Category Archives: food and wine

Harrison Clarke for Rhônes

At the Wine Bloggers Conference last year, one of the sessions was on Ballard Canyon AVA Syrahs. Ballard Canyon is one of the newest AVAs in the Santa Ynez Valley, and has made its reputation based on the Syrahs and other Rhône varietals that are typically grown there. I tried Syrahs from 7 different wineries in that session, with typically two vintages per winery.

Panel on Ballard Canyon Syrahs at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

Panel on Ballard Canyon Syrahs at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

One winemaker on the panel described Syrah by comparing the wines from this varietal to the dancing hippos from the movie Fantasia, but substituting the dangerous animals of the Nile for the cute animated hippos. (The music to that scene is Dance of the Hours, by Amilcare Ponchielli.) Not a bad analogy: Syrahs can be big and bold and graceful, and dangerous to novice winemakers.

Regarding the wines from the seminar, my favorite was the 2010 Syrah from Harrison Clarke Vineyards. It was still a bit young, but to my tastes a better balanced wine than any of the others, one that would have been great with a meal. So when Lori and I went to Santa Ynez Valley in July, a visit Harrison Clarke was high on our list.

We started with a tour of their vineyards, about 12 acres currently planted, with Roger Harrison. An interesting walk, as we seemed to stop every 5 steps for another 2 minutes of discussion about one aspect or another about the vineyard: differences between the top of the hill and the bottom, differences between the edge of the vineyard near a tree and the middle of the vineyard, differences between newer and older vines, differences between the Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre that they have planted their. Roger is in the vineyards every day, and his love of the grapes was obvious. By the way, they’ve also got a great view from the vineyard down Ballard Canyon.

Hilarie Clarke outside the Harrison Clarke winery.

Hilarie Clarke outside the Harrison Clarke winery.

We then adjourned to the winery and tasted with Hilarie Clark, whose love for her wines was as compelling as Roger’s love for his grapes. She’s no novice; the wines were big and bold and graceful, as I remembered from a year ago. Not only are they growing other Rhône varietals, they are making those wines. So we tasted Syrahs, and GSM (Grenache / Syrah / Mourvèdre) blends. There was also a very nice rosé of Grenache. We liked it all, but choices had to be made. In the end, the wines that made the cut and got taken home with us were

2011 Eve e Marie (70% Syrah, 30% Grenache blend)
2011 Cuvee Charlotte Syrah

Now we have a dilemma: We want to open these wines, but we also want to let them age for a few years or more. It’s a tough problem, but somehow we’ll face up to the challenge.

L’Chaim,

Larry

More Pink, Now For Summer

I talked about rosés before, using them as a sign of Spring. Well, rosés are equally good, if not better, for Summer. Good rosés are cold, crisp, light, flavorful; everything I want on a warm day sitting outside. It might not be what you drink with your barbequed meal, but it’s what you drink until the meal is ready.

Here are a few that we’ve had recently that we really liked:

Bonny Doon Vineyard, 2014 Vin Gris de Cigare, 35% grenache, 18% mourvèdre, 16% grenache blanc, 12.5% roussanne, 8% carignane, 8% cinsaut, 1.5% marsanne, 1% counoise
Dragonette Cellars, 2013 Rosé, Happy Canyon (Santa Barbara County), 70% grenache, 25% mourvèdre, 5% syrah
Windwalker Vineyard, 2012 Grenache Rosé, El Dorado County (Sierra Foothills)

No accident that these are all made from Rhône grapes. These grapes typically have the fruit, the acid and the body to not get washed out in a light rosé. These are the grapes traditionally used for rosés in France.

The Bonny Doon was brought over to our friends’ house for a recent barbeque get together. Appetizers served that afternoon included salsa and guacamole, and grilled shrimp. Bonny Doon has been making Rhône varietal wines since the beginning, and Randall Grahm is one of the Rhône pioneers in California. This was delicious.

