Showing posts with label Beverly Hills. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Beverly Hills. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Lunching Amongst The Wine Bottles

It was a great day for a great meal out.  Denise and I had a midday repast at Wally's in Beverly Hills, the full-blown restaurant version of the longtime Westwood wine store.  She had lunched there the day before and knew I would love it.  Not just an eatery, there's a store full of wine shelved around the diners.  I can't think of a better way to have food than when surrounded by thousands of bottles of wine.  We sat near the Bordeaux stash, but it was a culinary trip to Spain for me.

The grilled chicken salad de La Mancha is a real delight, making the term "chicken salad" seem outdated, simplistic and downright foolish.  It contains escarole, chorizo, raisins, piquillo, almonds, olives, shaved manchego, quince and toasted garlic dressing.  I know it reads good, but you should taste it.  You should especially taste it with a wonderful Spanish wine.  The 2016 Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli, Hondarribi Zuria from Getaria.  The Basque Country wine has been around since the 16th century.  "Txakoli" is the style and is usually somewhere sparkling and quite dry.  The grape is the "Hondarribi Zuria" and the location of origin is the town of Getaria.  That's a tiny spit of land that barely juts into the enormous Bay of Biscay, just west of Spain's border with France.  The wine is produced and marketed by the Txueka Etxaniz family.

The wine is extra dry, pale and smelling of wet rocks and cantaloupe.  It's not particularly fizzy, but the winery makes another style that is.  The heaven that happens when the wine hits the quince in the salad is simply indescribable.  I often repeat dishes on return visits to restaurants, but I can't imagine getting the same wine when there are so many others from which to choose.  Perhaps my next visit will be to Italy, or France, by way of Wally's.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Gary Farrell Winery - Sonoma Comes To Beverly Hills

I had the good fortune of running into a few old friends at the Sonoma in the City event at the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills.  It should be noted that a wine event is one of the rare occasions when I run into old friends in Beverly Hills.  I am grateful for these events, which keep me in touch with my fellow wine tasters and writers.

I made a couple of new friends at this particular event.  Winemaker Theresa Heredia (below, right) was present at the Gary Farrell table, having taken over the cellar in May 2012.  Heredia and General Manager Nancy Bailey (below, left) both related the story of their wines to me in such a way that their excitement and passion could not be hidden.

The two presented a formidable tag team of information, with Heredia pouring the Chardonnay she blended and Bailey pouring the Gary Farrell Pinots for me.

Gary Farrell was a pioneer in the Russian River valley.  He and Joe Rochioli, Jr. blazed the Russian River trail for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Rochioli ripped up French Colombard vines to plant Pinot Noir in the early 1970s, a time when the lack of hindsight made that seem like the raving of a crazy man.  Time has proven him correct, though.  Farrell's first wine under his own name was a 1982 Rochioli Pinot Noir. 

Here is what was on the tasting table:

2011 Russian River Selection Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County $35 - Heredia got her feet wet with this wine - she got to do the blending on it.  The wine has a nice touch of oak, 40% in barrels for seven months.  Even though the oak is sweetly on the  forefront, she plans on reigning in the use of oak in her vintages.

2011 Russian River Selection Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County $45 - Cranberry and raspberry flavors follow a delicate floral nose.

2011 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County $55 - Bailey explained that Green Valley is about ten degrees cooler than the land just ten minutes north toward Dry Creek Valley.  Cool climate notes like leather and bacon come forward in the nose, while the acidity is fantastic.  Available only at the winery.

2011 Hallberg Vineyard Dijon Clones Pinot Noir, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County $60 - Lighter aromas and mouthfeel mark this wine as distinct from its vineyard sibling.  Available only at the winery.

2011 Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir - From that warmer area ten minutes north of the Hallberg Vineyard.  More red fruit shows up here, along with roses and black tea.

2011 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir -  This vineyard is even further north toward Dry Creek Valley than Rochioli.  The wine is more masculine, showing a bigger mouthfeel and more tannins.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Wine Tasting: Simply Italian Wine Tour

When you get a chance to sample a lot of Italian wine, don't ask questions - just RSVP and show up.  You'll be glad you did.  France is probably the giant in the global wine arena, but Italy rivals its neighbor to the north for quality and a sense of place.

The Italian Wine tour moved through Los Angeles on October 30, 2013, and those in attendance at Mr. C in Beverly Hills were all the richer for it.

A number of wine presenters were actively seeking representation in the US wine market, and are deserving of such.  I have noted those wineries looking for distribution.

Azienda Agricola G. Ricci Curbastro - Lombardy

Franciacorta Rosé Brut NV - Very slightly tinted, this sparkler showed nice acidity and great bubbles.
Franciacorta Satèn Brut 2008 - All Chardonnay, dry and toasty after four years aging in bottle on the lees.
Franciacorta Extra Brut 2008 - A mixture of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this bubbly provides plenty of bubbles with a bready note on nose and palate.  Four years in bottle on the lees.
Curtefranca Bianco 2012 - 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Bianco, this white is savory and full in the mouth.

Cantina Tudernum - Umbria (looking for distribution)

Grechetto di Todi 2012 - Nutty nose, savory minerals on the palate, very good acidity.
Rojano Todi Rosso Superiore 2010 - Great red fruit and acidity.
Todi Sangiovese - Very bright cherry and oak spice.
Montefalco Sagrantino 2008 - Bold, brawny, dark and spicy.

