Thursday, March 31, 2016

Deliciously Dario

If you’ve ever been to one of Santa Barbara’s countless fundraising-with-food events, then you’ve had this moment. There’s a crowd, so you can’t quite see what booth you’re headed to, but you certainly can smell it. Woody, slightly evergreen, enveloping and enticing, mildly minty, musky — it’s sage, you realize, crisped in brown butter. Then you reach for Ca’ Dario’s trademark dish, ravioli al burro e salvia, and eat the pasta pillows with the same utter joy you’ve experienced at similar festivals before. We awarded the dish one of The Santa Barbara Independent’s first Foodie Awards for good reason.

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Basil So Nasal (Yes, This Is a Cocktail)

There's always that temptation to save dinner's leftovers for tomorrow's breakfast scramble, or if there's enough remaining, the next supper. My suggestion is this--throw those leftovers into a cocktail. Tonight our daughter and daughter-in-law kindly made us a scrumptious vegetable red curry dinner that got some Thai basil as garnish. So while we devoured every last curry drop, we still had a bit of the basil left.

I'm drinking it right now. I had a bag of limes that desperately asked to be juiced, and I had that lovely curry still warming my palate. You can guess where the flavor profile will go from there for The Curiouser Cocktail. And yes, buy some Aperol. Think of it as Campari light (not lite)--less alcohol, less bitters, less color. But lots of exotic citrus and spice. It gives the ginger, lime, and basil mid-range they'd never have on their own. As for that shrub, you can buy it in Santa Barbara at Still, where all you discerning drinkers should be shopping.

The Curiouser Cocktail

(makes two drinks)

2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 TBS. or so of torn Thai basil leaves
4 oz vodka (I used Snow Leopard)
1 oz. ginger shrub (I used the one by Shrub & Co.)
1 oz. Aperol

Muddle the basil in the lime juice. Add the vodka, ginger shrub, and Aperol, ice, and shake well. Strain with a mesh (to keep out all the torn basil) into two old-fashioned glasses that each have one large ice cube. Garnish with a star anise per drink, if you got them, but that's all for added aromatics, a nice plus but not crucial.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Savoring a Solvang Spring

On Alamo Pintado Road, the Buttonwood Farm-Winery-Vineyard is a secret in plain sight. If you pull in to the tasting room, then walk out back, the rest of Solvang seems to fall away. Our brief bursts of rain turned the thirsty hills gushingly green; the herb garden did its always seasonally blooming thing; goats and their kids scrambled along the rolling landscape. Pastoral at its picture perfect. Such was the case last Saturday for Buttonwood's Taste of Solvang dinner, when all the makings came from within 25 miles of the lovely veranda we all sat upon for the five-course meal (preceded by some goat cheese sprinkled with farm-made olive oil and fresh herbs paired with the 2014 Sauv Blanc, a snack I could easily have made a dinner of all by itself).

Now I could take you through the meal course-by-course, and not talking at all about the charred lamb chops with tomatillo harissa atop canary bean hummus you scooped with fresh, grilled naan hurts a bit, as I hadn't had lamb quite that vivid in years.

But no, I want to talk about salad. Because we so often don't, and should, but too often can't beyond to say, "Yeah, there was one." But what Chef Conrad Gonzales of Vallefresh did with this one, well, you can see it above, and that's one crucial component. Take that pink paint. Sure, too many kitchens smear a dish without something before sending it out, thinking some color is everything, as if cooking for Instagram. But this beet-infused goat cheese you needed to scrape off the plate, it was so tasty, and its coral pink echoed the zingy Buttonwood Syrah Rose. (Karen Steinwachs is making some rocking wines that cry out for delicious food. Their cries got more than answered all evening.)

What's more, it's a tad early for strawberries of course. So to remedy that possible less-than-peak problem, Gonzales pickled them. Berry sweet up to the point they could manage, then the vinegar kicked in, just enough to make you remember how delicious Balsamic is on strawberries. That all gets cut by the greens, a mix of market and foraged, lettuce and herb, leaf and flower. So many textures, flavors, the idea of salad expanding. The fine fat of avocado. The crunch of a toss of toasted almonds. A pickled carrot, so much earth. And the hardboiled egg, from the farm, of course, so the yolk is the yellow of a rain slicker.

