Tag Archives: California

SO, YOU WANT TO MOVE TO FRANCE?

My wife, Dorianne, and I decided to move to France about 9 months ago. We have been “on the road” since early 2015, when we sold our home in southern California. Since then, we have spent about half of our time in Europe and the other half in North and Central America. We have visited 23 countries and 16 states. I have blogged about some of our wine-related adventures.

After thinking that we would probably settle in Spain, we chose France for two main reasons: first, we feel more at home in France, second, we like the hours that the French keep – not quite so late as in Spain. Both countries have great food and wine, and both have a “work to live, not live to work” lifestyle, so it was a close call for us, especially since Dorianne is conversational in Spanish and neither of us are in French. But France called us, no matter where else we traveled.

We have been to France about 8 times since 2005, staying from a few days to several months, in places such as Paris, Avignon, Nice, Bordeaux, Lourdes, Aix-en-Provence, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and Lyon.

We decided on Lyon for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a city, but smaller, less expensive, and less congested than Paris.
  2. It has a well-preserved historic section (Vieux Lyon, where we are currently staying), and beautiful architecture throughout the city.
  3. It has a great culinary tradition.
  4. There are four wine regions nearby (Burgundy, Beaujolais, Jura, and Côte du Rhône).
  5. An international airport and access to high-speed rail (Paris in 2 hrs.).
  6. A good chamber music community (Dorianne plays the violin).

So, we began our research – after a brief visit in November, we began to do online research, looking at expat sites and chat rooms, travel blogs, French sites (including government sites on how to get visas, etc.), and real estate sites. We decided to rent for a year or so to get a feel for in which area of the city we wanted to settle.

What we discovered is that it is very difficult to get a work visa for France unless you are hired by a French company or working for a foreign company and will have a temporary assignment in France. The law says that to qualify for a job, there must be no French citizen who can fill that job, and then, no EU citizen who can fill it. Unless you meet those criteria or are going to invest and start a business and hire ten French citizens, you can forget a work visa. There are no investment visas in France, such as the Golden Visa for real estate purchases in Portugal, Spain, Greece, or Malta.

We applied for a long-stay visitor visa (there are time constraints) (LINK) (LINK). Essentially, we had to show that we could afford to live in France for a year, had health insurance that covered us there, and were not wanted by the law. We submitted a stack of papers and had a short interview at the French Consulate in Los Angeles (you must apply in person at the embassy or consulate nearest to your US residence).

Once approved, you get a visa in your passport, which they hold for a few weeks, so plan accordingly. You must enter France within 3 months of receiving the visa. We got our Visa in May and had it dated July 12, 2017 to July 12, 2018. You must enter France within seven days of the first date. The visa is good for the entire EU.

We arrived in Lyon on July 13th, my birthday, and celebrated with a dinner at the Institut Paul Bocuse (LINK) – the restaurant of the famed culinary school operated by France’s greatest chef. It is run by students, and you get a Michelin-quality meal for a great price. They have a small but nicely selected wine list as well – and the wine prices are about the same as regular retail. I blogged about an earlier visit (LINK).

We initially stayed at a friend’s apartment, but moved to an AirBnb for, we thought, a month or two, while we looked for a long-term rental apartment. That’s when we found out how difficult it is to rent an apartment in France if you are not a citizen or permanent resident (it’s also difficult if you are a citizen). It is illegal to rent to someone who has anything less than a work visa. And short-term rentals are limited to 3 months. We found that there are landlords who are willing to overlook the requirements, but they demand multiple French co-signers for your lease. It is also illegal to pay rent in advance (say pay 6 months or a year). The French laws are very much in favor of tenants, so the landlords take every advantage they can. We are still in an AirBnB.

We are still open to a long-term rental, but we will be away for December and January at least, so we will wait until we return to look further. Actually, it is easier to buy here than to rent – the limitations on visas, etc. do not apply to real estate purchases. So, we may end up buying sooner than we expected. Prices in the Lyon area are cheaper than Paris, but there are not many bargains in the categories that we are looking for.

Another important tip: if you want to do things like get a French cell phone or a transit card (TCL Carte in Lyon), you must have a French bank account. French banks do not operate like US banks in at least one sense – they don’t seem to particularly want new customers. We entered a branch bank to ask to open a checking account and were told that they next appointment to do so was two weeks away. At a different (downtown) branch, we got accounts right away, but we must do everything via that branch. You can do some things online and at ATM machines, but the system is very parochial.