Sasso Dei Lupi - Umbria

Simone Carpinelli poured a range of wines which all seemed a little light on acidity, but possessed of a lovely nose and flavor.
Blush NV - Pinot Grigio, beautiful gold color, Spumante, light bubbles, dry and fruity.
Quartanota 2012 - Light acidity, fruity and plain.  Steel.
Sestavia 2012 - Chardonnay.  Savory, light acidity.
Secondoatto 2012 - Sangiovese and Merlot, 50/50.  Beautiful, pure fruit.  Slight smoke.  Steel

Bissoni Rafaella Allesandra - Emilia Romagna

Girapoggio 2012 - Sangiovese, very light on its feet, easy drinking.
Bissoni Sangiovese di Romagna Sangiovese Sup. Reserva 2008 - Very deep, dark, Sangiovese.
Bissoni Vino Rosso 2011 - Late harvest, beautiful cherry candy on nose, raisin and caramel on palate.  Great 100% Sangiovese dessert wine that had folks talking.

Tre Monti - Emilia Romagna

Simone Tremiti poured.
Vigna Rocca 2012 - Albana grape, gold, nutty, steely with nice acidity.
Campo di Mezzo 2012 - Great tannins, pure cherry, a bit tart. Sangiovese. Steel.
Petrignone 2010  - Six months in new French oak.  Nice acidity

Casa Vinicola Antonutti - Friuli Venezia Giulia (looking for distribution)

Nicola Durandi poured wines from the winery established in 1921.  Their line of everyday wines is called 921.  The ones I tasted show a sweet edge.
Prosecco Collevento 921 2012 - Refreshing, bubbly, fruity. 100% Glera.
Pinot Grigio Collevento 921 2012 - Sweet edge, nice acidity. Steel.
Rosato Collevento 921 2012 - Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, 50/50.  Reminds me of white zin. Very light color. Steel.

Talis Wine - Friuli Venezia Giulia (looking for representation)

While pouring, Mauro Cencig told me, "If it is good wine, you can sell it with no problem."  That will be a great comfort to every winemaker I have ever spoken with.
Friulano 2012 - Fresh, big, fruity nose of pears and peaches.  Nice acidity and minerals.
Pinot Grigio 2012 - Mineral-driven nose and palate.
Sauvignon Blanc 2012 - Very herbal and grassy, lotsa lime, nice acidity.
Cabernet 2012 -  Fresh, with a bit of oak, nice tannins.
Merlot 2012 - Dusty cherry aroma and flavor.  Good acidity.  Nice and spicy.

Cantina del Castello - Veneto - (looking for distribution)

Arturo Stocchetti spoke lovingly of the volcanic soil in Soave.
Castello 2012 - Fresh. 90/10 blend of Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave grapes.
Carniga 2011 - Savory nose, great fruit and minerals on palate.

Parol Vini - Veneto

Barone Nero 2011 - Recommended by Shawn Burgert, a writer, broadcaster and photographer known as @awanderingwino on Twitter.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Refosco.  Medium ruby color with an easy mouthfeel.  Cherry flavors dominate.  Seems it would take a chill well.  A nice savory note on finish.  They told me they sell it big on the East Coast.
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2011 - Really funky nose and palate.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Taste The Great Wine Of Santa Barbara

For those of us who like to attend wine tasting events in Southern California, January can be an action-packed month.  There’s a lot of sniffing, swirling and sipping going on around Los Angeles.  The year can’t get off to a much better start than with the one provided by the STARS of Santa Barbara wine tasting.

The STARS series is staged by Ian Blackburn’s wine education outfit, Learn About Wine.  Blackburn is a wine educator who offers a Nebuchadnezzar full of palate-expanding classes and wine tasting events in Southern California all year.  His events are typically dressy affairs held in elegant surroundings and offering a huge array of top-quality wines for sampling.  He puts a lot into each of his events, so it's likely you'll get a lot out of them.

The 10th Annual STARS of Santa Barbara event is set for Wednesday, January 23, 2013 from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.  The event is once again slated for the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.  Tickets start at $59 for general admission, $95 VIP ticket that includes early admission.  Those prices may rise as the event fills up to its capacity of 150 attendees.

If you are familiar with the Santa Barbara County wine scene, you’ll no doubt recognize many of the names on the list of participants:

STARS of Santa Barbara 2013 Participating Wineries:

Alma Rosa
Andrew Murray
Clos Pepe
Flying Goat
Grassini Family
Hillard Bruce
Jaffurs Wine
La Fenetre
Liquid Farm
Refugio Ranch
Reeves Ranch
Sanford Winery
Santa Barbara Winery
Silver Wines
Star Lane Estate
Zaca Mesa

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bastille Day In Beverly Hills

If you’re going to celebrate Bastille Day with wine, I suppose it had better be French.  It was quite by chance that I happened to be sitting with a Roussanne before me on the French holiday.  I was in Beverly Hills, and it was a Paso Robles Roussanne, but it still had its roots in the Rhone Valley.  I mentally waved a little tricolour while I sipped.

