Archive for February, 2008

News from Tahoe (thanks Mark!)

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Forwarding another great email from our friends Mark and Kathie.

Greetings all foodies!A few weeks ago we went on a road trip to beautiful Lake Tahoe, with a side trip to Murphy’s, a small town located in the Sierra foothills about an hour north of Yosemite. The report begins in Murphy’s: We arrived late Saturday afternoon and it started to rain just as we arrived. It is always so much fun to unload lots and lots of luggage in the rain, especially with the only available parking space being 100 feet away. After settling in at the Victorian Inn, a small intimate hotel on Main street, we fixed our traditional Tanqueray and tonic to celebrate our arrival and then perused the menu for the restaurant “V” located downstairs.The dinner turned out to be quite good. We are always shocked (and frustrated) when a town the size of Murphy’s (population 2000) has better restaurants than Camarillo, population 62,000. Anyway, Kathie started with a Caesar salad lightly covered in a creamy garlic-lemon dressing, served in “bowl” made from deep-fried shredded parmesan cheese. It was very good. I had a thick polenta cake covered with a fresh basil-tomato coulis and topped with a grilled portabella mushroom. The cake and the sauce were great, but the mushroom was a bit dry. For the entrée, Kathie had sautéed scallops with a lobster and lemon beurre blanc and chopped pistachios served over garlic mashed potatoes. It was top notch! I had a unique coffee and cumin crusted rib-eye served with roasted Yukon gold potatoes and sweet snap peas. It also was excellent.Our wine was the 2005 Foxen “Sea Smoke” Pinot Noir. As often with Pinots, it was a bit reticent at first, but by the last glass it was awesome. We must start remembering to decant our Pinot’s at restaurants!The next day we had a great breakfast at Grounds, another excellent restaurant just a few steps from our hotel. Fortified, we went wine tasting along Main street where about 10 different wineries have their tasting rooms. It’s nice to be able to walk from room to room. What was not so nice was the quality of the wines, a mixed bag at best. The worst was the Black Sheep Winery. We knew it was a bad sign when they were pouring their “current” release wines – all from 2002! Bad sign #2: their Shiraz at now at half price (reg. $18 now for $9). We tried it. It sure wasn’t Shiraz—it wasn’t like anything I’ve ever had. No…maybe like Kool Aid. On the other hand, the wines at Hatcher were pretty good. We ended up buying a bottle of their Syrah, a good value at $26. For more winery info and a map, go to The town was fun, and we wanted to stay a bit longer, but we had to make the dash to Lake Tahoe before it got dark. A big snow storm had just passed through, and we knew it would be a bit dicey driving the ice covered roads at night. Lake Tahoe: Sunday, Feb. 3: Our first dinner was at Kalani’s, a Pacific Rim / Hawaiian restaurant in South Lake Tahoe (SLT). It’s always somewhat of an odd experience to eat here: soothing Hawaiian music is playing in the background while we snack on our tasty Pupu’s. Yet you look out the window and there is 3 feet of snow and its 24 degrees outside. We’ve been here many times before, and usually they do a great job, but tonight they were off their game (though it was Super Bowl Sunday, so maybe the main chef took the night off).We started with a shrimp satay served with a nondescript peanut-chili sauce. Not very good. Next we had a spicy Hamachi tuna roll with cucumber. It also was just OK.For my entrée, I almost ordered the bone-in pork chop with polenta and a smoked shitake mushroom demi, but instead I got the crab crusted Onaga (long tail snapper) served with a ginger butter sauce, along with sautéed matchstick veggies and a Sambal chili mashed potatoes. Now were talking! This was very tasty. Kathie had the caramelized sea bass in a miso-yaki glaze plus a