Saturday, July 31, 2010


Graff Family July Muscat

One of the great thrills of the wine world is discovering a wine which makes me really glad I opened the bottle.  Not just ordinary, everyday glad, but extra-special glad.

The Graff Family of Sonoma makes very limited-production wine, partially as a fundraiser for the Richard H. Graff Scholarship Fund for wine and food education. I opened their dessert wine, July Muscat, and I was glad I did.  Extra-special glad.

I had never heard of July Muscat before, but now know that the grape is a cross of four different Muscat varieties.  The hybrid was developed at UC-Davis in the 1950s.

The grapes for this wine are grown in the Chalone appellation in California's Monterey County.  It's a 100% Muscat wine which is fermented in stainless steel and aged two-thirds in steel, one-third in French oak, 20% of which is new.  The oak-aged wine is in barrels for ten months.

On the label, it's called a “sweet table wine,” and at 11.3% abv and a residual sugar level of 10%, that sounds like a fair description.

Very pale in the glass, the nose of the Graff Family's July Muscat is incredibly floral and drenched in sweet, ripe peaches and apricots.  Apricots dominate the palate and a mild acidity realizes its full potential on the finish.  That finish is a delight, lingering long with traces of fruity sweetness that just don't want to go away.

Friday, July 30, 2010


White Sangria

I have mentioned before that Los Angeles Argentine restaurant South Point  has a tendency to store their red wines in the attic rather than the cellar - at least that’s the impression I get from the rather warm serving temperature .  Their whites, happily, do not suffer the same fate.  Just to be safe, on my most recent visit there, I took advantage of the hot summer weather and ordered a white sangria .
Our waitress explained that she would be back after she made it.  It didn’t take long before she brought a beverage that looked like a pink lemonade to the table.  The tint comes thanks to a dash of grenadine.
The white sangria features the Trapiche  Torrontes and lemonade, along with small chunks of orange, lemon and strawberry.  She also added a little sugar, which I felt was unnecessary and I will ask her to skip next time.
It’s a refreshing drink with tartness from the lemon, brightness from orange and sweetness from the strawberry.  I left the sugar at the bottom of the glass.  Oh, and there’s plenty of ice, so it’s nice and cold, no matter where the wine is stored.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Cerro Prieto vineyard

Larry Stanton, owner and winemaker of Cerro Prieto Vineyard and Cellars, doesn’t go to Mexico any more. Who could blame him? After not one, but two, run-ins with what he refers to as "ninja-suited narco-terrorists," his beloved hunting and fishing excursions to the Cerro Prieto geothermal field became less about "Field And Stream" and more about "Guns And Ammo." He decided for his own well-being to stay in the good ol’ USA and tend to his vines.

Stanton would hunt for ducks, pheasants and quail, fish for freshwater bass and dig freshwater clams. It was such a big part of his life that he filled 
two books with his tales from the Baja campfire. Over 500 game trips to Mexico induces a lot of storytelling. He hasn’t been back, though, since the latest encounter with the business end of a machine gun. "There was a time that knowing a little Spanish might have spared you in a traffic stop by the police. It’s really gotten bad there now since the drug guys have taken over."

The love for his favorite spot lives on in the very name of his vineyard, and the passion he once held for those trips is now poured into his grapes.

Stanton loves to talk about his vineyard. Local photographers tell him it is the most photographed vineyard in San Luis Obispo County. "That may be true," he says, "because I picked up the phone book a while back and saw my vineyard on it! I give tours by appointment, and people seem to like it. The mountain portion is almost straight up and down. It’s chiseled out of solid limestone rock. We started by hand and had to go to jackhammers. We’ve got boulders the size of my truck out there."

The vineyard seems to lend credence to the notion that the more grapevines struggle, the better the fruit. "We dug holes in the rock and planted with just a gallon of dirt," he says. "The vines just took off."

"We’ve got oak trees on the property that just soak up the nutrients, so we’ve had to plant the vines as far away from them as possible. Even so, the two rows nearest the trees ripen before the rest." Stanton says, "I got tired of watching good fruit burn up, so we started taking those grapes earlier. The wines we made from them are gold award winners."

Stanton has been trying to move Cerro Prieto’s vineyard closer to sustainable agriculture, with hopes of having an organic vineyard. His feeling though, is that he just won’t be able to move much closer than he is now.

Presently, 90% of weed control is done with hoes, not chemicals, and grapevine prunings are not burned, they are mulched. "That way, it doesn't foul the air, and it helps prevent erosion. I also use cover crops to help prevent erosion. We've decreased the use of fertilizers by 1/3 by growing clover around the vines. This helps put nitrogen back in the soil."

For varmint control Cerro Prieto uses traps, not poison, when possible. Owls and hawks also help keep the gopher population under control.

He says that although their use has been dramatically reduced, he still has to use some pesticide and herbicide, plus commercial fertilizer for the steep hillside vineyards. The valley vineyard uses organic fertilizers. "There are just some problems where pesticides are needed," he says. "We use the lowest concentration we can get by with, though, and try to stay as organic as possible."

Stanton sells 95% of his grapes, making wine from the remaining five percent. This means very low production, which in turn means he often sells out of his more popular wines.

His 2006 Merlot sold out quickly after garnering some international gold medals. "The ‘07 Merlot has Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in it," he explains. "It’s still 80% Merlot, but after tasting the blend, I had to go with it. It’s just great."

The 2006 Cerro Prieto Paso Bordo - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah - got high scores from critics and kudos from customers. The ‘07 Paso Bordo will be released on September 30th, 2010 - just in time for Stanton to pour it at Sunset Magazine’s Savor the Central Coast event at the end of September. His Pinot Noir won't be available until 2012. The story behind that particular grape is a bit of a sore spot for Stanton.

The magnitude 6.5 San Simeon earthquake in 2003 ran right through three acres of Pinot Noir grapes. What remained, he made into wine, then laid it down for five years. "It was hard to do, but it was worth it," he says. "It sold out very quickly." Last year, he had more bad luck with Mother Nature. "We were having pretty good weather when a really early hot spell brought a 117-degree day to the valley vineyard. All the Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc was ruined, so we'll have to wait a while for some Pinot. We should be able to make about 50 cases or so."

Stanton writes about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of growing grapes and making wine in the "
Larry’s Blog" portion of his website. There he is part folksy yarn-spinner and part wine scientist, a role which pretty much describes his real-life persona. It's an entertaining read, even if he hasn’t had a lot of time to devote to it lately. "Five problem acres have taken up a lot of my time," he says. Anyone who tries to write in their spare time can understand his problem.

Nevertheless, he has two more books in the works. One is a collection of stories from campfires around the world. The other is a medical malpractice novel he patterned after a case on which he helped deliver judgment some time ago.

Stanton was a doctor for 40 years - he actually still practices pro bono medicine - and began farming and ranching in 1977 with barley, safflower, walnuts, almonds and cattle. Grapes were planted in 1999 and commercial winemaking began in 2006. Last year was his first official bottling.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Monte Zovo Valpolicella

Birthday month rolls on for Denise, and we dropped in on Il Buco again.  I've mentioned them before, with good reason.  The food is excellent, the service is unfailingly pleasant and the wine list is very Italian and fairly deep.  It's no surprise, then, that we ended up there for birthday lunch.

