Monday, December 31, 2012

Wishing you a bubbly New Year!

Although I advocate the consumption of Champagne and sparkling wine at any old time, there is no denying that imbibing in a glass, or three, of something bubbly on a special occasion heightens the enjoyment of that particular festivity.  So as I embark on my annual New Year's Eve bubbly tasting, I want to raise my glass and wish you all a happy and safe New Year and the continued enjoyment of your favourite wines, the nectar of the vine, all the way through 2013.  Cheers!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

No recipe for living.

The past two days have been really nice weather-wise, especially today, with temperatures in the mid 50s and lots of pleasant, albeit wintry, sunshine.  I have spent as much time as possible outdoors with the Vinodogs, performing miscellaneous garden chores, e.g. pruning Vinoland's rose bushes - all seven of them. Northern California experienced a rather moist autumn which has resulted in abundant weed activity and lots, and lots, of mushrooms.  I think this year's fungi goings-on are the most I have ever seen.  I like to admire all the different types of mushrooms with their different forms, the way they age, the fairy rings they create, but that's it.  I am content with the entertainment garnered merely by observing their fun-guy life cycle.
Each and every mushroom season the Bay Area news outlets report of at least one fatality from somebody eating poisonous mushrooms, making it necessary to tack on a reminder to mushroom foragers about the dangers of consuming unidentified, or, more often than not, misidentified 'shrooms.  When these to-be-avoided woodland fungi often come with names like Poison Pie, Sickener and Deadly Conocybe, the average person could probably assume that there is a need for some caution when perhaps considering whipping these things up into an omelette.  I could be being a tad cynical when I say that maybe it's just Darwinism at work - except that this year, a caregiver at an old people's home, near Sacramento, killed four residents when she served them up Death Angel mushroom soup.  Like some modern day Typhoid Mary, the caregiver has been banned from working with and preparing food for the elderly ever again. Good call.
The past couple of months I have spotted many a mushroom popping up all over Vinoland, including the varieties Meadow Mushroom, Artist's Fungus and Sulphur Shelf.   However, the majority of the mushrooms in Vinoland seem to be of one species, Paxillus involutus, the Common Roll-rim which, yes, can be fatal if ingested - otherwise they merely destroy red blood cells and cause renal failure, that's all.  The Paxillius are rather large, fleshy mushrooms and it isn't too hard to imagine them chopped and tossed into a stir-fry and paired with a nice Nebbiolo.  I, for one, am not looking to make a little mushroom concoction my last supper. I'll just admire them from afar.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Christmas: 2012.

Happy Christmas from all the denizens of Vinoland.
I hope everybody's day is filled with family, friends, food and good wine.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A treat for St. Nick.

No milk for Father Christmas this year.  Tonight when I go to bed, I will be leaving out a bottle of Anchor Brewing Company's Christmas Ale and a plate of freshly baked mince pies for the jolly old elf.  The 2012 edition of Anchor's Christmas Ale, with it's Araucaria heterophylla adorned label, was really quite hard to find this year, but I still don't mind sparing one bottle for my favourite, red-suited visitor.
Now, I just have to figure out how to keep V2 away from the mince pies.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Still here...

...and still drinking bubbly.  Let's get this party started!
I'm ready for Christmas.  I just have a few more things to wrap and my mince pies to bake.  But basically I don't have to do anything else except enjoy myself, starting right now with a glass of something pink and bubbly (it's the only civilised thing to do whilst tossing a green salad).  And whereas some folks scorn the use of flute, or tulip, shaped glasses for any sparkling wine, I happen to love this particular flûte à Champagne with it's flared rim.  No doubt there are naysayers who would like to point out to me that I am missing out on  lots of wonderful aromas, but the glass is so delicate and fine it really does feel like I am drinking the stars!  Besides, it's not like it's going to be in the glass for very long now, is it?  Nope.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Red sky at night...

...red sky in the morning, Mayans warning?
On this the winter solstice, I was pleased to see that dawn in Vinoland was a rather spectacular affair.  A camera lens does not do it justice.  The ensuing rainy morning did not deter me from heading north, out of Napa, to go and do some sparkling wine shopping.  Joined by quite a few of my co-workers (and with a quick tasting thrown in), quite a bit of the bubbly stuff exited chosen winery - a 50% discount will bring people out en masse.
Afterwards, whilst running some errands I learned that I had scored the highest in my Wines of the World final - a whopping 98%, whoo hoo!  That, along with a mixed case of Mumm Napa Valley's finest bubbly, made Vinogirl one very chuffed vine-nerd. It was a good day.
Now, if the Mayan's are to be believed, I really should drink all 12 bottles before midnight.  Or maybe I'll save some for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The end of Wines of the World is nigh.

