Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Taking the "chill" off with Winter Wine Picks

My Splurge Pick
It seemed like a good idea when I decided to ask some of Southern California's leading wine purveyors to make some"Winter Wine" selections.  The only problem - winter has been scarce in the Southland - pretty mild up north as well.  The roads are clear around the ski resorts, there has been very little rain and we have seen more golf weather than anything else. Fortunately, the night chill is biting enough (as low as the 40', but mostly in the 50's) to remind us that it is indeed, winter.  It's fire pit weather.

I asked each wine purveyor to give me three Winter Wines - a "Value" Wine ($10 to $20) an "Under the Radar" Wine ($20 to $50) and a "Splurge" Wine (over $50).  Wine purveyors were more than happy to step up and offer their selections.

What do we mean by "Winter Wines?"  Gwendolyn Wilson Osborn of online superstore Wine.com, says that when the Wine.com crew thinks of Winter Wines, "We think of wines that are warming, wines that have good structure, but supple fruit, wines with a spicy element, whether it be sweet spices (think allspice that reminds you of Christmas) or peppery-spice. Winter wines are wines you want to sip by a fire or pair with a hearty winter meal like stew or roasts."

Wine.com (one of our sponsors) is the world's #1 online wine store.  Very service oriented - they appeal to the casual buyer as well as the most serious collector.  You can visit Wine.com by clicking on any of the large ads on this page.

Gwendolyn's picks - which include her comments (She loves the warm spice as a defining characteristic of Winter Wines).

Love the name!
Value Wine:  Glen Carlou Grand Classique ($14.99) - "Bordeaux blend from South Africa, this may be the perfect by-the-fire wine. Although it’s fantastic with roast meats or stews as well. It’s slightly aged, so all flavors are well integrated. You get rich, dark fruits and a dose of spice that makes this wine a delight to drink on its own or with food."

Under the Radar: Quinta do Crasto Douro Red Reserva Old Vines 2009 ($45.99)  "Most folks think only of Port when they think of Portugal, but the country also produces some delicious and winter-friendly red wines. This wine, made from old-vines, is rich and warm, with lots of spice and a round texture that makes it perfect for sipping in cold weather."

Splurge: d'Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2008 ($61.99)  "Love this wine, and the great thing is that as a splurge, it’s not TOO much of a splurge. While this wine can age a few more years, it is completely drinkable now, with loads of sweet spices, dense fruits, licorice and a super lingering finish. This is one of those wines that I like to drink on its own just to savor all the delicious layers. That said, it’s excellent with any kind of roasted meat, especially lamb."

If you have shopped at Whole Foods market and checked out the wine section, then you know that Whole Foods is serious about providing customers with an exciting selection in a relatively small space.   "When I think of winter wines," says Whole Foods Wine Specialist Jennifer Blake, "I inevitably think of winter food, for they go hand in hand for me.  The winter is a time for heartier meals and I like my wines to follow suit." 

Jennifer's picks and comments  - she chooses wines that compliment the winter dining experience. 

Value Wine:  P.K.N.T. Carmenere -  "I love Carmenere, a nice one will have notes of dark chocolate, pepper, a little smoke, a little tobacco… a bad one will taste like tar.  For around $10   P.K.N.T. is a nice example of what Carmenere can be without spending a fortune. Lovely with a peppery roast or a nice stew…"

Under the Radar: "Terredora Taurasi is one of my favorite wines right now. I just love the violet and tobacco on the nose, the bright fruit and lovely acidity…  it’s a fuller-bodied wine that can stand up to a heavier meal of game, or be just nice with something as simple as roasted vegetables."

Splurge: Jennifer chooses a fine Port.  "Winter for most people, myself included is a time for port. If I was going to splurge on something over $50 it would be the Warre's 2000 vintage Porto, for the tune of $75.00. This is worth the money. It’s a nice balance of the richness of a heavy fortified wine while retaining its light floral component. Classic pairing for port is blue cheese. Stilton and Maytag Blue… Of course a great bottle of port can always stand alone. Enjoyed simply as the best desert to cozy up to when it’s cold outside."

