Saturday, September 27, 2008

Report on Vegas from Vegas - including the Lotus of Siam report!

Ah Vegas. The lights, the sounds, the smoke-filled rooms, the hustle and bustle that greets you from the early hours to the.... early hours the next day... the conventioneers, the body builders, the hustlers, the scorching heat, the big payouts, the chips flying.... what is there not to love? There's no place like it!

I have been to Las Vegas about 10 times in my life, and I don't feel a stranger to the place. The first time I was here - this brings back memories - was when I was a kid not old enough to gamble. I remember being here with my family, my grandmother in particular, who was impressed and awed by the glitz and glitter, the big hotel we were staying at on the strip (the Flamingo, if I recall).... it was a great time, even though I was a kid not old enough to gamble. Later on, when it could, it just got better. There's no other place in the world to play these awesome games.

Anyway, back to the current time. I'm here with my hubby and two of his guy friends - initially, there were other women coming but they couldn't make it. We've been having an awesome time - I'm blending in enough to get into the guy talk which is totally hilarious. And the gambling - freaking awesome! I'm up 200 bucks and lovin' it!

Now to the food -

I don't think Vegas has really great food. I wouldn't really come here for the food - I would go to Europe or Asia for that, or even cities like San Francisco, New York, Vancouver. But all this talk about Lotus of Siam that I have heard in recent years have really gotten my juices flowing.

We went last evening and it met all of my expectations! No, scratch that, it EXCEEDED my expectations! Great little almost divey place in a strip mall, with the lights basically OFF on their sign on Sahara Blvd, practically telling the world "Don't come here, we don't really need your business, unless you REALLY REALLY are committed to it."

The food menu was so huge and overwhelming with authentic Northern Thai cuisine that I let my 3 male dining companions deal with it while I attacked the wine list. And what a wine list! Here's how this neat and tidy binder looked like: the first page has on its heading German Riesling by the Glass, then lists about 7 German Rieslings followed by Try a flight of German Rieslings which gives you an option of trying three German wines by the glass! Wow! Amazing.

The next few pages list other wines by the glass, giving the reader almost an impression that this was it for German wines. But behold! A bottle list which starts off with a listing of German Wines. The first page has the subheading Dry and Off-Dry Rieslings with about 14 wines to choose from, followed by another heading Qualitatswein Rieslings, which then breaks out Rieslings from the Rheingau, Mosel, Nahe and a few other regions. Next is 2 pages of Kabinett Rieslings, followed by 3 pages of Spatlese, and then 3 pages of Auslese! After the pages of Auslese, the book goes into Other Wines and starts to list Californian wines, French wines and some others.

I have never seen this before outside of Germany. I don't even think I have really seen this within Germany, but I might have! Freaking amazing. And this is an Asian restaurant! Most Asian restaurants I have experienced have either no wine list, or a wine list that shows complete lack of comprehension about wine. I practically had my ass thrown out of the last Asian restaurant I approached with the idea of German wine because they were way too happy with their bottom of the barrel Southern Wine and Spirits Merlots and other grocery store level wines.

And don't get me started about wine lists in restaurant where they believe they know tons of wines (read: European or Californian restaurnats) where German wines are relegated to a squishy little portion of the wine list after 5 pages of Californian wine, 3 pages of French wine, 3 pages of New World wines from various places such as Aussieland and Chile and Argentina........ then you see 3 crappy German wines on there that are probably advertising bottles that have sat there for 5 years not moving because no one cares about them..... ARGG.

Ranting aside, we ended up ordering 2 very delicious appetizers and then 4 even more outstanding mains, which we all shared. I got to say hi to Lotus of Siam sommelier Bank who took very good care of us and recommended 2 of the mains we enjoyed, including a sea bass on noodles dish, which was my favorite, and a crispy duck skins dish, which was okay but still great..... or other dishes included a pork dish in a coconut curry sauce called Kow Soi, and a northern Thai spicy sausage.... we also had some pork larb and some crispy rice...... the food was excellent and I would go there just for that in a heartbeat!

The wines - I ordered two bottles for the table, the 2007 Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste Riesling Kabinett, which was one of the wines in the Benley wine dinner I just helped to host the previous evening, the 2005 Donnhoff Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spatlese. Unfortunately, they were out of the Oberhauser Brucke Spatlese, so Bank recommended the 2004 Donnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spatlese, which totally fit the bill (even though my favorite vineyard that Donnhoff makes wine from is Oberhauser Brucke, based on the very little that I know and have experienced).

