Pasadena wine tasting to feature hundreds of pinot noirs

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The Pasadena PinotFest is getting better with age.
Wine-guy-about-town Mike Farwell and his partners from Noir Food & Wine are taking their third annual wine festival to new heights this year, with a capstone Grand Public Tasting to be held up at the Altadena Town and Country Club on Feb. 12.
Taking center stage for the occasion is, of course, that moody elixir, the pinot noir. And, for Farwell, there could be no more perfect a pairing.
He’s spent the better part of the past two decades getting acquainted with the red-grape variety, and still today he’s continually discovering new and notable pinot noir winemakers.
With the headlining event of the 2011 Pasadena PinotFest, guests can expect the opportunity to taste hundreds of pinot noirs from California winemakers, especially from the inestimable Santa Rita Hills and Russian River Valley.

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Photos: Claud Beltran’s fare-minded approach at Noir Food & Wine Bar in Pasadena

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When it opened in August last year, Noir Food & Wine Bar was Claud Beltran’s first stab at shaping a small-plates menu for one of his eateries. (The chef said he now loves the portioned approach.)
“I always had a dream of doing a menu with hamburger, foie gras, chile verde and gumbo — so here it is,” he said.
Beltran, who built his culinary career in Pasadena at restaurants like the recently-shuttered Madeleines, said he and partner Mike Farwell envisioned Noir as a casual place, serving straight-forward food with a touch of Big Easy style.
“There’s no food trickery,” Beltran said. “It’s not West L.A., and we don’t do foams. … We’re just trying to be very fair, honest — you know, French-, Mediterranean-, California-style food with our little New Orleans craziness.”

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Nightlife: Climbing the vine at Noir Food and Wine in Pasadena




THE PLACE: Noir Food and Wine Bar opened not so long ago on North Mentor Avenue, a top-drawer addition to the developing wine scene in Pasadena. Noir is owned by Michael Farwell (also of Vertical Wine Bistro) and serves up small plates for noshing — the yin to the yang of its prodigious (and I mean, to be clear, mammoth) wine list.

It’s the kind of place you thank your lucky stars, as I did, to find open late on a Monday night.

THE PRICE: It varies widely, but it’s not hard to find a glass or bottle to meet your demands. You might imagine it should be so, considering the 14-page wine list.

Urged on by a sense of noncommittal adventure, my companion and I decided to choose two wine flights — a sauvignon blanc series and a ros series, $13 and $11 respectively. With the sauvs, we ventured through California, New Zealand and France, all for a price fitting a single, quality glass at most watering holes.

A highlight was the discovery of an exquisite ros — Pink Girl, Syrah Ros (Napa) — a crisp, juicy bouquet of fruit billed appealingly by the vintners to envelop, among many tastes, the hint of watermelon Jolly Rancher. Such sweet talk.


THE SOUNDS: There’s nothing quite like ordering two flights of wine, followed quickly by quiet — but not imagined — rounds of cheering and applause.

That was my auditory experience sitting at one of Noir’s sidewalk tables and listening to the ambient noise drift over from the Ice House Comedy Club just next door. It felt felicitous, as though my selection had so pleased the carousing masses that I was given a hand.

Otherwise, it was a serenely quiet evening — a vacation of sorts — punctuated only by the conversations of people straggling out of the Ice House. If you were attentive, you could catch bits of their conversations, most reviewing the comedy acts they had just taken in.

On the opposite side of Noir is Boston Court Performing Arts Complex. If ever there were distinct crowds destined from both Boston Court and the Ice House mingling around Noir, it would be a most interesting cross-section of the city — and a quick way to overhear a handful of honest reviews on the latest performances at both.


THE FOOD: I quite despise sampler platters — unless they are of cheese, and so I found myself ordering yet another fromage board and devouring mostly the whole thing, with little help from my dining partner.

For $9, we sampled Explorateur, Humboldt Fog and Bucheron cheeses. I’ve already shouted my love of The Fog from rooftops here to NorCal (and in this column), but I was delighted by the other two, also powerful soft cheeses, which are now added to my dairy repertoire. Perhaps now I will sound less like a broken record. Elevating that platter to mouthwatering heights were the accoutrements du fromage, including tiny rectangles of date bread and an oozing honeycomb.

Seared scallops with corn and shitake ragout ($16) were also shared, a lightly sweet savory — each mollusk divided tenderly again and again to prolong the pleasure.

THE VIBE: A tasting note: While you scour the wine list for your Duckhorn, your Sea Smoke, your Caymus — the familiars you give away as tasteful gifts at parties and weddings — you may overlook a little-known or unexpected surprise.

At Noir, the accent lies on boutique and hard-to-find wines in a come-at-able setting where novice and master can toast together and explore.


AGE GROUP: The reach, like the wine list, is wide: mid-20s and up, with a sophisticated but adventurous palate.

BEWARE: Noir is quite small; intimately so, and not stifling in the least. Although the place was quite deserted on my late, Monday night visit, I could envision people spilling out the door on a busier evening while waiting to nab one of a handful of tables. If business takes off here, as I hope it will, you may find yourself coveting a reservation in addition to the wine list.

Noir Food and Wine Bar is located at 40 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena. Hours are 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Saturday. (626) 795-7199,

MY RATING: 4 — I am normally loathe to distribute “hot” ratings for wine bars and lounges. To me, the express purpose of their existence is to be smooth, slow, easy — set at more of a “simmering” level. And while Noir is all of those desirable things, I found the service (ask for Shyla) to be beyond exceptional and couldn’t bear to hand down a mid-range numeral. My guest and I were even treated to service by back-of-house staffers, including a causal encounter with Chef Claud Beltran. I suggest you, too, accept the invitation.

RATINGS: 5: Really, really hot; 4: Hot; 3: Fun, loose, low pressure; 2: Cool; 1: Just OK.

Photos, from top: A Sauvignon blanc wine flight at Noir Food and Wine Bar. Noir has been open for about a month-and-a-half at its 40 N. Mentor Ave. location between Boston Court and the Ice House Comedy Club. A Ros wine flight accompanying a fromage board with Explorateur, Humboldt Fog and Bucheron cheeses. Seared scallops with corn and shitake ragout. (Staff photos)