Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Melipal Malbec Rosé

Dinner with a couple of good friends at Il Forno Caldo in Beverly Hills brought that ugly bias against rosé into the light of the waning day. She said we could get a bottle and share and he agreed, quickly passing the wine book to me in honor of my interest in wine. When I mentioned that I was interested in the Malbec rosé, he didn't quite let go of the menu, pulling it back while explaining that they were red wine people. Oh well, drink what you like and like what you drink, I say. They ordered red by the glass while I sampled the pink one from Argentina.
A Mendoza rosé of Malbec, the Bodega Melipal  is nine dollars. It shows a deep, rich red color - but not deep enough to pass for a red wine. The restaurant serves it at cellar temperature, not completely refrigerated, so the fruity aromas of cherry and raspberry are easily accessible. The taste is very fresh with a bright acidity and a nice, dry finish.
It has a medium-full mouthfeel and is silky on the palate, with flavors of cherry and a hint of lemon zest I found pleasing and rather unusual. The freshness of both the nose and palate is delightful, even somewhat surprising. I didn't feel it was a terribly good match with my chopped salad, but it fit well with the tomato sauce on the eggplant appetizer. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Chamisal Vineyards Morrito

Some think uncorking a fine wine should be reserved for a special occasion.  I feel every day is a special occasion, but I still found myself holding on to this wine, waiting for a really special reason.  I recently reminisced about a trip to Edna Valley, a visit to Chamisal Vineyards with a group of journalists and the winemaker who gave me this wonderful bottle of wine.

Fintan du Fresne, Chamisal's winemaker, showed our group extraordinary generosity during our visit - not just with his wine, but with his time, too.  He spent nearly an entire day with a dozen or so of us, tromping around in the vineyards with us, drawing tastes from the barrel in the winery, eating lunch with us and hosting a wine tasting at a beach front resort.  And after all that, he hosted a winemaker's dinner for us.  Our group felt quite special at the end of that day.

So, as I reminisced, I decided it was a special enough occasion to justify uncorking that special wine.

Chamisal's Morrito is an Estate Pinot Noir, made with grapes that grow on a small hill - morrito - behind the winery, which produces particularly intense fruit.  Two clones are used, 2A and Archery Summit.  The alcohol content is listed as 14.6% and the wine spends 18 months in French Oak barrels.

Morrito is very dark for Pinot Noir, I can hardly see through it when holding to the light.  It has a very intense nose which simply explodes from the glass.  Black cherry, cola notes and spice are the major players.

The palate shows an earthy tone, which is dominant over a big cherry sensation.  The wine lasted over three nights, and on each night it required quite a bit of time after pouring to settle down, but once it did calm a bit the experience was wonderful.  On that third night, a slight herbaceous taste revealed itself which added to the complexity but did not detract one bit from the explosive fruit on the nose and palate.  If anything, the wine became darker and more brooding over the span of time.  It was a rather thrilling transformation.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Santa Monica wine bar Pourtal welcomed a group of Spanish winemakers Sunday evening.  These producers were mostly very small wineries, many of them actually from the Canary Islands.  Kudos must go to Pourtal for bringing this wealth of winemaking talent to Santa Monica.  These winemakers are all so enthusiastic about their wines and are eager to talk about them.

Some of the winemakers are fluent in English, some are not.  I am not fluent in Spanish, so communication might have been a problem had those with good English skills not stepped in and helped those who lacked them.  Most of the time it was a combination of their English and my Spanish that made the communication barrier almost nonexistent.
In case you don’t know, the Canaries are not off the coast of Spain, but off Morocco, in Northern Africa.  The archipelago lies well south of Casablanca’s latitude and is an autonomous community of Spain.  The name derives not from huge flocks of small pet birds, but, according to Wikipedia, "Islas Canarias is likely derived from the Latin term Insula Canaria, meaning "Island of the Dogs."  This was probably because of the large population of seals once found there.  They aren’t found there anymore, though.  No canaries, no seals - it’s getting to be a bit of a disappointment.  I’d better get back to the wine.  There’s certainly no disappointment there.
Not all of the winemakers at this event are from the Canaries.  Four of the producers are from Galicia, there’s one from Rioja, one from Tierra de Leon and one from Alicante.  The wineries are represented by importer Jose Pastor .  Pastor has a knack for bringing to the U.S. some truly magnificent wines from areas like the Canaries and Galicia.  The wineries he represents are mostly small outfits which keep an eye on tradition while blazing new trails.  Things I heard often from these winemakers: very natural, no sulfur, unfiltered, local grapes.  They are reaching out to the American wine drinker by making wine the way they always have.  It's about time more people discovered that these folks don't need a re-invention.  They seem to be doing everything right.
Following are my notes on the wines I tasted at Pourtal.  As I am not extremely versatile in Spanish wines, it was a bit of a labor for me to get the information correct.  If I have committed any errors, please feel free to correct me in the comments.
Anna - Bermejos Malvasia Seco 2009 Bermejos Malvasia Seco 2009 - ($24) - Anna poured a white from Lanzarote, in the Canaries. It has a grassy nose, tastes crisp and dry with grapefruit and a nice acidity. 100% Malvasia.

Pedro - Hermanos Peciña Crianza 2003 Hermanos Peciña Crianza 2003 - ($20) - Pedro Peciña offered a Rioja Tempranillo with 2 years in oak instead of the one required. It has a beautiful violet nose with smooth and bright mouthfeel. Clove and coffee notes rest on big, fruity palate.

Gregory - Preto Picudo Tinto 2007 3 - Preto Picudo Tinto 2007 ($18) - Gregory showed a wine made from Preto Picudo, taken from 12-20 year-old vines. Clay soil on a 1000-meter plateau contributes to a Tierra de Leon terroir Gregory is particularly proud to call his. This Tinto gets three months in wood to calm the tannins. This is one of several wines featured that boast indiginous grapes not seen very much on these shores. It's a great summertime red which really tasted nice gently chilled. I can imagine how good it is with a lamb dish.

Pedro - Guimaro B2M 2007 Guimaro B2M 2007 - ($45) - Pedro had the Ribeira Sacra covered, with a Mencia wine from Galicia. A lovely floral nose leads to some spice on the palate and a dark edge to the fruit.

Elena - Viñatigo Gual 2008 Viñatigo Gual 2008 - ($24) - Elena poured an all-steel white with an extremely grassy nose and a big grapefruit taste from the volcanic soil of the Canary Islands.

Pedro - Fronton de Oro Joven 2009 Fronton de Oro Joven 2009 - ($18) - Pedro (there are three Pedros in the group) had an interesting blend of negra comon (I hope I have that right - the notes took a little wear and tear as the tasting went on) and Tintilla. The nose is a little tight, but some nice smokness comes through. It's a very dry wine; differently delicious.

Eliseo - Carballo Negramoll 2008 Carballo Negramoll 2008 - ($20) - Eliseo poured his La Palma wine like it was the only one on earth. And like it deserved to be. The nose is a bit tight, but its very dark flavor was immense. Even so, it felt bright in my mouth.

Jose - Tacande 2006 Tacande 2006 - ($48) - Jose told me tacande means "volcanic soil." That's where the wonderful violet nose comes from. It's very dry and grippy with dark tones. the grapes in the blend are Babaso, Vijariego, Tintilla, Negramoll.

