Friday, October 28, 2016

From Big Waves To Big Wine

ZIOBAFFA is an Italian wine, and its creators - Jason Baffa and Chris Del Moro - have brought their passion for filmmaking and surfing to wine. Their search for world-class waves in the Mediterranean Sea landed them in Tuscany, where the Castellani family took them in and made a vintage which was captured on film.

Baffa is an award-winning filmmaker who chronicled his love of surfing in the film, "Bella Vita," developed with his friend Del Moro. The pair shared plenty of good food and beverage while getting those gnarly waves on celluloid. It was a natural - organic, in fact - transition to ZIOBAFFA (in Italian, Uncle Baffa.)

The press blurb says "ZIOBAFFA is bottled and labeled with eco-friendly material, crafted with a biodynamic focus and organically produced grapes, with a focus on sustainable, zero waste production and environmentally friendly bottling, including the innovative Helix reuseable cork closure."

The unusual cork, which looks like a cross between a sparkling wine cork and a liqueur stopper, requires no mechanical assistance for opening. You can access the wine barehanded, even though it is worth some trouble.

The Ziobaffa Toscana is made from grapes organically grown in the Poggio al Casone vineyard, 80% Sangiovese and 20% Syrah. Visually this wine is a black hole - no light gets through at all. Aromas of black berries, plums and currants are soaked in a savory setting of cigars and spice. The palate is fresh and lively, with enough tannins for anything Bolognaise, for sure. You might even grill a steak for it. Dark fruit flavors are laced with a leathery licorice layer that does not disappoint.

I paired it with an amazing cheese by Italian cheesemaker Beppino Occelli, Occelli al Barolo.  After nine months of aging, the wheel is coated with a Barolo grape must, then soaked for two months with another wine, Langa Marc. The Sangiovese fits nicely with the Nebbiolo influence of the cheese. It also plays very well with Occelli’s Testun al Foglie di Castagno, which is wrapped in chestnut leaves.


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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sparkling Red Wine

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

San Diego Beer - Sculpin IPA

Sometimes those 22-ounce bottles of beer come in pretty handy. If you're a beer lover, and you're only having one beer, this is a good one to have. Either this or a 40. It's a good size for anyone who is the recipient of stares that say without speaking, "You’re having another one?" Well, if you can only have one without "getting into it," this is certainly a good choice.


Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits is one of the better reasons to go to San Diego, Temecula or Long Beach.  They have a lot of tasting rooms open in Southern California, but it all started in the place Angelenos like to think of as "Iowa by the sea." The thinking there is that Midwesterners, when listing places where they'd like to escape a bitter winter, have only place on the list. Fortunately for them, San Diegans make a lot of good beer.

This zippy Sculpin India Pale Ale carries a chestnut golden color and a slight head of fine white froth, which clings to the glass. The nose is loaded with fresh pine needles and lemon zest, with a hint of grapefruit running behind. The palate is creamy and very hoppy with a floral trace on the more beery notes. The Sculpin is a perfect example of why I like IPA enough that I'll often go without a beer if one is not available. And that's a big sacrifice for a beer lover to make.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Roussillon Wine: Grenache Blanc, Gris

Le Clos de Paulilles Collioure is in the south of the southernmost region in France. It's so far south, it's almost Spain. In fact, it once was Spain. Besides being a valuable military point in the old "stormin' the castle" days, it also has some mighty nice vineyards in the hills. Some of them produce wine for the Banyuls dessert wines you may have enjoyed.

Collioure is also famous for its anchovies. Mark Kurlansky says they are the best in the word in his book, "Salt."

This white wine is made using 70% Grenache Blanc grapes and 30% Grey Grenache. Roussillon's Eric Aracil notes that the grey variety is the "used to produce white, dry rosé wine or Vin Doux Naturel (fortified sweet wine)." He says it "produces powerful, rounded, elegant, voluptuous wines with hints of aniseed and minerals."

The vineyard terraces of the clos go right down to the Mediterranean, picking up notes of the sea and salt spray. The 14% abv content is quite manageable, although a little higher than usually found in France.

This wine looks golden in a carafe, but pours up yellow-gold in the glass, very close to a faint, faint rosé. Take a sniff and it’s mineral time. Wet rocks and lemon peel, lime and even some tangerine appear on the nose. The sip brings all that into focus with a hint of grapefruit and pineapple thrown in. Acidity is top-notch, but not abrasive. The finish leaves me wishing for a beautiful spring day.

Have it with trout almondine, or just the almonds. I think I would like it with a Caesar salad, extra anchovies.


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Friday, October 21, 2016

Sweet Roussillon Wine

Rivesaltes is the AOC designation for naturally sweet, fortified wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France.

The Roussillon region allows nearly two dozen grape varieties to be used in winemaking. The Cazes vineyards produce such grape varieties as Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Petit Grain, Macabeu, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Viognier and Carignan.

