There is No ‘R’ in Delicious

Solune Rosé 002Yes, it is October, and while it is never stated, the unspoken rule seems to be ‘no rosé in months containing the letter r.’  May to August isn’t enough time to enjoy all the beautiful rosés out there, especially when temperatures reach into the 80’s  and there’s a  salmon on the grill.  Rosé just seems right.

Solune is a winery in Grass Valley, California.  While many of the wineries in the Sierra Foothills are making some nice wines with Rhone Valley varieties, the winemakers who are experimenting with Italian varieties in this hilly, warm region are finding their terroir.

Solune is a mash up of the French words for Sun and Moon.  Jacques Mercier, the winegrower, claims French as his native language, hailing from Québec.  Yes, a French-speaking, Canadian is growing Italian grapes in California.  Does that sound wrong?  It is no more wrong than drinking rosé in October.  The result is a deep orange-red, Barbera rosé, with earthy, citrus and red fruit aromas.  The body is medium, the acidity is tart.  The flavors are cranberries and sloe gin with a hint of bitter lime peel on the finish.  It is juicy, tart and rich with color and flavor.

The Three Sisters of Veneto

ItalyCorvina laughed an acidic laugh, a laugh that reflected not bitterness, but a crispness that was larger than her small stature,and lighter than her thick skin. She was clearly the bright leader of the three sisters of Veneto. Rondinella always dressed in full make-up, well-colored and perfumed, her displays of ultra-femininity disguising a stout, hearty constitution. Molinara, pale and light, the most delicate of the three, echoed her beloved sister’s acidic-voiced laugh, quietly, subtly. Their laughter and conversation blended and mixed until you could hardly tell one from the other. They became as one in Valpolicello.

When it comes to wine and grapes, Italy confuses me. Though it makes wines with noble grapes, most regions in Italy depend on indigenous grapes, so many indigenous grapes. Perhaps, if I personify them all, put them into a story, I’ll be able to keep them straight.

There once were three brothers. Moscato, Arneis and Cortese were like the three white knights of the Piedmont. Though he was often a very sweet fellow, few people would openly admit that they liked Moscato. “Do you like Moscato?” “Yes, I do.” “Well, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.” “Why would I be ashamed?” “Oh, no reason…” The truth was, spending time with Moscato was like spending a late summer’s evening in a fragrant peach orchard, lovely, but at times too soft, too sweet. Arneis was elegant and exotic, and like his brother, sometimes a little flabby, rather than crisp. Cortese, was pleasant enough. He didn’t exude the flair and perfumes of his flabby brothers, but what he lacked in exotic characteristics he made up for in his structure and acidity. The white knights stayed in Piedmont to defend and protect their beautiful sisters, Barbera, who was quite elegant in her kingdom of Alba, unlike her cousin, also named Barbera, who could be a bit rough, having grown up in the hills of Asti. Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino and Brachetto, though not as bold as the Barberas, had some similar qualities, such as a crisp demeanor. Alas, the white knights were no match for the strength and power of Piedmont’s queen, Nebbiolo, perhaps the strongest ruler of all time. She commanded many areas, including Lombardy where she went by the name Valtellina-Chiavennasca, but was especially known for her work in Barolo and Barbaresco. She spoke in more feminine tones in Barbaresco, though still with strength and conviction. Wherever she went, she was recognized for her large, muscular, powerful frame…and her mustache.

And don’t get me started on the Sangiovese clan! Good old Sangiovese, so well-loved in Chianti. But, what on earth is in his past that every time he moves to a new town, he changes his name? In Montalcino he’s Brunello. In Montepulciano he goes by Prugnolo Gentile. And in Scansano, he’ll answer to Morellino. Was it his recent dalliances in Bolgheri with the sophisticated Bordeaux girls that, while it gave him the reputation of being ‘super,’ forced him to go incognito? He may be a devil, but he ages well and has so many interesting aspects to him. It’s no wonder he goes by so many different names.

Hey, Trebbiano! Malvasia! Pipe down, with your Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone! I can hear you all the way from Latium!

