What I don't know about Malbec

This blog-post title is a bit deceiving, because I do know a fair amount about Malbec.  Primarily this knowledge has been gained by tasting, and I enjoy this rich and wonderful wine.

But What I Don't Know About Malbec is going to be a diminishing amount of non-knowlege because... I am going to Argentina and Chile in March 2012 to taste, learn, and write about Malbec.

In the summer of 2010, at the Wine Blogger's Conference in Walla Walla, I spent the better part of a sultry summer evening working on an essay that I submitted to WineBow.  As the writer of a wine column in a California newspaper, and a frequent blogger about wine and the wine business, I asked this impertinent question in my essay:  "Mal who?"     It's actually a good question, because a lot of wine drinkers are unfamiliar with the nuances of this grape and the wines made from it.  That needs to be changed, and now I get to help in that mission.

Every wine writer can benefit from more knowledge, and courtesy of WineBow, I'll be on-the-spot in March 2012 in order to learn all I can, and write about the wine and the experience.

So, look for more on this topic in blogposts to come.  Salut!

The Lodge at Galena and L'Uva Bella Wine Gallery - a Great Combination!

L’Uva Bella Wine Gallery in Reno has a great wine selection and is dedicated to wine education. Debby Bullentini, the tireless proprietor of the shop in Reno’s Summit Sierra center, extends her skills in matching wine and food pairings to a monthly event at the Lodge at Galena on Mount Rose Highway, between Reno and Incline Village.

Wine Wall at
L'Uva Bella
It’s impossible to resist Debby’s enthusiasm, and she effortlessly leads diners through a menu prepared by Chef Lindsay Ellinger that’s been designed to match wines from L’Uva Bella. As autumn, and soon winter, is upon us now, the food and wine pairings reflect the season.

As an aperitif, Debby chose the Carbo Cava Brut, a Spanish sparkler that is fermented in the bottle. The blend of grapes (60% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeo, 10% Parellada) results in a very pale yet brilliant yellow wine. Fine light aromas for this fruit and floral wine make it an exquisite mouth-filling Brut. Parellada, a white grape variety of Catalan origin specially grown in Catalonia, along with Macabeo and Xarel•lo, are the three traditional varieties used to making sparkling Cava’s, a Catalonian specialty. 11.5 percent alcohol, $12.99 the bottle.

The first course, a ragout of pork, tomato and white beans is a hearty dish that paired well with the Brokenwood Semillon from Australia. This is a wine from the Hunter Valley, a wine region that’s a daytrip from Sydney. Brokenwood makes this 100% Semillon with a classic New World style, using this revered Old World grape. The color is a luminous green/yellow that lets you anticipate the zesty lemongrass aroma. The structure of the wine is tight, but the citrus and slightly acidic finish is a perfect complement to the hearty pork dish. 11 percent alcohol, $20.99 bottle.

The Vina Sardosol Blanco 2008 from the Navarra region of Spain was a good pairing with the salad course. Generally, salads are difficult to pair with wine, but this salad from Chef Lindsay of mixed beets with mustard and baby greens was well suited to this wine with its minimal acidity, nice bouquet, and apple-apricot floral notes. The blend is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Viura. 13.5 percent alcohol, $10.99 bottle.

Swai and Grenache Noir

Domaine Lafage
I hadn’t heard of the fish Swai, but this is an Indonesian species much like Sole, and it is delicious! Baked with lemon, lentils and zucchini, it paired nicely with the Domaine Lafage Grenache Noir 2008, a French wine made from the Rhone varietal Grenache.

The blackcurrant fruity taste of the wine, with medium tannin, and a rich and concentrated palate was great with the Swai. This brilliantly-red wine is considered a vin de pays, a “country wine”, which is a step above table wine in the French wine classification. A website tour (www.domaine-lafage.com) notes that the Estate is located on the road between Perpignan, the former capital of the Kings of Majorca, and the Mediterranean seashore. Six generations have grown grapes and made wines in this Estate in Catalonia. Travel bug, anyone?

Desserts really should come first in any dinner, despite what your mother said. The chef’s yummy poached pears with chocolate-coffee sabayon, accompanied by homemade sugar cookies, was incredible with the Sandeman’s Founder’s Reserve Ruby Port. Sandeman’s has made port since 1790, and this traditional ruby-red port had powerful flavors and a wonderful brightness to it. $23.99 bottle.

More information on wine offerings at L’Uva Bella Wine Gallery at http://luvabellawinegallery.com/. They are located at 13925 South Virginia St., Suite 248, (next to Dillard’s), Reno NV 89511. Phone 775 831 1110 for info and hours. The Lodge at Galena is located at 17025 Mount Rose Hwy, Reno. Phone 775 849 2100 for hours.

Everything Pairs Well with Bubblies, Even Holiday Cookies...

Holiday cookies and champagne is a perfect pairing, but then everything seems to pair well with champagne. Forty neighbors recently joined me in my San Francisco winter pied-à-terre to toast the holidays and exchange cookies and good cheer. I hadn’t yet received all the notes below from Tahoe-based wine shop owners, so I was on my own at Costco. Since I also love Prosecco, there was plenty of that affordable bubbly too. You will find many nice choices at nearby wine shops without the bedlam of a Big-Box store during this holiday season.

First, a few official definitions, provided by The Champagne Bureau. Do an internet search for more interesting information!

• Brut NV (Non-vintage) is usually a blend of wines from several years and a number of 'crus.'

• Rosé Champagne is produced by macerating the black grapes or by adding locally produced red wine to the blend.


Debby Bullentini, proprietor of the L'uva Bella Wine Gallery in the Summit Sierra shopping center in Reno recommends Brut Souverain NV, which originates in Reims, France. $53.99 the bottle.

