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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?

I had been off burgers for a while, no particular reason why, but I was trying to ratify the alteration to my almost pedestrian routine by throwing a little burger and wine event. I had been enamored with Thai food of late, reveling in the complicated blend of sweet and spice manifesting itself in savory dishes while the majority of my heart-shaped pie graph already belonged to the cuisine of Northern India. With the recent trend of dining out at as many Thai and Indian spots as I could muster, it was time to retarget my attentions on the burger in its most honest form. No gourmet burgers this Friday, just a plain old dive burger. I decided it was time to call on the constituency of the Better Burger Bureau to orchestrate the next outing.

I wasn’t going to make life too complicated, just go ahead and pour a Napa Cab with the hamburgers… at least that was my intention. I had been in the mood for Clos du Val after reading a review in the NY Times where Eric Asimov went into detail about the delicate nature of this wine, especially against its peers. Cabernet Sauvignon is never too exciting to me, save for left bank Bordeaux but then the prices become an issue. I wanted to capture the NYT fervor and so I transferred the seven-fifty of Clos du Val to my trusty flask and made tracks to Inglewood.

Our destination for that Friday—the same day, game five of the Stanley Cup Finals was being played between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks—was Earlez Grille (pronounced Earl’s not Frenchified Earlez). This was our spot, in part, because their hours of operation best worked with our group’s availability, and, it seemed, to be equally out of everyone’s way—a democratic choice. The place had not been on my radar, or my to-do-list but it seemed pretty reliable according to my foodie sources. Had I looked closer at those reviews I would have noticed there were no beef patties served!!! and Earlez was actually better known for their hotdogs. It became the defining moment of the night… in a good way.

We rolled up and spotted the extravagant marquee, a giant beacon on Crenshaw Boulevard promoting chili ‘n sandwiches. We walked in and took the place in, a large size eatery with some special touches like a hefty assembly line for the burger—anything but beef (it didn’t hit us right away!)— curiously; they still serve beef chili (?). Flat screen televisions showing off the hotdogs. There was an unusual array of beverages from Hawaiian to Playaz Punch and as far as ambiance, decorating the walls is a blend of posters of great musicians and advertisements for random services. Earlez has character.

Though there are no beef burgers being served—a mighty inconvenience—we took little time to reformulate a game plan, ordering turkey burgers, chilidogs, pastrami sandwiches and some orders of chili fries. It was a lot of food but we were looking to test the kitchen, selecting our favorites for a possible future visit. Our orders arrived about ten minutes later. Unwrapping them, revealing the copious amounts of chili that covered the fries and dogs, we were delighted by the generosity. While my burger had no chili—that would have been overkill—I had a nicely seasoned turkey patty with extra peppers and all the helpings to make it a classic California dive turkey burger.

I was still having a tough time wrapping my head around the beef chili while not offering a beef patty—it seemed inconsistent. Flawed logic. With the absence of beef patties, presumambly the chili would be made with ground meat too it was a quandary—one I could let slide if, and only if, my turkey burger were good.

Upon the first bite the bun was soft and perfect, the texture of the meat was firm and it was flavorful, the peppers and raw onions added some depth to the sandwich. I was content. Everything else was done well and we had no gripes with any of the food.

When I poured the Clos du Val (#240) and brought the oversized paper cup to my nose; I detected a fragrance of cassis and black cherry; on the palate the full-bodied Cab had moderate tannins—enough to provide structure—medium oak and it was the perfect side to compliment the chili.

Though I had a genuine hankering for a hamburger last Friday, I was happy to discover a new place; Earlez hit the spot and was the perfect jumping off point for the rest of the night; I will definitely pay a repeat visit when I’m craving a chilidog. The night almost finished perfectly (despite Tim Thomas letting in a heartbreaking goal that lead to the downfall of the Bruins) we finished our night at the Daily Pint—my first time at the illustrious pub—to try on some interesting brews until the night drew to a close.

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