On the water with Isaac Muga;taking Beaucastel to Ponte

Summer and MugaFor our first St. Pete wine dinner, Isaac Muga  the winemaker of the current generation of our Rioja pals joined Spanish champion Summer Martin and B-21 aficionados at the Parkshore Grille downtown.  Isaac brought a big broad smile and two very special guests, the 1999 and 1989 vintages from the family cellars. There’s a lot to be said for maturity, especially in the Rioja and with Muga but  to my palate the young upstart, that juicy  99, won the night.

Food from St. Pete celeb chef Tyson Grant (his company runs Cafe Gala at the Dali Museum) showed tempranillo handsomely with contemporary dishes. Menu started with stone crab and pink grapefruit and ran through spice Dhane, Muga and Dominicrubbed salmon sashimi, silken  pork belly and lamb sirloin. Intense chocolate finished the last of the old Muga in every glass.  Biggest hits from our inventory were the 2005 Seleccion Especial and the 2004 Prado Enea. I couldn’t find a drop left. Underdog 2009 Rosado, a blend of tempranillo and viura. won over a number of rose-scoffers.

Next up is a dinner with Cesar Perrin of Beaucastel at Cafe Ponte in Clearwater Friday. We’ve got a few tickets left to taste the cooking of star chef Chris Ponte with the fabulous Chateaneuf du Papes of Beaucastel and the Rhones of their American friends at Tablas Creek.

Invitation to B-21’s VIP Holiday Event of the Year

Holiday TastingWe are busy gearing up for the holiday season, but I wanted to take a moment to personally invite you to our Grand Holiday Tasting and 3-Hour VIP Sale on Sunday, November 20th.

What is different this year? For starters, admission is $30, and is credited toward your purchase of $300 or more that day. Also, this year we are limiting attendance to clients like you. We’ll offer exclusive pricing on over 100 winesto all attendees. So come and sample our most festive wines from Champagne, the Rhone, Bordeaux, Rioja, Tuscany, Napa, South America and beyond, made for
celebrating and for giving.

We’ll kick things off at 1:00pm with a Champagne Reception, and the Grand Tasting will begin at 2:00pm. Coming in from out of town? No problem! B-21 has a special rate at Innisbrook Resort for you, simply mention B-21 when booking your room.

I will be there and hope to see you there as well!


Ask the chef, St. Pete: The Mugas are fantastic.

That’s the word from Tyson Grant, star chef at Parkshore Grille, who’s working up a killer menu for the B-21 Rioja dinner with Isaac Muga this Tuesday.  Isaac is bringing grand old vintages of Prado Enea as well as the latest bottlings. Parkshore on St. Pete’s dazzling new waterfront scene will be B-21’s first dinner in St.Pete and we’ve got a few seats left.( $79) Fantastico dinner, magnifico Riojas and one-night pricing.

Chateauneuf Nobility: Private Dinner and Offering of Rare La Nerthe Vintages

Chateau La Nerthe DinnerA rare opportunity for serious lovers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape only (you know I am one). B-21 will celebrate the legendary La Nerthe, one of the oldest names in the appellation, with a grand dinner and exclusive sale of wines, usually found only at auction.  La Nerthe is powerful, bursting with exotic aromas and black fruit, and very long-lived.The vineyards were planted outside the papal castle in the 13th century, the La Nerthe name arrived in 1560 and Alexandre Dumas, creator of the Three Musketeers, praised it in the 19th century. In the last 20 years it has demonstrated that legacy vintage after vintage. We will meet at Mise en Place in Tampa Wednesday Oct., 5 with food from Chef Marty Blitz to match great La Nerthe vintages. How great? 1982, 1989, the great 1999-2001 string of Cadettes luxury cuvee (how about two each of those in a six-pack), the 2005 and 2007, vintages that sent Parker and Tanzer into superlatives, plus La Nerthe’s rich whites and a bright Tavel. You will have a chance to acquire wines not often seen in the U.S. Estate manager Christophe Brestiel has chosen Tampa as one of only three stops in the country to offer this valuable selection. Tickets are $89; wines will be sold at special one-night pricing. It will be a grand night and a one-night only chance to add these trophy vintages to your cellar. You’re gonna want that.

