Friday, September 10, 2010


Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel

I had a very nice end to a horrible drive in Los Angeles a while back at, of all places, Marie Callendar's .  I was an hour and a half late picking up Denise after work, but so was everybody else.  What will probably go down in L.A. history as Obama Jam - the afternoon the Secret Service closed Olympic Boulevard for about ten miles due to the President's visit - caused every single commuter to run so late it wasn't even funny.

Denise and some of her cohorts at KNX radio went across Wilshire to Marie Callendar's to wait out the closure.  When I arrived, there was good company, lots of laughs and a Ridge Zinfandel to greet me.  All combined, everything quickly seemed to be alright in my world.

There was a lot of shop talk and one other wine lover in the group.  We both enjoyed the Ridge Three Valleys Zin.

This wine is made from the grapes of seven vineyards, and has a varietal makeup that suggests that it's a field blend, although I don't know if that's the case.  It's 74% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane, 4% Mataro, 3% Syrah and 3% Grenache.  The alcohol level is 14.2% abv, somewhat tame by California Zinfandel standards.

As the winery says, "Zinfandel fruit determines the wine's varietal character; old-vine Carignane contributes its own bright fruit and acidity; Petite Sirah and Syrah add peppery spice, depth of color, and firm tannins; Grenache brings briar fruit and lively tannins."

Three Valleys Zinfandel is fermented in stainless steel and aged in 100% American oak.  33% of the barrels are new and one-year old, 20% are two years old, and 47% five to six years old.  It spends nine months in barrels.

The color is dark, but not inky.  Cherry comes through on the nose, with some pepper and a nice earthy tone.  Minerals and a brambly dark fruit flavor make the palate expressive.  The tannins are firm, but not overpowering, while the finish is long and savory.


Kevin O'Connor, Lioco Wine

Since trying the 2006 Lioco Indica Sonoma County a while back, I've been a fan of this small California producer.  I was fortunate enough to hook up with founder Kevin O'Connor at the recent Taste of Beverly Hills Food and Wine Festival, presented by Food and Wine magazine.
O'Connor was formerly the wine director at Spago-Beverly Hills.  He and wine importer Matt Licklider got to talking about whether or not California could produce a true "wine of origin."  A number of California producers already feel they are doing just that, but O'Connor and Licklider set out to do it their way.
While pouring his creations for me, O'Connor told me of his winemaking philosophy, which is also summed up nicely on the Lioco website.  
"Everything begins in the vineyard--without a compelling vineyard site, there is little chance of creating a distinctive wine.  Inspired by traditional European winegrowing practices, we seek out vineyard sites with tougher soil, older vines, and some stress-producing aspect (altitude, extreme temperature, poor soil, etc).  Then we simply shepherd the grapes from bud to bottle in the least intrusive way possible."
So, using wines from Burgundy and Southern France as a roadmap, O'Connor strives to produce wines with a true California identity.  This means Chardonnay with no oak and Pinot Noir and red blends with limited oak effect.  The mission is to let the grapes do the talking, and the grapes have plenty to say in Lioco wines.
My introduction to Lioco was a bottle of the '06 Indica Sonoma County.  A blend of 87% Carignan and 13% Petite Sirah, this wine showed me a very stong blueberry aroma and flavor, with a spicy finish that mellows with breathing time.  Dark undercurrents and an earthiness you'd expect from the grapes used were prominent.  I thought it would pair well with merguez sausage or lamb.
At the Beverly Hills event, O'Connor proudly poured four of his wines.  The '08 Sonoma Chardonnay uses no oak and has a nose full of minerality with a very clean taste and a nice, high acidity level.  The Lioco '09 Carneros Chardonnay is also produced sans oak and shows even more minerals than the Sonoma.  This also has a beautiful acidity and some interesting herbal notes.
Lioco's '08 Pinot Noir smells of rose petals and has a meaty, almost gamey flavor that is quite complex.  The '07 version of Indica again features mostly old-vine Carignan (the amount changes from vintage to vintage), with some Grenache and Mourvedre in the mix.  O'Connor calls this his "fun wine," and I have to agree.  Big blueberry and cherry flavors are abetted by a wonderfully dark minerality.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


This Now And Zin entry wraps up the wine story of my trip to Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley.  Actually, this fond farewell concerns the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport and the Continental Airlines flight back to Los Angeles.

YuenglingI had a couple of opportunities to enjoy Yuengling beer during my visit to NEPA and was delighted to find it available at the airport as we awaited our flight.  It's hoppy and bright - just the way I like 'em - with a strong hint of lemon that is quite refreshing.  It goes great with pizza, too.
After the puddle-jumper to Newark, Continental flight 302 boarded and we were on our way home.  I was once again delighted, this time to find an interesting wine offered on the plane.  Maybe a bit homesick, I asked for a Zinfandel.  There was none of that, but the Sol Casal Tempranillo proved to be a nice substitute.  It's a Spanish wine from La Mancha, but it's bottled by Paul Sapin in France, and I believe it's part of his 187 line of small, one serving bottles like those served by airlines.
Sol Casal TempranilloThe wine is dark at the core and ruby red at the edges with a big nose - and I mean a huge nose - of red fruit and leather.  It tastes of smoke and dried cherries, plums and blackberries.  The tannins are quite mellow and the alcohol level is 13% abv.  It has a big, rich taste which was much appreciated on the cross-country flight.  It even tasted great in the plastic cup.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Riunite Lambrusco

