Terroir found in California (but can I afford it?)

Above: “Heirloom Radish Salad” at the girl & the fig restaurant last night in downtown Sonoma was delicious (although I regretted taking our server’s advice on freshly cracked pepper).

It strikes me as incongruous that the people who live in Napa and Sonoma are such fierce champions of unadulterated, pure, wholesome ingredients in their food and yet still favor big, oaky, concentrated, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon in their glass.

Above: This Californiano-turned-Tejano couldn’t resist the Texas Burger (topped with jalapeño, guacamole, and salsa) at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in St. Helena. And who can say no to Chili Cheese Fries?

On the one hand, they favor locally grown ingredients that reflect the colors and flavors of their land and their approach to cooking — à la Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower — leans heavily toward the simple and direct, with immediate flavors and textures playing the starring role (e.g., the heirloom radish salad above).

And on the other hand, my countrymen speak proudly of the sledge-hammer flavors of their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the buttery texture of their Chardonnay (so much of Napa Chardonnay taste more like Napa than Chardonnay to me). I’ll have a lot more to say on this when I can post unhurriedly next week.

Above: There’s no denying it… Tadeo Borchardt makes excellent terroir-driven expressions of Chardonnay at Neyers Vineyards in Napa. We truly enjoyed the wines (despite my previous but as-of-yet not entirely unresolved misconceptions and prejudices about Californian wines in general).

Tracie B and I agreed, however, that we found “terroir” (and the purposeful use of inverted commas here will become more apparent in an upcoming post) when we tasted yesterday with the winemaker of Neyers Vineyards, Tadeo Borchardt, whose single-vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnays were excellent — and the Thieriot, in particular, was superb. The company I work for represents Neyers’s wines in Texas and so we had been invited to tour the winery and taste all the wines side-by-side. Tadeo’s winemaking style (minimal intervention and ambient yeasts only) marries well with the cool microclimate of the Sonoma Coast growing sites and tasting the wines side-by-side revealed, in fact, just how site-specific each expression of Chardonnay actually was. We looked at each other and agreed that we had found California terroir.

Only one problem: we (personally) can’t afford it.

So little time now and so much to say. We just got to San Francisco and we’re running out the door to taste at Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and then to the Kermit Lynch dinner.

Stay tuned…

Sublime: tuna tartare, avocado, and Soave

From the “life could be worse” department…

The acidity and minerality in the 2007 Soave Classico by Suavia and the rich flavors of raw tuna and fresh avocado made for a sublime pairing the other night at the happy hour at Trio, the steakhouse at the Four Season in Austin. When I’m not on the road hawking wine (mostly in San Antonio and Dallas these days), you’ll often find me there, hanging with my buddies chef Todd Duplechan and wine director Mark Sayre (Mark just passed the third level of his Master Sommelier. Right on man!).

Believe me, the wine trade isn’t always as glamorous and fun as it sounds but it’s kinda cool when you get to rep a wine like the Suavia (which I do).

Above: That’s where the grapes are grown. I visited Suavia in Soave Classico in April after Vinitaly.

Today, I’m heading to an “undisclosed location” in Arizona for reasons I am not at liberty to discuss.

Tracie B will be meeting up with me tomorrow in San Francisco and then we’ll head to Napa where we’ll be tasting at some of the wineries the company I work for represents in Texas. I am exhausted after three days on the road hawking some excellent wines from Friuli but, honestly, life sure could could be worse.

The highlight of our trip will be the Kermit Lynch portfolio tasting in San Francisco and the winemakers dinner the night before.

I’m posting from the Austin airport and I gotta run to make my plane. Stay tuned…

The endless summer comes to an end

And so the endless summer came to an end… A special thanks to all my friends and the bloggers and fans who came out to see us play on Thursday in San Francisco, Friday in San Jose, and Saturday in Los Angeles at Spaceland. The date at Spaceland on Saturday marked the last show in a string of performances supporting our current release Ménagerie. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see everyone in Paris, New York, and California — especially Talina who flew in from Houston to see us in LA and Jon and John who drove up from San Diego with a magnum of Produttori del Barbaresco 2003 in tow.

