Love Asparagus? Yes, It Can Be Paired With Wine

SauvBIn case you missed it, there are some pretty nice wines on sale in this week’s Cyber Circle offering that is devoted to Sauvignon Blanc. Check it out here.

We usually recommend Sauvignon Blanc as an ideal pairing partner for seafood, including seared scallops, grilled shrimp and even sushi. But it also is one of the few wine varieties that matches well with asparagus and dishes that include asparagus.

This dish proves the point. Because of its assertive flavors, we suggest chilling the wine a bit longer than you normally would; in this case, as little bit colder would be a good thing.

This recipe yields 4 servings.

ASPARAGUS WITH CHEESE SAUCE

Ingredients

  • 400 grams asparagus
  • 25 grams butter
  • 25 grams flour
  • 300-ml. milk
  • 50 grams cheddar cheese, grated
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Snap the ends off the asparagus and discard.
  1. Grill or steam the asparagus by your favorite method while you prepare the cheese sauce.
  1. Place the butter in a small saucepan and melt over a low heat.
  1. Remove from heat and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon to form a paste.
  1. Carefully add one-fourth of the milk, slowly incorporating it into the paste without allowing lumps to form.
  1. Return to a low heat and continue to add the remainder of the milk, again ensuring that it is fully mixed in without lumps forming.
  1. Add the grated cheese and keep stirring until the sauce thickens and the cheese has melted.
  1. Place the asparagus on plates and pour a small quantity of cheese over each serving.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Vintage Memories from the ‘Year of the Cat’

alstewartLong-time readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Al Stewart, the singer/songwriter who gained his greatest fame with the hit single, “Year of the Cat.”

Fellow Al Stewart fans probably know that he is a big-time wine aficionado who has been featured in the pages of Wine Spectator magazine. He even put together an entire album of wine-related songs, which we wrote about in this blog.

We’ve also written about how Stewart’s interest in wine has rubbed off on two of his guitar players over the years.

I’ve seen Stewart in concert literally dozens of times over the years, in venues ranging from the tiny McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California, to the much larger Universal Amphitheater, which was part of the Universal Studios complex in Los Angeles. No matter where I may have been living at the time, if Stewart was coming to town, I made a point of going to see him.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be seeing him yet again at a venerable venue called The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California, not far from the famous mission. This one promises to be special because it will be the first time I’ve had a chance to attend an Al Stewart concert with my future, second and final wife, Michelle.

It’s hard to believe that more than 14 years have passed since I wrote the following concert preview story. It’s even harder to believe that almost 39 years have passed since I attended my first Al Stewart concert.

But this “blast from the past” includes enough “wine stuff” that I thought it might be fun to share it with you here. So here it is — from the February 1-7, 2001 edition of the Northern California Bohemian…

SAN RAFAEL SINGER/SONGWRITER AL STEWART

GIVES HOMAGE TO THE FERMENTED GRAPE

Summer 1976

Universal Amphitheater

Los Angeles

Nearly every seat of this magnificent, open-air concert venue has been filled for a performance by Al Stewart, whose “Year of the Cat” single and album has instantly transformed a Scottish folk singer into an American pop icon.

I am 18 years old, and my date for the evening is a stunningly beautiful 17-year-old blonde named Sheryl. It had taken me a full year to muster the courage to ask Sheryl out. When she readily accepted my offer, I was flabbergasted.

Stewart and his band put on a memorable show, blending love songs from his early recording days with the history-tinged folk/pop/rock tunes of “Year of the Cat.”

By the time we make the drive back from L.A. to Sheryl’s bayside home on Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula, it is a quarter past 1 a.m. We exit my forest green Ford Pinto hatchback and walk to the wood and stained-glass front door of the house.

Without saying a word, and with no prompting (other than telepathic) from me, she leans in and kisses me on the lips. She then looks in my eyes and quietly says five words that have haunted me ever since: “That could become habit forming.”

I smiled sheepishly, told her I had a great time, returned to my car and drove the remaining half-mile to my home. I did not sleep at all that night. Torn between a burning desire to develop a new “habit” and the teenage anxiety that I may not live up to her expectations, I never asked Sheryl out on a second date.

And she looked in my eyes but I turned them away

Finding no words fit to say

And I hated myself, but could not move,

I was shattered in my confidence,

But it was no sense at all, but too much sense

That took me to the bridge of impotence.

