20080526

I left my iPod in San Francisco


I got tagged with a musical meme by my buddy Joe at a perfect time.

I've been reminiscing about the traveling I did in California during the first half of April. And I've been reminiscing about the West Coast(-inspired) music that often served as ambition for my trip.

Neither one is with me anymore. Both the scenery and songs are now gone. All I have are memories, and luckily, some mp3 copies on my hard drive.

So here then, thanks to Joe of Joe's Wine Journal, is what I have been listening to lately -- sounds that have definitely shaped my spring (these are not mp3s but rather video links so just click on them to listen to the tracks).

MGMT - "Of Moons, Birds & Monsters"

Shea at Just Grapes responded to Joe's tag with "Kids," this band's most alluring pop song in my opinion. But MGMT are a very talented act with some serious chops in so many genres: glam, psychedelica, classic rock, indie dance, even disco. My great hope for modern music in 08, though I must say that their live show doesn't suggest the how incredible their debut full-length recording is. Buy Oracular Spectacular before your friends do.

Sonic Youth - "Disappearer"

The best band in the universe once wrote an album called "Goo" that chronicled the effect of show business to those new to the biz. It's a modern-day Gypsy but with a noisier score than "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and it's more about Hollywoodland than anything I else I could grab when I was packing my bags for my first trip to Cali.

Saint Etienne - "Postman"

Though a British band with a French pop element, Saint Etienne sing many songs that evoke or pay homage to postwar California. Much of their 1998 album named Good Humor (with its characteristic US spelling), evokes California living and chasing the American dream, usually with a catharsis or two along the way.

No Age - "Neck Escaper"

The band shown at the end of the video linked above is not No Age, but another Los Angeles band named AAnchors AAweigh, who I enjoyed at Spaceland in Silver Lake on April 11. No Age, meanwhile, is primed for big success with their new album Nouns following the critical acclaim of their last release Weirdo Rippers, from which this infectious track is taken.

Imperial Teen - "Room With A View"

The rushed, do-it-all, fit-it-all-in-better-than-you feeling of this song captured my week in San Francisco in retrospect. It's about grabbing what you can, while you can, even though you know it's not gonna last. The band is not on my regular rotation list but I admire them more than I listen to them, which is okay too.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "10 x 10"

I'm always aurally turned on by the sounds of this Brooklyn band, now spending much of its time in LA. No clue about what this song is actually about lyrically. I just love their feisty throw-downs, their great guitar sounds and their sense of self.

Pavement - "Fillmore Jive"

This could be the best song of all time. After seeing the musical depth of this Bay Area band's ten-year oeuvre when jazz masters James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Reginald Veal and Ali Jackson pored over songs from the Pavement catalog, there's no doubt that cuts like "Fillmore Jive" can live forever. It's nice to be particularly into this track at the moment once again.

20080514

Chloe, Helena and me: California split wins big at Café Chloe when I order the dinner special and pour Château Montelena 2005

(MUSIC CREDIT: DJ SHADOW)

This is the first video upload I've ever done on my blog. A fantastic meal matched by an astounding wine were the factors that led me to create it. But it's not a video on the wine or the restaurant per se. Rather, it's a video inspired by them -- these are the scenes that unfolded around me while drinking California's best wine at what must be Southern California's best sidewalk cafe. It's less a gastronomic documentary than it is an interpretation of feeling; less food and wine than twilight mystery developing into the rich, delicious night. It's the Ch Petrogasm of wine video podcasting, if you will.

(By the way, the evocative soundtrack is by California's DJ Shadow, who hails from Davis -- especially suitable since it is the centre of California wine knowledge.)

This comes at a momentous point in time: After I (a) dined at the same restaurant for three consecutive days and (b) finally tasted an American wine that actually made me think seriously about the meaning of the Judgment of Paris.

I can safely say that neither of these things has happened to me before. Until now, I was more of an accidental tourist, never planning to repeatedly return to the same venue while on vacation abroad -- never finding a restaurant with such savvy, yet retaining a keen sense of self (Café Chloe, in San Diego's Gaslamp District, was originally tapped by the inordinately useful Brooklynguy). And also until now, I thought I was the judge on whether I bought New World or Old World wine. Tasting this Napa Valley wine made me think that maybe California was holding all the cards.

So can California cash in on me and make me a repeat player at their table? For a bottle of what I tasted, it's $44.50 in Quebec, and $44.95 in Ontario. In its home state, you'd pay a sommelier some 30-something dollars for a half bottle, which would roughly make the retail price up to $10 cheaper south of the border.

