Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 Wine Year in Review

It's that time of year to reflect on the year that will soon be in the history books. Not only that, it feels like a decade has just gone by, in the snap of a finger and a thumb, awfully quickly.

In an effort to recap, I'll review some of the top 10 moments (or situations) in wine that I have experienced this year:

1. Tasting a series of German Rieslings that were all over 50 years old, the oldest of which were from the vintage 1921. It was amazing to be in a room full of wine tasters, among them people whose names I had heard before but finally met for the first time - Bruce Sanderson, Bipin Desai, Claude Kolm, among others - and none of us were as old as many of the wines passing our lips. Wines made before either of the World Wars. Tasting through time. Tasting from the great estates, who are still making wine today, having passed their estates onto the next generations. Very amazing.

2. Tasting 1971 wines (my vintage) both on my birthday while I was in Germany, at JJ Prum - tasting a 1971 JJ Prum Goldkapsel, with the Prums, the Wiests, and my good friends and coworkers; and subsequently back in Los Angeles with my husband and friends, who brought a 1971 Cheval Blanc to open at a birthday dinner - outstanding. Thank you.

3. Taking part in hosting Rudipalooza with 6 German winemakers, driving them all over Los Angeles and Orange Counties, San Francisco, and even Napa. Crazy stuff. Overdid it. Overworked everyone. An exhausting 6 days with multiple tastings, wine dinners, one-on-one account visits. Completely amazing to work with Bert Selbach, Hanno Zilliken, Karina Stuhler, Jan Eymael, and Johannes Haart.

4. Bert Selbach giving me a bottle of 1998 Eiswein, personally, and Gunter Kunster giving me a bottle of his 08 Kirchenstuck dry Riesling. Wow!

5. Being in Germany while the Vancouver Olympics were going on, therefore not being able to go, but sporting the red Canada hoodie in support of team Canada, and sometimes even the red mitts. Watching some of the Olympic coverage on TV, especially the one night in this awesome small hotel in Fellbach where I got the best suite in the whole place - replete with living room, kitchen, and loft bedroom - I did not want to leave this hotel! Watching the Olympics late into the night then reading my novel - yes, that made me late for the next morning's meeting with Schnaitmann..... woops. Hate being late!

6. Working the Northern California market. This was a highlight of my working for Rudi Wiest this year. Being able to go up to Northern California once a month and share our wines with knowledgeable Bay Area wine lovers. Working in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Walnut Creek and the Napa Valley was a pleasure beyond compare. The entire spirit of this area is very attractive to me - people are pleasant, happy, healthy, knowledgeable and embrace the world of wine. My stint up there has ended, but I have come away with a great appreciation of this part of California.

7. Amazing dinner at Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe. This was part of the weekend extravaganza that was the "50 Years and Older Riesling TBA Tasting" hosted by Rudi Wiest, featuring the wines from 1921 on up to 1959. This is one of the best dinners I have experienced, with wine pairs that were almost exclusively German - and dry German wines at that, with the most memorable being Pinot Noirs from Becker and Furst, and dry white wines from Rebholz and Salwey. I wish all naysayers of dry German wines could have been at that dinner because there would be no naysayers after that. Also very fun was socializing with Fritz Becker and Hansjorg Rebholz at that dinner, along with Bruce Sanderson and other fun people (who is not fun when belly is full of top-notch food and awesome wines?).

8. Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, which actually took place in Santa Ynez. This happens every year the weekend of Mother's Day in May - not on Mother's Day, but on the Saturday, the day before. A great many of us from our running club, AREC, headed up on this particular weekend to run a half marathon from Santa Ynez to Solvang, through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. One feels like someone doing the Tour de France - well, at least I did. The entire weekend was a cornucopia of friends, the countryside backdrop, local wines, cute restaurants, wine tasting, and relaxing. For me, there is nothing as soothing as visiting a wine region. This particular weekend in May had all the best. Oh, and I got to meet Peter Cargassachi on this trip too!

9. Champagne and caviar dinner at Petrossian. In July, I celebrated with my husband one of my best sales months to date. I offered to take us to Petrossian, the caviar place in West Hollywood. And with us we brought a delicious bottle of Champagne. That was awesome. Since that first time, we have gone again, the second time with an out-of-town friend, who also agreed it was a great way to enjoy life.

10. Surviving yet another year in the wine business. This year marks Year 5. I started officially Dec 13, 2005. 2010 was a fun, interesting and intense year, year 2 of working for German wine importer Rudi Wiest. It feels good that many of my customers are friends now, and they seem to like me. I look forward to what comes in 2011!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Amazing Multi-Course Dinner at Matt & Cheryl's House - w/German Riesling & an Italian mystery red

About a month ago, Johan and I accepted an invitation to a dinner in the home of Matt and Cheryl.

We met Matt and Cheryl just recently, when they invited us to their wine tasting group, where we tasted Bordeaux wines and Bordeaux-style wines from the new world. It was an interesting wine tasting group - all wines were tasted blind, but with food - food that was constantly pouring out of Matt's kitchen - exotic foods like veal meatballs, gravlax, roasted bone marrow, and various other rich meaty dishes that went so well with the wines... the food coming out of the kitchen was amazing and endless, it seemed, and Matt was chef orchestrating these delights.

Naturally, there was not so much spitting of wines being tasted, when tender morsels of inspired food were being eaten with the sips.

After this wine tasting, where we became acquainted with many members of this wine tasting group, we got a nice invitation to a private dinner, and so we went.

Little did we know it would be a multi-multi-multi course dinner that was utterly amazing! I didn't even get to take pictures of every course being served - there were so many - and the creativity of the dishes was beyond compare! Starting with a delicious chicken liver spread on crostini, then going to rice/bacon/egg/preserved vegetable dish that was intensely savory, then to two pasta dishes...

The above is just one of two pasta dishes serves - delicious thick homemade noodles in a rich meat sauce - might have been veal if I recall. The other pasta dish, which I didn't catch a picture of was the ear-shaped pasta with sausage and broccoli-rabe.

Above here is the pork shoulder roast with a cherry sauce, and a side of curried cabbage.

Below is a homemade custard with a fruit paste that I believe was passionfruit.

Not just one dessert but two - below is the chocolate covered pop-corn on a spicy homemade ice cream.

As someone who occasional hosts a dinner party - I am stressed to served an appetizer, a main, and a purchased dessert. Sometimes others will bring an appetizer, so I'll only be responsible for the main, with a starch and a vegetable. Sometimes I'll screw that up. But nevermind, I'm pretty okay with the main dish and I tend to serve decent wines, so I get away with it. But 8 course dinners? How does Matt pull it off? I just don't know how he does it!
For this dinner, we had 3 wines. Two are pictured above - we started with the 2001 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Kabinett which was delicate and pretty and a great wine to start with and pair with many of the dishes. Then we moved on to a surprise red wine from Italy - I did not guess it was from Italy by the way - a 2004 Bressan - I'm totally not familiar with this wine, but I enjoyed its earthy goodness. Finally we ended with a 2008 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Auslese, which was quite sweet, rich, balanced and enjoyable.
All in all, an amazing meal - and by amazing, I mean I could not have pulled it off myself, and don't know how Matt does it - but I imagine he can do it because he practises and cooks for others and enjoys it all. It certainly is inspiring to someone like myself, who struggles to put out one or two courses for guests!
I'll have to strive higher.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The holidays, from the wine distribution side

The holiday season, from the wine retail side, is one hectic long unending month of working from morning till night filling orders. One feels like one of Santa's elves. Everyone needs to shop and gifts need to sent out via UPS and they need to be picked up and packaged and everyone would like it all to be done today, yesterday if possible. So if you work in wine retail, and I imagine anything retail, the month of December means a great deal of time on your feet, a lot of problem solving for customers, and not a lot of time off.

On the wholesale distribution side, I'm finding it means a lot of conflicting things and trying to make two sides agree on things. It's being the middle man and finding a way to get things done in an expedient way. What I mean is that some of my customers are waiting for wine and wish they could get it yesterday, but I can't get it to them till next week, and that's a just a bit too late for comfort. Meanwhile, other customers would rather not take things that we have ready for them to take. It's a balancing act, and it isn't easy. There's a lot of urgency and pressure because of the holiday season. It would be nice if things were all flowing easily and quickly and I hope for it to do so, but so far, it is a test of juggling supply and demand and hoping that one meets the other. But I guess in economics and in life, it is rarely that. That which is in high supply is rarely in high demand, and vice versa. I suppose that's why some lament that people often want what they can't have, and don't want what they can. This seems particularly heightened during the so-called holiday season.

