Archive for November, 2008

Notes from the Road – Napa & Paso Robles, October/November 2008

Friday, November 7th, 2008

I have made it back to the home offices in Vegas after an outstanding weekend in Napa Valley and Paso Robles/Templeton, California.  We had to head up to Napa for a little business (I know, no one believes me, but it’s true!) so we were able to call up some friends in the wine business for a little fun.  However, the real reason for the trip was to visit the wineries of Paso Robles, including the semi-annual Turley Release Party on Saturday and catch up on the latest vintages and barrel samples down there.


The trip seemed to fly by, especially the first day/night but overall it was quite an adventure.  Some of my favorite times were:


  • Thursday night in Napa.  This first night of the trip was a great time overall.  We started by catching up with the owners of The Grade, an all-Cabernet Sauvignon bottling, over at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen (  Just sampling some appetizers we were able to taste the power, heft and depth of The Grade a true, small production wine.


We then continued on to Peju Province Estate (, where HB was holding court (like always) with her daughter Lisa and my buddy Nick from Pushback Wines (  There was already a bottle of Pushback open, so we dove right into the Sauvignon Blanc.  Soon after, HB’s other daughter Ariana made it by, as did Marko Karakasevic of Charbay ( and it was on!  By then we realized how hungry we were, so we bee-lined to Taylor’s Refresher ( in St. Helena, an Americana Burger classic, that has been updated for today’s tastes with flavors of the past.  Fortunately, they have a great wine list (yes, trust me!) and we were able to bring some additional wines over to enjoy.


  • Barrel tasting at Jack Creek Cellars ( – Doug Kruse was, as always an outstanding host, inviting us into his cellar to sample his 2007’s still in barrel and newest harvest of 2008’s, which had just recently gone into their barrels.  By the way, all of Doug’s wines are Estate only, so he has an intimate connection with his fruit from harvest through to the winemaking process.  Definitely be on the lookout for Jack Creek’s 2007 Syrah, it will have an elegant nose and great mouth feel rounded out by just enough tannins not to overpower the wine.  Also, his 2008 Chardonnay is currently giving off wonderful fragrances of pineapple on the nose and in the mouth, pretty darn good for being in barrel for less than a month!  Then we continued on to the wines in bottle – all of which were great, but his 2006 Syrah is the real winner.


  • Dinner at McPhee’s – In Templeton there is a great rustic and simple grill restaurant that has been doing great business for years and I was able to dine there for the 1st time on Friday evening.  It is a very wine-friendly place (almost on every table) and it fits right in with the Paso Robles scene.  We started with the Oak Grilled California Artichoke with Chipotle Lime Mayonnaise – outstanding.  For a Halloween night, the restaurant was jammed with locals and tourists alike; I can’t wait to go back!


  • Saturday Paso Robles Tasting Run-Around.  We had a chance to really experience some of the best wineries that Paso Robles has to offer.  Quite a day including:
    • AmByth Estate ( Phillip and Mary are wonderful hosts, and their property, which is Biodynamic, Organic and Dry-farmed is yielding some amazing fruit.  Look for AmByth’s 2007’s to be out of this world, namely the Tempranillo/Sangiovese made similar to the traditional style of Rioja.
    • Turley Release Party ( – The 2005 Pesenti Grenache and the 2007 Pesenti Zinfandel (in-barrel) were showstoppers!  It is always great to visit at Turley, especially during their release – a special treat that day was a ½ bottle of 2005 Alban Vineyard Late Harvest Roussane, mmm mmm good!
    • Tablas Creek ( – Their Mourvedre was jumping out of the glass and is going to drink wonderfully over the next few years.
    • Linne Calodo ( Matt Trevisan’s winery is currently under-going an expansion process, but his wines have never been better.  The 2006 Nemesis, even when decanted is huge!  Great wine.
    • Venteux Vineyards ( – 2006 Estate Syrah is their homerun wine with the 2006 Raucous coming in a close second.  Scott Stelzle’s wines continue to impress.


