Monday, December 19, 2011

OVER THE RIVER & THRU THE WOODS... Pan-roasted Sunchokes

Pan-roasted Sunchokes

“Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go…”

Well, actually we go over the Grapevine and up the I-5 to cousin’s house, but you get the picture.

As some of you may remember, Richard and I travel north to colder California climes and foliage for the Thanksgiving holiday.  We first hit brother Bob and wife Nguyen’s house for a yummy “pre-turkey day” rib roast dinner and sleepover, then traveled west to the lovely East Bay area outside of San Francisco for a few days of cousins, golf and great food.

Last year I posted about some of the goodies we had on Thanksgiving (a few replicated again this year), but this Thanksgiving dinner introduced me to a food I’d never heard of, never mind eaten: the sunchoke.

I’m still not sure what a sunchoke is other than it’s not a meat and may be related to the artichoke.  They’re both “chokes,” after all.  Perhaps, they’re half-siblings w/ the same mother or father… or perhaps, like Michele who made this dish and is my cousin (actually second cousin, but think of as a niece), the two chokes are cousins, but I digress…

When I queried her (yeh, “queried” – I like the word) about the dish, she told me it was an “acquired taste.”  So, ever the food taster adventurer (unless snake or eel are involved), I was looking forward to tasting it and to see if it was something I’d want to “acquire.”

It was.  And, if you’re looking for something new and different to serve at your Christmas/Holiday dinner, I definitely recommend this dish (though, as you’ll see from Michele’s note at the end, in moderation).

Below is the recipe she “borrowed” from the Feb./Mar. 2010 Fine Cooking magazine. They called it pan-roasted sunchokes and artichoke hearts with lemon herb butter.  It serves 4-6, but she embellished a lot and made enough for our large crew.

Below are the recipe and her comments:



2 T of extra virgin olive oil... or more
1 lb sunchokes scrubbed and cut into 1/4 inch wedges.. “I ignored this and sliced thinly.”  Keep the skins on.  (“They cook much more quickly the thinner they are, and you do not want to overcook.”)
8 oz frozen quartered artichoke hearts, thawed
2 T finely chopped shallot...”I used regular yellow onion and about 1/2 cup or more”
3 T dry vermouth or dry white wine.  “I had neither so used beer =)”
1 T fresh lemon juice....”I just squirted a bunch from the "bottled" stuff”
2 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 T fresh parsley, chopped...
2 t fresh tarragon, chopped...
pepper and salt
”and I used fresh sage from my garden also”


”I used a Dutch oven (or you can use an ovenproof skillet) to heat oil and brown the sunchokes with 1/4 t salt until browned on both sides...don't over cook. 2-3 minutes.” 

Add the artichoke hearts and more salt.  cook till browned. 

Move the mixture to the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes. Sunchokes should be tender.

Transfer the veggies to bowl to keep warm. 

Set the skillet (or dutch oven) over med heat, add shallot and cook stirring with wooden spoon till soft and lightly browned.  Add the vermouth and cook stirring and scraping to loosen any brown bits.  Reduce heat to low, add lemon and butter, one piece at a time, swirling pan to melt.  Stir in herbs, return veggies to pan and toss to reheat and coat with butter.

Salt and pepper to taste.

”Just a note...some blogs warn that sunchokes can cause gastrointestinal distress!  They contain inulin that gets things moving.  I ate the leftovers day after Thanksgiving and had more than I should have, and yes. What they blogged is true.  So, just keep in mind to enjoy in moderation!  Like our w

Sunday, December 11, 2011

LAVENDER - FROM FIELDS TO TABLE - Part 4 - Lavender Walnut Cake

Part 4
Lavender Walnut Cake

Remember our friend Kyle who’s working on a second lavender cookbook for the annual Ojai Lavender Festival? The cookbook Richard’s been trying out and adapting recipes for?  Well Kyle and her husband, Stuart, came for dinner the other night and Richard decided to surprise her with his own lavender dessert concoction.

Years ago I found a walnut cake recipe in a magazine that I’ve baked often with great success.  I know, I know – me?  Well, yeh!  You know I really do cook, right?  And often.  I’m just not the cook Richard is.  Anyway, Richard always loved this cake and thought it would be even better with a hint of lavender.

