Just when you think you’ve seen it all, just when cynicism and indifference seems poised to win the day; when wall-to-wall coverage of the absurdities of Bordeaux, its pricing, and the Great Thirst of China for the same swamps all reflective intellection; when wine education is trivialized or pilloried in favor of mere consumer preference; when commercial bombast goes unchecked; and when Monsanto grows stronger every day; I am here to tell you a bit of good news. Quiet, subtle, but very good news.
Facebook announcements generally have all the luster and impact of lost pet fliers stapled to telephone poles. But two caught my eye the other day. First Parducci, then Paul Dolan Vineyards. The subject was microfinance and a San Francisco-based organization named KIVA.
But just what is microfinance?
“Microfinance is the provision of financial services to low-income clients or solidarity lending groups including consumers and the self-employed, who traditionally lack access to banking and related services.
More broadly, it is a movement whose object is a world in which as many poor and near-poor households as possible have permanent access to an appropriate range of high quality financial services, including not just credit but also savings, insurance, and fund transfers. Those who promote microfinance generally believe that such access will help poor people out of poverty.”
This is new to the wine world I’ve come to know. And KIVA?
“We are a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.”
As far as I am aware, the Mendocino Wine Company is the first to utilize this lending model. But that is hardly surprising considering their track record and range of accomplishments. And now we may add to their list a gentleman, Jofre Descatre from Ecuador. Just announced today. But so, too, may we join in this adventure. I encourage readers, and wineries, to join and donate to Wineries For Good. Or start a team of your own.
I caught up with Mr. Dolan and asked him about all of this. Enjoy.
Admin Good afternoon, Mr. Dolan. How remarkable it was to read on Facebook of your winery’s new association with the micro-finance organization KIVA. How did this come about?
Paul Dolan It was Kelly [Lentz, Marketing and Sales Coordinator], she was the first one to actually recommend it. She was curious about the organization. And then it was my daughter, Sassicaia; she discovered it at about the same time. Then we got my grandkids involved. Instead of giving them money for birthdays, you give them an allowance to invest. It connects them up with the larger world.
And the farming side of it made a lot of sense to us. As you know, our philosophy is organized around supporting small family farmers, particularly organic farmers, or one might say, sustainable farmers. So it made a lot of sense. We now have a Paul Dolan profile and a Parducci profile. Kelly has a profile. We’re seeing if we can’t generate some interest from some other wineries.
Indeed. Absolutely remarkable. Mr. Thornhill and I talked about this some time ago, around the time of the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington. How will you decide who to distribute funds to?
PD At this stage of the game we’re just sort of exploring. It will come from relationships we’ve established. Having visited Ecuador and Kenya, those are sort of naturals. I’ve got a buddy in Lebanon. There is really no rhyme or reason to it at this stage. It’s hard to evaluate because you’re reading something someone has written up; you don’t know how much of it has been embellished. You don’t always know what the reality is. [Laughs] So you have to just trust in the nature of it.
I like the ones, the requests, where they’re looking for equipment and supplies; where they are going to lease property, or rent property. For sharecropping, for example. I like that model. I like it when they want to buy farm animals and raise them. Or milking cows and goats in order to sell the milk. Like the Heifer project. I’ve always thought that was a great project. I’ve been a supporter of theirs for a long, long time, probably 20 years.
KIVA, micro-financiers generally of course, help those who cannot necessarily go to a bank for a loan. They have no way to secure credit. They often have no collateral. Neither can they secure such small loans, especially when offered at usurious interest rates. But such a loan can be life-changing for them.
PD Exactly. Muhammed Yunus was inspirational, how he saw that vision. And I love the fact that it connects us up. I particularly love the fact that my daughter sits down at the computer and takes the time to read and evaluate and learn about the people to whom she will decide to make a loan. Just the process of reading it [the KIVA website], the mental gymnastics of trying to determine what and who she wants to put her money in… it’s fantastic!
Wonderful. Now as far as your particular group is concerned, Wineries For Good, can anyone join under your umbrella organization?
