Poulet demi-deuil and Beaucastel: A truffly duet

By Robert Haas

The end of fall and beginning of winter is the season that we enjoyed wonderful black truffle dishes during our travels to visit vineyard proprietors in France.  Alas, although we have learned to produce fine wines in California, we have not been able to do black truffles yet.

So, when the yearly truffle yearning comes along, we sometimes yield to the temptation of buying imported French truffles on line.  We do scrambled eggs with truffles (yum), as served at Beaucastel or chez Perrin, and last night, with our California family, a poulet demi-deuil (literally “chicken in half-mourning” for the dark color given to the chicken’s skin by the slices of truffle nestled underneath. Once appropriately dressed, the chicken is poached in chicken stock).  It is a dish y which we were stunned at first exposure at La Mère Brazier, just outside Lyon, many long falls ago.

What wine to serve with the poulet?  I had recently discovered an old bottle of Château de Beaucastel originally from my Vermont cellar, transported to California in the ‘90s, label damaged and vintage unknown, and wondered when to serve it.  The answer became obvious last night.  I knew that we would discover the vintage on the cork.  It turned out to be 1981: a great vintage at Beaucastel although dodgy almost everywhere else in France.

Beaucastel 1981 cork

The wine was absolutely perfect: mature yet no hint of oxidation, truffly in itself, echoing the dish, velvety, rich, leathery, with dark red fruits and a long finish.  Thirty-one years old and fully mature, in beautiful balance. What a nice memorable evening with food, family and a great wine!

Making Olive Oil In-House For the First Time

Our last harvest of the year is olives, which we typically pick in late November or early December.  In an ideal year, we might get some frosts before the olives are ripe, but we won't get any hard freezes, because if the olives freeze then they rot and aren't usable for oil.  Like the rest of the 2012 harvest, we got pretty much what we wanted for our olive crop, and were able to pick ripe fruit yesterday under sunny skies.

Olive branch dipped

Today, we processed the olives on site for the first time thanks to the marvelous mobile olive press from our friends Yves and Clotilde Julien of Olea Farm:

Olive mobile press yves and clotilde julien

Yves and Clotilde's press (which they've named "Mill On Wheels") includes components -- some imported from Italy and some made locally -- that wash the olives and separate them from any leaf or stem material, that crush the olives into paste, that separate the liquids from the solids, and finally that uses a centrifuge to separate the oil from the water.  I took a short video that tracks the process from the hopper full of olives through to the stream of olive oil pouring out of the centrifuge:

The oil will settle in our cellar for two months, and then be bottled: estate grown, certified organic Tablas Creek olive oil.  And it is already delicious; you could smell the rich, pungent aroma of fresh olive oil from outside the winery, even though we're processing the olives in our nursery, a few hundred yards away.  One more photo, because it's too good not to share: a single one of our Manzanilla olives, dipped in the oil made from the previous batch. Yum!

Olive dipped

A Flash in the Pan

By Darren Delmore

The mood on Election Night was as tense as a cold vintage Condrieu inside the dank, red velvet-lined interiors of Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa, Florida. Home of the largest private wine collection of the world and any cow’s worst nightmare, the windowless, carnivorous version of a Disneyland for adults had plenty of men and women in “I Voted” stickered-suits clinging onto wine stems and Republican dreams. “Don’t you worry,” said a permed older woman with shoulder pads in line with a Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ uniform, “it’s still early, and we’re gonna get our country back tonight.”

I quietly sipped on a 2007 Jean Luc Colombo Terre Brulees Cornas while I waited for Irishman Freddy Matson of Vineyard Brands and the chief wine buyer for Whole Foods and his wife to turn up for what was set to be an encyclopedic evening of older wines. I was alone in my bearded, short sleeved, California persuasion and had just stepped off the plane. The bartender allowed me to linger over the by-the-glass list which had mostly current release wines and yet a double take-inducing Chateauneuf-du Pape from 1975 for $14.75 and a 1986 Gigondas for 5 bucks. On the last gamey, sedimentary sip I caught the white, glimmering rock-and-roller curls of Freddy in the back with two others, and he was waving in my direction.

After introductions we were seated at a back booth in the bar and greeted by the sommelier Eric Renaud who is the envy of many master sommeliers by having the luxury of working with one of the oldest, most famous and random wine inventories on the planet. The wines and beef variations flowed for the next four hours, all at Eric’s recommendation.

Wine # 1: 1971 “Les Beaux Monts” Vosne-Romanee

Bern's cork
A cigar of a cork from the 1971 Les Beaux Monts 

Wine #2: Mid-1960’s left bank Bordeaux (with pristine color but the Chateau's name escapes me)

Wine # 3: 1981 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chappelle

Wine # 4 1989 Domaine Henri Gouges Les Pruliers Nuits St. Georges (my favorite)

Wine # 5 1976 Beerenauslese in the dessert room.

