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New World or Old World…, that decision can lead to contention among wine people. As much as I want to drink the latest Rajat Parr tweeted Burgundy, I generally don’t have the luxury. Old World wines are definitely sexy, but many, especially those that I’m interested in, benefit from a lengthy stay in the cellar to become their more refined selves. Though I would love to cut my teeth on the wines of the Côte d’Or, it just isn’t practical for everyday consumption (monetarily speaking). Living in Los Angeles however affords a bounty of great Pinot Noir makers nearby, those trying to strike a balance between the austerities of Burgundy while reveling in the California sun’s cooperative repair. I  sampled such a bottle, recently, from a budding producer in Santa Barbara.

Zotovich Cellars had been on my radar a short while, name thrown round by a few of my closest friends in the wine world, and I couldn’t wait to taste the touted Pinot Noir. I went to the website to see what I could glean, reading about the winemaker Ryan Zotovich and his stat sheets, showing that he split time between Sea Smoke and Palmina. An added bonus was the direction (consulting) of Steve Clifton—of Brewer-Clifton fame—as well as some decent reviews from Tanzer and Company… not cheating, just prepared. It would be my devoir and privilege to taste the 2009 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir.

With stemware handy, I popped the wine, poured about five ounces and walked away, watching some online television to encourage aeration; I made my way back only after I finished the latest episode of Suits. This is the wine world, always waiting on your date to put on her makeup. When I came back I checked for fault. In its place, a luscious aroma of red cherry starburst and dried rose petals slugged me with a clenched fist. I nosed the wine greedily, pulling out as much as I could in my newly honed WSET approach, finding a faint crack of pepper and some light mushroom.

I brought the bulb to my pursed lips, tasting a dialed-in red fruit attack in the youthful Pinot. Light-footed, with surprising acidity (teetering on medium-plus), wearing fine tannins and leaving a long impression of gorgeous primary fruits that were enhanced by the slightest bit of earth and faint dusting of pepper.

The quality was high, as well as the suggested retail ($39), but it was worthy of its price tag. Delicious, and drank better with every hour. While it might’ve fallen short of a Corton Grand Cru, in terms of austerity, or the seductive charm of Chambolle-Musigny, it was a beautiful Pinot Noir, proudly wearing its New World sweater. I’m still finding my palate, dedicating a serious portion of my time to sniffing out the best Burgundy deals I can find, but in the meantime I’m really happy to have found the Zotovich Pinot Noir to enjoy during the waiting game.

I didn’t know it at the start, but my day would take on a particularly English hue from morning to night last week. Between my liquid education in the morning and my burger at Ye Olde King’s Head Pub for dinner, everything was hinting at the old country. It wasn’t intentional but it might have been destiny as I was about to audition another highly recommended sandwich.

I started the day on “random,” having The Kinks be the first and last thing I heard as I ended my morning iTunes session before departing for my WSET course. I walked out the door with Preservation Act 1 in my hands, planning to learn the most about sweet wines and spirits. In my car I loaded the disc and not even three songs in I was at the Wine House ready to begin my five-hour class.

The WSET is an internationally recognized course that offers comprehensive education in wine and spirits. English in origin, the program affords participants/students the opportunity to master the finer parts of retailing, history and service while peppering Power Point slides with foreign spellings (flavours, ageing, etc.) and specific information as one works their way up, graduating, eventually, to the level of MW or Master of Wine. 

We sampled Eiswein, then transitioned into different types of Sherry (Fino and Oloroso) and Port as the first half of the course drew to a close. Back from the lunch we began the spirits portion where I became familiar with the different methods of distilling spirits, their origins and base materials. We tasted through Cognac, Scotch and ended on the truly English spirit Gin to feel the gist of the various methods in creating the spirits and recognizing the base ingredients in their taste, as we finished for the day.

With “Cricket” playing in the background, I was off to the English pub in Santa Monica. I was instructed to purchase a Crunchie next door for the barman (Raul), an insider’s tip by a friend before entering Ye Olde King’s Head. I was looking for “Raul” on arrival, but he had left a few hours before. The Crunchie would not be for naught. I met up with three friends at the back bar (“Bulldog Bar”), ordering a pint of Fullers London Pride; I fell in with them rather than having my druthers… wine.

Not too long after working on our brews we ordered. While others were inclined to go English, I avoided the bangers and mash, requesting the burger.

When the food hit the bar, I captured a few shots under dramatic lighting. It looked deceptive, a tad sloppy but I reserved judgment for my first few bites. The burger was also bigger than I’d anticipated. The meat was cooked to a flawless medium, but the texture of the patty was packed too tightly for it to be hand formed. The accompaniment, though disheveled in presentation, rescued the burger. The crunch of the raw red onion and the ripe tomato added a little depth to the under-seasoned patty. It definitely didn’t measure up to what I was hoping for. Serves me right for going domestic at an English pub.

My friends were happier with their selections and we all left full but this was another case of going in with elevated expectations. They weren’t met. I headed home to the sweet tune of “Sitting in the Midday Sun,” capping my average burger experience with a honeycomb treat. The chocolate bar and The Kinks helped me rebound from the unrealistic demands I placed on a pub that might be a better place to take in a traditional meal, a pint of beer, loft a dart or catch a game, rather than find the city’s best burger.

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