Tuesday, September 19, 2017

So Fans All

So Fans All

Cosi Fan Tutte - Opera San Jose

I recently attended the Opera San Jose performance of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, which a friend informed me upon my obligatory Facebook check-in at the California Theater, was auto-translated as So Fans All, which is an amusing but useless transliteration of Thus Do They All, or The School for Lovers.

The story is as old as theater. A tale of disguised lovers testing the fidelity of their fiancés. 2 gentlemen, soldiers two, disguise themselves as noblemen of Albania (or is it Wallachia) and proceed to seduce each other's betrothed. Unfortunately for the gentlemen in question, with success. But as they say, all's well that ends well, they end the evening with the correct (original) partners and the wedding contracts are signed before a real notary, as opposed to the sly servant Despina.

This was my first show at Opera San Jose. I had listened to Cosi before, but had never seen a production. I grew up around opera to some extent. My father loved the Italian composers and had a nice collection of the classics on 78 RPM discs, which he would spin on a stereo that was built into a piece of furniture, as was the style back in the 1960s. I enjoyed listening, but had never delved deep and had only seen a handful of performances during my adult life. Having long desired to attend some live performances, I decided to purchase season tickets for the 2017-2018 season and attend in proper Opera Widower fashion, solo, the wife not being in the least interested in joining me.

My seats were at the front, center of the mezzanine section, which was a quite enjoyable way to view the stage. From above, but not all the way to the back, with no obstructions in front of me. One can see the entire stage and enjoy the show in a more full screen way, than one would from the orchestra. The acoustics at the California Theater are pleasing and I did not have too much trouble hearing all of the performers. Some players had, perhaps, not strong enough voices to rise above the orchestra, but mostly the singers were clearly audible and lovely from my vantage point.

For me, the stand out was Malcolm MacKenzie as Don Alfonso. As well as a strong and pleasing baritone, he brought out the humor in the play with some laugh out loud scenes. Not quite as strong a voice, but a great comedic performance by Maria Valdes as Despina, who really has some of the best scenes in the piece.

The 4 leads were all fun to watch and gave very enjoyable vocal performances. David Blalock as Ferrando, Colin Ramsey as Guglienlmo, Amanda Kingston as Fiordiligi and Cassandra Zoé Velasco as Dorabella.

Opera San Jose maintains a resident company of principal artists and showcases young professional talent. This season, along with Cosi Fan Tutte, they will be performing Puccini's La Rondine, Verdi's La Traviata and Wagner's The Flying Dutchman.

San Jose can at times be a bit of a cultural wasteland that lives in the shadow of San Francisco, but we are fortunate to have a professional company such as Opera San Jose.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Drinking Spanish in Lodi

Driving through the city of Lodi, it is mostly suburban sprawl and strip malls and straying off the main drag in the downtown area seemed a bit like driving through a meth lab, so some caution is called for, but common sense is all that is needed.

This was a brief visit after lunch, so we only made a couple of stops, but both worth your ime.

The two I visted were both Spanish specialists.

We began at the Cellar Door http://www.lodicellardoor.com, which is a winebar/tasting room that is the official outlet for Bokisch, Van Ruiten, and Michael David. You can buy a glass, a bottle or do a tasting flight. I had actually had a Van Ruiten Old Vine Zin with my lunch, which was $6 a glass at the brew pub we ate lunch at, and was very pleasant in the sort of Ravenswood sort of way. Just friendly, quaffable, a bit jammy zin. So, since I had come to town with Bokisch in mind, I did a tasting flight. They were sold out on the Albarino, but had a very nice Garnacha Blanca, a Rosado, Tempranillo, Monastrell and Graciano. They also have a Garnacha, but it wasn't being poured at that time. I really liked everything except the Rosado, which was a bit on the medium dry side, and you know how I feel about very dry Rosés. I did join the club, since it was a bit of a bargain. I may drop Leal one of these days soon, to maintain my 3 club limit.

Since I was enjoying the Spanish stuff, the host at Cellar Door recommened Riaza http://riazawines.com, along with a few others, that we didn't have time for. Riaza is also all spanish. Great little downtown room. $5 tasting, refunded with a purchase. Lots of little tapas snackies on the bar (olives, almonds, little spanish breadsticks, dipping oil). Owners were working the bar. Young couple who want to do European style wines, lower alcohol, food friendly. Reminded me of Stephy and Brian Terrizzi of Paso's Gironata http://www.giornatawines.com a bit (more on them another time). Funny story, the winemaker/owner introduced himself as  Rick. I said, I'm Rick, and the only other couple in the place, the gent chimes in, I'm Rick too. So we had 3 Ricks. The Mrs is Erin, and they were just super fun and friendly. Wines were quite nice too. They poured 3 Tempranillos, one of which was more of a 'reserva' with more barrel and bottle time. There was a very nice Albarino, a Torrontes and a Graciano. All very good. They buy some of their grapes from Bockisch's Terra Alta Vineyard. Definitely feels like a wine community. Similar to Pleasant Valley in that way.