After the euphoric experience and a tour of the dank cellars, we parted company. I noticed that the bar was like a ghost town by ten pm. Had the election gone a different direction I imagine the place would’ve smelled of cigars and vintage Napa Valley Cabernet and been raging at full capacity.

 *    *    * 

The last time I was in Florida I was 13 years old and Disney World was the focus. This time around I was working the Gulf Coast territory, visiting restaurants and wine retailers and pouring the current releases of Tablas Creek to wine buyers. With Freddy as my guide and six different Tablas Creek wines open for tasting, we crossed various bodies of alligator-infested waters from Sarasota to St. Petersburg, and Tampa to Naples to show our stuff. The wind was coming from the north all week so humidity was low and the temps were crisp and warm. The businesses we visited varied from Whole Foods Markets to independent wine shops/bars, and modern-hipster restaurants to Nixon-era relics. I was blown away by a few funky old school restaurants, like Bern’s, that were packing surprisingly deep and consumer-friendly bottle lists. One such restaurant was Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber in Clearwater Beach. This place was out of the 1970’s for sure, had a massive dining room and surf and turf concept going on, with merely a two page wine list full of 1980’s and 1990’s Champagne, Burgundy and Rhone at prices that never changed since release. All in a place where most customers probably drank gimlets, Napa Cabernet or White Zinfandel more than anything else! 

On my second night in Florida, Tablas Creek was the featured winery at the cool new restaurant in downtown Sarasota called State Street Eating House and Cocktails.

State Street kitchen
Tablas Creek night at State Street Eating House

Not only did the lead singer of AC/DC turn up to taste through our white wines (he loved the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc), but a packed house thoroughly enjoyed chef Christian’s pairings, which included Alligator Ribs matched with Patelin de Tablas Rouge. Freddy ordered a gator platter afterwards and lumped a fat one onto my salad. I ventured a bite and a local guy named Kyle leaned over and asked me “Do you actually like that, man?”

“I’m guessing you don’t eat this stuff,” I said.

He widened his eyes like we were insane.

Farm Raised Gator and Patelin de Tablas Rouge!

Freddy had me booked to do a couple in store tastings at various Whole Foods Markets over the next two days. The first one was in Sarasota right by the bus depot which is a fairly new store. The buyer David introduced himself and helped me set up the table full of both Patelin Blanc and Rouge. Turns out he is from San Francisco. I’d never worked one of these tastings before, but it entails engaging wine browsers and cheese department-bound customers to stop by for a couple free tastes in hopes that they tuck a bottle into their cart or basket to go. A hobbling, fragrant, trenchcoat-adorned man on a wooden cane and with about as many teeth as my 3 month old son was our first guest of the day, and it took me ‘til his second taste to realize he had no cart or basket at all. He waxed poetically about the wine being better than “any French wine anywhere” and took my card and told me he wanted to come visit the estate sometime before moving on. A similarly fashioned woman with a mustache turned up next and David swiftly intervened and told me not to give her any more alcohol and that they kick her out of the store daily. Some Tablas Creek fans materialized next and took four bottles of Patelin red with them. Another young mother packed away two bottles of the white. A group of grommets rocked up – one in a Viking helmet and another in face paint – and I carded them before pouring them the wines. When all was said and done we sold about a case and a half, and even better, the buyer David was able to try the wines and loved them. 

Pat blanc whole foods
2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc @ Whole Foods Sarasota

The Whole Foods in-store tasting in Tampa was a whole other demographic and story. Whereas the Sarasota tasting was on a Friday evening, Tampa’s newest Whole Foods (opened November 1st) had me pour on Saturday from 11-1:30 and it was packed. Patelin de Tablas Rouge swiftly sold out. I hope to do more of these tastings at various Whole Foods Markets in the future.

*    *    *

The culmination of my Floridian five day run was the Stone Crab Food and Wine Festival at the Longboat Key Club in Longboat, FL. The event organizers set us up in probably the most amazing setting at the best time of the day for a wine and food event.

Sunset   Photo[1]

I poured along with 20 other wineries at sunset as guests ate the first delivery of stone crab while a classical quintet performed on the center stage. We were positioned next to Robert Kacher Selections which wasn’t a bad place to be, since Bobby brought along nothing but White Burgundy to a crab festival. Patz and Hall and King Estate had some great wines out as well.

Stone crab
The season's first delivery of Stone Crab in Longboat, Florida

With a flight leaving Tampa at 6 am the next morning, I wisely left Freddy Matson at a hotel room after party and called it a night. I’ll be back in Florida at the end of January for the Forks and Corks festival in Sarasota and few other Tablas Creek related events, so check back on our events section for the emerging details.    

Seeing red -- and green -- in Santa Fe

By Darren Delmore

Before spending a week in New Mexico for the 22nd annual Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta, I called my gastroenterologist to inquire about getting my esophagus lined with stainless steel. It seemed like the smart thing to do. The residents of New Mexico’s high desert utopia - perched at 7,000 feet – love wine as much as their art and hot peppers, and this four day festival is one of the finest, spiciest celebrations of food and drink in the country. I was going to need some kind of intestinal support network to wage this battle.

