Friday, July 10, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - R.I.P. Carl Reiner

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  We're still cooped up at home, and now we're missing Carl Reiner, too.

Comedy icon Carl Reiner passed away on June 29th at the age of 98 years.  He pulled televised comedy through the '50s and '60s before jumping onto the big screen as an actor, writer and director.  It was fitting that a guy who gave octogenarian George Burns his role of a lifetime in Oh, God, had the favor returned by Steven Soderbergh in Ocean's Eleven when he was 79.  Reiner played the hell out of the role of Saul Bloom in the trilogy.

A newspaper writer friend of mine told me about meeting Carl Reiner in the '70s at a big event at The Summit in Houston.  My friend was in the restroom when Reiner walked in.  The conversation at the lavatory was short, but laced with comedy.  Reiner apparently thought my friend was the restroom attendant and asked him for a towel.  It was one of my friend's prouder brushes with fame.

This week, Trailers From Hell takes a look at Reiner's cinematic side, during breaks from binge-watching The Dick Van Dyke Show.  CBS colorized a couple of the shows from the series, including the "Coast to Coast Big Mouth" episode.

Reiner teamed up with Steve Martin on four films, the first being The Jerk in 1979.  Besides launching Martin's cinematic career, the film also brought to the popular vocabulary the excitedly shouted phrase, "The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!"  In my circle of friends, that quickly became, "He asked me for a towel! He asked me for a towel!"

Martin's character asks a waiter at a fancy restaurant to forget the 1963 Chateau Latour and bring some fresh wine, "the freshest you’ve got."  He also keeps his Château Lafite Rothschild in a water cooler, with wine glasses in the paper cup dispenser.  We're not dealing with the most sophisticated wine aficionado here, we're dealing with a jerk.  So lets pair a wine that's more affordable than the Lafite, and fresher.

In wine, freshness equals acidity.  The Luli Sauvignon Blanc hails from Monterey County and carries a very zippy acidity with it.  If you're pairing The Jerk with a jerk chicken recipe, you might want to go with a less acidic wine, maybe Tatomer's Vandenberg Riesling from Santa Barbara County.

In 1969's The Comic, Reiner had a hand in writing, producing, acting and directing.  The movie stars Van Dyke as a Keaton-esque movie comedian from the BT era - before talkies.  He spends a lifetime trying to recapture his silent slapstick heyday.  Van Dyke had long wished for such a role and says that he and Reiner were proud of the movie even though it laid an egg at the box office.

If you are exploring alternative drinking hours during the pandemic, and they begin at breakfast, here's an idea.  Reiner appeared in a 1964 print ad for Kahlua, so you might want to grab a bottle and spike your coffee with it.  Serve it alongside a mimosa.  Oh, yeah, and a breakfast.

The Doris Day/James Garner classic, 1963's The Thrill of It All, was written by Reiner smack in the middle of his successful run on TV with Van Dyke.  He also shows up in cameo roles as different characters on a TV show, one of whom causes Day to announce on a live broadcast that she is a pig.  She's wrong, of course.  Day's character is a mid-century modern housewife, who is launched into a new career shilling for Happy Soap in TV commercials.  In today's jargon, she'd probably be a dedicated member of the Mommy Wine culture, with a T-shirt exclaiming that "sippy cups are for Sauvignon Blanc."

Day is the Prosecco of Film, all sweet and bubbly, and you'll be able to find that pairing for cheap.  But, for Happy Soap, a Happy wine would be appropriate.  Happy Canyon Vineyard is in the warm corner of Santa Barbara County, so they specialize in grape varieties from Bordeaux.  Their Piocho Rosé is made from Cabernet Franc, a grape which always makes me happy.  They also do a nice Sauvignon Blanc.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Fiano, From Lodi

Whenever I get to take a trip to Lodi, I jump at the chance.  John Fogerty may have been "stuck in Lodi," but he should have visited a winery or two.  That would have brightened his view of the locale.

Oak Farm Vineyards is my stop on this virtual vacation.  I am taking part this week in a conversation with Oak Farm's co-owner and Director of Winemaking, Dan Panella.  The get-together is to be held on Zoom, where everything else also seems to be held in these pandemic times.

Panella talks about his family's three-generation agriculture claim at Oak Farm, which in Lodi is practically newcomer status.  He speaks of his fondness for the Italian and Spanish grape varieties found on his estate and reminisces about his younger days driving a tractor through the cherry and walnut orchards.  He turned the business into the wine arena in 2004.

Oak Farm itself was founded in 1860, with the Panella family coming along in the 1930s.  Today, Panella and head winemaker Sierra Zieter manage a diverse portfolio of wines.

Oak Farm Vineyards Fiano 2019

Fiano isn't a made-up name for a wine.  It's a southern Italian grape variety, grown in Lodi's Mokelumne River AVA, on the Oak Farm estate.  It is originally from Campania and Sicily.  The grapes were picked whole-cluster, then pressed into steel tanks for fermentation, then aged in neutral oak barrels.  Alcohol is reasonable at 13% abv and the price runs $26.

This wine's nose carries some great salinity and minerality, with notes of honeydew and orange peel.  The palate is about as refreshing as a white wine gets, with plenty of citrus - tangerine, lemon and grapefruit.  The acidity is racy enough to challenge any Sauvignon Blanc.  I could down some oysters with this Fiano, or a Maryland crab cake - I've been jonesing for that lately.

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Monday, July 6, 2020

Mendo Field Blend Rocks

California wine négociant Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards and has no official winery.  He sniffs out good wine which has already been produced by established makers, then buys it on the down low with an agreement not to reveal the source.  He then sells the wine online through his wine club - he calls it a wineocracy - bringing top-shelf wines to lower-shelf wallets.  Hughes says he keeps prices low by removing the middleman, the distributor and retailer through which store-bought wines must pass.

