Newsflash to the Western World: You Can Make Your Own Chicken Tikka Masala! (And Pair it With Wine, Too.)

If you’re like most cosmopolitan people, you’re a real fan of the chicken they serve in Indian restaurants, swimming in that heavenly, velvety, smooth, soupy sauce known as a curry.

Chicken Tikka Masala with a Northern Rhone Syrah.

And if so, you’ve probably wondered two things from time to time:

1. How do you make this stuff?

2. What do you pair with it?

Today on, we are answering both questions — first, with a real restaurant recipe for making chicken tikka masala, and second, the pairing advice of Raj Parr, the father of RN74, and the co-author of Secrets of the Sommeliers.

The video covers:

Onions, ginger and garlic: The curry trinity.

— Creating a velvet-smooth curry base using tomatoes, onions, ginger and garlic — a curry base that lays the foundation for aloo gobi, lamb korma, saag paneer, and a million other dishes.

— Blending that curry base with butter, spices, tomato puree, and cream to create the “sauce” for chicken tikka masala.

Building a curry: Spices and butter.

— The supposed reasoning behind why Raj Parr tells to pair a Northern Rhone Syrah with this dish.

Published in: on May 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stalk the Winemaker: The Great Paul Hobbs.

A feature presentation! A visit and barrel tasting at Laird Family Estate, whose wines are fathered by the great Paul Hobbs. Little would you know it, though, if you only looked at the labels. Sometimes, you have to stalk the winemaker before you can find all of his wines.

Contents of the video are as follows:

Today we’re starting a new feature. It’s called Stalk the Winemaker.

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and had the absolute-best calzone you’ve ever had in your life, or the absolute-best jager schnitzel, or the absolute-best chile relleno, only to go back to that restaurant six months later and find out that that dish is no longer as amazing as it once was? Well. In many cases, the problem there is that the chef has left. The exact same thing happens in wine. Except the chef is the winemaker. And when the winemaker of one of your favorite wines leaves, a lot of times the next bottle you get is a little bit of a disappointment.

We here at are totally against these rogue winemakers getting away without leaving a trace. So we’re going to be stalking them. And today, we’re going to be stalking the great Paul Hobbs. He’s responsible for all the wines at Laird Family Estate.

Paul Hobbs, stalking victim. Trace his work and you'll trace fine wines.

Oh, the great Paul Hobbs. He’s worked at Opus One, he’s consulted for premium California wineries for years, and now he oversees the making of wines in several countries, especially Argentina, where he made a 2006 Malbec that Robert Parker scored 99 points. (Other Hobbs wines have received the uber-rare 100 from Parker — like his 2002 To Kalon Cabernet.) In this case he’s not so much a winemaker who’s left a winery and needs to be stalked as he is the winemaker for many wineries — and anybody who stalks him to whatever winery he’s making wine for will automatically find great wines.

Prime example: Laird Family Estate in the Napa Valley. It’s an outfit that sells its grapes to dozens of wineries in the area, but keeps a few tons for itself, for wines under its own label — wines made under Paul Hobbs. You would never know, looking at a bottle, that one of the most famous winemakers of our time had anything to do with what was inside.

I visited Laird the other day to talk about the Hobbs connection, just as some of its Chardonnay vines were coming to life. I talked with Terra Fessler, who described how Ken Laird — the fellow on the right here — started buying Napa vineyards 40 years ago and in the ’90s built the winery we were at. It didn’t take long for Paul Hobbs to notice.

Terra: We started our work on our winemaking facility and the buzz kinda got out there in the industry for winemakers and Paul Hobbs came knocking, and said, “Can I make my wine here?” And we said, “Well, if you help us with our label.” And so he kind of helped with the direction. As I’m told we were initially maybe looking at possibly doing a bulk-wine label instead. But Paul Hobbs convinced Ken to focus more on some of the more nice vineyards and creating single-vineyard wines and nice blends of vineyards as well, and so they kind of did a trade: Paul made his wine here and helped us with our winemaking style.

Me: And in the beginning it was Cabernet and Chardonnay, and that was it?

Terra: Correct. Yes. So a lot of people who are big Paul Hobbs fans will see the similar characteristcs between our Chardonnay and Cab to his Chardonnay and Cab.

I’m always all for tasting those characteristics, so we went into the winery for a barrel tasting of 2009 Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet. After my first sip, the signature sweet Laird ripeness had burst forth.