After surviving close to a week in that 402-year-old city, I can safely report that Santa Fe is alive and kicking with art, food and music. I learned some fun facts as well: the state dinosaur for starters, that it's the third-largest art mecca in America behind NYC and Los Angeles, the and that when a server asks you “green or red” after you order anything from oatmeal to a Ribeye you should respond with “Christmas”. Although being so far removed from an ocean can be tortuous for me, I hardly even noticed during my week there; I was too busy eating, drinking and taking in the culture.

The opening event of Wine and Chile Fiesta was the invitation only Trade Tasting at the Hotel El Dorado on Wednesday afternoon. I arrived early enough to set up our table and ready the nine Tablas Creek wines I’d be pouring. [A little business -- any accounts in New Mexico interested in Tablas Creek can find us through National Distributing Company.] It was nice to be pouring alongside fellow central coaster Jessica from Zaca Mesa who informed me after a half glass of Ruinart Champagne to mind my altitude. She was right. Something had felt off. Walking up from the parking garage alone had me huffing as if the lungs of Keith Richards were inside me. “Just drink a lot of water,” she added. I had researched restaurants around the city, and as the event filled up I was able to meet a lot of the buyers, managers and staff of wine loving establishments from Santa Fe down to Albuquerque and on up to Taos. A lot of good wineries were in the house. It was going to be a good week.

The fine wine specialist for National, Andrew Jay, recommended that I go have a bite to eat at Café Pasqual’s that night, since they were pouring our Patelin de Tablas by the glass and loved Tablas Creek. I walked into town from my hotel on the north edge of the city and entered the clamoring, legendary eatery. The manager saw my green Tablas Creek bag and introduced herself enthusiastically. The only spot available was in the center of a silent, ten person communal table in the middle of the dining room. I wedged myself in next to four couples and a guy on his iPad. After ordering a glass of Fontsainte Corbieres Rosé and doing that 21st century solitary shuffle of staring into my phone, a huge plate of complimentary roasted red peppers with a wedge of lime materialized before me, and the whole table suddenly had entertainment akin to a gastronomical version of Survivor to bring us all together.

Pascqual's peppers

“You must work here or be really special,” said the Texan next to me.

“You gonna eat all them?” asked the woman on my right. The couple I’d later learn was from South Korea just started at me through their black-rimmed hipster glasses, fully prepared to witness me burst into flames.

“Those aren’t bad,” the Texan consoled me. “Those are sweet ones. You’re all right.”

Thankfully they were. And delicious at that. I had a caramelized onion and poppy seed tart and “Albondigas de Pigolo con Adobolo” afterward, which are meatballs of bison and pork. A spicy mole dish tore up the woman to my right and she sent it away swiftly. “I’m beyond done,” she said, and didn’t utter another word all night. This was hot culinary terrain here. Tourists were going down by the minute!

Thursday was mostly a day to explore and absorb some Santa Fe culture. After some internet research I headed to Garcia Street Books just south of the river, which had a well-chosen selection of the authors I was looking for. Next door was a newsstand/café called Downtown Subscription, which is highly recommended for not only its brew but also the relaxed patio space in back to while away a lazy morning or afternoon. I checked out some of the galleries a block down from there, and a woman at Manitou Galleries that had a really stunning show going for painter B.C. Nowlin steered me toward the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, which was a great decision.

There was a forty-five minute wait for lunch at The Shed, which I spent browsing through the wine shop at La Casa Sena. I salivated over a 3-liter of 2009 Hommage a Jacques Perrin and their expansive selection of Ridge.


My restaurant pager went off as I checked out with a half bottle of 2005 Turkey Flat Barossa Valley Shiraz. The patio at The Shed was still crowded so I was led by the host to a deep secret room built in adherence to the local overhead clearance of five foot four. In fact an older gentleman was pacing by his table in there and grabbed the host, demanding to be relocated due to claustrophobia. He was freaking out and I couldn’t blame him. I failed the “green or red” test by asking my server for the mildest salsa on my enchiladas. The food was only on the verge of devil spice, which was just what I needed.

