Grenache for Winter Comfort

Here’s something plebeian to make for dinner; stuffed cabbage leaves…stuffed with ground beef and rice and seasoned with oregano, salt and nutmeg, slow-cooked in tomato sauce. It was the nutmeg that called out for a southern Rhone red. I don’t know why, but it was perfect. Halos of Jupiter, 2015, the orange rimmed age gave her velvety tannins with the opulent aromas of black plum, raspberries, rosemary and black tea. Maybe it was the nutmeg or maybe it was that Grenache is a little plebeian, too. Comfort wines pair well with comfort foods.

Branaire-Ducru, 1961, My Birthday Wine

Time is a funny thing, a concept created by humans as a way to organize the world around them. Sometimes time stops while we are still living.

This afternoon I stood in a wet cedar forest. I could feel the soft, spongy moss beneath my feet. I could smell the cedar trees. I could also smell the wild violets that were growing beside the myrtles. And I could taste the tart, wild strawberries. I wasn’t really in a forest. I was transported there through my sense of smell.

I was born in 1961 in a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. That same year, someone in the vineyards of Branaire-Ducru in St. Julien Bordeaux near La Foret des Landes was picking grapes, Cabernet mostly, maybe some Merlot to be made into wine.

Today, after 60 years of aging, I opened that wine and it was like time stood still, maybe even stopped existing. For a few minutes I was living outside of time. I could smell the forest. I could smell the fruit. It was still tart. I could smell flowers and something savory, like leather and bayberry and nuts. There was so much to this wine, yet, everything was subtle and delicate, complex and integrated.

Wine, when it speaks to us, is beautiful. But when wine transcends time and transports us to another place it is sublime.

In Search of a Teinturier Wine

Teinturier grapes are grapes that produce red juice. Most grapes have white flesh and white juice. But the red flesh and juice of the Teinturier grapes is what makes them stand out. Used to add red color to wines, Teinturier translates to ‘dyer,’ which is exactly their purpose, to dye or color the wine. Because of this purpose, they are found mostly in blends. Of the few that exist, less and less are being planted, the most well-known Teinturier grape is Alicanté Bouschet. Developed in the lab in 1866 by Henri Bouschet, it is a cross between Petit Bouschet and Grenache. Petit Bouschet is also a hybrid developed by Henri’s father, Louis Bouschet in 1828. It is a cross between Teinturier du Cher and Aramon. Both grapes are native to France.

Here’s where it gets complicated. In Tuscany and Sicily, Granache, known as Garnacha in Spain, goes by the name Alicanté. (In Sardegnea Grenache is called Cannonau.) In Spain Alicanté Bouschet is called Garnacha Tintorera.

So if you see the name Alicanté on the label and the wine is from Tuscany or Sicily, then you probably have a Grenache or Garnacha, not a Teinturier grape, although Alicanté can also be used for Alicanté Bouschet, a Teinturier grape. If you see Alicanté Bouschet on the label, then you have a Teinturier grape. If you see Garnacha Tintorera on the label, then you have Alicanté Bouschet, a Teinturier grape.

But if that’s not challenging enough, remember that Petit Bouschet and Teinturier du Cher are also Teinturier grapes. Teinturier du Cher has over 30 synonyms including Pontac, Noir d’Orléans, and Uva Tinta.

There are also other cross-bred Teinturier grapes developed by the Bouschet family such as Morastel Bouschet, Carignan Bouschet and Grand Noir De La Calmette. There is a family of Gamay Teinturier grapes including Gamay du Bouze. Teinturiers can also be found in Germany (Dunkelfelder) and Georgia (Saperavi).

However, if you are on the hunt for a Teintuier wine, your best bet is to be on the look out for Alicanté Bouschet. Just make sure the last name is included.