Three Magicians + 2009 Cotes du Rhone = 91 Point Grenache

2009 Cercius Cotes du Rhone Villages, Visan
2009 Cercius Cotes du Rhone Villages (Visan)

The wine: Cercius, a pure distillation of the black cherry, herbs and rocks of the Côtes.

The place: lovely Visan in Vaucluse high on the left bank of the Rhône.

The year: one of the best.

The wizards around the cauldron are good friends of ours: bubbling winemaker Michel Gassier from Nimes, gentle giant consultant Phillipe Cambie from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and master wine trader Eric Solomon from Charlotte.

The grape is officiallly Grenache, although this crowd thinks of it as the Pinot Noir of the Rhône. Good point judging by the ripe and silky 2009s we tasted in the cellar with Michel and Phillipe last month. Over dinner at Flan Coco in Nimes (honest, the city has a Spanish heart), they were as proud of the CdR as any Burgundians. You’ll see why when you open a bottle.

B-21 in Bordeaux: Road to Toulouse

When last seen, your wine explorers were in Bordeaux in the heart of the trade. Took us most of our fifth day to get out of the wine capital. On our way out of town we stopped to see negociant Jeffrey Davies, the sandy-haired eternally  sunny Californian. Jeffrey knows Bordeaux and all of its satellites and is responsible for discovering many of the best French values on our shelves.
Behind a nondescript garage door he has one of those charming small compounds found throughout Europe: a house and small office building (with tasting room, mais oui) and small courtyard; his dominated by a steel fountain of cans in a grape-like cluster. The wine flowing in the tasting room, however, sampled his finds from throughout the region.

Two conclusions: first, the ’08s were much easier to drink now than the fabled ’09s; second, old Bordeaux and the far reaches are bursting with new energy as smart winemakers revive old estates. Let you know when some of them cross the pond. The surprise star was not French, but an  interloper from Lebanon. Not Chateau Musar or  Kefaya, which Davies  also launched, but Domaine Wardy’s sumptuous reds from Bekaa Valley’s old wine country, elegantly made and packaged sumptuous vs. rich. An impressive label. A triumph. Love to taste the Wardy’s arak some time…

Then we were on to the east and into Languedoc-Roussilon and the South. Several hours on the autoroute took us to Toulouse. The pink-tinged buildings of the Middle Ages and are historically the capital of Occitan culture and language (where “oc,” not “oui”, means “yes”). The city is the fourth  largest in France, serving as the heart of the aerospace industry and a big university center, not known for wine so much as its local sausages and cassoulets.

“Michel Gassier, the proprietor and winemaker of Cercius, Nostre Pais and Lou Coucardie, gems of the Rhone and Costieres de Nimes, is a great ambassador for the city of Nimes. I know, I visited him last month and was shown the sparkling nighttime bounty of the city. The remnants of the Roman presence there stood boldly and beautifully, the city being proud and preservative of those landmarks. Michel’s knowledge and joy in sharing his culture was very charming and it made me want to learn more about and visit Nimes again. Ask him about them yourself Sunday 2.27.” -Rhett Beiletti, B-21’s France Expert

Travel tip: While the white bean stew is beloved throughout France, its home is here in the southwest. Despite the claims of Toulouse and Carcassonne, the city that draws the most fame as world capital of Castelnaudary, midway between them. You’ll get the real thing with duck confit and pork bubbling away in any restaurant with “Le Pays Cathars,” the blue label of regional authenticity.

Wine to Go with Corndogs?

Florida State Fair at Sunset
Florida State Fair at Sunset

Gold medal winning wines from Florida, Arkansas, and California, too. More than 1,000 wines will be judged at the Florida State Fair Friday and Saturday.  If you’ve never seen actual judging, stop by between your stomach’s roller-coaster ride on death-defying ice cream cheeseburgers and mashed taters on a stick.

In the Florida Living Pavilion Friday will be dozens of winemakers, judges, and merchants, each judge with nose in glass, sorting out Best of Show honors on Saturday morning and then announcing the final list of winners. Throughout the Fair, the bottles will be on display, bedecked with medals and ribbons. Sure, the Florida State Fair is not the heralded showdown of Orange County California, but it’s an education in the growth of wineries unaffiliated with the Pacific coast, in Florida and the rest of “you-can’t-grow-that-there” territory.