The Roussanne in question is from Vampire Vineyards.  Their Roussanne provided a nice break from a rather hot afternoon in Beverly Hills.  The Vampire Vineyards tasting room is on Little Santa Monica Boulevard, right across from the Peninsula Hotel.

The nose has notes of tangerine, almond and oak spice.  The oak makes quite a prominent play in this wine.  On the palate, tangerines, peel and all, dominate the flavors.  Some blues on the sound system provided an American twist to the moment.

Later, also quite by chance, I found myself in the bar at the Peninsula.  I figured as long as I was killing time, I might as well have a more internationally suitable wine for the day.

I settled back into the plush couch with a Pascal Jolivet 2010 Sancerre, from the Loire Valley.  Soils of clay, limestone and flint result in a mineral-driven nose of rocks, apples and pears.  The palate is vibrant and fresh. Fruit in the form of golden apples and lemon rind are plain enough, but the minerality is in the driver's seat. The wine is vinified in stainless steel, but picks up complexity during the four to six weeks it sits on its lees.  Sinatra and cool jazz waft from the ceiling while I enjoy my own private Bastille Day.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Beverly Hills Wine Festival

It was Academy Awards Sunday in Los Angeles on February 26, 2012, so making it through the limousine-heavy traffic to the Beverly Hilton was a little more difficult than usual.  Once there, the reward was a few hours of pleasure at the Beverly Hills Wine Festival.  Braving the traffic was worth it.

The organizers put on a great show.  The layout looked a little fancier than last year's event.  The room in which the festival was held was decked out in chandeliers while a big screen - make that huge screen - monitor allowed those interested in the Oscar red carpet action from Hollywood to keep abreast of all the arrivals.  A big band (right) provided sets of entertainment throughout the afternoon and there was even a psychic on hand with an array of tarot cards spread out.  Maybe some tasters were getting a little last-minute help in filling out their Oscar pools.

Beverly Hills Wine FestivalOn the down side, a funky numbering system and a lack of identifying signage made it a bit difficult to find specific wineries one might be looking for, but most people seemed to enjoy just making their way from table to table, sampling whatever came their way.

TGIC Importers poured mainly from their international collection, with Ironstone's Obsession being the only domestic I spotted on their table.  The semi-sweet wine made from the Symphony grape has a nice sweetness with a streak of citrus acidity.  Omaka Springs New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc shows grass and grapefruit, while the '09 Montes Alpha Carménere from Chile's Colchagua Valley has gobs of black cherry in an extremely smooth setting. 

Andrew FiggeMy first taste of Malibu's Malibu Rocky Oaks, was provided by distributor Andrew Figge (left), owner of Central California Wines.  Figge poured a very nice rosé of Pinot Noir, a fruity and steely Chardonnay, a dark and peppery Syrah and a Cabernet Franc with great fruit and oak spice.  All the fruit is estate grown 2,000 feet up in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Field Vineyards is situated on the Russian River in the Alexander Valler AVA of Sonoma County.  They poured a vertical tasting of their Katarina Cabernet Sauvignons from 2003, 2004 and 2006.  All three have wonerful, rich bouquets and the '04 is my favorite with a darker fruit expression than the other two.
Robert ReyesThe Reyes Winery table was enlightening for me.  I had not been acquainted with this winery in Agua Dulce, north of Los Angeles an hour or so.  I also was unaware they have an appellation now, the Sierra Pelona Valley AVA.  Reyes Winery is only about a year old, and they're already winning awards with their wines.  Robert Reyes (right) turned a former frog farm into a vineyard, and he has produced a prince of a Chardonnay.  Its color is so rich and golden - like a Sauternes - and has such an array of spicy flavors, I was surprised to learn it was produced unoaked, in stainless steel.  Their rosé is a blend of Chardonnay and Muscat, with Syrah for color.  The Cabernet Sauvignon has supple tannins, the Syrah tastes bigger and the Merlot is bigger still.  It's worth a trip up the Antelope Valley Freeway to explore Reyes Winery.
The Pacific Coast Vineyards table was staffed by Tammy and Todd Schaefer.  Winemaker Todd said, "I'm a little nervous about pouring the newly-bottled 2010 Pinot Noir."  With a history of awards and high scores behind him, it seemed his jitters were unneccessary.  The thrilling acidity and brilliant tart cherry flavor of his most recent Pinot supported that feeling.
It's all Italian varieties at Sunland Vintage Cellars, a Ventura County winery.  Proprietor Michael Giovinazzo told me they source their fruit from a variety of great California growing regions.  He cited Lodi, Santa Barbara County and Pixley, California as some of his fruit sources.  I drew a laugh when I asked if Pixley was near the Hooterville AVA, but Giovinazzo is an easy audience, as affable as they come.  He explained, "if you take the 99 and hit Fresno, you've missed it."  Giovinazzo's Tre Ragazzi is a non-vintage blend of '08 Nebbiolo, '09 Barbera and '10 Sangiovese.  His '07 Dolcetto shows great acidity and a strong tannic structure.  The '07 Nebbiolo has a nose which is almost port-like in its intensity.

