Sunday, October 31, 2010


La Dolce Vino

My friend Art Meripol shot me an email recently, in which he raved about a particularly wonderful dessert wine he had just finished off.

Art’s a wonderful photographer for a name-brand national magazine and has a website featuring his concert photography and shoots pretty amazing stuff on his iPhone, too.  You can keep up on that by following him on Twitter.

He wrote to me about a wine he had bought at a winery when shooting a travel story on Sonoma a few years back.  Of the Sapphire Hill VLH Zinfandel 2003, Art said, "It was superb.  Sweet, dense, intense black fruit, tar ...everything a great dessert wine should be."

I see this Very Late Harvest Zinfandel on the Sapphire Hill website in the 2006 vintage.  It sells for $26, half bottle.  This sweet product of Alexander Valley grapes is dubbed "liquid candy for grown-ups" in the winemaker notes.  At 9.5% residual sugar, it would not appear to be cloyingly sweet on its own, but is recommended with cheese or chocolate.

Not that I don't think about dessert wines a lot anyway, but Art's email prompted me to sift through my tasting notes of this past year for dessert wines I liked a lot.  Here are a few:

La Quinta Crema Marsala, California NV - Sampled at the San Antonio Winery winemaker dinner a while back, this Marsala shows a nose of raisins, spice and honey with a sherry-like flavor of candied fruit.  This brown-colored, fortified wine would be right at home after a big Thanksgiving meal or Christmas dinner.  FYI, the alcohol level nudges the 20% mark.

Coquelicot Slow Hand Dessert Wine - All late harvest fruit, 50% Chardonnay and 50% Riesling.  It tastes like a baked apple with raisins.

Kalyra Orange Muscat 2006 - Kalyra Winery, up Highway 154 in the pastoral Santa Ynez Valley northwest of Santa Barbara, makes several great dessert wines.  The grapes for this wine were sourced from Madeira, California.  Fortified to a 15% abv number, this viscous liquid is a rich, golden color and so thick and heavy it almost tries to stay in the glass.  On the nose are flowers, honey and apricot candy.  The palate shows even more honey, more apricots and some orange peel notes that play off the sweetness beautifully.  Nice acidity, too.

Pessagno Griva Vineyard Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc Arroyo Seco 2006 - Stephen Pessagno makes small quantity wines from single vineyards in Monterey and San Benito Counties of California, all estate grown.  His Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is a Sauternes-styled wine made from grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea, or the noble rot.  It has a harvest brix of 48 and a residual sugar of 18.4%.  This is definitely a sweet wine.  The nose shows pear juice, pear cobbler aromas, and a pineapple candy profile.  The sweet custard and caramel flavors are a delight, but it’s not just a sweetie - the acidity is almost bracing and can match any dessert you may put next to it.  The suggested retail price is $35 for a half-bottle.

Graff Family Vineyards Chalone July Muscat 2007 - The Graff Family of Sonoma makes very limited-production wine.  July Muscat is a cross of four different Muscat varieties.  The grapes for this wine are grown in the Chalone appellation in California's Monterey County.  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.

Abundance Vineyards 2008 Bacio Dolce Carignane Dessert Wine - 100% Carignane, 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.

Roxo Port Cellars - This Paso Robles producer does only Port style wines.  Roxo has quite a variety of delicious Port wines made not only from Portuguese varieties, but also Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir.

Mer Soleil LATE 2004 - LATE is a late harvest Viognier kissed by that favorite fungus of dessert wine fans - Botrytis cinerea.  The color is an extremely rich gold with aromas and flavors of honeyed apricots.  An orange zest profile reveals itself in the flavors, too.  

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Ortman O2 Series Cuvee Eddy

Ortman Family Vineyards provided me with their three new wines in the O2 Series for review.  I've already written about the Sangiovese and the Chardonnay.  Today I focus on the Ortman Cuvée Eddy Rhone-style blend.

Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah from three San Luis Obispo County vineyards - Brave Oak, Dino Boneso and Wittstrom - combine in a wine the Ortman's describe musically as "a lot of smooth jazz with a little bit of rock and roll."  Winemaker Matt Ortman, a second generation winemaker - hence the "O2" designation - says the 42% Syrah gives black fruit flavors while the 30% Grenache and 19% Mourvèdre offer a healthy dose of earthiness and the 9% of Petite Sirah chips in some spiciness.  1,500 cases of '07 Cuvée Eddy were produced and it retails for $20.  The alcohol content is 14.2%

Cuvée Eddy pours up medium dark purple in the glass and the nose offers some great dark fruit aromas, and the promised earthiness hits hard.  Blackberry and black plum tread water in a mineral-laden nose which is then echoed on the palate.  The minerality leads the fruit around on a leash.  This is some dark juice here.  It benefited quite a bit from decanting - in fact, it became as smooth as silk.  Do yourself a favor - don’t drink it right after unscrewing the cap.  Give it some breathing time and you will be rewarded.  Richly.

I sampled the wine over a three-night span, and it got better - and darker in texture - each night.  It's a suggested mate with barbecue and pizza, and I can't imagine you could go wrong with that.  The intense mineral profile and lip-smacking acidity make for a very food-friendly beverage

Friday, October 29, 2010


Sunset November 2010

Sunset Magazine's November 2010 issue contains their wine awards for the year.  The magazine that's all about "Living In The West" liked a lot of Napa Valley and Sonoma County wines, a good selection from Washington state, a few from Oregon and some wines from the California Central Coast.  Congratulations to the Central Coast and Santa Barbara County wines Sunset likes, and here's what they had to say about them.

Under "Steals, $15 & Under" Sunset cites:

Cycles Gladiator 2008 Syrah (Central Coast, $10) - "Blueberries anchor the fruit character, while herbs, black olives, tobacco and espresso add interest underneath."

SeaGlass 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Barbara County, $10) - "A brininess worthy of the name underpins crisp citrus, peach, pear, quince, limestone, and gentle florals."

Under "Good Values, $15 to $30" Sunset chose:

Jorian Hill 2008 Viognier (Santa Ynez Valley, $30) - "A lively, textural Rhône white, full of honeyed apricot, quince and lemon on a long, clean finish."

Tantara 2008 T. Solomon Wellborn Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County, $20) - "A tangy root-beer edge turns flashy red fruit - strawberry, rhubarb - into a crowd pleaser."

Under "Special Occasions, $30 to $50" Sunset selected:

Samsara 2007 Melville Vineyard Syrah (Sta Rita Hills, $40) - Juicy and long - black fruit seasoned with pepper and structure that's almost Rhône-like."