PD Exactly. They can join what KIVA calls the team. So our first outreach has been through Facebook, both Paul Dolan Vineyards and Parducci Wine Cellars. We’re not just trying to explore outreach through Facebook. I don’t generally like to ‘Friend’ companies. I like to ‘Friend’ people. So we have the Paul Dolan winery and I have my own Paul Dolan site. So I’ll take it to my site. I’ll take it to my son’s site and my daughter-in-law’s site; my daughter’s site. We’ll start spreading it out. It’s a fun way to get things going.
I think you and your company will, once again, be the first in California, among wineries, to work with micro-financing. I find it extraordinarily praiseworthy. And once word gets out — I’m certainly going to push it hard — even karmic gifts will flow back to you and yours.
PD Have you become a member?
I signed up just today. [6/21]
PD I guess another way would be to reach out to some bloggers.
Another thing: We also discussed, here at the winery, the idea of how we as a company could provide financing for small farmers here in the states. I am particularly intrigued by small truck farmers in the Mendocino area. So Tim [Thornhill] has been working with a grain farmer, a guy that came to the community not too many years ago. He and his son are growing grains for bread primarily. So we’re doing a trial of different grains to grow between the grape vine rows, kind of like cover crops. We’re trying to get a sense of how that would work. It’s a competitive environment, so we have to figure out how much we can plant, what the spacing is, what the width of the row can be. That’s one of the ways we’re contributing there. For the small farmer, sometimes it’s difficult to get bank financing for small amounts. And they can get to be a little bit bigger amounts as well. Eventually we’ll probably find ourselves in the dynamic of helping small farmers who are starting to expand. But at a certain point it will be time to pass them off to a bank.
As I’ve read the material, many of those looking for loans will have max’d out their credit cards, if they ever had one, and the bank, should they even lend at all, will charge a usurious interest rate. And many of them, the small businessmen and women, need so very little to make a go of it. How is the interest rate determined? Via KIVA, or do you set it?
PD Well, we haven’t gotten too far into it. We’re just exploring. Right now we’re profitable enough to venture into it. We’ve set ourselves some goals to achieve. From there we can start to develop a small system.
There are a couple of other things have come on the radar screen. There is an organization called Slow Money that is probably worth a little exploration. It was started by a guy named Woody Tasch. I was one of the early small investors providing seed money to get the thing going. And it is organized around communities supporting local investments in food. It really is a fascinating project. They are just now starting to gear it up.
I’ll give you a hypothetical example of what they might do. Maybe a farmer wants to grow a particular crop. Maybe they want to grow lettuce. Maybe lettuces in the Spring, tomatoes in the Summer, and potatoes in the Fall. They need, let’s say, $30,000. You’d find maybe five people who would put in $6,000 each, and then you’d organize some sort of interest rate. But the interest rate would be more in the range of 3 to 5 percent. You would create a dynamic where they didn’t have to start paying the money back for three years. Bear in mind this is just a hypothetical. And then they would start the process of paying back, quicker or longer term. But the idea is much, much more about the investors wanting to invest in the health of the community. So the dynamic is about how we create a healthy food system, a health food network, that is sustainable. All of this rather than putting $6,000 into GM stock where you get 2 1/2% dividend and maybe some appreciation. I think it is just a great, great model. And I am so hopeful that something like that can really work well.
Thank you very much your time, Paul.
PD We look forward to building a team.
We resume the (entirely fictional) adventures of KP and Robert Parker south of the border. This is a work of the imagination. Perhaps the tale would make for good summer beach reading while sipping a glass of rosé. I cannot say.
