Monday, October 18, 2010


Ojai Vineyards Thompson Vineyard Syrah

Greenblatt's Deli on Sunset Boulevard is not only a very fine deli, it also happens to be a fine wine shop.  Now that's a combination I can live with.  I had some time to kill and took the opportunity to have a great glass of wine while browsing the racks there.  I actually skipped the deli altogether and ordered a glass of the 2005 Ojai Vineyards Thompson Vineyard Syrah.

While browsing, I noticed Greenblatt's had this wine by the bottle, marked down from $45 to $30.  That's quite a bargain, and the $12 by-the-glass price isn't bad either.

The wine is colored very darkly, with purple tinting at the edges.  The nose is great, with blackberries and an earthy, beefy aroma coming forth.  It's very dark on the palate, too, with blackberries and plums giving way to black pepper and mocha on the finish.

If you get the chance, Greenblatt's is a great browse.  They cover a nice stretch, from $7 Borsao (which is great, by the way) to Screaming Eagle, with a lot of nice wines in the $20 range.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Konig Sauvignon Blanc

Alone in the restaurant, all alone.  It was just the two of us at lunch.  A busy week was winding down and we had the place all to ourselves for a nice, quiet lunch before heading into the final round of battle.  We picked a booth all the way across the restaurant from the front door, and slid into the corner seats.  All alone.

Well, enjoy it while you can.  In Los Angeles the ruination of a quiet moment is never too far away.  And this one was ruined by the loudest, most talkative person in town - a town, mind you, where they produce loud, talkative people for export to other states - who crossed the empty restaurant and sat down with her lunch companion right next to us.  An entire restaurant full of empty tables to choose from, and she sat right next to us.

Before five minutes had passed, we knew her job description, the make of her car, a few assorted pet peeves and her gynecologist's name.

It worked out for the best, though.  We asked the waitress to move us to another table, and we picked one right next to the window.  The view of the traffic on the street outside was so much nicer than listening to her bore that poor guy she was with.  He never got a word in, edgewise or otherwise.

We had each other's company, a nice day, a new table off to ourselves - again - and a wonderful lunch.  Oh, lookie - a wine list.  I believe I will.

Honig Vineyard and Winery hails from Napa Valley, subscribes to sustainable farming practices and goes the extra mile, playing just about every eco-friendly card in the deck.  Michael Honig is quite serious about making sure his winery plays well with the earth.  He even gives it a "green report card" which shows his estimate of how green they are.  Winemaker Kristin Belair has been with the winery since 1998.

The Honig Sauvignon Blanc is a pale yellow-green color and shows tropical notes on the nose along with a nice mineral component.  It tastes somewhat like pineapple, somewhat like lemons and limes.  There is a very slight touch of green pepper on the finish.  It's creamy in the mouth, but has a nice acidity.  It's not an extremely crisp wine - it got a bit lost when it went up against a spicy Pan-Asian curry dish at Buddha's Belly.  It went quite well with the chicken salad and the egg rolls, though.


Oak Ridge Winery OVZ

Some pretty fantastic wines are coming out of Lodi, CA these days.  Zinfandel is a specialty of the region, owing to its Mediterranean climate and the alluvial soil.

Winegrower Rudy Maggio and his partners, Don and Rocky Reynolds, acquired Oak Ridge Winery in 2001, and for the winery's OZV senior winemaker Chue Her utilizes fruit from gnarled, low-yielding vines that are as much as 120 years old.

The OZV is made up of 95% Zinfandel and 5% mixed estate varieties.  It shows 13.4% abv, a pretty low alcohol number for a California - especially Lodi - Zinfandel.  This bottle retails for $20, but I grabbed it on sale for $17.

OZV shows a fairly dark ruby color in the glass, with a nose of big, bold raspberry, strawberry and cherry aromas.  There's a hint of earthiness that grew each night the bottle was open, becoming a little darker and more tar-like over three nights.  The nose is so big and fruity, it's almost candylike, with a huge play of anise like you'd find in black licorice.  The complexity continues with a touch of chocolate aroma layered underneath.

