Weekend at Webster’s – BBQ Style Tasting

We had the immense pleasure of doing a talk and tasting at one of our local businesses – Webster’s Fine Stationers, in Altadena, CA, the other night.  If you were there, you know what a great time we had.

But more to the point, we also got to taste some great wines, courtesy of Webster’s Liquors (they and the Fine Stationers make up the family-owned Webster’s Village, on North Lake Avenue in Altadena).  The other part of the venture was to look at what wines go well with BBQ foods.

Pairing wine with the kinds of foods that turn up at your traditional holiday grill fest can be tricky because many wines don’t taste that good with ketchup, relish and BBQ sauce – it’s that sweet thing fighting with the acids in the wine, kind of like tasting some orange juice right after a big mouthful of pancake with maple syrup – blech!

But there are several wines that do very nicely with ‘Q, and we came up with eight of them.  For those of you who asked for the list, here ’tis, with a couple notes on why we liked them and why they seemed to work with the foods that were paired with them.

However, we do want to offer a couple quick shout outs to the food providers – Bonnie B’s Smoking BBQ Heaven and Amy’s Patio Café.  The food was great – which didn’t hurt the wine any!

And here they are:

Stella Di Notte Prosecco

This is a non-vintage Italian sparkling wine.  Most proseccos are on the sweet side, which is one of the reasons we picked it.  Not only do bubblies, in general, go with just about anything, a slightly sweet one is particularly good with sweet sauces.  Turns out, this one ain’t that sweet.  It smelled of berries in the nose and tasted likewise the mouth, or in other words, very light and tasty.  We paired this with popcorn, because popcorn goes with all wines.

Freixenet Brut Cava

This is the only supermarket wine we picked, but we wanted to highlight this Spanish sparkler for two reasons – one, it’s a dry bubbly, closer to what traditional Champagne is, and two, it’s pretty accessible and tasty.  We paired it with carrots and ranch dressing, the bubbly mixing well with the slightly sweet carrots, but still cutting through the fat of the ranch dressing.

Pacific Rim 2007 Gewurztraminer

Most gewurztraminers are pretty sweet, which is a good thing if spicy is a major part of your menu.  This one is out of Washington state, with a 1.7 percent residual sugar (as in really sweet), but it doesn’t taste that way.  The folks at the tasting all screamed Thai food.  We served it with hot links, which made Anne cry, but then Anne is a notorious weenie.

Pacific Rim 2007 Dry Riesling

Rieslings are also pretty sweet – and sweet does foil the burn of spicy foods, which is why rieslings are another good foil for Thai and Eastern Indian cuisine.  But this riesling was fermented until it was dry – as in the yeasts ate up all the sugars and didn’t leave any behind.  Mike also pulled up a hint of the traditional kerosene note that rieslings are known for.  But, hey, if you use lighter fluid to grill those hot dogs, you’ve got your match.  By the way, the kerosene wasn’t all that strong and the wine certainly didn’t taste that way.  In fact, it tasted pretty darned good with the hot dogs.

The Crusher 2007 Viognier

We got a small flutter of controversy with this one.  Most of the guests were chowing down on the BBQ chicken wings and crying out how good the wine and the chicken were together (and viognier’s flowery smell and dry, but almost sweet taste, do work well here). The viognier also had the remarkable ability to change flavors over the two hours of the tasting. Mike had detected brown spices similar to those used in hot dogs! But we had one guest, in particular, who tried the wine and said, “You know, I just don’t like viognier.”  That might not sound like a triumph, but to us, it was major.  Not everyone has to like everything and the whole point of a tasting like this is to try things and decide what you do and don’t like.  As opposed to running after that naked emperor just because the folks leading the event are.

The Spanish Quarter, 2006

A basic red wine made from 55 percent cabernet sauvignon and 45 percent tempranillo (the work horse grape of Spanish wines), this was the one wine that shouldn’t have done well.  It’s a more traditional dry red.  Tempranillo also has a distincitve nose of sweet tobacco and herbs, which actually tastes better than it sounds.  We paired the wine with sliders with blue cheese.  OMFG!  Yummy.  Okay, we also had the second controversy of the night.  We’d been told that these were vegan sliders.  But they were, in fact, turkey.  And the wine was light enough, you could probably have served them with the ribs.

OZV, Old Zin Vines, 2005 Lodi Zinfandel

Just so you know, Anne does not like zinfandel.  She believes jam belongs on toast, not in her glass.  Mike loves zin.  And we both agree, this one is a great barbecue wine.  There’s enough fruit – berries especially – to handle the sweet sauces and enough backbone to either be served alone or with some of the magnificent ribs we had.

