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Wed05222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It’s hard to tell what Misty Carlson is more passionate about: hiking, food or wine?

For the sake of this column, I’m going to go with wine, but in any case, it seems like Carlson has the joys of life figured out: working with wine, living in Palm Springs, hiking a lot, and cooking almost every night with her partner.

Like many of us, Carlson got into wine without knowing ahead of time she was, in fact, getting into wine. It started with an interest in pastries, which took her to Paris to pastry schools on her vacations. She went into advertising before embarking on a second career as a cheese monger. She’s always loved food, from the time she was little—so when she got her current job at Whole Foods, it meant that she got to enjoy many of her passions at work every day. She now runs the wine department.

Carlson is a farmer’s daughter from Iowa. That background influences her perspective on wine: She loves the story, the journey from grape to glass. There are some people who want the same wine every night, and they want it to taste the same way. “I understand that, and being in the grocery business, of course, I have that available,” says Carlson, “but personally, that’s not what I’m interested in.”

As far as I am concerned, Carlson oversees the best selection of wine in the desert. One can get brand-name staples, yes, but one can also always find something unique and interesting—and delicious.

We sat down one evening at Dead or Alive and chatted as we sipped on some Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, “Stiftskellerei Neustift.”

When did you first start getting into wine?

About 10 years ago, as a cheese monger back East. I did a lot of wine and cheese tastings when I worked at a specialty food store; that’s when the food/wine thing started to coalesce for me.

What was your first wine love?

German riesling, in college. I went on a trip to Europe and visited friends there.

What’s exciting about wine to you right now?

Definitely small production “natural wines”—wines that are really clean and unmanipulated, wines that let the grapes tell a story. Using the word “terroir” seems to freak people out these days, but that is what I am looking for and hoping to find in a bottle. I also like knowing who makes my food and wine, and the stories that go along with that. Right now, because of the large number of varietals available—many of which I am not as familiar with—I seem to be gravitating to Italian wines. But the Santa Maria/Lompoc area is a big favorite of mine. You can tell that when you go through our pinot noir section at Whole Foods.

What are your favorite selections available at Whole Foods right now?

Saetti Lambrusco, Chanin pinot noir (I love his wines), Cruse Wine Co., dry-farmed wines from Tablas Creek, Stolpman syrah, La Clarine Farms Jambalaia, Donkey and Goat, and Venica and Venica pinot bianco and pinot grigio. Grower Champagnes and Pét-Nat.

Your desert island wine?

That would be tough, because I can’t stand to drink the same thing two days in a row. But if I must, I’d have to say Champagne, because I never, ever grow tired of it. Otherwise, a nice, thirst-quenching rose.

Favorite food pairing?

This will probably gross you out, but pan-fried chicken gizzards or livers with a simple Beaujolais! Or lambrusco and charcuterie! Gruner veltliner and wiener schnitzel. Polenta with a fresh wild mushroom ragout and a lagrein. I can’t limit myself to one answer! I really love food, and so does my partner, so we do a lot of serious cooking at home. It’s our “entertainment.”

Favorite wine book?

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. I keep it on the table so I can read about what I am drinking on any given night. Also, Vino Italiano by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch.

What are you drinking now?

Statti Gaglioppo.

What do you love about the desert?

It’s so gorgeous … the mountains and cactus. It’s easy to step out your door, or drive a couple of miles, and be surrounded by nature.

Your favorite places to go in the desert?

Bogert Trail to Murray Peak, Joshua Tree, Mecca and the Painted Canyon, and Whitewater Preserve. As far as food and entertainment, I like Cheeky’s, Tyler’s, Farm, Dead or Alive, Joey Palm Springs, Johannes, Bootlegger Tiki, and my must-have every day: Ernest Coffee.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Evan Enderle and Marissa Ross call themselves “Partners in Wine”—a playful turn of phrase. Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what the two of them bring to wine: playfulness.

That’s not to say they don’t know their stuff. During day two of a recent Wine Not? event—their regular weekend wine parties at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club—Evan was waxing poetic about the vibrant acidity of one of his favorite California rieslings while shirtless, in swim trunks. That is the beauty Wine Not?—it’s fun, but you learn. You’re drinking obscure varietals made by serious winemakers, but there is a DJ. Take note: The next and final Wine Not? of the year takes place Nov. 5 and 6 from 1 to 7 p.m. and will feature all female winemakers!

When they’re not sipping wine and swimming at the Ace, Evan and Marissa keep busy with other wine-related activities. Evan, formerly the bar manager at the rooftop bar at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, does freelance event production and is a hospitality consultant and occasional DJ. Marissa drinks wines and writes for her popular blog www.wine-allthetime.com and is the wine editor at Bon Appetit. She’s also writing a book, due out next year.

The three of us hung out poolside, drinking one of Marissa’s and my favorites, Vini Rabasco Vino Rosso “Cancelli,” out of delightful enamel wine tumblers designed by Marissa.

When did you first start getting into wine?

Evan: I’m from Missouri, where the first (American Viticultural Area) designation was given, and there is a surprisingly long history of winemaking. I’m not saying it’s all high-caliber stuff these days, but I was around it a lot as a kid. My mom drinks an inordinate amount of juice from a local winery, Les Bourgeois, particularly a bottle called Riverboat Red. Spoiler alert: It’s a sweet wine. I call her back home now, and she loves to say she’s “sailing on the riverboat.” I can’t touch the stuff now, but it was always more the culture of wine—the ritual of these folks gathering around a bottle in the backwoods—that intrigued me. I ran the rooftop bar at Ace Hotel in L.A. and wanted to bring that same spirit to the wine list there, so I’d drive around California and seek out thoughtful, well-made wines that people could celebrate with. I love wine itself, but I love the people, the smell of barrel rooms, the culture, the vineyards and the small towns in equal measure.

Marissa: I grew up in Southern California in the ’90s, and wine has always been the epitome of being a successful adult to me. I started drinking wine in college, and when I moved to Los Angeles, cheap wine was the only thing I could afford to drink—or eat, if we’re being honest! I was so broke. But I loved drinking it, and that eventually led me to be curious about other wines. Now six years later, wine is my entire life.

What was your first wine love?

Evan: I will always think fondly of the 2012 Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat.

Marissa: According to Internet history, it would be cabernet sauvignon, but cabernet is more like my first boyfriend I had when I was too young to understand what true love really is. I still love a good cab, but my first true love of wine, and forever love, is gamay. Nothing, to this day, gives me more butterflies than gamay.

