Monday, February 28, 2011


Marinella Dry Marsala

You may know Marsala only as a cooking wine, as in chicken Marsala, but it also makes a fairly decent sipper.

Produced in the Sicilian city of Marsala, D.O.C., this fortified wine has a long history dating back the Roman era.  Marsala is usually labeled by its relative sweetness - seccosemiseccodolce - and by quality.

Marinella Dry Marsala is labeled as “fine,” which means it received less than a year of aging.  “Fine” is the lowest level on the quality scale for Marsala.  It retails for around $13 and has an alcohol level of 17% abv, the minimum for fine Marsala.  Some higher grades are required to be at least 18%.

The Marinella shows a brownish brick or amber brown color in the glass.  It smells of alcohol at first, but just let the heat burn off for about 15 minutes to a half hour and it’s smooth sailin’.  I
love the aromatic nature.  The nose is rich with dried fruit, raisins and a caramel aspect.  It tastes of dried fruit, too - a little like raisins, but with a helping of dark berries and some apricot sneaking through.  There’s a nice acidity, and an astringency lingers on a little too long for my taste on the finish.  It is quite a lengthy finish, however.

I tried the Marsala at room temperature, but the winemaker recommends a chill - 50 degrees F - for use as an apertif or dessert wine.  It is much better this way.

I have found better dessert wines, although at $13 for a full 750ml bottle, this wine is a good buy.  I would also recommend cooking with it.  Chicken Marsala, anyone?


Beverly Hills Wine Festival

A winter weekend which was supposed to bring bad, bad weather to Southern California - "look, a snowflake!" - actually yielded a lovely Sunday on February 27, 2011 for the Beverly Hills Wine Festival.  Held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza - just around the corner from Beverly Hills, in Century City - the event provided those not already involved in Oscar Night festivities an afternoon of tasting the wines of about 50 wineries, plus a handful of beer and spirits.

I wondered about the wisdom of scheduling an event in Los Angeles on Oscar Afternoon, but I needn’t have concerned myself.  The huge room at the Hyatt was elbow-to-elbow with wine lovers who apparently had no previous commitments for other parties, Oscar-related or not.

There were some snags in traffic due to red carpets which were rolled out for various movie biz soirées, but once at the festival, it was all about the wine of the minute, not the movie of the year.

The occasion benefitted 
Fran Drescher’s Cancer Schmancer Movement.  From the look of things, the fundraiser will probably be looked upon as a rousing success.

The caliber of wine which was presented was a little disappointing.  The crowd, too, seemed a little different from the usual throng at a Southern California wine tasting event.  Usually I overhear a dozen or so people at tasting tables asking for "the Cab."  Interest in Cabernet Sauvignon didn’t disappear for this event, but it did dwindle to just one Cab request overheard by yours truly.

I did hear requests - maybe a half dozen of them - for "sweet wines."  This is something I have not noticed to a great degree at other tasting events.  I couldn’t help but think of 
Eric Asimov’s article recently suggesting that wine writers trim their tasting notes down to either "sweet" or "savory."  For the record, I heard no one asking the pourers for some "savory" wine.

Cap'n Morgan, with friendThere was a party atmosphere abetted by DJ Reaper spinnin' some classic hits, and the Cap'n Morgan Pirate was wandering around for photo ops like the one pictured at right.
Notable Wines
Although the selection of wines was a little disappointing overall, there were some winners present.

Casa Barranca,
 an organic winery and estate retreat in Ojai Valley, California, presented a wonderful '08 Pinot Noir with fruit from Arroyo Grande's Laetitia Vineyards.  Roses on the nose are met with soft and gentle cherry flavors.  Their '07 Bungalow Red mixes Syrah and Mourvedre from Santa Barbara County for a dark, earthy, cherry nose and a palate full of minerals and red fruit.  Casa Barranca's '08 Viognier is sourced from Madera and shows floral aromas with guava notes and a citrus/banana flavor.  Their '08 Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles' French Camp Vineyard is light and dry with tart berries.

Ritual Wine Company's  Mike Stan poured a delicious '09 Viognier of Paso Robles fruit.  The nutty nose and savory taste with great acidity really knocked me out.  The New Black, a 2009 Cab/Syrah/Grenache blend has the Grenache coming through in strong fashion with big tannins and dark cherries.  Ritual's '08 GSM is dark and earthy with a meaty finish, while their '09 Grenache is still young.  Simple and soft, Mike feels it's still about six months away from full integration.
Los Olivos, California producer Coquelicot brought a brawny 2006 Bordeaux blend called Mon Amour which shows intense anise on the nose with strong, dry tannins and deep, funky fruit.  It's a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  Their 2008 Sixer - Syrah with 6% Viognier - is big, bold and peppery.  Great tasting cherry marks the '09 Pinot Noir, but with a lofty 14.5% abv.
Chatom Vineyard isn't shy about letting the alcohol take center stage, either.  The Calaveras County winery has an '06 Zinfandel which brings 15.5% to the table, but it doesn't feel like a lot.  It does have good acidity and earthy chocolate notes.
Pink Girl Wine poured their 100% Syrah rose from Napa Valley's Coombsville appellation.  It boasts a rich rosado color and is strong in strawberry.
Keating Wines from Sonoma had a 2007 Malbec, sourced from Rockpile, a 2009 Zin from Dry Creek Valley fruit and their Georges III '08 Cab made from 100% Rutherford grapes.  Each is bragworthy.
Fillmore, California's Giessinger Winery presented a tableful, to mixed results.  I found their whites generally wanting in acidity, although the flavors are great.  Their '07 Barbera boasts Amador grapes and is the best of the lot.  A close second goes to their Forgiveness, a dessert blend of Symphony and Zinfandel from the South Coast AVA which is sweet in the Lambrusco style.
Paso Robles' Estrella Creek showed some good wines, my faves being the Petite Sirah and the Stargazer Syrah/Cab/PS blend.
Big bargain producer Barefoot had hired help manning their table.  The gentleman commented to one taster, "Hey, it's six bucks!"  He was barely more interested than that when answering my questions.  I thought Barefoot's dry wines were somewhat ordinary, but I really liked their sweet ones - a Moscato Spumante bubbly and a still Moscato actually run around $10 - while the Sweet Red is not TOO sweet, and is a killer chiller at $7.

