Adventures in California Wine Blending, Take (Lua Rossa) 4

There was no obvious, primary barrel to use and build around, explains Mr. Eric Larkee after I swiftly negotiated a few minutes on a busy but never too busy for wine morning last week.  “That step of the process was different this year. We never really contemplated making something with a majority of less than 50 percent.”  Chalk it up to an election year trend.  Too soon?

Larkee was alluding to the annual development of Lua Rossa, Michael’s private label with Au Bon Climat winemaker Jim Clendenen, and the same place but different spot in which we found ourselves approaching its fourth blend in May.  Usually first order of business (and pleasure) is to identify what will be the major component, then add whatever is necessary to enhance it, exercising a few graduated cylinders along the way.   A key palate was missing this round, too — Tamara was double booked in Miami!  Forge on we must.

“Going into a new blend, I’m not thinking it should be a departure from the previous,” he notes.  “We’ve been progressively happier and happier with the wine.  And using better wine.  Also, sure, there’s more focus and insight into what the wine should be, having had the experience working with the various iterations over the years in the restaurants.  Things like guest reactions, for instance.  This matters a great deal.  What the wine can be is always a surprise, arriving to the winery and seeing what’s there to work with.”

Speaking of better wine, the Nebbiolo used for no. 4 comes from a much stronger stock than the Nebbiolo used for no. 2.  Better grapes, better vintage.

The breakdown.

The breakdown.

So, how does it drink?  Larkee breaks it down by component parts. The Nebbiolo comes through on the nose as rose and anise.  Dark berries come more from the Teroldego and Rofosco fruit, with its Northeastern Italian breeding.  The versions grown in California are very dark-fruited.  Teroldego also imparts a little more oak and tannin than in past iterations.  The Nebbiolo’s acidity helps to make it food friendly.  Some of it is 2003, so there are actually five wines in play (two Nebbiolo), not four.  The Cabernet Franc offers finesse.  We get some spice off a younger Rofosco.  This wine will soften in the bottle and easily find its place at any number of Schwartz tables around town.  Taste for yourself.  As of December, all The Genuine Hospitality Group restaurants, including Fi’lia at SLS Brickell, have made the transition from no. 3 to 4.

“What this wine is about is being versatile and drinkable on the table and pairing exceptionally well with food,” Larkee reflects.  “And not having to represent a time or a place, but just be joyful.”

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The moment of truth, orchestrated by Beverage Manager Amanda Fraga with a plate of Cypress Tavern Chef Max Makowski’s short rib.

5 Courses of Clendenen: The Cypress Room’s Menu for Lua Rossa 3 Release Dinner

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They have arrived! Jim’s wines coursed from left to right.

Michael’s first ever dinner with Jim Clendenen in Miami is two weeks from today on Tuesday, September 22 at 7PM, and The Cypress Room has the honor of hosting it.  The wines have landed, including our first bottles of Lua Rossa 3, and Roel Alcudia’s menu is ready to share as follows [CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS]:

WELCOME  
Passed assorted Hors d’oeuvres
Clendenen Family 2014 Mondeuse Rosé

FIRST
Garam Masala-Cured Fish, coriander emulsion, puffed rice
2013 Clendenen Family Gewürztraminer Au Bon Climat

SECOND
Slow Baked Fish, herb crust, baby vegetables, shellfish broth, shrimp tortellini
2012 Clendenen Family Viognier “Second Coming” Au Bon Climat 

THIRD
Duck Breast, leek pudding, foie gras, cranberry gastrique
2009 Clendenen Family Nebbiolo “Bricco Buon Natale”

FOURTH
Braised Beef Cheek, celery root, wild mushroom, black truffles
Lua Rossa 3 Syrah/Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Mondeuse Stanta Maria Valley

DESSERT
Salted Caramel and Chocolate Tart, compressed pears, creme fraiche
1995 Il Podere Dell’Olivos “Sittin’ Pretty” California Aleatico

To get here, Jim dropped some crumbs from his spice rack, through Eric, for Roel.  With the dry Gewürztraminer, he would want something cold and raw, fish perhaps, an aromatic dish perfumed with coriander.  “Like an Indian spices sort of thing,” Jim says.  For the “Second Coming,” a curve ball came through the grapevine.  “He said something like a Rhone-style fish,” Eric explains.  “I’m not sure exactly that means.  When I was in Lyon all I ate was meat, and oysters.”  And of Lua Rossa 3?  “It’s red!” Eric laughs. “For now I’m letting it settle in the bottle.  Why ruin the fun when we’ll all discover it together at the dinner?”

In a 5-courses with wine pairings, we get a first taste of Lua Rossa 3 and enjoy exploring the lesser-known varietals that Jim’s coffers have to offer.

$175 plus tax & gratuity includes:
– welcome rosé and canapés
– 5 course dinner paired with Santa Barbara’s unexpected varietals, from its most curious producer
– a special bottle from the first shipment of Lua Rossa no. 3, signed by both Chef and Winemaker

Cheers you there!  For more images and recollections from our third blending trip, see here.

 

Uncorked: Larkee on Lua Rossa no. 2

Forget everything you expect from sequels and open a bottle of Lua Rossa no. 2.  Waft its profound aroma, the Nebbiolo showing up first with classic rose petal and anise notes. Behold the dark fruit, and then marvel in its rustic, earthy notes, unusual for a New World wine. The wine is medium bodied on the palate with medium tannins and food friendly acidity. I’ll have seconds.

Screen shot 2014-09-05 at 10.30.59 AMLong awaited after April’s blending trip to Santa Barbara with Michael, Tamara and blender in chief Eric Larkee, our first shipment arrived this week and is drinking rather exceptionally. You can find it as of yesterday on the wine list (by the glass and bottle) at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink and come November at Michael’s Genuine®  Pub (MGP) aboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, along with its producer Jim Clendenen’s Ici/La-Bas and Clendenen Family Vineyards brands.

“If one were to climb a mountain seeking an oracle of wine knowledge there would be no shock to find Clendenen sitting on the top,” Larkee states in our newly minted server training guide for MGP. “Besides already knowing you were coming, he also would hold all the answers, at least his answers to your questions.”

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The epic lunch Mexican lunch Jim cooked for us at the winery after blending. Those hot sauces though…

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Setting the buffet, the Clendenen way. All over the place!

This is the second addition of the wine, the first was created to be a friendly, approachable pizza wine for Harry’s Pizzeria.  The finished wine exceeded expectations and came in to use in all of our restaurants.  No. 2’s core is Nebbiolo. The Petite Verdot adds color and tannic structure. There are actually two Refoscos, one which adds color and spicey complexity, as well as a dash of 2003 Refosco that offers that baseline funk of Old World earthiness. The Pinot Noir adds depth and complexity and is kind of the wine’s secret weapon. Larkee also suggests pairing with The Pub Board, Pork Slider, Fried Gnudi from MGP’s menu, food-friendly indeed.

After college graduation a month in Burgundy and Champagne convinced Clendenen that he would be better at making wine rather than law. In 1978 he started as an assistant winemaker at Zaca Mesa, and in 1982 he branched out on his own starting Au Bon Climat (which means “a well exposed vineyard”). While never a favorite of the magazine critcs, Jim’s wines have found appreciation with those who seek wines to complement and not overpower their foods. Chef and Jim first met almost twenty years ago and have maintained a close and convivial relationship since. Back then Michael had a haircut much closer to Jim’s wild mane.

For those of you with nostalgic leanings, Harry’s Pizzeria® and The Cypress Room still have the original Lua, so say hello or goodbye to her before her run comes to a close.