Tonight my Wines of the World class came to it's conclusion (on the eve of the end of the world), as ordained by Dr. Krebs in his class syllabus.  The Mayans (nice folks, once) may have other ideas for tomorrow, but tonight I had a final to take.  The written portion of the exam, I knew, was going to be fairly routine, but the blind tasting component was the cause of a little consternation for me.  Six, brown-bagged, anonymous wines loomed large on a desk in the corner of the classroom...argh!
Unlike the results of the written exam, my classmates and I were given the identity of the mystery wines when we had finished taking the final. Unfortunately, I only managed to identify 4 out of the 6 wines.  The Riesling, Gewürtztraminer, Pinot noir and Sherry were really quite easy to identify.  A light, citrusy wine I identified as an Albariño was in fact a Facelli Winery, 2011, Washington State, Fumé blanc - oops!  And a nondescript, thin to medium bodied, vinous red wine which I identified as a Merlot turned out to be a Red Bicyclette, 2005, Syrah - damn French!  On the whole I think I did alright, as I overheard some of my classmates bemoaning the fact that they only scored 2 or 3 out of the six - and they're budding, young winemakers.
Wines of the World, what a terrific class.  It's been a great semester, I learned a lot and I had a lot of fun to boot.  But then again, I have had fun in every class I have taken that was given by Dr. Krebs...he even managed to make Vineyard Soils entertaining!
Thanks Dr. Krebs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I woof Christmas!

Father Christmas, that's Santa to my colonial cousins, is not the only person who sports a red kit!
Merry Christmas from Vinodog 1.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete, 2012.

It's Gaudete Sunday.  A quick glass of Vinomaker's finest Cabernet Sauvignon rosé is in order I think.  It's a great colour, it matches my Christmas tree decorations.
Gaudete in Domino Semper.
Sing it Maddy!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In vino veritas est: Wines of California.

Tonight, week 16, was the final, full tasting night of my Wines of the World class.  Next week my classmates and I will take our final exam, a component of which will be a blind tasting of six wines from who knows where in the world...yikes!  There was a whopping total of 39 wines tonight, the majority of which were donated from the wineries where my fellow students are gainfully employed.
Although California is my current home, and I am employed at a winery that was well represented tonight, I think I can be pretty impartial, as I did not grow up drinking California wines.  There are a lot of naysayers out in the world who decry anything oenologically-Californian, I myself have an aversion to high alcohol, over blown Pinot noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons.  But the truth is that California, and in particular Northern California, is an almost perfect place in which to grow wine grapes.  Some growing seasons maybe cooler and therefore not as ideal as others, but the grapes always ripen.  California's vintages are always good. However, some vintages are spectacular.
Each varietal wine that was poured tonight - Merlot, Tempranillo, Viognier, Tannat, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Muscat Canelli and Albariño, to name but a few - were all near perfect renditions of their olde worlde benchmark classics.  After all, isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery?  Sure, one could still, if one had an axe to grind, lament the very existence of the jammy, oaky, alcoholic, massively extracted wines that people associate with California, but that would be a gross generalisation.  But the fact remains, the Californian climate allows winemakers to express the inherent characters found in almost every grape variety on the planet. Something which can't be said for other parts of the world, or even other parts of the USA.
The wine in the photograph was the first wine of the evening.  The Domaine Carneros, 2010 blanc de noirs, very recently disgorged and sporting a crown cap and an Avery label, was charming.  The acid and sugar were not as yet well integrated, but this wine had loads of potential: one could just see that this gangly adolescent was going to grow up to be one mature, bubbly individual.
So in conclusion, in my humble opinion, Dr. Krebs saved the best for last.
Next...Nothing, the semester is almost at an end.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winery Christmas Lights 11.

Well, it's not exactly a winery.  And it's not exactly the greatest of photographs.  But it's good enough to showcase this festive Rudolph, with his red-bulbed nose, who reappears every Christmas above the Silverado Trail to humour me on my drive home from TWWIAGE.  Situated atop a hillside vineyard in the Stags Leap District, this is the 8th year in a row that I have enjoyed this particular electronic display of cervine-cheerfulness.  I have no idea who is responsible for this random act of Christmas merriment, but I am really glad that their sense of whimsy repeatedly delivers a Yuletide treat for this particular Napa Valley commuter.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

In praise of Pinot Meunier.

I really don't need an excuse to drink bubbly (although conveniently, Christmas began early for me).  It's just wine, and should be enjoyed whenever one wants it - it just has bubbles.  I love it.  Anytime.  Well, to be quite honest, I do not love blanc de blancs.  I am just not a fan of 100% Chardonnay bubbly.  But I could quite quickly become a fan of 100% Pinot Meunier bubbly.
A red grape variety and a member of the Pinot family, Pinot Meunier (PM) is considered the least important of Champagne's three main grape varieties, although it is more widely planted than either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. PM and Pinot Noir make up about 72% of all Champagne's vineyards, both grapes contributing two thirds of the blend in non-vintage Champagnes.  Particularly well suited to Champagne's cool climate, PM does particularly well in the north-facing, sloping vineyards of the Marne Valley.  In Napa, PM is exclusively grown in the Carneros AVA where it is relatively cool compared to the rest of the valley.
Sometimes called simply Meunier (which is French for miller, a name that comes from the flour-dredged appearance of the underside of the leaves, a result of copious amounts of fine, white hairs), there are very few known clones of this cultivar.  Indeed, a mere 6 clones can be found at the Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis.  A vine of moderate to high vigour, PM has several advantages over it's appellation-mates;  the ability to bud and ripen more reliably than Pinot Noir, less prone to frost damage, less prone to coulure, less susceptible to powdery mildew than Pinot Noir and not as susceptible to Eutypa lata as Chardonnay. And acid levels in PM are usually more elevated than in Pinot Noir which lends a youthful fruitiness to wines made with this particular grape, balancing the weight of Pinot Noir and the finesse of Chardonnay.
The Mumm PM, a winery exclusive, was lovely, all floral-yumminess and fruity-yeastiness.  What a great glass of bubbly!  I must drive up to the winery and purchase more before Christmas. Apparently, there is one downside to bubblies made from PM: they are said to age quicker and are not as long lived as some other Pinot noir and Chardonnay based wines.  So?  Sounds like a good excuse to drink them quicker.  Hic!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Party early for Christmas.

Last night Vinomaker and I joined my TWWIAGE co-workers to celebrate Christmas...Rat Pack-style.  To my mind it was a little early in the month for such festive goings-on, but suitable venues get booked up quickly in the valley and so December 7th it was. However, after a couple of glasses of bubbly, and several soaring renditions of Frank Sinatra classics, I had forgotten what the date was.  A good time was had by all.  So an early, Happy Christmas to everyone.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Pacific Northwest.

My Wines of the World class tonight ventured up north into the two states that lie above California - Oregon and Washington. Week 15, with 24 wines, aimed to showcase the vinous-wares of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) which is a relatively young, but snappily growing wine region.
To be quite honest, I rarely ever drink wines from this part of the world.  The PNW is a region of the United States that is conventionally perceived as having no real, modern day, cultural identity.   When I think of the PNW I think of the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline, not vineyard vistas.  Maybe the entire wine industry up there, in the top-left corner of the contiguous United States, needs to hire a better public relations firm.  The entire state of Washington has about 45,000 acres under vine, that's about the same amount of acreage as Napa County. Oregon has less than half that amount at around 21,000 acres. On paper, the PNW looks like ideal wine country: Washington and Oregon are at about the same latitudes as Bordeaux and Burgundy and benefit from longer daylight hours and generally cooler temperatures than here in California.  
So what about the wines?  Perhaps my palate has become a little jaded at this point in the semester, as I was once again underwhelmed by the evening's offerings.  Thankfully, they do not bottle any American Vitis wines in the PNW, so at least I was in familiar territory with Vitis vinifera.  The best white of the night for me was a King Estate Winery, 2011, Pinot gris.  The best red wine was a 2009 Pinot noir (and that's saying something that I picked a Pinot noir), hailing from the cellars of Domaine Drouhin. Does it take a well established Burgundy producer to make a decent Pinot noir in the PNW?  I don't know.  Domaine Drouhin also happened to be the most expensive wine of the evening with a Burgundian-esque price tag of $55.99.  Both wines were from Oregon. Washington fell a little short in the wine department for me, although I did choose to photograph two Washington Cabernet Sauvignons.  I just liked the raptor-adorned labels.
Next...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mull it over.

There's no time like the present.  It's December 1st and it's time to start planning a happy, wine-filled Christmas season.  I usually make my own mulled wine - a little closer to Christmas in all honesty.  But this store bought, gold ribbon-cinched bag of mulling spices, given to me by Thud, is just so cute and Christmassy that I fetched it out of the pantry today simply for the gratuitous grin I knew it would induce.  I'm smiling.