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!

Friday, October 9, 2009

WineShop at Home

In February of 2008, JD and I were working a 'Palate' class at LearnAboutWine, and as always, Ian asked the guests to identify themselves and say what they hoped to get from the class. A woman a few seats away from me stood up and said, "I'm Megan Collins, and I'm an Independent Wine Consultant with WineShop at Home." At the break, I grabbed her and said we needed to talk. I had been looking online for wine jobs, of any sort, and there were a few companies whose business was doing in-home wine tastings. WineShop at Home was the one that looked the most interesting.

I told Megan that I understood how the business worked - it's your typical direct sales, multi-level marketing business model. What I wanted to know was: How good are the wines? I said 'I have a pretty good cellar at home, and I'm a snob. And, if I were to join up with any company, I would have to like the wines or I wouldn't be able to sell them.' She said, 'Great! Come to a tasting and make up your own mind!'

So, we did.

The business of the evening went pretty much the way I expected. Megan is a bright, self-motivated individual with infectious enthusiasm. The wines were well made, the presentation was clear with decent tasting notes and recommended food pairings, and the guests were enthusiastic and eager to learn. The hostess had pretty much ignored Megan's coaching, so the crowd was too large - and a whole group showed up an hour late, and weren't interested in anything but partying among themselves. But Megan never lost her cool - she asked us to help pour, as she knew we knew how to! - and actually directed a number of questions to me. It was a pleasant introduction to the business.

A day or so later, Megan invited me to a team meeting at one of her consultants home, and JD and I attended, not sure of what to expect. It's one thing to go to a party; it's another thing to go to a 'training' session.

It was a terrific surprise. The consultants who attended were all fairly new; Megan herself had been doing this for a little under a year, but with her motivation, she had been able to quit her day job after 5 months. She was building her downline, and had about 50 consultants under her at that point. The agenda included tasting 2 newly released wines.

Let me go on a slight tangent here - WineShop at Home is the brainchild of John and Melissa Lynch in Napa. It's a bonded winery with John and his staff enologist, Steve Burch, working with local growers in California and other appellations, to make small production, handcrafted wines at an affordable price point. The wines, for the most part, are vinted and bottled at a facility in King City, CA. The wines are sold exclusively through in-home wine tastings and individual consultants' websites, which are provided by the company. The wines are not found in stores or restaurants, and they are not submitted to critics for ratings. They are extremely drinkable and cellarable and affordable, and I am continually surprised at how much I like them (snob, remember?).

So, back to the team meeting. Megan opened a Sauvignon Blanc. It was light and crisp. She went thru the notes that came with the wine, and we talked about it. At that point, I was probably the most knowledgeable person in the room (about wine anyway), and she encouraged the team to ask me questions. It was flattering and fun. Then Megan opened a Cabernet Sauvignon, poured an ounce into my glass, and asked me what I thought the vintage was. The wine was a deep, dark red, almost opaque; the nose was full of mocha and black cherry; the tannins were stiff, lots of backbone; the taste was rich red fruit and chocolate and tobacco. I thought maybe - since the tannins were still so big - that it was fairly young, so I guessed 2006 or 2007. It was a 2003 - much older than I thought, and I was impressed. This was my kind of wine - big, chewy, meaty, with great structure and complexity. And it was priced at $18!

I signed up on the spot. If WineShop at Home could make wines like this Cab, I was in.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


In my previous post, I told how JD and I met Ian Blackburn at LearnAboutWine. We continued to volunteer at his classes and events, tasting great wines and meeting like-minded people. In the fall of 2007, Ian launched his LAW (LearnAboutWine) School, and I was part of the inaugural class, passing the BAR (Beverage Aptitude Requirement) Exam and receiving my certification as a Junior Wine Executive and a cool lapel pin. It was challenging and exciting. The real revelation was the Reidel glasses. I never would have believed it would truly make such a difference in the smell and taste of the wine. I’m a believer now! Ian was funny – he said he didn’t want to make ‘glass snobs’ of us, but I gotta tell you, this fully confirms what I’ve been saying on a much lower level for many years: No drinking wine from plastic glasses!! There is just no point at all. No flavor, no nose. Amazing.

After completing LAW School, Ian asked me to pour wines at his events, rather than just help with set up and tear down. It was an opportunity to be able to learn more about wines - there is always research involved before the event, because Ian wants his pourers to be able to speak knowledgeably about the wines we're pouring. And so my education continued.

What I discovered is something that I should have realized long ago - I like to talk. People who know me will be howling with laughter at that disclosure, but I never really thought I would teach, until I discovered how passionately I felt about wine. And so that's one of the paths I'm taking - becoming a wine educator. Ian has been a great help in this - I've taught his Wine Camp (Wine 101) class, and have been the primary educator a few of his events, and he continues to encourage me and refer clients to me.

