Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vitiano Verdicchio Vermentino 2008

The Rolling Stones gave us some very good advice once, about getting what we need in the event the thing we want is unavailable.  I almost never ask a restaurant to sell me a wine by the glass when their wine list clearly shows it to be offered by the bottle only.  This once, I made an exception.  I didn't see what I wanted, and I ended up getting exactly what I needed.

A recent Sunday lunch took us to a reliable old standby, Il Fornaio in Beverly Hills.  They have a pretty fine assortment of wines on their list, and I felt the moment called for a glass of a nice Italian white.  What better place for that?  I was hoping to find a Vermentino.  I don't know if it's a standard look, but their wine list had only one Italian white offered by the glass.  A Pinot Grigio.  It simply wasn't what I wanted.  I went to the bartender - who was holding an already opened bottle of wine in his hands - and told him I was hoping for a glass of an Italian white with a little more appeal.  He said, "How about this one?," holding the bottle up in front of him.  He even poured me a taste.  I was sold.

Vitiano's 50/50 Umbrian blend of Verdicchio and Vermentino was an excellent choice, even though I can't take credit for choosing it.  I can't even give the bartender credit - he was just trying to sell another glass of the wine he was already holding in his hands.  However it transpired, it was alright with me.

Its beautiful golden color is a perfect complement to a sunny Sunday lunch.  There's a wonderful nose laden with minerals, citrus and honeyed pears.  The taste is lush and mouth-filling, like pear juice.  A fresh minerality comes through, too, which offers the enjoyable situation of drinking a wine that's both crisp and soft.  So you can actually, sometimes, get what you want and what you need.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Señorio de Sarría Rosado 2008

You don't really need any special reasons to like spring, but just in case, how about rosé?  The nice sunshine and gentle breezes really make me want nice pink, salmon or strawberry-red wine.  I like them dry, gently chilled and served out on the redwood deck.

The Señorio de Sarría Rosado comes from Spain's Navarra region.  It pours as a healthy red color and shows some very fine bubbles on the glass.  It's an extremely aromatic wine.  The nose is actually a bit funky.  I get some strawberry scents, but a very musty strawberry.  It's not really a barnyard aroma, but something like old books, old strawberry books.  I call that a really interesting nose.

The palate feels this offbeat essence in much the same way.  There's strawberry there, it's just not all sweet and innocent like strawberry usually is.  The acidity is very lively, almost too much so on first pour.  It does settle down a bit after some time in the glass.  I am drinking it at room temperature, which might be a factor.  I'll try it chilled tomorrow.

The alcohol level is a manageable 13.5% abv, and this rosado is made from Garnacha, or Grenache, grapes.  It only cost $10, so it could become a favorite choice on the redwood deck all summer.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Terrabianca Campaccio Toscana 2005

After a trip to the Santa Monica Farmers Market, we stopped in to a restaurant familiar to us from its fantastic Larchmont Village location.  La Bottega Marino in West Los Angeles also serves great Italian cooking.  If you're worried about authenticity, don't.  Their chef is from Naples.  My spaghetti Bolognese was so good that my wife - of Italian heritage - was tasting it from my plate.  Her meatball sandwich met with her approval and mine.  She took home half of it and I was the beneficiary of it later in the day.

The only complaint I have is that their by-the-glass wine list is a bit skimpy.  As a matter of fact, the Piemonte Barbera I ordered was out of stock.  The waiter offered me a Tuscan blend at the same price - nine dollars - and I gladly accepted. 

Terrabianca Campaccio is a Tuscan blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The winery is in the heart of Italy's Chianti Classico region, and the 12 clones of the two varieties were produced 40% in that region and 60% in Maremma. 

Some soapy looking bubbles around the edge of the glass after pouring dissapated quickly.  The wine has a dark purple color waith an earthy blackberry scent and a trace of pencil lead.  The structure is quite nice.  Its dark, earthy aroma is borne out on the palate, too.  The fruit presents itself strongly in this brooding, full-bodied drink. 

The Terrabianca paired very well with the bolognese, as if it had been made for it.  Oh, I suppose it probably was.  Great food and great wine are enough to make me want a return visit to La Bottega Marino.  Throw in some of that Billie Holiday they were playing during our lunch, and that return visit could be a reality by the time you read this.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes 2009

Spring has already made its presence known in Southern California.  Really, it seems at times that summer is trying to crash the party.  There's no need to rush things along.  At my place, we have already begun the spring planting routine.  I use the word "we" loosely.  Denise has actually been doing most of the heavy lifting in that area while I take care of other springtime activities.  Taking a nap on the couch, for instance.  Taking a nap in the lawn chair on the deck.  There are lots of places that need to get napped in before spring gets away from us, and I'm working diligently to cover those places while Mrs. Green Jeans sees to it that we can get yellow corn this summer.  It sure is hard to find it anywhere else.