Both wines were awesome, of course, but what made me really light up was having Johan's friend say "Hmmm maybe I should give German Rieslings another look!" This is coming from a wine enthusiast who has been coming to tastings at The Wine Country and avoiding all German wines and basically not wanting anything to do with so-called sweet wines. Well, honestly, who wants sweet stickies???? I don't! But these Rieslings are a totally different animal, and I got the chance to do my sales pitch mid-meal. That Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste is a completely off-dry number, with awesome, peachy-clean fruit and the driest finish. Fantastically refreshing as an aperatif wine that we could sip on before the food hit the table, and pairing so well with the mildly seasoned appetizers.

The Spatlese, though with some bottle age on it, still reflected a significant amount of residual sugar, which made said friend seem to question whether he would really like it. Friend #2 already was raving about it, how it was totally different from the Gunderloch, and that he liked it more - I put words into his mouth to describe that it was weightier and had more depth and concentration (as well as more sweetness).

Later, with the main dishes, of course the wine sang. Everyone was a happy camper, stuffing our faces and washing the food down with some pretty fabulous and fairly priced German Rieslings.

The pricing on this list was completely fair and it made me feel that there is no reason ever to bring one's own wine to this restaurant. The list is comprehensive, has some excellent producers, and even some older vintages to enjoy. I didn't really order anything too aged, but maybe next time.

What an awesome experience! I'm so happy I finally got to go to Lotus of Siam. This place really sets the standard for what a restaurant can do.

I'll aim to turn a few places into a Lotus of Siam-type place in the near future!!!!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Serenity Now!

Yes! Why, yes I am!

I'm just a hamster, trying to get a corm!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I am now a resident! of Chateau Petrogasm

Check this out. The new blog I have added to the left - Chateau Petrogasm.

Just found this blog tonight and I'm totally impressed. Using imagery to describe a wine, instead of words. I should use imagery more often. To express what I am trying to say. I typically rely on words. But images are much more fun and potentially more powerful.

I reviewed my first wine!

Sipping on Silvaner

Well, another long day!

Good thing I have some Silvaner left in my bag that I won't be using tomorrow. Mmm mmm - delicious 2006 Hans Wirsching Estate Silvaner Dry - I can't believe why this wine isn't more popular - it is fantastic and delicious and beats Sauvignon Blanc (for me) and certainly Chardonnay. It has some great weight that would appeal to Chardonnay drinkers, without the oak, and tons of citrus and orange blossom and yellow grapefruit - makes me crave a slab of the best raw yellowtail sashimi... ahhh.

Another winner that I took out with me today was the 2006 Becker Pinot Noir. This wine knocks it out of the ball park - a German Spatburgunder that is enough new world in style that it appeals to even those who like California Pinot Noir. Imagine! Something that Californian Pinot lovers can dig that isn't 14.5% alcohol and full of wood! Seriously, an elegant fruit-forward Pinot Noir with some earthiness and forest floor there to make it interesting. A great fall wine with all those roast chicken and roast turkey-type dishes.

Well, like I mentioned above, it was a long and tiring day, but now that I'm enjoying my wine by the computer, the place all quiet because the hubby is out at a hockey thing where they pick their hockey tickets that they want from a shared season's pass group thing, I'm thinking, damn, it was a pretty successful day. I got 2 of my wines at Lucques and one of my wines at AOC, and 2 of my wines at the SkyRoom in Long Beach, and soon, I'll have some wines at Walt's Wharf. Not bad!

World domination is soon to be mine! :P

Ah, if only it were so easy.......

Monday, September 22, 2008

Looking forward to the Mecca in the Desert: Lotus of Siam

As I said in my previous post, it has been a rough week. Every day last week was spent working, either at my new job, selling wine on the street, to restaurants, wine stores, grocery stores, you name it, or at my old job, selling wine in the beloved retail store. Every day was busy in its own way. And today, Monday, I start again.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel! Yes, yes, there is the light that I will learn the new job better and everything will flow easier and smoother, but an even brighter light, from a future not so far away is that I'll be in Vegas this coming weekend. Yes! Leaving Thursday evening at 9:30 pm, after I do a wine dinner at Long Beach's premier Vietnamese fusion restaurant, Benley, I will be whisked away by my hubby and his friend and we will make the 5 hour drive through the dark valley and into the dessert of many sins.

And in this dessert sits a cult restaurant whose name is so known among the wine-loving and foodie world, that it is abbreviated to simply LOS. Lotus of Siam - a bastian of authentic, mouth-searing, flavor-exploding Thai cuisine paired with fine wines, many of them German Rieslings.