2013 Dragonette Cellars Rosé

2013 Dragonette Cellars Rosé


The Dragonette was opened at my parents’ house a few weeks ago, just as an afternoon drinking wine. I had never had it before, and now I’m looking forward to visiting the Dragonette tasting room in Los Olivos (Santa Ynez Valley) when Lori and I vacation there later this month.

Windwalker Vineyard 2012 Grenache Rosé, El Dorado County

Windwalker Vineyard 2012 Grenache Rosé, El Dorado County

The Windwalker we picked up on a wine tasting run through the Sierra Foothills while visiting Lori’s mother, who lives in the area. (Winery visits are not the only reason I visit my mother-in-law. Really.) Another Grenache based rose, with about 70% of that varietal as the base. Again just opened as an afternoon drinking wine, and hit all the right points.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Windy Oaks: Love and Tragedy

‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Alfred Lord Tennyson

Windy Oaks Estate 2001 Pinot Noir, Proprietor's Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains, Schultze Family Vineyard

Windy Oaks Estate 2001 Pinot Noir, Proprietor’s Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains, Schultze Family Vineyard

We opened and drank our last bottle of Windy Oaks Estate 2001 Pinot Noir, Proprietor’s Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains, Schultze Family Vineyard last night. We went out to dinner locally, Café Esin in Danville, and brought our last bottle with us. We’ve written about Windy Oaks in general, and this wine specifically, in the past. Maybe because this was our last bottle of this wine, or maybe because it is continuing to get better as it ages, but this was one of the best wines I’ve ever had. Wow!

When wine ages — when really good wine ages — it comes together in this whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts sort of way. A young really good wine has the nose, fruit, acid, finish; all the different components of the wine. And each of the components is really good. As it ages though, and if the magic and chemistry happens, all those components come together like the different sections of an orchestra playing together. Certainly that’s what happened with this wine.

We first visited the Windy Oaks winery around 2003, about the time this wine was being bottled. The winery and vineyard sit at the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the Corralitos area. From the peak of the vineyard (about 1000 ft elevation I think) you can see the town of Watsonville, and out to the Pacific Ocean. With that location and altitude they get early bud break, minimal fog, and relatively low daytime temperatures. What this means is long hang time for their grapes, which are typically harvested later than Pinot Noir grapes in Napa and Sonoma counties. And long hang times translate to a lot of time for the fruit and flavors to develop, without getting a huge amount of sugar. I’d put this Pinot Noir up against the Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Oregon and Burgundy wines without hesitation.

The good news as well was that we treated this wine to a very nice dinner at Café Esin. Our meals were excellent. While I’ve had their fish quite often in the past, last night the lamb shank with Turkish spices spoke to me from the menu, and it was wonderful. The spices were not too strong, and went with the Pinot Noir in a great way. The even better news is that we shared the wine and dinner with close friends who also love and appreciate wine. The salmon (had by two of us) and the pork were also great. 4 empty plates went back to the kitchen.

That may have been the last bottle of that vintage, but we’ve got more Windy Oaks Pinot Noir in the cellar. Still, this was such an outstanding wine, it will be missed. I guess we should go try, and buy, some of the more recent vintages.

By the way, how many of you thought, as did I, that the opening was a Shakespeare quote?

L’Chaim,

Larry

Chocolate – Wine Pairing Menu at Las Positas Vineyards

We’ve all had chocolate and red wine at one time or another. A lot of people think this is the best pairing of all wine pairings, and will go to a winery just to get that final big red wine with some sort of dark chocolate. Really, how can you go wrong with this pairing, as individually chocolate and wine are two of the best things in the world? Two of the major food groups for some of us.

I’m not a huge fan of chocolate and wine. Usually it’s a case of 1 + 1 = 2. The chocolate is nice, the wine is nice, but together they don’t usually add up to more than that. Last Sunday, “Sunday Funday!” at Las Positas Vineyards in the Livermore Valley, we had an opportunity to not only pair one wine with chocolate, but go through a full tasting menu of chocolate-wine pairings. The chocolate truffles were from Landru Chocolates. Here is the menu, in the order we tasted:

Chocolate truffles for the Sunday Funday wine pairing at Las Positas Vineyards.

