Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday Gifts: Best Wine Clubs

We posted holiday gifts ideas for the wine lovers in your life on our Facebook page today. They include a WinewomenPSP one-year membership that includes a fabulous custom-designed sterling silver and Swarovski crystal wine bottle necklace, gift certificates to our local wine merchants and gorgeous hand-painted wine aerators that bring taste and festive color to your holiday table.

If your wine lover is really special, you might treat him or her to a wine club membership. With wine clubs springing up all over, it can be hard to know where to begin. Here are a few ideas for wine clubs that deliver the goods – excellent and intriguing wines, from travels and tastings over the years.

Byron Wines
We have yet to taste a Byron wine we didn't love. The focused portfolio of this Santa Barbara County winery features a range of styles in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from a variety of vineyards. They also make a delicious Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. You can order only Pinot Noir or a mixed collection from their wine club. Either way, you'll get to know beautifully textured and balanced Byron wines. Club members also receive special invitations, which gives you another good reason to visit Los Olivos.

Byron Wines
Santa Maria Winery (805) 934-4770
Los Olivos Tasting Room (805) 938-7365

Oregon Pinot Noir Club
Former journalist and owner Bob Wolfe is an avowed PinotGuy and engaging wine writer. Wolfe makes it his business to uncover gems and values from Oregon's best Pinot Noir producers, big and small. OPNC offers two wine club tiers: World Class and Premium. Choose Premium and your summer shipments will automatically be held until the weather is cool enough for safe transport. OPNC also offers other types of Northwest wines from whites to exotic blends and special bottles from Burgundy. If you're serious about Pinot Noir, this your club.

Oregon Pinot Noir Club
(800) 847-4474

St. Supéry
Napa's family-owned St. Supéry has a remarkably broad portfolio, and it's all good. Their Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are two sure bets you can find at Vons and Albertsons. While they're both good and excellent values, they only hint at St. Supéry's quality reach. In fact, the limited edition 2006 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon drinks so well that you could enjoy it alone, or with a wedge of cheese. We didn't encounter a single ho-hummer among the many we tried at their Napa tasting room, from single-varietal whites to elegant white and red blends. They also make a juicy rosé and a fresh, light Moscato to end your holiday meal with a kiss of sweetness. The Wine Club offers discounts, special events and a choice of all red, white or one-and-one shipments. The Divine Club is for lovers of robust reds, and St. Supéry makes quite a few that are indeed, divine. Ask about their new Case Club with special discounts on case purchases.

St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery
(866) 963-4535

Other wineries with clubs that tap into terrific portfolios are Andrew Rich, Beringer and Maryhill. Do you have a favorite wine club we should know? Tell us what makes them special and we might include them in another post.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Winning Washington Wines

The Discover Washington cover stories in this month's Wine Spectator are definitely worth a read. We had that distinct pleasure last year, as we tasted our way through nearly 100 Northwest wines. The occasion was the first Renaud Society wine competition, held in conjunction with the 5th International Wine and Heart Health Summit in Walla Walla that you read about here.

At the 2009 competition, the Renaud Society – an international organization of medical and wine professionals with an interest in better health and a passion for wine – awarded its best-in-show Tastevin to little-known Skylite Cellars for their 2006 Columbia Valley Reserve, a blend of Malbec, Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon.

This year's Renaud Society competition was a bit different. First, the venue had changed to Silverado Resort, in the heart of Napa Cab country. As before, the 2010 contest was held blind using the same 20-point scoring system as in Walla Walla, but with a different panel of judges that tasted their way through a new batch of wine entries. In the end, a surprise outcome carried a familiar ring: the winner of the best in show Renaud Society 2010 Tastevin was Skylite Cellars once again, this time for their 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Scoring a second coveted Renaud Society Tastevin recognizes talent at young Skylite Cellars, founded in 2003 by owners Tom and Cheryl Hodgins. To make Skylite's winning 2007 Reserve, winemaker Robert O. Smasne uses 100% Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from three Walla Walla vineyards.

Other Washington wines that landed top-ten scores for gold medal awards were four reds by Maryhill Winery. A Columbia Valley 2009 Gewürztraminer by Maryhill received the highest white wine score for a gold medal. Located along the northern bank of the Columbia River in the gorgeous Gorge region, Winepress NW named Maryhill Winery the 2009 Washington Winery of the Year.

Filling out the 2010 competition's top ten picks were red wines by Napa's Rocca Family Vineyards Grigsby Vineyard 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Syrah; 2006 M by Michael Mondavi Family Wines; and Lamborn Family Vineyards Howell Mountain 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Check out the full list of competition winners from 2009 and 2010 on the Renaud Society website.

As the nation's second-largest wine-producing state, Washington is producing terrific wines worth a pop. More than 30 different grape varieties are under vine with acreage dominated by its big four: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Riesling. Add to that Syrah, a variety that appears destined for signature status, much as Pinot Noir dominates Oregon's wineprint.

Find tips for your next visit to Washington wine country on our WinewomenPSP website, with updates coming soon. In the meantime, treat yourself to Washington wines. Many wines flagged by Wine Spectator are available at local outlets. Find wines by large producers Columbia Crest and Chateau St. Michelle at grocers and big-box stores. Wines by smaller wineries noted in Steiman's articles and those hailed by the Renaud Society can be found at valley wine shops, online at Avalon or from the wineries themselves.

Pick up the December 15th Spectator and start your own Washington wine discovery. Wines by Leonetti, Cayuse, Woodward Canyon, Tamarack Cellars, Pepperbridge, Buty, K Vintners, Abeja, Walla Walla Vintners and Otis Kenyon are just a few you won't want to miss. Give your 'buds a treat, Washington style.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cheers for Rosé Revolutionaries

Two Yarra Valley Aussies have declared the Rosé Revolution. Starting today, November 30, the last day of spring in the Southern Hemisphere, Leanne De Bortoli and Stephen Webber have summoned corks to pop worldwide to herald the inaugural Rosé Day.

De Bortoli and Webber want to see rosé take its place as a contender on the world's wine stage, even if rosé isn't quite as serious as many reds, whites, ports, and bubblies. Rather, these Rosé Revolutionaries seek to give rosé respect as dry tasty pinks with texture and finesse to satisfy any wine lover.

While international wine-makers have gravitated towards nuanced rosé production worthy of more refined enjoyment, many still perceive rosé as a one-dimensional, syrupy or candy-like beverage with an alcoholic kick. Blame the cotton-candy we ate as kids or little girls' pink clothing for cementing an association between pink and sweetness. Some rosé snobs point to White Zinfandel to explain their scorn. But the blush wines known as white zins today are produced differently from rosés, with a vastly different result.

The runaway success of White Zinfandel began in 1975 with a wine-making goof at Sutter Home. As told by Bob Trinchero, the mistake involved free-run juice bled off from red Zinfandel grapes. Instead of being fermented to dryness, uncooperative yeast "stuck" the fermentation process, yielding a wine with excess sugar content. Trinchero tasted that slightly pink, sweet wine and decided it was good and different enough to bottle. The rest is history. With a decision that unleashed a sugar-rush of sales, Sutter Home catapulted to success as the second largest independent family-owned winery in the country. In fact, fallout from the White Zinfandel success story is more worthy of praise than scorn. By popularizing Zinfandel in general, Sutter Home's triumph also helped reverse the decline of red Zinfandel viticulture and gave legions of wine newbies their first introduction to the world of wine.

Today's New World rosés look and taste much like their counterparts in the Old World, where the popularity of rosé has never wavered. From tony tourist towns of Provence to sleepy coastal fishing villages along the Mediterranean basin, rosé is a dependable partner for a bevy of fish dishes, fowl, lighter meats, vegetables, legumes, cheeses and dishes with figs or sweeter nuts such as pistachios. Pale or salmon-pink to the pour, these dry roses offer floral and fruity aromas with fresh strawberry to juicy watermelon flavors, often with a delicate streak of dried herbs or a hint of cinnamon spice or nutmeg on the finish.