Maybe that's why those tasters were looking for more sweet wines.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Wine Laws

Here are a few items that have come in recently on the wine news wire.

Farmers markets in and around Olympia, Washington will be allowed to stage beer and wine tasting in the future.  The Peninsula Daily News reports that state legislation has okayed a pilot project to allow one brewery or winery per day to offer samples of less than two ounces to shoppers.  Don't get too comfortable at the tasting table, though.  Each customer will be limited to four ounces of samples per day.

On the wine law blog "On Reserve," Lindsey Zahn reports that North Dakota has recently passed legislation allowing that state's winemakers to sell their product directly to stores, instead of requiring them to go through a wholesale middleman first.

Tom Wark's Fermentation blog notes that Maryland's legislature has introduced bills which would allow residents of the Chesapeake Bay State to have wine shipped directly to them.  cautions, though, that this would apply only to wine produced in the United States, not imported wine.

Friday, February 25, 2011


South Coast Winery

A support group is a welcome friend when you feel you aren't getting the attention you deserve.  South Coast Winery Resort and Spa, in the Southern California wine country of the Temecula Valley, held the first of what appears to be a series of events called Group Therapy on February 23, 2011.  Fans of Temecula wines certainly know how to support one another.  They also know how it feels to be an afterthought when the conversation turns to the grape-growing regions of California.

The region lies about as far away from Los Angeles as Santa Barbara, but in the other direction.  Located a couple of hours southeast of L.A., Temecula is tucked away south of what's known as the Inland Empire.  Thanks to the eastward curve of the California coastline, however, Temecula is less than 20 miles away from the Pacific Ocean.  They get enough of that good ocean breeze to make grapes a viable commodity.

Though they are still "bubbling under" as a wine region, South Coast is one of the leaders in bringing a Napa-style elegance to the valley.  The sprawling resort is easily one of the showcases of Temecula, if not the pinnacle.  Private villas, music features, wine dinners, the Grapeseed Spa and a tasting room environment that places fun above all else make South Coast one of the most popular stops on the Temecula Wine Trail.  If you've ever been to a wine country wedding, you get the idea of the mix between fancy and fun which the folks at South Coast maintain.  It is, no doubt, a big reason so many weddings are held at the resort.

At Group Therapy, though, it was the wine they wanted to focus on.  The event was presented live at the winery and streamed online for those who couldn't make it.  A Group Therapy package of the wines to be discussed was offered for sale through the winery's online store.

Winemakers Jon McPherson and Javier Flores proved to be a nice team heading up the show.  They served as "play-by-play" and "color commentator" for the evening, with McPherson providing a solid background for the wines on the table and Flores interjecting some whimsical banter along the way.  McPherson opened with a lesson on how to grade wine by numerically scoring its different facets.  He seemed to catch some in the audience off guard when he revealed that Pinot Grigio is actually a red grape, and the reason it has no color is because the juice sees limited contact with the skins.

Owner/vintner Jim Carter was also along, and he touched briefly on the struggle Temecula has had getting what he feels is proper recognition of the product.  "We're right there with Napa," is how he summed up his feelings on the quality of the wines being made in the valley, and at South Coast in particular.

I couldn't make it to Temecula for the live Group Therapy session, so South Coast provided me with two of the wines that were the topic of discussion, and I followed along online.

Pinot Grigio Temecula Valley Sparkling Wine

This bubbly is the 2010 vintage and is comprised of 63% fruit from the Temecula Springs Resort Estate Vineyards, 23% Schuler Vineyards grapes and 14% from Huis Vineyards.  Pinot Grigio may be an offbeat choice for a grape from which to make a sparkling wine, but it works well.  The grape is known for fruity flavors and crisp acidity.  South Coast uses vinification methods similar to those used in Italy's Alto Adige, so it's not too surprising that it comes across with an Italian Prosecco-like flair.

Prodigious medium-sized bubbles produce a frothy, white head and the nose is full of fruit.  Apples are prominent, with an aroma that reminds me apple cider, or Apple Beer, a soft drink I used to enjoy as a kid.  Peaches also make an appearance, as does a slight grassy note.  On the palate it's apples and pears.  The sparkler is nice and dry, with good acidity that remains after the bubbles quiet down a bit.  It's a really lovely taste with fruit for days.  It's also very drinkable at only 11.8% abv.

Il Temporale 2007

The fruit for this Super Tuscan-meets-Bordeaux blend comes from Wild Horse Peak Mountain Vineyards.  The red is made up of 58% Sangiovese, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot and 10% Merlot.  On the nose, oak is apparent.  Cherry and earth notes are discernible, too.  The palate shows the effect of 14 months in French oak, with vanilla accents and a cherry cola flavor.  Although I find the oakiness just a bit distracting, there is depth and complexity there.  I like the way the spicy character of the Petit Verdot shines through.  The tannins are strong enough for pairing with roast beef.  Il Temporale logs a 14.1% alcohol number.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


As Now And Zin attempts to travel around the 50 states in a wine glass, this time we find ourselves in the southeastern corner of the USA, Florida.  Maybe Florida doesn't immediately come to mind when you think of wine, but the Sunshine State was ranked 6th in wine American production in 2009-2010.

Keel and Curley Winery is located outside of Tampa, in Plant City.  The winery was founded in 2003 by Joe Keel, a central Florida blueberry farmer who had a lot of unharvested blueberries on his hands after the price fell.  He decided to try his hand at making wine with them.

Today his wines - three 100% blueberry wines and some fruit/grape blends - are popular all along Florida's Gulf Coast.  The blueberry wines come in dry, semi-dry and sweet styles. Their tasting room - unlike that of many wineries - has seats at the tasting bar, indicating you may want to stay awhile.

