Showing posts with label Santa Monica. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Santa Monica. Show all posts

Monday, October 11, 2021

And Now, An IPA From Santa Monica

There are very few songs written about Santa Monica, California, probably because it's tough to find a word which rhymes with it, other than harmonica.  Not a deep well of inspiration, there. 

However, there may be an ode or two written about the beer.  Santa Monica Brew Works makes what they call the Head in the Clouds Double IPA.  That may be a left-handed way of saluting the left-leaning populace there, or it may reflect the general attitude of those who have an ocean readily available to them for their daily inspiration.  Either way, it works.

Labeled as "juicy" and "beach brewed," the former claim nails it.  The latter, though, suffers a bit since the Colorado Avenue location is a good 19 blocks from Santa Monica Bay.  To be fair, when I lived in Santa Monica I was 21 blocks from the beach and, due to the elevation, could still see the water.

The hops used in Head in the Clouds are listed as Citra, Mosaic, Summit and Wakatu.  Alcohol sits at 8.5% abv and my 4-pack of pint cans came from Trader Joe's.  It is a hoppy brew which the label claims was "brewed for the dreamers who seek an elevated beer experience."  Elevate away, Santa Monica.

The head is half a finger of off-white foam.  The nose displays a lot of citrus and a nice pine element, too.  The palate is on the bitter side, but very juicy - as billed - and quite refreshing.  The finish lingers nicely and has a nutty aftertaste.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Lunch At The Ocean, From The Ocean

A special-occasion lunch calls for a special view, and that's what The Lobster offers in addition to the various ocean-going delights on the menu. Nearly all the tables are good ones from which to enjoy the beautiful Pacific Ocean as it churns toward the Santa Monica Pier.  Look past the Ferris Wheel and the roller coaster - the Sigalert, as it's called - and you can commune with the waves while you dine.

The wine list at The Lobster is not as inventive as I would like, but there's always something there that jumps off the page at me.  This time it was the Drouhin Vaudon Chablis which caught my eye.

Joseph Drouhin owns about 15 acres of Chardonnay grapes in the Valley of Vauvillien, nestled between the Mont de Milieu and Montée de Tonnerre Premier Cru vineyards.  In other words, he keeps good company.  An old watermill sits in the Serein River and serves as the headquarters of the Drouhin Domaine in Chablis.  The winery says that Drouhin was a pioneer in the region 40 years ago, revitalizing the region in the 1960s, a hundred years after phylloxera ravaged it and millennia after it was an ancient seabed.  The site is the northernmost in Burgundy, sitting in a circle of hills where vines have grown for hundreds of years

The wine paired beautifully with my lobster and corn chowder with smoked bacon, and even better with the charred octopus, one of the best eight-legged appetizers I've ever had.  The smell of wet pavement opens the experience, with citrus notes following.  The palate offers the full set of flavors expected from the limestone-drenched origin of the grapes.  A chalky, flinty sensibility carries the fruit and minerals along over a fine acidity which seems born for seafood.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Pinot Days 2012

It was a nice, spring-like day in Santa Monica - even though it was January 28, 2012 - and Pinot Days made another landing at Santa Monica Airport's Barker Hangar.

Producers of Pinot Noir wines - largely from California, although a few Oregon wineries were also in attendance - set up shop and poured their product for Southern California with great gusto.  If you didn't make it out for the event, you really should plan on doing so next year.  

There are so many different styles of Pinot represented, it's a great way to expand your palate and get a glimpse of some of the different ways the grape can be expressed.

Kenneth Volk and shirt du jourKenneth Volk (at right), head grape geek at Kenneth Volk Vineyards, wowed the crowd with his 2009 Enz Vineyard Pinot Noir.  The grapes for this behemoth come from Lime Kiln Valley - a Gavilin Mountain region Volk leases and has worked with for 13 vintages.  “It’s my monopole,” Volk declared, describing the extent of his involvement in that region.  “The area was first planted when California was still under the Spanish flag," Volk said in the way of a history lesson.  "My Pinot comes from a vineyard planted in 1895.  I planted it to Pinot Noir in ‘96.”  The wine is hugely aromatic, with mocha and flowers on nose.  Big red fruit dominates the taste and a massive acidity can best be described as bracing.  For those wishing a not-so-humongous Pinot, Volk's 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard from the Santa Maria Valley shows a great fruity nose, juicy taste , and minty tea on the finish.

Dierberg Vineyards was ably respresented by Kevin Gallagher, who showed me some pictures of their winery facility in Happy Canyon.  It's a real showcase, although it's not open to public.  The green barn tasting room between Buellton and Lompoc is all most visitors know.  "In the tasting room, we used to have pictures of the winery on the walls," said Gallagher.  "People would see them and say 'we wanna go there.'  We took the pictures down."  I guess they don't want anybody bothering winemaker Andy Alda while he works his magic in his palatial surroundings.  Gallagher referred to the 2009 Three Saints as the "little brother," and the 2009 Dierberg Vineyard Pinot as the "big brother."  Both hail from the Santa Ynez Valley, the former showing red fruit and the latter exhibiting black cherry.

