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Wine

22 Jan 2014
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If wine grapes made noise, Mourvèdre would hum low and long, like a foghorn thrumming out a warning in the dark, thick stratus. Perhaps a melodic tune would emerge—something a stand-up gal could capture with the strings of her bass. Thum-bum-ba-dum, hum-ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum. If grapes had personalities, Mourvèdre would be the brooding dude standing on the party’s outer ring like a non-sequitur, quoting Sartre and the obvious. “Consciousness is prior to nothingness and ‘is derived’ from being,” he’d say. “Weather forecast for tonight: Dark.” Mourvèdre captures my imagination, and inspires the notes of black and blue paint that are making a muddy glum on my canvas. I’m drinking and painting—or at least using assorted brushes to glop oil pigment on stretched white fabric. I’m brandishing the artistic confidence of a 4-year-old not yet ruined by school. A friend is staying at my place, and we are drinking and painting…
25 Dec 2013
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The couple picks up a bottle of expensive wine for a special occasion—something off the top shelf at the strip-mall liquor store, perhaps. They know they like cabernet sauvignon. But faced with a row of bottles that are relatively pricy, they’re lost. What year? What winery? In the end, they choose the wine with the most-attractive label. Call it crapshoot cab. Maybe they like it. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they won’t be able to figure out, exactly, why this wine costs more than a case of three-buck chuck. Is it really that good? They may think: Are we just too stupid to appreciate the finer qualities of this wine? Nah. Really, all wine is a crapshoot. Like lovers, no two bottles of wine are alike—and they won’t ever be experienced in the same way twice. But if you’re after an erotic experience with a bottle of fine wine, keep a…
27 Nov 2013
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I feel privileged all year long, not just on Thanksgiving. Last night, hubby Dave bought a bottle of 2011 Tobin James Ballistic zinfandel, an old fave. The wine’s about $18, not terribly expensive. For our budget. It’s a jammy zin, without apology. As I enjoyed it, I thought back to a recent conversation with a fellow drinker about my age named Lea, 46. Lea is homeless, or at least “in transition,” a less-permanent-sounding term. In September, Lea returned to California from Colorado, where she predicted there’d be five inches of snow by Thanksgiving Day. Lea camps out most nights. I spotted Lea sitting under a tree, drinking a 40-ounce Miller and smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. She had a worn paperback book open across her chest. For Lea, the holidays are like any other day—although she has a slightly higher chance of getting a tasty meal. She was expecting a care…
13 Nov 2013
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My husband and I live in different states and maintain two separate households. That gets expensive, so we’re budget-conscious when we can be. Yes, life’s too short to drink bad wine, but balance exists between special-occasion reds and house wine—the everyday stuff you sip while watching reruns of Arrested Development on Netflix. Discount wine. I didn’t want to knock it ’til I’d tried it. That’s why we recently checked out the wine selection at a discount grocery chain, aka a flea market for food. My neighbors recommended the store a while back. Good selection, ever-changing. I tried not to wrinkle my nose or say: “Wine there? How do you know where it’s been?” I kept those thoughts to myself, hoping the neighbors wouldn’t think me a wine snob. To prove my lack of pretentions, I made the trek and discovered a chaotic variety. The store sells cupcake pans and organic…
01 Nov 2013
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For Tulip Hill Winery president Kristi Brown, one day per year is usually better than every other—and it’s not even a holiday. It's the day when winery staff, family, friends and wine consultants meet to blend Tulip Hill’s wine. “A fun day is a blending day,” Kristi Brown says. “You sniff them all, taste them, look at their color. One might have a great bouquet, another nice color, another fruit or acid or finish or tannin.” Ten to 15 people sit around the table, tasting. Each blend may take four or five—or maybe 10 attempts. Each time, the mix shifts incrementally. They’ll try 3 percent petite sirah, instead of 2, Brown explains, or 11 percent merlot instead of 9. She thinks back to earlier days, when the blending partiers would watch winery founder Robert Henderson “Budge” Brown Sr., Kristi’s father. They’d know when a mix of varietals hit the mark.…
15 Oct 2013
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The night we drank California’s best zinfandel, a 5.0 earthquake jiggled tectonic plates off the Pacific Coast. We didn’t feel it. No tsunami warnings ensued. Dave asked me if I would like to feel Adventurous. I said I did. He was washing dishes. I was scalding tomatoes, making them into a salsa with avocado, lime juice, late-harvest green onions and fresh basil. The chunky concoction tasted more Italian, like something you’d put on bruschetta. We ate it with tortilla chips. Dinner was on the grill: St. Louis-style barbequed ribs, a rack and a half, which is all that fits on my small portable gas grill. What wine goes best with ribs? Syrah! Malbec! Zinfandel! Tough choices. We chose to celebrate. Because it was Friday. Because Dave’s a federal employee who’s still working—he’s “essential”—but not getting paid. Because we have enough wine to ride out a couple of weeks of shutdown.…
02 Oct 2013
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“Take me to the volcano!” —Joe Banks, in Joe Vs. the Volcano. We smelled Bumpass Hell well before we careened down the trail into acres of steaming ponds, boiling mud pots and fumaroles. Signs warned us to stay on the boardwalk as we toured the lakes of glurbing grey glop and sulfuric steam. If you step on the crusty surface—and break through to the 198-degree mud beneath—well, you could lose your leg. That’s what happened to Mr. Kendall VanHook Bumpass, the 1860s tour guide for whom the trail is named. Nothing like the threat of an amputated limb to add texture to a Northern California hike through a national park. “This is better than Yellowstone,” said a fellow hiker. I agreed. Before the government shut down this week, closing all national parks (speaking of threats and amputations), Lassen Volcanic National Park was better than Yellowstone. Its surreal hydrothermal features like…
18 Sep 2013
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“California has a climate which is not well suited for growing grapes to make the finest wines. There are rather too many years when the sun scorches the grapes, so that the wine lacks the finest flavor.” —Excerpt from dog-eared copy of Wines and Spirits of the World (1958), read by Temecula winemaker Phil Baily. The sunset sparkled rosé over the rolling fields of grapes west of Callaway Vineyard and Winery. Matt Russell, offsite events manager for Lorimar Vineyards and Winery, poured me Lorimar’s 2010 Syrah. In the waning light, the wine appeared inky and luscious—a dark contrast to Frangipani Winery’s well-rounded 2010 Cabernet Franc, which I’d enjoyed at a nearby table. Lorimar and Frangipani, relative newcomers to the Temecula Valley, were two of 35 wineries pouring at Crush 2013, the apex of California Wine Month festivities in Temecula, on Saturday, Sept. 14. The valley had cooled since I’d arrived…