Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Wide Wide World of Pinot and More

(photo credit: Jeremy Ball)

There's no such thing as a World of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara without the two gentlemen in the photo above, so let's start with them, which is pretty much what I did Friday at WOPN since there they were as I entered the ballroom at the Bacara. How can you not want to visit Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini from Hitching Post? Yeah, Yeah, movie, blah blah blah. We're talking guys who make killer juice and seem to enjoy it more than practically anyone and therefore you better too. They were kindly pairing up 2007s and 2014s of Julia's, Highliner, and Bien Nacido, and what we quickly learned was SB pinot does age well (we learned this again when Rick Longoria poured his 2013 and 2008 Fe Ciega).

OK, so the danger with any review of a WOPN weekend is diving so quickly into the details you forget the broad strokes, plus, simply put, so much great wine! I'm not going to write about every luscious swirl and sip, and frankly I admitted early on Friday in my notes "you're going to run out of adjectives for lovely, George," and late on Friday I wrote, after inhaling deep on a Brewer-Clifton 2008 Sta. Rita Hills, "I want to smell like this--everyone would love me!" That was Friday. I was back Saturday too, and at that point was reduced to pleasured grunting, practically.

One important thing to stress first: if you didn't realize it, we live in a golden age of pinot noir. First, cause people know what they're doing with it now, even in California where we've only had decades and not centuries like those lucky French to practice. But you can even get fascinating stuff from Spain (try Alta Pavina) or Austria (Weingut Wieninger). Second, because the world is one big market until someone messes that up (no tariffs, please). Third, who knows where our climate goes in a world where the EPA is run by someone who doesn't believe in the EPA? (I'm looking forward to that first atheist pope.)
 This year's WOPN was also a stunning showcase for what people are doing with the fruit from Gap's Crown on the Sonoma Coast. Expression, Guarachi, Lutum, Ram's Gate, Black Kite, Saxon Brown--the brilliant wines just kept coming from this spot that hits some magic warm enough yet sea-breeze-cooled calculus. It's never really cheap but it's always luscious.

Then there's these lessons, too--perhaps we're supposed to be looking at chardonnay from Santa Barbara anyway. The folks who were semi-sneaking pours of it delighted (well, Sonoma's Hirsch did too), and part of that was just the break from more cherry and berry; think of the chard as palate cleanser, if better than any sorbet. But winemaker Matt Dees from The Hilt insisted, "The chardonnay is so much better," and he could be right. 

Or it could be all the wine is better in so many fine hands, from old-timers like Lane Tanner, pouring a 1991 Lane Tanner pinot that still held some fruit and fascinating graphite, to Square Peg, dryfarming pinot in Sonoma in the middle of a zinfandel vineyard. Because then there's even something like Dolin's non-WOPN pour, The Blue Note, a Bordeaux blend...from the hills above Malibu. Like I said, it's a wonderful, unbelievable world.

Friday, March 3, 2017

In the Kitchen with Laurie Zalk

Laurie Zalk, the former longtime owner of Our Daily Bread and a brave, brave soul, has her work cut out for her. She’s leading a group of six middle-aged guys in an afternoon she’s billed Men Only: There’s Nothing to Eat in the Fridge.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ernest's The Artist Pinot Noir

From a very young vineyard (planted in 2012) in the Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, this pinot noir is surprisingly evolved and sophisticated — not hinting at any immaturity. Lovely and fetching, it leads with floral notes of dusty rose echoed in the body along with dried cherry/cranberry fruit. Aging it in 40 percent new French oak for 10 months adds more to the silky texture than the flavor. Pop it with something such as salmon with green harissa and you’ll have a fine evening.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pinot, Pi-yes!

Not one for alternative truths from the get go (I just called it BS in those simpler days),  I have to admit I bridle a bit at anything billing itself The World of anything. It's a big place, you know, the world. Pretty hard to encompass. Mighty ambitious of you.

But then there's the World of Pinot Noir, about to hold its 17th annual event at Bacara Resort & Spa March 3 and 4. It might not capture the whole world - there's probably some pinot growing in Slovenia or some place that doesn't make it past Ptuj - but it also gives you a chance to taste more of the world of pinot than you can get in a couple short days. Especially if you're fond of California pinot noir, as that tends to be the majority of pours. (Not to say I haven't had fine ones at previous iteration of the event from places as odd as the Finger Lakes, NY or Austria.)

