A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: October Edition. If you missed the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below. You can also re-watch it on Instagram.
In my line of work, I taste A LOT of wine. And I found that tons of wines slipped through the cracks. I couldn’t possibly cover every single wine in a blog post or on social media, so I came up with the idea to highlight the ten “Best Bottles” that I drink every month. Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of October!
I don’t read tarot cards, but I’m told that the “Ten of Cups” card symbolizes harmony, joy, and abundance. This wine from Banshee is made in the traditional Champagne method with grapes sourced from all over California. Like its namesake tarot card, you’ll always be happy to see this bottle land on your table:) It is a blend of the traditional Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier and is aged on the lees (or dead yeast) for a minimum of two years. BUY WINE
Before I delve into this wine, I’ve got to share one thing. If I had one piece of advice for people looking to up their wine game, it would be to step away from grocery store wines that hover around that $8-$12 price point. Almost all of them are domestic (usually California) wines that are commercially and industrially made. The grapes used for these wines are generally low quality and from the Central Valley of California. Pretty much you’re starting out with subpar grapes and you need to do a lot of manipulation on the backend in the winery in order to make the wine taste palatable. So, if you step away from these crappy grocery store wines, what do you drink? And remember I’m not against all grocery store wines at all, I just know the difference between industrial glug and honest, regional wine. So my advice to you is to find those honest, regional wines like this one. And look at the price point here! You can’t beat it. This Planeta wine is a blend of a few different white grapes (the local Grecanico plus some international varieties) and delivers a really refreshing, lively, and easy to drink white, due to it being all stainless steel fermented. BUY WINE
When I think of Riesling I don’t think of New Zealand. But I think now I need to start! Central Otago in the South Island of New Zealand is known for high-quality Pinot Noir. This Mondillo Riesling is a stunner. Serving up all of the markers for quality Riesling: bracing high acidity, minerality, and a faint petrol note. There are also some beautiful floral notes here, classic to Riesling. And know that this wine is totally dry. I mean a bone dry. Another thing to take away from this chat is that not all Riesling is sweet. Many people believe that. And we have Château St. Michelle to thank for that. They make a sweet Riesling that became VERY popular here in the US (especially on Thanksgiving tables). But if you’re not into sweet, just know that you can easily find dry Rieslings. Look for the word “troken” on the label, which means “dry” in German. The server at the restaurant or the person selling the wine at a wine shop can help you navigate and figure out if a bottle of Riesling is dry, sweet, or somewhere in between. I still get confused sometimes, so don’t feel any kind of way in asking for help! BUY WINE
I’ve got a handful of Cali wine brands that I love to recommend because they consistently deliver quality wines at the $20-ish price point. I think that’s a nice sweet spot for a lot of people. There’s plenty of people that easily spend $10-$15 on a bottle of wine and what you sometimes don’t realize, is that especially some of those big brands that you can find at every retailer, they’re not producing really well-made wine. The wine looks less like a food/agricultural product, and becomes more of this manipulated industrial product. Qupé is not that. Qupé is one of those brands that constantly churns out wines at that price point that are quite amazing. I receive a sample of their Y-Block Chardonnay from Santa Barbara every single year, and every year I’m quite happy with it. Most of the grapes are sourced from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in the cool Santa Maria Valley of northern Santa Barbara County. This is literally one of the most high-quality and well-respected vineyards in the area. How Qupé makes a $20 wine from that I’ll have no idea, but I’ll take it! This wine is barrel fermented and aged in oak, so if you have a phobia of oak, find another wine. If you love your oak and you like that warm, comforting hug from an old friend that oak gives, come on down and try this wine! BUY WINE
Because there can never be too much rosé from Provence as far as I’m concerned! Also, let’s stop spreading the misinformation that rosé is only for summertime. For the record, I live in Los Angeles and it’s summertime approximately nine months out of the year. You bet your bottom dollar I am drinking rosé year-round. This Rose Gold Rosé is classic Provence in style and made from both Cinsault and Grenache grapes. From the tect sheet: the grapes are grown about 50 miles north west of St. Tropez and fermented in Provence. If that doesn’t sound delicious, I don’t know what does! BUY WINE
