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Photo by Derek Bennion
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Photo by Derek Bennion
The Tazza team visits Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards & Inn in Ensenada, Mexico
EXT. VALLE DE GUADALUPE, MEXICO – DAY: A small posse of men hops onto the back of a truck, preparing for a long, bumpy, dusty ride. They’re looking for something special, something valuable — something rarely found outside of the Baja peninsula, at least in the Americas. The pale mountains rise gently around them, enveloping the team with the smell of warm, ripe fruit.
I’m seriously considering pitching a Sideways 2 to Alexander Payne after talking to John Haggai about Tazza Kitchen’s semi-annual wine trip. Stories abound from the collected adventures that Tazza co-founders Haggai, Jeff Grant and John Davenport have taken in the name of good grapes since 2012, leading the group to Italy, Spain, Portugal, Argentina and beyond, and ranging anywhere from a few days to a full week.
“We travel these regions and build relationships with smaller producers to bring in wines that are lesser known,” Haggai says. “Our standard is high quality with an interesting background — the winemaker, the family, their method. Then we educate our servers, who have to sell the wine to folks in the suburbs, where it’s mostly chain restaurants serving mass-market varietals … We really try to keep the experience informative and unpretentious.”
And fun for those of us who love tasting unvisited lands in our cups.
The aforementioned Valle de Guadalupe boasts vineyards with a microclimate identical to the Mediterranean, and thus the Aglianico thrives there — a black grape typically found in the Campania region of Italy. The Tazza partners, along with chef Justin Burchill and general manager Graham Stultz, arrived just in time for harvest at the breathtaking Villa Montefiori to take in the scene, the food, and of course, all of the vineyard’s refined offerings. And thanks to their inherent treasure-seeking nature, you and I can have a glass, too — the Aglianico is now on the Tazza menu.
So what else is on the winter list? The citrusy Brazilian tantalizer Lídio Carraro Dádivas Chardonnay, which Haggai recommends pairing with Tazza’s Aqua Pazza dish, a local white fish braised in a vegetable stock with roasted tomatoes, Thai chilies and fresh herbs, served on a bed of broccoli rabe and agrodolce. The Castello di Neive Pinot Nero, a Pinot Noir from the Piedmont region of Italy, is also a highlight. Grab a bottle and let it do its brooding, sultry, cherry-rich thing alongside a spicy sausage and black pepper honey pizza.
I’ll leave you with some Sideways trivia: Miles’ prized 1961 bottle of Cheval Blanc is actually 40-percent Merlot. Not all Merlot is bad. But you can’t buy it cheap.