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Friday, February 23, 2018

I’m Calling PS! I Love You, Wine

For the literally challenged P.S. means “post script.” For example, you finished hand writing a letter then went, oops, forgot to tell you something. Back in the day, you know before computers, you couldn’t cut and past, you added a note at the bottom on the page.

Probably for many people P.S. is the 2007 movie P.S. I Love You.
Or the novel-turned-play-turned-movie, P.S. Your Cat is Dead
Or perhaps the 1963 Beatles’ song, P.S. I Love You.

But for me, and many others like me, PS is only ONE thing – Petite Sirah, a wine often ridiculed, misunderstood and oftentimes avoided, simply because it's hard to pigeon-hole. With J. Lohr’s 2015 Tower Road Petite Sirah from Paso Robles, you’ll be able to discover the beauty of PS.

Yes, the first whiff of this wine suggests oak, not uncommon for PS. As with any wine there are good and bad examples, and Jerry Lohr and his team do right by Petite Sirah. This wine is altogether enjoyable with a brambly quality, boysenberry, slightly tart blackberry compote, and blueberry pie. But there’s also enough acidity to work with food, though I’d veer towards cream based dished not grilled meats. Even the following day, about 20 hours after opening, this still offers rich fruit, a creamy texture (in part because of the full malolactic fermentation) and yes, it’s still just as enjoyable, and a wee bit softer. As you delve into PS even more you might consider the group PS I Love You, the wine organization. Yes, there are dedicated hard core PS-heads out there. Who knows, with this J. Lohr iteration, you might become one too.

P.S. I did not use the word “inky.”

ORIGIN: Paso Robles, California
PRICE: $35/ 750ML
ALCOHOL: 15.1%

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Chappellet Hill Country

Chappellet is well known in Napa. Now in their 51st year, this family-owned winery still turns out an impressive portfolio of wine. And just as Napa is synonymous with Cabernet, Chappellet is synonymous with Pritchard Hill. Named for homesteader Charles Pritchard who in the 1890s was growing Zinfandel and Riesling on this spot, Mr. Pritchard had no idea he was growing the wrong grapes in these alluvial soils. It’s Cabernet that shines light a light on this hill. In 1967 Donn and Molly Chappellet bought property here, in part based on the advice of André Tchelistcheff, then at Beaulieu Vineyard, and since then have been working Cab here.

Their 2014 Signature Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is comprised of predominantly Cabernet with 9% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc and 4% Merlot. Upon initial opening…it needs some air time, hang time, a bit of time where the oxygen affects the wine and brings out a deeper resonance. So yes, taste it, but let the glass alone for a while – I suggest a decanting time of at least 30 minutes. Once done you easily pick up notes of blackberry compote, blubbery pie, boysenberry, side notes of cedar and mint, with back notes of eucalyptus and sweet resin, cocoa and anise. The acidity and tannins are fully integrated so that when you drink this, it’s a comprehensive mouth feel. So, let this grow on you, slowly. Wines like this need time to develop in the glass, and that is one of the reasons of making a wine like this. Time. Time and the willingness to explore.

ORIGIN: Napa, California
PRICE: $65/750ML
ALCOHOL: 14.5%

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sparkle & Pop: Wine and Popcorn for no Particular Reason

Food and wine pairings are to me the equivalent playing darts blindfolded. Sure there are some basic rules, but everyone’s so into finding the “perfect pairing” that we can lose sight of the simple joy of food and wine together. Yes, I love a big-boy Chardonnay and popcorn with a dab of goat cheese, even York Peppermint Patties with Ketel One Vodka (which I wrote about for The Hollywood Reporter), but the bottom line is not the ideal pairing, but the sheer fun of food and wine together and the company we share it with.

So J Vineyards based in Headlsburg, and Seattle based KuKuRuZa Popcorn….and go!

The J Vineyards Cuvee 20 Brut ($38) is always a winner. I’ve had this sparkler many times and it never disappoints me. The Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are all from Russian River Valley. Designed as a  non-vintage to initially celebrate their 20th anniversary, it’s actually become something of a stalwart sparkler. The nose is all bright crisp green apple and citrus. The acidity and carbonation have always been mild, which I appreciate in a sparkling –aggressive carbonation is like fighting with your beverage, no thank you. There are plenty of fruit notes here, from guava to tangerine to lemon-lime, but beyond that, it’s simply pleasurable to drink. The Brown Butter and Sea Salt popcorn is just that, no real explanation necessary. The butteriness mutes some of the tropical fruit notes of the wine, subduing them so that are compliment each other. And yes, this popcorn is exceptional all by its lonesome.

The 2015 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40) utilizes 10 different Pinot clones including one of my personal favorites, Swan. If you care about soil types, it sounds more like a law firm: Goldridge, Arbuckle and Zamora, but these represent 5 different estate vineyards. This is the kind of Pinot that non Pinot drinkers (aka, my wife) might like as it doesn’t exhibit cola flavors, has a food-friendly acidity, is smooth and drinks more seamlessly that other Pinots – less fussy and taste specific and is more generous with its dimension of fruit. There is red raspberry, pomegranate, boysenberry jam and pepper spice, all wrapped up in a silky texture. The Tuxedo popcorn is all chocolate, brown sugar and white chocolate and sea salt but nicely balanced and not overwhelming (well, perhaps a wee bit too much chocolate for me but I guess I’m abnormal). So…chocolate and Pinot, huh? Actually here, yes it works. More often than not red wines and sugar together come off as astringent and non-complimentary, kind of like Nancy and Tonya – if you don’t get that reference go see the movie I, Tonya). But weirdly the sugared nature of this addictive popcorn subdues both the fruit of the wine and the chocolate of the popcorn.

So there you have it. Wine and popcorn. For no other reason than…why not?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Rhone on the Range

The Rhone Valley in Eastern France is known for what we in American call Rhone grape varieties: Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne, and a few others. The Beauty of these wines is that they typically are restrained, yet floral, subtle, earthy exhibiting less potent berry fruits than say, Cabernet from Napa, and have higher acidity, meaning they work well as food wines. Two versions, specific to the Southern part of the Rhone Valley, recently caught my eye, and they are immensely good quality considering the price tag.

The Cotes du Rhone Villages Puymeras Rouge ($18) is comprised of mainly Grenache with 20% Syrah and 10% Carignan. The lighter berry notes are clearly evident – raspberry, black cherry and boysenberry, but beyond that - and typical of Rhone wines - there is an earthiness of cedar and wet earth, black licorice, light pomegranate, but still juicyfruit without being candied.

The Cotes du Rhone Reserve Blanc ($12) is made up of mainly Grenache along with 15% Marsanne, 10% Clairette and 10% Viognier. There are light tropical notes, lemon zest, a nearly vibrant peach note and back notes of honeysuckle and slight butter toffee, though this is not a sweet wine, but it hints at it, though offers mainly bright  summer fruit.

Widely available here in the U.S. I highly recommend one or both, not only as a deviation from the norm, but a surprise for quality in your glass.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Nothing Scary: Caspar Estate’s One Stop Christmas Shop

Well, you gotta buy a Christmas gift, right? Same old? No. We don’t need any more ties, gift cards, closeout sweatshirts, Snuggies, candles, or refrigerator magnets.

Holiday shopping should ne cool, fun and provide the gift-getter with something unique and unusual. Napa’s Caspar Estate and Cultivar Wines produces many things from their estate, including wine (Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Syrah, among others), honey, olive oil, balsamic vinegar (seven iterations of them both), even beer. You can mix and match a gift basket, just pick one item, or whatever you need to assemble quality products that, I truly believe, will make someone happy. So check these things out and start crossing people off your list.

Their 2015 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon pulls fruit from mainly Napa Valley, as well as 25% from Sonoma and 15% Mendocino fruit, and clocks in at a reasonable 14.3% alcohol, being very balanced. With blueberry and black berry, raspberry and violet, mild tannins and bright acidity and fresh fruit. It’s a lovely Cabernet that represents three different counties, a sort of “bringer together” kind of wine and one that at $32 makes it easy to buy it.

Their Caspar Estate Wildflower Honey ($18) is not only organic, but it’s unfiltered, dark, thick and sweet with an almost orange blossom, black tea and honeysuckle note.

Caspar Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($26) is rich and creamy, with fresh cut grass notes and lacking a harsh bitter component.

Find more ideas here:

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Trader Wine: Pairing Trader Joe’s Most Popular Foods with Wine

The first Trader Joes opened in South Pasadena in 1967 and today there are 464 stores across 41 states. Of course, wine has been around a lot longer, and with the popularity of Trader Joe’s easy format food, you need wines to match. So I looked at the most popular items purchased at Trader Joes and picked the best wines to go with them.

2015 Apothic Red + Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups  
Why it Works: Apothic, a jammy blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot has a touch of residual sugar and this slight sweetness works with not only with the semi sweet chocolate but the creamy peanut butter as well, striking a balance. Since Apothic is not totally dry the black cherry and blackberry characteristics find a companion in the not overtly sweet peanut butter cups, and the combo is like pb&j.
How To Work It: Apothic should be slightly chilled with the peanut butter cups at room temperature.
(Bonus Tip: Chill the PB cups in the fridge for an added decadent sensation).

2015 Amici Sauvignon Blanc + Mandarin Orange Chicken
Why it Works: Amici is that classic Napa Sauvignon Blanc; light, bright, herbaceous, with pear, lemon-lime and hints of passion fruit, stainless steel fermented, slightly creamy and great on acidity. By contrast the chicken glaze is a mildly sweet thick orange and ginger sauce and the bright citrus notes of the wine make all the flavors come alive. The sweet of the glaze enhances the herbal and citrus of the wine.
How To Work It: Keep the Sauvignon Blanc chilled and use minimal glaze. Too much and the sweetness overtakes everything.
(Bonus Tip: Add fresh cut scallions to enhance the wine and food).

