Showing posts with label wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wine. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Two Tastes of Paso Robles

One of California's best and biggest wine regions is ready to do business again.  Paso Robles put their best feet forward in a webinar, held in celebration of the state's impending reopening, after the lengthy pandemic restrictions.  

Stacie Jacob of Travel Paso said a road trip is just what everyone needs right now, especially a road trip to Paso Robles.  She assured those on the Zoom meeting that when they are ready to travel, Paso Robles is ready to welcome them.  She pointed out that Paso Robles gets things most communities of 30,000 people don't get - world class wine, world class beer, world class restaurants and world class accommodations among them.

Mike Dawson, also of Travel Paso, promoted "girlfriend getaways" and the fun of a summer trip to the wine region that lies about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  He called Paso the "wine country with beach access."

Jason Haas, of Tablas Creek Vineyard, said he likes the small town feel in Paso Robles.  He recalled that when he moved to Paso, the big news on the police blotter was a swarm of bees on Spring Street.  Haas, whose father was a co-founder of Tablas Creek, talked about the difficulty of maintaining social distance during wine tastings in the time of COVID.  They are renovating the tasting room with bar seating inside or an outside table available for guests.  He said the new use of outdoor areas was one of the silver linings of the COVID era.

Matt Brynildson, of Firestone Walker Brewing Company, made it clear that there is nowhere he would rather be than in Paso Robles.  A music fan, he commented that there is no shortage of live music in Paso.  My box of goodies for the webinar included Firestone Walker's Anniversary Ale, but he said they also have a hazy IPA, Mind Haze, among many other brews.

Eva Peck, of Stables Inn, spoke of her boutique accommodations, which are the smaller sister project of the more established Hotel Cheval.  Peck said Cheval's owners are avid equestrians who refurbished an old building, turning it into a funky hotel with beautifully appointed rooms.  Stable Inn was recently named one of the best new hotels in the world.  Cheval is now preparing to expand across the street, and Peck is looking forward to a more relaxed time when visitors can enjoy the travel experience much more than they have over the past year and a half.

There were comments made during the online event that it would hopefully be "the last Zoom meeting" for Travel Paso, but I hope it won't.  The folks in Paso Robles have done several webinars designed to keep people in the loop, and they've done a fantastic job with them.  They are quite informative - so much more than a simple sales pitch - and I would like to see their online presence continue.

Firestone Anniversary Ale XXIII

The slogan for Firestone Walker Brewing Company is "Beer Before Glory," which sounds so much better than citing the famous last words, "hold my beer."  During the decades they have been in operation, Firestone Walker has grown into a major player in the beer industry.  Brynildson indicated that his crew loves beer and loves making beer.  Their Anniversary Ale XXIII is very dark, like a porter, and carries an alcohol level of 11.5% abv.  The nose is extremely nutty, with a mountain of malt.  The palate is chocolatey, but savory instead of sweet.  Notes of vanilla, caramel and brown sugar also appear.  Several dark beers were aged in liquor barrels for a year, and a dozen winemakers participated in the blending process, what Brynildson called "organized chaos."  He feels the beer fits in well in the artisan community that is Paso.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas 2019

Tablas Creek Vineyard was founded "in the limestone hills of western Paso Robles" by the Perrin Family of Château de Beaucastel and the late Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands.  The winery is dedicated to sustainably farmed grape varieties of the Rhône Valley.

The 2019 Côtes de Tablas features 44% Grenache grapes, 30% Syrah, 17% Counoise and 9% Mourvèdre.  Each variety was harvested and vinified separately, then blended together in the spring before being aged in neutral oak for a year.  Alcohol tips 14% abv.

The 2019 Côtes de Tablas is medium dark in the glass, ruby red with a nice violet tinge.  The nose delivers lots of fruit - strawberry, cherry, red currant - and delivers it in such a fresh manner.  The fruit of Grenache, the power of Syrah, the structure of Mourvèdre and the wildness of Counoise work together splendidly.  The flavors are fresh and bright, almost as if there had been no oak involved.  It is almost surprising, considering the muscular grapes in the blend, that the wine has a light and elegant feel.  The tannins are firm but not a bother, so pairing is easy without losing the sipping factor.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

It's A Wine - It's A Beer - It's Both!

The Paso Robles mainstay, Firestone Walker Brewery, was born a couple of decades ago on the Firestone family vineyard.  Adam Firestone and his brother-in-law David Walker craft a host of beers in the city that's made a name for itself as one of California's wine capitals.

Their first brews were fermented in old wine barrels, and it took two for their leadoff bottling, Double Barrel Ale.  Brewmaster Matt Brynildson now oversees the making of the suds.

They call Rosalie "the rose lover's beer."  It's part of their Terroir Project, an experiment into a marriage between beer and wine.  They say Rosalie blurs the line between beer and wine.  To make it, 100 tons of Chardonnay grapes were harvested by Castoro Winery specifically for Rosalie, with smaller amounts of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Muscat used as well.  They used souring techniques on the beer to give it an acidity not usually found in those made with yeasts and malts.  Hibiscus flowers were thrown in during the whirlpool phase, when hops are usually poured in.  After both the beer and the wine juice were made, they were co-fermented using Pilsner malt and judicious hops.  They proudly say it's a true beer-wine hybrid.  Alcohol hits a low, low 5% abv.

