Springtime for Rose’

 

Although modern rose’ wines are designed to pair with food and be enjoyed year-round, they still come to mind when the spring air

Chateau d’ Esclans in Provence

begins to warm.  While some are “bled off” from juice destined for a red wine, a process known as the Saignee method, others are planted and field blended specifically for the rose’.

While Provence remains the world-wide leader in the production of fine rose’, I have discovered several releases from California and

the Pacific Northwest that are composed of Burgundian, Rhone and Bordeaux varietals.

I first tasted the Whispering Angel rose’ from Chateau d’ Esclans at a 2006 tasting of Cote de Provence wines.  A blend of grenache, cinsault, vermentino, syrah and tourben, the Chateau d’ Esclans Whispering Angel 2017 ($22) is clean with dense flavors and a

Chateau d’ Esclans “Rock Angel” Rose’

rich mouthfeel, the result of regular lees stirrings. Another release, the Chateau d’ Esclans Rock Angel Rose’ 2016 ($35) has an herbal/mineral character that is exceptional with food.

From Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the full whole cluster pressed 2017 Gran Moraine

2016 Gran Moraine Rose’ of Pinot Noir

Yamhill-Carlton Rose’ of Pinot Noir ($28) is crafted from designated stock in two vineyards.  Once it opened up in the glass, the floral hints in the bouquet heightened and the crisp, complex berry and melon flavors were revealed.

Grenache is among my favorite varietals, as a red wine, in a Rhone blend or as a rose’. Recent tastings of grenache rose’ from Santa Barbara, Napa and Sonoma counties showcase the grape’s adaptability and the welcoming terroir throughout California.

From the estate Colson Canyon Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, grapes were purposely harvested early to retain the bright acidity in the 2017 Tensley Colson Canyon Grenache Rose’ ($22).  Nicely structured, it

Carol Shelton Rendezvous Rose’

expressed complex, balanced tropical fruit, melon and citrus flavors.

Sharon Kazan Harris sources the grapes for her Rarecat Rose’ 2017 ($36) from a Davis, CA vineyard with, as she describes, poor, rocky soil, perfect for the core grenache.   Aside from the soothing salmon color, the floral aromas are pronounced and pink grapefruit dominates the palate.  It has a noticeable acidity that will compliment seafood and shellfish.

I’m told that the inspiration for the 2017 Limerick Lane Rose’ ($24) came from eating mussels and drinking rose in the village of Cassis, along the French Meditteranean, something I can relate to.  The syrah (62%) and grenache (38%) grapes for this Russian River Valley blend were specifically designated and harvested. The rich citrus and strawberry flavors set up a nice, long mineral finish.

Produced from Mendocino County carignane grapes that are bled off after three long days with skins, the 2017 Carol Shelton “Rendezvous” Rose’ ($15) has a darker red color than most.  There are spice notes on the nose and rich, expressive fruit flavors that peak through the finish. It pairs well with Thai food or BBQ, but I prefer it by itself.

2017 St. Supery Napa Valley Rose’

St. Supery Winery, in the heart of the Napa Valley, has produced a variety of Bordeaux-style wines for nearly three decades.  With a darker cherry color, the St. Supery Rose’ 2015 ($29), a merlot-dominant blend, features five Bordeaux varietals that covey elegant flavors of red berries, currants and herbs.  It pairs well with seafood and rich sauces.

Bandol, in southern France, is one of the premier wine regions in Provence with soils and climate fitting for the mourvedre grape that imparts structure to wine.  All red and rose’ wines from the region must contain at least 50% mourvedre. The highly acclaimed 2016 Domaines Ott “Château Romassan” Bandol Rosé ($47), is 60% mourvedre with added cinsault, grenache and syrah  Earning reviews in the mid-nineties, the bouquet is a scented flower garden and the vibrant hints of pink grapefruit remain

2016 Dunham Cellars/MacLachlan “Pursued by Bear” Rose’

throughout the lush finish.

From Washington’s Columbia Valley region, the 2016 Dunham Cellars/MacLachlan “Pursued by Bear” Blushing Bear Columbia Valley Rosé $28

is another grenache-dominant release with strong support from cinsault and mourvedre.  “Pursued by Bear” is actor Kyle MacLachlan’s label and he, apparently, was personally involved in the development of this wine. I found it clean and balanced with a diversified and opulent flavor profile.