I've also joined the Society of Wine Educators as a Professional Member, and have started studying so that I can take the exam to become a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), which is the first step to becoming a Certified Wine Educator (CWE). I wasn't sure I was going to do that until I met Yvonne Rich, a long-time CWE. She was inspiring.

And I'm also doing in-home wine tastings for WineShop at Home, which provides another kind of venue for wine education, and about which I'll write tomorrow.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Learning About Wine

During the last 4 or 5 years, as my wine collecting seemed to be getting more and more serious, and I was assiduously taking notes on every wine I tasted, not knowing what to do with the notes; and reading book after book about wine and grapes and viticulture and...well, you get the picture. It finally occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I should be looking for a job in the wine industry. But doing what? I didn't know anything about actually making wine, and couldn't see myself doing it. I signed up for alerts about wine jobs in the region, and discovered that most of them involved driving all over the state and carrying cases of wine around, and I didn't want to do that. I've done outside sales jobs where you just drive and drive and spend hours in traffic. Granted, I did it before there were cell phones and GPS and all those lovely modern technological marvels we all take for granted today, but still...just didn't want to drive that much.

So what to do? I searched the Internet for wine jobs and wine education and wine anything. And in January of 2007, I found a company called And they were offering a course called 'So You Want to be in the Wine Business?'. I thought this might be something that could help, so JD and I talked it over, and we signed up.

Fighting rush hour traffic to get downtown to the Arts District - not the Music Center, but a much older area East and South of there, near Little Tokyo - we found street parking and went upstairs to meet Ian Blackburn of LearnAboutWine and hear what he had to say. As we sipped on his welcome wine, an interesting white from Mexico (who knew there was wine in Mexico? so much to learn!), more students arrived, many of whom seemed to know each other - making us feel a little like we had intruded on someone else's party.

But we sat down at a table for four, and the class began. Ian introduced himself, talking about how he had started LAW as a blog, and then grew it into a wine education business. We went around the room, introducing ourselves, and to my dismay, it seemed that JD and I were the only ones who were not already involved in the industry. There were winemakers, and wine writers/bloggers, and people who were opening wine stores, and winery/wine company reps. And us.

It was an eye-opening evening. I came home more confused than ever. Where did I fit? What could I do? What skills did I bring to the table, other than a decent palate and a passion for wine?

A week or so later, I received an email from LearnAboutWine, advertising an event at HD Buttercup (the former Helms Bakery building in Culver City), a high-end furniture store. It was around $65 per person, and I was thinking I just couldn't afford to spend that much money, and I noticed, in small print, a note that said, 'Interested in volunteering? Click here.' I was intrigued, and clicked. It launched a new email, so I sent off a note about JD and me. We have a lot of experience with events, and getting things done quickly and efficiently. A few more emails went back and forth, and Ian agreed that we could come as volunteers.

JD and I arrived at HD Buttercup around 6 PM and found Ian's team somewhat in disarray. There were several Cordon Bleu students in white uniforms, and a few other folks milling around. A pleasant young man named James seemed to have some idea of what was going on. It became clear that there were around 30 tables to set up for a 7:30 event, and the manager was not going to let us do anything until 6:30, which was going to make it to get everything done that had to be done.

Ian looked around, focused on me, and asked, 'Can you handle the cheese?' I replied, 'Of course!' He told me to take the cheese cart - which had close to 20 different cheeses on it - and gave me a list of the wines on each table, and told me to match them up as well as I could. I grabbed a couple of students and JD, and we hurried thru the store, talking to the winery reps, trying to determine what cheese went best with what wine. We got it done, of course. Everything fell into place, and when we ran into Ian about an hour later, he told us we were 'awesome'. Very gratifying! I reminded him that we had a LOT of experience getting things done, and that he should feel free to call on us whenever he needed help.

We went home with a couple of bottles of wine and feeling that something important had changed in our lives.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

On September 1st, 1997, JD and I were in Paso Robles trying new wineries. Well, new to us. We were on Route 46 at Anderson Road, and there were 2 small wineries kind of next to each other. We went to the farthest one first. It was Midnight Cellars, and it was in a building that seemed as if it were the owner's house. The wines were young. I remember being not that impressed.

We drove back toward 46, stopping at Dark Star Cellars, a large barn with a counter at the front for a tasting area. There were silly clocks on the wall, and a friendly young woman behind the counter. While we were tasting the red, Bordeaux-style wines, a roly-poly man with curly hair came in behind the counter. After a while, we realized he was Norm Benson, the owner and winemaker. He was funny and cynical and sarcastic, and we fell in love with him on the spot. Within a short time, Norm was pouring barrel samples for us - a first for us - and we were goners. Dark Star had just opened recently to the public. We joined the wine club as charter members, and Dark Star is still the only wine club we have maintained for all these years - and we've gone thru a bunch of other clubs!

Norm makes a gorgeous meritage blend - Ricordati ('always remember'). The blend varies from year to year, but it's always a rich, fruit-forward, well-structured wine that never disappoints. We love his other wines, too, especially the Rhone-styles he's ventured into in the past few years. And it's especially nice to be able to walk into the winery and be greeted as an old friend.

On our first visit, we asked about the clocks on the wall. Norm said that whoever sent him a clock deemed to be silly or special enough to be displayed on the wall would receive a free bottle of Ricordati. Later that year, we found a foam-rubber, bright orange clock in the shape of a lobster - the tail was a pendulum. We laughed ourselves sick when we saw it, and bought it immediately, thinking we'd be up in Paso in May for the wine festival and would bring it with us. Scheduling got a little off, and it appeared that we wouldn't be able to go, so we mailed the clock to Dark Star with our compliments. We didn't hear anything, and were disappointed that no one acknowledged our gift.

Somehow, our schedule opened up, and at the last minute we hopped in the car and rushed up to Paso. Dark Star was having a big party with music and barbecue and general fun. When we arrived, I said we didn't have reservations, but we were members - the Dickey's. The girl at the desk (probably Nicole, Norm and Susan's daughter), looked up and yelled for Norm: "The Dickey's are here!" While we stood there, confused, Norm ran out of the barn and pulled us in to show us the lobster clock, happily ticking away in the center position of honor on the wall! He pulled out a bottle of Ricordati and put in John's vest pocket. We felt we truly belonged after that.

A year or two after that, Norm and Susan threw a dinner party, just for members. I remember RSVPing, and wondering that they didn't mention any cost to us. But we arrived for dinner, and discovered it was a small party, for charter wine club members. Norm and Susan barbecued, wine flowed like water, good spirits abounded.

That evening we had the opportunity to taste son Brian's new wines. At that time, Brian wasn't legal drinking age, but he was already making tremendous wine; very different from his dad's wine. Brian is still making great wines - Brian Benson Cellars - sharing tasting room space at Dark Star. We're big fans, and can't say enough good things about this hard-working young man.

That was the beginning of our love affair with Paso Robles, especially the wineries on the West 46, and the 'far-out' wineries up Vineyard Road and beyond.

Oh, and how did I remember that our first visit to Dark Star was on 9/1/97? Easy. Norm signed and dated the bottle of 1995 Ricordati we bought that day. The bottle is sitting in my living room. We drank it in 2002 (I think), for my birthday, after Norm told us, at the above-mentioned dinner, that it was time to drink it. So we did!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

So much wine. So little room.

Yesterday I wrote about our first 'milestones' in wine. There are big and small ones. First, you pay more for a bottle of wine than you would pay for a whole meal. Then you start going to wineries and discover there are wines that never make it stores or restaurants, but can only be found at the source. Then you start searching for wine stores that carry the wines you love. The first time you bring your own wine to a restaurant.

The first 'mixed' case. The first not mixed case. The first time you come home from a wine tasting trip with multiple cases. The point at which you discover that your living room is full of wine because you have no room to store anything properly. The panic when you realize you're not storing anything properly - and these are fairly expensive wines. The first wine storage fridge you buy - which is just large enough for you to clear out your living room. In my case, there were around 12 cases of wine in my living room. Thanks to some serendipitous meetings and shopping, I was able to purchase a nice Vinotemp unit that gave me back my living room.

JD and I are collectors who buy to drink. I don't shop at auctions, and don't really want to buy anything that has to be on its side for more than 5 years, because life is short and I want to drink my wines now! But sometimes, when you're in the moment - in a tasting room or at an event - you fall in love with whatever is in your glass, and all of a sudden, there's another several cases in the living room. And those moments add up, especially if you're tasting with friends.

JD and I have been lucky. We've met a few individuals who really know a lot about wine, and are willing to teach us. Over the last 20 years that we've visited our favorite little place, Cambria, we've received education, guidance, and friendship from Dennis and Kelley and Joni at the Cambria Wine Shop. We can't actually get out of there without buying at least a case of mixed treasures. Dennis, especially, has been generous with his time and his deep well of knowledge. And Kelley, the Wine Demon, is just too much fun and too willing to share his stories of the days he worked for Bonny Doon.

But there are other memorable moments. I remember vividly a birthday dinner at the Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill, when we had a gift certificate for dinner, so we splurged on the wine. Just from reading the brief description on the wine list, we ordered a 2001 L'Aventure 'Optimus.' It was extraordinary. Every mouthful was deep and dark chocolate and cherries and firm tannins. And $58 at the restaurant.

When we got home, I went online and searched for it at the winery. It was $50! I was sad - I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have that wonderful wine again. The mail arrived with a catalog from the Woodland Hills Wine Company. Unbelievably, they had the 2001 Optimus on sale for $36.99. I bought 6 bottles, and put them on their sides, and have opened one per year. This wine just gets more complex and interesting. Just brought one to a party last month; you should have seen peoples' eyes pop when they tasted it.

Because the best part of wine is sharing it. Wine is social. From ancient times - maybe 8,000 years ago - when humans realized that fermented grape juice altered their conscious state, wine has been a part of social interaction. Whether it's used to purify water (kills bacteria!), or drunk with meals to aid digestion (enzymes!), or used in religious rituals for sanctification and blessings, wine is part of our lives. It adds depth and enjoyment to meals, enhancing the foods that delight us.

And so we keep buying, and we buy more than we drink. A few weeks ago, JD and I poured wine at a fundraiser for ALS, and the turnout was small. The wine distributor who donated the wines gave all of us a case to take home. We were already overflowing our storage (wine cooler - 200 bottles, rack in dining room - supposed to be 48 bottles, but doubled up, the small cooler in the kitchen, and at least a case that was in the living room). We opened a couple of bottles at a meeting, and sent everyone home with a bottle. I took 4 bottles to work and gave them to a co-worker who loves white wines. She was thrilled, and I had disposed of 4 bottles I wasn't going to drink. Fastest case I've ever gone thru!

And we really can't buy any more wine until we drink some of what we've got. I think I'll be doing some entertaining! Soon.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Memories of Wine

Wine. It has become an occasionally overwhelming love. I can think of specific bottles of wine that have been part of memorable events in my life.

Remember the first time you tasted wine? I was little, probably at synagogue for some holiday or other. Probably Passover. Those mini-Dixie cups with their thimblefuls of Manischevitz Concord sweet it made your teeth hurt. But it was part of the community. It was OK for a kid to taste the wine, and the adults would laugh at the reaction.

So that was my first wine. Years later, Vivian and I would get her sister Irene to buy a bottle of red wine - don't remember what kind - and we would repackage it into a juice bottle (decanting!) and take it with us to the Renaissance Faire. That wine, paired with a bucket of KFC, would be our picnic lunch under the oaks in Agoura. Sometimes, Vivian would be able to buy a couple of bottles of mead - honey wine. She never got carded. I always did.

When I married Jeff and moved to Pennsylvania, it was the early 1970's, and we would buy Taylor Lake Country Red. Sold in attractive jugs. Actually, the Taylor bottles were shaped differently from the usual jugs, but jug wine it was! Sometime around 1975, we threw a party and I made a Sangria using the Taylor red and a lot of fruit. I didn't want the wine to get watered down, so I made ice cubes from the wine. It takes a bit longer to freeze wine, as the alcohol slows it down, but you can do it! My guests were so drunk; it was pretty funny. No one realized that the ice cubes weren't water. All that wine and all that fruit. It was a pretty good party.

Jeff and I split up a few years later, and I started experimenting with other wines. It was challenging in PA - the State Stores where you had to buy liquor were staffed with clerks who didn't know anything about what they were selling. Plus, I think they weren't allowed to recommend, even if they did know. So I would look at labels, and if one struck my fancy, I'd buy it. Had some nice surprises.

Then I became friends with Walt Bender, who was working as a State Store manager. He seemed to know a bit about wine. He certainly knew more than I did. And for my 28th or 29th birthday, he brought me a bottle of Chianti Classico Ruffino Riserva. I don't know what vintage it was. I just know that it was different from any wine I had ever had before. And it was expensive - around $10/bottle. That was big bucks around 1980. Remember, even the bottle of Chateau Montelena that beat the French in 1976 was only around $7 or $8. It was the beginning for me.

When JD and I got together in the late '80's we had so many things in common, it was actually kind of strange. But one thing we shared was a love of red wine and difficulty breathing after drinking some. Asthma - it kind of got in the way of our enjoyment. My nephew, Chris, who are that time was under the drinking age, but who grew up in Carmel - wine country! - came to town. My mom and Chris and JD and I had dinner at the Smoke House and Chris picked the wine. It was a Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, probably a 1987 or '88 vintage. It was wonderful. And I don't remember having any breathing problems after.

A few weeks later, JD and I were at the Market City Caffe in Burbank, and they were offering a Clos du Val Merlot for $27.50 - which was more than I had EVER paid for a bottle of wine. But I remembered the Clos du Val from the Smoke House, so we gave it a try. That bottle was life-changing. Wish I remembered what vintage it was! We went back a few weeks later and had another bottle. Again, it was remarkable.

So later that year - I think maybe 1991 or 1992 - when we went north for another Renaissance Faire, we made the pilgrimage to Napa and Clos du Val. This created another milestone moment for us. We spent $100 on 4 bottles of wine. Whew! On the way home, we stopped in a little jewel of town called Cambria, where we entered the Cambria Wine Shop - then known as 927-WINE (they've changed the number, BTW) - and met Calvin, who introduced us to a different Merlot - La Playa from Chile. It was darn good, and only $6.95/bottle! And so began our actual education about wine.