Lot 674 Field Blend Mendocino County 2017

Hughes says the Lot 674 Field Blend was made by a guy who has been producing wine in Mendocino County for more than three decades.  He also insists that winemakers to the south, in Napa and Sonoma, have been goosing their juice with Mendocino wine for years.  Field blends - where the grapes are grown, harvested and vinified together - are usually old-vine wines, and this one is 75% Syrah and 25% Petite Sirah.  Alcohol tips 14.2% abv and the retail sticker reads $13.

This dark wine has a wonderful Rhônish nose - blue and black berries, vanilla highlights, a bit of meat - while the palate is deep and rich with great structure and balance.  Savory features get rough with the fruit after it has been open awhile - a little Rhône treat for those who are patient.  The finish is long and serves as a reminder of a great sip.  It’s kinda hard to believe that it sells for less than 15 bucks. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Even More Movies You Never Heard Of

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell. The shut-in can't end until you've seen these films, so get moving.

We find ourselves this week pandemically pondering movies which are so far off the radar, air traffic controllers believe them to be gnats in their peripheral vision, not full-scale blips.  Holiday hits?  Summertime smashes?  Not this time, I'm afraid.  This week is for movie - and wine - nerds.

The 1970 psychological thriller Road to Salina was taken from a novel entitled, "Sur la Route de Salina."  If my high school French still works, I think that translates to, "On the road to Salina," which sounds too much like a Hope/Crosby flick.  The book's author, Maurice Cury, is so invisible in a Google search that he appears to be about one step away from witness protection.

The main character is taken to be a man who has been gone four years.  He gets to have some skinny dipping and hot sex with the woman who is supposed to be his sister, and it's hard to tell which of them likes that scenario better.  Then, things really get weird.  Critics of the day blurbed the movie as ranging from "admirably ambitious" to "perversely compelling."  Now for a wine to match.

Road to Salina was shot in the Canary Islands and if you can find any, the wines from that Spanish isle off the coast of Africa are ambitiously compelling and admirably perverse.  I got to sample a few some years back at a small event in Santa Monica.  The Bermejos Malvasia Seco is a worthy pairing with the strange movie.

Patti Cake$ is only a few years old and already the TFH gurus see it obscure enough to justify inclusion in this grouping.  A rags-to-better-rags story of the struggle to break into the rap world, Cake$ feels familiar over a number of genres.  We've seen movies about how tough it is to navigate into music, acting, comedy, professional sports and certified public accounting, so it's a well-worn shoe by now.

Much like that Hair Club For Men guy, Jay-Z liked Armand de Brignac Champagne so much he bought the company.  Nicky Minaj touts MYX Fusions Moscato, Conjure Cognac belongs to Ludacris and Tupac Shakur liked Cristal Champagne so much that he invented a cocktail made from Crissy and Alizé Gold Passion liqueur.

In 1961's The Last Judgment, an international host of movie stars ramble through a movie they might rather forget.  Much like Pinot Grigio, the film was universally panned at the time of its release.  Today, many come to the defense of director Vittorio De Sica, calling the movie an unheralded masterpiece, a romp prompted by the voice of God.  If you are in the right part of the world, you can judge for yourself on Amazon Prime.  If you are not in the right zone, well, that may be why you've never heard of it.

The film opens with a voice from above booming that everyone has about twelve hours to get their drink on before the end of the world happens.  We then see actors like Jack Palance, Ernest Borgnine, Melina Mercouri and Anouk Aimée playing characters who prepare for the end in different ways. 

World's End Cabernet hails from Napa Valley and will run a wine lover a buck-and-a-half at Total Wine.  Is it an overpriced, over-saturated wine, or an unheralded masterpiece?  Again, you be the judge.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Great Zinfandel At Half The Price

California wine négociant Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards and has no official winery.  He sniffs out good wine which has already been produced by established makers, then buys it on the down low with an agreement not to reveal the source.  He then sells the wine online through his wine club - he calls it a wineocracy - bringing top-shelf wines to lower-shelf wallets.  Hughes says he keeps prices low by removing the middleman, the distributor and retailer through which store-bought wines must pass.

Lot 725 Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2018

Hughes says the Lot 725 Zinfandel is sourced from a "pioneering, family-owned estate," one of the oldest in Sonoma County.  The unnamed winemaker has experience in both the Dry Creek and Russian River valleys.  This Zin was aged for more than a year in oak, alcohol hits 15.5% abv and the retail sticker is only $17.  It could easily be much more.

This wine is luscious from the first pour.  Bright red cherries and vanilla notes on the nose show a wonderful balance that is found in good Zinfandel grapes, carefully vinified.  The mouth is full and rich, hefty and zippy at the same time with a beautifully fresh acidity.  I've tasted Zins this good before, but they cost twice as much.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Koo Koo Kaiju

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  They are the walrus. 

This week's wine-and-movie pairings focus our pandemic-weary lens on Japanese kaiju films.  Kaiju is a Japanese word meaning "strange beast."  It does not refer to Two Hands Wine and their Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon.  The word describes the genre of monster films which started in the mid-1950s with Godzilla, as well as the creatures themselves.  Godzilla was born from the nuclear fears of the day, only a decade after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Over the years, numerous kaiju films have depicted the horrors of the nuclear age as monsters either born or unleashed by radiation.

Half Human hails from 1955, although it didn't wash up on American shores until a few years later.  Its Japanese title translates aptly to "Beast-Man Snow-Man."  The story concerns a ski trip gone wrong, thanks to Mr. Half Human himself.  He turns out to be a nice guy after all, but don’t think that stops the search party from chasing him to his death.

