Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thoughts on December 24th...

It's been an odd week. Thought I'd have written a post earlier about the delightful day JD and I had last Friday tasting wines at the Cornell Winery and the Rosenthal Winery tasting room and dinner at the Sunset Restaurant, and yet, somehow, I just wasn't getting it together. I'm sure it had something to do with the one-year anniversary of my mom's death on the 20th - been thinking a lot about her this week. Even though she had been mostly lost to us due to Alzheimer's for several years, this past year I kept wanting to talk to her. My mind would play tricks on me - I'd have a thought about something or other, and think, 'Oh, I have to tell Mom about that!' And then I'd remember. I really miss her.

Meanwhile, last week JD and I had a 'stay-cation.' Slept in almost every day. Took our time. Had few actual plans for the week. It was refreshing! After Tuesday evening's special event at Craft, we had a theater management team meeting at our house, where in the middle of the meeting we got to test the stain-stopping ability of white wine over red when JD accidentally spilled a large amount of red wine on the carpet. We quickly opened a bottle of white wine that we had no intention of ever drinking (long story), poured it over the red, sopped up the liquid with paper towels, and it worked surprisingly well! Our friends couldn't believe we just opened a bottle to spill! Pretty funny.

Friday, got up a bit earlier for a doctor's appointment. Got a clean bill of health and a cortisone shot in the shoulder (just bursitis and tendonitis, nothing serious), and headed for a solid breakfast at IHOP. JD had pumpkin pancakes and eggs and stuff; I had the crepe Florentine, which was actually pretty good, although I'm not really sure about the chicken being real chicken. Had an odd consistency. Finished breakfast and headed north.

The Cornell Winery is a wine shop and more, located up in the Agoura Hills, owned by Tim and Denise Skogstrom, that features wines grown and made locally, meaning wineries and vineyards in the Malibu AVA. Tim is a close friend of Ian Blackburn (LearnAboutWine), and Denise and I went to LearnAboutWine School together two years ago, and I was delighted to see, when we entered the store, that another alumna of that class was behind the counter. Deanne welcomed us and then tried to figure out why she knew me. Then, we tasted wines.

2008 Rosenthal Surfrider Sauvignon Blanc - Edna Valley. Clean, grassy nose, with lots of grapefruit and a long finish. $17. Bought 2 bottles.

2008 Republic of Malibu 'Beach Blonde' Chardonnay - 91% local (Malibu)/9% Viognier from Santa Ynez; aged in stainless, 'rested' in oak; winemaker Michael Barnes from Santa Monica; winery in Camarillo. Pale gold color, aromatic light oak in the nose, lightly toasted flavors, very drinkable right now. $22. Bought 1 bottle.

2007 Republic of Malibu 'Pink Lady' - Rose made from Syrah/Grenache from Corral Canyon vineyards. Lovely bright pink color; clean and slightly soapy (in a good way) bouquet; very dry, cherry cola flavor. I liked it; JD not so much. He found the finish oddly bitter. $19. Note: The label displays the Malibu Pink Lady, who briefly appeared above one of the tunnels on Kanan Road back in the 60's.

2007 Cantara Cellars Barbera from Lodi. Deep red in color, big berry nose. Lots of berry fruit and licorice, but not sweet. I would drink this with cheesecake - with berry topping! $32. Bought 1 bottle.

2007 Milan Vineyards 'Maximilian' - Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga Canyon. 50% Merlot/25% Syrah/25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Proprietors Amy and Milan Rubenstein have fashioned a gorgeous deep purple wine, redolent of sweet, yet smoky cherries, deepening and finishing with black pepper. $45. Bought 1 bottle, and am looking forward to drinking it!

2006 Hoyt Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - Malibu. Nose was vegetal, kind of barnyard-ish; taste was green pepper, black pepper and anise in the first sip. Swirled and tasted again - black cherry came to the front! I wondered if there were Cabernet Franc in the mix, but Deanne said that Hoyt's vineyards - extremely local - have a distinct flavor that she can identify blind. $19. Didn't buy, but am still curious about it.

2005 Malibu Valley Vineyards Reserve Syrah - mainly from the Triunfo vineyard off Kanan Road. Deep red color, not much nose, but dark red fruit to taste. Low alcohol, which was nice and unusual for a CA Syrah, but JD and I didn't find it that interesting. $15. And I keep asking what CA winemakers mean when they use the term 'Reserve', as it means nothing legally.

NV Saddlerock Old Vine Tawny Port. Saddlerock is the second label of Malibu Family Wines. Off-sweet with lots of chocolate and cherry and a kind of candied pecan nuttiness going on. Wonder what grapes are actually used. 19% alcohol. $20. Bought 1 bottle.

All during the tasting, we were admiring the wonderful local artists' work displayed throughout the tasting room. We spent much longer there than we planned, but we were having so much fun with Deanne and Deanotta (sp?), that we just stayed and played. We left with 6 bottles of wine and promised to return soon.

Got back on Kanan Road, which becomes Kanan Dume Road, winding thru the Santa Monica mountains to the sea. We turned left on PCH - that's Pacific Coast Highway for those of you not native to Ellay - and looked for the Rosenthal Winery tasting room. The tasting room shares a parking lot with Beau Rivage restaurant - a landmark in its' own right. We've been fortunate to have actually visited the Rosenthal estate (working for LAW - will work for wine!), an extraordinary estate in Newton Canyon, not open to the public. The Malibu Hills Vineyards are situated at elevations between 1,450 to 1,510 feet. To the west of the vineyards is a 1,630-foot ridge making a unique microclimate in the hills above Malibu. We've been fans of Rosenthal for a long time, but had never visited the tasting room!

Sean welcomed us, presented us with the tasting menu and the 'sushi' card for choosing which of the wines we wanted to taste.

2007 Surfrider Riesling - from Arroyo Seco in Monterey. Nose is honeysuckle and jasmine; in the mouth lots of apple and stone fruit with a creamy finish. $20. Bought 1 bottle.

2008 Surfrider Viognier - from Arroyo Grande in San Luis Obispo county. Lovely perfumey nose; slightly sweet, fruity. $21.

Skipped the rest of the whites and hit the reds!

2008 Surfrider Pinot Noir - Edna Valley/Firecreek Vineyard. Light-bodied, cinnamon on the nose, strawberries in the mouth. $27.

2000 Rosenthal Merlot - Malibu Estate - Newton Canyon. Elegant, with with hints of red cherry, plum, exotic spices, and a kiss of oak. Bright berry fruit, smooth mid-palate, and a lingering finish with well-integrated tannins. We liked this wine a lot, and it was on sale!!! for half price. That made it $11.25/bottle. We bought a six-pack, some of which will be under my sister's Xmas tree.

2001 Rosenthal Merlot - Malibu Estate - Newton Canyon. Lots of veggies/green pepper in the nose. I asked about the makeup of the wine, and Sean said there was some Cabernet Franc in the mix, which explains why a Merlot would smell like green pepper. Too much oak for my taste. $25.

2000 Rosenthal Cabernet Sauvignon - Malibu Estate - Newton Canyon. Deep purple color with aromas of oak and spice. The wine tasted a bit tired - maybe the bottle had been open for a while? Still, the tannins were surprisingly firm and there was a strong, black pepper finish. $30.

2001 Rosenthal Cabernet Sauvignon - Malibu Estate - Newton Canyon. Same deep purple color, and similar nose to the 2000, but tastes of blackberries and mint, with sage rounding out both the nose and mouth. Lovely. $35. Bought 1 bottle.

2004 Rosenthal Cabernet Sauvignon - Malibu Estate - Newton Canyon. Consistent with the previous Cabs, elegant and tasty, although this wine could stay in the bottle for while. Tannins were extremely firm. Nice spicy finish. $39.

2005 Surfrider 'Red' - 73% Merlot/26% Cabernet Sauvignon/1% Petit Verdot, all from the Newton Canyon vineyard. Cherries, vanilla, violets on the nose; red fruit and spice on the palate with a bit of oak. Lovely. $29.

Just a note about the Surfrider wines: Since many people associate Malibu with surfing and beautiful beaches, Rosenthal designed a label incorporating this coastal lifestyle with fine wines. Each wine features a different label series that changes with each vintage: California's picturesque coastlines, surfers, Woody's, VW Vans, and wooden long boards are all featured on their various varietals.

These wines support the Surfrider Foundation, a grassroots, non-profit, environmental organization that works to protect our oceans, waves, and beaches. For each bottle purchased, a donation is made to this praiseworthy enterprise.

The sun was beginning to get low in the sky, so we headed north on PCH to the Sunset Restaurant, located right on Zuma Beach in Malibu. We've been there a few times, and we're always happy. The setting is extraordinary - right on the beach, dolphins swimming by, perfect sunsets. And the food is good, too! We brought in the bottle of 2001 Rosenthal Cab, showed our LearnAboutWine membership card so they would waive the corkage fee, and settled down with a huge garden salad with goat cheese, pomegranate seeds and pecans (or walnuts?). My hanger steak arrived with perfect, crunchy pommes frites. JD's swordfish steak on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes with Chinese broccoli was also plate-licking good. Dee-lishus!!

The sun set gorgeously while we ate dinner. Got some good shots that I'll post on Facebook later. Took a leisurely drive home to end a perfect day. Now, getting ready for the holiday weekend. Cheers, everyone!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Celebrating with Cambria Wines at Craft...

What a delightful evening! A new kid in town - well, Sonoma - Adam Beaugh, the new Social Media Director for Jackson Family Wines put together a party to celebrate the Wine Enthusiast Magazine #1 ranking of Cambria's 2006 Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir. Adam just moved from Austin, Texas and is not that familiar with LA, so he invited everyone who knew anyone who was blogging or Tweeting about wine.

The celebration was held at Craft, Tom Colicchio's upscale restaurant in Century City. I was anxious to attend this party, because I'm pretty sure I will never be able to afford to eat here on my own dime! This venue is where all the power players in LA meet to be seen - Creative Artists Agency is in the building as well - and I'm on the low end of the power scale, so...

In addition, the evening was in support of the Children's Bureau, a deserving organization working to prevent and treat child abuse. Carmine Salvucci, the Children's Bureau Chief Development Officer, spoke movingly about the work being done to help families end the cycle of violence.

Craft provided a table filled with delicious charcuterie offerings, and cheerful wait staff proffered gorgeous and delectable hors d'oeuvres - which my trusty assistant didn't photograph...we were both too busy chatting up Cambria proprietor Barbara Banke, Winemaker Denise Shurtleff and Wine Enthusiast Editor Steve Heimoff, all while imbibing the lovely wines being highlighted.