Tensley 2007 Colson Canyon Grenache (Santa Barbara County, $32) - "Hibiscus-scented cherry flavors have an intriguing underside of herbs and spices, black tea and earth."

Under "Deep Pockets, Over $50" Sunset picked:

Justin 2007 Isosceles (Paso Robles, $62) - "A powerful, age-worthy Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) with dark fruit, cedar, tobacco, espresso and a sprinkling of black pepper."


Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast

Sunset's recent SAVOR the Central Coast event brought over 7,200 food and wine lovers to Santa Margarita, California and put two million dollars into the San Luis Obispo County economy.  These figures have been released by Cal Poly finance professor Kenneth Riener, in conjunction with independent research firm Productive Impact.

San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Conference Bureau Executive Director John Summer is already looking forward to the 2011 event, and so is Sunset magazine.  President of the Sunset Publishing Corporation, Barbara Newton, also confirms that SAVOR is set to become a highly anticipated annual event.  “For 2011, we are fully on-board, and our intention is to continue to do it.”

Southern California provided most of the non-local attendance, but San Luis Obispo County had visitors from as far away as Waco, Texas and London, England for the weekend food and wine event.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


The Pairing

This wine was purchased as a food and wine pairing experiment.  It started at the recent Artisanal L.A. show in downtown Los Angeles.  Max Lesser, owner of Morning Glory Confections, asked Denise and I to come up with a pairing involving his New Mexico Chili and Pumpkin Seed Brittle.  I had the idea of pairing it with a Roussanne because I felt the grape’s natural funkiness was a good match for the offbeat brittle ingredients.  Denise thought some goat cheese would form an unbeatable triple play.

A fortunate mistake had me pick up herb goat cheese instead of plain, but Denise felt it worked even better than she had imagined.  The mouthful of brittle, herb goat cheese and a Roussanne blend was nothing short of fantastic.  Max liked it, too.

The Roussanne blend is produced by Andre Brunel, a Châteuneuf-du-Pape producer, but these grapes are from the Côtes-du-Rhône - 50% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc and 20% Clairette.  It has 13% abv and carries a price tag of $17.  The grapes are grown in the clay and limestone soil on the Rhône Valley, and the wine does not undergo malolactic fermentation.

It’s a pale yellow wine, with a nose showing a banana-meets-guava tropicality, some minerals and spices along with a vanilla note.  Full and round on the palate, the taste offers a savory tartness or zestiness of citrus, a ripping acidity - a must if you’re pairing with candy - and a lemon-lime finish with an underlying nutty flavor way in the back.

By the way, the wine also paired quite nicely with another purchase from Artisanal L.A. - the Welsh Cakes from The Welsh Baker!  They call them "Not quite a cookie, not quite a scone," and that seems a reasonably good description.  Welsh Cakes and wine make a pretty good little snack.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The Free Beer's Here!

October 23rd and 24th, 2010, Artisanal L.A. populated the Cooper Building in downtown Los Angeles with locally grown and produced food items.  Bee people were there, brittle people were there - even a few tarts

The beer people were a little late setting up their display on Sunday - beer people are like that, sometimes - but when they finally did show up, half the people in the penthouse space rushed the unadorned folding table.  I call the image at left “The Free Beer’s Here,” because this is what the crush looked like when everyone tried to get next to a tap.

I was eager to try Eagle Rock Brewery’s suds, because I have yet to make it to the actual brewery despite invitations - even pleading - from friends.  I’m sure Eagle Rock has quite an assortment of brews available at any one time, but they offered only two at this event.  Here’s what they were pouring:

Solidarity, Black Mild Ale - A British style of ale, medium-bodied and with a low alcohol level - 3.9% abv - for easy drinking.  It’s quite dark, much like a stout, but has neither the head nor heft of a stout.  It seems a little thin, perhaps because I expected something a bit more robust considering the dark tint.  That aside, it’s a flavorful drink.  Rather complex on the nose and palate, the aromas and flavors of coffee and nuts abound.

Stimulus, Belgian Amber with Intelligentsia Coffee - Smelling of lemons and caramel, the coffee in this one is a delicious surprise feature.  First of all, the color doesn’t tip its hand.  It’s amber colored, with no unusual darkness to suggest a jolt of caffeine.  Even the flavor profile, which reminds me more of a Heath bar, allows the coffee feature to take quite some time to come around.  This one is a more full-bodied affair than Solidarity, with a much greater weight and clocking in at 7.75% abv.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Wine In Movies

Wine has played more than a supporting role in some of Hollywood's greatest films.  Here are some of my favorite movies in which wine has played a big role.  What are some of yours?  Feel free to comment!

In Sideways, Paul Giamatti takes his friend on a wine soaked bachelor party weekend in Santa Barbara wine country, with hilarious results.

Bottle Shock tells the story of the most famous wine tasting event in history, the Judgment of Paris, which catapulted California onto the big wine map.

Corked! is a dry mockumentary which targets everything about the California wine industry, from the grape pickers to the winemakers to the wine press.        

El Camino del Vino (The Ways of the Wine) This a movie just out this year, in which a famous sommelier travels to Argentina for a prestigious wine tasting event and - horror of horrors - he loses his ability to taste.

Mondovino, a documentary, is a condensation of a 10-part television series.  It explores the globalization of the wine industry and its effect on artisanal winemakers.   

There's A Girl In My Soup features Peter Sellers taking Goldie Hawn to France for a wine tasting farce.  It's a lightweight flick which is more valuable for its kitsch factor than anything else.

Of course, For Humphrey Bogart, the Champagne never stops flowing in Casablanca, while brandy is his drink in The Big Sleep. Wallace Shawn's wine goblet "Battle of Wits" with the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride is classic, and French Kiss, the romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline, centers around Kline's desire to own a vineyard.

In The Jerk, Steve Martin's character wants to splurge in a fancy restaurant, asking the waiter to bring him "some fresh wine - none of that 1966 stuff."

Monday, October 25, 2010


King Estate Pinot Gris

After quaffing a Rioja as an opener and warming up a bit in the cool Santa Monica lunchtime breeze, my visit to The Lobster turned toward more appropriate fare.  Ordering clam chowder and the sea scallop dish that always turns my head there, I asked for an Oregon Pinot Gris.

The King Estate wine is $9 by the glass and a light straw color.  The nose shows some green apple and citrus, and the freshness is obvious on the first whiff.

