My GF and I recently attended the 6th annual Calabasas-Malibu Food and Wine Festival. Arriving a bit early, we decided to hit up Justin, one of our favorite Paso Robles winery’s. There we tasted the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, light straw in color. On the palate was bright citrus flavor with peach and green apple balanced out with nice bright grapefruit. Next, the 2010 Cabernet in its sexy new packaging. Deep ruby in color with a rich dense cherry, blackberry & a bit of spice. It drinks great right out of the bottle. And finally, the highly touted ’09 Isosceles. Darker in color and richer in flavor with a great alluring mix of spice box, lush currants, cherry and a nice hint of vanilla laced with mint. Let me tell you, these wines never disappoint.
Next we stopped by Gladstone’s booth, said hi to Tony the GM, gulped some AMAZING yellow gazpacho with watermelon and then a refreshing seafood ceviche that rocked. (Next time you’re in the area stop in and say hi to Tony, he’s a great guy). Feeling the heat, we headed to the Patron booth to grab a fresh ice cold margarita and a chilled shot. Taking some time to enjoy our drinks we wandered around taking in the fun-filled atmosphere and came across a booth called Wild About Trial. There we meet Allison, the creator of this ground breaking app who was down to earth and super friendly. (if you want the most recent and up to date trial cases, this app is a must). With so many booths to see, we decided to hit it hard and fast. Off to the beer booth we go! Stella Artois for me and Hoegaarden for the GF. Next, we made moves to Tony’s New York Pizza, Normandie Bakery, Mastro’s Steakhouse, and about 10 others. On the move, we grabbed some water, and some delicious Hard Cider from Crispin. They had about 5 available to taste but my favorite was the Honey Crisp Reserve. This pale fizzy cider was crisp, refreshing and smooth with nice hints of honey that wasn’t overpowering or too sweet, just what the Dr. ordered.
Looking around I realized that we hadn’t yet had any of the bubbly, so like bloodhounds we were off, zigging and zagging through the crowd we came across Moreno BHLV a CA sparkling wine whose label is studded with Swarovski Crystals. This fresh, out of the ice bucket Brut Silver was refreshing and a nice change of pace. Nearing the end of the day, it was time to grab a goody bag, fill it up and head out. Making several stops we filled my GF’s bag and said goodbye to a few friends and were off. This was our first time attending this event and will be back next year guaranteed.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about dry rosé? For most, it’s the Cotes de Provence, illustrious south-of-France motherland of pale pink juice for summer. I too venerate the gorgeous landscape, fields of sunflowers and artichokes, gravelly hillsides, seaside towns, bouillabaisse, and guzzlable wines. But while we do have Provence to thank for leading the charge on dry rosé, it is by no means the alpha and the omega. Rosé is produced all over the world now, from Seattle to Sagaponack to Stellenbosch, and stylistically they are as varied as the lands from which they inspire.
There are two common ways to produce rosé: skin contact, and saignée.With the first method, black-skinned grapes are crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short period of time, typically one to three days.The must is then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation (as with red wine making). The skins contain tannin and other compounds, thereby giving the juice structure. The longer that the skins are left in contact with the juice, the deeper the color and richer the texture of the rosé.
Rosé can also be produced as a by-product of red wine fermentation using a technique known as Saignée, or bleeding. When a winemaker wishes to impart more tannin and color to his red wine, some of the pink juice from the must is be removed at an early stage. The red wine remaining in the vats is intensified as a result of the bleeding; the volume of the must is reduced, and thus more concentrated. The pink juice that’s removed is the Saignée that’s fermented separately to produce rosé.
Some of my favorite south of France selections this year are the MIP which is gossamer pink in color. Made of Cinsault with Syrah and Grenache, it’s medium bodied with plenty red fruit, orange zest and clean acidity. Another light-colored quaffer is the Grimaud Golfe de St. Tropez, which is Grenache with Cinsault & Carignan. Bright and herbal, this wine smacks of freshness, and has a pretty label.
