Showing posts with label Southern California. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Southern California. Show all posts

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.

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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011



People say Champagne should not be reserved for special occasions, that we should drink it all the time.  I'd be alright with that, if it weren't for the fact that I like the variety of the wine world and I often have only one glass a day.  I usually go for a still wine, given the limitations.  

Sparkling wine corks don't pop as often as they should at our place, but that's my choice and I'll live with it.

It was especially nice, considering my wanting Champagne ways, to be invited to The Tasting Panel Magazine's tasting event featuring about three dozen sparkling rosé wines from France and California.  The event was held during the afternoon of December 15, 2011 at Waterloo & City in Culver City, CA.

The elegance of sparkling rosé is undeniable.  The variance in color, taste and aroma is quite noticeable when given the opportunity to sample so many side-by-side.  Those in attendance were buzzing about their favorites.  Much of the talk I overheard centered around the most expensive examples being poured, naturally.  Even among wine trade and media types - maybe especially among them - it's a rare treat to sample a $300 bottle Champagne.

There were, however, plenty of much more affordable bottles on display with as much presence on the palate as the top-shelf stuff.  I did hear quite a few comments on some of the mid-range wines, and I imagine a few mental notes were being made for the next time a sparkler would be purchased.

The wines started in the $14 range and went up from there.  I'm listing here the ones I found to be well above expectations, and I've noted the ones I thought were exceptional sparklers.

Here are the bubbles that really tickled my fancy:

Palmes d'OrScharffenberger Cellars  
NV Brut Rosé, Mendocino County ($23)
A nose of earthy fruit and tasting of minerals and orange peel, this was possibly the best value in the room.  Great finish.
Exceptional.  Best value.

Roederer Estate
NV Brut Rosé, Anderson Valley ($27)
It's earthy and spicy, with a hint of tartness.

NV Mirabelle Brut Rosé, North Coast ($27)
Flinty and yeasty on the nose with a raspberry and citrus palate.

Domaine Carneros  
NV Cuveé de la Pompadour Brut Rosé, Napa Valley ($35)
Aromas of smoke and toast lead to beautiful cherry and mineral flavors.

Frank Family  
NV Blanc de Noirs, Napa Valley ($43)
A light golden tint with an earthy nose and fabulous almond notes in the flavor profile.

2008 Brut Rosé, Dundee Hills ($50)
Muted wild cherry aromas with a really dark fruit expression.  Creamy, with a hint of coffee.  Heavy on the Meunier.

Heidsieck and Co.  
NV Monopole Rose Top Brut Rosé ($50)
Pink salmon color with a tangy taste of strawberry and tons of fizz. 

NV Brut Rosé Sauvage ($55)
Almost red, this beauty tastes of toast and cherries.

NV Brut Rosé ($55)
Hardly any color at all, it's extremely bubbly with the smell and taste of nutty apples.

Moët & Chandon 
NV Brut Rosé Imperial ($59)
Deep salmon color, with a lovely, dry, strawberry/apple flavor.

G.H. Mumm
NV Brut Rosé ($75)
Salmon-colored, with a funky nose and earthy berries on the palate.

NV Brut Rosé ($90)
Very pink salmon hue, with red berries and a splash of citrus.

NV Brut Rosé ($99)
Just a "pinkish hue" with a yeasty nose and nutty, tropical flavors.

NV Brut Rosé ($100)
Light salmon in color, the nose is an earthy strawberry/banana while the palate shows tart lemon balanced with a sweet note.

Nicolas Feuillate  
2003 Cuveé Palmes d'Or Brut Rosé ($200)
Very deep pink with a striking nose and palate of smoke and cherries.  An explosive palate in an "alligator skin" bottle.  
Exceptional.  My favorite.

Brut Rosé ($299)
Very light pink, it tastes of earthy peaches.  Quite dry with an excellent finish.

2004 Belle Epoque Brut Rosé ($300)
More orange than pink, the toasty nose leads to a taste of nuts and sweet apples.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Borsao Rosado

Part of the celebration for our 13th wedding anniversary included a nice lunch break at Morel's Steakhouse at the Los Angeles shopping mecca known as The Grove.  The 13th anniversary is the cheese plate anniversary, right?  Fourteen is the guacamole anniversary, and I'm already looking forward to that!