From 4:30 to 6:30 there was a soirée’ at the Governor’s Mansion for all the participating wineries at Santa Fe Wine and Chile. This was a chance to relax a bit and taste through everyone else’s chosen wine selection. I met France’s “Whispering Angel” who was there in a blue sport coat cinched at the neck with a little pink sweater representing his magnums of rosé de Provence wines. The Tablas Creek selection being poured by an array of sommeliers and restaurant wine directors was the 2011 Rosé, which was the perfect choice for the heat of the day. The hot desert sun was scorching the bottles of red wine. Nothing like having a glass of 90-degree Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

TerrasunsetI cut up through a quintessential orange-pink New Mexican landscape to the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado. Word traveled my way about a prix fixe dinner their restaurant Terra was doing all week, with four courses paired with Tablas Creek wines. After a commanding sunset (right) I sampled two of the courses and their chef blew me away with his Green Chile Cioppino and 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc pairing: an innovative and thoughtful food and wine combination that really brought out the spice of the wine's Grenache Blanc component. Rhone whites are often a surprisingly good pairing with spicy food, which tends to fight with oak and can make high-acid wines taste shrill. The cioppino:


Out of all the days at this festival, Friday was my busiest. Tablas Creek and chef Fernando Olea were being paired up on the outskirts of town at world famous artist Allan Houser’s sculpture garden and residence. I could’ve driven myself later in the morning but opted to get on the bus with everyone else and get the full experience. I’m glad I did. His work, carved out of limestone, granite, bronze and other organic materials was full of grace and soul. As was the luncheon that the amiable Fernando Olea put together to pair with the 2011 Rosé and our two new Esprit de Beaucastel wines. There’s a first time for everything in life, and grasshoppers paired with a Mourvedre-based rosé was certainly new to everybody in attendance.


With a bus full of snoring passengers, we returned just in time for me to down an espresso and set up for the Reserve tasting at the El Dorado. This event was far more crowded than the trade tasting, as the attendees were an equal mix of industry and general public. Tablas Creek donated a ten vintage vertical of Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge for the auction. Wines were flowing fast. A small, exhausted group of us met up for dinner at La Casa Sena afterward, where the wine list is as thick as a Tom Wolfe novel. We drank a 2009 Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Gewürztraminer. I had the Wagyu steak with it, which might show just how mentally debilitated I was from the succession of the day’s events.

Saturday was the grand tasting at the Santa Fe Opera with over 5,000 in attendance. I parked and walked down to the Flea Market beforehand, expecting to find locally-crafted art and jewelry made from indigenous gems and stones but instead found rugs and clothing from South Korea. I hoofed it up through the opera grounds to the series of event tents and found the Tablas Creek table. It was already packed an hour before starting time. Manny Guerra from Vineyard Brands came over for a glass of Rosé and the heads up that he had the 2009 Chateau de Beaucastel open two tents down and that I’d better come over now if I wanted a glass of it. I was getting the vibe that the crowd waiting behind the roped-off entrance was there to party. Thankfully over 75 restaurants were sprinkled about with plenty of food to keep things agreeable. 1 to 4 pm was the busiest blur of my lifetime. I poured both Patelin de Tablas wines, Rosé and Esprit de Beaucastel to the merry masses, at times with a bottle in each hand. I couldn’t believe how well organized and managed such a big tasting event could be. No wonder this was the 22nd annual.  

At nightfall with a full harvest moon over New Mexico, I was in a quiet, off-Broadway part of the city, sitting in the Second Street Brewery watching one of New Mexico’s best singer-songwriters playing a set with his trio, drinking a stout and giving the spicy food one more try. The nachos, complete with Christmas, were crushing me with its spice and acids, and again the native chile won the dusty battle against this Californian wineslinger

A Family (Winemakers) Trip to the Golden Gate

By Darren Delmore

As we loaded up nine cases of wine into the Subaru on a sunny Sunday morning, I immediately got the drift that two days of representing TCV at Family Winemakers of California’s San Francisco tasting wasn’t going to be a relaxing, casual affair. Pouring 108 bottles in approximately two four-hour tastings equals over a case an hour, and (assuming one ounce pours) over five tastes per minute. There’s no way any winery would go through that much wine at a trade event where 300 other wineries were also pouring, would they?

Family Winemakers SF 2012

We made speedy, all-wheel-drive time into the city, unloading the wines at a bustling Fort Mason Center, parking, and inhaling sandwiches from Greens Restaurant as the whites chilled. It was an absolutely beautiful day to be pouring wine on a pier in San Francisco. We poured a pretty serious lineup, everything that we make that sees any distribution at all for the mostly wine-buying trade and media attendees of this long running event:

The Whites
2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc
2010 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
2010 Roussanne
2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
2011 Vermentino

The Rosé
2011 Rosé

The Reds
2011 Patelin de Tablas
2010 Cotes de Tablas
2010 Mourvedre
2010 Esprit de Beaucastel

I hadn’t been to a Family Winemakers event since 2008 in Pasadena, so I was wondering how the organization had been faring in recent years. There are so many trade and consumer tastings these days, what niche did Family Winemakers continue to fill? As a wine buyer for a restaurant, I recall the abundance of high end California wines on hand at these tastings, and the opportunity to actually talk to winery owners and winemakers in a more spacious atmosphere. I also dug walking away knowing which wineries in California were family owned and/or independent. This year’s event filled up slowly but surely on the first day, with sommeliers and buyers from a great array of restaurants, bistros and wine shops turning up to taste what’s new. Before we knew it we were pouring full throttle to a mass of both trade and consumers alike. The disadvantage of pouring so many wines is that it takes serious tasters quite a while to get through your lineup. The advantage: you sure look busy.