Stewart Johnson's Kendric Vineyards is located in San Anselmo, California in Northern Marin County.  You may not have heard of any vineyards there, and Johnson says, "That's because the good growing locations are few and far between.  I had to dig a zillion holes to find the right soil."  I'd say he found it.  Johnson poured a fascinating vertical of his Pinot Noir vintages from 2004 to 2009.  '08 and '09 are very aromatic, while '04 and '05 are showing an intriguing eucalyptus note.  All six vintages show great minerals.

crowd at Pinot Days 2012La Fenêtre's tireless winemaker Joshua Klapper was a very familiar face for some of us.  I had just seen him two days earlier at another tasting event.  Thankfully he hadn't tired of me.  The La Fenêtre 2009 Le Bon Climat Vineyard Pinot has an expressive bouquet with a slightly 
tart flavor and a big black tea finish.  Klapper thought there might have been sediment in the bottom of the bottle from which he poured my taste, and he asked how I liked it.  "Not too gritty, is it?".  It wasn't.  I have the feeling if Klapper made a gritty wine, the wine would somehow be better for it. 

A lesson on how consumers are swayed by wine scores awared by critics was something I didn't need, but I saw it for myself during a palate-cleansing break.  A patron toting his wine glass and looking for the next wine to sample spied a sign at one table touting a critic's score.  The gentleman uttered a monotone "ninety-five point Pinot Noir..." as he was drawn - as if by gravity - toward the Sojourn Cellars table.  Spellbound, he sipped and nodded in approval.

Presqu'ile Winery's South African winemaker Dieter Cronje offered a Rosé of Pinot Noir made in the saignée method, in which the juice is bled off from the skins with the intention of making a pink wine.  His '09 rosé displays tons of fruit aromas and flavors.  Cronje suggested it as the perfect wine to sip while  "sitting on a patio, looking at a beach and enjoying the afternoon."  Presqu'ile's 2009 Estate Pinot Noir is bright with acidity and quite herbal, due to the whole cluster pressing of the grapes.  It has a very Old World feel, with manageable tannins and restrained alcohol.

Pinot Days 2012 Oregon sectionThe Oregon section of the hangar was quite busy.  The crowding around these tables indicated there was a lot of interest in Oregon Pinot.  
Napa vintner Craig Camp poured hisCornerstone Cellars Oregon Pinot, the product of his partnership with winemaker Tony Rynders.  Their 2009 Willamette Valley shows beautiful sour cherry flavor with tea on the very long finish.  

Sokol Blosser Winery crossed the state line with their 2009 Dundee Hills Pinot, which is light with fresh, red fruit, great acidity and black tea on the finish.

Pali Wine Company makes wine near the airport on the west side of Lompoc, California.  They do produce an Oregon Pinot, though.  The 2010 "Alphabets" from the Willamette Valley shows some very herbal black tea notes.

Pali's Calirfornia efforts were just as good.  The 2009 Cargasacchi Vineyard has dark fruit, spices and traces of coffee.  The 2009 Fiddlestix Vineyard, from the Sta. Rita Hills, has beautiful blackberry, tons of acidity and minerals.

Santa Barbara County's Tantara Winery has a pinot that really floored me. The 2008 Solomon Hills has massive aromas of chocolate, an herbal palate with very dark fruit and spice and a cola finish.  Their 2009 Sta. Rita Hills Rio Vista Vineyard is all about dark fruit and tannins.

The Malibu Vineyard features the work of winemakers Bruno d'Alfonso and Kris Curran.  Their 2008 Rambla Pacifico is aromatic with flavors of plum.

The Zotovich Cellars table was manned by winemaker Ryan Zotovich, although when I stopped by owner/dad Steve was pouring the 2009 Reserve Zotovich Family Estate Vineyard showing brilliant acidity and bright cherries.

There wasn't much Paso Robles Pinot present, but Glen Hartigan of Hartigan Cellarsmanaged to bring some.  Hartigan told me, "I've made wine for 20 years but this is the first time I've done it commercially."  His west side Paso 2009 Hastings Ranch has a lovely expression of 
mocha on the nose and an all-red-fruit palate.  As you might expect from Paso Robles, there was plenty of acidity and forceful tannins.

Alma Rosa's 2008 Sta. Rita Hills is pure cherry with a lovely tartness on the finish.  Their 2009 La Encantada offers black cherry and tea in a much more complex palate.

The Vin Village table had Rob Barnett pouring the 2008 Lucas & Lewelen Santa Barbara County, full of red fruit and minerals.  The 2009 Goodchild High 9 Vineyard was wonderfully dark, with coffee notes.  The Witch Creek Winery Clarksburg Pinot is an easy drinker with black tea notes.

Olivia Brion Winery, at 1200 feet in the Vaca Mountain Range east of Napa Valley, occupies one of the coolest growing regions in the area.  Winemaker David Mahaffey spoke of the '09, '10 and '11 vintages as a "mini ice age."  The 2009 Wild Horse Valley Vineyard is bright and floral, but "not ready yet," according to Mahaffey.  "Needs another month or so," he said.

Ancient Oaks in Sonoma County was hoping to find a SoCal rep during their visit.  The 2008 Russian River Valley delivers a very big fruit expression, while the 2009 Siebert Ranch Estate Pinot has gobs of dark fruit and a big tea finish.  You get fantastic acidity in both, at $25 and $32 respectively.

Bien Nacido Vineyards poured the 2008 Solomon Hills, from the sandy soil of the westernmost vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.  The 2008 Bien Nacido displayed that vineyard's limestone and shale with big minerals.  I could really taste the rocks. 

