When I read a wine book, I am usually not looking for scores, ratings and tasting notes. Rather, I am interested in the stories behind the wines and the people in the industry.
American Vintage by Paul Lukacs is a very readable history of wine in the United States.
And in The Great Wines of America, Mr. Lukacs makes his case for the top forty wineries of America. You may not agree with his choices, but he makes excellent arguments to support his picks.
Finally, in The Emperor of Wine, Elin McCory writes about the man who is arguably the most influential wine critic in the world — Robert M. Parker, Jr.
There are a lot more wine books out there; in fact, I have several more at home waiting for me to get to them.
Now, when will Eve be writing her book?
Sure, I enjoy drinking wine. That’s pretty obvious.
But the best experiences always involve more than just wine.
Best of all are romantic dinners with my wife.
But next are those times when wine serves as a great accompaniment to the people you’re with, the food you are eating, and the conversations and camaraderie that result. Plus, as an added bonus, when there are more people in attendance, it is an opportunity to try more than just one wine.
Last Saturday night we were at All Corked Up. Not a big surprise as you’ll usually find us there on either Friday or Saturday evening. But, when wine buyer Vic Herstein has his band Vic Rocks playing, you can almost guarantee that we will be there, usually with a group of friends.
This time there were nine of us, and over the next five-plus hours we enjoyed the band, the food, the conversation and, of course, the wine. Some of the wine highlights:
2005 Turley Hayne Zinfandel
2005 Haywood Los Chamizal Vineyard Zinfandel
2005 Carlisle Pietro’s Ranch Zinfandel
2005 Marquis Philips Grail of Lisa Shiraz
2005 Schubert Goose Yard Shiraz
For the white-wine drinkers, we had a Spatlase [sorry, I did not get the name] and a bottle of Four Vines Naked Chardonnay.
Later in the week, we met some dear friends of ours at Malbec, an Argentinean restaurant in Pasadena. We had not gotten together in several months and we had a lot to talk about — 4 hours worth actually! The food was great, and after empanadas, some grilled seafood, and possibly the best skirt steak I had ever had, we wondered where the time went. To accompany the meal we had two Carlisle Zinfandels, both from the 2006 vintage — one from the Carlo’s Ranch vineyard and the other from Rossi Ranch, as well as a Trapiche Malbec.
Finally, Thursday night was the barbecue at All Corked Up. Sponsored by Barbecues Galore, there were enough propane-burning machines there to make Hank Hill swoon. This time, we went by ourselves. The response had been so great that seats had to be assigned, so we entrusted our evening to Jennifer Russell, who, as always, did a fabulous job putting this event together. And, Jennifer could not have done a better job in selecting our table-mates and, now, new friends. Another long evening with wonderful conversation, terrific food, and the great music of the band Acoustic Soul. [Unfortunately, we didn’t stay for the final set, when Vic sat in for “White Room” and “Mustang Sally”.] Before we got to know our dining companions, we had started with a bottle of 2006 Outpost Zinfandel, which we gladly offered a pour of to our new friends. We also tried their Nickel & Nickel Zinfandel. Then, I pulled a bottle of 2006 Shane Syrah out of the locker. More wine was being shared as well. At some point during the evening, my new friend Chuck commented to me that wine always tastes better when you are drinking it with the right people, which is what I’ve been trying to say in this article.
Let me start out by saying that, as a rule, I don’t attend events that use tasting tickets, for a couple of reasons. I find them awkward to deal with and I actually tend to consume more wine than I might ordinarily do, as I am more tempted to finish the entire pour. I much prefer being able to taste [not drink] as many wines as possible which really helps to expand my knowledge [and enjoyment]. I am sure the people who run these festivals have reasons for choosing one format over the other.
That being said, the Trump National Wine & Beer Festival was being held on Sunday, August 16th at the Trump National Golf Course in Rancho Palos Verdes, a magnificent property right on the water and also right near my wife’s side of the family. And, as ticketed events go, it was fairly reasonable, at $20 for ten tastes.
A lot of tasty wine was being poured by wineries and distributors such as:
The above is just a partial list. My particular favorites were: Qupe Syrah — Always a quality product. Cline Cellars — Their Zins and Syrahs were what got me into these varietals in the first place many years ago and it was good to see they have not lost their touch. Clos Solene — An outstanding Roussane from Paso Robles. I also very much enjoyed meeting Carla King-Keiser from Free Run Juice, LLC. She represents several wineries and I really enjoyed the Syrahs she was pouring from Malm and Quixote. Finally, I want to mention the band that was playing while we were there — Heartless. I think they are primarily a Heart tribute band, but they threw in a lot of other artists as well, including some really spot on Janis Joplin. We ended up having a very nice time. Now if they could just do something about those tickets.
Cheateau Ste Michelle
Derby Wine Estates
The above is just a partial list.
