12/3: Rock Wall Wine Wonderland, Ventura Winter Wine Walk; 12/4 Cave Bubbles!

Next weekend winter wine wonders abound! 

If you’re in southern California, the first weekend in December is a good one to come to Ventura County for a wine and art adventure! Bay Area folks should buy tickets now to the Wine Wonderland at Rock Wall Winery in Alameda.

OJAI CA: If you’re an Ojai Vineyards Wine Club member, get started on Friday afternoon Dec. 3. From 2-6pm members can pick up their club shipment and enjoy an exclusive tasting event at the tasting room 109 S. Montgomery Street near the Ojai Arts Center. Ojai staff including winemakers and cellar rats will be on hand to answer questions and pour two special wines in addition to the regular tasting menu. This event will repeat Sunday December 11th from 2 to 6 pm. Please RSVP Tel. (805) 649 1674. Here’s Ojai’s Home page where you can Buy Their Wines.

VENTURA CA: FIRST FRIDAY Then head to Ventura where you can roam the streets during the monthly First Friday and check out the art. You might even join a SantaCon on bikes–meet at 530p on your bike in your Santa Suit at the Artists Union Gallery where California Street hits the sea; ride leaves about 6pm. Bring your own wine glass!

VENTURA: HOLIDAY STREET FAIR Saturday’s street fair starts at 11am. During this popular event, downtown Main Street is filled with vendors and music.

VENTURA: WINTER WINE WALK Saturday night at 6pm Ventura will light its holiday tree by the San Buenaventura Mission and celebrate with the second Ventura Winter Wine Walk. Holiday festivities include caroling by local church groups, Santa Claus ride into Downtown Ventura on a fire engine, and snow falling from about 645-8pm! The event is free and open to the public.  For more information, call 805.641.1090 or visit www.downtownventura.com.

Participants in the self-guided Winter Wine Walk from 4-8pm can sample fine wines and delicious appetizers: $42 gets 12 sample tickets. Learn more www.venturawinterwinewalk.com or by calling (805) 765-4294. NOTE: You have to check in before 6:30pm.

I was downtown last year for the Ventura Winter Wine Walk; you can read my impressions of it here. While I was personally disappointed in it overall, I am willing to give it another try this year.

Unless you like tasting wine in a plastic cup, I strongly recommend that you bring your own wine glasses to the Ventura Winter Wine Walk. Reidel has a fabulous stemless glass in a round cardboard carton or go for GOVINO–ergonomic, well shaped, high quality plastic wine glasses. You can buy them at Palermo the night of the event–$3 for one or $13 for 4.

Next year event organizers should give people event branded govino glasses.

VENTURA CA:  CAVE CHAMPAGNE TASTING On Sunday 12/4, from 1-4pm, for $35, 100 lucky people will taste various kinds of Champagne in the Cave in Ventura. The retail store will be open from 12-5pm and you may come in to purchase Champagne and any other wines during that time and enjoy special reduced prices even if you are not attending the Champagne Tasting!!!

ALAMEDA CA: ROCK WALL WINE WONDERLAND If you’re in the Bay Area the first weekend in December, you’ll want to head to Rock Wall Wine Company for the Wine Wonderland Open House Saturday December 3rd , 2011 1:00-5:00pm.

The entire Rock Wall Wine Company portfolio will be available to taste, including 7 new releases. I had a chance to meet the head of Rock Wall, Kent Rosenblum (yes THAT Rosenblum!) and his winemaker, daughter Shauna, at the PS I Love You Symposium July 2011. I look forward to writing more about them–as I learned sitting with them at lunch, they have a beautiful story and excellent wines!

This event also features a variety of wonderful selections from the very talented resident producers: Blacksmith Cellars, Carica Wines, Ehrenberg Cellars, John Robert Eppler Wines, Joseph Gary Cellars, Mercy and R&B Cellars–over 65 wines to taste!

In addition to the wine tasting, admission includes tasty bites, sweet treats, tours, live music and plenty of holiday cheer! The party goes from 1:00 to 5:00 pm and tickets are $30 per person through the Rock Wall tasting room, $35 per person presale online and $45 per person at the door the day of the event. This event is only open to those over 21 years of age. Age will be verified at admissions. For ticket and/or more information go to www.rockwallwines.com.

Holiday Wine Challenge Part 3: Ham & Zin!

I realize now that fixing a two traditional holiday Thanksgiving or Christmas meals –first a ham dinner then a turkey dinner– and tasting a bunch of wines with the food really was quite a challenge. If I was a stay at home wine blogger (and not teaching 75% time, working on a PhD, and being a mom!), I am sure I could have accomplished it before Thanksgiving! As it is, I made due with a steady stream of tweets and facebook posts to share what I was tasting and learning. And I know thanks to search engines, people will be finding these posts for years to come!