The Cazes vineyards are biodynamically free of pesticides and insecticides, and they claim to act upon "the true expression of the soil and the plant in their natural environment." They make Vins de pays, Côtes du Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes wines at the Cazes facility.

The 1997 Ambré is described as a natural sweet wine, of vintage 1997.  100% Grenache Blanc juice is aged in oaken vats for 15 years, and is fortified to 16% abv.

This wine is beautifully brown - Cazes calls it amber, of course - and it looks even darker in color than a Newcastle. The nose is a dessert unto itself. Baked raisins, brown sugar and molasses are right up front, and the top of the glass throws a little smoke our way. The palate is as rich as we might expect after getting a whiff of the aromas. It is fairly viscous and has medium-high acidity, with a sherry-esque flavor that highlights the raisins. A salty note sails right into the finish, which is just as much a delight as the nose and the palate.

Pair it with a thick slice of cinnamon-raisin bread for either a lush dessert or a holiday breakfast.


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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Reveling In Roussillon

Eric Aracil is the representative for the Roussillon Wine Council, the promotion arm for the French wine region at the southern tip of the country, at the border with Spain.

Roussillon Wines promotes themselves as "The Other French Vintage Wine," although I think  the region needn’t concede so much to the better known areas like Bordeaux and Burgundy. For years I have sought out wines from the south of France as being more in my own personal wheelhouse, and for better value.

I spoke with Aracil recently, and he gave me some insight into the region as a whole, and into several samples that had been provided to me for the purpose.

Roussillon is usually tossed into the collective region of  Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées, but it occupies the southernmost point in that conglomeration.

Aracil told me that terroir diversity is Roussillon’s calling card. The wide variety of terroirs allow for many different grapes to be used, 23 in all, including four kinds of Grenache. The region produces about 95% still wine.

As you might expect, Roussillon winemakers are working from a heritage that stretches back centuries - 28 centuries, in fact. This, added with the relative "grape freedom" of the area, means that Roussillon’s winemakers have one of the most wide-open fields for exploration and experimentation in France.

Aracil likes to point to the growing of the grapes in Roussillon as the jumping-off point for great bottles of wine. The vines, he says, send their roots down ten meters or more to gather in the nutrients offered by the subsoil and gain protection from the dry climate. He says the vines tend to have a low yield, which is always a good news/bad news joke for winegrowers. The good news is the aromas and flavors are more concentrated in a low yield. The bad news is you have fewer of those remarkable grapes to sell.

Each vineyard, Aracil says, has its own set of microclimates. The contour of the land gives different exposures to the sun, and altitudes range from the valley floor to the mountains, from the seaside to inland. This offers a wide array of acidity levels and ripeness.  Generally, he says, Roussillon winemakers like to avoid overripeness, over extraction and overoaking.

In coming articles, we will explore some specific wines from the region.


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Monday, October 17, 2016

Leisurely Lambusco

From the Banfi family of wines, this northern Italian red is, as the name Rosso Dolce suggests, on the sweet side. Not sweet as in dessert, but sweet as opposed to dry.

Bell'agio Rosso Dolce is made by blending two grapes of Emilia-Romagna, Lambrusco Grasparossa and Lambrusco Salamino. The vineyards are in the province of Reggio Emilia, located between the Po River and the hills of the Apennine mountains.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel and given a second fermentation, which imparts a bit of frothy fizz to the wine. Alcohol is incredibly restrained at just 8% abv. It sells for about 10 bucks, less in some places.

This is a very purple wine. It looks purple, it smells purple and it tastes purple. The nose is grapy and earthy, with not a whole lot of complexity. The palate is also rather simple, - pleasant, though, with gentle tannins. It's like a wine with training wheels, something to put in your glass until you're ready for the hard stuff.

That shouldn't be taken to mean the wine is not worthy. It is, quite, in fact. Its simplicity is its grace. It's a classic bistro wine, the stuff to drink when the person across the table is of greater interest that the bottle on the table.

You can pair this wine with very spicy foods, as the tannins and acidity are rather tame. It goes well with pasta, burgers, cheese or even pastries.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Pushing The Syrah Envelope

Winemaker Randall Grahm notes on the Le Pousseur label that Syrah's aroma will stay with you a long time. "One will wander the world till the end of one’s days," he writes, "its sublime, haunting fragrance gradually displacing all thoughts and memories, including the knowledge of one's own name." I don’t see myself getting quite that lost in it, but I will admit to a slightly stunned and displaced look on my face as I sniffed Grahm’s Central Coast Zahir-apparent.

That is, a little more stunned and displaced than I usually look.

