Archive for November, 2013


Wine & Small Plates

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At our VINO Restaurant, Chef/Partner Keith Endo has been churning out alot of small plates specials every night, just to have fun (& our customers greatly appreciate his work).  This also gives us an opportunity to have fun pairing wines to the onslaught of these new dishes.


 Fresh Razor Clamswith white wine, lemon, Italian parsley & a little butter

We can’t get these clams too often, but when we do, OMG!!!  One pairing, we served the 2011 Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi–a dry, light, crisp, minerally white wine from the Marches region on Italy’s eastern coast, produced under the watchful eye of legendary consultant Giorgio Grai.  This wine innately has dried underbrush & Mediterranean spice nuances which work well with the garlic & Sicilian Mudica breadcrumbs….AND a citrus edge which works with the clams.  We would also consider the 2011 Marisa Cuomo Costa d’Amalfi Bianco–another dry, light, crisp & seafood friendly white wine…..this time from Italy’s Amalfi Coast.  Produced from a blend of Falanghina & Biancollella grape varieties grown on terraced hillsides at between 600 & 1800 feet elevation in rocky calcareous soils, it also has a slight saline edge, which makes it another interesting pairing for this dish.  VV1If you want to BUY AMERICAN, then consider the tasty, crisp & minerally 2012 Palmina Pinot Grigio “Santa Barbara” from Steve & Chrystal Clifton. It certainly is better than most Italian versions we commonly run across.

 Smoked Olive Oil Poached Lamb Meatballs with home-made spaghettini, pecorino romano & grated Sugarland tomatoes

Our first pairing was the 2010 Chateau Fontanes Coteaux du Languedoc from southern France.  The 2010 has a big chunk of Syrah (somewhat meaty, wildly rustic in character) without being too heavy or overpowering (as Syrah can often be).  We also love this wine, because it is really about a sense of place, lighter than expected & not commercialized at all.  A very interesting pairing which also incorporates a BUY AMERICAN theme, would be the 2010 Witching Stick Rosato “Fashauer Vineyard”. This is a wild yeast fermented, masculine, full flavored PINK wine produced from 100% “mountain grown” Zinfandel by standout Zin specialist Van Williamson.  If you closed your eyes & tasted this wine, you would think it is RED, without the bitterness.  This kind of pairing would be especially ideal in warm weather.

VV2 Crispy Fried Artichoke & preserved lemons with a saffron-citrus aioli 

Artichoke has over the years been a NO-NO for pairing wines with.  A few winemaker friends insist that the grape variety known in the U.S. as Tocai Friulano & known internationally as Friulano, is one that works.  Whether that is true or not, I will leave up to you to decide.  BUT, following that train of thought AND hedging it a bit by deep frying them in a little semolina/rice flour mix AND incorporating preserved lemons as well, why not try the 2012 Palmina Tocai Friulano…..& please let me know what you think.  VV4

Braised Oxtail Tortellini with oxtail broth, brocolini & Italian parsley 

 More often than not, with these kind of richer, savory, brothed dishes, we look to pair some kind of lighter more ethereal style of Roses.  In this case, we paired the 2011 Birichino Vin Gris, a dry, more refined style of Californian PINK wine, whose core is Cinsault fruit from 126 year old vines out in Lodi.  There is also a smidgeon of 100 year old vine Grenache & a splash of Vermentino for freshness & uplifted aromatics.  In case you are not familar with this wine, it is the relatively new project of former, long time Bonny Doon winemaker, John Locke.  VV5

 Beet & Goat Cheese “Salad” with sliced radish & flax seed & a light lemon-fresh herb vinaigrette

With this dish, we typically work with more light, crisp & aromatic white wines, which connect with the dish’s fresh herbs & uplifts the goat cheese.  2 to consider along these lines include the Domaine Skouras “Zoe”–a seemingly off-dry, wonderfully perfumed & fruity white Greek wine produced from the Roditis & Moschofilero grape varieties down in the hills of Peloponnese…..& the 2012 Birichino Malvasia Bianca, a dry, profusely fruity & perfumed, lime-crisp white wine from John Locke (in this case I would just add a little more torn basil & freshly cracked pepper to the dish).   VV3

