Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Montes Twins Red Wine 2011

Here’s a red wine from Chile with some guts, and it’s a very easy-drinking quaff as well.  Montes Twins Red Wine 2011 is a 50/50 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile's Colchagua Valley.  More or less in the middle of the country, south of Santiago, The Colchagua Valley is in the Rapel Valley, which is part of the larger Central Valley appellation.  The Malbec is sourced from the Marchigue Vineyard, while the Cab comes from the Apalta Vineyard.

Winemaker Aurelio Montes uses the Malbec grapes for their smooth texture, while the richness and structure of the wine he gets from the Cab.  The wine - or 60% of it - is aged in French oak barrels for ten months.  Alcohol content rests at a moderate 13.9% abv.  Montes recommends at least a half hour of decanting time before serving.  They say we can expect cellaring of six years.  The wine comes under a screw cap.

Montes Twins features artwork by Ralph Steadman on the label.  You may remember that his illustrations once accompanied the writings of Hunter S. Thompson.  TGIC Importers of Woodland Hills, California supplied this sample.

Upon pouring the wine, the color is rather striking.  It's almost black.  The nose is extremely dark, laden with aromas of blackberries and black plums.  A violet note sneaks through and tries to hide.  The taste follows suit, with very dark flavors of plum, berry and tar.  The tannic structure is outstanding - it really hits the mark with a burger.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Prévu Sparkling Liqueur

You hear a lot of complaints about PR people if you keep your ears - and your Twitter stream - open.  I’m not one of those complainers, because I’ve known a few folks in the public relations game who have become good friends.  PR contacts have also tipped me off to some interesting things to write about over the years.

I was introduced to a product recently through a public relations message, and I’m rather glad I was.  It’s a sparkling liqueur called Prévu.  The diacritical is only decorative, as the word is pronounced PREE-view.

The label notes do a pretty good job of describing it, so I won’t bother trying to rework the message:

"Prévu is a delicate blend of organic vodka and cognac, immersed with black currant, raspberry, blackberry and a touch of violet flower.  From the Cognac region in France, a harmony like no other." 

The drink is only 17.5% abv, a very reasonable level considering that the two main ingredients are vodka and Cognac.  All the ingredients are 100% organic.

There’s a very light sparkle upon pouring, with a pretty purple tint in the glass.  The nose of cassis is pure and pleasant.  There’s a sparkle felt in the sip, along with a nice, fresh feeling and a touch of alcohol - about the same that one feels with a fortified wine.

Prévu is not, however, anything like a Port-style wine.  It’s light, refreshing and very easy-drinking.  The flavor of the currant is out front, and almost unmasked.  A hint of alcohol on the finish reminds me that it is, in fact, a liqueur.  I like it as an aperitif, all alone.  It also makes a good starter for a cocktail.  I tried a little with an iced coffee, and quite liked it.

Simon Tikhman of Simont Enterprises is the guy behind Prévu, and he’s pretty excited about this new entry into the beverage world.

“Prévu is made in France and shipped to the US for distribution,” says Tikhman.  “Right now, it's distributed only in California.  We're just getting our legs under us, getting ready to take off."

Tikhman sees Prévu’s versatility as a big attraction.  "It’s truly a hybrid, with a lot of variety as to how to drink it, how to mix it.  It goes great with brown or white spirits.  We mix it with Champagne, bourbon - we even make margaritas with it!  Mixologists are getting crazy with Prévu.”  I mentioned that I liked it as an aperitif, and he agreed.  He likes his Prévu with a splash of soda and a twist of lime.

The recipes they were pouring at Taste of L.A. showed the drink’s versatility.  A lychee martini that was developed at Spago and a honey whiskey mix from Craig’s showed the light and the dark sides of it.  Tikhman says the response at the event was fantastic.

Prévu is distributed by Southern Wine and Spirits.  For the time being, it’s a California-only beverage.  The 750 ml decorative bottle retails for $30.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Wine At River Rock Lounge, Sportsmen's Lodge

In Los Angeles, the “Hollywood side” of the Hollywood Hills gets all the attention and attracts all the world-class chefs and hip mixologists.  The “Valley side” - the San Fernando Valley to the north - gets to be the butt of many jokes.  There is also a less pretentious approach to life there.

I live convenient to both sides of the L.A. Universe, so I do like to head into the 818 every now and then.  When an hour and a half wait seems a little excessive, or the thought of a velvet rope makes me throw up a little in my mouth, I go “over the hill.”

River Rock Lounge at the Sportsmen's Lodge on Ventura Blvd in Studio City has undergone a lengthy remodeling which left the restaurant/chill space looking pretty swanky.  It’s right next to the pond.  There are no swans in the pond anymore, and that’s too bad.  There is some cool and sultry cocktail jazz from the likes of Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald coming through the speakers, though.

