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Woman on the Verge of a Glass of Wine

Friday, April 30, 2010

An Education

The windy weather we've been experiencing in LA has me a little off balance, and a bit freaked out really. I'm always a bit jumpy when it's like this. Every time the wind shakes the windows in my house, or rattles the retractable patio roof at Lucques, I feel my heart jump and my body stiffen. It's not that I have a fear of the roof blowing off, but there is just something about a windy night that puts me on edge. Frankly, it's the kind of weather that drives me to drink.

To calm my nerves on this blustery evening, I decided to drink a glass of the 2008 Elio Grasso Langhe Chardonnay, Educato. I've had this sample bottle for a couple of weeks now but just didn't have the opportunity to taste it until right now. I tend to like Chardonnays from Italy, as they usually have less fruitiness and higher acidity than that of new world regions. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against domestic Chardonnay. I just prefer the ones that shy away from the oak and butter profile.

I was actually pretty excited to taste this wine as I've been a long time fan of Elio Grasso's reds. The Grasso's have been in the region for generations, but it wasn't until the early 1980's that the family decided to revisit their roots as grape growers in the highly-regarded Monforte d'Alba region of Piemonte. Their main wine production centers around the traditional varieties of the area, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. In 1986, they added a small plot of the non-native Chardonnay in order to coax, or as they call it, "educate" their area's terroir into and out of the variety. They are meticulous in the vineyards and in the cellar, vinifying and bottling each variety from each vineyard separately. For the Chardonnay, they initially ferment in French oak barrique. Then, after malolactic fermentation in stainless steel, they move the wine into new French oak for seven months of aging.

This is not a bright, fresh light wine, but is rather more serious than that. It reminds me quite a bit of a Burgundy with some bottle age on it, where the fruit has matured and the oak softened, giving way to a wine of elegance and developed maturity. It has a deep and exotic nose of freshly grated ginger and ripe pineapple. On the palate, it shows notes of yellow nectarine and golden raisin mingled with a rich nuttiness and a balancing acidity that leads to a long finish. It has an oily texture and weightiness that highlight it's perfume of drying rose petals. Much like the Grasso Nebbiolo, it has a beautiful minerality running through it that is no doubt responsible for its elegance and complexity.

I've actually had a few glasses of this wine over the last few days and each time I taste it, my feeling about it is confirmed. I'm getting ready to open the second sample bottle that I have, just to reconfirm. If this is the education that the Grasso's are giving, then enroll me in more classes.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Window of Opportunity

We are in the midst of planning another winemaker dinner at AOC, this time with La Fenêtre, a boutique winery from California's Central Coast. I've had a couple of opportunities to taste through the line-up that we'll be pouring and I must say, I'm really excited for this one.

La Fenêtre (the window in French) is a label that was started by Sona's former sommelier Joshua Klapper back in 2005 as a negotiant project. He doesn't own his own vineyards, but instead buys grapes from others and then makes the wine himself. Of course, these aren't just any grapes he's buying. He's buying grapes from some of the area's most respected vineyard sites and from some pretty exacting growers, like Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria and Alisos Vineyard in Santa Barbara. And his mentors through this process are not just anyone. He's been guided down his winemaking path by the incredibly successful Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Bob Lindquist of Qupé. Josh's goal is to make elegant, balanced and food-friendly wines that are old world in style and new world in technique. He ages his wines in neutral oak barrels and shoots for low alcohol levels and high acidity. After tasting through these wines, it's evident that he is doing what he set out to do.

It's hard to say which of these wines excites me the most. I love his 2008 A Côté Santa Barbara County Chardonnay for it's bright citrus notes and salty minerality. The 2008 A Côté Central Coast Pinot Noir tastes like true Pinot with its lean elegance and notes of cola and cherry. And his 2008 A Côté Syrah is high-toned, bright and complex, not jammy and fruity like most other Syrahs from Santa Barbara. All of the wines have a silkiness and acidity that speak to the La Fenêtre old-world sensibility, but with a delicate fruitiness that is unmistakably from California.

Josh is a really lovely guy who never seems to get tired of the wine business or of developing himself as a winemaker. He's come a really long way in a brief amount of time, having started out making his wines at Au Bon Climat and setting out on his own after only a few short years. It is not uncommon for a sommelier to want to make wine for him (or her) self. But very few of them actually succeed on this kind of level, wherein they actually make the complete move to winemaking full time and turn the idea into a viable business. It is a huge accomplishment that is really quite inspiring.

The dinner at AOC will take place on Monday, May 10th and will feature the La Fenêtre Alisos Vineyard Syrah, as well as the three above mentioned wines from his A Côté label and his Cabernet Sauvignon. I should mention that A Côté is a secondary label that Klapper began a couple of years after he began making La Fenêtre. These wines are equally as elegant and well made as his La Fenêtre wines, but are at a slighly lower price point, something that is much appreciated in these financially trying times. The dinner will consist of five courses and will cost $100, not including tax or gratuity. Call AOC at 323/653.6359 to book at table and join us.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Sparkling Personality

My husband Michael and I always giggle about our friend Kate because the only wine that she ever drinks is Champagne. Nothing but the best French sparking will do for her. It's kind of funny because she is not normally the kind of person who is so rigid and frankly, so bling. The more I think about it though, the more I think she's on to something. Even though Champagne is usually reserved for the cocktail hour, it is a very versatile wine that can be consumed throughout an entire meal. And, let's face it, it's nice to drink something that inspires such feelings of festivity and celebration. I suppose that if I truly had the option, I could drink Champagne every day of my life. What's so wrong about it, really?

Fortunately for me, the Champagne gods were smiling down upon me last night at Lucques when a bevy of wine vendors happened to dine there and bring me samples of some amazing sparkling wines. There was the gorgeous and rare Dom Ruinart vintage 1998 and a really interesting sparking Saumur from the Loire Valley made from 100% Cabernet Franc. The highlight to me though, was a Champagne that I had never heard of before last night called Dosnon & Lepage.

Davy Dosnon and Simon-Charles Lepage, I was told, were childhood friends who after inheriting a couple of hectares of vineyards in Champagne, decided to set out to create a new Champagne house, one that approaches Champagne from a new direction. They farm their land, as well as an additional five hectares, biodynamically, manually harvest and press the wines in traditional wood pressers. They also bottle only single-varietal wines. This is the most significant difference from the traditional type of Champagne house whose goal year in and year out is to create a consistent brand or "style" that is normally a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Dosnon and Lepage instead want to emphasize the essence of the grapes themselves and their special location in Avirey-Lingey, part of a unique region called La Côte des Bar, an area dominated by rolling hills of limestone.

The wine that I tasted last night was a blanc de noirs (made from 100% Pinot Noir) which just blew me away. Out of the gate, this wine drinks like a blanc de blancs or Meursault with its racy, high acid brightness and clean elegance. Thanks to their vineyards' Chablis-like soils, this sparkling is a study in minerals with its salty, nuttiness, vibrance and texture. It has a meaty richness in the mid-palate that is the hallmark of the Pinot, and that gives it a heft and muscle that is usually lacking in Champagne made solely from Chardonnnay.

Dosnon & Lepage are also quite concerned about their impact on the environment and are not only focusing their efforts on sustainable farming practices, but are also reaching beyond Champagne. They are a member of "One Percent for the Planet," an organization of businesses that give 1% of their revenues to improve the environmental health of the planet through support of initiatives around the world. They also support animal related causes like Peuple Loup (Wolf People) a group that studies wolves in Canada in an effort to save the species and work toward its survival along side human civilization.

It's hard not to fall for this winery. The wines are spectacular and their ideals are commendable. I'm going to start pouring this Champagne by the glass at Lucques because I can't resist supporting something so worthwhile and so delicious. And for that matter, I'm going to support the idea of drinking Champagne more regularly. It may not be the only wine that I will consume, but I don't mind making the effort to drink more of it. I'm sure Kate would approve.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Le Moulin Rosé

Thursday is the day when I often hear myself saying, "I feel a blog coming on!" This is because Thursdays are my wine tasting days, when Tara and I meet with some of our wine vendors to taste their latest releases. This is the day when I find that little jewel of a wine that I want to get on the wine list immediately and rattle on about in my blog. Fortunately for me, spring is here and that means that rosé wines are making their way state side.

I've always been a huge lover of rosé wines. I keep plenty of rosé on hand at my home and during the late spring and summer months, I can have up to five rosés by the glass at AOC. After a long time in which very few people were making rosé well, we are finally at a wonderful rosé moment when it's becoming much easier to find good wine at a variety of price points from around the world. And although there are a few Italian, American and Spanish rosés that I really like, I will say that I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to this and tend to like rosé from the South of France more than most other areas. Domaine Tempier and Domaine de Fontsainte are two labels that come to mind as almost always being on my wine lists throughout the entire year.