So wthis zin is great with ham or turkey for holiday meals like Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easterhat did I learn about ham and wine?

The big surprise was how well the ham dinner went with the 2007 Sonoma County St Francis Old Vines Zinfandel (under $20). I knew I would like this wine with turkey but on a whim I decided to open it. As I tasted through the line-up, I didn’t expect much of the zin. However, the chemical reaction between the ham and the zin was wonderfully tasty!

So much so that if I was to recommend one wine to bring, especially f you didn’t know what was going to be served, I’d go with a zinfandel because it works with ham, turkey, appetizers including blue cheese and crackers, as well as red meats like prime rib.

Zinfandel is a wonderful food wine and accessible to many people even if they are not regular wine drinkers. Read my discussion of the St Francis Zin with turkey here.

My second favorite for the ham from this line-up is the 2010 M. Chapoutier Bellaruche Cotes-du-Rhone. Personally, I really enjoy dry roses with ham (here’s a discussion of a dry rose from Bordeaux with ham).  There is something about the combo of the spice and sweetness and salitiness that makes this work so well. I also tried this the next morning with ham and eggs and a cranberry pecan scone and I would definitely recommend this wine for brunch or one of those breakfast for dinner kind of nights.

I also tried the 2010 Oak Mountain Winery Muscat from Temecula Valley CA $18 (winery price) because I had an open bottle. I liked this well enough with the ham. Here’s more about it in my post about the International Food Bloggers Conference dinner which is where I got it. I should have included a Riesling or Gewürztraminer in the tasting as these are typically great wines with ham. But there was already a lot of wine open!

The other two wines I tried were also good wines but not that exciting with ham:

2009 Louis Jadot  Beaujolais-Villages considered one of the best wines under $25!

While this wine wasn’t my favorite with the ham, it’s a great choice for appetizers. I love it with pate, cheese and crackers.

2009 Craggy Ridge Pinot Noir ($35-45) As I wrote when I reviewed it with turkey, this is a lovely, delightful complex pinot noir, full of earth and moss and violets and chocolate and tarragon, truly a wonderful Pinot Noir from New Zealand, lush, sensual. I wouldn’t bring this wine to a big holiday meal with tons of people– save it for when you can focus on it and savor it! I bet it would be better with a pork loin or chop than with salty ham.

What wine do you like to drink with ham?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Holiday Wine Challenge Part 2: Turkey & Red Wine? Yes! Try These!

White Meat = White Wine

Pink Meat = Pink Wine

Red Meat = Red Wine

This is what many, if not most of us in the US grew up thinking  about when it came to matching wine with food (if we thought of wine at all!) This leads us to white wines with turkey, pink with ham, and red wines with prime rib for our holiday meals.

This short hand works well enough most of the time. But rules were made to be broken!

The trend over the past few years has been to pair turkey with pinot noir or beaujolais. (Rumor has it you ou can thank Oprah for this one!)

A lot of people weigh in with their opinions about what goes good with a holiday meal WITHOUT ACTUALLY TASTING THE WINE WITH THE FOOD! (Sorry the photo is NOT as good as the food–I ran out of patience too soon to get a good shot!!)

So I set out to try as many wines as I could with both a turkey dinner and a ham dinner. (I’m also going to have my husband cook a goose and a duck and maybe even a prime rib to try some wines to see what works best!)  You can read about the turkey dinner menu here and the white wines I tried with it. This was quite an undertaking! I tried to finish in time for those last minute Thanksgiving wine shoppers and of course there’s many a holiday meal to come!

2009 Louis Jadot  Beaujolais-Villages WORKS OK with turkey

According to a BIG ad in the LA Times, this is the wine you should bring to your holiday event–and it’s been named one of the best wines for under $25. Well, it might be all that and more, but I’m not so convinced that it goes with turkey. At least not with my palate. But with the pate from Trader Joe’s  that I snacked on while making dinner, I swear it’s my favorite pairing of the night! This is positively devilish in that it  was all I could do to keep from piling it on and washing it down with this wine.

2009 Craggy Ridge Pinot Noir ($35-45) WORKS OK with Turkey

Don’t get me wrong, this is a lovely, delightful complex pinot noir, full of earth and moss and violets and chocolate and tarragon. This is truly a wonderful wine that makes me curious to taste and contemplate but here’s the truth: it’s fine with the turkey. But this lush, sensual wine has more magic on its own. Don’t waste this wine on a Thanksgiving dinner. Save it for when you can focus on it and savor it! This tastes like a $40 pinot noir. (And not that anyone asked, but I love the wine and I hate the website. It’s hard to navigate and the font is so small it’s hard to read.) I almost wish I hadn’t opened it and saved it for tasting on another occasion.

