Sunday, July 25, 2010

Coachella Valley Attorney Shares His Passion for the Vine and All Things Pinot

Rob Bernheimer has a thing for Kosta Browne. You can see it in his eyes as he giddily recreates the scene of a verticle tasting (wines of different vintage years but from the same winery) he hosted at his Indian Wells home recently. There's a wait list to get on the wait list with this producer, and Rob uses words like 'killer' as he lovingly cradles each bottle like a newborn child.
This desert attorney's decade-long obsession with vino didn't happen overnight, nor did he amass his collection of more than 400 bottles in a day. Rob's passion for grapes developed slowly over the years, aging like a fine Burgundy, and growing with cult bottlings from the likes of Sea Smoke Cellars and the aforementioned Kosta Browne, arguably his favorite Pinot producer.
"I dont' consider myself a collector," he says. "I buy wines I want to drink and wines that I know my friends and I will enjoy with a terrific meal. I don't have a problem opening the last bottle of something, because I know the experience will be special."
Special is an understatement when it comes to this collection. Rob admits he's partial to Syrahs and Rhone-Style blends, some of which he keeps at home. Most of his bottles are stored at a temperature-controlled facility specific to wine, ready and waiting for his eager palate, a palate awash in First Growth Bordeaux and Super Tuscans.
Its not uncommon to find him in an animated conversation via cell phone with some of California's most noted winemakers, many of whom have become fast friends, as evidenced by the sea of signatures that grace much of his treasured collection.
I was itching to ask the question, though I suspected I knew the answer: "If you were only able to drink one more of your wines in this lifetime, what would it be?"
Something tells me that even if the answer was a Zin from an up-and-coming vintner in Paso Robles, Rob would still enjoy every last sip of it...just like I reveled in the 2004 Pinot he opened for my birthday a couple years back...the producer? You guessed it...Kosta Browne.
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Beating the Heat With a Cool White

After enduring weeks of unbearable heat in the Palm Springs area, Vino Chick has experienced enough of the arid madness. With good friend in tow, I decided to head for the cool oasis of Newport Beach, where the salt air met me with a gentle kiss and the sunshine gazed lovingly on my desert-worn countenance.
Naturally, I was in the mood for some sort of treasure from the sea and a crisp white to go with it. The Bluewater Grill on Lido Park Drive offers a great selection of shrimp, mussels, clams and fish. I chose an '08 Marques de Riscal from the Rueda region in Spain. This wine is fragrant with lemon and slightly creamy, which were a kickin' match for briny and meaty Hama Hama oysters on the halfshell, enjoyed with cocktail sauce and a red onion mignonette.
I grew up spending my summers at the Southern New Jersey shore, where meals like this are commonplace. The journey to the ocean may take a bit longer now, but when surrounded by vintage shanties and wrapped in a cool breeze, it is worth every delicious sip.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Santa Barbara Treasure Goes Up in Smoke Via Live Twitter Tasting

I admit, I'm not as diligent about my Twitter postings as I am with my Facebook entries, but I do enjoy a spirited series of Tweets if I'm talking wine.
Which is why the concept of the recent 'Pinot Twitter Tasting and Smackdown' was so appealing to me. This two-hour event brought Pinot-lovers from all over the world together for a virtual tasting and Tweetfest about this most fickle grape. '#PinotNoir' had to be included with each post and to vote for a specific region, you added another two-character hashtag (#SRH for mine because it was from the Santa Rita Hills Appelation).
For this special occasion, I had the extreme pleasure of sipping a 2004 Sea Smoke Southing Pinot, a generous gift I'd received just that morning from a thoughtful co-worker. This wine is the stuff that dreams are made of-spicy, dark in color, full of cherries and eucalyptus and smooth as a baby's behind. It made me wanna skip down a wooded path as I sang Sunshine on My Shoulders. Other Twitter folk were just as enthusiastic about their Pinot picks: 
As it turns out, there were more than 2,000 Tweets during the event, with Oregon's Willamette Valley coming away with the Smackdown Award for most Tweets. Winning and losing aside, I'm looking forward to the next Twitter tasting-and to treasured bottles of wine that seem to go up in Smoke before my very eyes... 
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Last Minute Chardonnay-Infused Meal a Reminder of Home

Whenever I return from a trip to South Jersey, I find myself craving those regional flavors that were such an integral part of my culinary life growing up on the East Coast.
One of the most endearing and enduring of those flavors is Old Bay seasoning. For the uninitiated, Old Bay is a  drop-dead delicious combination of pepper, celery salt and a secret blend of spices that would force you to slap your grandmother (gently, please). My most vivid memories involve devouring Old Bay-seasoned crab, shrimp, fries and whatever else I could find to put it on.
On a recent evening at my place in Palm Springs, it was an aromatic blend of blue claw crab meat, light olive oil, a pat of butter and fresh garlic. I reduced the sauce with a cup of Toasted Head Chardonnay, which really added depth and accentuated the smoothness of the butter and sweet crab, which I poured over tasty, gluten-free spaghetti. Sure it was a last minute weeknight meal, but delicious all the same. A reminder that home is where the heart-and stomach-reside.
Vino Chick in the news again!

