Archive for May, 2008

Pax Mahle is considered to be an ultratraditionalist. “We take a very pure approach,” explains Mahle, “one that was more commonplace 100 years ago in France than it is today.”

That approach includes organic farming, foot-crushing the grapes, natural fermentations and absolutely no fining or filtering. He contends that his style of winemaking is really without a style.

It is also worth noting that their approach to customer service is a throwback to another era as well. Everyone I have ever interacted with has been very personable, genuine and helpful. They also sent me a handwritten and thoughtful thank you note after I had ordered my wine.

Mahle used to work as a wine buyer at Dean & DeLuca. After tasting a few thousand wines for his job at D&D, he became convinced that the cool coastal vineyards of northern California could produce his beloved Rhône style of nuanced, layered Syrah.

He might have been on to something as he seems to be developing quite a following. A couple of years ago a special five-case lot of his 2004 Pax Wine Cellars Syrah sold for an auction-high $18,000 at the Paso Robles Hospice du Rhône benefit.

Pax has produced a Rousssane in previous vintages, but this is their first Marsanne/Roussane/Viognier release.

Light, golden straw in color and a little cloudy in the glass. Pear, apple with soft white flower and wet stone on the nose. Pear, honey, vanilla, pepper, buttered almond and wet cement one the palate — pronounced minerality with creamy acidity and a lingering finish. Oak is there for structure, but it is also very subtle. More appealing as the wine continues to open through the course of the evening.

Had I not known it was from California, I might have guessed this wine was from the the Rhône valley — proof that he doesn’t just produce Rhône-like Syrahs.

Certainly not a value, but a great bottle of wine. I wish I could afford to drink Pax wines on a more regular basis as I would put them on my short list best producers in California.


44 % Roussanne / 38% Marsanne / 18% Viognier
10 % new French Oak
13.5 % Alc by Vol
165 cases produced

Other wines from Pax:
Pax Syrah Sonoma Hillsides Russian River Valley 2006

Other recommended California Rhône whites:
Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2006
Melville Estate Verna’s Viognier 2007
McPrice Myers Viognier Larner Vineyard 2006
L’Aventure Roussanne 2006

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This wine is a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin (believed to be a clone of the Tokay grape and meaning “flavor” in Veronese dialect).

Garganega is the 5th most widely planted white grape in Italy and the main grape used in the production of Soave (it constitutes 70-100% of the blend). Garganega is also a key component in Bianco di Custoza and Colli Euganei.

Very light golden straw in color. Damp, musty, wet cement — fruit is quite subdued on the nose. The damp, musty characteristics were not nearly as noticeable on day 2. On the palate, a bit of citrus, apple, apricot, honey and almond butter. Soft minerality and acidity, medium weight with nice richness and a clean finish.

Very approachable (and only 12.5% alcohol)– certainly a well made wine, but the main thing that excites me about this wine is that it is a Quintarelli — and there probably are other white wines that I would recommend for this level of quality at a lower price point. That being said, a bottle of anything Quintarelli is always memorable — but I think the truly special memories are his red wines.

Related posts:
Quintarelli Primofiore 2004
Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 1999

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Unti’s vineyard was founded in 1990 and the winery in 1997.

It is owned and operated by George, Linda, and Mick Unti. Mick manages all winemaking, sales and marketing for the winery. Sébastien Pochan is the winemaker.

My first exposure to Unti was 3 or 4 years ago on a trip to California. We were at Ridge and they recommended we stop at Unti. I ended up buying more wine at Unti than at Ridge.

I am especially fond of their Petite Sirah — and most of their wines are a very good value as well.

The are located in Dry Creek Valley and have about 60 acres under vine. They grow Zinfandel, Syrah, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Grenache Noir, Mourvedre, Barbera, Montepulciano, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc and Vermentino.

They produced 6,800 cases of wine in 2006.

Their rosé is 65% grenache and 35% mourvedre. Pink with a slight hint of gray in color. A little flat on the aromatics, but some white flowers, strawberry and pepper on the nose. Raspberry, rose water and black pepper on the palate. A full bodied and complex rosé with some spice (and a little bit of heat), nice acidity and a crisp finish.

