Tag Archive: USA

With Liver and Giblets for All

“The wickedly entertaining, hunger-inducing, behind-the-scenes story of the revolution in American food that has made exotic ingredients, celebrity chefs, rarefied cooking tools, and destination restaurants familiar aspects of our everyday lives.”

– back cover blurb from…

The United States of ArugulaBuenos Aires – The United States of Arugula, by David Kamp, catchy title, no? Wish I’d have thought of it first. For those of you not in norteamericano foodie circles, this book has been getting a lot of attention since its publication last year in hard cover (paperback edition just came out in July), everything from press reviews to casual offhand remarks, online and off (yes, there is still life offline). First off, let me say that it’s well worth reading, a veritable page-turner of recent food history in the U.S. – I’m not going to say I couldn’t put it down, as I did, several times, because it’s a long book and I had other things to do, but I also read through it, cover to cover, over the course of the last week.

Here’s the good stuff – it’s witty, and I like that. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but it has enough humorous anecdotes, and David Kamp has enough snarky irreverence thrown in to keep a smile on my face through a good portion of the book. It gets into the “history” of the foodie movement pretty well, going very in-depth on a few stories, James Beard, Julia Child, and Alice Waters in particular are covered at length and breadth, and resurface throughout the book. It’s well organized, starting with at least a mention of the late 18th century and moving on up to what was present day when it was written. I knew a good number of the stories already, but not in so much detail, and, of course, I’m in the business, so a lot of the people in the book are people who I know either casually or well. And hey, there are a few stories that I could… well, never mind.

On the other hand, and you knew there’d be one… while he acknowledges that food didn’t spring miraculously into existence with the arrival of James Beard on the scene, quoting Barbara Kafka, “It’s like there was no food in this fucking city, or this country, until this miraculous apparition came along! Or there was no cooking at home until Julia.” But then, he promptly manages to cover the entire period from the 1790s until the 1930s in a matter of a few pages, and even in those keeps returning to the latter part of the 20th century, and then covers the period from the 1930s until the early 60s in less than a dozen pages, most of which are focused on one restaurateur, Henri Soulé. But, in a sense, that’s in keeping with the style of the book – its focus is on some very select individuals and their stories, with others coming into play more as peripherals – not that he doesn’t give those extras some page time, but I was left feeling like they were propping up his main characters – for the most part, the three folk listed above, whom, after reading the book, did I not know better, could have pretty much done it by themselves, with a few food writers thrown in for good measure.

The book is, not surprisingly, coastal-centric… if one can be coastal and centric at the same time – focusing mostly on the food scene in New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, and a bit in Los Angeles. While there’s no question that a huge amount of the modern food movement, and in particular the public figures in it, come from those areas, I think he gives short shrift to the rest of the country. Someone like Norman Van Aiken, the godfather of “Florida cuisine” doesn’t even make an appearance in the book. Ming Tsai (who ought to fit his celebrity criteria) is nowhere to be seen. His ethnic influences seem limited to French, a nod to Italian (Mario Batali apparently invented Italian food in the U.S. with the help of ingredients from Dean & DeLuca), Mexican (Rick Bayless and a bit of Bobby Flay doing the same for south of the border cuisine, with a very brief nod to Mark Miller and Diane Kennedy, whom, we gather, did lots of research but not much else), and a bit of Japanese, in particular sushi, and in particular the famed Masa and Nobu. There is, in essence, no mention of other influences – China, India, Southeast Asia, the entire rest of Latin America, the Middle East, the rest of Europe, Africa, Austraila (admittedly the latter two have yet to have any major impact on cuisine in the U.S.) – the influence of Chinese cuisine is covered in three widely separated paragraphs, Craig Claiborne meeting the authors of a Chinese cookbook, a mention of Michael Field’s review of a different Chinese cookbook, and Wolfgang Puck bringing Chinese influence (apparently for the first time on our shores) into his restaurant Chinois. The only mention I recall of all of Latin America outside of Mexico is a brief cameo by Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, from Peru.

But the biggest “missing” for me were the people, the “ordinary” people. I know that this book is focused on the celebrities – and let’s face it, that’s really what it is, a mixed celebrity bio, which for the most part in this tome means someone who has appeared regularly on television – and anyone who isn’t or wasn’t a celebrity is simply either ignored or discounted – does he really need to remind us, every time he mentions something good that Craig Claiborne did, that in his later years he “declined” into alcoholism, and how many times do we need to hear that James Beard was fat? Or repeatedly pointing out that they were gay, which, if it was somehow worked into their influence on the food scene might have been relevant past the first mention. Or that nobody really likes, or ever liked, Alice Waters…? The people missing, however, are more than just the rest of the professional food world in the U.S., they are the people who were eating all this food. The tenor of the book comes across that 99.99999% of the populace were pretty much dragged, kicking and screaming, forced at gunpoint, to try anything new. There seems to be no awareness, and certainly no acknowledgement, that what made it possible for these chefs and food writers and food growers/raisers to do what they did is that We, the People, were actually a prime part of the equation – from immigrants hungering for foods of their homelands, to GIs who’d been overseas and came back with stories to tell of things they’d eaten, to the world simply “becoming a smaller place” with international travel, global media and in recent years, phenomena like, for example, hey, food communities on the internet, where we were actually actively seeking out the new, the exotic, the different – the social, cultural, political world that influenced the culinary or gastronomic environment into which these people could flourish and become the celebrities that they have.



