Monday, December 21, 2009

December Holiday Wines

Remember the big Cabs and lush whites we asked you to skip at Thanksgiving? Well, it's late December and it's official: Loosen your wrists and pop those corks.

This month's holiday celebrations typically center about heartier winter fare such as rib roasts, duck and lamb. Pasta-centric Italian families dish out meat lasagne, ragù with rabbit sauce and elaborate veal dishes. Even fish dishes are sauced with a heavier hand this time of year, from beurre blanc to rémoulade. Having chest pain yet?

All these foods scream out for bigger wines. As with Thanksgiving, we suggest at least two wine choices for your holiday guests. Lead off with a lighter-bodied or higher-acid wine to tickle taste buds instead of hammering your guests' palates with the powerhouse red you've been aching to open all year long.

Check out these wines we've spotted around town to help get you through holiday meals with grace and good taste. Starred wines are value-priced at less than $15-20 a bottle at Dan's Wine Shop, LA Wine Company, Cost Plus World Market, Costco or grocers Vons, Albertsons and Ralph's.

Lighter whites: Dry Riesling (Pacific Rim°, Chateau Ste. Michelle°)

Medium-bodied whites: White Burgundy (Mâcon Villages, 2006°), McManis Viognier°

Powerhouse whites: Chardonnay (Trinitas°, California; Luca°, Argentina)

Ligher reds: Dolcetto D'Alba, Pinot Noir (Cambria, Julia's Vineyard 2006°; Becker Estate 2007°, Germany)

Medium-bodied reds: Monte Antico° (Sangiovese-based blend, 2006. Italy), Volver° (Tempranillo, 2007, Spain), Robert Hall Syrah° and Rhône de Robles° 2006, Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Villages 2007°

Powerhouse reds: Orin Swift's The Prisoner (Zinfandel-based blend, California), Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, Cannonball 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon°)

Do you have a special bottle you've saved for your holiday celebration? Stay tuned for a few of our fallen soldiers in the weeks ahead.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Place Your Bids: Menu for Hope Fundraiser

For only $10, you can support a great cause and take a chance at winning gifts sure to make your New Year bright. How about a weeklong Brunello experience for you and three friends in the heart of Tuscany at a private villa and winery? Closer to home, perhaps a two-night stay at the 4,000-square foot four-bedroom Koehler Estate Vineyard House that includes a private tasting with the winemaker and six bottles of Koehler Estate wines? Just want wine? A gift box of eight awesome Andrew Rich wines would hit the spot.

You can bid on these and other fabulous wine-themed gifts to benefit Menu for Hope VI, a charity begun in 2004 by food and wine bloggers to aid tsunami-relief efforts. All of last year's $60,000 raise went to the people served by the United Nations World Food Programme, the world's largest food assistance agency. This year, we're asking you to help us do even better.

It's easy and secure to start submitting your bids. First, check out wine-themed raffle items hosted at or the full roster including foodie items, trips and international destination prizes at Chez Pim. Note each bid item's assigned codes - you'll need them to do your online bidding.

Every $10 you donate gets you a virtual ticket to use towards the raffle item(s) you select. You can even choose to have your company match your donation by filling in that section of your bid.

Donate $100 and you'll have ten chances to win one or more raffle items; $1,000 gets you a hundred and so on. You can holiday shop for friends who don't need one more "thing" and help this tremendous cause at the same time.

Start spreading the news and then check back here and at Chez Pim on Monday, January 18th for results.

Here's all you need to do:

1. Review the raffle items and note the bid codes of the ones you want. They're posted on Vinography and at Chez Pim. (Example: WB17 is the bid code for the WinewomenPSP package.)

2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make your credit card donation.

3. When you enter your donation amount, be sure to specify which item(s) you're bidding on in the 'Your Comment' (personal message) section of the donation form. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item using the item code.

Each $10 you donate gets you one raffle ticket toward a bid item of your choice. Please use the format "number of tickets" x "item code." For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 plus 3 tickets for EU02 so you'd enter: 2xEU01, 3xEU02.

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so Firstgiving can claim the corporate match.

5. Please enter your e-mail address so you may be contacted if you win. Your e-mail address will not be shared with anyone. (We suggest you do not check the 'hide' box.)

Now get busy and good luck! Drop us a comment if you have any questions.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holiday Wine Book: A Keeper by Kevin Zraly

Go beyond the sensory pleasures of the vine with a literary treat for your wine pals this holiday season. Gift books are sure to bring barrels of pleasure to the wine lovers on your list. Besides those already listed on this blog, Kevin Zraly's latest book, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course 25th Anniversary Edition (Sterling, 2009) is one that belongs on every wine lover's shelf. Like a favorite bottle of wine, readers will want to keep going back for more.

Zraly was cellar master at Windows on the World, the iconic restaurant on the 107th floor of Tower One at New York's World Trade Center. Today, the master wine educator continues the wine school he founded at Windows in Times Square at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The 338-page hardcover anniversary edition gives structure to the world of wine. Novices and wine sophisticates alike will enjoy its lively pace and juicy sidebars packed with entertaining and betcha-didn't-know nuggets of wine information.

Region-focused chapters spirit readers off on a condensed tour of regional history, terroir, major grapes, producers and specific wines that are Zraly favorites or benchmarks. For a DIY experience, the author suggests wines readers can choose to taste along the way to train their palates and understand defining characteristics. Chapters end with questions that simulate a wine course but no angst necessary – Zraly gives reference pages for the answers. Color illustrations include regional maps, wine labels, tables and those fun sidebars that make review a challenge and the book a pleasure to read.

Tips, FAQs and wine-buying strategies round out the last few chapters. The book ends with the author's personal history of the landmark Windows, tragically gone but never forgotten.

We've added this book to our favorites and hope you will too. For only $27.95, this book will bring a world of wine pleasure to wine lovers on your holiday list. Watch this blog for more gift-giving ideas coming soon.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Saturday Sips Around Town

Just because we're partial to WinewomenPSP events doesn't mean there aren't other wine haps in town worth a sip. If you're looking to get wet before our December 10th event at The Art Place, you can enjoy two valley tastings this Saturday, December 5th.

Jensen's in La Quinta hosts a tasting of Byron wines from 2-5 PM. For only $5, you'll taste Byron's 2007 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley vineyards. Compare that Pinot to the 2006 Bien Nacido or find out how lovely Pinot Blanc can be. You might find a new favorite from this Santa Barbara County winery. Aubrey and his staff will roll out cheese and olive snacks, too. Reservations are not needed so just show up to their store at the corner of Washington Street and Highway 111 with your five-spot. Information: 760.777.8181.

Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert is also having a $5 wine tasting Saturday from noon to 5 PM. RSVP by e-mail to or by phone at 760.674.0305.

At Dan's you'll belly up to three totally different whites: Alexander Valley Vineyards Dry Gewürztraminer, Napa Cellars Chardonnay, and King Estate Pinot Gris. Like red wines too? Taste three more styles in Bearboat Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Folie à Deux Amador Zinfandel and Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon.

Find Dan's at 73360 Highway 111 on the north side of 111 opposite the Palm Desert Jensen's. Be sure to call or e-mail ahead to reserve.