Every Laird wine, in fact, is rich with the signature flavors of the grape variety that constitutes it. But the rich, bright, juicy, pure fruit never seems too rich in tannins. It’s like every Laird wine is candy-apple-red and makes your mouth water but not pucker.

The reds produced by Laird Family Estate, crafted under Paul Hobbs.

And if Paul Hobbs can produce that kinda wine, Laird can definitely produce those kinda grapes — the grapes are, after all, mostly grown for high-profile wineries in the area.

Terra: Some of the wineries that purchase our grapes are Domaine Chandon, which is up the road. You’ll also see some similar characteristics in the Rombauer Chardonnay, as they use the same vineyard as our Cold Creek. In addition, we have Merryvale, Nickel & Nickel, you know, Joseph Phelps. We’ve got some big names out there.

Me: How many acres, though, out there under Laird control?

Terra: So, under the Ken Laird name, there’s 2,500 acres. He got started in the ’70s, came here from Virginia with a tobacco-farming background. Did a pre-stop at Georgia Tech, got a degree in engineering and worked in that field but missed his farming roots and brought his family out here and purchased his first plot of land. And Robert Mondavi asked him to grow Gamay, and said he’d purchase all of it if he did. So that was his first establishing relationship in the industry — in the ’70s. So over the next several decades he collected more and more vineyards. So now he has about 5% of the lands that are by grape here in Napa. He’s the largest land owner, so, 2,500 acres total. So, 1 to 2% of that only is used for our Laird label, a 12- to 13,000-case production a year.

Which translates to roughly 30,000 gallons of wines of stylistic finesse that won’t cut your bank account in half. And it looks like the 2010 vintage isn’t going to be lacking any of that finesse, as much panic as there was among Napa winemakers during that year’s cold growing season.

(Talking with Robert Vargas, the Laird barrel foreman.)

Robert: They turned out a little different than the ’09s because the weather didn’t — [they] just didn’t get ripe. The acid stayed a little higher. So.

Me: But do you think they’re gonna be——

Robert: They’ll all be fine. They’ll all be fine.

Me: They were not grown at much elevation, then?

Robert: They were all pretty much grown here in the Valley. Yountville area, over here on Big Ranch Road, is [among] the other vineyards we’ve got. Also Carneros area.

Me: Cuz that’s the word. If it was at elevation, then it was at risk for not ripening at all.

Robert: Exactly.

Me: I don’t think it’s going to be a bad vintage at all.

Robert: No, I don’t think it is at all. I mean, it’s going to be different. But every year is different. There’s not one year that’s exactly like the other. Like this year. We’re expecting it to be a higher yield, because you can see the weather’s cooperating right now. We’ve got sun. We’ve got rain. It’s starting to bud. It’s starting to turn. So——

2011 Napa Chardonnay budding at the Red Hen Ranch of Laird Family Estate.

Me: So, when 2010 Laird Cabernet comes out, one hopes, it’ll still be a way to experience Paul Hobbs’s work without shelling out $150 a bottle for it. And for now, current releases can still be found at San Francisco’s Laird retailers, like the Jug Shop & Wines of California.

Published in: on April 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Moving On From the Formerly Sexy.

In my tasting lately, there’s been a heavy focus on the old Napa flagship wineries — the ones that got here in the 1960s or 1970s, headed by now-legendary names: Grgich, Cakebread, Duckhorn. What I’ve noticed most about these creaky old names is that my fatigue with them is only building.

The 2006 Grgich-Hills Cabernet, for example, tasted disappointingly hot — not what one would’ve expected from an outfit founded by the winemaker whose Chardonnay beat the French in the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris. Cakebread’s 2009 Chardonnay for me was a major drop in the wow factor from the 2008, which, when poured into a glass, migrated — half-way across the table! — with the most delightful rosy-aerosol nose ever. Duckhorn’s Sauvingon Blanc, sold by the glass at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, was so flat that an anesthesiologist could use it to induce slumber. As for the Duckhorn Decoy line? I’m falling asleep mentioning it.

So on Monday, I went to Napa on an impromptu trip to seek out some new blood. I didn’t spend a lot of time planning, so my results warrant further hunting. But they do confirm an idea that’s already in the air: The new blood in Napa is thick. As in, the wines are dense as hell.

Au Sommet: Off the hook.

Before leaving, I made a few phone calls, so as to not drive into Napa Valley completely clueless about where I intended to go.