Moss Roxx, 2005, Old Vines Lodi Zinfandel

This is a more traditional, in your face, zinfandel.  But again, serve it with ribs, and you’ve got something special.  Although, truth be told, the crowd was split.  Some thought the OZV made the better “cocktail” wine – or wine you serve by itself. The blackberry flavor and the spicy sensation of ground black pepper at the back of the palate in the Moss Roxx was a showstopper for Mike. BTW, this was the most expensive wine of the night, and the only one over $20.

Lesson learned – there are wines that go with BBQ.  And by the end of the night, no one’s that worried about what goes with what.  They’re just happy to have good friends and good wine.

Maddalena 2008 Sauvignon Blanc


Courtesy San Antonio Winery


The Maddalena 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, from San Antonio Winery in Los Angeles, is a perfect example of what former Wall Street Journal wine columnists John Brecher and Dorothy Gaither used to call a summer gulper – the sort of wine that you pour while making dinner to quench your thirst after a long, hard slog in the salt mines.

The color was very, very light, practically clear.  The nose was the weird part.  Some folks in the wine trade call it gooseberry, some call it cat box (although, trust us, it does not smell anything like the boxes our cats use).  Either way, Michael caught a light trace of it, along with some lichee nut.

The gooseberry and the lichee, in particular, followed through in the taste.  Otherwise, it had a nice, light body and mouthfeel, even though it was bone dry.  The acids were nice and crisp, think biting into a green apple, then tasting a touch of minerals.  Again, it’s a summer wine you want to drink with, say, some light, mild cheeses and crackers while you figure out what you’re going to do with those still-frozen chicken breasts.

You can find it and more information about the winery at San Antonio Winery’s website, www. sanantoniowinery.com

What If All I Smell/Taste is Wine?

Last weekend, while at a dinner with colleagues, we came up against a common dilemma for a lot of folks.  Namely, when they taste wine, all they taste is wine.  They don’t smell or taste all the berries, fruit, tannins, whatever, that wine writers love to wax eloquent over (including us, sometimes).

First up, Anne is one of those folks, and while she chooses to be impressed by Michael’s ability, she certainly understands why others feel intimidated or even that they’re not “wine” people.

Balderdash, we say.  You can still enjoy wine even if you can’t pull out essence of tobacco, strawberry or even cat box/gooseberry.  Because the real question to ask about any wine is not what “should” I be tasting, but do I like it?  Does it taste good?

This became an issue on Anne’s FoodWine email group recently.  Several of her wine-savvy friends were complaining about being at a tasting and having the wine maker telling them what they “should” be tasting.  They wanted to make up their own minds, and we totally agree with that, especially since Anne isn’t going to taste it, anyway.

So where do wine reviews come in?  Well, that’s going to depend on the individual reviewer.  But in this blog’s case, the goal is to tell you what we found in the wine so that you can make up your own mind.  We use the traditional language because that’s how anyone communicates.  And we don’t write about wines we don’t like.  We might, in the future, if there’s some trend coming down the road and it’s reflected in something we recently tried.  But almost exclusively, if a wine is featured on the site, it’s because we liked it.

Nor do we expect you to like everything we do.  That’s the other reason for the descriptive language we use – it’s a way for you to determine whether you’ll like, say, a given sauvignon blanc.  If you don’t like the taste of grapefruit – or wines that are often described as having the taste of grapefruit – then you know when we write that wine XYZ has a fair amount of grapefruit that you’re better off skipping that one.  Or maybe it’s the reverse – you love wines described as having grapefruit – so you’ll try to find that wine or buy it from the winery because we’ve given you a hint that you might like this one.

So do not let anyone imply you don’t know wine or smirk at you because you’re drinking what you like or because all you smell is wine.  Snobs are ultimately trapped by their own prejudices.  And they’re also the ones paying lots of money when they could get equally good, and sometimes even better, wines for a lot less.  It’s your glass, dammit.  You’re the one who gets to decide what goes in it.

TAPAS Round Up


Courtesy TAPAS



Courtesy TAPAS

Okay, so it took us a few days to recover, find the interviews and generally think about things, but here it is.

This is the third year for the Grand Tasting by the winemaker members of Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society.  So this is actually a rather small gathering, as these things go.  There were 40 wineries represented, many by the winemakers and owners, themselves, all spread out through the Herbst Pavilion at the Fort Mason Conference Center in San Francisco on Saturday, June 5.

