Thursday, December 04, 2008

Jim, (our Champagne guy) in LA Times Magazine

Hi-Time hit the trifecta (quadrafecta?), media-wise. This is our Champagne buyer, Jim. He knows more about Champagne than most people in Champagne.

Also this month, The Tom Leykis Show featured our Italian buyer John, and one of our Spirits guys Trayce, on his Sunday show called The Tasting Room. Here are links to the podcast:

Part I:

Part II:

Interview: Todd, by Orange Coast Magazine

Todd (our Winebar manager and Cheesemeister) was featured in December's issue of Orange Coast Magazine.
A great read.

By Anne Valdespino / Photography by Jason Wallis

If you shop at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa you’ve probably seen him, and if you hang around the tasting room you know him personally. Todd Johnston, the guy with the Chinese tattoos, the motor mouth, and the rakish, hip-guy charm, stocks the cheese case and runs the tasting bar like a Vegas pit boss. The 34-year-old Newport Beach native—a self-described third-generation Hoag baby—attended culinary school at
Orange Coast College. His specialty is European wines; he loves Rhones and Champagnes. California cabernet bores him; he says he has never been to Napa.

Cork. Synth or real?
Synthetic. I’ve opened too many bottles of corked wine that I’ve saved for a long time and it really [ticks] me off.

Favorite bubbly at the moment?
José Dhondt Brut Rosé de Saignée Champagne ($56.98).

Favorite red?
Jaboulet ’98 La Chapelle Hermitage ($300). It’s the poster child for a better Rhone. Super dry, earthy. Bramble. Briar. Liquid beef jerky.

How many wines do you taste in a shift?
Between 10 and 30.

Worst wine you’ve ever tasted at work?
We have a list. And the bad ones are just as memorable as the great ones. It’s a Zen way of looking at it: “Oh my God that is so bad. It’s great!”

Favorite seduction wine?
Moscato d’Asti Nivole by Michele Chiarlo ($12). I’m a firm believer
that Moscato d’Asti is best served in a bellybutton.

Cork dork or wine geek?
Grape nut.

Worst tasting-room faux pas?
I had a patron spit into my glass. She said, “Oh my God. I’m so sorry,” grabbed it, and drank it. Her husband said, “We’re done. Let’s go, honey.”

Your taste in vino is pretty expensive. Any regrets about developing your palate?
There was a time when I drank Mouton-Cadet and thought, “This stuff’s great!”
I long for those days. I’m not gonna lie.

So, steer us to a great deal.
I drink tannat [a varietal] from Uruguay, Viñedo de los Vientos 2006.
It’s $16, I love it.

So, California cabernet bores you. Got anything against chardonnay?
I hate California chardonnay and I love blanc de blanc Champagne [made from the same varietal]. The Champagne guy here says it’s because blanc de blanc is the purest expression of the varietal, not mucked up with
oak and malolactic fermentation.

Is most chardonnay overstyled?
Kendall-Jackson came along in the ’80s and convinced housewives that’s what chardonnay should taste like. They wrecked it. They killed it.

Can you hit the spit bucket from three feet like they do in France?
I’m Scottish. We don’t believe in spitting. Call it the industrial liver.

Favorite wine-and-cheese pairing?
Morbier and Crozes Hermitage. It’s a serious cheese and a serious wine.

What should we drink with our turkey?
Chenin blanc, Vouvray, and Champagne.

Most underrated region?
Südtirol (Italian Alps).

Most overrated region?
Burgundy and the whole state of California. I’ll take Washington over California any day.

What does a dude need to know about wine to impress a woman?
Guys do that I-don’t-drink-white-wine thing. That’s ridiculous. It pays to have an open palate. It’s a lot more important to keep her happy than to spout off about your wine knowledge.

Does the ignorance of some customers amuse or annoy you?
I aim for mockery of the customer, but I don’t want them to feel bad. I strive for the insult that they don’t get until they’re driving home. “Wait! What?” Just kidding. I like my customers.

