“Aketta roasted crickets and cricket powder are a flavorful, resource-efficient and nutrient-dense way to ingest edible insects”, according to the...chirpy...folks at Aketta (sorry, I couldn’t resist). The first time I read that sentence, I had a tough time getting past the words: “ingest edible insects.” I once swallowed a grasshopper when I was five, but that was on a dare. And, like I said, I was five. Why would sensible adults, grown-ass people like you and me, put an insect, live or dead, in our mouths and chew it? Nevertheless, that was the assignment. More specifically, the assignment was to open the packets, taste the damn crickets, then try to decide what kind of wine to pair with them. That’s the kind of important consumer-oriented work we do here at ILTG, folks – and believe me, we’re not paid enough for jobs like these. I still can’t get my wife’s words out of my head right now: “A cricket is just a cockroach that sings at night!”. OK, so I lied. I once tried chapulín (dried, pulverized grasshopper), but it was on the rim of a very tasty margarita, and that irresistible flavor overwhelmed any insect-y aftertaste. I sampled the chapulín by itself, and it wasn’t bad: salty, crunchy, perhaps a faint hint of dried grass. Same with the crickets. Keep in mind that you’re not just chomping on an unadulterated bug here – these little mofos come in flavors like Texas BBQ, Sea Salt & Vinegar and Sour Cream & Onion. The coatings tend to dominate, so keep that in mind when you pair them with wine. (And, really, who wouldn’t want to?) The Texas BBQ works perfectly with a gutsy Zinfandel. I’d go with something classy from Turley ($78, BUY) in Paso or Davis Family Vineyard, which makes a superb old vine zin sourced from Russian River vineyards. Sea Salt & Vinegar seems like a natural fit for something a little more exotic, such as a manzanilla sherry, with its salty notes picked up from the maritime climate along Spain’s southern coast. Valdespino’s Deliciosa would work like a charm. Sour Cream & Onion is buttery, creamy and a little spicy. You could go with an old school chardonnay to match the butter – Rombauer ($36, BUY) would be the ticket. Sour Cream & Onion is also the flavor that allows the snack’s essential cricket-ness to come through a bit in the form of grassy, herbaceous undertones. I’ve got the perfect wine for that: a bottle of Merry Edwards’ fabulous Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Really, I can’t think of anything better than a glass of this superlative winemaker’s magic white wine to wash down a heaping helping of crickets. Learn more about Aketta and their deep catalog of cricket foods on their website.
My latest online obsession is a website called SommSelect. Its concept is simple: a well-connected sommelier recommends one wine every day for your consideration. The parameters vary crazily – sometimes it’s a $10 steal, sometimes it’s an $80 Bordeaux that drinks like a prized grand cru priced at hundreds of dollars more. The site is well organized and sharply written, with an air of cocksure authority. (Hey, it's a legitimate word, look it up.) That's not surprising, considering its author: Ian Cauble. Does that name ring a bell? He was one of the four wine geeks in “Somm,” the 2012 movie about the trials and terrors of studying to pass the incredibly challenging Master Sommelier exam. Cauble, who grew up in Huntington Beach, was the dude you loved to hate. Pushy, nervous, a fast talker, he stayed up all night poring over his flash cards and drove his fellow test-takers crazy with his anxiety. He failed (the success rate is around 5 percent) but retook the exam the following year and was triumphant, thank God. I would have worried about the boy’s sanity if he'd failed again. Ian Cauble Now 36, Cauble hasn’t stood still since becoming a big wheel in the somm world. He launched SommSelect in 2014 and it took off, expanding to several thousand clients and 10 employees. The roots of SommSelect I asked Cauble how he came up with the idea, since the last time I checked in on him he was the U.S. brand ambassador for Krug, the French champagne maker, and seemed headed for a more straightforward career. “My friend Brandon Carneiro noticed these flash sites online that sell wine every day,” Cauble said. “It was often heavily discounted wine that was distressed inventory – a $90 Napa cab that was going for $19.99. Of course, when you taste them they taste like shit. Brandon said, ‘Let’s take your brand as a somm and just select some of the greatest wines of the world. They don’t all have to be expensive. But they have to taste good.’ So that’s how it started.” Most of the wines Cauble selects for SommSelect are between $20 and $50 a bottle, and they’re usually European, reflecting his own taste for French and Italian wines. Cauble estimates only 10 to 20 percent of his choices are from California and Oregon. SommSelect includes the price of shipping on any order over $100, which means ordering two or three bottles usually puts you over the top. Sample collection of SommSelect wines Cauble’s site offers some benefits for members. “We have a wine club called the Somm Six, which is six wines selected by me – three whites and three reds. That’s $199 per month. And then we have the Blind Six. It’s fun to get a glass of wine and guess where it’s from. It’s really a blind-tasting education kit. Most people who buy it are wine consumers who are curious. It’s $199 per month too. The bottles are usually about $32 to $35 retail.” Stop. Ruining. Nature. Cauble is also a fan of organic winemaking, as reflected in his choices. “Most of what we look for is organic or biodynamic. The most important part is they’re reducing the use of chemicals and pesticide. I’m a believer in removing chemicals from the winemaking process. You’re killing natural things that produce a symbiosis – fungi and other important elements. Nature is a lot smarter than chemistry in the lab.” Cauble said it isn’t just his own preferences that led him to emphasize European wines. He feels that the people who use SommSelect appreciate his expertise because they’re not secure in their knowledge of Old World labels and varieties. “A lot of people already have knowledge and a trusted source on where they can buy California wine and what to buy. No matter where you come from in America, you have a pretty good idea what Napa cabernet sauvignon and Santa Barbara pinot noir taste like. But most Americans don’t have a vetted source for European wine. It’s a complex place. For example, in Burgundy there are two main grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir, but each village has several producers. Not all are good. So consumers want someone to kiss the frogs so they don’t have to.” “Frog kisser.” I dare Cauble to put that on his business card.
