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Wine

05 Aug 2015
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Weather report for a dry, summer Friday afternoon in the Temecula Valley: Sunny, light wind, temps in the 90s. A group of visitors to the Frangipani Estate Winery wander outside with glasses of the 2013 Estate Grenache Rosé ($20). It’s a bone-dry rosé, as tasting-room manager Nick Tavizon describes it. “A floral nose, hint of strawberry … a touch of minerality,” he says. “A lot of people come in expecting it’s going to be a sweet wine. But it’s not.” The latest vintage of Frangipani’s popular rosé was released in the spring. In Temecula, the grenache varietal is ideal for the crafting of a complex rosé. The valley’s too hot for pinot noir. Tavizon says the winery has played around with a few varietals for its rosés, but the grenache stands out. “People are liking it,” Tavizon says. “Rosés are definitely coming back with a new twist, done in a…
15 Apr 2015
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This is about creeping age and rolling green hills. It’s about interspersed wide patches of California poppies that cause drivers to pull over and take photos—as do acres of vines and vines and vines. I’m 49 years old, and I could spend every spring on the Central Coast. Dave and I drive the hybrid to Paso Robles the week before I turn 50. Wining and dining here ain’t no bargain, but we’re still young enough to camp in a tent among the spring-breaking crowd at Hearst San Simeon State Park. As age advances, though, I sense in myself less barrel-tasting wildness and more smoothness, like velvet syrah cellared with a cool film of crusty particulates forming over a bottle. I feel mildly dusty in Tobin James’ crowded tasting room, when we’re drinking charming, affordable wines and feeling less than enchanted. That bottle of jammy Tobin James Ballistic zinfandel ($18) we…
12 Mar 2015
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The moon lights the way to my cottage. A lantern glows inside. Friends knock and enter, bringing veggies and bread. I pour sweet golden mead into clay mugs. I’ve been busy fermenting honey here in my hobbit hole. Folks pull out hand-crafted instruments. We build a bonfire under the stars, dancing and feasting until dawn. That’s my vision of life after the apocalypse, an existence without indoor plumbing and electricity and WiFi. In my hippie fantasy, human society may fall into ruin, but it won’t look like the murderous anarchy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Instead, we’ll work together to survive and thrive. We’ll make music and drink mead—one of the most ancient and sustainable alcoholic beverages. It’s going to be good. OK, back to reality. I wasn’t thinking about surviving civilization’s collapse when I checked the progress of my bubbling liquid sunshine, aka a 6.5-gallon glass jug of honey…
16 Feb 2015
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“If pinot noir is the next best thing to sex, you must be having really good sex.” —PinotFile.com Dave never buys pinot noir at home. “No balls,” he says. We know this wine variety can be amazing. We’ve seen the movie Sideways. We’ve tasted good pinot noirs in Washington and Oregon. But we’ve encountered insipid pinot noir far too many times. Cuz insipid pinot noir is cheap. “I can’t afford to like pinot noir,” says our wine-aficionado friend. Now here we are, drinking elegant pinot noir and adoring it, eyes rolling back in our head, drool escaping from corners of mouths. We whip out our credit cards for more, more. We’re drinking on the west end of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. Locals call this the Deep End. It’s too close to the Pacific, really, to grow grapes. Yet the Deep Enders do. At Handley Cellars, tasting-room employee Ali Nemo pours…
16 Jan 2015
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A bright pink sky glows over trees and rooftops west of Berkeley. In our glasses glows the 2011 Boneshaker zinfandel—a relic of Lodi’s now-closed Cycles Gladiator Wines. I’m visiting a friend, and she’s enjoying the Boneshaker. She almost always likes zinfandel. I note the grape’s plebian heritage. The grape of the people. My friend doesn’t drink much these days, she says—a glass or two of wine a month. And she’s selective. An earlier bottle of wine, an average pinot noir from the nearby Berkeley Bowl independent supermarket, didn’t make the cut and sits open and forlorn on the counter. The Boneshaker is robust, ripe, spicy with a teensy bit of smoke. I’m loving it, knowing I won’t be getting more unless parent company Hahn Family Wines resurrects the brand. I will miss the Boneshaker zin. Our conversation turns back to quantities of wine consumed per month. My friend’s dryish habits…
19 Dec 2014
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It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend, one's present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine, or any other reason. —Latin proverb The Arrival of a Friend I was wrapped in a blanket under a tree. Giant snow clumps fell from dark clouds at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. A half-dozen wine loving amici and I were camping in Arnold, Calif. In March. The weather can be temperate in spring. That night, not so much. We’d spent the day visiting wineries in and out of Murphys, 12 miles away. We went to Milliaire, Indian Rock, Zucca, Stevenot, Newsome-Harlow and Twisted Oak. That night, we huddled around the fire, teeth chattering, passing around a bottle or two of newly acquired red. Hubbie Dave barbecued friend Launie’s tri-tip over flaming logs. She’d brought the juicy meat in a plastic bag, marinated…
14 Nov 2014
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The dog wanders through the Illuminare tasting room in Camino, Calif. Like his owner who’s pouring our wine, the pooch is chill. I try to attract the dog’s attention, to give him a scratch. He ignores me. Uber-chill. Do people still say uber? Do they use the umlaut to spell it? Über? When I drink, I overthink. I sample the 2011 Mourvedre and fall in love. “Rich fungal earth!” I write in my notes. “Earth! Earth!” And on the venue: “The dog doesn’t love me.” The mourvedre is $25, and my designated driver/love-of-life Dave buys a bottle. It’s 2:21 p.m., and I’m on a mission. I could taste at six wineries in one day—if I started early enough. Paced myself. Illuminare is No. 4. I need food. I have to pee. But the mourvedre, that dark smooth stranger with intense brambles—it’s worth trying many wines to get to this one.…
15 Oct 2014
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I’ve mentioned wine clubs to folks who don’t spend much time in tasting rooms. “I think there’s one of those around here,” one woman said. A wine club, right? A place where like-minded people get together to sniff and sip? Not exactly what I’d meant. At wineries, club membership is more like frequent-buyer programs. It gives wineries a consistent source of income. It gives me a consistent source of wine. Signing up means agreeing to buy something like a case of wine a year, or maybe three or four bottles every three or four months. The wine shipments are discounted—and that’s the big draw. Some wineries release special bottles, limited-production stuff, only to their members. As a member, a simple aficionado like me gets to feel like a member of the winery’s extended family—drinking with the homies, at a place where everybody knows your name. I’ve been a member of…