We ducked in one afternoon to get out of the heat.  When in the Valley, remember the words of Johnny Drama on “Entourage” - “Hydrate, bro.”

I did some happy hour hydrating with a SeaGlass Sauvignon Blanc for the special price of $5.  Seaglass Wine is based in Napa Valley’s St. Helena, but they source fruit from Santa Barbara and Monterey counties.

The SeaGlass Sauvignon Blanc is taken from a vineyard in the hills above Santa Barbara.  The tech sheet declines to identify the vineyard with anything more specific.  It has an alcohol content of 13.7% abv.

The wine has a really nice, soft grassiness on the nose.  It’s much like a bowl of fresh green beans.  On the palate, mineral driven fruit flavors dominate.  Apples, citrus and pears are presented in a very fresh surrounding.  This is one of the best California Sauvignon Blancs I've tasted.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: Double Indemnity

Wine Goes to the Movies
with Now And Zin and Trailers From Hell

An encore presentation of the wine pairing for "Double Indemnity."

The heat’s killing me. Just the short walk down to that crummy wine bar in Hollywood has soaked my shirt through.  It's not a good look for a pool boy, much less a hard-boiled insurance man.  Sometimes it's hard to to tell us apart.

I remember when I could walk down the street and get liquor.  I could get liquored up, if I wanted.  Now, wine bars all over Hollywood.  Even in Los Feliz.  One good thing about wine bars: you'll always find plenty of slick dames hanging around in them.  None like her, though.  None like Phyllis Dietrichson.  Nobody can touch her, or that honey of an anklet she wore.  Well, almost nobody.

Something was hinky about that Los Feliz iced tea she gave me.  I asked if she had a bottle of beer that wasn't working, but I guess they were all busy.  At my place, I thought she should have had some of that pink wine.  The kind that bubbles.  All I had was bourbon.  Bourbon was enough for Phyllis.

The room started spinning and I dreamed I slipped out of character and headed up to MacMurray Ranch.  It's in the Russian River Valley, prettiest place you ever saw.  I bought it in '41, as a getaway from troubles just like this.  After I'm done here, they'll probably sell the cattle and plant grapes.  Maybe avocados.  No, grapes.  The better for making wine.  Wine, to sell in wine bars to an everyman like me, Walter Neff.  Wine, to be lifted as a toast to a slick dame like Phyllis.  A slick dame like Phyllis who can have her way with a guy like Walter Neff.

How could I have known what kind of poison she was?  How could I have known that anklet she wore was like a sign saying "Bad dog - keep away."  How could I have known wine bars would ever become so popular?  How could I have known something so sweet, rich and powerful could go so bad?
How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?

Blood Of The Vines suggests pairing "Double Indemnity" with the 2009 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley.  It features earthy cherry flavors - rich, sweet and powerful.  It retails for $35.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wine Tasting At Mignon Wine Bar, Los Angeles

A small wine tasting event at Mignon Wine Bar in downtown Los Angeles packed a lot of punch.  There wasn't a very big turnout - I was the only taster during the final hour - but the few wines poured were top-notch.

Only three producers were represented, and the only winemaker on hand was New Zealand's C.P. Lin (left) of Mountford Winery in Waipara.  He had been in the U.S. for six weeks when I met him, visiting his wine buddies from coast to coast.  Lin is a Pinot Noir specialist, and he is blind.  I asked him if it was difficult making wine without the assistance of vision, a question I thought was pretty dumb when I heard myself ask it.

"Not really," said Lin.  "I do everything in the winery myself, cleaning the barrels, everything.  I do depend on my harvest crew quite a bit.  I used to even do the harvesting myself, when we were a very small producer.  Now we bring in a lot of grapes, so I need some help.  I also have an assistant winemaker who helps out a lot."

Lin's wines are delicious.  He makes a Liaison line which is produced from contract fruit.  He has a deal with his neighbors in which he gives vineyard management advice in return for grapes.  He does a great job with the fruit, but it's his estate line that really shines.  The Liaison Pinots are fresh and lively, but the Mountford estate wines show off the limestone terroir of his vineyard, something his neighbors don't have.

The Mountford Estate Pinot Noir 2009 shows the mineral-laden earth to its full extent, with a marvelous savory feel on both the nose and palate.  His estate wine "The Gradient" 2008 shows lots of minerals and fruit as well, and is a single vineyard Pinot.  Only three barrels were produced.

Lin also makes Chardonnay.  He loves the Chardonnay of Chablis and Meursault, so he emulates them.  He produces his Chardonnay with 100% malolactic fermentation, but still strikes a great balance between creaminess and acidity.  The minerals of his soil dominate the flavors.