The first wine poured was the 2007 Katherine's Vineyard Chardonnay. From a vineyard named after one of Barbara's daughters, this Chard startled me a bit with the seriously oaky nose, but after a few minutes of swirling, the oak backed off, revealing the aromas of apples and peach, with a long finish tasting slightly of vanilla.

Wine number two was the 2007 Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir. Julia's Vineyard produces some really wonderful Pinot sourced by several local wineries, including Foxen, Byron, Lane Tanner, and Hitching Post. The 2007 Pinot is dark purple with an earthy nose and medium tannins. It made for easy drinking while hanging out with fellow blogger Eve Bushman (Eve's Wine 101) and various new friends.

Right around 8:15, they started pouring the 2006 Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir, which was what we were all there for. I'll quote what Steve Heimoff wrote about it around 9 months ago in Wine Enthusiast: "This is the best Pinot Noir at this price on the market. Easily. It's picture-perfect cool climate, absolutely dry and silky, with complex flavors of cherries, Mandarin orange, cola, pomegranates, licorice and cinnamon spice, made even richer by smoky oak. Just lovely, and gets even better as it breathes in the glass." I couldn't agree more. I had to stop myself from allowing the waiters to pour more in my glass - after a few pours, that is!

Denise Shurtleff, the winemaker, was kind enough to spend a bit of time with me, describing her work at Cambria, and the Pinot Noir program she's been working on for the past 10 years. She's developed several growing areas - different elevations, different clones - and ferments and ages all the different Pinots in small tanks. Her goal is to create all these wines that are complete wines on their own, and then she blends them to reach her vision of what her Pinot Noir should be. I'm not surprised that the painstaking work she's put in resulted in the 2006 Julia's Vineyard being honored by Wine Enthusiast. It's lovely!

Several things added to the fun of the evening. First, it's always fun to drink with Eve! Second, both of Barbara's daughters - Katherine and Julia - were there helping drink the wines from the vineyards named for them. They're both finally legal drinking age, so they could help! While talking with Steve Heimoff about the crazy evening of historic Bordeaux we had last Friday, a young woman came up, gushing with enthusiasm about Steve's blog and her own writing. I looked at her name - Erin McGrath - and asked her if she was the same EM who was a friend of a friend of ours. She is - and she's now working at the Heritage Wine Company in Pasadena as their Social Media guru!

And finally, just to add to the whole 'small world' trend going on, when JD and I arrived, I noticed a tall blonde who I knew I knew. Couldn't place her, and JD didn't recognize her, but I KNEW I knew her. Around 8:30, during the speech being given by Carmine, she was standing near me with a few other folks who also looked familiar. Carmine thanked Ted Meisel for his contributions to the Children's Bureau, and I realized why I knew these folks - I used to work with them! Ted was the CEO of Overture Services, and the tall blonde was Lynn Loeb, who was the head of Legal. I worked for Overture for over 4 years, until the company was swallowed up by Yahoo! and I was laid off. We had a nice chat, with Ted pretending to remember me - it's been almost 6 years since I was laid off, and we weren't close. He was always a gracious and kind man, and it was a real treat to see him.

So, congratulations to Cambria Winery and the Children's Bureau and Craft for a perfect evening! Cheers!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Musings on a birthday weekend...

So, having barely recovered from the amazing wine tasting on Friday night, we continued our explorations in wine and food, stopping at the Magnolia Grille for breakfast on Saturday a.m., followed by a visit to the Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City. (Note: I've included the link, but there are some problems with the site.) It's a lovely little shop filled with gourmet cheeses, a diverse and eclectic wine inventory, and delightful snacks and items to delight foodies. We explored the store and then had a wonderful tasting with a knowledgeable young man named Alex.

Alex asked what kinds of cheese we liked - strong or mild - and then led us on a tour of seven or eight cheeses in increasing intensity. When we realized we were loving all the cheeses, we pulled ourselves together and decided on three cheeses to take home with us. We bought 1/4 lb each of Ossau-Iraty sheep cheese, Montgomery Cheddar (raw cow from England), and Twig Farm washed rind raw goat and cow cheese from Vermont. What a great selection - and knowledgeable staff! At the checkout, we added a $4 chocolate chip cookie made by one of the store's staff - it was exceptional, made with gourmet, imported ingredients. We've been pulling off little pieces of it to keep the experience going! Yum!

Spent the rest of the afternoon writing and resting, and then went to the theatre for closing night of the ECT Xmas Cabaret - great fun! Belly dancers, burlesque, music, comedy, all held together with a fairly thin plot, but it all worked.

Sunday a.m., went out to Northridge to have dim sum with Ron and Phyl at the A & W Seafood Restaurant on Reseda Blvd. We've eaten dinner there many times, but R & P have talked up the dim sum. It was WONDERFUL. We got there around 10:45 and were seated right away. Had we gotten there any later, there would have been a wait. When we left around noon, there was a line outside the door, curving around the building! The service was so fast and intense, we were thru most of the meal before I realized I hadn't taken any pictures of the beautiful servings! Back to R & P's house for the rest of the day, where we talked and snacked and talked and snacked, and finally came home and crashed. A lovely day.

Monday - birthday! - slept in and had a slow quiet day reading the paper, responding to emails, reading all my birthday greetings on Facebook, and trying to decide where to go for dinner. After reading thru menus and reviews of all the new and trendy places in town, I realized that all I really wanted was a steak. We called the Tam 'o Shanter in Glendale for reservations and they had NO openings. On a Monday night!! So we called the Smoke House, and they were only too happy to fit us in.

We brought a bottle of 2006 Lone Madrone 'Barfandel' - an unfortunately named, but delicious wine. 53% Zinfandel, 21% Barbera, 26% Petit Sirah. Beautiful - a fruit bomb, but in a really good way! It was a great match for the fried calamari appetizer as well as my petit filet with baked sweet potato and creamed spinach, and JD's medallions of filet mignon, veggies and pasta. And the warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit and candied walnuts. Yum!

Got home and found birthday greetings on the answering machine from my old friend, Craig, and then got a surprise call from my old friend, Eric, who wanted to order some wine as a gift. Craig's doing great things in Albuquerque, and I miss him a lot. We've been friends since 10th grade. I've known Eric since 6th grade - we used to live across the street from each other - and hadn't seen each other in over 20 years until we attended our high school reunion in August. He's growing grapes and making wine in Temecula, and we'll go out there in January for a tour of the vineyard. I can hardly wait!

So far, a great birthday!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Historic Bordeaux with LearnAboutWine...

After a quiet week recovering from the flu, my birthday week got off to a grand start: The Historical Bordeaux tasting at LearnAboutWine. Ian outdid himself with this line-up, and JD and I were thrilled to be among the 20 or so guests who were privileged to taste these wines.

There were 3 welcome wines - all tasted blind, and everyone got a chance to guess:
1. 2006 Chablis Premier Cru 'Les Vaucopins' - Domaine Long Depaquit. I recognized the nose and taste, and thought it was something by Jim Clendenen, but it was truly French! Embarrassing - I have this in my own cellar!

2. Chateau Brown White Bordeaux - somehow didn't get the vintage. A lovely golden blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

3. 2004 Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc, Napa. We all agreed it was Cab Franc, with some thinking it was Old World and others thinking New. Not many people liked it. I think the bottle was slightly corked.

The welcome wines were paired with glorious appetizers made by Matt Poley of Heirloom Catering. Butternut squash ravioli made a delicious sweet and savory combo. Matt also served a duck confit in a lettuce wrap, guinea hen with sausage and arugula (my fave!), and parmagiano/reggiano cheese balls with red pepper sauce. Yum!

Then we got serious:

1986 Chateau Cheval Blanc, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux – 92RP - $600 value. A blend of Cab Franc and Merlot; the percentages change every year. Medium tannins, black cherry, rich, intense wet earth. Drink thru 2012. A delightful way to start the tasting!

1983 Chateau Latour, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac, 94WS - $500 value. Beautiful cherry nose, chocolate and meat (yes, meat!) blended with fruit and tannins. Elegant, soft structure. Wonderful.

1995 Chateau Margaux, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Margaux, 100pts WS - $750 value. Unfortunately, slightly corked, which got worse as the wine opened up. Interestingly, Ian showed us how to eliminate corkiness in the strangest way: Pour the corked wine into a bowl or container lined with plastic wrap and swirl the wine so that the plastic wrap touches all the wine. It removes the cork taint! I would not have believed it if I hadn't done it myself. Note to self: Always make sure to carry plastic wrap!

2005 Chateau Calon Segur, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe - 94RP - $125. Still really closed and young. This wine is made in true Robert Parker style - big, tannic, damp earth, black cherries, asian spices; big structure, short finish at the moment. Parker says to drink from 2020 - 2050. I liked this wine and hope that I will still be alive to enjoy it when it reaches its' full potential!

2003 Chateau Calon Segur, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe - Not a great year. Full-bodied with some exotic softness, similar to the 1982 (say Ian and Martin Weiner, both of whom know these things).

2000 Chateau Calon Segur, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe - $125 value. Opaque purple, nose full of creosote, cherries, cassis, licorice, and hamburger. Well, cooked meat. Not my fave.

The following wines are all Chateau Montrose - a truly historic vertical tasting:

2003 Chateau Montrose, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe, 100WS/RP97+ - $450 value. How do you even discuss a wine rated 100 points? Dense, black purple in color, tasting of scorched earth, blackberries. Not a lot of joy right now. You can appreciate it, but it's tight and shut down. Drink from 2010 - 2035.

1996 Chateau Montrose, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe, 92WS/RP91 - $200 value. Wow! What a nose! Crushed berries and vanilla. Drink now, by all means!

1994 Chateau Montrose, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe - Non-classic vintage; rained heavily that year. Still sweet blackcurrant, very pretty and drinkable right now.

1990 Chateau Montrose, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe, 100RP - $575 value. Big, meaty, very extracted fruit, a huge blockbuster of a wine. Inky ruby in color, black licorice in large amounts. Did I mention Robert Parker rated it 100 points? Whew!

1989 Chateau Montrose, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe, 97WS/98RP - $400 value. A completely different wine from the 1990. Seems soft compared to it. Sweet nose of minerals, black fruit, cedar, wood; highly extracted fruit, low acid; somehow more evolved than the 1990. Completely drinkable right now, but I'd like to see it in another 5 years.

1982 Chateau Montrose, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe, 96WS - $295 value. This was the flagship wine for many years. Kirsch, currant, spice, velvety tannins, long finish. Delicious. Much joy.