So here I am. I'll attempt another day of trying to balance supply and demand and get people to take the supply we have and wait for the supply we don't!

Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's time for Christmas Beers

December is here, and it's time for Christmas beers, if you like gently spiced Belgian ales with that nice roundness in the mouth, richness on the palate, and a hint of Christmassy spice that makes you think you are in a jolly, dark pub somewhere in Europe, with the snow falling heavily outside, and you inside fortifying yourself with something as satisfying and appropriate as a glass of rich red wine.

On the eve of December (Nov 30), we headed out to our local Irish pub which features "pint night" every Tuesday, wherein a beer is chosen as a special, and you get to keep the glass. This night was dedicated to Delerium Noel, from the fine folks in Belgium who make Delerium Tremens (a golden ale) and Delerium Nocturnum (a dark brown ale). As we are fans of this brewery, and their glasses adorned with pink elephants, we looked forward to trying their Christmas ale.... and it was good! Not heavily spiced, just a hint of spice, but mostly a golden ale with a rich body, something that you feel good about drinking even when it is cold outside, not some summery beer that makes you feel cold when you don't want to be.

Another one we tried this week was the Christmas ale from Achouffe, which is another Belgian brewery whose beers are best recognized by the labels that sport the red-hatted gnomes. I believe the brewery is in the Ardenne forest somewhere, which separates the French-speaking part of Belgium from the Champagne region of France. This was also a rich, full-bodied golden ale with a gentle hint of spice, and maybe a refreshing citrus note as well. Also delicious.

As places adopt more specialty beers on their lists, it gets more fun to try these specialties, and I think it contributes much more to the holiday spirits than fighting at the malls for electronic toys and gadgets. Buy your gifts online, or shop on a Tuesday morning, avoid the crowds, and enjoy a Christmas ale this season.

Enjoy your Noel!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Showing my German roots

Either I don't have a good memory of cold weather in Southern California, or this has been one of the coldest Novembers I have experienced here. Cold weather with sunshine - not a bad combination - the days are bright and beautiful, but short and sweet, and crisp and cold too. I've always liked to call cold wintery weather good eatin' weather, calling for more hearty dishes and desserts. So it seemed natural that my own cravings led me to the Authentic German store Alpine Village in Torrance, where the butcher shop makes its own sausages and smokes its own hams, and sells the best ham hocks for making split pea soup that I know of.

I've made this soup a number of times, and it is always in a slow-cooker that works wonderfully - the recipe is easy, and the olive-green split pea soup turns out rich and thick and full of ham flavor - all because of that very good smoked ham hock.

While I didn't grow up as a child eating pea soup, it was available, and when it was, it was known more as a French Canadian staple that you could get out of a can. But I did grow up in a place that surrounded me somewhat with German foods. How did that come about? I'll tell you all about it.

Yes, to look at me, you'd think I'd be more suited, appearance-wise, to selling Sake than Riesling. True, I'm not blond and blue-eyed, and would look a bit weird hoisting liter-sized beer mugs full of wheat beer while wearing a low-cut dress. Fortunately, I'm not asked to - ever. But yes, I grew up exposed to more Black Forest hams and wurst than sushi and sashimi. Though I like them all just as much, now.

For example, did you know that my father studied German as a foreign language when he was in university? It's true. It wasn't French or Spanish. Maybe German was what was offered, or it was the popular second foreign language to study during his time, but yep, my dad gave me tips on how to say "Guten Morgen," "Auf Wiedersehen," (I say Auveederzen) and "Das ist sehr gut!" (das is zer gute!)

Anyhoo, when my family moved to Canada, we moved to an area where immigrants seemed to gravitate toward. Lo and behold, the immigrant wave who was there before us seemed to be Germans. We lived closed to a German bakery that baked the most wonderful cakes, that it seemed natural that they were named "Wonder Bakery." We would get Swiss rolls there, which were giant jelly-roll type cakes, except they weren't jelly rolls, but they were rolls of chocolate cake with the most irresistable chocolate frosting. I have yet to find Swiss rolls anywhere else since. There were also the most luscious binge-inducing layer cakes, for $4.99 - the most beautiful and full-bodied chocolate cake with a layer of custard through the middle and frosted all over with chocolate icing. Not to mention all the apple turnovers, pies, cookies, rum balls, and all sorts of breads and things that the place cranked out.

Of course, the bakery no longer exists, except in memory.

I remember when I was a kid and went to that bakery and loved it, and heard rumors about the kid who was the kid of the owner of the bakery and that he was really obese and life was hard for him.... I felt bad for the kid.

Nearby, there was a Konditorei. I never knew what this word meant, but now I know it means pastry shop. This was a fancier establishment, with a European-inspired window with lots of fancy pastries and cookies. But I never liked the baked goods as much as I did from the more humble, more pedestrian, and I think busier Wonder Bakery.

Next to the Konditorei was the Delicatessen. My father was a particular fan of this authentic German deli. They had the best bread and made sandwiches from their wide assortment of sausages and other meats. My dad always recommended requesting the "Kaiser buns" on which to get your sandwiches made - I was not a fan of buns usually, but these buns were on another level - bread that was so crisp and delicate on the outside, and so soft and chewy on the inside, like a cloud, but not a wet, mushy cloud in your mouth, a flavorful, slightly salty dough that was something special contributing to a sandwich, not just a wrapper for your meats. Then there were the fillings - your choice of thinly shaved Black Forest ham, or various wurst, or meatballs. Again, these meatballs were no regular meatballs, but super flavorful ones.

I don't remember the name of this deli, but I do remember how authentically German it was, how homemade everything tasted, and how I naturally took to it.

Of course, this deli and the next door konditorei are now both long gone.

Like immigrants in many places, perhaps they retired, their kids got good educations and went into various professions, and the shop served its purpose. And with the shop went all those delicious goodies from a place far away.

Fortunately for me, my taste memories have led me seek out foods from all sources. And when I learned of Alpine Village in Torrance, home of an annual big Oktoberfest celebration in the fall, I went there to seek out some of the familiar flavors of my past. While I haven't really found Kaiser buns, I have found weiners which are the best "hot dogs" in the world. I cannot eat hot dogs in the packages found in the supermarket or at the Staples Center when I'm there for a hockey game - they are incredibly salty and lack any meat taste. But weiners which you can purchase from Alpine Village Market remind me of those exact ones I had when I was a kid, and my parents bought them from the deli, and at that time I recall they were called European weiners. They have that "skin snap" you get when you bite into them, and they taste a world different then the weiners or frankfurters or hot dogs you get in the supermarket. Try them sometime.

So, the weather has been turning me on to this type of food. And maybe subconsciously I am getting my mind and body in gear to head to Germany in less than 2 months. I need to build myself up for the severe weather conditions. I have also watched a couple of German movies over the past couple of weeks (I didn't choose them, but I enjoyed them). I'm starting to pick up the language. It's starting to be like French, where at least I can pick up a few words in a conversation, and I know when they are saying "danke," "Und?" "tschus," "nicht," "spater," and.... I guess that's it.

So that's it! I'm off to go warm myself up with some of that pea soup I made. If you're in the Southland and want some good wurst, and other Deutsches goodies that are sehr gut, visit:

Alpine Village Market
833 Torrance Blvd (the Torrance exit off the 110 Freeway)
Torrance, CA

Thursday, November 18, 2010

German wines aren't sticky, the notions are

"German wines really haven't taken off in the United States," an elderly gentleman firmly announced at the last social wine tasting I attended in Orange County. He was a man with solid beliefs, beliefs he shared openly, such as the government being too big, and Meg Whitman being the better candidate for Governor. I told him that German wines take off well enough for me to make a good living at it. "Well," he scoffed, "you make a good living at selling them, but I still don't think they have taken off here. They might make good wines in Germany, but there are a lot of good wines, and I just won't pay to drink German wines."

The fact that one old-school gentleman doesn't want to spend his hard-earned cash on German wines is fine with me and doesn't warrant much more than shrug of the shoulders, but the generalizing is what turns me off and has me shaking my head. YOU don't want to pay money to drink German wines, therefore, all of American probably don't want to.... is this a logical conclusion?

Fast forward to yesterday, I am in a German owned restaurant in a very nice city, hilly, full of trees, quiet. It is close to lunchtime, and I have brought 4 dry German white wines for the owner to taste, as he has already made it clear to me that dry German wines are where it is at, and the sweet Mosel stuff, in his opinion, is just not as good as the dry wines of Baden (where he is from), Wurttemburg, Franken, and Rheingau. So I brought him a Riesling Spatlese trocken from Robert Weil, a Silvaner from Hans Wirsching, a Pinot Blanc from Salwey, and a Pinot Gris from Heger. He likes the wines, appreciates that I even carry German wines that are not the typical array found in my competitors' wine bags. Appreciates that I know where Baden is, where Franken is, where Wurttemberg is, etc. because I've been there, more than once, soon to be 4 times. Anyway, he's happy with the wines, but he laments that his customers don't get it and don't want quality and aren't willing to pay for it. I nod sympathetically.

