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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