Nose Diving: Good taste runs in the Family Winemakers sampling in Pasadena

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Nose Diving is a new feature column, in which a novice wine writer fumbles toward grace.

I’m standing just outside the Pasadena Convention Center, cursing my five-inch heels.

There’s a lot of ground to cover here, but grumbling at a time like this seems indecent; it’s not often I have the good fortune to sample wines from more than 200 California wineries.

Even better is that I’ve lucked into riding sidecar with the owners of South Lake Avenue’s Wine Detective as they negotiate their way through the Family Winemakers of California trade tasting.

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UPDATED: Sleuthing out an intoxicating mystery at Wine Detective in Pasadena


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An informant e-mail this weekend confirms the long-time-coming Wine Detective is now open in Pasadena.

“After two years of blood, sweat and tears, 400 wines tasted and starting to suspect that it might never happen, Wine Detective has quietly opened its doors to the wine-loving public.”

The tasting room offers 50 wines for sampling through Enomatic wine dispensers that allow you to sniff out your own clues notes.

Individual wines are self-sampled, one ounce at a time, by using a special debit card preloaded to fit your budget. Make your selections by button, and the card is charged for the price of each ounce. Repeat the ones you love, ditch the ones you don’t — and reload the card if necessary.

A small menu of cold-cut plates and Basque-style sandwiches is available.

146 S. Lake Ave., Suite 109 (across from the Green Street Cafe)

No phone number listed yet, but we’re on the case.
Wine Detective’s Yulia Meltser comments below with the phone number: (626) 792-9936.

(Photo via Wine Detective)

Is there a doctor in the house? I’m overdosing on chocolatey goodness


By Claudia S. Palma

There should have been a doctor on standby at the third annual Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon held this last Sunday,
Oct. 11, at the Pasadena Convention Center.

With over 40 participating chocolatiers, confectioners and other
sweet culinary groups offering tastings of their divine goodies, I
instantly felt the heat in my cheeks as my blood pressure rose with
each little morsel.

My tasting companion and I took a quick glance around the room
first, grabbed a courtesy cup of water and began the journey we hoped
would eventually lead us to sweet bliss.

Each participating table featured samples of their confections. We started with the Chocolate Traveler.
Advertising more of an easy way to tote your chocolate — wedges in a
round tin case — the quality of the chocolate was at par with many fine
chocolatiers. I tasted the creme brulee white chocolate from the international collection, which also featured tiramisu dark chocolate
and dulce de leche milk chocolate. The company also offered themed tins
from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day and even custom-made tins.

After trying chocolate-covered bacon at the Los Angeles County Fair,
I had to try the sizzling bacon bar from Christopher Michael
. The fun part of this bar was the bits of bacon and
popping candy in the chocolate that tasted good and sizzled in your mouth. This
was definitely better than the Fair. The chocolate company is fairly
new — it started in 2006 and is based in Newport Beach.


The Chocoveda counter was getting lots of attention. Taking more of an ayurvedic
route, these chocolates claim to be “infused with chakras.” I tried the Anahata
which was infused with green tea. I don’t know if there were any
“chakras” inside, but the green tea certainly made me breathe easier and
at peace and my heart felt more open. Apparently, the Anahata focuses
on the heart chakra, or energy forces in the body, and its Earth
element is air.


Not really knowing what the line was for, my companion and I waited
for what was apparently the Sterling Confections booth. While we waited
to get a slice of their beautifully decorated truffle bars, my
companion went over to the TCHO booth next door. They had pieces of
what was supposed to be different flavors of chocolate — fruity, sweet,
citrus — but we couldn’t taste the difference.

Finally reaching the front of Sterling Confections line, I asked for
a slice of pineapple ginger macadamia nut truffle and a slice of their
rocky road truffle. These bars were shaped into a round-edged triangle
and had layers inside to help create their flavor. They were
painted with splashes of different colors, like pieces of
abstract art. The pineapple ginger blended well with the macadamia, but
the rocky road tasted like I had a slice of real ice cream.

The salon also featured demonstrations, chef and author talks, wine
tastings and — for the first time — The Chocolate Chef Competition, wherein the salon attendees chose the winner.

In search of the wine tastings, my companion and I ended up in the
V.I.C. Lounge (Very Important Chocolate-lover), where the top chef
teams from the California School of Culinary Arts displayed their
competition entries.