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Friday, July 16, 2010

One Person's Zin is Another Person's Weenie Water

There's something about good wine and friends that goes incredibly well together. Add a great venue into the mix and you've got the makings of a perfect night.
Which is the way it usually turns out at PS Wine & Specialty Foods in downtown Palm Springs. Owners Vern and Paulette Wright are one of the most hospitable couples around, and I look forward to their incredibly affordable ($5 for six pours) Friday night tastings so much that I actually feel like I'm missing out when I can't make it over there.
Zin night was a lot of fun, as we devoured some of Vern's homemade chili, Paulette's spicy meatballs and tried some impressive and yummy styles from a handful of California producers.
As aromas of dark fruit, black pepper and exotic spices filling the air, one of my more outspoken friends who doesn't allow herself to get bogged down with the technicalities of wine tasting, took issue with an Old Vine bottling from Lodi that she described as "Tastes like campfire." When I finally stopped laughing I tried it for myself and agreed, but termed it a bit differently: "Its Sleepaway Camp without the curling iron murder," I said. While I may be lauded for my extensive knowledge of C-grade horror flicks, I am certainly not known or cherished for my subtlety...
Then out of nowhere came a cry of "Weenie Water!" I looked over and that same friend was at it again, still analyzing her wine glass. She looked at me almost pleadingly as she explained "This wine reminds me of water that's been used to boil hot dogs." Needless to say, there were some incredulous faces, hearty laughter and a bit of street cred lost that evening. But the way I see it, wine means something different to all of us-what's in the glass is subject to interpretation. As for my friend, she will never live down that hot dog liquid-inspired moniker that we now all shout out at random times for purposes of great hilarity...and I wouldn't want it any other way...

PS Wine & Specialty Foods
188 S. Indian Canyon Drive

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Palm Desert Wine Bar Lets You be Sommelier for the Night

Choosing a bottle of wine to compliment your meal can be a challenge for even the most discerning oenophile-the 3rd Corner Wine Bar & Bistro turns that challenge into an adventure, where you get to play sommelier for the evening.
 An array of wines from all over the world beckoned to be chosen, ranging from a Santa Barbara Pinot to a Spanish Tempranillo. The 3rd Corner won’t break the bank either. There seemed to be a bottle to fit just about every price range, and more than enough selections to compliment the wide array of cheeses and entrees that the menu offers.
We chose a 2005 Ojai Vineyard Syrah, an addicting wine full of smoke, dark fruit and tobacco with a smooth finish. The wine was perfect with my braised short ribs and was a nice compliment to my dining partner’s creamy and delicious truffled risotto.
The best part about the 3rd Corner is that it is open later than most places in the desert-just in case that itch for a late-night sip of Burgundy needs to be scratched.
Special thanks to:
The 3rd Corner Wine Bar & Bistro
73101 Highway 111
Palm Desert
(760) 837-9600

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Stocked Pantry Makes for Pre-flight Delight

One of the things I love most about visiting my family in New Jersey is the fact that I always manage to unearth a neat bottle that matches whatever we happen to be eating that day.
My last pre-flight meal consisted of chile powder-dusted corn on the cob, grilled clams, Jersey tomatoes and grilled peppers stuffed with ground sirloin, onions, garlic, tomato paste and chopped Serrano chiles.
I reached into the pantry and pulled out a 2007 Corral de Campanas. This Spanish Tempranillo has big, round tannins with lots of spicy dark fruit and a hint of vanilla. It was big enough to match the grill factor of the food and subtle enough not to overpower the meal.
Here’s to visits home…and to finding a Barolo the next time I reach into that pantry.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bayside Bottles and Delicious Dining Draw Locals to a Margate Hotspot

One of the things I miss most about living at the Jersey Shore is the proximity to a plethora of standout restaurants and bars. Tomatoes on the Bay in Margate is one of those places. An outstanding wine list and stellar food distinguish this staple of the shore, an opinion reinforced during a recent and most satisfying Happy Hour visit.
South Jersey had been experiencing record heat during my visit, so I was in the mood for a crisp white to accompany my Cape May oyster shooters, served with a red onion, jalapeno and cider mignonette. I picked a 2009 Nieto Senetiner Torrontes, a delicate and floral Argentinian white.
Make no mistake, this is a very young wine, and reads as such upon introduction. All I could think of was that someone must have squeezed a lemon into my glass prior to the pour. My briny, sweet oysters were instantly overjoyed by the marriage of citrus and sea, and the white wine-inflected migonette melded perfectly with my selection.
My father had ordered an overflowing plate of spare ribs, and as he handed me one of these carniverous delights, I spotted a South African gem on the wine list. Normally I would pair this iconic bar food, dusted in a dreamy cinnamon-clove-cardamon rub, with a peppery Zin, but I was on vacation and wanted to switch it up a bit. The Wolftrap is a Syrah, Mourvedre and Viognier blend, and its dark cherry and earth accentuated the spices that enveloped the meat, which fell off the bone in a hurry and made me tear up it was so tender.
 I was about to howl in delight...but decided I wanted to be able to walk back thru that door on my next visit, sans embarassment, and order more ribs....after getting myself caught in another Wolftrap, of course.

For more of my wine adventures, follow me on Twitter @VinoChick75.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wining and Winding Down a Decades-old Tradition at the Jersey Shore

For me, visiting home is all about sharing in the traditions of my youth. Sadly, on a recent trip, I enacted one of those rituals for the last time.
For 128 years, Busch's Seafood in Sea Isle City has been a mainstay of dining excellence. Some of the waitstaff there has been serving meals since the Watergate Era, and my family has spent nearly four decades enjoying mouth-watering meals of crab casserole, broiled lobster tail and many other treats of the sea.
When summer 2010 comes to an end, Busch's will be torn down to make way for condos, so I relished the fact that I was able to get my hands (and lips) on one last delectable meal.
It was inevitable that crab fingers were going to appear on the table in a hurry, so I decided on a glass of Babich Chardonnay. Typically New Zealand Chards are less oaky and have more minerality and stone fruit than many California bottlings, so I knew it would be a good match for the sweet, succulent crab meat accompanied by a zippy mustard sauce for dipping. 
For my meal, I ordered deviled clams and crab-and another glass of the Babich. Why mess with a good pairing? The wine was equally tasty with this entree, which came complete with baked potato and the sliced apple stewed in clove and cinnamon that I will remember til I'm old and sitting on a porch swing. I even had enough leftover for one last kitschy doggy bag. 
 After my brother ordered one last chocolate parfait for old time's sake...
we said goodbye to this place that had played host to so many family celebrations...the sun is setting on Busch's, but certainly not on the art of sharing wine and food with those closest to my heart.
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Red, White and Blue Vino-A Patriotic Pairing Down the Shore

Its been years since I enjoyed a 4th of July holiday 'down the shore' in southern New Jersey.
So this Independence Day, I decided to go all out with a patriotic pairing that would make the founding fathers proud.
Afte whipping up some salsa, my mother and I turned our attention to creating a batch of creamy deviled eggs, which I wanted to match up with a white that wouldn't overpower the delicate texture but accentuate their richness. My choice was a Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc, so fresh and light it almost floated away in my glass, its airiness and lemony quality perfect for the dish.  
With my ground strip steak burger, I was pondering a Zin but pulled a Sarah Palin and went rogue, picking a Rosso di Montalcino from Uccelliera. Even though Rosso is considered the little brother of Brunello, it has wonderful qualities all its own and goes down easier in warmer weather anyway. After sampling the wine and taking a bite of my juicy burger, I was pretty happy with my choice. Full of bright and flavorful sweet cherries, it was still earthy enough to match the meat, topped with a fresh-picked Jersey tomato and red onion.
For our sweet finale, Mom's homemade blueberry muffins were met with a natural choice-blueberry wine from Tomasello Winery in Hammonton, New Jersey. Both are made with locally-grown blueberries that are to die for...the pairing was too.
Of course, no 4th of July in Ocean City would be complete without fireworks and funnel cake on the world- famous boardwalk. I indulged in both, the salt air greeting me on a cool evening breeze, with the comforts of home foremost in mind. I'm thinking a German Riesling would go great with the powdered sugar...
For more of my wine adventures, follow me on Twitter @VinoChick75 and visit me at

Join me on Wednesday for another food and wine pairing experiment, this time at an iconic seafood establishment that has been a Vallee family tradition for nearly 40 years.