Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Rudi Wiest Selections Christmas Party - or How Well German Riesling Pairs with Rack of Lamb

T'was the Thursday two weeks before Christmas that the Rudi Wiest Selections company hosted its annual party for the team down in Carlsbad. This is the second year that I have attended, and was greeted with very good wine and very good food.

I started off with a 2007 Gunderloch Nackenheim Rothenberg First Growth Riesling - a rich dry Riesling that tasted terrific, weighty, full-flavored - a great wine to start with that had body and depth, without being too high in acidity for the first wine of the night.

Then came a stream of hors d'oeuvres including some duck on spoons, seared foie gras on toasted brioche, lobster mac & cheese, Kobe beef sliders, and some other wonderful munchies that took the edge off the hunger, and went great with the wines.

Two sparkling wines got opened, the 2004 Raumland Marie-Luise Brut, a 100% Pinot Noir blanc de noirs Champagne-method sparkling wine that was light in body and refreshing, and a 2000 Von Buhl Pechstein Brut, another Champagne method 100% Pinot Noir sparkler that was more earthy and richer in flavor, darker in color, reflecting the soil of the area (colored sandstone) and the older vintage.

Rudi then opened a new wine, which I believe I tasted before in Germany earlier this year, the 2007 Furst Chardonnay - this is a Chardonnay vinified and aged in new oak, which has a bold flavor that Chardonnay and even white Burgundy lovers would love - the wine is very focused and bright, with good acidity showing through the toasty oak. This is a pricey Chardonnay but would be worth the money for true Chardonnay aficianados, and who knows? There may be a market for German Chardonnay.

But after this, I went back to Riesling once again, and found one I might have enjoyed the most of the evening - well, of the dry Rieslings anyway - 2005 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Riesling Auslese Trocken - a terrific, minerally, juicy, succulent dry Riesling with a special je-ne-sais-quoi that isn't found in most other Rieslings - a finesse and deliciousness found at this estate.

We had some delicious fare that was served without a knife, because the meats were so fork tender..... some filet of beef wrapped in proscuitto atop creamy polenta, along with a goat cheese-stuffed zucchini blossom - very fancy! Not a dish I can easily replicate at home... but would like to - especially that super creamy, super flavorful polenta! Way to make cornmeal grits taste good!

With the delicious savory beef, there were several fantastic German Pinot Noirs to choose from. My favorite was this 2003 Rebholz Spatburgunder Spatlese Trocken which was rich, bold, and beautiful. Much richer than the 2004 of this same wine, which is much lighter and earthier... this 2003 had a great deal of concentration and fruit and I really enjoyed it!

Other great Pinot Noirs that were opened included the 2005 Becker Kammerberg Spatburgunder Grosses Gewachs, a top-end Pinot Noir from the Kammerberg vineyard ("Chamber Hill") that goes for over $100.... this was Johan's favorite of the Pinot Noirs, I think. I liked it too, but of course I knew I would, so while I liked it, I wasn't surprised at all by its greatness.

I believe the 2005 Kunstler Pinot Noir from the Rheingau pictured below was also opened, but I didn't taste it on this occasioin, though on other occasions I have enjoyed it. I did taste the 2004 Rebholz Muschelkalk Spatburgunder, which was concentrated in a different way from the 2003 Rebholz Spatburgunder Spatlese Trocken, perhaps less fruity and more concentrated in other ways..... it was more savory, perhaps.

Another Pinot Noir that got opened and tasted was the 2007 Schnaitmann Junge Reben ("young vines") Spatburgunder which was very young and bright (plenty of acidity), with great structure, perfect for pairing with rich food (duck would have been perfect) but since it was being passed around with the 2005 Becker Kammerberg, most people seemed to go with the richer, beefier, heftier Becker wine.... but I did like the Schnaitmann.

All the Pinot Noirs went well with the filet, giving me plenty of proof that German Pinot Noirs are not too light for beef!

Our next course was rack of lamb, one of my favorite meats of all! The lamb was done perfectly, not too well done, but not too rare either. And it was served with crispy fresh fries, nicely salted. On the side, there were some carmelized red onion, and also a dollup of honey, which Johan wondered why it was there. I didn't wonder, though I didn't really eat it either...

I did, however, enjoy this lamb dish with 1989 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spatlese. How terrific was that, drinking a 20 year old Zilliken Spatlese with lamb? I don't know why I went for this initially - perhaps I wanted something to refresh my palate after trying 4 or 5 Spatburgunder, and when I put the wine in my mouth, I couldn't go back to the reds quite yet - and when I paired it with the lamb, it just worked. Perhaps that's what the chef was going for with putting the honey beside the lamb chops - instead of taking the honey, I had the old Riesling, and the two were very complementary. The Zilliken was beautiful - fresh, youthful in a slightly aged way, like someone you would know who is not young and silly but youthful and smart. Yes, that's how this 1989 Zilliken was!

Finally, we had a very cute red velvet cupcake with a gingerbread man on top, and that was a nice ending to a very fantastic meal. With it, I did try the 2005 Schafer-Frohlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Auslese, which was clean, pure, and deliciously sweet without being overly so.

All in all, a good time, a great wine and food party, and a great affirmation that I work for a top-notch importer whose wines I still do love after all.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Jalama Vineyards - Mark Cargasacchi's Wines

Maybe 2 years ago or more, I had met winemaker Mark Cargasacchi at a wine dinner "offline" as they call it on the boards ("e-bob") - Mark was down in Long Beach selling the very wines he makes from his winery Jalama, and there happened to be a South African wine off-line going on at Springbok, a South African bar and grill right in one of the harbors in Long Beach, a pretty setting but with disappointing food - but nevertheless, we enjoyed an array of great South African wines that evening, more than 20 if I recall correctly, and I recall tasting Mark's El Capitan Red wine that evening and talking to the winemaker about what it was like to be making wine in Santa Barbara County, and I recall him saying it was great. He shared that it was fantastic that the region was being recognized for its wines, and that he had grown up in the region before it was wine country, and his parents had a farm and it was mostly about having cattle and growing fava beans, and he thought when he was younger that that would be his future too, cattle and fava beans, until he became a winemaker.

This I remembered about Mark, and fortunately I kept his business card all this time, and when it came time to head up to Santa Ynez and toward Santa Rita Hills, I saw that his address was Lompoc, and so was our appointment with Clos Pepe, so why not hit both wineries in the same morning? I called Mark up and he invited us right away.

To be honest, it was not that easy finding the place. Mark's place is more his home than an actual winery, though there are vines on the property. Mark makes wine in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, which sounds to me like a winery facility where a number of winemakers make there wine, and it is located in downtown Lompoc behind the Home Depot. We didn't make it over there to do a tasting, but I believe you can go to the Wine Ghetto (love the name) to taste some wines, and we heard that until recently, Sea Smoke was made there. I had just tasted what I believe was my first Sea Smoke Pinot Noir from the Southing vineyard a couple weeks ago when we hosted a movie night to re-watch Sideways, and the Sea Smoke was quite good I must say! Quite tasty and almost worth the price tag (probably $80), though of course I would hesitate a bit. But I did enjoy it. At any rate, we did get a bit lost trying to find where we were going on Jalama Road, a windy country road that goes up a crest then goes down toward the ocean from the 1 Hwy. After calling Mark when we were lost and getting assistance, we did end up finding their beautiful property surrounded by happy, happy cows, several excitable dogs, and a gorgeous rooster who kept cock-a-doodle dooing.

It was in this charming countryside setting that we were invited into Mark's house to taste his wines in the kitchen. Out came platters of cheese and meats and olives and bread and crackers and hummus, in case we were getting hungry, which I found to be so nice and inviting. We met Clinton also, who joined us for the tasting. Clinton is responsible for the new, classy labels on the Jalama wines, which replace the former more psychedelic labels, but the new label captures the same blue-green color scheme from the old label which is nice.

There were 6 wines to taste, and unlike the tasting we just came from at Clos Pepe, there were all different grape varieties to sample, from all different vineyards where Mark sourced the fruit. Now, I wish I took notes at the time, but I didn't, so I am going by memory alone...

