Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: Strangers on a Train

Wine Goes To The Movies With 

Here we go, back to Alfred Hitchcock for another pairing of wine with a movie.  Why not?  There's always plenty to drink in a Hitchcock movie, and Hitch was quite the wine connoisseur himself.  So you can hardly go wrong with any of his films.

The drinks connection is made even easier by an irreverent movie blogger who suggests a game in which you watch "Strangers on a Train" and have a drink every time you see Robert Walker's tie pin, someone wearing glasses, a guy in a suit or hear carnival music.  That last one could work in a number of Hitchcock movies.  The guy loved calliopes.

Speaking of music, the rock group Journey may have had "Strangers on a Train" on the brain when they penned "Don't Stop Believin'." They had a small town girl and a city boy both on the train.  But the strangers were all on the boulevard.  Not even a hint of murder.  Maybe they were playing that drinking game while watching the movie and writing the song.

There's the "strange toast" which is alluded to prominently in the trailer.  I'd suggest an Irish toast if you want a really strange one.  "May the seven hounds of hell sit on the spool of your chest and bark in at your soul case." Wait, that's an Irish curse.  Aah, what's the difference?  Make a drinking game out of it and anything goes.

You’ll probably want to make like a Hitchcock character and have a snifter of brandy after getting an eyeful of Robert Walker's smoking jacket - noirishly festooned with ashtrays and cigarettes all over it!  Was he sporting a pair of charcoal slacks with it?  I must speak with his tailor to find out if he has one worked up with wine glasses and corkscrews in the pattern.

Walker does an outstanding job in this movie, but nothing stands out more than his face in the crowd at Farley Granger’s tennis match.  He keeps his head perfectly still while keeping his gaze fixed on Granger.  That’s pretty creepy, but when the carousel goes ballistic it's time to cut the drinking games and get serious about it.

Pomar Junction is serious about wine and trains.  There’s a railroad in their family tree - and on their labels.  They even have a train at the winery.  Well, they have a boxcar and a caboose.  They only go somewhere in your imagination.  Their wine is another story - it’s going places fast.  Their Train Wreck is equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Syrah.  All aboard!


Red Car Wine Company - Yes, it’s named after a trolley - but they have a Boxcar line if the HO gauge isn’t enough for you.

Loco Vino produces wine in Macon, Missouri which is inspired - or at least the labels are - by railroad history.  It may take a little work to find it, sort of like that pesky cigarette lighter in the movie.

Central Coast Railroad Festival Wine Train Excursions - San Luis Obispo County knows how to get to the wine in style..  They brake for wineries.

The Napa Valley Wine Train - The same idea as above, but further north.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Los Olivos Wine Tasting Day Trip

A wine country day trip is something I’d like to have once a week - every day, if I can manage it - but lately, it seems they have been few and unbelievably far between.  Denise, our friend Guido and I fixed that with a drive up the 101 Freeway from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County.

Denise and I have a certain rhythm for these trips, from which we do not feel the need to stray.  The first stop comes in Camarillo, off at Santa Rosa Road for breakfast at the New York Bagel Company.  My pizza bagel recommendation was a hit with Guido.  A secondary stop occurs in Santa Barbara at the Trader Joe store just off the freeway, if needed.

We blew through Gaviota Pass like the cool breeze on the outside of the car and before we knew it, Buellton appeared.  Amazingly, we took a pass on Pea Soup Andersen's and turned left to head out into the Sta. Rita Hills.  We stopped at Foley Estates Winery and sampled the Chardonnay.  Regular readers may remember something about that yesterday in this space.  We tasted the Chardonnay, we bought the Chardonnay.  Then we headed back east and up to Los Olivos.


There aren’t very many places for lunch in the tiny downtown area, but what’s there, as Spencer Tracy said, is cherce.  Downtown Los Olivos really isn’t much more than a block filled with wine tasting rooms.  That’s my kind of block.  My favorite place to grab lunch is the new location of the Brothers restaurant, Sides Hardware and Shoes.  It’s the name the building bore back in the day when it was, well, a hardware and shoe store.  There’s a great bacon burger there, and a chilled pea soup with a dollop of sorbet that is great on a hot day.


Fully fed and getting down to the business of tasting wine, we went to a place Guido had visited before, the Tensely Wines tasting room

Their Detente is a very plainly labeled red wine which is half French, half American.  The American half of the blend is 2009 Tensley Colson Canyon Syrah.  The French half is 2009 Domaine de Montavac Gigondas - 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvédre.  The wine demonstrates the American winemaking talents of Joey Tensley and the French ability of Cecile Dusserre.  It has a rich, dense nose and a juicy blackberry palate, although it runs a bit hot at 14.9% abv.


Just around the corner is Tercero Wines, 2445 Alamo Pintado Drive.  This is the main side street in Los Olivos, and Tercero is about a block off the beaten path of Grand Avenue, right next to Dragonette Cellars’ tasting room.  It was nice to see Larry Schaffer (right) in a more comfortable environment than a wine tasting event, but he always seems a little wound up when he’s pouring his wines for people.  Here’s what he poured for us:

2010 The Outlier Gewürztraminer - “Nobody in California should call it Gewürz,” says Schaffer, who apparently likes tongue twisters.  The wine is spicy and flowery.

2010 Viognier from White Hawk Vineyard sports a lovely floral nose with fantastic acidity and fruit.

2010 Grenache Blanc is a new release for Larry. Nutty, saline minerality on the nose meets peaches, flowers and rocks on the palate.  It’s zippy.

2008 Cuvée Christie has a pretty, floral nose and an earthy edge to the rich, fruity flavors.

2007 Larner Vineyard Syrah shows a dense, dark nose and lovely rich fruit flavors.

2007 Thompson Vineyard Syrah has an extremely dark and delicious bouquet with a rich, black cherry flavor.

2007 The Climb is a half and half mix of Syrah and Petite Sirah.  It puts me in mind of old world Cabernet Franc souped up to Cali specs.

Thread is an effort in which Schaffer was one of five winemakers who contributed a wine to the blend, his Larner Vineyard Grenache.  This one has a really smoky nose and a big spicy taste.

Andrew Murray

We walked the short distance back to Grand Avenue for the Andrew Murray tasting room.

2011 Viognier shows a nice, floral nose and flavors of spiced peaches with a rocking acidity.  Santa Maria Valley fruit does a star turn, but only 50 cases were produced due to low yields.

2010 Eleven Unplugged is Murray’s attempt at being a rock god.  He explains that the blend is like three guitarists playing together.  “The lead is the Chenin Blanc...Sauvignon Blanc trying to steal the show...balanced by the oldest player, Chardonnay.”  It’s unoaked, spicy and zesty.

2011 Sanglier is a rosé of Grenache, Mourvédre and Syrah inspired by a wild boar who used to steal the fruit when it was ripe.  Murray decided to pick early to foil the animal, and the grapes turned out to be better for rosé than red wine.

2009 This Is Eleven Red is another rock music-themed effort, a five man electrical band of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Grenache from the Santa Ynez Valley.  A nice rich nose leads to black and blue fruit on the palate.  The Cabernet Franc really shines in this one.

2009 Syrah, McGinley Vineyard has dense smoke on the nose and lush blackberry on the palate.

2010 Syrah, Watch Hill Vineyard is beautiful to smell, lovely lush and dark to taste.

2009 Syrah, Terra Bella Vineyard has great dark fruit with minerality from the limestone hillsides of Paso Robles coming through strongly.