Remember, Monday December 7th is reservations deadline for our WinewomenPSP holiday spirit event at The Art Place on Thursday, December 10th in support of Mourning Star Center. Wear your comfy shoes and come party!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Cozy Up to The Art Place

Are you ready for some … art? If so, plan to join us for our next event Thursday, December 10th at The Art Place. The indoor/outdoor event unfolds at Palm Desert's enclave of art galleries and unique shops.

Savor Russ Olden's creative cuisine as you stroll gallery boutiques that feature home furnishings, pottery, sculpture and eclectic accent pieces to brighten your world. Be sure to also check out Custom Vintage Wine Cellars and taste a selection of boutique wines by 4WinesPlusMore.

Our December charity is Mourning Star Center, a community service of the Visiting Nurse Association of the Inland Counties that provides grief support for children and their loved ones.

Russ will keep us warm with creamy homemade tomato soup and an piping hot assortment of fresh mini-panini. For fun, grab a skewer and dip into Maytag blue cheese fondue indulgence with Mornay sauce before you head over to Olden's sweet dreams for holiday cookies and chocolates.

The Art Place is located around the corner from the north Palm Desert (Hovley Lane) post office at 41801 Corporate Way – map it here or download/share details from our event flyer here. Call Kathleen with your pre-paid reservation by Monday, December 7. Share comfort and joy this holiday season with friends and WinewomenPSP at The Art Place. See you there!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Wines – Part 2

Here are wines sure to juice up your holiday meal. We found them around town at LA Wine Company and Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert (760.674.0305), Albertson's, BevMo! and Costco. Most are $10-$20 and deliver big value. Inventory and prices will vary – ask your wine merchant for similar suggestions in these styles:

Sparklers: Italian Prosecco (Adriano Adami), Spanish Cava.

Whites: Riesling, Riesling, Riesling (Chateau St. Michelle, Trimbach). Note: German Rieslings are lower in alcohol; start with dry Rieslings and save the off-dry and sweeter stuff for later in the meal.

Other Whites: White Rhône and other blends (d'Arenberg The Hermit Crab, Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier), unoaked Chardonnay (A to Z), Pinot Gris (Bethel Heights), South American Sauvignon Blanc (Montes). Note: New Zealand sauv blanc can be a bit tart or limey for turkey day.

Rosé: Probably the best wine to carry the entire meal (A to Z, La Grenouille Rouganté from Frog's Leap, rosés from Provence, Tavel).

Reds: Pinot Noir (Cambria, Wild Horse), Cru Beaujolais (Côte de Brouilly), Rhône blends (La Vieille Ferme, St.-Esprit), Spanish Tempranillo (Lan), some Syrahs or lighter Zinfandels (Foxglove).

Dessert: Late-harvest Gewürztraminer (Gunderloch), Riesling, Port (especially with chocolate desserts).

Drop us a comment with your faves. You can also view wines we like on the photo album inside our WinewomenPSP Facebook page. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Wines – Part 1

If you're thinking about busting out a big Napa cab or Chardonnay for your Thanksgiving meal, well, we'll be nice and say please reconsider.

Unless you plan to serve juicy steaks or lobster with butter sauce, those bold, oaked wines won't be at their best with Thanksgiving foods. Frankly, not many wines can carry an entire Thanksgiving meal given the crazy clash of flavors that ride in on stuffing, gravies, those once-yearly sides, the bird itself and your family or host's specialties.

Here are a few tips we hope you'll find helpful:

Offer two or more different wines. Depending on the size of your crowd, have more than one wine style at the table. Even though you might not care for rosé, someone else at the table probably does, or at least might be willing to give it a swirl at holiday time.

Leave the oak in the forest. Many Thanksgiving foods just don't go well with oaky wines. If you simply must have your Chard, try an unoaked variety. Not sure what's oaked and what's not? Ask your wine merchant or look for key words on the label like fresh, clean, fruity, or stainless-steel fermented that might indicate an unoaked Chardonnay. Words that imply an oaked style are toasty, vanilla, rich, smoke or creamy.

Check the alcohol percentage. High-alcohol wines will not only make you tipsier, they can also taste hot or harsh with all that food. Go slow and go low. Look for the alcohol percentage on the bottle before you buy. Choose wines below 13.5%, or save blowtorches for late in the meal. Zin lovers, beware – Zinfandels are generally higher in alcohol.

Be safe.
Agree on who'll be the designated driver and stick to it. All that good food doesn't soak up alcohol and won't help your liver metabolize it any faster. Be careful not to flood your engines and if you do, give your car keys to the tee-totaler.

Next post, we'll give you a few suggestions on value-priced wines you can find around town or drop us a comment and we'll get them to you sooner. Watch for more wines we like on our Facebook page, too. Find the fan box in the right column of this blog and FAN our page today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

First Up at Morgans

Fans of Rattlesnake can finally dry their tears: Jimmy Schmidt and his A-team are back at Morgans in the Desert at La Quinta Resort and Club. Or, we should say, will be back as Winewomen were honored by last night's fab debut sneak preview dinner by Schmidt, Chef Brian Recor and sommelier Francois Cinq-Mars in support of Shelter From The Storm.

In case you weren't able to join us, plan to scout out Morgans' soft-opening beginning in early December before they officially open around Jan. 26th. Schmidt & Co. have already hit their stride as we savored exquisite cheese, olives and spiced nuts for starters with Pommard Champagne, followed by a floral-scented local fig salad accented by pink grapefruit-perfumed St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc.

Next came the double-whammy: entrees of Maine über-scallops with extra-terrestrial spaghetti squash and duck breast with wild mushroom risotto and crispy onions, served with 2007 La Crema 2007 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Pinch us, but not too hard - dessert's coming.

Pastry? Coming up, as Schmidt's team rolled out chocolate truffles with a big whiff of espresso shot on the finish, mini-chocolate mousse towers, two-bite fruit tarts and choco-laced strawberries that made us weak in the knees. Morgans' able staff kept us tanked on coffee and tea for the ride home.

Lovely Kate Spates introduced Shelter's moving video about the good they do and a prayer by a Sheltered sister, who tucked in her children at night thankful for an "average day" – a deep comment to remember on days when we're sidetracked by silliness.

Thanks to Jimmy, Kate, Michelle, John, Kathleen, Francois and all who made this debut night so magical. We'll be visiting you all season long – welcome back!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

South African Wine Safari

Salud, salute, jabula! Jabula? Winewomen chorused the Zulu word for rejoice at our South African wine tasting safari this week as Jeremy Wilkinson of 4WinesPlusMore gave us a tour of his native land's wine country.

We were blessed by another splendid desert evening, this time at Miramonte's outdoor piazza with roaring fireplace to keep us warm. Chef Robert Nyerick prepared five separate appetizers paired to each wine, all hits.

Jeremy started us off with Cape Rock 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from the inland Robertson appellation. Refreshing and racy, we enjoyed its lime and grassy flavors with herbed goat cheese crostini.

Next came Chef's shrimp and salmon mousse brochette with a Western Cape 2008 Chardonnay from Heron's Nest. With only a gentle touch of oak, the food-friendly white showed fresh fruit flavors and medium body. Some of us caught a whiff of Riesling-like petrol, for even more interest.

Chef called the next pairing a no-brainer – we suppose so, if you're a chef. To us it was perfection: duck breast with raspberry and fig reduction served with Clos Malverne 2007 Reserve Pinotage. A cross between the Pinot Noir grape and Cinsaut, Pinotage is a South African original with flavors and aromas all its own. We enjoyed this Stellenbosch gold-medalist's lovely color, earthy fruit and soft tannins.