Keel and Curley provided me with three of their wines to sample, a dry blueberry, a sweet blueberry and a Strawberry Riesling blend.  I must admit, I didn't have much experience with wines made from fruit other than grapes and I approached these with a little bit of trepidation.

Keel and Curley Dry Blueberry WineDry Blueberry Wine

My fears were soon dispelled as I tried Keel and Curley's Dry Blueberry wine first.  Bottled in strikingly blue glass, the wine is made from high bush blueberries, according to the label.  I suppose those are preferred over the berries from the bottom of the bush.  The label also informs that the wine is fermented with the skins to concentrate the colors and flavors.  It has an alcohol content of 12% abv.

The nose - not surprisingly - shows a very pure and uncomplicated blueberry aroma. It’s not the blueberry of jam or jelly, though. It’s the blueberry right from the bush, with a hint of herbal or vegetal notes.

As I take my first taste I find this is surprisingly good wine!  It is actually off-dry, but just barely.  The sweetness is only winked at by the well-structured fruit.  It is actually just a bit hot upon opening, but let it just sit in the glass for 15-20 minutes and the heat decreases.  At half an hour open, the wine is silky smooth, but still has a good structure and tannins.
I tried pairing it with a rather spicy piece of beef, but it didn’t seem to work too well.  It was better with blue cheese, but still not a natural.  The pairing I kept thinking about - and finally tried - was peanuts.  A handful of peanuts with this wine is like an instant PB&J.

Keel and Curley Sweet Blueberry WineSweet Blueberry Wine

Again the striking blue bottle makes a good visual impression and the Sweet Blueberry Wine is a good dark purple in the glass.  The nose again shows all blueberry, but with less of the vegetal aroma present than in the dry version.

This one is sweet for sure, but it's not cloying.  It’s not even dessert-wine-sweet, really.  The sweetness is so fruity and natural tasting it seems more like a blueberry juice.  I would compare the sweetness in this wine to that of a sweet Lambrusco.  There’s a nice little acidity, but I don’t know exactly what I would pair it with.  Don't bother worrying about it - it’s a delicious wine to sip.  At 12% alcohol by volume, you feel free to sip a little more the you might normally.  I found it tastes great at room temperature, but the winery recommends serving it chilled.  It is very good that way.

Keel and Curley Strawberry Riesling WineStrawberry RieslingThis wine also utilizes non-grape fruit, but includes some actual wine grapes as well.  It comes in a clear bottle, all the better to show its pale golden hue.  The fruit on the nose is all strawberry, all the time.  It’s not a candy-like aroma, or like a strawberry candle.  It’s like a strawberry farm.  The smell of real strawberries jumps right out of the glass and into my nose.  On the label, the winery claims the Strawberry Riesling is what summer smells like.  That sounds like a good assessment to me.  The taste is sweet like ripe strawberries and mildly acidic.  I don’t know if it pairs too well with many foods - fruit salad, anyone? - but this wine could be sipped poolside all day long.  At 12% abv once more, it’s very gulpable, especially when served chilled.

Keel and Curley's Dry Blueberry strives to be a "real" wine, and comes pretty darn close.  The two sweet wines I tasted are nothing but fun by the bottle.  It's easy to see why these wines are so popular in Florida.  I think they should go well anywhere there's a pool.

So far in the Wine Country series

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Cooking With Wine

It's thought to be W.C. Fields who said, "I love cooking with wine.  Sometimes I even put it in the food."  It's not too clear how much cooking Mr. Fields ever did, but they say he really knew his way around a bottle of wine.

Cooking with wine is a great way to add flavor to a meal. You don't have to worry too much about the alcohol - cooking burns off a good bit of it - the longer you cook, the more it burns away - and leaves just the lovely aromas and flavors found in the wine.  The wine's flavor tends to become mellower the longer you cook it, too.

Don't cook with cheap wine, or cooking wines.  Use only a wine you would drink in your cooking.  You don't have to break open an expensive bottle you are saving for a special occasion, but remember that quality counts.  It is going into your meal, after all.

Wine is like any other spice when used in cooking.  Using the proper amount is just as important as with any other seasoning.  Use enough to make a difference, but don't overpower the food by using too much.  Cooking the wine makes the flavor concentrated, so pour with a steady hand.

You need to allow some time for the wine to do its work.  Don't taste right away after adding the wine. Wait at least a few minutes.

Red or white?  As the rule of thumb goes for serving wine with dinner, red is best with meat dishes, white with cream sauces, seafood or white meats.  But as you would when selecting a wine to drink, let your own palate be your guide.  And don't forget rosés.  They can be used with great success in pork and chicken dishes.

If you're cooking with less fat these days, wine is a nice addition because it will help bring more moisture to the food that is missing in the absence of the fat.

Leftover wine can be recorked, refrigerated and kept for future use, but not for more than a few weeks.  Of course, the best thing about cooking with wine is that you can always drink the remainder with dinner.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Monopoly Napa Valley Edition

If you're a wine-loving board game fanatic, you should check out Monopoly's Napa Valley Edition.  The Parker Brothers classic is remade utilizing notable wine names from Napa Valley as properties, instead of the familiar streets of the original Monopoly game.  Instead of houses and hotels, wheeler-dealers can add vineyards and estates to try and trample the competition while moving wine-related tokens around the board.  Monopoly's Napa Valley Edition seemed to be in short supply when I checked, and it was selling for $100.

If you'd rather spend your Benjamin on an actual Napa wine, try a less expensive board game, also available from Amazon.  Wine-opoly sells for $20, and it offers a thinly disguised wine version of a Monopoly-style game using more generic wine themes.

While you're shopping, Amazon also has Monopoly wine charms, those little tags you hang on a glass so you can tell yours from the others.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Pork Pie Hat by Crooks & Castle

Dining amongst the hipsters is always risky.  In Los Angeles, sometimes it's unavoidable.  Friends have favorite places - for one reason or another - and when you aren't careful they can steer an evening into a place where you might not normally alight for dinner.

