Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Mile High Wine Club: An Interview with an Airline Sommelier

When L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti claims, "LAX will be the busiest Thanksgiving airport in the country for a third year in a row," you assume that he says that with a unique mix of pride and worry. For many of us, this weekend kicks off a stretch of air travel, whether jetting off to somewhere fun or somewhere obligatory.

So that makes it time to look at how airlines choose how you arrive properly lubricated. American Airlines has spent a lot of time and money ($2 billion "to enhance the entire customer travel experience") of late, and one part of that is upgrading their wine service, particularly for Business and First Classes. For its inaugural flight to and from Los Angeles to Sydney on December 17th, you can savor pours from a rare $850 bottle of 2010 Penfolds Grange, one of Australia's most esteemed wines.

American Airlines has also been working with wine consultant Ken Chase to update its lists. SoCal Spirits interviewed Chase recently about his work with American.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's Food Blog.

Sip This: Habit Red Blend

2012 Habit Wine Company Red: Jeff Fischer started out as a garagiste and still makes a small amount of wine to which he pays very keen attention.

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Five & a 1/4: New Wine Bar Goes Old World

(Photo courtesy/"borrowed" from Five & a 1/4's website.)

From the mouths of babes come names of wine bars. That was the case for business partners Jeremy Bohrer (of Still, the cocktail supply store on Ortega Street) and Sayward Rebhal (healthy lifestyle blogger at when they were trying to name their new spot, an afternoon-to-evening collaboration inside Pacific Crêpes, which is Still’s Anacapa Street neighbor.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Outside the Box Drinking for Thanksgiving

Perhaps no holiday can seem as traditional as Thanksgiving. It's easy to feel as if the proscribed menu leaves its deep rings on us just like the ones on the canned cranberry sauce Aunt Emmaline plops out into an heirloom dish each year. So while it's not my place to suggest you shake up your meal, I can certainly offer you a bunch of out-of-the-box options for potent potables. You don't have to fall back on chardonnay as the only white wine to go with a bird (although many certainly do), or pinot noir as the only red (ibid), or worse yet, fall for the marketing scam that is Beaujolais Nouveau.

Want to read more then do so at KCET's Food Blog.

Sip This: Center of Effort Pinot Noir

Center of Effort Pinot Noir 2012: Coming from a Sustainable in Practice, or SIP, certified estate vineyard in the heart of the Edna Valley, Center of Effort’s eponymous pinot noir features up to 40 small lots fermented separately with native yeasts and then aged separately for 20 months in French oak, too.

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sip This: Alpine Beer Company's Nelson

Alpine Beer Company’s Nelson: Long a favorite of hopheads, the brews from Alpine in the picturesque mountain hamlet of the same name east of San Diego are at last seeing wider distribution thanks to a partnership between Alpine and Green Flash (the Alpine beers even come in Green Flash 22 oz. bombers).

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It's Time to Move Fast on SLO Wine

It's not everyday you get to sit in a historic lighthouse accessed by a particularly winding, cliff-hugging road offering eye-popping vistas, so why not taste a pinot noir while you sit staring out the window at the glittering Pacific? It's a wine made from grapes all grown within five miles of the Pacific, too. But that's the way things roll in San Luis Obispo wine country.

They like to call it SLO Wine Country, but the acronym reverberates in both positive and negative ways for the 30 or so wineries in the region. The laid-back charm of the slightly sleepier beach towns of Pismo and Avila is hard to deny -- wonderful restaurants are taking off (try Ember in Arroyo Grande and The Spoon Trade in Grover Beach); the idyllic drives through the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys match more acclaimed California wine regions but with far less bustle and traffic, and it's easier to have more personal chats with winemakers in this region.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's Food Blog.

Monday, November 9, 2015

No Dumb Fire Pun Can Do Ember Justice

(Image purloined from the restaurant's website.)

