Summer may finally be almost here — Happy Memorial Day weekend, by the way — but in California it's just another wine season. And so as you trade our bottles of Cabernet for Riesling, we bring you our Top 10 Essentials For a Wine-Happy Summer. And yes, yoga is involved. It's California, after all. Turn the page.
10. Winemaker Karl Wente's Yoga Video:
This is really just to get you warmed up for summer fun. Karl Wente sounds like pretty much every other 30-something today who is keen on wine (he is now the winemaker at his family's longstanding namesake Livermore Valley winery), music (he often comes to L.A. for guitar jam sessions), and of course, yoga (see above; no comment). Wente apparently does his yoga at work — in the middle of the winery. And at the airport, and in his custom-built home yoga studio (yeah, his family has sold a lot of wine over the decades). In this video, he talks about how yoga heightens his awareness of the aromas and flavor profiles of wine. But after you get past the first mandatory minute of staid winery introductions, it's pretty hiliarious. Suddenly Wente starts doing headstands and bakasanas, European loafers and all, on the winery's cement floor. Did we mention that he is 6 foot 7?
9. Wine Jugs To-Go:
Our current favorite summer dinner party choice: Take what looks like a beer growler filled with wine for your host. If you're in Santa Barbara, Municipal Winemaker's David Potter has great rotating To-Go offerings ($20 for 1 liter), and also try the To-Go Growlers at Carr Winery a few blocks away.
8. What to Eat With What You Drink:
Five years and counting, this book by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page is still our favorite wine pairing guide. Mainly because it isn't so much a guide, but a brilliant list of flavor suggestions. You can look things up in the standard pairing way – by wine grape, or style of wine or beer (milk, coffee and soda, too). But you can also look up specific dishes (pork barbecue) that can get pretty hilariously specific (Kentucky Fried Chicken pairs well with Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer). It's the sort of book that's instant summer party fun as you pull out the pimento cheese and mayo-drenched potato salad to stump those California wine geeks.
7. Ventura Limoncello:
Sure, it's not wine, but who cares when for a few locally-produced sips you can pretend you are spending your summer in Italy? This great, intensely scented limoncello (about $23, widely available in SoCal) has no bitter pith. None. Just ask Rossana Zaretti.
6. Ceja Vineyards' Recipes:
If you've ever met the matriarch of the Ceja family, Amelia Ceja, you know she is one hell of a firecracker in a tiny package (we mean that in a positive way). Get her going, and Ceja will tell you how much she loves cooking as much as she does wine. Try their Pinot Noir and limited release sparkling wines, by the way (and if you're up in Napa this summer, the tasting room is a gorgeous indoor/outdoor must-see). She also happens to have some of her great summer recipes, like salmon ceviche, spicy cornbread, Mexican mango cake, on the winery's website in videos that are narrated by her granddaughter, Dalia Ceja.
5. Deep Sea Wine:
Should you need a yacht conversation starter this summer (lucky you), we suggest you bring along the Deep Sea. As you hand out glasses, you can share your fancy Ivy League wine knowledge about how, at least according to the winery's website, Conway Family Wines launched its Deep Sea label a few years ago due to their “ongoing search for maritime influenced vineyards of merit and singularity… and the impact of California's coastal climate.” Alrighty. In plain English, their Syrah-Mourvedre blend in particular that simply goes by Deep Sea Red is a giant sip of a Rhone-style wine with a hefty dose of California spunk. We're putting the $28 2008 vintage on our must-have host gift llist this summer for big, messy barbecue and burger nights with friends (also available at local merchants like Heritage Wine and Spirits in Pasadena).
4. The Wine Finer:
Much as we tend to take an Elizabeth David cringe-worthy attitude towards too many kitchen accessories, we admit we have become rather infatuated with our Vinturi wine aerator recently. If only it weren't so bulky and dripping with wine each time we use it (you pour the wine through the aerator into your glass). Not a good idea on your the heirloom family picnic quilt. Enter the Wine Finer, a $30 beautifully designed, mess-free version from a Danish designer that we got on a recent trip to Texas at Ellerbe, a fantastic little restaurant in a former gas station owned by a former sous chef at Lucques in West Hollywood (L.A. follows us everywhere. Everywhere).
You stick the Wine Finer in the bottle's neck and never have to take it. And as far as we can tell from our experiments, it works just as well on the aeration level as the Vinturi but without the mess. And it's picnic portable. Sure, we probably don't need another, or even one, wine aerator. Then again, we really don't need another pair of flip-flops, either.
3. Big House's Big Box Wines:
That environmentally-friendly angle has been bringing back the bagged and boxed wines as of late (good ones), but perhaps the most outdoor party-friendly packaging of the bunch is Big House Wines because of its big box packaging (you can also buy the wine in bottles). The Unchained Chardonnay in particular is a steal for the quality in the 3 liter (4 bottles) box for $22. Yes, $22 (a single 750 ml glass bottle of the same wine is $10). This is a bright and refreshingly oak-free wine that is actually good enough for a casual picnic or lazy day a the beach — definitely not your average wine in a box.
2. The Jet Bag:
The Jet Bag is a diaper material-lined (yes, really) plastic zip-top baggie for checked baggage wine transport – why didn't we think of that? And they're re-usable ($15 for 3 bags; available online), or at least until a bottle breaks. The same company formerly launched the bags under the name “The Wine Diaper” but says they changed the name as the product has improved (and we suspect the former name wasn't all that appealing when you're dealing with a prized $100 bottle of wine). We tested out that no-leakage promise with a bottle of wine filled with water, and it worked – all 750 ml were absorbed. Think beyond wine: There are always olive oils, freshly made jams and Presidential vegetable relishes to bring back from your summer trips.
1. Govino Picnic Glasses:
Govino still makes our favorite summer picnic wine glasses (no more Solo cups — please!). Each plastic wine-shaped glass has a clever dent for your thumb (it also is a marker for a 6-ounce pour) and no stem, so it is grass-stable. The company has a new plastic sparkling wine flute that we haven't tried but looks pretty great. One word of caution: The glasses really do melt in the dishwasher. Trust us. But hey, if that happens, you can just buy another set for a couple of dollars from the Hollywood Bowl store. You know, support the LA Phil by raising a glass. Heaven knows they're not making any money on those $1 Dudamel tickets this summer.