GREAT GRAPES!

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Louis Lucas and Jim Palmer rap about wines at the Malibu Wine Classic. Photo by Rich Schmitt.

It was a picture perfect day at Westward Beach and grape lovers came in droves to check out the second annual Malibu Wine Classic. Event organizer Michael Barnes said the whole thing started as a private tasting at Beau Rivage a while back when a handful of wineries and restaurants decided to get together for a little Malibu ‘do.

“It was total chaos,” he recalled. “But really, really, really fun. So we thought why not do one for the public?”

Posters celebrating the wine-worshiping flick “Sideways” were everywhere, meaning there was pinot aplenty. Danny Israoui of Laetitia Vineyard was pouring a selection of what he called “food friendly” pinots and, yes, it seems this grape is still the toast of the town. “Ever since Sideways came out, our sales have gone through the roof,” he said. “We’re up 60 percent on pinot alone.”

The occasion was also a great way to learn about our local grapes. There are at least four wineries getting squishy right here in our own backyard. In addition to the well established names like Rosenthal, you’ll find delicious newcomers like Palmer.

Local real estate moguls turned vintners Irene and Jim were pouring an out-of-this-world 2003 Syrah with delicate taste and light clean finish from their Malibu Vineyards. “This is our first outing to the public and I’m really excited about it,” Jim Palmer said. “You can get it in some local restaurants, but they can’t keep it in stock.”

The Palmers’ vines can be found right up the road in Decker Canyon. Jim Palmer said, “We have the perfect elevation, the perfect soil conditions and a south facing slope and we do everything ourselves.”

Wine connoisseur John Selman said Malibu is a perfect place for grape growing. “We have a thousand great micro-climates. You can find them in every canyon.”

Selman, who organized the event with Barnes, said he was extremely pleased by the turnout. “We have dozens of wineries and even had to turn a few away. We knew if we made it a competition, people would come. After all, it’s Malibu.”

In between sips, there were lots of delectable morsels to choose from. Champagne Bakery was dishing out spinach quiche, Duke’s offered spicy shrimp and papaya salsa. There was cumin-infused lamb from Allegria, crab cakes from the Hideaway CafĂ© and taquitos from Casa Escobar.

From the Rosenthal cabs to the Palmer Syrahs, these pours were a hit with a selection so vast it was at times hard to choose.

Asked what publisher Karen P. York liked best, she responded with a smile, “After the third glass, it’s hard to tell; plus when you’ve grown up with Manischewitz, everything tastes good.”

I’ll drink to that!