Francisco - Primitivo Quiles Cono 4 2008 Primitivo Quiles Cono 4 2008 ($12) - Francisco was effusive about his 100% Monastrell (known elsewhere as mourvedre). It's a big local grape, as all the reds in Alicante must be at least 50% Monastrell.

Laureano - Laureano Serres L'Abeueador 2008 10 Laureano Serres L'Abeueador 2008 ($25) - This wine is 100% macabeu. It is a very cloudy white with nice acidity and a big citrus palate. It hails from Tarragona, in northeast Spain.

Miguel - German Prada Galgueira Mencia 2009 11 Pedralonga Albariño 2008 - ($27) - Miguel was so apologetic that this was the only one of his wines he had to offer. He needn't have been. All steel, grapefruit and tropical flavors, it's one of the better Albariños I've had. From Galicia.

12 German Prada Galgueira Mencia 2009 - ($17) - This winemaker was absent from the event, but Miguel was kind enough to give me a taste. It's a dark and moody red from Valdeorras, Galicia.


Rideau Vineyard

If you are casting about for a good old, down home food, wine and music event for the Independence Day weekend, I'd suggest you take a trip to Solvang for anannual summer BBQ .  Saturday July 3rd, 2010 is the date and the party will run from 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  The Rideau Vineyard tasting room is at 1562 Alamo Pintado Road in Solvang, right in the heart of the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley.  Their phone number is 805.688.0717.
If you are not familiar with Rideau Vineyard , it was founded in 1997 by New Orleans native Iris Rideau.  She dedicated her vineyard to Rhone grape varieties in part because they are well suited to the terroir.  She also feels they go well with her beloved Creole cuisine.
Speaking of food, the menu for this shindig will feature BBQ chicken and ribs, red beans and rice with Andouille sausage, green salad, pecan cornbread and - a staple of any summertime get-together in the south - big, juicy watermelons.  The music will be in the jazz/blues vein from Lenny Kerley.
All this and southern hospitality, too, will cost $50, $40 for Rideau wine club members.  The price includes a wine tasting and a glass of wine of your choice.  If you are from the south and miss this kind of summer treat, it comes highly recommended.  If you are from some other geographical locale, this event will show you why people miss the south when they move away.
By the way, the Rideau wines are superb and the tasting room is as close to New Orleans decor as you are likely to find in the Central Coast.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Deep Canyon Cellars Rosé

Deep Canyon Cellars  is a house label sold by Los Angeles wine shop Wally's.  According to Wally's website , "the group who produces it for us also makes one of the most expensive wines in the world, but that's all we can reveal!"  Very coy.  They do reveal that Au Bon Climat produces their Chaparral Chardonnay, so it's hard to dispute the quality of the name behind the label, whatever it is.  The grapes are from Santa Barbara County and, if memory serves, the price tag was about $12 for this rose.  It's made from Sangiovese.  I had this wine a couple of summers back, and it was delicious.
The nose shows a lot of fruit coming out of the glass, strawberry mostly.  I also detect a bit of a raspberry note.  The mouthfeel is a little heavier than most rosés.  If you don't mind that, and I certainly don't, you have a very refreshing drink that sips almost like a red with good acidity and a nice finish.  It's better chilled than not, so I would think it's well suited to summertime quaffing.  I find it gains a bit of complexity after it's been open a few days.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Spanish Wine at Pourtal

If Spanish wines are something you've been meaning to explore, you have a great opportunity to do so Sunday June 27, 2010 atPourtal in Santa Monica.

Fourteen Spanish winemakers, or agricultores, represented by importer José Pastor Selections will be on hand from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. to pour their wines and talk about their passion for making wine.  This stop at Pourtal appears to be a late entry in the lineup of the JPS Agricultores Tour which is underway now. 

It appears wines from the Canary Islands and Catalunya region will be well represented, although JPS has a rather extensive portfolio from which to draw.  If you have even a passing interest in Spanish wine, this sounds like an event you should really try to attend.

The cost is $20, which is dirt cheap considering the wealth of wine and wisdom you'll encounter there.


Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve 2005

T-Bones Chophouse is the steakhouse in the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas.  It's a wonderful room, nice and sunny in the late afternoon just after opening at 5:00.  I have enjoyed several glasses at the bar, usually while watching a sporting event on which I hoped to make a killing.  The sports are shown on plenty of monitors just over the big, underlit onyx bar - much like the one at Terra Rossa, only with darker tones running through it.

I decided to try the Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve '05.  It's a big Napa Valley red blend that goes for $14 by the glass.  The wines at T-Bones seemed to be a little pricier than the ones at Terra Rossa, ranging up to $28 for the Silver Oak Cab.  There is also a Sauternes on the T-Bones list, Chateau Rieussec Premier Grand Cru Classe, at $20.

Beaulieu's Tapestry is a blend of Bordeaux varietals: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.

The nose is immense.  Black cherry dominates the aromas, with some spice and a huge chocolate sensation which comes out after the heat blows off.  This poured fairly hot and required a bit of time to calm down.

The taste is big and rich.  Cherry, baker's chocolate and licorice all play a part.  It's a pretty fabulous wine.  It's so good it almost makes you forget about your team not covering the point spread.  Almost.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Casamatta Bianca Vermentino 2008

Terra Rossa is the Italian restaurant in the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas.  I always like to stop in for at least a glass of wine when I'm there, as their wine list offers lots of tasty Italian varietal wines.  The food's pretty good, too.

The underlit onyx bar is just past the maitre'd stand in the entrance from the casino floor.  Once inside, it's easy to get a break from the sound of the casino and spend a little of all that cash the slot machines and blackjack tables have been awarding.  (Pause for laughter.)

My most recent visit to Terra Rossa was in the early afternoon.  I seem to remember them opening later, around 5:00, so it was nice to see them open for lunch on Saturday.

I'm a sucker for Vermentino, and when I saw one on the menu, that's all it took to make up my mind.  It's from Bibi Graetz , Testamatta Casamatta Bianco.  A white wine from the Tuscan coast, this is one of Terra Rossa's less expensive wines by the glass at nine dollars.

The nose has bit of ocean air and a wonderful greenness to it, more like a plant than a flower.  There's a hint of petroleum in the aromas, too, which was a surprise.

The taste is heavy on the minerals with a canteloupe note and hint of lime.  Acidity isn't really a factor until the finish, but it does come along nicely there and linger awhile.  It should pair nicely with any kind of seafood.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Cuveé du Golfe de St. Tropez rosé

Another visit to Salades de Provence , an amazing French bistro on La Cienega at Holloway in Los Angeles, brought another satifying dinner that left Denise and me marvelling at how food so simple can be so very, very good.

Quiche addict that I am, I had the zucchini, tomato and feta pie, while Denise had a mushroom soup so big and hearty it made the delicate tomato and mozzarella crepe seem like overkill.

The big news for me concerned the wine, of course. The restaurant has replaced the rosé 
formerly on their menu  with another pinkie from Provence.

Cuvée du Golfe de St. Tropez is a Côtes de Provence offering which blends Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah into a rich, salmon-colored treat. The aromatics - constricted by the cold temperature at which it was served - were buried too deeply for me to figure out. The wonderful muted tastes of raspberry and strawberry, however, could not be hidden away. It's a dry wine, with a very bright acidity, made for food.

