L S B 2 BI have to accept that the Ducks can’t win every night; for a while they looked unbeatable at home. A team that was rough to play against in their own building has just suffered its fourth loss in five games at the Honda Center. While we aren’t talking about a total collapse (the Anaheim Ducks still hold down first place in the NHL!!!), it’s something I’ve grown unfamiliar with, but luckily, I was able to wash down that sinking feeling of losing to Columbus with one of the most interesting beers of my life.

I generally dedicate these posts to extolling wines, but Logsdon’s Seizoen Bretta reminded me that beer could also be quite venerable. The Hood River, Oregon natives craft serious Farmhouse Ales, working with organic ingredients and foundation native yeasts to produce daedal ales. Monday night the Ducks lethargic play took a backseat to a rustic and inspiring seven-fifty of Seizoen.

Unfiltered and hazy, showing an incandescent orange in the glass with animated carbonation that brought out an intense aroma of pineapple juice, bandage (caused by the Brettanoymces and the namesake of the beer), hay and citrus blossom.

It tasted of bitter lemon and apple cider, and even apricot appeared with overtones of leather and earthier flavors sounding deeply. It was balanced, complex and possessed excellent acidity to leave a refreshing finish. I was in a state of beer awe.

Dismayed by watching the Ducks drop another game, but captivated by the waves of flavor and the strong finish of Seizoen, here’s hoping for a better days to come for my favorite hockey team—I cannot ask for any more of Logsdon’s outstanding Seizoen Bretta ale.

Sotanum SI wouldn’t consider myself a Syrahist by any means, but to start this year I’ve already had a couple of bottles that are forcing me to reconsider that position. At a sample party, most recently, I pulled the cork on a 2006 Sotanum that outshone the rest.

A gathering of friends, bearing accessories (cheese, crackers and meats) and eager palates, arrived to help deplete old samples that had been collecting dust. We began with a couple white wines meant to abate the heat, before moving into the heartier reds. Halfway through the charcuterie board it was time to bring out something more interesting (and not a sample), enter Sotanum.

It was a bottle that I had purchased long ago, intrigued by the story of Les Vins de Vienne. Sotanum is a tip of the hat to Roman tradition, comprised of 100% Syrah from the periphery of the Northern Rhône (beyond Côte Rotie), made by a collective of experienced winemakers—at the time four of them—from the Rhône Valley, intent on restoring and farming ancient vineyard sources—another saga in itself.

This wine made a statement; I altered my oral chemistry (ate sopressatta) to accommodate the bold flavors of that Syrah as it began with a dark musky scent of smoked meat, olive brine, tobacco and plum—a textbook nose. With ripe, fine tannins, a body like a plume of smoke, nervy acidity and a sturdy finish that encouraged conversation.

Surrounded by six empty bottles, talk centered only on Syrah; Sotanum changed people’s opinion that night, erasing the bottles that came before it and bringing out a Syrahphile in all of us.

Sivi GrisAs sure as I have a pumpkin in my living room (still)…I was certain that Pinot Gris would not be the subject of my next entry. However a rash of warm weather, an intriguing Slovenian producer and a little Hall & Oates made for the perfect recipe.

Not that I am too cool for the grape, or a big fan either, but after being tasted on it for my primary job as a buyer I was stopped in my tracks. At home it wielded that same attention-getting effect.

Unlike most Pinot Gris/ Grigio, Kabaj  (Ka-Bye) hails from an exotic locale—with regards to traditionally accepted winemaking regions like Trentino Alto-Adige or Alsace—Slovenia. Kabaj’s Pinot Gris is engrossing with its luminous burnt orange glow in the glass that is achieved by extended maceration (two weeks on the skins). This technique, most often employed on red wines, also enhances other aspects of the wine like body and texture. This isn’t a typical Pinot Gris.

Sivi Orange I pondered its attributes over a re-run of Hello Ladies, stopping on the theme song (a favorite) a little while longer while delving into the wine. A moderate bouquet of nectarine, sourdough and lemon curd was interesting on its own, but this wine offered a lot more in the mouth. A round medium-body, almost creamy in character but with attractive acidity (medium-plus) that left a squeaky clean finish of cranberry-cherry tea, candied orange peel, dried apricot and toasted baguette. Despite the plush palate that finish was direct and snappy—this was a slam-dunk with my less daring meal of chicken breast, cauliflower and quinoa.

I am not sure if Kabaj changes how I feel about the varietal because I don’t come across many like it, but this puts Slovenia on my tasting map as well as showing me what’s possible for a varietal I’ve been skirting. It was a delicious reminder and a great way to beat the unseasonable heat.