Rancho Ventavo Cellars' owner and winemaker George Gilpatrick poured some of his wines, produced at his winery in Oxnard.  The '07 Lodi Zinfandel shows nice, dusty tannins, while the '08 Mourvèdre from Santa Barbara County is full of bright, red fruit.  "Since we don't make any whites, that's our fish wine," quipped Gilpatrick.  He says it goes great with grilled mahi mahi.  The '06 Petite Sirah is a 50/50 blend from a vineyard in Paso Robles and one in Santa Barbara County.  It's rich with a tart undercurrent.

Mike StanMike Stan (left) of Ritual Wine Company was thoroughly enjoying his return engagement at this event.  He happily poured his '09 Paso Robles Viognier with its fruit salad nose and tropical palate culminating in a nice, tart finish.  High marks for acidity on his '09 Grenache and '09 
Cabernet Franc.  "This Franc is the first 100% single varietal wine we've made," he said.  His '08 GSM is a light and breezy red produced using whole-cluster pressing.  "The big crowd pleaser today is The New Black," said Stan, referring to his blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache blend.  The tasters at the table with me certainly seemed pleased to be sampling it.  Stan invited me to come back later for a vertical tasting of Mourvèdre, but the traffic in the room delayed me.  Hey, that's L.A. for you.  There's even traffic inside.

Beverly Hills Wine Festival 2012 crowdNaked Grape poured their full line of unoaked wines.  I liked their Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon just fine.  Both have a lively acidity and the fresh flavors of the fruit leap out, unencumbered by the influence of oak.

D'Anbino Vineyards & Cellars of Paso Robles shows the time the owners spent in the recording industry.  Their '07 Quadrophonic is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah.  The '07 Orchestration is a Syrah blend, while the '07 Portamento is a Cab-based port-style wine.  It's lush, with a great acidity.

Blue Plate Wines is practically brand new, and they showed their only offering so far, a Clarksburg Chenin Blanc which also sports some Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  The grapefruit and other citrus notes are abetted by a razor blade acidity.  The wine already has a "Best In Class" award to its credit.

Beverly Hills Wine Festival 2012 cakeAlthough the wine was the focal point of this event, there were some very tasty treats on display.  Sweets from the Pacific Cheesecake Company,  Randy's Brownies and Desserts and Amella Artisan Cocoa Butter Caramels were a delight, and Marcus Cavalier of Deuvo Gourmet Swets had two pralines to sample.  His sea salt and espresso pralines were both pretty awesome.  A cliché, to be sure, but it fits here.  

Wine and dessert intersected at Chocolate Shop.  They infuse red wine with chocolate in the bottling process.  The result is a dry red wine with an overwhelming chocolate experience added to it.  It's quite a decadent mixture of two great joys.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Beverly Hills Wine Festival 2012

The wealthy neighborhood known as Beverly Hills will attract wine lovers on Sunday February 26, 2012 as the Beverly Hills Wine Festival comes to the Beverly Hilton Hotel.  

Tickets for the Grand Tasting, from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m., are $150 while VIP tickets go for $300 and include a walk on the red carpet and a sample of Armand de Brignac champagne.  VIP ticket holders also gain admittance to the tasting an hour ahead of the general public.

There are also a very limited number of tickets for an intimate tasting experience with LOUIS XIII de Remy Martin.

There are a number of wine, spirits and beer makers slated to pour at the event.  Here is a listing of those expected to be in attendance.

Make plans to turn your Lamborghini over to the valet for a few hours and enjoy a Sunday afternoon of wine at the Beverly Hilton.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Rossese di Albenga U Bastio Bio Vio Liguria

A high point of a doctor's visit in Beverly Hills - and they are few in number - is a lunch visit to Da Pasquale Trattoria.  The family-run restaurant on Little Santa Monica Boulevard features Southern Italian cuisine in a cozy setting with some very nice wines on the list.

The tuna salad sports big chunks of the fish with cucumbers and black olives.  Taking a cue from the spring-like Southern California weather in January, I went directly to the rosé on the menu.  It turned out to be not a rosé, but a lightly-hued red wine made from the Rossese di Albenga grape grown in Liguria.   

The wine is made by a producer called Bio Vio in Italy's Liguria region.  They farm organically, they say, not because of an economic or technical issue, but because that's the cultural attitude in that region.  In addition to grapes, Bio Vio also grows olives and herbs for export.

The Rossese Di Albenga grape is thought to have originated in France, and is a fairly obscure variety today, even in Liguria.

The U Bastio cost $9 by the glass, and appears cherry red in the glass, somewhat like a rosado.  The nose shows off some brilliant strawberry aromas with raspberry and an herbal note, with some earthy qualities as well.  The taste is earthy, too, with flavors of cherry and black cherry dominating.  The tannins are almost nonexistant, so it drinks quite smoothly.

Friday, December 30, 2011


wine tasting glasses

If you attend wine tasting events in Southern California, you are no doubt acquainted with Ian Blackburn's Learn About Wine offerings.  If you are not, you should be.  Blackburn stages hundreds of events each year, from small to large, at which you can broaden your palate and, as the name implies, learn about wine.

The STARS series of events are some of the large scale tastings hosted by Blackburn.  The STARS of Santa Barbara event makes a lot of folks look forward to January.  

The 2012 edition of the STARS of Santa Barbara event will be staged at the Peninsula Hotel, 9882 S. Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills.  The January 26th date features a trade tasting session from 2:00 - 5:00 p.m. and the grand public event from 7:00 - 9:30 p.m.