This list hardly scratches the surface of what is available.  Whatever suits your palate, new rose’, with all the complexities of red wine, is something that should not be overlooked.

Vineyards in Bandol

 

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Calistoga Culinary Getaway

 

Not having spent time in Calistoga for years, I recently stayed a few days to discover some wines and enjoy the vibrant, emerging local restaurant scene. The following is a small taste of what we enjoyed.

Breakfast options includes Sarafornia, an old-style cafe with classic comfort food or Bella Bakery for those seeking coffee and an artisan

The Grade Cellars “Sea Fog” Sauvignon Blanc

pastry.  My favorite for atmosphere and menu was Sam’s Social Club east of town, where I enjoyed an omelette of cultivated, wild mushrooms, gruyere cheese, black truffle oil and scallions.

We had the opportunity to taste two local sauvignon blanc releases; both impressive, but very different.  The 2015 Petit Coquerel

Le Petit Coquerel Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc ($20) had shades of grapefruit on the nose and during the long finish with a dry crispness in the middle.

From the producers of fine Calistoga cabernet sauvignon, The Grade Sauvignon Blanc “Sea Fog” 2015 ($28), barrel-fermented in all neutral oak, delivers a pleasant acidity with degrees of citrus and stone fruit flavors and a soft wet stone finish.

Lovina Restaurant

Formerly Calistoga Kitchen, Lovina is a new restaurant in the old building at the corner of Cedar Street and Lincoln Ave.  The new creative ownership team identifies with being a uniquely suited, diverse group of friends. The menu is also diverse, with vegetarian friendly and gluten-free options available.  Uniquely good was the Grilled Cheese with Chestnut and Celery Root Soup and the Warm Duck Confit Spinach Salad, which we shared along with a special Chicken and Dumpling Soup.

Lovina is open Thursday through Monday for lunch/brunch and dinner.  Their wine list features a variety of North Coast selections and they celebrate “No corkage Thursdays.”

Visiting the historic Chateau Montelena Estate always reminds me of their 1973 chardonnay release that led to an Independence Day

1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay

for California wines after winning the famed 1976 Paris Tasting. The 2014 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay ($58), is aged ten months sur lee in oak with no malolactic fermentation. I found complex aromas, crispness and a rich finish of stone fruit and spice flavors, all welcomed by my palate.  The earthy 2014 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel ($39) also stood out with coffee bean, chocolate on the nose and jammy, ripened fruit flavors throughout.

We first discovered Brannan’s by accident, seeking a place to have lunch in town, and were

Bar at Brannan’s Restaurant

delightfully surprised by their imaginative small plate dishes.  I joined co-owner Ron Goldin at a recent event while chef Colin Curtis prepared farmhand (vegetarian-based), briny (seafood) and chow (the meats), small plate dishes that included Curried Crab Tacos, Moroccan Lamb Chops, Salt and Pepper Scallops and Wild Mushroom Risotto.  Appetizers like Smashed Avocado Toast and Ahi Poke Spoons added to the feast. In an older building on Lincoln Ave., Brannan’s has a large, historic bar, full array of cocktails and an ever-changing menu.

Over thirty years ago when Rich and Carolyn Czapleski purchased the land for their Canard Winery, they got a call from Robert Mondavi, urging them to retain some of the oldest zinfandel vines in the Napa Valley,

Canard old vine zinfandell

dating back one hundred years.  Today, the dry-farmed vineyard continues to produce the 2013 Canard Zinfandel ($45), a balance of strength and elegance.  Smokey flavors of raspberry and spice lead to a rich mouthfeel through the finish.

I tasted the Fairwinds 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve ($110) deep inside the extensive cave system at Fairwinds Estate Winery. It originates from the volcanic soils of the local Kenefick Ranch Vineyard that sources Bordeaux grapes to many top producers. The fruit flavors are intense and opulent, but nicely balanced with the complex spice elements that dawdle on the finish.

Tasting in the caves at Fairwinds Estate

For another special dining experience, I recommend the highly reviewed Solbar, at the Solage Spa, east of downtown.  Fresh dishes classically prepared by chef Massimo Falsini like Tamales Bay Mussels, Petrale Sole Tacos and Steak Frites appear on Solbar’s lunch menu. Seasonal Cheeses and Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras begin the ever-changing entrees like Sautéed Wild Steelhead with Foraged Mushrooms and Crispy Liberty Duck with Abalone-prosciutto ragu.

