Monthly Archives: March 2010

Time for Dessert at Prima!

9.13pm, Still at Prima!

Prima dessert!

Dessert has just been served – Vanilla Budino and fresh strawberries with toasted almonds. This one I just tried and the fruit is magic on its own, let alone the caramelised creme vanilla concoction that the fruit is floating on! It’s served with the Domaine Carneros Damask Rose – nice combo, and I took a pic of that as well.

But what I really wanted to let you know was that at the second last table, this delightful bloke with a handlebar moustache just said he was hoping I’d be bringing them ” a shrimp for the barbie”. He’s getting the chocolate bunny Easter award for being game enough to say it! Nice bloke, so I’m going to give him the choc and tell that table all about the wine. Then I’m pretty much done – huge night, nice folks and 20 questions left right and centre. Good times.

Two Wines, One Dish, 16,000 Kilometres

8.47pm – same place – Prima @ Walnut Creek

Prima pork

The show is in full swing, and Peter Chastain Masterchef and the whole kitchen brigade is running flat hammer. The pork dish just came out and looks sensational. If it tastes half as good as it looks  … On the menu, it reads “Arista of Kurobuta Pork with savoy cabbage, sofritto and peruvian potatoes”.  Now I took a pic and will ask the chef what that all means, as the savoy cabbage is actually a parcel, with a savoury centre. But the folks at my table are raving about how well it goes with our 2008 Scribbler, and Patty Green’s Oregon Pinot Noir. There you go – two wines from regions 16000km apart, and both work with a lovely pork loin! OK, it’s back to the fray, as I’ve only got to 3 tables and there’s 6 more!

Women in Wine – and The Scribbler

6.23pm, Tuesday 30th March, Prima Ristorante & Negozio di Vini (Prima Restaurant and Wine Store), 1520 North Main Street, Walnut Creek, CA, USA
Hi folks! Here I am, sitting at Frank’s computer in the wine store side – allowed to gatecrash and join the panel of the Prima 5th Annual Women in Wine Dinner. Here’s the list of Femme Fabbo Wine Gals – all local, I’m the only foreign flavour on the list – that will be hosting tables and pouring and talking their prize wines tonight:

  • Pam Starr, Crocker & Starr: 2006 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley
  • Eileen Crane, Domaine Carneros: 2006 Domaine Carneros Brut (which folks are popping in their mouth as soon as they arrive as a sparkling start to what should be a top wine night out in the leafy green streets of Walnut Creek)
  • Kathy Joseph, Fiddlehead Cellars: 2007 Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez & 2006 Fiddlehead Fiddlestix 728 Pinot Noir SRH (Fantastic! The big chief back at Yalumba is always encouraging me to expand my horizons and boost mywine cred by “getting” pinot noir, so I shall check this wine out with relish and give you a proper tasting note later on.)
  • Patricia Green, of the eponomymous (always wanted to use that word in a sentence!) Patricia Green Cellars: 2008 Patricia Green Estate Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge (OK! Two chances to stretch my palate to the max and break out of Cab Shiraz tunnel vision).
  • Jennifer Williams, Spottswoode: 2006 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
  • Delia Viader, Viader Wines: 2006 Viader DARE Tempranillo, Napa Valley
  • and Me, showing Kev Glastonbury’s 2008 The Scribbler Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz that’s jumping out of the blocks and will hopefully win some hearts and palates tonight.

So I have to run and pour the wine. There’s a hundred people sitting down for dinner, and I’ll also fill you in on the food … as it happens. See ya in a bit!

PS Thanks Johnny Ritt for having us and sticking with us over the years.

Goodbye to Hollywood

7.13am, Starbucks over from In & Out Burger, Pleasanton, CA, USA
I’ve just sorted out the wines for this evening’s tasting at the Solano Bar 7 Grill and have loaded them into Jimmy the Jeep. I wanted to write one last “goodbye to Hollywood” bit that I completely forgot about yesterday.

That sign ...

On Saturday morning early I followed my nose up into “those Hollywood Hills” – just like the old Bob Seger song – to see if I could get a shot of what’s left of the old “Hollywoodland” sign. That sign originally advertised the land sale during the original boom time that established the moving picture industry in this part of the world. I got up into Beachwood, which becomes a windy narrow spaghetti mix of tracks up into the canyons, and got the best I could. While doing that though, I was driving in and out of roads lined with the ever-present tall, skinny trademark Beverly Hills / Hollywood palm trees, so it constantly feels like you’re driving through that Beverly Hills Cop movie – or something similar.