Prats & Symingnton is a partnership between the Prats family of Bordeaux and the Symington family, a traditional Port producer in Portugal. This dry red wine is a blend of traditional Portuguese grapes including Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Tinta Barroca. This wine is an example of a really light, easy Portuguese red blend. Personally, I can’t stand the whole “red blend” category that you find at places is like the grocery store and big box wine retailers. They’re usually way too ripe of fruit and way too high of alcohol. I also find that they lack structure and are a bit flabby (not enough acidity or tannin structure). Step out of the grocery store, step into a wine shop, and look for Portuguese red blends. You’ll thank me. BUY WINE
This wine is from the same producer, Prats & Symington, that I just mentioned, but this one has some oak aging. 15 months in new oak to be exact. Some of the wine is also aged in used oak. The idea for this wine is that wood has a supporting role in the ensemble cast. In the words of Bruno Prats “The wood should be the frame, not the picture itself”. I love that quote, because sometimes oak is used to a gratuitous level that is just too much. Not everyone wants oaky oaky oaky ass wines. BUY WINE
They make wine in Virginia? Yup! Fun fact: wine is made in all 50 states. And let me tell you something: a lot of that wine is good. Virginia is an interesting place because one of their major pressures that they deal with is rain, there is a ton of rain (and also humidity) which can make it challenging to grow quality grapes. But I will say, the few Virginia wines I have tasted have been quite good. This was sent to me as part of the Maryland Governors Cup, as one of their top-rated wines. And I can see why! Petit Verdot, a grape very rarely bottled on its own, is one of the minor grapes in Bordeaux. So, if you like really dry, structured tannic reds, this Pippin Hill Petit Verdot is a good bet. Perhaps with a really nice grilled steak? BUY WINE
Aglianico is perhaps one of my most favorite semi-obscure grapes from Italy. If you know, you know. Taurasi is considered the “Barlo of the south” in Italy and is made from Aglianico. And if you are a fan of Antinori wines in Tuscany, know that Tormaresca is a brand from the same family. But with this wine, we are in Puglia in the south of Italy. The grapes for this wine are certified organic and if you’ve got a bottle of Aglianico in front of you, you’ve got a big boy wine. These wines are nothing to take lightly! Lots of deep, dark, brambly fruit plus beautiful balsamic notes. If you’ve ever been to Italy and toured a winery that has balsamic vinegar aging in barrels, you know exactly what I mean. It’s sort of this woody, earthy, yet sweet smell. Give me braised something with this wine! BUY WINE
Wente is the classic legacy producer in the Livermore Valley of California. I know Napa and Sonoma get all of the play, but know that wine is pretty much made in every corner of California at this point. I will actually be visiting Livermore wine country early next year as I’ve never been and have never tasted the wines, aside from a few wines from Wente. I’m looking forward to that and will definitely share more! Wente is a very well-known name in the wine industry because they actually are responsible for bringing a specific clone of Chardonnay from Burgundy to California. This clone is now called the “Wente clone”. Most Chardonnay planted in the US is this clone. In terms of wine, what can you expect in Livermore? Single vineyard Cab for $35!?!? This wine is a beau and seriously overdelivers for the price point. Step out of Napa……find some deals like this! BUY WINE
I have been known to talk smack about Ruby Port. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and I find Ruby Port to be a bit simplistic and too cloyingly sweet for my taste. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Ruby Port, that’s just how I feel about it. OK? Reserve Port is very similar to Ruby Port except for one key factor. Ruby Port does not require any sort of aging, which is why we get those really simple red fruit notes (cherries and plums) and maybe some black fruits and sweet spices. With Reserve we are looking at up to five years barrel aging, which is going to give you a more complex wine with more intensity. This particular Graham’s Reserve Port was aged for two years in seasoned casks before bottling. I got a little bit of red fruit notes, plus lots of black fruit notes, cassis, and licorice. Fun fact, I just tried cassis for the first time a few weeks ago and I was like “yup, this is exactly what I thought it was”. This wine would be lovely with chocolate desserts. I love really leaning into richness, so like I’m thinking a rich chocolate mousse maybe with some raspberries on top or a flourless chocolate cake. If that’s a little too much for you and you prefer to contrast with a savory flavor, I would say a mature cheese could do the pairing trick. BUY WINE
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: September Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below. You can re-watch it on Instagram.
In my line of work, I taste a lot of wine. And I found that a lot of wines slipped through the cracks. I couldn’t possibly cover every single wine in a blog post or on social media, so I came up with the idea to highlight the ten “Best Bottles” that I drink every month. Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of September!