Interesting to note that the clones for the grenache were purchased from Tablas Creek and Alban Vineyards. Unti states that these clones, originally selected from Chateauneuf du Pape, give darker color and better structure than the majority of Grenache planted in California.

$16-18 a bottle. 14.3% alcohol. 450 cases produced. This may not be at the top of my rosé list, as I think there are better options for the dollar; however, it is a very nice rosé — and I will continue to buy it in coming vintages. I would probably opt to serve this with food — and something quite substantial given the weight, complexity and spice.

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This wine is from the region of Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine. Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Main is collection of vineyards, scattered between 23 communes around the confluence of the Sèvre and Maine rivers as they flow towards the Loire. This region produces 81% of the Muscadet and many contend this region produces the best Muscadet.

Muscadet once held a reputation of being (at best) an early-drinking, neutral foil for seafood and (at worst) a bland, tasteless, light and watery drink. Muscadet may not be considered one of the elite white wines of France, but they are gaining greater recognition as U.S. consumers search for value in the wake of a falling dollar — and the quality of the wines has also improved.

The fruit is cultivated with great care, using biodynamic methods. The wines are true to place and considered to be terroir-driven. The terroir is largely sandy, although there are areas that feature clay, granite, schist and gneiss (a common metamorphic rock often associated with granite).

The Chereau Carre Muscadet Chateau De Chasseloir is pale straw in color. Very bright and fresh aromatics with lots of stone fruits, sour apple and citrus on the nose. Apple, pear, a little citrus and some sea foam on the palate. Loaded with crisp, lively acidity and nice minerality — and a clean finish. A solid Muscadet — and an example of a quality white wine at $8 a bottle — and a perfect summer wine that screams for raw oysters or clams.

While this won’t change your life — it is a very good wine and a tremendous value. Food friendly at 12% alcohol. Imported by Monsiue Touton Selection Ltd.

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In 1923, Fabel Barbou, purchased the 20-hectare estate of Domaine des Corbillières ( situated in the town of Oisly, about 30 kilometers east of the city of Tours). Fabel planted his first Sauvignon Blanc, introducing the varietal in this central Loire appellation.

His family has followed in producing what many consider to be one of the region’s best examples of the grape type.The wines are now made by Fabel’s great-grandson Dominique, with the same great care and passion. The Estate has expanded to the present 23 hectares which is harvested as follows:

    13 hectares are of the Touraine Blanc Sauvignon
    1 hectare is of the Touraine Rosé (Pineau D’Aunis )
    8 hectares are of the Touraine Rouge (Gamay, Pinot Noir, Cot and Cabernet Franc)
    1 hectare is of Crémant de Loire (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir )

      The Sauvignon Blanc is tank fermented and never sees oak. On the nose, nice aromatics with citrus with key lime. On the palate, vibrant and bright grapefruit and citrus notes — and a touch of grass. Solid acidity and a touch of minerality. Very crisp with a nice prolonged finish.

      This was one of the wines I tasted at the Kacher portfolio tasting. I really liked it at the tasting, but tasted it at the end of the afternoon after I had tasted some 30-40 wines. I was quick to pick up a bottle when I saw it at a local wine store to see if a second tasting would validate my initial impressions. I may have liked it even more, given that I was able to decant it, taste it — and then also enjoy it with food.

      A terrific wine and an even better value at $10 a bottle. This wine and the Breton Beaumont Chinon might be the best wines I have had for the money this year. The Cheverny Le Petit Chambord from Francois Cazin is a close second as well.

      Recommended. Imported by Robert Kacher.

      Is anyone willing to offer up their best values they have purchased from this year? Leave a comment!

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      This wine is made by Francois Cazin. It is from the appellation of Cheverny, one of the most recent new appellations in the Loire Valley (1991). By legislation, a Cheverny wine has to be a blend of varietals, and François Cazin’s white is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Chardonnay.

      I like the fruit and acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc combined with the minerality and body of the Chardonnay.

      Light golden straw in color. Notes of pear, mineral, citrus and a hint of wet grass on the nose. On the palate, lemon with pear, apple and wet stone. A bit of sweetness, almost like you might expect from a Chenin Blanc. Outstanding minerality components with bright, crisp, mouth tingling acidity.