The palate sports earthy brambles and a hint of coffee on the finish.  The wine is very smooth and silky, with fine tannins and a bright, lively acidity that makes for a juicy and lip-smacking experience.  It's a great tasting, smooth drinking wine I would love to try with rosemary pork chops or a smoked ham.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Cimarone 3CV Syrah

The “tent sale” that Wally's Wine and Spirits throws every now and zin on Westwood Boulevard is a huge attraction for me.  I just love the whole “circus of wine” atmosphere that big tent over the parking lot produces.  And, as I have mentioned before, I love a bargain.

The biggest bargains at the tent sale are usually found on the highest-priced products.  50% off an $800 wine still leaves it a bit out of my neighborhood.  But even if I'm only saving $3 on a $20 wine, that gives me something else to feel good about.

Not that I needed much more to feel good about with Cimarone's 3CV Syrah.  This estate-grown, Santa Ynez Valley wine is a joy from start to glorious finish.

3CV stands for Three Creek Vineyard, which is where the fruit is grown.  Syrah clones 877, 383 and Noir are gathered for this limited release.  The fruit is certified organic.  My bottle is marked as “0514 of 6900.”

Roger and Priscilla Higgins, owners of Cimarone, hired the right man for the winemaking job.  Esteemed juiceman Doug Margerum made a name for himself when his family bought Santa Barbara's Wine Cask, then formed his own company, Margerum Wine Company.  He also makes wine for Barrack Wines and Cent'anne, in addition to Cimarone.  He's a busy guy.

The fruit is from the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County.  3CV Syrah is aged ten months in neutral oak and has 14.5 abv.  The 3CV label is Cimarone's outlet for younger, affordable, early drinking wines.

The nose of anise, pepper and plums is quite enjoyable.  It's a dark purple that's difficult to see through.  The taste of black fruit and earth is lush, and it's compounded by the smoothness of the wine.  The tannins are like silk, but it has a great acidity and is nice and dry.  This wine drinks great immediately, and it takes on a bit of a tar component if left open for two or three days.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Ortman O2 Series Sangiovese

Ortman Family Vineyards of Paso Robles, in California's Central Coast wine region, has unveiled a new line of wines which appears to target the younger generation of wine drinkers.  Called the O2 Series, the line is spearheaded by second-generation winemaker Matt Ortman.  The bottles feature rakish, slanted labels and the wines are promised to be "fruit-forward and food-friendly in the Ortman style."

Three wines make up the line, a Chardonnay, a red blend and a Sangiovese, all of which were provided to me for review.  It's the Tuscan-styled effort we are tasting here.  The Sangiovese carries a suggested retail price of $20 and 13.8% abv.  517 cases were produced.

Inspired by Matt and Lisa Ortman's honeymoon in Tuscany, The O2 Sangiovese comes from the fruit of Bob Goodwin's Algunas Dias Vineyard in the upper foothills of Paso Robles.  It's 100% Sangiovese.

The wine is medium garnet in color, a very pretty hue, and I can barely see my fingers through the glass.  The nose is big and fruity - cherries and blueberries leap out - and clove spice is apparent.  On the palate I get big red cherries with an herbal component that’s almost tar-like.  The fruit is in the driver’s seat, but some fairly strong minerality is riding shotgun.  On first sip I think, "Well, this is pretty straightforward."  Then, while rolling the wine around in my mouth I think, "Wait a minute - this isn’t so simple!"  It’s a complex flavor profile, and a nice acidity makes for a lively mouthfeel.  After the cherry-cola finish, I’m eager for the next sip.

Ortman's O2 Sangiovese offers a bigger, fuller mouthfeel than I usually find in the variety.  The spices and big cherry presence remind me of the flavors of the holidays.  The Ortmans suggest pairing their Sangiovese with lasagna or beef stew (or anything Tuscan).  I think it would go very well with a grilled pork chop, or a porchetta. Or that beef stew.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Pasadena Wine Festival

The Pasadena Wine Festival was held Saturday October 9, 2010 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia.  I'm sure festival planners were hoping for weather more like autumn than summer, but it was summer they got.  Temperatures in the mid 90s and only a spot of shade to be found here and there - unusual, I think, for a venue with "arbor" in its name - caused afternoon wine lovers to bake in the hot sun.