I approached Rosalie with trepidation, because I'm not a fan of flavored beer.  I generally feel you can keep your pumpkin-raspberry-hibiscus beers and give me some hops, lots of ‘em.  This beverage surprised me.   It has a rich orange color, more electric than in either beer or wine.  The nose comes on with plenty of floral notes and a sour edge.  The palate shows the malt and hops as well as the hibiscus.  There's a nice acidity, a lighter feel than beer and a little more weight than wine.  I like it, hibiscus and all.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Drink Pink: Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé 2013

Cornertone Cellars’ managing partner, Craig Camp, has some strong feelings about wine being being pink.  He writes, “Just because you’re pink does not mean you’re a rosé.”  He cites White Zinfandel as a case in point.  A great place to start your wine journey, he muses, but the sweet, sappy flavor of many White Zins leaves him colder than a half bottle of Sutter Home in the back of the fridge.  “Unfortunately, because it’s pink (or kind of pink anyway) too many people think that all pink wine is sweet plonk.  Also, it’s a problem, as you can actually make a lovely real rosé from zinfandel.”

Camp goes on to talk about the saignée method of making rosé wine.  This is how many rosés are made, by bleeding off the juice from the grapes, leaving a more concentrated red wine behind.  This type of rosé is a winemaking byproduct, useful in cool regions mostly.  Camp says, “The downside of producing a pink wine in this manner is that you are harvesting your grapes at ideal ripeness levels for red wine, but not for pink wine. When done in a warm climate you get the candied flavors, higher alcohols and odd neon colors that you see in so many pink wines.”

So what's so great about great rosé?  They know a little bit about the pink stuff in the south of France, and Camp tips his hand about the inspiration for Stepping Stone's Corallina rosé.  "Real rosé wines," he writes, are "made in the classic tradition of Bandol and Tavel.  Vineyards are selected to be for rosé from the start and farmed to create ideal fruit for this type of wine.  The grapes are picked when the flavors are fully ripe, but you don’t have to wait for the skin tannins to ripen like you would when making red wine. This means you can pick at higher acids and lower sugars that will give you a balanced, elegant and complex rosé.  The best of these real rosé wines then spend a short time on the lees in mature oak barrels to broaden flavors and develop a rich, creamy texture.  Such a wine is our Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé.”

Cornerstone winemaker Jeff Keene got some great grapes to work with - 100% Syrah from the Crane Ranch Vineyard on the west side of Napa Valley's Oak Knoll District.  The wine was fermented in stainless steel and saw five months aging on the lees (in contact with the spent yeast cells) in neutral French oak.  Only 417 cases were produced and alcohol is a restrained 13.1% abv.  The beautiful label art is called “Wine Dance,” by the talented Janet Ekholm.

Corallina is tinted that color between coral and orange that is sometimes called salmon.  Bushel baskets of strawberries and cherries are on the expressive nose, as fresh as spring.  There is a green streak running through the fruit aromas like a big, crisp stem.  That's thanks to the whole cluster pressing of the grapes, stems and all.  A hint of spice rounds out an exemplary sniffing experience.

The wine feels great in the mouth, full and rich, with perfect acidity.  To say Corallina is flavorful is to cheat the wine of the praise due it.  This is one Syrah rosé in which the Syrah really shows up.  Strawberry and raspberry are in the forefront, but there is a beautiful hint of what I can only call a floral taste.  I've never tasted flowers, but this is what I imagine they would taste like.  Citrus and savory notes round out a palate whose complexity will make some red wines green with envy.  Pair it with something pretty - like a nice piece of salmon.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: The Killing

Wine Goes to the Movies

Who doesn't like to grab a bottle of wine and take in a day at the track?  Well, I've never done it.  When I lose my shirt gambling on sports, I prefer to do my drinking afterward.  I drown my bad luck with free house wine in the casino while nursing a video poker machine - the second most boring waste of time known to man.  The first, of course, is keno.

I suppose seeing your money disappear in person, rather than on one of a dozen closed circuit screens from various racetracks, has a certain allure.  But in “The Killing,” the Stanley Kubrick classic starring Sterling Hayden, everybody's money disappears when a clown-masked robber rips off the gate.  Okay, so now the whole grandstand wishes they had brought a bottle, instead of just those who put Aunt Martha's farm on the horse that couldn’t get around the first turn.

Horse racing, like winemaking, is one of those things rich people get into when they find they just can't spend their money fast enough in other, more conventional pursuits.  Kentucky may have the thoroughbreds, but California has the wine.

The late Jess Jackson blended the two.  He was not only a California wine legend - owner of Kendall-Jackson and changer of the way wine was made and marketed - he was also a mover and shaker in the thoroughbred horse industry.  So, for “The Killing,” we'll go with his hallmark - K-J Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay.  They make a zillion cases a year and it's always lauded as a reliably good wine from vintage to vintage.  Twelve dollars out of the gate at the supermarket can get you a wine that will feel right at home down the stretch.

Comin' on the rail:

RustRidge Winery Racehorse Red - From the Chiles Valley in the northeastern part of Napa, this wine feels good coming' down the backstretch, and better running through the inside.

Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards - They run wild and free in Paso Robles, with a line called “Unbridled” to prove it.

