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Joane Garcia-Colson is a recovering attorney—her words—turned chef who owns the much-loved Dish Creative Cuisine in Palm Springs.

She’s always had a passion for food and service, and says she played “restaurant” with her cousin when she was a kid.

Local foodies know Garcia-Colson opened Dish several years ago in a humble Cathedral City strip mall (of course, humble strip malls are where the best food can often be found!) before upgrading to bigger digs early last year in the Uptown Design District.

Not all chefs understand the dance between food and wine—which is why far too many restaurants offer wine lists with little more than grocery-store favorites. Garcia-Colson, however, takes her wine seriously: She loves wine and has tasted every wine she serves in her restaurant.

We chatted in the lovely, intimate Chef’s Room—which boasts Dish’s cellar and a view of the kitchen—while we enjoyed sips of the new AM/FM Chardonnay.

How did you get your start in wine?

I got into wine in relation to food. I didn’t really start drinking wine until my last year in law school, 1989. That is when I went on the wine-and-dine interview circuit while I was getting recruited by law firms in Chicago, New York and other places. On that interview circuit, I really got exposed to red wine. Then, of course, (I learned more) during culinary school. It’s been an adventure over years. Now I’m really into good wine!

How do you select the wines to serve in the restaurant?

I always try to have in mind: “How is this going to fit with our current wine list? Is this a product I think our guests would enjoy? Can we pair it with our existing menu?” It’s really important to me to taste every wine. When someone asks me, “What’s your favorite?” or, “What wine would you drink with this?” I want to speak to them from a place of knowledge. The other thing I try to do is bring in wines that have a small retail presence. I don’t like to bring a bunch of wines on my list that guests can go down to Ralph’s and buy. We do have a few of those, because you have to carry some standards people are familiar with, but I really try to look for interesting small-production, boutique wines so that when guests come here, they can try something new and different, and get exposed to something new and different.

I think that is part of our role, our obligation, as a restaurant—to give people a different experience than they are going to have at home. Why go out if you can make it at home? I feel the same way about wine, and that’s another reason we serve 90 percent of our wine list by the glass—virtually everything we have is available by the glass. We have created a reserve list for more high-end wine.

Do you ever taste a wine and reverse-engineer—in other words, think about making a new dish to pair with it?

Oh yes, I have done that. I am open.

What is your advice to wine-drinking novices?

People shouldn’t be afraid of wine. A lot of people are afraid of wine. They are afraid to taste; they are afraid to try because they fear they don’t know enough. Be adventurous! Go to a place where you can try things, because you just don’t know how it’s going to hit your palate until you taste it. If you can go to a wine-tasting event, go to one—that is how you learn.

Did you entertain a lot at home before Dish?

Oh yeah. I loved having people over—dinner parties, cocktail parties, etc. I love setting the table and making delicious food. In my family, over the holidays, I’ve always been in charge of the food. I’m an introvert, so I’d rather be in the kitchen cooking. My wife and I formed a little supper club, four or five couples. The hosting couple would make the main dish, and the other couples would bring the side dishes. It was awesome!

What inspired you to open your own place?

A moment of temporary insanity. (Laughs.) When I went to culinary school, I didn’t have any intention of opening a restaurant, but when I weighed my options after I graduated, I realized I wanted to do something on my own. I want to create my own food; I don’t want to cook somebody else’s. I want to have that control. This is sort of my last hurrah. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say, “What if?” Also, I’ll tell you my son (Stefan, a filmmaker in Los Angeles) in a lot of ways is my role model, because he has always marched to his own drumbeat; he’s very creative and talented, and he has always wanted to be his own boss and do his own thing. He has been self-employed since he left college. I so admired in him that he chose a path where he was true to himself, and he could follow his passion and use his creativity and find a way to make a living from it. I said, “You know, maybe I ought to do that.”

What are the challenges of selling wine?

Providing customers with an experience with wine that is positive and educational for them. We’re not afraid to suggest wines we like to customers and give them a taste and be honest about our preferences. People get really used to what they like, and if you don’t have it, sometimes, they get pissed off. There is no way possible that you can carry everything, so the challenge is introducing guests to something different and new that they might not have experienced.

The rewards?

I get to taste a lot of wine! (Laughs.) That’s one of the perks of the job. Another reward is that there is nothing that feels better than when a guest thanks you for giving them a wonderful experience. That feels really good and gratifying—when someone gets what you are trying to do and appreciates you for it.

What’s are you drinking right now?

We are really enjoying Daou cabernet (and) also the Paloma merlot. It’s a gorgeous wine. I’ve become very fond of Emmolo merlot—and the Pessimist, also by Daou. My palate really tends toward Paso Robles, so I love Justin, Daou and Sextant. Those are some big ones. And Peju!

What are you loving on your list right now?

We have the Daou on our wine list; we also have the Emmolo. I really love our merlots, and I want people to be more adventurous with them. We have a great selection.

Favorite pairing?

I like pairing sparkling with things. I think it’s fun to do whites with seafood, and it’s really fun to pair wine with salads. The last wine dinner we did, I made a grapefruit, avocado and crab salad that is on our menu now. We paired it with Truth and Valor chardonnay. Delicious!

Desert island wine?

It would definitely be a cabernet or a blend—something really rich. It might be the Emmolo, actually. I’m loving that one.

Favorite wine book?

It’s a book I often recommend to people: The Flavor Bible. It’ll tell you about wine pairings, too.

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

In Palm Springs, I tend to go Johannes and Copley’s. I also enjoy Le Vallauris.

Favorite thing to do besides drink wine and cook?

I like to read.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Bruce Davis has a reputation around the valley for knowing his stuff when it comes to wine. After one conversation with him, I understand why the wine specialist at Palm Desert’s Bristol Farms has this sterling reputation.

Davis, like a lot of great wine people, loves to tell stories. He casually connects wine history with the present without being didactic. He considers himself an educator—although he says his customers cry mercy when he gets too detailed about, for example, soil types. To him wine, is a grocery. “It’s supposed to be fun,” he says.

Davis grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and has worked off and on in the grocery business since he was a teenager. He got a taste for wine thanks to the roadside tasting booths in Napa, which he passed en route to his inlaws’ cabin in Clear Lake. He’s been drinking and selling wine since the ’70s and has seen the progression of the items on store shelves from Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy and jug wine through the explosion of the varietal—chardonnay, cabernet and pinot noir—to today. He sees the pendulum swinging back, both on the producer and consumer side—away from big, high-alcohol wines toward more acid-driven, low-alcohol wines made from diverse varietals. Bristol Farms’ inventory reflects this: Half of the inventory in the wine-shop-within-a-grocery-store is imported, mostly from the Old World.

