Lioco Showcases Its Food-Friendly Wines


Twelve vintages ago, Matt Licklider and Kevin O’Connor began making vineyard-driven California wines, seeking lower alcohol and European styles to get away from the bigger-is-better approach that California had become known for. This was seven years before the In Pursuit of Balance team started widely promoting this style and there was plenty of uncertainties of whether local consumers would take to this style. For Matt, then a distributor of European wines and Kevin, the wine director at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, moving forward in this
direction was a gamble.

That gamble is paying off as Lioco wines can now be found as far away as Japan, and are distributed across 30 states within the U.S. The wines, which include Carignan, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are made of fruit purchased from distinguished vineyards from such places as the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino. With an intense focus on cool climate and picking early enough to retain the fruit’s acidity, these aromatic wines showcase its terroir and are created to pair with food (although for any wine geek, these wines on their own provide quite a bit of intellectual fodder to enjoy on their own).

To show off the wines, Matt together with Andy from MacArthur Beverages hosted a wonderful
four-course dinner at Black Salt in the quiet Palisades neighborhood (Did you hear that California winemakers? Matt hosted a dinner here in D.C.!! It was successful, you should follow his lead 😉 )

Pairings included the Indica Carignan Rosé (Mendocino, 2015) with salmon tataki with pickled melons and citrus aioli (this is one of my favorite rosés and the pairing created a seamlessly fresh experience of flavors):



Estero Chardonnay (Russian River Valley, 2014 ) with Chesapeake chowder (during the dinner, Matt told us he saw the Chardonnay as that bit of lemon you squeeze over your fish):



Cerise Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, 2013) with duck bolognese (our table of six snuck in a bottle of 2012 Lioco Hirsch Pinot Noir to try side-by-side. The Cerise was full of really bright fruit, while the Hirsch showed off its herbal spine ):



And lastly the Caleta Syrah (Santa Cruz Mountains, 2014) with braised beef short rib (I honestly can’t tell you much about the pairing as the Syrah on its own blew us all away. This is not your typical California Syrah. At 11.9 percent alcohol, the wine can best be described as a yin and a yang: brooding and dense on appearance but with an elegant palate more reminiscent of the Northern Rhone):



I’ve been a fan of Lioco wines for a while, so it was a real treat to have Matt here in D.C. A big thank you to him, Andy and Black Salt for the superb evening! I was at a table with five other friends, and as is usually the case, combing good friends while sharing delicious wine and food, in the presence of talented individuals makes for an evening that will be impossible to forget! Cheers!

(All photos by me)

And Speaking Of Sean Thackrey…

So the man I complemented in my last post  for dutifully making wine to “irritate the Wine Police,” has explained his philosophy in an open letter he sent to Food & Wine in response to Ray Isle’s “Wine’s Nastiest Feud” column.

It’s more back-and-forth pointed mostly at the In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) movement. But I found it interesting because it provides insight into Sean Thackrey’s out-spoken personality.

In Down with Wine Dogma, Thackrey calls adhering to certain rules, like creating lower-alcoholic wines, a fad similar to what you find in the fashion world. He writes:

So what’s the point of dogma in all this? Since no one disputes that excellent wine can be made from grapes comparatively lower in sugar, what is the point of arguing that this is so, when no one argues the contrary? Methinks someone’s marketing guru doth protest too much.

If what you’re making really is all that delicious, there’s no need to demonstrate the limitations of your palate by claiming that all wines made with one or two percent more alcohol content are undrinkable; this is too perfectly stupid for comment. Pour what you’ve actually made as wine, so that we can all see how it—rather than your PR bling (i.e., we’re all about subtlety and intellectual complexity and general all-around Frenchness)—actually tastes in the glass.


Food & Wine also published a Q&A with Thackrey where Ray Isle asked him specifically about his descriptive wine label: 

You’re not a guy who’s short on opinions. The label on your red wine Pleiades says that its purpose is to “delight the jaded and irritate the Wine Police…” Who are the “wine police”?

