Thursday, September 29, 2011

DISNEYLAND AND WINE


interior of Hearthstone Lounge, Grand Californian Hotel

Several staycation trips to the Magic Kingdom during the summer allowed me to rack up a bit of nice wine time on the Disney property.  There was a time - not too long ago - when that statement would not have been easy to make.  Disneyland was famous - some say notorious - for not serving alcohol in the theme park.  That's back when I referred to the monorail as "Daddy's favorite ride" because it took daddy to a hotel where he could get a refreshing adult beverage.

Oh, there was the private club - somewhere in a "secret" location in the park - which I’m told served drinks, but I never had an invitation to go there.  Things have changed.  Thirsty adults can now find liquid refreshment to their liking at several locations not actually inside Disneyland, but very convenient to the park.

First, there is California Adventure - the companion theme park to Disneyland - which has a vineyard and an enocentric restaurant within its borders.  You can check out my escapades there in another blog post, if you like.

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel is easily accessed from Disneyland and the shopping expanse of Downtown Disney.  The lobby of the Grand Californian is a great place to escape for a bit of cooling off if the weather is hot.  In the summertime they keep the air conditioning cold enough in there to require some of their employees to wear winter weather gear to keep warm.

Just off the lobby is the Hearthstone Lounge, a comfortable bar with some cozy couch-and-chair seating available.  We made a couple of stops there on recent trips.

Kenwood Jack London ZinfandelTheir wine list isn't incredibly exciting, but it is California-focused, fitting for a hotel that pays homage to the architecture and decor of the Arts and Crafts movement typified at Yosemite National Park’s Ahwahnee Lodge.

I stayed with the NoCal vibe and ordered a 2009 KenwoodJack London Zinfandel from Sonoma Valley.  Produced with grapes sourced from the Jack London Ranch in Glen Ellen, California, the wine is 94% Zinfandel, 4% Syrah and 2% Petite Sirah.  It carries a 14.5% alcohol number and is fermented in stainless steel, with 19 months aging in 60% French and 40% American oak barrels.  It cost $11 by the glass.

The wine is colored a medium-deep ruby red.  Aromas of bright cherry, smoke, toasty vanilla and cigar box are quite aromatic, while the palate has smokey notes draped over red fruit with a cinnamon spice peeking through.  Gentle tannins and lip-smacking acidity make for a fun-to-drink wine.  Even in the warm weather, it reminds me of Christmas.

Baileyana Grand Firepeak Cuvee ChardonnayOn another visit I tried the Baileyana Grand Firepeak Cuvee Chardonnay.  This Edna Valley beauty is a favorite of mine.  Winemaker Christian Roguenant works with grapes from the Firepeak Vineyard, at the foot of extinct volcano Mt. Islay.  The soil has lava remnants meeting clay and ancient seabed.  Aged in French oak for nine months, the wine is 13.7% abv and sells for $14.50 by the glass.

On the nose, tropical fruit and oak spice leap out while the palate shows golden apples and Christmas spices.  Am I really looking forward to the holidays this much?  Great wood notes on the palate and a fabulous acidity are really a treat.  Pair it with smoked ham.

Valdiguie at Napa RoseNapa Rose is the fancy eatin' room at the Grand Californian.  Call ahead for a reservation - days ahead.  If you fly by the seat of your pants like we do, it's good to know you can order right off the menu in the lounge area, and there's nearly always seating available there for walk-ins.

The Valdiguié grape is similar to the Gamay grape of Beaujolais - so similar, in fact, that it was thought to be one and the same until genetic analysis proved otherwise.  J Lohr's 2010 Wildflower is made using Monterey County Valdiguié grapes from their Greenfield Vineyard.  The wine is vinified completely in stainless steel and 19% of the juice is whole-cluster fermented.  It's $8.50 by the glass, and is a great value.

Medium dark in color, the nose shows a much darker fruit aroma than I expect.  Boysenberry and, surprisingly, a note of tar come forward.  A dark tartness shows on the palate as well.  It has a nice level of acidity, and paired well with the Spanish cheeses - Garritxa and P'tit Basque - but not so well with the yellow and blue cheeses on the platter.

Also at Napa Rose, the 2007 Lasseter Family Meritage from Alexander Valley was an $18 glass.  Very dark and inky in color, the nose shows a lot of alcohol and takes quite a bit of breathing to settle down.  Cassis and blackberry lead the way for the dark fruit aromas with some vanilla notes for spice.  This wine has some very firm tannins; it's really brawny.  The palate shows more dark fruit and has a meaty edge with tar.  It pairs really well with the filet mignon.

Zen of Zin at Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki BarA new addition to my Disneyland wine map is Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar, in the Disneyland Hotel's Frontier Tower.  It's only been open since June 2011.  If the name sounds like another feature inside Disneyland, I suppose that's by design.

This place is more like a ride than a drinking establishment.  They serve several signature drinks - Krakatoa Punch, HippopotoMai Tai and Schweitzer Falls - which is served "over the rocks" - and with each one ordered, the bartenders give a yell.  "Krakatoa!" is shouted, and a visual effect of an erupting volcano lights up two walls.  "Oh no, a shipwreck!" is followed by a cool blast of air and a darkening of the lights.  The light rain that started falling a couple of times during my visit may have been the result of someone going over Schweitzer Falls.  The bar tricks are fun and the patrons certainly seemed to be enjoying the show. 

Zen of Zin is a Ravenswood Zinfandel, a brand I've found enjoyment with in the past.  This old vine Zin cost nine tree barks in the land of tiki.  Bright cherry on the nose with cedar and spice aromas play into a feisty bright fruit palate with a hint of clove.

I know I should have gone with a boat drink in a tiki bar, but I had a wine.  That's just me.  My wife had a pina colada.  Well, it is a tiki bar.  Enchanted, at that.  This place stands a good chance of becoming “Daddy’s favorite ride.”



