Friday, December 30, 2011


wine tasting glasses

If you attend wine tasting events in Southern California, you are no doubt acquainted with Ian Blackburn's Learn About Wine offerings.  If you are not, you should be.  Blackburn stages hundreds of events each year, from small to large, at which you can broaden your palate and, as the name implies, learn about wine.

The STARS series of events are some of the large scale tastings hosted by Blackburn.  The STARS of Santa Barbara event makes a lot of folks look forward to January.  

The 2012 edition of the STARS of Santa Barbara event will be staged at the Peninsula Hotel, 9882 S. Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills.  The January 26th date features a trade tasting session from 2:00 - 5:00 p.m. and the grand public event from 7:00 - 9:30 p.m.

Some of the Santa Barbara County wineries and vineyards participating in the 2012 event include Alma Rosa, Bien Nacido, Bonaccorsi, Buttonwood, Brewer-Clifton, Brophy Clark, Byron, Cambria, Coquelicot, D'Alfonso-Curran, Fontes & Phillips, Foxen, Gioia, La Fenetre, Martian Ranch, Palmina, Reeves Ranch, Riverbench, Tercero, Thorne, William James and Zaca Mesa.

If you want to learn more about Santa Barbara County wines, or just revel in what you already know about them, the STARS of Santa Barbara event is an event you should have on your tasting calendar.

Thursday, December 29, 2011



People say Champagne should not be reserved for special occasions, that we should drink it all the time.  I'd be alright with that, if it weren't for the fact that I like the variety of the wine world and I often have only one glass a day.  I usually go for a still wine, given the limitations.  

Sparkling wine corks don't pop as often as they should at our place, but that's my choice and I'll live with it.

It was especially nice, considering my wanting Champagne ways, to be invited to The Tasting Panel Magazine's tasting event featuring about three dozen sparkling rosé wines from France and California.  The event was held during the afternoon of December 15, 2011 at Waterloo & City in Culver City, CA.

The elegance of sparkling rosé is undeniable.  The variance in color, taste and aroma is quite noticeable when given the opportunity to sample so many side-by-side.  Those in attendance were buzzing about their favorites.  Much of the talk I overheard centered around the most expensive examples being poured, naturally.  Even among wine trade and media types - maybe especially among them - it's a rare treat to sample a $300 bottle Champagne.

There were, however, plenty of much more affordable bottles on display with as much presence on the palate as the top-shelf stuff.  I did hear quite a few comments on some of the mid-range wines, and I imagine a few mental notes were being made for the next time a sparkler would be purchased.

The wines started in the $14 range and went up from there.  I'm listing here the ones I found to be well above expectations, and I've noted the ones I thought were exceptional sparklers.

Here are the bubbles that really tickled my fancy:

Palmes d'OrScharffenberger Cellars  
NV Brut Rosé, Mendocino County ($23)
A nose of earthy fruit and tasting of minerals and orange peel, this was possibly the best value in the room.  Great finish.
Exceptional.  Best value.

Roederer Estate
NV Brut Rosé, Anderson Valley ($27)
It's earthy and spicy, with a hint of tartness.

NV Mirabelle Brut Rosé, North Coast ($27)
Flinty and yeasty on the nose with a raspberry and citrus palate.

Domaine Carneros  
NV Cuveé de la Pompadour Brut Rosé, Napa Valley ($35)
Aromas of smoke and toast lead to beautiful cherry and mineral flavors.

Frank Family  
NV Blanc de Noirs, Napa Valley ($43)
A light golden tint with an earthy nose and fabulous almond notes in the flavor profile.

2008 Brut Rosé, Dundee Hills ($50)
Muted wild cherry aromas with a really dark fruit expression.  Creamy, with a hint of coffee.  Heavy on the Meunier.

Heidsieck and Co.  
NV Monopole Rose Top Brut Rosé ($50)
Pink salmon color with a tangy taste of strawberry and tons of fizz. 

NV Brut Rosé Sauvage ($55)
Almost red, this beauty tastes of toast and cherries.

NV Brut Rosé ($55)
Hardly any color at all, it's extremely bubbly with the smell and taste of nutty apples.

Moët & Chandon 
NV Brut Rosé Imperial ($59)
Deep salmon color, with a lovely, dry, strawberry/apple flavor.

G.H. Mumm
NV Brut Rosé ($75)
Salmon-colored, with a funky nose and earthy berries on the palate.