Chocolate truffles for the Sunday Funday! wine pairing at Las Positas Vineyards.

Rosemary Cole: Single origina dark cream with fresh rosemary leaves, virgin coconut oil and lemon zest dipped in dark milk chocolate.
2011 Coccineous: 51% Tempranillo, 26% Petite Sirah, 23% Syrah

English Tea: Dark chocolate cream with black tea and bergamont enrobed with dark chocolate.
2011 Estate Tempranillo

Darkeriuse: Dark chocolate cream dipped in dark milk chocolate.
2011 Estate Petite Sirah

Hazel Praline: Dark chocolate cream with hazelnut praline dipped in milk chocolate.
2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Nutmeg Almond: Milk chocolate cream with almond praline cream and roasted almonds dipped in milk chocolate.
2012 Estate Barbera

In addition to Lori and I, we had a friend with us, and this was a great way to help her celebrate her birthday. (She also broke any ties when voting on the pairings.) The unanimous best pairing was the Darkeruise with the Petite Sirah. Great chocolate and great wine. The pairing of the Nutmeg Almond Truffle and Barbera produced the widest ranges of scores in our group, with one voter giving this pairing the highest rank, and one giving it the lowest overall rank.

For me, aside from the Darkeruise pairing, the Hazel Praline and the Cabernet Sauvignon was the most interesting pairing. Interesting because when I tasted each individually, I was not impressed with either the truffle or the wine. Together, however, they were excellent, and received my second highest ranking for the menu. A clear case of 1 + 1 = 3, or at least 2.5.

Las Positas Vineyards view from the garden.

Las Positas Vineyards view from the garden.

After the chocolate tasting we sat outside in the garden at the tasting room, talking and enjoying the view of the Livermore Valley.

Grapes are getting ready at Las Positas Vineyards in the Livermore Valley.

Grapes are getting ready at Las Positas Vineyards in the Livermore Valley.

Thanks to Curt, the tasting room manager at Las Positas Vineyards, for spending the time with us on the tasting, and making it a really wonderful experience.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Moroccan and Merlot

On weekends, Lori and I like to take one afternoon/evening and cook. We’ll cook for ourselves, or for friends, or family; it doesn’t matter who, just so long as we can have fun in the kitchen. We’ll open a bottle of wine and get to work, with one of us having come up with the menu early enough so that we could get the necessary ingredients. The twist on that last Saturday night is that we went to a cooking class, where the menu for the night was Moroccan food. (We brought our own bottle of wine.) And the class upped the ante by pairing Moroccan food with the most famous movie set in Morocco, Casablanca.

Pans on Fire, in nearby Pleasanton, does these Dinner and Movie events regularly, it’s just that this summer is when we first found out about it, and this class was the first that we could both go to, and that really appealed to us. The menu for the night was

– Moroccan-Style Chicken Phyllo Rolls served with a spiced tomato sauce
– Moroccan Chicken, Apricot and Almond Tagine, served with vegetable Couscous
– Ghoribas (almost like a Moroccan shortbread cookie)

The nine of us in the class got to help with all the dishes. Some of the class was learning techniques: better knife skills, how to dice an onion, how to preserve lemons (a great alternative to lemon juice in recipes). Some of the class was just hands on work: shredding the chicken for the phyllo rolls, prepping and rolling the phyllo rolls, getting the spices and other ingredients ready for the tagine, making the Ghoribas dough. The best part of the class was eating our work, and watching the movie. We broke up the movie watching with the kitchen work, about 1 ½ hours of initial work, followed by the first half hour of the movie, then another 30 minutes of work on the tagine, followed by another half hour of movie watching, then the final kitchen work and the final bit of the movie. About 4 hours in total.