He was right.

Check it out.



7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Dry bread crumbs
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/4 cups walnuts, ground
1-3/4 cups sugar
8 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons ground culinary lavender buds
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1cup water
¾ cup sugar
½ cup brandy
1 tablespoon culinary lavender buds


Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Using 1 tablespoon of butter, grease a 9-inch round cake pan and dust it w/ bread crumbs, shaking out the excess.  Set aside.
Stir together flour, baking power and ground walnuts; reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter, the sugar, egg yolks and lavender until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is very smooth.

In another bowl, whip the whites until firm.  Fold them into the butter mixture.  Little by little, add the flour mixture to the batter. 

Turn the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle w/ chopped nuts.

Bake for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.  (Richard suggests you start testing after 45 minutes.)

While the cake is baking, bring 1 cup of water, lavender buds and sugar to a boil in a small sauce pan. Turn off heat and let steep for 15-20 minutes.  Strain and discard lavender.

When the cake is baked, turn it out onto a rack, invert, and place, right side up, on another rack.  Position the rack over a baking pan or plate w/ raised sides.

Re-warm the syrup.  Add the brandy.

Prick the cake deeply all over w/ a skewer or toothpick.  Brush the syrup over the hot cake.  Work slowly so that the cake has time to absorb the syrup.

Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Serves 6 to 8

Check out Volume 1 of the lavender cookbook.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

LAVENDER - FROM FIELDS TO TABLE - Part 3 - Lavender Scones

Part 3
Lavender Scones

So, the last time we “spoke” Richard was improvising and testing recipes for a new lavender cookbook.  Then we broke for a week of thanksgiving with family in northern California, including wine tasting in Lodi (but more on that in future blogs)…

Now that we’re back in L.A., it’s time to tell you about his most recent kitchen foray.  Lavender scones!  A recipe submitted by Sandy Messori for cookbook consideration.  Can I just say, skoal to these scones.  Whether you serve them at tea time with your favorite jams or have them as a midnight snack while dressed in your jammies, they are absolutely delicious.  I think this is a winner for the new cookbook.

No need to say anything else except here’s the recipe.



1 tablespoon dried culinary lavender flower buds
1-1/3 cup heavy cream
2-1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking power
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ lb (1 stick) unsalted butter


Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Combine lavender and 1 cup cream and bring to a boil.   

Let steep until cool, then refrigerate for several hours.  Strain cream.  Discard lavender.

Sift flour w/ baking powder, soda and sugar and put in a food processor.  

Cut up the butter and add it to the flour mix in the food processor.  Pulse until little balls form.  Stir in the cup of cream and mix until dough holds together.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill well.

On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough, ½ inch thick for tiny scones, ¾ inch for larger scones.
Cut out 1-1/2 inch circles for small scones, or 3 inch circles for larger scones w/ a cookie or biscuit cutter.  Gather scraps and repeat.

Arrange ‘rounds’ on a greased cookie sheet or a silpat.  Place close together, brush tops w/ remaining 1/3 cup of cream for a glazed finish...

...and bake until puffed and golden brown… 20-25 minutes.

I especially love them when they’re still warm from the oven and dripping w/ butter.


Volume One of the Ojai Lavender Cookbook

Monday, November 21, 2011

LAVENDER - FROM FIELDS TO TABLE - Part 2 - Lavender/Walnut/Cheese Sandies

Part 2
Lavender-Walnut-Cheese Sandies

Hi, my name is Ilona, and I’m a cheeseaholic… so when Richard told me that he was going to make lavender-walnut-cheese cookies, I perched on a kitchen stool while they baked just waiting for them to come out of the oven.  I mean really, baking CHEESE!

I know – there’s lavender AND walnuts… but, for me, it’s the cheese.  The blend of these three ingredients give these cookies a most marvelous and distinct cheese taste.

Richard, however, tells me these delicious morsels are not cookies.  They’re biscuits “in the British sense.”  Gotta say that even though I consider myself an Anglophile, biscuits to me are warm and plump and smothered with melting butter. Not these lavender-walnut-cheese cookies.