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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

BLOOD OF THE VINES: THE ALAMO


Blood Of The Vines

Wine Goes To The Movies With NowAndZin.com and TrailersFrom Hell.com
When John Wayne speaks out about the independence of Texas in "The Alamo" - saying that the word 'republic' sounds good to him - maybe he thought they said 'republican.'   Never mind the politics, "The Alamo" is a movie that makes even my Texas blood - twenty-plus years removed - run a little hotter.
Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis and Sam Houston are names very familiar to anyone who grew up in The Lone Star State.  John Wayne, though, is just as familiar and a much better badass.
The Duke may have been born with the name Marion - in Iowa, no less - but here he's all two-fisted Texas swagger ready to take on that Mexican army all by himself.  Well, actually, he's ready to cut and run until the impassioned speech from Laurence Harvey persuades everyone to stay for the massacre scene.
The story ends badly - for Texans, anyway - but a portion of the mission known as the Alamo is still there as a reminder of the struggle for independence and the valor of going up against the odds to fight the good fight.  Growing up in Texas in the Vietnam War era, I heard a few of my classmates wonder why the Texas soldiers didn't just bail on such an obviously bad situation.  I found comfort in knowing that the bravery of a few hundred men may have played a part in me being where I was at the time.
Today, political correctness has caused Texas teachers to bring into the classroom a "kinder, gentler" view of the battles that led to the independence of Texas.  What would John Wayne think of this?
Much of the grounds of the old mission have been swallowed up by downtown San Antonio, but the tiny, crumbling main building still stands, housing a gift shop and pictures of Hollywood's cinematic tribute.
A tribute!  A toast to the Texas army!  It may be hard to find in some places, but I hear tell Texas wine is making quite a bit of noise.  It may seem like long odds for a small Texas winery to go up against the crashing red wave of California wine, but who better to do it than than Duchman Family Winery?  Duchman is pronounced like Duke, man, so this choice is a natural.
Other bottles for the battle:
San Antonio Winery - It's not Texan, but it is San Antonio.  Operating the only remaining winery in Los Angeles, the Riboli family faced tough odds, too.  Prohibition killed off the other hundred or so wineries which once called L.A. home, but the San Antonio Winery hung in there - thanks to sacramental wine.
Balcones Baby Blue Texas Corn Whiskey - With a 5,000 man army charging your garrison, you might want something a little stiffer than wine to drink.
Shiner Bock - Made by the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas.  They are the oldest independent brewery flying the Lone Star flag.  Even older than Lone Star.



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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

VOUVRAY AT STREET


Sauvion Vouvray at STREET

Susan Feniger's STREET has quickly become one of our favorite Los Angeles restaurants.  Delicious small plates representing a gourmet take on worldwide street fare are nothing less than captivating.  The food at STREET excites me, which is not something I can say about very many restaurants.

Feniger is a Los Angeles institution, as are her eateries CITY, which would be much missed if it were not for Border Grill and Ciudad, where she explores the Latin flavors she loves.

On a recent visit to STREET, Denise and I enjoyed Burmese watermelon salad spiced with crushed peppers, Angry Eggs deviled with sriracha on top, New Orleans Laundry Day Fritters and a steak sandwich which is done no justice by that generic name.  All could make a case for "favorite meal" status, with the winner probably being the one I tasted last.

The wine and beer list is just as adventurous, with beers fully described and wines grouped by style - "light and bright," "more of a mouthful," "soft and supple."  As with the food, the wine choices span the globe and it's hard to find what I'd call a "typical" choice on the list.  It's a very nice spot for a wine lover - or wine geek - to land.

I had a Sauvion Vouvray this time, a Loire Valley beauty that cost $8 by the glass.  The minerals on the nose and palate meet flavors of green apple and all is delivered with a bracing acidity.  As diversified as our meal was, the wine was a great match with everything, even the steak sandwich.



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Monday, September 26, 2011

TREANA WHITE 2008


Treana White

The Hope family has a 30-year track record growing grapes and making wine in Paso Robles, California, in the big Central Coast region.  They go a little farther north, though, for the grapes which make up theirTreana White.

The Rhone varieties which make up Treana White - 55% Marsanne and 45% Viognier - come from Monterey County.  The Mer Soleil Vineyard is in the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands, close to Monterey Bay and the cool growing conditions which provide a great place for them to reach their peak.

Since it's a winery in a warmer, more southern area reaching northward for grapes, it's fitting that the blend pairs grapes that figure prominently in the northern Rhone Valley - Viognier - and the southern Rhone - Marsanne.

The grapes are whole-cluster pressed and fermented in French oak, except for a small portion that is fermented in a stainless steel tank.  The alcohol level is 14.5%.

Proprietor Charles L. Hope and winemaker Austin Hope are identified on the label by name and signature.  They can be proud to have their names displayed there.

The color is beautifully golden, with hints of copper showing at times.  After admiring the hue for some time, I put my nose in the glass and was struck by the incredibly aromatic nose of the wine.  The tropical fruit aroma tries to fight its way past the honey-laden dried apricot.  The honey aspect is almost mead-like in its intensity. 

The wine looks quite viscous in the glass, clinging to the side on the swirl while slowly receding after.  It feels viscous in my mouth, too.  An oily texture gives way to a shimmering acidity.  The flavors are complex, with first that dried apricot, then dried pineapple, then a slightly savory flavor fades into an acidity which intensifies on the finish.

I’ve had this wine a few times at tasting events - and was duly impressed.  Having an entire glass really underscores how much is missed by simply having a small taste.  The wine provides a new sensation with each sip.

It’s a big wine - big aromas, big flavors and big use of oak.  If you like a noticeable effect of wood in your wine, this won’t disappoint.  My palate tends to extremes.  When I want less oak, I want unoaked.  When I want oak, I want a tree.  This wine doesn’t fall too far from the tree.


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Sunday, September 25, 2011

WINE SUNSCREEN


Wine News

Always on the lookout for another reason to enjoy a glass of wine, I see that the field of research has offered us another reason to pour.

Wine Spectator reported on a Spanish study which is looking into the possibility that compounds found in wine may help reduce UV damage to our skin from over-exposure to the sun.  Such a discovery could mean a lessened risk of sunburn and aging skin, not to mention skin cancer.

The study does not offer any idea of just how much wine might need to be be consumed to provide a dosage adequate for skin protection.  External application won't work, according to a German study cited in the same article, so don't bother pouring wine over your body before a trip to the beach.  Anyway, external application of wine is often the result of too much internal application.