Anne talked briefly with TAPAS Executive Director Heidi Stine as things got going and got the attendance numbers: 1200 people, including trade and consumers.

“It’s double from last year and we’ve exceeded our numbers,” Stine said.

But even though it is comparatively small, it’s no mean feat to get something like this up and rolling, especially with wines that are not very well known, such as tempranillo and albarino and other grapes from the Iberian peninsula (aka Spain and Portugal).  In fact, Stine said the toughest part was letting folks know about the event.

“I think [it’s] getting the word out, so that you can get people to attend,” Stine said.  “That they come and try the wine, because we’re kind of a niche market with Iberians.”

The tasting was held in two phases, with trade (folks who own restaurants and stores, and, okay, us media folk) getting a couple hours before the consumers came in.  This doesn’t sound very fair on the face of it, but in a way, it is.  Trade folk are tasting to see what they want to stock in their respective restaurants and stores and so they’re tasting with a serious purpose.  So giving them a couple hours to taste in a relatively uncrowded room shows the wines off to their best advantage.  Which means a greater likelihood that you’ll be able to find a nice tempranillo or albarino at your local wine store or bistro.

And we hope you do because tempranillo and albarino are great wines – very versatile and perfect for summer drinking.  The tempranillo is a red grape and it can be on the tannic side – that really dry feeling you get on your teeth and on the back of your palate.  That usually means the wine can be saved for a few more years, rather than being drunk when it’s released.  Albarino is a white grape that makes a crisp, almost tangy wine that plays especially well with grilled seafood.  Actually, both are great food wines.


Courtesy TAPAS

Some of the other highlights of the day were the foods.  There was a ginormous cheese plate, two caterers sharing their tapas goodies and a massive paella.  Folks were standing in line for hours waiting to get their little platefuls, and we must say, it was pretty darned tasty, especially with a couple tempranillo roses.


We’ll be scattering tasting notes and interviews throughout the next few months – in between the Hospice du Rhone and Family Winemaker and Pinot Days results, plus our own visits and whatever else comes up.

TAPAS Tasting Pour

Forty-two wineries, almost 1200 attendees, amazing wines, and paella in one of the biggest-assed pans you’ll ever want to see – like four feet in diameter big.

This was the Grand Tasting for the Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society, held over this past weekend – and we were there!

Which means our next post will not be up until Wednesday, at the soonest.  We need to recover.

But what fun.  It was a great weekend catching up with a couple of our fave producers and friends from Twisted Oak and Coral Mustang, tasting some fabulous wines and waiting in line for paella.

Check in later this week for more details.

San Antonio Winery – Weeknight Respite



San Antonio Winery

We had been wanting to drop in on the San Antonio Winery for years, and just about a year ago, we joined some of our wine-making buddies on a special tour of the place and fell in love.


San Antonio Winery is one of those little treasures in Los Angeles that reminds us this place actually had a history before oil and Hollywood.  While the winery, itself, was founded in 1917, it was one of hundreds in the area, most of which failed during the 1920s and Prohibition.  San Antonio hung on by making sacramental wine for the local Catholic churches – something it still does even to this day.


Stefano Riboli at work

When they started, there were actually vineyards in L.A.  Now, the winery sources its grapes from all over the state, including Napa, Paso Robles and Monterey and makes wines under a whole bunch of different labels, probably to get past the bad jug wine rep that was the larger part of their business during the bad ol’ days during the middle of the last century.

They haven’t given up on the jug wines – some of which, while sweet, are pretty tasty.  But their more upscale (for lack of a better term) offerings are very nice, indeed.  And the place is still owned by the family that founded it.  Santo Riboli is no longer alive, but his nephew Stefano (aka Steve) Riboli is still around and working with his sons and grandsons.  Michael Riboli has been taking the winery to new heights with some pretty impressive marketing and Anthony Riboli works with another winemaker to make th.

The best part for us, though, is that the winery is a hop, skip and a jump from Michael’s place of employment in downtown Los Angeles.  We stopped in after work one afternoon and what fun.  Stefano was holding court, along with several employees, making sure we got all of his favorites, even apart from the approved tasting menu.

The winery does have a restaurant there, but they’re only open ’til 7 p.m.  Lunch is clearly their busy time and the food we had there a year ago was pretty tasty – even if we can’t remember what we ate.  Check them out at www.sanantoniowinery.com.