— From Al Stewart’s “Love Chronicles,” 1969

– – – – –

Fall 1989

Ritz-Carlton Hotel

Dana Point, Calif.

Now divorced for three years and the father of a stunningly beautiful 10-year-old daughter, I have been enjoying wine for about five years, and writing about it for two. But I have never tasted the heady, sweet, European elixir known as Port.

That changes on a hillside garden terrace overlooking the Pacific, where I join several hundred fellow imbibers at a three-hour vino free-for-all involving more than a hundred wineries from around the world.

Up until now, my wine experiences have been limited to California bottlings, with the odd French Burgundy or Bordeaux added to the mix on special occasions. As I sample one Port after another, of varying vintages and pedigrees, my mind and taste buds are awakened to a vast new world of possibilities.

Then it seemed that I was traveling

Through the granite hills of Dao

With a vineyard spread in front of me

In a carriage headed south.

Night came with the skies aflame

And all that I saw

Was all mine to claim.

— From Al Stewart’s “King of Portugal,” 1988

– – – – –

July 18, 1999

Conejo Creek Park

Thousand Oaks, Calif.

It’s about an hour before Al Stewart is due to take the stage for a now all-too-rare performance. The sound-check completed, Stewart joins me for a pre-arranged interview on the splintered seats of a park picnic table.

Knowing that he has discussed and dissected his songs with countless journalists over the years, I decide to focus on another topic of mutual interest: wine. Inevitably, there is a musical link.

“We’re all familiar with Andy Warhol’s observation about everyone getting 15 minutes of fame,” Stewart says. “For me, in retrospect, it was ‘Year of the Cat.’”

And that remains the one song fans expect him to play at every concert. But Stewart says he doesn’t mind, because it provided the wherewithal for him to invest heavily in wine.

He has spent untold hours exploring the cellars of historic French wineries, and today, as a resident of San Rafael, lives just a stone’s throw from the Sonoma County and Napa Valley wine regions.

Stewart has been collecting wine for more than three decades, and is amused by the fact he now gets more ink in wine publications than in music periodicals. “When the Wine Spectator devotes a whole page to you, but you’re not in the music magazines anymore, it’s kind of odd,” he says.

Odd? Perhaps. But there is no denying the artistic link between making good music and crafting fine wine. Even though technology is used in both pursuits, nothing gets done without human intervention, interpretation and passion. Nothing of any lasting worth, anyway.

Stewart says his wine collection has dwindled to “a little over a thousand bottles” in recent years, but he figures that’s plenty to carry him “happily into senility.”

I’m sometimes trapped by the close confines

Of the age I’m born into

Though there were others worse than mine

Well I miss what I can’t do.

Join the feast of Ancient Greece

See Alexander’s library

Maybe clink a Champagne toast

With a jazz age dancing queen.

— From Al Stewart’s “Josephine Baker,” 1988

– – – – –

Jan. 28, 2000

The Palms Playhouse

Davis, Calif.

On a brisk, breezy evening, not far from the university that has educated countless winemakers and grape growers, a capacity-and-then-some crowd patiently waits for Al Stewart to take the stage.

When introduced, he is greeted warmly. On this night, he begins his performance with an apology. He says he has been battling the flu, and his voice is a bit raspy.

“But after eight bottles of Evian and two bottles of wine,” he says, “here I am.”

At one point between songs, he speaks of just returning from Los Angeles, where he had been recording with guitarist Laurence Juber, an alumnus of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles Wings band (on the run).

“A record company approached me about making an album about wine,” he says. “I remember pausing for a moment and thinking, ‘This must be a dream.’”

By the end of the year, the dream had become reality in the form of “Down in the Cellar,” a 13-cut CD devoted almost entirely to fermented grapes.

“Touts Les Etoiles,” an ode to Dom Perignon, is sung partially in French, while “The Shiraz Shuffle” pays homage to the wines of Australia. Most of the tunes embrace Stewart’s trademark historical perspective.

And one, in particular, takes me back nearly a quarter of a century to an unforgettable kiss.

You’ve got this impulsive nature

Maybe you were born that way

Sometimes it leads you into danger

Sometimes you can make it pay

On a night like this one

Fly a red balloon

On an endless beach of summer

Under a wine-stained moon.