Do you have to be a super taster to do your job?
Not at all. It’s more about dealing with personalities. The cougars down at the end of the bar want something completely different than the serious wine tasters over here, or the novices in the corner; they’re my favorite. They’re so excited to learn about wine, they’ll try everything. •

Hi-Time Wine Cellars
250 Ogle St.
Costa Mesa

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hi-Time in the LA Times

This article ran in Friday's (11/21/08) edition of the LA Times and featured Hi-Time. It discusses how the economy has effected wine sales.,0,5266992.story

Wine buyers are sobered by Wall Street meltdown

Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times
WILL HE BUY? Mark Callahan of Seal Beach studies the collection of California reds at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa this week. The Wall Street meltdown has sent sales of high-end wine plummeting, merchants say.
High-end bottles languish on shelves as shoppers opt for cheaper vintages. 'The state of the economy' is nothing to celebrate, a retailer says.
By Jerry Hirsch
November 22, 2008
In most years, store manager Diana Hirst considers herself lucky if she can snag six bottles of $265 Araujo Napa Valley cult Cabernet Sauvignon to stock in her Costa Mesa wine shop.

This year she can get dozens -- a sign of how the Wall Street meltdown is rippling across the alluvial fields of Napa Valley to the chalky limestone vineyards of Champagne in France.

Sales of high-end wine are plummeting, wine merchants say, and once-rationed top California Cabernets are in ample supply. The coveted 2005 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild from Bordeaux is languishing on store shelves for $549. That's an astronomical price for less than a liter of fermented grape juice but only half of what it sold for just a few months ago.

And Champagne -- that universal symbol of largess? Sales have plunged because "the state of the economy" is nothing to celebrate, said Randy Kemner, owner of Wine Country in Signal Hill.

People are still drinking wine. They are just spending less.

"I still drink wine with my wife every night, but before I might have bought Santa Barbara County Pinot Noirs for $20 to $30; now I am paying $9.99 for a Castle Rock Pinot from Mendocino County," said Pablo Urquiza, a freelance television producer who lives in Marina del Rey.

He's not alone.

Sales of wine for $9 or less make up the fastest-growing segment of the wine market and sales above that price are starting to trend down, said Jon Fredrikson, a Woodside, Calif., industry analyst.

Consumers are trading down to wine they consider "values," Fredrikson said.

Kemner of Wine Country is trying to get ahead of that trend. Last month he went on a supermarket shopping spree, buying about 50 bottles of mass-market "corporate wines of the type we usually don't sell."

The wine merchant and his staff tasted the wines and selected two dozen to offer in the store as "recession busters" starting from $5.99 for a FishEye Merlot to $14.99 for a La Crema Chardonnay. Armed with his sales receipts, Kemner demanded a price break from his distributors so that he could match supermarket prices and still make a profit.

Kemner hopes the less expensive selection will take off as the holidays approach. Sales at Wine Country were off 28% in October compared with a year ago. November sales are running 16% below last year's figures, even after factoring in a bump-up around the presidential election earlier this month.

"We are working leaner and we are still profitable but we understand that we have to dig around for wines that overachieve," Kemner said.

Hirst also is pushing bargain wines at her Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa. She's looking for lower-priced wines from Spain, Argentina and Chile to fight off the slump in costlier selections.

"Every time the stock market takes a dive we see a few slow days," Hirst said.

Champagne and signature California reds such as the 2005 vintages of Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Joseph Phelps Bordeaux-style blend are particularly slow even though they are well-regarded wines, she said.

Hi-Time Wine has cut its inventory by about 10%, "and we have not hired for the holidays; we are all just going to work more hours," Hirst said.

Wine retailers aren't the only ones feeling the pain: Consumers are dining out less, slashing wine sales by as much as 15% in restaurants, Fredrikson said. All of this translates to lower sales for California's wineries, which sell wine with a retail value of $19 billion annually. Americans drink $30 billion worth of wine each year.