This is an opportune moment to think about opening a case of Mistaken Identity Vineyards wines, or at least a bottle.  The vineyard and winery are on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia.  A good stone's throw from the U.S. of A., the locale is separated from Washington state by only an imaginary line in the sea.  Their Abbondante Bianco is a good fit here, since kaiju monsters are generally abbondante themselves - on the large side.

You may also want to consider a sake for Half Human, since sake is often incorrectly called rice wine, when it is actually beer made from rice.  There's a very good Japanese craft beer - Kawaba Sunrise Ale - but its alcohol content is a little lean for a monster movie.

The 1966 epic, Gammera the Invincible, is a re-edited version of a film released in Japan a year earlier.  Apparently the audiences clamored for "more kaiju!"  The Gamera franchise never really caught on in the states - this was the first in the series and the only one released in America.  Perhaps it was the additional "m" added to the monster's name that turned away the crowds.  Or, perhaps I'm over-analyzing it. 

Gamera - er, Gammera - looks like a giant fire-snorting prehistoric turtle, and he can bust up an unsuspecting Japanese city just like Godzilla.  He also has a nifty getaway where he turns into a sort of flying saucer.  There must have been a lot of sake poured during the making of this film.  Gamera is ultimately dispatched to Mars by the scientific community’s Z Plan.  I guess Z Plan was Japan's version of Plan 9. 

You are going to need alcohol for Gammera the Invincible.  There is a home brewer in Florida who makes a double chocolate stout named after Gamera, but his quantities are limited, I'm sure.  However, in Inglewood, California, Tortugo Brewing Company uses a Gameraesque creature in their logo.  They even made a hazy double IPA called Gamera.  I think we have a winner.

Oh no, there goes Tokyo.  Godzilla is the king of kaiju, the beast who inspired the genre.  Blue Oyster Cult paid homage to the biggest G of them all in 1977, with lyrics outlining the monster's rampage, the downed power lines, the shocked commuters, the absolute destruction.  Godzilla wraps up by repeating that "History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man."  And that, my wine and movie friends, is what kaiju is all about.

In the 1964 classic, Mothra vs Godzilla, the monster is pitted against the insect god.  Mothra gives it a good go while protecting an egg, but cannot overcome the beast's breath.  Have a Mentos, buddy.  Fortunately, two giant larvae burst from the egg as in tag-team wrestling and take charge of driving Godzilla back into the sea.

You'd think it would be easy to find a wine with a pic of Godzilla on the label.  Napa Valley's Adler Fels Winery found out the hard way how many lawyers are working to protect the Godzilla brand.  Nearly two decades ago they had to pour out their Cabzilla over copyright infringement.  Wine writers sometimes refer to high-alcohol wines as Godzillas, so you might try pairing a 15% Zinfandel or a bottle of Port with this movie.  Australian brewer Kaiju Beer reportedly has not yet run into trouble with any attorneys protecting the genre, but look out, Tortugo.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Wine Education: "Spencer" For Hire

Two young sisters are promoting their wine tasting business from New York City and Arizona.  The travel is all virtual now, of course, due to the pandemic.  Tours are conducted on Zoom, a firm which has grown exponentially in recognition since we've all been shut in.  Their company, Wine Spencer, is named for their father, grandfather and great-grandfather, all wine lovers, all named Spencer.

The tale of the two sisters is a fairly straightforward one, even ordinary, until you look a little closer.  Shaunna and Shayla Smith are black.  In the wine world, that makes them even more of a minority than in their real lives. 

Hardly a week goes by that I don't find an article on race in wine, from discrimination in the tasting room to the dearth of Black-owned wineries to well-intentioned suppositions on what kind of wines are enjoyed most by people of color.  Black people are noticeably absent from most published pictures of wine tasting groups, even in California.

The Smiths are changing that attitude with an array of virtual wine tours, including one of Black-owned wineries.  Shayla, Wine Spencer's co-founder and Chief Wine-Pairing Officer, says, "Our Black-owned wineries tasting experience is just one way we are trying to offer a new perspective while honoring our own heritage."  She adds that she and Shaunna "wanted to offer something new while staying relevant and addressing what is happening in our society right now."  Shaunna, by the way, is Wine Spencer's co-founder and Chief Wine Taster.  The pair also offer tasting experiences on Wine 101, rosés, bubbles and South African wine.

While trying to make wine tasting less intimidating, the sisters redefine what wine means and give it a contemporary significance, especially among minority communities, diverse ethnicities, and cultures that have not traditionally been catered to within the wine industry.

Shaunna says, "While nothing can replace an in-person face to face experience, we are pivoting during this time to provide fun and inclusive programs for wine lovers of all levels, and backgrounds."  Wine Spencer will also be giving back to their communities by donating a portion of the proceeds from each tasting to causes close to them, like BET and the United Way organizations.

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Murder USA

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  

This week's Blood of the Vines is a real killer.  "Murder USA" hangs over the trio of classic films which get the wine pairing treatment this time.  Hired henchmen who handle the dirty work for crime bosses - sounds like a job for Syrah.  Isn't that what California winemakers put in their Pinot? 

There could be good money in punching out an enemy - or punching up a Pinot Noir.  I wouldn’t know.  I tap out humorous "observations" just ahead of deadline.  I get paid in popcorn for writing these weekly musings.  Good thing I like popcorn.