In fact, all the French wines on the list at Salades de Provence seem made for the food served there. Maybe it's the other way around. Whichever way it works, it works. Again and again I find the wine there goes hand in hand with the food.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Santa Barbara County Wine Country

It looks like the upcoming weekend may just be the kind of Southern California summer day that makes people want to head to the Santa Barbara County wine country.  If so - and maybe I don't mention this enough - please either designate a non-drinking driver or make liberal use of the spit bucket.  Wine tasting will no doubt be doing a booming business this weekend at all the wineries.  There are a couple of special events you may want to check into as well.
Buttonwood Farm Winery and Longoria Wines will combine for the Red, White and Blues Festival Saturday June 26, 2010 in the vineyard at Buttonwood in Solvang.  It's an annual affair offering a celebration of wine and music.  Saturday from 3:00 - 7:00 p.m. you can bring a chair or blanket and a picnic and spend the afternoon with the blues sounds of Zac Harmon, who Blues Revue calls "latter-day Eric Clapton or Robert Cray with shades of Luther Allison and B.B. King."  I'm sold.  Tickets are $35 and proceeds benefit People Helping People.  Call 805.688.3032 for tickets.

Up around Santa Maria, Riverbench  will offer barrel tasting with winemaker Chuck Ortman Saturday June 26, 2010 from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.  Also on the menu is a cooking demonstration with Chef Brian Stein which will focus on products made with grape flour.  The cost is only $15.  

If your plans don't allow you to venture past the city, try the Santa Barbara Wine Festival at the Natural History Museum Saturday June 26, 2010 from 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.  75 wineries will pour and treats to eat will also be available.  Tickets are $95 at the door, but you get a price break if you order before Friday at 5:00.  Hit this site for info on the location and parking.

Whatever you decide to do, in whatever wine country you visit, please taste responsibly and get back safely.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Big Wine Sale

The rough economic period we are going through has had a big effect on wine consumers.  Even high-end wine drinkers have scaled back the amount of wine they drink and the price they will pay for a bottle.  The goal now is to continue to enjoy wine, but devote less of your income to it.
I call this article Value Wine because while wine drinkers love to find value when they shop, that doesn't mean simply "look for something around five dollars."  However, if your five dollar wine tastes like a wine that costs 20 dollars, that's definitely value.  While it's not too easy to find great value at the five dollar price point, you can get a lot of wine for the money if you are willing to spend just a little more than that.
There are ways you can find lower prices for wine without sacrificing quality.
Location, Location, Location
You can often get great deals on wine by looking to wine-producing areas that fly under the radar.  Everyone knows and loves Napa Valley Cabernets, rich Burgundies, Bordeaux blends and Tuscan reds.  Have you ever tried a wine from Chile, Australia or Spain?  You can find big quality and low prices from those areas and many others.
Israel, Greece and Eastern Europe all have some great wines on the market.  Go domestic with Long Island or California's Temecula Valley, Lodi or Lake County.  A number of individual states besides the major producers - California, New York, Washington and Oregon - have burgeoning wine industries, too.
Who's Hungry?
Winemakers in unheralded areas on the verge of becoming noticed often price their wines in the bargain basement to try and gain exposure.   For instance, Malbec from Argentina has come from relative obscurity to wine list staple in a matter of just a few years, and still can be had inexpensively. You might try French wines from the Languedoc region or Italians from Sardegne.  Also, wine produced where land is very expensive will have the cost of that land reflected on the price tag.  
Variety Is The Spice Of Life
Try lesser-known grape varieties.  Demand is high for varietal wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, and that usually translates to higher prices.  If you're looking for a big, bold red wine, try a Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc or Carménère.  Instead of an expensive Chardonnay, look into a nice Rhone blend, a Pinot Blanc or a Riesling.
Brand X
Second labels are an excellent way to find wine by respected producers, often at half the price.  Your wine merchant can help you find these value wines.  Many high-end wine producers offer second labels that cost far less than their big-hitting brethern.  Some wine stores have exclusive deals with big-name producers who label their wine specifically for the store - at deep discounts.  Trader Joe's market typically carries a lot of re-labeled wines, produced by wineries which allow the store to put their own label on it.  I can't vouch for all those store-brand wines, but I've had good luck with quite a few of them. 
Find Out What You Like
Speaking of your wine merchant, many wine stores offer weekly tastings.  Some make tastes available any time you like.  Wine bars often have a price structure that includes "taste-size" pours for less than a full glass.  Wine shows and festivals are also great ways to familiarize yourself with different brands and grape varieties.  Take advantage of these opportunities to learn more about what it is you like about wine.  It will make it easier to tell your wine merchant what it is you are looking for in a wine, and thus easier for the merchant to make useful suggestions.
Taste Rules

A wine deal isn't so good if you don't like the wine.  Hopefully you are able to taste different wines and gain knowledge about what sorts of flavors are most interesting to you.  If you don't get the chance to taste too much, ask for recommendations from people whose opinions you respect.   Read the “shelf talkers,” those little cards below a bottle of wine in the store that tells what sort of aromas and flavors to expect.  Find wines in that way which have flavor descriptions that sound delicious to you.  Reviews and other wine articles are also useful.  One thing to ignore: scores.  You won't necessarily like a 94-point wine better than an 88-point wine.

Stay On Course

Set a price you are willing to spend, then browse, looking only at wines in your price point.   It's easy to “buy up” when browsing – but it's hard to enjoy a wine which cost so much you are not able to eat this week.   Don't be afraid to try the cheaper wines, but don't live there either.  It's surprising how many good cheap wines there are, and just as surprising how much difference $10 can make. 


Finally, as in any kind of shopping, look for sales.  BevMo has a regular sale which they run from time to time where you can buy a bottle and get a second bottle for a nickel.  Even in your regular ol' supermarket, select wines will be marked down in price.  I know Ralph's markets carry quite a few good brands, and they have tags on the sale wines that make it easy to see how much the price has been reduced (see image).  Usually the markdowns are in the one- to two-dollar range, but sometimes the savings are significant.  If you know what you want and you don't mind buying a lot of it, buy by the case.  A ten-percent discount on case purchases is just about the industry standard.

Monday, June 21, 2010


La Vieille Ferme Blanc

We tried a new place for lunch recently, House on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. It's been open about six months and has a really comfortable vibe. The mix'n'match decor is highlighted by dark wood ceiling beams that look great against the white interior. The decor features a big clock here, an old Dr. Pepper sign there and a TV that can be seen from any table in the house. Wine crates are on high shelves near those ceiling beams. Their wine cellar is completely visible through lucite walls, a trend in wine-savvy restaurants of which I heartily approve. I have posted a couple of interior shots on the Now And Zin Facebook page. Take a look if you like.