“First of all, I love the history of Henriot, since 1808 they have passed down the tradition of champagne making,” notes Debby. “The champagne is well balanced, but delicate. Beautiful small, tight bubbles race up the side of the flute with great white flowers, citrus and acidity on the palate. This wine can be served as an apertif, or even throughout a meal. To be specific, I think it will pair really well with fish, light dishes, and maybe something topped with an apricot/mango salsa.”

Marsha Wagner of Dockside 700 Wine Bar and Grill in the center of Tahoe City notes that they sell Freixenet Cordon Negro, Spain, for $12 per bottle. This is the Number One imported sparkling wine in the world! It is crisp, clean and well balanced with a medium body. Flavors are apple, pear and bright citrus and a crisp touch of ginger. Dockside 700 also offers many wonderful food treats to accompany your festivities.

Caroline Vogt, wine buyer, at the Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet near Tahoe City offers four bubblies for customers to pick up along with the wonderful appetizers, cheeses and baked goods that would go so well with holiday celebrations. Segura Vindas, a Brut Reserva CAVA from Spain, sells for $11 the bottle. It is created from a blend of reserve and non-vintage wines, and the aroma combines white fruits, citrus and tropical fruits, and light floral notes.

A California producer, J Vineyards, makes a lovely Brut Rose. At $27 the bottle, the winery describes this pinky sparkler well: “crisp, red berries, blood orange, lemon peel, concentrated flavors, perfect balance, effervescent, elegant The other J option is J Cuvee 20, which is their signature sparkling wine, made in a style that’ss both elegant and balanced. This is a blend from the fine cool-climate vineyards in the Russian River Valley. $23 the bottle.

The Piper Heidsieck Champage Brut, $39 a bottle, consistently gets high praise from Wine Spectator Magazine: "Firm and lightly toasty, this offers ripe flavors of quince paste, candied orange peel, grilled nuts and ground ginger. Shows fine balance and a pleasant juiciness that builds to the mouthwatering finish.”

Whatever you choose, your holiday will be so much more fun with a sparkling wine! Happy New Year!


L'uva Bella Wine Gallery, Summit Sierra Center, 13925 South Virginia St., Suite 248, Reno, NV 89511 tel: (775) 851-1110

Dockside 700 Wine Bar & Grill, 700 N Lake Blvd, Tahoe City, CA 96145. (530) 581-0303

Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet, 625 W lake Blvd, Tahoe City, CA 96145 (530) 583-1377

Excellent wine-food pairings in Tahoe City at Dockside 700

I think that Dockside 700 is going to be my new favorite place in Tahoe City for a convivial glass of wine. I really liked the vibe there at their elegant and friendly bar, and the adjoining restaurant features pleasant music, not too loud. Top the experience off with a very good wine-by-the-glass list with reasonable prices and a balance of familiar and more adventurous wines, and they have simply got it all. If that weren’t enough (but it is), the heated-in-winter and screened-in-summer enclosed porch has a wonderful lake view. Suggestion: take your wine out there!

Owners Marsha Wagner and David Richardson have been in the business of preparing delicious food since 2005, starting with Ice Box Kitchen, a take-and-bake “sous vide” concept with freshly-prepared entrees offered in a deli case a few steps from the wine bar. “We think that wine is a complement to food,” says Marsha “We deliberately decided to build a wine list that is unique in the area and features very food-friendly wines.” Almost all Dockside 700 wines by the glass range from $5 to $7 per glass, and can be bought by the bottle too. There are wonderful pairing s with the happy hour appetizer menu. Happy hour begins at 4 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m., seven days a week.

Our tour of the Dockside 700 wine menu started with their top sellers: Cuvaison Chardonnay, Sobon Zinfandel, and Justin Cabernet.

The 2009 Cuvaison Chardonnay uses grapes sourced from Carneros. It is a bright yet light golden-colored wine, with an aroma of honeysuckle and notes of white peach and pear blossom. On the palate you’ll taste apricot and peach, with a hint of nutmeg and a nice toasty oak. Cuvaison is a favorite of Marsha’s, in part because of their commitment to sustainability and their use of solar power. 14.2 percent alcohol.

The 2010 Sobon Zinfandel is a personal favorite of mine too, since you all know by know that I think the wines from Sierra Foothill wineries are among the best that California has to offer. This Old Vine Zinfandel blended from several of  Sobon's estate vineyards in Amador county is a fragrant, rich, full bodied zin with very forward, fruit driven flavors. It is 97 percent Zin and 3 percent Petite Syrah, with final alcohol percent of 14.9. Just released in October 2011, it is meant for every day consumption but the winemaker notes that it will improve in the bottle for the next five years. Yummy with Dockside 700’s artichoke dip appetizer!

I was lured by the meatball sub on housebaked bread and the suggested pairing with the Justin 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles. Somewhat of an entry-level Cabernet, the aroma is fruity, and the taste of ripe red and black fruit with a touch of spice makes it easy to drink. Nicely textured tannins provide that underpinning for pairing with burgers, stews, meatballs. 14.5 percent alcohol.

Sold by the bottle only, the Phelps Fog Dog 2008 Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast is medium-bodied with a fresh crisp initial taste and a spiciness and balance thereafter. The first sip, which is fresh, lean and crisp, follows through with a spicy mid-palate and finishes with firm, balanced and pleasant acidity. 13.5 percent alcohol.

The sister wine to this is 2009 Phelps Fog Dog Pinot Noir. Ask if they have any left! The winemaker notes that it is “loaded with vibrant red fruit, tangerine peel… simply bursting with red raspberry, plump red cherry and rhubarb.” 13.5 percent alcohol.

Dockside 700 is located at 700 North Lake Blvd, Tahoe City. Tel 530-581 0303. Menus (but not wine list) are at www.dockside700.com.