Bellamy Young as Mellie Grant, courtesy ABC
Actor Bellamy Young has been a journeyman actor most of her life – you may remember her as Ellen Darling in Dirty, Sexy Money. But she’s nabbed a fun role as the scheming, perfect First Lady Mellie Grant in ABC’s Scandal (airing Thursday nights at 10 p.m.). It’s a fun role, and as Young puts it, Mellie’s one of those characters who’s been trained to serve the people.
Young also had a great question for us.
“I just threw a friend a baby shower,” she said. “And we had extra champagne because we had a lot of pregnant people and driving mommies. We well-stocked everything. Can champagne that has been chilled go back to room temperature and then be chilled again? Or do you have to keep it cold once it’s cold?”
It was a very nice shower, apparently. Alas, however, the bottles were still in Ms. Young’s fridge and she needed to put other things in there.
It is true that sudden and frequent temperature changes are not that good for wine, and if the champagne Ms. Young was talking about was an old vintage champagne, we might suggest some extra care in its handling.
However, this was not the case, and the situation Ms. Young was talking about is one we’ve found ourselves in any number of times. Well, not the shower part, but having cooled down more bubbly than was needed for the party or event. And we’ve put the unopened bottles right back into the nano-cellar at home, then chilled the bottles singly as we got around to drinking them. Bubbly does not tend to last long at the old homestead.
You don’t want to open the bottles then put them away. Open bottles should be kept cold and drunk as soon as possible. But it’s perfectly okay to take unopened bottles of bubbly – or any wine – out of the fridge and put them away in your favorite storage spot, preferably one that’s rather dark and keeps a reasonably even, coolish temperature, like a closet or a pantry. Then you can chill them again, as needed, and enjoy.
Everson Royce's main floor
We were aghast, horrified, really sad when Heritage Wine Company in Old Town Pasadena, California, suddenly closed its doors for good last winter. Anne’s mom got turned onto sparkling Vouvray at that store – which goes to show just how important a good wine merchant can be.
Which is also why we’re quite pleased with the wine store that has opened in that space – Everson Royce. Actually, the ironically named Everson Royce, since the store is named after the 2-year-old twins sons of co-owners and life partners April Langford and Randy Clement, who own this store and Silver Lake Wine with George Cossette. Nothing like being seriously underage and having a wine store named after you.
We met up with Langford anonymously recently – we don’t want to get any favors – and she told us that she, Clement and Cossette had been wanting to expand for years and grabbed the Pasadena space as soon as things went south with Heritage.
The rose selection is great!
This is going to be a fave stop for us. It has all the hallmarks of a really good wine store. They’re focused on small production wineries, the folks you are not going to see in grocery stores and few other places. At the same time, there’s quite a breadth of offerings from all over the world and at all price points. And they are people-oriented. April was exceedingly helpful and caught on almost immediately to our price point, never pushed us beyond it, and while we didn’t ask for advice about what bottle to buy (which we should have, oops), she was very knowledgeable and was able to answer all our questions.
The selections are a really good mix of French burgundies, California pinot noirs and chardonnays, French reds and whites from Bordeaux, Italian and German offerings plus a wide selection of rosés – one of our faves – and sparkling wines from Champagne and elsewhere in the world of bubblies. There are spirits as well from smaller producers and many are artistinal.
If you’re not in the Pasadena area, you’ll want to find a wine store like this. You don’t need some snob putting down your fave wine columnist – as happened to Anne once – and pushing you towards bottles that you can’t afford. You do want a lot of different options and a store that has a good sense of who they are and what they have to sell.
If you are within reach of Pasadena, then definitely give Everson Royce a try. They’re Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday – Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. There’s free 90-minute parking in the public garage next door to the store at 155 N. Raymond Avenue – they’re just north of The Amory art center and just across the park from the Memorial Park Gold Line station. You can call them at 626-765-9334 for their tasting schedule as well. Tastings are Tuesday and Friday, 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m.
Anne here. Normally, we write as if Mike and I are both in on the composition of the piece, which is why it’s always we, then Mike or I in the third person. However, this was kind of a personal thing, and Mike will be commenting below in his own voice.
We were lucky enough to attend the Pasadena Pinot Fest earlier this year (sorry, but the day job got in the way of actually covering it here). Anyway, something happened to me that I found really, really interesting.
