drink

Ah, Burgundy! The name alone sounds so romantic. Even the French, Bourgogne, though almost impossible to say properly, is magical.

stunning rooftop at Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune

stunning rooftop at Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune

view of part of the famous Burgundian Côte-d’Or

view of part of the famous Burgundian Côte-d’Or

Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette as seen from across the vineyard

Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette as seen from across the vineyard

Last month, Hegui and I met some friends at a stunning resort in a refurbished château nestled in the village of Meursault, part of the famous Burgundian Côte-d’Or, or “gold coast.” Kay and Pascal live in a small city adjacent to Geneva, Switzerland, so visit this famous wine region often. It’s only a few hours car ride on the French autoroute for them. Since we’d never been, we let Kay plan the weekend of relaxation.

To start, everything is really pretty. All those lovely towers, castles, vineyards, colorful rooftops and gorgeous churches made Hegui a maniac with the camera. Our resort, Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette, was absurdly beautiful, situated as it was on a vineyard surrounded by gentle hills, a quaint view of the village, etc. Even the pillows were wonderful! Look for yourselves.

beautiful courtyard at Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune

beautiful courtyard at Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune

Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

cute car parked in Beaune

cute car parked in Beaune

La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot

La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot

pillows from Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

pillows from Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

Meursault from the back of our resort

Meursault from the back of our resort

Despite the frequent, unseasonable rain, we did lots of nice things. Hegui and I were enchanted by the Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices Civils de Beaune, where they have that famous wine auction every year. We bought tasty souvenirs at La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot. Naturally we ate a lot of French pastries, cheeses, butter, breads, and so on. One evening we drove to Dijon for dinner. I was really struck by how tiny this most famous of wine producing regions seemed. We went slowly, in the rain, through all the various world-renowned villages, like Nuits St. Georges, Vosne-Romanée and Gevrey-Chambertin, yet made it to Dijon in less than 45 minutes. Small!

enjoying my apple tart, baguette and cafe au lait at a small patisserie in Beaune

enjoying my apple tart, baguette and cafe au lait at a small patisserie in Beaune

Hegui slicing a country loaf with what looks like a machete

Hegui slicing a country loaf with what looks like a machete

the front yard at our resort, Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

the front yard at our resort, Château de Cîteaux La Cueillette

more cool cars in Beaune

more cool cars in Beaune

Of course, we tasted some Burgundian wine, too. Kay arranged for us to visit the lovely Château de Meursault and Château de Cîteaux Philippe Bouzereau, the later, right across from the resort. Wine tasting in Burgundy was fun and seemed very glamorous. I was a bit underwhelmed by the wines themselves, sadly. Sure, we tasted reds and whites from the celebrated 2009 and 2010 vintages, plus a few older ones here and there. Don’t get me wrong. These were okay. The whites, with a single exception, tasted a lot like “new” low oak California chardonnays. The reds, generally, seemed too acidic and prickly to really enjoy. Perhaps they need more time? Maybe I’m a Burgundy rube? My real worry is that my Burgundian wine “a-ha” moment might be a lingering sense of mild disappointment. Alas.

an enjoyable, if forgetatable white from Château de Cîteaux Philippe Bouzereau

an enjoyable, if forgetatable white from Château de Cîteaux Philippe Bouzereau

me with our friends wine tasting in Meursault

me with our friends wine tasting in Meursault

posing in front of the world famous Chambertin vineyard

posing in front of the world famous Chambertin vineyard

Hegui and I wine tasting in the caves at Château de Meursault

Hegui and I wine tasting in the caves at Château de Meursault

Burgundy was an amazing experience and going there has completely changed my perspective. Now it remains to be seen exactly how.