 Iberico Ham with frisee salad

One of the delicasies we brought back from our recent New York trip was the rekindled love for this Spanish/Portuguese specialty.  There really is nothing like it…..especially those free range-rs & fed mainly on acorns.  I think most people would think RED wine with this small plate.  For whatever reason, my first instinct is to serve the Domaine de Marquiliani Rose from the island of Corsica’s eastern coast.  Produced mainly from the indigenous Sciaccarellu grape variety, this more delicately nuanced rose is as importer Kermit Lynch aptly describes–“Drinking her rosé is like drinking a cloud. There’s an absolute weightlessness to it. Nothing is left on the palate but perfume.”  I would also serve the Raventos I Blanc Cava Rose “de Nit”, a Spanish PINK bubbly owned & operated by the same family for 19 generations!  Unlike so many other sparklers, this  methode Champenoise Spanard is so amazingly light, airy & wonderfully gulpable & would therefore be a refreshing, palate cleansing kind of pairing.  When looking to buy American, please consider the 2012 Drew Albarino “Anderson Valley”–a dry, riveting, crisp & “quietly” exotic white wine from the Anderson Valley & 1 vineyard located 1400 feet above the valley itself.  With this rich dish, this wine would be like squeezing a lemon or yuzu over the meat, which would not only serve to heigthen the cured meat, but would also keep the palate fresh & alive between bites.

V4 Slow Cooked Lamb Belly with marinated red onions, celery leaf & roasted garlic aioli

 One could readily pair a host of rustic red wines from around the Mediterranean basin with this dish & have alot of fun doing so.  That is exactly why we serve this dish in VINO.  One of the most “out of the box” pairings, however, especially keeping California in mind, is the 2010 Lieu Dit Cabernet Franc.   So far, we have seen 4 wines released to us here in the Islands from this small Santa Barbara winery.  Each are reminscent of a Loire Valley role model in mind–being produced from Sauvignon Blanc (akin to Pouilly Fume/Sancerre), Chenin Blanc (akin to Vouvray), Cabernet Franc (akin to Chinon/Bourgueil) & a Pinot Noir rose.  The Cabernet Franc, at least for the 2 initial releases, is lighter, more juicy & lower in tannins & alcohol than other Californian renditions.  It has a slightly rustic character, but still very upbeat, refreshing & delicious, which is why we would recommend it with this dish….in order to counter the richness of the fattier lamb belly.  As mentioned, this really is just the beginning.  If this were a board game, I would press the ALL PLAY button.

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4 Terrific Californian Rustic Red Wines

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California certainly has been producing world class wines, which has steadily risen in perceived quality since the 1976 Paris Wine Exhibition.   Take Napa Valley grown & produced Cabernet for instance.  The critics’ scores & accolades rival, & in some cases exceed, the very best from France’s iconic Bordeaux region.

One could certainly make a similar case for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir as well.

California is also making great strides in raising the quality & the awareness of their wines made from Rhone grape varietals as well.  It has taken some time, but as time goes on, the very best are finally getting recognition, culminating with the selection of the 2007 Saxum “James Berry Vineyard” Red Wine by the Wine Spectator as the numer one wine of their Top 100 Wines issue a few years ago.

I have had a real fascination with this category as well.  From the restaurant point of view, I believe there is a huge opportunity for well grown & crafted Rhone varietals on wine lists, which will help create a step ladder of offerings that will bridge the gap between Pinot Noir & Cabernet  in weight & bravado.

