Local Hot Spot and Why Drink Wine by the Glass

Laurent Perrier Champagne - great stuff!
Laurent Perrier Champagne – great stuff!

It’s seriously too bad that French Wine Week, as celebrated around the world by Sofitel, the French hotel chain, happened in the middle of the Fall TV Season Premiere Week. With up to four shows premiering a night for two solid weeks, let’s just say Anne really needed a happy hour break. So when we were invited to the newly renovated Riviera 31 bar at Sofitel Los Angeles (just across the Beverly Center on Beverly Boulevard) by the bar’s management, we went. Happily. It’s just that Anne was too busy writing reviews during that time to report back here.

But we had a lovely, lovely time and were reminded of a significant lesson in the world of wine.

foodriviera

The nice folks at Riviera 31 are working on making this quite the destination for a fun post-work drink and/or evening out. The bar, which has been newly renovated and is quite plush, with lots of comfy chairs and sofas, is featuring live entertainment most nights of the week. They have a special hors-d’oeuvres menu, including some lovely short rib sliders, for $8, and a dish of olives with pitas for $3. The wines are still running between $6 to $12 a glass.

Now, wine snobs will tell you that the last thing you want to do is buy wine by the glass, and in many cases, we’d have to agree. See, the problem is that once a bottle is opened, oxygen gets into it and starts reacting with the wine. When it’s the bottle you’ve just opened to go with your dinner, this is a good thing. All those nice smells called “The Nose” start floating into all that oxygen and you smell it as you drink and it’s yummy. It’s just not so yummy when all those smells have dissipated after hours and hours of being open and now the oxygen is reacting with the other flavor elements in the wine and it starts tasting all pruney and sweet and off. This is often what happens, mostly to red wines, at bars where they don’t know how to take care of their wines and aren’t selling a lot of it.

But at bars and restaurants where wine is a major feature and they’re obviously selling a lot of it, it’s a lot safer to buy wine by the glass. And bars, like Riviera 31, do know how to protect their open reds by either gassing them or vacuum-sealing them. Or they’re selling so much of it, the bottles don’t have a chance to sit around open for hours and hours. Whites don’t tend to react with oxygen quite as quickly as reds do, so keeping an open bottle in the fridge for a night or two isn’t going to hurt it as much.

So if you’re out and don’t want to buy a whole bottle, say you’re just at a pit stop before going to the theatre or after, and you don’t really want a cocktail, and you’re not at a place where wine is a priority, you’re safest buying either the house white or house red. That’s the wine the place is selling the most of, which means there’s less of it hanging around open. You could ask the waitstaff or bartender when the red was last opened. If said person doesn’t know, pass.

The other thing to note about Riviera 31, is that the managers really want to make this a preferred pit stop. Yes, it’s in the high rent part of L.A., and parking will set you back $12 for the evening. But all in all, it’s not that expensive for an evening out when you just want a nibble and a nice glass of wine. And one of the groups we saw the night we were there – Paris Chansons – will be back on November 12. They were really a lot of fun, including some darned good music that wasn’t too loud. While live entertainment can be lots of fun, for us, we tend to want quiet when we go out. The good news is that the bar does have a few quieter spots in the back corners where you can have a conversation.

So while the management was sponsoring the party we were at, we will be back – maybe to hear Paris Chansons. After all, a good bit of wine by the glass is a lovely thing.

 

Wine and Travel, A Philosophic Musing (We’re Blog Hopping with Generation Fabulous!)

At Pacque et Fils winery in Montagne de Rilly
At Pacque et Fils winery in Montagne de Rilly

We’re participating in the monthly Generation Fabulous Blog Hop again. After you’re done reading, please check out some of the other great blogs on Transformative Travel:

The wanderlust is kicking in again. This is no mere “gee, I could use a vacation.” The call is intense and inexorable. It’s the relentless nagging of the spirit, a haunting whisper in the back of the brain, something deep – primal even – pushing, begging, calling. It’s time to pack the bags. It’s way past time to put on all five senses and be anywhere but here.

We take lots of photos when we travel, but it’s more about trying to create something beautiful than to capture some essence. Photographs simply cannot capture the grandeur, majesty and utter beauty of the Grand Canyon. But if we catch the light just right, then there is something new that is beautiful, too.

