Petite Sirah; Why You Can’t Keep a Spirited Grape Down

Foppiano Estate Petite Sirah

Foppiano Estate Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah is one of two vitis vinifera grapes that is considered America’s grape, the other being Zinfandel. Originally from the south of France, Petite Sirah is genetically related to the grape Durif which is a cross between Peloursin and Syrah. It is a delicate grape that produces a powerful wine. Susceptible to rot, it has not done well in its home of southern France, but when planted in a drier climate it produces a dark, tannic, powerful wine. While it has withered in Europe, Petite Sirah has persisted and thrived here in America.

Foppiano Vineyards is in Healdsburg California in Sonoma County. The property feels more like a grape farm than a vineyard. The home on the property is modest as is the tasting room. It is homey rather than pretentious. Foppiano’s is clearly and proudly a working farm. Along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Foppiano also makes wine from America’s grapes. Their real show stopper is the Petite Sirah. Lot 96 has almond and vanilla wafting along with the red fruit and a clean finish. The Estate PS is dark fruit, chewy tannins, and chocolate. It is heavy and meaty. Though finicky in humid climates, here in Sonoma Petite Sirah has proven to be a spirited grape that makes big-flavored wine.

Foppiano Tasting Room

Foppiano Tasting Room

My Mother was laughing when I spoke to her on the phone. It was good to hear her laugh after the stress that she’d been through. “They put him in a straight jacket!” She was talking about my Dad. He was recovering from bypass surgery, still hooked up to wires and tubes. He was supposed to be resting and deep breathing, but instead he decided he wanted to get up. Of course, they had told him not to, not without help, and not until he was unplugged. But they weren’t in the room, so, I guess he thought it would be okay. In his noble attempt, he got tangled in his tubes and wires and had to press for the nurse. She got him back into bed, and, realizing this one was going to be trouble, she put him in a garment that keeps him a little less mobile.

There was some pride in my Mother’s laughter. My Dad is very spirited. It is his indomitable spirit that got him through the bypass surgery. His spirit makes him a great patient for difficult surgeries, but a terrible patient for the nurses.

Narnia Gone Rogue

On the Way to Corvallis

On the Way to Corvallis

Willamette Valley in Oregon is on the same latitude as Burgundy and has a similar climate. So, it is not surprising that 75% of the grapes grown here are the red grape of Burgundy, Pinot Noir. While Pinot Noir is softer-bodied and less tannic than Bordeaux’s Cabernet Sauvignon, it has just as great aging potential. Some age will enhance it, and it can hold quite a bit of age. With a good Pinot Noir, knowing when it is ready is key.

“It looks like Narnia.” It is when he says things like this that I realize my 18 year old son is still between childhood and adulthood. It wasn’t that long ago that he got lost in fairy tale movies like that. Now, he is choosing his college, his first major decision that will send repercussions rippling through the rest of his adult life. It is a decision he will have to make himself.

Domaine Serene Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2009

Domaine Serene Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2009

Domaine Serene has been producing wine since the late 1980′s. They are a large, well-established winery in the Willamette Valley that has been earning accolades from wine reviewers such as Robert Parker, Wine and Spirits and Wine Spectator since the 1990′s. It is no wonder. Their Pinot Noirs express the perfect Willamette terroir with bright red fruits and earthy aromas in a silky texture. As in Burgundy, the wines are aged in oak for just a hint of vanilla and cedar aromas. The 2011 and earlier are ready now, but will continue to improve over the next several years.

My son and I made the 9 hour drive to Corvallis, Oregon yesterday. The scenery was glorious. No one ever told me Oregon was so stunning. “Oregon has one of the lowest rates of tourism of any state in the union.” Sometimes on his way to adulthood, Bob channels Cliff Clavin. I haven’t fact-checked him on this tidbit, but I had to wonder why that would be true as we crossed first the Rogue, then the Umpqua, and finally the Willamette River. Oh, yes, friends, we are in the heart and soul of Oregon wine country. He applied to Oregon State University because he was impressed with their engineering program. When they offered him a scholarship, OSU made his short list. We had to visit to make sure it could be a place he’d feel at home in over the next few years. So far, he seems a bit enamored with the pine-covered mountains. For selfish reasons, mainly wine related, I hope he chooses Corvallis. I am excited for him to take that big step away from home. I know he’ll embrace it. At the same time, of course I will miss him terribly. He has been a bright, cheerful and funny buddy over the past 18 years. But, I also wonder if he’s ready, caught as he is somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Like the winemakers of this region, I have done my part. Just as the winemakers know when to release the wine it is time for me to stop counting to ten, and say, ‘Ready or not, world, here he comes!’