      At about $15 a bottle, this one of the best white QPR (quality – price – ratio) plays of the year so far — really a tremendous value and a great wine. Strongly Recommended.

      Cazin also makes a cuvée of Cour-Cheverny made from Romorantin. Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are the primary white varietals of the Loire Valley, but Romorantin has been grown in the Loire Valley since the reign of King Francis I in the sixteenth century.

      Another outstanding selection from Louis/Dressner.

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      I finished Alice Feiring’s book today — it was like a split of a great wine (meaning a 375 ml bottle) — not nearly enough of a good thing and left me wanting more…..

      I think it is an important book that deserves attention and discussion. I know it will stir emotions, but hope that it will also generate discussion and an desire for wine drinkers to know what it is they are drinking.

      Wineries are not required to disclose all of the elements in the wine or the process to make the wine. That nice little bottle of wine you brought home could have been manipulated with designer yeasts, enzymes, tannin, oak chips, oak on a rope, through the bunghole oak socks, oak dust, acid, beet juice and other additives — not to mention the over-extracting techniques, micro-oxygenation, dialysis and reverse osmosis — and a whole list of things you might not want to know about. When did wine become a vinicultural hot dog?

      Too strange to be true? View this article in Wines & Vines, a publication aimed at winemakers, that details all kinds of bells and whistles to add to your winemaking bag of tricks. The article is appropriately entitled Viagra for Barrels. Insert bad joke here.

      Wine making began as art, evolved to become a combination of art and science. Today, it is often more driven by science and technology, rather than being the result of a process that for the most part occurs in the vineyard. Add to the mix that the market is heavily influenced by the opinions of a select few critics (especially Parker) who award very ripe, fruit-driven, with heavy oak — and winemakers take every tool of the trade to manipulate the results, leaving out authenticity, place, artistry and tradition.

      A difficult pill to swallow for those of us that love to ponder the aromatics and the complexities and nuances of a wine’s flavor profile. Having spent time, energy and money on something on much that was at least in part an illusion….and now you are stuck with a few cases of that 1982 Marion Jones Estate Cabernet bottled under the supervision of Frau Blücher.

      The good news is that there are still some gems that are wonders of nature and artistry — and those are the wines Alice Feiring champions — they are at least worthy of your consideration. At the end of the day, you can let your palate decide — but you should know what you are drinking.

      In general, I tend to agree with many of the points that she makes in the book. At the same time, I am sure there are some wines that I might enjoy that she might turn her nose up at — but that is also my prerogative. One’s taste in wine is in large part subjective, but I certainly think there are some points that many of us can agree on.

      Her book is one of the most enjoyable I have read about wine in a few years. It is a great testament to finding your passion, letting it be your guide and making the most out of the ensuing journey. The book will also make you wonder just exactly is in that bottle and how did it get there — a question that is much more difficult to answer than it should be. Strongly recommended.

      Visit her blog — always a great read and also very interesting to see her detail reactions to the book.

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      Since 1912 Château du Tariquet has been home to the Grassa family. They first gained notoriety for Hélène and Pierre Grassa’s Armagnac.

      They began producing white wine in 1982. Yves Grassa broke into winemaking by breaking the rules. He was the first in the region to plant chardonnay, sauvignon or chenin grapes, which were far from popular in those days. Furthermore, he produced blends of sworn enemies such as chardonnay with sauvignon, or chenin with chardonnay. Today, their portfolio includes 9 white wines and a rosé.

      I was intrigued by the Chenin/Chardonnay blend — and was pretty impressed with the results.

      Light golden straw in color. Floral and exotic fruit aromatics. On the palate, there are some contrasts and complexities with the Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay blend. From the Chenin (75%), crisp notes of apple and minerality with a hint of saltiness. The Chardonnay (25%) seems to add richness, body, structure and creaminess. There is also an underlying sweet and sour component (which I think really makes it a interesting pairing for Indian and Asian cuisines, as they often have a sweet and sour as well).

