Thursday, September 30, 2010


Shannon Harbert

"Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places," as I have pointed out before, is only directed at the average wine consumer.  I'm not the average wine consumer.  I enjoy trying different grape varieties from different regions and actively seek out things with which I'm unfamiliar.  The average consumer is not confident enough to stray from what they already know.  In fact, if a survey is to be believed, a large segment of the American wine buying public would rather not have to think about it at all.  23% of US wine buyers feel overwhelmed in the wine aisle of their supermarket!  Another 16% just drink the same thing all the time so they won't have to make choices.  That's not me at all.

So I'm a little surprised that some still consider places like Santa Barbara, Paso Robles and Lodi to be "under the radar."  That indicates to me that some new radar is needed.

There are many multigenerational winegrape growers in Lodi.  Many family farms started out growing other crops; some still grow other crops in addition to grapes.  They say that great wine begins in the vineyard, and that suits the farming tradition of Lodi just fine.

Most of the farms which have turned at least partially to winemaking, did so when grape prices dipped below the level of survival and they could no longer turn a profit by selling the fruit.  Success stories like Michael and David Phillips - who turned Phillips Family Farms into Michael-David Winery - are rare so far.  More common are stories of how the wines of Lodi, as a group, are winning over wine drinkers at a furious pace.  I know I'm not the only person who reacts favorably upon seeing the word "Lodi" on a wine label.

Shannon Harbert (pictured), Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Lodi Winegrape Commission, poured the wines of Lodi for me.  Here are my tasting notes:

Loredona Viognier 2009 - very floral nose, melons and citrus on the palate

Harney Lane Albarino 2009 - tropical, nutty, flinty, good acidity

Michael David Syrah 2007 - beautiful violet nose - blueberry to taste with pepper, earthy notes

Mettler Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - estate grown - dark, with black plums - tannic grip, earth, pencil lead

Lange Twins Malbec 2008 - red single-barrel wine from "green" winery - cherry nose - Jamant Woods Vineyard - exclusive to wine club members

Peltier Station Teroldego Reserve 2006 - Cal-Ital - cherry, spice and leather on the nose - the feel of a dessert wine, but not sweet, very dry

Grands Amis Barbera 2008 - funky floral nose with bright red fruit on the palate - substantial

Mokelumne Glen Vineyards Dreirebe - winery in the Mokelumne River sub-appellation - they specialize in German-style wines from German varieties grown in their vineyards - late harvest Dreirebe - sweet and delightful

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Mike Brown, Jim Galicia

When the great wine regions of California are enumerated, Ventura is often missing from the list.  It may be because they grow more strawberries than grapes in Ventura County.  They actually grow more strawberries than anything else in Ventura County.  But wine grapes don't even make the top ten.  Raspberries, celery, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, avocados and cabbage beat out grapes.  Even plants grown for nurseries and cut flowers are in the top ten.  But that doesn't mean nobody cares about wine in Ventura County.  Far from it.

The name of the event was "Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places," seemingly tailor made for an area which, for many, flies below the radar as a wine region.

There are only a handful of vineyards in Ventura County, so the winemakers have to source much - if not all - of their fruit from elsewhere in the state.  The passion for winemaking is not diminished, however.  They will put their wines up against any others.  Gary Stewart of Four Brix Winery says "It's not all Sonoma and Napa - other regions have good grapes, too."  Good winemakers as well.

Stewart, John Whitman of Old Creek Ranch Winery, Mike Brown of Cantara Cellars (left in image) and Jim Galicia of Rosenthal Malibu Estate (right in image) poured their wines for me, all at one table.   The wasn't even a hint of friendly rivalry.  They were all there working for team Ventura.

Here are my notes on what the guys poured for me:

Cantara Cellars Zinfandel 2008 - Lodi fruit - lightly tinted - lovely nose with cherry and spearmint notes

Cantara Cellars Tempranillo 2008 - rich and full, smokey fruit

Old Creek Ranch Loureiro 2009 - Santa Ynez Valley fruit - 12%abv - beautiful nose of peach, pear and citrus - tart taste of grapefruit, zesty

Old Creek Ranch Carignane 2008 - minty note under a big, bright cherry and blueberry palate

Old Creek Ranch Sangiovese 2008 - Sangio/Primitivo blend - SBC fruit, White Hawk Vineyard - big cherries with a long finish

Four Brix Scosso 2008 - super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cab Sauvignon and Merlot - beautiful floral nose - cherry on the palate is rich

Four Brix Temptress 2009 - Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel - will be released in Nov 2010 - dark and bright fruit both at once - complex

Rosenthal Surfrider Red Wine 2005 - fruit from Malibu Newton Canyon - Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot - big nose of red fruit, tastes smokey, cherry, earthy

Tomorrow: Stuck in Lodi again - and loving it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Peggy Evans

The recent Wine event, "Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places," gave a throng of wine industry and media types a chance to sample the wares of some grape growing regions in California that are considered "off the beaten path," at least for the average wine consumer. 

Temecula may be off the path, but they are quickly blazing one of their own just east of the I-15 Freeway.  After exiting the freeway, you may feel the urge to stop and gamble at the casino.  Continue east, though, and in just a few miles it's a sure bet you'll find some wines you like.  You won't get those kind of odds at the casino.

I was a little disappointed at first that Hart Winery, a favorite of mine in the Temecula Valley, was not represented at the tasting table.  Even without Hart, an admirable array of very good wines were assembled and it seemed to me visitors to the table were leaving happy, and maybe a little surprised.

Peggy Evans, Director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, was kind enough to pour some very good wines for me while singing the praises of the grapes and wines of Temecula.

Baily Winery Dry Riesling 2008 - made to commemorate 150 years of Temecula - crisp, with pears and floral notes

Palumbo Rosato Secco - 100% Sangiovese rose - dry, with cherry and a flinty edge and good acidity

Miramonte Grenache Rosé 2009 - a little residual sugar - pink and sweet

Danza del Sol Tempranillo 2009 - smokey, brambly nose - very earthy and delicious

Wilson Creek Mourvèdre 2006 - not very dark and kinda bright - "mourvèdre lite" - fruity, tasty, dry

Cougar Montepulciano 2006 - "Full Monte" - funky nose, brambly palate, dry

Robert Renzoni Vecchio Fratte "Old Friar" 2007 - 90% Lagrein, 10% Merlot - big, rich, 21 months in French Oak - very dry with full mouthfeel - deep, expressive nose - coffee notes

Leonesse "Melange de Reves" 2007 - Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Grenache - smells and tastes darker than it looks - full of fruit

Stuart Cellars White Port NV - late harvest Muscat and Chardonnay - reminds me of vermouth - herbal and spicy - quite good

Tomorrow we head into Ventura County.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Since 1982, Wolfgang Puck (left) and Barbara Lazaroff have raised over $15 million dollars for Meals on Wheels Programs of Los Angeles.  The Puck-Lazaroff Charitable Foundation has raised millions primarily through the wildly popular American Wine and Food Festival.  Meals on Wheels Programs of Los Angeles is an extraordinary and vital service serving thousands of meals every day to homebound senior and disabled people.  Each year prestigious chefs and many businesses donate their time, talents, and wares to the festival.  Ticket prices are steep for the event but worth every dime for what people get in return, channeling money to a very worthy cause and enjoying a world class event.