ponzu beurre blanc. It was served with Thai basil mash and balsamic Kula greens. Pretty good, but not too exciting. Our wine was the Krupp Brothers 2005 Black Bart’s Bride. It is a very complex white wine (a mostly Rhone blend of Marsanne, Viognier, and Chardonnay), but it need just a little more fruit. We actually prefer their 100% Marsanne, and it’s a better value too at $36. vs. $50. Monday, Feb. 4: Our reservations were at the Blue Water Bistro, a tiny two story restaurant located on a small pier in SLT. It has an unimpeded view of the lake and snow covered mountains, so it’s a great spot for lunch or happy hour. This time of year the sun sets too early to fully enjoy the view at dinner. This was our first time here, and while not excellent, it will definitely be worth checking out again. I started with Asian chicken skewers that were perfectly grilled then brushed with a hoisin based BBQ glaze, and then quickly grilled again. They were quite good, and the portion was large. Kathie had the apple and pear salad featuring mixed greens, Point Reyes bleu cheese, toasted walnuts, and a maple balsamic vinaigrette. She seemed pretty happy! Her entrée was a black sesame seed encrusted Ono with a hosin-chili glaze served with coconut sticky rice, fresh mango and edamame. It also was very fresh and tasty. I had the NY strip loin steak with a wild mushroom trio and red wi
ne demi. It was served with Yukon Gold frites. The mushroom sauce was great, but the steak was so-so. The French fried potatoes were perfect.
 For more info and photos, go to Our wine was the 2005 Chasseur “Sylvia’s” Pinot Noir. I was disappointed a first for such a highly rated wine, but, just like the night before, by the last glass it was kickin’ ass. Our new mantra is “decant… decant… decant”.  Tuesday, Feb. 5: We went to Café Fiori, a tiny, tiny Italian restaurant and one of our Tahoe favorites. We always start with their freshly baked garlic bread. This is no ordinary bread. It’s laden with gobs of butter and melted golden brown parmesan cheese and has enough garlic to clear a room (always handy when you need to get a seat at the crowded casino tables). We skipped the other appetizers and ordered our entrées. Kathie had the spaghetti con salsiccia, a very tasty dish with tons of Italian sausage and prosciutto, plus tomatoes, spinach, crushed red chilies, lots of garlic, and olive oil. My fork was visiting her plate often. I had the veal saltimbocca. They wrap tender veal scaloppini around prosciutto and mozzarella to form a roll, then cut it into sections and finally cover with sautéed wild mushrooms in a Madeira wine sauce. It was killer! Our wine was the 2005 Kosta Browne “Kanzler” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. This time we decanted. Ahhh, what a wine! Deep, deep cherry fruit. Fabulous nose. It was the perfect match for the meal. Wednesday, Feb. 6: Brrrrrr! It’s about 18 degrees out tonight as we walk from the snow covered parking lot into the Edgewood Restaurant. We haven’t been here for years because the menu always sounded better than what actually came to the table. But the hotel concierge and another person highly recommended we go back. So we did. And, they were wrong. To be fair, the first appetizer was OK, sautéed scallops with matchstick veggies in a ginger-cream sauce. But it went downhill from there.  Kathie’s duck confit pasta with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, fennel, and parmesan cheese was not memorable.  