Nor do we take pictures to remind ourselves of what a good time we had. We don’t need to. We have a photo somewhere around here of a man and his adult daughter that we met in the Zaca Mesa tasting room. Their names are lost, their faces fuzzy, even what, exactly, we talked about for so long is gone. But the joy of the time spent connecting, laughing, comparing notes, debating, that joy remains and always will.

The sites stick with us because they are the first part of the experience – the ivy-covered beauty of St. Emillion, medieval, yet so modern Bruges, Belgium, and the dog sitting in the window over the canal, the double rainbow over the road leading up to Cambria’s tasting room. But we have four other senses, and we travel on those as well.

The sound of a blues harmonica rising above the clatter of an active square in San Francisco, punctuated by the singular sound of a cable car bell. A man in running shorts and shoes and nothing else playing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring on a guitar, in a square in Sarlat, France. The roar of the ocean and the utter stillness of the Grand Canyon.

The smell of dough hitting hot fat, the diesel fumes that permeated the city of Liège, the salt of sea air, and then its absence as the boat got further out to sea.

The rough nubbly texture of hand-made lace, purchased from the woman who made it, her hands whipping threaded bobbins around pins so fast it’s hard to imagine keeping them straight. The rich feel of yarns at the shop discovered in North Oakland, next to an Ethiopian restaurant, where we had lunch. We also found a market across the street that sold green coffee beans that Michael bought and roasted.

And there’s taste – an amazing pot of mussels in Bruges, thin cut pork chops covered in a dark mustard beer sauce at a restaurant in Maredsous, accompanied by an off-dry pinot noir from Alsace. It’s the food and the wine that stays with us, and we don’t mean on the hips, although Anne sometimes feels that pain. The turkey in cream sauce in Reims, France, served with an icy cold pitcher of dry rosé. It was the dregs of what bistro had to offer since they, like everyone else in town, were making ready to go on the traditional month-long vacation. But it was so good and as Anne’s sister noted, so much better than relying on MacDonald’s. It’s dried sausages and cold, grilled artichokes on the patio of an old ivy-covered winery, sitting and chatting with friends, one of whom happened to work there. Then there was the hot, sweet taste of Mendocino pinot noir that had only been picked a few days before and was going through its primary fermentation.

It’s the moments, like Anne trying to translate Michael’s technical questions about making Champagne for the wine maker at the cave in Montagne de Rilly, France, because the wine maker had enough English to do a cave tour, but not enough to explain fermenting temperatures and what brix the grapes were picked at. Or the look of utter resignation on the face of Anne’s daughter as she got into the back seat of the car and discovered she was going to be sharing it with a 20-0dd gallon fermenting barrel of merlot grapes. Or the horror that night when we discovered that the motel next to the Oakland Coliseum had turned into Raider Nation, and the fans partied all night long. Literally.

It’s realizing that the tasting flight of five bourbons in Bardstown, Kentucky, aren’t just tasting sips, but full-two-fingered shots. Thank the lord we had plenty to eat with that one. Or running back and forth between the buffet and the sports book at the Rio hotel in Las Vegas as we ate and handicapped the ponies.

It’s all that and more.

The wanderlust is kicking in again, whispering, nagging, pulling. Walking through the tunnel at Union Station one feels the deep-seated need to hop on a train and make new memories and find new experiences and taste new foods. Yes, it’s time to go.

Review of “Wine Wars” and finding your place on the wine wall

Mike got really excited about the book Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, The Miracle of Two Buck Chuck and the Revenge of the Terroirists, so he’s writing in his own voice today with a short review:

I know we don’t regularly review books on OBG but we do leave ourselves that “anything that strikes fancy” loophole. So let me own the fact that a book by a wine economist on the global wine market that  manages to educate in non-technical terms and names the names that anyone will recognize is one that I highly recommend and I will be purchasing for my own reading. So the Pasadena Public Library can expect their copy of Wine Wars back on time for a change.

Author Mike Veseth, a blogger at WineEconomist.com and a professor at University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, presents a worldview of wine that OBG readers will recognize as being whatever you want the stuff to be – daily beverage, special occasion or anytime – and that the market will respond to what the consumer wants and is very deliberate about going about doing it. So you should feel encouraged that the pursuit of your wine dollar by the owners of Trader Joes, Costco and other merchants will make them do anything you want.

