Hey, let’s taste some f#%ing Merlot!
Let’s face it, it’s a classic scene from the movie Sideways, so much so that in many parts of the country merlot sales went down and stayed down for a long time after the movie came out. I mean, think about it, even now, years later, everyone fears a vague sense of disapproval if seen ordering, buying, or enjoying it. So it is a great surprise to me that– quite by accident– the three red wines we are pouring this weekend all have from 34% to 75% merlot! OMD!!
A little history: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc are the predominant red grapes of the Bordeaux region of France, and are therefore known as– wait for it– Bordeaux varietals! And although cabernet sauvignon is often found these days in various blends with non-Bordeaux varietals (as with sangiovese in so-called “Super-Tuscans), merlot is most often found blended in various proportions only with other Bordeaux grapes, or as a single varietal, especially in California and Washington. In Bordeaux, of course, Left Bank blends are mostly cab sauv, while Right Bank blends are mostly merlot.
Right Bank (click image to start video)
The Garonne River which defines Bordeaux opens out in a broad estuary toward the Atlantic. The southern riverbank has somehow become known as the Left Bank, and the northern as the Right Bank. That seems bizarre to me, as anyone looking at a modern map would call them “upper” and “lower” rather than “right” and “left,” but then I have often been burdened by taking language far too literally.
Our first red this weekend, “Grand Bateaux,” is 75% merlot, and seems to be a collaboration involving a Left Bank producer (St. Julien, mostly cab sauv) and (I imagine…?_) a Right Bank producer which I have not been able to identify. The remaining question is, okay, how does a left bank winery make a bunch of merlot-dominated wine??? I was hoping to answer this riddle for you, but alas, it must remain a mystery for the moment. The takeaway is merlot-dominated = “Right Bank.” In most cases…I think…!
And then there’s always California…
Well…this theme is not working out at all as I had planned, for lack of available data! This wine, called Red Splash, is made by California winery St. Francis. They are So Big that you have to look carefully at their website to find if they still make wine at all! Restaurant, yes. Food, yes. Weddings, check. Social media, oh yeah. But any mention of their errant child Red Splash…mmm…no.
So this reminds me that there is a Trend of sorts taking over in the world of Corporate Wine: getting more and more selective to pull the Best Grapes from the fruit available to you in order to make limited-production, high-scoring, publicity-gathering, Cult Wines that get High Scores from the Critics, and therefore the Very Rich will pay a LOT of money for. It is hard to say whether that is a good thing or a bad thing for us in the 99.9%.
On the one hand it means that The Best is not available to us. Well, Duh, nothing new there. On the other hand, it means that a LOT of fruit doesn’t make the cut for the Varsity, and that can generally mean an increase in quality for the Jayvees and the intramurals…you know, the rest of us. Most likely whole portfolios are being designed by Corporate HQ to aim each layer of quality at a particular socio-economic layer. The question for you as you taste this wine is, as always for the wine consumer at every level, “hmm, (sniff, sniff, taste, taste)” would I pay that much for this??
Tapteil Vineyard, located on Red Mountain near Benton City, produces some of Washington’s best Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. In a state that has Mountains like the Cascades, it has always seemed a bit brow-furrowing that this little hill gets to be called “Red Mountain,” which at around 800′ elevation is more of a low, wide hill. Nevertheless, this vineyard’s silt loam soil produces grapes of distinctive quality and well-structured wines with softly insistent tannins. This weekend we are pouring a wine that has been sitting in our cellar since we opened, the 2002 Cadence Tapteil blend of all three of Red Mountain’s Bordeaux varietals.
By the way, the name “Tapteil” is a Native American term for “narrow,” referring to the narrow meander of the Yakima River about a mile west of Red Mountain. Taptielmin were the “narrow river people” who once inhabited this portion of the Yakima River.
This week’s tasting
Chateau Lancyre Rose ’12 France $15
(50% syrah, 40% grenache, 10% cinsault): Bright pink. Intense red berry and tangerine with notes of anise and white flowers; juicy and precise, with palate-coating cranberry and bitter cherry flavors.
Stephen Vincent Chardonnay ’12 California $11
Hints of tobacco and prosciutto aromas with butterscotch and warm green apple carrying over into a palate of crisp citrus with minerals, tamarind, and fig.
Grand Bateau Rouge ’11 France $11
75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon; expressive nose of ripe red fruits and spices with an elegant touch of new oak. Harmonious and powerful, with appealing fruit flavors, ripe tannins, and a savory finish.
St. Francis Red Splash ’11 California $12
Lush merlot-based blend with succulent ripe red fruit flavors and spicy aromas. Full-bodied and versatile, with luscious raspberry fruit and spicy clove notes, a round midpalate, and well-structured length.