1970 Chateau Montrose, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe, 92RP - $295 value. Had a bit of a scare trying to remove the cork. Martin, a true wine expert/educator, confirmed that the wine had been perfectly stored and was in excellent condition. Earthy notes in the nose, as well as dried/stewed fruit and tobacco. Softened up quickly. Lovely and amazing to drink. Still youthful, dark and astringent (in a good way).

1959 Chateau Montrose, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe, 96WS/RP95 $300 value. The corks were getting very scary at this point, but the wines were still astonishing. Wow. Mushrooms in the nose. A lovely old wine with light fruit, soft tobacco and tannins that softened very quickly.

1899 Chateau Montrose, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Estephe, 97 point vintage - valued at $2500. Tasting a 100 year old wine is a special occasion. Not all wines can make this journey, but a great house like Chateau Montrose may. This bottle is a great specimen of history, but it only lasted a few moments once open. Amazingly, the nose and body still had fruit for several minutes. The color changed from amber to dark brown within a few minutes of exposure to the air, and the taste changed from moment to moment. One interesting note: The bottle had no seam - it was hand-blown; something that doesn't happen anymore.

The experience of tasting a wine this old is rare, and Ian had no idea how this bottle would respond to opening, but loving wine as I do, I found the experience to be very inspirational, and definitely qualifies as one of life’s great moments!

We finished the evening with a 1995 Chateau D'Yquem, "Lur-Saluces", Sauternes, – Valued at $300+. D'Yquem is considered the greatest dessert wine in the world. At the Classification of 1855, D'Yquem was put in a class by itself - partly because it wasn't a red wine, but mainly because it was like no other wine. 1995 is said to be a good, not great, vintage, but this gorgeous amber/gold wine was the perfect end to a thrilling evening.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thoughts while down with the swine...flu, that is

The week didn't turn out quite as planned. After our delightful lunch with Ally on Black Friday, we headed up the coast to Malibu, and I suddenly started coughing. A dry cough. Out of nowhere. The last time this happened - in August - it wasn't pretty. We had a nice drive, went home, and I was in bed by 8:30 because I was not feeling well.

Saturday morning, rose early as Ana was coming to clean. Was still coughing a bit, but felt OK. Had breakfast with the gang, got over to Pasadena and got our hairs cut by Gina. By that time I was coughing more and getting worried because it wasn't developing into a cold, but it was definitely something. Went back to bed, had BAD night - high fever, ague (I love that old-fashioned word!), really bad, weird dreams, and the cough that wouldn't stop - and felt bad enough on Sunday that I called the doctor. She listened to my symptoms, said, "It's probably the swine flu, but don't worry about it." I said, "WHAT!!??!!" She suggested that I might just want to ride it out, but I was nervous about it, so she called my pharmacy with a prescription for Tamiflu. Four days later, I'm much better, but have spent most of the week sleeping or watching TV. And pretty much had to reschedule my life for the week. Now I'm just trying to get it together so I'll be OK to teach the LearnAboutWine Wine Camp class on Sunday!

For those who want to get started learning about wine, Wine Camp is a great place to start. We taste some great wines, using them as a basis for understanding how to taste wine, what wine pairs the best with what foods and brings out the best in food, how to purchase and store wine, and there's history, anecdotes, laughs - lots of laughs! This Sunday, we'll be tasting the following wines:

> Scheid, Sauvignon Blanc, Monterey, 2007
> Matanzas Creek, Chardonnay, Sonoma, 2006
> Joseph Faiveley, Macon-Prisse, France, 2006
> Pali "Huntington", Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, 2007
> Rosenthal “Devon Vineyard” Merlot, Malibu, 2000
> Signorello “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2005
> Starlite Vineyards, Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, 2005

You should join me! The class is casual and fun, and there's wine!


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lunch with Ally on Black Friday...

Met with fellow WineShop at Home colleague and friend, Ally C., at the Café del Rey in the Marina. JD and I worked several LearnAboutWine events there, and always thought about staying and dining, but we were usually so tired by the end of the event, we'd just go home. This time it was our turn to be waited on.

We got there early, of course. After the adventures we've had going south, we always give ourselves too much time to get someplace. But I can't be late! In my family that is the BIGGEST sin! On time is late - you have to be there 15 minutes early!

So we waited for a while in the car and then went inside, where we were shunted to the bar because the restaurant wasn't actually open yet. We ordered a couple of glasses of Wolf Blass Yellow Label Sparkling Brut from Australia at $8/glass. A yummy way to start the day! The wine had large, golden bubbles, with lots of citrus-y fruit at the front and a soft finish.

Ally arrived - on time - and we were seated. She ordered a glass of the Brut to keep up with us, and we talked and talked and talked, and finally got around to ordering our lunch. We looked over the wine list, which was diverse and interesting, and seriously marked up. We finally decided on a lovely 2008 Babcock Pinot Noir. One of the more affordable bottles of wine on the list at $43.

JD's choice - moroccan lamb burger with sheep’s milk cheese, tzatziki, harissa spiced fries $18. The fries were yummy, and JD didn't leave any evidence behind, so I'm assuming the burger was, too!

Ally's choice - grilled cheese and tomato soup - toasted brioche, mozzarella, parmesan, $15. She was very happy with her meal. The sandwich looked great!

Denise's choice - dungeness crab cake, kataifi, cucumber and dill tzatziki, toasted cumin (small plate) $9. I also had the soup of the day which was delicious and creamy, but I can't remember what was in it! We were so busy talking, I didn't write it down!

We talked about our business and how to improve it. We talked about wine education and how to get more of it, and incorporate it into our business - or turn it into our business. We're both a bit frustrated with WSAH right now. The economy has definitely affected peoples' willingness to host tastings and buy wine. And the company is making some changes that I think will be for the best in the long run, but the transition is a bit difficult right now. We'll see how things turn out.

In the meantime, we compared notes, told stories, strategized, gave our waitress a big tip - because we sat there a long time - and parted ways.

JD and I drove up the coast to Malibu, turning on Kanan Dume Road, with the intent of visiting our friends' wine shop, the Cornell Winery, but to our dismay, it was closed! We had checked the web site, but there was nothing to indicate they weren't going to be open on Friday, so we drove home disappointed...sigh...Still it was a lovely day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Thanksgiving weekend begins...

Ian Blackburn and his brother, Bob, have hosted the Night Before Thanksgiving dinners for 13 years. This year, with Ian getting ready to leave for New Zealand on turkey day, they chose a brand new restaurant, Mo-Chica, to entertain around 45 of their closest or newest friends. JD and I assisted Ian with setting up, and the staff at Mo-Chica took care of the rest.

The guests arrived between 7 and 8, each carrying a bottle of wine to share. There were 4 bottles of various whites - a dry Riesling from Tasmania, a sweet Riesling from Germany, a lovely Champagne from France, and another - no idea what it was. Everyone else brought reds. Cabernets, Merlots, Syrahs, Grenaches, blends of every sort; a couple of lovely Rhone blends, a lot of terrific California wines. No plonk at all!

Dinner was an interesting and eclectic blend. Peruvian food seems to be somewhere in between Spanish and Asian, and this was a good example. I think. What the heck do I know about Peruvian food??

Course 1 - Purple cauliflower soup. Seemed more like a squash soup. Delicious and creamy. I could have been happy with that! But there was more.

Course 2 - Causa - Sundried tomatoes and avocado mousse, with a slightly spicy olive aioli sauce. Well, the menu said avocado mousse, but we all thought it was creamed potatoes. Whatever it was, it was delicious! The aioli sauce was slightly spicy, but the dish was very well-balanced in its flavors.

Course 3 - Ceviche with scallops and caviar. Didn't like this one so much. There was no caviar that I was aware of, and there was SO much citrus - lemon/lime? - that it overpowered the scallops. There was a garnish of corn, kind of grits-like, which helped deal with the over-citrusy flavors, but I didn't finish it, and even Ian complained that this wasn't what he remembered.

Course 4 - Black cod with quinoa and pumpkin puree, accompanied by a roasted tomato. Yummy.

Course 5 - Pork belly with barley huancaina risotto. The pork was tasty, but there was so much fat, it was hard to find the meat.

Course 6 - Carob flan. You either liked it on not. I liked it a LOT. Who knew carob paired so well with Syrah?

After dinner, Ian turned up the music and danced. We fled to the mercado where Mo-Chica is actually located, and waited for either Ian to tire or security to throw us out. Which is what actually happened. Folks said their goodnights and left, and we cleaned up the glasses and wine stuff and got out of there.

We met back at Ian's loft, chatted for a bit and went our separate ways. In bed by 2 a.m., much later than we anticipated. Slept until 12:30 in the afternoon!

We had already decided that we were going to Bistro Provence for dinner on Thanksgiving. Got there at 6 p.m. with our bottle of 2003 Twomey Merlot in hand, and settled in for another amazing meal.

First Course - Butternut squash soup, apples, crème fraiche. Oh. My. God.

Second Course choice of various lovely dished. I chose the jumbo asparagus and brie tart, wild mushrooms, truffle vinaigrette, and JD went for the crispy pumpkin gnocchi with pearl onions, lardoons, spinach, sage. We were both happy with our choices.

Main Course choice of various dishes - traditional turkey dinner, rib eye steak, ham, salmon. We both chose the Grilled Rib Eye served with garlic mashed potatoes, rapinni, red wine jus. Huge steaks, perfectly cooked. We both took home half of our main course.

Dessert turned out to be a combination of apple tart with caramel sauce and cinnamon Chantilly cream and pumpkin pie.

By the time we were finished - 2 hours later - I couldn't breathe. So much wonderful food! Friendly service, warm and comfy environs. We really like Bistro Provence. An excellent choice - one for which we were very thankful!

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Random thoughts as Thanksgiving approaches...

Yep, it's that time of year again. Everyone's writing articles about what wine to pair with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. I have drunk everything from Champagne to the deepest, darkest Zinfandel with Thanksgiving dinner, and I have never found anything that doesn't work. So drink what you like!

JD and I are starting the holiday season at Ian Blackburn's 13th annual Night Before Thanksgiving Dinner. This year it will be at Mo-Chica, a new Peruvian restaurant in LA. Ricardo Zarate and Mario Orellana, both formerly of Zu Robata and various other high-end dining establishments, have created authentic Peruvian cuisine. There will be a blog about the evening later in the week.

This year, JD and I decided to go out for dinner for Thanksgiving. We're going to Bistro Provence, a lovely little French restaurant in a shopping center. Next to Starbucks. Chef-owner Miki Zivkovic, previously the chef at Pinot Bistro, is behind this inviting California bistro. With its mustard-yellow walls, dark wood paneling and linen-covered tables, it's a warm, homey environment in which to enjoy some amazing food. The front of the restaurant is so low-key, you can pass it by, but once you go inside, there is no sense that you're anywhere but home. If your home is in France.