Once we had the account, and got some funds into it (another issue), we got cell phones and transit cards. You also need a French bank account to rent an apartment long-term, by the way. Once you have a French bank credit card (which work sort of like a combination of credit and debit cards in the US – you need to have funds in your account and can only get credit for up to 500€), you will find it easier to use than US cards in restaurants and shops.

As for our first two months in Lyonlife is grand! We are eating very healthy, fresh food from the thrice per week farmers’ markets (marchés) in our Croix-Rousse (4th Arrondisement) neighborhood. Also, there are plenty of bakeries (boulangeries), butchers (boucheries), prepared food shops (epicères & traiteurs), and fresh fruit & vegetable shops as well. Oh, and every neighborhood has several wine shops (caves).

There are also plenty of restaurants, brasseries, bouchons (Lyonnaise version of a bistro), comptoirs (counters), and coffee shops. And wine bars, too. The food is amazing in just about every place you eat (we avoid the chain restaurants other than some of the local chains which have two or three locations in Lyon).

During August, just about everything that is locally owned and not a national or international chain closes for vacation for anywhere from two to five weeks. So, we drank a lot of supermarket wines during the month, which in France, is not a bad thing. There are very cheap to lower-mid-range (1.8€ to 18€ per bottle) wines from all over France, including Burgundy and Bordeaux in every supermarket. The wines are mostly from larger producers, of course, and you don’t see the premier cru labels there, however, the overall quality is very good. We were drinking wines from Tavel, Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape, Moulin a Vent, Burgundy, and others from the supermarket (supermarché) shelves. I was also introduced to boxed wine at a local party, and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Luberon Valley Syrah sold in a 5-liter box for 25€.

THE FRENCH EFFECT

I’ll close with this interesting tidbit. Despite eating and drinking a large variety of foods and wines, I have actually lost a few pounds since arriving in Lyon. My best guess is that there are a few factors in this welcome phenomenon:

  1. The lifestyle here is to walk. I probably average 2 – 3 miles per day at least.
  2. We are mostly preparing our own meals, and eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. And there is wine and bread every day, too.
  3. I think that when you shop daily and eat fresh foods (even from the supermarket – avoid those center aisles with the processed foods), and those foods are grown on smaller farms (very little industrial farming in France), your body reacts differently to the foods you eat.

I’ll be posting more wine-centric posts as time goes on. We are itching to explore the wine regions in the area in person and to delve more deeply into the Lyon wine scene. So, stay tuned.

I would be very interested in your comments about being an expat or about your experiences with visiting France and other wine capitals in the comments section below.

Au revoir!

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

LONDON WINE SPOTS OFF THE BEATEN PATH

I’m spending ten days in London, a favorite city, and have been exploring some of the more unique small restaurants. I like to find places where the food is good and the wine list is, if not voluminous and filled with the usual suspects, is well-selected and has some surprises for a couple of Wine Explorers (LINK) like Dorianne and me.

This visit, we have found a few:

RABBIT, Chelsea (LINK): Rabbit is a farm-to-table operation with a sister restaurant, The Shed, in Notting Hill. It is run by the three Gladwin Brothers (LINK). They source most of their ingredients from Nutbourne Farm in West Sussex, including their wines. The menu at Rabbit is made up of small bites (Mouthfuls) and small plates (divided into Nutbourne Cures, Slow-Cooked, and Fast-Cooked). The menu varies by what is available and in-season. They do their version of a Sunday Roast on weekends. The food we had (a couple of Mouthfuls and three small plates) were all delicious, as well as very inventive. The service is friendly, professional, and helpful.

There are crafted cocktails, a few beers and ciders, and a medium-sized but well-chosen wine list featuring four wines from Nutbourne Vineyards (LINK).

One is a NV Nutbourne Sussex Reserve, a  white blend of Bacchus, Huxelrebe and Reichensteiner grapes. After tasting, we chose this wine to have with our dinner.

Another white is the 2015 Bacchus, (LINK to Bacchus varietal info), a very dry and crisp white wine is a good sense of terroir, and a slight chemical sense on the nose.

A 2014 Blush, a rosé wine made from Pinot Noir and Schönburger grapes.

And a 2013 Nutty Brut, a sparkling wine made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and some Reichensteiner grapes.

The rest of the wine list is mostly Old World and a smattering of New World, including two surprises from California, a 2013 Uvaggio Vermentino from Lodi and a 2013 Au Bon Climat, Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir from our friend Jim Clendennon. I’ve seen a few Au Bon Climat’s on London wine lists.

PACHAMAMA, Marleybone (LINK): This was our second visit to Pachamama, a Peruvian Restaurant with a twist. Again, small plates are the rule (there is a leg of lamb for two). What you get here is foodie-quality ingredients, preparation, and presentation – very inventive; not traditional Peruvian food.