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My aunt Mary Ann, came for a short visit last week. She lives in New Hampshire and has been overwhelmed by the brutal winter they’re having back East this year. Blizzard after blizzard would make anyone long for sunny California.

my aunt and I on the back porch at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

my aunt and I on the back porch at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

She’s only about 13 months older than me, so really we grew up together, almost like brother and sister. Unfortunately until last week, we hadn’t seen one another for about eight years. So this visit was a real treat. Since she had never been to the West Coast, there was a lot to do. In her four day visit we went to the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, touched the waters of the Pacific, admired the view from Sausalito, wandered through Chinatown, lunched in North Beach, dined at The Slanted Door and many other things. Of course a visit to Napa for wine tasting was de rigueur.

a winery worker pruning the dormant grapevines

a winery worker pruning the dormant grapevines

winemaking apparatus at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

winemaking apparatus at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

We started out at Artesa mainly for its gorgeous modern appeal. Then by chance drove by Michael Mondavi Family Estate, just down the road. The Estate has been there since its founding in 2004. Michael is the famous brother of the famous, now deceased, Robert Mondavi.

I tried learning more about the winery part of the Estate but had some trouble finding specifics. It sounds like it is a family run enterprise with Michael, his wife, Isabel, and two adult children, Rob Jr. and Dina. Aside from wine production, the family operates Folio Fine Wine Partners, an international wine importing concern (follow this link for an interview with Michael and Rob Jr. about Folio)and various members seem to offer winemaking consultation. Again, I’m a bit confused by it all so if any of you readers know more, please write in!

They produce an affordable line called Spellbound which I’ve seen locally in various supermarkets and wine shops, plus various more boutique labels.

do they still use this thing or is it only for show

do they still use this thing or is it only for show?

various wines produced by the Michael Mondavi clan

various wines produced by the Michael Mondavi clan

The winery itself is small and comfortable. We sat inside though they’ve a stunning back porch overlooking one of their estate pinot vineyards. We had perfect weather that day, so it might have been fun, but the porch had a large and somewhat rowdy crowd already. Two different tastings were offered: the Heritage Selection and the Gallery Selection. We tried one of each and shared them all.

Both of us really liked these wines. We impulsively joined two of their wine clubs on the spot, which is always a fun way to remember wine country.

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2011

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2011

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2001: This had a golden color with some oak on the nose. We detected some fruit and vanilla with a mildly buttery finish.

Isabel Mondavi Estate Pinot Noir 2009: This was a gorgeous red color with some red fruit and exciting earthy notes. It was smooth with a lovely almost bitter finish. Very different from the more fruity Russian River Valley pinots, I particularly enjoyed this wine.

Emblem Oso Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: The grapes for this wine come from Howell Mountain in Napa. In a word, delish. This dark wine was rich and lush, with lovely fruit, and a supple texture. Mmmmm.

Oberon Hillside Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: I understand that this is blended from grapes grown at three nearby vineyards. It had an intense cedar forest floor nose with refined tannins.

Spellbound Petite Sirah Reserve 2007: This is a Napa wine. The nose was rootbeer. It was very tannic and clearly needs a lot more time in bottle. Nevertheless, it too was quite enjoyable.

tasting the white wine at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

tasting the white wine at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2012: Pale with a citrus nose, it was crisp and good.

Spellbound Chardonnay 2010: Also quite pale with lovely yellow fruit.

Oberon Napa Valley Merlot 2009: Red with blueberry and chocolate, this was supple and very drinkable.

Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: I only wrote “fruit, tannins, chocolate, bitter” in my notes. You get the idea.

Spellbound Petite Sirah 2010: A deep color with a blueberry nose, it tastes like sweet ripe blueberries, too.

Needless to write, we had a great time here. No appoint necessary. If you have the chance to visit Michael Mondavi Family Estate sometime, I would definitely go.

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Hanzell Vineyards, Sonoma County

by Stevie on October 17, 2012

beautiful reproduction of a building in the Clos Vougeot in Burgundy

beautiful Hanzell reproduction of a building in the Clos Vougeot in Burgundy

I’ve been longing to visit Hanzell for ages! Really after I read Matt Kramer’s fabulous, New California Wine. He describes Hanzell as “Aesthetically, …one of the most elegant wineries in the state” and concludes his mini-history of the place:

It is difficult to over-praise Hanzell, as it has stood the test of making great wines continuously for decades. Few California wineries have so lustrous a track record and fewer still deserve to be called a true grand cru. But that’s what Hanzell really is, California’s first authentic and proven grand cru.

