Thursday, December 30, 2010

Random Thoughts at Year End...

The end of the year always takes me by surprise. So many things I wanted to do, but somehow didn't get around to. People I wanted to see, places I wanted to go. But I can't regret the way the year has gone.

JD and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary; we've actually been together longer than that, but it's nice to keep track of the numbers.

I'm still close with friends from high school - Wil up in San Francisco, Craig in Albuquerque, Jae closer to home in Santa Clarita. We don't see each other enough, but there is a connection that is never lost. And, thanks to social networking, I was able to reconnect with old friends from Pennsylvania. I love technology!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Start Off 2011 with The Goddess and JD!

Introduction to Wine with the Goddess on January 11th!

Start off 2011 right by learning about wine!

Goddess of Wine Denise Lowe will be teaching Introduction to Wine in the Wine Education Center at Total Wine & More in Northridge on January 11th at 7 PM! Only $30/person!

Purchase your tickets ONLINE before January 1st and get a $5 discount!
Use Promo code – Early.

Understanding how wine is made helps you have more fun when you’re tasting!

We'll learn:
  • How to taste wine
  • How to pair wines and bring out the best in food
  • How to purchase and store wine
  • History, anecdotes, laughs all served in generous amounts
About the Goddess of Wine:
Denise is certified in wine education thru the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the Wine Academy of Spain, LearnAboutWine, and is a Professional Member of the Society of Wine Educators.

Her blog, Goddess of Wine, details her adventures in the wine world, accompanied by her faithful acolyte, husband John Dickey.

Join the Goddess for a fun and educational experience! Only $30 per person!

Buy your ticket ONLINE at .

Purchase your tickets ONLINE before January 1st and get a $5 discount!
Use Promo code – Early.

For more information, email or call 818-903-6397.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wining around SLO County...Days 3 & 4

It rained all night, and was raining hard when I padded downstairs at Sara and Bill's. JD slept in while Sara and I caught up over coffee and eggs. Bill was off to coach at a basketball tournament, and it was a lazy morning, so the three of us sat and chatted about family matters for a few hours.

We paid a brief visit to JD's dad and stepmom in Morro Bay, but the rain deterred us from doing anything other than going back to Sara's, opening a bottle of 2007 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills), and waiting for Bill to return. By the time he did, we were onto a bottle of the 2005 Kiamie Kuveé purchased the day before. We munched on cheese and crackers, and talked way too much about family, and finally it was time to head out to dinner.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wining around SLO County...Day 2

After an early evening in Morro Bay, we had a semi-healthy breakfast (see Facebook for photos) at the Blue Skye Coastal Cafe on the Embarcadero and headed to our appointment at the Paso Robles Wine Services custom crush facility to meet General Manager, Aram Deirmenjian, of Kiamie Wine Cellars. The rain was just beginning, so we took our time, especially along the 46, but we still got there a bit early, which was good, as Aram was ready for us.

Kiamie is a collaboration between three guys with diverse yet complementary backgrounds. Winemaker Steve Glossner has been making great wines in Paso for a long time, and is the winemaker who made the first Isosceles for Justin. Aram Deirmenjian’s family has been farming grapes in California for 30 years, and Greg Johnson has extensive retail wine experience.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wining around SLO County...Day 1

A quick jaunt up the coast on a rainy weekend made for discoveries and adventures.

JD & I had a free night coming to us thru Best Western, but needed to use it before year end, so off we went, after setting up another few nights at cousins Sara and Bill's in Los Osos. Left Burbank early Thursday, stopped at Paula's Pancake House in Solvang, as always, for a hearty breakfast, and got to Morro Bay around 1 p.m. Checked into the San Marcos Inn, unpacked and headed further up Rte. 1 to that little piece of heaven on earth, Cambria.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wining in Northridge...

Here's my report on my first official wine class under the moniker of Goddess of Wine. It was great!

I had booked the Wine Education Center at the Northridge Total Wine & More. The room was tricked out as the holiday Gift Center, so we were surrounded by gift displays. Lots of fun stuff! The staff at TW&M - who could not be nicer or more professional - had set up tables and chairs for me, and I had full access to all the tools and facilities I needed for the class.

The turnout was a bit smaller than I hoped - only 4 students - but they were enthusiastic and interested. JD poured for me as always. We opened 7 bottles of wine (all Winery Direct purchases from TW&M, and all under $15) and had some interesting discoveries.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wining in November...a month to remember...

November has been such a fun month! Great food and wine, good times with friends. I love my life!

We kicked things off at the November Grape of the Night at the Valencia Wine Company with everyone's favorite sparkling wines, had a delightful evening of Cru Beaujolais wines with, followed up by amazing Cabernets from all over California at STARS of Cabernet with

We took a short breath, shared another gourmet dinner (osso bucco! polenta! dark chocolate torte!) at, found some wonderful artists hiding in Reseda, and shared a sad afternoon laying a dear friend to rest.

Then we topped off the month with a glorious day of wine and food in Malibu with the amazing Rico Mandel and a gaggle of girls from Saskatchewan celebrating a milestone birthday. Now, all I want to do is sleep!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Introduction to Wine with the Goddess on December 2nd!

Do you know what wines go well with turkey or ham? With cranberry sauce? With pumpkin pie?

No?? Well, I can help!

I'll be teaching an Introduction to Wine class at the new Total Wine & More in Northridge on December 2nd at 7 PM. It's a little late for Thanksgiving, but just in time for the holiday season!

Friday, November 5, 2010

This can be your Introduction to Wining...

Exciting news for wine lovers!  The Goddess of Wine - that's me - will be teaching an Introduction to Wine class on December 2nd at 7:00 PM at Total Wine and More in Northridge.

The class is located in their Wine Education Center at the back of the store.

Class fee is $30 and will include tasting 7 premium wines, snacks and educational materials to take home.

Click on the PayPal link in the upper right corner of this site to purchase your tickets.

Hope to see you there!


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Not Your Usual Halloween Party...

I saw the ad for LearnAboutWine's Vintage Champagne event on Halloween, and thought it sounded wonderful. Then I looked at the price of the ticket (x2, because I would never go to an event like this without JD) and thought better of it.

Imagine my surprise and delight when Ian emailed me and asked if we wanted to participate (and work, of course. You know we work for wine!).  I replied "YES" and then Ian threw in the kicker - He needed me to research all the wines so I could talk about them. I knew Ian would know all the technical stuff about the wines, so I looked for interesting facts and stories. It made for a great combination, especially with Ian as Elvis in a white jumpsuit - with a cape!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Serendipity while wining...

Serendipity is a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated.

I am often amused at how often serendipity takes me to unexpected places. Like yesterday. After a fairly quiet week, during which JD and I were actually able to stay home, catch up on some DVRed shows and drink our own wine (after an unusually busy summer of wining), we found ourselves with no wine plans for the weekend. It made me nervous and restless.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Too much wining going on?

I can't keep up! JD and I have been attending so many wonderful events and evenings that I don't know how to get everything written. This would be much easier if I didn't have a day job that really gets in the way of my writing during daytime hours. Yet another reason why I need to make this wine education gig start to pay off.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wining in Napa, Sonoma and Lompoc...Part 4...