2010 Grenache, Terra Bella Vineyard offers a whiff of earthy cherry and sails into a lovely sour cherry candy finish.

Dinner & a show

It was quite a long day for us, as we saw a screening of “Snow White and the Huntsman” back in Los Angeles - a valley in a day full of peaks - and finally wrapped up with a late snack at Salt’s Cure, one of those hip, locavore restaurants in L.A.  I must say I was impressed with my squid and sausage alongside a glass of Mourvédre rosé from Sonoma County producer Bedrock.  Morgan Twain-Peterson is the winemaker, and he is Zin-master Joel Peterson’s son.  One of the bullet points in Bedrock’s mission statement is “To reclaim rose’ from the excesses of saignee and focus on precision, delicacy, aromatics, and food friendliness.”  He does a fine job with this delicate, pale, dry effort produced from vines planted 120 years ago.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are You Ready For Some Chardonnay?

The variety that wine has to offer appeals to me so much that I often find myself passing up the standard stash of grape varieties in favor of more exotic treats.  It's not that Cab, Pinot and Chardonnay are boring - not by a long shot - but the thrill of getting off the beaten path sways me time and time again.  That's why I like a good reason to get back on the road more traveled every so often.

Those who cry "anything but Chardonnay" may be exploring new things - and that's good - but they are also unfairly turning their backs on a grape variety which has a lot to say.

Foley Estates Vineyard and Winery has their first annual Celebration of Chardonnay coming up on Saturday, June 9, 2012.  California's favorite white grape will also be celebrated at the upcoming Chardonnay Symposium at the end of June in the Santa Maria Valley.  I was in the right place at the right time on a visit to the Sta. Rita Hills, stopping in at Foley's tasting room west of Buellton to sample a variety of their Chardonnay offerings.  The ranch lingo used in naming their vineyards is Bill Foley’s tip of the Stetson to his cattleman days.

2010 Chardonnay, Steel
The Rancho Santa Rosa vineyard gives the fruit for this one, and it is kept in its purest state, without the influence of wood.  Tropical citrus and pineapple meet a lively spiciness and a zesty acidity.

2009 Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa
The golden tint tips off the presence of oak, but Dave, who poured the samples for me, hit the barrel stave on the head when he said, “It’s doesn’t spend a lot of time in oak, so it’s creamy rather than buttery.”  The oak isn’t overdone in any of these Chardonnays.  Here, the pineapple and minerals come through beautifully.

2009 Chardonnay, JA Ranch
Aged in 35% new, French toasted oak, this is what California Chardonnay should always be about.  A smoky nose introduces a gorgeous palate of apricot tinged with caramel.

2009 Chardonnay, T-Anchor
A touch of smokiness on the nose doesn’t obscure the rocks and citrus aromas.  There’s a bit more oak on the palate here, too, with a huge fruit expression to offer.

2009 Chardonnay, Bar Lazy S Ranch
The minerality is the star here, but there a strong supporting cast of varied fruit flavors.  Toasty oak spice and zippy acidity complete the big mouthfeel.

2009 Chardonnay, Two Sisters
From the Rancho Las Hermanos vineyard, This is Foley’s top of the line Chardonnay.  With 20 months in all new French oak, I would expect a disturbingly wooden touch to this one, which is not the case.  50% malolactic fermentation increases the creaminess.  It’s smoky, creamy and rich, but clean tasting, not buttery.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Top Ten Summer Wines From Whole Foods Market

The weather is heating up in the hemisphere I call home.  Summer is met with big cheers by sun worshippers, baseball fans and school children - and many of us who like to enjoy a glass of wine are opting for lighter, more refreshing fare that fits in well under the sun.

My friends at Whole Foods Market help out in that last area each year.  They have, once again, revealed their selection of Top Ten Summer Wines available in their stores.  They are also organizing a pair of “Taste and Tweet” sessions in which you can participate.

As an homage to summer, Whole Foods Market wine team has selected ten of their favorite warm-weather wines - from crisp, fragrant whites to earthy, spicy reds - all priced between $7.99 and $14.99.  That pricing will take the heat off buying every day sippers and hearty reds that stand up to grilled foods.

The Whole Foods Top Ten Summer Wines include a one-of-a-kind organic grüner veltliner from Austria as well as the old favorite Bolla Soave Classico, an Italian favorite from the 1970s that has been bottled in classy, retro packaging.

Doug Bell is the global wine buyer for Whole Foods Market.  He says, “We have found some great wines that are like ‘bottled sunshine’ for our shoppers who will also be pleasantly surprised when they see the prices of these gems.  With our selection and diversity of summer wines, shoppers can easily find the perfect bottle or two for the beach, outdoor picnic and/or backyard barbecue.”

If you’d like to join the discussion of these summery wines, do so on Twitter, during two different Taste & Tweet online chats.  Go to for more information about the Twitter Tastings and use the hashtag #WFMwine to follow the conversation.  Here are the dates, and the wines about which we’ll be tasting and tweeting:

Summer Wines Twitter Tasting 1 – Thursday, May 31, 7-8 p.m. CT
·     Mionetto Prosecco
·     Pratsch Grüner Veltliner
·     Tormaresca Neprica

Summer Wines Twitter Tasting 2 – Thursday, July 12, 7-8 p.m. CT
·     Kyklos Moschofilero
·     Yalumba Christobel’s Eden Valley Riesling
·     Pallas Tempranillo by Jorge Ordonez

Here’s the whole list - Whole Foods Market’s Top 10 Summer Wines: (descriptions, recipes and pairings are provided by Whole Foods Market.)

Mionetto Prosecco (Italy)
With golden apple and elderflower flavors, this lively and delicate sparkling wine has a clean, lingering finish – perfect to sip or pair with seafood.  Made with organically-grown grapes.

Recipe pairing: Mussels Vinaigrette
Cheese pairing: Fromager d’Affinois

Kyklos Moschofilero (Greece)
This light straw-colored white has melon, white rose, and citrus flavors with some fresh vegetable notes, providing a zingy, pleasant finish.  A great pairing with seafood, this is a fun substitute for Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio.

Recipe pairing: Calamari Pasta
Cheese pairing: Mahón

Bolla Soave Classico (Italy)
What is old is new again with this classic Italian white with aromas of flowers and fresh stone fruit and a clean, fresh finish.  This is an easy-drinking white that pairs well with fish.  With a new vintage label created for Whole Foods Market, this is the perfect summer porch wine.

Recipe pairing: Shrimp and Mango Ceviche
Cheese pairing: Wellspring Creamery Cranberry Orange Goat Cheese

Louis Latour Ardèche Chardonnay (France)
With a toasty bouquet, this white has delicious apple notes and a crisp acidity and round finish.  This is a bargain for a French chardonnay from one of the most innovative producers in Burgundy.

Recipe pairing: Waldorf Salad with Honey-Yogurt Dressing and Fresh Mint
Cheese pairing: Mons Camembert

Pratsch Grüner Veltliner (Austria)
Made with organically grown grapes, this fruit-forward fragrant white offers apple, citrus and white pepper notes paired with great acidity for a crisp finish.

Recipe pairing: Lemony Angel Hair with Crème Fraîche, Parmesan and Artichoke Hearts
Cheese pairing: Morbier

Yalumba Christobel’s Eden Valley Riesling (Australia)
With aromas of nectarine and white peach, citrus zest, tropical fruits, and some minerality, this white offers a touch of sweetness.  This riesling would be perfect paired with apple pie and cheddar cheese.

Recipe Pairing: Sesame-Peanut Noodles
Cheese Pairing: Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog

Hogue Late Harvest Riesling (Washington)
This dessert wine offers zesty aromas of sweet tangerine, honeysuckle and apricot flavors, with hints of mint on the finish.

Recipe pairing: Grilled Fruit with Caramelized Orange Sauce
Cheese pairing: Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue Cheese

Vinum Cellars Pinot Noir (California)
With classic earthy, cola and ripe cherry flavors, this full-bodied red has soft tannins and drinks like a gem.  It is a perfect pairing with grilled salmon and pork loin with fruit.

