Make America Kind Again

Paso Ranches Cabernet Sauvignon Paso RoblesYesterday at my tasting table, two gentlemen approached with their infant son. I poured the first wine, Paso Ranches, a Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, with red an black berries and juicy tannins. As I poured I commented, ‘He’s adorable.’ The one father said, ‘Thank you.’ ‘How old is he,’ I asked. ‘Forty two,’ my very funny guest replied. ‘No, I meant the baby,’ I said while laughing, ‘Though your partner is very cute, too.’

The second wine was Crossfork Creek, a Cabernet Crossfork Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Yakima ValleySauvignon made by Sheridan Vineyards out of Yakima Washington. It has a depth and density of both organic and inorganic earthiness, like soil full of rich minerals, well integrated with the gorgeous bright fruit. ‘This is my favorite on the table,’ I commented. Just then a middle-aged hetero couple walked by, and the woman gave my guests an odd look. I ignored it, but the funny dad caught it and said, ‘Well, that was judgy.’ ‘What was?’ his partner asked. ‘That woman gave us a judgy look. I mean…I think most people with kids drink. We just choose to do it openly.’

cruzaltaCruz Alta was the final wine. It is an Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon, with very bold fruit and loads of new oak. More of a drinker than a thinker wine, its forthrightness is quite appealing.

From three different regions and vinified differently, each wine presents unique flavors and characteristics. As varied as they are, they are more alike than they are different.  Underneath the variations in regions and vinification, they are all Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; a Studied Tasting

Clos de La Vieille Eglise, 2008Part of the studies for any wine certification (really, the fun part) is the tastings. The various certification programs have made a science out of the tastings, completely deductive, not unlike playing the game Clue. If the fruit is ripe and the aromas are coconut, vanilla and baking spice, the wine is new world. If the ripe fruit is black like plum or black currant and there is a savory thyme or rosemary aroma, then it is a new world Cabernet Sauvignon. If the ripe fruit is red like raspberry or red currant and there is a mint or eucalyptus aroma then it is a new world Merlot. Old world Cabs have the same black fruit but that fruit is tart rather than ripe. The savory herbs are there along with fennel, pepper or mushroom. Old world Merlots are tart red fruits also with mint or eucalyptus along with olive and maybe some mushroom. Easy, right?

The first wine we tasted had both raspberry and black currant. I’ll need more clues. The fruit was definitely ripe, not tart at all. There were some herb aromas, but also, vanilla. The ripeness of the fruit and the oak told me it must be a new world wine. I was torn on the grape, but because the tannins were more velvety, I went with Merlot. I got the grape right, but unless this was Castillon, California, I missed the region. Clos de La Vielle Eglise, 2008, Castillon Bordeaux 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Note to self; time in the bottle will soften the fruit.

The next wine, also presented red and black fruit, red currants and blackberries. The quality of the fruit was very tart. And there was both an herbal and vegetal quality to the wine. There was a dominant minerality and some wet leaf aroma. This had to be old world, with the tart fruit as well as the mineral and earthy aromas. And because of the herbal aromas and strong tannins, it must be a Cabernet Sauvignon. Once again I got the grape right, but missed the region. Los Vascos, Colchagua, Chile, 2011. Note to self; 2011 was a cool year for Chile, thus the fruit is not as ripe.

Wine number three was dominant black fruit, black plums with some blueberry. The fruit was not just ripe, but jammy. There were floral aromas of rose petal potpourri and the oak use was obvious by the coconut aroma. This had to be a warm climate, new world with the jamminess and and oak. And I should have gone with Cabernet Sauvignon because of the black fruit. But the tannins were so soft and lovely, I thought it had to be a Merlot. Starmont, Napa, 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Note to self; go by the fruit, not the tannins when deducing the grape.

Our fourth wine had both red and black fruit, raspberries, red cherries, and black cherries. Again the fruit was jammy. This must be new world. There was a mint aroma along with chocolate, vanilla and toast. The mint told me Merlot, the chocolate, vanilla and toast told me oak, another sign of new world. There was, also a minerality to the wine, like iron, a telltale sign of a Washington State wine. Wildhaven, Horse Heaven, Merlot, 2013. When I filled out my sheet, however, I ignored the mint and called it a Cab. I did get the new world right. Note to self; don’t ignore what you are actually tasting.

In the end, I guessed Colonel Mustard with the candlestick but it was actually Miss Scarlet with the candlestick. I guess I’ll have to keep practicing!

Wine IRL

Total Wine Napa Wine Class

Total Wine Napa Wine Class

Recently, my son let me in on a gamer acronym, ‘IRL,’ as in ‘I have to go eat dinner IRL.’ ‘But what does it stand for?’ I asked him. ‘In Real Life.’ Although it is an acronym used by gamers, I think it is profoundly a part of modern life for all of us. While technology has brought us incredible opportunities for sharing information and even socializing, it has, also, for most of us, created a dichotomous existence.

