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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Drink This: Txakoli 

Ever since I was a kid—a displaced New Yorker living in suburban Southern California and fantasizing about "real" pizza, bagels and greasy Chinese food—I've planned my trips around food. So when I learned, while traveling through Barcelona about a decade ago, munching on patatas bravas, pan con tomate and every other kind of montadito placed in front of me, that the food in San Sebastián was supposed to be some of the best in the world, I scrapped my upcoming trip to Valencia and headed north.

Kerryn, a game-for-anything Aussie girl I'd met at the hostel came with me, convinced after a couple of pitchers of sangria at L'Ovella Negra (the Black Sheep) off Las Ramblas. We arrived at sunset, stashed our over-stuffed backpacks in the lockers at the train station, and headed out in search of pintxos, the Basque word for tapas, and beer.

What we found, instead, was Txakoli.

This slightly fizzy, low in alcohol, mineral and citrus-driven white is to partying in San Sebastian what a keg of Natural Ice is at a frat house. We drank tumblers-full as we roamed the city streets, stopping to snack on anchovies, squid and razor clams. Everywhere we went, they poured Txakoli from on high, making the bubbles more pronounced, and whisking away the saline goodness of incredibly fresh seafood.

We spent the ensuing week practicing txikiteo, the Basque tradition of roaming from bar to bar eating and drinking, though we didn't know there was an acutal name for it. We traveled in a gangly group from our flat—a mix of 20-something Aussies, Québécois, a couple of Brits and a Croatian—and took in the incredible fireworks displays of Semana Grande, running down the cobbled alleys of Parte Vieja trying to escape cabezudos, men wearing giant papier-mache heads trying to whack us with inflated pig bladders. That's about as much as I can remember.

I don't quite party like that anymore, but  I do still dig on a spritzy glass of Txakoli, especially now that I know how to find it. It crept onto the American wine scene a few years ago along with small plates, a quick hit among wine cogniscenti looking for something geeky to turn their friends on to. Traditionally made from the Basque grape Hondarribi Zuri, the majority of Txakoli is white, though you can occasionally find rosado versions that use Hondarribi Beltza, an indigenous red grape and, even more rarely, red Txakoli made entirely from Beltza. And while it's most suited to seafood, it's also quite tasty on its own, with jamon iberico, Manchego cheese or tortilla española.

Come learn more about Txakoli, and taste a variety from each of the DOCs where it's made: Arabako, Getariako and Bizkaiko, at K&L Hollywood this Friday, July 16th from 5:30 to 7:30pm. The seminar is FREE, but space is limited. Book your spot here.

If you don't live in Los Angeles, here are some of our favorite Txakolina to try.

2009 Xarmant Arabako Tkakolina ($14.99) The perfect Txakolina for someone who's never had Txakolina. From the new Arabako DOC, this wine is priced for an adventure. It's totally charming, dry and very clean. Done entirely in stainless, it has a hint of green apple and citrus on the nose, and lots more on the palate, combined with a gentle zip of minerals.

2009 Ameztoi "Rubentis" Ros é  Getariako Txakolina ($19.99) I almost didn't tell you about this one, since our supplies of Rubentis are very limited and I kind of want it all to myself, but then I decided not to be selfish. Lime, strawberry and rose petal aromas and flavors make this a fabulous summertime sipper.

2009 Gurrutxaga Bizkaiko Txakolina ($19.99) Don't even bother trying to pronounce this Bodega's name, just click on the link and know you'll be treated to an elegant but zippy Txakolina. This is more floral than the Xarmant, with its own saline quality. Try this with mussels or oysters or, even better, fresh sea urchin.



Leah Greenstein

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