California wines keep getting better and better. 2016 was no exception. I did some serious wine drinking in 2016, people. And it was for you, of course -- all for you. Sure it was. (Full disclosure: I spat most of it out. I am a professional.) I also traveled up and down my fair state of California, marveling at the 130 or so wine regions (I didn't get to all of them, of course). There is a huge diversity of choice in this state, one of the world's great viticultural treasures. Here is my list of some of the best california wines - prices vary from $17-$170. A few trends These are things that have been happening for a while, but in 2016 they seemed to break through big-time. 1. More rule-breaking blends: Artisanal winemakers, especially on the Central Coast, are crossing traditional boundaries more frequently in their red (and less frequently white) blends. You’ll find varieties from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône thrown together; zinfandel and other Italian and even Spanish varieties are sometimes added to the mix. 2. Fewer fruit bombs, more balance: Younger winemakers in particular are harvesting their grapes slightly less ripe. This keeps alcohol levels lower and eschews manipulation once the grapes have been squeezed. The result is wine that is less fruit-forward and showy but more balanced, complex, individualized, food-friendly and age-worthy. Donum Estate 3. The rise (and rise and rise) of Pinot Noir: Once a light, mid-priced alternative for cabernet haters, California pinot from Anderson Valley, Sonoma, Russian River, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Rita Hills and many other cool-climate AVAs is flooding the market. Yet prices are reaching Napa cabernet level: $50, $60, $70 … yikes. And the style, especially from the southern AVAs, is distinctly Californian: heavy and extracted, not light and Burgundian. We make anti-Oregon pinots here. 4. Rosé is here to stay: The French started it, but California winemakers have embraced the summer pink wine tradition wholeheartedly. The domestic version is often a tad sweeter than bone-dry Provencal rosé, and many winemakers depart from the customary Rhône varieties to make rosé from pinot noir and other non-Rhône grapes. Field Recordings 2008 Chenin Blanc 5. Unusual grapes are appearing: Chenin blanc, which has all but disappeared in California, was a surprise hit for artisanal Central Coast winemaker Andrew Jones of Field Recordings. Others winemakers are finding a market for such un-California grapes as vermentino, tannat, alicante bouschet, fiano and valdiguié. For the California AVA to keep an eye on... 6. Paso Robles is a respectable (dare we say world-class?) producer of Bordeaux: In September, Wine Advocate graced Paso winemakers with impressive scores. Those scores included 98 points for Daou Vineyards’ 2013 Patrimony and 96 points for its 2013 Soul of a Lion. Yet Paso’s best are not Napa clones: they have softer tannins, their own distinct terroir, and often much more petit verdot in the blend. And they’re less expensive than Napa cabs, too. Daou 2013 Soul of a Lion The year's best Here are the best 25 California wines that I tasted this year. I don't go all Wine Spectator with this list. I list the wines alphabetically, not in terms of quality. Really, isn't it silly to say "this Bordeaux is better than that sauvignon blanc"? I didn’t discriminate by price, region or type. Some of these babies are easier to find than others. Before you get all up in my piece with accusations like, "No Pinot Grigio -- how dare you!" let me remind you that I tasted a lot of other great wines this year that weren't from California, okay? For practical reasons, I confine myself to the place I know best when making a list like this. If you want to peruse my tasting notes, you can find them here. Top 25 California Wines of 2016 Byron 2014 Nielson Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay, $23 (90 points) Calera 2013 Jensen Vineyard Mount Harlan Pinot Noir, $90 (96 points) Castello di Amorosa 2012 La Castellana Super Tuscan Napa Valley Red Wine ($98) Chalk