Saturday, May 30, 2009

Palm Springs Restaurant Week

Palm Springs Restaurant Week kicks off this Sunday, May 31 through Tuesday, June 9 in Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage. East valley eateries will fete their fare during the second half of the 20-day event on Wednesday, June 10 through Friday, June 19 in Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta and Indio. In all, more than 100 participating area restaurants will offer special three-course $24 or $36 menus to entice their loyal fan base as well as diners eager to try new locales or cuisines at bargain prices.

We're going and hope you will too. Even though it's a food event, we cruised a few online wine lists to guide our picks. Our search left us wondering: When will wine service catch up with food service?

As with most restaurants nationwide, local wine lists group wines by traditional categories based on color, type, grape variety, region or country of origin. Only a handful of restaurants offer lists that engage customers to consider wines to match their dishes and preferred wine styles. These progressive wine lists offer diners intuitive, personalized ways to find wines they're apt to like by grouping wines according to flavors, texture and body.

Some restaurants use one-liners or tasting notes to cue diners in to a wine's flavor profile. We like these annotated wine lists too. In fact, we like anything that makes wine more approachable or that encourages diners to venture into new wine territories. Say you're a fan of Pinot Grigio. Chances are you'll also like a crisp Pinot Blanc from Oregon or perhaps Albarino from Spain. Do you prefer big, bold reds instead and default to Cabernet Sauvignon? Maybe it's time to discover the pleasures of a Washington State meritage, Spanish Rioja or a saucy Australian Shiraz.

Take a look at PF Chang's sample progressive wine list to see what we mean. Within each flavor profile category, lighter-bodied wines are listed first, then medium to fuller-bodied wines.

We discovered a cool listing designed by sommelier Kurt Kirschenman of Mistral, the restaurant at Loews Coronado Bay Resort during San Diego Restaurant Week. Last time we looked, Kirschenman listed region, appellation, vintage, producer, grape varietal(s), body, and for Chardonnays, level of oakiness. He may tweak his system some more, perhaps adding more flavor descriptors.

Copley's lists wines by types or varietals but adds a brief description to each one. Will you order your usual white wine or give an Alsatian Gewurztraminer listed as "a great foodie wine with flavors of lychee, rose petals and spice" a swirl instead? Casual Matchbox Vintage Pizza Bistro adds punchy tasting notes to their value-driven (and typo-laden) list of sparkling, red and white wines.

The list at Ace Hotel & Swim Club's Kings Highway & The Amigo Room shows how less can be more. Their eight whites are grouped as fresh, aromatic or earthy. The restaurant pegs ten reds into four categories: mild mannered and subtle, soft and fruity, fresh and spicy or powerful. Done.

If you'd rather flip through five pages of wines from ten Bordeaux appellations in search of 2000 Pomerol Chateau Petrus, Le Vallauris has your number (it's $10,500, btw). Eclectic tastes will find a bevy of wines listed at Zin American Bistro, where Mindy offers spot-on pairings. The 18-page list at Johannes caught our eye for its out-of-the-ordinary domestic selections as well as featured wines from Austria. Blaufränkisch, anyone?

Tell us about wine lists you like and why. We'll take a look at east valley wine lists next week. In the meantime, log onto Open Table and make your reservations.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Madrid Magic at Miramonte

WinewomenPSP spirited off to Spain last Thursday as Miramonte Resort and Spa transformed their new Grove Artisan Kitchen into a tapas wonderland.

Executive Chef Robert Nyerick directed traffic over the restaurant's display arena as platters piled high with ultrathin prosciutto, olives and savory salads flew by. With a shake and slam of their fryers, cooks turned out batches of piping hot empanadas. It was all fun to watch and even better to eat as the room pulsed with the energy and anticipation of Food Network's Kitchen Stadium. Would Iron Chef Emcee Alton Brown appear to recite stage-whisper commentary?