The action of the story has steered clear of Trentino-Alto Adige, with its German-style natives, including Traminer and his old friend, Muller-Thurgau. Nor has the story ventured into Friuli-Venezia-Guilia where are harbored four native characters, Refosco, the sister, and three brothers, Verduzzo, Picolit and Friulano, a distant relative to Sauvignon Blanc. I have yet to introduce Verdicchio, Marches’ neutral white grape. I have left Umbria and with it Grechetto, himself a bit nutty and his sister, Sagrantino, an intense gal who smokes. Perhaps, Falanghina isn’t even worth mentioning. He may be weak, but he manages to stand up to the volcanic ash soil of Campania. Aleatico hides out in Apulia, being far outshone by his much more famous sister, Primitivo. And before I can make it all the way to Sardinia to introduce Cannonau, who goes by her French name, Grenache when in Rhone and her brother, Vermentino, whose ancestors traveled here from Spain in the middle ages, and who may be distantly related to Malvasia up in Latium, I said ‘quiet!’ I realize that if I did try to personify every indigenous grape of Italy, I would have to write a story with more characters than can be found in a Russian novel. But unlike the Brothers Karamazov, the three sisters of Veneto lived happily ever after as did Prosecco, their party-boy brother.

Eat Locally, Drink Globally

Apple Tree in August

It is the middle of the hottest month of summer, and our apple tree is heavy with fruit. Yesterday, there were too many apples to ignore, so I snapped a dozen of them off their branches and chopped them up for applesauce. While the fruit was simmering, I wandered out to the garden and found some good-sized peppers, cherry tomatoes, bright green basil, and flowering oregano. I had an eggplant, zucchini and onion from the local farmers’ market. I was just a few mushrooms short of a ratatouille, as, I have no foraging friends, and we live in the very arid desert. With the addition of some olive oil, sea salt and garlic, the ratatouille was delicious even without the fungus.

Ratatouille

Barbara Kingsolver, in her book, Animal, Vegetable and Miracle, defines ‘eating local’ as within a 250 mile radius. The bulk of my dinner came from within a few yards of my kitchen. But I would have to cross the Sierra for the wine. Lucky for me, there is some wonderful wine country within my 250 mile radius. Last night took me to Amador County in the Sierra foothills. Terra d’Oro makes a delicious Barbera. It has a nice vibrancy to it that played well off the ratatouille. But the warmth of the Amador sun gave those berries a fruity lushness that rounded out the wine really nicely. The flavor of dark cherries with just a hint of oak, a little acidity and not too much heat gave the wine a nice balance that was lovely to sip on a warm summer evening.

Terra d’Oro Barbera, 2009 Amador County

Eating locally in the summertime is an absolute pleasure. The burgeoning carts at the local farmers’ markets along with my messy, fruitful garden gives us lots of color and choice in our meals. I don’t feel limited at all. Even though 250 miles puts me within range of the Sierra foothills as well as Napa and most of Sonoma, I would hate to be limited to drinking locally. Part of the appeal of wine for me is the opportunity to taste wine from all over the world. Each bottle is like an invitation to come sit at the vintner’s table in a far off village in Australia or Chile or France. It’s not just a glass of wine. It’s a little piece of someone’s culture, tradition and land. Drinking globally is a beautiful way to see the world.

Wine, Music and Ancestors; the Back Story

My son recently had the opportunity through honor band to learn from a guest composer/conductor, Robert W. Smith.  It was a great experience for him.  The thing my son enjoyed the most was that the Mr. Smith had the back story on every composition they performed.  “I like knowing the back story.  It brings the music to life, ” my son observed.

I’ve just recently begun searching for my ancestors through familysearch.org and ancestry.com.  It’s been both fascinating and frustrating.  I can find neither a birth certificate nor a death certificate for my great grandfather, who remains a family mystery.  But through my search I was able to find his marriage license as well as a photo of my great grandmother, one I had never seen before.  It was quite a thrill to find her face on line.  Each bit of information, each document gives me a better picture of their lives.  The 1910 census created a mental image for me of my 5 year old grandfather living in his grandparents’ house with his 3 brothers and his mother.  It also told me that by then, mystery man, my great grandfather, had disappeared.  The stories of my ancestors bring them to life for me.

I live an easy drive to much of California’s wine country.  While I love Napa and Sonoma, there are some beautiful vineyards closer to my home, and those are in the wine country of the Sierra Foothills.  The wines from that area are not as elegant and polished as the Napa Cabs, but they are crisp and earthy.  Many can be quite wonderful.  The volcanic and granite soils of the Sierra Foothills do well with Rhone Valley grapes such as Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache.  Some wineries do well with other Mediterranean reds such as Sangiovese, Barbera, and Petite Sirah.  As I research the area, I’m learning more about the individual vineyards and their back stories.  Knowing the back story brings the wine to life.