Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nothing runs like a...cake?

Now, that's what I call a cake!
Keeping up with my family's love affair - on both sides of the Atlantic - with all things John Deere, it is only fitting that my Nephew OTW's birthday cake is a fetching-confection of John Deere green.  With yellow trim, of course.
Happy 2nd birthday little one, Auntie Vinogirl loves you very much.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Hyacinth Bucket.

Just when I thought I had exhausted all the blueish-coloured wildflowers in Vinoland I stumbled across a new one, literally.  Really more purple than blue, the bouquet-like flower head of this Wild Hyacinth (Brodiaea pulchella) seems to float in midair due to the fact it is held aloft on a skinny, foot high stalk.  Heading uphill, with my head down, I nearly missed it.  I'm glad I didn't, it's cute.
I am a little confused as to the true binomial name of this plant as I have also seen it referred to online as Dichelostemma capitatum and apparently the species has been moved from family Liliaceae to family Themidaceae.  This little hyacinth is also known by another common name, Blue dicks, but I'm not going to be using that particular epithet anytime soon.  Whatever this wild flower is called, it is still pretty and very welcome in Vinoland.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Say the bells of St. Clement's.

Oranges and lemons?  Just lemons.  Lemon curd to be exact.  This St. Clement, 1983 Sauvignon blanc (SB) is the oldest Napa Valley SB that I have ever had.  Actually, this is the oldest SB from anywhere that I've ever had.
A small diversion today, from our usual routines, saw my co-workers and I taking a few minutes to taste this senior SB that had exited our employer's personal wine library.  Initially what began with the group cracking jokes, mainly about the deep honey-amber colour of the wine, turned quite serious when the still viable cork was eased out of the bottle and we finally quietened down enough to taste the stuff. 
Almost 30 years old, this aging SB had the aromas of honey and hazelnuts, with a shy-hint of apricots.  On the palate the wine showed surprisingly good structure, with a fetching acidity, more nuts, more apricots and the aforementioned lemon curd on the finish.  There was the merest, and I mean tiny, tiny, suggestion of acetaldehyde, but one would expect that with a three decades old white wine.  No residue of any kind around the punt and at only 12.5% alcohol, my fellow tasters and I laughed no more.  Now, whilst I wouldn't want to drink a butt load (technical term) of this wine, as after all it didn't have the bright vivacity of a young SB, it was nevertheless a beautiful wine.  A delightful experience.
The Marketing Queen, tasting along with us, pointed out to the group that there was no government warning label back in those days, and sure enough, the back of the bottle was indeed nekkid.  My goodness, how did we manage to survive in an era when there was no mandatory, official foreboding-verbiage to save us from ourselves?  Ho-hum!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Happy St. George's Day, 2013.

Horatio Nelson once said, "England expects that every man will do his duty."  Vinogirl expects every Englishman, and woman, to do their duty today and drink a glass of wine in celebration of our patron saint.
Happy St. George's Day to my family, friends, and anyone who loves England as much as I do.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

An old vine Zinfandel.

The phrase 'old vine' appears quite often on California wine labels.  Old vines have a reputation for making better quality wines due to the concentration of all of the vines resources into fewer clusters of fruit.  But anyone who knows just a little about viticulture and oenology knows that this is a gross over-simplification, as there are a multitude of factors that together determine the eventual quality of a given wine, the least of which is the subjective experience of the individual taster.  In the United States there is no formal definition of exactly what constitutes an old vine.  Is it 30, 40, 50 years before the vines in a vineyard are deemed old?  All grapevines begin to produce less crop after 20 years and in the Napa Valley, for instance, 20 years can be pretty ancient for a vineyard.
The Rosenblum Cellars, 1991 Michael Marston Vineyard Zinfandel does not mention old vines on the front label, but on the back label it says: "These vines are over 85 years old...They produce a crop of less than one ton to the acre, but the fruit is spectacular in its intensity."  All well and good, but harvesting less than one ton of grapes per acre is not really viable from an economic standpoint, is it?  Wineries need to make a profit or they simply cannot continue making wine.  As a side note,   The Marston family no longer farm these low-yielding Zinfandel vines in their Spring Mountain vineyard (Spring Mountain became an AVA in 1993), they have replanted every block to Cabernet Sauvignon.
I didn't have high expectations for this wine, after all it was almost 22 years old.  Yes, I know, in the grand scheme of things this wine might not seem old when compared to some wine producing areas of the world - I'm thinking Bordeaux - however, this was a California Zinfandel and I personally don't think Zinfandels age particularly well.  Neither Vinomaker or I are quite sure how we acquired this wine, which can often be the case in Vinoland, but that makes trying older wines all the more fun, one never really knows what the wine will be like.  The tasting notes on the back label describe the wine thus; " brambly blackberry and briary spicy elements in the bouquet with flavors of blackberry jam, spice and anise."  And I could very nearly agree with these descriptors if it wasn't for the fact that this wine had been thoroughly spoiled by brettanomyces.  Now, I usually have a higher tolerance for a touch of brett in wine, I am not as sensitive to this spoilage as Vinomaker is.  On this occasion my olfactory epithelium must have been working overtime because after three sips of this veritable mouse-bottom of a wine, I was done. However, Vinomaker didn't think it was that bad.  No biggie...brett happens!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wide eyed and lungless.