2007 Jalama "Giallo" - this is a white wine, and Giallo is the proprietary name for it, and though the wine is a 100% Pinot Gris, nowhere does it say this on the front or back label - the reason? It is not what one would expect a Pinot Gris to taste like or look like - it is a barrel fermented, barrel aged Pinot Gris that goes toward Chardonnay in its look and feel, though I think it is more like what one would think of a Fume Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc that is done in barrel instead of in stainless steel) - it is a clean and lovely wine, and I would love to enjoy this one with some seared sea scallops and rich buttery potatoes.

2007 Jalama Pinot Noir - this is a different clone of Pinot Noir from what we tasted at Clos Pepe, I believe Mark said Clone 114, while more commonly is used Clone 115 which is more fruity.... Clone 114 is less fruity, and this is where I found the Pinot Noir to be more savory than what we tasted at Clos Pepe - and I liked it. Though I like fruitiness in wines quite a lot, I enjoyed the savory aspect of this wine, a touch of black olive and mushroom though not quite that earthy since this is still a pretty young wine. An interesting and very good Pinot Noir after all the other good Pinots we just experienced down the road, this Jalama Pinot Noir again reflects the good, long and even growing season of 2007, though I believe I heard Mark say 2008 was good too, even though it was less even and had a few more heat spikes.

2007 Jalama Mourvedre, Camp 4 - This was my favorite wine of the bunch, this Mourvedre. I like Mourvedre, I do believe, and this one is a clone from Tablas Creek, and I like Tablas Creek so this all makes sense. The wine is so nicely balanced, again with the savory qualities I found in the Pinot Noir but here even more so. The wine is interesting and like no other variety. I believe the Camp 4 vineyard is part of the Fess Parker holdings, and gives me an idea that Fess Parker bought and owned a lot of land up in these parts back in the day. Who knew he had Mourvedre vines?

2006 Syrah, Paradise Road - This is the first of 2 Syrahs we are about to try and they are over 15% alcohol, which I am looking at at this point in the tasting because I can feel it. I reach for a couple of slices of cold meats which taste good and help take the edge off. This Syrah is a solid number, with some dark red brooding fruits on the palate, but still some of that savory quality that seems to be something that Mark likes in his wines. I like it too but I worry that high alcohol wines will put me over the edge so I pour out my taste and move on to the next Syrah.

2006 Syrah, La Presa - this feels like Mark's favorite, and my husband Johan seemed to like this one also a lot - Mark talked about this La Presa vineyards which is a steep hillside vineyard where all the work is done by hand because you can't get a machine up there.... this is what I'm more used to dealing with when it comes to German wines - all hand done! This Syrah is a bit more grippy and powerful but not more alcoholic, just the flavor components are more balanced and richer somehow and less fruity than the Paradise Road Syrah.

2006 Jalama "El Capitan" - this is the signature red wine, terrific with olives, I found, just a solid great blend with some Syrah, some Cab, and some other components... bring on more olives and maybe a juicy rib eye steak.

So that was the line-up. An amazing experience and some really nice people, gorgeous countryside and an adventure just to find it. We left there happy and hungry, heading for the Hitching Post for some pre-dinner grub.... a pricy but very classy happy hour.

Clos Pepe in Sta. Rita Hills - A California Pinot Noir Estate

I was in The Wine Country one afternoon recently, and what I know is that it was a Friday, because two winemakers were getting ready to do a wine tasting class with wine specialist Bennett, who had set up the event. As I was milling about, Bennett introduced me to Wes Hagen, at which time I said to him as I shook his hand, "You sound familiar....." and Bennett told me, "That's because he is the winemaker at Clos Pepe!" and then Clos Pepe began to sound familiar to me, and then I found myself at a loss, because I had never tried the wines, didn't know anything about the estate, and all I knew was it sounded like a producer that Bennett was a huge fan of.

It could have stopped there, but it didn't. It could have been just another of many winemakers to come through the doors of The Wine Country, it could have been another interesting person here selling his wines, but it wasn't - Wes soon launched into a quick summary of his winemaking philosophy, which was neither organic nor conventional, but it wasn't biodynamic either, and it got me hooked, because I am personally not a huge fan of organic this and organic that, which doesn't make me a huge fan of ingesting a large amount of chemicals either, but I am very suspicious of certified organic, and I am much more impressed when a winemaker does not follow one narrow-minded doctrine that allows him to market his wine as organic..... and indeed Wes seemed to engender that philosophy, followed by a very open and welcome invite to Clos Pepe if I was ever in the area.

Well, after also talking about how I sell German wine, and how he is a huge fan of German wines and how he admires German white wines, well, I had to say, "Actually, I am going to be in your neck of the woods the day after Thanksgiving - are you there that weekend?"

And as luck would have it, he said yes, we are doing a tour on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and if you want to be a part of it, then you must send me an email! Cards were exchanged, and a couple of weeks later, we found ourselves on the estate of Clos Pepe, located on Route 246 toward the town of Lompoc, just west of Buellton.

Needless to say, the sprawling estate is gorgeous, hilly, expansive, sunkissed, showing the best of Autumn's colors ranging from curry yellow to burgundy. While the grapes have long been collected, the fall leaves still cling to the brown vines, coloring the landscape. Round rolly-polly sheep munch the ground cover between vines, offering a natural weed control that requires no chemicals, just a well-trained sheep dog that round up the sheep when you need them to move where they don't want to go.
The tour starts outside among the vines and the sheep and a full historical background of the area dating back several hundred thousand years when this region, the Santa Rita Hills AVA, established only in 2001, was deep under sea water in the Pacific Ocean before the plates bumped into each other and created mountains and hills on which we can stand on and plant on today. Diatomaceous earth covers the soil now, a result of small shelled organisms who used to live in this area when it was sea, their fossilized bodies now contributing to the soil that contributes to very good Pinot Noir.
Wes Hagen's history lesson also includes a personal story, with dots of humor, about how he happened to be in the right place at the right time, leaving a lucrative profession with the department of education (teaching kids!) to becoming a winemaker... though he did leave out how he was able to make that jump.
Politically speaking, he is interesting to listen to - he talks about how Greenpeace hurts people in developing countries by insisting that people who are on the brink of starvation reject genetically modified foods that may actually save the lives of many people - he talks about how conventional farming has its place because it feeds the masses and feeds them well, and that if all farming switched to organic tomorrow, then 2 billion people would die. The way Wes speaks, he is not afraid of offending, and at the same time, he does not offend (at least not me!) because he speaks what he knows.
After some philosophizing, we are all in the mood to taste some of his wonderful wine, wine which he says he makes in not a big heavy Parker style. The estate produces Pinot Noir grapes and sells some to other producers, some of which, Wes says, make bolder Pinots than he does, but he does not believe in muscular Pinot Noir. I like the sound of that.
The tasting consisted of a vertical of his estate Pinot Noir, from his 2008, which is not quite ready yet to be released, to his 2005 vintage, which is sold out. Here are my tasting notes from these 4 wines:
2008 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir - beautiful floral and fruit-scented nose, bright on the palate, reminicent of cranberry and raspberry, zippy acidity, too young at this time, but shows the potential for a lovely Pinot Noir that is not oaky or heavy.
2007 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir - gorgeous nose, richer in aroma and very enticing and inviting. On the palate, perfect, with lots of fruit, weight, density but not oak or extract or tannin. Shows its long perfect growing season. Delicious and my favorite of the bunch.
2006 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir - deeper and earthier nose. Developed palate showing more "French" characters, deep, black cherry and losing some baby fat and fruit, would be great with some lamb or game meat. But clunckier and not as focused to me as the 2007.
2005 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir - Wes claimed this rivaled French Burgundies with much higher price tags (Grand Crus) but said he could talk smack because he was sold out of this wine... indeed it has this French aspect to the wine, maturing well, would be interested to taste this blind.... I think I would still guess this to be Californian but made with a French style to it because it still seems fuller and fruitier than a Burgundy, but very nice and way more serious than the other Pinot Noirs. A great, noble wine for drinking with dinner, something to be savored and enjoyed slowly. We were very, very lucky to get a bottle of this sold-out number - thank you Wes!
2008 Axis Mundi Syrah, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard - This last wine is Clos Pepe's second label, Axis Mundi, which is labeled in a modern look with a screw cap to indicate "drink me young" and is more of an everyday wine, a more extracted Syrah. Honestly, a bit of a difficult wine to taste after those much more elegant, ethereal, pretty wines which are the Clos Pepe Pinot Noirs, but then again, one probably wouldn't want to taste them before the Pinots either, so one is stuck with tasting a more clunky, basic every day red after the Pinot Noirs which are twice the price and more than twice as nice. Since we got a bottle to take home, we look forward to tasting this wine by itself where it will have a chance to be very enjoyable, we are sure. But at the time of tasting this Syrah, I wasn't really wooed by it. I'll be sure to post a tasting note again in the future when we open it!
Here we are posing with Wes - he was a gracious host, serving us water and cheeses and bread and coffee afterwards. If you get a chance to go up to this area, I seriously recommend visiting this estate and getting the full tour! They don't have a drop-in tasting room, everything is by appointment, so call first!