georgew“I am here to make an announcement that this Thursday, ticket counters and airplanes will fly out of Ronald Reagan Airport.” –Washington, D.C., Oct. 3, 2001

“Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.” –Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” –Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we should allow the world’s worst leaders to hold America hostage, to threaten our peace, to threaten our friends and allies with the world’s worst weapons.” –South Bend, Indiana, Sept. 5, 2002.

“There’s an old…saying in Tennessee…I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says Fool me once…(3 second pause)… Shame on…(4 second pause)…Shame on you….(6 second pause)…Fool me…Can’t get fooled again.” –Nashville, Tennessee, Sept. 17, 2002.

“See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don’t attack each other. Free nations don’t develop weapons of mass destruction.” –Milwaukee, Wis., Oct. 3, 2003

“The ambassador and the general were briefing me on the … the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice.” –Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2003.

“I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep on the soil of a friend.” –on visiting Denmark, Washington D.C., June 29, 2005

“Wow! Brazil is big.” –after being shown a map of Brazil by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brasilia, Brazil, Nov. 6, 2005

“Rarely is the question asked, ‘Is our children learning’?” –Florence, S.C. Jan 11 2000 and “The illiteracy level of our children are appalling.” –Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2004

– all quotes from President George W. Bush


Long & Pointy

ban_knives0From today’s New York Times:

British Medical Experts Campaign for Long, Pointy Knife Control

Warning: Long, pointy knives may be hazardous to your health.

The authors of an editorial in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal have called for knife reform. The editorial, “Reducing knife crime: We need to ban the sale of long, pointed kitchen knives,” notes that the knives are being used to stab people as well as roasts and the odd tin of Spam.

The authors of the essay – Drs. Emma Hern, Will Glazebrook and Mike Beckett of the West Middlesex University Hospital in London – called for laws requiring knife manufacturers to redesign their wares with rounded, blunt tips.

The researchers noted that the rate of violent crime in Britain rose nearly 18 percent from 2003 to 2004, and that in the first two weeks of 2005, 15 killings and 16 nonfatal attacks involved stabbings. In an unusual move for a scholarly work, the researchers cited a January headline from The Daily Express, a London tabloid: “Britain is in the grip of knives terror – third of murder victims are now stabbed to death.” Dr. Hern said that “we came up with the idea and tossed it into the pot” to get people talking about crime reduction. “Whether it’s a sensible solution to this problem or not, I’m not sure.”

In the United States, where people are more likely to debate gun control than knife control, partisans on both sides sounded amused. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, asked, “Are they going to have everybody using plastic knives and forks and spoons in their own homes, like they do in airlines?”

Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which supports gun control, joked, “Can sharp stick control be far behind?” He said people in his movement were “envious” of England for having such problems. “In America, we can’t even come to an agreement that guns are dangerous and we should make them safer,” he said.

The authors of the editorial argued that the pointed tip is a vestigial feature from less mannered ages, when people used it to spear meat. They said that they interviewed 10 chefs in England, and that “none gave a reason why the long, pointed knife was essential,” though short, pointed knives were useful.

An American chef, however, disagreed with the proposal. “This is yet another sign of the coming apocalypse,” said Anthony Bourdain, the executive chef at Les Halles and the author of “Kitchen Confidential.”

A knife, he said, is a beloved tool of the trade, and not a thing to be shaped by bureaucrats. A chef’s relationship with his knives develops over decades of training and work, he said, adding, “Its weight, its shape – these are all extensions of our arms, and in many ways, our personalities.”

He compared the editorial to efforts to ban unpasteurized cheese. “Where there is no risk,” he said, “there is no pleasure.”

Note, we’re not talking about the usual sorts of “knife control” laws, like not letting kids buy them, or banning certain types of knives (well, I guess in a sense we are talking about banning certain kinds of knives), like switchblades, or gravity blades, or the latest in samurai sword attacks (which seem to be quite common if one does a google search) or things of that sort. This is more in the line of:

“Sharp, pointy objects shouldn’t be available to anyone.” said Sen. Lieberman, D-Conn., a key figure in the knife-control movement.