The bar features great hand-crafted cocktails featuring Piscos (Peruvian liquor) – either Papa’s or Mama’s (about 6 of each). It’s a good idea to arrive early and have a drink at the bar and watch the bartenders in action.

The wine list (LINK) is small but nicely selected. There is only one Peruvian wine, a 2008 Picasso Tempranillo, which I have ordered for the table on both of our visits (after cocktails, of course). The wine is rich and fruit-forward, with a nice balance of minerality – very nicely crafted. The rest of the list is much like you see elsewhere in London, only with a greater emphasis on South America, mostly with the reds.

 

Andalucia is a good spot for pre-theater dinner – authentic, inexpensive, and good. There are lots of higher-end tapas places in the area, especially over toward SoHo, but if you want authentic, this is the place.

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London is a great city, and a wine-lover can find a full range of experiences. These are just a few of the many “off-the-beaten-path” experiences that this great city offers. I’d love to hear about your experiences here in the comments section.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

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Your Scribe – Getting With the London Look (LOL)

TWO WINERIES TO VISIT IN SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Recently, Dorianne and I visited two very impressive wineries in Santa Barbara County with friends. The purpose of the trip was to scout locations for a wine tasting tour to benefit a non-profit organization. We tagged along to be of any possible assistance!

The first winery, Presqu’ile Vineyard & Winery (LINK), is located in the Santa Maria Valley AVA (LINK) near the Bien Nacido vineyard in northern Santa Barbara County. A family run operation set on a beautiful 200 acre  vineyard property and boasting some amazing architecture, Presqu’ile (pronounced press-KEEL; it means penninsula) focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The beauty of the tasting room, cave, and winery seem beyond what one finds at a vineyard & winery operation producing only 1600 cases per year.

Matt Sobczak, the Tasting Room Manager, conducted our tasting. The wines that we tasted were very good, even exceptional in the case of the Chardonnays; and the Pinot Noirs were a close second. The Sauvignon Blanc was also very good. The 2013 Steiner Creek Vineyard Chardonnay was particularly good, with a rich mouth feel, ample green fruit on the nose and palate, and a pleasant finish. We bought a bottle to share with some cheese and snacks after the tasting, and several of us bought more to take home.

The 2014 Presqu’ile Vineyard Chardonnay is also beautifully crafted and should please those who love the traditional California-style Chardonnays in a slightly less oaky, more modern form.

Dieter Cronje is the wine maker at Presqu’ile. We did not meet him, but I will laud his talents in crafting Burgundian-style wines with a California influence. Presqu’ile wines can be ordered from their website (LINK) and the winery is worth a visit and not far from other wineries off the 101 Freeway.

Our next stop was Pence Ranch Vineyards & Winery (LINK), along Route 246 West in Buellton, California in the Santa Rita Hills AVA (LINK). As I have noted before (LINK), the Santa Rita Hills AVA is unique in that the mountains and valleys run east to west due to a geological anomaly – the AVA is on land not connected to the North American Tectonic Plate. The Pence Ranch property is relatively narrow and runs north from Route 246 West, just west of the part of Buellton made famous in the film, “Sideways.”

Josh Hamilton was on duty in the small, but nicely appointed tasting room (open only by appointment for now). There is also another area adjacent to the tasting room that can accommodate more visitors. Pence has a relatively small production, under 1500 cases, and is expanding into a second label for restaurants. The Pence labels represent depictions of images of freedom and coins from the founding of the United States.

For our tasting, Josh poured the Pinot Noirs first, then the Syrah, and only then the Chardonnays. The reason for this is that the Pinots are elegant by California standards, as is the Syrah. The two Chardonnays are rich and fuller-bodied, yet still retain a sense of elegance. So, this unconventional tasting pattern – reds first – makes sense at Pence Ranch Winery.

The wines at Pence are exceptionally well-crafted. The Pinots are a bit spicy and peppery, but hold their soft fruit on the nose and in the mouth. They are very well-balanced and will work sipping alone, with light cheeses, or with foods such as salmon or vegetarian dishes.

The Chardonnays, both single-vineyard as are the Pinots, are rich yet very smooth. There is an oakiness present, but it does not dominate. The mouthfeel has a nice viscosity and there are many layers to both wines – great complexity here. All the Pence wines (LINK) are well-crafted. Get your hands on some if you can! We took away several bottles.

I am a huge fan of Santa Rita Hills wines, where the Burgundian style has been carried forward by such local legendary labels as Sanford, Clos Pepe, Ken Browne, LaFond, and others. Pence is establishing itself among those names – they produce Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that reflect the Santa Rita Hills terroir very well.

