Friday, April 28, 2017

Flying Cigars And Wine

This is the wine that started it all for Bonny Doon Vineyards. First produced in 1984, Le Cigare Volant's blend of California-grown Rhône grape varieties made Randall Grahm's Rhône Ranger persona.

In 1954, the community leaders in Châteauneuf-du-Pape began to worry about flying saucers - they called them flying cigars, cigares volant - landing in the vineyards and tearing up the precious grapevines. So they passed a law making it illegal to land a flying cigar amongst the vines. And for more than 60 years, it has worked. All the flying cigares are from California.

Grahm calls the 2012 Cigare a "stylistic departure from recent more Grenache-centric vintages." True enough, the 2012 is top-loaded with Mourvèdre grapes. Grahm says that variety is "quite pronounced and expressive" here. That 39% is joined by 33% Grenache, 26% Syrah and 2% Cinsault. Alcohol hits a modest 13.5% abv, 4000 cases were made and the wine sells by the bottle for $45.

The nose of a LCV should be savored, always. The black olive... my god the black olive. The leather, the cigar box, the campfire. Savor the savory. Nobody does savory like Randall Grahm. Fruit? Oh, yeah, I smell fruit, too. It's all that other stuff I live for, though. The Mourvèdre-heavy mix of the 2012 vintage has balls. The blackberry and plum flavors are forceful, magnificent. Tannins are strong, but with enough give to make a good sipper. I usually am not called to have a steak with LCV, but this time I am. Spices fight for attention, and get it. There is cardamom and cinnamon, sage and rosemary. The oak spice is like a dollop of whipped cream on top of dessert, light and tasty.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A GSM Wine That's Actually SMG

The 2013 Chateau Planeres La Romanie comes from the Les Aspres area is in the southern part of the Roussillon region. The wine is a GSM, half Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre and 20% Grenache. Those are the grapes in the mix, as is found often in this part of France. The wine stays in contact with the grape skins for 40 days. Aging happens in French oak for 12 to 18 months. Alcohol is restrained at 13.5% abv. It sells for about $15.

This wine has a wonderfully complex nose. Aromas of blueberry, tobacco, leather and smoke all clamor to get out first. Some anise and tar straggle a bit for freedom. The palate offers a pleasing fruit presentation, but some savory bits and pieces come forward as well. Olives and cigar meet jammy dark fruit and a floral sensibility, with fresh acidity and firm tannins. It's a steak-ready wine that has the tools with which to work.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Little Black Dress Cabernet

The Little Black Dress folks like to say, "Confidence turns heads and sophistication is the rule," when talking about their wines. They are confident, and with good reason. Even without a fancy, single-vineyard label - actually, with only "California" to describe the wine's origin - they manage to put a really distinctive wine in the bottle. They did it with the Chardonnay, and with the rosé as well. Winemaker Margaret Leonardi knows how to make good juice for this Mendocino winery.

My wife tells me that a little black dress is perfect for any occasion. That’s something you learn in Girl School, I guess. I took shop class and learned how to make an ugly key rack made to look like an oversized wooden key, walnut stain.  Perfect for no occasions. I grew up to wear my shirttail out whenever possible and comfortable shoes with all outfits. I think girls were probably given much more useful information in their youth.

Little Black Dress wine is intended to be the booze equivalent of that garment, a no-brainer, easy choice that solves problems on the spot. As they say, "Good taste is your call. It's something you wear proudly and pour boldly. It's your own personal flavor. And it looks amazing."

The grapes for the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon are 84% Cab and 16% "other red varietals." Alcohol comes in at a modest 13.5% abv.

The nose smells of minerals and earth, layered upon blackberry and plum fruit aromas. There are traces of licorice in the medium-dark wine, and a note of lilacs. On the palate, it's a pleasant enough quaff. There is almost no tannic grip, so it goes down very easily. There is enough backbone to go with some meat dishes - marinara, stew - but I would save the ribeye for a more muscular wine. 

Upon tasting after the wine had been open a day, things went downhill. An unpleasantly tarry character took over and it tasted sour, not savory. This dress only looked good when first worn, not after a washing. Maybe it needs dry cleaning. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Beer: Mayberry By The Sea

The notion of having a drink while watching a movie is a great one. Why shouldn't we be allowed to enjoy ourselves a little, since everyone else in the theater seems bent on taking it the other way. The popcorn bag-rattlers, the slurpers, the texters, the talkers - their only purpose in life is to ruin the movie experience for everyone. Not to mention the 24-year-old who is in charge of taking complaints about the air conditioning being a little too aggressive. Hey, I know how a/c works, Jered. I know how 500 bodies warm a room. I also know what an arctic wind feels like in my face. I can tell when everyone in my row is uncomfortable. How about I wait here while you go get a responsible adult?  I’ll be having a beer at the bar.

Denise loves to see movies, and gets even more agitated about the ruination of that experience than I do. She doesn’t drink very much, though, the poor thing. She just has to suffer through it, over and over again.

She likes to see movie after movie after movie. We have spent many a fine Saturday or Sunday in movie theaters, enjoying the best that Hollywood has to offer. When that does not come with a drink, it feels considerably less enjoyable than it could have been.