This year’s American Wine and Food Festival is over but we can all continue to donate money and time to Meals on Wheels Programs of Los Angeles.  You’ll find plenty of useful information on their websites.  There are a number of Meals on Wheels programs in Greater Los Angeles including St. Vincent Meals on Wheels and Meals on Wheels of West Los Angeles.

I attended the Saturday evening (September 25th) Grand Tasting of the American Wine and Food Festival.  It was held on the Universal Studios Old Europe backlot.  As I pulled up to the festival, on one of the ubiquitous Universal Studios trams, the aroma of roasting meat was a very appropriate welcome to the evening.  Inside the festival, just to my right was Floyd Cardoz and his staff from Tabla, from New York City, grilling lobsters.  This was just the beginning of an evening of sensory satisfaction.

Everywhere I turned I saw chefs whose careers have been very important to the advancement of my own cooking skills.  I was, in all honesty, humbled.  It was such a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with Chef Paul Prudhomme (left), the man responsible for bringing Cajun cuisine into the national and international spotlight.  He spoke to me about the struggles in New Orleans, a region still in recovery from Hurricane Katrina and now the Gulf oil disaster.  Chef Prudhomme urged me to come back to New Orleans and talked about how the food is as wonderful as it always has been.  He, like so many of his fellow New Orleans cooking brothers and sisters, are working so hard to breathe life back into the city.  He knows how to use his celebrity for good and found the time to come to Los Angeles to help out our own charities.

Everyone who participated deserves recognition for their contribution.  The food, wine, and other beverages served were all deserving of the $300 ticket price.  Not one table served up a sub-par meal. I talked to people who raved about the fried clams from Chef Jasper White and Chef Dean Fearing's fried quail.  The raw bar at the Bouchon table was very, very popular.  I was a little surprised that Nancy Silverton and Mozza decided to go with corn dogs and frozen bananas dipped in chocolate.  The more I thought about it, the more I understood the joke.  Yes, this was food more appropriate to the Los Angeles County Fair, but it struck a chord with people.  It was fun and the frozen bananas were a welcome treat on a sweltering evening. 

I think a lot of chefs made last minute changes to their menus based on the hot weather.  Chef Amar Santana from Charlie Palmer Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza served a cooling avocado gazpacho and a tequila and lychee juice cocktail, El Lychedor.  People loved both.  Both Chef Santana and Charlie Palmer worked the table.  Fiji Water was a big sponsor of this year's festival and Chef Santana used Fiji in the dishes he presented.  Please check out the complete list of chefs who were there at the festival website.  My one regret is that I didn't take the opportunity to speak Chef Jose Andres outside the Cosmopolitan (air conditioned!) cocktail lounge.

My favorite foods of the evening were the sandwich from The Hitching Post, featuring their very delicious house-made bacon and the pork belly sandwich from Slanted Door.  What was up with the location for Slanted Door?  Hidden away.  No line.  Is this San Francisco gem unknown to Los Angeles diners?  Chef Charles Phan playfully beckoned me to his table, where I was the only diner.  Buttery, tender pork belly.

Chef Wolfgang Puck was wearing a smile on his faceas he worked the crowd and talked with his friends from the culinaryworld.  It was great to watch everyone, including the chefs, (ThomasKeller lobbing beach balls!) having fun.  I know setting up and workingin the heat must have exhausted everyone before ticket holders even gotinto their cars to drive to the festival.

There was a very poignant end to the evening for me.  When I arrived at the tram pick-up, there was a huge line.  Hundreds of people were waiting for the tram to take them back to their cars.  The heat caused a number of the trams to suffer hydraulics failure.  So, in a small way, as we waited for the one working tram, we experienced what it feels like to be inconvenienced by a very brief lack of mobility.  However, unlike those who are housebound and dependent upon Meals on Wheels for daily sustenance, our inconvenience was temporary.

See more of Denise Fondo's work at Truffles, Chestnuts, Cherries.  Follow her, tweeters:@DeniseFondo.


San Luis Obispo

The celebration of California Wine Month, "Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places," was a Southern California tasting event designed to shed some light on grapes and wine regions in the Golden State that typically don't get a fair shake.  San Luis Obispo County may not be as well known as Napa or Sonoma, but to those of us who have experienced their wares, SLO wine is not a well-kept secret.

The reds of Paso Robles and the whites of Edna Valley are favorites of mine, but the wealth of wine in the San Luis Obispo area goes further than that.  Santa Margarita, Cambria, Arroyo Grande and Avila Beach all have a lot to offer a wine lover.  The area is particularly beautiful, too.

Becky Gray, Executive Director of the SLO Vintners Association, poured the wines at the SLO table for me.  Here are my tasting notes:

Tolosa Viognier 2009 - very rich nose, melon rind and citrus dominate flavors - tons of minerals, as expected from Edna Valley (Edna Ranch Vineyard)

Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc 2009
 - Paso Robles fruit - grassy nose, fresh lemon taste, good acidity

Tangent Albariño 2009 - tropical nose, nuts and orange peel on the palate, lots of minerals (Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard)

Claiborne and Churchill Vintners Gewürztraminer 2007 - dry Alsatian style - tropical and grapefruit on nose and palate, good acidity

Zocker Wines Grüner Veltliner 2009 - (Paragon Vineyard) - minerals apparent, hint of pepper

Salisbury Vineyards Syrah 2007 - (Avila Vineyard) big, rich cherry and blueberry nose with a fruity, peppery taste

Tolosa "Salaal" - 90% Syrah, 10% Viognier fermented together - (Edna Ranch) - big berries and pepper, great finish

Trenza Tinto 2008 - Grenache and Mourvèdre from Paso Robles, Syrah from Edna Valley and Tempranillo from Arroyo Grande Valley - lovely floral aspect with blueberries and lots of earth

Tomorrow I'll take a look at Temecula's table.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


AWFF Hot Ticket

The scene was set at Universal Studios backlot Saturday September 25, 2010.  The extremely hot - and humid - weather during the day persisted into the evening, but the makeup stayed in place and all the participants were ready for their closeups, Mr. DeMille.  Lights, sterno, clapboard, please!