You can't always drink from the top shelf, but there's no reason you can't enjoy what the moment brings.  I found that out recently in downtown Wilkes-Barre at a bar called Bart & Urby's.
I guess I really should have ordered an ale or stout - the establishment serves a rather impressive array of domestic, imported and microbrewed varieties.  The wine list has only a few options: Beringer, Fetzer, Yellowtail and - what's this? - Riunite!  Holy cow, I've never actually had a Riunite.  It must be time.
I ordered the Lambrusco with visions of saying "yes" to Martini and Rossi on the rocks and Bartles and Jaymes thanking me for my support.  I don't recall the actual TV commercial jingle for Riunite, but I know it's in the memory bank somewhere and it's filed right alongside the taglines I do remember.  I probably never had Riunite because in the early '70s I was too busy sneaking my mom's Spanada from the refrigerator.
The Riunite website explains the different varieties of Lambrusco grapes they use: "Lambrusco Marani imparts brightness, taste, perfume and color; Lambrusco Salamino, for perfume and harmony; Lambrusco Maestri, for fruitiness and body; Lambrusco Montericco for added body and perfume and finally Lancellotta (also known as Ancelotta) sometimes referred to as the "missing grape," which is responsible for the very fresh and abundantly fruity character of Riunite's Lambrusco."
They also explain that Lambrusco is a "unique Italian grape variety grown principally in the three central provinces of Emilia - Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia."
The Lambrusco arrived on the Bart & Urby's patio and my first whiff of the dark juice reminded me somewhat of Welches grape juice, but more of Spanada.  It was served chilled, and was a sweet and refreshing cross of grape and cranberry juice flavors.  It won't be a regular choice for me, but it hit the spot so well at this moment that I ordered another.  Leave the top shelf for another evening.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Prelius Vermentino

Another night, another family and friends gathering in northeastern Pennsylvania for my wife and me.  This dinner found us at Grico's  in Exeter, PA.  We were advised to grab one of the curtained, private booths, but they are best for smaller, more romantic tete-a-tetes.  Our party of six ended up in the Library Room, a private dining room in the front of the restaurant with pictures of books on the walls.
Owner/chef Pat Greenfield maintains quite a reputation in the Wyoming Valley and her restaurant is recommended by locals as a dining hotspot.  The food certainly deserves recognition.  It's good enough to keep people dining there for 75 years - much, much longer than she's been around.  The Grico's wine list showed plenty of imported - and expensive - choices by the bottle.  Maybe as a nod to the hard times the area has seen in recent years, there was a separate "20 Wines For Under $20" list.  That's $20 per bottle, by the way.  Our wine for the evening came from that list.
The Prelius estate is in Tuscany's hilly Maremma region.  The grapes are organically farmed and the estate has Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Vermentino growing in the sandy soil of a slope just two miles from the sea.
The Vermentino is only 13% abv, and is aged three months in the bottle.  A 100% varietal wine, it is very pale in color and has tons of minerals on the nose, along with a hint of sea shells.  Tropical notes dominate the palate and a bit of lemon zest adds a nice zing.  The acidity level is plenty high for food pairing, but maybe a little too high for sipping.  It matched quite nicely with my sea scallops.  Despite the acidic edge, the mouthfeel of this wine was actually somewhat creamy and full.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


September 5, 2010 – Beverly Hills, CA

Yesterday the Now And Zin Wine Blog was concerned with the Saturday daytime version of the Taste of Beverly Hills.

Taste of Beverly HillsThe Art Of Brunch was the title of Sunday's daytime session at the Taste of Beverly Hills and, as you may have expected, that means the participating restaurants do this sort of thing as a regular part of their serving day.

Brunch in Los Angeles can be a beautiful thing.  It can also be a perplexing thing.  If you've ever gone driving around in L.A. looking for a spot to have a late Sunday breakfast, you may think there are only a handful of places that cater to that need.  You can see lines out the door and down the street for some restaurants, while the waiters in a breakfast joint down the block will be standing with arms crossed waiting for the lunch rush to begin.  Such is the difference between an “in” place and one that's just a place.

There was no such problem at the Taste Of Beverly Hills.  Every place was an “in” place.  While there may have been a slight wait at a table or two, crowds generally moved along pretty quickly, affording everyone the chance to sample the goods from all the restaurants.

Saturday's high level of quality was at least matched by Sunday's small plates.  Everything was delicious and presented in an artful and appealing way.  And, my Sunday brunch started with someone handing me a Bellini.  That's never a bad thing.

How it tasted

Here's a timeline of my tweets from Sunday's Taste of Beverly Hills as presented on my Twitter account (@randyfuller1):

#tobh  Free parking in Beverly Hills structures on Sunday!

#tobh  Taste: #food demos from Scott Conant & Michel Nischan today.  Stella Artois tent: Chef Daniel Joly with Belgian Pouring Ritual.  #beer

#tobh  #Wine event at 2:00.  Belinda Chang talks CdP.  Captain Justin Warner does a wine rap.  Okay, I'll bite!

#tobh  Rats.  Intelligentsia booth too crowded.  It's OK, a little too warm for #coffee already.

#tobh  That's OK.  Start with Bellini.  Peach Vodka, peach purée and Monetto Prosecco.  #wine

#tobh  Circa 55 Restaurant has smoked salmon.  Great start to Taste of Beverly Hills.  #food 

#tobh  St Urbain St. Bagels.  Nice chewy bagel and sun dried tomato cream cheese.  So much else to get to, though.  #food

#tobh  The Farm has French Toast stuffed w/ banana & topped w/ caramel/peanut butter sauce.  Say yeah.