Though the detail was not quite as advanced as others, I voted for Team 1 for
their version of a rich girl’s dream — shoes, boots and Louis Vuitton
hand bags. That’s probably the only way I would be able to afford
Chanel shoes — if they were made chocolate.


Team 2 featured a bookcase with books and a flower in a vase, which was the only thing not made of chocolate.


Team 3 won with their
African-themed display. It featured what can only be described as a
totem pole, with an African mask, flower and bird all made of
chocolate, sitting on top of a chocolate map of Africa.


Also in the lounge were chocolate mustaches and choc-Obama busts
and chocolate martinis. We didn’t find the wine, but we did find the
chocolate liqueur. Vermeer Dutch Chocolate Cream liqueur agents were mixing up
chocolate martinis with Blue Angel Vodka. We went with the
liqueur chilled and straight up. It tasted like a white Russian
cocktail and had enough alcohol content that we knew we didn’t need to
taste the martinis. Maybe next time.


Knowing we couldn’t take much more tasting, we hit up a few more booths
before leaving to detox ourselves of sugar and chocolate.

Clarine’s Florentines sliced almond brittle on bittersweet chocolate was tasty and not as
sweet as many brittles can be. They are based in Lafayette and hope to
distribute to local stores soon.

Plush Puffs Gourmet Marshmallows
were a perfect way to experience s’mores without having to rough it by
camping outdoors. These flavored marshmallows are ready for toasting or
melting into hot chocolate. No graham crackers needed. Flavors as
simple as vanilla bean to fun peppi-mint. There is also, of course, a s’mores
flavor. I tried the toasted coconut and was in sugar heaven. The
marshmallow itself was soft and fluffy and the flavor was intense. I’m
sure I could think of ways to toss these into some baking recipes. They
did mention they were available at Whole Foods in Pasadena.

Susie Norris had tastings of goodies you can find and make
yourself in her “Chocolate Bliss: Sensuous Recipes, Spa Treatments, and Other Divine Indulgences” recipe book. I tried the fudge brownie, which
melted in my mouth. So delicious. The book also features recipes for
sweet spa treatments. The book ($16.99) will be available Oct. 20
wherever books are sold.

(Photos by Claudia S. Palma/Staff)

Health by chocolate at the Pasadena Convention Center on Sunday




If you’re on a sweets-free diet, just go ahead and cancel it now.

Why? Chocolate. Wine. Enough of both to just about fill 16,000 square feet.

Sunday. Be there.

Our sugar high has already started.

Oct. 11, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Pasadena Convention Center, 300 Green St., $25 at door, $20 advance,

(Courtesy photos)

Lush scenes from the Pasadena Wine Festival at the Arboretum in Arcadia


The Pasadena Wine Festival took up residence for two evenings this weekend at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Attendant vinophiles shared the space with the Arboretum’s resident peacocks, while looking up at a backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains set off by a canopy of lights. Amid these surroundings, they sampled food and wine — lots of wine — from labels the world over. And they did this all night, for two nights, in a row. How did they ever stand it?


(Photos by James Carbone / Correspondent)

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)

In the garden: Lessons and leisure, as nature intended


301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. (626) 821-3222

  • Tuesday, Sept. 8: Basic watercolor and graphite pencil lessons, including application and techniques for botanical illustration. The ongoing series starts Tuesday, Sept. 8, and continues for three more weeks (Sept. 15, 22 and 29). 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. $180 members/$195 non-members. Pre-registration required; (626) 821-4623

1418 Descanso Drive, La Caada Flintridge. (818) 949-4200

  • Thursday, Sept. 3: Patina wine tasting, Spanish surprises, The Boddy House, 6-8:30 p.m., Sept. 3. $49-$54, large appetizers chosen to compliment the wines. (818) 790-3663

  • Friday, Sept. 11: Pasadena POPS and “Genius Loves Company.” The POPS will perform some spectacular pieces guaranteed to spike your IQ. Gates at 5:30 p.m., concert at 7:30 p.m. $20-$90. Tickets: or (626) 793-7172


  • Sunday, Oct. 4: Pasadena American Society of Interior Designers 23rd Annual Home and Kitchen Tour showcases five unique homes in Pasadena and Arcadia, with kitchens from five diverse designers; 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 4. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 day of the tour and include a map to each home. (800) 237-2634

— Compiled by Linda Fields Gold