In the world of wine, there is so much we can do that we couldn’t or didn’t do even ten years ago. We can share wine reviews with hundreds of people that we have never met. We can study wine on line. We can form wine communities through blogging. We can find information on almost any winery. We can buy wine on line. We can do all of this without ever having to interact with anyone IRL. While the convenience of having access to such vast amounts of information is fantastic, the repercussions of not having face to face interaction with fellow wine-lovers is just beginning to be felt in our society.

Experiencing wine is more than tasting and acquiring information. As has been said many times here on the blogs, the best part of experiencing wine is sharing the wine with friends and building a wine community. That can only be done off line through things like wine festivals, winery visits, tasting groups, and IRL wine classes.

This week in locations across the country, Total Wine offered a class on Napa Valley wines. I always enjoy the classes offered because it is a chance to taste through several wines. Also, the classes are designed to be informative for those just beginning their wine journeys as well as those with some level of wine education. The teachers are certified and very knowledgeable, and, also very good at sharing information at every level.

TotalWineNapaClassSept2014 009Last night we tasted through three Napa whites and six Napa reds. We started with Amici Sauvignon Blanc made by Joel Aiken with grapes from St. Helena and Calistoga. The wine is aged primarily in stainless with just a short time in neutral oak. The flavors are melon, lemon and pineapple with a crisp finish.

The Chappellet Chardonnay is made by Phillip Titus with grapes from Carneros, the coolest region in Napa. It has aromas of smoky oak, apple and pear with a medium plus acidity and a full body. We tasted the Chappellet side by side with the Lloyd Chardonnay that is also made with grapes from Carneros. This wine is produced by Robert Lloyd. It has aromas of oak, honey and sweet, spicy pears. The Lloyd Chardonnay is more golden in color and more lush and opulent in body and flavor. The Cheppellet is a more elegant, refined Chardonnay. Both are lovely.

We began the reds with a Courtney Benham Merlot made by Bill Batchelor with grapes from Carneros, Oak Knoll and Stag’s Leap. The aromas are vanilla, cherry, plum and pepper with medium plus acidity and velvety tannins.

We moved from the Merlot to a Napa Zinfandel made by Titus with grapes sourced from Napa Valley. The flavors are cherry, red licorice, vanilla, pepper and coconut. It is a full-bodied wine with very firm tannins.

Our next four wines are all from the grape for which Napa is known, Cabernet Sauvignon. Daglia Canyon is made from Rutherford grapes. It has intense aromas of blackberry and creamy cherries with hints of vanilla and leather. It is full-bodied with very ripe tannins. We tasted it side by side with Cimarossa Cab from Howell Mountain. The Howell Mountain wine had aromas of chocolate, dark berries and tobacco leaves. It is, also very intense with firm tannins, a bit more earthy in flavor than the Rutherford Cab.

Our last two Cabernets were from Stag’s Leap, the Goldilocks region, and St. Helena. The Stag’s Leap wine was a Martin Ray. It is aged for 24 months in French oak and has aromas of tobacco, chocolate, cherry, blackberries and a whiff of carnation. It is very full-bodied with juicy ripe tannins. Red Mare uses grapes from St. Helena, Rutherford and Oakville. It is a small production wine made by Anne Vawter. The flavors are melting cherries, tobacco leaf, mint and spice. It is a ripe and fresh wine with a medium plus acidity.

Tasting so many Napa wines side by side gave us a great opportunity to experience and study the elements of the wines and to appreciate their individual layers of flavor and nuanced differences. Tasting through and learning about wine IRL gave us a multidimensional experience that was full and rich and nuanced.

Courtney Benham Napa Valley Merlot

Courtney Benham Napa Valley Merlot

Titus Zinfandel Napa

Titus Zinfandel Napa

Daglia Canyon Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

Daglia Canyon Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

Cimarossa Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

Cimarossa Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

Red Mare Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Red Mare Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Martin Ray Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

Martin Ray Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

Stress; It’s a Matter of Perspective

A little stress on a vine can be a good thing. The more a vine has to struggle to get food, the lower its yield, but the more flavorful and intense its grapes will be. That is why the best vineyards are planted in nutrient-poor soil. Stressing the vine ultimately creates a better wine. But some types of grape vines can endure more stress than others. For different types of vines, stress is relative.