The American Wine and Food Festival went off almost without a hitch.  That's saying a lot considering how the hot weather caused quite a few last-minute changes for chefs who had planned on serving hot food, only to realize something cool would be more appropriate.

In fact, the biggest hitch I found was at the end of the evening.  When waiting to board the tram back to the parking garage, I found about 300 other people already waiting.  A nice Universal employee named Dave informed me that due to hydraulics problems, they were down to their last tram.  They were trying to cope as best they could by pressing vans and small buses into service.  Those options were not much help in replacing trams which carry 160 people at once.

The event itself, though, was nothing short of spectacular.  The food samples handed out by some of the best chefs in the world were of uniformly high quality.  The wine tasting was great, too.  I only wish the food temptations hadn't been so great.  I wanted to spend more time in pursuit of the grape, but I can't honestly say I was disappointed by dabbling in one culinary treat after another.

The backlot - which you've probably seen on TV and in movies a thousand times - provided several different settings to walk through.  As I turned one corner after another, the cobblestone streets were lined with food and wine booths.

O'Shaughnessy Estate Winery was my first stop.  Eager to pour some big Napa reds, the guy manning the booth seemed a little peeved that I asked to start with the Sauvignon Blanc.  I had just arrived, and already I was dry and thirsty.  The O'Shaughnessy Sauvignon Blanc hit the spot with bracing acidity and a cool grapefruit profile with a sweetness to it that relieved my palate.  I liked his reds, too.  Two Cabernets, the Howell Mountain and the Mount Veeder, were full, rich and intense expressions of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.  If I had to choose one, It would be the Howell Mountain, but the Mount Veeder runs behind only by a nose.

C. Donatiello Winery offered a wonderful Chardonnay, lightly oaked, crisp and laden with citrus.  The Healdsburg outfit has five different Chardonnays available, and I have no idea which one this is.  I liked it, though.

The Whitcraft Winery table was capably manned by Drake Whitcraft.  He talked a little about how his father Chris got him into the family business, and he seems to be getting the hang of it quickly.  Drake is a 100% whole cluster guy.  His winemaking setup includes actual foot-stomping of the grapes, for real, not for show.  As I understand it, he's working on the second vintage which is all his.  His father is battling poor health and couldn't be prouder of the way Drake has stepped in to handle things.

Drake poured a really nice Chardonnay he had just bottled two weeks ago.  His Grenache is bright and full of cherries on the nose, with a very fruity taste and a great finish.  A pair of Pinot Noirs are Drake's real pride.  The '07 vintage is clone 667 from San Luis Obispo, while the '08 has 20% Anderson Valley fruit.  Drake likes the '08 better, and I have to agree with him.  It's full of bright cherry flavors and has an excellent finish.

From Au Bon Climat: Hildegard, a white blend showing bracing acidity and an interesting blend of grapes.  Hildegard is 55% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc and 5% Aligote.  It's a very complex white wine with a zesty lemon finish.

Hitching Post Rosé '09 is made from what used to be called "Napa Gamay."  Turns out the grape is actually Valdiguie, with roots in the southern France region of Languedoc-Roussillon.  There is some Pinot Gris in the mix, as well.  This is a bone dry pinkie that's loaded with fruit and great acidity.

Paraduxx, the pun-laden label from Duckhorn, poured a stunning blend of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, vibrant and rich.

Lest you think it was all California wine being poured - not that that's a bad thing - Dr. Loosenwas there.  A dry, bracing Riesling was tasty, of course.  I asked for something with a bit of gasoline in it, but the pourer shook his head and said, "Sorry, nothing is showing the petrol yet."

An attempt at getting into the "Sherry Yard's Sweet Sanctuary Champagne and Port Lounge" proved successful, in that I was able to get into the roped-off area.  Live music and the promise of an after-hours "scene" produced such a crushing throng that I was unable to navigate within the area very well, and was completely unable to locate any Champagne or port.  Which was sort of the idea.  As the kids say these days, "#fail."

That's when I decided to check out, completely satisfied.  A full evening of snapping photos of celebrity chefs left me unfortunately unmoved when I saw Robert Wuhl, the guy who plays Arliss Michaels in the TV show "Arli$$," looking about for the next sample to go for.  I might have been more impressed had some other member of the cast been present, say, oh, I don't know, Sandra Oh.  She was after all in "Sideways," too!

Talking with Denise afterward, we ruminated on how much money must have been raised for the Meals On Wheels Programs of Los Angeles in this event and the accompanying auction.  It was inescapably ironic that an event in which food is handed out as a disposable commodity - we noticed how many "unempty" plates went into the garbage cans - was actually helping get food to people who are unable to get out and get their own.

The American Wine and Food Festival 2010 was a success from the standpoint of a food and wine lover who likes to scarf down free samples from world class chefs and winemakers.  It was also a success from the standpoint of someone who is old or ill and can't get to the market to buy broccoli.  And that is the real achievement.

Please see Denise Fondo's guest blog on the American Wine and Food Festival.


Steve Clifton (right)

Santa Barbara County is one wine country within an easy drive of Southern California, so it's not unexpected for me to find great wine originating from there. I've certainly tasted enough of it. Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein counts SBC as a "once removed" wine region, meaning just slightly less well known than Napa and Sonoma, the "big two" of California wine AVAs.

At the recent Grand Tasting event, "Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places," their table was definitely one I had circled on my program.  Palmina winemaker Steve Clifton (on the right in the picture) was pouring when I stopped by, and he patiently went through eleven Santa Barbara County wines for me despite the crowds which kept him pretty busy the whole time I was there.

The Santa Barbara County AVA is one region that is getting a lot of recognition beyond the Central Coast, with good reason.  The five distinct winegrowing areas of the county - Santa Maria Valley, Los Alamos Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, and Happy Canyon - make up an extremely diverse wine region.  The ocean breezes sweep eastward through the transverse valleys and bring a rather cool growing climate far inland.

Clifton's Palmina Wines specializes in Cal-Italia - Italian grape varieties grown and produced in the Golden State - but his wines weren't the only ones on the table utilizing what Evan Goldstein calls "quirky grapes."