Regusci 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District

Regusci 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District

As I was choosing the wine, I thought about the Moroccan spices we’d be using, and not so much about what the meat would be. Moroccan food, which evolved because of its geographical/historical position in the world (on the Spice Route, Mediterranean Sea, Africa), typically uses bold flavors like cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, red chilies, and ginger. We needed something that could stand up to the spices, in both flavor and body, but not overwhelm them. Pinot Noir would likely be too subtle; Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah too big. A softer GSM (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah) blend would work, but then I found a great candidate in the cellar: 2006 Regusci Merlot, Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. Lori and I are pretty sure this was a gift from our friend Phil, so thank you Phil. (We ought to do better about cataloging our cellar, but there you go, other priorities.) It worked great, as anticipated, and was our mama bear wine: not too small and soft, not to big and bold, but just right.

Linda Wyner, the fearless leader of this class, has an interesting background. She’s a food anthropologist, lawyer, cook, teacher and founder of Pans on Fire. What the heck is a food anthropologist?

The Anthropology of Food is an analysis of food in culture. While the primary purpose for food is nutrition, it also has a cultural dimension by which people choose what they eat not only by flavor or nutritional value but by cultural, religious, historic, economic or social status, and environmental factors. From Archeolink.com.

Well, that makes sense, and sounds like fun. Maybe some food anthropologist will look at our blog in future years as a treasure trove of information. Not!

The last surprise here? I’ve now written about Merlot twice (here’s the first post) in a 2-week span.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Livermore Taste of Terroir

A couple weeks ago I went to the Thursday night kick-off four day event of the Livermore Taste of Terroir. It was held at Casa Real Winery in Livermore. My friend Marybeth and I arrived at 5:00 for the one-hour VIP tasting hour before the doors were open at 6:00 to those who bought tickets to the event. When we went into the large room there were 17 different stations set up with local wineries pairing their wines with either restaurants or caterers from the East Bay. There were mostly red wines there but a there were some white wines as well. We got a sheet with a list of the wineries and food establishments so we could keep our personal score.

We sampled 8 red wines and 4 white wines in the three hours we were there. It was challenging to take notes and eat and drink all at the same time. We were given a plate with a cup holder for the wine glass. Most of the dishes were user friendly and we were able to pick them up with our fingers, some we had to use a fork. The challenging part was holding onto my notes and pen which ended up getting stuffed under my arm. They had some tables that we could stand at so we could actually put our wine glass down, eat the food, sip the wine and write up our notes.

Some of our favorite pairings of the night were: Longevity Wines was serving a pink Pinot Grigio paired with 1300 on Fillmore’s bbq shrimp n’ creamy grits. We each gave it a 7+. We also liked Page Mill Winery 2013 Vintner’s Select Chardonnay paired with Handles Gastropub’s roasted zucchini, corn and jalapeno potato cake topped with chipotle aioli. I gave it a 6+. The Wente Vineyards 2012 The Nth Degree Syrah was paired with The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards bbq Wente Estate beef and Emigh Ranch lamb sausage sandwich with a smoked eggplant aioli, cilantro and syrah pickled onions. I gave it a 7. And our personal favorite was Wood Family Vineyards which served their 2012 Big Wood Zinfandel paired with First Street Alehouse Mole’ pulled pork tacos with chipotle lime slaw. I gave this a 9. This was hands down our favorite pairing. We voted for Wood Family for our favorite red and Longevity Wines as our favorite white.

When you arrived at the event you were given two corks. These corks were to be used to vote for your favorite white and red wine and food pairing of the night. Around 7:45 they announced the winners. The peoples choice awards went to Longevity Wines pairing with 1300 on Fillmore for the whites and to Wood Family Vineyards with First Street Alehouse for the reds. As for the judging awards, (the judges were Nicholas Boer, food editor, Diablo Magazine; Rocky Fino, chef and cookbook author; and Sara Schneider, wine editor, Sunset Magazine) the first place went to Vasco Urbano Wine Company for their 2012 GSM “The Sheriff” paired with the Zephyr Grill and Bar house cured lamb bacon BLT. Second place went to Cuda Ridge Wines 2012 Cabernet Franc served with Posada Restaurant braised boneless pork ribs simmered in a tomatillo-cilantro sauce topped with charred creama. Third place went to Garre Vineyards and Winery with their 2010 Profound Secret served with the Garre Cafe all natural short rib papa rellenas; tomato and olive braised beef short rib encased in buttermilk whipped potatoes, deep fried with panko crust and finished with a Profound Secret gastrique.

