Posts Tagged ‘Carignane’

Restaurant Wine: Le Saint Amour, Culver City

August 30, 2009


Friday night was one of those wonderful nights full of old and new friends, good food and good wine. Le Saint Amour in Culver City was our destination. Our party of seven was seated as we arrived. Our waiter – friendly and polite at first – practically became our eighth as the night progressed, and he was welcome to do so.

The starters were delicious. Escargots, an endive salad with Roquefort cheese and walnuts and herring served with little potatoes on the side seemed to be the favorites.

After the waiter asked if we preferred bottled or tap water, one of us in a particularly jaunty mood piped up with, “I have no interest in water.” Which brings us to the wine.

We opened with a Rhone red, from Vacqueyras, Cristia Selection 2005. It was very smooth despite the tannins that seemed to heighten on the finish. A Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blend that promises plenty of fruit on the nose, it delivers with tastes of dark fruit and some licorice. It was an interesting, medium bodied wine that started the evening in fine fashion.

Next up was our dinner wine, Savigny les Beaune Les Gollardes 2006 from Jacques Girardin. Rather light in color and loaded with a cherry flavor that melted into a smokey finish. It paired quite well with my whitefish, and I heard no complaints from those having mussels, duck or chicken.

Third on our wine journey of France was a Faugeres 2000 Mas Gabinele. I believe this is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. I was struck by dark chocolate and minerals in a very smooth setting. It was definitely the most interesting wine of the evening. With seven people at the table – some already old friends, some getting to be new friends – it didn’t come as too much a shock that a fourth bottle was ordered.

On the advice of our waiter, we returned to California and selected a Santa Ynez Valley Grenache, Sorellina 2006. He promised this would be a good “non-food” wine, and the wine was good to his word. It’s a medium-bodied, dry red wine that showed off its oak first. A very oaky wine to the nose and the tongue, its spicy nose led to an earthy taste full of dark fruit and minerals.

After we paid – the bill came to about $65 each – we repaired to the sidewalk where our conversation continued longer into the warm night. Good friends having good conversation can make even a subpar restaurant experience seem not so bad. But when the restaurant complements the social setting the way Le Saint Amour did for our group, it really makes for an enjoyable evening.

Tasting Event: Wine, Cheese, Chocolate

August 9, 2009



My wife and I had the opportunity to attend a tasting event in downtown Los Angeles recently. Our hosts were the members of the group Los Angeles Wine Tasting, fronted by Jean-Baptiste. On a Friday night in early August, we drove east until we were among the skyscrapers.

This group hosts events in a residential high-rise on Grand Avenue called Evo South. From the subterranean parking garage to the rooftop lounge where the event was held, the building has that brand-new smell and look still on it. The garage, in fact, appeared to be rather unfinished. No problem. We didn’t stay in the garage too long.

Up to the rooftop we went, to a swanky penthouse with an outdoor balcony which overlooks downtown L.A. The view was really astounding, and being able to step outside from time to time lent a bit of variety to the evening. The glass sliding doors which separated the lounge from the balcony were open, so the room had an outdoorsy feel.

The wines were poured out on the balcony, while the cheese was served inside the lounge. On the cheese table there was an assortment of breads. The evening’s tasting menu was in four little courses. Here’s how it went:

First, we got a pour of Terree des Papes, Cotes du Rhone, 2007. Obviously this was a French blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Clairette, earthy and crisp with good minerality and a nice finish. Along with it we were given a Swiss cheese, Appenzeller. This cow’s milk cheese was quite nutty and mild. I had mine with olive bread.

Next up was the Demoiselles Coiffees, Cotes du Ventoux, 2008. This Provence rose was a dry blend of Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault. I picked up lots of strawberry on the nose and palate. The acidity was quite good and as such, it paired very well with the gorgonzola Dolcelatte. Made from cow’s milk in Italy, the cheese was strong and hearty with walnut bread. We had actually had this cheese before at home, so we were happy to see it on the menu. It’s a favorite.

We left Europe for the third tasting. Next stop Chile. Montgras from the Colchagua Valley, 2008. This Carmenere was extremely oaky, but quite interesting. The blackberry flavors went well with a Manchego cheese. The Bermuda Triangle cheese from Arcata, California was a little late in getting to the table, so we helped ourselves to some other cheesy treats on a coffee table. As you might expect, when the Bermuda Triangle came out it was a triangular shaped goat cheese with a really nice and funky taste.