I went with a sausage dish and decided to have a red wine.  I asked the waiter for a good choice, and he pointed me in the direction of a California Meritage, Malibu, in fact.  I would like to try that wine, but as I explained to him, when I go to Il Buco, I like to go Italian.  He immediately suggested this Valpolicella, and I said that it would be fine.

The Monte Zovo Ripasso is the sort of wine I have come to expect from Il Buco, very Italian, a bit rustic and a great match with the food they make.  It's from the Valpolicella region of Veneto in the northeastern part of Italy.

The grapes used are Corvina (70%), Rondinella (20%) and Molinara (10%).  I'm told Ripasso means "second pressing," indicating the juice is re-fermented on the skins used in making Amarone, which is a "first-pressing" wine.  It's fairly hefty at 14% abv, yet it feels only medium full in the mouth.  It's a deep garnet color with a demomstrative nose of black cherry and blackberry.
The palate shows some dry, dusty, brambly notes which are suggestive of an old-vine Zinfandel.  The flip side of that coin is the freshness that this wine carries with it.  It spends two years in oak, yet the wood seems not to leave its mark as indelibly as it might with other grapes.

I enjoyed this wine with the farfalle and sausage plate.  The pairing was excellent.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Wine at Salades de Provence

It was a short week for Denise and me, but a tough one nonetheless.  Our Friday night came on Thursday, and we opted to go for what we have come to know as a reliable, feel-good destination.  Los Angeles French bistro Salades de Provence is our go-to spot when we just want it to be good without the drama.

We discovered on this evening that Denise has quite a palate for wine.  She ordered the rosé she likes – the Côtes de Provence Cuvée du Golfe de St. Tropez Rosé – and immediately she noticed it was paler in color than the wine she usually orders there.  She tasted it and noticed it was even smoother and had a better acidity than her fave.

We called the waiter over and inquired as to whether it was, in fact, the same wine or not.  As it turns out, it was – and it was not.

The wine was still the Cuvee du Golfe, but it was a different vintage.  The waiter told us he could not get the more recent vintage from his distributor and had instead ordered the 2007.  Denise liked it better than the other, so all worked out well.  Particularly well in the pairing of the rosé with her mushroom soup – still a meal in itself – and the salad with lamb.

My wine was the Les Tours Chardonnay 2007.  It's an estate-bottled Vin de Pays d'Oc that goes for $8 per glass at the restaurant.  The wine is served a bit too cold, which obscures the nose and makes it difficult for me to discern too much there.  It has a creamy mouthfeel with just enough acidity.  Pears and a hint of vanilla make up the simple, but delicious, palate.  I paired this with a chicken Caesar salad, which worked out nicely.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti

It's birthday month for Denise.  We don't wait for the one day to celebrate, we try to stretch it out over the entire month.  We've been a little bit distracted by other events this month, so we really have let things slide a bit where celebrations are concerned.  She's been a pretty good sport about it, though.  So good a sport has she been, I wanted to have a really special dinner with her. 

It's always a little chancy, we've found, trying new dinner spots.  We've had so many rude awakenings in Los Angeles restaurants we have sworn off new places several times already.  I felt good about this one, though.  And it turned out to be just fine.

Pane E Vino on Beverly Boulevard is an Italian restaurant - a nice one - that we hadn't visited for quite some time.  Why we hadn't been there in forever was a mystery to both of us, but we are both glad we stopped staying away.

We opened with a shrimp and Feta cheese appetizer and a plate of melon and prosciutto.  Denise had the lobster tortellini while I ordered the spaghetti with calamari and leeks in a light marinara sauce.  It was delicious all the way around the table.

On the suggestion of the waiter, I ordered the 2007 Barbera d'Asti from Michele Chiarlo .  I'm glad he suggested it, because I get into a Sangiovese rut in Italian restaurants.  Not that it's a bad rut to be in, but I like to keep it varied when I can. 

This Piemonte red is medium in color with aromas of cherry cola and some soft spices.  It feels medium full in the mouth with a big, fresh taste of cherry and raspberry.  The oak shades the fruit with a very light touch of leather.  It pairs well with marinara sauce and would no doubt be a hit with pork, too.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Drew Hendricks

If you really want a good recommendation on what kind of wine to serve with a particular cut of meat, ask a sommelier at a Texas steak house.  Wine Spectator did just that. 
That wine mag did a short interview with Drew Hendricks, left, director of beverage education and wine for Pappas Bros. in Houston.  You can read the entire article , but here is the meat of the interview:
Hendricks says the determining factor is the amount of fat in the cut of meat.  For a filet or tenderloin, he likes to pair a Chateauneuf-du-Pape or a Spanish wine for the bold flavors the lean meat needs.
For a New York strip Hendricks wants to keep the big flavor and add some tannins and acidity.  He says a Sangiovese, an old-school Zinfandel or a Washington Syrah are perfect for that.
With prime rib, his advice is Pinot Noir or Barolo.  Hendricks says those wines will offer a cleansing effect with the richness of the meat.
In the interview , he also answers some questions about wine service in restaurants, talks about how he got started and gives a bit of advice for future sommeliers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Sella & Mosca La Cala Vermentino

There are some pretty good options from which to choose in Los Angeles when I want to take my Italian-heritage wife for a birthday-month lunch.  For this outing, I opted for one of our favorite spots, Il Buco on Robertson in Beverly Hills.
For one thing, they treat us like it's our birthday every time we dine there.  For another, the food's great.  Also, they have a pretty decent Italian wine list.  Okay, that last one was on my side of the checklist.  It still counts.  A shrimp salad for the lady, I'll have the chopped, and a glass of Vermentino.
Sella and Mosca is a pretty big deal on the isle of Sardegna - Sardinia, if you prefer.  Their property contains a 1,600-acre estate just inland about four miles.  Their La Cala Vermentino is one of the prizes of the island and is exactly what I look for in this special grape.
La Cala is named for a small cove on the edge of the estate, and it's a natural to pair with seafood thanks to the slight saltiness in the wine.  You can thank the Mediterranean Sea for that.
This 100% Vermentino white is a pale, greenish straw color in the glass.  It delivers a soft nose of grassy salt air and lemons.  There's an alcohol content of 11.5% abv, and it serves up a bracing palate of minerals and tart lemon zest with a nice acidity that lies just beneath the surface.  It's a really good buy at $8 a glass.
It paired well with the shrimp, but also fit nicely with my meatless salad.  It does something good with the garbanzo beans in the chop.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Il Fornaio Chardonnay

It’s about time for another Friday Wine Treat.  Let’s go to a restaurant you can find in a lot of places, and have a nice white wine that can probably be found at all their locations.
At Il Fornaio, the Italian chain, I went for the lowest priced glass of wine on the list - the house label Chardonnay.  At $7, it’s a steal.  It’s an especially good price considering I had it at the Beverly Hills location.  There may not be another $7 glass of wine in the 90210 zip code.
Il Fornaio Cellars is named on the back label - in Ukiah, CA - and the grapes are sourced from Mendocino.  It’s a little odd that it’s listed on the menu as a Sonoma wine, but I’ll go with the information on the bottle’s label. 
The wine is quite pale in the glass and the fruity nose carries just a bit of vanilla.  The mouthfeel is soft and full, but it’s no big, buttery California Chardonnay.  The oak is not overworked.  In fact, a crisp green apple flavor dominates the palate and the acidity is just right.
I paired it with the simple insalata al balsamico and was quite pleased.  Even with no wine and no salad, the olive bread placed on the table would have been worth my while.  I hope your Friday Wine Treat is as good, and as affordable.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Abundance Vineyards

Recently at the California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara, I had the opportunity to taste the wines of Lodi's Abundance Vineyards.  I wasn't familiar with them before the festival's grand tasting event, but I was quite impressed with the product I sampled.
Farming Lodi soil since 1951, the Mencarini family has focused on wine grapes since 1961.  The outfit is spearheaded by third-generation brothers Dino and Ron Mencarini.  All their wines are estate grown and produced.  Dino states his family's vision clearly: " give the average working person a high-quality wine for an affordable price."  It's a noble endeavor, if you ask me, and it seems they are checking off both concerns nicely.  Nearly all the family's wines are award-winners, and nearly the whole list comes in at under $20 per bottle.  Even the winery itself is an award-winner: Visit Lodi named Abundance the winery of the year for 2010.
Wine is in their blood, and judging from the juice I tasted in Santa Barbara, it's an understatement to hear Dino say, "I have a passion for it."  The very first of their wines I tried opened my eyes.
The 2007 Bountiful Blanc is 65% Symphony grapes and 35% Sauvignon Blanc.  I'm not a big fan of the Symphony grape, and the pretty floral nose I encounted in this wine - although quite lovely - did nothing to convince me that things were about to change.  However, the Sauvignon Blanc really takes over on the palate and helps deliver a wine that is substantially more than just a sipper.
The Abundance Reds also came as a bit of a surprise.  They are mouth-puckeringly dry while still maintaining a big fruit profile and a chewy complexity.
Their 2007 Merlot has 15% Zinfandel in the mix.  Zin plays at least a minor role in many of the Abundance red wines.  Spicy cedar notes grace the nose while smoke and earth are all over the palate.  The wine spends 17 months in French and American oak.
The 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel was one of my favorites not just on the Abundance table, but on any table at this tasting event.  Dark, earthy raspberry dominates the palate of this very dry wine.  The “old” fruit is 110 years old here.  The “young” grapes are from 60 year-old vines.  This award winner is 85% Zinfandel.  Judging from the age of the vines, I would imagine the remainder is a melange of field blend grapes.  This one sees 19 months in French and American oak.
Another one that really captured my fancy was the ‘05 Abundantly Rich Red.  This blend is 45% Carignane, 40% Zinfandel and the rest Petite Sirah and Syrah.  With 17 months in French and  American oak, there’s a campfire nose to match a big, blackberry taste.  Dark and earthy, it’s loaded with a strong mineral profile.
The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon has a curve thrown into it - even the Cab has 15% Zinfandel in the blend.  It’s really a different take on Cabernet.  Earthy in the extreme, very, very dry and showing the influence of 19 months in those French and American oak barrels, this wine has surprisingly good fruit from the dry, sandy soil of Lodi.
The ‘05 Petite Sirah also carries some Zinfandel, but only 8%.  Dark fruit on the nose meets cherry, blackberry and plum on the palate.
One delightful wine after another left me thinking that surely the other shoe had to drop at some point.  The 2008 Bacio Dolce Carignane Dessert Wine. was the final taste, and it was a winner, too.  A 100% varietal wine, they call this sweet drink “user friendly.”  I would imagine it would be difficult to find a user who could find this one unfriendly.  Plum notes abound in a setting which makes it easy to see why they named it the “sweet kiss.”  At 19.5% abv, it’s a hefty drink, to be sure, but it was a fitting end to the day’s best tasting.
Abundance Lodi VineyardAs I was finishing up at the Abundance tasting table, Dino was effortlessly entertaining all who appeared.  Looking every bit the farmer he has been much of his life, he laughed and talked easily about his wines.  When a camera crew strolled up to interview him and shoot some video, he just as effortlessly shifted gears and launched into his ready-for-prime-time TV persona.  His wines may be able to speak for themselves, but as long as Dino Mencarini is around, they will never have to face the crowd alone.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Talus Collection Chardonnay

This Chardonnay is from Lodi.  I'm a big fan of Lodi wines, so I get the feeling I'm going to like this one before it's even open.  The label shows 13.5% abv, but the notes from the winemaker say it's more like 13.7%.  It's a blend, by the way - 91% Chardonnay and 9% Sauvignon Blanc.
It's got a nice, pale golden color in the glass.  The nose makes me think of apples and oak.  My wife thought, "chalk and flowers."  I get the floral aspect, too.  And the chalkiness comes to me on the palate, but not the nose.
The flavor of apples is there, along with some kind of tropical note - possibly pineapple.  There's a bit of oak, too, but not as much as I had feared, nor as much flintiness as I had hoped for.  A hint of vanilla creaminess is present, but it's subdued.  This may be due to the blend, as the Sauvignon Blanc probably keeps it from being a full-blown California Chardonnay.  It has more of a French feel, to my taste.  The mouthfeel is quite full, and finish is fairly long and luscious.  It doesn't have me jumping up and down, but it's not a bad little white at all.  The cost, if I remember correctly, was quite low - about $5 on sale at the grocery store.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


California Wine Festival Tasting

The 2010 version of the California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara once again enjoyed a gorgeous July day as the framework for the ocean side wine tasting event which tops off the three-day affair.

Many of the top wineries in California poured their wares to old friends and new disciples.  The comments I overheard as I made my rounds were positive concerning the wines people were tasting, and the faces I saw were obviously having a great day in the sunshine and salty breeze.

With a limited time available for my tasting, I had to pass on many wineries I knew and loved, in favor of finding out about other producers with which I wasn’t so familiar.  Fortunately, staying away from some familiar names in favor of learning about some new ones was a good strategy.  I did make some wonderful new friends at this event and talked to some winemakers who clearly had a lot of passion about what they do with grapes.

I’ll briefly summarize what I tasted at the California Wine Festival here.  In the coming days on this blog, there will be more in depth articles about some specific wineries which I thought were special.

Abundance Vineyards - This Lodi winery run by the Mencarini family poured some of my favorite wines of the day.  I’ll write about them in greater detail soon.  For now, know that their white blend of Symphony and Sauvignon Blanc is luscious and nearly all their reds are mouth-puckeringly bone-dry.  Their ‘08 Bacio Dolce Carignane Dessert Wine is a show-stopper.

Bodegas Paso Robles - As their name suggests, Bodegas Paso Robles produces only Spanish and Portuguese varietal wines.  Their ‘09 Dona Blanca is a Grenache Blanc/Malvasia Blanca blend.  A pretty nose from the Malvasia is abetted by a lively, nutty lemon flavor which feels like the Grenache speaking.  The 2006 Graciano is produced using fruit from California’s San Benito County.  There may be only 10 acres or so of this grape planted in the US, so it’s a real rarity.  The wine is in neutral oak for two years and has a lovely raspberry taste.  The ‘03 Iberia is a field blend featuring Tempranillo, Graciano, Tinta Cao and Touriga Nacional.  The 2009 Rosado is 100% Tempranillo and has a strawberry flavor profile with some wonderful acidity.  More on this adventurous winery will be coming soon on Now And Zin.

Bridlewood - From Santa Ynez, Bridlewood poured their Central Coast Syrah.  Smoke and cedar on the nose join with a big fruity taste.  It’s dark and spicy, with 94% Syrah, 3% Petite Sirah, 1% Viognier and 2% other grape varieties.  The Chardonnay also has a bit of Viognier in it.  It’s fermented in stainless steel and a portion of it does not undergo malolactic.  As a result, there’s a fruity nose with crisp, refreshing green apples on the palate.  The minerals and acidity are wonderful.

Cambria -  This Santa Maria producer poured a delightful ‘08 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir.  Ten minutes on the skins - snicker, if you will, but that’s not really far off the mark - leave a pale pink that's earthy and light.  The Pinot Noir for which they are known has a light strawberry taste with earthy notes.  The Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 is buttery but not out of control.  Pear and vanilla make a delightful pair on the palate.

Cass Winery - From Paso Robles’ Templeton Gap, Cass brought some interesting Rhone styles to the table.  Their 2009 Roussanne is unoaked and floral on the nose with a tart nuttiness on the palate.  The ‘09 Oasis Rosé is off-dry, with under 2% residual sugar.  It’s a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache and shows a good strawberry flavor profile.  A nice warm-weather sipper.  The Cass 2008 Grenache is a 100% varietal wine, very light in color with a bright nose which shows the effect of the year it spends in oak.  The ‘07 Syrah, again 100%, stays in new French oak almost a year and a half.  It shows a lot of smokey fruit flavors.  Their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon has a touch of Petit Verdot in it.  There’s a strong graphite edge with some pretty chewy tannins.

EOS Estate Winery - This Paso entry has a White Cabernet Sauvignon, an interesting semi-sweet offering.  Their ‘08 Zinfandel is nice and earthy, showing tons of minerals.  The 2006 Petite Syrah has a delicious nose with chocolate and port aromas and a bright taste.  They advise pairing it with pork.

Gloria Ferrer Winery - The Va de Vi Ultra Cuveé had a beautiful nutty flavor and tiny bubbles with a long finish.

Harmony Cellars - The 2008 White Riesling offers a sweet jasmine nose and some slightly less sweet tropical notes on the palate.

Island Brewing Company - After all the dry wines the day kept bringing my way, it was nice to have a refreshing taste of beer now and again.  Island Brewing had a delightful English-style porter.  Its nose of burnt nuts leads me to expect a dark taste.  Instead, this ale has a surprisingly light and refreshing palate, and slightly hoppy.  It would be great while slaving over a hot barbecue pit.

Lone Madrone - An old favorite I couldn’t pass up, Lone Madrone was the last table I visited, and I really didn’t have time to linger.  That’s unfortunate, because their wines are wonderful.  I only had time to grab a taste of their 2005 Tannat.  The grapes for this wine come from the Glen Rose Vineyard on the west side of Paso Robles.  The almost unknown grape yields here a really big and dark wine.  It’s very dry and grippy; chewy as hell. - Not a winery, obviously, but an interesting idea.  They bottle sample-sized servings from different wineries and package them in a neat little box which can be mail-ordered.  It looks like a great way for people who are not located near a winery to be able to have the tasting room experience in their own home.  They are now serving California, with more states to be added soon.  I’ll be writing more about in the near future.

Toad Hollow Vineyards - A Healdsburg winery, Toad Hollow poured the 2008 Chardonnay produced with Mendocino fruit.  This wine undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation and is 100% stainless steel, so the fruit takes center stage.  The citrus nose leads to guava and lemon peel on the palate, with a big mouthfeel.  Their ‘09 Dry Pinot Noir Rosé stays on the skins for six hours.  It’s bone dry and features 100% Pinot Noir aromas of rose petals and an earthy strawberry taste.  The 2006 Merlot is 100% Russian River Valley fruit.  It spends a year in American oak and has a huge nose to show for it, full of spicy berry aromas.  The palate shows chewy raspberry in a fruit-forward display.  Toad Hollow’s non-vintage Erik’s The Red Proprietary Red Wine comes from Paso Robles grapes, the majority of which are Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Syrah.  Red fruit and leather dominate the nose, while the taste is very earthy.  There is a nice brightness coming through on the palate, too.

Union Ale Brewing Company - One of two brewers I tried, Union’s delicious stout is full of chocolate and coffee and incredibly smooth.  Their West Coast I.P.A. is peachy on the nose with a hoppy taste and a tart lemon peel flavor on the finish.

Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards - This was the only Temecula winery I tasted.  Their Golden Jubilee White Table Wine is a blend of Colombard, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.  It has tons of minerals on the earthy nose and a sweetish taste, with a rather short finish.  Temecula Red, a blend centering on Mourvedre, wasn’t brooding at all, but showed a very bright smell and taste.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t too impressed with Wilson Creek’s almond-flavored sparkling wine or their Decadencia chocolate dessert wine.  The sparkler has a huge candy-like nose and is very sweet and extremely bubbly, with a finish that simply runs away.  The Decadencia smells like cough syrup and tastes like chocolate Schnapps.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Ponti Vermouth

Most folks know vermouth more as something to put in a mixed drink than something to sit and sip.  I tried sipping a red vermouth, and enjoyed it very much.

Vermouth is a fortified wine, usually infused with brandy, and usually running about the same sort of alcohol number as Port.  The Ponti I sipped is 16% abv.  Vermouth can be dry – white vermouth is dry, and it's sometimes called French vermouth – or sweet.  Red, or rosso, is sometimes called Italian vermouth.

Spices and herbs are the big ingredients that give vermouth its unusual and lively character.  Wormwood – the stuff of absinthe – is one of the leading herbs in vermouth.

I sipped it straight up, on the rocks and chilled.  The iced version got diluted quickly and straight up neat it seemed a little brash.  Chilled is definitely my choice for vermouth.  The Italian rosso vermouth I tried is a sweet vermouth about which I can find almost nothing online.  That's usually not a good sign, but in this case the proof is in the tasting.  It comes from Turin, in the Piedmont region.

The color of the Ponti vermouth is a dark, dull red, almost nut brown.  The tinge around the edges is a whiskey brown color.  The nose is a delight: burnt caramel raisins is an aroma I'd like to smell everyday.  On the palate, a very familiar taste appears, one I had a bit of trouble identifying.  It's reminiscent of Blackjack gum, something I may not have had since childhood.  Clove and cinnamon mingle with charred candy flavors and coffee.  The finish reminds me of a marshmallow burnt over a campfire.  There is a lot of sweetness here, but the spice profile puts enough of a bitter spin on it that it does not seem overly sugary.

In Europe – particularly Spain – vermouth is customarily sipped straight up, especially before dinner.  I'm told that many bars have it on tap.  I like it this way, although the intensity of the flavors does become a little burdensome if I drink much more than half my usual wine serving.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Let's do a little multi-media multi-tasking today.  If it sounds too tough, warm up with the crossword puzzle, then come back.  Today's blog features a whole slew of songs about wine.  After you read about them, feel free to click over to 30 Days Out and listen to them.  That happens to be a really great blog about music, which is headed up by a really great guy with whom I used to drink some really cheap wine.

One of my many joys in life is music. I love gathering mp3s of songs together in a thematic group and burning them to a CD.  I use these CDs to pass the hour and a half or so each day I spend behind the wheel of the car in Los Angeles traffic.  Believe me, I need all the help I can get.

Another of my many joys is wine, so it’s not too much of a stretch for me to assemble a compilation of songs about wine.

It's difficult to find too many songs about wine that are actually about the wine.  Most wine songs are lyrically concerned with over-imbibing: getting drunk on wine, staying high all the time, etc.  I was certainly no saint in my younger days, but at this point in my life I try to promote only the responsible use of alcoholic beverages.  Besides, I drink wine to enjoy the experience of the wine, not to get blasted.

Wine has a rather seedy image in some of the more well-known wine classics.  The Tom Paxton song, Bottle Of Wine, deals with the trials and tribulations of panhandling for spare change in order to buy some fruit of the vine.  Many other songs deal with the soft underbelly of the wine drinking populace, too.  In Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee, also known as Wine, Wine, Wine, the singer has a nickel and only needs another dime to afford the desired bottle. You'd be hard-pressed to match that in even today's depressed wine economy - even at 7-11.

Jerry Jeff Walker's Sangria Wine is all about the camaraderie of wine - which is great - but his delivery gets more liquid as the song progresses.  It ends up with a “slumped-in-the-lawn-chair” sort of feeling that isn’t exactly unpleasant, just maybe a little undesirable.

Red, Red Wine was penned by Neil Diamond in the 1960s and performed by a wide variety of singers since then.  In it, the wine "goes to my head, makes me forget."  That’s touching, but most counselors will tell you it's a bad idea to try and hide from your troubles in a bottle of wine.  In similar fashion, Two More Bottles of WineWine Do Yer Stuff and a host of others deal with wine as a crutch or escape from reality.

Spill The Wine, the great 1970 hit by Eric Burdon and War, is about a dream where wine is involved.  To me it always seemed like a dream induced by something harder than wine.

Lee Hazelwood's Summer Wine, which took him and Nancy Sinatra to the top 40 in the mid-’60s, is the flip side of that dream in Spill The Wine.  There’s no happy ending, though.  Eventually, the summer wine runs empty.

I prefer songs about wine made from grapes, so I'll toss out Sweet Cherry WineElderberry Wine and Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine.  Who needs wine made from old dogs, children and watermelons?

Here are some songs with at least a passing reference to wine either in the title or lyrics.  Pick and choose and make a Wine Song CD of your own!  I’d love to hear about any wine songs you like, in the comments.

Scenes From An Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel - While not entirely about wine, he does bookend his vignettes with references to 'a bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rose instead."

Bad Chardonnay by Graham Parker - About the touring life of a rock star, which in this case is filled with "cigarettes and bad chardonnay."

Killer Queen - by Queen - “She keeps Moet et Chandon in a pretty cabinet.”

Champagne Jam by The Atlanta Rhythm Section - They don’t specify what type of Champagne in this one, but I’m guessing it’s actually sparkling wine.

Hotel California by The Eagles - “pink Champagne on ice” is the beverage of choice at this West Coast retreat.

Champagne Supernova by Oasis - “A Champagne supernova in the sky” sounds like a good reason to break out the bubbly.

Old Red Wine by The Who - I hear this was for The Who’s late bassist, John Entwistle, who loved red wine.

The Wino And I Know by Jimmy Buffett - Ask not for whom the cork pops...

Wine, Women An’ Song by Whitesnake - Winemakers themselves these days, Whitesnake was not the first artist to sing a tribute to this holy trinity, and they won’t be the last.

Don't forget - enjoy the music over at 30 Days Out !

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Salades de Provence

At the risk of sounding like I’m on their payroll - and I’m not, by the way - here’s yet another blurb for one of my favorite places in Los Angeles, Salades de Provence on La Cienega at Holloway.
I just can’t get over how much I enjoy their food every time I’m there.  The ratatouie and toasted baquette to start each meal, the crepe of the day, the quiche of the day - all delightful, even though the “du jour” items never seem to change! 
Tomato, mushroom and Swiss cheese was in my most recent crepe.  I enjoy mine with the Gourmande salad, which contains lettuce, walnuts, mushrooms, bacon, shaved Parmesan cheese and potato.
As I have belabored before, Salades de Provence has a small selection of wines which seem to be made for the food.  I have only sampled the whites and rosés, but they fit in with what’s cooking like a hand in an oven mitt.  With my crepe, the Côtes de Provence Cuvée du Golfe de St. Tropez Rosé 2009  could hardly have been topped.
If that wine sounds like too much of a mouthful, just say “The rosé.”  It’s presently the only pink on the list.
Some of the other wines offered on the list include Georges Duboeuf Macon Villages and Les Tours Chardonnay, Les Tour Pinot Noir and Vidal Fleury Cotes du Rhone.

Friday, July 16, 2010


The Stars of Paso Robles

The Stars of Paso Robles trade tasting was Wednesday at The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.  Over 30 wineries of the Paso Robles AVA were represented at this event, staged by Ian Blackburn's Learn About Wine.  Blackburn is a pro at staging wine tasting events, and he likes to go for the grand flourish.  That suits Paso Robles well, as the wines from that neck of the California woods - er, vineyards - are deserving of some fancy notice.

I didn't get around to all the tables - why does that always happen to me? - but I got around enough to find a number of really fantastic wines, which I will list here.

Anglim Winery 

Showing a penchant for the grapes of the Rhone, Anglim poured their 2006 Cameo, a white blend with 50% Marsanne, 25% Roussanne and 25% Viognier.  It's flowery and floral.  I especially like the '07 Roussanne, a 100% varietal wine, where nuttiness abounds on the nose and palate.  The 2007 Viognier takes its fruit from Santa Barbara County's Bien Nacido Vineyard.  It is rich in aromas and flavors, with a floral nose and tastes of melon and peach.  Their reds are equally impressive.  The '06 Grenache is all Paso Robles fruit, with a little Syrah and Counoise in the mix.  It shows peppery raspberry flavors.  Their 2005 Best Barrel Blendis a Paso Robles mix of 45% Mourvèdre, 45% Syrah and 10% Grenache.  Earth, spice and dark fruit dominate.  It's a very dark wine, but oh-so-smooth.  Anglim's Zinfandel offering, the 2007 St. Peter of Alcantara, is 100% single-vineyard Paso Robles Zin.  It's vibrant and spicy with a big cherry taste.

