Friday, February 22, 2008

Birthday Wine Fest

I haven't been writing much here because I haven't had much of an inspiration to write in the area of wine, but yesterday, on my birthday, there was quite a lot to write about.

My husband Johan and I both took the day off so we could have a bit of a gastronomic-wine day out in Orange County. It turned out to be great fun!

Well, first off, we were good - we did engage in a 5-mile run even though the weather was cloudy and a slight bit drizzly (very common for my birthday in February), but at least we got a bit of exercise in before the big indulgence. :)

My goal was to visit 2 wine stores which I had never before visited: The Wine Club in Tustin, and Wine Pavillion in Lake Forest. We ended up going to a bonus third wine store which we have visited in the past: Hi Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa.

I think it is super-geeky to visit wine stores on my day off working at a wine store, but I think it atests to the fact that I love my job. :) I know that geeky doctors (some of them anyway) visit hospitals when they are on vacation in different countries and cities.

Anyway, we started off in Tustin at The Wine Club, where I knew one of the guys who works there, a gentleman called Jeffrey. He's a nice and funny guy who gave us the grand tour of the store, introduced us to a bunch of nice folks there. I like The Wine Club. They have a fun selection of wine that is totally different from ours (well, not totally, but different enough).

We ended up buying one of Jeffrey's selections (after drooling over the San Guido Sassicaia): 2005 Le Serre Nuove Dell Ornellaia. This is a Super Tuscan that is a baby Ornellaia. We got this because originally we were interested in getting the baby San guido Sassicia, but we ended up going with Jeffrey's recommendation as he thought the baby Ornellaia was even better. It was fun getting his personal recommendation for this wine and I thought to myself, you know, personality and personalized service really do count in the retail wine business - without that personal touch, all the bottles do kind of start to look the same, especially in a region one doesn't know that much about.

So we left this store and we left with a good impression and hopefully a good bottle of Tuscan wine. Jumped on the freeway heading due south toward the newer Wine Pavillion.

The Wine Pavillion appeared to be in a nicer, newer neighborhood, in a strip mall, with a bigger store-front and bigger interior. Interestingly, it is adjacent to a Christian store. The notable thing about this store is that it was super quiet. Quiet as in no customers were there. There is a beautiful wine bar but it was empty. There were about three employees working there but we might have been the only customers. The parking lot was also pretty empty so nearby stores were also quiet. This was a contrast to the last store, which had a bustling aspect to it, even though it was not really busy (on a weekday afternoon). I decided that quietness is the kiss of death for a retail store. I could understand better why our store does so many tastings - getting people in the door brings life to a retail business. Wine Pavillion had a wide selection (sort of, I guess) but no customers. Their German selection was ho-hum, much like the one at The Wine Club. A lot of JJ Christoffel and Robert Weil and Fritz Haag at low prices - the back labels again showed importers and distributors that I don't deal with, at least not often!

So we left this store without buying anything. It was now 5pm, and we had dinner reservations close by at 8pm. The thought crossed my mind to have a glass of wine at the wine bar we were just at in the Wine Pavillion, but it was just too quiet. Surely we could find a busier, more bustling place.

We did. We ended up at a third wine store in Costa Mesa, Hi Time Cellars. The parking lot of full. We went in and looked at their vast inventory. The cellar is totally fun to poke around in. We saw a Champagne that might be the one that we really enjoyed on our honeymoon a year and a half ago: 1998 Duval-Leroy Blanc de Chardonnay. We have been looking for the Blanc de Blancs, and we are hoping that this "Blanc de Chardonnay" business is just their made for America label. Also, I think it is possible that we had the 1996 when we were in Champagne. At any rate, it sounds like a Blanc de Blancs, so we ended up deciding to buy this on our way out. But first, we wanted to have a beverage at their wine bar.