After a lovely day tasting in Napa, we packed our bags and headed to Sonoma. We stopped on the way at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. We've had Jacuzzi wines before - mainly their Chardonnay - and found it pleasant and drinkable. The winery itself is beautiful - a great place for a party. And, judging from the crowd on a Wednesday morning, it is clearly a popular stop for wine lovers. The wine list is long and diverse, with a lot of Italian varietals, and we were happy that our barista, Kerstin, offered us spit cups.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wining in Napa, Sonoma and Lompoc...Part 3...

A perfect Napa day
After being treated with less respect than I am used to, JD and I decided we wanted to go somewhere we knew we'd be treated well. So we headed over to Mumm Napa, where, when I flashed my business card, the charming Karri asked if we were interested in tasting some VINTAGE bubbly on the exclusive Oak Terrace. Well, yeah!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wining in Napa, Sonoma and Lompoc...Part 2...

July 27th. Decided to spend the day checking out wineries along Rte. 29. First stop, Peju Province.  We had met the Peju folks at various LearnAboutWine events, but didn't call ahead for a private tasting. Won't make that mistake again. Peju has lovely wines and a gorgeous winery; they obviously receive truckloads of visitors, and have figured out a kind of assembly-line tasting experience. JD and I were herded to a counter along with 4 other couples. I pulled out my card, and Jeff, the very pleasant sommelier behind the counter graciously comped our tasting and gave us the trade discount. He poured 8 wines, spoke knowledgeably and enthusiastically about all of them, offered wine jokes and stories, and kept interaction to a minimum. The presentation was very professional, but felt scripted. Next time, we'll call first.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wining in Napa and Sonoma and Lompoc...Part 1...

Having been invited to witness the wedding of Megan and Rich, JD and I drove up to Napa 7/24, stopping at Harris Ranch for an overpriced lunch and fuel for the car; arrived at the Best Western Inn at the Vines in Napa. Very nice, updated, clean room. Pulled in around 4, cleaned up and rested a bit, then coasted over to Villa Romano for the rehearsal dinner. Megan and Rich love Villa Romano, but the staff were a bit unfocused due to the sudden illness of their boss the night before, so dinner had some interesting hiccups. The guests were mainly family, but there were other folks as well: Dale and Mark, Brian and Stephanie, Rich’s best man Don Williams and his family, and Joe Lobue from WineShop At Home and his wife.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wining and dining all over the place with friends...

So much going on!  So little time to write!  And so many folks out there who are telling everyone what they should drink and what they should think.  But not me.  I'm just telling you about my life...

First - there was the day of tasting in Malibu with Marya, Shawn, Debra, Xochitl, and Barry at the Cornell Winery, one of our favorite places to hang and taste wines from the Malibu AVA.  The highlight of the day for me was my friend Shawn's own wine, a deep, dark Syrah under the Shai label. He's been pouring at some small events, and for friends (thankfully!). He'll be releasing it soon. Watch for it!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

An Embarrassment of Wining...I mean Riches...

Feeling a bit overwhelmed.  JD and I have been so busy with events and traveling that I don't know what to write about first! So, I'm going to start with what's on my mind.  We'll see how that works...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Special Offer from the Original Wine of the Month Club...

I thought this sounded like a great deal!

(Wine of the Month Club® “Celebrates” Chateau Montelena with Exclusive Wine/Video Package)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wining in Monrovia on a Saturday Afternoon...

Last week, JD and I actually had a weekend where we didn't have many plans, and it was a long weekend!  Saturday morning, we ran our usual errands, breakfasted with friends, and made a last minute decision to visit the California Wine and Cheese Company in Monrovia.  We had not been there previously, but I was on the email list, and it looked interesting, so we headed east.

We entered and were greeted cheerfully by Manager, Jeff Schultz, who, when we asked if they were pouring, responded, "If the doors are open, we're pouring!"  My kind of place!

We took a walk thru the store, admiring the diverse selection of California wines, international cheeses, and charming wine and cheese accessories and gift items.  Then we bellied up to the bar and checked out the tasting menu to see what was being poured.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Wining at Home...

One of the things I do on a fairly regular basis is host opening night parties at the Eclectic Company Theatre, where I am a long-time member.  It's always challenging to find inexpensive wine to pour for folks who are not necessarily looking for great wine, just something the wet their whistle and improve their theatre-going experience.

We've bought various Argentinean and Chilean wines at Trader Joe's, but the inventory there changes pretty quickly, and recently we haven't been able to find the La Boca Malbec from Argentina, so we went a bit further afield.  A new store, Fresh and Easy owned by British company that also owns Tesco, opened in Burbank (and all over LA, as far as I can tell).  JD went to do some grocery shopping and came back with info about a huge wine sale taking place:  Wines that were already seriously inexpensive had additional discounts in case lots.  So, he picked out 2 whites, 2 roses and 2 reds, paid under $12 for the 6 bottles, and brought them home to taste.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Spanish Wining...for two days...

Yikes.  Got an email from Ian at LearnAboutWine - 'Can you quit your job and take this class?', can't quit the day job yet, but I can take a couple of vacation days to learn about Spanish wines.  This was a certification program presented by the Wine Academy Spain.  I spoke to the boss, who has actively supported my wine ventures from the very beginning, and took Monday and Tuesday to broaden my horizons in the wine world.  My good friend and colleague, Debra B., was also taking the class, and as it turned out, I knew a few other folks in the class, so it was friendly and mostly fun.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wining in Valencia...with Burgers!

Just a lazy Sunday (well, lazy for JD and me) at the Valencia Wine Company, where Guy and Jeff and Julie were running around like very busy wine people, while pairing some exquisite wines with burgers and sandwiches.

I never actually got the name of the folks whose truck was there doing the catering - and as soon as I get it, I will publish it.  They were great! Follow-up note - info just in from Julie:  The caterers were Elvis and Einsteins.

Cabernet Blue Cheese Burger with Cabernet peppercorn sauce - Blogger extraordinaire Eve Hammond Bushman and I each had one, along with crazy delicious crunchy garlic fries with Parmesan cheese and arugula.  This was paired with a 2006 Crescendo Cabernet Sauvignon.  O. M. G.  If you look at the photo, there is an olive wrapped in bacon and deep-fried tooth-picked to the top of the burger, which also included lettuce, tomato, bacon, and red sauce.  Just the best burger I have ever had.

Billion Dollar Bite -  bib lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, Smoked Gouda,topped with a tomato jalapeno relish

Shoreline Club - Grilled Chicken breast with provolone, bacon, avocado,tomato, bib lettuce, with a Tomato Port aioli

Bruschetta Burger - Marinara Goat Spread, Marinated Tomato basil

The Wildcard - Grilled Sirloin Burger with Ginger BBQ Hot Mustard Sauce, Shrimp Fritter with Sweet Soy and Spicy Mayo.  JD enjoyed one of these babies, paired with a 2005 Pope Valley Merlot.  After he pulled off the offending tomatoes and peppers, he settled in and finished it off.

We needed more wine, and we were sitting outside, where it was getting very hot, so we got an icy Bellussi Prosecco.  It was crisp and very fruity, and sort of reminded me of those fruit-flavored sparkling waters.  JD and Steve W. (new friend) and I really liked it, but Eve thought it was too sweet.  Or something.  Oh well.