Here are my notes on the wines from the Santa Barbara County table:

Palmina Tocai Friulano 2009 - lovely floral nose with grapefruit and zest on the palate - Santa Ynez Valley, Honea Vineyard

Palmina Malvasia Bianca 2009 - very floral nose and taste - tastes like flowers - Santa Ynez Valley, Larner Vineyard

Silver Viognier 2007 - nuts and citrus with great acidity - 13% Grenache Blanc

Buttonwood Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - citrus nose and palate, nice acidity - lemon zest on finish - blended with Sémillon - winery has a new winemaker

Rancho Sisquoc Sylvaner 2009 - melon, pear and peaches with some residual sugar - don't know of another winery producing Sylvaner in California

Palmina Nebbiolo 2006 - floral nose with a taste of very bright cherry and raspberry - spices

Mosby Sagrantino 2006 - big, dark nose, reminds me of Mourvèdre - smooth and fruity - Bill Mosby imported the cuttings from Italy - first vintage

Hitching Post Merlot 2007 - dry, with big blackberry and cherry flavors - winemaking team of Hartley and Ostini

Bridlewood Zinfandel 2007 - Santa Ynez Valley grapes, estate grown - herbal notes and a minty aspect - full and rich

Ampelos Syrah 2006 - spicy and fruity - Sta. Rita Hills fruit

Star Lane "Astral" Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - extremely full and very dry, with black plum and pencil lead flavors

Tomorrow we'll visit the San Luis Obispo table.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Setup for a blind wine tasting event

California Wine Month was celebrated in Westwood this week with an extraordinary presentation called "Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places."  There will be more on this blog over the next few days about some of the more unexpected grapes and places in California.  Today, the seminar hosted by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein is our subject matter.

Goldstein hosts videos and stages seminars like this one for Full Circle Wine Solutions.  He is not only a Master Sommelier, but also a master at this format.  The wine guru runs his show with the expertise and flair of an infomercial host.  Utilizing a big screen PowerPoint presentation as a visual accompaniment to his energetic stage presence, Goldstein keeps his audience attentive and involved in the information he's shooting out at breakneck speed.

The seminar was held in a semi-dark room - Goldstein referred to it as mood lighting - with six long tables set for eight people per row.  At each setting was an array of twelve wine glasses, each about half full of wine.  This was for the blind tasting portion of the program, which I'll reluctantly address later.  (I didn't fare too well in the friendly competition.)

First, Goldstein breezed through a wealth of information about California's wine industry and the grapes grown for it, some of which may surprise you.
Wine consumption in the US has been increasing for sixteen consecutive years, even during our current economic downturn.  Goldstein said at the present rate, the US is expected to pass France as the world's largest wine consumer by 2014.

48 of California's 58 counties produce wine and only 10% of that wine comes from the two most well known areas, Napa Valley and Sonoma County.  "That means the other 90%," Goldstein quipped, "comes from somewhere else."

The purpose of the seminar - and the Grand Tasting event - was to shed some light on those "somewhere elses" and on the huge quantity of different grape varietals grown in the Golden State.  He took a moment to point out that there are 4,600 grape growers and 2,972 bonded wineries in California - most of them family-owned enterprises.

After getting the facts and figures out of the way, Goldstein got started on what was really on everyone's mind - the wines in front of us.

The object of the blind tasting was to use our senses of sight, smell and taste along with our "vast knowledge of wine" to determine the grape varietal and location of origin for each of the samples provided.  It sounded so easy!  But Goldstein wasn't throwing any softball pitches.

When the sipping was over, he revealed that Napa was represented by a Riesling and a Sangiovese, not a Cab or Chardonnay.  The Russian River Valley entry was not a Pinot Noir, but a Pinot Gris.  One Pinot Noir came from Mendocino and another from Monterey County.  A Paso Robles Vermentino was thrown in while the Syrah hailed from the Santa Cruz Mountains.  There was a Cabernet Sauvigon to be identified, but it was a product of Livermore.

Goldstein's purpose in mixing it up the way he did was to show just how varied the wines of California can be.  There's a lot more out there than just Cabernet and Chardonnay, and the grapes of one area don't always taste like the same grapes from a different area.  The seminar illustrated those points perfectly.  At the end of the presentation, he had everyone stand up, then asked for those who got six or fewer of the twelve wines correct to sit down.  Suffice it to say, I sat down, along with about half the crowd.  I did see one excellent taster still standing at the end, indicating that he correctly identified eleven or twelve of the wines.  My hat's off to him, and to Goldstein for the challenging test.  I hope the next time I have the opportunity, I'll make a better showing!

Tomorrow we'll taste a few Santa Barbara County wines.


Urraca Chardonnay (2007)

I tasted a fantastic wine at Wally's tent sale Friday.  It's from the Mendoza region in Argentina, Urraca Chardonnay 2008.  It might not have even been made if the grower had sold the grapes, as was planned.  At the last minute, he decided to make wine with them instead.  He said to his General Manager, "the worst that can happen is we drink the wine."  From my standpoint, the best thing that can happen is we drink the wine.

It smells and tastes like Champagne without the bubbles.  Toasty nose, toast and citrus on the palate, the wine saw oak for 6 months.  It's a thing of beauty.

Wally's Wine and Spirits in Los Angeles can special order it, according to Urraca's General Manager, Jean-Pierre Bieri.  He poured the wine for me to taste.  Bieri will be at the Wally's event throughout the weekend with his Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, but ask him if he has any of that great Chardonnay hidden away.

If you'd like to contact Wally's about a special order, the store is at 2107 Westwood Boulevard in Los Angeles.  Call them at 310.475.0606.  Maybe if they get enough calls, they'll put it on their shelves, where it belongs!

Ed. - Please excuse the incorrect vintage depicted in the image.  I rushed off to something else without getting a shot of the 2008 bottle.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Unexpedted Grapes From Unexpected Places

In celebration of California Wine Month 2010, the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers presented a Grand Tasting at the Hotel Palomar in Westwood, California on September 22, 2010. 

The tasting event was augmented by seminars from Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein.   The seminars had Goldstein briefly running through some information about California's wine industry and the grapes grown for it.  The bulk of the hour-long presentation was a blind tasting, in which I participated.

In the coming days, I'll detail the seminar and share my tasting notes of the wines I tasted from a few of the regions represented.

