Posts Tagged ‘cherry’

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: A Taste of Tuscany

August 19, 2009


I really should have written about this event already. It’s two weeks after the fact, and I want to go to it again. My friend Nicolas Soufflet – pictured at right – staged this little taster in Hollywood, and did a fine job with it. When he does another one – and I know he will – you should attend.

A Taste of Tuscany was held at Victor’s Square Restaurant, on Bronson north of Franklin in Hollywood. It was a very nice setup, with the restaurant pretty much devoted to our crowd. Three tables were arranged like a square with a side missing. This gave Nicolas a stage of sorts from which to work. A stand-up map of Tuscany loomed large, so we could all have a visual reference of where the wines were produced. Much of the space was filled with cases of the wines we were to taste. Nicolas stood in front of the map and explained in detail the specifics of the wines we were tasting. His knowledge and personality provided at least as much enjoyment as the wines. And that’s saying a lot.

Big props should go to Bill Gotti, the owner of Victors Square. He not only provided the space for the event, he also provided a few stories for our pleasure, as well as a menu of some mighty delicious pasta dishes.

On to the wines! Here’s what I tasted:

Vernaccia di San Gimignano – Tuscan white, 100% Vernaccia. A pale golden color, very light nose. Dry and refreshing with minerals, citrus, good acidity. Hint of wet rocks, strong minerality.

Trebbiano Toscano Bianco – Another white, from the Barco Reale region of Tuscany. Trebbiano is the white counterpart to Sangiovese. 85% Trebbiano, 15% Malvasia. Pale color and pungent nose, very clean taste with a good finish. Smokey flavor, very smooth. Great with Parmesan cheese.

Morellino di Scansano – 100% Sangiovese. Medium purple, dark fruit nose, great flavor of blackberry, plum, black cherry. A nice finish, very clean with a kiss of oak.

Morello Toscano Rosso – 75% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Darker ruby color, oakier nose. Aromas of black cherry. Medium mouthfeel, dark fruit, currant, some vanilla. Good acidity; needs a steak! A bit lightweight for me, but a nice taste saves the day.

Chianti Riserva – 100% Sangiovese. Quite dark ruby color. Oak very predominant on nose. Medium mouthfeel. A little oaky, showing a bit of spice, plums, some raspberry. Again a lightweight feel.

Rosso di Montalcino – 100% Sangiovese. Deep red with a nose full of roses and oak. Tannic & fruity – plums. Very good for food, with great acidity. This wine is very easy to drink.

Vin Santo del Chianti – 70% Trebbiano, 30% Malvasia. Very good dessert wine, salmon in color with some tawny looking shades. Could be the light. A sweet nose and a sweet, nutty palate. VERY good with biscotti. My wife is a big fan of barley candy, and she said this wine had very strong notes of that treat from her childhood.

Tasting Room Notes: Curtis Winery

July 11, 2009

A visit by my family recently took us to the beautiful Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.  If you haven’t treated yourself to the beauty of those hills, you really should.  Just up the road from Los Olivos, the views along Foxen Canyon Road are sometimes breathtaking and the wines that are produced in the wineries along that road are sometimes spectacular.  Here’s what they were pouring at Curtis Winery on our visit.

The tastings were being poured in the big barrel room in the rear of the shop.  Large, cool and dark, the barrel room is a great place to taste.  Five huge kegs and several of a more moderate size gave a real “winery” feel to the tasting that you just don’t get in the retail shop that occupies the front of the store.

The Viognier 2006 had a very floral nose with honeysuckle predominant.  The taste offered clean and crisp flavors of lime and pineapple.  It was a really nice wine that begged for seafood or just a sunny porch.  They were giving a nice deal on this wine during the first weekend in May, a free bottle with the purchase of two.  It was $22.

For pink lovers, the Heritage Rose 2007 was bright and fresh, but it gave a little too much grapefruit for my taste, and the nose was highlighted by lemongrass.  I didn’t care for it too much, but you may like those qualities more than I do.  

We crossed over to the dark side with the Crossroad Grenache 2005.  It was quite earthy and dark, right in my wheelhouse.  The Grenache was joined by Syrah and Cinsault and the combination produced a very complex flavor range.  There was a blackberry profile adorned with a smokiness and a nutty angle.  It was quite interesting.

The Heritage Cuvee 2005 was also dark and musky but with a spiciness to the fruit-forward taste.  A gorgeous nose made me delay enjoying that taste while I sniffed…and sniffed.  This Rhone-style blend contained Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault.  It was my favorite of the day.

Another fine effort came with the Ambassador’s Vineyard Syrah 2005, which had a most intriguing nose which combined fresh, flowery notes with a darker side.  I detected black cherries with a long and enjoyable finish.

Lastly was the Rock Hollow Vineyard Syrah 2005, with a big fruit taste up front with nice tannins and chocolate at the end.  This was also a pleasure to smell as well as taste.