— From Al Stewart’s “Under a Wine-Stained Moon,” 2000

– – – – –

That’s the end of that story, but it is not the end of this story.

You may have noticed that when I wrote about the wine-tasting event that took place at the Ritz-Carlton in the fall of 1989, there was no mention of having a date that night.

That is because just a few days before the event, the woman I had asked to accompany me called and let me know she couldn’t go. I would not hear from her again until two summers ago, after we’d each raised our children, lived our lives and endured unhappy marriages.

Today, that woman is my fiancée. And knowing her as I do now, all I can say is she would have loved the Port that was served that night, twenty-five-and-a-half years ago. I hope she loves tomorrow night’s Al Stewart concert just as much.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

The Ultimate Wine and Music Experience

mountainwineryA very cool place to enjoy an outdoor concert is The Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California.

It’s sort of like Ravinia, north of Chicago, or L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl — only with a much sharper focus on food and wine before the show. The venue, after all, is a winery.

Choices range from a quick pre-concert bite (grilled pizzas and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches take center-stage) at The Plaza Bistro to The Plaza Grill (casual dining on the Plaza Deck) to the Vineyard Wine & Martini Bar (an outdoor lounge) to a pair of restaurants (The Chateau Deck Restaurant and the Backstage Brasserie) serving multi-course, prix fixe meals. And for something entirely different, there’s The Mountain Creperie and Candy Shop, serving specialties both sweet and savory.

Many people in Northern California visit The Mountain Winery — the historic home of Paul Masson — multiple times during the concert season. But if you can go only once, I recommend the “Ultimate Night Out Package,” which includes:

  • One premium top-priced reserved seat.
  • One pre-show, three-course prix-fixe dinner on the elegant Chateau Deck.
  • One glass of estate wine.
  • VIP preferred parking.

So pick an artist or a date, and make plans to have a memorable wine and music experience. Tickets go on sale this coming Monday at www.mountainwinery.com.

Here’s the 2015 season calendar:

  • May 22 — Erykah Badu.
  • June 6 — KC and the Sunshine Band / Jody Watley featuring Shalamar
  • June 9 — Peter Frampton / Cheap Trick
  • June 11 — Gordon Lightfoot
  • June 12 — Audra McDonald
  • June 14 — Paul Rodgers
  • June 18 — Brian Wilson / Rodriguez
  • June 19 — Little Big Town / David Nail and Ashley Monroe
  • June 20 — George Thorogood & the Destroyers / Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot
  • June 21 — Brit Floyd (“The World’s Greatest Pink Floyd Show”)
  • June 22 — Willie Nelson & Family / Alison Krauss & Union Station
  • June 24 — Smash Mouth / Toad The Wet Sprocket
  • June 27 — Bell Biv DeVoe / Doug E. Fresh
  • June 28 — The Roots
  • July 1 — New Jack featuring Blackstreet / Ginuwine / Tank / SWV
  • July 2 — Rob Thomas / Plain White T’s
  • July 7 — Boz Scaggs / Aaron Neville
  • July 9 — Ozomatli featuring Sheila E
  • July 10 — Amos Lee / David Gray
  • July 11 — David Gray / Amos Lee
  • July 12 — Jake Shimabukuro
  • July 14 and 15 — Harry Connick Jr.
  • July 16 — Lyle Lovett and His Large Band
  • July 17 — Creedence Clearwater Revisited / Dennis DeYoung
  • July 18 — The Whispers / Stephanie Mills
  • July 19 — Zap Mama / King Sunny Ade & His African Beats
  • July 21 — Sugar Ray / Better Than Ezra / Uncle Kracker / Eve 6
  • July 22 — Barenaked Ladies / Violent Femmes / Colin Hay
  • July 23 — Jim Gaffigan
  • July 24 — Blondie / Melissa Etheridge
  • July 25 — Big Head Todd & the Monsters / G. Love & Special Sauce
  • July 29 — Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo / John Waite
  • July 30 — Boston
  • July 31 — Spandau Ballet
  • August 4 and 5 — Sheryl Crow
  • August 6 — Huey Lewis and the News
  • August 7 — Gladys Knight / The O’Jays
  • August 8 — Juanes
  • August 13 — Ziggy Marley / Steel Pulse
  • August 14 — Chris Isaak
  • August 15 — Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club “Adios Tour”
  • August 16 — Maze / Frankie Beverly
  • August 18 — Michael Franti & Spearhead
  • August 19 — Diana Krall
  • August 21 — Ron White
  • August 23 — Jill Scott
  • August 25 — Colbie Caillat / Christina Perri
  • August 26 — Heart
  • August 28 — The Fab Four (“The Ultimate Tribute”)
  • September 1 — Pink Martini
  • September 2 — The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo
  • September 4 — Neko Case / Robyn Hitchcock
  • September 5 — Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
  • September 6 — The Psychedelic Furs / The Church
  • September 8 — Yes / Toto
  • September 11 — ZZ Top / Blackberry Smoke
  • September 12 — Eddie Izzard
  • September 15 — Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • September 17 — Rodrigo y Gabriela
  • September 20 — ABBA The Concert (“A Tribute to ABBA”)
  • September 25 — ABC / Wang Chung / A Flock of Seagulls / Naked Eyes / Animotion / The Flirts / Gene Loves Jezebel / Boy Don’t Cry
  • September 26 — The Beach Boys
  • September 27 — Kristin Chenoweth
  • September 30 — Cooder-White-Skaggs (Ry Cooder / Sharon White / Ricky Skaggs)
  • October 1 — The Doobie Brothers
  • October 3 — Chicago
  • October 7 — UB40 / Astro / The English Beat
  • October 10 — Galactic and Macy Gray — Alone and Together
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Posted in Wine Buzz