Zippy, fresh citrus flavors dominate the palate with a peach note coming forward.  The acidity is quite nice and a fairly good minerality lasts beyond the finish.  It's a good match for the chowder and the scallops.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Martin Codax Rioja

The Lobster in Santa Monica is one of those restaurants where I expect to order white wine.  On my last visit to the seafood-with-an-ocean-view mainstay at the entance to the Santa Monica Pier I was seeing red.  Even though it was a brilliantly sunny day and we were seated right by the window, the ocean breeze blowing in through the open window actually gave me a bit of a chill.  I opted for a little warmup in the form of Martin Codax Rioja Tempranillo.  I certainly wasn't giving up the window seat!

The Spanish Tempranillo, at $7 per glass, is one of the more affordable offerings on The Lobster's extensive - and pricey - wine list.  It also served as a wonderful pre-lunch drink for folks like me who don't particularly go for Bloody Marys.  Looking around the restaurant, it seemed I was of the minority opinion on that issue.  There were a lot of celery stalks bringing in the noon hour.

This dark wine is very fruit forward on the nose with minerals apparent.  Cherry aromas mingle with an earthiness that makes me anxious to taste.

The lean and elegant palate shows earth and leathery blackberry and cherry, quite a dark flavor profile.  It's very dry with smooth tannins and a great acidity.

It's almost a shame I had no skirt steak or ribs to pair with it, but I was happy to sip it while dragging a slice of bread through the olive oil.  The fabulous pairing would come later. when my scallops would meet an Oregon Pinot Gris.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Celebrate Argentina

The wines of Argentina are not my strong suit of knowledge.  Happily, I was able to add to my personal database with Celebrate Argentina 2010, another great Learn About Wine tasting event, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on October 21st.


There were some things which surprised me about Argentine wine.  

The predominance of unoaked or “underoaked” red wines took me by surprise.  Red wines - even Cabernet Sauvignon - that are not aged in oak barrels are somewhat a rarity in California and France.  In Argentina, “Hold the oak!” is not an uncommon call to hear.

Kent Smith, Western Regional Manager for wine importers Vino Del Sol, speculated that one reason for the lack of oak might be, “oak barrels are expensive.”  Waving his hand around the room, Smith explained, “A lot of these wineries are small, family operations.  Buying new oak barrels every year simply isn’t an option for them."

Smith offered another potential explanation for Argentina’s fondness of unoaked reds - good fruit.  “Many of the Argentine vineyards are hand-picked.  That means they can go through a vineyard multiple times to select the grape clusters when they are at the exact best ripeness for picking.  With all that great fruit, you don’t need oak’s enhancements.  You’ve got it all in the grapes.”

Maybe that's pride talking, maybe he’s right.  All I know is that the quality of the wines at Celebrate Argentina 2010 was quite high.  Cabs seemed to be the grape variety that most often got the no-oak treatment, and it really gave the fruit a chance to shine in ways I don’t normally get to experience in California wine.  

I was told there are only a couple dozen wineries in Argentina which are organic.  Winemaker Gustavo Caligiore gave me that tidbit while pouring his organic wines.  When I complemented him on his youthful appearance, he replied, "Maybe it's the organic wine."  He's obviously a winemaker and a pitchman.

I noticed great acidity levels in all the wines I tasted - there wasn’t a flabby one in the bunch.  The high elevation of the vineyards along the Andes Mountains is credited by some for the nice acid found in many Argentine wines.

The Pinot Noirs were all very strange to my palate.  They were mostly very dark in aroma and flavor with high acidity and big tannins.  It’s good juice, just not the delicate touch I'm used to in a Pinot Noir

A producer from Patagonia poured Malbecs which all smelled like Band-Aids or plastic, even though his other wines were not similarly affected.  The Pinot Noir he poured seemed absolutely rugged.  I was told there is a lot of mineral in the soil of Patagonia and it changes the flavor profile.  A young, tattooed fellow explained that Patagonian Pinot Noir was usually very good, if quite different from California Pinots.  He said at one tasting event he attended, the representatives from New Zealand tasted the Patagonian Pinot and swore it must have been something else.  During the construction of the Patagonian winery, a 75-million-year-old dinosaur was unearthed.  Now that's terroir.

I had seen an interview with an Argentine wine producer just days before the event, and she pointed out that Argentina never needed to export wine because in-country demand was so high.  At the event, one rep told me wine sales are dropping now in Argentina, largely because younger people are leaving wine and drinking more beer and cocktails.

Tasting NotesTasting Notes From Celebrate Argentina 2010

Cabernet Sauvignon

Interesting Cabs from Orfila, including an unoaked '08 with floral elements on the nose and an herbal touch on the palate.  Their '08 Roble Cabernet Sauvignon shows minerals and smoke on the nose with plums on the palate and good grip.  The '08 Solar De Orfila Cab has ten months in American oak and shows plenty of earthy, dark fruit.

Familia Zuccardi brought a Cab which, according to my pourer, was named a Wine Enthusiast Best Value Wine Of The Year.  The '08 Santa Julia Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon has a lilting nose and an earthy berry palate for $12.

Las Moras brought the '08 Alma Mora Cab.  San Juan fruit and no oak at all make a great tasting red.  This stainless steel Cab has a subtle nose and cherry notes on the palate.  I might have mistaken it for a Pinot Noir.

Santa Ana '09 Eco Cabernet Sauvignon only does six months time in oak, but turns in an earthy performance.  It's very dry, but not too grippy.

Atamisque '08 Cantalpa Malbec is 40% oaked in French wood for twelve months and is bright and earthy.  Their '07 Atamisque Malbec is from 90-year-old vines in Vista Flores, Mendoza.  It sees wood for fourteen months and is smooth and complex.

Orfila, unrepresented in the U.S., had several Malbecs to pour.  The '08 is unoaked with a soft cherry nose and bright, red fruit with good acidity.  Their '08 Roble Malbec offers big red fruit on the nose and palate, the '08 Solar De Orfila Malbec is a dry wine with a dark nose and a hint of rocks, and dark fruit on the palate.

Caligiore, from Lujan de Cuyo, poured an organic '09 Malbec, 20% of which is in oak for twelve months.  The fruit comes from 80-year-old vines, and the wine is bright and extremely dry.

Carelli uses Ugo Valley fruit for their '06 Malbec.  This wine has to earn its $78 price tag with a light-as-a-feather nose showing rose petals and cinnamon.  Black plums and clove dance on the palate while the finish brings a flash of vanilla.

Cielo Y Tierra is owned by composer Gustavo Santaolalla, a two-time Oscar winner for the scores of Brokeback Mountain and Babel.  His wine certainly hits the right notes.  2005 was his first vintage as owner, and the '05 Don Juan Hahuel Reserva Malbec must have made him quite pleased.  It's a multi-vineyard effort that's oaked for 24 months and carries 14% alcohol.  It shows a plummy and earthy palate, very dry with great grip.

