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Wine

16 Apr 2014
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Some day in the not-too-distant future, I want to make wine. But I don’t want to ruin perfectly good grapes. So I’m training myself on bread. Sourdough bread, specifically. This spring, I’ve been nurturing a sourdough culture: lactic-acid bacteria and yeast, feeding and reproducing on wheat flour and water. What’s growing looks like gluey carbonated yogurt. Aptly called starter. The bread-making process isn’t unlike the wine-making process. Both grapes and wheat undergo chemical changes as bacteria and yeast reproduce, causing fermentation, alcohol and gas production, and the tasty conversion of acids. To be honest, I started messing with sourdough because friends were baking it. I enjoy gnawing on a tangy bit of bread while I slurp fermented red. So, yum! Sourdough pairs with cabs. With merlot and sangiovese and barbera and aglianico. A few great pairings: • An earthy mourvèdre with sourdough and baked brie, drizzled with honey and garnished…
19 Mar 2014
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An older couple in a BMW drove randomly, stopping in directionless confusion at one busy intersection before zipping illegally around a car parked at a stoplight and lurching up the Highway 101 onramp. “I’m going to assume everyone on the road is sloshed,” said Dave. Fair assumption. Drivers might be three sheets to the wine wind anywhere. But Paso Robles—not quite a five-hour drive from Palm Springs, just north of San Luis Obispo—sports 120 wine tasting rooms sprawled over a twisting, hilly maze of country roads. It’s no wonder the Paso Wines website recommends swishing and spitting when tasting. Or hiring a driver. Speaking of hired drivers: I must give a shout-out to my extremely responsible husband, who limited himself to tiny tastes so that I could drink. Which is why I was three sheets to the wine as I wrote notes for this column in the front seat of…
11 Feb 2014
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If you want to make it rain in wine country, you can try the usual magic rituals—like washing your car, planning a sunny picnic or forgetting your raincoat. Or you can simply decide to write about the impact of drought on the wine industry. The sky was clear when I started thinking about water and wine, as I drove up the bone-dry Interstate 5—desert dry, crispy dry, whispy dry—in late January. I’d been jarred by stark images from NASA’s Terra satellite, showing a swath of tan mountains reaching up along the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valley, juxtaposed with a 2013 shot of a snowy white Sierra Nevada. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in California on Jan. 17. A few days later, state health officials released a list of 17 communities and water districts—from Mendocino County to Kern County—that could run dry before summer if no action was taken.…
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.…