Showing posts with label Pasadena. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pasadena. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cabernale Beer/Wine Hybrid

Maximiliano, a restaurant in the Los Angeles suburb of Highland Park, had an interesting product on their beverage menu that I just had to try.  It is a fruit beer, brewed with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

This hybrid comes from Pasadena's Craftsman Brewing Company.  Founder/brewer Mark Jilg has come up with an interesting intersection of my two favorite drinks, beer and wine.  It sells at Maximiliano for $8 by the eight-ounce glass.  The alcohol content sits somewhere between beer and wine at 8.6% abv.

Jilg tells me that the reaction to Cabernale has been favorable, if not too detailed.  He says, "It seems to be easy for people who drink beer regularly to enjoy Cabernale and have a lot of fun with it.  It's a little more challenging for wine drinkers to find it interesting."

"We do a lot of fruit beers at Craftsman and a fair number of beers that use non-traditional ingredients.  We use plums, oranges, all sorts of citrus, persimmons.  I got fascinated with the idea of doing a beer with a lot of tannins after a a buddy of mine who is a home winemaker called me over to experience the miracle of winemaking.  We've been making Cabernale since 2004, 2005."

"Over the years we have fiddled with the recipe as to how the grapes interact with the beer.  We're trying to stretch out how much we can extract from the fruit, so the grapes were in the beer for five months.  We do a second beer with the pressings, Sour Grapes, which will probably be released in the fall."

Jilg says in the past he has sourced his grapes from Paso Robles.  "This time, due to scheduling issues, we got grapes from the Los Olivos area, from Brander.  It takes two tons of grapes for a thousand gallons of beer."

Served well-chilled in a tulip glass, Cabernale looks like dark purple wine, kind of cloudy with a trace of foam on the rim.  An earthy nose shows grape notes and an oak influence, while the taste comes across as a cross of beer and wine as promised.  It's very refreshing with notes of grape-flavored Sweet Tarts.  The wine notes hit early, and it finishes like beer.  The fruit does play heavily in the flavor profile.

I enjoyed Cabernale, but it falls into a no-man's land for me.  If I want a beer, I probably wouldn't order it.  If I want a wine, probably not, either.  It worked very well as a novelty cocktail for me, and was certainly a welcome addition to a warm L.A. afternoon.  After tasting Cabernale, I want to try some of Craftsman's more traditional brews.  That will mean getting over to the brewery in Pasadena, or back to Maximiliano.  Jilg says they keep five or six of his beers on tap there.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012


Family Winemakers event Pasadena 2012

Family Winemakers of California is an organization devoted to giving a voice to small wineries who often don’t have the means to hire big PR firms and woo legislators on their own.  The group has sponsored legislation and litigation intended to give small wine producers the ability to compete in the marketplace.

They also sponsor three tasting events each year - in San Diego, Pasadena and San Francisco.  I attended the Pasadena event on March 13, 2012.  As you can see in photo, it was a well-attended event.

I was hoping to work the "family" angle of this event, and that worked out fairly well, as several nice stories of families working together came forth during the tasting.

Cheryl Emmolo carries on the family wine legacy with sons and wine makers Charlie and Joey Wagner working wonders with fruit from her father's Rutherford vineyard.  The small, Napa Valley winery impresses with their '10 Sauvignon Blanc, fermented in concrete, not steel.  It's fruity with a nice, juicy palate.  The Emmolo '08 Merlot displays outstanding notes of cocoa.

Tony QuealyTony Quealy (right) poured the Halter Ranch wines.  This Paso Robles west side winery utilizes the Picpoul Blanc grape in several of their wines.  Quealy explained, "We have found it grows quite well on our property."  They also like to mix it up a bit in their blends.  Quealy offered at one point that a particular wine had "only five varieties" in it.  The Halter Ranch '11 Cotes de Paso Blanc is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc and Viognier.  It's a smooth drinker with nuts and citrus leading the way.  Their '11 Rosé has  Grenache, Syrah and Mourvédre joined by Picpoul Blanc for a  dry, earthy pinkie.  Their '08 Cabernet Sauvignon features all five Bordeaux varities and shows off ripe fruit with an earthy edge.  Kevin Sass is the Halter Ranch winemaker.  He spent a decade at Justin Winery.