I stood before a great mirror framed by an elaborate carving of a serpent getting its head bashed by sweet chubby cherubs. I drank in my mysterious reflection and made the final adjustments to the new priestly vestiments. “The collar’s still a bit tight”, I tell Sister Rosarita. “Don’t you think my cape is a little long? Not sure about the sleeves. Is this really a medium?” “KP, your vanity will be your undoing”, says Father Broadbento seated a short distance away. “And murder will be yours.” “Tut, tut. What is the life of one man compared to the survival of my flock?” But I protest, “RP is not just any man. He has special powers. Sister Rosie, does this come with a belt?” “Silencio!”, bellows Father Broadbento, now on his feet. Rosie makes a discrete ‘he’s been drinking’ gesture to me. Father Broadbento steps in close, mano a mano style. (The Pillar Box Red Syrah/Cab/Merlot blend on his breath was unmistakable: fat, black fruit, licorice, in playful chocolate syrup bondage, vanilla, cassis, an oaky fruit bomb. 91 RP.) “What special powers?!”, he hisses. “Well, for starters he’s made you a painter… and a killer.” Best I could manage, a little flattery. Besides, who knows what he might do in the grip of Pillar Box fever.
The Father smirks, “In fact, you’re the killer…. Sister Jancis!” In walks my grim chaperone. She carries a leather shoulder bag emblazoned with a Los Cementaros Fútbol patch. She unzips it and dumps the contents on the bed: a cell phone, the one I bought at the Siete/Once, penicillin, four pair of woolen briefs, a fat bundle of pesos, a Spanish/English phrase book, a brand new bilingual Bible, a cat-o-nine tails..; “What the hell is this?” “In case you get bored, have temptations…. It really melts the ice with the pilgrims you’ll encounter.” More, …a travel size bottle of Holy Water, and 16 ozs. of Evian, power bars, a self-pleasuring electrical device..; “Oh, how’d that get in there?”, says Burgundy-blushed Sister Janicis. She quickly hides the object among the folds of her habit. Father Broadbento rolls his eyes. Sister Rosarita chuckles guiltily to herself. First dent in Sister Janicis’ formidable armor, and her voice, another dent. So sweet, soft, lilting, even. More, …running shoes, a pair of black gloves, and guitar strings. I finger the metal strings. “I’m supposed to do the foul deed with these?” “No. Sister Jancis is taking her guitarra.” I toss the strings to her. “I’m not carrying your stuff.”
“I took the liberty of calling your answering machine….” “What? How’d you get my number?” “Seems a certain ‘Ignacio’ from the aeropuerto policia handed over your old phone to Father Jeffordo after Confession. Mexico Ciudad is not so large as you think. Heh, heh.” I could do without the lame taunts and chuckles. The padre continued, “If I may have your attention, KP, you need to hear this.” Father Broadbento produced a small digital recorder and pressed ‘play’. A desperate voice sputters: “KP! RP. Where are you? KP? Oh god, I hear them coming…[static] lunch. Not another carnitas burrito with a warm Malaga! KP, stop them! Stop …” The call abruptly ended. “Bastardos!” I am near tears. “He can’t live like that! He’s too delicate, too refined…” “But for the next six months he will…without your help.” “What did he do?” “He insulted a very important wine producer south of Ensenada, General Espurier. He said his very best wine tasted like sloth vomit, the scrapings of a Cuban Taxi’s tailpipe, and salty driftwood.” “I know that wine, ‘Oro de Fregona, ‘05. He has such a brilliant palate”, I sob.
Father Broadbento touched the back of my bowed head. Softly, “Take your things and go to him.” I resignedly toss the items into my bag and turn to leave. “Take these.” The padre offers me a fistful of pills. I take them. I feel faint, my knees buckle. Sister Jancis picks me up. I feel her electrical device againt my thigh. “I can walk.” Though I can’t.
We exit the iglesia and get into a Volkswagon Bug. She moves her bag and guitarra to the back seat. “I’ll drive”, she says. “Yes. Rápidamente.”
Deep in sorrow.
Rattling along in a VW Bug, I look out the window. Heat lightning blasts the hillsides. Fire everywhere. The scrub burns, races after us. Wooded hollows, dry and stunted, burst into flame just ahead. Holiday billboards shower us with sparks. Windshield wipers begin to melt. The fire next time, as has been said. The world has become the giant face of a Lucha Libre wrestler, his mask ornamented with flames. “Is it always like this?”, I hear myself say. But Sister Jancis only wipes the sweat from her brow.
