First Day of Hospice du Rhone, Apr. 30

First up, a big shout out to Anne’s dad, whose birthday it is today.

Secondly, there are no pictures in this post because Anne left the USB camera cord at home and we’re crashing at the motel right now, after our day at Hospice du Rhone, the fantabulous festival celebrating the wines of France’s Rhone Valley and wines from all over the world made from the same 22 varieties of grapes.  It’s an annual event in Paso Robles, California, which we are blessed to attend via a press pass.

But what a wonderful day.  We missed the seminars, alas, but arrived in good time for the Rose Lunch, featuring the wines of the Tavel region of France (which are pretty much by definition roses).

Another shout out to Lisa, of Concord, CA, and Paula and her friends, who let us sit at their table and were very pleasant company.

Then on to the Rhone Rendezvous tasting.  Like, 15 kajillion wineries serving their best Rhone varietal wines, including some real Rhone wines.  Yum.

But we also heard about the Four S’s, found out what grapes you can grow in Arizona, discovered that wines from New Zealand have a distinctive aroma and flavor, and learned about the ultimate vineyard pest – baboons.  Apparently, the ones in the Tulbagh region of South Africa really like the Syrah grape.

And we tasted a lot, a lot of wine.  Did we say a lot?  Oh, yeah.

We hope to post more specific details as we post the various tasting notes and winery profiles in the months to come.  But we’ll try to tweet some more tomorrow (we set Twitter up to post directly to this blog – which is why the three earlier posts were so short) during the festival’s second day.  And then try to recover on Sunday.

19th Hole 2007 Merlot

Type: Dry Red
Made with: Merlot
Plays well with: Stroganoff, pasta in cream sauces, nuts

See what happens when you’re helpful?  While at the Family Winemakers Association event in Pasadena a couple months back, we were chatting with PGA golfer turned winemaker Kris Moe at his winery’s table as the event shut down.  So we offered to help him carrying his boxes and display out to his car and he gave us the merlot as a thank you.

The wine needed twenty minutes to open up before serving. The dark ruby color had a combination of earth, blackberry and a hint of French oak on the nose. The first taste highlighted a streak of acidity in the mid-palate. The mouthfeel was a medium in terms of weightiness. Tannins were slightly drying at the back of the mouth. A return after another half-hour also revealed some blueberry in the nose as well.

This was a great food wine to accompany a stroganoff. Acids cut through the fat of the sour cream and the flavors of the wine held up very well. This is a wine better suited for food than by itself. Alcohol was a manageable fourteen and a half percent.

You can find 19th Hole Wines at the website, www.19thholewine.com.

In Praise of Table Wine

If you think wine is only for special occasions – for having with dinner when you go out to eat, for example, then read this now.  If you think that the only wine worth drinking costs over $10, read up immediately.

In Europe, they have something called table wine.  You sometimes see it on a label: vin de table or vino di tavolo, in French and Italian, respectively.  If you’re in France or Italy or Belgium, you can go to the local bistro or restaurant for your lunch and order the house wine and get it in a little pitcher or flask for two or however many are at your table and it’s good, tasty stuff.  Not the transcendence of, say, first growth Bordeaux or a spectacular Santa Rita Hills pinot noir.  But it’s a basic tasty wine meant to be part of the everyday experience.  And it’s pretty darned cheap.

So why do we Americans still seem mostly convinced that wine is only for special occasions or that it has to cost over $10 to taste good?  We think it has to do with the way many of us grew up with wine.  Thanks to the influence of our ancestors from the British Isles and Germany, Americans have largely drunk beer and spirits.  Wine was French or Italian and, therefore, unusual for the average person.  Unless you happened to be of Italian ancestry.  The only other people who drank wine with any regularity at all were the rich and they drank it with formal dinners, and it was imported and expensive.

Until the cheap California jug wines of the 1950s and 60s.  And let’s face it, that stuff was pretty grim.  As the wine industry in California grew, particularly in the 1970s, good California wine made by boutique wineries became available, though not plentiful, so we’re back to an expensive, special occasion drink.  In short, good wine in our country has always been associated with wealth and elitism and bad wine has been associated with being cheap and for high school kids and drunks on the street.

A couple years ago, when the Charles Shaw chardonnay won a double gold medal at the California State Fair, tons of people blasted it and poo-pooed the idea that a wine that retails for $2 a bottle (in California) could be that good.  And we have to say that Two-Buck Chuck (as it is familiarly known) is that good and it isn’t.  No, that’s not a comment on its inconsistency (and we frequently find the quality of the reds to be largely inconsistent).  It’s just not great wine.  It’s good wine – basic, tasty, everyday stuff.  It’s a table wine.  It doesn’t need to be anything else.