MacRostie Estate House: Setting a New Standard

Estate House PatioOver the past three decades, MacRostie Winery and Vineyards has established itself as one of the Sonoma Coast of California’s defining wineries, and a leader in a bright, balanced and age-worthy style of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Today, MacRostie is guided jointly by winery founder Steve MacRostie and the talented up-and-coming winemaker, Heidi Bridenhagen, who together are making the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bottlings in the winery’s storied history.

Using grapes farmed by legendary winegrowing families — including the Duttons, Sangiacomos, Martinellis and Bacigalupis — as well as from MacRostie’s own Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, the Sonoma Coast wines from MacRostie have established themselves as benchmarks, offering a rare intersection between labor-intensive small-lot winemaking and the complexity that can be achieved only by working with the finest vineyards.

And now, there is a new place where wine drinkers can learn about and savor these special wines: the MacRostie Estate House in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.

The unveiling of the Estate House is the culmination of a long-time dream for MacRostie, who founded his winery in 1987. Many are saying that it sets a new standard, bringing something elevated, new and gorgeous to Russian River Valley wine country.

To achieve their vision, MacRostie and his team sought out three of the most creative and acclaimed firms in the business: Gould Evans for architecture, Roche+Roche for landscape architecture, and Grant K. Gibson for interior design. Because they were able to create the Estate House from the ground up, every detail was thoughtfully considered. Both aesthetically and experientially, the MacRostie Estate House is warm, welcoming and beautifully open in its design.

Located just five minutes from the Healdsburg Square, on a picturesque hillside, the Estate House is surrounded by beautiful vineyards and meadows. This setting was a key inspiration for Gould Evans, providing a backdrop for the gracefully modern architecture.

The Estate House features multiple indoor venues for seated wine tastings, and three expansive patio terraces with beautiful valley and vineyard views. The 20-acre property also includes a 13-acre estate Pinot Noir vineyard (named Thale’s Vineyard, after MacRostie’s wife) and a winery designed exclusively for fermenting Pinot Noir in very small one-ton lots.

In a given vintage, it is not uncommon for MacRostie to do as many as 130 individual fermentations of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a focus on Pinot. This keeps different vineyards, blocks and clones separate. While this is an incredible amount of work, when it comes time for blending, it gives Bridenhagen and MacRostie an amazing palette of flavors with which to work.

This diversity has also allowed MacRostie Winery to enhance its portfolio, adding a Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as a handful of sought-after vineyard-designate wines from throughout the Sonoma Coast.

And now, with its numerous indoor and outdoor venues, and multiple seated tasting flight options, the MacRostie Estate House offers an array of experiences and environments for enjoying those wines.

While each area has its own aesthetic, the overall design combines modern elegance with the inviting character of beautifully grained woods, richly hued leathers, abundant glass and gorgeous landscaping that incorporates MacRostie’s Scottish thistle motif. The Estate House will also offer numerous special visitor experiences throughout the year, including barrel samplings, rotational tastings and interactive “roll up your sleeves” educational programs, all of which will begin in the months ahead.