Several of his wine-loving customers start streaming in the door; they are carrying bottles of wine and heading for a large table set for 12. Noon is approaching, and it becomes clear that they have convened to share a lunch and a wine tasting. Owner waves a few patrons over to join in the tasting of my wines, which I happily oblige, because the more people that taste Rudi Wiest Selections wines, the better, because then more people become educated about them.

Three people sit down to taste, and 2 of them love the wines, expound how fresh and zippy the 2009 Hans Wirsching Silvaner is, how tasty the 2006 Robert Weil Estate Riesling Spatlese trocken is..... then the loudest of the customers announces, "I just don't like German wines, because they are always sweet!"

Owner says to him, these are not sweet wines, they are bone dry. I don't even have to speak; my customer is doing my job for me.

Well, his customer, mind already made up, says the wine on his palate, because it is German, is sweet.

Then, same customer says, "But I'll tell you what. If you bring me an Eiswein, then I will taste that! There's NOTHING in the world better than a German Eiswein."

My customer, the owner of the restaurant, turns to me, and says, "You see, these guys.... they want Eiswein, they don't get how rare that is, how expensive that is. They want me to break open an Eiswein for them, then yeah, they'll taste it and get excited. But will he buy a bottle off the list?"

He may not. His bizarre evaluations, such as saying the dry wine in front of him is sweet, but at the same breath asks for an Eiswein, may make him not a great candidate for making rational decisions. But yes, there are customers who will buy an Eiswein off a restaurant list. And there are customers who will order a dry German wine off a list, too. And all variations of wines in between.
Shocking, but yes. But we do need to get over some hurdles. Hurdles in people's brains.

Each day is a teaching opportunity, every inhale through the nostrils and every sip folks take of these wines, whether dry or fruity/sweet is valuable. It's a chance for the thinking person to evaluate something for what it is, instead of rejecting reality. That's the alternative to pulling out an old file from the mind that tells one to just spew out what's already in there.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Germany Version 4.0 - coming soon

So the annual Rudi Wiest corporate trip has been booked for January 2011, a mere 2 months away. 10 days in Germany, plus two days of flying, during which I will unfortunately miss my husband's birthday, but we'll celebrate early, in style.

I've named it Version 4.0 as it will be my fourth Germany trip, my 4th Rudi Wiest trip, and my 4th trip to these estates nestled in the valleys of the Rhein, Mosel, Nahe, and Main rivers. These estates that I've come to know so very well, better than I thought I would imagine knowing. I remember my first trip back in the fall of 2007, when I was so elated to put names of vineyards I learned on bottles to actual hillsides, and met the people behind the wines. Now, more than 3 years later, the winemakers, while still on pedestals, are more like friends than strangers. Such is the environment created by my importer boss that makes this business so intimate. No longer are names and people a mystery, but are instead the meat and potatoes of the business. And so it becomes less like a wine business than a people business. And in the end, that is what really counts.

This year, we'll be flying out in January instead of February, so expect more cold, more snow than last year, more yeast in still unfiltered wine, more untamed acidity, more wild flavors of fermentation. We're adding a new Rheingau estate, so I look forward to visiting a new property. And I look forward to seeing familar faces, those friendly rosy faces of those families that pass their craft on from generation to generation.

In particular, I look forward to tasting the Pinot Noirs of Friedrich Becker Estate and Rudolf Furst Estate. Both estates make hauntingly delicious Pinot Noirs that remind me of what I love in red Burgundy (though they are not exactly like red Burgundy, but just as complex and compelling). I also look forward to the Mosel Rieslings from Dr. F. Weins-Prum, Rheinhold Haart, Fritz Haag, and Monchhof. And it is always a treat to taste in the Pfalz estates of Von Buhl and Rebholz, estates known for their terrific dry wines.

I'm already beginning to get excited about going to Germany again. On the negative side, it will be cold and it will be work. But on the plus side, it will be a good time to hunker down with the team, exchange ideas, taste the new 2010 vintage, and see our favorite winemakers again. Oh, and eat some delicious German food - always a treat.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Friday

It was a long week with a lot going on, but it ended up being a good, productive one. So what better way to celebrate than to make a great meal at home? And open some decent wines to wash the food down with?

The week included finally getting over the illness that had me totally flattened - I guess we all take our turns getting sick, and this time, it was my turn. My mom actually pointed out something astute about why I might have succumbed to illness this time, as usually my immune system isn't too bad - last month, I lost a territory - Northern California - a very beautiful place that I enjoyed working in very much... but it was meant to be a temporary gig, so I had it coming - at any rate, losing the territory meant not only not being able to go to San Francisco for work anymore, but also losing a rich source of income. In other words, a little stressful for little Miss Commission Earner. Anyway, perhaps that fueled my desire to work the Southern California market just a little bit harder, working days a little bit longer, doing a few more tastings well into the evening, until I caught a bug and got laid up for a couple weeks.

Now I'm fine, recovered. And this week, I even bought a new car! Yay, got wheels again. A good thing, after experiencing several car-less days. No, it is not easy to get around in Southern California on the transit system. It is about as efficient as walking, and that's not so efficient.

But I digress. The week was a good one, a productive one, and I'm glad we're into the weekend. Time for some R&R, some getting back into running so my slightly atrophied muscles can get back in the game.

To kick that off, a little Friday dinner starting off with an aperatif of 2007 Von Hovel Estate Riesling - tasting pretty good right now, not super sweet, but definitely refreshing. It's got a new slick and classy black label - do you like it?

Then onto a red wine from Piedmont, Italy - a Barbera d'Alba from 2008 vintage - I still don't know what the real name of the wine is, since the label is old school and promotes the region more than it promotes the name of the winery. But you see the label above. I like this wine a lot. It seems a bit new world style to me - like a rich, fruit-forward Californian wine without the high alcohol to boot - but I like it. It's not as high acid or high earthiness as some other Italian wines.... but I like it. At $15.99 from The Wine County, the wine is a steal and a deal. Get some! Whatever it's name is.

And for food, I picked up a couple of steaks from How's Market in Torrance. They have the best U.S.D.A. Prime beef that I've seen in a while, and the prices can't be beat. Friend Bennett introduced me to this place, and I'm not sure I've bought steaks anywhere else since. They are that good, like an old fashioned butcher place, even though they do package some of their steaks. My favorite is the rib eye because I'm not afraid of a little fat - I mean, that's the best part! I'm not a fan of ingesting a whole lot of animal fat all the time, but when I get my one steak a month, I want some marbling! But if you're not a fan of fat, they have some great filet mignons and other leaner cuts, as well as lamb, pork and other butcher specialties.

So I turned those steaks into the following two plates:

My initial idea was to barbecue the steaks, since during the day we hit the 90s for temperatures outside - it looked like the middle of July. But come dinner time, it was pitch dark outside, and I didn't feel like firing up the barbie - I broiled the steaks and they turned out quite nice. Did some potatoes in the oven (oven roasted potatoes) and steamed some broccoli and cauliflower (because they are tasty and very good for you).
Above is hubby's plate, below is mine, which is a bit messier, due to me trying to pile on more of those healthy veggies.

A very satisfying meal all in all. The steaks were juicy and tender. The potatoes were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The veggies were done soft enough, and offered the perfect non-rich side to the rich meaty main event. The Barbera went well with the food, and it all went pretty well with Duck's hockey on TV. That's a team in the NHL that belongs to Orange County. We are supportive even though many LA Kings fans hate the ducks. But we're okay with Orange County. They have a lot of nice restaurants there, and we have some friends that live down there too.
Have a great weekend, everyone! I hope you're eating and drinking well, and making merriment with your loved ones. Cheers.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Goodbye, car; hello, holiday season

One thing doesn't have anything to do with another, except that both happened this weekend. I had to say goodbye to my loyal car of more than 10 years, the car that has gotten me to many a place and has been my office for the last 2 plus years while I have been doing outside sales. But even before that, it got me to jobs, runs, some near-by vacation spots, and much, much more. Here it is being towed away by the charity it has been donated to. Sigh. Goodbye, beloved car.

Okay, onto Christmas. Yes, it's Halloween today, and that means - last day of October. Meaning, tomorrow is November, one more full month before December madness. This weekend, to numb the pain of giving away my car, I stocked up on wines for Christmas at The Wine Country.