Recipe pairing: Firecracker Grilled Salmon
Cheese pairing: Borough Market Cheddar

Pallas Tempranillo by Jorge Ordonez (Spain)
This lush, ripe red has aromas of red and dark berries, smoky herbs and spices – the perfect pairing with barbecue, shish kabobs, and Spanish chorizo.

Recipe pairing: Spanish Chickpeas and Chorizo
Cheese pairing: Solé Gran Queso

Tormaresca Neprica (Italy)
A blend of negroamaro, primitivo and cabernet sauvignon, this lean red has dusty aromas, black raspberry and pepper flavors, and silky tannins.  This is a top-notch pick for pepper steak.

Recipe pairing: Skillet Fajitas with Jicama Salsa
Cheese pairing: Drunken Goat

Columbia Winery Merlot (Washington)
With black cherry and plum flavors, and mint and smoky undertones, this merlot is the perfect “go to” wine for burgers and eggplant parmesan.

Recipe pairing: Eggplant Bolognese
Cheese pairing: Parrano

Bubo Cabernet Sauvignon (California)
Rich layers of black cherry, blackberry, spice and cedar create a jammy red for pizza, barbecue and sangria with berries.

Recipe pairing: Grilled Vegetable Pizza
Cheese pairing: Grafton Classic Reserve Cheddar Aged Two Years

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Italian Wine: Eisacktaler Kellerei Sudtirol Lagrein 2009

A new Italian restaurant has opened in Los Angeles, Victor Casanova’s Gusto.  Just down 3rd Street from the Beverly Center, Gusto is tiny - probably no more than a few dozen seats.  That makes the wine list seem even bigger, and I like that.  It’s an eclectic and wide-ranging menu of wines which offers a lot for a grape geek to get excited about.

I couldn’t resist the call of the Lagrein, a grape which is terribly underrepresented on L.A. wine lists - even in Italian restaurants.  This Lagrein comes from Eisacktaler Kellerei, a winery in the Valle Isarco region of northern Italy’s Sudtirol in Alto Adige.  I’ve had their Kerner before and was quite impressed with it.  Their website describes the area beautifully: “where glaciers meet the gentle hillside landscapes of the Mediterranean.”  The Lagrein is grown in the gravelly soil of Gries near Bolzano.

The Kellerei Lagrein also made an impression on me.  It’s a richly aromatic wine which broods darkly in the glass.  A tarry nose has a floral element, but it puts me in mind of a rather mean flower.  The whole essence of the wine seems very dark visually as well as aromatically.  The palate shows very nice acidity with fairly stiff tannins. Blackberry and smoke flavors are deep and imposing. 

The pairing with my fennel sausage pasta was good, but this wine will stand up to much heavier, beefier plates, too.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: Deliverance

In the South, drinking is the national sport.  That’s why they named their beer “Dixie.”  Of course, they also name their cars, hunting dogs and little girls “Dixie,” but those are for other columns.  This one is about wine and movies, and it says here the best movie about the southern United States is “Deliverance.”

It’s not a feel-good movie.  It’s a writhing, retching record of the worst that humanity has to offer, and I don’t mean litterbugs.  Those goons are scary stupid, and those city boys are way out of their element.  They should have turned around and gone back home at the first sign of trouble, but you know what a bad influence that Burt Reynolds can be.

When Burt told the local yokel that fifty dollars was too much for the ride, maybe he should have used a little more tact.  “Fifty my left pinkie” might not have riled ‘em up as much as “Fifty my ass.”   Of course, it may have raised different concerns.

I’m from the South, so I’ve heard the entire roster of “squeal like a pig” comments, thank you.  Yes, there really are people out there who keep the memory of that line alive as humor.  Scary stupid.  I knew a guy who raised exotic birds.  He was fond of saying, “Scream like a peacock,” but I don’t think it was in reference to the movie.

The music of “Deliverance” gave the banjo a rare appearance in the Top Forty.  The instrumental “Dueling Banjos” was a big hit, performed by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel.  That big wave of follow-up banjo hits never occurred, though, even on country radio.  Forty years later we are still waiting for the banjo craze to cycle back around.  I think we are ripe for a banjo rap song.  Banjoists should run an ad campaign: “Hey, at least it’s not accordions!”

My wife and I overheard Ronny Cox tell an interesting story about his experience in “Deliverance” as we sat at the next table during lunch at the Mulholland Grill.  He said the kid who played the banjo in the movie was terribly afraid of playing in front of the cameras.  The kid took a shine to Ronny, though, and didn’t have any problem playing his part as long as Cox was nearby.  Everybody appreciated that, but Cox’s character was found floating belly up anyway.  Sorry for eavesdropping, Ronny.

As long as we’re in the Southeast trying to decide which is worse - the heat or the humidity - let’s do something that had to happen sooner or later.  Let’s go Muscadine.

The Muscadine grape is indigenous to the Southeastern US, although you can find it growing a purty far piece up the eastern seaboard and even as far west as Texas - yee-haw!  Fans of wine made from vinifera grapes - the sort grown in France, or California - will immediately turn up their little pug noses at the hint of a Muscadine wine.  But the grape grows well in conditions that would leave a Chardonnay grape fanning itself on the divan. 

Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have been so impressed with Muscadine wine he traded a carton of cigarettes to the Indians for some and sent it back to Queen Elizabeth.  There’s no record of how she liked it, but it probably ran a close race with okra.

The Muscadine grape survives in lousy grape-growing weather because it has 20 pairs of chromosomes, one more pair than European grapes.  That's also the reason there is about 40 times the amount of antioxidants as in traditional wine grapes.

There’s a nice little Muscadine produced in Alabama, at Morgan Creek Vineyards.  It might take a little getting used to it, but it’s got great acidity and is a good fit with food.

Do you deliver?

Organic Muscadine can be found coming out of Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina and Louisiana.

Muddy Water “Deliverance” wine - This Waipara Valley wine from New Zealand is a blend of Syrah and Pinotage, the latter sometimes regarded as lowly as Muscadine.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wine Country: New York Finger Lakes - Red Tail Ridge

The wines featured on the Now And Zin Wine Country series are usually shipped to me from the winery’s location.  This time, they came to me in person.

At industry wine tasting events in Southern California, I am exposed largely to California wines.  There’s a smattering of events featuring European wines and fewer from around other parts of the globe.  Hardly ever at these events do I get a chance to taste an American wine that is not produced in the western US.  A recent wine show gave me one of those rare opportunities.

Finger Lakes winemaker Nancy Irelan, owner of Red Tail Ridge Winery in upstate New York, poured her wines at the Wine Warehouse trade event on April 24, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

Red Tail Ridge Winery is located on the western shore of Seneca Lake, one of eleven long, narrow lakes left by glaciers.  On a map, they look as if a hand may have clawed them out of the earth, hence the name “Finger Lakes.”  The winery’s name is credited to a pair of hawks who nest close to the 32-acre vineyard.  They are the constant companions to Nancy and her husband, Mike Schnelle, as they work amongst the vines.

I have enough experience with Finger Lakes Rieslings to know that crisp acidity is their calling card, and that remains true with the Rieslings of Red Tail Ridge.  That bright, zippy acidity is at its best in the '09 Estate Dry Riesling, and the 2010 Chardonnay Sans Oak is no slouch in that department.  That steely Chardonnay also has a great fruit axpression, as does the Red Tail Ridge 2010 Semi-Sweet Riesling, Geneva-Dresden Bench.  The latter has the apricot flavors digging their way out of a massive display of earthy minerals.

The Red Tail Ridge 2009 Semi-Dry Estate Riesling is a showcase for peaches, while their ‘09 Good Karma - a Riesling/Chardonnay blend - is a source of income for the local food bank.