Aside from health and recreation, the Calistoga experience offers an array of fine wines and prodigious culinary choices at all levels.  For a get-a-way, it has it all.

 


Donum Estate Pairs Wine With Art

 

A mid-week pinot noir tasting at Donum Estate, in the heart of the Carneros, quickly turned to an experience that exceeded all my expectations. Entering the property from Ramal Road, we were greeted by Sanna, Giant Head, a huge white sculpture by Jaume Plensa that was peaceful and welcoming. Today would be about pinot noir and art, the latter in the form of magnificent sculpture gardens. As

Sanna, Giant Head by Jaume Plensa

a special treat, we had the opportunity to walk the estate with President/Winegrower Anne Moller-Radke.

Mollar-Radke first arrived on this property in 1981 after German investors purchased what was then the Buena Vista Winery.  In 2001, she sold Buena Vista and began Donum Estate with the single focus of making extraordinary pinot noir and chardonnay in the Burgundian-style.  Since the purchase by investors in 2011, Donum Estate, with Anne still at the helm, has evolved to produce highly reviewed wines from vineyards in three distinct appellations and assemble sculptures by world-class artists like Yayoi Kusama, Ai Weiwei and Louise Bourgeois.

Anne Mollar-Radke, President and Winegrower

Before tasting the pinot noir, we were welcomed with a glass of 2015 Donum Estate Carneros Chardonnay to accompany our walk through the vineyards and grounds.  The only chardonnay produced, this vintage is aged in 40% new French oak with no malolactic fermentation, but stirred on lees regularly over four months. With citrus and floral hints on the nose, the rich stone fruit flavors finish with pleasant honey notes.

Glass in hand, we walked to the “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” by Ai Weiwei, with the carved head of each symbol atop a pole in a circular ring of wild grasses and daffodils.

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei

Before entering the small building that solely housed Bourgeois’s haunting “Spider,” we passed by the compassionate “Care For Oneself,” a large stainless steel depiction of a strong, healthy man, holding his sick, weakened self.

“Care For Oneself” by

Inspired, we trekked up the hill to sculptor Richard Hudson’s “Love Me,” a huge stainless steel, three-dimensional heart that mirrors back alluring distorted images of the surrounding terrain. Returning to the modern, chic tasting center by way of the “Contemporary Terracotta Warriors” by Yeu Minjun, we met up with our host, Phillipe Herrarte, who would guide us through today’s pouring. The afternoon sun was warm after a light morning rain, so Phillipe opened the entire south-facing wall exposing a view of vineyards, outlaying marshlands and, in the distance, the new San Francisco skyline. I can get used to this.

All the Donum Estate pinot noir that we tasted was exceptional, but that would and should be expected from a team with this pedigree. Today was special.  At one sitting, we savored and

“Love Me” by Richard Hudson

compared flavors and nuance from three-fifths of California’s best pinot noir producing regions:  Carneros, the Russian River Valley and the Anderson Valley to the far north.

We began with two releases from the Carneros estate.  The 2014 Donum Estate Carneros Pinot Noir is blended from the best of three blocks while the earthy, single block 2014 Donum Estate Carneros West Block Pinot Noir, from arguably the best terroir in the appellation, delivered a spiced, red fruit and cherry bouquet with rich, layered flavors and a drawn-out finish.

Farmed by Anne since its inception in 1997, the Winside Vineyard is the source for the

Donum Estate pinot noir

2014 Donum Estate Russian River Reserve Pinot Noir, combining Pommard and Dijon 667 clones, aged in 71% new French oak.  Very aromatic, the red fruit flavors are acute, but nicely structured with a forest floor element through the finish.

Mendocino County’s Angels Camp Vineyard, near the Pacific Ocean, is planted with ten different clones, seven of which were used in the 2014 Donum Estate Angel Camp Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.  Aged separately, the best barrels were selected and blended before bottling. The rich flavors were ripe and spirited with definite

Donum Estate vineyard

oak influences. I would definitely recommend all the wines, but when asked, I chose to re-visit the Russian River Valley Reserve.

Donum Estate is building a new production facility that will bring the entire operation on-site.  The experience here is rare; there is no other like it in the region.  It also brings the exclusivity that befits such a property.  Due diligence is required to decide if it’s all for you.  As for me, I want to go back soon.