As for Pink Sancerre, the Reverdy Terre de Maimbray (100% Pinot Noir) is delicate, with raspberry and cherry on the nose leading to a mouthful of chalky minerals on the palate. Over in the Pfalz in Germany, Von Buhl is also doing nice rosé of Pinot Noir. Pale salmon in color, is lightly effervescent on the palate with plenty of vim and vigor. If spritz tickles your fancy, try the watermelon-colored Ameztoi Basque Txakolina rosé made of indigenous Basque grapes Hondarribi Beltza & Hondarribi Zuri. It’s attractive color conceals an equally appealing bitterness on the finish that makes it super food friendly. The Chidaine Touraine is the oddball of the group – orangy in color, it’s made of Pinot and Loire indigenous grape Grolleau and has good grip.
But sometimes you want something with a little more muscle. If you need something to match the ribs, burgers, or tuna steaks on the grill but don’t want to bring a red and think a white is too flimsy, Mulderbosch rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa is a sure thing. It’s dark red hue is sexy like a rosato cerasuolo, and it’s rich with pomegranite and eucalyptus on the palate and lavender on the nose. Another rosé of heft is Le Roc Fronton Saignée, which is made of peppery Negrette. It’s good with BBQ and pizza. The wines are inexpensive, which is always a good thing for afternoon parties, since chances are you’re going to need more that one or two bottles.
The Cotes to Provence will always be the spiritual home of rosé, as well as a powerhouse in production (80% of their output is the pink stuff), and you can generally count on it for a satisfying glass if you’re out at a restaurant or cafe and you need something to sate your thirst. But if you’re feeling adventurous, or if you love the diversity of rose as I do, try something different. I guarantee it will delight.
Always a Northerner at heart, I crave the perennial soft scents of Autumn, sweet air, drying leaves, roasting spices, and fires in the fireplace which we don’t so much get here in Los Angeles. So when I was invited to spend an October weekend in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley making wine with Anthill Farms, obviously I jumped.
Ready to go at 8 AM. Web Marquez, one of the trio of winemakers at Anthill (he also makes the wine at C. Donatiello) picks me up at his guest house, where I’ve had a short sleep after arriving very late. First stop: Copain Custom Crush in Santa Rosa. Cellar Master Shalini Sekhar transports barrels on her forklift. Interns of every nationality harnessed to the ceiling punch juice down hovering over colossal steel tanks. We climb latters, and siphon off Pinot Noir juice to test Brix levels.
Then to the barrels of Chardonnay. No yeast is added, which allows the wine to ferment naturally, however one of the barrels is lagging behind the others – it hasn’t begun to ferment yet. I take a long metal instrument and insert it into the barrel, all the way to the bottom, then stir back and forth. Batonnage sur Lie. Drop in one cube of dry ice and put my ear to the barrel, waiting for the slight bubble sound.
Back to the Pinot Noir. Uncover the plastic from atop a giant vat of fermenting juice and punch the wine down manually. This consists of pushing the berries below the surface, re-exposing the skins to the liquid. I punch a hole in the cap, which yields a frothy bubble. It reminds me of Lambrusco.
Around noon we head back to the house to make sausage. Cut organic Berkshire pork into chunks and send it through the grinder. Mix creme fraiche, salt, chili flakes, white pepper, and nitrites with the ground up pork, and let sit. Another attachment goes onto the Kitchenaid while we untangle the 100 ft. casings and gently slide them onto the machine to be filled with the ground up meat. We fill the tubes and tie the ends, then hang them in the garage. Sopresatta!
Afternoon – I take a cat nap on the porch in the sun sniffing the fertile air. Inside Web and his friend make chorizo and discuss the ancient rhythms of the harvest. I open my eyes and watch a sweet gum tree sway above me, its leaves ablaze. Sleep comes.
Later, we repair to Petaluma Gap to take a sampling of Chardonnay and Syrah at Peters Vineyard. I walk the rows picking berries at random to be mushed up, strained, and brixed. The vineyards are cool, breezy, and peaceful; Napa, Atlas Peak, and Sonoma Valley are in view to the east. Dusk approaches as we sample the Syrah and Viognier (which will co-ferment, like Cote Rotie). We finish and sit for a moment on the dusty earth. He smokes. I lie on my back and watch at the sky.
The next day we have just enough time in the morning to go into Dry Creek and have lunch at Papapietro, where the Anthill Wines are vinified. More punching down. But then the bottles get opened. We sip 2009 Peters Syrah, 2009 Campbell Syrah – both meaty, gamey, savory, at 11:30 on a grey Monday morning overlooking the misted vineyards.