#tobh  Ventura County Wine Trail is pouring fab LH Zin from Rancho Ventavo and Casa Barranca Cab Franc that's nice and light!  #wine

#tobh  Can't get close to Huckleberry yet!  Full table and here comes more

#tobh  Grilled salmon burger from Nine-Thirty.  I need to eat like this all the time!  #food

#tobh  My pals from Summerland Winery have some rockin' good juice.  '07 Trio is very old world (thanks Mourvedre).  '07 Paso Zin is v nice.

#tobh  Would be remiss not to mention Summerland's Grenache rose.  A salmon colored dry delight.  #wine

#tobh  Crossing to other Great Tent, stop at Stella Artois.  Sampled Leffe this time around.  Abbey #beer.  Comes in a gift Chalice glass!

#tobh  Hansen's Cakes did it up right!  They knew we were comin' so they baked a cake.

#tobh  Firefly in Studio City came over the hill with a nice brioche w/ Italian ham and a carmerlized fig on top!  #food

#tobh  Breadbar serving quiche Lorraine and truffle potato.  It's really sinful.  It really is.  #food  Bread, oddly enough, only for show.

#tobh  Angeli presenting Italian bread with Fontina cheese.  Polenta coming soon.

#tobh #wine  Larry Schaffer of Tercero poured a Grenache Blanc with outstanding acidity and a Gewurz going as "The Outsider" - v floral

#tobh #wine  Tercero Grenache & Syrah use whole cluster so a little more herbaceousness  creeps in.

#tobh #wine  Tercero has reds that kill.  Syrah/Petite Sirah, Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre.  Great structure and depth.  I'm a Larry Schaffer fan.

#tobh #food  Plaisir on Santa Monica Blvd made these unbelievable cream puffs!  Watch out for the squirt.

#tobh #wine  Cambria Chardonnay - just enough oak.  Their '07 Pinot Noir Julia's Vineyard is a fave.

#tobh  Coupa Cafe with Venezuelan food!  Amazing beef empanadas, corn pancakes and Venezuelan cheese sticks.  #food

#tobh #wine  Mateus is here??  With Tempranillo rose?  Hey.  It's not too bad.

#tobh #wine  Demetrius has a white Rhone blend I like a lot.  Pinot is most exp., SGM blend the least exp.  Not that far apart to my palate.

#tobh  Overheard about Taste announcer: "Sunday Sunday Sunday..."

#tobh  On the way out now.  Can't believe how much I ate! & there's another session 2night - BBQ In The Hills - Taste of Beverly Hills.  #food

Congratulations to all who worked to present the Taste of Beverly Hills.  This food and wine event was truly something special, and I'm already looking forward to 2011!


Cascata Cascade Riesling

The saga of the Now And Zin trip to northeastern Pennsylvania continues today, back at my brother-in-law's house in Kingston, PA.  Denise and I sat with Steven on the porch in wicker chairs and let some relaxation creep into our collective consciousness.  Robin had the brilliant idea of helping it along, and she produced a bottle of wine they had procured on a visit to the Finger Lakes region of New York.  Despite Mrs. Now And Zin's weak protest - "What, drinking again?" - the other three of us outvoted her.  Besides, wine tasting is what I do. Even on my time off, it's work, work, work.
The Cascade Riesling which Robin brought to the porch hailed from Cascata Winery, a boutique winery/art gallery/bed & breakfast in Watkins Glen, NY, near Seneca Lake.  Robin told me the winery's tasting room is housed in a 19th century home on a beautiful estate.  From the Cascata website: "Our wines include examples of dry and semi-dry Vinifera, dry and semi-dry French-American hybrids, and sweet Labrusca."  The Cascade Riesling is one of the winery's semi-dry white wines.  It's a double gold medal winner from a competition somewhere, if that sort of thing intrigues you.
The wine sits quite pale in the glass, almost colorless.  The nose shows plenty of citrus notes with a hint of apricot.  On the palate, lemon peel plays against a backdrop of minerals and a faint sense of petrol comes through.  It's quite an appealing wine, with enough acidity to welcome food pairing.  It's also nice to sip, just sitting on the porch in a wicker chair.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Taste of Beverly Hills
September 4, 2010, Beverly Hills, CA

Saturday was the third day of the Taste of Beverly Hills, but my first appearance at the sprawling culinary event presented by Food and Wine.  It's actually six different food and wine fests under the umbrella title.  Thursday and Friday nights were great fun, I heard.  Saturday and Sunday have sessions during the day and night.

TOBH Great HallHow It Looks

The sessions are built around two great tents in the parking lot of the old Robinson's-May store at 9900 Wilshire Boulevard, next to the Beverly Hilton Hotel.  Inside the tents, food tasting tables ring the perimeter while an inner circle of tables offers wine and other delicious beverages.

In between the two great tents is a large, open area and a smaller tent where Stella Artois pours three versions of their brews.  A main stage has sporadic entertainment on it.  When I arrived Saturday morning, Melinda Lee was doing her “Food News” show there, live on KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO.  Throughout the day, I heard musical acts performing from that area but, to be honest, I was so involved with the amazing array of food and wine being presented that I never went over to check out the shows.

There are other small stage areas where cooking and cocktail demonstrations are offered.  Some wine events take place inside the hotel, in a wine room called The Chateau.

