Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Wine

Bedside wine reading: 'A Carafe of Red' from Gerald Asher

Carafe coverDown with bronchitis last month, I languished on the sofa, catching up on some reading I never seemed to have time for before. From the top of the pile I picked up “A Carafe of Red” by Gerald Asher (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2012, $21.95 paperback). It’s a collection of pieces Asher wrote mostly in the early '90s for Gourmet magazine, back in the day when magazines had the space and the will to publish long-form writing on wine.

I like that he hasn’t rewritten the pieces. They read as they were published, with an update at the end. I opened and read at random and was at Asher’s side when, as a young man in the British wine trade, he arrives — after midnight — in Jerez de la Frontera. “To my northern amazement, groups of men were still drinking and talking at tables in front of the bars and cafés of Calle Larga as if they intended to remain all night, while streams of people, young and old, crowded the narrow sidewalk.” The next morning he reported to a sherry house where he became fascinated with the intricacies of making sherry. No one else has explained flor better. He manages to fit in a bullfighting bit too, and how and when to drink a fino or an oloroso. Good stuff. 

In other chapters he relishes visits to Côte Rôtie and Condrieu, recounts the revival of Priorato, instructs us in grape clones, and celebrates California’s own Zinfandel. 

A wonderful prose stylist, Asher found in wine that “the more I read, the more I traveled, and the more questions I asked, the further I was pulled into the realms of history and economics, politics, literature, food, community, and all else that affects the way we live. Wine, I found, draws on everything and leads everywhere.” Amen.

Forget scores. His wide-ranging, astute appreciation is where it’s at.

“A Carafe of Red” offers a window into what this wine writer — and yes, connoisseur, in the best sense — holds dear. And I do envy him his adventures on the wine roads.


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Cover of “A Carafe of Red”; courtesy of University of California Press.

Bored by conventional wine writing? Read this

Melrose coverMy summer binge reading has been the brilliant Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn, all four of them, plus, the newly publish fifth, “At Last.” They’re harrowing and hilarious, and the prose is breathtaking. 

Bored by conventional wine writing? Read this passage from the second of the novels, “Bad News.” In New York to see to his father’s remains, the young, drug-addled main character, Patrick Melrose, slips into a high-end restaurant for dinner alone, and orders a Corton Charlemagne. (Keep in mind that he has had a privileged, albeit brutal, upbringing.)

“The first taste made him break into a grin of recognition, like a man who has sighted his lover at the end of a crowded platform. Raising the glass again, he took a large gulp of the pale yellow wine, held it in his mouth for a few seconds, and then let it slide down his throat. Yes, it worked, it still worked. Some things never let him down.

"He closed his eyes and the taste rippled over him like an hallucination. Cheaper wine would have buried him in fruit, but the grapes he imagined now were mercifully artificial, like earrings of swollen yellow pearls. He pictured the long sinewy shoots of the vine, dragging him down into the heavy reddish soil. Traces of iron and stone and earth and rain flashed across his palate and tantalized him like shooting stars. Sensations long wrapped in a bottle now unfurled like a stolen canvas.

"Some things never let him down. It made him want to cry.”

Good, eh?


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Image: Scan of  "The Patrick Melrose Novels" cover. Credit: Picador Paperback


For the wine geek who has everything: the cork presenter

Cork presenterDesigned by graphic arts superstar Milton Glaser, Alessi's new cork presenter is polished stainless steel and will set you back just $30. 

Not for a casual meal at home, though. 

This may be more appropriate for those engaged in a formal entertaining style. The Alessi cork presenter was, in fact, designed for Eleven Madison Park, the highly lauded New York City restaurant helmed by Daniel Humm who won Outstanding Chef at this year’s James Beard Awards. Outstanding service is one reason the restaurant did so well -- in addition to Humm’s meticulously elegant American cooking.

I can’t quite picture using a cork presenter myself at home, but who knows, there may come a day.


Available from Unicahome.com in gift box, $30.  And at the Alessi Store at Diva, 313 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 276-7096; alessi@divafurniture.com. 