As some of you may already know, I have a funny kind of palate. Yes, I know a lot about wine. I know what I like and what I don’t like. But when I smell a glass of wine or taste it, what I smell and taste is pretty much wine. If I’m smelling, say, grapefruit in a glass of sauvignon blanc, it’s because the grapefruit is really, really strong.
I’m also very sensitive to sour (acid) and bitter flavors. Mike and I joke that I’m a good test strip for his homemade wines because I can smell and taste the flaws before anyone else can.
Which made the pinot tasting last spring interesting. For the first part of the tasting, all of the pinots had an almost nasty, bitter, tannic bite at the back of my palate. And I’m thinking what is this? Because these were some of the best pinot noirs on the planet and something just didn’t taste right.
But then I got some of the lovely cured meats they had for sampling and tasted one of the nastier wines with it. It was completely and utterly different. All that harsh nastiness completely smoothed out and the wine was all but transcendental.
Checking out a wine with some food isn’t going to help a bad wine, but sometimes you might not want to rush to judgement. That’s one of the reasons Mike and I used to bring Pepperidge Farms Goldfish crackers with us when we’d go up to the Santa Ynez Valley or Paso Robles and winery hop. So if something tastes good in one part of your mouth, then not so good in another (I know, not a lot of real estate to deal with, but it’s possible), try it with a bit of cheese or sausage. It might change things and then you know you’ll want to serve that bottle with some food. Or it might not.
Ditto to above.
Ok, maybe a bit more commentary is appropriate. As you taste more wines over time, your individual palate will develop into a good judge for a wine’s role in your life. But let’s clear about something. If a wine doesn’t smell right, it really won’t matter what it’s tasting like because you’re not going to put it in your mouth unless you’re one of those people who truly enjoy stinky cheese.
Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills near Lompoc expressed it this way: If you like the smell, put in your mouth. If you like the taste, it’s okay to swallow it. Repeat.
I’m paraphrasing here but you get the idea. I’m not sure a food can cover up a bad smelling wine but sometimes some exposure to air will blow off whatever is causing the smell. Everyone’s palate is different and that’s a good thing. Some people might find the combination of chocolate and bacon to be weird. But I’ll take that over chocolate and asparagus. Some foods are not meant to be soulmates.
Truth be told, the point of this blind tasting was to outfox some of our friends. Why not? As noted in our previous post, those of you with less experience are often more likely to guess what’s what than those of us who “know.” So we had our guests pick the French chardonnay from the two Californians.
When it comes to learning about wine, the important thing to remember is that it’s about accumulating knowledge for the sheer joy and interest of it. It’s not about showing off to your friends how much better a palate you have than they do. It’s not about how much you pay. In fact, there are some very tasty wines that don’t cost much at all, which is why you see that bottle of Charles Shaw Chardonnay to the left there.
We asked everyone to pick a favorite, but we also asked if everyone liked what they were tasting. Now, admittedly, somebody may have been being nice, but everyone said they liked all the wines. Which means they liked the Two-Buck Chuck. As we have said many times before and will say again, if you didn’t know you were drinking Charles Shaw, you’d probably like it. You wouldn’t say it’s the best wine you’ve ever drunk – and we’ve tasted some chards that blow Two-Buck out of the water and then some. But you would like it a lot more than you’d think and would probably find it a perfectly acceptable table wine for everyday drinking.
It was the wine in the bag labeled Number One that most of you picked as French. It wasn’t, but you did pick up on a couple characteristics that would normally point you in that direction, so pat yourself on the back if you did. It was one of the lighter wines (one of our guests said it had a rather flat taste), and it also had a bit of a funk on it that Anne often associates with French wines.
Gen 5 2010 Chardonnay:
This one is from Lodi, California. The thing about chardonnays from Lodi is they tend to made in that very French style and can have a distinctive funk about them, which this one did. Mike also got peach and melon flavors, some nice acids and moderate oak influence, with a touch of lemon at the back. Very good finish, which means it didn’t bite back at all as we swallowed.
The Two-Buck was hiding in the Number Two bag. Almost no one picked it as the French – which means its Californian style stands out, but it was certainly the most popular, with about half our guests tagging it as their fave..
Charles Shaw 2010 Chardonnay:
The nose was very fruity and has some oak. The mouthfeel was rich and fat – good for a sipping wine. The flavors were white grape, melon and a little apple, with a slight touch of sweetness at the end. The finish was decent – and it’s pretty typically where Two-Buck falls down as a wine.