It was just lovely to sit and chat, especially sharing a table with Eve, who knows pretty much everyone in Santa Clarita and Valencia!  The place was bustling, everyone seemed happy - a darn near perfect day!

Tomorrow, I start 2 days of intensive instruction about Spanish wines.  Stay tuned!!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wining in Thousand Oaks and dining in Westlake...

We were supposed to meet Marya at the Cornell Winery at 10 a.m. on Father's Day, but Saturday evening brought an email canceling the date due to illness.  So we slept in a bit, made coffee, read the paper, and suddenly felt that we really needed to get out of the house.

So we showered and dressed, grabbed a handful of peanuts to stave off the pangs, and headed north to Thousand Oaks.  Specifically, The WineYard, a charming wine bar and store, and the official tasting room for Four Brix Winery.  We had met Steve and Laura Simonsgaard previously, and liked them and their wines, and wanted to know more about them.

After a somewhat challenging drive up the 101 - Sigalerts on Sundays just don't help - we pulled into the parking lot for the WineYard, and were welcomed by Larry, the man behind the bar.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wining and teaching at La Bruschetta...

After having an amazingly busy and wine-y week and weekend, I took a step back to consider what I'm trying to accomplish with this blog, and it kind of stopped me in my tracks. But just for a few days!

I had seen that my friend, Rico Mandel, was advertising a luncheon at La Bruschetta Restaurant.  There would be cooking instruction, plus wines from some yet-to-be-named winery, plus a surprise dessert - very similar to previous luncheons he had organized at other terrific restaurants. Because he had not named the winery, I had not signed us up, and then he emailed me and asked if I would handle the wine tasting for the event.

After a few emails and phone calls, I realized that he was going to leave it all up to me to choose the wines to taste and drink with lunch.  I was thrilled - and a little terrified.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wining in Montrose adjacent...that is to say...Glendale...

My friend and wine colleague, Deb B. and I were trying to figure out what to do on a Friday evening.  Pop downtown to Ian's for the Riedel blowout sale and then figure out something for dinner, or avoid downtown entirely and try someplace new. 

Someplace new won out, so Deb, JD and I headed over to the Rosso Wine Shop in Glendale.  We were welcomed like old friends - they recognize fellow wine geeks - and bellied up to the bar to taste some French rosés.  Rosés are everywhere!  They're back in fashion after many years of being disdained due to people thinking erroneously that all rosés taste like Sutter Home White Zinfandel.

Wining in Solvang...Part 2...

Continuing from my last entry from last week (sorry about the delay), which left our intrepid pair standing at the tasting counter at Richard and Thekla Sanford's Alma Rosa WineryAs I mentioned before, we were welcomed like long-lost family when I dropped Ian's name, and we got to taste all the wines that would generally be saved for winery members.

Alma Rosa focuses on the wines on which Thekla and Richard Sanford built their reputation - the cool growing varietals best suited to the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes predominate and form the core of the Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards product line. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wining in Solvang on a perfect Spring weekend...

It all started Saturday morning in Burbank.  JD and I were taking a short cut up to Victory, after breakfasting at the Coral Cafe, and turned on to Jeffries.  I think it was Jeffries.  In the middle of the street was a critter.  At first I thought it was a chicken, but as I edged the car closer, we realized it was a ring-necked pheasant.  You read that right.  It was high-stepping gingerly; its tail was bedraggled and looked...not right.  The bird seemed to be taking a stately walk across the street, but slowly changed its mind and circled back.  Slowly.  Very slowly.

JD and I were howling with laughter; a woman and her 2 dogs stood across the street, transfixed with the vision of this odd bird, seemingly unaware of the extremely large vehicle edging up on it.  I was about to tell JD to get out of the car and shoo the wayward fowl, and it suddenly moved over to the curb.  As far as I know, ring-necked pheasants are not native to Burbank, so it was either someone's pet or it was off course.  I hope it didn't end up as someone's dinner!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Grape of the Night in Valencia...Tasting Paso Robles...

Due to the honorable Rusty Sly's work conflict, blogger and Wine101er extraordinaire Eve Hammond Bushman invited me to be the guest wineau - I mean speaker - for the monthly Grape of the Night held at the Valencia Wine Company. It's kind of amazing to me how much time JD and I are spending at VWC, but proprietor Guy LeLarge and his knowledgeable and charming crew have created a friendly and warm haven for the person who wants to spend some quality time surrounded by great wines and like-minded people. That's Guy and Eve pictured to the right.

This month's Grape of the Night assignment was for everyone to bring a bottle of wine from the Paso Robles area of California. For those of you not familiar with Paso Robles - where have you been?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More wining all over the place...and some whining as well...

I've been thinking about all the events I've been to in the last couple of weeks - and there have been several - but I've had a hard time writing about anything because I've been so overwhelmed by the pain in my neck and shoulder.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Italian LearnAboutWine...

A week ago, JD and I had the great fortune to participate in another of LearnAboutWine's fabulous Friday night wine events.  This one was titled 'An Offer You Can't Refuse!' and featured Bay Cities' Godmother sandwiches and 20 terrific Italian wines - tasted blind - to accompany them.  Ian always puts together a diverse selection of wines for his tastings and this one did not disappoint. 

We arrived early to help set up the tables and prepour the wines.  2010 Sommelier of the Year (Southern California Restaurant Writers Association), Jared Hooper, was on hand to do the pouring as we placed the precious glasses on the appropriate spaces on the numbered place mats.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wining and dining all over the place...

It has been quite a weekend!  And now I have the chance to really catch up on everything that's been going on.  Maybe.

Back in February, JD and I attended an event put on by I'll Drink to That, a networking group organized by Xochitl Maiman, where we had the opportunity to taste the wines made by Dutcher Crossing, a Sonoma winery.  Proprietor Debra Mathy (left) brought several of her wines, which were perfectly matched by the delicious cheeses and breads provided by Melody of the Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City.  I was lucky enough to be gifted with a bottle of Dutcher Crossing Zinfandel, and I'm saving it for the right meal.  Winemaker Kerry Damskey makes big, fruit forward wines in small quantities.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tasting the Rhone my living room...

Yeah, yeah...I'm complaining because I'm still way behind.  I haven't told you about the delicious wines from Dutcher Crossing in Sonoma, or the charming couple who grow and make the noteworthy Laraneta wines from Paso Robles.  And I haven't written about the Napa Nightlife event from LearnAboutWine at the Elevate Lounge downtown, so all those columns will be coming up shortly, but I really felt that I needed to tell you about the truly fun tasting I did on Saturday afternoon, where I participated in the Rhone Rangers Grenache tasting event -- from my living room!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Deep Sea Wines, Part Deux...and a special offer...for those who read to the end...

Finally, time to sit and taste the wines from the Conway Family Wines!  Feeling pretty cocky with my new Riedel stems freshly washed from last night's glassware class at LearnAboutWine.

First, full disclosure - These wines were sent to me by the winery, and the winery rep did treat JD and me to dinner the other night.  It was very pleasant, and I do plan on helping Elizabeth put together an event for the winery somewhere in Burbank.  So stay tuned for that, and for the special offer at the end of this blog!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Goddess and the Deep Sea...wines, that is...

