Paso Robles Harvest 2015

If you have never been to Paso Robles during the harvest season, you have missed an excitingly crazy time.  Most wineries were having pairing or serving hors d’oeuvre with their wines.  Lucky for us, we arrived at the tail end of events and got to taste some really good wines in a low key atmosphere.  Wine brings people together.  It’s not just the wine, it is also the experience.  We visited seven wineries.  We met good people and had a great experience.  I highly recommend visiting them.

Kukkula Winery is one of my favorites.  If you like fruity, well balanced, complex Rhone blends that linger just right on your tongue and lead to a silky smooth Finnish (All the wines have Finnish names.. I couldn’t resist.), you will love Kukkula.

TH Estate Wines (formerly Terry Hoage), has a variety of Rhone Blends and GSM’s.  The price points are good for the style and quality of theses wines.

Justin Vineyards and Winery, loved the 2013 Right Angle and 2012 Isoceles.  The Right Angle is a Cab, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Malbec blend.  The Isosceles is a Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc blend.  Both wines are a steal, priced under $35.

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Halter Ranch Vineyard has a GSM rosé that has tropical hints of Guava, watermelon and strawberries.  A must for rosé lovers.  I also liked the 2013 CDP which is a GSM + Tannot.  At $35 it is a good deal.  Most of the wines they were pouring were $35 or less except for their Flagship wine, The 2013 Ancestor which was $55.  The Ancestor is a Cab, Malbec Petite Verdot blend that reminded me of a candy bar.

Law Estate Wines is by appointment only.  They offer a seated tasting which made the tasting a social event.  We had the pleasure of being seated with Bernie Brauer and his long time friend Irene Ross. Law wines are priced in the $69 range.  The 2012 Beyond Category is a Syrah, Grenache, Cab Sav, Mourvedre,Petite Sirah blend. 2012 Intrepid is a Syrah, Grenache blend. 2012 Audacious is a Syrah, Cab Sav, Grenache blend, 2012 Sagacious is a Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache blend. And The 9′s, which is priced at $90, is 100% Grenache.  All the wines are very nice and I ended up taking a bottle of Sagacious home.  Kathleen was a gracious host and we had a wonderful wine experience.  Make the appointment.

Law Estate Wines

Law Estate Wines


Law Estate Wines







Asuncion Ridge Vineyard has a tasting room in downtown Paso.  Heather was our host and her sense of humor kept us in stitches.  Asuncion’s wines are reasonably priced. They have a well balanced 2012 Estate Pinot Noir.  The 2012 Salacious  is a GSM.  The 2012 Lascivious is a Mourvedre, Cab Sav, Syrah blend that reminds me of a cherry Jolly Rancher.  We were treated to a barrel tasting of their 2013 Inception.  A Cab Sav, Syrah blend.  I found it to be fruit forward and well balanced.  I am looking forward to it being released.

Our last stop was Anglim Winery.  I am so glad we didn’t pass it up.  It is very rare to find a winery that you like ALL of their wines. Kukkula, TH Estate Wines and Anglim Wines come to mind. Steffanie  Anglim poured eleven wines.  The price point for the quality of wines is excellent.  Average price $28 with the most expensive bottle being $42.  They have three Bien Nacido Vineyard Viogniers; Pressed-Neutral French Oak, Pressed New French Oak, Skin Contact-New French Oak.  All SBC 2013.  A 2014 GSM Viognier Rosé.  Really nice.  The Red wine selection included; 2012 Grenache, 2012 Cerise is a GSM+ Viognier, 2012 Mourvedre Hasting Ranch is 100% Mourvedre, 2012 Best Barrel Blend GSM blend, 2012 ZSM Hasting Ranch is a Zin, Syrah, Mourvedre blend. and 2006 Gorgeous is a fortified dessert wine.  There are no bad glasses here.  Add Anglim to you list of wineries to visit.

Another successful weekend filled with aromas, flavors and great people.  I♥ Paso.




Chicago Is..