I first heard about this restaurant when I was working and hosting my first wine dinner more than 2 years ago at a great Long Beach sushi restaurant called Yen. A few customers walked in and started telling me about Lotus of Siam and even gave me a business card for the place. Raved about how great it was, and since I didn't know of it, I didn't think much of it - after all, the name is much like any other Thai restaurant - sounds just like King of Siam, The Lotus Restaurant, etc. The customers did regail me of stories of how the walls of the restaurant were adorned with the sommelier's pictures that he had taken with various famous German winemakers.

Later, Rudi Wiest, who was at this wine dinner, saw the card on my table and asked me if I had been there - I told him no - and he said this was a must-go-to place. Later, more evidence - some archived newsletters from The Wine Country told the story of a former employee who had gone to Germany with Lotus of Siam's sommelier, Bank. The story grew in my head.

Slowly, more evidence of this LOS' special aura - talks of it on many of bulletin board, with members talking about making special trips there. A coworker even attended a huge dinner there with fellow parker board members, and posted a video of it on You-Tube.

I met Bank this year, in Vienna of all places. He was quiet, humble. I expected him to be extroverted, exuberant, jubilant. His reputation preceded him, and was bigger than him. To be so famous and yet in real life so quiet. Wow! We exchanged a few words and he was very kind. But after the short conversation, I didn't see him again. Many wine folks on the trip I was on knew him, and commented also that they saw Bank once and not again. He was certainly a celebrity who eluded us.

Who knows if when I am there this Friday if he will remember me. He probably will, since he seems a smart guy. I look forward to tasting his restaurant's fine dishes and pairing them with some great stuff off his wine list. Hopefully, I'll have enough to tell that I can write a decent post about that here.

The moral of this story is that when a restaurant does really well with wines of some obscurity, and by that I mean wines not sold by Southern Wine and Spirits or Youngs Market, the tales of this restaurant travel far and wide. Another one that comes to mind is The Slanted Door in San Francisco. Another restaurant with an Asian focus, tons of great wines (German Rieslings, Austrian Gruner Veltliner, French wines from the Loire) and another restaurant I have yet to visit, but have heard so many great things about.

May Benley of Long Beach become a restaurant like that, that will plough through palettes of German Riesling, Austrian Gruner Veltliner, and Loire whites. And become a destination for wine geeks and foodies alike.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rough week.... sorry sorry haven't posted!

Just checking in here - came up for a breath! Just a quick one!

First off, haven't been able to get online hardly at all because the computer was down. Not good for business if you are a salesperson! People like email! Stressful.

On a positive note, I have a new driving companion for when I am working. Hee! She's great! It's the GPS lady. She tells you where to go. You just sit back and do what she says and she'll get you there. Love it. Even tells you which side of the road the freeway entrance will be on. Yes, the freeway entrance the direction you want to go. Sweet! Love the GPS!

I have been visiting many accounts. All sorts of places. Here are some conclusions:

1. The parking in downtown is highway robbery.

2. Everyone is shopping at Whole Foods!

3. The 51st floor of a building is not that comfy actually. Ears pop.

That's about it. There are some other stories, but I won't tell them to protect the innocent!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's true what they say..... you taste the most wine in the retail biz

So, yeah, it's true what they say - if you are a retail wine buyer, or maybe a wine director at a restaurant, you taste the most wine. Heck I still think retail buyers taste more wine.

So now that I'm not a retail buyer anymore, though I work some retail, about 2 days a week now on the weekend, I won't have that many tasting notes.

What you'll see here more is probably places I've been that have interesting wine.

Take yesterday for instance. During the day, probably my most interesting meeting was with the wine director at Sona. This is a restaurant I have heard much about and I know there was at least at one time tons of attention on this restaurant. Now that I've been through the kitchen (I entered through the back) and met with the wine director, I feel that this is a place I wish to dine and experience the tasting menu. Yep, just by walking through the place and seeing what wines they ordered makes me want to come back! Yum!

In the evening, I experienced a neighborhood I don't know a lot about - the area around Westchester, Culver City and Playa Vista. Is it ever booming! Among some other places, my friend and I ended up at a coffee-house-turned-wine-bar called Vinoteque which has a massive wine list and lots of stuff by the glass. A sommelier teaches wine classes here. I see my competing portfolio has already made inroads here, so I'll have to get myself in front of the sommelier and see what I can do!