What’s exciting about wine right now?

Evan: It’s not just the cabs and chards from California our parents drank in the ’90s anymore. There’s an influx of young winemakers coming in and sourcing vines that have been all but ripped up completely, planting grapes that have never been planted here, bringing pét-nat back to the masses. To quote Drake, “What a time to be alive.”

Marissa: To echo Evan’s sentiment, I think California is very exciting right now. I love all the wacky varietals and fermentations that the Golden State is playing with these days. I also love the natural wine movement, or as I confusingly like to call it, “low-intervention” movement. As someone who loves sour and salt, low-intervention wines are like my dream juice, and it’s crazy how these practices can change wines you think you know. For example, I fucking hate moscato—or I thought I did. I recently had one called Emma, a low-intervention wine, that was unlike any moscato ever. It wasn’t the sugary-sweet sorority-girl wine—it was bright and acidic, with a little meat on it. Incredible. That is so exciting to me—seeing varietals taken to places you’ve never seen them before, from the geography to the bottle.

What inspired you guys to start Wine Not? Why in Palm Springs?

Evan: Wine Not? was started to give small-production winemakers a platform. I think one of the more interesting byproducts has been to give the uninitiated a safe space to drink and learn. I see lots of people act sheepish around wine, because they don’t want to sound like they don’t know what they’re talking about. You don’t have to know everything about wine to enjoy it. No one can “know everything.” I’ve seen master sommeliers get stumped by a grape. We want to set folks free with good wine they’re not going to find just anywhere.

Palm Springs and Ace Hotel is that neutral territory: It’s not wine country, and it’s not a wine shop, so we’re catching people off-guard and in a safe space. Also, when a dude orders a glass of wine from us instead of a Jack and Coke, I sleep better at night. Maybe he’ll go home and stop by a wine shop and continue his journey.

Marissa: Wine Not? started sort of as an accident. I went to one of Evan’s events at the Ace in downtown Los Angeles, and we met and thought it’d be fun to host an event together. I really thought it was going to be a one-off thing. It turned out Evan and I were both passionate about small producers, low-intervention winemaking practices, and drinking outside of the dining room. Neither one of us was like, “All right, let’s start doing events monthly.” It was more like, “Hey, I love these wines—let’s share it with people!” Then suddenly, a year later, Wine Not? is a full-fledged monthly event, and Evan is one of my best friends. I’m so grateful for him, and for the Ace Palm Springs for giving us this amazing opportunity.

Your desert island wine?

Evan: The Tintero Bianco Secco covers a lot of ground. It’s mostly dry, a little frothy, affordable, drinks with food, drinks with me. I support that.

Marissa: The Brendan Tracey “Wah-Wah” red blend. Surprisingly, it’s not a gamay, but damn, is it close, with 75 percent grolleau (a rarer Loire Valley native grape used mostly for blends) and 25 percent côt (French malbec, but it’s much lighter than Argentinian malbec). It smells like barnyard lemonade, and tastes like poppy sour blackberries and ripe black cherries with hints of sea salt. I legitimately drink it like water, and I never cease to be delighted and thrilled by it.

Favorite Food Pairing?

Evan: Sparkling and any street food.

Marissa: Sangiovese and homemade pasta, or gamay and anything. I wanted to mix it up, but I cannot deny who I am—and gamay does go with everything! It’s the riesling of reds!

Favorite wine book?

Evan: Rajat Parr’s book (Secrets of the Sommeliers) was very generous. He’s a smart guy, but he doesn’t talk down to you in it. Also, did I mention Marissa’s book comes out next year?

Marissa:The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert. This sounds like a joke, and while, yes, it is a scratch-and-sniff picture book, so much of tasting wine is smelling it. It’s honestly the most useful wine book if you’re someone who wants to know more about wine, but isn’t interested in reading a novel on Mosel or some shit. … Oh, and my book—Wine. All the Time—of course!

What are you drinking now?

Evan: I discovered a new wine shop in Northeast L.A. called Rosso, which is my secret weapon. The Italian selection there is just bonkers, because the guy who runs it comes from an old family over there. There’s something about a nice Italian red and the smell of the leaves this autumn that is making me super emotional.

Marissa: Matassa “Coume de L’Olla” Rouge. It tastes like fresh, cold-pressed red Starburst juice.

What do you love about the desert?

Evan: I don’t think you have enough space in your column for all the things I love. Palm Springs is an inspiration to both Marissa and me. It’s like L.A.’s version of the Hamptons without the pretense. I want my bones buried in the mountains.

Marissa: When I was a kid, my family had a couple of places out in the desert, one off South Palm Canyon Drive. We’d spend one or two weekends out here a month, with my mom picking us up from school on any given cloudy day with our bags already packed. The desert came to represent an escape for me at a young age, and I could wax poetic about my love of it forever. It is my happy place—relaxing, rejuvenating and hedonistic all at once. My trips there as a kid cultivated an obsession with mid-century architecture and culture that permeates all of my work today. Even just the colors, like watching the Highway 111 sand turn into those rolling hills of green grass outside the communities across from the tram. It’s all heavenly to me.

Favorite places to go in the desert?

Evan: The Ace Hotel was the place I stayed when I first visited here. We owe them a great deal for giving us the platform to do our party out here and letting us run with it. We haven’t burned the place down yet, so that’s a relief. Obviously, we love Dead or Alive, and I’m not just saying that. And Revivals … I got what can only be described as a kimono made from rice sacks on my last trip, and let’s just say it’s turning heads.

Marissa: Las Casuelas Terraza has always been and will always be my favorite. I also love Mr. Lyons, and taking the boats around in the Palm Desert Marriott, although I wish they hadn’t ever remodeled it from its ’70s splendor). And most recently, Dead or Alive.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Joane Garcia-Colson is a recovering attorney—her words—turned chef who owns the much-loved Dish Creative Cuisine in Palm Springs.

She’s always had a passion for food and service, and says she played “restaurant” with her cousin when she was a kid.

Local foodies know Garcia-Colson opened Dish several years ago in a humble Cathedral City strip mall (of course, humble strip malls are where the best food can often be found!) before upgrading to bigger digs early last year in the Uptown Design District.

Not all chefs understand the dance between food and wine—which is why far too many restaurants offer wine lists with little more than grocery-store favorites. Garcia-Colson, however, takes her wine seriously: She loves wine and has tasted every wine she serves in her restaurant.

