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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

Dead or Alive Brings Fine Wine, Fine Beer and Fine Design to ‘The Curve’ Area

Christine Soto and Anthony Cioffi attended to Palm Springs High School together. After graduation, they went their separate ways, but in 2012, at their 10-year reunion, they reconnected—and started dating.

Today, they’re not only life partners; they’re business partners as well.

Cioffi works as a designer, and several years ago, he worked with Donovan Funkey to create the look of Bar, in downtown Palm Springs.

“That sort of sparked the idea for doing this,” Cioffi said.

The “this” of which Cioffi speaks is Dead or Alive, a charming-as-hell craft-beer and specialty-wine bar that opened in December at 150 E. Palm Canyon Drive, right next to El Mirasol in the midst of “the curve”—where South Palm Canyon Drive becomes East Palm Canyon Drive.

During a recent media tasting, Cioffi and Soto explained how they took more than a year to develop the idea and design for Dead or Alive. Design plays a big part in the bar’s vibe: A large, round, orange fixture at the end of the bar and a matching orb out front slowly change color and fade as the hours pass each evening and night, simulating a sunset. It’s impressive.

“Christine and I are very passionate about beer and wine, and wanted to create a place where people could come, get together, and discover new, great things,” Cioffi said. “The focus is on the product.”

As for that product: Dead or Live features an ever-changing assortment of craft beers—such as Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout ($9 for 13 ounces) and Coachella Valley Brewing’s sessionable Goze ($6.50 for 13 ounces)—and specially selected wines, such as Broc Cellars’ Love Red ($12 per glass) and Domaine Brazilier’s Methode Trad Brut ($9).

There’s nothing quite like this special little beer-and-wine bar anywhere else in the Coachella Valley. Check it out from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day, including holidays.

Visit deadoralivebar.com for more information.


New: Creamistry Opens in Palm Desert

“We specialize in fresh, made-to-order ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Our rapid freezing process provides the smoothest and creamiest frozen delights.”

So say the folks at Creamistry, a growing Southern California chain currently boasting a dozen or so locations—and one of the newest locations is right here in the Coachella Valley, at 73131 Country Club Drive, No. C1, in Palm Desert. It’s in the same area as Sherman’s and Bristol Farms.

Creamistry’s various locations have been receiving praise on the various online review sites, and some of the pictures being posted on the Palm Desert Creamistry Facebook bring to mind the word yummy. Check out that Facebook page at www.facebook.com/creamistrypalmdesert.


In Brief

The affiliation between Iron Chef Jose Garces and The Saguaro, located at 1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, is coming to an end: As of the end of February, his menus will no longer be served at the hotel. Who knows what will come next at Tinto and El Jefe? Stay tuned. … Wanna gorge yourself while watching the Super Bowl? Consider heading to Tacos and Tequila at the Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. For $35 per person (plus tax and service charges), from 3 p.m. until the beginning of the fourth quarter on Sunday, Feb. 7, enjoy crispy chicken tacos, pulled-pork sliders, nachos, chops and salsa, and hot dogs with several topping choices. Also included: two beers or well drinks! Visit www.morongocasinoresort.com for more details. … KESQ News Channel 3’s Bianca Rae, the Best Local TV News Personality according to Independent readers, will be the host of the L’Affaire Chocolat: High Tea at the Classic Club, 75200 Classic Club Blvd., in Palm Desert, from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 21. Proceeds go toward the Dames D’Escoffier Scholarships for local women in the culinary and hospitality industries. Sparkling wine, tea sandwiches, mini quiches and more are on the menu—and to top it off, there’s a 25-foot chocolate dessert buffet featuring goodies from some of the town’s finest restaurants and bakeries. The cost is $75; call 760-895-9899 for reservations. … Newish to Palm Springs: Frankinbun, located at 540 S. Indian Canyon Drive. It’s a “gourmet sausage grill” that we happened to see as we zoomed by one day. We’ll be investigating this further, because … well, gourmet sausages. Mmmm. More info at www.frankinbun.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Some beer-drinkers and wine-drinkers have the idea that you must be loyal to one beverage or style.

