Thursday, December 30, 2010


Wine Pairing

Browsing through my iPhone's wine apps - of which I probably have far too many - I checked with one called Wine Steward, which is also available online, to find out what they advise as a pairing with tuna salad.

Grenache gets a 100% vote of confidence from Wine Steward and is branded as an "excellent pairing."  Grenache makes versatile, fruity wines.  Great rosés are made from Grenache grapes, and that would be my choice for the tuna salad.

Sauvignon Blanc gets 80%.  If you feel the need to pair a white wine with fish, this is a great choice.

Sancerre, at 79%, comes from France's Loire Valley.  A Sancerre would probably be a Sauvignon Blanc as well, as that is the grape predominantly used in Sancerre.

Chardonnay gets 71%.  A big California Chardonnay may have the mark of oak in it, while a less buttery flavor will come from France, like a white Burgundy or Chablis.

A host of other wines are mentioned by Wine Steward, in declining order:

Nero d'Avola, a big red wine from Southern Italy
Cabernet Sauvignon
Dry Gewürztraminer
Red Bordeaux
Sparkling Wine
Cabernet Franc
Beaujolais Cru
Pinot Gris
Off-Dry Gewürztraminer
Pinot Noir

Of this last bunch - mostly labeled as "adventurous" choices by the app - I'd go with a Roussanne, a full-bodied and food-friendly white wine with a nice high acidity.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Wine Report

If wine makes you suffer from headaches, stuffy nose, skin rash or other allergic symptoms, scientists may have found out why.

The American Chemical Society's Journal of Proteome Research reports that it appears glycoproteins may be at fault.  Glycoproteins are proteins covered with sugars that are produced naturally as grapes ferment.  Researchers found these glycoproteins had a structure similar to many known allergens, like the kind that cause reactions to ragweed and latex.

This discovery could lead to new methods in the winemaking process which would minimize the formation of glycoproteins and allow winemakers to offer hypo-allergenic red and white wines.

Wine allergies are said to affect about eight percent of the population - 500 million people worldwide - but only about one percent are blamed on sulfites, which are added to wine as a preservative.  The other seven percent have been a mystery - until now, according to the researchers.

It may be a while before this discovery helps people who are intolerant to wine, but at least you now know someone's working on it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Pomegranate Chardonnay

A company in Santa Barbara, California is offering a tour that involves two tasty and popular treats mashed up into one. is promoting a wine and cupcakes tour.

The stops at wineries in Santa Barbara wine country would be enough to get most people on the shuttle van, but when you throw in a cupcake tasting, there aren't too many who could resist.

The day-long tour includes lunch at a Santa Ynez Valley winery, wine tastings and cupcake tastings.  The cupcakes are actually billed as the star of this show, and are produced by a wine country company called Enjoy Cupcakes, which serves the sweet treats out of a restored vintage travel trailer.

The company's wine-infused cupcakes include favorites like Pomegranate Mango Chardonnay, Citrus Sauvignon Blanc and Chocolate Blackberry Syrah.

The wine and cupcake tour is $125 per person, with a discount for groups of six or more.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Chinese Wine Scandal

A wine scandal has surfaced in China.  Tainted wine was pulled off the shelves of Chinese stores and a number of Chinese wineries were shut down when government officials found chemical additives in wine that was falsely labeled as a better brand.  The wine in question comes from Changli county, in a Province known as "China's Bordeaux," an area which produces about a third of China's domestic grape wine.

Yahoo News reports the irregularities came to light over the weekend.

There are reports that at least some of the wine consists of only about 20% actual wine, with the rest being sugar water mixed with other chemicals, including artificial colors and flavors.

One of the wineries shut down was reported to have used nothing but water and chemicals to make its wine, a wine which sells for less than a dollar and a half a bottle.

The Chinese government says some of the additives found in the tainted wine could cause headaches, heart irregularities and cancer.

Six people were detained in connection with this latest food scandal in China.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Avalon California Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Avalon Winery makes two Cabs - and that has been it until recently.  They say they have now released a new Merlot.  There is already a Napa Valley Cab and this one, the California blend.

The notes from winemaker Alex Cose indicate that Avalon mixes 81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Merlot grapes from different vineyards in Mendocino, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Alexander Valley, and Lodi.  The wine shows a restrained 13.8% abv.  Aging occurs during 18 months in French and American oak with malolactic fermentation occurring there.

The color of this Cab is medium dark, with light showing through even at the core.  On the nose - after a swirl - the dark cherry aromas immediately give way to a cherry cola aspect.  There is a slight smokiness and some spicy notes come through as well.  I guessed there was Merlot involved from the moment I smelled the wine.

