Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Blood Of The Vines: Valley of the Dolls

Wine Goes To The Movies
With and

As "Valley of the Dolls" begins, we are told that "you have to climb Mt. Everest to reach the valley of the dolls."  The highs and lows of that journey are sufficiently described in the film, leaving no doubt that we are not in Lawrenceville anymore.

With all the pill-popping that goes on in "Valley Of The Dolls," it would be a good idea to let the wine alone for this one.  I don't pop pills - "dolls," in the parlance of the film - but I do pair wine with movies.  That's how I get my thrills - at least on Thursdays.  So get your hand out of the "dolly jar" and make sure those red things are cinnamon jellybeans.

Patty Duke is the fresh young face, Sharon Tate is the decoration, Barbara Parkins is the small-town girl in the big city.  Everyone has their own reasons for taking a room in the dollhouse.  Susan Hayward plays the role of aging veteran actress Helen Lawson, who takes full-bore diva bitchiness to a new level.  The role was intended for Judy Garland, but life is supposed to imitate art, not the other way around.

Duke's character is a giant of the pill-popping world.  Need to go to sleep?  There's a pill for that.  Need to wake up?  There's a pill for that, too.  Need to get through that tap dance rehearsal?  Yes, a pill for that.  Need to have some hot starlet sex?  Gotcha covered.

I read somewhere that Champagne was the Viagra of the '60s.  Personally, I like that idea.  Today, say it with me now, there's a pill for that.  A struggling young actress, though, might find it hard to afford Champagne, what with all the pills she buys to make it through a day.

So you don't flip your wig into the toilet, a lower-alcohol Prosecco is about as strong a drink as I'd try with this movie.  You don't want to upset the uppers & downers equilibrium too much.  Il Conte d'Alba 1917 Stella Rosa is only about five percent alcohol, and about as affordable as a bottle of aspirin - only about $10.

The theme song from the movie - a big hit for Dionne Warwick - lyrically suggests "goin' where I'm free."   A few years later, Janis Joplin would punctuate that notion with "freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose," which would seem a more fitting depiction of this movie's idea of the freedom found in a bottle of pills.

You may want to pop the cork on one of these dolls:
Valley of the Moon Winery - The Sonoma County producer has a couple of Zinfandels worth checking out. $10-$15

Mama's Little Yella Pils - Oskar Blues Brewery of Colorado makes this pilsner beer.  It comes in a can, with the name proudly emblazoned across the front.

There's a pill for that.  Resveratrol pills.  Really?  A pill instead of wine? We're becoming as unhinged as the women in "Valley of the Dolls."

Sparkling Grape Juice - The safest bet, with no alcohol at all.  $2.97 at Walmart.  By the way, if you are a young starlet shopping at Walmart, you need a better agent.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri

A little early for our dinner reservations - and our dining companions - at Cleo in Hollywood's Redbury Hotel, we decided to perch ourselves at the bar and have a nibble and a sip while waiting.  The parade of dressed-to-the-nines twenty-somethings provided quite a fashion show as a background to our snack of wood-fired olives and almonds.

It was a warm early evening in Tinseltown, so I opted for a Greek white wine I spied on the menu.  Greek wines being a bit of a rarity on Los Angeles wine lists, this is an opportunity which doesn't present itself often enough.

From the volcanic Greek island of Santorini, Domaine Sigalas - established in 1991 - is a relative newcomer to a wine culture which has been around for well over 3,000 years.  The island's vineyards are planted primarily to white grape varieties, among them Assyrtiko and Athiri.

This big, dry white wine is made from 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athiri.  The Assyrtiko grape is notable for maintaining its high acidity level even when quite ripe, possibly due to the Santorini soil, which is full of volcanic ash and pumice.  The Athiri grape contributes a citrus quality.  It's also grown on the island of Rhodes.  The vines from which these grapes come are about 50 years old.

The blend carries an alcohol level of 13.5% by volume and sells for $8 by the glass at Cleo.

Pale yellow in the glass, the nose comes on strong, with a gorgeous whiff of the ocean.  Salinity and citrus mingle for a refreshing aroma profile.  In the mouth the wine is of medium weight and has a crisp and bracing acidity coming out of it's ears.  A strong herbal flavor comes through on the palate which is dominated by tart green apple and lemon zest.

Denise said, "I'm loving the trend of having wood fired olives in Los Angeles restaurants," an observation with which I wholeheartedly agree.  The wine pairs beautifully with the snack, and I can only imagine that it is similarly brilliant with a seafood dish. 

During dinner we had Cambria's Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir, which seemed to be made especially for the wood-fired lamb Merguez at Cleo.

Learn more about Santorini's history in this captivating and beautifully written piece from 
Vinography: A Wine Blog,  by Alder Yarrow.

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Monday, August 29, 2011


Enoteca Drago

In Los Angeles, the Drago family is to Italian food and wine as the Rockefeller family is to money.  They know it, they live it, they breathe it.  Wine importer V.E.D.I. Wines brought some of the wines they represent to Enoteca Drago in Beverly Hills recently for an afternoon trade tasting, and I had the good fortune of an invitation.

Here are some of the tasty Italian treats I discovered from Veneto, Lombardia and Abruzzo, along with some sparkling wines from Valencia, Spain.

Cava Pago de Tharsys:

Pago de Tharsys poured those extremely nice sparkling wines produced in Valencia.  There were a lot of earthy notes in these Cavas, and some very interesting grapes.

Rosado Brut 2008:  100% Garnacha; strawberries and earth
Brut Nature 2008:   80% Macabeo, 20% Chardonnay; yeasty and earthy with notes of guava
Tharsys Unico:  100% Bobal; yeasty and crisp with a nutty edge
Dominio de Tharsys Brut:  75% Macabeo, 25% Parellada;  very fruity and fresh
Dominio de Tharsys Rosado:  Bobal; earthy cherry nose, cherry syrup flavor with a hint of banana

Marcato had a couple of notable sparklers from Italy's Lessini Hills of Verona, in the Veneto region.

