Spending the Day With the Rhone Rangers

by Don Sonderling – August 13, 2016

The Rhone Rangers Tour Comes to Los Angeles

Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting 2016

With a flourish The Rhone Rangers rode into town on Saturday, August 6th hosting a grand tasting event at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.  The day’s program started in the morning with a winemaker seminar (Red & White Rhone Blends), followed by a winemaker luncheon, giving attendees the opportunity to chat with winemakers while tasting a variety of rosé and white wines produced from Rhone varietals.  The Grand Tasting followed in the afternoon.  Over 40 California Rhone wine producers poured a diverse assortment of wines for a thirsty, enthusiastic crowd of about 600 Rhone wine devotees.

This  event offers wine enthusiasts the chance to sample wines from small, boutique wineries, to familiarize themselves with different styles, blends and individual varietals, and in many cases, talk with the winemakers themselves.

Jason DiFrancesco, owner/winemaker of LEVERAGE Wines, from Paso Robles, was especially excited to present his initial release of Rhone wines, which included a rosé, a Grenache/Syrah blend (Acceleration) and a GSM (Trajectory).  About the event Jason commented, “Events like the Rhone Rangers afford new boutique brands like mine to have personal interaction with those enjoying our wines.  For now, that’s our best way to have Rhone style Paso wine enthusiasts try these limited production wines.  Folks in Paso, Orange County, and Phoenix can visit our website and request a tasting appointment at our partner wine locations until we hopefully grow into a tasting room in the future”.

Rhone Rangers-Four Brix Winery
Four Brix Winery from Ventura California poured five different wines, including a 2011 Rhondezvous-Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre and 2012 Rhondezvous-Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre/Counoise, both from Paso Robles, giving the taster an opportunity to compare two similar, but slightly different and most interesting wines.

 

The Santa Barbara region was well represented by such standouts as Larner Vineyard and Winery (with the affable Michael Larner pouring), Beckman Vineyards, Andrew Murray Vineyards, Kaena Wine Company, and several others.

Sculpterra Winery at Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting 2016

Paso Robles, well recognized for their Rhones, was represented by wineries such as Sculpterra Winery, Epoch (pouring their always standout Block B Syrah), Calcareous, Derby Wine Estates, Pomar Junction, Cass, Villa Creek and more than a dozen others.

Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting 2016

Not to be left out, the Northern part of the state was represented by wineries such as Bonny Doon, Chacewater, Kale Wines and Ridge Vineyards, to name but a few.

Bringing together such a varied assortment of wineries in one location provides the opportunity to taste and compare wines made from the same grapes, but from a variety of geographic “terroirs”, and experience and evaluate their differences or similarities.   In addition to contrasting how terroir and weather influences the flavor characteristics of the varietal, perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of a varietal specific tasting is the opportunity to try varieties of (Rhone) grapes that are uncommon.  The Rhone varietal family consists of 22 grapes, and tasters at the event were able to sample lesser known varieties such as Picpoul, Ugni Blanc, Cinsault and Counoise.

For this writer, personally, perhaps one of the most exciting parts of attending events like this is the opportunity to re-visit wineries I haven’t been able to get to for several years.  Suddenly you take a sip and say to yourself:  OH My!  I’ve got to get back up there!  Many of us (myself included) get in the habit of visiting comfortable favorites and old friends, so attending the Rhone Rangers and similar tasting events helps to break you out of your comfort level, and expose you to entirely new and exciting wine encounters.

For more information on the Rhone Rangers, what they do, and upcoming events, visit their website

Cheers – hope to see YOU at a Rhone Rangers event soon.

I’ll Drink to That!

The Rhone Rangers Ride into Los Angeles

reported by Xochitl Maiman

Rhone Rangers – American Rhone wines take center stage at the Skirball Cultural Center – Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Rhone Rangerswine tasting Los Angeles Rhone Rangers are a group of 150 wineries dedicated to making wines from the 22 grape varieties originally made famous in France’s Rhone Valley. These varieties range from the better-known Syrah and Viognier to the lesser known Grenache, Mourvèdre and Roussanne, to the more obscure, but equally intriguing grapes like Counoise and Picpoul.

This summer The Rhone Rangers will hold their Grand Tasting  as part of a full day of events, including a seminar, luncheon and silent auction featuring rare and unique wine and lifestyle lots. The seminar, moderated by Wine & Spirits writer Patrick Comiskey, will focus on Rhone blends and a panel of winemakers will weigh in on the art of blending Rhone wine varietals.

