The Dog Portrait

A couple of friends who had never been in the Malibu wine store, asked me about the dog picture at the top of the email, and it occurred to me that a lot of people might not know the story behind the painting that hung in Malibu Village Wines. The two Newfoundlands depicted are Odessa the sitting female, and  my big knock-kneed boy, Amadeus. I had those dogs from 2000 until about 2008, sadly newfs are not usually long lived. Many people who saw my following dogs, Max, Morgan, Ollie, Peyton, and Mercedes, assumed that those were the dogs pictured. A dog lover, with faith in the artist’s ability would have quickly realized that the original two-some were black with a white chest patch, and the others were black and white all over (Called Landseer Newfoundlands, after the English painter of the 1800’s Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, who often painted the dog saving a life or portrayed the children of a wealthy family sprawled on a black and white Newf, and is most famous for his bronze lions at the base of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square), but many people were understandably confused.

I had grown up with two Newfoundlands as a kid, and it’s hard to find a better breed with a family, or one that gets along in a small space, and with limited exercise needs. They just want to be around their owners, and the females in particular, want to oversee the house, family and any children.

We purchased Amadeus as a 3 month old puppy, shipped to a little old lady in Las Vegas by a mid-west breeder. When the purchaser received her 40 pound puppy, with his giant puppy feet, she panicked, and knew she had to get rid of him before he grew even larger. The large breed rescue people were already trying to talk her into letting them place the dog with someone who had experience with newfs, but she wanted to recover her costs and was advertising the dog in the paper. We drove to her small condo to see the dog.

It’s difficult to hold a fluffy newf puppy that looks like a little bear, without taking it home. Of course, we covered her costs, and brought the very large three month old home with us.

A few months later, we received another call. There was a couple in Phoenix who wanted to find a home for their 6 month old female. I went to see the puppy, with Amadeus in tow, and they bonded. Apparently, they had acquired the dog two months earlier, and shortly after, had taken her with them driving across country to their winter home in Arizona. Halfway to Phoenix, the husband had a heart attack, so the drama, the hospitals and hotels halfway to Phoenix, and the puppy, were just too much. I am not sure if the puppy not being house-broken had caused the attack, or just contributed to the difficulties after. I discovered the lack of house-breaking as soon as we returned home, and an interesting couple of weeks followed.

My new girl, who we named Odessa, was a 6 month old Newfoundland. Few things are more stubborn than a 6 month old female newf, and she had become very set in her ways. It was awfully hard to convince her that grass provided a better toilet than carpet, particularly when we had entered Malibu’s rainy season, and the inside of the house was so much cozier!

We now had two growing newfoundlands, and one major issue. We had moved to Malibu and purchased a house, but were living in the guest house for two months before we could move into the main house. And, the guest house was down the hill, and down a steep flight of stairs, with very shallow treads, covered in Saltillo tile. As I had mentioned, it was a very rainy fall in Malibu, and those stairs were slippery in the rain. Our puppies refused to walk up or down those stairs, and I was forced to throw them over my shoulder and carry them up and down that slick stairway.

Since the puppies were now over or close to 100 pounds and gangly, this was no easy task. And, as they both delighted in drinking copious quantities of water, the trips were frequent.

By now, we had met our neighbors. The couple next door consisted of an artist married to a lobbyist. The couple across the street, Steve and Jen, owned an optical boutique at Cross Creek. As is common in Malibu, everyone loved wine, and Steve and Jen’s patio seemed to be the neighborhood spot to gather for consumption. Two things were determined on that patio. First, that our neighbor Cindy painted dogs, and we would love to have a portrait of Amadeus and Odessa. Second, Jen was “experienced” with dog training and could have our dogs down the stairs in minutes. As we had tried everything we could think of, several times daily for the past month, this was good news.

After at least one bottle of wine had been consumed, Jen showed us her secret…dog treats that were proclaimed to be better than ours! As Jen proceeded to divulge the secret based on proper treat selection, she headed across the street to our stairs and I brought Amadeus up. With the dog at the top of the stairs, Jen set about her magic. I guess that magic had never come up against a stubborn, fearful Newf before.

Amadeus planted both feet firmly, and wouldn’t budge. Not to be stumped by such recalcitrance, Jen held the meaty treat a foot in front of his nose and gave his leash a mighty yank. Off balance and unprepared, Amadeus flew forward, Jen flew back, and things were set in motion. Jen recovered a few steps down, and watched Amadeus slide past her, slipping down the stairs with his front legs straight ahead and his rear ones straight back, looking much like a polar bear rug as he crashed down the entire run of stairs and came to rest on the landing up against the wall.

Amadeus never went near those stairs again, except over my shoulder.

Equally motivated was Cindy the artist. She came up with a price that we gasped at, although it was considerably less than the many thousands of dollars a Malibu Gallery would ask for such a work. She took pictures of the two dogs interacting for nearly a month, but there was no mention of a timetable for the portrait project, and we despaired of it ever coming to happen. A few weeks later, several bottles of wine were consumed, before the neighborhood dispersed back to their own homes. Even though it was less than a hundred feet between all the houses, we were concerned that everyone walk home safely, as the wine tasting had gone well past the tasting stage.