NV Brut Rosé ($90)
Very pink salmon hue, with red berries and a splash of citrus.

NV Brut Rosé ($99)
Just a "pinkish hue" with a yeasty nose and nutty, tropical flavors.

NV Brut Rosé ($100)
Light salmon in color, the nose is an earthy strawberry/banana while the palate shows tart lemon balanced with a sweet note.

Nicolas Feuillate  
2003 Cuveé Palmes d'Or Brut Rosé ($200)
Very deep pink with a striking nose and palate of smoke and cherries.  An explosive palate in an "alligator skin" bottle.  
Exceptional.  My favorite.

Brut Rosé ($299)
Very light pink, it tastes of earthy peaches.  Quite dry with an excellent finish.

2004 Belle Epoque Brut Rosé ($300)
More orange than pink, the toasty nose leads to a taste of nuts and sweet apples.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Blood Of The Vines

Wine Goes To The Movies with
Now And Zin and Trailers From Hell!

"The Man From Hong Kong" is cited as the first Australian/Hong Kong production in cinematic history, as well as the first Australian martial arts film.  Trailers From Hell guru Brian Trenchard-Smith got his directorial start with this film, and he has some nice tidbits to offer in his TFH clip.

A martial arts movie with fists a-flying and kicks a-plenty, "The Man From Hong Kong" stars Jimmy Wang-Yu and George Lazenby.  Lazenby plays a bad guy, as opposed to the good guy he played in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."  You may have heard of that character before.  Bond.  James Bond.

The co-stars apparently had some bad luck doing their own stunts.  Lazenby's arm was burned while trying unsuccesfully to remove a flaming jacket in one scene.  The experience probably left him shaken, not stirred.  Wang-Yu was knocked silly in a fall from a hang glider.  

Trenchard-Smith is reported to have barely escaped injury when an exploding cars' door flew farther than expected and nearly clobbered him.  Ah, all in a day's work.  That's show biz.  Get my agent on the phone.

The action is practically nonstop in this movie, so if you like your Kung Fu heavy on the physical stuff, load up the DVD.  There are only about 18 minutes of dialogue in the 100-plus minutes the film runs.

Pop music afficionados will note that the song "Sky High," by the one-hit-wonder Jigsaw, was used over the credits.  The music often adds a lot to a furious fists a-flyin' flick, but this choice seems fairly anemic and after-market.  It's as if it had been decided afterward that a hit song was needed somewhere in the mix.  It's energetic, and "blown it all sky high" certainly fits the action film mold.  It's no "Eye Of The Tiger," though.

Now, for a wine to sip while watching a martial arts movie.  We've had tougher assignments than this.  It didn't take long to find a Hong Kong connection to fit the bill.  The trouble is, the bill is too high.  Sky high.

The 8th Estate Winery bills itself as Hong Kong's only urban winery.  They source grapes from Australia, Italy and Washington state and ship them to Hong Kong after flash-freezing them.  This, I suppose, allows their label to say "product of Hong Kong."  It's an expensive way to 
make wine, and it shows on the winery's website.  There, they announced their Christmas sale: "$1200 for 6 HK wines!!"  Pardon my gasp.  If you find yourself in Hong Kong wanting to do a tasting there, it's only $80 for a flight of four.  That's even pricier than Napa Valley.  An Asian social/food site claims the wait time for a table at the winery is one minute.  No doubt.  Who can afford to stay longer?

Now let's explore some wines from a little lower on the sales shelf.  Hong Kong is in love with Bordeaux, and "The Man From Hong Kong" was an Aussie venture.  Maybe we can find some suitable wines that don't kick quite so hard at the wallet as those Hong Kong imports.

Furious Fists Find More Affordable Wines

K&L Wines shows a shipping container full of Bordeaux for less than $20 per bottle.  The 2008 Trebiac Graves is said to taste like a $30 bottle, which is a good impersonation for a $14 bottle to carry off.

The comedy troupe Monty Python once cited the fictitious "Melbourne Old-And-Yellow" as a "good fighting wine," particularly in hand-to-hand combat.  Australia's Fighting Gully Road is a winery located in Beechworth, Victoria.  They do a little Shiraz, but their vineyards are planted mostly to Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Their Shiraz goes for $32, their Pinot for only $25.

