also known as…

Woman on the Verge of a Glass of Wine

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mystic Rivers

Every now and then I hear from various people how much I need to taste this new wine or that new wine. Everyone knows how much I like the small, artisanal winemakers and they want to let me in on the latest secret. It actually seems like more and more of these boutique wineries are popping up on a daily basis. This is a great thing, of course, but there are so many of them that I feel like I'm getting behind, and sadly am no longer the first to carry these little gems on my lists.

One such winery is Rivers Marie. I've been hearing about this label for a while now, but just hadn't gotten the opportunity to taste it. When asked about it, people would give me that sad and slightly disparaging look of, "Where have YOU been?" Thankfully, I've been to Napa and was able to sit down with Nat Gunter at their offices in Saint Helena to taste through their latest releases. I can honestly say that I can see what all of the talk is about. These are some pretty delicious and luscious wines.

Rivers Marie is a wine project started by Thomas Rivers Brown and Genevieve Marie Welsh, Pinot lovers and winemakers. They started their business, much as Suzanne and I did, with the desire to make something to share with others and that truly reflects what they personally enjoy. They are making wine in the Occidental area of the Sonoma Coast AVA and are fortunate enough to be working with an outstanding vineyard source, the Summa Vineyard. Cool climate fruit which translates into elegant wine is the name of the game here.

I tasted through a few of their Pinot Noirs, and though they were all wonderfully seductive, I did have a favorite, the 2008 Summa Vineyards, Old Vines. This wine is an interesting study in contrasts. It shows a deep concentration of bright cherry, young fig and cedar-like spice notes followed by a cleansing acidity and earthiness that keeps it from being too fruity. It has a fairly lush quality to its texture, while also having a lightness of body. It definitely speaks of Sonoma with its spicy character, brightness and zip of orange-like fruit that runs throughout. I think the thing I like most about it is its acid and tannin structure, something that gives it great length and life.

Of course, this is also the most expensive of their Pinots, but I have to say, well worth the price. They truly make so little of each of these wines that it is next to impossible to get one's hands on any of them. And even though I'm trying to be conservative in these financially trying times, I decided that I just had to go for it. I bought a case for Lucques and know that those twelve bottles won't last very long. That's the beauty and the dilemma of these small production wines. Those few bottles sell out so quickly that you've gotta get them while they last.

Monday, March 29, 2010

More From Up North

I can't go to Napa and just write about one winery. It's impossible to go there, taste so much wine, and come away with only one wine to talk about. I can say that there is not enough time in the world for me up there. I want to visit so many wineries that I think I need two weeks to visit, not just two days. I didn't even scratch the surface of what is available to me there, and even missed out on visiting some people that I had planned to see. I did manage on this trip however to visit the winery that I consider to make the best Cabernet in Napa, Araujo Estate. I know that this is a tall order, and quite a statement considering the vast number of people making Cabernet there. And it's not that I don't absolutely love other Napa Cabs, but I really believe that their wine stands out from the rest.

As I was driving to Araujo, I had forgotten just how far North on the Silverado Trail it is. I had my sister Beth in the car with me and my sister Julie and her husband Rob following behind. After many many miles I started to think that I had passed it and had (yet again) gotten lost. Beads of sweat started to form on my forehead, and just as I got desperate and called the winery for directional help, I came upon the sign for their street. Thank God.

The Araujo compound is one that I would happily abandon all of my belongings and move to Napa for. It is just utter heaven there. Acres of gorgeous vineyards run side by side with deep olive groves and a rock walled creek. There is a gorgeous vegetable garden, chickens, a beautiful home, sturdy and handsome winery and of course a hauntingly lit cave that houses their aging barrels of wine and library. It is impressive without being lavish or gaudy. It feels very much a part of the surrounding landscape, rustic and charming, yet serious.

Bart and Daphne Araujo, one of the most elegant couples I have ever met, grow Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the other red Bordeaux varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and a small amount of both Syrah and Viognier on the property. They farm the vineyards biodynamically and really look at the property as a whole, making in addition to their wine, olive oil, honey and grappa. Because my sister and her husband make olive oil in France, Burges Smith of the Araujo Estate, took us on a walk directly to their olive groves, where we sat for some time taking in the scenic beauty and hearing about the history of the winery. He spoke at length about their farming techniques, biodynamics and the Araujo's meticulous attention to detail. We then walked back through the vineyards and gardens and past the most majestic crab apple tree I've seen, finally arriving at the winery building itself. And though the visual beauty both inside and out of the place was quite evident, I could tell that my relatives were totally unprepared for what they were about to taste.

