CVIndependent

Tue11192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

This month, in an attempt to defeat sleeping in, I’ve been exploring all sorts of interesting spots in the desert with my intrepid companion. Among other things, we learned that visiting Giant Rock, near Landers, in a two-wheel-drive vehicle is not easy.

We’ve recently been checking out the Desert X exhibits all over the Coachella Valley. While I am no art aficionado, it was a great way to motivate myself to visit parts of the desert I don’t frequent. I heartily suggest getting out there!

Aside from the art, I got to bounce on the trampoline-like beach of the Salton Sea, which filled me with equal parts dread and wonder. I also got to visit The Ski Inn in Bombay Beach and had one of the friendliest (and most enjoyable) bar experiences I’ve had in a while. As the sun went down over the water, and I sipped a cold bottle of domestic beer while chatting with locals, it got me thinking about this unique place of beauty and the challenges it faces. But I will leave the Salton Sea story to the real journalists.

I have been thinking a lot about adventure lately. The desert, among other things, provides many opportunities for adventure. Whether that adventure is in search of spiritual growth or the downright silly, you can find it here. The very word “adventure” itself has meant many things throughout the centuries. It originally meant “that which happens by chance, fortune, luck.” These days, it means, more or less, exposing yourself to a certain amount of risk for some potential gain. What better description of a night (and/or day) of consuming cocktails?! If chance, fortune and luck tag along, what better companions?

Anyway, after much preamble, here are some tips for minimizing risk and maximizing luck on your desert adventure.

1. Don’t brunch. “Whaaaat?!?!” I can practically hear the clamor: “Brunch is the best! Brunch is part of the reason we come to Palm Springs!” Yes, and brunch is the reason you are in bed at 8 o’clock when you come here. Yeah, and it’s also the reason you never went to Joshua Tree for that hike or visited those homes on your list for Modernism Week. Anthony Bourdain famously once said something to the effect of, “Brunch is for ‘people who brunch.’” Another way to look at it is: If you brunch, then that is all you will do that day. I am known to enjoy the occasional brunch myself, but if you plan on enjoying the bottomless mimosas, you are really just buying yourself a bottomless headache for the rest of the day. What a bargain! Instead, maybe stick to a michelada/chavela, if you must brunch and you have any other plans that day.

2: Make reservations. The desert is an easy-going and friendly place … until you show up with your party of six on a Saturday night to one of the better restaurants without a reservation. Call before walking in, and if you get offered an earlier seating than you hoped for, take it.

3: Don’t show up to a craft cocktail bar with your entire wedding party, unannounced. Craft cocktails take time to make, and if you drop 50 people into a craft-cocktail place, you are not only creating bad service for yourselves, but everyone else who was already there. Also, you’re going to be so loud and/or obnoxious that it will create a negative environment for the people trying to enjoy their drinks in peace. There are plenty of high-volume bars and clubs in town that would be happy to have you (call them ahead as a courtesy, though) … and we don’t have Red Bull, anyway. Instead, please visit us with a smaller group of cocktail-lovers when you can get away from the pack. Most craft places are on the small side, too, so if you think you’re going to fit into a place like, say, Bootlegger Tiki with your entire extended family and friends … it’s not going to happen.

4: Respect the environment and the community. Just as you wouldn’t (I hope) trash a beautiful desert preserve or park, remember that people actually live here, and it’s a real community. While I think most of us locals understand and deal with the little annoyances that come with tourist season, that does not mean we have unlimited tolerance. If you’re cool, we’ll be cool. If you stumble around with solo cups and act like fools, you’re going to get some side eye, at the very least. Try to remember that, in a small town, if it isn’t “your bar,” you’re a guest. We’re all small towns at heart out here. Also, try not to be “indoor cicadas.” I came up with this term for the noise that comes from having multiple bachelorette parties in the same bar. Not sure if it can be helped … just throwing it out there!

5: Talk to strangers! You’re an adult—so you can eat ice cream for breakfast now, and you can talk to strangers, too. People here love to talk to visitors and give them suggestions about all their favorite restaurants and activities. Trust me: Everyone here has an opinion on everything. One of my favorite activities on a night off is “kidnapping” visitors and showing them around. Sometimes we end up with a veritable caravan by the end of the night. If you find yourself in one of the remaining “Old Palm Springs” places (not all of which are in Palm Springs proper), talk to the older folks. When’s the last time you chatted with seniors? It can be a lot of fun, especially when a few martinis are involved. You’ll probably get a dubious Frank Sinatra story to boot.

6: Put your phone away. I know … the light here is exquisite. Your Instagram story is going to be so cool. But resist the urge. Breathe. Put the phone away … just for like 10 minutes. Enjoy a moment of quiet reflection. Maybe you’ll see a hummingbird at just the right time, and it will give you an epiphany. It’s just for you and not for your followers. At the very least, you’ll be less likely to get hit by a car crossing Palm Canyon.

7: Day drink. “Wait, you said not to brunch!” Yes, but I would never tell you not to day drink. That’s what we do in the desert; it’s practically a civic duty. Get yourself a good breakfast; hit an easy trail (you can find then all over the Coachella Valley); see an art exhibit; or engage in some other activity so you don’t feel like you wasted the whole day … and then get your drink on. Make a communal punch for your friends to enjoy at the rental. Enjoy the hotel pool with some frozen coconut monstrosity. Hit a local bar, and play your favorite song on the jukebox. Stroll down the sidewalk with a nice buzz making unnecessary purchases. Be open to adventure. Just remember to hydrate, and keep in mind that club soda gets you drunk faster, so beware those vodka-and-sodas.

