WINESLACKER..the lazy drinker's guide. Another 'slacker yammering on about drinking.

June 17, 2011

Total Wine, now in Torrance, CA

Hopefully, you ‘slackers and ‘slackettes will be more encouraged to contribute comments now that the Wineslacker has ponied up for some outside gunslingers to waylay them pesky Robo-spammers.

The ol’ Wineslacker visited the new mega-store in town this past weekend and reports that Total Wine does, indeed, have a bunch a wine. He was encouraged that you need not sign away any privacy to get a discount card. Their prices are what they are. Whataconcept. They also provide a soft-bound catalog of what they have in stock and that is free and you can take that home for more leisurely perusing. He likes that. He also appreciates that the high priced vino is afforded a temperature controlled rack. Makes ya more comfortable about buying that $100 bottle, a little more confident that it has not been sitting upright in a hot warehouse shelf in the back of the store.

They have on-going tastings in the middle of the store; which means that you’re gonna be standing around in the midst of staring shoppers, slurping down your freebee, as the shopping carts go clattering by. OK. They seem to have a lot of help that are at least somewhat educated and actually may have tasted the wine they’re talking about at some point.

They make a point of putting their faces on recommendations of wine that you may never have heard of….and they seem to have a lot of that. Which may not be a bad thing, but will take time and experience (and cash) to judge.

The Wineslacker picked up the Rose de Provence they were recommending, Domaine Fontanyl, 2009, their recommended $10 Pinot Noir, Montoya Monterey County, 2009, a very well priced bottle of Silver Oak, 2006 Alexander Valley Cab ($54.99) and a big, friendly bottle of Bombay Sapphire, 1.75 liters, for the best price he’s seen in a long while, $27.99.

He can report that the Rose did live up to their description as “lively” very; and fragrant…the strawberry literally floats out of the bottle when the cork is pulled. The flavors move through several levels and leave with a dry, dry minerality that some might find takes getting used to. Quite a wine for $12.99. Likewise, the Montoya Pinot is one of the best $10 Pinots around and tests out at the level of a much more expensive wine. Montoya has had a good name as a value wine for a while, and this is a slightly smoky, medium weight, fruity Pinot of the cool climate variety. The Silver Oak, will go into storage for a while, as being only 5 years old, it’s got some growing up to do, but could not resist the price and the 92 rating.

They also carry an excellent selection of Ridge Zins, the royalty of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Lytton Springs (see the ‘slacker’s post on Ridge from last year).

So. If you’ve got one close by, drop in and see what you think. The Wineslacker is generally not in favor of giant stores for anything and he would not be happy to see Total Wine drop a store in the neighborhood of a small, established place like Hi Time or Wine Country or your local stop and chat wine merchant. But.. that’s a fight that will go on, and ‘slackers everywhere will have to choose between price and home town service. For the stalkers of the perfect wine buy, well, we hope for both.

March 5, 2010

California Wine, Outside of Napa.

Filed under: Cabernet Sauvignon,Monte Bello,Ridge Wines,Santa Cruz Mountains,Zinfandel — Dex Wineslacker @ 2:00 am

The Unassuming Entrance to Ridge, Monte Bello

The most important thing the Wineslacker learned during his leisurely swing through coastal California last month is that this big bad recession is pounding the wine business just like it is almost every other business.  And the worst hit are those small individual wineries that are providing the most distinctive and interesting wines.  These small wineries are  not just run by rich guys that get a big tax write off when they lose money, but by men and women driven by their love of an ancient and excellent product and their fascination with the transformation of one of the world’s most interesting fruits into a long lived, delicious, interesting beverage that just happens to boost one’s enjoyment of friends, food and shared pleasure.  We, the dedicated fans of the product of their hard work and vision, need to step up and support these splendid individuals in their endeavors.  If they fade away because they can’t sell enough wine to feed their families and buy their equipment and supplies, we, wine lovers of the world, will be the poorer.  Get out there! Meet these wine makers! Get on the web and explore.  Go to Google Maps and put in “wineries near….[your address] and you’ll be surprised!  Spend some money, get some interesting wine that your wine buddies may never have heard of and keep some hard working wine maker going!  We’ll all benefit!