I’m raised to voice then silence, and again. Drugs, curse the Father…. Yes, my wound is healing, but I’m delirious. Too much Vicodin, Demerol or whatever. I pretend to be asleep. I am by half. But the other half senses the approaching danger more than a little. I am useless. Can’t move, can’t speak. Sister Jancis looks over at me. Fire smoke tears her eyes. She coughs. Never gets it out of third gear.
I look out the hot window. Want to be a shadow. Want to be a millisecond. Want to be a firm shape. Want to be a burr on a sock. Want to be an insect. Want to know a thing or two. Want to study in Rome. Want to kick the moon. Want to disable the sight of others with a wink. Want to be the one. Want to spin down a drain. Want to find the end of a rat hole. Want to be crushed in drying concrete. Want to drown in holy water. Want to disappear…. Yet, I want to end up whole, and new, and full. Sister Jancis and I freely exchange ideas between our simple, silent minds, so I hallucinate. Our terrible mission needs one disaster to inaugurate another.
RP… should the world burn to a cinder, I know you would find another one for us. But I want there to be more smoke, the sun blotted out, darker still… so that RP might glow more brightly. The better to find my way to him.
Frustrating interlude. Such is the recovery of health: morphine and a Spanish/English dictionary in ashes.
The writer becomes the written…. I thought I was an origin and a destination, the mapmaker uniting them both, inscribing the cardinal points on a compass, tracing routes and roads and icons of watertowers, churches, town squares, monuments, graveyards, picturesque ruins, and especially wineries, vineyards; but I am not the mapmaker, certainly not when dreaming while leaning against Sister Jancis. She changes gears just to wake me. “Get off me!” With one great shove she pastes me to the passenger door. As the song says, ‘I am the passenger…’
The climate has tempered. Out the window I see banana groves, tamarindo, irrigated bougainvillea, pink and orange, the cirian tree, fruits clustered all around us. I reach for cashews hanging just out of reach. Dust devils twist among rusted Buicks and Chevys along a littered stretch of playa. Metal ruins of proud machines. Art? I’m not sure. Helped by pacifying narcotics dissolved in my water bottle, I again pass into sleep and dream…
Obligatory Dream Sequence
Carlo Rossi, Mr. Sebastiani, Ernest & Julio, Charles Shaw, the widow Clicquot, so long a line of luminaries do not shine brightly enough to reveal me crouched behind a cold marble statue of the Mondavi Clan eternally tearing at each other for supreme recognition.
I am naked, as so often happens in dreams; but so is everyone else. Ugh! The good life generates an abundance of flesh, I’ll leave it at that. There appears in my hands a sharpened pencil and a clipboard stacked fat with pages, the topmost of which is a list of the names of all the people I see parading before me. So many more, Kendall-Jackson, Rodney Strong, J. Lohr, Kenwood, Lindeman etc. run down each sheet. I look back at the luminaries…now I see that each soul is tethered to a thick rope about their inflamed mid-section. All in a line, they pull something still to emerge from the darkness. Suddenly the floor is an inches deep in wine grapes. Free run juice flows underfoot. Any hesitation in the trudge forward is discouraged by an electrical charge running through the liquid. I now understand I am meant to check names off as they pass by the Mondavi statue. I check off Carlo Rossi and and and… A joyous roar goes up from behind me. A crowd of thousands cheer from bleachers several hundreds of feet high. Who has not had a dream like this? I catch my breath with the calm grasp of the normality of such a dream vision.
And then from the shadows, I first see great knots; then ropes looped around the iron rails of a vast sleigh; then a pair of gigantic wine-stained feet, thence ankle to calf to knee…, the figure must be a quarter mile long, a hundred meters thick, and thicker as the thighs and feminine hips emerge; and the soft rounded belly, naked, but the way a mountain is naked… I can’t go on. It is RP! Please wake me up! Sister Jancis! Help!