Scientists think the Spanish study may be useful to researchers, but they point out that the skin can also benefit from other foods.  Tea, coffee and tomatoes may also help save your skin on a sunny day.  They advise, though, that it's still a good idea to rely on sunscreen for UV protection.


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TASTING PANEL WINE EVENT: DOUBLE GOLD WINNERS


Tasting Panel Event

Sometimes I wonder how tough the competition was when I taste a wine which boasts that it won a medal.  Almost all the 26 double gold winners from the 2011 San Francisco International Wine Competition I tasted at this Tasting Panel event were credibly good wines, but a few left me scratching my head.  That's not too easy to do with a glass, a sheet of paper and a pen in my hands, which is how I spent an hour on September 22, 2011 at Waterloo & City in Culver City, California.

The three boxed wines - a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Grigio and a Riesling - were drinkable, but certainly not exceptional, to my palate.  Is there a category for boxed wine?  Were these the only three in that category?

There were a few that did get my attention, as they got the attention of the judges at the competition.  Here are the double gold winners which I had no trouble accepting as just that:

Raza 2011 Torrentes Sweet Sparkling Wine (Famatina Valley, Argentina) - This demi-sec is prize-worthy.  A fruity, sweet nose invites a taste and the palate is rewarded with a lovely, sweet peach/pear/melon combo.  All this, and bubbles, too.

Saint Clair Family Estate 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand) - The grassiness takes a back seat to some beautiful lime notes on the nose, while lime meets wet rocks on the palate.  Outstanding acidity, with a gorgeous finish reminiscent of limeade.

Türk 2009 Grüner Veltliner (Kremstal, Austria) - Minerals on the nose try to block the apple and citrus aromas from getting through, but without success.  A very nice acidity pairs perfectly with the mineral-laden palate.

Fritz Winery 2009 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) - Oaky custard on the nose and tasting of buttery fruit, this is not a Chardonnay for unoaked fans.  There's a very nice burnt caramel apple finish, too.

Jenner 2009 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) - The nose of candied strawberry is replicated on the beautiful, fruit forward palate.  Great acidity.

Martin Ranch Winery 2009 Malbec (Dos Ninas Vineyards, Santa Clara Valley) - Smokey cherry and blueberry on the nose, with complex dusty fruit flavors.

Cakebread Cellars 2008 Merlot (Napa Valley) - A floral and fruity nose with oak influenced red fruit flavors.

Bethany Wines 2005 Shiraz GR10 Reserve (Barossa, Australia) - Aromas of dark fruit and a hint of meat; on the palate, that meatiness gives the fruit a run for its money.

Hope Family Wines Troublemaker Blend 2 (Paso Robles) - This Rhone blend has an amazing nose full of dark fruit.  The palate is dark, too, with spicy notes.

Colcanyon Estates Wines 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Los Angeles County) - This Malibu wine - what, you didn't know they grow grapes in the 'Bu? - shows very dark fruit aromas and tons of meatiness.  It seems almost odd that it's so lovely on the palate.  During the sip, I had a hard time believing it was a Cab, but on the finish there was no mistaking it.

Hughes Wellman 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) - This one is all Cabernet, from top to bottom; a really nice quaff with fine tannins.

Vinturi AeratorVinturi was at the event, showing their line of wine aerators.  Since I had not tried the Vinturi yet, I lined up for the side-by-side comparison.  I must admit that although I had heard and read that the units worked quite well, I was still skeptical.

Vinturi representative John Moraytis poured a bit of Feather Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from an open bottle and another sample of the same wine which he ran through the Vinturi aerator while I watched.  I can vouch that there was nothing up his sleeve - the sample he poured into the Vinturi was out of the same bottle from which the unaerated sample came.

The difference was noticeable.  The aerated sample was rounder and softer than the one straight from the bottle.  The tannic structure wasn't diminished in the least, the wine was simply a little easier to drink.  It even showed a little more complexity, with some different notes coming forward on both the nose and palate.

I should mention, in the interest of full disclosure, that Vinturi gave me - and all the attendees at this event - a travel size aerator to take home.  The travel size and the regular size both work the same way - you pour the wine into a hole in the top of the unit.

The hole on the travel size is a bot smaller than on the regular version, so a steady hand is necessary.  There is a stand for the regular version which allows you to put the wine glass underneath the unit to catch the aerated wine.  All three elements - regular, travel and stand - cost about $40 each.  There's a package available with both the stand and the regular size Vinturi which costs $70.


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Thursday, September 22, 2011

CURRAN GRENACHE BLANC 2009 SANTA YNEZ VALLEY


Curran Grenache Blanc

In Southern California, there is an embarrassment of riches where wine is concerned.   Beautiful wine country, vineyards and rustic wineries are never very far away, in any direction.  Living just a two-and-a-half hour drive away from the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara has helped me fall in love with the wines of this region over and over again.

Winemaker Kris Curran is half of the D’Alfonso-Curran label.  Bruno D’Alfonso makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while Curran makes her own wines of several European varieties.

The team makes wine near Lompoc and the tasting room is in Solvang, but the grapes for Curran’s Grenache Blanc are sourced from the warm eastern side of the Santa Ynez Valley.  The grapes were whole cluster pressed, giving the wine an amazing herbal quality.  The alcohol content is a hefty 14.1%, and the bottle cost $19 at a Manhattan Beach wine store.

The Curran Grenache Blanc is a pale golden color in the glass.  It has a most interesting and aromatic nose, showing the smell of apricot and melon covered with an herbal component, like fresh snap peas or cauliflower.  There is also some wet hay in the bouquet.  More than a hint of alcohol sneaks into the aromas at first, but that diminishes over time.

Full and rather oily in the mouth, the palate displays peach and apricot flavors which are met with a sense of almond paste and a hint of straw.  Minerals are clearly present, while a tropical guava note persists into the lengthy finish.  I love the way the almost-creamy mouthfeel gives way to a strident acidity on the finish.  Malolactic fermentation was inhibited during the creation of this wine, making its fullness somewhat a s
urprise.  It’s rather like a magic trick, a rewarding one.