Many long tables were provided where people were expected to rest their weary feet, but they were in the middle of the treeless plain.  Anyone found sitting there during the afternoon must have simply passed out there.

Even in the heat, people seemed to be enjoying themselves.  There were a few issues that I felt could be improved on for next year's event.  Here they are:

More wineries - The huge expanse of the grounds seemed to swallow up the dozen or so booths that were arranged in an open rectangle.  With only a few wines poured at each table, there just didn't seem to be that much offered.  France was represented by 4 wines, one of them Hob Nob.

Shade - If you can't find trees at an arboretum, can you at least bring in some umbrellas?  Nighttime visitors didn't have this concern.  To be fair, most people seemed to be having a nice - if hot - day in the sun.

Cost - The base admission price of $28 seemed to afford only entry to the grounds.  After that, it was pay-per-taste or upgrade to a VIP ticket.

Parking - $13 to park at Santa Anita seems pretty high, and that's what you had to pay if you got there after the Arboretum parking was filled, which didn't take long.

Volunteers - Their work was appreciated, but forget about finding out anything about the wines that were poured.  Winery reps - or at least volunteers who knew something about the wines - would have been a much better choice.

Bottles in the sun.Hot booths - The workers seemed to able to find shade as they poured, but the bottles of wine were sitting in the direct afternoon sun for hours before I saw some attempt at shading them.

Organization - Maybe it was just a slow start, but everyone seemed to be scrambling to get things done upon opening.  An hour into the event, I finally found someone who knew where to pick up the free stemware.

Food Trucks - A lot of the food trucks everyone loves were there, but at least one was charging more than the prices posted on their own sign.  After a customer complained, the sign was quickly taken down, but the customer was charged the higher price anyway.

Waste Buckets - Sure, with people paying for every sip, there probably wasn't much call for spit buckets.  But those who upgraded to VIP, and people who wanted to do all the tasting and still be able to drive home, were left without a nice way to dispose of the taste.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Dale's Pale Ale

Baby Blues BBQ in West Hollywood has some of the best barbecue in Southern California.  Some of you may think that's like being the best politician in Alaska, but let me tell you, there is some seriously good barbecue in Los Angeles.  It has to be great to even be considered good.

Baby Blues describes their offerings as St. Louis-style ribs, dry-rubbed brisket, pork that is slow-roasted in Guinness draft and a sauce from the western part of North Carolina.  It's a hybrid barbecue restaurant, is what it is.

I know a lot of people like to banter about what kind of wine they pair with barbecue, but there are some foods that simply call for beer.  Mexican food, Indian food and barbecue are on the top of that list for me.

Baby Blues does have an interesting - if brief - wine list, but their beer list is what captures my attention.

I had a combo platter that featured a hot link, some brisket and some pulled pork.  That's three food groups right there.  A meat lovin' meal like that calls for a great beer, and that's what Dale's Pale Ale is.

It's labeled as a Rocky Mountain Pale Ale on the can - yes, the can - and an alcohol content of 6.5% abv is listed.

It pours up pretty in the glass, a nice golden-brown color with a fluffy white head that takes a while to dissipate.  The nose is very hoppy with some faint citrus notes.  On the palate, a slightly bitter, floral taste is predominant, and it cries out to be paired with something spicy.

That's where Dale's Pale Ale did the heavy lifting - when matched with the very spicy hot link.  A nice, nutty finish left a clean taste afterward.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Twin Fin Shiraz

