Posts Tagged ‘tannins’

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 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: 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

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.