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-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: Alessi


Weekend plan: the new Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail


Santa Barbara doesn’t want to lose out on all the Central Coast wine action. To that end, a group of local wineries has come up with the new Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, SBUWT for short, with a string of 17 tasting rooms, all in downtown Santa Barbara.

Traipsing from winery to winery not your thing? Or you just don’t have the time? Stay close to city amenities and clock in at Santa Barbara’s “Funk Zone” neighborhood where you can go from tasting room to tasting room by foot or bike. Or if you prefer, you can make the designated driver some poor pedicab driver. To reduce your carbon footprint even further, consider arriving by train from Union Station downtown.

Coming up: Passport Weekend on July 27 to 29 when SBUWT revs up the offerings with winemakers in attendance, reserve vintages, light bites and live music. [UPDATED: The story originally reported the tickets were $75] For a $50 ticket, taste all weekend and enjoy a 10% discount on any wine purchases made then and there. Could be fun.

To get started, check in at Carr Winery, Santa Barbara Winery or Margerum Wine Company. You can also buy tickets online.

Wineries that are part of the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail include Au Bon Climat, Cottonwood Canyon, Summerland Winery, Grassini Family Vineyards and Pali Wine, and more.

Outside of the Passport Weekend, each winery sets their own tasting fees which can vary from $5 to $15 dollars and typically include tastes of between five and eight wines. 


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Photos: Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail map. Credit: SBUWT

Last-minute plans: Chardonnay Symposium in Santa Maria Valley

ChardNo weekend plans yet? Why not just point the car toward the Santa Maria Valley for the third annual Chardonnay Symposium, which takes place Friday to Sunday.

Fifty Chardonnay producers from around the world plan to show up. There will be chef demonstrations, food and Chardonnay pairings, a Grand Chardonnay Tasting and much more. 

What sounds like serious fun: the BYOC (Bring your own Chardonnay) BBQ at Sierra Madre Vineyard on Friday. Bring a bottle of your favorite Chardonnay and enjoy barbecue from the Hitching Post for a $30 ticket.

The Grand Chardonnay Tasting on Saturday afternoon at Byron Vineyard & Winery (tickets $55) features Chardonnays from more than 50 wineries matched with food from local restaurants and caterers. 

On Sunday, Cottonwood Canyon Winery hosts a sparkling Chardonnay Brunch on a covered patio for $30.

Tickets may be purchased online.


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Photo: Chardonnay harvest at Byron Vineyard. Credit: Byron Vineyard

Online Paso Robles wine country trip planner

Online planner makes trips to Paso Robles easy
OK, next time I get an email forwarded from a friend of a friend saying they’re headed up to Paso Robles the next day and want to know where to taste and to eat, I’m going to save myself some trouble and refer them to pasowine.com. That’s a new trip planner with all the information anybody could possibly need all in one place -- maps, tasting rooms, wineries, places to stay and to eat, directions. You can print out a map with local wineries (or order a printed one free by submitting your details).

Check the calendar for any events that might be happening while you plan to be there. You can even add olive oil producers to your itinerary.

The guide is put together by the nonprofit Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance made up of wineries and wine-related businesses.

Looking for a place to stay or somewhere to eat? Check the hospitality map which shows you where all the various hotels, inns and bed and breakfast establishments are located. Information on these, though, is pretty much address, phone and website. 

I’m happy to see my favorite wine shop up there, 15 Degrees C in Templeton, as the first listing under specialty shops. But you’ll also find a beef jerky producer, Firestone Walker Brewing company, a source for dry-farmed walnuts and walnut oil, and a downtown Paso Robles cheese shop as well.

You can’t beat the price: free.

Paso Robles Wine Country. And don’t forget to check the weather report at the top of the home page before you set off.