Little Dom's is one of those places.  The food looked interesting enough, and it certainly smelled interesting enough.  It's a small room, though, and it was packed.  Hipsters tend to make a lot of noise when they eat, and the rabble was loud enough to prevent me from hearing my table partners - and sometimes myself - speak.  The hipster quotient - tabulated by a quick look around to see how many pork pie hats are in the place - was about four.  Back in Texas we used to call this the cowboy quotient - the number of cowboy hats visible as you walk through the door.  Cowboys, as I recall, are even louder than hipsters.

Enough with the hipsters!  We were at Little Dom's because Marge has adopted finding a wine called Fata Morgana as her personal quest.  She had the Calabrian white wine quite a while back at this establishment, and has had no luck in finding a bottle elsewhere to purchase.  So she suggested we return to the scene of the wine and, wouldn't you know it, it's off the list.  She settled for a Birra Moretti.

We ordered salad and pizza done very thin with a crispy crust.  I enjoyed a very nice Lambrusco by Lini, in Italy's Emilia region.  I love pairing Lambrusco with simple, rustic food.

Its color is a beautiful, deep red, with just a trace of effervescence showing around the rim.
It's hard for me to get at the nose of a wine when it's chilled, and the slightly refrigerated temperature of the Lini in its narrow flute was enough to keep me from smelling too much.  Also complicating the whiff was the fully packed restaurant and all the wonderful smells coming from every other table.

The wine feels good on the palate, cool and slightly frizzante in style, with a little tickle of bubbles on the tongue.  It tastes like strawberry and cherry mixed together, but not in too sweet a fashion.  The finish is actually rather dry.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Wine News: Laws On Wine

Checking for some wine-related news stories recently, a few from three different areas of the country caught my eye.

In El Cajon, California there's an ordinance under consideration which would place a ban on beers and wines with a high alcohol content.  If passed, the city ordinance would mean fans of Porto and Port-style fortified wines would have to leave town in order to buy them.  City fathers hope the ban would cut down on El Cajon's problem with drunken transients - but, while keeping fortified wine off the store shelves, the ban would not affect the sale of a two-dollar hip flask of vodka.  And what about a 15.5% Cabernet. Is that considered a high alcohol wine?

In Kansas, state lawmakers are holding hearings on the possibility of allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell beer and wine, which presently is not permitted in the Jayhawk State.  State officials are probably thirsty for the $72-million increase in state and local taxes the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores would bring.

Maryland's state legislature is considering raising the wholesale alcohol tax.  The bill would add $215-million to the state's coffers by increasing the wine tax from 40 cents to three dollars, the beer tax from nine cents to $1.16 and an even greater jump for taxes on distilled spirits.  One Maryland brewery claims their excise tax would rise from $20,000 per year to $270,000.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Capote Velho

A recent jaunt across Southern California - actually just a little bit east on the Ventura Freeway - landed me at Rosso Wine Shop in Glendale.  The store had undergone an expansion since my previous visit, so it was nice to get a look at the new space.

It's always nice to visit Jeff Zimmitti, owner of Rosso, who has never steered me wrong on a wine recommendation.  This time, he cited a big value wine, Capote Velho Tinto Vinho de Mesa.  This $10 bottle was not only full of good wine, it was one full liter instead of the usual wine bottle size of 750ml.

The grapes are 100% Tinta Roriz, one of the top grapes of Portugal’s Douro Valley and the only one not native to the country.  You might be better acquainted with the grape under its Spanish name, Tempranillo.  It's a modest 11.5% abv, so those who shy away from high alcohol wines will want to look into this one.

The red table wine shows an oily nose with aromas of cherries and cola, along with a slight trace of a musty attic.  The palate rocks big red fruit flavors cloaked in earthy tones.  The structure is great, and so is the acidity.

I expected a bigger flavor based on the smell, but what’s there is nice.  The wine has a medium red hue and a medium mouthfeel.  In Goldilocks terms, that's "just right."  The tannins make themselves known, but they don’t get in the way.

This Portuguese drink finishes dry with a red licorice aftertaste I really loved.  Don’t overthink it though - it’s simple and rustic and priced right.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Castelvero Barbera

Dinner doesn't always have to be fancy.  Simple and good is a combination that works really well, in fact.  An after-work stop at Mezzomondo in Studio City served quite well to take the edge off a fairly tough day.  The fusilli and sausage with a light cream sauce was perfect and the meat lasagna disappeared before we knew it.  Interesting table talk with Michael, who was overseeing the place, made the meal even more enjoyable.

The wine was a nice enough example of Piedmont Barbera, from Castelvero.  It's not expensive - just under $9 here - and while it doesn't blaze any new trails, it's really doesn't have to.  Simple and good.

The dark ruby color is inviting and the nose of violets and cherries are pleasant enough.  The medium weight and good acidity make it almost ideal for a lot of different foods.  I might have preferred a white with the cream sauce, but I have complaints about how it paired with the sausage.  Earthy blackberry flavors and plums dominate the palate and it drinks very easily.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Wine On TV: Vine Talk

A new television show about wine is set to debut on Public Broadcasting in the spring of 2011.  Vine Talk will be a weekly talk show in which host Stanley Tucchi and guest chefs, wine experts and other celebrities discuss a different wine region in each episode.  The object, as stated on the Vine Talk website, will be to demystify wine and make it accessible and fun for a broad audience.

Wine Spectator notes that each episode will feature six wines that will serve as the focal point of the discussion, and the studio audience will taste wine along with the celebs.  A so-called "Top Wine" will be selected at the end of each episode.  The show is slated to debut in April 2011 on PBS.

The format sounds rather like a talk show with a dash of competition - the "Top Wine" aspect being borrowed from the popular "chef battle" programs.  Have we reached a point where we can no longer watch a show on the culinary arts without having a winner declared at the end?  Hopefully Vine Talk will not be too heavy handed in the selection and announcement of the episode's "Top Wine."