This last Thursday I had the pleasure of tasting a rosé from one of my favorite southern French producers, Mas de Daumas Gassac. This winery was founded by Veronique and Aimé Guibert in 1970 while they were searching for a family home. The property which was originally owned by the Daumas family was in the heart of a beautiful, untouched valley though which the Gassac River flows. The Guiberts actually had no experience whatsoever in grape growing, but were advised by professionals that their property with its underground springs and moist location near mountains, was much like that of Medoc. Naturally, they planted Cabernet Sauvignon, among other Southern french varieties, and with the help of Professor Emile Peynaud, a renowned oenologue and advisor to Chateau Margaux, Haut Brion, Le Mission Haut Brion and others, they began to make wine. They bottled their first white in 1986 and have since gained an immense amount of respect and recognition for their outstanding quality. They are definitely not a household name, as they produce a relatively small amount of wine, but they should be.

This rosé is bottled under their second label, Moulin de Gassac and is made from a blend of 55% Syrah and 45% Grenache from 20 year-old vines. The grapes were 100% destemmed, bled after 10 to 12 hours of maceration and fermented and aged for 5 to 6 months in stainless steel tank. The wine shows rich yellow peach and candied nectarine aromas with notes of fresh strawberry and plumy stone fruits on the palate. This is a lean, racy wine that blends high acidity and freshness with a delicate floral perfume and exotic quality. It is clean and bright while also being complex and rich.

When I tasted this wine, I immediately described it as one of my "Saint Tropez wines" that remind me of the summer that I spent in Saint Tropez with my husband Michael and my business partner Suzanne. We were all there together for two weeks of much needed rest and relaxation after our first year of business at Lucques. For each day of that vacation, we ate just about every lunch at the same little beach cafe. And each time, we would order the exact same thing, steak tartare, french fries and a bottle of bright, fresh, aromatic rosé. There is a saltiness in the Moulin de Gassac that recalls the sea air at that French beach.

Oh how I miss that summer. And lord knows when I'll be able to experience that again. In the meantime at least, I can close my eyes and take a sip of Le Moulin de Gassac rosé and be transported there in my mind if not in my body.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Artadi in the Larder

Once again, today is the first Monday of the month and we will be holding one of our Larder Wine and Cheese Club evenings at Tavern tonight. I love these nights because we get to introduce people to new wines and food pairings, and get to have a bit more interaction with our guests than we normally do. I and Melody, our Larder Sous-Chef, get up and speak to the group about the wines and the foods that we are featuring and we answer questions and mingle. It's a nice change of pace from the normal dinner service and we really enjoy mixing things up a little bit for ourselves.

Tonight we are featuring the wines of Bodegas Artadi in Rioja. I've always been a big fan of these wines for their concentration and elegance. These wines always speak of their region and are classic and well-made. Artadi was started by Juan Carlos Lopez de la Calle (say that three times fast) who set out in the mid 1980's to make great wines from Tempranillo grown in high altitudes from low-cropped, old vines. He uses only French oak, and really takes advantage of his location, an area with high levels of limestone in the soils. His wines are never over blown, have a beautiful mineral aspect to them and don't have the biting oak quality of other Riojas made with American oak.

My favorite of the four that we will be pouring is the 2005 Viñas de Gain, Rioja Blanco. This wine is made from 100% old-vine Viura, also known as Macabeo, a variety grown in Spain and France. I actually really like Viura, though it is widely used in the production of Cava, a wine that I don't normally enjoy. The Viura for this wine is grown in some of the highest elevation vineyards in the Alavesa area outside of Laguardia. This high altitude location and colder climate helps to enhance the acidity in this wine, allowing the Viura to really sing. The wine shows aromas of over-ripe pear, diesel and tar. On the palate, there is a tart brightness of lemon and honey backed by a salty minerality. This is not a particularly fruity wine, but I think that's why it is so drinkable.

We're pouring this wine along side tapas that will work perfectly with it, as this is a great wine for enjoying with these salty snacks. Its tartness and high level of acidity really play well off of the bright notes in Spanish olives and anchovies. This is one of those wines that I want to buy cases and cases of to have at home. Alas, this is yet again one of those small production wines that won't be around for long. They only made 300 cases of it, which means that only a small fraction of the wine will even make its way to California.

I think I'm on a mission to personally have it all to myself. We're pouring it by the glass at AOC and will start doing so at Tavern as well. I'm normally not the selfish type, but I just can't help myself. If anyone wants to get some before it's gone, you know where to find it.