If it sounds like it's a circus for food and wine lovers, that's not far off the mark.  It's just a little more upscale.

The Food

Events where many restaurants cook and serve samples of their wares usually are rather hit and miss with the food quality as it varies from table to table.  I was surprised that the Taste of Beverly Hills didn't seem to have a bad booth in the bunch.  Every food sample I tasted was deliciously prepared and happily served.  Here's how I reported on the food at the Taste of Beverly Hills on my Twitter account (@randyfuller1):

#TOBH 9021pho serving killer tofu tamarind salad.

#TOBH Meatball from Delancey, and Gonpachi is serving salmon on a stick! Also shrimp dumpling that rocks.

#TOBH Mr Cecil's pork cracklin's are great. So's the salmon tartare on a potato chip from Fraiche.

#TOBH Nonna's of Italy has fried risotto balls! I feel like I'm at the county fair.

#TOBH No clunkers yet, foodwise. Cheesecake Factory even wows with Piña Colada Cheesecake!

#TOBH Stop for water before the Jitlada table. "Not spicy" is spicy, "Spicy" is OMG. Rocks the house, though.

The wine

#TOBH My first Taste: William Sherer's Iberian Remix White. Then the red. Both quite nice. White craves seafood, red wants sausage pizza.

#TOBH Lioco table is a hit. Two Chardonnays - Sonoma & Carneros, both unoaked! And Indica blend, mostly old-vine Carignane.

#TOBH At the Sommelier Blind Tasting event. Boys vs girls.>
#TOBH Taste of Beverly Hills sommelier Bonnie Graves leads the tasting.>
#TOBH Layer Cake Primitivo '07. Bright and juicy. Tons of fruit.

#TOBH Bonny Doon pouring a variety, including "Riesling To Live" sparkler.

#TOBH Four Vines only has Biker Zin today. They'll have full line tonight.

#TOBH Edith Piaf singing "La Vie En Rose" while I sample La Crema Chard, Murphy-Goode Cab and KJ Summation. None as good the song.

#TOBH Stella Artois Hoegaarden, white beer, cloudy in the glass but clean on the palate.

#TOBH Love the Sextant #wine - Zin's always good with me. Night Watch and Genoa are my faves, and are mostly Petite Sirah.

#TOBH After letting taste buds recover from B2B Thai and Indian #food, Jettlynn's Estate Petite Sirah scored! This place has only reds.

I got a little busy toward the end of the session and let a tweet-op pass.  I should mention that the Ventura County Wine Trail folks are there, pouring a nice Barbera and an elegantly understated late-harvest Zinfandel.  They also have all the information you need to tackle the Ventura County Wine Trail.

TOBH The Winning WinesThe Sommelier Challenge

The highlight event for me was the Boys vs Girls Sommelier Blind Tasting challenge.  Eight noted sommeliers – four men and four women – competed in a wine competition that was spirited and aimed more at whimsy than winning.

TOBH Bonnie GravesThe Taste of Beverly Hills Event Sommelier Bonnie Graves presided over the competition with a light touch.  It was an entertaining event which included panelists David Rosoff from Osteria Mozza, Dana Farner from CUT, Christopher Lavin from XIV, Caroline Styne of AOC and Lucques, Jonathan Mitchell of the Palm, Rebecca Chapa from the Culinary Institute of America, Mark Mendoza of Sona and Comme Ça, and Diane DeLuca from the Estates Group.

The competition was a battle of the sexes.  The male sommeliers jumped out to an early lead with the correct identification of the first wine as Prosecco.  The gentlemen scored again by getting the Macon Chardonnay right.  The ladies nailed the Sauvignon Blanc, but could not correctly identify it as a New Zealand wine.  Wine number four was the ringer – Charles Shaw Merlot – which sent both sides scurrying to name it – to no avail.  The game changer for the women was getting the Rioja Tempranillo Reserva correct down to the last detail.

Sunday Lineup
Sunday's two sessions – The Art Of Brunch, from 10:00 a.m. To 3:00 p.m., and A BBQ In The Hills, from 7:00 – 11:00 p.m. - promise to be just as jam-packed with food and wine sampling and more.  Here are some highlights:

Sunday, September 5, 2010: The Art of Brunch
10:45 a.m. (LG Main Stage) - Live cooking demo by celebrity chef, author, and TV personality Scott Conant
11:15 a.m. (Mix Stage 1) - Mixology demo by Clark Moore (Stone Rose Lounge/Gerber Group)
11:45 a.m. (LG Stage 2) - Live cooking demo by Ray Garcia, executive chef of FIG at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel
12 p.m. (Mix Stage 1) - Mixology demo by Matthew Biancaniello (Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel)
12 p.m. (The Chateau) - Master Sommelier “Iron Sommelier” panel
12:15 p.m. (LG Main Stage) - Live cooking demo by Richard Ruskell, executive pastry chef at the Montage Resort and Spa in Beverly Hills
12:45 p.m. (Mix Stage 1) - Mixology demo from Jim Beam Global
1 p.m. (The Chateau) - Sommelier Belinda Chang Wine Seminar
1:45 p.m. (LG Main Stage) - Live cooking demo by chef, cookbook author, and media personality Michel Nischan
4 p.m. (LG Main Stage) - KCRW 89.9 FM’s Pie Contest hosted by “Good Food” Host and Chef/Restaurateur Evan Kleiman

Sunday, September 5, 2010: A BBQ in the Hills 
7:30 p.m. (LG Main Stage) - Live cooking demo by renowned Chefs Celestino and Gaicomo Drago
8:45 p.m. (LG Stage 2) - Live cooking demo by “Rock and Roll Chef” Kerry Simon
9 p.m. (Mix Stage 1) - Mixology demo from Jim Beam Global


It was a tad warm on Saturday, so if you are attending Sunday's day event, keep the Beverly Hilton's lobby bar in mind as a place to which you can repair for something cool to drink and a bit of air conditioning.  It'll come in handy.  It also makes a nice setting for an after-session meeting to discuss favorite tastes and sips.