What does "Le Pousseur" mean, en Francais? Grahm writes a bit about the feminine qualities of Syrah, the grape's elegance. However, "le" is a masculine article. When I looked it up, a translating website said "Le Pousseur" means, "the pusher." Connecting only with the Steppenwolf song, I delved deeper. "Tugboat?" "Bulldozer?" "Booster rocket?" That's some fairly masculine imagery right there.

As far as the wine goes, it's well-mannered, to be sure, but it does not strike me as elegant. In fact, Le Pousseur  uses hands of steel to wield Grahm’s trademark savoriness for the purpose of blunt force trauma. Which is a good thing.

The grapes for the 2013 Le Pousseur came from three cool-climate Central Coast vineyards: 63% from Santa Maria's Bien Nacido Vineyard, 34% from San Luis Obispo County's Alamo Creek Vineyard and 3% from Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA. These vineyards each bring an earthy element of their terroir to the wine, a rich, mineral-laden display that makes wine savory. And, for my money, makes wine great.

The wine's notes explain that Grahm likens this Syrah to a northern Rhône offering, specifically one from the Saint-Joseph region. Rhône ambassador Christophe Tassan calls the wines of Saint-Joseph "gutsy, rugged, demanding by nature." In this regard, the comparison is on the money. A "pushy" wine? Maybe so. It certainly has plenty to push. Le Pousseur hits a modest 13.5% abv and sells for $26

The wine is dark, as in black. It's savory on the nose. There is dark fruit, yes - plums, blackberries, etc. But there are black olives and dirt and rocks and licorice and spices all competing for attention. The palate brings a smooth mouthful of minerals and acidity to the taste buds. It's a deep and moody wine that "will not be ignored" and calls for similar food to be paired with it. Lamb chops are recommended, and I'll go with that.


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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Italian Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is too often relegated to "special occasions," due in part to its festive appearance and in part to its sometimes hefty price tag. This is a splashy and affordable bubbly that can be used to celebrate every day, regardless of its special nature. After all, every day is special and should be greeted as such.

Italy's alpine Trento DOC is a sparkling wine region in Trentino. Rotari, along with Ferrari and Cavit, are one of the larger producers in Trentino. They use the traditional method of making wine bubbly - Metodo Classico - and conduct a second fermentation in the bottle. There, the wine ages for 24 months. This Brut is vintage dated 2013.

It’s a Blanc de Blancs, meaning it’s made from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in the Dolomites area, "in the shadow of the Italian Alps." It has alcohol at the sparkling standard of 12.5% abv and sells for under $20.

This Italian sparkler has bubbles for days. Well, at least for the good part of a minute. The pour produces a white, frothy head that looks like it won't dissipate, although it eventually does. The nose and palate both evoke crisp apples and the acidity is as fresh as the proverbial daisy. The toast note is more like a good piece of sandwich bread or boule. It paired well with my wife’s delicious autumn vegetable soup and a crusty bread.


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Monday, October 10, 2016

101 Cider House: India Pale Cider

We had a hankering for some healthy food recently - yes, that does happen now and zin - so we went to one of the longest-running vegan food restaurants in Los Angeles, Real Food Daily. It features a menu full of items you’d find in many restaurants, but they are made meatless, eggless and usually anything but tasteless. There are lots of soy-based products to take the place of meat in dishes like lasagna, tacos, tuna salad and barbecue. Yes, meatless barbecue. Welcome to Los Angeles.

I broke the water tradition I usually employ at RFD and went with an alcoholic beverage to pair with my La-La lasagna. It was a hard cider from L.A. suburb Westlake Village. 101 Cider House uses "apples and quince grown up and down the 101" freeway that runs along the California coast like a fault line.

The version I had - they make a handful of different varieties, all sour - was called India Pale Cider and is dry-hopped. It hits 6.9% abv on the alcohol scale.

It’s a cloudy yellow - the probiotics, I'm told - with a quickly dissipating head. The nose is fruity and crisp, with a strong sense of apples. It is reminiscent of Prosecco or Albarino, except with a more floral element. It's super dry, very refreshing and loaded with citrus, apples and hops. There is also a lovely, dry finish.


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Friday, October 7, 2016

Pushy Central Coast Syrah

Winemaker Randall Grahm notes on the Bonny Doon Le Pousseur label that Syrah's aroma will stay with you a long time. "One will wander the world till the end of one’s days," he writes, "its sublime, haunting fragrance gradually displacing all thoughts and memories, including the knowledge of one’s own name." I don’t see myself getting quite that carried away, but I will admit to a slightly stunned and displaced look on my face as I sniffed Grahm’s Central Coast Zahir-apparent. That is, a little more stunned and displaced than I usually look.

What does "Le Pousseur" mean, en Francais? Grahm writes a bit about the feminine qualities of Syrah, the grape's elegance. However, "le" is a masculine article. When I looked it up, a translating website said "Le Pousseur" means, "the pusher." The label art makes me think of the Steppenwolf song by that name. I delved deeper. "Tugboat?" "Bulldozer?" "Booster rocket?" That’s some fairly masculine imagery right there.