I really didn’t find anything to complain about at either winery. The price points are a bit high, but they make sense when you understand the size and the quality of the operations at both vineyard/wineries. Both Presqu’ile and Pence are wineries worth your time if you are in the Santa Barbara County wine regions. And if you can’t visit, you can order their wines to enjoy at home.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

 

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

A RETURN VISIT TO PASO ROBLES

Earlier this week, Dorianne and I spent a couple of days in the California Central Coast Wine Country with friends. We stayed at the KonTiki Inn, a mid-20th Century gem in Pismo Beach. Don’t try to reserve a room at the KonTiki online – you can’t. They have a website (LINK), but you can’t reserve there or on the other online hotel sites. It’s very retro, very well maintained, very inexpensive, every room has an ocean view, and it’s very comfortable.

On Monday, we drove up to Paso Robles and visited three wineries. The first was Peachy Canyon (LINK) on Paso’s West Side. The tasting room is picturesque – they have been around for a while, since 1988 – and their wines are very drinkable. There is a nice selection of clothing and wine stuff in the tasting room shop. The $10 tasting fee is waived with a two-bottle purchase. Peachy Canyon is known for their Zinfandels, but their whites are also worth a look, as well as their other reds.

Next, we went over to Paso Robles’ East Side, to Sculptera Winery & Sculpture Garden (LINK). This was my first visit to Sculptera, even though I have been to Paso Robles many times. The first thing that you notice about Sculptera, after passing through the vineyards, is the amazing front sculpture garden. Here is a sample of what is there – there is another garden behind the tasting room.

Inside, the tasting room is nicely appointed, with more sculptures, including miniature versions of some of the larger sculptures. At this point, my suspicions were aroused – how often does an impressive winery and tasting room that clearly cost millions of dollars produce mediocre and overpriced wines?

Well, Sculptera is not in that category. The wines were uniformly excellent – so much so, that all three couples – all knowledgeable about wine – ended up joining the wine club. As I write this, two cases of their wines are on the way to our temporary residence, Roam.co (LINK), in Miami. And the tasting room staff was knowledgeable and very good at what they do. Their wines are priced from the low $20’s to $60.

Several of the wines on the tasting list (8 wines) were exceptional, including the first one poured, the newly-released 2015 Viognier, one of those whites that hits your palate and you instantly know that it is exceptional; it has everything you want, a rich bouquet – floral with hints of minerality; a slightly viscous mouthfeel; lots of green fruit and levels of complexity; and a smooth and very pleasing finish. At $26 retail, this wine is a bargain. Other highlights were the 2013 Pinot Noir, which was peppery and earthy, but the fruit held its own (yes, a good Pinot Noir from Paso Robles); the 2014 Primitivo (and the 2013 Primitivo Reserve, which was not on the list, but was poured for us), a big wine that also showed complexity and balance; the 2012 Merlot, also nicely balanced; and the two blends we tried, 2013 Figurine (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Primitivo, & 13% Merlot), and the 2013 Statuesque (38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah, 28% Petite Syrah). There is also a second label called Héroe Wines, which are also very good as well, and they honor the workers who produced it on the labels, front and back.  So many good wines.

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The Gang at Sculptera’s Wine Tasting Room

Our final stop was at Cass Winery (LINK), where we had lunch from their excellent kitchen. We did not do a tasting here, but had glasses of wine with lunch. Cass produces very good Rhône-style wines, and their whites – Rousanne & Marsanne and the blend they make with them are superior. It is a great lunch spot with indoor and outdoor seating and a very convivial atmosphere in the tasting room.

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Paso Robles is one of the most interesting wine regions in California right now. There are some wineries that have been around long enough to develop some great wines, there are some who are very nearly at that point, and there are a lot of very innovative things happening with interesting varietals and new viticulture and wine making techniques. A great place to visit.

The next day, we drove south to the Bien Nacido area and the Santa Rita Hills AVA to visit two very interesting wineries – more about that in the next post.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

MY YEAR IN WINE – 2016

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:

MOST INTERESTING WINERY VISITS:

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.

BEST WINE EXPERIENCES IN A RESTAURANT:

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).

 

TOP FIVE WINES ENJOYED:

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

 

BEST OVERALL WINE EXPERIENCES of 2016:

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

DEMYSTIFYING YOUR WINE ENJOYMENT

The wine world is filled with possibilities. There are dozens of nations, hundreds of regions, thousands of appellations, tens of thousands of vignerons and wine makers, and probably hundreds of thousands of wine outlets if you count restaurants. You can add to that all of the wine knowledge, science, literature, publications, websites, bloggers, and well, it’s a lot. Can you imagine walking into a restaurant, asking for a wine from a specific label which you happen to like, and them actually having it?