Also from the Stellenbosch appellation, Wolverine Creek 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon proved a treat. Flavors of blackberry fruit gave way to a long, minerally finish. Each bottle is numbered – how special is that?

For a finale, bites of pumpkin-spiced cheesecake arrived with Cape Rock 2007 Special Late Harvest Gewürztraminer. Ladies deep-sniffed its rosy perfume and savored its honeyed spice flavors. We spotted dessert wine converts among men and women alike.

By evening's end, Jeremy's sign-up sheet was filling up with wine orders and contacts of those interested in joining him on a South African wine tour. Thanks to 4WinesPlusMore for a guided wine tasting of this exotic quintet. Who knew a geography lesson could be this much fun? And thanks to all of you who will remember those served by Martha's Village and Kitchen this season. Jabula!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Encore at Miramonte

We had such a blast at last month's Winewomen & Song event at Miramonte that we're going back on Thursday, November 12th for a South African wine safari and more of Chef Nyerick's delights.

Our October 23rd event featured elegant and talented Romanian soprano Angela Bunea who filled the perfect night air with magical coloratura under a starlit sky. Accompanist Gale Enger, a virtuoso performer himself, provided signature polish to the performance. We thank Lola Rossi for wrapping the lovely lady in red's powerful voice in crisp sound and ethereal lighting.

At tables atop the Mediterranean Lawn, antipasti towers offered tempting treats to accompany Novas 2007 Chardonnay. Novas features wines made with organically grown grapes from Chile's Casablanca Valley. The gently oaked Chardonnay was crafted with a smidge of Viognier to add subtle tropical notes alongside refreshing citrusy fruit. Your Winewomen consensus: delicious and versatile.

Main courses were paired with a 2005 Novas blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Chile's warmer Central Valley. We enjoyed its ripe berry and dark cherry fruit with smooth tannins – a perfect accompaniment to chef's slow-roasted Black Angus sirloin.

Well in the Desert President Arlene Rosenthal gave thanks for our fundraising efforts and recapped the charity's outreach programs and support for the working poor, homeless and our less fortunate neighbors. Thank you, Arlene for all you do! Mark your spring calendar for Opera Arts' Opera Under the Stars dinner and show at the Renaissance Esmeralda on Saturday, April 17th.

Season is definitely upon us with two WinewomenPSP events this month. On Thursday, November 12th, a Miramonte encore on the Piazza: South African wine tasting safari courtesy of 4 Wines Plus More with special appetizers paired to each of five exquisite wines by Chef Nyerick. Details in our flyer here. If you haven't had South African Pinotage, don't miss the gold-medal winner we'll be serving from Clos Malverne – reserve today for this nearly sold-out event.

We'll post more information soon about our Friday, November 20th wine dinner at La Quinta Resort and Club's new Morgans in the Desert. Join us to welcome back chefs Jimmy Schmidt and Brian Recor to the desert culinary scene! You remember Jimmy and Brian from our Go Red for Women February event at Rattlesnake. Reserve with Kathleen today for this important event to benefit Shelter from the Storm. Welcome to the season of giving!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thanks for Stopping By

Thanks to all Coachella Valley women, visitors and yes, more than a few brave men who stopped by our booth at the 2009 Desert Woman's Show this weekend!

We were thrilled to hear how much you've enjoyed our events and to let you in on all we do in fun, learning and charity with WinewomenPSP. In case you missed us, here's a look at our booth with goodies and Kathleen, our hard-working President who endeavors to make all our events unfold seamlessly with pizazz and pop. Click on the image to also get a closer look at our logo aerators, custom wine charms and fabulous welcome necklace.

Lip-smacking details about our Miramonte South African wine tasting safari are now posted on our Web site, too. Don't let the party leave without you - hurray and grab your reservations today by calling 760.799.7076.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

WinewomenPSP at Desert Woman's Show

Visit us at booth 202 at this weekend's Desert Woman's Show at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa. We're planning plenty of fun and show specials: Hand-crafted, original sterling silver and genuine Swarovski crystal wine charms.

We have eight colors to match your wine taste, or not. Heck, they're so gorgeous, you'll want to convert these wine charms to earrings or wear them as pendants. Find your fancy in champagne, rosé, pinot noir, bordeaux, malbec and more. At only $12 for one or two for $20 tax-inclusive, you can delight all the wine lovers on your holiday gift list.

After you visit the food and wine pavilion, visit our booth to try out our new WinewomenPSP logo wine aerators. Not only will they smooth out any rough spots in your wine, they'll also instantly aerate your wines to make them ready to enjoy as soon as you can pour. Can you drink to that? We thought so, too. Besides, they're so pretty on their cork-bottomed bases that you'll want to display them at home. Each aerator is dishwasher safe and comes with its own travel pouch so you can take it with you to restaurants or parties. You won't want to leave home without your wine friend.

WinewomenPSP member price is only $40 each ($45 for non-members) but don't forget: When you renew your membership, this logo aerator is your free 2nd anniversary gift! If you're not a member, sign up at the show for two years and you'll not only get your gorgeous wine bottle necklace welcome gift, you'll also receive your logo aerator. Make it your Halloween - Holiday combo!

Also, don't forget to pick up event flyers and sign up for our two faboo November events. Come to our first South African wine safari at Miramonte's Piazza on Thursday, November 12th. Chef Nyerick will prepare irresistible nibbles paired to each of the five exotic wines. On Friday, November 20th, we'll be treated to Executive Chef Brian Recor's debut at the new Morgans in the Desert at La Quinta Resort and Club. Join us to welcome back the former Rattlesnake chef de cuisine for a sneak preview wine dinner at what's sure to become La Quinta's culinary beacon.

We'll be at Esmeralda's Emerald Ballroom from 10 AM until 5 PM Saturday and Sunday. See you at the show!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SanTásti to the Rescue

Plenty of good juice flowed at yesterday's Pacific Wine and Spirits fall tasting. Agua Caliente chefs Jim and Mike kept tummies sated with tasty and filling pasta specialties, baked brie and other goodies. After all, representatives from the restaurant and wine trade needed a bit of sustenance to do their jobs: Taste and discover wines to match their establishments and put smiles on patrons' faces.

With so many wines to taste, it can be tough to keep a clean palate for every new wine you try. Sparkling water, crackers and bread just don't seem to do the trick. After a few wines, palate fatigue sets in and before long, you can lose the ability to judge a wine on its merits. Big reds or tannic wines pummel even the most experienced palates. Besides, once you start sampling red wines, how do you go back to try the Riesling you missed or the Dom Perignon someone just opened? We needed a bottle of SanTásti.

We'd ordered a free sample of SanTásti last month to test the company's claims that their palate-cleansing beverage erases the taste of wines or other strong beverages from your palate. Sound like a gimmick? Yes, but in practice, hardly. We gave it a try in a tasting experiment with 15 ladies with no agenda one way or another. They all agreed: It really works.

SanTásti works by scrubbing your palate of mouth-clinging flavors of wine, coffee, intensely-flavored foods – even beer. Tiny bubbles work their magic to lift tannins and neutralize lingering aftertastes so you're ready to taste anew.

Two Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture graduates who founded the company in 2008 created the colorless and virtually tasteless liquid. Their beverage is made from natural ingredients with only 10 calories per 355 ml bottle. Recently, they buffed their line with two new flavors, peppermint and cinnamint, alongside the nearly flavorless "classic."