I was shocked when I pulled out of the silent neighborhood early the next morning to head into a meeting and saw a large canvas by my neighbors’ front door. I can spot a newf from a distance, and that painting was big. Somehow, Cindy had headed home, and while everyone else had crawled into bed, she had headed for the studio, pulled out her photographs and captured the essence of the dogs. The positioning relative to each other, their clumsy passage through our house, their expressions, Amadeus’ constant drool, and his knock-knees. The image depicted everything that made those dogs so special to us.

And that portrait became the calling card for the little shop with the large dogs lying outside (and the price, on reflection, was a bargain).IMG_0030

Alberto Serenelli Afro Marche I.G.T. Barrique 2004

SerenelliAfro MonteCorneroThese bottles were our Friday night delight. We were hoping for a big, rich wine with some old world style and charm, and it brought the goods. This is a great wine choice for someone raised on California or other New World trophy wines who wants to try an Italian red, just a little outside their normal comfort zone. It is immediately likeable, but brings a whole new realm of subtlety and complexity.

Serenelli makes wines in the Rosso Conero wine appellation in the central part of the Marche region of Italy just south of Ancona on the slopes of Monte Conero. Marche itself, lies due east of Tuscany, sandwiched between Umbria and the Adriatic, with Marche’s eastern border being the coastline. The red wine with the DOC designation, has at least 85% of the juice coming from the Montepulciano grape. Sangiovese is often added to the blends, and to a much lesser degree, Merlot. The Afro shows how complex and concentrated Montepulciano from this region can be when it is carefully cultivated.

The Afro’s bouquet offers beautiful notes of cherry liqueur, mixed with an intriguing note of earth, saddle leather and tar. There is a little hint of an “animal” quality to the wine, but it is a “just right” character that makes it interesting, and not the type of “out there” aromas that appeal only to zealots and not mere mortals.

With patience, this big wine opens up and in the mouth shows off red fruits, cedar, raisins and ripe plums. There are noticeable tannins present that add to its weight and substance, and its substantial, velvety mouth-feel. They definitely deliver grip, but the tannins are not mouth drying. We really enjoyed this wine, and it was a huge hit with bassist Ross Valory and keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who both regularly enjoy Barolo, Ripasso and Amarone. Fortunately, we had a lot of this wine to pour!

Ch. Ausone 2000 Magnum

Ch AusoneSaturday night, we pulled out a big bottle of this trophy Bordeaux. Like all of the other famed producers of Bordeaux, who jumped on the Robert Parker style bus, this is a fruit monster compared to older bottling. But, boy is it fun when the bottle is good.

My luck has not always been great with wines from this time frame. As most wine lovers have experienced, badly corked wines were prevalent in the ‘95-‘05 decade, and seem to be on the decline now. Waiting for a wine to mature is frustrating enough, but when one adds in the unpredictability of corking, it can be maddening. One truism is that my corked bottles show up when I have transported them the furthest and a replacement is least likely to be at hand.

Such was not the case! This bottle was perfect. I can best liken it to Jose Andres’ magic with modern tapas. He takes the essence of a tomato or an olive, concentrates the flavors, and delivers it back to the patron as a morsel that looks like it came from a tree, but was actually formed in the kitchen, and delivers a purer, more concentrated taste than could be found in nature.

The precise notes of fresh blueberry, cassis and dry cocoa that this bottle displayed were amazing. Truffley forest floor, the inside of a cigar box, wood shavings and asphalt were all vivid and obvious. Sometimes, with that much fruit and flavor the wine can seem mouth-coating and heavy, but this wine was alive. Laden with flavor, but lively. That’s when you know the acid level is right. And, right at this moment, this may not be a great food wine for pairing, unless your meal is full of grilled meats and vegetables.

But, this is not 1870. How many of us enjoy a three hour meal, discussing the affairs of the world, before we move on to port and cigars? We are far more likely to carve out time around our enjoyment of what’s in our glass, than to worry about our pairing of food and wine. This is a wine that deserves all the attention, and that’s where it shines, under the spotlight. As I have mentioned many times, a wine that is higher in acid and lighter in body, may be the ideal companion to food, but will seem shriller on its own. This is a wine for sipping, and marveling at.

This wine demands no food, it is just there for the enjoyment of a lucky few. Jonathan and Ross were raving about how good it was, and the rest of us agreed. I have to admit that we had been supplied with horrible, thick, Libby water glasses that were a half bowl style, and did nothing to capture the aromas from the wine. I laughed and distributed those, and some of those little glasses we called “tooth brush” glasses, that we used to drink “dago red” from in pasta houses. I showed people how to pull air over the wine, and roll it around for a while, appreciating all the aromas. We didn’t need no stinking wine glasses! (Although it sure would have been nice.)