End of obligatory dream sequence
The VW shudders to a stop. We are not on the coast. No town around. We are among vines. On a dirt driveway. A palatial estate looms. Armed guards are all around the car. Out walks a general. Who is this? And why?
Raymond Chandler was born on July 23, just as RP was. And Haile Selassie, Cardinal James Gibbons, the Archbishop of Baltimore(!), Woody Harrelson, Gloria De Haven and Coral Browne, all actors; Don Drysdale, and Anthony Kennedy. Mystery writer, Emperor, religious figure, actor, pitcher, and a Supreme Court Justice. Are these not RP’s modalities?
So the horoscope reads: Outgoing, warm, friendly, generous, loyal, likable, entertaining, likes attention, confident, cheerful, creative, strong-willed, charismatic, proud, extrovert; but can be demanding, dogmatic, controlling, afraid of rejection.
Seems RP suffers his own celestial ‘tasting’ notes stuttering within his mortal coil.
Sister Jancis conducts business with General Espurier himself a floor or two above. I’ve been taken downstairs to a bunker – let’s be real – but thankfully propped up in front of a computer terminal. I’ve asked for, and been given, permission to do a little research on Mexican Wines. I’m on-line, struggling through the mental sludge of healing pharmaceuticals. Perhaps I’m in a holding cell – realer still – for the doors are locked. Well, I haven’t tried them. I will in a while. Let time pass. Don’t want to embarass my host, the General, or Sister Jancis who might kick my teeth in should I perform an insubordinate tic.
So I wander the net, visiting Mexican wine pages, and web sites sure to infect the Dell: Poker.coms, N’Oleans She-Males had by the hour, Viagra from Hong Kong, and the Astrological pages, of course. I sign up for as many free offers as I can. I’m just about to click on a Scientology personality test when I hear the lock thrown. (See! I knew the cubicle was locked! I’m usually locked in or out, according to my chart.) In walks an armed, balaclavaded soldier. He moves in nervous gestures like he’s sixteen, all 5′3″ of him, even in boots. He sweats profusely, rivulets running down his neck, soaked at the collar and through his buttoned desert camo. He yells at me, “No astrologica! No scientologica!” “Porque, vato?” “Es el trabajo del diablo!” Apt description of the General’s wine, but I don’t say that, of course. Instead I say, “Gracias por la cabeza arriba.” Literally means ‘heads up’. Not here. It is nonsense here. It’s their fault the language is so different. Here it means something like ‘Thank you for your grandma’s magnet’. Or, ‘I’ll take that bridge in a small’. Depends on the inflection. Idioms are such a pain. My tiny soldier is nonplussed. He can tell I’m an anglo from way back. But I cease my net surfing. He’s about to leave when I ask, “Donde estan nosotros?” “Hermosilla, Sonora, puta.” No need to get personal, mi hijo, I reflect as he locks the door.
So it seems they’ve followed my every key stroke; so I resolve to put them at ease and return to my Mexiwine research. Read and update my Twitter feed later. All kinds of grapes are grown here, from Barbera, Cardinal, Cariñena, to Thompson and Ruby Seedless. I am so bored I begin wondering when can I please dispatch RP and just go home. The desert does that.
I touch my kidney cavity. Seems a bit bulgy, but healing nicely. Will demand for a discontinuation of my ‘medicine’. I need to focus. Can’t wait to meet the General; and to lift the hem of Sister Jancis’ soiled habit for a peek. Mostly, I want out.
I quickly download the Scientology test. Hear boots, but its too late for them. Malware, work your magic!
End of part 4
…to be continued…
With the Rapture due to decimate the world on May 21st it hardly seemed worth researching this article, but luckily the end of the world has now been postponed until October 21st so we have a few more months to enjoy the fruits of the vine and the worldly pleasures associated with it. Sadly there were several news pieces that initially followed the themes of Disease, Death, Devastation and Destruction.