Remember those pecan sandies you loved as a child (maybe still do), well these cookies (biscuits) have the same “sandies” texture… Call them what you will, I could eat dozens.
And, did I mention they have cheese, probably one of my favorite, if not favorite, food groups?!?!

As far as I’m concerned, Richard can stop testing lavender recipes now.  I don’t know how he’s going to top this one.  I’ll have to wait and see… or should I say “taste.”

Savory Lavender Walnut-Cheese Sandies (Biscuits)

Makes 2 dozen

  • 1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 3/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (plus more for topping cookies)
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Ground Toasted Walnuts
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Culinary Lavender Buds 
  • 1 Cup Butter Cubed (2 sticks)
  • Black Hawaiian Smoked Salt (or large crystal smoked salt)(optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Or use a silpat. 

Mix flour, Parmesan cheese, lavender and walnuts into bowl of food processor.

Add butter, in small pieces, and pulse on and off until dough starts to come together.

Bring the dough together to form a ball.  Divide the ball in half and roll into two 12″ logs.  Roll each log in plastic wrap or wax paper and chill for 1 hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator and break into pieces and form balls.
Arrange balls on lined baking sheet about 1 1/2″ apart.  Flatten each ball into a 2″ circle.

Sprinkle tops of shortbreads with Parmesan cheese and smoked salt.
Bake shortbread until tops are dry and edges begin to turn golden brown (20-30 minutes).

Remove cookies from baking sheet and cool on racks.  Richard’s were done in 20 minutes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

LAVENDER - FROM FIELDS TO TABLE - Part 1 - Poached Pears

Part 1
Poached Pears

This is way cool. Our friend Kyle is working on a second lavender cookbook for the annual Ojai Lavender Festival and, like last year, she has asked Richard to try out and adapt recipes using lavender… and I get to taste everything!!!

While growing up, my knowledge of lavender was two-fold.  It was a pretty pastel color and smelled wonderfully.  I knew it smelled wonderfully because my mom always bought Yardley’s lavender soap bars and, to this day, I love that scent.  I know I abandoned Yardley when I was seduced by those Neiman Marcus tuberose bars, but my heart still belongs to my mom’s lavender soap.

As I grew older, I learned that lavender actually grew in vast fields and how beautiful dried lavender smelled in sachets.  I filled my dresser drawers with them.  But eat lavender?  Why?

Well, over the years I found out why.  A hint of lavender in pana cotta comes to mind.  Delicious.  Lavender infused vodka.  Tres smooth. 

But now that Richard has been experimenting w/ lavender, I thought I’d share w/ you the ones that trip the light fantastic on my tongue.

His first foray… lavender-poached pears.  I love poached pears.  I love them even more w/ a hint of lavender.  Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Lavender-Poached Pears


3 fresh Bosc or other firm pears
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest


Halve, peel, and core the pears.  Toss the pear halves w/ lemon juice to prevent browning.

Tie lavender in a small piece of cheese cloth (or enclose in a mesh ball).

Place the pears in a microwave-safe dish and sprinkle w/ sugar.  Add the water and lavender.   

Cover and cook at full power for 6 minutes, or until pears are fork tender.

Squeeze the cheesecloth when removing the lavender, catching the juice, and add lemon the lemon zest.  Spoon syrup over pears, cover and let stand at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate overnight before servicing.

Richard says that if you feel the sauce is too thin, set pears aside, pour sauce into a small “sauce” pan and reduce it for a bit.

Note:  Only culinary lavender can be used for cooking. 

Serves: 6

Check out Volume 1 of the lavender cookbook.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ANOTHER PORK IN THE ROAD (Pork Tenderloin a la Richard)


(Pork Tenderloin a la Richard)

I miss my mom’s pork chops.  Richard claims they were the best pork chops on the planet.  And, if you ever had a bite, you wouldn’t need convincing.  Sadly, I don’t have the recipe and neither one of us has ever been able to recreate those smothered in stuffing, succulent chops… Then there was  her Christmas fall off the bone crown pork roast w/ all those roasted around the roast crunchy, golden brown on the outside, white, mushy on the inside potatoes. I don’t have her recipe for that, either.