However you're wired to think about pink, there's a fresh face to rosé that's chiseled, racy and sure to please. A sip of Domaine Tempier Bandol 2009 Rosé at Chez Panisse shows how savory-crisp, food-friendly and sophisticated rosé can be. Try other rosés made from Grenache, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc or Nebbiolo to discover textured and delicate roses or a lush fruit-bombshell worthy of a pop on a hot summer day. In order words, rosé has come calling and today's as good a day as any to take her on. Vive la Rosé Revolution!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend Wines

Ah, the flavors of a Thanksgiving meal. With tastes and textures that range from savory to sweet, delicate to heavy and herbaceous to creamy, it can be tough to find wine pairings that work.

We gave you a few tips last year and they still hold as general guides and specific wine recommendations. Here are a few more tips to help you through the holiday meal.

Two whites that work better with traditional Thanksgiving foods than go-to Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc are Pinot Gris and Riesling. Look to Oregon for Pinot Gris that are richer in style and body than Italian Pinot Grigio, made from the same grape. Most Northwest Pinot Gris have soft fruit and floral flavors with a light earthiness and plump body that pairs well with turkey and traditional Thanksgiving side dishes. Try Bethel Heights 2009 ($15 at LQ Wine on Washington, near the La Quinta Trader Joe's), Elk Cove and other reliable producers such as A to Z Wineworks, or California's tangent for a homegrown taste of Alsace style.

Riesling is another white that can carry the Thanksgiving meal. Two German Rieslings that finish dry and have the added bonus of low-alcohol content are Mönchhof Mosel Slate 2009 Riesling Spätlese ($16 at LA Wine Company) and, for closer to $10, Dr. L Riesling by Loosen Bros. in the gorgeous sleek teal bottle (Dan's Wine Shop, Trader Joe's and grocers). Both are screw-cap and go down smooth and easy. Flavors of stone fruit, green apple and lime work well with turkey while both have just enough kick and slatey earth to pair with more exotic holiday spices. If you haven't tried too many Rieslings - or if you think all Rieslings are sweet - here's your chance to discover why this varietal is so food-friendly and a chef favorite.

Rosé is another wine that stands up to holiday fare. Rosés made from Cabernet Sauvignon can be a tad tannic for turkey so look for Provençal and other French styles, or American rosé made from Pinot Noir or Sangiovese. Plus, rosé delivers the biggest bang for your holiday buck, especially if you have lots of hungry, thirsty mouths to satisfy. Look to sunny Spain for the dry 2009 Márques de Cáceres ($7 at Trader Joe's) or 2009 Borsao (also $7 at LA Wine Company). Ask local wine merchants about their favorite rosés from Oregon, France and California producers such as Frog's Leap and Belle Glos. Chances are you won't go wrong with rosé.

If only red will do, Pinot Noir fits the bill. Low in tannin and medium in body, Pinot Noir has bright cherry flavors, floral and baked spice aromas and the mouthfeel to pair beautifully with many traditional Thanksgiving foods. Splurge with a special bottle from Oregon (Shea, Domaine Serene, Adelsheim) or Elk Cove for quality at a gentler price. Our local wine merchants carry excellent Pinot Noirs – ask about their favorites. We love California's cool-climate gems Millworks for value and reliable, delicious Byron. BTW, Byron's Pinot Blanc also makes a good Thanksgiving pick.

Another red alternative is Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais. Unless you're feeding a group of guzzlers, spend a couple dollars more for the greater complexity and elegance of cru Beaujolais over fruitier Beaujolais Nouveau. Look for the quality designation cru on the label. And, while you're in the French section, many red or white Côtes-du-Rhône wines are worth a pop with holiday foods.

End your meal with a refreshing Moscato and let the skinny kids devour the rest of that pumpkin pie. Or bust open that bottle of port you haven't been sure about. Enjoy a dessert wine and walk away from your holiday table feeling lighter – and thankful for all we have in this beautiful country.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wine Down with Two November Events

Yes, it's official - season is here. Traffic, horns and more events than we can cram into our already-busy schedules. After the summer doldrums, we're sure you'll agree, it's all good!

Our WinewomenPSP Summerland wine dinner on Sunday, November 21 at Bellatrix Restaurant at the Classic Club promises to be another memorable event at that gorgeous venue. Bellatrix did such a great job for us last time, we heard you wanted to go back for more. Done! See the full list of wines from this Santa Barbara boutique winery and Chef's gorgeous menu here and make your reservations with Kathleen today by calling 760.799.7076. Come out in support of education and local scholarships for students attending Cal State San Bernardino's Palm Desert campus.

Kathleen and Kajon Media are bringing a fall version of the Coachella Wine Festival to Miramonte Resort and Spa this Thanksgiving weekend, too. Be done with that turkey and make your way to Miramonte for some real eating and libations at your choice of three events:

Saturday, Nov. 27: Summerland Winemaker Dinner with Etienne Terlinden; 6:30-9 PM on the romantic, outdoor Piazza Terrace ($85 by advance reservations only)

Saturday, Nov. 27: Just Desserts Soiree with boutique wines and desserts; 7-9 PM at the outdoor Mediterranean Lawn ($30 by advance purchase; $40 at the door)

Sunday, Nov. 28: Tulip Hill Winery Winemaker Lunch with Kristi Brown; 11 AM- 2 PM at the outdoor Piazza Terrace ($45 by advance reservations only)

Multi-event passes or tickets to individual events are available online on the Coachella Wine Festival website - click here.

It's heatin' up - see you there!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tivens is Tops at Winewomen and Song

We can't stop crowing about the magnifique Ahnfeldt wine dinner, your amazing support for Well in the Desert and the heart-stopping voice of Jessica Tivens. Our Winewomen and Song evening under the full moon at Miramonte on Friday was nothing short of magical. In case you weren't there, here's what you missed.

First off, thanks to Randy Hazard for five awesome Ahnfeldt wines and Chef Robert Nyerick for a beautiful fall dinner anchored by ol' reliable filet mignon and lobster, both tender and letter perfect – which, for more than a hundred hungry guests that included quite of few VIPs, is not an easy thing to do.

As for all of you who came out to support Well in the Desert, the West Valley's safety net for the working poor and homeless – a giant thank you. God bless Arlene Rosenthal (pictured, to Jessica's right) and the Well staff for the incredible job they do for so many on a shoestring budget. You are true humanitarians.

Lola Rossi Meza sang a fitting People – a daring enough feat in itself – to recognize and honor Arlene and the stellar Well supporters and staff. With barely any prep or notice, accompanist Gale Enger was, as always, right on it. He is the consummate piano pro.

After the festivities, foods and wines, Jessica Tivens took to the stage to give the massive full moon a run for its money. Her vocal dexterity and poise ran a gamut of styles from Sondheim to Andrew Lloyd Webber, Massenet and contemporary Broadway tunes with gusto and humor, always hitting her notes. With stage presence, youthful grace and humor, Jessica lifted the evening to another orbit of sheer musical delight. Listen to her accompany pianist and producer Mike Garson here on Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which she absolutely must perform next time as an encore.

As much as we're dying to tell you about our next event at Bellatrix on November 21 in support of local scholarships to Cal State San Bernardino's Palm Desert Campus (and yes, you can start calling Kathleen at 760.799.7076 to reserve), we want to bask in the glow of Tivens' voice and the magic that was Winewomen and Song at Miramonte on Friday. More November event news coming soon.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

WinewomenPSP Hit Back-to-Back Homers

What a week it's been! WinewomenPSP hit it out of the park in support of two outstanding organizations, first with Women Leaders Forum annual leadership conference on Thursday, October 21 and again last night with our Winewomen and Song Ahnfeldt wine dinner at Miramonte benefiting Well in the Desert.