There is More to Argentina than Malbec

When one thinks of Argentine wine, the most common thought to come up is Malbec. It fills our Argentine sections of US wine shops, the favorite at the barbeque, so juicy and spicy. It also happens to make up close to 40% of red grape plantings in Argentina. But when Malbec first arrived in Argentina from France in the middle of the 19th century, she came with her Bordeaux sisters; Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. While neither of these grapes comes close to matching the percentage of planting that Malbec enjoys, (Cabernet Sauvignon is the closest at just over 12% of total red grapes compared to Malbec’s 40%), they do have a place and each can be expressed beautifully when grown in the various Argentine climates.

Cabernet Sauvignon is planted at high altitudes in the continental climate of Mendoza as compared to the low altitude maritime climate of Bordeaux. The high altitude intensifies tannins in the already quite tannic grape. As in Bordeaux Mendoza winemakers use French oak to soften the tannins. While the grape develops aromas of cassis and black cherry it also holds on to the savory aroma of green bell pepper giving it elegance and complexity.

Merlot is grown in the very high altitude vineyards of Uco Valley The high altitude mitigates the warm climate, allowing the grapes to ripen more slowly as they develop aromas of potpourri and black fruit.

Unlike the other Bordeaux grapes, Cabernet Franc did not come to Argentina in the 1860’s, but was first brought over 130 years later in the 1990’s. Cabernet Franc is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. He is an ancient grape originally from Bordeaux though well entrenched in the Loire Valley of France . Cabernet Franc’s own parents are ancient grapes themselves by the names of Morenoa and Hondarribi Beltza. In the high altitude vineyards of Mendoza Cabernet Franc displays its floral and red fruit aromas along with a savory green bell pepper note that pairs perfectly with chimichurri. In the cool climate of the Patagonia in the region of La Pampa, Cabernet Franc becomes even more savory and elegant.

Along with these classic Bordeaux grapes, Argentina also grows Syrah, Tempranillo, Tannat, even Pinot Noir and white grapes such as Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

While it makes up a majority of the plantings in the country, there is more to Argentine wines than Malbec.

Finding Hope, Truth and Valor in Paso Robles

In times like these when it seems that integrity has become almost negligible in the world around us, it can be hard to maintain a moral compass. West Point has a very simple pledge for their cadets, “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” It’s so basic, something most of us are taught as children. Yet, this basic idea, this touchstone for a morally functioning society, can so easily become distorted and neglected through the complications of life.

In 2014 Paso Robles went from a single AVA to eleven AVA’s. The reason for creating so many sub-AVA’s in this central coast region of California can be summed up in a word; diversity. There is a diversity in climate, soil types, and topography in this part of San Luis Obispo County. While the eastern region is warmer and drier with temperatures sometimes reaching triple digits and rainfall in the single digits, the western region is cooler and wetter. Topography varies with vineyards planted as low as 700 feet and as high as 2000 feet. Soils vary from sand, clay, calcareous shale and loamy soils. Single vineyards may even have more than one soil type.

Since 1983 when the Paso Robles AVA was first established, the area has grown from having 17 wineries to having over 200 wineries today. Among these are Austin Hope Wines and Truth and Valor Winery.

Truth and Valor creates a Cabernet Sauvignon wine that reflects the climate and soils of Paso Robles without ‘heavy-handed winemaking.’ The expression of terroir is the wine’s truth, and the hands off approach is the ‘valor’ of the winemaker. With beautiful dark fruit, notes of green pepper and and elevating acidity the wine presents the truth of Paso Robles.

Austin Hope, the president and winemaker of Hope Family Wines, has a goal of having 100% certified sustainable vineyards by next year. He believes that will have ‘positive effects for our vineyards, the environment, our community and the future of wine growing in Paso Robles.’ His namesake Cabernet Sauvignon is made with grapes sourced from five different sub AVA’s of Paso Robles. The variation gives texture and complexity to his wine which is rich and fresh with spice and cocoa notes and a lush, elegant structure.

Simple, bold words make a great structure for social integrity. Simple, bold acts done with integrity produce quality. Part of the terroir for both these wineries is a strong moral compass.

