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Lunch with Nicolás Catena – The Mondavi of Argentina

Cabaña de Las Lilas is one of the most famous steakhouses in Buenos Aires, let alone all of Argentina.  When we walked in I recognized everything — the open kitchen, the smell of charred beef, the outdoor patio on the river – from my visit 10 years ago.  We happened to be there this time on Mothers Day, which is celebrated on October 20 in Argentina and Chile.  But we weren’t there to celebrate moms. The “we” I refer to is my group of fellow travel writers, all on a wine trip through Chile and Mendoza.  Our last stop was a few hours in Buenos Aires.  Most of the hours were spent at Cabaña Las Lilas.  We weren’t complaining though, because that meant a three hour lunch with the most famous winery duo in Argentina, Nicolás and Elena Catena, proprietors of Bodega Catena Zapata in Mendoza. I was lucky enough…

Chardonnay in Balance

Chardonnay has been one of the hallmark wines made in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  In the 1990’s and early aughts, while other California wineries were pushing the envelope on overblown buttery and oaky styles, Santa Cruz Mountain Chards, especially those of Mount Eden Vineyards and winemaker Jeffrey Patterson, were a beacon of hope for those of us who prefer a more restrained, more balanced glass of wine.  Now that the pendulum seems to be swinging towards unoaked, crisp and elegant wines, more Burgundian than Californian in style, these Chardonnays are more fashionable than ever. I’ve never been a Chardonnay fan – until now.  I’ve been exploring Santa Cruz Mountains wineries over the past six months or so — getting updated on what’s new and exciting. In the process I’ve discovered some Chardonnays that turned my tastebuds.  And while I usually don’t buy Chardonnay, I’ve been spending perhaps a little too…

New Kids On The Wine Block

The Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticulture Area (AVA), in northern California, running along the Pacific coast south of San Francisco to Santa Cruz, is one of the most diverse wine growing regions in the world.  This wine country is also one of the oldest in California, dating back to the mid 1880’s when pioneers like Paul Masson were growing grapes and making wine here.  There are nearly 70 wineries that call the Santa Cruz Mountains home, and a few new kids on the block are noteworthy newcomers. Silvertip Vineyards   Silvertip Vineyards is what you would call a destination winery — but not because you’ll find a fancy chateau or Michelin-starred dining there.  You have to work to find this Santa Cruz Mountains winery, tucked away among the redwoods, only a few miles as the crow files from Silicon Valley, but a world away in this forested setting.  You do…

“King of Chardonnay” Miljenko Grgich Still Going Strong at 90

“In all my life I have been associated with two W’s.”  The beret clad Miljenko “Mike” Grgich is standing in front of us, a group of wine press gathered at the Grgich Hills Estate winery in Napa Valley, to celebrate his 90th birthday.  “Guess what that is?”  One of the W’s is for wine of course.  The other?  Women.  Grgich is quite the charmer, and one of his favorite sayings is “Good wines and good ladies improve with maturity.”  He should know.  For 40 years Grgich has been making some of the best, if not the best, Chardonnay in the business, wines which have not only matured well but are still very much alive. Proof of that ageability?  Grgich poured tastes of the 1972 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that he made, where he was winemaker and limited partner, as his inaugural vintage for the new Napa Valley winery.  Today this wine…

My Top 10 Wine Moments of 2011

As December comes to a close we’re all reflecting back on the year that has been 2011. Although we’re still going through challenging economic times, spirits of the vintners throughout wine country seem to be rising, as sales are slowly picking up. There’s a feeling of hope and optimism that I haven’t seen in a long time. So keeping that positive state of mind, here are my top 10 wine moments of 2011. Read more

EAT – A Thomas Keller Dinner at Home

On Sunday night my cookbook club took on the challenge of making dishes out of famed wine country chef Thomas Keller’s series of cookbooks. We divided up into teams of two and each made one course of a plated, sit-down dinner (usually everything’s served buffet-style.) We feasted on 6 courses, made from The French Laundry, Bouchon and Ad Hoc at Home cookbooks. At the end of the meal, we all agreed that while everything was delicious, the time involved — 8 hours for a quiche (Bouchon) 3 days for French onion soup (Bouchon) — was way more than we’d ever want to do on a regular basis. But we sure did gain an appreciation and understanding of why Keller’s restaurants are so darn expensive! To us, the Ad Hoc cookbook was the most approachable with recipes that aren’t as time consuming or complicated. Notice no one attempted anything out of…

EAT DRINK – Dungeness crab

Mmmm – Dungeness crab, fresh and local.  Does it get any better than that?  Well yes it does, especially with a spot-on wine pairing.  In this case you’ve got the crab with its clean flavors and just a little bit of sweetness.  A regular Chardonnay esp w/ any oak will overpower the crab.  While a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling are more reliable choices, why not try this? An unoaked Chardonnay.  Look for Chards that are fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks.  My choice for this evening –  Sarah’s Vineyard “Steel Blue” Chardonnay.  It’s zippy and bright, and really helps enhance the tasty crab.