Saturday, October 30, 2010

Errazuriz Cabernet Big, Smooth with Rich Tannins

I've found a lot of really great Cabernets under the $20 price point since the middle of this year. Several are iconic names you know while others may be a little less familiar to the average wine drinker.

Earlier this year I discovered Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc at Vine & Table in Carmel, IN. I thought it was one of the best Sauv Blancs I had had in a long time. Tonight, I opened a bottle of Errazuriz Cabernet Sauvignon I bought at Vino 100 in Columbus, Ohio, and it was a really great bottle of wine.

Errazuriz was founded in the late 1800s in Chile and been a vineyard ever since. It won an award for Chilean Wine Producer of the Year in 2008 at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in England.

I had the wine with a beef filet rubbed in cherry-smoke rub and a bit of dark chocolate powder. It has a big and lucious flavor of deep cherry and spice. The tannins were well balanced and pronounced without being over-powering.

The grapes come from one of the winery's best vineyards, the Don Maximiano Estate in the Aconcagua Valley. The wine scored a 91 from Wine Enthusiast and 90 (Oops, I had a typo up originally that said 80) from Stephen Tanzer.

I found the wine available online at $17.99-$21. I paid $19-something at Vino 100.

Errazuriz is widely available. For the price, it's really dynamite Cabernet!

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Stories Restaurant a Hoosier Original

There’s nothing like a great restaurant and fine bottle of wine. But sometimes you can’t have it both ways. As a matter of fact, what's better than a home-cooking style restaurant on main street?

Stories Restaurant, Greensburg, In., doesn’t serve any alcohol but it’s a Hoosier legend. Many communities have such little diners and Mom-n-Pop places with a long history and great food.

I had lunch Monday, Oct. 25, at Stories for the first time in probably 10 years or more and it’s a real experience. The photos here probably explain the place better than I can but it’s a real step back into another era.

The place opened in 1977 right on the town square known for the famous little tree growing out of the courthouse tower. They offer up plate lunches, a big breaded tenderloin and homemade pie.

I had the tenderloin – still small town enough to say look who’s in the big town – and it was great. The breaded tenderloin has become such an Indiana icon. This one could star in anyone’s lineup. It was a nice piece of pork with crispy breading and no hint of the grease it was deep fried in before landing on our table.

It’s a family affair at Stories, 109 East Main, Greensburg. Many people come just for the pie. You can tell when the friendly waitresses puts a piece down on your table that it’s legit. The pie crust is handmade along with the delightful fillings.

I had a piece of cherry pie that was tart and wonderful. The pies sit in a pie case along one wall and you can see the majestic coconut cream pies with their meringue topping which seem to reach 2-3 inches above the creamy filling.

The last time I ate at Stories I had the fried chicken. I can’t remember the details but do recall my travel companions raving about the homemade style.

So no wine and that’s just great when it’s darn good home cooking.

You get near Decatur County, which sets along I-74 halfway between Indy and Cincy, run downtown and check out an American original.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Two Retailers Say Wine Sales Slowly Recovering

The growth of U.S. wine sales stuttered only briefly in the recent years of economic downtown. Though dollars declined, bottle sales did not drop significantly.

Going into retail wine stores the last two years has meant a wider selection of value wines and more bargains on premium wines as the nation’s economy continues to struggle with recovery.

When the economy soured, wine drinkers didn’t stop drinking. The $20-and-up customer just moved to $20-and-under wines. Retailers are beginning to see modest overall recovery.

“There has been some recovery but I would say not as much as we all hoped,” said Ashley Lockwood, owner of Cork and Cracker, Indianapolis. “I felt like we were picking up earlier this year and then in early summer the media was talking about double-dip recession and our sales took another dip.”

But speaking in early October, Lockwood was regaining guarded optimism. “Now I feel like we’re inching up over last year’s numbers. But if I look at them side by side I’ll be very surprised if we see much more than low, single-digit growth over last year.”

Lockwood’s shop is dominated by wines $15 and under. A little farther to the north, Vine and Table in Carmel has a wider selection of high-end wine but also a large value selection.

“I see the market getting a little better every year,” Wine Manager Bethann Kendall said. “We are still a long way away from where we were. I think in coming months we will see a nice increase from last year from consumers who are comfortable spending money without the constant fear of losing their jobs.”