Fritz Winery produces in Cloverdale.  The big, bright cherry of the Jenner 2010 Sonoma Coast contrasted with the dark minerals, plums and anise in the 2009 Lost Canyon Goff-Whitton Vineyard Pinot.

Ken Brown made the trip from Solvang with his 2008 Sta. Rita Hills, which shows  beautiful tart candy, and the 2010 Santa Maria Valley Garey vineyard and its giant note of black tea. 

Loring Wine Company showed their 2010 Clos Pepe Vineyard, dominated by a smoky cherry flavor and raspberry finish. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011


At Wine Expo Tasting Bar

Longtime Santa Monica wine store Wine Expo opened a tasting bar over the summer, and it is to my detriment that it took me so long to make it by and try out their fare.

While Wine Expo specializes in Italian wine, general manager and wine director Roberto Rogness explains on their website, "what we are REALLY interested in is diversity of style ... and wines that both enhance our diverse cuisine and challenge your senses (instead of just being big fruit bombs slathered in oak that make a strong first impression but then deaden your palate).  Plus, we are not only aware of the Global Marketplace but are famous for turning it upside down and squeezing it twice to find you the best deals.  So, this logically LEADS us to offering the largest selection of Vini Italiani in the country (plus outstanding finds from South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Hungary, Oz and NZ, Argentina, Eastern Europe and sometimes even California)."

I'm always happy to find a happy hour, and the Wine Expo tasting bar offers one from 5:00 to 7:00 six nights a week - which includes Saturday and Sunday.

Before we could even take a seat, complimentary tastes of F. Dulac Blanc de Blancs Brut was delivered to the table.  The French sparkler is toasty, nutty and bubbly - a great start in anyone's book.

The Matilde Zasso Falanghina 2010 from Campania has volcanic ash evident on the mineral laden nose and palate, but there's some nice fruitiness there, too.  $3 by the glass at happy hour.

Allesandro Botter's Tor del Colle Montelpulciano Riserva 2007 from Puglia was $4 by the glass at happy hour.  Rose petal and freshly polished leather join a meat element on the nose, while the palate is dark and complex.

These wines did fine with the salami plate spruced up with cornichons, smoked olives and salted nuts.  The heavily smoked olives prompted an "OMG" in my notes.  They are perfect for a palate like mine, for which enough is never enough.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon

One of my favorite stops for "anytime wine tasting" in Southern California is the Santa Monica wine bar Pourtal.  Stephen Abronson's cozy little space near the beach is filled with Enomatic taps where wine is dispensed by the ounce.  You can have a taste of many or a glass of one or two.  There are always themed Tasting Tours which rotate on a monthly basis.  Pourtal's Wine Director Rachel Bryan makes excellent choices on the wines featured at any given time.

I was drawn to try the Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon when I noticed its grapes were taken from the Margarita Vineyard in the southern part of the Paso Robles AVA.  I recently toured this vineyard - the Ancient Peaks estate vineyard - and was mightily impressed with the wines which Ancient Peaks crafted from that fruit.  My hopes were high for the Broadside effort.

Broadside winemakers Chris Brockway and Brian Terrizzi attempt to let the grapes do the talking.  The wine is made naturally, without yeast, bacteria or acid.  Aging occurs in 100% French oak - 2% new - and the varietal makeup is 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petite Verdot, also from Margarita Vineyard.  It has an alcohol level of 14.1% abv.  The Broadside Cab retails for $20 per bottle.

As expected, the wine looks dark and inky in the glass.  The nose is a little hot at first, but that settles down quickly.  Big aromas of dark fruit are laced with the minerals Margarita Vineyard is known for.  On my tour of the vineyard, I saw firsthand the ancient oyster shells peeking up from the earth - a reminder of the land's former state as a seabed.

The taste is also enticingly dark and full of those wonderful minerals.  Cassis and black cherry join with a vanilla spice component.  There's a lot of wine here for $20.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011


back patio at the Wilshire Restaurant

California has a bounty of culinary delights to offer.  The STARS of California wine event, presented by Ian Blackburn’s Learn About Wine on Thursday June 23, 2011, showed off the wealth of California food and wine in a controlled environment - only 200 tickets were made available to the public event at the Broad Stage venue in Santa Monica, so a "no crowds" atmosphere was expected.  I attended the trade session during the afternoon, which was held in the garden setting of Santa Monica's Wilshire Restaurant.

The Golden State also has a bounty of traffic snarls.  I wonder how the road construction crews always seem to know where I'll be going, so they can block a lane or two on my route.  The 10 mile trek from mid-Wilshire to the Wilshire Restaurant took an hour, and about the same for the return trip.  It was Carmageddon!  Even with the aggravation of traffic, the event made it worthwhile.

The wines were presented as "future stars" of the California wine scene - and many of the wineries in attendance do fly a little under the radar - but the "future star" status is definitely deserved for the likes of Flying Goat Cellars, Palmina, Presqu'ile and Inception Wines.  There was plenty more to rave about, too.

Norm Yost, Flying Goast CellarsNorm Yost's Flying Goat Cellars of Santa Barbara always draws a crowd at Southern California tasting events.  Norm (pictured at right) tasted me through a trio of his Pinot Noirs, each of which shows earthy minerality and wonderful acidity.  My favorite is the 2008 Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot from the Santa Rita Hills.  This 667 clone has a smokey nose and great black cherry flavor, with a mocha note that comes through into the finish.