Durello Spumante Brut:  85% Durella with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well; multi-vintage; steel fermented, Charmat method; nutty nose; light and fruity, with a citrus/tropical play
Durello 36 Mesi:  Durella, Pinot Noir & Chardonnay again; creamier, yet still vibrant and fresh; traditional method

Cavalchina is from Veneto.

Cavalchina is the name of the district where this winery is located, on the southeastern border of the Garda amphitheatre.

Bianco di Custoza:  40% Garganega, 30% Fernanda, 15% Trebbiano, 15% Trebbianello; very nutty with a light acidity
Amedeo Biano di Custoza Superiore:  40% Garganega, 30% Fernanda, 15% Trebbiano, 15%Trebbianello:  more acidity than in the Bianco di Custoza
Chiaretto Bardolino:  Rose harvested and vinified separately from the rosso, not as a bleed-off; very light pink with strawberries and flowers
Bardolino:  the red bardolino; gorgeous nose, black cherry and chocolate, unusual for a steel fermented wine; flavor is fruity and floral
Santa Lucia Bardolino Superiore:  60% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 15% Marzemino e Barbera; nice tannic structure, the wood aging doesn't overwhelm

Vigneti Prendina is from Lombardia.

Merlot Garda:  85% Merlot, 15% Rondinella; the grapes are harvested at different times, so separate vinification is required; neutral oak barriques, smokey fruit
Pinot Grigio Alto Mincio: oakless Pinot Grigio with a lovely aroma
Falcone Cabernet Sauvignon:  85%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot; dark and smokey; 12 months in barriques

Contesa is in Abruzzo, centrally located in Italy, but considered part of the south.  The region borders the Adriatic Sea.

Nerone:  Montepulciano d'Abruzzo; great drak nose showing tar, tasting of smokey plums
Contesa Montepulciano d'Abruzzo:  great acidity, very smooth; 24 months in large barrels
Vigna Corvino Montepulciano:  very smooth; dusty cherry notes
Vigna Corvino Trebbiano:  stainless steel fermentation; rather like a new world Sauvignon Blanc; grassy and earthy; grape dates back to Roman times in Abruzzo
Vigna Corvino Cerasuolo:  dry rose with a lovely nose; one day skin contact gives a lovely cherry color
Pecorino:  citrus and a nutty quality
Sorab Pecorino:  four weeks barrique fermentation; weightier with delicious use of wood; aged on its lees for 6 months

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Sunday, August 28, 2011


If a wine writer accepts remuneration for writing about wine, can that opinion be trusted?  That's the question addressed in the Guardian's Word Of Mouth Blog recently. It's an interesting question, and the blog received numerous comments on both sides of the fence.

Some respected sommeliers are paid a salary to act as consultants for specific wine interests.  Writers are often provided with wine samples at no charge for the purpose of review.  Invitations to wine tasting events and winemaker dinners are the lifeblood of most wine writers, particularly bloggers, who use the information obtained through these freebies to write the articles wine lovers like to read.

Most wine writers try to be transparent about whether the subject of an article was purchased or provided for free.  Many observers feel receiving a bottle of wine or a ticket to an event for free makes the writer beholden to the provider, and thereby throws their credibility into question.

The Wine Writers of New Zealand state their distaste of their members taking so much as a free sample in order to write an article.  The Word Of Mouth Blog feels the practice of accepting freebies may mean wine writers could run afoul of the UK's Bribery Act, although that legislation exempts hospitality.

Commenters below the article ranged from those "fed up with wine writers recommending wines from" major chains and supermarkets" to one who wrote, "I'd quite like wine writers to review wines that I can actually buy.  Reviewing supermarket wine would be just dandy."

It's my understanding that people who write about wine for major publications or corporate websites often must abide by strict rules preventing them from taking samples or free passes in order to write an article.  I know this has been the case with major newspapers, and, in many cases, still is.

Many sommeliers act as advisors to wine regions or have other similar affiliations resulting in income.  Does this negate everything they write about those entities?  Should it?

Like most wine bloggers, I do not earn an income through my wine writing.  I write about many wines I pay for out of my pocket, but most of the articles I write concerning wines and wine events could not be written without the subsidy of a free sample or ticket.  I feel most wine bloggers float in the same boat I am in.  I always strive for honesty when I give my opinion.

It's been my experience that samples or entry to an event provided by a publicist are given with the understanding that the resulting article may not be favorable.  Even the cold heart of a PR person doesn't think writers can be bought off with a bottle of wine.  Of course, there is always the possibility of out-and-out bribery, but I have no direct knowledge of that in my 35-plus years of writing about wine and other things.

I have been asked if I would provide a look at the article before publication.  The answer was - and is - no.  I have attended press junkets which resulted in a less than enthusiastic article.  In at least one case, I did not hear from that publicist again.  One winemaker I queried for a sample refused the request because previous reviews of his wine - by other writers - had not been favorable.

Is it transparent enough to state that a freebie was given?  Do you trust wine writing when you know there was some sort of compensation given to the writer?

Please feel free to leave a comment here, email me at or Tweet your feelings to me, @randyfuller1.  I'd love to hear what you think.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


The Rhone Rangers

The posse of Rhone Rangers rode into Santa Monica, California on August 7.  They were on a mission.  With the 22 grape varieties of the Rhone Valley holstered and ready for action, the participating wineries poured and poured.  They poured Syrah, Viognier and Grenache.  They poured Carignane, Cinsault and - when we thought we’d had it all - they poured Mourvèdre.

The Rhone Rangers came to win converts, but from what I heard they were preaching to the choir.  Pier 59 Studios West was packed with Rhone-o-philes who reveled in the grapes of their favorite valley.  The crowds didn’t seem as heavy as they were at last year’s event, but enough of the faithful were lined up for entry during the VIP/trade/media portion that a line formed outside.

I used a bit of technology that was new to me, the iPhone app from Second Glass.  The Rhone Rangers event was available from a handful of events in the app, and the wineries attending were loaded within the app, along with the wines they were pouring.  It was easy to make notes on each wine using this app, but a few changes and additions would make it just about perfect.

The app requires the user to rate the wine before the "notes" tab can be opened.  I like to make notes before deciding on what rating to give a wine.  If notes could be made before assessing a rating, it would make more sense and speed the process at the tasting table.  I felt a little uncomfortable taking the extra time required.

Some wineries poured wines which were not on the list, which required me to leave the app and go to a separate note-taking app. The ability to add wines which are not on the list would be a great feature.

Also, a picture-taking feature within the app would further streamline things for those who like a photo or two of the goings-on.

The app allowed me to rate the wines as "two thumbs up," "one thumb up" and "meh."  These are the wines to which I gave a "two thumbs up" rating:

Anglim Winery Cameo White Rhone Blend 2008 - Viognier from Bien Nacido Vineyard is quite lean.  Grenache Blanc and Roussanne are from Paso Robles.

Bonny Doon Vineyards Clos de Gilroy 2010 - Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah form a tart bond of raspberry and cherry.

Calcareous Vineyard Viognier 2009 - Big fruit, lots of minerals and a great acidity.

Caliza Winery Syrah 2008 - Spicy red fruit.  Great acid and huge tannins.

Calcareous Tres Violet 2007 - Beautiful raspberry tartness.

Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Red 2008 - Rhone grapes meet Lagrein from French Camp Vineyard.  Great acidity and tannins.  Seems to have an Italian feel despite being a primarily Rhone blend.

Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Syrah 2009 - Fabulous acid, with a huge nose and palate.

Curtis Mourvedre 2007 - Very dark nose and palate.  Earthy, chalky, big red fruit from Vogelzang Vineyard.  20% Syrah.

Edward Sellars Vineyards and Winery Mourvèdre 2008 - Huge earthiness, dark fruit and formidable tannins.  Steak mandatory.

Epiphany Cellars Grenache Blanc 2009 - Wonderful minerals and a bracing acidity.

Fess Parker Winery Viognier 2009 - Fruity and floral with a spicy edge.

Fess Parker Winery Rodney’s Vineyard Syrah 2007 - Gigantic nose foreshadows a very dark palate.  Eucalyptus note and a spicy element.

Frick Winery
 C² - North Coast Carignane and Cinsault, tart and delightful.

Frick Winery C³ - Add Counoise to C².  A bit more tannic, just as delightful.

Halter Ranch Vineyard Rosé 2010 - Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre make an earthy nose leading to fresh berry flavors.  Delightfully dry.

Halter Ranch Vineyard Côtes de Paso Red Blend 2010 - Savory notes highlight this Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise and Cinsault blend.

Michael-David Winery 6th Sense Syrah 2009 - Great acidity with spices, coffee, and chocolate flavors.

Michael-David Winery Earthquake Syrah 2006 - Great fruit, acid, with a cocoa edge.

Michael-David Winery Earthquake Petite Sirah 2009 - Chalky feel with chocolate and Christmas spice.  American oak.

I was told Lodi produces more wine than Napa and Sonoma combined. Did not know that.

Niner Wine Estates Syrah Bootjack Ranch 2007 - Smooth, yet the tannins are firm.  Dusty fruit.

Niner Wine Estates Grenache Blanc 2010 - First Heart Hill Vineyard vintage.  Fruitier than Grenache Blanc usually is.  From the cool side of Heart Hill.  Great acid.

Ortman Family Vineyards Petite Sirah 2007. Only 4 barrels produced. Dark and deep on the nose and palate. Cassis, raspberry, touch of mint. Big tannins, long finish.

Ortman Grenache Rosé 2010 - Just bottled. Dry, laced with watermelon and red berries.

Tercero Grenache Blanc Camp 4 Vineyard 2010 - Acisity is right on.

Tercero Mourvèdre Camp 4 Vineyard 2008 - Dark and vibrant red fruit with earth piled on.

Tercero Cuvée Christie Red Blend 2008 - Very smooth, strawberry and cherry.

Tercero Cuvée Loco Red Blend 2008 - Larry Shaffer’s kids named this Larner Vineyard product, which is crazy with the dark earthiness.

Tercero's Larry Schaffer told me he is opening a tasting room in Los Olivos, right across from Stolpman.  It shares a walll with the Dragontette room.

Treana Winery Troublemaker Red Blend NV - Great dark nose, excellent acidity.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Blood Of The Vines

Wine Goes To The Movies
with and

This time, Blood Of The Vines rolls out the blood-red carpet for Christopher Lee, who played the title role in the 1959 Hammer Films remake of "The Mummy."  It's a fitting tribute to a guy who already has the horror angle well covered.  Now he's been praised with wine as well.
Lee received a Lifetime Achievement Award this year from the Grossmann Film And Wine Festival, an annual event in northeastern Slovenia.  They honor the best in movie horror each year, as well as the best of Slovenia's wine.  The week-long festival featured blood donations and a Vampire Ball in addition to movie screenings and wine tasting.  The winners got an award called a Vicious Cat.  If the Vicious Cat had to fight Oscar, my money would be on the cat.
My wife, Denise Fondo, has asked me to include at this juncture that there is no bigger fan of either Christopher Lee or Hammer Films than she.  If she's looking to butter up someone in an effort to sell a screenplay, I'm completely in agreement.  If she's looking to get something started with Christopher Lee, I may have to intercede and invoke "husband rules."  Denise says with Lee being a Tory, her admiration must be from afar.
Christopher Lee's portrayal of the Mummy gets high marks from Trailers Guru Brian Trenchard-Smith.  Since his makeup didn't allow for any speech or facial movement, he had to express his range of emotions only with his eyes - for the camera, at least.  Brian infers that the cursing Lee did while acting in the uncomfortable mummy suit would have made a sociopathic sailor plug his ears.
None of that swearing made it into the movie, of course - thanks to looping - but I wonder if anyone on the set was three decades early in delivering the admonition, "Please don't hurt him, Hammer!"
The wine pairing, in honor of the celebrated company which produced this version of "The Mummy," is from HammerSky Wines.  In honor of Vicious Cat winner Christopher Lee, we'll go with HammerSky's "The 'A' List," ($37), a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from Paso Robles.  It's a blood-red blend loaded with fruit and showing a slight undercurrent of tana leaves.

Mummy's the word:
There's a sarcophagus full of Slovenian wine available from Bay Area importer Blue Danube Wine Company at affordable prices.
Lolita Mummy Wine Glass - Hand-painted, no less. - $6
The Wine Mummy - If you really have to try and get a bottle of wine past TSA, go for it.  It's one of those gimmicks I'm inexplicably drawn to. - $5
The Mummy's Hand Wine Goblet - It's actually a skeleton's hand, but what the hell. - $27

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011


wine storage

For anyone who is even halfway interested in wine, collecting it can be a rewarding venture for both your palate and your wallet.  Having a treasure trove of remarkable bottles from which to select is nice enough, but collectors who buy wine as an investment also stand to reap benefits in the future.

A recent article in Homes And Gardens offered a few bullet points on how to start and maintain a serious wine collection.

The first thing to do is decide why you are collecting wine.  Do you want to stockpile cases of your favorites?  Do you want a collection that will impress your guests?  Are you looking to buy wines that will appreciate in value as a financial investment?  Answering these questions will determine which wines to pursue, and how much to pay.

Professional guidance is a good idea, especially if you are using wine as an investment.  Many wine experts can be retained to act as your adviser.  The extent to which an outside source can help depends on your own level of knowledge and your desire to get involved in the process.

If you want to start enjoying your collection right away, seek out older vintages which are known to have quality.  If you plan on cellaring your wine for a long time, you can get good prices on wines which are still aging in barrels.  Buying wine this way is called buying en primeur, and while the rewards can be big down the road, so are the risks.  You don't really own anything until the wine is bottled, so if your winery goes out of business before then, you lose.  That's why it's a good idea to stick with well established providers.  Still, there's no guarantee you'll make a profit.

Wines from Bordeaux are considered to be good for investors.  Chinese collectors are buying so much Bordeaux, prices are being forced up.  Burgundy and Rhone wines are considered somewhat riskier.  A lot depends on the the vintage.

Once you start acquiring wine, you'll need a place to store it.  That little rack in the den isn't going to cut it.  If you want to be able to peruse your collection and select a bottle to ope
n from time to time, you'll want to store the wine in your home.  A wine cabinet with temperature and humidity controls is a good option if you can't create an actual wine cellar.

Larger collections will require more space, and you may want to check into a wine storage facility for wines which are to be stored for a long time.  Proper storage is essential for wines purchased as an investment.  Future buyers will want to know the wine was properly handled during the time you owned it, and a "wine hotel" is a great way to assure that.

Proper storage means a constant temperature must be maintained, as temperature variations are the main culprit when stored wine goes bad.  Keeping the bottles stored on their sides in a cool place, with minimal handling, is the correct procedure.

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Monday, August 22, 2011


Domaine Le Galantin Bandol Rose

A sunny day, some great company, a Bandol rosé and a grilled cheese sandwich.  Sure, I'd like more from life.  That makes me feel so greedy, though.  As long as those four items are taken care of, I'd say it's at least a pretty good lunch.

We lunched at Greenblatt's Deli on Sunset Boulevard - my wife, the sun streaming through the windows and a grilled cheese sandwich with a tomato slice before me.  The Bandol rosé was provided by Domaine Le Galantin, a $9 glass at the deli.

Bandol is a small portion of Provence right on the Mediterranean coast, east of Marseille.  Vins de Provence reports that U.S. retail sales of imported rosé wines grew by 22% in 2010, while exports of rosé and red wines from Provence to the U.S. jumped 132%.  America seems to be getting on the dry rosé bandwagon.

The grapes for this rosé - 50% Cinsault, 25% Mourvedre and 25% Grenache - are harvested in the Domaine's organic vineyards, then cooled to 50 degrees for two days before going into stainless steel tanks for fermentation.  10% of the juice is saignee, in which the juice is bled off from the skins after some contact.  The remainder is made as in white wine production, with minimal skin contact.

Le Galantin's rose is a very pale salmon color with a nose of melon and minerals and flavors of strawberry fruit with a strong mineral overlay.  Dry as a bone, this pink wine has a refreshing acidity, perfect on a warm, sunny day with great company and a grilled cheese.  I can heartily recommend the experience.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011


wine nose

People who are new to the wine tasting experience sometimes have a tough time describing how wine smells.  A recent article from Tacoma's News Tribune offered some tips on how to become more comfortable with wine's aroma descriptors.

Wine tasting isn't a test - there are no right or wrong answers when describing what a wine smells or tastes like to you.  Your palate is a singular event in the universe, and all you need to do is report what it tells you.

The Court of Master Sommeliers - folks who know a thing or two about tasting and describing wine - say the tastes and smells of wine are divided into three areas: fruit, earth and wood.

The fruit aspect comes from the grapes, while the earth aromas tell you about the soil where the grapes were grown.  The wood influence comes from the oak barrels in which the wine is fermented and aged.  Some wines are made in stainless steel tanks, and display no characteristics of wood.

To train your palate to pick up the fruit aromas in wine, pay more attention to the fruit you eat.  Don't be embarrassed to get a good whiff of the fruit you buy at the market.  Sometimes, closing your eyes when you smell or taste fruit will help you remember its attributes better.

Earth notes include chalk, flint, dust, slate or rocks.  The influence of wood often shows itself as a vanilla profile, but coffee, chocolate, caramel and spices can all come into play.

Smelling and tasting wine should make you think of something you have smelled or tasted before, and that's how you should describe it.  The article mentions Flintstones vitamins as an unusual, but perfectly legitimate descriptor.  Wet driveway, Pez candy, crayon, tar and a freshly mown lawn are some other descriptors that I find in wine aromas.

Swirling a wine around in the glass helps stir up those aromas and release them so they'll be a little easier to notice.

Expand you palate when you get the chance, and be true to it by expressing how the wine smells to you.  Remember, there's no wrong answer.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011


Stepping Stone Red Rocks!

Napa Valley producer Cornerstone Cellars makes some big, expensive red wines which are prized entries in a lot of wine collections.  Wine drinkers looking for a more affordable taste of Napa - or simply a good everyday wine - are finding Cornerstone's Stepping Stone line to be just as valuable.

A further subset of the bargain brand - the Rocks! line - offers blends not only of different grapes, but of different attitudes.  Old World styles meet New World creativity in this line, and the Stepping Stone Red Rocks! is a perfect example of that mindset.  Cornerstone provided a sample to me.

Cornerstone winemaker Jeff Keene has crafted an unusual red blend of Zinfandel and Pinot Noir.  That combination may sound crazy to some, if not heretical.  It works, though.  There’s a good deal of both grapes in this wine, with the brawn and spice of the Zin and the dark moodiness of the Pinot Noir.  The 14.9% abv number is definitely more New World than Old.

The nose boasts loads of blackberries and vanilla, and good deal of alcohol, to boot.  That aggressiveness diminishes after a half hour or so, but an even longer breathing time is advised.  It's a good idea to decant this wine if you can.

On the palate, flavors of blackberries, cigars and licorice leap out for a really intriguing flavor profile.  The tannins are extremely healthy.  Pair Red Rocks! with the biggest, meanest piece of meat on the grill.  This wine will tame it.

My tasting routine generally spans three nights, so I have a chance to examine how a wine develops over time.  Due to a hectic schedule and some evenings out, this particular bottle lasted almost a week.  After five days open the tannins are still quite firm, although less aggressive, and the nose and palate offer a greater sense of tar, tobacco and leather.  It exhibits the sort of character you don't find often in a $15 wine.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Blood Of The Vines

Wine Goes To The Movies
With and

Alfred Hitchcock was always pouring drinks down the throats of his characters. The director used alcohol as medicine in many of his films, particularly as a cure for the nervousness his suspenseful story lines caused. If a character survived a near-death experience with a homicidal maniac, a vehicle or some birds, the next thing heard was likely to be "Here - have some brandy."

In "Dial M For Murder" he really put drinking on a pedestal. Ray Milland must have had "Lost Weekend" flashbacks during the filming of this 1954 classic. He suggested drinks to everyone except the key grip, and that offer may have ended up on the cutting room floor.

Thanks to Milland's character, Grace Kelly and Bob Cummings are always drinking. "Have a drink!" "Let’s meet for a drink!" "Sell the ticket and have a drink on the proceeds!" "She’s a filthy cook. Let’s have a drink!" "Dahling, you framed me for a murder??" "Yes, dear. How about that drink now?"

Since brandy seemed to be Hitch's favorite drink, at least in the movies, let's pair this elixir with "Dial M For Murder."

Most brandy is distilled from grapes, so it's sort of half wine, half spirits. The French Cognac region is just north of Bordeaux, and they've been putting out some pretty decent brandy for a few years now.

Remy Martin VSOP Cognac is made from primarily Ugni Blanc and Colombard grapes. They are fermented for only about a week, and the rather low-alcohol wine is then distilled.

With product placement in movies a much bigger issue today than in Hitchcock's day, it seems likely that his characters nowadays would be offering up a Remy, instead a more generic suggestion.

Now that we’ve dispensed with the wine pairing, let me ask you this: Have you ever been bothered by the key-in-the-purse thing in "Dial M?" Grace Kelly had just one key? Really? I know it was the 1950s and all - 1950s Britain, at that - but having just one key represents a rather uncomplicated life. It’s hard to imagine someone with only one key to keep track of getting involved in this sort of intrigue.

Further, Milland just reaches into Grace Kelly’s handbag and pops it right out. What else was in there, a pack of gum? Have any of our gentlemen readers ever tried to find something in a lady’s purse? How quickly did you give up?

Another sidebar: The depiction of the rotary phone and its creepy analog workings take on an almost steampunk quality in today's digital atmosphere.

With all that that off my chest, let’s fire up the movie machine and have a drink! "Won’t you join me?" "I’m afraid it’s too early for me." "What’s the harm in just one?" "Well, alright..."

Dial "M" for more:

Nardini Acqua Alla Ruta is a grappa popular in Italy, with supposed medicinal and aphrodisiac attributes.

Clear Creek Grappa Pinot Grigio is from Oregon, in case you're only buying domestic.

Hennessy VS Cognac is preferred by rappers, who refer to it as "Henny."

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011


3CV Viognier

I sneaked away from my neighborhood recently for a glass of wine at the Colorado Wine Company in Eagle Rock, California, between Glendale and Pasadena.  After a little browsing of the racks in the front of the store, the small back room beckoned.  With a soundtrack of world music, the dark little space offered a rather tasty, if short, by-the-glass menu.

My choice for this Saturday afternoon quaff was the 3CV Viognier from Cimarone.  Doug Margerum takes the grapes from the Vogelzang Vineyard in the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County.

The wine is produced by stainless steel fermentation with 25% of the juice moved to neutral French oak for barrel aging and malolactic fermentation.

Very light in color, the wine offers a huge floral nose with a nutty, almond aroma and a drapery of honey that's irresistible.

The taste is very clean, with crisp pears and great acidity.  The nutty finish hangs around forever, or at least until the next glass arrives.

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Monday, August 15, 2011


German Riesling at Wood Ranch at The Grove

German wines can be a little tricky for the uninitiated to navigate.  The names given to the various levels of quality in German wine can appear awkward and foreign to the eye of a novice.  Well, they are foreign if you aren't German.  They aren't awkward, though.  Except maybe trockenbeerenauslese.  That's probably why it's often referred to as TBA.

There are seven levels on the Pyramid of Quality in German wines, which you can see on the Schmitt Söhne website.  The higher on the pyramid a wine appears, they riper the grapes were when harvested.  It's not a measure of sweetness.

According to the Schmitt Söhne website, they believe most people see German wine as sweet, when, in fact, two-thirds of German wine are dry or very dry.

Schmitt Söhne is located in Germany's Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, along the banks of the Mosel River in the little town of Longuich.  The Schmitt family has been growing grapes and making wine there for two centuries.

I had a glass of their Kabinett Riesling at lunch recently, at Wood Ranch in the Los Angeles shopping mecca known as The Grove.  This was on a day, as serendipity would have it, that a Norwegian men's choir was performing a few hundred feet away.  German wine and Scandanvian music: that's the international flair for which Los Angeles is famous.

Kabinett is the third level up on the Pyramid of Quality.  The Riesling grapes used in making Kabinett wines are fully ripe, and the alcohol level is usually fairly low.  This wine was $8 by the glass.

The wine is pale colored and served quite cold, so it was a little difficult for me to experience much in the way of aromas.  A slate minerality was about as deep as my olfactory sense could scratch.

The taste however, was very pleasing.  A medium mouthfeel carried lovely flavors of apple, peach, pear and cantaloupe.  The Schmitt Söhne Kabinett Riesling paired well with my New England clam chowder, which was creamy in a way I don't often have, as a guy trying watch his weight.  It was a splurge day.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011


Half Glass of Moscato

Wine bars sometimes offer options to the by-the-glass purchase of wine for those who don't want a full glass - say, at lunch - or those who would like to try two or three wines without having to down several glasses at one sitting.  I don't see tasting options very often in chain restaurants, but I came across one the other day.

California Pizza Kitchen offers half-glasses on their wine list, at half the price of a full glass.  I tried this option at lunch, witha half-glass of Jacob's Creek Moscato. The three-ounce pour cost $3.50.

Jacob's Creek has been making wine in Australia's Barossa Valley for over 160 years.  This Moscato is produced using two grapes, Moscato of Alexandria and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.

It's very pale in color, and a slight effervescence is visible.  Minerals make a big play on the nose and I pick up an almost-petrol type of aroma.  The taste is sweet and fruity, with pears and peaches coming forward, but the minerality is pronounced as well.

I like the half-glass option at CPK.  It's a trend I hope to see develop at more restaurants.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011


Edgar Poureshagh

I'm always on the lookout for another nice spot to pop into and taste some wine.  Barely open a month at this writing is 3Twenty Wine Lounge, located appropriately enough at 320 South La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles.

I stopped in recently and had the pleasure of chatting with proprietor Edgar Poureshagh, a certified sommelier and card-carrying wine geek.  Poureshagh has spun his experience and connections as a distributor into a Miracle Mile wine bar, with a kitchen that produces a small plate menu.

He says the idea is to "have some small portions that can be paired with tastes of wine.  People can gain experience in pairing wine with food this way, and it's a great way to broaden your palate."

Wine is available by the bottle, glass or taste, dispensed in 1.7-ounce servings from several automatic machines.  The price for each taste varies depending on the price of the wine.  Most are in the three to five-dollar range, with the top end being $15 for a sample of the '87 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

In this family operation - Poureshagh is joined by his wife and parents in the venture - the wines center on family-run wineries.  "I'm trying to stay away from corporate wines and serve smaller-production wines with a lot more character.  I love wines with a story," he says.  He also knows plenty of those wine stories and loves to share them when he has the chance.  One of his favorite family-run wineries is R.H. Coutier.  They've been making wine for 500 years in France's Champagne region.

He points out that most of the wines at 3Twenty are sold below typical restaurant prices, and he works an array of sources to secure the wines he wants to carry.  "We buy our wine direct from about 10 wineries and use over two dozen brokers and distributors to find the right wines."  Eight beers are also on the list, in case you're not in the mood for wine.  That's a situation that's hard to imagine once you are inside 3Twenty.

Poureshagh is proud of his new place, and of his staff.  During conversation with him, it's easy to feel his passion for wine and his pleasure at having this wine bar open for business.  He says they are doing the same thing other wine bars are doing, just differently.  "We're not reinventing the wheel, just making a really shiny wheel."

Here are the wines I sampled from the automatic wine dispenser system at 3Twenty:

Seghesio Zinfandel 2009 - spice and chocolate

Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2009 - dark and dusty

Masi Costasera Amarone 2006 - cassis, blackberry and raisins, laced with minerality

Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - astounding minerality, perfect tannins

Lioco Sonoma Chardonnay 2009 - big and creamy

Francois Chidaine Montlouis Les Tuffeaux 2008 - Loire Chenin Blanc, lovely, nutty accents

Karthauserhof Riesling Spatlese 2007 - great slate

Bert Simon Riesling Auslese 2002 Serrig Herrenberg - petrol and just enough sweetness

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Blood Of The Vines

Wine Goes To The Movies
With and

Even some hardcore Elvis Presley fans find his movies a bit tedious to watch.  He's singing, he's fighting, he's singing, he's kissing, he's singing while fighting... that's pretty much the script rundown for a lot of his films.

I hear that "Clambake" was E's personal favorite of all his movies, but he liked the character of Danny Fisher in "King Creole" the best.  The critics also seem to favor the two-fisted, hard-headed, dropout, nightclub singer of the 1958 classic.

While trying to choose a wine for "King Creole," my mind immediately played the WWED card - What Would Elvis Drink?

The King may be more closely associated with stuff a little harder than alcohol.  He didn't seem to be much of a social drinker, but he didn't really seem very social anyway.  I understand he could throw back a screwdriver or 20 while bingeing behind the blacked-out windows at Graceland, but it's said he really favored beverages like cherry cola, Pepsi and Gatorade.

If Elvis were drinking today, it's quite possible his "people" would convince him it would be good business to be seen enjoying a cool, refreshing wine from Elvis Presley Wine Cellars.

Let's pair the "Blue Hawaii" Riesling with King Creole.  It probably pairs well with Creole food.  In fact, there's a recipe on their website for jambalaya, the perfect dish for a movie set in New Orleans.  Even a rich guy like Elvis would have appreciated the low, low price of $13, thankyewvurrymuch.

Aromas of tropical fruit, flowers and honey would have wowed The Big E, and the apples and pears on the palate may have even paired nicely with bacon.  I can't vouch for the fried peanut butter and banana sammiches he was so fond of, but a guy who was washing down his food with screwdrivers and Gatorade probably wouldn't have been very picky.

And, after that meal, Elvis has left the building.

You may also want to rock with these:

Vieux Carré Absinthe Supérieure, $66 - A great New Orleans name. Probably a pretty good painkiller, too.

King Estate Oregon Pinot Gris, $15 - Pairs well with spicy 'Nawlins food.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Cloverdale Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

Pellegrini Family Vineyards boasts four generations of winemakers in Sonoma County.  The family has winemaking roots that go back to 1900, and the Cloverdale Ranch property was purchased in the mid 1980s.  Cloverdale Ranch Vineyard is located between the Mayacamas Moutains and the Russian River in Alexander Valley, while the winery itself is in Santa Rosa.

This wine is produced by winemaker Kevin Hamel, and has an alcohol content of 14.6% abv.  It's a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 22 months in French, Hungarian and American oak.  It retails for $28, but I got mine for my birthday from a friend with very good taste.

The color looks great, inky purple in the glass, and the nose features cassis, blackberries, anise, and a little campfire smoke.

There's cassis and blackberry on the palate, too, with some graphite and black tea showing up after the wine opens up a bit.  A trace of tar on the long lasting finish leaves a very pleasant memory.

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Monday, August 8, 2011


Bettinelli Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

When I stopped in to the Left Coast Wine Bar and Gallery in Glendale - across the street from the Americana at Brand shopping mall - I only intended to take a look around.  Sure enough, a bar and some artwork downstairs and a jazz loft upstairs with piano and amp and some room for lounging.  Nice enough place.  Then I glanced over their by-the-glass menu and spied a '98 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  I sat down.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and happy hour was underway with this 13 year-old Cab going for a mere four dollars per glass.  How could I not?

The '98 Bettinelli Cab was aged 16 months in American oak and recorded a 13.8% abv number.  The Oakville wine is sudsy and beginning to show a little brown on the edges.  It's tannic and somewhat thin upon pouring,

The wine did open up a bit and the bite became less bothersome.  It was relatively smooth after 20 minutes or so.

A chestnut honey aroma on the nose was identified by my wife, and I was able to spot the raspberries on palate all by myself.  Unfortunately, it's not very complex and has a rather tart finish.

Larry Bettinelli co-founded the vineyard in 1990 with Mike Browning.  Browning now appears to serve as the distributor of Bettinelli's wine under the Barclay & Browning name.

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Sunday, August 7, 2011


Where Does This Burgundy Come From?

A Chicago writer, Michael Austin, has endeavoured to make wine designations a little easier to understand.  In the Chicago Sun-Times, he breaks it down this way: European wines are named for the places where they originate, while elsewhere the wine is usually named for the grape from which it's made.

For example, the French wine called Bordeaux is wine made in a place called Bordeaux.  It can be red, white, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc, but it's all Bordeaux.  It's the same in Burgundy.  That's a place in France, and that's where Burgundy comes from, not California, as Gallo, Rossi and other producers have insisted with their so-called "California Burgundy" wines.

Champagne is also a specific place in France.  Sparkling wine from California is not Champagne, since it's not made there.  Even bubblies from other parts of France are called by a different name, cremant.  This is probably the most abused wine designation, as many American producers insist on calling their sparkling wines "Champagne."  The region of Champagne takes steps to try and educate the public on the distinction, in an effort to preserve their brand.

In Italy, a Barolo is made from Nebbiolo grapes, but it's made in the town of Barolo.  Chianti comes from Chianti.  It would be named after the Sangiovese grape elsewhere.  Spanish Rioja wine is made from Tempranillo and Garnacha, mainly.  Rioja, though, is the specific place where the wine is made.

Austin goes on to describe several other designations and what they mean.  The article is a good starting point for anyone just getting into the wine world who feels a bit confused by labels on European wines.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011


The Tasting Glass

A friend thought of me when she was browsing at the Goodwill store and came across a wine tasting glass which was selling for a dollar.  She thought it looked sort of strange, but bet a dollar on the notion that I would find some use for it.

As it turned out, it’s a genuine Peugeot Les Impitoyables Le Taster crystal wine tasting glass.  It’s made of very thin glass and features a dimple each in the base and side with which the taster can hold the glass in a delicate and most unusual manner.  The glass retails online for around $40.

Personally, I’d rather spend a lot of money on wine than wine glasses.  It seems the more wine money you spend on glasses, the less wine you’ll be likely to put in the glass - or less expensive wine, at least.  The  Peugeot and Riedel companies will disagree with me on that point, I’m sure, as they design and craft a number of different glasses intended to maximize the pleasure of wine and spirits.

Does the glass actually work?  Does it actually give a better wine tasting experience?  It does seem to help aerate the wine and allow any excess alcohol to blow off quickly.  It’s a little difficult to drink from it, though, with its narrow mouth.  I splash a little in for tasting purposes, then drink the rest from a glass I’m more comfortable using.

Is it worth $40?  I can’t agree with that, but at one dollar, it’s a steal.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Blood Of The Vines

Wine Goes To The Movies
With and
Monster movies call for something fun to drink.  When I was younger, it was the "something fun to drink" part that often resulted in watching the monster movie in the first place.  Of course, we advise you to drink - and view - responsibly.  Don't drink more than you can handle, and don't bite off more monster than you can chew.

There's no substitute for what the Trailers From Hell gurus are fond of calling a "guy in a suit" monster movie.  "The Monster of Piedras Blancas" is a great one, and the guy's monster suit is patterned after one of the best.  Three Day Suit Broker could have spent five or six days and not come up with anything like it.

You may think you’re seeing things, as the Piedras Blancas monster actually looks an awful lot like the Creature From The Black Lagoon.  That's because the guy who created the suit also created the Black Lagoon monster outfit.  He was Hollywood’s “Tailor To The Water Monsters.”  You may notice similarities to some of your other favorite creature feature monster suits, too, as some existing molds from other pictures were used to create the Piedras Blancas monster.  As a budget-minded director might say, "If it ain't broke, make another suit from it! And get me a lighthouse location while you're at it!"

Any scary movie is made scarier by setting it in a lighthouse.  Surprisingly, there aren't too many tall lighthouse locations to choose from along the Pacific Coast.  One of the tall ones happens to be at Piedras Blancas, north of San Simeon.  Naturally, it was not used as a location for "The Monster of Piedras Blancas."  A second location - Point Conception - has a shorter lighthouse, and it won out.  Considering the movie's budget, Point Conception might have been all the lighthouse the production could afford.  The town used in the film isCayucos, which translates as “dugout canoes.”   They have no lighthouse, tall or short.

I like the way guru Joe Dante sums up what makes the Piedras Blancas monster tick.  He "doesn't wistfully yearn for the heroine - he just wants to tear your head off."  Can’t we all relate to that after a couple of hours stuck in traffic?  I think we're ready for that drink now.

Piedras Blancas means "white stones" in Spanish, so a wine pairing here should probably be a white wine with a lot of minerality in the flavor profile, something I like to refer to as wet rocks on the palate.  Napa Valley's Cornerstone Cellars makes a low-budget wine that's perfect for this low-budget film: Stepping Stone by Cornerstone White Rocks!  A fun-to-drink blend of Napa Valley Chardonnay and Muscat, White Rocks! has plenty of minerals in the flavor profile, along with a healthy acidity - maybe not enough to tear your head off, but we'll let the the guy in the suit do that.

Further budget cuts?
Point Concepción Celestina Pinot Grigio 2009, $18 - Make it a short pour for the short lighthouse.

Cayucos Cellars Chardonnay 2006, $20 - Pairs well with Muenster Cheese.

Hearst Ranch Winery Glacier Ridge Chardonnay 2009, $25 - Goes nicely with lightly grilled sea monster.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Eisacktaler Kerner

Kerner is a grape I don't see very often on wine lists.  German in origin, the Kerner grape is a cross of Riesling and Trollinger, which is a red variety.  It was created in 1929 and named for Justinus Kerner, a medical writer who also happened to write poetry concerning wine.  It wasn't bred commercially until 1969 and by the mid-'90s it was the third most-planted grape in Germany, although its popularity has slipped since then.
This wine is from the Sudtirol region of northern Italy (South Tyrol), part of Trentino-Alto Adige.  The cool, Alpine climate there is where Kerner thrives in the gravelly, sandy soil.  The winery, Eisacktaler Kellerei, is in the Valle Isarco area.  According to their website, this is where, "glaciers meet the gentle hillside landscapes of the Mediterranean."  It sure sounds beautiful enough.  I found this Alpine gem at Little Dom's in Los Feliz, $11 by the glass.
Yellow-gold in the glass, the wine's flinty minerals come through on the nose even though it's served ice cold.  Fruity flavors - mainly crisp golden apple - sail in on a zippy acidity.  I am reminded immediately of Sauvignon Blanc, but with a fuller mouthfeel.  It's a perfect match with my wood oven-roasted eggs, almost perfect with the side of wild boar bacon.  This is a fairly versatile wine.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre

Hippolyte Reverdy is a respected domaine in the eastern Loire Valley, in France's Sancerre region.  This white wine is made from Sauvignon Blanc and the label shows an alcohol level of "11-14%."  That's quite a range, and I suspect it comes in at the high end.  The wine cost $9 by the glass at Greenblatt's Deli.

The color is a rather pale yellow, and the nose shows fragrant apricot, tropical and pear notes.  Upon tasting, it's the razor blade acidity which captures my attention - even more than the clean, mineral laden palate.

The grassiness is minimal, while the flinty minerals hog the spotlight, upstaging even the fruit.  Apples and citrus notes are most noticeable with a zesty bit of lemon peel lasting on the long finish.

The acidity of the Reverdy cannot be undersold.  It creates a refreshing and mouthwatering sensation which would be just as welcome on the back porch as in an oyster bar.

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