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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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Highs And Lows Of Fun Wine

Most wine lovers feel that wine is a fun hobby, and the fun increases the further one goes on the journey.  Does wine need flavoring beyond that which the grapes accomplish?  No, it does not, unless one is seeking a wine-like beverage that does not necessarily have to be wine.  That is usually where the fun ends.

In my younger days in the radio industry, I worked for an owner who wanted to call the radio station "Class FM."  He said he wanted people to know that the station was classy.  I lobbied against the move, explaining to him that the very second you call yourself classy, the class evaporates.  The same principle is at work with the company which calls itself Fun Wine.

Fun Wine has a line of three flavored wines: Sangria, Strawberry Rose Moscato and Coconut Chardonnay.  They are all billed as low-calorie, low-alcohol and budget-friendly beverages that will help get us through the COVID-19 quarantine with some relaxation.  The wines were launched six years ago as Friends Fun Wine, presumably as an alternative to beer.

Inspired, says the website, "by the hip vibes and sultry breeze of Miami," Fun Wine claims their juice is award-winning, and they even come packaged in a fun, also award-winning, way.  The striking label art was created by New York City artist and designer Miguel Paredes, who also appears to be the public face of the company.

As for the origin of the wine - something given at least a passing interest by wine lovers - the labels say only that the juice was "produced in the European Union," and imported by Friends Beverage Group of Miami.  We all know that there isn’t much wine being made in south Florida, but fun is king even if it is imported from Europe.  Forbes cites Germany as the source of the wine.  All three wines contain a modest 5.5% alcohol by volume and sell for less than $10.

The Sangria's Pretty Good

I usually have sangria heavily iced, and I sampled the Fun Wines version at room temperature.  It was just as fruity as it should be, if not quite as fresh.  It actually reminded me a bit of a Lambrusco, slightly fizzy and earthy with a grapey overlay.  Not complex, but who’s complaining?

The Strawberry Moscato's Not Bad

The Fun Wines Strawberry Rosé Moscato does contain wine made from grapes, but there is a lot of other stuff at work, too.  Grape juice, flavorings, water and sugar are all listed in the ingredients for all three of their varieties.  It's more like a spritzer than a wine.  It's nothing like a beer.  It has a nose resembling that of a wine made from hybrid grapes, earthy, herbal and grapey.  That good start continues on the palate, soft and earthy, fizzy, dry and uncomplicated.  It's perfect for poolside.

The Coconut Chardonnay

This is where Fun Wines stops being fun.  The Fun Wines Coconut Chardonnay smells overpoweringly like piña colada mix and Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil.  It rather tastes like a piña colada, too, only somewhat watered down, like it has been sitting in the poolside sun a bit too long.  There's a fizzy nature to the sip, which no doubt adds to the fun.  I can see this wine being fun for someone who is not too demanding about what they drink.  It's not a beverage for someone who wants a wine.

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Monday, May 4, 2020

Lip Stinging White Wine From Bonny Doon

If you're looking for something a little different, a glance in the direction of Bonny Doon Vineyards is always a good idea.  Bonny Doon's 2019 Picpoul was made entirely from Picpoul grapes, of French origin but grown in California's Arroyo Seco AVA, in the Beeswax Vineyard. 

More closely aligned with France's Languedoc region, the Picpoul Blanc grape has taken root in Monterey and Sonoma counties, as well as in places like Texas, Arizona and Washington state.  The grape's name has been said to mean "lip stinger" in French, a nod to its high acidity.

Winemaker extraordinaire Randall Grahm says, "Beeswax Vineyard produces white grapes with the scent of, well, beeswax."  He says that fruit imparts a "unique savoriness, discernable brininess" to the wine.  Graham calls the Picpoul "super-savory, nay almost waxy/salty, with perhaps a bit more weight than in previous vintages."  He says the 2019 may be his favorite BDV Picpoul to date.  He also notes a floral quality in his recent Picpoul vintages which he feels is often missing in versions from the Old World.  The wine lays back at only 11% abv and retails for $15.  Wendy Cook did the label art, which has a graphic pronouncer for Picpoul.

There is a huge citrus aspect at play on the nose, limes, lemons, oranges, the works.  That floral quality has a lot of competition in the sniff.  The palate offers up a fabulous acidity, with salinity and minerals to join the aforementioned fruit.  This is a serious white wine that can serve as so much more than a sipper with salad.  It's a perfect wine to pair with with crustaceans and mollusks. 

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Friday, May 1, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - More Movies You've 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.  What else are you doing while stuck at home?