Well, let me introduce myself: My name is Erin Peters. I am a cross drinker—and I’m not the only one.

A visit to California’s Central Coast offers cross-drinkers like me the chance to compare some of the world’s best artisan beers and wines. I recently took a drive up to Paso Robles, and then further north to the Monterey area, to find out what craft beers are preferred by wine experts.

Midnight Cellars is a small-production, award-winning winery on the west end of Paso Robles. The boutique winery produces sustainably farmed Bordeaux grapes on 28 acres of hilly and limestone-rich soil. Midnight is known for making some of the best blends and big merlots. (Do not mention Sideways to the winemakers there!) Merlots are often viewed as gateway wines—kind of like pale ales are in the beer world. However, Midnight’s 2010 Estate Merlot transcends this stereotype: It’s big, bold and rich with dark fruit flavors.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Shelby at midnight told me how much she loves Sierra Nevada’s pale ale—still known as one of the biggest pale ales in the industry. There’s a nice balance in both this beer and this wine.

Just around the corner from Midnight is a gorgeous, upscale tasting room, serving old world varietal wines. Sextant Winery serves powerful zinfandel and petite sirah blends. The folks at Sextant claim it is the only winery in North America to cross-pollinate grenache and cabernet sauvignon, producing a big and bold caladoc. Bright Bing cherries and ripe blackberries are layered with dark fig, cinnamon and spicy cardamom notes. It’s delicious and poetically one-of-a-kind. Just don’t call it a blend.

Enthusiastic and knowledgeable server Kate Keller is a fan of local breweries like Central Coast Brewing, Libertine Brewing Company and BarrelHouse Brewing Company. BarrelHouse is a must-do when visiting the Central Coast—not just for the beer, but also for the beautiful views and inviting patio. The brewery typically has at least a couple fantastic sours on tap.

Monica Villicana not only runs a boutique winery, Villicana Winery, in Paso Robles; she and her husband, Alex, were the first in the area to distill spirits from the used grapes. Winemakers bleed a percentage of the free-run juice from red-wine grapes before fermentation to enhance the quality of the wines. Saignée is this French term meaning “to bleed,” and this juice is often discarded. By fermenting this bleed and then triple-distilling it, Re:Find Distillery has found a new use for saignée.

No surprise: Monica’s first choice of libations is wine. Then she’ll reach for liquors such as brandy, vodka or whiskey. While she’s not a big beer fan, she recently found one that she enjoys and can drink for a longer period of time: Central Coast Brewing’s Original Chai Ale. The spiced blonde ale from this veteran downtown San Luis Obispo brewery—it’s been open since 1998—comes in with a very manageable 4.9 percent alcohol by volume and has flavorful notes of vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

Her husband, Alex, will grab Firestone Walker’s Double Barrel Ale when he’s not enjoying his own cabernet sauvignons, zinfandels, merlots or syrahs. This American take on a British style beer has sweet malt flavors overlaying a slightly woody aroma. Villicana’s vintner likely enjoys the earthiness notes that highlight roasted bread, caramel and oak.

Traveling north on Highway 46, I stopped in Cambria, a lovely seaside village that oozes quaint, artistic expression. Here, you’ll find several wineries and what used to be called Cambria Beer Company. After a trademark dispute, the local brewery is now thriving as 927 Beer Company. Head brewer and president Aaron Wharton doesn’t have a taste for wine, but in true collaborative craft-beer-industry fashion, his patrons and friends bring him bottles and growlers of their beers to exchange with his own brews. Some of his favorites include Modern Times, Noble AleWorks, Rare Barrel and Alpine Brewing. In January, Aaron will start offering barrel-aged beers on a monthly basis.