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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BLOOD OF THE VINES: THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN

Wine Goes To The Movies
With NowAndZin.com and TrailersFromHell.com

The thing that always amazed me about Frankenstein is how easily he went from horror to comedy.  In the movies, the good doctor's scrapheap project was scary.  On TV, Fred Gwynne's footstomping caricature of Frankenstein's monster in "The Munsters" took only a little reworking to make Herman Munster a lovable TV dad, even if he was built in a mad scientist's workshop.

"The Ghost Of Frankenstein" continues the series of Universal sequels in the Frankenstein house of horrors with Lon Chaney as The Monster and Bela Lugosi as Ygor.  Ygor brings the big guy to Dr. Frankenstein's son and before long, the villagers are breaking out the torches again.

There’s no comedic flair here - “Lily, they want to set me on FIRE! Haw ha ha ha” - but a fair dose of horror and a wash of pathos is enough to get you through the hour or so the film runs.  Now, for some Frankenstein wine!

Not so fast, flathead.  Frankenstein wine is a term used to describe wine that has been altered from its natural state.  Rather than recommend a pairing with a wine full of oak chips, designer yeast or grapes with bolts sticking out of them, let's go with a German
wine from near the site of the Frankenstein castle, in the Franken wine region of Pfalz.

The Hans Wirsching 2010 Iphofer Kronsberg Silvaner Trocken comes in the "Mateus"-shaped bottle known as a bocksbeutel.  It's the traditional bottling of the Franken region.  This product of Silvaner grapes is dry and bold, with a crisp minerality which will pair well with seafood and cheese.  You may even want to try it - just for Frankenstein - with torch-toasted marshmallows.  It's only $16 - affordable enough for a little Dr. Frankenstein experimentation.

Other nuts and bolts:Beck-Hartweg "Frankstein" Gewürztraminer Grand Cru 2004 - OK, so it's not Frankenstein, it's Frankstein.  That's pretty close, though, for a Grand Cru vineyard in the Alsace. $28

Frankenstein Wine - This could be the lead pairing, if it were available now.  They claim it's coming before year's end.  Keep the torches and pitchforks at hand.  Since it seems to be from Pennsylvania, you may want to use those implements while rioting to get shipping of wine permitted from the Keystone State.

Frankenstein Wine Bottle Stopper - This guy looks like Frankenstein by way of Fred Flintstone.  Use only for wine you're drinking while reading comic books. $9

Frankenstein Wine Glass - The price is the only thing scary about this Halloween novelty item. $18

Sinister Frankenstein Wine Tassel - It's Santa Claus! Who are you scaring with this??


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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

SHOPPING MALL WINE


Mourvedre at The Wine Bar

Back in the college days we used to sit waiting for a movie to begin and yearn for a movie theater where we could get a beer while watching the show.  Now, that concept is commonplace, and innovators have turned their attention to more pressing matters, like getting drinks served at food trucks.

The Los Angeles shopping mecca, Westside Pavilion has a very nice bar just outside its AMC multiplex.  Lots of dark wood and plenty of plush chairs and sofas take up a fair sized space that gets a lot of light.  It's not actually in the theater, but customers of The Wine Bar are allowed to take their drinks with them into one of the first two screens, which are designated as "21 + movies."  If you want to see "Smurfs," you'll have to wait until after the picture to get your drink on.

While the movies showing at the cinema are as predictable as Hollywood can make them, the wine list at The Wine Bar is rather inventive.  There were choices I don't see on a lot of lists, and some I didn't expect to see at all at a wine bar in a mall.

I chose the Cline 2007 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre.  The grapes are sourced from Contra Costa County and the wine is aged in toasted American oak.  It has an alcohol content of 14.5%.  A whiff of that alcohol appears on the nose, but it's not hard to dig out the cherry, lavender and chocolate notes.  The flavors center on a broad expanse of wild cherry with a streak of black tea running through it. 

I was quite pleased. It was a pleasure to find such an enjoyable wine at the mall - and at the movies.



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Monday, September 19, 2011

FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO PRIMITIVO AT IL FORNAIO


Feudi di San Gregorio Primitivo

Judging by the many simply wonderful wines I encounter at Los Angeles Italian restaurants, I would be tempted to guess that's it's really easy to find simply wonderful Italian wines.  Those who procure those wines for restaurants would argue that point, I'm sure.  I will let it stand as a testimony to the skill and knowledge of the various wine directors that I rarely encounter an Italian wine in an Italian restaurant with which I find fault.

I had the Feudi di San Gregorio Primitivo recently at Il Fornaio in Beverly Hills.

Feudi di San Gregorio is an old and wealthy winery in Italy's Campania region.  This 2008 wine is classified as Primitivo di Manduria DOC.  The grapes come from seaside vineyards in Manduria, in the province of Taranto in the Puglia region.  It is fermented in stainless steel, which allows the beautiful fruit to shine in its unadulterated state.  The vino ages 12 months in the tanks and another six in bottles.

The wine is a beautiful dark purple in the glass, and shows dark fruit on the nose.  A spearmint note mingles with black cherry aromas, while flavors of cherry and blackberry dominate the palate.  Gentle tannins make for a luxuriously smooth drink, while the finish is refreshingly dry.


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Sunday, September 18, 2011

ASTRONAUTS COULD BENEFIT FROM RED WINE


Wine News

Will future space travelers leave the Tang behind and opt for a pouch or two of red wine?  A study by scientists at the University of Strasbourg in France, reported by MSNBC, suggests that red wine may be beneficial to people who find themselves in prolonged periods of weightlessness.

Resveratrol - the ingredient in red wine which has been tabbed with many other beneficial attributes - now appears to combat side effects of being in space.  Bone density loss and insulin resistance are cited as problems apparently averted by the ingestion of resveratrol.

The researchers say spacemen aren't the only ones who can benefit from these findings.  People stuck here on earth who are sedentary due to disease, injury or just a desk job, might find red wine to be helpful.

Before you chuck your gym membership for a wine club, consider that the report states there is no reason to believe drinking wine is a substitute for good, old-fashioned exercise.