Tasting Tensley Wines

 

My first impression was that Joey Tensley is one laid back dude.  Only after discussing his various projects did I understand that this is one busy guy.  He has released the 20th vintage of his Rhone-style Tensley Wines, serves as winemaker for Paso Robles’ Carina Cellars and is expanding his “Fundamental” series, a tier of big value, everyday wines, each priced under $20.

Knowing that I would be in the area and always looking for an excuse to hang out in picturesque Los Olivos, I reached out to Joey. I had

Joey Tensley

read some recent good reviews and wanted to taste his Santa Ynez Valley syrah, sourced from vineyards on the eastern side of the Santa Barbara County wine region.

Tensley’s Los Olivos tasting room is on Alamo Pintado, just off the main intersection, the one with the old flagpole in the middle of the street.  The authentic charm of this place makes managing stress easier with good food and art to pair with the wine.  Today, tasting Tensley’s wines was at the top of my agenda.

By way of introduction, we began with the 2017 Tensley Colson Canyon Grenache Rose’ ($22), the first from this vineyard using grapes that were farmed and picked specifically for it. It is a tightly woven fabric of floral aromas with crisp, complex flavors.  With production limited to three barrels, it is hard to find.

Joey has been sourcing grapes from the Colson Vineyard since the millennium, finally purchasing it in 2016.  New farming techniques and surgical watering have produced the 2016 Tensley Colson Canyon Syrah ($42), described as

Tensley Syrah Colson Canyon Vineyard

a balance of power and finesse and awarded 94-points from Wine Spectator magazine.  The deep dark color was alluring and the earthy qualities and firm tannins were balanced with forward fruit flavors. Previous vintages of this wine were named to Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list, #22 in 2009 and #17 in 2010.  If you’re partial to syrah, you should try this one.

While priced under $30, the 2016 Tensley Santa Barbara County Syrah ($28), sourced from three Santa Ynez vineyards, offers intense, concentrated dark fruit flavors with hints of peppery spice.  For me, it had a soft, accessible mouthfeel with attributes that will lead to more recognition.

A partiality to grenache peaked my interest in the 2016 Tensley “All Blocks” Red Wine ($34) where it is dominant (85%) and blended with syrah (14%) from the Colson Canyon Vineyard and a smidge of mourvedre (1%)from the Tensley Estate.  It has an earthy character that is balanced with expressions of dark fruit, all delivered with a luscious mouthfeel. Wine Spectator was also impressed, awarding it 94-points.

Comprised from the best barrels from both estate vineyards, the small production 2016 Tensley Syrah “Noir” ($55) is aged in 80% thirsty new French oak for sixteen months.  The flavors are

Tensley Syrah Noir

complex and layered with equal expressions of dark stone fruits, spice and minerality.  The tannins are evident and this wine will age gracefully in the cellar.

Joey has plans to expand his value-priced “Fundamental” series with a chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and the white Rhone blend.  For now, he feels that his full-bodied 2016 Tensley “Fundamental” Red Blend ($18), combining syrah, mourvedre, petite sirah, grenache and viognier can compete with any other similarly priced release.  He’s probably right.

Tensley also serves as the winemaker for Carina Cellars with vineyards in the western hills of Paso Robles.  The grapes are transported south and wine is made at the production facility in the Santa Ynez Valley.  His work with Carina mostly focuses on Rhone-style blends, but I was impressed by the 2011 Carina Cellars

Tensley tasting room in Los Olivos

Zinfandel Paso Robles ($29), with intense, concentrated flavors and a luscious mouthfeel.  There seems to be a zinfandel style for every mood.  This one is more about Zumba than yoga.

First-class syrah and other Rhone blends have come out of Santa Barbara County for decades and current Tensley releases are earning recognition.  The ones we tasted ranged in price from $18 to $55 and there is enough diversity for most palates. I expect them to be among the top wines of this year.


Plumpjack and Terroir

 

I have wanted to visit Plumpjack Winery in Oakville for some time, interested in tasting their estate syrah whose past two vintages appeared on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List.  Spending a few hours with winemaker Aaron Miller, I learned that Plumpjack is a lean and mean operation that focuses on doing the very best with what the land gives them.