Veseth’s book as it is an easy pick up and drop text or a great discussion topic for a “wine and wisdom” reading group. Veseth makes the dismal science a lot more enjoyable with or without a glass nearby. It’s a textbook disguised as a a balanced exposé of the global wine biz. I plan on buying it knowing full well that the revised future edition are likely given the speed at which things change. But we stress that wine is a moving target and that YOU know what tastes good to you. Veseth leaves the experiential part up to the reader. So would we if we were writing a book like this.

 

A Father’s Day Toast To My Dad

A rare shot of my dad, Dave Bannon, and me together, taken in August 2007.
A rare shot of my dad, Dave Bannon, and me together, taken in August 2007.

We’re participating in the Father’s Day Blog Hop with the Generation Fabulous website group. We encourage to check out the other posts below – touching, funny, all that good stuff. But because the theme is “I’m My Father’s Daughter Because…” Anne will be writing this one solo.

My mom has told me on one or two occasions that I am my dad’s favorite of his three children. I don’t know if that’s true. I know my father has always had a special relationship with each of this three children – playing music with my sister, doing the guy thing with my brother, getting into amazing philosophical debates with me.

I am a Daddy’s Girl, through and through. I don’t think that’s made my mother or my sibs jealous. My dad’s loyalty to my mother is rock solid and then some. He and my sister seem to have a pretty tight bond – different, but tight.

My relationship with my father has periodically been rocky – and admittedly wine has gotten in the way. There is that dark side to the love of wine – and pretending otherwise just hurts too much. But Dad and I have come to terms with that aspect of our lives and I think we both understand that in spite of – or maybe even because of – our respective flaws, we’ve grown closer. Certainly our love for each other never diminished.

Since this is a blog about wine, I do feel compelled to bring that into the mix here. One does try to stay on topic. And truth be told, the love of good food and wine actually came from my mother. Maybe it was because she was doing all the cooking when we were young. Not that Dad didn’t love what Mom did – and he’s certainly gotten into cooking and such over the years.

But he has had an enormous effect on how I approach wine. One of the greatest gifts my father passed on to me was an insatiable curiosity and a deep love of learning. I’ve never been afraid to try new things because of my dad’s influence. Some different new grape variety? Sure, I’ll try it. Back when everybody thought merlot was the hot, new thing, I was checking out syrahs.

Dad’s love of learning, in its own way, spurred my interest in science. The fascination of seeing how things came together. And he never doubted that I could get my brain around a difficult concept (neither of my parents did). So when I began writing about the wine industry and found myself on a steep learning curve when it came to the science and the process, boy, I was ready to tackle that one head on, often with the sheer joy of wanting to know more.

My parents were never pretentious about wine – it was always about what was in the bottle, not the label or how much you paid for it. Or didn’t pay for it. I still remember Dad getting all excited about Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw) when it first hit the shelves at Trader Joe’s. He introduced us to it. And wine was almost always about dinner.  At least, that’s when I saw them drinking it.

Both my parents introduced me to the joys of good food and wine. But because Dad taught me how to think, in general, it’s had an amazing effect on my ability to appreciate what’s in the glass. Because of him, I was able to quickly learn the ins and outs of how that grape juice got to be wine. My mom may be the one who’s oohing and aahing about how the wine tastes, but Dad’s just happy sharing a glass with me.

To my Daddy – to the many gifts you have given me. Thank you and thank you for being my Dad. Sláinte.

Dinner at Aventine Proves Matching Theory

The media table at the Vino California wine dinner at Aventine Hollywood. Yes, we're in there somewhere.
The media table at the Vino California wine dinner at Aventine Hollywood. Yes, we’re in there somewhere.

The thing about wine dinners is that they are generally pretty pricey affairs, and it’s understandable, since a lot of time and effort goes into planning the menus and matching the wines, plus the cost of the wines, since you’re generally drinking a different wine with each course. We were, fortunately, the guests at a recent dinner at restaurant Aventine Hollywood, as part of the Vino California Italian Wine Classic – a wine event featuring a grand tasting and dinners around Southern California, put on, in part, by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West.