May got off of to a poor start with the Cancer Council of Australia damning drink with the doom-laden “alcohol is clearly one of the most carcinogenic products in common use” and launching TV ads in Australia where a spilled glass of red wine symbolises the spread of cancer (the beer and spirits more usually associated with alcohol abuse obviously don’t have the same visual impact) – all of this prompting a written response by the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia. Wine Spectator reviewed the fallout a few days later.
Less than a month after the death of Jess Jackson another Californian great passed away when Mike Lee of Kenwood succumbed to a heart attack while playing Golf, the Wine Enthusiast paying tribute to his life and times.
There was devastation from the elements in Germany and California as Spring frost hit both side of the globe: Decanter reported on -5oC (23oF) temperatures at the beginning of May hitting Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Franken and Württemberg vineyards with their worst frost for 30 years while California’s Central Coast gets the same treatment less than a week later, with Paso Robles most severely affected and subsequently Wines & Vines reporting on up to 30% crop loss in affected areas. The California frost actually hit in April, but it wasn’t until May that the media started reporting the news.
Man-made destruction also made the headlines as German politicians pushed the controversial Mosel Bridge plan forward – Decanter summarised the sage so far while Jancis Robinson, a vocal opponent of the plan, re-posted Sarah Washington’s emotional blog piece to the greater wine world. Regardless of the wine world’s distaste it seems inevitable now that the bridge will be built, the vineyards affected will have to adapt and all that is left is to observe.
Luckily there were some less depressing stories to be found as well, starting with the shock news that Vintage 2010 in Bordeaux is very good! UK merchants Berry Bros place it at least the equal of 2005 and superior to the lauded 2009, as reported by Harpers Wine & Spirit.
In the monthly Decanter Magazine their 2011 Power List was published on the 50 top movers & shakers in the Wine World. In a sign of the times I applaud the 16th placed “Amateur Wine Blogger” and 38th placed Eric LeVine of CellarTracker as recognition and acceptance of Social Media and the internet in 21st Century Wine.
More controversial was the furore surrounding the supposed comments of Rhône wine guru Michel Chapoutier who has expanded his interests into Alsace with the setting up of the Shieferkopf label. Decanter sensationally headlined “Petrol smell in Riesling ‘a mistake’” in their short article which lit the fuse for a host of parry & riposte comments (36 to date on Decanter.com, something of a record for them) and in subsequent articles and social media. But how many delved deeper than the inflammatory title to find out that Chapoutier was apparently referring to his views on young Riesling? (which came to light in an interview on Drinks Media Wire – “If some, following my comment on this defect in young Riesling wines, understood that I was talking about old Riesling wines: it has never been the case”). Whether Decanter deliberately omitted the “young” in their article to raise debate, or Chapoutier himself forgot to clarify in the knowledge it would generate significant attention to him (and his wines) I can’t speculate – but someone was definitely playing a PR game.
However if more proof was needed on the joys of Life after Rapture then where else to look but the heart-warming news of the twin girls born to Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset (both of whom appear in the Decanter power list at positions 15 and 25 respectively) announced in Wine Spectator as the month drew to a close – I’ll raise a glass to the continuing health of both daughters and parents.
And so to my little corner of the world where one local retailer dominated proceedings – Richard Granger based in the Jesmond area of Newcastle. Manager Alastair Stewart prepared a thoroughly informative tasting for the May NEWTS meeting focussing on North East Italy, before hosting a Spanish tasting at the store the following week.
For the NEWTS there was a representative range from Trentino Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto with both indigenous & international varieties covering modern and classical styles, starting with a just-interesting-enough Prosecco Donna Trevigiana from Valdobbiadene as an aperitif. Out of the 8 red and white wines tasted there was an example in each colour of a great value drinking wine and a superb wine but at a price most would walk away from.
QPR in white was represented by the Monte del Fra Custoza 2009, a mixing bowl of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Tocai Fruilano and Cortese (with a soupçon of Chardonnay, Riesling Italico and Sauvignon for good measure). This wine was the well balanced sum of its many parts; herbal and floral aromatics, medium-full bodied with good structure, a little oily, a little sweet, a little dry and a little bitter, leaving a textured finish on the palate. It was exactly my style of interesting and unusual for only £9.42.