Darkhorse Wines - A great candidate for an after-race unwind.

Iron Horse Winery - "The drink of optimists," they call their wine.  Well, if you're at the racetrack, that must be you.

The obligatory wine novelty - Am I drawn to this sort of thing because I routinely bet on 20-1 long shots running in the mud?

Santa Ynez Horse and Winery Tour - This actually sounds like fun.  Just make sure your horse uses the spit bucket at the tastings.  See novelty above.

Beaulieu Vineyards Beauzeaux Red Blend - “Come on, clown, sing us a chorus from "Pagliacci!”

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Victoria Wine Gums

There's a shopping mall in Los Angeles called The Grove, which is next to the Farmers Market.  The two competing malls do not validate parking for the other's stores, and the several restaurants caught in no man's land between the two don't validate for either.  Rather than pay close to ten dollars for parking just to have a meal, I drop in to the Cost Plus World Market and buy something less expensive.  They validate, and I have something to show for the money spent - even if it is just a cheap bottle of wine or some candy for the movies.

The Grove made it into the news recently for an unfortunate occurrence which happened just an hour after we left.  The seven-story leap taken by a troubled individual left onlookers shaken and disturbed afterward.  In an attack of gallows humor, we wondered if maybe he had just seen "Rock of Ages" before deciding to end it all.

Anyway, on that visit to The Grove, my wife pointed out a candy purchase I had to try.  Wine Gums, made by Victoria, are just little gummy candies that contain no alcohol.  Curiously, they also contain no aromas or flavors of any kind of wine I've enjoyed.  I'm not a gummy candy fan to start with, and these confections did nothing to win me over.

They are very aromatic, but they smell more like scented candles than wine.  The flavors are your standard Jolly Rancher fruit, but maybe a little more intense - not that it's a good thing.  There are a bounty of colors in the bag, but none of them match wine in any way.

The big attraction - for me - was finding that maker Glisten Confectionery is located in Blackburn, Lancashire.  That's where the Beatles found 4,000 holes - and had to count them all - in the song from Sgt. Pepper.  Had they been outfitted with a collection of these candies, they could have deposited them in each of the holes and nobody would have missed them.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Paso Robles Wine Travel Planner

A new web-based tool simplifies traveling through Paso Robles wine country.  The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance has launched their new Trip Planner - on their website - which lets wine enthusiasts create customized itineraries.  The Trip Planner allows you to search over 160 Wine Alliance member wineries and map out a wine tasting experience based on amenities, varieties, and the region’s wineries.  The tool also incorporates the area’s hospitality assets - restaurants, accommodations, and tour companies.  

Jennifer Porter is the Executive Director of Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.  She says, “There is no other wine region or entity that provides such a complete planning tool with the same customization and sharing capabilities that the Paso Robles Trip Planner offers.”

You can search for amenities such as certifiable sustainable, tours, pet friendliness or picnic areas, and cross reference capabilities allow you to refine your search according to the type of wine you like.  Adding locations to an itinerary can be done from any page on the website that lists wineries or hospitality businesses, with a single click of the mouse.  Once an itinerary is built, you can fine-tune by click-and-drag and add specific addresses for beginning and ending points.  Once the itinerary is complete, share it through social media, print it, email it or bookmark it.

To utilize the new Paso Robles Trip Planner, visit the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance website and click on the Plan Your Visit – My Itinerary button which sits to the right of the screen.  This will send you to a landing page which provides simple directions to begin creating an itinerary in three clicks.

I planned a trip for myself using the Trip Planner tool. Here's how it looks.

This Trip Planner was made possible through support from the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.  The Alliance contracted with Clever Concepts, Kraftwerk Design, Mike Bobbitt and Associates, and Moosepoint Technologies to create the design and functionality of the Trip Planner.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Mourvedre at The Wine Bar

Back in the college days we used to sit waiting for a movie to begin and yearn for a movie theater where we could get a beer while watching the show.  Now, that concept is commonplace, and innovators have turned their attention to more pressing matters, like getting drinks served at food trucks.

The Los Angeles shopping mecca, Westside Pavilion has a very nice bar just outside its AMC multiplex.  Lots of dark wood and plenty of plush chairs and sofas take up a fair sized space that gets a lot of light.  It's not actually in the theater, but customers of The Wine Bar are allowed to take their drinks with them into one of the first two screens, which are designated as "21 + movies."  If you want to see "Smurfs," you'll have to wait until after the picture to get your drink on.

While the movies showing at the cinema are as predictable as Hollywood can make them, the wine list at The Wine Bar is rather inventive.  There were choices I don't see on a lot of lists, and some I didn't expect to see at all at a wine bar in a mall.

I chose the Cline 2007 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre.  The grapes are sourced from Contra Costa County and the wine is aged in toasted American oak.  It has an alcohol content of 14.5%.  A whiff of that alcohol appears on the nose, but it's not hard to dig out the cherry, lavender and chocolate notes.  The flavors center on a broad expanse of wild cherry with a streak of black tea running through it. 

I was quite pleased. It was a pleasure to find such an enjoyable wine at the mall - and at the movies.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011


L-R, Theodore Bikel, Jeffrey Hayden, John Kerr, Aero Theater representative

Wine lovers always like to check out movies about wine, and I had the good fortune to see a little-known wine movie screened at the single-screen Aero theater in Santa Monica, California.

