Friday, March 10, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - More Movies You Never Heard Of

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, we examine three under-the-radar films which more than likely escaped your notice.

Uzmaki is a 2000 horror film based on a manga (Japanese graphic novel) which was still being created while the movie was being made. Hence, the two stories ended up with different endings. The plot centers on a town's obsession with spirals, and the tendency of its inhabitants to turn into snails. The real horror? There is no French restaurant around to take advantage of the suddenly plentiful supply of king-sized escargot. 

Beware if you see this in a theater and one of the patrons leaves a slimy trail as he exits. 

The film was released as the lead picture of a double feature - which leaves us to wonder why the second half was left out of this Blood of the Vines article. Certainly, if you have never heard of Uzmaki, you can't be expected to know its second banana.

There can be no finer wine pairing for Uzmaki than The Holy Snail, a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Don't get hypnotized by the lovely spiral contained in the picture of the snail on the label.

2018's Overwhelm the Sky is the creation of TFH guru Daniel Kremer. His story - updating an 18th-century novel - concerns a radio personality. Finally, one about me! Just kidding. My radio career wasn't all that exciting, and with movies like this one and Play Misty For Me, I'm glad it wasn't. 

Do you recall the old vaudeville bit in which a man complains to a doctor that he doesn't sleep at night, that he just walks around all night long? The doctor says, "Oh, you're a somnambulist." The man replies, "No, I'm a night watchman." It just goes to show that things are not always what they seem.

Overwhelm does just that, with a black-and-white dreamscape that has been lauded for its cinematic inventiveness. Our golden-throated radio guy stays up nights exploring the death of one of his friends. It's no substitute for a warm glass of milk before bedtime - or a stiff drink for that matter - and if you end up losing sleep over the film, Kremer will no doubt feel that he has done his job.

Some folks feel overwhelmed when trying to choose a wine. One survey says 23% of wine shoppers feel overwhelmed by the choices before them. South Africa's Easy Choice Winery tries to take the angst out of buying wine, with labels like "The One With the Berries" and "The One That Grows on You." Is it a real winery or just a kooky branding idea? I'm still looking for their actual website. There are plenty of articles available, though, on what a kooky branding idea it is. If we can simplify your wine pairing search with a Herzogovenian recco, here it is: Mjesečar, from Brkic Winery. It translates as "sleepwalker," and it's also the perfect gift for the night watchman in your life. The Žilavka grapes were aged in Bosnian oak barrels. Who said choosing a wine is hard?

A movie title like Don't Worry We'll Think of a Title throws up a ton of red flags, and offers a reason why you may have missed this one the first time around. The 1966 comedy stars Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie and Richard Deacon. To sweeten the deal, they throw in some uncredited cameos from the likes of Steve Allen, Milton Berle, Carl Reiner, Irene Ryan, Danny Thomas, Nick Adams, Cliff Arquette and Forrest Tucker. But wait! Order before midnight and get Moe Howard, not as a Stooge. Now we're talkin’.

Welll, not so fast. Amsterdam - the co-writer, by the way - plays an ordinary Joe, or actually an ordinary Charlie with the last name of Yuckapuck. That's a name only a Catskills comedy writer could love. The humor here gets better the more borscht you have under your belt. The script is maybe a little light on bald jokes aimed at Deacon's invisible hairline, or maybe it's just a little light all the way around.

For Don't Worry, let's uncork a bottle from the Catskills.  Tannerville's Hudson-Chatham Winery has 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 berry wines of the mid-60s Catskills resort era.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2023

A Twist On The Super Tuscan Recipe

San Felice is an Italian wine estate situated a half hour from Siena, in the heart of the Chianti Classico region. Their flagship wine, Vigorello, has grown and matured along with the winery. It started off in 1968, as a 100% Sangiovese wine. It was the first wine from Tuscany to incorporate international wine grapes, making Vigorello the first Super Tuscan wine. 

Today, Vigorello is crafted from 35% Pugnitello grapes, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Pugnitello is a grape native to Tuscany. Once thought to be Montepulciano, but DNA research showed that it is its own grape. Pugnitello languished almost forgotten for years before being resurrected by studies at the University of Florence. 

The grapes sprouted early in the 2018 vintage for San Felice. A warm March and April were followed by a rainy May and the usual mix of heat and showers for the summer. September brought about sunny days and cool nights, which helped the grapes along to their proper maturity.

The fruit was vinified and aged for 24 months in French oak barriques, then aged another eight months in the bottle. Alcohol tips 14% abv while the wine retails for around $60.

Vigorello is a dark wine, allowing almost no light to pass through it. The nose holds a savory shield over the fruit aromas of plum, blackberry and raspberry. The palate is a complete joy - full of dark fruit which is colored by a rustic earthiness. The wine isn’t afraid to flex its muscles. The tannins are firm, but fine. That, plus the refreshing acidity, makes for a wine which is literally made for the dinner table.

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Monday, March 6, 2023

A Red Wine From Sicily's Volcanic Soil

Duca di Salaparuta is one of the oldest wineries in Sicily, producing fine wines since 1824. Their  Vajasindi Estate - in northeastern Sicily, on the slopes of the Etna volcano - has given the Reina family two native grape varieties for a pair of new wines. Lavico Etna Rosso DOC 2020 and Lavico Etna Bianco DOC  2021 are made, respectively, from Nerello Mascalese and Carricante grapes. The winery says that these wines exhibit "the grace of the mountain, the warmth of the sea, and the minerality of the volcano." The wines of Duca di Salaparuta are sustainably grown.

The 2020 Lavico Etna Rosso DOC is aged partly in concrete tanks and partly in French oak barrels, for a total of 12 months. Alcohol hits 13% abv and it sells for $34.

The color of the wine is a very light ruby, very elegant looking. On the nose, there is a beautiful bouquet of cherry candy, ripe strawberry and roses. The palate offers more of the same - delicate red fruit flavors are tinged with minerals and the tannic structure is very fine, almost dainty. The finish leaves a lovely impression of the fruity side of this wine, with enough of the savory side present to make one wish for more.

The 2021 Lavico Etna Bianco DOC is aged in stainless steel tanks for four months, on the lees, before getting another three months in the bottle. Alcohol tips only 12.5% abv and the wine retails for $34.

The pale wine has a nose that screams savory - salinity and minerals abound. Despite that, there is plenty of fruit to go around - stone fruit, lemons and mango. The palate is where that minerality really lives, with a taste of the ocean meeting all that citrusy fruit. Acidity is in full force, while the finish is lengthy and memorable. 

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Friday, March 3, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - Border Incidents

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, we examine some films which border on the border.

The stars are here in The Border - Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Valerie Perrine, Warren Oates - in a noirish 1982 film about the southern US border. You know, the one that's leaking like a sieve? Lie. The one that needs a big, beautiful wall? Big lie. The one that's actually a river for about 2,000 miles? Truth.

Nicholson is an INS agent, one of the guys who patrols the border to keep us safe from those tired, poor, wretched huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Keitel, well, he and Oates are the dark side. You probably saw that one coming. 

The soundtrack is really worth a listen, with a score by Ry Cooder and other borderesque tunes by the likes of Freddy Fender and Sam The Sham. I recall that it made for some great listening while grilling hot links on the patio in the Texas summer sun. 

