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There is never a convenient time to eat a bad burger; one better, to have a bad meal, but it happens. I hate to complain about wimpy or over-complicated gourmet sandwiches but my latest experience, just three days before the New Year would really cut me deep and had that distinct honor of being a bad one.

I had envisioned a place–nothing exotic–rather a bare bones establishment that cranked out consistently delicious griddled/char-broiled fare. Oh yeah, it had to be close and have a BYOB policy too.  We found a candidate quickly, one that did not hurt the wallet because spending greater than $15 did not appeal to me that night. My friend and I were sipping on a bottle of 2008 Petra Lava Rosso (#3) from the D.O.C. of Etna while conducting our Yelp-aided search. We found a place that satisfied both needs but did come with mixed reviews. We were in agreement that Yelp reviews were not to be trusted because there was no accountability for many of the negative write-ups.

We went for it, finishing our glasses of mineral heavy Sicilian red wine, showing off its terroir beautifully. The volcanic soil provided the minerals and there was a layer of smoke coming through before the cranberry would make an appearance. The rosso was sleek like a polished obsidian stone. We corked the bottle and took off for our nearby burger joint in hopes of slaking our hunger.

After a quick jaunt down Olympic Boulevard we arrived at the dingy establishment. The restaurant shared a strip mall with a bevy of other random eateries and was affixed to a strip club. It wasn’t certain how bad the burger was going to be because we were open minded but dubious.

In our midst we had a bottle of 2008 Schild Estate Shiraz from Barossa Valley (#2) that was highly rated. We were confident that the Shiraz would partner exquisitely well with the fare. We ordered two different styles of burgers, going beyond the standard California style and immediately unscrewed the top of the Shiraz to allow for maximum breathing time.

Ten minutes passed before we had our reasonably priced grub. I picked up my order and immediately spotted a red flag, a Kraft-like single hardly melted on the exposed patty. I was nervous and beginning to regret my decision. I cradled the burger and felt the stiff wheat bun resisting my fingers as I applied my grip. The patty was desiccated and even the thousand-island sauce couldn’t save this burger—though curiously it was watered down. There was little taste to the sandwich and I reached for my plastic ware for comfort.

The Shiraz was already showing some deep notes of tar, freshly ground coffee, earthy bramble and buckets of fruit. It was complicated and only getting better as the food paled in comparison. There was talk of us going to In-n-Out to absolve us of our mistake but that passed.

A short drive home filled my car with a John Cage like composition of bitching and bebop Jazz mixing organically. The only thing that helped power us past the worst burger of the year was the promise of great wine, cheese and bread that lay ahead. In the New Year it is inevitable that I will come across some meager and downright awful burgers but let’s hope they come in the beginning of 2012, if at all.

I hadn’t envisioned myself in downtown Los Angeles the day after Thanksgiving making pasteles. In fact, I didn’t even know what they were. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened. One might have expected to see visions of Johanna before making the banana leaf-wrapped savory treats. I would spend an evening acquainting myself with the traditions of Puerto Rican culture—though thoroughly unfamiliar—through dance and food, meeting new friends and of course, drinking four more bottles of wine (124 remain) in the waning of the night.

Dejected after watching a tumultuous Ducks matinee tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks, I needed a spirit lifter. It came in the form of a call from a friend who resides downtown. He invited me to join him and a few of his friends, to battle their turkey hangover and enjoy some wine with a few appetizers. I was game, and looking for a palate cleanser, since the Ducks failed third period left an unwanted flavor in my mouth.

Making it there around 7:45 P.M., as to not look too over-excited about the invite, I had my entry pass, with a bottle of 2009 Jean Claude Thevenet et Fils White Burgundy in hand.

After a few knocks on the door, I was in, making haste to find my friend Johan, like any shy guest, waiting for a familiar face who would act as my shepherd, easing the introductions until I felt comfortable to roam about the loft. I quickly dunked the bottle of Chardonnay in the ice bucket, taking up room next to an already resident La Crema Monterrey Chardonnay.

I couldn’t refrain from comparing the two Chardonnays, not to prove which was better but to identify winemaking practices and see differences between two very different wines that shared a common varietal. A lot was determined in the few glasses of wine and after that I stopped being concerned with the glass and instead, focused on my surroundings. The music was wailing, and people were dancing. Before I knew what was happening I was prodded to dance, moving my hips as best I could without having my shoulders follow. It isn’t my forte, but after a quick break in the music we had centered ourselves around the production table, creating an assembly line for crafting pasteles.