The Grand Tasting was organized by region, with different tables representing the different wine-producing areas of California.  Thirteen distinct growing areas were spotlighted and about 130 wines were represented in all.  The wines that were poured emphasized many less familiar grapes, and some of the more familiar ones from areas other than the "Big Two" of Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

As you may expect from the event's name - Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places - the idea was to show the diversity of grape varieties grown in California and the depth of offerings available from some of the lesser-known regions.  The organizers of the event hit it out of the park on both counts.  A slew of wines made from unheralded grapes were poured, and the crowds around the tables for places like Lodi, Ventura and Livermore were as big as the ones around the Napa and Sonoma posts.

I sampled a number of wines from Lodi, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura County.  I'll detail those tastings in the next few days here on the Now And Zin Wine Blog.

If you'd like to do some online exploring yourself, visit Discover California Wines and California Vineyards.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Chateau Montelena Chardonnay

At the end of a tough week - and aren't they all? - Mr. and Mrs. Now And Zin planned to have an evening snack.  The plate of cheese, olives, strawberries, almonds and peanuts was prepared and placed in the fridge, and it would be ready when we returned home that evening.

We had been keeping a bottle of 
Chateau Montelena Chardonnay in reserve for a semi-special occasion, and this seemed like it. 

Purchased during last year's 
press trip to NoCal wine country, when we escaped the clutches of a public relations firm and struck out on our own, this memento of the storied winery in Calistoga is special, indeed.  It was the 1972 vintage that beat the French in the historic Judgement of Paris in 1976.  That high standard of quality has been maintained through the years by winemaker Bo Barrett.

The 2007 vintage for Chateau Montelena was almost perfect for the grapes from the John Muir Hanna vineyard. Great weather all through the growing season provided fruit that was at its peak.

The wine was produced with 64% whole cluster pressing, allowing some of the herbal notes to come through.  A portion is produced in stainless steel, while another part is given oak.  The wine is 13.7% abv, and cost $50 at the winery.
Just as I had found it in the Chateau Montelena tasting room, this Chardonnay is at once restrained and stunning.  The pale straw color is pretty in the glass and exotic tropical notes show on the nose.  I detect a green garden herbal aspect which Denise interprets as peas.  There's a faint smokiness present and an overlay of minerals gives the sense of wet rocks.  On the palate there are tropical flavors with some lemon zest and a nice acidity that coexists with a creamy mouthfeel.  The finish is long, and well after the drink is consumed, I'm left with the memory of lemons and a trace of banana.  The wine is a complete pleasure from beginning to end.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Rancho Zabaco Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

Wine drinkers may be feeling the urge for something a little more autumnal by now, but here's a very nice Sauvignon Blanc I tried recently at Mulholland Grill in Los Angeles.     
Rancho Zabaco Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is actually a blend, although Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 97% of the mix.  The other 3% is Sémillon.  It's only 13% abv and costs just under ten dollars by the glass at this restaurant.  The Sonoma fruit hails from the Russian River Valley and is 70% steel fermented, with 30% seeing oak.
The wine is a pretty shade of light yellow in the glass, with some golden highlights.  There's a very grassy nose and a fair amount of herbal funk which plays well with a softening overlay of tropical notes.  The palate also shows some herbal influence, but lots of lemon and lime flavor comes through.  Some fairly juicy pineapple notes are also present.  The wine is very soft and full in the mouth and comes close to hinting at sweetness.  The acidity is there, however, and the wine matches well with a lettuce and bleu cheese salad, particularly alongside the sharp cheese.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


American Wine and Food Festival

The 28th annual American Wine and Food Festival kicks off Saturday night, September 25, 2010 at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.  It benefits the Meals On Wheels Programs of Los Angeles, and since 1982 the event has raised more than $15 million for that institution.  Through Meals On Wheels, thousands of meals are served each day to the homebound, senior and disabled citizens of Los Angeles.
The Saturday night event, at Universal Studios backlot, features 30 top chefs and 80 wineries and spirit labels.  You'll be able to sample the best the culinary world has to offer, with food and wine placed face to face, where they belong.    
Saturday at 5:00 p.m., the Wolfgang Puck VIP Cooking Demonstration gets the festivities underway for VIP ticketholders, while the festival opens an hour later and runs until 11:00 p.m.  You can cap off the night in “Sherry Yard’s Sweet Sanctuary Champagne and Port Lounge” – an after-hours retreat.  Dance the night away to a live band or simply mingle among the 3,000 or so food and wine lovers that are expected to attend.  Tickets  for the festival are $300 per person.  For details and cost for VIP tickets, please call Joan Wrede at 310.574.3663.
The Chefs Grand Tasting Dinner is slated for Sunday, 6:00 p.m., at Spago Beverly Hills.  This dinner features celebrity chefs who will each prepare one course, which are paired with select wines.  This year’s featured chefs will be Nobu Matsuhisa of Matsuhisa Beverly Hills, Charlie Palmer of Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, Paul Bartolotta of Bartolotta and Ristorante di Mare, Michael White of AltaMarea Group, Santi Santamaria of Restaurant Can Fabes, and Dominique Ansel of Restaurant Daniel. There will also be a live auction.  Reservations for the Chefs Grand Tasting Dinner are $750 per person or $7,000 per table.  To make your reservations for this limited-seating dinner, contact Ellen Farentino at Spago: 310.385.0880. 
You can "like" the American Wine and Food Festival on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.


Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo

Italian food calls for Italian wine, and that's a rule I try not break - ever.  Fortunately, one of my favorite Italian restaurants, Il Buco, has a wine list with a whole page of Italian wines that never disappoint.
Colline Novaresi D.O.C. is in Piedmont, in extreme northwestern Italy.  The Nebbiolo grapes used in this wine are farmed biodynamically in Fontechiara vineyards.  The wine is 100% Nebbiolo and has a 13.5% abv number.  It shows a deep and beautiful red color in the glass, quite dark in fact.  When you pick up the glass, that's when the fun begins.
One whiff and I was sold.  This Nebbiolo has such a rich aroma I just sat and smelled it for quite some time.  A floral smell leaps out first, and is quickly joined by notes of tar.  Finally, I start to sense the fruit and realized it was there all along.  It makes me think of black plums that have been trampled into the earth underneath the tree where they fell.
Then, on the first sip, I expect it to be a bit tannic.  It's not, though.  It's very smooth, and the fruit really shines through.  Blackberry and black cherry flavors are almost candied.  There's licorice, too.  The flavors keep reminding me of Port.  The wine is so juicy and complex I can only marvel at it.  By now, I expect the finish to be lengthy - and it is.  The flavors linger through a moment of reflection and the next bite of farfalle with sauage and peas.  It's one of my favorite dishes at Il Buco in Beverly Hills, but this time it takes a back seat to the wine.
By the way, Il Buco has this Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo for eight dollars by the glass.  With a nose and a palate like this, it's one of the better bargains I've encountered recently.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Deep Sea "Sea Flower" Dry Rosé

