Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Big Enjoyment From Cheap Lambrusco

Notte Rosso is likely found on the bottom shelf of your grocer's wine aisle. It's an inexpensive wine, but is it a bargain wine? We'll find out here and now. 

The Notte Rosso winery is located in In Salento, in Italy's Puglia region, in the area known as Primitivo di Manduria. The Notte Rosso Lambrusco, however, is from the Emilia region, in Italy's north. The wine has a very low alcohol content of 7.5% abv and generally sells for less than $10.

This wine colors up a medium garnet in the glass. The nose is rather muted, but offers a blackberry aroma draped in an earthy note. It's a slightly fizzy wine with a palate that shows dark blue fruit and a hint of coffee. It is not a particularly complex sip, but it is rather pleasant. The label has a meter pointing to "sweet," but it does not come off that way to me. I would call it off-dry, if anyone were to ask me. 

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Monday, January 29, 2024

A Classic From Chianti Classico

San Felice is an Italian winemaking company which is located in the Chianti Classico area of Tuscany. Their history includes the fact that they were on the leading edge of the development of the Super Tuscan style, decades ago.

Their 2021 Chianti Classico comes from the rolling hills of the Castelnuovo Berardenga area in Chianti Classico. The sandy soil soaked in minerals is good for growing Sangiovese grapevines. San Felice winemaker Leonardo Bellacini is right at home here, since he has worked with that grape variety through much of his career. The wine has 12% abv and sells for less than $20. 

This medium ruby wine smells of black cherry, coffee, mocha and a hint of eucalyptus peeking through. The palate is weighted medium, with dark red fruit flavors mingling among the oak spices. The wood is not overplayed, however. I can taste clove, cinnamon, allspice, anise and oregano in here, yet the feeling is very fresh and lively. I'm usually not a pizza-and-wine guy, but this one goes well with a slice of cheese and black olives. 

Friday, January 26, 2024

Blood Of The Vines - Hauntings

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 hope you are ready for some ghost stories. We have wine pairings for three movies featuring spirits, which are easier to come by than spirits pairings for movies featuring wine. 

We also have wine pairings from ghost wineries for these films. These are winemaking outfits which were doing good business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then came phylloxera, or fire, or Prohibition, or The Great Depression. Some wineries were able to trudge through the bad times and come out on the other side. Some were not so lucky. Some are back in business today, having been resurrected by an angel who had the money, time and inclination to care for a field of neglected grapevines. 

A Haunting in Venice is another Kenneth Branagh take on Hercule Poirot. The movie is an adaptation of an Agatha Christie book, one that fell short of many Herculean fans' expectations. Mr. Branagh: Please leave Dame Christie alone. 

In this film, the great detective pays a visit to an opera singer's Venice palazzo for a Halloween party. Perfect timing, since the place was once an orphanage where children died of neglect. What's that? Is that a little child ghost I hear? 

Buena Vista Winery is the second oldest winery in California. Founded in 1857 by a wily Hungarian immigrant named Agoston Haraszthy, the winery went bankrupt 20 years later, after his death. This is one ghost winery which really does have a ghost, so they say. The founder's apparition reportedly still roams around the barrel room when it thinks no one is looking. Their 2021 Sheriff of Buena Vista will pair nicely with the Belgian detective at a cost of $55. 

1982's The Entity was directed by Sidney Furie and starred Barbara Hershey. The story - of a woman who is assaulted repeatedly by an invisible entity - was based on actual events. Sort of like The Exorcist with clippings. There was a ton of backlash at the time, with women's groups railing against the depiction of the violence. Since then, it has attracted a cult following and is now seen as an allegory of the way women are victimized. It's not a pleasant movie to view, and it's hard to write something snarkily funny about it, so pardon this paragraph's lack of laughs. There simply aren't any there.

Freemark Abbey was one of the first wineries in California that was founded by a woman. Her name was Josephine Tychson, and she started the business in the 1880s. Today, the wine is made by a woman as well. Their Restoration blend of Bordeaux grapes costs just a bit more than a Benjamin. 