More in tomorrow's post. Thanks for reading.

30-Sep-2009 JD's Bday dinner@Prosecco

Took JD to Prosecco in Toluca Lake for dinner last night. Ordered an aperitif of NV Prosecco di Valdobiaddene (crisp, fresh, refreshing - $9/glass) while decanting our bottle of 2001 Lancaster Estate Red Wine - 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 2% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot – Yum! Aromas of wild berries, cassis, and violets. Ripe black cherry and chocolate flavors, toasted oak nuances, and supple tannins. Paired beautifully with my vegan split pea soup and JD’s arugula salad with shaved parmesan and Meyer lemon vinaigrette, and was exceptional with the main dish. We both ordered one of the specials: Beef medallions in a Gorgonzola Merlot (I think) sauce, accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and steamed veggies. Forgot to tell Brian the waiter that I didn’t want cooked carrots, so I had fewer edible veggies than expected, but everything was delicious. The steak was perfect – cooked rare, and tender. I controlled myself and took half of the steak home. Because I had called ahead to notify them that it was JD’s birthday, Brian brought us a plate of panna cotta covered in raspberry sauce. Scrumptious, and paired especially well with the last bit of the Lancaster red. JD was happy. I was happy that JD was happy. A winning evening all around! Panna cotta is an Italian dessert made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar, mixing this with gelatin, and letting it cool until set. An Italian expression which literally means "cooked cream", it generally refers to a creamy, set dessert from the Northern Italian region of Piemonte. It is eaten all over Italy where it is served with wild berries, caramel, chocolate sauce or fruit coulis. It is not known exactly how or when this dessert came to be, but some theories suggest that cream, for which mountainous Northern Italy is famous, was historically eaten plain or sweetened with fruit or hazelnuts. Earlier recipes for the dish used boiled fish bones in place of gelatin; however, sugar, a main ingredient, would not have been widely available as it was an expensive imported commodity. After years this treat evolved into what is now a gelatin dessert, flavored with vanilla and topped with fruit or spices, and served chilled.

28-Sep-2009 @ The Valencia Wine Company

Headed up to Santa Clarita Monday afternoon for a fund raiser at the Valencia Wine Company. My FB friend, Eve Hammond Bushman - blogger extraordinaire - was acting as wine server to raise money for her SCV Unitarian Universalist Church. We arrived early, of course, and wandered around the store, reading wine labels and trying to decide what we wanted to drink. We settled on a Bordeaux from Saint-Emilion – Chateau Comte des Cordes 2006. 75% Merlot/25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Dee-lishus! Deep ruby, pale around the edges; nose full of earth, leather, mushroom, toffee; mouth full of earth at first, but opened up and got gorgeous red fruit; nice acid/tannin balance. $34.99 We also purchased a combination cheese and meat plate, a nice charcuterie comprised of 2 types of salami, prosciutto, 6 different cheeses, marinated olives, mini dill pickles, and a plate of water crackers and lavosh. All we needed was some chocolate, and the experience would have been complete! Spent some time with Rusty Sly, one of Eve’s friends and co-bloggers. He’s very knowledgeable about corks, and has written extensively about corks and why we should keep using corks. He’s also in the earth/space science industry and actually contributes to the labors that go on around shuttle launches and such. A well-educated and opinionated (in a good way) nerd. We liked him a lot – and he must have liked us, as he treated us each to a 2 oz. pour of Mollydooker 2008 The Boxer – a huge Shiraz from MacLaren Vale. It was too much after the elegant Bordeaux; big and jammy; opaque red/black color, smoky, peppery nose; a real fruit bomb with a nice helping of black pepper. And 16% alcohol! Extremely extracted – cherry, pomegranate. Needed a steak or leg of lamb to go with it. Also got to meet John Carter – not from Barsoom or ER – but from Bar Parts, an online retailer of everything you could possibly need for being in the wine or beer or spirits industry. Last year when I joined WineShop at Home, I ordered plastic dump buckets from him. They didn’t arrive with the rest of my order, and when I called and asked about delivery (as I had tastings scheduled), he said they didn’t come in and he was sending me better quality buckets. In fact, he sent me 2 gorgeous stainless steel buckets that are much more attractive and durable than the plastic ones would have been, and they’ve doubled as ice buckets several times as well. Another nice connection to make. He asked me for info about WSAH, and said he would feature me on his blog. Nice! Meanwhile, Eve was going back and forth, serving wine and taking orders, and sipping something red while she was doing it. It was fun to watch, as she has never actually waited tables, and was surprised at what a sweat she was working up! We were very amused, and made fun of her because we could. We rolled out of there around 6:30 or so – it was still light out. A pleasant way to end the day!