Participants include:
Kale Wines – Kale Anderson, owner/winemaker
Larner Vineyard – Michael Larner, winemaker/general manager
Qupé – Bob Lindquist, owner/winemaker
Ridge Vineyards – David Gates, vice president of vineyard operations
Tablas Creek Vineyard – Jason Haas, partner/general manager
Tercero Wines – Larry Schaffer, owner/winemaker
Two Shepherds – William Allen, owner/winemaker

The winemaker luncheon will showcase a variety of rosé and white wines paired with a sumptuous buffet served on the patio overlooking the beautifully landscaped Skirball grounds.

The event continues with the grand tasting and will feature over 40 wineries. This walk around tasting will provide the unique opportunity to meet the winemakers and winery owners and begin to understand their passion for making wines with Rhone varietals. New this year in the grand tasting is a VIP lounge with seating, food and specially selected wines to sample.

 
Ticket Options
Saturday Pass: Winemaker seminar, luncheon and VIP grand tasting – $150
VIP Pass: Early admission to the grand tasting and the VIP area – $85
Grand tasting: General Admission to the grand tasting. 2:30 – 5:30pm – $65
All Los Angeles events are taking place at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 North Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90049. Parking is complimentary.

Tickets are available online.

Look to your favorite Rhone producing winery for ticket promotions.

At the time of this posting the following wineries were scheduled to pour:

Adelaida Cellars – Andrew Murray Vineyard – Beckmen Vineyards – Bernat – Bonny Doon – Broken Earth Winery – Calcareous Vineyard – Cass Winery – Chacewater – Clayhoue Wines – CONSILIENCE WINES – Derby WIne Estates – Ecluse WInes – Epoch Estate Wines – Fess Parker & Epiphany – Four Brix Winery – Halter Ranch Vineyard – Hearst Ranch Winery – Jaffurs Wine Cellars – Kaena Wine – Kale Wines – Kaleidos – Kenneth Volk Vineyards – Larner Vineyard & Winery – Leverage – Lone Madrone – Martian Ranch & Vineyard – Morgan Winery – Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery – Qupe – Record Family Wines – Ridge Vineyards – Rock Wall Wine Company – Sculpterra Winery – Stolpman Vineyards – Tablas Creek Vineyard – Tercero Wines – The Withers Winery – Treana & Hope Family Wines – Two Shepherds – Villa Creek Cellars – Vina Robles – Zinke Wines

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

 

Summer 2016 Wine Tasting in Los Angeles

by Xochitl Maiman – July 4, 2016

It’s summer 2016 and Southern California wine enthusiasts have three great reasons to plan a visit to Los Angeles!

Three of the year’s best wine tasting events are headed to the Los Angeles area to be held at three of the city’s most iconic and diverse venues. The Garagiste Festival, celebrating  the small production artisan winemaker, rolls into LA on July 9th and will be held at the Art Deco masterpiece that is The Wiltern. Pinot-files will be delighted with the Stars of Pinot on July 20th at the famed Sofitel LA in Beverly Hills. On August 6th, enjoy the wines of the Rhone Rangers, winemakers producing wines from the 22 grapes of the Rhone wine growing region of France. This event will be held at the Skirball Cultural Center, with it’s distinct modern architectural design serving as the backdrop for an afternoon of sublime wine tasting.

wine tasting Los Angeles Garagiste FestivalThe Garagiste Wine Festivals are the first and only wine festivals dedicated to the undiscovered and under-recognized artisan ‘garagiste’ producers who are making some of the best, most exciting, handcrafted small-lot production wines in California. Most of these wineries do not have tasting rooms and do not sell their wine in stores. These festivals provide a unique opportunity for the wine consumer to get acquainted with over 60 of these winemakers under one roof and taste their wines and feel their passion for their craft. If it’s variety you’re looking for, the wines poured at the Garagiste Festival represent all your favorite varietals and many you’ve probably never heard of.

Get up close and personal with the garagiste winemakers on Saturday, July 9th at the 2nd Annual Garagiste Festival – Urban Exposure in Los Angeles at the historical and gorgeous Wiltern Theater. This day’s events include a winemaker seminar, Rare and Reserve tasting and Grand Tasting. To preserve an intimate experience for consumers with one-on-one interaction with winemakers, tickets are very limited for the Garagiste Festivals and always sell out.

Details and ticket information.

wine tasting Los Angeles Stars of Pinot 2016

If you are obsessed with Pinot Noir, like I am, then, yes, Los Angeles has something for you too! The Stars of Pinot returns to the Sofitel Hotel on July 20th, and will feature over 200 wines from 60 of the world’s top producers.

