Tag Archives: Pinot Noir

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.

Photo Jun 26, 6 18 00 PM

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

Photo Jun 24, 5 10 13 PM
Your Scribe – Getting With the London Look (LOL)

A WEEK IN THE OKANAGAN WINE COUNTRY – OVERVIEW

I just spent a week in the Okanagan Valley, in Kelowna and the areas surrounding the southern half of Lake Okanagan. The lake, a 90-mile long glacial lake, which, at the moment, is at a record high, creating some havoc in the area. I was there for a conference, but had four days to explore some of the wineries and restaurants that make this area so inviting. How many wineries? I was told 235, 250, even 285 by various people. The WineBC website says it’s 172 (LINK).

Wine - Okanagan wine-map

This was my third trip to the Okanagan since 2007, and the number of wineries has definitely multiplied. Another change from that time is the quality of the wines – there are some truly excellent wines being produced up and down the region. I made return visits to three wineries and two of them had improved their products greatly.

The Okanagan was initially home to white wines from Germany. Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are still prevalent, and used for ice wines and late harvest wines, which have precise definitions in Canada (LINK). There are also drier versions of these varietals being made today, echoing trends across the world.

The growing season has been lengthening here, as in other places. This means that red varietals are being grown across a wider area than in the past. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and others are very common, joining Pinot Noir which has been widely cultivated for some time. Over the past decade, many wineries are producing excellent reds. As a rule, the wines are in the European style, more elegant than bold.

Delta Grand Kelowna
Downtown Kelowna – Delta Grand Hotel in foreground

Kelowna is a beautiful city of about 200,000 on the east side of Lake Okanagan. With a temperate climate and warm summers, the area attracts vacationers and there are many large homes along the lake. Good restaurants, wine bars, brewpubs, and more are readily available. A number of wineries, both urban and rural, have restaurants.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

Cactus Club at Kelowna Yacht Club (LINK): A modern restaurant with two bars (patrons must be seated at the bar to be served, a BC law), a view of the lake and downtown, and a very attractive and well-trained wait staff (think little black dresses). I only went here three times during my stay because I moved across the lake to West Kelowna for the last three days. Great food, ranging from casual to fine dining on the same menu, a nice selection of wines by the glass, and a good bottle list as well. Standard pours are either 6oz or 9oz; generous! The prices are a bit expensive, but the exchange rate works in your favor if you are not Canadian (currently about 70% of US dollar).

Photo Jun 11, 12 02 55 PM
Pinot Gris at the Cactus Club

Oak + Cru, Delta Grand Hotel (LINK): A full-service restaurant and bar in the lobby of the hotel and extending out to a lakeside area. Also a wine tasting room featuring only Okanagan wines. I ate dinner there one night, had glasses of wine in the bar another, and did a tasting at the wine tasting room/wine cellar as well. Each experience was excellent – good food, good wines, a beautiful setting, and well-trained staff. If you want to taste a range of local wines without leaving town, this is the place. There are tastings each evening from 4 to 6 pm, each featuring a different area of the Okanagan region and different varietals, plus food pairings. The tasting room can be reserved for private dinners in the evenings for groups of six or more.

Volcanic Hills Winery/Blue Saffron Bistro (LINK): In West Kelowna, a winery and restaurant. The bistro is outdoors and offers a view of sloping vineyards, with the lake and mountains in the distance. I went for lunch and a tasting (separate days), and enjoyed both. The kitchen does a good job, and their 2016 Gamay/Pinot Noir rosé wine was an excellent pairing with my lunch salad. Volcanic Hills whites are their strength – especially their Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay. The Viognier was a bit thin and not to my taste. Reds were decent, but not outstanding.

In the next post, I’ll talk about the wineries I visited on this trip.

Photo Jun 07, 12 01 10 PM

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

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

WINDING THROUGH FRANCE – BITS AND PIECES – AND AMAZING WINES

As I write this, I am aboard Celebrity’s Silhouette cruise ship heading toward Athens. We embarked at Rome’s Civitavecchia Port a couple of days ago. I blogged about the cruise ship wine experience (LINK) a while back while on the Silhouette’s sister ship, the Equinox. It’s pretty much the same experience as then.

So, let’s look at my recent all-too-brief trip through France. Ten days, split between Paris, Mâcon, and Lyon. The purpose of the trip was to look at a property near Mâcon, which we did; deciding to focus on Lyon instead. But more about that later.

We took the train from London to Paris via the Chunnel – a very nice experience. First class tickets were about 80 euros each. It was a smooth and comfortable ride.

2016-10-11-10-34-18
A Paris Morning – Looking toward the Eiffel Tower through Place de la Concorde.

