Friday, September 28, 2012

Out Of The Blue Wine Tasting: Blue Danube Wine Company

The wines of Slovenia and Croatia don't get a lot of exposure except to certified wine geeks who seek out these gems.  Blue Danube Wine Company specializes in importing wines from eastern and central Europe from their base in northern California.  We are all richer that they do.

The Out of the Blue tasting event was held on September 17, 2012 at Los Angeles wine bar Bacaro.  I'm ashamed to say I had never explored the place before, but the discovery is a good one.  The small, rustic interior has chalkboard wine menus featuring small-production wines from all over the world.  They even carry some of the hard-to-pronounce items imported by Blue Danube.  They also have a great kitchen, and I'll mention the food after we cover the wines that were poured at the event.

Frank Dietrich and Michael Newsome were pouring as fast as they could to a small, but appreciative crowd that seemed quite knowledegable about the wines.  I seemed to be one of the few who stumbled over the names of the wines and wineries.

Dietrich told me that "Slovenians like their white wines aromatic."  "Aromatic" and "floral" kept popping up in my tasting notes so much I was beginning to feel I had a tired palate that day.  There were plenty of "nutty" flavors on hand, too - sometimes going hand in hand with the floral aspect.  Grapes like Yellow Muscat and Malvasia are used quite a bit in the whites, but we also see a lot of Ravan (formerly Tocai Friulano,) Rebula (known as Ribollo in Italian,) Pinela and Pinot Gris.  Chardonnay and Riesling also turn up from time to time.  It's worth noting, there were only a handful of wines poured which sold for more than $20 per bottle.

We started with a couple of nice sparkling wines produced by Kogl, in Eastern Slovenia.  One was made using Riesling, Yellow Muscat, Chardonnay and Furmint grapes, while the other was all Pinot Noir.  Both were toasty, and the latter showed a darker fruit flavor.

The western part of Slovenia was represented by Kabaj and Batic, which poured whites that are largely nutty tasting and reds that are lean, acidic and slightly tart.  I don't know if it has been tried, but cold-climate producers in the U.S. should get some cuttings.  My favorite Slovenian white was the Batic 2008 Pinela, a funky and complex wine showing straw and guava flavors.  I was wowed by the Kabal '08 Merlot - smokey and tart on the nose with great dark fruit and acidity on the palate.  Dietrich says, "it's still very young."  The Batic '09 Cabernet Franc is showing beautifully, with red fruit and an herbal note.  It is quite expressive.

Croatia is crazy about Malvasia.  Examples from Coronica, Terzolo and Piquentum exhibited savory tendencies that are irresistible.  As for the Croatian reds, Stoka's '09 Teran provided a hard edge for the raspberry fruit.  Dingac Winery puts the minerals up front in their '10 Peljesac and throws in some spice for their '08 Postup, a single-vineyard Plavic Mali wine from high up on a hillside.

Milos scores with their '08 Plavac and '05 Stagnum, two reds with great acidity and an amazingly light touch with the fruit.  Both are extremely focused wines.

Tastes of tapas were served by the crew at Bacaro LA.  A crostini with salmon and red onion on a spead of parsley cream cheese was a hit, and so was the one with blue cheese, apple and pepper sauce.  A panini of mozzarella and rosemary honey was reordered quickly, while a morsel featuring eggplant, sea salt and basil also had many fans.

Danny was the guy in charge, and he told me they had been open there - just south of the Santa Monica Freeway near downtown Los Angeles - for about five years.  He says Bacaro has a full house nearly every night, with grad students and profs from USC joined by locals and folks from as far away as Santa Monica.  Their small plates menu is delicious, and their wines keep things interesting.  Danny says that's why the wines imported by Blue Danube are such a good fit there.  They complement the food in taste as well as spirit.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

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Sitting around drinking squid ink was never even a consideration for me, but the dinner table scene in "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" shows a few wine glasses.  Given Captain Nemo's love of harvesting only from the ocean, I would love to know where the sea grapes grow.  That would take oceanic influence to a whole new level.

Animation was Disney's only special effect until "20,000 Leagues..." came around.  Well, that and Thurl Ravenscroft’s voice.  The Magic Kingdom's first foray into live action spent its over-budget effects money wisely.  The giant squid is superb; but even though he has eight arms, he has no lines.  He’d look good cut into pieces and deep fried, with a side of marinara sauce and some Sangiovese, or Alto Adige Riesling.

Kirk Douglas looks like he might have been working out at Nautilus, not riding around the world in one.  His character, Ned Land, is one of those over-the-top rowdy guys of which Disney never tired.  Annoying sea shanties, poor table manners and an irrepressible urge to do the wrong thing at the wrong time are all qualities that keep the wheels turning in a Disney film.  It's no shock to find him getting drunk in one scene, and even less of one to see him fall asleep with the sort of look on his face that a drunk can have only in a Disney movie.