We chatted in the lovely, intimate Chef’s Room—which boasts Dish’s cellar and a view of the kitchen—while we enjoyed sips of the new AM/FM Chardonnay.

How did you get your start in wine?

I got into wine in relation to food. I didn’t really start drinking wine until my last year in law school, 1989. That is when I went on the wine-and-dine interview circuit while I was getting recruited by law firms in Chicago, New York and other places. On that interview circuit, I really got exposed to red wine. Then, of course, (I learned more) during culinary school. It’s been an adventure over years. Now I’m really into good wine!

How do you select the wines to serve in the restaurant?

I always try to have in mind: “How is this going to fit with our current wine list? Is this a product I think our guests would enjoy? Can we pair it with our existing menu?” It’s really important to me to taste every wine. When someone asks me, “What’s your favorite?” or, “What wine would you drink with this?” I want to speak to them from a place of knowledge. The other thing I try to do is bring in wines that have a small retail presence. I don’t like to bring a bunch of wines on my list that guests can go down to Ralph’s and buy. We do have a few of those, because you have to carry some standards people are familiar with, but I really try to look for interesting small-production, boutique wines so that when guests come here, they can try something new and different, and get exposed to something new and different.

I think that is part of our role, our obligation, as a restaurant—to give people a different experience than they are going to have at home. Why go out if you can make it at home? I feel the same way about wine, and that’s another reason we serve 90 percent of our wine list by the glass—virtually everything we have is available by the glass. We have created a reserve list for more high-end wine.

Do you ever taste a wine and reverse-engineer—in other words, think about making a new dish to pair with it?

Oh yes, I have done that. I am open.

What is your advice to wine-drinking novices?

People shouldn’t be afraid of wine. A lot of people are afraid of wine. They are afraid to taste; they are afraid to try because they fear they don’t know enough. Be adventurous! Go to a place where you can try things, because you just don’t know how it’s going to hit your palate until you taste it. If you can go to a wine-tasting event, go to one—that is how you learn.

Did you entertain a lot at home before Dish?

Oh yeah. I loved having people over—dinner parties, cocktail parties, etc. I love setting the table and making delicious food. In my family, over the holidays, I’ve always been in charge of the food. I’m an introvert, so I’d rather be in the kitchen cooking. My wife and I formed a little supper club, four or five couples. The hosting couple would make the main dish, and the other couples would bring the side dishes. It was awesome!

What inspired you to open your own place?

A moment of temporary insanity. (Laughs.) When I went to culinary school, I didn’t have any intention of opening a restaurant, but when I weighed my options after I graduated, I realized I wanted to do something on my own. I want to create my own food; I don’t want to cook somebody else’s. I want to have that control. This is sort of my last hurrah. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say, “What if?” Also, I’ll tell you my son (Stefan, a filmmaker in Los Angeles) in a lot of ways is my role model, because he has always marched to his own drumbeat; he’s very creative and talented, and he has always wanted to be his own boss and do his own thing. He has been self-employed since he left college. I so admired in him that he chose a path where he was true to himself, and he could follow his passion and use his creativity and find a way to make a living from it. I said, “You know, maybe I ought to do that.”

What are the challenges of selling wine?

Providing customers with an experience with wine that is positive and educational for them. We’re not afraid to suggest wines we like to customers and give them a taste and be honest about our preferences. People get really used to what they like, and if you don’t have it, sometimes, they get pissed off. There is no way possible that you can carry everything, so the challenge is introducing guests to something different and new that they might not have experienced.

The rewards?

I get to taste a lot of wine! (Laughs.) That’s one of the perks of the job. Another reward is that there is nothing that feels better than when a guest thanks you for giving them a wonderful experience. That feels really good and gratifying—when someone gets what you are trying to do and appreciates you for it.

What’s are you drinking right now?

We are really enjoying Daou cabernet (and) also the Paloma merlot. It’s a gorgeous wine. I’ve become very fond of Emmolo merlot—and the Pessimist, also by Daou. My palate really tends toward Paso Robles, so I love Justin, Daou and Sextant. Those are some big ones. And Peju!

What are you loving on your list right now?

We have the Daou on our wine list; we also have the Emmolo. I really love our merlots, and I want people to be more adventurous with them. We have a great selection.

Favorite pairing?

I like pairing sparkling with things. I think it’s fun to do whites with seafood, and it’s really fun to pair wine with salads. The last wine dinner we did, I made a grapefruit, avocado and crab salad that is on our menu now. We paired it with Truth and Valor chardonnay. Delicious!

Desert island wine?

It would definitely be a cabernet or a blend—something really rich. It might be the Emmolo, actually. I’m loving that one.

Favorite wine book?

It’s a book I often recommend to people: The Flavor Bible. It’ll tell you about wine pairings, too.

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

In Palm Springs, I tend to go Johannes and Copley’s. I also enjoy Le Vallauris.

Favorite thing to do besides drink wine and cook?

I like to read.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Bruce Davis has a reputation around the valley for knowing his stuff when it comes to wine. After one conversation with him, I understand why the wine specialist at Palm Desert’s Bristol Farms has this sterling reputation.

Davis, like a lot of great wine people, loves to tell stories. He casually connects wine history with the present without being didactic. He considers himself an educator—although he says his customers cry mercy when he gets too detailed about, for example, soil types. To him wine, is a grocery. “It’s supposed to be fun,” he says.

Davis grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and has worked off and on in the grocery business since he was a teenager. He got a taste for wine thanks to the roadside tasting booths in Napa, which he passed en route to his inlaws’ cabin in Clear Lake. He’s been drinking and selling wine since the ’70s and has seen the progression of the items on store shelves from Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy and jug wine through the explosion of the varietal—chardonnay, cabernet and pinot noir—to today. He sees the pendulum swinging back, both on the producer and consumer side—away from big, high-alcohol wines toward more acid-driven, low-alcohol wines made from diverse varietals. Bristol Farms’ inventory reflects this: Half of the inventory in the wine-shop-within-a-grocery-store is imported, mostly from the Old World.

To chat with Bruce Davis and taste his wine picks, I recommend one of Bristol Farms’ wine dinners, which take place on Thursdays, starting in October and going through the season. It costs just $20 for dinner and four or five wine tastes.

I’d normally bring a bottle of wine to enjoy while we talked, but since it was 10 a.m., and Davis was at work, coffee and water had to suffice—though I did buy a couple bottles, based on Bruce’s recommendations, to take home.

How did you get your start in wine?