The Pieropan La Rocca 2008 Soave Classico, on the other hand, was an example of a great Italian white at an equally “great” price, £23.82. This single vineyard gives late harvested Garganega is fermented and aged in large oak casks, giving a long-finishing, citrus themed, multi-dimensional wine with layered complexity and texture over flavour. Comparisons to Condrieu were made, which seemed appropriate for the price as well!
QPR in red went to the Tenuta Lena di Mezzo 2007 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso (also from the Monte del Fra stable). This had a mature nose suggesting acidity and a rich, slightly sweet taste with a hint of raisins. Mocha tannins quickly become evident and on the mid-palate a bitterness joins in through to the finish, but in good balance with all the other components. At £13.86 it may seem pricey for a good value wine, but for me this was into 4 star territory and therefore a bargain!
Also in that 4 star zone was the final wine of the night, the Ripasso’s big brother – the Tenuta Lena di Mezzo 2005 Scarnocchia, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. I adore Amarone so this was always going to be popular with me, but the quality shone through as soon as I took a sniff of the beautiful enamel, smoke and baked chocolate aroma. In the mouth it was luscious; perfectly balanced with well integrated bitter tannins offset by a dense richness. This was a powerful, taught wine although still young – I’d give it at least 3 more years before trying the inky black juice again – however, as you’d expect from a single vineyard Amarone aged for over two years in oak, then another year in bottle before release, this was never going to be cheap and the £44.58 price tag meant that everyone in the room would have taken 3 bottles of the Ripasso instead with change to spare.
I met Alastair again in his compact but cosy store just over a week later for one of the regular Richard Granger tasting evenings, this time trying 9 dry wines from Spain accompanied by Spanish themed nibbles to reinforce the sound principle that most wine is made for enjoyment with food.
2 delicious Albariño from Bodegas Martín Códax (who was a 13th century Galician minstrel) showed the quality of this grape and region; both wines giving a creamy mouthfeel with a clean citrus taste but with the 2008 Organistrum (named for a curious 2 person musical instrument) raising the flavours to a higher level and showing a deeper honeyed nose with richer, longer finish. The Organistrum has a 3 month malo-lactic fermentation in oak which makes it my first ever wooded Albariño, although the use of oak was well handled and not overtly evident in the taste. Unfortunately both wines suffer from the effect of Albariño’s popularity and rarity: a price that often doesn’t match the relative quality. Here £11.52 and £19.80 were just about defendable as good examples of the style, but there are many other whites I’d put my money towards first.
Onto the reds and all 5 we tried were well structured wines with generous fruit, each backing up my own feeling that Spanish reds are a relatively safe bet in the £7-£25 range. My favourites were;
— Museum Real 2005 Reserva from Cigales (£16.02); the archetypal Spanish nose of dark red fruit and sweet oak which was a surprising foil for spicy Chorizo,
— Marqués de Murrieta 2004 Reserva from Rioja Alta (£18.60); a restrained nose that developed in the glass and an elegant taste with plenty of smooth tannins,
— Mas la Moia 2006 Priorat (£26.40), more smooth elegance with chocolate tannins and a dash of sour funk” which I appreciated.
The final wine was the Hacienda Monasterio 2005 Reserva from Ribero del Duero, a gentle wine that caressed the palate with subtle textures, but had a fundamental lack of fruit which couldn’t live with its £47 price.
Now on a normal month that would be the end of my local tales, but May continued to give! It was my partner Sarah’s birthday mid-month so a long awaited trip to the award winning Feathers Inn was called for, given that it is less than 10 miles from where I live the fact I haven’t visited before is somewhat criminal. Along with delicious afternoon lunches the pub has a solid and reasonably priced wine list which saw the Chamuyo 2009 Argentinian Malbec match my lamb’s liver main, while Sarah proved patriotic with a glass of Three Choirs “The English House” white with her lasagne – the food and the wine were significantly superior to a meal at the Italian-American Frankie & Benny’s Diner a couple of weeks earlier (where the wine was practically undrinkable).