The Familia Zuccardi '08 Malbec is very dry, with raspberry in a smoky setting.

Las Moras '08 Alma Mora Malbec shows a very cheery cherry palate and considerable earthy notes.  The wine spent only three months in oak.

De Los Clop poured their '09 Malbec made in Steel.  The nose is full of rich, bright red fruit while the palate shows a freshness and earthiness at once.

Pascual Toso '08 Reserve Malbec is a very dark and intense wine.  The raspberry notes on the palate are broodingly dry.

Santa Ana '09 Eco Malbec - from the winery's new organic line - spends six months in oak and rames red fruit in some dark and earthy notes.  Very dry.

Zorzal broke out the '08 Climax Malbec, which recieved a 91-point score from a famous wine critic.  The 20 months in oak impart a smoky, earthy framework for all that dark fruit.


Atamisque '07 Assemblage blends Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 15 months in new French oak makes this an unusual effort for Argentina, and it spent two years in the bottle. It's got rich flavor and is extremely dry with great grip.

Familia Schroeder's blend of Pinot Noir and Malbec was an experience.  I thought I'd love it, but I didn't.  My pourer suggested that maybe the "Burgundians and the Bordeaux don't get along so well," but the other Malbecs from this producer hit me the wrong way, too.  A rather pungent smell and taste of plastic, or band aids, was present in all their Malbecs I tried.

Caligiore poured their '10 Staccato blend of 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine sees no oak.  Its nose is like fresh cherries with a taste that's bright and dry.

Clos de los Siete poured two fantastic blends.  The '08 namesake wine is a combination of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot.  It has a great nose. and a luscious mouthfeel.  The '07 Diamandes is a 70/30 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  80-year-old vines produce an extremely dark and extremely dry wine that definitely muscles up.  Tons of minerals in this one really deliver the complexity.

Sophenia's '07 Synthesis Blend has 40% Malbec, 35% Cab and 25% Merlot.  A rich smoky nose leads to minerals and earth on the palate.  It spends 14 months in French oak.

The '08 Henry Lagarde Guarda Blend mixes Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah in a spicy and fruity treat that sells for $50 or so.

Urraca brought some '07 Familia Langley Reserva, a blend of 50% Malbec, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Dark fruit and a beefy aroma fill up the nose, while the palate is dark and mouth-puckering.

Zorzal's '09 Cabernet-Malbec Reserve is 60% Malbec.  Twelve months in oak, but I would not have guessed it.  The nose is so fresh and ripe and red.  Big minerals on the palate and a dry finish.

White Wines

I've had the Alamos Malbec a number of times in Los Angeles restaurants and I like it.  I tried their Chardonnay and Torrontes this time.  The '09 Chardonnay shows a nose that strikes me as fairly oaky for a wine that only had six months in French and American barrels.  The palate, surprisingly, doesn't show much oak.  Minerals and fruit play evenly.  The Alamos '09 Torrontes smells of honeysuckle and grapefruit with a sweetness right up front on the palate and nice acidity.

Atamisque's '09 Cantalpa Chardonnay is unoaked, has a light nose and a rich taste with really great acidity.

Familia Zuccardi has a Torrontes - '09 Serie A Salta - which smells and tastes very much like Champagne!

Sophenia is located in Tupungato, 4,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains.  Their '09 Synthesis Sauvignon Blanc has a grassy, herbal nose and a big grapefruit taste.

De Los Clop's '10 Chardonnay is all steel, all Chardonnay with malolactic fermentation.  There's a hefty load of minerals with good acidity in this austere wine.

Luigi Bosca's '09 Finca La Linda Torrontes shows a floral nose with a layer of sweetness, like honey.  I taste grapefruit notes with tropical and floral elements.

Santa Ana '09 Eco Torrontes, made with organic grapes, is 100% Torrontes.  It's quite floral with good acidity and honeysuckle and tropical flavor profile.

Tapiz poured a Torrontes that's very fruity and has a huge honeysuckle element on the nose and palate.

Trapiche is Argentina's biggest producer, and I'm well versed on their Torrontes, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon because they are served at a restaurant I frequent.  This my first opportunity to try the Trapiche Extra Brut, and interesting sparkler which is 60% Chardonnay, 30% Semillon and 10% Malbec!  There's a slight funk on the nose - just right - and a toasty twist of citrus on the palate.

Urraca poured the Chardonnay I had tasted at a Los Angeles wine store tasting a few weeks earlier.  Still smells and tastes like Champagne without the bubbles.  Amazing Chardonnay.

Other Varieties

Caligiore's winemaker, Gustavo Caligiore, told me that the Bonarda grape is the second most planted grape in Argentina.  Only 20% of his '09 Caligiore Bonarda sees oak and the fruit is from 40-year-old vines on his family's estate.  It's very fruity with lip-smacking acidity.

Familia Schroeder poured two Pinot Noirs.  The '07 Saurus has a lovely rose petal nose - which reminded me of a white wine - and bright strawberries on the palate.  The '07 Saurus Patagonia Select also has a lovely nose with cherry and strawberry on the palate and a nice acidity.

Luigi Bosca '08 Reserva Pinot Noir has rose petal on the nose with raspberry and beef on the palate.  It's very earthy with a good finish and nice acidity.  Eight months in oak.

Zolo Bonarda is dark and earthy on the nose with more of same on the palate.  Dry and a bit grippy.  Recommended with barbecue.


Atamisque poured an '09 Malbec rose that shows a rich color and a beautiful cherry and strawberry taste.  It is quite dry and has good acidity.

Caligiore has an organic Malbec rose, the '09 Pianissimo.  It lives up to its name with a lovely and delicate texture.  The color is rich and the taste is laden with strawberry and melon.

Familia Schroeder, of Patagonia, brought a rose sparkling wine.  The Rosa de los Vientos is 100% Pinot Noir and is as delightfully full of minerals as it is of bubbles.

De Los Clop's rosé is 100% Malbec with a gigantic strawberry nose and cherry and strawberry fruit to taste.  Beautiful.

Seeking Representation

A number of wineries at the show were looking for U.S. representation, among them:

Orfila (Martin Tamburelli at
Cielo Y Tierra (Ignacio Velasco at
Don Cristobal (Cristobal Lapania at
Don Manuel Villafane (Luis Suriana at
Eclipse (Jose Saravia-Brun at
Finca Quara (Ricardo Puebla at
De Los Clop (Sebastian Sicilia at
Los Toneles (Cristian Williams at
Poesia (Adriana Montenegro at
Quattrocchi (Debora Franco Quattrocchi at
Tierras Altas (Juan Pablo Rodriguez Reta at

Friday, October 22, 2010


Ortman O2 Chardonnay

Ortman Family Vineyards of Paso Robles, under the direction of second-generation winemaker Matt Ortman, has released the O2 Series Sangiovese.

Today I turn my attention toward Ortman's O2 Series Chardonnay 2009.  The younger Ortman has a tough act to follow here, as dad Chuck made his name with this variety - so much so that he earned the nickname "Mr. Chardonnay."

The O2 Series Chardonnay retails for $18, is 100% Chardonnay fruit of the Central Coast and carries an alcohol level of 14.2%.  959 cases of it were produced.

The wine shows a beautiful pale golden color in the glass with a lovely apricot nose.  There’s a citrus zing right up front on the palate, and minerals to spare, which show just a hint of flintiness.  A tropical-meets-cantaloupe flavor develops as the citrus zest begins to fade.  The wine is anything but flabby, with an acidity that is lively even on the finish.  There’s a touch of oak, but no more than that.  That's not surprising, as the Ortman way with Chardonnay lets the fruit do the talking.

I paired the O2 Series Chardonnay with a delicious honey-baked squash that Denise whipped up on the spur of the moment.  The acidity was more than enough for the vegetable, and the honey really hit some highlights in the wine which were brought forward deliciously.  If there is anyone out there who still says "Anything But Chardonnay," they should try this one.  

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Wine Report

Wine writer Jancis Robinson recently reported on a study by Master of Wine Tim Hanni and Dr Virginia Utermohlen, MD, Associate Professor at Cornell University.  The study found that, according to Hanni, "physiology plays a major role in determining wine preferences."  He goes on to say the study showed that "drinkers of wines such as White Zinfandel ... are often the most sensitive tasters."  Hanni says these findings indicate "glaring errors in understanding by the wine industry (which) have led to the disenfranchisement of millions of consumers."

To boil it down, the study shows that traditional thinking on what determines a wine's quality may have to be thrown out the window.  Since your palate is determined by physiology - and thus varies from person to person - it may be that there's no way to say what constitutes a good wine.  One person's Châteauneuf-du-Pape is another person's White Zin.  And, if the findings of this study are true, all the criticism that lovers of White Zinfandel have endured for not being "serious" wine drinkers will have to be thrown out the window as well.

In the article, Robinson explains, "Utermohlen and Hanni developed a means of segmenting the wine market into four basic phenotypes - Sweet, Delicate, Smooth and Tolerant - based on physiological and behavioral criteria."  Your assessment of a given wine's perceived quality depends on which of these phenotypes describe your preferences.

Hanni says, "'The industry message to consumers who prefer light, delicate and sweet wines is that they need to become more 'educated' and 'move up' to higher quality wines; ie dry wines.  Our study reveals distinct physiological differences in human sensory anatomy and indicates that the people with the greatest taste sensitivity may well indeed be White Zinfandel drinkers and not the consumers of highly rated, intense red wines.  The industry is guilty of alienating a large segment of consumers who frequently opt for other sweet beverage options or even stop drinking wine altogether."

The message to the wine industry might well be "Hey, those White Zin drinkers aren't a bunch of know-nothings after all!  Better start inviting them to the party."  That might be good advice, since White Zinfandel accounts for around 10% of all supermarket wine sales and supermarket wine sales are said to account for 40% of total U.S. wine sales.

For as long as I've been interested in wine I have said, "The best wine in the world is the one you like best."  A 99-point wine is no good at all if you don't like it.  So drink what you like.  Those wine scores may be coming from someone in a whole different phenotype.

Read Jancis Robinson's article on this study here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Le Jardin de Charlotte

Domaine 547 is a boutique wine store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.  I don't know why it took me so long to check it out, but I'm glad I did.  All the choices seemed to be the kind that are hand-selected by a careful owner, not just product stacked on the shelves.  The store seems to always have one of L.A.'s ubiquitous food trucks parked outside during tastings, and they don't seem to mind if you bring your eats inside while you shop.  The day I was there, LudoTruck was serving on the side street.  Quite a crowd was inside the store, lounging in the open area, noshing and talking.

As usual, I wanted everything I saw.  Fortunately, Denise helped me whittle the choices down to one Bourgogne Pinot Noir that caught her eye.

Le Jardin de Charlotte carries an alcohol level of only 12.5%.  It cost $18, if I remember correctly.

The nose is abundant with fruit - blackberry, blueberry and mostly plum, but an earthy quality frames the fruit and a streak of spice runs through it.  It tastes of earth even more significantly than on the nose.  Plums dominate the fruit of the palate, but the minerality supersedes it completely.  It’s definitely not a "fruit-forward" wine.  The extreme earthiness may not be everyone's delight - I wasn't that taken with it while merely sipping.  Pair it with food, though, and it kicks into high gear.  I had it with figs from the Santa Monica Farmers' Market and a mild Alsatian cheese from the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills.  It was delicious with both, triple that for all three combined.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


San Gabriel Valley vineyard

A fascinating story of winemaking in Los Angeles County - specifically the San Gabriel Valley - will be told by Charles Perry at the Los Angeles County Arboretum on Sunday October 24, 2010.  Perry is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times Food Section and the co-founder of the Culinary Historians of Southern California.  He'll tell this remarkable story from 4:00 until 6:00 p.m., and then host a wine tasting afterward.  The cost for this event is $25 for Arboretum members, $30 for non-members.

The press release for this event staes that if you've only heard California's wine history told by the mention of sacramental wines followed by an immediate leap to Napa and Sonoma, you may be surprised to find that Los Angeles County was the first place in the country where premium wine varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon were made.  In the latter part of the 19th century the wines of Los Angeles County were exported to the East Coast and Europe, and L.A. County was the nation's leading wine producer for about 50 years.

Perry's compelling story is full of colorful characters.  Hugo Reid received the grant to the land called Rancho Santa Anita and tended to the existing vines from the mission days.  He added even more vines and was one of California's wine pioneers.  After Reid's death, the land was taken over by Benjamin D. Wilson, and later Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin made wine on the property.  The Arboretum - and the Baldwin Winery building on the grounds of Santa Anita racetrack - are all that remain of the Rancho Santa Anita land grant.

Anyone with an interest in the history of winemaking in California should find this to be an illuminating afternoon.  For more information or to purchase tickets call 626.821.4623 or email

Monday, October 18, 2010


Ojai Vineyards Thompson Vineyard Syrah

Greenblatt's Deli on Sunset Boulevard is not only a very fine deli, it also happens to be a fine wine shop.  Now that's a combination I can live with.  I had some time to kill and took the opportunity to have a great glass of wine while browsing the racks there.  I actually skipped the deli altogether and ordered a glass of the 2005 Ojai Vineyards Thompson Vineyard Syrah.