Both wine retailers see customers moving back slowly to premium wines. “Everyone wants a good value but they all have that wine they adore at whatever price point and they consume for special dinners or to celebrate,” Kendall said.

Lockwood agreed consumers who had moved to her less-expensive wines are back buying more premium bottles. “I have a lot more people shopping the ($15-and-over) walls than I did a year ago,” she said. “One year ago I couldn’t sell a bottle of wine for over $20 to save my life. They’re starting to buy off the walls again and even in bad months those wines are moving again.”

Indianapolis is obviously the state’s most competitive market. Lockwood has heard from distributors that many retail outlets are worse off than her sales. “We have seen several places go out of business in the five years we’ve been here, places similar to us,” she said “And, we’ve seen a lot of restaurants close.”

The slow wine business has resulted in a lot of wine in warehouses and retail shelves. Customers benefit from the wine glut with more deals for the savvy wine shopper. “There has been some adjustment in prices and for us there were a lot of closeouts,” Lockwood said. “You do see that but I still think there is room for readjustment. It’s mostly domestic and largely California.”

Kendall echoed the sentiment and offering a heads up to consumers to look for great deals from most retailers during the holiday season.

Howard’s Pick:
Instead of a specific wine, its back to the advice offered in my first column two years ago. Find a wine shop you like and establish a relationship with the proprietor. Good retailers will help you find wines you like at the best price.

In photo: Ashley Lockwood at a Palate Press wine tasting.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

2010 Michigan Winery Visits

Michigan has a diverse group of more than 70 wineries. Here is a brief overview of a few I visited in late July. Not every wine from each winery is listed. Many tasting rooms do not charge a fee while those who do are usually under $10. The average price point is slightly higher, overall, than surrounding Midwestern states. “Of Note” indicates wines I thought were particularly well made and interesting. “Best of Show” indicates personal favorites.

Black Star Farms
: 10844 E. Revold Rd., Suttons Bay
: Agri-tourism destination with beautiful luxury inn. Creamery on premises.
Wines: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Rose’, Cab Franc, Pinot Noir, Pear, Cherry, Riesling.
Of note: Pinot Noir that holds up to lighter style Pinots from any region. Also known for their unique dessert wines.
Best of Show: Sirius Raspberry Dessert Wine (unbelievable with good chocolate), $24.50
Prices: $13.50-$27.50

Shady Lane Cellars
Address: 9580 Shady Lane Rd, Suttons Bay
Uniqueness: Winemaker Adam Satchwell brings extensive California wine-making experience.
Wines: Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Cab Franc, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, blends, Lemberger, Vignoles
Of note: Beautiful Reisling and the best Pinot Noir of my visit.
Best of Show: 2007 Pinot Noir Reserve, the closest thing to Oregon I’ve tasted outside Willamette Valley, $32
Prices: $13-$32

Fenn Valley Vineyards
Address: 6130 – 122nd Ave, Fennville
Uniqueness: 30 years in wine business. Pioneer Doug Welsch conducts vineyard tastings.
Wines: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Traminette, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Blends, desert/specialty wines.
Of note: More than 30 wines on tasting room list.
Best of Show: Cabernet Franc. A number of surprisingly good ones all over, this one was best for $22.
Prices: $9-$22

Leelanau Cellars
Address: 7161 North West Bay Shore Drive, Omena
Uniqueness: Beautiful tasting room sitting on Grand Traverse Bay.
Wines: Pinot Grigio, Baco Noir, Baco Noir Rose’, blends, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, dessert wines, fruit wines.
Of note: States biggest producer with lowest prices. Many wines at $6.99.
Best of Show: Baco Noir. Certainly not a familiar grape. Very rich and full bodied, $14.
Prices: $6.99-$22

Chateau Grand Traverse
Address: 12239 Center Road, Old Mission Peninsula
Uniqueness: Another of state’s biggest wineries with large tasting room. Lots of medal winners.
Wines: Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Gamay, Merlot, Cherry.
Of note: Honored Riesling producer with lots of hardware to prove it.
Best of Show: 2007 Gamay Noir. I know this is crazy but it tasted like a Beajoulais Grand Cru, $18.99.
Prices: $7.99-$24.99