Denise Fondo joins in from her vantage point on Middle Crescent Kitchen.  You can read her views on the Taste of Beverly Hills on the Now And Zin main website.

I hope to tweet from the event again on Sunday.  I'll be hashtagging #tobh.


Crossing Vineyards and Winery Tasting Room

After a few hit-and-miss attempts at sampling some Pennsylvania wines during my visit to the Keystone State, I was eager to try a real winery tasting room.  Our schedule did not permit any wine country excursions, unfortunately.  My luck changed at the Mohegan Sun Casino at Pocono Downs in Wilkes Barre.  Not only did I take some chips off the blackjack table, but I got to visit the Crossing Vineyards and WineryTasting Room, located in the shopping mall that encircles the gaming area.
The Crossing Vineyards winery is located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, about 45 minutes from Philadelphia and an hour and a half from New York City.  The estate is over 200 years old and is less than a mile from the place where George Washington crossed the Delaware River in 1776.  Established by the Carroll family in 2000, Crossing produced its first vintage in 2002.  Winemaker Tom Carroll, Jr. envisioned the winery at age 10 when his family bought the property.  He spent time in California and returned home with his acquired knowledge to see his dream realized.  Carroll has a wide assortment of grape varieties at play and he does an admirable job with them.  I was impressed with the overall quality of his wines.
The tasting room is modern and commercial, with plenty of bottles for sale along with some gourmet food items and wine paraphenalia.  The $8 tasting fee buys samples of six wines or four wines and four cheeses.
The white wines and the blush I tried all have a nice acidity, with nary a flabby wine to be found.  The reds are very bright and fresh on the nose and palate.  Here are my tasting notes:
Blush - This pink wine is made from Stuben and Merlot grapes.  Steuben is also known as Ambrosia, and is used in making jellies as well as sweet, floral wines.  The sweet nose of honeysuckle no doubt comes from the Steuben, while the cherry soda flavor represents the Merlot.  Despite the references to sweetness, this wine has a very nice acidity.  It's one of my favorites of the tasting.
Vintner's Reserve White - A blend of Riesling and Chardonnay, this wine has a nose remeniscent of a Sauvignon Blanc.  Grassy, funky aromas lead to a fruity taste of pears and tropical fruit.
Vintner's Select White - This blend of Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Viognier has an herbal nose and is very pale in the glass.  Vidal Blanc is a French hybrid grape parented by Ugni Blanc and Seibel.  Guava and apricot are the flavors I taste, but the wine is not too fruity.
Pinot Noir 2008 - This Pinot has a peppery, spicy nose that really intrigues, but it's thin on the palate with a raw raspberry flavor.  It was not a favorite.
Cabernet Franc 2007 - I was surprised to find that even a Cab Franc doesn't go dark and brooding here.  A bright red nose is matched by cranberry on the bright, fresh palate.  Very different, but nice.
Vintner's Select Red - This red also has a bright and fruity nose.  Raspberry, clove and leather show up on the palate, but the oak does not appear dominant in the profile.  It's a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Another favorite of the tasting.

Tomorrow on the Now And Zin Wine Blog, a New York state of Riesling.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Taste of Beverly Hills

If you pay even a little bit of attention to the social media of the Southern California food and wine scene, you've probably heard of the big food and wine event called The Taste Of Beverly Hills.  The festivities kicked off Thursday night with a party for the community's famous zip code, appropriately enough held on 9-02-10.  Friday night's mixology-focused event will be followed by day and night events on Saturday and Sunday. 

There's so much going on that you really should click over to their website and explore all the activities and presentations in each event.  A host of celebrity chefs and sommeliers will put on demonstrations, panel discussions and seminars.  In between all that information you can sample everything you want and even hear some live music.

It'll be a whirlwind weekend for me, as I will attend several sessions and report back to you on the events.  I hope to be able to pass along some wine tasting notes and report on some nice delicacies from the kitchen, too.

Here's the list of wineries which will be attending The Taste Of Beverly Hills.

I'll try to update my Twitter account periodically during the events this weekend, post images from the scene on the Now And Zin Facebook page and blog about it all here as I am able.

Bon appetit, and cheers!


If you've been checking this site recently, you know Denise and I spent some time in northeastern Pennsylvania.  The trip afforded us an opportunity to hang with family and friends in some of greater Wilkes Barre's finer establishments.  Some of the hangouts were funky, old-school places while others were moderately upscale - and then there was the pierogie stand at the Kielbasa Festival in Pittston.  Margarine?  Puh-lease.  Today's location - Bistro On The Avenue - falls into the second category.