We'd like to see more SanTásti on hand at tasting venues and for sale at wine outlets. Look or ask for it at your local wine shop and then let us know what you think. You'll find it conveniently packaged in glass screw-capped 12-ounce bottles so you can share, and taste more, with friends. We might just take a bottle along to our next tasting. After all, a wine taste is a terrible thing to waste.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Brand Loyalty: The Wines of d'Arenberg

The question students always ask at wine classes we give at 60 Minute University is: What wine brands are worth trying?

Wine brands you'll prefer are, like all wine enjoyment, a matter of personal taste. Once you get to know a winery or brand that resonates with your palate and pocketbook, reliable wine pleasure will be yours anytime. Sure, it's fun to try exotic bottlings or wines from small producers, but knowing a go-to brand you like and can readily find saves time and money when shopping or planning a get-together.

One example of consistency across the brand is d'Arenberg. The South Australian winery offers wine lovers an exceptionally deep and wide wine portfolio spanning value to premium pricing. The multi-generational winery is situated south of Adelaide in McLaren Vale, a region blessed by a Mediterranean climate. d'Arenberg offers remarkable range in its varietal wines and blends. They also make bubblies and dessert wines, which Aussies call stickies.

Iconic McLaren Vale Shiraz are powerful, structured wines with deep purple color and intense flavors of dark-berried fruit, spice and anywhere from a hint to a dollop of chocolate-raspberry. With a rounded, smooth mouthfeel and soft yet chewy tannins, these wines have food appeal that goes beyond steak to less muscular dishes such as fish prepared with savory or bold sauces.

You'll find d'Arenberg wines at local wine shops and on wine lists around town. Palm Desert's Pacifica offers The Footbolt 2005 Shiraz with their flavorful seafood choices. With a whiff of violet on the nose, the wine showed lively earthiness layered by silky tannins and food-friendly acidity. For a splurge, other fine restaurants in town carry d'Arenberg's flagship old-vines Shiraz, The Dead Arm. Look for the rolling red carpet diagonal red stripe and coat of arms on the label.

Like other McLaren Vale wineries, d'Arenberg also produces wines made from other grapes associated with France's Rhône Valley, including Grenache, Viognier and Rousanne. Hmm, wonder if we can try them all?

We're scoping out two d'Arenberg wines for holiday dinner: Hermit Crab 2008 Viognier-Rousanne blend and The Custodian 2006 made from 100% Grenache. Once we try them, we'll report back with prices and where you can find them.

Here are a few other easy-to-find and reliable brands you may want to try.

Washington: Chateau St. Michelle, Hogue
Oregon: A to Z Wineworks, Eyrie
California: Byron, Sterling
Chile: Viña Montes, Viña Cono Sur
France: Vignerons de Caractère, Perrin & Fils

To read more, check out Wine & Spirits Magazine 45 top value brands of the year, from the June 2009 print edition. Happy tasting!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Princes of Darkness

Just before our event at Wine Vault of the Desert got underway last Friday, a truck smashed into an electrical transformer, knocking out electricity to the new Desert Business Park across from Palm Desert's Sun City. Would our sold-out Chill with WinewomenPSP show go on? In the dark?

You betcha. Wine Vault director Jeff Frank flew into overdrive to find soft lighting for each table. As the back-up generator hummed along to keep the Vault's wine chilled and unfettered by the hub-bub, the crowd found their way in the semi-dark to take their seats for Wine, Women and Health: Medicine or Myth?

From ancient teachings to the latest scientific findings, the audience learned of scientists' attempts to identify factors responsible for population, laboratory and clinical studies that point to beneficial effects of moderate alcohol and wine consumption on the heart and other vital organ systems, from our brains to our bones.

While many studies favor resveratrol as a key player in the wine-health connection, wine's complex biochemistry suggests other elements may also contribute to health effects scientists continue to track and analyze. Could the whole be greater than the sum of its biochemical parts? If so, whole fruits rich in these compounds or a glass of wine should do the trick.

You can read more about our presenter's take on the topic here but stay tuned – the final chapter has yet to be written.

Wine Vault itself was really cool. Our tour of the 10,000 sq. ft custodial wine storage facility yielded a delightful surprise when manager Jack Dixon told us how affordable storage can be. We'll remember that next time a deal comes along that we needn't pass up for lack of wine TLC or space at home.

Desert Cancer Foundation's executive director Peggy Bilous provided background on that organization's mission and services for ailing Coachella Valley residents in need of medical services. With Jeff underwriting the wine provided by Southern Wine & Spirits and appetizers by Sherman's Deli, our fundraising efforts were a success. A few lucky attendees took home fab prizes, including storage for their wine at Wine Vault and our new, cool WinewomenPSP logo wine aerator. More on that lovely in another post.

Out of the darkness, we'd seen the light and headed home with kicked-up wine smarts. See you next on October 23rd for an evening under the stars with soprano Angela Bunea, wine and the Mediterranean culinary marvels of Miramonte Resort and Spa!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Finery at Fleming's

With 100 wines by the glass and Patrick Milsop directing its wine program, it's a gimme that Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Rancho Mirage knows wine. We were tickled pink to be in their competent hands at our Hat's Off luncheon with Angel Light Academy last Saturday. We tip our hats to Operating Partner John Verhoef and his skilled staff for turning out a glorious meal and intriguing wine pairings.

A knock-out appetizer of breaded brie with jalapeño jelly was paired to an Old World Chardonnay – Forty-Six Diamonds Pouilly-Fuisse 2006, especially crafted for Fleming's with French négociant Georges DuBoeuf. Hat brims gave way to broader smiles.

Fall soup of squash, corn and lobster, perfectly textured and fresh, was a course many of us would have been happy to savor for dinner any night. Its pairing was a New World Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2007 from the cooler Margaret River area of Western Australia. The wine's crisp acidity was both balance and foil for the rich soup.

Next, a nearly fork-tender petite filet mignon was served with South Africa's Rust en Vrede Merlot 2007 from the Stellenbosch region. We took in its earthy aromas and terroir-soaked flavors. Patrick told us how Nelson Mandela chose this winery for his 2004 Nobel Peace Prize dinner. We were honored as well.

As much as we enjoyed the apricot sorbet, the luncheon's real treats were the children and young adults of Angel Light Academy. With their poise and polish at the mic, these youngsters told of their struggles in our rough-and-tumble society and how ALA helps them learn leadership and other skills necessary to overcome hardship and succeed as focused, whole and wholesome individuals. Well done, all.

Great prizes fueled a thrilling and competitive auction to aid our combined fundraising efforts.

In case you missed this one, take our word and remember Fleming's for your next night out and Angel Light Academy in your charitable giving. Our combined causes paired with a superb venue, excellent food and wine, fashion and energetic camaraderie for a memorable event. And, as you can see, it was worth going for the hats alone.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Watch Out, Willamette Valley

There's a new gal in town and she's a knockout. Sleek and ultracool, she's not only a dream but an eco-minded natural to boot. She oozes class with drop-dead looks that are built for punishment and pleasure. What's more, she's femmy without being girly and just butch enough to keep the guys at attention and poised for more. And, since this is a wine blog, did we mention she turns out phat food and knows her wine?