Our first night in Paris, we went to the legendary Willi’s Wine Bar (LINK), where we had a very good dinner and some very nice wine. We opted for a 2014 Domaine Mee Godard Morgan Grand Cras, which was very nice and on the less expensive side of the wine list. Our young waiter recommended it after I told him what I liked and my price range. Morgan means the Gamay varietal, which is the backbone of all of the Beaujolais reds. This wine won’t amaze you, but it delivered what I wanted to go along with my duck at Willi’s.

Our second evening was a dinner at a friend’s apartment in St. Germain-des-Prés. We took along two bottles of 2012 Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet Gevery-Chambertin Symophonie Pinot Noir, from a favorite Burgundian tthat accompanied the beautiful French roasted chicken and vegetables perfectly. This is a very nice mid-range Burgundian red.

2016-10-11-22-48-50

I should mention that it is considered improper in some places in France to bring wine as a dinner guest – the sense being that no French household would be without so essential an item. However, we checked with our hosts first to get their okay. One of them, John Baxter (LINK), is the author of several excellent books about Paris, including his new one about St. Germain-des-Prés, the first in a series about Paris neighborhoods. His Book An Immoveable Feast, a Paris Christmas is a particular favorite of mine.

The next morning, it was off to Mâcon by TGV High Speed Rail. Another smooth and quick ride. While staying with friends in Mâcon, we ate in most days, so the wine story here is about a small wine shop that I found in Cluny, a monastery town northwest of Mâcon. We had a very nice lunch at L’Halte de l’Abbey Café with a nice house wine. Then, at the wine shop, we realized that the shop owner, Bruno Berthelin, had been at the café, and discovered that he had sold them the house wine. Small towns. Au Plaisir Dit Vin stocks over 350 fine wines, champagne and accessories. Twenty years as a passionate Wine Merchant, a profession that he prefers to describe as acting as a sense awakener, Bruno  like to share the delights of wine with customers.

We purchased six bottles that he recommended, all local Mâconnaise and Beaujolais wines, that proved excellent over the next couple of dinners and lunches.

Then it was onto Lyon, the second largest city in France, which feels much smaller than Paris. We fell in love with Lyon. It is very much like Paris in the downtown and old city, but without the iconic tourist sites that make the city so crowded. And, Lyon is the culinary capital of France, the place where most Parisian chefs are trained. In three nights, we had excellent meals for lunch and dinner. I will highlight one.

Our highlight was a dinner at ‘l’Institut’ Paul Bocuse Restaurant-école at Bellecour Lyon-Centre (LINK), where students of the Paul Bocuse Culinary Institute run a restaurant as part of their training. It is a relatively reasonably priced way to experience a Bocuse restaurant – and it was excellent. Here are some photos.

Surprisingly, the wine list is very reasonably priced – with only a few bottles topping 80 euros. Most are in the 40 to 55 euro range. There is a tasting menu of 8 courses including wine or you can order ala carte. We chose the latter. The service was very good (a little nervousness here and there), and the food was beautifully prepared. We felt that we got a real bargain at about 220 euros with gratuity (and we had an 80 euro wine).

Ah, that wine. They were out of our first choice, another Gevery-Chambertin Pinot Noir. A 2013 Jean Fery & Fils Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Damodes Pinot Noir, was substituted (at a lower price to match the Gevery) it was the essence of Burgundy. Great from nose to finish, it was an impressively well-crafted wine. Simply beautiful. It made the evening even more perfect.

2016-10-18-19-58-44

We plan to return to Lyon early in 2017 to explore the possibilities of living there. First, the rest of this cruise, a week in Rome, and three months in Miami. Stay tuned!

 

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.

2016-09-20-12-09-04

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.

2016-09-20-11-53-12

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.

2016-09-20-13-36-32

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

THE KIEV WINE SCENE

We spent 12 days in Ukraine earlier in the month, mostly to attend a conference. But the first long weekend was in Kiev, the capital city of 4.5 million along the Dniepper RiverKiev is in a deep economic funk, although, as usual, there are some who are doing quite well. Most restaurants that have a wine list have a few Ukrainian wines along with a couple of selections from Italy, France, and/or Spain. Our hosts had laid in a few cases of inexpensive Spanish wine for our stay.

The highlight of our time in Kiev, food and wine-wise, was a visit to the Kanapa Restaurant, on Andreevskiy Spusk, 19. Billed as featuring “molecular” Ukrainian cuisine, it is more about very good food served beautifully – most does not fit the description of molecular. That said, the place was very good. There is both a wine steward and a cheese steward on the premises.

 

There were five in our party, so we had three bottles of wine, plus digestifs. Two of the bottles were Ukrainian and the middle bottle a Barbera from Italy. Also, when he learned that I was a wine blogger, the steward brought three Ukrainian wines to taste – including a nice rosè – and the great Ukrainian Pinot Noir mentioned below.