As mentioned in previous posts, I am way behind, but trying to catch up!  You may or may not recall that while JD and I visited Cambria in February, our wine guru, Dennis at the Cambria Wine Shop, introduced us to a lovely red wine from Arroyo Grande, Deep Sea.  My very brief notes from that visit say "2008 Deep Sea Red - Andrew Adam is the winemaker.  Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache.  Yum.  Big funky Syrah nose.  We loved it.  Bought 2 bottles."

Shortly after I posted that tidbit, I got an email from a marketing rep for Deep Sea who wanted to send me some wine to review.  Her office address was in Burbank, so I suggested we get together for a glass of wine.  We met Elizabeth at a local Daily Grill for dinner and she told me about Conway Family Wines of Rancho Arroyo Grande. 

The Conways have created some interesting blends using grapes from what they have termed 'Maritime Appellations'.  These areas include the Central Coast AVA, Monterey County AVA, Santa Maria Valley AVA, Sta. Rita Hills AVA, and Los Carneros AVA, all of which provide premium wine grapes to the winemaking community. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Trying to catch up...Georgian Wines

Yikes!  Thought I was holding things together only to discover I hadn't written anything since the end of February!  And JD and I were in such a hurry to get out of town in Feb that I completely forgot to write about an unusual and fun tasting we attended at the Valencia Wine Company back on 2/6.  So here's a quick catch up, of sorts...

06-Feb-2010 - Exploring Georgia - Wines from the Republic of Georgia (the former SSR).  Guy LeLarge at the Valencia Wine invited Gregory Alonzo of Terrell Wines  (pictured, right) to bring in a selection of wines from the oldest wine producing region in the world.  Traditional Georgian grape varietals are not very well known in the West, even though there are some 500 to choose from, of which only 38 are available for commercial consumption.  Georgia is at the same productive latitude as France and Northern California.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dispatches from the road - Days 5, 6 and 7...

Wow, I'm way behind on my notes...

After a wonderful visit in SF with Wil and Joe, we packed our bags and hit the road south.  It was a beautiful morning, alternately rainy and bright; travel was moving well, and we were in Gilroy before we realized it.  Needed to stop and get some food, so we exited the freeway and found the Black Bear Diner, a fun, kitschy place with pretty good burgers (with flags!), and lots of strong coffee.

There was unintentional entertainment - a woman straight from a Del Shores play was in the next booth, reading a lengthy email about a spiritual intervention for some needy soul.  That set the tone - Texas accent and all - for the day.
Back on the road, refreshed and ready for wine, we were on our way to Cambria.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dispatches from the road - Days 2, 3 and 4...

After a decent sleep at the Motel 6 in Buellton (yes, even Goddesses have budgets), JD and I hit the 101 North to San Francisco.  Although there were scattered rain showers, it was a relatively easy drive.  We stopped in San Luis Obispo at the Apple Farm and breakfasted on eggs and sausage and those famous muffins.  Stopped in the gift shop and found ourselves in the middle of conversation about the Renaissance Faires - North and South.  JD and I are old rengeeks, and it's always fun finding like-minded folks.  Still, we left the Apple Farm a bit later than planned.

Driving north on the 101 takes you thru fields of grapevines, amazing ocean views, evergreen-forested mountain passes, and quick views of small farming communities like Gilroy (garlic capital of the world, I think) and Salinas (not so small), before heading into San Jose and the Silicon Valley.

We had a short unexpected stop just south of Salinas.  Cruising along, we noticed a helicopter circling around to hover over the highway.  And land.  On the highway.  Traffic, of course, stopped.  We assumed it was a Medivac helicopter, and were dismayed to see a second whirlybird land on the highway.  After a while, both 'copters took off in the general direction of Hollister, and traffic began to move.  The remains of the accident left no doubt that folks were seriously injured.  We sent good thoughts their way, and made our way cautiously out of the area.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dispatches from the road...

Been on the road since Monday the 8th.  JD and I drove up to lovely Buellton as the first step on our road to San Francisco.  Stopped at Paula's Pancake House for our usual first meal of the day - tuna melt for me, some sandwich filled with cheesy goodness for JD - and headed over to Buttonwood for a winery lesson with Karen Steinwachs.

I left my camera and notepad in the car, and just listened and tasted as Karen showed us around the winery, gave us a detailed and interesting history of Buttonwood, and pulled barrel samples for us of the 2008 and 2009 wines sitting quietly in either new French oak or neutral (used) French oak barrels.  After tasting the Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and the Malbec (she's not sure what she's going to do with it, but it was delicious!), we got a chance to taste assistant winemaker Graham's Gewurztraminer.  He was testing the sulfur dioxide levels, and poured the wine directly from a beaker!  It was delicate and lightly spiced; I think it will be wonderful with spicy Asian food!

After over two hours at Buttonwood, we bade Karen and Graham a fond farewell, and headed over to Los Olivos to check out some of the tasting rooms that have sprung up since the last time we hung out there.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wining in Beverly Hills with

Had a great time at the STARS of Santa Barbara event last night, although by the time we were able to start actually tasting, I wasn’t much in the mood, if you can believe it!  It seemed a bit crowded, and Ian was on the microphone making a lot of noise while encouraging folks to sign up for the silent auction. 

Laura and Joni and Meagan were glad we were there; we saw a bunch of friends – Mike Donovan (MD3), Deb Bizek and Kristen, her former roommate, sommelier Reneé Kuo (my new best friend), the gorgeous Karinna Zarate (pictured with us), Steve and Anne Cassidy of WineShop at Home, Sherry Campbell (formerly of LAW), winemakers Karen Steinwachs of Buttonwood, Josh Klapper of La Fenetre, Brian Loring of Loring, Michael Roth from Demetria, Teri Love from Gioia, and lots of new folks (well, new to us), too!  Everyone seemed to having a good time, great wines were being poured.  Had time at the end to chat with Karen, who gave us the remainder of her open wines – lots of stuff to sample tonight!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wining in Valencia...

Monday night, JD and I attended our first "Grape of the Night" event hosted by Rusty Dale Sly and blogger Eve Bushman at the Valencia Wine Company.  Once a month or so, Rusty and Eve collect a group of enthusiasts to taste their way through a whole lotta bottles of a single varietal.  This month's singular grape was Syrah, or as it's known in other parts of the world, Shiraz.  The criteria for each bottle is that it consist of at least 85% of the specified grape.

JD and I got there early so that we could choose a bottle from the diverse choices offered by proprietor Guy LeLarge.  Rusty said he brought a special bottle of M. Chapoutier Hermitage, and I said I was thinking about a French wine myself.  I settled on 2007 Domaine La Bastide (Vin de Pays d'Hautervie - Provence), we ordered a combination cheese and meat plate, and waited for the rest of the tasters to arrive.

By around 7:15 we had collected 17 or 18 tasters and 12 bottles of wines from France, California and Australia.  Guy began opening the bottles ably assisted by the lovely Julie and friend Vic (who is actually from another wine store - it's a small, friendly community!).  Eve and Rusty provided some background about Syrah/Shiraz and we began to taste!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wine tasting at home...