"The Vintage" was made in 1957 by MGM.  It tells the story of two Italian brothers, on the lam from the law, who go to Provence and hide out as grape pickers in a vineyard.  It's a pretty good little story and a fairly atmospheric film, one that's hard to catch because no prints are known to exist.  The screening was courtesy of a high-quality DVD copy supplied by Turner Classic Movies.  It was the first time the picture had been theatrically screened since its release some 54 years ago.

The movie was shot entirely in France, and utilizes the harvesting of grapes and making of wine as the backdrop for the story.  The drama unfolds as the two brothers join a band of migrant workers who are helping the family bring in "the vintage."

What really made the screening special was the personal appearance by the director - Jeffrey Hayden - and two of the actors - Theodore Bikel and John Kerr.  Above, Bikel is on the left, Hayden is next to him, then Kerr, and on the right is a representative of the Aero Theater.  None of the three principals had seen the movie in all those years.

Kerr seemed genuinely shocked when he commented, "we all looked so young!"  He gave up acting as a profession when he went to law school in the 1960s.  He still works as an attorney.

Director Hayden had the best story of the evening.  He related his memory of the trip to France before production of the film began.  It seems the producer, Edwin Knopf, was a wine aficionado.  Wine importer Alexis Lichine had a beautiful chateau in Bordeaux.  According to Hayden, Knopf and his entourage hung out there for weeks instead of finding a more suitable farmhouse location for the movie.  Hayden said he had to maneuver to get the picture moved to the simple area where it's set, all the while using "all we need is a farmhouse!" as his battle cry.

If you get the chance, see the movie.  I think anyone interested in wine will find it enjoyable.

As a footnote, here's an interesting tidbit on wine maven Alexis Lichine, from his entry in Wikipedia:
"Starting around 1940, Lichine and (partner) Schoonmaker promoted the idea that California producers should label their wines by the grape variety or varieties from which they were made.  The standard practice among New World producers was to give their wines semi-generic labels.  That is, they named them after the regions whose wines they resembled.  For example, full-bodied red varieties might be labeled "Burgundy", whereas crisp whites might be labeled "Chablis."

"California's Wente Vineyards was the first winery to adopt the practice.  After calling its Sauvignon Blanc by its varietal name rather than labeling it "Graves," Lichine and Schoonmaker found its sales volume to increase several-fold.  More important, they were able to sell it in the important east coast U.S. market.  Others, such as Robert Mondavi, soon adopted the practice, which has become the standard for New World (and, increasingly, some Old World) wines."

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I love to cook with wine. Sometimes I even get it in the food.

If you've ever had a wine butter compound at a restaurant - a mixture of butter and red wine - you know what a great tasting condiment this is, especially a dollop on top of a nice juicy steak.

I ran across a recipe for this concoction that you can easily make at home, from a fellow named Ben Carter, who goes by the name Benito on his Wine By Benito blog.

It sounds so easy even I could do it.  All you need is a half a cup of red wine and a stick of unsalted butter.

Boil the wine slowly until it's like a syrup.  Take care not to boil too long, or it will cake onto your pan.  Mash the wine syrup into the butter until it is mixed well.  It may take a little doing to accomplish this, and Benito advises an apron - like the one pictured - or some old clothes for this procedure.

When the butter is purple, put it on some wax paper and roll it into a log.  Put it in the fridge and let it cool for six hours before serving.

You can experiment by adding some garlic, chives or sage into the mixture.

Bon appetit!

Monday, April 18, 2011


I love cooking with wine - sometimes I even get it in the food

Wines And Vines reported on a study done by Wine Opinions which found that high-frequency wine drinkers prefer consuming their favorite beverage at places other than the dinner table.

The report states that only 41 percent of the wine consumed in America is paired with a meal.  59 percent of it is consumed without food, while preparing a meal or with snacks.  The amount of strictly solo wine drinking is 26 percent.

More figures are available in the report, which featured demographic and lifestyle breakdowns on wine consumption.

In what may come as a surprise to many, the stats showed that those high-frequency wine drinkers aren't all that concerned with food and wine pairings.  Also, white wine is the go-to "cocktail" wine for only 25 percent of the respondents.

The high-frequency wine consumers in this study are defined as people who drink wine daily or several times per week.  The daily wine drinkers accounted for 29 percent of the respondents, while 54 percent had a glass of wine several times weekly.

The biggest surprise of the report for me was that not even 30 percent of wine drinkers in America have a glass on a daily basis.

I have a glass of wine nightly, which has prompted some good-natured ribbing from my wife on occasion regarding what a "lush" I am.  I don't feel that a glass a night puts me in Foster Brooks territory, but then I suppose that might depend on the size of the glass.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Wine News

Reports of the health benefits related to alcohol consumption - particularly wine consumption - seem to pop up regularly.  Here's another one, which appeared recently in Wine Spectator magazine.

A German study has found that light to moderate drinking seems to help stave off the effects of dementia, even in people older than 75.  According to the article, "on average, the daily consumption of alcohol reduces the risk of dementia by nearly 30 percent compared to nondrinkers.  Additionally, the risk is another 30 percent lower for people who drink between one or two servings per day."

These are the findings from a three-year study of 3,200 patients.  Although the sample is small, the researchers put a lot of credence in the numbers, and so does the medical community.  The magazine says the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research found the results of the German study convincing.  The Forum also notes that "Happy people with many friends have the most opportunities for social drinking and, in this study, alcohol consumption was significantly associated with factors that are protective for the development of dementia: better education, not living alone and absence of depression."

Despite these issues, the study shows the risk of dementia to be lower among light to moderate drinkers, and lower still among those who drink wine.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Football Wine

Football fans are looking forward to the Super Bowl - and wine lovers who like football - may want some help in finding a suitable wine that pairs well with pigskin.

Here are some wines with football pedigrees.

Former NFL coach Dick Vermeil makes wine in Napa Valley. Calistoga, to be exact.  That's where his great-grandfather lived and made wine, and where Vermeil grew up.  Vermeil has coached teams to a college national championship and a Super Bowl victory in the NFL, so maybe cracking a bottle of his vino will mean good luck for your team.

As the president of the San Francisco 49ers, Carmen Policy helped build Super Bowl champions.  Now he presides over his wine label, Casa Piena in Napa Valley.  With a heavy-hitting Cabernet Sauvignon, Policy's team color is now purple.

The former quarterback for those 49er championship teams, Joe Montana, also has a wine still available - Montagia - although he sold the Calistoga winery in 2009.

Former Redskins defensive standout Terry Hoage runs Terry Hoage Vineyards in California's Paso Robles area.  He concentrates his efforts on Rhone varieties.

Michigan Wolverine fans will want to stock up on Bo's Wine, named for the late Bo Schembechler, who coached the Wolverines for 20 years.  Schembechler is memorialized by a Merlot and a Savignon Blanc, both selling for less than $20.  A contribution from the sale of each bottle is made to the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center.

Former New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe has a Washington state wine called Doubleback.  His Cabernet Sauvignon has just released its first vintage.

Former Bears linebacker Dick Butkus offers his Legends 51 Cabernet Sauvignon - a wine which contributes 100% of its sales to the Butkus Foundation.

"Iron" Mike Ditka has a manly brand on the market - Kick Ass Red - which utilizes grapes from Mendocino, California.

The New York Jets commemorated the opening of their new stadium with the release of a - California - wine.

Gary Eberle was a Penn State Nittany Lion in his collegiate career.  His Eberle Winery is one of the finest in Paso Robles, a wine area he helped establish.

The image above is a hand painted wine glass called "Football Widow" - it sells for $20 at

Friday, October 29, 2010


Sunset November 2010

Sunset Magazine's November 2010 issue contains their wine awards for the year.  The magazine that's all about "Living In The West" liked a lot of Napa Valley and Sonoma County wines, a good selection from Washington state, a few from Oregon and some wines from the California Central Coast.  Congratulations to the Central Coast and Santa Barbara County wines Sunset likes, and here's what they had to say about them.

Under "Steals, $15 & Under" Sunset cites:

Cycles Gladiator 2008 Syrah (Central Coast, $10) - "Blueberries anchor the fruit character, while herbs, black olives, tobacco and espresso add interest underneath."

SeaGlass 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Barbara County, $10) - "A brininess worthy of the name underpins crisp citrus, peach, pear, quince, limestone, and gentle florals."

Under "Good Values, $15 to $30" Sunset chose:

Jorian Hill 2008 Viognier (Santa Ynez Valley, $30) - "A lively, textural Rhône white, full of honeyed apricot, quince and lemon on a long, clean finish."

Tantara 2008 T. Solomon Wellborn Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County, $20) - "A tangy root-beer edge turns flashy red fruit - strawberry, rhubarb - into a crowd pleaser."

Under "Special Occasions, $30 to $50" Sunset selected:

Samsara 2007 Melville Vineyard Syrah (Sta Rita Hills, $40) - Juicy and long - black fruit seasoned with pepper and structure that's almost Rhône-like."

Tensley 2007 Colson Canyon Grenache (Santa Barbara County, $32) - "Hibiscus-scented cherry flavors have an intriguing underside of herbs and spices, black tea and earth."

Under "Deep Pockets, Over $50" Sunset picked:

Justin 2007 Isosceles (Paso Robles, $62) - "A powerful, age-worthy Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) with dark fruit, cedar, tobacco, espresso and a sprinkling of black pepper."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Wine In Movies

Wine has played more than a supporting role in some of Hollywood's greatest films.  Here are some of my favorite movies in which wine has played a big role.  What are some of yours?  Feel free to comment!

In Sideways, Paul Giamatti takes his friend on a wine soaked bachelor party weekend in Santa Barbara wine country, with hilarious results.

Bottle Shock tells the story of the most famous wine tasting event in history, the Judgment of Paris, which catapulted California onto the big wine map.

Corked! is a dry mockumentary which targets everything about the California wine industry, from the grape pickers to the winemakers to the wine press.        

El Camino del Vino (The Ways of the Wine) This a movie just out this year, in which a famous sommelier travels to Argentina for a prestigious wine tasting event and - horror of horrors - he loses his ability to taste.

Mondovino, a documentary, is a condensation of a 10-part television series.  It explores the globalization of the wine industry and its effect on artisanal winemakers.   

There's A Girl In My Soup features Peter Sellers taking Goldie Hawn to France for a wine tasting farce.  It's a lightweight flick which is more valuable for its kitsch factor than anything else.

Of course, For Humphrey Bogart, the Champagne never stops flowing in Casablanca, while brandy is his drink in The Big Sleep. Wallace Shawn's wine goblet "Battle of Wits" with the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride is classic, and French Kiss, the romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline, centers around Kline's desire to own a vineyard.

In The Jerk, Steve Martin's character wants to splurge in a fancy restaurant, asking the waiter to bring him "some fresh wine - none of that 1966 stuff."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


San Gabriel Valley vineyard

A fascinating story of winemaking in Los Angeles County - specifically the San Gabriel Valley - will be told by Charles Perry at the Los Angeles County Arboretum on Sunday October 24, 2010.  Perry is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times Food Section and the co-founder of the Culinary Historians of Southern California.  He'll tell this remarkable story from 4:00 until 6:00 p.m., and then host a wine tasting afterward.  The cost for this event is $25 for Arboretum members, $30 for non-members.

The press release for this event staes that if you've only heard California's wine history told by the mention of sacramental wines followed by an immediate leap to Napa and Sonoma, you may be surprised to find that Los Angeles County was the first place in the country where premium wine varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon were made.  In the latter part of the 19th century the wines of Los Angeles County were exported to the East Coast and Europe, and L.A. County was the nation's leading wine producer for about 50 years.

Perry's compelling story is full of colorful characters.  Hugo Reid received the grant to the land called Rancho Santa Anita and tended to the existing vines from the mission days.  He added even more vines and was one of California's wine pioneers.  After Reid's death, the land was taken over by Benjamin D. Wilson, and later Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin made wine on the property.  The Arboretum - and the Baldwin Winery building on the grounds of Santa Anita racetrack - are all that remain of the Rancho Santa Anita land grant.

Anyone with an interest in the history of winemaking in California should find this to be an illuminating afternoon.  For more information or to purchase tickets call 626.821.4623 or email

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Grape Capers

Several news items from the wide world of wine caught my eye recently.  You may have heard about these incidents involving the theft of grapes, right off the vines.

In Kirkland, WA, an estimated one and a quarter tons of Bushvine Mourvèdre grapes were taken from the Grand Reve Vineyard.  The crooks apparently left the outer row untouched in an effort to hide the fact that the fruit from the inner rows of bushes was gone.  Other grape varieties nearby were not taken.

Then, a few days later, the BBC reported that Villeneuve-les-Beziers was hit by grape thieves.  According to the report, illegal harvesters used the light of a full moon and a harvesting machine to strip the French vineyard of its 30-ton crop of Cabernet Sauvignon.  A farmer in the area said he had heard of similar crimes being committed in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  Using a harvesting machine, the farmer said, would have meant the grape caper could have been pulled off by only two people.  The vineyard was reportedly quite isolated, so the robbers probably worked unmolested.

A German vineyard near Hamburg was stripped of nearly its whole crop of grapes intended  to be a premium wine used primarily as a VIP gift.  The Telegraph states that only a basket of those grapes remained.

In at least the French and U.S. cases, the vineyard owners registered some surprise at the lack of solidarity among grape growers that the crimes represent.  To say the least.

These thefts indicate a professional level of expertise, not only to pull of the heist but also to know what to do with the grapes once they are stolen - or at least to know who would be interested in buying the illegally obtained fruit.  One would imagine that it's rare for a truck to pull up unannounced at a winery and offer to sell a ton - or thirty - of grapes.  These criminals had to know what they were doing.  A French detective is quoted in the Telegraph that he believes a “wine mafia gang” is to blame for that theft.

I asked a few wine people for their feelings on these events.  I was curious about how common grape thefts like these are, and whether there were any personal stories that mirrored these actions.

Dave Potter, of Municipal Winemakers, told me these are the first crimes of this nature he's heard of in the U.S.  However, when Potter worked in Australia for a Bulgarian winemaker, he heard stories about how it was not uncommon for roving thieves to do their worst in the dark of night in the winemaker’s homeland.  "He said they'd come and take the crops at night before the winemakers were ready to pick.  It ended up being a bit of a race, and the wineries always struggled to get the fruit ripe."  Potter added that because of this, "that winemaker was always surprised at how the Aussies were able to get the fruit so ripe."

Amanda Cramer, winemaker for Niner Wine Estate in Paso Robles, took a break from a busy harvest to say she had never heard of grapes being stolen from a vineyard.  “It’s quite a bold crime, to pick all that fruit without being seen.”  Cramer wondered about the possibility of an insurance scam.  However, at least in the French case, the vineyard was insured but not the grapes themselves.

Richard Maier, proprietor of St. Helena Road Vineyards and Winery in Napa Valley was also unaware of these events, or any others like them.  Maier says, “We have never had a problem here, a little out of the way and hard to find.”

Peggy Evans, Executive Director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, echoed the previous sentiments.  She was familiar with these recent events, but had never heard of them happening in California.

