Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Good News From Sicily - Affordable Nero d'Avola

The Nero d'Avola grape is from Sicily. It is named after a town, Avola, in the southern part of the Italian island. If you like Shiraz wines from Australia, you will probably like Nero d'Avola. The grape produces a full bodied, spicy red wine that pairs well with dishes featuring beef or tomato sauce.

The 2022 Nero Oro Appassimento Nero d'Avola was produced in the appassimento method, in which the grapes are dried before vinification, giving them increased color and flavor. Some fresh grapes are also included. Alcohol hits 14% abv and the retail price is $12.

This wine is dark in the glass. It has a rather muted nose, but it manages to show off some plum and dark berry aromas. There is also a smattering of tobacco, oregano and clove. The palate is complex and vivid. The strong dark fruit flavors are cloaked in sweet oak spice and black pepper. With the meatballs from my butcher across the street, the pairing is perfect. 


Monday, July 22, 2024

Sicilian By Nature - Organic Nero d'Avola

The Nero d'Avola grape is from Sicily. It is named after a town, Avola, in the southern part of the Italian island. If you like Zinfandel or Shiraz wines from Australia, you will probably like Nero d'Avola. The grape produces a full bodied, spicy red wine that pairs well with dishes featuring beef or tomato sauce.

The 2021 Caruso & Minini Naturalmente is from the Sicilia DOC, it is organic and it has alcohol at 13.5%. The retail price for this varietal wine is $19.  

This wine is medium dark in color. The nose is rather faint, but has a nice scent of cherries and flowers. The palate explodes with a peppery shower of red fruit and some savory drapery that has an earthy, eucalyptus note to it. The flavors exhibited here are exceptional, and somewhat out of the ordinary. Pair it with a meaty pasta dish, or use it in making the meaty pasta dish. Or both. 


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Friday, July 19, 2024

Blood Of The Vines - The Velvet Touch

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 pairings for three films which either invite you, command you, or discourage you from drinking. Which is which? You tell me.

One of the better things about 2021 was the Todd Haynes documentary, The Velvet Underground. The movie shows the unbelievably quick rise and fall of the rock group of the same name. 

The group formed in 1964, around the nucleus of Lou Reed and John Cale. With Andy Warhol as their one-time manager, they enjoyed much 1960s notoriety for their songs, which were written to rub middle America the wrong way. As a result, they enjoyed no Top 40 hits, but became mainstays on the burgeoning album rock format on FM radio.

"Sweet Jane," "Rock and Roll," "I'm Waiting for the Man," "Heroin" and "Venus in Furs" were not hummable hits. Well, maybe "Sweet Jane" was. And "Rock and Roll." And, OK, I have found myself humming "I'm Waiting for the Man" many times. "Heroin," not so much. Same for "Venus in Furs." It all depends on how you want to hum.

By the time 1970's Loaded came out, the band had pretty much run its course. One of the lesser members tried to carry on the name, but without Lou Reed it was just another band. Loaded would have been a fantastic swan song. It's one of the finest albums of the rock era, said Rolling Stone, back when they wrote about, you know, music.

What better wine pairing for The Velvet Underground could we find than The Velvet Underground? The Sonoma bourbon barrel red blend is full of intense flavor, like the band. Its lushness takes it out of the lo-fi realm, but at 17% alcohol and the whiskey-laced flavor, it probably would go well with both "Rock and Roll" and "Sweet Jane." It's a $25 bottle. 

Todd Haynes was no stranger to rock and roll, as the previous film demonstrates. Before that, in 1998, he wrote and directed Velvet Goldmine, a musical drama about a glam rocker who was loosely based on David Bowie. It was maybe not so loosely based, as touchstones like Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Slade, Bowie's first wife Angie, and even a fictional band called Venus in Furs populate the script. All it needs are some tunes from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to be full-blown glam. 

However, Bowie did not cooperate, refusing to make his songs available to Haynes. He didn't like Haynes' request, and he didn't much like the movie, either. One of our TFH team members has pointed out to me that Haynes saved the day by finding some "faux-glam" songs which work well in the film.