After all that fanfare, how could anyone wonder that a trip to Hanzell was a high priority?

view across the valley from the first Hanzell estate vineyard

view across the valley from the first Hanzell estate vineyard

a lone cluster of Hanzell chardonnay grapes on the vine

a lone cluster of Hanzell chardonnay grapes on the vine

modern art on the Hanzell property

modern art on the Hanzell property

Located in the Mayacamas Range on the Sonoma side, the site truly is marvelous to behold. We were in awe by the sheer natural beauty of the place. We had a super-individualized tour: just Hegui and me. Ryan Hortum was our Estate Educator. He was really pleasant and seemed genuinely to adore Hanzell and its wines. I thought it was awesome that we got to ride in a Land Rover to visit some of the more far-flung vineyards. I’d never done that before.

Hanzell produces mainly chardonnay and pinot noir though it sounds like in the past, they grew some cabernet sauvignon and recently they’ve replanted some more. There’s a smaller-scale though still quite grand reproduction of a building from the Clos Vougeot that the first Hanzell owner, James Zellerbach, found particularly captivating on a tour of Burgundy.

The name, Hanzell, derives from Zellerbach’s wife’s name, Hana. The winery has a long history that you can enjoy learning about on your tour or at their site, linked above, or in Kramer’s book. Strangely, there didn’t seem to be that many wines to try— only two chardonnays and a pinot. Somehow I had thought with all of the different vineyards, that they’d have individually designated wines to showcase the different micro-climates, but not so. These are blended estate wines. We preferred the chardonnays over the red here, which is odd for us.

Hanzell wine cave interior

Hanzell wine cave interior

modern winemaking facility

modern winemaking facility

amazing valley view from the balcony of the original Hanzell winery

amazing valley view from the balcony of the original Hanzell winery

a selection of Hanzell library wines

a selection of Hanzell library wines

ready to taste some yummy wine

ready to taste some yummy wine

The 2011 Sebella was crisp bordering on sharp, though pleasant. I liked the 2010 estate chardonnay as it seemed more well-rounded with the right balance of fruit and mineral notes. The 2009 estate pinot noir didn’t have much fruit though showed a lot of exotic spices with a lovely long finish.

Visiting Hanzell was great fun. This is the kind of romantic destination perfect for people in love and for dreamers of all ages.

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Quixote Winery, Napa County

by Stevie on October 10, 2012

I’ve wanted to tour Quixote ever since I saw a pic of their gorgeous and eccentric winemaking facility in Wine Spectator about a year or so ago. The place is incredible looking, isn’t it?

close up of one of Quixote's exterior walls

close up of one of Quixote's exterior walls

Claudio and me at Quixote

Claudio and me at Quixote

see Quixote's golden dome peeking over the lush grassy garden

see Quixote’s golden dome peeking over the lush grassy garden?

harvest was just starting during our visit to Quixote so we got to see the ripe grapes hanging on the vine

harvest was just starting during our visit to Quixote so we got to see the ripe grapes hanging on the vine

every detail was considered for the design, including the floor tiles

every detail was considered for the design, including the floor tiles

Designed by the Viennese architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, we learned on the delightful tour that this is the only building created be this colorful artist who didn’t believe in “straight lines.” Sadly he died shortly after the completion of the project, so never got to truly enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Not so with us.

They pronounce Quixote the Spanish way, rather than the American (“kwix-it”) or Portuguese (“qui-sho-tee.”) You must have a reservation for the tour and tasting. They’re very small, so it makes sense to call ahead. The entrance is past Shafer on a lovely country road that is extremely easy to miss from Silverado Trail. A map is essential.