If you don't like the humor in the 1966 comedy Don't Worry We'll Think of a Title, you don't have enough borscht under your belt.  Morey Amsterdam co-wrote it and starred in it, so you might expect it to be 83 minutes of zingers aimed at Richard Deacon's invisible hairline.  There is a plot, but character names like Charlie Yuckapuck and Crumworth Raines may actually overshadow the storyline. 

It is probably on this list of unheralded movies because trying to find this film's online streaming home is enough to drive a pandemic shut-in to drink.  As long as we're celebrating - or whatever - uncork a bottle from the Catskills.  Tannerville's Hudson--Chatham Winery is a light year up from the old blackberry wines of yesteryear.  They also have a wine made from the hybrid Baco Noir grape.  Morey might have said, "didja hear the one about the vitis vinifera that got crossed with a vitis riparia?"  Okay, so maybe he would have thrown in a bald joke instead.  This juice is a far cry from the old kosher berry wines of the mid-60s Catskills resort era.

And now, a 1972 flick in which Pamela Sue Martin plays a pregnant teen trying to get an abortion.  In To Find a Man, Lloyd Bridges, thankfully, does not tell his daughter, "you picked the wrong week to give up birth control pills."

It's tough to pair a wine with a movie like this.  What goes with teenage sex, pregnancy, abortion and paternal rage?  Recent studies show that a glass of wine here and there probably won't harm an unborn baby, but doctors say "why take the chance?"  If you are screening this film, maybe a Shirley Temple or some other mocktail would be a more correct pairing with your popcorn. 

Future pop star Vicki Sue Robinson plays a bit part in the film, four years before she would score a hit record with Turn the Beat Around.  Maybe a 1970s classic like Mateus Rosé, Cold Duck or Blue Nun would fit, after the kids have gone to bed.

Young Detective Dee is a fairly recent movie for these digital pages.  The Chinese trilogy carries the subtitles Mystery of the Phantom Flame, The Rise of the Sea Dragon and The Four Heavenly Kings.  Dee looks like a pronouncer in the title, since the character’s name is actually Di. 

The sea dragon version of the Young Detective Dee series is set in 660, when the Chinese fleet is attacked by said monster in an effort to poison the royal tea.  Kid makes good and an antidote saves the day, but now we need a wine to drink while we watch this fantasmagorical film.

It doesn't look like South Africa's Newton Johnson produces the Seadragon Pinot Noir anymore, but if you can find a bottle, it's a natural New World Pinot to pair with an Old World battle on the waves.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Wines That Give Back

During this time of self-isolation and quarantine, there are many stories coming out about how people cope with the "new normal."  Restaurants are dishing out their fare as take-out at the curb to masked drivers who speed back to the safety of their homes.  Gathering with friends at a bar is a memory.  Winery tasting rooms are silent and producers from small to large are trying to stay afloat by going online with their sales efforts.

There is a wine company that strives to give something back to the health care community, the people we all depend on to get us through the pandemic.

Ripe Life Wines has a special going on concerning their line called The Clambake.  For every case of wine purchased (12 bottles), the company will send two complimentary bottles of wine to the customer's  health care worker of choice to thank them for their service.  They are also offering free shipping to everyone.  Ripe Life founder Mary McAuley says the thrust of the special offer is to keep people home and out of the stores to help flatten the COVID-19 curve.

McAuley claims she was inspired to make The Clambake wines after failing to find exactly what she wanted for her friends' annual clambake on the Jersey shore.  So she made the wines herself the next year.  That alone should make her Friend of the Year.  McAuley used Mendocino grapes to fashion an unoaked Chardonnay and a fresh and floral Carignan rosé.  McAuley says both are perfect for clambakes or any type of seafood, whether you are on the shore or landlocked.

The 2017 Clambake Unoaked Chardonnay is labeled as Batch No. 5.  It was made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, grown in Potter Valley, Mendocino - the Paulin Red Post Ranch Vineyard.

This Chardonnay saw no oak while being made, so it's as clean and as bright as you like.  The nose offers a beautiful lemon aroma with a salinity that reminds of an ocean spray.  Lemons, apples and a fantastic acidity are on the palate.  It was made for a clambake, but it will be just as much at home with crabs or lobsters.

The 2017 Clambake Limited Edition Rosé - Batch No. 4 - hails from Mendocino County's Zaina- Sargentini Family Vineyard.  It is made entirely of Carignan grapes taken from old vines that grow in the plot's gravelly loam soil.  No oak treatment was mentioned on the company's website, but they do say that the pink wine goes with lobster claws as well as sweet ears of corn.

This rosé shows off a deep, rich color for a pink shade - it looks almost like bourbon in the glass.  The nose is complex, with vibrant cherry leading the way, some strawberry coming along and a distinct earthy element that is quite enticing.  It smells like it was made for the outdoors.  The palate is generously fruity, with some peppery notes.   Also, there is a racy acidity that calls for the lobsters, crabs, clams, and whatever else you have in the pot.

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Monday, April 27, 2020

Pink Wine From Under The Saint-Tropez Sun

Château Minuty promises their rosé wine contains all the good that's found "under the Saint Tropez sun."  The estate has been in the Matton-Farnet family for 80 years, overlooking the Saint-Tropez peninsula.

The winery says the grapes for 2019 Minuty Prestige Côtes de Provence - Grenache, Cinsault, Tibouren and Syrah - were grown in "a rigorous selection of the best Côtes de Provence vineyards."  Three of those grape varieties are familiar friends, but Tibouren - also known as Rossese di Dolceacqua in Italy's Liguria region - may not be on everyone's radar.  Tibouren has a highly aromatic quality which centers on earthiness.  It is believed to have come from Greece or the Middle East, introduced to France through Marseille or Saint-Tropez.  Alcohol is a restrained 12.5% abv and I see it selling at a lot of places for $18.

This barely-peach-pink wine is loaded with nose - cherries and berries for days with a hint of earth from the south of France.  The palate is also fruity, and juicy to boot.  Easy acidity will pair well with the usual salad and seafood suspects, but it's not exactly a mouthful of pins and needles.  Quite a nice Provençal pinkie, just what we expect.  It will play very nicely under the spring and summer sun wherever you are. 

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Friday, April 24, 2020

Blood Of The Vines: Bela Bela Kill A Fella

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?

Bela Lugosi served as the mad scientist in 1940's The Devil Bat.  His Dr. Carruthers was tetched in the head by a previous bad business decision, an even worse decision than opening a restaurant just as the pandemic hit.  He gets his revenge by developing jumbo-sized bats - the mammals - to attack and kill his perceived enemies.  He also devises a special after shave and trains the bats to go after it.  Then, he manages to get his targets to wear the scent.  Jesus, I'm tired already.  Agatha Christie could have called it The Aqua Velva Murders. 

For pairing with a Bela Lugosi movie, you have to be ready for a Bela Lugosi wine.  His family makes vino and sells it under Bela's name - despite Dracula's insistence that "I don’t drink … wine."  I'll bet he'd go for a blood-red Argentine Malbec, though, with Bela Lugosi's name on the label.

In the 1935 talkie Mark of the Vampire, Lugosi plays another bloodsucker - Count Mora.  After extracting the life from Sir Karell Borotyn, the count wants to go after Borotyn's daughter, a girl who apparently has had to fight off vampires like flies at a picnic.  Maybe it's her perfume?  Pardon my spoiler, but Lugosi's Count Mora turns out to be an actor in a charade.  To no one's surprise, Lugosi is thrilled with the job he turned in and plans to make vampire roles his life's work.  Cue Ed Wood.

A vampire movie calls for Vampire Merlot.  The California wine runs about 15 bucks and comes in a regular bottle, cape not included.

Scared to Death, from 1947, has nothing to do with the prison-doc "Scared Straight." However, after watching the Gothic thriller you probably will have nothing to do with death masks, mental hospitals, medical experiments, Nazis, Bela Lugosi or dwarves, ever again. 

Before you die of fright, crack open a bottle of Nevermore Pinot Noir, from Oregon's Gothic Wines.  Personally, I think of Willamette Valley wine country as a bit sunnier than the word "gothic" connotes.  Is the tasting room at 1313 Mockingbird Lane?  The price tag isn’t very scary - just $24.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Bonny Doon's Flagship White Wine

Bonny Doon Vineyards' Le Cigare Blanc is the white counterpart to the always awesome Le Cigare Volant red blend, named for the alien spacecraft which was "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 at my place a lot. They are welcome visitors from another appellation far, far away. Well, just a bit north of me, anyway.

Bonny Doon's 2019 Le Cigare Blanc is crafted from California Central Coast grapes - 46% Grenache Blanc, 34% Vermentino and 20% Clairette Blanche.  The fruit came mostly from Arroyo Seco’s Beeswax Vineyard, with a smidge from Creston Ridge Vineyard in Paso Robles.  Randall Grahm says the Vermentino really shines through in this beverage, which he describes as "Delicious, refreshing gulp of wine, perfect with seafood and more delicate fish."

Grahm feels lucky to be able to blend in Clairette Blanche in the cuvée for the first time.  He says it helps contribute additional length to the wine.  Alcohol tips 13.5% abv and it sells for $20.  By the way, the label art is from an 1855 edition of "Bordeaux Chateau," with the spaceship courtesy of Jules Verne, circa 1870.

Le Cigare Blanc's nose carries a whole bunch of tropical fruit with a touch of savory coming from the Beeswax Vineyard grapes, no doubt.  The acidity here is a ripping affair, so seafood is a must.  Lemons burst forth on the palate, with traces of pineapple, grapefruit and mango also showing.  The finish is long and and lanky and leaves the memory of Meyer lemon behind.

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Warre's Fine White Porto

The Symington family calls their Warre's label "the original British Port House."  Pulling grapes from several superb quintas - Cavadinha, Retiro, Telhada - winemaker Charles Symington's family has been at it for five generations.  The company itself was founded in the 1600s.  They recently declared 2017 as a vintage Port year, just like 2016.  It was the first such back-to-back declaration in the 130+ years the Symingtons have been in charge.

I was supplied with a sample of Warre's Fine White Porto, and it should be on your radar.  Where I live, in Southern California, it's never really "Port weather," so I drink Port whenever I like - for instance, during self-isolation due to COVID-19.  This wine is a fantastic example of why Port is such a damn pleasure to drink.

Warre's Fine White Porto

Warre's Fine White is produced from traditional white grape varieties grown in the Douro Valley - Arinto, Códega, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho.  The winery explains that fermentation takes place "off the skins," which they say makes for a more delicate wine.  Aging took place at lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia in a combination of oak casks and stainless steel tanks.  The white also hits 19% abv and sells for about $15.

This white Port carries a golden tint and gorgeous nose of sweet caramel and stone fruit.  The palate is sweet and fruity with almond notes and a ton of acidity.  It makes a great aperitif or dessert, and will be a fine base for a cocktail.  It even pairs well with potato dishes, cheese and guacamole.

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Friday, April 17, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Son Of Pandemic!

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?

The 2011 thriller Contagion plays like it was ripped from today's headlines.  A respiratory illness spreads rapidly and … pandemic time!  The virus even has a name made up of all caps and a number, MEV-1.  The writer researched the topic with real live scientists, which puts him on at least equal footing with our present federal government.  That's what the scientists are saying, anyway.  Hopefully the film's vaccine will be a precursor for us, before looting and violence erupts over the last multi-pack of Charmin.

For Contagion, let's go to Meniketti Wines of Monterey County for Contagious Chardonnay.  Dave Meniketti is the frontman for the rock group Y&T.  He's also a wine lover and a winemaker.  He is not, at last report, contagious.  He insists that his Chardonnay is.

1964's The Last Man on Earth is set in (cue the theremin) THE FUTURE!  Maybe in 1964 it looked like a long way to 1968.  Today, it's not hard to imagine that our existence in 2024 could be drastically different than it is today.  Pandemics work quickly, I guess.  Vincent Price stars as the supposed sole survivor of a plague which not only killed people, but turned them into vampires.  Uh-oh, break out the rest of that Bela Lugosi wine.

Actually, there is a Walking Dead Wine, made by The Last Wine Company.  It may be more fit for zombies, but their Blood Red Blend is Merlot heavy.  That could stave off vampires by the hundreds or attract them in equal numbers, who knows?  Just in case, the ten months of barrel aging means there is plenty of oak leftover with which to make wooden stakes.

The Masque of the Red Death also comes from 1964 and also features Mr. Price.  It is one of an octet of Roger Corman films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe named the plague The Red Death and described it as a horrible disease that gave its victims sharp pains, dizziness and profuse bleeding from the pores.  That reminds me of the time I got hold of a bad bottle of Chianti.  From what we hear, this coronavirus is no picnic but it appears that The Red Death is more terrifying, hands down.  Perhaps there's a remake possible, The Masque of COVID-19.

There's a wine called Death Metal Red which inexplicably has a unicorn on the label.  The Whole Foods website says it's not in stock at my store "due to high demand."  Right.  Home bartenders may want to mix a Red Death cocktail, which involves Southern Comfort, blackberry brandy, sloe gin and several fruit juices.  Did I have a night of those when I was in college?  Did it cause bleeding from the pores?  Maybe.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Wines That Give Back

During this time of self-isolation and quarantine, there are many stories coming out about how people cope with the "new normal."  Restaurants are dishing out their fare as take-out at the curb to masked drivers who speed back to the safety of their homes.  Gathering with friends at a bar is a memory.  Winery tasting rooms are silent and producers from small to large are trying to stay afloat by going online with their sales efforts.

One story caught my eye this week, about a wine company that strives to give something back to the health care community, the people we all depend on to get us through the pandemic.

Ripe Life Wines has a special going on concerning their line called The Clambake.  For every case of wine purchased (12 bottles), the company will send two complimentary bottles of wine to the customer's  health care worker of choice to thank them for their service.  They are also offering free shipping to everyone. 

Ripe Life founder Mary McAuley says the thrust of the special offer is to keep people home and out of the stores to help flatten the COVID-19 curve.

McAuley claims she was inspired to make The Clambake wines after failing to find exactly what she wanted for her friends' annual clambake on the Jersey shore.  She did what anyone would do if they had the talent - she made the wines herself the next year.  She used Mendocino grapes to fashion an unoaked Chardonnay and a fresh and floral Carignan rosé.  McAuley says both are perfect for clambakes or any type of seafood, whether you are on the shore or landlocked.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Spain Rescue's Godello Grape

The Valdeorras region in Galicia was named by the Romans, who mined a lot of gold there.  After they had finished their mining days, they planted grapevines in the area.  The 2017 Pagos del Galir Godello is a full varietal wine made from a reclaimed grape.  Godello was figured to be native to Valdeorras before DNA testing showed its Portuguese roots.  The grape was re-introduced to the region during the 1970s.

The white Godello grape, writes Eric Asimov, has been "rescued" by Spain, particularly the area of Valdeorras, in Galicia - in Spain's northwest corner.  Plantings of the grape have risen markedly in recent years, and its grapefruit-tinged flavor profile and wonderful acidity make it a great wine to pair with food, especially summer salads, seafood or even sweet corn tamales.

This 2018 wine was made in steel tanks, then rested on its lees - spent yeast cells - for five months before bottling.  Alcohol is moderate at 13.5% abv and it sells for $17.

This was my first experience with the Iberian Godello grape.  I expected something quite fruity from this wine, but was surprised to find a nose of lanolin, sage and a savory nuttiness.  The palate is just as intriguing, with savory herbs and a distant grapefruit flavor in the background.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Pandemic In The Streets

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?

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated self-isolation and quarantine measures have given many of us a lot of extra time.  I've been spending my extra time by drinking wine and watching movies.  So, no, my life hasn't changed much.  Grocery shopping has changed.  Who would have believed that when panic hit the streets, the toilet paper would run out before the wine and beer?

In 1950's The Killer That Stalked New York the heavy is not coronavirus, but smallpox.  In true film noir style, the disease is unleashed not through bioterrorism, but through an inept criminal returning from Cuba.  Had Trump been commenting on it at the time, he probably would have called it the Havaner Flu while insisting there was no cause for alarm.  Until polling showed that people were alarmed anyway.

Three Star Brewing in D.C. had a Pandemic Porter on its list, but it's not there now.  Hmm.  Some winemakers feel that putting "smallpox" on a wine label wouldn't hurt sales as much as putting "syrah" on it, but none have put it to the test.  Researchers are saying that compounds in red wine and chocolate may fight the smallpox virus.  It's not official, but what can it hurt?  Get your favorite red and a box of See's for this movie.

In Panic in the Streets, also from 1950, the bad germ is pneumonic plague.  New Orleans is the fictional petri dish here, just as it has been in the real life news of late.  It's too bad that Mardi Gras and physical distancing don't mix.  It's hard to assemble a good collection of cheap trinkets from way over there.

If red wine can kill bacteria tied to lung cancer, which some reports have touted over the past 15 years or so, why fight it?  *pop!*  Of course, there are other reports saying that drinking a bottle of wine is the equivalent of smoking ten cigarettes.  Nothing in there about pneumonic plague, though.

It sounds like we need a doctor in the house.  Dr. Ernst Loosen is known for his amazing Rieslings, not reds.  Still, a bottle of single-vineyard Riesling and a half a pack of Luckys would pair well with any film noir, panic or no panic.

The 1965 sci-fi The Satan Bug brings bio-terror to the front row.  The complicated story line is full of scientific intrigue, double- and triple-crosses, test tubes to end the world and some daredevil helicopter footage.  Who said laboratory work was boring?  Are these guys handling the coronavirus blood tests?  Wash your hands!  Wear a mask!  Get the hell back home and stay there!

Any film which uses devil imagery in its title deserves a pairing with Velvet Devil Merlot from Charles Smith Wines.  It's from Washington state, by the way, one of the early hotspots for COVID-19.

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