I moved to Lake Tahoe in 1979 and started working for (grocery-store chain) Raley’s. They had a very large wine selection, and the company that provided us a lot of our high-end products sponsored me to go to Napa, where I went to Mondavi and Beaulieu Vineyard and learned an incredible amount. We tasted a ton of wines—different vintages and varietals—and learned about wine-making techniques. That went on for about six years, and meanwhile, I became very much a consumer. I had a cellar with 200 bottles and experimented with aging. I then worked in real estate for many years before “retiring” to Rancho Mirage in 2000. Around that time, Jensen’s opened a La Quinta store, and I answered an ad (looking) for a wine steward. From there, I went to the Palm Desert location and worked there until 2014.

How is working at Bristol Farms?

I’ve been at Bristol Farms for two years, and I’m never leaving here. I’m not going to open my own wine shop. I’ve been offered other jobs, but I have a lot of support from the store, and the company is very aware of the symbiotic relationship between wine and food—that wine is food.

How do you select the wines at Bristol Farms?

We have a corporate director of wine and spirits and a buyer who does all the buying companywide. (Bristol Farms has 12 locations.) They’re stored in a warehouse that I buy out of. It’s large enough that I have everything I need there—it’s huge. We have thousands of items. It’s changing all the time based on vintages and buyer trends.

What is a trend that is taking hold?

One trend that is really, really hot is rosé.

Finally, right?

Yeah! It’s interesting, because when I was at Jensen’s, the rosé selection I had there was probably only 11 bottles, and I probably sold 10 cases a year. The rosé selection I have here is closer to 50 to 60 bottles, and I sell 50 or 60 cases—maybe even more! I have promoted rosé, and the company has promoted it, too.

What is your sommelier/education strategy?

A lot of people allow themselves to get locked into varietals, and I’m constantly trying to get them out of the box. … Maybe they’re stuck on chardonnay. So the first thing I’ll say to them is, “You know, have you tried a Rhone white? Let’s find a Côtes du Rhône that’s a marsanne, roussanne, viognier blend, and (by drinking it), you can then understand the beauty of those grapes and how they blend together, and that they can make a very refreshing, interesting wine that gets you out of your chardonnay box.” The same with sauvignon blanc—if someone is stuck in their sauvignon blanc box, I’m going to point them to a verdicchio, verdejo or albariño. Any of those varietals from Italy or Spain are beautiful wines. For myself, I’m a huge fan of arneis.

Another thing I try to do is give people is information so they can make a decision. Often times, people won’t understand it if I put the information in wine terms, but they will understand if I use an analogy. I use two analogies very regularly: human beings and cars: the age/stage of a human being—for example, a teenager, or middle-aged person. And makes and models for cars: Is a wine a Smart Car, or a 7 Series BMW? They’re both cars; they both have a motor and a steering wheel, and they both get you from point A to point B, which is the reason you got in the car in the first place, but beyond that, the pleasure that is derived from being in that car is very different. It can range from ordinary to ethereal.

What’s are you drinking right now?

Scotch. (Laughs.) But if I’m drinking wine, my wine of choice is pinot noir. It’s just beautiful, and it goes with everything. I’m a big Santa Lucia Highlands fan. Of all California (American Viticultural Areas), it’s my favorite for pinot. If I was going to get put on a desert island …

Hey, that’s my next question!

… and I had to choose one varietal for the rest of my life, it would be pinot noir.

What are you loving in the store right now?

A wine that I’m really taken with is the Orin Swift Mannequin. You’ll recognize the label, because it has about 15 mannequins on it, which is all you see. It’s technically a chardonnay, because it exceeds the 75 percent rule, but it’s referenced on the label as a “white wine,” and there are four or five other varietals blended in. That, to me, is a phenomenal wine; I’m a big fan. I’m also really loving garnacha (grenache) from Spain right now.

Your favorite wine book?

The Oxford Companion to Wine. It’s a doorstop, but if one wants to learn about wine, check that out and just peruse it.

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

My wife and I like to go to Kaiser Grille, or Le Vallauris if it’s special, or Jillian’s if it’s special. Ristorante Mamma Gina. My favorite Mexican is Salsas Restaurant in Cathedral City—phenomenal.

Your favorite thing to do besides drink wine (and Scotch)?

My passion is tennis. I played this morning for two hours before I got here. My wife and I both play tennis four to five days a week at Mission Hills. My other passion is golf. 

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Marcus Kempken has been living and breathing wine for more than a decade. As the Palm Springs sales manager for Mosaic Wine Alliance, his job is to meet with his various accounts and sell wine … but to Kempken, it’s so much more than that.

Many wine-lovers, for some reason, also love storytelling, and Kempken is no exception. During our chat, he waxed poetic about Stolpman’s 2013 Roussanne—a brand which, of course, is represented by his wine-distribution company.

Mosiac Wine Alliance—which represents and distributes brands such as Saxum, Frog’s Leap, Paul Pernot and Francois Lamarche, just to name a few—is a wine broker born here in Palm Springs. Pierre Lemieux, one of Mosaic’s founders, was working at the old Rusty Pelican 25 years ago when he saw an opportunity to bring fine wine to the desert. The company was formerly called PMDL, but Lemieux and company have rebranded and expanded to other areas of Southern California.

Marcus got his start in hospitality at Red Robin—humble beginnings, in his words. He caught the bug for wine and food service at an early age and worked his way up from busboy at Red Robin to server/sommelier at Sullivan’s. He then held various sommelier/wine buyer/manager positions at The Hideaway, Indian Ridge Country Club, and the 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro. He started working with Mosaic part-time while with 3rd Corner and has been with the distributor ever since.

Marcus and I chatted over that bottle of Roussanne, enjoying every sip.

How did you get your start in wine?

One of my co-workers at Red Robin also had a job at Fleming’s, and he showed me one of his wine-education books. Just seeing a couple of pages sparked an interest. I thought, “This could be an opportunity where I could go and learn something and better my life”—not knowing exactly what it would actually do for me. It changed my life, 100 percent, in so many different ways. At the time, I didn’t even know how to pronounce “cabernet sauvignon” or “merlot”: I knew red and white. I didn’t drink wine when I was younger, but between seeing those pieces of paper, and hearing about how servers were making $250 a night, I thought, “This is awesome.” So I went to get a job at a steakhouse, thinking I could make more money. The maître d’ at Sullivan’s took a chance and hired me. There, I met the sommelier, Robert Chancey. He had this energy for people and wine that I have not seen since. He really harnessed the energy of the passion of wine and the love of connecting people with that. He taught me that, and it’s the foundation of who I am as a wine guy today.

