Travels with Penelope

Travel, Food, Wine, Spirituality and Everything Else

Category: Wine (page 1 of 2)

Cruising to Bavel

Until today, I have always claimed that I don’t do or like cruises. This morning I had an aha moment when I realized that cruise can take many forms. This weekend for example, I cruised in my 2002 Prius along a couple of freeways to an LA. dining destination: Bavel restaurant, downtown.



My partner and I did not have reservations so had to arrive early in order to get a walk-in seat at the bar. Several others had the same plan, but we were at the head of the line. Over the years we have had many a famous meal at a fully reserved restaurant by lining up early for the bar. It has been my experience that the early line is a great place to meet foodies and to get some of the latest news on top dining spots. Saturday night being no  exception I exchanged great info with the woman behind me on  places from North Hollywood to San Diego! Not only did I get some valuable info, it made the  twenty five minute wait in the unusually cool LA weather seem but a moment. Standing in line also gave us an opportunity to view and listen to the pre-opening rituals, chants and enthusiasm of the dining staff – rather like pre-opening entertainment although I knew it came from the most sacred of intentions!

Finally, we were escorted to the bar. I asked for other stools than the ones to which we had been guided and was granted my choice. The original was next to the passageway for servers, etc. I did not want to have the energy of the comings and goings be a distraction to my dining experience. (A piece of advice: always ask for a seat that fulfills your need be it ever so subtle. It makes for a more satisfactory meal).  As I settled into the bar stool I gazed over to my right at the kitchen where an amazing line of happy cooks were deep into preparations.



And while I was surveying the scene I heard someone say, “Jim and Penelope.” I assumed that someone was sitting next to my partner that knew us. I was wrong. I turned my attention back to the bar to see Aidan, the bartender looking at us with a big smile on his face. I could hardly believe my karma!

It had been nearly ten years since I had seen Aidan. In the past he had been the bartender at one of our favorite go-tos in San Francisco: A16. He had gone on to work in New Zealand, followed by years of managing, studying, and everything else that goes into becoming a great mixologist. Here he was, standing before me as the bar manager at Bavel, one of LA’s new greats! Thank goodness we had arrived so early. The restaurant was still a bit quiet, and that quiet gave us a few moments to catch up with one of our favorite bartenders! He poured a taste of Karanika, a Greek sparkling wine, with we toasted each other and enjoyed the reunion.


So this was our second time to dine at Bavel. Prior to our first dinner we had also dined at the owner chef’s other hot spot: Bestia. While Bestia does it good, as many of you know, while I am a flexible vegan, I don’t do meat or fowl. Bestia does well with both, but that’s for carnivores. Bavel was opened because the chefs wanted to do a restaurant that served food from their own lineage: Middle Eastern with roots in Israel, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt. I knew that with those roots, there would be plenty of dishes on the menu suited for vegetarians. My assumption proved correct.

After conversing with Aidan, we spent some serious time poring over our choices. Deciding on four items, we ordered the following (and I copy this right off the menu):

creamy & chunky garbanzo bean puree, green & red chili paste, pita
green tahini vinaigrette, cilantro, black sesame
breast kebab, confit leg, duck bone broth, green amba, chicory salad (this item ordered by and for my partner)
lovage & cardamom puree, sumac
The full menu can view through the following link:
The first meal was so good, I had to go for a second. The hummus alone accompanied by soft, silken pita had been enough to draw me back again. As we placed our order, I heard a friendly voice welcoming us back from behind. I turned to see Brett, the sommelier smiling at us.
Remembering how impressed I had been with Brett’s wine knowledge on our first visit, I was eager to hear his thoughts on what would be appropriate for our order. I was intrigued by a  white dry wine Thrapsathiri from Crete, What did he think? He assured me that it would go well with what we had chosen. In addition, he suggested a vermentino with substantial skin contact from California to go with my partners duck.  Come on, I thought. I want my vermentinos to come from Sardinia. The California Ryme vermentino as well as the wine from Crete proved to be perfect accompaniments to our meal. And now I am a fan of the latter.
As for the meal, sometimes a second can disappoint, but not Bavel, it stood the test. Again, the hummus surpassed any other. The oyster mushrooms expertly prepared  could have satisfied a carnivore’s need for a tender, moist steak. I cannot recall ever having such a  taste-fulfilling mushroom dish – a kebab, no less
I am ready for a third!