"Our sales are down about 10%, and I am surprised they are only down by that amount," said Ron Melville, owner of Melville Vineyards and Winery in the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County.

At Charles Krug, visitors to Napa Valley's oldest winery are spending less, said Peter Mondavi Jr., whose family owns the business. Tasting room sales have held up compared with last year only because the winery has undergone a major renovation and more people are visiting, he said.

As retailers and dining establishments cut back, many small wineries -- which don't produce enough to have a large presence in grocery or other chain stores -- are seeing their inventories bloat. Distributors and wholesalers are cutting orders because they don't want to purchase wine that could take months to sell.

"This creates a real question with tight credit now about whether some of these wineries will have the credit lines available to wait this out," Fredrikson said.

And there are more ominous signs for smaller wineries that sell directly to consumers. Oenophile Urquiza cut back on his membership in wine clubs -- where customers sign up for discounted shipments of wine -- to just one from three.

Still, if you have the cash, the slump has created a unique opportunity to invest in First Growth Bordeaux and Burgundy Grand Cru vintages -- among the elite of the wine world -- said Steve Wallace, owner of Wally's Wine & Spirits in Westwood.

While the price of that '05 Mouton-Rothschild has fallen by half this year, the 2007 vintage sells for less, $383. Both vintages are highly rated by Bordeaux wine guru Robert Parker.

"These prices are from back in the 1980s," Wallace said. "I never thought I would see that."

Hirsch is a Times staff writer.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It's Jancis!

Jancis Robinson, wine critic legend... who has written about 20 books on wine including The Oxford Companion to Wine (the be-all/end-all of wine books) has a weekly column in the Financial Times.

Most awesome.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Some crafty recycling

This answers the question, "What am I going to do with all these used corks?"

Monday, September 22, 2008

Winemaker great - Didier Dagueneau dies.

Very sad news. French winemaker Didier Dagueneau died in a plane crash a few days ago. If you've never heard of him, he made amazing Sauvignon Blanc. He was notorious for being outspoken, somewhat of a hermit, and kept a scraggly beard & untamed hair. But his wines sang and made you glad to be alive.

Here is his more on him from the New York Times...

D. Dagueneau, Winemaker, Dies at 52

By: Eric Asimov

Published: September 18, 2008

Didier Dagueneau, an iconoclastic Loire Valley winemaker whose Pouilly-Fumés displayed a purity and subtlety far beyond most other sauvignon blanc wines, died Wednesday in a plane crash.

He died when the ultralight plane he was piloting crashed after takeoff in the Dordogne region of France, his New York importer, Joe Dressner, said.

Mr. Dagueneau was 52 and lived in St.-Andelain, a village in the Pouilly-Fumé region on the eastern end of the Loire Valley.

Working with sauvignon blanc, a grape that made crowd-pleasing, thirst-quenching Pouilly-Fumés and Sancerres but was rarely taken seriously, Mr. Dagueneau sought to show its potential for greatness.

“He influenced the entire region,” said Jacqueline Friedrich, a wine writer who is working on a revision of her 1996 book, “A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire.” “I’ve been tasting a lot of Sancerres, and I’m absolutely amazed by the evolution and how much better they’ve become. That was absolutely his doing.”

With meticulous, almost radical attention to detail in his vineyards, and with relentless experimentation and perfectionism in his cellar, Mr. Dagueneau produced wines that, on first taste, were a revelation.

His Pouilly-Fumés have an unexpected clarity to them. The flavors are intense but nuanced. In the mouth, they are wines of great texture and presence, but not weighty at all.

If his wines made an indelible impression, his personality doubled it. With his long, shaggy hair, his heavy beard and his outspoken manner, Mr. Dagueneau could be an intimidating presence. He cultivated a rebellious image, and at one time he rechristened the street outside his winery Rue Che Guevara.