Thankfully, the list of Californians which fit this style & profile is growing.  Here are 4 for you to check out.

syrah2 2012 Neyers “Sage Canyon Cuvee”

Owner, Bruce Neyers, is also the long time National Sales Manager for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants.  One of my favorite wine producers from that portfolio is Maxime Magnon from the Corbieres region down in southern France..  Magnon was raised in Burgundy & later apprenticed under Jean Foillard, the iconic, uber-au naturale minded superstar of Beaujolais.  Maxime realized he really couldn’t afford too much land in Burgundy, so he chose instead to move down to Corbieres to start his own Domaine.  Today, he has his own cult-like following not only for his wines, but his “on the edge” vineyard & winemaking philosophies as well.  This Sage Canyon red wine, to me, is reminscent of the Magnon wines, more than Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines others readily compare it to.  As we have noted in previous blogs, Bruce believes in finding & using heirloom grape selections rather than developed clones.  Furthermore, nothing is added to the fermentation tanks, as Bruce notes, except grapes.  These are two of the core values, I also find in this wine.  The Carignane & Mourvedre of this blend are 130+ year old vines from the Evangelho vineyard out in Oakley.  The Grenache comes from the Sierra foothills & the Syrah from the Old Lakeville Road vineyard (from suitcased cuttings from France’s Rhone Valley & 4 esteemed, iconic vineyards).  The wine is foot stomped, wild yeast fermented & aged in OLD oak.  Yes, it is rustic in character (thankfully), but still has a REAL delicious-ness which makes it such a pleasure to drink, with or without foods.  It certainly is a wine worth seeking out.  The quantities produced was small,but don’t give up.  syarah5

2011 Neyers Syrah “Old Lakeville Road”

Since the 2007 vintage this bottling is undeniably one of the very best Syrahs out of California.  Former winemaker, Ehren Jordan, used to work at Jean-Luc Colombo in Cornas & therefore had a much more worldly approach to growing & making the Syrah grape variety.  It was, however, when the plantings from “suitcase” cuttings from France at this vineyard, did the Neyers Syrah program take a quantum leap in quality, especially under the direction of winemaking phenom Tadeo Borchardt.  The resulting wines have had lots of rustic,provocative,  meaty, green peppercorn, wild herb, pan grille nuances, yet delicious, voluptuous & superbly textured…..all at 13.6 alcohol naturally.  I was sad to hear 2012 will be Neyers last bottling of this single vineyard Syrah.  (As an update, of the 3 parcels planted, sadly one has been grafted over to Chardonnay….another is under achieving & one still going strong). 


 2011 Linne Calodo “Perfectionist”

Here is the first of 2 Paso Robles wines on this short list.  We are really hot on some of these contemporary Rhone varietal. red wine blends, because of the remarkable minerality one can find in the finished wine, which many attribute to the limestone/silaceous clay soils the vines grow in.  This minerality creates buoyancy in these often lavish, deep & ripe fruited red wines of amazing power, depth, heft & dramatics. 

One of the true winemaking standouts of this region is Matt Trevisan of Linne Calodo.  As we have noted in earlier blogs, Matt is totally in stride professionally & is producing some of the most interesting, provocative red wines out of California.  Of his 2011 line-up, we were really drawn to his “Perfectionist” bottling, a blend in 2011 of 62% Syrah, 27% Mourvedre, 7% Grenache & 4% Tannat, which comes from his estate vineyards.

This particular bottling is more gritty with more Old World flavors, in comparison to his others. Furthermore, in 2011, the wine is much more restrained, higher in acidity & longer on the palate.

Here is what Matt had to say about this wine–” The Perfectionist is all about experimentation, always trying new things in the pursuit of life. Perfectionism- Never to be attained but something to strive for. There is this very cool velvet like quality in this wine that keeps me very intrigued “.

 2011 Saxum “Bone Rock”   Bone RockJustin

 I would be remiss not to again mention the 2011 Saxum “Bone Rock“.  (please check out the Saxum blog posted earler this year).  Although I did not taste the finished bottled wine, the tank sample we tried, just before it was to be bottled, was sensational & the very best wine I have had from Justin Smith in all of these years.  It deftly & wonderfully showcased such mesmerizing minerality much more clearly & succinctly than previous renditions.  Furthermore, the 2011 had such length to it, in addition to the depth & innate layering of complexities one typically finds in this bottling.  I could tell Justin also agreed, as he was beaming like the proud father of a newborn child would.  Kudos to you, my friend.