Paso Robles producer Edward Sellers is located in the Templeton Gap, cooled by Pacific breezes channeled through the mountains.  Winemaker Jeremy Weintraub did a fantastic job with the '07 Cognito, a blend of Mourvédre, Zinfandel, Syrah and Grenache.  It shows big new-world fruit with an old-world finish.

Sonoma County's Fog Crest Vineyard, in the Russian River Valley, poured a pair of Chardonnays and a pair of Pinot Noirs.  The '09 Chardonnays offered a nice and easy touch of oak on one hand, and a steel-fermented fruit expression and acidity on the other.  The '10 Pinot taken from several vineyards bears notes of cocoa, while the Estate Pinot has hints of eucalyptus.

Karissa KruseBennett Valley's Argot Wine was represented by proprietor Karissa Kruse, (left) who poured their delightful '11 Rosé.  It's dry and fresh, perfect for the coming warm weather.  Argot's '11 White Blend of Roussanne and Chardonnay spent 10 months in the barrel and has a nice crème brulée feel with a nutty finish.  Their '08 Syrah was in all new French oak for 30 months, but doesn't seem overoaked at all.  Kruse borrowed a phrase from winemaker Justin Harmon: "You can't over-oak a wine.  You can under-fruit it." 

Hidden Ridge Vineyard is a high-elevation vineyard on the west side of Spring Mountain in Sonoma County.  Their '06 and '07 Cabernet Sauvignon are both very dark and concentrated.

Temecula's Monte De Oro Winery has four vineyards covering 72 acres of Temecula Valley soil.  Their wines have a very interesting aroma profile across the board, even the dessert wine.  It's a sort of a chalky, rocky note which I find quite intriguing.  Their '05 Synergy is a blend of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel.  It's a nice effort which shows off the different aspects of the various varieties.  Monte De Oro's '10 Zinfandel is one of the smoothest Zins I've had.  The dessert wine - Legato - is a Zinfandel and Cinsault mix.

Anomaly Vineyards rests at the foot of Napa Valley's Mayacamas Mountains, in St. Helena.  Their '08 Cab also features Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, and shows big, dark fruit.

Neil RobertsClavo Cellars winemaker Neil Roberts (right) showed off his '08 Desperado Paso RoblesPaso Zinfandel, brimming with earth and chocolate.

The Ancient Peaks table had a prominently placed piece of oyster shell on the table, exhibiting the source of the amazing terroir of their Margarita Vineyard.  The '10 Sauvignon Blanc is fruity and angularwith some great citrus notes.  The seabed soil really shines through.  Their '10 Cabernet is oaked for 15 months.  It's a cooler vintage and shows bright acidity.

The Conway Family calls Arroyo Grande home, and they really are a family affair.  Chris and Ann Conway and their five kids share the ownership of the winery and estate vineyards.  Winemaker Jonathan Médard outdid himself with the '08 Rancho Arroyo Grande Estate Syrah - an incredibly dark and amazingly intense wine.

Richie RiveraCorte Riva Vineyards in St. Helena made good on the family aspect of the event.  Richie Rivera (left) represented the wines of his father, Romel Rivera, and his uncle, Lawrence Cortez.  The pair came to America from the Phillipines in the 1970s and have been involved in the wine business since then.  The '10 Rosé of Merlot has great fruit and acidity, while the Cabernet Franc shows great tannic structure along with a zippy acidity.  The Cortez 78 Firepit Blend is an excellent second label effort for the family.  Rivera said it shows "the Merlot on the nose, the Zin on the mid-palate and the kick of the Petite Sirah on the finish."

Beckman Vineyards poured a great '10 Le Bec Blanc, a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.  American oak helps give great spices to this one.  Beckman's '09 Grenache - from their Purisima Mountain vineyard - is just plain luscious on the mid-palate and very dry on the finish. 