Miki also owns Lucas Trattoria (in the same shopping center) and Third and Olive. We've eaten at Bistro Provence and Lucas Trattoria a few times, and we are big fans! One of these days, we'll get to Third and Olive. In the meantime, we're looking forward to the prix fixe meal offered, and thinking about what wines to bring.

Saturday and Sunday, my little theatre - The Eclectic Company Theatre - is hosting an arts and crafts festival to help folks beat the Black Friday/mall shopping blues. Come on down and check out some original art. I'll be pouring wines on Sunday the 29th, so don't be shy!

Wishing all my readers, friends and family a happy, healthy and fun Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A WineShop at Home tasting...

Did a WineShop at Home tasting last Saturday. Drove south to Buena Park in Saturday afternoon rush hour traffic using Google Maps instructions. Got a bit lost. The map left out an important left turn. This is the second time Google's done that to me. Not amused.

Got to my hostess's home. She was partially set up, so we worked together. I asked what was the final count for the tasting. She said there would be 8. It got to the hour of the tasting. No one had arrived...sigh...

Now this is not unusual these days. It's odd to me because I was raised to believe that on time was late - you were supposed to be a bit early for an appointment. But these days, the response to the question, "Where is everybody?" is always, "Oh, you know, it's L.A.," as if this excuses the inconsiderateness. This excuse refers to the supposedly laid-back, everyone waiting for a better offer, flakiness of those who live here in SoCal. And it definitely exists. I just think it's not just confined to California these days.

Anyway, eventually guests started to arrive. And arrive. And arrive. We started almost an hour late, and more people arrived. I think the final count - of drinking guests - was 12. There were at least 5 other adults plus several kids (who went into another room).

We went around the table and introduced ourselves. Everybody talked about how much they loved sweet wines. Of course, I didn't have any in the sampler, but we went forward. I didn't have JD with me to pour (he was off running 2 shows at The Eclectic Company), so my hostess did the honors - and very well, I should add.

We tasted the wines:
Lumiere de Vie 2008 Sauvignon Blanc - North Coast (Sonoma) - Brilliant fruit aromas balanced with a gentle grassiness common to Sauvignon Blanc. The flavor is silky smooth and a wonderful complement to the aroma. I really like this SB. $16.00

Sun Fish 2008 Chardonnay - Mendocino - Fresh ripe aromas of apple and peach with hints of citrus and golden raspberry. Medium acidity, fruity flavors and nice round mouth-feel. The finish is fruity and mellow with hints of acidity. No oak, pristine, elegant. $17.50

Talmage T 2008 Chardonnay - Monterey - Lovely apple and fresh green pear with hints of butter and oak in the nose. Smooth and silky mid-palate with just the right amount of acid. The finish is a medium length mix of fruit and acidity. Folks who didn't like the Sun Fish loved this! $17.50

Pied Violet Reserve 2007 Merlot - Aromas of ripe blackberry and cranberry with hints of toasty oak and cinnamon. This wine is layered with complex flavors. There is just a hint of oak under all of that fruit balanced with pleasing spice. The flavors are big and smooth with a long soft-tannin finish. I LOVE this Merlot! Keep it on its side for another 3 years - it will only get better! $19.50

Sun Fish 2008 Pinot Noir - Sonoma Coast - Layers of vanilla, raspberry and earth with delicate hints of leather, licorice and spice. The finish is medium in length with the fruit flavors and acidity up front and a soft tannic undertone. This Pinot was a big surprise to me! I really like it and bought a bunch for myself, because I am my own best customer! $21.00

De Beaumont 2007 Red Meritage - Alexander Valley - The nose is full of plum, vanilla, licorice and sandalwood with hints of clove and cinnamon. The flavors are a balanced with a pleasing medium weight mouth-feel. Long finish, a mix of fruit and smooth tannin. Delicious! $23.00

I was gratified that several folks who said they didn't like dry wines really liked what we poured. They were a really fun group of folks - although several of them literally fled before I could even thank them for attending, let alone talk to them about hosting or buying.

So, it's almost Thanksgiving. Several of these wines would pair exceptionally well with roasted turkey, especially the Sun Fish Pinot Noir. I highly recommend it.

Who wants to host a tasting? Great wines abound!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Glimpses into other lives...

Last Saturday I worked a private wine event with Ian Blackburn of As always, the private events hold different challenges - logistics, specific agendas, trying to pour Champagne in large format bottles. You know, the usual.

This event was to support a local school - the organizers and hosts of the event are active in their community, and this is one of their ways of giving back. I'm not going to divulge what community or who the hosts were, because it was a private event, but I will say, the rich are different. Not in a bad way; just working from a different place of reference. This was the home to which they had downsized after their children had left the roost. It was a mere 6,000 square feet, 3 floors. My point of reference is my home in Burbank at 854 square feet. One floor. Their kitchen was larger than my home...sigh...I complimented our hosts on the amazing kitchen and they both said that they really don't cook.

I arrived early with a cooler containing 6 magnums of Champagne and California Sparkling wine and 30 pounds of ice, as well as 3 boxes of LAW wine glasses that JD and I had seriously polished earlier that day - using white vinegar to remove the mineral deposits left by a less than efficient dishwasher, large and heavy ice buckets, and various other supplies. Per Ian's instructions, I set up all the glasses and the ice buckets and waited for him to arrive from his Australian wine event at the Americana in Glendale earlier that day.

He and Dan S. arrived. We opened the first 3 magnums - 2 French and 1 California. Ian did his own blind tasting and made his guesses. The bottles had been previously covered in foil and numbered 1, 2 and 3 so that even he didn't know which wine was which while we were pouring. He and Dan did most of the pouring - those bottles were heavy, and my shoulder is just not right; I handed out the brochures about the blind tasting as the movers and shakers of the community arrived.

After all the guests arrived and had tasted all three wines, we asked them for their guesses, and then unwrapped the bottles. Among the guests, it was evenly divided as to which wine they thought was which. I suspect only a few actually got it right. The wines were:

Delamotte, Brut, Champagne, France NV - 92 points Wine Spectator
Tasting notes: Smells of fresh bread dough intermixed with buttery citrus; light to medium body, lingering effervescence with tiny pinpoint bubbles.

Schramsburg, Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Napa Valley 2006 - 92 points Wine Spectator
Tasting notes: Crisp and fruity with pronounced peach, apple and vanilla that taste a bit sweet offset by a very high acidity. Finishes clean and doughy.

Taittinger, Brut, La Francaise, Champagne, France NV - 92 points Wine Spectator
Tasting notes: Fruit and toast aromas; delicate structure on the palate with some small minerality, fruit and a nice clean finish.

One interesting note about the guests and the wines: Several guests were kind of snooty about French versus California wines, but the overwhelming favorite of the night was - to everyone's surprise - the Schramsburg. Yay, CA!!

At this point the guests exited to the venue where dinner was being served. Ian and his hosts had put together another amazing round of wines to go with the gourmet dinner, but I was not a participant and can only dream about the wines and foods the group enjoyed that evening. Dan and I cleaned up the tasting stuff; repacked the glasses, put away the hors d'oeuvres that the hosts had just left out, put the remaining magnums in the fridge, packed up Ian's car, and went to our respective homes.

I sat down with glass of red wine, some cheese and crackers, and reflected on the evening and what it would be like to be able to host such an event. Maybe someday.


Monday, November 9, 2009

San Antonio Winery

Took a vacation day from the earth job on Friday, and headed downtown to the San Antonio Winery for lunch and wine tasting. The San Antonio Winery is the oldest winery in the greater Los Angeles area - established 1917, and the only one actually making wine in the heart of the city.

As the wine industry of California moved from Southern to Central and Northern California in the mid 1900’s, founder Santo Riboli and his nephew Stefano Riboli had no intention of leaving their home in LA. While Santo and Stefano lived and developed their business in Los Angeles, they kept their focus on the burgeoning wine regions in the North and over time acquired vineyard properties in some of the most prestigious areas.

We had a pleasant lunch in the Maddalena Restaurant - a kind of cafeteria, but with food made fresh. John had spaghetti with Italian sausage; I had penne and chicken Alfredo. Both lunches came with fresh green salad and Italian bread, and we shared an appetizer plate of artichoke hearts, dry salami chunks, marinated mushrooms, mozzarella cheese. We paired the meal with a bottle of Maddalena Cabernet Sauvignon ($18), and sat without being rushed while listening to a solo saxophonist play to a karaoke soundtrack. The food was hearty, if uninspired, and certainly filled us up.

We took the short walk to the tasting room/wine store, and serendipity occurred. In the middle of a very busy Friday, our barista turned out to be Santo Riboli, the 3rd generation owner/winery manager of San Antonio Winery! He is the son of Maddalena Riboli, who is still serving wine in her namesake restaurant at age 83 (I think he said 83)! We started chatting with Santo, pulled out my business card, and found ourselves in the middle of a private tour of the winery, getting the history of the Riboli family - their trials and tribulations of immigrating to a new country, starting a winery, dealing with Prohibition (sacramental wines saved them), and moving along with technology. Santo graciously allowed me to take photos as we walked thru the winery, and I'll have them on my Facebook page later today.

Back to the tasting room, where we tasted the following wines made by winemakers Anthony Riboli (family!) and Armand Debons:

2007 Maddalena Pinot Grigio - Monterey. Very clear, bright, straw-colored. The nose was faintly floral. In the mouth, very tart and acidic, but the finish was smooth with a lemony finish.

2008 San Antonio Heritage White - Santa Lucia Highlands/Monterey. A very interesting blend of Viognier, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. Pretty pale gold color, not much nose, but very fruity and nicely balanced acidity. No wood, all stainless steel aging. A bit spicy on the end. We bought a bottle. $18.95

2006 Windbreak Chardonnay - Santa Lucia Highlands. A very oaky nose, nice mouth feel, but as I continued to sip (while we walked thru the winery), the oak really got to be too much for my taste. If you like oak, this is your Chardonnay. $18.95

2007 Windbreak Pinot Noir - Santa Lucia Highlands. Deep red with a clear edge. The nose was surprisingly Burgundian - mushrooms, earth. Tasted of black fruit. Really tannic - good structure for aging. I'd leave it in the bottle for another 3 - 5 years. $29.95

2006 Heritage Rhone Blend - Paso Robles Estate. Syrah, Petit Sirah, Mourvedre, Grenache come together for a deep red blend. $24.95

Santo then poured a dessert wine for us - Moscato D'Asti - Il Duca Imperiale. A very extravagant name for a pale gold honeyed wine that retails for $8.35. They make 30,000 cases/year. Delicious!