Tyler Coleman, under his guise of “Dr. Vino,” asked in his blog, “Will this outburst lead to the rise of Chateau Razorwire, a fenced vineyard with a panopticon in the center?  Of course, back in the day, some of the best vineyards in Burgundy were 'clos,' or walled vineyards.  Chateau Razorwire would have a tad less charm.”

While searching the internet to see if any other incidents of this type appeared, I came across an article from the California Farm Bureau Federation website from harvest time 2007.  In it, accounts of metal theft from California vineyards in Kern and San Joaquin counties were discussed.  It was pointed out the money made by selling the metal equipment for scrap was a pittance compared to what the thief could have earned had he simply asked the grower for a job.

There was also an account of a half ton of grapes stripped from a vineyard, but the van the thieves were using to carry away the loot got stuck in the mud and was abandoned.  Another 700 pounds of grapes were dumped on the ground behind the vehicle.  Vineyard thieves have apparently upgraded their skills in the few years since then.

Monday, October 4, 2010


QR code

You see them nearly everywhere you buy wine – the shelf talker.  That's the little card which tells which flavors to expect in the wine and – most of the time – how the wine scored in the various wine publications.

Cellar Key can do that - and more.  Cellar Key's information is on a QR code – a two-dimensional interactive icon - which would usually be printed on a tag around the wine bottle's neck.  You scan the code with a QR reader in your smartphone, and, voila!  Everything you could possibly want to know about that wine is at your fingertips.  Scanning the code automatically launches a content-rich microsite, optimized for smartphone.

Cellar Key launched in September, 2010, and is featured on six wines - Argyle Pinot Noir and Vintage Brut from Willamette Valley, Oregon; St. Hallett Faith Shiraz and Poacher’s Blend from Barossa, Australia; Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand and Argento Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.

The Cellar Key technology offers digital access to information about the product on which its code appears, potentially providing the user with a virtual connection to wineries around the globe through the use of a smartphone.  Cellar Key was launched by Lion Nathan Wine Group in partnership with Scanbuy and its ScanLife technology.

You may start seeing the Cellar Key icons popping up in different places – not just as shelf talkers in wine stores.  The code could appear on wine menus and in printed articles or advertisements.  Users will instantly access resources such as winery videos, reviews, winemaker information and food pairings.  Of course, you can also share and engage on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter.

Argyle's founder and winemaker Rollin Soles is thrilled to be a part of the launch.  “Cellar Key is a giant step toward bringing my story and the story behind the wine directly to the consumer,” Soles said, “establishing an instant connection to the wine through the palm of the hand.”

Lion Nathan USA General Manager Steve Myers said, “Premium wine consumers desire to learn more about the wine that’s in the bottle.  We are very excited to be...putting them in the driver’s seat.  Cellar Key not only lets us connect with our consumers, it effectively conveys a sense of place, personality and deeper understanding of the wine’s region and the winemaker.”

Plans to expand Cellar Key to other wines are slated for 2011 and beyond.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Araldica La Luciana Gavi

It's high time for another Friday Wine Treat.  In Culver City, there are plenty of good places to have a glass of wine with lunch on a nice, sunny day.  One of my favorites is Ugo .  It's actually two restaurants on one corner. 
An Italian place with full meals is backed up on the other side of a wall by a cafe which specializes in smaller, tapas-style portions.  Both sides have a nice list of Italian wines from which to choose.  If you are on one side, but want to order something from the other side, they are more than happy to oblige.
To go with my insalada spinaci, I ordered a wine from Gavi, in the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy.  Araldica 's La Luciana is made from the Cortese grape.  It sits golden in the glass and offeres a nose of melon and minerals.  It's a light-bodied wine, but feels nice and full in the mouth.  The taste of wet rocks and citrus is nearly zesty, but the overall feeling is one of silkiness.  The finish is medium-long and leaves a hint of lemon custard in its wake.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Let's do a little multi-media multi-tasking today.  If it sounds too tough, warm up with the crossword puzzle, then come back.  Today's blog features a whole slew of songs about wine.  After you read about them, feel free to click over to 30 Days Out and listen to them.  That happens to be a really great blog about music, which is headed up by a really great guy with whom I used to drink some really cheap wine.

One of my many joys in life is music. I love gathering mp3s of songs together in a thematic group and burning them to a CD.  I use these CDs to pass the hour and a half or so each day I spend behind the wheel of the car in Los Angeles traffic.  Believe me, I need all the help I can get.

Another of my many joys is wine, so it’s not too much of a stretch for me to assemble a compilation of songs about wine.

It's difficult to find too many songs about wine that are actually about the wine.  Most wine songs are lyrically concerned with over-imbibing: getting drunk on wine, staying high all the time, etc.  I was certainly no saint in my younger days, but at this point in my life I try to promote only the responsible use of alcoholic beverages.  Besides, I drink wine to enjoy the experience of the wine, not to get blasted.

Wine has a rather seedy image in some of the more well-known wine classics.  The Tom Paxton song, Bottle Of Wine, deals with the trials and tribulations of panhandling for spare change in order to buy some fruit of the vine.  Many other songs deal with the soft underbelly of the wine drinking populace, too.  In Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee, also known as Wine, Wine, Wine, the singer has a nickel and only needs another dime to afford the desired bottle. You'd be hard-pressed to match that in even today's depressed wine economy - even at 7-11.