Looking for an easy to find and under $10 pinot noir?  I’ve had the Smoking Loon Pinot Noir with roasted chicken and I bet it would do the trick with turkey too–but it wasn’t part of this tasting. You can find it in many grocery store on sale for $5!

2007 St Francis Old Vine Zinfandel Sonoma County $20 DEFINITELY WORKS with turkey! THE WINNER!!

This is classic old vines zin. Full of lusty dusty brambly blackberry and wild rose with a hint of anise, it reminds me of traveling on a country road to Grandmother’s house. The winery is named after St Francis of Assisi and they’re doing their best to care for the land and what lives there, just like their name sake. To be eligible for this wine, the vines have to be over 50 years old. Many are 100 years old! So in addition to bringing a good wine to grandmother’s house, you get to bring some good stories. It’s not too heavy, oaky or tannic but it has a nice richness and complexity which holds up with the dark meat and complements the white meat. It went well with all the sides but especially the salad!

While the St Francis is a great wine for the money, what if you’re on more of a budget? Recently I tasted the Smoking Loon Zinfandel ($5 on sale) with turkey burgers and while it doesn’t have the body or the finish of the St Francis, for the money, this would be a great choice–or bring it as a second bottle. (ALWAYS drink the best stuff first!)

2007 Twisted Oak Petit Sirah WORKS OK with turkey

Since I had a bottle of this open (I’d had it the other night with a perfectly grilled steak!) and since someone raved about PS with turkey, I gave it a try. I like the wine a lot but it didn’t do much for the dinner overall. I did like it better with the dark meat than the white meat.

I’ve also heard recommendations for grenache with turkey and as I like grenache with chicken I bet it would be good with turkey and the trimmings. If I was going to pull a Twisted Oak red wine from my stash for a holiday meal, I would be more likely to choose a grenache.

So can you enjoy red wine with turkey? YES! What’s the red wine that I’m going to bring to the next holiday meal?


Specifically, Saldo 2008 California Zinfandel. I bought this last year and loved it with turkey so I bought another one and put it away. Now’s the time to bring it out!

Which red wines do YOU enjoy with turkey?

Holiday Wine Challenge Part 1: Turkey? Ham? Red? White? Rose?

What’s your traditional holiday meal? Is it turkey? Ham? Prime Rib? Or something a lot less carnivorous?

Once you figure out the main course as well as the sides, what wine do you choose to pair with the cornucopia that will overflow on your table and in your belly. (What wine do you think they’re drinking in this classic photo from the collection of Charles Phoenix?)

And how do you decide which wine to choose?

Pinot noir or Beaujolais, both light red wines, seem to be all the rage and the recommendations from wine influencers. In fact, when Rick Bakas posted the question on his facebook profile (“Pinot noir of Beaujolais?) most people answered one or the other, with just a few people offering other suggestions including Barbera and Petite Sirah. Read here about how the pinot noir trend started on Oprah!

However, when I have tasted pinot noir and Beaujolais with holiday feasts of turkey and ham, these wines were good but not that exciting.

So what’s a Wine Blogger to do?

In the call of duty, I convinced my husband to cook a turkey BEFORE Thanksgiving. AND I convinced him to cook a ham too! (It wasn’t that hard actually; we enjoy turkey and ham as often as possible!) Then I lined up a bunch of wines, many of them samples sent in the hopes of a recommendation for YOUR holiday table, and I tried them with the turkey and the trimmings.


Turkey: Kosher, brined, Trader Joe’s ($2.49 a pound for a 13# bird), rubbed with fresh rosemary, lemon and other secrets of my husband (which took about an hour),  cooked on the BBQ for three hours, resting for 15 minutes before carving. (Always use a thermometer!)

Dressing: Trader Joe’s cornbread dressing as directed for stovetop substituting chicken broth and a splash of white wine for the water.

Side: Steamed brussel spouts, bacon, chestnuts.

Because I didn’t have time to make a gravy and there were only three of us, I poured the drippings onto the dressing and the brussel sprouts (oh lordy that’s good!)

Salad: Baby mixed greens with fresh raspberries and blackberries dressed with huckleberry vinagrette and Spanish olive oil.


I tasted the wines “straight”, then with various items from the menu. All wines were in the same stemware. At first I went from whites to reds, light to heavier, then mixed it up using the food to change my palate. I didn’t really know what the bottles retailed for until I researched and wrote the blog posts.

A few WHITE and ROSE Wines: Continue reading

International Food Bloggers Conference 2011: Highlights from Santa Monica

Here’s a quick rundown of highlights from my whirl wind experience at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Santa Monica November 11-13, 2011 including details from our Food Truck lunch and the dinner prepared by Chef Michael Moore from Sydney and wines from Temecula.