This is just a short list of wines we recently tasted.  It is by no means exclusive.  There are a growing number of wineries which also easily deserve to be listed in this blog.  We recommend you also check out the Rhone varietals based wines from–Autonom, Epoch, Paul Lato, Samsara, Scherrer & Jonata, just to name a few.  I would also throw in the Cabernet Franc from Lieu Dit to the list just because stylistically & food compatibility wise  it fits the bill.

The point here is, there are a growing number of these small projects well worth checking out.  For the professional, it can give you more tools to work with on the restaurant floor.

Categories : Red, Wine
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2006 Italian Sangiovese

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2006 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico  brunello14

Certainly one of the highly regarded estates of Chianti, with vineyard holdings just over 65 hectares at between 1000 & 1700 feet in elevation….with calcareous clay, pebble rich soils.  The 2006 was rated 92 points by The Wine Advocate.  It certainly displays the dried cherry/red fruit & autumn leaves nuances, one would expect from Tuscan Sangiovese with the pedigree & character would one expect from such a top estate.  We were also glad to see the 2006 open up again, eventhough only slightly.  The big question is…….is this wine worth $42 retail?

brunello11 2006 Melini Chianti Classico Riserva “La Selvanella”

 Melini first designated their “La Selvanella” bottling with the 1969 vintage, making it, according to them, the first single vineyard designated bottling for Chianti.  Over the years, this bottling has received a Tres Bischeri designation by Gambero Rosso magazine on a few occassions, including this 2006.  The wine spends 36 months in French oak, which is now really intergrating itself wonderfully into the wine, thus framing a deep, resounding fruit & structure core & rounding out the edges, which seemed almost impenetrable in its youth.  brunello12

 2006 Tenuta Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino

I remember having the wines from this estate back in the late 70’s/early 80’s, when superstar, iconic oenologist Vittorio Fiore was the consultant.  The 90 hectare estate is located at roughly 750 feet elevation.  Eventhough this wine was rated 91 points by one publication & 93 points by another, some of the tasters felt, it was lean & higher in acidity than a typical 90 point wine, I just feel their wines have always seemed to be more on the elegant, refined style & this again seems to be true with the 2006.


 2006 Donna Olga Brunello di Montalcino

The 11 hectare estate vineyard is located at roughly 700 feet elevation & the soil is mainly marl & volcanic in composition.  The resulting wine is deeper, with more stuffing & testosterone in terms of structure, which at least partially explains why it was rated 92 points by both the Wine Advocate & the Wine Spectator.  The nose definitely was more rustic in character than the other 3 wines…..AND it REALLY opened up after an hour of breathing & wow-ed all of the tasters.

brunello estate

 Top echelon Tuscan Sangiovese really needs some years in the bottle before it will start to show its peacock feathers.  At 7 years old, they are still surprisingly closed & backwards, eventhough one can really sense the potential they will have with patience & therefore more cellar time.  Do yourself a favor & wait a few years before popping one of their corks.

Categories : Red, Wine, Wines Revisted
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Italian Lambrusco

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Italian Lambrusco is yet another wine, which I would list under the “Ugly Duckling” category.  It is sad that too many wine drinkers have  some preconceived notion that sparkling (or fizzy) red wines are not “cool” to drink…..OR….that the rage of inexpensive, sweeter styled Lambrusco in the 70’s & 80’s has forever tarnished the wine.

I can readily understand.  I, quite candidly, at one time thought the same.  Then, I had my first glass of the Ermete DeMedici Lambrusco “Concerto”….back in the early 90’s…..well chilled…..with an assortment of salumi & cheese.  I am now an avid fan of good Lambrusco.