Tucchi would seem to be a good fit for a show like this.  He helped write and direct, and starred in, the 1996 movie Big Night, a film that is close to the hearts of foodies everywhere.  He played one of a pair of Italian immigrant brothers who own a restaurant in America.  The story centers around how they gamble on one big night to help save the struggling business.  Plus, he kindalooks like a wine guy.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Wine Institute

California's Wine Institute has launched a campaign to brand California's wines globally.  It would seem at first blush an unnecessary move, since California is the world's fourth largest wine producer and makes 90% of all U.S. wines which are exported.  American wine, to most around the world, is California wine.

The idea is to make a good thing even better.  Wine Insitute wants to double California's wine exports by 2022.  That would put the annual dollar figure at just about $2 billion.

They are rolling out the Discover California Winescampaign to "put a face" on wines from the Golden State for the rest of the world.  Americans who learn a little bit about the geography, terrain and people of wine producing countries around the world get a better understanding of those wines and, in turn, buy them more often.  Wine Institute hopes it works the other way, too.

The campaign starts with a colorful logo, which resembles the artwork of the old orange crates of California's yesteryear.  Striated golden sunshine and green vineyards emanate from behind a silhouetted wine bottle, reaches out to all points.

The campaign will connect the California wine industry to visual imagery of our wine regions, with colorful maps and pictures of our vineyards and landmarks.

California wine will get a high profile around the world, as the Discover California Wines campaign takes the message to trade fairs in Düsseldorf, London and Bordeaux.  The tour will also include California Wine Fairs in Canada and the California Wines European Spring Tour.

It's been pointed out by many that people in countries other than the United States tend to drink their own wines, not California's.  Weaning the French away from Bordeaux and Burgundy won't be easy; I'm sure Wine Institute doesn't feel California can corner the global market on wine.  They do feel, though, that it's worth a shot to try and at least cut California's slice of the worldwide wine pie a little bigger.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Sweet Wines for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day gifts usually center around chocolates or flowers.  While those are great choices - you'll hear no argument about either from my valentine - dessert wines have the sweet and pretty angles covered in both aroma and taste.

If your valentine is a wine lover, a dessert wine is the perfect gift idea.  Sweet, floral aromas and luscious candy-like flavors make dessert wine a natural choice for the sweetest person in your life.  Anyway, they taste so much better than those awful candy hearts.

As you may expect, dessert wines are great for dessert, or as an addition to dessert.  They also pair well with blue cheese and you can even liven up a lobster dinner with a sweet wine.

Here are some dessert wines you may want to look into as a gift on the sweetest day of the year:

Sauternes is a sweet Bordeaux white wine.  Sauternes wines can get very expensive, but many affordable examples can be found in the $20 to $30 range for a half-bottle.

A Hungarian wine known as Tokaji (pronounced to-kay) is a sweet white wine often called "the king of wines and the wine of kings."  At least that's what Louis XIV called it.

Italian Brachetto is not extremely sweet - call it off-dry - but it's a sparkling red wine and is certainly a festive choice for Valentine's Day.

An Icewine from Austria, Germany, Canada or New York State will also please sweet-craving palates.

Port is a sweet wine, although it's fortified with brandy or grape spirits and the alcohol level is a bit higher than most dessert wines.  Real Port comes only from Portugal, but Port-style wines are made just about everywhere.

California's Rosenblum Cellars makes a treat called Désirée.  It's a Port-style wine made from Zinfandel and two Portuguese grape varieties, infused with chololate.  It can certainly set a romantic mood all by itself.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Now And Zin's bid to sample the wines of all 50 states continues in the Deep South.  Morgan Creek Winery is located just south of Birmingham in in the sleepy little town of Harpersville, Alabama, population 1,620.

Harpersville was the birthplace of the man who founded the second Ku Klux Klan back in 1915, and nowadays they boast the first African-American mayor in Shelby County, Theoangelo Perkins.  Actor Henry B. Wathall hailed from Harpersville.  He is said to have a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.  I've walked those sidewalks in Los Angeles many times, but I don't recall ever seeing Mr. Wathall's star.  I'll keep an eye open for it, though.  ABA star George McGinnis and former NBA player Warren Kidd are also from Harpersville.

Besides all the cotton fields - which is king in the Deep South - the vineyards of Morgan Creek Winery are the main attraction.

Morgan Creek's winemaking focuses on a regional grape popular in the southern and southeastern United States, Muscadine.  They also produce wine from other fruit, notably peaches and blueberries.   The winery is run by Charles Brammer and his son, Charles, Jr.  Winemaking was supposed to be the elder Brammer’s retirement hobby.  Things apparently went in a different direction, and he ended up working again.  At least it’s a labor of love.

More widely known grape varieties, like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, don't grow so well in the hot, humid climate of central Alabama.  Fortunately, that's the kind of weather in which Muscadine thrives.  I was unfamiliar with Muscadine wine, armed only with the word that it was a lot sweeter than the wines I was probably accustomed to drinking.  The folks at Morgan Creek were kind enough to supply two samples of their Muscadine, a red and a white.  Both Muscadine wines are actually more off-dry than sweet, with a very good acidity and earthy, mineral-laden notes which I did not expect.

I think both the red and the white are well made, but the funky flavor of the fruit was simply not getting any traction on my palate.  The acidity was fine, color beautiful, mouthfeel nice - I just didn’t care for the fruit.  I have the same issue with asparagus, sauerkraut and grapefruit.  That doesn't mean they are bad foods - I hear that plenty of people love asparagus, sauerkraut and grapefruit.

Tasting the wines over several days gave me the opportunity to become more accustomed to the flavor profiles, and pairing them with food helped put me in a Muscadine mentality.  In the case of the white Muscadine, I did not try it fully refrigerated until the third day. The recommended serving temperature is ice cold.