P.S. Big bonus at the end of the fair: all unopened wines – winners and losers – are sold at deep discount to first-comers on Sunday, February 20 – the fair’s last day.

Check out our selection of Florida-grown wines from the likes of Lakeridge, San Sebastian, Keel & Curley, and Empire.

Cambie + Cairanne = Calendal

2009 Calendal Plan de Dieu, Côtes du Rhone
2009 Calendal Plan de Dieu (Côtes du Rhone)

The giant oenologist Philippe Cambie covers the south of France in huge bounds. His advice is sought from the Languedoc to his beloved Chateauneuf-du-Pape and beyond.  For his own venture he chose the up and coming Cairanne appellation in the Rhône Valley. Very smart guy.

Last month we saw him and the “Plan de Dieu” where he has his own vineyards for Calendal. Amazing vines, been gnarly for a century. Berries are small and the production low, which refines the rich sweet fruit and licorice of Grenache into a sleeker wine, almost Burgundian. Fine tannins and soft textures.

Cambie tasted us on the ‘09, exceptionally luscious and juicy. Just released, a bunch arrives in two weeks. Have Cambie sign your bottles at the store on the 27th.

We Opened the First ’07 Pahlmeyer Red, and Saved Some For You

Pahlmeyer Winemaker, Erin Green
Pahlmeyer Winemaker, Erin Green

We had a great time when Pahlmeyer winemaker Erin Green came to dinner in Tampa. We went through the current line-up – from trademark Merlots to the impressive Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – ate well, and cracked wise until we got to the big hit. Erin gave us the first taste of her 2007 Proprietary Red, the Meritage everyone loves. Especially this vintage, a whole parfait of aromas and thick, deep flavors from black cherry to licorice. Since you couldn’t taste with us, we’ve set aside a few bottles from the whole line at the same prices we offered lucky buyers at the dinner. Wish you’d been there, but this way you can have your own Pahlmeyer dinner at home next week…or ten years down the road.

Did You Miss Dinner with Keenan? The Delicious Deal on Mike’s California Reds is Still On!

Michael Keenan at Currents in Tarpon Springs
Michael Keenan at Currents in Tarpon Springs

Wish you could have been there Friday when Mike Keenan brought his Cab Franc and killer Merlots down from the mountain top for a dinner here in Tarpon Springs. The wines showed beautifully and Mike told me they never paired so well with food – even salad – as they did that night. The ‘07 Cab Franc was spectacular and his ‘07 Mailbox Merlot Reserve was just stunning.

For me, all of Keenan’s wines – the Cabernet and his oddly-named “Mernet” – have a traditional, well structured purity that I can only find in old-school Bordeaux. His wines are rich, but not because they are over ripe or went through clever oak manipulation; their flavor comes because Keenan’s plain got the fruit, real fruit that speaks of rocky, limey, high mountain terroir with earthy forest flavors.

Mike signed lots of bottles that night for the lucky diners but he doesn’t act like a rock star winemaker. Yet Spring Mountain rocks star in his wines. Again, I’m sorry you couldn’t be there…The most classic terroir-driven Merlot and Cab Franc this side of Bordeaux.

Andes grandees at Ceviche one iconic evening

Montes , Achaval  Ferrer, Norton, Kaiken, Santa Ema, Pascual Toso plus endless tapas of  Ceviche. Can you say fabuloso? 

These are the breakthrough wineries that have raised the quality and reputation of South American wine from good bargains to grand crus. They have something else in common, the brilliant Alex Guarachi of TGIC who has led their campaign in America for decades (and made his own superb Pinot Noir in America).  This TGIC event happens only once a year when the tour of the Icons of the Andes stop in Tampa to show off the latest grand cru wines from Argentina and Chile.  

This year they’re making two visits, an evening of food and wine in Clearwater and a tasting and sale at the store in Tampa. If you have a tango in your heart or a love of carmenere you may want to attend both. I do.  