Adam Dromi of the Wine House in West Los Angeles thinks "Big, bold, comforting, warm, full body, rich, lush and opulent" when he thinks of winter selections. The one thing you can count on at the Wine House, in addition to a very helpful staff, is an amazing and thoughtful selection - including gourmet cheeses and some of the city's coolest wine related merchandise.

Adam's picks - thoughtfully pulled from the deep International shelves of the Wine House.

Value Wine: 2006 Henry's Drive Shiraz Dead Letter Office - McLaren Vale / Padthaway - South Australia

Under the Radar: A deep Red Rhone Blend - 2010 Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block - Franschhoek - South Africa

Splurge: From Spain, a fine single vineyard, 100% Tempranillo - 2004 Pago de los Capellanes Parcela El Nogal Ribera del Duero.

Mike, from Wades Wines in Westlake Village says that Winter wines go "Well around a warm fireplace, a fine indoor dinner - as opposed to a summer wine - around the grill."  Wades specializes in limited production wines - offering one of the most unique wine selections available.  Wades is about hand crafted wines delivering "memorable experiences." They have introduced me to at least one memorable wine - my own Winter wine pick, one of my personal favorites, Prisoner.

Mike's picks - he stays very local for two of his selections - his third, an intriguing choice from the Central Coast.

Mike also provides a breakdown on "what's inside the bottle" and some comments of his own.

Value Wine:  2008 Mulholland Highway Wines Malibu Mélange Los Angeles County Red Wine

66% Triunfo Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
20% Stewart Vineyard Syrah
10% Triunfo Creek Vineyard Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon
2% Triunfo Creek Vineyard Merlot
2% Triunfo Creek Vineyard Cabernet Franc
46 cases produced

Under the Radar: 2008 Malibu Sundowner Alyssa Cuvee Triunfo Creek Vineyard Los Angeles County Red Wine - A blend...

30% Triunfo Creek Vineyard Upper Block Cabernet
30% Triunfo Creek Vineyard Lower Block Cabernet
34% Triunfo Creek Vineyard Late Harvest Cabernet
2% Triunfo Creek Vineyard Syrah
2% Triunfo Creek Vineyard Merlot
2% Triunfo Creek Vineyard Cabernet Franc
69 cases production

Splurge:  2008 Alban Patrina Estate Edna Valley Syrah - "Patrina" is another word for Gypsy, referring to not from any particular place. The Alban's vineyards are a patchwork of isolated soil types that you may recognize as Reva, Lorraine, Seymour's and Pandora. Between and in route to these well healed sites are vineyards that are not so distinct, some of it is new, younger vines, which were previously under contract or have been grafted over to Syrah. The grapes that make up these different blocks are blended into this exciting new project, a single wine called "Patrina”. Of course "Patrina" is treated with the same love and care as all Albans vineyard designated wines!

Four wine specialists, purveyors, wine lovers - each with a very different approach to Winter wines.

When I think of Winter Wines, it is about eating in the dining room. Rich Red Sauce on Pasta with Italian Sausages.  Relaxing around the fire pit - Overlooking Mammoth Village with a glass of wine in my hand (after a great day on the slopes). 

My picks - right out of my home cellar.

Value Wine:  Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Tan 2007 - Because it's a classic value wine, under $20 and I love the way it compliments a red sauce pasta with spicy Italian Sausage or home made meatballs - perfect winter wine - the berries and spicy overtones come together beautifully. It was good enough for Tony Soprano.

Under the Radar:  From Orin Swift - The Prisoner 2007.  Quite an interesting blend...which changes a bit from year to year.  I love the 2007.  A visit to this Rutherford Winery is high on my list in 2012.

50% Zinfandel
24% Cabernet Sauvignon
14% Syrah
9% Petite Sirah
2% Charbono
1% Grenache

Splurge: Duckhorn Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - Let's face it, there are so many great splurge wines, but there is something about Duckhorn that goes well with winter.  The 2005 Duckhorn Cab is a rich classic with the kind of finish that warms you up inside and certainly compliments a juicy steak.

Gotta go - Thanks to Wine.com, Whole Foods, The Wine House and Wades Wines - I've got some shopping to do!