WLF's L.E.A.D. conference was a huge success attended by more than 200 women (and a couple very brave men). After a provocative keynote address by Jet Propulsion Laboratory's super-scientist Dr. Cinzia Zuffada, we headed to intimate breakout dinner panel sessions. And the crowd went wild!

Besides praise for Renaissance Esmeralda Banquet Chef Brian Perry and Pastry Chef Sefika, attendees found L.E.A.D. panelists inspirational to the nines. Panelists shared their knowledge with generosity and grace, giving each breakout audience tips and actionable guidelines to leadership and success.

Here are some of the comments we heard afterwards: The Literary panel got me so jazzed, I couldn't wait to get home to start writing againLifestyle and Wellness panelists gave me plenty of food for thoughtWow, I'll never forget the amazing women on your Philanthropy panelWhere did you find those sharp women on the Business and Entrepreneurship panel?! What a terrific format for everyone – please do this again next year!

Thank you to all the Winewomen who participated in that stellar event! Tell us more on this blog and our WinewomenPSP Facebook page.

Next, we'll tell you about last night's Winewomen and Song event that featured Jessica Tivens' magical voice, an exquisite Ahnfeldt wine dinner and your lovely smiling faces bathed in moonlight. What a night it was!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Showtime! Winewomen and Song This Friday

Our Ahnfeldt wine dinner on Friday, October 22 is sure to hit the high notes. Between the vocal performance of classical songstress Jessica Tivens with Gale Enger at the piano, wines that include two reds from Napa's excellent 2005 vintage, Chef Nyerick's cuisine, a gorgeous outdoor venue at Miramonte and the incredible charity that is Well in the Desert, you are in for a monstrous treat.

Tivens has covered a lot of sheet music in her twenty-something years. The precocious talent made her debut on TV's Star Search when she was only eight years old. Later, she trained at New York's legendary Julliard School of Music, followed by her professional operatic debut in 1999 and an appearance at Carnegie Hall only a year after that – how tough is that in Noo Yawk? Lemme tell ya.

Besides performing for dignitaries Rudy Giuliani and the Clintons, Jessica has also shared the concert stage with Josh Groban, Davis Gaines and Michael Crawford. Listen to this lady rattle the rafters on her website – yowza!

As though all this weren't enough for one night, our Winewomen and Song event features Nyerick's gorgeous fall menu wine dinner and five pairings with Napa Valley's Ahnfeldt wines.

Start with passed appetizers and Ahnfeldt 2005 Cuvee at 6 PM and be humming your way home by 9:30 PM. The dinner includes Ahnfeldt's 2009 Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay as well as two 2005 vintage beauties: Ahnfedlt Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Estate Merlot.

Weather permitting, Tivens' performance and our wine dinner should unfold under the stars at Miramonte's romantic Mediterranean Lawn. Proceeds will benefit Well in the Desert, a charity dedicated to food assistance, programs and services that focus on poverty prevention and intervention.

Make your just-in-time reservations today! Tickets are $75 for WinewomenPSP members and $85 for nonmembers.

See the entire four-course dinner menu and event schedule online and ring K at 760.799.7076 con brio. See you there!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Two Faves Back in Stock at Dan's

Two wines we like are back in stock at Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert. Both deliver plenty of delicious fruit with grace, complexity and a refreshing mineral streak. Better yet, both are easy on the wallet and great with a variety of foods.

Dr L Riesling by Loosen Brothers is from Germany's steep and slaty Mosel region. Its lively kick of ripe mango and apricot fruit is tempered by juicy lime freshness. Between the screw cap and low 8.5% alcohol, you and your guests might never get to the red wine. This versatile wine goes with a variety of foods from tangy appetizers, Asian cuisine, pork and lighter meat dishes.

The 2008 vintage in stock for $9.95 nailed spot #62 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year and was selected as a best value. Ripe and ready to drink now, you can also stock up and store this Old World winner to savor its crisp, clean pleasure over the next eight years.

Just one look at the ruby red color that gushes out into the glass from a bottle of Bodega Colomé 2008 Amalaya is enough to get a red wine lover's heart racing. This Malbec blend from the Calchaquí Valley of Argentina's northern Salta region boasts crushed red raspberry, fig and currants with a sweet smokiness lifted by a bright mineral streak.

Balancing out the 75% Malbec is 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Syrah and 5% Tannat. Soft tannins and a juicy, lush mouthfeel make this red blend a great pairing for meatier pizzas and stews, lamb, richer preparations of chicken, pork, burgers and other beef dishes such as flank steak. If you like it as much as we do, you may want to snatch a few extra bottles to keep on hand as it's sure to get even better over the next couple of years. We learned that sad lesson when we ran out of the 2007 Amalaya. Find it for $13.95 at Dan's or call to have him hold your winter supply at 760.674.0305.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Friday is Think Pink Day

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year, the Renaissance Esmeralda supports awareness efforts with a series of events in and around the Indian Wells resort on Friday, October 8. Net proceeds from the day's activities benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, Inland Empire Affiliate and the Lucy Curci Cancer Center in Rancho Mirage.

Early risers can step to the Pink Power Walk at 7 to 9:30 AM. Sleepy-heads or sun-worshipers, dive into Pink in the Pool from 10 AM to 2 PM. Fashionistas, head to the Pink with Passion Fashion Show at STIR from 2 to 3:30 PM with a special exhibit of gorgeous pink sapphire jewelry.

Too busy for you? From 4 to 6 PM, choose instead to Rejuvenate in Pink at a private spa party. Or not busy enough? FM radio's Mix 100.5's Acoustic Lounge and Bradley Ryan kick it up from 6 to 8 PM with Five For Fighting, also at STIR.

Each event offers prizes and specials from continental breakfast, pink T-shirts and water bottles for the walkers to mini-facials and spa treatments, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for the Rejuvenators. Contact Jackie Diaz for tickets and information at 760.836.1286 or

Events carry separate admission tickets starting from $10. Make a day of it with event packages ($100) with or without a day room at Esmeralda ($250) or an overnight stay with a $25 resort credit ($500).

The silent auction that begins at 9 AM will include a fun wine experience donated by this Winewoman: A private guided tasting of five excellent pink wines for eight people. The winning bidder need only provide a venue. Private wine tastings are a cool way to thank or entertain business clients, friends or family. The five wines will include at least one lip-smacking pink sparkler meant to color your thinking about this amazing wine category.

Instead of the sweet stuff that gave pinks a bad rap, tasters will enjoy a refreshing range of international rosé, blush and pink sparkling wines. Wine boss brings everything – wines, glasses, tasting sheets and light, wine-friendly snacks. Guests get to relax, nibble, enjoy, taste and learn. We promise you'll rethink pink.

Come on out tomorrow, and bring a sister, mom and friends. Take in as many activities as you can, meet some great people and bid on cool auction items to help these great causes.

Ribbon art copyrighted by Bobbie Peachey.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Winewomen, Song and Ahnfeldt Wines

To close out California wine month, we want to tip our hats to a small Napa Valley winery you'll have the chance to get to know better next month – Ahnfeldt Wines.

Plan to join us as we reprise Winewomen & Song with a special Ahnfeldt wine dinner on Friday, October 22 at Miramonte Resort and Spa. Our last Winewomen & Song was such a magical evening under the stars at Miramonte's Mediterranean lawn that we were driven to do it again!