• MacRostie Estate House is located at 4605 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448. Guests are welcome daily from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., and all tasting experiences are seated, with reservations recommended. Call 707-996-4480 for reservations and directions.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction

2 Schools of Thought on Filtering Wine

Modern winery fermenting processOne of the most common practices in winemaking comes very near the end of the process. It’s called filtering, and it has both supporters and detractors in the vintner community.

Filtering is one of the tools in a winemaker’s tool box that can be used to bring a beautifully hued wine of great clarity to the marketplace. That’s important because even though a wine that appears slightly cloudy normally has no flaws, it may appear “not right” to the consumer.

When it comes to how a bottle of wine is presented on a retail shelf, and how the wine in the bottle looks, that old saying definitely applies: Appearance is everything.

Let’s take a closer look at the two schools of thought in regard to wine filtration.

Those who do not support use of the process say that it may remove certain natural compounds that contribute to the wine’s aging potential, its strength and its flavor — in a word, its personality.

Vintners who believe strongly that filtration can be harmful often will have the word “Unfiltered” printed on the front label of the wine bottle. They want the world to know that what they are about to taste is what the winemaker intended them to taste.

Those who support the filtering process explain that, over time, it’s possible for an off-flavor to develop in a wine bottle — a flavor that could have been avoided had filtration been undertaken.

Often, commerce plays a role in determining whether a wine undergoes filtration. As one veteran winemaker noted, “You’re much more likely to see an ‘Unfiltered’ wine that’s made in limited quantities — a few hundred cases or less. That way, if something does go wrong in the bottle, the loss is sustainable.

“At the other end of the spectrum” he added, “you’ll never see an ‘Unfiltered’ wine that has production of a few hundred thousand cases. It’s just too much of a risk for a winery to take; if the winery is under-financed, one bad vintage could put it out of business.”

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Posted in In the Cellar

The Wine Factor When Wining and Dining Out

iStock_000008666127XSmallPlanning to visit one of your favorite restaurants tonight or over the weekend? Dining out can be expensive, especially if you intend to drink wine with the meal.

Here are three things to keep in mind…

  1. The best restaurant wine lists are created by owners who love wine.

Have you ever noticed how similar wine lists are at different restaurants — particularly family-owned eateries with limited lists? In most cases, wine is an after-thought at best or a necessary evil at worst for the owners, who got into the business primarily because they love to cook.

A typical list may consist of a “house red” and a “house white,” perhaps a few name-brand whites and reds, and a White Zinfandel — known as a sweet, go-to choice for people who don’t like dry wine. Such lists typically are “curated” by the restaurant’s wine distributor rep — hence the “sameness” from eatery to eatery.

But if you find a restaurant where wine is taken seriously, you could be in for a memorable culinary experience. At such restaurants, the owners stock the cellar with wines that pair harmoniously with dishes on the menu. That makes it easy for servers to recommend wines, and for diners to feel good about the choices they make.

  1. Wine prices in restaurants help cover food and labor costs.

The restaurant business is notorious for being a money pit. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and furnish a restaurant — especially one with a theme — creating a great deal of debt before the doors even open. As restaurateur-turned-television-personality Anthony Bourdain has noted, “If anything is good for pounding humility into you permanently, it’s the restaurant business.”

No wonder, then, that a wine list is looked upon not just as a revenue source, but an important profit generator. In 2014, according to GuestMetrics, the average price of a glass of wine in an American restaurant was $10.77. Bottle prices were no more customer-friendly, as the average mark-up from the wholesale price can be anywhere from 200% to 500%. Food can’t be marked up that much, so every glass or bottle of wine sold helps keep the doors open and people employed.

  1. Corkage fees are not evil.

Because wine helps boost revenue and profits, I don’t mind when a restaurant charges a corkage fee for wines brought in by diners. A fair fee, to help cover the cost of glassware and its upkeep, is between $10 and $20 per bottle — which is still probably less than the mark-up on a bottle you may purchase off the wine list.