The action didn’t wind down until three hours in when Jason urged me to go taste around the room. My throat was parched from shouting what Counoise was over the thunder of tasters, so I went straight to Ramey Wine Cellars, who, along with Kistler, is the master of California Chardonnay in my opinion. The trio behind the table looked as exhausted from the day’s pouring as I felt so I didn’t take up much more of their time. I was just happy to know that their 2009 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay was as good as their 2008.

That night Jason and I cabbed it to Park Tavern in North Beach for what would be a fabulous meal with our distributor's new key accounts specialist for the Bay Area. Until recently a sommelier at a top Napa restaurant, she was happily already a fan of our wines and psyched to meet us and taste what was new. Over a discussion of the glories of Mourvedre-based rose and a bottle of 2011 Chateau Pradeaux, Jason told the tale of how his father and the Perrin family ultimately picked Paso Robles in 1989 to found Tablas Creek. For me, listening to limestone-enlivened wine tales is to me what hearing the latest on a cinematic celebrity’s pregnancy or Justin Bieber’s eating disorder is to the rest of America. We moved on to the bright, honeyed 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc when the main courses hit the table, which collectively paired with their choices of Black Cod and my highly-recommended bone-in pork chop plate with bacon confit that should’ve simply been called "the pacemaker". "You win," the server quietly said to me when he placed my selection before me.

The following morning I chose to take in the sights of the city. Jason (who had a board meeting) had warned me that the Tenderloin, a few steps the wrong way from our excellent hotel, used to be a really terrifying place. But there was a Blue Bottle Coffee location ten minutes away according to my iPhone, so I took a brisk morning stroll down Taylor into an area that I’d later find out was graced by a bustling methadone clinic. I about to abort the mission when I saw the most-welcome sign for Jessie street and power walked down a mere half a block to find a line full of black-rimmed spectacle-adorned hipsters awaiting their morning brew. What a difference a hundred yards makes!

I met up with Jason at 1:30 for the final trade tasting, and before long we were swarming with fans and tasters. The Vermentino was a hit. The Patelin de Tablas Blanc was showing extremely well and if you’re in the Bay Area, you’re surely going to see this killer blend on by the glass lists. A lot of people had never tried Mourvedre on its own, and our 2010 was much-requested. By 5 pm, an hour before the cutoff, my voice felt like Janis Joplin’s after a two-hour whiskey-fueled set. Come closing time, all but one of those nine cases of Tablas Creek were gone, and once outside en route to the getaway ride, the winds whipping off the San Francisco bay were full of mercy.

Golden Gate

An anniversary dinner of rack of lamb, roasted tomatoes and avocado salad with Esprit de Beaucastel

This is a busy week of celebrations for me. Meghan's birthday was Friday. Sebastian's birthday is Monday. And our anniversary was Saturday. As it's squeezed between other parties, we often keep it low-key, and certainly compared to Friday night's amazing dinner at the Cass House (and even Sebastian's Star Wars-themed birthday party) Saturday night's dinner was relaxed. But it's such a spectacular time of year for our back yard garden and for our local farmers' markets that what started as a simple weekend meal turned out to be pretty extraordinary. It was also easy and relatively quick to prepare, and seemed like a good time to put the new camera that I got for my own recent birthday through its paces.

The menu: rack of lamb, roasted tomatoes, and avocado salad. I particularly like the combination of lamb and tomatoes, as lamb needs something with some acidity to balance its richness. 

The rack of lamb is basically no prep.  I got a small rack (about 1.25 lbs) and rinsed it off, patted it dry, rubbed it with salt and pepper, and let it come up to room temperature.

Last Import - 10

The tomatoes were almost as easy. I modified a recipe ("roasted cherry tomatoes with basil") from one of my favorite cookbooks -- Vegetable Love, by Barbara Kafka -- to suit the many smallish heirloom tomatoes our backyard garden has been producing.  I cut the tops off the tomatoes and cored the larger ones, then put them in a baking dish with some peeled garlic cloves and poured olive oil and sprinkled salt over everything.  After I'd rubbed the oil around, it looked like this:

Last Import - 02

To cook the lamb, I used the tried-and-true Joy of Cooking recipe: sear both sides for 2 minutes on the stovetop then put the whole pan (rack bone-side-down) in a 425° oven until a meat thermometer reads 130°, about 20 minutes.  The tomatoes took about the same amount of time: 25 minutes at 500°, with everything shaken around bit once mid-way through the cooking. While these dishes cooked, I made the avocado salad. I used local Bacon avocados, a large-pitted, thin-skinned avocado that makes its appearance every summer at our local farmer's market at such cheap prices it seems a shame not to use them at every opportunity. I cut up two of these avocados and added a small red onion, chopped, from our garden. Onto this I poured a simple vinaigrette made with champagne vinegar and good dijon mustard.  The result is one of the simplest, most delicious salads imaginable:

