The Sequel to Sideways: Vertical

Twelve years ago we saw the fall of Merlot and the rise of California Pinot Noir. The movie, Sideways was released, and we all followed Miles, an aspiring writer, and his friend Jack, a washed up soap star, travel through the Santa Ynez Valley on a wild wine binge and sex romp. We met Maya and Stephanie (Terra in the book), and the ultimate betrayal of love. When we last saw them, Jack was getting married, and Miles, still unpublished, was meeting up with Maya.

Flash forward, and Rex Pickett has written a sequel to his book (and the movie), called “Vertical – Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail”.  A previous version of the sequel was released a few years back, with a very limited press run. I received the newly revised and re-edited edition for review. While I do wine and wine event reviews, it has been a long time since Mrs. Whirry’s Honors English class in high school. I think the last book review was a comprehensive review of the works of Kurt Vonnegut!

Vertical takes place seven years after the events of Sideways. Miles and Jack have switched roles. Jack’s marriage has ended in divorce, and Miles has a successful book, that was turned into a movie: “Shameless”, which recaps the entire adventure we all watched (or read) in Sideways.  Miles’ success with the book and movie, have made him a rockstar in the world of wine, in particular the world of Pinot Noir.

Willamette - photo credit to
Once again, Miles and Jack set out on a trip. This time, Miles’ mom (Phyllis) and her caretaker, a pot smoking Filipino named Joy, are along for the ride, as well as Phyllis’ dog, Snapper. Phyllis had suffered a stroke, and needs to go home to Wisconsin to be with her sister. Miles, who is afraid to fly, will drive his mother to Wisconsin, but is coordinating the drive with speaking engagements in Paso Robles, and the International Pinot Noir Celebration in the Willamette Valley.

Miles and Jack seem to be in a continuous drunken stupor for the first three quarters of the book. They clearly have a drinking problem (and sex or relationship issues) that starts with an open bottle for breakfast, and continues while driving the rented rampvan down the highway. Miles’ drinking problem becomes self-evident after he almost drowns in a tank of Two-Buck-Chuck Merlot, and is later forced to continue his journey to Wisconsin, with his handicapped mother, on his own.

At this point, the reader realizes this is more of a story about a mother and son, coming to grips with their lives as they currently are. The back drop, and possibly the source of Miles’ current condition, is his celebrated wine grape. Is it just by chance that the first book was titled “Sideways” (the position that many feel when they’ve had too much) and the second book is title “Vertical” (the position you might be in, once you sober up)?

75% of the book takes place in wine country. For anyone who has traveled to the wine regions of California and Oregon, the descriptions are very accurate. You can picture the entire trip. The other 25% takes place in the desolate landscapes of Montana, South Dakota and Wisconsin. It is here, aong the barren countryside, that Miles’ soul is stripped clean to the understanding of who he is and who is mother is. I will admit that there were many scenes I chuckled at, many scenes I could easily visualize, and one scene, towards the end, where I actually shed some tears.

For those of you who love Pinot Noir from the California Central Coast… be prepared. Those beloved wines do get a pretty good amount of disrespect from Miles when he addresses a large crowd at the IPNC. Of course, he is in Oregon, and is playing to the crowd. Can we now expect a shift from California Pinot Noir to Oregon Pinots?

 The book was a quick read, at almost 400 pages. Rex Pickett has a large vocabulary, and has included a personal dictionary at the back of the book for some of his more obscure words. If you are a fan of Sideways, check out this sequel, when it is made available. I hope that if they can get enough sales of the book, they will consider a sequel to the movie, and we can all watch Miles and Jack in their glory again.

The Wines of the Family Winemaker Tasting

The Family Winemakers of California were once again back in Del Mar. This is the signature winemaker event for trade and consumers in the San Diego area. It is an opportunity for family-owned wine operations to present their wines, and for me, and opportunity to discover a new outstanding winery. My reviews, and pick of the day follow.