We finished the tasting with the Stella Rose Il Conte D'Alba from Asti. It's a pretty pink, smells and tastes of fresh raspberry. It's partially fermented grape must. A very big seller for San Antonio for very little money - $8.35

San Antonio makes a lot of different wines, some local to California, some from the old homestead in Italy. They also have a large selection of wines and spirits from all over the world, as well as gift baskets, and special events at the winery.

We made our goodbyes to Santo, carrying out a few bottles of the wines we liked best. It was wonderful spending time in one of LA's true historic spaces, and we will definitely go back!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

STARS of Cabernet

Last Thursday, JD and I were privileged to attend LearnAboutWine's seventh annual STARS of Cabernet event at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. We were joined by our friend, Debra B., which whom we had dined at Palate a couple of weeks ago. Ian assembled a truckload of some of the most interesting producers in California. We did our best, but I'm pretty sure we weren't able to taste half of the wines there. We did, however, taste some GREAT Cabernets and blends, and got the chance to refresh or develop relationships with some terrific wine folks.

On the way in, we somehow skipped the first table and went directly to A. Rafanelli, where Patti and Stacey Rafanelli were pouring the 2006 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. A perfect way to start the evening. We perused the program, deciding to narrow the choices down to specific wineries we either had never tasted, or loved so much, we needed to taste more.

Highlights of the evening:

2006 Continuum, Proprietary Blend, Oakville. Continuum is Robert Mondavi's grandson, Carlo, who was good enough to take off his knitted hat for a picture. I tasted this wine last year, and blown away by it. I was again bowled over by the wine. Complex, delicious. And Carlo was so pleased that his wine was being received well. It's important to him to continue his grandfather's work. This wine is a blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 16% Petit Verdot.

We spent way too much time talking to Clay Mauritson about his Loam Single-Soil Wines, a relatively new labor of love from a winemaker already known for his Mauritson Wines in Healdsburg. Clay spoke eloquently about what he calls the geologic legacy, revealing the exemplary characteristics of each of particular soil series. Fascinating! And the wines, each named for the specific soil in which the vines are grown, are delicious and complex - and very different from each other despite the fact they are all the same clone. Terroir, indeed! Check the website -

Another discovery was Palmaz Vineyards, a state-of-the-art endeavor by the family of the doctor who developed the surgical stent. The wines were outstanding - Christian and Jessica Palmaz are justifiably proud of their amazing Cabs.

Other favorites of the evening:
Poem Cellars - You might say this is the love child of Joey Wolosz and Jeff Durham, whose wines are named Marriage, Elope and Tastevin. I liked Marriage best - a big Cab with an amazingly floral nose. I wanted to wear it as perfume!

Peju Winery, of course. Fun folks, delicious wines.

Lancaster Estate - one of our favorites for many years. Deb couldn't get over the nose and the outright deliciousness of the Alexander Valley meritage. We were happy just to taste an old friend. So to speak.

Had a lovely visit with Dan Stotesbery of Ladera Vineyards. The Stotesberys bought the vineyard in 2000, keeping the history of the winery intact - it's haunted, by the way - but creating a state-of-the-art winemaking facility.

I just looked at the program again. Out of 39 tables we tasted at 15 and ran out of time. It was a terrific evening, benefiting the TJ Martell Foundation and Cancer Research at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. I wish we had had time to taste more! Maybe next year. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wines, wines, wines...

Here is the list of wines poured at the very secret tasting I attended on Sunday. Talk about a 'host with the most'! I was amazed at how few of these wines I actually drank that day, but I did leave early to meet JD for dinner.

2007 Yalumba Viognier - Didn't taste it
2007 Four Vines Naked Chardonnay - Didn't taste it on Sunday, but have had it before. I like the temerity of Four Vines!
2007 Burge Family Semillon - Beautiful, soft fruit, creamy finish.
2008 Mollydooker “The Violinist” Verdelho - already raved about this yesterday. Did you know that 'mollydooker' is the Aussie term for a left-handed person? Oh those quaint and colorful Aussies!

2005 Robert Biale Grande Vineyard Zinfandel - Didn't taste it
2005 Robert Biale Party Line Zinfandel - Didn't taste it
2005 Burge Family Clochemerle - Loved this! A nicely balanced GSM, full of dark fruit with a velvety texture. Primary taste is the Syrah - lovely.
2005 Carlisle Dry Creek Valley Syrah - Didn't taste it
2005 Carlisle Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel - Didn't taste it
2005 D’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz - Didn't taste it, but I've had it before. Dee-lish!
2005 Failla Phoenix Ranch Syrah [Turley’s winemaker’s own label] - This is what I liked, but forgot to write down the name.
2005 First Drop “Fat of the Land” Shiraz - Didn't taste it
2005 Glaymond “Distance” Shiraz - Didn't taste it
2005 Maloy O’Neill “Lexicon” - An interesting red blend: 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Pinot Noir, 14% Syrah, 14% Sangiovese, 7% Lagrein - I loved it, and it was a great match to the nicely spiced food offerings.
2005 Outpost Petite Sirah - Didn't taste it
2005 Turley Library Vineyard Petite Syrah [don’t blame me, this is how they spell it] - Lovely. I think I raved about this yesterday, too.
2005 Turley Moore “Earthquake” Vineyard Zinfandel - Didn't taste it
2005 Turley Pesenti Grenache - Didn't taste it
2006 Ancient Peaks Malbec - Didn't taste it

So, I missed a number of wines I would love to taste one of these days. Perhaps the gracious, but mysterious host will invite me back some day!


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Midweek meandering...

JD's busy with The Princess Plays at the Eclectic Company Theatre. While running lights and sound, he gets to watch the amazingly talented kids of The Children's Theatre Group of Southern California play princesses and witches and all the elements of various entourages in these charming one-acts. Directed by Jason Alexander's son, Gabe Greenspan, himself a charter member of CTGSC and a talent in his own right, fairy tales spring to life in a most unusual way. You should see it!

So JD's working the show, which did not play on Saturday night, Halloween. We went to a party at our friends' home, an annual event which is always a blast. This year, I got drafted to tell 'fortunes' along with a few other hardy souls who were willing to make up things out of thin air to amuse. As always, great food, lots of inexpensive, but drinkable wine (this year the bargain was CK Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot), karaoke, and the most amazing collection of Halloween decorations, memorabilia and downright icky decor. Where they get this stuff, I don't even want to know!

Thought I'd have a lazy Sunday - JD off to the theatre for the matinee - and while chatting online with a friend, I suddenly found myself on a wine tasting adventure. I can't tell you where it was, or who hosted it, but the wines were delicious! A couple that stood out for me:

2008 Mollydooker 'The Violinist' Verdelho - buttery, with nicely balanced fruit, acid and oak. My friend, who shall also remain nameless, tasted green apple. I just enjoyed the heck out of it.

There was also a Syrah by Pailla (I think that was the name on the label), which was just yummy, with smoky dark fruit and big tannins, and a Petit Sirah from Turley that rocked my world. I'll have more info about the wines that were poured later in the week, if my host gets me the list (hint, hint!).

We were lucky enough to have some great food paired with the wines - a modest selection of cheeses, nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, crackers, spicy pasta, Swedish meatballs (yum!), empanadas with aioli sauce to dip in. There may have been more, but I had to tear myself away and go home to meet JD for dinner. Not that I was hungry!

This week, the big event is Thursday night at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. It's Stars of Cabernet, hosted by Ian Blackburn of LearnAboutWine. It will be amazing!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Randomness on a Friday afternoon...

It's been an odd week. Lots of ups and downs. Good wine tasting, no sales. Surprise bookings and sales. Warm leads, no responses. Strange driving and traffic oddities. And lots of shoulder pain. Trying to postpone calling the bone doctor, but I think the rotator cuff is actually damaged. Too much softball, too many hard falls. Luckily, there's wine to savor.

It's confirmed - I'll be teaching Wine Camp at LearnAboutWine on December 6th. Ian will be returning from New Zealand around that time, and isn't sure he'll be up to teaching, so I'm in. I love Wine Camp! Always a lot of fun teaching newbies about the delights of the grape! The class generally has a discounted price - check out LearnAboutWine and come and play!

Ian also asked me to help with a private event next week. Pouring wine for an important charity. More news as he discloses.

Got great response from a coworker about the Sunfish Pinot Noir he bought for his wife. I rhapsodized about this wine earlier, and am gratified that my suggestion for her was appreciated. He said he's never known her to drink 3 glasses of wine in one evening. I said, '3 glasses? That's Tuesday night!' Seriously, it's a delicious little Pinot, very approachable.

Do you ever have times when you feel invisible? Recently I've had zero response to emails, phone calls, blogs, Facebook entries. Everyone says they want to, but not now. No one wants to make a commitment. Kind of like back in the dating days!

Finished off a bottle of Fleur Bleu Tempranillo last night. The Fleur Bleu wines all seem to have soft tannins, beautifully aromatic red fruit and long silky finishes. They do seem to actually be better the second day - not that most wines live to see another day in my house!

I'm up to 15 votes on LocalWineEvents. I know most of the votes have been my own, but a few people have voted for me!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday musings...

It was an odd week communication-wise, but things seemed to calm down as we headed for the weekend. Friday night, good friend Deb B. and JD and I ventured to Palate in Glendale. Ian had raved about Palate on Yelp, as had many others - and there were a lot of negative reviews on Yelp also, so I figured we were in for an adventure of some sort! Deb arrived, we grabbed a 2005 Windward Pinot Noir “Monopole” that we had picked up at the winery in May – floral nose, cherries and strawberries in the mouth, with an earthy finish. Arrived at the restaurant right on time. The valet was extremely polite and even opened the front door for us.

Inside the restaurant are several different rooms - Deb led us on a brief tour all the way to the back, where there is a very cool wine bar and shop. In the middle of everything are rooms for cheese tastings and the kitchen and other semi-private rooms. In the front, is the main dining room with a small bar near the host station, where one would wait for a table. The hostess led us to our table, handed us the menus and we were off on our dining adventure.

We started with cocktails - My aperitif (can't remember the name!) contained Bourbon, Champagne, Angostura bitters, Cointreau, all served in a Manhattan glass. Lovely. JD and Debra had 'James Bond' cocktails - Champagne, Kettle 1 vodka, sugar (cube), Angostura bitters. It was...interesting. Both JD and Deb agreed they like my drink better. Our appetizer consisted of potted lamb in a Mason jar accompanied by cucumbers, dill, garlic, and toasty crostini. Our server, Bret, was funny and knowledgeable and seemed to read my mind, as he turned up whenever I thought that we needed something.