Morgan Creek Winery Cahaba WhiteMorgan Creek Cahaba White, Alabama Muscadine, Dry Table Wine

The white wine is made from the Carlos variety of Muscadine and sells for $11 per bottle.  There is no residual sugar and it is vinified without the use of oak.  It has a beautiful, golden yellow color.  At room temperature there's an extremely vegetal nose with a bell pepper aroma so strong there seems at first to be no other aroma available.  Chilled, the nose is more like wet straw, tasting very tart and vegetal still.  It becomes less astringent after a few sips and is quite nice paired with macadamia nuts and spicy pecans.  When served ice cold, it still smells a bit of wet straw, but with a hint of oaky chardonnay in it.  The taste is much less tart, with grapefruit and minerals on the palate.  It pairs nicely with peanuts and almonds, and with a blueberry Welsh cake.

Morgan Creek Winery Vulcan RedVulcan Red This wine is medium weight, brick-red in color and made from 100% Muscadine grapes.  It sells for $13.  The nose carries a sweet and earthy quality.  Denise - on whose great sense of smell I often rely - says it reminds her of grapes fallen from vines and crushed underfoot, which she experienced as a child.  The palate shows a trace of the same funkiness that presents itself in the Cahaba White, only smoothed out with a ripe sweetness that resembles sour raspberry candy.  There's a sparkling acidity which actually feels almost - but not quite - fizzy in the mouth.  It pairs well with butter cookies and blueberry Welsh cake, too.  It’s not so great a match with peanuts, but food with a bit of a sweet edge seems to be a good mate for it.  Vulcan Red can also benefit from a good chill.

Although Muscadine's flavor profiles were not meant for me, I can certainly see why the grape has its fans.  Tremendous thanks go out to Morgan Creek Winery for showing us the wine side of Alabama.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Michael David Incognito Viognier

Lunchtime in Beverly Hills usually takes us to one of a bushel basketful of Italian restaurants located in and around 90210.  This time, we tried a place that was new, for us anyway.

Da Pasquale Trattoria Italiana in Beverly Hills is a bright and comfortable place to grab good Italian food.  There are streetside tables on the sidewalk, but I honestly don't see what people find so enthralling about dining three feet from Los Angeles traffic.  We went indoors.

The wine list is fairly decent, but when I asked which whites were unchilled, it was a choice between a Lodi Viognier and a California Chardonnay.  I think I made the right choice.

Brothers Michael and David Phillips carry on a family tradition of farming that dates back to the 1860s.  The vineyards are irrigated by the Mokelumne River, and the family no longer relies on selling their grapes to other winemakers - they make their own wine.

The Michael David website calls Incognito "the Viognier formerly known as Roussanne. Originally thought to be Roussanne, D.N.A. testing found it to be a rare clone of Viognier."  The winery also produces a red wine which goes as Incognito Rouge.

Incognito shows a beautiful golden color, with a nose not as floral one might expect from Viognier.  There is a big flourish of apricot, with a touch of peas, or maybe edamame.  Apricots dominate the palate as well, with a vegetal accent and a wet rock minerality.   Incognito has a very full mouthfeel.  It's a lush drink with nice acidity and a long finish.  It paired well with my spaghetti aglio olio, which was garlicky and simply fantastic.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Birth Of White Zinfandel At Sutter Home

A recent post on a wine blog well worth checking out - Dr. Vino - dealt with the story behind the birth of one of the most popular White Zinfandels, that of Sutter Home Winery.

The Napa Valley winery dates back to the late 1800s, and was resurrected by the Trinchero family in 1948.  They struggled along for a number of years, until Bob Trinchero - quite by accident - made what he termed a White Zinfandel.  He did this by bleeding off some of the juice to try and make his Zinfandel wine more concentrated.

Dr. Vino quotes Mr. Trinchero at length from an oral history at the University of California's Bancroft Library.  He says the happy accident occurred in 1972, and White Zin really started to take off in the mid '70s.  At that time he was producing about 400 cases of the pink wine.

Dr. Vino concludes the post with the success story: Sutter Home's output of White Zinfandel grew and became more popular.  By 1985 they were selling a million and a half cases, by 1990 they moved 3 million cases of their White Zinfandel.

Sutter Home also has a little video of the story of White Zinfandel on their website.

By the way, if you pooh-pooh White Zinfandel while ruminating over your old vine Zin, consider what I have been told.  Were it not for the enormous popularity of White Zin in the 1980s, many old Zinfandel vines in California might have been ripped out to make way for more commercially viable grapes. 

Monday, February 7, 2011


I had an all-too-infrequent wine session with my friend and colleague Nicolas Soufflet recently at Vinoteque on Melrose in Los Angeles.  Nicolas is a young man determined to make his mark in the wine industry.  Hailing from France, he has an extensive knowledge of that country's wines and, in fact, has worked forChapoutier.  He also has experience in Italian wines - I have witnessed his expertise in hosting tasting sessions featuring the wines of Italy.  His recommendations to me are always taken to heart.

This evening, the conversation ran wildly from one topic another.  Nicolas extolled the virtues of French wine and disparaged the cult wines of Napa Valley, in particular.  Some good wines, and good wine places we have shared were also up for discussion.  The state of our personal and professional situations caused some lively banter - all good on the personal front and somewhat guarded on the professional.  My illustration of the sad shape of my own professional outlook when I was at his age didn't seem to brighten his spirits much.  I remember the same sort of conversation with my elders at that time had the same effect on me.  We let the wine dominate our evening, however, and that proved to be a good thing.

Nicolas - no surprise - enjoyed a Vouvray and a Burgundy.  I spent a couple of hours ruminating on a Rhone blend from Lirac and a Douro vinho tinto.

The 2003 Roger Sabon Chapelle de Maillac blends Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignane, with the Grenache taking the lead.  Nicolas mentioned that Lirac was adjacent to Châteauneuf du Pape, and I understand the vineyards are on hillsides full of stones and chalk.  The wine is $8 by the glass at Vinoteque.

Its nose features very dark fruit and notes of tobacco and tomato, or tomato sauce, actually.  The palate shows smokey blackberry and black plum.  Starting out a little hot, it really smooths out after half an hour.