Time ran short and I didn't get to taste much from Santa Barbara County's Tantara Winery, but Ernie Vandegrift saw my "Now And Zin" name tag and said, "Here - try this.  It's kinda Zin-like."  It was the '09 Tantara Syrah, big and powerful.

Wes HagenClos Pepe's winemaker Wes Hagen (right) was letting his freak flag fly, as he likes to say.  He was preaching his Pinots to the choir, as it were.  He never fails to draw a crowd at tasting events with his presentation, which always makes me think of a tree-stump orator with the flash and sizzle to keep a crowd enthralled.

Tercero's Larry Shaffer had the beakers out, but, alas, his table full of Rhones was another one I missed due to time constraints.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Pasadena PinotFest 2012

The wintry weather - well, for SoCal that’s 58 degrees and a threat of rain - didn’t dampen the passions of Pinot Noir lovers who flocked to the fourth annual Pasadena PinotFest on February 11, 2012.

The PinotFest is the creation of Mike Farwell, managing partner and wine director of Pasadena’s Noir Food and Wine.  Not only does his event bring Pinot to the people, it also helps raise money for deserving charities.  This year, Hathaway-Sycamores Childrens Services benefited from money raised.

a gray day in AltadenaIt’s billed as the Pasadena PinotFest even though the event is now held at the Altadena Country Club.  The drive north from Pasadena toward the foothills is a short one, and the surroundings are absolutely beautiful at the ACC, even on a gray day.  

Hundreds of Southern California wine lovers made their way through the circuit of wine stations set up in two different rooms, across a hallway from one another.  The aisles in Hall One seemed to offer plenty of space at first, but as the crowd grew in size the space diminished.  

Chef Claud BeltranAfter bumping my way around the room, I took refuge in Hall Two every so often.  It was a lot roomier and there was a food station there.  Chef Claud Beltran (left) and his crew made sure we all had plenty of tasty treats with which to refresh our palates.

Joshua KlapperI’ve been seeing Joshua Klapper (right) so often lately my wife is starting to get jealous.  I’ve run into Klapper and his La Fenêtre and À Côté wines at a string of tasting events dating back to last fall.  His table was my very first stop, and he was unusually unoccupied at the moment.  “I don’t mind,” he said.  “It’ll get busy.”  It always gets busy when he pours his ‘09 À Côté Central Coast Pinot with the pretty nose and the ‘09 La Fenêtre Santa Maria Valley, $23 and $30 respectively.  Klapper said the latter is “from the Bien Nacido and Sierra Madre Vineyards.  Some pretty old vines there.  Both vineyards were planted in the early seventies.” 

Winemaker Ryan Zotovich was pouring elsewhere, so his dad, Pete, stood in for him ably.  Pete told me his brother Steve - the owner of the vineyard - thinks so much of Ryan that he often likes to claim him as his own.  After offering a Rosé of Syrah -produced in response to the Viognier crop resulting in disappointing yields - there was the Zotovich ‘09 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the Reserve Pinot.  Both show earthy notes and great acidity, with the reserve displaying more of a floral aspect.

Ryan Carr
Ryan Carr (left) poured his Carr Vineyards & Winery '09 Sta. Rita Hills, which utilizes three vineyards and feels brambly with a sense of rocks and dust.

Harmonique calls themselves “Harmonique Pinot Noir,” even though they also offer Chardonnay.  This Anderson Valley winery gives their Pinots names: Delicasé has a slightly sour cherry palate, while Eleganté is fruitier with a cola finish.  The Noble One shows a touch more spiciness.  They also poured Cima Collina ‘07 Chula Viña Pinot Noir, with  gobs of spicy black cherry.

