Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Besides the Tapped Out Tapas, A Fine Rioja Time

At the start of the recent Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival, held May 21 at the ever-gorgeous Union Station in Los Angeles, I'm agog at the huge tables of cheese--enough Manchego to drown in if you melted it--and goat cheese dusted with crumbled truffle chips and mussels with garbanzos and capers and Jamon Iberico getting spiraled into tender hammy sheets. Alas, after 20 minutes, the lines that form for all this goodness remind one this is taking place in a train station. Hurry up and wait, and maybe eat.

Perhaps write up the event as notes, as impressions made in what is necessarily a series of quick hits.

Note to self: if you ever put on a food and wine festival, integrate food and wine in the layout; if you could get tastes of wine while waiting in a food line, you'd be a much happier patient camper.

Palacios Remondo Placet Valtomelloso 2010 A Viura, Rioja's most prominent white grape (elsewhere it's called Macabeo, among other names--clearly the marketers didn't get in on the ground floor of the Rioja wine industry), this is big without going big big, aged in oak but still mighty fresh, a lovely peach/pear mix of a white (Chardonnay nodding to Roussanne?). It's not cheap ($45), but it is delish.

Fernandez de Pierola Reserva 2005: exactly the dusky/dusty notes you want in a Tempranillo. Cries out for food, but doesn't know how much you would cry if you waited on a line for food. Does not get food, but is good anyway.

In the courtyard, several pig halves grill away in the sun, the smoke from them infusing everything. So when a wine tastes like grilled meat, it's hard to know what your nose might be picking up, but it certainly pairs well--Tempranillo is nothing if not BBQ-friendly.

1500 people there, all the men in incredibly well-chosen shirts (does Spain bring out the haberdasher-lover?). Probably 1399 of them are in the paella line ahead of me, but I wait anyway, because paella. After 30 minutes, I get to the front of the line as the person two in front of me gets the last scrapings. It's 2:15 at a festival that runs until 5. Chef, not very polite, says come back in 30 minutes. I am not sure how someone at a catering style event doesn't have the next platter of food ready to go when one runs out. I am sure I'm not waiting for paella again.

Hello Graciano, no relation to Rocky (who, yes, was Graziano). One of Rioja's red varietals, but it's known for low yields and susceptibility to disease, so there isn't much of it. Found I liked Ijalba's 2011, deep red fruit and good spice notes and a pleasing SRP of $22. (It gets blended a lot, too.)

What chef/restaurant was that hidden amidst the meat-servers and their forbidding lines, serving the pickled mushrooms? One of my favorite plates of the day, so bracing and lifted with very fresh thyme.

At 3:40 tasting at the Bodegas Muriel table, and they are out of their two aged wines (a 2011 Reserva and a 2005 Gran Reserva). The Crianza 2012 is bright and yummy, finishing with spiced cherry. Can only imagine how good the older stuff is. No doubt others got to have it with paella. 

DJ Lord, who has been part of Public Enemy in its later incarnations, brought the edginess of PE--near the end of the day one of his cuts repeated "motherf---er" over and over. So "Rioja, music to gangsta by," why not? Maybe he was pissed he didn't get paella too.

The final long-day roasted pigs, so good, especially the crackling--crisp and crunchy pig candy. Many people have gone home by now as pretty much all the wine is poured, all the food snacked down. But the nice server at the roast pig station, as I offer a very sincere thanks (I mean, who wants to wait at events like this?) gives me an extra piece or two, I'm sure.

Downtown Gets Second Sheep

(photo courtesy Oveja Blanca)

A fresh wind has blown through the restaurant formerly known as Seagrass. Those heavy shutters and carpet are gone, the concrete floor painted a vivid mustard. You can even enter from the invitingly angled door that meets the corner of Ortega and Anacapa. This is the Perez family’s sister restaurant to their thriving Black Sheep gastropub, and it’s cleverly called Oveja Blanca, which means “White Sheep” in Spanish.

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Larry Schaffer Pours Wine & Words

Writing, particularly wine writing, is a tricky business folks (so leave it to the professionals!). If you try to be even vaguely journalistic (hey, that's like pretty much all journalism these days!) and reach out to people with questions, sometimes the story you finally end up writing doesn't include some of your sources, however perspicacious he or she might have been when giving you answers.

So, while I've been doing some reporting on Santa Barbara Vintners Road Trip LA--see my post on a wine dinner with unusual varietals and my blog on the state of Bordeaux varietals in SB--I never had a good spot to include a fine Q&A with Larry Schaffer, owner and winemaker of tercero wines, and one of the most indefatigable proselytizers for Santa Barbara County. I have to admit, I'm sorry I missed him pouring at both the Rhone varietals day and at what sounded like an amazing BBQ at Rose Cafe in Venice featuring, of course, rosé wines.

That said, here's what Larry said in response to a few leading questions.

George Eats: What does LA need to know about SB County Rhone varietals?

Schaffer: What I want LA to know about SB County Rhone varietals is that we actually excel at producing balanced, food friendly versions of the majority of the 22 varieties that are considered Rhone varieties. And just as importantly, I want the folks in LA and beyond to realize that Santa Barbara County is NOT synonymous with "Central Coast"--the former is our county alone whereas the latter stretches from the San Francisco Bay to Ventura. It encompasses Monterey, SLO, and Santa Barbara counties, among others, each with our own distinct characteristics. I'm really pushing for the "Central Coast" moniker to be underplayed at this point and for folks to use Santa Barbara, SLO, etc. to talk about specific areas.