Remember when some tan seekers would slather themselves in baby oil before draping their bodies over a poolside chaise lounge? Popular radio stations would air a loud "ding" in their top 40 mix to let listeners know when it was time to turn over. If a woman wanted to sauté herself for me, I personally preferred that she used cocoa butter and some Chardonnay. 

That's a good pairing idea for The Border, a nice, buttery Chardonnay. There is one called Butter which you can pick up at the supermarket for less than $15. It also comes in a box, if that's how you roll in your double-wide. If you want to step up your game, Edna Valley Vineyards makes a great buttery Chardonnay for about $40.

Border Incident is an actual film noir, from 1949. Ricardo Montalbán and George Murphy star, along with Howard Da Silva, in a tale of two undercover agents trying to stop the smuggling of migrant workers from Mexico into California. It was done on a shoestring budget, and it shows in the lighting. So many shadows! Oh, I'm being told that cinematographer John Alton shot it that way on purpose. So that's where the noir comes in.

Montalbán, from Mexico by the way, said this was one of the few movies he made in which he was allowed to portray a Mexican. The narration that opens and closes the picture gets a bit jingoistic, but if you can get past that, the rewards are there with a story that is before its time, a visual presence that is stunning and acting that surpasses what might have been expected from MGM's tight purse strings.

Mexico's L.A. Cetto Winery offers a wide range of wines from the Valle de Guadalupe, just across the border. They make a nice Nebbiolo that sells for around $20 and is readily available in the U.S. 

One, Two, Three deals with a different border - that which existed in 1961 between the two halves of Germany. Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, it's what the blurb writers used to call a Laff Riot, but you'd expect nothing less from Wilder. 

The film is set in West Berlin, before the wall between east and west was built. James Cagney delivers a tour de force performance as a big wig with the Coca Cola Company. He is called upon by his boss in Atlanta to play host to the big guy's teenage, southern belle daughter - who gets hitched to a card-carrying commie while vacationing in the Rhineland. Horst Buchholtz turns in a stellar job as the Red Devil from the East, while Pamela Tiffin scores as the impressionable Lady Coke. 

Spätburgunder is the German version of Pinot Noir, even though it sounds like Jimmy Cagney responding to a sneeze. Rudolf Fürst is considered a "magician" with the grape, and his wines run in the $30 range. One: buy the movie! Two: buy the wine! Three: enjoy your evening! Go!

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Alternative Wine Packaging

Most wine lovers have a working familiarity with the economics of wine, and with Earth Day approaching it is worth taking a look also at the ecology of drinking wine. Sarah Trubnick is the co-founder and wine director of San Francisco's The Barrel Room. She is also deeply passionate about the effects of climate change on the wine industry and wine regions, and the world of alternative packaging.

Trubnick says research shows that packaging contributes over 40% of wineries' emissions worldwide, mostly due to the production, recycling, and packaging of glass bottles. She says 73% to 83% of consumers express willingness to pay more for wine that has been packaged sustainably. Also, 90% of these consumers drink wine they purchase within a week, so it seems that wine drinkers would embrace less costly packaging even if the containers are not meant to age wine.

Glass bottles are probably not the ideal packaging for wine, anyway. Trubnick cites figures which show the production, use, and shipping of glass bottles accounts for 68% of the carbon footprint of the wine industry. She says the manufacture of new bottles absolutely guzzles energy. From the smelting of sand to the melting of recycled bottles, temperatures of around 1,700 degrees are required. Also, recycling of glass doesn’t happen as often as you might think. Only about 25% of glass bottles are recycled in the US. The rest end up in landfills. Glass bottles are also heavy and oddly shaped, which makes shipping them cost more and require protective padding.

Trubnick offers some alternative packaging options. Canned wines are very costly to produce, but are extremely recyclable - and usually, they actually are recycled. She says that 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today. Cans are lightweight, easy to stack, and not fragile, making shipping much more efficient.

Kegs are fantastic options, if the situation allows for them. PET bottles - a type of plastic that can be recycled infinitely - and paper bottles tend to reduce carbon footprint 80-90% over glass bottles. They aren’t great for long-term storage, but most wine is drunk pretty much immediately.

Hands down, Trubnick says, the best option on the market today is the bag-in box - "BIB" for short. The bad image BIBs got from low-quality wine, improper filling and premature oxidation are issues that have been rectified, she says and BIBs are now being used for high-end wines. Jason Haas of Tablas Creek in Paso Robles recently put out a $95 boxed wine, and it sold out almost instantly. 

Trubnick says BIBs have low production energy cost, are lightweight and stackable (leading to lower transportation energy cost), can store wine for 8 weeks after opening and can last on a shelf for 12 months without any detectable quality change. They are extremely recyclable and reduced cost all around is generally passed on to the consumer. Also, there is very little product wasted.

Here is Trubnick's breakdown of actual carbon footprint in terms of grams of CO2 equivalent per liter of wine in each package:

- Glass bottle: 675g CO2e/L

- PET bottle: 245g CO2e/L

- Can: 190g CO2e/L

- BIB: 70g CO2e/L

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Monday, February 27, 2023

A White Wine From Sicily's Volcanic Soil

Duca di Salaparuta is one of the oldest wineries in Sicily, producing fine wines since 1824. Their  Vajasindi Estate - in northeastern Sicily, on the slopes of the Etna volcano - has given the Reina family two native grape varieties for a pair of new wines. Lavico Etna Rosso DOC 2020 and Lavico Etna Bianco DOC  2021 are made, respectively, from Nerello Mascalese and Carricante grapes. The winery says that these wines exhibit "the grace of the mountain, the warmth of the sea, and the minerality of the volcano." The wines of Duca di Salaparuta are sustainably grown.

The 2021 Lavico Etna Bianco DOC is aged in stainless steel tanks for four months, on the lees, before getting another three months in the bottle. Alcohol tips only 12.5% abv and the wine retails for $34.

The pale wine has a nose that screams savory - salinity and minerals abound. Despite that, there is plenty of fruit to go around - stone fruit, lemons and mango. The palate is where that minerality really lives, with a taste of the ocean meeting all that citrusy fruit. Acidity is in full force, while the finish is lengthy and memorable. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - Raquel Welch Week

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, we look back fondly at the late Raquel Welch. We will also lift a glass to her with a wine pairing for each of these films in which she graced the screen. However, my personal favorite Raquel moment is when she showed her comedic chops on television - playing a diva'd up version of herself on Seinfeld.

The movie that put Ms. Welch on the map was One Million Years BC, back in 1966. Never mind the anachronisms - humans and dinosaurs did not roam the earth together. But if they did, the humans surely would have been dressed in fur bikinis. Standing around ogling the females, though, would still get you branded as a neanderthal from the Rock tribe.

Aside from the spectacle of Raquel in a fur bikini - the iconic poster of which was used in The Shawshank Redemption - special effects from the great Ray Harryhausen are worth watching. In fact, whether you prefer the Harryhausen stop-action or the fur bikini probably says a lot about you.

The movie established Welch as a full-blown sex symbol, a tag that stayed with her throughout her career. She did overcome that stigma by showing time and again that she had acting chops and was more than a pretty face.