The idea of the event is to introduce American audiences to Italian wines beyond Chianti and the other super-Tuscans. And trust us, just about every region of Italy has a trademark wine of its own, most of them very good, but rather hard to find here in the States.

As noted, such dinners are usually pretty pricey – ours would have been $60 a person, if we hadn’t been guests and that’s on the cheap end. We’ve seen prices as high as $200 per person, but most wine dinners run around $100 a head. The advantage of paying that kind of money is that you’re going to try a little of whatever is served. That means you’re going to get exposed to some stuff you might have been convinced you wouldn’t like and either find out that you were right or discover a new fave.

But what really struck us that night was how important the food was to the whole experience. Seriously. Italian wines, like French and other European wines, tend to not be as fruity as American wines do, and usually are a bit more acidic. Which means they’re not quite as tasty by themselves. They’re not meant to be. They’re meant to be consumed with food because that’s how most Europeans drink wine. It’s part of dinner. You drink Campari and soda before dinner or Pernod or some other aperitif. You save the wine for the meal.

We started with a Calabrian white, Statti Grece I.G.T., to go with our Arancini and Bruschetta. Now, it’s important to note that there’s only one wine here, but two different hors d’oeuvres, and each had a slightly different flavor profile. The Arancini were fried rice balls stuffed with fontina cheese and featured a bell pepper sauce for its major flavor. The Bruschetta used fried artichokes as its strong flavor, played off the milder flavors of a poached egg, a mild melted cheese sauce and the grilled bread. And yet, the same crisp white wine – reminded Mike very much of a sauvignon blanc – paired brilliantly off both.

There was a Apollonio Casa Vinicola Only Rosso Salento 2011, a blend of red grapes that showed a nose of cherry and spices but was more subtle in the mouth. The radicchio and arugula salad with a mild burata cheese and blood orange honey dressing still worked well, as did the tuna tartar, baby octopus and shrimp, frisée and lemon vinaigrette. Truth be told, the citrus and bitter greens elements were common to both salads, but the seafood was an additional bit of flavor.

Now, they did pour separate wines for the two entrees, a swordfish with eggplant and oregano white wine sauce, and lamb chops with kumquat confit and balsamic mint reduction. The rosé, yes the pink stuff, was a delicious Le Moire SRL Shemale Savuto 2011, but the Alovini Alvolo Aglianico Del Vulture 2008 was freaking amazing – and with the lamb… Anne was almost in tears. The rosé paired with the swordfish, the lamb AND the cannoli with candied orange and pistachios. Talk about spanning a range of food and flavors.

The first lesson, of course, is not to blow off a wine just because it seems a little bland and mildly acidic. Try it with some food. If that doesn’t help, then you’ve got a bland, insipid little wine and we hope you didn’t pay too much for it. But chances are, it might actually be a great food wine, the trick is finding the right food to go with it.

The second lesson is not to get too anal about matching the wine. Yes, a great food and wine pairing is worth a lot – that’s another reason prices tend to be so high for these kinds of dinners. But as we made a point of noting above, two of those wines perfectly accompanied slightly different flavor profiles. It’s about picking a balance and just having a good time with it.

Admittedly, there are those times when you want everything to be perfect and wonderful – an anniversary dinner, pleasing the boss, whatever. But the food and wine are only part of it. The rest is the company – and we have to say, the company at Aventine was spectacular. Lovely, lovely people and we hope to run across them again soon.

Celebrity Wine FAQ: David Hornsby

David Hornsby, courtesy Fox

When we talk about actors, we generally think of whichever project they were last seen in. However, David Hornsby is not seen in his current project because he’s not only the producer, but voicing the character of Joel on FX’s new animated comedy Unsupervised, airing at 10:30 p.m. on Thursdays.

We caught up with Hornsby last July, where he confessed that he’s not a big wine drinker.

“I’m a beer man,” he said. “I like a cold beer at the end of the day.”

But while he has nothing against wine, per se, he does have difficulty drinking red wine.

“Why does red wine give me heartburn?” he asked for his wine FAQ. ” The second it goes down my pipe, oh man!”

Well, we did some checking with WebMD, and that site said that if wine gives you heartburn, it could be an indication of GERD, which can be a serious problem. Or it could just be a personal sensitivity. These things happen.

