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Monday, June 28, 2010


Santa Monica wine bar Pourtal welcomed a group of Spanish winemakers Sunday evening.  These producers were mostly very small wineries, many of them actually from the Canary Islands.  Kudos must go to Pourtal for bringing this wealth of winemaking talent to Santa Monica.  These winemakers are all so enthusiastic about their wines and are eager to talk about them.

Some of the winemakers are fluent in English, some are not.  I am not fluent in Spanish, so communication might have been a problem had those with good English skills not stepped in and helped those who lacked them.  Most of the time it was a combination of their English and my Spanish that made the communication barrier almost nonexistent.
In case you don’t know, the Canaries are not off the coast of Spain, but off Morocco, in Northern Africa.  The archipelago lies well south of Casablanca’s latitude and is an autonomous community of Spain.  The name derives not from huge flocks of small pet birds, but, according to Wikipedia, "Islas Canarias is likely derived from the Latin term Insula Canaria, meaning "Island of the Dogs."  This was probably because of the large population of seals once found there.  They aren’t found there anymore, though.  No canaries, no seals - it’s getting to be a bit of a disappointment.  I’d better get back to the wine.  There’s certainly no disappointment there.
Not all of the winemakers at this event are from the Canaries.  Four of the producers are from Galicia, there’s one from Rioja, one from Tierra de Leon and one from Alicante.  The wineries are represented by importer Jose Pastor .  Pastor has a knack for bringing to the U.S. some truly magnificent wines from areas like the Canaries and Galicia.  The wineries he represents are mostly small outfits which keep an eye on tradition while blazing new trails.  Things I heard often from these winemakers: very natural, no sulfur, unfiltered, local grapes.  They are reaching out to the American wine drinker by making wine the way they always have.  It's about time more people discovered that these folks don't need a re-invention.  They seem to be doing everything right.
Following are my notes on the wines I tasted at Pourtal.  As I am not extremely versatile in Spanish wines, it was a bit of a labor for me to get the information correct.  If I have committed any errors, please feel free to correct me in the comments.
Anna - Bermejos Malvasia Seco 2009 Bermejos Malvasia Seco 2009 - ($24) - Anna poured a white from Lanzarote, in the Canaries. It has a grassy nose, tastes crisp and dry with grapefruit and a nice acidity. 100% Malvasia.

Pedro - Hermanos Peciña Crianza 2003 Hermanos Peciña Crianza 2003 - ($20) - Pedro Peciña offered a Rioja Tempranillo with 2 years in oak instead of the one required. It has a beautiful violet nose with smooth and bright mouthfeel. Clove and coffee notes rest on big, fruity palate.

Gregory - Preto Picudo Tinto 2007 3 - Preto Picudo Tinto 2007 ($18) - Gregory showed a wine made from Preto Picudo, taken from 12-20 year-old vines. Clay soil on a 1000-meter plateau contributes to a Tierra de Leon terroir Gregory is particularly proud to call his. This Tinto gets three months in wood to calm the tannins. This is one of several wines featured that boast indiginous grapes not seen very much on these shores. It's a great summertime red which really tasted nice gently chilled. I can imagine how good it is with a lamb dish.

Pedro - Guimaro B2M 2007 Guimaro B2M 2007 - ($45) - Pedro had the Ribeira Sacra covered, with a Mencia wine from Galicia. A lovely floral nose leads to some spice on the palate and a dark edge to the fruit.

Elena - Viñatigo Gual 2008 Viñatigo Gual 2008 - ($24) - Elena poured an all-steel white with an extremely grassy nose and a big grapefruit taste from the volcanic soil of the Canary Islands.

Pedro - Fronton de Oro Joven 2009 Fronton de Oro Joven 2009 - ($18) - Pedro (there are three Pedros in the group) had an interesting blend of negra comon (I hope I have that right - the notes took a little wear and tear as the tasting went on) and Tintilla. The nose is a little tight, but some nice smokness comes through. It's a very dry wine; differently delicious.

Eliseo - Carballo Negramoll 2008 Carballo Negramoll 2008 - ($20) - Eliseo poured his La Palma wine like it was the only one on earth. And like it deserved to be. The nose is a bit tight, but its very dark flavor was immense. Even so, it felt bright in my mouth.

Jose - Tacande 2006 Tacande 2006 - ($48) - Jose told me tacande means "volcanic soil." That's where the wonderful violet nose comes from. It's very dry and grippy with dark tones. the grapes in the blend are Babaso, Vijariego, Tintilla, Negramoll.