Thanksgiving Week - A Gourmet experience

Hi Everyone - I hope all had a terrific Thanksgiving! I did, and it was a gourmet experience all the way. In fact, all week was a big giant lovely fest of wine and food and people that love wine and food, so things were very good indeed.

I took lots of pictures from things done this week, and want to post them and write about them, and will do so in a separate post, but in this one, I will focus on what we actually did on Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving day was spent at our friends' house in Irvine, self-proclaimed "foodie friends" who love a good time and an 8-hour enjoyment of food and wine without excessive wine talk, more talk about food, so it was very wonderful and nice. This year's celebration also involved toasting a recent wedding, so there were more bubbles being poured than usual. There was a Gloria Ferrer California sparkling wine that was particularly refreshing in a fruity sense, and perfect for the 2pm start time, followed by a Cremant de Limoux poured from a giant magnum - it had a darker color and richer, almost more oaky feel about it - followed by one of the greats - 1999 vintage Billiot, a Champagne that never lets anyone down. The wine is full of richness and succulent fruit and a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that makes it oh so elegant and full in the mouth that it demands love.

All the sparklers were perfectly paired with an assortment of caviars and roes, which were such a pleasant and fun afternoon snack, especially with the well prepared roasted, cooled and sliced red potatoes on which we placed the little eggs.

Later on came the onslaught of appetizers that would precede the turkey dinner - one of the participants who is an excellent chef and used to own a restaurant in Hawaii made a terrific swordfish dish, which I did not take a picture of (I must have been too busy wolfing it down - it was really delicious). This was paired with 2007 Byron Pinot Noir, which I thought was only okay in my book.... not really my style of Pinot Noir. It had a heaviness to it that reminds me of California Pinot Noirs that I do not like (I will be posting later on about California Pinot Noirs I do like, so stay tuned!)

And just like last year, there was a special turkey bread made from sourdough that graced our table. I didn't partake though, since I didn't want to fill up on bread.... pretty though.

I did, however, partake in these delicious, hot-from-the-oven corn muffins with a bit of cheddar on top. The fresh corn in the muffins went really well with the fresh corn in the corn chowder.

My contribution in terms of wine were my favorite 2007 Cotes du Rhone, La Cabotte, and 2008 Monchhof Urzig Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett.

Both of these wines were for the turkey course, and they went really well! Of course! I would choose those two wines again in a heart beat. Everyone waxed poetically about how good the Riesling was. I'm glad I brought that because there was no still white wine besides it at the dinner.

And this is how that course looked like. Here, first, is the homemade chutney, which replaced cranberry sauce.

And the turkey course was beautiful, replete with spiral-cut ham, fluffy mashed potatoes, tasty gravy, stuffing, and green beans. Classic.

Following this parade of food were a few desserts, one which I made that could have turned out better than it did, but oh well!
It was a wonderful setting. 80 degree weather and everyone wearing their summer best for the first few hours of the party, followed by people bring out their hats and jackets and blankets when the sun went down around 4:30 pm. That's southern California folks.
Conversation topics ranged from the silly economy, work, Gary Danko (a restaurant I really want to go to in San Francisco), relationships, Christmas holiday plans and other things I don't remember.
We were ready to go by about 9:30 pm, which was good because the next day, we were headed up to the beautiful Santa Rita Hills wine country.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Recession Menus

It's a phenomenon I've noticed this past year, maybe year and a half since this recession began - recession menu items, and its rampant, a sign of the times, a sign that this is what we can afford to eat now, what restaurants can afford to stock in their pantries and not be left holding the bag if customers don't come in... they don't end up with a bunch of fresh lobsters on their hands, or wild game, like elk tenderloins and buffalo rib eye steaks. All they will have is some hamburger meat and dinner rolls and some other cheap cuts of meat that people never saw on menus before, but now... now it is everywhere.
First, let me list what I am talking about - you see these menu items EVERYWHERE!
Sliders - ubiquitous. There's not a menu in a restaurant or restaurant bar that won't feature these little mini-hamburgers done with cute buns and a tiny patty. And most people like them because they are a fan of burgers, and this is a way they can eat burgers in a bar instead of in their car after going through the drive-through.
Braised pork belly - no one ate this fatty cut of meat before, but now, it is a staple on almost every menu - everyone puts this puppy in a crock pot, fills it with a braising liquid and leaves it there for several hours, and voila - braised pork belly, nice and lush and rich and never dry.
Braised short ribs - the other day, I heard a radio ad for a big high end steak house chain inviting folks to come in for their value menu which features this new addition - would you want to go to Ruths Chris and eat braised short rib?
Braised lamb shank - you see the pattern here - braised meats. Cheap cuts cooked long and slow, just like your momma used to make 'em!
Truffle mac n cheese (or 4 cheese mac n cheese) - this is Kraft dinner all grown up, in other words, macaroni or other short pasta in a casserole with cheese sauce and grated cheese, with a light drizzle of truffle oil.
Okay, that's all I can think of at the moment, but you get the idea. It isn't that I don't like these foods, it is that these menu items seem to crop up everywhere these days, even when it doesn't really fit the restaurant. But it is what restaurants must to these days to keep up with the demand for inexpensive menu choices - so I don't blame them. It just makes me want to throw up my arms when I see sliders, pork belly, short ribs, and mac n cheese on pretty much every menu I see these days!
Let's hope for better days in the near future so our menus can show a little more diversity again. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Choklit Shoppe - Chocolatt from Belgium - in West Los Angeles

Been a while since I have been inspired to post anything, as you can probably tell. Today, I decided, I might have something, not about wine, but about something else almost as delectable.

I'm speaking about Chocolate, real Chocolate, the good kind, the fresh kind, the artisan kind. Belgian chocolate, called pralines, filled with a variety of goodies including ganache, all sorts of liquor such as Poire William (an eau de vie), Kirsch (cherry)... dark chocolates, milk chocolates, and even some white.

You can find these authentic Belgian chocolates at a very unique store on the west side of Los Angeles called Chocolatt from Belgium - 12008 Wilshire Blvd, near Bundy, in Los Angeles, 90025. It is hard to resist the goodies in this store when you enter - you will find yourself ordering a cup of their unique hot chocolate, which tastes literally like melted slabs of chocolate... they have some baked goods that are directly in from Europe - I believe the owner buys the frozen dough from France and bakes them in house... and then you can choose the chocolates for gifts and have it hand wrapped in front of you.

The owner is Tarcis - he is Flemish and from the town of Kortrijk (pronounced Kor-trek) in Belgium and he knows quality chocolate... one taste of his selections and you will too.

So if you are like me and enjoy good unique artisan products, and original gifts, and like supporting small businesses, check out this store on Wilshire Blvd and let me know what you think. They've been in busines for 7 years and are still going strong because their product is excellent and the service - very European and a pleasure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I nailed it!