We were at the end of a three-movie Saturday, at West L.A.'s Landmark Theater, awaiting "Life." We had already seen "Kong: Skull Island" and "Beauty and the Beast" that day, so it was getting a little tiresome for me. "Kong" is a good popcorn movie and "Beauty/Beast" is, well, very Disney. Very extremely Disney. A lot more Disney that I would ever be seeking out on my own.  The slug line for "Life" is a good one, and it sums up my feelings about watching movies in public. "We were better off alone."

Mayberry IPA comes from El Segundo Brewing Company and is really enjoyable. I always like finding a good Southern California beer, and there seem to be plenty of them these days. Add Mayberry to the collection.

The 7% abv beer reportedly uses Mosaic hops, which I had never had before to my knowledge. The more familiar Cascade and Chinook are also in the mix. The Mosaic flowers apparently give a sense of tropical fruit to the light colored, fruity smelling brew. There is a great nutty edge on the citrus and pine flavors, and a smidge of bitterness on the finish. The head was nice and white, but it seemed thin to me and didn't last long. The beer's name is taken from the nickname of El Segundo, known in some circles as "Mayberry by the Sea."

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Nielluccio Grape From Corsica

A restaurant with a good wine list is something to cherish. In Los Angeles, where I find favorite restaurants closing up shop with increasing regularity, that is doubly true. Little Next Door is billed online at "the best French restaurant in Hollywood," although it’s not actually in Hollywood. The Third Street location puts it right along with many other eateries in the food-rich area, but it is definitely not just another resto. It’s casual and fancy at the same time and offers an outdoor seating area that is predictably popular with the L.A. crowd.

The wine list is understandably French-heavy, but there are some gems from other areas, too. I spied a Moroccan wine, which I had tasted some months ago, in the wall-display behind our table. For this meal we both enjoyed a pink wine from Corsica.

Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean, just north of Sardegna. It is a French territory, but it has a lot of similarities to Italy due to its location. There are nine wine regions on the island.

The Domaine Poli rosé is labelled on the list as l'Île de Beauté, which means "island of beauty," I'm told. It's a faintly copper-colored rosé made with organically-grown Nielluccio grapes. That variety is widely planted on Corsica and used primarily for rosé. It is also speculated that it might actually be Sangiovese in disguise. The wine has a fresh nose and a palate to match, with lovely acidity. Grapefruit and strawberry flavors mingle delightfully.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Relaxing In Santa Ynez With A Glass Of Verdelho

A great day trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara wine country should always involve bagels in Camarillo, the Santa Barbara Farmers Market, lunch at Sides and a final glass at a pastoral setting. Take care of those incidentals and the wine will take care of itself.

Kalyra's Australian-born owner/winemaker Mike Brown uses grapes from California and Australia for his line. They offer quite a few dessert wines which are outstanding, but they also feature dry wines of the red, white and pink styles. I skipped the tasting menu and simply enjoyed a glass on the porch at the winery in Santa Ynez, although they also operate a tasting room in nearby Buellton.

A glass of wine on the porch can lead to all sorts of interesting talk. This time, I discovered that a joke I had heard Orson Bean tell on the "Tonight Show" in the 1970s was the same one Johnny Carson had told decades earlier on "Who Do You Trust." The joke took forever to tell, and "I can't believe it's Thursday" was the punchline.

Kalyra's 2014 Verdelho - a Portuguese variety - is light and crisp with a nose of flowers, spices and minerals. The palate is soft and easy, showing earth, pepper and stone fruit. It sells for $22.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Los Olivos Tasting Room: Carina Cellars

A great day trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara wine country should always involve bagels in Camarillo, the Santa Barbara Farmers Market, lunch at Sides and a final glass at a pastoral setting. Take care of those incidentals and the wine will take care of itself.

At the Carina Cellars tasting room in Los Olivos - the one they share with Tensley Wines - I chatted through the tasting menu with Sandy. She is very knowledgeable on wine in general and in particular the wines made by Joey Tensley. We had an enjoyable volley of comments about dirt versus earth. It’s just a matter of PR preferences, I think.  The word earth looks better on a label than plain old dirt.

Rhone varieties rule at Carina, but they also produce some Zinfandel. Even a Tannat, which is unusual in this part of the world. Grapes are sourced in Santa Barbara County and at their Paso Robles estate

I tasted through a half-dozen or so wines that were quite impressive, and after a bit of deliberation I called the 2012 Clairvoyant as my favorite. It’s a GSM - Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre - but it’s heavier on the Syrah. It retails for $28.

The wine is very approachable, with dark fruit, mostly currant. There’s a hint of savory, but the crowd-pleasing fruit is the star of the show.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Darkness Becomes You

The name "Apothic" is inspired by the Greek word, apotheca, which is defined as a repository or storeroom where wine was kept. There are wines named after natural beauty, mythological creatures and spaceships in France, but not too many named after a warehouse.

The grapes are from Lodi. I'm led to believe the varieties are Petite Sirah, Teroldego and Cabernet Sauvignon. Alcohol is actually a little low for that area, at a mere 14% abv. It retails for about $12 and comes bottled under a synthetic cork. Black, of course.