How is one to make choices about what to drink and when?

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Dorianne at Gallerie Lafayette’s Chateau d’Yquem Display – Paris

And there are price points to consider, wine rating points (should I order a 91 or an 88?), sometimes snooty sommeliers and wine shop employees, various vintages of differing quality, and labels, labels, labels. And those labels are on bottles with corks, bottles with screwcaps, boxes, cans, casks, and more. And by the way, how should you store that wine?

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Too many options can be frustrating.

Oh, and what wines to serve with which foods? Which wines to sip alone? What kind of wine opener should I use? What other wine accessories should I buy? What temperature at which to serve the wine? In what kind of glass (or slipper)? Bubbly, sweet, dry, demi-sec? Port or late harvest? And ice wine!

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Many “experts” are just guessing.

All of this can be seen as a huge obstacle to wine enjoyment, or it can be seen as a vast array of opportunities to enjoy wine. Like much of life, it all depends on your attitude.

Entry into the world of wine is really quite easy. Wine is practically ubiquitous – it’s pretty much everywhere. I was just in eastern Ukraine and had local wine, some of which was delicious (LINK).

One way to view the many options in the wine world and all of the different types of knowledge and skill that goes into the whole process of bringing wine to your table, is to see an opportunity for almost endless exploration. You can have a different wine every day and never repeat yourself (assuming varied wine retail options in your area and online).

Another way to approach the wine world is to find a few wines that you like and stop there. I have a friend who rarely drinks anything beyond Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay; another who will only drink oaky chardonnays. Some may only drink Port wines; others Napa Cabernets.

wine-pouring-gig

You can study broadly or do a deep dive into a narrow range of wine knowledge and experience. Most will be somewhere in between the extremes, but there is a niche for everyone. The key is not to pay too much attention to what the “experts” or the marketing forces tell you as they try to steer you toward their own preferences. Find your own way – if it isn’t interesting or fun for you, you’re not doing it right.

Me, I have some favorite wines, some favorite producers, some favorite growing areas, and some favorite countries. I also like to experiment with wines I have not tried yet, but I tend to favor a known quantity with a good meal. For example, we were in Kraków, Poland recently (LINK), dining at Padre, a local Polish restaurant. I was having lamb and noted that there was a very nice French Malbec from Cahors on the list. Knowing how a rich, inky Cahors Malbec would go with lamb made my decision easy – so I passed on some Polish wines. I picked a favorite over the chance to explore – that time. At other times, I will make a different decision. But that is me. You may well do something different.

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Visiting Wineries can be both Fun and Educational.

My point is that the bulk of the effort in learning about wine should go into learning what YOU like about it. Then go from there. You may become an expert in Cabernet Sauvignons from the east side of Paso Robles; or you may be the go-to person for advice on Hungarian reds. Or, you may be that person who always drinks Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay.

So, if you are new to wine, consider building yourself a starter case (LINK) to see what you like. Let your local wine retailer know your preferences, including if you like to try new things or stick close to what you already know. If you travel, check out the local wine scene, either in town – wine bars, urban wineries and restaurants; or head out into the local wine country to taste and explore. In an airport? Stop at Vino Volo and try a wine that you’ve never had before. Sign up for an online service like WTSO.com (LINK) and opt for something new to you.

Starter Case Slide
A Starter Case is a great way to find out what wines you like.

Maybe you are a long-time wine consumer who is ready to spread your wings a bit. You might begin with your local wine shop – tell them what you like and ask them how you can explore some new wines that have a similar profile. Go to a Greek restaurant with good Greek wines on the wine list, and try some if that is new to you. See if there are some small producers of wines in your local area and give them a try. There are lots of possibilities. Try not to be intimidated by the experts or by too many choices. Take your time and stick to what you like – and maybe explore around the edges.

The world of wine is literally at your feet. Enjoy!

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Text Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

AUSTRALIAN WINE TASTING IN LONDON

I was invited to an industry-only tasting in London yesterday. Titled “Artisans of Australian Wines,” it featured 43 labels being introduced by 15 British distributors. Held during the day at Cargo, a trendy nightclub in the Shoreditch area of London, the event was both fun and very interesting.

I had heard of exactly none of the 43 labels before the tasting. Indeed, most are smaller producers who do not export to the U.S., and who are just trying to break into the British market. I spent about 3 hours exploring, tasting, speaking to the people pouring (sometimes someone from the winery/vineyard, but most frequently someone from one of the distributors). I did not taste everything (there were at least 200 wines), not even close. But I will give you my impressions of what I did taste and who I did meet. And I will list all of the labels at the end of the blog post, in case you happen across any of them.