He was a provocateur in winemaking, too, charging prices well beyond the standard of the region. On national television he compared the drastically low yields in his own vineyards with the high yields of his neighbors, and he did not hesitate to criticize their wines.

“He was wildly disliked in the area, yet people had a great deal of respect and admiration for him, too,” Mr. Dressner said. “The wines were so apart from what was produced in the area that people couldn’t deny the quality of the wine.”

Didier Dagueneau was born in St.-Andelain in 1956. His family was in the grape and wine business — his uncle and cousins continue to produce Pouilly-Fumé at Serge Dagueneau & Filles — but as a teenager Didier had a falling-out with his father and struck out on his own.

At first he raced motorcycles, but after a string of crashes he returned to St.-Andelain and the wine business, said Michael Sullivan of Beaune Imports, Mr. Dagueneau’s West Coast importer. He did not lose the taste for daredevil activities: he was a committed dogsled racer and later took up flying.

Mr. Dagueneau is survived by two children from a marriage that ended in divorce, Charlotte and Benjamin, who in recent years had worked closely with him; his partner, Suzanne Cremer; and their two children, Aaron and Léon.

When he went into business in the early 1980s, he had no holdings, but he was able to get enough grapes together by renting vineyards. Even as a young man he was ambitious, competitive and perfectionistic.

“He wanted to be the absolute best in the region,” Mr. Sullivan said. “He realized pretty quickly that mediocre was the norm.”

The 1980s was an era of steel tanks, high yields and chemical farming, but Mr. Dagueneau wanted to make wine as his great-grandmother had done. His vineyards were organic, and as soon as he could afford to do so, he acquired barrels to age his wines. He was eventually able to buy almost 30 acres in Pouilly-Fumé, along with a tiny plot in Les Monts Damnés, one of the finest Sancerre vineyards. Just a few years ago he bought land and began to make wine in Jurançon, in southwest France.

While his criticism of high yields might have angered mainstream winemakers, he also alienated younger winemakers in France’s natural wine movement by rejecting their imperatives to use only ambient yeasts in fermentation and to avoid using sulfur dioxide as a preservative.

Mr. Dagueneau did not smash all idols. He greatly admired Edmund Vatan, a legendary Sancerre producer, and Henri Jayer, the great vigneron of Burgundy. “He thought of Vatan as his godfather, and he worshiped Jayer,” Mr. Sullivan said. “They were extremely close, like father and son.”

Mr. Dagueneau was eventually able to build his own winery, a scrupulously clean structure that has been likened by visitors to a cathedral. As Ms. Friedrich told it in her book, he conceded that the expense was “disproportionate.”

“I didn’t want to wait and do it bit by bit,” he told Ms. Friedrich. “You’ve got to move quickly. Life is short.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bottle Shock, The Movie

Just saw Bottle Shock, a delightful movie, which is about the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting of American versus French wines with the spotlight on Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay from California. Alan Rickman and Dennis Farina are both great in the movie, and it also features beautiful scenery around Napa Valley. The movie centers around relationships of the Barretts (owners of Montelena), but here are all the other wines that participated in the 1976 tasting (courtesy of

1976 Paris Wine Tasting - California Trumps France

The 1976 Paris Wine Tasting was organized by French wine tasters, and was meant to capitalize on the US bicentennial publicity. The tasting was done blind, and organizers expected the French wines to win handily. Here are the results.