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Ridge Winery, Santa Cruz Mountains

This year’s run to the Bay area and back, as usual business and pleasure, ran more to pleasure than business and included visits to two different wineries.  Different in so many ways. These wineries represented some of the great individuals of the California scene. Not just they as individuals, but the capital I individuals that really make the wine scene so interesting.  The first visit was to long time icon Paul Draper’s mountain top domain, Ridge, Monte Bello.  Established in 1885 by an Italian doctor from San Francisco, Osea Perrone, this is wine making with history. The good doctor ran a family operation, as pictures show, with great gusto and zeal, like many European transplants did in those days.  They were making wine as a necessity; wine for dinner, wine for families to enjoy with celebrations and festivals.  Wine as a part of the exuberance of life.  The vineyards went into disuse with time and eventually the disastrous prohibition era.  Interestingly, the vineyards and winery were eventually restored by a small group of Stanford engineers, who bought the property in the 1950s. Paul Draper, a self-taught winemaker with experience in France and Italy and from a wine producing experiment in Chile with his school chum, Fritz Maytag (of  Anchor Steam and Maytag Blue Cheese fame), was hired and in 1972 won 5th place at the now legendary Judgment of Paris, where California proved itself to be a player in world class wine.  The wine he made was Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon. Not being able to make enough Monte Bello Cab to keep the winery going, he turned to Zinfindel and became the first real champion of high end Zin.  Paul has kept to a vision of wine that has utilized high technology while staying true to the idea of terroir, the taste unique to the individual vineyard.  His vision has a hard core of long time customers and admirers, and his ability to stay to this vision is from the long time support of owner Otsuka Pharmaceuticals in Japan.  This ownership model has protected Paul Draper’s vision of wine from the the drift of public tastes and the temptation of marketers to cater to the lowest common denominator. Never the less one can’t imagine that the raw wind of economic disaster which has affected much of the high-end cult wines hasn’t affected Ridge, whose signature Monte Bello runs well over $100 a bottle.

The ‘slacker and his constant companion were knocked out by the beautiful winding drive up the hills from Los Gatos on Monte Bello Drive (you drive past the historic Jimsomare Vineyards where some of Ridge’s historic Cabs came from).  We were equally dazzled by the friendly reception by Hospitality Rep, Sara Teeter, who’s down to earth and good humored nature put us at ease immediately.  The grounds and the buildings at Ridge make you feel at comfortable and give you the feeling that you’ve arrived at what must be the genuine article; a wine maker’s home.  A simple Western American farm.  OK.  Not so simple.  But, a working winery without the glitz and garbage trinkets of so damn many “Wine Store” wineries.  The Sophisticated Companion and the ‘Slacker have been to wineries large and small, from the Vatican style to a simple mobile home tasting room, and they can tell you this was a memorable stop.  Sara gave us a quick history of the winery and showed us some great, vintage pictures of the earliest days of the winery.  She started pouring Ridge’s Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay and went through several of the current Zinfandels, including Lytton Springs, York Creek, Geyserville, Pagani Ranch (the ‘Slacker’s personal fav) on through some vintage Monte Bello’s opened the night before and finishing up with a gorgeous 2006 Monte Bello.  She pointed us up the hill to see more Ridge vineyards and at the crest of the hill, the Monte Bello crush pad, where an Italian-American doctor started crushing grapes over 120 years ago.  Sara also graciously mapped out other wineries of note and a group of restaurants with great food and great wine.  By the time the Wineslacker and Gallant Traveling Companion left, we felt we’d dipped deeply into California wine history as well as made a new friend. You can learn more about Ridge, other important California wine makers and the history of Zinfandel in California in what the ‘Slacker still considers one of the great books on California wine, David Darlington’s Zin, the History and Mystery of Zinfandel, from De Capo Press, 1991.

Regretfully, the ‘Slacker traveled on, but with his Happy Companion he soon immersed himself in the recently drenched beauty of highway 101 as it rises into San Francisco from the South, motored grandly over the Golden Gate Bridge and on into the Redwood forests.  More to come…

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