Monday, August 31, 2020

Four Chilean Wines That Play Rough

The Viña Ventisquero Grey line of wines is the expression of a single block of vines from different growing areas in Chile.  Ventisquero has vineyards in the Coastal Maipo, Casablanca, Colchagua, Leyda and Huasco valleys.  Head winemaker Felipe Tosso takes his craft seriously, comparing the creation of a wine to the raising of a child.  He says, "it's just like being a father. You give birth to a son, you raise and mold him so he can follow his destiny."

In addition to the wine samples, I was given tips on which Chilean music to pair with the various wines.  I have included Spotify links to the suggested Ventisquero selections.

Ventisquero Grey GCM

The Ventisquero Grey GCM wine is a traditional blend of 62% Garnacha, 19% Cariñena and 19% Mataro grapes from the Valle de Colchagua's Apalta area, the terraced, hillside Roblería Vineyard.  You may know Mataro better as Monastrell or Mourvedre.  The soil is poor - good for grapevines - made up of clay and lots of stones.  2017 was a hot year, so the grapes ripened  earlier than usual.  The wine was aged for six months in neutral French oak barrels, stands at 14% abv and retails for $23.  The winery says the Grey GCM wine is "complex, like the music of Chilean artist Nano Stern, which stands at the crossroads of various influences and genres such as rock, folk, fusion and trova."

This wine is medium dark in color and in just about everything else.  Wonderfully dark.  The nose is black fruit, savory tar, a meaty kind of note and some light oak tones.  The palate allows the savory aspects a little more room to move.  There is a lip-smacking acidity; the tannins are firm.  I tried mine with smoked pork belly and some apple smoked Gouda, with great results.

Song pairing: Carnavalito del Ciempés by Nano Stern

Ventisquero Grey Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine comes from Block 38 of Ventisquero’s Trinidad Vineyard in the coastal Maipo Valley.  The winery refers to this Cab as "non-traditional," and it does seem to me to be more rustic than elegant.  The 93% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are joined by 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc.  Growing in the 2014 vintage was marked by a typical summer featuring moderate temperatures and no rain.  The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks, then aging took place over 18 months in French oak barrels, one-third new - and another eight months in the bottle.  Alcohol sits at a restrained 13.5% abv and the wine sells for around $20.

This wine is dark and savory.  The black fruit comes along with cedar, vanilla and a chalky earth tone.  It is nothing like Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, but more in line with Paso Robles.  Lots of South American minerals are having a bit of roughhouse here.

Ventisquero likes to pair their Grey Cab with Violeta Parra, one of the most iconic Chilean artists.  Like the wine, they say she is "classic yet surprising, elegant and inspiring."

Song pairing: Gracias a la Vida by Violeta Parra 

Ventisquero Grey Carménère

This red wine is made of Carmenere grapes, grown in the Trinidad Vineyard in Chile's coastal Maipo Valley.  Chile reportedly has the largest vineyard area planted with Carmenere, the country's flagship grape.  Only half of the grapes were crushed for fermentation.  The wine was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels - one-third new and two-thirds second and third use - where malolactic fermentation took place.  Alcohol in just 13.5% abv and the retails price is $22.

This is a beautiful Carménère, all earthy and full of savory minerality.  The blackberry and black plum aromas creep through the smell of that dirt with tar, forest floor and tobacco all over them.  A hint of vanilla sweetens the sniff a bit.  On the palate, the dark fruit is draped in sweet oak spice, and you'll find a bucketful of tannins until the glass has been sitting for awhile.  This is a steak wine, intended for a big, juicy piece of beef.

Just as this grape is iconic to Chile, the winery says Cueca music is essential to Chilean culture as the country’s national dance and music.  

Song pairing: Yo Vendo Unos Ojos Negros by Los Huasos Quincheros 

Ventisquero Grey Pinot Noir

The Grey Pinot Noir is a complex wine which the winery says is typical of the Leyda Valley, a growing area known for excellent acidity and mineral notes.  The Las Terrazas Vineyard's soil starts off with a bit of red granitic clay, and gets rockier the deeper the roots reach.  The fairly warm 2017 vintage prompted the pickers to collect the grapes a little earlier than usual.  Fermentation took place in steel tanks, while aging took a full year in French oak barrels, 15% of them were new, 30% second-use and 55% third-use.  

This Chilean Pinot Noir offers a nose that is heavy with cola, black tea and coffee grounds.  The savory aromas actually outweigh the fruit.  It is a medium-weight wine, not very deeply tinted, and it rides light on the palate.  The acidity is brisk and the tannins firm.  This is not a Burgundian take on the grape, for certain.  It is more playful than elegant, more rustic than beautiful.

Pair this delicate grape with Francisca Valenzuela's music, whose slow yet powerful songs are as vibrant as the Grey Pinot Noir. 

Song pairing: Ya No Se Trata de Ti by Francisca Valenzuela 

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Friday, August 28, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Sam's The Man


Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  I awoke to news that some 70 million bottles of Italian wine are being turned into hand sanitizer.  This pandemic, before it's all over, may reduce me to pairing alcohol gel with movies.


This week’s offerings are three films by Samuel Fuller, with whom I share a last name.  There is no DNA trace here - about which I am aware - so I have no stories about ol' uncle Sammy misbehaving after downing too much Beaujolais Nouveau at Thanksgiving dinners.  We do, however, have a celluloid history of his penchant for making movies on topics many other filmmakers wouldn't touch.

In the 1959 noir classic The Crimson Kimono, Fuller takes on the relationship between race and romance.  Two L.A. cops both fall for the same girl in Little Tokyo, and she chooses the one who happens to be of Japanese descent.  That was Fuller's hallmark, the choice of material that made mainstream Hollywood - and mainstream America - uncomfortable.

The film's one-sheet leans into the titillation factor - "a beautiful American girl in the arms of a Japanese boy" - and wonders what his "strange appeal" is for American women.  The movie can only be seen in an anachronistic light now, possibly partly because of its impact.  The two cops are friends - roommates, even - but friction develops between them when the white cop doesn't like the idea of the girl going for the Asian guy.