I have now 4 special wines planned for sharing with family at Christmas - this year, they will be all European in origin. Sometimes I do a few California wines, but most often, it is special wines from Germany, Austria, Champagne and other parts of France and Italy that tend to be shared.

This year, I'll have 2 wines from Germany, and 2 wines from France.

They will be:

Both German wines were given to me by hand, in person, from the winemaker who made them. How sweet is that? The memory of receiving these gifts is still strong. Both were given to me this year by German winemakers who had travelled here to the U.S. to promote their wines. The first was Gunter Kunstler, winemaker and owner of Franz Kunstler in the Rheingau - he gave me a bottle of his top notch dry wine 2007 Kunstler Kirchenstuck Riesling trocken. If this is not a GG (Grosses Gewachs, or Grand Cru) wine, then it is damned close! Gunter had specific instructions for a food pairing for this wine - he said make a roasted veal chop and top it with a cream sauce and shaved black truffles. Yum yum! I'll see if I can do the wine justice this Christmas season. I think a nice white meat like veal would be perfect with this rich yet elegant Rheingau dry Riesling.

The second hand-given wine was from Bert Selbach of Dr. F. Weins-Prum. He is one of my favorite Mosel people. The first few times I met him, I found him to be quiet and withdrawn. Later, when he got to know me better, I found him to be one of the warmest people ever. Bert Selbach is the sole owner and winemaker at the wine estate and his wines are always so focused and pure and classically Mosel, in my opinion. Not too fat, not too rich, not too anything - just clean, crisp, bright acid with crystalline fruit. Very delicious wines, and so well priced. He was here in June for Rudipalooza and gave me a bottle of his very unique 1998 Dr. F. Weins-Prum Bernkasteler Johannisbrunnchen Riesling Eiswein. This is a 750 ml bottle of Eiswein. I am very excited to share this with others. I did taste it when Bert opened a couple of bottles at an event in June and of course it is unbelieveable - Mosel Eiswein from 12 years ago in a perfect Eiswein vintage...... it cannot be less than perfect.

Okay, then there are 2 French wines, and I picked these up at The Wine Country today. I'll first talk about 2007 Domaine de Montille Beaune Premier Cru "Les Sizies" which was featured yesterday in a tasting with the winemaker and owner Etienne de Montille and importer Michael Sullivan, owner of Beaune Imports out of Berkeley, California. I didn't make the tasting, but I have had these wines before and they are consistently lovely to the point of out of this world. Admittedly, I have not had much Burgundy lately........ haven't bought any and have been out of the loop of tasting them. Today, Sunday, I went in to The Wine Country and there were the leftovers of yesterday's tasting. There was not only the 2007 Les Sizies, but also de Montille's Nuits St. Georges...... I got a taste but more importantly the aromas of both wines...... out of this world! There's just something about great Burgundy! Spring for these premier cru wines, they are worth it. I was actually shocked that the Les Sizies was under $50 a bottle as I could swear that a few years ago, the wine was elected wine of the year by the staff and the wine was at that time at least $65. Perhaps that was at the height of the Euro vs the American dollar. At any rate, the wine is gorgeous and a steal and I'm happy to have picked up a bottle for the Christmas stash.

Finally, there is a bottle of 2001 Calon Segur which is a Bordeaux wine that I special ordered. The reason I chose Calon Segur, while I don't personally have any history with the wine..... my in-laws drank this wine when they got married more than 50 years ago. Can you believe it? Now that's history! A wine well regarded over 50 years ago is still fetching the dollars today. Now that's a classic. I hope to surprise them with this wine this Christmas season, though if they are following this blog, they will not be too surprised, but that's okay...

So there's 4 wines. If I don't get into them earlier... for example, that Sizies is calling my name..... if I can hold on to them till the holidays, then this is my set for the Christmas season. Not too shabby eh?

The lovely thing I adore about wine is that it is for sharing. I love that I have the memory of winemakers sharing their craft with me, and I love that I in turn can share these wines with others. And at the end of the day, I like to see what I do for a living as sharing great wines with many people. And why not. It's a little bit of peace and happiness to all, even in times of loss and letting go.

Okay, I know, it's just a car! I'll get over it!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where I don't see going to have a glass of wine

So funny thing... this week, as I started to feel better, my car died. My trusty little green Honda Civic finally decided to quit. On a Tuesday. Were there any signs? Only 30 minutes before it died did it give me any indication. It's normally fantastic air conditioning - I mean, literally, the car can be 110 degrees inside and once I start it up and turn on the AC, it cools right down to a comfortable 65 in mere minutes. Not bad for a little economy car.

So, on Tuesday, as I was headed back home from 3 very good account visits in Santa Monica and Venice, the air conditioning started to not work as terrifically as it usually does. It was spitting out lukewarm air instead of ice cold. Weird, but I didn't think it was terminal. A bit later, as I was coasting down the freeway, the "check engine" light came on. Not good. But again, didn't think it was terminal. And, the AC started picking up again... yay! Did I specifically check the temperature gauge of the car? No, not specifically. My eyes didn't wander to that part of the dash... but in retrospect, that would have been a good idea. But there was no smoke coming out of my car, and I decided to continue driving toward home till there was a safe place I could pull over.

Well, I pulled into my local post office, went in to stock up on Bart Simpson stamps.... found out they had some new cool ones called Sunday Funnies - got some of those too - came out, thought, well maybe my car got over it, maybe the check engine light won't go on after I start it.

The car started, but it wasn't making pretty noises. Something was definitely amiss. The check engine light remained on. The car sputtered a bit. I drove toward the exit of the PO parking lot. Then the car stalled, right at the exit.

I managed to turn the engine and maneuver the car over to a parking space. I managed to call AAA (what an awesome service - yay AAA!) The rest is history - car towed, the diagnosis - major overheating leading to major internal organ damage, and what they said could not have happened quickly (meaning what?? that I've been driving with a messed up car for ages and I missed all this? my fault, I guess).

Anyway, short story long, today, I'm on my feet, walking if I need to get anywhere. I needed to go to the ATM machine, so I walked a little over a mile toward downtown in my village to go to the ATM.

On my way, I checked out a new wine bar. It was closed, but I pressed my nose to the window to check it out. I had heard that it had opened. I wonder how it does. My impression is that I'm not impressed. I'll tell you why.

I likely won't go drinking there. It's the location. It's located at the base of a tower of a nursing home. This nursing home is in a historic building in the downtown of my village. It has a high-end restaurant at the top, on the 13th floor or something like that. I have been there. It's nice. The food is average. I'm not a huge fan of the location, though, because it's in a nursing home. And now they have a wine bar on the first floor, a tiny place. And I'm wondering, who wants to go to a wine bar on the first floor of a nursing home?

My issue is that wine is more than a beverage. It's an aura. A fantasy. A romantic escape. It's not that the aura is unreal or not realistic, but it is a delicious fantasy and it doesn't jive mentally with the image of your heirs putting you in an institution when you're 90 because your mental faculties have left you and you're demented and can't swallow and you're prescribed a pureed diet with thickened liquids and you are not allowed to drink any alcohol because you're on 10 different medications. Wine has nothing to do with the sad end that befalls people when they are institutionalized and demoralized and need to walk with a walker and need caregivers to wipe their butts and give them baths and cut up their food. When people are drinking wine, they are thinking romantic wonderful good-life thoughts, sitting in a chateau overlooking gorgeous vineyards, sunny day, birds in the air, your lover looking into your eyes, conversation flowing, the food coming out of the kitchen the best and freshest you've ever tasted, the restaurant staff loving you for appreciating the finer things in life, you're laughing, enjoying, feeling like this will go on for all eternity, and it will because you'll always have fine wine, you'll always have your terrific cellar full of gems, you'll always have your neighborhood restaurant where they love you and you are always welcome, and you'll always have your lover, your friends, your beautiful family members all around you, laughing and loving and being and enjoying the best that life has to offer.

This is why people drink wine. It is all these things. All the good things in life.

And that's why I don't think wine bars belong in nursing homes, hospitals, another places where those delicious thoughts clash in our brains and make us frown.

Wine is about the good life and the never ending good time.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I'm on a 10-day course of antibiotics, and have taken myself off all alcohol. And prior to starting the antibiotic, I had not been feeling great (little did I know I had pneumonia). So there were several days of self-imposed non-drinking even before the prohibition of the antibiotic treatment. At this point, I'm about 5 days from finishing my course of drugs, and starting to feel better (GREAT compared to before), so wine looking really good. I even had to go to a wine dinner (of which I was one of the hosts) and not drink (much). Today I had a taste of a really good Spanish tempranillo put in front of me - I had to taste - the wine had a terrific, enticing nose, like a really good red wine should, and the palate was nice and meaty, smoked meat.... great. What I would have given to have a glass of that. But sigh..... I want to get completely better, so had to do without.