Morel's is restaurant I have mixed emotions about.  We love their cheese selections, but the wine list often seems like an afterthought.  I liked the look of a rosé from Spain's La Mancha region and I ordered it.  Glancing at Denise's menu, I saw there was a different rosé offering, so I asked the waiter which one I was served.  As it turned out, neither.  I was shown a bottle Borsao rosado.  I have nothing against a cheap wine - in fact, Borsao makes some really good wine that sells for $10 or less.  I would have liked to have known that was what I was ordering, however.  I decided not to send it back.

The Borsao Campo de Borja rosado is made from 100% Garnacha grapes, and it sells at Morel's for $7 by the glass.  It's a pretty pink wine with an earthy strawberry nose showing funky herbal notes.  On the palate, earthy berries and a bit of greenness shows here, too.  The acidity is nice, if not great.  It might be a nice choice on which to stock up for pairing with those post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches.

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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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Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Cotes-du-Rhone at L'Epicerie

L'Epicerie Cafe and Market is a good stop for a bite and a sip anytime you find yourself in the vicinity of Culver City, California.  It's right across Culver Boulevard from the Sony studios, which makes it convenient to a taping of Wheel Of Fortune or Jeopardy.

A friend of ours became the announcer for Wheel Of Fortune recently, and he finagled us a couple of VIP admissions.  He joined us afterward and we got to catch up a bit.  I've known Jim for around 20 years, but most of the contact we've had has been over a telephone or a two-way radio, so a little face time with the voice guy was welcome.  Denise gets to see him pretty regularly across the console at the Los Angeles news powerhouse, KNX 1070.

We ordered some oysters, some mushrooms, a pork belly confit, a savory crepe and maybe some other stuff, too.  It was all delicious.  So was the wine.

I opened with a Big Vine Pinot Noir 2009, a Central Coast effort combining grapes from the Arroyo Grande Valley and the Sta. Rita Hills.  Bacon on the nose mixes with dark, earthy fruit and the palate is a riot of cola, meat and cassis.  It is $10 by the glass and went very well with the garlicky mushrooms.

The oysters were nicely abetted by the Côtes-du-Rhône Maison Arnoux Vieux Clocher.  This blend of Grenache Blanc and Viognier offers floral and citrus aromas and a rather full mouthfeel with a decent level of acidity.  At $11 by the glass, it actually favored the pork belly better than it did the oysters.

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Monday, November 7, 2011


Salisbury Pinot Naturale

Artisan Cheese Gallery is a great little place for some fantastic cheese, but they have a great selection of wines, too.  The restaurant/cheese shop/wine store is in Studio City in Southern California's San Fernando Valley.  At lunch there, I had the opportunity to sample an unusual wine, at least for me.

The Salisbury Vineyards Pinot Naturale is a San Luis Obispo Pinot Noir from the ocean influenced Avila Valley, but it's made with minimal skin contact, so the wine is actually white with a very pale pink hue.  The nose is almost as unusual as its appearance, but a lovely strawberry aroma dominates.

There is a very nice acidity and a strong blast of minerality on the palate.  The minerals may have been the element on the nose which I found unusual, but in a good way.  Strawberry flavors put a sweet edge on the dry wine, and the minerality puts me in mind of wet rocks.  If blindfolded, I may well have guessed this was made from white wine grapes.

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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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Monday, October 24, 2011


Row Eleven Vinas 3 Pinot Noir

Another movie, another wine at The Wine Bar.  The bar next to the AMC theater in the Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles makes it desirable to show up a bit early for the film.

In the image, that blur of light in the upper left corner is the display which shows how long until the next movies start.  That's a good idea, because the wine list at The Wine Bar is not what you'd expect at a mall.

This time, waiting for "Senna," the documentary about the Brazilian Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, I had the Row Eleven Pinot Noir, Vinas 3.  I had sampled this wine at a tasting event a couple of years ago, and was impressed then.  I'm still impressed.

Row Eleven makes three Pinots, one from the Russian River Valley, one from Santa Maria and the Vinas 3, which is a blend from vineyards in Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Monterey Counties.

The '08 Vinas 3 blends not only different vineyards, but different Pinot Noir clones - Pommard, Dijon and Martini, for the wine geeks among us.  I had the '09 this time, and I am making the assumption that it is blended in the same configuration.

It's $11 by the glass and turns in a 13.9% abv number, which is fairly old world for California Pinot.  The nose shows cranberry and smoke, with a very lovely expression of earth.  Smooth, full and rich in the mouth, flavors of red fruit are abetted by mocha and a nice minerality.  The tannins are nice and round, so there are no jagged edges on the palate.  It may not be indicative of any one terroir, but it's a great way to pass twenty minutes or so until the movie starts.