Veal is not a meat I really grew up eating - the closest thing I had to it was pork... but it happened that I married someone who is quite fond of the veal chop. He orders it when he sees it on menus, and though I don't tend to order it, I have looked upon it fondly and wondered, could I make a nice veal chop at home?

I believe I have tried to do this before, and found I had myself an overprice dry pork-chop-like piece of meat. But tonight, the result was different.

I had purchased a couple of nice veal chops from Bristol Farms in Long Beach, and instead of seasoning them dry, I seasoned them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and coated them with a generous amount of vegetable oil. I would have used olive oil if I had it on hand, but canola oil was what I had, and that's what I used. The reason for this coating is that my last experience with a veal chop produced an excessively dry chop, and I had heard that a Tuscan style of grilling meat involved a generous marinade of olive oil. Hence the oil. And there was a smidge of Dijon mustard added for flavor.

The result was good. The chops were broiled in the oven, just a few minutes on each side, then left in the oven after the broiler was turned off so the insides could cook a bit after both sides had browned. The chops were nicely golden brown and crisp-appearing on the outside, and on the inside, just a hint of pink but not too rare - they were beige/pink on the inside. Perfectly moist, delicious, flavorful, a tad gamey but not excessively - I basically nailed the recipe and was very happy with the turnout. I would definitely make these again, in this manner!

I served it with steamed baby bok choy, because it was what I had.... any greens would have been a good accompliament.

Finally, the wine. We did have some with the chops - something perfect, in fact: 2004 Paulo Scavino Barolo - delicious, aromatic on the nose, silky on the palate, with just the right amount of fruit (ie not too much goopy fruit), a tiny bit of grip but not too much, not too acidic - a soft wine, really, but perfect with the delicate flavors of the veal - this is a wine that didn't need a steak or heavy game meat - it was delicious with the veal and by itself, and it only made me think I really don't drink enough Italian wine - I really need to get myself down to The Wine Country and stock up on maybe a 6-pack of an assortment of delicious Barolo. That would be serious fun.

So there you go - barolo and veal rib chop - if you haven't tried it before, do experience it, because it is a whole lot of goodness!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kabinetts on a Friday

A week has not yet passed since Johan and I completed the Long Beach Marathon, an event celebrated with a very nice bottle of one of our favorite grower Champagnes, Pierre Peters non-vintage Blanc de Blancs, which we paired with seared scallops, followed by delicious, tender braised lamb shanks. Delicious...... but I digress. Just 5 days after the marathon, we hosted our first SCGGG (pronounced S-C triple G) "Southern California Grape and Gripe Group" wine tasting at our place... and the topic was German Riesling Kabinetts any vintage, and guess who picked the topic....

Yes, I was reponsible. By Friday afternoon, I was starting to wonder why I picked a topic I deal with every day. Why hadn't I chosen Tuscan reds? Or Piedmont reds? Or Oregon Pinot Noirs? Or red Burgundies? In other words, why didn't I choose a wine I didn't work with every day? I'm not sure what the answer is, but for some reason, the topic Riesling Kabinetts came to my mind, the e-mail was sent, and there was the theme to this month's SCGGG tasting.

There were 7 of us in attendance - Lester, Brian, Tom, Linda, Bennett, Johan and me, and 7 bottles of wine. They were the following:

2008 Von Hovel Oberemmeler Hutte Riesling Kabinett
2007 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett
2007 Wegeler Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett
2005 Kunstler Reichstal Riesling Kabinett
2002 Reinhold Haart Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett
2006 Dr. F. Weins-Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett
2004 Joh. Jos. Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett

All the wines were bagged as this was a blind tasting. Everyone then ranked the wine in order of preference. Then all the wines were scored to see which wine was most liked and which was least liked.

The wine that stood out the most was the one that seemed to be the oldest - it was darkest in color and most mature in flavor and aroma. Everyone at the table thought this was the 2002 Reinhold Haart Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett since it was the oldest of the wines on the table; however, it turned out that everyone was wrong! The most mature wine was the 2005 Kunstler Reichstal Riesling Kabinett! What a surprise. In retrospect, in some ways it made sense - the 2005 vintage was much warmer than the 2002, and the Rheingau, where Kunstler is located, is much warmer than the Mosel, and typically, wines in warmer regions and in warmer vintages mature faster than cool regions and cool vintages. But even so, it was a surprise, as the 2002 Haart did not stand out at all as being an older wine - it was fresh and zippy and young.

Of the other wines, they showed varying levels of perceptible residual sugar - the 2006 Weins-Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett was sweeter and fuller-bodied than the others, and I liked it, while others thought it was too sweet - I felt this represented the very ripe 2006 vintage very well, and would have been terrific with an Indian or Thai food dinner. The 2008 Von Hovel Oberemmeler Hutte Riesling Kabinett was favored by many as it showed very good acidity and crispness owing to the cool 2008 vintage. The 2004 J.J. Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett also showed some good acidity along with slatey minerality.

Overall, it seemed that more people liked the mature flavors in the 2005 Kunstler and the wine that didn't show that well in the overall line-up was 2007 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett - which is quite shocking as I've always loved loved loved this wine! And I believe I still do... but the wine might be in a "dumb" phase or something, or this bottle didn't show particularly well, because even in my notes I indicated, before the unmasking, "not my fav."

Here's how the overall rankings went, along with my personal rankings in parentheses:

First overall: 2005 Kunstler Reichstal Riesling Kabinett (I ranked it first as well)
Second overall: 2004 J.J. Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett (I ranked it last!)
Third overall: 2007 Wegeler Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett (6th)
Fourth overall: 2008 Von Hovel Oberemmeler Hutte Riesling Kabinett (5th)
Fifth overall: 2002 Reinhold Haart Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett (4th)
Sixth overall: 2006 Dr. F. Weins-Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett (2nd)
Seventh or last overall: 2007 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett (3rd)

Looking at these results once again, the day after the tasting, I am struck by the same feeling that I had last evening after hearing these scores: I think my taste buds prefer wines, especially these types of wines, with a good level of residual sugar and richness. I rich-tasting Kabinett does not bother me (see above the 2006 Weins-Prum and the 2007 Fritz Haag). I'm surprised the 2007 Wegeler made it as far up as it did in the list. Overall, though, I tended to agree with others than the aged wine was impressively so, even though it wasn't that old!

In the final analysis, it was an interesting tasting, everything turned out great - we had an Oktoberfest theme with some tasty sausages from Alpine Village Market in Torrance, some Dusseldorf mustard, and some cheeses.

And most finally, I look forward to the next SCGGG which will be one with wines I don't taste on a regular basis. :)

Thank you to everyone who participated and brought such great single vineyard Kabinetts!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

By popular demand: a wine review of a wine available in Vancouver!

So I have a little following of readers from my hometown of Vancouver, thanks to a few family members who keep up with me on the blog, and also a new addition to my blogroll to the left, Gigi, who writes a food blog with an emphasis on restaurants in Vancouver.

The Vancouver readers have requested some reviews of wines found in Vancouver, so I racked my brain then remembered that I did enjoy a fun wine when I was last in Vancouver.

The wine was a Bordeaux: 2006 Chateau Peychaud - an unassuming red blend of Cabernet and Merlot from Cabernet and Merlot's home region of Bordeaux. My father had purchased a couple bottles of this in advance of our visit, and we enjoyed the wine on two separate occasions (though oddly, we thought the wine tasted differently both times - probably our palates and the food that went with it, but maybe not!) The wine is rich in fruit and earth, balanced, with some smooth tannins, a perfect French red, not too goopy or alcoholic. I recommend it for those seeking a good and inexpensive Bordeaux to drink with anything from steak to lamb to chicken, even. We had the wine with Chinese food on both occasions and that worked too.

So, cheers! I think my father bought it somewhere in Richmond, not sure which store. Good luck!