The Ukrainian Cabernet was very light and very young. The Barbera D’Alba from Pelissero, was average – nothing special (I have a theory about western European wines shipped to eastern Europe – they rarely are very good). But the Ukrainian Pinot Noir was something special. Smooth, with red fruit, a hint of minerality, and medium tannins, the wine could have been from Burgundy (in the middle of the pack there, but still . . . ). Had we tried this one first, we would have stayed with it.

There are some higher end restaurants in Kiev with good wine lists, but overall it is not a wine destination. Perhaps as their wine making skills improve and the climate warms a bit, that will change.

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.

Starter case -USQ
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.

2016-04-19 13.03.39
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).

2016-04-19 14.01.41
The Tasting Crew at Alma Rosa
2016-04-19 14.20.14
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!

2016-04-19 15.01.14

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

A WEEKEND IN EUGENE – AND FAREWELL TO OREGON

Dorianne and I spent our final four days visiting Oregon in Eugene, home of the University of Oregon and located in the southern portion of the famed Willamette Valley, the major “wine country” of Oregon. Our stay was both business and pleasure, as I had some speaking engagements here, but we did find some time to enjoy a bit of the local wine scene.

We dined at Café 440, Marche, the Market Food Court, and at King’s Estate Winery and Vineyards. We did a wine tasting and saw a Flamenco show at The Oregon Wine Lab, and we drank a few bottles at our friend’s home where we stayed.

Eugene is a college town, and on that side of the 5 Freeway, there is a downtown and quite a few restaurants, most of the kind that college students can afford; on the other side of the freeway there are the chain stores and some additional restaurants (like Café 440).

Let’s hit the highlights.

King’s Estate (LINK) is the largest of the area wineries – it would be a large operation just about anywhere. With over 500 acres under cultivation here and sourcing from a number of other vineyards in Oregon, some of which they own, they are large producers – the largest US producer of Pinot Gris, their flagship wine.

The estate is crowned by a hill, atop which sits the winery/tasting room/restaurant complex, designed to look like a Tuscan estate. Vineyards surround the complex. We had lunch in the dining room, which surrounds the tasting room. There are also tables outside on a large stone patio overlooking some beautiful scenery. You can get tasting flights with your meal if you like. I had the Pinot Noir flight, as did Dorianne. Our good friend, Linda Finley had the Pinot Gris flight. Our favorite among the Pinot Noirs was the estate Pinot Noir blend, which was the least expensive of the three wines in the flight.

After a very good lunch, we moved over to the tasting room and met Nicholas, one of the three gentlemen on duty. King’s Estate makes some very good wines – especially their  Pinot Gris and Pinot Noirs, but their Chardonnay is also exceptional – very light and crisp, more of a Chablis style, and at a price point of only $18, a great value.

On Saturday evening, we were joined by our local host, Carole Angius, for an early dinner at Marche (LINK), rated the #1 restaurant in Eugene by TripAdvisor.com. We stuck to appetizers, but everything was beautifully prepared and delicious. The wine list is also excellent – we had a French Macon Chardonnay by the glass, as we were going to a wine tasting afterward. I highly recommend Marche.

Flamenco in Eugene? Why not? The Oregon Wine Lab (LINK), a local urban winery and wine bar, was featuring a Flamenco show – more of a demonstration by a visiting teacher from New York and some of his local students. That part of the evening was fun (LINK to previous postings about Flamenco).

The wines made at The Oregon Wine Lab carry the William Rose (LINK) label. We tasted several during the evening. Our favorite was the 2013 Oregon Pinot Noir ($28). The whites that we tried were all very high in acid. There is also a 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($48) that we did not taste. I would say that the wines here are drinkable but not outstanding – but the place is fun and there was a large crown enjoying the dancing and consuming a lot of wine.

Café 440 (LINK) is a reliably good place to eat. I had a dinner and a lunch there. The service is good, the food is good, and there is a decent list of mostly local wines and craft beers (plus a full bar). Worth a visit.

There is a nice wine shop in the 5th Street Marketplace (LINK) with a great selection of Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs and other wines from Oregon and around the world. You can also taste wines and have a meal from the marketplace deli.

2016-04-03 13.36.56
Display at 5th Street Marketplace

So that wraps up our five week visit to Oregon. We had a wonderful time, some really good wine and food, and saw the beautiful scenery. From Ashland and the Rogue & Applegate Valleys; to Roseburg and the Umpqua Valley; to Portland and the northern Willamette Valley; to Eugene and the southern Willamette Valley, there is much to see and many great wines to drink. We shall return!

WEEKEND IN PORTLAND WITH WINE (AND FOOD)

Dorianne and I spent Easter weekend in Portland, Oregon, staying downtown at the Westin Hotel. This post is an overview of the food and wine experiences of our weekend. I realize that we only experienced a sampling of what this great city has to offer.