The taste is juicy and fairly tannic.  It’s nice and dry without too much puckering of the mouth.  The wine is dark and earthy on the palate, with a touch of graphite accenting the dark cherry and plum fruit flavors.  After a little time in the glass, flavors of cassis become the dominating profile.  This is particularly true two and three nights after opening.  The finish is a little shorter than I would like.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Line 39 Petite Sirah North Coast 2009

The number on the Line 39 label refers to the degrees of latitude where their Lake County vineyards are located, just north and east of Napa Valley, where it’s said they make some decent wine, too.  The 39th parallel also includes the Mediterranean Sea, Spain, Portugal and Italy.  Maybe advertising a good neighborhood like that isn’t too bad an idea.  Line 39 is a sublabel of Cecchetti Wine Co.

I have tasted Line 39’s Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a surprisingly good wine.  The winery’s Petite Sirah - which I stumbled across in a supermarket wine section - is made from grapes sourced in Mendocino County’s North Coast area.  The wine was a real bargain - marked down from $13 to $8.  The alcohol level is 13.5% abv.

The color of this Petite Sirah is deep and dark, inky dark, can’t see through it dark.  A very darkly tinted appearance tends to bode well for those who like big, bold flavors, as I do.  The nose is rich with blueberry, and it smells dark, too.  All this has me salivating as I anticipate the palate. 

What I find when I finally taste the wine is a rich and jammy basket of blackberry and cherry with a lot of tannins, but they certainly don’t seem out of place. It’s a dry wine, dry as dust.  “So dry, the rest room would have dust in the urinals,” as the old martini joke goes.

The dust, in addition to being very dry, is very dark, too.  A deliciously brambly taste appears as the wine opens itself and tar notes show up on the nose.  This wine is a complete delight.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Liparita Carneros Merlot 2000

Liparita Cellars is what they call a “ghost winery” in Napa Valley - a winery founded in the late 19th century and still operating, although in refurbished fashion.  The 1880 establishment date of Liparita more than qualifies it for ghost status.  I don’t know whether or not they operate with a skeleton crew.  Maybe that's reserved for Halloween.

The brand has been resuscitated by owners who took over with the 2006 vintage.  They now produce three Cabernet Sauvignons, from Oakville, Stag’s Leap and Yountville.

This Liparita Merlot is ten years old.  It’s fitting that the somewhat aged wine came from a bygone management at a ghost winery.  It’s a half-bottle I picked up at a wine store sale, marked down from $12 to $6.

The fruit is picked from Beckstoffer’s Las Amigas Vineyard in the Carneros sub-appellation of Napa Valley.  The 2000 Merlot checks in with a manageable 13.9% abv alcohol number.

A bit of the cork crumbled on removal, but I was able to fish out most of the floaties and proceed.  I have read that tartrate crystals cling to the cork in this unfiltered wine, but it was definitely cork in my glass.

The color is dark red, but not inky.  The nose of this Merlot has tons of earthiness, with an underlying layer of dark fruit and a floral aroma reminiscent of violets.  The darkness of the nose really is overwhelming.  Fascinating, in fact.

Upon first tasting the wine, blackberries dominate the palate and that earthy minerality follows closely behind.  The tannins are quite firm and it feels big in the mouth.  The acidity is wonderfully balanced and the wine leaves the palate wanting more with each sip.  This is a very good wine, one of the better wines I’ve had recently.  If you can find it, snap up a bottle - or half bottle in my case - and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


La Cave at The Wynn Las Vegas

You can add another high-end wine haven to the list in Las Vegas. The Wynn Las Vegas now boasts La Cave Wine and Food Hideaway.  According to Las Vegas Weekly, it's a collaboration between Steve Wynn and restaurateur Michael Morton.  Wines from around the world are selected by Danielle Price, executive wine director of Wynn Resorts, and Rober Wright, the wine director for La Cave.  The article quotes Wright as saying La Cave's wine list will encourage guests to explore new and different grape varieties.

La Cave also features gourmet cuisine to pair with the wine, and is open from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. daily.  The kitchen may not be open at all hours, so a call ahead of time is advised.

I have yet to check out La Cave, but there are already several great places in Las Vegas where wine lovers can enjoy a glass or two.

Charlie Palmer's Aureole at Mandalay Bay has Master Sommelier William Sherer overseeing 55,000 bottles in the wine tower, which is a show in itself.

Emeril's Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian has over 1700 wine selections to pair with their great food.

The Wine Cellar at the Rio offers a great, dark place to get out of the neon glow for a while.

Nora's Wine Bar and Osteria is literally an oasis in a strip mall.

Grape Vegas at the Town Square Mall offers plenty of affordable choices in a casual atmosphere.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Niner Wine Estates

Lots of wine enthusiasts would like to take their knowledge of wine to the next level.  Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles, California has a plan for just that.

Niner's 2011 Wine Education Series will give you, the wine lover, the chance to broaden your palate and learn more about the world's wine regions.

Held at Niner's state-of-the-art Hospitality Center, this learning event promises to be a lot more fun than that Economics class you cut every damn Thursday of your sophomore year.  In fact, it sounds so good you may want to stay after school.