This little fellow is a Yellow-eyed Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica), more commonly known as a lungless salamander.  Now and again I'll find an ensatina hanging out by my compost bin, but they are more commonly spotted at the back of the vineyard, behind the barn, living happily under some old planks of wood or logs.  Because they breath through their skin they really shouldn't be handled, so this particular photo shoot was executed carefully and quickly.  Then the ensatina was placed back exactly where he/she was found.  Fascinating little creature.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cabernet Sauvignon budbreak: 2013.

The Cabernet Sauvignon vines are pushing leaves and are merrily on their way for the 2013 vintage.  So that is all of Vinoland's vines up and running.  Of course, the Cabernet Sauvignon vines are at a very early stage, when compared to the Orange Muscat that now have about 12 inches of growth, and are at the point when they are in peril from the merest threat of frost.  And, as if on cue, the possibility of frost is forecast for this week...sheesh, farming!
I like this photograph of my little Cab-buddy, as it clearly shows the abscission scar, below the new bud, where last year's leaf used to be.  Aren't vines great?
Go little buddy, go!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Here ever hum the golden bees.

This past Sunday, whilst walking the Vinodogs I happened to glance down at a cluster of California poppies that were flowering at the edge of the road.  It wasn't the orange-ness of the poppies that caught my eye, instead it was something in the centre of the bloom.  On closer inspection, what initially looked like a dark, shiny bead turned out to be a bee's bum.  And there wasn't just one bum, there were three all perfectly spaced around the filaments of the flower.  I peeked into the next poppy, same thing.  Then another, and another.  Again, housed within each were three bees, heads down.  So I looked inside all the blooms, perhaps 20 in total, and each one had 2 or 3 bees inside, but now some were lying on their sides.  I brought along my camera the next evening and took this photograph.
I had just recently met a apiarist at TWWIAGE, when he was hired to help relocate a rather large swarm of honey bees that had decided to take up residence just to the side of the winery's front door, so I sent my photograph to the Bee Man to see what he thought the bees were doing hanging out in the poppies.  His theory was that the bees had been out collecting pollen when they were taken by surprise by the high winds the area was experiencing at the time and had simply decided to shelter in place.  Seems like a reasonable explanation to me, I don't much like wind either.
I checked in a couple of the poppies on my walk last night and only a solitary deceased bee remained (least I think it was dead), curled up in the middle of the flower.  Hope the others got home safely.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Geology matters!

Yes it does, especially when it comes to explaining just why the Napa Valley is such a unique place to farm wine grapes.
Today, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the co-authors of my favourite book on the complex geological history of the Napa Valley: The Winemaker's Dance by David G. Howell.  Y'know, if plate tectonics and other such earth moving events are your thing, this is a great read.  Like some geeky rock (get it?) groupie, I could feel myself blushing the entire time that Mr. Howell chatted to me (about Coombsville) and signed my copy of his book.  Haven't been that excited since I met Johnny Thunders.
Let the good times (rock and) roll!

Friday, April 05, 2013

Come in No. 69.