And lastly, the 2009 Emile Chandesais Bourgogne Chardonnay
The nose was very subtle not fruity. The acids were crisp. The mouthfeel was medium and balanced. There was some citrus and a hint of minerals or salinity in the flavor. It is one of those wines that would go well with some unusual sounding pairings such as salted caramel.
The Charles Shaw chardonnay can be found at Trader Joe’s. The Gen5 and the Emile Chandesais can be purchased at BevMo are part of their 5 cent sale right now.
Yes, it’s time for another fun tasting event at Webster’s Fine Stationers in Altadena, CA. We’ll be there at 4:30 p.m. with one of our favorite St. Patrick’s Day wines – Sláinte, from Irish Family Vineyards in Vallecito, California. It’s techincally a white blend, but Russ Irish adds a little green dye for the fun of it.
But wait – there’s more. Anne will join Petrea Burchard for a lively reading of some bits of Irish literature – something Anne hasn’t done in a long time, so she’s really looking forward to it.
But wait again, there is still more! We’ll also be featuring a blind tasting of some chardonnays, where you get to figure out where they came from.
So why do blind tastings? Isn’t all that business about tasting and discerning the varietal down to the vintage and vineyard a bunch of hooey? It is, but that doesn’t mean blind tastings aren’t fun. And there’s another good reason for trying wines without knowing what you’re drinking – you can focus on the wine, itself, without the usual preconceived notions of what makes a wine good getting in the way. You know, things like the bottle’s price tag – which affects us more than we think it does – or where it’s from. After all, French wine must be better than Californian. Or Californian must be better than French wine.
Trust us, with the ever-expanding range of styles and varieties out there, it doesn’t hurt to train your palate to look for certain things, not so you can go lording it over your friends, but so you can identify what it is you like and don’t like.
Nor should you feel bad about not knowing a lot about different wines and their styles. As we found out at a recent blind tasting, sometimes knowing a lot can get you more messed up than just simply guessing.
Webster’s will be open until 8 p.m. There will be a showing of art by a local artist. And there will be wine and corned beef. And lots and lots of fun.
Dena Drews at work, courtesy Amalie Robert Estate
It was a pretty basic interview Anne was doing with Lisa Rigisich regarding the recent Pinot Days Los Angeles festival that happened at the end of January. Rigisich asked us to help Dena Drews and Ernie Pink pour wine from their winery Amalie Robert Estate at the festival.
Like we were going to say no. But not only did we get a chance to pour some insanely gorgeous pinots with Dena, and learned a lot about what they’re doing with their wines, we got to know Dena, especially, and just loved her passion.
She and Ernie started their winery back in 1999. Both were working in the technical industry – Dena was a software consultant and getting pretty tired of getting on a plane to go to work.
They found land in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and planted the vineyard, finishing in April 2000. They started building their winery in February 2006, and it was ready just in time for their first estate crush in October of that same year. They grow mostly pinot noir on their 40 acres, but also have some chardonnay, pinot meunier, syrah, and viognier.
Ernie Pink and the good soil that grows their wine
Ernie also gave us one of the better answers we’ve heard when we asked why people should learn about wine.
“An educated consumer is a better consumer,” he said. “If you know what you’re drinking and why it is what it is, you can have a better appreciation for it or you can know that it’s not my style and why it’s not my style. Why other people get it is beyond me, but it’s not for me. Or vice versa. I really like the depth, I like the acidity. I like the way this pairs with duck confit. and I know why. I know there’s whole clusters in this. I know the barrel regime. I know these guys – they really manage the field. I understand what they do and why it’s done that way. People who understand those things can better appreciate the wines that they’re trying.”
So, while you don’t need to know everything about how a wine is made, it does help when you’re perusing that massive row of wines at the supermarket to know that if a wine is made in a similar style to something you know you like, you’ll stand a better chance of finding something tasty to drink. And that’s ultimately what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Maybe it was the fact that John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter were writing their wine column for the Wall Street Journal, rather than a specific wine magazine. Maybe it’s the fact that Brecher and Gaiter, a husband and wife team, were (and still are) not snobs about wine and were totally into making it as approachable as possible, all the while sharing their special love story with us. Or maybe it was simply that they touched a nerve, when they first suggested Open That Bottle Night in the late 1990s.
The idea is to open a significant bottle – generally the one you’ve been saving for That Special Occasion, and yet no occasion special enough has yet occurred. Truth be told, that’s not generally an issue in our household. But for many wine lovers, one does tend to accumulate bottles and one does tend to save one or two really special ones to be opened when the time is right. Alas, too often the right time comes after the wine has oxidized and otherwise gone bad.