Now, a wine pairing for The Crimson Kimono.  It's a shame that Open Kimono wines - a Washington Riesling and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc - appear to be unavailable now.  You can try a sake - basically Japanese rice wine, but it's brewed - or something with more of a Los Angeles connection.  For years, the Wilson building on Wilshire at La Brea had a huge ad sign on its roof for Asahi beer.  It is a very film-friendly brew.

1952's Park Row has been mentioned as a low-budget Citizen Kane due to its newspaper-based storyline.  While its scale wasn't as grand as that of the Welles classic, it was about two competing newspapers, and it was in black and white.

The volume of booze which could be put away by those known back in the day as "newspapermen" is the stuff of legends.  I knew of an ink-slinger who used to get his liquor store bill at the newspaper office each month.  On the envelope, the merchant had written, "Pay me, mother****er" for all to see.  Rather than shaming him, it was a sort of badge of courage for the colorful writer, whose reputation was built on such instances.

Those bills were no doubt for hard liquor, so any readily available bourbon would go nicely with a movie about the newspaper business.  There is also a British company which packages in a gift box a vintage Bordeaux alongside an old newspaper.  I'm not kidding about that.  However, if you're looking to make headlines, there's Headline Wines.  The line is aimed at a younger age group - the kind who may not have ever actually read a newspaper, but know that wine comes in cans and boxes now.

1959's Verboten! is in Fuller's wheelhouse.  It's a war movie, dubya dubya two.  It's about as subtle as a fist in the face, and that is for the best when telling a story of Nazi Germany.  The title came from the pages of the U.S. Army code of conduct, which forbade the fraternization of U.S. soldiers and German women.  The story revolves around a love triangle involving a G.I., a German woman and a former German soldier who didn't quite get the memo that the war was over.

"Verboten" means "forbidden" in German.  In Spanish it’s "prohibito," "interdit" in French and "zakazana" in Polish.  Someone, somewhere, probably translates the title as "oh no you don’t, not with her."  Paul Anka croons the theme song from the movie: "Verboten, verboten, our love is verboten…"  I don’t recall hearing that on American Bandstand.

Colorado's Verboten Brewing takes its name from the "forbidden" ingredients rejected by the German Purity Law for beer.  As for a wine pairing, make it a Riesling, the German export that Angela Merkel is heavily involved in pushing right now.  Doctor Heidemanns "Blitz" Riesling translates as "lightning," by the way.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Beaujolais Rosé

In the U.S folks may know very little about Beaujolais wines except that they see them stacked in their grocery store's wine aisle every Thanksgiving.  It is true that for many, Beaujolais Nouveau is a holiday tradition, but the Gamay grape is not just a one-trick pony.  They also go pink.

Beaujolais vineyards account for more than half of the world's Gamay grapevines, and most of them go into red wines, the youthful Nouveau as well as the more respected Beaujolais Cru wines.  Some of them, however, are used to make rosé wines, giving Beaujolais a usefulness in the spring and summer as well as the fall and winter.  Of course, good rosé goes great with leftover turkey and ham, too.  I was given the opportunity to sample a handful of Beaujolais rosé wines.

Château Cambon Beaujolais Rosé 2018

Château Cambon is a small parcel of Beaujolais vineyard land between Morgon and Brouilly.  They make their pink wine from whole cluster Gamay grapes, stems and all, keeping the skins in contact for two days.  The wine is aged for five months and bottled with minimal SO2.  Alcohol hits 12% abv and the retails price is around $20.

This pink Gamay wine has a fairly rich color, rather like salmon meets orange.  There is a bit of a Jolly Rancher note to the strawberry nose, and an herbal angle.  Strawberry plays big in the flavor profile, too, with a distinctive earthy tone to it.  It has great heft - it drinks like a red - and a very refreshing acidity.  

Château Thivin Beaujolais Villages Rosé 2018

Château Thivin dates back to the 14th century and is now under the guidance of the fifth and sixth generations of the Geoffray family, who bought the property in the 18th century.  The Château Thivin Beaujolais Villages Rosé is imported by Kermit Lynch, which is as good a recommendation as you are likely to get.  The wine’s alcohol level sits at 13% abv and the retail price is somewhere around $18.

This wine is delicately tinted light salmon.  Its nose is quite fruity - cherries, strawberries, orange - but also graced with a minerality that serves as a bedrock base for all that beauty.  The palate brings ripe red fruit, a hefty mouthfeel and a zippy acidity into play.  It’s great for salads, and even better just for sipping. 

Le Rosé d’Folie Beaujolais Rosé 2019

The owner and winemaker of Domaine des Terres Dorées is Jean Paul Brun.  The 40-acre family estate is in the village of Charnay, in the southern part of Beaujolais, just north of Lyons.  The area is beautifully nicknamed "the Region of Golden Stones."  The wine is imported by the well-respected Louis/Dressner Selections.  

Le Rosé d’Folie is made from 100% organic Gamay grapes, aged in concrete tanks, on its lees with malolactic fermentation.  The contact with the spent yeast cells and the allowance of malolactic fermentation give the wine a hefty mouthfeel.  Alcohol tips a mere 12.5% and the retail price is around $15.

This wine glows salmon pink in the glass, and smells of fresh, ripe strawberries and cherries.  On the palate the strawberry takes the lead, while a note of stone fruit slips into the arena.  There is a fairly zippy acidity to go along with the flavors.  It's Beaujolais, but bears a striking resemblance to Provençe.  

Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Rosé 2019

This pink wine comes from the southern Beaujolais hamlet of Le Breuil, where Domaine Dupeuble has been turning out wine for about five centuries.  Importer Kermit Lynch says the estate has only changed hands three times over that span, most recently in 1919.  Lynch began his involvement with the brand in the 1980s, by importing the estate's Beaujolais Nouveau.

