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Tue06182019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I’m now going to gush about the best wine-tasting I’ve ever been to—ever. I am going to spend the next 900 words or so name-dropping winemakers you’ve probably never heard of, and describing wine-making techniques that will bore you to tears. Consider yourself warned.

Earlier this December, the incomparable desert wine goddess, Christine Soto of Dead or Alive bar in Palm Springs, did what no one in this industry thought was possible: She managed to convince a laundry list of the best and brightest winemakers in California to converge at the Ace Hotel for one day of wine-tasting fun in the sun, for the first Palm Springs Wine Fest. You might think that wouldn’t be such a difficult task, given the beauty of our desert this time of year. I mean, who wouldn’t want to come to sunny Palm Springs in December for a little work/play? Well, the truth is the desert has not exactly been on the forefront of cutting-edge food and wine concepts. The wine scene here has always been a little conservative, if not staid and out of touch. So, to have a venerable list of the coolest “kids” making wine in California right here in our back yard was not only pretty damn exciting; it had never been done.

When I first walked in to the open-air event space at the Ace, it was a little overwhelming. There was a live band and throngs of people wedged between rows of tables. It was hard to even know where to begin. From across the room, I saw Abe Schoener of Scholium Project. I hadn’t seen him in years, and I was certain he wouldn’t know me from Adam. Back in my Napa days, I would sit at the bar of a local hotspot called Norman Rose and hope to get a seat next to him so I could eavesdrop (in a non-threatening fangirl kind of way) on all the cool wine stories he and his buddies would share. I introduced myself to him a couple of times—each attempt a little more awkward and pathetic. But he is such a sincerely nice guy that I think he just pretended not to notice my social ineptitude. But here at this tasting, in my hometown, I suddenly manufactured the confidence to walk right over to him, introduce myself (again) and immediately dive into a conversation about the gloriously strange glass of white wine from his table. It’s called La Géante, and it’s a blend of a couple of white varietals, none of which I can remember, except there’s 1 percent gewürztraminer in there, and I think he said something about skin-contact sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. But what makes this wine so crazy is how he’s making it. Abe proceeded to tell me about some friends of his at Hiyu Wine Farm in Hood River, Ore., making a solera red that blew his mind. So he decided to try his hand at it with some white wines. If you’re curious about the solera process, it’s chiefly used in sherry and other fortified-wine production, and it creates a multi-vintage aged product by fractionally blending the liquid through a series of barrels from top to bottom, with the oldest liquids being in the barrels on the ground. Fascinating stuff, right?! The wine was beautiful and complicated and fearless. I was off to a good start.

From there, I looked for any table that had an opening. I needed to regain a little personal space from the shoulder-to-shoulder New York City sidewalk vibe and blissfully found a spot at the Minus Tide table. Best discovery of the day! These guys released their first vintage in 2015, with the focus being the cool-climate wines of Mendocino. The first wine they poured for me was a riesling. As with Abe and his unique approach to wine-making, these guys do it a little differently, too. This riesling is made by carbonic maceration. If you’ve stuck with me this far, this might be where I lose you … but if you’re a wine geek, you just shouted out loud: “A RIESLING?! CARBONIC MACERATION?! WHAT?!” Yup. It’s 100 percent carbonic, whole-cluster pressed, unrefined and unfiltered from only 40 vines located in the pinot noir dominant Langley Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Just enough for one barrel. I’m choking up a little; it would be impossible for me to love a wine more. That said, this darling wine didn’t overshadow the stunning Feliz Vineyard Carignane—also 100 percent carbonic and 100 percent mouthwateringly delicious—or their velvety-rich malbec from the famed Alder Springs Vineyard. The unbridled happiness I feel knowing these wines exist is only shattered by the fact that everything they make is sold out, and I can’t get any.

Field Recordings from Paso Robles has long been a favorite of mine, and I had the pleasure of tasting their orange wine called Skins. This is a blend of chenin blanc, pinot gris and verdelho, and the result is a wine that, unlike a lot of other orange wines I’ve tasted, is full of bright acidity with that savory, cidery aroma and textured mouthfeel, without the bitter wood varnish component that can sometimes be too overpowering.

I think I hung out at the Red Car table for about an hour. The founder, Richard Crowell, and I discussed our mutual sentiments regarding scores; the beauty of syrah and why everyone should drink it all the time; and the rugged and picturesque vineyards from which the fruit for their insanely balanced and elegant wines comes. He was like a friend you’ve known for years, and our conversations were my high point of the day. If you haven’t tried Red Car, go to Eureka! in Indian Wells right now, and have a glass of their rose. Oh hell, just have a bottle. I did.

I hopped from table to table, tasting one gloriously foot-trodden wine after the next. More often than not, these wines are naturally fermented, and generally left un-fooled-around with by the hands that made them. All of these winemakers were there to tell a story, and what I found so endearing is that they were all so happy to be here in our desert. Many of them had vacationed here as children or had been here years ago without much reason to return … until now. The energy in the room was palpable, and everyone there, whether they were pouring or drinking, was genuinely excited to be there.

There is a wine awakening happening here in the Coachella Valley. Go buy a bottle of something fun and be a part of it.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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