In tribute to Johnny Carson, I merely reproduce one of my favorite pieces of his, sans commentary. When this was originally delivered on the air in 1991, The Battle Hymn of the Republic was playing in the background. You’ll have to imagine it…

What Democracy Means to Me
by Johnny Carson

To me, democracy means placing trust in the little guy, giving the fruits of nationhood to those who built the nation. Democracy means anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn’t grow up can be vice president.

Democracy is people of all races, colors, and creeds united by a single dream: to get rich and move to the suburbs away from people of all races, colors, and creeds. Democracy is having time set aside to worship — 18 years if you’re Jim Baker.

Democracy is buying a big house you can’t afford with money you don’t have to impress people you wish were dead. And, unlike communism, democracy does not mean having just one ineffective political party; it means having two ineffective political parties.

Democracy means freedom of sexual choice between any two consenting adults; Utopia means freedom of choice between three or more consenting adults. But I digress. Democracy is welcoming people from other lands, and giving them something to hold onto — usually a mop or a leaf blower. It means that with proper timing and scrupulous bookkeeping, anyone can die owing the government a huge amount of money.

Democracy means a thriving heartland with rolling fields of Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Spanky, and Wheezer. Democracy means our elected officials bow to the will of the people, but more often they bow to the big butts of campaign contributors.

Yes, democracy means fighting every day for what you deserve, and fighting even harder to keep other weaker people from getting what they deserve. Democracy means never having the Secret Police show up at your door. Of course, it also means never having the cable guy show up at your door. It’s a tradeoff. Democracy means free television. Not good television, but free.

Democracy is being able to pick up the phone and, within a minute, be talking to anyone in the country, and, within two minutes, be interrupted by call waiting.

Democracy means no taxation without representation, and god knows, we’ve just about had the hell represented out of us. It means the freedom to bear arms so you can blow the “o” out of any rural stop sign you want.

And finally, democracy is the eagle on the back of a dollar bill, with 13 arrows in one claw, 13 leaves on a branch, 13 tail feathers, and 13 stars over its head. This signifies that when the white man came to this country, it was bad luck for the Indians, bad luck for the trees, bad luck for the wildlife, and lights out for the American eagle.

I thank you.


California Sparklers

The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
Holiday 1997
Pages 61-64

California Sparklers

Twice while I worked for Santé, I was asked to do all the tasting and write-ups of tasting notes, for articles written by other writers, in this case Gerald Boyd. I remember it seemed odd both times that the author wasn’t tasting the wines they were referencing in the article, but hey, I got to taste lots of wines.

Reviewer’s Choice

Gloria Ferrer / 1988 Brut, Carneros / Carneros Cuvée Late Disgorged
60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay
Strawberries and spice in an elegant and complex mix, with touches of yeast and oak, Delicious with any lighter meal or just on its own.

Iron Horse / 1990 Blanc de Blancs L.D., Sonoma County, Green Valley
100% Chardonnay
Delicious, full-bodied style with lots of mineral flavors and good acidity to balance. This wine could be drunk throughout almost any meal.

Schrambsberg Vineyards / 1990 Brut, Napa Valley / J. Schram
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Toasty, earthy and full, complex flavors make this the outstanding wine of the tasting. Perfect on its own or with any hearty meal.



Codorníu Napa / Brut, Napa Valley
50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay
Dry, yeasty and toasty notes, with a good base of citrus fruit and fairly high acidity. An excellent choice with fish dishes and salads. [Canandaigua Wine Co., 716-393-3463, $135/case]

Culbertson / Brut, California
45% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Blanc, 15% Pinot Noir
Bone dry, beautiful color and very minerally. A definite recommendation for people who “don’t like fruity”when it comes to sparklers. [Thornton Winery, 909-699-0099, $99/case]

Korbel / Brut, California
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, French Colombard, Chenin Blanc
Perfect for someone who wants a fruity sparkler. Tastes just like the canned fruit cocktail that I remember from childhood. [Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, 502-585-1100, $122/case]

Korbel / Chardonnay, California
75% Chardonnay, other varietals
Much like the Brut from the same producer. Reminds me of fruit cocktail, and it is less dry than the Brut. [Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, 502-585-1100, $141/case]

Mirabelle / Brut, North Coast
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
Creamy vanilla character that goes down smooth. With a touch of sweetness in the finish, this is a perfect partner to roasted or grilled foods. [Wilson Daniels, Ltd., 707-963-8566, $112/case]

Mumm Cuvée Napa / Brut, Napa Valley / Brut Prestige
60% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay, 4% Pinot Meunier, 2% Pinot Gris
Fruity, slightly off-dry, with a strong mineral component. A nice choice with fresh cheeses and dessert. [Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Co., 415-378-3800, $144/case]

Mumm Cuvée Napa / Blanc de Blancs, Napa Valley
70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Gris
A tasty blend of minerals, fruit and a hint of marshmallow fluff. This slightly off-dry sparkler is a good choice with fruit dishes and desseert. [Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Co., 415-378-3800, $112/case]