Her name is The Allison Inn & Spa and she's the Willamette Valley's first luxury resort. Built along the foothills of Newberg's Chehalem Mountains, the clean, green and lean Allison occupies 35 hillside acres surrounded by Yamhill County's bounty of vineyards, orchards and rich farmland.

We were lucky to catch The Allison's mid-September grand opening celebration, and what a party it was. Before we toured the 85-room resort, we sampled sips from Oregon winemakers in outdoor tents that featured local artists and winemakers. David Adelsheim, who had a hand in planting The Allison's on-premises vineyards, poured his excellent wines. We gave high fives to lesser-knowns such as Natalie's Estate Winery, which seeks to also master the un-Pinot, Syrah. Inside, it was a feast of artisan cheeses, charcuterie and more Oregon wines, including the highly decorated Domaine Serene.

Here's what you need to know: First of all, she's not a cheap date. Is she worth the splurge? Answer, yes, no hesitation. The grounds cover winding footpaths, remarkable vistas, stonewalled herb and vegetable gardens and an infinity-style indoor pool. The spacious deluxe rooms seduce you into serenity with gas fireplaces, beds comfy enough to loll around in all morning (at least) and special touches such as retractable shades for your bath and lighting to bring out your inner supermodel or stud-monkey.

Wander outside your room to visit the glorious spa with copper touches (we liked the ultracool copper-toned chain mesh curtain), stone fireplaces and mingle areas, a glass-enclosed spiral staircase, blond-highlighted wood flooring and more textures than you can touch or take in during a single visit.

Hungry? The Allison's Jory Restaurant, named in honor of Willamette Valley's fertile soils, dishes out seasonal produce from Oregon farms and gardens in a 6,000 square-foot setting with open kitchen and additional outdoor terrace dining. Wine and spirits feature the Pacific Northwest's microbrews and Oregon's outstanding wines with special touches such as "Women Winemakers We Love."

The Allison's 45-minute-drive from Portland and easy access to more than 200 Oregon wineries makes the resort ideally situated for wine travel and exploration. Its 12,000 square-foot meeting facilities can accommodate groups from ten to 400 lucky guests. Gotta golf? Pull out your irons to tackle the 18-hole Chehalem Glenn course. History your bag? Head to nearby McMinnville's Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum to visit the Spruce Goose and other heritage planes. Need cold, er, cool ocean breezes? Grab your fleece to take in the Oregon Coast, only 63 miles away. Our opinion: Stay put and enjoy the ride.

We see The Allison as Willamette Valley's transformational property, much as Auberge du Soleil ushered in a new era in Napa and California's wine tourism when the now-famed resort opened its doors in 1985, four years after its inaugural restaurant introduced visitors to wine country cuisine.

If Oregon Pinot Noir and luxury travel floats your boat, there's only one thing to do: Go. Now. For a homier Willamette Valley experience, we're still partial to the Carlton Inn. Either way, there's plenty of great wine to taste, soul-satisfying food to eat and plenty of peace to experience among nature's greatest gifts. She's a beauty.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Revelations: Your Wine Palate

The sooner you learn to make sense of your wine palate, the sooner you'll be drinking wines you truly enjoy instead of those that just don't do it for you. A fun and efficient way to discover what tastes and textures you like best is to participate in a guided wine tasting. For the 15 ladies who attended such a tutorial last night, it was like finding true love.

The wine boss laid down a few ground rules: Arrive on time with a clean palate and an open mind; perfume verboten. After a few tips, an unoaked, stainless-steel fermented Oregon Chardonnay led off with clean stone fruit flavors, light-to-medium body and crisp acidity. While a few ladies wrinkled their cute noses, others wished for shrimp cocktail. Next, a California chard offered toasty oak flavors, tropical fruit and a creamy, heavier body. Noses unwrinkled, others dumped. All good – the palates are coming out.

A surprise Argentine white opened up a bouquet of floral aromas for the exotic-minded set. Eyebrows went up as noses buried into tasting glasses for long, deep breaths. By now, palates were definitely awake and frisky.

Wine Boss figured they were ready for the rosé challenge. One sip of this Provençal palate-pleaser busted the wine chauvinism of those ladies brave enough to admit rosé prejudice. Who could resist its red fruit and strawberry flavors with a hint of mint and food-friendly acidity?

Ready for red, the bright fruit lovers swooned for a Central Coast Pinot Noir's cherry scents and gorgeous color. Their sharper and savvier palates were tickled to pick up the wine's cinnamon spice and soft mouthfeel. Now we're talkin'!

Onward to a Paso Robles Syrah, which nearly silenced the group. After all that red-fruited wine, the women zeroed in on the wine's dark-fruited flavors, peppery spice and subtle tones of leather and earth. The wine mojo was swelling as the group busily jotted notes between bites of aged Gouda and treats Wine Boss served to match, not mask, each wine.

The closer red from Argentina was a mouth-filling hedonist's delight of smooth mocha and blackberry flavors. We didn't spot too many spitters or dumpers for this one either. Some ladies went back to Syrah while others double-checked that they'd actually enjoyed a rosé by going back for more. A roomful of palates had been revealed.

Because the ladies had done so well to identify different wine flavors, textures and characteristics they liked or didn't – and why – Boss brought out a final delicacy: Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, a fortified wine to weaken the knees of the staunchest dessert wine refuse-nik. More surprise, more converts, case closed.

The evening was a success all-around with great camaraderie, learning and discovery. The Girlfriend Factor's scholarship fund was enriched and the ladies went home understanding a whole new world right inside their pretty mouths: their wine palates, understood, accepted and primed for more.

Curious to try this on your own? Here's the list of tasting wines from wine shops and grocers around town that range from about $6-20 per bottle. Click on any wine to learn more:

2007 A to Z Oregon Chardonnay
2008 Bouchon California Chardonnay
2008 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontés
2008 Chateau Routas Rosé
2006 Cambria Pinot Noir, Julia's Vineyard
2006 Robert Hall Paso Robles Syrah
2005 Zolo Malbec Reserva
2007 André Andrieux Muscat de Beaumes de Venise


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

September is California Wine Month

Give a toast to the business behind the libation as the Golden State celebrates California Wine Month during the harvest month of September. Governor Schwarzenegger's proclamation recognizes the importance of the state's wine industry to California's economy and families, not to mention the global reach of California wines.

With so much attention focused on wine's pleasures, it's easy to lose sight of wine's importance as an industry. We were amazed by these remarkable facts about California wine, which make our beverage of choice even more awesome:

• California accounts for 90% of all wine produced in the United States.
• California is the world's fourth-largest wine producer.
• California wine generates $18.5 billion in domestic retail wine sales.
• California wine industries generate 820,000 jobs nationwide.
• The national economic impact of California's wine industry is $121.8 billion with an impact of $61.5 billion on the state's economy.
• Family-owned and operated businesses comprise the majority of the state's 4,600 winegrape growers and 2,800 wineries.
• California winegrowing began in 1769 with Father Junipero Serra and the Franciscan monks.
• California has 108 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) with winegrapes grown in 46 of the state's 58 counties.
• California leads the nation in wine tourism with more than 20 million tourists visiting the state's winemaking regions yearly.
• California wine is the leading finished agricultural product in the country, even though less than 1% of California land is planted to vineyards.
• California wine drives the popularity and reach of "wine culture," evidenced in part by winemaking ventures in all 50 states.
• Women and immigrants have played pivotal roles in the development and growth of California wine.
• California is a leader stateside and abroad in wine innovation, quality, science, entrepreneurship, and sustainable winegrowing and winemaking.
• California wine country's top chefs comprise the vanguard of America's culinary revolution with their focus on fresh, seasonal and regional cuisine.