From No. 1 Family Estate in New Zealand, this Blanc de Blancs was made with 100 percent Chardonnay grapes. It was held on the lees for two years, meaning you’ll find those rich, Champagne-like characteristics. That time on the lees results in nutty, brioche-like flavors. It’s beautifully toasty with layers of stone fruit and citrus for balance. Gorgeous! BUY NOW
Scharffenberger has been making premium sparkling wine in Mendocino since 1981. This is a great area for sparkling wine because of the cool coastal influences of the Pacific Ocean. The cool temps help keep the grapes cool and help them retain acidity, which is key to making a premium sparkling wine. A really yummy “berry”ful sparkling rosé. Pretty much everything I would want in this style of wine at this price point. Grab it! BUY NOW (this is for the Brut, not the rosé)
This is an exciting one to share, as I will be visiting this winery in Italy in the next couple of weeks! Zenato actually has two properties. One in Valpolicella and the other in Lugana. I’m lucky to say that I will be visiting both properties on my trip! The Zenato legacy of winemaking spans over 60 years starting with the family’s patriarch Sergio and continuing today with his wife Carla and their children Nadia and Alberto. Turbiana is the white grape used to make Lugana wine, a refreshing and dynamic white from a Lugana DOC near Lake Garda. When I tasted the wine, the first thing I wrote on the tech sheet was “jesus that’s good”. I get aromas and flavors of lemon and lime zest, peaches, and majorly high acid, almost mouth puckering. I had this with some homemade elote and it was incredible. BUY NOW
This wine from Domaine Anderson is rich and full, yet bright and clean. How do they do that? I actually have no idea! But I do love that juxtaposition, and that tension in wines. There’s a beautiful salinity also that cuts right through the middle. Mouthwatering acidity. As the wine came up to temperature, I got a really nice tart apple note. BUY NOW
A very special wine from Cattleya Wines. This wine is a singular clone of Chardonnay (clone 76) from one vineyard site on the Sonoma Coast. This is definitely a terroir driven wine, but with a lot of winemaking behind it. Technique: grapes were hand harvested and hand sorted before being gently pressed and transferred to tank for overnight cold settling. Juice was in racked into French oak barrels, 60% new. Indigenous yeast carried out a slow fermentation over a four-month period, preserving the purity of fruit. 17 months undisturbed aging. No fining, no filtration. An incredibly rich and opulent Chardonnay but with major sophistication. Like Shaggy says: smooth, just like a silk a… BUY NOW
Fun fact: I actually have an article coming out next month all about Bouchaine Vineyards in the Carneros area of Napa Valley. Bouchaine has a cool story starting with the great niece of Composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and the fact that they have an all-female run enterprise. From the owner, the winemaker, the winery crew, and the vineyard crew. All women! Quite incredible! The difference between vin gris and rosé is slight. In both cases we’re talking about a pink colored wine made from red grapes. The only difference is that a vin gris is very very light in color. This is due to the fact that there is almost no contact between the grape juice and the skins, which is what gives a wine it’s color. A really pretty wine full of red fruit notes (strawberries and watermelon) plus white flower notes. BUY NOW
Let’s hear it for cheap and cheerful! And before we delve into what’s in the bottle, let me tell you a little bit about District 7 Wines. District 7 is under the Scheid Family Wines label, long time growers in Monterey County. Their vineyards are 100% certified sustainable and the winery is 100% powered by wind. How cool is that!? For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed this wine slightly chilled. BUY NOW
Some say that making a value priced Cab Sauv in Napa is impossible. I’m here to disagree! You can find it, you just have to look hard. Luckily, I’m saving some time by giving it right to ya! This wine is easy-drinking and approachable upon release! Dark ripe fruit notes plus layers of tobacco and sweet spice permeate the palate. A touch of Petit Verdot and Zinfandel add richness and round it all out for this crowd pleaser of a red! BUY NOW (10-20% discount at the link, depending on how many bottles you buy)
Castello di Fonterutoli is a historic property just south of Castellina in Chianti in the heart of Chianti Classico. The Mazzei family has been making wine on this property for 24 generations. This is their flag ship wine. Showing beautiful floral notes of violets and lavender, plus red fruits and black cherries. 100% Sangiovese. 100% perfection. BUY NOW
Ehlers is a beautiful estate up in Napa Valley that I visited years ago. They have a historical barn on site, which I believe is where the tasting room is located. Quite beautiful. This Napa Cab is their best-selling SKU across the nine wines they make. The nose is showing big juicy dark fruit. And on the palate I get dusty tannins, minerality, and stunning balance. BUY NOW (plus, it’s on sale!)
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: August Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below. You can re-watch it on Instagram.
In my line of work, I taste a lot of wine. And I found that a lot of wines slipped through the cracks. I couldn’t possibly cover every single wine in a blog post or on social media, so I came up with the idea to highlight the ten “Best Bottles” that I drink every month. Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of August!