Had a lovely group of friends over on Saturday for a WineShop at Home tasting.  JD and I straightened up the house, and tried to figure out how to seat 10 guests in our tiny living room.  We set out smoked Gouda, Dubliner Cheddar, double-cream Brie, and a wonderful Stilton, along with Carr's water crackers, red table grapes and a selection of dark chocolates.  Guest Dana Amromin, a genius pastry chef, brought her homemade truffles... sigh... perfection.

The wines were as follows, and I'd like to point out that this is the order in which I served them, not the order that WineShop at Home listed on the menus:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux...

Well, it seemed as if it were going to be a nice event - that turned out to be somewhat of an understatement.

Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, presented by Wally's Wine, with some coordination and staffing by LearnAboutWine, at the Annex at Wolfgang Puck at Hollywood and Highland.  OMG.  This was an extraordinary opportunity to taste the 2007 Bordeaux from almost every region.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wine, Family, Wine, Friends, Wine, Networking, Wine, Wine, Wine...

Quite a weekend. Friday night was opening of The Jamb by J. Stephen Brantley at ECT. Really liked it much more than I thought I would, although it did tend to slip into soap opera at times. Beautiful performances by Brad Wilcox and Garrett Liggett, and solid showings by Kerr Seth Lordygan and Kenlyn Kenouse (whose part was underwritten). We poured inexpensive wines purchased at Trader Joe’s, paired with cheese and munchies. A good time was had by all.

Saturday, up early for breakfast with the gang. Then briefly home and on to Phyl and Ron’s to spend the day and evening with Steven and Judy (in from Seattle) and Mark and Shannon and Blake and Tori and Andi and Mike and the dog. Everyone was on pretty good behavior, Phyl brought in food from Brent’s Deli, we drank a lot of BV Coastal Estates Merlot, although JD finally opened a bottle of WSAH Talmage Merlot, which rocked. The decibel level started to get too loud, and JD was bored and sleepy, so we went home around 9 p.m.

Up early on Sunday, around the block to the Coral Café for a solid breakfast, and then down to the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport for Pinot Days, a huge event with over 75 wineries all pouring Pinot Noir (and the occasional bottle of Chardonnay pulled out from under the table). A lot of my colleagues have already posted their observations about the event, and I got more feedback the next day from Eve Bushman about the public portion. I was grateful that JD and I got into the Trade portion of the day. The basic setup of the event was just fine, although there was some initial confusion about where the actual entrance was going to be. Once that got sorted out, we walked around the hangar, scoping out the wineries we wanted to taste – there were so many that we didn’t want to go to wineries we knew (although we did check in with our friend, Josh Klapper, at La Fenêtre for his lovely Pinot). There were a few standouts:

Domaine Chandon - Yes, pouring still Pinot Noir! 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir with aromas of dried cherries, cedar and traces of dried tobacco; 2006 Chandon Reserve L'Argile Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir has layers of sage, dried berries. Rich flavors of blackberry, dried strawberry, cardamom and cedar and a bit of orange zest in the finish. And as a special treat, they poured a 2007 Carneros Pinot Meunier. Delicious!

Three Sticks - We weren't familiar with Three Sticks, but we really liked the wines and the ladies behind the table, who were properly respectful of the Goddess of Wine! 2006 Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir (WS90) - just a lovely, lovely wine. It has a wonderful nose, fruit in the mid palette and a smooth, integrated finish. The 2007 was also just wonderful.

Sand Hill - These wines are from the other side of the Durell Vineyard! They also poured a 2006 and 2007. Gorgeous wines; completely different from the Three Sticks wines, despite the fact they share the same winemaker, Don Van Staaveren! I love this biz!

Morgan - We've been fans of Morgan for a while. Dan Morgan Lee, who grows the grapes, and Gianni Abate, the winemaker, combine to make some amazing Pinots from the Santa Lucia Highlands. 2007 Twelve Clones Pinot Noir - Leather, toast, and vanilla, with cherry, rose petal, herbs, and some spicy/earthy notes. I love this wine - it's already in my cellar!

Inman Family Wines - Finally got to meet Kathleen Inman, a dynamo of a winemaker, wine grower, all-round one-woman show. All the wines she poured were unique and tasty, but I especially liked the 2006 Olivet Grange Vineyard (OGV) Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.

Merry Edwards - Wasn't familiar with this winery, but Travis said I had to taste it, so I did. 2007 Pinot Noir, Klopp Ranch, Russian River Valley. This is a BIG Pinot! Highly extracted fruit, somewhat surprising for a Pinot. This wine needs to be served with steak and rich sauces. A bit big for my taste, but well-made, and obviously an event favorite, based on the crowd around the table.

The most amazing thing is how many folks we ran into, starting with sommelier Debra Belcastro, sommelier Jared Hooper, Julie Brosterman of Women and Wine (one of the sponsors of the event), Brandon Beeson of Color and Aroma Magazine, blogger Erin McGrath and her fiancé, Russell (she’s posted an interesting take on the day on her blog, Vintwined), wine consultant Tom Stangl (whom we know from many events at LAW), the gorgeous JJ Rodgers and her newlywed husband, Travis Brazil, the Wine Director at Inn of the Seventh Ray, blogger Eve Bushman and her hub, Eddie, new friends Xochitl Maiman and her husband, and Barbara Cohen and her husband (all from ‘I’ll Drink to That’ a wonderful networking group), various others we see at LAW events and Duke of Bourbon events all the time, Michelle McCue, whom we met thru LAW, and now has her own PR and Marketing firm, Lucien Fick (another LAW friend and wine buyer for Whole Foods), and others I’m sure I’ve just forgotten because of too much wine and the passing of a few days. It just seemed as if every time we turned around someone called my name, so we actually spent a whole lot of time talking and catching up, and not quite as much time tasting as we had hoped.

Although the Trade portion of the day was relaxed and fun, when the Public was let in at 1 p.m. – all 2200 of them, it seemed – it got very, very, very crowded very, very, very quickly, and suddenly we couldn’t even get close to a table to taste anything. We started to make our way out, which took a while because we were still running into people – in a good way. Even one of the volunteers engaged us in conversation as we were trying to turn in our glasses – which she said we could take with us. We chose not to, as we have enough glasses at home already, and these glasses weren’t that special.

Finally got outside and discovered the rain had started. Made our way back to Northridge to spend some additional time with Steven and Judy. The four of us waited until around 5 p.m. and then headed over to Alessio Restaurant on Reseda Blvd. We brought two Cabernet Sauvignons with us, just because we figured we’d be tired of drinking Pinot Noir – which wasn’t the case. However, we started with a Joseph Phelps 2006 ‘Innisfree’ – lovely, fruit forward, but with enough backbone to handle the heavy Italian food. Finished the Innisfree pretty quickly and opened the WSAH 2007 Pied Violet Reserve Cabernet. Also big, fruity, tannic, delicious. Both wines paired nicely with all the different pastas and sauces, and especially well with the tiramisu we shared at the end of the meal. Back to Phyl and Ron’s, and then home fairly early after bidding S and J farewell, as they were heading North on Monday.