What was your first wine love?

I had a guest at Sullivan’s who came in alone one night and ordered himself a nice meal and an expensive bottle of wine out on the patio. In my mind, I’m going, “Why is he ordering a $150 bottle of wine for himself?” I didn’t understand at the time why he’d do that, but then he let me have a taste. It was Stag’s Leap Cask 23. That wine was truly amazing—the finish lasted 15 minutes. That experience and that wine taught me what wine was really all about: generosity and good winemaking—and on top of that, I can make a little money. All that came together that night: I can make a living from this; I can taste good wine and be passionate about it; and I can spend time with good people. Wine is great that way. It’s a bridge, it’s a conversation piece. I drink wine to share, to be with friends and family.

How was the transition from wine-buyer to sales rep?

I wouldn’t have done it any other way. For any old sales rep coming to the wine world, there is a really steep learning curve and a tough transition. For somebody like me, who has relationships from working in restaurants and a background in wine, it makes all the difference. My first year wasn’t as difficult as it could have been; because I could get a meeting based on my existing relationship with wine-buyers, it was a huge benefit. Four years later, many of those buyers are gone or have moved on, so I don’t have the same advantage. Now, I’m resting on my book, my service, my thoughtfulness and what kind of deals I can find my customers.

You enjoy being on the sales side?

I do. I love our book and working with the wineries we represent. They’re all family-owned and -operated, so representing them is meaningful and a pleasure. I really enjoy working with Mosaic and Pierre. He’s created a wonderful culture that is reflected in the way we do business. We have flexibility to do wine dinners and spend time with accounts. Pierre is all about quality of life and taking care of his reps, and I really appreciate and admire that; we’re like a family.

One thing I do miss is interacting with the end customer. Given the opportunity, I’ll chew off someone’s ear talking about the wines.

What are you drinking right now?

Rosé, white burgundy and Alsace riesling.

Desert Island wine?

Cult Cabernet, 2001. It will last forever; it’s built for the ages.

Favorite food pairing?

Steak, potatoes and cabernet. (Laughs.) I’m simple-hearted. I don’t need foie gras and caviar or champagne.

Favorite wine book?

Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy. It’s the only book you use for Italian wines. And the first wine book I read taught me the basics: The Everything Wine Book. Those two really spoke to me.

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

Spencer’s. Andre (de Carteret, the sommelier) has stuff that is not on that wine list that is hiding in the cellar that will rock your world. You can get a great meal at Copley’s. Mr. Lyons. Johannes—he has a great wine list, some hidden gems. LG’s has been running some wine specials lately; you can get some good deals.

Your favorite thing to do besides drink wine?

Riding bikes and hiking the Indian Canyons. So much natural beauty in the desert!

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Lisa Tussing, a Southern California native, got her start in wine while attending college in Arizona. She started out like many of us do—drinking wine from Trader Joe’s, where she worked during college. From there, she moved on to fine dining, at places like John Howie Steak in Bellevue, Wash., and the historic Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. In 2014, Tussing was the youngest woman in Arizona to hold a Level 2 sommelier certification. A chance meeting with La Quinta Resort and Club general manager John Healy at the Biltmore (which is owned by the same company as the La Quinta Resort) brought Tussing to the desert last year.

Tussing and I chatted in the dining room of Morgan’s over a bottle of Los Bermejos Malvasia Seco.

When did you first start getting into wine?

When I worked at Trader Joe’s. I got a job there when I was 22, and worked there for three years while I was going to Arizona State. I’m the biggest Trader Joe’s cheerleader: I had a great work experience. Everyone loves being there; they pay well; they feed you; they encourage you; they let you take ownership and make you feel empowered with your guests. I started working in the wine department a little bit, and my friends and I started to taste our way through the wine selection. By 23, I had drank my way through the wine program! From there, I kind of started taking it over. I started making the orders and became the go-to wine person. People would laugh at me and say, “You’re not even old enough to drink, are you?” After Trader Joe’s I got back into fine dining at luxury hotels.

What’s the best part of your job?

At Morgan’s, we do these “festivals” menus. Every two weeks, depending on what is in season and what’s local, we do a different three-course menu. We do this all summer. … We do wine pairings with the menus, too! It is really fun to work with my chef (Jimmy Schmidt); he gives me an idea of where to start, then we’ll sit down together and bring new wines in and make the perfect little pairing.

I also love it when guests bring in wine and share some with me. Some of the best wines I’ve ever had are wines guests bring in.

What are you loving on your list right now?

The Bonny Doon “(I Am Not Drinking Any) $%&*#!” Merlot is a fun, inexpensive wine. I love the name, and it has a really fun story behind it. Another of my favorites on the list is Trefethen Dragon’s Tooth. The Dragon’s Tooth is a malbec blend out of Napa Valley which Janet Trefethen makes that is a winery- and wine-club-only wine, but I managed to convince them to let me put it on the list. … I also like the Tamarack Cellars rosé that I pour by the glass. Last summer, I went wine-tasting in Walla Walla, and after a week of tasting syrahs and merlots and these giant cabs and Washington reds, my palate was blown, but we went to Tamarack last-minute because my chef’s friends said how amazing it was. I drank this rosé there, and it was like the wine gods were shining a light on me.

What’s your sommelier strategy?

It’s all about your guest and knowing what they’re looking for. My strategy is to approach a table and get a feel for them and what they’re trying to accomplish with their meal. I ask what they’re having for dinner, what they normally like to drink, and how much they want to spend. I also ask if they want to go more traditional or do something fun. With all that info, I can pick out the perfect bottle on my list for their occasion. My strategy is not limited to wine: I have no ego once service starts. I’ll bus your table; I’ll run food and seat people. Once service starts, it’s all about the guest and what they need to have the best experience possible.

How often do people want fun versus traditional?

A lot more than you’d think, actually! A lot of guests will come in here with their minds made up. They might say, “I really like The Prisoner,” and I’ll ask why, and they’ll say, “I really like the fruit and texture, and it is really mellow.” I’ll say, “If you really like that wine, definitely get it! But if you want to try something a little different tonight, go with this B Cellars Sangiovese out of Napa Valley.” It’s all about reading the table.

What are you drinking right now?

Vodka. (Laughs.) When I go out, I drink cosmos and beer, like hefeweizen and lager. When I’m at home, I drink bubbles. I also love any white that doesn’t touch oak: torrontés, vinho verde, albariño and New Zealand sauv blanc.