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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.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


interior of Hearthstone Lounge, Grand Californian Hotel

Several staycation trips to the Magic Kingdom during the summer allowed me to rack up a bit of nice wine time on the Disney property.  There was a time - not too long ago - when that statement would not have been easy to make.  Disneyland was famous - some say notorious - for not serving alcohol in the theme park.  That's back when I referred to the monorail as "Daddy's favorite ride" because it took daddy to a hotel where he could get a refreshing adult beverage.

Oh, there was the private club - somewhere in a "secret" location in the park - which I’m told served drinks, but I never had an invitation to go there.  Things have changed.  Thirsty adults can now find liquid refreshment to their liking at several locations not actually inside Disneyland, but very convenient to the park.

First, there is California Adventure - the companion theme park to Disneyland - which has a vineyard and an enocentric restaurant within its borders.  You can check out my escapades there in another blog post, if you like.

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel is easily accessed from Disneyland and the shopping expanse of Downtown Disney.  The lobby of the Grand Californian is a great place to escape for a bit of cooling off if the weather is hot.  In the summertime they keep the air conditioning cold enough in there to require some of their employees to wear winter weather gear to keep warm.

Just off the lobby is the Hearthstone Lounge, a comfortable bar with some cozy couch-and-chair seating available.  We made a couple of stops there on recent trips.

Kenwood Jack London ZinfandelTheir wine list isn't incredibly exciting, but it is California-focused, fitting for a hotel that pays homage to the architecture and decor of the Arts and Crafts movement typified at Yosemite National Park’s Ahwahnee Lodge.

I stayed with the NoCal vibe and ordered a 2009 KenwoodJack London Zinfandel from Sonoma Valley.  Produced with grapes sourced from the Jack London Ranch in Glen Ellen, California, the wine is 94% Zinfandel, 4% Syrah and 2% Petite Sirah.  It carries a 14.5% alcohol number and is fermented in stainless steel, with 19 months aging in 60% French and 40% American oak barrels.  It cost $11 by the glass.

The wine is colored a medium-deep ruby red.  Aromas of bright cherry, smoke, toasty vanilla and cigar box are quite aromatic, while the palate has smokey notes draped over red fruit with a cinnamon spice peeking through.  Gentle tannins and lip-smacking acidity make for a fun-to-drink wine.  Even in the warm weather, it reminds me of Christmas.

Baileyana Grand Firepeak Cuvee ChardonnayOn another visit I tried the Baileyana Grand Firepeak Cuvee Chardonnay.  This Edna Valley beauty is a favorite of mine.  Winemaker Christian Roguenant works with grapes from the Firepeak Vineyard, at the foot of extinct volcano Mt. Islay.  The soil has lava remnants meeting clay and ancient seabed.  Aged in French oak for nine months, the wine is 13.7% abv and sells for $14.50 by the glass.

On the nose, tropical fruit and oak spice leap out while the palate shows golden apples and Christmas spices.  Am I really looking forward to the holidays this much?  Great wood notes on the palate and a fabulous acidity are really a treat.  Pair it with smoked ham.

Valdiguie at Napa RoseNapa Rose is the fancy eatin' room at the Grand Californian.  Call ahead for a reservation - days ahead.  If you fly by the seat of your pants like we do, it's good to know you can order right off the menu in the lounge area, and there's nearly always seating available there for walk-ins.

The Valdiguié grape is similar to the Gamay grape of Beaujolais - so similar, in fact, that it was thought to be one and the same until genetic analysis proved otherwise.  J Lohr's 2010 Wildflower is made using Monterey County Valdiguié grapes from their Greenfield Vineyard.  The wine is vinified completely in stainless steel and 19% of the juice is whole-cluster fermented.  It's $8.50 by the glass, and is a great value.

Medium dark in color, the nose shows a much darker fruit aroma than I expect.  Boysenberry and, surprisingly, a note of tar come forward.  A dark tartness shows on the palate as well.  It has a nice level of acidity, and paired well with the Spanish cheeses - Garritxa and P'tit Basque - but not so well with the yellow and blue cheeses on the platter.

Also at Napa Rose, the 2007 Lasseter Family Meritage from Alexander Valley was an $18 glass.  Very dark and inky in color, the nose shows a lot of alcohol and takes quite a bit of breathing to settle down.  Cassis and blackberry lead the way for the dark fruit aromas with some vanilla notes for spice.  This wine has some very firm tannins; it's really brawny.  The palate shows more dark fruit and has a meaty edge with tar.  It pairs really well with the filet mignon.