Peninsula Cellars
Address: 11480 Center Rd., Old Mission Peninsula
Uniqueness: Tasting room 1896 one-room school house. A must stop when in the area..
Wines: Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Cab Franc, Merlot, blends, fruit wines.
Of note: Several Rieslings which have won national accolades. Fun, inexpensive blends like Homework, Detention, and Old School Red and White.
Best of Show: Dry Riesling with elegant style and light fruit. $14.99
Prices: $11.99-$29.99

2 Lads Winery
Address: 16985 Smokey Hollow Rd, Old Mission Peninsula
Uniqueness: Modern/urban tasting room with spectacular view of east Grand Traverse Bay..
Wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Rose’, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cab Franc, Reserve blends, sparkling wines.
Of note: Well-made wines from two ambitious, young winemakers.
Best of Show: Cabernet Franc Rose. Best Rose I tasted in about a dozen stops, $25, but worth it.
Prices: up to $30

Left Foot Charley
Address: 806 Red Dr., Traverse City
Uniqueness: Industrial Urban Tasting Room located in a series old mental health hospital buildings. Other shops there too!
Wines: Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Apple Ciders, blends.
Of note: Beautiful, award-winning Riesling. But can they sell it for $35 a bottle?
Best of Show
: Pinot Blanc, 08 Best Dry White in Michigan competition, brightness but still bone dry, $20.
Prices: $15-$35

The following three Southern Michigan wineries are only a few miles apart:

Round Barn Winery
Address: 10983 Hills Road, Baroda
Uniqueness: Tasting room is Round Barn moved from Rochester, IN.
Wines: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, fruit wines, blends, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, numerous dessert wines.
Of note: Beautiful location, lovely dessert wines and a brewery on site for the beer folks as well as their own Bourbon, rum, and vodka.
Best of Show: Gewurztraminer, this was floral, spicy and a great bottle of Thanksgiving wine for $15.99
Prices: $9.99-$29.99

Tabor Hill Winery
Address: 185 Mount Tabor Road, Buchanan
Uniqueness: One of Michigan’s pioneers with winery and restaurant
Wines: Chardonnay, Chardonel, Traminette, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Lemberger, Cab Franc, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, dessert wines, sparking wines.
Of note: By far, the lightest wines I tasted in a dozen stops.
Best of Show: Norman Love chocolates available in tasting room.
Prices: $8.45-$31.95

Domaine Berrien Cellars

Address: 398 E. Lemon Creek Rd.
Uniqueness: The only official member of national Rhone Rangers organization in the midwest
Wines: Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Marsanne, Traminette, Cab Franc, Pinot Noir, Lemberger, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot.
Of note: Simple tasting room with really interesting wines.
Best of Show: Syrah was great for $25 but I brought home a $15.50 full bodied, complex Marsanne, with 20 percent Roussane.
Prices: $10-$19.50

I blogged each day I was in Michigan visiting the wineries. You can read those entries with more photos and video here.

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Anthony Finta Getting Closer on Italian Wine Business

It's been 10 months since I spent two weeks in Italy and had one of the great wine days of my life visiting two Tuscan wineries.

It was all made possible by a great guy from New Jersey, Anthony Finta. He lives in Florence and operates a number of online businesses. He is trying to start up a U.S. internet wine sales business focusing on smaller producers. You can read the story I wrote for Palate Press here.

I heard from Anthony over the weekend and he's getting closer to launching his latest endeavor. He has two wineries signed and he isworking with other wineries which want to crack the U.S. market. He promises an update by the end of the year.

From the Florence Wine Merchants site it looks like one of the two wines will be Rignana Chianti Classico. That was one of two stops I made with Anthony and the wine is classic. It was one of the best, deep cherry, and smooth Chiantis I enjoyed during the entire trip. And it's a very small producer. That's often where you find some of the best and most interesting wines.

I'll keep readers updated. If you like Italian wine, it's going to be a business you'll want to bookmark for sure.

In photos: Top Right, Finta at Corzano e Paterno. At lower left, getting a tour of the ancient cellars at Fattoria di Rignana

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Time to Break Out the Big Muscle Wines

Note: I'm a little late posting my last newspaper column, but was visiting Paso Robles, CA., wine country. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

A chill is in the air and frost is on the pumpkin which means it’s time for steaming stews and hearty chili. Wine pairing for big foods really is not as difficult as for more subtle flavors.