Gentle Sounds Give Birth to The Glass of Wine


The authors of The Glass of Wine in the vineyards at UC Davis in Davis, Ca.


The Glass of Wine was published over a year ago by the international publisher, Wiley. I would have shared  info on the publication earlier, but I took a year off, as you may know. However, it’s never too late. In a word, the book not about “a” glass of wine, but “the” glass of wine is the first of its kind to describe the relationship between wine and glass in depth. Continue reading

June 30, 2017 Jade Valley Winery – Zhonnguo (China Journal)

I have not posted on my trip to Zhongguo for awhile, but I think of it almost daily. When I do not, I am reminded by the news articles and reports on China that seem to make their way across my desktop with remarkable regularity.

Today, our day trip from Xi’an to the Jade Valley Wine Resort in Lantian County came to mind.


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Uncorked: a fun fundraiser.

Orange County Event Photography

This is my first post on my self-hosted blog site. It’s still on WordPress, but now at Do not ask me to explain what that means. If questions arise, direct them to Jackie Lovato. She’s the girl who got me up and running and continues to be my techie consultant, advisor and now adopted daughter. And, by the way, she’s also a professional photographer. Note the photos below.

Last night my travel’s took me back to my hometown when I attended SOCO’S Uncorked held in the OCMix in Costa Mesa, California. Continue reading

March 2, 2016 Breaking News on Hugh Johnson





No place like home!

In my case, I have more than one, but the place where I have mainly hung my hat for the past several decades is Davis, Ca., a small town wedged between Sacramento and the famous city of Dixon, lying just west of Interstate 5. With a population of approximately 65,000, and home to a renowned university, it is the biking capital of the US.  As I was reminded a few days ago when I sat listening to Tom Pinney of Pomona College interviewing Hugh Johnson on the UC Davis campus,  there are untold and often free benefits to living in a sophisticated college town with a bevy of highly educated academics.

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January 12, 2016 More Wine News from UCDavis

University of California, Davis

January 12, 2016


UC Davis plant scientists have identified an enzyme that appears to play a key role in the insect-transmitted bacterial infection of grapevines with Pierce’s disease, which annually costs California’s grape and wine industries more than $100 million.

The researchers hope that the discovery, which runs counter to existing theories, will lead to new diagnostics and potential treatments for Pierce’s disease. Continue reading

September 28, 2015 Wine-Water News From UCDavis


This is the month for news from UCDavis. My partner forwarded another email with news of the latest research on winery wastewater. Again, I could not resist sharing.


Making wine requires water beyond what it takes to grow grapes. There

are bottles to wash, barrels to scrub and floors to clean. But what

if the water left over from all that cleaning was treated and reused

to irrigate vineyards? It sounds like a promising practice,

especially during a drought, but would it hurt the vines, the soil or

even the wine?

To find out, scientists at the University of California, Davis,

assessed winery wastewater samples monthly over two years at 18

wineries in the Napa and Lodi regions of California. In two recently

published studies, they conclude that, under the right conditions,

winery wastewater is a viable water source to irrigate vineyards.

The research provides the first data to support the California wine

industry’s reuse of treated winery wastewater, and it describes

recommended conditions for the practice, with a key focus on salinity


“This is a good baseline data set to look at and say, ‘Now we know

what’s in our wastewater and what we can do to deal with it before we

put it on the grapes,'” said lead author and UC Davis researcher Maya

Buelow. “Vines are a high cash crop, and growers need to proceed with

caution and gather site-specific soil and wastewater data, but there

are wineries successfully doing this.”

Salt water solution?

The researchers learned that most wineries in the study were already

doing a good job of treating their wastewater through a series of

retention ponds and other treatment systems. Salts, however, remain a


Salt concentrations affect how water moves through the soil. Salts

are usually introduced into the wastewater by cleaning agents, and

they are not removed by treatment systems.