The Hitching Post label is the home for the wine creations of Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini.  Ostini’s Hitching Post Restaurant is one of the Santa Barbara County businesses to have gained a sky-high profile in the aftermath of the film, “Sideways.”  The Hartley-Ostini ‘09 Hometown Santa Barbara County Pinot shows great acidity along with coffee and tea notes, while their ‘08 St. Rita’s Earth is a Sta. Rita Hills entry loaded with black cherry aromas and flavors.  A splash of their 2001 Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot shows that one coming along very nicely, a dark and earthy experience with coffee and tea notes.

Graner and Bobbie ThorneGraner and Bobbie Thorne (right) provided a delightful representation for their Thorne Wine.  I asked if they are married, or just dating.  Bobbie laughed while Graner replied, "We finally tied the knot 53 years ago.”  Rio Vista Vineyard is their estate property and Ken Brown makes their wines.  The Thorne '08 and '09 Estate Sta. Rita Hills Pinots both have great acidity and big notes of tea, with a long cola finish.

Moshin Vineyards' 2009 Lost Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot has a full, earthy nose and plenty of black cherry flavor.

Arnaud DebonsThe Riboli Family has winemaker Arnaud Debons (left) working out of their San Antonio Winery near downtown Los Angeles.  The Ribolis have vineyards in other parts of California.  I'm still taken with their '09 Windstream Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot.  Dark fruit and fantastic acidity make this one a real winner.

The Kenneth Volk Vineyards '09 Solomon Hills Pinot has beautiful chocolate notes.  I wish I could have tasted longer, but the thirsty mob surged and literally pushed me down to the Longoria table.

Rick LongoriaRick Longoria (right) seemed happy to have me end up there.  His 2010 Longoria Sta. Rita Hills Lovely Rita brings great minerality to a beautifully soft palate.

The Toretti family poured their 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley, full of dark fruit.

Bob Cabral, the director of winemaking for Williams Seylem, was named last year’s Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.  His 2010 Sonoma County Pinot shows beautiful black cherry on the nose with a delightful sour cherry palate.  Great notes of black tea decorate the 2010 Russian River Valley.

Paul Clary says his Clary Ranch Vineyard is "farthest west in the Petaluma Gap for vineyards producing grapes for still wine."  He calls his '06 Pinot Burgundian, with tea on the nose and a great minerality.  The '04 is more fruit-driven.  Clary told me, “This was a warmer vintage.  I harvested in mid-September when i normally harvest in late October or even early November.”

Lisa and Scott NealScott and Lisa Neal (left) are a husband/wife winemaking team of Coeur de Terre Vineyard in McMinnville, Oregon.  The division of labor works out this way: she grows, he vinifies.  Their Willamette Valley Pinot is only $21, yet it's incredibly smooth with great acidity and a dark, black cherry cola palate.  Lisa explained, “We lost a lot of fruit to birds - they love those small berries.  For the first time in 13 years I got out the shotgun.  At first I was shooting to scare, but as we lost more and more fruit, I was shooting to kill.”  Don't get between a winegrower and her grapes.  The Coeur de Terre 2009 Estate Pinot shows an impressive array of very dark fruit, while the '06 Renelle’s Block - a $65 bottle - is dark yet soft with gentle, supple tannins - an extremely drinkable wine.

Brandon Sparks-GillisBrandon Sparks-Gillis (right) was a busy man - a pouring machine, in fact, when I showed up.  The Dragonette Cellars 2010 Fiddlestix Vineyard smacks with a great acidity, its big fruit tempered by an herbal aspect and spiciness he attributes to whole cluster pressing.

Phantom Rivers Wine of Arroyo Grande sources their fruit.  Almost all their wines are vineyard-specific.  The 2007 Wolff Vineyard shows Edna Valley minerals and some great spice and chocolate.  Rich cherry dominates the '08 Wolff while the '09 Mar Vista Vineyard, Arroyo Grande, is quite earthy.

At the D’Alfonso-Curran Wines table, the '06 Badge Sta. Rita Hills has a lovely, bright cherry expression. 

Norm YostI could barely get close enough to the Flying Goat Cellarstable for Norm Yost (left) to give me a pour.  Fortunately, he has long arms.  His 2009 Santa Maria Valley Garey Vineyard displays one of the best sour cherry expressions I've tasted.  He also has a hit with the gentle fruit of his '08 Rio Vista Vineyard Pinot.