Details and ticket information.

wine tasting Los Angeles Rhone RangersHave you heard of Viognier, Marsanne, Counoise or Mourvedre? These are just 4 of the 22 wine grape varietals of the Rhone wine region of France. Perhaps you’ve heard of the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, but maybe you’re just not sure what grapes are in those bottlings? The Rhone Rangers are a group of 150 wineries dedicated to making wines from the grape varieties of the Rhone and many of these wineries are riding into Los Angeles on August 6th to share their spectacular expressions of these grapes with you. Learn from the winemakers themselves why they love to work with these grapes. Find out what really is in a GSM blend. Taste the difference between cool weather Syrah and the Syrah from the hotter growing regions like Paso Robles.

Join over 50 of the Rhone Ranger wineries at the Skirball Cultural Center on Augustus 6, 2016. The day’s events feature a winemaker seminar and luncheon beginning at 11am and a Grand Tasting beginning at 2:30 pm, with VIP access at 1:30pm.

Details and ticket information.

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

A Taste of the Sta. Rita Hills

by Donald Sonderling – May 2016

Fess Parker Winery - Sta. Rita Hills

Sta. Rita Hills: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and “Pinks” for Good Measure

The Sta. Rita Hills AVA, located about two hours north of Los Angeles in the stunning wine country of the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, produces world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the picturesque Central Coast area of California. With a total area of 30,720 acres, the area is home to over 59 vineyards, totaling 2,700 hundred acres planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and 18 other cool climate wine grape varieties.

Last month the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance  hosted their annual “road trip” at the Wine House in West Los Angeles, providing a unique “under one roof” opportunity to taste and compare a vast selection of wines from many of the areas wineries.  Each of the wines were reflective of the myriad terroir and micro climates, and of course the individual expressions of the winemaker.  James Suckling’s comment on the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Pinot Noir couldn’t be more apt:  “I am in love with Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.  They are bold and rich wines, yet balanced and refined with wonderful freshness and length.”  (Tasting Report:  California’s Sta. Rita Hills).

Hitching Post "Pinks" - Sta. Rita Hills Pinot NoirAlthough Pinots and Chardonnays were the main focus of this event, Hitching Post was pouring their 2015 “Pinks,” a fun, vibrant dry rose blend of 30% Pinot Noir and 70% Valdiguie.  As Hitching Post’s Gray Hartley describes this wine, “this Pinks exemplifies our attitude that we take our fun seriously.”  Indeed, this is a fun, happy wine to pop open, especially on a warm spring or summer afternoon – it will put a smile on your face.

Several of the wineries represented are well known, such as Foxen Canyon, Fess Parker and Hitching Post.  However, also represented was a significant number of small, boutique wineries, including:  Kessler-Haak, Pali Wines, Flying Goat, Longoria, Clos Pepe, The Hilt, Crawford Family Wines, Montemar.

The wineries with tasting rooms are  primarily located in Santa Barbara, Buelton, Los Olivos and in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  Los Olivos, over the past several years has grown into a vibrant “Tasting Room Town” and is a wonderful way to easily explore over 40 different wineries from the area.  The same can be said of Lompoc and the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, which is a unique industrial park with close to 20 tasting rooms.  Having the opportunity to try so many wines from so many producers, (many of these wineries either have no tasting room, or their hours are very limited), made this a very special event.

A visit to any of these areas and wineries is a must for the wine enthusiast looking to experience wine that is truly an expression of place.  A Taste of the Santa Rita Hills gave those in attendance an opportunity to do just that.  A special “Thank You” to the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance and The Wine House  for hosting this event.

Complete listing of the winery members of the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

A Passover Tradition Continues- Matzoh Popovers

by Xochitl Maiman – April 23, 2016

Traditions – ties that, if only for a moment, remind us that we are deeply connected to people and times before us.

Traditions, by definition – the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. Whether they are rooted in religious beliefs, native culture or just family fun, traditions are very often related to food and meals well spent with family and friends.

Here are some of my family’s favorite food related traditions….Christmas cookie baking, clam dip on Christmas Eve, triple chocolate pecan pie for my daughter’s birthday, chocolate eclair cake for my son’s birthday, chicken casserole for erev You Kippur, corn casserole for Easter, Friday night dinner with friends, my mom’s sherry laced pumpkin walnut bread for Thanksgiving, and my mother in-law’s Passover mandel bread and popovers.

This year, my mother in-law, now in her 90’s, has passed on the matzo popover recipe to me. I remember these popovers from when I first started dating my husband. She’d make them and fill them with tuna salad, and they were light and kind of nutty tasting – the perfect host for that “traditional” deli style tuna that I’ve never quite been able to replicate, for some reason.

So for the many of my friends out there whose moms or “bubbies” made matzo popovers, here’s the recipe. It’s basic, simple to make and the memory it invokes will bring a wistful smile to your face. Don’t forget the tuna! Cheers to traditions – what are some of your favorites?