Impressed? We were, and that's with nary a mention of how North American rootstock saved the European wine industry from devastation by the Phylloxera pest.

Many valley eateries are celebrating California Wine Month with wine specials. Mindy at Zin American Bistro has specials on many wines from her exotic wine list. All Roy's Restaurants have special wine promotions this month, including our Roy's in Rancho Mirage. And in case you missed our sold-out bash at Piero's Acqua Pazza last month, you can cruise by any Monday night this month for 50% off regularly priced wines by the bottle or glass.

Call your favorite watering hole to ask about their California Wine Month specials. Local stores participating in the celebration include Vons, Pavilions and Costco locations in California.

Now get busy making us the #1 wine market in the world!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wine Labels We Like

Last post we looked at wine labels that were light on facts but heavy on fun. Cute, but not very informative. Some wineries use labels to tell a story that can help you decide if what's in the bottle is right for your preferences or occasion.

Take a look at the back label of Zolo 2005 Malbec (click on the image to enlarge and catch the details). The snapshot plants you in the Mendoza terroir of this 100% Argentine Malbec. It's been aged for 14 months in new oaks, a tip-off to this wine's toasty flavors. In case you missed that clue, the description of the wine's aromas spells it out for you. Read on and you can picture the wine's deep color and imagine how your first sip will taste and feel.

Fans of this silky smooth and totally delicious Malbec know these wine words are accurate. The proof is in the tasting and, truth is, you can't know for sure until you pop the cork. Even so, if you enjoy this flavor profile, the label may help land this wine in your shopping basket. We snagged one of the last bottles at LA Wine Company for $15, a total steal for such a big, balanced wine.

Another type of helpful label tells you when and how to drink what's in the bottle. We saw this label on the back of an Austrian red wine at Johannes in Palm Springs.

At a glance, the three-panel graphic tells you the wine's ideal serving temperature of 18º C (64º F), how long to decant it (2 to 4 hours) and perhaps best of all, when this wine should be ready to drink (from 2006 to 2010). No subjective flavor descriptors here, just the facts. Very helpful, indeed.

Other winemakers use the label to express a philosophy, often about winemaking itself. Here, a bottle of Petite Sirah from Trinitas describes the winemaking family's spiritual connection to their wines.

Three wines, three very different labels. Let us know about labels that make you want to drink their words. Or not.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cute Wine Labels, Pretty Bottles

Have you ever bought a wine because the label or the bottle was just plain irresistible? What about Antinori's white wine that came in a green, fish-shaped bottle complete with scales? We'll admit it if you will too.

Wine buyers aren't immune to clever marketing ploys. Fact is, some wine label designers are pretty savvy cats who work the label or bottle design as prime wine-selling real estate.

A label's design can raise or lower a wine's shelf-appeal, regardless of what's actually in the bottle. At their best, clever or beautiful labels can trump a wine's price barrier and trigger sales. A dull label on a terrific wine might cause shoppers unfamiliar with the wine's quality to bypass it in favor of one with a snazzier label. On the other hand, a label with fetching colors, captivating design or sex appeal can land the sale – after all, you might subconsciously figure, how can you not enjoy a wine whose label promises so much?

Lately, a couple of messages-in-a-bottle worked their subliminal magic on us. We were hooked by one look at the label of Mad Housewife 2007 Chardonnay. What better bottle could we bring to girlfriends' weekend on Balboa? Or, as the winery asks on its Web site, What's Domestic Bliss Without a Little Wine?

In the glass, Mad Housewife was drinkable but hardly complex. Fruity flavors of apples and pears were mixed with a moderate amount of oakiness. With only a $4 price-tag, the goofy front and back labels alone gave us our monies worth in pleasure.

More recently, we couldn't resist a Languedoc wine in a pretty green bottle. Made from the obscure Picpoul grape, the 2008 Coteaux du Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet takes root from fruit grown in clay and limestone soils known for producing light white wines that pair well with the region's marine-based cuisine. Of course, we didn't know any of that when we saw Pretty Green Bottle that hot day. Instead, it had the come-hither look of a thirst-quencher. At around $9 at LA Wine Company and with Patrick's endorsement, we took the chance.

This time, what was inside the bottle mattered. The 100% Picpoul delivered clean flavors of juicy apple and green melon with refreshing acidity and enough complexity to keep our interest. Choose it as an aperitif or enjoy it with light summer fare or shellfish. At 12.5% alcohol, you'll stay cool through the dog days of August.

What pretty bottles or cool labels have you come across this summer? Did the wine deliver or was it just a pretty face? Either way, we hope it was fun.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rutherford Rocks The River

Our August 28th Night at the River event at Piero's Acqua Pazza is nearly sold-out already, which is great news for our charity, S.O.S. (Soldiers' Organized Services), Piero's and B Cellars, our featured winery.

Napa's B Cellars wines are known for combining different grape varieties to create their signature blends. Winemakers compose B Cellars' varietal wines with juice from vineyards around the Napa Valley Appellation. You'll find them tastefully balanced and intriguing palate-pleasers.

Among the Killer Bs we're slated to sip is the 2006 George III Cabernet. This limited-production Cab is sourced from a Rutherford Bench vineyard plot originally planted by George de Latour III, founder of Beaulieu Vineyards (BV), in 1933.

The low-elevation Rutherford AVA is characterized by gravelly and loamy earth where grapes grow in alluvial soils between Napa's two main mountain ranges. Intense summer sunlight allows steady ripening of the fruit followed by brisk cool-downs as temperatures begin falling soon after sunset. This distinctive terroir has made the Rutherford site known throughout the world as Cab Central.

None other than André Tchelistcheff, one of the fathers of California wine, recognized the beauty and power of the region to make great Cabernet, which he nicknamed Rutherford Dust. We can't wait to start rolling in it.

Also on deck on the 28th are two blends. The 2007 Blend 23 of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier is artful, complex and refreshing. We think you'll enjoy its luscious mouthfeel and unique flavor profile of white peaches, mineral and fresh citrus.

Go pazza with your first sip of 2005 Blend 24 as you smell and taste Italy in your glass. This Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and a smidge of Petite Sirah wowed us a few months back at the Friends of James Beard Benefit dinner at Spencer's.

Finally, you'll be juiced by B Cellars 2006 Petite Sirah. We're expecting a big-on mouthful of dark fruit, perhaps with hints of mocha or mint. Piero's is serving it with their flourless triple chocolate cake, which means the wine should deliver broad-shouldered heft to sail from glass to fork and back.

Topping it all off, B Cellars has special offers in store for us, along with our usual WinewomenPSP festivities. Grab one of the few remaining reservations today by calling Kathleen at 760.799.7076 or you'll be eating, rather than tasting, Rutherford Dust.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chef Nicolas

We were very saddened to read about the passing of Chef Nicolas Klontz in today's Desert Sun. Together with his wife and partner Mindy, Chef Nicolas created masterful food and wine experiences at Zin American Bistro in Palm Springs. Chef Nicolas' passion and flair for food found expression in the spirit of the dishes he served, which Mindy always honored with her amazing and exotic wine service.