As far as the wine goes, it is well-mannered, to be sure, but it does not strike me as elegant. In fact, Le Pousseur uses hands of steel to wield Grahm’s trademark savoriness for the purpose of blunt force trauma. Which is a good thing, and accounts for that slightly stunned and displaced look.

The grapes for the 2013 Le Pousseur came from three cool-climate Central Coast vineyards: 63% from Santa Maria's Bien Nacido Vineyard, 34% from San Luis Obispo County's Alamo Creek Vineyard and 3% from Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA. These vineyards each bring an earthy element of their terroir to the wine, a rich, mineral-laden display that makes wine savory. And, for my money, makes wine great.

The wine's notes explain that Grahm likens this Syrah to a northern Rhône offering, specifically one from the Saint-Joseph region. Rhône ambassador Christophe Tassan calls the wines of Saint-Joseph "gutsy, rugged, demanding by nature." In this regard, the comparison is on the money. A "pushy" wine? Maybe so. It certainly has plenty to push. Le Pousseur hits a modest 13.5% abv and sells for $26

The wine is dark, as in black, and the nose is savory. There is dark fruit, yes - plums, blackberries, etc. But there are black olives and dirt and rocks and licorice and spices all competing for attention. The palate brings a smooth mouthful of minerals and acidity to the taste buds. It’s a deep and moody wine that "will not be ignored" and calls for similar food to be paired with it. Lamb chops are recommended, and I'll go with that.


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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wine Movie: "A Year In Port"

When I see a picture of a vineyard in France, Italy, or Spain I may not recognize it as such. A vineyard in Portugal, or anything in Portugal for that matter, is unmistakably Portuguese. David Kennard's movie, "A Year in Port" brings that point home solidly. The camera work captures the innate beauty of Portugal perfectly in some scenes, while displaying its lovely capriciousness in others.

Following "A Year in Burgundy" and "A Year in Champagne," this film makes a wonderful trilogy of wine movies. It presents the feeling of Port wine as well as the tradition of it.

While opening on the activity in the coastal city of Porto, where Port wine is blended and marketed, the film quickly moves into the valley of the River Douro, where Port wine is grown. That starts about a hundred miles away and goes all the way to Spain. There, we get to see how young winegrowers are trying to carve out a place for themselves by growing, and making, table wines instead of Port.

The movie shows that the way Port is made is so expensive that young winemakers can't hope to get a foot in the door. The blends involve barrels that are as much as a hundred years old. These upstarts are putting their future into table wines. This makes a way for them to get into business, but it also means lower prices for the growers in a region where it is very expensive to grow and harvest grapes.

Is the future of the Douro Valley in Port, or is it in table wines? The Port producers are certainly trying to hold onto their traditions - and market share - while debating whether table wines are the wave of the future. It's an "old world" versus "new world" battle unfolding within the same small wine region.

The movie is definitely worth a view for anyone who has an interest in Port, or for anyone who has an interest in how tradition adapts itself to the future.

:A Year in Port"is also available as a trilogy with the other two companion films. iTunes is offering the trio for a special price of $14.99, which I assume will go away at some point. Find it here.


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Monday, October 3, 2016

Single-Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

The Owsley Single Block Pinot Noir 2014 is the latest in Sonoma-Cutrer's Winemaker's Release Series. It's an estate bottled, Russian River Valley Pinot that has alcohol at 14.3% abv - a little lofty for my Pinot money - and retails for $50.

Sonoma-Cutrer notes that their Director of Winemaking, Mick Schroeter, "wanted to explore the effect on the wine if you controlled all of the terroir elements while applying unique winemaking practices." He opted to refine the single-vineyard selection to a single block of grapes within a vineyard. The terroir of the Russian River Valley is well-known to Pinot lovers. That marine layer that rolls in almost daily keeps the region cool, the way Pinot Noir likes it. The grapes come from the K Top block, which they say is the lowest-yielding block of the ten that make up the 90-acre estate.

The wine was fermented three different ways - oak tank, stainless steel tank and new French oak barrels. The winery says of their wood that the oak has been under their control since they first sourced it from the Gauthier family three decades ago.

The barrel aging for this wine was done in one-third each new, once-used, and twice-used French oak. The wines sit for 16 months, then are blended. Another eight months of bottle-aging follows.

This Pinot is Sonoma, to be sure. It is rich, with a nose displaying blueberries, chocolate, tea bags and anise. The palate is full with a sincere acidity on the dark fruit, sweet spice and leathery notes. I want to call it brawny, but that would be going a step too far. There is certainly an undeniable strength, but also a gentle elegance that keeps the muscle in check.