A nice, balmy evening - somewhat the rarity in the Los Angeles neighborhood called Laurel Canyon - lured the Now And Zin family out onto the deck for an after-work wine.  We knocked off the remainder of a white blend, then cracked open the Deep Sea "Sea Flower" Dry Rosé.
This Central Coast pink is produced by Conway Vineyards of Santa Maria, CA.  The Rancho Arroyo grapes - 67% Syrah, 33% Grenache - yield a deep pink color and a nose of strawbery gummy bears and roses.  On the palate are tons of strawberry and raspberry in a very jammy concentration.  There's a mouthful of acidity, too. That means you can expect good results when serving this wine with food.  There were only 372 cases produced.  If you can't find it there is a new vintage just released.  I tasted the 2009 Sea Flower recently and found it to be just as tasty and mouth-watering as the '08.
Ed.- I didn’t get a bottle shot while we were enjoying it, and the image shown is all I found the next day.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Elizabeth Rose rose

A beautiful sunny lunch in Beverly Hills always puts me in the mood for a rosé.  Such was the case at Il Forno Caldo, a favorite lunch spot for the wife and me.  I can't remember which salad I ordered, but I won't soon forget the wine.
Elizabeth Rose rosé is a beautiful Napa Valley pink made from organically grown grapes in Yountville and Oakville, CA.  93% Syrah, 5% Cinsault and 2% Grenache are blended to create a rosé that's complex and delightful.  Its alcohol level is 13% and it cost $9 per glass.
Deep strawberry pink in color, this wine is absolutely gorgeous to look at.  The nose is very big, with watermelon Jolly Rancher in the forefront with a raspberry note.  There's a green, vegetal aroma in there, too, maybe bell pepper.  The taste is exceptional.  Dry and fruity, there's a truckload of strawberry and cherry flavors that are as fresh as the garden.  The acidity is crisp and the finish is completely satisfying.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Finca El Portilla Malbec Rose

It's always a pleasure to discover a fantastic restaurant, particularly one with a great wine list.  Mrs. Now And Zin and I are putting Malbec Argentinean Bistro on our go-to list.

This Toluca Lake restaurant, just a stone's throw from Burbank, has one of the most authentic wine lists I've seen.  An Italian Sauvignon Blanc and Veuve Clicquot were the only non-Argentine entries I spotted on the list, which offers about fifty wines - a dozen or so by the glass, none of which costs more than $10 per glass.

Mrs. Now And Zin, also known as Denise Fondo, has a more complete description of the food at I Cook The World.  She does a much better job than I do when describing food.  For now, suffice it to say we fell in love with the place.

As for the wine, it felt like a rosé day, so I chose the Finca El Portillo Malbec Rose.  It's a 100% Malbec wine which is stainless steel fermented and brings 14% abv to the table.  The grapes are estate-farmed in Mendoza's Uco Valley.  It cost $7.50 per glass.

The color is great - a rich, ruby red that's very appealing in the glass.  Fresh aromas of cherries and strawberries growing in the garden dominate the nose, while the palate offers flavors - just as fresh - of watermelon and strawberry.  The mouthfeel is of medium weight and very clean.  There's a sense of citrus on the finish which left me with the memory of a spring day.  Oh, and it's bone-dry.  It was great with the grilled chicken and the skirt steak.


Ortman O2 Wines

Paso Robles' Ortman Family has a new tier of wines which appears to be designed to attract the adventurous and cost-conscious millennial demographic.

The O² Series reflects the family's pursuit of wine varieties different from their mainstay Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon offerings.  Chuck Ortman has been making wine for 40 vintages, and his son, Matt, is leading the way on this new effort.

The new lineup features an eye-catching label that runs along the bottle at an angle, and is designed to be an affordable complement to the winery’s founding tier of limited-production wines from single vineyards.

The inaugural O² Series wines are the 2009 Chardonnay Central Coast ($18; 959 cases), 2008 Sangiovese Paso Robles ($20; 517 cases) and 2007 Cuvée Eddy San Luis Obispo County ($20; 1,500 cases; red Rhône-style blend).

I had a chance to sample the Cuvee Eddy at the 2010 Rhone Rangers event in Santa Monica.  It's a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah.  I noted at the time that it has a brilliant cherry nose and is juicy and easy to drink.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Wine Stats

In a 2008 study of wine consumers, Constellation Wines broke out the wine-buying public into six separate groups.  Do you fit into one of these segments?

It’s worth noting - and rather sad - that the largest of these groups of wine consumers feel overwhelmed in the wine aisle.  The second largest group views wine as a status symbol.  Do you see a market segment from this study in which you fit?  Are you surprised by any of the findings?  Please feel free to leave a comment on the blog if you’d like to share your opinions on how people buy wine.
ENTHUSIASTS (12 percent of consumers)
• Entertain at home with friends and consider themselves knowledgeable about wine
• Live in cosmopolitan centers, affluent suburban spreads or comfortable country settings
• Like to browse the wine section, publications and are Influenced by wine ratings & reviews
• 47% of Enthusiasts buy wine in 1.5L size – “everyday wine” to supplement their “weekend wine”
• 98% of Enthusiasts buy wine over $6 and it accounts for 56% of what they buy on a volume basis
IMAGE SEEKERS (20 percent of consumers)
• View wine as a status symbol
• Have a basic knowledge of wine and discovering wines is new to them
• Likes to be the first to try a new wine, and are open to innovative packaging
• The number one most purchased varietal Merlot
• Use the Internet as key information source including checking restaurant wine lists before they dine out
SAVVY SHOPPERS (15 percent of consumers)
• Enjoy shopping for wine and discovering new varietals on their own
• Have a few favorite wines to supplement new discoveries
• Shop in a variety of stores each week to find best deals and like specials and discounts
• Heavy coupon users and know what’s on sale before they walk into a store
• When dining out they typically buy a glass of the house because of the value
TRADITIONALIST (16 percent of consumers)
• Enjoy wines from established wineries
• Think wine makes an occasion more formal and prefer entertaining friends and family at home to going out
• Like to be offered a wide variety of well-known national brands
• Won’t often try new wine brands
• Shop at retail locations that make it easy to find favorite brands
SATISFIED SIPPERS (14 percent of consumers)
• Don’t know much about wine, just know what they like to drink
• Usually buy the same brand, usually domestic and consider wine an everyday beverage
• Don’t enjoy the wine-buying experience so buy 1.5L bottles to have more wine on hand
• Second-biggest category of warehouse shoppers, buying 16 percent of wine in club stores
• Don’t dine out often but likely to order the house wine when they do
OVERWHELMED (23 percent of consumers)
• Overwhelmed by sheer volume of choices on store shelves
• Like to drink wine but don’t know what kind to buy and may select by label
• Looking for wine information in retail settings that’s easy to understand
• Very open to advice but frustrated when there is no one in the wine section to help
• If information is confusing they won’t buy anything at all
This information comes from Constellation Wines’ Project Genome - Home and Habits.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Green Flash Imperial IPA