The food's good, too. I had the House Chopped Salad, which is pretty much a Cobb salad, tossed. Denise had the short rib tacos, and the pork really melted in my mouth. The soft corn tortillas tasted homemade, too.
The wine list sported some interesting choices. There seem to be quite a few Spanish reds, which I like. On a warm afternoon, though, I opted for a French white wine from the Cotes du Luberon, the La Vieille Ferme 2008. The blend is 30% Grenache Blanc, 30% Bourboulenc, 30% Ugni Blanc and 10% Roussanne. 90% of the cool fermentation takes place in vats, while 10% is in new French oak. It then goes into stainless steel until bottled.
It's a pale wine with a yellow-green tint. The nose is rather herbaceous with a hint of wonderful funkiness. Denise detected some vanilla, but it was not apparent to me. On the palate, the wine is smooth, fresh and bracing all at once. Pears and melons are laced with a nutty flavor. The finish lingers pleasantly and reveals a nice acidity. It's a rather full-bodied white, and is quite refreshing.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


California Wine Festival

What is billed as California's most popular wine festival occurs July 15 - 17, 2010 by the beautiful Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara.  The California Wine Festival will show off hundreds of the state's best reds, whites, pinks and sparklers along with food served by local chefs, artisan breads and cheeses, grilled meats, fruit and more.  Here's how the festivities line up:

Thursday, July 15
A tapas and wine tasting event from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. at De La Guerra Adobe Courtyard.  $49 advance, $55 gate

Friday, July 16th
Sunset rare and reserved wine tasting from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.  $99 advance, $125 gate

Saturday, July 17th
The main event - the beachside wine festival from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.  There's an 11:30 a.m. entrance for VIP/press/trade.  Every wine region in the state will be represented by hundreds of wineries pouring their wines.  There will be plenty to nosh on and live entertainment will keep the day interesting.  $65 advance, $75 gate

A VIP All Event Gold Pass offers the whole three-day experience at a discount, only $179.

The festival has been well-received by those who have attended in the past, and the event schedule certainly promises to be a lot of fun for those able to attend the full three-day schedule.  Even if you can only make it to Santa Barbara for the Saturday tasting, it sounds like a lot of fun for wine lovers.

Last Year
Last year's California Wine Festival was a great time for all concerned.  Exhibitors, vendors and guests all seemed to revel in the various pleasures laid out before them, not least among them being the fantastic Santa Barbara day.  When people all over the country think of what their "perfect summer day" would be, this day could be used as the example - clear blue sky, sunshine galore and just on the warm side of mild.  It could not have been better.

We took Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner from Burbank to Santa Barbara, avoiding all the hassle of the drive, the freeways, the parking and the necessity of a designated non-imbiber.  Neither of us had felt so free and unencumbered in ages.  We heartily recommend it.

The train station in Santa Barbara is right in the middle of the downtown area, and just a short trolley ride down Cabrillo Boulevard from the site of the festival.  The peaked white tents beckoned from afar and we entered without delay with our VIP tickets.  Later we could see that many people were in quite a line outside waiting to get in.

Denise threw herself into the condiments and gourmet items that were in wild abundance.  She busied herself with little tastes of fruit, cheese, olive oil and Balsamic vinegar while I strolled the grounds sampling the wonderful wines that were available about every ten feet or so.

Here are some of my favorites from last year's event:

Rosa D'Oro Vineyards, Lake County
Their dry Muscat Canelli was very aromatic and crisp.  The Rosato had a wild nose and a fabulous palate.  It was wine, Italian style, at 70% Sangiovese and 30% Barbera.

Michael-David, Lodi
Petite Petit was 100% Petite Sirah with a big, luscious nose full of dark fruit and oaky notes.

Ortman Family Vineyards, Paso Robles
The Sangiovese had a very fruity nose and rested very gently on the palate.

Oreana Winery, Santa Barbara
Oreana's Verdelho is the Portuguese version of the Spanish verdejo.  The nose was obscured by the barbecue stand nearby, but it was nice and easy to drink with a citrus profile.  Crisp.

Cambria, Paso Robles
The Katherine's vineyard Chardonnay was understated and crisp, the lighter of the two Chards they were pouring.

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara County -
It was really nice seeing Dave Potter. Always nice to taste his wine, too!
His dry riesling is nearly as sweet as his sweet Riesling.  Both are noteworthy.  His bright red Grenache/Cinsaut/Syrah blend is a wine I like better every time I taste it, if that's possible.

Lone Madrone, Paso Robles
Here's one you don't see everyday: Picpoul Blanc.  It was full of minerals and a bit sour, like lemon.  Unusual but nice.  I'm a big fan of their La Mezcla, a blend of Grenache Blanc and Albarino.  Quite acidic and very unusual, the minerals really stand out and help shape a wonderful crispness.

Laetitia Vineyards, Arroyo Grande
Wow.  I had not ever tried their Tempranillo.  It was possibly the biggest taste from a Tempranillo in my experience.

Bridlewood Estate Winery, Santa Ynez
A really great syrah.

Santa Barbara wine retailer Winehound had a boothwhere they were pouring Qupe Dark Ride Syrah.  It was dark and earthy.

That was a lot of tasting for one afternoon!  I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait until the 2010 event.

After getting back near the Amtrak station, we found ourselves with quite a bit of time to kill before our train was due.  We made the mistake of stopping into Eladio's for a quick bite and a little resting.  It was some of the worst food we have ever been served.  The skewered shrimp were cold, as were the nachos.  Nachos!  They couldn't get nachos right!  The cheese was not completely melted and the sliced chiles that were sprinkled about on top tasted just awful.  What a disappointing meal.

Fortunately, dinner on Stearn's Wharf was at the other end of the spectrum.  The Harbor is as upscale as the Wharf gets, and they do a good job of maintaining their fine dining image despite the beachy surroundings.  I had the ahi tuna steak on a bed of wasabi mashed potatoes with the Sanford Chardonnay.  The wine paired with the dish perfectly.

Saturday, June 19, 2010



A lot has been said recently about the wines of summer.  For many, though, summer means beer.  Lager, amber ale, India pale ale, even a nice, cold porter - hot summer days seem to beg for them.  With plenty of hot summer days on the way, there is a Ventura, CA event beer fans will want to attend.

Salute!  is a celebration of craft beer and fine foods which will occur Saturday June 19, 2010 at San Buenaventua State Beach.  VIP attendees will have the grounds to themselves from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and general admission is from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.  The ticket price - $60/$135 VIP - will buy unlimited tastings of some 300 craft beers and 100 fine food purveyors.  All the proceeds will benefit Food Share of Ventura County .
Live music will accompany the festivities and experts in various fields will share their knowledge.  "Dr. Bill" Sysak of Stone Brewing Company will offer insights on the incredible beer and ale his outfit produces, while contributions are also planned from Jerret Gilden, the Ojai Beverage Company's chef, as well as Belgian beer experts John Fincioen and Claudine Von Massenhove and the director of "Beer Wars," Anat Baron.

Taste treats, music, experts and a beachside setting should make for an interesting afternoon in Ventura.  If you are there for the official kickoff between noon and 1:00 p.m., say hello to DJ Perry from local rock radio station The Octopus 95.9 FM, who is slated to help get the whole thing off to a rockin' start.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Stars of Paso Robles BBQ

Ian Blackburn's Learn About Wine (LAW) has another promising event on the horizon.  The Stars of Paso Robles BBQ will come to Beverly Hills and Orange County in mid-July.  The Beverly Hills event is set for Wednesday July 14th in familiar surroundings for Blackburn, the Peninsula Beverly Hills.  The Orange County stop will be at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort Thursday July 15th.

LAW's events always manage to find some pretty classy digs, and these two seem to be following suit.  Both events will feature a trade tasting session in the afternoon, with the main event - at which you'll find the BBQ - occuring from 7:00 - 9:30pm both nights.

The events will bring some great wineries from California's wonderful Paso Robles region to town.  You'll find some well-known names there as well as some smaller, undiscovered gems.  Around 30 wineries in all are expected to participate in the shows.  See the list below to find out who will be there.  The events will benefit the T.J. Martell Foundation for Cancer and AIDS Research .

The Peninsula Beverly Hills
9882 S. Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA

The St. Regis Monarch Beach
1 Monarch Beach Resort
Dana Point, CA

Participating Wineries:

Alta Colina
August Ridge
Bodegas M
Cerro Prieto
Derby Wine Estates
Four Vines
Hug Cellars
J & J Cellars
JK Wine Company: Katin & Arada Wines
J. Lohr
Ranchita Canyon
Rotta Winery
Roxo Port Cellars
Silver Horse
Terry Hoage
Treana/Hope Family Wines

more coming


Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier

Unusual grapes are wine geek's great joys.  Unusual blends of rather common grapes finish a close second in my book.  Pine Ridge Winery claims they are the first California winery to produce this unusual blend.  The mix is 81% Chenin Blanc and 19% Viognier.  The Chenin Blanc fruit was taken from five different vineyards in the Clarksburg area, while the Viognier came from Bear Creek Winery in Lodi.

The nose shows a grassy characteristic with plenty of floral notes surrounding it.  White grapefruit and melon, with a slightly nutty sort of edge, come through strongly on the palate.  There is a level of tropical activity in there, too.  The acidity seems a little lacking in the mouth at first, but by the finish I realize I've been had.  The acidity sneaks up and quietly introduces itself almost as I swallow.  Although it pairs well with the talapia ceviche, I feel it may be even better with a more traditional ceviche or a seafood salad.  Even if you have it with nothing at all, this wine will make friends easily.  It is so clean and refreshing, it's a perfect choice for a summer day

I had this treat at Piero's Acqua Pazza at The River in Rancho Mirage.  It cost $6.95 by the glass and was exactly what I wanted on a day when the temperature was barely into triple digits.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Doobie Red

Every time I go to the supermarket I am struck by the music that's piped in for my shopping pleasure.  Nowadays, it's usually the kind of music I remember going underground for as a kid, the kind I had to keep hidden from my parents, the kind that I just knew would brand me as "cool" if I embraced it.

The reality is, I never got too far underground where I grew up, my parents didn't really care very much about what I was listening to and the "cool" thing never seemed to take.  The latter item is a judgment call, but I think my family and friends would vouch for my lack of "cool" in my teenage years, maybe even today.

Today all those underground cheap thrills serve as an aural landscape for shopping.  Personally, I like a little Jimi Hendrix while I'm picking out what cereal to buy.  I don't even mind when people can overhear me singing along, "Move over, Rover, let Randy take over."  I guess I'll just never be cool. 

Fittingly, a rock'n'roll wine event comes to the grocery store in West Hollywood Thursday afternoon.

B. R. Cohn is not only a winery owner, but a rock'n'rollmanager.  He has put in around 40 years as manager of the Doobie Brothers.  His Doobie Red is a blend of Bordeaux-style varieties sourced from the North Coast appellation.  It's aged in French oak, has 13.9% abv and sells for just under $20 a bottle.

To herald the release of his 2008 vintage of Doobie Red, Cohn and members of the Doobie Brothers will make an appearance at the Pavilions Supermarket in West Hollywood Thursday June 17th, 2010 from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.  You'll be able to pick up a bottle right there and have it autographed while you wait, no doubt with the Doobie Brothers trickling down from the speaker above your head.

Cohn's website states that a portion of the proceeds from Doobie Red go to Veterans charities and other charitable organizations.  Doobie Red was originally produced in memory of Keith Knudsen, longtime drummer of the band.

All 90 acres of Cohn's vineyards are sustainably farmed, and select blocks are farmed organically.  The winery is located just north of Sonoma in Glenn Ellen, CA.

Whitesnake Zin
Whitesnake Zin

Eighties hard rock hair band Whitesnake will soon have their own brand of wine for their fans to drink while rocking out to their music.

Healdsburg, CA winemaker Dennis De La Montanya has partnered with the rockers to produce Whitesnake Zinfandel 2010. The wine will be in stores in July 2010. It will be no surprise to find that it's a deep purple wine, good for both Saints and Zinners.

Band member David Coverdale says, "It's a bodacious, cheeky little wine, filled to the brim with the spicy essence of sexy, slippery snakeyness." Top those tasting notes, Robert Parker.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Thomas Fogarty Gist Ranch Chardonnay

The Santa Cruz Mountains make a lovely place in which to get lost.  “Get lost” is used in the figurative sense here, but if you can't listen to and follow directions, it may take on a more literal context when you visit Thomas Fogarty's winery.

We visited the Fogarty Winery a few years ago, on a trip to Half Moon Bay.  Fogarty isn't what I would call convenient to Half Moon Bay, but we were making a day of it anyway.  Down the coast for a picnic in Pescadero, a stop at a particularly rustic looking restaurant for a cool, refreshing lemonade and off we went – up into the Santa Cruz Mountains.  It was a long way to the top, as the song says, but after following the winding mountain roads for what seemed a good part of the afternoon, we finally arrived at the Fogarty Winery.

The visit definitely is worth it, but check the website for directions and then call ahead. As stated on their website, “Mapquest and GPS are both unreliable guides because the mountain roads don't always compute."  Also, pay attention to your driving.

The Grapes

2005 produced a small but perfectly ripened yield of fruit in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Gist Ranch Vineyard is a 100 acre chunk of land 2200 feet above seas level on a ridge southeast of the winery and about 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean, in position to grab those cooling ocean winds. The west-facing block is planted in Dijon clone 96.

Preparing to open the bottle, I'm thinking the sandstone and shale in the Santa Cruz Mountains earth should give a nice minerality and sixteen months in French oak should give nice vanilla notes.

The Wine

The oak is quite present on the nose of this Estate-grown Chardonnay, with those creamy vanilla notes really smelling like a cream pie.  On the palate, I get the taste of the little, round pears that grew in my backyard as a kid.  There are strong spice flavors coming through, with a sharp, focused acidity.  The finish lingers nicely.

We brought the Fogarty Chardonnay to a vegetarian Thai restaurant on Melrose – Butan – and tried it with a number of different items.  It seemed to work best on salads and spicy dishes, less so with peanut-based sauces.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Marqués de Caceres

Lately my old tasting notes have been getting the once over as I rummage through them seeking out nice wines for warmer weather.  One style I've always been fond of in the summer is the Spanish rosado.  Usually rosado is a deeper shade of pink than the average rosé – sometimes almost full-blown red - and full of the great flavors of Tempranillo and Grenache.

This Spanish Rioja rosado is a light strawberry color.  It makes a beautiful statement in the glass.   At 13.5% abv, it's a dry rosé made from 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha.

Aromas of raspberry dominate the bouquet for me, but there's a very nice floral layer underneath it.  I want to say hibiscus, but I don't know how accurate that is.  Whatever the nature of the flora I smell, it's a beautiful fragrance.

Don't worry about this wine 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 would not argue with any of those.  However, let me tell you that it went with a dessert Denise made and the pairing was exquisite.  She created a mascarpone-based whip which we put on a cracked pepper and olive oil Triscuit.  That was delicious enough, but the wine really had a good time pairing with it.  We were duly 

Monday, June 14, 2010


Pancake Cellars Big Day White

If you are a fan of wine labels depicting funny cartoon images, cuddly pets or goofy lettering, then you and I do not share that particular sensibility.  The marketing ploy of labeling a wine with strong, identifiable imagery is understandable – it's a big wine world out there.  It's hard to make one product stand out in a crowded marketplace.  An eye-catching label is one way wine marketers hope to make their wines jump off the shelves and into your shopping basket.