I expect my work load to get a little heavier after she reads this, so let's quickly find a nice white wine to refresh us after toting a hundred pounds of mulch up the hill.

Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes will do nicely.  Balbo makes wine in the Mendoza region of Argentina. I'm told the word "crios" means "offspring," so she's letting us know right up front that she considers her wine to be more than a product.  But, just between you and me, it's a really good product.  And Torrontes is a favorite grape for me in the warmer months.

The wine is a pale golden color in the glass, with a nose of ripe apricots, peaches and pears bathed in honey.  There is a sort of oleander aroma, too.  It's such a lovely smell, it almost made me think I had opened a late harvest wine by mistake.

Sipping it at room temperature, a lively acidity is the first thing I notice.  Bracing and fresh, the flavor of peaches with orange peel takes over.  There is no oak in this wine, so the fruit is there in all its glory.  It fills the mouth well and has a rather creamy texture, especially when chilled.  That's how I'm going to have it - after I tote that mulch up the hill.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Brancott Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Another beautiful spring day in Los Angeles took me to Third and Fairfax for a jaunt through the Farmers Market.  I wound up a few steps to the north at Maggiano's for lunch.  I wasn't all that early.  Maybe the economy was to blame for the fact that nobody was in the bar.  There was plenty of light coming through the windows and a breeze through the doors, so it felt quite right.  I took a seat.

The bartender poured a few tastes for me and I decided to go with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Brancott, from Marlborough.

The nose was predictably grassy and green, perfect for a nice springtime day.  There was lemon zest and a tropical aroma making a big play, too.  On the palate, the lemon came through in a wash of minerals for a clean and crisp taste.  It's not an expensive wine, just $7 per glass.

The plate held talapia topped with lobster and some grilled, marinated veggies on the side.  The pairing was very good.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

KONO Sauvignon Blanc

Not very often does a waiter recommend a particular wine to me unsolicited.  I suppose I'm fairly decisive when asking for a wine, so they figure they don't need to chip in with their two cents worth.  I certainly would not have expected that sort of offering from a waiter at The Daily Grill, but that's exactly what I got at the Studio City location.

Chain restaurants generally have lackluster wine lists to begin with, and the help doesn't usually seem to care too much about your order anyway.  So when our waiter hesitated on my request for Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc, and instead suggested a New Zealand brand, he had my attention.  It was only $8, so I figured I'd give it a shot.  I'm glad I did.

KONO, it turns out, is a New Zealand company that sells both seafood and wine primarily to importers, wholesalers and the hospitality trade.  The weather was nice out in Southern California and I was really feeling the springtime.  This Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc played its role perfectly.

Giving a greenish-gold glow in the glass, the nose is grassy with a bit of melon rind in the background.  There is a scent of citrus, but not overwhelmingly so.  On the palate the citrus is a bit stronger.  I taste citrus orange zest and again a slight melon rind comes into play.  It's not so tart as to make the mouth pucker, yet the acidity makes this wine a natural for a food pairing.  I loved it with my BLT sandwich and the cole slaw that came on the side.  It's a very smooth quaff, perfect for a nice spring or summer day.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Consilience Roussanne Santa Barbara County 2006

On a recent trip to the Consilience tasting room in Los Olivos, I was mesmerized by their Roussanne.  Fellow wine blogger Erin McGrath (@vintwined) tweeted me on my favorable comments, mentioning that she had always heard that if it was high in alcohol, it was low on grace.  As I responded to her, I am not a fan of wine that is over-amped with alcohol.  And certainly, Consilience has a roster of wines that are not shy about their stratospheric alcohol levels.  But I always let my palate be my guide.  My palate told me to take home some Roussanne.

It is a beautiful, rich, golden color in the glass.  The nose is very floral, explosively so, featuring notes of honey and a flower stem component I find exhilarating.  The floral aspect hits me with not just the petals but the stalk, too.

The taste is vibrant.  I find apricot and honey in there with an almond paste flavor working the sidelines.  The wine had me at the color, but I found it delightful all the way to the nice, lengthy finish.

I had it with a simple lettuce salad sprinkled with pecans and feta cheese in oil and vinegar, and I loved the pairing.  I may have a new favorite white wine, despite the 15.9% abv number.  To be honest, I would not have guessed it to be that high.  It simply didn't taste like it.

