Posts Tagged ‘oaky’

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 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: 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: 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: 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.