At Vinoteque, I enjoyed a delicious glass of 2007 Hugl Gruner Veltliner - refreshing, green, melony, and drinkable. We used to have this wine at The Wine Country - I'll have to see if we can get it back because it is an excellent value that comes in a liter bottle. :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Had a Perfect Sales Day Yesterday!

Incredible but true, I had almost an idea sales day yesterday! Met with a bunch of cool, nice folks all over town, and had great parking karma too!

The day started off meeting the new wine director at the Jonathan Club in downtown LA. Never been there before, and enjoyed my experience there, everything from the valet parking (comped!), tasting down in the cellar, and chatting about the business with the wine director.

Next up, I went over to Larchmont Village Wine, which was bustling with customers buying sandwiches left, right, and center - met the wine buyer who tasted through my wines, liked them. And oh, did I mention, both wine people at the Jonathan Club and at Larchmont Village had heard of me before - said my name looked familiar - my face too - ah! The Wine Country newsletter! Wow - it pays to be published! Thanks Randy!

Then it was over to the west side. Yes, I'm all over the place. I was headed to Playa del Rey where there is a small wine shop called The Vintage Shoppe. Met with one of the owners who tasted through everything and placed an order! Score!

Next up, I was headed back to Long Beach to meet with the wine director at 555 East, a steakhouse in the downtown area. Had a chance to say hi to the general manager, who said they used to do very well with the Rudi Wiest portfolio. The wine director tasted and placed an order! Bam!

After this, I spent some time stopping in a variety of places, including Parker's Lighthouse, the Queen Mary..... these will be places to follow up on in the future.

My second to last appointment was at Benley, a Vietnamese restaurant I will be doing a wine dinner at very soon. The wine dinner is totally sold out, so discussed with the owner about doing a second one a week later - he agreed! He also filled out the forms for being a new customer, so he is my first new account! BAM! I love this place too!

Finally, my last appointment was with a Sushi place on Second Street called Yen. Did a wine dinner here almost 2 years ago, but they never caught on as a Rudi Wiest customer. Yesterday, they decided to put one of the basic Rieslings by the glass and on the list. Hurray!

In the evening, Johan and I decided to check out the SkyRoom for some drinks. We had never been and I had been trying to get through to the manager there, without success. The place is very lovely! Awesome views, of course, as it is 13 to 14 stories high, 2 great bars, including a rooftop bar that has been remodelled. I had a Riesling which I think any item in our portfolio could easily trump. Later on in the evening, met the manager I had been trying to get a hold of, found out when they make appointments and when they usually taste - BAM!

Like I said, great sales day, and I hope to have another good one like that today! And tomorrow too. This is fun!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

If you have to drink wine at 10 am, make it a German Riesling, please

It's Saturday, and I'm having my post-10-mile run meal and a couple small tastes of Rieslings that are left in my fridge from my week of work. Oh, and I should mention this is my pre-work meal also, since 11 am is when I start my shift at The Wine Country.....

If you have to taste wine or drink something this early in the morning (though it feels late since I was up at 6am), make it a Riesling. Better yet, a fruity Mosel 2007 Riesling. I'm drinking 2007 Mosel River Riesling, a negotiant wine made by Rudi Wiest Selections/Cellars International. Awesome. Fresh, bright, citrusy, floral, and apply, all in one. The wine I tasted before that was the 2006 Von Buhl Jazz Riesling which I liked less, but others like it, those that prefer a drier palate. But for me, bring on the fruit and don't hold back, especially when it comes to fruit from Germany 2007, because it's clean, fresh, and zippy.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Some pics from the Okanagan!

I kept calling this place "Lakeview Terrace" because all the vineyards are lake-facing and almost all of them are hillside. A very scenic place indeed!
The first 2 pics above are from Mission Hill. Note they have an arch like the Mondavi arch.

Here is Gray Monk.

Tasting rooms with a view:

Monday, September 1, 2008

Updates from British Columbi'a Wine Country - The Okanagan

Happy Labor Day everybody (Labour Day in Canada). It's been a while since I have posted, and I thought I should take these few minutes in the early hours of Labor Day to say hi from the Coast Hotel in Kelowna, BC, right in the heart of the Okanagan.

I'm up here with my parents and my husband. My parents' good friend's daughter was getting married this weekend, and since I am in the midst of changing jobs, I felt it a good idea to fly up here and spend a long weekend with them, in preparation for not being able to take any time off between now and the end of the year.