Hornsby did ask a second question: “Why are there so many blogs about wine? Aren’t they just fermented grapes? Am I crazy?”

No, Mr. Hornsby, you are not crazy. Wine is simply fermented grapes and sometimes other fruits. But something that tastes this good and that can be this complex can be a lot of fun to talk about. And people who love wine often love talking about it, and writing about it, in the case of we bloggers.

Admittedly here at OddBallGrape.com, we’re on a mission. We want to make wine more fun for everyone, not just the swirl, sip and snark crowd. So hopefully, your tummy issues will clear up. Or maybe you’ll find a nice white wine that you can enjoy. You might even try a bubbly, if you can drink beer okay.

Scott Bakula – Celebrity Wine FAQ

Scott Bakula in Men of a Certain Age, courtesy Turner

We’ve been big fans of Scott Bakula ever since Quantum Leap – one of those shows underrated in its time, but now a cult fave.  And we loved Bakula as Stephen Bartowski, Chuck’s ingenious father, on Chuck, alas, another show we think is highly underrated.

That being said, it looks like Bakula has hit his stride and then some with Men of a Certain Age, playing bachelor and former actor Terry. The show is back with all-new episodes at 10 p.m. on TNT, starting Wednesday, June 1.

He also told us he’s more of a tequila man that a wine guy.

I’m not a big wine drinker,” he said. “I enjoy good wine.”

And while he likes what he’s been drinking lately, he did learn the hard way that the price of a bottle doesn’t always reflect what’s inside.

“My thing was always I’d just buy the most expensive,” he said. “Because this $50 bottle has to be better than this $23 bottle. Not true. I’ve spent a lot of money, wasting over the years.”

His big wine question is all about pleasing lots of different people with the same wine.

“When I go into a wine store…, how can you satisfy everybody’s wine tastes?” he said.  “My wife likes a certain thing. She doesn’t want too many tannins, she doesn’t want it to be too big. And I’m kinda like, I like the big wines.”

Bakula kind of answered his own question with his own solution to his dilemma – he asks the person working at the wine store and his friend.

“Usually, [wine store staff are] helpful because they also want you to come back, you know?” he said. “But I learn more and I usually try to call my friends who I know know wine. Like I have a big Christmas party every year and I call my friend Dave Fuller, and I say, Dave, what should I get? And he’ll say get the Camria, the 2006. It’s gonna go good with what you’re eating and blah, blah, blah.”

And, Mr. Bakula, if Mr. Fuller isn’t around, you can always email us here at info@oddballgrape.com. We do parties, too.

Magazine Article A Help? Yes and No

From the March 2011 issue of Everyday With Rachael Ray magazine

It’s one of those things that some folks think makes wine so scary – trying to figure out all the stuff on the label. And if you’re going to be shelling out some real money on that wine bottle, say $20 or so, you don’t want to be doing it on something you’re not going to like.

We, too,  have to play the guessing game at times, and if we’re completely honest, we’ve even fallen for the cute animal on the label. Anne once went so far as to buy a wine called Le Chien Mechant just because of the name. It’s French for the naughty dog (it was a white and the color of… You know).

But the March 2011 magazine Everyday With Rachael Ray has a one page article (you can click on the picture above to see a .pdf ) on desconstructing a label, which we thought was mostly sound. It was written by Gretchen Roberts and quotes the in-house wine expert at Everyday, Mark Oldman. We have Oldman’s book, Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, and like it a lot. There should be a link to the book to the right that will let you buy it off of Amazon.com, should you feel so moved.

The article uses pretty non-specific language and thank heavens it does, because if we’ve learned one thing about wines, it’s that there are no absolutes. In fact, we pretty much had a “yeah, but” for every one of Roberts’ clues.

For example, looking at the alcohol content to determine what the mouth feel will be like – Roberts’ assertions are only sort of true. We’ve tasted wines that had 17 percent alcohol that because they were so well balanced, had a mouth feel that was much lighter. And, actually, we think the alcohol content is more an issue of straight taste than mouth feel, which has more to do with the glycerine in the wine than how much alcohol it has.

That’s not to say ABV isn’t a good clue, especially if you know you tend to like wines that are lower in alcohol. Or you like wines that are higher in alcohol. And certainly labels are more about branding than anything else, but that’s also a help because once you start getting to know certain wineries and know what they tend to produce, you can look for that particular label and deduce a thing or two.

