Tag Archives: Agoura Hills


2016 was a year of travel for Dorianne and me. Since we sold our home in early 2015, we have been on the road. 2016 found us in the U.S. and Europe, on a Mediterranean cruise, and in the Middle East. We traveled in 8 states and in Spain, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Poland, England, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Malta. There were wine experiences everywhere. Here are some highlights and “bests” of a very interesting year:


In July, we went for a day of wine tasting in Rhonda, Spain (LINK). I blogged about it at the time. What made it special was the beauty of the countryside and the fact that it is such a small wine region. You can read about it at the link.


Merecouri Estate, Korakohori, Greece (LINK). We visited during a cruise at the port of Katakolo. This is a very interesting winery and vineyard, where the 4th generation of the family is making some good wine. The tour is fun, lots of history, even a museum. The tasting is good – 4 wines and cheese and other snacks. One of the better cruise-related winery tours I have been on. I had a chance to speak to the current patriarch of the family, Christos Kanellakopoulo about wine making techniques. Some of their wines are exported to the U.S.


Osteria Barberini, Rome, Italy (LINK). This gem of a restaurant on a very narrow side street near the Spanish Steps and the Piazza Barberini, was both a revelation and a great find for Dorianne and me. We were arriving in Rome from Lyon at about 8:00 pm, and I looked at Trip Advisor for something near our hotel off the Via Veneto. I made a reservation via email for 9:15 pm, as that was the only time available; a good thing, as our flight was late. When we arrived, they were turning people away from what turned out to be a very small restaurant seating about 36 people in three small dining rooms.

And the food! They specialize in truffles, black and white, and we had three wonderful meals there (we went back two more times). A small but well-selected wine list of mostly Italian wines was also a highlight. Here are the wines we had there:


‘l’Institut’ Paul Bocuse Restaurant-école at Bellecour Lyon-Centre, Lyon, France (LINK). This restaurant is part of the Bocuse culinary school. It is beautifully designed and everyone there is a student or a teacher. The food is exquisite, the atmosphere is modern and very classy, and there is a very nice wine list with relatively low markups. We had a fabulous meal there, which I blogged about (LINK).



I’m limiting this list to just five, but there were many more – hundreds actually. These sort of separated from the herd for one reason or another.

  1. 1994 Harlan Estates, Napa Valley, CA, enjoyed in Agoura Hills, CA
  2. 2012 Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet, Gevery-Chambertin Symphonie, Burgundy, France, enjoyed in Macon, France
  3. 2009 Firriato Quater Rosso, Sicily, Italy, enjoyed in Rome, Italy
  4. 2005 Diamond Creek, Gravely Meadow, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA, enjoyed in Pismo Beach, CA
  5. 2003 Gruppo Matarromera Bodega, Cyan Prestigio, Castilla y León, Spain, enjoyed in Granada, Spain



Sharing wine with good friends – or new acquaintances – is, to me, the best part about enjoying wine. This year we had many chances to do just that, and a few of them stand out as very special.

We opened the year with two nights in Pismo Beach, CA, at the mid-century gem, the Kon Tiki Inn with two other couples. Wine tasting ensued, both in terms of bottles brought and a tour of some of the Edna Valley wineries, just west of Pismo Beach. Great meals, and a wonderful two days. We will be repeating the experience again this January 1-4.

Sharing a very special case of wine with my good friend Richard Clark in the early part of the year was very special. Richard received a gift case of selected top-of-the-line wines from California, France, and Italy from his employer for Christmas. One of my top five wines, the Harlan Estates was in that case, along with many other gems that could also have qualified.

Wine dinners in Cambridge, England and in Macon, France with friends that we made through Dorianne’s interest in chamber music were also very special. Wonderful wine, wonderful food, wonderful conversation, and wonderful music ensued.

Two meals with good friends in Rome – one at a great wine bar, another at their beautiful apartment – featured wonderful Italian wines and, again, great food and conversation. You can see Francesco perusing the red wine list at the legendary Rome Wine Bar – Enoteca Ferrara (LINK).

Just this week at Roam-Miami, where we are staying for most of the winter, Dorianne and I hosted a wine tasting and presentation for other guests and their friends. We sampled four varietals/blends – one of each from the Old World and the New World. There was some very nice French and Spanish cheese and dark chocolate; and a glass of Cava to get things rolling. It was a great evening of fun and some of the young people attending learned something about wine.

While there is still some time left in 2016, I am also looking forward to 2017. Our plans include visits to Mexico, Canada, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, California, Oregon and possibly, Washington state. Summer will take us back to EuropeIreland, Scotland, then to France, where we intend to find an apartment in Lyon to be our new home base. Of course, we never know where serendipity will intervene. I will keep you informed.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard


Last night, Dorianne and I joined Richard Clark and Mary Stec at Niroj Restaurant in Agoura Hills, CA. Since it was the eve of the Lunar New Year, I figured (correctly) that it would not be a big night for Kurdish food. The restaurant was not crowded, and we had a leisurely and delicious meal and some good wine.

I brought a bottle of 2009 Dover Canyon Che Vito Da Cano, a 70% Sangiovese, 30% Syrah Blend. This wine is smooth, fruit forward without being out of balance, and had a very nice finish with a hint of spice aftertaste. Delicious. The wine doesn’t even appear on their website, so I guess there is no more of it to be had. Dover Canyon Winery is a great stop if you are in the Paso Robles area.