Francisco - Primitivo Quiles Cono 4 2008 Primitivo Quiles Cono 4 2008 ($12) - Francisco was effusive about his 100% Monastrell (known elsewhere as mourvedre). It's a big local grape, as all the reds in Alicante must be at least 50% Monastrell.

Laureano - Laureano Serres L'Abeueador 2008 10 Laureano Serres L'Abeueador 2008 ($25) - This wine is 100% macabeu. It is a very cloudy white with nice acidity and a big citrus palate. It hails from Tarragona, in northeast Spain.

Miguel - German Prada Galgueira Mencia 2009 11 Pedralonga Albariño 2008 - ($27) - Miguel was so apologetic that this was the only one of his wines he had to offer. He needn't have been. All steel, grapefruit and tropical flavors, it's one of the better Albariños I've had. From Galicia.

12 German Prada Galgueira Mencia 2009 - ($17) - This winemaker was absent from the event, but Miguel was kind enough to give me a taste. It's a dark and moody red from Valdeorras, Galicia.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - Even 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. The shut-in can't end until you've seen these films, so get moving.

We find ourselves this week pandemically pondering movies which are so far off the radar, air traffic controllers believe them to be gnats in their peripheral vision, not full-scale blips.  Holiday hits?  Summertime smashes?  Not this time, I'm afraid.  This week is for movie - and wine - nerds.

The 1970 psychological thriller Road to Salina was taken from a novel entitled, "Sur la Route de Salina."  If my high school French still works, I think that translates to, "On the road to Salina," which sounds too much like a Hope/Crosby flick.  The book's author, Maurice Cury, is so invisible in a Google search that he appears to be about one step away from witness protection.

The main character is taken to be a man who has been gone four years.  He gets to have some skinny dipping and hot sex with the woman who is supposed to be his sister, and it's hard to tell which of them likes that scenario better.  Then, things really get weird.  Critics of the day blurbed the movie as ranging from "admirably ambitious" to "perversely compelling."  Now for a wine to match.

Road to Salina was shot in the Canary Islands and if you can find any, the wines from that Spanish isle off the coast of Africa are ambitiously compelling and admirably perverse.  I got to sample a few some years back at a small event in Santa Monica.  The Bermejos Malvasia Seco is a worthy pairing with the strange movie.

Patti Cake$ is only a few years old and already the TFH gurus see it obscure enough to justify inclusion in this grouping.  A rags-to-better-rags story of the struggle to break into the rap world, Cake$ feels familiar over a number of genres.  We've seen movies about how tough it is to navigate into music, acting, comedy, professional sports and certified public accounting, so it's a well-worn shoe by now.

Much like that Hair Club For Men guy, Jay-Z liked Armand de Brignac Champagne so much he bought the company.  Nicky Minaj touts MYX Fusions Moscato, Conjure Cognac belongs to Ludacris and Tupac Shakur liked Cristal Champagne so much that he invented a cocktail made from Crissy and Alizé Gold Passion liqueur.

In 1961's The Last Judgment, an international host of movie stars ramble through a movie they might rather forget.  Much like Pinot Grigio, the film was universally panned at the time of its release.  Today, many come to the defense of director Vittorio De Sica, calling the movie an unheralded masterpiece, a romp prompted by the voice of God.  If you are in the right part of the world, you can judge for yourself on Amazon Prime.  If you are not in the right zone, well, that may be why you've never heard of it.

The film opens with a voice from above booming that everyone has about twelve hours to get their drink on before the end of the world happens.  We then see actors like Jack Palance, Ernest Borgnine, Melina Mercouri and Anouk Aimée playing characters who prepare for the end in different ways. 

World's End Cabernet hails from Napa Valley and will run a wine lover a buck-and-a-half at Total Wine.  Is it an overpriced, over-saturated wine, or an unheralded masterpiece?  Again, you be the judge.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

South African Wine At Whole Foods Market

A virtual wine tasting event with Whole Foods Market on Twitter in September 2013 featured a quartet of wines from South Africa.  The two whites and two reds were provided by my neighborhood Whole Foods store for the purpose of the event.

I don’t get to sample a lot of South African wine, so this event was a perfect learning experience for those of us who took part.  I’ve long been a fan of the wine department at WFM, and it is good to know there is a grocery store willing to stock the kind of wines they do.