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.

Tasting Room Notes: Trefethen Family Vineyards

July 2, 2009


On my recent trip to Northern California, my first winery stop heading northward on Highway 29 was Trefethen in Napa. I must admit that I had never tried any of their wines, so I was starting at square one. They only charge $10 for an Estate Tasting, and $25 for a Winemaker’s Reserve Tasting. The former features four wines while the latter offers five. There is no logo glass, by the way, so you won’t be adding to your collection.

Barn-like on the outside, the interior was that of a warm and comfortable ranch house. Once inside, the people were quite friendly and ready to help. I opted for the Estate Tasting. As sometimes happens, I ended up getting an extra pour from the Winemaker’s Reserve list.

Viognier 2007 – This one was flowery and perfumed on the nose. The palate featured apple flavors and a lemony tartness that served as a nice counterpoint. The finish was rather lengthy.

Cabernet Franc 2006 – An initial sniff on this one gave me a nose full of currants. The palate was like chocolates and cherries, but what really struck me in the taste was the spiciness, like white pepper. Very smooth tannins.

Double T Red Wine 2006 – This is a blend of the main grapes from Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Expecting a rich and fruitful nose, I was somewhat disappointed to find there wasn’t much there. The taste, however, was very much full and satisfying. I didn’t expect a vegetal front line, but the flavor seemed dominated by basil. A very odd taste all the way around, but quite enjoyable.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – Deep red in color, this cab puts out quite a nose. Rich and fruity, there’s even a hint of tobacco, sort of a “Swisher Sweets” aroma. The taste could qualify as dessert in my world, full of chocolate and cherry, with a finish that lingered forever.

Pinot Noir 2007 – Another guest was sampling this one, and I was offered a taste, too. Spices on the nose come through first, clove the strongest, and the fruit I pick up is a medley of red berries and cherries. It’s a very spicy palate as well, and a lucsious drink to boot.

Tasting Room Notes: Robert Mondavi Winery

June 23, 2009


I visited Northern California’s wine country for a trip that began on Monday. I had plans to stay in Geyserville I could not resist the temptation of hitting Napa Valley on the way in. It’s not really on the way, of course. The drive up Highway 29, onto Highway 128, through Calistoga and on to Geyserville took at least an hour longer than a direct approach up the 101 would have taken. But how could I pass up the opportunity to visit again California’s Prime Wine Country?

The drive along Highway 29 took me past winery after winery, vineyard after vineyard. It’s quite a spectacle to see just how much land is devoted to the growing of grapes there. The vineyards go on for acres, miles. As I drove, it came as a surprise whenever I passed a plot of land which, for some strange reason, had no grapes planted on it.

I had planned a visit to a number of wineries in Napa Valley which held some sort of fascination to me, but the place I seemed drawn to was a winery which produces wine that I rarely think about buying or even ordering in a restaurant. Robert Mondavi Winery.

Why do I rarely purchase Mondavi wines? Because there always seems to be something a little more desirable, a little sexier, a little hipper right next to it on the grocer’s shelf. There’s no doubt Mondavi makes good wines. But there isn’t a lot of “insider cachet” to them. Mondavi wines are what your parents bought. How hip is that?

I was drawn to the Mondavi Winery not to try the wines but to pay homage to one of the men who helped build what is now the world-renowned California wine industry. Whether you like Robert Mondavi’s wines or not, you have to admit that your favorite California wine might not exist today if not for him.

I was saddened that in the Mondavi tasting room in Oakville didn’t seem to be a pioneering spirit at work. The pourers were barely interested enough to lift the next bottle. They were certainly not interested enough to offer any type of explanation of what they were pouring. My pourer was more interested in his computer screen than in me. Was that due to an attitude decrying, “This is Mondavi – what more do you need to know?” or was it, “This is Mondavi – who cares?” I can’t tell you.

I can tell you what I tasted. Three wines for $15 is the regular tasting fee. It’s $20 for their reserve wines. The complimentary logo glass is included. I actually got four wines by standing at the bar for a bit after I had finished my third taste and taking advantage of an inattentive pourer’s lapse in memory.

Mondavi Napa Valley Fume Blanc, 2007 – There was a slightly floral, very grassy nose on this wine. Tastes like white peaches. Good minerality, although in a creamy fashion. Quite unexpected.

Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay – The nose was somewhat floral and a bit oaky. It tasted rather like an apple candy without the sweetness.

Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir 2007 – A very peppery nose with big berry aromas and lots of spices make for a very inviting introduction. The taste was a bit overoaked for me, but there were plenty of cherry and black pepper flavors to make me forget.

Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot 2005 – A big, bright nose jumped right out of the glass while the explosive palate featured plum notes in a very spicy setting. Very smooth tannins.