      Drinkable and food friendly at 12% alcohol. Serve as an apertif, with seafood, or as stated with Asian or Indian dishes. A very good value at about $8-11 a bottle. Imported by Robert Kacher.

      Tariquet uses organic fertilizer and the use of sulphites has been reduced to a minimum. The estate also features a water treatment facility and they recycle and reuse all materials.

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      This afternoon I attended Robert Kacher’s annual spring tasting for trade and media at the Washington Club in DC. They poured more than 150 different wines from the Kacher portfolio.

      Some very good Châteauneuf-du-Papes, standouts included Domaine Font de Michelle, the Domaine Les Cailloux Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Les Cailloux Centenaire.

      The 06 wines from Domaine Albert Morot were a pleasure to taste, especially the 1er Cru Teurons and the 1er Cru Aigrots. Other Burgundy standouts included the Marc Morey Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 2006 and the Xavier Monnot 1er Cru Clos des Chênes 2006.

      Kacher imports more good French rosé than just about anyone. Highlights at the tasting included:
      – Mas de Bressades
      – Mas Carlot
      – Domaine des Corbillieres
      – Domaine de Gournier
      – Mas de Guiot
      – Domaine de la Petite Cassagne

      As is usually the case, I really liked his wines from Costières de Nîmes, especially the Mas des Bressades Viognier-Roussanne (previously reviewed), though I was surprisingly not very fond of their Grenache-Syrah. I also was impressed with some of the wines from Mas Carlot (especially the “Les Enfants Terribles) and Mas des Guiot. These wines are well made and not over-handled and a great value as well.

      From the Loire, the Domaine des Corbillieres and Domaine Thomas et Fils (especially the Ultimus) Sauvigon Blanc. They also poured a delightful Muscadet from Domaine de la Quilla.

      Finally, there was an Argentine producer, Furque, that was pouring a very approachable Syrah (priced at about $8-12 a bottle) and I thought their Malbec Roble and Syrah Roble were wines I would seek out.

      I didn’t get to as many wines as I had hoped, it was very well attended — and I tend to have enough at these types of events after about 90 minutes. There are always plenty of gracious, polite and charming people — but it always seems like there are a handful that really are quite obnoxious. I decided I had enough when a woman in a black suit with gold chains and too much perfume muscled me out of the way for the third time.

      Robert Kacher was there and made himself available — he seemed to be enjoying himself and was a welcome opportunity to meet him. All of the staff were also extremely friendly, both at the event and when registering. I was also impressed with the food, I had already had lunch so I didn’t eat anything, but they really hit all the marks in making it feel like a special event.

      Robert Kacher really is deserving of more recognition and appreciation — and you can be pretty confident you are getting a really good wine and a good value when you see Kacher listed as the importer.

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      This wine includes some fruit from Didier Dagueneau’s famed Pur Sang, Buisson Renard and Silex cuvees. It is barrel-fermented and aged half in stainless steel and half in large, neutral barrels.

      On the nose, lemon, citrus, white flowers, fresh hay and some mineral notes. On the palate, sharp acidity with rich and creamy lemon and butter components with nice minerality. A clean, persistent finish. There are some similarities to the Pur Sang, as others have noted it is softer — and does not hit the same mark in terms of minerality, complexity, structure or focus. That all being said, this is an outstanding expression of the varietal and the place. It would also probably be one of the nicest bottles of white wine you would hope to find on the shelf at most boutique wine shops.

      I am repeating the contents of the post about Didier Dagueneau as his story is worth repeating (and reading). His wines are not the easiest to find — and while I would never turn down an opportunity to enjoy his wines, I would opt for the Pur Sang over the Blanc Fumé de Pouilly.

      View Pur Sang review.

      About Didier Dagueneau
      Didier Dagueneau has been called a nonconformist, independent, eccentric, and maverick. He is also dedicated to producing some of the greatest white wines of the Loire — and all of France for that matter. He is considered by many to be a master of the sauvignon blanc grape.

      He is on a crusade to redeem the reputation of authentic Pouilly-Fumé. Domaine Didier Dagueneau is located in Saint Andelain, a village in the Pouilly Fumé Appellation. He owns about 28 acres of land consisting of mainly clay and flint based soils (or ‘Silex’ in French). Dagueneau is a perfectionist and he attends to every detail — from vineyard management (biodynamic since 1993) to the cellar, which is said to look like a cathedral. He goes way beyond the regulations of the appellation — pruning severely, de-budding, de-leafing, thinning clusters, and keeping low yields — and each harvest is done manually over several tries (he has the labor receipts to prove it).

      Others have written more eloquently about Dagueneau. The following passage was translated from Vallee de la Loire – Grandeur Nature by James Turnball.

      A young rebel with convictions. Dagueneau owes his success to the strength of his convictions. A local winemaker’s son, he set out on his own in 1982. He began using oak barrels for his vinifications a couple years later and wines of great quality were not far behind. Certain traditionalists, however, said that his wines were not “real” Pouilly Fume.

      Dagueneau’s non-conformity has helped him more than hurt him: his long tousled hair, his bushy beard, his intense gaze, not to mention his passion for sled dogs have all earned him the nickname “the madman of Saint-Andelain” and made him very popular with the press.

      What does Dagueneau have that the other don’t? He is extremely meticulous and possesses a special intuition where winemaking is concerned. His goals are always authenticity and perfection. To obtain grapes of the highest quality, his vineyard workers spend at least three months carefully de-budding even after a severe pruning earlier in the year. And when the grapes are perfectly ripe, the harvest is done by hand, so that only grapes of impeccable condition are picked, the others are either thrown out or left on the vine to be picked later.

      His new winemaking facilities, specifically adapted to Dagueneau’s techniques, use gravity for moving liquids and allow him to apply his ideas without the slightest compromise. After fermentation, the wines are aged in a beautiful cellar containing big barrels and “cigares” (small, long oval barrels which he designed and are made especially for him). The cellar is kept quite cool to limit interaction between the wine and the oak, thus avoiding an overly oaky aroma in the wine.

      Dagueneau makes four different dry white wines, all Pouilly Fumés. His basic wine is the En Chailloux, a blend from several vineyards. Next step up is the Buisson Menard, more flinty in style, but still round, and more ageworthy. The remaining two wines are both superstars from single vineyards, and are barrel fermented. Both come from slate soils with one being called Silex, and the other known as Pur Sang.

      Didier Dagueneau was tragically killed on September 17, 2008 when the ultralight plane he was piloting experienced problems during take off and crashed. He was only 52 years young. He had accomplished so much and his wines established a benchmark for sauvignon blanc, yet it seemed as though he was just getting started. He will be missed.

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      Gulfi is a a relatively new producer of organic wines — their wines aren’t widely available but worth seeking out. They were established in 1996 and current production is about 20,000 cases.

      This is made from the Sicilian red grape Nero d’Avola. It comes from a limestone-based vineyard around Pachino in the Val di Noto region of Sicily.

      Cherry in color with just a bit of copper, almost a bit cloudy in the glass. Stewed rubarb and cherry, cocoa and a touch of vanilla and Old World vegetable components on the nose. Very complex with dark berry fruit, sour cherry with some tar and mineral notes on the palate, soft tannins — quite approachable (I am not sure if I would put this down much longer).

      A very nice wine, though at this price point ($30) I think there might be better options in terms of value. But this was a very nice bottle of wine that paired perfectly with tomato sauce with meatballs and sausage.

      It is worth seeking out the Gulfi Carjacanti as well.

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      Louis/Dressner Selections is a portfolio of over 60 vignerons fro France, Italy and Portugal. They are a partnership of Denyse Louis, a native Burgundian, Joe Dressner and Kevin McKenna. Collectively, They spend nearly nine months a year in Europe working with their growers and selecting wines for importation to America.

      They represent a group of often fanatical growers who are doing their best to make wines that are original because they are honestly crafted. These might seem old-fashioned, but in the present context it is almost revolutionary.

      There are no gobs, no exaggerations, no over-this and over-that. They don’t have fruit bombs in their portfolio. Their wines won’t have beet juice in them, they won’t be oaked up with favored artificial wood chips. Their wines will not be 16% alcohol. They won’t have amazing vanilla aromatics induced by some designer yeast. Their wines are natural wines.

      They work with growers to produce nation wines that follow several basic principles:

      • Wild Yeasts (no cultured yeasts, enzymes or hormones)
      • Hand Harvesting
      • Low Yields
      • Natural Viticulture
      • No or Minimal Chaptalization (no added sugar to the must)
      • Non-Filtration

      Their wines have a sense of origin and varietal character. You can find their wines at Astor Wine & Spirits and Chambers Street in the NYC area.

      Every wine labeled as a Louis/Dressner selection has a great story — and is a mark of traditional, natural winemaking — similar to the Good House Keeping seal of approval. Their selections are in the same category as Kermit Lynch and Neal Rosenthal.

      I sent Joe Dressner an email asking where I might be able to find more of their wines in the DC area — and he got back to me within an hour. Unfortunately, their wines are not widely available in DC. They can be found, but the best selection is available online.

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      I was looking around at some of the 2005 Bordeaux offerings, and this was a wine that I bought as a future. I think I paid $17 a bottle, and it is now available as low as $20 and as high as $28. I was considering buying some more wines from the 05 release, and this was one of the wines I tasted to decided if I wanted to buy more.

      Obviously this is very young, but decanted the wine and let it breath for 4 hours and then also went back to it on day 2.

      A “little” wine from the left bank made from 100% merlot. The estate consists of 25 acres of old vine Merlot planted on a limestone/sand plateau. The average age of the vines is 50 years, although some were planted as early as 1904. After a series of years of consistent improvement, many now consider this estate to be one of the finest in Montagne-St.-Emilion.

      Beautiful ruby red in color. Some kirsch, licorice and fig with a little Old World charm on the nose. On the palate, lots of structure, tannins and acidity — not to mention very dry, well integrated and a solid fruit component. Black cherry and earth with some peppered bacon fat, slate, tobacco and toasted oak. It is I did decide to buy some more, but don’t plan on touching it again for another 3-4 years.


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      This week’s recipe is citrus granita with shortbread cookies from Lisa Neimeth. View the recipe at Design*Sponge.

      Originally from New York, Lisa Neimeth is a ceramic artist now living in San Francisco. Though she loves her new hometown, she also spends a lot of time in New Mexico, tromping around the land where Georgia O’Keeffe and Agnes Martin have walked. She loves to collect-literally and figuratively-on the beach, in the mountains, in the desert, flea markets and on the street..and incorporate all of these images into her work. Tableware is her passion right now and she spends a lot of time creating hand formed plates, platters and bowls of various sizes impressing vintage and found objects with hand etched details. See (and shop) more of Lisa’s beautiful work.

      Suggested wine pairing: Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glaciere
      Bonny Doon is going to stop making this dessert wine — and suggest you buy it now before it is no longer. The wine has an amazing nose of apricot, spice and jasmine. Apricot, orange blossom and lemon zest on the palate. The citrus components of the wine that are similar to the primary flavors in the granita and pairs well with shortbread.

      This wine was served with dessert at every state dinner during the Clinton years. How it ended up being served to dignitaries and heads of state is an interesting story. When Bill Clinton was running for his first term as president, Randall Grahm gave a bunch of wine to the campaign in California. When Clinton won the presidential election, the head of the California campaign called and told Randall he would present the Clintons with a bottle of wine from Bonny Doon. Randall took a bottle of Vin de Glaciere and signed it — “Bill, I trust you will like this wine so much you will virtually inhale it! Randall” — true story as I was the trafficker of the bottle of wine.

      Bonny Doon has released a Pacific Rim Riesling Vin de Glaciere that will replace the Muscat, but the phasing out of the Muscat does mark an end to an era.

      About the weekly wine pairings with Design*Sponge
      I will be providing the weekly wine pairing for the recipes edited by Kristina on Design*Sponge. The In-the-Kitchen-With column appears every Friday at noon, and features the recipes of design*sponge readers’ favorite designers. Design*Sponge is a daily website dedicated to home and product design run by Brooklyn-based writer, Grace Bonney. Launched in August of 2004, Design*Sponge features store and product reviews, sale and contest announcements, new designer profiles, trend forecasting and store/studio tours.

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