Our dinners: Deb started with the Persimmon salad - persimmon, arugula, Moroccan olives, grilled onion, and pomegranate; JD and I both had the soup: field mushroom, miticrema, licorice root. Three happy people! Entrees: JD chose the day boat scallops with anchovies, butternut squash, hazelnuts, and sherry vinegar. Deb chose the famous pork belly with parsnip, Swiss chard and pear mostarda, and I chose the special duck breast in a red wine reduction with raisins and tiny potatoes and a spinach-related green, the name of which I did not write down. Sigh. The food was so good, we actually stopped talking. And for me, that's really something!

For dessert - a cheese plate: Délice d’Argental Burgundy, France soft ripened, triple cream, unctuous + creamy, delicate flavor; Soureliette de Fedou ‘La Tradition’ Pyrenees, France raw, soft, buttery, nutty, natural rind; Garrotxa Catalonia, Espana semi-firm, chalky, hints of hazelnuts, natural rind. A perfect end to a pretty much perfect meal. Oh, did I mention the roasted grapes? Oh my! I had only just heard about them from a friend a few days before, and they are to die for! I think JD will be roasting grapes - soon!

We sat for a while - no one rushed us, even though they were busy, and finally pulled ourselves away from the table. Back to the house, where we opened a Baron Herzog Late Harvest Chenin Blanc and talked about stuff that put JD to sleep! Well, almost everything puts JD to sleep, especially after a great meal and lots of wine, so it was to be expected. Deb and I work in related fields, so occasionally we drop into shop talk, and believe me, it's really not all that interesting!

Up early Saturday morning - manicure and breakfast with the gang, then home to prep for the evening's wine tasting. Even though my hostess and I had straightened out our differences, I was still concerned about what to expect. We arrived on time. She was ready in her lovely home. Some of her guests arrived right on time, others filtered in as we were underway. Her guests were all educated, interested, and definitely enjoyed the wines and the conversations. And I did not sell even one bottle of wine. Even though several of them said they might, I could not get anyone to commit to anything at all. At all. It was all very pleasant, and I might get a tasting from one of the women, but not until after New Year's, so...I guess it was a good thing that I went with low expectations.

I don't know whether or not my hostess had told her guests not to buy anything, and I'm not a high pressure seller, but it was interesting that one guest objected to paying shipping and wanted to know why I couldn't keep wines in inventory. Before I could respond, one of the other guests told her that it wasn't a good idea for inventory to be kept in individual consultants' homes, as there was no quality control on keeping the wines properly stored. I almost kissed her! I also reminded the guests that most people don't have room for cases of wine in their homes. It just felt like an excuse not to buy.

Anyway, we made our goodbyes. We went home and finished off the 2004 Talmage Napa Valley Merlot and ordered in some bad Italian food. Then we opened the 2006 Fleur Bleu Mendocino Zinfandel. Yum! Good wines often improve mediocre food.

This morning I followed up with last night's guests, thanking them - and reminding them that they could still buy the wines they enjoyed. Nada. In the meantime, I heard from a guest from a tasting I did last month and booked her for November. I'll also be choosing a date in November to hold a tasting in my home. How does 11/15 sound? Anyone up for a pre-Thanksgiving tasting? The holidays are here! Time for parties!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

OK, I'm not firing this customer...yet...

Just to finish up yesterday's rant...

I shot off that sharp rebuke to my upcoming host, and within a short time, received a genuinely nice and apologetic response. She was concerned that her guests were going to be pressured to spend a lot of money so that she would receive lots of hostess gifts.

I thanked her and reassured her that WineShop at Home is not one of those home-party businesses where host rewards depend on guest purchases. And I went thru the Toast the Host program for October, outlining the specific benefits for the Host, regardless of guest purchases. And I mentioned the guest incentives as well. And I told her I'm looking forward to getting to know her over some great wine.

In the meantime, I'm trying to fill my calender for November. The holidays are upon us! There are some great wines at WSAH right now! In this month's wine club, I received the 2008 Sunfish Pinot Noir. I gotta say, I like this wine a lot. It has layers of raspberry and earth on the nose and palate, with licorice and spice on the finish. Silky tannins make it ready to drink right now. We opened it Monday night and paired with cheeses: Dubliner Cheddar, Manchego and Smoked Gouda. A few hazelnut rice crackers helped make it a 'light' snack, and the wine was just beautiful. Didn't finish the bottle, so last night, paired the remainder with marinated chicken breast and baked potato. Yum! For $21, it's a ready-to-drink-right-now Pinot Noir. wanna book a tasting? I have dates available in November and December.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When to fire a customer

As you may have figured out by this time, one of the things I do is sell wine. I do in-home wine tastings as an independent consultant for WineShop at Home. When I joined WSAH about a year and a half ago, one of the things my 'upline' recommended in terms of building my business was to donate a wine tasting to a charity event. I had concerns about doing that. I wasn't exactly happy at the thought that if someone won the tasting or bought it thru a silent auction, I would be responsible for the cost of the sampler up front, and of course, there is never a guarantee that anyone will buy wine at a tasting, so I could be out the cost of the sampler and my time.

Around the end of the year, fund raisers for myriad organizations seem to spontaneously generate, and several organizations were referred to me by various individuals who supported my wine effort. I ended up donating 3 tastings to 3 different organizations.

It was easy enough to create a gift certificate with specific terms and conditions - an in-house tasting for a maximum of 10 guests, including the host. I would supply the wine and the appropriate snacks. This meant that, if no one bought a single bottle of wine, I would be out $59 plus the cost of the food plus my time.

The first donated tasting was purchased by a lovely couple, who were both into wine. They invited 4 couples, JD and I showed up with the stuff, and we had a GREAT time. Everybody purchased wine, and we were all happy. Win-win.

The second donated tasting was purchased by a young lawyer who had her own agenda for the evening. Despite my repeated coaching, she was determined to make it a night of networking for women. She wanted to have around 30 people - I talked her down to 20 with the condition that she purchase a half case of wine to supplement the sampler. She ignored my request to use either the WSAH WineVite or eVite, and sent out a flyer for her networking event with NO mention of me or WSAH. I called her to discuss what she was doing, and she assured me that she completely understood, and that her guests knew it was a guided wine tasting, and they would be able to purchase wine.

When JD and I arrived - after having some difficulty finding her office - she was already setting up in her conference room. A friend of hers - a pastry chef - was busy setting out gorgeous desserts. It seemed as if everything was going to be all right. I was wrong.

Her guests arrived - all professionals, lawyers, accountants, publicists. Seemed like a nice crowd. Our hostess started everything off like a business meeting, handed it off to me after round table introductions, and I began my presentation.

By the time we had poured the second wine, half of the guests were having their own conversations - so loudly that first I tried to raise my volume to get their attention. Then I asked them to be quiet while I presented the wines. Then I stood there silently until a few of them noticed I wasn't talking. Because they were too rude to pay attention to another woman trying to do business, I couldn't do anything except race thru the rest of my presentation. No one bought anything. And several of them were rude to me when I asked if they were interested in any of the wines. If I had not insisted on the hostess buying the supplemental 1/2 case, I would not have sold a single bottle of wine. At least she validated the parking. A colossal waste of time - and I was out $100 for wine and food.

The third donated tasting is supposed to happen this weekend. My host has been somewhat problematic from the moment we connected. I have explained several times to her how the tasting goes: JD and I bring the wines and food. I introduce myself and WineShop at Home and provide a quick synopsis of what the evening holds. We go thru the 6 wines - discussing how they're made, where the grapes are sourced, specific attributes of the wines, suggested food pairings and recipes. After the second wine, I do a short commercial about the Wine Club. After the fourth wine, I do a demonstration of our Artisan crystal stemware. At the end, I thank everyone for their attention and ask them individually if they are interested in booking a tasting, joining the wine club and/or buying wine. And then I take their wine orders. And then we leave.

Last night, making the mistake of checking email before going to bed, I found an email from my host, telling me she didn't want me to do ANY selling at the tasting. That she wanted to take advantage of my knowledge and expertise to entertain her guests, but that she really didn't want me to sell anything.

I was so angry, I didn't sleep all night. After tossing and turning all night, and being distracted by my anger all day, I decided not to call her, but emailed her back as follows:

I have been thinking long and hard about how to reply to your email. And I have a question: What do you do for a living? When you do your job, do you expect to get paid? I sell wine for a living. So when I do an in-home tasting, I encourage people to purchase wine or join my wine club or book a tasting. And when folks do any of these things, that is how I get paid for doing my job.

From the very beginning of our discussions about this event, I made it clear that my presentation would include opportunities for people to buy wine, etc. As I have already said, I don't twist anyone's arm, I don't do a hard sell, but this is my business. This is my job. Because I am very good at my job, your guests will have a very enjoyable evening - it will be fun and educational, the wines will be tasty, and I have no doubt that your guests will want to buy wine.

You do not have the right to tell me how to work my business. If you cannot respect this, then perhaps we should cancel the event, and I will return the wine sampler to WineShop at Home.

I'm waiting for her response.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wine and food and theatre and...

Another busy weekend! After Friday night's blowout at the Duke, we got up early Saturday a.m. as Saint Ana, our cleaning lady, was due to arrive. Pulled ourselves together and headed out for breakfast with the Saturday morning gang - old friends with whom we break bread almost every Saturday. 10 a.m. at Lancer's in Burbank. All are welcome. Breakfast turned out to be a larger group than usual, with several old friends of our old friends. A good time was had.

Went home and blogged about Friday night, finishing just in time for Phyl and Ron to pick us up for the show at the Mark Taper Forum - 'Parade' by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown. Although it's a musical, it's not a fun story. It won the 1999 Tony for Best Book and Best Music. The cast was excellent, but there were issues with the production (music too loud, couldn't hear the lyrics even though the actors were miked), and it was ultimately unengaging. We left with mixed feelings as we could tell that the cast were totally committed, hardworking and tremendously talented. was missing something.

We maneuvered the car out of the Music Center parking lot and headed for the Smoke House, that 63-year-old landmark in Burbank with the BEST garlic cheese bread in the known universe. We brought a bottle of 2005 Opolo Cabernet Franc – I love this wine. Chocolate cherry nose, soft tannins, spicy, dusty, very Bordeaux-ish. Yum. Went really well with the garlic bread (!). I had a flatiron steak with a house salad, a baked sweet potato, and did I mention the garlic bread? JD had the seafood brochette, from which he carefully removed all the extraneous red, yellow and green peppers. Phyl had the planked grilled salmon, and Ron had something fishy - sole? Maybe. (With apologies to my friend, Cynthia, I forgot to take pictures at dinner. So sue me.) We finished up with a bit of cheesecake, and waddled happily home.