We met all sorts of nice people, and we had the opportunity to sit outside for a while and listen to the live music and just watch all the people enjoying the event. There was a silent auction going on and there was a separate dessert room with items such as cupcakes on a stick, chocolate dipped strawberries, fresh berries, brie and assorted cookies. There were four wineries in the room serving ports and sweet wines to go with the desserts. On the patio there were some wineries serving their wines and sparkling wines as well, just not paired with any food.

This was a very fun evening. I would highly recommend this event for next year, it’s a great way to sample some of the best wines of Livermore Valley and have some great food paired with it.

Cheers,

Lori

Le Bon Somm

I had an interesting dinner in London last week. I was there on business, as my real life company is based near Oxford, and we were hosting customers from Japan. There were 10 of us, a few of which had some wine drinking experience, but also a few novices.

Our CEO turned to me and asked me to order wine for dinner, letting everyone know, especially the VP from our Japanese customer, that I was a wine expert, even writing about wine. No pressure! I just have to order wine for 10 people that have a variety of tastes, a range of wine experience, and are undoubtedly ordering different meals. Of course, as we’re a very small company, I need also to be conscious of price.

Open the wine list, and start going through it. There are certain expectations and constraints going in. I’m expecting not to find any reasonably priced California wines, so I’m already a little out of my comfort zone. (In my experience, very little California wine is available in England.) I’m also not going to be getting a French Chardonnay (white Burgundy) or Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux), as these wines will not necessarily go with all the meals. So I’m looking for something fresh and crisp in a white wine, and something not too big in a red, but big enough to handle the lamb dish which is the special for the evening, and will probably be ordered by more than a few people at the table, including me.

After giving me a few minutes with the wine list, in steps the sommelier, asking me about what I’m looking for in wines, and he gets the information above from me. I had been looking at Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire region of France; he pointed out the best value on the list, but also recommended a Muscadet from the same area, with a similar flavor profile, and even a few pounds less expensive. I went with his suggestion, and was rewarded with a really nice bottle that everyone liked. (Muscadet has no relation to Muscat grapes typically used for sweet wines. Muscadet owes its name not to the region where it’s grown, or to the grape variety,, but instead seems to come from the slightly musky smell it can have.)

For the red, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted: a nice Rhone (Syrah-based wine). I had spotted one that I thought would do nicely. The somm suggested a different wine, saying that the one I had chosen might be a bit too big of a wine for everyone to enjoy, but his alternative, also from the Rhone (Cotes du Rhone area), was a GSM – Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah – blend and would be more likely to a crowd pleaser. Again, a few pounds less expensive per bottle.

coudoulet_de_beaucastel

The lamb special was delicious: lamb shoulder roast brought to the table on a cart and carved table-side. The red wine was 2009 Coudoulet de Beaucastel, owned and operated by the same family that owns/operates Chateau de Beaucastel, which is maybe the best, if not the best known, wine from Chateauneuf du Pape in the Southern Rhone. Coudoulet is “right across the street” (according to the sommelier) from Chateau de Beaucastel, and that street is the demarcation line for the Chateauneuf du Pape region. This wine contains Cinsault in addition to the GSM grapes, and similar to the Chateau de Beaucastel has a comparatively high Mourvèdre content.