Hosting my first official wine group wine tasting a few days after a marathon

I'm looking forward to hosting a wine group wine tasting just 5 days after I am doing the Long Beach marathon - fun, fun! The topic: German Riesling Kabinett - any vintage. Each person will bring a wine in that category; the wine will be known ahead of time, but on the evening of, I will bag the wines as they come in, label them with a number, and everyone will rate the wines according to preference.

Food: shall I make my famous Chinese noodles? (my mom's recipe) Or roasted turkey legs (to show how well German Riesling Kabinett goes with roast turkey) Or have a cheese plate with plenty of blue cheeses (to show how well blue cheese goes with German Riesling)? Or all of the above?

It's not a dinner, but munchies are always nice when there's wine involved, now isn't that right?

We'll see who can attend and what they will bring. I'll report here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

2006 Schloss Lieser Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett and Fantastic Indian Food at Vij's (Vancouver, BC)

What? I have a blog? Yikes, if my blog was a vineyard, and I was the grape-grower/winemaker, my vines would be all askew by now, and who knows what grapes will have gotten burned or otherwise badly exposed...... good thing I'm not a winemaker, just a wine appreciator!

So here I am, the day after a long, long day yesterday, Saturday, which started out with a 8 mile tapering run (Long Beach Marathon is in 7 days), followed by a drive out to Camarillo to drop my sister L at the outlet malls while I did a tasting at my account Bellavino Wine Bar in Thousand Oaks (a very nice wine bar by the way - if you are out that way, give owners Richard and Diane a visit), followed by a drive back onto the L.A. side to drop off sister in the Melrose area, and take myself to downtown L.A. to the Kings season opening game at the Staples Center..... traffic was a bit hellish due to the confluence of factors including a Dodgers Game, a concert at the Nokia Center, an adult conference at the convention center, and tens of thousands of other people wanting to go the same direction for some reason or another!

But I digress. What I have been wanting to blog about for some time is about a unique experience I had when Johan and I were in Vancouver, B.C. a couple of weeks ago for my sister K's wedding. First off, we had a fabulous week of great people, family and friends, and of course, a superb and beautiful wedding. Second, we enjoyed awesome sunny weather for 10 days straight which is more than one can ask for in Vancouver! Third, we got to go to one of the restaurants that is all the rage in Vancouver, called Vij's, which was one of the restaurants Anthony Bourdain's Vancouver episode focused on, an episode I haven't had the pleasure of watching, but have heard friends talk about (and speak well of). Anyway, friend Derek took us to Vij's, a restaurant that doesn't take reservations, and has massive long lines, so we went early, at about 5:30 pm, and were the first ones to be on the waiting list.

The protocol is to wait in the bar, and have some drinks, and indulge in some of the free munchies that the staff, and owner Vikram Vij himself, generously pass around. I found myself becoming a little full on the delicious munchies, among them casava fries, and other fried tidbits whose names escape me. The bar is towards the back of the restaurant, and is a little bit dark, but the atmosphere is serene and upscale, and gives one the anticipation of an exciting culinary evening ahead.

Forty five minutes or so passed, and a table came open. A wine list which I had perused during the waiting period was now under discussion. The list was an interesting one, and I was impressed that there were 4 German wines on the list, most of which were Riesling Kabinetts from various producers that I knew. As well, there were Gruner Veltliners from Austria, various wines from British Columbia, California, France and other wine regions around the world. Derek and Johan both encouraged the idea of a German Riesling if I had one in mind, though I did state that I didn't need to drink one if they were bored with me always ordering German Riesling when we were out (yes, this did happen a few times). But they both assured me that if there was one I liked and felt would go with the cuisine, that I should go ahead and order it.

There was one I liked, and that was the 2006 Schloss Lieser Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett. Up in Canada, of course this wine is not imported by my employer Rudi Wiest, but by some agent and through the B.C. Liquor Board through a system with which I am not familiar. There was no back label to indicate how this wine arrived here, but I was happy it was there and I was indeed familiar with the wine.

2006 German Rieslings are among my favorite, and though this is not a lauded vintage by the wine media and those who feel they are in the know about German wine vintages, I really do love them. 2006 came sandwiched between 2 "better" vintage - 2005 a nice perfect warm vintage all over Europe with nice clean dry weather throughout harvest making for near perfect wines, and 2007, a vintage with a long, cool growing season due to an early bud break and a nice consistent weather pattern throughout all the way to a pleasant harvest. 2006 on the other hand had a hellish harvest in many areas, with warm but wet weather throughout the harvest season, if I recall correctly, with many estates suffering with rotted fruit that they had to sort out and throw out, ending up with much lower yields than they had anticipated. Wines made had more botrytis than usual, and more concentration. Some reviewers did not like the vintage at all. I did like it, because among other things, I know that the best estates have the best vineyards sites, and the best vineyards are the best largely because they are less susceptible of the negative aspects of vintage variation. In other words, they have better real estate that tends to make better wines year in and year out.
Additionally, the best estates have reputations to uphold, and they would never jeopardize that by making substandard wine. So in 2006 they tended to make half as much wine as in normal vintages, by throwing out so much less-than-perfect grapes, and using only the best and healthiest grapes for their wines.

The Brauneberger Juffer vineyard where this wine is from is more usually associated with the Fritz Haag estate, where Schloss Lieser Estate owner and winemaker Thomas Haag's brother Oliver Haag is now the owner and winemaker. Thomas and Oliver's father, the famous Wilheim Haag, who was the winemaker at Fritz Haag for about 50 years before handing it to his son Oliver had given part of his Brauneberger Juffer vineyard holdings to Thomas for the Schloss Lieser Estate. Another geek-worthy factoid about the Brauneberger Juffer is that this is a steep hillside vineyard that is unique because there is not a big forest on top of the hill, but it is pretty bare, so in wetter years, there is not big mass of water holding in the roots of the trees of the forest above the vineyard seeping water downwards toward the vines. In fewer words, this means the Brauneberger Juffer vineyard tends to be drier in wetter vintages such as 2006 (ie. more protected).
So the wine came, and we sipped it before we had our food and it was absolutely perfect. Delicious, rich, and refreshing at the same time, the Kabinett has more richness than a Kabinett in a cooler year (say 2008, 2004, or 2002), more botrytis than a Kabinett in years 2005 or 2007, and more acidity than a hotter vintage (say 2003). It was yummy in a bottle, and it showed the magnificence of this top vineyard site, and this esteemed winemaker.

When the food came, dishes after dishes of saag paneer (spinach with white cheese), curried goat (so tender), lamb popsicles (rack of lamb chops), curried cauliflower, cricket bread (which I declined to try), and various other wonderful things..... the wine sang an even sweeter, purer song.

Unfortunately, it was not a magnum! It did, at some point, get low. So another bottle was in order. We should have gotten another German Riesling, but I wanted to be adventurous, so went for a Gruner Veltliner from Schloss Gobelsburg, an estate I have also visited, in Austria, so I thought it would be a fun wine at this meal.

Well, unfortunately, you cannot taste this wine with this food. It is like drinking water, but with 12 or 13% alcohol. I kept trying to taste the wine, but I couldn't get any read on the wine until I stopped eating, and then I could appreciate the subtle flavors in the wine, which were good, but totally wasted on this fairly spicy cuisine.

So it is with great dispair that I still must listen to folks tell me "Oh my God that wine is sweet!" and opt to drink only dry wines, never veering from their dry-wine post. I am a lover of dry wines of all types, but I cannot drink them with certain cuisines. I cannot drink Gruner Veltliner with Indian food, and though I did not try it, I do not think I can drink dry white French wine, dry white Italian wine, dry white any wine with this food, and I doubt I would enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or even Zinfandel with it. I don't know, call me biased... and maybe I am because I already liked the Schloss Lieser Kabinett on its own so maybe it is me..... but I just feel there is definitely a wine-food pairing thing here, and people who cannot drink a German Riesling Kabinett with some foods are perhaps missing that magic.