Bistro On The Avenue is in Kingston, PA.  It sits nestled in the crook of an elbow-bend strip mall on Wyoming Avenue, a street I became very familiar with during my stay.  You take Wyoming Avenue to get anywhere in the valley, no matter where you are.  If there is anything remotely resembling a traffic pattern on it, the locals scramble for a different way, usually the back road - which is actually called Back Road.  Los Angeles drivers should be so versatile with alternate routes.
At Bistro On The Avenue, our table ordered what looked like every appetizer on the menu - whch is quite a few.  The Lobster Strudel should be spoken of only in hushed, reverent tones.  It's divine.  The wine list is not bad, but not what one might expect from a place with "Bistro" in its name.  I had hoped to drink local whenever I could, but with no wines from the great northeast on the list, I went back to Cali.  Passing on the fairly pedestrian entries there - none looking very exciting - I settled on a Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, and liked it so much I followed up with the Mondavi Merlot.
Mondavi CabThe Cabernet was dark ruby in the glass, with a nose featuring black currant, smoke, leather and pencil shavings.  It was nice to give my palate something more complex than the samples of the Keystone State wines I had been enjoying thus far.  The Cab had a good grip and felt very full in my mouth.  Blackberry, blueberry and cassis showed on the very fruit forward palate.
Mondavi MerlotWhen the waitress inquired about another round, it seemed everyone was in agreement.  I stayed with Mondavi and had the Merlot.  Medium ruby in color, this wine was not shy either.  The nose was a huge fruitfest, with blueberry and cherry coming forth.  There was a lot of smoke on the palate here, too, even more than the Cab.  The taste of big, dark berries swam around in a setting that resembled a wood fire.  The finish was long and luxurious.

Tomorrow, a visit to an actual winery tasting room - at Wilkes Barre's Mohegan Sun Casino at Pocono Downs.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Washington Hills Riesling

A week-long stay in the Wilkes Barre, PA area supplied me with the opportunity to sample a few Pennsylvania wines.  This day proved to be a departure, as several of us decided to have lunch at Kazimi's Restaurant in Kingston.  Kazimi's has a reputation as a “date night” dining establishment.  Its old-school red leatherette and white cloth napkins are thought to be quite fancy amongst the locals.  Try the quiche du jour.

The wine list was not so fancy, with no local or regional efforts to offer.  When I saw Riesling, I realized that was what I was thirsty for.  The Washington Hills Riesling is a Columbia Valley wine, a 100% Riesling from Washington State.  To top it off, it was only $6.75 per glass.  I didn't expect to have a problem with this wine.

The nose shows plenty of minerals with a strong presence of melons, pears and peaches.  The fruity palate shows tropical notes, and a trace of lemon peel.  It's on the dry side, but with a sweetness that lurks just out of sight.  A good acidity level provides a crisp and refreshing finish.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Chaddsford Propritor's Reserve

It takes a village to hold Denise's family.  Several villages, in fact.  The villages are in the area around Wilkes Barre, PA.  On a recent trip there, we visited with a huge number of family members in quite a few of those villages.

The family is a big Italian group, the kind in which fifty or so people all share three names.  Joe, Steven and Christopher get recycled a lot.  If you are unsure of any male person's name in my wife's family, one of those three will give you about a 30% shot at being right.  Joe, Joey, Chris, Christopher, Stevie, Little Steve, Big Joe, etc.  All those variations make it seem to the uninitiated that they're talking about the same few people.  The ladies have a few more names to work with, but Mary is a favorite that keeps coming up a lot.

One of the family gatherings on this trip to northeast Pennsylvania (NEPA, I think is the abbreviation) took place at the home of Mary Theresa and Jerry.  Jerry and I were lucky – we married into the family and were allowed to keep our own names.

I brought the last of the three wines from the Wine and Spirits store to this buffet dinner.  I had previously had mixed results with Tailgate Red and Clover Hill DeChaunac.  I hoped the Chaddsford Winery Proprietor's Reserve would be the best of the three.

Labeled as Pennsylvania Red Wine from the Brandywine Valley, the Chaddsford records a 12.9% abv number.  Once again, I'm not expecting a big, firebreathing monster.  Also again, I am experiencing a grape which is new to me - Chambourcin.  The Chaddsford is 91.5% Chambourcin from southeast Pennsylvania and 8.5% Barbera from Flowing Springs Vineyard.  The wine sees American oak chips during its stainless-steel tank storage and it experiences 100% malolactic fermentation.

A translucent cherry red in the glass, it looks almost weak.  I have no great expectations for this wine – until I smell it.  Aromas of dark fruit, ripe cherry and smoke jump right out at me.  It's complicated and delightful to whiff.

On the palate, a bright cherry flavor with a brambly feel is a joy to taste.  There's a bit of smoke, too.  I am relieved to find that it's really a pretty good wine.  It tastes and drinks a lot like a Pinot Noir.

Tomorrow on the Now And Zin Wine Blog, a Washington State Riesling.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Clover Hill DeChaunac

My recent visit to a state-run wine store in Pennsylvania resulted in the purchase of three wines produced in the Keystone State.  My encounter with Tailgate Red left me enlightened, if not delighted.  My second selection from the state store was a wine from the Lehigh Valley AVA,Clover Hill Vineyards and Winery DeChaunac.

I selected this wine because DeChaunac is a grape with which I had no prior experience.  It's a French hybrid grape planted primarily in the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada.

With an alcohol level of 12% abv, it does not appear to be a heavyweight red.  The label tells me to expect “mulberry, dark berry and earth aromas and flavors,” which appears to be right on the money.  The wine sports some very dark aromas, but they seem sour to my senses.  It feels like a well made wine, with good balance between the sweetness and acidity.  It's rather full in the mouth, too, with a good weight. The sour aromas carry over onto my palate, though, and the taste is not something I would go back to experience again.