My husband came out of his office after talking on the phone with a co-worker who was having some work trouble. ‘Poor Ron,’ my husband started. I was in the midst of reading an email from a friend who is working overseas as what I would call a citizen soldier, though he calls it, ‘a dirty, rotten contractor.’ Before my husband could finish his thought, I said, ‘Poor Hugh,’ and began to read the contents of the email, ‘We’re expecting a few days of rockets since Ramadan ends tomorrow. One hit our hangar recently. It was a direct hit on a helicopter full of fuel, so it torched the entire building. I had just landed, and saw it hit. Fortunately, everyone was at lunch, so no injuries.’ When I finished reading, I realized that I had interrupted my husband, ‘I’m sorry. What’s wrong with poor Ron?’ ‘Nothing,’ my husband responded, ‘Nothing at all.’

Cabernet Sauvignon is very thick-skinned. It is a sturdy vine that can do well all over the world in many types of climates and soils. Cabernet Sauvignon can endure a lot of stress, and still maintain its flavor typicity and character. Pinot Noir, also known as ‘the heartbreak grape,’ is thinned-skinned, and quite delicate as its nickname implies. Some stress will improve the quality of the grapes, but the genetically unstable vine is pretty particular when it comes to climate. She is a bit of a diva that will wilt or mutate fairly easily when faced with too much stress in her environment.

There are not many grapes that can endure the stress that the brave Cabernet Sauvignon can endure and still maintain its taste and character. It is truly a noble grape

Well Blended Elements

Chateau de Barbe Blanche Lussac-Saint-Emilion 2009

I recently went to a Bordeaux wine tasting. We were able to compare and taste right bank vs. left bank Bordeaux. The difference between the Merlot heavy blend compared to the Cabernet Sauvignon heavy blend was what one would expect. But it was interesting to compare the softer fruitier Chateau de Barbe Blanch Lussac-Saint-Emilion to the heftier, more tannic Chateau Langoa Barton Saint-Julien. They were both beautiful wines, and both very well balanced in the four elements of tannins, alcohol, acidity, and fruit. However, the left bank wine’s harsher elements, tannin and acidity, were more firmly expressed. Likewise the right bank’s softer elements of fruit and alcohol came through more clearly.

A good friend recently told me that she’d been accused of being an angry person. Frankly, that’s one of the things I love about her. Anger can be her motivator. It is also an integral part of her wikedly, wonderful sense of humor. There are times when anger is our common bond. When I tell her that someone has been hurtful to my child. I will no longer welcome that person into my home, she understands completely. Anger is a protective force in any mother.

As long as they are in balance, I embrace all the elements of a wine, the soft and the harsh. A combination of different elements is what gives wine structure and makes wine interesting. Harsh elements coupled with soft elements make people interesting, too.

Responding to Terroir

Carmenere Grapes

Merlot Grapes

Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes

Three of the Bordeaux grapes can be traced to the same parents.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and Merlot are all genetically related to Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.  All of these grapes grow in Bordeaux.  Yet, their terrior requirements are different.  Merlot, which is prevalent on the right bank of the Dordogne River, grows best in a cool, damp climate.  Clay soil holds in moisture, and Merlot vines do well in it.  Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of the left bank of the Gironde River needs heat and does best in a self-draining, gravel soil.  Carmenere, practically an identical twin to Merlot, has been all but banished from Bordeaux, but she has reappeared, unexpectedly in Chile, where she shuns too much water as well as too much heat.  Though genetically related, each of these grapes needs different soils and climates.


When my son was young and needed to be reprimanded, I very quickly learned that ‘time-out’ had absolutely no effect on him, nor did a scolding.  Molding his behavior was frustrating, until I discovered that taking away a toy as a consequence did have an effect on him.  He responded positively to that negative reinforcement.  My daughter, on the other hand, was unphased when I used the same technique on her.  She found another toy and continued playing uneffected.  However, she did respond positively to time-out.  For whatever reason, sitting in a chair in the kitchen was something she would avoid at all costs. 


Our parenting style is part of our children’s ‘terroir.’  We set the conditions and climates in which they will grow.  Not all children respond the same way to the same conditions.  Just like the grapes that are genetically related, but have different growing needs, so each child responds differently to different environments.  Finding what’s most nurturing for each of our children is one of the great challenges and rewards of parenting.

Genetics and Absence

Cabernet Sauvignon, that magnificent, powerful, tannic grape that gave Bordeaux its fame and put California on the world stage of wine, is the love child of two other very familiar grapes.  His mother is the sleek and sexy Sauvignon Blanc and his father is Cabernet Franc.  Both of his parents are from Bordeaux, and each gave one of their names to him.

My great-grandfather was not much of an influence on my grandfather’s life, except through his name and his absence.  My grandfather only remembered meeting his father two times; once when he was a young teenager and his father came to ask for money from his older brothers.  The second time was when my grandfather was in his late 20’s, and supporting his own young family in the midst of the great depression.  His father, who had been a stranger in his life, stopped by his office to once again ask for money.  He remains a stranger to his descendents.  We have, yet to find any documented proof of his existence other than his marriage certificate.  Perhaps, he was born at home, and his family never bothered to record the birth with the county.  It was 1875, after all.  Perhaps, he was born to a single mother, and she never recorded the birth with the county out of shame.  He may well have died in poverty, unknown, and buried in a pauper’s grave.  His death may have gone by unnoticed and unrecorded.  Whatever the reasons, he seems to be as elusive in death as he was in life.  Yet, I can only surmise from the fact that my grandfather looked nothing like his mother, that this mystery man of the family lived on genetically through my grandfather.

Durif is not as popular as Cabernet Sauvignon, but she is quite a wonderful grape that produces a very serious, dry wine.  And through genetics her ancestry has been discovered.  She is the love child of Peloursin, Durif’s not very well-known father, and Syrah, her quite famous, round and spicy mother from the Rhone valley.  You’ll probably never see a bottle of ‘Durif’ wine, however.  She goes by her family name, Petite Sirah.

My GrandfatherMy grandfather did get two things from his father, his looks and his last name.  But his character was the antithesis of his father’s character.  Where his father was absent, my grandfather was loyal and dedicated to his family.  He worked hard all his life from the time he was 5 years old.  He was very involved with his church and his community.  He was very present in all the lives he touched.  My grandfather may well have been the devoted family man that he was not just in spite of, but because of his father’s absence.

Perspective: the Great, the Mundane, and the Appreciative

Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon

I went to a wine tasting the other night with a group of friends.  We sampled several wines, but the one that stood out most was a Philip Togni 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Spring Mountain in Napa.  In it I tasted blackberry, cedar, smoke, chocolate, and earth.  After I circled all the flavors and aromas listed that I detected, I felt that there was something else in the wine that wasn’t listed on my tasting sheet.  I took another deep inhale, and  in the line for additional aromas I wrote W-O-W.  Just after I wrote that, my friend, Dana after sipping the wine said, ‘Wow!’  I laughed and said, ‘that’s what I tasted, too!’ as I showed her my description page.  We were both laughing when my husband came up from his wine and said, ‘Wow!’  We all had the same reaction to this wonderful wine.

Today in church my son played the flute.  Whenever he’s asked, he’s always willing to do it.  It’s something he really enjoys.  As we were sitting in the pew before he played, I noticed that he’d worn his sneakers, his hair was a little messy, and I suspected that he hadn’t brushed his teeth after breakfast this morning.  These are the things that ran through my mind when he was about to perform.

When the time came for Bob to go to the front of the church, the gentleman sitting in front of us leaned over and said to his wife, ‘Oh, good!  He’s going to play his flute.  He plays great!’  This gentleman also stopped Bob as he was returning to his seat after playing to shake his hand and say, ‘Thank you.  Great job.’  I don’t know the couple too well.  I do know that a few years ago they lost their teenage son suddenly and unexpectedly, something that seems to me, as it would to any parent, insurmountable.  Yet, here they are most every Sunday, friendly, warm, affable and genuinely appreciative.

There are moments when we see things in exactly the same way as the people that we are with.  Those moments are almost magical.  They are how we connect with one and other.  There are other moments when we see things very differently from those around us.  Sometimes when we see things through someone else’s perspective, we grow beyond ourselves.

Noble Grapes

While there are hundreds of types of grapes from which wine can be made, there are only seven ‘noble’ grapes. They are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah for reds and in the whites Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. These are considered the higher quality grapes, otherwise known as noble.

The qualities on which a wine is judged is its acidity, sweetness, alcohol, and with red wine, tannins. It’s not just important to have each of those qualities, but they must be in balance with each other to make a good wine.

Marketta Formeaux of Chateau Potelle says that, “I like to compare making wine to raising children, because both are long-term procedures where you make decisions on a daily basis. And the sum of those decisions makes the final product.” When we raise our children, we want them to be lively, kind, warm, and have strong character. We also want our children to be well-balanced.

Last Sunday, our Pastor led the service even though he had recently lost his father, and had just been to the memorial service the day before. My friend’s son, Ryan, stepped up to be worship leader. He had just graduated from high school the day before, and so was functioning on very little sleep having been up late with friends. During the prayer, our Pastor choked up a bit and paused to collect himself. Without hesitating, Ryan walked over to the pastor, and put his hand on his shoulder, and stood with him.

We’re so proud of our kids when they accomplish things like graduating from high school or earning their PhD from Seminary. At the front of the church last Sunday I saw two sons, one meeting his obligations even though he was so newly mourning. One comforting the other without hesitating. I don’t think either one could have done anything to make his parents more proud of him then these simple acts that expressed for each his noble character.