Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Party Wines!

A sampling of some of the snacks…

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I spent all day on Saturday planning, cleaning, baking, cooking and buying for our “A Very Jewish Christmas” party. I think we pulled it off pretty well, if I do say so myself. The snacks were decent (although in my habit of forgetting things in the oven I managed to overcook both the cookies and the cupcakes,) and the booze was flowing. See, the theme was “old school cheesy Christmas party,” so we were going to make Manhattans, but I think only one got made. Yet somehow the entire handle of Makers Mark was almost entirely depleted…

Anyway, this blog is about the wine, and I know that's what you want to hear about. When buying 9 bottles of wine, (which is how much I bought for the 30+ people, and it was more than enough, what with the people bringing their own bottles and the Makers Mark…) As I was saying when buying 9 bottles of wine, budget is key, and I managed to keep have a pretty decent selection, I think, with each bottle costing under $15, and some under $10. Here’s what I served:

Vina Alarba Old Vines Grenache 2006 from Spain. $8.95/bottle. For the price I’m not sure you can do much better. It’s a 100% Garnacha made with grapes from vines averaging 50 years of age, grown on the steep slopes of Calatayud. Juicy, spicy and not too heavy, I figured this wine would be a crowd pleaser, and I think for the most part, it was. To be honest with you, I didn’t have much time during the party to ask people what they thought of the wine, but let’s just say it got drunk.

The other red I got was a California Cabernet called Clos Robert for $11.95/bottle. Fuller than the Grenache, it is your typical, relatively jammy California Cab, but lively enough to not tire you out for a long night of drinking. I thought it did quite well.

So those were the reds. But me, personally, I stuck to white the whole night. I usually do if I know its going to be a long night of heavy drinking, and believe you me, this was. Hear about the two stellar whites in the next post…

Alma Rosa

So, Alma Rosa! You want to hear about them. It seems that many of their wines are quite affordable if you are able to get your hands on them. Alma Rosa was started by Richard Sanford in 1970. He was one of the first to recognize potential in the Santa Rita Hills area, realizing that the westward facing valleys allowed cool ocean air to blow in and moderate the growing climate. He likened the climate to Burgundies, and found that the well drained soil was well suited to growing the Burgundian varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. He married his wife, Thekla, in 1978, and together they create some of the most refined and yummy wines in Santa Barbara.

In 2000, all of the Sanford estates were certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). More on organic certifications later- this is a topic that I am very interested in and I plan to explore in many future posts. But it is good to know that all of Alma Rosa’s wines are organic, and in fact they take their commitment to the environment even further, supporting other earth-friendly causes such as the reintroduction of the peregrine falcons to the Santa Ynez Valley. More than a bunch of talk, they take their commitment to the environment very seriously. Personally, I don’t see how you cannot if you grow grapes and make wine for a living.

So now you know about Alma Rosa winery. Look out for their yummy pinots and chardonnays. I have to admit their labels are pretty lame, but this isn’t a design blog so I’ll keep those thoughts to myself. Well actually I just told you what I thought. But I wont elaborate anymore. Look out for more posts soon on the lovely pairing of Pinot Noir and Autumn…

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fall Fall Fall

Hello Blogos!

I am new to blogging, my friends. And no I was not just trying to do a McCain impersonation, but it came out that way, didn’t it? Anyway, fall is in the air and all around us. (Okay so I wrote this post a couple weeks ago and forgot to post it. I'm still learning, okay?) So I thought I’d write about some wines that scream “FALL!” to me. I would never peg fall as my favorite season, because to me it signifies the end of summer, which I love. And the beginning of winter, which I don’t love so much (I have poor circulation.) But that's not to say that there aren’t some lovely things about these months. And I think the food and wine are a big part of the loveliness. Of course I think food and wine are what make every season lovely, but fall especially has a very traditional menu that calls for the perfect wine. And no, I’m not thinking of Turning Leaf, that E & J Gallo mass produced wine that I am sure you have seen ads for in many a magazine. I am thinking of Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir makes me feel like this:

If you can’t take it from me (after all, we haven’t even known each other for 3 posts yet,) take it from Craig Koketsu, the chef at Park Avenue Autumn (Winter, Spring, Summer, etc.) Each season, as they redecorate and change their menu in full, they also create a flagship wine, custom blended for the restaurant. This season it is a delicious Pinot Noir from the Alma Rosa winery in Santa Rita Hills region of Santa Barbara County.