Hill 2015 Estate Bottled Sauvignon Blanc, $33 (92 points) Cliff Lede 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap, $78 (93 points) Donum 2013 Carneros Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, $72 (92 points) Duckhorn 2014 Decoy Pinot Noir, $25 Franciscan Estate 2015 Equilibrium White Blend, $22 Frank Family Vineyards 2014 Carneros Pinot Noir, $35 (91 points) Geyser Peak 2013 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $19 Giornata 2015 Fiano, $17 (90 points) Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvee 2012 Sonoma County Red Wine, $19 J. Lohr Riverstone 2014 Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay, $14 (92 points) MacRostie 2014 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, $25 (90 points) Ramey 2013 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $38 (90 points) Rombauer 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, $25 (90 points) Rosenblum Cellars 2013 RC10 Rutherford Zinfandel, $42 (93 points) Sans Liege 2013 Offering, $29 (91 points) Saxum Vineyards 2013 Broken Stones Paso Robles Syrah, $148 (95 points) Wente 2015 Morning Fog Chardonnay, $15 ZD 2015 Chardonnay, $42
Champagne and caviar. Champagne and oysters. Champagne and whatever’s on that little silver tray they’re passing around. That’s so Downton Abbey! How about taking off the tux and pairing your champagne with a bucket of popcorn instead, or maybe some deep-fried morsel of heaven or a big, steaming slab of meat? We did some investigating about unusual yet rewarding ways to match up your uncorked New Year’s Eve libation with food. Turns out the monocled world of Champagne is crawling with cheeky iconoclasts who are pairing it with everything except road kill. Who knew? Curveball Pairings A fun curveball pairing recommended by Wine Folly is Champagne with mac and cheese, which is catching on at gastropubs up and down the West Coast. “But consider a softer creamery cheese with flavor such as smoked gouda”. “The Champagne needs to be acidic enough to cut through the cheese without being so strong as to ‘turn’ the cheese.” The great thing about Champagne from a foodie’s perspective is that it contains high levels of acid and very little sugar. Those qualities help bring out a wealth of flavors so they can match up with a huge variety of foods, from mild meats such as poached sole and baked chicken to highly spiced Indian and Thai cuisine. (That’s where the bubbles help – they bring down the heat.) What the experts are saying Elise Losfelt, a young winemaker with Moët & Chandon, toured America last summer promoting her classier-than-thou product. Usually the august French house presents its bubbly like it's the latest Louboutin, but this year the message was more proletarian: Champagne, the people’s drink! One of the themes Losfelt hammered on was pairing bubbly with heavier meats. “(Our champagne) has the presence and maturity that goes with meat or fish – veal, for example; or lamb could be nice.” Trend-savvy California mixologist Jenny Buchhagen senses a sea of change in the way people are pairing Champagne. “I’ve noticed that younger people are drinking Champagne at the beginning of their meal and to start the night off.” There’s been a down-home twist to the trend, too, Buchhagen says. “Our sommelier thinks that the best pairing with Champagne is potato chips. People are trying that quite a bit.” Speaking of somms, a good one should be able to artfully match up bubbly with food throughout a meal. Why not start with a prosecco (the Italian sparking wine) to go with your light appetizer, then go with something heavy for the entrée – some Australian sparkling Shiraz such as Mollydooker’s Goosebumps ($50) to match with that pork belly – and a Ruinart Brut Rosé ($80) to wash down your strawberries and ice cream? I can’t think of a better way to mark the calendar's passing than ending your New Year’s Eve meal with this stunner from France’s oldest Champagne house. Oh yeah, about that popcorn you’re thinking of having with your bubbly – slather it with truffle butter. It’s the perfect blend of crass and class.