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When the tomatoes came out of the oven, they were smoky and sweet, their natural flavors intensified by the roasting. I'm sure they were particularly good because it's been a great tomato season here in California (hot and sunny) but honestly, I think you could cook grocery store hothouse tomatoes this way and they would be delicious. The garlic softened and sweetened to the point that our boys were fighting over the cloves. The photo below was taken just before I added some strips of fresh basil onto the top, the coup de grace:

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When the lamb had cooked, I took it out and let it rest for about 10 minutes, then sliced the chops:

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To pair with the meal, I chose a bottle of 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel. Lamb, with its stronger flavors, likes more strongly flavored red wines, and is a great match for Mourvedre. I chose a younger Esprit because I thought that its more robust flavors would do better with the sweetness and tanginess of the tomatoes. Though I think just about any vintage would have been a success, the 2008 showed beautifully, and complemented the meal just the way great pairings should: the chewy tannins of the wine were softened by the fattiness and richness of the lamb, each bite of tomato added a burst of sweet-tart-smoky flavor that brought out the wine's generous fruit, and each component somehow made the others taste more intensely like themselves. The scene, mid-dinner:

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Our boys are pretty good eaters, but it's still rewarding to make a fully grown-up meal and have them fighting over the last servings. Even the dog got in on the fun. A success, all around. Two of the happy customers:

Last Import - 28  Last Import - 50

Happy summer, everyone. May your celebrations be equally successful.

A Summer Dinner in Vermont

By Robert Haas

One of summer’s greatest challenges for the Vermont gardener is keeping up with the zucchini production.  So we need to find recipes in order to benefit from our garden and, of course, wines to accompany them.  Here is an old standby recipe inspired by The Victory Garden Cookbook, by Marian Morash, published in New York in 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf.  Mr. Knopf, a customer of mine at M. Lehmann, was a great lover of good wine and food, and a frequent publisher of works by knowledgeable food and wine writers.

2 eggs
2 cups grated zucchini
2 ears local corn, scraped off the cob
¼ cup flour
1 Tb melted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup coarsely grated VT cheddar cheese
2 Tb oil for frying 

  • Grate the squash on the coarse side of a box grater, put into a colander and salt to drain of excess liquid.  
  • Slice the corn off the cob and scrape off the milky residue with the back of a knife. 
  • After about 20 minutes, gently squeeze the liquid out of the squash with your hands, and continue with the recipe.
  • Beat the eggs and combine with all remaining ingredients except the oil.
  • Heat a well-seasoned iron or non-stick pan or a griddle and add the oil.
  • Spoon the batter with a ladle into the hot oil and fry until crisp on both sides.  Smaller fritters are easier to turn.  
  • Drain on paper towels and serve hot.

For the wine, ironically I discovered one from about the same vintage as the book: a 1981 premier crû Burgundy: Vosne-Romanée Orveaux of Jean Mongeard, tucked away in the cellar.

Orveaux 1981

I brought it up expecting a gentle, elegant wine, albeit from a disregarded vintage.  Wrong!  The wine was rich and full-bodied, redolent of ripe sun-dried cherries, with a velvety palate and ripe tannins: unexpectedly intense, and at a perfect age, with a touch of that now unfashionable “barnyard" character which I learned to appreciate.  It went beautifully with the fritters.  I had put away several cases of 1981's from Mongeard and Ponsot in my Vineyard Brands days because both vignerons had beautifully farmed a vintage with heavy spring frosts, frequent storms during June and July and damaging hail in August.  However, they saved their harvest of a tiny crop by careful navigation during a difficult September.  The trade and the press wrote it off: “A vintage to forget.”  I’m glad that I didn’t.  And best of all, I still have some of the wines in the cellar.

An evening fit for a prince (or a Hearst)

I get to pour wine at lots of dinners, and even more tastings.  Doing so is a key piece of how we have chosen to market ourselves: not just waiting for people to come and discover us, but going out to where they are and introducing ourselves.  It's a wonderful consequence that these tastings often allow us to support partners in our community whose work we admire.

Every now and then, the setting transforms one of these events into something extraordinary.  One such event happened this past weekend.  We have long partnered with Festival Mozaic, the summer music festival that brings world-class musicians into the Central Coast each July.  Born as the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival forty-one years ago, Festival Mozaic stages their orchestral and chamber concerts not just in the area's performing arts centers, but also in its vineyards, its missions, and some of its most sublime private homes.  But for me, the most spectacular venue they've chosen is Hearst Castle, which opens its doors to the festival one night each year for a reception and dinner on the Sea Terrace, followed by a chamber concert in Hearst's own theater.  This was the event at which we poured Tablas Creek on Friday.  The setting:

Hearst Castle 2012

Having such a beautiful and well-known landmark to yourself is breathtaking enough, but the food (catered by Hearst Castle's own chef) and the music pushed the evening over the top.  To our backs was the famous Neptune Pool:

TCV corkscrew at Hearst Castle

I spent the whole evening feeling like royalty, from when Meghan and I were waved on through the gate to drive up to the hilltop to bidding the guests farewell in front of the castle's majestic indoor pool.  Experiencing an event in such a unique venue really is unforgettable, and the fact that by donating wine for it we are not only bringing the arts into our community but also providing for the upkeep and restoration of one of California's most impressive landmarks just makes it all the better.