Passover matzo popovers
Belle's Passover Popovers
Print Recipe
Servings
12 popovers
Servings
12 popovers
Passover matzo popovers
Belle's Passover Popovers
Print Recipe
Servings
12 popovers
Servings
12 popovers
Ingredients
Servings: popovers
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375° and grease or spray muffin tin.
  2. Combine water, oil, salt and sugar in a large sauce pan - bring to a boil.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in matzoh meal until it is fully mixed in and begins to pull away from sides of pan. Allow to cool slightly.
  4. With a fork, beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  5. Evenly divide dough among muffin cups, rounding tops slightly.
  6. Bake for 40-43 minutes till nicely browned and sound hollow when thumped on bottom. (If they brown too quickly, lay a piece of foil over top for balance of baking time.
  7. If not going to use the same day, best to refrigerate.
  8. Enjoy - Happy Passover!
    Passover Matzoh Popovers
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An Afternoon of Tasting at Hahn Family Wines

by Xochitl Maiman – March 6, 2016

The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Hahn Family Wines exemplifies the quality of premium wine being produced in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA of California.

When viewed from above, like from an airplane, the patchwork quilt-like patterns in which agricultural areas are laid out have always interested me. I love the color variations, the vastness of the open space, and the precisely marked out parcels that seem to stretch on forever.view of the Salinas Valley from Hahn Family Wines

So it makes sense that I have viewed many a map of the vineyard locations of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA , 6,100 acres overlooking the Salinas Valley, with fascination and awe. There they are, 50 vineyards sewn in to the hillside’s topography – vineyards like Gary’s, Boekenoogen, Manzoni, Mer Soleil, Pisoni and Doctor’s – where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes flourish and find beautiful expression due to the fog and cooling breezes coming off Monterey Bay.  Last October, I was finally able to visit the region, and the beauty of the mountainside vineyards and the fertile valley below was truly breathtaking!

As part of a group of wine journalists and bloggers, I had been invited to visit the area’s Hahn Family Wines for a tour of the estate vineyards and wine pairing luncheon. With the gorgeous valley as a backdrop, we were first given a show and tell overview of the region by Andy Mitchell, Hahn’s Director of Viticulture, and a member of the Hahn team since 1998.  He also explained the history of Hahn Family Wines beginning with founder, Nicolaus ‘Nicky’ Hahn’s vision over 30 years ago, of the potential of the area to support world-class vineyards.

Andy Mitchell, Director of Viticulture, Hahn Family Wines

Today, son, Philip Hahn, oversees the four estate vineyards in the area and an additional two in Arroyo Seco , from which are created wines for their three labels: Hahn, Hahn SLH and Lucienne.

ATV tour of Hahn Family Wines estate vineyardsAfter our pictorial overview, it was time to get up close and personal with the estate’s vineyards…and view. To my utter delight and excitement, we were escorted to ATV’s for the ride up..and up…and up to about 900’ in elevation.  An exhilarating ride – so much fun!  The reward for a little blown out hair, ( I refused the branded baseball cap offered – vanity, you know),  was a view not only of the valley, but also of the estate’s vineyards, which cover an expansive 650 acres. Basically, beauty every which way you turned.

 

vineyard view from Hahn Family Wines

LA Wine Writers at Hahn Family Wines

duck confit tacos at Hahn Family Wines

After the obligatory picture taking frenzy, we then gathered in a pavilion to enjoy duck confit tacos with a cherry reduction sauce presented by Executive Chef Dyon Foster, paired with a line-up of their Lucienne label single vineyard Pinot Noir. Winemaker, Greg Freeman, took us through the wines, explaining the differences in vineyards, elevation and the 4 major contributing factors to differences in the wines: fog, sun, wind and clones. Indeed, each wine was quite different, but all were elegantly styled with great acidity, earthy aromas and bright fruit.

Lucienne Pinot Noir at Hahn Family Wines

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Another thrilling ATV ride down the hill brought us back to the viewing deck where luncheon tables had been laid.  The menu looked promising and it would end up being an incredible display of culinary deliciousness!

Hahn Family wines Pinot Gris

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3730

Wild Caught Sablefish, Risotto, Beurre Noisette – just amazing!

Hahn Family Wines - SLH Chardonnay

IMG_3731

Pork Medallion, Cranberry and Corn Polenta

IMG_3733 IMG_3734 IMG_3737

Turns out making wonderful wine isn’t Greg’s only talent…..IMG_3745

Suffice it to say that a trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea or Monterey County would not be complete without a visit to Hahn Family Vineyards.  Pack a picnic, arrange a walking or ATV tour, and get acquainted with the wines of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Hahn Family Wines - Santa Lucia Highlands

I’LL DRINK TO THAT! – I would like to express my gratitude to our hosts at Hahn Family Wines for their gracious hospitality and for providing us with a complete, informative and delicious experience while visiting their beautiful estate. 