2013 Cadaretta Cabernet Sauvignon + Wood Fired Naples-Style Uncured Pepperoni Pizza
Why it Works: From Washington State comes this earthy Cabernet that explodes with black berry, black cherry, sweet vanilla and mild acidity and since the pepperoni here is uncured (less salty), you get a more mild iteration of the meat along with a zesty red sauce. Therefore the Cabernet compliments the pizza and the subtle wood-fired crust, almost like a campfire note, to make the wine even more expressive.
How To Work It: The pizza can either be warm or cold, but the wine needs to be
at room temperature.
(Bonus Tip: Top the pizza with fresh basil for herbaceous notes).

Decoy 2016 Sonoma County Chardonnay + Soy Chorizo
Why it Works: This Decoy is 100% Chardonnay and 90% stainless steel fermented giving it a bright acidity which works in alignment with the spicy nature of this vegan chorizo, not in contrast to it. Therefore you get a hearty palate full of flavors. From there you can decide on using the chorizo as a nacho topping, in a taco, on a salad. The citrusy zesty chardonnay slightly heightens the earthy spice.
How To Work It: This pairing is best when the chorizo is hot, as long as the Chardonnay is super cold.
(Bonus Tip: Mix cold sour cream with the hot chorizo).

2014 Stoke’s Ghost Petite Sirah + Hatch Mac ‘n Cheese
Why it Works: Sustainably-farmed Petite Sirah from Hames Valley Vineyard in the southern part of Monterey County produces jammy fruit, boysenberry, black cherry, huckleberry with mild tannins and acidity, which in turn allows the slight spiciness of the Hatch chilies to be showcased. The creamy, cheesy, gooey dish is enhanced by the berry flavor and acidity of the wine.
How To Work It: This works best when the food is hot and the wine is slightly chilled.
(Bonus Tip: Sprinkle smoked paprika on the Mac for an earthier dynamic).

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Flipping You The Bird: Improper Wines For Thanksgiving

There is this weirdly compulsive thing these days to pair wine with your food, as if searching for and experiencing the “perfect pairing” is tantamount to Indian Jones discovering the Covenant of the Ark. Yes, I admit I’ve written about that too (uh, the pairings, not the Ark), and certainly wine and food are crucially important – not to mention I’ve reviewed restaurants professionally for a decade. The point being…drink whatever the hell you want with whatever the hell you want to eat. No more elusive pairings and “ideal” wine for turkey day. Having said that…I would like to see these wines on your table.

2014 IL Tascante
Soft and quiet, this is not a loud wine; it’s understated and you’ve probably never had this grape before – Nerello Mascalase. Grown on volcanic soils on the north-east slope of the volcano Mt. Etna in Sicily, there is an earthiness, a mineral note, a chalkiness with this wine. There is muted raspberry, cranberry, and rhubarb with back notes of Bing cherry. Though aged in Slovenian oak barrels for 18 months, you hardly notice any oak at all, more a testament of the lithe but structured fruit. And it is this subtleness that makes this wine so compelling. Well, that and the fact the family has been doing the wine thing for two centuries. ($50)

2015 Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch
Out of the Russian River Valley the good folks at Sonoma-Loeb turn out a lot of great wine and this Pinot, from a well-established vineyard is part of a great lineage. All Pinot all the time this make-up of clones 667, 777 and 115 was fermented using native yeast and aged for just 11 months in French oak. 11 months is correct because you don’t want this beautiful fruit to get lost in some kind of cedar box. Black cherry, red currant, candied cranberry, star anise, cola and soft baking spices round out this rich, but pure iteration of Pinot. Great acidity and mild tannins make this work with damn near whatever you put on the table, or, better yet, get some cheese and have at it. ($40)

2016 Ritual Chardonnay
Chardonnay, again, really? Yes, really. This bright crisp Chardonnay from Chile is expressive, young, and fresh with a tanginess and food-worthy acidity. You’ll easily pick up on the lemon curd, kiwi, gooseberry, lime kefir, and green apple notes, and more subtly the hazelnut, mango and quince. The fruit hails from the Casablanca Valley, just 18 miles from the coast, and is whole cluster fermented in concrete eggs (which helps immensely with viscosity) and then gets a wee bit of oak time, so you’re left with a robust white wine that plays well with others. ($21.99)

2016 Steele Viognier
Viognier, the odd named grape most people mispronounce, is one of those, cool-if-it’s-done-right wines. And Jed Steele does it right. All the way from Lake County, this offers lychee, honeysuckle, Meyer lemon, lime curd and sugared almond. A beautiful viscosity and silkiness makes the floral components of this wine that much more provocative. It’s fermented in stainless steel so it retains a bright buoyancy but is not too heavy and flowery. A mere four month of oak time allows this wine to achieve a balance of fruit, acidity and wood. ($19)