Down the street is tasting room for Moonstone Cellars. Server and “wineaux” Ron Panna tends to favor chardonnays and appreciates red varietals like petite syrah. Young petite syrah wines may have dark berry and plum fruit characteristics, as seen in the winery’s 2013 petite syrah, which is a club exclusive—and it’s fantastic. This wine is full of spice and dark fruit and demands a meal befitting its robust and full-flavored nature, such as rosemary leg of lamb.

When not sipping on wine, he seeks out beers like Lagunitas Sucks’ Brown Shugga. Brown Shugga is a whopping 10 percent ABV American strong ale that carries flavors of malt, dark fruit and brown sugar together beautifully. Many strong ales also have prominent notes of spice, just like syrahs.

Heading up Highway 1, in Big Sur Village, I came upon a cozy pub serving some of the best wings I’ve had in a long time. Maiden Publick House is a bit of a transcendental intersection, where locals, hippie campers and tourists enjoy brews among surrounding lush forests. The menu also lists nice beer pairings for the appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers and traditional favorites like shepherd’s pie or Monterey chicken. Choose beers from 12 taps or 70 bottles. Parish Pub in Santa Cruz owns Maiden Pub, giving them access to a nice beer selection.

Continuing north to Monterey, I stopped by Alvarado Street Brewery and Grill. The first thing I noticed were the delicious smells wafting from the main bar and kitchen. Thanks in part to access to pristine, local ingredients, the brewery has started a barrel-aging program utilizing zinfandel barrels from Joullian Vineyards in Carmel Valley. Now aging is the Kriek lambic with Brettanomyces—and 40 pounds of cherries. Alvarado’s approach to artisan craft beer nabbed them gold at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival: The Mai Tai PA was recognized in the international-style pale ale beer-style category. The beer lineup includes Saboteur saison, Super Rad! sour and Double Cone double IPA. The Super Rad! was, well, super rad—and their bacon and egg flatbread was positively scrumptious.

I later picked up a bottle of pinot noir from my dear friend Cathy. (I’ve known her since the fifth-grade!) She and her husband, Chris Weidemann, started Pelerin, a small artisan winery in Carmel Valley. Their wines are hand-harvested, gently tended and bottled without filtration. When not sipping on pinot noir or Rhone-style syrah, Chris and Cathy enjoy beers from the Monterey Coast Brewing Co. in Salinas. Chris enjoys mid-weight, moderately hoppy ales, and like most, enjoys craft beers from his local community. 

Here’s a quick guide that may help you match your beer preferences with your wine preferences:

  • Enjoy Chardonnay? Try wheat beers.
  • Like carménère? Try West Coast IPAs.
  • Drink syrahs or chianti? Try a porter.
  • If you enjoy merlot, pick up a pale ale.
  • Like riesling? You may also like Czech pilsners.
  • Shiraz or grenache-blend aficionado? Try a Belgium ale.
  • Is your go-to pinot noir? You should also try lambic or sour.

These are mere recommendations; after all, nothing beats your own palate.

Wine is known to be gorgeous, mysterious and sophisticated. Craft beer can portray a sense of worldly history, anarchy and fun. Enjoy both—and you can have it all.

Published in Beer

I’m leaning back in a comfy bucket seat behind the driver of the Troutmobile—a Ford SUV. My tummy’s full of breakfast: poached duck eggs and mimosas from a wine bar in Arcata, Calif.

This is a fine way to start a quirky Humboldt County wine-tasting tour. I’ve joined an adventure that will end tonight with a private tasting at Coates Vineyards.

The winery is remote—in the Six Rivers National Forest, not far from the bustling unincorporated community of Orleans, which is 12 miles east of Weitchpec. Surely you’ve heard of Weitchpec. No? It’s at the juncture of the Trinity and Klamath rivers in Humboldt County—not far from the Pacific’s Lost Coast. This area is better known for crops other than wine.

The Coates Winery is a 12.5-hour drive north from Palm Springs and a mere 2.5 hours from Humboldt’s largest center of commerce, Eureka. About 15 wineries are listed as members on a Humboldt Wine Association website. Several more listed as nonmembers. Coates is one of the latter.