It should be easier to find Mollydooker's 2010 "The Boxer" Shiraz, a South Australian wine with amazing power.  $24

If the Man From Hong Kong had shopped around a little, perhaps he wouldn't be quite so angry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Feudo Arancio Syrah SicilyFeudo Arancio is a Sicilian winery owned by the large producer Gruppo Mezzacorona.  Their 1,700 acres of vineyards are located on Sicily's southern coast, and the winery specializes in single-variety wines including Grillo and Nero d'Avola, in addition to the Syrah I'll write about here.

I had the Arancio Syrah at the Los Angeles Italian eatery Fabroncini, near Beverly Glen and Mulholland.  It's a favorite place for Denise and I to drop in for some great Italian food and wine.  They sell the Arancio Syrah for $8 by the glass, and it appears to be available for about that price by the bottle in retail.

The waiter did not recommend the wine very highly, but I love Syrah and don't get the chance to experience it in its Italian form very often.  I waved off his admonition and ordered it anyway.  I'm glad I did.

It's very inky in the glass, with a nose that is just as dark.  Herbal notes lace around a tarry aroma with blackberry fruit on display, although it is not so pronounced as one might expect in a California or Australian Syrah.

The flavor of blackberry and black cherry dominate the palate, however, and there's a little tar evident.  Licorice notes join a very nice minerality and the acidity is in top form.  The tannic structure is very soft, possibly not what many Syrah lovers may like.  I find it quite nice, and at less than $10 per bottle retail, it's a great wine to look for when you're in the mood for an easy-drinking, food-friendly Italian.

Monday, December 26, 2011


This Is E11even WineAndrew Murray has turned it up to eleven.  Inspired by the rock mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap," Santa Barbara County winemaker Murray offers a side project called This Is E11even Wines.

As rockers enter the field of winemaking in growing numbers, it's fitting that a winemaker shows his mettle with a line of wines in tribute to the rock and roll dream.  Murray describes himself as a once-aspiring rock star, but he seems pretty happy to be a rock star winemaker now.  On his website, the Rhône-loving vintner says, "I’ll be blending to achieve just the right melody, and experimenting with non-Rhône varieties to bust out a solo."

The Santa Barbara Independent had this to say of his Purple Haze 2006:

"This one, a Cote Rotie-style blend with 10 percent viognier, doubles up with a Jimi Hendrix connection, as Murray believes the viognier “put a spell on” the syrah. We enjoyed it, writing, “Dark with a little chocolate,” “lean on the mouth but spicy,” and “more flavorful than Old World, more vibrant.” ($25; 15.9%)"

It comes under a Stelvin closure, known in rock'n'roll circles as a screwcap.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


Yao Ming, tall wine lover

While Wine Spectator reports that Burgundy is replacing Bordeaux as the most sought-after wine in Chinese auctions, one Chinese man is bringing California Cabernet to the party.

France has a 47% market share of bottled wine imports in China, so selling California wine to a nation enthralled with French wine may seem like a tall order.  The Wall Street Journal says former NBA star and Chinese legend Yao Ming feels up to the task.

Yao Family Wines is being launched solely for the Chinese market.  Made by Napa Valley winemaker Tom Hinde, the Yao Cabernet will sell for the equivalent of $289 American, per bottle.  Yao aims to put California wine on a higher plane in China, but despite his fame there, it won't be a slam dunk.  Wine from the United States currently ranks sixth in Chinese imports, behind France, Australia, Italy, Spain and Chile.  

Yao does not own any vineyards presently, so the grapes will be sourced for his line.  He does, however, have plans to purchase some Napa Valley land in the near future.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Brouilly, Beaujolais

I have always thought rosé wines had it tough.  People seem to think rosé is reserved for summer, so a lot of folks miss out on the pink delight the rest of the year.

That's nothing compared to the sad story of Beaujolais.  Some people think Beaujolais is for November only - and just the last two weeks of November!  Au contraire.

Beaujolais Nouveau is the young, fresh wine of the Gamay grape released on the third Thursday of November each year - but there's a lot more to the Beaujolais region than that fruity beverage that ends up on so many Thanksgiving tables.  

Picturesque Beaujolais is sometimes called "the Tuscany of France," with vineyards covering nearly every hillside.  Beaujolais produces the most single-varietal wines in France, and 99% of their production is Gamay.

Nearly the entire production of wine in the Beaujolais region is red - only 1% is white, and most of that is Chardonnay.  Beaujolais is technically in both the Burgundy and Rhone regions.  The climate is more like the Rhone, but the wine is considered to be different enough to justify separation from both regions.

