Hamburger Wines?

289fIn today’s news from the AP there was a news item about a man who won ten grand for eating 103 small hamburgers in 8 minutes.  That comes to $97 per burger, which is a pretty fair wage, I would say, especially since the cost of the burger probably wasn’t deducted.  The competition was sponsored by the Krystal Company, operator of the Krystal Hamburger chain.

This is the sort of news that makes Slow Food members groan almost as loudly as the winner likely did.  I have been accused of being a food snob on one or two occasions, an accusation I deny.  In fact, just between you and me, I enjoy the occasional burger, though I prefer the ones I make at home to those from the fast food world.  But in a pinch on the road, as Julia Childs used to say, "Where else are you going to eat?"

Nurse4quadaboutWhether cooked at home or a restaurant, burgers are here to stay.  And sometimes we even want a wine to go with them.  So here is my take on which wines go best with burgers.  First of all, I like red wine with my burgers.  And I like wines that don’t fight the sweetness of the ketchup and special sauces but is sufficiently tannic to stand up to the fat of the meat and cheese.  Here are some candidates to provide a beef respite in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, after which Turkey (the bird, not the country) leads the race through the end of the year.

Burger Wines

Heron Wines, 2004 Pinot Noir $11.99 Our budget entry offers an earthiness that complements burgers, especially those with mushrooms.

Buttonwood Farms, 2004 "The Infant" Cabernet Franc, $15  A light wine that I recommend serving just slightly chilled (about 20 minutes in the refrigerator should do the trick).  Perfect for those who just can’t bring themselves to drink anything with their burger that isn’t cold.

L’Uvaggio di Giacomo, 2004 Barbera $16  The drool-inducing dark berry fruit in this wine invites  burgers to the table.  And it tips the scale as a medium-weight wine largely due to its refreshing acidity that helps prepare your mouth for the next juicy bite.  I like this one with my cheeseburger.

Vita Nova 2002 Sangiovese, Stolpman Vineyard $18  Yes, I do like the Italian varietals with my burgers.  And while $18 is pushing the limit of what most people want to spend for a burger wine, this one is worth every penny.  Less than a case remaining.

Now go grab a box of napkins and get your burgers on the grill.


Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote is from Calvin Trillin:

"Anybody who doesn’t think that the best hamburger joint in the whole world is in their home town is a sissy"



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First Metal Woods, now Plastic Glassware?

Maybe it was inspired by my midlife crisis.  Maybe I was attempting to replicate the success of young Max Riedel’s stemless O-series of wine glassware.  Or perhaps it was simple thirst.  Whatever it was, it led to the discovery of a great emergency wine glass.

If your vacation car looks anything like ours, it quickly contains several pounds of vacation detritus, much of which consists of empty water bottles.  These can be handy when you’re in a pinch, a position in which we often found ourselves while in France, as our hunger struck at very inconvenient times.  Invariably, our bodies thought it was time to eat 45 minutes after every restaurant, boulangerie, charcuterie and fromagerie had closed.  WHEN you decide to visit the Loire, you’ll have a much more enjoyable trip if you quickly orient your body clock to the schedules of these fun and fundamental merchants.

Plastic_cup_2 But back to those plastic bottles.  Their bottoms are easily severed from the tops using such handy devices as the serrated blade of the corkscrew kindly given to you by the ever-cheerful, English-speaking Phillipe at La Cave des Vigneron’s de Saumur (see photo).Phillippe_2 After keeping him half an hour past closing.  After buying only six bottles when he was hoping to sell that many cases.  And when even those measly six bottles, added to your other recent vinous discoveries, tip you over the maximum holding capacity of your baggage, offering another excuse to buy yet one more piece of luggage to be added to the neat mountain of unused bags patiently awaiting your homecoming.  If bags could only say "I told you so", these would.

So this serrated foil cutter on your donated corkscrew makes quick-but-messy work of your water bottle, transforming it into the crude piece of emergency glassware being deftly demonstrated in the top photo.  The wise sip cautiously.