We were thrilled when we got to the winery entrance and began to see the copper colored dome rising from the gently sloping hills. Our tour guide: was his name René or perhaps Andre? I believe he said that he was Swiss. I’ve misplaced my notes by now and Hegui and I couldn’t quite recall. Let’s call him Mr. X here. Or perhaps, for simplicity, merely X. Well, X was affable and very chatty. He regaled us with a long and charming (I almost wrote “colorful” again. This place really brings out that adjective) history of wine and grape cultivation from the most ancient times to the present in California.

X had lots of stimulating ideas regarding the lesser importance of the ancient Romans in the development of Burgundy (it was the Phoenicians who brought the grape that became pinot noir), was delighted with obscure genetic facts linking zinfandel to the Italian primitivo and an obscure grape from Eastern Europe (I also forgot that name), and how Americans simply drink wine wrong. Yeah, I know, we’re Americans on a tour of an American winery yet some European guy is telling us we don’t know how to truly appreciate wine. Not good for sales, but what a provocative conversation!

statuettes of Don Quixote and sidekick, Panza

statuettes of Don Quixote and sidekick, Panza

tasting some Quixote cabernet with Mr X

tasting some Quixote cabernet with Mr X

beautiful Quixote garden patio

beautiful Quixote garden patio

X’s idea was the old saw that “wine should be drunk with food” with his added complaint that we frequently drink it on its own in place of cocktails, aperitifs and digestifs. Thus we’re particularly fond of powerful fruity wines and have no sense of the subtleties. He completely dismissed pinot noir from the Russian River Valley with “who wants to drink raspberries and strawberries all the time?” Afterward Hegui and I talked about these interrelated ideas for over several days. It is true that American wines can be fruity and bold. But what’s the problem with that really?

It seems so natural to take a defensive posture against this Euro-superior view but I’ve decided that’s the wrong approach. It’s X’s basic assumptions about wine that I challenge. Is this a beverage that has a particular scripted role for all time or, as in my view, is it in fact a drink to enjoy in a variety of ways? For example, it can be had with food or alone, be bold or subtle, fruity or well, what’s the opposite for fruity in wine anyway, and why would you seek out such a wine? I reject the uptight traditionalist chauvinism in favor of a more liberal interpretation. X is charming but misguided to my way of thinking.

Anyway, enough politics!

some Quixote petite sirah

some Quixote petite sirah

We tried cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah. Strangely, as this is the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, Quixote’s focus is on the later varietal. Unfortunately I misplaced my notes by the time I was ready to write my story, so I can’t be very specific. The cab tasted alright if a bit thin. Both the petite sirah vintages were powerful and rich with ample fruit, full body, with lovely spice and earthy notes. The older one, as X suggested, is more tamed (though I’m doubtful how much better it would “go with food” compared to the more recent vintage). After the tour we sat on a lovely garden patio behind the winery sipping and snacking on elegant cheeses and crackers.

A visit to Quixote will stimulate your intellect as well as all of your senses.

a perfect day in Napa Valley

a perfect day in Napa Valley

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I completely adore Littorai pinot noir.

Taj Campton Place on Stockton Street in San Francisco

Taj Campton Place on Stockton Street in San Francisco, home of the Campton Place Restaurant

I wrote that first sentence and somehow feel that the point of my story today is more than half accomplished. I adore Littorai pinot noir. J’adore! It even looks good in French.

So I was thrilled when I learned that Hegui and I had the chance to attend another San Francisco dinner with the winemaker, Ted Lemon. We didn’t know Campton Place Restaurant but that didn’t seem as important as the wine somehow—that is until we dined at this divine establishment.

Littorai Assistant Winemaker John Wilson

Littorai Assistant Winemaker John Wilson

About a block from Union Square, in the heart of the San Francisco shopping district, the restaurant is gorgeous. Sadly my only camera was an eye-phone so most of the pictures leave much to be desired. Take our word for it; the dining room at Campton Place is elegant. And the staff is impeccable. I understand they’re known for their wine collection and often host winemaker’s dinners. Click here for the schedule.

