By Sue Shelden   |   Saturday, April 19, 2014 at 10:51 pm   |   Leave a Comment »

A great tasting wine from Iowa? Why, not? I just attended a wedding that featured a white wine from the groom’s home state of Iowa. The wine was “Sun Dog White Wine” produced by Brick Arch Winery in West Branch, Iowa. I knew I’d like the wine when the bartender told me it was a combination of Vignoles and Vidal Blanc grapes. Besides, the label was cute and I like dogs. What was there not to love?

The winery is located next to the Herbert Hoover National Site in West Branch. The couple was excited to be sharing this wine with the wedding guests, and when I exclaimed how much I enjoyed it, they told me of how they went to the winery at Christmas, when they were visiting the family, and brought back a case of the wine for the wedding.

The take away from this is a lesson about how we can’t be wine snobs, assuming that only the west coast and New York State wines will do. The other thing I want to remind readers of is that as we travel around the United States, this summer, we need to literally stop and “drink in” the local color of the places we visit. Bon voyage!

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By Allen Dale "Ole" Olson   |   Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 10:17 pm   |   Leave a Comment »

Groucho may have had it right when he said he “would not belong to any club that would have him as a member.” I did not take his advice when Rene Lasserre invited me to become a member of his Club de Casserole. I thought of that last night when I dropped my silver key chain (which I never really use as a key chain) and hoped it had not broken. It is a miniature casserole with my membership number etched into it.

My wife and I  have enjoyed many memorable evenings in the famous Restaurant Lasserre on Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt across from the Grand Palais in Paris. The key chain, however, prompted this column. It took my mind’s eye back to one of the most  venerable wine caverns in the world. Some called it the “Arabian Nights” of cellars. Designed and built personally by Rene, an engineer as well as incomparable restaurateur, this temperature-controlled  cellar, well-stabilized against the rumblings of the nearby Metro, contained at the time of my last visit (in 1996) some 200,000 bottles of mostly Bordeaux and Burgundy wines comprising  230 different labels representing nearly a century of vintages.

Each table in Lasserre has its own decanting table, and the wine servers decant between 30,000 and 35,000 bottles a year, using what some have said are from the most beautiful collection of decanters in Europe. There were two servers per guest in Restaurant Lasserre in my times there, all properly attired and who moved with such grace that they have been called a “black and white ballet.”

Though I haven’t taken advantage of my membership in some twenty years, I still get  invitations to special events and a special New Year’s greeting card signed by a well-known artist  which offers me a complimentary bottle of vintage Champagne on my next visit. We members are always provided a complimentary aperitif on each visit. Admission to the Club de Casserole is not a question of money but of friendship, based on a love of gastronomy, knowledge of the wines of France, and Rene’s personal judgment.

I really don’t know how the club is doing these days, but I’m happy to report that my silver key chain is still in fine shape.

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By Allen Dale "Ole" Olson   |   Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 4:34 pm   |   Leave a Comment »

Well, it wasn’t really the wine that sang, but it certainly glistened. After dinner I went into the hotel bar because of a pianist who was singing. And singing very well. It was late, but a couple dozen other people had gathered at tables around the grand piano to hear Bobby do Broadway, James Taylor, the Beatles, and just about anyone else someone requested.

Though there had been ample wine at dinner, with some trepidation I asked the server for a wine list. Bar wines are not noted for exceptional quality. The one he brought was an abbreviated list from the dining room, but it included some appealing names. Because I had gone into the lounge for the music, a Pinot Noir called Lyric seemed appropriate. To the closing refrains of “Bali Hai,” I saw that the 2011 Lyric came from Etude Winery in Santa Barbara.

I had never heard of this winery but I have since discovered that its owner likens wine production to composing music, hence the name. Even in the subdued lighting of the lounge area, the Lyric glistened, a characteristic I have always enjoyed in a wine. It had a fresh Pinot Noir bouquet and a finish that suggested red berries. My first sips matched the pianist’s fingering “Younger Than Springtime.”

It isn’t often on the road, away from the great cities, you can find an exceptional talent in a hotel bar and even less often that you find a hotel bar with a selection of memorable wines. Even though my evening ended with “Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,” I won’t wash Lyric Pinot Noir from Etude out of my memory.

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