April 22, 2008

Into the Sunset - 'Bye to Blogger

No, we’re not leaving. Just moving!

Although it’s still a work in progress, the new Vegas Wineaux site is now up and running. Please join me there!

Here are some of the new and improved features:

  1. One address. No more bouncing from website to blog and back again. Everything is here, mostly in blog format with static pages with web content.
  2. It’s easier to find and read past postings.
  3. Clean, user-friendly layout.
  4. Links to postings, pages, and more.
  5. Multimedia! I’m finally in the 21st Century! Sort of.
The new site is more professional in appearance, offers a better interface, and is easier to navigate. The new Combatting Swirl Envy link will lead you to our classes and other services. The Contact page will give you a way to contact us. The slideshows are a new addition, and there's still more to come. There will be a Forum, where everyone can come and share their wine adventures, purchases, tasting events, and more.

The winery series - showcasing the wineries I've visited - is now a serious work in progress and will be on the site shortly. The Vegas Pics that everyone liked on the old site will be making a reappearance in a fresher, funner (??) mode.

Just as a surprise to you, I have already transported all of the postings from Blogger (that would be here) and moved them to the new site. Shortly you will able to read some of the old classic posts (such as my infamous rant on the then-new restaurant, Sweet Water in Henderson).

More pictures, more postings, more features, all in one-stop shopping!

April 17, 2008

What Makes a Wine Kosher? Wineaux Educational Moment!

One of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar is upon us, and it is a holiday fraught with emotion, historical crises, and spiritual uplifting. It is Passover, or as it is known in Hebrew, Pesach.

Because the Passover Seder (celebratory dinner that takes place during the first and second nights of the eight-day holiday) requires that several glasses of wine be drunk during the ceremony, wine has a special place and has special significance during this time. The wine also has to be symbolically the purest, which means that it has to be kosher.

The most popular misconception about kosher wines is that they are blessed by rabbis. Quite the contrary; wines are made kosher so that anyone can make blessings. “Supervised” is a far more accurate term, since the men who are overseeing the vineyards are working very hard, and are not necessarily rabbis.

Kosher laws are derived from the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) where God sets down His laws for what Jews may or may not eat. The reasoning behind the kosher laws can be quite bewildering. Many commandments fall under the principle of "Chok," i.e., divinely given laws beyond human understanding. The Torah also required that most offerings, whether of animals, grain, olive oil, flour, or other foods, be brought with a "wine libation," indicating that wine was an integral part of the worship service.

To ensure wine's purity, the establishment of wine koshering laws began during the time of Maimonides, about the mid-1100s. While not specified in the Torah, the practice of certifying wine as Kosher came about because of the religious practices of the non-Jewish populations surrounding Jewish societies. These populations would use their wines as libations to their gods, which was anathema to the Jews who were expressly commanded to avoid even touching items that were used in sacrifice to alien deities. The Jewish religious leaders then expressly forbade any wine that was handled by a non-Jew, since it was not clear whether that person would have used such wine during their worship services.

Kosher wine starts in the vineyard with Orlah, which means that it is forbidden to use the grapevines from the first three years of the planting. However, it is not necessary that grapes come from kosher vineyards (although there are many who would disagree vehemently about that statement) since grapes are Pareve (neither milk nor dairy) – essentially, neutral.

Some unethical winemakers would use bovine blood to increase the redness of their wines, and kosher laws expressly forbid the consumption of blood in any form. (I’d say that such wines were probably overly earthy and lacking in fruit). So no animal products may be allowed to touch the wine. Winemakers often use egg whites or gelatin to clarify the wine. Kosher winemakers, on the other hand, use bentonite, a type of clay, to attract suspended particles and drag them down to the bottom of the barrel. Egg whites are forbidden because they may have blood spots in them or the gelatin may be made from non-kosher animals, rendering it unfit to drink.

In addition, only Sabbath-observing Jewish males are permitted to touch or handle the wine from the moment grapes are harvested and crushed until the wine is sealed with a cork and capsule into a bottle.