Apothic Dark is frightfully dark, enough so that we can just go ahead and call it black. As in a black hole, as in no light gets through. As in the pot and the kettle are green with envy. The aromas peg the needle on the dark side as well. Blackberry, black currant, black plum and - for variety - blueberry. Flavors are in that same realm, with a dollop of oak spice on top.  Other Apothic wines throw that element in with too heavy a hand for me, so it was a relief to find the oak effect more restrained in the Dark.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Rivesaltes Sweet Wine, 1995

Rivesaltes is the French AOC for naturally sweet, fortified wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France. The Roussillon region allows nearly two dozen grape varieties to be used in winemaking. There we find such grape varieties as Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Petit Grain, Macabeu, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Viognier and Carignan.

Roussillon Wines promotes themselves as "The Other French Vintage Wine," although I think  the region needn't concede so much to the better known areas like Bordeaux and Burgundy. For years I have sought out wines from the south of France as being more in my own personal wheelhouse, and for better value.

Terrassous Les Vignobles de Constance Vin Doux Naturel Hors d'âge

The Terrassous aged sweet wine series features a range of their natural sweet wines that have been aged for at least 6 years. This one is from 1995, an 18-year-old wine. The wine is fortified to 16% abv and sells for about $25. That’s for a nice, full-sized wine bottle, too, not a little "sweet wine" size.

The wine is made of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris grapes grown in France’s Rivesaltes region of Roussillon, just north of Spain and west of the Balearic Sea.  It's surely sweet, but with the beautiful tart edge that makes dessert wine so approachable and food friendly. Pair with pastries or enjoy on its own as an aperitif or a finale.

The 18 year bottling is dark like bourbon, deep brown with an orange glow. The nose is fabulous, raisiny and brown sugar sweet, with oak notes showing plainly. On the palate, don't think you're getting away without acidity. It’s ripping fresh still, even at its advanced age. Brown sugar immediately coats the tongue and the mouth is full and round. A wave of raisins follows and the combination stays on the honeyed, lengthy finish. The wine seems perfect for a dessert pairing, but I just sipped it, like the after dinner drink it is.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Landing A SoCal IPA

The best thing about the craft brewery explosion is the abundance of truly magnificent IPAs out there. It seems hard to even imagine a world with only the big American lagers, which is the world where I started drinking beer.

Hangar 24 is a Redlands, California craft brewery. It's way out in the part of Southern California that we call the Inland Empire, east of L.A. by an hour if the traffic is flying. The brews of theirs that I have had are impressive, and that's saying the absolute minimum. Normally, when I have one of their creations I gush.

Hangar 24's Iconic Double IPA is brewed with four American hops - Centennial, Citra, Columbus and Simcoe - five malts and local Inland Empire orange blossom honey.

The color is gorgeous, deep and rich gold. The nose is all about oranges and pine cones. On the palate, it's lush and flavorful, with a lot of bitter and a smidge of honey.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

L.A. Winemakers Conduct Paso Robles Stormwatch

Stormwatch is made by the Riboli family, who run the oldest winery in Los Angeles, San Antonio Winery. They are celebrating their centennial this year. The Ribolis use grapes from their estate vineyard in Paso Robles for this one on their San Simeon label. Winemakers Anthony Riboli and Arnaud Debons crafted the wine in L.A., but they now have a winemaking facility in Paso Robles.

The Bordeaux grapes were grown in Paso's El Pomar district and the wine was aged 18 months French oak. It retails for $70.

It's a Bordeaux-styled blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, 21% Merlot, 16% Malbec, 11% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Personally, I would have flipped the Cabernets, more Franc than Sauvignon, but what do I know? It's not like anybody ever asked me to figure out the final blend for them. And that's probably a good thing.

The Paso Robles Cabernet - Sauvignon, that is - smells earthy as usual. Paso Cab has a great aroma, I think. Full of mineral, limestone and dirt. This one gets an infusion of mocha, chocolate, and sweet smoke. The palate is robust and tasty. Let's mention those tannins right off the bat. They are not to be ignored. The fruit is rather demanding as well, with big, dark berries, as ripe as you want. Herbal notes that sing bring some anise along into the oak spice. The finish doesn't know when to stop, and we can be glad about that.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Cherry Dessert Wine From Italy

Visciola is a traditional aromatic beverage from the Marche region of Italy, made by Luigi & Giusti Visciola. It's 65% wine and 35% cherry juice. Two different types of cherries are used - sweet and sour. One is fermented in the sun for 40 days and both are mixed with the wine. It takes about six months to make this wine, then it's aged for a year and a half. The grapes come from Lacrima Morro d'Alba. I had not heard of the Lacrima grape before, so it was a good learning experience.

It’s a dessert wine, but alcohol hits only 12.5% abv. The 500 ml bottle cost about $30. It’s imported in the U.S. by Vinity Wine Company.

It's sweet, but with a tannic kick. Earthy, with sour cherry notes that belong in a Pixy Stick. The gumball flavors ride high and pronounced with that earthy base solidifying the feel. The finish is lengthy and forceful. Pair it with chocolates, I figure.

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