General impressions: there were some very nice wines here; in fact, most were very good or better. That would make sense, as they had been vetted by the distributors. Australia has no restrictions on who can grow what grapes where, and no blending rules, like there are in France and Spain, therefore, there is a great variety of both the varietals grown and the blends that are produced. There were a couple of wines that did knock my socks off, but only a couple. That said, pretty much all of these wines could have a place in my cellar or on my table or both.

So with my apologies to those labels that I did not get to taste (mostly in that really crowded section in the front room), let’s see what I did taste.

Adelina and VineMind Wines: The winemaker, Col McBryde was here pouring wines from his two labels. He produces about 2,000 cases/year and has been exporting to the UK for 6 years. Of most interest to me are his Rieslings, one from each label – both nicely balanced with minimal residual sugar.

Yangarra Estate: Nicely polished, well-crafted wines from a producer owned by Jackson Family Wines of California. Winemaker Peter Fraser (Australian Winemaker of the Year for 2016), has crafted two wonderful McLaren Vale Grenache wines from single vineyards. The 2013 High Sands Grenache is of particular note.

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Chalmers Wines: Kim Chalmers, daughter of the owner, was pouring the Chalmers Wines at the tasting. I tasted four of the ten Italian varietal wines (3 labels) on hand – a 2014 Vermentino, which was one of the best whites I tasted all day – smooth, velvety, with green fruit and a hint of minerality on the finishsimply excellent. The 2013 Fiano, a varietal I had not previously encountered, was like a younger sister to the Vermentino in character – which makes me think that the winemaker has a large influence on the wines. The red, I tasted, a 2015 Nero d’Avila, was well-structured but young – it needs some time. The 2016 Schioppettino, under the Chalmers Project label, was tannic and bold, with red fruit and a strong finish. Another varietal that is new to me.

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Castagna Wines: The father and son team of Julian and Adam Castagna were presiding over their table with aplomb. Their Rhône-focused vineyard & winery deliver the goods. Their wines were consistently well made and nicely balanced. I tasted 8 of 9 wines available (choosing not to taste their Shiraz Vermouth). Standouts were the 2016 Rousanne, bottled a week ago, and already moving toward becoming a great white wine. The highlight, however, is their 2008 Sparkling Genesis Shiraz-Viognier, a dark red sparkler that delivers great taste and can be paired with just about anything, including meat. This is an amazing wine.

Bill Downie Wine: Apparently, Bill Downie is fairly well-known in Australia as a producer of small quantity, high quality wines. The lone representation of his work, sitting at the end of a table where about 5 other labels were being poured by distributor reps, would have been easy to overlook – in fact, I did on my first pass. Only after reading about it in the catalog did I return to try the 2015 Riverland Biodynamic Petit Verdot. This was my favorite wine of the day. I liked everything about it – the nose was beautifully balanced, inviting you to taste, the mouthfeel was like velvet, with red and black fruit, some leathery tones, and a smoothness that carried into the finish. If I could have purchased a case, I would have. Be on the lookout for this wine.

 

L.A.S. Vino: Aside from good marketing and design (something that was in abundance here – no doubt a reflection of the assistance that a good distributor can provide) this winery makes some good wine. I only tasted the 2013 ‘Portuguese Pirate’ Margaret River Blend made with Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, and Souzao grapes. I cannot honestly attest as to whether this blend is on a par in style or quality to a similar blend in Portugal, but I can say that this wine is of very high quality and would be an excellent companion to a leg of lamb, a steak, or a good cigar. Think smooth, a bit jammy (but not too much), and rich in black fruit. Very nice.

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Vinteloper Wines: This Adelaide Hills winery is operated by winemaker David Bowley, who was present and pouring. I tasted three of his excellent wines, two Pinot Noirs – which were nicely crafted and very good, especially his 2012 OPN Lenswood Pinot Noir, a single vineyard beauty. We had a good discussion about Pinot Noir, and I told him about some of the great Burgundian style wines coming out of the Santa Rita Hills AVA in  California.

Bowley’s other wine, the 2015 ‘Urban Winery Project #3’ Shiraz/Malbec comes with a story. This nice table wine is the result of a project that Bowley undertakes every year at harvest time. He moves parts of his winemaking operation to a city and, for one month, opens the operation to the locals, who can do everything from stomping grapes to blending wines. It is a great marketing idea – and a great way to invite people into the winemaking process. Kudos to David Bowley.