Send your comments, your feedback and your own Winter Wine picks to winefoodjava@gmail.com  We would love to hear from you.  Like us on Facebook

What I am listening to right now on the crowded LA freeways – Griftopia - I will never look at any politician the same again, Republican or Democrat.  It's a pretty scary indictment of today's political and financial world that provides some nice historical perspective.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Ojai Valley - From Five Star Luxury to "Off the Beaten Path"

Room with a view
Two months ago, Linda Carr of Truchard Vineyards in Napa contacted us, offering the following wine tasting tip: "Look for hidden treasures off the beaten path, small family wineries can provide a truly amazing experience that you will never forget." The last thing I expected to do when I travelled to Ojai last weekend was join another wine club, but that is exactly what happened – as we headed off the beaten path.

Ojai is a very cool little town (the smallest city in Ventura County) about 13 miles inland from Ventura, about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. Anytime you tell the well travelled types in Los Angeles that you are heading up to Ojai, the question comes up, “Are you staying at the Inn?” A valid question. The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa is a true Five Star Resort. Beautiful rooms, great food, a world class spa, a spectacular golf course and an impeccably trained staff – that is why the Ojai Valley Inn enjoys their glorious reputation. It is a splurge, but not off the charts expensive, especially if you get in on a golf and/or spa package. Off the charts is Hawaii – where a friend of mine just paid $750 a night for a partial ocean view at The Four Seasons. Nice room I am sure, but I’ll take the Ojai Valley Inn.

Winter Golf in Ojai
Our package included spa and golf. Among the myriad of spa treatments, I enjoyed a 50-minute pedicure. My wife says that the therapists fight over me, since I am usually snoring after ten minutes of therapeutic relaxation. She alleges that the therapists start working on me, then after I am asleep, they step outside for a smoke, only to return at the fifty minute mark, waking me up by whispering in my ear, “We’re done now.” I think it is her own personal urban legend, but I did my best to fight off the urge to sleep during my 50-minute pedicure. Considering that I was comfortably leaned back in a perfectly ergonomic leather chair – warm thick blanket draped over my lap – fireplace on a medium burn, professional therapist massaging my feet, legs, calves – I failed to stay awake and slept like a baby. Probably snored a little.

Well protected Par 3 at Ojai
While there are family pools on the property, the spa pool is all about total relaxation. Quiet Perfection – another well thought out aspect of the Ojai Valley Inn’s world-class spa. Another plus - alcohol is served at the spa pool - not just green tea.

Why was I so exhausted? A round golf on a championship course each day will wear you out. The layout and the views are impressive…but I tend to play better (even as a 17 handicap) when I am this relaxed.  Still, I found different ways to screw up and shot 94 each day. Easily could have been 84, really…

Ojai GPS
The in room dining (room service) suits us, since we like to bring our own wine to dinner. Great wines complimented each round of dining. First, with our Filet Mignon, we opened a favorite, 2006 Heitz Napa Valley Cabernet that we picked up at Bevmo. Here are the tasting notes directly from Heitz: “Centrally focused around a rich core of fruit, it fills the mouth with tiers of bright cherry flavor and underlying notes of darker berry. With a nice balance of lively oak tannins and brisk acidity, this wine glides easily across the palate for a lengthy and satisfying finish.”

Alexis - GOOD!
Night two at the Maravilla Dining Room, we indulged on a nice bottle of 2007 Swanson Alexis Cabernet that we picked up at Total Wine. The wine, named for Alexis Swanson (her family is of TV dinner fame) perfectly accompanied the milky tender beef short ribs. Here are the notes from Swanson: “The 2007 Swanson Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon, which was not fined nor filtered in order to maintain maximum flavor intensity and texture, is dark garnet in color. The aroma is dominated by ripe black currant, anise and blackberry. In the mouth this wine speaks with considerable authority. The first impression is one of sweet fruit and sumptuous tannins, leading to a very silky, firm texture in the mid-palate. The wine is very long in the mouth, with a finish that is thick, supremely well balanced, with layer upon layer of deep, dark cassis and espresso, coupled with sweet oak in the background.”