IMG_20150623_102710872Let’s do some word association. If I say Chicago, you say…………………………..Well if you are anything like me (and not from Chicago) then you think if things like big city, mob, cigars, sports (you pick, Cubs/Sox, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks), and most of all COLD. What I do not think of immediately is food, or at least not good food, maybe a dog and a big steak. But when I stated telling people I was going to Chicago for a conference everyone started giving me lists of places “I had to try”. Fortunately I was going with another “food person” (not cool to call us foodies anymore) who had been to Chicago recently and knew a little bit about the landscape. After reviewing all the “lists” and doing a little bit of research we started to put together our game plan. Dinner was relatively easy aside from getting the reservations we wanted. The real trick was figuring out what parts of the conference we could duck out on to get lunch and when we needed to get back, but needless to say we had our motivation.

I landed late Monday evening. My colleague was not due in till the next day. He was not IMG_20150622_215404204interested in trying any Chicago style pizza, so I figured this was my chance since I had never had Chicago style pizza IN Chicago. As you can imagine I had lots of options, but given the time and location it was narrowed down to Giordano’s and Pequod’s . I chose Giordano’s even though Pequod’s had somewhat better reviews. I just wanted a classic, old fashioned stuffed pizza and Giordano’s seemed to fit the bill. IMG_20150622_212052251It came out looking exactly as I had envisioned and after eating the first piece while it was still too hot (and burning the roof of my mouth as I have done with hot pizza since childhood) I let it cool a little to let the flavors settle and mature. I was happy I did, not only did I stop burning the roof of my mouth but the pizza came alive and tasted, dare I say, exactly as I had envisioned. Lots of cheese, a dark robust tomato sauce, sausage, mushroom and olive. All of the flavors playing off each other along with the light crunchy crust. I am usually a thin crust pizza guy, but after that I will go for a real Chicago stuffed style pizza any time.

IMG_20150623_093003479_HDRThe conference did not start till after lunch the following day. One of my friends had recommended Smoque BBQ and said that it had the “best brisket” he had ever had. How could I resist. Since it was, as my friend said, a little bit outside of town (the cab ride cost more than the meal) I figured this was a good time to go since I had the morning to kill. Yes, it was a long, expensive cab ride there but it was well work it. I opted for the ½ and ½ brisket and pulled pork. While the slaw and mac and cheese that it came with were nothing over the top, the brisket was IMG_20150623_091642033_HDRincredible, flavorful and tender without being too fatty or dried out. The real show stopper for me though was the pulled pork. Not sure exactly what they do to it but it was by far the best I have had. The meal also comes with two styles of BBQ sauce, Carolina style with a bit more vinegar and Memphis style, thicker and deeper in flavor. I liked the Memphis style more and if it had had more heat to it I would have found a way to bring some home.

IMG_20150623_193918735That evening my colleague and I met some of his friends at Parachute. A fun little neighborhood small plate Asian restaurant with a celebrity chef. All of the plates were good to great but the squid ink noodles and pork dish were over the top. The one down side of this place is that it can get a little loud and it seems like the louder it gets the louder they turn up the music, almost like it’s a competition. We stayed late and by the time we were finishing it was clearing out so the noise and the music were down to a hum and the whole experience was much better.

The week before we left my colleague shared with me that Au Cheval was crowned the best IMG_20150625_112726757burger in the US. So you think we could have left town without trying it, not a chance. We snuck out of our conference that day a bit early to try to beat the crowd but a place like this is always crowded. Fortunately we were able to get a spot at the bar rather quickly. We tried a few other IMG_20150625_103946285things on the menu, the fried chicken was good and a meal in itself, but the real treat was the burger. Served with 2 patties and an egg on top as a IMG_20150625_110730925standard, this was not a first date kind of meal. Sloppy but good to the last drop. I have had some other burgers that I might rank ahead of this one, but not many and this was definitely in the top 5.

That night we had reservations at Girl and the Goat. This was

the one place that my colleague said we had to go while we were here. Located in, and one of the founding fathers of what is known as the Randolph Restaurant Corridor, this is the place you notice from a block away. You can feel the energy as you approach and getting a table without a reservation means a long wait on the curb. Another small plate establishment with a menu broken down into V for vegetarian, F for fish and M for meat dishes, and then a separate menu for the goat dishes. We tried several from each category but fair warning, if you skip the goat options because you are “unsure” you will leave disappointed. I could go on and on about this place but the bottom line, this was the best meal I had while in Chicago! Put this place at the top of your list.