We didn't arrive until late Thursday evening, as there was an important Rudi Wiest tasting Thursday around noon - the famous Dry Tour - this is a tasting of German dry wines. We tasted 55 dry German wines presented by 7 winegrowers who flew in from Germany - Sebatian Furst of Furst, Fritz Becker Jr. or Becker, Rainer Schnaittman of Schnaittman, Christoph Graf of Von Buhl, Hansjorg Rebholz of Rebholz, a last-minute substitute for Felix Buerklin with Gunter Kunstler's step-daughter whose name I cannot remember - of Kunstler, Uwe ___ of Hans Wirsching, and a few other dry winemakers.

It was also my opportunity to meet some folks who would be my clients - a wine director from Wolfgang Puck's Cut, and another wine director at the Regency Club. There were others - a lot of meeting and greeting and gathering of business cards for folks I need to follow up with when I get back to Los Angeles.

Now back to my little vacation. Got to visit briefly with my siblings before they took off in various directions for their Labor Day weekend jaunts. Then, Saturday morning, my parents, my husband and I packed ourselves into the car to make the drive into the Okanagan Valley.

It has been over a decade since I have been to this part of the province. When I was a kid, we would take vacations here, a region rich with peach and apple trees. In recent years, the area, probably like similar places in the state of Washington and Oregon, has been transformed away from orchard land into vineyard land.

One of my goals for this trip was to observe the changes that have taken place, and taste the wines that people all over Canada rave about, but people outside of Canada have not had a chance to experience. This is due to the small quantities produced here, and the tendency to sell most of it within the province (80%), while "exporting" the rest of it to the other provinces (eg. Ontario).

The drive was difficult. Lots of mountain passes, often hitting patches of rain with poor visibility. In August! It reminded me of trying to get over the Voges range in France to get from Lorraine into Alsace. Difficult!

Finally, we arrived into Kelowna, a pretty town on the lakeside. The lake that dominates this valley is called Lake Okanagan.

Now, about the wineries: We managed to visit 5 of them: Mission Hill, Quail's Gate, Summerhill, Gray Monk, and St. Hubertus. All were beautiful and scenic, located on a hill of some sort overlooking the massive blue lake. Many had restaurants with great views, featuring the local fresh ingredients and wines. All were quite busy entertaining visitors and tasters coming to enjoy the location, the wines, and the shopping.

These are my observations and impressions:

1. The Pinot Noir here does not impress me. I have heard many great things about B.C. Pinot Noirs and how great they are, being cool climate and all. I find them generally lacking. It could be that I haven't tasted any premium ones, or I didn't hit the right ones, but I have tasted them before in Vancouver restaurants and now at these cellar doors, and they just don't do it for me! Please still give me a Burgundy, thanks!

2. I like the dry whites. I was impressed by the 2007 Quail's Gate Dry Riesling and we bought a bottle to bring home. I also liked a 2007 St. Hubertus Pinot Blanc but we didn't get that one, as Johan preferred the 2007 St. Hubertus Chalassas (Swiss variety, we were told). I preferred the dry whites to the sweet or off-dry whites I tried. There weren't any sweet whites that I particularly liked, though I didn't try any ice wines. I think icewines are more rare here anyway - the dessert wines are mostly late harvest here (maybe it really doesn't freeze that much out here compared to in Niagara in Ontario).

4. Johan liked the Marechal Foch. Everything I have read about this French hybrid has been negative, ie. it is terrible and it has practically been ripped out of most vineyards, especially in Ontario. But it appears that the Okanagan has been a champion of this variety, giving it almost a cult status. I compare it to Dornfelder - it is dark in color, so it looks like it will taste like a ton, but on the palate, it is gentle, has virtually no tannin, and tastes like an earthy red when done well, like a foxy, skunky red when done not so nicely. We tasted three of these from three different estates: Quail's Gate (where it tasted funky), Summerhill (where it tasted quite pleasant), and St. Hubertus (where it was also good, but not as tasty as the Summerhill's). The grape is also early ripening - at St. Hubertus, they had put nets over their already ripened Foch vines (it is Labor Day weekend, so these hybrids are ripening possibly a month or month and a half before other grapes!)

In all, this is a very youthful and vibrant wine region, a region I would imagine to be similar to those in Washington State and Oregon. The new world that wants somewhat to be the next Napa/Sonoma/Santa Ynez, and has the clientele to the support it. A farming community that used to grow apples, pears, peaches and other stone fruits, but now supports enotourism. Why not? My parents asked me how this is different from the wine regions of Europe - I was at a loss to describe how it was truly different other than the ones in Europe being much older. And the food is different. But generally, I see them as similar. It's the wines that are different. The wines in the new world are good, fine, drinkable, enjoyable. The old world wines, for me, are out of this world. And the regions are historic.