Ermete DeMedici is located in the center of Emilia Romagna region, at the top of plains & foothills of the the Emilia area & its specialized clay soils.  They are noted for their Tenuta Rampata & their Tenuta Quercioli wines, grown in little hamlets.   lambrusc2 

The wine we are currently offering by the glass at VINO, the DeMedici Lambrusco “Quercioli” is produced from the Lambrusco Salamino & Lambrusco Marano sub-varieties in the Reggio Emilia area.  This wine is tasty, with lots of tart cherry, cranberry fruit & a slight pungency one finds in surinam cherry.  The fizziness & tastiness from the fruit is so remarkably refreshing & thirstquenching, especially when the wine is served well chilled.  Just so you know, the alcohol content is only 11%….& there is 12 grams per liter residual sugar (which in Germany would be considered halbtrocken or medium dry).  Imagine having a salty cheese & then biting into a sour cherry….or having a sorbet.  It really is a wonderful pairing.  Furthermore….on an especially hot day, this really can be a perfect foil to make you smile again, in relief.   lambrusco1

 Fattoria Moretto, on the other hand,  is located in the heart & hills of Castelvetro & its silt/clay soils.  Of the 8 or so Lambrusco DOC, Lambrusco Grasparossa de Castelvetro is know most for their intense, terroir driven renditions, & this is a prime example.  The fruit is darker–ripe cherries/blackberries versus the tart cherries of the above wine….more base notes, with a brambly edge….though still thankfully light on its feet, lively, exhuberantly fruity & delicious.  Well worth searching for.  We recommend you serve it cool…..AND often.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Assyrtiko from Greece

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Santorini  is an ancient, very picturesque Greek island, with remarkable blue waters & breathtaking, panoramic views.

This is also the home of one of Greece’s finest white wines, which is produced from the indigenous Assyrtiko grape variety.

The vines are planted in volcanic soils, which have very little clay, resulting in wines of a distinct minerality.  Furthermore, these soils, interestingly, are inhospitable to the phylloxera louse, which is why there is still a remarkable amount of VERY old vines scattered throughout the wild countryside. 

There are only a few producers still making wines, but thankfully many still follow the traditional “koulara” style of training the vines, the only place in the world that I know of which does so.  san4san3OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 These “vine baskets” (kourloura) are purposely grown into this shape, hand woven as they grow, to survive the extreme growing conditions–surreal heat, strong, pounding winds & general lack of water.  Because there is no phylloxera, these OLD vines’ roots burrow deep in the volcanic/pumice soils in search of water & therefore pick up all kinds of trace elements, which just add to the resulting wines’ minerality.

Of the 3 main white grape varieties ( Assyrtiko, Athiri & Aidani), Assyrtiko is the standout with innate racy acidity & assertive & pronounced minerality. 

Of the Island’s 10 or so remaining wineries, the Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko is, by reputation, the star.  santo1

Domaine Sigalas was founded in 1991,  Their vineyards are considered the oldest continuously cultivated vineyards in the world (over 3000 years)“.

This wine is 100% Assyrtiko, grown volcanic, black lava & pumice soils which have some sand, very little clay & is VERY poor in any organic matter.  The fermentation is done in stainless steel at cool temperatures.

 Here is what I wrote after a recent tasting of the 2012. 

Took a while to open up aromatically. I had to keep coming back to try this wine over & over again to better understand it. It, however, was worth it as I find this to be a fascinating white wine. On the palate, it displayed a assertive-ness, bordering coarse-ness/rugged-ness, which reminded me of an Italian Nebbiolo vinified white, I had with the 1991 vintage–stony, masculine, red wine-ish character (viscosity & innate bitterness). When I came back to it after a bout with the red wine line-up, I enjoyed it more, as the bitterness was NOT as evident (after having the red wines). One would need to be quite specific in pairing foods with this fascinating wine, I believe.”

To that, I would add……..the more I have it, the more & more I like it.  It REALLY is tasty & unique.

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