Cambria - 02-Sep-2009 - 20th Anni Trip

Breakfast arrived at 8:30 and we dove in. Nice strong coffee, hot breads and fresh fruit and juice. Showered and packed because we had to go home. When we dropped off the key, the lady behind the desk offered us an additional night - FREE - because they had so few bookings. We almost took it, but I had already been in touch with colleagues from work and there's this huge project going on and they were expecting me back, and....sob! We thanked her for the offer and went for a walk along the boardwalk on Moonstone Beach. It was already getting hot - very unusual for Cambria, but like everywhere else, they're having odd weather. There was NO onshore breeze; the sea was almost still. A few seals splashed around; some tourists climbed thru the rocks looking for tidepools. I kept an eye on the water - I had a feeling and was rewarded. A small pod of dolphins came into view - playing or feeding or just hanging out a few hundred yards from shore. What a gift! We stayed as long as we could and bade farewell to our favorite stretch of shoreline. Went into town for a quick bite at Linn's. John had a glass of Hug Viognier, always delightful, and I had a glass of of grape I had never heard of - Fiano, an Italian grape from Avellino in southern Italy. Seghesio is growing it up in the Russian River appellation. It was served cool, not chilled, and was full of peach and honey in the noise. The mouth was stone fruits and some minerality, with a slightly creamy finish. $8 for the glass. Linn's had the bottle at $32. I'm going to do a little more research. It reminded us of a Roussane or Marsanne. Very interesting. And both wines accompanied our chicken pot pie (me) and crab sandwich (JD) perfectly. We got on the road and sadly drove straight home, leaving fresh air and blue skies for the fire and smoke-darkened air of home. But safely home, and back to work. A good trip, if too short.

Cambria - 01-Sep-2009 - 20th Anni Trip

Tuesday, September 01, 2009. Our 20th wedding anniversary. Amazing. When I was young and single and dating, every time I would go out with a guy, I would try to imagine us in 10 years. I could never see it – even with my first husband, who is still a friend. But when I met John, and when we started dating after our ‘yenta,’ Shirley, pushed us toward each other, I could see it. I could see us in 10 years, and 20 years. And I can still see us in the future. We still have so much fun together – we make each other laugh, we share the same interests. And we drive each other crazy, too, but that’s part of the package. I can’t imagine life without him. OK, occasionally, I think it might be nice to have a separate house, but that’s just on the days when I get crazy about his pack-rat-ness. We got up early-ish Tuesday. The White Water Inn provides a nice continental breakfast for their guests – toasted bagel, blueberry and spiced muffins, bananas and apples and juice and a full pot of coffee. We took our time, finished breakfast, showered and went for a walk along the boardwalk. Watched the seals and the birds. Back to the room to pick up a couple of things and into town. Stopped at the Cambria Wine Shop. Of course. Dennis was sitting outside, making phone calls and reading the paper. We made reservations for Madeline’s at 7 p.m., and Dennis started pouring wines. 2008 Chateau Cazat-Beauchene. White Bordeaux. Almost equal parts Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Gris. Floral aromas, hints of white fruit. Something vegetal in the nose, with a slightly buttery finish. Lovely. $24 We bought 2 bottles. 2007 Bodegas Albarino ‘Querida’. Clear, straw color. Big flowery nose. Thick, sweet and yet refreshing. A picnic/BBQ wine. From Jack Ranch Vineyards. $30 2007 Riverstar Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles/San Miguel. Crystal clear, very tropical. Serve at room temp, not chilled. Interesting. Needed food other than the cheeses Dennis was providing. Not sure what I would pair with this. $28. I think I prefer Riverstar red blends, especially their 'Affinity'. 2007 Domaine Cherrier & Fils Sancerre. We’ve bought other vintages of this before. I really love this wine. Straw color, gorgeous nose – not grassy like California Sauvignon Blancs. Just a lovely drinking wine. $35 2 bottles. 2007 Brandborg Gewurztraminer, Umpqua Valley, Oregon. Sweet but dry. Aromas of roses, grapefruit and stone fruit. This wine has 2.5% residual sugar balanced with a refreshing acidity. The label suggests pairing with creamy blue cheese, but all I could think about was spicy Thai cuisine. $24 2 bottles. NV Candor Merlot by Austin Hope of Treana in Paso Robles. This is a wine that Austin markets to restaurants, and Dennis was able to purchase it thru Madeline’s. It is a BIG Merlot. It’s non-vintage, but a blend of three different vintages. Dark red, almost opaque. High alcohol. Big, big red fruit – cherries, raspberries. And yet well-balanced. What smelled hot in the nose wasn’t there in the mouth. Dee-licious. $32 2 bottles. 2004 Summerwood ‘Sentio’, Paso Robles. Let me just say that I am not a fan of Summerwood, partly because I think their wines just aren’t that interesting, but they’re expensive, and our experience at the winery was disappointing and odd. Having said that, I really like this wine. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot, 5% Malbec. A lovely Bordeaux-style blend. At $58 I did not buy it. Dennis finished off with a Banyuls 20-year-old Solera style Grenache. OH. MY. GOD. It’s referred to as a ‘doux paille’ meaning ‘sweet, but not’. Amber in color, the nose was redolent with pain grille (or toast – grilled bread) and caramel. A really lovely and unusual dessert wine. I would pour this over French Vanilla ice cream. It’s imported by International Vineyards LLC in San Jose, who also imports the white Bordeaux we got above. $65. We didn’t buy, not because of the price, but because I know we won’t drink it. Then, as a special gift to myself, I bought one bottle of a Chateau Lascombes Margaux 2005. It’s Second Growth winery that had fallen into disrepair and was purchased by someone who has brought it back to life. Parker rated this wine in the high 90’s, and Dennis offered us his wine club price on it – I think that was $85 – so we’ll put it in the cellar for 5 years and drink it for our 25th anniversary. So we headed back to the Inn, just to hang around and rest – and for me to write – and we’ll go back to Madeline’s with our 2004 Opus One for our anniversary dinner. More on that later. Dinner at Madeline's. Oh my, this is one of my all time favorite restaurants. Chef David prepares such interesting and delicious offerings! We arrived a bit before 7 p.m. We had meant to drop off the Opus One earlier for decanting, but we just didn't. So our server, Cody, decanted the wine for us, and we had a lovely Saint Hillaire 2005 Blanquette de Limous sparkler to start while we had our Caesar salads - with real anchovies. I like those hairy little fish! And the wine was just wonderful - nose full of bread and yeast and citrus. Yum. (and only $23 a bottle!) For entrees, John had the local Petrale Sole with panko flour and pesto sauce. Very crisp and delicious - nothing fishy there! I had the Wild Boar Picatta with angel hair pasta. As David said, he pummeled that boar into submission. In a really good way! We finished with the Chocolate Truffle cake - alternating layers of dark and milk chocolate on a bed of whipped cream and chocolate sauce. The Opus One was really perfect with the dessert - and everything that came before, too! A perfect day, a perfect anniversary dinner. And so, back to the Inn and sleep. More on the morrow.