Good food continued at the end of the month with the NEWTS Spring dinner at the Newcastle College Chef’s Academy, where the three courses were washed down with the member’s own selection of BYO bottles. Although my own offering, the 2005 Château Pesquie Quintessence Blanc, was horribly oxidised there were more than enough bottles to share around and we finished off with a delicious Quinta do Noval 20 year old port bottled in 1973. Even though 20 year old tawny port is ready for drinking when bottled this one had aged gracefully and its hot, rich raisin, caramel and toffee flavours were savoured by all at our table (and a couple of passersby!).
On the home front and I managed to buy in 13 new bottles for the collection, as much as in March and April combined. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing if there’s any life left in a Borgo San Michelle 2000 Taurasi, how the 2008 Au Bon Climat Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir and the 2007 Van Volxem Alte Reben Saar Riesling compare to their earlier(and delicious) vintages, and whether the 2009 Château Musar Jeune shows any of the character of its more venerable siblings. However, it was mainly a month of sweeties with a 2001 5-Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu, a 2004 Passito di Pantelleria, the Lustau PX San Emilio and Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro all promising sweet and unctuous enjoyment over the coming year or two.
As for home consumption, 11 bottles contributed to the local glass recycling scheme, sadly two of them spoiled (along with the oxidised Pesquie a decidedly corked South African red from Noble Hill). Luckily two bottles stood head and shoulders above the rest, both from California.
First was the Destino 2007 Late Harvest Viognier from Lodi, a divine dessert wine with a nutty, baked fruit aroma, a strong butterscotch flavour with a little honey, candied stone fruit and a thick textured which coated the mouth leading to a very long finish. Four stars all the way this was in 92-93pts territory and easily the best sweet wine I’ve had, sadly relegating a Tokaji Aszu into second place!
Our second notable Californian came from Mr Eclectic himself, Randall Grahm, in the guise of the Bonny Doon 2003 Cigare Volante, but is also a lesson in the mysteries of wine development. On first opening this had a funky, slightly sweaty nose with a little stewed fruit (it also had a thick plug of sediment in the neck which required scooping out with a spoon handle!) and a lean, almost green taste with alcohol heat on the finish. My first reaction was that it was over the hill by a year or two, and it didn’t really change much over a couple of hours. Fast forward 24 hours later (a large part of that with the bottle in the refrigerator) and suddenly the whole thing had opened up; the nose was an enticing light tobacco and spice while sweet fruit and much calmed tannins caressed the palate (yes, I know I’ve already used that once already, but it is as apt here as well). I could scarcely believe it was the same wine, now heading towards 4 stars – what a difference a day makes!
Cellar trivia alert! Drinking the Destino and Cigare Volante have reduced my Californian wines to 6 bottles (including the Au Bon Climat just bought), three of which were purchased at the cellar door during my trip to the Golden State last year. This makes up barely 4% of my collection and suggests I need to do something about this, even though decent US wines are relatively expensive in the UK.
Time to polish my crystal ball and peer into the temporal ether. I predict that early readers of this article will have time to consider visiting San Francisco for Pinot Days between June 13th – 18th featuring wines from more than 200 Pinot Noir producers. Nearby and the 31st annual San Francisco International Wine Competition will be going on over June 17-19th, although you probably won’t recognise any of the judges in the street. June 14th – 16th also sees Southern California host the 8th annual California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara (remember your sun-block).
Over in Europe and the big trade event is in Bordeaux, where Vinexpo 2011 runs between 19th and 23rd June. This year Italian wine seems to be getting the lion’s share of exposure in the programme.
Moving into July and back to California when the 16th sees Passport Day for the Wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with more than 50 wineries in the passport program from Half Moon Bay to Gilroy.
If you’re planning on attending any of these events I wish you a safe journey.