So blah, in fact, we want to forget it. My entrée sounded great, at least on paper: Sliced Kobe tri-tip, cooked medium-rare, with a spicy mushroom-pepper sauce. The pepper sauce and the cheesy potatoes that came with it were actually quite good, but the so-called “Kobe” tri-tip was so chewy, it would have made a great commercial for Polident denture fixative: “Keeps on holding – even with this leathery steak!” At least the wine was top notch. We had the 2005 Booker “Fracture” Syrah from Paso Robles. (Decanted, of course.) It’s a big, big wine with lots of fruit. Very good stuff. Thursday, Feb. 7: We headed over to Evans, probably the best restaurant in SLT, and we think one of the finest in California. Kathie stated with salad of mixed greens, caramelized pears with melted Brie cheese, toasted almonds and then topped with sautéed scallops. I’m not a big salad guy, but this was great. Fortunately Kathie shared. My appetizer was hoisin and orange glazed prawns served over Asian slaw (thinly sliced jicama, red pepper, and carrots plus sautéed golden raisins and currants in a tangerine-butter reduction sauce). There were also black sesame seeds, cilantro, and maybe some orange zest. It was amazing. For the entrée, I had a prosciutto and herb crusted veal chop, tarragon laced mashed potatoes, wild mushroom ragout, and a brandy and pearl onion demi. The chop was perfect, and the sauce and mushrooms had me swooning. Kathie had an herb and panko crusted chicken breast with jus, mascarpone risotto, green beans and a small salad of edamame, tomato, and croutons.  I got a bite or two, and this was probably the best chicken I have ever tasted. Perfectly cooked, great crust and very moist. Yum! And the wine was perfect also. It was a match made in heaven: all this amazing comfort food paired with a 2005 Kosta Browne “Koplen” Pinot Noir. When it comes to Pinots, It just doesn’t get any better than this! Friday, Feb .8: Our original plan was to check out, leave Tahoe and head over to San Francisco to attend a Petite Sirah tasting and have dinner at Ana Mandara. But we were feeling extremely lazy, and were still glassy eyed from our dinner at Evans the night before. So, we cancelled SF, called up Evans and made reservations for dinner…again. We thought it couldn’t get any better, but it did. Kathie started with a warm spinach salad with duck sausage, fried pancetta, shaved asiago, pine nuts, and a balsamic dressing. Again, I don’t get too enthusiastic about salads but this was really, really good. I had ravioli stuffed with wild mushrooms and mascarpone cheese topped with a juicy veal Bolognese sauce. The description really doesn’t do it justice. You had to be there. Kathie’s entrée was a hazelnut crusted halibut, gorgonzola mashers, and a fennel salad with a caramelized pear sauce. She was one happy camper. I had a peppered tenderloin of pork served with applewood smoked bacon chunks, white cheddar gratin potatoes, and a spicy apple chutney. It was incredible. Ahhhh, and the wine: the 2005 Mollydooker “Carnival of Love” Shiraz. This wine is so huge, yet so balanced. It has tons and tons of fruit. Plus the nose is just amazing, you just want to swirl and sniff, swirl and sniff. I could go on, but suffice to say this is one great wine. Well, that was it for us. We’re done. We headed home on Saturday and back to reality.  See below for the final wine rankings and our special “Redneck” Report on biscuits and gravy.  FINAL WINE RANKINGS  1.)     Mollydooker Shiraz2.)     Kosta Browne “Koplen” Pinot      3.)  TIE: Kosta Browne “Kanzler” Pinot and Foxen “Sea Smoke” Pinot      4.)  Booker Syrah      5.)  Chasseur “Sylvia’s” Pinot      6.)  Black Bart’s Bride Rankings for extra credit post-dinner sipping wines (scored 1 – 10, 10 being best):1.)     2004 Shirvington Shiraz …….…92.)     2004 Kaleske Grenache……… .8.53.)     2005 Hatcher Syrah………… …7.84.)     2004 Delhinger Reserve Pinot…6.5 (disappointing)   Special Redneck Report: the world’s best biscuits ‘n gravy! There is this small breakfast café not far from our Lake Tahoe hotel that serves the most amazing biscuits and gravy. We have to share the news. This is not your usual snow white Elmer’s Glue-All style gravy. No, it’s dark, brooding and brown, just laden with enormous amounts of sausage and peppered to the max. Talk about porcine pleasure! If you go to Tahoe, you must check out the Driftwood Café. Go ahead and spring for the full size order for a buck more. You’ll be happy you did. 