At either pricepoint, this wine is worth it. the wine I am talking about is the Château Montelena Chardonnay Napa Valley 2005. It doesn't just try to be Chablis, it does one better with its own beguiling expressiveness.

But the smart sommelier service I received and the great, truly French approach that Café Chloe demonstrates played their part too, making this a dinner of synergy and total amusement.

Château Montelena Chardonnay Napa Valley 2005

Eyes: As my video suggests, I was taking notes on the Café Chloe sidewalk terrace after dark. The gleaming lights of the San Diego Padres at Petco Park were a feeble twinkle behind Farkas Store Fixtures. No notes on the visuals, sorry.

Nose: Toasty nose. Yeast and brioche with green-tinted fruit.

Mouth: Best of both Worlds? This has a buttery finish on a seriously minerally and citrus-exposed version of Chardonnay. So buttery it seems creamy and sort of oxidized at first (malolactic fermentation?) but it is terrific and worth paying attention to. Strict lines frame a wine with deep, ponderous expression but it's quixotically sharply bracing, with great slaking refreshment. Like the California sea air. Refreshing, but more contemplative than a typical Chablis. And the nice layer of wood or that slight malo hint I get. Dry, lingering, with a balance that makes the the dismount as wonderful as the attack.

Stomach: Café Chloe served me a great dinner plate with loads of local produce, tastefully done and beautifully presented. With the fresh Pacific salmon I had (my first), I was enchanted. Though if I have to honestly say whether tasted more terroir in the fish than in my Chardonnay, I'd single out the drink. While the fish was prepared to perfection, I was let down by (perhaps) overblown promises of Pacific Coast catches, especially the salmon, in this case.

I'd say that salmon's not the ideal match for a clean-lined Chard -- herbed roasted chicken might be the best pairing -- but it didn't matter in the least. The basic building blocks I was given were there. West Coast brilliance!

And my last post said I had to force things in California?

Calistoga, Napa Valley, California, U.S.A. 13.5%.

20080505

On vacation in California, forcing the American wine out of me



The trouble with Californian wine may be California -- the Freeway State.

Half the time I was trying to have fun and kick back; the other half I was desperately trying to burn up the alcohol I ingested so I could get back in the car and up the next on-ramp.

Here I am suffering through a dubious do-it-yourself Breathalyzer test in Griffith Park. I don't even think the test worked, but more on that later.

To tell it to you straight, my palate is no more a lover of the fat reds of California than my liver is. And I've been vocal in my disapproval of American wines, even when my liver for the most part would stay intact. Arising transportation issues made my outlook on exploring the local wine scene dimmer -- even in sunny SoCal.

So the idea of navigating my rental car from wine stop to wine stop in Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Temecula was dead in the water before it ever began. I drove to Mar Vista, and took a tour of some chateaux which were are simple, flat-roofed and hugging the ground instead. I took snapshots, not shots of wine, while I was there.

I wasn't even going to try to try California wine after coming all this way. It was my own stubbornness and fear of DUI, plus a wee bit of being a bad wineblogger (or else I wouldn't have created my first-ever video documentary on YouTube on the rather dry and sobering topic of postwar California tract housing and subsequently post it online to my other non-wine blog... Clearly a good wineblogger would've produced from this trip some insightful, if scathing, wine podcasts instead of researching residential history for a Mar Vista montage that nobody will want to watch).

A LIGHT AT THE END OF MY TUNNEL VISION

francis ford coppola 2006 Bianco pinot grigio california rosso &bianco seriesI may have been so busy forsaking Californian wine along with its higher than normal alcohol content that I didn't recognize this bottle of value wine that we picked up in Los Feliz. It came with a cute Retsina glass cellophaned over the top and was only $11.99 -- a no brainer for a spur-of-the-moment picnic wine. And that was before we tasted it. It wasn't bad!

In retrospect, I think my fellow wine drinker and I could've finished the bottle and I could've had the usual "full share" of my portion and not left the remaining wine you see here. It was a nice "light" Cali alternative.

It got the same thumb's up that my co-pilot gave me for putting the keys in the ignition. While DYI Breathalyzer tests can be tricky to administer and interpret, ultimately friends don't let friends drive drunk.

Which is great.

But as I said, me = bad wineblogger. I don't have any more details to give you on our experience with the wine than what is written and pictured here.

But I have more than that for my next post: I did myself and others a big favour by tasting and writing a note for a Chateau Montelena.