The following day was our last in Chicago and not what we expected, cold and rainy in the IMG_20150626_110833479middle of summer. We gathered our last bit of motivation and hailed a cab to take us to Avec, recommended by several of our friends. I am not sure if it was due to the weather, being the end of the week, or that we were there for lunch but I was not overly impressed. I had a house made sausage sandwich which was good but nothing that I did not feel I could not have made at home. My colleague had the pulled pork sandwich which looked much better and he was very satisfied. Maybe I just made the wrong choice.

My final takes on Chicago; the food scene is truly happening here with a lot of creativity

and variety. This is definitely no longer just a city where you can get a good steak (although that still exists). From the research I did it also looks like they have a bit of a mixology scene and a few wine bars here that looked interesting. Unfortunately we were only able to get to one of them. They also have a ton of activities to do in and around the lake and river. Bottom line, this is not somewhere that I would consider a destination, but when I do have to be here (business) I know that I have many food/drink/activity options to make the trip truly enjoyable.


Going home: Red cups and ribs



I recently went home to Virginia to visit the family.  My parents are getting up there in years and other relatives are dropping like flies.  I met up with friends from high school, toured the Capitol with Hill, and we even had time to hit a couple of the local wineries. Pearmund and The Winery at La Grange. The tasting room at La Grange is circa 1790.

The one thing I looked forward to is hanging out with my sister and brother-in-law.  Naja and Biggie (his nickname is fitting), epitomize values we were raised with.  Family, friends, love and humor.  All are present in their home all the time.  Also present in their home all the time Is food.  Biggie loves to cook and I love eating Biggies cooking.  Ribs, chicken, mac and cheese, collard green, potato salad, all the standards we love.  Everyone has their own recipes for sauces and cooking techniques but no one will share.  Biggies is no different.  He made a flank steak that was marinated in one of his concoction, absolutely delicious.  He still hasn’t told me what was in it.  Even if he did, I wouldn’t tell.

This visit, the cocktail was Zaya  Rum and coke.  I like it with diet coke.  If you have not tried it, you will appreciate the vanilla and oak notes and smooth finish.  To me, the diet coke does not over power or cover the characteristics of the rum. 

Artist talk about the love, sweat and pride they put into their creations.  Biggie is no different, except for the sweat.  You can taste the love for his family and his pride in every bite.  I’m getting homesick thinking about it.  Until my next visit, love your family and be good to them.    -Brax

Silverado Trail part 1

I have decided to challenge myself, this summer, to visit all the wineries along the Silverado trail.   I know i know.  It is an ambitious under taking, that will be limited by hours of operation and state DUI laws.  But I am up for the challenge.  I have no plan or order in mind.  My wine glass will be my guide.  I will keep it Short and sweet and try to help you decide if the winery is worth a visit or not.  The first three on this adventure, I believe,  are all worth a visit. Black Stallion and Darioush have beautiful tasting rooms. Darioush is modeled after an ancient Persian palace and all the stones were imported from Iran.  First stop, Black Stallion.

Black Stallion.  I did the all red tasting.  We started with the 2013 los carneros Pinot Noir. $35.


Black fruit and spice.  Aromas of black cherry.
2012 Napa Valley Merlot. Dark fruit and oak on the nose.  Silky black cherry on the tongue lite tannins. $40.
2012 Napa Valley  Syrah. Aromas of spice and blackberry.  Medium body wine with flavors of berry fruits and hints of vanillla. Nicely balanced. $40
2011 napa valley Cabernet sauvignon. Bold black fruit on the front incooperated into a medium bodied wine. A little dry for my tastes but still enjoyable.  $75.  Next stop Darioush.

Darioush. Darioush makes  20k cases a year. 
The 2013 Signature Sauvignon Blanc. Tropical fruit flavor. Not overly sweet smooth  finish. $45.
2013 Signature Chardonnay.  Nice balance of fruit and oak. $45.
2012 Signature Cabernet Franc. Blueberry, black fruit flavors lite tannis. $62.
2012 Signature Shiraz. Full body white pepper and dark fruit. $74.
2012 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark fruit aromas of what is to come.  Well balanced full body dense black cherry with layers of  dried fig, tobacco  well balanced. $95.
2012  Capataz Malbec


Blueberry and dark berry fruit. Smooth on the tongue and lingers on the finish. $36. I found the wines were well done.  Price point a little high.  Malbec was the  best value followed by sauvignon blanc.