Monday, being a holiday, I got up early and went to Pilates, where TJ was trying to work with her mom, Lois, who was visiting from Florida (I think). Lois was a bit of a Southern belle, and really not into exercising on a machine that resembles a torture device. It was pretty funny, and I got a huge workout, as TJ was concerned that she wasn’t paying enough attention to me, and gave me some additional time and stretching. Two days later I’m still feeling some aches in muscles I didn’t know I had – and I’ve been doing Pilates for close to two years!

Home to shower, and then over to Bistro Provence where we were meeting Eve Bushman for lunch. Bless Eve for driving in from Santa Clarita in torrential rain. It was raining and blowing so hard during lunch that the restaurant door kept blowing open. We brought a bottle of 2006 Midlife Crisis Rooboy Red with us. I had a bowl of perfect lentil soup and BP’s signature roasted chicken with pommes frites, JD got a salmon dish that looked delish, and Eve had a pasta Bolognese. And we dished about the Pinot Days event. Apparently, it got very crazy once the public was allowed in, and a lot of folks weren’t happy. Eve felt that the promoters underestimated the LA audience after they had a less-than-successful event in Chicago, and they oversold the event. Based on Erin McGrath’s blog, apparently a lot of people got drunk and behaved badly, and some of the better wines were not being poured for the public – they had been poured for Trade. People couldn’t get to the food that was being offered, and the cheese and bread that was on tables around the event ran out in record time. We were glad we left when we did, and happy with the wines we sampled.

Eve took off in the driving rain, and we sailed home for a few hours until our next event.

We headed over to the Artisan Cheese Gallery for a meeting of “I’ll Drink to That” a group of business folks interested in networking over cheese and wine. This is Xochitl Maiman and Barbara Cohen’s group. I met Barbara at another networking group, and we clicked. I’m so glad she and Xochitl invited me to IDTT – like-minded folks getting to know each other and discover how we can help each other’s business over great wines and cheeses.

Wines and cheeses paired as follows:

Borgo Magredo Prosecco - 100% Prosecco - paired with Pecorino Ginepro -sheep's milk bathed in balsamic vinegar & juniper berries; aged in oak barrels; Romagna, Italy

Segura Viudas 'Aria' NV Cava from Torrelavit, Spain - 60% Macabeo/20% Parellada/20% Xarel-lo paired with Patacabra - goat's milk with washed rind, aged 45 days from Zaragoza, Spain

Marquis de la Tour Brut Rosé - lovely, dry rosé from the Loire Valley, France, paired with Campo del Montelban - mixed goat, sheep and cow milk from Spain

Laetitia NV Brut Cuveé - Arroyo Grande Valley - Chardonnay/Pinot Noir/Pinot Blanc - paired with Piedmont unpasteurized Friesian sheep's milk from Rapidan, Virginia. Really liked this combo!

Martin & Weyrich 2007 Moscato Allegro dessert wine paired with Stilton from the Colston Bassett Dairy in Nottingham-Lancashire, England

Wonderful pairings! Lovely folks! I’ll be back!


Monday, January 11, 2010

Weekend wining...

Saturday a.m., we breakfasted casually, ran to the bank to get some money, and headed over to Pasadena to have Gina (check out her Haircutting in High Heels blog) cut our hair. Had fun, of course. Gina and I spent a bit of time brainstorming about how to better market our blogs and business. After, we hopped in the car and headed out to Woodland Hills to taste some wine at the Woodland Hills Wine Company.

We stepped up to the wine bar where Mark was pouring flights of wine from the Loire Valley.

2007 Luneau-Papin Muscadet Domaine Pierre de la Grange – Muscadet, also known as Melon de Bourgogne, is a crisp, citrusy grape, with a nose full of grapefruit and flowers – lilacs, I think or maybe hyacinths. Something heavily floral. Clear, pale gold, tasting of ripe grapefruit, with a long, slightly spiced finish. After it had been sitting for a while, the nose changed dramatically. Suddenly it was full of honey. $14.99

2008 Domaine de la Pépière (Ollivier) Muscadet Clos des Briords – Also full of grapefruit in the nose, crisp and fruity to taste. The fruit/acid balance was better in this wine than the first, and also had that slightly spicy finish. Didn’t change much as it opened. $14.99

2008 Marionnet Sauvignon Touraine Domaine de la Charmoise – This Sauvignon Blanc was the ‘darkest’ of all the whites poured, a lovely deep gold, surprising in a fairly young Sauv Blanc. The nose was typical Sauv Blanc – that distinctive and odd aroma of cat pee/ammonia. And I mean that in a good way! The mouth was grassy, fresh, clean with surprisingly big fruit. I would drink this wine as a cocktail – it’s oddly rich and full for a grape that I think of as crisp and refreshing. $12.99

2008 Thomas-Labaille Sancerre Chavignol Les Monts Damnés – Another Sauvignon Blanc. This wine could not have been more different from the first Sauv Blanc. The nose was small, demure, not giving much away. In the mouth it was full of fresh grapefruit, very dry, pale gold, very refreshing. $22.99

2008 Aubuisières (Fouquet) Vouvray Cuvée de Silex - Vouvray is the name of AOC appellation as well as the village around which it surrounds and it produces delicious wines ranging from the dry and austere to the richest dessert wines, and even sparkling wines. Vouvray is made exclusively from Chenin Blanc, which has been grown in the region since the 4th century. And all I can say about this Vouvray is OMG! Huge, aromatic, fragrant nose. Honey, caramel and pure heaven in the mouth. And yet, food friendly. I found myself thinking about spicy and sweet Asian food to pair with this wine. $15.99 – Bought 2 bottles.

Reds – All Cabernet Franc, because that’s what they grow in the Loire!

Now I have to note that my tasting notes on the reds are not as complete as on the whites, as I suddenly found myself deep in conversation with Paul Smith, the owner of the WHWC. Paul spoke fondly of his times in the Loire – running into neighbors from Woodland Hills whom he had never actually met until their paths converged in France – as well as describing his passion for the history and inhabitants of France. He turned us on to a book called Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, which I ordered from Amazon. It sounds fascinating!

All of these reds were untypical of Cab Franc – I say untypical because I’m used to tasting Cab Franc from Bordeaux or California, where you get very aromatic and herbaceous notes – sometimes when I smell Cab Franc, all I find is green pepper and lilacs. These Cab Francs were deep in color, with dusty soft tannins and lovely aromatic noses.

2005 Nerleux Saumur-Champigny Clos des Châtains – This wine had a velvety texture in the mouth, and had dry fruit, which became somewhat raisiny after being open for a while. $18.99

2004 Nerleux Saumur-Champigny Le Loups Noir Tire-Savatte – I didn’t write any specific notes, and didn’t find it distinctive in any way. Not to say it was bad; I just didn't remark on it. $22.99

2007 Amirault Bourgueil 'La Coudraye' – JD and I both loved this wine. And I have to say that part of the reason we liked it is that it had that very distinctive barnyard smell of Brettanomyces – that crazy yeast that occurs naturally on grapes and can affect the palate and bouquet of the wine either for good or for bad. In this case, it was wonderful. In small amounts, the presence of these compounds has a positive effect on wine, contributing to complexity, and giving an aged character to some young red wines. Many wines even rely on Brettanomyces to give their distinctive character such as in Château Musar and Château de Beaucastel. However when the levels of the sensory compounds is too much, their perception is almost always negative. The sensory threshold can differ between individuals, and so some find the compounds more unattractive than others. In this case, it rocked. $20.99. We wanted to buy 2 bottles, but that’s a story for later in the article.