No, ladies, this was Madrid Magic. Chef Nyerick and his on-the-ball staff delivered a tapas feast that had us dishing over each tasty bite. Greeting us at the door were flutes of Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut sparkling wine. It was so good that we spotted a few champagne-snubbers going back for seconds.

Next, red or white sangria? It was tough to decide between the two house-made specialties so we opted to try both. Nyerick makes his red version with fresh orange, blood orange, lemon and lime juices blended with La Terre California Merlot and Spanish Rioja wines. He spices it up with splashes of triple sec and Spanish brandy before he swirls in ice and club soda with cinnamon sticks.

For his white sangria, Nyerick combines ruby red grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime juices with La Terre Chardonnay, cloves and ice finished with more Segura Viudas extra dry sparkling wine, a winner from one of Spain's artisan cavas.

Our table gave thumbs up to La Terre Chardonnay's fresh apple and pear flavors while others enjoyed La Terre Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Whatever your drinking or dining indulgence, all managed to save room for Chef's decadent chocolate dipping station – and resisted the urge to dive in head first.

Gracias, Chef Nyerick, Colby, guitarist Rafael Soto and the outstanding Miramonte staff! If you missed it, make your own magic at their Tapas Thursdays from 5-8 PM in the Vineyard Lounge.

Note to rosé fans: We found more A to Z Oregon Rosé at Jensen's in La Quinta and LA Wine Company in Palm Desert. Chill it and enjoy it all summer long.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Palm Desert Wine Tasting at Dan's

Five bucks doesn't get you much these days. So when Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert announced a six-wine tasting for $5 that included Mer Soleil, we were all in.

Dan's tastings are informal and friendly. Choose the 5-6 PM or 6-7 PM time slot and show up with your five-spot. Dan greets you with a wineglass, your passport to the wine bar in back. Chat up the wine rep or head into the wine room to compare notes with other wine lovers.

We got going with a blast of grapefruit refreshment delivered by Pomelo 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. Pomelo is the second line by Napa's Mason Cellars, one of our favorite California sauv blanc producers.

One taste pegged the gently-oaked and pear-scented Merryvale 2006 Starmont Chardonnay as a great dinner-party wine. Rounding out the whites was golden, buttery Mer Soleil 2006 Chardonnay from Monterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands. Lovers of creamy, full-bodied Chardonnay were in tropical fruit and vanilla-bean heaven. Winemaker Charlie Wagner II knows luxe wine – the Wagner family makes Caymus, Conundrum and Belle Glos Pinot Noir.

A few crackers readied us for the first of three red selections: Laetitia Estate 2007 Pinot Noir from Arroyo Grande Valley in San Luis Obispo County. The dark-fruit and bright acidity screamed out for food, and perhaps a bit of decanting.

We finished up with two powerhouses, Cline Ancient Vine 2007 Zinfandel and Layer Cake 2008 Shiraz. Cline's Contra Costa vines produce wines with spiced blackberry fruit and mocha flavors. It's a zin for Memorial Day barbecue.

Napa-based Layer Cake goes global to source grapes for their wines. Their Shiraz made from South Australia's Barossa Valley fruit delivers the Aussie fruit bomb with tobacco and spice. It'll taste even better with some time in the bottle.

Start your weekend off on the right foot the next time Dan hosts a Friday wine tasting. Call 760.674.0305 or e-mail him at to get on his mailing list. Find Dan's Wine Shop on a north-sided frontage road off Highway 111 west of San Pablo Avenue, across and just west of Jensen's. You'll not only discover great wines to suit your budget but you might also make a new friend or two. Cheers!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rosés for Mom

Mother's Day is as good a day as any to rediscover rosé. All pretty and pink in the glass, rosé adds a festive note to Mom's special day.

Swirl a bit of blush wine around and instantly rosé makes wine-drinking more fun. Happy vin rosé gives off a fruity-floral nose, perhaps with a hint of sweetness. On the palate, rosé explodes with clean tastes of vibrant, fresh fruit. No brooding allowed with these wines. Instead, you'll find blush wines bursting with bright red strawberry, cherry and raspberry flavors. Some rosés taste of chilled watermelon for added refreshment and juiciness. Want depth? Complex rosés offer earthiness, smoke or spice notes to herald a satisfying finish.

