a word from our sponsor

jean paul masIn the interest of putting to rest the rumors that I’ve devolved into a wino, it’s high time I introduce you to the man who’s brought me to the south of France: Jean Claude Mas, owner and winemaker of Domaines Paul Mas, which comprises seven estates spread across the crus of the Languedoc – most of which I’ve by now had the chance to imbibe. Jean Claude is an ambassador of sorts for both his family owned estate and a unique concept called “le luxe rural,” or affordable, everyday luxury. There’s no pretense about him, just as there’s no pretense to his wines. And more importantly, Mas isn’t selling some imagined romantic notion a la Ralph Lauren, but bringing the best facets of the rural way of life center stage; made by hand and built on traditions that stretch back to his grandfather, who first farmed a small vineyard close to the estate.  It’s an intoxicating conceit because it smacks of authenticity, not just marketing savvy. Mas talks the talk, but he also lives the life: utilizing the local farms, promoting local craftsmen, pressing his own olive oil, commissioning local artists, even creating a line of clothing line based on provincial designs and textiles. Wine, it turns out, is but the tip of a far grander ambition: taking the ordinary out of the quotidian. Now that’s a life we all could live.

domaine paul mas

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cheeky labels

arrogant frogOld world wine with a new world attitude, Arrogant Frog has to be the cheekiest label around. Grown in the gravely, clay limestone hills of the Herault Valley in Languedoc, these eminently drinkable wines have a personality that tastes of their distinctive terroir. Good marketing only goes so far towards establishing a brand, but these are good value everyday wines that will have you coming back to the barrel in spite of the clever labeling.

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tasting reds

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tasting whites

tasting whites

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9,999 bottles of cremant on the wall

9999 bottles of cremant

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mauzac de limoux

IMG_2321Following a little dirt road along the Martinollet River as it winds its way through vineyards, olive trees, and garrigue in the shade of the Pyrenees, it eventually ends at the modest estate of Chateau Martinolles, part of Domaines Paul Mas. This part of Languedoc is rich in heritage. In Medieval times Cathars settled in the area to escape – ever so briefly – persecution by the Catholic Church. Nearby is the Abbey St. Hilaire, where in 1531 the method for creating sparkling wine was discovered and Prima Perla, the first bubble, was born. The rugged climate and topography together create a superb terroir for chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, but it’s Mauzac that stands out. A local varietal, it’s the key to Blanquette de Limoux and Cremant de Limoux, two effervescent AOC sparkling wines redolent with apples and freshly cut grass.

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danger, wine up ahead

danger ahead

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tasting time

IMG_2232Hall is one of those small-scale wineries that make tasting your way through the Napa Valley so enjoyable: intimate, artisanal, organic, they produce fourteen-odd varietals each season, two of which you might find in your local liquor store – if you’re lucky. Because they’re such a diminutive producer, the majority of their wines sell out via subscription. Which means to taste the breadth of their fabulous Cabernet, you really need to visit the St. Helena estate vineyards. Though currently in the throes of constructing a major new guest experience facility – of which I’ll tell you more later – I still got the chance to relax in the dappled sunlight of the tasting garden and sip my way through a handful of choice bottles. Cabernet is like the Chardonnay of reds: people either love it or loathe it. If your palate falls into the latter camp you might be surprised, however, by the pure and vivid flavors Hall achieves. Unfined and unfiltered, these wines are layered, expressive, and totally delicious.

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valley of the vineyards

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big gay road trip

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live blog: last licks

Not quite ready to leave this fascinating mess of a country I am nevertheless headed home – with a quick pit-stop in London en route. I feel like I’m going kicking and screaming. Or maybe I should phrase that as eating and drinking. Determined to ingest a last few bits of Greece I scarf down a piece of baklava in the Athens lounge and drink copiously on the Aegean flight to Heathrow. As well I should: opportunity, I’ve learned, is not a lengthy visitor.

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live blog: dakos

For Cretans the secret of their storied longevity is simple. They eat anything and everything the island’s mineral-rich soil produces, consuming loads of fruit, vegetables, greens, legumes, herbs, cheese, bread, and washing their Mediterranean meals down with an excellent, earthy local wine. Today in Aghios Nikolaos I discovered dakos, a deceptively simple Cretan salad of tomato, cucumber, feta cheese, olives and rusk. It could be considered a close cousin of panzanella – if only the Italians twice-baked their bread to the texture of biscotti. Drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar, it’s a surprisingly substantial light meal with a satisfying crunch and a clean, fresh taste. The challenge in recreating dakos when I get back home is going to be figuring out how to get my hungry little hands on those rusks.

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wish list: in vino vibrato

Sonor Wines is the brainchild of Viennese food and wine expert – and horn player – Markus Bachmann. His pioneering method exposes wine to music during fermentation – a process that, according to its inventor, refines the finished product. Bachmann explains that once in the steel fermentation tanks, a biochemical reaction is set in motion by the tiny vibrations triggered by sound waves. He also believes that varieties of wine which have been treated using this technique contain less sugar, have a fuller flavor and are more drinkable. Different genres of music are also said to give the wines different characteristics. In principle, this means any type of music can be used, from symphonic works to hunters’ classics, waltz and polka melodies and even Viennese folk sounds like Schrammelmusik. The process has been put to the test in Vienna’s Wienbauschule Klosterneuburg on a Grüner Veltliner, but no reports yet on whether it bears similar results to playing Mozart in utero. However, a number of leading growers have taken the plunge and put the new approach into practice, including Vienna-based producers Peter Uhler and Franz-Michael Mayer, who have already bottled the first generation. If music be the food of wine, I say, play on.

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put it in your mouth and suck it

More crow. Located smack in the center of the Gaslamp, Brian Malarkey’s see and be seen Searsucker is not unlike, um, seersucker: comfortable and worn, with just enough style to make you sit up and take notice. Though the menu does not specifically focus on seafood, the “sea” in Searsucker pays playful homage to the “Top Chef” Finalist’s love of the ocean while at the same time embodying the personality of his cooking – mischievous, fun-loving, authentic. Divided into categories like Bites, Smalls, Greens, Ocean, Ranch and Farm, the food is both serious and fun – not to mention seriously fun. A high-meets-low mix of comfort foods prepared with unexpected ingredients and approachable, unpretentious dishes, all paired with local craft beers and a noteworthy wine list that’s chock-a-block with pleasant surprises. (when was the last time you saw an affordable bottle from Sardinia?) Like a smoked trout salad with grapefruit, radish and avocado; marrow bone with fleur de sel and onion jam; octopus, cress and saffron aioli; and spicy shrimp over bacon grits. I’d have loved to have tried one or two of the appetizing-sounding entrees but all those starters (and sides like fresh shucked corn with chile and roasted Brussels sprouts) got in the way. Yet that’s one of Searsucker’s finest selling points: have it your way. Graze, nibble, drink, feast, whatever – you’re in excellent hands, suckers.

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life’s too short to drink bad wine

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