Refinement, Courtesy, and Why We Write; a Conversation with Bob Wildman, Author of the Book, The Inquisitive Yanqui

The Inquisitive Yanqui by Bob Wildman

“I don’t like the big fruit bombs,” Bob Wildman noted while discussing a Cabernet Sauvignon he’d had recently. His preference is for the more subtle and refined wines. It was a comment he made at the end of his discussion about his novel, The Inquisitive Yanqui. Lucky for us, Bob Wildman lives in Reno and graciously agreed to come to our book club meeting. What a treat to get to speak directly with the author about his novel.

“The story began to write itself,” he said. “I had the feeling that Elena was writing herself.” Like the author’s preferred style of wine, Elena is elegant and refined. She has the strength and subtlety of a true heroine. “Dave and Elena are two very much above average people who were thrust into a situation that was much bigger than they. And they rose to the occasion.”

The story has geopolitical intrigue, espionage, and romance. It also has wine. “I really started to study wine when I got out of graduate school in ’75, so that was a long time ago. Back then the known wine world was Europe and Napa Valley.” The author is a certified specialist of wine. He is also a clinical psychologist. “There might be some lessons in the novel. One relates to relationships. I think Dave and Elena developed a wonderful relationship under very trying conditions and we can learn from them.” But, his most interesting observation was on the writing process itself, “I believe there are great mental health benefits to writing a novel, and one of them is dissociation. You enter into another realm of consciousness.” “People don’t often ask you, ‘What are your values? What are your goals? What is your purpose here on earth?’ But we should be thinking about that. And writing a novel more than anything else I’ve ever experienced will help you understand what your values and goals in life are.”

The values and goals of the characters in the novel are high ideals put into action. The book is set in the fictitious South American country of Cortesia. When asked what motivated him to write the book, Dr. Wildman answered; “I was filling in in some mental health centers in Alaska, and it was very dark and it was very cold and kind of depressing. And I thought maybe something I could do would be to create this fantasy story in this warm place. That really is how this particular book began.” In warm and sunny Cortesia the military and political characters, the revolutionaries, work together ever respectful of each other, toward a common goal; promises are kept, responsibilities are owned. The romantic relationship between the main characters, Elena and Dave unfolds slowly, and evolves in a very courtly manner out of respect and kindness. Cortesia may not exist on a map, but in its English translation ‘courtesy,’ it is the underlying theme throughout the story. It is the structure that holds Cortesian society together as they reform their government; it is the force that pushes forward relationships throughout the novel. Through the actions of his characters, Bob Wildman creates a society that reflects the best in refinement and that is courtesy.

Merlot Revisited; the Answers

Here are the answers to last week’s quiz:

1) The Merlot grape can best be described as:
a) Early ripening with thick skin
b) Early ripening with thin skin
c) Late ripening with thick skin
d) Late ripening with thin skin

The answer is b) Early ripening with thin skins
The early ripening makes them an ideal partner with the late ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. It allows the grape growers to hedge their bets. Bad weather in the spring? No problem, they still have their Cab. Bad weather in the Fall? No problem, they still have their Merlot. The thin skins give Merlot softer tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon. Both grapes have a similar flavor profile.

2) The Merlot grape has a flavor profile similar to that of:
a) Pinot Noir
b) Zinfandel
c) Cabernet Sauvignon
d) Sangiovese

The answer is c) Cabernet Sauvignon

3) Sandy soils:
a) Retain water and are acidic
b) Retain water and are alkaline
c) Do not retain water and are acidic
d) Do not retain water and are alkaline

The answer is c) Do not retain water and are acidic. The reason that well-draining soils are acidic is that as the water drains out, the calcium also leaches out making room for Hydrogen cations, creating a more acidic soil. Acidic soils also have more micronutrients such as zinc, iron, manganese and boron.