Each person was involved in the making of these tamale-like bundles. I was in charge of cutting the banana leaves while the host had folding duties and others were parceling out the cornmeal and more were doling out the carne. When we had about forty finished we began to tire of the process and were starting to crave our handiwork. But before we could eat the official product, they had to cook, and in that time, we made the rice (in an interesting and sensual style with spices I had not expected to combine with rice) and I uncorked another bottle of wine. Now we were onto the Filus Malbec that had good red fruit but showed restraint for a value wine. It was an excellent accompaniment for the spiced pork filled pasteles. The flavors meshed beautifully and the cinnamon in the rice reacted favorably to both wine and food.

Almost immediately after eating a few portions, dancing restarted. I resumed my lessons with two girls, having a lady behind me physically maneuver my hips while my dancing partner continued to instruct from in front. I blamed my inability to effectively conquer the meringue (and other Latin dances) on the wine and my clumsy hockey feet. It was a weak excuse to proffer, but that didn’t stop the ladies and we rounded out the night uncorking a bottle of Pro-mis-Q-ous (sic), which was a fiery red blend that captured the attitudes of all in attendance that night.

As the evening wore on we changed settings, taking advantage of the nearby activity—in the form of a plethora of bars—we danced and enjoyed the early A.M. scenery of downtown LA. It was truly different and remarkable. I never expected to be dancing (seriously) or eating Puerto Rican food while searching for bottles to add to the countdown. However, I was happy to have had the experience to meet a new group of amazing people, to learn a new step and take in an unfamiliar culture through its food.

Spicy and savory, deep and complex with more descriptors than I can summon, I have found a way to taste ten more wines in the span of a little longer than a week. In an effort to mitigate the looming countdown, I find myself hardly turning down a glass of wine—whether I drink it all or not—in the hopes of finding something exciting and learning a bit about each particular offering that is poured. Sometimes I have to look harder for the silver lining but I am beginning to appreciate the search and opportunity (occasionally) because it is often tailored to an experience.

Clos du Bois (#137) Cabernet Sauvignon was not a finer moment in the countdown, not an all-time low but not far from it, as it played an end cap to an action packed day that spanned driving from LA to Orange County and back. I was hanging out with a fellow graduate of UCLA all day, doing errands and visiting my cellar in the OC with the promise of subtracting a few bottles of wine from my daunting five hundred figure. We uncorked two bottles of wine with the common thread being France. The first was a bottle of Antoine Arena’s 2007 Red Patrimonio from Corsica (#136) that we shared on our beat to the OC in Long Beach with my mom. A dusty fragrance of earth, spice and leather gave way to old world fruit. The wine was enticing and possessed all the charming characteristics of why someone would praise the know-how of French vignerons. The wine did a lot to incite our appetite and we finished up the random chore for my mother, b-lining it to a burger joint on PCH in Seal Beach.

With our bellies full of simplified California burgers, we headed down to my cellar and split a bottle of Aligoté—the second child of Burgundy’s white grapes (the premier being Chardonnay)—from Bouzeron (#135). The wine was decidedly more aromatic with spices (coriander, etc.), white nectarines and citrus dancing rhythmically in the olfactory as the palate bore medium density but expressive flavors that followed the nose. We played pool at my cellar club and had wine until the day wrapped up and we were good to cruise back up to the bustle of LA.

After my friend left back for his home in San Francisco, I was inspired to continue the countdown, popping a few samples with friends the next night, including a bottle of Curtis Winery 2007 Heritage Cuvée (#135) from Santa Barbara with a mixture of darker fruits, oak, spice and a little bit of alcohol that singed the nostrils. The wine had a nice texture and good balance between fruit and spice that stemmed from the Mouvèdre, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault cohort used in its making. On a separate night I had unscrewed a bottle of 2009 Kings Ridge Pinot Noir (#134) that showed textbook coloring and flavors that were really true to the varietal and especially accurate to fruit from Oregon. I was not blown away but I appreciated the accuracy and looked to bring a couple bottles into my shop for the entire package—label et al. Continuing with the samples I revisited the Cielo Farms Honey Pie (#133) with some friends, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Muscat which proved to be the Malibu version of Caymus Conundrum. Again nothing too awesome, but it was more than serviceable.