The fourth destination was also in South America. Monte de Luz 2007 from Uruguay was our final wine. This bold red was my first taste of the Tannat grape. Since tannins are suggested in the varietal’s name, it wasn’t too surprising to find that it’s extremely tannic. Originating from the Basque region in southwest France, it still thrives there. It’s a very strong wine both on the nose and palate, but there was substantial fruit to go along with the tannins. It was a good match for the Spanish Manchego Viejo. Made from sheep’s milk, Machego Viejo has a nutty quality but is quite subdued. It let the wine take center stage, that’s for sure.

As the title of the event promised, there were some chocolates for dessert. Valrhona Grand Cru de Terroir, dark chocolates from ‘Nyangbo, Ghana Africa sported 68% cocoa while the Alpaco of Ecuador was 66% cocoa.

The wines and chocolates were selected by L.A. Wine Tasting. The cheeses were selected by Laurent Bonjour. You may have seen him and his cheese truck at the West Hollywood Farmers’ Market, among others. He’s an excellent cheese man. The bread was provided by La Maison du Pain.

Tasting Notes: K&L Domestic Rhone Varietals

July 12, 2009

I have been meaning to get over to a tasting at K&L wines in Hollywood for what seems like ages. I finally made it over there today. As luck would have it, the topic of the day was domestic Rhone varietals. I like not only the wines produced using Rhone varietals, I also get a kick out of checking out the list of grapes that are used in the Rhone. I mean, if your restriction includes grapes like Bourboulenc and Piquepoul Blanc, why not just open the door and let ’em use anything? Seriously, it is interesting to find out how the 22 grapes of the Rhone are used by different winemakers. In California, of course, there are no restrictions on which grapes can be used. But there are plenty of winemakers who are ready to take up the challenge anyway.

There were 10 wines on the menu this afternoon. Prices ranged from $13 to $43, with a pretty even spread. Three of the wines were less than $20, three were in the $20 range, three were in the $30 range and only one was over $40.

Here are my notes:

Tablas Creek “Esprit de Beaucastel” Blanc 2007 (Paso Robles) – A classic Rhone-style blend to start with, this one was 68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc and 10% Piquepoul Blanc. Light grass and citrus on the nose, the taste was fairly tart and earthy.

Stolpman Vineyards “L’Avion” Estate Santa Ynez White 2006 – Funky on the nose and palate, but I mean that in a good way. Very grassy and oaky nose. Lots of that oak on the palate, too, with minerals coming through strongly.

Beckman Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache Rose 2008 – Strawberry red with a somewhat obscured nose, to my nose, anyway. Dry with a nice acidity, this should do well with food. The minerals seemed to outweigh the fruit, but I like that.

Copain “L’Hiver” Mendocino County Syrah 2006 – Dark purple in color, the wine had an oaky nose with mushroom notes. Blackberry, pepper and clove are all over the palate.

Skylark North Coast “Red Belly” Red Blend 2007 – 47% Carignane, 47% Syrah and 6% Grenache. I liked this before I tasted it. It’s a darkly colored wine, with oak and dark berries on the nose. It had a very nice earthiness, but a little too much heat.

Owen Roe “Sinister Hand” Columbia Valley Rhone Blend 2007 – This one is 62% Grenache, with the remainder split between Syrah and Mourvedre. Somewhat lighter in color than the previous two, with a medium body and a spicy, dark flavor.

Four Vines “Peasant” Paso Robles Red Blend 2007 – The makeup on this one screams “Rhone”: 33% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 7% Counoise and 5% Tannat. That last one sneaked in somehow, even though it is not a Rhone varietal. When you get down to the fifth grape, who’s keeping score? A ruby color with a slightly obscured nose and huge tannins.

Margerum “M5” Santa Barbara County Rhone Blend 2006 – This is another 5-pack, with 52% Syrah, 26% Grenache, 9% Mourvedre, 4% Counoise and 4% Cinsault. The other 5% comes from several different cofermentations of the separate grapes. The wine was somewhat light in color, with a raspberry/cranberry/clove component making itself quite known. It’s very different – and very nice.

Prospect 772 Sierra Foothill “The Brawler” 2006 – From Calaveras County, this wine is 96% Syrah and 4% Viognier. Fruity and oaky on the nose and the palate, it had a very hot finish.

