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Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Wine

16 Nov 2015
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You can make tofu taste like Italian sausage. You can toy with the texture, just a speck, so that a person eating your tofu chili will barely notice the curdled soy product. This works best if the vegetarian grub is served with a seductive red wine—one that holds up to the challenge, complementing chili, cumin, onion and black beans. Such a wine is the 2011 Twisted Oak Murgatroyd ($25). Yes, the wine’s name references Snagglepuss, the cartoon critter famous for the line: “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” The Murg wine is a kitchen-sink blend. It has a funky hue I call Barney purple. Sharply acidic nose. Medium body. Tangy zingy zang on the finish. I don’t know what’s in it. The bottle copy offers no hints; it merely plays on another Snagglepuss catch line, “Exit stage left.” (The label says: “Don’t Exit! Our animated blend is at the Stage where it is…
14 Oct 2015
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The Rim of the World was in flames in the late summer and fall of 2013. Dawn came morning after morning with smoldering red-orange skylines. By the time the conflagration was contained, the Yosemite Rim Fire had burned 400 square miles, making it the third-largest wildfire in California’s history. Wide swaths of charred hills and valleys were left in its wake. Spared from flames were tempranillo grapes in the Zuni Vineyard, on the canyon’s far edges. Gas and carbon vapors, however, penetrated the grapes’ thin skins for more than 40 days. Now those grapes are wine. “You can taste that smoke,” says Lisette Sweetland. She’s pouring the 2013 Tempranillo at Inner Sanctum Cellars. We’re visiting the winery’s tasting room in Jamestown, a few miles west of Yosemite. “It affected the wine in interesting ways.” You can’t predict the impact of a disaster, manmade or natural. Not for months or years.…
07 Sep 2015
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There’s something spiff-alicious about opening a delectable bottle of wine after drinking low-budget swill for a couple of weeks. I select a bottle from my wine cellar (read: garage). I break out the fine wine glasses, caress the delicate glass. I touch the bottle, read the label. Madroña Zinfandel. El Dorado. 2012. It’s an $18 bottle of wine from mixed vineyards—so no big whoop, right? But I recently jammed through a six-pack of low-end Blackstone cabs, cheap zins made from old vines (the nerve!), and a Yellow Tail merlot that turned out to be palatable with sketti. While cost is not necessarily an indicator of quality in wine—or anything else—it turns out 10 bucks a bottle makes a huge difference. At my house these days, even the wine-formerly-known-as-average is saved for visitors. Tonight, that’s my husband, Dave, who has made his monthly sojourn from his home in Reno to my…
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…