Wisconsin's Spurgeon Vineyards gets close to a namesake wine with Velvet Gold. It is a sweet, white grape wine described as having a "grapey" taste. That's low praise, but it only costs a little more than a dozen dollars, plus whatever goldmine you have to put forth for shipping.

The talk of 1986 was, at least in movies, David Lynch's magnum opus of weirdness, Blue Velvet. My close friend Tom took his girlfriend to see it during its opening weekend. He called me on Monday, advising me to see it, while warning me not to take a date. "Don't let the title fool you," he said. "It's not a date movie."

It is a disturbing film, but after seeing Lynch's Eraserhead, I expected nothing less. Many critics panned Blue Velvet, citing its extreme violence, brutal sexuality, and dreamlike quality. Their views have largely mellowed over the years. Now the film is hailed as a masterpiece. Maybe the critics were inhaling whatever Frank Booth was having. 

Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth is the most unhinged and deranged character of the Hopper pantheon. His psychotic violence and reliance on some sort of gas, which he huffs from an oxygen mask, are both horrifying and spellbinding. If you think to yourself, "Hey, I once knew a guy like that," you are lucky to still be alive. 

Swiss wine may be harder to find than the true owner of a Swiss bank account. I didn't know they grew grapes there, I thought money was their cash crop. Switzerland's Mythopia Wines makes a Pinot Noir named Blue Velvet, which, for my money, is a good place to stop and spend $100 bucks or so. You won't find it on the wine list at This Is It, but you won't find a wine list there, either. Just order a Pabst! Blue! Ribbon!


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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Another Splurge - CV Studium From Paso Robles

A special wine is a real treat. Not an everyday wine, but a splurge wine, one that you buy to reward yourself. Broken Earth Winery of Paso Robles says their CV Wines are named after the legendary 50-year-old Continental Vineyard, which is part of their estate. I have always found Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignons to be of high quality, a bit rustic and completely underrated. I was overjoyed when samples were offered to me. 

Broken Earth's CV line are club wines, so a twice-a-year membership is required to purchase them. If you aren't overextended on wine club shipments, this would be an excellent opportunity to grab some limited-production BDX grapes, from Paso Robles. 

Winemaker Chris Cameron says the 2020 CV Studium Red Blend is estate grown in Paso, as are the other two CVs. They also have a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Franc on offer. The Studium was first aged in neutral French oak barrels for a year, then transferred to second-use French oak. The varietal makeup is inexplicably absent from the promotional materials, but I'm guessing that it is some mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, since that is what is grown on the estate. It has alcohol at 15.4% abv and retails for $80.

This wine is extremely dark. It has a nose which reflects both the Cabs, Sauvignon and Franc. Dark fruit on the nose, along with a peppery and herbaceous note. The tannins ease up a bit after the wine opens up, but they are something else right after the pour. Flavors of plums, blackberries, cherries and a hint of licorice make for a delightful palate. Studium combines the best of the two grapes. I think I like it better than either varietal wine. 


Monday, July 15, 2024

Splurgeworthy Cabernet Franc From Paso Robles

A special wine is a real treat. Not an everyday wine, but a splurge wine, one that you buy to reward yourself. Broken Earth Winery of Paso Robles says their CV Wines are named after the legendary 50-year-old Continental Vineyard, which is part of their estate. I have always found Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignons to be of high quality, a bit rustic and completely underrated. I was overjoyed when samples were offered to me. 

Broken Earth's CV line are club wines, so a twice-a-year membership is required to purchase them. If you aren't overextended on wine club shipments, this would be an excellent opportunity to grab some limited-production BDX grapes, from Paso Robles. 

Winemaker Chris Cameron says the 2019 CV Cabernet Franc Reserve is 100% Cabernet Franc, grown on the Paso estate, as are the other two CVs. They also have a Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend on offer. The Cab Franc was aged for 23 months in new oak barrels, has alcohol at 15.2% abv and retails for $80.

This wine's color is medium dark purple. The nose offers aromas of plums, cherries, blackberries, pepper and an herbaceous note. The palate shows dark fruit, as well. The tannins are quite toothy, so be sure to decant before pouring. The wine should pair exceedingly well with any sort of red meat, or pork, for that matter. 