To chat with Bruce Davis and taste his wine picks, I recommend one of Bristol Farms’ wine dinners, which take place on Thursdays, starting in October and going through the season. It costs just $20 for dinner and four or five wine tastes.

I’d normally bring a bottle of wine to enjoy while we talked, but since it was 10 a.m., and Davis was at work, coffee and water had to suffice—though I did buy a couple bottles, based on Bruce’s recommendations, to take home.

How did you get your start in wine?

I moved to Lake Tahoe in 1979 and started working for (grocery-store chain) Raley’s. They had a very large wine selection, and the company that provided us a lot of our high-end products sponsored me to go to Napa, where I went to Mondavi and Beaulieu Vineyard and learned an incredible amount. We tasted a ton of wines—different vintages and varietals—and learned about wine-making techniques. That went on for about six years, and meanwhile, I became very much a consumer. I had a cellar with 200 bottles and experimented with aging. I then worked in real estate for many years before “retiring” to Rancho Mirage in 2000. Around that time, Jensen’s opened a La Quinta store, and I answered an ad (looking) for a wine steward. From there, I went to the Palm Desert location and worked there until 2014.

How is working at Bristol Farms?

I’ve been at Bristol Farms for two years, and I’m never leaving here. I’m not going to open my own wine shop. I’ve been offered other jobs, but I have a lot of support from the store, and the company is very aware of the symbiotic relationship between wine and food—that wine is food.

How do you select the wines at Bristol Farms?

We have a corporate director of wine and spirits and a buyer who does all the buying companywide. (Bristol Farms has 12 locations.) They’re stored in a warehouse that I buy out of. It’s large enough that I have everything I need there—it’s huge. We have thousands of items. It’s changing all the time based on vintages and buyer trends.

What is a trend that is taking hold?

One trend that is really, really hot is rosé.

Finally, right?

Yeah! It’s interesting, because when I was at Jensen’s, the rosé selection I had there was probably only 11 bottles, and I probably sold 10 cases a year. The rosé selection I have here is closer to 50 to 60 bottles, and I sell 50 or 60 cases—maybe even more! I have promoted rosé, and the company has promoted it, too.

What is your sommelier/education strategy?

A lot of people allow themselves to get locked into varietals, and I’m constantly trying to get them out of the box. … Maybe they’re stuck on chardonnay. So the first thing I’ll say to them is, “You know, have you tried a Rhone white? Let’s find a Côtes du Rhône that’s a marsanne, roussanne, viognier blend, and (by drinking it), you can then understand the beauty of those grapes and how they blend together, and that they can make a very refreshing, interesting wine that gets you out of your chardonnay box.” The same with sauvignon blanc—if someone is stuck in their sauvignon blanc box, I’m going to point them to a verdicchio, verdejo or albariño. Any of those varietals from Italy or Spain are beautiful wines. For myself, I’m a huge fan of arneis.

Another thing I try to do is give people is information so they can make a decision. Often times, people won’t understand it if I put the information in wine terms, but they will understand if I use an analogy. I use two analogies very regularly: human beings and cars: the age/stage of a human being—for example, a teenager, or middle-aged person. And makes and models for cars: Is a wine a Smart Car, or a 7 Series BMW? They’re both cars; they both have a motor and a steering wheel, and they both get you from point A to point B, which is the reason you got in the car in the first place, but beyond that, the pleasure that is derived from being in that car is very different. It can range from ordinary to ethereal.

What’s are you drinking right now?

Scotch. (Laughs.) But if I’m drinking wine, my wine of choice is pinot noir. It’s just beautiful, and it goes with everything. I’m a big Santa Lucia Highlands fan. Of all California (American Viticultural Areas), it’s my favorite for pinot. If I was going to get put on a desert island …

Hey, that’s my next question!

… and I had to choose one varietal for the rest of my life, it would be pinot noir.

What are you loving in the store right now?

A wine that I’m really taken with is the Orin Swift Mannequin. You’ll recognize the label, because it has about 15 mannequins on it, which is all you see. It’s technically a chardonnay, because it exceeds the 75 percent rule, but it’s referenced on the label as a “white wine,” and there are four or five other varietals blended in. That, to me, is a phenomenal wine; I’m a big fan. I’m also really loving garnacha (grenache) from Spain right now.

Your favorite wine book?

The Oxford Companion to Wine. It’s a doorstop, but if one wants to learn about wine, check that out and just peruse it.

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

My wife and I like to go to Kaiser Grille, or Le Vallauris if it’s special, or Jillian’s if it’s special. Ristorante Mamma Gina. My favorite Mexican is Salsas Restaurant in Cathedral City—phenomenal.

Your favorite thing to do besides drink wine (and Scotch)?

My passion is tennis. I played this morning for two hours before I got here. My wife and I both play tennis four to five days a week at Mission Hills. My other passion is golf. 

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Marcus Kempken has been living and breathing wine for more than a decade. As the Palm Springs sales manager for Mosaic Wine Alliance, his job is to meet with his various accounts and sell wine … but to Kempken, it’s so much more than that.

Many wine-lovers, for some reason, also love storytelling, and Kempken is no exception. During our chat, he waxed poetic about Stolpman’s 2013 Roussanne—a brand which, of course, is represented by his wine-distribution company.

Mosiac Wine Alliance—which represents and distributes brands such as Saxum, Frog’s Leap, Paul Pernot and Francois Lamarche, just to name a few—is a wine broker born here in Palm Springs. Pierre Lemieux, one of Mosaic’s founders, was working at the old Rusty Pelican 25 years ago when he saw an opportunity to bring fine wine to the desert. The company was formerly called PMDL, but Lemieux and company have rebranded and expanded to other areas of Southern California.

Marcus got his start in hospitality at Red Robin—humble beginnings, in his words. He caught the bug for wine and food service at an early age and worked his way up from busboy at Red Robin to server/sommelier at Sullivan’s. He then held various sommelier/wine buyer/manager positions at The Hideaway, Indian Ridge Country Club, and the 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro. He started working with Mosaic part-time while with 3rd Corner and has been with the distributor ever since.

Marcus and I chatted over that bottle of Roussanne, enjoying every sip.

How did you get your start in wine?