Mumm Cuvée Napa / Blanc de Noirs, Napa Valley
85% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay
A beautiful shade of pink. Crisp, apple fruit and a dry minerally finish make this a delight on its own or with fish and lighter poultry. [Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Co., 415-378-3800, $144/case]

Piper Sonoma / Brut, Sonoma County / Select Cuvée
75% Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier
Dry and fruity, with lots of apple and apple peel flavors; a bit on the “foamy” side. An especially good choice with pork or veal in lighter sauces. [Rémy Amerique, 212-399-4200, $143/case]

Wente / Brut Reserve, Arroyo Seco, Monterey
59.8% Pinot Noir, 28.6% Chardonnay, 11.6% Pinot Blanc
Pale, slightly off-dry, peaches and cream on the tongue. It needs food, preferably something on the lighter side. [Wente Vineyards, 510-447-3603, $124/case]


Handley / 1992 Brut, Anderson Valley
62% Pinot Noir, 38% Chardonnay
Dry and smooth with a mineral component. The dominant flavor note is one of marshmallow. Serve with light fish or white meat dishes. [Handley Cellars, 800-733-3151, $144/case]

Jepson / 1992 Blanc de Blanc, Mendocino County / Burnee Hill Vineyard
100% Chardonnay
Pears and light spice lace this delicate, creamy sparkler. A natural partner with veal or pork. [Jepson, 707-468-8936, $140/case]

Mirassou / 1991 Brut Reserve, Monterey County / Fifth Generation Cuvée
51% Pinot Noir, 27% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Blanc
Citrus peel and a fair amount of oak clash a bit in this one. My bet is it needs some time to come together and develop. [Mirassou Sales Co., 408-274-4000, $135/case]

Mirassou / 1992 Brut Blanc de Noirs, Monterey County / Fifth Generation Cuvée
100% Pinot Noir
Fruity and medium-bodied with a nice dose of yeast and oak flavors. Will pair well with roasted meats. [Mirassou Sales Co., 408-274-4000, $135/case]



Chandon / Napa & Sonoma Counties / Brut Cuvée 194
59% Pinot Noir, 23% Chardonnay, 11% Pinot Blanc, 7% Pinot Meunier
Bright lemony fruit, high acidity and lots of bubbles make this a good partner to pair with cream sauces and lighter meats. [Domain Chandon, 707-944-8844, $162/case]

Chandon / Brut, Napa County / Réserve Cuvée 491
66% Pinot Noir, 21% Chardonnay, 7% Pinot Blanc, 6% Pinot Meunier
Creamy smooth, with a good dose of orchard fruits and spice. There is a nice complexity that will work well with a variety of cuisines. [Domain Chandon, 707-944-8844, $190/case]

Gloria Ferrer / Blanc de Noirs, Carneros
92% Pinot Noir, 8% Chardonnay
Bone-dry, strawberries and cream and a beautiful, pale pink color. A delicate, delicious wine wthat goes perfectly with an appetizer course. [Freixenet USA, Inc., 707-996-4981, $155/case]

Gloria Ferrer / Brut, Sonoma County
80-90% Pinot Noir, 10-20% Chardonnay
Dry, reminiscent of winter pears with just a touch of herbal qualities. A perfect partner with pork or veal. [Freixenet USA, Inc., 707-996-4981, $155/case]

Roederer Estate / Brut, Anderson Valley
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Orange peel, spice and lots of flavor make this a delicious coupling with Asian cuisines and spicy foods. [Maisons Marques & Domaines, 510-286-2000, $177/case]

Scharffenberger / Brut, Mendocino County
67% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay
Orange blossoms and citrus fruit really stand out in this dry sparkler. Something about it called for cold shellfish. [Clicquot, Inc., 212-888-7575, $160/case]


S. Anderson / 1992 Brut, Napa Valley
60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay
Something in this reminds me of black cherry Jello or soda. Still, it is dry and rich and a good choice with roasted meats. [S. Anderson Vineayrd, 707-944-8642, $180/case]

Domaine Carneros / 1991 Blanc de Blancs, Carneros
100% Chardonnay
Yeasty, almost bread-like notes with good apple fruit. A well-balanced wine that calls out for poultry, veal or pork. [Kobrand Corp., 212-490-9300, $240/case]

Domaine Carneros / 1992 Brut, Carneros
61% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 3% Pinot Meunier, 1% Pinot Blanc
Though dry, there is a sense of sweetness with flavors of pears and vanilla cream that carry on through a long finish. Perfect with pork or chicken. [Kobrand Corp., 212-490-9300, $180/case]