Friday, July 12, 2024

Blood Of The Vines - Robert Towne 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 at three films from Robert Towne's Selectric. Stop taking our icons, already!

Robert Towne died last week, at the ripe old age of 89. He is a legend in Hollywood, the author of so many great films you have to wonder how he ever had time to go shopping, or take out the garbage. He was so proud of his work that if he didn't like the way the movie turned out, he would take his name off of it. He may have done that as many times as not. Once again, we have to lift our glasses to a great one who has gone to the big screening room in the sky.

They say you can't win them all, and Towne proved that by grabbing three Oscar noms in his career, but taking home hardware only once. That was for Chinatown in 1974. It wasn't just a great script, it is used in textbooks designed to teach people how to write great scripts. Do they work? Well, I read one of those books, then read the script for Chinatown, but there is nothing on IMDB to show that anything came from that. 

The movie centers on the way Los Angeles became a big city, by taking water from the Owens Valley via the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Before that happened, L.A. was a big wine producing area. When the water started flowing in, so did urbanization. All the grape vines that once grew from Malibu to the Inland Empire were ripped out to make way for urban sprawl. That's progress, I guess.

The only L.A. winery from those days that is still here is San Antonio Winery. It is still located in downtown Los Angeles thanks to Catholicism. They survived Prohibition because they made sacramental wines for the church, the stuff that pairs well with a wafer. The Riboli family no longer uses SoCal grapes for their wines, but they make some good stuff, sourced from Paso Robles, Monterey County, Napa Valley, even Italy. Their Opaque line is made from Paso fruit. The Petit Verdot and Tannat wines sell for $30.

Shampoo, from 1975, was co-written by Towne and the film's star, Warren Beatty. He plays a hair stylist who got into the business for the women. Well, why does any man get into any business? You have to have a going concern if you want the ladies to dig you. Well, unless you're Warren Beatty. That's enough right there. But, give a woman a great haircut and doors will open. Play a good guitar, it's a magnet. Earn a ton of money, the world is your oyster. Make great wine… well, that may be a bit of a reach. 

I notice online there are shampoos and conditioners made with red wine. That seems like an awful waste of red wine to me. I use Suave, and the compliments never end. In fact, when I was younger, a lady admired my hair and asked me what shampoo I used. When I told her it was Suave, she hurled a rather rude rejoinder my way. She spent way more on her shampoo, and her hair wasn't all that great. 

Champoux Vineyard (yes, it's pronounced "shampoo") is an acclaimed plot of land in Washington state, in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Andrew Will makes a Merlot-heavy Bordeaux blend that sells for $81. Don't try washing your hair with it. Suave is way cheaper. 

Towne got his start by writing for Roger Corman. 1964's The Tomb of Ligeia was adapted from a story by Edgar Allan Poe. It tells of a woman who marries a man who's dead wife is buried under the house. Was he a hairdresser? Only the executor knows for sure. 

If you find that your new spouse has something buried under the house, it's probably not going to be good news. I mean, money, maybe. Anything else falls into the category of "Why wasn't I informed of this?" The body under the bathroom isn't the worst of it, though. The ex's spirit still pads around those cold stone floors as a cat. As if cats weren't already problematic enough.

In "The Cask of Amontillado," another Poe story, the killer vanquishes his victim by entombing him in a wine cellar. Are there worse ways to go? Maybe. Let me think on it. While I'm thinking, I'll have Lustau's Los Arcos Amontillado sherry. It is bone dry and even more complex than Poe’s villain. 


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Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Too Oaky? At Least This Wine Is Cheap

Here is another one of those inexpensive wines from the shelves of Trader Joe's. The 2022 Panilonco Merlot Malbec Reserva comes from the Marchigüe appellation of Chile's Colchagua Valley. The Merlot grapes are sourced from the Santa Marta vineyard while the Malbec is from the La Quebrada vineyard.