James Mason and Peter Lorre's voices always make me think of Ed Sullivan, who featured an impressionist each week on his show offering his turn on both.  And Lorre plays his faithful servant role for some pretty good laughs.  He looks like he expects to be pistol whipped by Humphrey Bogart at any moment.

I couldn’t find any underwater wine to pair with “20,000 Leagues...” - Nemo took the secret of that undersea vineyard to his grave - but the Nautilus does make a pass near New Zealand, where today Nautilus wine is found.  Their Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are good choices to pair with calamari - giant or not.

Sea if these float your boat:

Holus Bolus Wine - This Lompoc winery has an octopus label adorning several Santa Barbara County Syrahs as well as a Roussanne, in case you can't decide whether to have red or white with your cephalopod.

Eight Arms Cellars - A one man operation in Berkeley - that man wishes he had 8 arms with which to get all his work done.  Nemo wished he were similarly equipped to keep Kirk Douglas under control.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Refugio Ranch Ineseño 2009, Santa Ynez Valley

Here’s a nice way to expand your ability to recognize grapes in a blend.  When you find a blend on a wine list with no explanation of which grapes are used in making it, order the wine and try to figure it out.  I wasn’t familiar with the Refugio Ranch Ineseño when I ordered it.  It’s a white wine from the Santa Ynez Valley selling for $10 by the glass - that’s all the wine list offered.

I know there’s a lot of Sauvignon Blanc grown in the Santa Ynez Valley, so I thought that might be a good starting point.  I eliminated that grape right away, though, due to a lack of grassy and tropical aromas and flavors.

Chardonnay?  It’s possible, but the fruitiness takes a back seat to salinity.  Hmm.  Roussanne?  Maybe, but there’s a lot of fruit in there, too.  Roussanne/Chardonnay?  I don’t feel it.  A creamy mouthfeel... Viognier?

The Refugio Ranch Ineseño has a green tint in the glass and offers a savory nose of minerals, melons and spice.  Some green notes waft in and out.  The palate shows a nice salinity, almost like a Vermentino.  Cantaloupe and a buttery note add complexity.  The acidity is very nice, despite the creamy consistency.  It hits the New England clam chowder just right, and also plays well with the bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich.

Ineseño is a blend of Santa Ynez Valley Roussanne and Viognier.  It’s aged on the lees for 15 months in 20% French oak barrels of different types.

The Refugio Ranch - once cattle land - now features vineyards dominated by Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.  They also grow Roussanne, Petite Sirah, Semillon, Sangiovese, Grenache and Malvasia Bianca.  The ranch is owned by the Gleason family, who employ winemaker Ryan Deovlet.  The vineyards are in the eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley, but the Refugio Ranch tasting room is at the corner of Grand Avenue and Highway 154 in Los Olivos.

The meaning of Ineseño?  It is a dialect once spoken by the Chumash Indians who lived along the Santa Ynez River.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009

Wine produced in France’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape region of the Rhone Valley always tastes like something special.  Domaine des Sénéchaux dates all the way back to the 1300s.  It’s the oldest in the appellation, which is saying a lot.

The Domaine’s red wine is made from 90% Grenache, 5% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre, with some other varieties possibly blended in with the Mourvédre.  It is aged for 12 to 15 months in used French oak.

The wine gives a deep purple appearance in the glass, with brick around the edges.  The nose is amazing - cassis, lilac, cedar box, wood spice and a meaty note combine for a very complex bouquet.  The palate shows great grip and acidity, with flavors of dark fruit, tobacco and peppery spices.  The power of this wine is fully apparent upon the first sip.

Sénéchaux, by the way, refers to Middle Ages judicial administrators in southern France.  In the northern part of the country, they would have been bailiwicks.

This wine was provided for review by Wine Chateau, an online retailer based in New Jersey.  They have been offering the $66 wine at $35 recently - quite a deal.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

California Wines Road Trip Tasting Event

Wine country is not a long drive from Los Angeles.  In Southern California, though, drives have a way of becoming long even when they aren't supposed to be.

Wine Institute staged a wine tasting event on September 6, 2012, that left the driving to the wineries.  The California Wine Road Trip tasting event brought the wines to Los Angeles.  Actually, to the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.  The Verandah Room - with its part outside, part inside design - is a great place for a wine tasting event, even on a hot and muggy afternoon.

Different California wine regions were laid out at their own tables, so one could get a glimpse of a whole region while standing still.  Here are some highlights from my own tasting notes.

Lake County
Rosa D'Oro Vineyards Aglianico 2010 - A big, earthy, funky nose shows strong minerality.  Great flavors of red fruit, candy finish and firm but smooth tannins.

Six Sigma Ranch Tempranillo 2008 - Tastes cherry delicious, with great acidity.  Nice touch with the oak spice.

Livermore Valley

Fenestra Winery Pinot Gris 2010 - Earthy peach aromas, with minerals shading the fruit on the palate.  Good acidity.  Really nice touch of oak.