The Wine Education Series is a great way for wine lovers to explore the different kinds of wine made all over the world.  It can also serve as preparation for wine professionals seeking industry-related credentials

Rick Toyota, Niner Wine Estates' Sommelier and Director of Hospitality, says the series presents "a superb opportunity to learn about the heritage and styles of the world's great wine regions."  Toyota teases, "these classes allow students to taste their way around the world."

The series gets underway January 24, 2011 and continues weekly into the Central Coast summer.  The 20th and final class is scheduled for July 27th.  Opening sessions will focus on wine appreciation, viticulture and vinification.  A final class will discuss proper service standards for wine presentation.

Each class runs from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Niner Wine Estates Hospitality Center in Paso Robles.  You can sign up for single classes a la carte at $75 each, a five-session package costs $337.50 and the entire course runs $1,275 for all 20 classes.  Niner's wine club members will receive their club discounts, and industry discounts are available as well.  You can find out more, or register, by calling 805.239.2233.  E-mail at

You never know where this sort of thing will lead.  It was exactly this type of course which gave Niner's winemaker, Amanda Cramer, the inspiration to get into wine as a career.  It has sure worked out well for her!

2011 Wine Education Series Schedule:

January 24th - Introduction - Varietals and Wine Evaluation

January 31st - Viticulture and Vinification

February 7th - California - Part 1: History/North Coast

February 28th - California - Part 2: Central Coast/Sierra Foothills

March 7th - Oregon

March 14th - Washington

March 21st France - Bordeaux

March 28th France - Burgundy, Chablis and Beaujolais

April 4th France - Champagne

April 11th France - Alsace and the Loire

April 18th France - Rhone Valley/Southern France

April 25th Italy - Northern Regions

May 2nd Italy - Central and Southern Regions

May 9th - Germany

May 16th - Spain

May 23rd - Portugal

June 6th - Argentina and Chile

June 13th - Australia

June 20th - South Africa and New Zealand

June 27th - Wine Service

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Holiday Wine

Christmas dinner is one of the classic American family traditions.  Brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles come in from all over that place and crowd the fancy dining room to the breaking point.  The stress of having everybody around can make tempers go there, too.  There's no need to stress about what wine to serve at Christmas dinner, especially if you got an iPhone for Christmas.

Download The Wine Steward from the app store, and you'll have no worries about which wine to serve with whatever you are serving.

First, what's on the table?

Let's say you're serving ham.  Enter that into the Wine Steward and... Pinot Noir is the choice!  Merlot and Grenache get honorable mentions, and as for whites, Albariño and Roussanne battle it out.  Oddly, there is no mention of Gewürztraminer.

If you're carving a turkey for the Christmas feast, enter "turkey" into the Wine Steward and...Pinot Noir again!  It also likes Grenache and Merlot.  For white, Chardonnay gets a mention way, way down the list, just after rosé.

If your goose is cooking, Wine Steward suggests - not really a surprise - Pinot Noir.  Merlot and Zinfandel get secondary nods with goose.  For white wine, the app says try Roussanne or sparkling wine.

Let's say you have a prime rib dinner planned.  Enter that into Wine Steward and ... yeah, I know you see it coming.  Pinot Noir again.  Merlot and Zin get mentions too, as do sparkling wine and Albariño, although whites really don't match up too well with heavy beef.

For dessert, if it's chocolate, Wine Steward says go with MerlotZinfandel or Pinot Noir.  With pumpkin pie, Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre.  With pecan pie - that means Christmas dinner to me - Wine Steward advises good ol' Pinot Noir.

So, to sum it up, the Wine Steward app on the iPhone seems to think you should lay in a case ofPinot Noir for Christmas dinner, or maybe mix a case with some Grenache and Merlot.

Happy holidays!  I hope whatever you're drinking over this festive season, you're drinking with family and friends.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Wine News!

A couple of news releases recently have touted more health benefits associated with drinking wine - or at least some of the ingredients of wine.

The Daily Mail reports on a study by the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna, in which scientists say moderate consumption of red wine may help keep diabetes in check.  According to the study, polyphenols found in red wine can help the body control glucose levels.  The study claims a small glass of red wine contains enough polyphenols to make it competitive with anti-diabetic drugs.  These results indicate moderate wine drinking plus a calorie-controlled diet could help protect against type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes organizations don't seem to be jumping on that bandwagon, though.  Diabetes UK responded angrily to the study, saying the bold claims were based on limited research and the calories contained in wine could lead to weight gain.  This would effectively negate the benefits of the polyphenols.

Another study, this one from dental researchers at the University of Rochester and reported on, shows that drinking wine and eating cranberries can help prevent bacteria which cause cavities.  The study claims the growth of Streptococcus mutans - the bacteria blamed for tooth decay - can be held in check by wine and cranberries.