Wes Hagen wasn't there to pour his Clos Pepe wines, but his distributor was.  Kevin Stuart of Infinity Imports poured me through the '09 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir - a big, juicy nose and a mineral-driven palate - and the '10, which is showing riper fruit.

The Clos Pepe Chardonnay 2009 boasts a phenomenal smokey nose and great mineral freshness.  Stuart described it as a "non-Chardonnay drinker's Chardonnay."  Hagen has a side label which he uses for his personal diversions - the Axis Mundi offers something different each vintage.  The 2010 is a blend of Grenache and Syrah from Windmill Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.  It looks like Pinot with its light coloring, but sends forth a huge expanse of ripe cherry and spiciness.  Still, it's a very restrained effort, especially considering the warmth of the region.

Knight's Bridge Winery - and sister labels Pont de Chevalier Winery and Huge Bear Winery - rounded out the event.  Jeff Ames makes the Knight's Bridge wines, and his West Block Chardonnay 2010 is a winner.  The warm block yields fruit with a nice tropical flavor, and the oak effect gives a pleasant buttery feel.  The Knight's Bridge '07 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon shows great dark fruit and graphite, while their '09 Dr. Crane Cab is a single vineyard effort that plays an herbal twist against the red and black fruit.

The Pont de Chevalier Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is fresh, grassy and tropical, while their '10 Chardonnay has a beautiful popcorn butter nose and a fruity palate that keeps the oak in check.  Winemaker Douglas Danielak did a nice job on these.

Huge Bear's winemaker Meredith Cahill-Marsland scores big with the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2010 - the first vintage of Pinot for the winery - and the '07 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which displays a bright, fruity nose and a lean, mineral-driven palate with gentle tannins.

While I spoke with Kevin Stuart, he told me of a popup sausage event at Mignon which takes place every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5:00 p.m.  Knackig features different kinds of German sausages, and Mignon has plenty of Riesling, Lemberger and pilsner to wash them down.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Wine Country: New York - Finger Lakes Rieslings 2011

The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance is having their 2011 vintage launch.  It’s a celebratory time which sees the release of the latest vintage of Finger Lakes Rieslings while a new vintage is being brought in from the vineyards on trucks.  The people of New York are rightfully proud of their Finger Lakes Rieslings.

I was invited to participate in a virtual tasting of a group of 2011 Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region, and I jumped at the chance.  The virtual tasting event was held on September 27, 2012, and featured winemakers commenting live on UStream while those of us tasting at home kept in contact via Twitter.  One participant though his head might explode from social media overload.  He had two computers and a mobile device committed to notes, video and Twitter.  I had the UStream on iPad and Twitter contact on iPhone.  No exploding heads to report in my little office.

2011 was a warm and sunny growing season for the Finger Lakes, but late rains quickened the harvest for some growers.  It was generally thought of as a great vintage, and based on the wines I tasted, I would have to agree.  All the wines here are 100% Riesling, all with top notch acidity.  That’s a calling card of the Finger Lakes terroir.

It has come to my attention that American wine drinkers are turned off by the word “acidity.”  W. Blake Gray wrote in Palate Press:

“A 2005 Wine Opinions survey found that the descriptor with the second most negative connotation for Americans is ‘crisp or tangy with distinct acidity.’ (The worst was ‘dry and tannic.’)”  

Gray’s suggestion to wine writers is to refer instead to a wine’s “freshness” rather than “acidity,” so as not to scare anybody.

First Flight - Dry Rieslings

Ravines Wine Cellars 2011 Dry Riesling
Morten and Lisa Hallgren operate the winery on Keuka Lake and an additional tasting room on Seneca Lake.  The grapes come from two vineyards of shale stone soil, one of calcareous soil and one composed of gravel on limestone bedrock.  The grapes are whole cluster pressed and the wine carries a 12.2% abv number.  Light straw in color, its nose is light and full of minerals, peach and zest.  The palate also shows peaches and citrus.  The freshness is top-notch, as is the case with all eight Reislings I tasted.  The medium finish is zippy.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars 2011 Dry Riesling
The Frank winery on Keuka Lake is billed as New York's most award-winning winery since 1962.  In fact, It was Dr. Frank who started growing vinifera grapes in the Finger Lakes.  Frederick Frank oversees the operation these days, the third generation of Frank winemakers.  This Riesling comes in at 11.7% abv.  The fermentation was stopped just short of dryness.  It has a very light green tint, almost clear.  The nose is rather slight, with apples most noticeable.  An herbal aspect colors the bouquet nicely.  Lime and pear flavors join citrus zest, and that razor sharp freshness for which Dr. Frank wines are known is fully present.