Cadence Tapteil Vineyard ’02 Washington 92pts $32
Cab, merlot, cab franc. Red currant, plum and tobacco leaf on the rather claret-like nose. Dense and spicy, with strong fruit notes of crushed blackberry, raspberry and red currant and an intriguing saline character. Finishes with big, chewy, broad, palate-coating tannins and excellent persistence.
Camera Mystery Explained
The older we get (a wonderful thing in SO many ways!) the more often our “Aha!” insights can turn out to be “You mean Everyone but me has known this all along…???” It’s a humbling experience that can make one wonder: “Is this another Little Slip toward the “Over” side of The Hill…?”
In last week’s post I admit got a little obsessive about my camera woes– the Case of the Disappearing Photos. I have since determined that the supplemental memory chip, which fits into a slot next to the camera battery (photo), is easily jostled loose. Last week’s mysterious reappearance of a set of long-lost photos, together with the sudden disappearance of a large number of more recent photos, seems to have been caused by the tendency of the memory chip to go in and out of contact with relatively small movements of the camera or battery. Move it this way, these photos appear…move it that way, and those photos appear!
Where cement comes from
Last week Pat spent several days in Vancouver at an embroidery design workshop on Granville Island. While there she took photos of these colorful characters painted on silos at Ocean Cement. As art it’s pretty interesting, although it is vaguely disturbing that, you know, trucks drive between the legs of these Giant Space Aliens to get, you know Dumped On.
Actually, the whole project is one of a number of large art installations by Brazilian artists and twins Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo, who call themselves OS GEMEOS (“THE TWINS”). They have been installing giant works of art around the world for over a dozen years. For a little trip through their work, go to their website and scroll across the mural header at the top of the page. Pretty amazing stuff!
Two weeks ago we enjoyed a very quiet Saturday afternoon at the wine shop. Such days often provide a laid-back atmosphere more conducive to easy conversation than more crowded times allow. Such was the case with Margaret and Eric. They both have musical talents, interesting jobs, and an infectious upbeat attitude.
The conversation somehow started on the topic of “Symphonic Metal,” which is, apparently, an emerging music genre. Margaret is on the verge of starting a group in this genre which would fuse elements of Opera (she has had a lot of training) and, you guessed it, Heavy Metal. Everybody’s favorites, right? How could you possibly miss?? Just think “easy listening” and imagine it piped into elevators…ah, so soothing!
We managed to get Pandora up and running for awhile on our ten-year-old salvaged PC, and they led us through several groups that have some of the elements of the genre: Nightwish (e.g., Phantom of the Opera or End of All Hope) and Apocalypica (try Heat (metal + cello…I am not making this up!). There are lots of others (The Glitch Mob, Epica). Much of it tips way too strongly toward Metal for my taste. But I have to say some of the more interesting examples have a very Epic sound, easy to imagine as movie sound track material for sweeping, vaguely dystopian sci-fi films…!
This week’s tasting
Lost River Rose’13 Washington $15
A long-time favorite here…blended from merlot and cabernet franc, harvested early to preserve crisp acidity and bright notes of strawberry and cherry.
Cepas del Zorro Macabeo ’13 Spain $10
100% Macabeo; barrel-fermentation preserves a lively character while adding body and texture; great intensity of fruit aromas, highlighted with notes of ripe apple.
Agricultura Vinho Tinto ’11 Portugal $11
From Alentejo, on Portugal’s south-eastern border with Spain, comes this eminently quaffable red wine with surprising depth and complexity.
Borie de Maurel Espirit d’Automne ’11 France $13
Syrah, grenache, carignan; perfumes of black olives, tobacco, and spices; minerally flavors of graphite, limestone and clay with notes of morello cherries, red fruits, mint, and licorice.
Susana Balbo Signature Malbec ’12 Argentina 91pts $25
Sexy aromas of dark berries, violet, and mocha, with juicy, fruit-driven black plum, blackberry and violet flavors and harmonious acidity, precision, and inner-mouth tension.
I have had my “new”camera for a year or two now, and have been very much enjoying it. It’s a Nikon Coolpix P7700, kind of a high-end “point and shoot.” It has a long list of features that I find quite incomprehensible. Some of you may remember some of the images I shot when the old camera was on its last legs.
When it comes to cameras I still have the mindset of the nine-year-old I was in the mid-fifties, taking pictures with my (I am not making this up) Hopalong Cassidy box camera. You held it in front of your belly button and looked down at a little prism at the tiny image of what was in front of you. I believe I also had a Hopalong Cassidy Lunchbox at some point, which included a little Thermos bottle, for which I have deeply conflicting memories!
For those of you who are too young to have any idea what this means, the original Thermos bottle was, like the simple cameras of the era, an ingenious invention. A disturbingly rubberized cap screwed onto a plain cylinder of unknown composition, which contained a mirror-bright coating of Some Magical Substance, vaguely Otherworldly. From time to time a Thermos would get dropped on a hard floor, and the shiny veneer inside would shatter into a bazillion pieces.
