Straight from the Vine -- Archives : California
When one considers something as venerable as wine, two generations seems rather paltry. Forty years isn’t very old for a vine, and it’s nothing but a quick glance compared to the 5,000 years human beings have been seriously turning grapes into commerce. Nevertheless, the knowledge base of humankind has advanced rapidly since 1970, and wine is no different.
It may be helpful to set the stage. In the early 1960’s there were only a few hundred U.S. troops in Viet Nam, and they were still called “advisors.” At that time nearly half the wine consumed in America was called “Port” and/or “Sherry.” JFK and his dazzling wife were in the White House and setting fashion around the world. Zinfandel was the most widely planted “premium” wine grape in California. The Civil Rights marches in Mississippi and Alabama were just beginning to happening, and 60% of the grapes crushed in CA for...
Intense color. Middleweight. Tar and plums, with cocoa and flowers around each corner. Hope current popularity doesn’t screw it up.
Malbec is au currant. It is selling briskly during a recession when most wines are retrenching. It goes great with a big hunka’ red meat, and confers a gaucho image which understandably appeals to salarymen everywhere. Dr. Roger Corder, a British pharmacology researcher, even says Argentine Malbecs are particularly rich in the polyphenols which help protect against artery disease. Good news when you’re having a big hunka’ red meat. And really good Malbec can be had for less than $25. Sign me up!
The success of Argentine Malbec on the U.S. market over the last four years is the envy of wine producing regions all over the world. Wines of Argentina says they sold 628,000 ca...
Expensive viticulture, ribald personality. Can wines truly reflect both? Does Pinot Noir really need to improve over 8 years in bottle?
Gary Pisoni is a wonderful incarnation of a colorful, eccentric lineage of wine personalities in California. They go back a long way, and they’re legendary. Agoston Harazthy, who claimed to be a Hungarian Count, and reputedly died in Nicaragua while trying to cross a crocodile-infested stream on a small tree limb. Paul Masson, who delighted in hosting sparkling wine baths for actresses at his Saratoga mountain winery during the waning years of the Victorian age. His successor, Martin Ray, who sold shares in his winery (Mount Eden) to investors, then denied them access to the property, while pricing his wines at three times more than any other examples on the market. Dr. David Bruce (a...
Class comparison of 1994 and 1995 vintages. Clear advantage to 1995. Better acid, much more distinct bouquet. Steak house wine.
Beaulieu ‘Georges de Latour’ Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic of the American landscape, and has been for a very long time. Originally crafted by the legendary Andre Tchelischeff, from grapes grown on Napa Valley’s Rutherford Bench, the wine was famously aged in 100% American oak. That gave the wine a considerable relationship with Bourbon ~ also aged in American oak, as is Australia’s most expensive wine, Penfold’s Grange Hermitage. What more could any cowboy want? Big slab of corn-fed beefsteak, and to wash it down, a drink that smelled like Whisky Sour and pipe tobacco. Made in America, like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Modestly expensive, but not rare. For a long time, Beaulieu made 25,000 cases of the ‘Private R...
The 2008 Fess Parker is intensely fruity, concentrated in the mouth, loaded with honey-butter overtones, AND under $20. Match to fried chicken and yams with pineapple.
In class I often extol the virtues of Sauvignon Blanc by pointing out there are several world-class examples priced between $15 and $19. I then exclaim, “There’s no such thing as world-class Chardonnay under $20!” And I do believe that statement to be true. At least it used to be. Which is not to say there haven’t always been a handful of eminently pleasing Chardonnays priced under $20. It is just that competition amongst Chardonnays has always been so much more intense than it is in other white wine varieties. In America, Chardonnay outsells both Pinot Gris (Grigio) and Sauvignon Blanc individually by a factor of four or five. Good Chardonnay can easily command $20 to $40 a bottle, and great Chardonnay commands $50 to $100. The only reason for a winery...
High elevation. Great natural acid. Super at age twelve. Very long. Nose of honey and Babcock peach. Match this wine to spicy tuna roll with sweet mustard and tempura flakes.
California can do world-class Riesling. Not many, and not every year. Still, a handful of producers have proved the potential over decades. The hardship is their best examples are better with six or seven years of bottle age. And consumers just don’t get that concept. The result is a cohort of soda-like, eminently forgettable Rieslings from the rest of the CA pack aimed at the mass market. Riesling should not be a mass market wine. Let the masses drink Pepsi. Or Arbor Mist.
Wine Tasting Class
The 1996 Madroña Riesling (winery owned by Stanford Alum, Dick Bush) was tasted in a Varietal Series class, which are held the second Friday evening of each month in Nevada City, CA (see
No longer a bargain, but damn the best ones do taste great. Merle Haggard could drink Zinfandel, and still have credibility. Serve w/ pork. No utensils; sleeve napkin. Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleadings I denied…
Zinfandel prices have risen dramatically since the early 1990’s when the first one costing double figures appeared. Higher prices mean more expense can be lavished on artistic production. That means better barrels, but it also affords the opportunity to harvest by hand with several passes through the vineyard.
Zinfandel has large clusters, and it is notorious for ripening unevenly. Many people believe the grapes need to get past 24ºBrix to exhibit the variety’s signature boysenberry aroma. But that much sugar pretty much guarantees alcohol in the high 15’s, and acid that will require a considerable sup...
Wonderful 10-yr-old Napa Cab, at a very reasonable price. Given the right setting, this is one you can feel in your loins.
Salvestrin is one of those charming Napa estates which sidestep all the nouveau-riche baggage, with attendant dilettante implications, by virtue of having been owned in the same family since Prohibition. In 1932 Rich Salvestrin’s grandparents bought 26 acres of the historic property founded by George Crane just south of St. Helena on the west side of the valley in 1879. Their purchase included the Crane’s Victorian house, where you can stay today for $240 a night.
Rich’s dad sold the grapes. I mean no derision when I point out that makes the Salvestrins Napa Valley farmers. My point is to draw more clearly the distinction between the Salvestrins and other Napa Valley groups ...
See the remainder of this post in the Top Wine Reviews section
Monterey County. Two estate wines from certified organic grapes. Very good quality, bargain priced. Strongly recommended.
Talking about how ‘green’ a wine is can be very complicated. Not using pesticides says little about the winery’s attention to energy and water conservation. Is an ‘organic’ wine from Italy still green after all that weight of liquid and glass has been shipped to San Francisco? Does your ‘bio-dynamic’ winery pay their workers a living wage? And do any of these matters contribute to good taste? How far can I trust claims of ‘greenishness?’
It’s a thorny issue. We will revisit it frequently on this blog. But we will begin with a winery recommendation that needs very few qualifier adjectives. These two wines taste great, and they are both pretty reasonably priced. The grapes are grown within 100 miles of the Stanford campus. The vine...
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