I tried raising somebody at Au Sommet, which seemed new-blood enough: Its first vintage was crushed in 2008. But its first vintage also scored 97 points in Wine Enthusiast, which means nobody there has to answer the phone. So they didn’t.

My next target was Alpha Omega. The people there answer the phone, all right. I’d called a few weeks earlier to get snoopy vis-a-vis 2010 Napa Cabernet, which I did my first (speaking of anesthesia) vlog on. The discussion centered on the “massive stress” in the Valley about whether the fruit would ever ripen, and was pure pleasure (the discussion, not the stress). I was even invited to potentially meet the winemaker, Jean Hoefliger. Then I got the tasting-room guy on the phone. After asking one too many questions, I had apparently become quite the bother, and was told, “I tell you what. You come up here and we’ll talk about that.”

A handsome photograph of a brochure! The tasting-room guy couldn't be bothered to present some bottles to be photographed.

That was rude enough, I thought, but I decided to check the place out nonetheless. I arrived and found a tasting room as black as the scenery was white in 2001: A Space Odyssey. A jumbo flat-panel on a wall exhibited video of the winemaking process: ripe wrinkled Cabernet fruit moving along a sorting line. This was the fruit, presumably, that would be hand-crushed using tools like a potato masher, according to Steve — the same fellow who found me unworthy of speaking with on the telephone.

He poured the $84-a-bottle 2008 Alpha Omega Cabernet for me; it was dark, ripe, and powerful. On the nose was brown spice and the phenolic compounds that my brain translates as green pepper when grapes are less ripe and in this case was translating to sour raspberries and wet pine needles — the same compounds, but more evolved and ripened. I don’t think it hurts a Cab to be that ripe, but you’ll suffer higher alcohol for it. On the palate was a gripping offense of fruit that had been submerged in juice long enough to draw everything powerful out of the skins and distribute it into the wine. As in, the stuff was as tough as steel. I have trouble finding a dish to pair with such wines. But why don’t you go ahead and say it? You pair steak with them, moron! Response: Because steak is red meat, not black meat, a red wine is a natural pairing, not a black one. In any case, the wine is probably a 94-point addition to the portfolio of Napa’s dense and dark Cabernets.

When I asked Steve to stand a few bottles up for me to pan with my video camera, he suggested I get a GIF — a still image — from somebody else. I’m still wondering what part of video didn’t make sense to him — and what part of courtesy didn’t. Density seems to be a theme here. In a minute or two, this guy had squandered the goodwill that two other employees, Kathy and Chelsea, had done a marvelous job of building.

An outdoor fountain at Peju's property.

I left, figuring it was time to head home and hope for an uncongested Bay Bridge, but before I got far, the entrance to Peju derailed me as if it had targeted me with a tractor beam. People have told me Peju’s a good producer, and knowing it was a relative late-comer, founded in 1982, I decided to see what the new blood here was cranking out.

2007 Peju Merlot, described as a hit in the tasting room.

The reception was welcoming, which was a relief after tolerating the too-good-to-be-bothered guy at Alpha Omega.

I shot some photos and made my way to the tasting room. Finally: Something different. A blush Syrah! A blend of Cab, Merlot, Zin, Chard and French Columbard, the jug-wine grape (though quality-farmed in Mendocino)! And even a French Columbard bottled by itself — all between $20 and $25.

After Raj Parr told me this month that he’d pair a northern Rhone Syrah with Indian food, I was curious to know how Peju’s blush Syrah would work with Chicken Tikka Masala: It’s not too dense for white meat; it’s dry with hints of red berry fruit and honeydew.

Wine in wait.

The 2010 French Columbard, with hints of tropical fruit flavors, melon, and pineapple, left you contemplating whether it would pair with salads and spicy foods or whether you’d ever get over the fact that the same grapes — less carefully farmed, of course — may well be in a $3.95 jug of Rossi “Chablis.”

Bottles at Peju waiting to be poured.

Then to the reds: Peju’s Cabernet, too, was dense and concentrated, packing a lot of cassis and blackberry, and was a solid 92 for the category. Mercifully, a less-dense 2007 Merlot stood out: A juicy, tasty red with hints of black cherry and cranberry. Napa’s 2006 Merlot vintage was the highest-rated in years, but this 2007 was yummy and at $35, nothing like the $7 or $14 bottle you’ll find at the grocery store. That stuff’s garbage. Peju’s Merlot is far from it.