Burges poured each of us a taste of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. My brother-in-law's eyes nearly jumped out of their sockets. This wine is so bright, so fresh, so balanced and basically so striking that it can take you by surprise. Fruit notes of bing cherry and ripe fig burst forth followed by aromatic flavors of cardamom, allspice and just a hint of chocolate. There are also delicate floral notes of lavender and roses that intermingle with intense mineral tones of pencil lead and tar. This is a luscious yet serious wine that has a mile long finish, defining acidity and silky texture. I've tasted this wine before, but I just can't get enough of it. The Syrah that we tasted was equally as astounding, and even harder to get one's hands on.

My brother immediately asked to be on their mailing list, and if he's lucky he'll get a bottle or two. As for me, any time I have the opportunity to just taste this wine, I'm there. You can keep your Screaming Eagle, your Colgin and your Bryant Family, just as long as I get to have my Araujo.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Just Need To Take a Napa

I've just returned from an all-too-short visit to the Napa Valley. My sister Julie was making it her last stop on a trip around the world that started in London. So, I decided to drag my other sister Beth up there with me for some rest, sisterly bonding and a good dose of wine tasting. And though trip ended up being a cluster of delayed flights, getting lost in transit, cancelled appointments and a bout of food poisoning, I did manage to taste some pretty incredible wine.

My first stop on the trip, after driving about 30 minutes in the wrong direction, was to Brown Estate. It's pretty amazing that this was my first visit with them when you consider that I was practically the first person to buy their wine in Los Angeles roughly 12 years ago.

The Brown's happen to be one of the nicest and most lovable families on the planet. They purchased their idyllic property in hills east of Rutherford in 1980 and planted it to Zinfandel, Cabernet and Chardonnay. They also fastidiously restored the original homestead and barn that were built on the property in the 1800's, and most recently built an amazing cave into their mountainside. It is a stunning, yet unassuming set-up that truly mirrors the family's personality of warmth, grace and modesty.

I have to say that I truly love all of the wines that they produce. Their Chardonnay is elegant and their Cabernet is formidable. But I always seem to return to the wine that I fell in love with 12 years ago, their Zinfandel.

Now, Zinfandel is normally the last wine that I would ever order for myself, as it is usually too fruity and jammy for my taste. But, Brown Zinfandel is another thing. It's laden with bright red cherry fruit, baking spices and hibiscus flower notes. It has many layers of flavors and components ranging from blackberry to tobacco and from chocolate to licorice. Yet all of these elements exist in a world of restraint and elegance. Whereas most Zinfandels go for power and excess, Brown Zinfandel pulls back on the reins and maintains its cool. And cool is the key to this wine. Their vineyards and winery are located at a higher elevation than much of the rest of Napa, allowing for the cool evening temperatures to maintain a high level of acidity in the fruit. This acidity is what allows this wine to stay racy and relatively lean.

I don't think that I have ever introduced this wine to anyone who hasn't truly loved it. In a fairly short amount of time, they have developed a cult following of their own. Everyone loves the Brown's. My sister Beth felt exactly the same way. After visiting their home and winery, we were both ready to move in and become a members of their family. It looks like we may need to get in line.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Red Very Good

We had our wine dinner with Evening Land Vineyards the other night at AOC and it was quite a night. Winery owner Mark Tarlov spoke throughout the meal about the wines, their philosophy and plans for the future. They have a lot that they are developing between vineyards they are planting in California, the wines that they are making in Oregon and the ones that they are making in France. I'm truly excited about all of this because I'm a big fan of this project, as well as the consulting winemaker Dominique Lafon.

Mark was very generous with his time and his wine that evening as he pulled out little surprises for our guests: a Pouilly-Fuissé here, a rosé there and even a Beaujolais. By the end, our guests had consumed far more wine than they had ever expected. It was at the culmination of the night that he served everyone a taste of his special baby, his RTB 7. This wine was developed under the advice of Lafon who instructed to him to set aside his favorite barrel of wine and bottle it for himself with the name RTB, which stands for "Rouge Très Bon," or in English, "Red Very Good." The wine has no front label to speak of, just the letters Rtb7 scribbled in white chalk ink on the front, like a barrel sample bottle that one would find in a winery's laboratory.