I've never liked the feeling of being “worked,” and it makes me feel that way when I see a wine label decorated with a big cartoon grape stomping his way down a city street like a smiling, waving Godzilla.  The thread that ties this image to the concept described on the back label is so thin I can't even remember it now so that I can relate it to you.

Pancake Cellars Big Day White offers this ridiculous-looking label art as their way of being noticed.  The “pancake” reference goes unexplained, and for that I am grateful.

This wine is produced by Central Coast Wines Warehouse in Santa Maria, and is a blend of five different grapes: 27% Chardonnay, 24% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Viognier, 21% Muscat Canelli and 4% Pinot Blanc.  Previous vintages have included a much heavier reliance on Sauvignon Blanc that in the 2009.  It's sold in Trader Joe's markets for a scant five dollars per bottle and holds a moderate 13.9% abv level.

Pancake Cellars is designated as being located in Santa Maria, and the wine is branded as being produced from Paso Robles fruit, so aside from the tacky labeling, things are looking good before I even crack open the bottle.

Once the bottle is open, the nose of the very pale golden wine easily gives up aromas of flowers and peach syrup.  The back label states that apples, cantaloupes, honeysuckle and lemongrass are also present, although I would only allow for the honeysuckle.

The taste is succulent and deceptively smooth at first sip.  The acidity comes along fairly late, but it does come.  There's not the sort of mineral quality I expected from a Paso Robles white wine, but a slight orange peel flavor peeks out in its place.  I'd call this wine “off-dry” and recommend it for fans of “summer sippers,” although to be honest it would probably pair fairly well with light salads and seafood.  I did try it with Denise's delicious lentil and roasted vegetable salad.  Sadly, the flavors were mostly buried by the robust nature of the food.  What did come through, though, was quite a nice match.

All in all, it's not a bad wine, but it doesn't strike me as a very serious wine.  It doesn't look like one on the shelf, either.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Guide

If you want to go wine tasting in the Santa Maria Valley, but don't know too much about the area or the wineries found there, here's a good find for you.   The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor and Convention Bureau have a free, 16-page booklet with all the information you need to do a tour of the Santa Maria Valley wine country.

You can order "
Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Booklet " from the Chamber, but it's a lot handier - and greener - to access it on the web and download it.   You can print it yourself or keep it bookmarked on your smartphone.

Gina Keough, manager of the Santa Maria Valley Visitor and Convention Bureau, recognizes that the interest in the area's wine country has grown in recent years.   "This booklet is a significant expansion on our previous wine touring literature," Gina says.  "It is a helpful resource for visitors and locals alike."

In addition to a winery map and a description of the wineries of the Santa Maria Valley, you also get lists of area restaurants and other shopping destinations, tasting tour information, even wine pairing suggestions for that good ol' Santa Maria-style barbecue.

Even if you have been to the Santa Maria Valley before, you might want to take a look at the book.  Gina points out that several new wine tasting rooms may have opened since you last visited.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Chateau Ste. Michelle Nellie's Garden Dry Rosé

Occasionally I find myself parking in an area where some of the businesses validate and some don't.  The restaurants don't, but a store that sells wine does.  You see it coming, don't you?  Enjoy a meal, hop over to the bargain wine shop on the way to the parking lot and pick up a bottle of something cheap.  Get validated with that purchase and it's like I paid for parking and got a free bottle of wine in the deal.
The Chateau Ste. Michelle Nellie's Garden Dry Rosé was a steal at four dollars.  It's not a bad little pink.

Actually, it's a deep, rich strawberry red.  The wine is made of 98% Syrah and 2% Grenache, and hits 13.7% abv.  Always welcome in a rosé is a big fruity nose, and this one delivers just that, full of fresh strawberries.  The palate shows strawberry as well, along with raspberry and a bit of some Syrah-like spiciness. 

It's delicious, and it should pair well with salads and seafood, but I might want just a shade more acidity for pairing with anything heavier.  As a sipper, I'll take this any day, parked on the porch.  For four bucks, I didn't expect much.  I feel like a got quite a deal, though.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Palazzone Dubini Bianco Umbria

We got together with friends we see far too little of, with the intent of a casual night outdoors at the Farmer's Market.  Springtime in Los Angeles proved a bit too chilly in the open air, so we hoofed it over to The Grove and landed at Morel's.  We guys talked about guitars and the Grateful Dead and the stuff we used to do while the gals talked about who knows what and laughed themselves silly when I took a picture of my wine glass.  Fingers were placed in the shot and a great time was had by all.
I had the pleasure of an Umbrian wine, Palazzone Dubini Bianco.  It's an $8 glass, which is fairly paltry by today's restaurant standards.  I've found that an $8 glass of wine in a restaurant generally means you can buy a whole bottle of it at a wine shop for about the same price.

Orvieto is the best-known Umbrian wine, and this Palazzone actually qualifies as an Orvieto.  The wine was declassified, though, into the broader Umbria IGT.

The blend is 50% Procanico - the local Trebbiano - 20% Verdello and lesser amounts of Grechetto, Drupeggio and Malvasia.  Stainless steel fermentation allows these various fruits to express themselves uninfluenced by oak.

Pale golden in the glass, the nose is fresh and flowery.  The palate is full of minerals, which is how I like a white wine.  Flavors of apples, wet rocks and lemon zest dominate.  It was almost as much fun as the company I had at the table  that evening.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


chestnut amber ale

It used to be that I was never without a few bottles of a favorite beer in the fridge.  Somehow I let that slide, I suppose since most of my imbibing is focused on wine now.  But a warm, sunny afternoon and a little yardwork made me really thirsty for a good brew.  The only one in the house was the Strada S. Felice Amber Ale brewed with chestnuts.  I popped open the fliptop stopper and enjoyed it.  It slaked my thirst and satisfied my craving for beer, but at the time, I wished it had been an India Pale Ale.

This unique ale is brewed by Birrifficio Grado Plato and runs at 8% abv, a little high for my taste.  The bottle is about 750 ml, and it cost about $20.

The beautiful chestnut brown color makes a fine introduction.  It's a very cloudy brew, with a lean head which clings to the glass well.  The nose is nutty, malty and yeasty.  It tastes malty, too, and is very light on hops.  The chestnut flavor really shines, with baker's chocolate notes in the background.  There is a very heavy particulate fallout which I do not like.  It's a lot like very large and coarse coffee grounds left in the bottom of the glass.  Also, the flavors change a bit when it warms and it gets a little more bitter.

Although I find the ale to be very interesting as a diversion, I don't think I'd try to have it on hand all the time. It's a nice drink to sit and relax with on a hot afternoon, but I would not say it's a great drink for summer.  it strikes me as something that would be a lot nicer during the holiday season.  

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Wine Expo

I feel like the emcee who asks a question, tips the microphone toward the guest and has it ripped from his hand.  It's not a completely unexpected feeling, as I went into this "Wine Merchant Wine Pairings" week fully aware of the lengthy and lavish locution to which Roberto Rogness is prone.  Roberto is the general manager and wine director of Wine Expo , 2933 Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA.  You can reach Roberto and his staff at 310.828.4428 or 1.800.WINE.EXPO.

