By: George Balling
Mary and I just returned from a short Spring getaway. The warm sunny weather of Palm Desert was a welcome change from our slightly cooler wetter weather here, coupled with time with friends and some new restaurant and wine list experiences all combined for a great trip. As we always do when away we welcome the chance to see what is going on with wine in other parts of the country.
We encountered some great wine lists while there that featured some of our favorites. Overall though I was a bit struck by the similarity of so many wine selections on the wine lists of the restaurants we visited. It seemed that much of the wine scene was dominated by one or two distributors which is not always the best outcome. We see it frequently here at home too, as almost any place you venture in to seems to have many of the same wines. We like a bit more diversity of selections than that so we hope on future trips to the desert we will be greeted with more choices. Having said that we did find some of our favorites to have while there, they are good names to watch for if you go to the area.
Rombauer Chardonnay seemed to be by the glass wine in many places we dined. I have been critical enough of this wine in the past, but I have to tell you the wine is different now, almost updated if you will. Over recent years we have found the wine to be more restrained and balanced as the winemaking seems to have entered a more current approach. Gone are the days of the uber rich buttery palate and almost sweet fruit. This is a risky move for any winery including Rombauer as they chance alienating their traditional clientele, while they try to attract new enthusiasts. If you haven’t tried the wine in a while, you should.
One of our nights on our own we had dinner at Il Corso. This fun and lively Italian venue is right on El Paseo the main shopping area in Rancho Mirage and is definitely worth the visit. While we had heard repeatedly prior to our trip, “don’t try to go out to eat without reservations”, we just popped in and found seats at the bar. The food was delicious and we were thrilled when we found the Gaja Promis on the list! We have this wine in the shop and hadn’t tried it in a bit and I have to say the wine is every bit as fabulous as I had remembered. Most of what Gaja makes is from Piedmont, the Promis is his first venture outside of Piedmont and comes from the Bolgheri Coast of Tuscany. The blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah is dense and rich with opulent fruit, just flat-out wonderful wine.
One of our nights with our good friends we went to the Cork and Fork. This was a big treat! The restaurant is chef owned, which almost always results in a great outcome. While small plates are featured, we found all we had to be top notch. On the wine list I was thrilled to find the Truchard Merlot from the Napa side of the Carneros region. We have known Truchard Winery and the Truchard family for many years, they are some of the best winemakers and best people in the wine business. We carry many of their wines here in the shop, but sadly the Merlot is not distributed in Idaho. It is rich and smooth Napa Valley Merlot and we will definitely start working on getting it added to our collection.
Lavender Bistro was another new restaurant for us, and another that is well worth the trip. The outdoor dining area is adorned with small white lights on all of the trees for a beautiful setting. The food was fabulous, and after having the wine our friends brought with, we decided on one more bottle and chose the Patz and Hall Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The Patz and Hall is another wine we carry in the shop and know well. It did not disappoint. The wine is classic RRV Pinot with mild mushroom noted earthiness in the aromas backed by vibrant notes of ripe Bing cherries, paired with the expertly prepared brined pork chop it was a match that was just about perfect.
While a bit more diversity between dining venues would have been nice, we certainly can’t complain about finding so many of our favorites scattered across the wine lists of the Palm Springs area. The number of restaurants to try in the area is refreshing, and they delivered consistently great food, along with 80 degrees and sunshine it is tough to beat.