This wine was the hit of the night with its velvety texture and plummy fruit quality. This particular bottling was the 2007 Pinot Noir from the Occidental Vineyard in Sonoma. It was made by Sashi Moorman, who is the winemaker for the Sonoma and Santa Rita Hills parts of the Evening Land project, and definitely shows his signature. It has the concentration and ripeness that is so much a part of Moorman's Syrahs, but with the finesse and acidity that is the hallmark of Pinot. It was lush without being jammy, fleshy without being flabby. Everyone at the dinner could see why he saved this wine for himself with its seductive balance of fruit, texture and acidity.

Fortunately for those of us who don't live with Mark, and don't have access to the precious few cases of RTB, we have the 2007 Evening Land, Two Daughters Vineyard Pinot Noir. Much like the RTB, this is a wine of texture and richness. Dark plum and figgy fruit notes here are balanced with a fine acidity and spiciness that one expects from Sonoma Pinot. It is layered and complex, with exotic aromas and structured nuances that keep the wine in a flirty discourse on the palate. It is clearly a play of right brain versus left brain, apparently much like his two daughters for whom the vineyard is named. And although I'm normally more of a fan of his Oregon wines, it is pretty hard to deny both the seductive and intellectual qualities of this one.

I'm looking forward to more Evening Land dinners in the future and tasting all of the wines that they are making in France. They are definitely keeping things interesting, and proving time and again that red (is) very good.

Just Sit Back and Smell the Rias

I'm a white wine drinker. I admit it.

For some reason, drinking white wine became unfashionable in certain circles. A trend developed whereby people would look down on those of us who ordered a glass of white. Looks ranging from disdain to pity would be cast my way. "Poor thing," the red-only folk would think, "She's ordering white wine. I'll have a glass of Cab."

This whole idea is really insane when one considers that some of the world's greatest, and most expensive wines are actually white. This topic came up yesterday during my weekly wine tasting session with Tara at AOC. We were tasting wines, almost all of which were white, when we came upon one of the most aromatically impressive wines I have ever had. It was the 2007 Finca de Arantei, Rias Baixas.

Rias Baixas is located on the West coast of Spain and is most well-known for its white wines made from Albariño. Most of these wines are made by large cooperatives and are blended from various vineyard sights around the area, resulting in wines that are not all that exciting. Finca de Arantei is quite different in this respect as it is a single-vineyard, estate grown and bottled Albariño, grown in the sub-region of Condado de Tea, an area that basks is the Spanish sunshine.

The intoxicating aromatics in this wine virtually leapt out of the glass, so much so that I just couldn't tear my nose away from it. It was one of those wines that I didn't rush to actually taste because I was happy just to sit and smell it. On the nose, layers of exotic spice scents of cardamom and ginger mingled with bright apple tones and hints of tropical fruit. With each return to the glass, new aromas came into play. I smelled fully bloomed roses and honey, lemon verbena and slate-like minerals. On the palate, the complexity continued with notes of yellow peach and nectarine, creamy notes akin to white Rhone varieties and a lively acidity that kept the wine in balance.

This is probably the most exciting and exuberant Albariño I've tasted. I really wanted to keep the rest of the sample bottle that the vendor brought, but I was too shy to ask. I feel bad keeping a bottle of wine that the salesperson can show to another buyer. I'd hate to keep her from selling it to another account, even if I did want to buy it all for myself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Day Mick Unti Came to Town

I had a meeting today with a winemaker that I hadn't seen in eons, Mick Unti. He has a wonderful, family run winery in Dry Creek Valley whose wines I have carried at AOC and Lucques in the past. It's been quite a while since I've tasted or carried his wines. So, when he contacted me about meeting, I was intrigued. Where had he been all this time? And how are his wines?

We got to talking immediately about how long it had been since we'd connected last and he filled me in about Unti Vineyards. Apparently, he's been concentrating on family life for the past few years and focusing for quite a while on his mailing list clientele. As is the case with so many small businesses over the last year, he finds himself looking to market himself and his winery in new ways. For him, new is a return to the old, basically searching our those restaurants with whom he has lost contact and re-establishing those relationships. I'm personally thrilled that he looked me back up. I've always admired his winemaking and felt that his wines were a great fit for my lists.