However, the study found that levels of salts at the wineries were

usually below thresholds for most wine grape rootstocks and soil

salinity hazards.

There’s also a trend within the wine industry to switch from

sodium-based to potassium-based cleaners. The study examined the

risks and benefits of such a shift for specific soil types. The

scientists emphasize that further research is needed to develop best

management guidelines, but their results indicate that:

* Soils dominated by montmorillonite, a clay mineral, could benefit

from shifting to potassium-based cleaners.

* Both types of cleaners may negatively affect soils dominated by


* Neither type of cleaner reduced infiltration rates in soils with

kaolinite, also a clay mineral.

Not just grapes

“This is very applicable to nearly every agricultural system out

there,” Buelow said. Many other segments of the food industry produce

significant amounts of wastewater, such as dairy, pig, poultry and

food processing operations. “There are opportunities for them to

reuse wastewater, as well,” she said.

The winery wastewater survey was published in the American Journal of

Enology and Viticulture and funded by the Kearney Foundation of Soil

Science. Co-authors include Kerri Steenwerth, Lucas Silva and Sanjai

J. Parikh of UC Davis.

The salinity and soil study was published in the journal Agriculture

Water Management. It was funded by the Kearney Foundation, as well as

the Henry A. Jastro-Shields Scholarship, and co-authored by

Steenwerth and Parikh.

August 30, 2015 Idyllic Paso




I generally pass through Paso Robles three or four times annually, spend a night and continue on to my destination. Over the past ten years, I have become quite familiar with the town and surrounding region. With every visit I have felt more drawn to its spaciousness, warm character and friendly people. Ancient oak and olive trees dot its terrain offering shady places to sit and sky-gaze; slopes latticed with vineyards roll and curl through endless space.

Continue reading

May 6, 2015 Jiu

When I was introduced to orange wine I was drawn to its unusual gold color and out-on-the-farm nose. Earthiness describes my first taste. A lingering complex finish left an impression of a drink that had come from antiquity. Smitten in that first encounter, I imbibed a bit too much. The following morning in conversation with my son I revealed that the orange had loosened my tongue and as a result I waxed eloquent on expository profound truths or, to put it mildly, the gospel according to P.

My wise son had only one comment. “Mom, wine is the truth serum.”  My mind had a history of playing push-pull with to imbibe or not to imbibe. The idea of a truth serum deepened my quandary.

I appreciated the enjoyment a glass of vino provides especially when properly paired with food. Its health benefits are easily available through Google. Humankind has been enjoying the pleasures and benefits of the grape for at least 7000 if not a million years. The drunken monkey hypothesis has added to our knowledge of why. None-the-less and not infrequently, a nagging voice would chastise me with such thoughts as, “an enlightened being would not imbibe alcohol even if it were a low nine per cent Riesling.”

At times I wondered if my feelings were a hangover from a past life as a Hindu. On my first trip to India in 1985 it was nearly impossible to get an alcoholic drink outside a major hotel. Of course all of that has changed since and India has developed a thriving wine region. Or, perhaps I had been a Muslim. But then some of the first wines were produced in northern Iran. In hyper-looping around Azerbaijan an Islamic culture, I was surprised to learn that it has been producing wine for centuries. So much for past life theory.

On return from Eurasia, I decided to attend a conference on Understanding Jui: The History and Culture of Alcoholic Beverages in China. As wine production began in China, I anticipated getting a great deal of useful information that would help me in countering the inner nag. The Confucius Institute at UCDavis hosted the event in the Mondavi Food and Wine Center.

Before going further I need to report that UCDavis has just been recognized for the third year in a row as having the number one agricultural school in the world, and it’s the only UC campus to be number one in anything worldwide.

The daylong included talks and a panel by prestigious experts, mainly from China. Just what I wanted. Patrick McGovern drew me to the meeting. The Scientific Director of the Bimolecular Archaeology, Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and adjunct Professor of Anthropology at University of Pennsylvania, he has been most helpful to my partner and me on a book we are writing on the vessels mainly glass, used in making and imbibing wine.