Some of the Santa Barbara County wineries and vineyards participating in the 2012 event include Alma Rosa, Bien Nacido, Bonaccorsi, Buttonwood, Brewer-Clifton, Brophy Clark, Byron, Cambria, Coquelicot, D'Alfonso-Curran, Fontes & Phillips, Foxen, Gioia, La Fenetre, Martian Ranch, Palmina, Reeves Ranch, Riverbench, Tercero, Thorne, William James and Zaca Mesa.

If you want to learn more about Santa Barbara County wines, or just revel in what you already know about them, the STARS of Santa Barbara event is an event you should have on your tasting calendar.

Monday, November 28, 2011


wine and art

The Beverly Hills Art Show - which occurs twice yearly - usually finds Denise and I wandering around, checking out the artists' works in the warm sunshine.  It often rains on the Saturday Affaire In The Gardens, so Sunday is when we generally make our rounds.  This time, Saturday was a warm autumn day in Beverly Hills, which means it was like summer.

We like the woodcut prints of Igor Koutsenko, the pop art of Nelson De La Niezand the West Virginia coal mine images of Thomas Elmo Williams.

In addition to the art, there is a beer garden and a wine garden.  I was in the mood for a beer in the summery weather, but the wine garden beckoned and I answered.  Fortunately, they had a nice beverage for a warm day, too.

The Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc 2009 caught my eye because I have enjoyed a couple of their red wines before.  The white didn't disappoint.  It was a windy day, so I had a bit of trouble getting the aromas.  The flavors of peaches and grapefruit were not shy, though.  The wine has a great finish and a very refreshing acidity.

The wine comes from Lake County, California.  It hits an alcohol number of 13.5% abv and retails for about $10 per bottle.  While I liked Line 39's Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon better, the Sauvignon Blanc was a great choice for the day.

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Monday, October 31, 2011


Uvaggio Vermentino at Il Fornaio

Il Fornaio in Beverly Hills is a spot I hit every now and then for lunch.  They serve good Italian food and have a wine list that's not too shabby either.  It's brief, but there always seems to be something interesting on it that catches my eye.

I generally opt for an Italian wine at Italian restaurants, but this time I went with a California wine, although it's made with an Italian grape.  There are a smattering of wineries in California that deal with Italian grape varieties, and Uvaggio is one of them.

Uvaggio, the word, is Italian for the French termencepagement.  It is used to describe the varietal makeup of a vineyard.  Uvaggio, the winery, is a two-man show based in Lodi, California.  The Cal-Italia duo grow Italian grape varieties there.

I went with their 2009 Vermentino.  It's $8 by the glass.  The wine is made from Lodi fruit, 67% from Bella Vigna Vineyard and 33% from Gayla's Vineyard.  Produced for the most part in a tank, about 10% of the wine was aged in neutral oak.  It has a low, low 11.1% abv number - perfect for lunch.

Straw is the resonant hue in the glass, and the nose features a strong minerality with aromas of pear and a faint tropical reference.  On the palate, a big splash of savory fruit makes an impression, but it seems to lack acidity.  The taste is great, though.

I paired it with a margherita pizza and a spinach salad with bacon.  The acidity simply couldn't match up with either the pizza or the bacon, but it did nicely with the spinach alone, and with a crust of bread and olive oil.  A little more acidity would have made this nice sipper a perfect match with food.

Uvaggio plays with several other Italian grapes, and I'm interested enough to want to try their Moscato, Barbera, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011


Stars Of Cabernet

The big daddy of the wine world is Cabernet Sauvignon.  The intense - and often expensive - red wine which helped catapult California wine to worldwide prominence.  If you had a dollar for every Napa Valley winery producing world-class Cab, you might be able to buy one bottle of the good stuff.

Stars Of Cabernet is a tasting event which will showcase great Cabernet Sauvigon in the elegant setting of Beverly Hills' Peninsula Hotel.  The third annual event is set for Wednesday November 16, 2011 from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.  Tickets are valued at $250 per person, and advance ducats are reduced to $175, with further price reductions for members of Learn About Wine's Vintage Club.

Learn About Wine was founded in 1995 by wine educator Ian Blackburn, who has made it his business to offer palate-expanding classes and wine tasting events in Southern California.  His events are typically dressy affairs held in elegant surroundings and offering a huge array of top-quality wines for sampling.  He puts a lot into each of his events, so it's likely you'll get a lot out of them.

This year's Stars Of Cabernet will offer an expanded food selection - and it was pretty good to start with.  Only 100 tickets are available, so you won't find yourself fighting a crowd at every table.  Great Cab producers like Grigich Hills, Heitz, Jaffe, Kathryn Kennedy and ZD Wines - plus many others - will be there, and this year marks the first appearance for David Arthur Vineyards and Justin Vineyards.  You'll find a full listing of wineries on the Learn About Wine website.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Feudi di San Gregorio Primitivo

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Cusumano Nero d'Avola

Drink Italian wine with Italian food.  To do otherwise just doesn't seem right.  I did mix up the regions a bit on this trip to the Beverly Hills ristorante, Il Buco, but I think it worked out fine.

The Cusumano Nero d'Avola from Sicily is $8 by the glass and I see it selling for around $12 by the bottle online.