Summer events: Poolside brunches, wine tastings and sweet deals

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Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times


Summer events: Poolside brunches, wine tastings and sweet deals

Brunch at Mr. C Beverly Hills

Summer is officially here and what better time to take up wine tasting, indulge in lunch by the pool or take advantage of some sweet discounts? Lucky for us, Los Angeles has a slew of restaurants hosting events and offering specials this summer. Here's a couple listings to enjoy:

Fig & Olive is introducing a new summer apertivo happy hour that kicks off Thursday night from 6 to 8 p.m.: happy hour cocktails and wines priced at $8 and a complimentary Mediterranean tasting plate. Beginning next week, this summer promotion will be available Monday through Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Mr. C Beverly Hills has teamed up with the Darren Dzienciol’s Bartelier Group for a series of poolside brunches and cocktails at the "Mr. C Yacht Club" located at the Mr. C Hotel in Beverly Hills. The brunches will start June 24, the one-year anniversary of the hotel. Guests can munch on a classic Italian Cipriani menu of pizzas, pastas and grilled items from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the 4,500-square-foot outdoor pool deck with private cabanas. The hotel's signature Bellinis will be served throughout the day as well as specialty cocktails by Belvedere vodka. You have to be on the list to get in, so advance reservations are required. Continuing with the nautical theme, starting in July, boats will dock on Beverwil Drive, where the hotel is located, including a 27-foot runabout.

Drago Centro is celebrating a new seasonal cocktail list by head bartender Jaymee Mandeville. The restaurant is offering its signature cocktails for $8 on June 27. You can also grab a bite with the all-day happy hour menu with items priced under $10.

The Royce at The Langham Hotel Royce Manager and Director of Wine Eric Espuny will present a series of summer wine tasting classes on July 7 and Sept. 1 at noon. Guests will learn about seasonal wines, specific regions and varietals and tips for ordering and buying wine. The July 7 class ($45 per person) will focus on rosés, Provence and the Sept. 1 class ($500 per person) will focus on the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti vintage 2009. This class and tasting will feature Echezeaux, Grand Echezeaux, Richebourg and La Tache. Advance reservations are required and available beginning July 17.

Napa Valley Grille's monthly winemaker dinner series will feature the St. Helena-based Beckstoffer wines for a five-course wine pairing dinner on June 26 at 6:30 p.m. Beckstoffer winemaker Drew Huffine will guide the tasting and tell guests about the wine making process. Chef Boudreaux will prepare a seasonal summer menu of farro salad, pan seared scallops and more.

Shutters on the Beach has teamed with Coolhaus to offer their sweet treats to beachgoers all summer long. The Coolhaus cart will be parked in front of the hotel selling their desserts and sweet snacks Friday through Sunday. To view additional days and times visit  Facebook.com/ShuttersontheBeach and eatcoolhaus.com. The Coolhaus treats will also be available at the Coast Beach Café and Bar at the Shutters hotel.


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Photo: The pool at the Mr. C Beverly Hills, where their summer poolside brunches will take place. Credit: Mr. C Beverly Hills

Oregon Wine, the app

Oregon wine 1Headed north up to the Willamette Valley to do some wine tasting this summer? This is the app you need to ride shotgun with you. Written by Oregonian wine columnist and author of "Voodoo Vintners" Katherine Cole, “Oregon Wine, the App” has a fresh, spunky take on the Oregon wine scene. You can filter winery search results by "Pinot Pioneer," "Eco-Geeky," "Terroiriste!," "High Scorer" and more,  by cost and by appellation (Dundee Hills, Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, etc). And also by distance from your current location.

For each winery, she gives a brief history and appreciation. Most useful, her picks for Splurge, Steal and Fab Find at each estate. There are links to maps, each winery’s website and other relevant info, including hours and any tasting fees. Plus, under "Practical Information," an explanation of the confusing eco-certifications for Oregon wineries.

You can look up lodging and dining for each appellation, too, though not much information here other than a direct link to restaurant or bed and breakfast’s website. You’re on your own in choosing. But at least you'll know which are closer to wineries you'll be visiting.

For a quick primer on Oregon wine, you can’t do better than this app. It could also come in handy at wine shops to look up labels.