Fetzer, the parent company of Bonterra just changed their name to “Bonterra Organic Estates”. Bonterra is the largest owner of land planted to organic grape vines in the country. As you may know, they’re one of my favorite easy to find, grocery store brands. And these cans are no exception. I tried the Brut Bubbles (Viognier and French Colombard) and Rosé Bubbles (Grenache, Mourvèdre and Malbec). Cheap, cheerful, and portable make for a perfect canned wine combination. Oh, and the cans are GORGeous! BUY HERE
Jordan Winery in the Anderson Valley is an interesting brand study. They make two wines. Literally two SKUs. But yet, they almost always land on the top of the Wine & Spirits Restaurant Top 50 list . How do you create such a dedicated, loyal following if you only make two wines? It’s the experience: the Jordan Experience. Stay tuned for more, as I will cover Jordan in an upcoming piece for Monarch Wine. A partnership with a Champagne house is the perfect example of the Jordan Experience. It’s exactly what the Jordan customer would want. And, for the record, this bottle of bubbly majorly overdelivers for its $49 price point. BUY HERE
If you ever find yourself in the Sonoma Square, seek out Sosie Wines for relaxing and comfortable wine tasting in a charming alley off the main drag. I have had many Sosie wines, but had never tried this one, and was so glad it was included in my flight. I’m a sucker for a dry dry, food friendly sparkling red. This checked all the boxes. My perfect pairing: a charcuterie plate with cured meats, salami, mustard, and cornichons. Chef’s <kiss> BUY HERE
32 Winds is a GEM just outside of the Healdsburg Square. A gorgeous tasting room set just on the banks of Dry Creek. On a recent visit to Sonoma, I enjoyed two nights in their vineyard cottage that is exclusively available to wine club members. If that’s not a motivation to join, I don’t know what is! A really nice Sauvignon Blanc serving a fuller mouthfeel and texture that separates it from run of the mill Sauvy B. BUY HERE
Grillo, an indigenous Italian grape, is the most common white grape of Sicily. The younger generation of winemakers here are showcasing its modern potential, specifically in blends with Chardonnay and Cataratto. High acid and refreshing Grillo gives aromas of fresh cut grass and grapefruit. What food to enjoy Grillo with? Crudo or sashimi, poké, grilled fish or octopus. Lighter meals of summer, specifically ones served all fresco, call for Grillo. Bottom line, Grillo is your perfect Sicilian Summer Sipper, especially this one from Cantine Ermes.
Freeman Vineyard & Winery (in Sebastopol) was founded by husband and wife team, Ken and Akiko Freeman in 2001. Their focus is on cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so it’s no surprise that “ryo-fu” means “cool breeze” in Japanese. A full-bodied and mouth coating Chardonnay, but with a refreshing, clean finish. A gorgeous wine, and one of many in their lineup. BUY HERE.
Littorai is in the true “North Coast” of California with a focus on single vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They have farmed biodynamically since 2003 but hold no certifications. They are not dogmatic in their farming philosophies, and choose to just do what is best for the land and the wine. When you visit it sure does look like a true biodynamic property with forest, pasture, sheep, cows, ducks, a donkey, vegetable gardens, and fruit trees. This vineyard designate white sees a bit more new oak than their appellation series whites. Beautiful tropical notes, including bananas. BUY HERE
I recently visited J Vineyards in Sonoma. Let me first say that their Bubble Room is a place to visit! Ok, back to the wine. The Eastside Knoll Vineyard is an estate vineyard minutes away from the tasting room. It is planted solely to Pinot Noir and was the first estate vineyard to provide grapes for their sparkling wine, what they are known for. This wine serves up all the red fruit notes plus forest floor and a hint of toasty oak. I enjoyed this wine as I was overlooking the Eastside Knoll vineyard, and it doesn’t get any better than that: enjoying wine direct from the source. BUY HERE
Steve and Jill Matthiason are the poster children for the “new California” when it comes to wine. Though that title is a bit outdated, as a lot has changed since the 80s and 90s. We’re speaking of those producers who rejected the “Parkerization” of wine. Their wines are lighter, fresher, and more vibrant. While they do make international varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet, they also make Refosco and Ribolla Gialla, indigenous grapes to Italy. To say that Matthiason beats to their own drum is an understatement. To me, this wine represents the Matthiassons to a T.
We’re in Annapolis in the new West Sonoma AVA, which is a nested AVA within the Sonoma Coast. Pronounced “pay”, Peay is an absolutely beautiful place to visit (Redwoods as far as the eye can see), but you have to really want to go here. It’s about an hour from anything. And I mean, anything. Plus, a 5 mile dirt road, once you arrive to the address. Serving the brightest, juiciest Pinot Noir aromas and flavors of raspberries and cranberries, this wine is a revelation. Eric Asimov from the NY Times agrees as well. BUY HERE
One of the my most favorite comfort foods is an empanada. My father’s family hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and empanadas are a staple on the table. They’re regularly enjoyed on the go, and if you go to a friend’s house for an asado (our word for BBQ), empanadas are most certainly going to be the first course for everyone to enjoy while the meat cooks on the parrilla, or outdoor grill.
Empanadas are not unique to Argentina. Many Latin American countries (and other countries around the world) have their own version of a turnover made from pastry dough and stuffed with savory fillings. Empanadas are named from the Spanish verb “empanar” which means “to wrap or coat in bread or dough.” In Argentina, empanadas are a way of life. Depending on the region you are from, they can be either baked or fried. For the record, baked is the only way to go. Told you, they’re a way of life. Almost a religion with fierce loyalty to the style and the flavors you grew up with.