This is northern Northern California. In my vast 15 minutes of Internet research, I can’t find another California winery further north than Coates. Robin and Norman Coates’ all-organic vineyards are so remote that the grapes can grow on their own rootstock: They don’t have to be grafted to disease-resistant rootstock, as happens pretty much everywhere else. This fact, touted on the Coates Winery website, means that the grapes are “generally more healthy, vigorous, and … can better express their varietal characters.”

As the afternoon begins, we turn inland from the Pacific Coast drive and head into the mountains. Sitka spruce. Second-growth redwood. Invasive pampas grasses.

The Troutmobile slows through a residential area. A familiar smell wafts through the window—pungent, spicy, potentially intoxicating.

“Someone’s burning trim,” observes a co-adventurer.

The sun shines, a rarity. Recent rains have made the hills green alongside Highway 299, a logging road that moves inland from the Pacific Coast to Redding. The drive to Coates takes us off 299 in Willow Creek, well before Redding. We’re driving north toward Hoopa. We’re on the way to Weitchpec, a place written about in Vice magazine’s “War in Weed County.”

Before today, I knew only one person in this van—the journalist who invited me along. No matter. A love of wine makes us all fast friends.

We share memories of remarkable tastings in Amador County, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Southern Washington. Advice is shared, recommendations made. I take notes.

Because the drive is long, and we’re a thirsty bunch, we stop beyond Willow Creek at a private home overlooking the Trinity River. There, we sample local and regional wines—some we’ve brought along, like an award-winning 2009 Moonstone Crossing Barbera. Today’s tour organizers had spent the previous afternoon at the Moonstone tasting room in Trinidad. Moonstone’s Sharon Hanks had poured dozens of tastes of wine made from grapes imported from Amador, Lake and Mendocino counties by local genius winemaker Don Bremm. The winery is among the county’s best known. It’s open to the public and easy to find on Main Street, just off Highway 101.

We drink other fine bottles. Standouts include a Dutcher Crossing Carignane ($36, Sonoma winery and Mendocino grapes) and the 2010 Dogwood Mea Culpa ($65, Humboldt winery and Napa grapes). So tasty.

These are my kind of people.

Our designated driver herds us back into the Troutmobile. Then we’re going north-er and north-er. In Weitchpec, we turn east and drive along the Klamath River to Orleans. The winery isn’t in Orleans, but beyond it, of course—a few more miles up winding narrow roads.

“I forgot how early the sun goes down,” someone says.

Even in the dark, the Coates’ home and vineyards form a lovely oasis. A fire crackles in a woodstove. Robin Coates ushers us into the kitchen where bottles of red wine are lined up on a bar. Robin ladles out lentil soup, which pairs perfectly with the estate’s sangiovese and zinfandel.

A wine connoisseur in our group declares the 2012 Sangiovese ($18) the best he’s tasted all day, which is saying something. The varietal makes me think of Tuscany. Ah, Tuscany.

Our talk turns to wines with which one might start the day, and Norman Coates suggests his trebbiano, the Italian white from grapes he planted in the 1990s.

“If you have to drink wine for breakfast, that’s the one to drink,” he says.

Debate ensues as to whether one drinks the wine before coffee or after it.

My wine journalist friend seems disappointed that she can’t give readers the inside scoop on how to visit the Coates Winery. The winery is not open to the public. The couple prefers that people visit the website and, you know, buy the wine at area stores.

“We’re not as social as some winemakers,” says Norman.

Talk turns to crime in Humboldt County. We crowd into the Coates’ living room and watch the trending YouTube video series featuring a “Boondocking” guy—the Nomadic Fanatic—who makes a stop in Eureka. He encounters a Starbucks-drinking vandal, fends off the theft of his solar panels by a felonious meth-head, and parks a block away from a McDonald’s that is the site of a recent officer-involved shooting.

“Let’s get the hell out of Eureka,” concludes the nomad at the end of the YouTube video.

Laughter ensues. We taste the syrah and a delectable cabernet sauvignon—lighter than many California cabs and superbly drinkable. We eat cheese and pate and sourdough rye baked this morning.

Bliss ensues.

Before leaving, we hike up an unlit road to the Coates’ warehouse, where cases of wine are stacked alongside crates of ripe organic kiwi. Those grow here, too, and this year’s harvest was abundant.

We buy wine and tote two cases down the dark road. Giggling in the moonlight, we climb back into the Troutmobile and head back to the coast.

I seem to remember someone passing around a bag of gummy peach rings. But I might have been dreaming, dozing in the comfy bucket seat.

Ah, Humboldt County.

Published in Wine

You can make tofu taste like Italian sausage. You can toy with the texture, just a speck, so that a person eating your tofu chili will barely notice the curdled soy product.

This works best if the vegetarian grub is served with a seductive red wine—one that holds up to the challenge, complementing chili, cumin, onion and black beans.

Such a wine is the 2011 Twisted Oak Murgatroyd ($25). Yes, the wine’s name references Snagglepuss, the cartoon critter famous for the line: “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”

The Murg wine is a kitchen-sink blend. It has a funky hue I call Barney purple. Sharply acidic nose. Medium body. Tangy zingy zang on the finish.

I don’t know what’s in it. The bottle copy offers no hints; it merely plays on another Snagglepuss catch line, “Exit stage left.” (The label says: “Don’t Exit! Our animated blend is at the Stage where it is drinkable now, or may be Left for a few years.” The underlining and quirky capitalization is original to label text.) Nor does the Twisted Oak website give me clues as to which grape varietals went into this wine.

Wine is complicated, mysterious. So is life. These days, my world is full of intriguing new pairings.

My husband, Dave, and I have lived the commuter-marriage life for five years now. That has translated to weekend honeymoons with hiking, cooking, art, music, movies and wine sipped in languid bliss under star-studded skies.

On a together weekend, Dave might leave Reno early, drive all day and meet me at a wine bar for happy hour. Then we’ll pick up juicy ribeye steaks and grill them on the deck. We’d steam an artichoke for our appetizer. Bake a loaf of fresh bread. Pop open a delectable cabernet sauvignon.

Anyone jealous yet? You should be.

But the times, they are rearrangin’. In recent months, I’ve transitioned from living alone to living with adult children, their dogs and an infant. This has added a hearty dose of reality to honeymoon weekends.

Dave arrived for a recent visit early and headed straight to the house. I was at work. The dogs barked and wagged. He cleaned, did laundry, made my bed. He held our daughter’s newborn baby—pure bliss—while she kept an optometrist appointment.

We met at a bank to do some financial hoo-ha-ing. Finally, we went to the wine bar, a teensy bit exhausted. A 2009 Moonstone Crossing Amador County mourvedre revived us with its earthy fruits.

That night, we ate pumpkin soup and pasta.

The next night, we enjoyed broccoli pizza.

On Day Three, I concocted a giant pot of tofu chili. Did I mention that my adult children are vegetarians? As you might have guessed from the previous mention of steak, Dave and I are not. At least not yet.

Our household’s meals are generally vegetarian-friendly. A meat option is a rare addition to the menu.

No one is stopping us from eating meat. In fact, next time Dave comes, I might buy juicy steaks. But given the influence of my new roomies, I’ve been eating less meat—almost no red meat at all. Dave and I had both been complaining about red meat hangovers—the digestive unpleasantness that lasts for 12 to 18 hours after ingesting seared cow flesh.

Worse than slight intestinal discomfort is the possibility that something far more diabolical is going on in one’s bowels after a red-meat encounter. Cancer experts who rigorously reviewed hundreds of scientific studies have concluded that red meats are strongly linked to colorectal cancer. Red-meat consumption is also linked to lung, esophageal, stomach and pancreatic cancer.

Yeah, I know. Everything causes cancer. We’re all going to die of something. Life is 100 percent fatal.