Their 2008 Blaufränkisch caught my attention, as I have not had the chance to experience much in the way of Finger Lakes reds.  This Austrian grape - called Lemberger in Germany - is one of the Red Tail Ridge wines in their “Obscure Red Varietal Series.”  They also make a Teroldego and a Dornfelder for that series.

The fruit for the Red Tail Ridge Blaufränkisch is from the Martini Family Vineyard.  This wine shows a gigantic expression of earth on the nose, with extreme acidity and minerals on the flinty, cherry palate.  This wine was my personal star of the entire event.  I mentioned to Irelan that there are some hip, new wine bars springing up all over Los Angeles which would kill to have something this crazy good on their wine lists.  At less than $15 per bottle, it’s a steal.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Exploring Beaujolais: Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages

We visit Beaujolais once again, and this time we go not with a Cru, but with Beaujolais-Villages. There are 38 villages in the northern part of the Beaujolais region entitled to use the name on their labels.  These wines could carry the name of the individual village from which the grapes came, but most of the winemakers feel the Beaujolais-Villages name has a bigger recognition factor.

The soil in the Villages is composed of more schist and granite than the soils of other areas in the region.  The vineyards are also located in more mountainous terrain.  As a result of these factors, there is the potential for some very high quality wine to come from the region’s Gamay grapes.

The Georges Duboeuf 2009 Beaujolais-Villages carries a 13% abv number, about the norm in Beaujolais.  This wine is an easy drinker, with a nose that displays dark cherry and grapey notes and a nice touch of spiciness.  On the palate there is some very nice acidity, while the tannins are somewhat restrained, but noticeable.  There is a medium-full mouth with notes of cherry cola and clove.  The wine is much more complex than most of the Cru wines from Beaujolais I have tasted - mostly from the 2010 vintage.  This effort is good and juicy, and works well with a bit of a chill.  Pair it with lean meat, seafood or even a salad, especially one with some light meat involved. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Italian Wine: Viva Vino Los Angeles 2012

The week-long festivities for Viva Vino Los Angeles 2012 peaked in the middle, with the mid-week grand tasting event on May 16th at The Mark For Events.

Hundreds of Italian wines were poured, from producers large and small.  Assuming you love Italian wines, it was a chance to wallow in them to your heart’s contento.  If nothing else, you could add a few grapes to your Century Club efforts - quite a few.  There were grapes like Cortese, Grechetto, Corvina, Rondinella, Turbiana, Malinara, Teroldego - and those are from just the first two tables at which I stopped.  If you are new to Italian wines, I apologize in advance for the extreme grape geekiness you are about to encounter.  If you have not sampled these wonders, though, you really owe it to yourself to do so.

Notable Wines:

The white wines at Viva Vino were simply outstanding.  From table to table, one white after another impressed with acidity and minerality.  Green apples here, a touch of lime there, but nearly all the whites I tasted were driven by extreme minerality, laced with bracing acidity and just waiting for a meal to come along.

The most impressive wines of the day, for me, were from La Castellada in Oslavia.  Winemaker Stefano Bensa (right) was on hand to guide me through three scintillating whites.  The 2007 Friuliano, 2006 Ribolla Gialla and 2002 Bianco Della Castellada are among the best wines I’ve had in a while.  They all spend four days on skins, a year in oak, a year in the tank and a year in the bottle.  Bensa told me they are produced as naturally as possible, from low-yield vineyards.  The intensity and complexity of these wines is mind-blowing and they are definitely age-worthy.

Also in Oslavia, Robert Fiegl is producing three exceptional DOC Collio wines - a savory Ribolla Gialla, a playful Pinot Grigio and a pungent Sauvignon Blanc.

A lovely Gavi, La Maddalena Gavi DOCG 2009, from Cantina Produttori di Gavi in Piemonte, is produced from 100% Cortese grapes.  It has beautiful acidity and the taste of green apples.  It’s a completely refreshing wine.

Tuscany’s Robert Pitti Vermentino Bianco Toscano IGT 2010 slathers the minerals  in a nice salinity.  The palate is savory and the acidity lingers on the finish.

Terre de la Custodia is owned by the Farchioni family in Umbria.  Their 100% Grechetto Colli Martani DOC 2009 is savory and mineral driven.

Gruppo Montresor showed a Pinot Grigio Veneto IGP, Pinot Grigio Marche IGP Brumaio Organic and Lugana DOC Gran Guardia, which is 100% Turbiana.  All three display nice acidity and savory minerality.

Sicily’s Donnafugata presented two wines produced with 100% Zibibbo grapes, a clone of Muscat of Alexandria.  The grapes are dried on the winery rooftop before fermentation, which steps up the concentration of aromas and flavors.  The raisiny sweetness is abetted by bracing acidity.

From the Friuli hill country comes Vidussi.  The Malvasia Vidussi DOC 2011 is one of the few wines I sampled which showed a blast of fruit and flowers on the nose, rather than rocky minerality.  Unoaked, the wine still plays richly on the palate.  Their Ronchi di Ravez Bianco Collio DOC 2011 combines four grapes - Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana, Friuliano and Picolit.  There is plenty of earthy fruit after spending three months in a large cask.

Also from Friuli, Valter Ciani was represented by sons Alessandro and Andre.  The pair poured five outstanding white varietal wines - Friuliano, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and  a Prosecco - which they told me wholesale for around four dollars per bottle.  They are looking for someone to import these wines, and they would seem to be a great addition to some distributor’s portfolio.  Contact them at

Distinctive Reds:

Tuscany’s Palagetto poured their Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2004.  This is the way you want your Sangiovese to taste.  Beautiful, earthy cherries and plums are framed by firm tannins.

Terre de la Custodia is owned by the Farchioni family in Umbria. Their Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG 2005 has great acidity, tannins and very dry, raisiny, cherry notes.

Gruppo Montresor poured Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC Classico Capitel Della Crosara.  A blend of 60% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 10% Molinara, it has great tannins, acidity and a raisiny edge to the fruit.

From Veneto, Masi showed their prowess with Amarone.  The Costasera Amarone Della Valpolicella Classic DOC 2007 has fabulous acidity and the trademark dried fruit and raisins on the palate.

Conti Wallenburg’s Trentino Teroldego Rotaliano DOC 2011 is composed entirely of the Teroldego Rotaliano grape.  It shows rich, ripe cherry and a dash of tartness, along with great acidity.  With only two months in oak, it’s fresh and vibrant.

Trentino-Alto Adige’s Barone Fini Merlot 2010 is enjoyed at the Vatican, I’m told.  The importer’s representative said the earthy fruit and nearly toothless tannins make it “one of the only reds the older Cardinals can handle.”

Tuscany’s Castello di Monastero Chianti Classico 2007, on the other hand, sports big tannins and smoke-cloaked fruit.

Sicily’s Villa Pozzi Nero d’Avola is earthy and quite smooth, while Umbria’s Moretti Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG 2007 has tannins in play, but they are not overwhelming.  20% of these grapes are pressed by foot - stompin’ it old-school.

From Basilicata, in southern Italy, D’Angelo’s Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2008 is big and brawny.  Their Riserva is a much smoother version.


Bubbles were provided by Gatta Winemakers’ sparklers, produced in the Champagne method in the Lombardia region.  Their Brut Franciacorta DOCG, 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Nero, bubbles up nicely and shows a sweet edge to the fantastic acidity.  Zero Franciacorta DOCG is 100% Pinot Nero, and offers a toastier nose.

Conti Wallenburg poured a Trentino sparkler, Rosé Costantinopoli.  It is 100% Pinot Nero and has a fabulously funky nose with mineral-driven strawberry flavors.


I have to give a shout out to a really tasty discovery - Italian Magic Olives.  These gourmet stuffed olives are really something to sign up for.  They appear to come from Gardena, California via Chicago.  That’s the gist of what the very Italian representative told me.  One winery rep had a bowl full of them delivered to him by a very attractive young woman.  I told him she must like him a lot, and he raised an eyebrow and asked how I knew.  I said that if she didn’t like him, she would have kept those olives for herself.

Objets d’art:

There were some arty, one-of-a-kind wine gift bags designed by Caroline Hallak of Beverly Hills on display during the event.  No prices are given online, but I’m told the bags go for between $14 and $19 each.  She’s open by appointment only, due to the exclusive nature of her clientele.  It’s a lot to pay for a wine gift bag, so make sure the wine you’re gifting is worth putting in a designer tote.

There were some paintings on display as well, from wine artist Elisabetta Rogai.  She paints with wine, or at least with paints made from wine.  Her work is worth a look.  Hopefully it ages like wine, and not like Dorian Gray.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Table For Three At 3Twenty South Wine Lounge

The radio business has some nice euphemisms for being out of work. That’s probably because being out of work is a more-or-less natural state in radio. “Between gigs,” “on the beach,” “away from the mic” - nice, presentable ways of saying you’re jobless. I have been considered fortunate through my radio career to have stayed employed fairly consistently and for durations much longer than typical radio jobs usually last. My last gig was 22 years. My next one is - hopefully - just around the corner. After so long in a career which sometimes saw me working when others were playing, I now get to play while others are working. I stopped into 3Twenty South Wine Lounge in the mid-afternoon a while back after running some errands on La Brea. I wasn’t looking to prop myself up at the bar, I just wanted to pop in and say “hi” to my friend Edgar Poureshagh, the owner and sommelier. As luck would have it, another friend was there, too. Jamie Edlin, of Hollywood and Wine, was seated at a table in the otherwise empty restaurant. Her company represents and services “a select portfolio of boutique, artisan wineries,” and she was obviously ready to pour a few samples for Edgar to taste. They were both very kind to insist I join them. Jamie was pouring Pinot Noir from two Monterey County wineries, Chesebro Wines and Cima Collina. Chesebro Wines - in Carmel Valley - is a small, family-owned outfit which produces around 2,000 cases per year. They own vineyards in Monterey County. The Chesebro Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir 2009 utilizes a blend of grapes from two vineyards, Cedar Lane and Mission Ranch, in the Arroyo Seco AVA. The sandy, low vigor soil and cool, foggy mornings make for good Pinot-growing conditions. Big acidity is immediately noticed, and welcomed. The wine is very dark in color and taste - with black cherry, clove and dark spices coming forth. Cima Collina produces artisan wines which are unfined and unfiltered. The vineyards of the two wines tasted are on opposite sides of the Salinas Valley. The 2007 Pinot Noir, Lucia Highlands Vineyard, is rather oaky with cherries and plums in the forefront. The alcohol is restrained at 13.8% abv. Cima Collina's Pinot Noir, Chula Vina Vineyard 2007 hails from the northeastern side of the Salinas Valley in the foothills. The granitic soil is well drained and somewhat protected from the windy conditions in the area. Dried plum leads the way in this fascinating, very easy drinker. A big, full-bodied feel in the mouth and the fruit-forward attitude makes for a good example of California Pinot. The alcohol edges up to 14% abv.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: The Pom Pom Girls

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

There is something quaintly American about cheerleaders.  There is also something quaintly American about baseball, apple pie and white Zinfandel.  This time, we’re hangin’ with “The Pom Pom Girls.”

All-American girls in bikinis at the beach, practicing their cheers while showing their rears. Roll ‘em, aaaaand - that’s a wrap! What more do you need from a summertime movie?  Plots play over the holidays.

That type of scene might make you think this sexploitation chuckler should have been titled “The Butt Pom Girls.”  That probably got discussed sometime before the movie was released.  There does seem to be a scarcity of actual pom poms, at least in the trailer.  That’s OK, though, because those things cover up so much when the gals are holding them.  I’m sure that was probably an agenda point at a pre-production meeting, too.  “Wait - how about if they throw the pom poms on the ground!”  “Brilliant!”

In her commentary on the movie, Katt Shea says there’s an “American Graffiti feeling” to “The Pom Pom Girls.”  While fans of one probably wouldn’t trade for the other, both films do have an endearing way of showing the innocence of youth.  One has a more serious side, while the other has a nice backside.  Comparing the two is rather like comparing Zinfandel and white Zin.  Both have their moments, but...

“The Pom Pom Girls” isn’t too bad, for a movie about cheerleaders.  It could have been better.  It could have been “Bring It On.”  It also could have been worse.  It could have been about the marching band.

Levity aside, I’m told there is actually a difference between pom pom girls and cheerleaders.  The way I hear it, cheerleaders do simple, repetitive “cheer motions” while pom pom girls are more artful and employ more freestyle actions in their performances.  I had the feeling that explanation came from a pom pom girl.  A former cheerleader confirmed that, while extolling the athleticism of her crew. It's a Hatfield/McCoy thing between cheerleaders and pom pom girls. At any rate, once the pom poms hit the ground, your assets are on display and the spirit stick is passed.

We could hit it and quit it by going with Pom Pom Wine - pom-pom-pomegranates, that is.  While it’s tempting to put our hands in the hands of the man who turned the water into wine - what a great miracle huh? - we’ll make Galilee a side trip on the way to Italy. 

That’s where we find pomace brandy - the Italian version is known as grappa.  In a pomace brandy, the skins, pulp, seeds and stems leftover from traditional winemaking are fermented and distilled on their own, producing a substance which is anywhere from 70 to 120 proof.  Nardini makes an esteemed grappa using the pomace of grapes from the Friuli and Veneto regions.  

Pom Pom wine is a shallow bottle:

Wine Opener Cheerleader - How many bottles of wine had that opener opened before the video was made?  I’m guessing one bottle of white Zin.

Holy-Field Winery Dog - An awesomely cute dog, and a Rock-Chalk-Jayhawk blue wine bottle from Kansas.

Cheerwine - I confess, this one is not even wine.  It’s a soda nobody knows about.  But, it’s cheering.  Must be some pom poms in there somewhere.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Return To Terroir At Port4lio, Los Angeles 2012

 Return To Terroir is a French wine importer focused on, “unique and authentic, hand-crafted wines that are the precise expression of their terroir.”  If you are not familiar with the term, terroir is a French word that conceptualizes the sense of place one finds in wine.  It refers to a vineyard’s location, soil, and climate, and how those factors are incorporated into the taste of the wine.

I got to visit some of France's wine regions at the Return To Terroir table at the recent Port4lio tasting event in Culver City, California.

Bordeaux’s gravel-based soil in the left bank region and the limestone clay of the right bank offer two separate terroirs to explore.

Château Cadillac (AOC Bordeaux Supérieur, older vines) 2009 Bordeaux Supérieur - 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon;  beautiful smoky nose with cherry and acidity on the palate;  nice tannic structure

Château Fitère (AOC Madiran)  2009 Madiran - 70% Tannat, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon;  stainless steel fermentation; very tannic with plum and smoky spice; great acidity and long finish

Château Flotis (AOC Fronton) 2008 Fronton - organically-farmed Negrette, which is indigenous to Fronton, plus 10% Syrah; nose is funky, floral, meaty all at once; palate loaded with cherries

The Southwest region of France offers a multitude of different terroirs and correspondingly diverse wines, often made from grapes not found elsewhere in the country..

Domaine de Brin  (AOC Gaillac) 2009 Gaillac “Petit Brin” - 40% Duras, 25% Braucol, 20% Syrah, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; savory, smoky, peppery cherry and plums

The chalky limestone soil in the Loire Valley is particularly well-suited to the white wines for which the region is best known.

Domaine Gaudron (AOC Vouvray) 2009 Vouvray Sec - 100% Chenin Blanc  flinty minerals, peach, apricot;  2009 Vouvray Demi Sec - restrained sweetness, minerals and peaches

Burgundy offers soils of clay and limestone on top of granite, lava and schist - the kind of stuff great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are made from.

Domaine de la Douaix (AOC Hautes Cotes de Nuits)  2008 Bourgogne Blanc En Mairey - 60% Pinot Blanc 40% Chardonnay;   very steely despite 12 months in oak; green apples and very nice acidity

Domaine Denis Carré (AOC Hautes Cotes de Beaune) 2010 Hautes Cotes de Beaune Blanc - 100% Chardonnay ; smoky fruit shines with nice acidity and a lengthy finish;  Their 2008 Pommard  benefits from a streak of iron oxide under the limestone clay which gives this Pinot Noir a strong minerality and great acidity

Côtes de Provence has a varied terroir, with limestone soil in the northwest to crystalline rock in the southeast part of the region.

Château Saint-Pierre  (AOC Côtes de Provence) 2010 Côtes de Provence Rosé - 40% Grenache, 60% Cinsault; strawberry, cherry,  bit of tartness; dry , nice acidity

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wine Country North Dakota: Pointe Of View Winery

The cradle of North Dakota’s wine industry - the town of Burlington - is a few miles up Highway 2 from Minot, where there is always a radio job open.  There used to be, anyway.  In my younger days as a radio deejay in Beaumont, Texas, we radio types would read the “Jobs Available” listings in the back of Radio and Records magazine.  It seemed there was always a listing in Minot, N.D.  We assumed the turnover rate was high due to the fact that the temperatures probably dipped to absolute zero just before Thanksgiving and didn’t warm up enough to cut the grass until July.  The station manager probably let the ad run every week so they could amass a stockpile of tapes and resumes for the inevitable time when the next deejay would quit and move south.

Burlington is home to North Dakota’s first winery, Pointe Of View.  North Dakota was the last state in the union since Prohibition to issue a license for a commercial winery.   That was in 2002.  They still don’t have much company - one other winery has joined the ranks - with most folks busy having a good laugh about that crazy guy trying to grow grapes in North Dakota.  Meanwhile, Jeff Peterson  is quietly making North Dakota history.

Peterson makes most of his wines on the sweeter side - he says that’s what people want in North Dakota.  He prefers dry wines, himself, and produces two full-fledged dry wines, one from apples and one from grapes.  I ran across an article in the Bismarck Tribune in which Peterson stated, “"Some people really know their wines. Some people might not know their wines, but they know what they like. In the end, that's what it comes down to.”  Some in the wine world will fight Peterson tooth and nail on that point, preferring to insist that there is good and there is bad, and some people simply don’t know the difference.  But, if someone doesn’t like the wine you like, does that make it bad?  Peterson thinks if it’s good enough for you to take home repeatedly, it’s good.

Peterson was kind enough to send two samples of his North Dakota wine for this series, one made from Valiant grapes and another made from rhubarb.  Terre Haute Rouge has an alcohol content of 9% abv.  It’s a semi sweet blush wine with no vintage on label, produced from 100% North Dakota Grown Valiant grapes.

“I could not give it the Valiant varietal name and year when I got its first crop four years ago,” emails Peterson.  “Seems the name was registered with the TTB then with a foreign country. A couple years ago that changed, but by that time I had the name established.

“Valiant is a cross of Wild Montana (native vitis riparia) which came from just west of me and crossed with Fredonia. Dr. Ron Peterson from the University of South Dakota bred the two back in the early 60's. It is currently considered to be the most cold hardy American hybrid there is. Although intended as a juice grape it makes a good summer wine with a slight labrusca flavor.

“Also, our state ag research university (North Dakota State University) is currently working on developing very cold hardy hybrid wine grapes for our industry. Although a long term project, they are employing a new accelerated breeding program that allows crosses to be made all year long and could potentially turn a 20 year breeding program into 8.”

Terre Haute Rouge is deep pink in the glass - a nice rosado color - with an herbal aspect to the sweetness which is quite intriguing.  The sweet strawberry flavors have an earthiness that adds dimension to the wine.  Peterson notes, “It’s sweet and tangy. I make it in a white wine style (no skin fermentation) because the skins have an objectionable flavor to them when fermented.”  It’s really a nice, semi-sweet blush with enough acidity to allow for it to take a place at the lunch table.

Pointe Of View gave me my first experience with rhubarb wine, and it is a very pleasant one.  Pointe Of View’s Rhubarb Wine brings an easy-drinking 10% abv number and tastes like a sweet hybrid wine, a bit like a Brianna or Edelweiss.

The slight nose sports some herbal qualities with a hint of honey, while the palate shows a very sweet taste with a bit of a tang on the finish.  There’s plenty of acidity, but it’s so sweet it would be hard for me to consider it as a food wine - I like my table wine dry.  There’s nothing at all wrong with this wine served cold, however, on the deck as a summertime sipper.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vinos Unico - Bodegas Ochoa, Robledo Family Winery

Vinos Unico is a wine importer and distributor which deals in wines from Spain, Portugal, Argentina and California.  Their people poured a smattering of the wines they represent recently at the Port4lio tasting in Culver City, California.  I was particularly taken with the wines of two producers who were there to pour their own wines themselves.

Bodegas Ochoa came all the way from Navarra, Spain to promote their wines in the US.  Javier and Ariana Ochoa are the father/daughter winemaking team, while Ariana’s sister Beatriz (left) graced the Ochoa table at this event.  Beatriz told me that her sister represents the young side of the family business, but assured me her father needed no help in thinking young himself.

Ochoa Mdo Moscato “de Aguja” 2011 - This 100% Muscatel wine bears Ariana’s signature.  It records a low, low 5% abv number, has a very floral nose and a lovely, sweet palate.  Hard to see how anyone could pass up this sweet sparkler.

Ochoa Blanco 2011 - A white blend of 70% Viura and 30% Chardonnay.  Uncharacteristically sweet-smelling for a Viura, with a fruity and floral palate.

Ochoa Rosado 2011 - This rosé is 100% Garnacha which saw only 8-10 hours of skin contact, but a very deep pink color resulted nonetheless.  It’s quite fresh and lively.

Ochoa Tinto 2010 - There’s no oak in this 50/50 blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha.  The nose and palate both show clean, fresh cherry notes, with a bright acidity in the mouth.

Ochoa Crianza 2008 - A young, 100% Tempranillo wine displays great use of oak.  Lovely cherry and strawberry abound.

Ochoa Mil Gracias 2008 - All Graciano grapes here, and not surprisingly it’s the one wine on the table that best fits the description "old world."  A very savory and spicy flavor profile is a winner.

Robledo Family Winery of Sonoma Valley boasts 400 acres of vineyards scattered across Napa, Sonoma and Lake Counties in Northern California.

Luis Robledo poured the wines of Reynaldo Robledo, who started working with vines in the 1960s.  His thirty-year path from immigrant field worker to successful vineyard manager to vineyard and winery owner is a testament to his tenacity and a source of much pride for his family.

Brut Cuvée 2008 - Los Carneros fruit - 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay - produces a toasty nose with a palate full of apples and pears.  It’s a multiple gold medal winner.

Seven Brothers 2009 - Lake County Sauvignon Blanc named for the male Robledo siblings (Luis Robledo is one of 9 kids, seven of them brothers.)  The nose bears a slight grass aroma, with grapefruit leading the charge of fruit on the palate.  Nice acidity and a tangerine finish leave me wanting another taste.  (By the way, the girls already have a wine named after them.)

Los Braceros Red Blend 2006 - The fruit here hails from Sonoma Valley.  The blend includes Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Black cherry and plum flavors are framed in a smoky, earthy setting.

El Rey Red Hills 2006 - Lake County is the source for the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in this one.  Earth and graphite show amid plum and blackberry, all delivered in a nice cigar box aroma.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: The Horse Soldiers

Westerns - the Great American Movie Genre.  Yes, the Italian cinema has its Spaghetti Western - Cameriere, more Sangiovese, please!  But we’re talking real, honest-to-John-Wayne American westerns here.  The kind with a big, wide-open-spaces theme by somebody like Elmer Bernstein, Alfred Newman, or Lerner and Loewe.  Morricone magic is better served with the aforementioned grape of Chianti - and movies where the dubbed dialog doesn’t quite match up with the actors’ mouths.

The soundtrack of “The Horse Soldiers” rides in on the strains of “Dixie” and out to “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”  You not only get a western, you get a Civil War movie, too.  And John Wayne’s in both of them.

Heck, you even get John Ford directing at no extra charge, and a story that was ripped from the headlines of the Vicksburg Post, circa 1863.  A western?  In Mississippi?  That’s right, pilgrim.  Mississippi was once The West.  The Duke plays the railroad-builder-turned-Yankee-Colonel who is sent into Mississippi on a mission to blow up a railroad.  Now that’s iron horse irony for you.

Besides Wayne and Ford, you get character actors like Ken Curtis, Denver Pyle and Strother Martin.  That’s the hick trifecta, right there - a dialogue coach’s dream, a speech therapist’s nightmare.  Every time I see one of those guys in a western, I wonder if they talk like that in real life.  I also wonder: do method actors in a Civil War picture drink Muscadine to get into the role?

It may be my imagination playing tricks on me, but I think this movie has more horses in it than I’ve ever seen in one film before.  It makes me wonder if actors get paid more for saddle sores.  We should probably check with a bow-legged actor for the answer.

None of the horses got listed in the credits, but they should have.  Without them, you wouldn’t have much of a western.  Not much of a cavalry movie, either, come to think of it.  With no horses, the cavalry would have come to the rescue on foot.  That would just about put them out of the rescuing business and in the cleaning-up-after-the-trouble business.

Horse walks into a bar.  Bartender says, “Why the long face?”  Horse says, “Can you make me a War Horse?”  Bartender says, “Sorry, I’m not on the draft board.  How about a nice Central Coast Pinot instead?”

Wild Horse Winery, just south of Paso Robles, advises us to “Live Naturally, Enjoy Wildly.”  Their 2006 Cheval Sauvage not only means “wild horse” in French, it’s the kind of masculine Pinot Noir John Wayne might share with his brave steed after a tough day of breaking the Confederacy.

Hoof a look at these:

Iron Horse Vineyards - A Sonoma County winery known for its sparkling wines,  their Iron Horse Chinese Cuvée was produced for the Chinese year of the dragon.  They are looking forward to 2014 - the year of the horse.

Black Stallion Winery - An old equestrian center is the home for the Napa Valley outfit in the Oak Knoll District.

14 Hands - The measure of a small horse, 14 Hands is also the home of some pretty tasty wines from eastern Washington state.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blue Danube Wine Company At Port4lio, Los Angeles 2012

The Danube River flows through Central Europe for over 1,700 miles - from the Black Forest to the Black Sea.  Along the way are wine regions producing wines which can legitimately be called hidden gems.  The wines of Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia are well worth exploring for the taste alone.  The sense of history that comes with each sip is a bonus.  You can also find an easy way to add some exotic grapes to your Century Club efforts.

The Blue Danube Wine Company is a wine distributor with a mission.  The San Francisco-based wholesaler is bent on making wine lovers of the United States aware of the fine wines they import from Central Europe, from those hidden gem areas along the blue Danube.

At the recent Port4lio tasting event in Culver City, California, I had the chance to sample from a literal smorgasbord of wines featuring producers, grapes and wine regions with which I had little experience - and even less success in pronouncing.  Fortunately, Blue Danube’s Frank Dietrich and Stetson Robbins were there to help out the tasters with pours and pronunciation.

Juris Winery is near Gols, Austria - just southeast of Vienna near the Neusiedler See.  Winemaker Axel Stiegelmar (right) was on hand to present his wines personally.

Stiegelmar talked of his four-story winery, which utilizes gravity to help make a smaller carbon footprint.  He talked of his family’s winemaking tradition, which dates back to the 1500s..  What he really loves to talk about are his grapes, mainly St. Laurent, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  For this event, Stiegelmar poured his red wines.

The Juris ‘10 Zweigelt lives up to the expectations held by lovers of this grape.  The smoky nose, the earthy fruit, the firm tannins and razor-sharp acidity all contribute on the way to the incredible finish.  More strong earthiness comes on the nose of the ‘09 St. Laurent, which leads to a beautiful sour cherry flavor.

The Juris reserve wines are made from older vines.  Stiegelmar says, “the vines are mature enough so the roots have reached down below the top layer of soil into the mineral layer below.”  The mineral aspect does come through significantly on the ‘08 Pinot Noir Reserve, along with raspberry and strawberry and a mouth-watering acidity.  The ‘09 St. Laurent Reserve shows great minerals and sour cherry on the palate.

A beautiful blend - the Juris ‘09 Ina Mera is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon,, 30% Merlot and 30% Blaufrankisch.  It is very clean and earthy with bright acidity.  The wine is playful in the mouth with a long, gorgeous finish.

Slovenian producer Batic - an organic estate in the Vipava Valley - covered a wide range of styles with just a few wines.  The Batic ‘06 Pinot Gris tastes like candied green apples.  The ‘08 Pinela - a grape grown only in this small area - is a refreshing white with great acidity.  The ‘09 Cabernet Franc shows dense forest fruit on the nose and a taste of tart raspberry.  As I found over and over at this event, the wine has excellent acidity.

Also from Slovenia, Kabaj - pronounced ka-bay - is located in the far western part of the country, immediately next to Italy, in the Goriska Brda region.  Two whites produced with skin contact presented intense minerals.  The ‘09 Beli Pinot is a Pinot Blanc possessing an earthy acidity, while the ‘09 Sivi Pinot is a Pinot Grigio exploding with minerals, earth and green apples.

Coastal Croatian Reds included one from Terzolo, in Istria.  The ‘09 Teran was described by Robbins as “a masochistic wine.”  It is a bit tannic, but I didn’t feel I was looking for trouble by enjoying it.

Bibich produces wine in Skradin, North Dalmatia.  Their ‘09 R6 Riservo - made of Babich, Lasin and Plavina grapes - is very old world, with high acidity and nervy, savory flavors.

Dingac Winery, from the Peljesac Peninsula of Dalmatia, poured several wines made from Plavic Mali, the Croatian version of Zinfandel.  Their ‘10 Plavac is surprisingly smooth for a grape that is known for its tannic nature.  The ‘10 Peljesac is a little bigger and shows some spiciness, while the ‘08 Postup has a big mineral display.

There were some lovely sparkling wines, too.  Törley - Hungary’s famous sparkling wine producer - had four bubblies represented.  Gala blends Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Királyleányka.  Fresh apples grace the nose and palate.  Fortuna - Muskat Ottonel, Irsal Olivér and Muskat Lunel - is fabulously sweet.  More sweetness comes from Hungaria Grand Cuvée brut, a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling blend.  It captivates with a beautiful, sweet floral expression.  The Tokaji has beautiful sweetness tempered by a healthy dollop of minerality.

Kogl - from Štajerska, Slovenia - went the other way with it.  The non-vintage Albus Clasique of Riesling, Yellow Muskat, Chardonnay and Furmint grapes is a dry sparkler showing earthy minerals and toast.  The non-vintage Rubellus Clasique is made from Pinot Noir as a rosé.  It has a nice, funky, toasty nose with a beautiful and elegant on the palate.