The vineyards are tended through the practice of lutte raisonnée, which literally means "reasoned fight" but is translated in English as "supervised control."  The practice shuns synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides in favor of a more natural approach.  It is seen by many as a first step towards organic farming, but is also a happy medium for some growers.  Alcohol comes in at only 13% abv and the retail price is $17.  

The Lynch website describes the 2019 Gamay rosé from Domaine Dupeuble as the gold standard of Beaujolais rosé.  Promised are aromas of white flowers, rhubarb, and wild berries, leading to a palate which is smooth and rounded yet full of those Beaujolais minerals and a hint of citrus on the finish.  A subtle herbal quality and vibrant acidity make it a perfect match for light summer fare.

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Monday, August 24, 2020

Single-Estate Tequila

Does a single-estate tequila have the same cachet as a single vineyard wine?  It does if you listen to the makers of the La Adelita line of tequila.  A single vineyard often imparts more characteristics to a wine that are inherent to the site.  One might draw a similar conclusion about the selection of specific hops used in brewing - the locale determines the flavor profile.  In tequila, the terroir, if you will, of the plantation where the agave plants are grown is what gives the sip its character.

The folks who market La Adelita tequila say a "partnership of distillers, agave farmers and cult wine artisans" crafted this array of spirits.  The line is named after women warriors who took part in the Mexican Revolution in the early part of the 20th century - a decade-long armed conflict which sprang from a rigged presidential election.  The name is also borne by one of the most famous ballads of the revolution and "la Adelita" has come to signify any woman who is fighting for her rights.  

The Blue Weber agave estates - Rancho El Fraile - are in the highlands of Jalisco, where generations of jimadors have harvested the piñas when their time had come, usually after about seven years of growth.  The tequilas are distilled in small copper pot stills that were imported from Cuba shortly after the Mexican Revolution.  

La Adelita Tequila founder and CEO Chris Radomski says, "As the tequila category blew up, it lost its authenticity, and I wanted to do something at a higher level while keeping it authentic," with an affordable price point.

La Adelita tequila comes in five different varieties: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, Cristalino and Extra Añejo.  I was provided with a sample of Blanco, a bright, clear tequila with notes of lime and a clean finish.  The others in the line are aged in American oak whiskey barrels for three, 18 or 48 months.  La Adelita Blanco carries an alcohol content of 40% abv - 80 proof - and retails for $40.

If you are looking to fashion some cocktails, the margarita is no doubt the top tequila-based drink.  Don’t buy the mix, because margaritas are incredibly easy to make, using only tequila, triple sec, and lime juice.  Experiment with the portions to suit your taste.  Almost as easy is the Tequila Sunrise - tequila, orange juice, and grenadine.  

Friday, August 21, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Happy Birthday Robert De Niro

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?  You can't blow out your candles while wearing a mask, and who needs birthday cake when there's a bottle of wine sitting right there?

Robert De Niro turns 77 this week, so a celebration is in order.  And, yes, I am talking to you.  De Niro has a mantle full of awards for his acting and he helped create a vodka company, so we like him even more.  Italy likes him so much that they made him an honorary citizen, over the objections of the Sons of Italy.  That group says anyone who made his bones playing Italian-descended mobsters should get the boot from Italy.  Suggested punishment: Drink only Chianti from a bottle covered in straw.

In 1974, DeNiro starred in The Godfather Part II, both a sequel and a prequel to its namesake film.  Think of it as a shot of grapes on the vine and a shot of an empty wine bottle.  The before and the after.  DeNiro collected an Oscar for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in the prequel part of the movie, the grapes on the vine.

The film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who also knows his way around a vineyard.  Try some of his Inglenook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon while watching this movie. He bought the property, by the way, with the profits from the original Godfather movie.  He no doubt made them an offer they couldn't refuse.

1990's GoodFellas showed how "made men" get unmade.  Director Martin Scorcese put the film together with breakneck pacing.  The movie makes it feel as if it is you being pursued by the feds, not wise guy Henry Hill.  By the way, they call gangsters "wise guys," despite so many of them sleeping on a bunk in prison.  It makes one wonder about their wisdom.

Scorcese once did a commercial for Spanish Cava producer Freixenet that looked more like a Hitchcock film than one of his own.  I was told by a woman once that she cheated on a boyfriend and he correctly identified the aromas in her apartment - "Freixenet and baby oil."  Now, that's a great nose.

Goodfellow Family Cellars uses sustainably-grown grapes from Oregon's Willamette Valley to make several single-vineyard Pinot Noirs that sell for about $40.

In 1970, De Niro had yet to wonder if we were talking to him or not.  He was just a youngster in Roger Corman's Bloody Mama in that year, playing one of Ma Barker's criminal sons.  It might be hard to notice him, what with a flamboyant Shelly Winters cavorting across the screen.  The film was shot entirely in Arkansas, and I would imagine that De Niro hasn't been back there since. 

Let's pair this movie with De Niro's VDKA 6100 vodka.  It's made from New Zealand whey.  Yes, whey.  He likes it in a martini with a lemon twist.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Gambero Rosso Italian Wine Masterclass - Part Three

Virtual wine tasting events are no stranger to me, especially in the era of COVID-19.  Get the box, open the box, log on and taste from home.  No social distancing to strain the process, no mask needed.  I was invited to take part in a Zoom gathering recently along with two dozen other wine writers.  The event was called the Tre Bicchieri Web Show, which featured twelve different Italian wines from various producers.  My shipment was delayed several times - it came from Italy, after all - so I didn't get to take part, but the box finally arrived and I was able to taste the wines inside.

The Tre Bicchieri Web Show was presented by Gambero Rosso, a Rome-based Italian wine and food magazine that was founded in 1986.  It was their first-ever Master Class, which indicates that there are more planned.

The interactive event was hosted by Lorenzo Ruggeri, the wine guide's international editor, with comments along the two-hour journey from each winery's representative.  This is the final of three articles on Now And Zin Wine which feature the wines that were tasted.  

Tenuta Monteti Caburnio 2015 

The Baratta family owns Tuscany's Tenuta Monteti in Capalbio, in the southern part of Maremma, very close to the sea.  The winery was founded in 1998 and it deals exclusively with international varieties like Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Alicante-Bouschet.  All the Monteti wines are aged in small wood barrels. 

The 2015 Caburnio was made from 50% estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 25% Alicante Bouschet.  The individual grapes were vinified and aged separately, then blended, then aged a year in the bottle.

Ruggeri says the area is in the wildest part of Tuscany, where the forests are populated mostly by wild animals.  The region, he says, is too warm for Sangiovese or white wine grapes, but great for the Bordeaux varieties.  Caburnio has alcohol at 14% abv and a retail price of $21.

This wine is dark enough, that's for sure.  It is a blend of Cab, Merlot and Alicante Bouschet.  No light gets through it when I hold it to the light.  It smells dark, too.  Cassis and tar fight for first place, while blackberry and oak spice aromas jostle from behind.  The palate is stately, with a muscular elegance structured by firm tannins, flinty minerals and a lively acidity.  Bring on the steaks, as big as you like.

Coppi Gioia del Colle Primitivo Senatore 2015

Now we come to Puglia - the heel of the boot, the land of Primitivo.  The winery which is now Cantine Coppi was founded in 1882 and taken over by the Coppi family in 1976.  It sits between Turi and Gioia del Colle, where the vineyards feature. traditional varieties like Primitivo, Aleatico, Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera, Malvasia Bianca, Falanghina and Verdeca.  On the label, you'll see an artistic representation of an elevation map of the property.

The 2015 Coppi Senatore was named after Senator Antonio Michele Coppi, who founded the company and makes the wine.  It was made completely from Primitivo grapes which were grown on their chalky, clay hillsides.  The de-stemmed fruit was crushed and put into fermenters before being transferred to steel tanks after separating the juice from the skins.  Aging took place in barrels of Slavonian oak for about a year.  Alcohol hits only 13.5% abv and the price is $30.

This Primitivo shows a medium-dark tint in the glass and a nose that is all fruit, all the time.  Cherry aromas are joined by notes of plum and cassis, with just a hint of oak.  After it sits for a bit, a whiff of smoke gathers at the top of the glass.  The palate shows a lot of earthiness and a chalky quality, which we can chalk up to minerality.  There is a lengthy finish that turns slightly tart on the fade.  I would love to have this wine with some nice Italian sausages and pasta, or a meatball sub. 

Còlpetrone Montefalco Sagrantino 2012 

Còlpetrone is in Montefalco, right in the middle of Umbria, which is right in the middle of Italy.  Under the umbrella of Tenute del Cerro, they are known for producing wines of note from the ancient Sagrantino grape and the white Grechetto.  The winery was founded in 1995 in the hilly region of clay loam soil.  

The 2012 Còlpetrone Montefalco Sagrantino is a full varietal wine, 100% Sagrantino, which was racked into French oak barrels after fermentation for a full malolactic fermentation.  It was aged in the wood for a year and another six months in the bottle.  The winery rep noted the big spiciness in the wine, adding that it is unusual to think of Sagrantino as elegant, but that this one earns the description.  Ruggeri said, it is "not showing off, the wine speaks in a low voice."  One of the participants commented that it is like meat in a glass.  Alcohol sits at 14% abv and the list price is $30.

This 2012 wine is extremely dark in the glass - inky - and bears a nose of beautiful blackberry and black plum.  There is a savory ride-along for good measure.  The sip reveals a wine with a tingling acidity and very firm tannins - eight years old and it still has plenty of fight left in it.  Bring on the rib eye, bring on the porterhouse… this wine will tame all of them.

Tenuta Sant'Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli 2015 

The Castagnedi brothers' estate extends along a ridge in Veneto that separates the Mezzane and Marcellise valleys.  They also have vineyards to the east, towards the Illasi valley.  Tenuta Sant’Antonio was represented on the virtual event by Armando Castagnedi, who said the property's marly limestone soil is so deprived of nutrients that it is white.  Accordingly, the vines have to work to stretch their roots deep to find the richer dirt.  

The 2015 Amarone della Valpolicella was made from a mix of Italian grape varieties: 70% Corvina and Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 5% Croatina and 5% Oseleta.  The grapes were dried for three months for raisining before being pressed late in the year.  The wine was vinified in new 500-litre French oak casks.  Afterward, the aging process took place in new casks for three years.  Tasters mentioned barbecue notes, cinnamon and fruits.  The alcohol content is 16% abv and the retail price is $73.

This wine speaks loudly through its minerals, but does not need to shout.  The dark liquid gives off aromas of meat, fine cigars, dried fruit and a slight raisiny note.  It is a complete joy to smell, let alone to drink.  The palate is silky smooth, with tannins on the back end.  Dark fruit dominates the flavor profile, but there is a hefty chunk of savory minerality that elbows through - ever so elegantly.  Pair it with pasta, marinara, Bolognese, or just sip it and make dinner wait.

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Monday, August 17, 2020

Sunny With A Chance Of Flowers Wine

There is a new entry into the ever-more-crowded field of wines targeting people who want a "healthier" wine experience.  The Sunny With a Chance of Flowers line is produced by Scheid Family Wines of Monterey County, with a dozen estate vineyards scattered up and down the Salinas Valley.  

All three Sunny wines - Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir - are made from sustainably-grown Monterey County grapes, all three hit alcohol at only 9% abv and all three retail for $17.  The labels say that these wines are for people who "want a full glass and a healthy pour," however the promise of only 85 calories applies to a five-ounce serving.  That's not a full glass at my house.  The winery marketers try to help with the pour, saying that "moderation never tasted so good."

Heidi Scheid, Executive Vice President of Scheid Family Wines, says that "consumers are looking for a wine that is ... 'better for you' with zero sugar, low calories and low alcohol."  She continues, "it also needs to be delicious and authentically sourced and produced."  Scheid says their winemaking team lost count of how many tasting trials they conducted to arrive at a wine that "doesn’t make you feel like you’re giving up anything."

While I don’t seek out low-alcohol wines, there are those who feel that a small sacrifice in alcohol is worth it to be able to enjoy a glass of guilt-free wine every night.

Sunny With a Chance of Flowers Sauvignon Blanc 2019

A light straw color in the glass leads to a sweet, beautiful nose.  It strikes me more as the nose of an Albariño or Viognier.  The herbal aromas come across as floral notes mainly, with plenty of fruit up front - peaches, nectarines, apricots.  The sip reveals some light grassiness, but citrus is more in the spotlight.  This is a very Cali SauvBlanc.  A nice acidity makes this a good food wine, but it is perfect for sipping at a pool party - socially-distanced, of course.

Sunny With a Chance of Flowers Chardonnay 2018

This wine has a golden hue in the glass and a nose in which oak is prominent.  Apricot and tropical aromas follow, but they have to fight their way past the staves.  The palate is a bit less ripe than I would like and there is a lingering tartness on the finish, too.  Acidity is nice, but the oak treatment really spoils the grapes here.

Sunny With a Chance of Flowers Pinot Noir 2018

I love a good whiff of cola and black tea in a Pinot Noir, which this one has in abundance, and a puff of smoke to boot.  Those flavors come in on the palate, too, with some boysenberry and raspberry.  The tannic structure is firm and the acidity refreshing.  It is a brawny wine, heavy handed even, but presents itself with such charm it's hard to not like it.  

Friday, August 14, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - And Now For Something Completely Python

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  This week, movies by Monty Python’s Flying Circus are featured, with appropriate wine pairings.  Feel free to have some Spam if you like.  We need to have some guilty pleasures during a pandemic.

1971's And Now for Something Completely Different packaged sketches from the first two seasons of TV's Monty Python's Flying Circus.  That alone was cause for a drink or two, since mood adjusters were quite common among those who watched the show.  The film was intended to introduce the British comedy troupe to the U.S. audience, which flopped when nobody got the humor.  After PBS began showing the TV series, awareness was elevated enough so that a 1973 re-release was slightly more successful.  It became a regular on the midnight movie circuit.

A lot of the group's best-loved sketches are included here, remade for the movie, like "The Dead Parrot," "The Lumberjack Song" and "Nudge Nudge," which played well to a wildly appreciative Hollywood Bowl audience a decade later.  "Your Glendale wife, is she a goer?"

I could go on and on, but I didn't come here for an argument.  "Yes you did."  That sketch isn’t even in the movie, so let us pour.  There's a temptation to go with a wine from Down Under as a nod to the Pythons' "Australian Table Wines" sketch.  It touts a wine which leaves a "lingering afterburn," a Cote du Rod Laver which has "a kick on it like a mule" and Perth Pink, "a wine for lying down and avoiding."

Coming to the defense of Aussie wine is Penfolds, Australia's largest and most respected wine producer.  Their Bin 389 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, which always sounds to me like a Python way of saying Syrah.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail was Monty Python's 1975 sendup of the legend of King Arthur.  It was so good that decades later it spawned the Broadway hit Spamalot.  When studio funding for the picture did not appear, the group reportedly got money from private investors, including British rockers Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Elton John.  They felt a movie was a good way to hedge against England's exorbitant tax rate.  The film made a good deal of money, got mixed reviews yet grew in stature over the years.  It aged well, one might say, if one was intent on spinning this narrative into a wine pairing.  Which I am.

Believe it or not, there is a Holy Grail Winery, but it’s not in Australia, nor England.  It's not even in California.  It's in the Show-Me State of Missouri.  Mizzou winemakers are deservedly proud of the juice they bottle, and many of them do wonderful things with the Norton grape, which at one time, was America's top fine wine grape.  If you can't find the Holy Grail anywhere, try anything from Stone Hill Winery, which is located not far away.

In 1979's The Life of Brian, the Python gang had their come-to-Jesus moment.  It was actually their come-to-Brian moment, as Brian, the Messiah's neighbor, was given the crown of thorns in a case of mistaken identity.  Once again, there was trouble with a movie studio and their money.  Once again, a rock star came to the rescue in the form of George Harrison, who financed the film.  

The theme of the movie was taken as blasphemous by some, and several nations actually banned the movie from being shown.  The ad campaign in Sweden reportedly boasted, "So funny it was banned in Norway."  Actually, the film's message is a simple, "You don’t need to be a follower of anyone."

What does the movie say that the Romans have done for us lately?  "All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"  Yes, the wine.  As nasty as it must have been back then, there was the wine.  

I have seen speculation that the wine consumed by Jesus at the Last Supper was probably something like what we now know as Amarone, an Italian wine made from dried grapes.  Bertani makes a hell of an Amarone, and vintages from multiple decades are available to buy.  I'm sure Brian would welcome a glass at his last supper.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Gambero Rosso Italian Wine Master Class: Part Two

Virtual wine tasting events are no stranger to me, especially in the era of COVID-19.  Get the box, open the box, log on and taste from home.  No social distancing to strain the process, no mask needed.  I was invited to take part in a Zoom gathering recently along with two dozen other wine writers.  The event was called the Tre Bicchieri Web Show, which featured twelve different Italian wines from various producers.  My shipment was delayed several times - it came from Italy, after all - so I didn't get to take part in real time, but the box finally arrived and I was finally able to taste the wines inside.

The Tre Bicchieri Web Show was presented by Gambero Rosso, a Rome-based Italian wine and food magazine that was founded in 1986.  It was their first-ever Master Class, which indicates that there are more planned.

The interactive event was hosted by Lorenzo Ruggeri, the wine guide's international editor, with comments along the two-hour journey from each winery's representative.  This is the second installment on Now And Zin Wine to feature the wines that were tasted.  We started with four amazing white wines and now move on to four of the eight reds included in the assortment.

Velenosi Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Prope 2017 

Ercole Velenosi and Angiolina Piotti established Velenosi in 1984 in Ascoli Piceno, in the Marche region.  They now make Abruzzo wines in Controguerra, to the east and across the border to the south.  The first vintage from that outpost was in 2005.  Angela Velenosi now sits on the board, while Filippo Carli and Luca Fioravanti work in the cellar.

Prope is made completely from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes, grown in gravelly clay soil.  They are destemmed and placed in stainless steel tanks for vinification, which could last as long as a month.  Then, the wine is transferred into large barrels for 12 months of aging.  Alcohol is 14% abv and the retail sticker should be around $15 when it is available in the U.S. market.

This wine is tinted medium dark ruby and shows purple around the rim.  It smells of bright, ripe cherries and strawberries.  There is not a big influence of oak.  The palate is nice and fresh, with fruit in the forefront and a gentle acidity.  The tannins are easy-going enough for gulping, but the wine does pair well with tandoori lamb from my favorite Indian restaurant.  Ruggeri noted the flavor of dried fruit and meatiness at the end of the sip.

Conte Leopardi Dittajuti Conero Pigmento Riserva 2016 

The Count Leopardi winery is in Numana, Marche, on Italy's Adriatic coast.  The estate is owned by the Leopardi Dittajuti family and has been for some 15 centuries.  Back then, one of the Leopardis was made a bishop, then killed by pagans, then made a saint.  Today, Piervittorio Leopardi is dedicated to the beautiful area, the forests, the limestone massif, and to Montepulciano, Conero's traditional grape, which has been vinified by Leopardi for nearly forty years.  The vineyards between Numana and Sirolo are rich in limestone and marl and cooled by the Adriatic Sea.  

Leopardi's Pigmento Riserva was made by winemaker Riccardo Cotarella, completely from Montepulciano grapes.  The fruit was late-harvested - in the end of October and early November - a roll of the dice that dared the fates to bring damaging rains.  He lucked out.  Leopardi says this elegant, full-bodied, well-balanced Riserva wine has great structure, good concentration and smooth, consistent tannins.  Alcohol tips 14% abv and the price tag reads $38.

As the name implies, this wine is very dark colored - hardly any light gets through.  The nose is complex and lively - black cherry, cassis, vanilla, cedar.  On the palate, a bit of licorice joins the fruit profile.  Acidity is brisk, but not racy.  Tannins are firm, but not toothy.  I would like a sausage or pork chop with it, but I would settle for a salami.

Giordano Emo Capodilista - La Montecchia Colli Euganei Cabernet Sauvignon Ireneo 2016 

Giordano Emo Capodilista's estate is located in Veneto, in the Euganean regional park.  The vineyards lie in the northern part of the area - in the almost Alpine territory of Selvazzano.  More recent acquisitions are in the volcanic hills to the extreme south - in the more Mediterranean area of Baone.  The two sites are not that far apart - only about six miles - but they feature very different terroir.  The grapes that make up Irenèo are 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, grown along the slopes of Monte Castello, while the 6% Merlot and 4% Carmenère came from the area around Villa Emo Capodilista.  The wine was aged for a year in barrique barrels, then six months in the bottle.  Alcohol hits 14% abv and the retail price is $30.

This Italian Cab has a bit of Merlot and Carmenère mixed in.  The color is medium dark garnet with a bit of bricking around the edge.  Aromas of blackberry are joined by the smell of minerals and a whiff of smoke.  The palate has a chalky note to it - the owner referred to the wine in his presentation as "salty."  The tannins are manageable and the acidity is middle-of-the-road.  The wine really puts me in mind of Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, not Napa.  I paired the wine successfully with grilled kielbasa and charred Brussels sprouts.

De Stefani Colli di Conegliano Rosso Stefen 1624 2015 120 USD

Still in Veneto, up north in Piave, owner and winemaker Alessandro di Stefani steered away from the so-called easy money of Prosecco in favor of still wines with character.  The results should make everyone glad he made that choice.

The 2015 De Stefani Colli di Conegliano Rosso Stefen 1624 was made from 100% Marzemino grapes grown in clay soil which is mixed with minerals from the Southern Limestone Alps, the Dolomite Mountains.  Marzemino is said to have been Mozart's favorite wine grape, and that is completely understandable.  The single-vineyard grapes were destemmed and slowly fermented on the skins up to a point, when the juice was put into oak barriques, where it stayed for three years.  Aging continued in the bottle for 18 months before release.  Alcohol checks in at a lofty 15.5% abv.  Depending on the vintage, it can be as high as 17.5% alcohol.  The sticker price is up there as well, at $120.  

This wine is deep, dark and delicious.  The nose opens with a whiff of smoke, which leads to aromas of dried cherry, cedar and pipe tobacco.  The palate shows a nice mix of fruit and savory - the cherry flavor finds a black raspberry partner.  Firm tannins and bright acidity make it dance on the tongue.

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Monday, August 10, 2020

Cali Sauvignon Blanc, Grown Organically

Bonterra Organic Vineyards bills itself as America's number one wine made from organic grapes.  They also make a trio of wines from grapes grown in their biodynamic vineyards.  The winery makes it clear that they have been doing organic farming since long before it was a fashionable trend.  Winemaker Jeff Cichocki feels an organic approach to growing the grapes makes a better wine.

The 2019 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc comes from a blend of grapes grown in Mendocino, Lake, San Luis Obispo and Sonoma counties.  The grapes were fermented in steel tanks and aged there for six months, so there is no oak effect in this wine at all.  The wine has an alcohol level of 13.3% abv and sells for $14.

This pale-tinted wine has a fresh nose of lemons, limes, grapefruit and minerals, along with an herbal aspect that stays well short of New Zealand style grassiness.  California SauvBlancs usually feature riper fruit, and fuller fruit flavor than those from the southern hemisphere.  The palate on this one is all minerals, with a hint of the citrus in the background.  The acidity is zippy and the finish is long and savory.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Wild About Wilder

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  This week, Billy Wilder movies, one… two… three of them, with appropriate wine pairings.

1961's One, Two, Three saw James Cagney playing the head of Coca Cola's Berlin office.  If I were in Germany, I would prefer a Riesling.  Cagney's boss in Atlanta puts him in charge of his daughter, who is visiting the divided city.  She turns up married to a young East German communist hothead, and the comedy unfurls at a breakneck pace under Billy Wilder's direction.  Cagney's comic chops were never better.

The movie was loosely based on the 1939 Wilder-penned film, Ninotchka, which lampooned the Soviet Union under Stalin.  With the USSR still ripe for satire in the Cold War '60s, Wilder borrowed heavily from his previous work for One, Two, Three's framework.  Construction began on the Berlin Wall - Google it, kids - while the movie was being shot.  The chill of the Cold War after that rather put a damper on the laughs for many moviegoers.

Cagney reportedly hated co-star Horst Buchholz and wished he had "knocked him on his ass" for stealing scenes.  My wife chuckled at that.  "That's rich coming from Cagney," she said, adding with a maniacal grin, "Maybe we should talk to Mae Clarke about it."  Grapefruit for breakfast, anyone?  Top o' the world!

They drink a lot of Coke in One, Two, Three, but we want something a bit more robust with the movie.  Blue Nun was a popular German wine back in the '60s, but I’m Sure Jimmy Cagney wouldn't wish that on Horst Buchholz.  How about ordering a Spätburgunder?  It's really a German Pinot Noir, but just saying it puts me in mind of Cagney's "Schlemmer!"

Speaking of pacing, 1944's Double Indemnity has Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck as fast-talking tough guy and femme fatale.  How fast?  There didn’t appear to be a speed limit in effect.

After seeing what Walter Neff goes through in DI, and hearing a few Johnny Dollar episodes on old time radio, I realized how tough the insurance game can be.  It elevates the respect I feel for my State Farm guy.  But, if the next time I see him he asks if I've got a beer that’s not doing anything - I'll be looking over my shoulder.

Blood Of The Vines suggests pairing this film noir with the MacMurray Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. It's Fred, all right, from the ranch he bought in 1941.  Grapes weren't really planted there until Gallo did it in the '90s.  The wine features earthy cherry flavors - rich, sweet and powerful. 

It feels a bit creepy to pair wine with a movie about a drunk, but here goes.  1945's The Lost Weekend is about a writer who drinks too much, as if that narrows it down.  Ray Milland knocks back the rye whiskey here - experience he would use later in Dial M for Murder, the drinking man's Hitchcock.  Milland turned his portrayal of a rummy into an Academy Award, but it sometimes looks as if he's just trying to get away from the theramin music.

Wilder’s film really touched a nerve in the liquor biz, which allegedly had a mobster offer the studio five million dollars to burn the negative.  Wilder later joked that, for that kind of money, he'd strike the match.  

Drinks for a movie about a drunk?  It seems like such a cheap shot.  Beauregard Vineyards makes a Santa Cruz Mountains Zinfandel blend called, conveniently enough, "The Lost Weekend."  We don't know whether that name signifies a turning point in the winemaker's life or just cluelessness in the marketing department.  My money is on the latter.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Gambero Rosso Italian Wine Master Class

Virtual wine tasting events are no stranger to me, especially in the era of COVID-19.  Get the box, open the box, log on and taste from home.  No social distancing to strain the process, no mask needed.  I was invited to take part in a Zoom gathering recently along with two dozen other wine writers.  The event was called the Tre Bicchieri Web Show, which featured twelve different Italian wines from various producers.  My shipment was delayed several times - it came from Italy, after all - so I didn't get to take part in the moment, but the box finally arrived and I was finally able to taste the wines inside.

The Tre Bicchieri Web Show was presented by Gambero Rosso, a Rome-based Italian wine and food magazine that was founded in 1986.  It was their first-ever Master Class, which indicates that there are more planned.

The interactive event was hosted by Lorenzo Ruggeri, the wine guide's international editor, with comments along the two-hour journey from each winery's representative.  This is the first of several articles on Now And Zin Wine which will feature the wines that were tasted.  We're starting with four amazing white wines.

Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Tuscany's Panizzi built their company on this wine, which has been in production for some three decades. They say it's a modern interpretation of a wine some 800 years old.  The winery says that Giovanni Panizzi pioneered San Gimignano's modern Vernaccia renaissance.  The estate is now owned by Simone Niccolai, who continues to expand the vineyards.

The 2019 Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano is made mostly from Vernaccia grapes.  That grape is known in Sardinia as Vernaccia di Oristano and in Marche as Vernaccia di Serrapetrona.  This one, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, has been declared by wine scientists as distinct from the other ones, and likely not related to them.  It is also possibly the oldest grape variety, but some feel it originated in Eastern Europe or Greece.  At any rate, this wine features mainly Vernaccia di San Gimignano, with a splash of Manzoni and Trebbiano.  The fruit was grown in all the various Panizzi vineyards - Larniano, Montagnana, Santa Margherita and Lazzeretto.  The winery’s representative in the web show was hopeful that wine lovers in the U.S. would rediscover the Vernaccia grape.

The wine was fermented in steel and aged there, on the lees, for five months.  Alcohol hits only 13% abv and the retail price is $18.

This Italian white wine sports a nose full of minerals and hard citrus with a nice savory streak to back it up.  The straw-colored juice has a fantastic salinity on the palate, which is mostly minerals.  The mouthfeel is a bit fuller than expected, but acidity is bright and fresh.  Pair this wine with seafood, especially shellfish or a creamy chowder. 

Boccadigabbia Colli Maceratesi Ribona Le Grane

Elvio Alessandri is the owner of Boccadigabbia, located in the Marche region.  The estate was once owned by a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte, who planted French grapes there.  Those international varieties are still there, in the vineyards nearer to the Adriatic Sea.  Further inland - on the La Floriana estate near Macerata - Alessandri put in the more traditional Sangiovese, Ribona, Montepulciano and Verdicchio grapes.  All winemaking is done at the cellar in Civitanova Marche.  

The 2018 Le Grane was made from 100% Ribona grapes, grown in the sandy-clay soil of Marche.  The fruit was gently pressed, then fermented for about 12 days in stainless steel tanks.  This is where things get interesting.  Whole grape berries, picked slightly over-ripe, were added to the wine.  This is traditionally known as fare le grane, which I am told is Italian for "adding the berries."  The resulting second fermentation lasts another ten days, allowing more extraction of compounds and aromatics from the grape skins.  Alcohol hits 14.5% abv and the wine retails for $18.

This white wine smells peculiar, and I mean that in the best possible way.  The nose gives off Meyer lemon with some nuttiness and a side of lanolin.  There is great salinity in the wine.  It is peculiar because I find it uncommon, not because it tastes bad.  Quite the opposite.  The mouthfeel is full, even though the acidity snaps.  Citrus and minerals cover the palate, and it is the citrus that lingers longest in the ample finish.  I want to have it with bacon and eggs.

Zorzettig FCO Pinot Bianco Myò

It is a five-generation family affair in Friuli Venezia Giulia, where Annalisa Zorzettig now runs Zorzettig FCO while her brother, Alessandro, tends the vineyards.  The winery was founded by their father, Giuseppe, in 1986.  The operation is located on one of the highest hills in the Spessa di Cividale area, the heart of the Friuli Colli Orientali.  The area is in the northeast corner of Italy, bordering both Austria and Slovenia.  The Zorzettigs say their location is protected from the cold currents from the Alps while enjoying breezes from the Adriatic Sea.

The 2018 Myò Pinot Bianco was made entirely from Pinot Bianco grapes grown in the Friuli Eastern Hills vineyard, destemmed and softly crushed.  The land sports chalky limestone soil, which is always good for acidity and the flinty character of such wines.  The wine was aged on its lees for a little more than half a year, imparting additional weight to the mouthfeel.  During the web show, Ruggeri called it "clean and precise."  The wine's alcohol level is a restrained 13% abv and it retails for $27.

This white wine from the hills of Friuli is very pale in color and quite distinctive in the nose.  There is a hint of smoke which gives way to apricot and sea spray aromas.  The salinity shows up on the palate as well, where minerals rule and that apricot note follows, staying on the long finish.  A sort of toasty quality is in there, too.  I had it with some potato chips and an eggplant dish, and it was great with both.

Casalfarneto Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Classico Crisio Riserva

Casalfarneto specializes in wines made from the Verdicchio grape.  The winery is in the Marche region, near the northern border of the appellation.  The grapes for the 2016 Crisio Riserva were harvested in three different batches to help control the alcohol level and make it more summertime-friendly..  The early Verdicchio grapes - half of the wine's makeup - were fermented in oak, while the mid- and late-harvest grapes were vinified in stainless steel tanks.  All three groups were made separately and blended together after they were completed.  The finished wine aged for a year in steel, then longer in the bottle.  Alcohol hits only 13% abv and retail is $30.

This wine shows its partial oak treatment with a yellow-gold color.  There is also a hint of oak on the nose, but it is secondary to the citrus and the sea spray salinity.  The complex palate brings a Meyer lemon flavor tinged with apricot.  Acidity is perfect and the wine pairs great with my Anson Mills grits, but it's even better with grilled prawns.

Albariño With A Twist

Bodega Granbazán is in Spain's Rias Baixas region, where they know all about good Albariño.  The winery was established there in the Salnés Valley in 1981.

Granbazán Albariño 2018

The grapes for Etiqueta Ámbar (amber label) came from vines more than 35 years old, destemmed, with a gravity free-run.  Winemaker Jesus Alvarez Otero says that this wine gets fruit from the Finca Tremoedo vineyard, the warmest plots on the estate with the most fertile soils.  The wine was fermented in steel tanks over three weeks, then aged there for five months on the lees, then three months in the bottle.  Alcohol is the expected 13.5% abv and the retail price is $22.

This Albariño offers up a serious and complex nose.  One whiff it's the ocean.  Next whiff it's a field of flowers.  Then, nectarines and tangerine zest.  I know I am in for a treat before I take a sip.  When I do, the pale golden wine delivers stone fruit up front, with plenty of salinity close behind.  The acidity races, then is gone.  It's great while it is there.  That odd citrus/salt flavor lingers, on a finish that is all too brief.

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Monday, August 3, 2020

Abruzzian Art Of The Earth

People sometimes don't think that wine importers are very important, that all they do is have crates of wine shipped in from who-knows-where to be peddled on the shelves in the lower reaches.  The best importers are those with a nose for wine, who can sniff out good stuff through endless trials, then bring the product to us.  Great importers like Kermit Lynch and Terry Theise are as important and as recognizable as great producers.  Mack and Schühle are Miami-based importers who find great wine and pass it along at a price that is more than fair.  Founded in 1939, the company expanded to the Miami office eight years ago.  They produce wine in Italy and Spain and distribute other wines globally.

Art of Earth Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2019

The certified organic grapes for this bottle were grown in the light, sandy loam of Abruzzo DOC in eastern Italy, between the Adriatic sea and the Apennine Mountains.  The variety is full, 100% Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, the wine hits a reasonable 13.5% abv on the alcohol scale and it retails for $12.

This wine certainly smells like it is the art of the earth.  There are abundant minerals to go along with the ripe, red cherry aromas and the sweet oak on the nose.  The palate follows suit and lays in a racy acidity on top of the firm tannins.  Spaghetti Bolognese would be a nice pairing, but I had mine with a pork chop and loved it.