The Uninvited, a 1944 Ray Milland classic, features a story about a woman who is haunted by her mother. A lot of women can say that about mom even though she's still alive. 

A brother and sister buy a house with an ocean view, and the ocean view proves to be the only good thing about the property. A young woman becomes a frequent visitor after being drawn in by the memory of her mother, who fell off the cliff years ago and got an even more close-up view of the ocean. Excitement? There's a ghost, a seance, a heart attack, a psych ward stay, an identity switcheroo and, well, there's that cliff again. Plus, it is my wife's favorite ghost movie. So, it is also mine. 

Did someone say cliff? Vine Cliff Winery is on Napa’s Silverado Trail. Most of what you see there today is reconstructed. Fire consumed the original winery, which was built in the 1870s. Vine Cliff goes full blast today, with a $125 Oakville Cabernet Franc as one of their more enticing offerings.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Value Wine When Price Is On The Line

Line 39 Wines lies, not unexpectedly, near the 39th parallel which runs through Lake County, California. They operate under the umbrella of St. Helena-based Cecchetti Wine Company

I discovered Line 39 when a friend called one day, excitedly telling me that their Cabernet Sauvignon was on sale at a wine shop we both frequented. "This wine is good," he said, "and it’s a great value because it's dirt cheap!" Well, good wine dirt cheap is the very definition of a value, is it not? 

I rushed to the wine shop and bought a bottle, then returned the next day to buy another. In the months that ensued, I tried a half dozen different varieties from Line 39, all of which were good values.

The 2021 Line 39 California Chardonnay is a tad more expensive than it was a decade ago, but it is just as good. Winemaker Alyssa Reynolds crafts this wine, which bears the California appellation. Alcohol rests at 13.5% abv and the wine sells in most places for $10 or less.

The pale straw-colored wine smells sweet from fruit and oak. There are notes of citrus, apple and pear on the nose, along with a distinct floral component. On the palate, fruit again leads the way. Oak spice plays an important role, although it is not overdone. Acidity is quite fresh and the finish is long and pleasant. This wine will pair very well with a buttery pasta dish or shellfish. 

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Monday, January 22, 2024

The Dirt Is In The Wine

Zinfandel is considered by some to be the official heritage grape of California, and that is fine with me. There are some Zins I look forward to each vintage, like the ones from Dry Creek Valley. The one that holds the most appeal for me is the one from Ancient Peaks Winery.  

I took a fascinating tour of Ancient Peaks and their estate vineyards near Paso Robles some 15 years ago.  Santa Margarita Ranch is the southernmost wine region in the Paso Robles AVA, sitting beneath the Santa Lucia Mountains just 14 miles from the blue Pacific Ocean.  

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.

They are proud of their dirt at Ancient Peaks. Ancient sea bed, rocky alluvium, shale, volcanic and granite soil types coexist in one of the cooler growing regions Paso has to offer. In their 2021 Zinfandel, alcohol is lofty at 14.8% abv and the retail price is $22. I got mine for far less at my local Whole Foods Market.  

This wine is a medium-dark purple in the glass. Aromas of brambly cherry are adorned with anise, leather, pepper and clove notes. On the palate there is red fruit and oak spice with a savory coffee angle. The tannins are firm and the acidity is fresh. A lengthy finish leaves the savory aspect strongest. Pair with any beef or pork, or even a dish based in tomato sauce. 

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Friday, January 19, 2024

Blood Of The Vines - Bad Marriages

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 lighthearted look at some cinematic unions that should have been fixed in post-production.

Marriages start out with wine, generally. A toast with Champagne at the reception is one of the first things people do as an officially married couple. But, perhaps her father tried to save a few bucks. Prosecco instead of Champagne just flat-out jinxes a marriage, if you ask me. Spring for the good stuff. 

Hollywood has depicted marriage in a less than flattering light. Realistic, maybe, but not always picture perfect. Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather and The Odd Couple spring to mind. As it has been written, things do fall apart. This week our trio of films deals with marriages that were doomed from the words "fade in."