Related story: Carmel-by-the-Sea: A Weekend Food and Wine Getaway

 

 

Carmel-by-the-Sea – A Food and Wine Weekend Getaway

by Xochitl Maiman – November 27, 2015

Carmel-by-the-sea, on California’s Central Coast, is the perfect spot for a wine weekend getaway between holidays.

If you’re still washing dishes and wine glasses from Thanksgiving, but already thinking about the next big celebration, now might be a great time to plan a quickie wine weekend getaway before the next wave of relatives arrives. California offers myriad wine country destination choices, but perhaps not as familiar to some, is the wine region of Monterey County and the gorgeous Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, home to some of the most elegant and delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay the state has to offer.

Where to stay…

Carmel-by -the-Sea” is just the place to relax and take some big breaths of clean ocean air to rejuvenate your spirit and energy. But don’t be fooled by the tranquility, this charming European-style village, rated a top 10 U.S destination, has it all including art galleries, unique boutiques, bakeries and dining, gourmet food shops, spas, lodging and plenty of tasting rooms. And the best part is that all this can be enjoyed by foot as the village and shore is within walking distance of many of the area hotels and inns. Hofsas House - Carmel, CaliforniaThe iconic family owned and Bavarian inspired Hofsas House has been offering European hospitality in Carmel for over 60 years. Their “hands on” approach to providing their guests with the best possible service is evident from the moment you check in. You’re greeted like visiting family, and, with the wine and cheese package, you’ll find in your room a bottle of Monterey County wine and a cheese selection from The Cheese Shop – Carmel, for you to enjoy as you warm up by the in-room fireplace. Each of the spacious 38 rooms are unique, offering amenities like the aforementioned fireplaces, balconies, wet bars, kitchens and WiFi. The landmark pink building is located among tall trees and on a hillside with westward views offering stunning sunset viewing while enjoying a glass of wine.  In the mornings, visit the main lobby for continental breakfast and to pick up a map of the village before starting off to explore.

Where to taste…

If this is your first time wine tasting in the area you might consider purchasing the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Passport which provides visitors with a tasting at their choice of 9 of the 14 village tasting rooms. The concierge at Hofsas House can arrange to have your passport waiting for you when you check in, upon request at booking.  Two standouts on the self-paced tour include Caraccioli Cellars and Wrath Wines.

Caraccioli Cellars Caraccioli Cellars - Carmel, CaliforniaStart your special wine weekend off right with bubbles! Caraccioli Cellars produces a Brut Cuvée and a Brut Rosé that are just the thing to help you toast your getaway weekend, and to take home to share with friends as you toast the holidays and New Year. Winemaker Michel Salgues also produces lovely and elegant still wines with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Wrath Wines Wrath Wines - Carmel, California Wrath Wines -Sabrine RodemsWhen tasting wines produced in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, you’re going to hear a lot about clones. Clones are different strains of the same grape, notable for their specific characteristics. Winemakers grow and blend different clones to achieve the finished wine that they envision. Kind of like a spice rack to a chef. You’ll see lots of mention of clones in the names of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the tasting list at Wrath Wines. But don’t let that deter or confuse you. Take advantage of all this variety to avail yourself of a comprehensive focus tasting of these two varietals and the many styles of wines they can produce under the guidance of a passionate, talented and creative winemaker, in this case, Sabrine Rodems. Besides all that very interesting and delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Wrath Wines also makes a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc under their Ex Anima label and in the Single Vineyard Series, I loved the San Saba Vineyard Syrah. Note: Need cheese for that wine? The Cheese Shop is right next door!

Where to dine…

While you can easily walk to many fine restaurants in the village, there are also many wonderful and unique restaurants just a short driving distance away.

Located in an 1840’s adobe in Monterey, Restaurant 1833 is an intrigue from the moment you approach its inviting front courtyard. Standing tall and stately over the various candlelit seating areas and fire pits are an odd threesome of old trees – an oak, a palm and a pine tree, the three trees of California, according to our maitre d’.  Once inside, the ambience is warm, dark and a bit mysterious with many different dining areas and bars located in the various rooms upstairs and down. Of course, this old building comes with some ghost stories, but the real story here is the food – while basically American comfort food, the inspired menu consists of dishes made special with unique ingredients and combinations, artistically presented. They get pretty creative with the drinks menu too and pride themselves on their award winning cocktails.

Duck at Tarpy's Roadhouse - Monterey, California

Tarpy’s Maple Leaf Farms Duck over Farro with Rye Glazed Heirloom Carrots, Cherry-Port Compote

Tarpy’s Roadhouse has been an area favorite since 1992, but the history of the name and site is storied and dates back to 1851. Today, however, it’s all about  the food. The menu is varied, but the meat dishes prevail and are combined with tastes and textures of additional ingredients that just tantalize your taste buds to the last bite. If you are a scotch, bourbon or rye fan, try one of their unique cocktails or choose from a good selection to drink “straight up”.

Tarpy's - Carmel, California

Cast Iron-Seared Sea Scallops with coffee-cocoa rubbed bacon, grits, cauliflower, bourbon syrup

So….here’s the takeaway….take some time out for yourself and head to beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea. It just might become your “special place”.

Note: I’d like to thank Hofsas House for having me as their guest, and for the gracious hospitality at both Restaurant 1833 and Tarpy’s Roadhouse. Special thanks to the folks at Caraccioli Cellars and Wrath Wines for taking the time to share their wines and their stories.

Putting in a Good Word for California Pinot Noir

Xochitl Maiman – November 10, 2015

If you ask me what wine intrigues me the most, that would have to be Pinot Noir.

I’m often asked what my favorite wine is.  My usual answer is, “depends on what I’m cooking”.  With that said, my “go to” wine is Syrah, simply because it goes well with many of the foods I like to cook. Hearty pastas, risotto, braised or roasted meats all compel me to reach for a syrah or syrah blend.

However…if you ask me what wine intrigues me the most, that would have to be Pinot Noir. My experience with these wines was rather limited until about 10 years ago when I attended my first Pinot Days event in Los Angeles. Spread out before me was an entire airplane hangar full of nothing but pinot noir from many of the best pinot producing regions of the world. After a couple of hours tasting there, and a pinot noir pairing dinner the night before, it became apparent to me that the stylistic differences from region to region, vineyard to vineyard and winemaker to winemaker,were vast. Nuanced expressions ranged from light, earthy and elegant, to lush, full and fruit forward, and much in between. There began my fascination with pinot noir and my quest to taste new pinots at every opportunity. At this point in my pinot “education”, the wines with the earthy, peppery qualities seem to be my favorite. But I also enjoy the brighter, fruitier styles – again, it depends on the way I will be drinking it and with what food, if any. Great acidity in these wines makes many of them a perfect pairing for myriad foods, including the eclectic collection of tastes and textures that is the Thanksgiving table.

While I have a long way to go in my quest to taste the Pinots of the world, what I have discovered for sure is that there is beautiful pinot noir for every palate being produced in  a number of American wine regions with tremendous success. So it was with some offense that I read David Lynch’s recent statement in Bon Appetit Magazine (Everybody Wants Some – November 2015), “Look to Oregon’s Willamette Valley for the best American Pinot terroir.” I admit, I’m not fully versed on the Pinots from the Willamette Valley and I know there is wonderful wine bring produced there. But I felt this statement was too exclusive. What about California??

So in all fairness, I’d like to give a shout out to three California wine regions that are turning out stellar pinot noir, and I hope you’ll consider exploring them a bit, experiencing the different terroir, pairing with your favorite foods, and coming to your own conclusions. (Tough challenge, right?)

Three California Pinot Noirs to Try

California Pinot Noir

Santa Lucia Highlands – The esteemed vineyards of this area are located on the hillsides of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range overlooking the Salinas Valley. They are cooled by the fog and breezes coming off the Monterey Bay, making this an ideal area for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

One to try: Lucienne 2013 – Hook Vineyard – $50.00 – During my initial tasting of this wine, I was intrigued by its complex tannins and look forward to tasting again on its own and paired with food.  Wine spent 14 months in French Oak, (40% new) (Hahn Family Wines)  –  221 cases produced

Sta. Rita Hills – Located on California’s Central Coast in Santa Barbara County between the Santa Rosa Hills and the Purisima Hills – the east-west coastal valley vineyards of this area are cooled by the breezes coming off the Pacific ocean. Poor marine-based soils limit vine vigor and crop yield, intensifying grape flavors.

One to try: Weatherborne 2012 – $35.00 – (grapes sourced from the John Sebastiano and Melville Vineyards) – 225 cases produced .  When I first tasted this wine, early summer 2015, owner/winemaker, Cris Carter, was also pouring his 2013 vintage. Among the tasters I was with, it was pretty much split down the middle on which vintage they preferred. I found the 2012 a bit lighter and earthier and the 2013 brighter and fruitier. Both were well made and quite delicious in their own way, and I look forward to future endeavors from this label.

Russian River Valley – Sonoma County  – Morning fog coming through the Petaluma Gap from the Pacific Ocean cools the vineyards, but burns off during the day creating a large diurnal temperature variation.

“There are very few common Pinot Noirs in the Russian River Valley. Certainly, given the number of producers (in the hundreds), the level of quality is extraordinarily high…” – Steve Heimoff

One to try: Fog Crest Vineyard – 2012 – Estate Bottled – $55.00 – This wine blends the elegance and earthiness qualities I enjoy with beautifully integrated dark fruit, cola and spice.                 600 cases produced.

I hope you’ll join me on my journey to taste the pinot noir of the United States and of the world, and with so many choices, this could take a while. A great place to start would be the upcoming Pinot Days event being held in Los Angeles November 21st. (other cities hosting event in 2016)

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Sunday Dinner – Pasta with Butternut Squash, Sage and Mushroom Sauce

by Xochitl Maiman   October 2, 2015

With the weather turning cooler, my menu planning turns to the flavors and colors of fall, and that means butternut squash.

Butternut Squash takes a leading role in this pasta dish, boiled, pureed and made into a rich silky sauce with ground turkey and crimini mushrooms.

Holly's Hill Vineyards Petite Sirah El Dorado

The richness of this butternut sauce, with it’s earthy sage and mushroom flavors calls for a full bodied luscious red and petite sirah fills that bill beautifully. Try Holly’s Hill Petite Sirah – El Dorado County. When I made this dish the 2010 was the vintage I had in my cellar, but for all the years I have been drinking Holly’s Hill Wines, I’ve yet to open a bottle I didn’t love.

Holly’s Hill Vineyards produces only Rhone varietal wines and blends made from  Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Counoise. Co-winemakers, Josh and Carrie Bendick, carefully craft their wines in an elegant old world style, yet each wine clearly is a reflection of the lush fruit grown in their estate vineyards, located at 2700 feet in the Sierra Foothills of El Dorado wine country.

Besides many wonderful wineries to visit, El Dorado County also offers visitors the unique opportunity to re-live California’s Gold Rush history with visits to nearby Placerville and Gold Bug Park and Mine.

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash Pasta and Mushroom Sauce

Butternut puree

To make butternut squash puree:

2 lbs butternut squash, chunked

2 cups chicken stock mixed with 1/4 cup of sherry

Boil butternut squash in chicken stock and sherry until tender. Add salt and pepper, 1/4 tsp each of garlic powder and onion powder. Puree squash with immersion blender. Set aside.

Meat/mushroom sauce:

Butternut Squash and mushroom sauce

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 large shallot, minced

2 Tbsp butter

1 pound crimini mushrooms, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup sherry

2 cloves garlic, minced

1lb ground turkey

Pasta with Butternut Squash Sage and Mushroom Sauce

3-4 Tbsp minced fresh sage

1 Tbsp fresh minced rosemary

1 cup frozen peas/carrots blend

5-7 oz pkg roasted chestnuts, quartered.

4 Tbsp. butter

4 Tbsp. flour

2 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup sherry

1 cup whole milk

2 cups of shredded Gruyere cheese

1 lb. short cut rigatoni (or your favorite pasta)

In pan, sauté shallot in olive oil, just until softened. Add butter and mushrooms. When mushrooms have released their juices, add 2 minced cloves of garlic, S&P and 1/4 cup sherry. Cook until almost all juices have evaporated. Remove mushroom mixture from pan and set aside.

In same pan, brown ground turkey with  fresh sage and rosemary and S&P.  When cooked through, return mushroom mixture to pan and add peas and carrots and chestnuts. Set aside.

In large saucepan, melt 4 T. butter. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute over medium heat. Whisk in chicken stock, 1/4 cup sherry and milk. Cook, stirring, until starting to thicken. Add squash puree and took till thickened. Add shredded Gruyere and cook and stir until cheese melts and sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add meat/mushroom mixture to sauce.

Cook rigatoni. Drain. Return to pot. Add 2 cups of meat sauce to pasta and combine.

To serve: Spoon pasta into bowls and top with additional sauce. Serves 4

More on the Wineries of El Dorado Wine Country

El Dorado Visitors Authority

 

 

 

 

The Garagiste Festival – Celebrating the Artisan Winemaker

Xochitl Maiman – August 2015

The Garagiste Festival offers wine enthusiasts endless adventures in wine discovery.

The Garagiste Festival

As their website describes it… “Garagiste, a place for the underground, the different, and the cutting edge of small production winemaking with no rules.” The Garagiste Festivals, now at three per year, embody this definition and showcase the artisan winemakers of California, all with production under 1500 cases of ultra-premium, hard-to-find wines. Indeed, many of the wineries have no tasting room and their production is so small you won’t find their wines on store shelves. So, the only way to explore and experience these wines and the artisans that create them, is at one of the 3 annual festivals.