I don't know if I want to admit this, but I did buy some wine on my recent-ish visit to Raymond Nightmares, I mean, Vineyards.  I came home with a single bottle of JCB No. 69 - for Jean-Charles Boisset, not the construction equipment people - a sparkling rosé made in the saignée method from 100% Pinot noir.  This bubbly hails from the Boisset Family's vineyards in Burgundy.  I didn't taste it at the winery, but seeing as I like Pinot noir based bubblies I didn't think I could go wrong.   No. 69 seems to be a strange name for a wine, but according to the JCB website all the JCB wines are known by a number.  Apparently, the flamboyant Jean-Charles was born in 1969.  Ho-hum.
As for the wine, it wasn't bad - aromatic and crisp, but with the weight of Pinot noir - it's just that it simply tasted red to me.  Yes, red!  The colour.  On tasting this wine I think I experienced a phenomenon that is known as synaesthesia and my senses got all discombobulated.  First time that's ever happened.  It seems the absurdism at Raymond Vineyards has had a deleterious effect on me.  Bizarre!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


Most things in life are cyclical; moon phases, shedding Vinodogs, wine vintages...cycles even appear in wine-blogging subject matters.  Seemingly on a regular basis, some wine-blogger, somewhere, gets his/her knickers in a twist and rants on and on about the lack of ethics and credibility of wine-bloggers who welcome free wine samples, (bemoaning the perceived expectation that the wine/winery in question will receive a favourable review).  Snooze.  Seriously folks it's just wine, not a debate on the merits of the Geneva Convention.  Get a life!  So when I got an email from Do Bianchi (cognoscente of all things Vino-Italiano) that said, "Can I send you some Cantele samples?" I said yes!  Now, I'm not a wine critic, but I do possess a set of functioning taste buds. And I have never, in my life, been accused of being a sheep.  Still, in the spirit of full disclosure, I felt I had to point out to Do Bianchi that I don't have much of a readership and the wine samples would perhaps be wasted on me.  The samples showed up nevertheless.  Three bottles; a 2011 Negroamaro Rosato (IGT Salento), a 2010 Negroamaro (IGT Salento) and a 2009 Salice Salentino Riserva (DOC Salice Salentino).  All three wines are 100% Negroamaro grapes and, if the internet is to be believed, retail anywhere from $8.99 to $11.99.  So late on Easter Sunday afternoon, I sat myself down and tasted through all three wines; then I tasted them with dinner (roasted pork and vegetables); and then over the next two nights.
Negroamaro is a thick-skinned, black grape variety native to southern Italy and is grown almost exclusively on the Salento peninsula in the Apulia region that borders the Adriatic and Ionian seas.  Amaro is the Italian word for bitter which, I soon discovered, is an inherent characteristic of the Negroamaro grape.  It is said that vintages matter little in the wines produced from this region, as the climate is rather steady and consistent.
The Rosato was delightful.  A deep coral-pink, the nose was of sugared strawberries and candied-sour-cherry with a slight herby undertone.  The acid was balanced and the wine displayed a surprising amount of tannins (I'm assuming this wine is a saignée), although the mid-palate was a little weak and tapered off.  But then, unexpectedly, the finish came back with a crisp, clean, slightly peachy finale.  I finished drinking the Rosato on Tuesday night and it had gotten even better. 
The Riserva was a winner right out of the gate, displaying a whiff of baked mixed-berry tart with a side of crème brûlée - all vanilla and brown sugar goodness - and an odd, but pleasant, trace of perfumey sisal.  Medium bodied, fab acid and a finish that went on forever, it paired well with the roast pork and also the next night with Chili. 
Ah.  And then came the 2010 Negroamaro.  Sigh.  This little fella proved a little more difficult.  Very spicy nose, cumin and white pepper, with notes of sour cherry and under ripe plums.  Light to medium bodied, edgy acidity and insistent tannins that made me pucker up!  The grape's bitterness caught the back of my tongue and I think it made me wince.  However, it improved in the glass and was an acceptable accompaniment to the roast pork, pairing especially nicely with the roast onion on my plate.  In fact, I would have to say that the wine with the roast onion went through a miraculous transformation, it was amazing.  Now, I'm not a winemaker, but I do think this wine (aged in stainless steel) would benefit from being introduced to some oak phenolics, and that's all I'm going to say on the matter. With this last wine, I have no doubt that if I was holidaying in Apulia, with some of my very favourite human beings and eating the local food, that this wine would taste fabulous.  It is most definitely strikes me as a wine of place and it just simply did not relax itself in to a showery Sunday in the Napa Valley.
Would I have bought these wines if I had seen them in a local wine shop?  Well, if there was a wine shop in Napa, absolutely.  I have always loved Italian wines and I enjoy experimenting with new, to me at least, wine varietals.
Interesting stuff.  Thanks 2B!