Randy Hazard of wine broker Vin 17 poured some delightful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Arroyo Grande's Center Of Effort.  I was really taken with another wine he poured, the '09 Fossil Point Edna Valley Chardonnay.  Nice tropical fruit and banana on the nose with great acidity and a zesty streak citrus on the palate bowled me over.

Palmina Wines features Italian varieties grown in Santa Barbara County.  Honea Vineyard is the only vineyard in California planted exclusively to Italian grapes, and Steve Clifton buys their entire crop every year.  I love the earthy minerality of their Arneis, the briny herbal palate of their Tocai Friulano and the wonderfully dry Rosato di Palmina.  Palmina's '07 Nebbiolo of Santa Barbara County is a three-vineyard mix with earth, smoke and spices bursting forth.

Ryan Skinner, of Skinner Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills region, loves to pour his 2009Grenache, which winemaker Chris Pittenger produced like a Pinot.  It's 100% Grenache, very dry, with a brilliant cherry nose and rich palate.  I really liked their very dark and moody '07 Estate Syrah, too.

Santa Maria Valley winery Presqu'ile has been making some noise recently.  Or, more accurately, those who try their wines have been making some noise; a lot of tweeting, especially.  South African Winemaker Dieter Cronje has crafted some wonderful wines.  Presqu'ile's 2009Chardonnay is clean and crisp.  I'm told Cronje utilized 10% new oak in this wine out of necessity - just so he could have some neutral oak next year.  The real stunner is the '09 Pinot Noirfashioned from a half-and-half mix of Solomon Hills and estate fruit.  Delicious, flirty raspberry and a long finish.

George PitsironisBased in Los Angeles, making Central Coast wines, is Inception.  Owner George Pitsironis (left) says they are on the wine lists at a majority of fine dining places in Southern California.  Their '09 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay is lush and creamy, but limited use of new French oak leaves the minerals in the front seat.  Inception'sPinot Noirs had the best aromas I found at this event.  A Central Coast effort and a Santa Barbara County Pinot both followed up with rich flavor.  It was a soon-to-be-released '09 Santa Rita Hills Pinot from La Encantada Vineyard that really wowed.  It should be available in mid-July 2011.

It was with great expectations that I stopped at the table of Lang and Reed, from the Napa Valley town of St. Helena.  They do all Cabernet Franc, all the time.  All their wines are based on Cab Franc, and John Skupny can do an impromptu dissertation on the grape and its clones anytime you like.  With a shrug, he said "Somebody's gotta do it," when I admired his obsession.  Lang and Reed's Two-Fourteen is made from the CF clone 214, which originated in the Loire Valley.  It's a single-vineyard work with a beautiful vegetal edge and notes of coffee in its complex palate.

Arman Pahlavan's Starlite Vineyards poured an exceptional Viognier and Zinfandel.  Winemaker Julia Iantosca - who took over from Merry Edwards in 2007 - worked wonders with the '09Viognier, a weighty, barrel-fermented white with great acidity and a floral honey nose that's irresistable.  The '06 Zinfandel was crafted for the person "who doesn't like Zinfandel."  I can't imagine who that could be, but this Alexander Valley beauty shows bright cherry, coffee, chocolate and spice, with plenty of acidity.  It's made from a Primitivo clone.  Starlite's Cabernet Sauvignon sports 15% Napa Valley Tempranillo and shows intense red fruit.  I'm told many tasters mistake it for Bordeaux.

Mauritson Wines of Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County scored with their Petite Sirah, indigo with concentrated fruit and great grip.  I finished the session - appropriately enough - with Mauritson's Port-style dessert wine.  Five Portuguese grape varieties are used for this blend.  The sweetness bears an earthy counterpoint which makes me think it's not just for dessert.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Las Rocas Garnacha

The Santa Monica restaurant called The Lobster is one of my favorite places for lunch in Southern California.  The view looking out into the Pacific Ocean and over the Santa Monica Pier are reason enough, but the food's pretty good, too - and that's the understatement of the year.

I never seem to order lobster at its namesake eatery, largely because Denise generally does the honors in the crustacean department and I am always awarded a choice morsel or two from her plate - as long as I've been a good boy.

It can be rather cool along the beach, too, unless it's the heat of summer.  Sometimes that cool ocean breeze puts me more in the mood for a red wine.  Then, I look for a meal more suited for that choice.

The wine that caught my eye this time was a Garnacha from the San Alejandro vineyard in Calatayud, in the province of Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain.  The Las Rocas Vinas Viejas is a rich ruby color with a big, jammy nose full of tar and black fruit.  It doesn't taste as brooding as it smells, with strident blackberry and cassis flavors.  It's $10 by the glass at The Lobster.

This wine paired perfectly with Tasmanian trout salmon in a Port reduction sauce on creamy polenta with browned Brussels sprouts.

For dessert, a little of Denise's lobster.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Inside Barker Hangar for Pinot Days

An airplane hangar full of great Pinot Noir is a hard thing for a wine lover to ignore.  The huge Quonset hut that is Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport held plenty of the wine world’s magic elixir on Saturday January 15, 2011.  That’s when the second annual Pinot Days event came to Southern California.