Just a small sampling, but I figure if you just work off of local recommendations you could do quite well in building a good tasting weekend, and it's a short jump to nearby places like Murphys that have lots of tasting possibilities as well.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Weekend in Sonoma

This past weekend found myself, the wife and some good friends driving around Russian River, Santa Rosa, Sonoma Valley and the town of Sonoma. Research having been done, I can't say that we had any stops that disappointed, though some truly stood out and thanks to a colleagues recommendation, dinner was stellar.

We left the South Bay around 8am, leaving enough time to be at the first winery when they opened around 11. Always wanting to avoid the bridge trolls, we went north over the Golden Gate and hit surprisingly little City traffic on 19th. So instead of going straight to Inman Family Vineyards, which was our original intention, we flipped the order of things and started at Harvest Moon, which opened at 10. Arriving around 10:30, we were not the first to darken the doorstep. Being there when they open tends to make one feel like a bit of a drunkard.

Harvest Moon was one of the best of the wineries we tried this weekend. My friends had been there before, and had  chosen it as one of our stops. The style of winemaker Randy Pitts is fun and food friendly. He is a bit of a Gewürztraminer specialist, and does a bone dry sparkling Gewurtz, a dry version of the same grape, and an ice style Gewurtz dessert wine. Reds were Pinots and Zins in a distinct style, which was not typical of Sonoma's bigger Pinots, in general. His hallmark would certainly be low alcohol and food friendly. Both the Zinfandel and the Pinot Noir were translucent with clean fruit and a nice smoothness on the palate.

Our next stop was Inman Family. Truly a family affair. The winemaker is the lady of the establishment, Kathleen Inman and her daughter was pouring. We had a delightful chat with both, in spite of a slight disagreement about steel Chardonnays. I'm for them, Kathleen felt that some neutral oak was necessary to round out the wine. I was glad to find an excellent dry rosé, which is something I've got a passion for, and two bottles of the "Endless Crush" rosé followed me home. Kathleen also produces some fine Pinots, and a Chardonnay that did not offend.

Rochioli is certainly a venerable name in Sonoma Pinots and the grounds were lovely. Unfortunately, the tasting room, while attractive has a fairly small bar area which was rather crowded upon our arrival and the attention from the staff was minimal. They were only tasting 3 wines, but there was no tasting fee. My tasting notes fail me somewhat here, I remember a white (which did not make an impression one way or tother), a Pinot that was excellent, but maybe a bit pricey and a Valdeguié, which is also known as Napa Gamay, a great table wine for $20. I often enjoy when the bargain item is the thing that impresses the most. I have no objection to expensive wines, but finding a good deal is a delight.

Another well known Sonoma name, and only a hop, skip and jump from Rochioli is Hop Kiln. An historic building, which actually was a Hop Kiln at one time. Hops having been a major agricultural feature of Sonoma's distant past. It is a  fun and lively tasting room and I particularly enjoyed that they brought around little snackies (lox on toast). Another dry Rosé, though less dry than the previous one at Inman, and thus a bit less to my taste. Some very good Pinots and a house red, called Big Red Proprietary Blend. All dandy.

Another location that came originally via a suggestion from friend George, is Porter Creek. This was my second visit and Porter Creek is already a definite destination for moi. Another location where the winemaker has a distinctive style. The tasting room is little more than a shack, but the wines speak for themselves. Chardonnays in a style I rather like. Excellent Russian River Pinots. Zinfandel. And perhaps the most interesting thing is a Carignane, which I was extremely fond of.

The last stop of the day was Moshin. And a good thing it was. They feature a rather massive list of Pinots of which they tasted pretty much all of them. Paul, the mad Scot of Porter Creek had been off that day, but we were greeted by a somewhat less mad Sottish lass. All of the wine was well constructed and the tasting room was fun, though they could lighten up on all of the "moshin" puns, E-Moshin, Pro-Moshin, Loco… You get my drift.

Dinner was at Bistro 29 in Santa Rosa. Highly recommended!!! The mussels in tomato-wine-saffron broth were probably the best I've ever had (including in Brussels), and the all of the food was great. And our server was perfect.

Day 2 took us to Sonoma Valley, where the wineries are generally more "venerable" with bigger estates, older names and often bigger price tags. 

We began at Landmark, which was probably the most gorgeous estate I've ever been to. We were on the early side and had the tasting room to ourselves. The staff was great, very fun and informative. Landmark offers two flights, the regular one for $15 and the reserve for $25. The 3 of us who were tasting opted for a regular and two reserve, but in the end with our purchases and the fact that I had a Visa Signature card that offers a Sonoma promotion, the tasting fees were comped. Probably the best Pinot Noir I tasted on this trip, and the lad behind the bar set us each up with 3 glasses, so we could taste all of the offerings side by side. They also had a killer Syrah, which I ended up purchasing.

