Appetizers
October 23, 2006
Two New Spots, Two Updates

Though we didn't stray far from home this weekend, we did manage to get to Elk Grove and to midtown Sacramento, where, among other things, we found...

...That Bob Jennings, former longtime wine buyer for the Raley's chain of supermarkets, and his wife, Sondra, were opening their own wine shop, Jennings' Wine Cellar, believed to be the first retail wine outlet in Elk Grove. The shop is spacious and bright, but the air got a bit above ideal cellar temperature Friday evening as a large crowd turned out for the grand opening. We saw a lot of familiar reliable labels - Saintsbury, Stag's Leap, Schug, Sobon and Bogle, among others - as well as some that don't show up in a whole lot of wine shops, like Chateau Montelena and Sbragia. We left with a bottle of what long ago was one of our favorite everyday wines, though we'd lost touch with it in recent years, the Laurel Glen Vineyard Reds. While Laurel Glen owner Patrick Campbell specializes in intense and pricey cabernet sauvignons on Sonoma Mountain, Reds was his answer for an affordable wine that would appeal to the masses and be the life of the party. His first releases were closed with a cork with a picture of Lenin and other notable Communists printed on the side. The cork, however, has gone the way of most Communists, and he now finishes his bottles of Reds with more worker-friendly screwcaps, symbolic in their own right. Jenning's Wine Cellar stands out prominently in a shopping complex at 8351 Elk Grove Blvd., just a couple of blocks west off Highway 99; (916) 684-6115.

...Peter Torza at the bar of his Black Pearl Oyster Bar along upper J Street, digging into a pizza, apparently test driving what will be the featured food of his next restaurant, Gianni's Trattoria. Torza had planned to close Black Pearl earlier this month to make it over into the trattoria, but clearly it remains open, and will continue to operate as the oyster bar through the end of the year, Torza now has decided. The transition to new place is to start in January.

...That the Twisted 88's Dueling Piano Bar & Pizzeria along J Street near 16th has opened quietly. Well, not so quietly, given the rollicking talents of Jon Rave Gilbert, John Crampton and Rags Tuttle, who took turns keeping 75 or so onlookers amused with their non-stop singing and piano playing. Pizza was being tested there, too, with slices being given out to customers while the owners determine which styles are likely to be most popular. Dueling Piano Bar is at 1616 J St., and is to open at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with the entertainment to start at 9 p.m. and continue to 1:30 a.m. More information: (916) 441-1638.

...That the Laurel Glen Vineyard 2004 Lodi Red Wine ($9.50), mentioned above, holds up the winery's reputation for high-value everyday blends, as we discovered over dinner last night. This one is a mix of old-vine zinfandel, carignane and petite sirah, the historic workhorses of central California's vineyards. In the density of its color, Reds is as intimidating as those old Commies, but on the palate it's smooth and friendly, with cheery berry flavors, a lean structure and refreshing acidity. It's 14.5 percent alcohol is a bit warm, but overall the wine is supple, balanced and accessible. The owners of the proposed Gianni's Trattoria and the Twisted 88's just may want to include with their pizza tasting some of the Reds. We had it with duck and pasta with marinara, but its build and fruit would seem to be ideal for pizza as well.

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