4) The region known for its ‘crasse de fer’ soil is:
a) St. Émilion
b) Fronsac
c) Pomerol
d) Listrac

The answer is c) Pomerol

5) Two of the best regions in the US for Merlot are:
a) Sonoma and Virginia
b) Napa and Washington
c) Long Island and Washington
d) Central Coast and Oregon

The answer is b) Napa and Washington Washington state is known for its sandy, well-draining, iron-rich soils.

6) Two other major players in the production of Merlot are:
a) Spain and Italy
b) Canada and Switzerland
c) Australia and Argentina
d) Italy and Chilé

The answer is d) Italy and Chile. Italy grows more Merlot than any other region other than France. Chile, like Washington state, also has sandy, well-draining soils.

Bonus Question #1 What is the connection between water retention and pH balance of the soil?

The answer is if water is retained in the soil, than calcium will not leach out, and the soil will be more alkaline. The soil will also be cooler and better for acidity in the grape.

Bouns Question #2 What does ‘crasse de fer’ mean?

The answer is ‘crasse de fer’ means iron-rich soil such as is found in Pomerol. Pomerol’s clay has oxidized iron in it. ‘Fer’ translates to ‘iron.’ ‘Crasse’ translates to ‘dross’ which is the scum formed on metals from oxidation. As in most cases, it sounds much better in French.

Extra Credit When was the last time you had a really good Merlot? What was it? Describe it.
Answer; thank you for the recommendations! And thank you for playing. This one goes to Ernest of Whine and Cheers for Wine

Merlot Revisited

In preparation for an upcoming tasting of Merlot, I have done quite a bit of research on the grape, its best soils, and its best regions. I thought I would share with you what I have learned in the form of a quiz. You are welcome!

1) The Merlot grape can best be described as:
a) Early ripening with thick skin
b) Early ripening with thin skin
c) Late ripening with thick skin
d) Late ripening with thin skin

2) The Merlot grape has a flavor profile similar to that of:
a) Pinot Noir
b) Zinfandel
c) Cabernet Sauvignon
d) Sangiovese

3) Sandy soils:
a) Retain water and are acidic
b) Retain water and are alkaline
c) Do not retain water and are acidic
d) Do not retain water and are alkaline

4) The region known for its ‘crasse de fer’ soil is:
a) St. Émilion
b) Fronsac
c) Pomerol
d) Listrac

5) Two of the best regions in the US for Merlot are:
a) Sonoma and Virginia
b) Napa and Washington
c) Long Island and Washington
d) Central Coast and Oregon

6) Two other major players in the production of Merlot are:
a) Spain and Italy
b) Canada and Switzerland
c) Australia and Argentina
d) Italy and Chilé

Bonus Question #1 What is the connection between water retention and pH balance of the soil?
Bouns Question #2 What does ‘crasse de fer’ mean?
Extra Credit When was the last time you had a really good Merlot? What was it? Describe it.

Answers to be posted next week. Or you can look them up in Exploring Wine by CIA, Grapes and Wine by Oz Clark, The Wine Bible by Karen McNeil, The world Atlas of Wine by Johnson/Robinson

Cheers!

Sometimes Karma is an Enabler

I used to call my son ‘LB.’  It stood for ‘Little Bob.’  Now, that he’s pushing 6’3″ that nickname is no longer appropriate.  I still call him ‘LB.’  But the initials stand for something else, entirely.

Miami University

Miami University

Since last summer we have taken our son, who is now a high school senior, to visit several colleges.  While we were in Ohio, we visited Miami University, which happens to be my parents’ alma mater.  They joined us that day for the tour of the college.  While we were in Oxford, my Dad recounted to us a story from his college days.  While attending Miami, my Dad, because he is handy often did odd jobs for the university president.  One spring he was painting the president’s house when he stepped on a rotting board that had been there to cover a cesspool.  The board broke, and my Dad fell in. Grabbing onto the slippery sides, he was able to hoist himself up.  After he showered, he let the president know what had happened.  Aghast at what could have been a horrible and disgusting tragedy, the president gave my Dad a huge tip for all his trouble.  After that my grandfather would often quip, ‘Bill is the only person I know who can fall into a pile of shit and come up with a pile of money.’  It’s true.  Karma has been more than kind to my Dad on many occasions, occasions that for most people would have nothing but dire consequences.