One of my co-workers at Red Robin also had a job at Fleming’s, and he showed me one of his wine-education books. Just seeing a couple of pages sparked an interest. I thought, “This could be an opportunity where I could go and learn something and better my life”—not knowing exactly what it would actually do for me. It changed my life, 100 percent, in so many different ways. At the time, I didn’t even know how to pronounce “cabernet sauvignon” or “merlot”: I knew red and white. I didn’t drink wine when I was younger, but between seeing those pieces of paper, and hearing about how servers were making $250 a night, I thought, “This is awesome.” So I went to get a job at a steakhouse, thinking I could make more money. The maître d’ at Sullivan’s took a chance and hired me. There, I met the sommelier, Robert Chancey. He had this energy for people and wine that I have not seen since. He really harnessed the energy of the passion of wine and the love of connecting people with that. He taught me that, and it’s the foundation of who I am as a wine guy today.

What was your first wine love?

I had a guest at Sullivan’s who came in alone one night and ordered himself a nice meal and an expensive bottle of wine out on the patio. In my mind, I’m going, “Why is he ordering a $150 bottle of wine for himself?” I didn’t understand at the time why he’d do that, but then he let me have a taste. It was Stag’s Leap Cask 23. That wine was truly amazing—the finish lasted 15 minutes. That experience and that wine taught me what wine was really all about: generosity and good winemaking—and on top of that, I can make a little money. All that came together that night: I can make a living from this; I can taste good wine and be passionate about it; and I can spend time with good people. Wine is great that way. It’s a bridge, it’s a conversation piece. I drink wine to share, to be with friends and family.

How was the transition from wine-buyer to sales rep?

I wouldn’t have done it any other way. For any old sales rep coming to the wine world, there is a really steep learning curve and a tough transition. For somebody like me, who has relationships from working in restaurants and a background in wine, it makes all the difference. My first year wasn’t as difficult as it could have been; because I could get a meeting based on my existing relationship with wine-buyers, it was a huge benefit. Four years later, many of those buyers are gone or have moved on, so I don’t have the same advantage. Now, I’m resting on my book, my service, my thoughtfulness and what kind of deals I can find my customers.

You enjoy being on the sales side?

I do. I love our book and working with the wineries we represent. They’re all family-owned and -operated, so representing them is meaningful and a pleasure. I really enjoy working with Mosaic and Pierre. He’s created a wonderful culture that is reflected in the way we do business. We have flexibility to do wine dinners and spend time with accounts. Pierre is all about quality of life and taking care of his reps, and I really appreciate and admire that; we’re like a family.

One thing I do miss is interacting with the end customer. Given the opportunity, I’ll chew off someone’s ear talking about the wines.

What are you drinking right now?

Rosé, white burgundy and Alsace riesling.

Desert Island wine?

Cult Cabernet, 2001. It will last forever; it’s built for the ages.

Favorite food pairing?

Steak, potatoes and cabernet. (Laughs.) I’m simple-hearted. I don’t need foie gras and caviar or champagne.

Favorite wine book?

Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy. It’s the only book you use for Italian wines. And the first wine book I read taught me the basics: The Everything Wine Book. Those two really spoke to me.

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

Spencer’s. Andre (de Carteret, the sommelier) has stuff that is not on that wine list that is hiding in the cellar that will rock your world. You can get a great meal at Copley’s. Mr. Lyons. Johannes—he has a great wine list, some hidden gems. LG’s has been running some wine specials lately; you can get some good deals.

Your favorite thing to do besides drink wine?

Riding bikes and hiking the Indian Canyons. So much natural beauty in the desert!

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Lisa Tussing, a Southern California native, got her start in wine while attending college in Arizona. She started out like many of us do—drinking wine from Trader Joe’s, where she worked during college. From there, she moved on to fine dining, at places like John Howie Steak in Bellevue, Wash., and the historic Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. In 2014, Tussing was the youngest woman in Arizona to hold a Level 2 sommelier certification. A chance meeting with La Quinta Resort and Club general manager John Healy at the Biltmore (which is owned by the same company as the La Quinta Resort) brought Tussing to the desert last year.

Tussing and I chatted in the dining room of Morgan’s over a bottle of Los Bermejos Malvasia Seco.

When did you first start getting into wine?

When I worked at Trader Joe’s. I got a job there when I was 22, and worked there for three years while I was going to Arizona State. I’m the biggest Trader Joe’s cheerleader: I had a great work experience. Everyone loves being there; they pay well; they feed you; they encourage you; they let you take ownership and make you feel empowered with your guests. I started working in the wine department a little bit, and my friends and I started to taste our way through the wine selection. By 23, I had drank my way through the wine program! From there, I kind of started taking it over. I started making the orders and became the go-to wine person. People would laugh at me and say, “You’re not even old enough to drink, are you?” After Trader Joe’s I got back into fine dining at luxury hotels.

What’s the best part of your job?

At Morgan’s, we do these “festivals” menus. Every two weeks, depending on what is in season and what’s local, we do a different three-course menu. We do this all summer. … We do wine pairings with the menus, too! It is really fun to work with my chef (Jimmy Schmidt); he gives me an idea of where to start, then we’ll sit down together and bring new wines in and make the perfect little pairing.

I also love it when guests bring in wine and share some with me. Some of the best wines I’ve ever had are wines guests bring in.

What are you loving on your list right now?

The Bonny Doon “(I Am Not Drinking Any) $%&*#!” Merlot is a fun, inexpensive wine. I love the name, and it has a really fun story behind it. Another of my favorites on the list is Trefethen Dragon’s Tooth. The Dragon’s Tooth is a malbec blend out of Napa Valley which Janet Trefethen makes that is a winery- and wine-club-only wine, but I managed to convince them to let me put it on the list. … I also like the Tamarack Cellars rosé that I pour by the glass. Last summer, I went wine-tasting in Walla Walla, and after a week of tasting syrahs and merlots and these giant cabs and Washington reds, my palate was blown, but we went to Tamarack last-minute because my chef’s friends said how amazing it was. I drank this rosé there, and it was like the wine gods were shining a light on me.

What’s your sommelier strategy?

It’s all about your guest and knowing what they’re looking for. My strategy is to approach a table and get a feel for them and what they’re trying to accomplish with their meal. I ask what they’re having for dinner, what they normally like to drink, and how much they want to spend. I also ask if they want to go more traditional or do something fun. With all that info, I can pick out the perfect bottle on my list for their occasion. My strategy is not limited to wine: I have no ego once service starts. I’ll bus your table; I’ll run food and seat people. Once service starts, it’s all about the guest and what they need to have the best experience possible.

How often do people want fun versus traditional?

A lot more than you’d think, actually! A lot of guests will come in here with their minds made up. They might say, “I really like The Prisoner,” and I’ll ask why, and they’ll say, “I really like the fruit and texture, and it is really mellow.” I’ll say, “If you really like that wine, definitely get it! But if you want to try something a little different tonight, go with this B Cellars Sangiovese out of Napa Valley.” It’s all about reading the table.

What are you drinking right now?

Vodka. (Laughs.) When I go out, I drink cosmos and beer, like hefeweizen and lager. When I’m at home, I drink bubbles. I also love any white that doesn’t touch oak: torrontés, vinho verde, albariño and New Zealand sauv blanc.

Your desert island wine?

Just one wine?

I’m not a monster. (Laughs.)

Well, I’d do a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner wine: Bollinger (Champagne) for breakfast, torrontés for lunch, and Jones Family Vineyards Cabernet for dinner. I remember the first time I had that wine. A guest brought it in, and I thought, “Why don’t all red wines taste like this?”

Favorite food pairing?

I love a good oyster/champagne combo, or oyster/rosé. I love our oysters here; they are one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever tasted—a raw oyster topped with tangerine and Eroica Riesling granita; poached ginger; and tangerine salsa. It’s one of the chef’s signature dishes.

Favorite wine book?

All the study books are good, like Windows on the World and The World Atlas of Wine, but I read a book one time that really inspired me: Cheryl Ladd’s Token Chick: A Woman's Guide to Golfing With the Boys. It’s about golf, but (I) kind of tied wine into it. She was the first woman on the celebrity pro-am. It’s not technically about wine, but it’s about being a woman in a man’s world, so I relate to her. 

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

I stay in La Quinta a lot. There is a restaurant up the street called Casa Mendoza; I try to stop in there on my days off. (The restaurant has) killer margaritas, and the owner is always there; he’s really friendly. The food and service are great. I send a lot of people there.

Your favorite thing to do in the desert?

Golf at the Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West. Right now, the bighorn (sheep) are out on the course! It’s a sight to see. During the summer, I can golf about once a week. During the season, I don’t get to play at all. I don’t mind the heat. I don’t drink on the course—just water and Gatorade, so I sweat it out. It’s cleansing.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Whenever I head to the Los Angeles area, I always try to check out a new restaurant or eat at an old favorite—and when it comes to wine, two of my “old” favorites are Bar Covell and Augustine, both of which are among the most loved wine bars in Southern California. In fact, Sherman Oaks’ Augustine was recently named one of America’s Best New Wine Bars by Food and Wine.

Both wine bars are co-owned by Matthew Kaner, one of Los Angeles’ most respected sommeliers. Kaner’s involvement in wine doesn’t stop there; he regularly hosts wine events (he was recently tapped by the German wine industry to host a “Wines of Germany” event) and travels all over the world to learn about wine. On his schedule this summer: Oregon, Italy and Portugal. He’s writing a book about wine, and makes wine in partnership with winemakers in Santa Barbara under his AM/FM label. In other words, the man lives and breathes wine.

I met up with my fellow redhead while Kaner was recently visiting Palm Springs; we shared a bottle of Domaine Sylvain Bailly Sancerre Rosé, “La Louèe,” and chatted about all things wine.

How did you get into wine?

I got into wine first at 7 years old when I stole a glass of champagne at my mom’s friend’s wedding. This is not a joke. … I literally went over and stole a glass of champagne when someone went to the bathroom.

Was it actual champagne?

I don’t know. I never saw the bottle. I’ve always called it champagne. I could be wrong; it could have been Cremant de Loire. (Laughs.) So anyway, I stole a glass of champagne, or sparkling wine, from someone, and then I had to be taken home so I could vomit profusely for hours—as a 7-year-old! That’s how I got into wine first. I took about a 13- or 14-year break. … I’m from Santa Barbara, which is a wine-producing place, and a friend of mine in college … was really into wine through his dad. He didn’t really know much about it, but he was into the culture of it and going to dinners and cooking and things. His dad took a liking to me during my college years, and he inspired me to learn more about it. I actually quit my restaurant job of four years. I didn’t want to be a manager anymore, and I started working at a wine store called the Wine Cask, where I completely faked it ’til I made it.

What’s exciting to you about wine right now?

There’s so much access. There are so many people who wouldn’t have known things existed before, and now people are learning how to ask questions about it. One of the great parts of my job that I really appreciate and that I take very seriously, especially in the Internet age, is when you’re asked a question, you actually have to give the proper answer. There’s accountability now, because there is an iPhone in everyone’s hand.

What is the most exciting part of your job?

Wine is a conversation that never ends. … The narrative is always changing; the information is coming out more and more; things are being redefined; there are new winemakers. … There is a never-ending crop of talent which is really interesting. I’m a storyteller by nature: I write; I write songs; I’m writing a book. Wine, for me, is a synthesis of all my real loves, which are history, maps, geology and what things smell and taste like. The synthesis of all these things is really what’s in the glass. What excites me is that I get to tell these stories every day. I get to show people something they didn’t know about.

You’re writing a book?

I moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago to pursue music. I put a lot of time and effort in my life to do music. I quit college to pursue music, and it was what I thought my first path was really going to be. The perspective I’m taking in the book is how the pursuit of music led me to my career in wine. There is a synergy that I’ve felt with a lot of people in the wine industry … people who at one point were record producers, or a famous singer in a band, and then they throw it all away to go move on to a vineyard and make wine, or to start an import company.

Where is the most exciting wine region at the moment?

The Loire Valley (in Central France). For its biodiversity and the fact that (winemakers there) make every style of wine there is, the Loire Valley is a pretty special place.

What was your first wine love?

Burgundy.

Desert Island Wine?

Anything from (French winemaker) Thierry Allemand. It’s also the gentleman whose wine bottle was the impetus for my tattoo on my arm.

Favorite pairing?

Champagne and potato chips.

Your favorite wine book?

The first wine book that I read cover to cover was Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy by Joe Bastianich and David Lynch. It’s a very nice book; I learned a lot. … Italy is basically a country of, like, 20 different countries. I was able to learn about the culinary background and history, why certain grapes work with certain foods from different certain regions, and why they don’t make sense with other things. It had to do with a lot of family tradition and a lot of history. They really did an amazing job with that book.

When did you fall in love with Palm Springs?

The first time I came to Palm Springs was for a romantic getaway with my then-girlfriend. I fell in love with the landscape, the mountains, the weather. It’s hot; it’s dry. You go to a great pool, hang out by the pool, drink by the pool—everything is by the pool.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Palm Springs?

So far, my favorite thing to do in Palm Springs is go to Dead or Alive. (Laughs.) I’m really proud to have the AM/FM pinot noir available there. I’m also a huge fan of going to the Ace Hotel and having room service, and then being in a robe all day or night. I really like Tyler’s. I like the fact that they do what they do, and they do it right. I also like the Palm Springs airport. It’s awesome.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Kristin Olszewski is one of the Coachella Valley’s newest sommelier/wine directors. At 28, she’s also one of the youngest.

She joined F10 Creative (Mr. Lyons, Cheeky’s, Birba and Chi Chi at the Avalon) in December, moving to the valley from Massachusetts, where she was born and raised. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she worked in restaurants in Boston and then San Francisco, including Saison and Sweet Woodruff; in fact, she helped open Sweet Woodruff and was the restaurant’s general manager.

After her stint in San Francisco, she decided to make a drastic career change: She moved back to Boston to enter the post-baccalaureate premedical program at Harvard. She then applied to medical school and was accepted. At the time, she was working at Spoke, a popular wine bar in Somerville, Mass. Her love of wine took hold, and instead of medical school, she is now pursuing a career as a sommelier. Before her move to Palm Springs, she was working at Straight Wharf in Nantucket, to which she’ll return in May.

On Thursday, March 10 and 24, Olszewski will be holding special wine dinners at Mr. Lyons; call the restaurant 760-327-1551 for more information.

Over a casual brunch and bottle of Hild Elbling Sekt at Kristin’s apartment, we talked wine.

When did you first start getting into wine?

I didn’t like wine for a really long time, but I was working in restaurants in San Francisco and tasting a lot. My ex-boyfriend was really into wine and had a great palate; we would drink a lot of wine together. One of my friends was the sommelier at Sons and Daughters, and she was the one who really exposed me to wine. I hadn’t thought about wine in the way she thought about it. That was the start. I was really lucky; I worked with great people in San Francisco who knew a lot about wine and were always willing to share.

What was your first wine love?

Cremant du Jura Rosé. I just remember being so amazed that wine could be that bright and mineral-driven. And then I was obsessed with the Jura, and I wanted to try everything I could.

What brought you to Palm Springs?

F10 was looking for a wine director for the season, and my boss in Nantucket mentioned me to Greg Rowan (the general manager at Mr. Lyons)—they used to work together in San Francisco. I needed something to do in the winter: either travel through Europe learning and wine-tasting, or work as a sommelier. So I met with Greg and Tara (Lazar, F10’s owner) one Nantucket morning over black coffee and bacon, casually talking about wine and everything, and it just worked out.

What surprised you most about Southern California?

How much people drink French wine here. (Laughs.)

You had the impression we only drink California wine?

Well, that is what everyone told me. I was thinking Palm Springs, resort town, steakhouse …

What are you loving on your list at Mr. Lyons right now?

I’m loving the 2013 Domaine de la Meuliere 1er Cru Chablis. I’m also really loving the 2012 Cultivar St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon. I cannot believe that I like this fruity California wine so much, but it’s so amazing; I really love it. I like fruit … who would have thought? I get so snobby sometimes that I forget how great fruit is. 

What’s the best part of your job?

I really love my job because I work for people who allow me so much freedom, and trust. And I get to be very playful with my wine lists. I’m really lucky that I got this opportunity. I’ve learned so much more than I even thought I would. When I was re-doing the wine list at Birba, (I was) kind of conceptualizing: What slots do I want to fill? Do I want light-bodied, mineral-driven and acidic? Light-bodied with fruit? What am I filling? I hadn’t really thought about wine in that way, so that was really great.

What’s your sommelier strategy?

I’m basically a hawk, circling the room for people looking at the wine list. I try to find people while they’re looking. The most important thing is listening: I listen to people, first and foremost. A lot of sommeliers get caught up in the ego. I think that’s a benefit of me not having a ton of experience: I really put the time in to listen to what people want, and I try to guide them. I know most people don’t have the vocabulary to describe what they like, even though they know what they like, so I try to help them suss it out. Also, price point is very important. I try to give people three options at different price points so they can choose what they want to spend. I have aggressively priced the wine on my list. I want to sell the wine.

What are you drinking now?

Everything from the Loire Valley (in France). Domaine Philippe Tessier Cour-Cheverny. It’s so good. Always Burgundy. (Laughs.) I wish I didn’t love Burgundy so much, but I do. And I’m getting really into Rhône right now—a lot of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

What’s exciting about wine to you right now?

That more people are drinking good wine, and so many people our age (late 20s) are really into wine and have developed wine palates and want a great bottle of wine when they go out to eat. It’s not just people in the industry who drink great wine.

What made wine more approachable?

I think it’s this whole foodie culture. It’s the next step: People got really into food, and now they’re into wine, cocktails and beer. There are so many affordably priced wines on the market right now; you don’t have to spend a lot to drink great wine.

Your desert island wine?

The 2008 Maison Alex Gambal Puligny-Montrachet.

Favorite food pairing?

Riesling and cheese. (Laughs.) Délice de Bourgogne and riesling.

Favorite wine book?

The Wine Bible, for the organization and cleanliness of the information, but most especially because Karen MacNeil describes syrah as a cowboy in a tuxedo.

Favorite thing to do in the desert?

Go hiking! Hiking here is the best, and you can’t really get that lost. Hiking and thrifting, too. I’m really in love with (Palm Canyon Drive vintage store) Iconic Atomic at the moment.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Breakfast turns me into a speed freak. Steak, meanwhile, converts me into a temporary alcoholic.

Put me in front of a greasy or sweet breakfast, and I’m going to drink coffee like it’s oxygen. This is how my body extracts maximum pleasure from the muffin or omelet I’m chewing—by bathing my mouth in coffee. The coffee’s acidic bitterness makes the flavors of the food stand out, and completes the meal. I’ve researched this relationship at many a greasy spoon diner, where servers endlessly circle to keep your cup full. What the coffee lacks in quality, it makes up for in quantity. That’s important when you’re eating with a beverage condiment—because the last thing you want is for that well to dry up.

Later in the day, there are many foods that essentially command me to drink wine. If I’m chewing a succulent piece of meat, I need to be drinking wine at exactly the same time. Otherwise I get distressed, like an addict in withdrawal.

While there are many foods that go well with wine, only one—meat—will make me drink wine like a dehydration victim would drink Gatorade. When meat and wine are available, it is a scientific fact that I will be stuffed and wasted. And that is pretty much the only time you will see me wasted.

Other than producing buzzes, coffee and wine otherwise seem completely different. But if you look beneath the surface, you can see that they are competing for the same niche in the ecosystem of your dining table: the acidic beverage niche.