August Ridge 

Off Highway 41E in Creston, California, August Ridge brought some interesting Cal-Italia wines to the show.  The 2008 Arneis features fruit from Pebble Ridge Vineyard in a blend with 10% Sauvignon Blanc.  It's aromatic with apples and shows grapefruit and tropical notes on the palate.  Their '07 Sangiovese is an estate wine with 9% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Smokey cherry aromas lead to lots of red fruit on the palate, with leather on the finish.  The 2007 Nebbiolo offers brambly cherry with a spicy, black pepper finish and some fairly big tannins.  Jovial 2006, their Super Tuscan-style blend, contains 69% Sangiovese, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot.  Smokey plum flavors with a nice tobacco profile come forward.

Caliza Winery 
The Rhone Valley serves as big inspiration for this Paso Robles producer.  The 2008 Kissin' Cousins is a white blend of 47% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc and 23% Roussanne.  A floral nose gives way to a tart beginning and a lot of influence from the Grenache Blanc and Roussanne.  There's good acidity here with a long, nutty finish.  The 2006 Azimuth consists of 51% Syrah, 19% Grenache, 14% Mourvèdre and 8% each of Tannat and Alicante Bouschet.  The latter two grapes are new for this vintage.  A big blackberry taste is abetted by coffee and firm tannins, with a really nice finish.  The '06 Companion is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 10% Tannat.  They call it "opulent and sexy," and I can't argue either one of those points.  It's a full-bodied, meaty wine.  Caliza's 2007 Syrah is 100% Paso Syrah and it tastes it, with a smokey flavor laced with black pepper.

Cerro Prieto 
The Bordeaux Rhone Blend 2007, from Larry and Teresa Stanton's estate vineyard is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah. The vineyard's limestone quality comes forth with a wonderful minerality.  Larry Stanton not only tends the vineyard, but also writes about the process in Larry's Blog .

Derby Wine Estates
I tasted the two whites which Derby brought to the table.  Their 2006 Chardonnay features Edna Valley grapes with tropical flavors overlaying a bit of oak, and that special minerality for which Edna Valley is known.  Fifteen 10 is a VRM blend, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne in equal parts.  The fruit is from Paso Robles, the Derby Vineyard.  While it seems a bit light in acidity, it certainly makes up for that in flavor and is extremely drinkable.

Eberle Winery 
Gary Eberle co-founded the Paso Robles appellation in 1980, so it's fitting that he is invited to any Paso Party.  Eberle's '09 Viognier is produced a third in steel, a third in neutral oak and a third in French oak.  It has a big, floral nose and a lush mouthfeel.  The '09 Chardonnay is produced the same way and sports green apples on the palate.  The 2007 Zinfandel gets American oak and shows spicy berries on the nose and palate.  The '06 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon comes from 32-year-old vines and spends 18 months in French oak.  It is complex and very smooth.

The winery is west of Highway 101 and north of Highway 46W.  Their featured wine is the 2008 Prelude, a Rhone-style blend of 37% Viognier, 35% Roussanne, 18% Grenache Blanc and 10% Marsanne.  This is a great wine for sipping, with a lovely nose and a taste that's fruity, floral and nutty at once.

Four Vines Winery
I tried the Four Vines Biker Zinfandel, 2008. and found it to be one of the highlights of the day for me. It's an incredibly smooth and delicious Zin.

J & J Cellars
A small, family owned outfit in San Miguel, the group has grown grapes and citrus for 100 years.  I was struck by the lightness and freshness of their 2006 Vintage Flight Cabernet Sauvignon.  It reminds me a bit of an Italian red.  Barrel-aged for two years in French, American and Hungarian oak. this may be the "summer red wine" of the show.  Their 2008 Tempranillo is spicy - you may think Syrah, but it's not.  The 2007 Juliet Fiero Zinfandel is brash and spicy - a little too much for my taste.  Their '07 Petite Sirah seems lighter than I would expect from a PS, but it still has guts.  By the way, all the J & J Cellars wines I tasted are available for under $20.  Bargains.

Lone Madrone
I was particularly looking forward to sampling Lone Madrone's white blend, La Mezcla again.  Alas, they could not send a representative to this show.  One wine was available, however - the 2007 blend called The Will.  Sweet on the nose and dry on the palate, this mixture of 41% Grenache, 40% Petite Sirah and 19% Zinfandel is everything you would expect a blend like this to be.

Their '07 Cabernet Sauvignon is dry and fruity with pencil lead on the palate.  The '07 Nevarez Vineyard Syrah is almost dessert-wine sweet and rich with spices.  I can't help but feel that many Christmas parties will be brightened up by this wine.  And many barbecues, too.  The '08 Roussanne has a great nutty nose and guava on the palate.

Ranchita Canyon 
The 2007 Pinot Noir contains Monterey County grapes.  It's pale purple, a bit faint on the nose but smooth as silk.  The nose on their old-vine Zinfandel (planted in 1970) is what purple smells like.  A tiny bit of Petite Sirah is included, and it's brambly and smooth.  Fusion - their '05 Grenache/Petite Sirah blend - is a dark wine they refer to as "the beauty and the beast."  Ranchita has a 2005 Cabernet Franc that is deep and heavy, very smooth with an intensely grapey nose.

Rotta Winery
One of the few dessert wines at the show is from Rotta.  Their non-vintage Black Monukka features grapes which are in barrels, out in the sun, for two years.  The burnt-caramel and raisin flavor is sherry-esque, if there is such a thing.

Roxo Port Cellars
This Paso producer produces primarily Port.  Nothing but Port, in fact.  One of the more interesting stops among the tables, Roxo has quite a variety of delicious Port wines which are all fortified with neutral grape spirits to allow the fruit to put on the show.  The Paso Melange is made with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.  The Ruby Tradicional is a combination of five Portuguese varietals, all grown in Paso Robles.  Roxo's Negrette is big and bold and begs for chocolate.  They also have a Barbera Port and the Magia Preta, made from a half-and-half blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Truly a niche producer, Roxo fills the niche quite nicely.

Terry Hoage Vineyards
The Pick, an '07 Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre blend shows lively cherry accents.  The 46 - just Grenache and Syrah in this 50/50 blend - has spicy raspberry flavors.

Treana /Hope Family Wines

The 2007 Treana is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah.  It's luscious and full of berries and tobacco notes.  The white Treana - 55% Marsanne and 45% Viognier - has flowers to spare on the nose and an enticing grapefruit core.  The Austin Hope Syrah 2008 is all Syrah all the time, estate grown with very fine tannins and a silky, even velvety texture.  It's one of my favorites of the show.