Zen of Zin at Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki BarA new addition to my Disneyland wine map is Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar, in the Disneyland Hotel's Frontier Tower.  It's only been open since June 2011.  If the name sounds like another feature inside Disneyland, I suppose that's by design.

This place is more like a ride than a drinking establishment.  They serve several signature drinks - Krakatoa Punch, HippopotoMai Tai and Schweitzer Falls - which is served "over the rocks" - and with each one ordered, the bartenders give a yell.  "Krakatoa!" is shouted, and a visual effect of an erupting volcano lights up two walls.  "Oh no, a shipwreck!" is followed by a cool blast of air and a darkening of the lights.  The light rain that started falling a couple of times during my visit may have been the result of someone going over Schweitzer Falls.  The bar tricks are fun and the patrons certainly seemed to be enjoying the show. 

Zen of Zin is a Ravenswood Zinfandel, a brand I've found enjoyment with in the past.  This old vine Zin cost nine tree barks in the land of tiki.  Bright cherry on the nose with cedar and spice aromas play into a feisty bright fruit palate with a hint of clove.

I know I should have gone with a boat drink in a tiki bar, but I had a wine.  That's just me.  My wife had a pina colada.  Well, it is a tiki bar.  Enchanted, at that.  This place stands a good chance of becoming “Daddy’s favorite ride.”

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Sunday, September 25, 2011


Tasting Panel Event

Sometimes I wonder how tough the competition was when I taste a wine which boasts that it won a medal.  Almost all the 26 double gold winners from the 2011 San Francisco International Wine Competition I tasted at this Tasting Panel event were credibly good wines, but a few left me scratching my head.  That's not too easy to do with a glass, a sheet of paper and a pen in my hands, which is how I spent an hour on September 22, 2011 at Waterloo & City in Culver City, California.

The three boxed wines - a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Grigio and a Riesling - were drinkable, but certainly not exceptional, to my palate.  Is there a category for boxed wine?  Were these the only three in that category?

There were a few that did get my attention, as they got the attention of the judges at the competition.  Here are the double gold winners which I had no trouble accepting as just that:

Raza 2011 Torrentes Sweet Sparkling Wine (Famatina Valley, Argentina) - This demi-sec is prize-worthy.  A fruity, sweet nose invites a taste and the palate is rewarded with a lovely, sweet peach/pear/melon combo.  All this, and bubbles, too.

Saint Clair Family Estate 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand) - The grassiness takes a back seat to some beautiful lime notes on the nose, while lime meets wet rocks on the palate.  Outstanding acidity, with a gorgeous finish reminiscent of limeade.

Türk 2009 Grüner Veltliner (Kremstal, Austria) - Minerals on the nose try to block the apple and citrus aromas from getting through, but without success.  A very nice acidity pairs perfectly with the mineral-laden palate.

Fritz Winery 2009 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) - Oaky custard on the nose and tasting of buttery fruit, this is not a Chardonnay for unoaked fans.  There's a very nice burnt caramel apple finish, too.

Jenner 2009 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) - The nose of candied strawberry is replicated on the beautiful, fruit forward palate.  Great acidity.

Martin Ranch Winery 2009 Malbec (Dos Ninas Vineyards, Santa Clara Valley) - Smokey cherry and blueberry on the nose, with complex dusty fruit flavors.

Cakebread Cellars 2008 Merlot (Napa Valley) - A floral and fruity nose with oak influenced red fruit flavors.

Bethany Wines 2005 Shiraz GR10 Reserve (Barossa, Australia) - Aromas of dark fruit and a hint of meat; on the palate, that meatiness gives the fruit a run for its money.

Hope Family Wines Troublemaker Blend 2 (Paso Robles) - This Rhone blend has an amazing nose full of dark fruit.  The palate is dark, too, with spicy notes.

Colcanyon Estates Wines 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Los Angeles County) - This Malibu wine - what, you didn't know they grow grapes in the 'Bu? - shows very dark fruit aromas and tons of meatiness.  It seems almost odd that it's so lovely on the palate.  During the sip, I had a hard time believing it was a Cab, but on the finish there was no mistaking it.

Hughes Wellman 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) - This one is all Cabernet, from top to bottom; a really nice quaff with fine tannins.