Brecher and Gaiter retired their popular column on December 26, 2009, but Open That Bottle Night, which officially became the last Saturday in February in 2000, seems to be living on. Several blogs and newspaper articles this week popped up encouraging the event. Apparently, there’s even a few charity fundraisers based on it. We say hooray! Aside from being massive fans of Gaiter and Brecher – who proved you could have good taste and still be open to something less expensive – we love the entire concept of finding a meaningful bottle and making a point of opening it.
Now, if you’re new to wine, chances are you don’t have any bottles that have been hanging around waiting for just the right Special Occasion to open. That does not mean you can’t participate. Why not make your special bottle a wine you’ve never tried before? Maybe you’ve never had the nerve to go to a wine store and buy something costing $20 or more. Maybe you’ve heard of oddballgrapes like negrette and wanted to try it, but never had the right time or occasion. Or maybe there was a bottle you drank on your first date with your beloved. Or maybe there is a bottle in your closet – a wine you picked up on your first time to wine country tasting wines.
Saturday night is the night to do open it and share your experiences, either here or on some other blog. But do share them. Wine is a wonderful thing and what makes it even better is the sharing.
We’re not sure what we’re opening – haven’t figure out what dinner will be (and that is an important first step). We are looking forward to a special dinner – and if we open what Mike suggested earlier this week – a great movie, too. Wine makes dinner special and sometimes you just need a good excuse to enjoy something out of the ordinary.
Event organizer Mike Farwell, of Noir, chatting and enjoying pinot noir
As grand tastings go, this was a relatively small one, with less than 100 wineries represented. But what it lacked in size, it made up for in elegance. And we also discovered another fun story in Phantom Rivers winery – four guys who made wine at home got drunk one night and decided to go pro together. Can’t wait to do that profile, although if we’re going to interview the whole crew, we think we’re going to have to go out there.
A big shout out to Mike Farwell and his crew for a wonderfully run event and successful enough that the only thing marring it were the cramped quarters at the Altadena Country Club. Farwell is one of the co-owners of Noir Food & Wine, in Pasadena.
Aside from the fact that there were some truly amazing wines featured, Anne discovered something interesting. When tasting the wine by itself, more often than not, what hit her palate were the tannins and some roughness in the back of her mouth. But as soon as she nibbled on some of the wonderful cured meats from Noir, or the cheeses from The Cheese Store of Pasadena, then drank some wine, everything smoothed out.
The lesson learned is that wine is all about the food. Not every food goes with every wine, but it’s not that big a deal. There are light pinots that do very nicely with fish – Mike enjoyed an Alma Rosa pinot noir a couple years back with a bit of salmon and it was so good, he almost cried. White sparkling wines go with just about any meats, including heavy beef. As long as it’s something within the same flavor range, you’re probably going to be okay.
Think about how flavors match each other. If you have pancakes and maple syrup, then drink some orange juice, the juice is going to taste extra sour in comparison to the sweet syrup. Whereas if you nibble a nice sharp cheese, then eat a bit of sweet apple with it, the flavors complement each other and actually taste better together.
It’s the same thing with wine. Wine is a combination of light acid flavors and fruit. If you’re drinking a wine that has a little more acid in it, such as a pinot noir and trying to nibble a more acidic cheese, such as an aged Vermont cheddar, the acids in the cheese and the wine are going to fight each other and taste icky. But if you’re eating a more buttery cheese, like a triple creme Brie or mild, nutty manchego, then the acids and fruitiness of the wine are going complement the cheese and the two together will be like a small symphony in your mouth. Both flavors combine to taste better together than by themselves, a reality Anne found particularly intense with the wines.
But then Anne overheard one man telling (no, ordering) a couple young women to not drink the wine with the cheese – that it would mess up the wine. But these cheeses were chosen to go with pinot noir and did very well with the wine.
Which actually is another lesson to be learned – the more someone starts pontificating about wine, the less reason there is to listen to him/her. There are no absolutes in the wine world except one – the wine you like is a good wine, and no one, but no one, should tell you otherwise or make you feel judged (which is what happens when folks act like they know more about wine than you do) because of what you like to drink.