Stephen Ross Wine Cellars had three Pinots from what Paula Dooley called "extremely small vineyards."  A nearby wit chimed in, "How small? One grape - that's all."  That's an exaggeration, of course.  The Stephen Ross '09 Chorro Creek Vineyard - in San Luis Obispo County - is a lovely purple, smooth and mineral-laden.  Their '09 Stone Corral Vineyard from Edna Valley also shows great minerals - a given for Edna Valley - and a cola finish.

Randy RozakRandy Rozak, (right) of Rozak Vintners in the northeastern corner of the Sta. Rita Hills, poured two 2007 Pinots.  "A Block" features the Pommard clone and "C Block" is the Dijon clone.  Both show big fruit and great acidity.

Solvang's  Bratcher Winery 2009 Santa Maria Valley Pinot is just about the darkest ever, while their '09 La Encantada Sta. Rita Hills shows red fruit with cola notes.

Arcadian Winery's Jill's Cuvée Soloman Hills brings that Santa Maria Valley earth to the forefront - it's downright smoky.  They like to keep their wines in tight-grain French oak for quite a while.  2006 and 2007 are their current releases.

Rebecca WorkRebecca Work (left) poured at the Ampelos Cellars table.  The Ampelos 2008 Estate Sta. Rita Hills shows sour cherry and tea.

Sonoma's Sojourn Cellars is fronted by Craig Haserot and winemaker Erich Bradley.  Their 2010 Sangiacomo Vineyard effort is a lovely 95-point wine showing minerals and creamy fruit.  Their 2010 Gap’s Crown Vineyard is all about the luscious red fruit.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Pasadena PinotFest 2012

The new year brings a wealth of great opportunities to taste wine in Southern California, and one event Pinot Noir lovers always make it a point to attend is the Pasadena PinotFest.  The 2012 edition is the 4th annual for the event which celebrates "Pinot Noir and all things that go with it."

The Grand Public Tasting will show off the Pinot Noir of 100 different producers and the cuisine of some of the top restaurants in Pasadena.  It's a gourmet delight.  The wine promises to be superb, and the chance to talk with the winemakers about the Pinots they're pouring is not to be missed.  Parking for the event is free, and so is the shuttle which will take you to the Altadena Country Club.  Tickets are $89, $119 for VIP tickets.

The Grand Public Tasting event will be held Saturday February 11, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. at the beautiful Altadena Country Club.  There are several mini tastings slated in the weeks preceding the event at Noir Food & Wine Bar in Pasadena.  These tastings will be held on the four Saturdays before the Grand Public Tasting, from 3:30 - 5:30 p.m.  In addition, four winemaker dinners will be held at the Altadena Country Club, AKA Bistro, Bistro 45 and The Raymond.   The Grand Kickoff Dinner is set for January 15th, so you'll have plenty of time to get yourself ready for the big tasting event.

Check the Pasadena PinotFest schedule of events to make sure you can grab the ones you like best.

The Pasadena PinotFest benefits Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, one of the largest, nonprofit, private children’s mental health and welfare agencies in Los Angeles County.  They provide services to over 8,000 children and families annually in the greater Los Angeles area.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Mosby's table

A hundred-degree afternoon was probably not the right time to open the doors of Pasadena's a|k|a Bistro and let the outdoors mingle with the indoors, but that is how this Santa Barbara County wine tasting event was constructed.

Some winery tables were outside and some were in, so a flow-through was created to facilitate the tasters making the circuit.  The inside portion was almost as uncomfortable as the outside.

The saving grace for those outdoors was the slight breeze, which did not appear inside the bistro.  "Outdoor" wineries which were blessed with shade - like Riverbench and Sanford - actually fared pretty well.  Those in the afternoon sun - like Tercero and Zaca Mesa - had to sweat it out.

Tercero's Larry Schaffer didn't let the heat wilt his quips.  When a taster asked how much he made - referring to the quantity of wine produced - Schaffer shot back, "Not enough! We're a nonprofit winery!"  Of course, he was joking, which was no mean feat in the sweltering heat.  You have to admire a man who keeps his sense of humor in adverse conditions!

The big, bold aromas and flavors which typify Santa Barbara County wines were solid, as usual.  Wine from all four of the AVAs in Santa Barbara County were represented, the Santa Maria Valley, the Santa Ynez ValleySta. Rita Hills and Happy Canyon.

As I expected, there was a lot to like at this event.  Here are some of the wines I especially liked, listed alphabetically.

Arthur Earl
Arthur Earl is a boutique winery in Los Olivos, California founded by two guys named Art and Earl. I don't know which one was working the table at this event, but he explained, "If you look up 'boutique winery' in the dictionary, there's a picture of us."

Great wines here, Rhone, Italian and Spanish varieties. The Viognier showed flowers and a savory note on the nose, with more savory meeting tropical flavors and a great acidity. The Nebbiolo has a great nose full of roses and meat. A sour blackberry flavor is perfect with the meaty minerality. The Lagrein has cherry and coffee grounds on the nose with a dark and earthy palate. An earthy, black cherry Tempranillo rounded out what was my favorite stop of the day.

Babcock Winery & Vineyards
Bryan Babcock brought his wine in from the western reaches of the Santa Ynez Valley. His Identity Crisis Syrah is a red wine made like a white wine. Skin contact is minimal and it comes out pink! It's a full flavor Syrah though, with a very nice acidity. Top Cream Chardonnay is made with 50% new oak, but it's a light touch with the wood. Psi Clone Pinot Noir mixes bright cherry and blackberry flavors.

Bedford Winery
Stephan Bedford thinks he was born in the wrong country, but he's in wine country now - the Los Alamos hills - and that suits him to a T. His wines show a dark earthiness, even the Riesling and the Chardonnay. It's more expected - but just as appreciated - in the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which have some toothy tannins.

Dragonette Cellars
I was impressed with this outfit's Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir, great acidity and a touch of a floral component balancing the earthiness. Their Grenache is made with Los Alamos fruit - Syrah and Mourvedre are in the mix - and it boasts bright cherry flavor touched by minerality.

Jaffurs Wine CellarsAn urban winery located in Santa Barbara, Jaffurs specializes in Rhone grape varieties. Upon harvesting the Grenache Blanc grapes, botrytis was found on some of the grapes. Those nobly afflicted were plucked separately and a single barrel of dessert wine was made. Unfortunately, that was not on display. The Grenache Blanc, though, was suitably tart and tangy with quite a finish. Their Grenache shows a tangible layer of darkness over the cherry flavor.

Mosby Winery & VineyardBill Mosby's place is one of the stops I always seem to make when I visit anywhere near Buellton. His Cal-Italia wines are favorites of mine - and my wife digs 'em, too. Bill's Sagrantino offers a bright cherry experience, while his Lagrein throws a dark earthiness over a bunch of violets. There aren't too many California tastings where you can sample one Lagrein, let alone two.

Riverbench produces only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their location in the Santa Maria Valley. Nice acidity and tropical flavors make their steel Chardonnay refreshing, and their 30% new French oak effort shows just the right touch of oak. The Mesa Pinot Noir is simply killer, with a good chunk of that Santa Maria Valley earth on the nose and palate. It has a beautiful floral component on the nose as well.

Tercero Wines
Larry Schaffer was pouring from his signature, hand-labeled flasks at what had to be the hottest table on the patio, in more ways than one. His Mourvedre from Camp 4 Vineyard in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley has a huge nose and a brilliant sour cherry flavor. Considering the heat, it was lucky he brought some of his wonderful '09 Rose to refresh. 60% Grenache and 40% Mourvedre, this pink is nice and dry with a "strawberry meets the ground it was grown in" flavor.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010


Pasadena Wine Festival

The Pasadena Wine Festival was held Saturday October 9, 2010 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia.  I'm sure festival planners were hoping for weather more like autumn than summer, but it was summer they got.  Temperatures in the mid 90s and only a spot of shade to be found here and there - unusual, I think, for a venue with "arbor" in its name - caused afternoon wine lovers to bake in the hot sun.