I know what you are thinking right now. Maybe. Or at least here is a guess, since its what I would be thinking. “Park Avenue Autumn? That place is price. I’ve really really wanted to go there, its supposed to be delicious. Too bad I can’t afford it. I thought this was a blog about cheap wines?” Don’t judge so soon blogos! I am writing about it for a few reasons. For starters, I want to gloat in the fact that I was lucky enough to be taken there for a fantastic dinner by my boyfriend's parents. It was quite yummy.

But more importantly, Alma Rosa winery is worth knowing about, and not all of their wines are custom blended for fancy restaurants. So since I’m still learning how to write short posts, I am going to leave you in suspense about Alma Rosa and elaborate all about them in my next post!

Friday, November 14, 2008

My First Blog Post Ever

Hello blogosphere.

I am starting this blog… why? I’ve never considered myself much of a writer. But I am going to treat it as a creative outlet. A way to combine my interests. I am a wine professional with a passion for photography. Or am I a photographer with a passion for wine? I truly still don’t even know myself. I went to school for photography. And I currently work at a wine store. This is fantastic for a lot of reasons, one of them being that I get a reasonable discount on wine. It is not so fantastic for a lot of reasons as well, one of them being that I make barely enough to support myself, let alone the bottle-a-night habit that my boyfriend and I have developed. Wine is an expensive hobby, even at 25% off. So to give it to you straight- I buy cheap wine. But I like the good stuff (and the vacation lifestyle, as my friend once told me.) How to reconcile? Well folks, I’m here to the dirty work! I shall taste all the cheap ass wines and come up with the best bangs-for-ones-buck, as they say. I’ll try my best to let you know which ones to seek out and which to avoid like the plague. And I'll add some of my pictures for good measure.

Like ones like this of cheese!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Actually, I had one of those plague-like wines just the other night. It’s a wine that we sell at our store for $9.95, Fonte Al Sol 2004, and its made by the usually trustworthy producer Ruffino. 100% Sangiovese. But I am telling you it was undrinkable. Now, previously, I had treated wine sort of like I treat movies- once I start a bottle, I have to follow through, if only to see what happens. It is very rare for me to walk out in the middle of a movie, or to decide to chuck a whole bottle after a couple sips. But there is always the theory that a friend of mine put forward the other day- sometimes its best to cut your losses. That's how I saw it with this wine. This is what it tasted like to me:

The more I think about this wine, the more I am convinced that this was just a nasty run in with the dreaded Brettanomyces. Brett is an interesting guy (/organism.) The flavors he contributes to wine are described by such charming adjectives as “earthy,” “leathery,” “saddle sweat,” “mousy,” “barnyardy,” and my favorite, “manure-like.” The presence of Brett in a wine is often chalked up to poor winery hygeine or sloppy wine making. Sounds scrumptious, doesn’t it? But the truth is, a slight bit of brett can add character and complexity to a wine, as long as its well integrated and not overpowering. Think more like this:

To make a long story short, in this wine all I tasted was barn. Very little fruit, some pretty tight tannins, and barn. So I recapped the wine, put it aside, and opened a bottle of 1919 (the name of the wine, not the vintage.) A 2006 Argentinian malbec at that same appealing price point of $9.95. This I found delicious. What a great fall wine! Full and silky, with a nose of dark plums and rasberries. Fruity on the finish, it was a perfect wine for the price, and it was delicious paired with my homemade pizzas. (One white with fresh mozzerella and carmelized onions, the other a classic margarita style. Dough from scratch. Am I domestic or what?)

So proud of myself for finding a yummy under-10-dollar that night. Lets just conveniently disregard that I had to sacrifice a bottle to the wine gods to get there.