At $2.99 from iTunes, Oregon Wine, the App costs about the same as a gulp of Oregon Pinot Noir. Available for iPhone and iPad as well as Android.


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Photos: Screen shot from Oregon Wine, the App. Credit: Katherine Cole.

4 events: Your week in beer, wine and booze

Golden Road beer dinner: Tin Roof Bistro chef Anne Conness hosts a Golden Road Brewing beer dinner tonight. The five-course menu is paired with some limited Golden Road brews, and Golden Road co-founder Meg Gill will be there to talk shop. On the menu: cream cheese and crab wontons with Golden Road Hefeweizen; white shrimp ceviche with watermelon and arugula with Point the Way IPA; caramelized Brussels sprouts and crisp duck with Either Side of the Hill; English steak and ale pie with Get Up Offa That Brown; and salted caramel profiteroles and chocolate sauce with Hudson Rye Porter. 7 p.m. $45 per person. 

3500 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (310) 393-0900, www.tinroofbistro.com. 

'How to Taste Like a Sommelier': Taste wine like a master sommelier at the Taste of Orange County this weekend. Master sommelier and certified wine educator Michael Jordan from the Ranch Restaurant in Anaheim will lead a blind tasting. (Jordan is one out of only 15 people in the world to possess both the master sommelier and the certified wine diplomas.) The tasting takes place Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Also catch a tequila and food pairing with expert Julie Harrington-Griffin on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. Tickets are $49 per person (per session).  

For more information, visit www.tasteofoc.com.

'Art Beyond the Glass': Bartending and art come together in "Art Beyond the Glass," which takes place at Sadie LA in Hollywood on Sunday, showcasing art from participating bartenders. The cocktails, the art hanging on the walls and the music will be created or performed by L.A.'s top bartenders. Admission includes open bar and appetizers. There also will be prizes. 3 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased online; proceeds benefit Inner-City Arts. For more information and participating bartenders, visit thirstyinla.com

1638 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood, (323) 467-0200, www.sadiela.com. 

Celebrating summer: Wirtshaus German restaurant and beer garden (www.facebook.com/WirtshausLA) ushers in summer Wednesday with traditional German music and drink specials from 5 p.m. to close. Its featured drink special is Berliner Weisse mit Schuss, a sour wheat beer from northern Germany, served with syrups such as raspberry or the herb woodruff. Wirtshaus will be airing the UEFA Euro 2012 Championship on a 100-inch projection screen in their "soccer room," on the flat-screen TV at the main bar, and on its new TV on the dog-friendly outdoor patio.

345 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 931-9291, www.wirtshausla.com. 


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3 wine dinners: Enoteca Drago, Rosso Wine Shop, Bistro 45

Wine dinnerTo reflect the current economic realities, even once indulgent and sybaritic wine dinners and tastings are reining in the prices. Here are three that should be informative and fun, but won’t tax the wallet too dramatically.

On Wednesday, Enoteca Drago hosts a tasting featuring the wines of Talbott Vineyards. Try their offerings while nibbling on the Beverly Hills wine bar’s antipasti and thin-crusted pizzas. Admission price? Just $20, plus tax and gratuity. Call (310) 786-8235 for information.

Every once in a while, after the shop closes, Rosso Wine Shop in Glendale leads a second (secret) life as a private supper club. Chef Michael Ruiz creates the menu; Rosso provides the wines. The next event is June 20, $55 per person (cash only) for the four-course meal and wines to match each course. The good thing? After dinner, a 10% discount on any of the wines served at the meal: no bottle limit. Sign up by emailing info@rossowineshop.com or calling (818) 330-9130 for more information.

In Pasadena, Bistro 45 helps Rick Longoria celebrate 30 years of winemaking at Longoria Wines in Santa Barbara County on June 25. Five wines and five courses, $65 per person. Bistro chef Steven Lona is planning a Santa Barbara-themed dinner with local produce, fish and live shrimp. Call (626) 795-2478 for more information.


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.