It's very seldom I experience a grape for the first time and am underwhelmed, but that is the case with DeChaunac.  Even though the wine has all the makings of one I should enjoy, I simply don't.  I feel it's a flavor profile that I just don't care for.  Perhaps with more exposure I would form a taste for it.  For a wine billed as semi-sweet, the sourness hit me oddly.

Props to Clover Hill, though, for utilizing an underexposed grape, and props to those who like it and drink it.

Tomorrow: the real winner from that Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits store purchase.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Mount Nittany Tailgate Red

Still in the capable - and local – hands of Steven and Robin, our visit to the Wilkes Barre, PA area continued with a special trip which was staged just for me.  It was a trip to one of the many state-run “Wine and Spirits” stores.  The locals just call them “state stores,” and that's where one must go to buy wine in Pennsylvania, either there or the winery.  There's no wine sold in grocery stores, supermarkets, drug stores or the corner Stop-N-Rob.  The Keystone State's archaic alcohol laws make it as difficult as possible to purchase a bottle of wine.

Expecting bars on the windows and a teller-cage atmosphere, I was pleasantly surprised to find the state store looked just like a regulation wine store inside.  There was even a very helpful gent on duty who directed me to the half-shelf of Pennsylvania and New York wines.  The limited shelf space given to the regional juice was a bit of a surprise to me.  Most of the store was given over to wines from California, France and Italy.  There were quite a few offerings in boxes, and quite a few White Zinfandels.  I hadn't seen Mateus Rosé in quite a while, but this state store was well stocked with it.  

I limited myself to the regional half-shelf and pulled a few bottles to share at some family gatherings.  The results were mixed.

The first wine I took from the shelf was dedicated to Steven's love of Penn State football.  Tailgate Red, in fact, is produced by Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery of Centre Hall, PA.  This is located along the Susquehanna Heartland Trail of wineries north of Harrisburg.  I wish I could say I enjoyed this wine as much as I have enjoyed the sight of Joe Paterno stalking the sidelines of Penn State football games for decades.

Tailgate Red is described on the winery's website as a “light, semi-dry blend of French hybrid grape varieties.”  It's light alright, seemingly made for people who just want to drink a whole lotta wine at once.  It's a little darker red than a rosato with a fruity, candy-like nose and even more candy on the palate.  The grapey, juicy taste is appallingly sweet and reminiscent of candy, but not particularly good candy.  There is very little acidity, which makes the wine seem quite out of balance.  It was a $10 bottle which would have been overpriced at the going rate for Boone's Farm in 1973.

The grapes involved in this enological disaster are not specified on the winery's website - perhaps to protect the innocent – but I'm told there could be some Catawba or Cayuga grapes involved.  They are both native to the eastern U.S. and are cold weather varieties.  Whatever grapes were used in the production of this wine would have better served humanity had they been sold to Welch's instead.

Now And Zin's trip to Pennsylvania started with a cheap Pinot Grigio.  The Pennsylvania Wine Tasting continues tomorrow.  Please come back to this space for more.  The wines get better as we go along.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


HRM Rex Goliath 47 Pound Chicken Pinot Grigio

Robin brought out the bottle with the chicken on it, saying, "I know you really like wine, so this may not be good enough for you.  It's really cheap."  People are always mistakenly using price as a gauge for quality in wine.  I was not knocked out by the label art, or by the back story that goes along with HRM Rex Goliath 47 Pound Chicken.  A sketchy story about a huge rooster in a Texas traveling circus given royal status has the stink of very unimaginative marketing all over it - but I'll give any wine a fair chance to impress.

I'm not in the habit of insulting my in-laws anyway - at least not on purpose - so when my brother-in-law's spouse brought out the bottle with the chicken on it, I gladly accepted a glass on the porch in Kingston, PA.  It was a sad occasion that brought us to the Keystone State in the first place.  Nobody needed some overly picky wine blogger making the situation worse.

She was right about it being cheap - His Royal Majesty sells for about seven bucks a bottle most places - but she was needlessly apologetic in serving it.  It really hits the spot.

This Pinot Grigio is produced in Woodbridge, CA and is identified as "California," so it's not really clear where the grapes are sourced.  There is no oak treatment given to it.  The alcohol content is an easy-drinking 12.5% abv.

The big chicken pours up very pale in the glass and sports a nose of melon and peach that comes through quite nicely even when served cold.  This is an encouraging sign.  The palate carries through on the promise of the bouquet with the taste of minerals and lemon rind taking the spotlight.  There is a bracing acidity that makes for a clean and refreshing quaff.  This cheap wine is actually quite delicious!

Here's hoping it's a happy occasion that brings my family together again.  Here's further hoping that Robin pulls out the bottle with the chicken on it the next time I'm on her porch.

I'll detail more wine adventures from northeast Pennsylvania during the coming week, including my first encounters with Penn-produced wines.  Please keep visiting this space.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Santa Ema Sauvignon Blanc

During my recent trip to Las Vegas I found myself away from the casino for a spell.  I'm not too sure how that happened, but while strolling around in the 100+ degree heat - dry heat - I decided it was time for some refreshment.
Brio Tuscan Grille is a chain restaurant, but they appear to take a little more interest in the wine list than that usually indicates.  On this hot afternoon, refreshment came in the form of a Chilean white wine.
Santa Ema Sauvignon Blanc is from Chile's Central Valley region, in the Maipo Valley.  It's 100% Sauvignon Blanc and costs $7 per glass.  It also costs about that for a bottle at many retailers.