I love my job.
It was a month of anticipation and questions to decide where to go for Labor weekend. But one thing I did know for sure: wherever I ended up going I would bring the bottle of wine I’d been wanting to have for a long time. I’d had the previous vintage of this particular wine and right away it became one of my favorite wines in the store.
The 2008 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Napa Valley a blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec & Cabernet Franc. I haven’t had this new vintage yet and was very excited to see how the ’08 would compare with the ’07. The conditions during the growing season and harvest weren’t as perfect as the previous vintage. Because of the dry Spring season and long cold nights, vines pushed out early. On the other hand, vines experienced perfect daytime temperature during this season which made the wine more rich and balanced.
In addition to Labor Day weekend, it happened to be my girlfriend’s anticipated b-day. What to do for it? Well I wanted to get away for sure, so I researched and made reservations for a great Labor day/b-day getaway celebration weekend on beautiful Catalina Island. After a long drive to Long Beach Port and a hour long boat ride, we finally got to our destination. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The sun was out, the island was alive and the people there were enjoying everything as we made our way to our hotel. Word of mouth from previous visitors was that Steve’s Steak House Bar & Grille was the place to go if you want a really good steak. Without thinking twice, I called the restaurant and made reservation for that same night of our arrival. Dropped our bags at our hotel room and hit the town for the rest of the day.
After a long morning and afternoon of exploring Catalina and its wonders we headed back to our room to get ready for dinner. In one hand I had my girlfriend’s hand and in the other hand my precious bottle; I couldn’t have asked for a better evening. The weather of the island at night was cool, not too hot and the sky clear. I had asked the waiter to please open the bottle of wine right away, to give it some air to open up before having it with steak. We started with salad. The steak arrived and we had it with the wine. What a good combo. Chappellet has the complexity of a Bordeaux, with the richness of California growth. The nose shows a touch of spice, plums, mocha and ripe fruit. On the palate you get hints of black cherry, soft but rich tannins, which lead to a much anticipated long finish. What can I say but: “It was a perfect pair with an amazing steak.” The whole night was a good experience, the restaurant, the island, the company, and the wine. I highly recommend this bottle of wine to be pair with some good steak.
Welcome to the first edition of my “Manly Wine Consumption” series. This series will be catered to men to help them combine their love of wine with whatever manly activity they happen to be participating in. I will also help with some suggestions for appropriate wines for the occasion. Ladies, pay attention too for a look inside the mind of a man. First up: Fight Night.
If you’re like me (and I hope you aren’t… that’s me at the left), you probably don’t have many friends that share your love for fine wine and watching guys beat the snot out of each other. MMA is the undisputed king of combat sports as well as the fastest growing sport in the world. A typical Saturday night for a MMA fan usually consists of driving to a bar, watching the fights, getting plastered, getting in a bar fight and then getting left passed out in their front yard by your “friends”… I mean, their friends. That has never happened to me.
Due to completely unrelated circumstances, I try to no longer watch the fights at bars and have started watching the fights at a buddy’s house, where a handful of guys will share the expenses. Everyone always drinks beer. It’s always Bud Light, the official beer sponsor of the UFC. Unless you are a Brock Lesnar fan, in which case, you drink Coor’s Light. If it devolves into tequila shots, don’t worry, the official spirit sponsor of the UFC is Tequila Cazadores.
There are three ways to approach justifying your bottle of vino to the other guys. First, it’s fight night. Threaten to kick their ass if they say a word about it. The second method is to reason with them about wine being classy, respectable and civilized. This will often shame them into feeling like the sub-cretins they are and often, they will ask for a taste. Deny them.
The third? Bring a wine that they can’t bag on you for. This is where selecting the right wine comes into play. Your thinking must be multi-faceted. My recommended wines for fight night aren’t too intellectually stimulating (you’ll be too distracted by the fights to over-analyze anyway) and go well with most party food fare. They also need to be worthy of respect from your buddies as well as not break the bank. The Pay-Per-Views are $55 bucks now because UFC President Dana White needs another Ferrari.