An outstanding Outstanding in the Field dinner

In the last decade, the farm to table movement has gone from avant-garde to squarely in the mainstream. (Cue the spoof by Portlandia.) And of course, there are excesses that deserve to be pointed out, and pretense that deserves puncturing.  But, at its heart, it's about wanting to know who was responsible for the food you eat and the wine you drink.  Sometimes, this must be limited to knowledge of provenance, or even just an assurance of ethical production.  But push a little farther to find yourself eating with the farmers, ranchers, winemakers and chefs whose products you're enjoying, and you realize it's about reestablishing the connection with your food that has been obliterated by factory farms, agribusiness and chain restaurants.

Last Thursday, Meghan and I made the trek out to Rinconada Dairy for a remarkable dinner set up in the middle of a sheep pasture under a giant oak tree, a few hundred yards from the nearest building and about 10 miles from the nearest thing that might be called a town.  We were joined for the dinner by Bill & Barbara Spencer of Windrose Farm (who grew the produce) and Debbie Paver of Charter Oak Meats. Rinconada's husband and wife team of Christine and Jim Maguire produced the cheese as well as the venue and the soundtrack from the nearby sheep and goats.  The food was prepared from scratch in a pop-up kitchen in that very same field by Chris Kobayashi, the chef/owner of Artisan Restaurant.  Perhaps most remarkably, we were joined by about 100 food and wine lovers from as far away as Minnesota.  Artisan's Shandi Kobayashi, who put together the menu and its wine pairings, arrived kid goat in arms, trailed by its family:

Shandi with goats

The maestro of this evening, and of evenings like it throughout the year and around the country, was Jim Deneven, the founder of Outstanding in the Field.  Created "to honor the people whose good work brings nourishment to the table", OITF has since 1999 been creating dinners in such unlikely places as sea caves, mountaintops, orchards and pastures.  We hosted one under a spectacular blue moon on a ridge at Tablas Creek in 2004.  Each dinner includes a reception (last week, we poured our Rose and Lone Madrone poured their delicious Bristol's Cider).  Then, the guests are taken on a farm tour, which ends where the dinner will be hosted.  So, the guests will not yet have seen the site, and the theatrics of the arrival are not neglected, with mise en scene set by the plates that diners bring with them to each of the Outstanding in the Field dinners they attend:


We'd wandered over a bit earlier to give the servers the background on the wines that were being paired with the different courses.  These included our 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, our newly bottled 2010 Counoise, our 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel and the 2010 Vin de Paille Sacrerouge, of which we brought two of the just 150 cases that were produced.  The menu:


Outstanding in the Field by tradition sets one long table and serves family-style, encouraging mingling and interaction between the guests.  The table, empty and full:

Set table Full table
As the evening drew on and the light faded, candles were lit, chefs and farmers offered toasts, and the table became an island of light.

After dark

Not all farm to table dinners work as culinary exhibitions.  But this one did.  All the courses were excellent, but the one that stood out most to me was the middle course: a cheese-rich gnudi (think gnocchi, but lighter in texture and slightly tangy from the cheese) with a pork ragu, porcinis and braised chicken, that we paired with the 2010 Counoise that I was so impressed by a few weeks ago. Artisan was in typically outstanding form, made all the more impressive by the rustic setting.

A decade ago, a dinner like this would have felt radical, at least outside Alice Waters' sphere of influence in the Bay Area.  And it's probably no surprise that Outstanding in the Field got its start, and is still based in, Santa Cruz.  But that experiences like this are now available in much of the country is a sign of just how far the food movement has come in challenging the industrialization of what we eat.  And while we can point fingers at it for being elitist, or pretentious, the trickle-down effects of chefs and diners who care about how their food was grown and made has impacted everything from three-star restaurants to Chipotle.  And this is ground zero.  I challenge anyone who went to this dinner, or who goes to any of the 90 other events that OITF hosts each year, to leave unmoved.

A great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and a wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek

Last weekend Cesar Perrin and I were honored to host the keynote dinner at the Bern's Winefest.  Hosted by Bern's Steak House in Tampa, Florida, the festival included dinners, seminars, and a grand tasting.  So far, nothing unique about this.  The dinner that we hosted was excellent, five courses and eight wines, including side-by-side flights of Tablas Creek and Beaucastel, library vintages from both wineries (1996 Beaucastel and 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel, and the remarkable 2000 Hommage a Jacques Perrin).  Terrific, but still not unique.  It was a wine dinner, masterfully prepared and expertly paired, with a selection of wines going back a decade and a half.  At Bern's, that's routine.