Your desert island wine?

Just one wine?

I’m not a monster. (Laughs.)

Well, I’d do a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner wine: Bollinger (Champagne) for breakfast, torrontés for lunch, and Jones Family Vineyards Cabernet for dinner. I remember the first time I had that wine. A guest brought it in, and I thought, “Why don’t all red wines taste like this?”

Favorite food pairing?

I love a good oyster/champagne combo, or oyster/rosé. I love our oysters here; they are one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever tasted—a raw oyster topped with tangerine and Eroica Riesling granita; poached ginger; and tangerine salsa. It’s one of the chef’s signature dishes.

Favorite wine book?

All the study books are good, like Windows on the World and The World Atlas of Wine, but I read a book one time that really inspired me: Cheryl Ladd’s Token Chick: A Woman's Guide to Golfing With the Boys. It’s about golf, but (I) kind of tied wine into it. She was the first woman on the celebrity pro-am. It’s not technically about wine, but it’s about being a woman in a man’s world, so I relate to her. 

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

I stay in La Quinta a lot. There is a restaurant up the street called Casa Mendoza; I try to stop in there on my days off. (The restaurant has) killer margaritas, and the owner is always there; he’s really friendly. The food and service are great. I send a lot of people there.

Your favorite thing to do in the desert?

Golf at the Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West. Right now, the bighorn (sheep) are out on the course! It’s a sight to see. During the summer, I can golf about once a week. During the season, I don’t get to play at all. I don’t mind the heat. I don’t drink on the course—just water and Gatorade, so I sweat it out. It’s cleansing.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Whenever I head to the Los Angeles area, I always try to check out a new restaurant or eat at an old favorite—and when it comes to wine, two of my “old” favorites are Bar Covell and Augustine, both of which are among the most loved wine bars in Southern California. In fact, Sherman Oaks’ Augustine was recently named one of America’s Best New Wine Bars by Food and Wine.

Both wine bars are co-owned by Matthew Kaner, one of Los Angeles’ most respected sommeliers. Kaner’s involvement in wine doesn’t stop there; he regularly hosts wine events (he was recently tapped by the German wine industry to host a “Wines of Germany” event) and travels all over the world to learn about wine. On his schedule this summer: Oregon, Italy and Portugal. He’s writing a book about wine, and makes wine in partnership with winemakers in Santa Barbara under his AM/FM label. In other words, the man lives and breathes wine.

I met up with my fellow redhead while Kaner was recently visiting Palm Springs; we shared a bottle of Domaine Sylvain Bailly Sancerre Rosé, “La Louèe,” and chatted about all things wine.

How did you get into wine?

I got into wine first at 7 years old when I stole a glass of champagne at my mom’s friend’s wedding. This is not a joke. … I literally went over and stole a glass of champagne when someone went to the bathroom.

Was it actual champagne?

I don’t know. I never saw the bottle. I’ve always called it champagne. I could be wrong; it could have been Cremant de Loire. (Laughs.) So anyway, I stole a glass of champagne, or sparkling wine, from someone, and then I had to be taken home so I could vomit profusely for hours—as a 7-year-old! That’s how I got into wine first. I took about a 13- or 14-year break. … I’m from Santa Barbara, which is a wine-producing place, and a friend of mine in college … was really into wine through his dad. He didn’t really know much about it, but he was into the culture of it and going to dinners and cooking and things. His dad took a liking to me during my college years, and he inspired me to learn more about it. I actually quit my restaurant job of four years. I didn’t want to be a manager anymore, and I started working at a wine store called the Wine Cask, where I completely faked it ’til I made it.

What’s exciting to you about wine right now?

There’s so much access. There are so many people who wouldn’t have known things existed before, and now people are learning how to ask questions about it. One of the great parts of my job that I really appreciate and that I take very seriously, especially in the Internet age, is when you’re asked a question, you actually have to give the proper answer. There’s accountability now, because there is an iPhone in everyone’s hand.

What is the most exciting part of your job?

Wine is a conversation that never ends. … The narrative is always changing; the information is coming out more and more; things are being redefined; there are new winemakers. … There is a never-ending crop of talent which is really interesting. I’m a storyteller by nature: I write; I write songs; I’m writing a book. Wine, for me, is a synthesis of all my real loves, which are history, maps, geology and what things smell and taste like. The synthesis of all these things is really what’s in the glass. What excites me is that I get to tell these stories every day. I get to show people something they didn’t know about.

You’re writing a book?

I moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago to pursue music. I put a lot of time and effort in my life to do music. I quit college to pursue music, and it was what I thought my first path was really going to be. The perspective I’m taking in the book is how the pursuit of music led me to my career in wine. There is a synergy that I’ve felt with a lot of people in the wine industry … people who at one point were record producers, or a famous singer in a band, and then they throw it all away to go move on to a vineyard and make wine, or to start an import company.

Where is the most exciting wine region at the moment?

The Loire Valley (in Central France). For its biodiversity and the fact that (winemakers there) make every style of wine there is, the Loire Valley is a pretty special place.

What was your first wine love?

Burgundy.

Desert Island Wine?

Anything from (French winemaker) Thierry Allemand. It’s also the gentleman whose wine bottle was the impetus for my tattoo on my arm.

Favorite pairing?

Champagne and potato chips.

Your favorite wine book?

The first wine book that I read cover to cover was Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy by Joe Bastianich and David Lynch. It’s a very nice book; I learned a lot. … Italy is basically a country of, like, 20 different countries. I was able to learn about the culinary background and history, why certain grapes work with certain foods from different certain regions, and why they don’t make sense with other things. It had to do with a lot of family tradition and a lot of history. They really did an amazing job with that book.

When did you fall in love with Palm Springs?

The first time I came to Palm Springs was for a romantic getaway with my then-girlfriend. I fell in love with the landscape, the mountains, the weather. It’s hot; it’s dry. You go to a great pool, hang out by the pool, drink by the pool—everything is by the pool.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Palm Springs?

So far, my favorite thing to do in Palm Springs is go to Dead or Alive. (Laughs.) I’m really proud to have the AM/FM pinot noir available there. I’m also a huge fan of going to the Ace Hotel and having room service, and then being in a robe all day or night. I really like Tyler’s. I like the fact that they do what they do, and they do it right. I also like the Palm Springs airport. It’s awesome.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Andre de Carteret is the wine and spirits manager at Spencer’s Restaurant, home to one of the most expansive wine lists in the desert.

With 1,052 wines on the list, the Palm Springs restaurant is a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner. While the list has an emphasis on California cabernet and chardonnay (the “bread and butter,” as de Carteret puts it), every major wine-growing region is represented—and there are wines in the cellar that aren’t even on the list

“I’m always looking for room,” says de Carteret.

De Carteret hails from Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, under the authority of the British crown. At 16, he joined the British Armed Forces and trained in mountain and arctic warfare. From there, he taught and skied professionally—a career which brought him to the United States in 1982. He also worked in restaurants during his ski-racing career, and later started working in restaurants full-time. Before Spencer’s, he worked at restaurants in Reno, Lake Tahoe and elsewhere in the Coachella Valley, including La Spiga, Morgan’s in the Desert at the La Quinta Resort, and Fleming’s.

We sipped My Essential Rosé while we talked Spencer’s, wine and desert living.

When did you first become interested in wine?

Late in the 1980s, I was teaching skiing in Courchevel, France. I had a very, very, wealthy clientele who had incredible collections of Burgundy and Bordeaux. One of my clients would come back one week every month to ski with me, and we’d go to restaurants every night, and when he walked in, it seemed like everybody bowed down to him. He would buy all these incredible wines, and I started tasting them, and I would think, “Wow.” … In the ’80s, it was basically white, red and pink in restaurants. If you had six wines by the glass, that was a huge list. During that time, I drank all these incredible wines that I would never, ever, ever otherwise have a chance to touch: Hermitage, Romanée-Conti—you name it. That was my introduction.

What was your first wine love?

Burgundy.

What brought you to the desert?

I was a big tennis fan; I used to come for the tennis tournament. In 2007, I wanted a change, so I decided to move to Palm Springs.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I get a kick out of turning people on to something they may never have tried. When somebody comes back and says, “I remember you. You sold us a bottle of wine; it was amazing! What else do you have?” I get a kick out of that. I also like it when people come back for different vintages of the same wines; we have a lot of customers like that. (I also like) showing people the gems on the list, the good-value wine.

What wines are you loving on your list right now?

My favorite wines probably at the moment, and some of the best values, are the interesting reds: Paso Robles, Central Coast, Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara. Some phenomenal values come out of that area. There is great value if you want to experiment with different varietals.

What are you drinking now?

Beer (laughs). Right now, I’m drinking A Tribute to Grace Grenache. Lovely. I also love the Gruet Sparkling Rosé, which we serve by the glass.

Your desert island wine?

Russian River pinot, probably Merry Edwards Pinot Noir. I like the Merry Edwards a lot.

Favorite Pairing?

I have so many favorite pairings: Sauternes and foie gras. Port and California artisanal cheese. Zinfandel and chocolate. Oysters and sauvignon blanc. Champagne and anything.

Your favorite wine book?

Windows on the World. That was probably the first wine book I picked up. And my go-to is The Wine Bible.

What’s your favorite thing about living in the desert?

The hot weather in August (laughs). No, really, I think it has to be the weather—and a location close to the beach when it gets hot here.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Kristin Olszewski is one of the Coachella Valley’s newest sommelier/wine directors. At 28, she’s also one of the youngest.

She joined F10 Creative (Mr. Lyons, Cheeky’s, Birba and Chi Chi at the Avalon) in December, moving to the valley from Massachusetts, where she was born and raised. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she worked in restaurants in Boston and then San Francisco, including Saison and Sweet Woodruff; in fact, she helped open Sweet Woodruff and was the restaurant’s general manager.

After her stint in San Francisco, she decided to make a drastic career change: She moved back to Boston to enter the post-baccalaureate premedical program at Harvard. She then applied to medical school and was accepted. At the time, she was working at Spoke, a popular wine bar in Somerville, Mass. Her love of wine took hold, and instead of medical school, she is now pursuing a career as a sommelier. Before her move to Palm Springs, she was working at Straight Wharf in Nantucket, to which she’ll return in May.

On Thursday, March 10 and 24, Olszewski will be holding special wine dinners at Mr. Lyons; call the restaurant 760-327-1551 for more information.

Over a casual brunch and bottle of Hild Elbling Sekt at Kristin’s apartment, we talked wine.

When did you first start getting into wine?

I didn’t like wine for a really long time, but I was working in restaurants in San Francisco and tasting a lot. My ex-boyfriend was really into wine and had a great palate; we would drink a lot of wine together. One of my friends was the sommelier at Sons and Daughters, and she was the one who really exposed me to wine. I hadn’t thought about wine in the way she thought about it. That was the start. I was really lucky; I worked with great people in San Francisco who knew a lot about wine and were always willing to share.

What was your first wine love?

Cremant du Jura Rosé. I just remember being so amazed that wine could be that bright and mineral-driven. And then I was obsessed with the Jura, and I wanted to try everything I could.

What brought you to Palm Springs?

F10 was looking for a wine director for the season, and my boss in Nantucket mentioned me to Greg Rowan (the general manager at Mr. Lyons)—they used to work together in San Francisco. I needed something to do in the winter: either travel through Europe learning and wine-tasting, or work as a sommelier. So I met with Greg and Tara (Lazar, F10’s owner) one Nantucket morning over black coffee and bacon, casually talking about wine and everything, and it just worked out.

What surprised you most about Southern California?

How much people drink French wine here. (Laughs.)

You had the impression we only drink California wine?

Well, that is what everyone told me. I was thinking Palm Springs, resort town, steakhouse …

What are you loving on your list at Mr. Lyons right now?

I’m loving the 2013 Domaine de la Meuliere 1er Cru Chablis. I’m also really loving the 2012 Cultivar St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon. I cannot believe that I like this fruity California wine so much, but it’s so amazing; I really love it. I like fruit … who would have thought? I get so snobby sometimes that I forget how great fruit is. 

What’s the best part of your job?

I really love my job because I work for people who allow me so much freedom, and trust. And I get to be very playful with my wine lists. I’m really lucky that I got this opportunity. I’ve learned so much more than I even thought I would. When I was re-doing the wine list at Birba, (I was) kind of conceptualizing: What slots do I want to fill? Do I want light-bodied, mineral-driven and acidic? Light-bodied with fruit? What am I filling? I hadn’t really thought about wine in that way, so that was really great.

What’s your sommelier strategy?