Anything with a manly sounding name and/or manly looking label is a good way to go. Some examples would be “Sinister Hand,” “The Ball Buster,” or “Boom Boom.” If you have a few extra bucks to spend, check out the wines from Four Vines. With names like “Loco,” and “Anarchy,” and bottle designs to match… your bound to score a couple knockouts with the guys.
If none of those work, try my favorite alternative… negotiate with your wife or girlfriend to watch the fights, just the two of you. Nothing is more romantic then yoked up sweaty guys in speedos making each other bleed all over the place… and drinking an aged Rioja alongside a herb roasted lamb chop.
In my unwavering quest to taste vintage after vintage of the best wines from around the world, Joseph Phelps Insignia simply could not go ignored any longer. The Insignia lobbyists have a strong case. From 1990 to 2007, the average score from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate is 94.5 pts. The 2002 vintage was ‘Wine of the Year’ by Wine Spectator Magazine. It has been in their Top 10 three times, a cellar selection 5 times…the list of acclaims goes on and on. This is amazingly commendable considering just how much of this bottling they produce.
I have tasted various sporadic vintages, mostly post-2001 but was recently given the opportunity to attend a tasting held at Bellavino Wine bar & Restaurant of a 10 year vertical starting with the 1997 and ending with 2006. All I had to do was contribute a bottle so I signed myself up to bring a 2004. At my very core, I am a skeptic. I am also an old world wine drinker. So, to say I came into the event biased is not entirely necessary but for the sake of transparency, I admit to it here and now.
The evening began with an unexpected foray deep into the past… a magnum of 1993 Joseph Phelps Backus Vineyard Cabernet. Although the juice was not dead, unfortunately, the wine was very tired. The fruit was minimal and the structure undefined. I usually drink complex, subtle, aged wines and this fell short of that. A disappointment, especially given the large format. There is always a chance it was an off bottle but I found no flaws. If you have this wine… drink now.
After that, the 1997 through the 2001 Insignias were served together. The 1997 showed the best with the 2001 a close second. The wines were, in my humble opinion, in their twilight years although the color beguiled me, as the wines did not appear overly aged. The obvious theme of the vintages was clearly a well-balanced wine. The acidity is still providing some element of structure and the tannins are moderate and velvety. At this age, it’s all bright red fruit initially, followed by an open core of darker fruit that is quite soft. Minerality, earthiness and herbaceous notes were all present but you had to dig for them as they were a little dried out. The wines were decanted, which was probably not necessary. Their pedigree was still visible though and you can tell they started their lives as dark, pure wines of elegance integrated with power, true to their reputation but again, other than the 97 and the 01, drink up.
The second flight (the 2002 through the 2006) fared much better, with all vintages showing well. The ones that endeared themselves to me most were the 2002 and the 2004. These wines had the strength, balanced with finesse, that Insignia is known for. These are not overly complex or subtle wines but what they lack in tact, they make up for in clarity. Pure, dark fruit is the backbone of these wines when young and when ready to drink. These were decanted as well, and I suspect these bottles benefited from it. Once again, the reputation of Insignia is upheld but this time, within its maturity.
All in all, a great tasting and a great experience. My impression as I look back at it is that, while Insignia is no doubt a legendary wine, it is intelligently being made in an easily approachable style. This is, of course, speculation but it would not surprise me if it were intentional, as very few people hold their wines more then a few years. If consumed within 3–5 years for average vintages and 5–8 years for exceptional vintages, you will be rewarded. The wines are meant for new world drinkers looking for a touch more elegance and class then other wines in the same price range and category and it accomplishes that with ease. It is a solid buy but don’t be shy about popping those bottles.
Summer solstice weekend was the only time of year I could bring myself to go to Chicago, a city widely known to have the worst weather in the country. With the exception of the tempest that kicked off just as I touched down, whipping winds and sideways rain for 20 violent minutes, the weather is soft, skies flooded with blue and buttery light, and deciduous greenery dancing on currants of cool air. After a shower in River North, we hop into a cab and speed to the spot Anthony Bourdain calls “the holy trinity of pork rinds, oysters, and beer” – The Publican on the Fulton St. Meat Market. The 2009 Michel Delhommeau Cuvee St. Vincent Muscadet Sur Lie satisfies the Fire River and Moon Shoal oysters we’re slurping, while NV Renardat-Fache Cerdon Rosé of Gamay and Poulsard gives wings to our crunchy handmade pork rinds dusted with powdered cheddar and cayenne. Flesh-lovers unite.