2006 Amirault Bourgueil 'Les Quartiers' – Not much nose in this wine, but the taste was rich with dark fruit, velvety tannins, and an almost chocolately finish. I liked it more than JD did. $25.95 – We didn’t plan on buying, but ended up with 2 bottles.

2006 Amirault Bourgueil 'La Petite Cave' – The most expensive wine offered in the tasting, this wine was unremarkable. It had the same basic elements as the previous wines – flowery nose, soft tannins in the mouth, nice long finish. $33.99.

During the 3½ hours we spent at WHWC, I seemed to be in the perfect position on the bar – for visiting. First, my chat with Paul Smith, then another young man named Matt from Pennsylvania, who was spending the afternoon having a tasting while his pregnant wife languished at home. After Matt moved on, a couple took up a station at the bar. Bob races cars as a hobby and has raced all over the world, most recently in Africa for a major cross-country trek in a Porsche 911. His wife, Arvinder, who joined him in progress, works for Citibank, who took over CalFed, who merged with Glendale Federal, my old employer. She’s managed to hang onto her position with all the changes in management and ownership, but she says it’s not fun anymore the way GFB was. We played the name game for a while; discovered we knew some folks in common, and toasted the old days.

We finally dragged ourselves away from the bar to purchase a couple of the wines we liked best. Tim Snyder, the Internet Sales Manager for WHWC, offered to help us find the wines, picking out the Vouvray and, we thought, the ‘La Coudraye’. We were having so much fun chatting with Tim and another gent we recognized from a big Napa tasting at Wally’s Wine, that I didn’t pay any attention to what Tim was ringing up. He generously gave us a logo wine bag to make up the fact that he couldn’t discount my purchase, and we left happy.

We drove slowly East along Ventura Blvd., looking for a restaurant to stop at. We passed a couple of favorites, like La Pergola, but we wanted steak and not Italian, so we kept driving. It’s surprising how many Italian, Japanese and Thai restaurants there are along the boulevard. We ended up back in Burbank, and decided to go to our favorite eatery, Prosecco, in Toluca Lake. Yes, it’s nominally Italian, but Eric always offers steak of some kind. And we always feel happy and like family when we go there!

We pulled one of the bottles of red from the car, and discovered at the table that it was not the ‘La Coudraye’, but the ‘Les Quartiers’. JD was upset because it wasn’t the wine he wanted, and I was concerned because we had been so sure we bought the right wine. Still, it was delicious, and an excellent wine to pair with my medallions of beef in a Gorgonzola and wine sauce and JD’s rack of lamb in Prosecco’s signature horseradish and wine reduction. It also went very well with the chocolate, cappuccino crunch and vanilla bean gelati with which we finished off the dinner.

When we got home, I fired off an email to Tim at the wine shop about the switch, and this a.m. got a very nice reply, apologizing for the mix-up and offering to reduce the cost of our next wine tasting for the difference. Win-win.

Sunday, drank a lot of water and coffee during the day, and noshed on cheese and crackers in the evening, accompanied by that ‘box’ of Bandit Cabernet Sauvignon we purchased a couple of months ago at Silverlake Wine. It was yummy!!

That is more than enough for today. Cheers!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Special January Promotion from TorreBarolo - I want to go!!!

Got an interesting email this a.m. from yet another Megan who owns a gorgeous rental property in Italy that she's trying to keep filled. So she's having a drawing!!

Here are the details from her Facebook page - become a fan and you are automatically registered for the drawing!

January promotion: win 3 nights @TorreBarolo

How? If you aren’t already a Fan of TorreBarolo on Facebook, simply become one by the end of January and you automatically will qualify for the drawing. If you are a Fan of TorreBarolo already, then easy, just continue to support the TorreBarolo Fan’s Page with your comments.

The rules:
1. As of January 31st, all names on the Fan page will be entered into a hat and we will draw a name. If the lucky winner is unable to redeem their prize, then we will draw a 2nd winner … and so on;
2. The prize of 3 nights at TorreBarolo has a value of €375 and is not redeemable in cash. As is standard at TorreBarolo, a security deposit will still be requested upon check-in;
3. The availability period for the winner’s 3 night stay runs from Feb 5th, 2010 to March 31st, 2010; TorreBarolo1 280x187 January promotion: win 3 nights @TorreBarolo
4. If the winner removes him/herself from the TorreBarolo Fan’s page before their 3 night stay, the winner forfeits their winning;
5. After staying at TorreBarolo, the winner will be requested to enter a review on the TorreBarolo website as well as on TorreBarolo Fan’s page;
6. The winner will be contacted via Facebook directly to their message inbox;
7. The final winner will be announced on the Fan’s page on Feb 1st.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Starting the year right...

After spending a pleasant, quiet day catching up on DVR'd programs, we decided that maybe, just maybe, we ought to get off the couch and out of the house, so after our usual Saturday morning activities, we hit the road and headed northwest to Ventura County.

One or two of you may recall that JD and I visited the Cornell Winery and tasted a lovely Barbera made by Cantara Cellars in Camarillo. After I posted that article I received an email from winemaker/owner Mike Brown, inviting me to visit the winery. His email included a link to a list of Ventura County wineries. I'm including a link to the Ventura County Winery Association. Who knew??

We set a course using our new GPS device, whom we have christened 'Gilda'. Gilda almost got us there, but got confused when we encountered some construction that wasn't in her system. Still, we found our way to a small industrial park just off the 101 in Camarillo. Mike's wife, Chris, was manning the tasting room, and started pouring wine. Almost all of the grapes they use are from Mike's family's vineyards in Lodi, near Woodbridge. Mike grew up in the middle of wine country with Woodbridge (Mondavi) and other wineries close by. Then he left and became a mechanical engineer. Then he returned to his roots, making some lovely wines.

2007 Chardonnay - Soft gold in color with a seriously oaky nose. In the mouth, the oak initially overpowers the fruit, backing off to allow some citrus to come thru, followed by a bit of cinnamon spice that softens to butter for the finish. Not my cup of tea, but well-made. $21

2008 Old Vine Zinfandel - This was actually a barrel sample in a decanter. The vines are 71 years old. It's only available in magnum right now, with 750 ml's coming in March 2010. Surprisingly light for a Zin, it was light red, almost pink in color, with a sprightly cinnamon spice nose. It was light and spicy to drink and I understood why she was serving it after the Chardonnay, as the following reds were much heavier wines.

2007 Syrah - Deep red in color, with the traditionally smoky nose. This is a meaty, spicy Syrah that cries out for roasted lamb. It has a lovely soft finish. $29

2007 Left Bank Cuveé Red Blend - This wine is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon (thus the 'Left Bank') blended with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Petite Sirah. A pretty deep red redolent of green pepper and dark fruit, it was a decent Bordeaux-style - earthy and full-bodied, and ready to drink right now. $29

2007 Tempranillo - 50% Amador County/50% Lodi - 100% Tempranillo - My notes say 'WOW'. This is a big red wine - deep garnet in color with a meaty nose. In the mouth, it's cinnamon and black pepper and red fruit. Firm, but silky tannins. Just lovely. $29 - Bought 1 bottle.