Upon arrival at the Westin Hotel (LINK) on Friday, we were greeted with a wine tasting in the hotel lobby. ENSO (LINK), an Urban Winery featuring varietals and blends sourced from Oregon, California, and Washington. The tasting featured a white blend, a 2012 Counoise (unusual for these parts), and a red blend. All were very drinkable, especially the red blend which had low acidity and a very smooth viscosity. The Counoise was heavier and more viscous, with nice notes of red fruit and a hint of minerality.

After chatting with Kimberly Parks, the Enso Wine Club Coordinator and a number of other hotel guests about wine and travel, it was time to go upstairs and change for our dinner reservation at Jake’s Famous Crawfish (LINK), a member of the Landry’s Group. We walked the four block from our hotel in the crisp evening weather, passing the iconic Portland Food Trucks surrounding the park nearby (almost all closed at night).

Jake’s is that quintessential downtown seafood house – lots of wood, excellent and experienced servers, a long menu of selections and a great wine list. We ordered a bottle of Ponzi Pinot Gris (LINK) (LINK to NOTES), one of the better known Willamette Valley (LINK) producers. We were not disappointed – light and crisp with balanced acidity, mushrooms on the nose, and pear and pepper on the palate. A very nice wine. It went well with our Kamiai oysters, with Dorianne’s halibut and with my horseradish encrusted steelhead. It was a wonderful meal in a great atmosphere – not really adventurous, but solid and everyone knew what they were doing.

IMG_9299

Lunch on Saturday at Bamboo Sushi SW (LINK), one of four in Portland, for some really excellent food accompanied by a Sapporo draft beer. The lunch specials here are really a great value. We spent the afternoon on a city tour with good friends David Alexander and Patience Muanza and her son, Josh. The tour included walking along 23rd Street in Nob Hill (LINK) and sampling some food (dessert!) and a flight of Willamette Pinot Noirs at Papa Hayden Café (LINK).

Dinner on Saturday was with good friends Laura Berman and Craig Benelli (LINK) at Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen (LINK), a very busy place with more of a Portland feel to it. Crowded – with a system where you wait in line, order, then wait for a table, and they bring you your food – and loud, it was a fun evening very different from our other dinners in town. The Pho was great. Luc Lac has wines by the glass or 1/2 bottle only (!); we discovered a very nice Rosé from Tavel (LINK), the only AOP in France that produces only rosé wines. As an added bonus, we ran into Dorianne’s nephew, Brian Nelson and his wife, Krista, from LA.

Sunday we went to the New Thought Center for Spiritual Living (LINK) in Lake Oswego for Easter service, where Rev. Dr. David Alexander presides over a large and vibrant spiritual community. Then off to lunch/brunch at St. Honoré Boulangerie (LINK) near the lake. Amazing baked goods – very French – and wonderful sandwiches accompanied by a French Pinot Gris made for a nice repast.

2016-03-27 13.00.46
The Patisserie Case at St. Honore Cafe in Lake Oswego

After a relaxing afternoon of napping and surfing the web in our hotel room it was time for what would become the highlight of our Portland visit, food and wine wise. Our dinner reservations at Veritable Quandry (LINK), was a very special experience indeed. A friend recommended it to us (we had already made reservations) and noted that her brother, Matt, works there.  Matt made us feel very welcome indeed, as did our excellent server, but it is Chef Annie Cuggino who is the star of this show. The food was simply excellent – no other word will do. A wine list that is appropriately heavily Oregon-centric but with a good number of other global wine regions represented, rounded out a marvelous dining experience.

2016-03-27 20.35.09
Pork Chop in Cider & Ale Sauce
2016-03-27 20.35.15
Trout in Cannelloni Bean Puree

2016-03-27 20.01.57

Located in a lovely garden-style building of brick and steel near the river on the edge of downtown, Veritable Quandry is a local gem and has been since 1971. The garden seating is closed now, but we were seated at a table next to a floor to ceiling window. The long bar is also inviting – you pass by it as you enter. I was tempted to order a cocktail, but that wine list was simply too inviting. We selected a 2007 Stone Mountain Vineyard Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (LINK) from a list of about three dozen Oregon Pinots. It was an amazing wine – smooth, peppery, light enough to accompany Dorianne’s trout and enough body to hold up to my pork chop in a cider and ale sauce. Then house made sorbets and an Inniskillin Ice Wine for dessert. A truly delicious meal in every respect.

2016-03-27 21.05.37

The sad news: Veritable Quandry is slated to close in the next several months – the city is taking the land for a new court house and the owner has decided not to relocate. So get here soon! Some photos of the meal experience are above.

As we depart Portland after this short visit, I know that we will return – there is too much left undone and some things we want to experience again!