Another recommendation from George was Imagery. A project of Joe Benziger, one of the middle sons of the Benziger winery family. Imagery is specialized in unusual varietals and was one of the most fun tasting rooms we experienced. Jennifer M was our wine wench and she gave us 100% of her attention and let us taste a few things off menu including a Lagrein, which is new to my tasting list. She also kindly recommended our next two stops.

Eric Ross  in Glen Ellen. The owner, Eric, is an ex-SF Chron photographer and much of his work is featured on the walls of the tasting room, which is located a bit off the beaten track in the rustic town of Glen Ellen. The lady behind the bar was a dead ringer for Carol King and did an admirable job of managing a bustling tasting room, mostly on her own. Two whites were featured. A Marsanne-Roussanne, which was dry and crisp, an Albarino, Pinot, Syrah, Zin, and a Zin port fortified with St. George Distillery Zinfandel Brandy. St. George Spirits is a story for another day. I bought the Albarino, but the Port was tempting (though pricey at $50). Wines were all very good.

Finally we made our way to Westwood In the town of Sonoma. A small boutique winery with a private tasting room in a little courtyard off the square. It was a bit of an adventure finding it, since the address appeared to be between First and Broadway at 11 East Napa. What I failed to realize was that there is an East First and a West First that sandwich Broadway, so we were hunting on the wrong block. Add on that they are located down an alleyway, you can see why we got a bit confused. A call to the tasting room solved the problem as John Kelly, the winemaker/proprietor, guided us in to a safe landing. We were welcomed into a cozy room with office space in the back and invited to lounge on a comfy sofa while the winemaker gave us a private tasting. John spoke with great pride and enthusiasm about his wines, his winemaking methods and the science of winemaking. I learned a lot from him and it was probably the best experience of the whole weekend, which is saying a lot. Bigger, slightly more alcoholic Pinots than we had experienced elsewhere, but not overly extracted as some Sonoma Pinots can be.  John also does an excellent Rhone blend called RedFour, which he says is inspired by the style of Chateau Beaucastel, consisting of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Counoise, which lead to a discussion of Tablas Creek and their great winemaker Neil Collins.  Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Little Storrs Around the Corner

Storrs Winery, Santa Cruz

Hidden in a little industrial park near downtown Santa Cruz, California is the tasting room of Storrs Winery. The first time I tried to find the tasting room, I probably drove around the office park at least two or three times, passing a cookie bakery outlet and assorted warehouses and offices before practically stumbling across the tasting room on the outskirts of the terrain.

It's a small tasting room with the obligatory t-shirt shelves and a wooden bar tending to the rustic. The staff is universally congenial and the atmosphere all around fun. Sometimes on the weekend it can get rather crowded in the small space, but it seems to work. And the charm of the interior belies the location.

The wines are generally excellent. For a small winery, they offer quite a variety. Bordeauxs, Zins, Chards, Rhones, and Pinots among others. My personal favorites have been the Rusty Ridge Zinfandel, which if you can still get your hands on the 2006 is probably at its peak. A good sized Zin, though not overly jammy, with lots of cherry and a smooth finish. The Wild Cat Ridge Pinot Noir is a great example of a Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot. And the BXR Bordeaux blend, which is probably their signature wine, is an age-worthy red that will reward patience.

Founded in 1988 by Stephen Storrs and Pamela Bianchini-Storrs. Since 2007 they have been planting vines on their own estate in the Mount Madonna area of the Santa Cruz mountians. Storrs is located at Old Sash Mill, 303 Potrero Street, no. 35, in Santa Cruz. Tasting room hours are daily 12 to 5.

That's if you can find them.

You can read more about Stephen and Pamela Storrs and the winery here.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Return of the Zombie Blog

Please Allow me to (Re)Introduce Myself

Back from a long hiatus.

After being away from blogging for a few years and having focused what little attention I have on shorter mediums, such as twitter, I've decided to resurrect Futurballa Blog as a wine blog.

My expertise is limited to what I like and what little I've learned and I definitely tend to focus my attention on the central coast. Specifically, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County, Santa Cruz Mountains, with an occasional foray out of my comfort zone up to Sonoma.

Luckily for anyone who stumbles upon this blog, I have a good mentor in Mr. W, and continue to develop what bit of palate I may have. I'm not the world's worst photographer, so maybe a few wine country shots will make it up here as well, and who knows, maybe the occasional Restaurant review.

So what can you expect of me.
No scores, just opinions.
Love of wines that represent their varietal well. Pinots that imitate Syrahs are frowned upon in general, unless they taste like really good Syrahs, and then all bets are off. Jammy, brambly Zins. Big, complex, fun blends, whether Rhones or Bordeauxs, or in some cases Rhonedeauxs. Bright, crisp, sometimes bone dry, flinty whites. And you won't hear much praise for buttery, oaky California Chards. And food. Did I mention food?

Mahalo and à votre santé!