When I lived in San Diego in the mid-'90s, one of my favorite late afternoon hangouts was a restaurant in Pacific Beach called Armando's The Green Flash.  What I liked best about the place was sitting at the bar near sunset with ceviche and an I.P.A.  Looking right out over the Pacific Ocean I tried over and over to see the elusive green flash - the flash of green light that occurs at the exact spot and the exact time the sun sets into the water.  I think I saw it, but maybe I just let myself believe I did.  Either way, the ceviche was outstanding and so was the I.P.A.
Green Flash Brewing Company is not affiliated with the restaurant.  I don't know if they take their name from the atmospheric phenomenon or from a superhero, and it doesn't matter to me.  They brew some truly great beer in Vista, CA, just a little bit up the coast from San Diego.
The Green Flash Imperial India Pale Ale is a rocking good beer.  Deep amber in color, it looks great in the glass.  The nose is extremely hoppy, bursting with floral notes and showing a twist of citrus.  The taste is also full of flowers with a broad lemon streak and a slight hint of almond.  This I.P.A. has a wonderfully creamy texture in the mouth - very full and opulent.  It's definitely a "desert island" beer, and there are few brews I enjoy as much on a warm afternoon while awaiting the green flash.


William Sherer

The Taste of Beverly Hills was just getting underway for the first Saturday session, when I found myself drawn into one of the giant tasting halls.  There were hundreds of foods and wines I wanted to taste and quite a few things I wanted to see at this event.  There were only a few people I knew I wanted to meet, and William Sherer was one of them.  And it was Sherer who greeted me at the very first stop I made that morning.

Sherer was there promoting his line of wine, Iberian Remix.  "Want to taste some Albariño?" he asked as I approached the table.  Still a little sleepy, smiling with rumpled shirttail out, he seems to be the living, walking definition of "affable," not what many might expect a genuine wine expert to look or act like.


Sherer has spent the last five years as Wine Director at Aureole, Charlie Palmer's restaurant in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  He has also spent time walking restaurant floors in Monterey, San Francisco and New York City, and he earned the James Beard award for Wine Service in 2006.

What really dazzles, though, is the fact that Sherer has accomplished something only 170 people in the world can lay claim to - he's a Master Sommelier, a certified, card-carrying wine geek.  It's not an easy status to acheive.  The Court of Master Sommeliers puts it this way:
"Achieving the distinction of Master Sommelier takes years of preparation and an unwavering commitment.  The Court’s intensive educational program guides aspiring Masters through four increasingly rigorous levels of coursework and examination, culminating in the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination."

That final step is by invitation only, after one has completed the other four levels.  I asked Sherer about the difficulty of the road to becoming a MS.

"Yeah, it's hard, and I passed it twelve years ago.  It's actually harder to do today, due to the expansion of the wine world in general.  There's a lot more to know today."  He's certainly in the right place for a person with such status.  The Court of Master Sommeliers cites Vegas as a popular location for those who belong to this exclusive club.  In fact, Las Vegas has more Master Sommeliers than any other city.  "Out of the fifteen that are here, probably only four work on the restaurant floor," he said.  "There rest do other things - administrative directors, wholesale, import.  What I do is a rarity, even in a small field like this.  A lot of people don't want to work nights, or just have other interests."


Sherer himself has other interests, a white one and a red one.  He calls his Iberian Remix wines "California wines from Spanish varieties."  This notion was his answer to an importer who once told him Albariño grown in America wouldn't work.  "He said we didn't have anything like the cold, Atlantic climate of Galicia," Sherer continues, "and that anyone who tried to make an Iberian-style wine with American grapes was destined to fail.  I want to prove that person wrong."

Sherer uses Albariño grapes from Edna Valley's Paragon Vineyard and Tempranillo, Grenache and Carignan from the Central Coast for his red blend.  "The whole thing would not have happened had I not found the grapes that were available," he said.  "Growers appeared who found that they had planted too much of the grapes I needed.  I was happy to help relieve them of some."

"Iberian Remix is not a recreation of the Spanish originals, but that doesn't mean they're not high-quality wines.  And they're true California wines.  Even the label design evokes 'Endless Summer.'"

What's next on the horizon for Sherer?  "Austrian wines," he says, not missing a beat.  "I'll call them Danube Remix.  A Grüner Veltliner for sure.  Those grapes will be harvested this year and the wine will be released in early 2011.  The Grüner is fresh and aromatic, like the Albariño, but with a little more complexity and palate weight.  I might do a Blaufränkisch, too.  The labels for the Danube Remix will evoke the work of Austrian artist Gustave Klimt."


Sherer's position as Wine Director at Aureole/Mandalay Bay puts him in charge of one of the most incredible wine storage systems in existence.  "It's a four-story wine tower holding 10,000 bottles - and that's just the young reds," he said.  I chuckle, but he's not joking.  "We keep the whites and the vintage wines in a different area.  Our wine angels get up and down the tower on cables to retrieve specific bottles."

"My predecessor installed the tablet PC wine list eight years ago, but it's not something that will allow a customer to surf the web for information about the wines, and that's by design.  We like to be able to interact one-on-one with a diner and offer our assistance personally.  You can always go online at home and look at the wine list.