Acidity serves to enhance the pleasure derived from fatty foods. The fat coats your taste buds, and the acid washes that fat away, exposing and stimulating the taste buds and creating fireworks of juxtaposition. If necessary, you may have to adjust fat levels to achieve this balance. I generally do so with mayonnaise.

This principle of creative tension is at the heart of established pairings—like wine with cheese, coffee with cream, and 10,000 other flavor combinations.

One thing you rarely see, however, is coffee and wine together. One of them often needs to be there, but having both would be like having two alpha males in the same room: potentially rough, and at the very least, awkward and uncomfortable. But it turns out that another one of my favorite foods, chili pepper—aka chile—can smooth over this tension.

Like wine and coffee, chile goes exceptionally well with fat, from the jalapeno popper and its elder the chile relleno, to the requisite squirt of hot sauce upon your big greasy breakfast.

Like coffee and wine, chile produces its own kind of buzz—an adrenaline rush, to be exact. Also like coffee and wine, chile has many proven and suspected medical benefits, including reducing body inflammation and improving lipid levels in the blood. But unlike coffee, wine or fat, there are few apparent reasons not to indulge one’s chile-tooth to its fullest.

For years, I took it as a given coffee and wine simply don’t mix. It’s an either/or situation. But this assumption was categorically discredited when I bit into a piece of pork belly that had been braised with red wine, coffee and red chile.

Amazingly, the coffee and wine were able to join forces and forge a common flavor. This union was mediated by chile, the sharp bitterness and sweetness of which formed a narrow bridge between the normally disparate flavors of wine and coffee. That all this flavor alchemy came together in the context of a succulent piece of pork made the experience all the more mouth melting.

This revelation went down in a magical—and sadly defunct—New Mexico restaurant, where I consumed this dish next to a cackling fire of fragrant desert wood. Since then, I’ve endeavored to re-create this recipe, and somewhere along the line, I think I actually surpassed the original, stealing tricks from similar recipes I found online.

My current version combines pork and venison, but any meat will work, even chicken. Bones, whether in oxtail, osso bucco or ribs, will improve the result. The tougher the meat, the better. If using very lean meat, there needs to be some fat, like bacon or olive oil.

The wine- and coffee-based broth tastes kind of disharmonious when you first combine the ingredients, but it eventually cooks into something special—a flavor that is deep and darkly delicious and thoroughly unique.

Fatty meat cooked in coffee and wine

  • 2 pounds of meat
  • 1 cup wine, of a quality you would drink
  • 1 cup of strong coffee (no greasy spoon brew here)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mild red chile powder
  • 2 Santa Fe-style dried mild red chile, seeded and crumbled
  • 2 mild pasilla chile (or more red chile), seeded and crumbled
  • Salt, pepper, and garlic powder
  • Olive oil

Brown the meat in whole chunks under the broiler. In a pan, sauté the onions, garlic and bay leaves in oil. When onions are translucent, add chile. Cook a minute, stirring, then add the coffee and wine. Cook until the volume reduces by half. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Add the meat. Cover meat with stock or water, and slow cook or braise for 4-8 hours, until meat is completely tender. Add water, wine or stock as necessary to replace any evaporated liquid. Season again.

Serve in a bowl with minced onions and a hunk of bread, which will absorb the mysterious broth and deliver it to your mouth, where no further adjustments will be necessary. No hot sauce.

This dish won’t give a caffeine high or a wine buzz, but it provides a kick all of its own. It was, after all, the pursuit of a flavor fix along these lines that got me into coffee and wine to begin with.

Published in Wine

If I were a rich man,

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.

If I were a wealthy man.

—Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof 

Text from a friend on Jan. 8: “Just finished post-workout shower. Off to buy Powerball ticket. It’s $800 million. Normally I don’t do lottos but … heck … $800 million. You in? Shall I get one for the two of us?”

Me: “You bet.”

Friend: “Our Powerball A—9, 12, 34, 41, 60 and a Power 11. I feel like such a sucker. But we might as well enjoy the fantasy until tomorrow. How will you spend your half of $800 million?”

Me: “Wine.”

I like to say stuff like, “Life is too short to drink average wine.” But my finances dictate that sometimes I have to drink average wine—so delectable California reds are the first things that come to mind if, if, if I were to win a giant sum of money.

If I were a rich woman—to re-gender Tevye’s song, “ya ha deedle deedle” and all that—I could try some of those bottles I’ve read about: French Bordeaux that sells for thousands and, oh yes, the elite Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends from the Rhone region of France. I feel like I’d prefer the latter, which are basically Old World versions of the grenache-syrah-mourvedre blends I enjoy from Paso Robles.

I don’t know. I’d like to find out. Hypothetical money is the root of much speculation.

We didn’t win that jackpot—go figure. The odds were in 292 million, and it wasn’t us. As you probably know, it wasn’t anybody—so the money rolled over for the next Powerball drawing.

As the jackpot rose to $1.3 billion, the news media went into promotional overdrive. I was staying with my family in southern Wisconsin, and the Madison TV station my parents watch did Powerball stories for three days straight. Predictable bits: How much will the taxes be? What’s your winning fantasy? Tweet it to the station.

And, oh yeah, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hints at running for a third term. You betcha.

The station shared people’s more-charitable spending plans. If they won $1.3 billion, a few viewers claimed to want to end homelessness and feed poor families.

The Wall Street Journal created an interactive graphic that visually depicted the odds of winning: one tiny pixel at the end of many, many scrolling pages of tiny, tiny specks. I watched this while sipping a nondescript Australian malbec, on sale for $8.99 per bottle at a small grocery store in Baraboo, Wis. The next day, at the same grocery store, I bought a Powerball ticket—my first, if you don’t count the one shared with above friend. I texted the numbers for this shared ticket to my friend. The fantasy continued.

I was not the only person to equate lottery winnings to expensive wine acquisition, turns out. The editors of Wine Spectator chimed in with their fondest wine wishes, all of which seem to involve wine from France.

Me? I would build a marvelous climate-controlled wine cellar and enhance my modest collection with some remarkable bottles. But why stop there? With this much money, why not buy a winery in the heart of beautiful Sonoma County? Or on the “deep end” of Anderson Valley, land of complex and lovely pinot noirs? I would walk the green fields, helping to prune the vines, enjoying morning barrel tastings and hosting blending parties with my friends. My sprawling Xanadu would have many guest rooms, a huge kitchen, fireplaces, custom tile and an eclectic art collection featuring the works of artists from the center of my universe—you know, California and Nevada.

