are varied enough to suit a number of tastes and not terribly expensive.  At $14, the Summerland Pinot Noir is one of the more expensive by-the-glass choices at Musso & Frank.

The nose on this Pinot has a rather lovely floral component.  I smell violets and some really ripe and lucsious plums.  The aromas don't give fair warning of what to expect on the palate, though.  A bit of darkness surrounds the flowers, but the brambly, earthy, meaty taste really comes as a surprise.  A very pleasant one.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

181 Merlot 2007

The 181 Merlot clone has thrived in the red clay soil of Bordeaux's Pomerol region.  Now we find that the red clay soil of the Clay Station Vineyard in Lodi is producing some excellent Merlot from that clone.  Rich in minerals that have drained from the Sierras, Lodi's soil is said to be near-perfect for growing this transplant.

On a Saturday afternoon visit to The Den on L.A.'s Sunset Boulevard, I tried a glass to see what all the fuss was about.  It's about a luscious nose, an explosive palate and an earthy quality that would have Merlot-hater Miles Raymond taking a second sip. 

Big black cherry flavors abound, along with some nice smokey vanilla and cedarbox notes and a hint or two of cassis.  The backbone is great and the finish lingers long.  It's got a lot going for it, especially considering the price tag is barely over $10 a bottle in some places.

Winemaker:  181 Wine Cellars
Variety:  Merlot
Appellation:  California > Central Valley > Lodi
Vineyard:  Clay Station
Vintage:  2007
Price:  $8/glass
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author, by the glass

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gallegas Destino Blanco

 As I researched Destino Blanco, I found that it was extremely hard to find out anything about the wine.  Even the website for Vinos y Bodegas Gallegas, the producer, has no information about it that I could find.  Hence, the informational aspect of this entry may seem a little skimpy.  I apologize for that, and I invite you to leave any comments which may shed some light on this lovely and affordable wine.

There are a few bits of knowledge I was able to come across.  It's produced in Galicia, on Spain's northwestern coast.  It's 11% abv and it costs a paltry $7.  Also, it is not to be confused with the Napa Valley boutique winery called Destino.  The Gallegas export manager, Hay Sprunken, informs me the wine is 100% Airén, a popular grape in Spain, although I understand the acreage devoted to it is dwindling in favor of other grapes like Tempranillo.

First you'll notice the pale golden color.  Then the aromatics.  The nose sports a floral component mixed with wet rocks.  There are a lot of minerals apparent in the aroma, and they carry over onto the palate.

There is no oak influence, so I would assume this to be a wine fermented in stainless steel.  The taste is a bit tart, but very clean and refreshing.  Citrus notes mix with the minerals and produce a satisfying flavor profile which is backed up by a nice acidity.  A slight floral sense is present and lingers in the finish.

Destino Blanco may be a trifle hard to find, but if you do find it, snap up some for the summer months ahead.  I found mine at Wine Expo in Santa Monica.   It may become a standard at your place, like it has at mine.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Marques de Caceres Rosado 2007

Temperatures are warming up in Los Angeles - again - this week, and this afternoon's "Sunny and 81" has me in mind of a Spanish rosado I tried a while back, Marques de Caceres.

This Rioja rosado is either a light strawberry color or a darker salmon.  Either way, it makes a beautiful statement in the glass.  13.5% abv, it's a dry rosé made from 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha.  Let's smell it.

Aromas of raspberry dominate the nose for me, but there's a very nice floral layer underneath it.  I wanted to say hibiscus, but I don't know how accurate that is.  I'll just say it's a beautiful fragrance without any further elaboration.

Don't worry about this rosé being too sweet for you.  It's nice and dry.  The strawberry flavor is matched with raspberry notes and the taste lingers quite nicely afterward.  The label suggests the usual pairings (paella, chicken, seafood) and I wouldn't argue with any of those.  However, I had it with a dessert my wife made and the taste was exquisite.  She created a mascarpone-based whip which we put on a cracked pepper and olive oil Triscuit.  The wine really had a good time pairing with that unlikely match.  We were duly impressed. Not to mention a bit surprised.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Two Spanish Wines at Luna Park

We met a couple of friends at Luna Park on La Brea recently - great for the food and wine, not so great for conversation - and amid the pounding of the dance floor music I spied an interesting note on their small list of daily "Blue Plate Specials."  Two Spanish wines - unidentified red and white -  for $6 per glass.  That seemed too special to let it pass by, so I had one of each.

