Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Patrick Comiskey

IACP cookbook and journalism awards finalists announced

Fairchild The award season is heating up. No, not those silly old Grammys and Oscars -- the ones that really mean something, the food awards.

The International Assn. of Culinary Professionals announced the finalists for its cookbook and journalism awards this week. Among those honored were local cookbook authors Barbara Fairchild and Amy Scattergood, and local journalists Patrick Comiskey and Jonathan Gold.

Scattergood is co-author with Kim Boyce of "Good to the Grain," and Fairchild, the former editor of Bon Appetit magazine, is the author of "Bon Appetit Desserts." Comiskey, a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times Food section, was nominated for a blog post on the Zester Daily website, and Gold was nominated for restaurant writing.

-- Russ Parsons

Photo: Barbara Fairchild. Credit: Ann Johansson / For The Times

Gifts for wine lovers: Wine books of 2009

To accomWine bookspany a story on wine gifts for the holidays that appeared in the Dec. 16 edition of the L.A. Times' Food Section, I’d like to recommend a few that don’t involve uncorking a thing: Just open and turn the page. This was a very good year for the printed word in wine, and having sifted through several heavy tomes, here are a few to consider in your holiday gift giving:

"Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology" by Randall Grahm (University of California Press: 318 pp., $34.95). Bonny Doon’s owner, winemaker and president for life started taking pen to page in the mid-'80s to promote his line of wines, then an obscure collection of Rhône varieties and little known selections from Italy and Spain. But Grahm’s literary gifts got the better of him: He remains one of the most prolific, voluminous and outrageous writing winemakers we have. His great gift is for parody, whether it’s of the works of James Joyce, J.D. Salinger, Basho or Coleridge, or the unnervingly faithful send-up of Dante called, appropriately, “The Vinferno.” Perhaps the most illuminating segments are the author’s annotations of his work, which reveal a thoughtful, self-critical, frank devotee of all things vinous.

"Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, 25th Anniversary Edition" by Kevin Zraly (Sterling Press: 224 pp., $27.95). The sommelier and educator has published updated versions of this groundbreaking tutorial for more than two decades, since converting notes for his staff at Windows on the World, in the World Trade Center. For the 25th edition, Zraly hit the road again and revisited more than 100 wine regions in a year, tasting more than 4,000 wines in the process. The result is his freshest take yet on the world of wine for novice and expert alike, in what remains one of the more comprehensive and inclusive instructional books we have.

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Six from California pass advanced sommelier exam, including Chad Zeigler of Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood

The Court of Master Sommeliers, the accrediting body for the nation’s sommeliers, announced that 11 students had passed their advanced exams, conducted at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Of the 11, six are from California: Yohannah Burmeister and Ian Burrows of Oakland, Garth Hodgdon of Sacramento, Jennifer Knowles of San Francisco, Rachael Lowe of Yountville and local talent Chad Zeigler, who serves on the floor at Gordon Ramsay in Hollywood. Lowe, sommelier at Bouchon in the Napa Valley, was awarded the prestigious Rudd Scholarship for her scores.

The five-day adIMG_0026vanced test is the penultimate hurdle on the road to achieving master sommelier status, and the last test before the diploma exam. With its emphasis on theory, service and blind tasting, many rate the advanced test the more difficult of the two, not only for its length but also because candidates are responsible for a much broader spectrum of knowledge, which is to say everything there is to know about wine, spirits and wine service. Advanced candidates are required to pass with a score of 60% correct or higher; for diploma candidates, the bar is raised to 75%. It is almost unheard of for any candidate to pass on a first attempt.

Zeigler says he started hitting the books about three months before the test began. He plastered the rooms of his apartment with wine region maps, read histories of whiskeys, tomes on Burgundy (an important wine region in France), on brew kettle contents (for beer and/or sake) and Botrytis (the fruit fungus responsible for ethereal dessert wines). His colleagues drilled him on how to open Champagne bottles and decant older Bordeaux. In off hours, he’d field pop quizzes by way of text messages from friends and colleagues ("Quick! Name the sub-regions of Barolo") until he felt proficient. “You’ve got to work at it in layers,” he says, “spend a week or two in every country, until it’s like breathing.”

As for the tasting itself ...

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Three decades of Napa with Freemark Abbey

Last Tuesday at Spago in Beverly Hills, Freemark Abbey winemaker Ted Edwards brought a few bottles down from Rutherford, Napa Valley, to uncork with a few sommeliers, ostensibly to show them that the winery has had some staying power.