Lucas Vineyards 2011 Dry Riesling
On the western side of Cayuga Lake lies Lucas Vineyards, the oldest winery on that Finger Lake.  Ruth Lucas is the winemaker for the winery she and her family founded in 1974.  They have been making their own wine since  experiencing the gut shot of seeing their grapes be made into bulk wine by others.  This wine has a light greenish tint, minerals and light fruit on the nose and a lemon-lime peel palate with a nutty flavor lurking in the background.  Its great freshness is no surprise.

Sheldrake Point Winery 2011 Dry Riesling
The Sheldrake Point Winery overlooks Cayuga Lake, but they have a location on Seneca Lake as well.  Two estate-grown Riesling clones make up this wine, which carries an 11.4% abv count.
The light golden straw color is beautiful, and so is the nose - floral notes with aromas of stone fruit. The palate shows a green aspect with peaches, citrus and a hint of guava coming through.  It's a very fresh tasting wine with a nice, tropical finish.

Second Flight - Sweeter Rieslings

Fox Run Vineyards 2011 Reserve Riesling
At 13% abv, this wine is one of the stronger efforts I've found among Finger Lakes Rieslings.  It moves away from dry, but not by too much to my taste - although the sweetness meter on the label sits squarely in the middle between dry and sweet.  The vineyards feature clay, sand and silt on shallow bedrock.  showing a straw color with a very slight green hue, the wife's nose is floral, with apricot aromas.  A fruity palate displays tropical notes, citrus and a shading of pineapple.  It's quite refreshing.

Swedish Hill Winery 2011 Riesling
As do many of the wineries of the Finger Lakes, Swedish Hill boasts three generations of New York winemaking.  In addition to Riesling, they also make Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc and Cabernet Franc, among others.  Their Riesling offers 11.1% abv in alcohol.  Light straw in color, there are plenty of minerals on the nose, with aromas of apricots,  It's medium sweet, but still refreshing.  Despite its sweetness, there's a great, gutsy minerality and a tiny bit of petrol in the mix.  Quite invigorating.

Lakewood Vineyards 2011 Riesling
Founded by the late Monty Stamp on Seneca Lake, Lakewood Vineyards experienced what they like to call "25-year overnight success."  Their Riesling carries a modest 11.4% abv number and gives a light straw hue in the glass.  The nose offers dark shading to tropical fruit - not quite petrol, but close.  The palate is bursting with tropical fruit and minerals.  It's amazingly fresh and has a terrific finish.

Knapp Winery and Vineyard Restaurant 2011 Riesling
Knapp's present owners are relative newcomers to he region, having bought the vineyard in 2000.  It was founded in 1984 on Cayuga Lake.  At 12% abv, Knapp's Riesling is the sweetest of the eight I tasted in this event.  Still, it's only medium sweet on the scale.  There are certainly some unique flavors here, more so than in any of the other seven.  A straw color leads to a nose of tangerines, while the palate kicks in some extreme earthiness that masks the sweetness. I might have thought it a North American variety if I had tasted blind.  In keeping with the Finger Lakes tradition, the wine offers a great freshness and food-friendliness.

Here in Southern California, I'm not exposed to Finger Lakes Rieslings a lot, so I really enjoy being able to participate in events like this virtual tasting.  If you live in an area where Finger Lakes Rieslings are readily available, you are a lucky one.  If you don't, try to get your hands on a few different bottles.  You'll be glad you did.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Stepping Stone By Cornerstone North Coast Rocks! White Wine 2011

Cornerstone Cellars of Napa Valley has branched out in recent years to offer a line of everyday wines intended for immediate consumption.  Winemaker Jeff Keene has crafted another beautiful white for the Rocks! line.  Each vintage of the line can show variations in the makeup, depending upon what grapes are chosen.  The 2011 vintage strayed a bit from the 2010 lineup of Chardonnay and Muscat.  Gewürztraminer is in the mix with Chardonnay this time around, and that wonderful, spicy grape really makes itself known.  The wine strikes an alcohol number of 13.5% abv.

The white Rocks! is golden in the glass, with a nose boasting a big floral element, some huge tropical fruit, citrus, apricot and cantaloupe.  The palate shows great acidity that’s zippy and refreshing.  Spice is up front, but the citrus and tropical flavors shine as well.  The lime zest really plays it up on the finish.

Pair it with a salad, any type of seafood, or a bratwurst, even.  It’s a good everyday wine at a suggested retail price of $18.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: Arsenic and Old Lace

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

An encore presentation of the wine pairing for "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Pairing wine with certain movies requires a leap of faith. How would you really feel having fava beans and Chianti while watching "Silence Of The Lambs"?  "Arsenic And Old Lace" presents a similar difficulty.

Frank Capra's film rendition of "Arsenic And Old Lace" stars Cary Grant as a newlywed who discovers his two sweet, old aunts are inviting old men to their home and offering them elderberry wine dosed with poison.