First, I missed out on November 11 because of my son’s birthday party. I heard dinner was a blast and that folks enjoyed wandering around with their food tickets.

On Saturday, we arrived and got checked into the hotel–the DoubleTree with its warm chocolate chip cookies, suites and for many of us, views of the Pacific on this gray, rainy, cold, fall day.

We were just in time for a food truck lunch held over at nearby SaMo High School by some picnic tables. The trucks were lined up and offered a limited but delightfully varied and tasty menu. My son, the birthday boy, was over the moon about the grilled cheese sandwiches: one half was plain and simple, but the other half was mac n cheese with rib meat. Wow. No wonder my husband had been trying to track The Grilled Cheese Truck down for awhile!

I couldn’t tell you which was food from which truck was my favorite. Honestly. I can be really tough to please but it was all so good and so nice AND they were all willing to take the onions off!  (Onions destroy my palate and I was going to be tasting wines later). Perhaps what was most memorable was the super fresh ginger in the peanut sauce from the Chomp Chomp Truck.

We also fell in love with the Voss water that was served. While I certainly would have enjoyed experimenting with wines with these foods, the Voss water in the glass bottles has such a classy presentation, and was of such high quality that I wasn’t tooooo disappointed. I usually don;t go for “water with gas” as they call it in Europe but this time I did because it went better with the rich food than a still water.

Here’s a few of my tweets with links to photos of Food Truck Heaven: Continue reading

Experience “Life on the Douro” on the West Coast this week–and taste the wine too!

Documentary film maker Zev Robinson will screen his new film Life on the Douro on the West Coast this week starting with LA tonight Tues. Nov. 15 and then San Francisco on Th. Nov. 17. The film will be followed by a tasting of some very fine Port and Douro wines from Graham’s, Dow’s, Niepoort, Crasto, Taylor Fladgate, Quevedo, Mourao, and possibly Sandeman, Ferreira and Portal. In addition to seeing a beautiful and engaging film with a fascinating story, this is an amazing opportunity to taste wines that are rare and difficult to find in the US.

“Directing this film has been one of the great experiences of my life,” says director Zev Robinson, “the Douro is one of the wonders of the world that should be seen at least once in a lifetime, and Portugal is a country that deserves to be much better known.”

Doors open at 6 PM, the film will start at 6:30, presented by director Zev Robinson, followed by a Q&A, and a wine tasting presented by Oscar Quevedo, marketing director for the Quevedo winery http://quevedoportwine.com/,  and Roy Hersh of http://www.fortheloveofport.com, one of the world’s leading experts of Port and Douro wines, one of the world’s leading experts of Port and Douro wines and organizer of  tours of the region.

Chaplin Theater and Raleigh Cafe,
Raleigh Studios
5300 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90038
Tickets are $32.00 and can be purchased here –

Delancey Street San Francisco
Screening Room and Private Club
600 Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94107
Tickets are $32.00 and can be purchased here –

Life on the Douro can also be viewed Saturday, November 19, at Paso Robles Film Festival (exact time TBA) –

I had been looking forward to attending this film in Los Angeles and seeing Zev and Oscar again but I took over teaching a college class that meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and can’t cancel class. I’ll have to miss Saturday in Paso Robles because it is the 50th Birthday celebration and concert of my lifelong friend Jeff Kaiser. I’m so disappointed I’ll be missing out on the film and the tasting!

How To Create Compelling Content: Part 1

How To Create Compelling Content For Your Food Blog About Wine
Or, How To Become a Wine Blogger Without Really Trying

This afternoon I am speaking at the International Food Bloggers Conference. Here are a few notes for my presentation.

I started blogging the November night the time changed in 2007. I was waiting for my husband—he was putting our son to sleep then we were going to watch a movie. But my husband fell asleep.  And I awoke to the wonderful world of blogging.

I’d had a newspaper column for a number of years called Art Predator, an eclectic mix following Coleridge’s definition of the aesthetic as that which engages the whole soul. I wrote about art, literature, film, Burning Man, music, travel and yes, food and wine.

I found I was writing so much about food and wine that I started another blog –Wine Predator! That year I attended the first Wine Bloggers Conference. In 2009 I attended the second Wine Bloggers Conference then I wrote an essay and was selected to travel to Portugal to the European Wine Bloggers Conference and to learn about Portuguese culture, cuisine, and wine as a guest of Enoforum.  In 2010, I wrote a series of blog posts and was selected to travel to Washington State. Most recently, I was a co-host for International Champagne Day at the Jolly Oyster in Ventura.

So what have I learned over the years about producing compelling content at the intersection of food and wine?

1)   Go for the jugular.

2)  Tell stories.

3) Be specific.

4) Experiment.

I’ll add more details in a later post!

Read more tips about writing and using social media over at The Write Alley.