When it comes to big-flavored foods the wine picks should match. ‘Go big or stay home’ works for wine too!

Syrah and Zinfandel are great matches with those steamy pots of hearty fare. Both wines are characterized by bold fruit, spicy and peppery flavors and enough tannin structure to match well with big food.

First, let’s clear up a common misperception Syrah, Sirah, and Shiraz is all the same grape. Petite Syrah is a different varietal. The U.S. and France use the Syrah spelling while the Australians seemed to have coined the Shiraz spelling with great marketing success.

The wine, regardless of how you spell it, tends to have dark berry, plum, and sometimes even an olive taste characteristic. They almost always have some spice on the palate. The better Syrah wines are often quite silky in the mouth despite the big and bold flavor.

Syrah is frequently blended with Grenache or Mourvedre to make the great Cotes du Rhone wines. Elegant and beautiful French Syrah wines are available in good wine shops. There are plenty of great California Syrah wines in any shop.

California Syrah tends to be bigger in flavor but still retain the smooth style. Look at the label closely because some Syrah can be high in alcohol content.

Petite Syrah is a different grape altogether. It has waned in popularity in recent years. It is often used in blending. Don’t let the name fool you. Petite Syrah is almost always a bigger and more muscular wine.

If you want a pairing with a little less fruit but equally powerful then try a California Zinfandel. Zins often exhibit dark berry or cherry flavors with a peppery finish. It’s very much a food wine and will go well with pizza, burgers, or that bowl of hearty stew. Zinfandel is a robust wine. It generally is not a sipper.

Yes, it is the same grape used to make the very sweet and cheap White Zinfandel. But that is where any similarity ends.

Zin is one of those wines that can vary greatly depending on region and style. They can be rich and silky but also powerful enough to make you blush.

These two red wines are a regular on most wine drinker’s dinner tables in cold weather months. If you are not already enjoying these wines, go to your favorite retailer and ask them to help you select an introduction to Syrah and Zinfandel.

Howard Picks:
Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel – This wine is rich in cherry flavor, big on the pepper with balanced tannins producing a glass that will hold up to any winter dish. It’s widely distributed in Indiana at $16-$18. This producer also makes a great Syrah around $15.

Columbia Crest Shiraz – This Washington state winery goes with the Australian spelling for its black cherry and silky smooth wine. It has a hint of the Viognier grape to add nuance. Columbia Crest wines are also widely available. This wine retails at a real bang-for-your-buck price of around $12.
Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine for 12 Indiana newspapers, a national online wine magazine, and his own blog –

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Food, Tourism Highlight on Final Day in Paso Robles

The second full day of a brief wine trip to Paso Robles was packed full of great experiences, wine education and fabulous food.

I'm going to work at getting today's activities into a couple of blog entries Friday at airports, on planes, and while making my way home. It's late tonight and I have a very, very early flight.

A brief overview includes a ride out into Morrow Bay on the Pacific to discuss oyster farming, a visit to an abalone farm to learn about that expensive and rare delicacy, and the best darn little cookies you've ever had from the Brown Butter Cookie company. I'll link that up later.

Friday afternoon included a quick seminar and tasting with some of the top Rhone varietal producers in the region. Jason Haas of Tablas Creek led the discussion along with four other Rhone winery producers. It was one of the best sessions of the trip.

Beside just getting today's activities up, I have a lot of photos and a couple of videos I'll be posting over the next few days.

Paso Robles is offering some absolutely big, fruit-forward wines but with good acidity any wine lover can embrace. A lot more to come, but it's late!

In photos: At top, the Rhone varietal producers talk about their wines at the beautiful Hoage Vineyards. Photo at right, Brad Buckley of the Abalone Farm holding an abalone in each hand.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unexpected Wines HIghlight Dinner on Second Night

On our first night in Paso Robles dinner featured iconic Paso wine producers with products that were familiar, delivered tremendous value for the price, and lived up to their well-established reputations.

Tonight, or Wednesday, was an entirely different experience. Dinner featured winemakers, save one, that most readers have probably never heard about. These were mostly small production wineries making really interesting wines.