I’m not one who thinks a low-priced wine has to be cheap.  I’ve had plenty of wines at less than ten dollars per bottle which I found quite nice.  Even at the five-dollar mark, it’s not impossible to find quality.  Twin Fin Shiraz is a six-dollar wine which was given as a gift from a casino in Las Vegas.  I happen to like the casino, so I’ll leave them out of this.
Produced at the Constellation Wines facility in Woodbridge, CA, Twin Fin shares the corporate umbrella with labels like Mondavi, Ravenswood, Estancia, Blackstone and a number of other perfectly decent wines that are found in a lot of supermarkets.
I cannot locate any information on where the grapes are sourced for the 2006 vintage, but in the past, Twin Fin has taken Syrah from Monterey County, Lodi, North Coast and Paso Robles. I would guess this changes from year to year, and that the most affordable grapes are used.
The nose is big, but not that enticing.  Blackberry aromas struggle to fight through the alcohol.  It’s only 13.5% abv, so something doesn’t smell quite right.  Speaking of, there’s a bit of a barnyard fragrance coming through that’s not entirely pleasant.  There's quite a bit of oak effect in it, too.  The smell of a wine is supposed to make me want to drink it.  This bouquet makes me want to pour it down the drain.

Thin and harsh are two words I hate to use when writing about a wine, but this wine simply can’t offer anything better.  The dark fruit is there, along with a peppery spice note.  The flavors, which should be so nice, seem too heavily influenced by oak.  Between the off-putting odor and the weak quality on the palate there’s not much nice to say.  It’s a pretty, dark purple. Maybe I can just look at it while I drink something else.
The wine does mellow a bit after an hour or so in the glass, losing some of the heat and a bit of the funk, but it still has a rather hollow mouthfeel and contrived flavor profile.  Two nights later it had mellowed even more, but the weight was still thin and the taste was off.  
Six dollars isn't a lot to pay for a bottle of wine, but I still think it's overpriced.  The fact that it was a gift doesn't make me feel any better about it.  I'd have been happier had the casino given me Two Buck Chuck.

Monday, October 11, 2010


San Antonio Winery

The winemaker dinner I attended at San Antonio Winery in downtown Los Angeles  on October 9, 2010 was eye-opening in more ways than one.

Not only was it my first visit to the oldest working winery in Los Angeles, I’m ashamed to say,  but it was also the first visit for many at my table - including someone who lives next door to one of the principal figures in the winery!  I was also corrected on my uninformed opinion that San Antonio Winery was a lonely, neglected building hidden among a bunch of warehouses.

True, the landscape in this part of downtown L.A. is a bit industrial.  True, Lamar Street, on which the winery is located, has a fairly large population of big trucks - even on Saturday afternoon.  But forget the notion that San Antonio Winery is a forgotten building.  Denise and I sat in the car for a few minutes before going inside.  The foot traffic we observed going in and out of the front door was amazing.  It seemed to never stop - or even slow down.  Paso Robles or Santa Barbara wineries would kill for that kind of business.

Once inside, looking to the left - where the tasting bar is - there was no way to muscle my way in.  It was was simply too crowded.  I was told by one of my table mates that the crowd on this early October Saturday was nothing.  “Just wait until the holidays,”  she said.  “They really start getting the crowds then!”


For the uninitiated, San Antonio Winery has been a historical landmark in Los Angeles for about 45 years.  The winery was founded in 1917 by Santo Cambianica , at a time when the California wine industry was changing from sweet and fortified wines to dry red wines.  The winery is still family-owned and operated.

For this once-a-year event, Michael and Anthony Riboli presided over the festivities, sharing time talking about the various wines and pouring them, too.

The dinner was staged in the barrel room in the rear portion of the winery.  There were about a dozen or so large round tables seating up to eight diners each.  At our table, we joined Adrianna, Virginia, Diane and Jim.  I think I was the one person at our table most interested in the wine - it’s usually that way for me.  Jim admitted he was “not much of a wine person,” but even he was really getting into the fun of tasting and pairing.

Tasting the wines was somewhat eye-opening for me, too.  I was actually familiar with only one of the wines served at this dinner, so I had the chance to sample a variety of the San Antonio Winery’s product.  I was impressed by all of them.


The Riboli family takes their tradition very seriously.  The word “heritage” kept popping up throughout the evening as Michael and Anthony spoke of the winery and wines that are their own heritage.  The word even appears on a series of wines designed to celebrate the history of the winery and the family.