Certainly, Sherer envisions a time when walking the restaurant floor will no longer be what he wants to do.  What happens then?  "Willi's Wine Bar!" he says with a big laugh.  "Actually there are already two places by that name - in Paris and Santa Rosa - so I guess I'll have to come up with something else."  I suggest "Willi's Remix," and he roars again, telling me he'll take it under advisement.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Luis Felipe Edwards Rosa Blanco

The food is great at South Point Argentine Grill on Sunset Boulevard, and Mrs. Now And Zin loves it, so we dine there quite often.  The half chicken with rice is fabulous, the Patagonia salad is great and their sausage is to die for.  I have issues, however, with the way they serve red wine.  In the glass, it's often almost warm to the touch, and that's too warm.  To quote my friend, Art, "When you serve wine at room temperature, the room should be a cave, not the kitchen."  I'm sure you agree.
So c’mon South Point, get the wine right!  And while you're at it, straighten out the music.  South American folk one time, classic rock the next, blaring ranchera on this visit - I'd like to know what to expect when I come to your restaurant.
On our most recent visit, once again I was served a wine that seemed on its way to mulled status.  It was Luis Felipe Edwards Rosa Blanca Organic.  Fortunately, this Chilean wine from the Colchagua Valley did not suffer as much as some others I have had there.  It's essentially a Cabernet Sauvignon, with a bit Carmenere added.  Both grapes come from the same vineyard, one that sits next to a bed of white roses.  That's the origin of the name.
In the glass, a dark purple core only lightens a bit at the edge.  The nose gave away a lot of alcohol early, but that settled down after ten minutes or so.  The fruit rides in the front seat and waves at you when it passes by.  Aromas of dark berries and plums are foremost in the bouquet, while the plums come through strongly on the palate, along with a leathery flavor.  There isn't a lot of graphite or smoke discernable to me, which I found mildly surprising.  The somewhat short finish is the only drawback.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Wine Tasting

Wine tasting at a winery, tasting room, wine bar or tasting event is the best way to explore grape varieties and wine types with which you are not familiar.  In this way, you can expand your palate and create a broad knowledge base about different kinds of wine. 

It's not uncommon in wine country to see a limo pull up to a tasting room and deposit a group of happy drunks at the front door.  They go inside and proceed to blaze through the tasting flight as if it were last call.  This is not "wine tasting."  This is "wine drinking" - not that there's anything wrong with that, in its place.  Lots of people drink wine in order to get blasted.  For the purpose of this article, I am assuming you want to learn more about wine and are tasting for that reason.

If you are new to the tasting game, here are some simple steps which will make you look like a pro on your visit to wine country.  If you are in a crowded tasting room - maybe one with several limos docked outside - you may feel some pressure to hurry your flight along and get out of the way.  Don't.  Take all the time you need to evaluate and enjoy the wines put before you.  That space at the tasting bar is yours until you relinquish it.

Hold the glass up to a white napkin or paper.  Observe the color and clarity.  Does the color change from the center to the edge of glass?  Red wines will tend to turn lighter in color and brown a bit around the edges with age.  White wines will probably grow darker with age.

SwirlDo this to allow more of the wine's surface to be exposed to the air.  Exposing the wine to the air in this way helps bring the aromas forward.

SniffDon't be bashful.  Put your nose right into the glass.  Get a big whiff of the smells that will affect how the wine tastes to you.

Swish it around in your mouth.  Allow it to cover all of your tongue, and note the flavors you detect.  Get a feel for what kind of body the wine has.  Is it light and airy, or heavy and full?

Spit or Swallow
Depending on your situation, you may want to make use of the spit bucket provided at most tasting rooms and events.  Especially if you plan to taste a lot of wines.  Just a one-ounce pour over 30 or so tastes is a half-gallon of wine.

SavorAllow some time to enjoy the wine's finish.  How long does the taste remain?  Do the tastes change after the wine is gone from your mouth?

Make notes on your thoughts about the wines you taste.  Many people take notebooks with them on tasting trips.  Record your impressions on taste, tannins, alcohol and acidity. 

The taste is the flavors you experience, like cherry, plum, spice, etc.  The level of tannins determine the astringent quality in red wine.  The more tannins there are, the dryer the wine.  The alcohol level determines how much "heat" you feel when tasting it.  Acids make the wine feel refreshing, or mouth-watering.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Noilly Prat French Dry Vermouth

A while back this space contained a few words on sweet vermouth.  To recap, in the vermouth world, red is sweet, it's rosso, it's Italian.  White vermouth is usually dry, and usually called French vermouth.

Noilly Prat is produced in Marseillan, in southern France.  The basic wine is produced using white grapes Picpoul de Pinet and Clairette.  The wine stays in a huge oaken cask for eight months, then is placed in smaller barrels and put outside for a year.  The barrels are then brought inside and the wine rests for a few months, but they're not through yet!  Herbs and spices are then added to the wine every day for three weeks.

First produced in 1813 by French herbalist Joseph Noilly, this is the type of vermouth that's used in martinis and other mixed drinks.  According to an old joke, it can also left out of the martini to insure the drinks are so dry there's dust in the urinals.

Dry vermouth can also be enjoyed straight up chilled.  Try it with a twist of lemon.

The wine is straw-colored with a nose that's somewhat medicinal with honey, almond, nutmeg and pepper showing.  It tastes heavily of the spices - pepper, clove and nutmeg all come through strongly on the palate.  The 18% alcohol level is quite noticeable.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Tres Pinos Three Pines Cuvee

I can spend more than five dollars on a bottle of wine if I like, and I feel fortunate that I can.  I do love a bargain, though.  That's why I find myself drawn to those discount wines at Trader Joe's so often.  I tell myself to keep moving, spend a little more.  But the lure of finding a good wine on the cheap is too great.  The sirens were singing my song again when I saw the Tres Pinos white. “Here's your five dollars.”  “Here's your wine.”

Tres Pinos Three Pines Cuvee is made by San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles.  They source their grapes from all over California, and the grapes for this wine came from San Luis Obispo County.  I like a lot of wines from SLO, so I had high hopes for this effort.

The grapes in question are Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Viognier.  That's a likely bunch of suspects for a good blend.  13.5% abv.

This white is the color of straw, and there's just a hint of effervescence upon pouring without refrigeration.  The second night the tiny little bubbles didn't appear when the wine was chilled.

I am often disappointed by the nose on cheap – er – inexpensive wines.  That is not the case here, as a beautiful bouquet of honeysuckle, apricot and cantaloupe rind appears.

The palate is not as fruity as I expected.  It's actually rather dry.  There is a subtle flavor of pear juice and a decent minerality – something I always love to find in those Edna Valley wines from San Luis Obispo County.  I'm intrigued by an almost savory edge, maybe guava.  The acidity is more than adequate for pairing light fare.  It's great with a handful of peanuts!

The various grapes used in Tres Pinos blend together nicely.  None of the four stand out too much.  I found it to be much better when chilled than not.  It's a serviceable wine that actually tastes pretty good.  And the price is certainly right.