When we got to the wine bar, it was full of people. Apparently a wine tasting was going on, and it was lively and bustling and exciting. We found out it was a $50 tasting of 2005 Burgundies. The wines looked intriguing, all 12 of them, but since we were headed for dinner, we decided to pass on the big ticket tasting. We opted instead for wine by the glass. I had a glass of 2005 Schloss Wallhausen Roxheimer Berg Riesling Spatlese. I had never heard of this estate, but I had been wanting a glass of Riesling on my birthday all day, so I was happy they had this on the list as a by-the-glass. I turned out to be perfectly delicious and refreshing and hit the spot. I asked the server if this Riesling was from the Rheingau (as my guess was that it was not from the Mosel - too full) and she said she wasn't sure, and grabbed the bottle for me to look at. It was from the Nahe. That made sense! It tasted somewhat between a Mosel and Rheingau Riesling in terms of its weight and fruit. A little further research showed that this is imported by Valkenburg, and it is an estate owned by the Prinz Michael Salm (or Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm) who is the president of the VDP. It is also a very, very old estate, something like the oldest family-owned wine estate in Germany. Also, apparently, the estate is certified organic.

Johan had a Bordeaux from Margaux that I chose for him but the name escapes me and he so-so liked it; didn't find it overly impressive. It had some green pepper/eucalyptus on the nose followed by a simple one-dimension on the palate.

We left Hi Time pretty happy and with a bottle of the 1998 Duval-Leroy that we identified at the beginning.

Finally, it was time to head to Balboa Island for dinner at our favorite little Swiss French dining room, Basilic. It was raining pretty good now, and dark, which always adds to the European ambiance of our dining in this place. We were greeted by our French waiter who had served us just about 2 months ago, tucked into our table for two, and proceeded to read the menu and wine list. For dinner, we chose the seared foie gras and veal cheeks for me, and the fish soup and veal Zurich-style for Johan. For the wine, we chose a Burgundy, a 2002 Gevrey-Chambertin from Domaine Marc Roy which we quite enjoyed - it had a nose full of sauteed mushrooms, which is fantastic to a mushroom lover like me! On the palate, there is animal/barnyard, but not too much, otherwise, mushrooms and a touch of smokey bacon. Fruit is there but not dominant and not too little. I enjoyed the wine greatly, though it was slightly overpowered by my appetizer, the seared foie gras which came with a berry and red wine sauce that seemed kind of big even for foie gras - a sauce perhaps more suitable for some game. So that course was not my favorite, but my next course was wonderful - succulent veal cheeks cooked tenderly in a brown sauce that did not overpower the meat, served with velvetty mashed potatoes and a few mini-vegetables. Oftentimes I do not enjoy my entree course because it is just another heavy meat, but this course was most enjoyable, and went very well with the wine. I didn't taste Johan's fish soup as I'm allergic to shrimp, but I did taste his veal done Zurich style with thin sliced fingerling potatoes all in a cream sauce, but it was very nice.

We ended the meal not with dessert but a little cheese plate with the bit of remaining wine we had in our glasses.

What a great day! I would do that again in a heart-beat, even if I had to go into a wine store the very next day (which I do - today!)


peter said...

I love visiting new wine shops, though I'm not ITB. Just Saturday my wife and I drove about 45 mins to visit two of our favorites, then stopped by a cheese shop on the way home, good stuff!

Tomorrow I'm debating driving 1.5 hours each way to a newfound shop, I'm really looking forward to it.

I havent had the 1998 Duval Leroy Blancs de Chardonnay, but the 1996 is absolutely to die for.

If you catch this in time, there are several available on WineBid.

Post a note when you drink the 1998, I've seen it locally and was debating a purchase.

Btw, how did the storage seem at Hi Time?

Nancy Deprez said...

Hi Peter,

Yes, we were looking for the 1996 but they didn't have any. Good to know WineBid has it.

Yes, I'll post a note!

The storage at HiTime looked excellent. The Champagne was all in the cellar.