The Consilience Roussanne contains 90% Camp Four Vineyard Roussanne, 5% Camp Four Vineyard Grenache Blanc and 5% Daniels Vineyard Viognier.  The bottle cost $20 in the tasting room.

Appellation: California > Central Coast > Santa Barbara County
Vintage: 2006
Alcohol Level: 15.9% abv
Acquisition disclaimer: Purchased by the author

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tasting Room: Consilience, Los Olivos

I paid my first-ever visit to the Consilience tasting room in Los Olivos recently, and I came away wishing I hadn't waited so long.

It's nice, but not ornate; casual, but not too loose.  The pourers on duty were very friendly and helpful, with answers to all my questions.  Consilience has no vineyards, so they source all their fruit.  They rely mainly on grapes from Santa Barbara County.

Here are my notes on the wines I sampled:

Grenache Blanc Santa Barbara County 2006 - 94% Grenache Blanc from Camp Four Vineyard, 6% Viognier from the Daniels Vineyard - floral nose with lots of minerals to taste - nice acidity - taste is rather floral, too.  Oddly, it's not sweet

Roussanne Santa Barbara County 2006 - floral, nutty nose, very, nutty creamy taste - love it!

Cuvée Mambo White Santa Barbara County 2006 - a little tight on the nose - nutty and apricot - really creamy yet crisp -  made up of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne

Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2006 -  very aromatic, from 4 vineyards - smoky earth, raspberry and lavender nose - taste is very earthy cherry

Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard 2006 - palate not as aromatic as previous - again a very earhty palate, smoky cherry

Syrah Falcone Vineyard 2005 - 100% syrah - peppery nose - earth and spice dominate palate

Syrah Camp 4 Vineyard 2005 - smoky leathery fruit on the nose and palate- really earthy and dark, yet with a ray or two of brightness shining through

Petite Sirah Santa Barbara County 2006 - 85%/15% PS/Syrah - $24 - the nose owes a lot to the syrah - really earthy taste - I mean really earthy - I love this one too

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Get Me To The Spa On Time

by Denise Fondo

The Las Vegas bachelorette party is an American institution, often involving a Tom Jones concert, tequila and morning-after self-recrimination.  Women in jeans, wearing tiaras or veils, chugging drinks as big as their heads, are a common site on the Vegas Strip.  Fun as this tradition may be, some bachelorettes have a different sort of party in mind these days.  Bachelorette parties at spas are growing in popularity and the spa industry is doing all it can to keep this trend on an upward swing.

No other city in the United States has more state-of-the-art spas, per square mile, than Las Vegas, Nevada.  This is great news for the bachelorette looking for some pampering while partying with her friends.  Cocktails, wine, Champagne, cakes, hors d'oeuvres, ice cream, and even your favorite music, can be part of a bachelorette’s spa party package.  If you choose to go the contemplative route, most spas can offer a menu of spa cuisine and healthy, non-alcoholic drinks. 

Ritz Carlton Lake Las Vegas

Not every spa can offer a menu that includes alcohol so keep that in mind while making your plans.  It depends on the space and spa policy.  Katie Conway from the Ritz Carlton Lake Las Vegas says, “Spa bachelorette parties are the hot thing in Vegas right now, and we’re seeing more women planning this type of event.”  The Ritz Carlton Lake Las Vegas has embraced the fad offering a full range of spa party choices, including alcohol and food.  Guests can sip wine and cocktails, while enjoying the lake view, from the spa’s spacious balcony.  You can even use the balcony telescope to stargaze, in the evening. 


Spa Bellagio offers the Pamper Party package, which you can tailor to suit the members of your party and your budget.  You can even book the spa’s Meditation Room, to give your party more privacy and order party food and Champagne. 

The WELL Spa at the Platinum Hotel and Spa

The WELL Spa at the Platinum Hotel and Spa is a relaxed and sophisticated space, which spa director Courtney McGovern says is perfect for a bachelorette soiree.  “Because the WELL spa is such an intimate space, we can rent the entire spa out for half a day to someone wanting to have a bachelorette party.  We’ll set up drinks and food, which guests can enjoy while waiting for treatments.”

The treatments are, of course, the cherry on top of the wedding cake at a spa bachelorette party.  Soothing hydrotherapy, frothy body scrubs and revitalizing massages are some of the delicious comfort services available.  Just one note of caution, spas have their own SUI, Spa-ing Under the Influence rule.  For your own safety, they can’t perform body treatments on you, if you’ve had one mimosa too many.