The unpleasant takeaway from this is that the rubber cork always managed to have a disgusting and extremely unappetizing aroma, an oddly disconcerting combination of old galoshes and milk on the verge of spoiling. In point of fact, the old Thermos didn’t keep anything all that hot or all that cold for all that long. But we all thought it was way better than, you know, waxed paper!
The Incredible Disappearing photos!
I am bringing this up because I absolutely have NO IDEA what just happened tonight while writing this little post…! Sometime this past Spring I took a day trip to Seattle to help out with bottling at Cloudlift Cellars in Seattle. The winemaker and his wife, Tom and Joannie Stangeland, visit the Island each summer for their anniversary, and we have written about Tom’s wines several times in the last couple of years. Bottling at an “artisan” operation like this (1000 cases or so per varietal) usually involves a group of friends and relatives who will volunteer several hours to help out. It’s definitely a lot of fun. Yes, it IS an assembly line, and, it’s deeply dehumanizing, but of course without dehumanization, how would we know what being human even means….?!!
Bottling is an interesting process, so at some point I wanted to take some pictures. I had plugged the camera battery into a charger while we were bottling and after a while, though the battery was not fully charged, I supposed I could take at least a few shots and maybe even a couple of short video clips. Eezy peezy, huh…? Later, however, when I tried to retrieve the photos from the camera for this blog entry tonight, they were nowhere to be found! Very baffling! So I figured, okay, the battery must have been just too low for taking pictures, so they never actually got taken! The important takeaway here is that I was pretty sure I had taken a bunch of photos and a couple of short video clips, which all seemed to record as usual. But when I looked for them..Poof!…Gone.! Kind of a head-scratcher. In circumstances like these, it is only Natural to wonder…“hmmm…Space Aliens…?”
Run that by me again….?
So Fast Forward to tonight. My camera has…er…had…about 80 photos in memory, most of which I have downloaded but not erased. My long-established protocol is to connect the camera to the computer (brief digression: this blog is written on an old Ubuntu (Linux) machine; my day to day PC activities are on a laptop with Windows 7, and of course we have an Ipad running Some Kind of Apple Thing). Standard Procedure is to connect the camera with the Ubuntu machine, which launches a freeware program called F-Spot, and which usually works out very well for uploading and editing images.
Except tonight! Tonight, just as I was downloading images, the camera fell on the floor (!), disengaging the USB cable. Somehow this minor incident seems to have caused the 80 or so photos in camera memory to disappear completely, and in their place have reappeared the missing photos from Cloudlift. At this point I need to assure you that I am NOT making ANY of this up! No, I am just presenting the Facts, in a completely Unbiased way. What we have here is a Mystery. Photos that have been Gone for six months have suddenly reappeared, while all the photos taken during that same six-month period have Disappeared!
All I can say about this is that we will be happy to give a free (and Generous) wine tasting to any of you Geeks out there who can make sense of this and explain it to us!
Happy Birthday, Gringo!
In a way I don’t fully understand, when I moved from the Northeast to the PNW in 1975, I went into a kind of exile. And I expect that back in 1975 anyone who pulled up roots in one place and replanted them elsewhere can resonate with that feeling. Between “reinvention” and “exile” dwells a maelstrom of subtle distinctions
One of my first first and best friends in the PNW is now my very old friend Rock, now living in Bend. I took the photo at left on a hike back in about 1976. Looks a lot like Mt. Shuksan behind him…? I can’t quite remember how the”gringo” thing got started, but nevertheless it endures.
Arrr, so today I ask all ye lads and lasses to hoist yer tankards to me old friend Rock on his birthday (10-4)….Arrrr!
This week’s tasting notes
Julia’s Dazzle Rose ’13 Washington $15
98% pinot gris, 2% sangiovese; bright, eye-catching orange-strawberry color, aromas of strawberry and orange peel, sweet fruit flavors, and clean, sharp acidity and a light and refreshing finish.
St. Innocent Pinot Blanc Freedom Hill ’12 Oregon $18
Bright, green-tinged yellow, with minerally scents of honey, tangerine, and herbs. Light and easygoing, with delicately earthy notes mixing with the pear and citrus flavors.
Harrington Pinot Noir Wild Horse Valley ’06 CA $10
Good deep red. Sweet aromas of dark raspberry, strawberry, smoke and flowers. Deep, round and sweet, with creamy red berry and smoke flavors, finishing with sweet, supple tannins.
For a Song “The Score” Merlot ’11 Washington $11
Lush and concentrated, with big New World notes of dark plum, blackberry, and cherry, and earthy Old World notes of coffee, dark chocolate, and leather.