All equipment must be spotlessly clean and not used for the making of non-kosher wine. All barrels must be brand new and/or used exclusively for kosher wines. No barrels used for non-kosher wines may be used in kosher winemaking.

Jewish law states that kosher wine can become non-kosher if it is opened and poured by a non-Jew, such as a waiter or bartender, unless it has been previously boiled. (Don’t flinch. It’s not a bad thing). The laws of Kashrut (i.e, kosher laws) specify that the wine has to be made different from non-kosher wine in every respect. A mevushal wine retains its religious purity no matter who opens or pours it. While mevushal wines “used” to be inferior in quality, technology has whittled away at the differences between mevushal and non-mevushal wines. A recent study at the University of California at Davis, the nation's top winemaking school, has shown that it's often impossible to taste the difference between the two.

Making wine mevushal is a process which brings the “must” (the slush of grape solids and juice resulting from the grape pressing) to the boiling point, defined as heating it until air bubbles are brought to the surface and some wine is lost through evaporation. This is done before the fermentation process begins.

Wine served at large functions invariably is mevushal, as it retains its Kashrut quality even when the bottle is opened by non-Jewish waiters and passed around the table at a mixed gathering.

A perusal of a wine’s label will tell you whether a wine is kosher, and if it is, whether it’s mevushal. In order to be kosher for Passover - which has special requirements during the holiday - the wines are almost invariably mevushal.

So there you have it! Happy Passover!

April 8, 2008

Coming Soon! And Cruise News!

A LOT of things are coming soon, and I want to share them all with you.

I have been dropping teasers during the last two posts about a wine cruise. Here is the launch (pun intended) of the promotion for the cruise, and the launch of the new wine tasting and food events at MARC’S in Summerlin.

MARC’S Wine Reception
Wednesday, April 30, 5 to 7pm
The first of unusual bimonthly wine and cuisine events
RSVP at (702) 562-1920
Cover charge $6.00
At MARC’S Restaurant 7290 West Lake Mead Blvd.

*Help kick off a Mexican Wine Cruise with Cruise Holidays of Summerlin!
*Try out new wines from MARC’S collection!
*Enjoy live jazz guitar entertainment!
*Get in on winery visits and tastings with an exciting new cruise!
*Have an opportunity to meet:
Saskia Olsen, Cruise Line Representative
Irene King, Vegas Wineaux Instructor in wine etiquette and tasting
Cruise Holidays of Summerlin wine cruise staff for updates!

I’m so excited I can hardly stand it! Most people don’t know that there are world-class wineries in Mexico. And that until now, they had not exported their wines to the U.S. Well, all of that is changing, and they are opening up their wines and doors to us. Come and visit us during the reception and get information about the cruise!

And lest you think that I am forsaking my favorite wine country, Paso Robles, fear not. Victor Abascal of Vines on the Marycrest will be in on the 26th for still yet another party at our friends at Vino 100. Come by and say hi, and sample some of Victor’s wonderful wines!

And last but not least, there are major changes afoot for the Vegas Wineaux website and Blog! We are hitting the 21st century in full stride!

There will be a completely new, modern look to the website, and the Blog will be incorporated within the web structure. In addition to regular Blog postings and schedules of classes and other events, there will be a variety of new articles and occasional submissions by guest authors. Slideshows, podcasts, and picture galleries will add to the multimedia appeal. We will have pages showcasing our favorite wineries, winemakers, wine folks, friends, and Wineaux! There will be Wineaux Taste Notes, recipes, and other new features.

As you may be able to tell, I’m very excited about these new changes and have been working very hard to bring everything together. I am calculating that the launch of the new site will take place *about* the first weekend of May.

Stay tuned and keep on sippin’!!

April 2, 2008

Paso Pleasures, Pics, and Updates!

Okay, Okay. Stop yelling. But you’ll still have to be patient!

Here are some teasers about my trip to Paso last week, and I had to share some of my adventures with you.