An ongoing Italian study also names wine and cranberries as effective agents for preventing tooth decay and sore throats.  This study suggests the helpful ingredients seem to work best when removed from the wine and taken separately.  The scientists figure these ingredients might make good additions to toothpaste and mouthwash.

Canadian Dental Association President Dr. Darryl Smith says wine doesn't take the place of brushing and flossing in a good dental hygiene program.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Holiday Wines

Each holiday season I like to throw out a few suggestions for holiday wines.  Personal preference plays a big part in choosing what to drink for the holidays.  My first rule of wine pairing is, “There are no rules.”  As you do the rest of the year, you should drink what you like and like what you drink.  If you'd like some outside help, read on.


Pinot Noir is a good fit for appetizers from light cheese and crackers to veggie trays, especially those involving mushrooms.  Serve it with ham, turkey and duck entrees, too.  You can feel confident pairing Pinot Noir with food that's flavored with cinnamon or cloves.

Cabernet Sauvignon marries quite well with blue cheese or heavy appetizers and heavy red and smoked meats.  It even makes a nice mate for dark chocolate.

Syrah can bring out the best in sausages, ham and salmon filet.  Keep in mind that AustralianShiraz is usually more of a fruit bomb than California Syrah, which is generally fruitier than French styles.

Riesling is good with fruit trays, honeyed ham, roasted veggies and seafood.  A sweeter Riesling could add some festive notes during a naturally indulgent season.

Sauvignon Blanc goes well with turkey and stuffing as well as many soups and garlicky foods.


Beaujolais Nouveau should be served slightly chilled.  Watch your guests make this drinkable fare disappear.  Beaujolais Nouveau will be available November 20th.

Zinfandel's hallmark fruitiness and heartiness make it a solid pick for lifting spirits over the holidays.

Gewürtztraminer is aromatic and somewhat high in natural sugar, and it goes great with duck, goose and ham.


In general, try to match the qualities of the dessert wine with the qualities of the dessert.  Pear flavors go with baked pears, spices go with pumpkin pie, chocolate notes go with chocolate desserts.

Late-harvest wines have a higher than normal natural sugar content and are the perfect sweet accompaniment to your holiday dessert, from cheesecake to apple pie.  Late-harvest whites are often as sweet as nectar with tastes of peaches, candied citrus and baked apple.  A late-harvest Viognier is excellent with an apple tart.

Late-harvest reds usually give strong notes of chocolate and cherries.  The reds make a fantastic pairing with chocolate desserts or pecan pie.

Ice wines are also good as a dessert match.

Sparkling wines add flair to a dessert while also enhancing the celebratory mood of a holiday meal.  Look for extra-dry, sec, demi-sec or doux  to indicate the relative sweetness of a sparkler.  One with "Brut" in the name will tend to be somewhat drier.  Champagne is the real deal, but a nice Italian Prosecco, a Spanich Cava or a California sparkler can make a festive showing, too.  Ask for one with hints of spices to go with your pumpkin pie.

Port is a dessert wine usually made from Syrah or Zinfandel and fortified with brandy.  It goes very well with chocolate desserts, but has a higher alcohol content than most sweet wines.

Denise and I love Rosenblum Cellars' "Desiree", a dessert wine made from fortified wines of Zinfandel, Touriga Nacional and Syrah grapes, then blended with a chocolate syrup.  Needless to say, it's quite decadent.

Most dessert wines are best enjoyed in smaller servings, hence they usually come in half-size bottles (375 ml).  Accordingly, you should serve dessert wines in small glassware.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec

If you're looking for a big, heavy-hitting Central Coast Rhone varietal blend - and that's one thing I'm always on the lookout for - Beckmen Vineyards' Cuvée Le Bec easily fills those shoes.  This wine, like all of Beckmen’s wines, is estate grown, produced and bottled.  The Los Olivos-based winery offers this blend as one of its flagship wines.

I bought the Cuvée Le Bec in a wine store for $16.  It's a mixture of 51% Grenache, 27% Syrah, 16% Mourvédre and 6% Counoise.  The alcohol level is in the 14-plus range, and it's not shy about showing its teeth.

The nose carries quite a bit of heat even after an hour in the glass.  It took about two and a half hours to lose most of the alcohol overlay, but even then it was still a noticeable trait.  Luscious cherry liqueur candy aromas do come through the haze.

The taste is vibrantly fruity, with candied cherry and blueberry mixed together.  The fruit makes quite a strong play, but so does the alcohol.  The heat is still a dominant factor after nearly three hours in the glass.  There is an earthy streak of minerals which is particularly apparent on the finish.

Three hours after pouring - yes, I waited it out - the alcohol buzz is almost all gone and you’re left with a very brambly and dark fruit bomb.  Not an entirely unpleasant situation to be in, it’s just too bad it took three hours the get there.  Decant, wait and enjoy.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Wine Tasting

One great way to expand your palate and your knowledge of wine is to go to a winery tasting room.  Sometimes, though, the winery can come to you.