From the US:
1973 Chateau Montelena - 1st (winemaker: Mike Grgich)
1974 Chalone Vineyard - 3rd
1973 Spring Mountain Vineyard - 4th
1972 Freemark Abbey - 6th
1972 Veedercrest - 9th (no longer in operation)
1973 David Bruce Winery - 10th

From France:
1973 Meursault-Charmes - 2nd
1973 Beaune Clos des Mouches - 5th
1973 Ramonet-Prudhon Batard-Montrachet - 7th
1972 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet - 8th

Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cabs were tasted second, and judges were explicitly trying to choose French wines at this point

From the US:
1973 Stag's Leap - 1st
1971 Ridge Montebello Vineyard - 5th
1971 Mayacamas - 7th
1972 Clos Du Val - 8th
1970 Heitz Cellars 'Martha's Vineyard' - 9th
1967 Freemark Abbey - 10th

From France:
1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild - 2nd
1970 Chateau Haut-Brion - 3rd
1970 Chateau Montrose - 4th
1971 Château Leoville-Las-Cases - 6th

Here are the judges and scores from the Chardonnay tasting (courtesy of Ch. Montelena)...


Vintage Wine Place Total Points No. of first place votes
1973 Chateau Montelena 1st 132 6
1973 Meursault-Charmes (Roulot) 2nd 126.5 0
1974 Chalone Vineyards 3rd 121 3
1973 Spring Mountain 4th 104 0
1973 Beaune-Clos des Mouches (Drouhin) 5th 101 0
1972 Freemark Abbey 6th 100 0
1973 Bâtard-Montrachet (Ramonet-Prudhon) 7th 94 0
1972 Puligny-Montrachet ler cru “Les Pucelles” (Dom. Leflaive) 8th 89 0
1972 Veedercrest 9th 88 0
1973 David Bruce 10th 42 0

These were the tasters and their scores* for Chateau Montelena

Place Points Taster
1st 18.5 Mr. Claude Dubois–Millot – Directeur Commercial “Le Nouveau Guide”
1st 18 Mr. Aubert de Villaine – Co-Gérant, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
1st 17 Mr. Raymond Oliver – “Le Grand Véfour”
1st 17 Mr. Jean-Claude Vrinat – “Taillevent”
1st 16.5 Mr. Christian Vanneque – Chef Sommelier, “La Tour d’Argent”
1st 16.5 Mrs. Odette Kahn – Directrice, Revue du Vin de France
2nd 14 Mr. Pierre Tari – Château Giscours, Secrétaire Général, Syndicat des Grands Crus Classés
4th 10 Mr. Pierre Brejoux – Inspecteur Général, Institut National des Appellations d’Origine
7th 3 Mr. Michel Dovaz – Institut Oenologique de France

*Scoring was based on 20 point maximum

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Huckfeldt Ranch, Napa

Don Huckfeldt (left) at his ranch with Sommelier Neil Dundee.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

2005 Grand-Puy Ducasse

Had this wine about a decade too early, but still it was very pleasurable and a delight! This is the 2005 Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse from the Paulliac appellation in Bordeaux. It's a fifth growth. I thought it was awesome. Elegant, with cranberry and cherry notes. It was tight, but really nice.

Monday, July 14, 2008

RECIPE: 9-minute Steak

I have made this several times, and it has always turned out awesome. To make this, you will need: a thick steak, salt, pepper, (and other seasoning if preferred), oil, butter, a stove, and a cast iron skillet.

Buy a 1 to 1&1/4 inch Rib Eye or NY Steak (marblely). Make sure the steak gets to room temperature before cooking.

Dry rub the steak. Pepper, salt, Lawrys or any dry steak rub

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat a cast iron skillet on stove, add a little canola oil to skillet (just cover the bottom) – make sure it is hot.

Drop a pad of butter in then drop the steak on top of it.

Sear 90 seconds, flip it for another 90 seconds then put the whole skillet in the oven for 9 minutes.

Remove from oven for rare to medium rare. 10 minutes for a less rare and so on…

Goes well with Cabernet (in this case, the Grove Street Meritage). Nice for the price ($10).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Domaine Bastide Blanche Bandol Rose 2007 and the 2007 Domaine Bastide Blanche Bandol Blanc

I was excited to try this Bandol Rose from Domaine Bastide Blanche since it was my first time trying a wine from the Bandol appellation in Provence. The rose was made of 31% Mouvedre, 25% Grenache and 41% Cinsault. The nose was floral, and the wine itself had a hint of melon, but it was VERY delicate to the taste. Maybe too delicate for me. I enjoy things that are a bit more... obvious.