Grapes for the Riboli’s wines are estate-grown, not sourced from other growers.  They own vineyard land in several areas of California you may have heard of - Paso Robles, Monterey County, Napa Valley.

“The vineyard is the most important part of winemaking,” Anthony explained.  “If the grapes aren’t good, the wine won’t be good.”  Echoing a wine industry axiom, he said, “The best wines are made in the vineyard.”

Michael got philosophical when ruminating on his family’s history as winemakers.  “Making wine is our business,” he said, “but it’s great to have a business where making people feel good is the end result.”

Anthony selected the wine pairings for the evening’s meal, and the pairings were very smart.  Having good wine is a great first step, but knowing how to pair it with foods that will accentuate the wine’s highlights is a special ability.  Anthony showed he knows how to pair wine as well as make it.

The wines awaitMaddalena Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles 2009 - served with glazed, marinated albacore salad with an avocado and ginger paste.

The 100% varietal wine sees mostly steel - just two months in neutral oak.  It shows a slightly grassy nose with abundant minerals.  On the palate, it’s rich and round with a citrus tartness and lemon zest.  I wish for the finish to last longer, but I’m left with the bracing sensation of wet rocks afterward. 

This was the pairing of the night for me, as the wine and the food combined to create an entirely new taste.  The wine, mixed with the avocado and ginger paste, spawned a mustard-like flavor which surprised and delighted me.

Heritage Blanc, Central Coast 2009- served with seared sea scallops with white frisee, Dijon vinaigrette and tarragon puree.

An “oddball blend” of Viognier, dry Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.  The different wines are blended and stirred during the two months the wine spends in neutral oak barrels.  The nose is aromatic and floral, with honeysuckle predominant.  The taste is of tart apples with a layer of minerality and citrus.  This is a zesty wine, too, with great acidity. 

It scores in combination with the scallops.  It’s one of three wines now offered with a distinct “retro” label which images the winery’s own heritage.

Windstream Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands 2008 - served with grilled, five spice marinated quail, with bacon fried rice and an orange hoisin sauce.

I had tasted this wine at a Pinot show in Pasadena earlier in the year, and it was my favorite at that show.  Still showing a huge nose of cherries and plums, this wine seems very dark for a Pinot Noir, both in color and taste.  The effect of the French oak is tastefully apparent..  The palate is huge and intense, with cherries and raspberries on a dark earthiness.

It paired quite nicely with the intense flavors of the five spice and hoisin, and brought an extra dimension to the slightly gamey bird.  I would love to have this wine with a steak, too.

San Simeon Syrah, Monterey 2007 and Heritage Red Rhone Blend, Paso Robles 2006 - both served with pappardelle pasta with white chanterelle mushrooms.

The Syrah has a nose of blackberry and black pepper with an intense palate showing jammy, spicy fruit.  The wine is in French and American oak for two years, and it shows the effect of both.  There are nice vanilla notes from the American oak and spiciness from the French.

The Red Rhone Blend contains Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre and Grenache.  This wine shows earth on the nose and tastes of fruit and beef.

To choose one of these wines as the pairing winner, I’d go with the Rhone blend because of its earthiness, matching so well with the mushrooms.

Riboli Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford 2007 (Library Selection) and Riboli Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford 2008 - both served with herb-roasted beef tenderloin with sautéed Porcini mushrooms.

The ‘07 has an earthier nose with plummy fruit, while the ‘08 has a fruitier taste and a graphite edge.  Both are drinking very well and have a nice, full mouthfeel with very smooth tannins.

Both of these wines paired well with the beef.  I couldn’t name a favorite between the two Cabs.

La Quinta Crema Marsala, California NV - served with chocolate terrine with spiced dried fruit compote and a cinnamon cream.

The Marsala’s nose of raisins, spice and honey could serve as dessert on its own, but you really wouldn’t want to miss tasting it.  A sherry-like flavor of candied fruit pairs well with both the fruit and chocolate. 

This brown-colored, fortified wine is 18% abv and would be right at home after a big Thanksgiving meal or Christmas dinner.