One good bit of advice in the article is to turn the bottle over and look at the tasting notes on the back label (if any). Not that you’re necessarily going to taste the same things they have listed. But like reading our tasting notes, you eventually get to know how words like vanilla and creamy tend to taste to you, and so you can get an approximation of what you’re buying. But again, bottle notes are all about the winery’s brand, and that doesn’t always mean that’s what’s in the bottle.

Your best bet is to get to know your wine merchant. You don’t have to go to a fancy wine store and pay boodles for your wine to do that. Most Trader Joes have a decent wine person on staff, and the rest of the crew has at least some clue. And they will call someone to help you.

If you’re in a supermarket or warehouse store, you’re probably out of luck, personnel-wise. But then you’re probably not looking at exorbitantly expensive bottles either, and at that point, you can take a chance or two on blowing $10 or less on a bottle that you might not like. You never know. You might get a real find – and that’s always fun.

Pinot Days Means Lots and Lots of Pinot

Courtesy Pinot Days

Tasting events are an amazingly cool way to find out about a lot of wine at one time. Most feature a region or even a single grape, such as Pinot Days, dedicated to the heartbreak grape that is Pinot Noir. Based in San Francisco, the organizers have also taken the show to Chicago and, for the last two years, Santa Monica, California. Michael was lucky enough to get involved as a volunteer for the recent Santa Monica show, which also allowed him to attend the event and mingle with the winemakers.

Imagine a beehive of four thousand people inside a large metal airplane hangar. Tablecloth draped tables with signs for each label present. Most are staffed by the winemakers themselves, sometimes the marketing staff. One ounce pours of as many as three hundred pinot noirs by seventy-five producers from California, Oregon, Washington and one from Tasmania this year.

Sustenance in the form of bread and cheese made the task of tasting every pinot almost manageable. Okay, not even close to manageable. Don’t even try tasting everything. It’s physically impossible. Some of the lines for one or two cult labels can take a half-hour and the entire tasting is only 4 hours. Besides, how much fun is it when you can’t taste the flavors of  a great glass of wine because you’ve already tried 30 others? Moderation, please.

Pinot fans are given to superlatives and plenty of rhetoric. But the winemakers themselves are not. They’re more interested  in telling the wine’s story and sharing its’ history, which you’ll read about in the weeks ahead.

Unknown Winemaker pouring, courtesy Pinot Days

Any wine event where the winemaker is there is worth the experience and the crowds. Winemakers seldom staff tasting rooms because they’re too busy making wine. And, trust us, having the person who made the wine pour you a sample and tell you about it is a blast. You can ask them anything from the most basic beginner question to the most obscure geek stuff, and they love it.

And if the high price of a tasting event like Pinot Days is beyond your budget, try volunteering. It’s a great way to support the program and you can almost always get in plenty of tasting time. Michael had an entire convention of great wine and fascinating winemakers at elbow’s distance for the price of a few hours of sweat equity. Nothing but the best for the readers of OBG!

Celebrity Wine FAQ – Jane Seymour

When we asked actor Jane Seymour for her wine FAQ, she didn’t have one.

“You know, I grew up with wine.  My mother was a wine merchant.  I tasted Givery Chambertin at, probably, eight,” said the actor who is currently reprising her role as Prudence, the Martha Stewart clone in the Hallmark Channel movie Perfectly Prudence.

Like other Europeans, Seymour said, it’s not unusual for young Brits to taste wine long before it’s legal, even there.

But not only is she into wine, she’s even got her own label of pinot noir, JS, which she’s making with vintner Jim Palmer, of Malibu Vineyards, whose Santa Barbara vineyard is next to her property there.

“We did if for fun,” she said, but it sounded a little like they’re going beyond simple fun.  “We blended it personally.”

Nor does she have any particular favorites.

“I love great wine and I’m always open to tasting everything,” she said.  “I don’t care what it costs.  Invariably the cheaper ones sometimes  taste better to me.”

We did ask if folks ask her questions about wine when they find out she’s into it.

“No,” she said.  “They open their cellars.  They get excited and open a bottle they wouldn’t ordinarily.”

More proof that we don’t hang in the right circles.