Refreshment is what I wanted, and refreshment was delivered.  Pale, straw-colored in the glass, the nose is grassy and grapefruity with some tropical notes.  There's also a whiff of fresh melons.  The palate shows citrus on peaches.  There's a delighful acidity with a very light and refreshing mouthfeel.  The finish is medium long, but entirely delightful.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Nathanson Creek Chardonnay

All-you-can-eat buffets have been a mainstay of Las Vegas dining since the Rat Pack was smoking by the carton at the Sands.  The only thing that has changed about that is the price.  Once touted as the way to get full if you only had $1.99 left after getting cleaned out at the craps table, Las Vegas buffets now top ten, fifteen and even twenty dollars - more for the really special ones.
At the M Resort, the buffet runs about $30 - rather steep even though the food is good and there's plenty of it.  The M's Studio B buffet adds the attraction of free beverages, incuding beer and wine.  But what kind of wine are they serving for free?  Even though I was there for a 9:00 a.m. breakfast, I felt compelled to at least sample the wine and report on it here.  That's the life of a struggling wine blogger: work, work, work.
You may have seen this coming - I did - but there is only one wine label offered for free at the buffet.  It's Nathanson Creek, and I saw three varieties on hand - Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and White Zinfandel.  It was a little early for a Cab, even for me, and I thought I'd pass on the White Zin.  The Chardonnay sounded like a nice breakfast wine, so I ordered a glass.
A little searching brought no wealth of information.  It's a California wine, but I can't locate the grapes any more specifically than that.  It sells for about $8 a bottle in stores and there's a drawing of a frog on the label, which didn't surprise me. 

On tasting, I was surprised - it really wasn't too bad.  Served fairly cold, the nose is quite obscured.  I get faint notes of peach and apple with an undercurrent of oaky aromas.  The wood is not overdone and the wine has a nice level of acidity.  The finish is short, but the mouthfeel is full and round.  It goes well with bacon, which is good because that's what's usually on my plate at a Vegas buffet.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Chandon Reserve Pinot Noir Brut

Fans of old-school Las Vegas remember fondly the $1.99 meals which, at one time, were prevalent in Sin City.  They were quite popular at a time when the casinos felt the need to throw a loss-leader out there to attract gamblers.
Nowadays, they have figured out the gamblers will be there no matter how much the meal costs.  In fact, Las Vegas has become quite the big ticket attraction in the opulent gambling palaces on The Strip.  Chefs of world renown have restaurants in every one of the glitzy hotels where $1.99 isn't likely to buy an iced tea, much less a meal.
When I visited the M Resort - a bit south of The Strip proper - I saw that their wine bar and cellar, The Hostile Grape, was advertising $2 sparkling wine on one particular evening.  Spying a way to enjoy a little wine break without tapping too heavily into the all-important gambling money, I decided to check out the offer.  It was my personal version of the $1.99 meal.
To the credit of The Hostile Grape, they were not lowballing the selection.  It wasn't Moet et Chandon, but it was Chandon, the California arm of the noted French Champagne house.
Chandon's Reserve Pinot Noir Brut was the $2 choice that night.  It's not a top-shelf sparkler, but it carries a little more prestige than Tott's.  Made from grapes that are 53% Napa County, 47% Sonoma County, this sparkler figures out to 76% Pinot Noir, 22% Chardonnay and 2% Pinot Meunier.  That's the math.  Now, let's taste.
A pale golden color in the glass, the bubbles are quite fine and plentiful.  A wonderfully funky little nose shows yeasty apples.  The Febreze Factor that afflicts the rest of the hotel is not so prevalent down in the wine cellar.  A creamy palate is no doubt due to the minimum of three years spent on yeast.  Toast and earthy notes prevail, with almonds and custard very faint on the finish.
The wine was a hit with me - so big a hit, I went right upstairs and had a winning session at the blackjack table, finishing $10 up!  That's enough for several more glasses of their nice $2 sparkler.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Dillman Delight Riesling

All the watering holes at the M Resort in Las Vegas go a little heavy on the house brand wines.  There are, however, some good selections available on the wine lists throughout the bars and restaurants of the hotel and casino.
I took a break from the action on the casino floor to visit the M's Lobby Bar for a glass of Dillman Delight Riesling.  Despite the name - which I think sounds like a moonshine from The Dukes Of Hazzard - it's a German Riesling from Bernkastel in the Mosel-saar-ruwer region.  The steeply-sloped vineyards of the region produce some mighty fine Riesling grapes.
The waitress on duty at the nearly empty bar said she likes Dillman Delight because it reminds her of Pinot Grigio.  How ringing that endorsement is depends on your view of Pinot Grigio, I suppose.  After she assured me it was German, I decided to give it a try.  It's $9 per glass.
The Dillman Delight is very pale in color.  I'm told the nose carries tropical and mineral aromas, but the M perfumes their air conditioning, so getting past the Febreze scent was a challenge.  Pear juice comes through nicely on the palate with some citrus and mineral notes and a decent acidity.  There is a trace of petrol that lingers into the short finish, for which I an always grateful in a Riesling.  The waitress didn't seem to share my delight with that petrol emotion.
I tried a few other wines in a few other places while at the M Resort.  I'll be telling you about them in the coming days on this blog.