Several large airplanes could have been rolled inside the man-made cavern.  Instead, close to a hundred wineries were there for Pinot Days, pouring 300 or so different Pinot Noir wines.  The entries were mainly from the California wine regions known for the variety - the Russian River Valley and several AVAs in  Santa Barbara County were well represented in the large space.  There were a little less than a handful from Oregon, I saw one table from Washington and a winery from Tasmania ventured into the northern hemisphere for the day.

During the week, there were a couple of winemaker meet-and-greet situations which I could not attend, but were reportedly smashing successes.  So was the Grand Tasting event.  If you did not make it to Pinot Days for this second annual soiree, you really should keep an eye out for the 2012 event.  It's well worth the time and reasonable expense to see that you are there for it.

Two hours was not enough time for me to taste all the wines in the hangar, but I did get to sample quite a few I thought were truly exceptional.

Fess Parker Winery poured four wines which captivated me - they always do.  Their 2009 Parker Station has a funky nose and is drinking smooth and easy.  The acidity is very good, and selling for under $15 makes it the value of the day.  Parker’s 2008 Santa Barbara County shows black cherry and minerals on the nose with a dark floral taste.  The 2007 Ashley’s Vineyard rocks a little spearmint note and the 2008 Santa Rita Hills Clone 115 offers a peppery nose and subdued minerals on the palate.  Its bottle was also sporting a little coonskin cap on the tasting table.  Any of the four Fess Parker wines poured could qualify as my favorite Pinot of the day.

La Fenêtre's Joshua KlapperLa Fenêtre’s Joshua Klapper talked about picking fruit in the same way a gambler talks about the time his team beat the spread on the last play of the game.  Klapper was absolutely riveting as he spoke of determining when grapes were ready to be picked.  “Throw all that scientific junk away.  Look at them!  Listen to them!  The grapes’ll tell you when they’re ready!”  His tone softened somewhat when he recounted how - with the pickers working on getting his grapes into trucks - he saw other winemakers roll the dice and leave their fruit on the vine another day.  The weather that day would prove to be hot enough to ruin a substantial amount of that fruit.  Those winemakers did not listen to their grapes.  La Fenêtre’s 2008 Sierra Madre has a wonderfully smokey, floral nose and a dark, brooding presence in the mouth.

Kenneth Volk’s table featured the 2007 Santa Maria Cuvée.  Seven vineyards contribute to its smoke-filled cherry nose, luscious mouthfeel and great acidity.

Gainey Vineyard’s winemaker Jeff LeBard brought the light side and the dark side  over from Santa Ynez.  His 2008 Light Label shows the bright, red fruit while the Dark Label - well, it’s dark.  It also has an interesting cinnamon and nutmeg flavor profile.  Keep it in mind for the holiday season.  Also keep in mind that production was extremely limited on both these Pinot Noirs.

Clos Pepe's Wes HagenWes Hagen, the winemaker at Clos Pepe Vineyards, was drawing a crowd again this year.  His way with a story and easy manner with strangers turn him into a people-magnet at wine events.  He vacated the table for a while, and enough of his adoring throng dissipated so that I could have a few pours with his second-in-command.  The Clos Pepe vertical tasting of the last four vintages of Pinor Noir showed the ‘08 and ‘09 to be bright, fresh and well scrubbed, while their older brothers were very interesting indeed.  The 2007 Clos Pepe is fantastic, with an edge that is almost like citrus.  The ‘06 vintage has a minty aspect to fall in love with.

Cargasacchi was situated on Clos Pepe’s immediate left, and they had a pretty good sized group as well.  These two seemed to be the busiest tables in the hangar during the trade tasting.

Santa Rosa’s Martinelli Winery offered their 2008 Moonshine Ranch.  The fruit comes from a densely planted vineyard near the Russian River Valley which was named for an old still, dating back to Prohibition.  This Pinot has a huge, earthy bouquet, mineral-laden dark fruit on the palate and a very lively acidity.

Thomas Fogarty’s winemaker made it down from the Santa Cruz Mountains to show off three of his Pinots - Santa Cruz Mountain, Windy Hill and Rapley Trail, all ‘08 - and they were pretty, floral and delicate.  Nathan Kandler told me that his Pinots are aged for a year-and-a-half in barrels and another year in bottles, so these are almost new releases.  I commented favorably on them, but I had to tell him how much I loved Fogarty’s unoaked Chardonnay, too.

Pacific Coast Vineyards - Todd and Tammy Schaefer - served up a couple of bright and fruity Pinots sourced from Babcock Vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills.  They both regaled me with stories of millionaire winemaking in Malibu, of which I hope to hear more when I see them in February at the Beverly Hills Wine Festival.

Talley Vineyards poured three ‘08s that were full of dark and dusty Arroyo Grande earth.

Tantara’s 2008 Solomon Hills Santa Maria Valley showed great minerality and very good acid.

Ancient Oaks Cellars was represented by Ken & Melissa Moholt-Siebert.  Their family has farmed the estate for quite some time, only recently delving into winemaking.  Their ‘08 Russian River Valley includes some grapes from neighboring small vineyards as well as their own, while they also have a Pinot which is made exclusively from estate-grown grapes.