Cop BakIn the midst of discarded Christmas trees and drained Champagne bottles, re-activating the long-neglected Maverick Palate was a pressing resolution. In the streets of San Francisco, drawing inspiration from culinary tastemakers and superb bottle shops and out among the Sonoma vineyards I was feeling the comeback.

I had lots of great wine in 2013 after I left you, my fantastic subscribers, in the lurch. There was so much I wanted to write about but after picking up a few more wine gigs (read juggling three jobs), the rest of the year flew past in a torrent. By the time I half-typed about a bottle of Field Recordings Chenin Blanc in early October it was time to saber that bottle of 2006 José Dhondt Champagne on NYE!

I am not sure what will come of 2014, with travel plans and wine adventures on the books; I don’t want to make promises this early, but, what I’m certain of is that my latest trip to Sonoma County, specifically at Copain, was a resounding success. Not only did I receive excellent customer service while visiting the property in Healdsburg, I was very much impressed by a graceful Syrah from Baker Ranch.

Baker Ranch—a single vineyard release from Copain in 2009—is a personal and individualized expression, rather than the ensemble cast of Les Voisins (the neighbors), which is to say, a cast of single-vineyards’ fruit blended together. Baker Ranch is in Anderson Valley, growing Syrah and Pinot Noir in a cool and a high elevation site.  Apart from the other single vineyards that were shown, like Halcon, this wine was confident and extraverted. Pronounced aromatics like violets and sweet spice notes tap-danced above red berries, pencil shavings and beef jerky. The Syrah was equally impressive on the palate with a fine and prevalent grip (med-plus, ripe tannins), cut medium figure, toned by medium-plus acidity and deep intensity of flavors that left a long lingering impression. Baker Ranch Syrah was in a great place, distancing itself from its parts in Les Voisins Syrah, but without losing focus or sacrificing balance.

There were a lot of good food and wine memories forged on my Northern California (San Francisco) expedition, especially that Syrah, enough to make my drive back to Los Angeles a little less exhausting. On that five-hour drive I also thought about how I had missed an opportunity last year to share some killer wines and superb meals worth checking out. I am hopeful that this year will be different, perhaps my vacation has me talking brave, but I am determined to learn from the past and propel this site to new levels. Only time will tell.

d OstertagWhy it took so long for me to cross paths with one of the most dynamic indie/natural wine producers, I’ll never know, but in all my time between restaurant and retail gigs, pleading with Kermit Lynch reps to crack a bottle of Domaine Ostertag’s deep roster, in hopes of saving my billfold an extra flex, the moment never materialized. It was high on my list of things to try and I would read about the Alsatian producer frequently as if to sate my parched lips vicariously, stubbornly clinging to hope for a chance encounter. That all changed on my latest trip up north.

After tasting at Donkey & Goat in Berkeley, turned on by the prospect of natural wine, and close enough to the Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant—the importer’s retail outpost and wine lover’s Candy Land—to hope that the stars would align, I thought about closing ceremonies of my San Francisco trips upon entering the iconic shop; shouldn’t a traditional late lunch at Mission Chinese be paired with a Domaine Ostertag Pinot Blanc, punctuating a sensational weekend spent eating through the Bay? To get there one had to first find the bottle.

General TsoStrewn with open cases of varied offerings from the importer’s reputable lot, I rummaged like a record collector in Pasadena to find the most fitting candidate. Striving for a modest introduction, not wanting to get ahead of myself, I purchased a basic Pinot Blanc “Barriques.” As I would learn, little was basic about that wine.

My friend and I stuck to the script, toting a chilled flûte d’Alsace into Mission Chinese as a fond farewell to San Francisco. Shellfish had been sidelined (taken off the menu), so we went heavier, ordering General Tso’s veal rib, egg-egg (sic) noodles and broccoli beef brisket, skirting what would have too easily paired with the wine, in order to challenge it.

egg egg noodlesChilling on the side, the Pinot Blanc exhibited buttoned-up traits, youthful notes of green apples, a squeeze of lemon and spice. The first sip followed the nose, but the medium-body had been graciously toned by the use of barrique (a 228 liter used barrel), rounding it out on the tongue—giving a textural omnipresence.

It was when the spicy food arrived that we saw what the Pinot Blanc wielded. A lot of fat and a hearty dose of capsaicin in General Tso’s veal rib was perfectly fit for the lush white wine to demonstrate its capacity. The medium-plus acidity inherent in the wine was able to squelch the heat while handling the fattiest elements of the entree. Interspersing veal tidbits with the mouth-coating egg-egg noodles, the Pinot Blanc squeegeed our taste buds clean, leaving a candied green apple, mineral and slightly herbaceous finish. It didn’t mesh too well with the broccoli brisket combo (the greener parts of a dinner [asparagus, artichoke, etc.] can prove difficult for most wines and it was no exception here), but that was no drawback, since by then we were already sold on the results.

Perpending our full bellies in Dolores Park, not quite sold on fate in our post-meal torpor, but not resisting it fully either, it seemed that these two things—an exalted producer in a far-off place at the side of a great meal—were meant to go together. Whatever the reason it took so long for me to cave and actually purchase a bottle of Domaine Ostertag, I’m grateful, because I couldn’t imagine that midday meal without it.

HopsNot an everyday addition to a hamburger, tongue could be thought of as a felicitous counterpart to a beef patty… if executed correctly. In Oakland there is such a place that incorporates this imaginative extension to the requisite burger components. Not forced or strange as Hopscotch showed me, it’s only natural.

A friend and I journeyed to the East Bay, traversing the Bay Bridge, and arrived on a sun-soaked San Pablo Avenue to lunch, alfresco, on a couple “First Base Burgers.” It’s difficult to change a winning formula, and the addition of tongue certainly might not be first on a list of necessary tweaks, but what came forth seemed a well put-together sandwich, halved and toothpicked, splitting the ceramic with duck fat chips.

FB BurgA sensory study revealed a coarse grind of chuck resting abed green leaves of lettuce, tomato, chopped and pickled onions and, of course, the griddled tongue. There was softness to every bite and a subtly sweet flavor that pervaded the sandwich. The tongue added texture most noticeably, while delicately changing the character of the beef. Grilled brioche imparted a smoky touch and the vegetables did their part in binding the First Base burger.

With the novelty of adding tongue to the burger, and the cute name aside, it showed that it was more than gimmicky, rather a thoughtfully constructed hamburger. Withholding cheese and an unnecessary chip upgrade, two chef sins at two-dollars apiece, quickly made Hopscotch’s interesting take a little less appealing (kind of irked me actually) as the bill leapt from $14 to $18, which is a lot for a hamburger. I wouldn’t call it a destination burger, but if I found myself in Oakland’s Uptown, looking for a smashing cocktail and good burger, then I would head to Hopscotch.

Ecard VVFive plus hours spent fermenting in a bucket seat works up quite a dream thirst of wine, so when I’d finally arrived in San Francisco last Thursday my friend must have anticipated it, having two Burgundy stems with their globes wetted by six-ounce pours of 2010 Domaine Ecard Savigny-Lès-Beaune Vieilles Vignes.

Demure, having a middle-sister way about her, the wine—a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, specifically the Cotes du Beaune—was youthful, prim and well mannered. Leading with ripe red fruit but yielding wet leaves, black tea and a pinch of cracked pepper that foreshadowed her development. A fitted medium-bodied dress hugged her hips, sporting modest acidity (medium), ripe tannins and leaving a trace of raspberries, cherries and a smidgeon of seductive earthy charm in an expected (medium) finish.

The wine was in a primary stage, delivering mostly fruit and minor earthen notes in liquid form to a wine-parched tongue, meanwhile portending a fantastic epicurean weekend ahead in Northern California. Though Domaine Ecard’s Old Vine Pinot Noir was in a youthful and less exciting stage, I knew that this wine would benefit from some maturing in the cellar because it possessed some key structural components and hinted at a really well-put together wine that needed a little time to coalesce. She was just letting her hair down.

Mik MaleWinter in the summertime? Not quite, and certainly not weather-wise, but in terms of beverages, I subscribe to the same philosophy that sees ice cream to be enjoyed anytime, especially a cold-churned double scoop in winter’s harrowing chill, or a king-size bowl of hot ramen that’s fit for summer’s dog days… I couldn’t resist my latest beer purchase even if it were crafted for another season.

Imported from Denmark, Mikkeller’s beers have always been fascinating to me—his story is unique and his custom-built beers appeal to the wine lover inside me. I picked up a Ris a la M’ale—a three-seventy-five that read more like a Northern European dessert than a traditional fruit-laced ale. Belgian ales have softened the American palate for this kind of exploration.

Resisting my initial temptation to use wine glasses as makeshift vessels, the fiery red contents were split into beer mugs. Putting my nose near dunking-close to the lacy head, I picked out the adjunct ingredients that would make a tasty and tart kerse floppen (Dutch cherry tart), garnished with a little toasted almond. It only got better once sipped; flavors were forward in the mouth, with an exact amount of sweetness brushing against the tang that all in all provided added depth in its doughy build, and helped transform the beer into a balanced liquid dessert.

The playfulness of ingredients—ale brewed with cherries, almonds and vanilla, among other spices—is consistent with this brewer’s style. While not all his concoctions are a hit with my taste buds, the Ris a la M’ale definitely scored major points as a finish to a nice dinner with my family.

Vouvray 94One gets the feeling that bigger things are in store for Chenin Blanc, even if the noble varietal has fallen out of favor with my customers—treated like a pariah on the shelf, it’s poised to recapture their hearts and fill their baskets soon if but given the chance. I’m certain of this, and especially convinced after a group tasting last month saw the grape through its myriad and deliciously complex forms.

A Loire Valley native, Chenin Blanc has been flourishing in South Africa (known there as Steen) and beyond for centuries. It remains one of the best values in the market; hidden in plain sight, I was able to find Philippe Foreau’s 1997 Vouvray Moelleux for less than fifty dollars. A pittance paid for one of the benchmark producers of the Loire Valley—not just Vouvray—and preserved, in good faith, for sixteen years? The same wine in any other appellation, namely Burgundy, would fetch ten times that! This treasure was among many other affordably-priced and aged Chenin Blanc vacationing on the racks of my local wine merchant.

Our tasting highlighted its range as we opened with a Clos de Nouys Vouvray Brut—as in bubbles—and passed through to its sweetest guise, the Vouvray Moelleux. While the tasting incorporated foreign emissaries from prominent regions such as South Africa and California, it was Loire Valley that demonstrated its spectral mastery with ravishing examples.

Even our lowliest seven-fifty, hailing from the less prestigious Coteaux de Vendomois AOC, caused us some suspense, with its perfumed nose of mukhwas—Indian mouth fresheners—, peanuts and vetiver. The 2011 Domaine Brazilier was light-bodied, with laser-like focus and a lovely and deep finish.

Slightly overshadowed by its [AOC] cousin to the south, and my favorite bottle of the night, a 1994 Régis Cruchet Vouvray Sec that brought with it a long list of descriptors including apricot, marzipan, stock (white flowers, not soup!), grapefruit and wet stones. It took on a rather oily texture in the mouth, graced with an elegant frame contoured by mouth-watering acidity and leaving a pleasantly long finish.

We wrapped up the evening huddled over Foreau’s 1997 Vouvray Moelleux, still developing; with floral traces wafting from our stemware, each sip was sweet and wholesome like Persian pastry, honeyed and nutty (almond and pistachio) with orange marmalade and nuance on the finish.

The tasting quickly became an open love letter to Chenin Blanc; its coquetry was enough to have won fawning affection, yet it wasn’t any single seductive act that had moved us to be loyalists. Almost every wine that night over-delivered. We were privileged to see a window of vintages from 1989 up to 2011, offering a range of flavors and styles that painted a broad portrait of Chenin Blanc. I know I’m not alone when I tell you that I can see why Chenin Blanc stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Chardonnay or other international varietals, but I think that you get the idea too now.

fundamentalA refined take on the burger was what I’d expected when I’d completed my dinner reservations for Fundamental LA a few Fridays back. What I left with was a remarkable evening centered on familiar ingredients surprisingly repurposed for the betterment and cultivation of one’s palate.

The restaurant’s space in the afternoon is filled with a warming glow and shows off the artfully industrial décor; at night, in the absence of the sun, the eatery heats up, transformed into a chic and grown-up destination that conjures images of dining spaces in the finest big cities in our country. It’s cozy square-footage, intensified by the animated buzz of patrons and staff, completes the day-night metamorphosis.

A menu divided by plant and animal themed fare and creative wine list work hand-in-hand to provide everything necessary for a great dinner at a modest price. However it wasn’t the sides or the elegant 2006 Gigondas decanted into a 1000ml flask that had me hooked. It was rather one entrée—the “bœuf burger.”

fund burgA fifty-fifty blend of short rib and brisket that had been dry-aged for 2-4 days, blanketed by a finely melted Tilamook cheddar, arugula, house made pickles, garlic aioli, ketchup and a brioche bun, arrived halved, flaunting the precise cooking time that achieved a medium rare and highly desired pinkish core.

Ostensibly quotidian, from the familiar ensemble of ingredients to the presentation, nothing appeared novel, but that was belied by the careful attention to detail. Not only was the cooking time flawless, the preparation brought out a savory and well-seasoned patty. Umami! As for the well-worn supporting cast, each played their part in completing a surreal burger; a careful spread of garlic aioli added a sharp undercurrent of flavor while the arugula delivered a peppery element. In this place, I couldn’t imagine their burger served on anything other than a brioche bun.

The burger experience was reminiscent of that girl next door, growing up awkwardly together, seeing her through her first attempts at make-up, and her wildly different fashions, until one day, as if out-of-nowhere, it all comes together gorgeously—no seams exposed—and you are left with someone you’ve known for a long time but that you don’t know at all. The burger at Fundamental LA is worth your acquaintance.

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