Any rate – goodbye for now Hollywoodland – but I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t be too long before we’re crossing paths again! I’ll be looking forward to it!

Early to Bed in Beverly Hills

8.15pm, Sunday 28th March, Pleasanton, CA, USA
Wow, what happened to the last 48 hours! I dropped off the edge, that’s what. I got back “home” yesterday afternoon from Los Angeles, put a stack of washing on, went down to Chevy’s Fresh Mex and got their chicken salad and sweetcorn soup – ploughed through that – then hit the sack at 7.30pm, and went out like a light. Must have got at least 10 hours sleep on and off, so ready to pick up back where I left off last Friday in my Starbucks “office” where I started the blog on our LA tasting at The Beverly Hills Hotel.

Let me finish that bit off – this is the run of that day – third of three tastings:

Our first visitor once the doors were open was the owner of Valentines Restaurant in Bakersfield – home of country singing legend Buck Owens. Then it was on, and again the HWG team did a magnificent job of making this event such a “must visit” day for such a large and varied chunk of the LA area/Orange County trade. In the first couple of hours we saw:

All Corked Up, Cost Plus Pasadena, The Palms Restaurant Downtown, Zazou Restaurant, Chaya Restaurant, Vons Pavilion Store, XIV, The Little Door Restaurant Bistro and Gift Baskets, Michaels, Whole Foods Markets (3 stores), Bev Mo, Winestyles Torrance Town Centre …

1.55pm – I looked up. That went fast. And hey, isn’t that Emilio Estevez? He’s tangled up with Kaena Vineyards, and a lass making a small volume of Viognier, so we went through that variety at length – tasting all of ours. Time to grab half a sandwich that we picked up on the way in this morning from Starbucks, and back into it.

… Bristol Farms Long Beach, Albertsons Huntingnon Beach, Cost Plus World Market Sherman Oaks, Wine Cask, more Bev Mo folks, the new young folks joining the HWG corporate sales team …

2.34pm Big crowd here! It’s noisy now – lots of pouring and talking.

… Wolfgang Steakhouse, Eclectic Wine Bar & Grill, Total Wine & More, Naked Grapes Consulting, Cut, Abbon Danza Restaurant Newport, Brittas Restaurant Irvine, Hi Time Costa Mesa …

3.50pm I didn’t get everyone down, just got so busy. About now is when I’m starting to hate the sound of my own voice, but folks keep coming and are really interested in what we’re doing, so you have to keep pouring and talking – because the next person to the bench is hearing it all for the first time.

Another hour! Then we can take a deep breath and regroup, and get Di out to the airport, change the car over to my name, and I can get back to the hotel in Beverly Hills and get set up for the presentation to the Southern Sales Force down in Newport Beach tomorrow.

… Bottleworx, Pacific Dining Car, Andres Wine & Tapas Bar Ventura, Erewhon organic food and wine store, Bristol Farms, Nicks Liquor Market, Bobs! market, Vino 100, Lakeside Golf Club …

And that was the end of it at 5pm.

Fast Forward to Friday afternoon 26th March – Fairmont Hotel, Newport Beach
I had a half-hour presentation at 1pm for the Southern Sales team, who were really holding up well after the massive day in LA Thursday. I wanted to show the new Y Series labels “in the flesh” as they’ll be coming into the market very soon, and for my second flight of wines, I chose to put the Cabernet Shiraz blend in perspective with the new 2008 Scribbler, 2004 FDR1A, and 2004 Signature – how the Scribler is the “declassified” barrels from the vineyards earmarked for the 2008 Signature; and how the FDR1A was a forward and velvety juicy fruit set of barrels from the 2004 Signature vineyards; and the 2004 Signature is settling – in a pretty stellar fashion – into its stride as the classic “in style” Cab Shiraz blend for that label.

After thanking the HWG folk for including us in such an ambitious but outrageously successful project as the “Triple Tasting”, I filled the team in on as much of the news from home as I could think of – especially with respect to how the vintage 2010 is travelling – and then my time was done.

Back onto the freeway at around 2.30pm, and I kid you not – into the WORST traffic I have encountered in this country EVER! At times, it was 5 lanes each way flying along at 70 miles per hour, but more often than not, it was 5 lanes each way at a complete standstill. How folks survive doing this every day – I just have no idea. It’s not surprising that people plan stuff around the traffic flow – or lack of it!

Old school pool

It took 3 hours to get back up to Beverly Hills, and by that time, I was just about nodding off. So I took the smart option, went to a little diner down the street – the original downstairs corner coffee shop and restaurant for the Beverly Laurel Motor Hotel. The motel is still running and is as neat as a new blue-and-white pin, with the “tropicana” style pool garden in the centre of the courtyard. The diner is called Swingers now, but has the old juke box, original tartan vinyl counter chairs and booths, and I took the jerk chicken, beans & plantains.

Then I’m sorry to say folks – packed up all the gear from the tasting week, and went to bed at 8 o’clock on a Friday night in Beverly Hills! I can’t believe I did that. Should have gone to Whisky A Go Go, The Viper Room, The Troubadour! Thing is – I’m old! This is proof!

Just for the record. I did not do a lot today, and I won’t have to start setting up our VIP tasting scheduled for tomorrow evening until 4.30pm, so Monday is credit card reconciliation day, and catch up the schedule for the last two weeks of this California job – as things have shifted and changed a heap, and we’ll be back down to San Diego again. So we’ll need wine, flights, and accommodation for all of that – so a pretty full day ahead. But … not an early start, so that’s a win. Also, if there’s a spare evening over the next two weeks, I’d like to try and get a ticket for the new Alcatraz by Night Tour. That would be a treat.

So here we go, as we get set for the last couple of California weeks – seems like the last six have just whizzed by. See ya tomorrow night when we’ll be working in Berkeley.

Going Old School in Beverly Hills

10.12am Friday 26th March, Starbucks, MacArthur Boulevard, Newport Beach, CA, USA
Here’s the thing. When you open your computer first thing in the morning and you have trouble remembering your password, that’s fair enough. But when you stare at the panel where you have to enter your name and you have to think about it, then you know you’re in trouble for the day! That’s how I started, after giving the idea of doing my blog last night away as a bad joke.

We finished the third of the three HWG tastings in Los Angeles around 5.30pm yesterday, then took my partner in wine education this week, Diana Malloy, out to the airport, sent her back to the Bay Area, gave Hertz back their Prius, and I got a car with height for what I have to do over the next two days. I’m done with feeling scared on the road, and being tired, need every advantage! So I got a Subaru Forester SUV with height and headed back into the city to chase some dinner.

Of all the fru fru wah wah dining options in Beverly Hills, guess where I ended up?

In the Whole Foods Market on Santa Monica Boulevard, made my own chicken noodle, chicken and ginger, ginger carrot soup combo, and a small cup of southwest turkey chilli, made up a salad and took it all back to the hotel. Just shredded after it all, and hit the sack. Big times in the City of Angels!

A serious brekkie joint

So this morning I thought a treat was in order. I thought … pancakes. I am doing a wine presentation at the General Sales Meeting for the Henry Wine Group’s southern sales force at 1pm today – first session after lunch – so I had a 90 minute drive down south to Newport Beach where the venue is scheduled, but I knew with an early start I could fit pancakes in. I chased down this hole in the wall – The Griddle Cafe – up on Sunset Boulevard. (How cool is that! I’m shaking my head this morning laughing cos I’m driving down Sunset, in LA, to brekky! For real.) It’s pretty deceptive from the street, but walk in and the place smells right for starters – all fresh, bacony and sweet! My kind of scratch & sniff!

I pulled in at one of the 20 chairs at a tight U-shaped counter leading off the kitchen and spent 20 minutes reading the menu. They’re serious about their stuff here – over 16 pancake, 10 waffle, and 15 omlette options, without counting the standard brekky items! You could come in three weeks in a row for breakfast and have something different every day and not exhaust the menu. Being my first time, I went for a gentle start, so chose the House Special Golden Waffle, with their own selected pure Vermont maple syrup, and the special turkey maple breakfast sausage links on the side. Yum! Couldn’t finish it because it was the size of a small pizza, but I am fast being converted to waffles from pancakes and may have to invest in a proper waffle iron. How to explain that machine at customs!

I headed out as a lighting and film set crew headed in to fill the place and jumped on the road. Now I’m set up down here for an on-time start with the sales team.

A couple of stars (down in the corner there)

**The whole film industry thing is a constant in this neck of the LA woods. Yesterday morning I walked down to the Westwood Starbucks to pick up breakfast, and on the way back I followed the plastic signs that get put up by film crews on location. This one said “biscuit” and led around the corner to the location – half a dozen pan tech trucks and various equipment, and a lovely dining area custom built for the day off a taco truck mobile kitchen – flowers, chairs and tables.  I asked the security guard what they were filming … a credit card commercial! All that set up for a commercial. Yep, he said, just for that morning. A huge employer no doubt.

So, back to yesterday’s tasting, held at the famous “pink palace'”LA landmark – The Beverly Hills Hotel. This is what I wrote yesterday during the day (again no wi fi).

” Come with me as I step through the front doors and back into the golden age of art deco greatness that

Those lights!

was that Hollywood moment when “star” meant a great deal more than a split-second of reality show profile that shot across the TV screen for six months then fizzled to nothing. Here it all is. The Crystal Ballroom at the base of an extremely elegant, gently spiralling staircase with a double landing. It makes me think we should be in long and strapless taffetta gowns that rustle as we walk, and have names like Lauren and Ava – boyfriends with names like Frank and Humphrey – just to qualify to be there. The ballroom is dominated by one central ceiling fixture made up of 300 – 400 individual crystal roses, each one with a globe in the centre. Special.

Old school - like me

The hotel itself is a delightful maze of carpeted hallways, staircases and lift wells – all leading more or less off the central lobby. Downstairs I found the Fountain Cafe, a little 14-seat diner serving breakfast and fresh pies. Then there’s the Polo Room, goodness knows what deals have been done in there, and the maitre d’ is just sliding today’s menu into the brass holder at the front door. Down and around to the Promenade Shops and Spa – more stuff of legend. You almost expect to see the gals in their flashy one-piece, cutting-edge bathing suits and Catwoman-style sunglasses heading from the spa to the poolside bar.

The place has ghosts. Good ones.

And everything’s styled with the ever-present flamingo pink and white – and it looks so right. All the waiters working the tasting are wearing the old-school black pants, white jacket, black bowtie Riccy Riccardo bandleader combo – I like it. That’s because I’m old school too!

But hey, time to stop daydreaming, the doors are open and we’re on!”

Speaking of going quick – it’s 11.30am so I have to pack it up and get over to the sales meeting for lunch with the team. I’ll catch up the tasting notes afterward.

Notes from Underground Tasting

11.09pm, Wednesday March 24th, Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Just checked in to the hotel after driving to Los Angeles as soon as we cleaned up after the tasting in San Diego. Pretty shredded individuals both of us – myself and my partner in the triple tasting this week, Diana Malloy. I’m doing the Yalumba table; Di is doing Jim Barry, Vasse Felix, Henschke and Nautilus. Made some great notes for the blog during the day, but because I couldn’t get wi fi access in the underground ballroom in the La Jolla hotel where we were working, I thought I’d put them up when I got here.

11.17am Doors have just opened and the trade folk are starting to come in, more of a steady trickle than the flood we saw on Monday up in San Francisco.

**Fashion note – due to the casual nature of Southern California, I have gone for a relaxed but still sharp ensemble – from the floor up – buckskin suede boots, olive green suede jeans, and the black, olive and beige patterned blouse (not shirt – blouse!).

12.34pm The seminars are out, and the folks are coming through in a very steady stream now, but with a bit more even flow of folks compared to Monday. We can have longer visits with folks.

Here are some comments we heard:

“I have certain expectations with respect to Australia, based on a small number of wines that I’ve tried, and this is a different thing completely than what I consider to be Australian wine.”

“Your table should be packed with people – the wines are awesome.”

And one boy, who tried the 2004 Octavius, came back with a drip still in the glass saying, “There will be no spitting this out. Actually we should pour another glass of this each, and go sit on the deck and stare at the sea.” Not bad for lunchtime!

1.29pm OK it’s all happening now, in full flight, pouring and talking, lots of long answers to many and varied questions – with an almost even split between restaurants and retail.

4.08pm It’s all getting a bit touchy-feely here in the ballroom now. I just had a bloke make a move on a gal standing right in front of me tasting the 2008 Scribbler that was bordering on R rated! Scary stuff, and glad we’ve got 5pm in sight! These Southern Cal folks sure are relaxed!

5.46pm Packed up, cleaned up and about to hit the road for Los Angeles. Another strong turnout for this tasting – well done again, this time to the Southern Cal Henry team.

Two down, one in LA to go!