Thanks also to Aeronaut Records and our manager John Mastro for putting the tour together and our publicist Brooke Black at Big Hassle for her support.

And an extra special thanks to my super fine lady, Tracie B, for sharing the music with me and making me truly feel like the luckiest guy in the world this weekend.

I love playing music and playing music will always be part of my life but now it’s time for the San Diego Kid to swing that 6-pack of wine across his back and hit the road again with his trusty horse Dinamite.

Mosaic Wine Group (the company I work for), Tracie B, and I will be headed to back to California this week for the Kermit Lynch tasting in San Francisco. Stay tuned…

Popcorn recipe and Bandol rosé pairing by Kermit Lynch

Above: Rock star importer Kermit Lynch is one of nearly every natural wine lover’s heros. Me? Guilty as charged. (Photo courtesy the SF Gate)

I cannot conceal my thrill that Kermit Lynch commented on my blog yesterday. In case you missed it, he wrote:

    One of my favorite pairings is the Bandol rosé (Domaine de Terrebrune also makes a winner) with popcorn. No, not buttered popcorn. To really make the wine and popcorn work wonders, I use olive oil, salt, and dried thyme stirred into the popped corn. A hit of Provence.

Mr. Lynch, thank you for stopping by and thanks for reading.

I also heard from Clark Terry who works with Kermit. He contacted the “Beaune” office: roughly 5,000 cases of Bandol Rosé are released by Tempier each year. I’m glad that a few of them make to Austin so that me and Tracie B can enjoy our Bandol with our Idol! Next week, we’ll have to try Kermit’s popcorn…

Idol and Bandol

Above: On Tuesday nights, Tracie B and I watch American idol, play armchair critic, and open a good bottle of wine. Last night we splurged (in celebration of my Princeton translation) and opened the 2007 Bandol Rosé by Tempier, which I found at a surprising palatable price at a “local” market. We paired with her excellent nachos.

The counterpoint wasn’t lost on me and Tracie B last night: we watched what may be the apotheosis of the commercialized and reified American dream (where rags-to-riches hopes are dashed or indemnified by the almighty texting hand of the American consumer) and we sipped a rosé made by a small winery in Provence in the south of France, that counts a meager 8 employees and just 30 hectares (that’s about 74 acres, 6 less than 2 X 40 acres and 2 mules!).

Tracie B and I had tasted the rouge a few weeks ago and she had not-so-subtly mentioned how she wanted to taste the winery’s famous rosé. There’s not a lot of this wine in the U.S. and not a lot of it made: according to Domaine Tempier’s site, its total production is 120,000 bottles, of which 29% is the rosé. I really wanted to surprise Tracie B with a bottle and I struck out at a few of my favorite wine stores.

But when I called my colleague, wine specialist Jen Powell, at a little local grocery store called Whole Foods in Austin, she told me that she had a nice allocation — at a great price. Btw, just because I work in the wine trade doesn’t mean I don’t have to buy wine like everyone else (even though the company I work for reps this wine!).

Above: Tracie B’s nachos are awesome. You can read her recipe here. The bright acidity in the rosé was a perfect match for the spicy flavors of the salsa, the wine’s tannin a great complement to the fat of the refried beans and her sautéed ground turkey topping.

One can argue whether or not Tempier’s Bandol Rosé is the best in the world (as a few did in the comments of a recent post), but when you taste this wine, there’s no question that it is a hand-crafted, artisanal wine that truly tastes of place where it is made, Provence — a classic and superior example of a terroir-driven wine, imported by rock star terroiriste Kermit Lynch, who, btw, just launched a new blog.

I can’t help but wonder (on tax day in our great land): is our country interesting because our Coca Cola (official sponsor American Idol) culture reigns supreme or because at our “local” markets we can find the wines of a tiny little winery in Provence in southern France, where slopes are so steep that they must be tended by hand? Or is our country interesting at all? Or does the answer lie in the fact that the two phenomena live side-by-side?

Rock on Bandol, rock on idol.