8: Be safe. There are so many more things I want to say, but I will end with this. Use your common sense, and don’t underestimate the effects the sun and alcohol can have on you. For Pete’s sake, don’t drive while drinking. That’s an adventure not worth taking.

May all of your adventures end well!

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

The night we drank California’s best zinfandel, a 5.0 earthquake jiggled tectonic plates off the Pacific Coast.

We didn’t feel it. No tsunami warnings ensued.

Dave asked me if I would like to feel Adventurous. I said I did.

He was washing dishes. I was scalding tomatoes, making them into a salsa with avocado, lime juice, late-harvest green onions and fresh basil.

The chunky concoction tasted more Italian, like something you’d put on bruschetta. We ate it with tortilla chips.

Dinner was on the grill: St. Louis-style barbequed ribs, a rack and a half, which is all that fits on my small portable gas grill.

What wine goes best with ribs? Syrah! Malbec! Zinfandel!

Tough choices.

We chose to celebrate. Because it was Friday. Because Dave’s a federal employee who’s still working—he’s “essential”—but not getting paid. Because we have enough wine to ride out a couple of weeks of shutdown. (Paying the mortgage … that’s another story.)

We ended up opening this year’s best zinfandel, the double-gold-medal-winning California State Fair top pick—the Adventurous, a Macchia 2011 Amador County Zinfandel from the Linsteadt vineyard.

Macchia’s tasting room in Acampo, Calif., is a down-homey place with moderately priced wines. The Adventurous is $26.

We bought California’s Best Zinfandel on a Sunday in September. Dave drove over from Reno. I left Palm Springs at about 6 a.m. and arrived in the land of wine around 1 p.m. (My travel time included a crepe stop at the International House of Pancakes on Interstate 5. One shouldn’t taste award-winning wines on an empty stomach.)

Macchia’s tasting room was our third and last stop for the afternoon. We’d been to a super-loud and crowded tasting room, and then a quieter but fruit-fly-infested winery.

By contrast, Macchia was perfect. Friendly winery dogs greeted us and submitted to hearty petting. Tasting-room employee Vanessa Gonzales wore a Chiefs football jersey. Sampling commenced.

Macchia’s naming convention is memorable. A Sangiovese is called Amorous; a Barbera is Infamous. Zinfandels include Oblivious, Generous and Prestigious. We enjoyed subtle differences in fruit and spiciness and in the way the wine felt in our mouths. All remarkably delicious.

We’d tasted several wines before Gonzales remembered to tell us that they’d just gotten that big blue 2013 California State Fair ribbon on the wall for the 2011 Adventurous.

We sipped, liked and purchased.

We thought it was cool that the wine had won an award. Later, we realized that this wine had won The Award—“Best Zinfandel” in the state. After five minutes of extensive online research, I was duly impressed. (This year’s commercial wine winners are listed on the fair’s website. It’s fun to scroll through and plot future visits.)

The night we drank the best zinfandel in California, we opened the bottle more than an hour before dinner, but didn’t drink it. Ploop. Out came the cork. Dave sniffed the bottle. I sniffed the bottle. Nose-gasms ensued.

A decanting debate was brief: Should we dump the liquid into a large, oddly shaped bottle to let the wine open up?

“You don’t want to flatten it,” I said.

“You can’t flatten it,” he contended.

Dave poured a half-ounce into my glass. “Yeah, decant it,” I said.

We dumped.

Because I like to sip a little something while I’m cooking, I had a couple of ounces of Montepulciano that I’d opened the previous night. Perfect with Italian dry coppa and Spanish manchego. I learned to say Montepulciano by watching a YouTube video. How did you learn to say Montepulciano?

Speaking of streaming video, we'd planned to watch an episode of The West Wing’s season five on Netflix, but the night’s ante had upped. We selected an artsy Italian thriller instead. With English subtitles.

Dave had harvested purple potatoes, so we shredded those and cooked ’em up with garlic and chanterelle mushrooms. Zin’s a fine meat-and-tater wine.

Then the meat was on our plates. A toast—to Friday nights. We tested the velvet in our glasses, Dave noting caramel and light fruit. Me, nice warm spices. Then we dug in, dipping our perfectly seared ribs into a tangy Red Tail Ale barbecue sauce from Mendocino Brewing Company. Yeah.

But how would the wine fare with the super zingy ribs?

Not to worry. The wine not only didn’t disappear; the meat brought out the wine’s giant fruits. Big peppery plums! “Not for the faint-hearted,” as the wine’s promo proclaimed.

This is what pairing is about.

The movie, La Doppia Ora (The Double Hour), from 2009, began with a suicide and a dismal speed-dating scene. We hunkered on the couch and nursed the rest of the bottle for 90 minutes or so, wearing glasses over our schnozzes like oxygen masks. Inhaling flavor.

Can you use up smell?

I sat my glass down but was distracted by the intoxicating vapors coming from Dave’s wine. He guarded his Adventurous.

The plot twisted. The characters were not who they seemed to be. Everything changed. Our wine shifted as well, into harmonious balance, hints of vanilla.

Then bullets. Bad dreams. Hallucinations.

Is this wine the best because it is the best? Or is it the best because we think it’s the best?

Later while cleaning up, I polished off a few sips of montepulciano. After the Adventurous bliss, the formerly OK wine tasted disgustible with notes of sour refuse.

As the movie climaxed, we savored the last of our Adventurous, hopping on the Macchia website to price out a case ($312) that we would not be buying.

Finally, our last sip. The Italian thriller had resolved, and I don’t mean to spoil it, but true love was not served. Or was it?

We raised our empty glasses for a final toast.

Nothing notable, really, about our Friday night. We turned it into the night we drank California’s best zinfandel.

Published in Wine