  1. A word about tipping.

Because restaurant wines are marked up so much, I do not feel compelled to include the bottle price when calculating my tip. Rather, I tip by the number of bottles ordered — usually $5 or $10 per bottle, depending on the restaurant and level of service — and add that on to my tip for the food portion of the meal. It requires no more (or no less) effort on the part of the server to open and serve a $200 bottle of wine than to open and serve a $20 bottle of wine.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Sonoma Museum Project: The Wine Barrel as Art

Fotolia_35436870_SIt never ceases to amaze me how wine impacts so many people in so many ways. I also am heartened by how giving the wine community is, and how it supports both charitable and community causes.

With that mind, I’d like to share a press release that just crossed my desk. Okay, it didn’t cross my desk; it appeared in my email. As you read the release, be aware that the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is quite active in taking art education into local schools.

– – – – –

The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art’s “Barrels of Hope” project, currently underway, showcases eight local artists’ original creations based on repurposed wine barrels. This select group includes painters, sculptors, and mixed-media artists who are donating their time and talent to raise funds for the Museum’s programs. These unique pieces will be exhibited at the Museum June 18-20 and will be for sale on the Museum’s website. The exhibition will close with a reception and live auction of unsold barrels on Saturday, June 20.

The artists, well known in Sonoma Valley and beyond, have long histories of giving to the community’s numerous charities. Bob Nicholas, original project organizer, applauding both their talent and generosity, said, “We could not have asked for more talented, generous artists than these wonderful eight painters and sculptors. Our community will be blown away by their wizardry on wine barrels. I encourage everyone to come to the Museum to see them and, perhaps, bid on them.”

The barrels are whimsical in design, often incorporating the rich natural world and landscape of Sonoma Valley.

With “Fish in a Barrel,” Kate Murphy creates a cocktail table on casters containing “floating” trout. “Barnyard Barrel,” by Suzanne Brangham, incorporates the legs and wings of an animal still taking shape. “For the Birds,” by Marcie Waldron, is a tower of colorful mini-barrels with wild birds adorned with jewelry.

Tony Rockwell’s “The Butterfly Effect” uses the barrel’s seductive curvature to create the flow of a waterfall, morphing into a butterfly’s wings. Jim Callahan’s “Phoenix Rising” barrel is deconstructed and reborn as a mythical bird. And Barbara Aliza uses acrylic paint to create a scene that evokes, “the sensual theme of the seduction of wine and beauty in Sonoma Valley.”

Other artists push the structure of the barrel even further. Linda Kuhns has fashioned “Lady Hope” out of a small oak cask adorned with bits of hardware and Swarovski crystals in a process she calls “HARDART.” And Douglas Fenn Wilson is approaching his barrel with an eye for dynamic layering and architecture, cutting the barrel lengthwise, and hinging and encased it in faux granite. When this outdoor piece, an archaeological “discovery,” is opened, it becomes a full bar. Wilson calls it a “BARtifact.”

Visit www.svma.org for photos and additional information on the artists and the “Barrels of Hope” campaign.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Wine Miscellany… by the Numbers

Red_Wine_Glasses2“When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books You will be reading meanings.”

That was an observation of W.E.B. Du Bois, a Harvard graduate, history professor, co-founder of the NAACP and civil rights activist.

I have always made my living by putting words together. The mathematics gene in the Johnson family went to my older brother, Terry. But I have long been aware of the importance of numbers in almost every aspect of life — including the wonderful world of wine.

Today, let’s look at the meanings of a few numbers associated with wine…

  • 50 — Although the optimum temperature for storing wine is around 50 degrees, it’s better to keep it in the 60- to 70-degree range than to subject it to wider fluctuations — especially high heat in the summertime. Heat spikes will “cook” wine, rendering it less enjoyable at best or undrinkable at worst.
  • 40 — Navarro Vineyards, located in Mendocino County’s bucolic Anderson Valley, celebrated its 40th birthday in 2014 and was named Winery of the Year at the California State Fair. Congratulations to the Bennett and Cahn families!
  • 5 — Number of barrels of wine produced from two tons of winegrapes. That equates to around 1,500 bottles (standard 750-ml. size).