The Gamay Noir grape - a cross of Pinot Noir and the ancient white variety, Gouais - is the grape from which Beaujolais wines are made.  The wine of Beaujolais is fermented in cement or steel tanks, undergoes semi-carbonic maceration and is put through malolactic fermentation.  

The result of all that tech-talk is a fruity red wine high in acidity and low in tannins.  It has been called "the white wine which is red."

The Beaujolais region has twelve appellations: Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages (made up of 39 communes) and the ten Beaujolais Crus - Brouilly (pictured), Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à vent, Régnié and Saint-Amour.  The Cru wines come from these villages in the northern part of the region.

In the coming weeks - maybe months - Now And Zin will be tasting and reporting on a number of different wines from the Beaujolais region.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Wine Goes To The Movies With 

With a title like "Champagne Murders" it should come as no surprise to find that the movie is a French murder mystery.  The lead character is a Champagne dealer who sustains a blow to the head and can't take care of his business anymore.  Some would argue that people enter the wine business after a blow to the head, but we don't align ourselves with those snarky types.

The woman who owns the winery tries to wrest control of the wine's trademark away from him - cherchez la femme - and murders and blackmail ensue.  A lot of Champagne is consumed in the movie, most of it by the wine guy.  We don't know if he's the killer or not, and he's so loaded even he doesn't know.  Anthony Perkins is in the cast, and considering his role in "Psycho," I'd keep my eyes on him, if I were you.

While not exactly bubbly, Claude Chabrol's film is quite artistic and much loved by fans of French cinema.  It probably has quite a few fans in the French wine business, too.

In his commentary on the movie, Trailers From Hell guru Tim Hunter shows a poster from the film's Mexican release, where it was called "Burbujas de Terror," which translates to "Bubbles of Terror."  The trailer tells us that the film depicts "The Vintage Year For Murder."  Let's take the natural path and pop the cork on some terrifying bubbles.

Actually, the bubbles aren't so terrifying, but the price tag is.  Moet & Chandon's Dom Perignon 2002 Brut will find a way to wrest control of that $140 bucks in your wallet, but if you are going to trade in bubbles, trade in the best.  They say it's really a killer Champagne.

Bubbles and no blackmail:

Franck Bonville "Millesime" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne 2005 - All Grand Cru Chardonnay and proud of it. - $40

Heidsieck Monopole "Blue Top" Brut Champagne - Elegant and friendly. - $30

Pommery "Pop" Rosé Champagne - Just enough to get you through the first act, 187ml for $13.

How to open a bottle of sparkling wine with a sabre - The advanced class.  Don't hold us responsible if you get bad results with this technique.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Seghesio Zinfandel

Anthony's Steakhouse at M Resort in Las Vegas put a positive spin on a day of visiting my mother-in-law - my favorite mother-in-law - in the hospital.  Actually, the visiting itself was fairly positive.  She was doing much better by the time we got there, and we were overjoyed to see that.

No special occasion is needed, though, to enjoy this spacious Vegas eatery located a few miles south of the Strip in an area that was once considered to be out of town.  There's a fantastic view of the strip through the wall of windows on the restaurant's north side.

It's customary for me at steakhouses to not order the steak.  I have nothing against beef, I just can't resist the siren call of a big pork chop on diced candied apple.

That was a great choice for the Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel 2009.  Nice and dark in the glass - inky wine holds a great allure for me, too - the aromas of blackberry, blueberry and peppery spices are joined by whiffs of tar and anise.  The nose is huge - it even wins the fight with the overly perfumed air in the casino.

The Seghesio's flavors are very dark and earthy.  Blackberry dominates, but that tar really comes forward.  Great tannins and minerality make a natural for pairing with steakhouse cuisine.

Monday, December 19, 2011


French wines at Monsieur Marcel

The famous Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles only has a few places to sit and have a drink, and they are mostly good for beer.  Monsieur Marcel is an open-air market/restaurant at the southeast corner of the venerable collection of shops and stands which speacializes in wine.

The outdoor seating is warmed on cool nights by plenty of overhead heaters, and diners get a constant stream of shoppers coming and going for their people-watching pleasure.

We happily accepted the customary basket of bread and plate of mixed olives, then ordered some cheese and wine.  The wines at Monsieur Marcel are unfortunately served in tiny little glasses, making it hard to get the aromas.  On the plus side, they serve their red wines at cellar temperature.

