I had dinner with a mob of Victorians the other night. Well, actually, there were exactly two at our table of eight at a big dinner promoting the wines and foods from the Australian state where Melbourne is the capital. The hook was that one of that city's highest-profile chefs—Guy Grossi, one of the Iron Chefs on Australia's version of that TV show—was preparing the food in concert with Joseph Humphreys, chef of Murray Circle at Cavallo Point, the Lodge at Golden Gate, across the bay from San Francisco.
Given the wide world of wine at our disposal, we naturally want to make the choice of what to open for dinner as simple as possible. We try to narrow the field to what might work best with dinner. As a self-admitted food-and-wine-matching wonk, I do it myself. But how critical is it, really?
These days, I end up questioning such widely offered rules of thumb. We are long past the long-held belief, for example, that we must drink red wine with meat and white wine with fish or chicken. I am not alone in having consumed Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels with fish such as salmon, swordfish and tuna, or any fish dish involving mushrooms or a red wine sauce. Happily.
Australia first won over Americans with good wine that had real personality and cost relatively little. Denigrated by some as “cheap and cheerful,” these wines have been blamed for Australia’s recent difficulties in the wine market, mainly because the inexpensive wines can be so appealing that higher-priced wines become harder to sell.
I just tasted through the latest lineup from a low-price stalwart. I sampled the wines blind, mixed with others of the same types in a series of tastings in the past two weeks. Among others priced much higher, Oxford Landing Estates held its own. The whole line, which carries a South Australia appellation, is priced at $10, but in places where discounting is common you can find them for around $7.
Although I review the wines of Washington, Oregon and Australia, I often look elsewhere when I peruse a restaurant wine list or buy a few bottles for my wine cellar. Mind you, I love and admire wines from the regions I write about, but why pass up a chance to try something else that might be good?
Last week my wife and I dined with friends at La Ciccia, a restaurant that serves Sardinian cuisine that just happened to be halfway between their home and ours. The food was terrific, especially the baby octopus braised in red wine and their famous spaghetti with bottarga. The wine list, like the food, reflects Sardinia, a mountainous Italian island out in the middle of the Mediterranean. I asked our waiter to recommend a Vermentino for us; he offered the Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2009. It was one of the less expensive white wines ($28 on the list), a good sign that he wasn’t just trying to upsell us.
Last time I dined at Patina, I was underwhelmed. I was there about four years ago to check up on the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning wine cellar. The cellar was in great shape. The kitchen seemed to be fumbling.
Since then, things have improved dramatically at this showcase restaurant in the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall. Chef Tony Esnault, who worked with Alain Ducasse in New York and was private chef to Martha Stewart before taking over the kitchen here in 2009, clearly has put the cuisine back on track. His work, a superbly selected and maintained cheese cart and the deep, appropriately stocked wine cellar, make Patina this city’s most refined restaurant experience.
John Rivera Sedlar's restaurant, Rivera, riffs on food from the American Southwest to Argentina, plus Spain and Portugal too, with a big, appropriate wine list.
What happens when three of the world's most advanced culinary minds get together in front of a crowd of 300 breathlessly attentive invited foodies to talk about "Ideas of Today, Foods of Tomorrow"? Between Ferran Adrià's professorial dissertation attempting to define exactly what kind of experience we are talking about (delivered through an interpreter), Juan Mari Arzak's pithy comments on some of the admittedly space-alien stuff going on around him and José Andrés' impassioned if somewhat sketchy defense of avant-garde cuisine, you could leave the gathering in Los Angeles scratching your head.
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