  • Saturday night dinner, Villa Creek restaurant (  I have been to Villa Creek a few times now, always really enjoying it, however this night turned out to be the best food experience I have had yet.  This restaurant is located right off the Main Square in Paso and as usual it was jammed with locals and tourists alike.  For a rainy night in the Central Coast, there was a great buzz and energy when we walked in and we were fortunate enough to find 4 seats at the bar.  All of the food was great, but my Cassoulet (semi-deconstructed) with Duck Confit and Sausage as well as my buddy’s Brick-cooked chicken breast with black beans was out of this world.  We had a chance to meet the chef at the end of the meal; he’s got quite a pedigree and is a heck of a nice guy.  I’m very much looking forward to heading back soon!



I’m currently trying to plan my next trip before a Thanksgiving break.  If you have any ideas, feel free to email me and advise me where to look to visit (I’m leaning towards the Western U.S.).  Stay tuned for upcoming updates and always remember, Keep Eating & Drinking!

Notes from the Road – Scottsdale, Arizona, October 2008

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Well, I have finally caught my breath after being in Scottsdale, Arizona over the last 4 days participating, judging and enjoying Eats3 – Savor Scottsdale, a new Food & Beverage Festival being held and sponsored by Food & Wine Magazine (  It was an amazing event held this past Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Old Town Scottsdale on SouthBridge.  Peter Kasperski, owner of Cowboy Ciao, Digestif, etc. ( was the brains, founding father and overall Energizer Bunny who did an amazing job putting the festival together and overall.  This was Year #1 of Eats3 and what an event it was from having such Food Celebrities as Jacques Pepin, Ming Tsai and Top Chef Winner Stephanie Izard, to the Art Gallery and Tasting luncheons and dinners to the Culinary and Wine panels held each day.  Peter and his crew were able to execute a festival that exceeded expectations, made participants and attendees thrilled and one that Scottsdale as a city should embrace for years to come!


Interesting times, with some of the most memorable events being:


  • Thursday night dinner at Digestif.  Chef Payton Curry of Digestif (see website above) has created an amazing Cal/Ital menu for the restaurant including outstanding homemade charcuterie, fresh cut pastas and rustic fare.  The salmon rillettes had great flavor and freshness, the flat iron steak was tender and perfectly seasoned and the fresh made cookies were a just sweet enough ending to a great meal.


  • Friday Lunch at Atlas Bistro (  With the Eats3 Festival, we were invited to enjoy lunch at the Atlas Bistro, adjacent to AZ Wine and partake in the wines of Ex Cellars, which included Phillipponnat Champagne, E. Guigal and Domaine des Baumard.  The restaurant is usually not open for lunch, but they were doing a special feature, of which they did an outstanding job.  My highlight was the Arizona Golden Beet salad with Moulard Duck confit and Snowflake, Arizona Feta Cheese – salty, sweet and a wonderful seasonal appetizer.


  • Judging the Iron Bar Chef Cocktail Competition.  Peter had asked me to participate on Friday evening as one of the judges for this event pitting 6 of the country’s top bartenders/mixologists for title of Eats3 Iron Bar Chef.  The moderator for the event was none other than Tony Abu-Ganim, the Modern Mixologist and former contestant/winner of Iron Chef with Mario Batali.  It was a fantastic event with contestants being given a ‘secret ingredient’ liquor/liqueur and having 10 minutes to create an appropriate cocktail.  The winner was Eric Johnson of Beretta Restaurant in San Francisco who was the most consistent and creative throughout the evening.


  • Grand Tasting Event.  On Saturday, we were able to attend the Eats3 Grand Tasting, with over 100 wineries and 40 restaurants represented.  It was a Convention and Visitors Bureau kind of day – absolutely gorgeous, 85 degrees with a light breeze in October!


    • For the food, our favorites were Nobu Fukuda’s Soft-Shell Crab Sandwich (Sea Saw), the Grilled Lamb Chops from Roka Akor (, Grilled Beef Tongue (Atlas Bistro), Pork in Green Chili (Los Sombreros – and Fresh Pulled Mozzarella from Payton Curry (Digestif).
    • Outstanding wines included the ‘Ladies of Paso’ from Venteux (, Bella Luna ( and Ambyth, Tablas Creek Rhone Blends (, Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon and Garretson.


Hang on to your hats friends; my next travels are bringing me back up to Napa Valley for a quick visit and then down to Paso Robles!  It is time for the semi-annual Turley Release Party on Saturday, with a few stops to see friends at the outstanding Paso wineries.  Stay tuned for updates and always remember, Keep Eating & Drinking!