I have memories of making empanadas in the kitchen with my grandmother (Nana) and also my stepmom. Preparing the various filling in large mixing bowls and creating a sort of assembly line to put them all together and prepare them for baking. Nowadays, I don’t make empanadas from scratch very often. And like most ethnic foods you grow up on, finding options that remind you of home can be tough. I’ve tried a few empanadas locally here in LA and have always been sorely disappointed. But I recently tried empanadas from Catalina’s Market in Hollywood and was SO impressed. These are the closest empanadas I’ve tasted to what I grew up on and what I’ve had in Argentina. I highly recommend a visit. Catalina’s is a Latin American market with food and products from many Central and South American countries.
As you would expect, once I found these amazing empanadas, I had to pair some wines with them! Below are a few of my favorite pairings I pulled together for my empanada and wine night!
One of my most favorite empanadas. This is our version of a spinach and feta turnover. This empanada is obviously savory and has some bitter notes from the greens (spinach) and the tart cheese. A perfect companion here is an orange wine, which is similarly bitter. This is the “like with like” food and wine pairing principle to pair things together with similar characteristics. I received this wine a couple years back from a wine “secret Santa” group I belong to. This was the perfect opportunity to pull it out! And it’s a weird one! A wine from Georgia. The country, not the state. Georgia is considered the cradle of wine civilization. They have been making wine for thousands of years. Here we have an amber or orange wine from Mosmieri. To understand what an orange wine is, you first need to start with a white wine. White wine is made with little to no skin contact during fermentation. If the winemaker decides to keep the skins in contact during fermentation for an extended period of time, we end up with a wine that gives an amber/orange color. Warning! Some orange wines, especially orange wines from Georgia, can be really, really funky. I’m talking funktastic voyage. This one is actually quite quaffable and totally still taste like wine. I dig it. And it worked perfectly with the empanada de pasqualina. BUY HERE
Another classic empanada filling is corn. This is a very simple and humble empanada with only the corn plus some simple seasonings and spices. The whisper of sweetness in this slightly off-dry Ruhlmann Pinot Gris really brought out the sweetness in the corn filling. There’s that “like with like” food and wine pairing principle again!
Chicken empanadas include shredded chicken, onion, bell pepper, and various seasonings. I loved this empanada with the Thacher Chenin Blanc. Thacher is a low-intervention winery, meaning not much is done in terms of winemaking and grapes and terroir are to speak for themselves. They’re part of what I call “new school Paso” and focus on making wines that are lower in alcohol, have higher acidity, and use different grapes than the usual suspects. Chenin Blanc is a white grape from the Loire Valley in France that gives very different expressions depending on where it is grown. Here we get a really nice green fruit note, moving into tropical. This is the perfect summer porch pounder and paired famously with the chicken empanada. Unfortunately, this bottle appears to be sold out, but hopefully the next vintage arrives soon!
As it sounds, this is the same chicken empanada, but with quite a bit of heat to it. A tough thing to pair, for sure. I decided to go with a chillable red. I wanted to something that would stand up to the robust flavors, but would also cool your mouth down a bit from the spice. This wine hit it like a nail on the head! Vinos Lechuza’s claim to fame is that their wines are served at French Laundry in Napa Valley. Thomas Keller discovered the Vinos Lechuza wines while in Cabo San Lucas, and subsequently added them to his French Laundry wine list. This is a 100% unfiltered Nebbiolo meant to be served chilled. Trust me, it’s delicious. And before you try this wine, suspend all thoughts about Nebbiolo from Piemonte. This wine appears to be sold out, but hopefully the next vintage will arrive soon!
Saved the best for last. The beef empanada is the most popular and the most prolific throughout Argentina. And every region has their own specific recipe with the most important distinction being: do you include raisins in the filling or not. This one did NOT have raisins in it, but I do love me a beef empanada with raisins in it, for the record! What else to pair with the most classic empanada than the most classic Argentinian wine: Malbec; especially thiss one from classic producer Catena Zapata. This wine serves up Plums, violets, chocolate. A notch up from the basic $10 grocery store Malbecs. BUY HERE
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: June Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below or you can re-watch it on my IGTV channel.
Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of June!
Teneral Cellars supports a different charitable organization with every quarterly release and is committed to social justice issues, women’s health and empowerment, and combating climate change. Teneral Cellars is also a women owned winery. This wine is part of their Peace Love & Joy collection that came out over the holidays with $10 from every sale going to the World Central Kitchen. I found the Chardonnay to be refreshing and exactly what I want in a summertime Chardonnay. Not too oaky, not too buttery, but with plenty of taste to satisfy the Chardcore in you. BUY HERE.
We are in the Rías Baixas region of Spain for this delicious Miguel Torres Albariño. This means we are on the west coast of Spain in an area known as “Green Spain”. All of the maritime influence from the Atlantic Ocean brings immense precipitation and rain causing there to be a lot of green landscape in the area. For those who don’t know, I always share Albariño as a great alternative to Sauvy B. If you are in a Sauvignon Blanc rut, definitely try an Albariño. You will almost never pay more than $20 a bottle and the wines are as close to “satisfaction guaranteed” as you can get! BUY HERE.