Sami Odi Wines: Two wines from this small producer were available for tasting – both are a bit unusual in packaging and presentation. The distributor rep, a very nice young woman, spoke so fast that I did not get a lot of information from her (my issue, being an American – she was speaking The King’s English after all). But the wines were very good – a ‘Little Wine #5’ Syrah and a 2014 Syrah ‘XIV’. The former comes from a vineyard with vines planted in different years. Both bring out the best aspects of Syrah.

Chaffey Bros Wines: Producing in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, Chaffey Bros make a number of wines. I would say that their strength is in their whites. I tasted 5 of 7 wines available. Their Rieslings were very good, the best being a 2015 Tripelpunkt Riesling, with fruit from three vineyards – dry with a hint of sweetness, floral notes, and smooth finish – what I like to see in a Riesling. Of interest is a true field blend, called 2015 ‘Düfte Punkt’ with Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Weißer Herold (Kerner). The field blend was nicely balanced – not a great wine, but of interest because of the willingness to experiment.

S.C. Pannell/The Other Wine Co.: Side-by-side on the tasting table, these wineries bring good tasting wines at value price-points. I tasted the 2014 S.C Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah (McLaren Vale)  – very rich, even for a Syrah, almost jammy; but nice red and black fruit notes with chocolate and slate later on. Long finish. I tasted the 2015 The Other Wine Co. Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris (before the Syrah) – a decent table wine with notes of lemon grass and pear.

Again, I did not taste them all – my bad – but suffice to say that there were a range of good quality wines on display. Aside from a growing tendency to call Syrah by its original name, instead of Shiraz, the most remarkable thing about this group was the winesgood quality and individual character. The UK wine market will be looking up thanks to these Aussie newcomers.

As promised, a list of all of the producers present:

Lethbridge Wines      Deviation Road           Adelina         VineMind           Yangarra Estate     Mac Forbes          Chalmers     Gembrook Hill     Teusner        Eden Road        Ruggabellus   Eperosa        Strenua        Ochota Barrels       Jamseed Wines        Luke Lambert Wines           Timo Mayer        Delinquente Wine Co.      Si Vintners       Patrick Sullivan Wines           Xavier          Gentle Folk Wines           Castagna      Jauma        Bill Downie      La Línea           L.A.S. Vino              S.C. Pannell         The Other Wine Co.         Chaffey Bros                     Bellwether          Vinteloper           Bremerton Wines   The Pawn Wine Co.     smallfry        BK Wines Massena           Sami Odi           Byrne             CRFT            David Franz                     La Violetta           Ministry of Clouds

You may be seeing some of these labels in your area soon.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

WINE HISTORY IN DOWNTOWN LA?

On a trip to Olvera Street (LINK) (LINK) in downtown Los Angeles, across from the iconic Union Station, one finds not only links to the earliest settlements in the area and its Hispanic heritage, but vestiges of some of the earliest California wine production as well.

Wine was introduced into California by the Franciscans in the late 18th Century. By the early 1800s, there were a number of vineyards around the Los Angeles pueblo, where Olvera Street sits. Olvera Street was originally called Calle de las Vignas or Vine Street, because of the many wineries there.

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Later, French immigrants began to make wine using cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from France in the Los Angeles area and shipping it to northern California. Later, Italian immigrants joined the party on what is now Olvera Street.

Several of the restaurants on the street are housed in former wineries, including El Paseo Inn (LINK), where Dorianne and I had lunch. See the photo of the sign over the door. But, alas, there was no wine in sight, so we settled for an appropriate local beverage – a Cadillac Margarita.

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Nearby is the Avila Adobe (LINK), where two large grapevines grow. Over 150 years old, these vines were recently determined to be a hybrid of a native California grape and a European grape. They are related to the Vina Madre, or the mother grape, at the San Gabriel Mission (LINK).

 

So, winemaking in California pre-dates the Napa-Sonoma area by quite a bit. It was fun to explore the historic area of downtown LA, and then to go home and have a glass or two of California wine.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Starter case -USQLogo_WBShop (LINK) after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.

Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.

After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a Burgundian Chardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to  compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.

Here is the list:

Starter Case Chart
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.

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Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).

To create your own starter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).

I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.

A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.

It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.

Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

A DAY IN NORTHERN SANTA BARBARA COUNTY – THREE WINERIES

I love the Santa Barbara County AVAs. Not only do they produce great wines, have lovely scenery, and a host of great winemakers and tasting rooms; they are easily accessible from the Los Angeles area.

