I am fortunate enough to have a lot of brilliant friends in this wonderful business of wine, and living in California, a lot of them work for California wineries.  I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Jason Cooper of Cain Vineyard recently, and was blown away by the wines he had with him that evening.


We met at a little Swiss/ French Restaurant on Balboa Island called Basilic.  The place is tiny- it only holds 24 people at a time.  The chef-owner Bernard Althaus personally attends to each plate as it leaves the kitchen, and predictably, the food is amazing.

I also loved the wine list- a masterpiece of Old and New World wines.  Their French selection was littered with some lovely little gems, including this Sancerre from Daniel Chotard.  This is a classic Sancerre, made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc that is aged on the lees.  It has a brilliant pale yellow color and a pure aroma of citrus and magnolia blossoms. 

I especially loved the Sancerre with this traditional dish of Raclette, a thinly sliced, toasted piece of cheese, accompanied by the traditional potatoes, pickles and onions.  If you visit Basilic for no other reason, this is the dish that should bring you to Chef Bernard’s doorstep.  Simply delicious.

Then we moved on to the main courses, and the Cain Vineyard wines.  When Jason pulled out a bottle of 1995 Petit Verdot, everyone’s eyes lit up.  This wine, like many monovarietal experiments throughout the years at Cain, was hand-bottled in miniscule batches.  Although the Cain flagship wines are bordeaux blends, this Petit Verdot was a bold tribute to the overal quality of their fruit and winemaking chops.  Bright, balanced, showing little signs of age, and simply elegant.  The tannins were completly integrated and there wasn’t a rough edge to be found.  This is the kind of wine that makes me proud to be a Californian.


Jason also had a bottle of 2005 Syrah from Cain (another rarity sold only to the wineries club members).  This was everything I want a Syrah to be- bold, dynamic and deeply colored, with notes of blackberries, spice and a touch of bourbon-scented vanilla.  The wine had a racy minerality to it that reminded me of really good Lagrein.  It’s not easy to make a stunning, well-balanced wine like this in California.  It takes dedication in the vineyard, and a committment to understanding and working with the terroir.  These wines represent California agriculture in the best possible way.  Cain isn’t just growing grapes, they’re growing wine.

Basilic’s dishes were a perfect match for these big, explosive wines.  The Coq au Vin was delectable with these big hunks of braised chicken meat surrounding wide, slippery noodles.  I loved the veal reduction sauce the coated the whole thing, especially married with the Cain wines.  All in all, a perfect evening, and not a single Italian wine in sight.  Imagine that!

About The Author

I love all things Italian: the beautiful country of Italia, the Italians themselves, the language, the food… and above all, I love Italian wine. The people I meet in my charmed life are fascinating, the wines are extraordinary. I needed a special place like this to write about them, and to remember them.

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8 Responses

  1. The Blissful Adventurer

    I would love to try the Cain. I have a theory on the paradigm shift in California beginning in 1994 with the 1995s and 1998s serving as throwback vintages to a time when acid, earth, and tannin still existed in Napa. It sounds so lovely

  2. Come Due Maiali

    I have Raclette in my fridge as we speak…that Sancerre is practically a Cal-Frank, since it was imported by Kermit Lynch. That is my usual preference in “California” wines; I have a hard time justifying paying for the high-end impressive Californian stuff I do like (such as Dominus which we visited many moons ago, when I was in the industry). I miss the freebies!

    • Joanie Karapetian, Italian Wine Geek

      I am totally impressed you have Raclette in your fridge! Do you have the little tool for toasting it? Or do you just broil it?

      I know what you mean about leaving the wine industry! After three years my cellar was just about depleted! So glad to be back in with the in-crowd. 🙂

      • Come Due Maiali

        Actually, I will be making a tartiflette this weekend. Come on, you know I have no tools 🙂
        Yes, now I have to pay for everything myself. Sigh. Luckily I make much more now than back in the day.

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