2007 Petite Sirah - Opaque red full of red berries, cherries, but not sweet; just really fruity (much like the Barbera we bought at Cornell). I said it was like a cocktail, and Chris said that's exactly how she describes it, too. $36, and yes, we bought a bottle. Just lovely.

At this point, we were invited into the 'winery' to meet Mike. I think we were back there for the better part of an hour, with Mike 'stealing' barrel samples (with his 'wine thief') and talking about winemaking and philosophy. It was especially interesting to taste different samples the 2008 Tempranillo - one barrel taste from Amador County, soft and fruity, and another from Lodi, tannic and rough. Once they're blended, I have no doubt that the 2008 will elicit the same 'WOW' as the 2007. I like this wine!

We made our goodbyes to Mike and Chris, tentatively agreeing to return in March to assist with bottling, and headed to Old Town Camarillo for some further tasting. Mike had given us some ideas of where some of the Ventura County wineries were - up as far as Ojai (about 15 minutes away) to right in town. As it was already after 2 PM, we opted to hit Old Town, which was in the direction of home, and take a look around. As we drove along Ventura Blvd, it was clear that a great deal of thought had gone into the revitalization of Camarillo - it's full of charm.

We stopped at the Bella Victorian Winery Tasting Room on Ventura Blvd. Bella Victorian is a winery, but the tasting room is really more of a hangout than a tasting room, with flights of wines to taste for various prices. There's a really cool bar made out of stainless steel tanks, with a gorgeous tin ceiling overhead. It's also a restaurant with an interesting menu devised and executed by Gael Lecolley, a charming Frenchman who is also involved in the winemaking.

We were initially a bit confused by the idea of calling it a tasting room, when it is so clearly not - and Kevin, the barista who initially waited on us was nonplussed when we asked for a dump bucket. He exclaimed, "No one dumps our wine!" We explained that we were working, not hanging out. He seemed confused, but gave us a plastic pitcher to use. A customer passed by us on her way out, and wondered why we were writing notes about the wines. I explained about the blog, gave her my card; Kevin suddenly got a lot more interested and attentive. I gave him my card, too. We did end up hanging out there for a while; ordered a delicious prosciutto and arugula pizza, and chatted with Gael for about an hour. As Kevin told us, this is a destination - folks come here to hang and eat and party.

The wines were a mixed bag. With every pour, Kevin did a quick rundown of the primary attributes of the wines. We chose to purchase an 'Artisan' flight (3 wines/$12) and a 'Luxury' flight (3 wines/$16), so that we would be able to taste all the wines they were offering. In order of tasting:

2006 Chardonnay "Napa Valley" - Soft gold color, very oaky nose, but extremely high acid - not balanced at all. Kevin said it went thru malolatic fermentation - it didn't taste like it. I found it undrinkable. $36.95

2006 Pinot Noir - "Santa Barbara County" - Earthy nose and earthy mushroom-y with surprising tannins; some spice on the end, but again, really high acid. JD said the nose smelled of diesel to him - but all the doors were open, and we were on a main street. Not a wine I was interested in drinking. $49.95

2006 Grénache "York Mountain" - Deep, dark red, with big black fruit, firm dusty tannins and a bit of spice on the lovely, smooth finish. Really changed in the glass very quickly. Very tasty. $37.95

2006 Syrah "York Mountain" - Smoky, bacon-y nose, deep meaty cherry fruit. Still tannins. After a few minutes, the oak turned to butter. An interesting wine. $39.95

2004 Red Wine Reserve - Kimberly Cuveé "Napa Valley" - This is their flagship wine. Parker gave it a 92, and it's definitely the most interesting of the wines, and the most expensive at $89.95. You can get a full glass for $22. Kevin hoped we wouldn't dump it, and we didn't. 30% Cabernet Sauvignon/30% Merlot/Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc making up the remaining 40%. 28 months in new French oak; unfiltered. Green pepper and chocolate - an odd, but winning combination. We drank this wine with the above-mentioned pizza, and it was a heck of a match.

We didn't purchase any wine, as we had spent our money on the flights, and the only wine we really liked a lot was way more than we wanted to spend. I really felt that all the wines were way overpriced - and I don't often feel that way. So sue me. I'm also kind of confused by the fact that Bella Victorian's brochures all tout the local vineyard, but nothing we tasted was locally sourced, so I'm wondering what they're growing in Camarillo.

We walked down the street, looking for a wine shop we had passed. The Wine Closet, also on Ventura Blvd., is a charming shop owned by Linda and Robert Hunter. The Wine Closet specializes in small production, artisan wines from California. All their wines are hand selected and they only sell wines they would drink themselves, because life's too short to drink mediocre wine! JD and I were happy to see so many of our favorites on the shelves. I introduced myself to Linda and we chatted for a while, buying a couple of glasses of wine while we got to know each other.

I had a glass of 2006 Lavender Ridge GSM from the 'Cotes du Calaveras' in the Sierra Foothills. Dark red, faint smoke in the nose, big meaty fruit to taste. Lovely for sitting and chatting; a real cocktail of a wine. $8/glass

JD chose 2007 Hobo Zinfandel from the Dry Creek region. It was a mild fruit bomb with high alcohol - 15.3%, which means it's probably higher than that. I think it was also around $8/glass.

We bought a bottle of 2004 Graham Beck Shiraz from South Africa, mainly out of curiousity. We had a bottle of their sparkling wine on New Year's Eve and really liked it. TWC had it priced at $15.75, and then undercharged me - bless her heart. I pointed out that she didn't charge me enough, and she congratulated me on the deal I received!

We took it with us to a neighboring restaurant, Verona Trattoria, where we would receive free corkage for purchasing the wine from Linda. The wine was lovely, and everything a Shiraz should be - smokey, fruity, yummy. The restaurant was charming, the service was TERRIBLE, and the food - when it finally arrived - was ordinary and uninspired. We were seated immediately, which was a good start. The waiter - the ONLY waiter - opened our wine immediately and disappeared. The host, who I assume was the owner, finally brought us menus. The busboy - again, the only busboy - brought us freshly made, tasty bread with an EV olive oil and garlic dipping sauce. Then we sat there for over 20 minutes, trying to catch someone's eye so that we could order. After another 10 minutes, JD's house salad arrived. He was slowly picking his way thru it, as my soup was not delivered until I asked the owner for it. Our entrees finally arrived. JD's calamari steak was a bit tough and required a knife to cut it, so it was not up to the standard we require. My penne Bolognese - the item by which I tend to judge Italian restaurants - was sweet, as if sugar had been added to it, and it was full of finely chopped carrots, which made it kind of not edible for me. We got our check, gave a 10% tip and fled. Honestly, if the staff had just acknowledged that they were in the weeds, I would have forgiven all, but this seemed to be business as usual. There was a family there when we arrived. They finished, and the husband sat there by himself for close to 15 minutes, apparently waiting for the check. He didn't seem happy.

So, it was a mixed bag of day. Interesting wines, some good food (pizza), some bad. But there's much more to explore in Ventura County and we'll definitely plan a day soon to start up in Ojai at Casa Barranca, and work our way south.