A 1992 partnership between Gavin Newsom and Gordon Getty established Plumpjack Wine and Spirits, which stills thrives at different locations in San Francisco.  From that, Plumpjack Winery began in the Napa Valley, offering a menu of nearly twenty wines.  After joining the team, President John Conover persuaded the staff to limit production and concentrate on what the local terroir supports:  cabernet sauvignon and syrah. They have achieved this while expanding a family of wines that highlight different micro-climates throughout the Napa Valley

The 2015 Plumpjack Syrah ($60) was everything I thought it would be and comes with an interesting story.  It is sourced from two distinctive vineyards, the Stagecoach that sits above the Napa Valley floor and the Hudson in the cooler Carneros region.  The higher

Plumpjack Syrah Napa Valley

elevation adds intensity of fruit and cooler climates help retain the varietal character.  Balanced and powerful, the smokey, spice flavors nicely overlaid those of baked fruit for a rich mouthfeel

The 2015 Syrah is 30% pressed whole cluster and, according to Aaron is often done barefoot, “I Love Lucy”-style.  Sounding natural and authentic, he described it as exhausting, while creating small, painful acidic scratches on the feet and ankles.  I urged him to work through the pain and continue what he is doing.

The Plumpjack family now includes two other nearby wineries that exhibit distinct terroir and persona.  The Cade Winery, located on Howell Mountain to the North, experiences warm days and cool, windy nights while Odette, in the historic Stag’s Leap District is naturally cooler, known for combinations of clay, loam and volcanic soils.  We compared the characteristics of current cabernet sauvignon releases from each winery, all with recent reviews in the mid-nineties.

Plumpjack winemaker Aaron Miller

With minimal pruning to the vines,  Miller lets the fruit do the talking with his Oakville 2015 Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($130), adding touches of petit verdot and malbec. Expressive, fruity aromas extend into jammy berry and cherry flavors with herbal notes, silky tannins and spice on the finish.

The soils up on Howell Mountain consist of more rock and less clay. In both aromas and

Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon

flavors, winemaker Danielle Cyrot’s 2015 Cade Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($110), with small amounts of petit verdot and merlot added, has an earthy quality with hints of tobacco, coffee and cassis.  Muscular tannins are softened by a very rich mouthfeel.

Jeff Owens is a veteran winemaker who began with Plumpjack, became an assistant winemaker at Cade, before being named as head winemaker at Odette.  His 2015 Odette Cabernet Sauvignon Stag’s Leap District ($140) epitomizes the balance of power and elegance. Rich, concentrated dark fruit and spice on the nose and palate are nicely restrained throughout a lengthy finish.

Selecting one of these wines over another is like picking a favorite child.  In the end, they’re all great.  It isn’t a competition, but a rare opportunity to discover, first hand, the nuances of distinctive terroir that exist in a region simply known as the Napa Valley.

Among the reds, we managed to taste the 2016 Plumpjack Reserve Chardonnay Napa Valley ($50) that, again, is sourced from two unique appellations:  cool Carneros and warm St. Helena.  Aged in stainless steel (65%) and French oak (35%) with no malolactic fermentation, it has a crisp acidity with citrus, tropical and stone fruit flavors and a pleasant, creamy vanilla on the finish.

Plumpjack tasting room

Various tastings range from $50-$80 per person, but are not for everyone. Nonetheless, those with serious palates and an interest in education of the local terroir will be amply rewarded.

Plumpjack is in a good place.  They are happy with their growers and the estate vineyards are performing well. The plan is to continue with the current format, respect the land, treat each vintage as its own and strive to make extraordinary wines.

I


Riding The Flying Red Horse

 

The word got around the neighborhood quickly.  Balloons and banners were going up at the new local service station and, in 1955, that was all the advertising needed.  The Grand Opening was Saturday and everyone who was anyone would show up.  Copious amounts of food, drinks, rides and other free stuff would be at hand.  The fathers, wearing wingtips and work boots, would mingle with the new manager, eating hot dogs and listening to his subtle pitch of reliable service and proximity.  In those days, no one wanted to travel too far from home.

The mothers, dressed in petal-pushers and scarves to protect their hair from the wind, would talk among themselves. The adults would have their discussions and make decisions, but, for us kids, it was a young baby-boomers dream, fun in the sun on a Saturday afternoon at another gas station opening in post-WWII Santa Clara Valley.

This new station was a Mobilgas, so the flying red horse  ride would be there.  The deep red-winged stallion in full motion mimicked the large neon ones that hung above each station.  Today, it was a perfect fit for both my frame and imagination.

