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.

Alligator
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.

LaCasa2

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:

Greenchilecioppino

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.

Houserlunch

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