Posts Tagged ‘currant’

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: 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 Notes: Artisan Cheese Gallery

July 5, 2009

We were out for a Sunday morning adventure. Well, actually it was a trip to the Studio City Farmers’ Market. We don’t like difficult adventures.

The trip did turn out to be more than we bargained for, though. We strolled through the fruit stands – unfortunately, most of the fruit wasn’t quite sweet and delicious just yet – and saw the various bead salespeople, the countless baby strollers and the gourmet corn tamale stand I can smell and identify without looking. There were a couple of guys singing folk music and another guy playing a steel drum, probably the happiest sounding instrument in all the musical world. Nobody’s playing the blues on a steel drum.

Just about to call it a morning, we remembered the Artisan Cheese Gallery, just steps away from the Farmers’ Market. It was an adventure after all. We went for the cheese and stayed for the flight of wines.

The aroma of their cheeses is magnificent. It’s not overpowering, because all their cheese is put away and refrigerated overnight. It is a very pleasant aroma for a cheese lover to encounter.

Here’s a rule of thumb: if there’s cheese, there’s wine. Artisan Cheese Gallery is no exception. Two walls are covered with racks of wine for sale and there are several displays in the floor space. A chalkboard on the counter shows which three wines are on the $8 flight. The flight is served in 3 stemless glasses on a wooden tray. The glasses have a dark spot on them in which the names of the wines are written, but it’s no substitute for getting up and examining the labels yourself. A printed sheet containing information on the wine should be provided with your flight. I hope they’ll do that in the future.

The worldly flight took me to Lodi, Sicily and the Medoc region of France. Here are the wines:

Peirano Estate Vineyard “The Other” 2007 – This blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah has plenty of the earthy characteristics Lodi wine usually brings. This is the most distictive nose of the three, and it has a currant and plum flavor profile. Very nice indeed.

Chateau Poitevin 2005 – Described by a staff member as a Bordeaux blend of 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, this Medoc offering was quite dark in the nose and on the palate. The complexity was not surprising. I am always struck by the complex subtlety in wines from Bordeaux and the surrounding areas.

Planeta La Segreta 2007 – This is an interesting blend of the wonderful Italian varietal Nero d’Avola with Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The nose was rather difficult for me to ferret out, but plums, raspberries and chocolate were detected by my wife. There may be a bit of coffee in there, too. It tasted like a Sicilian version of Pinot Noir, with plenty of spicy, dark notes.

Artisan Cheese Gallery
12023 Ventura Boulevard
Studio City, CA 91604
818.505.0207

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: Summerland Winery

July 1, 2009


Why had we never gotten off the 101 freeway in Summerland before? Maybe it’s because when we pass that way we’re usually headed for either Santa Barbara or the Santa Ynez Valley, and it seems we should just press on and get where we’re going. Maybe it’s because we never knew there was a really great little highway grocery there. Maybe it’s because we never knew about the Summerland Winery.

Well, this time we were headed for Pismo Beach, so it was actually perfectly positioned as a stopping place. We needed to pick up a few things at a market of some sort. The Summerland Winery just happened to be there, in the right place at the right time.

The tasting room is in a tidy little building in the seaside community of Summerland, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. There’s a bay window upstairs and a flag adorns the front, flapping in the cool ocean breeze. I had imagined it would look more like a boutique and less like a tasting room inside, but I was wrong. Ample bar space beckoned, so I picked up a tasting menu and got started.

I had just sampled Summerland’s wares at the Ojai Wine Festival a week earlier – my pourer recognized me – so I knew there were good wines here. The tasting fee is $8, $12 to keep the glass.

Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, 2007 – A pungent aroma leads to tropical flavors and grapefruit. The acidity is quite nice, so I would guess it’s a good wine to have with food. It’s very crisp and refreshing, so you could just sip it if you like.

Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara County, 2008 – More tropical flavors, and a nice clean finish.

Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa, 2007 – 10 months in oak left its mark on this one. It’s very oaky, although with a clean taste and finish.

Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, 2007 – Brilliant aromas and flavors in this one – black cherry and clove all over the place. This is not subdued – it’s a very lively Pinot Noir.

Grenache, Paso Robles, 2006 – This medium-bodied Grenache surprised me. It tasted a lot spicier than I expected. Fairly nice, but I can think of several other Grenaches I like better.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2006 – The black currant profile is very strong here. French oak for 14 months gives a nice effect, but the wood is rather restrained.

Orange Muscat, Santa Barbara County 2008 – This dessert wine isn’t sappy, it’s nice and crisp in fact. The sweetness is there, it simply isn’t overdone.

Tasting Room Notes: Chateau Montelena

June 27, 2009



On the way out of Napa Valley, heading north on Highway 29, there is a signpost in Calistoga that points down Tubbs Lane toward Chateau Montelena. I had to turn off and see it in real life, having already seen it in the movie “Bottle Shock.

Following the signs onto the property and into the parking area, I caught a glimpse of it through the trees. But on the way to the stairs, I was distracted by the beautiful and peaceful Jade Lake. A rowboat was grounded along the shore and a red bridge led to a small structure patiently awaiting the next wedding to be held there. A short walk along the banks filled me with a feeling of quiet satisfaction. It’s a really beautiful property.

The stairs up to the winery building are rather lengthy. When I finally reached a point where the winery was visible, it looked exactly like it did in the film. I half expected to see Bill Pullman poke his head from the large doors.

The tasting room is cool and professional in a woodsy sort of way. Pictures of the history of the winery are on the walls, along with memorabilia of the film and the 1976 Paris Tasting which is its subject. A very nice view back through the years of a storied winery.

The staff is friendly, but maybe a bit stiff. There’s a feeling of reverence that permeates the proceedings. Five wines were on the tasting menu the day I was there, ranging in price from $22 to $135. The tasting fee is $20, and unlike the scene in the movie they are not offended when you pay them.

Riesling, Potter Valley 2007 – There’s a fruity nose, something rather exotic like star fruit. Off-dry with a nice acidity, this wine will sip very nicely on the porch or mate with a refreshing salad. $22

Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2007 – This 2007 version of the wine that helped make the California wine industry is stunning in a very restrained way. Fruity and flowery on the nose, the palate is treated to a crisp and refreshing wine that does not overplay anything. The citrus, minerals and oak are all quite prominent, but none try and steal the show. The long finish is much appreciated. $50

Zinfandel, Montelena Estate, 2006 – Dark fruit dominates the nose, with currant the frontrunner. Cherry and strawberry on the palate along with an array of spices combine in a velvety mouthfeel. This is 50% Zinfandel and 50% Primotivo, Zin’s Italian twin. $30

Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2005 – A very dark color – almost black – promises some deep and earthy tones, which are delivered. I smell licorice and cedar. The taste is beautiful, with smooth tannins and a full mouthfeel. $45

Cabernet Sauvignon, Montelena Estate, 2005 – Very similar to the previous wine, this Cab is even darker in color, if that’s possible. The nose is quite complicated, leathery and fruity at the same time with some clove. A real heavyweight wine with smooth tannins, the taste is exquisite and it fills my mouth in the most incredible manner. $135