The Douro entry, Lavradores de Feitoria Vinho Tinto, is also $8 per glass.  A blend of native Portuguese grapes Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca, this red shows very deep color due to prolonged maceration and shows particularly dark aromas and flavors considering the steel fermentation.

I pick up smokey black cherry aromas with an overlay of tar and a taste of plummy cassis.  A very firm structure paired well with the treats on the table.

We had some Garrotxa cheese made from goat's milk in the Catalonia region of Spain.  A peppery salami and some mini crab cakes were also nice.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Ancient Armenian Winery Discovered

Archaeologists digging around in the mountains of Armenia have found what they believe to be the world's oldest known winery.

National Geographic reports the researchers have unearthed a wine press, fermentation vessels and even some old dried up grapevines believed to be about 6,100 years old.  One of the archaeologists, from UCLA, says it is the "earliest, most reliable evidence of wine production."

It appears that the ancient winemakers stomped the grapes with their feet, allowing the juice to run into a vat where it was fermented.  The scientists say the cool, dry conditions of the cave where the winery was found would make a perfect place to store wine.

Traces of malvidin - the plant pigment that causes red wine to be red - was found on some drinking cups also located there.  However, the lack of tartaric acid might point to the wine having been made using pomegranates instead of grapes.

Evidence of wine has already been discovered dating back 7,000 years in Iran, but there was no winemaking facility discovered there.  The new discoveries lead scientists to believe that Armenia, Georgia and neighboring countries may be the birthplace of viticulture.

There were also some burial sites discovered in the area, leading the team to suspect that wine was a big part of the civilization's funeral proceedings.

According to the report, these discoveries are important because of what they show about prehistoric societies.  Vine growing represents an advanced form of agriculture and the knowledge of how to make something with culinary and nutritional value out of what were once wild grapes indicates a certain level of sophistication.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Football Wine

Football fans are looking forward to the Super Bowl - and wine lovers who like football - may want some help in finding a suitable wine that pairs well with pigskin.

Here are some wines with football pedigrees.

Former NFL coach Dick Vermeil makes wine in Napa Valley. Calistoga, to be exact.  That's where his great-grandfather lived and made wine, and where Vermeil grew up.  Vermeil has coached teams to a college national championship and a Super Bowl victory in the NFL, so maybe cracking a bottle of his vino will mean good luck for your team.

As the president of the San Francisco 49ers, Carmen Policy helped build Super Bowl champions.  Now he presides over his wine label, Casa Piena in Napa Valley.  With a heavy-hitting Cabernet Sauvignon, Policy's team color is now purple.

The former quarterback for those 49er championship teams, Joe Montana, also has a wine still available - Montagia - although he sold the Calistoga winery in 2009.

Former Redskins defensive standout Terry Hoage runs Terry Hoage Vineyards in California's Paso Robles area.  He concentrates his efforts on Rhone varieties.

Michigan Wolverine fans will want to stock up on Bo's Wine, named for the late Bo Schembechler, who coached the Wolverines for 20 years.  Schembechler is memorialized by a Merlot and a Savignon Blanc, both selling for less than $20.  A contribution from the sale of each bottle is made to the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center.

Former New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe has a Washington state wine called Doubleback.  His Cabernet Sauvignon has just released its first vintage.

Former Bears linebacker Dick Butkus offers his Legends 51 Cabernet Sauvignon - a wine which contributes 100% of its sales to the Butkus Foundation.

"Iron" Mike Ditka has a manly brand on the market - Kick Ass Red - which utilizes grapes from Mendocino, California.

The New York Jets commemorated the opening of their new stadium with the release of a - California - wine.

Gary Eberle was a Penn State Nittany Lion in his collegiate career.  His Eberle Winery is one of the finest in Paso Robles, a wine area he helped establish.

The image above is a hand painted wine glass called "Football Widow" - it sells for $20 at

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Bucci Verdicchio

Another trip to Fabrocini's Beverly Glen - yes, the calamari and scungilli salad beckoned again - resulted in another white wine to pair with my favorite dish.  Usually I go with a California wine here - once a German Riesling - but this time I went Italian.

The Bucci Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore is $12 by the glass at Fabrocini’s.  It has an alcohol level of 13.5% and appears to be a 100% varietal wine aged only in the bottle. 

The wine has a shimmering golden color with a greenish tint.  Peach and minerals vie for attention on the nose and the palate, with the mineral aspect particularly forceful on the taste.  There is a hint of vegetation as well.  A full mouthfeel and plenty of acidity make it a wonderful quaff, and both help it pair so well with seafood.  A long-lasting finish leaves ripe peaches as a memory.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Rosso Wine Shop

I stopped in to see Jeff Zimmitti at Rosso Wine Shop in Glendale, California recently to check out the expansion of his store.  Zimmitti said, “The process began in mid-2010 and went through the summer.  We got the final tweaks done in October.”

The next-door space was previously occupied by a maternity shop.  When they decided their business had grown to the point that they needed more room - a fitting metaphor - they moved up the street and created room for the Rosso expansion.

Zimmitti said the extra space allows for more inventory.  “We now have a selection of German and Austrian wines.  I sort of limited myself to Italy, France, Spain and California up to now.  We also were able to add a little additional bar space and we have room for stacking cases now.  Oh, and a place for dinner.”

He nods into the new space, in the direction of a huge, rustic dinner table.  “That’s for wine dinners,” he said, “so we can have winemakers and importers bring in their wines to pair with food in a relaxed and comfortable setting.”  Those situations were a little crowded before, when extra tables and chairs had to be squeezed in between the wine racks and the tasting bar.  “You can also rent the room,” he adds, “for a private event or a birthday party, something like that.”

The new space is adorned with a number of interesting maps on the walls, depicting different countries and their wine regions, something I’ve long thought would be a natural choice for a place selling wine from around the world.  “I’m a map guy,” Zimmitti confessed, “and I’m a graphic designer, and I have access to a large format printer.  It all fell into place.”

There isn’t a kitchen, so the Rosso wine events involving food have to be catered from off site.  Zimmitti noted that “one importer did find a way to make a paella in the back for his Spanish wines.”