It's something to get the chance to devour spring.

Sip This: The Withers Ruben

The Withers Ruben El Dorado Mourvèdre Blend 2013: While it’s more typical to lead your Rhône blend with grenache, the very talented team at The Withers (the tallest part of the horse, hence wines that aim high) has opted to feature mourvèdre (82% of the blend) in this MGS, as it were. That makes Ruben deep, dark, and delicious, with enticing earthy and brambly notes.

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

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pico Opens in Los Alamos General Store

It may be the best defense when opening a new restaurant: Walk the floor holding your one-month-old. Who’d be callous enough to say anything even slightly mean to you?

But while Will Henry and Kali Kopley did take turns holding their taking-it-all-in daughter, Winslow, at the recent soft opening of their new restaurant, Pico, they weren’t protecting themselves from anything. Instead, the husband-wife-kid trio symbolized just how homey this addition to the burgeoning Los Alamos scene intends to be.

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

Sip This: Bubble Shack Brut Rose

The Bubble Shack Fesstivity Brut Rosé 2014: Fesstivity should be the clue — this sparkling is an effort of Fess Parker family siblings Ashley Parker-Snider (executive vice president) and Eli Parker (currently director of vineyard operations). With more than 600 acres to tap, there’s plenty of vineyard to manage, and luckily some of the best led to this wine, as it’s sourced from pinot noir grown in the Rio Vista Vineyard of the Sta. Rita Hills.

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

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bullet Point-esque Round Up. WOPN: Day 2

What else can I say then I got to spend a Saturday afternoon eating cheese and Pinot and then chocolate truffles and Pinot? Fromagerie Sophie not only nailed their pairings but also introduced me to seven cheeses I had never had before. (Go find Olivet Fain, Langres, and Chiriboga Obere Mu Blue right now.) And then the always spectacular Jessica Foster blew everyone away by finding chocolate that worked with the not-as-deep Pinot.

Some lovely random quotes and notes: "Cheese B.O.," "You cheese flipping robot!," "It's almost like the chocolate chews itself."

Media room. Three walls of Pinot. Lots of highlights, but perhaps most special as most rare, the Rusack 2013 from Santa Catalina. It's no mere stunt--a bit more bramble, a bit more wild, a lot more lovely.

Steve Clifton, no stranger to rock and roll himself, and his wife Chrystal, are killing it with the new La Voix label. Part of the fun is the wines all got rock names, including the 2012 Reflektor, from the Machado Vineyard, which I waxed eloquently about yesterday. So, yes, drink and dance madly.

Discovery! Withers, which we couldn't pass up given Branden Bidwell, wine director of the Wine Cask was tasting at their table and singing praises. an incredible range, from an Anderson Valley Pinot to Rhone blends from the Sierra Foothills you want to drink.

Ridiculous deliciousness from folks I've previewed in the run up to WOPN: E16, Hitching Post, Failla, Ampelos.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Bullet Point-esque Round Up: WOPN, Day 1

What's good after day one at World of Pinot Noir? Almost everything. What's bad? You can't drink everything.

But if I have to report on some of the highlights, and that truly means some amazing things as so many of the wines are so good, well, here you go....

So many great people, from winemakers to media to industry to drinkers (we need them too, remember). People are just flat out nice when they're drinking good wine. So maybe we all need to do that more.

Balletto from Sonoma across the board, in particularly their 2011 Sexton Hill Vineyard, which came into even clearer focus after tasting the young but on its way 2014 from the same vineyard.

Hilliard Bruce 2009, which was singing, especially out of a magnum.

Lane Tanner pouring a 25 year old Sierra Madre pinot. That still had fruit. SB isn't supposed to age like that. (And her Lumen 2014 showed she's amazing still.)

Montemar pouring 5 different Pinots (vineyards and vintages), pleasing with all, and knocking it out of the park with a 2012 Zotovich, with enticing black pepper on its nose and finish.

Dolin also strong across the board, but especially nailing a 2012 Solomon Hills.

Kynsi's estate/Stone Corral, a wine that could put Edna Valley on the map all by itself.