Venteux Vineyards
Venteux's Fleur Blanc is a Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne blend in which the Viognier does not take over.  There's a lovely floral nose, but a nutty guava flavor that's irresistible.  Their 2007 blend of Petite Sirah, Mouvèdre and Syrah shows the dark side of cherry.  Tache La Verre, I'm told, means "stain the glass," and that's what this big, beautiful '07 Syrah does.  Santa Barbara County fruit with a big nose and lots of tannins.  The 2007 Estate Petite Sirah is deep, dark and delicious with a long finish.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Cornell Winery

The Malibu wine scene has been more vineyards than tasting rooms.  That is changing, however, as some of the over-four-dozen vineyards in the Malibu Hills have now opened to the public.  Malibu Family Wines and Rosenthal were the first to open tasting rooms.  Cielo Vineyards has opened Sip recently.  Tasting rooms are sprouting up from the ocean to the hills, so Southern California wine lovers can get some wine tasting on in less time than it takes to have lunch at Neptune's Net.

Not all the vineyards and wineries in Malibu are open to the public, but many of the ones that aren't have their wines available at a winery and tasting room which acts as a cooperative, Cornell Winery.


Tim Skogstrom of Cornell Winery has been in the wine business some 20 years, on the distribution end with Young's Market Company, in sales and marketing with Francis Ford Coppola, and now as a winemaker and wine seller in the Malibu Hills.  The knowledge Skogstrom picked up while working in all aspects of the wine industry, plus a keen sense of how to make things happen, brought him out of the corporate wine world and into his position as one of the most fervent advocates of the Malibu wine scene.

In 2006 Skogstrom had an opportunity to partner with Morgan Runyon, whose father owned some land in a little place in the Santa Monica Mountains called Cornell.  At least that's what it was called in the early part of the 20th century, when the tiny mountain community sprang up.  Tom Runyon had been cooking steaks at his restaurant, The Old Place, since 1970 and was beginning to slow down.  Nearly 90 at the time, the elder Runyon was set in his ways and somewhat resistant to change, but Skogstrom's ’s friendship with Runyon's son, Morgan, brought an opportunity to present a business plan.  Tom loved it, Morgan loved it, and so began the story of Cornell Winery & Tasting Room.  Tom Runyon passed away in July of 2009.  This posed a question to Morgan and Tim: what’s next? 

Today Skogstrom runs the Old Place restaurant with his partner, Morgan.  They serve steaks and clams just as Tom and his wife, Barabra, had for more than 40 years.  The restaurant has matured in the sense that they now have regular hours and serve a full menu.

Malibu wines had been on Skogstrom's radar for several years. "I knew several people making wine in Malibu," he said, "and in tasting through several vintages I began to notice a sharp increase in quality."  Setting out to become a retailer focusing on wines produced between Los Angeles and Monterey, he eventually narrowed that focus to the wines of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Cornell Winery and Tasting RoomThere's Wine In Them Thar Hills

"We harvest grapes differently here than in, say, Napa.  The climate, the land - the terroir - dictates that we take grapes at a different time, at a different growth stage, to get the best results," said Skogstrom.  "The wines of Malibu are of a very high quality.  Conditions being different, Malibu might be on the verge of becoming the next big wine region.  That won't happen, though.”

“Malibu is all zoned rural residential, so there's little to no agricultural land.  In Malibu, that residential land is very expensive.  You can't grow a vineyard on the property because of the zoning, but you can grow anything you want - like grapes - in the fire clearance zone that surrounds the property.  Such a limited space for grape growing means most producers make a very limited quantity of their wine.  That's why what is happening with the growth of interest in Temecula wines can't happen in Malibu.  Temecula is all ag land, priced so winemakers can actually hope to make a living from wine production.  You can never really hope to make enough affordably-priced wine from Malibu vines to cover your expenses.  There'll never be enough Malibu wine to go around.”

History Lesson

Skogstrom is a fount of information on the wine-producing history of Southern California: "You couldn't make wine in L.A. County until about 6 years ago!  The sole exception was San Antonio Winery in downtown L.A., which received a special dispensation to make wine during Prohibition, because they made sacramental wine for use in the church.  Wine used to be delivered to your back door like milk!  There were over 200 wineries in L.A. County before Prohibition.  Agua Dulce, up in the Antelope Valley, was the first winery to open in Los Angeles County since that time.

“After Prohibition was repealed - the federal part - it was up to local governments to actually reinstate the three arms of the wine business, consumption, production and sales.  Well, L.A. County reinstated sales and consumption, but not production.  That didn’t happen until the 21st century.

"Things are more complicated for Malibu because of the Coastal Commission.  They have a lot to say about what goes on in Malibu, and they generally don’t want to allow any kind of development at all.  Even though we have around 50 vineyards in the Malibu Hills, we still haven't figured out how to produce our wines on site.  We have to take the grapes to a facility like Camarillo Custom Crush or Terravant in Buellton to have the wine made.”

The Old PlaceEsprit de Malibu

At Cornell Winery, Skogstrom doesn’t just make his own wine.  He also stocks, sells and pours for tasting the wines of some 20 other vintners in the hills of Malibu.  He carries wines by Malibu Sanity, Hoyt Family Vineyards, Bodegas Gomez de Malibu, Colcanyon Estates, Casa Dumetz and many more.

I mentioned how Skogstrom’s practice of making wines from his competitors available in his tasting room carries  with it a real picture of camaraderie.  The image of helping struggling winemakers brought a smile to him.  “Well, there aren’t too many struggling winemakers in Malibu.  There are some millionaire winemakers here.  For them, wine is a sideline.  It’s more than a hobby to them, but for most of them, it’s not the biggest thing they have going on.  Griffin Family Vineyards, Tony is Merv Griffin’s son.  Jim Palmer, George Rosenthal, Ron Semler - these guys aren’t exactly hurting.  Charles Schetter of Malibu Sanity - if he didn't collect wine, he'd collect coins or something else.  Whatever he does, he wants to do the best way he can.”

Reasons To Believe

Skogstrom promotes Cornell Winery as strongly as he recommends his colleagues’ wines.  “We have the tasting room on the grounds, local artists hang their works on our walls, The Old Place restaurant right next door, Charme D'Antan architectural antiques, right across the street is the Peter Strauss Ranch Park.  You can come and do some wine tasting, bring a picnic to have across the street, browse around Charme D’Antan, see some art and get a great steak at The Old Place.  You could make a whole day of it.”

“More Americans should drink local wine,” is his advice to all who will listen.  “Wherever you are, drink local!  Are they drinking Napa Cabs in Italy?  No, they’re drinking Italian.  What do they drink in Burgundy?  They drink Burgundy!  Drink your local wines!”

Once on a corporate fast track, Skogstrom lives a completely different life now, and doesn’t miss the rat race one bit.  "Life in Cornell is good.  It's pretty simple.  I grow Cab, Merlot, Syrah, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Roussanne.  I like Rhone Varietals.  Our restaurant is where the general store used to be years ago.  Beautiful scenery, great family - both my own and my extended family of employees - doing something I'm proud to do.  I guess I don't need the $100,000 car.  I'll just take the good life instead."


