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.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter

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.