Riedel_o_seriesBut for those desiring glassware which can actually enhance a Picnic Rosé, you can’t do better than the Riedel "O" series, available here (about $20 for set of two) – I recommend the Riesling series for your Rosé.  Speaking of which, we’ve made it easy to pick up a few bottles of Rosé – perhaps the perfect wine for your Thanksgiving table – at considerable savings…

1. L’Uvaggio di Giacomo, 2006 Barbera Rosato, (was $12, now $10.80!) – One of the best Rosatos this side of Italy.  Winemaker Jim Moore consistently produces the best Italian varietals in the U.S.  But just because it’s roots are Italian doesn’t mean it isn’t a perfect solution for your American Thanksgiving – this food-friendly wine goes as well with everything on the traditional table, and many of the more exotic additions that have recently become popular.

2. Ortman Family Vineyards, Syrah Rosé 2005  (was $16, now $12.80!) – One of the young Central Coast’s rarities – a second generation winery.  And the Ortman family continues to impress us with the quality of their Rhône varietals.  This Syrah-based blush wine is no exception!

3. Tudor Wines, the Radog 2005 Rhône-Style Rosé  (Was $16, now $12.99!) – Talented Dan Tudor is the man behind this alluring wine.  Nothing goes better with a leftover turkey sandwich!

Incidentally, that same serrated foil cutter serves less well as a cheese knife.  But sometimes you have to do what you have to do.



Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant



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Mussels Marinières – the Heaven Express

Les_moules_cropped_and_lightenedOne of my favorite meals during our recent stay in the Loire Valley was a simple lunch at a streetside cafe in Tours. I will not soon forget the meal of mussels, crisp french fries, a fresh baguette and a cool glass of local Chenin Blanc. The combination brought me closer to heaven than I probably deserve.

The Loire Valley Wine Trio

This wine trio ($44 – a Buttonwood Sauvignon Blanc, a Chenin Blanc from Dan Gehrs, and a J. Wilkes Pinot Blanc) was one of the first things I put together when I got home.  Technically, Pinot Blanc is Alsatian, but it is a kindred spirit, and pairs well with the recipe I present below as well as others I plan to share.  When paired well, these wines can provide the same slice of Tours-streetside nirvana.  So pull a cork on one of these wines, splash some into your glass, then add some fresh-shucked oysters or steam some mussels (recipe below) and you too shall experience an hour of pure happiness.

Moules Marinières with Lardon

Moules Marinières are also known as "Sailor’s mussels" or "Mariner’s mussels." This basic dish consists of fresh mussels delicately steamed in white wine with garlic, parsley, butter, onion and cream sauce.  The addition of lardons was a unique twist, adding a smokiness that permeates the dish.  This smokiness, as well as the small amount of cream added to the juice, suggests that this dish pairs more nicely with a fuller-bodied wine such as the Chenin Blanc or the Pinot Blanc from today’s recommended trio.  Leave out the lardons and the Sauvignon Blanc is on equal terms.  Leave out the cream and the Sauvignon Blanc shines!

Be sure to have a good baguette (more than you think you’ll need) to dip into the delectable sauce and juices once your mussels are gone. Mussel veterans eat by using an empty mussel shell as a pincer to pick the remaining mussels from their shells – a fun way to eat with your fingers!

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an opening course)

  • 2+ Lbs of fresh, live mussels
  • 1/2 Pound thick bacon or pancetta, cubed
  • 2 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 1 finely chopped shallot
  • 5 fl oz (1 glass) of dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 large handful of finely chopped parsley
  • 4 tbsp of cream
  • salt and pepper

Clean, debeard and rinse the mussels several times in cold running water. Discard any that do not snap shut when tapped and set the rest aside in a colander. Cook the lardons in the bottom of a wide, deep pot until crispy but not burned. Remove, drain on paper towel. Leaving one Tbsp of fat, add enough butter to equal 2 Tbsp total, then add the chopped shallot and garlic. Cook for a few minutes on a medium heat until the shallots have softened.

Add the white wine and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add mussels and cover, cooking on a high heat for several minutes. Gently shake the pan several times during cooking to redistribute the mussels. It is best to remove the mussels one by one as they open, placing them in a colander with a bowl underneath to catch the juices – liquid gold. Again, discard any mussels that have remained tightly shut.

Return the lardons to the liquid and boil until reduced by half. Stir in the cream and parsley. Taste the sauce and add salt or pepper to taste. Transfer the mussels to a large bowl, pour the reduced liquid over the mussels, and serve immediately. Pair with any of these three wines and you’ll agree that happiness is at hand.

Swclogogs3x3_2 Cheers!

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant



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Touring the Santa Barbara Wine Country (Guest Author Andrew Wang)

Bien_nacido Tuesday, October 9th.  [During my absence in the Loire, guest author Andrew Wang offers this excellent posting.  Andrew also writes regularly for Travel Reward Credit Card, Wine Making Supplies, International Travel Medical Insurance Guide.  ~Dave]

When Father Junipero Serra planted the first grapevine cuttings in Santa Barbara County in 1782 he could scarcely have been aware of the potential of the land. The same can be said of the generations that followed him. It was only in the 1980s that the first recognition came of the area’s unique potential.

It was then realized that the Santa Barbara County was blessed with the right soil, the right amount of sunshine and the right temperature to grow grapes. Vineyard masters and wine makers descended on this glorious Californian land, bounded by Santa Ynez to the south and the San Rafaels to the north, to plant yards and yards of world-class grape vines. The result: Santa Barbara is now known as America’s wine country.

Today a drive through Santa Barbara County is any wine lover’s dream. Over 100 wineries operate in this area, and more are setting up shop. There is also a great deal of experimentation going on as new winemakers join the party. Tasting rooms dot this beautiful County, where visitors can taste some of the best wines being produced in America.

The County itself has been divided in three clear zones (AVAs): the Santa Ynez Valley, the Santa Rita Hills, and the Santa Maria Valley. Each zone has its own, unique climate. The Santa Ynez Valley, which is the largest, is home to more than 50 wineries and scores of grape growers. It is slightly warm, as its eastern parts are a little removed from the ocean.

The Santa Rita Hills are much cooler because they are fed by a cool ocean breeze that also brings in fog. This area is ideal for growing grapes like syrah, pinot noir and chardonnay. The Santa Maria Valley is the coolest. It is windy and often foggy and has a climate that is almost like Burgundy, the French home of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.

Some of the most well known vineyards in Santa Barbara Country are Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Bien Nacido, Babcock Vineyards, and Byron Vineyard and Winery. Besides this, winemaking giants Beringer, Robert Mondavi and Kendall-Jackson have major vineyard holdings in Santa Barbara.

Perhaps best known for its Pinot Noir, the County also produces some of the most exotic grapes in the world. These include Syrah, Petite Syrah (aka Petite Sirah), Sauvignon Blanc, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne as well as Riesling, Dornfelder and Tocai Friulano.

The fame of the County has grown with the shooting of the Hollywood film Sideways in 2004. Hundreds of tourists now descend on Kalyra Winery, where the film’s sassy star, Stephanie (played by Sandra Oh), was pouring wine. Other stops for these tourists are Los Olivos Café & Wine Merchant, Hitching Post II, cellar at Firestone and Foxen tasting room. In fact, this trail has come to be known as the "Sideways tour" which ends well if you finish your day at Solvang’s Tastes of the Valleys wine bar, where they feature the wines of the Sideways Wine Club.

Visitors can also time their visit to coincide with the wine country’s two annual bashes. The first one is Vintners’ Festival and is held in April. The second one is called the Celebration of Harvest, and is held in October. Both are marked by days of wild dancing, crush parties, dining and merrymaking.

Andrew Wang


About the Author

Andrew Wang lives in Seattle area.   He writes for the following blogs: Travel Reward Credit Card, Wine Making Supplies, International Travel Medical Insurance Guide

That's it for this week and I am outta here!

Map_france_loire_2This space is going silent for a while.  My family and I are spending some time in the Loire Valley, thanks to Superwife, whose first choice would have been somewhere in Africa or Asia.  You see, before I got married my goal was to spend vacations in one of the globe’s best winegrowing regions.  Immersion in the local food and wine is the best way to expand one’s appreciation and understanding.  And love.

But Superwife made this a conditional concession – we could tour the Loire as long as I was not running off to every internet cafe to post new articles, process orders, manage club members or any of the other duties I take on as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer at  Don’t worry, orders will be filled almost as quickly as we are known for, and I’ll come back home with a plethora of posting possibilities.

I’ll be back in touch later this month, after processing our club orders on the 16th.  Meanwhile – pop the cork on a bottle of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Franc for me, and I’ll raise a toast in your direction.

Swclogogs3x3_2 Cheers,

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote is from Oscar Wilde

Too much work, and no vacation,
Deserves at least a small libation.
So hail! my friends, and raise your glasses,
Work’s the curse of the drinking classes.
~ (I wishe he’d known about!)



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I see sheep and dream of lambchops and pinot!

Sheep_dog_trialsThis weekend I was in Anderson Valley, home to some of our state’s best Pinot Noir vineyards as well as our Lila Farms olive ranch.  Sunday morning was spent watching the sheep dog trials at the Boonville fair grounds, part of the Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show. It wa day of rodeo, funnel cakes, carnival rides, produce contests, and, of course, apple pie. But the highlight for me was the sheepdog trials, which I can’t watch without rooting for the dogs. They are entrancing.

Boonville is a throw-back to an America before fast food, chain stores or strip malls.  As Superwife explains "People want to be where nothing is.  It’s kind of ironic, really".  But who would have thought Boonville’s sheepdog event would make the cover story of NYT online today?

I always have wine on my mind.  And I’m always looking for new ideas for this blog.  So as I sat there watching the sheep trials… I started craving a glass of pinot and our favorite recipe for roast lamb.  Whoops, now I’m drooling again, so I’m going to quickly give you the recipe and send you to the pinot section of our online store, then get an early lunch…

The Recipe – "Dead Easy Rosemary Lamb"
Superwife and I have been working for more than 20 months on a cookbook of almost-lost family recipes (it would have been complete long ago if not for the fact we’ve overloaded the capabilities of the software at, which we do not recommend for serious projects, no matter how enticing their website!!)  Anyway, this recipe is from that effort, and is a contribution from our friend Eileen Loustau (nee Utter).


3 1/2 – 4 lbs. bone-in leg of lamb

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 oz sea salt and 1 Tbsp olive oil

3-5 Rosemary sprigs ~ 6 inches long


Heat oven to 375.  Crush garlic on cutting board, using the oil and salt as grit.  Spread evenly on lamb and rub well.

Place on a wire rack in a roasting pan with an inch of water in the bottom.  Spread Rosemary sprigs around the roast and place in oven.  Calculate timing as follows – 15 minutes per pound plus an extra 15 minutes (for rare). 

Remove from oven and cover with foil.  Let rest for 15 minutes before carving.  Serve with a great pinot, as follows:

Avpn05 See our Pinot Selections Here!

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote from Dr. Grant Colfax, Boonville native

"Sheepdog trials are a moment where everything seems to be in balance.  It’s what everyone wants America to look like. It’s an illusion we all collectively embrace.” and so do we at



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Here come for a slobbering good nosh!

300pxgluttonousposter_2My favorite news about the upcoming Beijing Olympics involves the reports about "Chinglish."  Chinglish is the (usually humorous) English translation of common Chinese phrases.  They are most often found on signs, menus or anywhere a Chinese entrepreneur might be found laying in wait for a tourist with a few spare dollars.

The title of this article "Here come for a slobbering good nosh!" is an invitation to try the mouth-watering food at a certain Beijing restaurant.  And the photo shown here (it is gluttonous to come quickly!) encourages visitors to quickly buy this vendor’s epicurean delights.  Anybody thinking it might mean anything else has their mind in the gutter.  (For many more amusing Chinglish examples, check out the Wikipedia entry)

It’s not surprising that many Chinglish signs advertise food.  Most tourists must eat several times a day.  And food is a defining cultural element whether you’re touring Beijing or California wine country.  Such "food as culture" observations (along with his enviable writing skills) have kept Calvin Trillin in best sellers for decades.  Understand a nation’s relationship to food and wine, and you have a pretty good sense of who they are.

Tovlogocolor_transp_backFor example, I spend a fair amount of time working with Tastes of the Valleys wine bar in Solvang, California, at the epicenter of "Sideways Country."  This area is home to some of California’s best wines, and I’m continually excited by the region’s vinous endeavors.  But the food?  Hmmm, not so much.  With a few very pleasant exceptions!

Where to find a "Slobbering Good Nosh" in Santa Ynez Valley

  1. Let me begin with a rumor.  I have heard wonderful things about the new Cabernet Bistro in the heart of Solvang.  But since I’ve yet to eat there, I’ll withhold an actual recommendation until after I’ve had a chance to sample their food anonymously.  Reliable sources indicate it to be worth trying.
  2. The long-tired Meadows Restaurant at the Royal Scandinavian Inn is undergoing a massive renovation.  The entire hotel is enjoying a multi-million dollar face lift, and the restaurant is newly redecorated and has a new chef working on a new menu.  The fresh wine list is being designed by Bobby Moy, the Manager of Tastes of the Valleys, so it’s sure to be good.  And restaurant veteran and visionary John Martino is driving the renovation.  I hold great hope for this location, but will again withhold a recommendation until it’s renovation is complete.
  3. A great place for Sunday brunch, daily lunches or dinner (on Thursday only, according to their website) is the Chef’s Touch.  Owner/Chef Kurt Alldredge provides a fun and funky environment with a few tables surrounded by his shop and open kitchen.  His hand-picked cookbooks, olive oils, wines, and kitchen gadgets surround guests in an environment less cozy than many prefer, but the quality of his food is sufficient to encourage repeat visits, though I regularly lament the limited dinner schedule.
  4. For those seeking good wine-friendly food in an historic building, the nearby town of Los Olivos provides the Brother’s Restaurant at Matteis’ Tavern, known locally as "The Brothers".  Visitors can easily imagine this setting during its days as an old stage coach stop, some 150 years ago.  And while the food is good, I usually find myself there towards the end of the shift, when the waitstaff is eager to leave and the wine steward (if there is one) is long gone, leaving the wine knowledge unequal to the quality of the list.  Good news though – the corkage fee is only $15.
  5. While the Los Olivos Cafe has been crowded ever since its appearance in "Sideways", the kitchen is struggling to remain equal to its peers, and their wine prices are quite high.  The Cafe is a good place to visit when seeking a little bit of the "Sideways" experience, but I prefer the food and service around the corner at Patrick’s Side Street Cafe, where diners will enjoy a nice wine list, food made from fresh ingredients, and Patric’s ebullient personality (it’s been said he makes a drunken sailor seem shy).
  6. A few steps down the road in Los Olivos is the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa, home to the new Marcella’s Restaurant.  This space has struggled to find a winning formula, and I hope that this latest incarnation is the ticket.  Againi, I’ve not yet had a chance to sample their food, so will withhold a reccomendation.  But I like the fact they offer a BYOB night, for those lucky enough to be in town on a Tuesday.
  7. We hear rave reviews from those who have dined on the food of Chef Budi Kazali (who has kindly designed recipes to accompany one of our Sideways Wine Club shipments).  Budi runs heard over the kitchen at the Ballard Inn.  Unlike a surprising number of chefs, Budi has studied wine.  This knowledge has served him well as he designs menus and wine lists that work together.  The downside?  Limited seatings restrict the number of people able to sample the fruits of his labor.  Call ahead!
  8. Last but far from least is Trattoria Grappolo.  The staff of Tastes of the Valleys is likely to find themselves gathered for their after-hours nosh next to the blue-shirted staff of Trattoria Grappolo.  Following a great Italian Trattoria tradition, the staff eat together before clean-up begins – this is but one of the practices that impact the impressive food and staff longevity at this favorite restaurant.  TrattoriagrappoloRun by Leonardo Curti and Daniele Serra, Grappolo serves Tuscan-inspired dishes that work nicely with many of the area’s wines.  A strong wine list balances new and old world selections, and forces diners to struggle against the temptation to bring in an old favorite from their cellar (or the day’s tastings), either of which the restaurant will open for a corkage fee of only $15.   Chef Leo just completed a guest appearance on the Food Network with Giada Delaurentis, and is soon to release his own cookbook, produced in conjunction with well-known photographer, James Fraioli (buy it here).  Star gazers may be thrilled by the site of a favorite TV or Hollywood personality, though I suggest the real attraction here is Chef Leo’s "slobbering good nosh", AKA mouth-watering food.


Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote is from Calvin Trillin

Marriage is not merely sharing the fettucini, but sharing the burden of finding the fettucini restaurant in the first place.  (though we’ve made it easy to fine the wine at!)



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The Nomads are coming! The Nomads are coming!

Stanley_park_book_coverOne consolation for recently watching another "ten" roll by on my age odometer is that good, sympathetic friends call with offers of interesting celebratory meals.  To a foodie, such generosity more than offsets a mailbox full of Mortality Reminders from AARP.

And when the dinner offer comes from an urban hipster like my friend Carolyn Charlton, it usually means I’m in for some creative culinaria.  In this case, a dinner prepared by a nomadic chef

Popularized in the 2002 book "Stanley Park" by Timothy Taylor (which I can recommend), nomadic chefs run a kitchen without a license, a condition that encourages one to remain one step ahead of the inspectors.  Often operating below the regulator’s radar, at least at first, they become self-policed by their own high standards and the word-of-mouth that is essential for their economic survival.

Their kitchen facilities can range from the cramped quarters of a friend’s domestic kitchen (where the unscheduled meals occur sporadically, the date and location being announced only by word of mouth to the lucky few on the "friends list"), to a licensed facility leased by the chef for an evening or two per week.  Nomadic Chefs usually feature seasonal foods grown locally, using all the latest (i.e., old fashioned) sustainable farming practices.  Locavores are among today’s more experimental diners, apparently.

Vegetarian dishes are common, meats are usually grass-fed, and seafood is wild caught using sustainable fishing methods.  One suspects even the vegetables were treated to a particularly good life before being gently hand-plucked from the warm comfort of mother earth.

Our Nomad
LogoSo what nomad chef did Carolyn find for us?  Leslie and I joined her and John for a meal prepared by Eskender Aseged.  Born in Ethiopia, his childhood home had one of the few radios in the village, and neighbors would come by to listen and to eat the food prepared in his mother’s kitchen.  He began helping at an early age, his first restaurant experience.  It was this memory that inspired his nomadic "restaurant" – Radio Africa & Kitchen – where guests sit at community tables, often sharing conversation, food recommendations, and wine.

By now, Eskender has been in the U.S. over 20 years, working in the only industry he has ever known – food service.  His lengthy pedigree includes stints at Joyce Goldstein’s Square One Restaurant, Boulevard, Elizabeth Daniel and Campton Place.  His nomadic chef business began with the occasional meal in the kitchens of friends.  By 2005 it had grown to the point that he began leasing kitchen time at licensed facilities, like the one we see here…

Our Food & Wine Pairing – Photo Gallery

Img187_2This is Carolyn and John at our table at Velo Rouge, a coffee shop and lunch facility leased by Eskender a couple of nights a week when he’s not at Sweet Adeline Bakeshop in Berkeley.  A quick perusal of the short wine list sent me scurrying out to my car, where I’d wisely stowed three wines from our most current wine club selections.  We were lucky enough to have brought wines that increased the overall deliciousness of our meal – exactly what a good wine should do!

We started with a very unique hummus made from Edamame instead of the usual chickpea – an interesting variation that we gave more points for creativity than for flavor.  This was followed by a nice, simple salad of arugula with shaved Parmesan and drizzled with really good olive oil and a dusting of sea salt.  Both dishes paired very nicely with the Uvaggio Rosato (available to non-members for $14), which easily handled the peppery arugula.

Img190_2The chickpea soup was the most memorable dish of the evening.  I apologize for the rather drab photo at right – the dish was far more appetizing in person.  The soup featured a long list of unique ingredients that could have proved difficult to pair with wine (remind me again, what goes nicely with fermented cinnamon??!!)  But our Calzada Ridge Viognier (a "Maya’s Selection" for August) beautifully tamed and complemented the soup’s spices. The only complaint I have about this otherwise beautiful wine is that it tends to disappear very quickly.  I suspect it evaporates too easily.

Though I have no usable photo of our main courses, we selected both the vegetarian eggplant-and-squash and the wild caught salmon.  These were paired with the remaining Rosato and Viognier as well as another of this month’s club wines, the Verdad Tempranillo.  This grape, best known for its leading role in Spain’s Rioja wines, proved a nice compliment to the lentil side dish, the earthiness of the lentils providing a most pleasant foil for this red wine.

Img194Personable as well as competent, Eskender came out into the dining room after the meal to be greeted by spontaneous applause.  After the room quieted, he answered questions from his guests about his background, the meal, and his unique ingredients.  He then acquiesced to photo requests, as you can see.  And lest you be concerned about your Wine Merchant driving home after too convivial an evening, you’ll rest comfortably in knowing we left the remaining wine for the staff to enjoy.

The next time you’re thinking about places to eat in the Bay Area, I encourage you to visit Eskender, or else to find a nomadic chef in your own community – I hear the phenomenon is taking hold in even small towns across America.

Know a good one?  Please leave details in the comments section, including the name, its city and the contact info or URL!  And of course, if you need wine recommendations before you go, send me an email…

Swclogogs3x3 Cheers!

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote:

You don’t stop laughing because you grow old, You grow old because you stop laughing, an unavoidable fate whiteout regular visits to 



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"Tomato Butt" Gazpacho and Dry Rosé

TomatoesWe recently spent a week in the Anderson Valley, where we grow olives, apples, and a plethora of other fruits and vegetables.  We’re having a rather cool summer so our tomato plants are huge, but slow to ripen.  I can’t wait for our tomato season.

For me, the unique smell of vine-ripened tomatoes is a form of time travel, taking me instantly back to the summer of 1968 at my grandparents house in Crown Point, IN.  My Grampa was an avid gardener and his tomato vines groaned and sagged under the burden of their ripe fruit.  Every day more of his over-ripe fruit dropped to the ground, the insides bursting out of their blood-red skins, each outer skin barely containing a pound of juicy goodness.  Our Mendocino olive consultant, Steve Tylicki, recently advised "Don’t leave your car with the windows open during the heat of summer.  Your neighbors will load it up with ripe tomatoes."  It was one of those summers in Crown Point.  Hot and humid, just the way tomatoes like it.

Now, were my sister telling this story, she would blame me for the event I’m about to describe.  But today I am the author and have the chance to set the record straight.  It was her fault for beginning our day’s play next to Grampa’s heavily-laden tomato plants.  I was blameless, unable to choose any path other than the one any nine year old would follow under similar circumstances.

You may be able to guess where this is going…

I grew bored with whatever role-playing game she was directing, and encouraged our younger brother to join my boycott.  Undoubtedly feeling rejected, she moved her attentions some distance away from her cretinous brothers.  And we immediately began doing what frustrated boys naturally do on a hot summer day – throwing ripe tomatoes at a tree trunk.  I can still recall the sound of that satisfying splat.  But you know, when selecting a target for tomato projectiles, an immobile tree simply can’t compete with your sister’s backside.  The "satisfying splat" wasn’t the only noise to come from that particular bullseye…

Let me just say, Mom didn’t find it as hysterically funny as I did.  As I recall, she failed to find any humor in it at all.  And I’ll bet she never got the stains out of Cathy’s clothes either.

"Tomato Butt" Gazpacho
RosattoHere is a much better use for ripe tomatoes.  Pairing this soup with a dry Rosé makes a cool summer meal requiring no heat in your already too-hot kitchen.  Just make sure the wine has good acidity, as you’ll find with any of the wines in our Dry Rosé Collection, such as the Barbera Rosato from L’Uvaggio di Giacomo $12 (Right)

1 pound (each) tart green and ripe red Heirloom tomatoes
1/8 cup Fresh Cilantro or Basil, chopped. Reserve some for garnish
1 Tbsp (Generous) fresh citrus juice – lime, lemon or orange all work nicely
1/2 cup good olive oil, divided in equal parts
1 teaspoon acidic vinegar such as red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Sea salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste
Fresh baguette to accompany

Blend until smooth the green tomatoes, cilantro or basil, juice and half the olive oil (reserve several tomatoes for slicing). Taste, add small amounts of salt and pepper as needed, remembering you’ll want to add some just before serving. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for several hours or as much as one day.

Wipe out the blender and repeat with the Red Tomatoes, Vinegar and paprika (again reserving one or two of the smallest tomatoes for slicing). Season as above and store in a separate airtight container.

When ready to serve, ladle one color into the bowl first, then gently lay a smaller amount of the second color inside. Top with reserved basil or cilantro and one tomato slice of each color.

Swclogogs3x3 Cheers!

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote
"If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  If it gives you tomatoes, make Bloody Marys"



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Bottle Shock (the movie) – Errata & Etc.

Ch_montelena_2It’s never fun, being led down a rabbit hole.  But that’s where I was recently taken when one of my posts turned out to contain some shoddy journalism.  My only defense is that wine bloggers are seldom called upon to exhibit investigative reporting skills.  So we get rusty.

You see, I’d reported in late July that there were two movies in the works about the famed 1976 Paris Tasting.  This was the blind tasting where French judges rated several California wines higher than some of their best Bordeaux and White Burgundies, putting California wineries on the map for good and launching the New World style of wine. 

I’d reported that one of the movies (calling itself the "official" version) involved the original journalist covering the event, while the other version "had been commissioned by one of the winning wineries – Chateau Montelena".  I gleaned my information from a posting by the normally august Decanter magazine.  (You can see reader response to the movies in the poll copied below, or here, if you receive this via a feed).

Then the fun started.  A couple days later I received an email from Jeff Adams, Marketing Director for Chateau Montelena.  Jeff’s tag-line these days seems to be "We make wine, not movies."  He politely set me straight about my statement that the winery had commissioned the movie.  But in so doing he piqued my curiosity with regard to how the idea was conceived – "if not you, then who(m)?" 

He could shed no light on my question (see his tag-line, above) but was kind enough to refer me to the film’s publicist, Nadine Jolson of Jolson Creative.  After several days of missed calls, I finally caught Nadine from my car while on the wine road.  She indicated the idea grew out of the fertile mind of screenwriter Randall Miller (who also directs, produces and edits this film, according to "He came up with the idea completely independent of the book and other movie on the same topic – in fact, he started the screenplay before the book ‘Judgment of Paris’ came out two years ago."

Apparently, the screenwriter saw a good family story (in the sense the TV show "Dallas" was a good family story?  Only time will tell) as he learned details about how the famed event affected relationships between Barret family members.  "But how did the Barret’s feel about this story?  Did they contribute to it?  Is the film a reflection of their perspective?" I asked. 

Nadine is well-trained in media relations, and her talking points did not include answers to such questions (and really, why would a movie’s publicist have knowledge of such things anyway?)  So I have no further insight to offer on the origins of the idea.  Did it take seed during a wine-fueled conversation between the Barret’s and Miller?  Are they old friends?  Or did the idea occur during one of Miller’s pilgrimages to Napa, much as it might to any wine lover?

Until and if I ever speak with Miller, we’ll never know.  Right now I can report that Bottle Shock film crews have descended on Calistoga and its environs (sites including, interestingly enough, Kunde Winery over in Sonoma, according to publicist Nadine Jolson) and that filming is well underway. So it appears "Bottle Shock" will be in theaters well in advance of "Judgment of Paris", the other movie based on the Paris tasting.  And when Bottle Shock hits theaters, if it’s any good at all, demand for Chateau Montelena will likely spike.  Again.  Consider yourself duly warned.

Cheers, Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant



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