When I would make pork for my mom, she always told me it was delicious. Well, she was my mom, after all.  And my pork is good, but it wasn’t good like her pork was good. The only time she ever criticized one of my pork dinners was when I’d forgotten to buy applesauce and made up a sautéed canned peaches w/ a little reduced balsamic side dish ‘thing’ to add the sweet fruit flavor she always loved w/ pork.  But, my improvisation was a no go. It’s not a fruit flavor ‘thing’ I learned that night, but an applesauce ‘thing’ - homemade or ‘jarred’ - you just can’t serve pork without it.

Lamenting the fact that I never wrangled her pork recipes from her, I’ve lived w/ good but not as good as hers pork dishes.  But not any longer.  I now have a “to die for” pork recipe of my own.  Well, it’s Richard’s – but he shares.  I wonder, though, what mom would say about his new pork recipe?  No applesauce.  No apple anything… but, definitely a pork recipe to write home about.

Just with one Trader Joe’s inexpensive, boneless pork tenderloin and a little experimentation, he came up w/ a pork dish that rivals my mom’s.  I’m not Jewish and most of my Jewish friends don’t eat pork – but to steal a Yiddish phrase, when I bit into this tenderloin, I kvelled.  

 Richard's Pork Tenderloin with Marnalade & Balsamic Vinegar


1 pork tenderloin about a pound
1 onion, sliced
Orange juice
Olive oil

More Olive Oil
Balsamic vinegar
Red Wine
Half a jar of orange marmalade.

Directions:  Copied verbatim from Richard. 
Note:  He likes to have fun when he cooks.

Put tenderloin in plastic bag with the sliced onion.  Mix olive oil and OJ and put in bag as well...
Let marinate in fridge for however long you remembered to do this before cooking it.

Remove from fridge. Pat the tenderloin dry, salt & pepper it.
Heat a pan over high heat, add a little olive oil... sear the pork til it browns on all sides.  Do not blacken.  This isn't a Cajun thing.
Put in a roasting pan lined with tin foil unless you really want to scrape and wash the pan after it's done which is a pain, so trust me. 
Roast at 425 for about 18 minutes per pound.  Since this is a one pound tenderloin, 18 minutes should do it.

Meanwhile, add a little olive oil to a pan and caramelize the onion slices  from the bag.  When they're nice and caramelized, add the OJ and olive oil from the bag.  Also add some balsamic vinegar and red wine.  Maybe half a cup.  Reduce this a bit.  Then add half a jar of orange marmalade.  If it gets too thick add more wine.  If it gets too thin, keep reducing.  Eventually you'll have a nice sauce.

Remove the pork and let sit because standing is only for rib roasts. 

Slice pork into medallions and slather the sauce over it.  Slathering is optional.  You can spoon it daintily on if you wish. 

Eat it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

GOOD CARR-MA - (Carr Vineyards & Winery)

(Carr Vineyards & Winery)

Doncha just love it when you explore an unfamiliar town and find a shop or gallery or restaurant that you love?  And when you find a new winery – well, that’s nirvana!  You know me there isn’t a tasting room too remote, too tiny or too rustic… I need a bumper sticker “I brake for tasting rooms.”  The Carr Vineyards & Winery tasting room, however, is far from too remote, too tiny OR too rustic.  Nope, it’s right there in the heart of beautiful downtown Santa Barbara, only a little over an hour north of Los Angeles, and has an artistic, industrial “décor.”  Translation:  It’s young, hip and a very cool place to hang out, with the added plus of being named the Best Winery in Santa Barbara by the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper.

This is no surprise, since the winery’s owner, grape grower and winemaker is thirty-something Ryan Carr who, after majoring in graphic design in college, moved to Santa Ynez to learn the wine business.  Starting from the ground floor (in his case the dirt floor of a vineyard where he worked in the fields), he learned how to farm and care for grapes and worked his way up to making his first 10 cases of wine in his garage which he gave to friends and family. 

As his farming skills grew, he started a vineyard management and development company and began producing more and more wine from the grapes that were grown under his supervision and exact specifications. Soon he was designing labels and moved his operation to Salsipuedes Street, where he also designed the winery and the tasting room, and was one of the first, if not the first, winery on the Santa Barbara Urban wine trail… (a wine tasting tour that provides an alternative to “Sideways” Santa Ynez).