It was nearing 6 p.m., though, so I left, realizing that the most delicious (to me) wine from new blood in Napa was not to be discovered on this trip. The last one to make the list was, instead, Outpost’s Howell Mountain Zinfandel, courtesy of ZinFanGirl and ZinFanHubby. It was super ripe, light, focused, red and not black, and delicious — and from a winery founded in 1998.

The hunt continues, as it always will.

Published in: on April 13, 2011 at 12:34 am  Comments (1)  

Movie-Theatre Butter and Halibut: Pass.

The last time I made halibut and drowned it in white-wine cream sauce with baby shrimp, I had Rombauer Chardonnay with it. This Chard tastes like it was raised not at a winery but in a tank at the movie-theater-butter factory.

2009 Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay: A bottle spiked with movie-theatre buttah. (As they said on SNL, "Did you see her nails? They're like buttah!")

That didn’t deter me: I was already cutting as many pounds of butter into my cream sauce as possible, so I figured a little butter in a wine glass would be a tolerable match. And it worked well enough. The complaint, if any, is my complaint of the month: That the wine was from California. It was too powerful, even for halibut. Which makes me a backstabbing turncoat, of course, having grown up helping to produce California white wine.

I specialize in treason and espionage, so in being true to my colors, I made halibut again the other night, for four, and uncorked a white Burgundy instead of another of our own homegrown 30-proof wines.

Result? Success. We four diners were pondering the part of the label that Google translates as “Drystone Walls of Dogtooth,” but the pairing was nonetheless better, and all the more so considering the cost was roughly the same.

2008 Domaine Maroslavac-Leger St-Aubin Premier Cru "Murgers Dents de Chien."

This Burgundy had a gently floral nose and was gently creamy on the palate — you knew the winemaker had been whisking lees around the tank (or barrel) in acts of batonage, as the French call lees-stirring, which in France is tolerated more than is espionage, but not by a large margin. Nonetheless, you knew he wasn’t going to let his baby take over your meal. So the halibut, the little pan-fried cornmeal cake and the steamed green beans sauteed in bacon fat and brandy all worked with his wine. (Even if no sane chef would have any of this stuff on his menu!)

Both wines are available in San Francisco at K&L:

2009 Rombauer Chardonnay from Carneros

2008 Domaine Maroslavac-Leger St-Aubin Premier Cru “Murgers Dents de Chien”

Just for the halibut: Cream sauce, baby shrimp, pan-fried corncakes, green beans fried in bacon fat.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 4:50 pm  Comments (1)  

Reviews: Cotes Du Rhone, Pinot Noir, Rioja.

These are just a few of the bottles I’ve picked off of shelves lately, for various reasons: The Cotes Du Rhone was a suggestion from a K&L employee; the Pinot was an impulse buy; the Rioja was a hope-motivated shot in the dark, informed by the high-scoring vintage of that year.

2009 Montirius Cotes Du Rhone

The French make the most beautiful wines in the world, but some of their low-quality attempts do infest the marketplace, as our own low-quality stuff does.

2009 Montririus Cotes Du Rhone.

This Cotes du Rhone was puzzling because its K&L Web listing seems to say it’s made without oak. Yet it tasted of wood, all right. Wet wood — the sorta wet wood that has been too wet for too long. Result? A musty, moldy, diesely flavor. I may just not be appreciating the “earth” of a French wine, but I think this wine tasted of what Clive Coates, in his Wines of Burgundy, called the “deleterious effect of mouldy, bug-infested, far too old barrels.”

Whether it grew up in oak or concrete vats “without any wood influences,” as K&L’s listing suggests, phooey. If one has to ponder why it tastes that way, he’s better off not getting a bottle in the first place. After all, what can you pair mold with, other than a 10-year-old shower curtain from Wal-Mart? (Unfortunately, I have seen such a 10-year-old curtain after it reached a moldy, formerly white stage. Fortunately, it wasn’t mine.)

Too bad, because the Rhone Ranger varietals, through this moldiness defect — if you consider it a defect — would’ve been worth 88 points somewhere. (The makeup was 73% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 7% Mourvedre.)

2007 Chalone Vineyard Pinot Noir

2007 Chalone Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Another worthwhile bottling from California’s little patch of Burgundy about 140 miles south-southeast of San Francisco. Very tasty cherry and raspberry flavors, with great zingy voltage generated by the acidity. This Pinot will knock down almost any supermarket Pinot you could run across. The irony is that I bought it at my supermarket.