What is the attraction to a seven-year-old boy of sitting on some tiny molded horse that moved two inches forward, then backward to simulate galloping?  It certainly wasn’t my first rodeo but the red flying horse was different, an upgrade from the scratched up old mechanical mare outside of the grocery store.  This was a flying red horse, permanently posed, head down, wings spread as if in flight. It would be totally cool to ride a real red flying horse, although I would have to replace my cuffed blue jeans and homemade shirt with a super hero costume.  For now, I’ll use my mind’s eye and settle for riding this one, which comes with a free photo.

In addition to the rides and hot dogs, there was cotton candy and stacks of wooden crates holding glass Coca-Cola bottles.  This opening even had a guest appearance from local country radio disc jockey, Cottonseed Clark, a who broadcast a few hours of his radio program from the event. Another souvenir photo, autographed.  Mobilgas was pulling out all the stops for this one.  In the 1950s, these events were common because gas and service stations played an integral role in our daily lives.

Filling the car up with gas was only one reason for our weekly trek at the service station.  It began when we drove over the black hose that made a chime sound to alert the mechanic.  In 1955, there were enough cars to keep each station busy, but the pace was such that the operator could perform maintenance  work and still handle the pump demand.  The fact that our parents were having children in record numbers would change that dynamic and contribute to the slow death of the full-service experience.

“Hi George,” my dad said, “fill it up with Ethel.”

Before he said a word, George Osaka would open the hood, then walk to the rear of the car and insert the gas hose. Because he had to hold the hose the entire time, he had a few moments for friendly conversation before he completed his checklist.

George said, “How’s she running?”

“So far, so good,” said my dad, “that whine is gone since you replaced the belt.”

“Guess that was it.”

George would always acknowledge me in the backseat.

“You staying busy, Butch?”

“Yeah.”

My father thought that we could afford premium Ethel gas even though, at twenty-three cents per gallon, it was two cents higher than regular.  I would always roll down my back seat window during this process to experience the sweet smell of gasoline.  There are many people in today’s world that are addicted to intoxicative inhalants and, there but for fortune go I.  I loved the smell of fresh gasoline, possibly associating it with freedom.  I dreamt of driving my own car one day and, if I could ever save fifteen hundred dollars, buy that new Ford convertible shown on the local car commercial and take it on a long road trip.  There was not a faint glimpse of a thought that, years later, I would find the odor of gas toxic and obnoxious, connecting it to congestion and dirty air.  In the 1950s, cars and gasoline were the wave of the future, just listen to Walt Disney talk of his Autopia.

Tank full, George would focus his attention under the hood, checking the oil and radiator water levels then shaking the hoses to assure none were loose.  After checking the tire pressure, he would spray and clean all the car windows to complete the service, all for the price of the gas that, somehow flowed plentifully from a magical underground  reservoir.

“Everything looks good. That will be four fourteen,” said George.

My dad handed him a five dollar bill and he returned with the change, green stamps and wishes for everyone to have a good week.  Mr. Osaka was our go-to service station guy because my dad thought he was a good and trustworthy mechanic and had this belief that the Japanese were honest business people. I found this somewhat conflicting because he was slightly more than a decade removed from a foxhole in Tawara, but I witnessed him, on numerous occasions, do and say things that expressed his respect for the local Japanese community.  He would say that government leaders, not people, start wars.

After the car was serviced and when there wasn’t a station opening that I could persuade my parents to go to, our Saturday morning routine took us to the local donut shop for a late breakfast of donuts, coffee and chocolate milk, which set us back another dollar fifty, including tip. Then, on some days, it was off to the local car wash.

My father normally washed our car himself, but once a month we went to the new modern carwash because they vacuumed the interior and cleaned the cigarette smoke residue that would form inside of the windshield.  Carwashes represented new, state-of-the-art technology and it seemed like magic as I peered through soap-film-stained windows to watch our car go through.   Occasionally, in lieu of a gas station opening, we would go to Bounceland USA so I could jump on the trampoline.  For this enterprise, someone leased a vacant lot, dug twelve pits, covered the top with springs and rubber straps and charged fifty cents for kids to jump up and down for twenty minutes.  Life in those days would allow such a venture.  No liability waivers, no spotters, people did things at their own risk.  These, and similar endeavors, would soon fall prey to the mating calls of lawyers in love.

I stayed on the lookout for new Mobilgas stations during the next few months, but the arrival of a new Hopalong Cassidy bike, named after the television serial cowboy, and a pogo stick vastly escalated my mobility and I moved on from the flying red horse.