This is exactly what the good sommelier should do: listen to his customers, understand their needs, and help choose great wines for the specific customer. Whether you know a lot or a little about wine, don’t hesitate to use the somm.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Mirabelle Tasting Menu Including Wine Pairing

While Lori and I were in the Santa Ynez Valley for the Wine Bloggers Conference, we took ourselves out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. My brother and his wife recommended the Mirabelle Inn Restaurant, in nearby Solvang, where they had eaten within the last year. With no other information to go on, and because our tastes are similar, we went with it. Great choice.

mirabelle_menu
Mirabelle Tasting Menu

It turns out that the Mirabelle has a tasting menu, including wine pairings. The menu for our meal is shown above, including the wine pairings, which we had. Photos of the individual dishes are below. Each dish and wine were great individually and paired together. It’s hard to say which would be my favorite. Maybe the ceviche, as I’ve long held that I could live on ceviche and margaritas and nothing else. But the duck was so good, not too sweet, and they gave us a spoon for the sauce. The lamb was cooked perfectly, and I didn’t care how fancy the restaurant was (maybe 8 on a 10 scale), I was going to gnaw on the bones. I’m not a real lover of white chocolate, nor of flan, but perhaps the best course was the dessert with the Muscat.

The Mirabelle dining room is quaint and small, with only about 12 tables. If you’re in the area, I’d highly recommend making a reservation at the Mirabelle for dinner.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Indian Food, Portuguese Wine

Just had brunch at the Wine Bloggers Conference, sponsored by the Wine of Portugal. They did a variety of pairings of Portuguese-influenced food — Portugal, India, Brazil, Japan — and Portuguese wine. My favorite was the pairing of Indian food with Portuguese white wine.

indian_egg_curry_potato

Specifically, the dish was called Mathunake Dudkiwale Aloo, which apparently means over easy egg served over a curry of potatoes, chick peas, onions and more. I had this with the Anselmo Mendes (that’s the winery/winemaker) 2013 Passaros Loureiro Vinho Verde. The food was rich, spicy, and wonderful, and the wine had the fruit and acid needed to cut through the flavors, and complement the flavors. A great pairing, and a great way to start off the day.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Movie and Wine with a Beer Chaser

Lori and I went and saw the movie “Chef” yesterday. Fun movie, and I’ll pass along the advice we received from everyone else: Don’t go hungry! The food in the movie looks great.

One interesting thing in the movie was the choice of wine. To set the scene, Dustin Hoffman is playing a restaurant owner, seemingly a relatively high end place. Oliver Platt is a reviewer, who has given the restaurant a lousy review, and is now back for a second review. Jon Favreau, who was the chef, has quit the restaurant after Dustin Hoffman made him cook the same old menu for the first review, instead of the innovate menu Favreau wants to cook. Dustin Hoffman offers the reviewer a glass of “2009 BV”, saying that this was a gift from the winery. I’m sure BV (Beaulieu Vineyards) paid for the product placement, but irrespective of which winery it was, a 2009 is a subtle choice. It’s a very good year for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines like BV, and while it should taste good now, it will taste better in a few years. If Hoffman was a really good restauranteur, and wanted to impress the reviewer, he should have better (more drinkable) wines to offer. But Hoffman is not that good, just thinks he is, and the choice of wines subtly reinforces the point made in the movie. Nothing against BV, as their Tapestry blend is one of my go-to wines (can’t go wrong if you choose this wine) on restaurant wine lists, just making the point that this was an unusually perceptive choice of prop for a movie.

eight_bridges_sampler

After the movie, which we saw at the Vine in Livermore (great theater), we headed back home. Except that on the way home we saw a sign for a brewery, and it was a hot day, and we were thirsty, and that was about all the excuse we needed to follow the signs. Eventually they led us to Eight Bridges Brewing in Livermore. Their brewery and tasting room is located in an industrial park near the airport in Livermore. We found a nice crowd inside, drinking beer and playing bar games. We joined in on the beer drinking, trying everything except the stout. Lori’s favorite was the Golden Nektar, a Bavarian style pilsner. While I enjoyed the Red and the IPA, my favorite was the Fyrst RIPA. As explained by George, behind the bar, this was originally supposed to be a Red. However, by the time they got their permits, they couldn’t get all the original ingredients, and when it was done it seemed a cross between a Red and an IPA. Thus “RIPA”. Seriously good, nicely balanced beer. I’ll be coming back for more. Try it out for a break from wine tasting.

lori_eight_bridges_beer
First the samples, then the empties.

L’Chaim,

Larry Lapides