We just got a $285 bottle of wine in the mail. The price made sense, considering the winery: Ovid. This boutique operation occupies a prized spot on Pritchard Hill near St. Helena, which some wine critics call a de facto appellation. It’s home to some of the most revered names in Napa: Chappellet, Colgin, Bryant. I visited Ovid a couple of years ago, and it’s one of the most beautiful and ingeniously designed wineries I’ve ever seen. I looked closer at the bottle, then did a double take. This pricey little darling was mostly cabernet franc. Granted, serious wine geeks with too much cash will pay that for a Grand Cru Bordeaux or a cultish Napa label. Château Mouton Rothschild, Screaming Eagle … it's a small list, and its members are almost always Bordeaux blends: mainly cabernet sauvignon, combined with larger portions of merlot and cabernet franc and smaller portions of malbec and petit verdot. But Ovid’s 2013 Hexameter is predominantly cabernet franc (65 percent), with a smaller amount of cabernet sauvignon and dash of merlot. A note from the winery said its cabernet franc is employed in this way only “when the vines and stars align.” (I guess they pay attention to the horoscope at harvest or something.) Cabernet franc is lighter than cabernet sauvignon. It adds softness and often a slightly peppery quality to Bordeaux blends. Depending on the growing region and style of wine, it can also bring hints of tobacco, raspberry, bell pepper, cassis and violets. Knowledgeable Brit Jancis Robinson, the queen mom of the wine world, is a big fan of cab franc: “I’m not a huge enthusiast of the sexual stereotyping of wines but even I can see that cabernet franc might be described as the feminine side of cabernet sauvignon. It is subtly fragrant and gently flirtatious rather than massively muscular and tough in youth. Because cabernet sauvignon has so much more of everything – body, tannin, alcohol, color – it is often supposed to be necessarily superior, but I have a very soft spot indeed for its more charming and more aromatic relative.” Records of cabernet franc in Bordeaux go back to the end of the 18th century, although it was planted in the Loire Valley long before. DNA analysis indicates that cabernet franc is one of two parents of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and carménère. (How did the winery come up with the name? Hexameter is the meter that the Roman poet Ovid used in his greatest narrative poem, “Metamorphoses.” This form of verse is uniquely suited to telling long and complicated tales.) Winemaker Austin Peterson says the 2103 Hexameter has notes of vibrant pomegranate, forest floor and blackberries with touches of violet, sage and mocha. OK, but will I see God? Will I achieve enlightenment? Will I finally be able to understand my 401(k)? I'll let you know when I taste it. Curious now, aren’t you? ovidvineyards.com (Don't get your hopes up. You can’t buy it from the winery even if you have the money, since Ovid’s wine is sold exclusively to club members.) Best $3 corkscrew with free shipping! Can't go wrong. Buy Now.
Eat Tomahawk Steak, Drink Red Wine So you’ve decided to drop an obscene amount on a tomahawk steak, every hipster’s current protein du jour. They're everywhere these days. Whatever happened to vegetarians? You’ll probably want to cut a couple of corners to make sure the meal doesn’t send you straight to Chapter 11 – those hunks of cow flesh with the caveman-bone handle can set you back between $100 and $200. But the big question is what are the best cabernets to pair with that steak that won't break your bank (more than the steak already did!). You want to go traditional with this meal, so only the best cabernets will do (or red Bordeaux, but it’s harder to find bargains from that rarified region). Here are five great bang-for-the-buck cabs that will stand tall next to that tomahawk. 5 Best Cabernets to Pair with a Tomahawk Steak Kunde 2013 Estate Sonoma Valley $22 Total steal that if brought to a wine snob's house they'd give you a nod of approval. From a widely respected winemaker, this gorgeous cabernet is dark, rich, and multi-layered, and 2013 was almost as great a year for Sonoma as it was for Paso. It was aged for 19 months in small French oak barrels, which translates into a multi-layered taste profile. You’ll get a big hit of black currant, cinnamon and raspberry, and underneath it all the unmistakable backbeat of strawberry. The finish is complex memorable. (3.7 star rating on Vivino!) Canvasback 2013 Red Mountain $36 From the people that make the iconic Duckhorn and Decoy wines come Canvasback. Washington State makes big reds, especially this hot, dry little area, and Canvasback’s cabernets is a good representative of that state’s style. They use 100 French oak in this blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent merlot. You’ll get blueberry, cherry, licorice and a little plum on the nose, then savory herbs and spices that give way to tannins that are pronounced but not overpowering. (4.0 star rating on Vivino!) Newton 2013 Unfiltered Napa Valley $44 For the manly men. It may grow hair in various places. Wine critic guru Robert Parker gave this old-style beauty 91 points. It’s unfiltered, so those who prefer loamy, big-boned cabernets will love it. It’s a touch higher in alcohol than normal for a cabernets, which brings out the fruit. (4.3 star rating on Vivino!) J. Lohr 2013 Hilltop Paso Robles $26 2013 and 2014 are both shaping up to be classic years for Paso Robles Bordeaux blends. This elegant wine from one of the biggest producers in California shows the usual finesse of winemaker Steve Peck. It’s a typical Paso cabernet, with a touch of merlot and petit verdot. It’s got more fruit flavors than a Napa cabernets, and softer, more elegant tannins. (4.0 star rating on Vivino!) Peirano 2012 “Heritage Collection” Lodi $11 I know what you're thinking - "Lodi?". Keep your eye-rolling to a minimum. This wine is a four-star gold winner at the Orange County Fair (yeah, now what!). The grapes are from an old-vine (meaning the vines are over 30 years old) from an underrated region. It looks sexy: rich, inky and dark. The first sniff reveals raspberry and blackberry, and you get those toasty notes that many people love, too, along with white pepper and oak. Dry, but not offensively so. A world-class bargain at $11. (3.5 star rating on Vivino!) Watch Chef Marc Forgione demonstrate how not to F*** up cooking a tomahawk steak.