Just by chance, a few days later I had the luck to also taste the 2007 Domaine Bastide Blanche Bandol Blanc. A white wine made of Clairette, Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc. I was surprised with the beautiful flavors of this wine, and its crispness. It was also very delicate but with a laser like clarity on the tounge. Very nice.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer Rose

The Chateau de Manissy 2007 Rose from the southern Rhone appellation of Tavel is great for summer sipping.

Grape varieties : Grenache 60% - Clairette 30%, Syrah 10%.
Average age of the vine 60 years.

It smells like liquefied cotton candy, but is dry, and tastes like strawberries and blackberries. Nice to have chilled on a warm day. Goes well with burgers.

muy bueno!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Top Chef, Shmop Chef

I'm just not getting into Top Chef this season. The contestants are very bratty and it's hard to feel for them. arrrgh! The first season rocked.

Tonight's wine was TRIO, made by Concha y Toro from Chile. Deep, rich and full of berries. Was very indulgent and fun. This was a gift from my boss who visited Chile .. nice gesture! Concha y Toro is a large producer in Chile, but they do a quality job.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Dunn Vertical; 1997-2004

Was fortunate enough to try a vertical of the Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon... some most-delicious wines from Napa Valley. Randy Dunn is the winemaker. I tried the Napa and Howell Mountain cabs from 1997 to 2004. All of them super-delicious, with special cheers to the Howell Mountain 2002... simply outstanding.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Yummyness in a glass

This, is a Valpolicella Classico Superiore (made of the grapes Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara) from Italy (near the upper part of the boot). Campagnola 2002 Catarina Zardini. Its a very agreeable red, NOT overbearing on the fruit, but not leathery either. The wine has a lot of finesse, and goes well with dinner or drinks fine on its own. If you drink it the next day... it's even better, like drinking an expensive Amarone. The price for this is $9 ($8.98 to be exact), which is an outstanding value. I am planning on buying as much of this as I can.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Coming soon...

a wine review. But first...

Friday, February 08, 2008

I love Riesling, and this is why...

Max Richter 2005 Wehlener Sonnenuhr

A wonderfully delightful Kabinett from the Mosel. It smells like rubber and pineapple. When you taste it, you get lychee fruit. A gorgeous wine. 8.5% alcohol. I paired it with spicy Chinese food. Excellent.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Champagne Showdown!

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to try the following wines in a tasting. Here is a list of what was poured at Hi-Time, along with my sparing notes.

Taitinger, "Comtes de Champagne" 1998 ($129) - Lovely!!!

Dom Ruinart Brut, 1996 ($150) - Watery, light

Veuve Clicquot, "La Grand Dame" 1998 ($119) - Nice upfront fruit, some bitterness on the back end.

Philipponnat "Clos des Goisses" Brut 1999 ($149) - Pretty! Lemony.

Salon "Mesnil" Brut 1996 ($239) - Pretty, different, some minerality, complex.

Pol Roger "Winston Churchill" Brut 1996 ($189) - Pretty, Elegant, Fruity, Beautiful.

Cristal Brut 2000 ($219) - Very nice! Viscious.

Vilmart "Coeur de Cuvee" Brut 1999 ($94) AWESOME!!!!!!! Fresh, fruity, some sandalwood in there somehow.

Ployez-Jacquemart "L.d'Harbonville" Brut 1996 ($125) - Alright. Citrusy.

Krug Brut 1995 ($219) - Incredible.

Alain Robert "Blanc de Blancs" Brut 1990 ($139) - Yeasty.

And the winner is...
Vilmart "Coeur de Cuvee" Brut 1999, with Krug coming in at a close second. The REAL winner was me getting the chance to try all of those wines! Lovely, lovely.