Cambria - 31-Aug-2009 - 20th Anni Trip

Monday, August 31st. Got up bright and early, finished packing, ran a few last minute errands, and got on the 101 at 9 a.m. Traffic was a little slow until we got past the 170, and then everything opened right up and we hit a good cruising speed up the coast. It was already in the 80’s, and heading up thru the west SF Valley was warmer. The temp started to drop as we got thru Camarillo and Oxnard, and it was lovely by the time we hit Ventura. The air was still very smoky from the La Canada/La Crescenta fires, but by the time we got to Santa Barbara, the air was clear and cool, there was a lovely marine layer hanging off the coast, and we could see the Channel Islands and the fleet of oil rigs riding shotgun on the coast. Stopped in Solvang, as always, for breakfast/lunch at Paula’s Pancake house. JD had a Danish pancake with Danish sausage, sprinkled with confectioners sugar and dipped in maple syrup. I had a Danish omelet – eggs, Danish sausage and Havarti cheese, with fresh fruit and a biscuit on the side. And LOTS of coffee. Stopped at Olsen’s Bakery next door for a bucket of Danish cookies. A Danish trend – unavoidable in Danish Solvang! Drove to the east side of town to check in on Taste of the Valleys wine bar. Ash and I were already Facebook friends, but had not actually met. Once the store opened, a little after noon, we were treated to some truly lovely wines. 2008 Storm Sauvignon Blanc. Ernst Storm has made a crystal clear SB, with a floral and slightly grassy nose. Crisp and refreshing, with an interesting creaminess – maybe malolactic? Ash wasn’t sure. Storm is the winemaker at Curtis, but this is his own wine. Beautiful, creamy, odd, cocktail-ish. I liked it, but wasn’t sure what I would pair with it. 2004 Au Bon Climat ‘Hildegard’. 73% Pinot Gris, 23% Pinot Blanc, 4% Aligote. Had a kind of strange mid-palate taste. I wasn’t that happy with it, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I love Jim Clendenen’s wines, so this seemed a little off to me. JD also thought it wasn’t quite right, but we couldn’t actually say what was wrong. So we moved on. Another ABC wine from what Jim Clendenen is calling the Santa Barbara Historic Vineyards. This was a 2006 Pinot Noir. Pale red, beautiful nose, soft, well-balanced tannins. Lovely. 2006 Arcadian Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. WOW. The winemaker, Joseph Davis, was previously with Morgan up in Carmel/Santa Lucia Highlands. This was deep pinkish red, perfectly clear, smelled and tasted like cherries, in the best possible way. Outstanding. Bought 2 bottles. Our favorite so far. Today. Retails for $56 – we bought 2 bottles, and Ash generously discounted the price for us. Ash opened a bottle of Doug Margerum’s Cimarone – Le Clos Secret. It’s from Three Creek Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, etc. – just a lovely Bordeaux-style blend. Lots of anise in the nose and back palate; beautiful dark fruit. Ash had a small amount left in a bottle that had been open for 2 days – it rocked. The anise was more evident, the wine a bit smoother. Lovely. Retails for $60. Finished with a 2006 Buscador Cabernet Sauvignon. A big, jammy, fruity wine from Matt Kowalczyk. $40. Had a really nice time with Ash and his wife, Lissa. We would have liked to have stayed and tasted more, but we felt we needed to get on the road. Cambria awaited. Got back on the 101 and headed up thru Santa Maria, Arroyo Grande, Oceano, Pismo, etc. We had been talking about stopping in San Luis Obispo to check out the new tasting room for Sextant Wines, so we got off the 101 at Higuera and wound our way thru SLO until we found the tasting room. A charming room in a kind of industrial strip mall. Full of fun sailing oriented and wine oriented gifts and objets d’art. The young man who behind the counter was fun and knowledgeable about the wines, and is planning on a major in wine and viticulture at Cal Poly. So many wines: 10knots 2007 ‘Beachcomber’, Paso Robles. Floral nose, a bit sweet for my taste. $21 10knots 2007 Chardonnay, Edna Valley. Strangely tropical and exotic; not necessarily in a good way. $21 10knots 2008 Syrah Rose, Paso Robles. 