This time, we're honored to showcase talented vocalist Jessica Tivens and her accompanist, the ever-charming Gale Enger. Chef Nyerick has composed a gorgeous menu to pair with five Ahnfeldt wines.

Napa's Ahnfeldt has been turning out 90+ point winners, a laudable feat for a winery that only began in 2002. Crushing this successful run is enologist and winemaker Craig MacLean who put his talents to work at Markham Vineyards, Cain Cellars and Spring Mountain Vineyard. MacLean's handcrafted wines for Ahnfeldt are made only from grapes harvested from Ahnfeldt vineyards. They show beautiful fruit while offering refinement and complexity.

Check out the amazing lineup here along with the menu and festivities. Not only are you are in for a treat, but you'll also support Well in the Desert, the west valley charity that provides services to seniors and the working poor, homeless and disabled.

Bring a light evening wrap or someone special to keep you warm. Call Kathleen today to reserve at 760.799.7076 and you'll soon be singing Ahnfeldt's praises too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

September is California Wine Month

Pop a few corks this month in celebration of California Wine Month. For the sixth September in a row, the Golden State raises its collective glass to recognize the people and businesses behind the California wine industry, which accounts for 90% of all U.S. wine production and 330,000 jobs in California alone. Nationwide, the Wine Institute estimates that California wine supports 820,000 jobs.

That's a lot of people – and a lot of wine. California is the fourth-leading producer of wine worldwide, home to 3,000 bonded wineries and 4,600 grape growers. Led by quality, innovation and more than 110 different varieties of winegrapes grown around the state, California wines attract legions of wine and culinary tourists. Each year, California wine regions host an estimated 21 million visitors. What makes these numbers even more amazing is that vineyards cover less than 1% of California terrain yet ring up $17.9 billion in retail wine sales.

Events are planned all around our beautiful state – tastings, festivals, in-store specials, wine-themed restaurant events, classes, lectures, wine camps and much more. Find an event that suits your schedule and interests here and more happenings here.

We'll be celebrating two California wines at our Saturday, September 25 Hat's Off Luncheon and membership drive at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in support of Angel Light Academy. Make your reservation by this Wednesday, September 22 to join us from 11:30 AM to 2 PM. See full event details, menu and wines here. Call Kathleen at 760.799.7076 to prepay and reserve your spots. Wine pairings will include two winners from Paso Robles: An intriguing blend of Chenin Blanc and Riesling from Gravity Hills and the highly acclaimed Four Vines "The Biker" Zinfandel.

Start making your plans by visiting these sites for more information about travel to nearby California wine regions – salute!

Santa Barbara

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Follow Us to L.E.A.D.

Today is the last day to lock in the early-bird registration fee of $75 for Women Leaders Forum Thursday, October 21 L.E.A.D. event. So what are you waiting for? Get busy and register here right now for what promises to be the year's most talked-about women's event.

WinewomenPSP connects with other leading Coachella Valley women organizations in support of L.E.A.D. – Learn, Educate, Aspire, Demonstrate. The 4:30 – 9 PM event will be held at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa in Indian Wells. After today, registration for the full event, including dinner, is $85. Admission to opening cocktail reception and keynote address only is $40.

The evening leadership conference begins with a cocktail reception followed by a keynote address by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Dr. Cinzia Zuffada, who will address leadership in science.

Following Dr. Zuffada's talk, attendees will proceed to their choice among five breakout dinner panel sessions. Each moderated panel track will feature accomplished women in Lifestyle and Wellness, Business, Sports and Entertainment, Literary and Philanthropy fields. Esteemed panelists scheduled to appear include iconic fashion model and businesswoman Beverly Johnson, motorsports sportscaster Kay Presto, award-winning film producer Gita Pullapilly, Mars exploration engineering manager Nagin Cox, major league sports executive and sports marketing maven Joann Klonowski, critically acclaimed author Deanne Stillman, and other remarkable women.

Register now to stake your claim on the panel track of your choice!

For only $50 more, you can elect to sponsor a Young Woman Ambassador to attend the L.E.A.D. event. This WLF youth program is open to sophomore, junior and senior women attending Coachella Valley high schools. Help support these energetic and inspirational young ladies who seek to Learn, Educate themselves and others, Aspire to higher goals and Demonstrate how to get it done!

Join other Winewomen as we team up with Women Leaders Forum and women valley-wide to L.E.A.D. on October 21 at the Esmeralda by signing up to attend today.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Windows on the World

For many New Yorkers, it's still tough to look downtown and not see them rising up towards the heavens. They were beautiful, those Twin Towers. Golden and gleaming like mirrors one minute; steely and silvery sleek as clouds passed by the next.

Some New Yorkers never got used to them and the giant footprint they left on the city's skyline. But we loved them. They were just too cool, so in-your-face New York, center of the universe.

We liked to shop and hang out there. A new neighborhood, Battery Park City, grew and grew up around the Towers. We'd spend amazing days along the Promenade where you could walk, jog, bike and roller-blade to your heart's content. Yes, in Manhattan. And each time we'd look up and see them looming there all proud and purposeful, we were filled with that same feeling – so happy to be alive, in that moment, in the greatest city in the world.

The dizzying elevator ride that took you up to Windows on the World was an adventure in itself. No amount of hype readied you for the bar, immodestly called The Greatest Bar on Earth, and absolutely nothing prepared you for the view that awaited you from the 107th floor.

Windows and the Trade Center held sweet memories. We'll never forget the day we treated the parents on their anniversary and watched their faces fill with amazement as they sat down to their glorious table with a view. Business dinners brought delicious food and unforgettable wine on nights when sky-high Windows helped make deals happen. Another night brought a first taste of Chateau Montelena. And there was best friend's excitement over her Windows wine course, an investment that repays her with regularity to this day. Down on the street, hip- and smart-looking men in dark navy suits took their strolls at lunchtime – as did an ocean of gorgeous go-getter women in impossible high heels.

It was another world, too beautiful perhaps for many of us to appreciate at the time. A peacetime world, at least for Americans on our native soil. Before Portraits of Grief haunted us, before bombings in places we couldn't find on a map, before everything turned not nice at all, maybe forever.

Tonight we'll enjoy our wine, our friends, each other's company and every breath and blessing we have. Just like those moments at Table 32, when the view from those windows on the world seemed so spectacularly majestic, endless and calm.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wine Spectator's Desert 411

Yes, we have a winner. In fact, the desert has fifteen winners. Wine Spectator's August 31, 2010 issue gives the 411 on 3,743 restaurants countrywide whose wine programs garnered the magazine's coveted Wine Spectator award. Of the local fifteen, only four are bona fide chain establishments, which leaves eleven true (or pretty darn close) desert originals.

See the run down below. Chime in with your comments based on your experiences at these fine establishments. Kudos to all and a huge THANK YOU to the owners, chefs, wait staff, hosts, media relations professionals, dishwashers and all supportive staff who help turn out great food for valley diners to enjoy alongside superb wines in our little desert corner of the culinary world.