We fell in love with rosé all over again at our Winewomenpsp event at Ruth's Chris last October when we were introduced to Crios, the second label of Argentine wine maker Susana Balbo. Dinner came to a delectable close with a simply fresh dessert course of berries and cream paired to Crios Rosé of Malbec. We can still remember its delicate strawberry aromas and flavors laced by a touch of cinnamon on the finish.

When we ran out of Crios, we turned to French rosé and a change of pace from the Pacific Northwest. All are great buys at around $10 each.

Fans of frizzante will want to check out Château de Jau Côtes du Roussillon Villages Rosé 2007 at Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert. Tiny bubbles and lively acidity make this red berry-fruited rosé a spirited aperitif or accompaniment to appetizers and salads.

Head to Jennifer's Kitchen in Rancho Mirage for the Les Deux Rives Vignerons de la Méditerranée Corbières Rosé 2007. Made from Cinsault (15%), Syrah (35%) and Grenache (50%), this Western Languedoc rosé is a basket of berries with sturdy texture and a long finish.

For a dash of spice, look for A to Z Oregon Rosé 2007. This floral-scented rosé is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes grown in southern Oregon. A great food wine for chicken or fish, the A to Z delivers luscious strawberry-raspberry jam fruitiness goosed by a grind of nutmeg. BevMo's out right now but we'll track more down and let you know.

Get to know rosé this Mother's Day and enjoy its refreshment all summer long. Today, we'll raise rosé glasses in a toast to our mom Rose and wish her peace. Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ode to Oakville

The tasting season is underway. With a chance to catch Oakville Winegrowers' 2009 Taste of Oakville on its first Los Angeles stop at the Beverly Wilshire on May 1, only one question remained before we hit the road: Where's dinner?

Tastings offer a focused tasting room experience closer to home. They might be organized by region, brand or grape varietal. At their best, tastings can offer a master class in wine. Besides face time with the winemakers themselves, there's the chance to explore a grape's different expressions, whether in a single-varietal bottling or a blend.

Tiny Oakville lies at the heart of the Napa Valley appellation. The AVA or subappellation's two-mile stretch of wine country paradise is home to more than 60 wineries whose names are synonymous with top-flight Cabernet Sauvignon. Acre for acre, big-name producers Mondavi, Opus One, Far Niente and Joseph Phelps along with cult wineries such as Screaming Eagle, Rudd and Dalla Valle make Oakville one of the greatest Cab-producing clusters on earth.

Oakville Cabernets are soaked with minerality and lusty fruit that reflect the region's soil diversity. Between gravelly soils along the western end and volcanic earth eastward, Oakville produces fleshy and structured wines rich in dark fruit kicked up by layers of mint or eucalyptus, tobacco and cedar.

About half of the AVA's wineries were present, which meant we had our work cut out for us. Loathe to skip a single one, we tasted, spit (so sad) and refreshed our palate with dry bread. Stand-outs among the stand-out Cabs were 2005 Detert Family Vineyards, 2005 Bond St. Eden and Vecina in an east vs. west throw-down, silky and juicy 2005 Groth Reserve, aptly named 2005 Flora Springs Holy Smoke and 100% certified organic 2006 Ghost Block Oakville Estate. Special treats included 1997 Dalla Valle, 2005 Robert Mondavi Reserve To Kalon Vineyard and Miner Family Vineyards' 2006 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, juiced by 5% Cabernet Franc. For value Cab Sauv, we thoroughly enjoyed the 2005 Robert Mondavi Oakville District, which we've spotted at local wine outlets in the $25 range.

If you've been searching for the Promised Land in California Cabernet Sauvignon, set your sights on Oakville wines. Most will set you back a pretty penny and many are tough to find but oh, what a reward to those who seek them out. Happy tasting – can't be late for Mozza!