32,400,000 — Number of bottles of Champagne shipped from France to the United Kingdom in 2012. That made the U.K. the top export market for Champagne, followed by the United States, which received 17.7 million bottles. (Source: Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne)

  • 856,000,000 — Wine consumption in the United States in 2013, in gallons. (Source: Statista.com)
  • 3 — Number of stars awarded to the movie “SOMM” by reviewer Bruce Ingram, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times. The 2013 film deals with the effort required to earn a master sommelier’s credential. In case you missed it, you can read my review of that entertaining movie here.
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Posted in Wine Buzz

Why Basements Make Great Wine Cellars

Bottles of wine in a winery. Red and white wineHomes with basements are common in the Midwest, in part out of necessity: Families need someplace safe to ride out the tornadoes that hit the region.

But in Las Vegas, they are rare because the dirt is hard. Venture just below the desert sand, and you encounter something called caliche, which acts as a binder for other materials such as gravel, clay and silt.

As a result, most builders stay away from constructing basements in their homes. But American West Development actually specializes in basement homes, with the price starting at $114 per square foot.

“There are many benefits to subterranean living, especially here in Las Vegas,” Daniel Welsh, American West’s Vice President, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It was a dream of mine to own one and, fortunately, my family and I currently enjoy it and couldn’t be happier.”

Adds Welsh: “The basement will hover right around 68 to 70 degrees without any assistance.”

And that makes it close to ideal for storing wine, particularly bottles that are not earmarked for long-term aging. A little bit cooler would be better for the long haul, but bottles stored at 68-70 degrees for a year or two, especially when kept out of direct sunlight, should sustain no damage.

Even in a desert setting surrounded by sand, it’s possible to store wine safely… and stylishly… in a basement.

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Posted in Vinesse Style

Your Wine Guide to the NCAA Title Game

Scoring the winning points at a basketball gameIf you are a fan of college basketball, I don’t need to tell you that tonight at 9 o’clock Eastern (6 o’clock, Sonoma County), the Blue Devils of Duke University will take on the Badgers of Wisconsin for the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball championship.

What you may not know is that the man calling the action for the 25th consecutive year for CBS, Jim Nantz, is a wine connoisseur. In fact, he and Peter Deutsch, the CEO of importer Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, have a joint winemaking venture in California’s Sonoma County called The Calling.

The name is a reference to what Nantz does for a living: calling sports events. Specifically, it refers to Nantz calling golf’s Masters, but it certainly could be applied to the role he’s playing in tonight’s NCAA title game.

Using grapes grown in some of Sonoma County’s top vineyards, The Calling’s portfolio currently consists of two Chardonnays, two Pinot Noirs, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bordeaux-style red blend.

So, after calling tonight’s game, one may presume that Nance will be able to return to his hotel room and wind down with a nice glass or two of wine.

I don’t really have a pony in this horse race, but because my Dad was born in the Dairy State city of Eau Claire, I’ll be quietly rooting for Wisconsin to score a big upset.

And were I in the university’s hometown of Madison, I would plan to celebrate the victory at a tapas and wine bar called The Icon.

Here is how The Icon is described on the restaurant’s website:

“Located a block off the Capitol on State Street, The Icon is the perfect spot to impress your guests. The vibrant, modern décor, featuring some of Hollywood’s 1940s and 1950s icons, will inspire you to be an icon in your own right.

“The Icon is on the same block as the State Street parking ramp, and then it is just a few steps across the street to your show at the Overture Center. After your show, come back for one of The Icon’s signature martinis, or choose from our more than 100 wines. Whatever your reason to visit The Icon, it is sure to be an unforgettable evening.”

If Duke ends up winning, as most experts are predicting, that university’s hometown of Durham, North Carolina, has a pretty good tapas destination of its own: Mateo Bar de Tapas.

From that restaurant’s website:

“Mateo Bar de Tapas is the first solo venture from chef Matthew Kelly of Vin Rouge, housed in the old Book Exchange building in the heart of downtown Durham, and featuring a menu that blends the flavors of Spain with beloved ingredients and dishes of the South.

“We offer a casual, yet refined, menu of Spanish small plates with a Southern inflection. Accompanying the food is a robust Spanish wine list, as well as one of the largest Sherry offerings in the country.”

In fact, the Sherry selection appears right at the top of the wine list, and even is broken down by type — something I’ve rarely seen in a restaurant setting. The types include Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and Palo Cortado, and tapas pairing suggestions are offered for each.

Whether the 2015 NCAA basketball championship goes to Duke or Wisconsin, the fans in the hometown of each university have a wonderful place to go and raise a toast.

As for Jim Nance, his “wonderful place” would be called “home.”

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