They do this as a sort of public service.  They figure the old guys had nothing to live for, so they give them a little push toward everlasting peace.  So, two sweet, little old ladies are revealed to be murderers.  Sweet, little, old murderers, but murderers nonetheless.  It’s a dark comedy with plenty of laughs.

While noodling around on the internet - we call that "research" - I found an interesting wine factoid about Cary Grant.  Supposedly, Grant once beat Winston Churchill in a wine tasting contest!  The score was evened later when Churchill beat Grant at cigar tasting.  Is it true?  Who knows?  It was on the internet.  But I like to think it's true.

You can "pick your poison" for "Arsenic And Old Lace," but how could you resist pairing it with elderberry wine?  Manischewitz offers an elderberry wine that's easy to find and keeps the cost of date night down - it's less than $5 a bottle.  It's a very sweet wine, just like those little old ladies.

The trouble is, it's not really elderberry wine.  It's made from grapes with some flavoring added.  Not so bad, considering what's being added to the wine in the movie.

You can make your own elderberry wine, or have someone you really trust make it for you.  Just don't use the recipe given in the movie, which calls for "one teaspoon full of arsenic, half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide."

Whatever wine you choose for Arsenic And Old Lace, we recommend opening the bottle and pouring in plain view of all present.  We want the only "funny stuff" to be that which is in the movie.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Stepping Stone By Cornerstone Red Rocks! 2010

Here’s an $18 wine - an unlikely three grape blend - that will turn your head for sure.  If the aromas alone don’t make you do a double take, the taste will.  It’s a big California wine, and it’s made of Zinfandel, Syrah and Merlot.  Napa’s Cornerstone Cellars kindly provided a sample.

The full name is a bit of a mouthful - Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Red Rocks! - and it’s part of Cornerstone’s family of wines priced for everyday use.  The wines in the Rocks! line - both red and white - start with a blank page every vintage.  Varieties, vineyards and percentages are figured out each year after they’ve had a look at the lay of the land.

The Zinfandel is from Lake County, the Syrah is from Sonoma and the Merlot is Napa Carneros.  All three grapes play a role in this wine’s structure.  The alcohol number is 14.5% abv.

Credit the Zinfandel and Syrah for the bombastic nose.  It really has some huge aromas to throw around.  Zin spices and blackberry bramble stand out on the palate, while Syrah kicks in with a bit of sage and black pepper.  The Merlot is the glue that holds this wildness together.  Red Rocks! is a very dark wine and the tannins are firm but the sip is smooth.  This facet is doubled after lengthy breathing.  The second night open, the wine had settled down a bit but still presented itself strongly.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Two Wines At Monsieur Marcel

When a nice glass of wine is available for half of what it usually costs, that’s a happy occurrence.  It makes me want to do a little Gangnam style dance on the way over to the bar.  A Gangnam style happy hour dance.

Since I have had my afternoons completely free of late, I’ve had the chance to explore various versions of happy hour.  The classic happy hour is “half off drinks and the bar menu.”  That’s how they roll at Monsieur Marcel in the Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles.

I met a wine buddy of mine there who wanted to tell me all about his new business venture.  It was a nice, sunny afternoon and a couple of refreshing beverages were called for and delivered.

The 2010 Gentil, by the Alsatian producer Hugel, is normally $10 by the glass - $5 during happy hour.  This white blend, as the producer says, shows “the suave, spicy flavour of Gewurztraminer, the body of Pinot Gris, the finesse of Riesling, the grapiness of Muscat and the refreshing character of Sylvaner.”  The white fruit shares the leading role with the minerals.  It’s certainly a refreshing drink, with plenty of acidity and a very pleasant finish.

From Tavel, where all they do is rosé, the Château de Trinquevedal rosè 2010 is $11 by the glass, but only $5.50 during happy hour.  It’s a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Bourboulenc and Mourvèdre.  That’s a lot of French grape, there, and it shows.  While the wine is refreshing and loaded with Jolly Rancher flavor, there is a funkiness that is very complex.  It satisfies like a rosé, but drinks more like a red wine.  The big cherry flavor screams Grenache, but the other grapes all make their claim at being a part of the wine.  It’s a rosé one can actually ruminate upon, if one is given to rumination while sipping.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Malibu Wine: Cornell Winery And The Old Place

A bit west of Los Angeles, in the hills north of Malibu, there is a wonderful wine destination hidden away.  Cornell Winery, and The Old Place restaurant next door, are a destination, because most people aren’t likely to drive past them on their way to some other place.  They are both well worth the trip.

Officially located in the hills of Agoura, the winery takes its name from the area’s old-time moniker of Cornell.  It’s not that far from the teeming metropolis, but it really feels like the country.  We stopped first at the restaurant for lunch, with a visit to the tasting room in mind for afterward.

The Old Place was owned and operated by Tom Runyon and his wife for over 40 years.  For the past few years, Tim and Denise Skogstrom have kept the restaurant - and the winery - in business on the dusty stretch of Mulholland Highway.  It was once a bit of a celebrity hangout, as stars like Steve McQueen, Jason Robards, Burgess Merideth and Sam Peckinpaw could often be found there.  Steaks cooked over a red oak fire are the signature dish, but even grilled veggies carry the mark of the wood-fired grill.

I had to try The Cornell Winery Enchanto white blend with my sandwich.  It costs $8 by the glass.  Oak notes on a nice floral aspect are give an apple-flavored, savory background.  I guessed it to be a blend of Viognier and Roussanne, and was delighted when my server confirmed it.  This wine would be fantastic with some Edam cheese.  It really hit the spot with my grilled vegetable sandwich, and was a good pairing with the potato salad, which has generous amounts of cranberry and blue cheese in it.

Next door, at the Cornell Winery tasting room, I was disappointed to find that they were not pouring any of their own wines on that day.  The tasting room carries a lot of other Malibu wines for sale, as well as some offerings from the Central Coast.  Denise told me they rotate the tasting menu so that all the wines are featured.  Here's what I tasted:

Toccata Malvasia Bianca - Sweet, generous fruit.  A Lucas and Lewellen label.
Epiphany Gypsy - Great Grenache nose, perfumed cherries.  From the Fess Parker stable of wines.
Niner Cabernet Sauvignon - Big paso Robles fruit and a nice graphite edge.
Consilience Syrah - Dark Santa Barbara County fruit and black pepper.

The tasting room is open Thursdays through Sundays.  Private parties can take the back room and its enormous, heavy wooden table.  Denise says, in the near future, they plan to bring in cheese and meat plates prepared in The Old Place.

An exploration of this winning combo is recommended.  Cornell Winery and The Old Place make for a wonderful Southern California jaunt that doesn't take up the whole day - unless you want it to.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: The Godfather

Wine Goes To The Movies 

An encore presentation of the wine pairing for "The Godfather."

What kind of wine would Don Corleone drink? 

When that question came to mind, I turned to the one and only source for factual information - the internet.  I found that someone had already been curious about that topic, and had asked Yahoo Answers the very same question.  There was a scant response to the question - c'mon people, it's the internet!  Have an opinion! - and a few choices were tossed out there, including Valpolicella, Chianti and Amarone.  Good choices, but let's be sure before we view The Godfather

Brando's Corleone does say in the movie that in his advancing years he likes drinking wine more than he used to.  To which his son Michael replies "It's good for ya pop!"  

The Don might like a Moscato out in the garden when he's sticking an orange peel in his mouth, but it's hard to imagine The Godfather as a white wine kind of guy.  

The fact that Corleone is Sicilian might suggest we look to some of the wines that volcanic island is known for.  Dessert wine is a possibility.  Sweet wines often pair well with their opposites, and The Don certainly seems to be the opposite of sweet.  The Godfather might use Marsala to cook with, if he cooked, but he wouldn't drink it. 

Chianti?  He likes canellinni beans, not fava beans.  Anyway, that's a different movie.  Some have suggested to me that Corleone might enjoy a Barolo.  That’s not a bad suggestion, but the Nebbiolo grape is primarily from the northern part of Italy, not Sicily.  Also, Barolo is considered a strong and forceful wine.  The Godfather might tend to look at anything with a jaundiced eye if he felt it might threaten his power and standing - especially if it was from another neighborhood.  

Corleone would probably like a nice Nero d'Avola, a hearty red wine that's full-bodied - like the Don - and usually not blended, but allowed to stand on its own two feet, like a man.  Corleone would love that stance, even though he preferred to have others dependent upon him.  The grape actually comes from Avola, which is on the other side of Sicily from the Don's birthplace of Corleone.  Is there, however, a winemaker in Avola who would deny The Godfather a bottle of his finest?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Winnefred Chardonnay Central Coast 2009

Winnefred Chardonnay is produced and bottled by Central Coast Wine Warehouse of Santa Maria, California. You had me at "Santa Maria," although it is not clear from which part of the Central Coast the grapes come.  I suspect not from Santa Maria.  This wine is said to retail for $13, and I bought it at Trader Joe's for $3.  It is sold at the chain's California stores.

The label is full of hokey-jokey content disguising their tasting notes in the framework of a pizza eating contest.  They even recommend the wine be paired with pizza.  The Trader Joe sales page continues the "fun" theme and recommends pairing with salad or goat cheese.