Bachelorettes may find spa parties the perfect way to unwind from months of stressful planning.  Imagine how cute you’ll look, padding around a spa in an oversized robe, wearing a veil or tiara?  Now, that’s a picture. 

Chateau Boyrein Blanc Graves 2008

We were a little early for a show recently and decided to have a bite before, rather than after.  We were rather looking forward to the salute to Noel Coward, hosted by Stephen Fry, and maybe the evening's card had us feeling a bit continental.  We elected to drop in at Michel Richard on Robertson.

It had been quite a while since my wife had been there, and I was a newcomer.  Inside it appeared somewhat different to her, and not at all what I expected.  It looked a little down at the heels, actually.  We found that Richard no longer owns the place, although his name is still on it.

It is still a French restaurant and pastry shop, though, and my quiche was very good.  Denise just sort of pushed her food around on the plate with her fork.  The prices were a real surprise to me, and not a bad one.  Portions were large, but the prices were at least three or four dollars cheaper than I expected.  That doesn't happen too often.  And my wine was only $5.50 per glass.  That hardly ever happens.

To top it off, the wine list was pretty decent.  I selected a white Bordeaux, simply because I hardly ever see them offered in restaurants.  The Chateau Boyrein Blanc Graves was not sweet like a Sauternes, but dry as a bone.  In Graves, the whites are typically made up of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle.  Sure enough, the nose featured a very fresh grassiness and the "wet rocks" scent of minerals.  There was citrus on the palate, which had a rich and creamy element to it as well.  The wine was extremely aromatic and deliciously satisfying, especially in its pairing with the quiche.

The dinner cost about $12 less that it might have in another eatery, and it was delicious.  Mine was, at least.  Thankfully, the wife's evening was saved by the show.  Stephen Fry to the rescue.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc 2008

On a recent - and rare - weekday off, my wife and I decided to try a place that had been on our radar for a while, Henry's Hat.  It's a sister restaurant to Luna Park.  Considering the gender of the name, maybe it's a brother restaurant.  It's some close family tie, at any rate, but it is more of a sports bar inside than Luna Park.  We had lunch there on a nice, warm spring afternoon.  That had me looking on the "white" side of the wine list.

I don't see Valley of the Moon offered at too many restaurants, and I also don't see too many Pinot Blancs.  The planets seemed to be in alignment, so It was an easy choice.

It was just about a perfect wine for a sunny lunch.  Bright lemon zest and some tropical notes on the nose lead to a taste that incorporates pears and apples.  The minerals are fabulous and the wine is very easy drinking while finishing with a crisp zing.  It's a blend of grapes from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma County, 99% Pinot Blanc with 1% Chardonnay in the mix.

I loved it.  Too bad I couldn't make it last until my Baja tacos arrived.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A New Winery in Paso Robles

One of my many Central Coast friends has alerted me to the opening of a new winery in Paso Robles.  In an area so heavily populated by wineries, it may be tough for a newcomer to get noticed.  I hope not, because it sounds like this winery could be something special.

Niner Wine Estates is scheduled to open Saturday May 1, 2010 in Paso's westside wine community after ten years of preparation.  Richard Niner has poured a decade of planning into this winery in hopes of pouring some great wine for you.  May 1st will be his chance to do so, in the new facility's Hospitality Center.  The public is invited to stop in and have a complimentary tasting while getting a preview of the wine and food programs Niner Wine will be offering in the future.

Niner Wine Estates' roster of award-winning wines has already grown to include winemaker Amanda Cramer's Bordeaux, Rhone and Italian varietial wines, including their flagship Bordeaux blend, "Fog Catcher."

The Hospitality Center - a rustic stone barn - houses the tasting room and a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen where they plan to offer culinary programs as early as the summer.  They even have their own in-house wine education staff and plan to welcome visiting chefs from time to time.

The structure is designed to reflect and accentuate its natural surroundings.  Big windows will offer a nice view of Heart Hill, a heart-shaped clump of oak trees, and Niner has made sure his is to be the first winery on the Central Coast to meet LEED certification standards through the U.S. Green Building Council, with final certification to be awarded in a matter of months.

The winery's estate vineyards are Heart Hill Vineyard and Bootjack Ranch.  Heart Hill Vineyard has already provided fruit for the 2009 vintage, while Bootjack Ranch supplies the balance of fruit for the Niner Wine Estates portfolio.  It is located on the east side of Paso Robles.

To attend the Niner Wine Estates' Grand Opening and have a complimentary tasting, visit the Hospitality Center located at 2400 Highway 46 West in Paso Robles, Saturday and Sunday May 1st and 2nd between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.  Regular business hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. seven days a week.  The regular tasting fee for a sampling of 5 wines is $10.00 per person.