Well, some bubbles to celebrate Raquel would certainly be in order, especially since she starred in a commercial for Freixenet in 1985. The cava - that's the Spanish bubbly wine - sells for around $10 in most places and tastes as good as a sparkler from a higher price range.

1970 saw Welch starring in Myra Breckinridge, the sex-change comedy adapted from Gore Vidal's novel. The movie was so bad that Vidal later looked around, pointed at himself and said, "Me? Nah, I didn't write that."

Most critics felt that "comedy" was an unfair description of the film, since the humor was thought to be as tasteless as anything that had ever splattered against the big screen. It received an X rating due to the graphic sexual content - and maybe due to the general crappiness of the feature. Today it has a cult following, proving that there is actually an audience for everything.

The one-sheet movie poster may be the best thing about Myra, as it has Welch again donning a bikini - this time a star-spangled one.

Continental Divide Winery is in Breckenridge, Colorado. Although spelled a bit differently than Myra's name, they boast that they are the world's highest altitude winery. That's a claim that may draw a quibble from some winemaker in the Andes Mountains. Continental Divide makes their Winter Is Coming red blend from Colorado grapes and sells it at California prices. 

Fantastic Voyage was from 1966, but just before the cavewoman epic. It stars Welch as one of a team of scientists who are miniaturized and injected into a human so they can clear a blood clot in the guy's brain. Right, it's unbelievable, but it's science fiction, so suspend your sense of what is possible now. 

The producers had yet to get the memo that Raquel in a bikini equals butts in the seats, but they were kind enough to provide a form-fitting inner-space suit for her to wear. 

Voyage is actually a pretty good sci-fi, one that still holds up today. The movie got a handful of Oscar nominations and won a pair of them, for art direction and special effects.

I ran across a cocktail named Fantastic Voyage - Riesling, whiskey and vanilla liqueur, if you're interested - although I would imagine its greatest appeal is to fans of vanilla liqueur. Voyager Estate makes wine along Australia's Margaret River, and their Shiraz goes for about $40.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2023

A Hearty Rosé From Tavel

If you love rosé and you don't know Tavel, you should correct that problem immediately. Tavel is a region in France's Rhône Valley. It is known for its rosé wines - in fact, that's all that is produced there. It is the only wine appellation in the Rhône Valley which makes nothing but pink wine.

The 2020 Réserve des Chastelles Tavel Rosé is likely made from Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Carignan, although details on this particular wine are a little hard to find. It was made by negotiant Vignobles & Compagnie and imported by Plume Ridge of Claremont, California. Alcohol tips 13.5% abv and I got mine for $9 at Trader Joe's - a distinctly good deal for a Tavel rosé. Prices in Tavel generally start at twice that amount.

The wine comes in a clear bottle, the better to show off its deep, rich color. The wine pours up much darker than a rosé from, say, Provence. Additional skin contact for the grapes gives the wine a beautiful hue which ranges from an almost magenta shade to hints of tomato red and salmon. Rolled into one descriptor, we can call it copper colored. The nose gives up some luscious strawberry and cherry aromas with traces of citrus, minerals and spice also present. There is a lot of flavor to be had on the palate - red fruit, a touch of tobacco, some melon, allspice, and even ginger. This is a very complex wine, and it has a nice tannic grip, too. You can use this Tavel in place of a red, while other rosés can only stand in for a white wine.

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Monday, February 20, 2023

Not Barolo, But Nebbiolo

This wine - Ebbio Langhe Nebbiolo - is produced by Fontanafredda, in the Langhe area of Piedmont. Established in 1858, they are the largest certified organic winery in Piedmont. The Nebbiolo grapes for Ebbio were grown in hillside vineyards on the 250-acre estate. The wine was vinified in stainless steel tanks, then aged eight months in neutral wood, then finished with another few months aging in the bottle. 

Aging makes the difference between a Nebbiolo wine and a Barolo, which is also made from Nebbiolo grapes. The Barolo will age in wood for about three years. Winemaker Giorgio Lavagna brings the Ebbio in at an alcohol level of 13.5% abv. It sells for around $25. 

This 2019 wine is ruby red, but with a tinge of brick around the edge of the glass. The nose is full of ripe cherry and some very fresh spices, cinnamon and nutmeg. The palate shows full red fruit with a hint of orange peel and a minty herbal slant. The tannins are smooth and the mouthfeel is full. As always, Nebbiolo is a pleasure. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - 70s Scuzz

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week we take a look at a few movies which detail some of the more disreputable aspects of the Me Decade. We will try to class up the joint a bit with wine pairings for each film.

Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston 40-Brick Lost-Bag Blues is a 1972 film based on the novel from two years earlier. I think I read the book, but I'm not sure that I ever saw the movie back then - but, there is an awful lot from that era that I don't remember.

The film does feature John Lithgow's first role, as a drug dealer's second banana. It's a pretty cool read, if I remember correctly. It's a sort of hip thriller aimed at those daring souls who stuffed a dime bag in their sock after scoring some weed. Those were the days. It's just not the same, buying pot in a boutique shop.

Now, for a fake wine pairing. First off, Wakey Wines is owned by a convicted drug dealer. He was even bounced from Tik Tok for posting things that were not true - sort of like how Trump got kicked off Twitter. And just as Trump was reinstated on that platform, Tik Tok gave the Wakey guy his megaphone back. His social media shows him dealing nothing but scuzz here in the 21st century. 

Coca wine was a blend of wine and cocaine, but it fell on hard times when cocaine was banned in the US in 1914. When alcohol was banned six years later, coca wine found itself s.o.l.

I have had fun exploring the scuzzy wine pairing possibilities for Dealing, but it's time to actually deliver the goods, with a real wine pairing for the film. If you do enough dealing, you're bound to get busted. Busted Grapes Winery is in upstate New York - about as upstate as it gets. The winery is in a placid community called Black River, just outside of Watertown, away from Lake Ontario. They make wines from those cold-hardy grapes - Marquette, Catawba, Niagara, Frontenac. No prices are given, but they can't cost that much, can they? And, they ship.

Fuzz was a 1972 action comedy. As a 1972 action comedy, could it have starred anyone else but Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch? A better looking pair of detectives you'd be hard pressed to find. And Reynolds was fresh off his centerfold appearance in Cosmo. But wait, there's more! For the same low price, you also get Jack Weston, Tom Skerrit and Yul Brenner - crazy man, crazy. If you call before midnight tonight, we'll throw in the fabulous Peter Bonerz, whose work on The Bob Newhart Show made him a dentist forever. The story, eh, well, did we mention it stars Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch?

I didn't expect this pairing to be so easy. Fuzz, the Gamay wine, is made by Brendan Tracey. He also puts his name on wines called Capitalism Rouge, Mellow Yellow and Rue de la Soif - Thirsty Street. He is New Jersey born, raised in California and lives in the land he loves, France. He sells Fuzz for around $35. 

Switchblade Sisters came from 1975, and shares a slice of life from an all-girl high school gang. Now, I went to high school a long time ago, but our "bad girls" were more inclined to give you a hickey than a stab wound. That I do remember. 

These Switchblade Sisters could stand toe-to-toe with the male gangs and go tit for tat with the violence. Shootings, murders, assaults, knifings - and that's all before fourth period. 