We logged a few unforgettable dining experiences here and on our Web site. One special treat was the night our band of locals brought out-of-town guests and one high-palate child there for dinner. Determined to taste our way through as much of the tantalizing menu as we could, we all ordered different appetizers, entrees and desserts so everyone could try each dish – every bite delivered deliciousness, with not a mediocre morsel passing anyone's lips.

Another evening, we were surprised when Chef Nicolas sat down at our table to grab some late-night dinner for himself. Thinking perhaps we'd lingered too long, Chef Nicolas instead put us at ease by rattling off funny stories over more wine and fantastic food late into the night.

Tomorrow night's memorial service will be held at Zin from 5 to 7 PM. Stop by to honor a master chef, a terrific homme and to express your condolences to Mindy. Support this lovely lady with your continued patronage. Chef's spirit will live on in his food.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summer of Love

What's hotter than July in the desert? Nada, niente, zero baby. We gave July the kiss-off at That's Amore, our July event benefiting the Stroke Recovery Center. Our hosts at Amorè Ristorante Italiano served a top-notch dinner for nearly sixty Winewomen (and a few brave men) as seamlessly as a cooked-to-perfection dinner for two.

Phil Molnar chose four outstanding wines from Creative Wines International's boutique portfolio. We eased in with Sandholdt 2006 Pinot Grigio from the Central Coast. Its soft nose and medium body paired well with appetizers of baby spinach and mozzarella caprese. Next, Godwin 2006 "Floral Clone" Russian River Chardonnay proved a perfect pairing with Tuscan rigatoni served in bianco with sausage and white beans. Its gentle oak had us smiling and sipping as we lapped up pasta in white wine-butter sauce.

The two whites proved so popular, many of you stayed with them through the chicken marsala and mushroom main course. We hope you didn't miss another winner from Mettler, the family vineyard whose Zinfandel sent us over the top at April's Spring Fling at La Quinta Resort. This time it was their 2006 Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon – wow, Lodi is definitely on our wine map! The winery goes organic in 2010. Perhaps we'll try their Petite Sirah before then (many times, we hope).

Phil was a prince for rolling out a great finale: Mendelson 2000 Muscat Canelli dessert wine. Winemaker Richard Mendelson, who's also a lawyer and artist provoked this closing argument: Which dessert from Amorè's trio was the favorite? Our vote went to the Sicilian mini-cannoli with fresh ricotta stuffing and crisp pastry shells. There was love in the kitchen that night!

We learned Stroke Recovery Center dishes out the loving all year round with their menu of free services for clients living with the aftermath of stroke. Contact James Martinez and give these great folks your support so they can begin their good work where others leave off.

As though we weren't having enough fun, Amorè's Jerry Ring closed out the evening with an operatic Happy Birthday serenade to Margi in his rich baritone voice. She won't be forgetting that anytime soon – bravo, Jerry! We hope you won't forget to pick up some of these terrific wines at Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert. Give Dan a call at 760.674.0305 and ask for WinewomenPSP's special pricing, courtesy of Prince Phil. Grazie a tutti!

Since we believe you can never have enough summer love Italian-style, we have more in store for you on Friday, August 28th at Piero's Acqua Pazza at the River in Rancho Mirage. Don't miss this one – make your reservation today. Arrivederci!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wine and Health: It's For Real

This year's 5th International Wine & Heart Health Summit brought prominent scholars in the field from around the world to Walla Walla, Washington. Doctors, health professionals, winemakers and connoisseurs heard experts present laboratory research and human studies that point to the beneficial effects of responsible, moderate wine-drinking on the heart and other vital organs. We liked what we heard.

While there was heated debate about what might account for the variety of benefits observed - from improved vascular health, decreased death and mortality rates from heart disease and the somewhat unexpected benefits in liver health and diabetes, among others - wine's salutary effects appear convincing. To account for the phenomena, many researchers remain revved for resveratrol, a natural plant chemical substance found primarily in grape skins. Because grapes skins remain in contact with crushed red wine grape pulp in red wine-making, red wines have higher average concentrations of resveratrol than white or rosé wines. Other presenters discussed alcohol itself as the suspect agent not only in wine but in other beverages, too. Still others are convinced compounds known as polyphenols, such as procyanidins in red wines, account for the healthful effects observed.

We liked the attitude of Gary Figgins, founder of Leonetti Cellar, best of all: Just drink the wine. Or, we might add for those who don't or can't imbibe, enjoy a handful of red grapes or another food source of these phytonutrients such as dark chocolate, peanuts and certain berries.

Audience and speakers alike were honored by the presence of Serge Renaud, the University of Bordeaux professor and researcher whose life work illuminated not only the French Paradox but also the heart-healthy benefits of a Mediterranean dietary lifestyle.

Our medical appreciation for wine's effects on health has mushroomed since Morley Safer's first 60 Minutes broadcast about the French Paradox in 1991. As revealing as this conference was, the future holds many discoveries yet to be unveiled and debated. In the meantime, ladies, find your favorite daily five-ounce pour and guys, you can have two. Thems the breaks.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wine and Health

How should we view the latest news about red wine's potential health benefits - as myth or medicine? Once our WinewomenPSP correspondent takes the pulse of medical experts and researchers on this latest controversy, we'll report back to you.

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times devoted nearly its entire Health section to the questions and controversies surrounding red wine and resveratrol's suspected role in disease prevention to its anti-aging potential. You might get a kick out of their whatever-happened-to piece about the ultimate fate of anti-aging gurus, how long they lived and what did them in. (Hint: Jack LaLanne comes out on top.)

If you want to see where the hullabaloo about the French Paradox began, check out the three video installments of CBS News' 60 Minutes, from the first segment in 1991 to the latest dish on resveratrol's anti-aging powers this past January.

We'll give you the skinny in a few days. In the meantime, enjoy a glass of wine or a fistful of juicy red grapes. Salute!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wet & Wild: Surf's Up at Esmeralda

Boards and wetsuits weren't de rigeur for our June 26th Surf's Up bash at Renaissance Esmeralda's sleek CAVA restaurant, but that didn't keep a few lassies from pouring themselves into Neoprene-tight summer sheaths – all for the cause, of course. Yikes.

It was all good as we celebrated summer with a quartet of refreshing wines paired with Executive Chef Greg Picard's seafood extravaganza. In the barrel with Step into Liquid and Riding Giants on the flat screen, we feasted on sweet cracked crab, made-to-order seafood risotto, salads, sushi and a sumptuous array of hard-to-resist specialty dishes. Our June charity United Way never had it so good.

Four wines that not only paired well with seafood but also presented distinctly different choices whetted a wide range of tastes. Many started off with A to Z's Oregon Rosé made from 100% Sangiovese. Its fresh and strawberry-scented flavors with a bit of spice on the finish brought complexity to sheer refreshment and drinkability. We spotted a few rosé converts at first sip of this affordably wow wine.

Two whites netted Neptune's feast on their own terms. A Chilean Sauvignon Blanc by Montes, Leyda Vineyards gave Chef's ceviche a racy run with hints of lime, green papaya and bracing food-friendly acidity. Those who preferred a rounder, softer white with muted tropical fruit and sleek-textured medium body found a perfect palate-pleaser in Oregon's Pinot Blanc from Bethel Heights.