First we’ve arranged for a grand evening fiesta Sunday, October 17th with the touring vintners at the new Clearwater Ceviche which has replaced Tio Pepe, the legendary wine landmark on Gulf-to-Bay. We’ll start at 6 p.m. with white wines, sparklers and tapas downstairs, and then repair upstairs for a six course dinner at 6:30 p.m. paired with our guests’ red wines. This is the truest taste of good tapas and an authentic test of great wines.  

The cost is $69, a bargain for such a feast.  

The vintners will return on the following Sunday, Oct. 24,  for a full-dress B-21 Grand Tastingand Sale of The Wines of South America (plus Seminars) from 2 to 5 p.m., pouring dozens and dozens of their top wines, first-class Malbecs, Torrontes and much more. Seminars will cover terroir, viticulture and Montes’ expansion into Napa. The cost is $25 and you don’t want to miss that either.

Ozfest: Chester hosts D’Arenberg dinner at Roy’s in Tampa Sept. 20

Roy's Hawaiian Fusion
Roy's Hawaiian Fusion

What a wild and woolly pairing; Chester Osborne and the glorious red-sashed wines of d’Arenberg meet the the Pacific flavors of Roy Yamaguchi for one fun-filled dinner Sept. 20.

You know that d’Arenberg has earned its stripes at all price points from big-value Stump Jump shiraz to legendary reds like Footbolt and Dead Arm. The wines are rich in flavor, all the big fruits and tingling spices of shiraz, and always smooth.

Which is why Roy’s Hawaiian gourmet cooking is a great match. At Roy’s all the spice and exotic hints of Asia are fused with the classic French polish.

That’s also where we add another dynamic ingredient, Chester, the wild-maned winemaker and rock-star partner with his grand old dad d’Arry, one of the true pioneers of South Australia.

Don’t miss this one. We’ve only got 25 seats and it will sell out quick. So get your tickets now ($79).

Click here to make a reservation.

It’s not just shiraz, mate

When we tasted through d’Arenberg line the biggest surprise to me was the 2006 Galvo Garage (90CS, $24.99). Loved the name but I wondered if Chester Osborn could or would want to make a wine with shiraz.

But that’s forgetting that Chester’s secret magic in in taming and training tannins not just in shiraz but wherever they lurk, as in this meritage of four of the classic five Bordeaux varietals. He treats them as an indie garagiste. He works in a galvanized shed and works hand and foot, crushing the grapes with artisan feet before a gentle basket press, to make a lush, lively drink. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot deliver cherry and chocolate flavors. Cab franc and petite verdot add a bouquet of flowers and a spicy punch at the end, all in the fine-grained tannin structure you get in Dead Arm and Footbolt. A great cabernet for shiraz drinkers.

Meet Chester Osborn of d'Arenberg Winery at B-21
Meet Chester Osborn of d'Arenberg Winery at B-21

You can taste it when Chester hosts an afternoon of tastings and seminars at B-21 on Sunday Sept. 19. Maybe he’ll include in the d’Arenberg treasure he pours at our four course dinner at Roy’s in Tampa. It’s perfect with gourmet Hawaiian ($79).

The vibrance of Spain: Rioja wine and Tampa‘s Vizcaya

In Spain the Ebro river runs to Vizcaya, and here B-21 runs to Vizcaya restaurant for a grand wine dinner on Sunday, June 27.

The reason is chef Felix Piedra, who grew up in the Basque region and then cooked his way across Tampa to his crowning restaurant, Vizcaya.

It’s an intimate spot with a vivid splash of modern Spain in the décor and an authentic taste on the table and in the air. Must be the longest tapas list in town, including braised quail, wild rabbit, Spanish cheeses, tuna and clementines. The true Spaniard continues on with meat and classic seafood entrees, from merluza (hake or corvina) with lobster to zarzuela.

No surprise Piedra’s a magnetic host for Spanish heroes, jai alai stars and visiting wine makers. And local food lovers, the Nibbler included.

So Vizcaya’s a natural showcase for our wine dinner ($79 all-inclusive make your reservations now). We‘ll pair great Rioja wines with croquetas, tortillas, sole, steak, a side of paella and, my favorite word of all in the Spanish kitchen, albondigas. Piedra makes those meatballs with veal and wild mushrooms.

We hope you can join us. If not, put Vizcaya on your must-go-soon list.

- Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler