Two for the Sink

This has not been an auspicious day.

Teddy is an early riser, and we are trying to figure out how to teach him not to greet us in the morning with his front paws on the bed. Well, actually, paws on the bed would be better: he just gets up on his hind legs — standing, he’s a little shorter than Marta — and then flops his paws down on whatever is near the edge of the bed, a kind of hail-fellow-well-met crushing handshake, slap on the back, and kick down the stairs all rolled into one.

Five-thirty this morning. Even God is only starting to twitch.

Then, as I’m trying to find the shower, Marta tells me the microwave is not working. Which is not good, not because it’s expensive (though it’s not cheap to replace a microwave), but because it’s plugged into some slightly dodgy wiring that could be very expensive to replace. It’s too dark, yet, to even try to go out and check the breaker box. So I pour out the last of the coffee and start a new pot.

When God finally gets up and turns on the lights, I go out, and sure enough, the breaker is tripped. And it won’t re-engage. So the breaker is bad, or there’s a dead short somewhere in the house wiring. Which was working just fine yesterday.

I could go on and on, but it was just one of those days. You’ve all had them.

So then the day was over, the electrician had fixed everything, and I went to pour myself a glass of wine. It continued to be one of those days.

The first try was the Francis Coppola 2014 Chardonnay. When you’re driving up 101 from San Francisco to Ukiah, you can’t miss seeing the Coppola Winery on your left just north of Santa Rosa, between Healdsburg and Geyserville. It’s pretty much the Six Flags of wineries, with everything from tasting rooms to swimming pools. Do check out the website: it’s phenomenal!

The Chardonnay — not so much. It has bitter notes.

Now, there is bitter, and there is bitter. Dark chocolate and coffee are bitter and delicious. This is the other kind. It embraced my tongue like a lover looking forward to starting yet another argument during make-up sex. Yes, all the basic elements are there: the lush body, the long legs, the floral notes, the memory of the sweetness of the past, when the grapes were young and unfermented. But underneath is the kind of bitterness that poisons all pleasure.

I passed it to Marta, and it almost didn’t make it past the sniff-and-swallow test. I think she regretted that it got as far as it did.

So my next try was the 2014 Old Soul Zinfandel, from Oak Ridge Winery in Lodi just south of Sacramento. I fell in love with Old Vine Zinfandels a long time ago. One of the best I ever tasted was something called Mersa, from somewhere near Healdsburg, and it’s on my list to find them now that we’re out here. Old vine Zins are dark, dark as black earth, black chocolate, black licorice, full of cherry and fig and raisin in the slow currents beneath the fruity surface of the Zinfandel grape.

This one — well, earth is a good description. Again, there is a bitterness, this time not of poisoned love, but of the grave. Old Soul indeed. Very old.

Marta trusted her nose this time, and barely touched the wine to her lips before wincing.

Now, had Marta not been tracking my impressions so closely, I’d have kept both bottles for another day, to see if the problem was me. Perhaps my too-early rising had left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Nah. Life is too short and great wines are far too numerous to give any of them second and third chances. Maybe I’ll try the brands again in a better year. Maybe I won’t.

At that point I decided it was a beer night. PranQster is from North Coast Brewing, up in Fort Bragg (an hour west of here), and it’s one of those Belgian monstrosities that doesn’t apologize for putting allspice and cream cheese into the brew.

This one is done very, very well. It isn’t a beer to chug with your buddies on a hot afternoon of working outside. But it’s a truly fine anodyne to bruised taste buds.


2016-08-26 10.54.56No, I’m not referring to a religious experience, but … well, almost.

I have a fair bit of luck out here “label shopping” for wine. Usually (and I do mean, not-always-usually) if a wine-maker puts some heart and money into the bottle, it’s a reasonably good wine, especially in the price-tier of wines I generally shop in. I stay away from the expensive stuff, because there’s really no point in developing a taste for something if I can’t afford to buy a second (or third) bottle of it. And those few occasions when the label is … well, misleading … I at least get an opportunity to trash the wine in a blog entry.

Saved, from Saved Wines in Oakland, Napa valley, CA, has an eye-catching bottle. The label is printed on the glass, not on a sticker, and in no less than three colors: white, grey, and copper. The pattern is pseudo-occult, an attractive (and mysterious) mish-mash of everything from an all-seeing eye in the center, to astrological symbols, to Norse runes, and the inscription that runs around the outside of the label reads: “Reverence of beauty + eradication of doubt through systems of superstition * Adversities exiled by incantations of compassion and tenacity of heart.”

We had guests visiting from Down Under, and I picked this off the shelf at the local grocery store for under $20 as something adventurous to try.

It’s a remarkable wine. Looking for the inscription on the web, to see if it’s some literary or historical reference, I stumbled across another review, which claims that this is a blend of Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Mixed Blacks, Ruby Cabernet, and Syrah. For a blend, that is a horrifically complex recipe.

The result is well worth it. Indeed, I can only think that the inscription refers primarily to the making of this wine, and if the recipe is a matter of superstition, then superstition certainly inspires a reverence for beauty, and dispels all doubt.

Educated Guess

2015-12-13 19.26.26I’ve generally had pretty good luck buying wine by interesting labels.

Educated Guess has a great label, and it’s a really good wine. It’s a Napa blend. It has a slightly harsh initial presentation, with a strong tannin content and a bite of alcohol. But then it mellows in your mouth into a sweet, dusty taste, like satin-finished mahogany, with rich grape flavors. I like a wine that tastes like grapes. I’m funny that way.

A bit expensive for around here at $15, but I think worth it.

The $7 Bottle

After moving to California wine country, I’ve decided to become a connoisseur of the $7 bottle of wine.

2015-07-18 13.13.01The local grocery store has a pretty good wine selection, and they always have a special running of one brand or another of wine for $6.99 if you buy six bottles or more.

They even give you a cute little — well, big — six-pack holder. Only in California.

The wine shown to the right is the 2012 Menage a Trois California Red, and it is a wonderful wine. It’s a blend of Cabernet, Merlot, and Zinfandel, so there’s a little bit of everything in there: big nose, full flavor, fruity, a touch of oak, a bit of spice, and the blend is wonderful — a true household of three.

2015-07-18 13.14.32By contrast, we have the Fetzer 2013 Cabernet shown to the left, which is — well, pretty awful. First presentation is hot — acrid with alcohol — with an unpleasant bitterness combined with an unpleasant tartness. It made me wince.

I’d like to have better things to say about the Fetzer, since it is a truly local wine, from vinyards just north and just south of here. But I cannot tell a lie. Even at $6.99 a bottle, this is not a bargain.

Horse Heaven Hills

imagesThe label calls this simply H3, and it’s an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon from the Columbia Crest winery in Washington state. I picked it up because it had a rating of 92 from (I think) Wine Spectator. It seems they’ve been gradually deflating their scale a bit. It used to be you would rarely see anything below 92, and now I’m seeing a lot of 87’s and 88’s. This is definitely two or three hands taller than the normal horse liniment out there.

There is nothing objectionable about this when you put it in your mouth: not too hot, not too tannic, not too spicy, not too bland. An instant later, your entire palate is submerged in a rich blend of taste and fragrance sensations, which has always drawn me to Cabernets. I once went into a wine bar, and asked the bartender for a Cyrano. He shook his head and told me he didn’t know that label. I said, “It isn’t a label. I want a wine with the biggest nose you’ve got. You know — a Cyrano de Bergerac.” He scowled and chuckled at the same time, and served me something with a big nose indeed, and it was wonderful — but this was many years ago, before I started trying to remember labels. I could not tell you what it was.

This isn’t a Cyrano, but it’s dangerously good. I just read on Facebook — which means this must be true, right? — that one glass of red wine is worth an hour of exercise. This wine is a good candidate for my New Year’s Resolution of getting eight hours of exercise a day.

Save Me Cabernet

This beast went straight down the sink.

The “Save Me San Francisco Wine Company” was a funky name, and their Cabernet got a good review at Wilbur’s, so I gave it a shot.

Not expensive by any means, but definitely not worth the price. Puckery-tart presentation, with a bitter finish. Any Cabernet depth was lost in the overlap between eyes watering and searching for the mouthwash.

Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad….

Then again, maybe it was. I’m stubborn and always look for the best in a wine. Marta laughs at that: she says I’ll drink anything.

I poured my first glass, and it went into the sink after the third sip. Marta would have stopped after the first, and sworn off wines for a year. I waited a day for the wine to “breathe,” and then the second glass went into the sink. The rest of the bottle followed immediately.

Not a winner.

A Fine Merlot

Saturday0121I think I have a new favorite wine, at least for a while: Grayson Cellars’ small-batch Merlot.

The first wine I ever bought in a full case was a Merlot. I’ve heard that a Merlot is an “entry level” red wine for people who don’t drink reds. That may be. I think they went through a phase where they suffered from their own popularity — for a while, Merlots seemed to get into the “my Merlot is oakier than your Merlot” competition, and they got so tannic that they’d pucker you up faster than a lemon-flavored antihistamine.

“Oak” refers, of course, to aging the wine in oaken barrels, and oak is well-known for its tannins. One way to tan leather is to use a hatchet to make a bowl in an old oak tree stump, then soak the animal hide in rainwater collected in the stump. Or so I’ve been told. I’ve never tried it, myself.

Wine stored in oak casks will also leach tannins out of the wood into the wine. The result is the “tannic” taste you get with a strong black tea (which is also chock full of tannins), which leaves your mouth feeling dry and puckered — “leathery” you might even say.

Like hops in beer, a little bit goes a long way.

I haven’t had a Merlot in years. Then I tried this one, and I was delighted! It isn’t very tannic at all — just a nice, full, mellow grape nose and flavor. It’s a wine you sip, and then nod with a smile and take another sip. And then another. It’s a dangerous wine, but an entirely pleasant danger.

Barefoot in the Grapes

Unknown-4I used to hate Chardonnay.

The main reason is a long, boring story, but I’m going to tell it anyway.

I grew up in a tee-totalling household. That was Mom’s influence. When I was young, Dad used to enjoy his beer or his glass of wine in the evening. Then Mom decided that wasn’t in keeping with God’s Will, so he gave up drinking.

The first wine I ever drank was in early high school. It was Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill Wine, at a party hosted by a free-wheeling student English teacher, and it gave me a case of indigestion worthy of film rights, plus an attack of bad conscience. I was underage, and I knew Mom would not approve. My stomach certainly didn’t.

But the real issue was the evening I was supposed to perform the Mozart #3 at a high school orchestra concert, and frankly, the cadenza was just a bit beyond my capabilities. I could muddle through it, but my hand was tight — so tight — on the double-stops, and it’s impossible to play double-stops in tune with a tight hand. Any run-through was a grab bag: sometimes, I’d nail it, sometimes I sounded like I was torturing a Balkan cat. And now, it was concert night, and practice time was over. Had I known for sure I was fucked, I’d probably have relaxed and done fine, but every now and again, I’d get the damned thing almost right when practicing. So I was a total nervous wreck.

I’d dropped by the home of the second-chair player on the way to the auditorium for some reason I can no longer precisely remember — I believe she and I were sort-of dating at the time, which is another story — and her father, a physician, prescribed a very small glass of wine to settle my nerves. It was a reasonable prescription, but a poor choice of wine for someone with a completely undeveloped palate: a chardonnay, probably a very nice one, but dry as a bone.  A cream sherry would have been a better choice. Or even a shot of Jack Daniels, neat, hold your breath and take it like a man. Or better still, an Inderal.

But they offered a glass of Chardonnay, and I took a polite sip or two, but could not manage any more. I found the extreme dryness offensive, and the fact that it was alcohol both worrisome and morally ambiguous in my young mind.

I should have just chugged it. That concert was not one of the times I nailed the Mozart #3 cadenza. In fact, I never played it again after that night.

So I’ve always associated Chardonnay with both extremely dry white wines, and with performance failure. You can imagine my general distaste.

Barefoot has redeemed the Chardonnay for me. I don’t know how it ranks on the scale of all Chardonnays in all of time and space, but it does get consistently good reviews, and it’s one of the least expensive wines you can find in the Colorado stores. Fruity, slightly tart, delicious, and not too buttery. Not at all dry.

And, to date, no performance failures.


Unknown-1I am not happy with Crasto wine, from the Portuguese Duoro Valley.

Someone brought a bottle to one of our parties, as a gift, and I fell in love with it from the first sip. It’s a blend of Spanish/Portuguese grapes I’ve never heard of: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca,  and Tinta Barroca. The Douro Valley is the Portuguese version of Bordeaux, or Sonoma. They take their wines seriously, and this is no exception to that rule.

I hesitate to compare it directly to anything. It’s a red wine, of course. It’s livelier than a Cabernet, not as spicy as a Zinfandel, and nothing at all like a Merlot or a Pinot Noir. It’s a bit like a Garnacha, but fuller, richer. It’s a lovely wine.

The problem with it is that I seem to have a mild allergy to the darn thing. Curses!

Sigh. Oh well. Another day, another wine….

Old Vine Red

UnknownMarietta’s Old Vine Red wine has been one of my favorites for a long time, and I’ve been with this one long enough to have noted some big swings in quality.

It’s a blend, made up mostly of old-vine Zinfandel. I generally like Zinfandels, anyway, but some of the wines I’ve liked best of any have been old-vine Zins. I don’t really know what qualifies a vineyard as having “old” vines. But the wines that get labelled “old vine” usually have dark, almost raisin-like notes and enough complexity to keep your head spinning for several minutes.

Marietta labels these by “Lot” rather than year, and they’re up to Lot 60. I think the first I ever tasted was in the low 50’s or high 40’s, and I seem to recall that Lot 54 was one of the best. Then they had a couple of bad years, and there was one lot — I think it was 57 or 58 — that was hardly worth drinking. But in the last few lots, they’ve brought it back.

I don’t think 60 has come all the way back to the legendary Lot 54, but it’s darn fine wine, and something I want in the rack if I start experimenting with odd labels. That way, if all my adventurous choices are terrible, I can just dump the swill, open a bottle of Old Vine Red, and soothe the raw palate.