Eventually, real glasses materialized, but this wine was so rich and spectacular that nothing had been diminished by our in-mouth aeration. If you are going to stay up late into the night solving the problems of the world, this is the wine you want to accompany you. I hadn’t looked at the current bottle price in a while, so I was more than a little shocked when I checked this week. But, man was that good.

Rock ‘n Roll ‘n Wine

Reflections on a few bottles shared with rockers on the road.

I have a bumpy history when it comes to enjoying wine with musicians performing concerts. The wine drinkers are usually great to hang out with, have fabulous stories, and love a good time, people, food and wine. They are usually generous, often gregarious, and a lot of fun. Like most wine lovers, they like to plan events for their friends, and never skimp on quantity. Perhaps, that is the problem. In any group of entertainers, there are always a few in active recovery, so maybe that is where the math goes wrong, because the amount of wine involved can be mind boggling.

I have been present at a few dinners, where a lot of wine was consumed BEFORE the concert, which seems like a hard-core rock approach, but was not, in hind-sight, a wise approach.

Eat, drink, and then go out and Party with the crowd. It sounds great, but I have seen it go awry. The last time, after several palate-cleansing beers in the afternoon, we opened up a couple of three liter bottles for the eight of us (but two of the band were in their own version of recovery and abstaining from “anything other than marijuana” for the tour). It gets hard to control consumption when the wines are appropriately mature, 100-pointers. A sign of good wine and impending doom, is the uttering of the words “There’s wine left? We can’t leave until the wine is gone.” Blowing off the sound-check for that last glass of wine, is a stop on the road to disaster.

The concert got off to a great start with the band in high spirits, and the crowd really appreciating their energy. Things were clicking, and after the fourth song, the lead guitarist decided to rev it up. Chad decided to do a stage-dive off the four foot stage while still strumming fiercely. No one got in his way, or broke his fall, and Chad’s knee didn’t survive the landing. Sadly, that brought an abrupt end to the concert. (The band in this case was The Gracious Few, an American group featuring guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer and drummer Chad Gracey from the 90’s best-selling band Live, teaming up with lead vocalist Kevin Martin and guitarist Sean Hennesy from another 90’s giant- Candlebox.)

So, a more sensible approach for slightly older rockers, is to enjoy the wine after the show, when the work is finished. I was lucky enough to share a few wines with the drinking members of Journey after a recent weekend of concert dates, and we opened some great bottles after midnight, that surprised all of us. These guys rest, get ready for the show with some meet and greet events, put on their show, and then think about winding down with wine and food. Funny how things change as we get older!

The Wines:

[button color=”#COLOR_CODE” background=”#COLOR_CODE” size=”medium” src=”″]Read the Alberto Serenelli Afro Marche I.G.T. Barrique 2004 review[/button]

[button color=”#COLOR_CODE” background=”#COLOR_CODE” size=”medium” src=”″]Read the Ch. Ausone 2000 Magnum Review[/button]

Custom Territorial Retreat Above the 11th Hole at Private Troon Country Club

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5,660 square feet

This craftsman-constructed, custom Territorial vacation retreat on its acre lot, overlooking the 11th hole of the private Troon Country Club, can’t be replicated for anything close to this price. An elegantly subtle, yet majestic home, precisely situated above the 11th Green, its views sight down on Mummy Mountain and the North Phoenix Mountains. The house has been placed to gain shaded patios and windows during the day, yet receive full exposure of the pool throughout the winter season. At night, the Golf Course, Mountain and City light views and desert skies are breathtaking.  And, the house sits far back above the Green and away from the direction of approach. You look slightly down as the golfers pass by, but are never exposed to golf balls or inquisitive eyes.

The lot includes a circular drive to the entry, private drive to the 3 car garage, extensive landscaping with retaining walls, stream beds, water features, trees, cactus, flowers and lighting, and a careful harmonizing of the home’s features with the beautiful desert and fairway character of Troon.

The open flexible floorplan offers a main house with formal Living and Dining Room, 3 large en-suite Bedrooms including an extensive view deck off the largest, an office, and the soaring great room with its own large informal dining room, large kitchen, laundry room and outdoor living room all adjacent. The free standing guest casita has its own private patio, living room with beehive fireplace and golf course picture window views, walk-in closet, bathroom with over-sized shower, and an outdoor shower for pool users.

The kitchen & baths offer territorial flair with hand painted tiles, flagstone floors & massive wood beamed accents. The outdoor living area is resort-like with a large, high-roofed conversation area, gas kiva fireplace, negative edge, heated, PebbleTec pool and spa, BBQ area, and multiple view patios.

Best of all, this prime location on the 11th hole of the private Troon Course, adjacent to The Glenn Moor Club, in exclusive guard-gated Glenn Moor at Troon, is close to the shops at Pinnacle Peak and DC Ranch, and minutes from Scottsdale’s best restaurants. Golf and Country Club memberships at Troon CC (not to be confused with the public-accessible Troon North Course) are available but not required with purchase.  Current Glenn Moor HOA fees are very reasonable, and include guard gate, community maintenance, and Club with pool and tennis courts.  A true desert oasis!