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