The Qupe clan nailing Pinot (does that mean someday we get Jim Clendenen's syrah?), particularly with the ethereal 2012 Sawyer-Lindquist.

Alta Maria Vineyard shaking things up with a carbonic Pinot that's light and lovely.

Brewer-Clifton doing their usual amazing work, and is their Machado Santa Barbara's best Pinot?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Rancho Ontiveros Has Got CA Roots to 1781

Well, at least James Ontiveros does, although land grants come and land grants go. (That was the history of our state in as few words as possible.) He's a viticulturist, so about the land and what we grow in it, which means in Santa Barbara County you have to grapple with the grape. Teaming with winemaker Paul Wilkins, and again this is too much history in too few words, they've crafted brilliant wines in the Santa Maria Valley since the 2004 vintage as Alta Maria Vineyards and also Native9. Onitveros says, "There is a spice element that comes out of Santa Maria Valley that is entirely unique. Terrific balance of ripeness, freshness, and terrific aromatics."

As for exactly what wines Ontiveros will pour at World of Pinot Noir on Saturday, he's a bit coy, claiming he will share a "strong line up of our finest wines, because when we show up we want people to experience us at our best."It could be something like the 2012 Santa Maria Valley Pinot that Wine & Spirits hailed as a best buy. Or perhaps something a bit more out there like a 2014 carbonic Pinot Noir; as their website puts it, "Our second Cru Beaujolais Style Pinot Noir is made using 100% Carbonic Maceration. It's fermented for 31 days using whole-cluster grapes without crushing or pumping over the free draining juice in a closed stainless steel tank and bottled only 4 months after harvest."

But such an unusual for California experiment isn't really the norm for Alta Maria. Instead, Ontiveros wants people to know their wine is "the real deal, estate grown, organically farmed. It's about showing the only variable is the vintage with the consistent being the people and the site. It's truly a wine of place and time."

Eat This: Mushroom Bisque @ Barbareño

Usually there’s no risk to bisque: It’s supposed to comfort you in its creamy arms. Of course Barbareño is all about the clever curve, the elegant update, as now embodied in this gorgeous mushroom bisque.

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

WOPN Shares Pinot Pairs

Sure it's very hard to think "poor you" when a person says, "We did, of course, subject ourselves to a couple-hour session of tasting nearly 20 cheeses with the three wines up in downtown SLO a few weeks ago." But given the results of all that "work" means a better event at the World of Pinot Noir, the better that is for all of us attending.

The speaker of that quote was Matt Kettmann, senior editor at the Santa Barbara Independent and contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast, who will be moderating two panels Saturday morning, Myth-Busting: Pinot, Cheese and Chocolate. For cheese he will be able to lean on the expertise of Sophie Boban-Doering and Paul Doering (both pictured above) of Fromagerie Sophie in SLO; for chocolate the mad skills of Jessica Foster of Jessica Foster Confections.

"The umbrella term 'cheese' is almost as broad as saying 'food.' There are so many different types of cheese in the world that Sophie has access to, you could find one to go with anything you're drinking, from soda water to a root beer float," Kettmann points out. "Which is to say, pairing wine and cheese is much easier than wine and chocolate, simply because there are so many wildly different possibilities, from light and crisp to unctuous and gooey." 

Boban-Doering was more than pleased with all the possible pairing options for Pinot. "Each Pinot is unique because of terroir, wine maker prerogative, weather, etc. Typically, the nose of a Pinot will guide me on what cheeses to try," she explains. "Some Pinots are peppery, others more fruit forward, some have a darker fruit flavor, while others have red cherry notes…in addition the texture of a wine can help dictate which cheeses to try; is the wine smooth or acidic, heavy or light? Pinots are fun to pair since they are so varied (it’s a tough job but someone has to do it)."

And while the usual two basic types of pairings are to complement or to contrast, Boban-Doering sees it in a more complex way that should make Saturday fascinating. "The moments when the cheese and wine pairings are transformational are my favorite," she says. "By transformational I mean that a flavor emerges from the pairing that I can’t attribute to just the wine or just the cheese. Transformational pairings result in flavors of anise or tobacco or some other herb or spice. So much is going on that it makes me think of what I’m experiencing. Then, out of nowhere, a complexity between the cheese and wine dances in your mouth and finishes beautifully."