When I walked into the winery/tasting room, every one of my senses was stimulated.  The aroma of the grapes crushed, fermented and turned into wine right there in that vast room lingered in the air and sent sipping thoughts tripping across my brain. 

the crusher
the fermenter

My eyes alit on the airplane hangar-like ceiling which Ryan covered in a cave-like “texture”...

that triggered memories of the chalk caves in Reims, France, where Richard produced a Food Network segment on Ruinart champagne.  Ryan’s antique Riddler wine rack which is displayed amid new Riddler racks up on the winery’s second floor loft also brought back memories of Reims.

Note: this is not the “Batman” Riddler, but a man whose sole job is to stand in front of these racks and periodically turn the champagne bottles an eighth to a quarter of an inch each time so that the sediment from the wine’s second fermentation slowly makes its way to the neck of the bottle and eventually expelled before the final corking.  Talk about your carpel tunnel occupation!

As I wandered around the room, I admired the art exhibition which changes regularly as Ryan highlights various local artists.

I also fell in love with the wine-stained backgammon and chess/checker board tables crafted by Rob Davis, another local artist.

But my favorite art piece was a fun, whimsical robot sculpture in wood done by Ryan’s younger brother, Jonathan.

Of course a winery rises and falls on its wines, so it was time to taste.  The bar was crowded, so Richard and I joined friends at one of the bistro-style tables.

Jaime Heer, the tasting room manager, was our knowledgeable and gracious barista.

We started with the 2010 Pinot Gris, Turner Vineyard ($20) – I’m not usually a pinot gris lover, but this wine has a crisp apples and tea taste, but with some heft.  I loved it and can see it paired with one of Richard’s fabulous fish entrees. My taste buds perked up.

“Off the tasting menu” we were treated to the 2010 Santa Ynez Sparkler ($25), a sparkling rose filled with crisp berry flavors and a hint of kiwi and jasmine – Yum.  This wine would be paired beautifully with a ripe, runny (or baked) brie.

The 2009 Carr Pinot Noir, Turner Vineyard ($45) was next.  Aged 12 months in French oak, this wine had a wonderful nose of mushrooms and black cherries and a rich dark fruit and spice flavor. 

Next was the 2008 Carr Pinot Noir, Three Vineyards ($38) – The wine’s taste was as deeply satisfying as its beautiful garnet color.  I loved this wine.  I wanted to grab a bottle, put in a straw and just drink.  No wonder it got a 93 point rating from the Pinot Report.

The 2008 Carr Cabernet Franc, Santa Ynez Valley was filled with scents of herbs, vanilla and berries and dark chocolate.  Rich in taste, I want Richard to serve this wine the next time he makes his mustard and garlic encrusted rack of lamb. 

My favorite wine of the day was the 2009 Carr Morehouse Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley ($50) - This is a truly fine, full-bodied wine, lush and delicious with all those great nose and tasting notes of berries, plums, earth and spices.  No sharps or flats for those notes… this melody was definitely on key

We finished our tasting flight with the 2009 Carr Late harvest Pinot Gris, Turner Vineyard ($20) – a dessert wine that was fermented in stainless steel and aged 12 months in neutral French oak and had flavors of honey and caramel.  Poached pears, you’ve found your pear-ing.

Another cool thing about Carr wines is that many of the bottles are ‘recyclable’ – finish with your wine, bring the bottle back and the winery will refill it at a big discount.  A few wines are even Carr on tap.  We got to taste the last of a delicious rose on tap, and were disappointed that we couldn’t buy a bottle.  No surprise… it was sold out.  Wine on tap is also a great feature for some of the wines Ryan sells to restaurants.  A green approach to selling wine.  No bottle or wine waste for the restaurant owner. 

The next time you’re in Santa Barbara or anywhere near it, take a little Carr trip.  You won’t regret it.  Otherwise, check out your local wine store or restaurant wine list – or let your fingers do the walking (typing) and go to the website.  Instant Carr-ma.