Then there was a family dinner, which featured a bottle of Cain Cuvée (#132) from Napa Valley. We let the bottle breath before dinner, resting it to show better than it might have had we popped and poured it quickly. Giving the Bordeaux blend a fighting chance to show itself, the dry red wine proved a fit accompaniment to my mother’s chateaubriand with standard fixings. It was full, with a lot of fruit and savory notes that help balance the dinner and highlight elements in both.

And then there was Thanksgiving, the apex of food, where tradition was observed and recipes were elaborated upon in the retelling. Knowing that there would be some minor improvisations to the feast I employed four bottles of wine with the purposes of living lavishly on the day of thanks and having something to pair with every course. I got off work late and travelled with another friend—writer of DetroitonLion—to Long Beach to sup with my family. We popped the bottles beginning with the 2009 Fleurie from Domaine de la Chapelle des Bois (#131) that served as a firm handshake, readying our palate for the bounty of food. We quickly transitioned into a glass of 2009 Foxen Chardonnay (#130) from the Tinaquaic Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley. The Chardonnay had moderate straw coloring with an intense (as much as a non-aromatic varietal could have) bouquet of candied green apples, white flowers and some orange zest. It was a nice riposte to the creamy squash soup and after the primo piatto came the main course. We segued into the 2009 Evening Land La Source from Eola-Amity Hills (#129) in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. That wine was delightful, portraying a delicate nature juxtaposed with a focus and intensity on the palate that most Pinots do not possess. It was on another level and lived up to the reputation that it had garnered.

For dessert we poured our last wine of the evening, a Monbazillac from 2001 by the Comtesse de Berlan (#128). The wine looked of a gold bouillon, with heavier fragrances of stone fruit, honey and nuts. The wine had lost some of the over-bearing sweetness and adopted much subtler flavors. It quarreled with the spice of the pumpkin soufflé a bit, but it showed well for a wine that had aged a decade.

Each wine experience is different, sometimes there are similarities or overlapping flavors that make the wines tough to sift through but it is the good wines that have an ability to transcend the ambient noise, making their presence felt. As I continue blogging and tasting into the future I am certain that there will be those bottles that can define the moment they were served and ameliorate everything. My inability to select the perfect adjective for each wine, neither elucidating nor getting my finger on the essence of the wine is the very thing that makes some of these bottles so special. They cannot be defined easily. I had a couple of those wonderful moments on my latest go-round and have had a lot on this trip to five hundred but here’s hoping there will be many more. Proost!

The Six has been a candidate in my almost-weekly-burger quest for the last couple of months, losing out to some other viable running mates in the race along the way. This week, however, I was looking to explore the highly touted restaurant off Pico Boulevard and Overland Avenue to celebrate a birthday.

I had numerous people build up this burger before I had ever had it and I was curious if it would live up to the hype, or lead to its own demise, suffering the Napoleon Dynamite effect. There were five of us celebrating my roommate’s brother’s birthday—he was turning 21—and we would be having what was billed as the “best” burger around, sharing a round of beers and one glass of wine while enjoying the inviting environment of the Westside eatery.

The Six was impressively designed, featuring a communal table, a booth and lots of smaller tables under wan lighting, fostering an intimate mood perfect for dates. The vibe was relaxed and eaters were all roughly our age—mid-twenties give or take—and everywhere we looked there were visual indicators, cues, like a group of six photographs hanging above the booth where we sat to remind us that we were eating at The Six.

We ordered our round of beverages, including four different beers and a Writer’s Block Cabernet Franc (#162). We made no bones about it; we were there for the burgers. Casual eating that suited our Friday night plans, the tough choice was how we wanted our fries or our burger cooked. In addition to the burgers all around I had put in for the White Bean Cassoulet.

The prices were steep, sixteen dollars for a burger and fries, which, unfortunately is becoming the standard price tag for a gourmet burger in Los Angeles. I could not mull it over for too long because the Cassoulet arrived in a cast iron skillet with a farm egg and finished with a fresh coating of shaved Parmesan. The white bean stew had a lot of fresh herbs coming through and tender white beans. It was excellent, not too salty, just an honest bean dish. Things were looking up.