Anyone who puts restrictions on what you’re supposed to be able to enjoy. Like the idea that if a wine is 15 percent alcohol, it’s undrinkable—it’s hot, overextracted, raw, a fruit bomb, doesn’t show any subtlety, isn’t French and so on. Give me a break! Just taste it first, OK? People 
with those kinds of absolute preconceptions, they’re part of the wine police.

What it all comes down to – on both sides of the IPOB-debate – is making good wine that people want to enjoy. But how do you get your brand out there ahead of the others? The IPOB winemakers are using each other to propel their wines, while Thackrey is using his blunt label-writing, his non-conformist attitudes and his opportunity to have his story told in Food & Wine. They’re both marketing methods, right?!  

For a bit more about Sean Thackrey, I discovered this short video while Googling.

The Wrath of Grapes

I’m a little bit too excited to see the New York Times take on IPOB, so apologies if
you follow my other social media accounts and have seen this already. And if you’ve diligently read this Tumblr, you probably recall this post I wrote a few months ago.

But this profile really does a great job introducing readers to the concept, the winemakers and the controversies around it, while providing a good understanding of Robert Parker’s influence on the industry – especially in California.

So I’ll just leave The Wrath of Grapes here for you to enjoy.


Pursuing Balance In New York


Comparing two Kutch wines at the IPOB conference in New York on Feb. 23

Today is the annual In Pursuit of Balance conference in San Francisco and here I am at my desk, fidgeting, stalking #IPOB on Twitter and Instagram, and wishing I was there – even though it was only a couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to attend the New York event.

I heard Ted Lemon give his Keynote on the history of California wine, followed by a seminar on how winemakers try to achieve their goals of “balance.” A few hours later, I took full advantage of the public tasting with 33 California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers.

As a non-industry participant, it was fascinating to hear winemakers talk about their decision-making processes, and then taste the wines that corresponded to their achievements and falters. It was as if I was eaves-dropping on their private club. Those who have followed IPOB know that the entire industry does not  necessarily embrace this group, and as Food and Wine Magazine Wine Editor Ray Isle teased in his introduction to the panel discussion, he thought he was coming to the “IPOB Church” and it was “nice to know this was a discussion and not a cult,” which gained laughter from the audience. 


The “Getting It Right” panel moderated by Food and Wine Magazine Wine Editor Ray Isle (left), winemakers Andy Peay, Bradley Brown and Jamie Kutch, and Sommelier Raj Vaidya (right).

Rajat Parr, the famed sommelier and winery owner who hosts the event with Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, was clear to point out prior to the panel that the purpose of IPOB is to have a “discussion among friends” and it’s about “learning from each other… It’s not a fight against someone, not a ‘we’re better, they’re bad,’ it’s not that.”

As a first-timer here (these events began in 2011), I believe they were successful in that. Here are 33 winemakers who all have similar goals. This is not just an opportunity for them to have internal dialogues and market their wines to the industry, but a very approachable way for enthusiasts like myself to learn. Follow this up with the opportunity to taste and have individual conversations with the winemakers during the tasting portion of the event and you can’t deny it’s a fun experience for your mind and your taste buds! 

The group has posted videos of their seminars on its website. If you’re a fan of these wines, it’s worth the watch.


A magnum of the 2014 Red Car Rosé is chilled during the IPOB tasting in New York.


The folks behind In Pursuit of Balance, a group of wineries focused on “balanced” California pinot noir and chardonnay has updated their winery list.

I’m a fan of several on the list already: Copain (did you see the photo I posted this morning?), Flowers, Hirsch, LIOCO and Littorai. And a few more have been on my must try list for a while: Matthiasson, Peay, Red Car, Sandhi and Wind Gap. That’s not to say the rest of these aren’t worth your while. I’d be happy to get my hands on any of these bottles.

For those unfamiliar with the group, among their mission is to seek wines that are “profound vehicles for the expression of terroir.”  (You can read their manifesto here.) These are mostly smaller, family-owned wineries who take pride in what they do, with immense respect for the land.

And to me, without even talking about the complexity or brightness or acidity or fruitfulness of the wine, it’s that combination of understanding the nature and the people behind the wine, that add an extra, even more enjoyable, dimension to what I’m sipping.