This past fall my son, LB, applied to his three dream colleges for early action.  He, also, at his mother’s prodding applied to our local state college, UNR, although he has made it abundantly clear that he does not want to stay in Reno.  He has worked very hard to get excellent grades in an advanced program all so that he will be accepted into one of his dream colleges, the number one choice being Georgia Tech.

This week-end, thinking he should have heard something by now, I asked him to check on the status of his applications.  When he did, it was not unlike stepping onto the rotting board of a cesspool.  Unfortunately, only one application was complete.  In his haste last fall, he failed to have transcripts and test scores sent to his other two dream colleges, and the deadlines for even regular admission is past.  Well, LB, there’s nothing wrong with state college.  Now, LB is a lot like his grandfather in that he often falls into shit, yet, somehow comes out of it unscathed, sometimes even richer for it.  It is to the point where when LB leaves his wallet in the cup holder at the movie theater, and doesn’t realize it until he gets home, a seeming disaster for most people, I know that he will return to the theater and find his wallet completely intact, and he does.  Things always work out for him.  But this error, missing the deadlines for his dream colleges, was huge, a lost opportunity that he will never get back…or will he?

Montrachet is one of the most famous Grand Cru of Burgundy.  Just to the east of Montrachet is a lesser known Grand Cru region,  and that is Bâtard-Montrachet.  Its soils are heavier than that of its neighbor; its wines are not quite as elegant as that of its neighbor.  The sub-region of Bâtard-Montrachet has survived and recovered from the ravages of both oidium and phylloxera in the 19th century and was elevated to Grand Cru in 1937.  Though lesser known, it has a great reputation for white Burgundy.  I’m not saying it doesn’t deserve that reputation, but perhaps the region should be re-named Bâtard Chanceux.
Yesterday, LB received an email from Georgia Tech.  They noticed that his application was incomplete.  If he can get his transcripts and test scores to them by February 14th, they’ll extend the deadline and accept his application.  Of course they will.  There’s a reason why my son never learns from his mistakes.  He doesn’t have to, because for him, Karma is an enabler.  LB no longer stands for Little Bob.  It stands for Lucky Bastard, and he is.
Lucky Bastard #1

Lucky Bastard #1

Lucky Bastard #2

Lucky Bastard #2

Devotion; Why I Love Madeira

This is my entry for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge  This month’s theme is ‘Devotion.’

Cossart Gordon Bual Madeira, NV 10 years

Cossart Gordon Bual Madeira, NV 10 years

Amber in color, rich and nutty with some zest in the finish, Cossart Gordon Bual Madeira NV, aged 10 years tastes like the warmth of Christmas on a cold, snowy night. In the lushness of this fortified wine it was the zest on the finish that surprised me.

Madeira is commonly made from one of five grapes. The driest is Sercial, also known as Esgana Cao which translates to ‘Dog Strangler.’ I’d say that’s pretty dry. Grown a little lower on the island, and slightly less acidic is Verdelho. At sea level are the grapes Bual and Malvasia, the latter being the least acidic, and usually made into the sweetest style of Madeira. The one red grape used to make Madeira, and the one most commonly used is Tinto Negro Mole.

The Madeira I had recently is made from the Bual grape which is also known as Semillon, the other white grape of Bordeaux. In both Bual Madeira and still Semillon, the grape presents a beautiful contrast between lushness and tangy acidity.

Like other fortified wines, Madeira, because of its high alcohol content and through the process of ‘maderization,’ is a very sturdy wine that travels well with little threat of breaking down during the voyage. Its sturdiness was a great benefit during America’s colonial period when a ship could take months to get from Europe to the colonies. For that reason, it was the wine that was served in the colonial taverns.

Think of it, during the constitutional convention, while all those great minds hashed out the details of a new nation, they were probably all sipping Madeira. When Washington travelled to Williamsburg to discuss with George Wythe and Peyton Randolph the possibility of war, the conversations occurred, I’m sure over a glass or two of Madeira. Jefferson was no stranger to wine, but his beloved Bordeaux would not have made the voyage to Virginia, so it was probably Madeira that loosened his quill as he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Married to a Quaker, there’s a chance Madison wrote the constitution completely sober, but if he did have a drink, I’m sure it was Madeira.

General Washington

General Washington

I won’t go so far as to say that Madeira built our nation. But I do not think it is a stretch to say that Madeira is the wine that fortified our nation, or at the very least, Madeira fortified our founding fathers.