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Thursday, September 15, 2011

WINE COUNTRY: NEW HAMPSHIRE - MOONLIGHT MEADERY

New Hampshire is a relatively new entry to Wine Country.  The Granite State's wine industry didn't get started until 1994.  The New Hampshire Winery Association membership includes not only grape wine producers, but also makers of mead and cider.

Moonlight Meadery is based in Londonderry, New Hampshire, near the southeast corner of the state.  The town's name originated from its early settlers, many of whom were from Londonderry, Ireland.  The first American potato was grown there in 1719.

Londonderry was the birthplace of several governors and congressmen, but we'll try not to hold that against them.  San Francisco Giants pitcher Brian Wilson is from Londonderry, too.  As a Dodger fan, I'll try not to hold that against them, either.

The town is known for its apple orchards, and a meadery - Moonlight Meadery - which produces what they call "Romance by the glass."

Moonlight's mead maker Michael Fairbrother states on his meadery's website, "Mead, to me, is passion.  It's about living and love, it's about enjoyment, family and friends, and sharing."  Sounds good to us.  You can see Fairbrother in this video story from WMUR.

We have covered mead before in the Wine Country series.  Mead is wine made from honey, water and yeast.  It can range from sweet to dry and be produced as still, slightly fizzy - pétillant - or sparkling.  A melomel is a mead made with the addition of fruit.  A cyser is a melomel made with apples, and a pyment is a melomel where grapes are used in addition to the honey.

Fairbrother gives his meads names like Smitten, Desire and Sensual, playing off that "romance in a glass" analogy.  He supplied me with four samples of his meads for this article.

Moonlight Meadery WildThe mead he calls Wild is honey and blueberry wine made from unprocessed New Hampshire wildflower honey and mountain grown blueberries.  It carries an alcohol level of 14.2% abv.

Wild's medium ruby color allows light to pass through easily.  The nose shows a strong herbal note leading the way with blueberry aromas underneath and honey and flowers trailing.

The taste is completely dry and the blueberries really come forward on the palate. There's a strong sense of greenness on the palate, too.  Nice, gentle tannic structure matches well with a good acidity level.  It's very fresh and clean tasting.  I had blueberry wine from Florida which was much sweeter and more juice like than this honey and blueberry wine.  The Moonlight mead is much more like a red wine than a fruit juice.  I tried it chilled and not, and was pleased with the experience both ways.  The herbal finish is fairly lengthy.

Moonlight Meadery UtopianUtopian
 is the strongest of the quartet I tried at 16.9% abv.  It’s a semi-sweet, limited edition mead which is fermented and aged in Samuel Adams Utopias barrels.

The color gives a beautiful, rich, golden glow.  On the nose, the honey gets down to business.  It smells much like a dark honey, maybe chestnut honey.  There’s a bit of sherry and a bit of coffee, too, in what strikes me as quite a complex package of aromas.

On the palate, Utopian's sweetness is delicate and the mouthfeel quite viscous, like a dessert wine.  There’s a sherry-like flavor that’s pretty incredible and the finish is looong with a note of coffee mocha in it.  It's really nice paired with almonds - you could even pour this over vanilla ice cream or a have it with pound cake.  Once again a very nice acidity is present.

Moonlight Meadery DesireDesire is a beautiful deep ruby color.  The nose again has a firm underpinning of honey aroma with a pretty straightforward display of the fruit used in making this melomel - black currant, black cherry and blueberry.  The palate is dominated by the currant to the degree that it bears a striking similarity to cassis.  It's not as viscous as Wild, but it definitely sits very full in the mouth.  The 16.7% alcohol content means it's a fairly stiff drink, at least in the realm of wine.  There's good acidity here, but I don't think I could bring myself to eat while savoring the texture and flavor of Desire. Well, maybe some chocolate.  Desire beat out 352 other wines in a New England competition.

Moonlight Meadery SensualThe golden mead called Sensual shows a whole honeycomb full of honey aroma.   That’s no surprise, since it is a traditional mead, made only from wildflower honey, water and yeast.  The palate is dripping with honey, too.  Once again, a resounding acidity is present and the finish is very long and ridiculously satisfying.  The taste of pure honey is all that remains after a drink, and it’s there for quite a while.  The alcohol level for Sensual is 15.3% abv.  It's the simplest of the four featured here, but it may be my favorite.

Once again one of the American states brings mead to Wine Country, and once again I am floored by the quality.


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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

BLOOD OF THE VINES: THE LONGEST YARD


Blood Of The Vines

Wine Goes To The Movies With NowAndZin.comand TrailersFrom Hell.com
It’s not too hard to connect the dots between professional football and prison, or between football and fine wine.  It’s quite a bit harder to make a play for all three.
There is no shortage of star football players who have done a little time - or more - in the pokey.  Conversely, some football folks have ventured into the field of wine.  I'll take football over prison and wine over either of those choices.
"The Longest Yard" has Burt Reynolds - himself a former college football player - as a prisoner who heads up the inmate football team in a contest against the guards, a game which is more than just a game to those on the field.  It's fantasy football with real consequences.  These football heroes have numbers a lot longer than one or two digits; their football cards are mugshots.
Former NFL stars Ray Nitschke, Joe Kapp and Ernie Wheelwright also appear in the film, which lends credibility to the football sequences.  The same scenario was used in the football sequences in "M*A*S*H."  Joe Kapp was in that movie, too, along with Fran Tarkenton, Ben Davidson and Fred "The Hammer" Williamson.
We've covered the football and prison angles, now let's get to the wine before Eddie Albert sends over a guard to whack us with a stick.
There are a handful of good choices for wines to pair with "The Longest Yard."  Some former football greats have made a name for themselves on the grape gridiron.  Former NFL coach Dick Vermeil and former 49ers president Carmen Policy both have Napa Valley wineries.  Former Partriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe makes wine where he played college ball, in Washington.  Dick Butkus and "Iron" Mike Ditka both make wine, proving it ain't just for sissies.
Some NFL teams are even getting into the wine business.  The New York Jets and San Diego Chargers have both hired California winemakers to make a brand for their teams.
The pairing we'll go with here is made by a former Penn State Nittany Lion, Gary Eberle.  When he entered the wine business, he did it with the same sort of determination Joe Paterno no doubt instilled in him on the gridiron.  Eberle helped establish California's Paso Robles appellation in 1980, then opened Eberle Winery there several years later.
Eberle's Full Boar Red - kinda sounds like a football play - is a manly blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Barbera and Tempranillo.  At $15, you'll have plenty of money left over for snacks and a bail bondsman.
Audibles:
Cornerback Charles Woodson is ready to put his name on 24 Wine, produced from grapes grown in the prestigious Napa Valley Stags Leap area.  He can't fully get behind that yet because of the NFL's rules prohibiting a current player from promoting alcohol.  Run a dogfight and you can get right back in the game.  Try and sell some $150 per bottle wine, though, and you're really getting on the warden's - er, commissioner's - bad side.
Woodson actually makes the trifecta for this piece. He was arrested in 2004 for public intoxication, but probably didn't serve any serious jail time for that. It probably wasn't even a pricey Napa Cab he was allegedly buzzed on, either.
Pruno - I don't where you can buy this stuff.  I don't know why you'd even want to.  It's a wine supposedly made in prison, though.  The directions alone kind of make the throw-up happen in the back of my throat, so click the link at your own peril.