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.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Peachy Canyon Incredible Red

Browsing in Trader Joe's wine section recently, my eye was grabbed by the name Peachy Canyon.  It was familiar to me, because it was one of the first wineries I visited on my first trip to Paso Robles quite some time ago.  I thought I'd grab a bottle and see how it tastes today.

This Paso Robles Zinfandel is a 96/4% blend with Petite Sirah.  It has a beautiful deep ruby hue and a nose of jammy blackberries and cherries, with cedar and spice.  On the second night it was open it was showing some tar, which I didn't notice when it was first uncorked.

The palate tastes of black cherry with a licorice note that lingers into the rather lengthy finish.  The mouthfeel is full, with smooth tannins and a nice minerality.  It's not a particularly big or brawny wine.  At only 13.9% abv, the alcohol is really restrained.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc

Despite the calendar inching closer and closer to something called Autumn, I’ve been on a bit of a Sauvignon Blanc kick lately.  Here in Southern California, we don’t do autumn.  It’s not that we don’t want to, it simply doesn’t happen.  When people elsewhere are braying about the “changing color of the leaves,” whatever that is, we see the same green and brown shades exactly where they have been all year.  For those who move here from somewhere else, the lack of autumn is usually their number one complaint.  That, and “You can’t get a decent cheesesteak here.”

One good thing about extending summer a bit: it means more time for summery wines.  We went to Fabrocini's for lunch, and if I were more of a FourSquare person, I would be the mayor of their calamari and scungilli salad.  I’ve gone on and on and on about that before, so I won’t belabor the point.  The wine paired very well with it.

Charles Krug is part of the Mondavi empire in Napa Valley.    The Sauvignon Blanc is a 100% varietal wine which is oakless, all stainless steel.  The 13.5% abv is light enough for lunch, certainly.

The wine is a rather pretty pale greenish-gold color.  I was looking forward to the promised array of tropical notes on the nose, but it was served quite cold and I could really only detect a slight grassiness.  I do wish restaurants would serve their wine at the proper temperature.  Too cold, and the bouquet is lost.  The taste was great, with canteloupe rind and orange zest leading the way in a full mouthfeel.  The acidity was bright and produced a zing that went with the seafood very well.

The bottle retails for $18, and at the restaurant it was $10 by the glass - not a bad deal.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Louis Jadot Chardonnay Macon-Villages

Since the maison's founding in1859, Louis Jadot has been a well-respected name in Burgundy.  Producing a number of different Chardonnay wines - and red wine, of course - the house of Jadot is one of the largest wine producers in the region.

This white Burgundy wine is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in the Mâcon-Villages area in Burgundy's Mâconnais region.  The alcohol level is 12.5% abv.  This wine was purchased at Trader Joe's for $12, if memory serves me.

The wine is colored very lightly in the glass.  There is a funky little nose unchilled, which is diminished only slightly when chilled.  Herbal, spicy aromas join a restrained citrus note in the bouquet.  This white Burgundy is clean and crisp on the palate, with a nice acidity and a somewhat tart taste of lemon zest that plays big on the palate and even bigger on the finish.  Did I mention the minerals?  They show up by the truckload, as the the chalky soil of the Mâconnais is on display.


La Vieille Ferme Rose

Dry rosés are a favorite around the Now And Zin household, and we recently tried a 2009 version of one we liked in the 2008 vintage.

The earlier vintage of La Vieille Ferme, Récolte 2008, was from Côtes du Ventoux, produced by Jean Pierre Perrin of Chateau de Beaucastel fame.   The wine is a blend of 50% Cinsault, 40% Grenache and 10% Syrah.  It shows a good strawberry red color in the glass which is quite reminiscent of a Spanish rosado.  Strawberries on the nose lead to a full mouth which is also dominated by strawberry, raspberry and some great earthy notes.  It's a dry rose – not bone dry, but it pairs very well with Thai food.

Récolte 2009 utilizes the same grape varieties, but I don’t know if the percentages are the same.  My guess is they are, because I didn’t find anything really different to note in the newer version.  It shows the same deep hue, the same intense strawberry characteristics and the same good acidity.  Instead of Thai food this time around, I had it with a pair of cheeses.  It paired with the Reblechon triple cream Brie better than the stronger Mahon reserva.

For a bargain basement six dollars, it would be hard to do better.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


RN13 pique nique blanc

A Sunday trip to the Larchmont Village Farmers' Market - which is a superb experience, by the way: great produce, lots of shade - played directly into a lunch for two at a nearby restaurant.  I love when that happens!  And yes, there was wine.

RN13 is a Vin de Pays wine from l’Herault in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  It’s named after a road which leads to the south of France.  No doubt, on this road, you’ll be drawn to stop the car and have a good ol’ French pique nique on a blue checkered blanket along the way.  The makers of this wine would recommend you have a bottle on hand in case that desire overcomes you.  At only 13% abv, it is a great wine to have for lunch.

The wine is made by Bioghetto, a collaborative effort between Gilles Valeriani and Alain Coumont.  The latter heads up the organic French restaurant chain Le Pain Quotidien.  That’s where we were served this wine - they also have the accompanying rosé - at the fairly decent price of $5.75 per glass.

Showing a light, golden color, the RN13 has grassy and citrus elements on the nose, but not overwhelmingly so.  On the palate, it’s more herbal than fruity.  Some pear comes through, but herbs get my attention first.  The finish has basil and lemongrass in it.  Good, but not great, acidity makes me think it will mate with food well.

The wine itself is quite ordinary, but pairs well with food.  We ordered two dishes, a roasted corn Caesar salad and a ham and Gruyere sandwich.  The sandwich was great, but the salad was boring - uncharacteristic for the food here.  It was also virtually corn-less, a real black mark for a salad with “corn” in its name.  Denise fixed the salad with a little mustard-based dressing she whipped up at the table.

The interesting thing is that the wine and food went hand in hand.  The wine - plain and unassuming - made the boring salad seems better than it was.  The sandwich - which deserves a food group all its own - lifted the wine to place higher than it probably deserved.  The way the wine and food worked together was impressive, and it’s the reason a meal simply isn’t complete without wine.

Online information showed RN13 Blanc to be a blend of 40% Viognier, 35% Chenin Blanc and 25% Sauvignon Blanc.  It was billed on the menu as a Sauvignon Blanc/Airen blend, but that seems a little sketchy to me.  I’m going with the website’s information.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Almaza Beer

Almaza Beer is a Lebanese brew which appears to be under the Heineken umbrella of international beers.  I tried it at Carousel Restaurant in Hollywood, an Armenian/Lebanese restaurant.  The location pictured on their website is in Glendale, and is considerably more ornate than the one in the Hollywood strip mall.

The beer has a golden color with a white head that disappears quickly.  There is a slight floral nose, not too hoppy, and rather nondescript.  The taste is decent, rather grainy with a sweet edge to it.  I enjoyed the taste more than I thought I would, but I would not have this when all I wanted was a beer.

Beers like this have trouble making it on their own, but they pair wonderfully with food.  It tasted great with the hummus, lentils, mouhamara (pomegranate/walnut dip) and a flatbread dish.

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.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


San Antonio Winery

The only working winery in Los Angeles - San Antonio Winery - invites you a Winemaker Dinner on Saturday October 9th, 2010 from 6:00 - 9:00 p.m.  The dinner will be hosted by Anthony Riboli and Michael Papalia.

San Antonio Winery, at 737 Lamar Street in downtown Los Angeles, has been functioning since 1917, and that includes Prohibition.  The winery was allowed to continue producing sacramental wines during that period.  Today, the Riboli family still owns it, and makes wine produced from estate vineyards in Napa Valley, Monterey, Paso Robles and other California grape-growing areas.

It's well worth a visit to San Antonio Winery anytime, to see their wine store and the gourmet restaurant, Maddalena Cucina.  It's a particularly good time to visit for this Winemaker Dinner, a once-a-year event.  It's $78 per person, and you can buy tickets through their website, or call 323.330.8771.  The four-course gourmet menu will be paired with wines from the Riboli family library.

Among the wines to be sampled are:

2009 Maddalena Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles

2009 Heritage Blanc, Central Coast

2008 Windstream Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands (this was my favorite wine at a Pinot Noir event in Pasadena earlier this year)

2007 San Simeon Syrah, Monterey

2006 Heritage Red Blend

2007 Riboli Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford - Library Selection

2008 Riboli Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford

La Quinta Crema Marsala

These wines will be paired with the following dishes:

Glazed marinated albacore salad with avocado and ginger

White frisee with Dijon vinaigrette and tarragon puree

Grilled five spice marinated quail and bacon fried rice with orange hoi sin sauce

Sweet potato gnocchi with fourme de ambert cheese sauce and roasted shallots

Herb roasted veal strip loin with sautéed porcini mushrooms and baby turnips

Chocolate terrine with spiced dried fruit compote and cinnamon cream.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Pasadena Wine Festival

The Pasadena Wine Festival will be held at the Los Angeles County Arboretum on Saturday October 9, 2010 from 2:00 to 10:00 p.m.  The main attraction is, of course, the wine - over 125 wines will be poured for your sampling pleasure.  California wines from Sonoma to Santa Barbara will be featured, along with special attention to the wines of Australia and Spain.  There's even more to look forward to at this annual event.

What's wine without food?  Great cheeses will be offered and this year the food trucks will roll out to keep the masses fed.  Some of the wildly popular mobile restaurants on hand will be The Grilled Cheese Truck, World Fare, Dosa Truck, Crepe'n Around, Border Grill Truck and Sprinkles Cupcakes.

The lovely grounds of the Arboretum and Botanical Garden will provide a beautiful backdrop for the festivities and a welcome respite awaits those who choose to take a break and stroll around.

You can challenge your friends to a game of bocce ball, pitch some horseshoes, try the ultimate golf challenge or just throw around a Frisbee.

Live music will entertain the festive crowd and you are advised to bring a blanket or beach chair so you can really relax after the sensory overload that's likely to occur.  Festival planners also advise you bring some sunscreen for the afternoon.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Morton's and Mondavi

Morton's The Steakhouse restaurants will close out thePrime Events at Morton's campaign with an innovative wine dinner which will bring the Mondavi family into the restaurant by video.

Thursday October 7, 2010, from 5:00 - 7:30 p.m., Morton's steakhouses will stage a wine dinner to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This dinner, broadcast live to participating Morton's restaurants, will feature members of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations of the legendary California wine family, Mondavi.

The event will originate from the Carriage House at Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena, CA. It will be in the form of a wine dinner broadcast live into the Morton's dining room, where you will taste along with the Mondavi family. New menu items from Morton's will be paired with various wines from the Mondavi wine empire.

Included in the broadcast will be Michael Mondavi of Folio Fine Wine Partners, Tim Mondavi and Marcia Mondavi Borger of Continuum Estate and from Charles Krug Winery, Peter Mondavi, Sr., Peter Mondavi, Jr. and Marc Mondavi.

Proceeds from the evening's live and silent auctions will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  Among the items to be auctioned are a 27-liter bottle of an exclusive blend made by the 2nd and 3rd generations solely for the event.

Tickets for this special wine event are $175 each, which includes tax and tip.  Click on theMortons link to make a reservation online or by phone.

Celebrating the Legendary Blend Dinner Menu:


Smoked Salmon Pizza
Tenderloin Crostinis
Miniature Crabcakes

Paired with:
Charles Krug - Peter Mondavi Family, Napa Valley, Sauvignon Blanc, 2009


Harvest Green Salad, topped with Sea Bass and Roasted Caper Vinaigrette

Paired with:
Isabel Mondavi, Sonoma Carneros, Chardonnay 2008


New York Strip Sirloin
Baked Sweet Onions with Gruyère
Roasted Tomato stuffed with Leaf Spinach
Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes

Paired with:
Continuum, Napa Valley, 2007
M by Michael Mondavi, Animo Vineyard, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Charles Krug - Peter Mondavi Family, Napa Valley, VS Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006


Cappuccino Cream

Paired with:
Charles Krug - Peter Mondavi Family, Napa Valley, Zinfandel Port, Lot XIII