Jerry Jeff Walker's Sangria Wine is all about the camaraderie of wine - which is great - but his delivery gets more liquid as the song progresses.  It ends up with a “slumped-in-the-lawn-chair” sort of feeling that isn’t exactly unpleasant, just maybe a little undesirable.

Red, Red Wine was penned by Neil Diamond in the 1960s and performed by a wide variety of singers since then.  In it, the wine "goes to my head, makes me forget."  That’s touching, but most counselors will tell you it's a bad idea to try and hide from your troubles in a bottle of wine.  In similar fashion, Two More Bottles of WineWine Do Yer Stuff and a host of others deal with wine as a crutch or escape from reality.

Spill The Wine, the great 1970 hit by Eric Burdon and War, is about a dream where wine is involved.  To me it always seemed like a dream induced by something harder than wine.

Lee Hazelwood's Summer Wine, which took him and Nancy Sinatra to the top 40 in the mid-’60s, is the flip side of that dream in Spill The Wine.  There’s no happy ending, though.  Eventually, the summer wine runs empty.

I prefer songs about wine made from grapes, so I'll toss out Sweet Cherry WineElderberry Wine and Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine.  Who needs wine made from old dogs, children and watermelons?

Here are some songs with at least a passing reference to wine either in the title or lyrics.  Pick and choose and make a Wine Song CD of your own!  I’d love to hear about any wine songs you like, in the comments.

Scenes From An Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel - While not entirely about wine, he does bookend his vignettes with references to 'a bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rose instead."

Bad Chardonnay by Graham Parker - About the touring life of a rock star, which in this case is filled with "cigarettes and bad chardonnay."

Killer Queen - by Queen - “She keeps Moet et Chandon in a pretty cabinet.”

Champagne Jam by The Atlanta Rhythm Section - They don’t specify what type of Champagne in this one, but I’m guessing it’s actually sparkling wine.

Hotel California by The Eagles - “pink Champagne on ice” is the beverage of choice at this West Coast retreat.

Champagne Supernova by Oasis - “A Champagne supernova in the sky” sounds like a good reason to break out the bubbly.

Old Red Wine by The Who - I hear this was for The Who’s late bassist, John Entwistle, who loved red wine.

The Wino And I Know by Jimmy Buffett - Ask not for whom the cork pops...

Wine, Women An’ Song by Whitesnake - Winemakers themselves these days, Whitesnake was not the first artist to sing a tribute to this holy trinity, and they won’t be the last.

Don't forget - enjoy the music over at 30 Days Out !

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Wine Nutrition Facst

Health-conscious types are always worrying about the nutritional value of the food they consume.  There's good reason for that.  For instance, if you have tried to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from your diet, you have no doubt found that there is almost no prepackaged food available in regular supermarkets that lacks that substance.

The wine drinkers I know aren't losing too much sleep over how nutritious their favorite beverage is.  In case you are wondering, the nutrition facts for wine, according to Calorie Count , are as follows:

One glass of wine - one 3.5-ounce glass of wine - contains 85 calories, none from fat, 5mg of sodium, no fat, no cholesterol, 2.8 grams of carbohydrates, less than a gram of sugar, almost no protein, no vitamin A or C, 1% Calcium and 2% Iron.

You won't find the familiar nutritional grid on a wine label like you do on other food and beverage items.  Winemakers are not required to conform to that regulation.  For one thing, the nutritional labeling you see on prepared food is the result of regulations from the Food and Drug Administration.  Wine is governed by the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).  Rarely do federal agencies get a first-column check mark in "working and playing well together."

So, while not a particularly nutritious item to consume, wine does not appear to be harmful from a dietary standpoint.  Aside from nearly 11g of ethyl alcohol - the major detriment which causes wine to receive a nutritional grade of "C" from Calorie Count - and some trace elements, the main ingredient is water, 89g per serving. How bad is that?

Obviously, the abuse of alcohol takes its toll in ways not measured by a simple nutritional profile.  Also, some are allergic to alcohol and react to wine with flushing in the face and neck.  Some people simply have no tolerance for alcohol and shouldn't drink at all.  But let's go forward assuming no alcohol-related health problems and a healthy, light-to-moderate wine consumption level.

After water and alcohol, sugars come in a distant third place on wine's ingredients list.  Sucrose, glucose, fructose and maltose are present, but at least there's no high-fructose corn syrup in there.

The type of wine has a lot to with the nutritional numbers. The nutritional profile above seems to be about the same as that for white table wine.   Red wine shows far less sugar and sodium amounts.  Dessert wines contain much higher levels of sugar but the numbers on other ingredients are pretty much the same as in a table wine.

All this attention to the nutritional aspect of wine is rather silly, of course.  We don't drink wine for its nutritional value, we drink it for taste, for aromas, to complement a meal, for metaphysical or philosophical reasons.  We drink it because we like the way it goes with a salad, with a cool night, a sunny day, a fireplace, Chet Baker, Chet Atkins, the news, a movie or haiku.

The bottom line is, there appear to be no nutritional roadblocks that would prevent you from enjoying a glass of wine.  Conversely, there are no compelling reasons - nutritionally speaking - to include wine in your diet.  If you need to focus on the nutritional value of the things you consume, your time would be better spent looking into high fructose corn syrup than into wine.  Cheers!