While browsing, I noticed Greenblatt's had this wine by the bottle, marked down from $45 to $30.  That's quite a bargain, and the $12 by-the-glass price isn't bad either.

The wine is colored very darkly, with purple tinting at the edges.  The nose is great, with blackberries and an earthy, beefy aroma coming forth.  It's very dark on the palate, too, with blackberries and plums giving way to black pepper and mocha on the finish.

If you get the chance, Greenblatt's is a great browse.  They cover a nice stretch, from $7 Borsao (which is great, by the way) to Screaming Eagle, with a lot of nice wines in the $20 range.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Konig Sauvignon Blanc

Alone in the restaurant, all alone.  It was just the two of us at lunch.  A busy week was winding down and we had the place all to ourselves for a nice, quiet lunch before heading into the final round of battle.  We picked a booth all the way across the restaurant from the front door, and slid into the corner seats.  All alone.

Well, enjoy it while you can.  In Los Angeles the ruination of a quiet moment is never too far away.  And this one was ruined by the loudest, most talkative person in town - a town, mind you, where they produce loud, talkative people for export to other states - who crossed the empty restaurant and sat down with her lunch companion right next to us.  An entire restaurant full of empty tables to choose from, and she sat right next to us.

Before five minutes had passed, we knew her job description, the make of her car, a few assorted pet peeves and her gynecologist's name.

It worked out for the best, though.  We asked the waitress to move us to another table, and we picked one right next to the window.  The view of the traffic on the street outside was so much nicer than listening to her bore that poor guy she was with.  He never got a word in, edgewise or otherwise.

We had each other's company, a nice day, a new table off to ourselves - again - and a wonderful lunch.  Oh, lookie - a wine list.  I believe I will.

Honig Vineyard and Winery hails from Napa Valley, subscribes to sustainable farming practices and goes the extra mile, playing just about every eco-friendly card in the deck.  Michael Honig is quite serious about making sure his winery plays well with the earth.  He even gives it a "green report card" which shows his estimate of how green they are.  Winemaker Kristin Belair has been with the winery since 1998.

The Honig Sauvignon Blanc is a pale yellow-green color and shows tropical notes on the nose along with a nice mineral component.  It tastes somewhat like pineapple, somewhat like lemons and limes.  There is a very slight touch of green pepper on the finish.  It's creamy in the mouth, but has a nice acidity.  It's not an extremely crisp wine - it got a bit lost when it went up against a spicy Pan-Asian curry dish at Buddha's Belly.  It went quite well with the chicken salad and the egg rolls, though.


Oak Ridge Winery OVZ

Some pretty fantastic wines are coming out of Lodi, CA these days.  Zinfandel is a specialty of the region, owing to its Mediterranean climate and the alluvial soil.

Winegrower Rudy Maggio and his partners, Don and Rocky Reynolds, acquired Oak Ridge Winery in 2001, and for the winery's OZV senior winemaker Chue Her utilizes fruit from gnarled, low-yielding vines that are as much as 120 years old.

The OZV is made up of 95% Zinfandel and 5% mixed estate varieties.  It shows 13.4% abv, a pretty low alcohol number for a California - especially Lodi - Zinfandel.  This bottle retails for $20, but I grabbed it on sale for $17.

OZV shows a fairly dark ruby color in the glass, with a nose of big, bold raspberry, strawberry and cherry aromas.  There's a hint of earthiness that grew each night the bottle was open, becoming a little darker and more tar-like over three nights.  The nose is so big and fruity, it's almost candylike, with a huge play of anise like you'd find in black licorice.  The complexity continues with a touch of chocolate aroma layered underneath.

The palate sports earthy brambles and a hint of coffee on the finish.  The wine is very smooth and silky, with fine tannins and a bright, lively acidity that makes for a juicy and lip-smacking experience.  It's a great tasting, smooth drinking wine I would love to try with rosemary pork chops or a smoked ham.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Cimarone 3CV Syrah

The “tent sale” that Wally's Wine and Spirits throws every now and zin on Westwood Boulevard is a huge attraction for me.  I just love the whole “circus of wine” atmosphere that big tent over the parking lot produces.  And, as I have mentioned before, I love a bargain.

The biggest bargains at the tent sale are usually found on the highest-priced products.  50% off an $800 wine still leaves it a bit out of my neighborhood.  But even if I'm only saving $3 on a $20 wine, that gives me something else to feel good about.

Not that I needed much more to feel good about with Cimarone's 3CV Syrah.  This estate-grown, Santa Ynez Valley wine is a joy from start to glorious finish.

3CV stands for Three Creek Vineyard, which is where the fruit is grown.  Syrah clones 877, 383 and Noir are gathered for this limited release.  The fruit is certified organic.  My bottle is marked as “0514 of 6900.”

Roger and Priscilla Higgins, owners of Cimarone, hired the right man for the winemaking job.  Esteemed juiceman Doug Margerum made a name for himself when his family bought Santa Barbara's Wine Cask, then formed his own company, Margerum Wine Company.  He also makes wine for Barrack Wines and Cent'anne, in addition to Cimarone.  He's a busy guy.

The fruit is from the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County.  3CV Syrah is aged ten months in neutral oak and has 14.5 abv.  The 3CV label is Cimarone's outlet for younger, affordable, early drinking wines.

The nose of anise, pepper and plums is quite enjoyable.  It's a dark purple that's difficult to see through.  The taste of black fruit and earth is lush, and it's compounded by the smoothness of the wine.  The tannins are like silk, but it has a great acidity and is nice and dry.  This wine drinks great immediately, and it takes on a bit of a tar component if left open for two or three days.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Ortman O2 Series Sangiovese

Ortman Family Vineyards of Paso Robles, in California's Central Coast wine region, has unveiled a new line of wines which appears to target the younger generation of wine drinkers.  Called the O2 Series, the line is spearheaded by second-generation winemaker Matt Ortman.  The bottles feature rakish, slanted labels and the wines are promised to be "fruit-forward and food-friendly in the Ortman style."

Three wines make up the line, a Chardonnay, a red blend and a Sangiovese, all of which were provided to me for review.  It's the Tuscan-styled effort we are tasting here.  The Sangiovese carries a suggested retail price of $20 and 13.8% abv.  517 cases were produced.

Inspired by Matt and Lisa Ortman's honeymoon in Tuscany, The O2 Sangiovese comes from the fruit of Bob Goodwin's Algunas Dias Vineyard in the upper foothills of Paso Robles.  It's 100% Sangiovese.

The wine is medium garnet in color, a very pretty hue, and I can barely see my fingers through the glass.  The nose is big and fruity - cherries and blueberries leap out - and clove spice is apparent.  On the palate I get big red cherries with an herbal component that’s almost tar-like.  The fruit is in the driver’s seat, but some fairly strong minerality is riding shotgun.  On first sip I think, "Well, this is pretty straightforward."  Then, while rolling the wine around in my mouth I think, "Wait a minute - this isn’t so simple!"  It’s a complex flavor profile, and a nice acidity makes for a lively mouthfeel.  After the cherry-cola finish, I’m eager for the next sip.

Ortman's O2 Sangiovese offers a bigger, fuller mouthfeel than I usually find in the variety.  The spices and big cherry presence remind me of the flavors of the holidays.  The Ortmans suggest pairing their Sangiovese with lasagna or beef stew (or anything Tuscan).  I think it would go very well with a grilled pork chop, or a porchetta. Or that beef stew.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Pasadena Wine Festival

The Pasadena Wine Festival was held Saturday October 9, 2010 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia.  I'm sure festival planners were hoping for weather more like autumn than summer, but it was summer they got.  Temperatures in the mid 90s and only a spot of shade to be found here and there - unusual, I think, for a venue with "arbor" in its name - caused afternoon wine lovers to bake in the hot sun.

Many long tables were provided where people were expected to rest their weary feet, but they were in the middle of the treeless plain.  Anyone found sitting there during the afternoon must have simply passed out there.

Even in the heat, people seemed to be enjoying themselves.  There were a few issues that I felt could be improved on for next year's event.  Here they are:

More wineries - The huge expanse of the grounds seemed to swallow up the dozen or so booths that were arranged in an open rectangle.  With only a few wines poured at each table, there just didn't seem to be that much offered.  France was represented by 4 wines, one of them Hob Nob.

Shade - If you can't find trees at an arboretum, can you at least bring in some umbrellas?  Nighttime visitors didn't have this concern.  To be fair, most people seemed to be having a nice - if hot - day in the sun.

Cost - The base admission price of $28 seemed to afford only entry to the grounds.  After that, it was pay-per-taste or upgrade to a VIP ticket.

Parking - $13 to park at Santa Anita seems pretty high, and that's what you had to pay if you got there after the Arboretum parking was filled, which didn't take long.

Volunteers - Their work was appreciated, but forget about finding out anything about the wines that were poured.  Winery reps - or at least volunteers who knew something about the wines - would have been a much better choice.

Bottles in the sun.Hot booths - The workers seemed to able to find shade as they poured, but the bottles of wine were sitting in the direct afternoon sun for hours before I saw some attempt at shading them.

Organization - Maybe it was just a slow start, but everyone seemed to be scrambling to get things done upon opening.  An hour into the event, I finally found someone who knew where to pick up the free stemware.

Food Trucks - A lot of the food trucks everyone loves were there, but at least one was charging more than the prices posted on their own sign.  After a customer complained, the sign was quickly taken down, but the customer was charged the higher price anyway.

Waste Buckets - Sure, with people paying for every sip, there probably wasn't much call for spit buckets.  But those who upgraded to VIP, and people who wanted to do all the tasting and still be able to drive home, were left without a nice way to dispose of the taste.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Dale's Pale Ale

Baby Blues BBQ in West Hollywood has some of the best barbecue in Southern California.  Some of you may think that's like being the best politician in Alaska, but let me tell you, there is some seriously good barbecue in Los Angeles.  It has to be great to even be considered good.

Baby Blues describes their offerings as St. Louis-style ribs, dry-rubbed brisket, pork that is slow-roasted in Guinness draft and a sauce from the western part of North Carolina.  It's a hybrid barbecue restaurant, is what it is.

I know a lot of people like to banter about what kind of wine they pair with barbecue, but there are some foods that simply call for beer.  Mexican food, Indian food and barbecue are on the top of that list for me.

Baby Blues does have an interesting - if brief - wine list, but their beer list is what captures my attention.

I had a combo platter that featured a hot link, some brisket and some pulled pork.  That's three food groups right there.  A meat lovin' meal like that calls for a great beer, and that's what Dale's Pale Ale is.

It's labeled as a Rocky Mountain Pale Ale on the can - yes, the can - and an alcohol content of 6.5% abv is listed.

It pours up pretty in the glass, a nice golden-brown color with a fluffy white head that takes a while to dissipate.  The nose is very hoppy with some faint citrus notes.  On the palate, a slightly bitter, floral taste is predominant, and it cries out to be paired with something spicy.

That's where Dale's Pale Ale did the heavy lifting - when matched with the very spicy hot link.  A nice, nutty finish left a clean taste afterward.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Twin Fin Shiraz

I’m not one who thinks a low-priced wine has to be cheap.  I’ve had plenty of wines at less than ten dollars per bottle which I found quite nice.  Even at the five-dollar mark, it’s not impossible to find quality.  Twin Fin Shiraz is a six-dollar wine which was given as a gift from a casino in Las Vegas.  I happen to like the casino, so I’ll leave them out of this.
Produced at the Constellation Wines facility in Woodbridge, CA, Twin Fin shares the corporate umbrella with labels like Mondavi, Ravenswood, Estancia, Blackstone and a number of other perfectly decent wines that are found in a lot of supermarkets.
I cannot locate any information on where the grapes are sourced for the 2006 vintage, but in the past, Twin Fin has taken Syrah from Monterey County, Lodi, North Coast and Paso Robles. I would guess this changes from year to year, and that the most affordable grapes are used.
The nose is big, but not that enticing.  Blackberry aromas struggle to fight through the alcohol.  It’s only 13.5% abv, so something doesn’t smell quite right.  Speaking of, there’s a bit of a barnyard fragrance coming through that’s not entirely pleasant.  There's quite a bit of oak effect in it, too.  The smell of a wine is supposed to make me want to drink it.  This bouquet makes me want to pour it down the drain.

Thin and harsh are two words I hate to use when writing about a wine, but this wine simply can’t offer anything better.  The dark fruit is there, along with a peppery spice note.  The flavors, which should be so nice, seem too heavily influenced by oak.  Between the off-putting odor and the weak quality on the palate there’s not much nice to say.  It’s a pretty, dark purple. Maybe I can just look at it while I drink something else.
The wine does mellow a bit after an hour or so in the glass, losing some of the heat and a bit of the funk, but it still has a rather hollow mouthfeel and contrived flavor profile.  Two nights later it had mellowed even more, but the weight was still thin and the taste was off.  
Six dollars isn't a lot to pay for a bottle of wine, but I still think it's overpriced.  The fact that it was a gift doesn't make me feel any better about it.  I'd have been happier had the casino given me Two Buck Chuck.

Monday, October 11, 2010


San Antonio Winery

The winemaker dinner I attended at San Antonio Winery in downtown Los Angeles  on October 9, 2010 was eye-opening in more ways than one.

Not only was it my first visit to the oldest working winery in Los Angeles, I’m ashamed to say,  but it was also the first visit for many at my table - including someone who lives next door to one of the principal figures in the winery!  I was also corrected on my uninformed opinion that San Antonio Winery was a lonely, neglected building hidden among a bunch of warehouses.

True, the landscape in this part of downtown L.A. is a bit industrial.  True, Lamar Street, on which the winery is located, has a fairly large population of big trucks - even on Saturday afternoon.  But forget the notion that San Antonio Winery is a forgotten building.  Denise and I sat in the car for a few minutes before going inside.  The foot traffic we observed going in and out of the front door was amazing.  It seemed to never stop - or even slow down.  Paso Robles or Santa Barbara wineries would kill for that kind of business.

Once inside, looking to the left - where the tasting bar is - there was no way to muscle my way in.  It was was simply too crowded.  I was told by one of my table mates that the crowd on this early October Saturday was nothing.  “Just wait until the holidays,”  she said.  “They really start getting the crowds then!”


For the uninitiated, San Antonio Winery has been a historical landmark in Los Angeles for about 45 years.  The winery was founded in 1917 by Santo Cambianica , at a time when the California wine industry was changing from sweet and fortified wines to dry red wines.  The winery is still family-owned and operated.

For this once-a-year event, Michael and Anthony Riboli presided over the festivities, sharing time talking about the various wines and pouring them, too.

The dinner was staged in the barrel room in the rear portion of the winery.  There were about a dozen or so large round tables seating up to eight diners each.  At our table, we joined Adrianna, Virginia, Diane and Jim.  I think I was the one person at our table most interested in the wine - it’s usually that way for me.  Jim admitted he was “not much of a wine person,” but even he was really getting into the fun of tasting and pairing.

Tasting the wines was somewhat eye-opening for me, too.  I was actually familiar with only one of the wines served at this dinner, so I had the chance to sample a variety of the San Antonio Winery’s product.  I was impressed by all of them.


The Riboli family takes their tradition very seriously.  The word “heritage” kept popping up throughout the evening as Michael and Anthony spoke of the winery and wines that are their own heritage.  The word even appears on a series of wines designed to celebrate the history of the winery and the family.

Grapes for the Riboli’s wines are estate-grown, not sourced from other growers.  They own vineyard land in several areas of California you may have heard of - Paso Robles, Monterey County, Napa Valley.

“The vineyard is the most important part of winemaking,” Anthony explained.  “If the grapes aren’t good, the wine won’t be good.”  Echoing a wine industry axiom, he said, “The best wines are made in the vineyard.”

Michael got philosophical when ruminating on his family’s history as winemakers.  “Making wine is our business,” he said, “but it’s great to have a business where making people feel good is the end result.”

Anthony selected the wine pairings for the evening’s meal, and the pairings were very smart.  Having good wine is a great first step, but knowing how to pair it with foods that will accentuate the wine’s highlights is a special ability.  Anthony showed he knows how to pair wine as well as make it.

The wines awaitMaddalena Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles 2009 - served with glazed, marinated albacore salad with an avocado and ginger paste.

The 100% varietal wine sees mostly steel - just two months in neutral oak.  It shows a slightly grassy nose with abundant minerals.  On the palate, it’s rich and round with a citrus tartness and lemon zest.  I wish for the finish to last longer, but I’m left with the bracing sensation of wet rocks afterward. 

This was the pairing of the night for me, as the wine and the food combined to create an entirely new taste.  The wine, mixed with the avocado and ginger paste, spawned a mustard-like flavor which surprised and delighted me.

Heritage Blanc, Central Coast 2009- served with seared sea scallops with white frisee, Dijon vinaigrette and tarragon puree.

An “oddball blend” of Viognier, dry Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.  The different wines are blended and stirred during the two months the wine spends in neutral oak barrels.  The nose is aromatic and floral, with honeysuckle predominant.  The taste is of tart apples with a layer of minerality and citrus.  This is a zesty wine, too, with great acidity. 

It scores in combination with the scallops.  It’s one of three wines now offered with a distinct “retro” label which images the winery’s own heritage.

Windstream Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands 2008 - served with grilled, five spice marinated quail, with bacon fried rice and an orange hoisin sauce.

I had tasted this wine at a Pinot show in Pasadena earlier in the year, and it was my favorite at that show.  Still showing a huge nose of cherries and plums, this wine seems very dark for a Pinot Noir, both in color and taste.  The effect of the French oak is tastefully apparent..  The palate is huge and intense, with cherries and raspberries on a dark earthiness.

It paired quite nicely with the intense flavors of the five spice and hoisin, and brought an extra dimension to the slightly gamey bird.  I would love to have this wine with a steak, too.

San Simeon Syrah, Monterey 2007 and Heritage Red Rhone Blend, Paso Robles 2006 - both served with pappardelle pasta with white chanterelle mushrooms.

The Syrah has a nose of blackberry and black pepper with an intense palate showing jammy, spicy fruit.  The wine is in French and American oak for two years, and it shows the effect of both.  There are nice vanilla notes from the American oak and spiciness from the French.

The Red Rhone Blend contains Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre and Grenache.  This wine shows earth on the nose and tastes of fruit and beef.

To choose one of these wines as the pairing winner, I’d go with the Rhone blend because of its earthiness, matching so well with the mushrooms.

Riboli Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford 2007 (Library Selection) and Riboli Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford 2008 - both served with herb-roasted beef tenderloin with sautéed Porcini mushrooms.

The ‘07 has an earthier nose with plummy fruit, while the ‘08 has a fruitier taste and a graphite edge.  Both are drinking very well and have a nice, full mouthfeel with very smooth tannins.

Both of these wines paired well with the beef.  I couldn’t name a favorite between the two Cabs.

La Quinta Crema Marsala, California NV - served with chocolate terrine with spiced dried fruit compote and a cinnamon cream.

The Marsala’s nose of raisins, spice and honey could serve as dessert on its own, but you really wouldn’t want to miss tasting it.  A sherry-like flavor of candied fruit pairs well with both the fruit and chocolate. 

This brown-colored, fortified wine is 18% abv and would be right at home after a big Thanksgiving meal or Christmas dinner.