Nero d'Avola is the main grape in the town of Avola in the southern part of Sicily.  New-world comparisons are often made, but nothing really tastes like it in my book.

Cusumano's Nero d'Avola is a 100% varietal wine, of course.  It's color is a very dark red, with hardly any light coming through.  The nose is very dark, too, with notes of tar, roasted meat and forest floor.  A beautiful palate shows blackberry, figs, anise and a touch of clove.  The lengthy finish leaves hint of licorice and cola.

I paired the wine with risotto Milanese with Italian sausage.  It probably wasn't the perfect match for the rice, but the sausage hit the right notes.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Vampire Vineyards Tasting Room

According to the Tom Petty song, "Free Fallin'," the vampires in the San Fernando Valley "move west down Ventura Boulevard."  I don't know where they go from there, but if any vampires venture into Beverly Hills, I know a place where they can taste some wine.

The Vampire Lounge and Tasting Room isn't just a hangout for those with extended canine teeth.  It's the retail embodiment of Vampire Vineyards, a winemaking outfit which draws grapes from Paso Robles, Santa Maria, Napa Valley and France's Loire Valley.

The business started in 1988 with the release of an Algerian Syrah, bottled in France.  The first 500 bottles went to rock star Alice Cooper, and the rest is a history that's afraid of the daylight.  The company's travels have gone through Italy and Transylvania itself.  Now, the winemaking effort is based in Creston, California - a little bit southeast of Paso Robles.

Michael Machat is the founder and CEO of the company, and he plays a big part in the corporate backstory featured on the website.  The Vampire Vineyards sommelier, Igor Fedenkov - really, it's on his business card - poured me through a sampling of the wines.

Dracula Syrah, Chateau du VampireThe Dracula Pinot Noir 2007 is made from Santa Maria grapes - picked before sunrise, of course.  The wine spent 18 months in French oak.  It has a big, rich nose and big, rich flavors to match.  Cherry and raspberry notes dominate in properly dark fashion.

Chateau du Vampire Midnight Rendevous 2007 is a blend of Paso Robles Syrah, Grenache, Counoise and Mouvedre.  There are bright cherry flavors in abundance and some great chocolate notes.

Trueblood Napa Valley Syrah 2004 is inky-dark enough to please any vampire who likes his wine smokey and spicy.

It's no surprise that red wines dominate the list, but Vampire Vineyards does offer a modest selection of whites - notably the Chateau du Vampire Roussanne of Paso Robles heritage - along with a White Zinfandel and the Je T'Aime Brut Rosé.  Even vampires like to do a little light sipping now and then.

All sorts of vampire-related wine gadgets are offered in the tasting room, as well as apparel, glassware, chocolate coffins and a vampire energy drink - perfect for those times when the sun's rays threaten to bring the night to an end.

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Monday, June 27, 2011


Enoteca Drago trio

Recently, my wife had a hair appointment in Beverly Hills, followed immediately by a girlfriend lunch, also in Beverly Hills.  I dropped her off and ran a few errands, but still had a lot of time to kill in Beverly Hills.  I turned to the wine.

I had been meaning to explore few wine-oriented places in the Hills of Beverly for quite some time, and this sunny Saturday afternoon seemed perfectly suited to the occasion.

It was around noon - okay, it was 11:32 - when I walked into Enoteca Drago on Cañon Drive.  There are, maybe, a dozen Italian restaurants in Beverly Hills.  About 11 of them are owned and operated by the Drago family.  That’s alright by me, as I always have wonderful food and a thoughtful wine list at a Drago restaurant.

Enoteca is even more focused on wine than the other family locations, since it is a wine bar.  The menu offers 11 different flights of wine in the $15 - $20 range, while single glasses are in the $9 - $23 neighborhood.  The wine list has lots of variety, including late harvest selections, Ports and Grappa choices, too.  There’s also a complete menu of Italian fare to pair with the wines.

I chose a flight of three medium-bodied, semi-aromatic white wines for $17.  Included in the flight were the following wines, with my tasting notes:

flight with foodGreco di Tufo, Terradora DiPaolo, Campania 2010 -
Richest color of the trio. Apricot and ocean on the nose, golden apples with a hint of honey on the palate.  Minerals abound, great finish.  Greco is an Italian grape, thought to be of Greek origin.

Sauvignon Blanc, Joel Gott, Napa Valley 2010
Palest of the three, almost clear.  Grassy and fruity notes make up the nose, with melon and herbal notes present. Peach and apple cobbler flavors are on the palate.  The cobbler is a complete surprise, but it works.

Gavi, Villa Sparina,  Piemonte 2010
Medium straw in color the light nose is very hard to pick up.  What is that lovely taste?  It seems like cantaloupe or honeydew.  There’s a lot of minerality, too.  Wine from Gavi area of Piemonte is made exclusively of the Cortese grape.

I ordered the calamari alla griglia with this flight.  All three wines pair well with the calamari, the Gavi matches it the best.  The Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc went best with the rapini.  By the way, when grilled calamari is offered, it should always have the grill marks on it.  It does at Enoteca Drago.

After checking in with the wife and friend at Cafe Roma (oddly enough, not a Drago restaurant) I was invited to go away a while longer, as the chatting got out of hand.

Italian Chiretto style roseJust up the street is Il Pastaio.  Yes, it’s another Drago restaurant.  This place looked really busy and festive at 1:00 or so Saturday.  As I approached, a guy in a big, white Cadillac pulled up, with Italian music blaring at festival volume from his car stereo.  As he made the corner, with the window down, he looked over at the sidewalk lunchers and led with his finger to the music.

The mobile maestro was obviously enjoying the moment to share his passion, and I overheard a guest comment, “Wow, that’s real.”  Indeed.  I stepped inside and took a seat at the bar.

I only examined the wine list for rosé, as that’s what I really wanted.  The Chiaretto Provenza is $10.50 by the glass.

Made with Groppello, Marzemino, Sangiovese and Barbera grapes, the wine hails from the area near Lake Garda in the northern part of Italy.  The winery, Azienda Agricola Provenza, is located in the Lombardy region.  Lake Garda has a special microclimate in which palm, olive and lemon trees thrive practically at the foot of the Alps.

The wine is a nice, rich, salmon color and the ice cold status at which it’s served makes it a little hard to discern too much on the nose.  The palate shows bright cherry and strawberry fruit with a hint of raspberry tartness.  The wine is dry and crisp - very refreshing.  The finish is good, and minerals are the last thing remembered after the sip is gone.

Monday, February 28, 2011


Beverly Hills Wine Festival

A winter weekend which was supposed to bring bad, bad weather to Southern California - "look, a snowflake!" - actually yielded a lovely Sunday on February 27, 2011 for the Beverly Hills Wine Festival.  Held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza - just around the corner from Beverly Hills, in Century City - the event provided those not already involved in Oscar Night festivities an afternoon of tasting the wines of about 50 wineries, plus a handful of beer and spirits.

I wondered about the wisdom of scheduling an event in Los Angeles on Oscar Afternoon, but I needn’t have concerned myself.  The huge room at the Hyatt was elbow-to-elbow with wine lovers who apparently had no previous commitments for other parties, Oscar-related or not.

There were some snags in traffic due to red carpets which were rolled out for various movie biz soirées, but once at the festival, it was all about the wine of the minute, not the movie of the year.

The occasion benefitted 
Fran Drescher’s Cancer Schmancer Movement.  From the look of things, the fundraiser will probably be looked upon as a rousing success.

The caliber of wine which was presented was a little disappointing.  The crowd, too, seemed a little different from the usual throng at a Southern California wine tasting event.  Usually I overhear a dozen or so people at tasting tables asking for "the Cab."  Interest in Cabernet Sauvignon didn’t disappear for this event, but it did dwindle to just one Cab request overheard by yours truly.

I did hear requests - maybe a half dozen of them - for "sweet wines."  This is something I have not noticed to a great degree at other tasting events.  I couldn’t help but think of 
Eric Asimov’s article recently suggesting that wine writers trim their tasting notes down to either "sweet" or "savory."  For the record, I heard no one asking the pourers for some "savory" wine.

Cap'n Morgan, with friendThere was a party atmosphere abetted by DJ Reaper spinnin' some classic hits, and the Cap'n Morgan Pirate was wandering around for photo ops like the one pictured at right.
Notable Wines
Although the selection of wines was a little disappointing overall, there were some winners present.

Casa Barranca,
 an organic winery and estate retreat in Ojai Valley, California, presented a wonderful '08 Pinot Noir with fruit from Arroyo Grande's Laetitia Vineyards.  Roses on the nose are met with soft and gentle cherry flavors.  Their '07 Bungalow Red mixes Syrah and Mourvedre from Santa Barbara County for a dark, earthy, cherry nose and a palate full of minerals and red fruit.  Casa Barranca's '08 Viognier is sourced from Madera and shows floral aromas with guava notes and a citrus/banana flavor.  Their '08 Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles' French Camp Vineyard is light and dry with tart berries.

Ritual Wine Company's  Mike Stan poured a delicious '09 Viognier of Paso Robles fruit.  The nutty nose and savory taste with great acidity really knocked me out.  The New Black, a 2009 Cab/Syrah/Grenache blend has the Grenache coming through in strong fashion with big tannins and dark cherries.  Ritual's '08 GSM is dark and earthy with a meaty finish, while their '09 Grenache is still young.  Simple and soft, Mike feels it's still about six months away from full integration.
Los Olivos, California producer Coquelicot brought a brawny 2006 Bordeaux blend called Mon Amour which shows intense anise on the nose with strong, dry tannins and deep, funky fruit.  It's a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  Their 2008 Sixer - Syrah with 6% Viognier - is big, bold and peppery.  Great tasting cherry marks the '09 Pinot Noir, but with a lofty 14.5% abv.
Chatom Vineyard isn't shy about letting the alcohol take center stage, either.  The Calaveras County winery has an '06 Zinfandel which brings 15.5% to the table, but it doesn't feel like a lot.  It does have good acidity and earthy chocolate notes.
Pink Girl Wine poured their 100% Syrah rose from Napa Valley's Coombsville appellation.  It boasts a rich rosado color and is strong in strawberry.
Keating Wines from Sonoma had a 2007 Malbec, sourced from Rockpile, a 2009 Zin from Dry Creek Valley fruit and their Georges III '08 Cab made from 100% Rutherford grapes.  Each is bragworthy.
Fillmore, California's Giessinger Winery presented a tableful, to mixed results.  I found their whites generally wanting in acidity, although the flavors are great.  Their '07 Barbera boasts Amador grapes and is the best of the lot.  A close second goes to their Forgiveness, a dessert blend of Symphony and Zinfandel from the South Coast AVA which is sweet in the Lambrusco style.
Paso Robles' Estrella Creek showed some good wines, my faves being the Petite Sirah and the Stargazer Syrah/Cab/PS blend.
Big bargain producer Barefoot had hired help manning their table.  The gentleman commented to one taster, "Hey, it's six bucks!"  He was barely more interested than that when answering my questions.  I thought Barefoot's dry wines were somewhat ordinary, but I really liked their sweet ones - a Moscato Spumante bubbly and a still Moscato actually run around $10 - while the Sweet Red is not TOO sweet, and is a killer chiller at $7.