What I'm learning in my temporary prohibition is that life is sweeter with wine. A glass of Riesling here after work, a glass of rich red wine there later with dinner, it's not a bad thing. And I've got a great bottle of one of my favorite Champagnes sitting in the closet waiting for me (non-vintage Billiot.... yum) - this was supposed to be our celebratory Champagne after running a half marathon, but since I bailed on that (sick), I couldn't celebrate either (would have been a waste).

Well, when I finish this course of antibiotics, I think that Champagne's getting opened!

Oh, the wine dinner the other night - yes, a wild game dinner paired with German reds, and some German Rieslings thrown in for good measure. I was under the weather so enjoyed the evening somewhat but not to the full extent that it should have been enjoyed. Others told me it was terrific, so that was good! My favorite items at dinner were the boar sausage (so flavorful - really, we should eat more boar) and the sitka deer medallions from Japan. I have never heard of Sitka Deer - it sounds like something from Alaska. But it was tender and delicious. We even had venison liver which was quite interesting....

What showed well: 2007 Schnaitmann Samtrot, 2007 Schnaitmann Lemberger, and 2007 Heger Pinot Noir. I also liked the dessert wine which was paired with a hunk of Cambozola blue cheese: 1999 Bert Simon Wurtzberg Riesling Gold Cap. Fresh and zippy after 11 years.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Vegas then, Vegas Now

About a month ago, my husband and I went to Vegas for a weekend to meet friends and partake in a hockey tradition called Frozen Fury. It's a pre-season game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Colorado Avalanche - a group gets together and converges there and make a mini-group-vacation out of the weekend.

I looked forward to going, not so much for the hockey, though I don't mind hockey at all, but because I have always loved the excitement of Vegas. The adult Disneyland, the forbidden fruit of gambling, the neon of the strip, the old school charm of downtown, intermingling with my own childhood memories of our first family trip to California when we made a side trip to Vegas, with our parents and grandparents. I even remember my grandmother loving the lights when we drove up the driveway to our hotel, and how we got upgraded from our reserved rooms (which which given away by mistake) to suites, and how that made us feel like VIPs. That was back when I was 11 or so and living in Vancouver.

Yes, that was the first time I went to Vegas - when I was only 11 or so, my siblings even younger, the adults taking turns to go on the casino floor to gamble, or to go to shows, while the kids got to go to Circus Circus and win armfuls of stuffed animals - really good ones - better than the ones at the local PNE (Vancouver's annual summer fair). Later times I went to Vegas including one time when I was already living in Los Angeles, and my grandmother came down with my two sisters and met me there - that was a whole lot of fun also, but it was also when I realized my grandmother wasn't doing that well - she took a lot of time to walk from one casino to another, and finally just felt too worn out and took to the bed one evening. But on a positive note, I do remember on that trip I played a lot of blackjack and won.

Another time I went to Vegas was after I graduated from my MBA program in 2001, and my dad and sister came down for my grad, and the day after we hopped into my car and drove out to Vegas and spent the night, again, terrific fun. I remember being so pooped after arriving there that night, but my sister had the energy to go out for a late night stroll on the strip.

Other positive memory was around the year 2006 or so when I worked for The Wine Country and bought wine for a couple of different departments - Germany/Austria and Southern Hemisphere. That meant that I had to taste wine from different vendors to choose what to stock in those departments and build departments that were attractive and made sense. There was a tasting presented by a group of Australian producers who were in the U.S. mostly to make a presentation to Robert Parker for the Wine Advocate - they had been on the east coast, and the importer was trying to schedule them to fly to LA for a tasting, but in the end could only arrange a tasting in Las Vegas. I was invited to the tasting with an offer to pay for the plane ticket if I chose to attend. I chose to attend! Booked the flight - a same day flight - flew to Vegas in the morning and flew back in the evening, as my husband opted not to come with, I opted not to stay the night, so it ended up being a single day event.

It was in the middle of August. It was 80 degrees in Los Angeles at the time, 100 or more in Vegas. I flew there without luggage, just my purse and a notebook I think, boarded a shuttle, surprised the shuttle driver with no luggage and tipped him anyway, got to Cesar's Palace, found the restaurant where the tasting was held, and found my way to the tasting room. Was faced with about 15 winemakers from Australia, all showing about 9 red wines each and 1 white wine. In August in Las Vegas. Everyone was dying for cold, crisp white wine, but there was about 8 of the those among 100 high alcohol robust Shiraz, Cabs, and Grenaches.

The tasting was good and a good deal of fun anyway. The people were terrific and I was happy and excited to be there, and still high from being flown over to Vegas for the day to attend a tasting. "This is my job!" I thought to myself, and the glamor of it extended to how I felt about Vegas.

After the tasting, even after spitting each wine, I was under the influence. There was a couple of hours to kill before catching my flight back to LA, so I headed to onto the strip to one of my favorite places to gamble, O'Shea's. There, I played $5 blackjack for an hour or so, winning money, and enjoying myself as I did so. Then I grabbed a shuttle to the airport, flew home, and closed another great visit to Vegas. My only regret is that I didn't push hubby to go with me and spend the night there.

Then in 2008, I went to Vegas with hubby for Frozen Fury for the first time. Drove with a friend at night and got there around 2 am as though we were characters in a movie. Had a great time again playing blackjack everywhere and I won money everywhere. Went to Lotus of Siam for the first time and bought everyone dinner along with a bottle of 07 Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste and one of their bottles of single vineyard Donnhoff Spatlese after picking up my jaw looking at Bank's awesome wine list (about 10 pages of German wines, maybe even more, on Sommelier Bank's amazing list - a must-see if you haven't seen it). Terrific wines, delicious food, fantastic pairing.... and my friends liked it too... Great times, even though this was the fall of 2008 and Vegas already showed that look about it that it was falling into recessionary times. The bon temps were not rolling so much; tables were only half open and the dealers were looking a little more glum than usual.

Fast forward to October 2010 - Frozen Fury 2010 - first off, the friends and company and hockey were terrific. I wouldn't have changed a thing here. But the town, it has gone to hell. Or, I my tastes have changed. Or both. Maybe gambling doesn't excite me as much now that I'm in full time sales where every day my work is a gamble, and mostly, I win, whereas in a Vegas casino, forget about it. I could swear that in the old days it was so much easier to win in Vegas - it was like they wanted you to win there, so you would love being there and come back - but now, they want you to lose it now, lose it large, lose it fast, and don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.
The gambling is what is supposed to be "the thing" in Vegas - it is now horrible. Minimums are high. Dealers are unenthused. They are obviously not making much money, that tells me. When dealers are making money, they are happy, they are chatty, they make the whole experience fun, and then they get tipped more. This must not be what is going on. The whole gambling experience there is now very dreary and depressing. At least that was my experience.

The skank factor is way up. Dancing girls in skivvies are the biggest asset now in Vegas, not good solid entertain or fun gambling, but young girls in stripper costumes pretending to strip or pole dance everywhere - in gambling pits, on tables in restaurants, you name it. Perhaps I'm old or a prude, but it's not my cup of tea.

Service - the absence of this in a tourist town is striking. The staff are clueless, not interested in helping, give you the feeling of trying to rip you off, and do not make you feel like you're on vacation. Pass. I can go to Santa Ynez or Paso Robles and feel like queen for a weekend in a small inn, dine in small cozy restaurants and go wine tasting, and feel like I'm on a real vacation instead of constantly battling with employees who are clearly hurting and being screwed over by an overzealous, awful management company in a town that's going to pot.

I could go on. I looked at condos in this town because of the idea of investment property. You can buy a beautiful almost new condo in this town for less than $200,000 (unheard of in LA) but it is in a virtually empty building where no one else hardly lives, and the management fee for month is close to $900/mo. Pass.

The soul and all that was good to me about Vegas has been sucked out of the place, and replaced with a skeleton. A blogger that I read and enjoy called Vegas Rex, who has that dark sense of humor I enjoy in writing, said something like Vegas used to be the spoiled girl who had daddy's platinum credit card; now she is some troubled girl who ran away from home and is turning tricks behind the truck stop. Distrurbing reference, but totally agree. Las Vegas used to give me an image and idea of fun, partying, gambling, short-term excess; now it has left me wanting to avoid it for the forseeable future.