Tasting Event: Revenge of the Merlot

The Revenge of the Merlot tasting event staged by Ian Blackburn's Learn About Wine was praised up and down in the social media the next day, and with good reason. His program was yet another in a long line of classy, comfortable tasting events - the kind he has become known for.

Held at Elevate, a lounge on the 21st floor of 811 Wilshire, just down the hall from Takami Sushi, Revenge displayed the wines of well over two dozen wineries. Most of those pouring were from California except a handful of Washington wineries, an outfit from Tuscany and an importer with an array of Chilean wines.

Every wine poured was worthy of praise, some more than others. I'll get to my tasting notes shortly. The wine was my focus, since I tasted in the afternoon. I understand from some who attended the main show in the evening that it was nothing short of splendid. Several "downtowners" noted they enjoyed the opportunity to have an event like Revenge in their 'hood and even more commented on the rockin' after-party party hosted by Richard Blade.

The nice thing about a tasting event is that all the wines poured are probably good. What kind of winery wouldn't bring their best? Some at Revenge tried to sneak in one or two of their top line Cabs, but the date was reserved for Merlot, so it was Merlot I tasted.  Here's what I liked:

Merlot, Napa Valley 2007 - 10% Carneros fruit; really nice structure
Merlot 2002 - 45% Carneros - lush and earthy; lots of graphite; drinking very well; star

Merlot, California, Lot 2, Multi-Vintage - blend of '06 '07 '08; smokey with dark fruit; half sourced from Paso Robles, half from Santa Barbara County; star

Clos du Val
Merlot, Napa Valley 2006 - great earthy aroma; dark fruit and pencil lead

Michael Black Vineyard 06 - really aromatic; hint of lavender on nose and palate

Merlot Napa 2007; a blend of vineyards; earthy blackberry
Merlot, Three Palms Vineyard, Napa 2006 - 1st wine they made, back in the '70s; dark fruit and earth; dense and chewy; star

Gundlach Bundschu
Estate Merlot, Sonoma, Rhinefarm Vineyard 2006; interesting nose; more acidity than most; less oak; Star

Hidden Oak
Merlot, Paso Robles, James Vineyard 2006 - fruity and unfettered
Encanto - Merlot 60%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%; very fruity with smoke; very slight graphite note

Krupp Bros
Merlot, Napa, Stagecoach Vineyard 2005 - 100% Merlot; bright but gamey with smoke; star
The Advocate, Stagecoach Vineyard 2006 - Bordeaux blend; 42% Merlot, 32% Mslbec, 26% Petit Verdot; bright, light nose, smokey and earthy; one of the biggest of the show; tannins very lively; driest of the bunch; star

L'Ecole No 41
Merlot, Columbia Valley, 2006 - bright and fruity; blended with Cab Franc, Petit Verdot & Cab Sauvignon
Merlot, Walla Walla Valley Estate, Seven Hills Vineyard 2007 - single vineyard; darker and earthier than the '06; blended with Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon

Merlot, Columbia Valley 2006 - blended with Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc & Petit Verdot; smokey and bright

The Malibu Estate Merlot 2006 - Devon Vineyard; complex and fresh with spices apparent

Twomey Cellars 
Merlot, Napa Valley 2005 - fruit from Calistoga; smokey nose and taste; 4% Cab Franc

Ty Caton
Merlot, Sonoma Valley 2008 - unique flavor profile; chocolate note, maybe a chocolate mint; quite nice; 12% Syrah, 6% Petite Sirah; star

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monte Antico Toscana 2006

My favorite Italian restaurant in Los Angeles is Il Buco.  It's actually in Beverly Hills, but it's on Robertson, which feels more like L.A. than B.H. to me.  I think an Italian restaurant should always have a good wine list, and Il Buco's menu has plenty of nice choices from Italy as well as California.

It's great to find a restaurant you call your favorite, but it's even better when the personnel at the restaurant make you feel as if you are their favorite customer.  Even if my wife and I haven't been in to dine there in a couple of months, they always remember us and greet us warmly.  The food is delicious, too, so it's rare that we don't see them for longer than a few weeks at a time.

I usually dine fairly light there, so white wine is my usual choice.  This time, I was in the mood for a big rosso.