In my mind, that old icon has become a metaphor for innocent, simpler times when we had one phone, attached to the wall, one small television displaying three channels in a large ugly cabinet, one car and one bathroom. I am also reminded that, in 1955, I had seven normal years left before it all fell apart. As my family crashed and burned, there were times when I wished I had a red flying horse to take me away from it all.


Pairing Imagery

 

Life is good. On a Tuesday evening, I explored the emerging Dogpath neighborhood in San Francisco, was introduced to young entrepreneurs and enjoyed a sublime dinner at Studio Table hosted by Jamie Benziger to introduce her new tier of Imagery wines.

After discovering that we were neighbors in Santa Rosa, Jamie, 29,  and I discussed her new endeavor.  She was passionate and articulate in describing  her wines and their target markets. Yes, she is the daughter of Joe Benziger who started the Benziger winery thirty-five years ago.  The children, however, don’t get special treatment and are expected to earn any role that they play in the business

New Tier of Imagery wines

Jamie’s story is one of a young woman who grew up in the wine industry, went off to study at Loyola Marymount University before transferring to Sonoma State to study wine marketing.  She has paid her dues inside and outside the family business, including a stint in New Zealand, and is now partnering with her dad to create tasteful, affordable, food-friendly wines intent on broadening the palates of the next generation or anyone seeking a good value enhancement to their next dinner party table.

By all accounts, she has succeeded. From my perspective, the pivotal needs of her market have been addressed:  artistic labels,(c’mon,

how many of us have purchased wine solely for the label art?), screw caps that fit the modern lifestyle better than corks, affordability

Jamie Benziger

($16.99 per bottle) and complex wines that leave you with that “big bang for my buck” feeling.  Let’s speak to the wine in the context of the food pairing with comments by me and Chef Ben Roche.

 

First Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Sauvignon Blanc

Winter Nicoise — “a hearty salad of frisee, scallops, and potato cream to complement the minerality and citrusy acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc.”

The sauvignon blanc blends 20% muscat from Lake County.  In the New Zealand-style, I found floral notes on the nose and  balanced, fruit-forward flavors with hints of grapefruit and a soft mouthfeel.  I enjoyed it solo as an introductory wine and with the scallops in potato cream.

Second Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Chardonnay

Butter-poached vegetables, buttermilk and Buddha’s Hand  — “a buttery-but light dish with a floral touch bring out the mineral-forward quality of this unusual Chardonnay.”

The blended chenin blanc adds to the crispness and citrus elements of this wine that paired well with the vegetables.

Third Course

Wine:  2016 Imagery Pinot Noir

Pancetta & Leek Quiche with cabbage and caviar — “rich, caramelized pancetta and eggs from the land and the sea make this Pinot Noir sing.”

The addition of 20% petit verdot to pinot noir is unusual, but here it adds structure and body while softening the tannins for an accessible wine.  A terrific value.

Pancetta ans Leek Quiche was cabbage and caviar

Fourth Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Cabernet Sauvignon

Duck Breast with cherry, mushroom, spinach — “earthy, savory flavors, bright cherry puree and robust duck come together for this big Cabernet.”

The enhanced spice element from the blended 15% petit sirah is evident throughout and there are soft “code blue” and cherry notes on the palate.  It would be difficult to find a better cab under $20.

Fifth Course

Wine: Port

Hazelnut Brownie with goat cheese and raisins — “a rich and savory dessert, finished with olive oil and a sprinkle of flakey sea salt, help the chocolate and dried fruit notes of this delightful port shine”.

This is a Sonoma County non-vintage blend of zinfandel, petite sirah and touriga nacional that is shipped direct to consumer.  The high 18% alcohol level was balanced and paired well with both the sweet and savory aspect of the dessert.

Studio Table is located in the loft and working studio of artist Heather Day. She has partnered with Michelle Wei and Chef Ben Roche in creating a unique, artistic fine dining concept with stated goals “to challenge expectations and create conversations.”  Jamie’s wines, with the design representation of a drop of paint running

Imagery wines at Studio Table

down the label, matched the elegance of the table with Heather’s hand-painted menus.

These are the finest $16.99 food-friendly wines that I have tasted in a long while.  The new tier of Imagery releases will help to grow interest in wine through good taste, quality and value.  I recommend that you try them.