 Of course pretty much nothing finishes as beautifully as chocolate with wine, but people need to think before they drink. "Dark chocolate can be bitter and biting, while milkier chocolate tends to be lush, scene-stealing, and even cloying," Kettmann spells out. "That may go well with some dessert wines and very rich, cocktail-style Cabs, but even those are harder to pair with chocolate than you would think. Pinot can be more versatile depending on the style, but chocolate really demands its own space on your palate. So yea, it's no piece of [chocolate] cake."

Of course it's not like WOPN will have you sucking on a Hershey's kiss and swigging Two-Buck Chuck. "Luckily, in the case of Jessica Foster, we are pairing amazing truffles that feature a range of spices, fruits, and other fillings and toppings," Kettmann points out. "That really opened up the possibilities, and I think we've found some nice combinations for the three wines, which are, incidentally, a sparkler from Oregon, a rose from Sancerre, and a regular red Pinot from Sonoma.

"And if you don't like the pairings, we've got some cool backstories on the producers and the locally sourced ingredients in each truffle to keep you interested. But really, with fine hand-made chocolates and fine hand-made wines, what's not to like?"

It doesn't hurt that both seminars feature winemakers who have particular affinities for their food subject--for instance Jim Klein from Navarro, Anderson Valley's fine producer that also makes cheese, too--so the only question after the seminars will be: did I learn more or like more?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

E16 Jones for Ultra-Premium Pinot

Last year at World of Pinot Noir, I was greatly impressed at the E16 table. While it was late in a day of tasting, and therefore my scribbled notes are nearly impossible to read (a danger even when my script is sober), they are clearly more animated than the notes from tastings before and after. Mostly I was amazed how they got access to so many good grapes and often did even better things with that fruit than more famous wineries.

"E16 Wines is an ultra-premium, luxury producer of single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from California’s most sought after appellations," is the way founder Robert Jones (pictured above) puts it. "We are extremely passionate and are committed to producing exceptional wines year after year."

Jones sees a new California wine landscape on the horizon. "I’m excited that Pinot Noir is starting to receive recognition as one of the world’s few great wines," he enthuses. "Cab was king, but Pinot has forged a clear path from obscurity to formidable presence. With the combination of the limited-production, small yields and its restriction to thrive in a select few corners of the earth, have distinguished Pinot Noir to emerge as world-class fruit."

The world-class fruit Jones, winemaker Daniel Moore, and V.P. of Sales and Marketing Carl Grant will be pouring on Saturday will be their 2013 Anderson Valley “The West End,” 2013 Bennett Valley “Bowland Ranch,” and 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands “Upper Bench.” Jones adds, "All of these single-vineyard Pinots represent vastly different terroir and provide wonderful snapshot of three of the four appellations we produce from.

“The fruit that we get from Conzelman Vineyard is truly three-dimensional," he says about the first wine. "The West End bottling from Anderson Valley is definitely one of the sexiest wines of the group…savory with tremendous concentration, opulence, and complexity as well as super purity and good acidity.”

The Bennett Valley from Sonoma Jones calls "the most structured of our 2013 portfolio. We source this 100% Pommard Clone from Moaveni Vineyard. I’m most excited about this Pinot’s flavor profile…it boasts of earthy raspberries, red and black currant notes intermixed with subtle background of oak, smoke, and charcoal. The tannins seem to creep up in the finish. Definitely more age-worthy than say…our SLH.”

Not that the 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands “Upper Bench” Pinot Noir isn't a delight. “This wine continues to be our most popular Pinot Noir," he points out. "Fruit forward, 100% Pommard Clone, an elegant example of SLH.”

Jones is excited to get back to WOPN and connect with trailblazers and legends. "The World of Pinot brings together a community that shares a common thread—a deep passion for exceptional Pinot Noir," he says. "It is truly rewarding to share our creations with an audience that appreciates artisanal Pinot Noir, What’s more is seeing our wines to stand up with the big boys; ultimately, its an honor to be included in this elite group of legends—we consider ourselves lucky to have a seat at the table.”