As I mentioned in last week’s entry, who knew it was Easter?!? Since the kids are grown and the grandkids live in California, I tend to be somewhat lax when it comes to keeping track of holidays. Oh well. My Sunday plans went awry, but that’s okay. My visits on Friday and Saturday more than made up for it!

Here’s an overview of what my trip was about:

The first stop on Friday was at Opolo. It was a necessity, because somehow, my Mountain Zin wasn’t packaged in my shipment. !!!!! For those of you who are fans of Opolo Mountain Zin, you know that’s an unforgivable sin (no pun intended)!

Their large and lovely wine tasting room had a few fans in there who were (surprise) tasting and buying wine. We met with Sherri who took us on a tour of the grounds. I took lots of pictures which will be on the website shortly. I can’t even begin to describe the magnificence of the view.

Our next stop was to Vines on the Marycrest, where, once again, we were taken on a tour of the vineyards by the winemaker and owner, Victor Abascal. The next time Victor comes into town and does a pouring, you have to come and meet him and enjoy his wonderful wines! He is personable, chatty, and very passionate about winemaking. Plus, he has a heck of a story behind his unusual winery name.

The next trip was to Villicana, where we met up with Alex. (Yes, Alex fans, he’s still as cute as ever!). He took us to his expanded winery room, which is in the middle of construction. I am already envisioning Vegas Wineaux tastings in there! We tasted his new releases and bemoaned the fact that the Rosé is now filtered! Apparently there are quite a number of people who don’t understand that unfiltered and unfined means that the wine may be cloudy. Sheesh.

After making a quick trip to pick up the rest of our party, we went to Hug Cellars where we met with Augie Hug who regaled us with stories of vineyard politics, future plans, and later treated us to a barrel tasting. He told us about different types of oak, different barrel manufacturing processes, plans for his barrel room, and more.

We spent quite a long time there before we left for dinner and chatted far into the evening.

The next morning saw our intrepid little group at the Paso Robles Inn, where the Belgian Pecan Waffles with Pecan Butter was the choice of a couple of folks, and I had something “healthy.” Still delicious, though! We walked over to the square which was hosting the Farmers Market, which was smaller due to the Easter holiday we were told. We made some purchases while waiting for a particular wine tasting room to open.

Midlife Crisis Winery is a fun winery with award-winning wines. Jill Mittan, the co-owner (along with her husband … another funny story behind the name) was there with Allison, her pourer, and we had an Easter Egg hunt for grownups! I got an egg full of Kisses, and one of my traveling companions won bottles of wine! I was sooooo jealous! They were one of the few wineries open on Easter, so we returned Sunday to pick up our wines.

The next winery was the now-iconic Tobin James Cellars! “The Man” wasn’t there that day, but our pourer Helen was wonderful as she treated us to club member wines as well as the wines available for public tasting. This is the only tasting that started in Paso Robles and ended in a party in Vegas! You’ll have to stay tuned for the update on the website for that special treat!

The last winery we visited was Hidden Oak Winery. The owner, Mike James (no relation to Tobin) and his lovely wife Martha, treated us to his two wines, Merlot and Encanto, which is a Merlot/Cabernet blend. I didn’t expect this quality of Merlot out of Paso Robles, and was entranced by the perfume and flavor. We went for a walk to the vineyards on his spectacular property in Templeton. This is where we discovered something about terroir…the earth where the vines were growing is fragrant! Along with the substantial flint found in the soil, the evening breezes and climate make for an incredible wine. If you are familiar with CellarTracker, a quick lookup of Mike's wines will show you what the tasting community thinks of them. The scores are in the 90s, and I can fully understand why.

The places I *didn’t* get to visit because of the holiday were Arroyo Robles, Christian Lazo, Pasolivo, Dunning, Donatoni, Halter Ranch, Four Vines, and even Robert Hall. I will plan my next trip a little more carefully, and make sure that I don’t go there on a major Sunday holiday!