Definitely glad to know I’ve rebottled it into a 500-ml. format for later!

2004 Marques de Caceres Reserva

Gave this a chance for two reasons.

First, I’d had a different bottling of this producer’s 2004 vintage, and I enjoyed it for its smooth, juicy, velvety fruit.

Second, 2004 was a good Rioja year; the Wine Advocate Vintage Guide ranks it a 95, while 2003 was ranked 87 and 2005 92.

2004 Marques de Caceres Rioja Reserva.

But forget it. After opening, there was too much French oak on the palate, kowtowing to oak-obsessed critics. It seemed to dissipate after two hours, but what was left was not as good as that other bottling, which I want to say was the “Vendimia Seleccionado.” I didn’t mind the medium ripeness or the semi-long finish, but it wasn’t a pretty wine. It didn’t wow me.

Time to knock a cuppla points from the Wine & Spirits rating of 91.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

RN74: Don’t even think about bringing any wine for corkage. You won’t beat what’s already there.

The prestigious RN74 is the best ticket in San Francisco to enjoying wine and cuisine, whether you’re looking for 1832 Bordeaux or 2009 Burgundy. Anybody who brings a bottle for corkage to this place is seriously criminal.

Contents of the video are as follows:

It had been raining in San Francisco for days when my compulsion to seek out amazing wine goaded me out of my apartment and into the wetness, against my will. I knew, though, that visiting the place I was going to be visiting would be worth it.

For one thing, RN74 is the city’s most prestigious wine venue. For another thing, I knew the father of the restaurant was Raj Parr, and I had just finished reading his book, Secrets of the Sommeliers, which was filled with insights into RN74’s mission. So I knew all I needed to know: That this place was set up for its guests to experience excellence — the phenomenon that makes you say, “Wow,” or “[Beep]. Or [beep] [beep] [beep]. This is delicious!”

Raj Parr at RN74.

There are tons of bottles here from California, Oregon, Germany, Italy and most especially France. There’s wine from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. 1877 Bordeaux, anybody? On my first visit, I limited myself to 21st-century wines, but I got what I expected: The emotional response of “wow.”

I tasted a grand-cru white Burgundy that made me dream of pairing it with fish topped by a light cream sauce.

Then a 2009 cru Beaujolais, complex and delicious, nothing like the average Beaujolais.

Then a Nebbiolo from California with taffy candy on the nose and delightful berry flavors.

Even the $5-a-glass Cotes du Rhone Grenache was a surprising wine for the price.

The dining room at RN74.

I had confirmed it with my own palate: This stuff wasn’t the utterly flat mass-production plonk you see at places with comatose wine directors who can’t tell the difference between jug wine and artfully made wine. This was stuff that sings.

Speaking of singing, my first visit to RN74 reminded me of the similarities between wine and music.

I myself have a sickness for Beethoven’s ninth. I spent years hunting for the best vintage. It was, I decided, a 1942 conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler. He bottled this symphony many times — in 1937, ’42, ’51 and ’54.

Furtwangler's best "vintage" was in 1942.

But only his March ’42, like a 100-point wine, makes you say “wow” for the entire performance. It was the vintage of a century, like 1961 Bordeaux, or 1958 Napa Cabernet. Never since has the chorus sounded so eerily like a Borg army. And never since has the finale sounded so horrific.

Terror may not be a quality we seek in wine, but we are seeking a powerful emotional response all the same.

And that’s exactly what a great winemaker, like a great conductor, is seeking to give us, Raj Parr says.

“Usually the person who made the wine or who owns the wine or has designed the wine — that emotion of the person is in the wine. That is a real story. That is a real wine,” Parr says. “If a wine is made as a brand, that is also a wine, but there’s less emotion in the wine. So if we can find the emotion in wine, if we can extract the emotion in the wine … and somehow really understand it, that’s a special moment. Why do people gravitate to wine? There’re so many great wines and winemakers. I’ll give you an example: look at Sine Qua Non. … Sine Qua Non is a very small wine made — Syrah, he makes some Grenache, but it’s a cult following: It’s Manfred Krankl. He’s the man behind it. And his emotion is in the wine. Every bottle is a different label; a different name. And it’s fascinating. The wines are great. And people no matter what buy the wine every single year because they’re fascinated, they’re intrigued, they’re mystified by the wine, by the person. And that love for that emotion which Manfred has in his wine makes the wine special. It’s the human touch. … And then we compare that to classical music. It’s also very personal.”