George Eats: Is that different from what EVERYone needs to know, and if so, why?

Schaffer: Yes, in the sense that LA is somewhat our grape growing region's backyard--but sometimes it does not feel that way. It appears that most folks in LA and Orange County, given the choice, are predisposed to driving to Paso or flying to Napa as opposed to coming to Santa Barbara County. And I believe that is our fault as a region--not being active enough in the area as a whole to educate LA from top to bottom what our region has to offer. And this road trip is a great start to hopefully changing that viewpoint.

George Eats: Which of your Rhone varietals will you be pouring, and what should possible attendees know about them? [editors note: this question hurts a bit, as the events are passed, but don't worry, Larry will certainly be pouring somewhere else soon, plus visit his tasting room!]

Schaffer: I will be taking part in a seminar for the trade and media on Wednesday, and at that seminar, I will be pouring my 2011 Grenache from the Larner Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. I will also be pouring my 2015 Mourvedre Rosé, my Greanche Blanc, my Mourvedre and probably a few others, if I can sneak them in :-)  I'm hopeful that attendees will approach the tasting with a desire to learn about varieties they may not be familiar with. I'm confident that they will come away quite pleased at their discoveries. And I also want to educate them about the Rhone Rangers organization, of whose Santa Barbara County chapter I am President.

George Eats: How else can Santa Barbara "take-over" LA?

Schaffer: As mentioned above, this is a great start, but simply that--we as a region need to keep our pedal to the floor and continue this process each and every year, just as other counties from throughout CA and beyond do. One of the "blessings" in this challenge is that the wines and experiences they will have here in Santa Barbara County are top notch--we just need to alter and create new perceptions and market better to our potential visitors! And by experiencing our wines more often throughout the LA area, they will see this quite clearly.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Santa Barbara Cabernet Has Come a Long Way, Baby

When a word like pyrazine is the “simpler” way to put something, you know you already might be too far down a rocky scientific road. So let’s jump into the nomenclature deep end: meet isobutyl methoxypyrazine. That’s the chemical compound that makes you smell and taste “green pepper” in red wine, a place where we don’t want green pepper, or at least not so much we end up calling a wine vegetal. (And we won’t even get to cooked green beans, but it can get that bad.)

Want to read the rest then do so at the Santa Barbara Vintners blog.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sip This: Rock & Rye

Hochstadter’s Slow & Low 100-Proof Rock & Rye: The recent surprising death in Santa Barbara of liquor creator-mogul Robert J. Cooper (the Manhattan-raised UCSB grad who created the wildly popular St.-Germain elderflower liqueur) means you must toast his passing with his last creation. That would be this reinvention of an 1884 recipe that adds honey, oranges, Angostura bitters, and rock candy — the nicest way to say sugar, ever — to straight rye whiskey.

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Draughtsmen Aleworks Now On Tap

Despite it being 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, the bar is abuzz as if it were 10:30 p.m. on Saturday. “Deckers and Lockheed Martin both have happy hours going on now,” explains Scott Stefan, one of five partners behind Draughtsmen Aleworks in Goleta, which recently opened not just a microbrewery but an insta-community.

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bringing the Wild, Wacky, and Wonderful to LA

There’s that great bit in the 1963 comedy-thriller-romance Charade where Audrey Hepburn’s character asks Cary Grant’s character, “You know what’s wrong with you?” to which he replies, “No, what?” and she pauses, then says in elongated exasperation, “Nothing.”

Well, Santa Barbara wine country is sort of like Cary Grant without the chin dimple. As writer and marketing maven Allison Levine from Please the Palate puts it, “What do they grow in Santa Barbara? Everything.” Which makes it tricky to introduce people to the wines of the area; where should one start?

Want to read the rest then do so at the Santa Barbara Vintners blog.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sip This: Lieu Dit Chenin Blanc

Lieu Dit Chenin Blanc Santa Ynez Valley 2014: As pedigrees go, it’s hard to beat a super-somm and an up-and-coming winemaker. Meet Eric Railsback — who’s been part of the team at Les Marchands, Mattei’s, and Wine Cask (and that’s just his work around here) — and Justin Willett, who started at Arcadian and runs Tyler Winery. Of all things, they are most interested in grapes from France’s Loire Valley, hence this tasty pour.

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

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sip This: Kimsey White Blend

Kimsey White Blend 2013: It’s not like we didn’t know Ballard Canyon could produce amazing roussanne, since we’ve had Stolpman’s L’Avion for years. But this blend (74% roussanne, 26% viognier) instantly shoots to the top of white wines in Santa Barbara County. William and Nancy Kimsey wisely hired winemaker Matt Dees (also from the neighboring property Jonata) and vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano to make their wines, which also include a fine grenache and syrah.

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Eat This: Egg-in-a-Jar @ Bob's Well Bread

The deceptively simple “egg-in-a-jar” from Bob’s Well Bread in the sudden foodie mecca of Los Alamos doesn’t even hint at its most spectacular ingredient: the purple potatoes, pureed into a lovely lavender and whipped to a consistency that’s smooth yet still hearty, and then veined with melted Gruyere. Somehow they stay steaming in the time it takes you to eat them — not too hot despite the visual cues but welcoming and warm, keeping the cheese from going globby.

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