97% Syrah Rose, 1% Viognier, 1% Mourvedre, 1% Grenache. Beautiful fruity nose filled with strawberry, cherry; lots of red fruit. Very DRY. I really liked this, and I’m not a big rose fan. $13 – we bought a bottle. Windemere 2005 Pinot Noir, Paso Robles. Slightly acid start, nice soft finish. $22 10knots 2006 ‘Moonraker’ Paso Robles. 48% Mourvedre, 32% Grenache, 20% Syrah. Smoky nose, lots of fruit and spice. $26 We liked this, but didn’t buy it. Not sure why. Sextant 2007 ‘Wheelhouse’ Zinfandel, Paso Robles. 81% Zinfandel (Primitivo clone), 16% Syrah, 2% Petite Sirah, 1% Mourvedre. Well-balanced. My notes say ‘nice’ and ‘ok’. Not sure why I was so terse. $20 Then we got into the Reserve wines: Sextant 2008 Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands. 100% Chardonnay. High alcohol nose, VERY oaky. Not my cup of tea. So to speak. $27 Sextant 2007 ‘Holystone’ Zinfandel, Paso Robles. 75% Zinfandel, 19%Syrah,, 6% Petite Sirah. Lots of cherries, black currants, violets on the nose. Red fruit – raspberries mainly – in the mouth. Very drinkable. $27 Sextant 2005 ‘Kamal’, Paso Robles. The ‘Kamal’ was a device that preceded the sextant for nautical measurements. 23% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 13% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Petite Sirah. Lots of tobacco on the finish after a deliciously earthy nose. $39 Sextant 2007 ‘Nightwatch’, Paso Robles. 45% Petite Sirah, 32% Zinfandel, 19% Syrah, 4% Grenache. These folks love to blend! Coffee on the nose – a breakfast wine! Deep ruby red in color, black and red fruits – cherries, violets, plums. Lovely. $49. We bought a bottle. Sextant NV ‘Genoa’, Paso Robles. An ’07 release, although no specific vintage. 40% 2006 Zinfandel, 35% 2005 Syrah, 13% 2005 Petite Sirah, 12% 2006 Petite Sirah. Did I mention these folks love to blend? Smoky, tasty. I really liked this, but the $79 price tag stopped me from buying it. We finished up and went on our way. Up the 1 thru Morro Bay, which was fogged in – could only see the tip of the rock. Past Avila and Cayucos, and then into Cambria. Turned onto Moonstone Beach Drive and headed to the White Water Inn, our favorite place when we’re not renting a house. It’s always like coming home. Unpacked. Turned on the TV to try to get some news about the fires, but nothing was on. Quite by luck found ‘The Spy Who Came in From the Cold’ on TMC. Great Cold War movie based on the book by John Le Carre – who knows his spies – with Richard Burton, Oskar Werner and several other great actors. We were just riveted in front of the tube. Finally, the tragic, but unavoidable, ending. Headed over, by foot, to the Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill. Had a gift certificate for dinner and a bottle of the Arcadian Pinot Noir with us, so we knew we’d be happy. Got there just in time for sunset. Gorgeous. Nice, but talkative waitress, Victoria, who was, of course, from Burbank. We shared the Calamari Fritta appetizer. I had the rack of lamb, JD had the Mahi-Mahi with Cajun seasoning. We finished off the evening with decaf cappuccinos and walked back to the Inn. In bed by 9. JD fell asleep pretty quickly. I read for a while, but turned out the light earlier than I thought I would. It had been a long day.