And how. Edwards showed a pair of 1995 vintage single-vineyard Cabernets from Bosché and Sycamore, and a pair from the same vineyards from 1987. But the pièce de resistance was a bottle of Freemark Cab from 1969, the same bottling that was served blind at the tasting that changed the world of American wine – the Judgment of Paris, in 1976.

FA bottles Freemark Abbey was founded 70 years ago, when three Southern California businessmen, Charles Freeman, Markquand Foster and Albert "Abbey" Ahern, joined resources and concatenated their names to form the winery. For their first three decades, the wines were largely a local phenomenon, sold by San Francisco retailers and in restaurants until the late 1960s, when winemaker Jerry Luper’s stellar bottlings earned the winery a broader reputation for pure, limpid expressions of valley floor fruit, inflected with the firm distinctive earth note that came to be known as “Rutherford Dust.” Certainly Stephen Spurrier was sufficiently impressed to include the wine in his Paris Tasting in 1976, when California wines bested their French counterparts, stunning the wine world in the process.

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What's behind the clash of red wine and some fish?


Japanese scientists have figured out why eating seafood with red wine can leave an unpleasant aftertaste.

There's something behind that frequently discredited rule that only white wine goes with fish, the researchers say. The flavor clash is caused by naturally occurring iron in red wine, Takayuki Tamura and colleagues report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Now here's a tough job: The scientists had tasters -- all of them with wine-tasting experience -- try 38 red wines and 26 white wines while eating dried scallops. The wines came from several countries.

The tasters ate a bit of scallop, tasted some wine and evaluated the aftertaste on a scale of 1 to 4. The diners found the unpleasant aftertaste was more intense with wines that had a higher iron content, the researchers say. The amount of iron in the wine varied depending on variety, vintage and country of origin.

Read the scientists' report here.

Of course, plain dried scallops are no diner's dream, and how the fish is prepared is among other factors in pairing food and wine. Plain, fried, sauced, the herbs and spices used all play a role. In their book "Wine and Food Pairing," Tony DiDio and Amy Zavatto suggest red wine can work with tuna, cod, lobster and other seafoods.

For more detailed suggestions for figuring out the terrain, there's a book by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, "What to Drink With What You Eat," which The Times recommends.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Mike Farwell pours a glass at Noir Food and Wine in Pasadena. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times

David Lake, longtime Washington winemaker, dies at 66

David Lake, longtime winemaker at Columbia Winery in Washington state, died on Monday. He was 66; illness had forced Lake to step away from day-to-day winemaking duties at the winery in 2005.


He’ll be remembered as one of the pivotal wine figures of Washington state, a tireless innovator who never stopped exploring the viticultural possibilities of the Columbia Valley, his vast agricultural playground.

David Lake was born in Canada and worked in the wine trade in England, obtaining the ultimate credential, a Master of Wine, in 1975. His interest in wine took him to UC Davis, where he got his degree, and after a brief stint in Oregon, he came to Columbia Winery; his first Washington vintage was 1979. 

Lake was driven by constant experimentation in field studies, vineyard trials, and in the winery. He produced many groundbreaking bottlings, including Washington’s first vineyard designates, from Otis, Red Willow and Sagemoor vineyards; its first Pinot Gris and Cabernet Francs, and perhaps most significantly, its first Syrah. The Syrah came from Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, a cool site for Washington,Syrah at rw within sight of the Cascade Range, a place that reminded Lake of Hermitage in the Rhône Valley. With grower Mike Sauer he brought in cuttings and planted the vineyard in 1986; its first vintage was 1988. Syrah has gone on to become the state’s third-largest variety by volume, and arguably its most impressive red wine.

David Lake was as sweet-tempered, self-effacing and articulate a winemaker as I’ve known, a man raised with a quintessentially European palate who in his wines gave deference to balance, symmetry and exceptional food affinity. In truth Lake’s wines were always a bit like the man himself – poised, quiet, polished, possessing of a tranquil energy that was revealed through subtlety and nuance.

In later years, Lake’s wines and wine style seemed to fall out of step with the tastes of the general public, outstripped by wines of a flashier, more demonstrative style, with levels of alcohol and extract that flew in the face of his sensibilities. In my last tasting with him in 2004 he seemed to acknowledge to me, with a bit of resignation, that the wine world was passing him by, but that he was unable to be anyone but himself, a fact for which I’m grateful.

– Patrick Comiskey

Photo credit: Columbia Winery (above) and Patrick Comiskey

At Disney, Michael Jordan steps off the floor


Michael Jordan, master sommelier, longtime general manager of Disney’s Napa Rose restaurant and the architect of its award-winning wine program, is leaving the restaurant business. After 35 years in the industry as a chef, sommelier, restaurateur, manager and wine educator, after having held every appreciable position that a restaurant has to offer, including dishwasher, Jordan is stepping off the floor to start a wine company, called Word.