The Pierre Laplace Madiran Tannat 2007 is a blend of Tannat, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Madiran is in the Southwest France wine region, in Gascony.  The tannic Tannat is the main grape of the region and is often blended to soften the tannic attack.  This wine sells for $9 by the glass in the restaurant.

The nose was hard for me to discern, but the flavors of blackberry and blueberry jump out immediately.  An herbal, tarry note flies under the radar and the wine is not as tannic as I had expected.  The Cabs do a good job of taming the Tannat.

Our other wine also hails from the southwest part of France - Carcassonne, to be exact - in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  Carcassonne is inland from the Mediterranean, west of Narbonne.  It was near Carcassonne that sparkling wine was invented, in the 16th century, when the Champagne region was only producing still wine.

The Chateau de Bonal Vin de Carcassonne 2007 is a still red wine selling for $9 by the glass.  Five grapes make up the wine - Grenache Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Alicante.  It has a fruity, almost grapey, flavor that smacks of blackberries.  It's nice and dry, with a good tanninc structure.

As for pairing with the cheeses, we liked both wines best with the firm Etude, closely followed by the hard Manchego.  The Brie de Meaux was our least favorite pairing, although it wasn't unpleasant at all.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


wine news

More wine drinkers now say they're OK with screwcaps on their wine bottles instead of cork.  That's the message from a recent study conducted by Wine Intelligence and included in its 2011 Closures Report.

The report says overall acceptance of screwtop closures for wine bottles among American wine drinkers has hit a new high of 70%, up from 59% in 2008.  Women and younger consumers - between the ages of 18 and 34 - are most likely to accept a bottle with a screwcap while men and consumers between the ages of 45 and 54 still like to pull the cork rather than twist off the cap.

People still seem to prefer cork closures overall - either natural or synthetic.  Natural cork is still the most-preferred closure for wine bottles among those surveyed.  Similar results were found among wine consumers in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Richard Halstead - COO of Wine Intelligence and the author of the report - says, "It's clear that the screwcap still has some way to go to win over the mainstream wine drinkers in America, but it looks like the process is starting.”

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Cru Vin Dogs - The Loyal Companion

For some folks, the wine business has gone to the dogs, and they like it that way.  Cru Vin Dogs in a winery based in Denver, Colorado, which "tracks down exceptional vineyards and small lots of wine throughout the world to craft masterful blends of exceptional quality and value."

Every Cru Vin Dogs release features a pencil drawing of a dog - a different breed each time - by gifted artist Jay P. Snellgrove.  Prints of these drawings are available to wine club members, with the remainder offered to the public.

The winery also has a philanthropic side showing on their line called “The Loyal Companion.”  Proceeds from the sale of these wines helps local animal shelters and rescue groups find homes for some of man’s best friends who are doing without faithful companions of their own.

Cru Vin Dogs’ winemaker Tony Wasowicz makes the Loyal Companion blends with small lots of grapes sourced from vineyards in Sonoma County.  I was provided with a couple of samples to try, and here are my notes.

Cru Vin Dogs - The Loyal Companion RedThe Loyal Companion Sonoma County Red Wine hits 14.8% abv on the alcohol scale and the $13 price tag means you can enjoy it even if your finances aren’t running with the big dogs.  It’s a mixed breed: 60% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec and 5% Zinfandel.

The wine is extremely dark in the glass with a nose of dark fruit - blackberry and black plums - with an earthy overlay of minerals, tobacco and cedar.  There’s earthy fruit on the palate too, and plenty of it.  Wood spice also figures in on the palate, but not to distraction.  Lip smacking acidity and good tannins lead to a nice, dry and rather lengthy finish.

Cru Vin Dogs - Loyal Companion ChardonnayThe Loyal Companion Chardonnay also utilizes grapes from cool climate locations in Sonoma County.  It wags its retail at $13 and is barely slimmer in alcohol than the red - 14.5% abv.

This 100% Chardonnay is a pretty golden color.  The nose offers tropical fruit that is almost pungent in its intensity.  Oak spices are also present in the aromas.  Flavors of pineapple and mango are laced with those oaky spices.  The flavor of oak is somewhat heavier than the light touch promised in the winery's notes, so be prepared for some good ol' California Chardonnay.  There is a great acidity level, which means pairing with food shouldn't be a problem.