I Married a Monster from Outer Space, from 1958, pretty much spills it in the title. A newlywed bride discovers that her husband is actually, well, a monster from outer space. The happy couple is shown toasting their marriage, presumably with a nice sparkling wine. Obviously, some things are beyond a Champagne fix.  

In Monster, they borrowed a page or two from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The bride in question wasn't the only woman in town whose husband suffered an alien takeover. Body snatching was a big thing in the late '50s.

If you have been wondering when we would pair a movie with a wine from Beaujolais that is not red, although I don't know why you would wonder that, here it is. Alien, from Domaine Saint-Cyr is 100% Aligoté, which is more than we can say about the husband in Monster. It comes highly recommended, as it should at $50 a bottle.

Then there is The Bride and the Beast, from 1958. This guy gets married, his pet gorilla tries to make it with his wife, and she kinda digs it. If you guessed that storyline to be from a script by Ed Wood, you are correct.

The story unfolds around a newlywed couple who discover that she was a gorilla in a previous life. He happens to have a pet gorilla in the house. A recipe for disaster. The one-sheet cries out, "Human mate for jungle brutes." Oops, gave it away. I can't seem to think of another film which centers on a husband losing his wife to an ape, but maybe there is one in the porn world.

Gorilla Wines has a number of Italian bottlings, all of which contribute to the conservation effort to save the African Mountain Gorillas. They say there are only a thousand of them left, so it is a good cause. Try the Gorilla Primitivo, which is actually Zinfandel in an Italian disguise.

1951's Bride of the Gorilla works the same turf as the previous B-movie, but with a different plow. Raymond Burr plays a guy who has a curse thrown onto him by, well, it doesn't matter. It's a curse. It turns him into a gorilla-like beast, but the wife doesn't dig it. Maybe she should have met the ape from the other flick. 

Gorilla comes from Jason Oliva Wine in South Africa's Stellenbosch region. It is a Bordeaux-style blend which is heavy on the Cabernet Franc. The price is listed at just under $100 a bottle. 

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Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Gimme A Gavi

People don't give wine importers enough credit for what they do. 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 fair price. Founded in 1939, the company expanded to the Miami office about a decade ago. They produce wine in Italy and Spain and distribute other wines globally.

Mack and Schuhle say that Riva Leone was a "man of unique character and personality who was an ambassador for the special wines of the Langhe all throughout Europe in the early 20th Century." They are proud to help carry his legacy in wines which they say "uphold the winemaking traditions of Piedmont for a new generation of wine lovers across the world."

The 2021 Riva Leone Gavi DOCG is made from 100% Cortese grapes which were grown in the village of Gavi and vinified in stainless steel tanks, where the wine was aged for a few months before bottling. The limestone soil gives big minerals to the wine's nose and palate.

This wine is very lightly tinted, a mellow yellow-green hue. The nose shows plenty of minerals, housed in beautiful citrus notes - lime and tangerine, mainly. The plate is just as laden with minerals. There is a strong streak of salinity which runs through the sip and a very fresh acidity. The finish lingers with those lime notes hanging in there the longest. 

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Monday, January 15, 2024

A Piedmont Barbera We Can Afford To Drink Every Night

People sometimes don't give wine importers enough credit for what they do. 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.  

Miami-based importer Mack and Schühle find great wine and pass it along at a fair price. Founded in 1939, the company expanded to the Miami office about a decade ago. They produce wine in Italy and Spain and distribute other wines globally.

Mack and Schuhle say that Riva Leone was a "man of unique character and personality who was an ambassador for the special wines of the Langhe all throughout Europe in the early 20th Century." They are proud to help carry his legacy in wines which they say "uphold the winemaking traditions of Piedmont for a new generation of wine lovers across the world."

The 2021 Riva Leone Piemonte Barbera 2021 was vinified in steel tanks, where the wine achieved malolactic fermentation. It was then aged for 12 months in American and French oak. The wine's alcohol level sits comfortably at 13% abv and it sells for a mere $12. 

This wine is medium dark garnet in color. The nose is full of brambly cherry and raspberry aromas laced with spice and oak. The palate is fruity and spicy with a generous supply of tannic grip. A long finish carries a bit of sweetness along after the sip. Great with a meat sauce pasta or with sweet Italian sausages. 

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Friday, January 12, 2024

Blood Of The Vines - Happy Birthday Irving Rapper

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 have wine pairing for three films directed by Irving Rapper.

Irving Rapper was born on January 16th, 1898. He passed away less than a month before he was to turn 102 years old. That in itself is reason enough to lift a glass to the memory of the man. Hopefully you will find the celluloid legacy he left behind as fascinating as we do.

The Brave One, from 1956, is the story of a boy and his bull. The young Mexican lost ownership of Gitano and the animal ends up in a bullfighting ring with darts in his back and a guy dressed in funny clothes about to stab him to death. The kid watches in tears as his pet bravely confronts the matador. Inspired by the bull's courage, the crowd calls for Gitano to be given a pardon, which I didn't even know was a thing in bullfighting. They should tell more bulls about that loophole. 

The promoter wants to give the people what they want, and awards the bull the rest of the day off. The crowd watches in horror as the child runs into the ring, toward Gitano. They think he's done for, but we know better. It's a Hollywood ending.

Speaking of Hollywood, The Brave One was the final recipient of the Oscar for Best Story before the category was given the axe. That award went to a nobody who had his name placed on the script by Dalton Trumbo, who was still blacklisted at the time. The Academy reissued the award in Trumbo's name in 1975. Quite a story for a movie that unfortunately did almost nothing at the box office.

Brave & Maiden Estate in Santa Ynez puts me in mind of the 1960 Johnny Preston hit, "Running Bear." He was the young Indian brave in search of the maiden, Little White Dove. Their meeting was seriously impacted by a raging river, but we will choose the Brave & Maiden red blend called Rule of Thirds for The Brave One. It is actually two thirds Grenache and one third Syrah, with a splash of Mourvèdre. The 2020 vintage goes for $75, so put on your brave pants and pony up. 

The 1958 film, Marjorie Morningstar, was taken from the Herman Wouk book of the same name. Both show the titular young Jewish woman faced with a dilemma. Should she settle for the doctor her family wants to see her marry, or follow her heart and go with the man in show biz? It is a classic red pill/blue pill scenario. 

In the book, she makes the practical decision, while the film has her chasing her dream. Dreams are much more cinematic than marrying a doctor. Of course, doctors might argue that point. Dr. Kildare, Dr. Detroit and Dr. Zhivago, f'rinstance. 

Doctor's Orders Natural Wine Company delivers that sort of wine pleasure from vineyards in Ojai and the Central Coast. Their Santa Ynez Valley Grenache is only $21, while the really adventurous will want a prescription for their Ventura County Sangiovese. Yes, that's what I said.

Rhapsody In Blue came along in 1945, bringing the subtitle, The Story of George Gershwin, with it. Rapper wanted Tyrone Power in the title role, but he got Robert Alda instead. Other than that, he said he was happy with how the movie turned out.

Music historians may want to take note that making appearances as themselves are Gershwin cohorts Oscar Levant, Paul Whiteman and Al (Mammy!) Jolson. All those riches, and Rapper still had the gall to complain about Alda! Oh, he also thought there was too much music in the film. Ha. 

There is a Right Bank red called Soutien Georges Gershwin, so why not? Merlot and Cab Franc are two of my favorite red grapes, and here they are in a bottle together. What could be better? It comes from winemaker Nicole Tapon, fit for a rhapsody of any color.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Sweet Italian Bubbles From Asti

Wine importers do not get enough credit for what they do. 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 fair price. Founded in 1939, the company expanded to the Miami office a bit more than a decade ago. They produce wine in Italy and Spain and distribute other wines globally.

One fun member of their portfolio is the Acquesi Asti DOCG Sparkling Wine. The Moscato grapes for this bubbly were grown in Asti, in Italy's Piedmont region. The distributor relates the winery's description of the locale like this:

"The vineyards are located on the hilly ridge that goes from Alice Bel Colle to Santo Stefano Belbo passing through the amazing hills of Ricaldone, located at an altitude between 250 and 400 meters above sea level. A large part of the soils that give life to our Cuvée are characterized by light limestone marl while the minority part has a strong sandy component. The different microclimates affected by this selection of musts offer a complete photograph of the expressions of the native aromatic varieties."

Sounds like a beautiful place. I'm ready for a visit. Winemaker Daniele Astegiano produced this sparkler to 7% abv and it retails for $18.

This wine has bubbles galore, for a minute or so. A huge, white, frothy head pours up and hangs around a bit before dissipating. The nose is a beauty, full of ripe peaches, apples, pears and nectarines. The palate is just as sweet, maybe sweeter. It's not exactly a dessert wine, but it  certainly would do in a pinch. The pairing with dessert is a natural, as is its more reserved role with Asian food or sushi. 

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Monday, January 8, 2024

Beautiful, Spare White Wine From Paso Robles

Halter Ranch Vineyard is located in the beautiful hills of western Paso Robles. The Santa Lucia mountain range is the backdrop to the 2700-acre estate. Only two hundred of those acres are devoted to organic grapes, 20 different varieties, as well as walnut and olive orchards. The rest is all Mother Nature, including oak woodland and wildlife corridors. Owner Hansjörg Wyss is described as a "Swiss entrepreneur, philanthropist, and world-leading land conservationist." Winemaker Kevin Sass spends a lot of time in the vineyard. He says that is where great wines begin. 

This white blend, the 2022 Halter Ranch Grenache Blanc, was fermented in a combination of Hungarian oak puncheons and neutral French oak barrels. Aged for 10 months in neutral French oak, it is a mix of 92% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc and 2% Viognier grapes, all grown in the Adelaida District of the Paso Robles AVA. Alcohol sits at a reasonable 13.1% abv and the list price is $45. 

This wine is tinted very lightly, a soft yellow-gold. The nose is fascinating, full of savory goodness. Besides the Meyer lemon and apricot notes, there is a nice salinity among the aromas and an interesting lanolin aspect. Minerals abound, of course. The palate is juicy, dry as a bone and savory, with more of that crazy salinity and a healthy dose of acidity, razor sharp. The mineral notes come through forcefully. For pairing, I think any kind of seafood would do nicely, especially crustaceans. I would start every meal with this wine if I could.  

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Friday, January 5, 2024

Blood Of The Vines - Hawks In Action

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 have a trio of films directed by Howard Hawks, and some hopefully Hawksian wine pairings to match.

If you are one of those people who just watches movies without paying attention to the director, and surely you're not, it may surprise you how many of your favorite films were made by Howard Hawks. Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, The Big Sleep, Ball of Fire… and those are just my favorites. 

If you are one of those people who orders wine as "Red," "White" or "Pink," and surely you're not, even you would have been impressed by Lauren Bacall's rendition of "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" in The Big Sleep. Bogie orders Champagne, but is advised to have it with "about three ponies of brandy under it." So advised. But I'll have mine on top of a Guinness, please, a Velvet Glove.

The less drinking the better in 1962's Hatari! John Wayne stars as the leader of a bunch of big game hunters who drive through the scrub brush at top speed to capture animals so they can be shipped off to zoos. At least they didn't kill them for a head to stick on the man cave wall. But nowadays, zoos are not seen in the same light as they were 60 years ago. Make that movie today, I dare ya. 

In Texas Hill Country, there is a winery called Rhinory, which is just a bad pun. They not only have a winemaking facility there in Fredericksburg, but also a rhinoceros preserve. Some consider that to be simply an open-air zoo, but that is a discussion for another time. They promise that you can get up close and personal to the rhinos, close enough to touch them. Let's hope the rhinos like being touched, or you could end up like the guy in Hatari! who was gored in the leg. Rhinory offers Texas-grown Cabernet Franc and a line of South African wines, to make the rhinos feel at home.

El Dorado came from 1966, or 1967, depending on whether you were in Japan or the U.S. at the time. In this one, Hawks featured the always cinematic element of water rights. It is more exciting than that makes it sound. 

Hawks used The Duke again as his star, playing a hired gun who gets involved in the water dispute. There is a lot of shooting and a lot of dying along the way to saving a man's ranch, a man's life and a man's reputation. That was Hawks in a nutshell: moralistic tales that were more character study than story. Real men doing real man things.

If you seek the wines of El Dorado, the California wine region, here is what you do. Drive, boldly drive, to the area roughly between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. There are around 40 wineries to choose from, but Lava Cap is generally regarded as one of the best in the world. Try a Zinfandel, as real California men do.

In 1939's Only Angels Have Wings, we have an airborne romance with Cary Grant and Jean Arthur providing the earthbound sparks, while the flying scenes drew kudos from those who appreciate a good shot of an airplane doing its thing. Hawks had a background in mechanics, so was always ready to cast machines as characters in his films. 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. Today, they would probably be flying a rocket full of gaskets to the space station. The planes are the 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. 

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Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Sweet Wine From Sicily For The Holidays Or Anytime

The holidays are a great time for dessert wines. The festivities just seem to shine a little brighter with a sweet wine in your glass, which is why I always try to have a few, at least. If you missed your chance at holiday sweets, there is another opportunity on the way. We call it Valentine's Day. 

One of the finest sweeties I have had was from the Sicilian producer Donnafugata. Donnafugata produces wines from a number of vineyards across the island on their estates in Contessa Entellina, Pantelleria, Vittoria and Etna. The historical family cellars in Marsala serve as a center for innovation. 

The iconic 2021 Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria is a sweet, complex, and aromatic wine made of 100% Muscat of Alexandria grapes, also known as Zibibbo. Passito is the style of wine made from dried grapes. Why call this wine Ben Ryé? The name comes from the Arabic term for "Son of the Wind." The wind always seems to be sweeping around the grape vines on the island of Pantelleria.

The wine was aged for eight months in oak and at least a year in the bottle before being released for sale. Alcohol sits at 14.5% abv and the price is $46 for the 375 ml bottle.

This white dessert wine has a most beautiful, rich-looking copper color. The nose is just as enticing, with big aromas of orange candy and dried apricots. The palate is a sheer delight. It is sweet enough to be dessert on its own, but has enough acidity to pair with your favorite after-dinner sweets or a selection of cheeses. It is pricy, but it is an experience that can be savored. 

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Monday, January 1, 2024

I'll Have This Merlot Anytime

The Now And Zin Wine Country series started in 2011, with Virginia wine. In the dozen years since then I have sampled wines from 46 states. The last four - Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming - have proven to be tough nuts to crack, for a variety of reasons. There are fewer opportunities in those states and shipping restrictions, to name two. I'll press on to find wines from those states, but when I get a chance to revisit a previous stop, I'll jump at the chance. Especially when it is Virginia. 

The Old Dominion State has 291 wineries, by Wine America's count. That's good enough for 6th place in the winery count. As far as wine production goes, Virginia lags a little more behind, in eighth place. 

Bluestone Vineyard was started near Bridgewater twenty or so years ago when Curt and Jackie Hartman started growing grapes to make wine for personal use. They found that once you start planting vines, what's a few thousand more? Lee Hartman is the winemaker, making it a true family operation.

The 2021 Bluestone Vineyard Shenandoah Valley Merlot has alcohol at 13.2% abv and sells for about $27.

This wine has a medium-dark purple color and a fruity nose, draped with oak spice. The blackberry and cassis aromas are joined by notes of cedar, clove, allspice, anise and a touch of smoke. The fruit-forward palate boasts a strong earthiness and a savory aspect. Tannins are firm and acidity is refreshing. The finish lasts a good long while. I like it with pork, but a nice New York strip steak is also a good pairing.

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