Palm Desert

Chop House – Housed in the original Palm Desert location for Ruth's Chris, this remains a gorgeous room with comfy seating, friendly staff and kick-butt food with plenty of fantastic wine choices. 760.779.9888

Cuistot – Über-sommelier Fred Gerber helped bolster this French chateau dining experience to Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence, the only desert dining spot that earned a two-glass designation. 760.340.1000

Morton's, The Steakhouse – OK, so we haven't been. Shame on us. After all, they must be doing plenty right for the last three years during which all Morton's locations have won Wine Spectator awards. Now that's consistency. 760.340.6865

Pacifica Seafood Restaurant – We fell in love with their original Del Mar location and couldn't be happier to enjoy their seafood right here in land-locked Palm Desert. This September, managing partner Mitch Epstein unveils their re-modeled space. Wow, could it be even better? 760.674.8666

Ristorante Mamma Gina – Piero has the Midas touch. His lively happy hours have been some of the most jam-packed in town. Check out the Enoteca Wine bar, too. 760.568.9898

Ristorante Tuscany – Save on airfare by heading to this gorgeous room with high ceilings, murals and food that will have you cryin' for mamma. Enjoy their three- and four-course tasting menus to sample some intriguing wines. 760.341.2211

Ruth's Chris Steak House – Chef Hector Ramirez and Anita Owens-Decuir put together an incredible dinner for WinewomenPSP a couple of years back that featured Susana Balbo's wines from Argentina. We love them, and love this place. 760.779.1998

Sullivan's Steakhouse – We're not sure if it's those sexy stockings or just the fab food and wine that keeps this place packed to the gills, in and out of season. Belly up to the bar, taste some wine and find a new friend. 760.341.3560

Palm Springs

Chop House – Does Lee Morcus know what he's doing or what? How can you not love this place, between the food, wine, perfect Palm Canyon location and those misters on the patio? 760.320.4500

Circa 59
– This place is following the Riviera Resort and Spa's sky-high trajectory, unless of course, it's fueling the resort's cool quotient. Tell us how you like this Palm Springs hot spot. 760.327.8311

Europa – A romantic experience at the Villa Royale Inn, Europa is a treat locals should enjoy more often than just on special occasions. Keep this heavenly spot on your go-to list. 760.327.2314

Spencer's – Chef Eric Wadlund is one of the desert's culinary shining stars, straight outta Wisconsin. He's brought an entirely new and fresh-focused experience to this gorgeous restaurant right up against the mountain. Go. 760.327.3446

Zin – Not sure why Zin didn't get Spectator's green designation for its many value-price wines on its menu but please, take our word for it. Chef Nicholas may be gone but his spirit lives on in the fantastic food, LA-ambience and Mindy's extraordinary wine selections. 760.322.6300

La Quinta

Arnold Palmer's
– Plenty of tourists and snowbirds love this place but locals would be hard pressed to find a more comfortable bar area to enjoy a perfectly cooked filet mignon and a great glass of wine, even when you're flying solo. 760.771.4653

Rancho Mirage

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
– What happens when you take one hundred wines by the glass and combine that with a total dining experience crafted by operating partner John Verhoef and chef partner David Edgell? Drop by to find out. 760.776.6685

What will 2011 bring? Let's hope a mention for Johannes, at least for their incredible selection of half-bottles, Sirocco for their Italian picks, PF Chang's for their progressive wine list and any other spots you want to tell us about. Get busy and make what New Yorkers make for dinner - a reservation!

Friday, August 13, 2010

O.C. Calling: Marché Moderne and Roman Cucina

How do you enjoy wine in triple-digit heat? Set the A/C to Siberia – or head to the beach.

When you travel to Orange County, don't miss the chance to quench your thirst for great wine coupled with outstanding food at Marché Moderne. Located on the third level of South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, the modern French bistro offers an intriguing selection of wines by the six-ounce glass or three-ounce taste. Take the by-the-glass option to savor as many dishes as you can from chef/owners Florent and Amelia Marneau’s menu.

Besides oysters, charcuterie, cheese plates and what they call “everything pickle,” the Marneaus offer special summer dishes from Santa Monica and Orange County farmers’ markets. Dive into the briny sweetness of Malpeque oysters, served with a traditional and ginger mignonette for starters. Opt for a classic pairing with Muscadet or go with Sancerre Vincent Delaporte, Chavignol 2008 from the Loire.

On a recent visit, the standout dish was a tagine of Merguez with two kinds of shrimp, chermoula, raisins, lemon confit, harissa, almonds, mint emulsion, dates and Ras el hanout, a blend of North African spices. The savory flavors paired beautifully with a refreshing rosé from Sardegna, Argiolas Serra Lori Isola dei Nuraghi Rosato, 2009. This cool refresher blends Cannonau, the Sard version of Grenache, with Carignano (Cariñan) and two Sardinian grapes, Monica and Bovale Sardo.

Other winners from the talented Marneau duo are their homemade duck terrine, shaved black summer truffle tart, octopus salad with Lomo ham and Moscovy duck leg confit.

The wait staff is knowledgeable and efficient. Ask for a comfy booth near the open kitchen or watch the fashion show go by at lunch from the patio. Despite its mall location (between Canali and Louis Vuitton, near Nordstrom's), Marché Moderne offers a cozy, metro atmosphere with cuisine on par with destination bistros in New York or San Francisco.

For a completely different experience, head to Roman Cucina in Sunset Beach. Popular with the surfer crowd as well as families, this casual Italian restaurant has expanded its menu to include pasta-less entrees for carbo-phobes. Just be sure someone at your table has the sense to order the special, always a winner. Start with calamari, perfectly crisped and tender. A forkful of pasta or sausage with marinara will bring back memories of Sunday dinner and nonna's gravy. We think we caught the telltale near-sweet creaminess and silky texture of Polly-O ricotta in their lasagne and other pasta dishes, too.

Besides Martini Mondays, Roman Cucina also offers Wine Wednesdays with no corkage fees and half-off wines at all four of their southland locations. Even though the food is always solid, the wine list could benefit from a few more selections. Our bottle of Planeta 2008 Cerasuolo, a blend of Sicilian grapes Nero d'Avola and Frappato, made a great pairing for red-sauced dishes we sampled.

Then there's the cannoli. This is one dessert worth saving room for, but rich enough for the table to share. The fresh, crisp shell is stuffed with a ricotta-based filling that could've come from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Gotta be that Polly-O.

If you can't make it to cooler climes this week, no sweat. Drop in at Palm Desert's new 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro from 5 to 10 PM for their three-course wine-pairing Sunday dinner for only $25. Menu and wines change weekly. The San Diego-based 3rd Corner is a great addition to the desert's food and wine scene, a cool refuge for a hot August week.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dare to Learn Wine: Daring Pairings by Evan Goldstein

Who hasn't felt confused or clueless about wine at times? For all who have, from beginners to the wine-savvy, Evan Goldstein has come to the rescue. With his new book, Daring Pairings: A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines with Recipes from His Favorite Chefs (University of California Press, 2010), Goldstein not only makes wines understandable, but he also makes learning about wine exciting and fun. The Master Sommelier takes on exotic and lesser-known varietals – seventeen white wines and nineteen reds, from Albariño to Xinomavro.

Goldstein begins Daring with a recap of major themes from Perfect Pairings, his 2006 book that tackled the world's six major red and white wines, dessert wines and how to partner them with food. His five keys to understanding wine – acidity, sweetness, tannin, oak and alcohol – go down easy, without wine geek-speak or laundry-list descriptors that render some wine writing tiresome.

Instead, Goldstein is funny, direct, passionate and oh, does he know and love food. He makes it easy to understand how sauces can be used to bridge wine choices or how flavors or textures created by special ingredients point to better wine matches. Consider, for example, how the earthiness of brown mushroom sauces scream out for terroir-driven, earthy wines while the creamy and lighter mushroom dishes seem to demand white wines, especially those with body and texture to match that of the 'shrooms. See? You can do this, too.

In short chapters devoted to each of the 36 wines, Goldstein gives an expert snapshot of the grape and its wines with pronunciation, other names, blends, flavors and where it grows. Adventure-seekers can use his handy category of similar sips to explore other wines they might also like. The author teases out different wine styles driven by choices vintners face – to age or not, use oak or not, make a single varietal wine or a blend. Next, Goldstein takes you right into the glass. Without a sip, readers gain a sense of that particular wine's tastes, textures and whether it might be right for them.