Since it’s fairly small, the entire space was taken up by the Littorai event. That seemed especially grand. We stood around for a bit sipping (or perhaps trying to sip—it was just too darn tasty. I was probably gulping) the 2009 Mays Canyon chardonnay. It was the only wine not on the preprinted menu so I’m not positive here. That’s when we met our really cool tablemates, Pam and Bill. Like us, they’re fairly new to Littorai but Bill particularly is a dyed-in-the-wool pinotfile.

lobster veloute with red pepper and summer squash

lobster veloute with red pepper and summer squash

Turns out that fifth at table was Littorai Assistant Winemaker John Wilson. Unfortunately, Ted Lemon couldn’t attend at the last minute due to the death of his father. So sorry! We’re thinking of you and your family, Ted.

That was heavy news, but it didn’t dampen our spirits for too long. John turned out to be like a younger version of Ted—intense, charming and charmingly nerdy, extremely informative and always very polite. We really liked him and what great luck it was to sit by him as we tasted away.

green apple arugula and avocado amuse bouche

green apple arugula and avocado amuse bouche

the 2009 Littorai Cerise and Savoy pinot noir did not stay in my glass too long

the 2009 Littorai Cerise and Savoy pinot noir did not stay in my glass too long

Alaskan cod with roasted nori crumbs, squid ink linguini and bonito broth

Alaskan cod with roasted nori crumbs, squid ink linguini and bonito broth

Since we drank mostly 2009s all night, which I’ve written about in a couple of other places on the blog already, I’ve decided to focus on the meal and just give our most general impressions on the wine. You can read the other stories if you’re curious or better yet try the wine yourselves.

The first course was lobster velouté with red pepper and summer squash. It was paired with the 2010 Theiriot Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. This is the wine that I liked a lot when we went on the Littorai biodynamic tour. It was a perfect match and a great start to what turned out to be a fine meal.

Then Chef Srijith Gopinathan surprised us all with a green apple, arugula, avocado amuse bouche. Light and really refreshing, it created a mini-sensation at our table.

Next came the Alaskan cod with roasted nori crumbs, squid ink linguini and bonito broth (my favorite dish of the evening) with two pinots: 2009 Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley and 2009 Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley. Both wines were great though I sort of preferred the more funky nose and fuller bodied Cerise.

instead of lamb, the chef prepared this lovely string halibut with veggies in a spicy cashew sauce

instead of lamb, the chef prepared this lovely string halibut with veggies in a spicy cashew sauce

Instead of lamb loin, we were offered an exciting pescatarian option: string halibut with mixed veggies in a spiced cashew sauce. “It’s like Indian taken to the next level. It has all the ingredients that we are using, but different,” Hegui exclaimed. The wine pairing: 2009 The Pivot Vineyard, Estate Bottled Sonoma Coast and the 2009 Hirsch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast pinots perhaps didn’t quite work with the spicy cashew sauce, but I didn’t mind. Both wines were amazing anyway.

A cheese plate was offered all diners rather than sweets. These were Abbaye de Belloc and San Andreas Bellwether Farms , though it beats me which is which. Sadly, and if there is a criticism to make about the entire event, this is it: the wine had run out by the time we arrived at the cheese course. Bill wasn’t deterred one bit by that tiny bump in the road. He ordered a bottle of 2006 Littorai Sonoma Coast pinot noir—I think that’s the one—and shared with the whole table. Thanks again, Bill!!

Taj Campton Place cheese course

Campton Place cheese course

At the end, the staff gave everyone shiny little boxes with some tiny sweets, ostensibly to take home, though I ate ours there ;) Fin.

my only pic of Executive Chef Srijith Gopinathan with Littorai Assistant Winemaker John Wilson is not the best but I had to include it here

my only pic of Executive Chef Srijith Gopinathan with Littorai Assistant Winemaker John Wilson is not the best but I had to include it here

So it was a perfect evening all around: good food, great wine, meeting new friends and wine lovers, and even stimulating our intellects. Try Campton Place Restaurant when you’re next in town. And definitely look for Littorai.

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Cherokee tomato gazpacho

by Heguiberto on July 16, 2012

I’m so excited! We just came back from the Alemany farmers market after a quick stop at our community garden plot. The garden’s doing great but the market was amazing! Goodbye to all those tiresome root vegetables—at least for now. Heirloom tomatoes are back! It isn’t quite mid-summer yet but they’re starting to look good. I was delighted with the selection. Plus we bumped into our friend John shopping at the same time. There’s a real community experience to be had at local farmers markets. Sure, it can happen at large supermarkets too, but somehow I always get so weighted down by the fluorescent lighting at places like that that I’m desperate to get in-and-out, so never consider socializing. This visit to Alemany almost felt like Brazil when we would meet several of our neighbors on market days.

Cherokee tomato gazpacho

Cherokee tomato gazpacho

There was a lot to choose from, and I indulged. This week we bought different types of tomatoes, fresh aromatic garlic that had just been harvested, stone fruits, cucumbers and more! I had my eyes on a stall where they were selling organic overripe heirloom purple Cherokee tomatoes. At just $1.50 a pound, what a bargain! These were a bit too soft for a salad but that’s what I wanted, as they looked perfect for gazpacho.

With this relatively warm weather (I realize that most of the Country is experiencing record-breaking heat, but in San Francisco, it’s only warm-ish) what could be better than a cool gazpacho soup for lunch made with exceptionally fresh ingredients?

I went for an international style here: California heirloom tomatoes, of course the soup idea comes from Spain, I added a tropical Brazilian touch with cashew nuts and garnished with refreshing Japanese cucumber, my favorite.

Cherokee tomato gazpacho

2½lbs ripe organic heirloom purple Cherokee tomatoes, quartered
1 clove of the freshest garlic, minced
½ cup Arbequina olive oil
½ Italian baguette, cut up coarsely
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
½ cup raw cashew nuts
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh black pepper
½ cup water
a few scallions, sliced thinly, both green and white parts
1 Japanese cucumber, sliced

Place bread, garlic, water, salt, cashew nuts, sherry vinegar, pepper, ¾ of the olive oil, ½ of the tomatoes in the food processor and whiz until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Add rest of the tomatoes to the food processor and whiz again until smooth. Mix it with the first batch. Taste, adjust flavors. Add one or two ladles of soup to a cup or bowl, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with sliced scallion and cucumber. Chill the rest to eat later—if you have any left!

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the line builds for The Macallan tasting event

the line builds for The Macallan tasting event

Our friend, Valeria, became a US citizen last week. Congratulations! Not only is she intelligent, beautiful and easy company, she also adores Scotch, which is of course how I ended up at this promotional tasting for The Macallan the other day in San Francisco. Now I like Scotch too, though don’t really know much about this drink “invented by the Irish but perfected by the Scots” to paraphrase our MC at the event.

This was free but you had to be on a list. Valeria signed us up. She’d apparently been to a Dewars tasting and some sort of multi-Scotch event in the past few years so remains in the know.

my pic isn't perfect, but she can't be comfortable in that outfit, now can she

my pic isn't perfect, but she can't be comfortable in that outfit, now can she?

We met a bit early but already the line was forming. There were these over-the-top gorgeous young women reviewing everyone’s registration. It was a chilly day but these lovelies only sported ridiculously high black heels and extremely short black cocktail dresses. I wondered how some of them kept their elegant postures and hairstyles in place what with the Pacific wind and steep hill. It must be the magic of youth.

The other guests were a mixed bunch leaning heavily towards men. What is it about Scotch and men? And why haven’t more women discovered this elixir of the pagan gods? Perhaps The Macallan people could refocus their image a bit to attract American women (and other-than-straight guys)? We did keep wondering where the tall, amply muscled male hosts wearing absurd clothes with heads of shining golden or rich black hair were milling about, but alas, neither of us could locate them. Too bad. Most likely they were behind the scenes sampling The Macallan 18 year. Yum!

I also wonder about the capital “The” that always proceeds the name, Macallan. Have any of you ever considered that? It sort of reminds me of the all-caps, “JUSTIN,” from that celebrated Paso Robles winery of the same name. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that it looks a little pretentious.

But then what do I know?

congratulations Valeria

congratulations Valeria

The Macallan 1954 is even pricier, at $9K

The Macallan 1954 is even pricier, at $9K

the MC for The Macallan tasting event--I loved his kelly green patterned slacks

the MC for The Macallan tasting event--I loved his kelly green patterned slacks

Anyway, eventually we all got led into the hotel where we surrendered out The Macallan cards in exchange for our first sample of The Macallan 10 year. The room rapidly filled up. We couldn’t help sampling the various appetizers that floated around. I liked the little fried crab thingies quite a lot and had several. We had our pics taken behind the official Hollywood red carpet style screen by, you guessed it, one of the stunning hostesses in high heels. In a case to one side were “vintage” bottles of The Macallan on display. The 1967, the least expensive, had a list price of $4.5K. One in a Lalique bottle, which looked amazing, cost $15K. For just a moment there, I envied the rich.

our Macallan Hollywood moment

our Macallan Hollywood moment

Soon enough they ushered us into an adjoining room where tables were laid out to accommodate the entre thirsty horde. We chatted a bit with our neighbors then the show really began. Our delightful taste leader bounded on the stage to the crash of applause. He was chatty, informative and relatively funny. (I didn’t quite understand or appreciate his apparent joke, “We used to make an eight year old only for the Italians.” People did laugh though I thought it was sort of an insider Euro thing.) He answered his own question, “How do you drink your Scotch?” with the witty, “Neat, with water, ice, in a dark room…” That kind of thing. I didn’t know, for example, that “60 to 70% of the color, flavor and character comes from the wood” barrels in which Scotch gets aged. He went over other Scotch fundamentals: the who, what, where and how stuff. The why we were about to discover on our own.

We’d already enjoyed the 10 year though didn’t really take notes. As to the rest, Valeria and I had definite opinions, but found the taste sensations difficult to describe. I didn’t really identify the “chocolate” flavors for which The Macallan is rightfully so famous. Oh well. At the end, a surprise taste of the expensive 18 year (about $150/bottle in the US) was served. That was nice.

our Macallan tasting line-up

our Macallan tasting line-up

12 year Sherry Oak: This seemed “rugged” with a nose of freshly turned earth, alcohol and an enticing hard-to-pin-down perfume. It starts out minerally, becomes fruity and finishes spicy and hot.

15 year Fine Oak: We were warned that this “changes drastically” if you add a splash of water. Unfortunately, our samples were so tiny that the “splash” drowned the drink. I’ve no doubt that with a larger sample I would easily detect it opening up more fully. Even so, it was very different from the 12. This had a lighter more delicate nose, was smoother with lovely caramel notes and a much longer finish. The added water brought out a bit of vanilla and citrus.

17 year Fine Oak: This is made in an identical fashion as the 15 year. It had a pleasant smell, rich in vanilla and caramel. It was rich and smooth and more full-bodied that the 15.

18 year: This one was really citrusy with incredible cherry, vanilla and oak flavors. It was so rich and good that I immediately complained about my minuscule sample size. Boo-hoo! I want more.
This was super commercial but it didn’t really matter. The event was fun, and I’d probably never try all of these on my own, so it was a wonderful opportunity to learn and enjoy.

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This was a first: we went to a Williams Selyem pick up event and it didn’t rain. It wasn’t cold either. In fact, it was so sunny and warm that I wore shorts and sandals comfortably. The car said that the ambient temperature at the winery was 91 degrees. Ah, miracle! I love Indian summer.

Jasmine standing at the vineyard's edge with two empty Williams Selyem wine glasses

Jasmine standing at the vineyard's edge with two empty Williams Selyem wine glasses--it's almost too sad--empty glasses!

If you’ve been following us at all, then you know that I’m a little pinot noir crazy, at least in the past few years. Strangely, I didn’t really enjoy the stuff before. It seemed so watered down and sharp compared to hearty zinfandels, syrahs or even cabs. I guess I’ve changed. So often I feel overwhelmed by powerful zins and cabs these days. Don’t get me wrong. They’re fun to drink, sort of like having a big slice of cherry pie à la mode. But I can’t eat big desserts too often and, in any event, they don’t usually work as a side dish to the main course. Pinot noir shines with food, and they’re even tasty all by themselves.

Jasmine and I went last Friday. It was way less crowded than the usual Saturday scene. The volunteer staff kept remarking how “Friday’s the day” and urged us to come on future Fridays. One even said while he poured us some of the vin gris that Wms Selyem has trouble getting volunteers for Saturdays due to the throngs of thirsty people.

Williams Selyem estate vineyard with mountains in the background

Williams Selyem estate vineyard with mountains in the background

Like previous visits, several current releases were available for tasting. Plus there were a number of local vendors of other artisanal food products on hand, offering tastes and things for purchase. Since Hegui couldn’t come (he worked instead—poor thing!), I got a bottle of Dry Creek olive oil for him, as he really enjoys it. After we sampled the wines once or twice, Jasmine selected a lovely sour dough round which we had with cheese in the shade. We talked, sipped a bit more wine, and really enjoyed the marvelous sunny warm day in wine country. What could be better than that?

Wine Spectator poo-pooed the 2010 pinot vintage and it’s true that these wines were less “wow” compared to last year. Nevertheless, we enjoyed them all and a few, like the Central Coast and Westside Road Neighbors pinots were memorable. Jasmine is particularly creative in her wine descriptions, which made tasting even more delightful.

we saw several of these warning poison oak rattlesanke signs thorughout the winery

we saw several of these absurdly unwelcoming warning poison oak rattlesanke signs thorughout the winery

2010 unoaked chardonnay: a transparent yellow diamond color with a nose of dried apricot and tropical fruit that led to more apricot with a citrusy finish.

2011 vin gris: this is a rosé of pinot noir. A transparent salmon pink with aromatic strawberries and Maraschino cherry, it tasted of sour cherry and mineral with a lovely pink grapefruit finish. Mmmm!

2010 Central Coast pinot noir: ruby with plum, smoked bacon, and eucalyptus leading to rich, plum filled peppery flavors. Jasmine says, “Kinda elegant.”

2010 Sonoma County pinot noir: a darker ruby with raspberries and blackberries and was that a hint of sage? It was fruity but less focused than the Central Coast. The finish was long and creamy. Comparing the two, we preferred the Central Coast overall. J: “It was drama all the way. If it was a woman, she’d have long black hair and be very dramatic.”

2010 Sonoma Coast pinot noir: ruby with some earth and fruit—sort of like “straw with berries underneath.” Full bodied with red fruit, Jasmine thought it was “very good like grape juice.” “It’s a party wine,” not too complicated but fun.

enjoying the Friday crowd at Williams Selyem

enjoying the Friday "crowd" at Williams Selyem

2010 Russian River Valley pinot noir: deep ruby with a subtle nose of berries, floral and smoky notes. Richer still, smooth and with more depth, this full bodied wine has ample red fruit, lots of pepper, hints of caramel and a nice finish.

2010 Westside Road Neighbors pinot noir: ruby with rich fruit and floral notes, some eucalyptus and a bit of vanilla. This was delicious! It grabs hold of your mouth and won’t let go. We detected red and blue fruit esp. sour cherry and plum, with a great mineral earthy component.

2009 Forchini Vineyard “South Knoll” zinfandel: opaque reddish purple. The nose was blackberry and fruit compote. This was “over the top jammy” “something that you’d put on waffles.” It overwhelms your senses before you even take a sip. Fat, it was so full and rich, with loads of fruit and a mild peppery finish. This was a “stand alone” wine, perhaps best suited for grilled beef or maybe breakfast.

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