The dining experience was again an over-the-top tasting menu paired with the local wines. We ate at Chef Santos McDonal's Il Cortile restaurant. The chef prepared great grilled octopus paired with a Prosseco to welcome us to his Italian fare.

He kept the seafood coming with seared scallops with truffle oil that was paired with Wild Horse Verdelho. Wild Horse is one of the bigger national brands out of Paso Robles you have probably seen on shelves. The Verdelho is one of several grapes the winery works with for limited distribution.

The highlight for me was the next three entries and wine pairings. Chef McDougal offered a wonderful Risotto with wild boar sausage that wss paired with Ortman Sangiovese. Matt and Lisa Ortman were on hand to talk about their family's history in the business and Matt's efforts with the Italian grape. Matt's winemaking includes a stint at Gabbiano in Italy. The $20 Sangiovese is the most popular wine in their tasting room. It was beautifully balanced and probably the best I've ever tasted from California.

Clautiere Winery's Mourvedre was served with Chilean Sea Bass in a lobster sauce. The ying-and-yang of a red wine and fish pairing was really great. Terry and Claudine were delightful dinner companions. The wine had that delightful earthiness you expect from well-made Rhone varietals. It retails for $23 and has been honored as best varietal wine in California wine competitions.

Classic Osso Buco was the final dish paired with kukkula Lorthario. Kevin Jussila's interesting blend had us all guessing on the grapes. We were close. Instead of the traditional GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvredre, Jussila drops the Syrah and uses Zinfandel. He produces 8 blends and just 2,100 cases a year. The grapes for this wine were grown to make rich juice at just two tons an acre.

These wines would be hard to find outside the Paso Robles area because of the limited production. It's more of a a reason to consider a visit to Paso, or any wine region because you can't find these very well made wines from small wineries in retail shops in the Midwest or probably the east.

Our first night was largely about big names in Paso Robles wines and they sure did not disappoint. Wednesday night was equally, if not more, delightful because of the unexpected varietals and quality we enjoyed with a great dinner.

Dining with four or five winemakers each night is an incredible experience that really adds depth to anyone's wine knowledge base. The Paso Robles Wine Alliance, hosting a group of wine writes, takes us to the Pacific Ocean Thursday morning to oyster and abalone operations, a session on Rhone Varietals in the afternoon, and another great local restaurant and winemakers dinner to wrap up the trip.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Amazing Vineyard, Farm, Grape to Glass Experience

Our first full day in Paso Robles was educational, fun, and darn hot.

We had breakfast at Steinbeck Vineyards which has 500 acres of vines providing fruit to some of the area's best known producers.

Cindy Steinbeck Newkirk was our host - and no, apparently no relation to John of the same last surname from the Monterey area. The family has been farming the property since the late 1800s or six generations. Today they are one of the area's biggest vineyards. They have just recently started making their own label wine. With only 1,000 cases last year, they have started modestly.

The group of wine journalists and bloggers I'm part of on this trip sampled their beautifully balanced Viognier and their blend - The Crash. In 1956 a B-26 military plane crashed on what is now a large vineyard in front of the modest tasting room. The family has embraced its history on the property and named its signature wine in honor of the military crash. Cindy told us her parents, who both still work in the business, recently got two of the surving four members of the plane's crew together.

The wine is a rich blend with a really nice acidity and smoothness. You won't find the Steinbeck label outside of California, but they provide grapes to some of the area's biggest producers who's wines are found across the country.

The big highlight was all of us jumping into the back of an old 1950s jeep and rumbling across the huge vineyard. Cindy would stop and start as we saw acres and acres of grapes.

It's not a bad Wednesday when you can start off by tasting Cabernet grapes in a vineyard. Oh, we tasted some Zinfandel grapes too. Both were really rich tasting fruit.

Next we were off to a visit at Stillwater Vineyards where we experienced the vineyard to glass process with First Crush. Stillwater owner Paul Hoover was an amiable host who walked us through the process with great humor.

Becky Zeilinski, First Crush owner, lead the group through a discussion of the Paso Robles AVA and soil types and then it was into the vineyard. We cut Cabernet and then Merlot grapes from the vines before heading into the winery for more from Paul. First Crush welcomes tourists to have the full grape to glass experience and make two cases of your wine home with you.