Carr Vineyards & Winery
414 N. Salsipuedes Street
Santa Barbara, Calif. 93103


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

THE DAYS OF WINE & SOAPS - Standing Sun Wines

Standing Sun Wines

OK, I admit it, I love soaps (the television serial kind) and I love wine… and did I find the perfect place to mix them both – from soapland’s Port Charles, NY to real life’s Santa Ynez Valley.

The soap part:

My addiction to ‘love in the afternoon’ dramas started in college with the character-driven, New York produced “Another World.”  This was a jewel of a show and when it was canceled, my heart was broken.

I needed a replacement.  A soap ‘fix! (Well, I did say I was an addict, right?) I soon found one when I was mentored by Doris Silverton (who also became my surrogate mom when Richard and I moved to LA).  Doris wrote for “General Hospital” (GH as it’s affectionately referred to) and soon I was involved (even writing a bit) in the lives and loves of the citizens of Port Charles.

It was in Port Charles that I met Carly (Benson, Spencer, Quartermaine, Corinthos, Jax), a complex “bad” girl created by the wonderful Sarah Brown and who is now played by the sublime Laura Wright, both Emmy winners for the role.  So, what has that got to do with wine?  Well, when you spend so much time with soap characters (5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, year in and year out), they become family.  So, like a lot of family members I follow on Twitter, I follow a few favorites and Laura/Carly is one of them.

Now the wine part:

While reading Laura’s tweets, I discovered that she and her husband, John, own and operate a winery in the “Sideways” Santa Ynez region.  I began following the winery and learned that John grows the grapes, blends...

...bottles and sells the wine.  Since I write about wine it was a match made in heaven.  So, when I knew Richard and I were going to be in the neighborhood, I tweeted John to see if we could visit Standing Sun’s new winery and tasting room even though it was still under construction. 
Graciously, he said yes.

When we arrived mid-afternoon, John was knee-deep in hammering and sawing, but stopped and warmly welcomed us into a small room with a plywood bar set up for wandering tasters.   

As he uncorked the wines, he told us how the winery’s name and label came into being.  The label is a photograph of his and his son’s shadows as they stood side-by-side in the setting sun.  John, who’s also an architect, designer, artist and cook (a true renaissance man), used that photograph to design the wine’s label.  A sun was born.

We tasted five of Standing Sun’s wine and all five were truly scrumptious.

The first was the 2010 Blanc ($24) – I’m not usually a ‘blanc’ lover in the sharp sauvignon blanc sense (I’m more of a buttery chardonnay girl), but this wine was an interesting complex blend of 34% Grenache blanc, 33% Rousanne and 33% Viognier that I’d never had before. I fell in love in the afternoon.

Next was the 2010 Pinot Noir Rose ($20).  It was Richard’s turn to fall in love at first blush (I know, I know – I couldn’t help myself), and I joined him (I’m just a fickle wine lover).  Delightful, slightly fruity (but not sweet), we loved this rose so much, Richard paired it w/ an entree of sea scallops in an orange-mustard-basil sauce served w/ a citrus couscous that he made last night.  A perfect marriage of delicious food and wine.

The 2010 Pinot Noir ($20) is a marvel for the price - filled w/ tastes of berries and spices and aromas that brought back childhood memories of the rich tobacco blend that my father tamped into his pipe. 

Time for the 2009 Grenache ($28) – I had been reading the Twitter love letters to this wine and have joined them in their love affair.  I told you, I’m fickle.

Last – and my very favorite Standing Sun wine (well, at that moment anyway), was the 2009 GSM which is 30% Grenache, 40% syrah and 30% Mourvedre.  100% delicious!

Laura tasting the 2010 GSM blends - I'm jealous

John then took us inside and shared his plans and his vision for the soon to be finished winery and tasting room he’s designed as a mix of cozy comfort and industrial chic.   

He projects that it will all be completed mid-September and Richard and I hope to be standing at the bar for another tasting in Standing Sun’s new winery as the sun is setting.  Or rising.  Or at high noon.  I'm easy!

So, if you find yourself on the 101 approaching the town of Buellton and looking for a little liquid love in the afternoon, take the next exit and head to Standing Sun.