Paso Robles has a certain reputation when it comes to wine. Paso is hot hot hot, and the reputation is that the wines are BIG, high alcohol, and jammy. Yes, some are. This is not that. For one, Thacher is a low-intervention winery, meaning not much is done in terms of winemaking and grapes and terroir are to speak for themselves. They’re part of what I call “new school Paso” and focus on making wines that are lower in alcohol, have higher acidity, and use different grapes than the usual suspects. Own-rooted signifies that the grapevine is literally planted on its own roots. Versus being grafted, which is very common. Grafting is when the shoot system (the part of the vine that the grape bunches grow on) and root system come from two different places. This is generally done when heartier rootstocks are needed to resist pests, or to be a better match to the soil type and composition. Chenin Blanc is a white grape from the Loire Valley in France that gives very different expressions depending on where it is grown. Here we get a really nice green fruit note, moving into tropical. This is the perfect summer porch pounder. Unfortunately this bottle appears to be sold out, but hopefully the next vintage arrives soon!
Here’s a weird one for you! A wine from Georgia. The country, not the state. Georgia is considered the cradle of wine civilization. They have been making wine for thousands of years. Here we have an amber or orange wine from Mosmieri. To understand what an orange wine is, you first need to start with a white wine. White wine is made with little to no skin contact during fermentation. If the winemaker decides to keep the skins in contact during fermentation for an extended period of time, we end up with a wine that gives an amber/orange color. Warning! Some orange wines, especially orange wines from Georgia, can be really, really funky. I’m talking funktastic voyage. This one is actually quite quaffable and totally still taste like wine. I dig it. BUY HERE.
Searching for a quality Pinot Noir under $20 is like searching for a meaning in a Pauly Shore movie. Get it? Get the reference? It’s Clueless for those who don’t know☺ The key to this Imagery Pinot Noir is: balance. This is the thing that separates the men from the boys. The so so wine from the great wine. The fruit on this wine is a bit jammy and rich: things like strawberry, cherry, and boysenberry. But we also have some well-integrated oak influence, and a little bit of Petit Verdot blended and to add body and color. BUY HERE.
Prats + Symington is a well-known Port producer in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal. As per Port production rules, only a portion of the estate’s grapes can be used each year to make Port wines. This is the reason why many Port producers also make non-fortified, dry, red table wines. What else are they gonna do with the grapes? What I love about Portuguese dry red wines is that they are complex, yet approachable. And about as food friendly as you can get, and this wine is no exception. It was a hit at a recent dinner party I attended and paired beautifully with Argentinian empanadas. BUY HERE.
The Bodegas Salentein estate is situated against the backdrop formed by the Andes. Numina Gran Corte is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. The traditional red Bordeaux grapes. These grapes from Argentina’s Uco Valley in Mendoza are from some of the highest elevation in vineyards on the planet. I generally find Malbec to be quite plummy and velvety, and overall, easy-drinking and smooth. The addition of the other Bordeaux varieties really kicks this wine up a notch to give it a deeper sort of more complex and luxurious vibe. BUY HERE.
Vinos Lechuza’s claim to fame is that their wines are served at French Laundry in Napa Valley. Thomas Keller discovered the Vinos Lechuza wines while in Cabo San Lucas, and subsequently added them to his French Laundry wine list. It’s a small(ish) property with a simple tasting room and beautiful outdoor space. Be sure to do the tasting outside on their patio…it’s beautiful. This is a 100% unfiltered Nebbiolo meant to be served chilled. Trust me, it’s delicious. And before you try this wine, suspend all thoughts about Nebbiolo from Piemonte. This wine appears to be sold out, but hopefully the next vintage will arrive soon!
These cans are full of certified organic wine from Argentina‘s Uco Valley. In French “Le Petit Verre” means “small glass”. Domaine Bousquet was started by a family originally from France, hence the nod. We have the Malbec and a Bubbly Rosé. These are 250 mL cans (1/3 of a bottle of wine) and both are totally dry and totally delicious. For reference, the bubbly rosé is a motley blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Gris, and Viognier. But I can attest that it comes together really nicely! Also, a great price at $13 for a 4 pack! These cans will be on the market very soon!
A new month awaits, which means a new batch of wines for me to share with you for my Best Bottles: May Edition. If you miss the IG Live, don’t fret, all the wine details are below or you can re-watch it on my IGTV channel.
Without further ado, I bring to you my best bottles for the month of May!
“La Folie” from Maison Mirabeau is an interesting sparkling blend of Négrette, Colombard, Syrah, and Grenache. This wine is made in the Charmat method, where the second fermentation happens inside of a stainless-steel tank instead of in the bottle. This is a method to make sparkling so that the wine retains its freshness and fruit flavors and aromas. This is a generic Vin de France, meaning that the grapes can come from anywhere in France. I found this wine light, refreshing, and lively. At $20 a bottle, this is a great buy.