But not I! I'm happy I got to experience Vij's, and share that it is some of the best Indian food I have experienced, and that they have an awesome wine list that "gets it" too. So check it out next time you are in Vancouver, B.C.
(Photo above is Thomas Haag at his estate Schloss Lieser in September 2007)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An ethereal evening with JJ Prum wines, presented by Katarina Prum

While much of the wine business involves the daily grind common to many jobs, what is uncommon is having winemakers fly half-way around the world to spend time with you to help you do your job more effectively, and showing their living works of art in a bottle, and imbuing you with a sense of awe and wonder, inviting you into their delicious and magical culture, and letting you steep in it as long as you like.

As I have undoubtedly mentioned numerous times before, this is truly the part of my job I most enjoy: spending time with the winemaker and taking her to see my best customers.

I was fortunate enough to have that opportunity last week on Wednesday September 9, when the very charming, intelligent, articulate and beautiful Dr. Katarina Prum was in Los Angeles to spend the day with me visiting our accounts.

Katarina Prum is the oldest daughter of Manfred Prum, a trained attorney who has decided to forgo the law office and choose instead the way of the family business, and for that, we all benefit.
After spending a day driving every which way visiting everyone from corporate buyers in industrial areas to 2 Star Michelin restaurants in Beverly Hills, we arrived at the luxurious London Hotel in West Hollywood in time for Katarina to guest-star at the wine dinner at the Gordon Ramsay Restaurant.
Wine Director and Sommelier Aaron Elliott, a self-professed wine lover who has spent time in Germany doing a harvest at one of our other estates, Gunderloch in the Rheinhessen, organized the evening's event in conjunction with Rudi Wiest, who had consulted Katarina by phone and e-mail about the menu, the wines, and the pairings, so the evening was finely orchestrated and not a last minute throw-together ordeal, but quite a seriously put-together affair.
But to take the pressure off, when we arrive, Aaron put champagne glasses in our hands, filled them to the brim with 2002 Raumland Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) Brut, which was deliciously crisp and rich and yeasty at the same time, a fantastic Champagne-method sparkler from the Pfalz region that had me refreshed in an instant. The day's traffic began melting away from consciousness.
But that was not all - Aaron whisked us like special guests to the rooftop pool, a hotel-guest-only area that I had never before visited - a secluded spot perched high above the city with a stunning view, the evening sun beginning to fade, the coolness of the shade perfect with the glass of bubbly. We were being treated like rock stars, and it was a feeling we felt we could get used to.

Katarina Prum with Gordon Ramsay's Wine Director/Sommelier Aaron Elliott.

After a deliciously long break, we had to get to work. Aaron summoned us to the bar where the evening's diners were already mingling with glasses of 2004 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. The 2004 vintage in Germany was a classic one, one I really love, good acidity but not agressive, and J.J. Prum wines are known for their ability to age beautifully for decades - this 2004 was 5 years old and tasting young, but not too young to enjoy. It was served with tray passed hor d'oeuvres: House cured salmon with confit of kumquats, crispy truffle risotto balls, and sweet corn madeleines with creme fraiche and caviar. The wine was a perfect apperatif, something to stimulate the appetite with its zingy acidity and fresh almost crunchy-pear like fruit, and went very well with the delicate finger foods being served as people began surrounding themselves around Katarina and trying to get to know her better.
Finally, we did get to be seated. The tables and chairs at the Gordon Ramsay are quite interesting modern, with booth-like tables that are round, with a couple of chairs on one side - very comfortable, cozy, and conducive to socializing. It worked out really nicely because we were a really chatty bunch, buzzing about these wines, an opportunity to taste 6 of them in one dinner, paired with such expertly prepared dishes.
Speaking of the opportunity to taste such renowned wines, I almost neglected to mention that Katarina hand-carried 6 bottles of 1994 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese to this event! It was of course the featured wine, straight from her family's cellar, to our table that night, to have with the main course, further along in the evening. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The dinner was very well paced, with wines being poured and topped off at regular frequencies, and Katarina getting up from her table of fans to discuss with the group the differences between each wine, each vineyard, some of the vintages we were enjoying.

Our second wine with our first sit-down course was the 2003 J.J. Prum Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spatlese, paired with the Hamachi Sashimi with Paddlefish Caviar. A little background about this wine: 2003 is constantly derided by customers everywhere, especially by German wine enthusiasts, it seems, because German wine enthusiasts are often people who love acidity, and especially love acidity in Riesling (one of the most high acid grape varieties). Well, 2003 was a warm year in Europe (an understatement, I'm told), and acidity goes down with hot weather. So the entire 2003 vintage is generally rejected by German wine buyers for its lack of typicity - it gets described as flabby, fat and lazy and just not what German wine lovers are looking for.
Well, since I hear it enough times, I start to believe it. Even after Rudi tells me often that they said the same thing about the 1959 vintage, and now those wines are still fresh and among the best in German wines, a vintage that was hot by German standards, but the wines still have enough bones to age more than 50 years, and Rudi has told me time and time again that the 2003 German wines will also age 50 years.
Well, I don't know if I will be selling German wine in 50 years, but I'll tell you what: that 2003 Bernkasteler Badstube was DELICIOUS. Katarina had a good descriptor for the vintage and wine: exotic. Doesn't that just sound so much nicer than flabby and un-age-worthy? Exotic. And that's what it was. Floral on the nose, perfumed like tropical fruits recalling mangos and guava, definitely not a classic Riesling, but does ever vintage have to be right on the money classic? No! 2003 is what it is and and this wine from JJ Prum showed that they made what the vintage gave them, and what it gave them was this exotic, tropical Spatlese that I thought personally was high on the yummy scale.
And almost surprisingly, it went so well with the hamachi. This was a pairing that Rudi and Katarina came up with, and I should not be so shocked that it was outstanding. I wanted to giant plate of just this for dinner, and a bottle of the 2003 Badstube; that would have been just fine.

But we had to move on: next course was Roasted Scallops with Sherry Vinegar Carmet, Roasted Wild Rice, and Cauliflower Puree, and it was paired not with one but two wines, 2 Ausleses from the same vineyard, but different vintage: 2002 J.J. Prum Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese and 2004 J.J. Prum Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese.

Needless to say, the scallops were cooked to perfection. The wines, now that was an interesting study in vintages. First off, the Ausleses demonstrated that they were not dessert wines. Neither wine was something you would want to have with dessert - they were dry (practically) and full of acidity. The 2002 demonstrated more acidity than the 2004 which was rounder. The 2002 actually, to me, came off like a Kabinett! I believe this was due to the vintage (classic, read: cold) and also the aging reduces the impression of sweetness. The 2004 was more what I would expect from an Auslese, the rich round mouthfeel and all that good stuff. Great wines with shellfish.
A fun geeky exercise that I did was I went back to taste the 2003 which I still had some of, and of course, when I did it that way, went from the 2002 and 2004 to the 2003, the 2003 demonstrated all that flabbiness that everyone complains about - it tasted sweet and devoid of acidity. It showed me and some other geeks I was sitting and talking with that the order of the pairing was professionally done - having the 2003 up front allowed it to shine.

Next up, we got the Slow Braised Pork Belly and Crispy Pork Loin with Pont Neuf Potato, Celeriac Creme, and Apple and Black Truffle Gastric.

This delectable dish was paired with the hand-carried 1994 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese that I mentioned earlier. Guess what - the 15 year old wine was as fresh as a teenager with a long life ahead of it. Fabulous, and again, so NOT a dessert wine. Showed how well German Riesling goes naturally with pork.
Finally, dessert: Frozen Mandarin Capsule with Vanilla Cream, Cashew Crumble, and Melon Sorbet.
This cold dessert trio, all its parts house-made here, was paired with the 2003 J.J. Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel. Wow! Another 2003 with bang for its buck. Surprisingly, some people thought this was the pairing of the evening. The citrisy flavors of the frozen mandarin capsule mingled well with the slightly honeyed flavors of the Goldkapsel, and Katarina shared that their Goldkapsel has some botrytis while the regular Ausleses typically do not. Hence the clean, bright flavors in the Auslese, and the more dessert honey/saffron of the Goldkapsel.

As a final treat, we had the chef of Gordon Ramsay West Hollywood come out and say a few words with his English accent, as he shared his anecdotes of training under the perfectionist chef Gordon Ramsay himself back in London and also in New York City. The chef, whose name I do not recall at this time, has spent 8 years of his career working in the Gordon Ramsay empire. His creations are indeed focused and precise, and the flavors enticing.

And then back to the reality of life in the wine business - we had to leave this party as we were due in Oceanside, where Katarina's hotel awaited; her next day would be spent working the San Diego territory, so we had to leave as quickly as Cinderella left her ball (only earlier), but not before Katarina autographed some menus, and took pictures with her fans.

And here we are: me on the left, Katarina in the middle, & Jenna (also of Rudi Wiest Selections) on the right.
Thank you Katarina, for transporting us through your wines to your family's beautiful Mosel estate.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Why I LOVE blogs

I love blogs. I really do. It's Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and I got myself up at 4:45 am this morning so I could hit the bike path to run 20 miles in preparation of the Long Beach Marathon in 5 weeks. Ate those 20 miles for breakfast, guzzled a Corona Lite at the finish (a kind fellow running group runner had brought them and kept them on ice for us, gotta love that), and came home to nice plate of perfectly cooked eggs, a few white cheddar Cheez-its, some cold water, a glass of 2006 Heger Pinot Gris from the fridge, and several hours of interrupted computer time - to read my favorite blogs!

I just love blogs. I'm very happy blogs have exploded on the internet, the people being able to self-publish has brought out the writer in many of us. Blog writing doesn't have to be deep, or perfect, or meaningful, or have a goal. All it has to be is fun to read. And what results is not only hours of some of the best entertainment for an introvert like me, but information, real, first-hand information that I trust and appreciate.

My favorite blogs to read are about food and wine. To be honest, I actually read more blogs about food than I do about wine, since I work in the wine biz, and when I'm reading blogs, I'm not usually trying to think about work, I'm trying not to think about work, so foodie blogs really excite. But it is not just that I am obsessed by food that makes me happy to read these blogs - I enjoy reading about people's experiences with food, and restaurants, their own cooking, and all that jazz. It is like anyone who is passionate about the art of food can be an Anthony Bourdain of his or her own making, self-publish a blog, take great photos of food porn, and allow his or her creation to be enjoyed by all.

You gotta love that.

I do hear from time to time that some folks don't like blogs. I think those are the older generation, who do not trust. I trust. I trust in the written word of the people, who tell me about odd food of all sorts and great restaurants and take the most wonderful pictures. And I trust about people's experiences with wine - real life experiences - and I follow their stories about far-away places.

I should blog more often myself; I have a lot to say. But when I do get the rare chance to sit down at the computer to relax as opposed to work, I have to say, I do get sucked in by reading other people's blogs, so much so that I neglect my own.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

One Year Anniversary

Well, I was off work last week on vacation up in Canada, and didn't get to blog. Did, however, take some pictures of some food and some wine that we enjoyed, and I'll get those up as soon as I have a chance to breathe!

Been feeling kinda hectic, came back from vacation and hit the ground running yesterday, Monday, last day of the month, last day of August, realizing that it was pretty much a year ago that I hit the streets to work in outside sales for Rudi Wiest Selections.

It has been an interesting year. The miracle is that I survived. One heck of a recession the entire time, and questionable whether it is over yet. Selling exclusively German wine, nothing but, no, we don't even have Austrian wine, just German, yes, mostly Riesling, but also some other goodies in there like all the Pinots - Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir, some Scheurebe, some Silvaner, some Roses and other things... but all German. 26 estates in all, and today, Sept 1, 2009, on my one-year anniversary, we are down to 25 estates - the newest news being that we are discontinuing Robert Weil.

Looking back on the year, I see this work as an outside sales person in a sober light. There are definitely great things about the job, which I love: making my own schedule, working independently, and getting paid by how much I do and how well I do it. Also, I love going to restaurants and stores, and seeing what is new in the neighborhoods; I don't think I would have this fun part of the job if I was in an office or a store or even if I worked in a restaurant. I definitely am not cooped up when working in outside sales, except for the odd time, cooped up in a car.

The other thing I really enjoy is working closely with winemakers. That is a real joy.

Finally, the wines. I really do love them. Today I tasted along with my customers two wines I opened yesterday, and were showing great today: 2003 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Riesling Spatlese and 2005 Bert Simon Serrig Wurzberg Riesling Spatlese. I liked both wines, but I really personally preferred the 2003 Karthauserhof, that delicate yet intriguing aroma and palate, a wine that is not so much sweet as it is complex...... a wine that I imagine drinking with a delicious, buttery Trout Meuniere......... that would be so excellent.

If only the 2003 German wines didn't get such a bad rap... they are really showing nicely in my humble opinion. Perhaps in the past few years they were too fleshy or ripe, but now 6 years after the vintage, they are really tasting fine. I often hear complaints that they are not high enough in acid, but really, who needs that much acid? My personal feeling is that they are just not getting any respect, because it is cool to hate the 03s!!!

I think I'm going to try to blind taste folks!

Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

2 Current Favorites: a wine and a restaurant

Nothing much to say about the world of wine these days except I wanted to give shout-outs in two areas where I can say I have a current favorite each:

Favorite wine I have taken out to show in the past month:

2007 Hans Wirsching Iphofer Kronsberg Silvaner Spatlese trocken

This is an absolutely fabulous dry Silvaner from one of the best producers in the Franken region of Germany. Hans Wirsching specializes in dry wines including Silvaner, Riesling, and Scheurebe, but this wine hits it out of the ball park with its unique flavor and texture. This is a single vineyard late harvest but fermented dry wine - a description that sometimes confuses - this is a wine made from grape harvested from one vineyard alone, and the harvest level is classified as "late harvest" but all the grape sugar in the must has been fermented to alcohol, so the wine is bone dry. But is it austere and puckery? Heck no. Gorgeous rich texture that is rich but not round, perfect minerality, succulent acidity but not too much, delicious Silvaner fruit - a wine to drink by itself or with delicious seafood....... Rudi says this wine is perfect with sashimi (not sushi, but sashimi) as it has the texture and mouthfeel of sake, but the complexity and balanced (read: lower) alcohol level of a wine. Actually, the alcohol level is not paltry, but a decent 12%. The wine is in a word: perfect - a white wine that impresses, and makes people who say they only drink red wine sound.... not bright.

This wine is so fantastic right now I just took a break from the computer to pop a sample in the fridge so I can take it out today and show everybody I see today how fabulous it is!!!!

Drink this at Sushi Roku Santa Monica. Buy at Wine House.

Current favorite restaurant:


Took Rudi Wiest to this restaurant earlier this week when we worked together, and even he was impressed. To me, Gjelina represents the new order of restaurants these days - not stuffy, not Wine Spectator Grand Award Winner, not white tablecloth, not 5 course tasting menu, and not $30 and up main dishes. This type of restaurant is casual looking, casual sounding (loud as hell), has no sign to let you know it is there, but for some reason, all the locals know it is there and pack it every night of the week to sit and eat delicious market-fresh food cooked perfectly and seasoned right and drink wines from all corners of the world - even Germany, if you can imagine. I had heard of this restaurant before I had found it (due to no sign outside its door) - I finally found it when I was working in the area and saw a wine delivery truck backing up and unloading a huge amount of wine - and the wine was in those lay-down boxes I tend to associate with French wine, and I thought to myself, who is buying this giant load of French wines? The last time I saw a delivery truck unloading stack after stack of lay-down boxes of French wine was at The Wine Country.......