On my second visit, I had the fortune of different weather. But the experience would be as memorable as the first. I tried a few more tastes from the by-the-glass list, and, just as before, they were all beautiful wines.

At this point, I was hooked on the place. Wine aside, the company’s great. At the bar I met a winemaker visiting from the Alsace region of France. I mentioned that I had made a 2010 Napa Cabernet that was turning out to be quite Bordeaux-like. “Do not say ‘Bordeaux-like!’ ” he commanded. “You are on your own in California!” I thought: Where else in the entire country could you meet a French winemaker?

A bottle of 1971 Petrus from Pomerol.

A bottle of 1983 Volnay.

I decided that the next time I have something huge to celebrate, it would have to be here. (So long as I checked my credit line.) Others have already had reason to celebrate: They’ve ordered dozens of rare and elite bottles from the stash in the cellars here.

Like bottles from the famously to-die-for Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Eric Railsback, a sommelier here, arranged some (sadly empty) bottles that had been poured at the restauraunt recently to discuss them.

Me: You’ve selected these because — why?

Eric: I like these labels. They’re all so different with the different bottlings. But Romanee-Conti is the most famous vineyard — the best Pinot Noir in the world. So, these were some of our favorite bottlings we had, besides the 1870 that I showed you.

1929 Romanee-Conti.

Me: We have a wine here from just when we were about to enter a global depression [1929], just at the end of World War I [1919], just before World War II [1937], and just at the end of World War II [1945]. These are — these definitely mark certain points in history.

Eric: Yeah. It’s amazing to drink these wines that, you know, that, where all these historical things were going on. And you get to taste something that was being made at that same time period.

Me: What were these like? They’re all Pinot Noir——

Eric: All Pinot. Very different than, you know, if you tasted the current-release Romanee-Conti. All the primary fruit kind of transitions into more tertiary, secondary notes. So, much more earth-driven. They can still have some good power to them, but it’s definitely a different animal than, you know, a younger vintage that you’d have.

Me: Do they pair well?

Eric: Yeah. They pair just like any wine. It’s just a different type of dish where with younger wines, you go with a richer meat or whatever with Pinot. And these ones, a little bit more earth-driven dishes; a little more elegant as well, as you don’t want to overpower the wine, so you’re looking for softer, subtle flavors.

Me: What do we shell out for these bottles, by the bottle?

Eric: They get to be pretty spendy. The 1870 we sold for $26,000. These are all in the $18- to $22- to $24,000. So it’s a good, decent car or college down payment.

But lacking any celebratory reason to order such a bottle, my hands were tied. So, I sat down and ordered a croque madame, slathered in bacon marmelade and bechamel, and paired it with a white Burgundy. Compared to most California Chardonnays, it was far quiter and far more elegant.

The wine and food paired produced their own unique flavor that resulted in a third entree, where many heavy California wines would’ve overpowered the food. So I asked Eric Railsback about the European philosophy of pairing at RN74.

Eric: The American palate, too, is definitely more used to sweeter things, fruiter, richer, where the European palate’s much more earth-driven and more towards bitter flavors.

Me: And how about more toward being paired with food? … Some of these American wines … they’re bigger, a lot of times loaded with oak. Doesn’t that make for difficult pairing, whereas these——

Eric: Exactly. That’s one of our reasons for not working with a lot of wines like that. Especially with Pinot, Chard, we keep our wines below 14% alcohol. Because alcohol is terrible. It doesn’t go very well with food.

A pizza clobbered by a California Zin.

Indeed. Hours later at home, I ordered a pizza and poured myself a Sonoma County Zinfandel. And on my first sip, something was immediately wrong. The dark and heavy wine clobbered my palate, and I couldn’t taste the pizza I was having alongside it.

It was yet another emotional reaction to wine. But after having such elegant food-friendly wines at RN74, this reaction was different.

It was all terror.

Published in: on April 4, 2011 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

For the wine-obsessed, a new publication: Sommelier Journal.

Sommelier Journal, January 2011

If you haven’t seen it yet, Sommelier Journal is a new publication that’s cranking out some good content for our increasingly wine-obsessed culture to obsess over. (I’m there!)