I took nearly 300 pictures during that weekend, and even counting the oopsies, the randon foot shot, the blurries, etc., I still had a pretty big bunch of good-to-great pictures. The magnificent early spring scenery of Paso Robles and the surrounding area screamed to be caught on film (or memory chip. whatever.) and I couldn’t resist.

Each of the wineries will have its own page and slideshow on the website which is being updated. It’s not difficult since I’m a techie person, but the organization can be tedious. Stay tuned!

Yes, it’s true. Vegas Wineaux is currently in negotiations for a winery cruise in December with Carnival Cruise Lines. As soon as I have some solid news to report, I will let y’all know. You will be stunned, I promise!

Until next time, keep sipping!

March 26, 2008

Paso Robles! 'Nuff Said!

Just when you think you have everything planned out well in advance, along comes something to upset those plans. It's amazing how "real life" can do that.

First of all, I went to Paso Robles this past weekend. My plans were to visit the wineries with whom I’ve been communicating, and then to spend a day visiting new places and making new friends.

Who knew it was Easter. Wasn’t that supposed to be *next* week?? Oh well. Just about everything was closed on Sunday, of course.

I was also planning to take all of the notes and pictures I took and make a two-part Blog entry.


What can I say? This was a truly spectacular weekend, both in the weather and in the quality of the people. And the views, and the vineyard tours, and the wineries, and the wines!! I am still smiling at the fun that I had and am humbled at the generosity of spirit and the passion for their wines that the folks have up there. And as one of my small group indicated, they haven’t been “Napafied.”

And pictures. Lots and lots of pictures! The spectacular spring scenery in Paso was breathtaking. There were over 300 pictures taken, and most are phenomenal. Sort of in the category of “it’s hard to take a bad picture.” The bad pictures were just that … why in the world did I think an out-of-focus picture of my feet in Crocs was a good idea?!? At any rate, after weeding out the so-so pics, the best will be uploaded along with a description of each winery and blurbs from the interviews.

So this is what I decided to do. Each place I visited will have its own page on the website. It may take a couple of weeks to get everything up there, but if you’re a regular visitor to the site, you’ll see each page as it appears. I will also be adding to the Paso Robles slideshow page.

I visited Opolo, Villicana, Hug Cellars, Vines on the Marycrest, Midlife Crisis Winery, Tobin James, and a relative newcomer, Hidden Oak Winery. Without exception, they were open, warm welcoming, and generously shared their knowledge about their wines, plans for their future, and proudly showed our little group around.

So I’m still recovering from the long drive (six hours one way, about five if there’s no Highway Patrol around), but am already planning a summer trip for me and a Harvest tour for Vegas Wineaux(s)!

Stay tuned for upcoming information on the Winery Cruise with Vegas Wineaux. And it’s not what you may be thinking! This is a real surprise!

March 20, 2008

Paso Robles! Friends, Me, and the 21st Century

If you’re on the newsletter mailing list, you are already aware that I did not fall of the face of the earth and am, in fact, still quite firmly attached to terra firma.

I am overloaded with stuff to tell you, and don’t know where to begin.

The Combatting Swirl Envy classes have been so much fun and gone so well. We're churning out wine snobs by the truckload! There will be one class in April, but afterwards we’ll be on a temporary hiatus after that point as I recover from a medical “procedure” (yes, you can squirm), and finish updating the class to meet the requested needs of the students. We’ll have an even better CSE course and series of classes that will meet the needs of the neophyte Wineaux. Fun? You bet!

Thanks and shout outs to Valley Cheese and Wine and Khoury’s for allowing me to have space in their wonderful establishments. The students love the stores and have a hard time leaving without buying more wine!

Okay, here’s the embarrassing part. It’s time that I was brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

If you look to the right, you will see two sites that I’ve linked to. One is VinoLasVegas, which is the other Las Vegas-centric Blog, and the other is Classic Wines. Both sites are great in that they have video (!!!)

Of course the granddaddy of online video is my new favorite wine critic, Gary Vaynerchuk. He is a total nutcase, but certainly has the whole non-snobby wine thing figured out. What’s more, he has placed his own reviews of wine on the Internet and has – in the approximately year and a half since he started – become quite the global phenomenon. WineLibrarytv.com.

While my buds here aren’t quite at the global phenomenon stage yet, they do have great video that you have to check out.

The Vino Las Vegas Blog is run by two of my friends, Scott and Elaine Harris (Elaine is the cute one). Anyway, ever since they went to the World of Pinot Noir, I’m barely speaking to them, but I’ll recover and talk to them again some day. Maybe. (As you can probably guess, I DID NOT make it to the WoPN. Can you imagine? Me. The ultimate Pinot Ho. My motto: If you drink no Noir, you Pinot Noir. Dammit.)

But I digress.

Classic Wines is a little different. Matt Apsokardu has an incredible website dedicated to informing people about wines and he does enviable interviews with winemakers, tasters, etc. It’s easy to spend quite a bit of time at his site (ask me how I know), and you’ll learn a lot when you do. And spend money. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion!

And I don’t want to leave out a new friend, TheWineryChannel.tv. That’s sort of where I met Victor Abascal, owner of Vines on the Marycrest. What a wonderful little site they have!

And now we get to me. I have recently spent wayyyy too much time looking for a battery for a 30-year-old camera before I remember that it’s really older than my kids and what the heck am I doing?!? So my goal for this Spring/Summer is to actually buy a little video cam so that I can look as cool as Scott and Elaine as they get these great interviews, blah blah blah. Grrr. Anybody have a flash bulb?

New stuff! My trip to Paso Robles will see new pictures on the website, interviews, tastings, and more. AND!! Keep your ears close by for news about the upcoming Vegas Wineaux at sea as we explore new wineries in places that would surprise you!

Sound mysterious enough? Stay tuned …

And thanks to Roger of The Winery Channel for granting permission for me to reprint the following little blurb from his newsletter. It's so funny!


#10 - It's mostly water... really good water.
#9 - Wine is easy. Comes in shades of two colors.
#8 - Wine is fruit juice and everyone know that fruit is really good for you.
#7 -
The likelihood of a wine drinker strapping on a bomb
to blow up fellow wine shoppers at BevMo is virtually nil.
#6 - Wine is not explosive ... mostly.
#5 - Wine bottles hold the perfect amount to seduce a willing lover.
#4 - Wine is an excellent excuse for having a wine cellar,
thus a place to hide from your spouse and kids.

#3 - Wine grows in the most beautiful places, so it's obvious that God
wants you to visit there. Don't make him any madder. Go now!
#2 - A moderate amount of wine improves
your appearance, intellect & wisdom...for a short time.

And finally reason number one ---

#1 - Reasons? We ain't got no reasons.
We don't need no reasons.
I don't have to show you any stinkin' reasons!

* (with a nod to Alfonso Bedoya - Treasure of Sierra Madre.)

February 26, 2008

Vines on the Marycrest Tastes Vegas! and Event Reminder

You know how sometimes you meet certain people and just “click”? Well that happened a few weeks ago when Victor Abascal of Vines on the Marycrest winery contacted me when he learned about the Blog and what a Paso Robles fan I am.

Victor came to Las Vegas last week, and I had the opportunity (privilege, actually) to meet with him two days in a row. At 44, he looks far younger and has an engaging, friendly style. Victor is a Technical Engineer in the film business in Los Angeles, which makes for an interesting commute from his home in Paso Robles. Not only that, but his brother-in-law is Rick Baker of cinema special-effects fame!

He began his wine-making career by surreptitiously planting vines on the grounds of the Marycrest, a Catholic home for the aged, in his hometown of Culver City, California, and his winery’s namesake. Well, the nuns there freaked (can nuns freak?), and the police were called. Well, once they realized that this was not the illegal greenery that it appeared, the nuns relaxed and Victor had his vineyard. And then the insurance company intervened. As a result of this and a series of other head-shaking events, Victor eventually found his destiny in Paso Robles. This all makes for a lively, interesting story of someone whose true passion is wine!

Victor and I corresponded for quite a while as he developed his itinerary for last week. I also got to know him via The Winery Channel where he narrated his wine/life story.

Victor came in last week in order to promote his wines, and he and Elliot Pemberton (www.pembertondc.com) did a whirlwind tasting of his wines at various casinos and restaurants. I’d like to brag about some of the restaurants they went to, but I’ve been sworn to silence.

Thursday evening Elliot, Victor, Michael Breyer and I met at AquaKnox restaurant in the Venetian. Elliot and Victor had just come from a tasting at (insert name of prestigious restaurant here), and were tired but excited after a busy day that was capped by that impressive tasting. Victor generously shared his wines as we nibbled on the delicious appetizers of AquaKnox. By the way, they were very accommodating of our need for glasses, and couldn’t have been better. Kudos to them!

Like nearly every winery, Victor has a particular angle to distinguish his wines from everyone else’s. First is his label. The name of the wine is on the back label along with all of the pertinent information. In addition, his reds are named after famous songs which have personal signifcance to him and his family. And to top it off, Victor bottled everything under bright yellow screwcaps.

The first wine that Victor poured was the 2005 Heart of Glass (Blondie), 67% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 11% Mourvedre. Very fragrant and highly drinkable, this is a food wine.

Next was 2005 ‘Round Midnight (Thelonious Monk), 45% Syrah, 33% Mourvedre, 22% Grenache. I quickly discovered that “fragrance” seems to be the distinguishing characteristic of the Marycrest wines. Dark fruit, pepper, spice and berries on the nose, and the same on the palate.

The third wine was 2005 Satin Doll (Duke Ellington), 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah, 6% Cab Franc. Quoting Victor, “I set out to make this wine. This is the wine that I had in my mind when I started thinking about making wine.” I can understand why. Lush and, well, *fragrant,* this wine is elegance in plums, cassis, berries, and tobacco. The tannins are well integrated and it has a long, almost creamy finish. This wine coats the glass when swirled.

The last wine tasted was the 2005 My Generation (The Who), which is a lively blend of 45% Zinfandel, 28% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, and 9% Petit Sirah. Big and fruit forward, this is a characteristic Paso Robles Zin-based wine. Break out the barbeque! Berries and spice, along with smoke and pepper make this a real lip-smacker.

As you can see, all of his wines are blends, and all are characteristic of the rich aromas and flavors for which the Paso Robles wines are known.

I met Victor and Elliot Friday night as they poured for the customers, fans, friends, and wine club members of Vino 100. This evening, however, he also had his 2006 Rosé, which became my immediate love. It’s a blend of 63% Grenache, 16% Syrah, 16% Mourvedre, and 5% Zinfandel. This ain’t no sissy pink! It’s unfined and unfiltered, with a richness that’s normally expected in reds. As of this writing, it’s not attached to a song!

The one thing that I noticed when I was tasting at Vino 100 is that the fragrance of the wines were redolent with the primary grape’s bouquet. In other words, while I thought the wines were very fragrant Thursday night at AquaKnox, the smaller, more intimate environment of Vino 100 really showcased the primary grapes’ perfumes.

I can’t wait to visit the winery when I visit Paso Robles next month. Vines on the Marycrest has once again confirmed why it is that I love the wines of Paso Robles. The rich Rhône blends, with their heady fragrances and rich fruit are putting Paso on the (wine) map.

Thanks again to Victor and Elliot for thinking of me when scheduling their busy schedule. But then again, such generosity so typical of wine people.

Oh yeah, before I close, I want to remind everyone of the Cultural Diversity Foundation Wine Tasting and Jazz event on Saturday night, March 1. I hope to see you there as my friends and I pour wines and help this very deserving cause. I’ve also contributed a free Combatting Swirl Envy-Lite! class for two as a door prize!

Hope to see you there!