Understanding Red Wine: Three Categories

These three categories make red wine easier to understand:

– Big, luscious

– Big, craggy (‘structured’)

– Light-bodied

By ‘big’ we mean 1) lots of flavor, and 2) full-bodied, usually due to higher alcohol levels.

By ‘luscious’ we mean smooth and easily approachable — not high in tannin or acidity.

By ‘craggy/structured’, we mean high tannin — leaves your mouth feeling dry after you swallow — and high acidity — puckers the lips like eating citrus fruit.

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Chateau Montelena Zinfandel 2014

I liked this. Lots of wine people complain about recent zinfandel being too high in alcohol, too fruity, and too low in flavor. This is not that.

At 14.5% ABV, it’s the other side of the zinfandel spectrum from what we often drink, and it’s a very different effect. But if you go into it knowing you are getting something different, it’s clearly a well-made, interesting wine.

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Rhone in the USA Day One: rough notes

Like superheroes, wine makers all have origin stories. In this case, we even call the wine makers “Rhone Rangers”, though no one wore a mask.

David Margerum’s story involves being a fourteen year-old boy traveling with parents. And, oh, try some wine! In Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Shannon Horton’s story involved “punching down” the grape skins as a ten year-old.

Randall Grahm’s story is more about journey than origin: can you make a quantum leap to achieve something beyond yourself? In winemaking.

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Rhone in the USA Events at Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Free wine tasting at the Smithsonian? That’s a hard sell. (Not.) Maybe if you throw in Randall Grahm pouring his 30-year anniversary Le Cigare Volant…. Oh. Randall Grahm will be there, pouring that wine. (Please note that by “hard sell”, I mean “sign me up”.)

The bad news is that there’s already a long waiting list.

The good news: Team Great Big Reds will be there, and we’ll give you the play-by-play on how good all the wines were.

Seriously: two events… a free wine tasting / seminar on Monday afternoon (6/18, 3-5pm), and Tuesday evening (6:30pm-), a fundraising four course dinner (plus dessert), with each course designed to match the accompanying wine.

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Great Big Reds of Summer: Kreuz, The Boxer, #WinePW

Summertime and the living is easy…. Do you break out the grill — ‘barbie’ in Australian? And to go with your cook-out? Great Big Reds, of course. And why not a poster-child for Australian shiraz: Mollydooker, The Boxer! (Cheers!)

Great Big Reds, Kreuz mesquite-smoked beef sausage, and Mollydooker’s The Boxer

Our family intersects with Lockhart, Texas, and Lockhart intersects with its very own style of barbeque. German immigrants to Lockhart suddenly had cheap, plentiful beef, and the secret mega-weapon: mesquite. Beef smoked over mesquite? With enough pepper to make it spicy? Hold the sauce and hand me a knife. No, really: used to be, the knives were chained to the tables. You order beef and sausage, they put it on butcher paper and hand you a knife.

Meanwhile, back before we paid so much attention to wine, Mollydooker’s The Boxer was our big treat for special occassions. It’s pretty easy to find in grocery stores and wine stores.

Kreuz sausage + The Boxer = Whoosh! (How’s my math?)

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The Dark Side of Syrah, with Domaine de Fondreche Persia 2012 (Ventoux), for #Winophiles

I love cool-climate syrah. I’m always searching for the earthy flavors and sensual experience of Cote Rotie… for less than $80 a bottle, and preferably with at least 14% ABV.

Enter Domaine de Fondreche Persia 2012, from Ventoux, France. Persia is the vineyard; Ventoux is an area east of the southern Rhone where the local climate and weather are influenced by a single mountain.

Notably, while summer days are very hot, nights are cooled by air coming down from Mont Ventoux. Hence, northern Rhone-like cool climate syrah, from a region much farther south, where land is much cheaper.

When I was done with my first bottle, I rushed back to buy a case. I should have bought two.

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Sonoma’s Where My Heart Is – The Fires

The fires got to me.

Sonoma and wine generally are — were — my respite from worldly woes: hurricane after hurricane after hurricane and mass shootings, politics, family health matters, terrorism, and all the rest.

And then the fires.

I was safe. A continent away. But obsessed and traumatized.

I had a pleasant Sunday. Woke up Monday to wildfires blown across my ‘happy place’ by 70 mph winds.

Willi’s burned.

“Do you have a favorite winebar in Sonoma?”

“Not any more.”

A neighborhood like where Willi’s Winebar was should not burn down. A residential neighborhood — like dozens strewn across Sonoma and ‘wine country’ — should not burn… not in northern California… not like that.

I don’t want to even try to imagine the trauma of being there. Fires on the ridges, smell of smoke at midnight. Evacuations, burned neighborhoods. Everyone knows someone who… and the blanks you fill in aren’t happy.

I wish everyone there a speedy recovery, and that you always remember to be gentle with yourselves and others.

People are people, do what they do. Chefs started cooking free meals. Photographers started taking pictures. Firefighters raced to the flames. Etc.

It’s less pretty to think that there were people looting and even setting fires.

Nobody needs anyone driving through burnt-out neighborhoods, gawking, either.

But it’s bad enough to drive along a road and see what used to be a neighborhood, now reduced to rubble and chimneys and burned cars and tree trunks.

Chimneys, rubble, and tree trunks where a neighborhood used to be.

The people who lived in those houses with their families and pets… that’s a lot of lives interrupted, with the accessories of a comfortable life burned away.

Sonoma Strong

They seem to mean it. People who lost their homes… are out helping others. Lots of people pitching in. I suppose when you say “Sonoma Strong”, it reminds you to be strong, that you are strong.

What can you — we — do?

There are plenty of charities to donate to.

There’s plenty of wine. Buy some. Enjoy it. Think of all the people who helped make it. Cheers!

Visit! Wineries and tasting rooms are open for business. Go team!

In fact, almost all vineyards and wine makers suffered very little or no direct damage. Turns out, vineyards are excellent firebreaks. I saw more than one that was a little toasty along one edge, but 99.9+% undamaged… at least to see from the road. Grape leaves are lovely in the fall.

This is a wonderful time of year to visit Sonoma. Actually, every season is a wonderful time of year to visit Sonoma.

I was…

I was already planning to visit Sonoma for the Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC17).

There were a couple of sessions on the fires and dealing with fires. Oof.

I was glad after the conference to do a wine tour. We visited Iron Horse, Teldeschi in Dry Creek Valley, Loxton north of Glen Ellen, and MacLaren and Enkidu in Sonoma.

A bunch of wine bottles lined up, with more behind... from various Sonoma wine makers.


Campana Ranch and Winery

As you approach the Campana Ranch Winery you know it is going to be an unusual experience. You confront the gate: fresh eggs, keep the gate closed for loose horses, and the name. It is a ranch and winery. The wife does the ranch and Steve Baker does the winery. He retired from corporate wine and started his own. The first wine was 2012. So it is not a winery that has been around for a long time. The afternoon I was there they were hauling hay, which he left to talk about wines.

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Find and Enjoy Big, Bold, Luscious Red Wines