Hoover led the group through an exercise of blending a Cabernet and then a Cabernet blend. He divided us up into groups and we had a little competition. A blind tasting after lunch determined another group the winner. But my group did get second place. We blended 06 and 07 Cabernet from three different vineyards for our Cab then added 20 percent Merlot and 5 percent Malbec for our blend. It really gives the average consumer a great insight into how wines are made.

Hoover's Stillwater wines don't go far beyond his tasting room because he can sell them all there. He ages his wines a little longer than many of the producers and spent a great deal of time talking about how small things really make a difference in the winemaking process.

Lunch was served outside the tasting room by Thomas Hill Organics. The nearby organic farm owners have a great story about moving up from L.A. to start the life-long dream of Joe Thomas. The lunch was fabulous with all fresh ingredients. The highlight for most of us was a rabbit and salad combination with a Hazelnut Vinaigrette.

What do you drink with rabbit salad? Well a nice Pinot Grigio or Viognier, of course!

We wrapped up our afternoon going to Thomas Hill. We walked the gardens with Joe and listened to the great love he has for the land and growing produce. He gave each of us a bag to pick anything we wanted. The writers found apples, pear, pomegranates, figs, walnuts, peppers and tomatoes in plentiful supply.

It was a long day only because of the weather. Paso Robles is such a great wine region because it's blessed with hot days and cool nights. Today's high reached 98 degrees. A group of wine folk were cooked just like an over-heated bottle by the end of the afternoon.

Tonight we're off to another local restaurant, Italian fare, with four more winemakers.

It's tough work, even in the heat, but someone has to do it.

In Photos: At top, a look across the rolling hills at the expansive Steinbeck Vineyards. Top right, with Steinbeck-Newkird at far right, this is the group of writers, bloggers, wine folk being hosted by the Paso Robles Wine Alliance. Next photo is a large bin of Cabernet grapes. Then, Paul Hoover of Stillwater talking about all the work by hand that goes into his wines. On the left, some old guy cutting Cabernet. Finally, Joe Thomas talking about Bosc pears on his organic farm.
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Paso Pioneers Wow Group at Opening Dinner

This is for the real wine geeks out there - those who take their wine seriously and can appreciate some serious name dropping!

Tonight I dined with a family member of the most iconic name in Paso Robles wines, sat accross the table from one of the most respected Cabernet producers in all of
California and sat next to the man who first planted Syrah in California.

The first event of two-plus days in Paso Robles wine country could not have got off to a more impressive start. The group met as a whole for the first time at Chris Kobayashi's Artisan restaurant.

We were joined by four of the most iconic wine names in the Paso Robles appellation - Jason Haas of Tablas Creek, Steve Lohr of J. Lohr Vineyards, Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery and Deborah Baldwin, wife of Justin Baldwin, of Justin Vineards.

We enjoyed a five-course tasting menu prepared by Chef Kobayashi paired with wines from the four winemakers. Course one was Cayucos Red Abalone, avocado, spring onions, and valencia orange paired with Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc - a white wine blend of Grenache and Rousanne.

The second course was Dungeonous crab, remoulade, tabasco vinaigrette with Eberle Viognier. And, it just kept getting better. The third course was Berkshire Pork, barbecued rib, braised belly, grilled tenderloin over a succotash. The delicious and varied dish was served with J. Lohr's GSM - a Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvredre, and Petit Syrah.

Course four was Hanger Steak, charred broccoli, cauliflower, aligot potatoes, bordelaise with Justin Reserve Cabernet that was as good as any Cab I've had in recent memory.

Before the dessert of Tiramisu Trifle, mascarpone, medjool date ice cream and coffee, Gary Eberle wanted to show the group how Paso Robles Cabernet stands up to the great Cabs produced in Napa, France, and elsewhere.

He had brought with him a 1978 Cabernet he made shortly after coming to Paso Robles. The Cabernet was a beautiful blance of big fruit, tannins, and best that bold California wines have to offer.

He repeatedly made the point Paso Robles can not only make big fruit-forward wines, but wines that will age with the best in the world.

The wines were not only paired beautifully but they were great examples of what the Central Coast can produce at a price much lower than its famous northern counterpart. The Eberle Vignoier sells for $21 retail while the Justin Cab is priced at $47. The others, except the '78 Cab, fell in between.

