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.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Thoughts on January 1, 2010 while watching the Rose Parade...

Had a quiet week after seriously partying Christmas weekend. Christmas Eve at Maeve and Sean's with lots of yummy snacks and several bottles of wine. Christmas Day at Phyl and Ron's with way too much food - all really tasty - and a LOT of bubbles. JD and I came armed with 4 different bottles of bubbly, and 4 of us drank 3! Started off with a Mumm Napa Brut that JD and I picked up in Napa in July 2008, followed by the last of the WineShop at Home Rose Cava, and finishing up with a WSAH non-rose Brut Cava. Accompanied by all the usual holiday foods, of course, expertly prepared by Ron, Phyllis and Andi.

Day after Christmas, JD and Phyl and Ron and I went to the Mark Taper Forum for the new show by Culture Clash, Palestine, New Mexico, which you should all go and see. It's a funny, angry, moving event, asking some hard questions about what we're doing in life. Got a chance to talk to Richard Montoya and a few of the other cast members afterward, and they were gratified that we loved the show, and concerned that the reviews have been mixed. Go see it!!

Stayed close to home during the week, even working from home during day. New Year's Eve was at the LearnAboutWine Loft. Ian made Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon, and all the guests brought wonderful appetizers and main dishes. Everyone also brought a bottle of Champagne and a red to share over dinner. Some wonderful stuff! JD and I brought a South African sparkling wine - Graham Beck NV Sparkling Brut, made from Chardonnay grapes. Really dry, lovely yeasty, toasty flavor. We also brought a 2007 Pied Violet Reserve Merlot to drink with dinner. All the reds were disguised in velvet bags for blind tasting and guessing. No one guessed the Pied Violet, of course, because it's a WineShop at Home wine - but several of the guests commented to me how much they liked it, and there were several much more well-known and expensive wines served. One woman said to me it was her favorite of the night! I took lots of pictures only to realize when I got home that the memory card in my camera was defective, so almost all of the snaps were blurred or double-exposed (interesting in a digital camera).

Trooped up to the rooftop to ring the new year with a magnum of Taittinger. Watched fireworks all over the city before returning to finish off the evening with home made chocolate cake (thanks to the lovely Camille) and a wonderful dessert wine supplied by Dan S. It was a Raymond Eloquence late harvest Chardonnay from 1996 or 1997, and it was WONDERFUL. Not too sweet, but full of caramel and mocha and raisiny fruit. Just lovely and a nice pairing with the rich chocolate cake.

Got home around 1:30 a.m. and slept later than planned. Luckily JD remembered to DVR the Rose Parade, as we arose right around the time the jet fighters overflew the house! Made some strong coffee and settled down in the living room with the TV and the laptop. A special treat today for me is Eve Hammond Bushman's interview with me in the West Ranch Beacon! Eve is an established writer about wine and life in the Santa Clarita area, and she has provided support and mentoring to me as I started writing this blog! Take a look and let me know what you think!

Watching the Rose Parade always makes me think about the amazing things people choose to do. I am always overwhelmed by the artistry, engineering and imagination involved every year. Not to mention snow-boarding bulldogs!

Happy New Year, everyone! Here's to a great 2010!!