TMI? Readers can choose to read cover to cover or drop in on wines that interest them. Either way, Daring Pairings is sensibly smart, zippy and makes for fun learning, for beginners and sophisticated enthusiasts alike.

The book's food pairing discussions are nothing short of brilliant. Goldstein was blessed to have a lifelong mentor extraordinaire – mom Joyce, founder and chef of San Francisco's iconic Square One restaurant. Evan dishes about how to approach food pairings for each wine with helpful pointers that zero in on specific dishes, preparations or flavors likely to marry well with each wine as well as choices likely to fall flat. He also names wines worth seeking out in different price ranges.

Goldstein's wine wisdom and passion for good food come together in the book's bonus round: knockout recipes designed to pair with each wine by stellar chefs from around the world. Suzanne Goin from Lucques and A.O.C. in L.A. answers Goldstein's dare for a Carignan pairing with warm kabocha squash salad; Miami's Michelle Bernstein matches Argentina's signature white wine Torrontés to Peruvian seafood chowder; Napa Valley's Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustards Grill, Go Fish) marries Mourvèdre to barbecued turkey skewers while Charlie Trotter gets gamey with Gamay for Cornish game hen salad with shiitake mushroom vinaigrette. Foodies will especially enjoy chef comments and Goldstein's insights that follow each pairing recipe.

There's much more to love about this book. Goldstein closes with a list of reliable wine importers he likens to pre-purchase sommeliers whose selections can lead savvy consumers to better wine choices, even when faced with an unfamiliar wine or region. Full-page color photographs, a solid glossary and two indices (general info and recipes) will help readers locate pairing ideas or dishes to try for years to come.

For anyone serious about learning about wine, Goldstein's Pairings books are two great places to start. Cooks will be tempted by a treasure trove of ingredient insights and fantastic recipes to keep them coming back for seconds. If you're thirsting to boost your wine IQ without fear and at your own pace, dare yourself to step up to the plate with a Master, Daring Pairings and Perfect Pairings in tow.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

PS I Love You is for Wine Lovers

To screen lovers, PS I Love You was the name of a TV show or the 2007 movie with Hilary Swank. But to wine lovers, PS I Love You is the name of an advocacy group for a lesser-known red grape and its luscious, hedonistic wines – Petite Sirah.

This Tuesday, July 27th, Concannon Vineyard hosts the Eighth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium. It's sold out but you can catch Dr. Vino, Dan Berger and others chat about this intriguing grape and its wines by live stream beginning at 8:30 AM at

According to fourth-generation Livermore vintner John Concannon, his family has grown Petite Sirah since the early 1900s. As was customary in its Rhône homeland, California Petite Sirah was used as a blending grape – that is, until John's dad decided to bottle it as a varietal wine in 1961, a year that marked a new beginning for American Petite Sirah.

Despite its name, there's nothing petite or shy about this wine. Petite Sirah is big, dark and brooding. Inky in the glass, the purple-hued wine sends up a heady nose of ripe, dark fruit and a chewy, fuller-bodied mouthfeel loaded with black and blueberry flavors. Concannon's own 2007 Conservancy Petite Sirah is rich with tart boysenberry fruit that finishes with a lick of leathery tannins. Delicious now, it should continue to age well, as with many age-worthy examples of the varietal.

We've enjoyed exquisite New World examples of Petite Sirah since the thrill of that first taste of Lava Cap at the Four Seasons in Newport Beach many moons ago. Sink your teeth into Petites by Jaffurs, JC Cellars and Stag's Leap. We've found the latter on some desert wine lists. Look for it when you travel too. We'll forever remember the bottle of indescribable pleasure by Jeff Runquist we found in an unlikely setting, in Yosemite at the Ahwahnee.

Shake up your red wine drinking by uncorking a bottle of Petite Sirah. Put a couple of good bottles on hold for a few years for good measure, too. You'll find PS a great match for grilled meats, lamb roasts, rich sausage or chicken dishes, chocolates and many cheeses. In summer, try it with barbecue instead of Zinfandel; come winter, it might be your new favorite wine to pair with short ribs.

Have fun reading about the grape's curious history and the wines it makes on the website. Or, dial in to the live stream from the symposium this Tuesday. Even better, start giving PS a swirl. You might find yourself singing the same song, PS I Love You.

Disclosure: We received a bottle of the 2007 Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah as a sample.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

WinewomenPSP Raise the Roof

For WinewomenPSP and the charities we serve, there's no summer break. Chill out with us at events and activities true to our mission all summer long.

Lend a hand and join us Friday, July 23 as we help raise the roof for those served by Habitat for Humanity of the Coachella Valley. Our wine dinner event will take place at a venue that's new to our organization – Nick Faldo's Restaurant at Marriott Shadow Ridge in Palm Desert. Catch details on our WinewomenPSP website and the Desert Sun online here.

Read the amazing story of our local Habitat for Humanity® affiliate chapter here to discover how partner families contribute "sweat equity" to help build their homes and learn about home ownership.

Call Kathleen at 760.799.7076 to make your reservations today. Help us raise the roof for the next Coachella Valley family helped to help themselves by this great organization!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dan's Wine Shop Shakes, Rattles and Rolls

Yesterday's earthquake rattled through the desert a few minutes before the first shift was scheduled to arrive at Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert for two special tastings for WinewomenPSP and friends. Owner Dan Sullivan was relieved everyone and his shop escaped injury and grateful that the shaking stopped when it did. A couple more seconds and it might have been ugly.

Instead, the tremor seemed to create a chummier, more intimate tasting experience for all, perhaps because everyone was OK with no heebie-jeebies from aftershocks. Or was it because we figured if we were going down, at least we'd go down with some great wine? Whatever the reason, wine and warmth flowed.

With a cheery intro to each pour, Derek from Young's Market helped us feel at ease and eager for the rest of the lineup. Northeast Italy's Zenato 2008 Pinot Grigio gave us a great start. It's a crisp refresher with delicate green pear fruit, clean minerality and a light, lemony finish. For contrast, Ponzi 2009 Pinot Gris – a New World version of the same grape from Oregon – delivered a heftier mouthfeel with brighter fruit and a lingering finish. Growling tummy triggered pairing thoughts: Aperitif or whitefish for the first PG; heavier fish dishes, chicken or pork for the second.

Rustenberg Stellenbosch 2008 Chardonnay was a delightful surprise, especially to those new to South African wines. Medium-to-fuller bodied, it rocks the palate with rich melon, apple and pear flavors wrapped in toasty oak. Many tasters agreed with Wine Spectator's anointment as a smart-buy and 90-pointer.

Deloach Russian River Valley 2007 Pinot Noir kicked off a trio of reds. The terroir-driven and value-priced Pinot delivers a mouthful of earthy yet restrained plumy and blackberry-dark cherry fruit. Next, an Argentine that might benefit from a little more time in the bottle: Marraso 2008 Malbec with soft, jammy fruit and sweet smoke on the finish.

Dan and Derek picked a perfect closer: Incognito 2006 Red Blend, a luscious load of Lodi fruit. Dark and fragrant in the glass, this rogue rouge is a smooth blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Carignane, Tannat, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Grenache. Guests goaded by its supple taste or mysterious red masquerade bottle were loading up on this one too.

We heard raves and rants for each wine – you know, that taste thing. But the hands-down winner was a souvenir bottle many just had to have, even though it wasn't included in the tasting – Earthquake Petite Sirah, a wine that promises to "rock your world." We think we'll wait for our jitters to settle before we pop the cork on that one.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cool Cubes for The Fourth and Beyond

This July 4th weekend, we're giving a salute to two white wines in sleek octagonal packaging by Octavin Home Wine Bar. Soon after we found the Silver Birch New Zealand 2009 Sauvignon Blanc at the Palm Desert Albertson's off Washington, we received Monthaven Winery 2009 Central Coast Chardonnay as a sample. We tested them out for more than a month and even let them sit in our frig during a vacation break. To our surprise, the last drops we angled out of the spigot were as fresh and tasty as the first glasses we poured.