It has an extremely golden hue in the glass, but the nose isn't very forthcoming - not even the essence of oak, which one might expect in a cheap Chardonnay.  The palate displays an oaky character, but not overdone.  The acidity is bracing and the flavors of pears, pineapple and baking spice meet head on with a forceful minerality.  The mid-palate doesn't make a lot of noise, and the finish is a little weak, but for the price, it's hard to complain too much.  The acidity alone makes it worth a try.  This wine isn't going to knock you out, but it won't prompt a Danny Thomas spit-take, either.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Provenza Tenuta Maiolo Lugana Bianco, Lombardia 2010

Santa Barbara’s Olio e Limone restaurant is a favorite place to hit when I’m anywhere near the downtown area.  The Italian food is great, the service is top-notch, the setting is quiet and the wine list is loaded with some fantastic choices.

It was just a short stop on a trip home from Los Olivos when I tried an Italian wine from Lugana.

Lugana is a white wine area in Italy’s Lombardy region.  In the northwest part of the country, Lombardy is landlocked, but has the benefit of a number of lakes to offer a cooling effect in the vineyards.  Lugana, in fact, is located at the south end of Lake Garda, where the clay soil is loaded with minerals.

All the wine made in Lugana is white, and 90% of it must be made from the Trebbiano di Lugana grape.  This may be a variant of Trebbiano, or a completely different grape - there seems to be some confusion on the topic.  It makes a fairly full-bodied wine which is said to age quite well in the cellar.

The Lugana I had was a 2010 wine from Tenuta Maiolo, an $11 offering by the glass.  It shows color beautifully, has a nose dominated by salinity and minerals and tastes of lemon curd and rind.  That lemon peel flavor lasts into the finish.  The acidity is fantastic.  It should pair well with any types of seafood, but I had mine with bread, oil and olives and it was a winner in that simple setting.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Réserve 2008

Randall Grahm, owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyards, has employed a technique he discovered years ago to improve his Le Cigare Volant red Rhone blend.  That's a wine many may feel didn't really need improving, but, as they used to say back in the field blend days of California winemaking, he's gone and done it anyway.  The results are exquisite.  Bonny Doon was kind enough to supply a sample for the purpose of this article.

2008 is the first vintage of Grahm's flagship wine to receive this treatment.  The Central Coast Rhone-style wine from Santa Cruz, California is unfiltered and produced en bonbonne.  The label describes it this way:

"After a short tenure in barrel, assemblage, and completion of malolactic fermentation, the wine was removed to 5-gallon glass carboys (bonbonnes), where it reposed sur lie for 23 months. This yielded a rare degree of integration and complexity, plus a preternatural degree of savoriness."

In fact, it has some of the most savory aromas and flavors I’ve experienced in California wine.

A carboy is really just a jug, much like the one on the water cooler at work, except it's made from glass. Grahm was introduced to the aging of wine in glass carboys decades ago, when he first discovered that the method kept wine amazingly fresh, even after years and years.  Here, from the Bonny Doon website,  is how the winery employs the carboy method for aging wine:

“What we do is after the Cigare Volant normale has finished malolactic fermentation and the final blend composed, we then add a modest amount of sulfur dioxide (maybe 35 ppm.), bottle the wine up in 5-gallon carboy, seal them up very tightly, and place the bottles on their sides. The lees that repose at the bottom are agitated with a Teflon-coated stir bar inside the bottle through the agency of strong magnets, thus re-suspended.”

I can’t shake the mental image of a tourist - taking a tour of the Bonny Doon winery - who happens upon Grahm, hunching over a carboy and moving a magnet around it to stir the lees.  “Whut’s HE doin’?” Another one who'll never believe that understanding wine is easier than it seems.

Ah, were we about to taste some wine?  Bonny Doon’s ‘08 Le Cigare Volant Réserve is 45% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 13% Mourvèdre, 7% Cinsault and 5% Carignane.  It has a 14.2% abv number.

A deep ruby color is at the core, and the wine is showing a little brick red on the edge.  The nose of cassis, leather and meat is almost startling in its forcefulness.  The leather aspect increases with breathing time, such that by the third night open - even under a screwcap - it's like putting your nose into a old baseball glove.  It’s a truly amazing bouquet, and very masculine.

The palate shows the wine to be very dry, with very nice acidity and grip.  Flavors of dark fruit have to fight the good fight with minerality.  It really doesn’t matter which one wins that battle, but minerality takes two out of three falls.  Cherry and raspberry have a bit of spice and oak abetting them. 

Le Cigare Volant Réserve is a serious wine, retailing for $65 a bottle. It's a wine that won't leave one feeling that the money was wasted.  It’s fantastic now, and is expected to age well for 10 to 15 years.

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: The Raven

Wine Goes to the Movies 

This is a repeat of the first Blood Of The Vines column.