After a brief scan of the wine list, I settled on the Monte Antico Toscana.  Deeply hued and sporting a big cherry nose, the wine is best described as huge.  Mouth watering tannins - which probably could have settled down a bit more had I a little more time to linger with it - made me wish I had ordered a dish with a big meat sauce, but it paired well with the pizza we had decided upon.  Big berries and plums on the palate and enough acidity to pair it with whatever you'd like make it a great tasting and versatile dinner wine.

The big Tuscan is 75% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  I understand the grapes come from 25-year-old vines.  2006 is said to be a superb Sangiovese year, and from this wine I'd believe it.  The cost was only $8 per glass.

Il Buco is located at 107 N Robertson Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top Champagne Brut

There was a bit of a cause for celebration at our place recently.  Oh, OK, I'll tell you.  We have an App for iPhone and iPodTouch in the iTunes App Store!  It's called Dr Insult, and you can click the link to find out more about him if you like.  If you'd rather read about the Champagne, that's what follows.

If you've been making Champagne since 1785, you must be doing something right.  Actually no longer owned by anyone related to Florens-Louis Heidsieck, Heidsieck & Co. makes what many consider to be one of the better Champagnes available at an affordable price.  The Monopole Blue Top is a non-vintage bubbly at 12% abv.  

The sparkler pours up a lush golden color in the glass, with plenty of tiny little bubbles.  The nose carries a yeasty scent, but it does not cover up the floral and fruit components.  The yeasty funk rides along as an equal partner in this bouquet.  I smell pears and candied apple, too.  The mouthfeel is just gorgeous - silky smooth and creamy, with not a trace of carbonation.  It's a full-bodied Champagne, too, offering plenty of heft along with some tantalizing flavors.  Heath bar and toast come to the forefront for me, with apples and a trace of citrus following.  A toasted candy profile lingers on the finish.

Variety:  70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier
Appellation:  France > Champagne
Vintage:  NV
Alcohol Level:  12% abv
Price:  $16 (375ml bottle)
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hess Collection Mount Veeder 19 Block Cuvée 2007

I wanted a Tempranillo at Cafe 322, the one on the wine list.  We had made our way to Sierra Madre, practically on the other end of the earth on a Friday night, after all.  I thought I should have a right to expect that the one wine on the rather extensive list that I wanted could be mine.  It could not.

We had come, Denise and I and Rob and Tricia, to see and hear the wonderful Jack Sheldon and his quartet.  The drive was easier than expected from Mid-Wilshire but still a bit of a pain for anyone who has had the glow rubbed off of driving in Southern California.  Our arrival at the Cafe had come not a moment too soon, and when I plopped myself down in a ringside seat immediately next to the stage, I went right for the wine list and my eyes went right for a Tempranillo.

The waitress explained that it was no longer available.  She did, however, offer a substitute.  It must have been a wine they were trying to move a lot of, because I thought it was rather strange for her to offer me a Napa Valley blend of Bordeaux and Rhone grapes in place of the Tempranillo.

At any rate, not wishing to interrupt Sheldon's performance any more than I already had, I accepted a glass of Hess Collection Mount Veeder 19 Block Cuvée.

It cost a mere $10 per glass, and offered up the expected aromas of rich black cherry, cedar and vanilla.  The effect of the wood was obvious in both the nose and the palate.  A great taste full of spice and cherry cola, with notes of tobacco and tar and something almost sweet, was more than adequate for my enjoyment.

The blend is 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 4% Syrah, 4% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot.  Alcohol content is a hefty 14.6% abv.  This wine spent 16 months in French Oak, half of which was new.  The Hess Veeder Summit Vineyard, from which these grapes came, has altitudes ranging from 1,300 to 2,000 feet above sea level.

By the way, Sheldon's quartet kicked ass.  He alternated blowing that trumpet and taking it easy while his band took solos.  Great solos.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lompoc Wine Trail

Wine country.  Ahhh, the fresh air, the beautiful hills, the morning fog, the ocean breeze.  Yes, wine country is sensory delight overload.  So join me, won't you, as we travel in the Now and Zin Grapemobile to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  Hunh?  Oh, you think the word "ghetto" doesn't belong with the phrase "wine country," right?  Think again.  And while you're thinking, watch this video from the website

Lompoc Wine Ghetto

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto makes up the large part of what is being billed as the Lompoc Wine Trail (hook up with their Facebook page).  The Lompoc Valley is actually quite beautiful, and deserves to be known as "the Gateway to the Santa Rita Hills wine country."  The Lompoc Wine Ghetto, as the name suggests, is a more down and dirty version of wine country, an industrial park where a handful of winemakers take care of the business end of the beauty.