Both sport a sophisticated, luxe look but make no mistake – the eco-friendly packaging is more than just a pretty box. These cubes are functional too, with an octagonal shape that takes up less refrigerator real estate than square-boxed wines. Inside, an air-tight bladder protects wine from oxidation that makes fruit go bad and wine go flat. Neat freaks will like the easy-pour spigot that's also no-drip.

Now, when you want a splash of wine or hesitate to open a new bottle, you can instead pour a glass at a time for up to six weeks. The 3-liter capacity equals four standard 750-ml bottles or about 20 five-ounce pours. And the price is right. Based on a retail price around $25 (we found it for less at Albertson's), the per-bottle price for each Octavin package comes out to about $6 or less.

If you're looking for an easy Fourth sipper, Monthaven Chardonnay fits the bill. It's refreshing all by itself with ripe apple and subtle tropical fruit flavors. Juicy acidity makes this medium-bodied Chard a good match for grilled fish and white-sauced pasta dishes. You won't find much oak influence, buttery textures or blast of high-alcohol here, all of which can make some California Chardonnays tough to enjoy on hot, summer days.

We gave slight preference to Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc for its racier, light grassy and lime flavors. Also medium-bodied and lively, it will keep you cool by the pool and also pairs well with guacamole and chips, ceviche, light salads and simply grilled fish or chicken dishes.

Will either wine bowl you over with complex aromas or flavors? No, but they're not meant to either. Both are pleasant enough to make your Fourth celebration more festive or satisfy your desire for a glass of easy-drinking wine that's not going to demand a lot of attention or concentration.

We'll report back on the Octavin-packaged reds soon. From our experience with these two whites, our taste-testing window might stretch out until Labor Day. Let the backyard party-planning begin! Give these two a try over the long, hot summer and let us know what you think.

Monday, June 28, 2010

3rd Corner Wines: Winners, Wowsas

We dropped in on 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro's opening this past Friday for a quick wine tour. OMG.

First off, what a thrill to see the building that was once Palomino come back to life - especially the wood-fired oven that's now turning out tasty flatbreads and more.

As you see here, rows of wine bottles dominate the big interior space and are organized by country of origin. They're ready for your shopping pleasure at knock-down prices or, for only a $5 corkage fee, you can pick an off-the-shelf bottle to enjoy with your snack or full dinner. A bevy of well-priced choices abounds to accompany Goldilocks-style small, medium and large plates.

General Manager Marc Plummer's fondness for Tuscan wines shows through in 3rd Corner's selections in Brunello, Chianti and super-Tuscans. At this early stage, it's still a starter-pack but rest assured Plummer will soon expand the shop's vinfolio to include other Italian wine-growing regions.

California wines are well represented with popular choices such as single-format and magnums of Rombauer Chardonnay - rumored to be the desert's best selling restaurant white wine. Lovers of Napa reds can taste their way through BV 2006 Reserve Tapestry, Vine Cliff 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon and a smorgasbord of 2006 single-vineyard choices from Nickel and Nickel. Fans of Pacific Northwest wines will delight in the treasure trove of Oregon Pinot Noir and Northstar's 2006 Columbia Valley Merlot. Our hearts were pumping at the sight of Sonoma Coast's Flowers 2008 Pinot Noir as well.

Plummer also enjoys southern hemi wines and it shows in his selection of Aussie Shiraz, other red varietals from Down Under and their killer whites, including dry Riesling. We spotted a couple of favorite picks from Argentina - Tikal 2007 Patriota and Achaval Ferrer 2008 Malbec – and can't wait to pop a few corks of Santa Ema Amplus Cabernet Sauvignon.

Because 3rd Corner also serves food, you can buy and try wines that are usually destined for restaurants only. Could Cayuse be coming to Palm Desert? We can only dream!

Despite the main shop's stellar choices, you knew there had to be an elite wine room. Step inside to the scent of freshly cut wood to find the big guns: Sea Smoke, magnums of Chateau Montelena, Peter Michael, Rochioli, Richebourg, Ridge Monte Bello, Leonetti, Marcassin, Chateau Latour and other bottlings sure to make any occasion unforgettable - and sweeter still when someone else picks up the tab. Ouch.

Next, we'll set our sights on 3rd Corner's dining menu and report back soon. In the meantime, we'll be checking in on the Grand Del Mar, home to William Bradley's Addison and the resort's Amaya. Is the recession over yet?

3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro
73101 Highway 111 (just east of Hwy 74 intersection)
Palm Desert, CA 92260

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro - New Wine Kid on the Block Opens This Friday

Palm Desert welcomes a new wine kid on the block this Friday when 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro opens at 5 PM. At three times the size of 3rd Corner's Encinitas location, the Palm Desert shop is their biggest one yet. Come on out to give them their biggest welcome, too!

Located in the space first occupied by the popular Palomino at 73-101 Highway 111, 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro brings a totally new concept to desert wine enjoyment and dining. Diners can choose from a hefty range of domestic and international wines at rock-bottom retail prices between $5 to $500 per bottle. For only a $5 corkage fee, 3rd Corner will chill and serve your chosen wine for you to enjoy with your food and friends. Night owls will finally get their wish as 3rd Corner plans to be open nightly except Mondays until 1 AM.

Talented and energetic Chef Matt Smith is cooking up new dishes for the Palm Desert location, including various flatbreads from the wood-fired pizza oven and a baked brie dish served piping hot. Smith studied at Le Cordon Bleu in France and has worked at two of La Jolla's most venerable dining spots – La Valencia Hotel and Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar.

Dennis Fassett, wine buyer for 3rd Corner's Ocean Beach outpost, told WinewomenPSP that wine offerings at the new Palm Desert location will evolve as they tease out our desert wine palate preferences. Whereas European wines are ever-popular in Ocean Beach, the desert might skew domestic instead. Start sipping and let them know.

3rd Corner's formula sounds made for success: great food and wine with terrific service that doesn't break the bank. They'll also offer cocktails and plenty of wines by the glass in their full bar and comfy lounge area. If you've been looking for a welcoming spot in Palm Desert to hang out, try a new wine or catch a late bite to eat, this sounds like the place to be. Often.

What are you doing Friday night?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Virginia Viognier, Where Art Thou?

As vacation time approached, memories of East Coast seafood began to prime our palates for the sweet, succulent meat of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and the briny freshness of coastal oysters. Heaven.

We'd only need a few glasses of white wine to wash them all down – perhaps a Virginia Viognier or one of the other mid-Atlantic wines we'd only read about but never seen in area wine shops or on West Coast wine lists.

Eateries in the Washington, DC metro area made it easy for us to indulge our daily crab cravings, with occasional breaks for barbecue – North Carolina style, of course. Crab and 'cue were everywhere – homestyle at Dallas Airport's Cousins BBQ and Hampton, Virginia's County Grill or stylish and sophisticated at The Trellis Restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg, as dim sum at DC's Ping Pong, or ocean-fresh at Blue Point Provision Company on the water at the Hyatt Chesapeake Bay.

While we were happily vinified by the Rieslings, Grüner Veltliners and Torrontés we found along the way, we still thirsted for a taste of Virginia Viognier – or any regional wine, for that matter. We finally hit pay dirt at the D.C. Grand Hyatt Cure Bar and Bistro. Besides artisan cheese plates, savory charcuterie of Virginia hams and smoked duck breast and a signature Maryland blue crab pie, Cure offers wines by Virginia's White Hall (Pinot Grigio) and Barboursville vineyards (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon).