McGovern’s research has been key to our knowledge of the use of alcoholic beverage in the ancient world. With a dual hat, he has pursued archaeological and chemical clues from ancient China and other parts of Asia to make his discoveries.

Fondly known as the “Indiana of Jones of Ancient Ales, Wines, cuisines and beverages,” his book In The Search for the Origins of Viniculture and Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverages reveals the story of humankind’s intoxicating quest for the perfect drink in ancient China is a must for anyone working in the wine industry. He describes how the analysis of early pottery from Hiahu in the Yellow River valley of China reconstructed a mixed fermented beverage of rice, hawthorn fruit, grape and honey. Analysis of bronze vessels from the Shang/Western Zhou Dynasty discovered that residue in the vessels still held liquids with millet, rice wine and beer from 3000 years back.

My nag listened intently to McGovern along with the several others who discussed how the story of alcohol has been foundational in every aspect of culture, not only in China, but others as well. Michele Yeh, the Department Chair of East Asian Languages and Culture at UCDavis for example, related that, in China by the third century, jiu became associated with poets so much so that, if someone claimed to be a poet but did not drink jiu, others questioned whether they could truly call themselves poets.

In China we find a history of formalized consumption as exemplified in state rituals, in ancestry worship, and in the rise of cult drinking in the third century when the meaning of drinking evolved. Social, political and intellectual factors contributed to the development of the rituals. Appropriate imbibing based on Confucian ideals also holds true. Drinking is not just about fallen down drunken stupidity.

Not only is the history of alcohol use in America short-lived in contrast to China, it has been frowned upon. One need only consider Prohibition as an example. Nor does it have the kind of formalized ritual around the use of jiu that is found in China. Wedding and New Years Eve toasts are two exceptions; the use of wine at Mass in the Catholic Church another.

If McGovern was the perfect keynote, Cecilia Chiang former owner of The Mandarin in San Francisco was the perfect close. Cecilia opened her talk on a personal note: “I am ninety five years old.” She described her life in China as the daughter of a wealthy, French champagne drinking family who fled during the Communist revolutions and moved to San Francisco in 1960. Opening a restaurant she offered many Northern Chinese dishes for the first time. Among other chefs she taught Alice Waters how to prepare excellent Chinese food. She spoke of introducing Mondavi fume blanc at her restaurant. She spoke of how Robert Mondavi with a bevy of wine knowledgeable guests often frequented her restaurant. With her inspiring talk,  my inner nag begin to wither on the vine.

On an entirely separate venture from the above, I had gone to Colorado to attend a retreat to be given by an esteemed Tibetan monk. The day before the retreat a friend and I were crawling down a dirt road exploring the local environs. When we passed a monk walking along my intuition stopped the car and inquired, “Are you giving a retreat?” After his affirmative answered we spent a several moments engaging in a delightful conversation. WhenI ran into him again that evening while registering for the retreat we resumed our conversation. I felt the beginnings of a budding friendship.

Following our karmic meeting, I drove to the only restaurant in the small town where I ordered a glass of cabernet to pair with a mushroom entre. While sipping and waiting for mushrooms the monk showed up. He passed my table and smiled. Chagrined, I felt like I had been caught engaging in crime, minor of course. Had I seen him enter, I would have hidden my glass. So much for budding friendship!

Moments later the he gave me a teaching. A server glided across the restaurant with a glass of wine and presented it to the monk. He turned and raised his glass in my direction.

Further chagrined, but, I breathed a sigh of relief to know that even some enlightened beings imbibe.

I’ve had enough of the nag. I’m giving him up. In his ignorance, he simply does not know what he’s talking about!



July 20, 2014 Fit for a Foodie

Once up and running, word got out, spread far and wide that the amrit was one of the best restaurants in the state of Maharastra. Tourists drove the forty five or so kilometres from what was then called Bombay, to the village of Ganespuri, knocked on the gate to the meditation ashram that housed the amrit, and asked for dining reservations. While the resident devotees found it rather humorous, tourists when told that the amrit not a public restaurant and served food for the residents of the ashram only, went away disappointed.