When the gurus at Trailers From Hell asked me to make wine pairing suggestions for some of the movies whose trailers are featured on the site, I lunged at the chance like a 3-D monster.

Some people find selecting a wine to be a scary proposition, like "Bucket Of Blood."  I, on the other hand, don’t feel it’s even as scary as "Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein."

The reality of it is, it's kind of hard to screw up a wine recommendation for a movie. I mean, how hard is this?  Get movie.  Get wine.  Proceed.  You're probably in the comfort and privacy of your own home, so you don't even have to get dressy.  You don't even have to get dressed.

In this initial offering, I'll suggest a pairing for the 1963 Roger Corman classic "The Raven," in which Edgar Allan Poe is played for laughs with Peter Lorre wearing a bird outfit and starring the great Vincent Price.

Vincent Price was quite the wine lover himself, which makes you wonder how Sun Country Wine Coolers managed to get him into a polar bear outfit for their 1985 TV ad.  Oh, yeah... it was the money!  Much truer to form is the wine tasting scene from "Tales Of Terror," which also happens to feature Mr. Price and Mr. Lorre.  There's also the spoken word record album Price did in 1977 for California's Wine Institute, in which he shills - ever so eloquently - for “California Burgundy.”

The NowAndZin.com wine recommendation for "The Raven" is... "The Raven!"  It’s a dense and dark Syrah from Ventura's Sine Qua Non winery.  They make “A-list” wine.  The Raven will set you back a couple of Benjamins for a bottle, if you can find it.  It'll sure add a lot to your movie night experience, though.

The blend of Syrah, Grenache and a little bit of Viognier is dark purple with a nose - should we say beak? - featuring graphite, charcoal, licorice and tar, with silky blackberry fruit on the palate.  Is that Raven enough for you?

I feel that Vincent Price would approve.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Arthur Earl Winery, Los Olivos

Arthur Earl Winery makes wine in Buellton, CA, and they pour it in their tasting room in Los Olivos.  Arthur White (pictured) and Earl Brockelsby are the names behind the names.  They have no vineyards, so they buy all the grapes used in producing their wines.  Fruit from Santa Barbara County, the Santa Ynez Valley, Paso Robles and other parts of the Central Coast find their way into Arthur Earl bottles.

The tasting room is on the main street in Los Olivos, but it is tucked away a bit.  A serviceable room that seems much larger than it needs to be, the Arthur Earl storefront is staffed by people who love not just AE wine, but wine in general.  The pourers are equipped with pairing suggestions for dishes at restaurants in town.  One small business helping others.

And small is the word for the Arthur Earl production.  They usually only produce 100 to 300 cases of each varietal per year.  If you find one you really like, you’d better jump on it.  It may not be there on your next visit.

Arthur Earl Viognier, Vogelzang Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley 2008
From Santa Barbara County’s Happy Canyon AVA, it spends four months in neutral oak barrels, giving a surprisingly oaky overlay to the peach fruit.  $24

Rosé of Mourvedre, Vogelzang Vineyard, Santa Barbara County 2010
This pinky is dark in the glass with a funky nose of strawberries and green leaves.  The lovely taste is as complex and dark as you’d expect in a rosé made from this grape.  $25

Grenache, Vogelzang Vineyard, SBC, 2007
Very lovely strawberry aromas and flavors, with great acidity and nice tannins.  It’s great with Greek food.  $29.50

Nebbiolo, Stolpman Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, 2006
Aromas of roses and cherries gives such a great start to this extremely pleasant wine.  It’s quite acidic, of course, and a really nice match with tomato sauce - it changes the taste of both the wine and the food.  $29.50

Moscato, Carrari Vineyard, SBC 2006
This is a sweet wine, but not necessarily a dessert wine.  Six percent residual sugar certainly makes for a sweet taste, but it’s not at all cloying.  In fact, the nose is rather herbal and the acidity is nice.  It’s not dessert, but it pairs well with dessert. Keep it in mind for the holidays.  Only 12.9% abv.  $16 (375 ml)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Line 39 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc 2010

St. Helena-based Cecchetti Wine Company is home to the Line 39 label.  Line 39's name comes from the geographic parallel that runs right through Lake County.

I've had their Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah and liked them both quite a lot.  In fact, a friend of mine who is a real Bordeaux nut first alerted me to their Cabernet, which - at the time - was selling for less than $10.  I’m also impressed with this white wine effort.

The Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc carries a very light tint and a 13.5% abv number.  The nose is fruit-forward, with melon, pear juice, citrus and tropical notes coming through strongly - no hint of a grassy element is present in the bouquet.  A bracing acidity is a welcome treat upon the first sip.  Flavors of lemon, pears, green apples and guava mark the palate.  It’s a really nice example of a California Sauvignon Blanc.

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