This year, the number of wineries seemed less than in the past, but there were still 88 wineries in attendance. Twenty wineries were pouring for the first time. The doors opened at 1:00pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Trade and media were let in an hour before the consumers. 

Prior to arriving, I had downloaded the program, which contained details on each winery: who their owners are; where they are located; what they were pouring; and how many cases they produced. While you cannot take wine out of the event, the winemakers were taking orders from the trade.

All the wineries were set up on long tables, and arranged in alphabetical order. Large signs were located above each tasting location, identifying the winery. Many wineries just had their bottles on the table, and were pouring, while others had decorated their spots with all types of wine related paraphernalia and informational brochures.

As I do every year, my focus was to find one or two standout wineries that I had never heard of. Additionally, I wanted to concentrate on central coast wineries along with the Sierra Foothills, and Lodi. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try some wines from Napa and Sonoma…of course I did.

In four hours, I met with 18 winemakers, and probably tasted around 60 to 70 different wines. I can assure you that I actually tasted, not drank, that number of wines. It is terrible to see so much wine being poured into a spit bucket, but when you have to drive away from the event, it is the only safe thing to do. Luckily there was fresh baked bread from La Brea Bakery, and cheese plates from Kerrygold set up throughout the venue. Palate cleansing was a fairly easy task.

Some highlights in the tasting:

With Greg Barr of Barr Estates
Barr Estates continues to make one of the best valued Petite Verdots’ on the market. Greg Barr, and his winemaker, Signa Zoller continue to create tasting wines that are all under the $30 mark. This Paso Robles winery is doing it right. My wife enjoyed their Rose of Malbec, and they also presented a couple blends: Dane Head and Jubilado, which were interesting.

I tried numerous Chardonnays and Viogniers, and one that stood out was from Admirable Family Vineyards. This winery is located in Malibu, and is run by a French family. The Viognier was a blend of Viognier and Chardonnay. No oak and about $45 retail. Brophy Clark Cellars, out of Santa Maria had a very nice Chardonnay, at about half the price. Both are worth seeking.

In the past, I have shied away from Temecula wines. I decided to stop by the Falkner Winery, and talked with Ray Falkner about what they are doing down there. I think the wineries are seeing that success will come with the “right” grapes being planted. Falkner had a very nice Sangiovese, and their version of a “super Tuscan” will probably last 10 to 15 years in the cellar. This is the second Sangiovese I have tried from Temecula, and both have been impressive. The other was from Baily.

From the Sierra Foothills, Frog’s Tooth Vineyards had a zesty Barbera (would be great with any tomato based dish) and an interesting Tempranillo. All their wines were reasonably priced between $15 and $40.

Ken Brown Wines had a very familiar nose and palate to them. I tried their Sauvignon Blanc and three of their Pinot Noirs. The Sauvignon Blanc came from the Vogelzang vineyard in Happy Canyon AVA. Personally, this is the way I think Sauvignon Blanc should taste. It has a unmistakable nose to it. One of my favorites is made by Dragonette Cellars, who sources their grapes from the same vineyard. The three Pinot Noirs were from different vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills. One being the Radian Vineyard (again, the same as Dragonette Cellars).

One of the few Pinot Gris’ we tried was from Manzoni EstateVineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. This Pinot Gris had nice acidity, due to its’ cooler climate location. The nose was green apple, stone fruit and pear. The wine had more body than if you were drinking something from Italy. Much more Alsatian in style.

Benjamin Silver of Silver Wines
There were a lot of other wineries that I tasted. Some good, some very good, but there could only be one “find” of the event. That winery was Silver Wines. Benjamin Silver is basically a one man show. He is the winemaker and owner, since 1996, when he left Zaca Mesa. Silver Wines produces small bottlings of: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Nebbiolo, and two extraordinary blends:  Saviezza & I Tre Figli. The I Tre Figli was the best wine of the day. He had both a vintage and non-vintage verson of the wine. I actually preferred the non-vintage. It was a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvingon, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc. It was silky, smooth, complex and had the ability to age. Find this wine, and buy it now, as the production is only about 350 cases.