Gloria Ferrer / 1988 Brut, Carneros / Carneros Cuvée, Late Disgorged
60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay
Strawberries and spice in an elegant and complex mix with touches of yeast and oak. Delicious with any lighter meal or just on its own. [Freixenet USA, Inc., 707-996-4981, $220/case]

Gloria Ferrer / 1989 Brut, Carneros / Royal Cuvée
67% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay
A nice earthiness in a creamy, complex wine with lots of depth and fruit flavor. A great choice with bigger dishes like red meat. [Freixenet USA, Inc., 707-996-4981, $166/case]

Iron Horse / 1990 Blanc de Blancs L.D., Sonoma County, Green Valley
100% Chardonnay
Delicious, full-bodied style with lots of mineral flavors and good acidity to balance. This wine could be drunk throughout almost any meal. [Iron Horse Vineyards, 707-887-1507, $372/case]

Iron Horse / 1992 Brut, Sonoma County, Green Valley
70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay
Like biting into a fresh, crisp apple, this one is full of fruit flavor and has nice depth. It needs a little time to come together. [Iron Horse Vineyards, 707-887-1507, $192/case]

Iron Horse / 1994 Brut, Sonoma County, Green Valley / Wedding Cuvée
100% Pinot Noir
A beautiful brassy color. Elegant, with pear and apple fruit and a touch of spice. Needs a bit of time to develop, but will be outstanding. [Iron Horse Vineyards, 707-887-1507, $208/case]

J (Jordan) / 1993 Brut, Sonoma County
52% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir, 1% Pinot Meunier
Applesauce with just a touch of spice and oak makes this flavorful and popular sparkler a great choice with most foods. [J. Wine Company, 707-431-5400, $232/case]

Kristone / 1992 Blanc de Blancs, Santa Maria Valley & Monterey County
70% Chardonnay (Santa Maria Valley), 30% Pinot Blanc (Monterey)
Oak, coconut and toast all dominate this full-bodied, creamy smooth entry. The style says red meat – and lots of it. [Artisans & Estates, 707-544-4000, $480/case]

Kristone / 1992 Blanc de Noirs, Santa Maria Valley & Monterey County
95% Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley), 5% Pinot Blanc (Monterey)
Floral, yeasty, oakey and buttery. A big, full-bodied California-style sparkler that will be best paired with strongly flavored meats. [Artisans & Estates, 707-544-4000, $480/case]

Roederer Estate / 1991 Brut, Anderson Valley / L’Ermitage
55.5% Chardonnay, 45.5% Pinot Noir
Creamy smooth, full-bodied, complex flavors of oak, vanilla and tropical fruit. Perfect on its own or with poultry, veal or pork. [Maisons, Marques & Domaines, 510-286-2000, $318/case]

Scharffenberger / 1991 Blanc de Blancs, Mendocino County
100% Chardonnay
Delicious, toasty, yeasty notes, with a solid backbone of citrus fruit. This would be a great pairing with roasted poultry. [Clicquot, Inc., 212-888-7575, $180/case]

Scharffenberger / 1992 Brut Rosé, Mendocino County
85% Pinot Noir, 12% Chardonnay, 3% still Pinot Noir
Dry, bright strawberry and raspberry fruit with plenty of flavor. A great choice with lighter meals and salads. [Clicquot, Inc., 212-888-7575, $180/case]

Schug / 1995 Brut, Carneros / Rouge de Noir
100% Pinot Noir
Brilliant ruby color and bright cherry fruit, wiht a dry, spicy finish, make this an unusual and delicious wine to accompany grilled foods. [Schug Carneros Estate Winery, 800-966-9365, $175/case]

Schrambsberg Vineyards / 1990 Brut, Napa Valley / J. Schram
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Toasty, earthy and full, complex flavors make this the outstanding wine of the tasting. Perfect on its own or with any hearty meal. [Schramsberg Vineyards Co., 707-942-4558, $408/case]

Thornton / 1985 Blanc de Blanc, California
60% Pinot Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir
Earthy, yeasty and rich with good fruit and acidity. This is the kind of sparkler that I like to drink on its own. [Thornton Winery, 909-699-0099, $200/case]

Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.


Promises to Keep


The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals
September-October 1997
Pages 30-31, 59-60

Promises to Keep

On the day of my twenty-fifth birthday, September 19, 1983, the Carneros AVA was born. I don’t remember the details of my birthday celebration, but I’m sure it involved plenty of friends drinking wine. The wine definitely was not Pinot Noir of this region. Wine coolers and cheap, umm, inexpensive, beer were more likely the quaffs of choice.

The history of Los Carneros (“the sheep”) stretches back a bit more than 14 years. With easy access to water transport and the proximity of San Francisco, the area was rapidly developed by sheep ranchers, following the annexation of the Republic of California by the United States in 1846. Farmers raised a wide variety of grapes and orchard fruits, and in 1870, William H. Winter founded the first winery.

carneros2In the late 1870s, phylloxera struck, and attempts to find resistant rootstock by Winter’s successor, James Simonton, and other growers were largely unsuccessful. By the time Prohibition was declared in 1919, there was little left of the wine industry.

