The legendary “rolling wine bar” at Ralph’s market downtown has been reactivated from time to time in 2010 by its superlative host Mike Berger, like a rock star dropping in unexpectedly to play a stunning set of live music unbilled. This week Mr. Berger is announcing two winery-themed tastings: tonight, Wednesday the 14th, and Friday the 16th. Both tastings will run from 5pm until 8pm.
Celebrated in the past numerous times in downtownster as the best happy hour wine value in Los Angeles, the ephemeral return of these events is cause to rejoice anew. While still often stunningly great experiences for the money, Mr. Berger has lost a large share of his creative control of the tastings. For over two years he had complete autonomy in presenting his selections of wines for themes of his choosing. To the true wine aficionado many of these tastings could have been subtitled “Operation Shock and Awe”, such were the sensational attributes of the wines, their savory accompaniments and the seamless grace of the host — all for a price that was close to ten dollars. The same price range is still in effect and all-inclusive: wines, food and no tip allowed.
Tonight he will be joined by his compatriot in the world of wine, Joe Montoya. Mr. Montoya will be pouring, along with our local hero, wines from two of the most prestigious wineries he represents – Château St. Jean (of Sonoma) and Beringer (of Napa). In the world of Northern California wine, and therefore, the world of fine wine at large, these wineries have great reputations. St. Jean produces one of the most honored meritages in the short history of that term, Cinq Cepages. It is a blend of five red grape varieties that has received wine-of-the-year honors from The Wine Spectator as well as copious other important awards. Beringer’s top-rated red wine has even more impressive accolades. For decades their Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has been considered one of the elite Cabernets from Napa Valley, the United States’ greatest region for its most vaunted red varietal. Along with a handful of other producers, this wine has been dubbed a premier cru – a nod to the five French Châteaux who produced unrivaled Cabernet Sauvignon-driven wines for nearly two centuries before the emergence of California and Italy as rivals. I would not expect either of these wines to be offered tonight. I do expect a marvelous tasting of at least five wines that will range in retail price from $16 to $60. Both wineries are known for exceptional Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as many other superb varietal wines including Merlot, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. The list of fine wines from current vintages to draw from numbers in the twenties and Mr. Berger will pair the selected wines with four super-premium artisanal cheeses and La Brea Bakery bread. It should be noted that Mr. Montoya, while co-hosting these tastings in the past, was known for his generosity and, “the wine flowed like water”.
Friday night, J. Lohr Winery of Paso Robles will offer an assortment of their wines. The character of varietals from this area, whose exposure was greatly enhanced by the movie Sideways, tends to be riper and more fruit-driven than the wines of Napa and Sonoma. They also have a lower price point because production costs are lower. (Vineyard land in Napa and Sonoma is like real estate in Manhattan or Bel Air.) The region is considered an excellent place for Zinfandel and all the grape varieties of France’s Rhone Valley including Syrah, Mouvedre and Grenache – all of which J. Lohr produces. In addition to Paso Robles area vineyards the winery also sources much fruit from Monterey and Napa. They even produce a high-end red meritage blend utilizing the same five grape varieties that go into St. Jean’s Cinq Cepages. These meritages are relative values as they retail around $50. With over twenty wines in their current vintage lineup, and some real heavyweights, this could prove a special night. At any rate, even their lesser wines are rich and luscious. Tropical fruit character in their Chardonnay, explosive Sauvignon Blanc, dark fruit and berry character in both Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Their upper echelon wines are very good. They produce six single-vineyard wines and four red meritage blends.
Keep your fingers crossed for some of Mr. Berger’s cooking. Though never advertised, when he can find time, among all the other duties he is charged with as the Ralph’s wine and spirits manager, he prepares a fresh entrée – at no additional cost – to accompany the wine tasting. Mr. Berger also owns his own catering business and has no trouble culling the ingredients from his store and whipping up a dish from his vast catalog of recipes on a moment’s notice. The problem is getting that free “moment”.
Ralphs Market (on 9th Street between Flower and Hope)
Wine Tastings $8 to $12
This Wed. &, Fri. from 5pm to 8pm
Mike Berger, host