Could this be the 007 of Wine?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

You tell me…we’re talking about the 2005 Shelter Cabernet that’s so top secret it’s source(s) has yet to be revealed.  Some are saying, “Great wines are the result of a collective effort to select, cultivate and literally harness in a bottle the best qualities of grape, vineyard, region and winemaker.” – This is the SHELTER Ideal. David Stevens (Shelter)

“Imagine pouring a bottle of Harlan Estate Cabernet into an empty bottle, slapping your favorite sticker on as a label, adding a cork, and blowing your fellow wine lovers away. This is not unlike the situation with the Shelter Napa Valley Cabernet. No, it doesn’t come from Harlan, but it comes pretty close! Only 137 Cases produced!!!  Fanatstic California Cult Cabernet”

I’d like to know the real story behind the Shelter Headwater Cabernet Sauvignon…who can tell me?

Buy it Now!

Cork vs. Screwcap?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Being in the wine business, this is a question I get asked on a daily basis and have had some difficulty responding to without adding more confusion to the consumer.  Whatever the end result, the cork has tradition and romance behind it and will be an industry challenge to change the perception of the screwcap in the eyes of the consumer.I’ve relied on these sources to help guide me:“TO CORK OR NOT TO CORK”, written by George M. Taber, author of Judgement of Paris – an in-depth review of the most controversial topic in the world of wine: What product should be used to seal a bottle? Should it be cork, plastic. glass, a screwcap, or some other type of closure still to be invented? – discusses the reasons for the shift and all other options currently available today.

For the environmental impact spin –

and then there’s the comprehensive summary of the key issues surrounding the debate –

All very interesting and much commonality.


Liparita 03 Cabernet Reserve

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

One of my favorite customers inquired regarding the Liparita ’03 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – I hadn’t even heard of Liparita so I set out to find out some information on it.  Liparita is a Napa Valley winery that produces wines as unique as the topography of the Napa Valley appellation they’re made.  The winery does not have any of the ’03 Reserve left, but I happened to run across a bottle last week and bought it on a whim.  First off, the label is very eye catching, nicely painted with what I believe are irises – very attractive.  The wine itself was full of black fruit flavors, some spice and cocoa or maybe espresso?  Very well balanced and smooth.  I think it retails for over $60, but it is possible to find it cheaper.

Dinner w/ the folks

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

We had dinner out Sunday night with the in-laws at this great little Italian place in Carpenteria called Gianfranco’s Trattoria.  This is a good place to go if you’re not in a hurry as they take their time.  We took along a bottle of the Fiddlehead 03 Pinot Noir 728 from the Fiddlestix vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills as well as a new Summerwood 05 Grenache we received that day in our club shipment.  We hadn’t expected to drink both bottles between the 4 of us, but like I said, we had some time to kill between courses.  The Fiddlehead was a nice accompanyment to our roasted beet salad – I had a small taste remaining when my main course of homemade gnoochi arrived.  The Grenache was good, not excellent, but a nice wine for dessert since the restaurant was OUT OF DESSERTS.  I’ve never heard of such a thing!  They said they ran out the day before, and I guess no one thought it might be a good idea to round some up for the Sunday night crowd – not sure I get the though process here.  Oh well a nice evening nonetheless.

Mixer at Lumar Jewelry

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Served wine at a mixer sponsored by Agents Magazine at Lumar Jewelry last night in Camarillo.  Lumar is owned by a pleasant gentlemen named Armando.  He had the event catered by Verona Trattoria Restaurant in Old Town Camarillo .  The menu consisted of fresh mozzarella and tomato caprese salad, beef carpaccio with arugula and capers, a grilled eggplant, sundried tomato and olive tart (no crust).  The wine poured was a perfect match with the TuTu Pinot Grigio that’s just the right balance between fruit, acidity and minerality to truly highlight the flavors of the food, the Palmina Barbera which is also a great food friendly wine that’s mouth-filling and refreshing, with a crisp acidity and pleasing finish of soft mocha-like tannins.  Topped the meal off with a big, bold Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz from the Barossa Valley – 93 Points from Robert Parker

X-Mas Paso Wine Tasting

Friday, February 1st, 2008

The day after Christmas we needed to run some errands for wine customers – picking up special request wines from local Paso Robles wineries – and decided to take in a few tastes along the way.  We would’nt normally stop at Eagle’s Castle to taste wine, but were there to pick up some of their ’03 Merlot for a customer and thought we’d at least try what they had.  I have to say, if you’ve never been to this winery, don’t bother – I wasn’t a fan of anything except maybe the Barbera which was for club members only due to the 150 case production.

Moving on, we cruised over to Lone Madrone/Stephen’s Cellar - a shared tasting room by both wineries whose winmakers are good friends.  Stephen’s Cellar focuses primarily on Pinot Noir which they do quite well for a burgundian-style. We tasted the 2004 which had aromas of dark cherries with some very subtle toasty oak in the background and a more medium-to-full-bodied style.  Under the Lone Madrone label we tried their Nebiollo which had loads of fruit on the nose, nice strawberry flavors mixed with some vanilla.  The unpleasantly named “Barfandel” which is a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Barbera which was a tasty mixture of fruit, cocoa and spicy oak.