Give me San Francisco, Vancouver, Napa, Santa Ynez, Paso Robles, any of these places for a weekend instead.
P.S. I did go to a Van Morrison concert and that was fun. Van Morrison singing Brown Eyed Girl - I didn't think I would get to see that in my lifetime, but I did!

Friday, October 15, 2010


In recent weeks and maybe even months, it has occurred to me that I suddenly have come to be regarded as having experience, in the wine business, that is.

How did that happen? In a blink of an eye, I have 5 years experience in the wine biz, 2 years in sales on the "street," with 3 years in retail.

Just last evening, I was working an event at a terrific wine bar in Santa Monica called Pourtal, and I met fellow wine people also pouring for Oktoberfest - a terrific line-up of German and Austrian red wines, including Blaufrankish, Zweigelt, St. Laurent, Portugeser, Spatburgunder, Samtrot and more. Fantastic, eclectic bunch of sales reps all selling some of the most interesting wines in the world. I met a new gal who recently started her own business importing and distributing wines after years in the business, and she asked how long I had been working for Rudi Wiest, and I said, "A little over 2 years." She replied, "Oh you've been doing it for a while then." Is two years a while? It seemed like yesterday that I started.

I'm glad that the time I have spent in the business has been successful so far, and has made me appear experienced beyond the years. I'm grateful for that! I don't think 2 years doing outside sales is much time at all - I spent over a decade working in health care as a dietitian and I still don't consider myself very experienced in that, just moderately experienced. But in all, I'm happy to give people the confidence that I seem to know what I'm doing and seem to know a little about the products I sell.

By the way, last night at the Oktoberfest tasting, the 2007 Schnaitmann Samtrot rocked, if I may say so. Great velvety texture, nice integrated acidity along with a smooth rich red fruit body. This is a red wine variety that is a regional clone of Pinot Noir. It tastes like Pinot Noir, but also not like Pinot Noir. We're going to have this wine at the Fora Restaurant Wild Game and German Wine Dinner next week on Sunday Oct 24 and it will be terrific with the wild boar sausages!

I also got to taste my cohort's Spatburgunders (Weinhof Scheu, from Schweigen, same village Friedrich Becker is from!), Pinot Noir from Austria (Juris), Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch, all very delicious red wines... more people should drink these. I'm glad there are other wine folks other there promoting the good word about these wines. And I love working an event with them - they are so much fun! Good seeing you Adam, Stetson, and Amy!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

End of summer impromptu wine & steak night at friend's house

Is there anything better than dinner & wine at a friend's house? If there is, it's hard to remember what it could be when you are there. It really is the essence of fun and the good life.

A couple of weekends ago, good friends Linda & Bennett had us over for what started as an initial idea of watching the Swedish movie "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," since we have been obsessed with the Stieg Larsson trilogy, read most of the three books, and heard that the movie was graphic and worth watching. Of course, mostly we heard it was worth watching from folks that had not read the book, so we didn't hear much "the book was better," which I'm sure is what most people say most of the time about good books..... but anyway, movie night on Sunday night turned into dinner, with Bennett firing up the grill and putting on delicious Chateaubriande slabs onto the hot grill along with autumn squash. But first, before that, we tucked into a delicious bottle of Rose that our friend Derek had left us, from a producer in Washington State we had never heard of.
As it happened that it was a rare hot day in this summer, we downed this puppy pretty quickly, the 2009 Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese. It was juicy, round, fruity, not too alcoholic, and fit perfectly with the weather and the home-grown tomatoes, savory dry salami, and addictive cured olives we were munching on.

Next up, we opened the red wine we brought, the 2007 Burrowning Owl Meritage that my sister and her hubby painstakingly brought back for us from the winery in Oliver, British Columbia (that's in Canada, just north of Washington State!) This is a region I have not visited, but plan to do so in the near future. In fact, my plan is to do a driving trip through the Washington State wine regions (Walla Walla, and others) then drive up to Oosoyos (hottest town in Canada) and Oliver and do all that area. I think that would be quite rugged and fun. Especially now with all the wineries there (I'm sure the area was considerably more rugged back in the day when the winery craze had not yet hit).

The Burrowing Owl Meritage (Bordeaux-style blend, which, if I recall correctly, had all 5 of the Bordeaux grapes in it: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Admission: I didn't remember exactly, and I wasn't sure if Petit Verdot was a masculine ou feminine, so I cheated and went to the Burrowing Owl website, and man, are those pictures of the winery stunning. I mean, if you like that sort of thing - nestled in the mountains, gently sloping vineyard, pristine interior of B.C. type scenery... if I learned anything in my recent weekend in Las Vegas, it is that appreciate more and more the look and feel of nature (I even admired the mountainous backdrop of Las Vegas more than I admired the neon and the gambling - new for me).
Anyhoo, I do plan to go there sometime. A driving trip sounds like a nice adventure, especially combining it with a jaunt down to Washington State, whose vineyards I have yet to visit as well.
Oh, the wine: I found it oaky; perhaps it needed more time in the bottle to integrate its oak, but the fruit was fantastic, and it went terrifically with the steaks that had some terrific char on the outside and juicy middles. I have had Osoyoos Larose, another somewhat well-known B.C. wine from this general area, and I also found it to be on the oaky side - again perhaps I need to age these wines a bit longer before I will like them. But I do think definitely that these wines from B.C. see more new oak than French wines that I like, but perhaps they are as oaky as Napa wines? Perhaps that is more the model? I don't know. I haven't tasted too many Napa cabs as of late, but maybe I will soon...
(From the website's tasting note, it indicates that this wine is aged 22 months in a mixture of French, American, and Russian oak, of which 25% is new. Perhaps what I taste is American oak, which I find stronger.)
Next time, perhaps I will lay a bottle of Burrowing Owl down for a few years, or who am I kidding? Maybe I will try to source an older bottle that someone else has had the patience to lay down for a few years! :)

After the Burrowing Owl, we moved on to something from Bennett's cellar - he stayed with the Pacific Northwest theme and pulled out a wine I have never seen before: 2000 Cayuse "Camaspello." This is a Bordeaux-style blend with three Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.
I really liked this wine, perhaps because it was a 10-year old.... not only am I starting to like nature more, I'm starting to like older wines more. It seemed complex and layered (those are things that come with age in good wine)....aside from that I don't have any more accurate tasting notes. I felt that it was old world in style, but my host thought it was quite a big wine, so perhaps I wasn't really tasting at that point, just enjoying.
Later, Bennett told me he is selling this wine - he had a couple of bottles - if I was interested, and I was - in fact, we're going to a wine tasting at someone's house tonight and the theme is new world Bordeaux varieties (and I think we are tasting some 2000 Bordeaux too), so I thought this 2000 Cayuse would be kind of fun to open. So I got one from Bennett!
I don' have any more Burrowing Owl Meritage at this time (I have a Pinot Noir left) but if I did, I would bring that too.
Wine - what fun. I look forward to an exciting tasting tonight as well, and I'll try to take some good notes and pics.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

93 points Wine Spectator on 2 of our most popular wines

It's been some time since I've blogged on German wines. Maybe it is because it has been summer and I was feeling the vacation mode and wanted to blog more about other wines or restaurant experiences I had, instead of about my job. Well, now it is back to school, back to work, back to the fall season. Today I decided to put in a note here just to tout that 2 of our most popular wines just got written up on the Wine Spectator Insider and both got 93 points.

Those two wines are 2009 Monchhof Mosel Slate Riesling Spatlese and 2009 Monchhof Urzig Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese. Two terrific wines from the Mosel estate owned by Robert Eymael. Both - 93 points each! Unheard of, to me. These wines have always been popular but have gotten 90 or 92 points, which are already super impressive, but this 93..... very impressive.

To me, this says one thing - that the 2009 vintage German wines are here to impress, and they will be getting the high scores. Just wait. This is just the beginning of the points about to roll out from the Wine Spectator and many other wine publications. We thought so back when we were freezing in Germany tasting the new wines out of tank and barrel, which were already quite good back then in February - we knew this vintage would turn out to be a crowd pleaser and here we are 7 months later feeling the love from the media.

So if you love Riesling, I say get your hands on those 2009s that are coming out, because as the points and scores start rolling out, the wines are gonna get scarce right quick. That already happened to me today when I wanted to roll out 6 cases of pre-ordered (reserved!) 2009 Monchhof Mosel Slate Riesling Spatlese out to a good customer, only to be told our local Los Angeles warehouse just got depleted of the wine and I'll have to wait till next week till a new transfer comes in. Made me cringe! But that's how it works - a wine you love gets the points, and it is a mixed blessing - GREAT because the wine will end up in the hands of many new folks who are now made aware of it, not so great because the demand just went up and your secret is out!