Up not too early Sunday for lunch at the Eclectic Cafe in NoHo with Margaret and Susan. The girls arrived at my house promptly at 11 a.m., and after admiring our in-process patio renovation, we jumped in the old Explorer and headed to NoHo. The Eclectic Cafe is always fun, the service is always great, and the food is...okay. For their 'champagne' brunch they poured J. Roget Brut sparkling wine. It's not great wine, but with breakfast food, it's adequate. I had Pasta Saumoniere, which was linguine with smoked salmon, tomatoes, parsley, scallions and sour cream. It was okay, kind of bland. Susan had the Pasta Salsiccia with Italian Sausage, and Margaret had the Italian Herb omelette. We all chose the rosemary toast, thinking we were going to get something wonderfully foccaccia-ish, but it was just thin toast, and not particularly rosemary-ish. Didn't take pictures of this meal either. We had a great time together - we always do. Lots of laughter and general silliness.

When we headed out to the car, I had a flat tire! AAA got there in record time and repaired the tire, and we headed back to the barn. They went their way, and I freshened up and JD and I set off for Silverlake Wine for a special tasting event.

This turned out to be so much more than we expected! Joshua Klapper, the owner and winemaker for La Fenêtre wines, was there in person to talk about his wines. We've met Josh a few times at LAW events - he's charming and funny young man who is passionate about making wine. He's been mentored by Jim Clendenen, and loves the wines of Burgundy, modeling his own wines after the classic French wines. Caterers Heirloom LA provided gourmet accompaniments to pair with Josh's wines.

The welcome wine was a 2006 Naveran Cava. $14 A lovely dry sparkler (not by La Fenêtre), a nice way to wash away the memory of the J. Roget! Then the real tasting began!

2007 La Fenêtre 'Bien Nacido' Chardonnay. $44 Perfumey nose, very elegant and well-balanced. Josh 'lets' the wine make itself, using 100% barrel fermentation (18 months in the barrel) and 100% malolactic fermentation. Paired with it was 'make your own' lettuce wraps with an amazing duck confit as well as a veggie confection for the vegetarians in the room.

Next up the 2007 La Fenêtre 'Le Bon Climat' Pinot Noir. $60 Clear, medium red; beautiful nose full of fruit and earth; complex and interesting. I would have liked more of it. It was paired with a bean lasagna. Sounds odd, but it was delicious! And a perfect pairing with the Pinot. Josh focuses on super-developed fruit without jamminess. He picks only the best clusters, cold-soaks briefly (no more than a few days), and gets his wine into the barrels. Like the Burgundies he emulates, the oak provides structure without getting in the way - it's barely noticeable, but the backbone will allow this wine to age for another 10 years easily.

2007 La Fenêtre 'Calmant Creek' Pinot Noir. $54.75 Where the 'Le Bon Climat' vineyard Pinot was soft and feminine, this wine is big and masculine, from the Santa Rita Hills. He's not going to make this wine any more - he prefers the red fruited quality of LBC as opposed to the black fruit in the Calmant Creek grapes. I tend to agree with him, although it paired very nicely with the sturgeon covered with garlic and dill, on a bed of red wine risotto. The sturgeon was gorgeous to look at, and was seriously good. I'm not a big fish eater, but this was delicious!

We finished up with the La Fenêtre 2007 A Coté 'Red Blend' Santa Barbara County. $19.75 This is a Bordeaux-style blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Josh told the story of how this wine was "a total fuckup from day 1!" That's a direct quote. He grew the Cab, which turned out to be too sweet, so he bought some Merlot fruit from his pal, Jim Clendenen. Then he bought some more. And some more. After blending and testing, he ended up with the 60/40 split, and still didn't like it, but he had to move it. Of course, it turned out to be a huge hit, and now he likes it a lot better! Heirloom LA paired it with a caramelized apple trifle, with carmelized pastry cream, brown butter cake, creme fraiche, and home-made toffee. OMG. A great way to end the tasting.

During the tasting we met some nice new folks, and ran into a few we knew from LAW events. Sally Ann Field - not THAT Sally Field - is a long-time attendee at the Silverlake Wine events, and a big fan of La Fenêtre and Josh. We kidded her about stalking him, of course. She was great fun, and has a line of wine bags called Saucy Sacks. They have impertinent messages on them, like 'Miles was mistaken' and 'I like my tannins firm'. Fun!

After we made our goodbyes to Josh, and our thanks to the folks at Heirloom LA, we had a short chat with two of the three partners of Silverlake Wine, assuring them we'd be back for more! Silverlake Wine is owned and operated by George Cossette, Randy Clement and April Langford. The focus of the store is boutique, small production, high quality, artisanal wines in all price ranges from around the globe. Their attention to detail, and their precision work in handling this event was superb. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Oh, and on the way out, we couldn't resist purchasing the Bandit 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon in a juice box! April says it's really good, and who am I to doubt her?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Evening of Excellence with The Duke

Had another delightful experience at an event by The Duke of Bourbon. The Duke is David and Judy Breitstein and their excellent staff, especially my pal, Steve. They have had a fine wine and spirits store on the corner of Roscoe and DeSoto in Canoga Park since 1967, and we were lucky to happen upon them thru a posting on Around 4 times a year, they host events at the Warner Center Marriott, featuring premium wines from California, Oregon, France, and other wine growing regions. For every winery's product poured, a representative - either the winemaker or owner - talk about how the wines are made, often getting down and geeky in their explanations. For your money - generally around $45 or $50 per person, you get generous tastes of more than a dozen wines, accompanied by 3 kinds of cheese, fruit, and lots of bread and water. And you get to mingle with like-minded wine lovers. It's a win-win.

When we arrived last night, we found our assigned table. Within a few minutes, a couple came and sat by us. Bob and Terry from Woodland Hills had been to one of the Duke's previous events. After talking for a while, it was clear that they had a good knowledge and appreciation of wine, so we had much in common.

As other folks arrived, we discovered to our delight, that serendipity had intervened and placed several wine friends of ours at our table! Judy B. does most of the seating arrangements, and had no idea that we knew Alf and Bob, and Jan and Sherry - whom we know thru LearnAboutWine. Small world! Alf and Bob are retired engineers from either Northrop or Lockheed or McDonnell Douglas. They both have huge wine cellars (Alf has 4200 bottles and Bob has around 7000), and they travel all over the world tasting and buying wines. Alf is also a partner in the McKeon-Phillips Winery in Santa Maria. Between Alf and Bob and Jan and Sherry (who have both worked for Ian at LAW), the wine world was well-represented!

Before the event officially started, Steve introduced us to Barr Smith of Barlow Vineyards. Barr and his family left Newport Beach in 1994 for the wilds of Calistoga, up at the top of the Silverado Trail. They have 50 acres of land, where they grow Bordeaux-style wines. Barlow supplies grapes to many wineries in Napa, but have been making their own for a few years now.

The evening started with the welcome wine: 'Lucy' - Rosé of Pinot Noir from wild man Gary Pisoni of Pisoni Estate & Lucia Vineyards. Lucy was a deep pink, with a grapy-rhubarbish nose. Very dry with lovely fruit. $1 of every bottle sold goes to breast cancer research.

Once the winemakers had been introduced - Mark Pighini of Far Niente Winery, Mark Neal of Neal Family Vineyards, Barr Smith of Barlow Vineyards, and Gary Pisoni of Pisoni Estate and Lucia Vineyards - the real pouring began.

In order of appearance:

2007 Chardonnay, Far Niente Winery - Perfumey nose, soft mild oak, some nice spice on the finish. 100% barrel-fermented, no malolactic, then aged in oak. Lovely.

2007 Lucia Pinot Noir, Garys' Vineyard
2007 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir, Pisoni Estate & Lucia Vineyards
Both Pinots from Gary Pisoni are the same clone, but grown in different vineyards, about 10 miles apart. Gary (who is one of the 'Garys' of Garys' Vineyard) spoke about making his wines approachable. The grapes are picked cool, at night, and aged 10 - 12 months in 60% new French oak. He was right; the wines were very approachable. Delicious.

(Gary also got increasingly wound up as the evening progressed, telling stories and rooting for the Dodgers, and generally having a good time. He is the only winemaker I've met who made Jim Clendenen seem somewhat retiring. Steve later said that having Gary and Jim in the same room was both a terrifying and entertaining experience!)

2005 Merlot, Barlow Vineyards - Cherries on the nose, spice on the finish. Nice!

2007 Zinfandel, Neal Family Vineyards - JD and I found it nice on the nose - lots of fruit, but in the mouth it was piney and not that interesting.

2005 Barrouge, Barlow Vineyards - This is Barr's Bordeaux-style blend - 70% Cabernet Sauvignon/20% Merlot/5% Cabernet Franc/5% Petit Verdot. Our favorite of the night. Beautiful fruit, big but well-balanced, with a charming cinnamon finish. It was the only wine we bought.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Barlow Vineyards - Big, fruity, not memorable but would probably go well with grilled meat.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Southern California Premier, Neal Family Vineyards
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Neal Family Vineyards
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Second Chance Vineyard, Neal Family Vineyards
The 3 Neal Cabs were poured at the same time. The 2006 was ready to drink, but had nice structure and fruit. The 2005 was a huge fruit bomb with something strange happening in the nose - eucaplytus? Not sure. It took a while to open, and then the nose dropped out entirely. The 2004 was GREAT. It was also twice the price of the other two, and I am not surprised. They make only a couple of hundred cases from grapes grown on Atlas Peak. Wonderful.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Far Niente Winery - Cherry mocha nose, deep blackcurrant fruit, really concentrated. Mark from FNW got into serious detail about how the wines are made. This wine is 96% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remaining 4% made from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Wonderful, but way out of my budget.

2007 Lucia Syrah, Susan's Vineyard, Pisoni Estate & Lucia Vineyards
2007 Lucia Syrah, Garys' Vineyard, Pisoni Estate & Lucia Vineyards
The 2 Lucia Syrahs are both cool climate vineyards, and honestly, after the Far Niente Cab, I just couldn't find anything special about these Syrahs. They didn't smell like Syrah to me - no smoke, no pepper, just huge jammy fruit bombs. Others at the table seemed to really enjoy them. Not my cup of tea. So to speak.