Since Prohibition’s repeal, Carneros has flourished as a winemaking area. John Garetto reestablished his winery in 1935 (on the site of what is now Bouchaine Vineyards), and major investments by Beaulieu Vineyards and Louis M. Martini followed. By the late 1940s, Pinot Noir constituted a significant percentage of acreage. Plantings were increased, and new wineries were created throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. By 1983 (my quarter-century mark), Carneros had made a name for itself with quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.


General Characteristics
Pure sensuality; silky-smooth elegance with a core of black cherry and raspberry fruit and hints of exotic spice. Moderate alcohol levels and slightly high acidity, balanced by the depth of the fruit.

Often “dumb” when young, best when at least three to four years old. Acidity and concentration allow good aging potential. The best develop delicious leather and tobacco notes between five and ten years old and peak at 10 to 12 years.

Recent Vintages
– 1992, 1993 – Drinking beautifully now, but can age for several years.
– 1994 – Big wines, cellar until early 1998.
– 1995 – “Dumb” now, cellar until early 1998.
– 1996 – Excellent outlook, barrel samples show great promise.

Grace Notes or One Notes?
Black cherries, raspberries, berry jam and spice: these are the claimed hallmarks of the Carneros Pinot Noir style. In 1986, the fledgling Carneros Quality Alliance (CQA) set out not only to determine that style, but more importantly, to prove that there was a style. IN a series of now-famous blind tastings and chemical analyses, these traits were more marked in Carneros Pinot Noir than in those from other parts of Napa and Sonoma.

Carneros is situated in a unique area off San Pablo Bay, with the Sonoma and Mayacamas Mountains forming two natural boundaries that separate the appellation from the Sonoma and Napa Valleys to the north. Maritime influences are stronger here than in the rest of the region. Limited rainfall, night fogs, lots of drying sunshine and strong ocean winds create perfect grape-growing conditions with high stress factors on the vines. Because of its geography and climate, Carneros has a longer growing season, by almost a month, than nearby areas, such as Rutherford in Napa or Alexander Valley in Sonoma.

Carneros soils are of two predominate types: Haire and Diablo. The yellowish brown Haire soils, which began as shallow salt marshes, contain fossils, high levels of calcium, alkaline salts and a very high clay content. Diablo, by contrast, are more acidic soils that came from the deeper San Pablo Bay areas. This black soil is high in manganese, an essential grape nutriet, and is also very high in clay content. The soils help to produce vines with naturally low vigor and low yields.

The question that Carneros faces today is the divergence between promise and reality. Eleven years ago, when the CQA announced their findings, Carneros was the premiere Pinot Noir production area in the United States. No other region consistently produced high-quality Pinots. and the appellation name was virtually a guarantee of enjoyment in a bottle. Names like Carneros Creek, Acacia and Saintsbury have graced bottles of high-quality Carneros Pinot for years. But the last decade has seen the rise of quality and recognition for other regions – Russian River Valley, Santa Barbara and in the far north, Oregon.

Style and quality are now up for grabs in Carneros. It is only conjecture, but it is likely that the CQA’s findings brought about this divergence from past successes. The allure of a golden region attracted a wide variety of winemakers. Some have maintained the local style. Others grow or buy their grapes and vinify according to formulae that have yielded them success in other regions.

In tasting wines from the region, I found Pinot Noirs that ranged from thin, acidic and vegetal to heavy, oakey and tannic. In several cases, the wines were indistinguishable from any red grape and could probably have had the label of some other varietal slapped on without anyone noticing. On the other hand, I found some true gems – wines that no only fit the traditional profile of the area with its berry and spice fruit, but were silky, elegant and an absolute pleasure to drink. These wines are the perfect foil to today’s lighter cuisines. This is red wine for fish, pasta and white meats and red wine that cuts through cream and butter sauces and stands up to spicy sauces.

Carneros fog. Maritime influences here are stronger than in the rest of the region; Highway marker in front of Beaulieu Vineyards.

Carneros fo. Mariting influences here are stronger than in the rest of the region; Highway marker in front of Beaulieu Vineyards.

Back to the Future
“I think that ten years ago having Carneros Pinot Noir on your list was key; people looked for it. Now there are so many good producers from other parts of California and Oregon that it isn’t that important. Customers look for wines that they know,” says Cliff Batuello, until recently the wine director at New York’s Gramercy Tavern. He feels that the producer, rather than the producer’s origin, is of more interest to his patrons. Lisa Minucci, Sommelier at San Francisco’s Cypress Club agrees. “My customers look for quality producers that they know. They recognize that an appellation name is not a guarantee. What’s important to them is who produced it.”