If you want a real education in the wines of Central Europe, a visit to the Blue Danube website is an absolute must.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Palmina Wines of Santa Barbara County

It has always struck me that Palmina wines are made specifically to pair with food - so much so that they might seem a little less than impressive at first sniff or taste.  Their wines are made to pair with food, meaning they are made to complement the food, not show it up.  The full expression of their wines really doesn’t occur until they have been matched with food.  Steve Clifton states on the website, “Palmina is a Californian celebration of the rich, wonderful lifestyle and attitude toward food, wine, friends and family that exists in Italy

Clifton is one of the more focused of the “Cal-Italia” winemakers in the Golden State.  He and his wife, Chrystal, specialize in making wine from Italian grape varieties grown in Santa Barbara County.  They do not, he admits, try to emulate the Italian versions of those grapes.  They do try to allow their sense of place in the Central Coast to shine through.  All the while, they keep in mind the Italian perspective that wine isn’t merely a beverage, but one of the things which helps give life its meaning.  Wine is “an extension of the plate” at Palmina.

The wines of Palmina are notable for their acidity, a must when pairing wine with food.  Their flavors are delicious without overwhelming the palate.  The food is the star in Clifton’s philosophy, wine is the supporting actor.

I had the pleasure of experiencing quite a full tasting of Palmina wines at the Wine Warehouse tasting event on April 24, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.  I don’t usually have food at large wine tasting events, but this time I found myself drifting over to an appetizer station between samples.

The Palmina whites are great sippers on their own, but the minerality and acidity found in their Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Arneis and Malvasia Bianca almost make a food pairing mandatory.  The Malvasia Bianca, from the Santa Ynez Valley’s Larner Vineyard, is the one Palmina white that displays a nose and palate that might compete with food.  The floral element in this one is enormous and beautiful.

The Botasea Rosato di Palmina is a beautiful pink blend of Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo.  It is not produced in the saignée method, where juice is bled off in the process of making a red wine.  All the fruit for this rosé was picked especially to make this wine.  It’s nice and dry, with a light cherry flavor that could beckon spring on its own.

As for the reds, Palmina’s Dolcetto is light and breezy, the Barbera offers a light touch of smoke and the Nebbiolo is lightweight yet tannic.  Alisos is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot.  It was the first wine made by Palmina, in 1997.  The wine is produced by allowing some of the Sangiovese grapes to dry and become raisins.  They are then vinified and blended with the previously vinified wine.

If you find you really need a wine that packs its own punch, Palmina’s Undici has a big nose of smoke and chocolate-covered cherries.  The Sangiovese fruit comes from the Honea Vineyard, and there are traces of Malvasia Bianca in the mix.  The Nebbiolo from the Sisquoc Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley offers a huge expression of fresh cherries and an array of spices that would fill a spice rack.  TheStolpman Vineyard Nebbiolo has great grip and a palate based in cherry and layered with a host of other delicacies.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Wine Tasting Event: Sonoma In The City, Los Angeles

Sonoma County is a fairly long drive from Los Angeles, so we SoCal wine lovers really appreciate that so many Sonoma producers took a road trip to L.A. - and brought their wine with them.

Sonoma In The City hit Los Angeles for a grand tasting event on April 24, 2012 at The London Hotel in West Hollywood. Jordan Winery threw a little 40th anniversary soiree the night before up on the London’s rooftop, one of those swingin’ little Hollywood gatherings with stars aplenty.  The next day, the banquet room bulged with winemakers from Sonoma - Coast, County and Valley.  Dry Creek Valley was represented; so were Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley.

The Dry Creek Valley AVA poured some great Sonoma County Zins.  The ‘09 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel mixes in some Petite Sirah and Carignane for a smokey nose and bright cherry palate with plenty of refreshing acidity.  Fritz Underground Winery brought their ‘09 Zinfandel, which lays a spicy herbal lace over the tart cherry.  Gustafson Family Vineyards stole the table with their ‘08 Zinfandel/Syrah/Petite Sirah blend.  It shows a touch of barnyard on the nose, an earthy palate and great acidity.

Alexander Valley Vineyards held up their end of the Zin bargain with their Sin Zin, showing an earthy cherry nose with raspberry on the palate and the finish.

Kenny Kahn, (right) owner/winegrower/co-winemaker at Blue Rock Vineyard in Alexander Valley, was anxious to show off the fruit of his labor - and with good reason.  His ‘07 Cabernet Sauvignon has a splash of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and really makes with the chocolate.  The ‘09 Baby Blue blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot into a wine that is earthy, tart and rich, and extremely easy to drink.  The unreleased Best Barrel has gentle tannins in a Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot blend.  Blue Rock’s terroir-driven wines were among my favorites of the afternoon.

DeLoach Vineyards’ ‘09 Van der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Mountain is 100% Pinot, sporting a nose very much like a Cab, complete with graphite.  It’s a very full bodied wine.  Their 2010 Zinfandel Russian River Valley is a delight, showing eucalyptus and a tingly acidity.

The Landmark Vineyards table sported two Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs.  The ‘10 Overlook Chardonnay has a huge expression of lightly oaked, tropical fruit.  Its big sister, the ‘10 Lorenzo Chardonnay, Russian River Valley has a hard time beating it.  They claim it’s very age-worthy.  It should be - its $55 price tag is $30 more than the Overlook.  Landmark’s  ‘09 Grand Detour Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, is a five-vineyard blend, mostly from the Petaluma Gap, offering a very good level of acidity.  There’s a bit more oak in the ‘09 Kanzler Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast - quite dark with a lengthy finish.

Inman Family Wines was represented by the grapegrower, winemaker, salesperson, accountant,  operations manager and forklift driver - all in one woman.  Kathleen Inman (left) has produced two lovely Pinot Noirs from Russian River Valley grapes - the earthy ‘08 OGV Estate and the aromatic ‘08 Thorn Ridge Ranch.  Her 2010 OGV Estate Pinot Gris is gorgeous, with a nice peach flavor and a tart finish.  OGV, by the way, stands for Inman’s organically-farmed Olivet Grange Vineyard.

Martinelli Winery’s ‘07 Chardonnay, Three Sisters Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, is a $60 Chardonnay that sure smells and tastes like one.  A very earthy nose and extremely good acidity.  Earth also speaks loudly in Martinelli’s ‘09 Pinot Noir, Three Sisters Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.  The ‘09 Pinot Noir Bondi Home Ranch, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is lush and dark, with a nice level of acidity.

Robert Young Estate Winery was the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in Alexander Valley, way back in 1958.  Their ‘07 Scion Cabernet Sauvignon has a nice tartness laid over the fruit expression that suggests Alexander Valley is well suited to Cab.

John Murray, at the Lasseter Family Winery table, got my attention by mentioning the 1919 field blend Zinfandel vineyard on their property.  Then he wowed me with a $24 rosé - the ‘10 Enjoe Sonoma Valley.  Syrah, Mourvédre and Grenache form a nice, dry wine with strawberry and watermelon aromas and flavors making me yearn for summer.  The Lasseter ‘08 Paysage Sonoma Valley is a red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauv ignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  There’s great grip here, along with a smokey nose and some tangy blackberry.

Stone Edge Farm Vineyard is organically farmed in Sonoma Valley.  Their ‘07 Cabernet Sauvignon blends 81% Cab with the remainder Merlot.  Nice fruit and pencil point grace the nose.  The ‘08 Surround Cabernet Sauvignon has 6% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc in the mix, with blueberry and black cherry flavors.

Stonestreet Wines uses Alexander Valley fruit from their Alexander Mountain estate.  The ‘09 Bear Point Chardonnay is oaky and rich, rich, rich.  The ‘07 Monument Cabernet Sauvignon is very dark and rich as well.  The ‘09 Broken Road Chardonnay - say it with me - is big and rich.  Rather oaky, but a very nice effort in that style.

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