In fact, to heck with those schmancy French wines. Let the editors of Wine Spectator compete for Euro-wine-hipster cred. I love the wines of here. I will stock the cellar of my Mendo mansion with this state’s finest: Lodi zinfandels. Barberas from the Sierra foothills. Paso Robles GSMs and cabernet sauvignon from the vineyards near St. Helena.

As it turns out, I already possess many of yummy bottles of the above. Go figure. Actually … pruning grapes? Hanging out with wine geniuses? Blending parties? House guests? None of that is out of reach now, to be honest. Life is pretty good, even if the Australian malbec is meh.

By the way, it’s not true that most lottery winners go broke within a few years of winning large jackpots. Only a couple of lottery winners have gone belly up or worse. That West Virginia man who won the $315 million Powerball jackpot in 2002 made a mess of his life and was quoted, years later, saying that he wished he’d have torn up the winning ticket.

Money can’t buy happiness. But financial security certainly contributes to life satisfaction. If you’re already fairly reasonable when it comes to financial planning, winning a lottery could improve your life in many ways.

I like to tell myself that—if I win, I would be smart about spending.

My first monied moves would not likely involve wine, other than indulging in a celebratory bottle of one of my keeper cabernet sauvignons, like Markham Vineyards 2010 The Altruist, a remarkable birthday gift. By the time Jan. 13 rolled around, the jackpot was $1.5 billion. I hypothesized that I would take the lump sum payout if I won. After taxes, that’s about $600 million-ish. I would invest in varied ways, spending earnings, not touching the principal. That should be plenty to pay off my doctorate-seeking daughter’s student loan. And buy a food truck for my entrepreneurial offspring and a car that runs for my daughter-in-law. Everyone would go to the dentist. I’d get my septic tank replaced and build a treehouse.

The drawing happened. I didn’t even nab a $4 award on any of the five tickets I bought—which, since I added the Power Play option, added up to $15. That’s almost enough for a bottle of 2012 Cinsault from Temecula Valley’s Leoness Cellars, at wine-club prices.

If I were a rich woman, I would join many wine clubs. “Bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.” But, really, I don’t need no stinking Powerball jackpot.

My odds are better with single-deck blackjack.

Published in Wine

I’m leaning back in a comfy bucket seat behind the driver of the Troutmobile—a Ford SUV. My tummy’s full of breakfast: poached duck eggs and mimosas from a wine bar in Arcata, Calif.

This is a fine way to start a quirky Humboldt County wine-tasting tour. I’ve joined an adventure that will end tonight with a private tasting at Coates Vineyards.

The winery is remote—in the Six Rivers National Forest, not far from the bustling unincorporated community of Orleans, which is 12 miles east of Weitchpec. Surely you’ve heard of Weitchpec. No? It’s at the juncture of the Trinity and Klamath rivers in Humboldt County—not far from the Pacific’s Lost Coast. This area is better known for crops other than wine.

The Coates Winery is a 12.5-hour drive north from Palm Springs and a mere 2.5 hours from Humboldt’s largest center of commerce, Eureka. About 15 wineries are listed as members on a Humboldt Wine Association website. Several more listed as nonmembers. Coates is one of the latter.

This is northern Northern California. In my vast 15 minutes of Internet research, I can’t find another California winery further north than Coates. Robin and Norman Coates’ all-organic vineyards are so remote that the grapes can grow on their own rootstock: They don’t have to be grafted to disease-resistant rootstock, as happens pretty much everywhere else. This fact, touted on the Coates Winery website, means that the grapes are “generally more healthy, vigorous, and … can better express their varietal characters.”

As the afternoon begins, we turn inland from the Pacific Coast drive and head into the mountains. Sitka spruce. Second-growth redwood. Invasive pampas grasses.

The Troutmobile slows through a residential area. A familiar smell wafts through the window—pungent, spicy, potentially intoxicating.

“Someone’s burning trim,” observes a co-adventurer.

The sun shines, a rarity. Recent rains have made the hills green alongside Highway 299, a logging road that moves inland from the Pacific Coast to Redding. The drive to Coates takes us off 299 in Willow Creek, well before Redding. We’re driving north toward Hoopa. We’re on the way to Weitchpec, a place written about in Vice magazine’s “War in Weed County.”

Before today, I knew only one person in this van—the journalist who invited me along. No matter. A love of wine makes us all fast friends.

We share memories of remarkable tastings in Amador County, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Southern Washington. Advice is shared, recommendations made. I take notes.

Because the drive is long, and we’re a thirsty bunch, we stop beyond Willow Creek at a private home overlooking the Trinity River. There, we sample local and regional wines—some we’ve brought along, like an award-winning 2009 Moonstone Crossing Barbera. Today’s tour organizers had spent the previous afternoon at the Moonstone tasting room in Trinidad. Moonstone’s Sharon Hanks had poured dozens of tastes of wine made from grapes imported from Amador, Lake and Mendocino counties by local genius winemaker Don Bremm. The winery is among the county’s best known. It’s open to the public and easy to find on Main Street, just off Highway 101.

We drink other fine bottles. Standouts include a Dutcher Crossing Carignane ($36, Sonoma winery and Mendocino grapes) and the 2010 Dogwood Mea Culpa ($65, Humboldt winery and Napa grapes). So tasty.

These are my kind of people.

Our designated driver herds us back into the Troutmobile. Then we’re going north-er and north-er. In Weitchpec, we turn east and drive along the Klamath River to Orleans. The winery isn’t in Orleans, but beyond it, of course—a few more miles up winding narrow roads.

“I forgot how early the sun goes down,” someone says.

Even in the dark, the Coates’ home and vineyards form a lovely oasis. A fire crackles in a woodstove. Robin Coates ushers us into the kitchen where bottles of red wine are lined up on a bar. Robin ladles out lentil soup, which pairs perfectly with the estate’s sangiovese and zinfandel.

A wine connoisseur in our group declares the 2012 Sangiovese ($18) the best he’s tasted all day, which is saying something. The varietal makes me think of Tuscany. Ah, Tuscany.

Our talk turns to wines with which one might start the day, and Norman Coates suggests his trebbiano, the Italian white from grapes he planted in the 1990s.

“If you have to drink wine for breakfast, that’s the one to drink,” he says.

Debate ensues as to whether one drinks the wine before coffee or after it.

My wine journalist friend seems disappointed that she can’t give readers the inside scoop on how to visit the Coates Winery. The winery is not open to the public. The couple prefers that people visit the website and, you know, buy the wine at area stores.

“We’re not as social as some winemakers,” says Norman.