Jerome Winery and Bitter Creek Winery in Jerome, Arizona each have a tasting room.  They also offer a home tasting event they call an Educational Wine Tasting Experience.  You buy a case of their wine, they bring it to your home, they bring glasses if you need them and stage the tasting event for you and your guests.

They can accommodate anywhere from ten to 200 people, whatever number you can accommodate in your home.  Winery representative Marge Black-Graziano says it works best for ten to 30 people, but the guest list is entirely up to you.

All the guests should bring a dish to share, then sit back and let the winery do the rest.

They introduce the wine and talk a little about what kind of grapes are used in it and what goes on in the growing and winemaking process.  They educate your party on how to taste wine, talking about the different aromas, the coloration and why we swirl the wine in the glass.  That is done, of course, to expose more of the wine's surface area to oxygen, thereby releasing the aromas and even changing some of the characteristics.

Between the two wineries, there are 52 grape varieties they can offer.  Jerome Winery handles single variety wines while Bitter Creek Winery specializes in blends.  Marge Black-Graziano is the matriarch of the winemaking family that runs both outfits and she says either winery can bring a lot to the table - and they can bring it to any table you like.

You can contact Jerome Winery at 928-639-9067 or e-mail them at

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Coquelicot Slowhand

Coquelicot – pronounced "ko-klee-ko" - is the name of a brilliant red poppy found in the French countryside.  It is also the name Bernard Rosenson gave to his estate vineyard of organically-grown grapes, and the corresponding winery.  Rosenson became acquainted with the beautiful flower while growing up in France.  On the wine's label, he even asks, "Who's your poppy?"

Rosenson's partner-in-wine is Louis Van Tonder, who oversees the vineyard and the winemaking process for Coquelicot.  The winery's tasting room in Los Olivos is French countryside charming.  That's where I purchased the half-bottle of Slow Hand for around $25 about a year and a half ago.  It took a while to get around to opening it, and it was worth the wait.

Slow Hand is a half-and-half blend of late harvest Chardonnay and late harvest Riesling.  Its 12.5% abv leaves plenty of room for the sweetness expected in such a marriage.

On the nose, the smell of over ripe fruit is overwhelming.  If you ever spent any time as a child playing in the summertime around a fruit tree, you know what to expect.  The taste is that of baked apples, apple custard, and raisins.  It's a very viscous drink that really fills the mouth well.  If the acidity were a little higher, it would be perfect.  However, it's hard to complain about a wine as good as Slow Hand.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Luzzano Malvasia Seta

Los Angeles fans of Italian wines have a great place to find the fruit of their passion and some pretty tasty eats, too.  Cube on La Brea Avenue is a cafe, a wine bar specializing in Italian vino, a cheese bar and a market all rolled into one location.

We stopped in there for lunch during a break in a hectic shopping day.  The place with the "What's Up D.O.C." sign above it was once again the right choice.

We opened with a couple of cheeses - Holzhofer (a strong cow's milk Swiss) and Smokey Blue (a delightfully pungent cow's milk blue cheese from Oregon.)  I followed with the braised bacon on polenta.  The "bacon" was more like slow-cooked pulled pork, only a hundred times more flavorful.

The wine - Luzzano's "Seta" Malvasia - is made from 100% Malvasia di Candia grapes grown in the Colli Piacentini D.O.C. of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region.  It is aged six months in stainless steel.  The price is an affordable $9 per glass and the bottle price (to take home) is $16.

The Seta's nose is quite green.  Mostly floral aromas with an herbal twist are laced with a bready, yeasty edge that's amazing and intriguing.  Minerals and zesty lemon lime abound on the palate.  There's definitely a steeliness there, but it flies in the face of the full, round mouthfeel.

It paired with both cheeses well - better with the Holzhofer - and was a near-perfect mate for the savory bacon dish.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Confused Wine Shoppers

How wines are stored on the shelves of wine merchants - or even supermarkets - seems to be causing more confusion as more casual wine drinkers enter the marketplace.

An recent article by Tim Cornwell in The Scotsman contained some interesting observations which I have found to be true in the U.S. as well.

The major complaint casual wine drinkers have with store organization is that wines are often arranged by country or region of origin.  This is confusing to customers who don't have a working knowledge of what kind of wines come from different areas.

Shoppers seem to want wines to be categorized by price - which they are to some extent.  Usually the bottles on the top shelf are a lot more expensive than those near the floor.

Wine buyers also comment that it would be more convenient to have wines sorted out by what flavors the wine has, what it pairs with or even alcohol content.  All are mentioned as having more influence on a purchase than region of origin.

