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Jim Kempton Wave-Lengths
Jim Kempton

By Jim Kempton

There’s no denying the pleasure of wine.

It can make almost any meal an occasion, give every table a little elegance and provide every conversation an added sense of satisfaction.

Although I’m a rank amateur as wine enthusiasts go, I learned a bit about it while living in France. Miki Dora, one of surfing’s early icons and bona fide bon vivant, knew the venerable Rothschild family, France’s greatest vintners—and on the odd occasion invited me along. So in those “salad days” while surfing France’s southwest coast I had the chance to taste a Chateau Mouton Cabernet Sauvignon, savor a Premier Cru Classé Merlot,  and try Chateau d’ Yquem, Bordeaux‘s great dessert wine. From then on I was hooked. Even today French reds are the only ones I know enough about to buy intelligently without the help of a wine connoisseur.

That’s not to say I don’t love California wines, far from it. I once acquired two cases of 1974 Beauleau Vineyards Private Reserve Cabernet for $216 a case. A year later it was selling for $120 a bottle. You might think we would have held some of that Napa nectar for later years. But when you have a couple of cases of great wine lying around, its hard not to break it out every time good friends come over— which in those days was pretty constantly. We went through those two cases in about eight months. But it was the best string of dinner parties I ever remember.

Luckily for San Clemente, we have several wine shops that rank among the best in Orange County. Coincidentally, they offer a varied and distinctive range of choices.

Bob’s Fine Wines on Camino de Estrella carries a dazzling array of wines. Owner Bob Clanton is an ardent expert as well as a charming conversationalist. A genuine, unpretentious second-generation San Clementean, he relishes sharing his knowledge. Don’t be put off by the Gatorade in the front of the small, jam-packed store. Just ask if he has a 1961 magnum of Lafite-Rothschild – he’ll smile.

The Cellar on Del Mar has brought a new level of casual elegance to the local wine experience. Distinctly European in feel, the shop closely resembles a Parisian café. Dawn Mednick and Sherrie Jordan not only carry crates of fine wine, they offer a formidable selection of cheeses, too. And their evening wine bar (complete with witty wine stewards and polished piano players) create the perfect place to nurse a big red.

The San Clemente Wine Company, just a short walk down Del Mar, brings the same upscale feel, with varieties from over 30 of the world’s best regions. Wine tastings are often booked out in advance and offer the chance to taste old classics and new arrivals. For the last three years, this local gem has been ranked as one of the top three wine shops in all of Orange County. The new owners, Stacey and Jeff Lloyd plan to bring even more to the table.

Pay a visit and discover the beauty of these gems. After all there are only a few things that get better as they get older – sterling silver, good books, longtime friends—and vintage wine. To top it off, the word is that 2015 should be a very good year for wine—maybe even one for the ages. (I heard it through the grapevine.)

Jim Kempton, a professional writer and amateur wine lover, has personal proof that wine improves with age. The older he gets, the better it tastes.

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