Odette. This winery is owned by Plumpjack and our Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom is a part owner.
2012 Adaptation Chardonnay.  Citrus, tropical fruit lite oak. $32.
2012 Adaptation Cabernet. 78% cab 22% merlot. Hints of dark fruit, vanilla, coco. $46
2011 Cade Napa Valley Cab.88% cab, 5% petite verdot, 4% Malbec, 3% Merlot.  Rich. Cherry spice. $60
2012 Plumpjack Estate Cabernet


97% cab, 3% petite verdot. Very nice. Complex, well balanced. Dark fruits, vanillan silky smooth on the tongue. $104. 
2012 Odette Estate Cabernet. 75% cab, 14% merlot, 11% cab franc. Black cherry, raspberries on the front. Black currant and spice on the finish.  $98. I lean more towards Rhone varietals and blends but I could not resist the 2012 Plumpjack Estate Cab.  It went home with me. It was a fun start to my 2015 Silverado Challenge.

Arizona…Not Forgotten

It’s been a while, ok it was August, since Troya and I visited Arizona. I know, that was my first thought too, AZ in Aug, that’s not very smart. But off we when to Sedona for a little well deserved relaxation and time together. I have been to Phoenix several times and I have to admit that my impression of the state was influenced by what you see in and around Phoenix. I had seen pictures of other parts of the state, most notably Sedona, but in my mind AZ had heat, Saguaro’s and, well, heat. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised on several levels.

First of all driving up to Sedona from PHX airport is a trip I recommend. You get a real feeling of how not all desert is the same and you can definitely tell when you are in different parts of the state. Then, when you get to the Sedona area and see all the red

rock mountains rising up from the desert floor you know right away why this is considered a special, and for many people a spiritual, place. The resort we stayed at, L’Auberge de Sedona , was an incredible place with individual cabins overlooking a brook with running water and surrounded by tree’s and greenery, yes all this in AZ in IMG_20140807_174748726Aug. Can’t find that in California in August. Each cabin had its own deck and outside shower, Troya’s favorite part.  While it was hot, mid to upper 90’s, it never felt uncomfortable or limited us in doing anything (it’s a dry heat, right). Not only did not I expect our resort to be right on the brook, with an outdoor eating and imagelounge right on the banks, but I also did not expect water (outside of needing more while poolside) to play a major theme for the whole trip, from our afternoon picnic and wine sitting on the shores to a slow water river rafting trip with Verde Adventures. They also offer Wine tasting tours. What, you say, wine and rivers in Arizona?

And this brings us to the second big surprise of the trip. I knew that some people were making wine in Arizona but I have to IMG_20140808_140434903admit that I imagined it as roadside swill with little character. With the smile that comes with humble pie I can say that they are doing some truly amazing stuff with their wines. To appreciate AZ wine you will have to put aside your pre-conceived notion of what Arizona is and what it is not. Yes, Phoenix is Phoenix and I will not try to change that perception, but not one is growing grapes in Phoenix and not all of AZ is the valley of the sun. The state actually IMG_20140808_152429759_HDRhas many different climates and soils, all the ingredients for terrior. And while wine has been made in the state for many years at this time the big production wineries have been slow to take advantage. That means that the wines you do find here are generally smaller production with all the good and bad that comes from that. We spent our “wine tasting” time in the Cottonwood and Jerome area of the Verde Valley Wine Region. We did find some pretty bad wine, but IMG_20140808_153428243_HDRwe also found some really amazing wine with more flavor, layers and character then I would have ever expected. Caduceus Cellars really stood out with some amazing Rosé and one of the best Sangiovese’s  I have tasted. The highlight of the day was spending time at Passion Cellars IMG_20140808_161608651_HDRand getting to meet Cody Burkett, aka The Wine Monk. Passionate and entertaining, he was able to give a very concise overview on the history and business of Arizona wine. It’s a budding industry there but do not be surprised if they start making some noise and giving Cali a run.