The 1958 noir, Murder By Contract, stars Vince Edwards as a man who doesn't care how he makes his money, as long as he saves up for that cute little house over on Easy Street.  Edwards may be better remembered for his early '60s role as TV's Dr. Ben Casey - who earned his scratch by saving lives, not taking them.  Maybe his Ben Casey screen test was the Murder By Contract scene in which he impersonates a doctor.  "Just tell me where it hurts, I'll get back to you in a few years."

In Murder, our killer gets more than bargained for.  The target is a woman.  Hmmm.  Hired killer suddenly plagued by ethics?  He has to draw the line somewhere - doesn't he?  The storm drain shootout is as good a place as any.

Doffing my fedora to the feminine victim, I can't resist a bottle of Lady Wine with this film.  Marketed by the Kentucky winery under the phrase, "Weep no more my lady, welcome to the taste of Louisville," they can ship this sweet, ten-dollar wine to 43 states.  Unfortunately, California is one of them.

In 1995's To Die For, Nicole Kidman isn't the clueless target of murder.  She's the one hiring the job out.  In her world, husbands who stand in the way of wifey's rise to fame don't make it to the second reel.  He wants her to give up her celebrity status as a TV weatherwoman to make babies and wait tables.  Watch it, girlfriend.  The karmic wheel is a bitch when it comes back around.

Deerfield Ranch Winery has a Chardonnay for the occasion - Blonde Ambition.  This Russian River Valley bottling is dedicated to the winemaker's wife.  Had the hubby in To Die For been as thoughtful, he might have made it to the final scene.

Rope is from 1948 - a good year for movies, Buicks and the Cleveland Indians.  It wasn't the best year for Alfred Hitchcock, since the movie sort of flopped.  Rope is now hailed as a taut masterpiece of noir.  Its long scenes give movie nerds a launching pad for discussions that put regular people to sleep.  Sort of like when wine nerds try to tell you about Riesling.

Rope features a "perfect murder" - committed not for money, but as a psychological exercise.  The perfection gets tarnished at a dinner party where the buffet table holds the dead body.  "Oh, no more for me, but that leg was delicious."

Hitchcock had a lavish getaway home in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where he reportedly grew Riesling grapes.  Called Heart O’ the Mountain, it is now a winery.  Their wine can be pricey, but the Chalone Pinot Noir goes for $25.  Tastes pretty good with popcorn, too.

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Friday, June 12, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - I Want Your Blood!

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  It seems we are still safer at home.

As we do every so often with the Trailers From Hell gang, we take a look at vampires.  It's right that someone should, since they can't do it themselves.  Have you ever seen a vampire in a mirror?  Well, there ya go.  Besides, a fang dripping blood is a great way to introduce a red wine pairing.

One of the films with which we are pairing wine this week is the first Iranian vampire western - I'll let that sink in for a moment.  The 2014 classic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was made by an Iranian-American woman and shot in the Kern County town of Taft, California.  Taft has a history all its own, which includes a string of previous names including Moron and Siding Number Two.  The town has also provided the backdrop for other films, like Five Easy Pieces, Thelma and Louise and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.  There were no vampires in those films, though.

Comparisons to Spaghetti Westerns and vampire classics like Nosferatu come easily.  The Girl With No Name wears a chador, basically a Persian cape.  She's a bit of a loner - you get that way when you kill anyone who comes home with you.  She takes no shit from anybody but does not chomp down on a cigar stub, a la Eastwood.  She skateboards.  She has a soft spot for a certain Middle Eastern lug.  She's the vampire with a heart of gold.  What will she drink?  Besides blood?

The lady will have a Shiraz, of course.  Syrah, if you like, but the city of Shiraz may have been the center of Iranian winemaking when there still was such a thing.  Booze was made illegal in Iran in 1979, so their Prohibition has lasted a lot longer than ours did.  Australia's Mollydooker makes a Shiraz called The Boxer, which is also the base wine for their Miss Molly Sparkling Shiraz, if you want some bubbles with your blood.

In 1997's Habit, parallels are drawn between the lives of vampires and drug addicts.  You could laugh it off by calling it The Girl Can't Help It, or She's Gotta Have It, or So I'm Dating a Vampire.  Hot sex isn't so much fun when it's paired with a blood donation.  Speaking of pairing...

The Habit wine company is run by Jeff Fischer out of Santa Barbara County.  He drains the blood from grapes grown in the Santa Ynez Valley and Happy Canyon.  We'll excuse him for the insensitivity of calling his wine club The Fix.  Like the gal in the movie, he just can't help himself.

And now, it's Hammer Time!  1970's Taste the Blood of Dracula was Hammer Films' fifth Drac flick and the fourth to star Christopher Lee as the count himself.  Mixed into the swirling broth of blood-sucking, death and reanimation is some good, old-fashioned revenge animus.  If you could pick on whose bad side to land, it should not be Dracula's.

Pairing a wine with Dracula is fairly simple.  Look to the east, where daylight breaks and drives vampires back into their coffins.  Eastern Europe, specifically Romania and Moldova, has a grape for the ghastly.  Feteasca Neagra is a red grape which Transylvania Wine - you read that right - turns into a blood-red sip branded as Castellum Dracula, unoaked of course.  They also offer spirits along the same lines.

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Monday, June 8, 2020

A Rioja Rosé For The Summer Of Separation

Rosé season, if there really is such a thing, is in full swing despite pandemic measures.  Social distancing is designed to help stem the growth of the virus in our communities, and it really puts a wet blanket over a backyard party, or so I hear.  But rosé is made for backyard parties.

I bellow so much about how pink wines are great any time of year that I’m starting to feel like the old rosado codger.  Rosé wines are as good in December as they are in June.  But since it’s June, let’s have a glass on the patio.  Six feet apart.

The Beronia Rioja Rosé was made from 70% Tempranillo grapes and 30% Garnacha.  Previous vintages had sometimes been heavier on the Garnacha.  Alcohol is easy going and so is the retail price - $13.

I pick up a lot of herbal influence along with some terrific strawberry and cherry aromas.  The fruit plays large on the palate, too.  There is a ton of minerality and a hint of pepper in the sip.  Acidity is fresh, nearly ripping, and the finish is all about the red fruit.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Aliens Among Us

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  We're still watching movies at home and restaurants were never what they were cracked up to be, anyway.

Aliens in the movies are tricky.   There are those who think they know how to spot them on sight, but they generally end up with a hole burned through them by a death ray at some point in the film.  Huge heads, sinister stares, strange skin coloring - some aliens are easier to spot than a Cabernet at a steakhouse.  But remember The Twilight Zone: they could look just like anybody else living on your street.  Well, except for that third eye they're hiding underneath a jaunty cap. 

The teenagers of America were assaulted in 1957 by Invasion of the Saucer Men.  It was released as half of a twin-bill with I Was A Teenage Werewolf.  Saucer Men likely was shown second, when most of the patrons at the drive-in were either in a snack bar coma or watching the submarine races, as the kids used to say.

Those menacing monsters were easy to spot.  They were half our size with giant brains unprotected by any sort of cranial shell.  How advanced can a civilization be if they don't know that the brain needs to be protected?

Since they came here in a saucer, let's have a wine named after one.  Bonny Doon Vineyard makes wines under the banner of Le Cigare Volant, which is French for Flying Saucer.  The wine is a California version of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah grapes, aliens themselves in California vineyards.  It's one of my all-time favorite wines, aliens or not.

1981's Galaxy of Terror displays humans as the aliens.  A group of astronauts go galavanting across the universe on a sort of sadomasochistic scavenger hunt.  Their own fears kill them off one by one as Roger Corman's production brings out the sort of stuff that puts butts in the seats: crushed skulls, a murderous severed arm and a rapist worm.  What, no murder hornets?  Ew, the glamour of Hollywood.

There is enough blood in Galaxy of Terror to justify a red wine, and one with a severed arm, to boot.  Australia's Allegiance Wines has it, although the name of the Cabernet Sauvignon apparently refers to a Severed Arms Hotel.  Enjoy your stay!  At only $20, it may be, as Monty Python fans recall, a wine not for drinking but for lying down and avoiding.

1997's Event Horizon has a title that doubles as an actual scientific thing.  Unfortunately, halfway through the wiki my eyes glazed over and I hallucinated that my old physics professor Mr. Tolar was waiting for me to hand in my paper.  Put that in your Doppler effect and start guzzling.

Event Horizon is a space-age rescue story with some warp-speed universe hopping thrown in.  Caldwell Vineyard in Napa Valley offers up their Rocket Science Red Blend for this movie.  Don't fret over the title, just pull the cork and watch the bodies pile up.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Austria's Gift To Wine - Grüner Veltliner

Grüner Veltliner (grew-ner velt-LEE-ner) is the most prized grape of Austria.  White wines made from the grape are widely acclaimed for their quality.  Austria is its primary home, although a handful of other eastern European nations grow the grape, too. 

The grapes for Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel came from the steeply terraced vineyards of the Wachau Valley.  The wine is called Terrassen, which means grapes from small terraced vineyards on either side of the Danube River are blended together.  Federspiel is the middle tier of qualitative classification in the Wachau region, higher than Steinfeder but not as high as Smaragd.

Domäne Wachau's Winery Director Roman Horvath and winemaker Heinz Frischengruber created a food-friendly wine from the stony earth, one that offers fabulous acidity as well as a distinct minerality.  Alcohol hits only 12.5% abv and it sells for about $15, a steal.

This wine's nose features a strong floral element, quickly joined by a peach note which is not quite ripe.  The expected minerals come next, with white pepper, lime and an herbal play following.  The palate shows minerals in high definition with a tart fruit flavor in tow, possibly quince or apricot, either one a bit on the green side.  I have tasted $15 wines that were better, but also ones which were much worse.  A bit more ripeness would benefit this one, but then it might be trying to taste like California instead of Austria.  It's just fine as is for pairing with summer salads.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Brilliant Rioja Red Blend Priced Right

La Rioja, in northern Spain, is the oldest Denomination of Origin in the country.  It is also the coldest region in Spain, with an average high temperature of 68 degrees F.  The Ebro River Valley, surrounding mountains, cool climate - the arrow signs all say "Great Wine Region This Way."  Follow the signs.

It was Spanish wine that started my own interest in the broad spectrum of vino.  The juice of Rioja dragged a self-described "beer-only" guy into the wide world of wine after attending a tasting of Spanish wine on a lark.  I think about that tasting every time I have a glass of Rioja.

The Beronia Reserva 2015 is composed of three grapes - 95% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano and 1% Mazuelo.  Aging happened over a minimum of three years, in oak and the bottle.  Alcohol kicks in at 14.5% abv and the wine sells for about $20.

This very dark wine has such a rich nose it's almost enough just to smell it.  Almost.  Aromas of black currant and blueberries are colored up nicely by all the oak.  Clove and tobacco notes are sweet and - incredibly - not overpowering.  The palate is brawny and full of dark fruit.  It's loaded with minerals and acidity and firm tannins - just waiting for an unsuspecting ribeye to come along.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Audie Murphy Week

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  What else are you doing while stuck at home waiting for the Amazon truck to arrive?

War is nothing to celebrate, although armed conflicts large and small have driven many to drink.  Many of us have been doing more drinking than usual during the isolation of the pandemic.  So, this week's wine pairings are for the movies of a war hero who wouldn't put his name on any bad habits.  Audie Murphy left this mortal coil 49 years ago this week, after a lifetime that most people can't even imagine.

Murphy fought in World War II, which was called The Big One before anyone had any idea how big wars could get.  Elvis was already a star when Uncle Sam came calling, but Murphy went the other way and parlayed his celebrated bravery into an acting career.  He was one of the most decorated American soldiers of WWII, with so much hardware on his uniform that he listed to the left.  He went out in a blaze of glory, too, in a private plane that smashed into a Virginia mountainside.

We will attempt here to pair wines with some of Murphy's movies, even though he wouldn't have liked the idea.  He never did any alcohol or tobacco commercials, fearing he'd be a bad example for the youngsters.  That's my job.

In 1965's Arizona Raiders, Murphy isn’t forced to stretch his acting skills too much.  He plays a war hero.  Alas, he's on the losing side in this film, as a "Confederate war hero," known in the Union as a "traitor."  He agrees to turn his coat from gray to blue to help round up a bushwhacker and get amnesty.  For this he turned down booze money?

How about a nice southern-fried wine for this graycoat?  Jawjuh's Still Pond Vineyard makes Confederate Peach wine.  Mercifully, there is no rebel flag on the label.  However, the juice comes from Muscadine grapes, so the gag reflex is fully alive.

1959's No Name on the Bullet also finds Murphy playing the heavy, as a hired killer.  Again, advertising for beer was bad, but playing a murderer was okay?  Whatevs.  Anyhow, it's a film which has been lauded for its chin-stroking metaphysical side, even though Murphy, in the film, does not play a game of chess with death.

19 Crimes wine has the most bizarre backstory of any bottled beverage.  The various bottlings are dedicated to British criminals who were sent to live in the Australian penal colony.  Conviction of any one of 19 specific crimes earned the luckless lawbreaker a spot on the ship.  Among the crimes were stealing fish from a pond or river, bigamy and impersonating an Egyptian.  Professional murder was not one of the punishable offenses.  If you get bored with the movie, the criminal on the label tells his or her story through the magic of modern technology.

The Red Badge of Courage (1951) has Murphy again in Civil War costume, this time as a Yankee.  Director John Huston may have wanted to go on a bender after MGM slashed nearly half his footage.  Are there any other directors out there who have suffered a similar fate?  Put down your drinks and raise your hands...  I’ll assume that many of you didn’t want to put down your drinks.

In what's left of the film, much of the acting is replaced by narration, so the movie is actually part audiobook.  Let's refill our glasses.

The Winery at Bull Run is in Virginia, Naw, I say Nawthun Virginia, boy, well nawth of where Murphy met the mountain.  Bull Run was the scene of two famous Civil War battles, both won by the Confederates, ruining the possibility of a winner-take-all rubber match.  The Bull Run Reconciliation red wine depicts a blue-gray handshake on the label, complete with the flags of  both the North and South.  Saaa-LUTE!

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

White Wine From Northern Italy

White wines are a tricky business.  They can rock one's world with salinity, minerality and acidity or they can lay flaccid in the glass while showering the rim with sweet floral notes.  I want a white wine with some meat on its bones, some heft, some gravitas, some raison d’être.  I want a white wine to drink like a red.

When I want a white wine with guts, I always look toward northern Italy.  Often I end up with a wine from Alto Adige, but this time it was Piedmonte.  Through the kindness of Tenuta Montemagno I have sampled their Solis Vis wine, made from 100% Timorasso grapes in the Monferrato region.  It is the area's indigenous variety, an ancient vine which was rediscovered in the 1980s after nearly disappearing.  

Tenuta Montemagno lies in gently-rolling hills along the 45th parallel, a latitude known for wine grapes.  Maps found in the Montemagno council hall  show wine being produced on the Tenuta property as early as the 16th century.  This wine clocks in at an alcohol level of 14% abv and it sells for about $15.  It amazes me that a wine this good sells for such a great price.

The wine's name - Solis Vis - is from Latin, meaning "the sun’s  strength."  The white wine is a pale straw yellow in the glass.  Its nose gives off a wonderful salinity, with lime and minerals aplenty.  The acidity is better than fine and the palate has citrus, apricots and peaches bursting forth.  I'm always a sucker for any Italian white wine not named Grigio, and this one does nothing to dissuade me.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Mommy Dearest

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  What else are you doing while waiting for your store to get a shipment of toilet paper?

Everyone is itching to come out from our covidian cocoons.  While there has been some fun, sitting around since March, drinking and watching movies - and movie trailers - it's not that far removed from my pre-pandemic lifestyle.  However, we all miss having options available, even if we didn't make full use of them before.  Going to a restaurant now to pick up a to-go order takes me back to a time before Los Angeles turned over all the parking spaces to the valet companies.  It's like Palm Springs in the off-season out there - you can park right next to the restaurant.

Speaking of service with a sneer, Trailers From Hell focuses the lens on Joan Crawford this week.  Rain is from 1932, which is like the Bronze Age in the movie business.  Restrictions on what could and couldn't be done on a movie screen were looser then.  Apparently they thought no one was watching.

Crawford plays a hooker on a cruise ship, which seems like a limiting business plan to me.  "Are you included in the price?"  In a timely twist, the passengers are quarantined due to a cholera outbreak on the ship.  There's drinking and dancing and other goings-on that were pre-Code staples.  Ninety-two minutes, a rape and one suicide later, Crawford sails into a bright future a changed woman.  Let’s go back to that drinking thing.

Sonoma County's Hooker Wines has an inexplicable branding scheme which for some reason involves rugby.  Ridge Vineyards pulls field-blend Zinfandel grapes from the Hooker Creek Vineyard, which is my choice for a pairing with Rain.

In 1945's Mildred Pierce, there's more casual drinking than in Dial M For Murder, and that's a lot.  "Have a drink."  "I think I'll have a drink and think about drinking."  "OK, let's have that drink now."  "Bourbon, anyone?"  Crawford's character knocks back hard liquor like it's iced tea at a summer picnic.  "You never used to drink during the day," offers one character as Mildred sips her lunch.  Mildred replies, "I never used to drink at all," in the same way we can now say, "That was before self-isolation."

Don't fall into the trap of pairing some flimsy peach-pie cocktail with Mildred Pierce.  That goes into the same category as wire hangers.  Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey is a smooth sipper that goes great with peach pie.  Brace yourself - it's pricey.

The 1954 classic Johnny Guitar casts Crawford as a strong, defiant woman who runs a saloon in the Arizona desert.  The movie has been hailed by a raft of great directors.  It has also been interpreted as a commentary on the McCarthy era, mob mentality and sexism and was labeled culturally significant by the Library of Congress.  Yeehaw.

A guy wandering the Old West with a guitar slung over his back instead of something more useful - like a rifle - seems ridiculous.  For all the good the six-string prop does him, he would have been better served traveling with a lawyer.  At least he didn't get hung with the nickname "The Dancin' Kid."

The dusty desert setting calls for a wine that can wet a whistle.  Arizona Stronghold takes names for their wines from Native American legend - Tazi, Nachise, Lozen - which conjure up images of a saguaro cactus and a guy with a guitar slung over his back.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Now And Zin Wine Country Series Lacks Only Four States

What started as an idle thought - "can I taste wines from all 50 U.S. states?" - has become a personal mission.  Now And Zin's Wine Country series debuted nearly a decade ago, and we have now tasted wine from 46 states.  Just four to go - Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.

Now And Zin's Wine Country started with a series about wines made from America's Norton grape, in which I sampled wine from Missouri, Virginia and Georgia for the first time.  I was surprised by the quality and fascinated by the notion of wine tasting across America.

If you can make good wine in California, that's expected - not that it's easy, but it seems that's what you're supposed to do with great soil and perfect weather.  Making good wine in areas of the country where nature isn't quite as accommodating is a real achievement.

I've heard from American winemakers about Indiana limestone, Cornell grape creations and moderating winds from - of all places - Lake Erie.  I've heard winemakers cry in anguish, "I want to make dry wines, but all my customers want is sweet!"

I've sampled mead from Montana and Maine, Muscadine from Alabama and Kentucky Cabernet Franc.  I've had a Super Tuscan-style blend from Arizona, mile-high wine from Colorado, amazing bubbles from Massachusetts, Michigan and Illinois, Zinfandel from Nevada and New Mexico, New York Riesling, New Jersey Merlot and North Carolina Chardonnay.

I've tried wine made from Vermont apples, Florida blueberries, North Dakota rhubarb, West Virginia blackberries and Hawaiian Maui pineapples.

There have been plenty of unexpected grapes, like Petit Manseng from Georgia, Carménère from Idaho, Traminette from Indiana, Eidelweiss from Iowa, Marquette from Minnesota and Catawba from Pennsylvania.

Two Nebraska wines are named after pelicans; a South Dakota winemaker uses Petite Sirah to take the acidic edge off the Frontenac.  There's Touriga Nacional growing in Tennessee.

Most of the wines for this series have been supplied by the winemakers for the purpose of the article, while some have been sent by friends of mine who had travel plans to a state I had yet to taste.  To all who have sent wine for this project, I offer my heartfelt thanks.

It has taken nine years to sample wine from 46 states, so the end is in sight.  Shipping wine in the United States has proven to be a stumbling block on more than one occasion.  Contacts made in Utah dropped out of sight, while responses have been hard to come by at all from Wyoming and Mississippi.  I am sure for some of these states, I'll probably have to find someone who makes wine in their garage.  Any Mississippi garagistes out there?

While we are on the subject, if you know a winemaker in the states which haven't been covered in Wine Country yet - Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming - please pass this article along to them.  Even if they can't ship to me, I'd love to hear from them.  I understand that some Oklahoma wine is ready to be sent, but paperwork has piled high enough to present a hurdle.

Also, one state which has been left blank is California.  Of course, I sample a lot of California wine, so finding it isn't the problem.  I want to determine one wine or winery which is representative of California for this series.  If you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them.  Comment here, email or contact me on Twitter.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - It's Alive!

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  What else are you doing while stuck at home?

Wine aficionados like to think that wine is a living entity.  It breathes!  Let the wine BREEEEATHE and it really "comes alive."  It evolves!  That's why wine is aged, and why it tastes different over the years as it gets older.  Sure, wine comes from living things - grapes.  But those grapes gave their lives to make that bottle.  A bottle from which you're probably drinking, since the pandemic has caused us to drop such societal niceties as stemware. 

All those dead grapes have me thinking that if wine is anything, it's a monster, created from once-living parts to do the bidding of its master.  Bwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaa.

Son of Frankenstein came along in 1938, a good vintage for horror at Universal Studios.  Boris Karloff turns in another great visual performance as the monster, while Bela Lugosi plays grave-robbing lab assistant Ygor.  The original Dr. Frankenstein's son - a baron - is around this time.  He still feels a chill from the villagers, after dad's monster made mayhem years before.  The torches and pitchforks are still kept within easy reach, just in case.

Speaking of a case, let's try Hans Wirsching's Iphöfer Kronsberg Silvaner Trocken.  It comes in the Mateus-shaped bottle known as a bocksbeutel, the traditional bottling of the Franken region.  This product of Silvaner grapes is dry and bold, with a crisp minerality.  Try it - just for Frankenstein - with torch-toasted marshmallows.

Four years later the monster gets a makeover in The Ghost of Frankenstein, with Lon Chaney, Jr. taking over between the bolts.  The villagers are still pissed - I'll bet they are not handling the pandemic quarantine very well.  The mayor, who should have just bought everyone a drink and been done with it, lets them burn down the Frankenstein castle instead.  Huge mistake.  The big fella ends up getting Ygor's brain, which was fine since Ygor wasn't really using it anyway.

Frankenstein Wine is a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre blend from California's Sierra Nevada wine region, like you care.  You're plunking down $60 for the label.  The monster takes a nice headshot here.

1943's Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man has Lugosi donning the monster clothes, while Chaney unleashes the Wolf Man.  Never let it be said that these guys weren't versatile.  They return to the scene of the most recent destruction just in time for the Festival of the New Wine - how lucky!  After hobnobbing with the local officials, the Wolf Man - in human form- decides to try and tinker with Frankenstein's monster, just for old times' sake.  Cue the villagers - they are not having it. 

Pick any wine from the Alsatian Grand Cru Frankstein Vineyard.  I know, not actually Frankenstein, but it's close.  Oh, wait...

South Africa's Radford Dale Winery has a Pinotage called Frankenstein.  They say the name was given due to the bad reputation the Pinotage grape has for being harsh and medicinal.  They say if the grape is treated meanly it will show its angry side.  Pinotage, they say, "is not a monster; it is a soul with a heart and one which will repay kindness with abundant generosity of its own."  Keep your pitchforks in the barn.

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Monday, May 11, 2020

Bonny Doon's Pink Wine Of The Earth

From Bonny Doon Vineyard comes the 2019 Vin Gris De Cigare.  The winery's flagship pink wine is named for the reported alien spacecraft "banned by decree of the village council of Châteauneuf-du-Pape." The flying cigars may not be allowed to land in France, but they land in my place a lot. They are welcome visitors from another appellation far, far away. Well, just a bit north of me, anyway.  Their rosé is a favorite of mine.

The grapes for Vin Gris De Cigare were grown in Central Coast AVA - 79% Grenache, 5% Grenache Gris, 5% Grenache Blanc, 5% Vermentino, 3% Cinsault, 1.5% Picpoul and 1.5% Clairette Blanche.  Vineyards include Rava, Loma Del Rio and Alta Loma of Monterey County, Steinbeck of Paso Robles and Beeswax of the Arroyo Seco AVA.

Winemaker Randall Grahm says "the Grenache dominates this blend."  He continues the practice of leaving the wine on its lees post-fermentation.  Grahm feels that the spent yeast cells give a "wonderful creaminess and length" to the wine.  This rosé is not made in the saignée method, where juice is bled off in the process of making red wine.  The grapes were selected and used specifically for this wine. The iconic label art is from an 1855 edition of Bordeaux Chateau, with a spaceship courtesy of Jules Verne, circa 1870.  The wine hits 13.5% abv and sells for $15.

This pink wine's nose is dominated by strawberry, melon and tropical notes.  Graham says a suggestion of cassis and grapefruit is possibly a function of the cooler 2019 vintage.  On the palate, the wine has heft, a discernible weight I don't usually find in rosés.  There is a creaminess, too, owing to the time it spent sitting on its expended yeast cells.  The savory hallmarks of Graham's wines shine through, but the fruit is the star.  Despite the full mouthfeel, acidity is quite fine.  The finish is lengthy and somewhat citrusy.

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Friday, May 8, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Burt And Frankenheimer!

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  What else are you doing while stuck at home?

We have three films this week which were directed by John Frankenheimer and starred Burt Lancaster, starting with 1969's The Gypsy Moths

The movie in a nutshell: three skydivers go to the Midwest to put on a show, and only two come back.  People apparently go to aerial thrill performances for the same reason they go to car races - to see some carnage.  When the show ends with a splat, everybody in the first three rows of the grandstands gets a free souvenir. 

Gotta wonder how the cast and crew felt about shooting on location in Kansas.  Hollywood types might think, "Sure, it's a pretty town... but it's still in Kansas.  Where do they hide the liquor around here?"

Skydivers, eh?  Well, hello there Mr. Easy Wine Pairing!  Liquid Altitude is based somewhere around Poughkeepsie, where they make Freefall Sangria.  Yes, they're parachute buffs.  Please skydive responsibly.

From 1964, The Train has Lancaster masterminding a ruse to keep the Germans from absconding with artwork looted from France during World War Two.  The movie makes the real-life story a lot more interesting than it actually was.  In reality, the art train was merely derailed by endless paperwork.  Life may imitate art, but art jazzes up life so we'll pay to see it.

As it happens, the Nazis also tried to make off with wine from the best French vineyards.  A similar ruse kept the wine safe in République française.  All this has me wondering why the war lasted as long as it did if Hitler's boys were so easily outsmarted.

All this spy-type activity points directly to Cloak and Dagger Wines and their Paso Robles red blend, Subterfuge.  It's a mix of grapes that would feel right at home in Bordeaux: Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.

Seven Days in May is a 1964 polit-boiler about a planned coup against the U.S. President.  Back then, that was considered a bad idea.  Lancaster plays a heavy, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wants to wrest away the reins of the country in a week.  Promise that you won't have daily briefings about it, and we may be able to work out a deal.

Presidential intrigue calls for a Presidential Porto, straight outta the Douro Valley in Ruby, tawny, white and vintage.  There is not enough alcohol for the wine to also serve as a disinfectant, but a bottle or two will get you through this movie… or a COVID briefing.

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