Red wine devotees heeded the call of King's Ridge Pinot Noir with its cheery color and clarity. The cherry-scented Oregon Pinot delivered a fruity-floral nose and easy-drinking versatility beyond fish to pork, chicken and lightly grilled veggies. We gave thumbs us to adventurists who bagged the one-wine approach and rode in on all four liquids. The quartet has been spotted at LA Wine Company and A to Z Rosé at Jensen's.

In the corner, a few bliss-seekers took advantage of chair massage by Spa Esmeralda's Carlos. If you haven't experienced a massage by Carlos, it's quite possible you haven't lived. Call 760.836.1265 to book your special WinewomenPSP spa offer, valid into December. Bring more Zen into your life during these rough and tumble times.

We hope Surf's Up under the stars turned you on to four fab wine choices for your next dinner party. Dump the red-with-meat-white-with-fish mantra and take off instead with fresh varietals and wines from exotic locales to rip into the pleasure zone. Tell us how you liked our quartet and Esmeralda's no-holds-barred seafood buffet. As the mercury climbs higher this summer, you'll catch us chilling at Spa Esmeralda and cooling down at CAVA's elegant poolside venue. Carlos, Patricia and the wet-noodle spa wizards are calling your name.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Vacation Wines

Wine memories are especially sweet when you discover a winner while on vacation. Once home you might hunt down that wine, relishing the chance to savor it once more and relive a special part of your vacation experience.

We discovered such a wine a few years back at the Ahwahnee, the historic hotel right smack in the middle of Yosemite Valley. Wanting something truly special and memorable after a great hike, we chose an exotic-sounding Petite Sirah by Jeff Runquist, a producer unknown to us at the time.

Runquist was winemaker at J. Lohr winery before setting out on his own. We shoulda known as their Cabernet Sauvignon has long been a favorite house wine.

Grapes for Runquist's varietal Sangiovese, Barbera and Z, the winery's flagship Zinfandel flourish in Amador County, the heart of Gold Rush country. Runquist also sources grapes for Pinot Noir from Carneros, Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles and Petite Sirah from an island in the Sacramento River delta.

We were hooked by the Petite's deep color, powerful aromatics and bold flavors bursting with smoky, rich black fruits. When we told our friends at LA Wine Company about our find, they told us how much they liked Runquist's Barbera. The hunt was on.

Since that Yosemite visit, we've tried many other Runquist wines — they don't disappoint. Wine critics share our enthusiasm, attested by the gold rush of medals racked up by their expanding wine portfolio. Runquist wines will always be special and worth seeking out anytime we venture into a wine shop with a deep collection of California gems. Can't wait to find their Primitivo.

On a visit to Yosemite last month, we were saddened to find no trace of Runquist's Petite Sirah on the Ahwahnee's wine list. Sure, we saw some great wines but not the powerhouse etched in our memories. As though in consolation, the wine list had progressive elements with descriptions of key varietals to help Yosemite's peripatetic diners pair wines to the majestic dining room's food. Progress, we suppose.

Let us know about wines you discover this summer on vacation. Will it be a racy Vermentino on a romantic terrace off the coast of Sardegna or an unlikely gem from your favorite So Cal getaway? Hold on to hope as you attempt to track down your finds – after all, we're in wine-happy California. You just might find that glorious wine in an unexpected place and revisit a special time with every sip.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bitten by Rattlesnake

With only one shot at week two of Palm Springs Restaurant Week, we bee-lined for a sure bet in great food and wine: Jimmy Schmidt's Rattlesnake.

Rattlesnake's Palm Desert location at the Classic Club just north of I-10 off Cook Street is central and convenient. It's just enough off the beaten path to have special, perhaps secret destination status. But Rattlesnake is too good, no, make that great to be kept secret.

First up, we were thrilled to discover that the two two-ounce tasting glasses of wine included with our dinner were from Heron, the winery featured at our February Winewomen event held at Rattlesnake. Apparently, restaurant sommelier Francois Cinq-Mars enjoyed Laely Heron's wines so much that evening, he decided to add them to the menu – pretty cool.

Schmidt's ambitious cuisine convinced our foursome to order different dishes and let tasting forks rule. Tines flew back and forth in testimony to the flavors, seasoning and textures of each course. One tablemate saw fit to give a mini-soliloquy to the bread basket and a few courses later, the coffee. Service, to no one's no surprise, was impeccable.

Cinq-Mars deserves kudos for the restaurant's wine list. Selections are grouped by grape types with each variety highlighted by a brief yet pithy description of the fruit, its wine flavors, body and other qualities to help diners choose and pair appropriately. He also calls attention to sub-categories of "interesting" wines – some are blends, others are wines made from less-familiar or exotic grapes.

The handpicked list is obviously chosen with care and quite fairly priced. We counted charmers as well as special bottles for splurge or landmark nights. In fact, we'd love to have just about every one in our cellar, they're that good.

Best of all, or so we heard, Rattlesnake will offer this special menu during the summer. We'll confirm when, how much and other details or call the restaurant at 760.601.3690. Order a few tasty treats at their wine bar or try Rattlesnake for lunch. Either way, even though you might think of it as your special hideaway, you won't be able to resist letting your friends in on this local treasure.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

So Goode: Petit Verdot

Murphy-Goode has been a hot news topic since the winery posted a $10,000-a-month job for a social media maven. Yesterday's Los Angeles Times carried a story about the Sonoma winery's six-month position that entails Tweeting, Twittering and cyber-networking about wine and, we presume, Murphy-Goode wines in particular.

Winemaker David Ready Jr. is serious about wine, though humor is part of the blend. Murphy-Goode's portfolio sounds like wild nights in Las Vegas with names like Liar's Dice and Snake Eyes (Zinfandel), Wild Card and All In (Claret). We enjoyed them on a visit to their tasting room in 2007. One Murphy-Goode wine stood out above the rest, uncut and named solely for its grape: Petit Verdot.

We decanted our last bottle of the Murphy Ranch 2002 vintage last month. On deck for dinner were steaks with perfect marbling that promised flavorful tenderness off the grill. The wine poured deep purple with aromas of black cherry and flowers. One sip delivered a full and luscious mouthful rich with chocolate, cherry and plum flavors. Bright acidity gave the wine a juicy texture and finish with subtle vanilla notes on a base of minerality. Age had softened the tannins, which added just the right amount of framing to the wine's structure. It's true, Goode comes to those who wait.

We're glad to see more single-varietal Petit Verdot wines at local wine shops. The grape's concentrated and exotic flavors suit adventurous palates or those who seek a break from Cabernet Sauvignon. In Bordeaux, the French use Petit Verdot primarily as a blending grape. New World vintners have succeeded in making concentrated and balanced Petit Verdot wine from grapes grown in drier, warmer climates that allow the fruit enough time to mature and develop the flavor density fans of the wine enjoy.

Look for Petit Verdot from Sonoma's Alexander Valley, Napa, upcoming Suisun Valley, Paso Robles, Washington's Columbia Valley and yes, Virginia. We made sure to stash away a couple bottles of 2004 vintage Murphy-Goode River Ranch Alexander Valley, just in case. Will it be as good as the 2002 Murphy Ranch? Check back in 2011.

Back to that Really Goode Job. We sent the job post to a journalist who'd lost many talented colleagues to cut-backs. Here's the response we received: So do they give you enough Petit Verdot at the end of six months so you won't realize you don't have a job anymore?

Sounds Goode to us.