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A NEW WINERY FOR VENTURA


Four Brix Winery

Ventura, California is welcoming its first winery.  Four Brix Winery has actually been around a while, but they are moving into a new facility located at 2290 Eastman Avenue.  This will make Four Brix the only winery operating within the Ventura city limits.
After two years at the Wine Yard in Thousand Oaks, Four Brix Winery is celebrating the Grand Opening of its new winemaking and tasting facility the weekend of September 17-18, 2011.  This affair offers Ventura County wine lovers a great opportunity to celebrate California Wine Month right in their own backyard.
One of 12 wineries along the Ventura County Wine TrailFour Brix Winery produces wines inspired by cuvees from the Rhone Valley, Tuscany, Bordeaux and other renowned regions.
The winery is co-owned and operated by three couples – the Stewarts, the Simonsgaards, and the Noonans, who were prompted by their mutual love of food, wine, and people to found Four Brix Winery with the goal of sharing their passion with others.
The Four Brix Grand Opening festivities run Saturday and Sunday, September 17th and 18th, from noon until 5:00 p.m. both days.  Wine tastings are $10 and guests can join the Four Brix wine club at the "Founders Club" level, which affords members the ability to self-select each wine for their wine club shipment.  This special "Founders Club" membership will only be available through Grand Opening Weekend.
Local art will be displayed throughout the weekend, with light hors d'oeuvres, cheese plates, and charcuterie are available for purchase.  No reservations are required.  Get more information at Four Brix Wine.


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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

RUBBING ELBOWS AT MUSSO AND FRANK


Waiter at Musso and Frank

The Maitre d' at Musso and Frank Grill suggested our party might enjoy the Chaplin booth in the venerable, old-Hollywood eatery.  Old, as in Chaplin used to sit in that booth.

It's not that my fame as a wine scribbler preceded me.  We were awarded the choice booth because notable film director and Trailers From Hell head guru Joe Dante was in our party, and he was duly noted as we walked in.  Joe's been a regular at Musso and Frank during his illustrious career.

It wasn't my first brush with fame, though.  During my time as a Los Angeleno I've had lunch with Reba - in the same restaurant, anyway.  I've seen Magic getting out of his limo at a Sunset Strip steakhouse I can't afford.  I've chatted with James Coburn at a party.  He had no idea who I was.  Henry Winkler, too, different party.  I was a plus-one at a party thrown by Harvey Levin, pre-TMZ.  No papparazzi were present.  Once, I was almost knocked over by Ed Begley, Jr. as he ripped past me on a bicycle.  Oh yeah, I've had my brushes with fame.

Frei Brothers ChardonnayAfter a bit of conversation about the Blood Of The Vines feature I write for Joe's blog, From Hell It Came, the talk turned to pictures.  That's when I settled back into my normal life, sniffing and sipping and poking out notes on my iPhone while taking pictures of the wine on the table.  Fortunately, the people I hang out with are rather used to that sort of behavior from me.

During the course of the evening, our red-jacketed server brought two wines to me.  Both were white, as that's the kind of mood I was in on this night.

First up was the Frei Brothers Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2009.

This Sonoma County wine is a beautiful golden color and shows tropical fruit and lemon chess pie on the nose.  The flavors - mango and minerals leading the way - rest on a gentle acidity that leads to a pineapple finish.

Kim Crawford Sauvignon BlancNew Zealand's Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is quite pale in the glass.  The nose gives a beautiful show of grapefruit and lemon peel with a grassy underlay.  On the palate, white grapefruit makes a huge statement, while minerals play a supporting role.

The evening was wonderful, full of great people, great wine and great conversation, all in the best booth in the place.


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Monday, September 12, 2011

FRESCOBALDI REMOLE TOSCANA


Frescobaldi Temole Toscana

Brunello Trattoria is a cozy little Italian restaurant on the stretch of Washington Boulevard in Culver City, California which has been undergoing revitalization in recent years.  Art and design studios and restaurants have dotted the formerly bland strip, making it a bit of a destination in the Los Angeles suburb.

My lasagna napolitana was meaty and delicious, with sausages and meatballs under the just-right pasta.  I chose a wine which suited the meal, Frescobaldi's Remole Tuscan Sangiovese blend.  It's $9 by the glass at Brunello.

Frescobaldi is one of Italy's oldest wineries, with wine production dating back to the 1300s.  Their empire encompasses nine estates in Tuscany.

Made from grapes grown in Remole, in the northern part of Tuscany, this blend is 85% Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It's fermented and aged - five months - in stainless steel.

The wine's color is a fairly deep ruby red and the body is medium-full.  Its nose shows smokey black cherry and a gorgeous note of tar.  Dark fruit comes on strong on the palate - plums and currant - with smoke, tar and anise flavors meeting a vibrant acidity.  The tannins are fairly aggressive and fit well with a meat dish.