A great sparkler for the wine geek! This Pere Ventura wine is made from the Treppat grape, which is an indigenous Spanish grape that is almost extinct. I’ve only seen it one other time. A Cava from the Penedès region of Spain, which is my go to Champagne alternative. Cava is always made in the traditional method just like Champagne, but we’re talking about $15-$20 a bottle instead of $40 or $50+. For those who think that Prosecco is a good alternative for Champagne, they’ve got it all wrong!
This Monterey white blend from the Pisoni family is a winner on all fronts. The Lucy Pico Blanco is a blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, and is named after the famed mountain peak in Monterey County. Interestingly enough, Monterey County has some of the largest plannings of Pinot Gris compared to any other coastal region in California. And to set the record straight, I am not a huge fan of Pinot Gris. My Pinot Gris experience lies mostly with Oregon Pinot Gris and I find them to be hollow, linear, and missing that certain something. I call this Pinot Gris but with a soul, aka a mid palate. Of course, there are the typical citrus and high acid elements you would expect for a Pinot Gris dominant wine, but hints of stone fruit fatten up the wine a bit. Plus, a nice white flower note to round things out.
deNégoce is an interesting DTC (direct to consumer) model. They source and bottle wine and then sell it directly to consumers in half case and full case increments. No middleman, no distributor, no retailer, etc. The wines are available for purchase on the website as “futures” meaning they have not been bottled yet. The earlier you buy them, the more you save. A great model for wine people who don’t have the time to constantly shop for wine to drink. People who have expensive wine taste, but want to save some moolah! I am absolutely in love with this wine. It comes from the renowned Yamhill-Carlton area of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. In this area, the uplifted seabeds exposed by the Missoula floods give us the best Willamette Valley wines. Here we have a full, rich Chardonnay in the style of Montrachet in Bourgogne. There is no hiding or shying away that this wine is squarely in that style. Beautiful citrus notes leading into red apple pie, plus honeysuckle and a hazelnut finish. This wine really deserves some kudos here. Texture, creaminess and richness abound.
You may be wondering what the heck a dracaena is. It is a tree. Husband and wife, Mike and Lori Budd are the founders of Paso based Dracaena Wines. The back story is that their beloved Weimaraner Draco passed away in 2011. Along the way, they discovered the Dracaena tree, better knowns as the Draco tree. They planted a Draco tree in the spot Draco used to eat. In 2016 Lori and Michael quit their corporate jobs in NJ, moved to CA, and started a winery. They had been hobby winemaking before that in a crush facility. What to name it? They decided to keep Draco’s memory with them and named it: Dracaena Wines. They produce 400 cases annually with a focus on Cabernet Franc. This Chenin Blanc is a really lovely stand out though for a Paso white serving all of the acidity and freshness. With Dracaena you come for the Cabernet Franc, but you stay for the Chenin Blanc.
Heather Rader was a horse loving corporate executive Looking for more. Along the way she and her husband came to Napa and started Spirit Horse Vineyards. The beautiful thing about this winery is that they also have a rescue horse ranch on site. They are used as therapy horses with young girls in a mentorship and leadership program called Off the Vine. So, while you are sipping one of their wines, you will know that you are helping to support this project. All of the horses are either rescued from the racing industry or other situations (i.e. they were abandoned). I never feel the need to wax poetic about rosé, because I really don’t think the wines are that serious or meant to be serious. This is just a good one. Drink it. Trust me.
Established in 1981, Adelaida is a 12,000-case estate winery in the mountainous Adelaida District in western Paso Robles, CA. Situated at 2,000 feet of elevation, 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Adelaida specializes in single vineyard wines from both the Adelaida and Willow Creek Districts. They are family owned and the estate vineyards (and walnut orchards) are 100% organically certified. Counoise is a relatively unknown grape from the south of France. These days it is used as a blending grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This wine is very pale in color and serves up heaps of pepper (green peppercorns), baking spices, plus a marked minerality. But a really nice texture and mouthfeel. A really interesting and unique wine.
Located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma, Two Shepherds just completed their 12th vintage. They are now at 3,500 cases a year, and growing. They craft natural wines, from unusual and rare varieties and organically farmed grapes across the North Coast, many of those vines are 45-100+ years old. Owner William has been called the “insane master of small lots” by some. And this Cinsault proves to be no exception, with only 175 cases made. And the funnest fact from this blog post is that the Cinsault for this wine is grown in the oldest surviving Cinsault vineyard (135 years old) in the WORLD, the Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi. This wine is pale, berry noted, floral noted, and chillable. Crushable, as the kids say. If you see a bottle of Two Shepherds wine, just try it.