Mitchell Katz Winery Sangiovese 2010 - Smokey, rosy cherries all over the place.  Great acidity.

Steven Kent Winery Lineage 2009 - A blend of Bordeaux grapes from the east end of Livermore Valley.  Big fruit, very smooth, tart finish lasts forever.  Steven Kent Mirassou said he had been on the road for several days, and the wine was just beginning to show like he wanted it to.  It was showing very well.

Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Chardonnay 2010 - Pears, melons and apples.  Oak just right. Great acid.  100 year-old vines.  Wente claims to have done the first bottled Chardonnay in California.


McCay Cellars Rosé 2011 - Carignane is the heart of this rosé.  It's not done in the saignée method, where the juice is bled off in the making of a red wine.  This is intended to be rosé all the way.  The Carignane is picked from an old field blend vineyard where the grapes were conveniently laid in rows, more or less.  Some Grenache, which imparts a bright cherry flavor, comes from a different vineyard.  Michael McCay talked about micro climates and how the ocean cools an area 60 miles inland with breezes through the delta.
One of my favorite wines of the event.

Peltier Station Winery hy.brid Vermentino 2011 - Notes of the earth rather than the ocean, as is found in the Italian version of the grape. Nice acid, minerals.


Bernardus Winery Fairview Pinot Noir 2009 - From Fairview Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Subtle tannins.

Paso Robles

Austin Hope Wines Grenache 2010 - Brilliant fruit and acidity.

Justin Vineyards Icosoles 2009 - Extremely fruity nose, big dark fruit flavors and great tannins. Steak, please.

Villa Creek Cellars Rosé -  Grenache, Counoise, Mourvedre and Roussanne combine for a smooth and refreshing wine. The acidity comes on the finish.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2010 - Fantastic minerals and salinity from a four-grape blend: Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne.

San Luis Obispo County

Tangent Winery Albarino 2011 - Great floral nose.

Zocker Winery Gruner Veltliner 2011 - Floral meets mineral on the nose, more minerals on the palate.  Acidity really zips.

Saucelito Canyon Vineyard and Winery Cotes de Blanc 2011 - Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc blend shows big minerals.

Santa Barbara County

Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay 2010 - Great, smokey oak bouquet, fruit forward and brilliant acidity. What more do you want?

Buttonwood Farm Winery Cabernet Franc 2009 - Beautiful red fruit and great acidity.

Foxen Winery Syrah 2010 - Great Rhone funk shows on the nose.  Dark fruit, nice grip and a fabulous finish.

Margerum Wines M5 2009 - Doug Margerum adds Counoise and Cinsault to the standard GSM mix and gets an herbal wave over red fruit on the nose, with a tart edge to the flavors and extremely nice acidity.  Huge tannins: beware the brawn!


South Coast Winery GVR - Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne combine in a tasty mash up of flowers and nuts.  It's mostly stainless steel, with just a small portion of the Viognier fermented in oak.  Really refreshing.

Palumbo Family Vineyards Merlot 2009 - A 100% varietal wine this 2009 effort shows smokey roses on the nose, with earth and cherry cola flavors.  The tannins and acidity are fantastic.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: His Girl Friday

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Cary Grant has tussled with wine on the silver screen in “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Notorious,” to name a couple.  But whenever I see Cary Grant in a movie, it always seems to me that he should be holding a glass of something elegant.  Even as a fast-talking newspaperman in “His Girl Friday,” he looks incomplete without a drink.

If you’ve ever tried to hire back someone you had already fired, you get an idea of the job Grant has before him.  His ex-wife and former employee at the newspaper doesn’t want a Continuation of Benefits package.  In fact, she’s set to marry another man, a guy who looks like “that guy in the movies, what’s his name, Ralph Bellamy.”

Elegance has a hard time gaining a foothold in a newspaper office.  The newspapermen - and women - I’ve known have been elegant enough to hide a hip flask in their desks.  They also received shipments of their personal pornography at work and bills with nasty notes written on them indicating that payment may have been a tad slow in coming.  Only a newspaperman could devise an elaborate code for phrases spoken in the crudest language imaginable.

Cary Grant is the polar opposite, even while stopping at nothing to get his ex back on the team.  He uses the hallmark phrase, “Anytime, anyplace, anywhere” to describe how he still feels about his ex-wife, Hildy.  That’s a novel approach to divorce, even in 1940.  Isn’t it usually, “never, nowhere, no way?”

At lunch it’s Hildy, her ex-husband and her groom-to-be.  That’s a cozy table.  You’d think there would be some drink orders in that situation, but the waiter just pours three waters.  At least he has the decency to offer to put rum in the coffee, and they have the decency to accept.

Rosalind Russell, as Hildy, has her trademark patter running in high gear.  Her street-smart elegance is a word-for-word match with Grant’s.  She may not be a Pulitzer prize winner, but “she’ll do till one comes along.”