It was a fascnating evening listening to Steve Lohr, Jerry's son, talk about the vineyards of J. Lohr wines in Napa and Paso Robles. Gary Eberle is a walking fountain of detail on Paoso Robles wines. He planted the first Syrah in the U.S. since prohibition. He also was one of four who helped draw up the boundaries of the Paso Robles appelation. Deborah Baldwin spoke on behalf of Justin Wines and shared how the brand has become popular in all 50 states.

Jason Haas of Tablas Creek shared his family's interest and commitment to the Rhone varietals. He'll be back on our agenda Thursday afternoon when we spend time talking about California's Rhone Rangers.

In all it was an incredible evening where I learned as much about wine as I did Paso Robles and came to appreciate another of the U.S.'s great wine producing regions.

In photos: Top to bottom, Chef Kobayahsi, Deborah Baldwin, Jason Haas, Steve Lohr, Gary Eberle.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eventful Day with Airlines but in Paso Robles

Despite a rough start, I've arrived in Paso Robles, CA. The town itself, situated almost in the exact middle between San Francisco and Los Angeles is charming with a downtown full of shops, restaurants and wine tasting rooms.

I'm here as a guest of the Paso Robles Wine Alliance, so lets get that out of the way. Tonight we have dinner with the Paso Pioneers or winemakers who have been here a long time paving the way for the boom in more recent times. J. Lohr Wines, Tablas Creek, Eberle .. to drop few names.

The Wine Alliance really is about tourism so the restaurants, organic food producers, olive oil, wine and more will be part of the trip. We are staying in the fabulous Hotel Cheval in downtown. I've included a couple of photos.

I walked town briefly, mainly to buy a cap, because day temperatures are supposed to be in the 90s the next two days. I did taste a wonderful Petite Syrah at Clayhouse wines. So that's just the beginning of lots of wine, culinary experiences, and a visit to the coast on Thursday.

I do sometimes write these blog posts like travel journals when out doing wine country, but I think some of the details are worth the trouble.

My day began with a 3:15 a.m. call from my airline telling me my Indy flight to Phoenix would be delayed six hours. So I immediately got on phone and had the trip entirely re-routed Indy-Chicago-LA-San Luis Obispo. It worked great. The only real harrowing experience was getting to the Indianapolis airport in time. My flight to Chicago left at 5:30 a.m. I live an hour from the airport

I walked into the terminal at 5:10 and made the flight - and I think I'll leave how I got there that fast to one's imagination.

Reception, dinner at Artisan, and we hear from some big names in Paso Robles wine tonight. I plan to do a new post late this evening.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Etim Spanish Blend is Rockin Red Wine

I have had this wine twice now and finally got around to writing about it - at least a quick post.

If you see Etim Seleccion, I had the 2006, on your wine shop shelf - buy it. I paid $14.99 at Village Bottle Shop in Zionsville but have seen it elsewhere at less since.

This is a great blend of 60 percent Garnacha, 30 percent Carinena and 10 percent Syrah from Spain. It's aged six month in oak. The wine had a nice rich black cherry and dark fruit flavor that is irresistable. You get some spice or herbs on the palate as well.

One post I found on the net had the wine available at Costco for $9. If you find that, buy a case.

The wine is from the prestigious Priorat region of spain. The area is known for more expensive wines.

There is plenty going on in this wine. It has 14 percent alcohol and you'll get the oak aging in this smoothie. It is not your typical $10-$15 bottle of juice. This wine is bigger and far more interesting than many at the price point. The wine will benefit from some decanting.

This is a nice rich, but not overpowering, glass of wine.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Iconic Brands Banfi, J. Lohr Deliver Solid Choices

I wrote earlier this year that iconic brands become icons for a reason. A long history, stability, and consistency in product is a sure path to consumer's palates and pocketbooks.

I had two wines this week that are made by iconic producers - Banfi's new Chianti DOCG Superiore and J. Lohr's Cabernet.

Banfi is one of the oldest names in Italian wine. Their new Chianti Superiore is a debut wine from the 2008 vintage. Classifications in Italy and France are all about the national designations of geography. A Chianti Superior comes from the Chianti region, south of Florence, but not inside the very best Chianti Classico region. In simpler terms, it's a better Chianti.