Of course, all you have to do is ask for a little assistance if you're lost in the wine aisle.  Lots of casual wine buyers, though, are hesitant to ask for help because they fear a snobby reaction from store employees.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Rodney Strong Merlot

If you live in Los Angeles, it's just a natural thing to go old-school Hollywood every now and then.  Musso and Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard - right in the thick of the touristy T-shirt shops, bars and leather-clad runaways - is about as old-school as Hollywood gets anymore.

A black and white Humphrey Bogart could sit in one of the red naugahyde booths and appear to be right at home.  The wait staff would huddle around the cash register drawing straws to determine who had to go and tell him he couldn't smoke in there anymore.

They are so old-school at Musso and Frank, the waiters dress like parking valets, sporting red vests and bow-ties.  They even have Raymond Burr wine available by the bottle.

I only wanted a glass, so I opted for a California classic from further north. Rodney Strong first planted Merlot in the Alexander Valley in 1970.  According to their website,
"Today we farm over 100 acres in the Alexander Valley and the northern portion of the Russian River Valley.  Together, these areas display the bright, red fruit character of the Russian River with the deep dark fruit flavors and mature tannins of the warmer Alexander Valley."

The Rodney Strong Merlot is a deep, dark ruby color with a purple rim.  The nose is fragrant with black cherry, blackberry and smokey cedar.  On the palate there's an earthy blueberry flavor draped in a wonderfully smokey element.  It's fairly brambly, too.  The effect of the small oak barrels in which the wine is aged is apparent, but in just the right measure.  The finish is lengthy and lip-smacking on this well-balanced wine.  The firm tannins are very manageable.  I paid $8.50 for a good-sized pour, and it will probably stand as the bargain of the week.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010



Apple's popular iPad device is already being used in many wine bars and restaurants as a high-tech wine list.  Now you can have the wine experience on your iPad at home. has debuted a free app for the iPad which allows users to browse the site's inventory in much the same way you can browse album covers in the music world.  Swipe your fingers across the screen and the wine labels go flying by.  When you want a closer look, just click on the label and the app shows a page with all the information you could possibly want about the wine, the winery, the grape or the wine-growing region from which the wine comes.  You can even take a virtual tour or explore a wine region by way of Google Earth.

You can save your search in your personal Wine Cave, or buy the wine and have it shipped to you right from the app, depending on whether or not you live in a state where wine can be shipped to you.

All the items in your Wine Cave sync to your account, so they'll be available wherever you happen to log in. also has an app for the iPhone, it's just not as showy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Wine News!

The annual listing of the Top 100 Wines of the year, in the estimation of The San Francisco Chronicle, is out. Read the whole list here.  The following are the wines of California's Central Coast which made the Chronicle's list.  Included are Chronicle's comments on each wine.

2009 Alban Vineyards Central Coast Viognier ($24):
"John Alban's estate Viognier helped build his expert reputation, but this more affordable bottling is a worthy tribute to his full-bore winemaking.  A limpid nose of honeysuckle, ginger and cardamom hints at the opulence, with lots of tangerine and lemon."

2009 Zocker Paragon Vineyard Edna Valley Gruner Veltliner ($20):
"Gruner has mostly been one of those noble experiments in these parts, notable more for the effort than the results.  But Zocker, a sister label to Tangent, has succeeded with one that can rival its Austrian counterparts.  Proper notes of white pepper, peach and snap pea, with a slight soapstone edge.  Is Gruner the great hope of Edna Valley?"

2008 Alma Rosa La Encantada Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($43):
"Santa Barbara wine pioneer Richard Sanford (Sanford & Benedict) is soaring with his new label.  This gorgeous estate bottling is heady with tobacco and nutmeg, and a balance of delicate dark blue fruit and tangy wild strawberry."

2008 Alta Maria Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir ($25):
"This joint effort from James Ontiveros and Paul Wilkins is brightly engaging and irresistible, a perfect counterpoint to their profound Native9 wines.  A heady nose of forest floor, pine needle and resin give that woodsy edge to dusky strawberry and moist earth.  Lighter in step, and terrifically juicy."

2008 Au Bon Climat Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($50):
"The perfect Santa Barbara matchup - winemaker Jim Clendenen and the historic Sanford & Benedict site.  A smoky cola-edged, nuanced take, with lots of robust dark cherry and dried moss.  Opulent and complex, from Santa Rita's most famed site."

2008 Dragonette Cellars Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($38):
"This young label founded by Steve and John Dragonette and Brandon Sparks-Gillis is tapping into some of Santa Barbara's best vineyards.  This effort from a colder site southwest of the Santa Rita Hills, aged in neutral oak, landed at just 13.3 percent alcohol - and with that has come remarkable depth and refinement - roasted orange highlights and a warm mace spice and musk, plus radiant raspberry and cherry."

2007 Caliza Azimuth Paso Robles Red Wine ($45):
"A fantastic expression of the robust Paso style, with bright Grenache fruit and spicy Syrah in good balance, with a slight sweetness offset by lots of brine and allspice, and a bright, juicy finish that also reveals the darker Mourvedre undertones."