The first issue is free and downloadable! As posted at, the user id and password are and sneakpeek.

Published in: on March 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

As promised: How to preserve your opened wine a whole lot longer than you have been.

As promised, here’s the video on how to crack open a coveted bottle of wine, drink a glass, and preserve the rest for as long as you want to.

By bottling wine just as the winery does, the techniques shown let you — and your wine — cheat death. Call it hacking a bottle. Or jailbreaking your wine as you would an iPad. Doing so gives you control over your vino so that you can down a glass over and over again over several years, if you desire, so long as you have a smaller-sized bottle in which to place the remainder for the next time you want it.

Simply put, you drink some wine and then add a minuscule touch of (truly delicious) potassium metabisulfite, an antioxidant, to preserve the rest. Such supplies — including corks, corkers, bottles and screw caps — are online at and

If Apple were a winery, Steve Jobs would be freaking out right now. Fine by me. I like raising my glass to a control freak freaking out.

This is the follow-up to this post.

Drink half a bottle and save the rest for 5 years? Say what?!

Ever feel like guzzling half of a bottle of 1986 Chateau Montelena and saving the rest for months or years?

You can.

Why not try half a bottle and save the rest for 2020?

If more people knew they didn’t have to deplete a whole bottle just to try a glass of what’s inside, there’d be a little more enjoyment of wine out there. In my case, there’s only one serious drinker in my household, and I’m not cracking my 2007 Opus One only to be forced to gulp it down in one or two nights before it oxidizes because my non-oenophiliac significant other won’t share it with me. I’m gonna be cracking it and saving the rest for enjoyment down the road — maybe years down the road.

Say you’re like me. Or say you’re single and guzzling a bottle of 32-proof Zin is out of the question because you only believe in having a glass of vino a day. Or say you’ve got a magnum of Silver Oak and you wanna reduce it to a regular bottle by drinking half of it in 2011 and the rest in 2021.

Here’s what you do. You scrap all of those genitalia pumps that you’ve been attaching to your bottles to draw out a cuppla pounds per square inch of atmosphere just to extend the life of the contents by a day or three. And then …

A tutorial on this subject will be among the posts appearing at in upcoming days!

That tutorial later appeared here.

Published in: on March 22, 2011 at 10:34 pm  Comments (1)  

Spoiler Alert: 2010 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon revisits the 1970s.

If you were to have dinner in the 1970s tonight, your conversation about current events — the oil crisis, the energy crisis, and the crisis Richard Simmons is having with his hair — would perhaps be lubricated by a soft Napa Cabernet powered by an alcohol level of around 12 or 13 percent by volume.

These days, most Napa Cabs are fortified with alcohol levels around 15 percent. Why? The easy answer is that critics like Robert Parker (the influential “Emperor of Wine”) and their palates for big, ripe, juicy, alcoholic Cabernet have skewed wine-making practices over recent decades. To be exact, they’ve skewed the practice of letting grapes accumulate more ripeness and sugar before picking. I’m not complaining — I think super-ripe stuff can be supremely delicious.

Turley's 2007 Ueberroth Zin, clocking in at 16.2% alcohol -- typical of modern California wine, not just California Zin.

This 1979 St. Clement Cabernet clocked in at 13% alcohol by vol.

1978 Souverain Cellars "Burgundy," whatever that would've been, clocking in at 12.5% alcohol

But it’s looking like 2010 Napa Cabernet isn’t gonna fall into that category. My own small batch of it is evolving into a quiet, friendly Bordeauxesque Cab like what you would’ve had over dinner in 1978. (With hints of French and American oak and brown sugar on the nose, and not so much the green bell peppers I’ve been worried about.)

It’s true: Reports are circulating about the legendary Paul Hobbs and countless others having to reject a ton (well, far more than a ton, no doubt) of grapes because they were unusably unripe. But a lot of that stuff was grown (or trying to be grown) at cooler altitudes. Meaning we’re gonna have a lot of still-usable 1970s-style juice coming out of the valley itself, if my own Cab is any indication. It’s just that some of it — if it didn’t ripen enough — might taste vegetal, herbaceous and bell-peppery, especially if growers didn’t practice any crop thinning.

And yes, you could say that the 1980s and 1990s saw a lot of 12- and 13-percent California wines, too. Coming to mind is the 1995 Jarvis Cabernet we had the other night: 13 percent.

Published in: on March 22, 2011 at 2:59 am  Leave a Comment