And while the photo I led with is from one of the seminars a couple of years back, I want to spend this post discussing how best to navigate the two major tastings as opposed to attending the special events, which I'll get to next week. After all, I figure someone with a budding interest and more than a budding wallet (you sort of need one in full bloom, as tasting tickets start at $85), would want to taste up more than sit and learn. But at 100 wineries a day with 2-4 wines open each, you have to be selective or else you'll end up discovering a word 100x stronger than regret.

Decision 1: wide or deep?

Sure, you can just stumble around from table to table without a plan, and you will still have wonderful wines - it's pinot noir, after all. Or, you can opt for a theme. It's probably easiest to focus, to go with a region - hunt out only the Mendocino/Anderson Valley producers, since you like rose-leaning pinot, say - or if you're from Santa Barbara, stick close to home. (Even though you might choose to specialize and taste only Sta. Rita Hills or Santa Maria Valley.) Or maybe do only the roses, as producers at this event often bring their roses of pinot noir as spring is just around the corner, if that corner is wetter than it's been in years. Luckily the WOPN website let's you sort wineries by location, so you can be all set.

Or, go deep, and try some comparison shopping - perhaps a Sta. Rita Hills vs. Santa Maria Valley taste-off. Some wineries can help by having wines from both locations, even.

Decision 2: what you know or what you don't?

It's also good to decide how adventurous you feel. There's nothing wrong that visiting all your old favorites for on Friday, for instance, that could mean Alma Rosa, Brewer Clifton, Dragonette, and that's just the ABCD and we haven't got into SLO County, even. Or, you could only drink wines you've never drunk before, and you will be able to do that, too. Remember, 100 producers a day.

Part of me wanted to make recs, but there are too many good winemakers at this event. Just enjoy! And be sure to eat some food and drink water, too. Hydration today will be less headache tomorrow.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Club at UCSB Suits the Times

The Club doesn’t serve a club sandwich ​— ​the atavistic, multi-bread-layered favorite of our forefathers ​— ​and that’s a huge hint about what’s up at UCSB’s recently renovated on-campus restaurant/hotel/conference facility.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Wine + Food = Two Times Good

What's in a name? Well, if it's both wine and food, that's twice as good, no?

That's what the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum figured, so to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the longest running feast in Santa Barbara County it officially changed the name of the Santa Barbara Wine Festival to the Santa Barbara Food + Wine Festival.

In the photo above you see Meredith Moore, the extraordinary organizer of this fete, showing off the new logo. The name isn't just branding bluster but the lord's honest truth, for no wine festival has as much or as good food as this one, which makes sense since SB has so much fine food to offer. But Moore has always also worked to get food booths close to wines that could suggest spot-on pairings, and her hope for the 2017 edition is to have a food vendor alongside each winery, 50 for 50.That's a perfect score in more ways than one.

Here's some history of my coverage of the Festival in past years, when you had to suffer with only 20 or 30 food booths (of course, you might have got on the line at Chef Michael Hutchings or Renaud's or Ca Dario more than once, but I won't tell).

Away from State Street for Solstice

A Festival from the Winery's Perspective

Under the Oaks

A Museum-Quality Wine Festival

And, in a moment of prescience, we gave the festival a Santa Barbara Independent Foodie Award back in 2012.

So you might want to take advantage of the deal they've got cooking right now:
Member Price: $75, Non-member Price: $100
*LIMITED TIME OFFER* Use promo code "wineandfood" to receive Member pricing on general admission. Hurry – this offer expires on Sunday, 1/29/17, at 10:00 PM! Tickets on sale here.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sip This: Dulce Vida Grapefruit

Flavored tequila might seem a superfluous notion, like gilding a lily or bronzing an orchid. But if you don’t have the time to pour and shake, there’s Dulce Vida. (They’ve got a lime version in addition to the grapefruit.) They infuse with real flavors, so you definitely get your Paloma on as soon as you open the bottle. Just pour over ice, and add club soda depending on how many you will consume.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.