The Spanish Quarter is the producer of the white.  It's a delightful blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Albariño from the Costers del Segre region in Catalonia.  The Albariño, I expect in a Spanish wine, but the Chardonnay is a surprise.

The wine is a rich golden color in the glass, but the deeply chilled wine bears a nose that is a bit closed.  That disappoints me, as I love the wonderfully aromatic aromas of Albariño.  The taste is laden with minerals, with a clean and crisp edge to the tart peachiness.  It's quite a nice white, with a good acidity to lift it above the level of a mere sipper.  It paired nicely with veggie risotto.

The red wine is a Syrah - they call this "Shiraz" - from Opera Prima, a winery located in La Mancha.  There's a lot of blackberry on the nose along with the scent of meat.  It's quite an earthy aroma.  On the palate, Opera Prima also shows an earthy, beefy edge to the fruit with peppery notes.  It drinks like a much more expensive wine.  I'll keep them in mind.  As for the picture, I'm sorry I neglected to take a photo before consuming the wine.  As you can see, I enjoyed it.

The kicker is that Luna Park had a special of half off the entire bill that night!  So these two $6 wines actually only cost $3 each.  I love a good wine bargain, and I got two of them on this trip.  It eased the headache produced by the loud music in the restaurant.

Monday, April 5, 2010

San Luis Canyon Chardonnay

The San Luis Canyon Chardonnay was pitched to me as a second label from a fairly well-known winery in California's Central Coast region.  I could not confirm that, so I'll skip past it and get on to the wine.

The nose of this non-vintage wine is very aromatic, and the wood is the most noticeable component.  It's not a very fruity aroma, in fact this is what I would call a big, buttery Chardonnay.  If that's your thing, you'll be alright with this wine.  If it's not, the taste will linger in your mouth all night as an ugly reminder of it.  And I do mean linger.  The finish on this wine is amazingly long, but that won't be a good thing if you didn't like it to begin with.

On the palate, there is some fruit.  It's big with pears, and a butterscotch flavor that dominates even that.  As I said, if you are a fan of the big California Chardonnay, this is it.  If you prefer minerals with your white wine, you will be disappointed.  Fortunately, I like variety.  So a big California Chardonnay happened to be right up my alley this night.  Tomorrow, I'll probably want to go the other way.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Santa Barbara Winery ZCS 2008

ZCS - the letters stand for the blend, Zinfandel, Carignane and Sangiovese.  60% Z, 24% C and 16% S, it's an obscure blend, to be sure.  I like 'em that way.  The Zinfandel comes from 50-year-old vines and all the fruit comes from Lodi.

Santa Barbara Winery's ZCS is a very aromatic wine, with full black cherry coming across strongly on the nose.  The jammy Zinfandel is offset by the Carignane's depth.  The taste is quite rich and dark.

Upon opening, the acidity was a bit high for me. It felt almost carbonated in my mouth.  A full hour later it still felt a bit grippy.  You should allow plenty of air to get to it before pouring.

The second night I drank it, it had settled down considerably to a smooth drink.  An earthy, brambly taste had also come over it, which I found terribly enticing.

Winemaker:  Bruce McGuire
Variety:  Zinfandel, Carignane, Sangiovese
Appelation:  Lodi
Vintage:  2008
Vineyard:  Wild Rose Vineyard
Alcohol level:
Price:  $13
Acquisition Disclaimer:  Purchased by the author

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cambiata Monterey Albariño

Cambiata Winery is located in "cool, coastal Monterey" and has a penchant for growing and producing wine from grapes which are largely unheralded in the U.S.  

Cambiata offers an Albariño and a Tannat, a couple of offbeat choices which I happen to like quite a bit.  Under another flag, Ludwig Winery, winemaker Eric Laumann produces Gewurztraminer and Dornfelder.
He explains on the Ludwig site how 26 years of making bulk Cardonnay drove him to make wines of which only he had to approve.  You go, Eric.  Let your freak flag fly!

A warm afternoon visit to the Helms Bakery location of My Father's Office - may I just say, if you are going to serve french fries, serve ketchup too - prompted a little chiller.

The nose of the Cambiata Albariño was richly delicious - all pineapple, pears and honeysuckle.  It seemed to lack acidity while drinking it, but long afterward my mouth told me I had been wrong.  The taste really stayed with me a while.  The palate was floral with lime zest and good minerals. It's a very nice sipper when chilled a bit.

Winemaker:  Eric Laumann
Variety:  100% Albariño
Appellation:  California > Monterey
Vintage:  2008
Alcohol Level:  13.5% abv
Price:  $9/glass
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author