This wine is 75 percent Sangiovese with Cabernet and Canaiolo added. The Superiore designation means the wine can be aged in just the bottles without oak. But Banfi treats this wine to a brief four to five months in French oak before bottling and release.

The wine is an easy drink, soft and smooth Italian wine. It's unremarkable but pleasing. This wine would pair nicely with most pasta, pizzas and stews. It's easy to drink and widely available. At $11 a bottle, it's easy to see this on wine shop shelves all across the nation.

I tasted this Banfi wine as a trade sample.

J. Lohr wines from Paso Robles, California, is one of the iconic names from Central California. The region has been "hot" in recent years after the movie Sideways exploded Pinot Noir wines and additional interest built for traditional Rhone grapes now grown in the San Luis Obispo area.

The J. Lohr Cabernet was simply one of the best Cabernets at the $15 price point I've ever had. The fruit was rich with cherry, plum and balanced tannins. I had this wine with a nicely grilled ribeye then enjoyed sipping it for the rest of the evening.

The wines of the Central coast area are rich and full bodied. Lohr has been producing great wines since the 1970s.

J. Lohr is easy to find and simply one of the best Cabernets you'll find at the $15 price point. Give it a try!

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Monday, October 4, 2010

La Devexe Cotes Like an Old Lover

I find Cotes du Rhone wines in general much like an exciting old love. Something you just keep coming back to that satisfies but not always the most exciting wine on the rack.

I opened an online Wines Till Sold Out purchase and gave it a considerable decant Sunday and found it remarkably quaffable. The 2007 La Devexe Cotes du Rhone is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, and Cinsault.

It has big enough fruit with uneven tannins that seem to hit you one minute as too oakey and the next as about right. It does come in at 14 percent alcohol.

It's dark purple with a hint of sweetness. It's really a nice pairing with food. I had the wine Sunday night with a sweet-sour marinated pork roast. It was great.

Interestingly, I bought this on WTSO's Cheapskates Day of value wine. They reported the normal list price as $19.99 but it sold for $11.99 with a four bottle minimum purchase for free shipping.

At $11.99 it's a great buy and a great wine. At. $19.99, the wine falls to just okay.
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Friday, October 1, 2010

Tucci's - A Great Columbus Dining Spot in Dublin

I travel for work on fall weekends and often get the chance to explore fun and interesting restaurants in large and small cities.

I haven't come across but perhaps one better than Tucci's Wood-Fired Grill in the Columbus, Ohio, suburb of Dublin. I found it through a simple internet search and am thankful now more than ever before for Google!

I joined two friends for dinner on the patio on a beautiful and cool October evening that proved as nice a dinner as I've had in a long time. I started with a glass of A to Z Pinot Gris from Oregon. The nice citrus-based Gris with very mild acidity, at $9a glass, was a wonder aperitif.

My appetizer was amazing seared scallops. Four small scallops on a bed of salad along with a crazy-good sweet and sour mustard vinaigrette. For dinner I selected the house special that night, a Honolulu Ono - a firm white fish that is a bit flakey.

Tucci's gets its fresh seafood from a Honolulu company that catches it, ships it, and then it's served fresh three days from the ocean. The great thing about the fish, that was frankly a bit over cooked, was the side dishes. The pineapple sauce, portabello mushroom salsa, bambo rice, grilled bok choy and wonderful Taro chips made this one of the more remarkable meals I've enjoyed in some time.

I ordered a bottle of Ponzi Pinot Gris for my Ono and my friends' salmon dish. It as a great pairing with slightly less fruitiness than the A to Z but a little more acidity. A word should be added that this restaurant did not mark up wine 100 percent. The Ponzi wine was $31. Most of the mark-ups appeared to be 50-75 percent.

Overall, a fabulous dinner. But the story doesn't end there. Earlier this week I was watching the Food Network, a special about the 10 best sweet things in America. The program did a feature on Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream, which happens to be in five different locations in Columbus.

We treked just down the street and sampled many. The Reisling-Pear sorbert was crazy good. I ended up buying a very rich and dense dish of chocolate goodness that was decadent beyond all measures.

If you get to Columbus, Ohio, these easy to find spots are just off I-270 on the city's west side.

By the way, the wine list was off the charts. They featured everything from $20 red and white selections to Opus One.

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