Jordan will be leaving one of the most comprehensive wine programs in California. Not only did he create its enviable wine list, he also developed a culture of wine at the Napa Rose and at Disney that flourished under his direction: In the nine years he was there, more than 400 staff members attended wine education classes and went on to take exams from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

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L.A. Wine Fest pours its heart out

The weather was kind for wine this weekend. For the Los Angeles Wine Fest, held at Hollywood’s Raleigh Studios, Saturday was touch and go with scudding clouds and canceled garage sales and cemetery film screenings all around. But Sunday the crowds were rewarded with the very sundress and straw fedora weather we’d been craving for nearly a week. With a glass in hand, it all looks so much better.

L.A. Wine Fest is in its fourth year; much more than the weather threatened the health of this year’s event. But the bad economic forecast hasn’t curtailed Angelenos’ interest in wine, nor, for thatLawinefest1 matter, their thirst. This year’s festival featured more than 3,000 participants over two days, sampling more than 500 wines, beers, spirits and sakes, a smattering of designer soft drinks, and even one beverage that purported to remove from your palate any tannic evidence of any of the aforementioned beverages. It’s called SanTasti, a mildly sparkling palate cleanser, and it works scarily well.

For the most part, the wineries represented here were not the critical darlings of the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate with scores in the middle 90s. Most were the sort you encounter from wineries on a given Central Coast wine route, which gather followers in their tasting rooms and retain them in wine clubs and on mailing lists. Of course their lack of critical acclaim hardly makes their waresLAWF_185 any less quaffable, and there was plenty of quaffing of wines from many corners of the world, including local talent from Malibu from the likes of Rosenthal, Cielo and Trancas, and a debut entry called Cornell. My personal favorites among the domestic producers included Stoller (Oregon) and Kenneth Volk and Core from the Central Coast. Among imports, Torbreck (Australia) put on a good showing, as did the impressive sakes of Boutique Sakes. Perhaps the most eclectic entry came from Los Altos importer Blue Danube, which poured unusual wines from Hungary, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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Far Niente takes a new route

Far Niente is an iconic Napa Valley winery that can’t seem to sit still. Recently, it announced that it would be debuting a new wine – a Pinot Noir, for which it has jumped the Mayacamas Mountains over to the next county. The new wine is called En Route, and it comes from the Russian River Valley.2007_EnRoute_LesPommiers

En Route is the company’s fourth winery: the flagship, Far Niente, was founded in 1982 by Gil Nickel, an Oklahoman who in his home state built the nation’s second-largest family-owned nursery company, before turning to wine in the 1980s. In the Napa Valley, he found an old winery, Far Niente, and resurrected its name and its 19th-century edifice in Oakville. Ten years later, Nickel founded Dolce, a winery devoted to the production of a single dessert wine. Eight years after that, he founded Nickel & Nickel to focus on single vineyard wines. Nickel succumbed to cancer in 2003; his family maintains his legacy, and Dirk Hampson, Far Niente’s longtime winemaker, now manages the estates.

As the flagship, Far Niente has always been known as a craft house, keen on fashioning fruit for an endurable, consistent, lasting house style. They became synonymous with Chardonnay, and their Cabernet – lush, well-structured, lavishly oaked – was an instant Napa classic. Between that and Dolce, the gold standard of Napa stickies, there seemed to be plenty of laurels to rest on. But in the course of producing Napa wines, Nickel got more and more enthralled with single vineyard expression, which led to the formation of Nickel & Nickel, for which a separate winery was built in St. Helena. Nickel & Nickel produces no less than 10 single vineyard wines, some of which venture beyond the Napa Valley, particularly for Syrah and Pinot Noir.

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The rise of Austrian reds

Wine1 At a recent tasting of Austrian wines at Ammo in Hollywood (whose Austrian general manager, Benny Bohm, seems to attract any continental type with a Germanic accent), I met Willi Klinger, the trade attaché for Austrian wine, who rattled off a set of statistics that reinforced how lucky we are to have any Austrian wines at all. 

You see, almost two-thirds of all Austrian wine is consumed in the country itself, with much of the remaining third exported to Germany and Switzerland. The U.S., though, surprisingly ranks third in imports (at just a tiny fraction of the other two countries) with a healthy share of wines brought in on the higher end – the Americans, in short, prefer quality to quantity.

The vast majority of the wines imported are white – notably their spicy, pea-tendril-scented Gruner Veltliners and pristine Rieslings (with the occasional Muscat, Weissburgunder, Welschriesling and Zierfandler thrown in for good measure).

But what’s really interesting right now is ...

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.