Posts Tagged ‘Grenache’

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.

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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 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: 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.