We finished with the 2005 Dolce from Far Niente Winery. David (the Duke) talked about how important this wine is, as it may be considered to be the American (Californian?) answer to the great Sauternes of France. It was delicious to be sure - 90% botryized Semillon/10% un-botrytized Sauvignon Blanc; 100% new French oak; slow fermentation from 4 - 8 months. Apricot and peach flavors in the mouth. Honestly, I found myself thinking about the WineShop at Home Ceres Late Harvest Dessert Wine (a blend of Chardonnay, Semillon and Muscat with no botrytis, aged in 100% new oak barrels for an average age of 5 years, and at $25, is less than a third of the price of the Dolce.

The cheeses served were Fontina, Brie and Extra-sharp Cheddar.

All in all, it was a delightful evening, made even more so with the addition of our wine friends. Today we're off to the Mark Taper Forum to see 'Parade,' and tomorrow it's brunch with the girls and wine tasting at Silverlake Wine in the afternoon. Cheers!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Women, Wine, Art, etc.

After an exhausting weekend, it's been a quiet week on the wine front, although tonight will be busy.

Monday, restarted Pilates, and am so happy and so sore. But in a good way!

Tuesday evening, went to a women's networking group called The Heart Link Network. It's a way for women to encourage and support each other in their business and personal lives. It was interesting to discover how many women are finding ways to earn money without working in an office; it was also interesting to discover how many home party businesses there are, especially for products I had never considered might work in that business model. There were some of the usual suspects (besides my own WineShop at Home): Tastefully Simple (foods), The Pampered Chef (kitchen stuff), Private Quarters (bedding and linens), and several others. There were also life coaches, insurance agents, nutritionists. An eclectic group of women, from varied backgrounds. A very positive experience. I'll go back next month and see if it's something that I'll want to stay with.

Wednesday night, attended a lovely fundraiser at The Eclectic Company Theatre. I donated the wine for the evening and poured it as well. The evening was called "Spectrums" and it was an art show and sale featuring works of art by artists with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), among them Kevin Hasseini and Joel Anderson. Proceeds from the event will be shared by the artists, by Train 4 Autism, a non-profit organization that raises funds for Autism research and treatment. These artists who displayed their work were children (the oldest being 19), and are extraordinarily accomplished. A really wonderful evening that hopefully raised some money for the artists and the theatre as well.

Thursday night, JD and I vegged at home. It was nice! Tonight we'll head to a special event from the Duke of Bourbon: "IN THE COMPANY OF EXCELLENCE featuring BARLOW VINEYARDS, FAR NIENTE WINERY, NEAL FAMILY VINEYARDS, PISONI ESTATE & LUCIA VINEYARDS." The Duke is David Breitstein, and the store is a treasure trove of great wines and spirits. I learned about the Duke of Bourbon several years ago, and JD and I began attending the quarterly events that are usually held at the Warner Center Marriott. The wines are always interesting, the winemakers attend and discuss their wines -- in the geekiest detail! - and we get a chance to meet like-minded wine lovers. And there's always the opportunity to purchase wine and wine futures. Looking forward to tasting these wines:

Barlow Vineyards:
2005 Merlot
2005 Barrouge
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon

Far Niente Winery:
2007 Chardonnay
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 Dolce

Neal Family Vineyards:
2007 Zinfandel
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Southern California Premier
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Second Chance Vineyard

Pisoni Estate & Lucia Vineyards:
2007 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir
2007 Lucia Pinot Noir, Garys' Vineyard
2007 Lucia Syrah, Susan's Vineyard
2007 Lucia Syrah, Garys' Vineyard

Full report over the weekend. Cheers!

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Wine-y Weekend

Had a few adventures over the weekend. Saturday, was in Pasadena to get our hairs cut (yes, all of them), and actually had no other plans. Gina, the best hair artist in high heels, suggested visiting one of the wine bars within walking distance of the salon. So we walked over to Pop on Union, which was closed - would open at 4 p.m. OK, so we walked back in the other direction to the Paseo Colorado to try Bodega. Which was closed - would open at 4 p.m....sigh... But there was the D'Vine Wine Company in the same courtyard, so we ventured inside the open door. They weren't quite open yet, but we looked around the large room, admiring the dark wooden wine racks and the rustic furnishings, while being curious about the apparently small inventory displayed. It turns out that this is a franchise through which you can make your own wines or have wines personalized for you.

After a while, a young man arrived - the winemaker, Carlos Torres - and he quickly poured us his 2005 Madeira Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa). It was an interesting Cab - the nose full of leather and tobacco and earth, with some dark fruit. Firm tannins supported a tasty black cherry, but not at all fruit forward. Low alcohol, too, only 12.5%, which made for a very Old World experience - with a Napa wine!

Carlos loves French wine, and is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. And he tries very hard to make his wines as French as possible. He also poured a couple of vintages of Asuncion Ridge Pinot Noir from San Luis Obispo - a 2006 and 2007. The 2006 was really Burgundian in style; earth,and mushroom and smoke in the nose, more mushroom and forest floor in the mouth. It took a long time to open enough to find the fruit. The 2007 was pure California; fruit, fruit, fruit. It was like drinking a cocktail compared to the 2006. Did I mention fruit? 2007 had a very hot summer, so the fruit was super ripe and highly extracted.

We had a nice visit with Carlos, purchased a bottle of his Cab for $23.99, and left in search of food. After walking around the Paseo, there wasn't really anything there that was not a chain, so we walked back up Raymond to Cafe Bizou - which was closed. Would open at 5 p.m. We were hungry and didn't want to wait another 45 minutes, so we hoofed it back down to Colorado and dropped in on Mi Piace, where we had a Caesar salad followed by some delicious pasta - I had the Bolognese, JD had something with seafood - and we gilded the lily with an odd, but delicious, bread pudding. All of the above went really well with the Madeira Ranch Cabernet, so we were happy and went home exhausted.

Got up early on Sunday and hit the road to Qupé in the middle of the Bien Nacido vineyard. A good sized crowd had already accumulated - there was a long queue for the food, which was being prepared by Jim Clendenen and crew. We grabbed a few crackers and cheese and started tasting. Bob Lindquist was behind a table, pouring 20-year-old wines to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of Qupé. He poured us a 1989 Rosé made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. It had aged to a very curious orange color. It had lost its fruit, but still tasted like wine. The 1989 Chardonnay was yellow. YELLOW. Not golden. It was the color of pineapple juice. It was too scary-looking to taste, but a couple of other folks there said it was like the Rosé - all the fruit was gone.

We had a kind of odd experience when we went to the Syrah table. We tasted a Syrah made by Qupé's winery manager (I'm not really sure of his name). The label was Makor La Tortuga, and it was one of the stranger Syrah's I've had. The nose was full of eucalyptus - no smokiness, no meatiness, just an odd medicinal smell. Tasted a bit strange, too. I think it was a 2006 vintage. Then we tried a Qupé Syrah, which either had the same strange eucalyptus thing going on, or our glasses were just tainted from the first one. It was very odd - we love Bob's Syrah's, and these were just weird.

We fled the Syrah table, and went to the table where Bob's sister, Sarah (?), was pouring Tempranillo and other reds. It took a bit of rinsing, but I finally got the odd Syrah out of my glass, and things started to taste like wine again. We especially like Jim's Vita Nova Acronicus, a Bordeaux-style blend.

After doing a bit more tasting, we stood in the food queue, and were rewarded for our wait by getting some 20-year-old Syrah from Bob. This was WINE. The nose still had fruit and smokiness, and it was delicious with the tri-tip and pasta and salad. We tasted a few other wines, but the crowd was huge, and we both were getting a bit crazy from it, so we bought a 2004 Clendenen Family Cellars Petit Verdot, a 2002 Acronicus and a different grape - a 2005 Il Podere Teroldego. Red and yummy. We did love Jim's Au Bon Climat 2004 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley "Knox Alexander". As always, dee-lishus!

We jumped in the old Explorer and headed back to Buellton, to attend the grand re-opening of Morgan Clendenen's Cold Heaven Cellars at the new location. It was so nice to be able to spend some time chatting with Morgan about her wines and her life -- all while tasting what we consider to be the best Viognier in the New World, Cold Heaven. JD and I first tasted Cold Heaven around 4 or 5 years ago, and it set the standard for Viognier. Besides the various and wonderful Santa Barbara County and Santa Rita Hills vineyards from which Morgan sources her grapes - Sanford and Benedict, Vogelzang, Le Bon Climat, and others - she also makes an amazing international blend made up of Sanford & Benedict vineyard fruit from Santa Barbara County, combined in equal parts with legendary winemaker Yves Cuilleron's French grapes from the Northern Rhône appellation of Condrieu. Deux C (Clendenen and Cuilleron are the 'two C's') rocks!

We also love Morgan's Domaine des Deux Mondes-Saints & Sinners Viognier, another collaboration between herself and Yves Cuilleron, and her Second Sin Syrah - which was the best Syrah I tasted on Sunday. It paired really well with the carnitas taco I had at the Cold Heaven open house. Scott is the roast/barbeque king! Great guacamole, too.

We reluctantly tore ourselves away from Cold Heaven after buying a few bottles of heaven, and headed over to Solvang to the Tastes of the Valleys wine bar thinking we'd just have a quiet glass of wine after all the conversations and crowds. Our recently-made friends, owners Ash and Lissa, weren't there when we arrived, but their barista, a lovely young woman whose name we never got, set us up at table, where we considered what we wanted to drink. We were thinking about a 2006 Toucan Red Cuveé and a Core 2006 GMS when Ash arrived, sat down with us and plied us with wine and conversation. So much fun! While we were visiting, Ray Fortune, a local musician, was setting up for an evening of music at the wine bar. Great voice and guitar work - very enjoyable. Makes me wish we lived a bit closer to Solvang, so we could stop in more often.

It was getting late, and we wanted to have dinner before we headed back to Burbank, so we went around the block to Root246 with a bottle of the Toucan Red Cuvee - Estate Zinfandel 55%/Estate Petite Sirah 9%/36% Old Vine Carignane, Evangelho Vineyard - a very interesting blend that was a delicious complement to the amazing dinner at Root246, a new restaurant in Solvang helmed by Chef Bradley Ogden. The service was a bit slow - although all the waitpersons seemed to be moving at warp speed, the delivery took a while. It was definitely worth waiting for. I had the “Ive’s Shake and Bake fried Rocky Jr. chicken,” with whipped crème fraiche potatoes, and seriously julienned fuji apples. Not your typical fried chicken, let me tell you! JD had cod with spaghetti squash and jumbo capers and other yummy items. We split the Root 246 banana split “taster”, house-made marshmallow fluff, local strawberries, hot fudge. Yum!

Then we had to drive home...sigh...and while traffic was moving at the right speed - fast - it was still a long drive home after a very long, but gratifying day. Back in the barn by around 10:15. Updated my Facebook status and fell into bed!