One of those fortunate individuals to eat the ambrosia served in the amrit three times a day for one solid year, why I get jealous when I remember my experience of living there some twenty-five years ago. The amrit’s five star reputation—well deserved!

This was not a restaurant in any ordinary sense, but it could have held its own against some of the starred Michelins. The philosophy behind it ran in deep streams of thought coming out of the Vedas and the Upanishads, some of the world’s most ancient scriptures. Food a necessity, not only nurtures the body, the divine can be known through the sense of taste.

One of my work assignments that year now seemingly so long ago, was prep work in the kitchen. As we washed, cut, and chopped vegetables, de-stemmed thyme, peeled mangos and papayas, kneaded dough for naan and chapatis we worked in silence and listened to recordings of ancient Sanskrit mantras and ragas. In a kitchen so contemplative and peaceful I could not help but fall into that same state. I could feel that peace slipping through my fingers into the food that would eventually nurture the souls of those ate it. This was in fact the intention behind the the silence and chanting. To this day I listen regularly to chants when preparing meals in my own kitchen.

An aside on a similar note: years later while visiting a large winery down in Chile I thought I was in a church when I entered the barrel room to the sound of Gregorian Chants. Piped in over a sound system because sound carries vibration, the winemaker convinced that the elevated vibrations of the chant would permeate the wine, played them continuously as the wine aged.

How many times have I heard the question, “do you like the food?” to be followed by the answer, “it’s divine”– music to the ears of the chef. According to the dictates in the ashram not only the method of preparation,  the intentions and state of the staff are important. I would add a very important third ingredient,  the essence and quality of the food.

What is it that makes me  feel that the food is divine.

First, it makes me feel good—it’s that simple.

Second, it takes me out of my ordinary experience into dimensions beyond the thing itself. Like the visuals of a gorgeous sunset, the taste of food can be overwhelming. It is one of life’s most pleasurable experiences. I am not talking about the self-gratification found in an eat, drink, and be merry hedonism in which food is solely an end in itself. That’s another topic.

How was the food in Sardegna? Divine! Simple, made with local ingredients, beautifully presented. People fuss over the preparation process like a hen taking care of her chicks.

As I toured the island some ingredients growing increasingly familiar drew my attention to the essence of  Sardinian food. I knew from conversations with chefs and locals there was a great deal of concern and pride in the way food was prepared–in short, with good energy.

Rather than my usual focus on the dishes or menus I began to focus on the menu of some of  the ingredients that turned up in one form or another across Sardegna.

Pecorino, like I had never tasted it, young and soft like mozzarella or aged from a few months up to a year. Casu marsu, a maggot riddled form was new to me. Pecorino and ricotta the other ubiquitous cheese are made from sheep’s milk until they are shorn in late spring. Cow milk replaces sheep’s milk for ricotta until late in the fall. With more sheep populating Sardegna than people it is understandable why lamb, pecorino and ricotta dominate the cuisine.







Bread, made in the old, traditional way. I cannot imagine how a Sard could handle gluten intolerance, but surprisingly, there is a segment of the population with problems. One chef teacher told me that many feel that the gluten issue began when wheat production was “modernized.”






Pasta. Culurgiones, ricotta filled pockets rather than ravioli, malloreddus, small dumplings in tomato sauce rather than gnocci, fregola, a nutty pasta frequently served with clams, varying slightly from north to south were common.

















Veggies: tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant dominate.







Seada: ravioli like pockets filled with pecorino, topped with honey is divine.









Wine: cannonau, vermintino, carignan always available, but rare varietals indigenous to the island may be had as well.










Nutshell: the divine food of Sardegna covers all three of the above criteria making it more than fit for a foodie, the kind of foodie as explained by Mark Bittman.

Rethinking the Word ‘Foodie’


Pleasure is just one aspect. It’s even more important to reflect our values.

JUNE 24, 2014

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