So while Monchhof gets the love today in the September 22 issue of the Wine Spectator Insider, grab a bottle today, and also stock up on Dr. F. Weins-Prum, Schloss Lieser, Fritz Haag, and Reinhold Haart - 2009s from all of these Mosel properties will be knocking your socks off!

Friday, September 17, 2010

A month ago at West

A month has passed since we were in Vancouver and in between enjoying time with family, we took a night out to ourselves to pre-celebrate our anniversary at an upscale restaurant in the South Granville neighborhood, called West.

Originally, West was christened "Ouest" - the French word for west... but they changed their spelling to the English form, as customers couldn't locate them in the phone book. ("How do you spell that *!?&*$ restaurant? Oh, forget it, let's go to Red Robin, at least we can spell that!")

That was 10 years ago. So West isn't so much a new restaurant, as much as new to me.

The decor is beautiful. Simple, but not stark. One walks in and feels that it is a special place, well adorned, modern, bright, with an open kitchen. We were seated near the front of the house.

We started off with glasses of Canadian sparkling wine - what it was, I don't recall - but it was refreshing and a little sweet - reminded me somewhat of California sparkling wine, a bit fruity, not at all like the crisp dry stuff one gets out of Champagne. But anything bubbly, just a glass, is a nice way to start off a fancy dinner, I say.
Then came an amuse bouche, which was an heirloom tomato of some sort. It was not really memorable, but it is always amusing to have an amuse bouche.

We ordered our appetizers - hubby had Smoked Tongue and Roasted Sweetbreads, which is pictured below. It was really nicely done. We had never before tasted smoked tongue - and this was terrific - flavorful and firm in texture. The sweetbreads were tender and flavorful and additctive. The dish on the whole was well put together and unique. We quickly discovered that West presents food very uniquely, and the cooking is expertly done.

I ordered the foie gras, and that was pretty terrific, as to be expected. It was a torchon de foie gras encircled by a layer of goat cheese and I finely chopped truffle. Very nice. Again, unique as I've never paired foie gras with goat cheese before.

Next, our main dishes. I had the rabbit, one of their signature dishes. The rabbit was done 2 ways. The leg was confit'd and the saddle were made in these circles that looked like I was eating bone marrow! But it wasn't bone marrow - it was artfully presented loin of rabbit, wrapped in bacon.

Hubby got the Fraser Valley Lamb (pictured at top) which was also done up in these tight circles. The tight circles were actually half lamb loin and half house-made lamb sausage or what they described as Provencal sausage.... delicious. And there was a succulent piece of roast shoulder as well

For wine, we wanted to enjoy a local B.C. wine, and we ended up choosing a red blend from Therapy Vineyards called Super Ego. I believe the vintage was 2006. The winery is in the Naramata Bench, a part of the Okanagan I have yet to visit but would like to in the future. It's a hotter region that can ripen those Cabernet and Merlot and Shiraz grapes that go into this wine. I enjoyed the wine - not on the level of some aromatic and seductive red Burgundy, but on the level of my enjoyment of some California reds that I have liked. Our server suggested it, and then decanted the big wine into a super-impressive Riedel decanter, pictured above... upon seeing this, I began thinking about how I'd like to have such a decanter, and how I'd like to have a cupboard to put it in and display it, and how I'd like to have a house in which to house such a cupboard to display such a decanter!

Since we still had some wine left after finishing our mains, we ordered a cheese plate to share, instead of dessert. Pretty:

In all, the meal was excellent. Very unique presentations and preparations, high quality local ingredients. The service was professional and upscale and made you feel you were in a classy joint. I like that! I was happy with the experience overall, thought the atmosphere was very conducive to romance and conversation, and I would gladly return to West in the future.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An "Exceeds Expectations" German wine dinner

The room was dimly lit, and my camera's flash was misbehaving, so I didn't get any good pictures of food or wine that night, but I would be remiss if I did not mention what a fantastic wine dinner I had the opportunity to co-host last Friday evening.

The dinner took place at a restaurant in Long Beach, a terrific owner-operated place with class and elegance, Delius Restaurant. Owners Dave and Louise are among the most generous and fun hosts I have ever met. They were turned on to German wine years ago by my former boss, Randy Kemner of The Wine Country. They became fans of the Rudi Wiest portfolio ever since.

And, for the past 5 years, or maybe more, they've hosting a German wine dinner once a year in their elegant "prix-fixe" dining room, matching some of the most luscious German wines with their eclectic and well-executed cuisine.

And, very importantly to me, the setting is so perfect. Dave and Louise already feature prix-fixe dinners every evening, with special themes that change weekly, featuring seasonally fresh ingredients, and taking diners through 5 or more courses of delightful, exciting fare.

So what did we have that was so wonderful? We started off with some refreshing and minerally 2009 Wirsching Iphofer Kronsberg Silvaner trocken from the traditional Franken bocksbeutel, which was paired with a pickled trout done in-house and served delicately upon a slice of cold Yukon gold potato that had been roasted to al dente, and topped with some creme fraiche. Perfect. An appetizing dish, not a hint of grease, a fun and stimulating way to start the meal.

The second course was a sauteed sweetbreads served with cauliflower and salsify - as if the sweetbreads themselves were not interesting enough, I thought the menu tacticians were taking great care to serve interesting vegetables as sides, too, like salsify - which was very salsifying! The sweetbreads were meaty and nicely done to a golden brown, and the entire dish went nicely with 2008 Pfeffingen Estate Riesling Kabinett (a.k.a "Pfeffo") which is a medium-dry style Riesling with nice body and weight, owing to the fact that it is from the Pfalz, a warmer growing region than say, the Mosel, and also owing to its vinification style, which is toward the drier side vs. a fruity Kabinett. I thought the pairing was nice - it was the wine recommended by my boss Rudi Wiest - though Randy mentioned that he wouldn't mind something with a bit more residual sugar (read: sweeter) with the dish. I could see his point. For someone who doesn't mind a well-made German Riesling with residual sugar - or someone like me who likes a fruity Spatlese with dinner - a fruity Kabinett or Spatlese would have been fine, even delicious, with the meal.

The next two courses were paired with German red wines. People were pretty excited to hear that, I'll tell you what! And I was pretty excited too. First, we had the 2008 Becker Estate Pinot Noir paired with the duck course. Now, Pinot Noir & duck is a natural perfect pairing, so this was a no-brainer in the planning department. But little did I know how AWESOME this was until I tasted it. Seriously, I'm not just pumping up the wine right now to sell it - it was terrific and showed beautifully that night - I'm not sure if the Becker is just at a really perfect stage right now, or if the duck dish brought out all its wonderful cherry fruitiness. Wow. The duck was no ordinary duck, but it was a Muscovy duck breast, thick, tender, rich, cooked just perfectly, ie. medium-rare, and served with black beans (the menu said "black bean and pear chutney") and it was supposed to be cinnamon scented. I didn't notice the cinnamon accent when I ate the dish, but then I was pretty distracted by the lovely wine. Wow.

The final savory course, after that generous slab of duck breast, was a pan roasted veal loin paired with 2007 Schnaitmann Lemberger from the Wurttemberg. Now, I won't lie to you - I have trouble selling this wine. One restaurant buyer summed it up most succintly in this way: "Look, I can't sell a wine with three words on it that no one knows what they mean: Schnaitmann, Lemberger, and Wurttemberg." So there you have it - no one knows what Lemberger is, and if they had a guess, it would be a stinky cheese. Well, it isn't "limberger" - the stinky cheese, but instead, it is the same variety as Blaufrankisch, the name the Austrians give to this grape. But in Germany, the wine is called Lemberger. As soon as this wine was poured into the glass, its aromas made themselves known to our noses. Yum! Enticing blackberrry and blueberry lept from the glass, but on the palate, we didn't get gloopy Shiraz, but instead, elegant, structured, fruit-forward yet not jammy Lemberger, a delicious and satisfyingly rich red that is unlike anything else I represent. Oh it was tasty, and it was so fun to introduce it to a roomful of people who had never tasted Lemberger. This wine would fly off the shelves if only it didn't say Lemberger!

Finally, we came to dessert. There was no dessert wine, just coffee with it - a chocolate mascarpone cheesecake baked to perfection, light as a cloud and not super sweet - very nice, with a side of blackberry gelee. No dessert wine to compete with that lovely ending.

In all, I was super impressed with the caliber of the Delius kitchen, the fantastic culinary adventure, the way the wines performed, and the mood of the entire dining room. Everyone was pleased. And I got requests to do another wine dinner this fall at another local restaurant that I've done a wine dinner at before - Fora in Naples... two years ago we did a hunter's wild game dinner with German red wines. We've been asked for an encore, and that's now in the works. Stay tuned...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Week without Wine (almost!)

Wine has its place, and can add so much to an experience. But there are also times when it is not much missed. Last week, when I was on vacation in Vancouver, B.C., that was one of those times, a non-wine-focused holiday.

Not to say that British Columbia doesn't have some great wines. It does. In fact, my sister brought me back a couple of bottles from her trip out to Burrowing Owl, and I do look forward to tasting those (Pinot Noir & Meritage). It is just that I prefer to drink wine when it is a wee bit cooler outside.

The weather, was for the most part, sweltering hot. I was happy guzzling my B.C. tap, some bubble tea, and some good beer.

But most of all, it was a time to spend with family. And re-acquainting myself with the city. The city in its summer self, when lawns were yellowy-brown and parched, unaccustomed to being so starved for water in a city known for its plentiful rains.

The days were so hot at one point, that I thought I was visiting my family in Vegas or something - I couldn't sleep at night, and complained that it was so much hotter than in L.A. Then one evening, before sunset, I declared that it was enough, I had to get out of the house, so my sister took me and my husband down to the beach. English Bay. And it was gorgeous.

We had front row seats for the sunset. Literally, a great park bench that no one else had claimed. The sun took its sweet time descending from the sky to tuck in behind the mountains. I even heard myself complaining that it was taking too long to descend. "Why isn't it going down already??" I am cranky when hot and the sun is in my eyes. But then I learned that the farther one is away from the equator, the longer it takes for the sun to set. In the Caribbean, it would dive down in a minute, I was told.

During the week, we even went to a concert - Michael Buble - a veritable Vancouver boy - 34-3/4 years old, crooning the oldies. He was opened by this group, Naturally 7, who did "voice play" - a version of a capella, except not only do they use their voices to sing, they used them to simulate instruments. Sometimes, they even became their instrument. They were cool. One group member reminded me of Barack Obama. He was the double bass, I think.

Then came Buble. He sang for a solid 2 hours. By himself. No back-up singers. No duets. Just himself. He sang lots of oldies. I enjoyed it but didn't go crazy over it. Being at this concert at Rogers Arena (formerly GM Place & Canada Hockey Place) made me feel nostalgic for a George Michael concert I attended maybe 20 years ago, when I really went nuts for all the songs.


Now, for my next post, I'll share with you the one wine-inclusive evening that I did have in Vancouver...

Monday, August 9, 2010

A tale of Oliver Haag in Two Cities

When I first learned about German Rieslings, then later about the subcategory of Mosel Rieslings, I began to learn from Randy, owner of The Wine Country, about how special the Rieslings of Fritz Haag Estate were. These Rieslings always seemed the most pure, the most classic, the most full of stuffing while still delicate on their feet... full of mouth-filling flavor and crystalline beauty. In a quest to find out more about these beautiful wines, I learned that they were made from a site called Brauneberg, a wine village dating back to Roman times, when it was called the Latin name Dusemonde or "sweet mountain." It was later named a more Germanic sounding Brauneberg, or "brown mountain," which, while being less poetic, was an accurate description of this site which, unlike other hills covered with vineyards, Brauneberg was not topped with a rich forest of trees which served as a sponge for rain water, but instead was topped by an almost bare hilltop, with little to no water reserve. This hillside vineyard is therefore dry and brown.

Aside from the legend of the wine village and hillside vineyards Juffer and Juffer Sonnenuhr was the legend of the man, the winemaker Wilhelm Haag, whom I met the first time I attended a Rudipalooza tasting with Randy, back in 2006. Wilhelm Haag is a legend because he has worked his family's winery from the age of 20 to the age of 70, 50 years of winemaking, while being, I believe, the head of the VDP at some points..... the details of which I am unclear about, but I do know he was a major advocate of quality wines in the Mosel region. I also know that as a person, he is very kind, generous, open, and hilariously funny. In my various meetings that I have had with him since that first time at that tasting in 2006, he has told some funny jokes with great delivery - charm, I think it is called - for example, he said of his wines from the vineyard Juffer ("virgin" in German), "it is the only virgin that gets better with age." Guffaw guffaw...

Anyhoo... approximately 5 years ago, Wilhelm Haag did retire and pass on his estate to his son, Oliver Haag. Oliver Haag worked for years for the Wegeler estates, and finally, he had returned to run the family estate and carry on the strong tradition on great winemaking in the Mosel. I had met Oliver Haag on several occasions going to taste in Germany, but I didn't really get to know him as a person until in July this year when he came to work with us in California, and I got to work with him in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

And here's what I found out about Oliver Haag - he is a terrific person, super smart and knowledgeable, generous and great to work with. In San Francisco, we dashed from one restaurant to another - Slanted Door, RN74, Vanessa's Bistro & from one wine store to another - Wine House, Wine Club, and many others...

In Los Angeles, similarly we hopped from account to account - starting with a breakfast meeting at 9:30 am at Starling Diner in Long Beach (pictured above with owners Ed and Joan), then to The Wine Country to see Randy (top), then up to picturesque Santa Monica, and ending the evening with a wine dinner at 3 Square Restaurant in Venice, where chef/owner Wolfgang Gussmack orchestrated a 4-course meal replete with savory dishes that went beautifully with the Fritz Haag wines.
Working those long days in SF and LA with Oliver were hard and tiring - I won't lie to you! - but he made it worthwhile by being a wonderful person to work with, confirming to everyone, me included, that behind the delicious Mosel Rieslings of Fritz Haag Estate is now yet another terrific and genuine Haag leader and winemaker.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It was like being in the Mediterranean...

Though I have never been in that area known as the Mediterranean, I do have thoughts about it, what it would be like.... what it would feel like to be in Provence, or southern Italy, or Greece, or Lebanon, or Spain, or any of these warm to hot weather places where produce flourishes, where the fat of choice is always olive oil and the red meat of choice is always lamb, where the breeze smells of lavendar and the salty sea, and the sun brings out the bounty of ripe melons, tomatoes, fresh herbs, and wine grapes.

The people spend their time outside; they walk, they farm, they tend to their animals and their homes; they know each other and they live in a town that doesn't think about the stock market or the big corporations, but instead are interested in the goings on in the local area.

On Friday, when I took out my leg of lamb that I scored earlier in the week, and marinated it a paste of minced garlic, olive oil, fresh oregano and basil and rosemary, sea salt, black pepper, and Dijon mustard, I felt like I was doing what was done in the mediterranean - preparing a leg of beast so that it would not dry up and become tasteless on a hot outdoor grill.

Saturday came, and the weather turned up even hotter than Friday, and the idea to cook this piece of meat outdoors made even more logical sense. Who would heat up an already hot house by turning on the oven? We fired up the barbecue, then turned off the left burners and put the marinated leg on the "cool" side of the barbecue.

The barbecue lit up in flames (don't think it was supposed to do that). Perhaps I had been a bit liberal on the olive oil in my marinade - fat dripping onto even a turned off grill can fire up. We took the meat off, let the grill cool down a tad.

Finally, it was figured out, and the meat thermometer went into the meat, with the goal of taking it out when the temp hit 140 degrees for rare. Three hours later, the 8 pound leg looked completely awesome, but since I was hosting the dinner party and had other things to tend to (opening rose wines 2009 Chateau La Canorge from Luberon and 2009 Domaine Dragon from Provence, and the less glamorous but necessary task of getting people parking spaces), I neglected to take a picture of the whole leg when it was done.

Here was my dinner plate though:

On the upper left corner we have the bright yellow aioli, made and brought by our friends; going clockwise, the delicious beans, also brought by friends, then we have the luscious lamb; followed by purple potato & some tiny golden potatoes (done in foil also on the barbecue); grilled qucchini and yellow squash, brought by same friends who brought aioli, and some fresh salsa. Yum, and a great community meal, if I ever saw one!

Wines were also brought by above friends:

The always rare and super-special 2009 Domaine Tempier Rose, the amazing older wines of the southern and northern Rhone, cellared for just about 25 years: 1985 Vieux Telegraph Chateauneuf du Pape and 1985 Chave Hermitage. All terrific wines, especially the Chave Hermitage.... yum yum..... what other tasting notes do you really need? Prestige wines, all meeting & exceeding expectations.

A great evening of socializing was had by all. And that was the best part, getting people together, enjoying good food and wine. This is why I think the Mediterranean so-call "diet" works. Not omega-3 fatty acids or lycopenes in a pill, but the human's natural desire for socializing and destressing among fellow humans fulfilling the soul and the heart. And we achieved that one blistering Saturday evening in Southern California.