BEST of LA: OMBRA in Studio City and Colcanyon Estate’s Double GOLD

inland vineyards off Mulholland: future Malibu AVA

We have two LA surprises: a relatively new dining spot that transports us of our favorite dining city up north, and a genuine award winning wine from Malibu. Los Angeles has great beaches, very good surf, and the best weather outside San Diego. When it comes to exciting dining and wine excellence, however, we are reminded more of the Real World and Reality TV than anything real. Really. Nevertheless, LA has plenty of cool stuff and here are two of the newest and coolest.

San Francisco offers vastly superior dining choices than can be found in our big burg. So we were happy to find this smart little noisy spot on Cahuenga opposite Universal City on the road to the Hollywood Bowl. Let’s be honest. Traveling to an LA destination consumes all your focus as you search for the optimal pathway through transient “neighborhoods”. When the act of going to a restaurant is more profound than the actual destination the odds tilt towards disappointment. When we DO arrive at this cute neighborhood dining spot near an entrance to the Hollywood Freeway we feel we have arrived at an authentic LA destination only sacrificing incidental grey matter.

The restaurant is Ombra and it has been open since June 2011. The owner/chef is Michael Young who also puts together the wine list. The corkage policy, $8 per bottle, is waived if you buy something off his list. The list is inspired by his own ardor for selecting and collecting wines. It is disheartening so many owners at other dining spots we frequent cannot embrace the spirit of this policy.

Here is what we ate.

Risotto with ‘shrooms and blueberries! I would have hesitated had not one of our co-diners remarked she had recently had this dish in Chicago and it was fab. So it was at Ombra as well. Petit Filet Mignon about 6 ozs. broiled perfectly with mashed spuds and greens. Brisket with mashed and a dollop of very HOT wasabi! Once we got a grip on the sizzling dollop we were able to achieve a consistent blend of beef, spud and heat with each bite. There was also a carbonara pasta and daily special of scallops that arrived at our table.

Here is what we drank.

2010 Le Corti Dei Farfensi “Curtes” Pecorino $32: You won’t find this wine on many LA wine lists. This is the kind of wine that shows up in SF on the list at Delfina or Ristobar. Bracing, acidic Italian white wine served very chilled which we like. Citric lemon flavor. Terrific wine. Here is what another reviewer said about the Pecorino varietal: “…a high acidity, early ripening small berry with low yields. It creates a white wine with good body which can benefit from a light treatment with oak. It has a characteristic herbal aroma of sage and salt with the salt developing into mineral notes with age”. The winery website says it goes with asparagus! This looks like a future tBoW wine travel adventure. 12.5%

2003 Paolo Scavino Barolo $40: The entry level wine form one of Barolo’s celebrated producers. This wine is pure Nebbiolo, young to be sure, but quite drinkable. While tannic the wine is not rough or coarse. It is elegant and expresses the Nebbiolo fruit perfectly. Since IGTY leveraged his 20% coupon with the store-wide Total Wine sale he picked it for 25% less. Now that is a good deal. Should go another five years. The wine. Don’t know about the sale. 13.4%

NV Uvaggio Rosso Vecchio Sangiovese $15: Jim Moore is the master of New World Italian varietals. Here is the proof. Who else makes a non-vintage blend like this? IGTY, who has tried to sully Uvaggio white wines in the past, gripped this bottle like someone was going to steal it. To quote “As a varietal I prefer Sangiovese to Nebbiolo.” Guess he changed his mind about Uvaggio. Great dark red color, cinnamon flavors; a perfect food wine. Blended with grapes from mostly Santa Ynez and Napa and a smidgeon from Lodi: 88% Sangio, 7% Vermentino, 5% Syrah. Great great stuff. 14.6%

Colcanyon Estate was planted in 2001. The site, about 1,000 feet above Paradise Cove, is owned and operated by John and Donna Freeman with the view to die for and the home to match. Why do Malibu residents choose to plant vineyards on their property? For the Freemans it’s about romance and lifestyle. She collects stuffed birds and delicate china while he tends the vineyard. Downright Adams-esque. However, Morticia and Gomez do not answer the door. The attractive, civilized and delightfully British couple greet us with all the grace and savoir faire we expect from Continental folks. They are proud to show us their wines.

The 2008 Colcanyon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon won a double gold medal in the San Francisco competition. This is no small feat. 153 double golds were awarded from the 4200 plus entrants. Before you get all sweaty wondering if you will be able to acquire this very rare and sure-to-be-valuable specimen of Malibu potential (you probably won’t unless you keep on reading) keep in mind Colcanyon was not going up against Opus One or Barking Sparrow. However, the competition does feature notable wineries seeking approval from the judges and it is considered to be the most prestigious of the summer fair wine competitions. So kudos to the Freemans. Theirs is a true David and Goliath tale. In order to taste the double gold we had to work our way through a couple 2007 wines. As often happens this led to pulling the corks on a couple of 2009 wines not scheduled for release until next year. Here are the notes.

2007 Colcanyon Estate Merlot $29: Sarsparilla nose, some celery. Caramel flavors, tannic. Lean mountain style wine. 14.8%

double gold baby

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon $29: Sarsparilla in the nose again. Sweet and tannic. Will Sarsparilla define ‘Bu Coastal Cabs? Good with cheese. 14.6%

2008 Colcanyon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $39: The wine has been released and can be ordered directly from the winery. end of the year. This is a different nose. Teasing with power. Middle weight. A good mouthful of Cab. We think Stags Leap, not Spring Mountain. What do we know? Softens up with some air without losing any of the style and strength. Integrated flavors. Elegant. Nothing candy-like here. We ask John and Donna how can this wine be so different than the 2007, their first? John – who is a bench biochemist – says he kept detailed notes and nothing was done any differently. Seven to eight months in French oak, same amount of water in the vineyard, same topping off pattern. The wines are bottled at the same place – C2 Cellars in Orcutt. The only possible difference is the vines in 2008 were seven years old and seven is the magic number when a vine supposedly matures. You can order it direct here.

2009 Colcanyon Estate Los Angeles County Cabernet Sauvignon $tbd: Younger, sweet flavors again but not as much as with the 2007. Much more like the 2008 than the 2007. That is a good thing. Both 2009 wines will be released Q1 of 2012.

2012 gold?

John has 1,000 vines planted to his two acre vineyard including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In 2009 he created his first Bordeaux blend which we previewed.

2009 Colcanyon Estate Meritage $tbd: This wine blends 50% Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Merlot and 20% Cab Franc. As with the double gold from 2008 the nose here is markedly different than the other sweeter wines. The Cab Franc brings chocolate flavors to the fore. This wine is sophisticated, elegant. The quality is present. On the whole the wines are soft and do not seem to be built for aging. Whatever. We really like this meritage blend. 14.4%

The Freemans are lovely people who are living a wonderful life on the hill. Together they drive the decision making in the winemaking process, seriously involved with the romance of it all. When John is not acting as vintner he is finding a cure for cancer. As a local vintner he is finding a cure for bad Cabs. His personal tastes drift to Chateuaneuf du Pape. He is not really a Bordeaux guy, but he decided Bordeaux style was the way to go in his vineyard. Folks in the ‘Bu love their trophies just like vintners in Napa, Sonoma and the Guadaloupe Valley. On many occasions we have heard about winning this or that gold medal or blue ribbon or getting a “high score” above 90. The Freemans, however, have the first and only SOLID gold wine in the ‘Bu. One to watch. Fer shoor dood.

morning fog climbing towards Colcanyon

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