My particular favorites were:
Qupe Syrah — Always a quality product.
Cline Cellars — Their Zins and Syrahs were what got me into these varietals in the first place many years ago and it was good to see they have not lost their touch.
Clos Solene — An outstanding Roussane from Paso Robles.
I also very much enjoyed meeting Carla King-Keiser from Free Run Juice, LLC. She represents several wineries and I really enjoyed the Syrahs she was pouring from Malm and Quixote.
Finally, I want to mention the band that was playing while we were there — Heartless. I think they are primarily a Heart tribute band, but they threw in a lot of other artists as well, including some really spot on Janis Joplin.
We ended up having a very nice time. Now if they could just do something about those tickets.
I just don’t seem to taste the things that other people taste, picking up notes of gooseberries and nuances of brambles, and so on. [Maybe it’s due to too many high octane Zins and Shirazes. Who knows?] And that’s probably why I found trying to contribute to Eve’s blog so darn intimidating.
I know when I like something.
I know when a Turley Zin blows me away.
Or when I’m digging a Mollydooker Blue-Eyed Boy Shiraz.
Or enjoying the impenetrable darkness of a Biale Petite Sirah.
But I can rarely tell you why.
Often, I’ll recognize a flavor when someone points it out to me. But that’s not the same as noticing it myself. And, then I might get called out, like when my brother-in-law thought it was funny that I agreed with Stephanie at All Corked Up when she tried our Copain Syrah and pointed out the bell pepper notes. [But, then my brother-in-law pretty much always laughs at me.]
I definitely get the whole “cat pee” thing associated with certain Sauvignon Blancs. [And I like it.]
I enjoyed the lavender notes I got from an Outpost Zinfandel.
And I occasionally like the vanilla flavors from oak, so long as they don’t overpower the wine.
And barrel tasting David Fulton’s first Zin gave me an amazing milk chocolate experience.
But, mostly, I either just like it or I don’t.
When Michael Bonaccorsi passed away, his death rocked the close knit Southern California wine community. Not only was he just the twentieth American to be awarded the Master Sommelier Diploma, and was Sommelier at the original Spago Restaurant, and then the Beverly Hills location, but his winery. Bonaccorsi Wine Company was making a name for itself as well. He died at the age of 43.
In 2004, The Michael Bonaccorsi Scholarship Fund at UC Davis was created in his honor. Annually, Wally’s Wine & Spirits in West L.A. holds an event to raise money for this fund. I had the pleasure of attending the most recent event.
When I got there, it became evident to me that, even though the event is billed as Central Coast, it was mainly southern Central Coast, which meant lots and lots of Pinot Noir. I am sure they were all very good – the ones I tried were certainly tasty. But, when I am not drinking Zin, I am pretty much stuck in the Rhone Zone, and I began my search for Syrahs and the like.
And I was not disappointed.
The Piedrasassi 2007 Syrah Rim Rock Vineyard was pretty incredible. It had just been bottled and didn’t even have a label on it yet. It had everything I look for in a Syrah, great nose, wonderful flavor and a long finish.
But there were others as well, such as the Syrah from Falcone Family Vineyards, which is the private label from the winemaker at Rusack. The non-vintage Annate blend was delicious as well.
Other Syrahs I really enjoyed were:
Beckman 2007 Purisima Mountain Block Six
Foxen 2006 Williamson-Dore
Holus Bolus 2007
Paul Lato 2007 Larner “Cinematique” [Larner Vineyard Syrahs seem to always taste great.]
Qupe 2006 Bien Nacido Hillside Estate
And it was great to taste the blends being poured by Linne Calodo from Paso Robles.
Finally meeting my Facebook friend Dave Corey and tasting his CORE wines was a highlight as well.
Not to mention the food. Several L.A. restaurants as well as ones from the Central Coast were serving, including my favorite from Paso Robles – Artisan.
But the best part of the day…
I’ve known Eve for some time. I’ve been a fan of her writing, we’ve exchanged tons of emails, and I have recently been granted the opportunity to guest-post on her blog. And, she was my first Facebook friend, being the one to encourage me to sign up in the first place.
But, we had never met in person. Last Sunday, we had the opportunity to spend a few hours together, talking about the wine, the food, and a bunch of other stuff. This, to me, is what wine should be all about, sharing it with friends and family, with plenty of food and conversation, not trying to rate it in some sterile environment but enjoying it as part of life.
See you at Rhone Rangers, Eve, and your readers as well. [I’ll certainly get my Syrah fix there!]
On any given day of the week [except Mondays – they’re closed] you’ll find Vic at All Corked Up, staffing the retail store or wandering the restaurant, ready to talk wine with you, determine what you like, and able to offer his expert advice on what might best suit your palate.
On Friday and Saturday nights, if you’re lucky, Vic will sit in for a couple of numbers with whoever is entertaining that evening, offering his vocals on songs such as “Mustang Sally” and “White Room”.
And, if you are really lucky, you’ll be at All Corked Up when his band, Vic Rocks, is playing.
Vic’s love of music possibly started with his Grandpa Jack, a bandleader, and his Mother who in youth was a vocalist with her dad’s band.
His appreciation of wine started at the tender age of 10, with the memory of family=2 0dinners in the wine cellar of Mama Leone’s in New York, and being granted sips of Chiantis and Barolos.
Fortunately for Vic, the legal drinking age in the New York / New Jersey area was 18, so when he turned that age he was then able to go to work for next door neighbor Ike Shapiro’s wine and liquor store in NYC. There, he was exposed to European wines and was able to hone his palate on 2nd, 3rd and 4th growth Bordeaux. This was in the early 70s, so Vic was enjoying French wines such as Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse. California wine had not yet hit it big, although that was soon to change.
[Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse – great stuff. I remember in the late 1980s my boss being given a case of it by one of his suppliers. Since he only drank California Chardonnay, he gave it to me. Nice!]
Vic’s interest in art took him to Europe for the first time in 1973, where he visited 38 art museums in 42 days, visiting museums all over Europe. His love of painting also took him to the Cooper Union School of Art, and three years later he finished getting his BFA at the brand new California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. During the next fifteen years, he exhibited his paintings in a rt galleries in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
At the same time, his prior experience in wine and liquor helped him to gain employment in that industry. Starting at Gourmet Liquors in Newhall, Vic soon moved to Sunrise Spirits. Marriage in the late 1970s took him back to New York, where he first went back to work with the Shapiro brothers and then as head chef for his family’s restaurant.
Marriage also took him to Europe for the second time, where he got to experience great wineries in France and Italy. He also developed an appreciation for the wonderful everyday wines of Europe.
But California beckoned, and Vic returned in 1980, where he went back to work for Sunrise Spirits, where he got to witness firsthand the California wine boom that resulted from the 1976 Judgment of Paris, where California wines shockingly bested their French counterparts. This time, Vic worked at Sunrise until the early 1990s, when the store was sold.
In the meantime, Vic’s marriage ended amicably after 13-years. He pretty much gave up painting. His brother David moved in with him, and asked Vic to teach him bass guitar, which helped to rekindle Vic’s interest in music. Soon he was playing in venues in the Santa Clarita Valley, as well as in the San Fernando Valley, mainly Rock and Blues.
One of the potential buyers of Sunrise was Yoon Lee. Although Lee did not end up buying Sunrise, he and Vic became friends and Lee ended up being a big part of Vic’s career down the road.
Vic soon followed the original owners of Sunrise, when they bought the Irvine Ranch Markets. With them, he became a wine buyer as well as manager of the cheese department. Unfortunately, Irvine Ranch was not to survive, the final straw being the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, and Vic found himself back at Sunrise.
[I think this is when Vic and I first met – not at Sunrise, but when he was working the Sunrise table at the annual Santa Clarita Valley Wine Classic at Cal Arts.]
But again, destiny called, when, in 2003, Lee invited him to interview at All Corked Up. Vic did so, and was hired. Lee has since moved on, and Vic is now wine buyer at All Corked Up.
Although, as I said above, I met Vic much earlier, I didn’t really get to know him until I started going to All Corked Up just about a year or so ago. I quickly realized that, while his palate and wine knowledge exceeded mine by leaps and bounds, we did have in common our love of fruit driven wines. One of his early favorites in this kind of wine was the Brochelle Zinfandel from Paso Robles, and he has since expanded his experience of Paso Robles wines, as well as other regions that are known for these kinds of wines, such as Toro in Spain, Puglia in Italy, and Australia’s Barossa Valley. Since I am especially fond of Paso Robles and Barossa Valley wines, we have much in common in this area. I am looking forward to him teaching me about the other wine regions as well.
In reading over the above, I realize that I am a poor wordsmith and have not done Vic Herstein justice. I think the only way to really know Vic is to go visit him at All Corked Up, get him to recommend a bottle of wine, and [hopefully] get him to sing
My wife left for her seminar via Southwest Airlines on a Sunday afternoon. As the class was scheduled to end 12:30 on Wednesday, I hit the road bright and early Wednesday morning. Leaving around 7:00 AM, I pulled into downtown Napa just as Karen’s seminar was ending.
First order of business — lunch!
I’ve been getting the Bounty Hunter catalogs for what seems like forever, but have never visited this combination wine store, tasting bar and restaurant. So, we stopped in for lunch, shared a flight of reds, and I had possibly the best pulled-pork sandwich that I had ever eaten. Awesome!
Then we wandered around downtown Napa, visiting some of the tasting rooms that were open in town. After hitting a few of those, we discovered Vintner’s Collective.
Vintner’s Collective pours wine from a multitude of wineries. For a tasting fee of $25, they spend time consulting with you to ascertain your tastes, and then pick wines to match. And I have to say, they lived up to their promise. It didn’t take long before I was tasting some exceptional Zinfandels and Syrahs. My favorites were the Syrahs from JC Cellars and the Zins from D-Cubed.
We had dinner at Brix Restaurant. Outstanding food and service. And they treated the bottle of JC Cellars Syrah that we had brought in as if it was one of their own.
The next day, it was off to our appointments. Of course, we were early, so on the way to the first appointment we stopped off at Ballentine Vineyards, where we enjoyed a nice selection, including very good Syrah, Zin and Petite.
Our first appointment of the day was at Outpost Wines. Outpost is way up Howell Mountain, and is worth the drive. They make some incredible Zinfandel, Petite and Grenache. The also make Cabernet, which I really enjoyed — unusual for me, but there seems to be something special about Howell Mountain fruit. And the view is truly breathtaking.
We stopped for lunch at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in St. Helena. Great burgers [including the Ahi burger that Karen had] and delicious sweet potato fries, and the only burger stand I know of with a wine list and corkage policy.
Our second appointment was in St. Helena at David Fulton Winery and Vineyards. An old [2010 will be their 150th anniversary] and very small winery, they only make Petite Syrah and it is great! Hard to believe we managed to spend about 2 hours there with the owners, Fulton [4th generation] and Dink [Erma] Mather. We also met their son Richard, the current winemaker, and he and I spent a lot of time down in the barrel room. Very gracious [and patient] hosts.
That pretty much took care of our wine tasting day. These days, I would much rather have a few, quality tasting experiences, rather than several visits to bigger wineries. And, I solved my problem about what to do in Cab County. I can’t wait to go back!
It seems everybody who goes to Paso now has a different experience, since there are now so many wineries to choose from. This was our latest.
We try to get to Paso about twice per year, usually timed to the Turley pick-up parties. In the old days [getting redundant, huh?], we used to go to several more wineries each day we would be there. Nowadays, we try to pick a couple of old favorites and a couple of new ones to try.
We are not really fans of the bigger and/or busier tasting rooms, although we still love to visit Tobin James [disclaimer – we are in their wine club]. Always a fun experience, but a far cry from when we first discovered Toby’s wines at a small tasting room called Templeton Corners, on Main Street in Templeton [where else?]. Templeton Corners specialized in pouring wines produced by wineries that didn’t have their own tasting rooms. [I don’t think Toby even had his own winery yet, let alone a tasting room.]
Although we usually try to stop by Tobin James on the way into Paso, we got there too late Friday for this. Instead, we just made it in time for our reservations at Artisan, one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. Had a great dinner and headed over to Cambria.
The next morning, we went to the Turley party and had a terrific time. Always fun to talk to Larry Turley and winemaker Ehren Jordan, as well as a bunch of dedicated Turley lovers of all ages.
Before heading back into Cambria for lunch, we stopped at 4 Vines for a tasting of their latest releases. Very nice Zins and red Rhones [disclaimer: we’re in their club, too], although I am not sure my humor was appreciated when I said their wines would go very well with the “live venison” we saw grazing on the adjacent hill.
Sunday morning, we made an early stop at Castoro, one of the older wineries in the area. They are always pouring a plethora of nice wines and the people are very friendly.
Then we headed over to our appointment at Ecluse Winery. For this, I owe Vic at All Corked Up a debt of gratitude. They had recently paid him a visit so he could taste their wines. [I think one of his customers had mentioned ACU to the owners of Ecluse.] Knowing what we like, he suggested we go visit them.
He was absolutely right! Great Rhones and Zin! The tasting was in the barrel room and we were hosted by the owners, Steve and Pam Lock. Very much reminded me of the old days, or at least what I think I remember of them. A perfect tasting experience. My only regret was that I didn’t ask for a tour of the property. Next time for sure! Bought several bottles.
Heading down the road from Ecluse, I spied the sign for Fratelli Perata. An old time winery [for Paso] that has stayed very small and off the beaten path. [Come to think of it, I first had their wine at Templeton Corners also, and they showed me the old logo glass to prove it.] They do have a tasting room, staffed by the family. Really enjoyed the Italian varietals and bought several.
[In the same vicinity as Ecluse, we stopped by another winery that I was really looking forward to. The wines were very good. But, in comparison to the two above, it was very impersonal. I realize that not all owners want to be onsite, and that is of course their choice. But just having a pretty girl pouring wine in the tasting room isn’t the tasting experience I am looking for.]
Pretty much at our wine tasting limit for a Sunday [getting old], we visited the Pasolivo Olive Ranch, then had lunch at Panolivo in Paso, walked around downtown Paso for awhile and then headed home. Can’t wait until next time!