A flight of eight wines at the Cornell Winery tasting room costs $15 and the menu changes weekly.  The room is open Thursday through Sunday each week, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  Sometimes they're open later, until 9:00.  Call to find out.  Directions.

Cornell Winery
29975 Mulholland Highway
Cornell, CA 91301

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Summerland Winery

If you are heading from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara soon - possibly for the California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara - you'd be well advised to plan a stop in the little beach community of Summerland, CA.  Here's an account of a stop I made there in the summer of 2009.

Why had we never gotten off the 101 freeway in Summerland before?  Maybe it’s because when we pass that way we’re usually headed for either Santa Barbara or the Santa Ynez Valley, and it seems we should just press on and get where we’re going.  Maybe it’s because we never knew there was a really great little highway grocery there.  Maybe it’s because we never realized Summerland Winery's tasting room was there.

Well, this time we were headed for Pismo Beach, so it was actually perfectly positioned as a stopping place.  We needed to pick up a few things at a market of some sort.  The Summerland Winery just happened to be there, in the right place at the right time.

The tasting room is in a tidy little building in the seaside community of Summerland, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.  There’s a bay window upstairs and a flag adorns the front, flapping in the cool ocean breeze.  I had imagined it would look more like a boutique and less like a tasting room inside, but I was wrong.  Ample bar space beckoned, so I picked up a tasting menu and got started.

I had just sampled Summerland’s wares at the Ojai Wine Festival a week earlier – my pourer recognized me – so I knew there were good wines here.  The tasting fee is $8, $12 to keep the glass.

Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, 2007 – A pungent aroma leads to tropical flavors and grapefruit.  The acidity is quite nice, so I would guess it’s a good wine to have with food.  It’s very crisp and refreshing, so you could just sip it if you like.

Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara County, 2008 – More tropical flavors, and a nice clean finish.

Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa, 2007 – 10 months in oak left its mark on this one.  It’s very oaky, although with a clean taste and finish.

Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, 2007 – Brilliant aromas and flavors in this one – black cherry and clove all over the place.  This is not subdued – it’s a very lively Pinot Noir.

Grenache, Paso Robles, 2006 – This medium-bodied Grenache surprised me.  It tasted a lot spicier than I expected.  Fairly nice, but I can think of several other Grenaches I like better.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2006 – The black currant profile is very strong here.  French oak for 14 months gives a nice effect, but the wood is rather restrained.

Orange Muscat, Santa Barbara County 2008
 – This dessert wine isn’t sappy, it’s nice and crisp in fact.  The sweetness is there, it simply isn’t overdone.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Wine Nutrition Facst

Health-conscious types are always worrying about the nutritional value of the food they consume.  There's good reason for that.  For instance, if you have tried to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from your diet, you have no doubt found that there is almost no prepackaged food available in regular supermarkets that lacks that substance.

The wine drinkers I know aren't losing too much sleep over how nutritious their favorite beverage is.  In case you are wondering, the nutrition facts for wine, according to Calorie Count , are as follows:

One glass of wine - one 3.5-ounce glass of wine - contains 85 calories, none from fat, 5mg of sodium, no fat, no cholesterol, 2.8 grams of carbohydrates, less than a gram of sugar, almost no protein, no vitamin A or C, 1% Calcium and 2% Iron.

You won't find the familiar nutritional grid on a wine label like you do on other food and beverage items.  Winemakers are not required to conform to that regulation.  For one thing, the nutritional labeling you see on prepared food is the result of regulations from the Food and Drug Administration.  Wine is governed by the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).  Rarely do federal agencies get a first-column check mark in "working and playing well together."

So, while not a particularly nutritious item to consume, wine does not appear to be harmful from a dietary standpoint.  Aside from nearly 11g of ethyl alcohol - the major detriment which causes wine to receive a nutritional grade of "C" from Calorie Count - and some trace elements, the main ingredient is water, 89g per serving. How bad is that?

Obviously, the abuse of alcohol takes its toll in ways not measured by a simple nutritional profile.  Also, some are allergic to alcohol and react to wine with flushing in the face and neck.  Some people simply have no tolerance for alcohol and shouldn't drink at all.  But let's go forward assuming no alcohol-related health problems and a healthy, light-to-moderate wine consumption level.

After water and alcohol, sugars come in a distant third place on wine's ingredients list.  Sucrose, glucose, fructose and maltose are present, but at least there's no high-fructose corn syrup in there.

The type of wine has a lot to with the nutritional numbers. The nutritional profile above seems to be about the same as that for white table wine.   Red wine shows far less sugar and sodium amounts.  Dessert wines contain much higher levels of sugar but the numbers on other ingredients are pretty much the same as in a table wine.

All this attention to the nutritional aspect of wine is rather silly, of course.  We don't drink wine for its nutritional value, we drink it for taste, for aromas, to complement a meal, for metaphysical or philosophical reasons.  We drink it because we like the way it goes with a salad, with a cool night, a sunny day, a fireplace, Chet Baker, Chet Atkins, the news, a movie or haiku.

The bottom line is, there appear to be no nutritional roadblocks that would prevent you from enjoying a glass of wine.  Conversely, there are no compelling reasons - nutritionally speaking - to include wine in your diet.  If you need to focus on the nutritional value of the things you consume, your time would be better spent looking into high fructose corn syrup than into wine.  Cheers!

Monday, July 12, 2010


Ojai Vineyards

We'll keep the summertime wines rolling with a look back at a rosé I had a couple of summers ago and enjoyed immensely, the Ojai Vineyards Rosé 2007.
This pink comes in a clear bottle that really shows off the beautiful salmon-colored contents.  The diamond-shaped label shows it to be a California Table Wine at 14% abv.  It's a blend of Grenache, Mourvèrdre, a touch of Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.
A floral sense dominates the nose, with notes of cranberry and strawberry.  On the palate, bone dry!  That's always a pleasure.  How disappointing is it to taste a rosé and find it to be a pretty little candy bar?  Not this one.  It sooo wants some food.  This wine would be great with the usual pairings of salad and fish, but I think it would also pair well with heavier fare, like pork chops.  I had mine with some crackers and extra sharp cheddar, and it scored.
Run by Adam Tolmach and his wife, Helen for more than a quarter century,  Ojai Vineyards is probably best known for their Syrah.  Adam writes on the website, "In the old days we used to make it dark, soft, and full to the point that it could have been confused with a Pinot Noir.  The wine was a meal in itself.  But I have turned away from that style; I now prefer rosés light and zippy-so much easier to slurp with lunch on an unbearably hot day."  The '07 sure fit the bill.  I understand their '08 rosé contained Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, while the '09 sports Roll Ranch Syrah with a spot of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.
If you have found it difficult getting your hands on a variety of Ojai Vineyards wines, you should note that the Tolmachs plan to open a tasting room - for the first time - with a target date of July 15th.  The tasting room will be in the historic firehouse at 109 South Montgomery Street in Ojai.  Sounds like a jaunt to Ojai may have just popped up on the summer calendar.