So I explored this brown building, and lo and behold this was Gjelina, voted top new restaurant of the month or something by LA Magazine, so of course the local Venetians grabbed on to the place and was not letting go. I took a look at the paper menu and it was one of those menus that didn't really speak to me - okay, there were thin crust pizzas, salads, the usual sort of Californian cuisine with some European influence..... even oysters on the half shell, okay anyone can do that, even the Santa Monica fish market.... so I didn't make plans to have dinner here, I mean, it didn't look like haute cuisine. And the rough looking interior was hip and interesting, slabs of wood for tables and also for walls - the decorator seemed to have a penchant for dark brown. But the best part was finally getting an appointment with the self-proclaimed "Three Wine Jerks" - Joshua, Henry, and Robert - I later discovered that Robert was the GM and Joshua and Henry were the wine buyers, but all three were into ecclectic, interesting, great wines - they had good wine knowledge and good palates, and they were adventurous and their customers loved their wine.

Finally, over time, I have eaten here, once for lunch with Johan - he enjoyed it; once with winemaker Stefanie Hasselbach from Gunderloch Estate, for dessert at 9:30 pm, because we couldn't get a table at dinnertime for dinner, so we came after dinner for dessert, and dessert was fabulous; once for lunch with a friend who has a business in the local area; and finally, this week for dinner with Rudi, when normally we would never get a reservation for 7pm, but Henry and Joshua kindly got us a table, which was a nice feeling! I have enjoyed their thin crust pizza, a duck confit salad, and their braised chick-pea stew, and a couple of desserts including a caramel pot au creme.... all the food is delicious, fresh, exciting, and I highly recommend it.

And the wine list is fun. Of my wines they pour 2006 Heger Pinot Gris, 2003 Von Buhl Oberemmeler Hutte Riesling Spatlese, and 2004 Pfeffingen Riesling Beerenauslese. They also have awesome wines from the Kermit Lynch portfolio, Beaune imports and other top notch importers.

Let's put it this way, when you are in Gjelina, you're going to have a good time, you will by osmosis feel hip and cool and youthful and adventurous, and there's no way you will not enjoy the food, wine, and service.

And stroll around on Abbot Kinney while you are in the neighborhood and visit some other fine establishments. :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Weekend Seafood Extravaganza - Pictures

Last Saturday, 13 people convened to consume a seafood feast delivered fresh from the east coast. Of course, there were fun accompliments, such as this cute lobster bread made from sourdough from Boudin: The dining was al fresco in this beautifully set table, as the afternoon sun filtered onto the table.
Pretty bowls of three kinds of salt - black salt, red salt, and pink salt to serve with all the courses and breads:

After an appetizer of crab tacos (which I didn't get photos of), we moved on to these beautiful mussels in a Pastis and Aquavit sauce, which was served with an Albarino (Spain) and a Verdicchio (Italy).

But what else was in these boxes? What did we know was still alive?

Yep, lobsters:

They didn't look big, but, they were very meaty!

After the cooking, the men went in there and started pulling off the heads and taking all the shells off!

Then I ran out of batteries and could not take a picture of the final lobster plate, which was also graced with potatoes mashed with roasted and smoked pablano peppers! Delish!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Where can I drink or buy Rudi Wiest Selection German wines?

Okay, finally, hopefully, here is the map I created on Google to show you all the fine establishment in my territory that carry the wonderful German wines from the Rudi Wiest portfolio.

View Where can I find Rudi Wiest German wines? in a larger map

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The wine experience that will make me buy more red Burgundy

Last evening, the stars were aligned for me to feel strongly for a beautiful, unmistakable, delectable red Burgundy.

I don't often drink red Burgundy - and I don't have nearly enough experience with high end red Burgundy, nor do I know enough about it....... but I knew enough to tell myself I needed to experience more of what Volnay is...... and I knew enough to not believe in the concept of "not great vintages" and I knew enough to know that Comtes Lafon is a great producer.

And finally, I knew enough to ask Samantha Dugan at The Wine Country for advice when it comes to choosing a red Burgundy.

The 2004 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Volnay pictured above is a bottle that initially purchased last year, close to Christmastime when I was working my last few days at The Wine Country - the plan was to bring this and a few other bottles to Canada and share with my in-laws who are really into red Burgundy, especially my mother-in-law who doesn't particularly love Italian reds or Bordeaux or other such heavier reds, but loves red Burgundy. Well, I can understand her palate and I thought this wine would be perfect to share with her and the father-in-law and the hubby.

This bottle also happened to be on sale at the time, if I recall correctly, and I thought, oh, what a bargain.... and I also loved how it was an 04 vintage, but I knew that the 2005 vintage was being heralded as the perfect vintage, and though I like wines from perfect vintages, I often love wines from less than perfect vintages. They are like the pound puppies I plan to adopt, so loveable and cute and surprisingly great, compared to the perfect purebreds that will give you exactly what you asked for at a hefty, premium price.

As an aside, earlier in the year when I went to a special restaurant and tried to order a 2004 Burgundy, I was steered by the sommelier to the 2005 of the same wine.... I always wondered if I should have stuck to my guns and gotten the 2004, but of course the 2005 was perfect, and everyone at the table loved the wine....... but last night, I got my personal justification that there is nothing wrong with 2004 red Burgundy. Nothing!

The 2004 Comte Lafon Volnay was one of those wines that took my breath away at the first inhale..... the first inhale told me that this is a Burgundy, unmatched by Pinot Noir produced anywhere else, though still with the characteristic qualities of the some similarity to Pinot Noir elsewhere but not the same. Does that make sense? This aroma was captivating and the flavor on the palate fantastic, not too fleshy, not too thin, not to oaky, not anything too anything, just perfect.

This was a wine that went well with all our dinners at Marche Moderne, a wine that followed our Champagne wonderfully, a wine that thankfully we did not gulp too quickly such that after we finished our food, we still had a full glass each to enjoy on its own.

Now that this bottle is just a memory for me, my plan is to go back to The Wine Country, peruse the Burgundy section, and the sale bin, and pick up what might possibly be left of vintage 2004..... this is what wine loving is about.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

It's Fourth of July, and the livin' is easy

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Earlier this week I celebrated Canada Day on Wednesday July 1st - Canada is the nation of my citizenship and where my immediate family resides - I celebrated with a simple semi-day off which ended up rich in work on the phone and a local visit to a nearby account. It ended up being a very productive day.

Yesterday, Friday July 3, a holiday for many folks, I spent the day working at a couple of different Whole Foods stores helping out on the retail floor, a skill I am not unfamiliar with.... Whole Foods was and is having a big wine sale this weekend - 20% off all wines when you purchase 6 bottles or more.

Today, July 4, I'll also be out at Whole Foods, the Torrance location, where my friend and former co-worker Yvonne is the Wine Specialist... I'll be pouring some of my German wines, namely 2007 Becker Pinot Noir, 2007 Schnaitmann Evoe Rose, 2007 Rhein River Riesling, and 2007 Pfeffingen Dry Riesling.

And to celebrate the Fourth, the national holiday of my chosen land, provider of great opportunities to individuals of all colors, shapes, sizes, and origins, where even a gal like me born in Hong Kong, raised in Canada, can march right in (well, drive down the I-5 interstate) and work in the hospital business for almost a decade then eck out a living in the wine biz...... tonight we celebrate with a bottle of American wine!
The chosen wine is pictured above: 2007 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc - a Rhone-style, or specifically Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc-style wine from Paso Robles. Sure, its history suggests something of half-French origins, but this wine's chosen home is 100% California. Maybe a little like me. :)
So while we drink it tonight, I'll think about what I love about the United States of America:
* It's fun here
* I like the people
* People here love running and wine
* People are friendly, open, and generous
* It's a big and interesting and beautiful geography (did you know that the Chinese translation for the name America is "Beautiful Country"? Now you do!
* You can have fun, exciting careers here
* There's so much to do!
* There is diversity and complexity, and always more things to learn
* I met my hubby here!
* It's close to Canada!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Want a food and wine pairing this week?

Check this out - The Wine Country's weekly Wine and Food pairing suggestion - in a blog!

This week, there's a terrific farmer's market recipe for salad rolls and dipping sauce, to be paired with one of the wines I have been selling like hotcakes: 2003 Von Hovel Oberemmeler Hutte Riesling Spatlese ($19.99).

Check it out!