Having eaten chef Brian Collins' food at the Lido Restaurant in Pismo Beach and Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, and having thoroughly enjoyed both, and having not eaten at Chez Panisse, where he also worked for six years, but of course knowing of Alice Waters' famed spot that more or less launched a cuisine, my expectations ran high as we entered Ember, his spot in Arroyo Grande everyone's raved about since it opened two years ago. That kind of grand set-up can lead to disappointment, of course.

Somehow Ember exceeded even my hopeful yearnings. That started simply with the clever layout, with the large, open kitchen right next to you as you walk through the door. Heck, if you're going to cook with lots of open flame--both a tiled pizza oven and a glowing brazier--you might as well make it a hearth, too. Of course, there's more than warming heat, then; there's a wondrous waft of whatever dishes are about to emerge, enough to make anyone hungry. Plus the cooks all seem cool despite the fire, sure to say hello and goodbye to each passerby. Quite a welcome.

We came expecting to wait--they don't take reservations--but we got a Thursday night table quickly. Then came the tricky part, limiting what to order from the menu that changes monthly (we were there for the new Nov-EMBER menu). Yes, Ember is all about the local and seasonal, but it takes a peasant's look at things, that old "simple isn't always best best the best is always simple" view. So a salad featuring Jerusalem artichokes and pickled persimmons has them both sliced paper fine, like tasty translucent panes to view the rest of the salad--arugula, toasted hazelnuts, some slivers of sublime cheese--through.

Then a roasted cauliflower (how nice this humble crucifer is hip in kitchens again) got star treatment atop a crunchy farro and pine nut pilaf itself atop some baby lettuces softened by the dish's warmth. You dip that into a yogurt that's surprisingly rich, redolent of Italian peppers crushed to give it a tinge of rosiness, and that just enough mint to say mint and not Doublemint. Collins has the medley magic down--everything blends and the flavors do better than add up, they multiply together into a humming seamless yum.

Of course we had to have a pizza. (Recall your own pleasure-inducing groan for a Full of Life flatbread moment here.) It seemed pretty impossible to pass on the wild mushroom one (chanterelles, and where are they getting them?, lobster, and black trumpet), with a smoked leek cream sauce (that tastes even better than it reads), and Truffle Tremor cheese. Indulgent, sure, but it was an evening that at least felt like fall and needed something to keep us warm for the rest of the evening.

Don't skip dessert, whatever you do. Ember offers a seared pumpkin spice cake that will ruin you for that flavor forever, so rich, real, deep. It certainly doesn't hurt the plate also offers a brown butter ice cream (a brilliant idea, well executed), pepita brittle, and little luscious dollops of maple bourbon custard. Again, the tones of the dish all sang, sweet but not saccharine, salt but not salty, some crunch, some cream.

Plus lots of local beer and wine they'll give you tastes of, and not just the usual suspects--I particularly enjoyed a robust Tannat from Paso Robles Le Vigne, for instance.

Plus plus fine service, knowledgeable, watchful, wry.

My only complaint with Ember is it's over an hour away.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Rhone Rangers Offer Up All of Grenache's Guises

 (photo courtesy Larry Schaffer)

You might not trick anybody if you ask him or her what's the most commonly grown wine grape in the world. Most people would guess or know it's cabernet sauvignon. But you could win quite a few bar bets asking people what's the second most commonly grown wine grape globally.

Meet Grenache. A work horse in the Rhone region of France, a favorite in Australia, a cornerstone of the Spanish wine industry (some think it originated there, where it's called Garnacha), Grenache has a checkered history in the U.S. Because as much as the varietal can make delicious wines -- think Châteauneuf-du-Pape -- it also can grow prodigiously, and for years was crucial to filling millions of jugs of wine coming out of California's Central Valley. And you know how it is when you're cheap and loved by everybody -- you don't get the best of reputations.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's Food Blog.

Sip This: Campo Viejo Tempranillo

Campo Viejo 2013 Tempranillo: At right around $10 retail, it’s easy to think of this Spanish charmer as “Tempt-ranillo.” Even easier is the common quandary of, how do European winemakers make and ship us such tasty values when it’s so hard to get a tasty bargain from California?

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