These wines are all available at Whole Foods stores and are priced very reasonably.  They also show the South African terroir very well.  There is an earthiness and minerality to these wines that I find quite appealing.  Plus, I got the chance to try the Pinotage grape.

Protea White 2012

Antonij Rupert Winery, beneath Simonsberg Mountain in the beautiful Franschhoeck Valley, produces wine in South Aftrica's W.O. Coastal Region.  The Wine of Origin system is much like the French AOC system, only less rigorously structured and regulated.  This is the region where the French first made wine in South Africa, by the way, and they left a lot of their grape varieties behind.

The protea is a beautiful South African flower.  The winery claims its beauty inspired this wine.  Protea White is 100% Chenin Blanc - sometimes called Steen, and quite widely planted in South Africa.  The wine is bottled under cork and comes beautifully etched by Designer Mark Eisen.  The winery suggests using the bottle after the wine has been enjoyed, as a vase or drinking glass.  Protea is imported in the US by Terlato Wines.

The wine retails for $15 and the alcohol hits only 13% abv.  The website describes a laissez faire approach to winemaking:  "To make our protea White, our winemakers step smartly aside and allow the essence of the remarkable, too often underappreciated Chenin Blanc grape to arrive in the glass with rich fruit and verve."  Well, Chenin Blanc is not underappreciated around this house.

The wine sits pale in the glass, with the bouquet immediately apparent.  As advertised in big letters on the label, aromas of pear, citrus and honeysuckle burst from the glass.  The citrus element hits me as grapefruit, while a distinctive atmosphere of earth joins the fruit.

The palate displays fruit first, but the minerals stay in focus.  Grapefruit and lemon-lime hit first and leave last.  There's a generous acidity which has this white begging to paired with something.  Oysters would be nice, if so inclined - shrimp, lobster or crab if not.  Snacking?  Almonds and goat cheese pair nicely.

DMZ Chardonnay 2012

The DeMorgenzon Winery is in the W.O. Western Cape region, in the upper reaches of South Africa's Stellenboschkloof, in Stellenbosch.  The first vines were planted here in the early 1700s.  Views of both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans are visible from their vineyards.  Visitors are treated to the sight of wildflowers throughout the estate.   Not only are the vineyards something to see, there's something for the ears.  They believe music is a powerful growth aid, so they pipe Baroque music among the vines around the clock.

The DMZ Chardonnay grapes grow in soils blessed with granite and sandstone.  One quarter of them were whole cluster pressed, while a combination of steel tanks and French oak barrels were used for fermentation and aging.  It has an easy-open screw cap on top, an alcohol level of 13.5% and a price tag of $17.

The wine's hue is a pale yellow, and its bouquet smells of peaches, pears, orange peel and lime.  The palate shows zingy citrus aplenty.  There is a wonderful acidity and a great sense of minerals.  I get a whiff of oak spice, and a huge blast of terroir.  The wine is clean and refreshing, with a strong mineral influence and grapefruit and minerals on the finish.

Robertson Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Robertson Winery was founded by Dr. William Robertson in 1941.  Today some 35 grape-growing families contribute fruit to the Robertson wines.  Viticulturist Briaan Stipp and cellarmaster Bowen Botha head up the Robertson winemaking team.

The '11 Cabernet is fermented in stainless steel, then aged in French oak for four months.  This brings a very fresh style to a variety that is usually produced oak-heavy.  It costs $10 at Whole Foods.

This Cab sits medium-dark and ruby red in the glass, with an intriguing nose of blackberries and dirt. It hit me at first as dusty, then seemed muddy.  I mean all that in the best possible way, of course.  There's a hint of pencil lead, but not as much as one might expect in a Cabernet.  The palate is quite dark, with enough minerality to put the fruit in the backseat.  The plum and cassis notes do make their way to the forefront, though.  The tannins are very firm and the acidity is lip-smacking, but this isn't a Napa Cab by a long shot.  Not elegant, plenty rustic.

Flagstone Dragon Tree Cabernet Sauvignon - Shiraz - Pinotage 2009

This wine offers a grape to which we aren’t exposed very much in the US, Pinotage.  It is truly a South African grape - it was bred in South Africa in the 1920s.  It’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, which was known in South Africa as Hermitage at the time.  Bruce Jack, founder and winemaker at Flagstone, explains his use of the grape.

"The unmistakable wild berry Pinotage aromas and juicy flavours are only a small portion of its specific character. The real secret Pinotage gives in a blend is a burst of fruit on the finish – in the same way old vine Grenache can do to Rhone blends."

The Flagstone website recommends pairing this blend with North Indian curry or sushi - the more wasabi, the better.  Sounds strange, I know.  You can find both food items at Whole Foods to conduct your own experiment.

The name of the wine comes from a Dragon Tree brought from the Canary Islands to the Port Captain of Cape Town a century ago.  This was before a breakwater was constructed to protect vessels from suffering damage due to severe nor'westers, and it was known among world travelers that bringing an exotic plant to the Port Captain would insure a good berth in the harbor.

All this information comes from the fascinating and well-written Flagstone website, which you should plan to spend some time investigating.

This wine clocks in at 14% abv and sells for $17.

The vineyard sites selected for Dragon Tree are made up of stony, rocky soil, and the minerals show well.  It's the fruit that steals the show, though.  It is inky purple and has a powerful bouquet of dusty blackberry and currant.  On the palate, dark fruit is in the forward position.  Minerality, good acidity and firm tannins are a great buildup to the chalky finish.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Blood Of The Vines: Robinson Crusoe On Mars

Wine Goes To The Movies

The Curiosity rover has begun snooping about for evidence of life on Mars.  I’ll be watching those pictures closely for evidence of wine on Mars.  Paul Mantee’s character in Robinson Crusoe on Mars could have used a little martian vino, be it red or white.

Had Daniel Defoe’s earthbound Crusoe known he would be marooned for 28 years, he might have tried making some wine - if only for sacramental purposes.  The 18th-century Crusoe got religion by reading the Bible while stranded.  Imagine what he could have accomplished, inspired by a couple of issues of Wine Spectator.

Hollywood’s version of the desert island is Mars in the 1964 film billed as “scientifically authentic.”  That must have referred to the Technicolor process, because little else seems to be very realistic.  TFH says the movie does borrow effects from “War of the Worlds” and “Destination Moon,” and the presentation is 1964-moderne, if not exactly ripped from the pages of NASA handbooks.

You have to wonder what kind of space agency decides it’s a good idea to send a manned mission to Mars with a dangerous wild animal on board.  In case you’ve never had a close encounter of the simian kind before - yes, monkeys are wild.  And yes, they are dangerous.  They didn’t have wine on the ship, but that ape looks to me like he’s been sneaking a nip here and there.  Like the original Crusoe, Mantee seems to be stuck with some horrifically inadequate companionship.  At least until Friday, the intergalactic slave, shows up.  Good thing he’s a quick learner when it comes to picking up language from another world.

If you tour the vineyards of the Canary Islands, you may think you’re about to find wine on Mars.  On Lanzarote, they grow their grapes in little lava craters to help protect them from the wind.  On the Greek island of Santorini, they wrap their grapevines into little baskets, for the same purpose.  Both methods produce a weird effect that looks otherworldly - particularly in Lanzarote’s volcanic ash.

Here’s to life on Mars, and wine on Mars, for that matter.  Just like fires in zero atmosphere and monkeys in space suits, it’s “scientifically authentic.”

For that long-awaited sip of wine for Robinson Crusoe on Mars, where else to start but at Martian Vineyard.  They aren’t on Mars, but they are in Los Alamos - which is close.  They’ve been conducting experiments on Albariño, Grenache Blanc and Grenache that have turned out extremely well.  They also captured a Santa Ynez Viognier and have already taught it to speak English.  The prices aren’t in the stratosphere for wines like UFOric, Mothership, Down To Earth and Ground Central: $20 to $25 range.

Domaine Font-Mars - Bordeaux wine from Mars, here on earth.

White Rocket Wines - An experiment by the late Jess Jackson that didn’t exactly lift off.

Red Rover Wines - If you don’t monkey around with any #$@%& Merlot, they also have Barbera and Chardonnay.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010


Spanish Wine at Pourtal

If Spanish wines are something you've been meaning to explore, you have a great opportunity to do so Sunday June 27, 2010 atPourtal in Santa Monica.

Fourteen Spanish winemakers, or agricultores, represented by importer José Pastor Selections will be on hand from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. to pour their wines and talk about their passion for making wine.  This stop at Pourtal appears to be a late entry in the lineup of the JPS Agricultores Tour which is underway now. 

It appears wines from the Canary Islands and Catalunya region will be well represented, although JPS has a rather extensive portfolio from which to draw.  If you have even a passing interest in Spanish wine, this sounds like an event you should really try to attend.

The cost is $20, which is dirt cheap considering the wealth of wine and wisdom you'll encounter there.