Maybe that's why those tasters were looking for more sweet wines.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Michael David Incognito Viognier

Lunchtime in Beverly Hills usually takes us to one of a bushel basketful of Italian restaurants located in and around 90210.  This time, we tried a place that was new, for us anyway.

Da Pasquale Trattoria Italiana in Beverly Hills is a bright and comfortable place to grab good Italian food.  There are streetside tables on the sidewalk, but I honestly don't see what people find so enthralling about dining three feet from Los Angeles traffic.  We went indoors.

The wine list is fairly decent, but when I asked which whites were unchilled, it was a choice between a Lodi Viognier and a California Chardonnay.  I think I made the right choice.

Brothers Michael and David Phillips carry on a family tradition of farming that dates back to the 1860s.  The vineyards are irrigated by the Mokelumne River, and the family no longer relies on selling their grapes to other winemakers - they make their own wine.

The Michael David website calls Incognito "the Viognier formerly known as Roussanne. Originally thought to be Roussanne, D.N.A. testing found it to be a rare clone of Viognier."  The winery also produces a red wine which goes as Incognito Rouge.

Incognito shows a beautiful golden color, with a nose not as floral one might expect from Viognier.  There is a big flourish of apricot, with a touch of peas, or maybe edamame.  Apricots dominate the palate as well, with a vegetal accent and a wet rock minerality.   Incognito has a very full mouthfeel.  It's a lush drink with nice acidity and a long finish.  It paired well with my spaghetti aglio olio, which was garlicky and simply fantastic.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Le Bine Valpolicella

The Drago family operates a number of fine Italian restaurants in Los Angeles - so many it's difficult to get around to all of them. Via Alloro in Beverly Hills had been on my list for some time, and a Saturday afternoon "park-and-dine" experience afforded me the perfect opportunity to have lunch there.

"Park-and-dine" is a method Denise and I resort to occasionally that helps us deal with the frustration of trying to find a parking space near a restaurant where we'd like to dine.  Due to the fact that so many Los Angeles parking meters are taken over by valets these days - and we don't do the valet thing - we will simply find a place to park, then look for a restaurant near the parking space.  As backward as that is, we have actually found many good restaurants through the "park-and-dine" method.

We parked in Beverly Hills on the way to another restaurant, and passed Via Alloro on the way there.  I suggested we cut the walk short and find a table.

Via Alloro is a Tanino Drago establishment.  Good Italian food - as expected - comes simple and rustic, just the way we like it.  I ordered the Le Bine Valpolicella Ripasso by Giuseppe Campagnola on recommendation of our server, and I liked it.

Dark in color with a lighter purple ring at the edge, the wine shows dark leathery cherry and raspberry aromas, while the taste is full bodied and mellow.  Soft tannins make it a great sip and nice acidity make a good choice for food.  It went very well with my risotto with sausage and broccoli despite the "greenness" of the dish.  The wine is $12 by the glass.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo

Italian food calls for Italian wine, and that's a rule I try not break - ever.  Fortunately, one of my favorite Italian restaurants, Il Buco, has a wine list with a whole page of Italian wines that never disappoint.
Colline Novaresi D.O.C. is in Piedmont, in extreme northwestern Italy.  The Nebbiolo grapes used in this wine are farmed biodynamically in Fontechiara vineyards.  The wine is 100% Nebbiolo and has a 13.5% abv number.  It shows a deep and beautiful red color in the glass, quite dark in fact.  When you pick up the glass, that's when the fun begins.
One whiff and I was sold.  This Nebbiolo has such a rich aroma I just sat and smelled it for quite some time.  A floral smell leaps out first, and is quickly joined by notes of tar.  Finally, I start to sense the fruit and realized it was there all along.  It makes me think of black plums that have been trampled into the earth underneath the tree where they fell.
Then, on the first sip, I expect it to be a bit tannic.  It's not, though.  It's very smooth, and the fruit really shines through.  Blackberry and black cherry flavors are almost candied.  There's licorice, too.  The flavors keep reminding me of Port.  The wine is so juicy and complex I can only marvel at it.  By now, I expect the finish to be lengthy - and it is.  The flavors linger through a moment of reflection and the next bite of farfalle with sauage and peas.  It's one of my favorite dishes at Il Buco in Beverly Hills, but this time it takes a back seat to the wine.
By the way, Il Buco has this Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo for eight dollars by the glass.  With a nose and a palate like this, it's one of the better bargains I've encountered recently.