Frogmore Creek - from Australia’s island state of Tasmania - produces a Pinot under the banner of Forty-Two Degrees South as well as their Frogmore Creek estate wine.  The former sports a great nose and a cola flavor profile while the latter has a bold bouquet and dark flavors.  Both have a good, long finish.

Monday, October 25, 2010


King Estate Pinot Gris

After quaffing a Rioja as an opener and warming up a bit in the cool Santa Monica lunchtime breeze, my visit to The Lobster turned toward more appropriate fare.  Ordering clam chowder and the sea scallop dish that always turns my head there, I asked for an Oregon Pinot Gris.

The King Estate wine is $9 by the glass and a light straw color.  The nose shows some green apple and citrus, and the freshness is obvious on the first whiff.

Zippy, fresh citrus flavors dominate the palate with a peach note coming forward.  The acidity is quite nice and a fairly good minerality lasts beyond the finish.  It's a good match for the chowder and the scallops.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Martin Codax Rioja

The Lobster in Santa Monica is one of those restaurants where I expect to order white wine.  On my last visit to the seafood-with-an-ocean-view mainstay at the entance to the Santa Monica Pier I was seeing red.  Even though it was a brilliantly sunny day and we were seated right by the window, the ocean breeze blowing in through the open window actually gave me a bit of a chill.  I opted for a little warmup in the form of Martin Codax Rioja Tempranillo.  I certainly wasn't giving up the window seat!

The Spanish Tempranillo, at $7 per glass, is one of the more affordable offerings on The Lobster's extensive - and pricey - wine list.  It also served as a wonderful pre-lunch drink for folks like me who don't particularly go for Bloody Marys.  Looking around the restaurant, it seemed I was of the minority opinion on that issue.  There were a lot of celery stalks bringing in the noon hour.

This dark wine is very fruit forward on the nose with minerals apparent.  Cherry aromas mingle with an earthiness that makes me anxious to taste.

The lean and elegant palate shows earth and leathery blackberry and cherry, quite a dark flavor profile.  It's very dry with smooth tannins and a great acidity.

It's almost a shame I had no skirt steak or ribs to pair with it, but I was happy to sip it while dragging a slice of bread through the olive oil.  The fabulous pairing would come later. when my scallops would meet an Oregon Pinot Gris.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Rhone Rangers Tasting Event

The organization which devotes its efforts toward the furtherment of the 22 grape varieties of France's Rhone Valley rolled into Santa Monica August 8th with a big roomful of disciples in tow.  Rhone-styled wines were the order of the day and they drew a big crowd.  Most of the winery tables had folks lining up at least two or three deep all afternoon.  Some stayed so crowded I couldn't elbow my way in!  I expected a lot of Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne, and I was not disappointed.  I was a little taken aback at the number of Mourvedre-based wines being poured.  It has become quite a popular grape in California, and it's not just for blending anymore.  Some of the post-tasting comments on Twitter concentrated on how many good Mourvedres were poured.
Here are the tables from which I tasted, and some of my impressions of what was being poured.
10 Knots Cellars - This San Luis Obispo producer is an offshoot of Sextant Wines. Their Beachcomber 2007 white blend is a mix of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, and it's a nice quaffer.  Their Atlantis '08 red blend combines Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache has a great nose and is lively on the palate.  The '08 Syrah is not yet released, but despite its youth, it feels like it has the makings of a good wine.

Anglim - From Paso Robles, Anglim's 100% Grenache Blanc 2008 from the Red Cedar Vineyard shows plenty of nuts and pears.  Their '07 Viognier Bien Nacido Vineyard plays up the floral and tropical notes.  The '07 Roussanne is smokey from just a touch of oak, while the Cerise 2006 red blend comes from the French Camp Vineyard and has a forceful nose and a delicious sour cherry palate.  The '06 Grenache is a little funky on the nose with cherry and raspberry dominating the flavors.  The Mourvedre from the Hastings Ranch Vineyard shows cherry and smoke and is very dry and dark.

Clavo - Located in Templeton in the Paso Robles AVA, Clavo offered a 2009 Viognier which is floral on the nose with lots of tropical flavors.  Their Grenache Blanc has a nutty nose with tropical notes on the palate.  The '07 Petite Sirah offers a big, intense nose and a chocolate edge.

Cliff Creek Cellars - This Oregon producer brought a Syrah to the table that was one of my favorites.  A 2004 vintage, it shows lovely chocolate notes.  Their 2005 Syrah has tons of blackberry and licorice, while their '03 was nice, too.  The middle sibling was the one for me, though.

Cline Cellars - This Sonoma vintner has a North Coast '09 Viognier that is crisp and tropical and a 2009 Mourvedre Rose that shows lovely raspberry fruit alongside complicated earthy tones.  Their 2008 Cashmere red blend is Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre - a dry, chalky delight.  Cline offered two "Ancient Vines" wines, an '08 Mourvedre and an '07 Carignan produced from 125-year-old vines in Contra Costa County.  Dry farmed in riverbed silt, these stressed vines produce grapes a little larger than a pea.  Both wines show a dark and earthy taste.

Columbia Crest - From Washington state, this winery is visible in most supermarkets in Southern California.  Their 2009 Reserve white blend is from the Coyote Canyon Vineyard.  It features Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier with a big, floral nose and is very smooth but is somewhat lacking in acidity.  Their '07 Grand Estates Reserve Syrah, however, is quite nice.  Good fruit and acidity, it's dry with a very nice nose, and smooth with fine tannins.