On Tuesday, Dorianne and I were joined by Mary Stec and Richard Clark for a day trip to Santa Barbara County (LINK). We visited three wineries and had lunch at Industrial Eats in Buellton. Mary is a home chef and runs a cooking school & is a weight-loss coach (LINK) (LINK); Richard is the winemaker for the Conejo Valley Wine Co-op (LINK to previous post).

Our plan was to visit two wineries in the Santa Rita Hills AVA (LINK), have lunch, then visit two wineries in the northern section Stana Ynez Valley AVA (LINK), north of Los Olivos. The Santa Rita Hills are known for Burgundian varietalsChardonnay and Pinot Noir; the northern Santa Ynez Valley is Rhône varietals – especially Syrah, but also Mouvedre, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and Cinsault.

A late start and a few other things shifted out plans a bit, but we made the most of a magnificent sunny day in the 80’s.

Our first stop was Babcock Winery (LINK) along Rt. 246 near Lompoc. Babcock has been around for a while and they make some excellent wines, with Pinot Noir leading the way. Our tasting room host Jamie showed the four of us through two different tastings, one featuring their estate fruit, the other wines sourced from elsewhere in the Santa Rita Hills AVA. Babcock’s new and updated tasting room is filled with their wines mixed with places to sit, antiques and other items, some of which are for sale.

Babcock’s strongest suit is their Pinot Noir. They produce several estate wines and a blend of several vineyards. All of them drink well and show excellent craftsmanship, balance, and quality. We purchased a bottle of their 2013 Radical Pinot Noir, which showed the most character (to us) and will age well. We will be laying this one down for a while. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is notable as well, as is their Backroads Red BlendBabcock offers tours and you can have events there. It is a great winery to visit.

The next stop was lunch at the wonderful Industrial Eats (LINK) in the warehouse area of Buellton (of “Sideways” fame). This artisanal eatery also features a number of local wines on tap for $9 a glass, beer, cider, and more. You eat at common tables and can watch the pizza maker use the brick ovens.

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Menu Wall at Industrial Eats

As we were leaving the restaurant, we noted that the tasting room next door, Alma Rosa, showed the proprietors to be Thekla and Richard Sanford, well-known pioneers of the Santa Rita Hills. Richard is in the Vintner’s Hall of Fame. It turns out that I did not know that Alma Rosa was the Sanfords’ (relatively) new wine operation. So, our plans changed and in we went.

Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards (LINK) has been around since 2005. Like most in the Santa Rita Hills AVA, they specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, also producing Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and a Pinot Noir-Vin Gris Rosé. They have two levels of tastings, so each couple had one of them. The wines here are uniformly well-crafted and each has unique characteristics. There are five Pinot Noirs (three are single vineyard/clone) and two each of the Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blancs. We purchased some of the La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Gris and the Clone 667 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir. We would have purchased more, but our wine locker is nearly full (really).

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The Tasting Crew at Alma Rosa
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Rena of Alma Rosa Wine

The tasting room staff included Rena, who is both knowledgeable about the wines and the process and very outgoing. This small wine tasting room is really lovely (and you can have food sent over from Industrial Eats to boot!).

Next, it was on up the 101 Freeway to Zaca Mesa Road near Los Olivos. Our destination was Andrew Murray Wines (LINK) and their new facility at the former Curtis Winery which was purchased and added to the Andrew Murray operation a few years ago. Long known as the producer of the best Syrahs along the Central Coast, Andrew Murray has expanded into some additional Rhône varietals plus a few others since taking over Curtis. Our tasting was a reminder that these are truly exceptional wines. Highlights of the tasting were, of course, the Syrahs, especially the 2013 Thompson Vineyard Syrah, and the 2014 Watch Hill Vineyard Syrah. Both had nicely balanced fruit and minerality, a beautiful bouquet, and a smooth finish.

Also notable were the 2014 Estate Grown Cinsault, and the 2013 Curtis Vineyard Mourvèdre. Both were very well crafted and balanced with minerality and fruit that alternately competed for your attention. We bought some of the Cinsault. And finally, the 2015 Espérance Rosè, a light and crisp rosé made of nearly 100% Cinsault. It results in a surprising rich and flavorful rosé reminiscent of the wines of the Tavel A.O.P. (LINK to previous post) in the Rhône Valley. This is one of the best rosés I have had in some time. Richard and I took a case of this beauty home. Well – it was on sale and I will find the space!

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That was our day – we headed home with wine in the trunk and some great memories that will be rekindled each time we open a bottle.

And a reminder – our amazing Wine Tour of the southern Rhône Valley and Provence (including Tavel) still has some space left. Visit (LINK – Deluxe Wine Tours) to get all the information and to register.

Wine Tour Online Image 1

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard