Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Celebrating Puglia: Land of Eternal Sunshine

Taste of Italy is LA’s premiere food and wine event with authentic Italian food, wine, and entertainment to benefit the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA). The event celebrates the cultural richness of the Italian peninsula. Last year, Taste of Italy highlighted the Italian region of Puglia, known as the “heel of the boot”. Puglia is known for its quintessential Mediterranean climate: short mild winters and long, hot, dry summers with LOTS of sunshine. The wines from Puglia are known for their great values. Specifically, the region is known for the Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes.

I was not able to attend the main event, but I did attend the “Taste of Italy” preview dinner for press at Luigi al Teatro featuring a Puglia inspired menu. Luigi Fineo, executive chef at Luigi al Teatro, is the nation’s youngest chef to earn the Michelin Star. We enjoyed a LOVELY evening that started with a wine tasting and passed hors d’oeuvres on the patio. We then moved into the restaurant for a beautiful coursed meal that left me in shock that I had never visited this restaurant before. It was easily one of the best meals I have ever had in Los Angeles. 

Chef Luigi Fineo & I

Enjoy the food and wine porn about to hit your eyeballs!

Aperitif Wines
Kumia Fiano
Selezione Nicola Chiaromonte Gioia Del Colle Primitivo 2011 

Duo Starter
Polipo alla Griglia
Grilled Spanish Octopus, Cireale Chickpea, Green Olives, Toy Box Tomato
Carpaccio di Orata
Sea Bream, Orange, Basil Seeds, Lemon, Olive Oil 

Dinner Wine
Muro Sant’Angelo Gioia del Colle Primitivo 2014 

Ari Vecchia
Cavatelli, Potato, Mussels, Bottarga, Pachino 

Duo Entree
Filleto di San Pietro
Baked John Dory, Tomato-Spinach Acciugata
Australian Wagyu New York Steak
Grilled Australian Wagyu, Seasonal Vegetables, Black Winter Truffle 

Chocolate, Crème Fraiche, Maldon Salt 

This year the Taste of Italy event will take place on October 12, 2019 at the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles. Thank you to Marianna Gatto, Executive Director of IAMLA for the invitation to this impeccable event.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Three Rivers Winery: Where Family Comes First

Holly & Andy (dirty hands = wine life)

As a wine blogger I get to try A LOT of really great wines. And occasionally, I get to partake in some pretty exciting food and wine pairing events. This was definitely one of them. It is not often that you get to enjoy a 6-course meal, plus wine pairings, with the winemakers onsite at their vineyard/winery. It was a stellar evening all-around at Three Rivers Winery! This wine pairing dinner was a part of the Wine Bloggers Conference (recently renamed to the Wine Media Conference) in Walla Walla, Washington. It was, hands down, my favorite evening of the conference. 

Andy & Holly Turner

At Three Rivers, we’re in the Columbia Valley AVA in Eastern Washington, which has over 40,000 acres under vine. Fun fact: 99% of all Washington wine is produced here. There are eight smaller AVAs within the Columbia Valley and Three Rivers currently harvests fruit from four of them: Red Mountain, Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills, and Wahluke Slope. The name Three Rivers comes from the nearby intersection of the Columbia, Snake, and Walla Walla Rivers.

Three Rivers Winery is the essence of Walla Walla wine country. When you’re in Walla Walla, you’re family. And that’s what it felt like at Three Rivers. Downtown Walla Walla is quaint with charming storefronts, lots of tasting rooms, and a feeling of “everyone knows everyone”. When you arrive at Three Rivers you might be greeted by Holly Turner, the winemaker, or her husband Andy, the GM who also makes wine with her. It’s a sprawling property with a lovely tasting room onsite that is warm and inviting. 

Three Rivers Winery
Aperitif upon arrival

As one can imagine, Holly and Andy spend A LOT of time at Three Rivers. They have raised three children and while at the dinner we spoke about how those children have grown up in wineries and how sometimes in the busy seasons they’d spend more time together as a family in the winery than at home. Family really does come first at Three Rivers Winery. 

Holly walking us through the wines

Here are the details from our lovely wine pairing dinner. The meal comes to us from Executive Chef Matt Antonich of The Club at Rock Creek in Coer d’Alene, Idaho. 

Three Rivers Winery tasting room

First Course
Saffron Scallops (Fresh scallops pan seared over Alaskan king crab risotto and Reserve Chardonnay saffron beurre blanc)

2016 Reserve Chardonnay (Gamache Vineyard, Columbia Valley) current release: 2017 $35
This wine sees 8 months in French oak, 24% new. A beautiful nose on this wine of toasted oak and butterscotch. Lots of toasty nuts, poached pear, and MLF notes. 189 cases produced. 

Saffron Scallops

Second Course
Rocky Mountain Elk Chop (Organic free-range grilled elk chop atop Asian short rib fried rice served with huckleberry Malbec gastrique and fresh chanterelle elk demi-glace)

2015 Walla Walla Syrah current release: 2016 $42
80% Syrah, McB Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
10% Petit Verdot, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
10% Cabernet Sauvignon, Bacchus Vineyard, Columbia Valley
This wine is aged 17 months in French oak, 60% new. Classic Syrah notes of black pepper plus dried meat/jerky. Also, coffee on the back palate. 116 cases produced.

2016 Malbec
(Gamache Vineyard, Columbia Valley) $38
This wine is aged 17 months in 43% new French & American oak. Dark red fruit (very plummy, plus cherry notes) and a medium + body. A soft, smooth, and pleasing wine. 165 cases produced. 

Rocky Mountain Elk Chop

Lemon Herb Bees Knees (Adult slush mixed with lemon, herbs, local honey, and gin) 

Lemon Herb Bees Knees

Third Course
Cabernet Braised Lamb Shank (Slow and low lamb shank braised in Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and served with roasted tomato lamb glacé over Point Reyes blue cheese corn grits and roasted butternut squash with toasted black truffle squash seeds)

2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $42
Three Rivers Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
This wine sees 17 months in French oak, 50% new.
This is the first estate vintage of this Cab. A big, beautiful wine unabashedly structured. Very balanced. Precise. Med + drying tannins. 143 cases produced.

2015 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon $39
Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley
This wine sees 17 months in French oak, 50% new. Spice box all day, every day. Way more spice box than the previous Cab. Cigar/smoky tobacco notes. 145 cases produced. 

Cabernet Braised Lamb Shank

Fourth Course
Impossible Mole Empanadas (Southwest seasoned Impossible Burger filled empanada served with classic red mole, tomatillo verde, fresh cilantro, queso fresco, and chipotle lime sour cream)

2015 Svelte $50
67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. Vineyards: Seven Hills, Bacchus, Sagemoor, Gamache, and Weinbau. 
This wine sees 18 months in new French oak. A classic Cabernet, this is their signature wine. Strong tannins that will smooth with age. 143 cases produced.

2016 Trivulet (51% Cabernet Franc, 49% Merlot) $38
Wainbau and Bacchus Vineyards
This wine sees 17 months in French oak, 20% new. This is their first vintage of this wine. The Merlot really makes the Cab Franc approachable. I dig this. 120 cases produced. 

Impossible Mole Empanadas

Final Course
Poached Green Bluff Bartlett Pear (Fresh green bluff Bartlett pear poached in Riesling and served with huckleberry mousse and a dollop of vanilla bean Frangelico cream dusted with huckleberry powder and garnished with apple mint)

2017 Riesling (Bacchus Vineyard, Columbia Valley) $18 
All stainless steel. This Riesling gives us just a whisper of sweetness (3.7% RS to be exact) with a slight petrol nose. Love this wine because it can function as an aperitif and also works perfectly with this light dessert. 217 cases produced. 

Poached Green Bluff Bartlett Pear

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

They Make Wine? Maryland Edition

Big Cork tasting room

When you hear "Mid-Atlantic" do you think of wine country? Me neither! But alas, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac, lies Big Cork Vineyards. Big Cork is a family farm in Rohrersville, Maryland started by David Collins, who spent many years making wine in Virginia (see my Virginia wine post HERE). David Collins formed a partnership with Jennifer and Randy Thompson (owners of the land), and Big Cork Vineyards was born. The first 22 acres were planted in May of 2011 and they have now surpassed 5,000 cases in annual production.

Big Cork is in a great getaway for the DC crowd wanting a big, sprawling wine county experience, as it lies only an hour away from the city. And sure, not all of the wines in this area are stellar, with many wineries producing bottle after bottle of semi-sweet/sweet wines for local consumption. If you’re a regular wine drinker who explores wines from other regions/countries, you’re not going to be happy with that. I can assure you, that is not the case at Big Cork! Save for a few semi-sweet wines, they have a whole lineup of dry wines to please many palates.

Vines at Big Cork Vineyards

Thank you to Amy Benton of Big Cork Vineyards for this tasting opportunity. 

2016 Chardonnay The Big Reserve 13% ABV $36
This wine sees 8 months in new French oak barrels. 101 cases produced.
A lovely New World expression of Chardonnay. Green fruit (pear, and green apples), butterscotch, and dairy/butter on the nose. The wine is creamy and luscious on the palate with good acid and a medium + finish.

2015 Petit Verdot 13.9% ABV $38
This wine sees 18 months in both new and neutral French & American oak. 229 cases produced.
A solid red with aromatic notes of blueberry, blackberry, and sweet tobacco. This is a full-bodied wine with dark fruit notes on the palate and medium well-integrated tannins.

2015 Cabernet Franc 13.8% ABV $46
This wine sees 16 months in both new and neutral French & American oak. 244 cases produced. This is a wonderfully complex and layered wine. Totally up my alley. Aromas of dark, black fruit (including black currant and raisins), floral (violet) and licorice. On the palate I get the same dark fruit plus vanilla and sweet spice, which carries all the way through to the finish (that seems to carry on forever). LOVE this wine.

Monday, February 4, 2019

San Diego: The OTHER Southern California Wine Region

What is #WineStudio?

#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, Certified Sommelier who's been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.

For the San Diego edition of #WineStudio we were joined by Tami Wong, CS. Tami is a Certified Sommelier based out of San Diego and was the perfect fit to guide us through these wines!

Most everyone has heard of Temecula wine country (see my past post HERE). But I can guarantee that post people do not know that grapes are grown in San Diego and that wine is made here as well. Would you believe that there are 115 wineries in San Diego County? As most of California, the area has a mild Mediterranean climate with little rainfall. Outstanding conditions for growing grapes. There are 3 AVAs in San Diego County: the South Coast AVA (Malibu down to the San Diego border), San Pasqual Valley AVA (Escondido area), and the Ramona Valley AVA.

Our first wines come from Charlie & Echo, an urban winery and tasting room in the Miralani Makers’ District started by Eric and Clara Van Drunen. The Miralani Makers’ District is a unique collection of craft beverage producers located in the heart of San Diego’s Miramar district; started in 2013. 

Credit: Charlie & Echo

Eric Van Drunen, winemaker, employs some conventional methods, so the winery is not technically organic, though they do partake in many organic practices. Their goal is minimally processed grapes and wines, and wines purely representative of the vineyard as possible. Since 2015 gapes are sourced solely from throughout San Diego County.

Two wines tasted:

Charlie & Echo 2017 Viognier, Warner Springs, San Diego County 14.4% $23
According to C&E, this wine drinks like the Chablis of Viognier. Good acid and lean with notes of papaya, mango, and lime. The nose is divine: citrus (lime) plus tropical fruit (papaya, mango, pineapple). Medium + acid and medium + body. On the palate I get lots of the same tropical fruits. Every year I go to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico with my girlfriends and we pick up fresh juices from the local market…..we never know exactly what fruits they are, but we grab ‘em anyway (anything tastes good with tequila!). The nose on this wine reminds me of those fresh, tropical juices. in Mexico. The wine really opened up after coming to temperature. 

Charlie & Echo 2017 Darkstar (47% Syrah, 53% Zin), Warner Springs, SD County $24
This wine was cray cray and amazing at the same time. Is it a Pet Nat? Yes and no. Wild yeasts are used for fermentation. I’m not going to be able to accurately describe the vineyard/winery process here, so here are the tech notes directly from them: Clusters de-stemmed into small open-top bins. Whole berry, wild yeast and malolactic fermentation. Twice daily punch downs. Pressed after five days for the Syrah, and four days for the Zinfandel – only free-run and early press fractions used. Wines combined at press, and fermentation finished in Charmat tank without addition of sugar or yeast – all carbonation comes from the natural, primary fermentation. No acidulation or other “corrections”. Cold settled, and bottled unfiltered off gross lees. In the #WineStudio discussion it was described as a combination of Metodo Italiano and Metode Ancestrale. The wine is super duper pale ruby. A delicate nose of all primary red fruit. An interesting palate. Everything about this wine is hard to describe, but I like it. 

The second winery we explored was Koi Zen Cellars, located in the Carmel Business District. The urban winery is owned by Darius & Lisa Miller. The name came from Darius’s koi pond. Their goal was to create a calming and relaxing environment in an urban winery setting. They do not own any vineyards and source grapes from all over California.

Koi Zen Cellars 2016 Paso Syrah $33
This wine is deep garnet in color. The nose…oh yeah…we’re in Paso: warm, spicy fruit. This is gonna be a big boy. Makes my nose hair stand up on end! The palate gives me a juicy fruit bomb (but in a good way!). I’m talking Bing cherries and candied red fruit. Plus, a blueberry reduction. Also, warm fall baking spices (cinnamon) and black pepper. Is there a skosh of RS here, or am I hallucinating? Not quite sure. It could just be the fruit is super ripe.