Bedford Winery Cabernet Sauvignon makes a nice match for “His Girl Friday.”  From the winery’s notes: “Rich... impeccably well-mannered, everything in its proper place.”  No wonder they call it the Cary Grant of Cabernets.

Fridays Creek Winery - It’s in Maryland, so good luck getting your hands on that Seyval Blanc if you're not an East Coaster.

How can you go wrong with a Rosalind Russell?  Bartender, it's a tasty little recipe involving Aquavit and sweet vermouth.  Cheers!

The Cary Grant Cocktail Lounge - A webpage that promises much and, unfortunately, delivers little.

Wine and Newspaper Gift Box - One of the more unusual gift ideas.  The wine, I get.  But a newspaper?  It doesn’t add much value to the package.  Hopefully it’s delivered by a wine delivery guy, not the paperboy.  That wine bottle won’t survive the toss from the street.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Exploring Beaujolais: Beaujolais Blanc

Representatives of the Beaujolais region were kind enough to send some samples to me a while ago, most of which were - as expected - red wines made from Gamay grapes.  The 2010 Jean-Paul Brun Domaine des Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay caught my eye, as it is a white wine of Beaujolais.

Imported by Louis Dressner Selections,  this is an interesting Beaujolais wine, if owing only to the fact that it is white.  Only one percent of the wine produced in Beaujolais is white, and when it is, it's Chardonnay.  The Jean-Paul Brun domaine is located in southern Beaujolais, north of Lyons.  The wine has a low alcohol content of 12% abv, and it retails for $16.

Probably not a Chardonnay for "Chardonnay lovers" in the California sense of the phrase, the wine possesses strong minerals on the nose, with an underlay of pear, tangerine and tropicals.  The nose is predominantly earthy, as is the palate.  It's not a fruity, frilly Chardonnay at all - nor a buttery, oaky one - but a powerfully earthy and mineral-driven wine.  There's not a boatload of acidity here, which would make me like it a lot more.  It does, however, appeal to me with its sense of terroir in the flavors.  It strikes me as the kind of white wine a red wine lover might really enjoy.  Not a leisurely back porch sipper, this wine requires a bit of thought.  Which is always nice when enjoying wine.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Chapoutier Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2010

Michel Chapoutier’s wines from France's Languedoc-Roussillon region take great advantage of the earth found there.  Chapoutier credits the black and brown schist with holding the sun’s warmth.  He says the gneiss provides the minerality, while limestone and chalk soils add strength and balance.

The Bila-Haut wine is made from Syrah, Grenache and Carignane grapes grown “on the slopes of the high Agly Valley,” according to the winemaker notes.  They are hand-harvested and completely destemmed.

The wine gives a medium dark hue, very deep red in the glass.  The nose shows black cherry and anise, with a rustic sagebrush aroma also coming through.  The palate is full of dark fruit, with an earthy background.  It’s just a bit on the tart side, with a nice, long finish that has blackberry and black cherry cola lingering.  You get a lot from each of the grapes, which is always a nice find in a blend.

This wine was provided for review by Wine Chateau, an online retailer.  Regularly, it sells for $26 and has recently been on sale for $14.  Not bad for a wine rated 94 by Parker.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Wine Country: Pennsylvania - O'Donnell Winery

The first vitis vinifera grapevines planted in Pennsylvania were put there by William Penn in the 17th century.  That’s reason enough to name the whole state after him, if you ask me.  It took about a hundred more years for the first commercial vineyard to spring up, but it was the first in the country.  Now, here’s the part where we write how Prohibition devastated the Keystone State’s wine industry.  Sadly, it wasn’t until 1968 that the state government loosened restrictions on the making and selling of wine, even if only in a very limited way.

Today, Pennsylvania’s wineries number over 160 and are largely family-owned outfits.  It’s not a bad place to grow grapes, as the northern clime is mitigated by Lake Erie and the Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic.

Pennsylvanians claim eighth place in wine production by state, although I’ve seen lists that had them looking up at the top ten.

Norbert O’Donnell, of O’Donnell Winery, fell in love with wine while living in Washington state.  Upon his return to Pennsylvania, he missed the wines he grew to love.  So, he decided to make his own.

The winery is located in Berwick, Pennsylvania, a little bit southwest of Wilkes-Barre.  The grapes in the O’Donnell vineyard have not come in yet, so these wines are produced from grapes he sourced from the area near Erie, PA.

Rory Red - Here’s a sweet wine made from Concord grapes.  The grape millions love under the name “Welches” is a real delight here under O’Donnell’s banner.  A medium purple in the glass, there’s a slight frizzante upon pouring.  It looks rather like Pinot Noir, but the similarity ends there.  The nose comes on a bit like grape juice, but more like grape Fizzies, if you remember those.  There’s a slight tartness that tempers the sweet candy on the palate, so it’s a perfectly good table wine.  O’Donnell says, “I enjoy it chilled and even on the rocks as its lush flavors can support ice.  Very good with chocolate.”  I concur.

Snapper - This is a dry, oaked wine made from Corot Noir grapes.  It’s deep red with an extremely earthy nose - blackberries and cherries figure into the aromas as well.  The mouthfeel is medium weight with a crisp acidity, the kind of wine that takes a chill well.  The easy tannins often found in cold-climate grapes are true to form here, actually taking a backseat to the acidity.  O’Donnell recommends it with burgers on a picnic.

Slàinte - Pronounced Slawn-cha, which O’Donnell tells me is Irish for “Cheers” - is made from Geisenheim grapes.  Light and thin-skinned, these cool climate grapes originated in the Rhine region of Germany.  The pale wine has a nose that is subdued and lovely.  Peaches and apricots battle with a floral note and the aromas glide on an herbal wave.  The palate pulls a switcheroo with the fruit taking the lead and the green element accenting.  The finish turns things back around with the herbal aspect lasting long beyond the sip.  O’Donnell suggests you “drop a few fresh blueberries in the glass and enjoy them at the last sip.”  He says a fruit salad is a perfect pairing.  It’s sold as a sweet wine, but it really clocks in at off-dry to me.  It offers quite a bit more complexity than I expected from a sweet wine.

Banshee - This is an unusual Catawba wine.  Bone dry and golden, instead of sweet and red, as that grape often appears in the glass.  O'Donnell is particularly fond of this one, and it's not hard to see why.  The aromatic nose shows an earthy herbal flair, while the palate is loaded with what he calls "the mineral notes of an old world Pinot Gris and a wonderful citrus finish."  The acidity is racy and the wine feels clean in the mouth.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: Caddyshack

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Golfers love wine - after they are done golfing.  While they are golfing, it’s beer.  Those inconsiderate showoffs who can shoot in the 80s probably guzzle Gatorade, or Red Bull or something called “water.”  Who cares what those inconsiderate showoffs drink, though?

Golfers love "Caddyshack," too.  Even non-golfers love "Caddyshack," but let's stay on the course.  I was a golfer myself, once upon a time.  I found that the "good walk spoilt" sentiment from Samuel Clemens was too true for me to continue.  Reaching into the cooler on the golf cart was a lot more fun than reaching into my bag for a club.  I tried carrying my bag, but if I'm to enjoy a walk in the grass, I don't need a hundred pounds of clubs on my shoulder.  Especially when I only use three of them.

And, to me, a walk in the grass is seriously undermined by having to watch out that I'm not knocked unconscious by errant golf balls flying from other parts of the grass over to mine.  I do love the lingo - "your honors," "sliced," "hooked" and "in jail."  That last description - of being among too many trees to possibly hit the ball out safely - was one I used all too frequently.  It's one of the reasons I am no longer a golfer.

The first time I took my wife to a driving range - at her request, by the way - she was lining up what was to have been a mighty 75 yard drive.  Then, she looked up at the person in the next stall and turned to me with a look of astonishment.  It was O.J. Simpson.  "He really IS searching for the killer on golf courses!"  I don't think practice swings were the same for either of us after that.

As for me, my drives wouldn't drive, my chips wouldn't chip and my putts puttered out.  But enough about me.  Let's get to Bill Murray.

Murray's character - assistant greenskeeper Carl Spackler - is dim-witted and of the opinion he's a good golfer.  Those are two qualities that go together like a golf cart and a cooler of beer.  His efforts at eliminating the destructive gopher - with extreme prejudice and a lot of plastic explosives - leave the country club course looking like a nine-hole track in Palm Springs in the middle of August.

Murray's lines in the "Cinderella story" scene are said to be completely improvised.  Taking practice shots on the flowers were his idea, too.  Pairing a wine with “Caddyshack” is my job.

Canadian golfer Mike Weir owns a wine estate in the Niagara region.  A Masters champion would have ice wine running through his veins.  By the way, Weir also uses his line of wines to raise money for the Mike Weir Foundation, a charity that assists children in physical, emotional or financial need.

Other golfers with a drive for wine:

Greg Norman - The golfer known as The Shark makes a whale of good wine, be it California or Australia.

Ernie Els -  The South African golfer naturally chose the burgeoning wine region in his homeland as the base for his wines.

Nick Faldo - Australian wine from the Coonawarra region, for when you run out of Foster’s.

Luke Donald - Terlato does his Napa wines, the same outfit that fashions high end wine with Mike Ditka's name on it.

Jack Nicklaus - Terlato also handles the wine action for the Golden Bear.

Arnold Palmer - Napa Valley’s Luna Vineyards makes wine for the guy who has an iced tea drink named after him.

Annika Sorenstam - Lest we forget the LPGA, this golf wine comes from Wente Vineyards in California's Livermore Valley.  Annika shoots in the 70s; her Chardonnay shot a 92 in Wine Spectator.

Callaway Golf Balls - I’ve always thought Callaway’s golf balls were better than their wines.  At $39, they’re more expensive, too.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Juana de Sol Reserva Malbec Mendoza 2010

In 2010, Argentina’s government named wine as the national liquor.  The list makes for some interesting reading.  Bourbon whiskey Is the national liquor of the US, while it’s vodka in Russia and Sherry in Spain.  Iceland’s national liquor is something called Black Death.  That makes the palm wine of the Phillippines sound absolutely wonderful.

Argentine wine is fascinating to me.  The wine industry there turned around completely in a decade or so to become a great source for quality wine.  Mendoza is the hottest tourist spot in Argentina now, thanks to wine.  The grape that made Argentina famous is the Bordeaux variety, Malbec.

The 2010 Juana de Sol Reserva Malbec was provided for review by Wine Chateau, a New Jersey based online wine outlet which carries wines from over 30 countries.  The lion's share of their offerings are from California and France.

A single-vineyard bottling, the Juana de Sol Reserva carries an alcohol number of 13.5% abv.  The wine is inky purple, no light gets through the glass.  It's richly aromatic, with floral notes giving way to luscious dark fruit, spices and cedar.  The palate bursts forth with plums and blackberries, a highly concentrated fruit attack.  Oak makes a play, but it knows its place.  The wine spends six months in oak, and the effect it makes is quite pleasing.  The spice and cedar - so prominent in the aromas - fall in line as flavors on the finish.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

A Picnic At Rideau Vineyard, Santa Barbara County

Sometimes the best trips to wine country are spontaneous - off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment, play-it-as-it-lays explorations of the magic moments that seem to lie around every bend in the road.  Denise and I woke up recently and just decided to gather our friend Guido and head up to Santa Barbara County.  It’s not that long a drive from Los Angeles - a couple of hours - and the conversation in the car makes it seem like no time at all.

Most of my excursions to the nearby wine regions are well-planned, often to the last detail.  It’s nice every now and then to throw away the itinerary, and just do whatever comes next.  That makes it truly a getaway.

Entering Santa Barbara without any plan at all, we decided that lunch would be at a picnic table instead of a restaurant.  There was a brief stop at the Trader Joe’s just off the freeway to pick up some bread, cheese, olives and an avocado.  Then off to a Santa Ynez Valley picnic at Rideau Vineyard in Solvang.

I had been to Rideau before, and remembered how pastoral the picnic area looked when a wedding party was held there.  We had it all to ourselves.  Denise loves fresh food and cheese, and I think Guido keeps the Kalamata olive trade in business all by himself.  Throw in that beautiful avocado and a glass of wine, and everybody’s happy.

The Rideau Viognier 2010 is an unoaked beauty.  It has a really nice yellow-green tint and a bouquet of tropical fruit with some vanilla custard.  Very creamy in the mouth, yet with a nice level of acidity, the palate shows rich layers of pineapple and golden apple.  An excellent pair with the baguette and goat cheese, as well as the avocado.

For the same $36, Rideau also makes a Viognier in which just under half the wine gets five months aging in neutral oak.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Blackjack Ranch Vineyards and Winery

As often as my wine travels have taken me to Los Olivos in Santa Barbara wine country, just as often have I passed the sign for the Blackjack Ranch tasting room on Alamo Pintado Road.  Officially listed as a Solvang winery, they are located between the two towns.  On the most recent excursion, I had no itinerary to follow, so I veered off the road and up the drive to try their wines.

Roger Wisted is the owner of Blackjack Ranch and Chris Stamford is the winemaker.  Neither were in the tasting room on my visit, unfortunately.  There were highs and lows, to my palate.  Here are the wines that were on the menu that day.

Blackjack Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2008 
Estate Chardonnay all the way, whole cluster pressed and fermented in French oak and aged on the lees for over eight months - it should be right up my alley, but it's not.  The oak sits in the driver's seat, pushing the fruit into the back.  Apples and oak and pears and oak - it shows way too much wood for my palate.  If you like your Chardonnay big, in the old California style, this one's for you.  $35

Wilkening Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2007
This one is not so oaky, but the butter flavors make me expect some movie trailers to appear.  There are tropical fruit notes in there, with some nice acidity.  The vines were planted in 1981, just southwest of Los Olivos.  The Parker numbers are displayed prominently: 94+, if you're keeping score at home.  A better bet than the previous Chardonnay, and probably will play better for me closer to the holidays.  That's when the Christmas tree always makes me want a little more wood.  $35

Black Cap Chardonnay Reserve 2009
Even less oak shows in this Chardonnay, and it drinks beautifully.  Unfiltered, with brilliant acidity and bracing minerals, the peaches and pineapple flavors really shine.  Parker has favored this wine with high scores since the first vintage, in 2001.  It's produced only every three to five years.  $48

Alix de Vergy Pinot Noir 2007
Branded as a "Special Selection Reserve," the grapes come from old vines in the La Colline Vineyard in Arroyo Grande.  Rich in color, aroma and flavor, it offers a nose of clove orange and a palate of cherries and raspberries.  There is a floral element, too, a common thread which runs through the reds that I tasted.  $48

Allusion 2006
A blend of 51% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, it has a perfumed edge to its smokiness.  Big fruit shows through from sip to finish.  One of the bargains in the rack.  $30

Double-Down Syrah 2006
A spicy nose leads to fruit and flowers on the palate, with some baking spice flavors that will also be a hit over the holidays.  Big, dark fruit comes across bright and ripe.  Another bargain.  $26

Harmonie 2004
This Bordeaux blend is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot filling out the balance.  The nose is spicy and floral, with dark fruit on the palate amid some nice coffee notes.  The vintage features less Cabernet Sauvignon than usual because rains in '04 prompted an early harvest.  $35

Harmonie 2006
Good Cabernet Sauvignon in this vintage, with 84% of the blend taken by the big grape and only a little room left for Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Oddly, the traditional notes of Cab don't show strongly.  There's more spicy florality, though.  $60

Billy Goat Hill Merlot 2005
This estate-grown wine shows more of the house bouquet - spices and flowers.  The fruit is huge, but I would have liked a little more smokiness to go with it.  $40

Maximus Syrah 2007
This is Blackjack's wine featured in "Sideways.". Miles said "It's a big one," and he was right.  Tons of dark fruit dominate the palate and spices - notably white pepper - frame it well.  It's a complex wine, one that makes me want to sit and savor it a while.  $48

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House

Wine Goes To The Movies with 

I’ll bet if a poll were taken to determine which movie star would be the most popular companion for drinks, it would be Cary Grant.  Maybe Ray Milland.  Maybe I should go to the internet and find the conclusive answer.

Thanks for waiting.  It didn’t take long.  You know how fast that internet is.  A poll showing which celebrity is the people's choice to spend time with had Ted Nugent holding a slight edge over Anthony Bourdain, and “Storage Wars” star Barry Weiss close behind.  So, I guess there’s a pretty big difference between “movie stars” and “celebrities” these days.  Of course, being alive may make it easier to score well in those polls.  I’m sure breathing and bowhunting are all Ted Nugent has on Cary Grant.  I’ll keep looking, though.  If Mr. Grant turns up, I’ll let you know.

He does more than turn up in “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.”  In fact, the whole film is nothing less than a textbook on how to make a movie funny.  If I were to ask you “What’s the key element in comedy,” and you were to reply, “Timing,” that’s not comedy.  If you were to interrupt me after the word “element” and say “Timing,” that’s comedy.  The timing is the thing.  One joke can’t get out of the way fast enough to let the next one through.  Having a drink for each punchline is out of the question.  That’s an interactive game that’ll have you knee-walking before the second reel.

It’s Myrna Loy that steals the show, with the incredible monologue in which she describes colors to the paint crew.

Muriel Blandings:  “I want it to be a soft green, not as blue-green as a robin's egg, but not as yellow-green as daffodil buds. Now, the only sample I could get is a little too yellow, but don't let whoever does it go to the other extreme and get it too blue. It should just be a sort of grayish-yellow-green. Now, the dining room. I'd like yellow. Not just yellow; a very gay yellow. Something bright and sunshine-y. I tell you, Mr. PeDelford, if you'll send one of your men to the grocer for a pound of their best butter, and match that exactly, you can't go wrong! Now, this is the paper we're going to use in the hall. It's flowered, but I don't want the ceiling to match any of the colors of the flowers. There's some little dots in the background, and it's these dots I want you to match. Not the little greenish dot near the hollyhock leaf, but the little bluish dot between the rosebud and the delphinium blossom. Is that clear? Now the kitchen is to be white. Not a cold, antiseptic hospital white. A little warmer, but still, not to suggest any other color but white. Now for the powder room - in here - I want you to match this thread, and don't lose it. It's the only spool I have and I had an awful time finding it! As you can see, it's practically an apple red. Somewhere between a healthy winesap and an unripened Jonathan.”
Mr. PeDelford: “You got that Charlie?”
Charlie the Painter: “Red, green, blue, yellow, white.”

The wine pairing for such a movie is not easily pronounced.  You want something zippy enough to keep up with the dialogue, but not so zippy that it races past the action.  It should be a wine that has some depth to it, but not so complex that it takes one’s mind off the show and forces a moody rumination.  Too simple, and you’re cooked as well.  It should sort of drive right down the middle of Complexity Avenue.  As for a red or white, or even pink, the movie is in black and white so it doesn’t really matter.  Don’t take that to mean the wine doesn’t matter - of course it does.  It simply doesn’t matter if it’s red or white.  Or even pink. It should be an eminently pairable wine, in case snacks are served while viewing.  And who knows what they’ll bring, so it should go with everything.  As for flavor, that spot between the winesap and the unripened Jonathan apple sounds just right to me.

You got that, Charlie?


And if you do want a snack with this movie, take Gussie’s advice: “If you ain't eatin' Wham, you ain't eatin' ham.”

Build a night around these choices:

Tin House Wine - Central Coast wines from Edna Valley and Santa Maria, they focus on Pinot Noir and Syrah.  Priced at $18-$25.

Big House Wines - We’re stretching the house theme a bit here.  The Big House referred to in the name is actually Soledad State Correctional Facility.

Sutter Home Family Vineyards - This winery has been home to White Zinfandel since they invented it.  Let’s try not to hold a grudge.

Maison Red - Washington State’s Wilridge Winery sells wine in bottles you can refill and take home.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

India’s Oven Wine Pairing Event, 9/21/12

One of the most exotic cuisines in the world, to my palate, is Indian food.  Spices like cardamom, ginger, nutmeg and turmeric mark the food and lend aromatics and flavors you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else.  With so many different spices used - sometimes in the same dish - it can be a challenge to pair wine with Indian food.

In Los Angeles, there are numerous options for dining in Indian style.  One of my favorites is India’s Oven, located at 7233 Beverly Boulevard, just a little bit west of the New Beverly Cinema.  Kamal Singh and his staff serve home cooking, Punjabi-style - from Northern India.

How does wine fit into the Indian food scene?  Come find out.  Now And Zin and India’s Oven would love to have you come over for an Indian food and wine pairing event, Friday September 21, 2012 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.  For only $12, you can sample four of the best dishes at India’s Oven and pair them with selected wines.  Personally, I think once you try the food at India’s Oven you’ll be a regular.

The complexity of the spices and the heat of the food - if you order it that way - can make for a difficult wine pairing situation.  But it’s possible to get the wine right by looking beyond the meat/fish aspect and going with the spice makeup of the dish.

Samosas and biryani rice dishes:  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay
Dal, coconut milk curries and chickpea curries:  Fruity reds work well - Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Noir - or silky whites like Pinot Grigio.  
Tandoori chicken:  Shiraz, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir
Saag paneer and other green dishes:  Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay

In general, when pairing wine with Indian food, you want to choose wines with a minimum of oak influence.

Save the date and come try the pairings at:

India’s Oven
7233 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA
Friday September 21, 2012 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. 
$12 for four pairings

We hope to see you there!

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Exploring Beaujolais: Saint-Amour

Saint-Amour is one of the Beaujolais Crus, in the northern part of the Beaujolais region.  Its wines are made from Gamay grapes and are said to be of medium weight, offering spicy peach flavors.

Domaine des Billards is in the middle of the Saint-Amour cru, owned by the Barber and Teissier families.  The domaine was selling wine in the time of Louis XVI - to the King’s finance minister.  Presumably, he knew where to find the best bang for his franc.  The winery has an old, dusty record book that actually shows his purchases.

The vineyards of Domaine des Billards are composed of sandstone pebbles underneath granite outcroppings, with veins of clay below that.  The land is farmed naturally, with no herbicides used.  The wine gets 12 days of vinification and has an alcohol number at a very Beaujolais-esque 13.5%.  This wine is imported by David Bowler Wine.

This 2009 Beaujolais from Saint-Amour is quite dark - not inky, but almost.  Black plums, dark berries and spice dance over the nose, and I find those notes on the palate, too.  The bouquet reminds me of Christmas baking. Try it for the holidays instead of the lightweight Beaujolais Nouveau.  It’s a fairly weighty wine, one of the heavier Beaujolais I’ve encountered.  That, with a peppery finish and a nice acidity, might put you in mind of a Syrah.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Summer Wine: Cimarone 3CV Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Today, another in our exploration of great wines for a hot day.  Yes, I’m keeping my nose to the wet grindstone in search of true relief in the dog days of summer.  This is the last of the Now And Zin Summer Wines series.

Cimarone Estate Wines planted the 3CV Vineyard in 2001 in the warm east end of the Santa Ynez Valley.  It’s in the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County.  The vineyard is home to Bordeaux varietals as well as some Rhone and Italian grapes.  Just over five and a half acres of the 26-acre plot is devoted to Sauvignon Blanc.

This wine is quite refreshing, especially on a hot summer day.  It’s a pale yellow in the glass and gives a nose of grapefruit, limes and wet rocks.  So far, so great.  On the palate, a very nice acidity jumps out first.  The fruit is laced with minerality, as it is on the nose.  Citrus flavors dominate, as fresh as you want them.

I’ll pair the 3CV Sauvignon Blanc with salmon, shrimp or salads.  It’s great with just a handful of almonds, too.  Enjoy, and happy Labor Day!