The belle of the ball was when we headed over to Booker Vineyards for a private tasting with winemaker/owner Eric Jensen where we tasted some of the best Rhone varietals and blends made on the Central Coast.  Booker has been growing and selling fruit for awhile to the likes of Saxum and L’Aventure to name a couple, but 2005 was their first bottling with the Booker label.  We tasted their Fracture Syrah, Vertigo Syrah/Grenache blend (90/10), the Ripper Grenache/Syrah blend (90/10) , and the Remnant Syrah, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot blend before moving into the barrel tastings of their 2006 vintage.  All their wines, even their 2006’s in the barrel were fabulous, complex, velvety, dark ruby red, fruity, spicy and full-b0died.  The Ripper is a tough one to find these days as it’s sold out – I can’t wait for the next vintage to be released this Spring.   I’m holding onto my Ripper for as long as I can…or at least until someone offers me enough money for it :-)

Paso Robles Wine Tasting

Friday, February 1st, 2008

My family has this tradition of going wine tasting in Paso Robles, California the day after Thanksgiving.  We continued the tradition this year and I’ve included some tasting notes for you.

First stop was Pianetta Winery who’s very tastefully done tasting room is located right downtown Paso Robles on 13th Street.  Tasting was complimentary this day, which is always a pleasure.  Pianetta is a family farmed vineyard for the past several generations.  They produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Syrah and a Shiraz/Cab blend – we also tried what I believe was a Syrah Rose.  The Sangiovese stood out as the favorite among all the others.  It’s a concentrated wine with layers of ripe dark fruit, currant and cocoa.  The nose wasn’t immediately evident so the amount of flavors was quite a surprise.  The winery sells for $26 online.  Nothing else we tasted really made an impression, the Syrah was too bubblegum for me. 

Next stop was Edward Sellers where we’re never disappointed.  First tried the ’06 Blanc du Rhone which was crisp and refreshing, the ’04 Cuvee des Cinq which is the vintage we have here in the store – one of my faves, althou gh a little pricey.  The ’05 vintage has also been released.  Tried the ’06 Viognier and wasn’t all that impressed, this one was a bit more flat and lacks the character of the ’05 vintage which I think is great.  Had the ’05 Le Thief which was part of their Fall club shipment as well as the Syrah Selectionne, Vertigo which is a GSM blend (predominantly Grenache) – The Selectionne is outstanding with loads of jammy fruit (from 6 different vineyards). The Vertigo is a gorgeous Rhone blend with a smooth and silky mouthfeel, a nice mid-palate and long finish in this European-styled wine. 

1998 Screaming Eagle

Friday, February 1st, 2008

We had an iteresting experience over the weekend.  We went to a party in San Diego for our brother-in-laws (Clint) birthday.  His brother (Justin) was the host and he asked us to pick out some nice wine to bring.  We took lots of good stuff and as most partys go, people brought some other wines to share.  Most of these wines were odd ball, lower end things and for the crowd I wouldn’t expect any high end wine.  But funny enough as I was looking through them I stumbled upon a Screaming Eagle.  I was dumbfounded and wasn’t sure what to do, (I am sure that you are saying “Drink it”) but I wasn’t even sure that it was actually Screaming Eagle.  I looked closer and sure enough it was a 1998 Screaming Eagle from Napa.  I immediatey went to find Clint.  I showed him and said that he should have is brother remove it from the general wine population so that it didn’t get drank unknowingly.  He quickly looked it up on Google to find that it is a $2200 bottle.  We were agast, Justin soon found out who brought it.  To our supprise the owner didn’t know what he had and said that he had gotten as a gift from Dr. Dre (the rapper) as a thank you for some computer work.  We all decided that he should take the bottle back which he did.  I am somewhat disappointed because I really would have liked to try it but, I am sure that my Karma has increased for doing the right thing. 

 But if any of you would like to share a 1998 Screaming Eagle, Please let me know.  ;-)