Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sensuality in a Bottle

LXV labels, enlarged on the walls of the tasting room.

In November, I spent a glorious week in Paso Robles, California, an area that Wine Enthusiast Magazine named the 2013 Wine Region of the Year.* (“Duh!” said one of my friends who owns a small vineyard up there.) I visited several vineyards and tasting rooms, doing private tastings and barrel samples, and I ended the week at the 3rd annual Garagiste Festival, held at the glorious 280-acre Windfall Horse Farms.

I’ve said before that the Garagiste Festival (www. is my favorite wine event, and this year's was no exception. Why do I love it so much? It gathers together, under one roof (in this case, the gabled variety, of an impeccably designed brick horse stable), over 60 winemakers who are just about the most enthusiastic, artistic, and in many cases experimental vintners on the planet. These are my people. I love talking with them, tasting their elixirs, and sharing the love of the grape with them and the discerning crowd that attends the event.
Sensual artwork adds to the experience.
Among those pouring this year was a new wine label, which captured my fancy. I got the buzz early about LXV Wines (, and was told I must visit their new downtown Paso tasting room, which had opened in October. And so I did.

The LXV tasting room is a work of art. Its royal blue walls, sumptuous couches strewn with bright throw pillows, and erotic yet tasteful artwork on the walls said to me, ‘Come in, relax, and enjoy the pleasures of wine.'

“We wanted a tasting room where people just go ‘Ah’ when they walk in the door,” says Neeta Mittal, co-owner of LXV with her husband Kunal.  She adds that she wants customers to recognize the “zen-ness” of the place. 

The wines and the labels of LXV are inspired by the arts of Kama Sutra, the ancient Hindu writings on human sexual behavior. There are 64 arts, and Neeta says the 65th is “you,” hence the name of the label.

It all began about six years ago when Neeta, a former dancer and choreographer, wrote a comedy film script set in Victorian England, about a secret copy of the Kama Sutra that finds its way into uptight Victorian nobility. While the script never made it to the big screen, the Mittals have brought the story to life in their wines. 

LXV owner Neeta Mittal provides a lovely tasting room experience.
“Our winemaker, Amy Butler, has an old world approach to wine — restrained, with respect for fruit and  where it comes from, and very little intervention when making wine,” says Neeta. “Amy believes she’s more of an artist than a techie wine maker, and I think this expresses itself in the wine. They are hand crafted.”

With names like Heart Note, Summer Satine, Crimson Jewel, and Rising Tempo, LXV wines are full of character yet subdued, and sensual but not brash. Each label features the portrait of a female artist – a dancer, an artist, a jewelry designer – captured in a moment of sensuality, as she indulges in her art.  The back labels carry quotes from the artists about what sensuality means to them. “The idea is to pay homage to an artist with every wine,” says Neeta.

You don’t just taste wine at the LXV tasting room, however; you experience the sensual art of pairing wine with food. First, you sip the wine, then you savor a neutral-flavored sheep’s milk cheese dipped in a spice mix with a second sip, and you finish with a third sip of the wine. The pairing makes the wine blossom in your mouth.

Spice mixes dipped in sheep's cheese enhance the wine's flavors.
For instance, Viognier is paired with exotic peppers; Rosè (a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Merlot, and Viognier) is paired with cinnamon; a Sangiovese/Petit Syrah blend is paired with lavender or pumpkin spices (think Thanksgiving); and  a Grenache/Syrah/Tempranillo blend is paired with a spice blend of cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and exotic peppers

“The reason for spice pairings is to experience wine at a deeper level,” says Neeta, who worked with a food designer as well as Lori Foster of Spice of Life (, the shop next door to her tasting room. “This allows customers to experience the wine three times, and they all admit that they are able to unlock flavors that they did not before.” Neeta claims that the ambiance of her tasting room combined with her specific way of tasting keeps the customers in the room longer than they normally would stay. Did I mention that Neeta is also a marketing genius?

The pièce de rèsistance was the pairing of Francois Payard and Christopher Elbow** chocolate truffles with a barrel sample of the yet-to-be-bottled 2012 Cab Franc/Syrah/Merlot blend. It was divine.

By this point in the tasting, you will be ready to curl up on one of the couches and dream away, or maybe buy a couple cases of this handcrafted wine.

Visit the LXV tasting room at 1306-B Pine Street (13th and Pine), Paso Robles, CA 93446; I suggest you go with someone you love. 

Until next time, cheers!

** Francois Payard’s and Christopher Elbow’s chocolates were both named Food & Wine Magazine’s 2013 Best Chocolates in the US (

1 comment:

  1. I never thought to pair wine with spices - only fruit. Yum! Wish I was on the West Coast to visit their tasting room.