Recently, my wife and I moved to Tarzana and have been scouring the neighborhood looking for delicious restaurants that don’t break the bank. We visited several that were quite the fail and then we found our current favorite. I present to you: Vino Wine & Tapas Room. Located on Ventura in Encino, this small, comfortable eatery whips up delicious fare.
We have been to Vino several times now and they have many different dishes and wines. Although their wine list has a nice array from different regions around the world, we usually pay corkage. We took my grandparents recently and had a wonderful time at a semi-private table near the back. I brought one of my favorite rosé Champagnes, Billiot, and it paired wonderfully with many of the tapas. Billiot is a grower champagne with grapes from Ambonnay. All Grand Cru juice, the value is outstanding. Pairing with the Billiot, we had Manchego, a thick slice of the cheese on a croqueta smothered with a sweet tomato vinaigrette. We also had Albondigas, a sirloin meatball on top of savory mashed taters. I love how rosé Champagne (or any rosé for that matter) pairs with so many different foods and can even cross over and pair with meats. The Billiot rosé is beautiful and offers a nose of dough, cinnamon, orange zest, and berries like raspberry and cherry. Full creamy bubbles and delicious lip-smacking acidity constitute the palate.
My favorite “big” small bite is the New Zealand Lamb Chop. I love pairing lamb with Syrah, and one of my favorite Syrahs is JL Chave Crozes-Hermitage from the Northern Rhone valley. It pairs magically with lamb. Soft tannins with tart raspberry flavors, all meshed together with fresh cracked black pepper, this is a classic French Syrah. Syrah is fast becoming one of my favorite varietals. It’s very versatile with food and I simply relish the peppery flavors. The chops are prepared with, what do ya know, pepper and herbs encrusted with a wine reduction sauce on top.
The ambience is terrific and on most weekends, they have live saxophone crooning at the front of the restaurant. The chairs are very comfortable and the service is super friendly. I like to describe the lighting as happy and dark. All wine is served in Riedel stemware (specifically, Vinum Extreme). For a less personal experience, there is always at least a small crowd at the bar where energetic conversations abound. I highly recommend checking Vino out, but make sure you come by and pick up a couple bottles from me, custom matched for your food.
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.