2007 Qupé Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Syrah ($30):
"Bob Lindquist's benchmark Syrah from this Santa Barbara County site is in gorgeous shape.  Dark and earthy, with brawny peppercorn spice, dusky plum and fine, delicious tannins.  It's equally rewarding whether you drink it now or age it."

2008 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Paso Robles Red Wine ($50):
"A leaner vintage has made Tablas' Mourvedre-dominant Esprit (with Grenache, Syrah and Counoise for the rest) a more aromatic, nuanced thing.  Dried sage and oregano, a bright mineral component, fresh blueberry and baked raspberry, with a leathery profile to the young, ripe tannins."

2007 Three Saints Santa Ynez Valley Syrah ($18):
"Winemaker Nick de Luca delivered a ton of nuance in this affordable bottle from Star Lane's second label.  Thirty percent of the wine was aged in steel, providing a welcome freshness, amid a gorgeous nose of milled pepper, anise and black currant."

2008 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Zinfandel ($16):
"From the Margarita Vineyard at the southern edge of the Paso Robles appellation, winemaker Mike Sinor has crafted a dense, pure effort that's surprisingly nuanced, with violets, fresh black cherry, cardamom and juicy raspberry.  A slight bit of sweetness on the finish offers gratification, but despite its size (a solid 15 percent alcohol) it's a reminder that the big Paso style doesn't have to be makeup-laden."

- Excerpted from the San Francisco Chronicle.  Full article here.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Happy Canyon Chukker

Long a superlative winemaker in Santa Barbara County, Doug Margerum gets his Chin-on with a Happy Canyon Cabernet Franc blend called Chukker.

The label explains that "chukker" is a playing period in a polo game.  The popularity of polo in some of Santa Barbara’s wealthy ‘burbs would explain that facet of the definition, but the word descends from a circular concept in Eastern languages.  To find that the wine sits round and full in the mouth is no surprise.

Dark ruby in color, the nose is absolutely alive with jammy berry aromas and the full fruit flavors could scarcely be richer.  There is a faint suggestion of gaminess on the finish, and an acidity which would make you confident to serve it with anything.  The wine uses vibrancy as its calling card.  The alcohol level is 14.1% abv and it shows it upon opening the bottle.  Allow a little breathing time and the heat settles down.  I paid $13 for Chukker at a wine store.

The winemaker notes suggest that this wine is all about the spring portion of the calendar, so by that standard I’m a little out of season here in the Northern Hemisphere.  Margerum explains this wine was inspired by the Loire Valley wines drunk slightly cool in the Paris bistros.  He advises you drink Chukker the same way, although I drank mine above cellar temperature and was quite pleased.

The grapes are estate grown Cabernet Franc (40%), Merlot (40%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20%).  Not listed on the label is a hint of Syrah which Margerum cops to on his website.  The grapes are all fermented in stainless steel, giving the sort of freshness one might look for in the spring.  The circular concept come into play again, and spring always gives way to summer, then autumn.

Pay attention to that "everything comes around" philosophy - don’t skip over this wine as a potential mate for your holiday meals.  Think of it as another dish of cranberry sauce on the table, but one that will go with your turkey and stuffing - or goose - much better.

I mentioned that in a brief email to Doug's brother, Hugh, and he replied, "Yes, it's a perfect match with holiday fare.  A little like a Beaujolais Nouveau, but with a bit more punch."

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Holiday Party Wine

The holiday party season is in full swing.  Many of us will be asked to bring a bottle of wine to a party or two.  That's the sort of opportunity I live for, but some people get a little high strung when they have to select a wine to show publicly.

If you can get an idea of what the host would like for you to bring, choosing is easy.  If the host says "Oh, anything will do," that's not much help.

You might just pick up any old cheap thing and bring it in under the radar, hoping to get it onto the table or counter where the other wines are, before it can be traced to you.

But why not bring a wine which shows that a little consideration went into the choice?

If you know your host's preferences, the heavy lifting is done.  Just find a bottle of what they like and let them do the oohing and aahing.

You can find really good deals on Spanish Garnacha or Malbec from Argentina.

Borsao is a really wonderful Spanish red which blends Garnacha and Tempranillo.  How does $7 sound?

Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Casablanca Valley 2009 usually sells for under $10.

Alamos Malbec '09 goes for around $10.

Sparkling wine is always a hit at parties, and it doesn't have to be expensive.  You can get a nice California sparkler, Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava for well under $20.

Francis Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs blends Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat for about $15.  It comes in a pretty bottle, too.

Cavit Lunetta Prosecco goes for less than $10 in lots of places.

Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut is a good Spanish Cava you can find for around $10.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Wine Report

A recent article in Wine, by Sonoma State University wine business professors Liz Thach and Janeen Olsen, cites the dramatic growth of organic food and beverages while wondering aloud, "Is organic wine growing by leaps and bounds, too?"

That's hard to say.  The article goes on to explain that organic wine labels don't make it easy for consumers to buy "green," and further make it difficult to track consumer trends.

The Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State did some research on the matter.

The findings show that consumers of organic wines say they are willing to shell out a few extra dollars for wines they feel are eco-friendly.

Wine consumers in general seem confused by all the terminology used in labeling organic wines.  Terms like "100% organic," "biodynamic" and "sustainable" leave consumers unsure of which wines really are organic.

The study recommends the wine industry should try to create a system of terminology that is less confusing.

The authors close the article by asking, "In ten years, will all wine be sustainable anyway?"  We'll find out in a decade or so.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Geyser Peak Cabernet 2005

Geyserville, California is a small town in Sonoma County - so small that if you run the stop sign, you'll miss it.  A lot of big trucks barrelling down the highway from Napa Valley do just that, too, so beware if you find yourself at that intersection.  For a small town, Geyserville has a lot of good wine to offer, too.

Geyser Peak Winery, an arm of Ascentia Wine Estates, makes some of that wine.  A recent trip to the Grill On Hollywood - four levels up in the labyrinth known as Hollywood and Highland in the somewhat larger town of Los Angeles - had me eying their Cabernet Sauvignon on the wine list.

We were there with a couple of Denise's old - uh, longtime - friends from the glory days at Lycoming College, a pretty little campus in Pennsylvania where they apparently dined on steamship of beef back in the student days, served from a carving station no less.  I went to Lamar University in Texas and dined on chips and sandwiches from a vending machine.  We used to sit around the Setzer Center and wonder what the rich people were doing.  Now I know.  Steamship of beef.

The Geyser Peak Cabernet would have fit right in at either locale, no doubt served in Riedel stemware next to the beef and swigged from the bottle by the vending machine.

Sonoma County's Alexander Valley is a great wine region, and Geyser Peak shows why.  It's a pretty darned good wine that is still considered a bargain - only $8.95 by the glass at the fancy Hollywood eatery.

The Geyser Peak Cab shows a pretty, dark color with purple edges.  The nose has plenty of cassis and blackberry notes while the palate has a plummy character with some strong blackberry fruit carrying just the right touch of oak effect.  There is some cedar and vanilla - neither overpowering - and an earthy edge with healthy tannins that were nicely held in check.

Despite all that, the wine is an uncomplicated experience, which is more than I can say about the stories of those bygone days with the steamship of beef.

Thursday, December 2, 2010



The onset of cold weather makes many wine lovers turn their attention to Port wine.  You may know Port only as something to "take the chill off," so here's a little bit of information about Port wines.

Port is a sweet wine, with an alcohol content higher than most table wines, higher even than many dessert wines.  Port is commonly used as a dessert companion or dessert itself.  It pairs quite well with cheese, especially blue cheese.

The only place Port, or Porto, can be made is in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, much like Champagne can only come from Champagne, France.  There are many areas around the world which produce Port-style wines, though.

Port is produced by fortifying wine with neutral grape spirits.  It's often said that Port is fortified with brandy.  That is often a mistaken notion.  The fortification creates a higher residual sugar and alcohol level.  Port wine generally has an alcohol level of 18% to 20%.

There are five grape varieties which are widely used in the making of red Port wine - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão and Tinta Roriz, which is also known as Tempranillo.  That's the only non-indigenous grape used in making Port.

White Port is made from white grapes - Donzelinho Branco, Esgana-Cão, Folgasão, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho.  Grapes used in making Port are regulated by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto.  Port wine made in other areas may be made from many different grape varieties.

Tawny Ports are Ports which have been aged in wood barrels for ten, 20, 30 or even 40 years.  Popular brands of Tawny Port include Dow's, Graham's and Taylor's, which are seen on many restaurant menus.

Roxo Port Cellars of Paso Robles, California makes nothing but Port-style wines.  They utilize Bordeaux and Italian grape varieties as well as traditional Portuguese varieties.

Ficklin Vineyards in Madera, California makes a Tinta Port, a Tawny Port, a white Port and vintage Ports.  Their Port-style wines have won numerous awards and generate tons of good press.

The Beaulieu Vineyard Maestro Collection Port 2006 employs traditional and non-traditional varieties: Touriga Nacional, Charbono, Tempranillo and Petite Sirah.

From California's Santa Ynez Valley, Bridlewood offers a Syrah Port 2006.  Listen to these descriptive words from the the winemaker: "heady aromatics of blackberry, cassis and licorice…notes of strong dark chocolate with hints of pecan, tangerine peel and earth…luscious licorice finish."

Paso Robles' EOSZinfandel Port 2006 sounds like it was made with the holidays in mind:"...aromas of molasses, roasted walnuts and maple syrup fill the nose....nutty characters glide across the palate with essence of plums andespresso...spiciness, cedar, and cinnamon linger on the ... extendedfinish."