On the other hand, perhaps it is just that wines, like other products, go through cycles. Jast we went from “Chablis” and “Burgundy”in the ’70s to “Chardonnay” and “Merlot” in the late ’80s and early ’90s, maybe “Carneros” was the Pinot of choice on the last trend wave. Greg Harrington, Master Sommelier at Emeril’s in New Orleans says, “I think that ten years ago you could sell anything with the Carneros label on it. At the time, almost all the wines were top quality. I don’t think Carneros lived up to its promise though; too many producers went with the market style instead of the Carneros style. Now, I could slap Russian River on anything and sell a ton of it. Maybe Château Lafite Russian River?”

The question that Carneros faces today is one that will force a choice for many producers. The promise of the region and its style is there. Those producers that hold true to it may find that, in the short run, they are a small slice of the market pie. Their loyal followers, however, will continue to buy and drink the identifiable quality found in these wines. In the long run, my bet is that “being true to your school” will win out over those who, like a leaf in the wind, twist and turn with each new shopping trend. At my half-century party and Carneros’ official quarter-century, I’d also bet that wine coolers won’t be the drink of choice.


Fleur de Carneros (Carneros Creek) / 1995
Bright cherry fruit, light spiciness and surprisingly good balance. Would make a great by-the-glass selection for those who offer something better than “house pour.” Match with fish or pasta.

Carneros Creek / 1995
A strong note of black tea and black cherries, with a deep concentration of fruit that shows the classic Carneros style. Will be perfect with red meat dishes in a year or so.

Cosentino / 1995
Classic Pinot Noir: black cherries, raspberries and spice, with a texture that is pure velvet now and will only get better. I’d drink this with anything.



Fleur de Carneros (Carneros Creek) / 1995
Bright cherry fruit, light spiciness and surprisingly good balance. Would make a great by-the-glass selection for those who offer something better than “house pour.” Match with fish or pasta. [Carneros Creek Winery, 707-253-9464, $90/case]


Beaulieu Vineyard / 1995
Black cherry fruit, spice, touch of black tea – all of the components that I look for in Carneros. Moderate tannins with slightly high alcohol that will balance nicely with any heavier dish that has a little fat in it. [Beaulieu Vineyard, 707-967-5204, $128/case]

Carneros Creek / 1995
A strong note of black tea and black cherries, with a deep concentration of fruit that shows the classic Carneros style. Will be perfect with red meat dishes in a year or so. [Carneros Creek Winery, 707-253-9464, $144/case]

Gloria Ferrer / 1995
Light spice and fresh strawberries with just a touch of bitter almonds on the finish had me thinking Italian Pinot Nero rather than California. I would sell as “the perfect lunch or fish red.” [Freixenet, USA, Inc., 707-966-7256, $144/case]

Fetzer / 1994 / Sangiacomo Reserve
Aroma of fresh raspberries practically climbing out of the glass. Light, simple, easily quaffable wine for lighter dishes, such as poultry and veal. Organic, no sulfites added. [Fetzer Vineyards, 707-447-1250, $116/case]

Charles Krug / 1995
Delicious, bright raspberry and red cherry fruit. A touch of light oak and yeast. Not particularly Carneros in style, but a delight to drink. Fish or lighter poultry dishes. [C. Mondavi & Sons, 707-967-2220, $132/case]

Schug / 1995 North Coast
Bright, spicy fruit that slides right down for a perfectly enjoyable glass of wine. The appellation is North Coast, but the fruit is all Carneros sourced. [Schug Carneros Estate Winery, 800-966-9365, $120/case]

Schug / 1995
Good solid fruit and a fair touch of oak give this wine a sense of sweetness. A great offering for people who don’t like really dry wines. A simpler style for easy drinking that will pair nicely with most lighter cuisine. [Schug Carneros Estate Winery, 800-966-9365, $124/case]


Acacia / 1995
Great berry character with a touch of graham crackers. Also, an unusual and highly attractive smokiness that works beautifully with grilled and broiled foods. [Chalone Wine Group, 707-254-4201, $152/case]

Acacia / 1994 / Reserve
Notes of tea, mint and a toasty quality reminiscent of crème brûlée. More depth and complexity than the regular bottling. The smoky quality is a perfect partner with the grill or broiler. [Chalone Wine Group, 707-254-4201, $224/case]

Beaulieu Vineyard / 1995 / Reserve
Like the basic BV, this is Carneros through and through. The tannin levels with the intense black cherry and black tea notes need time to soften. [Beaulieu Vineyard, 707-967-5204, $200/case]

Bouchaine / 1994
Lots of bright raspberry fruit, cloves and ginger. The higher acidity and lighter style will pair well with richer fish dishes and lighter braised meats. This one should age beautifully. [Bouchaine, 707-252-9065, $150/case]