If you're unfamiliar with Bern's, it's Mecca for wine lovers.  Opened in 1956 by Bern Laxer and run today by his son David, the restaurant boasts a wine cellar of nearly a million bottles, much of which was purchased by Bern on his annual trips to France and has never been inventoried.  The working cellar of over 100,000 bottles is staggering in its own right, and the wine list (183 pages in the 62nd Edition) is legendary.  It includes big names from Burgundy and Bordeaux, but it's more than trophies.  It encompasses the deepest collections of old wines from California, Spain, Australia and the Rhone Valley that I've ever seen.  And the sommeliers there keep finding more.  When Bern's shipments of wines would arrive from France, the entire Bern's staff would be called on to grab a hand-truck and help move the new arrivals the two blocks from the end of the rail line to the warehouse across the street from the restaurant.  Thousands of cases would be packed into the warehouse, with the only master plan in Bern's head.  To this day, the sommeliers treat a visit to the warehouse like a treasure hunt, and estimate that there are 200,000 bottles, most from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, not on any inventory list. These discoveries keep the list from getting picked over, as there is a steady supply of treasures to uncover.

Even more remarkable, the restaurant does not mark wines up based on how long they've held the inventory.  So browsing through the list will uncover any number of unbelievable values.  I could choose between a half-dozen California wines from 1973 (my birth year) including names like Parducci, Louis Martini, Souverain, Franciscan, and Trentadue for between $45 and $70.  Had I been born a year earlier, I could have chosen a magnum of 1972 Inglenook Cabernet, an icon from one of the greatest vintages in Napa Valley, for $129.  A year later and I could have had a 1974 Ridge Zinfandel for $72.70.  The list goes on and on.

Knowing that the winemaker dinner would have a set menu, with wines that we knew, Freddy Matson (the Vineyard Brands manager for Florida's Gulf Coast) made a reservation for Cesar and me the night before our wine dinner.  When we arrived, we put ourselves in Sommelier Brad Dixon's hands, and enjoyed an amazing string of wines, beginning with a 1954 Rioja, continuing with great Burgundies from 1978 and 1961, and including not one but two different wines from 1973, both from Souverain of Alexander Valley: one a Zinfandel and one a Pinot Noir.  It was one of the great epicurean experiences of my life.

On the wine list, Cesar and I noted a curiosity: half-bottles of 1966 Pierre Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape.  Pierre Perrin was Cesar's great-grandfather, Jacques Perrin's father, but there are other branches of the Perrin family in Chateauneuf and -- until the Hommage a Jacques Perrin debuted in 1989 -- we weren't aware of the Perrin name appearing on a Beaucastel label.  When we asked Brad about the wine, he didn't know anything about its story, but brought us a bottle:


More than the Perrin name, the Leeds Imports strip label identified it as a wine of interest.  My grandfather created Leeds Imports because New York law at the time prohibited retailers (he owned M. Lehmann) from also acting as importer/distributor.  In the late 1960s my dad was the buyer for the wines that Leeds imported, both to sell at M. Lehmann and to offer to distributors in other states.  We decided we needed to find out more. From the restaurant, Cesar texted his father a picture of the bottle. Francois hadn't heard of the wine (of course, he was thirteen during the 1966 vintage).  I emailed my father but didn't hear back.  So Brad gave us each a bottle and asked us to let him know what we discovered.

The next day, I spoke to my dad and got the scoop.  In the late 1960's, my dad had decided that the American market was ready for wines from some regions outside the traditional bastions of Burgundy and Bordeaux.  So he was visiting appellations that he thought were making high quality wine and looking either to find new suppliers or quality wine in bulk that he could then have bottled and out of which he could create a brand.  He visited Beaucastel with a broker in 1967 and found that while Jacques Perrin wouldn't sell him Beaucastel (their American importer at the time wasn't selling much wine, but had an exclusive agreement) he was able to convince Jacques to let him taste through the lots and assemble his own cuvee for bottling.  This is that wine: made by Jacques Perrin, chosen by my dad in Beaucastel's cellars, bottled under a semi-anonymous label in Bordeaux, and imported into the United States.  My dad thinks that there were perhaps 300 cases produced total.  I'm not sure if any is left anywhere other than at Bern's, but I tend to doubt it.

There were no subsequent vintages of Pierre Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape.  The American importer got wind of the wine and asked Jacques not to do it again.  But my dad's interest in Beaucastel was sparked; he kept visiting and in 1970 convinced Jacques to give him the American import agency.

So, there it is: the beginning of the Haas-Perrin partnership that would become Tablas Creek.  Just a great discovery, during an amazing night of food and wine, at a restaurant unlike any other in the world.  If you haven't been to Bern's, you owe it to yourself to go.  You never know what you'll find, but you know you'll find something you couldn't have found anywhere else.