The first Garagiste Festival was held in November of 2011 in Paso Robles as a way to showcase the garagiste movement which had clearly taken a hold in that wine producing region. The event also served to raise funds for the Cal Poly Wine & Viticulture Program, which provides future winemakers with an education in all aspects of the wine business from the vineyard to the table. The Festival continues to support this program and its young winemakers of the future. With the movement growing throughout the California wine producing regions, and interest and awareness growing on the part of the wine consumer, the annual event schedule has grown to accommodate 3 festivals – adding festivals held in the Santa Ynez wine growing region of Santa Barbara County and in Los Angeles.

Garagiste Festival Paso Robles 2015Traditionally, the Santa Ynez Garagiste Festival, named “Southern Exposure” is held in the spring, the Los Angeles Garagiste Festival, “Urban Exposure” in the summer, and the Paso Robles festival in the fall.  So with just one more event left for 2015, now’s the time to save the date for November 7th. Actually, the November Festival has been expanded to include events over a 3-day period, beginning with a “5th Anniversary Dinner” at the Carlton Hotel in nearby Atascadero on Thursday, November 5th.  A “winemaker mixer” follows on Friday, with a series of events scheduled for Saturday, November 7th, including seminars, the Grand Tasting and an after-party.

With all the wine tasting events held every year, the Garagiste Festivals are my favorite, providing a fun and unique opportunity to taste wine while meeting and chatting with the actual winemaker. Hearing from them personally, as opposed to distributors or reps, takes the tasting experience to a much higher, memorable and more meaningful level.

While I have made friends of many of these winemakers over the years and enjoy visiting with them and tasting their new releases, I also always look forward to meeting the “new guys” or first-timers to the festival. Dozens of varietals and blends means there is something for every palette. From Albarino to Viognier, this is one tasting event you won’t want to miss.

Garagiste Festival at Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles 2015Here are some of my favorites from this year’s Southern Exposure and Urban Exposure Garagiste Festivals:

Alta Colina Vineyards – Paso Robles – Consulting winemaker: Jeff Cohn  Cases per vintage: 1500

  • 2014 Grenache Blanc
  • 2011 GSM

Archium Cellars – Santa Barbara – Winemakers: Zack Jarosz & Ian Sergy  Cases per vintage: 300

  • 2013 “Haven” Grenache

Ascension Cellars at Garagiste Festival 2015Ascension Cellars – Paso Robles   Winemaker: Erick Allen   Cases per vintage:1000                         Fruit sourced from the CASS Vineyard.

  • 2013 Halo Viognier
  • 2013 Gossamer Wings White Rhone Blend

Artisan Uprising – Paso Robles – Winemakers: William & David Vondrasek   Cases per vintage:275

  • 2012 Merlot
  • 2012 Malbec

Diablo Paso – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Enrique Torres   Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2014 Albarino – Edna Valley
  • 2013 Tempranillo

Larner Winery – Santa Barbara –  Winemaker: Michael Larner   Cases per vintage: 800

  • 2014 Malvasia Bianca
  • 2010 Elemental GSM

MCV Wines – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Matt Villard   Cases per vintage: 500

  • 2014 Viognier

Shai Cellars Garagiste Festival 2015Shai Cellars – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Shawn Shai Halahmy  Cases per vintage: 350

  • 2009 Adome (65% Syrah/35% Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 2009 Grenache

Stanger Vineyards – Paso Robles – Winemaker: JP French   Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2008 Syrah, Library Reserve
  • 2010 Master (55% Cabernet Sauvignon/36% Syrah/9% Tempranillo)

Tercero Wines – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Larry Schaffer  Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2010 The Climb (Syrah/Petite Sirah)

The Farm Winery – Paso Robles  – Winemaker: Santiago Achaval   Cases per vintage: 650

  • 2011 Touchy-Felly (Grenache/Syrah)
  • 2011 The Big Game (Cab/Petit Verdot/Syrah)

Vines on the Marycrest – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Victor Abascal   Cases per vintage: 1500

  • 2014 Summertime Rosé

Weatherborne Pinot Noir Garagiste Festival 2015Weatherborne – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Cris Carter   Cases per vintage: 400

  • 2012 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills

The Garagiste Festival – Paso Robles, is scheduled for November 5-7, 2015. The fall is a beautiful, and popular, time to visit wine country. Plan your visit early by booking your lodging and ordering your Festival tickets as soon as possible.  For more information on The Garagiste Festival events, participating wineries, and to purchase tickets, visit The Garagiste Festival website.

Wine is an adventure, with every bottle offering a new experience. Thank you to the passionate and talented garagiste winemakers for your perseverance, dedication and for sharing your art. Thank you also to the outstanding team at The Garagiste Festival for bringing all these fine winemakers together under one roof where we can meet and celebrate them and their wines. Happy 5th Anniversary!

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!