Standing Sun Wines
(Rhone Variety wines)
P.O. Box 1944
Santa Ynez, Calif.  93460

Discounts for Wine Club member


Sunday, August 21, 2011

TASTING IN ARROYO GRANDE - Laetitia Vineyard & Winery


Laetitia Vineyard & Winery

Before heading back to LA, Richard and I had one more winery stop in Arroyo Grande...

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery has been making wines since 1982… and its brochure promises: “The Land Is Ours – The Grapes Are Ours – The Wine… Is Yours.”  OK, we’d bite.  Well, “sip” anyway.

Selim Zilkha, the founder of a successful wind power development company and champion of environmental sustainability, is the winery’s current owner and has insured that all Laetitia wines are “sustainably-produced.”  He’s also done a fine job to insure that they taste good, too!

The tasting room amid the sprawling vineyard is in a large modern structure with a manicured front lawn adorned w/ Adirondack chairs and yellow and white striped umbrellas, allowing tasters to sip wine as they enjoy the gorgeous vineyard view.

Inside, the room has a barn-like feeling with its beams, pitched ceilings, and wooden barrel tasting tables

We opted for the tasting bar.   Bob, w/ a welcoming twinkle in his eye, was our barista.

One of the first things we noticed was a very large bottle on the fireplace mantel behind the bar w/ the mask of the Phantom of Opera as its label. 


As Bob poured our flight, he told us that Laetitia was chosen to supply wine for the Phantom movie’s opening night party.  To honor the occasion, the winery commissioned an artist to etch the Phantom logo into the glass of the magnum.  When the party was over and the clean-up underway, the winery crew found the bottle in the trash.  Aware of the work and creativity that went into designing that bottle they rescued it and brought it home to the winery, where it proudly sits, perched on that mantel like the treasured art piece it is.  Oh, those movie people!  What do they know?  At least they didn’t try to sell it on eBay.

Our tasting started with a couple of whites:  the 2010 chardonnay ($18) and the Nadia White, a blend of 56% viognier, 33% Grenache blanc and 11% Roussanne ($30) – Both wines, simply stated, were sublime, especially the Nadia White!

Laetitia is famous for its pinot noirs (434 acres of pinot noir grapes), so we were anxious to move from blanc to noir…

We tasted four: The 2009 Estate Pinot Noir ($25), the 2009 Reserve DuDomaine ($40), the 2007 Single Vineyard La Solline ($60) and the 2007 Single Vineyard Les Galets (The Rocks) ($60).  Even before “Sideways” pinot noir was Richard’s favorite red wine grape and would be happy serving and sipping any of these wines paired w/ salmon, or roast turkey, or a crown roast pork or just w/ nothing but a glass to pour it in.  I agree.  All these wines deserved their over 90 pt. ratings from Wine Enthusiast. 

Time to move from the pinot noirs to the more earthy full-bodied reds.

First up was the 2009 Barnwood Grenache ($22) - Laetitia’s Barnwood label, as Bob explained, is dedicated to Bordeaux and Rhone wines, and are made from grapes from the highest vineyard in Santa Barbara.  And this wine lived up to that heritage… smooth to the taste w/ hints of cherry and tobacco.

Our next taste was the 2008 Laetitia Syrah ($25) – w/ a deep plum color, I tasted berry pie and spices as my nose was filled w/ aromas cedar and rose.  A garden of earthly delights in a bottle.

Last but not least, Bob poured the 2006 Barnwood Port ($30) – a cab/cab franc blend – this is a spectacular, full-bodied wine w/ all the dark cocoa and citrus notes you want in a good port w/ a little graham cracker to conjure up thoughts of s’mores and more.

Our tasting done, Bob had one more thing he wanted to share w/ us.  A silver saddle.  We were intrigued.  Why would a winery display a saddle… silver or otherwise?  Well, as he told it, Laetitia had entered a Houston Rodeo Wine competition and became Grand Champion for red and was awarded the silver saddle.  And, like the Phantom bottle, the saddle was displayed proudly.  And that’s a saddle tale if I ever heard one.

So, if you saddle up and ride into Arroyo Grande, you won’t be sorry if you sidle up to the Laetitia Vineyard and Winery. (I know, I know... my fingers made my type that...)

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery
453 Laetitia Vineyard Drive
Arroyo Grande, Calif.  93420