His treatise is so full-bodied and informative, there's little for me to do except take the day off and turn the microphone - er, blog - over to him.  Here is Roberto's full discourse on wine pairings for the summer menu.  As always, he delivers good advice as well as good reading.

"Nothing more Summery or Italian than Fizzy Reds and Quality Preserved Pork Products (Hard Sausages, Head Cheese, Prosciutto, Lardo, Lonza, you name it):

Are you MAN enough to drink a Fizzy Red?

Yes Drill Sergeant!

Things happen here at your favorite wine emporium that we couldn’t make up if we tried but THIS one really made an impression: Three Sundays ago a cab pulled up and two United States Marines in full desert camo and toting full packs got out.  They came in and it turned out that they had JUST gotten off a plane at LAX after a long deployment in Iraq, were on their way home to see their wives and that their wives had mentioned some wine they really liked that they had to buy HERE: Picchioni Sangue di Giuda and
Il Falchetto Brachetto d'Acqui!  When we mentioned that the common wisdom on such wines (red, fizzy, very fruity and a bit sweet which makes them fabulous with salty snacks) was that they were a bit "girlie", one of the young infantrymen said, "When Mama’s happy, I’m happy.  That’s the battle plan sir."  Well, in that case, Semper Fi Marine, carry on, welcome home and let her try some of these next time:
Azienda Agricola Martilde, Rovescala, Oltrepò PaveseMartilde is one of our favorite discoveries in the Brave NEW World of the Oltrepò Pavese: a full service vino-teria making ten or so bottlings ranging from dry and delicate whites to insanely concentrated reds, all grown with molto rispetto for nature by a couple who have become good friends of ours, Antonella Tacci and Raimondo Lombardi.  AND they all have fabulous art labels (painted by Antonella) depicting the animals on the estate.

Martilde OP Bonarda Frizzante Gianna 2007, Lombardia $19.99 ORGANIC
Antonella and Raimondo’s entry into the local arms race over who can make the most convivial and fun fizzy red: Darker and lusher than either Agnes Cresta Ghiffi or the Picchioni Sangue di Giuda, this one is going to win even more fans to this fun category.
Castello di Gabiano, Monferrato, PiemonteThis winery quietly operates in an alternate universe from many of their neighbors whose Nebbiolo based wines are all about power and tannins and long aging.  Instead, they produce fantastic examples of DOCs rarely seen outside of Italy that are known for their elegance and restrained beauty.

We are proud to bring to the market for the first time the wines of the Gabiano, Rubino di Cantavenna and Malvasia di Casorzo zonas.  These wines are sure to delight you with their unique blend of history, poetry, grace and charm...

Castello di Gabiano Malvasia di Casorzo Il Giardino di Flora 2007, Piemonte $23.99
"The Garden of Flowers" seems intriguing enough but that literal take on the name of this wine is only the start: it is a tribute to the nymph Flora, idealized by Botticelli in his portrait of Simonetta Cattaneo (the platonic love of Giuliano di Medici) entitled "La Primavera".  What it TASTES like is another thing altogether: one of our staff exclaimed "It’s like Brachetto on CRACK!" the first time we opened a bottle.  Translation: insanely concentrated flavors of ripe and spicy red and black berries, a skoonch of teenage love and a pinch of "Oh! My! GAWD!" plus just enough sweetness to make it delicious with either fruit or chocolate cakes, tarts, cookies and truffles or some full flavored cheeses (and its just 5% alcohol so you can have more and then some more!).  We predict a big fan club for this so, remember, we warned you...

Terre da Vino, Barolo, Piemonte
These guys were our find of the year at VinItaly 2009: a modern cooperative cantina in the heart of the Barolo zona with 2800 small
growers tending 5096 hectares to chose from but dedicated to quality AND value for money!

Terre da Vino Freisa d'Asti Frizzante 2008, Piemonte $14.99
So...what the hell is Freisa?!? It is a very traditional, very local variety grown in the vineyards of and drunk by the makers of great Barolo.  Why haven’t you seen one before?  You could say it is the beautiful and enchanted daughter whom they packed off to the convent so the whole town wouldn’t be fighting over her.  She smells like violets, spices and ripe red cherries, is medium bodied, hauntingly delicious.......and slightly sparkling!  Serve chilled with antipasti and friends. This is a party in a bottle with lots of fruit but not too sweet and about half the fizz of Champagne.  Try it with BBQ (Korean or Carolina!), Tangerine Spiced Beef, Salumi and Cheese and a sunset.....improvise.

Terre da Vino Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco Dolce, Piemonte $16.99
Our notes from VinItaly: "Sex on wheels! So fragrant and fun you could drink a whole bottle.  Ali will go crazy with this in Hawaii and we need an endless supply here in Santa Monica too."  This is RED Malvasia with a wondrous nose of ripe red berries and rose petals, just a touch of sweetness, full pressure fizz but just 6.5% ABV.

Cantina Sociale di Puianello, Quattro Castella, Emilia-Romagna
We met these guys through a friend of a friend (ciao e grazie Arrigo!) and were immediately impressed by their almost surreal professionalism.  Their stand at VinItaly was like a Formula One pit stop: Marketing Director Vittorio Maltezze welcomed us in perfect English, we sat and within seconds a crack staff went to work and for nearly an hour glasses appeared and were replaced like magic, top flight Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and cured pork products materialized seemingly out of thin air (with their salt, spice and sweetness levels matched to each new wine), technical and marketing brochures in English landed next to each new glass, mineral water filled our glasses, spit buckets were dumped and replaced without us even noticing let alone asking.  And the wines? As the company motto says, "É buono, è un Puianello" (it’s good, it’s a Puianello)!  Now for the story:

In 1938 five grape growers in the hills of the tiny hamlet of Puianello near Reggio founded a co-op so they could make wine instead of selling grapes and thereby see a little more of the profit on the fruit of their labor (and they located the cantina at an address on Via Carlo Marx, quite fitting for a Cantina Sociale, don’t you think?).  Over the years more growers joined bringing more land so that today there are 330 members producing a large range of wines in many styles with a focus on the traditional frizzante and spumante styles of the zona, red, white and rosato, ranging from bone dry through "amabile" (amiable or friendly) to dessert wines.
We tasted over twenty of them and brought in four that fill some holes in our ever expanding omniverse of fine fizz. 

Puianello Lambrusco dell’Emilia Rosso Amabile, Emilia-Romagna $12.99
Very dark and packed with full throttle spicy black fruit, finished just off-dry (but more than balanced by the bubbles and natural acidity of the Lambrusco variety).  At this price you can pound it with classic pasta Bolognese, BBQ (Texas, North Carolinian, South Korean, bring it on), pizza or brunch and still pay your bills.

Puianello Lambrusco Grasparossa Amabile Luceria, Emilia-Romagna $15.99
This is serious, just OFF DRY, red (well almost black) wine that you can serve with almost anything and has the added food matching advantage of medium but persistent effervescence and the fact that you serve it cold.  The perfect solution for hot days, hot foods or hot’s versatile.

Puianello Ancellotta dell’Emilia Dolce BonDaMat  $11.99
100% Ancellotta with a dark red color, intense rose petal and violet notes on the nose followed by lots of ripe berry fruit and medium sweetness on the palate.  In their brochure the enologist says it is "similar to the more trumpeted Brachetto Piemontese but at lower cost" and that just about nails it.  Already a sensation with local Italiani, get yours before they buy it all....