Luqman Barwari, the owner, oversees Niroj Cuisine with a loving hand. A former executive at Amgen, he began the restaurant a couple of years ago to follow his passion for the food of his home culture. Niroj is, I believe, the only Kurdish Restaurant in the southwestern U.S. The food is beautifully prepared – very much like the variety of Middle Eastern cuisine. We shared a cold Mezze Platter of appetizers with the made-on-the-premisis soft bread, then the four of us shared two entrees – a lamb shank and a shrimp tawe – all excellent.

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Mary, Luqman, and Richard

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Then, for our second bottle, we ordered a Lebanese wine – a 2010 Massaya Silver Blend from the Bekaa Valley. This wine with its unusual blend of Southern French( 40% Cinsault, 30% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre) and Bordeaux (15% Cabernet Sauvignon) grapes benefits from the sunny climate of the Lebanon tempered by cool night-time temperatures as a result of the height of the vineyards. The wine was very smooth, with medium tannins and a nice blend of fruit and minerals on the palate.

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Some house made Baklava ended the experience at Niroj Cuisine. I took a photo of the Lebanese and Turkish Wines on the menu.

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Dorianne and I returned to Alma Sol Winery’s tasting room the other night with three other couples. Alma Sol Winery (Link) is owned and operated by the husband and wife team of John Shaw and Lisa Cuevas Shaw.

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The heading of the tasting list at Alma Sol Tasting Room in Thousand Oak, CA

John Shaw, who serves as winemaker for the couple – really a two-person operation, from the vineyard to the tasting room – met us at the door. Lisa Cuevas Shaw was inside with a bottle of wine in her hand. We began the evening’s tasting, which John had selected from his list of Bordeaux-influenced wines.

“It’s a cool evening,” he said, “so it’s all reds and all full-bodied wines.”

The wines he poured were indeed, red and were generally fuller bodied wines as well. The exception was the first wine, a 2010 Cuevas Cabernet Sauvignon, which was very elegant and a fruit-forward wine. After that, the wines had more of a mineral presence and varied as to the fruit presence. I won’t go into detail, because these wines are produced in such small quantities that they are very unlikely to show up outside of the tasting room. You can obtain some of them at the website (link above).

We first met John and Lisa at the Paso Robles Garagiste Festival a couple of years ago. They told us that they would be opening a tasting room in Thousand Oaks – our neck of the woods – very soon. The location is shared with Sunland Vintage Winery (Link), whose mostly Italian varieties we plan to return to sample soon. Alma Sol, using mostly grapes from the Cuevas Vineyard in Paso Robles and other fruit sourced from Paso and as far north as Napa Valley. In fact, we tasted a blend of five Napa Bordeaux-style grapes in the tasting – it was made in a middle ground between the French and California styles –  fruity and elegant, but higher in alcohol.

We finished the tasting with their dessert wine: 2012 Almazan Dessert Wine, Paso Robles ($34.00)

From their website: This Portuguese Port-style wine uses both Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional grapes from the east side of Paso Robles.  The beautiful nose is made up of cherries and cranberries and follows through with a very fruit forward, elegant mouth feel. The finish is long with a touch of fortified wine that lightly warms your mouth. This wine pairs great with your favorite dessert, Dark chocolate raspberry truffles, or a cigar (if you like them, of course).

Production: 70 cases   

We bought a bottle. Very nice!


It is really nice to see more tasting rooms open in the Thousand Oaks area. Alma Sol is a great addition to the local line up – I look forward to seeing how John and Lisa continue to develop as winemakers.


Words in BOLD BROWN are links.

Last night, we celebrated Richard Clark’s birthday – Richard is the winemaker of the Conejo Valley Wine Co-op, which I have blogged about in the past. So six of us went  to Cafe 14 in Agoura Hills, CA, a restaurant known for good food and good wine.

Richard brought a bottle of Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2012, a very nice wine made by one of the better craftsmen in Santa Barbara County, Wes Hagen. The wine did not disappoint, as Wes’ wines never do. His Pinots are rich, made in the Burgundian style, with some creep toward the fuller California style in recent years.

The 2012 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir and the 2012 Rombauer Zinfandel

Next, we ordered a bottle of 2012 Rombauer Zinfandel. The last Rombauer Zin I had was the 2010. Rombauer makes big wines and is probably best known for their Chardonnay, which is a classic rich, buttery version of that varietal. I also am a fan of their Merlot, which is often a bargain in restaurants.

This Zinfandel was a surprise – very rich, almost syrupy, with strong overtones of caramel and vanilla. Everyone at the table agreed that it was too sweet for dinner. Oh, and it weighed in at 15.9% alcohol. The heat of the alcohol came through, even with all the sweetness. I was surprised because I remembered the 2010 Zin as being more restrained. We set it aside to save to have with dessert.

So on to a third bottle, a 2008 Chateau la Caminadi La Commandery Malbec from Cahors, France.

The 2008 Chateau la Caminadi La Commandery Malbec

The Malbec was a perfect compliment to the dinner. Dry with hints of dark fruit, it balanced well, even though a couple of our party were having fish. Not a great wine, but a very drinkable wine.

The food at Cafe 14 is very good. The service tonight was a bit slow – hard to tell exactly why. The wine was delivered to the table after a delay because, apparently, only the bar tender can go to the wine storage area to get wine and the bar was busy (?), a questionable policy. As a result, the waiter ended up taking the $20 corkage fee for the Clos Pepe off of the bill to apologize for the slow wine service.

Bouillabaisse at Cafe 14
The amazing Braised Short Ribs

Dessert was a caramel pot-au-feu with creme fraische – so rich that we could only eat a bite or two each – but delicious. The Rombauer Zinfandel was a good accompaniment to this rich dessert.

So Happy Birthday, Richard!