Many long tables were provided where people were expected to rest their weary feet, but they were in the middle of the treeless plain.  Anyone found sitting there during the afternoon must have simply passed out there.

Even in the heat, people seemed to be enjoying themselves.  There were a few issues that I felt could be improved on for next year's event.  Here they are:

More wineries - The huge expanse of the grounds seemed to swallow up the dozen or so booths that were arranged in an open rectangle.  With only a few wines poured at each table, there just didn't seem to be that much offered.  France was represented by 4 wines, one of them Hob Nob.

Shade - If you can't find trees at an arboretum, can you at least bring in some umbrellas?  Nighttime visitors didn't have this concern.  To be fair, most people seemed to be having a nice - if hot - day in the sun.

Cost - The base admission price of $28 seemed to afford only entry to the grounds.  After that, it was pay-per-taste or upgrade to a VIP ticket.

Parking - $13 to park at Santa Anita seems pretty high, and that's what you had to pay if you got there after the Arboretum parking was filled, which didn't take long.

Volunteers - Their work was appreciated, but forget about finding out anything about the wines that were poured.  Winery reps - or at least volunteers who knew something about the wines - would have been a much better choice.

Bottles in the sun.Hot booths - The workers seemed to able to find shade as they poured, but the bottles of wine were sitting in the direct afternoon sun for hours before I saw some attempt at shading them.

Organization - Maybe it was just a slow start, but everyone seemed to be scrambling to get things done upon opening.  An hour into the event, I finally found someone who knew where to pick up the free stemware.

Food Trucks - A lot of the food trucks everyone loves were there, but at least one was charging more than the prices posted on their own sign.  After a customer complained, the sign was quickly taken down, but the customer was charged the higher price anyway.

Waste Buckets - Sure, with people paying for every sip, there probably wasn't much call for spit buckets.  But those who upgraded to VIP, and people who wanted to do all the tasting and still be able to drive home, were left without a nice way to dispose of the taste.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Pasadena Wine Festival

The Pasadena Wine Festival will be held at the Los Angeles County Arboretum on Saturday October 9, 2010 from 2:00 to 10:00 p.m.  The main attraction is, of course, the wine - over 125 wines will be poured for your sampling pleasure.  California wines from Sonoma to Santa Barbara will be featured, along with special attention to the wines of Australia and Spain.  There's even more to look forward to at this annual event.

What's wine without food?  Great cheeses will be offered and this year the food trucks will roll out to keep the masses fed.  Some of the wildly popular mobile restaurants on hand will be The Grilled Cheese Truck, World Fare, Dosa Truck, Crepe'n Around, Border Grill Truck and Sprinkles Cupcakes.

The lovely grounds of the Arboretum and Botanical Garden will provide a beautiful backdrop for the festivities and a welcome respite awaits those who choose to take a break and stroll around.

You can challenge your friends to a game of bocce ball, pitch some horseshoes, try the ultimate golf challenge or just throw around a Frisbee.

Live music will entertain the festive crowd and you are advised to bring a blanket or beach chair so you can really relax after the sensory overload that's likely to occur.  Festival planners also advise you bring some sunscreen for the afternoon.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pasadena PinotFest 2010, 2nd Annual

Pasadena PinotFest
I made a sort of "wine resolution" at the beginning of the year to drink more Pinot Noir.  To that end, this month I have attended not one but two big tasting events featuring Pinot Noir.  The most recent, the Pasadena PinotFest, was held at the University Club of Pasadena on January 30.  I had not been to the venerable facility since my friends Jerry and Robin had their wedding reception there.  It was a jumpin' joint that night, but the wine crowd got the room rockin', too.