The LA Times' Jean T. Barrett on the joys of Lambrusco:
"AND WHAT of the reds? An antipasto array that includes smoked and cured meats calls out for the classic wine pairing with charcuterie, Emilia-Romagna's frothy Lambrusco.  What? you ask, incredulously.  Are you referring to that fizzy sweet drink that many of us cut our wine teeth on?  Hardly.  True, most Lambrusco exported to the U.S. is pop wine, but the best bottlings from quality-oriented producers in the DOC zones around Modena and Reggio display a lush fruitiness and fizz as well as firm acidity and tannins that contrast deliciously with the salty, rich flavors of dry salami, prosciutto and other charcuterie.  For an even drier and
bolder version, sample Puianello's Contrada Borgoleto Lambrusco Reggiano. It is deep garnet in color, intensely jammy and tarry in the bouquet, and tastes like dark cherry soda while being absolutely bone dry.  Please pass the salami . . . and the olives . . . and the crostini. . . "

Giuseppe e Ricciarda Caprari, Reggio Emilia, Emilia- Romagna
Lambrusco is a very mysterious wine: most people will never admit to drinking any yet, as Carl Sagan might say, every year millions and MILLIONS of bottles are made, sold and enjoyed.  Somehow when someone opens a bottle of quality Lambrusco, the contents seem to vaporize as if by magic and everyone forgets their old college war stories of bad run ins with Riunite, Cold Duck or worse.

Cantina Caprari was established in 1927 and the current generation are making the best wines ever with a strong eye towards traditional methods, styles and culture (the Foieta is named after a traditional bowl used to consume broth, wine and filled pasta all
in one go to fortify the vineyard workers for their tasks) while taking advantage of newer technology where it fits in.

Caprari Lambrusco dell'Emilia Dolce Frizzante 2008, Emilia-Romagna $14.99
The softer, sweeter (but not too sweet) sister of our beloved Foieta (below), this rocks with fruit and cheese, spicy red sauce Q, picnic fare or just a sunset and a friend....

Caprari Lambrusco dell'Emilia Secco Frizzante Foieta 2008, Emilia-Romagna $23.99
BONE Dry, deeply colored and flavored with bright fruit and spice, this can be served with a wide range of plates: Penne Arrabbiata, real Smoked Bar-B-Que, your family Lasagna recipe, Tandoori meats, Szechuan stir fries or a traditional holiday feast, you name it, it works.  Mmm Mmmm Good!

Azienda Agricola Andrea Picchioni, Canneto Pavese, Lombardia
Andrea is very famous here for his insanely concentrated reds from the Buttafuoco zona but this casual sipper has its own rabid fan club:

Picchioni Sangue di Giuda 2006 $14.99
Deeply colored, just 7% alcohol, fizzy but not too, explosive dark berry flavors, enough zizz to deal with anything from salty prosciutto and olive tapenade anti-pasti to red sauce BBQ or tangerine spiced beef.  We even had a customer excitedly call in once to tell us how "Everyone is going crazy for that stuff......even my mother-in-law who puts Equal in her Chardonnay!".  Uhhhhh....right.  Even though your inner weasel is large and in charge most of the time, your inner child IS hiding in there and this wine is almost guaranteed to bring him/her out to play.  20 cases only, get it while it lasts!

Azienda Agricola Fratelli Agnes, Rovescala, Lombardia
Like our friends at Fattoria di Faltognano, the family operating this winery has been doing so for so many generations (800 years in this case) that making delicious traditional wines with utmost respect for nature is encoded in their very DNA. They make such a small amount of wine and it is so famous in their zona that they really didn’t want to be bothered with all the paperwork involved in exporting any.  Well, after three years of courting them and reminding them of the great success we’ve had with their next door neighbors at Martilde they relented and the wines have become huge WINE EXPO-ista favorites:

Fratelli Agnes Oltrepò Pavese Bonarda Frizzante Cresta del Ghiffi 2005, Lombardia $16.99
This is the most traditional and typical of the local tastes: Late harvest Bonarda from 50 year old vines, finished slightly sparkling.  It is fabulous with antipasti like figs or melone wrapped in prosciutto then grilled or maybe bruschetta with Gorgonzola and Olives.  The name refers to the comb of the serious looking rooster glaring at your from the label to make sure you finish every last drop and get another glass...right away!

Tenuta Il Falchetto, S. Stefano Belbo, Piemonte
The wines of I Fratelli Fabulosi Forno (The Fabulous Forno Brothers!) have been big hits here since we opened the doors in ‘93 and we have just unloaded a new batch of their fabulously food (and wallet!) friendly wines for your enjoyment:

Il Falchetto Brachetto d'Aqui Frizzante 2007, Piemonte $21.99
Brachetto is: 1) Perhaps the most delicious thing you’ll swallow this week.  2) Red (well dark pink actually), slightly sparkling wine with a bouquet of fresh strawberries that’s almost too easy to drink (so you had better get two to prepare).  3) A pretty darn good reason for living, come to think of it.  4) Wonderful with prosciutto e melone, fruit & cheese or just good company on a sunny afternoon.  5) One of the best seduction tools ever devised.  Psych!  Trick question, it’s all of the above!!!

Azienda Agricola Podere Saulino, Novi Ligure, Piemonte
This cantina has 12 hectares of vines in the heart of the Gavi DOCG zona, mostly dedicated to the Cortese variety for Gavi but also makes a lovely Brachetto that will be perfect for your next picnic or breakfast in bed

Il Saulino Piemonte Brachetto Dolce e Spumante 2007 $26.99
This version of our most popular fizzy red has full on pressure like Champagne, a light strawberry color that follows through on the nose and palate and is just sweet enough to set off the flavors of a nice cheese plate, some salty snacks or a groovy picnic/brunch spread.  It is so good you will want to drink the whole bottle and since it is only 7% ABV we say "Why Not?".

Azienda Agricola Cascina Fonda di Marco e Massimo Barbero, Mango, Piemonte
Living in a town named after the most sensual of fruits (Mango, near Asti) the Barbero brothers, Marco and Massimo, just HAVE to make exotically perfumed nectars of seduction, right?  Well.....YES they do, and, despite the pronouncements of a recent  "authoritative" book about regional wines of Italy that you would have to go to Piemonte to find any, we’ve had them (and a lot of the others mentioned) here for years.

Casina Fonda Brachetto 2008, Piemonte $35.00
Brachetto is:  1) The most delicious thing you’ll swallow this week and almost too easy to drink.  2) Wonderful with prosciutto e melone, fruit & cheese, re-runs of Reno 911 on Comedy Central or just good company on a summer afternoon.  3) Red, sparkling wine that has an intense bouquet of fresh strawberries (and, as Miriam Makeba once noted in song, so does love!).  4) All of the above!!!"

My thanks to Roberto Rogness of Wine Expo for the great pairing suggestions, along with the fabulous entertainment.  I love the passion for wine he exhibits in his words.  My big fear is that I will learn he wrote this piece in less time than it took me to proofread it.  After this, it may take a while for me to get up the nerve to post any of my crummy little tasting notes.  We hope to have another batch of wine merchant pairing suggestions tomorrow, so please pay us a return visit.