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Sunday, September 11, 2011

SANTA BARBARA WINE: A HOT TIME IN PASADENA


Mosby's table

A hundred-degree afternoon was probably not the right time to open the doors of Pasadena's a|k|a Bistro and let the outdoors mingle with the indoors, but that is how this Santa Barbara County wine tasting event was constructed.

Some winery tables were outside and some were in, so a flow-through was created to facilitate the tasters making the circuit.  The inside portion was almost as uncomfortable as the outside.

The saving grace for those outdoors was the slight breeze, which did not appear inside the bistro.  "Outdoor" wineries which were blessed with shade - like Riverbench and Sanford - actually fared pretty well.  Those in the afternoon sun - like Tercero and Zaca Mesa - had to sweat it out.

Tercero's Larry Schaffer didn't let the heat wilt his quips.  When a taster asked how much he made - referring to the quantity of wine produced - Schaffer shot back, "Not enough! We're a nonprofit winery!"  Of course, he was joking, which was no mean feat in the sweltering heat.  You have to admire a man who keeps his sense of humor in adverse conditions!

The big, bold aromas and flavors which typify Santa Barbara County wines were solid, as usual.  Wine from all four of the AVAs in Santa Barbara County were represented, the Santa Maria Valley, the Santa Ynez ValleySta. Rita Hills and Happy Canyon.

As I expected, there was a lot to like at this event.  Here are some of the wines I especially liked, listed alphabetically.

Arthur Earl
Arthur Earl is a boutique winery in Los Olivos, California founded by two guys named Art and Earl. I don't know which one was working the table at this event, but he explained, "If you look up 'boutique winery' in the dictionary, there's a picture of us."

Great wines here, Rhone, Italian and Spanish varieties. The Viognier showed flowers and a savory note on the nose, with more savory meeting tropical flavors and a great acidity. The Nebbiolo has a great nose full of roses and meat. A sour blackberry flavor is perfect with the meaty minerality. The Lagrein has cherry and coffee grounds on the nose with a dark and earthy palate. An earthy, black cherry Tempranillo rounded out what was my favorite stop of the day.

Babcock Winery & Vineyards
Bryan Babcock brought his wine in from the western reaches of the Santa Ynez Valley. His Identity Crisis Syrah is a red wine made like a white wine. Skin contact is minimal and it comes out pink! It's a full flavor Syrah though, with a very nice acidity. Top Cream Chardonnay is made with 50% new oak, but it's a light touch with the wood. Psi Clone Pinot Noir mixes bright cherry and blackberry flavors.

Bedford Winery
Stephan Bedford thinks he was born in the wrong country, but he's in wine country now - the Los Alamos hills - and that suits him to a T. His wines show a dark earthiness, even the Riesling and the Chardonnay. It's more expected - but just as appreciated - in the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which have some toothy tannins.

Dragonette Cellars
I was impressed with this outfit's Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir, great acidity and a touch of a floral component balancing the earthiness. Their Grenache is made with Los Alamos fruit - Syrah and Mourvedre are in the mix - and it boasts bright cherry flavor touched by minerality.

Jaffurs Wine CellarsAn urban winery located in Santa Barbara, Jaffurs specializes in Rhone grape varieties. Upon harvesting the Grenache Blanc grapes, botrytis was found on some of the grapes. Those nobly afflicted were plucked separately and a single barrel of dessert wine was made. Unfortunately, that was not on display. The Grenache Blanc, though, was suitably tart and tangy with quite a finish. Their Grenache shows a tangible layer of darkness over the cherry flavor.

Mosby Winery & VineyardBill Mosby's place is one of the stops I always seem to make when I visit anywhere near Buellton. His Cal-Italia wines are favorites of mine - and my wife digs 'em, too. Bill's Sagrantino offers a bright cherry experience, while his Lagrein throws a dark earthiness over a bunch of violets. There aren't too many California tastings where you can sample one Lagrein, let alone two.

Riverbench
Riverbench produces only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their location in the Santa Maria Valley. Nice acidity and tropical flavors make their steel Chardonnay refreshing, and their 30% new French oak effort shows just the right touch of oak. The Mesa Pinot Noir is simply killer, with a good chunk of that Santa Maria Valley earth on the nose and palate. It has a beautiful floral component on the nose as well.

Tercero Wines
Larry Schaffer was pouring from his signature, hand-labeled flasks at what had to be the hottest table on the patio, in more ways than one. His Mourvedre from Camp 4 Vineyard in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley has a huge nose and a brilliant sour cherry flavor. Considering the heat, it was lucky he brought some of his wonderful '09 Rose to refresh. 60% Grenache and 40% Mourvedre, this pink is nice and dry with a "strawberry meets the ground it was grown in" flavor.



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Thursday, September 8, 2011

THE TASTING BAR AT WINE EXPO


At Wine Expo Tasting Bar

Longtime Santa Monica wine store Wine Expo opened a tasting bar over the summer, and it is to my detriment that it took me so long to make it by and try out their fare.

While Wine Expo specializes in Italian wine, general manager and wine director Roberto Rogness explains on their website, "what we are REALLY interested in is diversity of style ... and wines that both enhance our diverse cuisine and challenge your senses (instead of just being big fruit bombs slathered in oak that make a strong first impression but then deaden your palate).  Plus, we are not only aware of the Global Marketplace but are famous for turning it upside down and squeezing it twice to find you the best deals.  So, this logically LEADS us to offering the largest selection of Vini Italiani in the country (plus outstanding finds from South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Hungary, Oz and NZ, Argentina, Eastern Europe and sometimes even California)."

I'm always happy to find a happy hour, and the Wine Expo tasting bar offers one from 5:00 to 7:00 six nights a week - which includes Saturday and Sunday.

Before we could even take a seat, complimentary tastes of F. Dulac Blanc de Blancs Brut was delivered to the table.  The French sparkler is toasty, nutty and bubbly - a great start in anyone's book.

The Matilde Zasso Falanghina 2010 from Campania has volcanic ash evident on the mineral laden nose and palate, but there's some nice fruitiness there, too.  $3 by the glass at happy hour.

Allesandro Botter's Tor del Colle Montelpulciano Riserva 2007 from Puglia was $4 by the glass at happy hour.  Rose petal and freshly polished leather join a meat element on the nose, while the palate is dark and complex.