Changing diet might mean changing a person’s experience of wine. I enjoy bites of juicy red meat between sips of a fine cab. Tannic red wines, with their astringent mouth feel, pair well with meat. One theory explains that the fatty texture of meat is balanced by the dry feel of the wine.

That said, I feel I’ve barely touched the possibilities of meat-free wine pairings. A vegetarian website offers such pairings for even the reddest of reds. A cabernet sauvignon, for example, might pair well with grilled veggies, barbecue sauces, garlicky things, and aged or stinky cheeses.

Still, I’m drooling over Twisted Oak’s website suggestions for Murgatroyd. The list begins with tri-tip marinated in “Murginade!” (That’s soy sauce, ginger and honey.) They also suggest “a nice cigar lamb osso bucco (and) Asian-style marinated flank steak, served over a bed of angel hair pasta with horseradish cream.”

Oh meat, meat, delicious meat.

By the way, I ended up calling the winery to find out what’s in the 2011 Murg. After putting me on hold for research, a friendly wine-room employee parsed the blend out at 60 percent petit verdot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 20 petite sirah.

OK, on to the secrets of tofu alteration: To transform tofu from the realm of slices, slabs and cubes, freeze it. This alters the texture of the curdled soy. Thaw it. Squeeze the water out. Break it up into bits and globs that almost resemble ground beef. Season with garlic, soy sauce and any spices that go with what you’re cooking. I used chili sauce, cayenne pepper, thyme, oregano, dried parsley, salt, black pepper, cumin and fennel. Toss this concoction until the tofu bits are evenly coated. Sear the tofu in olive oil until it gets as brown and crispy as you desire.

Then add to soup. I made this batch of chili with tomatoes from Dave’s garden, and beans that I soaked and boiled in salt, pepper, garlic, cumin and Sriracha. I sautéed onions, garlic, bell peppers, jalapeno and two stalks of celery, and tossed those in as well. Until we added cheese and sour cream later, this qualified as vegan chili.

Dave said he enjoyed the batch. “Tofu?” he said. “Not bad.”

The wine paired well with the soup’s heat and spice. Berries, currant and nutmeg are flavors suggested on the wine’s back label, the text of which concludes with one last bit of fun:

“Snaggle your puss anytime. Heavens to Murgatroyd!”

Published in Wine

The Rim of the World was in flames in the late summer and fall of 2013. Dawn came morning after morning with smoldering red-orange skylines.

By the time the conflagration was contained, the Yosemite Rim Fire had burned 400 square miles, making it the third-largest wildfire in California’s history. Wide swaths of charred hills and valleys were left in its wake.

Spared from flames were tempranillo grapes in the Zuni Vineyard, on the canyon’s far edges. Gas and carbon vapors, however, penetrated the grapes’ thin skins for more than 40 days.

Now those grapes are wine.

“You can taste that smoke,” says Lisette Sweetland. She’s pouring the 2013 Tempranillo at Inner Sanctum Cellars. We’re visiting the winery’s tasting room in Jamestown, a few miles west of Yosemite. “It affected the wine in interesting ways.”

You can’t predict the impact of a disaster, manmade or natural. Not for months or years. Maybe not ever.

Sweetland tips the wine into my glass. Folks have nicknamed this the Rim Fire Red, she says.

Her description of smoke gives me pause. I’m not a fan of wine that tastes like the underside of a grill—even if I am pairing that wine with barbecued meat.

Inner Sanctum’s 2013 Torro 3 Tempranillo defies expectations. Notes of charred air are there, yes, but these subtle tones are balanced expertly with brighter eruptions of growing things—savory herbs and brambly berries.

I’m impressed. What does it take to coax this complexity from grapes that spent the weeks before harvest saturated in smoke? A masterful winemaker.

In Tuolumne County, this guru of grapes is Chuck Hovey. My husband, Dave, and I are fans of Hovey’s art.

Hovey, 60, got his start at J. Lohr Winery in San Jose, and made wines at Stevenot Winery in Murphys for more than 20 years. Hovey’s brilliance there translated to more than 500 wine awards in various competitions. In fact, Stevenot’s 2006 Tempranillo was the Pike house wine five or six years ago, notable for its excellence and affordability. We bought it by the case ($99) for ourselves and shared with appreciative friends.

In 2008, Hovey started his own label, Hovey Wine. He’s also the consulting winemaker for Gianelli Vineyards, Inner Sanctum Cellars and Bodega del Sur Winery in Murphys.

Hovey is a legend in Tuolumne and Calaveras county wine-making. Now the legend is facing his own fires. Over the summer, Hovey survived two strokes and had to have a craniectomy. His son Kyle Hovey created a GoFundMe page to help pay for his dad’s medical care. To date, the site has received more than $44,000 in contributions.

While Hovey recovers this fall, his shoes are being filled by wine-making apprentice Cody LaPertche. The apprentice told a local reporter he’s doing his best to stick to what he’s learned from Hovey.

“Every day, coming in, I feel like he’s got his hand on my shoulder,” LaPertche told a reporter for The Union-Democrat (Sonora, Calif.). “Every single day, we come in thinking, ‘What would Chuck do?’”

In the meantime, Hovey’s winemaking influence is widely felt. At Gianelli Vineyards tasting room in Jamestown, Dave and I encounter a dozen award-winning wines that Hovey crafted from grapes grown a few miles out of town.

I’d heard good things about Gianelli. A list of 2013 distinctions includes 11 wines that won a combined 26 awards. Gianelli’s 2010 Aglianico, for example, won Best of Class in the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and Double Gold in the San Francisco International Wine Competition.

Of the wines we taste, Dave and I like ’em all. That’s unusual. Nothing strikes us as bland or acidic or even less than fabulous. Several are so delicious that we roll our eyes back and make happy sighs. Dave buys a few bottles, including the 2011 Aglianico ($27) and a delectable 2010 Dolcetto ($22).

Inner Sanctum’s tasting room is a few doors down from Gianelli. Between the two is a pan-for-nuggets tourist shop. This is gold country, after all.

Gianelli’s 2011 “The Don” Barbera won four awards in 2014, including a Double Gold at the Calaveras Wine Competition, and a silver in Sunset’s International Wine Competition. The “Don,” in this case, is wine-grower Ron Gianelli. And Inner Sanctum’s wine notes describe the wine as “flawlessly created by master winemaker Chuck Hovey.”

While we’re chatting with Sweetland, others pop in to ask about The Don.

“We’re out of the barbera,” Sweetland says, “but you’re more than welcome to come on in!”

Sweetland, though an experienced tasting-room employee, hasn’t worked here long. She’s company manager for the Sierra Repertory Theatre as well. She puts in a plug for a recent production while also talking knowledgeably about the local wine scene.

“This is my fun job,” she says.

Sweetland fell in love with Inner Sanctum because of the Torro 3. On a recent birthday, her partner was cooking up burgers with blue cheese and Portobello mushrooms. Hoping for a spectacular pairing, she brought home the Rim Fire Red. The wine’s vintage recalled the tumult of that fall. Sweetland had been pregnant. Her midwife had advised staying home, and not going out to breathe the dangerous air.

“But I had to work,” she says now. She recalls how the layers of smoke converged, most afternoons, to form a mushroom cloud. “It was apocalyptic,” she says.

And the wine?

“It’s a barbecue in a bottle,” she says. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”

Before we leave, Sweetland recommends dinner at The Standard Pour in Sonora, a newish establishment created by veteran area foodies.

Though perhaps more widely known for craft beers, The Standard Pour offers a few Inner Sanctum wines. I order a glass of the Rim Fire Red, pairing it with a tangy brussel sprout and bacon appetizer. Then, because it can’t hurt to ask: Do they possess any of Inner Sanctum’s sold-out barbera? They do!

For dessert, I drink The Don, toasting the fine work of winemaker Hovey, and offering best wishes for his full and speedy recovery.

Gorgeous liquid, this. Salute!

Published in Wine