Ojai “Melville Vineyard” Santa Rita Hills Syrah 2004 – Very dark purple in color, the nose was full of blackberry and spices. A very smooth palate featured raspberry and red plums.

 

Tasting Room Notes: Locals Tasting Room

July 6, 2009

The Sonoma County town of Geyserville has more good wine being produced in and near it than most folks would think possible. There are so many wineries in the Alexander Valley that it works out to about one winery for every ten people who live in Geyserville. Visiting a winery’s tasting room is great, if the winery has one. Many of the wine producers in the Geyserville area are such small boutiques that they don’t have tasting rooms. That’s where Locals comes in.

Locals Tasting Room represents a collective of eleven Geyserville area wineries, and offers tastes of 75 different wines produced by them. Most of the wines on the tasting menu are sourced from Alexander Valley grapes.

The room is nice and large, with plenty of elbow room at the tasting bar. The staff is quite friendly and they know their stuff, too. Any questions I had about the wines or the wineries were answered right away.

Choosing a reasonable number of wines to taste is the hard part. To guide you in the right direction, Locals likes to pour varietal flights. When you line up six or seven Zinfandels, or a handful of Chardonnays, you can get a good idea of how each wine differs from the others. Or just jump around the menu and find specific wines that appeal to you. That’s what I did. With so many reds on the menu, I went with seven of the most likely looking candidates for my taste.

Atrea Old Soul Red 2005 – A Rhone-style blend of 46% Zinfandel, 34% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah and 9% Malbec, this rocks. A complex wine, there’s plenty of juicy fruit but there’s also pepper, and some sort of sweet notes that peek from around the corner.

Eris Ross Carignane 2006 – An old vine red from Lodi, this was medium-bodied and quite smooth.

Ramazotti Raffinto 2005 – A Super Tuscan style of 60% Sangiovese, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Franc – whew! – which shows lavender on the nose and plum on the palate. They say it has won a number of awards.

Laurel Glen ZaZin 2007 – Old Vine Lodi with currant and blackberry on the nose, currant and plums on the taste buds.

Dark Horse Treborce 2007 – This Zinfandel had an odd nose, with nice texture and flavors of plums and leather, a very earthy taste.

Peterson Sangiovese 2006 – This Dry Creek Valley entry is 100% Sangiovese. I found the nose and taste to be a bit lightweight, but it’s pleasant nonetheless. Should make for a nice pasta wine.

RH Wines Rowdy Red – This is a non-vintge blend that’s got a really nice toasty vanilla nose and spicy notes on the palate. It’s from Windsor, a little south of Geyservlle. A lively red that will pair well with a lot.

Tasting Room Notes: Bennett Lane Winery

July 5, 2009


On the way from Napa Valley to Geyserville via Highway 128, there’s a driveway I’m glad I drove. That was the one which led to Calistoga’s Bennett Lane Winery. A pretty arbor in front of a smallish building provides a fitting entry into the tasting room. Small inside, too, there isn’t a lot of room available at the tasting bar. Find a way to elbow in, though. Some very good wine awaits you.

White Maximus 2007 – A floral nose – honeysuckle – is enhanced with citrus aromas. The palate is clean and crisp. Good minerals, good acidity.

Reserve Chardonnay 2007 – This was billed as a new release, but I think the tasting sheet was printed late last year. The blurb promises Fuji apple, baked pear and toasted hazelnut, but it was all tropical to my nose. A little unexpected, but quite pleasant. This is a full-figure Chardonnay, heavily oaked with the buttery, creamy notes you would expect.

Maximus 2005 – Plenty of oak in this big red. I get lots of cedar, vanilla and spices both in the nose and on the tongue. 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 11% Syrah, the fruit is lush and lasts a good long while. It was my favorite.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – This 100% Cabernet is a blend of Bennett Lane’s estate Cab and that sourced from other Napa Valley growers. A big cherry nose greets you and the taste is driven by flavors of dark plums and leather.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – The Cab is augmented by 4% Petit Verdot. It’s a very rich wine that, to me, is chocolatey enough to be dessert. But no, they have that covered even better.

Dessert Wine – This beauty is a non-vintage port-style wine of which less than a hundred cases were produced. I don’t know the percentages, but it’s made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Carignane. Beautiful, rich flavors abound. Figs, cherries and some spicy notes put me in mind of Christmas, even though I had been off the hot, dusty trail for only a few minutes.