These wines did fine with the salami plate spruced up with cornichons, smoked olives and salted nuts.  The heavily smoked olives prompted an "OMG" in my notes.  They are perfect for a palate like mine, for which enough is never enough.


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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

BLOOD OF THE VINES: THE MARK OF THE VAMPIRE

Wine Goes To The Movies
With NowAndZin.com and TrailersFromHell.com

Do vampires really stalk the world after dark?  To quote Robert Preston from Blake Edwards' "S.O.B.," "Is Batman a transvestite?  Who knows?"  Don't look for any definitive answers in "The Mark of the Vampire."  After the movie is over, your questions will remain and a few new new ones will appear.  You'll wonder "How'd they ever fall for that?"  You'll marvel, "How do they grow those bats so huge in South America?"  You'll cry aloud, "Who shot Bela Lugosi?"

Thanks to some heavy-handed editing, the wound in Lugosi's head raises more bullet questions than the Zapruder film did.  We don't see how that bullet hole got there or how many gunmen may have been involved.  We don't even know if the man with the umbrella was in the shot.

The plot-within-the-plot revealed at the end shows just how much the actors really sunk their teeth into their roles.  SAGAFTRA would have a fit today over those working conditions.  Working in a play that's being investigated by the authorities - while the performance is happening - would definitely mean "over scale" for everybody.  In the end, it's all in a day's work for these vampires and victims.

Lugosi is one of the video vampires I think of when my mind turns to long canine teeth.  Elvira is another one, but I don’t remember her canine teeth being long.  I don’t remember much about her teeth at all.  I do remember that the vampires I’ve liked best are the ones who have let the show-biz show through.  Elvira certainly has shown a lot of show-biz, and so has Lugosi - in a different way, of course.  Lugosi may have been born for the role of a vampire, but it’s fascinating when he exposes that role for all to see.

Now, off to catering services for a glass of something blood-red before punching out.

Vampire Vineyards has the Blood of the Vine for any occasion.  Vampire Cabernet Sauvignon offers North Coast Cab for the discerning fang, while Trueblood Pinot Noir features Santa Maria Valley grapes for those who prefer their vampires on the small screen.  Good news for SoCal vampire drinkers: The Vampire Vineyards Lounge & Tasting Room is located in Beverly Hills.  And we thought all the bloodsuckers were in the lawyer offices.

Or, suck on this:

Lugosi Wine - Marketed by descendents of Bela himself, this wine celebrates one of the first members of the Screen Actors Guild.  Not to mention one of the scariest.

Elvira Wine - Made with the Elvira grape, but without the Elvira picture.  Nice try.  Call us when you get the rights.


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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

SANCERRE AND VIOGNIER AT CALIFORNIA CANTEEN


Sancerre

We stopped in - between events on a recent Saturday afternoon - to the California Canteen.  Despite the inference of the name, this place offers a taste of Europe on Cahuenga Boulevard, just up from the Hollywood Bowl.  It's been there since 1999, which is a long time in Los Angeles restaurant years.

Yannick and Jean-Yves were busy preparing for the evening's business, but took time out to provide us with an entertaining stay.  Their comments on the restaurant business, wine and the Salton Sea don't seem all that memorable now, but we certainly enjoyed chatting over our refreshments.

It's hard to believe that with 15 clocks on the wall over the bar one could still lose track of time, but the clocks aren't functional.  They are all set to the same time - a quarter to four - but their hands remain motionless.  A mix of Parisian and bullfight art decorate the other walls.

We enjoyed two wines: Pierre Prieur et Fils Domaine de Saint Pierre Sancerre 2009 andPreignes Le Vieux Viognier 2009.

ViognierThe Sancerre is a pretty golden-green hue in the glass.  It's made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc and shows its Loire Valley terroir with a mineral-laden nose and an herbal component that's like a fistful of string beans.  Big and full in the mouth, it's very dry with a nice acidity.  Lemon rind and white grapefruit dominate the fruit profile, while wet rocks linger on the finish.  It's a great match with the mussels and curry sauce.

The Viognier - pale yellow in color - shows honeysuckle and sweet peaches on the nose with a full, creamy mouthfeel.  Flavors of melon and orange peel are delicious.  The grapes are grown in the Languedoc region of France on the Mediterranean coast.


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Monday, September 5, 2011

LAMBRUSCO AND PELAVERGA BIANCO AT TERRONI


Two Italians at Terroni

My wife and I often find ourselves at Terroni in Los Angeles for Sunday afternoon lunches.  Normally a little crowded for our taste at dinner time, the restaurant is usually almost empty for a late Sunday lunch.

We chose a red and a white wine, the Lambrusco for me and a white for Denise which we don't see very often on wine lists.

Lancillotto Barbolini Lambrusco Grasparossa Emilia-Romagna NV

My red is made from the Grasparossa clone of the Lambrusco grape, grown in the Castelvetro region of Emilia-Romagna.  Fizzy and foamy when poured, the bubbles diminished somewhat but were still present at the end of the meal, a spicy salami sandwich.

Even chilled, the delightfully grapey nose and big, fruity juice flavor is simply wonderful, especially on a warm afternoon.  Dark berries and black cherry abound on the palate, and it's a beautiful mate for the panini.

Castello di Verduno Pelaverga Bianco Bellis Perennis 2009
Denise opted for a white wine, a Pelaverga Bianco from Castello di Verduno in Piemonte.  The winery - along with a hotel and restaurant - are actually located in a castle.  The Pelaverga Piccolo grape is rare, and is usually used to make red wine.  This wine - from vineyards in Verduno - is vinified as a white wine and given the name "Bellis Perennis," which is the botanical name for an Italian daisy.

While that's a beautiful image, it might well have been named after some Italian rocks.  That's what leads the way on the nose and the palate: minerals, minerals and more minerals.  It tastes of wet rocks and green apple with some tart lemon peel.  Great acidity and an amazing flintiness really refreshes and reminds Denise of "stones in a stream on a hot summer day."  It's a great match for the summertime ciccio, a pizza foldover which is like a Caprese salad pizza sandwich, served cold.


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