Most people who mention this wine online have some comments about the oak. I sense a lot of oak in it, although the winery says it was aged in French oak barrels for a mere six months. Alcohol is restrained, at just 13.5% abv and the cost is only $7. 

This wine has a medium-dark ruby color. The first thing I notice is the oak. It seems very oaky, despite only six months in wood. The nose offers a smokey note, which I always like to find. There are aromas of ripe cherries, berries and plums. Those fruits also appear on the palate, where oak again dominates. The tannins are firm, but not overpowering. The mouthfeel is rich and full. I had mine with a brisket sandwich and it paired very well. 


Monday, July 8, 2024

Splurge On This Paso Cab

A special wine is a real treat. Not an everyday wine, but a splurge wine, one that you buy to reward yourself. Broken Earth Winery of Paso Robles says their CV Wines are named after the legendary 50-year-old Continental Vineyard, which is part of their estate on Paso's east side. I have always found Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignons to be of high quality, a bit rustic and completely underrated. I was overjoyed when samples were offered to me. 

Broken Earth's CV line are club wines, so a twice-a-year membership is required to purchase them. If you aren't overextended on wine club shipments, this would be an excellent opportunity to grab some limited-production BDX-style grapes, from Paso Robles. 

Winemaker Chris Cameron says the 2019 CV Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is estate grown in Paso, as are the other two CVs. They also have a Cabernet Franc and a red blend on offer. The Cab was aged for nearly two years in new oak barrels, has alcohol at 14.7% abv and retails for $80.

This wine is dark in color. It smells like it has been perfumed, with ripe red berries, plums and cherries on the nose. The fruit is layered over an herbal note, but nothing like bell pepper or peas. It smells like cedar trees. The nose of a Paso Cab always grabs me, and this one does it to the fullest. The palate is simply beautiful. Whenever I start thinking I could get along with fifteen dollar wines, along comes a wine like this one to show me the folly of that thought. The fruit flavors tend toward the dark side, while sweet oak provides a beautiful lift. The tannins are silky smooth, even upon opening the bottle. The winery says you'd better have some seared lamb to pair with it. 


Friday, July 5, 2024

Blood Of The Vines - Pix That Rock

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 turn it up to eleven for a trio of films heavily laced with both rock and roll.

At the age of five, I slept with a big stuffed dog named Bebe. Resting against this huge toy was the door to my future, a transistor radio, one with two speakers and a wire handle. It played "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" and songs with even loftier lyrical content. I learned about chain gangs from Sam Cooke, love gone wrong from Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers. I heard about walking to New Orleans from Fats Domino. Anything Elvis was selling, I was buying. Who knew they'd be making movies about rock'n'roll?

Pirate Radio (The Boat That Rocked) came out in 2009, and it told the story of how rock radio evolved in Great Britain. It evolved by getting outside of Great Britain. As an American, it has always seemed weird to me that the British Broadcasting Company only devoted an hour a day in the mid 1960s to pop music. Rock'n'roll finds a way to seep through the cracks, so adventurous deejay types took to the seas. They broadcast pop to the people from international waters on boats fixed with antennae. They were pirate radio stations.

Radio Caroline was the most famous pirate station, and you can google airchecks of it if you are a radio nerd. If you are reading this, you are probably already a movie nerd, maybe even a wine nerd. It might be wise to limit your nerd exposure.

Pirate Radio is not a British movie, but it has a British feel, owing to the fact that it features Bill Nighy and two guys named Rhys.

For Pirate Radio, say "Aaargh" for a La Sirena Pirate TreasuRed 2019. It's a pirate's booty blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Petite Sirah. Rhône, Bordeaux, Bordeaux, Rhône, pirates don't really care what they are raiding if it's from the Napa Valley. $65 a bottle. 

In 1982 Pink Floyd: The Wall was unleashed on an unsuspecting populace. Or, maybe they were expecting it. After all, it had been three years since the release of Pink Floyd's album of the same name. 

Critics have had a great time writing about this film. "One of the most horrifying musicals of all time," "unrelentingly downbeat and at times repulsive," "unremitting in its onslaught upon the senses." That last one, by the way, was from Roger Waters… of Pink Floyd. One critic offered faint praise, saying it was not unwatchable, then added that if directed by Ken Russell it probably would have been. Just a touch of bad blood there, I'm guessing.

The songs, largely based on Waters' childhood, are the focal point of the movie, besides a pretty good performance from Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats. I wonder if he had it written in his contract that he got Mondays off?

It's not The Wall, but would a vineyard called The Walls hit the spot? Their Curiosita Tempranillo sports a label depicting a guy peeking over a wall, a la Kilroy. That counts, right? From Washington's Red Mountain AVA, it's $80 for a bottle, you crazy diamond. Oh, and they have a Grenache Rosé, if you want to keep it pink. 

1987's Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll is Taylor Hackford’s documentary that covers a pair of Chuck Berry concerts. The running time of HHRR is two hours, which leads me to believe there is a lot of interview footage included. I saw Berry in Beaumont, Texas in or around '87, and he ran through every one of his hits in record time. The show didn't last a half hour. Couldn't wait to get paid, I suppose. 

In the film, at least, Berry has an all-star band backing him. Keith Richards and Eric Clapton tip their hats, no doubt in recognition of all the riffs they stole from him. Johnnie Johnson was used to his role as Chuck's keyboard player, while Etta James and Linda Ronstadt contributed some vocalizing. 

This movie screams to be turned up to eleven. That makes the wine pairing easy. Andrew Murray Vineyards of Los Olivos has an extensive line of E11even wines, but the one we want here is Remix, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. It's a $40 wine with nearly two years of oak behind it. Stand aside, it's coming through. 


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Wednesday, July 3, 2024

A Dry White Wine From France's Loire Valley

In one of my several visits to Baltimore I have enjoyed meals at the Thames Street Oyster House in the Fell's Point neighborhood. My wife was particularly infatuated with the place. We sat at the bar once and she ordered lobster claw after lobster claw from the iced display there. I enjoyed Muscadet wine with my seafood, and it was my introduction to the wonderful style. I owe eternal thanks to the bartender for the recommendation.

The Vignobles Lacheteau Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2022 is a dry white wine from France's Loire Valley. Muscadet Sèvre at Maine is the appellation from which the wine comes. It is south of Nantes and is marked by two rivers, the Sèvre Nantaise and the Maine. 

The wine is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape and is created sur lie, meaning on the lees. The lees are the yeast cells that are spent during vinification. Contact with the lees gives a wine more weight and complexity. Alcohol comes in at 12% abv and the price is quite reasonable, just $7 at Trader Joe’s.

This wine has almost no coloring. Its nose is more herb-driven than mineral-driven, but there is a touch of wet sidewalk in the aromas. The palate is dry and rather flat, with only a hint of acidity. As with the smells, the flavors lean into the herbal side of the spectrum with enough minerals to make it a decent pair with shellfish. It is a pleasant enough wine, and for $7 I will not complain beyond this paragraph. I will, however, keep it in mind for when I need a dry white wine for cooking. 


Monday, July 1, 2024

This Cloudy Sake Sparkles

Dassai Blue Sake is produced and bottled by Dassai USA in Hyde Park, New York.  Dassai takes their name from a Japanese proverb, which translates to "Although blue dye comes from the indigo plant, it is bluer than indigo." In other words, the child outshines the parent. 

The nigori style of sake - rice wine - is cloudy due to being filtered with a wider mesh. The style was actually outlawed in Japan for a time, to make brewers adhere to the style which offers more clarity. Now, it's no longer illegal to make a cloudy sake. 

The Dassai Blue Nigori Sparkling Sake is made from Yamada Nishiki rice which is milled down until only half the grain remains. This sake has alcohol at 14% abv and costs about $20 for the 360 ml bottle. The bottle, by the way, has an interesting pull-tab opener on the cap. The wine is lightly fizzy and doesn't make a showy spray when opened.

This sake is quite cloudy. It has a bit of frizzante when poured, but it forms no froth. The nose is a display of massive salinity and lychee. The palate has minerals and a lanolin quality, with a fizzy mouthfeel and bright acidity.