Curtis Winery - Near Los Olivos on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, Curtis has some very special wine.  Their '09 Heritage Blanc white blend is a mix of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne - a floral and tropical delight.  The 2009 Heritage Rose features Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault in a light strawbery format.  Their Heritage Cuvee red blend utilizes the same grapes and blend as the rose, it just spends longer with the skins.  It's a delightful, light-bodied red.

Derby Wine Estates - Derby's 2007 Fifteen 10 is a Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne blend, in equal parts.  The fruit is from Paso Robles, the Derby Vineyard.  It seems a bit light in acidity, but it certainly makes up for that in flavor and is extremely drinkable.  Fifteen 10 - the '06 red blend - shows white pepper on the nose with good acidity and grip.  Their '06 Petite Sirah is dark and jammy with lots of earth and good tannins.

Edward Sellars Vineyards - The producer from Paso's west side offered a Viognier and a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne, both with faint noses but nice acidity.  Their red blend, the '07 Cognito - a heady brew of Mourvedre, Zinfandel, Syrah and Grenache - is earthy and mouth-puckeringly dry.

Epiphany - The Los Olivos label has a 100% Grenache Blanc with a tiny bit of residual sugar which really sets it apart from all the others and gives it a more rounded mouthfeel.  Their 2007 Revelation was just that.  20 months in oak gives it a chocolate nose and a campfire-smoke flavor profile.

Fess Parker Winery - Dave Potter - not pouring his own Municipal Wines for a change - had those delicious Fess Parker wines, highlighted by the '06 Big Easy Syrah.  100% Camp Four fruit, this is dry and smacks of chocolate and spice.

J. Lohr Vineyards - The '09 Gesture Rose is 100% Grenache, tart, fruity and dry.  Their '08 Gesture Mourvedre is very dry and dark and full of blackberry.

Jada Vineyard - Another PasoRobles producer brought their '09 XCV white blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, which is tart, fruity and refreshing.  Their 1149 rose blend has 5 varietals: Grenache, Merlot, Tannat, Syrah and Roussanne.  It is the darkest tasting rose ever!  Strawberry and raspberry meet in a delightful earthiness with some great acidity.

Justin Winery - This Paso Robles outfit brought their '08 Savant - a red blend with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec - those last two had them running the risk of being kicked out of an event touting the grapes of the Rhone!  Earthy aromas lead to a velvety black cherry taste with coffee notes at the finish.

Koehler Winery - Another entry from Los Olivos' Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, Koehler's '08 Viognier has a lemon peel and floral nose with tropical and guava notes on the palate.  The '07 Grenache is a 100% varietal wine that's all sour cherry with a lovely nose and taste.

Meyer Family Cellars - The Syrah rose sports Anderson Valley fruit from the Yorkville Highlands Vineyard with 10% Petite Sirah.  It's fruity and dry.  Their '05 Syrah from Mendocino County has cherry on the nose and is slightly chalky and dry, but smooth.  The 2006 Syrah Yorkville Highlands has lots of the earth in the nose and it's quite dry, too.

Michael-David Vineyards - This is the label that got me interested in Lodi.  Both their '09 Incognito white and the '08 Incognito red blends were poured publicy for the first time at this event.  Both are somewhat lighter in alcohol than their predecessors.  The white combines Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Sauvignon Blance, whereas the previous vintage was almost all Viognier.  The red blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault has a nice earthy quality.  Their '07 6th Sense Syrah has a very smokey quality from 16 months in oak and a hint of Petite Sirah.

Ortman Family Vineyards - Another winery from Paso Robles, Ortman poured only the 2007 Cuvee Eddy.  It's a red blend with a  brilliant cherry nose - juicy and eay to drink.

Tablas Creek Vineyard - 'The noted 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc features a tart nuttiness with guava and pear notes.

Tercero Wines - The crowd around this table kept me away and I never got the chance to taste what some were calling the hit of the show, the Tercero 2007 Mouvedre Camp Four Vineyard.

Unti Vineyards - From Healdsburg, Unti's Rose 2009 is 77% Grenache and  23% Mourvedre.  The light salmon color is appealing and it's very dry.  Their GSM blend has 80% Grenache and 10% each Syrah and Mourvedre.  It's dry and full of cherry flavor.  The 2006 Syrah Dry Creek Valley Estate is very dry with lots of spice and earth   The '06 Syrah Benchland is very earthy too.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Santa Monica wine bar Pourtal welcomed a group of Spanish winemakers Sunday evening.  These producers were mostly very small wineries, many of them actually from the Canary Islands.  Kudos must go to Pourtal for bringing this wealth of winemaking talent to Santa Monica.  These winemakers are all so enthusiastic about their wines and are eager to talk about them.