Bouchaine / 1993 / Reserve
Everything in the basic Bouchaine is here and more. Elegance, bright berry fruit, black cherry jam and a touch of ginger. Roasted meats with a touch of Asian spicing. [Bouchaine, 707-252-9065, $200/case]

Carneros Creek / 1995 Signature Reserve
Deliciously spicy, with a strong black tea component. Pure Carneros style that will age beautifully. Cellar it for now and start to serve in about two years. [Carneros Creek Winery, 707-253-9464, $288/case]

Cosentino / 1995
Classic Pinot Noir: black cherries, raspberries and spice, with a texture that is pure velvet now and will only get better. I’d drink this with anything. [Cosentino Winery, 707-944-1220, $212/case]

Cuvaison / 1995
Solidly in the Carneros style. Berry jam, cherries, spice and chocolate on both the nose and palate. Match with simply prepared tuna or salmon or with your favorite poultry. [Paterno Imports, Ltd., 847-604-8900, $228/case]

Domaine Carneros / 1995
Delicate floral and honey aromas, with a light touch of raspberies and cherries that is overlaid by cloves, cinnamon and pepper. A slightly high-acidity level suggests pairing with fish and shellfish, and the flavors call for spicier dishes. [Domaine Carneros, 70-257-0101, $170/case]

Flora Springs / 1995
Silky, smooth and sexy. Black cherry and vanilla character are not strictly Carneros, but are high-quality Pinot Noir. Roasted meats, especially pork or veal roast with herbs. [Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards, 707-963-5711, $168/case]

Robert Mondavi / 1994 / Unfiltered
A nice touch of sweet oak and bright fruit. The style is not definitively Carneros, but it is classic Mondavi and classic California. Despite a little high alcohol level, a nice match with poultry dishes. [Robert Mondavi Winery, 707-226-1395, $126/case]

Mont St. John / 1994 / Madonna Vineyards
Delightful leafy, earthy notes, especially when joined with spice, strawberries and plums. Not a classic Carneros style, but definitely Pinot Noir. Not ready. [Mont St. John Cellars, 707-255-8864, $180/case]

Morgan / 1994 / Reserve
Spicy notes of cinnamon, clove and ginger are well balanced by good solid fruit. Though drinking well now, it will definitely improve with age. [Morgan Winery, 408-751-7777, $240/case]

Rasmussen / 1995
Classic Carneros style with all of the berries, cherries and spice that you could want. Also, a fascinating and fairly strong aroma of green tea. For menus with an Asian touch, I can’t think of a better Pinot for your list. [Kent Rasmussen Winery, 707-252-4224, $150-176/case]

Saintsbury / 1995
Rich cherry fruit and spice that fit perfectly the Carneros style. This wine is still a little young and tannic, but it will be a definite plus on any wine list. [Saintsbury, 707-252-0592, $168/case]

Saintsbury / 1995 / Reserve
Beautiful structure, ripe berry and cherry fruit and lots of spice and cocoa notes. Still closed and too young to drink. Cellar for a couple of years. [Saintsbury, 707-252-0592, $260/case]

Schug / 1995 / Heritage Reserve
Rich, chocolatey and delicious, this new top release shows everything that I want in Carneros Pinot. Let it sit for a few years. [Schug Carneros Estate Winery, 800-966-9365, $240/case]

Signorello / 1995 / Las Amigas Vineyard
Rich and elegant, with a full mouthful of fruit and spice. Probably the fullest bodied Pinot that I tasted from Carneros. A wine for roasted meats. [Signorello Vineyards, 707-255-5990, $300+/case]

Robert Sinskey / 1995
Elegant, lightly smoky and dry almost to austerity. For those looking for high-quality Pinot from California in a “Burgundian” style, this is it. Could easily pair with almost any dish. [Robert Sinskey Vineyards, 707-944-9090, $249/case]

Steele / 1995
A strong wave of earthiness is balanced by lots of jammy, berry fruit and black cherries. Righ tnow, a great match for heavier red meats with lots of fat. [Steele Wines, 707-279-9475, $168/case]

Steele / 1995 / Sangiacomo
OnNe of the vineyards that goes into the basic Carneros blend, this one carries the jammy fruit all the way. As with the other Stteles, the alcohol level says to wait it out in the cellar. [Steele Wines, 707-279-9475, $228/case]

Steele / 1995 / Durell
This vineyard clearly carries the earthiness and black cherries that work so well with the Sangiacomo in the basic Carneros. Confine this one to the back room for now. [Steele Wines, 707-279-9475, $240/case]

Santé is a glossy format trade magazine for restaurant wine buyers and educators. I wrote as a freelancer for them on and off from the first issue in November 1996 until November 2002 when they decided to stop using freelance writers.