A full house made their way from winery table to winery table, stopping to refresh their palates at a major cheese station, a carving table for assorted meats and a wonderful island where succulent braised short ribs were served atop a pile of cheesy grits.  Pleasure abounded from wall to wall.

Pasadena PinotFestNearly 50 wineries were represented, and not all of them felt obliged to restrict their pours to Pinot Noir.  Quite a few brought Chardonnays and Syrahs with them, while I did see one Pinot Gris and a rose.  It was a Pinot Noir rose, however.

Pasadena PinotFest

Although the room was crowded, I was able to make it in good fashion up and down the aisles.  At no time was it difficult to get close enough to the pourers to hear what they had to say about the wines.  In fact, at an event earlier in the month, I had some difficulty getting close to the Clos Pepe table.  This time around, winemaker Wes Hagen was able to devote his entire attention to my questions for several minutes.  That's probably not the way he would have preferred it, but it worked very well for me.

Pasadena PinotFest

Hagen poured some of his prized rose to start.  He explained that for this pink wine, his grapes are taken a full six weeks before other Pinot growers begin harvesting.  He feels he can get full fruit flavor without letting the grapes possibly get overripe.  I agree.  The Clos Pepe rose has one of the best fruit presences I can remember tasting in a pink wine.  Moreover, his Pinot Noir seems almost like an extension of the rose rather than a different wine entirely.

Another big favorite for me was Row 11 Russian River Valley 2007.  The spices were so delicious this one really did make my eyes open wide.  According to the pourer, winemaker Richard de los Reyes makes New World Pinot Noir by selecting the "best vineyards, in the best appellations and taking the best rows."  She explained that's where the name, Row 11, comes from.  Reyes can walk any vineyard in California and select any row he likes.  He apparently likes Row 11.

Pasadena PinotFest

I was also taken with the Windstream 2008 Pinot.  It's a big, floral, rich wine which is, I'm told, "the winemaker's baby."  Winemaker Anthony Riboli, of the Los Angeles winemaking Riboli Family, really impressed me with this wine.

Pasadena PinotFest

The Pasadena PinotFest served as a fundraiser for Hillsides, a Pasadena-based nonprofit organization doing good work for Southern California's children.  If you weren't able to help by attending, please click on their name and explore other opportunities to help.

Here are some of the wines I sampled (all are Pinot Noir):

Ampelos Lambda 2006 - very good

Ampelos Rho 2006 Barrel Select - excellent, bright and earthy on nose and palate

Ampelos Fiddlestix Vineyard 2007 - subdued fruit, somewhat green

Alma Rosa  Santa Rita Hills 2007 - nice and earthy

Alma Rosa La Encantada Vineyard 2005 - wild nose, got a lot of attention from other tasters while I was there

Badge 2006 - complex nose, spicy taste

Baileyana Grand Fire Peak Cuvee 2007 - earthy and full

Cargasacchi Point Concepcion Salsipuedes 2008 - barnyard nose, nice mineral profile

Cargasacchi Estate, Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard 2007 - brighter and more vibrant than Concepcion

Clos Pepe Rose 2009 - strawberry, 11.5% abv, great fruit presence, very "real"

Clos Pepe 2006 - like and "extension" of the rose, darker and fuller

Clos Pepe 2007 - even fruitier and fuller than '06

Derby 2006 - very good nose

Ken Brown Santa Maria Valley 2007 - violets

Ken Brown Sta. Rita Hills 2007 - great sense of earth

Ken Brown Clos Pepe Vineyard 2007 - dark and brooding

Loring 2008 - like candy on the nose

Loring Gary's Vineyard 2008 - herbaceous, bright and delicious

Marimar Don Miguel Vineyard 2006 - lovely and dark

Marimar Dona Margarita Vineyard 2006 - big nose, subdued fruit

Row 11 Russian River 2007 - OMG! great spices

Stephen Ross Chorro Creek 2007 - nice minerals

Tin House 2005 - very nice earth, big, sourced in Edna Valley

Windstream 2008 - very big taste, floral and rich, "winemaker's baby"