Over the past couple of years, Mick has expanded his line-up from focusing solely on red Rhone varieties and is experimenting with some interesting grapes like Picpoul and Montepulciano from Italy, unusual choices for California. Additionally, he's been farming his vineyards biodynamically for the last four years which I really appreciate.

I tasted through four of his reds today and really adored his 2007 Grenache. What struck me about this wine was how un-Californian it was. It probably drank more like a Rhone wine than any other California red I've had. Much of this is, I'm sure, due to the fact that Mick has adopted traditional Rhone winemaking methods, like whole cluster fermentation and the use of indigenous yeasts, to give the wine a broader flavor profile, more structure and finesse.

He also shies away from the use of new oak. There is a tendency on the part of some winemakers to broaden the profile of Grenache grown in California by aging it in new oak. Sometimes I feel that by doing this, big gets piled onto big, resulting in mammoth wines that are too rich and jammy for my taste. Mick, on the other hand, ages his Grenache in large 600 gallon foudres, rather in small barrels, which results in wines that have less exposure to oxygen and that feel less of an impact from the oak itself. Even though he harvested the grapes for this wine at full ripeness, the wine has restraint, elegance and acidity.

Like Grenache from the Southern France, this wine shows rustic notes of game meat and a smoky earthiness in a background of bright, red fruits like cranberry and red currant. On the mid-palate bacon fat, tar and black pepper elements come in to play with touches of dark green herbs like rosemary and thyme. The wine has excellent acidity and elegant tannin structure that allows for a long and lively finish.

If I didn't know better, I would have thought I was drinking wine from Gigondas or Côtes du Rhône. If he is able to achieve this with Grenache in California, I can't wait to see what he can do with his Italian varieties. So few winemakers in California are able to do those wines justice. There may be hope for for us yet.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Riesling Down Under

We have one of our Larder Wine & Cheese nights coming up this Monday the 15th of March. The great thing about these evenings is the process of putting the menu together. Most of the time, the preparation for an event is the least pleasurable part, with all of the administration, organization and stress. But with our Larder Mondays, the opposite holds true.

A few days before the actual evening, I sit down with my business partner Suzanne and our Larder Sous-Chef, Melody and we taste the four wines that I've chosen for the night. We taste each wine on its own and then go through the line-up again, tasting along side an array of cheeses and cured meats in an effort to figure out what works. By the end of our "sessions" we look like a group of hedonistic ladies who lunch with empty wine glasses and scraps and blobs of luscious cheeses scattered around us. This is literally my favorite part of my week as it doesn't feel like work at all, and yet it's so educational.

The evening that we have planned for March 15th is a sampling of Australian wines, both white and red. I always get a bit nervous when I open these wines for Melody and Suzanne as I worry that the wines won't be as good as I remember them to be. I breathe a sigh of relief when the wines show well, thankful that maybe I do know what I'm doing.

Today's sigh of relief: the 2008 Glen Eldon Riesling from Eden Valley, Australia. Riesling from Australia can be a sketchy thing. Such a hot climate can produce a flabby, sweet wine that is all sugar and honeysuckle and none of the mineral and acid that riesling can be. This wine is the shining exception. The aromas in this wine are much like an Alsatian or Austrian wine with characteristic tar and diesel on the nose, along with touches of white flowers and lemon. On the palate, tart apple and passionfruit dominate with hints of savory herbs and the continuation of that tarry element throughout. The Australia in this wine comes out in its generally assertive nature. This is not a delicate wine, though it's not a bulldozer either. It's a beautiful and balanced wine that can be paired with a multitude of foods. Red Square, a creamy, meaty cheese from Australia tasted wonderful with this wine, matching the wine's intensity and playing off of its earthy savoriness.

The rest of the night's wines are equally as impressive as they show that wines from Australia can be surprisingly diverse and elegant. Of course, I'm already looking forward to next week's tasting session and am thinking we should make this wine and cheese thing a daily activity.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Could Make This a Habit

It's funny how we sometimes discover things when we least expect them. We had our Pisoni Vineyards wine dinner at Tavern last evening. The dinner was a huge success, which is not surprising considering the caliber of wines being made by Gary Pisoni. My surprise came, however, even before the dinner began.

You see, Jeff Fischer one of my all time favorite restaurant investors brought me a taste of his latest endeavor, his small-production wine project called Habit. This is as boutique as you can get with a fifty case production, made by a novice winemaker with passion to spend countless hours making such a small amount of wine and applying each bottle's intensely detailed label by hand.

Under the tutelage of winemaker Doug Margerum, Fischer bought a tiny amount of fruit from a few different vineyards in Santa Ynez, fermented and aged it in stainless steel. The interesting thing is that he achieved a softness and delicacy not typical of sauvignon blanc aged in steel. Whereas many winemakers employ the use of oak to soften this grape variety, Fischer accomplished this without the oak and successfully avoided the cloying and sweetening effect that the oak can impart on the wine.

From the moment I smelled the wine, I was hooked. The catch word for this wine is restraint. On its nose, savory dill and tarragon blend with aromas of citrus and passionfruit. All of the typical sauvignon blanc notes are present, but in such an unusually quiet way. The scents in the glass tease and tempt, rather than knock you down as so many other sauvignon blancs do. The palate reflects the same elegance with crisp citrus and tropical notes and delicate, clean acidity.

I know a lot of people that don't particularly like sauvignon blanc, mainly because of its aggressive, sharp nature. Only in the form of an older white Bordeaux does the wine hold appeal to them. This is a young California wine that will change their minds. Its balance and minerality makes the wine drink much more like a white Burgundy than anything else. Even Suzanne, my business partner (exactly the sauvignon blanc hater that I refer to) loved this wine and took a bottle home to drink with her husband.

Fischer set out to make a wine that he would like to drink himself. I always think that this is the best strategy for any project. Follow your heart, and those of like mind will join you. I know that I could drink this wine all day long. I think this wine really could become addictive.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Go Ask Alice

I've never been a huge fan of Prosecco. This may not be something that a sommelier should admit, but it's the truth. Prosecco is usually too sweet and flowery for me, and not nearly as rich and weighty as Champagne, a beverage that I could literally drink every day. Whenever I'm given a glass of Prosecco, all I can think of is how I would rather be drinking Champagne.

I am happy to say, however that my new friend Alice has shown me the light. Le Vigne di Alice is a woman-owned and operated property that is making some pretty spectacular wines. Cinzia Canzia, the winery's owner along with winemaker Pier Francesca Bonicelli are focused on the details, working diligently in the vineyards as well as the winery. Their Proseccos are elegant and dry, as they work to emphasize the acidity of the wine over its sweetness.

Not surprisingly, my favorite of all of their wines is the "Extra-dry" Prosecco di Coneglaino and Valdobbiadene, which comes from the two most well-known areas of the region. It is clean and bright, and drinks more like a blanc de blancs Champagne, a selling point in my book. Notes of ripe pear and Pippin apple dominate, with touches of acacia flower and apricots. It has a hint of yeastiness, fine bubbles and vibrant acidity that keeps it fresh on the palate.

Of course, the beauty of Prosecco, particularly for a Champagne lover, is its affordability. At about $50 per bottle on the wine list, Le Vigne di Alice could trick you into thinking that you are drinking more richly than you are. In Alice's wonderland, you might actually think the recession is over.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Oscar Buzz

I decided that since I wasn't doing anything more glamorous tonight than sitting in front of the television and watching the Academy Awards, that I would drink something glamorous instead. Tonight's winner is the 2003 Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Meursault, 1er Cru, Charmes.

Domaine des Comtes Lafon is one of the greatest Meursault producers of all time. Although the estate has been in existence for over a century, it was not until the 1950's that anyone in the family took an active interest in producing high quality wine. During that time, René Lafon extensively replanted many of the vineyards and changed the focus of the domaine to bottling a higher percentage of wine under its own label, rather than selling it to negociants. In 1984, René's son Dominique took over the estate and has been managing it solely ever since. The domaine covers almost 14 hectares of vineyards in 13 different appellations, the majority of which are in Meursault. They farm their vineyards biodynamically, harvest the grapes manually and allow their white wines age for up to 22 months in barrel.

This wine is pretty incredible and I must say very appropriate for the occasion. First off, the color of this wine is a deep golden yellow, somewhere between the color of Sandra Bullock's dress and the Oscar itself. On the nose, an intoxicating blend of honey, fully blossomed roses and sandalwood aromas fill my glass. And about the palate, all I can say is WOW. This is one seriously concentrated wine, which is no surprise considering the unusually hot vintage that was 2003. In the hands of some winemakers, this could have resulted in a flabby, flat wine, but in the hands of Lafon all is well. Notes of ripe pear and meyer lemon are complemented by ginger, cardamom and exotic spices. Along with the exotic, full-bodied personality that embodies this wine are a vibrant minerality, bracing acidity and a finish that lasts about as long as the Oscar telecast.

We have a few more bottles of this at Lucques and after tasting it I'm considering buying them for myself.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Pisoni Wine Dinner at Tavern

'Tis the season for wine dinners, apparently. In addition to the dinner that we are having for Evening Land Vineyards at AOC on Wednesday, March 17th, we are also thrilled about our upcoming dinner for Pisoni Vineyards on Wednesday, March 10th at Tavern.

Pisoni Vineyards is legendary. You know the story: the vineyard's owner, Gary Pisoni smuggled cuttings from Burgundy's famed La Tache vineyard back into America and used the rootstock to start his own vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands region of California. This vineyard and others spawned from it are the reason that the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA has become so well respected. That and the fact that the wines are delicious. The Pisoni style of winemaking is that of balancing power and grace, a result of their attention to detail in the vineyards, their ideal location and sustainable farming practices...something that I really commend.

The dinner will feature a menu created by none other than Suzanne Goin and was inspired by each of the winery's rich and complex wines. The selections that we will be pouring are as follows:

2009 Lucy, Rosé
2007 Lucia, Chardonnay
2007 Lucia, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands
2008 Lucia, Pinot Noir, Gary's Vineyard
2007 Pisoni, Pinot Noir, Pisoni Vineyard
2007 Lucia, Syrah, Gary's Vineyard

It is a stellar line up and the menu will not disappoint. The evening is also a deal at only $100 per person plus tax and gratuity for the four-course dinner and wine pairing. The much admired Gary Pisoni will be on hand to talk about the wines, answer questions, and just basically be there for everybody.

Call Tavern at 310.806.6464 to book a table.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Upcoming Wine Dinner at AOC

Evening Land Vineyards Dinner


8022 West Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

7:00 p.m.

Four-Course Dinner, $100 per person

AOC is proud to announce our upcoming dinner featuring the wines of Evening Land Vineyards. Evening Land is the dream wine project, a meeting of some superstar minds of the wine world who are focused on making some of the best pinot noir and chardonnay on the west coast. Passionate wine lover and businessman, Mark Tarlov put this team together and purchased some acclaimed properties, Seven Spring Vineyard in Oregon, Occidental Vineyard in Sonoma and Odyssey Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills. He brought on Dominique Lafon of the famed Domaine des Comtes Lafon estate in Meursault to consult along with winemakers Isabelle Mugnier of Burgundy and Sashi Moorman of Stolpman Vineyards and Red Car Wine Company in California. Needless to say, the wines are spectacular and are raising the bar for elegance in winemaking.

Evening Land was named in Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Wineries of 2009, while its 2007 Seven Springs Pinot Noir was included in the 100 Top Wines of 2009.

Winery owner Mark Tarlov will be on hand to discuss the wines and lead us through our four-course dinner and wine pairing.

To reserve, please call AOC at 323.653.6259.

I feel like a Pigato.

Bring me your strange, your rare, your unusual wine. I will find a place for it at AOC. This is basically the criteria for wine vendors to follow when presenting wines to me for the list at AOC. Tara Gano helps me buy wine for the list there, and we always look forward to seeing what new treats people will have for us each week. It's actually incredibly fun to be able to taste wines that are off of the radar for most traditional restaurants and makes the whole process that much more interesting and educational.

Today's unusual little sip was the 2007 Claudio Vio, Pigato, Riviera Ligure di Ponente. Pigato is a white grape variety grown mainly in the coastal northwestern Italian region of Liguria. Pigato is akin to Vermentino in its high-toned, floral aromatics and light body. The Claudio Vio Pigato however, is like no other Vermentino I've ever tasted. Claudio Vio hand harvests his miniscule amount of Pigato from vines planted on extremely steep hillsides, ferments it and ages it in stainless steel. He farms his two hectares sustainably and bottles a mere 100 cases of the wine annually.

What is unusual about this wine is that it barely resembles Vermentino at all. Rather than being overwhelmingly floral and light, this wine indulges the palate much more deeply. On the nose, soapy lavender and honey mix with hints of pepper and savory green herbs. On the palate is another dimension completely. Salty mineral notes intermingle with aromatic baking spices of cardamom and cinnamon in a sea of incredibly oiliness and rich texture. Though the wine is perfumed and weighty, it maintains an elegant acidity that keeps it tight and balanced. I lingered on this wine for a while, tasting it over and over making notes about how crazy and odd this wine was, and how much I liked it.

The vendor was kind enough to leave the rest of the sample bottle with us and I've been counting the hours until I can indulge myself in a whole glass of the stuff. I'm going to sit down with a plate of salty Italian cheeses and Pigato out.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Kids Are Alright

I had a brief tasting today at Tavern with the rep from the French wine import company, Robert Kacher Selections. No matter how great a rep's portfolio is, I often dread having these wine tasting appointments. This may sound crazy because, let's face it, being paid to taste wine is not a bad thing. My problem is that I don't always like what they bring me and I feel bad not ordering anything after tasting through many hundreds of dollars worth of wine samples. I know intellectually that this is all part of the deal for them, but I still just feel bad about it. So of course, going in to this tasting, I felt this same sense of dread coming on. What would I do if I didn't like the wines? What would I say? What if I don't order anything from him? Fortunately enough, I didn't need to answer those questions today.

One after another, all of the wines I tasted were right up my alley. The standout was the 2008 Mas Carlot, Costières de Nimes, "Les Enfants Terrible" made from 50% Mourvedre and 50% Syrah. Mas Carlot is made by Nathalie Blanc-Mares whose husband happens to make wine at the neighboring Mas des Bressades, making the area a real family affair. The name of this wine has as much to do with their gaggle of crazy children as it does her hectares of low-yielding, old vines, all of which seem to need taming. I'm not sure what she does with her children, but in terms of the vines, she does this through harvesting late for maximum ripeness and by aging the wine in barrel for a year or more.

What I love about this wine is how its aromas and palate of deep blueberries and black fruits are contained by the wine's architectural tannins. Notes of ripe, plummy fruit and roasted meat mingle with hints of baking spices and cocoa making for a wine of great complexity and balance. While this is definitely an intense, concentrated wine, it remains elegant nonetheless. This is a wine that will appeal to the fruit lover and tannin junkie alike.

Even better though, is its incredibly reasonable price, about $30 on the wine list at Lucques. Not so terrible.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Rayas of Light

Just wrapped up Tavern's Larder Wine & Cheese Club which resumed again after a brief hiatus. We had a great turn-out and a really lovely group of guests. My belief in the west side's interest in wines beyond oaky chardonnay has been reinvigorated, thank the lord! I was beginning to get worried.

The entire room seemed to really enjoy the format of the evening as well as the pairings that we put together. I know I'm not alone when I say that my favorite wine of the night was the 2003 Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône. It was a real stand-out, mainly because it is such a far cry from any other Southern Rhône wine. Fonsalette is made by the legendary Château Rayas, known for producing what is probably the most elegant Châteauneuf-du-Pape around. Rayas drinks much more like a Burgundy than anything else, which is probable why I like it so much. Somehow, Grenache from this estate becomes bright, high-toned, lean and elegant, a far cry from the dark, blueberry laden wines normally made in this region. I was immediately struck by its seductive aromas of eucalyptus, cranberry and game which carried over to a palate of smoky, roasted meats blended with kirsch. Throughout, the wine's acidity kept it bright, lean and racy. It was the perfect accompaniment to our roasted root vegetables and a Midnight Moon goat cheese from Cyrus Grove.

I love the stories of Jacques Reynaud, Rayas' winemaker who passed away in 1997. He was apparently quite a character and an incredibly private person who would go so far as to avoid his appointments by hiding in the ditches along his rutted driveway. I can just imagine this elegant man, lying in the dirt hoping that no one would see him, all the while trying to avoid being run over. Of course, I might do the very same thing if it meant that I got to keep all of that wine for myself!