What a fun time we had last Friday night with our good friends, Lori and Scott Webster at their store, Webster’s Fine Stationers, in Altadena. Not only did we have three wonderful bubblies to try, Lori provided us with some amazing chocolates to go with them. And we had poetry from Aldonia Bailey and several of her friends and students.
But mostly, we had sparkling wine, aka bubblies. These were not champagnes because the wines are not from the Champagne region of France, and yes, we’re being a little anal about that. Well, heck, if you’re going to try to get it right. Anyway, all three of our bottles came from our local BevMo! (currently in the throes of another 5 cent sale – buy one, get the second for 5 cents). The only problem with that is BevMo! does tend to sell out rather quickly.
Campo Viejo Cava Brut Rosé
Type: Pink Bubbly
What makes it special: Dry Spanish bubbles
Plays well with: Cheese, meats, soups – it’s bubblyA brut rosé is a wine that has had a few hours of contact with the grape skins after the grapes were crushed at harvest. All grape juice is white – red and pink wines get their color from the skins of the red varieties. There can be more fruity aroma and flavors in a pink wine, but to keep it refreshing and light, the winemaker needs to press the juice before too much color is extracted from the skins.
The Campo Viejo has a dry nose, light fruit and good acids on the taste and finishes very nicely into bubbles at the back of the mouth.
Campo Viejo Brut Reserva
Type: White bubbly
What makes it special: Spanish bubbly made in the traditional French style
Plays well with: Anything – bubbly is the perfect drink because it goes with just about any food.Methode Champenoise is the process of making a sparkling wine in which the wine goes through a second fermentation under pressure (usually in the bottle) to create those little pinpoint bubbles we bubbly fanatics just love.
The Campo Viejo cava has a dry taste with a clean nose. Some bubblies can have yeast, bread or toast in the aroma. Not here. The flavor is bright with the just right balance of acids to taste crisp and refreshing. Serve it cold with anything you want – sweet, savory, spicy, fruity, salty – this wine can do it all.
Dolce Vita Prosecco
Type: Italian bubbly
What makes it special: A traditional Italian party wine
Plays well with: Just about anything, as well, but it did really nicely with the dark, rich chocolate.
This is a different prosecco than we’ve featured in the past. Most proseccos are sweet, with some being sweeter than others. This is a dry prosecco meaning there is no sweetness in the taste. It’s dry like a good French bubbly but not as complex. Nice acids and lightness in the bubbles unlike most sweet sparkling wines. A very good wine for the dollar and not typical of prosecco at all. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Winemakers at last year's Pinot Fest, courtesy festival organizers
Yes, it’s another Grand Tasting Festival for the pinot noir grape, but this time it’s happening in our backyard, at the Altadena Country Club.
It’s the Pasadena Pinot Fest, from 1 to 5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 11. You can go to the site www.PasadenaPinotFest.com to get tickets and more specifics, but it’s looking like it’s going to be a good one.
We had to ask Mike Farwell, one of the festival founders, just what is it about pinot noir that gets folks not only so excited, but why they get so geeky about it.
Farwell is somebody to ask, too. He not only started the festival by having tastings out of his own huge collection of pinot noirs (including quite a few Burgundies – the French region where the grape is grown), he’s one of the co-owners of Noir, in Pasadena, a wine bar and restaurant dedicated to the wine.
“Pinot noir is, by far, the most aromatic wine grape,” Farwell said. “There is no wine grape that rivals it in complexity. It has so many ways that it expresses itself. Sometimes it’s really intense, sometimes it’s really delicate. No other grape has that. No other grape comes close. It’s the perfect grape.”
But what about all the clones (which are what it sounds like, different clones of the same variety, cloned to get slightly different results)? Farwell agrees that might be going a bit.
“It’s kind of fun, but it’s a little unnecessary,” he said.
With around 200 wineries represented at the festival, Farwell does recommend taking it a little slowly.
“I think if you don’t drink everything, it can be much more interesting experience,” he said.
He recommends spitting and drinking lots and lots of water. And don’t feel like you have to try wines from every table. In fact, Farwell suggested making a list of the wineries you like and try them.
We’d like to amend that – not because we disagree. But one of the values of a festival like this is that you can try wines from wineries you wouldn’t ordinarily try, such wines from out of state or from wineries you’ve never heard of before. It’s not going to cost you any more or less, so it’s the perfect time to try something new.
We’ll be there, though only to try wines ourselves and figure out who we’re going to feature next.
So if you do go and find a winery that you want to know more about, be sure to comment below.