Old World vs. New World

There are four sure ways to tell an old world wine from a new world wine. Old world wines have ripe fruit on the nose and tart fruit on the palate. New world wines are ripe on both the nose and the palate. Old world wines have a mineral finish. New world wines do not. New world wines are more likely to have evidence of new oak, aromas of vanilla, spice and smoke. New world wines are, also more likely to be higher in alcohol. Another way to think of the difference in style between an old and new world wine is to think of them as party attendees. The Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, is full and opulent, loud and boisterous, like the glamorous, loud, sophisticated woman who’s personality fills the room as soon as she enters it. The red Burgundy is quiet, elegant and demure, sitting off in a corner observing. Both guests are great to talk with. The loud party-gal has you laughing minutes into the conversation. In fact she has the whole room laughing. She’s bright and witty, loud and fun. The woman in the corner speaks quietly, but she is endlessly fascinating. The more you talk with her, the more interested you become in what she has to say. But you really have to listen and ask the right questions. You have to work a little to get her to open up.

To my first protest I wore my American flag t shirt. I knew it was an ‘annoying, middle-aged, suburban white woman’ thing to do. But I am, after all, an annoying, middle-aged, suburban white woman. It’s time I embrace who I am. A protest march just felt very patriotic.

My poster had two sentences, ‘Take a knee for Floyd. Bend the arc toward justice.’ As we marched through the streets of Reno, several hundred strong, we chanted in one voice, ‘Say his name, George Floyd. I can’t breathe.’ I chanted until I could no longer. The power of that moment, hundreds of people speaking out in unison against the horrible injustice of George Floyd’s last few minutes on earth made my voice shaky and my eyes well-up.

There are still people who believe that Colin Kaepernick was disrespecting the flag when he took a knee during the pledge of allegiance. His was a silent, powerful, peaceful protest. He may have been disrespecting and thereby drawing attention to what America is, but he was showing tremendous respect to what America should be. He was demanding that we as a nation live up to the pledge and promise of our founding fathers, ‘liberty and justice’ for all. Colin Kapernick taking a knee is profoundly patriotic. I hope we can all respect our nation that deeply.

What are the next steps to wiping out systemic racism? First, people have conversations like we’ve been having for the past several weeks since the protests started. We have to acknowledge that systemic racism exists in our society. Then we all have to work to make racism unacceptable. That may mean calling people out on subtle racism or overt racist comments. Systemic racism doesn’t just exist in our police forces. It exists in our society. It exists in our conversations

Loud protesting can be riveting and educational. When the protester is loud and has a clear message it can be inspiring. But the wordless protester, the one who kneels quietly, is quite compelling, quite eloquent in his silence. Through both loud and quiet protesting we will bring the old world into the new world.

Covid-19 and Community; an Etude

“I bought new shoes on line today!” my friend shouted to me from several yards away.

“ My husband is really getting on my nerves!” shouted another friend, also several yards away, “ This will be a test of our marriage,” she continued. “Let’s see who comes out of this still together.”

We were walking our dogs at the park, and like we often do, we had stopped to visit with each other. But this visit was all from a safe social distance.

We, all three lingered, even after there was nothing left to shout. It was nice just being together, from several yards away. We were all reluctant to say good-bye, and head back to our respective homes, the place in which all of us have spent way too much time, lately.

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The other night I opened a bottle of Etude Pinot Noir. It was one my husband and I had purchased at the winery on our last visit to Napa/Sonoma in February. Etude makes several Pinots all sourced from different vineyards. This particular wine was made from grapes sourced from the Yamhela Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton district of Oregon. It had great dried herb notes, bright red fruit, a touch of smoky goodness with a lengthy vibrant finish. It was dreamy. While my husband loved the wine, it was one I wished I could have shared with my wine group. I’m sure they all would have identified the region. It was a classic Willamette Pinot, and they all would have fawned over the quality of the wine a bit. As a group, I know no better people with whom to share wine appreciation.

I miss the gym. I miss going to work. I miss my wine group. Each is a small community of which I am a part. Mostly what I miss is being with my communities.

Words Matter

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There are three wine certification programs available to whomever has the inclination to enroll. For the service sector, there is the Court of Masters, with four levels. There is a 90% pass rate for the first level, a 33% percent pass rate for the 2nd level, and it drops precipitously from there. Passing the 4th or master level is so difficult and demanding that since its inception in 1977 there have only been 269 people who have achieved that level of mastery. While the level of knowledge required to pass level one is fairly basic, as one would assume, the depth and complexity of the information gets progressively more demanding. That is to say levels two and three have quite a mastery of wine knowledge.

For the retail sector there is the Wine and Spirits Education and Trust. That program has four levels, each progressively more difficult. WSET is often a pathway to the Master of Wine title. Because of the level of depth and complexity of the knowledge required, there are few people who have achieved the Master of Wine title. Since its inception in 1969 there have only been 396 Masters of Wine.

For the writing and teaching sector there is the Society of Wine Educators. That has just two levels, Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Wine Educator. Established in 1977 there have been 8700 certified specialists of wine and far fewer than that for the top level.

By the 2nd level of Court of Masters, the 3rd level of WSET and the 1st level of SWE, the tests are quite rigorous and require quite a lot of knowledge.

What a good certification program will do is guarantee a high level of knowledge in that field. As does happen in many areas of study, there are people who read a few books, or learn a few facts and present themselves as experts. If you want to know that the person teaching a class on wine has the knowledge, ask which of the above certifications they have. If they are not certified, you may as well just read the book yourself.

Here are some things that a person with certification would never say. Can you correct the errors?

The fruit had a fresh, raisinated quality

Tempranillo and Zinfandel are genetically related.

Rioja is a synonym for Tempranillo

The clay soils of the right bank of Bordeaux give Syrah its searing acidity

This Pinot Grigio has a great pyrazine quality

This young Beaujolais needs to be decanted so it can open up.

The oak on this St. Joseph creates some great tertiary aromas.

This is a dry wine with some residual sugar

Some of these are things actually said by wine ‘teachers.’ The point is, as with all things in life, facts do exist. Words matter. Don’t hesitate if you go to a wine class to ask the teacher what level of certification he or she has achieved. If the answer is 2nd level or above through the Court of Masters or WSET programs, or Certified Specialist of Wine or above through Society of Wine Educators, then rest assured you are in the hands of a knowledgeable professional.

Driving Force

I am trying to master this soil and the crops and animals that spring from it, as I strove to master the sea…” -Jack London

img_1382There’s a spot in Glen Ellen California in Sonoma County, in front of the Jack London Saloon the Hotel Chauvet and the London Ranch Road, that feels like an epicenter of quiet perfection in a small town surrounded by natural beauty. This is the saloon where Jack London drank, the road he took to his idyllic ranch. And it’s here up the road on the ranch where there are groves of eucalyptus trees and stands of redwoods, winding paths and magnificent vistas, Jack London’s beloved home over 100 years ago and now a state park; it’s here that one can experience the powerful draw of nature.

Though known for his writing, Jack London also introduced the ideas of organic and sustainable farming to California. His mission was to improve the land, “I am rebuilding worn-out hillside lands that were worked out and destroyed by our wasteful California pioneer farmers. I believe the soil is our one indestructible asset, and by green manures, nitrogen-gathering cover crops, animal manure, rotation of crops, proper tillage and draining, I am getting results which the Chinese have demonstrated for forty centuries.”img_1447

Along the Wolf House trail are vistas of vineyards. And just beyond the Beauty Ranch Trail is the Jack London vineyard, now maintained by Kenwood Vineyards. Planted here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah. As is fitting to the name, the Jack London Vineyard is farmed sustainably.

img_1460Along with the ripe fruit aromas the volcanic soil of the vineyard lends a vibrancy, a kinetic energy, to the wines that in its own way pays tribute to the driving force that once worked this land.