For night three, we were back to in room dining. A nice 2009 Far Niete Chardonnay brought the sensational salmon to life. A great Chardonnay? I believe so. My take: The fruit flavors are subtle, quite elegant. The oak – just as understated, perfectly placed – maybe even a little vanilla accent to it. Just right with salmon.

OBC - My kind of arts and crafts in Ojai
In town, just a five-minute ride from the resort, you will find the eclectic little City of Ojai. Plenty of “healing arts,” “wellness services,” hand made jewelry and art.  Rains Specialty Department Store is worth a look. Almost a century old, the store is known for a thoughtful selection of American made products. Particularly interesting: the gourmet products and specialty kitchen items.

After walking through Rains, consumed by thirst, we set out looking for wine tasting and ended up at OBC – The Ojai Beverage Company – a retailer and café. What a selection! Over 1000 wines, 750 specialty beers, over 200 tequilas and 300 other adult beverages. Lunch in the café (truffle fries, pulled pork sandwiches) and some local wine tasting. The area vineyards are boutique style, small batch, very handcrafted, with the grapes usually coming from up north in Santa Barbara County or San Luis Obispo. At OBC, we checked out the “Local Wine Flight,” which featured a nice Viognier from local vineyard Casa Barranca and three selections from Noble Oaks – Malbec, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc, clearly our favorite. Like Casa Barranca, Noble Oaks is an actual Ojai vineyard. Nice tasting for $7.00.

The Home of Vino V and Old Creek Ranch Winery
 The OBC folks suggested a small but busy tasting room down the street. Once we found a spot at the tasting bar, we settled in to try the wines of the Ojai Vineyard. Their grapes appear to come from Santa Barbara County and the Santa Ynez Valley. After trying a number of Ojai Vineyard selections, we picked up a bottle of their 2007 Fe Ciega Pinot Noir. Nice berry flavors, deep aroma – a high quality Pinot Noir – their best I am sure.

With an easy hour drive back to Los Angeles, we decided to make one more stop along the way. We heard there was a winery between Ojai and the Ventura freeway, but where? There was a small winery sign on Route 33 with an arrow to nowhere. After two passes back and forth, we turned at the old cider sign and finally found ourselves heading toward the Old Creek Ranch Winery, greeted by fields of bare vines. Welcome to “off the beaten track.”

The huge property is actually an 850-acre cattle ranch, loaded with certified organic fruit tree orchards and two wineries, Old Creek Ranch and Vino V Wines. As we approached the main house, we were amazed by the amount of activity. Visitors hanging out at the picnic tables and a steady flow of people going in and out of the main house tasting room. We made our way in and were greeted by the friendly winemaker for both vineyards, Michael Meagher. A genuinely nice guy, Michael led us through a generous five wine tasting (five bucks) of his own Vino V Wines. To say the least, we were blown away and asked the same question: “Is this winery really here – within one hour of our home?”

Research Completed!
Vino V produces only 600 cases of wine annually – a true boutique winery. We truly enjoyed the 2008 and 2009 Chardonnay – “Solomon Hills Vineyard” and especially the 2008 Confundido – a creative and richly flavorful blend – 96% Syrah and 4% Viognier. “It’s confused – that’s where the name comes from,” said Michael. The cherry and dark fruit flavors are fantastic. As Michael adds – “It’s a fun wine.” Impressed by it all – the wine and the vibe at Vino V – we joined the wine club.

Just ten steps away, the tasting line-up for Old Creek Ranch Winery welcomed us. Michael has been making his own Vino V Wines at the ranch since 2004, but has also been the winemaker for Old Creek Ranch Winery since 2007. We were equally pleased by the Old Creek Ranch Winery selections and especially, the 2007 Nebbiolo, a classic Italian wine with two years of barrel time – an intriguing blend of flora, berry and spice. We took some home.

Two hours later, in the glow of an overhead heater, we were enjoying the Nebbiolo with a nice Penne Pasta Diablo on our patio – marveling at the flavors and the 65-degree winter evening. 

Questions, Comments, Suggestions? Contact me at winefoodjava@gmail.com

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