Turn up your nose, if you will, but we think it’s time we Americans got back to the idea of table wine.  If we demand good, basic wine at everyday prices, the market will supply it.  Winemakers aren’t fools and they want to make money.  And $10 is too much to pay for wine with dinner every night for many of us.

Wine with dinner is a good thing, when not abused.  It slows us down and reminds us of what’s really important – not the wine, but the people we love and care about, like our children and partners.  Wine with dinner reminds us that our family table is important and needs to be a priority in our lives because that’s how we connect with others.  Think about it.  In both the Jewish and Christian traditions, our main practice of worship revolves around a meal, the Pesach Seder and Shabbas, the Christian rite of Communion.  And for all we know, other religions do, as well.  We, as human beings, connect around food and wine and always have.

So let’s bring back the concept of the humble table wine and appreciate it for what it is.  It does get better than that, but it doesn’t have to.  Not every day, it doesn’t.

Sardinian 2007 Oje

Type: Dry Red
Made with: Cannonau, Montepulciano, carignano (see below)
Plays well with: Strong cheeses, roasted meats, good BBQ

Having found our notes on the Sardinian wines we tasted, we continue with the Oje, from Nuovi Poderi Cantina – a really nice, rich red which we thoroughly enjoyed.

The Oje is a blend of 90 percent cannonau (better known in the U.S. as grenache), with that last 10 percent coming from carignano (carignane, one of the nicer OBG grapes) and Montepulciano (which is technically a place name, but for some reason is listed on the label as a grape name – go figure).

The color was dark. Really dark, almost black. There is a grapey sort of aroma but Mike also caught some black fruit, like blackberry. The tannins were up front, which can be a sign of a young wine that isn’t quite ready. The weight in the mouth is medium – not rich and heavy, but not watery and thin either. The taste at the end is black cherry without any kind of sweetness, and some acids at the back of the palate.

A wine this young may have seen time in a new barrel – hence the tannins. But the upside is that it can go for some time with proper storage. Grenache (or cannonau, in this case), by itself, is not normally a long aged wine. Still, thanks to that 10 percent of carignane/cargnano and whatever the Montepuluciano is, this one could do a few years in the bottle. That is, if you can find it or something like it.

Slainte, from Irish Family Vineyards

Type: Off-dry, uh… green?

Made From: Unknown blend of white wines

Plays Well With: Spicy, lively foods – almost anything but corned beef

Slainte (pronounced slan-chah) is Gaelic for cheers! If you really want to go Irish, you say Slainte Gael – cheers to Ireland.

We picked the Slainte wine up during our visit to Irish Family Vineyards, and for obvious reasons, held it until St. Patrick’s Day, this past Wednesday.

As you can see, the color is not typical – yes, it’s dyed, but that’s part of the fun. Which is the best way to describe this wine, anyway, because it does have a very light, almost soda-pop taste. Normally, it’s not a good thing in wine, but in this case, it’s very tasty.

The alcohol was only 13.5 percent, with a very light nose –  not perfumey or overpowering in any way. The mouthfeel was very rich and there was a hint of residual sugar and some of the Muscat flavors. So we’re guessing that Muscat was somewhere in the blend. Alas, the actual blend is not listed on the label nor the website.

Deciding what to serve with a green wine was a challenge. But given our mixed heritage of Irish-Dutch-English and Texan, the best answer for us was a spicy turkey skillet casserole. But spicy food of any culture would be complimented by the Slainte.

 

2008 Taja – Wines from Sardinia

Huzzah! We know that in our earlier post about Wines From Sardinia, we mentioned that we had lost our tasting notes on the wines. We found them, and here’s the white: Taja.

Type: Dry white
Made from: Vermentino
Plays well with: Salad, seafood, a summer’s pasta salad

We think the vermentino grape deserves its own spotlight. Yes, it’s blended into countless Italian wines, but the Taja, bottled under the Nuovi Poderi Cantina label, is one of those rare treasures that features the grape on its own.

It’s easy enough to approach. The golden color could be mistaken for a decent chardonnay. But the nose is something else. Floral, say, honeysuckle, and similar to a viognier. But there’s an interesting additional element: myrrh. Myrrh is a resin with a long tradition beyond the Three Magi’s gifts. It has a musky aroma that is not off-putting but would remind you of someone’s cologne – hopefully in a good way.

Flavor-wise, there’s the taste of melon and apple, which are cool climate traits. Lots of good acids to quench the thirst and clean the palate in advance of the next bite of shrimp cocktail, prosciutto with melon or a good salty Reggiano parmesan cheese.

Vermentino should not be oaked or watered down. There are some nice offerings these days, making it a nice change from the chardonnay or even our beloved sauvignon blanc.