I don’t know where the Family Winemakers of California event will be next year, but you can always go to their website to learn about upcoming events. Try to attend, and maybe you will also make sme new discoveries.

See you next year at the tasting!

Wine Pairing Dinner - Valentine's Day

Okay, so I know that is has been a while since I have written. I will be able to explain soon, but for now, let’s just say I have been pretty busy on a big project.

Kumomotos on the half shell
Last weekend was Valentine’s Day, and like most of you, that involves flowers, chocolate, cards and a nice dinner. I find that most restaurants book up well in advance, and it is usually very crowded. This year, our group of friends decided we could do a very nice, gourmet dinner that hit all the key points of decadence, aphrodisiacs and fine wine. What follows is a 4-course meal and the wines I chose to pair with those courses.

Bacon wrapped dates
Our first course was an appetizer course of stuffed dates, wrapped in bacon. My “go to” for bacon is sparkling wine. I like how the bubbles cut the fat and grease, cleansing the palate. The dates add sweetness to the bacon, but I didn’t want to start our meal with a sweet wine. Instead, I went with a Blanc de Noir (made from more fruit forward red grapes). The wine of choice was from Schramsberg, in Napa Valley.

Oysters Rockefeller
Our second course was also an appetizer. We had oysters two ways: on the half shell and Oysters Rockefeller. Oysters are basically just little salt water exchangers, with a minerally taste to them. There are a number of classic pairings for oysters, but my "go to" is from the Loire region of France. In the coastal region of Nantes, the wines produced from the Muscadet grape mirror the brine and mineral of the oysters, but add the sharp acidity that is similar to a squeeze of lemon. The wine for this pairing was Chateau du Jaunay Muscadet Sevre et Maine.

Beef Wellington with Roasted Garlic Potatoes
Our main course was a traditional Beef Wellington. This classic English dish involves coating a tenderloin with pâté and finely chopped mushrooms, then wrapping everything in puff pastry. Since the English were (are) such big fans of French Bordeaux, the classic pairing would be a right bank Bordeaux (St. Emilion or Pomerol). These wines are mostly Merlot based. But, to complicate things, our side dishes consisted of roasted asparagus with garlic and Parmesan, as well as roasted garlic potatoes. First, asparagus makes wine taste sweeter, and garlic clashes with heavily oaked wines (think of how well garlic goes with vanilla or coconut – some of the notes that oak adds). For the wine choices, I did stick with a traditional pairing, with a bottle of 2005 Chateau Fonroque St. Emilion Grand Cru. I also had a bottle of 2012 DomaineSerene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve. I find that the Oregon wines are not as fruit forward as some of the California Pinot Noirs, and not as earthy as the French Burgundies. Of the two wines, I felt the Domaine Serene was the better pairing. Our hosts also opened a bottle of Calcareous Pinot Noir…heck two bottles with the main course just isn’t enough for eight people!

For our final course, we ended the evening with a Chocolate Ganache Cake. With sweet desserts, you always want your wine to be sweeter than the dessert. Despite popular belief, chocolate and wine are not natural pairings, but there are some that work well. If you are using milk chocolate, there is only one wine that I find works, and that is Brachetto d’Aqui from Italy. This is a semi-sparkling wine, with aromas of raspberries… a magical pairing with sweeter chocolate. In this case, I did not know if the cake was made sweet, or used bitter sweet chocolate, so I hedged my bets. I brought a bottle of Rinaldi Brachetto d’Aqui, along with a bottle Domaine de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage. This wine from the southern part of France, has aromas of cherries, raspberries and chocolate. It is a fortified wine, similar to Port, but with a bit lower alcohol level. As it turned out, the cake was made using a bittersweet chocolate, so the Banyuls was the best pairing.

The night progressed, and our hosts opened up a few more bottles of dessert wines that they had acquired on recent trips to Paso Robles.

As always, I hope these pairings will inspire you to try creating a fun meal on your own. You don’t need to wait for Valentine’s Day to entertain friends. Take these ideas, mix and match, and have fun!