Some of the winemakers are fluent in English, some are not.  I am not fluent in Spanish, so communication might have been a problem had those with good English skills not stepped in and helped those who lacked them.  Most of the time it was a combination of their English and my Spanish that made the communication barrier almost nonexistent.
In case you don’t know, the Canaries are not off the coast of Spain, but off Morocco, in Northern Africa.  The archipelago lies well south of Casablanca’s latitude and is an autonomous community of Spain.  The name derives not from huge flocks of small pet birds, but, according to Wikipedia, "Islas Canarias is likely derived from the Latin term Insula Canaria, meaning "Island of the Dogs."  This was probably because of the large population of seals once found there.  They aren’t found there anymore, though.  No canaries, no seals - it’s getting to be a bit of a disappointment.  I’d better get back to the wine.  There’s certainly no disappointment there.
Not all of the winemakers at this event are from the Canaries.  Four of the producers are from Galicia, there’s one from Rioja, one from Tierra de Leon and one from Alicante.  The wineries are represented by importer Jose Pastor .  Pastor has a knack for bringing to the U.S. some truly magnificent wines from areas like the Canaries and Galicia.  The wineries he represents are mostly small outfits which keep an eye on tradition while blazing new trails.  Things I heard often from these winemakers: very natural, no sulfur, unfiltered, local grapes.  They are reaching out to the American wine drinker by making wine the way they always have.  It's about time more people discovered that these folks don't need a re-invention.  They seem to be doing everything right.
Following are my notes on the wines I tasted at Pourtal.  As I am not extremely versatile in Spanish wines, it was a bit of a labor for me to get the information correct.  If I have committed any errors, please feel free to correct me in the comments.
Anna - Bermejos Malvasia Seco 2009 Bermejos Malvasia Seco 2009 - ($24) - Anna poured a white from Lanzarote, in the Canaries. It has a grassy nose, tastes crisp and dry with grapefruit and a nice acidity. 100% Malvasia.

Pedro - Hermanos Peciña Crianza 2003 Hermanos Peciña Crianza 2003 - ($20) - Pedro Peciña offered a Rioja Tempranillo with 2 years in oak instead of the one required. It has a beautiful violet nose with smooth and bright mouthfeel. Clove and coffee notes rest on big, fruity palate.

Gregory - Preto Picudo Tinto 2007 3 - Preto Picudo Tinto 2007 ($18) - Gregory showed a wine made from Preto Picudo, taken from 12-20 year-old vines. Clay soil on a 1000-meter plateau contributes to a Tierra de Leon terroir Gregory is particularly proud to call his. This Tinto gets three months in wood to calm the tannins. This is one of several wines featured that boast indiginous grapes not seen very much on these shores. It's a great summertime red which really tasted nice gently chilled. I can imagine how good it is with a lamb dish.

Pedro - Guimaro B2M 2007 Guimaro B2M 2007 - ($45) - Pedro had the Ribeira Sacra covered, with a Mencia wine from Galicia. A lovely floral nose leads to some spice on the palate and a dark edge to the fruit.

Elena - Viñatigo Gual 2008 Viñatigo Gual 2008 - ($24) - Elena poured an all-steel white with an extremely grassy nose and a big grapefruit taste from the volcanic soil of the Canary Islands.

Pedro - Fronton de Oro Joven 2009 Fronton de Oro Joven 2009 - ($18) - Pedro (there are three Pedros in the group) had an interesting blend of negra comon (I hope I have that right - the notes took a little wear and tear as the tasting went on) and Tintilla. The nose is a little tight, but some nice smokness comes through. It's a very dry wine; differently delicious.

Eliseo - Carballo Negramoll 2008 Carballo Negramoll 2008 - ($20) - Eliseo poured his La Palma wine like it was the only one on earth. And like it deserved to be. The nose is a bit tight, but its very dark flavor was immense. Even so, it felt bright in my mouth.

Jose - Tacande 2006 Tacande 2006 - ($48) - Jose told me tacande means "volcanic soil." That's where the wonderful violet nose comes from. It's very dry and grippy with dark tones. the grapes in the blend are Babaso, Vijariego, Tintilla, Negramoll.

Francisco - Primitivo Quiles Cono 4 2008 Primitivo Quiles Cono 4 2008 ($12) - Francisco was effusive about his 100% Monastrell (known elsewhere as mourvedre). It's a big local grape, as all the reds in Alicante must be at least 50% Monastrell.

Laureano - Laureano Serres L'Abeueador 2008 10 Laureano Serres L'Abeueador 2008 ($25) - This wine is 100% macabeu. It is a very cloudy white with nice acidity and a big citrus palate. It hails from Tarragona, in northeast Spain.

Miguel - German Prada Galgueira Mencia 2009 11 Pedralonga Albariño 2008 - ($27) - Miguel was so apologetic that this was the only one of his wines he had to offer. He needn't have been. All steel, grapefruit and tropical flavors, it's one of the better Albariños I've had. From Galicia.

12 German Prada Galgueira Mencia 2009 - ($17) - This winemaker was absent from the event, but Miguel was kind enough to give me a taste. It's a dark and moody red from Valdeorras, Galicia.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Spanish Wine at Pourtal

If Spanish wines are something you've been meaning to explore, you have a great opportunity to do so Sunday June 27, 2010 atPourtal in Santa Monica.

Fourteen Spanish winemakers, or agricultores, represented by importer José Pastor Selections will be on hand from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. to pour their wines and talk about their passion for making wine.  This stop at Pourtal appears to be a late entry in the lineup of the JPS Agricultores Tour which is underway now. 

It appears wines from the Canary Islands and Catalunya region will be well represented, although JPS has a rather extensive portfolio from which to draw.  If you have even a passing interest in Spanish wine, this sounds like an event you should really try to attend.

The cost is $20, which is dirt cheap considering the wealth of wine and wisdom you'll encounter there.