Winemaker Charles Symington uses only the highest quality grapes from the Symington family estates vineyards in the Douro valley of Portugal for this Graham’s Tawny Port. Many know the ever-popular ruby Port style. But it’s the Tawny Port style that to me is really worth checking out. Tawny Ports tend to have a brown or more tawny color with complex nutty aromas among other things. If you don’t want just a straight up sweet dessert wine, but you might want something after dinner that is not fully dry, Tawny Port could be your jam. This 10-year-old Tawny Port still actually has some ruby color to it. I’m also getting really prevalent fruit notes still, though all the fruit is quite mature/ripe. Fruits such as figs, dates, and prunes. In terms of the nuttiness factor, I get a strong garrapiñada flavor on the back palate. Garrapiñadas are “street nuts”. New Yorkers know what I’m talking about. My family is from Argentina and I have such a vivid memory of going to “capital” in Buenos Aires and smelling this in the streets.
I’ve already told you about the 10yo Tawny. Now The 20-year-old Tawny Port is serving me ALL of the nuts. The category is: NUTS. Nutstravaganzza. And don’t forget that really interesting note of dried orange peel. The color you will note is more brown than that Ruby color we saw with the 10 year old Tawny. This is definitely a sipper. Spectacular for sure.
One of the best parts about living in Los Angeles is the broad availability of food from just about every culture you can think of. Yes, there’s classed up fancy versions of these foods, but I’m talking about street food. Food quite literally served on the street or local family-owned joints serving food that includes someone’s grandma’s recipes. The street food and pop-up scene in LA is second to none. Add to that my love of wine, and you have a unique challenge: how to pair LA’s dynamic street food with tasty, crushable wine? I recently wrote about these Los Angeles wine tasting pairings with Leo’s, my favorite taco truck. Or how about that time I sampled a slew of Chinese buns and sparkling wines for another fun Los Angeles wine tasting?
Cara Haltiwanger has been in the restaurant and bar business her entire life from growing up in Alabama to moving to Los Angeles 18 years ago. My husband, born and raised in Los Angeles, has known her for many moons, and that is how we connected. Cara has worked every job in a restaurant from front to back of house, including busser, waitress, bartender, line chef, and now chef. In 2008 one of her bartending gigs allowed her to start cooking on their patio once a week. She then started doing pop up restaurants and eventually created her baby, Calabama hot sauce. Cara’s goal has always been to create a positive southern vibe; a vibe that invites you in and reminds you of home. She’s constantly preaching community and the comfort that can be provided by a good meal and conversation. Come to one of her pop-ups, and you leave full and happy. The pandemic put a stop to her in-person pop ups, but she quickly found an alternative.
On an unassuming cul de sac in East Hollywood, you feel like you’re in NYC. An old apartment building looms tall with a column of metal fire escapes. At your scheduled time, you arrive and look up. Cara waves from the highest fire escape and asks you if you’re ready. When you say yes, she launches a red bucket suspended with a rope down to the ground level where you are. Tucked into that bucket are your breakfast sandwiches and (if you ordered them ahead of time) bottles of her addictive Calabama hot sauce, that is the perfect mix of spicy, tangy, and sweet. I could bathe in the stuff.
This is not just any breakfast sandwich. Two slices of grilled white bread are packed with bacon, eggs, cheese, onions, avocado, and cooked on a cast-iron grill. And don’t forget a side of her hot sauce, which really is the main event. The idea is that you dip the sandwich in the sauce with every bite. There is a reason why she sells out in less than 24 hours. With the pandemic challenges, the bucket drop dates/times do vary. Be sure to follow the Calabama Instagram account to stay up to date on all the bucket drops and pop ups. And when you see a bucket drop announced and tickets go on sale, do not wait. They sell out every single time.
Acquiesce Winery is one of my favorite wineries in Lodi, California. In a region known for Old Vine Zinfandel, Sue Tipton and her husband, Rodney, went against the grain and started Acquiesce, which only makes Rhône inspired white and rosé wines. People said they were crazy, but alas, they’ve been wildly successful. For your quintessential Los Angeles wine tasting experience, I’m pairing Cara’s breakfast sandwich with the perfect breakfast wine, the Acquiesce Grenache Rosé 2021.
It’s no secret that this sandwich is rich and decadent. Not to mention a bit spicy when dipped into the Calabama hot sauce. To counteract all of that, I have chosen this fresh, bright, and acid-driven rosé, to cut through the richness and spice. The perfect foil. So, grab a cooler and a couple wine tumblers, and drive over to East Hollywood for your Sunday morning bucket drop breakfast sandwich and Los Angeles wine tasting.
Cara’s slogan is Keep Comin’ Home, and for her, that means, keep going back to the place that makes you the happiest. The kitchen with her family is that place for her, but it’s different for everyone. Find yours, and keep going there. For now, I’m gonna keep comin’ home to the red bucket.