Savage Grace Cab Franc ’12 Washington $22
Old World (Loire) style. Supple, tangy and graceful, offering refreshing cherry, raspberry and spice flavors. Very gently extracted, lightly saline wine with lovely purity and floral lift. Soft tannins, very appealing style.
Another Fall Equinox
Here is Sunset from our place on the Autumnal Equinox. We have kept track of these things over the years, as you can see by searching our archives for terms like equinox, solstice, and any of the cross-quarter days (Halloween, Groundhog Day (aka Candlemas), May Day, and of course, “Lughnasadh,” and No One knows what That Means! Not so for the Equinox; we know it means that this is the point at which some place on the Equator can experience looking straight up at the Sun at Local Noon.
For those non-Navigators our there, “local noon” is the moment on any day when the Sun is directly South of you (in the Northern Hemisphere). The Very Cool thing about local noon is that if you are Lost, especially at sea, you can always tell exactly your Latitude by observing the declination of the Sun over a period near noon. You will observe that the elevation of the Sun increases, increases, increases, and then, OMD, decreases at some point. The maximum elevation occurs at local noon, or what navigators used to call LAN, i.e., “Local Apparent Noon,” the moment when the Sun reaches its maximum elevation for your point on the planet. Then, using some tables, you can compute your Latitude. That is how, by the way, Joshua Slocum (author of the Classic “Sailing Alone Around the World”) was able to navigate back in 1898 using a wind-up clock that had lost its minute hand…!
There are a lot of really nice perks to living on Lummi Island. Among them is the fact that because our population is so small (the sign at the ferry dock has said 861* for the last 25 years). (*I am making this up, I can’t remember the “real” number), there aren’t enough people to staff all the organizations that, you know, a full-sized (whatever that means) community might have. That means that everyone who is at all civic-minded– and that includes a LOT of Islanders– has to belong to LOTS of clubs, committees, advisory groups, and so on and on and on. So yes, you’re right, No One has any Leisure Time.
So of course it is a Dilemma each September, when the Fall Parade comes around, for people to decide which group they will walk/ride with. For example, last year we were still much involved with raising money for the Library, so we marched with FOIL (Friends of the Island Library). This year Pat was involved with preparing and serving a delicious lunch (pulled pork or grilled veggie sandwiches) at the Grange (really our only public meeting venue) after the parade. So it makes you wonder…if we had more people, could we be on fewer committees and in fewer clubs??? Hmmm…I wonder…!
The three or four of you who occasionally read this blog may have noted the post last week about the unidentified flag seen flying from the green ketch moored in Legoe Bay over the summer. We posted an offer for a Free Tasting to the first person who could identify the flag. As it turns out, we did sort it out on Saturday in a group discussion at the wine shop (special kudos to Steve W). Then a few days later I discovered an email at our “other email address” in which Nancy G correctly identified it as the flag of Cascadia…!
According to Wikipedia, Cascadia is the name of a bioregion and proposed country consisting of Washington, Oregon, portions of other U.S. states and British Columbia, possibly including coastal Southeast Alaska in the north, and Northern California in the south. Some versions even include inland parts of Idaho, Western Montana, Wyoming, and Yukon. At first glance I thought, “Huh? Are you Serious?” Because, you know, the socioeconomic profiles and values of the wet (oops, I meant “west”) side and the east side of the PNW are pretty much what you would call Polar Opposites. Personally, I relate more to the 1970′s utopian vision of Ernest Callenbach in his little book Ecotopia. Thirty-some years ago I published a pretty interesting (imho!) paper called “The Economics of Ecotopia,” based on his novel. And now that I think about it, that vision is why I still have fantasies like someday having a carbon-free Ferry. But of course That is Another Story….!
This week’s tasting notes
Bargemone Provence Rose ’13 France $14
Bright, mineral-dusted aromas of pink grapefruit and dried red berries. Light and racy on the palate, with tangy citrus and redcurrant flavors. Finishes brisk and dry, with good lingering spiciness and length.
Cloudlift Chardonnay ’12 Washington $18
Enticing aromas of Gala apple, white peach, and apple blossoms, with nicely balanced fruit compote flavors with minerally notes of peach stone and alluvial minerals.
Ciacci Piccolomini Ateo ’11 Italy $16
Juicy cab-merlot blend that shows excellent up-front intensity, with notes of freshly cut flowers and mint that give the dark berry fruit an attractive sense of lift.
Lacroix-Vanel Fine Amor ’12 France $18
Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvedre, and Carignan; generous dark cherry and black raspberry tinged with lavender, sassafras, brown spices and tobacco, with suggestions of iodine and crushed stone.
Le Goeuil Cairanne ’11 France $22
Light, medium-bodied wine with fantastic complexity, with plenty of ripe berry fruits, crushed flowers, lavender and spice-box; beautifully made, with a silky texture.