Next up were the burgers that made the table in a similar fashion to another restaurant down Pico Boulevard—Upper West—with a knife piercing into the flaky brioche bun. The fries were served in a metallic cup lined with white parchment paper a la Upper West. Whether the presentation was a copy or not, I was impressed by the size, a generous patty, sharp blue cheese, tomato, onion rings, thousand island sauce and tender butter greens, all of which stood half a foot tall on the white porcelain plate.

The first few bites were difficult—it was a messy burger. The sharp cheese dominated the flavors and the sweet thousand-island-rejoinder could not balance it. And then the problems began to pile up… The most egregious of errors was an over-cooked patty that wasn’t limited to my burger. I had asked for medium rare and that burger was closer to medium well but to my surprise it was not totally dried out. The bun disintegrated under the little bit of jus that escaped from the patty and it made it tough to handle. I washed down my disappointment with the almost minty Cabernet Franc from Lake County.

Easy to say that the burger did not meet my expectations and the asking price was a little too pricey for a gamble. The balance of flavors is one thing that is subjective, it did not work for me but that is not to say it wont work for others. Cooking time though, is no joke. People rightly talk up Father’s Office and Umami because they are technically sound and will never over-cook an order. The Six got a lot of things right, I liked the ambiance, my fries and enjoyed the Cassoulet but one thing I might want to shore up before boasting that I have the best burger ever is the cooking time.

After having a conversation with another wine buyer, it was apparent that I needed to try more Cabernet Sauvignon from California. In a short conversation he listed about fifty or more wines from my home state that I had never tasted because, well… to put it bluntly, I wasn’t interested. For Shame! I knew at once, though, that I needed to address my stance… update it, especially the Napa interpretation, because it was apparent that it was my Achilles’ heel.  It was no longer acceptable to harbor these feelings against this category without at least  having tasted many of its leading lights. The varietal that I have spent most of my time shirking in my budding wine career has been Cabernet Sauvignon, not having the patience to cellar its California expressions or the bank account to fuel my interests in the historic foreign examples (left bank Bordeaux). It was time to change that.

I spent the day in Venice with a friend, picking up a few bottles at one of my favorite wine boutiques in Los Angeles—Lincoln Fine Wines. I bought four bottles in total, including a split of 2006 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon (#164) and a 2007 Nelms Road Cabernet Sauvignon (#163) for the purposes of tasting later that day with a bottle of Lambrusco that my buddy had purchased. When we arrived at my friend’s domicile, we opened both Cabernets and chilled the Lambrusco. We allowed the Cabernets to open up in the decanters while we ran next door to a Mexican restaurant.

With food in hand and the Labrusca Lambrusco (#162) cold to the touch, we plated la comida, poured the glasses and began our analysis of the dry, bubbly and earthy red wine. The nose was reminiscent of a berry spritzer and the palate was shockingly dry—I was so used to Lambrusco amabile—and a decent accompaniment to the Mexican food. Its high acidity and earthy tones would have been better suited to salty cheeses and salami, but before we could mull it over any further we were on to the Cabernet.

Both bottles of Cabernet had been properly decanted and we decided to begin the main event with the 2006 Darioush. With deep shades of ruby and slight feathering on the rim, the Cab’s powerful nose of vanilla, blueberry and cinnamon were enough to indicate that this wine had seen some oak. It had a fair amount of alcohol on the bouquet, keeping me from diving any deeper in the glass but it was still pleasant sniffing. I took the challis to my lips tasting blueberry and cedar but what was most remarkable were the fine tannins that were incredibly smooth. The palate was luxurious—even if the fruit was battling the oak (heavy use), the refined structure on the buds was delightful. I was impressed.

Moving on to the Nelms Road Cabernet from Washington State, the deeply garnet glass of wine had considerably more assertive fruit—a bushel of blackberry and black cherry—on the bouquet. The palate was not as fine as the Darioush before it, replete with black cherry and a hint of sandalwood with coarse tannins that were a little green, but the simple fruit that persisted through the long finish was favorable and great for the price point (under twenty dollars).

All three wines were good; the Lambrusco blew me away with its biting acidity, dry palate and solid core of fruits but then again I LOVE Lambrusco. Both Cabernets showed something different and enjoyable. While I am not sure I can splurge, spending more than thirty dollars for a half bottle of Cabernet from Napa everyday, I can say, in earnest, that I look forward to tasting a lot more Cabernet from Northern California. Any recommendations?

Apple Pan is an institution in Los Angeles; the legendary burger joint has been offering its exclusive menu for years as part of their strict adherence to keeping things simple and never changing. Something new to me was that they offered burgers to go. I opted for the take-out menu last Friday night to pair with a few wines over dinner with a friend after work.

When my friend arrived with a split (375ml bottle) of 2003 Château Kirwan (#177) in hand, I had been upstaged by vintage and value, after pulling my random 2005 La Bastide Blanche Bandol (#176) for the purposes of burgering. I scrambled to find something more interesting but he said it didn’t matter and he was more curious about judging where his wine was in terms of readiness to drink. We uncorked both bottles, encouraging both to open up while we went out to Apple Pan to pay too much for two burgers.

We stepped foot in the perennially busy restaurant about five minutes later, timing the ebb and flow of eaters just right, managing to squeeze in and order “Two steak burgers” one with cheese and the other without for an exorbitant total of fifteen dollars without waiting. Yikes, fifteen dollars for two simple burgers! We waited a few minutes, watching our burgers be created and in a short time we were handed our white paper bag and were off to my residence to check up on the wine.

Unwrapping the tiny packages and staging the photo shoot, with the wines in perfect position—even the half bottle was dwarfing the burger—we took the shot before we ate. My buddy spied too much mayo for his liking and asked for the knife to begin a scrape.

It might have had something to do with the putty knife the chef used to administer the mayonnaise or the simple fact that all the condiments were excessive, including the cloyingly sweet relish. It was unnerving to see the amount of mayo that my friend removed from his hamburger but after that we kind of looked past the faults and started eating because… at least we had the wines.

The Bandol was stunted on the nose, reminiscent of a newly opened package of photocopy paper—it was fair to say that it was slightly corked—but still drinkable. On the palate it wore less of that funk, showcasing earth and savory qualities that meshed incredibly well with the burger. Later, the nose would open up, presenting some interesting fruit notes tied into anise that had been obscured earlier in the tasting. An interesting experience to see a wine work to shake off its funk, but that is exactly what happened and, so, I will reserve my final judgment of Bandol for the Domaine Tempier Bandol later in the year.

We had two glasses each, to keep each presentation clean and undisturbed for each wine poured. We transferred the contents of the Bordeaux from Margaux into the second glass. With notes of blackberry, cassis and some leather highlights that were readily detected as we swirled the glass and on the palate, the wine was drinking well, showing polished tannins that massaged the tongue and some lengthy notes of fruit and dried herbs (thyme) that stayed with me on the finish. It paired well with the burger but was much more enjoyable on its own. The sweet relish was not as forgiving to the Bordeaux.

I was really disappointed by the price of the Apple Pan burger. If not for that, I could see myself eating there again, but, in reality,  I can only see myself acting as the host offering guide tips to out-of-towners, shepherding someone else there for their first time. The wines, especially the Bordeaux over-delivered on their end; the Bandol could have done with less controversy (partially blighted) but it was still a solid pairing with the burger. I was astonished by the quality of the 2003 Bordeaux still showing some character and having a backbone in a hot vintage even if the food accompaniment was less than stellar—I am just going to have to change the location of the eatery in the future to match the caliber of the wines. Easier said than done!

Zinfandel is a hedonist’s delight, with its voluptuous body and come-hither ripeness, recalling Peter Paul Rubens’ fleshiness in a beautiful fruit-forward package. I respect Zinfandel immensely and marvel at its ability to knock you on your can while imbibing glass after glass of deliciousness. I kind of fell off the Zinfandel train a few years into wine, preferring subtlety to the overt notes of fruit and tobacco smashing my palate but it is always nice to refresh my memory. I would still have to exercise caution, remain defensive while attending any Zin tasting—making serious use of the spit cup—to keep my senses alert because the wallop that Zins packs is unforgiving and would make the tasting a drag if I let my guard down.

For the coming tasting we met up in West Hollywood; battling traffic (what’s new?) to make it to the tasting that would include a dinner as hearty as the wines of grilled Pork Chops, Momma’s sauerkraut, baked Brussels sprouts, cole slaw and some brownies to wallow in decadence.

I was in charge of the tasting order since one of our mainstays (and a big-time organizer) was off in a far away land. I popped the bottles as they trickled in, allowing for maximum breathing time between each of the brawny Zins. I arranged the bottles by amount of alcohol (not by price) from low to high, trying to be fair to those wines with less ABV in hopes that they would have a fair showing in the tasting later on.

On the table we had the following:

09 Musar Jeune Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cinsault

08 Zito SLO Zinfandel

05 Acorn Heritage Vines Zinfandel

08 Quivira Zin

05 Papapietro & Perry Zinfandel

09 Mauritson Zinfadel

09 Rockpile Zinfandel “Jack’s Cabin”

09 Seghesio Zinfandel “Blue”

09 Seghesio Zinfandel Old Vines “Red”

 

I was able to open the tasting with a bottle from Lebanon’s major player—Château Musar—and had a bottle of their entry level Cabernet blend. A faint perfume of dried cranberry, herbs and orange blossoms on the nose translated to a little more than Crasins on the palate with drying tannins and moderate acidity. Quickly, we transitioned to the Zinfandels, with the primer in place and moved into the juicy fruit flavors of the Quivira Zinfandel that had a powdered cocoa finish and smooth tannins that perked up my buds.

Moving into another crowd pleaser with notes of blackberry, eucalyptus and coffee filling the nostrils, showing a pleasant blue and blackberry combo with velvety tannins and a long favorable finish, the Acorn “Heritage Vines” Zin was a great sipper on its own.

Not all the wines were as well received, some (he doesn’t name names) showed a little more than baby fat in the mouth and left our collective palates saturated in grape jelly, still we were getting as much traction as we could coming out of the goopy turn, making tracks to Mauritson.

We showed two Mauritson wines back to back, their first Zinfandel shown deep garnet in the glass with notes of ripe cherry and some figs on the nose and following on the palate. The Rockpile Zinfandel showed a detectable difference from its varied soils with some herbs, fruit and potpourri that leaped from the glass and on the palate everything was balanced but big with ripe cherry, tobacco and wood spice lingering on the finish. We concluded the tasting with the two Seghesio wines, side by side. The blue labeled Zin had garnet coloring with red fruits, smoke and oak on the nose. The dry wine was surprisingly herbaceous and we then tasted the “Old Vines” Zinfandel that had potent aromas of red fruits, licorice and boysenberry that was coupled with intense acidity by comparison, in addition to the enjoyable amount of fruit. It was the first time in the night I had paid attention to acidity which to me spoke volumes.

We were ready to eat, devouring a summer night’s fare that complimented the wines remarkably. The sides of Brussels sprouts with fresh thyme mixed well with some of the earthier Zins present and the Sauerkraut was one of my favorite items eaten this year and could easily have been eaten on its own. I knocked off nine wines during this sumptuous tasting, leaving 182 left on the journey and I can assure you that Zinfandel will be making another visit on the countdown.

 

Never in my wildest dreams did I intend to pair a burger with a Riesling; even with my excitement for the high-acid white wine, it seemed taboo. I wouldn’t underestimate Riesling, with its lithe acidity and sprightliness on the palate, but it just does not spring to mind when I am entertaining the notion of having a gourmet burger or any incarnation of red meat nestled in a bun. Nevertheless, it transpired and I am living to write about the experience. Buckle up—your pairing world won’t be the same again.

I was at The Standing Room again, recently, to tackle the crab sandwich with a buddy of mine—writer of Detroit OnLion—and enjoy a nice chilled Riesling with the highly touted lunch item. I brought the tumblers and a few packs of ice to keep the tall tapered flute chilly while driving down from the Westside of Los Angeles. We went in and perused the menu and when comfortable placed our order for the sandwiches… only to have our request denied—the Crab was not ready. We scrambled to find alternatives and when Jeremy audibled he went big ordering the Napoleon—a behemoth that consists of short rib, fried egg, half pound patty, two different cheeses, French fries, bacon, arugula and some other standard accompaniments—for nearly fourteen dollars. I tried two more times to get something that might match the Spätlese but the items were out or had been 86’d, and I was forced to settle with the Cash burger (crispy onions, Chinese barbeque sauce, avocado and bacon). It did not strike me as an ideal partner for the wine and I was losing faith, a little dispirited at the thought of an unintended pairing.

We waited for our order in the car and poured the wine, making the most of what I thought was a lost scenario and would ultimately mean another dash to Redondo Beach to eventually try that elusive crab sandwich. The 2008 Braunerberger Juffer (#199) from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer had a light straw color and a fragrant bouquet of green apple, lime and some notes of new tires (strong fresh rubber). On the palate the wine was nearly off dry with a healthy dose of RS on the tongue and bountiful green apple coating the buds. Light, zippy and refreshing, the Riesling was falling further from my mind as I had pondered a different pairing. It just didn’t seem realistic for the meal at hand.

When we got the burgers, we created a mock photo shoot and began tweeting our experience before eating. We took our first bites—it was cumbersome for Jeremy—and both of us were smitten with our selections. I urged him to drink his iced tea since I was confident his burger was off limits for the Spätlese and he heeded the recommendation. Midway through the burger, with its sweet flare, I reached reflexively for my tumbler full of wine and took a sip. My eyes went wide with astonishment, the sweet flavors of the bbq sauce and the crispy onions matched with the residual sugars in the wine, and the acidity was enough to ready my mouth for another bite of beef. I would say that there was a weight issue with the wine, the body not quite as big as the burger but, nevertheless, it made nearly an outstanding pairing because of the signature attributes of the Riesling. Another reason the Cash burger was almost a perfect partner was its delicate nature, not strictly focusing on a big patty as much as it was on the Asian fusion vibe of the Standing Room and it happened to be a successful combination of ingredients all around.

I finished my burger, while Jeremy had to roll up his sleeves and get medieval on the Napoleon burger; drippings from the egg, pieces of tender short rib as well as Parmesan Truffle Fries were strewn about the wrapper and basket. He was in hog heaven (stating later that it may have been his favorite burger on the West Coast) and I was left scratching my head over a Riesling that had the power to stay with the Cash burger. I still have to try the crab sandwich (one day making it back to Redondo Beach), but this pairing proved to be another fortuitous experiment in burgers and wine.

Last week I had the pleasure of taking my parents out for a dinner at Lucques Restaurant for their annual Rib Fest, replete with cowboy hats, strewn hay, leather boots (minus the spurs), plaid shirts and lots of ribs—the only thing missing was Robert Earl Keen Jr. or Steve Earle. Number 201 had some sauce on it.

I was thinking about the pairing all day, leaning towards a Zinfandel or something with hulking body and an extra bushel of fruit that would compliment the different variations on ribs—there were beef, lamb, pork ribs aplenty—and the other fare: spicy chicken wings, collard greens, cole slaw, baked beans, grilled cornbread, wonder bread, corn and a watermelon mint salad rounding out the bountiful spread.

When I combed over the menu I gravitated toward Southern Rhône, finding value and unexpected beauty much like seeing that neighbor girl in a different light, having my index finger stop at Domaine du Ferme. I would be lying if I said that I knew that producer, but what did catch my eye was Gigondas—another stellar outcrop of Grenache outside the grips of Chateauneuf-du-Pape—where I could remember an excellent meal and a great bottle when dining at Jar over a year ago. Those bottles stay with you and the memories of the people you ate with last forever (or until, the onset of dementia), needless to say that is one that will last indefinitely.

Gigondas is just south of the Dentelles de Montmirail, and is an area renowned for producing spicy red wines comprised of up to 80% Grenache and then blending different proportions of Syrah, Mourvèdre and an even lesser amount of Carignan into the mix. Gigondas also brings to mind exemplary rosés but those were far from my thoughts when I was playing matchmaker with barbeque.

Domaine du Terme arrived at the table wearing the proud crest of Gigondas, after it was poured; we sat staring at the beautiful and bright coloring in our Spiegelau glassware. The wine had a moderate odor—not quite leaping from the glass—redolent of dried herbs dashed over raspberries, some fresh cracks of pepper and a little pomegranate. The juice was full bodied, with good acidity and a long finish of spiced red fruit, earth and a light echo of cedar and it was no surprise that this wine would be a good fit with barbequed meats.

When it came time for the pair to meet, the Gigondas and California barbeque were perfect for each other like Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya, even the “too hot to handle” chicken wings were quelled by the acidity inherent in the wine. This was one of the best wine pairings I have ever had, much like the Clos la Coutale Malbec with the Louis III burger from Long Beach—divine.

The Rib Round Up was absolutely amazing, raising the bar from last year’s Lucques’ luster (with little room to improve!) and going down as one of my most successful pairings ever. I am growing my knowledge but sometimes I just get lucky and this time I was very happy to be so fortunate.

Another session with my tasting group, this time a different cross-section of people banded together, intent on imbibing Bordeaux and, to avoid overkill (as happened in the previous tasting), the host allowed his guests some wiggle room—bringing Bordeaux blends from outside the purview of France from his home in Venice. Our magnanimous host Ari had lent his apartment for the tasting and prepared a Bolognese sauce to cover the handmade pasta he fashioned earlier du jour to compliment the wines in the set when the dinner bell would toll. Trending now: Big reds, sumptuous feasts and furthering a countdown to five hundred, all in luxurious style.

We arrived around 7:30; the environment was small, warm and relatively cozy and the sun was beginning to set—the heat would dissipate soon enough. When we sat down we were the guinea pigs in a blind tasting, consisting of four wines, where we would use deductive reasoning to figure out the mystery wines decanted before us. With a little bit of leading from Ari, we were able to pin the first wine down to two different varietals but ultimately guessed the wrong grape. The Gewürztraminer Grundloch Bundschu (#217) showed itself after being exposed, but what was most surprising was that the wine was in a new world guise, California to be exact. The following taste test (#216) in our sensory exam became a little more difficult to identify. The cross of gold and straw coloring, mixed with the scents of juiced lemons and green peas lead me to think Sauvignon Blanc but the bitter finish threw me off the trail; I doubted myself. It happened to be a bottle of Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc from Margerum. The third wine (#215), was solved in a sniff, detecting some dried spices, olives and meats, clearly an indication of Syrah… and as for the New World guess it just seemed fitting—not so much like the St. Joseph I had had a few months earlier. The fourth and final blind tasting followed suit, a Pinot Noir (#214) that was unmistakable (but I did not peg the winery) from Sarapo Family Wines dubbed Donato from Carneros.

Our buds had gained consciousness and the tasting was under way; we began our expedition with a seven-fifty of 2006  Château de Candale from St. Emilion (#213). The deep coloring was a blend of ruby and garnet shades equipped with a medium intense perfume, redolent of blueberries, rhubarb and strawberry compote that translated on the palate with some character, moderate-plus acidity and a medium finish of fruit.

We transitioned into our second wine of the set, a 2006  Château Coutet (#212) also from St. Emilion, another blend heavy with Merlot, followed by Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The wine was not as extracted, yielding a medium color depth that hinted more towards garnet with dried cedar and blackberries on the nose. In the mouth the Ch. Coutet had fairly drying tannins, medium body, moderate acidity and a little shorter finish than it’s fellow paysan.

We segued into Happy Canyon—an AVA of Santa Barbara—to taste a bottle of 2008 Piocho (#211) by Happy Canyon Vineyards. The garnet wine gave off aromas of wood spice—vanilla—cinnamon, leather and blueberry but on the buds it was rather jammy with a prevalent dose of berry lingering on the palate but not much acid or anything to give it finesse.

The last wine of the group was from Israel; the 2008 Petit Castel (#210), a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc and Malbec that showed a nice concentration of color in the glass with a whiff of dark fruits, lots of cedar and some asparagus. With an intriguing nose I was hoping for a better finish but instead I got a lot of alcohol out of the wine, which was hard to overlook. The reputation of Domaine du Castel still remains untarnished.

After tasting through nine wines we broke for dinner. We had our gracious host prepare each person’s order of hand made pasta to their tooth. The personal touch was well received and Ari’s pasta and Bolognese were delectable. We ended the dinner and tasting with a little gift from Ari, he popped open a three seventy-five of 2005  Château La Tour Blanche (#210). With its golden coloring, the rich Sauterne gave off luscious odors of honeydew, cantaloupe, honeysuckle and some apricots. The same flavors were present on the palate with a little bit of oak and that long finish was really a great note to leave on, wrapping up another outstanding group event. Not quite a full-fledged voluptuary but I am definitely relishing these tastings.

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