The Sobhani Industrial Park at 12th and Industrial Way is the heart of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  It has been since the late 1990s.  That's when Rick Longoria (Longoria Wines) became the first winemaker to base his operations at the industrial park. It was simply more convenient for him to get his grapes from his vineyard to Lompoc rather than the long route of going around the mountains and back into the Santa Ynez Valley.  Others followed his lead and, voila!  Instant wine ghetto.

I've seen the LWG referred to as a "warehouse district," but that's really being kind.  It's a rambling, metal building, with no adornment visible unless the winery put it there.  But the more than 20 wineries that inhabit the space didn't come because it was pretty.  They came because it was cheaper than using their expensive - and productive - vineyard land to house a winemaking facility.  Some came because they didn't have land at all, sourcing grapes from other growers.  These small producers can make their wines in a less expensive way, and since when did saving money not sound good to a small business?

You might get the idea that grouping together a bunch of businesses that are in competition with one another would foster a bitter and backbiting atmosphere.  That is not the case at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  These wineries actually work together.  They share equipment, keep an eye out for each other and help their neighbors when called upon.  The biggest benefit, from a winemaking viewpoint, is being close enough to a host of talented winemakers to be able to learn from their experience.

Peter Hunken, of Black Sheep Finds, Holus Bolus, Piedrasassi and formerly of Stolpman Vineyards says it's great to have some like-minded company around.  "Especially at harvest time, when you're at the facility late at night or all night," said Hunken.  "It's good to have some people doing the same thing.  It's nice to have someone to talk to."

Hunken not only makes wine in Lompoc, he lives there, too.  "Lompoc is more business-friendly than the unincorporated areas of the county where a lot of the winemakers live," he said.  If he had the choice of some nice vineyard land and Lompoc, which would win out?  "Well, I'd love to have a vineyard, but the big, fancy winery isn't a necessity for me.  I'm happy making wine here, and I relate to the blue-collar atmosphere in Lompoc.  Besides, I'm a surfer and I enjoy being this close to the ocean."

The work environment is casual, to say the least.  On my first visit, I stopped in at the Sea Smoke garage door to find the crew busily filling, corking and boxing wine bottles as fast as they could grab them off the conveyor belt.  Pink Floyd was blaring away as that red wine was being put into cases.

Palmina, Flying Goat, Samsara, Nicolaysen Family Vineyards, Fiddlehead and La Vie are all located in the LWG, with a number of other wineries in the northwest part of Lompoc, closer to the airport.

Some of the LWG's wine producers have moved west, if only a few blocks.  The Central Avenue location Ampelos now occupies is in an area becoming known as the "Pinot Prison."  Brewer-Clifton, Clos Pepe and Dragonette Cellars have also moved west in the city.

Piedrasassi's building also houses  Holus Bolus, Jelly Roll and Black Sheep Finds.  It's located on Chestnut Court, a sort of extension on Industrial Way.

Sea Smoke Cellars no longer makes wine in the LWG.  Victor Gallegos says they now have their own "modest building behind the WalMart parking lot."

Harrison-Clarke didn't just go uptown, they now have their own winery in Ballard Canyon.  They still sort and press grapes in Lompoc, though.

Presidio Winery has a tasting room in Solvang while Stolpman Vineyards pours in Los Olivos.  Not all of these have full-time tasting rooms, so if you plan to visit a particular producer in Lompoc, a phone call or email ahead of time is a good idea.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Claudia Grenache 2007

I was browsing in Santa Monica's Wine Expo recently, and spotted a single bottle of wine rolling around in a bin.  I thought, "That must be a pretty good one - they've been cleaned out of it!"  I picked it up for a closer look and discovered it was a California Grenache, but not from Paso Robles or the Santa Rita Hills.  It said Camarillo on the label.  I knew there were wines produced in Camarillo, but I had never tasted any.  Curiosity got the better of me, and I purchased the lonely, last bottle.

The Claudia Grenache is credited on the label as produced by Alonso Family Vineyards at Rolling Hills Vineyards of Camarillo.  Alonso Family Vineyards are in Agua Dulce, in Southern California's Antelope Valley.  A little detective work and a phone call to the 661 area code showed me that the grapes were actually sourced at the Alonso vineyard in Agua Dulce, and produced at Rolling Hills Vineyards in Camarillo, owned by Ed Pagor.

I was so curious because the wine has a distinctive flavor characteristic that I have only found in wines from the Antelope Valley.  It's a very old-world take, with a lot of the earth in it and a touch of minerality.

The wine's color is see-through ruby, and the nose shows plenty of wood.  There are a lot of bright, candy-cherry aromas.  The taste is very candied-up, too.  It's such a different style of cherry that it comes off as almost "fake," but in a good, earthy way.  I found I enjoyed the wine much more toward the end of the glass than the beginning.  I think I had to acclimate myself to the unusual characteristics.  I have found that to be the case every time I went wine tasting in the Antelope Valley.  The alcohol content is listed as 14.2% abv.

I understand that future vintages of the Alonso's wine will be produced closer to home, in the Agua Dulce area.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tasting Room: Alma Rosa, Buellton

Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards was founded in 1970 by Richard and Thekla Sanford.  Not only were they on board early in recognizing the Santa Rita Hills as a good place to grow grapes, they also were among the first to plant Pinot Noir there.  Alma Rosa is described on their website as "an enterprise dedicated to creating high quality wines and setting a benchmark for organic farming, sustainable agriculture methods, and environment-friendly commerce."  Oh, and their wines rock.

My visit occured on a day when there was considerable celebration at all the area wineries, and Alma Rosa was no exception. Going through the small tasting room to a back area where a band played something that sounded like the Grateful Dead's version of reggae, I settled into what seemed to be Hippie Heaven. Taking a cue from the warm and sunny afternoon weather, I decided to sample some white wines.

Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blanc 2007 - There's just a bit of oak on this wine.  A lemony, creamy pepper taste springs forth from a very lively and fresh, green nose.

La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2007 - A fresh nose is found here, too.  There's a little less oak influence.  With a very creamy mouthfeel, it's a pleasure to drink.

Santa Barbara County Pinot Gris 2008 - The fresh noses were out in force today.  A pear flavor dominates, but a bit of a tropical play figures in, too.  It's steel fermented and aged six months in French oak.

Pinot Gris La Encantada Vineyard 2007 - Apricot and tangerine flavor the wine after a floral nose.  Lots of minerals produce a crisp and clean palate.

Chardonnay El Jabali Vineyard 2006 - A woody nose greets you, but it's not overdone. Tropical flavors and pears rule the palate.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tasting Room: Lafond Winery and Vineyards, Buellton

Lafond Winery is in the beautiful vineyard land near Buellton, west of Highway 101 on Santa Rosa Road.  The Santa Rita Hills are lovely and they contain vineyards which produce some very special fruit.  

Pierre Lafond has been utilizing some of this special fruit since he started Santa Barbara Winery in 1962.  That was the first winery in Santa Barbara County since prohibition.  In 1971 Pierre planted Lafond Vineyard, then expanded his vineyard acreage in 1996.  The Santa Rita Hills winery began construction two years later and it opened to visitors in 2001.  

Award-winning winemaker Bruce McGuire came to Santa Barbara Winery in the early '80s and also oversees the wines of Lafond Winery.  McGuire helped pioneer Pinot Noir and Syrah in Santa Barbara County.  His talent shows in every bottle.

The grounds of the winery are gorgeous and hospitable.  Everywhere you look the scenery is great, but there is one spot that really pops the cork.  Just to the right of the tasting room you can look across the vineyard to the hills on the other side.  The serenity in that spot is almost overwhelming.  It makes a great backdrop for snapshots, too.

The interior of the tasting room is fairly businesslike, with little of that wine country decor many wineries like to toss around.  The staff is quite friendly and very helpful, even when tending to a number of guests, as they were when I visited.  Even though there was a full house at the tasting bar, I received plenty of attention and had all my questions answered.  That may sound like business as usual, but I hate to think about how many times I've had a question in a tasting room and been told "I don't know."   Not here.

It was a very pleasant experience at Lafond, and the wines also had a bit to do with that.  Here is what I tasted:

Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay 2007 - A blend of grapes from several vineyards, this wine is clean and crisp.  It's fruity with minerals.  Refreshing enough, certainly, for the porch this summer, but the nice acidity will have it pairing well with food, too.

Lafond Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 - All estate-grown, this Chard has twice as much time in oak as the SRH.  It's quite smooth, and the effect of the wood quite noticeable.

Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2007 - All 8 Pinot Noir clones grown here contribute.  The wine is noted for earth, spice and lavender.

Lafond Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 - Four clones are in this one; it's bright and spicy with slight raspberry/cherry tones.

Lafond Vineyard Syrah Grenache - 60 Syrah and 40% Grenache, the nose is full of cherry and spice.  Earth, blackberry and cedar mark the palate.

Santa Rita Hills Syrah - 2008 - 58% of the fruit in this wine comes from the Lafond Vineyard.  It's a complex nose with hints of bell pepper.  There is big fruit in this one, but it's still rather young.