It could have been called The Jezebels, but the producers reportedly didn't think viewers would know what that meant. The film was destined to fall into obscurity, but it got a new lease on life as a cult classic when Quentin Tarantino cited it as a personal fave and re-released it. There's a guy who knows a Jezebel when he sees one. 

Oregon's Willful Wine Company is apparently among those who are not equipped with a working definition for Jezebel. That is the name they gave to their Pinot Noir, which they call easy-going, well-balanced and fruit-forward. Well, at $20, at least it's cheap. 

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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

A Fantastic White Wine From Sardinia

The Sella & Mosca estate - I Piani - holds some 1,200 acres of vines, reportedly the second largest contiguous vineyard in all of Italy. The scenery is beautiful but the climate is hot and dry on the island of Sardinia, where the Torbato grapes for the 2018 Sella & Mosca Terre Bianche grow, in the Alghero Torbato DOC.

The Torbato grape is not indigenous to Italy. It traveled from Spain to France before being brought to Sardinia by the rulers of the day. It is a white grape - known in France's Côtes du Roussillon as Tourbat - and is known for its smoky notes.

This wine was vinified by Giovanni Pinna in stainless steel tanks. Alcohol hits only 12.5% and it sells for a ridiculously low price of about $15. I got mine on sale at Eataly for a few dollars less.

This white wine has the color of light onion skin - a nice hue for a white which has been in the bottle for some five years. The nose is immediately familiar to me, even though I have never tasted this grape before. It smells like the white wines of the Midwest and northeastern U.S. There is a strong fruit aroma - apricot and Meyer lemon - and an even stronger mineral aspect. A little bit of melon brings what little sweetness I pick up. The palate shows a basket full of savory notes - lanolin, minerals, citric tartness, pepper, spice and sage. Acidity is fine - not too tingly but not too flat. The finish is lengthy and focused on the fruit. I am impressed. 

This wine paired magnificently, by the way, with the turmeric and lemon bowtie pasta I bought at Eataly. I mixed it with cabbage and onions in butter. So simple, so good. 

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Monday, February 13, 2023

CAMUS Cognac

CAMUS was founded in 1863 and has been led by five generations of family members who keep the family's commitment to craftsmanship and tradition, while producing what they consider to be the best Cognac in the world.

Cyril Camus has been the company's chief since 2004. He has overseen a strategy begun by his father, Jean-Paul Camus, to extend the estate within the smallest and rarest of the six crus of the Cognac AOC – Borderies. Today, CAMUS is one of the largest landowners in this cru.

CAMUS boasts that they select only the finest vines for use in making their eaux-de-vie. The must is kept unfiltered of its lees to extract the most intense aromatic components. Distillation is exclusively performed by hand in small copper pot stills to preserve the most aromatic elements. The patented technique, called   "Instensity," consists of manually selecting the best aromatic qualities. This unique method, along with aging in smaller, lightly toasted fine grain French Oak barrels, differs from the standard process used by other houses. Thanks to the high concentration of esters, the fruity and floral aromas are incredibly powerful and distinctive in all cognac blends. 

I usually keep my tasting in the realm of wines, but I was given a bottle of CAMUS VSOP to sample. It is a very aromatic Cognac with a high quantity of terpenes (the compounds that give plants their aromas). That creates deep, elegant notes of white flowers and citrus blossoms. 

The tasting experience was great. CAMUS VSOP is indeed a special cognac. Alcohol content is 40% abv (80 proof) and the bottle sells for just under $60. 


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Friday, February 10, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - The Kitchen Sink Movement

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, three movies from the early 1960s which make a close examination of some harsh realities. We have wine pairings for each, to take the edge off. 

The Kitchen Sink Movement came about in British arts in the late 1950s. It was an antidote to the prim, fussy attitudes of plays and movies at the time, giving viewers a super-realistic look at life from the seedy underbelly of UK society, whether they wanted it or not.

In 1962's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, the British version of reform school gets a long look. Tom Courtenay takes the lead in his Borstal training and discovers that the lead is something he can choose to give up. Courtenay's character finds out that there is little else to do while running long distances than obsess over the poor life choices that put him under lock and key. Dead dad? Tough. Caught stealing? Too bad. Legs feel tired? C'mon, lad. 

In their Ooh La La album, the Faces made Borstal life sound more like an adventure than the penitential slap in the face it was. "We're up here boy, and you're down there, and don't you forget it." Maybe a good long run will help him forget. Or, maybe not. Forgetting isn't easy. 

Ghostrunner makes only one blend - Cab and Petite Sirah from the Central Coast. But, no matter how far you run - there you are. Drink up, but allow a half hour before undertaking a 5k.

In 1963, Tom Courtenay took the lead again in Billy Liar. His character has a sort of Thurberesque way of dealing with the unpleasantness of his mundane life. He imagines himself to be a hero in some more consequential scenario. Imagining is the extent of his bravado, however, which is underscored when he falls for a gal who seems to have the gumption to actually reach for the fruit that is higher up in the tree.

Does Billy Liar have what it takes to bring himself into full sociopathic bloom? No. He daydreams when he could think, shrugs when he could act. Even when presented with the prospect of the marvelous Julie Christie. He's doomed to live his life in the shadows of what he imagines himself to be. And that's probably good for all concerned if Alex from A Clockwork Orange is seen as the result of his natural evolution. 

Red 55 Winery has White Liar Chardonnay available for less than $20. The song of that name was a big hit for Miranda Lambert in 2009, in case you had forgotten. Red 55 is run by the family of that Texas songstress. If it makes you feel any better about purchasing from a celebrity winery which features Valentine's Day party packs, a wine called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and an Electric Pink White Zinfandel, it was named after Miranda's first pickup truck, a red '55 stepside. 

Sidney Furie's The Leather Boys is about a gay biker in London's rocker subculture. The film was pretty steamy for its time and has been hailed as a watershed moment in queer cinema. Everybody seems to be sleeping with everybody else, and no one is really all that happy about it. Ah, life in the south London suburbs - all the grit, at no extra charge.

There is an unhappy marriage, a fake pregnancy, a motorcycle race, a homosexual encounter and a dream of a better life in America dashed on the rocks by the gay pub. 

I was tempted to pair a wine from the southern Rhône Valley with this film, due to the hint of leather one would expect on the nose. Then I found this Paso Robles Zinfandel from Four Vines, The Biker. The label shows a young lady biker who has limited the leather to her head and feet, opting for lace elsewhere.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

A Nice Italian Wine For Right Now

Dolcetto is my kinda grape. The folks at Agricola Brandini like it, too. They say that it is "the wine of the Piedmontese peasant family… an expression of simplicity and freshness. It is a wine that wants to be immediate, in the realization and in the sensations that it transmits." That works for me, because I simply cannot maintain a wine cellar. I want it now, immediately, I can't wait. And Dolcetto doesn't mind being opened early. In fact, it likes it. 

The Brandini estate vineyards are Barolo-classified and run by Piero Bagnasco and his daughters, Giovanna and Serena. Winemaker Beppe Caviola oversees production. The 2020 Filari Lunghi - it translates to "long rows" - is made entirely of the Dolcetto grape farmed organically in the Dolcetto d'Alba DOC in Piemonte. Fermentation and aging happens in stainless steel tanks, and the wine is released about six months after harvest. Alcohol is somewhat restrained, at 13.5% abv, and the wine sells for around $22.

This medium dark wine is plenty aromatic. There is big fruit first - blueberry, blackberry, black cherry - met with cinnamon, nutmeg, forest floor, a whiff of smoke and a splash of tar. The palate is robust, to say the least. That dark fruit is there to lead the way, with spices in tow and a strong tannin profile that is more than ready to attack a hunk of beef. This wine is demanding on its own, but at its best when paired with a meaty dish. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

Revisiting A Paso Robles Zinfandel

It has been about a decade since I took a fascinating tour of Ancient Peaks Winery and their estate vineyards near Paso Robles.  Santa Margarita Ranch is the southernmost - and coolest - wine region in the Paso Robles AVA.  The land was once an ancient sea bed, and time has left it high and dry, dotted with old oyster shells which impart their minerality to the grapes grown there.  Science may pooh-pooh that notion, but I cling to the idea that what is in the ground is in the grapes.

This wine is composed of 86% Zinfandel and 14% Syrah, all grown in Margarita Vineyard. Two late-summer heatwaves in 2020 interrupted an otherwise temperate vintage, speeding up the ripening of the grapes and lending a beautiful, jammy sensibility to the wine. Aging took place over 18 months in French and American oak barrels. Alcohol hits 14.1% abv and the bottle retails for $20. I got mine for a couple bucks less at Whole Foods Market. 

This beautiful, medium dark wine displays a nose which is bursting with ripe fruit - cherry, raspberry, cranberry - adorned by tobacco, clove, nutmeg and black pepper. The palate is lush with the fruit - but has a savory side, too. The acidity is fresh and lively, while the tannins are muscular. It is, as always, a great pair with any kind of meat - especially straight from the grill. 

Friday, February 3, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - Going Aloft

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, we look up, up and away for a trio of flying films. Of course, there are wine pairings for each.

Test Pilot, from 1938, stars Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy, who were three of Hollywood's top box office draws of the day. The film was directed by Victor Fleming, who also directed another movie featuring flying, but in this one the house stays on the ground and there are no munchkins in the script. However, a farm in Kansas is involved. 

The script, by the way, was based on a story by a real-life pilot who also served as a co-writer. The tale has Gable and Spencer as flyboy buddies with a woman between them. As you might expect, only one of the buddies makes it out alive. I mean, it's a romantic drama, not a romantic comedy.

The movie was a big hit with critics and paying customers alike. The flying sequences are still lauded today due to their realism and use of the latest aircraft of the era. There is a certain cachet to watching a film in which the B-17 bomber was considered cutting-edge. 

George Cooper was an actual NASA test pilot who turned to winemaking with his wife, Louise Garrod. The Garrod Farms Test Pilot wines are named after all the planes Cooper flew, including his description of them on the back label. Try the F-104 Starfighter, a Côtes-Rôtie-style co-fermentation of Syrah and Viognier. There are six wines in the line, so a half case would be fine, especially if you plan to watch Test Pilot repeatedly.

Someone must have thought airborne romance was a good idea, because a year later, in 1939, Howard Hawks helmed Only Angels Have Wings. Hawks was involved in Test Pilot, so his head stayed in the clouds awhile. 

This time around, it's Cary Grant and Jean Arthur who provide the earthbound sparks, while the flying scenes again drew kudos from those who appreciate a good shot of an airplane doing its thing. The next time you're at an air show, look around. The people closest to the action are the audience for this film.

These pilots deliver air mail over the Andes Mountains, which seems like a more dangerous occupation to settle for than for most flyers of that ilk. Today, they would probably be flying a rocket full of gaskets to the space station. The planes are once again co-stars, with a Ford Trimotor serving as a dramatic vehicle. "Engine number one is on fire!" "Engine number two is on fire!" "How many engines did you say this crate has?"

Cheval des Andes is the South American branch of Château Cheval Blanc, the great Bordeaux estate. Their blends utilize Argentine Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon mainly, and run on the high or low side of $100, depending on the vintage. 

These days, a title like The High and the Mighty might be taken as an ad for cannabis delivery. Back in 1954, it was taken as Big John Wayne's most recent action flick. It was also a precursor to all those disaster films which would come decades later - and to the spoofs of said films. This was the first movie in which Robert Stack picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue, although this time as the pilot, not the ground crew, as in Airplane.

The flight takes off from Honolulu, headed for San Francisco, and endures engine failure, a fuel leak, a passenger with a gun, and the looming prospect of ditching the DC-4 in the ocean. All-in-all, there is considerably more trouble than just running low on peanuts.

The flight attendant has to deal with a multitude of personalities, which make those scenes look like Airplane by way of Gilligan's Island. There's an actress, a millionaire, a former beauty queen, a giddy tourist, and a guy with a terminal illness and a pocket watch. There is no record of The Professor and/or Mary Ann on board.

An airliner really is not the best place for drinking wine. The higher altitude robs us of our sense of taste, while the dry air in the cabin saps our sense of smell and further inhibits our taste buds. How else do you think they get away with that airline food? The best bet for a wine for the Mile High Club is one with higher alcohol and lower acidity, so the diminished senses still have something to work with. Try a Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay or Viognier for a better tasting experience. 

Wine Enthusiast magazine says Cathay Pacific has the best in-flight wine program, followed by Etihad Airways, Qatar Airlines, LAN Airlines, Singapore Airlines, ANA, SWISS, Virgin-Atlantic, Qantas and British Airways. I generally get a martini while flying first class to Saint-Tropez, but it's entirely up to you. 


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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Crossing The Rubicon For Sangiovese

I could find out little about the Gran Conti winery, except that they sell plenty of Italian wines at lower-than-reasonable prices. The grapes for their 2021 Sangiovese Rubicone were grown in the Rubicone Valley in the southern part of Emilia-Romagna. The wine has an alcohol level of 12% abv and I got mine at Whole Foods Market for $10.

This wine is a rusty red color in the glass. The nose carries a strong aroma of sweet cherries, leather and a bit of cedar and cigar box. The palate shows a darker side, with heavy mineral notes draped over the cherry flavor. The wine’s acidity is fresh and the finish is savory. I bought it for cooking a pot roast, but very much enjoyed sipping a glass.

Monday, January 30, 2023

You Can Call Me Albariño

The 2021 vintage of the Pazo de Lusco Albariño is labeled as "Crianza Sobre Lias," which I'm told means the wine was aged on its lees, the yeast cells that are spent in the winemaking process. This often imparts a creamier or richer texture to a wine, particularly a white wine.

This wine was made from 100% Albariño grapes - of course - grown in the Rias Baixas region in northwestern Spain - of course. Rias Baixas is the place Albariño calls home. Alcohol sits at a moderate 13% abv and the bottle sells for around $20.

Pazo de Lusco sits in the glass as a lovely, light yellow liquid. The nose shows off the aromas for which the grape is famous - green apples, flowers and minerals. The minerals take center stage on the palate, which is rich and savory. It is the minerals which stand out the most here, making this a great wine for pairing with food. I had mine with a Mexican shrimp dish, but it will fit well with other spicy cuisines, too, like Thai or Cajun.

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Friday, January 27, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - Lurking With Lorre

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, we dig into a few movies featuring Peter Lorre - with wine pairings for each.

Peter Lorre was an amazing actor, we don't need to beat that horse to death. However, beyond his emotive skills was that voice - that incredible voice. His take as Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon is a superb example of the unconvincing convincer. When he tells Sam Spade to "kindly clasp your hands behind your neck" it’s no surprise that the table is turned faster than a Lazy Susan. There was a comic - I can't remember who - who did a quick impression of Lorre as a sportscaster, running down how one team killed, murdered… annihilated the other. In that voice. That incredible voice.

The Face Behind the Mask came to us in 1941 - prime time for film noir. Lorre stars as Johnny Szabo, a Hungarian immigrant who quickly learns the ropes in the US of A. Disfigured in a fire, he finds the only means of earning a living that's available to him is safecracking. If safecracking is in your toolbox to start with, it's possible that you aren't that nice a person anyway. However, if Lorre is in the role, you can expect that something is amiss somewhere. And something is.

There is a New England IPA called The Safecracker - who knows why. Oregon's Pheasant Run Winery used to have a Safecracker Syrah, but it seems that has been bumped in favor of their Bank Robber Red. That'll do in a pinch. We know whodunnit, we just won't say how.

From 1935, Mad Love started out as The Hands of Orlac, but what was no doubt a team of marketers somehow got Mad Love out of those words. You know how sometimes on your way home from work, they're doing a perp walk with a knife-throwing murderer down the street? Yeah? Well, that's what happens to Lorre in this film. He ends up in possession of the late murderer's hands and uses them in a transplant. "Just happen to have a couple in the laboratory." "But doctor, will I ever be able to throw a knife again?" "Yes, but your piano playing days are down the toilet, I'm afraid."

There are plenty of T-shirts for sale with funny bits like, "Just another wine drinker with a knife-throwing problem." The level of hilarity probably depends on whether you are the thrower or the throwee. In Texas, there is even a sub-culture of axe throwers, of which the less we know, the better. 

In the movie's frenzied climax, Lorre mistakes a real woman for a wax dummy, which makes one wonder how he managed to pull off a hand transplant. It's a good thing she didn't employ him to do a breast augmentation.

VineOh! - the name just rings of oeno-sincerity, doesn't it? - has a Mad Love Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a Mad Love sweet white blend. One of those has to be good for viewing this film.

The Beast With 5 Fingers gave 1946 a dose of Hollywood horror. It's the old "severed hand" trope brought back to life in grand fashion by Warner Brothers. The poster beckons, "Your flesh will creep at the hand that crawls!" However much they paid ad men back then, the one who wrote that log line earned his day's pay. Depending on your gullibility, it can be either the subject of those campfire tales about what happened in "the next town over" or an early glimpse of Cousin Itt. 

A dead piano player's hand comes back from the grave and tickles the ivories a little more, in between strangulations, of course. Lorre's character tries to end the five-fingered fiend by flinging it into the fire. Spoiler: He lives just long enough to regret it

In Washington's Columbia Valley there is a red blend known as Sinister Hand. I'm not one to point fingers, but soft, juicy, and vanilla doesn't sound all that sinister to me, but maybe I would feel differently with a hand crawling up my leg. 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A Bordeaux Bargain From Between The Seas

Four generations of the Goulpier family have stood at the helm of Château Rousset Caillau since the clan gave up baking for winemaking in 1929. The estate is in the region called "Entre-Deux-Mers," which translates to "between two seas." The land on which they are located is actually an island between two estuaries, the Garonne and the Dordogne which flow through Bordeaux. 

The grapes that make up the 2020 Château Rousset Caillau Bordeaux Supérieur Rouge are 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. They were vinified in stainless steel and aged 60% in oak and 40% in those steel tanks. Alcohol tips in at 14% abv and the wine sells for about $15. I got mine on sale for a couple of bucks less.

This Bordeaux bargain pours up as a medium-dark, rich purple. The nose is rather muted, although bright cherry and cassis notes do pop through. There is also some caramel and a faint hint of funk - nothing unpleasant, just a bit off-center. The tannic grip is really firm and the fruit is tempered with a savory streak - and that ever-so-slight bit of funk. Altogether, probably not a wine I would seek out again, but it didn't sip too badly and worked great in a Sunday soup I made. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Riesling - Whatever The Reason

Healdsburg winery Ten Acre made a limited production of their 2016 Ten Acre Riesling. The grapes were grown in the Sonoma Coast AVA - a good region for Riesling - where the afternoon breeze gives the fruit the cool climate it craves. The wine's alcohol content clocks in at a low, low 10% abv and the retail sticker reads $30 for the small bottle.

This pale yellow wine offers a nose which is highlighted by lanolin, Meyer lemon, apricot, salinity and a beautiful floral note. The palate is off-dry - 3% residual sugar - and tastes of citrus and apricot, quite muted. The is a healthy dollop of minerals in play and a finish that brings back that soapy salinity. It is not a dessert wine, despite the 375ml bottle, but more of an aperitif. 

Friday, January 20, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - Brain Drain

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week we pair wines with brain movies. That's brain, not brainy.

The 1958 sci-fi The Brain Eaters was produced by Ed Nelson, who also stars, and an uncredited Roger Corman. Director Bruno VeSota was a longtime Corman accomplice, having played more than a dozen roles in his films. The movie poster declares that the brain eaters are "crawling, slimy things, terror-bent on destroying the world." I know, it sounds a lot like House Republicans trying to elect a speaker. 

American International Pictures distributed the film, in all its glorious black-and-white. AIP is much like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for low budget celluloid. Special effects in a '50s drive-in sci-fi? You bet! The flying saucer has dimensions of 50 feet by 50 feet, which sounds more like a flying bowl to me. I suppose the brain eaters figured out a way to circumvent topheaviness. 

Hall Wines produces a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon which bears the name Harebrained. It is the winery's way of blowing a raspberry to those who once said pursuing world class wine in the Napa Valley was a harebrained idea. Drink it before the brain eaters get to it. 

Brain Dead is a 1990 horror movie masquerading as a psychological thriller. It was produced by TFH guru Julie Corman and stars Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton, two actors who are at the top of every guy's list of who should play them in the biopic.

There are plenty of labcoats in this picture. And plenty of cerebellums to play with. Everybody is a neuroscientist, it seems. Hey, it's not brain surgery. But wait - it is. Or is it? They keep you guessing until the credits roll. Just remember - it's not paranoia if they really are out to get your brain.

Sine Qua Non chief wine surgeon Manfred Krankl figured out a way to turn wine into money better than most others who have learned the trick. His 17th Nail In My Cranium is listed online at well over $1,000. There are those who feel that anyone paying that much for a bottle of wine should have their heads examined.

We trip back to 1962 for The Brain that Wouldn't Die, a sci-fi that was actually made three years earlier than its release date. No doubt the producers wanted to wait until just the right moment to hit the big screens. When "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" was climbing the hit parade, it must have seemed like - why not now?

Ah yes, that title. You may remember the film as The Head That Wouldn’t Die or The Brain That Couldn't Die. Maybe it's the film that refused to be remembered. American International rears its fuzzy head again as the distributor of the flick, on a double-bill that wouldn't - or couldn't - die. 

Here we have a mad doctor - who are we kidding? He's a mad scientist, and he has discovered a way to keep a head alive after the body has shuffled off this mortal coil. It's a discovery he lives to regret. The finale has a monster carrying a damsel through a flaming laboratory. Where have I seen that before? There are no pitchforks in the shot this time around.

Dave Corey has been called a mad scientist of wine, due to the bold choices he makes in his blends. A hearty "mwa-ha-ha-ha" has been heard coming from the cellar as he pours beaker into beaker, never knowing what he's going to get until he gets it. You can find his CORE Wines at the Santa Maria tasting room or at Hancock College, where he leads the institution's wine program. 

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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Budget Cabernet Sauvignon

If you shop for wine and have a budget to which you must adhere, your eye is no doubt attracted by bargain wines at unbelievably low prices.  The problem with bargain wines, of course, is that they often are no bargain at all. Cheap wine with little or no redeeming value is just cheap wine. That's why it's nice to know a good bargain when you see one.

Meridian Cabernet Sauvignon can be had at grocery stores, and for very little money - especially considering that it's California's premier grape, one that usually commands a premier price. On the label, where I expect to find the appellation listed, the words "rich and velvety" appear - so, no Napa, no Paso, no Sonoma. The winery lists its location as Livermore, one of the more unheralded of California's wine regions. There also is no vintage listed.

This Cabernet Sauvignon does not adhere to the practice of billboarding your high-class wine region front and center. In fact, the tech sheet for this wine gets no more specific about where the grapes were grown than "select vineyards in sun drenched California," which is at least a bit more helpful than "rich and velvety," although not much. The winery does have a good reputation, however, for presenting good quality wines at low prices - surprisingly low. 

This Cab is unusual - by California standards, anyway - because part of it was vinified in stainless steel tanks instead of oak vats. The majority was fermented in oak and aged there for a mere six months instead of the customary year or two or three for Cabernets in the Golden State. Both factors allow the fruit to speak without the hand of oak covering its mouth. Two more things set the Meridian Cab apart from its top-shelf brethren - alcohol registers only 13% abv and the retail price sits at right around five bucks a bottle.

This wine shows a medium-dark ruby red color and a nose that is as pretty as they come. Cassis, strawberry, black cherry and clove make up the majority of the fragrances. Notable for their absence are darker, moodier notes like leather, forest floor or tobacco - this is a "happy Cab." The fruit comes first on the palate, too, with bright cherry and currant in the lead. The freshness of this Cab is amazing, and it delivers on the label's promise of "rich and velvety."

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Monday, January 16, 2023

Hold On To Your Hat For This Chardonnay

Cline Family Cellars is a family-owned wine producer in California's Sonoma County. They are located on a beautiful ranch and are celebrating the company’s 40th anniversary. 

Fred Cline writes that his Carneros Chardonnay - Hat Strap - was named for the habit of cinching one's hat strap while walking the vineyard as the winds from San Pablo Bay blow across the vines. It's that wind that helps keep the climate cool for the grapes to increase their hang time, which increases their flavor. It also has cost more than a few people their hats.

The grapes - from Los Carneros - were fermented in a mixture of steel tanks and oak barrels, with 10 months aging, which took place mostly in French oak. A little more than a third of the wine was aged in first-use wood, a third in neutral barrels and the rest was aged in stainless steel tanks. Extended contact with the spent yeast cells resulted in 100% malolactic fermentation, using a bacteria designed to inhibit buttery notes. Alcohol sits at 14.5% abv and the wine retails for $30.

The 2021 Hat Strap Chardonnay from Cline colors up very pale in the glass and offers a nice nose of lemon, apricot and white pepper. The palate frames the fruit with savory herbs like sage. The acidity is lively enough to pair with salads, pasta with cream or lemon sauce and mushroom risotto. The finish is long and savory with a strong streak of salinity in it. This one of the better Chardonnays I have had in a while.  

Friday, January 13, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - Serial Killers

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, the wine is the color of blood as we serve up some pairings for three films concerning serial killers.

In Cold Blood is a movie from 1967, based on Truman Capote's book about the brutal real-life murders of a Kansas family by a pair of criminals in 1959. Their killing spree was a short one - they slit and shot the four family members in the middle of the night, after failing to find a safe full of cash they had hoped to crack. Robert Blake plays one of the killers while John Forsythe plays a state investigator.

When the two felons get out of prison and decide to resume a life of crime, they head to southwestern Kansas as the logical place to get their careers back on track. That's a six-hour drive from the Leavenworth Big House. It goes to show that law enforcement's best friend is the stupidity of criminals. 

In tribute to the unfortunate Clutter family, a Kansas wine will be the pairing here. Even though Holy-Field Winery is in a suburb of Kansas City and the Clutters were butchered six hours west, way across the state, the juice is great. Try their midwestern grapes, Chambourcin or Cynthiana. Both are red wines which have won awards for their excellence, like In Cold Blood did.

If you speak Italian, you may know 1975's Deep Red as Profondo Rosso. The only Italian I speak is "più vino, per favore, "and I can say that only because I just googled "more wine please" in Italian. 

Deep Red - Imma stay in my English language lane - stars David Hemmings as a musician who investigates a string of murders. Don't ask me why a musician is doing a cop's job. I just hope the cop isn't playing a sax on a street corner somewhere.

It's one of those things that strike me about Italian film. Weird happenings don't draw anyone's attention. Arguments about unrelated events seem to pop up out of nowhere - and disappear just as quickly. Anytime a car is moving, it's like a chase scene. And even if it's called a giallo film, it's still just a slasher flick to me.

It may be just a slasher flick to me, but it was a regular War and Peace to someone - the original script reportedly ran more than 500 pages. I'll pause here for the audible gasp from every studio reader in Los Angeles. Never fear - writer/director Dario Argento cut it down to a mere 321 pages. Despite the heft of that screenplay, the movie clocks in at just over two hours running time. 

The wine pairing for this giallo film is one from Iruai Winery called Giallo - although it is from the Shasta-Cascade mountains of California's Siskiyou County, not Italy. They do, however, pay homage to the "rugged, savage red wines of the Italian Alps." It’s a blend of Teroldego, Nebbiolo, and Refosco grapes, and it has the film genre right there on the label, so you don't forget what you're watching.

Out of 1971 comes 10 Rillington Place, a British crime drama with Richard Attenborough as real-life serial killer John Christie. The title of the film is the address of the house where many of his victims were slain. John Hurt got rave reviews for his portrayal of Timothy Evans, who was tried and found guilty of two murders that were committed by Christie. Both Evans and Christie eventually swung from a noose, although Evans was posthumously pardoned - a little late to do him any good. 

It's difficult for me to think of a British serial killer. In my mind, he would sound like a James Bond villain - all posh and proper as he describes how he plans to end you. Or like the great Bill Hicks comedy bit about "hooligans" knocking over a dustbin in Shaftesbury. But, I suppose the bad seeds turn up everywhere, even in Notting Hill. 

For this movie about crime in London, let's go down to Surrey for Denbies Redlands, a crimson blend of Dornfelder, Rondo and Pinot Noir grapes grown in the Denbies estate vineyard. I don't know whose idea it was to plant a German grape variety like Dornfelder in quaint little Surrey, but if they are good with it, so am I. Prost. 

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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Bring Some Albariño - And Just The Good Stuff

This Spanish wine from Bodega La Caña is brought forward from Galacia by Jorge Ordoñez Selections. He claims to be the first person to export Albariño wines from Rias Baixas in 1991 and he has no time for what he calls "simplistic, mass-produced, commercial" Albariño. Ordoñez writes that La Caña wines "demonstrate the complexity, intensity, and longevity Albariño can achieve when sourced from old vineyards and using serious winemaking practices."

Caña in Spanish means "cane," and there are plenty of canes growing on the Salnés Valley estate, where the hillsides meet the river. However, it can also translate as "hangover," so don't drink too much of this wine or you might experience that headache.

The 2021 La Caña Rias Baixas Albariño is made from 100% Albariño grapes grown on the estate. Thirty-five percent of the wine was vinified in well-used oak vats while 65% was done in stainless steel tanks. It was aged for eight months on the spent yeast cells. Alcohol reaches 13% abv and this Albariño can typically be had for less than $20.

This pale yellow wine smells strongly of flowers and citrus - it is a beautiful nose, really gorgeous. The palate is somewhat soft and has mineral notes along with Meyer lemon and tangerine. Acidity comes in at medium strength, just enough to tingle the tongue. The sip is wonderful, with great flavors and an easy drinking mouthfeel.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Bubbles Are Always Okay. Especially This One

Bubbly wine is never a downer. Even if you are a beginner at discerning the fine points of the drink, you know enough to know that bubbles are special. There is Champagne from France, sekt from Germany, Cava from Spain and good ol' sparkling wine from the US of A. In Italy, Prosecco provides the effervescence. 

Prosecco is too often written off as a simple, fun wine - a way to be festive without blowing a paycheck on big-name Champagne. Many big-name Proseccos unfortunately feed that fire, giving a fizz and nothing more. Le Vigne di Alice is one producer that does Prosecco right.

I bought a couple of bottles of A Fondo Valdobbiadene Prosecco a couple of years ago for a family event, solely on the strength of the name - it's my wife's family name. Here we are finally getting around to popping the cork on the final bottle. 

Valdobbiadene is a town just below the Alpine-Dolomite areas of Veneto in northern Italy. The cool climate there is perfect for growing the Glera grape, the main fruit of Prosecco. 

Fondo, in Italian, refers to the bottom, and in the case of this wine, it specifically references the lees, or spent yeast cells, in the bottom of the fermenter. Contact with the lees is important to give a fuller mouthfeel to the wine and more complexity. A fondo, as a phrase, translates as "deeply," according to Google. This could be the winemaker's way of saying that his wine is worth more than simply raising a toast or tossing back some frizzante. The A Fondo Prosecco hits only 11% abv in alcohol and costs about $20, if memory serves. 

Here we have a Prosecco that is more frizzante than bubbly. It is also cloudy in its yellow tint. The time spent on the lees added depth and complexity that is hard to find in a Prosecco. The nose is downright funky, with a yeastiness that would turn bread green with envy. There are huge mineral notes as well and the green apple smell is almost completely overwhelmed. This wine is not sweet, as is the custom with Prosecco. It is bone dry, in fact, with no residual sugar. The palate has a gripping acidity and a savory salinity that combine to form a Prosecco that is more like a pensive study than a party favor. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - Retro Robotics

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, we pair wines with cinematic robots of the past.

The Colossus of New York is a 1958 sci-fi which employs the old "transplanting a brain into another body" trope. Skipping the expected "I went in for a brain scan and they didn't find anything" joke, let's focus on where the brain comes from and where it goes. 

A brilliant young man is killed, which we would normally see as "end of movie." Ah, but this brilliant young man has a father who is a scientist, of the "mad" variety it would appear. He happens to have access to a cyborg - both man and machine. The term dresses it up a little - it's pretty much a monster - a lot more menacing than the cute little robot delivery cart that makes its way down La Brea and Beverly every day. I often wonder what it's bringing to someone, and who that someone is, and will they know when the robot gets there? Also, how many deliveries can the little guy make before he needs a battery charge? Yes, I have a lot of time on my hands. And I think someone else's brain may have been put into my head.

The colossus, to no one's surprise, turns a wee bit mean and starts killing people. This isn't what Doctor Dad had in mind when he saved his son's brain. A nasty bit of business at the UN building gives the colossus a sort of "Son of Sam" street cred among those New Yorkers who aren't too jaded to look up when a monster runs amok. 

Matt Brain is the winemaking genius behind Alpha Omega Wines in the Napa Valley. On the website, his single vineyard stuff simply says "click to inquire" about the price of a bottle. You know what they say about "if you have to ask," so try the Spring Mountain red for $165. Hope your wine-serving robot doesn't spill it.

From 1957, The Invisible Boy features Robby the Robot in his second big-screen appearance. He debuted in Forbidden Planet, which was set in the 23rd century. In this script, he plays the same character, who turns up back in 1957 through the magic of time travel. To say he plays the same character is charitable. He's a robot. That's pretty much his reach.

By the way, this Invisible Boy is definitely not the 2014 Italian film of the same name. That's a fantasy about a boy with superpowers, and this is a fantasy about a boy who becomes invisible. I guess here in the 21st century, being invisible simply isn't a big enough grab.

Robot wine is more than a song by Spice - and if you can send me the lyrics to that ditty, I'll be grateful. Whatever language she is singing in, I don't know it. Robot wine is more than a self-propelled machine that harvests grapes, or a device that makes wine, or brings it to you. When Alexa grows wheels and can bring me a glass of wine, that's when I’ll stop complaining that all she ever does is tell me that the Amazon shipment has arrived.

Oh, by the way, the king of exotica music, Les Baxter, did the soundtrack. It's one of a hundred or so films that he scored.

Alexa may be the most ubiquitous robot-like device in the world, but if you ask her to find a winery, will she find one that bears her name? I asked her, and she came up with Alexana Winery of Oregon's Willamette Valley. Okay, close. The Dundee Hills locale gives up Pinot Noir and Chardonnay starting at 50 bucks. "Alexa, when will that arrive?" "Considering the lack of a holiday tip for your Amazon driver, Reply Hazy, Try Again."

Kronos is a 1957 sci-fi that has become a cult favorite for its ecological stance. The title character is a big robot sent from an alien world which has used up its own natural resources. Its job - suck the earth dry of its resources and bring it all home to daddy. I'm sure that there were plenty of people on that planet denying that it could ever happen. "What, ya think we're gonna run out of energy someday? Like it'll just stop coming out of the ground someday? Like… oh crap. It's gone. The lefties were right."

George O’Hanlon plays one of the scientists in Kronos, and he would later be the voice of George Jetson on TV. His cartoon household would be kept in shape by another robot, Rosie, who was much nicer than Kronos, and much more servile.

Rare Robot Red Blend comes from Napa Valley, via Empathy wines, co-founded by master wine tout Gary Vaynerchuck. Its Bordeaux-style composition brings $60 a bottle, so suck it up before it's all gone.

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