Talk turns to crime in Humboldt County. We crowd into the Coates’ living room and watch the trending YouTube video series featuring a “Boondocking” guy—the Nomadic Fanatic—who makes a stop in Eureka. He encounters a Starbucks-drinking vandal, fends off the theft of his solar panels by a felonious meth-head, and parks a block away from a McDonald’s that is the site of a recent officer-involved shooting.

“Let’s get the hell out of Eureka,” concludes the nomad at the end of the YouTube video.

Laughter ensues. We taste the syrah and a delectable cabernet sauvignon—lighter than many California cabs and superbly drinkable. We eat cheese and pate and sourdough rye baked this morning.

Bliss ensues.

Before leaving, we hike up an unlit road to the Coates’ warehouse, where cases of wine are stacked alongside crates of ripe organic kiwi. Those grow here, too, and this year’s harvest was abundant.

We buy wine and tote two cases down the dark road. Giggling in the moonlight, we climb back into the Troutmobile and head back to the coast.

I seem to remember someone passing around a bag of gummy peach rings. But I might have been dreaming, dozing in the comfy bucket seat.

Ah, Humboldt County.

Published in Wine

You can make tofu taste like Italian sausage. You can toy with the texture, just a speck, so that a person eating your tofu chili will barely notice the curdled soy product.

This works best if the vegetarian grub is served with a seductive red wine—one that holds up to the challenge, complementing chili, cumin, onion and black beans.

Such a wine is the 2011 Twisted Oak Murgatroyd ($25). Yes, the wine’s name references Snagglepuss, the cartoon critter famous for the line: “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”

The Murg wine is a kitchen-sink blend. It has a funky hue I call Barney purple. Sharply acidic nose. Medium body. Tangy zingy zang on the finish.

I don’t know what’s in it. The bottle copy offers no hints; it merely plays on another Snagglepuss catch line, “Exit stage left.” (The label says: “Don’t Exit! Our animated blend is at the Stage where it is drinkable now, or may be Left for a few years.” The underlining and quirky capitalization is original to label text.) Nor does the Twisted Oak website give me clues as to which grape varietals went into this wine.

Wine is complicated, mysterious. So is life. These days, my world is full of intriguing new pairings.

My husband, Dave, and I have lived the commuter-marriage life for five years now. That has translated to weekend honeymoons with hiking, cooking, art, music, movies and wine sipped in languid bliss under star-studded skies.

On a together weekend, Dave might leave Reno early, drive all day and meet me at a wine bar for happy hour. Then we’ll pick up juicy ribeye steaks and grill them on the deck. We’d steam an artichoke for our appetizer. Bake a loaf of fresh bread. Pop open a delectable cabernet sauvignon.

Anyone jealous yet? You should be.

But the times, they are rearrangin’. In recent months, I’ve transitioned from living alone to living with adult children, their dogs and an infant. This has added a hearty dose of reality to honeymoon weekends.

Dave arrived for a recent visit early and headed straight to the house. I was at work. The dogs barked and wagged. He cleaned, did laundry, made my bed. He held our daughter’s newborn baby—pure bliss—while she kept an optometrist appointment.

We met at a bank to do some financial hoo-ha-ing. Finally, we went to the wine bar, a teensy bit exhausted. A 2009 Moonstone Crossing Amador County mourvedre revived us with its earthy fruits.

That night, we ate pumpkin soup and pasta.

The next night, we enjoyed broccoli pizza.

On Day Three, I concocted a giant pot of tofu chili. Did I mention that my adult children are vegetarians? As you might have guessed from the previous mention of steak, Dave and I are not. At least not yet.

Our household’s meals are generally vegetarian-friendly. A meat option is a rare addition to the menu.

No one is stopping us from eating meat. In fact, next time Dave comes, I might buy juicy steaks. But given the influence of my new roomies, I’ve been eating less meat—almost no red meat at all. Dave and I had both been complaining about red meat hangovers—the digestive unpleasantness that lasts for 12 to 18 hours after ingesting seared cow flesh.

Worse than slight intestinal discomfort is the possibility that something far more diabolical is going on in one’s bowels after a red-meat encounter. Cancer experts who rigorously reviewed hundreds of scientific studies have concluded that red meats are strongly linked to colorectal cancer. Red-meat consumption is also linked to lung, esophageal, stomach and pancreatic cancer.

Yeah, I know. Everything causes cancer. We’re all going to die of something. Life is 100 percent fatal.

Changing diet might mean changing a person’s experience of wine. I enjoy bites of juicy red meat between sips of a fine cab. Tannic red wines, with their astringent mouth feel, pair well with meat. One theory explains that the fatty texture of meat is balanced by the dry feel of the wine.

That said, I feel I’ve barely touched the possibilities of meat-free wine pairings. A vegetarian website offers such pairings for even the reddest of reds. A cabernet sauvignon, for example, might pair well with grilled veggies, barbecue sauces, garlicky things, and aged or stinky cheeses.

Still, I’m drooling over Twisted Oak’s website suggestions for Murgatroyd. The list begins with tri-tip marinated in “Murginade!” (That’s soy sauce, ginger and honey.) They also suggest “a nice cigar lamb osso bucco (and) Asian-style marinated flank steak, served over a bed of angel hair pasta with horseradish cream.”

Oh meat, meat, delicious meat.

By the way, I ended up calling the winery to find out what’s in the 2011 Murg. After putting me on hold for research, a friendly wine-room employee parsed the blend out at 60 percent petit verdot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 20 petite sirah.

OK, on to the secrets of tofu alteration: To transform tofu from the realm of slices, slabs and cubes, freeze it. This alters the texture of the curdled soy. Thaw it. Squeeze the water out. Break it up into bits and globs that almost resemble ground beef. Season with garlic, soy sauce and any spices that go with what you’re cooking. I used chili sauce, cayenne pepper, thyme, oregano, dried parsley, salt, black pepper, cumin and fennel. Toss this concoction until the tofu bits are evenly coated. Sear the tofu in olive oil until it gets as brown and crispy as you desire.

Then add to soup. I made this batch of chili with tomatoes from Dave’s garden, and beans that I soaked and boiled in salt, pepper, garlic, cumin and Sriracha. I sautéed onions, garlic, bell peppers, jalapeno and two stalks of celery, and tossed those in as well. Until we added cheese and sour cream later, this qualified as vegan chili.

Dave said he enjoyed the batch. “Tofu?” he said. “Not bad.”

The wine paired well with the soup’s heat and spice. Berries, currant and nutmeg are flavors suggested on the wine’s back label, the text of which concludes with one last bit of fun:

“Snaggle your puss anytime. Heavens to Murgatroyd!”

Published in Wine