But we are still hungry. We stroll next door. To our delight, we find on the menu a burger, which turns out to be a dripping hunk of ground sirloin smothered in salty Fontina cheese and served between two slices of fried green tomato. The “Erotoburger” went seamlessly with a 2008 Seguret Cotes du Rhone. At once spicy, balanced, and indulgent.
Morning: Gooey French Toast and bellinis at Toast in Lincoln Park. Then we head on foot, through parks of orange daylilies and pines, through the zoo, to the cerulean, lapping, lake-like-an-ocean, where more friends meet us for a picnic. Out of the basket I’d been lugging I pull the 2010 Masianco Pinot Grigio/Verduzzo, a funky Veronese white that’s wicked inexpensive and guzzleable. Also, a crisp, limey screw topped 2010 Man Chenin Blanc (I LOVE screwtops,) and a pop top 2008 Winter dry Riesling liter bottle. The wines are cold. The sun nails us to the grass, lovingly. We watch people on bikes enjoying the rare perfection of the weather, pretty girls in bathing suits splashing, seagulls hovering. I don’t understand this lake. I lie back and watch light scatter through undulating maple leaves.
Up and at ‘em. Hotfoot it to Wicker Park to dive into the crowds at Big Star. Queso Fundito with Poblanos + pitchers of salty margarita and Schlitz + dirty jokes = joyful friends. A cab brings us back to the flat in River North to shower before late night dance party at Danny’s in Bucktown.
My final afternoon in Chicago yields the holy grail: the Chicago-Style hot dog. At a friend’s in Lakeview we steam the beef dogs and toast the poppy seed bun. Chop green tomatoes, pickle spears, and onion. From the fridge we take pickled sport peppers, piccalilli (neon green relish) and yellow mustard. Finish off with a dash of celery salt. Swallow in three bites washing it down with the 2010 Tablas Creek dry rosé which tastes like red chili pepper jam. Complete Chicago. I may not ever need to go back.
Having just moved from New York City where I spent the last eight years studying and delighting primarily in European wine, I’ve arrived in Los Angeles with quite of bit of exploring to do. I came to California to expand my horizons, and immerse myself in the abundance of fine wine being produced here. It is quite the task! Often times I feel I’m treading water in the open ocean. So many AVAs, so few rules. But the inability to grasp it has rendered me more determined than ever.
Normally, once the weather gets warm I turn my enjoyment to the cool climate, light-bodied reds of the Loire (red Sancerre- how sexy!) Valle d’Aosta, the Pfalz, and Alto Adige, which of course we also carry here at Woodland Hills Wine Co. But I want more. Out with the old, in with the new. So over the past couple of weekends, I’ve dedicated myself to coming up with a short list of California reds that appeal to my relentlessly Old-World palate. These are the two wines that totally hit the spot.
Wow. What a beauty. This is one of those ephemeral wines that seems like it’s almost dancing above your tongue. I brought this wine to Monterey last weekend and had it with a friend who runs the wine program at my former store in New York City. The Knez knocked both our socks off. Produced from fruit of the Cerise and Demuth vineyards (arguably some of the best parcels in the Anderson Valley) this Pinot graces your palate with flowers, sour cherry and lavender. It is soft and juicy yet structured. While it is perfect on its own, it’s also exceptionally food friendly, and paired surprisingly well with the fall-off-the-bone pork ribs we were having in the back yard on such a lovely Central Coast spring afternoon.
The second was actually a big surprise to me. I’m not generally running after heady, full-bodied California Cabernets but the 2007 Forman Cabernet got to me. I opened it up, craving a bolder red on a cool canyon night and what I got was a bright, velvety Cabernet with excellent structure, complexity, and a firm backbone of acidity. So gorgeously balanced. It started out with cassis, smoke, and violets. As it opened up I began to enjoy its full, almost mentholated mouthfeel, licorice and undeniable earthiness. It reminded me of a fine Pomerol or St. Emilion, and for a fraction of the price.
There are more Old-World styled Cali wines out there I am sure of it. I’m keeping my senses