I’m basically a hawk, circling the room for people looking at the wine list. I try to find people while they’re looking. The most important thing is listening: I listen to people, first and foremost. A lot of sommeliers get caught up in the ego. I think that’s a benefit of me not having a ton of experience: I really put the time in to listen to what people want, and I try to guide them. I know most people don’t have the vocabulary to describe what they like, even though they know what they like, so I try to help them suss it out. Also, price point is very important. I try to give people three options at different price points so they can choose what they want to spend. I have aggressively priced the wine on my list. I want to sell the wine.

What are you drinking now?

Everything from the Loire Valley (in France). Domaine Philippe Tessier Cour-Cheverny. It’s so good. Always Burgundy. (Laughs.) I wish I didn’t love Burgundy so much, but I do. And I’m getting really into Rhône right now—a lot of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

What’s exciting about wine to you right now?

That more people are drinking good wine, and so many people our age (late 20s) are really into wine and have developed wine palates and want a great bottle of wine when they go out to eat. It’s not just people in the industry who drink great wine.

What made wine more approachable?

I think it’s this whole foodie culture. It’s the next step: People got really into food, and now they’re into wine, cocktails and beer. There are so many affordably priced wines on the market right now; you don’t have to spend a lot to drink great wine.

Your desert island wine?

The 2008 Maison Alex Gambal Puligny-Montrachet.

Favorite food pairing?

Riesling and cheese. (Laughs.) Délice de Bourgogne and riesling.

Favorite wine book?

The Wine Bible, for the organization and cleanliness of the information, but most especially because Karen MacNeil describes syrah as a cowboy in a tuxedo.

Favorite thing to do in the desert?

Go hiking! Hiking here is the best, and you can’t really get that lost. Hiking and thrifting, too. I’m really in love with (Palm Canyon Drive vintage store) Iconic Atomic at the moment.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Breakfast turns me into a speed freak. Steak, meanwhile, converts me into a temporary alcoholic.

Put me in front of a greasy or sweet breakfast, and I’m going to drink coffee like it’s oxygen. This is how my body extracts maximum pleasure from the muffin or omelet I’m chewing—by bathing my mouth in coffee. The coffee’s acidic bitterness makes the flavors of the food stand out, and completes the meal. I’ve researched this relationship at many a greasy spoon diner, where servers endlessly circle to keep your cup full. What the coffee lacks in quality, it makes up for in quantity. That’s important when you’re eating with a beverage condiment—because the last thing you want is for that well to dry up.

Later in the day, there are many foods that essentially command me to drink wine. If I’m chewing a succulent piece of meat, I need to be drinking wine at exactly the same time. Otherwise I get distressed, like an addict in withdrawal.

While there are many foods that go well with wine, only one—meat—will make me drink wine like a dehydration victim would drink Gatorade. When meat and wine are available, it is a scientific fact that I will be stuffed and wasted. And that is pretty much the only time you will see me wasted.

Other than producing buzzes, coffee and wine otherwise seem completely different. But if you look beneath the surface, you can see that they are competing for the same niche in the ecosystem of your dining table: the acidic beverage niche.

Acidity serves to enhance the pleasure derived from fatty foods. The fat coats your taste buds, and the acid washes that fat away, exposing and stimulating the taste buds and creating fireworks of juxtaposition. If necessary, you may have to adjust fat levels to achieve this balance. I generally do so with mayonnaise.

This principle of creative tension is at the heart of established pairings—like wine with cheese, coffee with cream, and 10,000 other flavor combinations.

One thing you rarely see, however, is coffee and wine together. One of them often needs to be there, but having both would be like having two alpha males in the same room: potentially rough, and at the very least, awkward and uncomfortable. But it turns out that another one of my favorite foods, chili pepper—aka chile—can smooth over this tension.

Like wine and coffee, chile goes exceptionally well with fat, from the jalapeno popper and its elder the chile relleno, to the requisite squirt of hot sauce upon your big greasy breakfast.

Like coffee and wine, chile produces its own kind of buzz—an adrenaline rush, to be exact. Also like coffee and wine, chile has many proven and suspected medical benefits, including reducing body inflammation and improving lipid levels in the blood. But unlike coffee, wine or fat, there are few apparent reasons not to indulge one’s chile-tooth to its fullest.

For years, I took it as a given coffee and wine simply don’t mix. It’s an either/or situation. But this assumption was categorically discredited when I bit into a piece of pork belly that had been braised with red wine, coffee and red chile.

Amazingly, the coffee and wine were able to join forces and forge a common flavor. This union was mediated by chile, the sharp bitterness and sweetness of which formed a narrow bridge between the normally disparate flavors of wine and coffee. That all this flavor alchemy came together in the context of a succulent piece of pork made the experience all the more mouth melting.

This revelation went down in a magical—and sadly defunct—New Mexico restaurant, where I consumed this dish next to a cackling fire of fragrant desert wood. Since then, I’ve endeavored to re-create this recipe, and somewhere along the line, I think I actually surpassed the original, stealing tricks from similar recipes I found online.

My current version combines pork and venison, but any meat will work, even chicken. Bones, whether in oxtail, osso bucco or ribs, will improve the result. The tougher the meat, the better. If using very lean meat, there needs to be some fat, like bacon or olive oil.

The wine- and coffee-based broth tastes kind of disharmonious when you first combine the ingredients, but it eventually cooks into something special—a flavor that is deep and darkly delicious and thoroughly unique.

Fatty meat cooked in coffee and wine

  • 2 pounds of meat
  • 1 cup wine, of a quality you would drink
  • 1 cup of strong coffee (no greasy spoon brew here)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mild red chile powder
  • 2 Santa Fe-style dried mild red chile, seeded and crumbled
  • 2 mild pasilla chile (or more red chile), seeded and crumbled
  • Salt, pepper, and garlic powder
  • Olive oil

Brown the meat in whole chunks under the broiler. In a pan, sauté the onions, garlic and bay leaves in oil. When onions are translucent, add chile. Cook a minute, stirring, then add the coffee and wine. Cook until the volume reduces by half. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Add the meat. Cover meat with stock or water, and slow cook or braise for 4-8 hours, until meat is completely tender. Add water, wine or stock as necessary to replace any evaporated liquid. Season again.

Serve in a bowl with minced onions and a hunk of bread, which will absorb the mysterious broth and deliver it to your mouth, where no further adjustments will be necessary. No hot sauce.

This dish won’t give a caffeine high or a wine buzz, but it provides a kick all of its own. It was, after all, the pursuit of a flavor fix along these lines that got me into coffee and wine to begin with.

Published in Wine

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