City permits were the hardest part of the expansion process.  “All the forms and applications we had to wade through when we opened, we had to basically do it all over again.  The end result was worth it, though.”

As we talked, I enjoyed the weekend tasting along with a few other early arrivers.

Zaumau Priorat Blanco 2008
This Spanish Grenache Blanc is made from the fruit of old vines, and has the grizzled qualities expected.  The pale yellow wine undergoes steel fermentation.  The nose is loaded with minerals and the fresh taste puts wet rocks, bell pepper herbal notes and citrus on display.  The finish is lengthy.

Nebout Saint-Pourcain Rouge 2009
From rocky vineyards in France’s Loire Valley, this red is 80% Gamay and 20% Pinot Noir.  Medium brick red with a grapey nose - a fabulously grapey nose.  There is a strong floral scent as well, and flavors of bright cherry.  Very smooth tannins make this mellow wine very friendly.  Based on the brightness and clarity of the fruit, I would guess there is no oak used in making this wine.

Collosorbo Sant' Antimo 2007
This Tuscan red blend is a dark purple in the glass with a nose of blackberry with spices and an oaky presence.  Dark fruit and smoke on the palate are abetted by a  big mineral effect.  Good grip.  White pepper lasts into long finish.  A blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot seems an odd mix for Tuscany.  The wine is aged in small 225 liter barriques.  It may interest you to know that the estate, Tenuta di Collosorbo, is headed by three women - owner Giovanna Ciacci, winemaker Laura Sutera Sardo and enologist/marketing manager Lucia Sutera Sardo.

Rosso Wine Shop’s weekly tastings - Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. - cost $10 for the flight.  The conversation is free.  Zimmitti loves to start pouring early and doesn't mind running overtime.  Wine by glass and bottled beer are also available at the bar.


Loyola Marymount Wine Classic 2011

A suddenly rainy Sunday and a bit of a cool snap provided the perfect backdrop for the 30th Annual Wine Classic at Loyola Marymount University.  The weather may have gotten unexpectedly off track from the early spring which Southern California was enjoying, but January 30, 2011 turned out alright for those in attendance at this event.

The crowd was big - it was big last year, too.  The fundraiser for LMU Student Scholarships does great business each year, and hundreds turned out for the 2011 edition.  Tickets sales account for a portion of the money raised, and a silent auction of large format wines from the participating wineries brings in additional revenue.

Despite the gymnasium surroundings, the event is decidedly elegant.  It’s the only tasting event I’ve been to which has a string quartet playing live.

The String QuartetClose to 50 wineries were pouring their wares and the event was populated primarily with Napa Valley wines from somewhat small producers.  As you may expect, there was a lot to like at the LMU campus.

The Delicious Dozen - My 12 Favorites of the Loyola Marymount Wine Classic 2011:

August Briggs Wines Pinot Noir, Dijon Clone 2008
 - darker and earthier than the Calistoga winery's also wonderful Russian River Pinot.

Fontanella Family Winery Zinfandel 2009 - Napa Zin comes on like a Napa Cabernet, muscular and elegant at once.

Frazier Winery Merlot, Frazier Vineyard 2007 - smokey and dark nose with more of same on palate from this Napa producer.

Judd's Hill Petite Sirah, Old Vine Lodi 2007 - a great, big wine from the Napa winery on the Silverado Trail.

Lasseter Family Winery St. Emilion Style Red Blend, Sonoma Valley 2007 - Glen Ellen producer's blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc is extremely dark and earthy; very dry with great grip.

Martian Ranch and Vineyard Grenache Rosé 2009 - Los Alamos pinkie with great acidity and light cherries forever.

Ortman Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Edna Valley 2008 - Paso Robles' Chuck Ortman utilizes grapes from Edna Valley, one of the best areas in California for white wines.  Slight oak and big fruit.

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - One of the best bouquets at the event with graphite, dark fruit and wonderful minerality.

St. Francis Winery & Vineyards Zinfandel, "Old Vines" Sonoma County 2007 - Santa Rosa winery uses Zin from vines exceeding 100 years old.  Big fruit and tannins to match.

Vinoce Vineyard Proprietary Blend, Mount Veeder 2007 - From one of Napa's premier locations, a mix of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Tons of earth and smoke.

White Rock Vineyards Claret 2006 - A new release from this Napa winery, it spent two years in French Oak and two years in the bottle.

Yates Family Vineyard Cabernet Franc Cheval Vineyard 2007 - Huge fruit in this dark Napa beauty.

The crowd at Loyola Marymount

Also Fabulous:

Trust Your PalateAugust Briggs
 Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Rosso Vineyard 2007 - Briggs said he loves this vineyard. Huge pencil lead edge.

Brookman Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - A deep, rich nose and a long finish.

Foxen Vineyard Chardonnay, Bien Nacido Vineyard 2009 - Lightly oaked and wonderful acidity. Exceptional.

Foxen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley 2007 - Dark and earthy with a very good grip.

The Grade Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - Grassy, tropical and refreshing with nice acidity.

Judd's Hill Pinot Noir, Central Coast 2007 - Restrained, compared to the big reds on hand.

Krupp Brothers Estates Black Bart's Bride White 2007 - Marsanne, Viognier and Chardonnay get nine months French oak, but is not overblown.

Lasseter Family Winery Rosé Blend, Sonoma Valley 2009 - Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre; salmon colored and dry.

Martian Ranch & Vineyard Grenache Blanc 2008 - Nutty, tropical and peach with great acidity.

Riverbench Chardonnay 2007 - Oaky, good rich nose.

Riverbench Pinot Noir 2007 - Earth and pepper.

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2009 - Dry style, nice peach flavor with great acidity.

Yates Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Mountain Vineyard 2005 - very reserved and elegant.  This producer has been making wine for the family since the 1950s.  1999 was their first commercial vintage.

ZD Wines Pinot Noir Carneros 2009 - Floral nose with earthy notes accenting.