White Hall's refreshing Pinot Grigio had a tint of light bronze or grey. While enjoyable, its fragrant flavors and slight, pleasant sweetness were unlike most Pinot Grigio we'd had. We later learned the grape crush allows for a few hours of skin contact that gives the wine its faint color and added richness. Besides Pinot Gris grapes, White Hall's 2008 Pinot Grigio blend also includes Muscat, Riesling and Petit Manseng. The latter is an uncommon Vitis vinifera variety from France known for tropical fruit flavors akin to Viognier and an aromatic, high-acidity profile. It made a lively and tasteful pairing for our apps and crab pie.

It might take a bit of work but we hope you'll try a few interesting local wines this summer. Let us know what you find – we just might have to ship some Virginia Viognier westward, once the cooler fall weather arrives.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Summer and Sangiovese

Summer is a great time to reconnect with old friends. While catching up with transplanted New York buddies in Venice Beach, we stumbled upon another old friend: Pietra Santa Sangiovese.

We spotted the familiar label over lunch at Capri, a charming art-adorned restaurant on bustling Abbot Kinney Boulevard that keeps that Cal-Ital thing going on. Owner Alona has run the friendly, casual spot for more than 15 years. Her sincere perma-smile and warm welcome makes you wonder whether you've actually met her before, but no – it's just her way of making you feel completely at ease. Dig into her pappardelle alla Bolognese, risotto di funghi or cinghiale salsicce con polenta and you too will feel the love.

Back to wine – two years ago, a 2005 Pietra Santa Sangiovese left an imprint on our wine memory. Its gently oaked smooth Morello cherry fruit with earthy and anise undertones sent us back to LA Wine Company to clear out all that was left. We haven't seen it since. While the 2005 was an 80/20 blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2006 that graced Alona's tasting table is a 92/8 blend that's also a bit lower in alcohol at 14.7%. Perfect.

One sip immediately brought back that first taste two years ago. Alona, it turns out, is on a quest for good sangio as well. Her restaurant's all-Italian menu screams out for a juicy, food-friendly wine that's not overly oaked or too much of a fruit bomb. But making good Sangiovese has proved tough in the Golden State where it's given more than one Cal-Ital producer plenty of agita – Italian slang for grief. Though a feisty varietal to get right on this side of the Atlantic, we think you'll agree with old friends who gave this Cienega Valley effort a try: it's fantastic.

Pietra Santa's Tuscan-born winemaker Alessio Carli coaxes plenty of sangio goodness out of rocky limestone soils first planted to winegrapes by a Frenchman in the 1850s. The Web site for the family-run estate 25 miles from Monterey Bay shows a dreamy image of a massive stone-and-brick winery. Inside the 12,000-sq.-ft. Mission-style structure is an olive oil press room where gourmet oils are crafted from estate-harvested fruit. One taste of their wine and a look at the "sacred stone" building and surrounding vineyards might convince you to add Pietra Santa's Hollister tasting room to your next Central Coast sojourn. Olive oil tasting anyone?

For culinary pay dirt, visit Pietra Santa's Recipes and Pairings tab. Their shrimp risotto with Meyer lemon and truffle oil is a sure-fire dinner party knockout dish to set your guests swooning. Pair it with crisp, lemony Chateau St. Jean Fumé Blanc if you have no luck finding Pietra Santa's recommended Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio matches around town.

Or, just gas up the car and head over to Capri. Alona's smile, fab food, Pietra Santa – and perhaps old friends – await you.

1616 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Three 4 Three: Memorial Day Wines

Even though Mother Nature is blasting us with heat for Memorial Day, you'll stay cool over the weekend with this trio of festive wines.

Fans of aromatic wines can set their sniffers on 2008 Big House White. Romanian-born winemaker Georgetta Dane pulls off a quirky blend that includes über-fragrant Malvasia Bianca, Muscat Canelli and Viognier finished with a splash of Roussanne. The end result is 100% pleasure – a fruity "nose candy" wine with floral, melon-laced aromas that burst onto the palate with white peach and tropical fruit flavors. Find this screw-capped lip-smacker on sale at Albertson's for around $8.

If your grill will be sizzling with burgers and 'cue, say sí sí to Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec. Crios, the Argentine winemaker's second label, has given us plenty to crow about since our WinewomenPSP event at Ruth's Chris a couple of seasons ago. Her fresh-tasting rosé is dry and juicy with strawberry and watermelon flavors that linger on an end-note of cinnamon spice. Give it a chill for a no-brainer pairing with backyard fare. Head to Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert where you'll find it for just under $10. Score a couple extra bottles to serve your Thanksgiving guests next fall – yes, it's that good and versatile.

Gotta have red or expecting the party crowd? Go for Boho Vineyards 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel. Look for its octagonal-shaped packaging by Octavin Home Wine Bar at Albertson's. Each eco-friendly package holds three liters of wine, or the equivalent of four standard 750-ml bottles. A convenient pour spout makes it easy to serve a yardful of guests – or just yourself, one glass at a time for up to six weeks. It's soft, fruity and lower in alcohol than many Zins. We're sold on Octavin Home Wine Bar's Silver Birch 2009 Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, too. Stay tuned for more about this worthwhile portfolio.

So what are you waiting for? Unscrew, uncork or flip the lever this weekend and start sharing some holiday cheer!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Five Wine Tasting Party Wines

You've heard it at tastings and dinner parties – or perhaps you've said it yourself: I only drink red (white) wine or I don't like rosé. So when a few ladies came around to wines they never expected to enjoy at a wine tutorial last week, their newfound enthusiasm made everyone's wine discovery even sweeter.

Try these five wines plucked from wine shops and grocers around town for your next wine sampling with friends. All deliver pleasure, flavor and balance with enough variety to keep everyone in the game. Best of all, with prices that range from $5-15, they're also good house wines to enjoy from now into autumn.

Zolo Torrontés 2009: A dry, light white wine with orange blossom aromas, melon and citrus fruit flavors, medium acidity and a fresh finish. Made from Argentina's signature white wine grape, Torrontés is easy drinking by itself that also pairs well with springtime appetizers, crab, seafood and Asian dishes (around $9 at Cost Plus/World Market).

Domaine de la Mordorée Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé La Dame Rousse 2009: Score another win in the war for the rosés. This Grenache-based refresher is dry and juicy with raspberry fruit, a crisp finish and a hint of spice. Uncork with cold cuts, white meats, fried fish, salads, grilled shrimp or Thai food ($15 at LA Wine Company).

Becker Estate Pinot Noir 2007: This medium-bodied German Pinot is Old World in style with cherry and cranberry fruit around an earthy core and sweet smoke on a smooth finish. A different sort of crowd-pleaser for heavier seafood, poultry, pork and lighter beef dishes; screwcap ($15 at LA Wine Company).

Epicuro Nero d'Avola 2006: Epicuro's southern Italian reds are surprisingly good values. Made from Sicily's Nero d'Avola grape, this wine has aromas of dusty earth with blackberry, dark cherry and plum fruit on the palate, food-friendly acidity and soft tannins. At these prices, pick up Epicuro's Aglianico and Salice Salentino, too ($5 at Trader Joe's).

Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon 2007: A buck cheaper than the 2006 we liked so much last year, the '07 Cannonball delivers blackberry fruit, a hint of cocoa and a perky black peppery finish. It's easily one of the top value Cabs in town. Enjoy with beef and hearty meat dishes, short ribs, barbecue, heavier pasta or pizza dishes and hard cheeses ($10 at LA Wine Company).

Give them a try – or ask your favorite wine merchant for something similar – and let us know what you think. Cheers!