Vinturi AeratorVinturi was at the event, showing their line of wine aerators.  Since I had not tried the Vinturi yet, I lined up for the side-by-side comparison.  I must admit that although I had heard and read that the units worked quite well, I was still skeptical.

Vinturi representative John Moraytis poured a bit of Feather Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from an open bottle and another sample of the same wine which he ran through the Vinturi aerator while I watched.  I can vouch that there was nothing up his sleeve - the sample he poured into the Vinturi was out of the same bottle from which the unaerated sample came.

The difference was noticeable.  The aerated sample was rounder and softer than the one straight from the bottle.  The tannic structure wasn't diminished in the least, the wine was simply a little easier to drink.  It even showed a little more complexity, with some different notes coming forward on both the nose and palate.

I should mention, in the interest of full disclosure, that Vinturi gave me - and all the attendees at this event - a travel size aerator to take home.  The travel size and the regular size both work the same way - you pour the wine into a hole in the top of the unit.

The hole on the travel size is a bot smaller than on the regular version, so a steady hand is necessary.  There is a stand for the regular version which allows you to put the wine glass underneath the unit to catch the aerated wine.  All three elements - regular, travel and stand - cost about $40 each.  There's a package available with both the stand and the regular size Vinturi which costs $70.

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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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Monday, September 12, 2011


Frescobaldi Temole Toscana

Brunello Trattoria is a cozy little Italian restaurant on the stretch of Washington Boulevard in Culver City, California which has been undergoing revitalization in recent years.  Art and design studios and restaurants have dotted the formerly bland strip, making it a bit of a destination in the Los Angeles suburb.

My lasagna napolitana was meaty and delicious, with sausages and meatballs under the just-right pasta.  I chose a wine which suited the meal, Frescobaldi's Remole Tuscan Sangiovese blend.  It's $9 by the glass at Brunello.

Frescobaldi is one of Italy's oldest wineries, with wine production dating back to the 1300s.  Their empire encompasses nine estates in Tuscany.

Made from grapes grown in Remole, in the northern part of Tuscany, this blend is 85% Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It's fermented and aged - five months - in stainless steel.

The wine's color is a fairly deep ruby red and the body is medium-full.  Its nose shows smokey black cherry and a gorgeous note of tar.  Dark fruit comes on strong on the palate - plums and currant - with smoke, tar and anise flavors meeting a vibrant acidity.  The tannins are fairly aggressive and fit well with a meat dish.

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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, 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, August 16, 2011


3CV Viognier

I sneaked away from my neighborhood recently for a glass of wine at the Colorado Wine Company in Eagle Rock, California, between Glendale and Pasadena.  After a little browsing of the racks in the front of the store, the small back room beckoned.  With a soundtrack of world music, the dark little space offered a rather tasty, if short, by-the-glass menu.

My choice for this Saturday afternoon quaff was the 3CV Viognier from Cimarone.  Doug Margerum takes the grapes from the Vogelzang Vineyard in the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County.

The wine is produced by stainless steel fermentation with 25% of the juice moved to neutral French oak for barrel aging and malolactic fermentation.

Very light in color, the wine offers a huge floral nose with a nutty, almond aroma and a drapery of honey that's irresistible.

The taste is very clean, with crisp pears and great acidity.  The nutty finish hangs around forever, or at least until the next glass arrives.

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Monday, August 8, 2011


Bettinelli Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

When I stopped in to the Left Coast Wine Bar and Gallery in Glendale - across the street from the Americana at Brand shopping mall - I only intended to take a look around.  Sure enough, a bar and some artwork downstairs and a jazz loft upstairs with piano and amp and some room for lounging.  Nice enough place.  Then I glanced over their by-the-glass menu and spied a '98 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  I sat down.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and happy hour was underway with this 13 year-old Cab going for a mere four dollars per glass.  How could I not?

The '98 Bettinelli Cab was aged 16 months in American oak and recorded a 13.8% abv number.  The Oakville wine is sudsy and beginning to show a little brown on the edges.  It's tannic and somewhat thin upon pouring,

The wine did open up a bit and the bite became less bothersome.  It was relatively smooth after 20 minutes or so.

A chestnut honey aroma on the nose was identified by my wife, and I was able to spot the raspberries on palate all by myself.  Unfortunately, it's not very complex and has a rather tart finish.

Larry Bettinelli co-founded the vineyard in 1990 with Mike Browning.  Browning now appears to serve as the distributor of Bettinelli's wine under the Barclay & Browning name.

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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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