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Alligator Dreams: The Story of Greenwood Ridge Vineyardsby Richard Paul Hinkle

Silverback Books Santa Rosa, California

ISBN 978-1930603301

119 pages, multiple photos and illustrations, $24.95

 alligator-dreams

On a ridge named for an early American explorer of California and the west, Caleb Greenwood, Alan Green grows grapes, makes wines and lives among the vines. Author Richard Paul Hinkle tells us that Green realized early that he couldn't support himself growing grapes, but could by growing grapes and making wines.

Hinkle indicates although it is not a good idea to value a winery solely based on its medal count in competitions and judgings, Greenwood Ridge has such a collection of them a person has to take notice. This he indicates is especially true since Greenwood Ridge is small and its location is removed from the action in Mendocino County.

There are four noble varieties of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Greenwood Ridge makes wines from each of them and Zinfandel as well. Hinkle writes a short chapter about every variety of Greenwood's wines. Each chapter is replete with information about the wine, of course. There are also marvelous photos to accompany the text and, in some instances, art commissioned by Alan Green, too.

Green began growing grapes in the 1970's, made wines professionally in the early 1980's, and won a gold medal in 1981 at the Orange County Fair. It was in the early years that the alligator became a part of the Greenwood Ridge label. The contour of the ridge evoked the shape of a gator's head, hence the alligator's dreams of the title. The winery also uses the crocodilian theme in the chocolates, which are sold in its tasting room, Eye of the Dragon.

The owner has participated with a group of local winemakers and grape growers in getting federal approval of the Mendocino Ridge Viticultural Area designation. Hinkle tells us Mendocino Ridge is a unique viticultural area. It exists not in a contiguous land area but across a discontinuous area and it is "based on altitude rather than a wholly connected flat-land surface." It is the altitude, which makes the grapes grown in that area so special.

For those fascinated with the production of grapes and how wines are made, the author has included significant details about the cycles of the care for the vines and the harvesting of the grapes. There is even a well-illustrated "annual vineyard timeline" and "winemaking timeline" replete with drawings of what the vines would look like in the various months of the year. The people who care for the vineyard are credited for their efforts and featured in photos.

The author and Alan Green have cooperated to make not only technical, but also lyrical observations about the grapes and wines of Greenwood Ridge -- bits of brix talk here and there, but a lot more about the love of grape growing and wine making and enjoying them.

This book is a good read. It is the story of a man, his winery and his love of wines and the accompanying parts of the good life that go along with them. AlanGreen and the rest of us who have enjoyed his story and his wines are the richer for it as well.

 

--Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.

Adventures in Wine, True Stories of Vineyards and Vintages Around the Worldedited by Thom Elkjer April 2002

Travelers Tales Books San Francisco, California

ISBN 978-1885211804

304 pages, $17.95

 adventures-in-wine

Imagine that you had never drunk a glass of wine with friends or traveled to a place far away. If you are reading this review, that may be a bit much to ask, but you can do it. You would easily spend the few hours that it will take to read every essay and, indeed, every word in this book. Your interest in wine and travel would have been aroused by these stories. They are not just about wine and travel. They speak to the need to experience new tastes, events and places. On the other hand, if you are a savvy traveler, you will find stories about things you have not experienced. Some of them may even inspire you to do something you had not done before or to re-live an old adventure. Whether you are inexperienced or a veteran, this book has stories for you.

The essays portray the diversity of experiences of wine lovers, famous and not. Renowned authors write about their enjoyment of wine. New writers do the same. Prominent wine producers and merchants tell their stories. A psychiatrist from the San Francisco Bay area who makes wine at home writes his story. That man tells us he carried the Chardonnay he made with him to Italy. He traded it for the wine made by the owner of the agriturismo where he stayed outside of Radda. Jan Morris, the well-known historian, gives us some thoughts about loving wine. Kermit Lynch, the Californian importer and merchant of European wines, tells us how dealt with unacceptability of credit cards in a rural French restaurant with a world-class wine cellar. Tim Russo, who worked in developing democracy, describes a political meeting in the Republic of Georgia. "Every political meeting there may potentially end in a supra: a grand, traditional Georgian meal complete with vast quantities of local wine."

The authors led me back to my past and, I hope, my future, with wine. Perhaps you will recall a kind and knowledgeable professor who took the time to explain that good wine was better to drink and more enjoyable than the stuff you sneaked into the dorm and shared with your undergraduate classmates. I did. As you read through the book maybe the first time you had real wine with good food and friends old and new will come to mind. What were you celebrating? Will you remember being asked, "What is that dark brown wine with your dessert?" by a table of French tourists next to you in a restaurant in the Juderia of Cordoba? Likely not, but similar things may have occurred in your time with wine. If they have, you will enjoy reading about such episodes others have experienced.

Most of these essays make me think that an undergraduate education followed immediately by lawschool and a law career are all the signs of a misspent youth and a part of an adulthood. Maybe others will read these essays before it is too late for them.

 

Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 17:16

The Mystique of Barolo

The Mystique of Baroloby Maurizio Rosso photography by Chris Meier

 

Omega Arte, June 2002

ISBN 978-8872414026Hardcover. 288 pages, 400 photos $75.

Available through www.artisanideas.com

mystique-of-barolo-cover 

This is quite an accomplishment as a book. It sets out to deal with the ancient, recent and modern history of one of Italy's iconic wines. It succeeds fairly well. If the reader is interested in knowing about Barolo, this is a terrific overview and compendium. There are the labels of most of all the producers: the famous, the infamous, the not so famous and the up-to-now, unheard of producers.

One very useful part to this book is the map of the subzones of Barolo, the so-called "cru." It is this notion of sub zones of production that has led a lot of small grape growers to now start selling their own production in bottle rather than selling grapes as was done as recently as the late 1980s.

There are historical facts in abundance and bits of historical minutia that warm the cockles of any wine geek's heart. It is a substantial and substantive book.

However, there are some shortcomings. Some are of historical interest: The Marchesa Giulia Vittorina Colbert of the Marchesi di Barolo, was from Normandy, not Paris. I don't think that Thomas Jefferson was a native of South Carolina. Some of the etymological discourses seem to go off in unrelated fashion to the topic at hand. Nebbiolo in north-eastern Piemonte is nicknamed "Spanna," not for the reason given in this work. The term refers to the length of the cluster, the "span" of a man's hand, not the growing length of the vine.

The use of dialectical words is nonexistent. Piemontese is a written dialect of Italian, having a good sized body of literature. The word "Chiaretto in Italian is the "vin ciaret" in Piemontese, clover to "clairet" of the English claret. Wines in the 18th Century were like much lighter in color than now, hence the popularity of the word. Sometimes it is still used by small producers to distinguish their production.

Technology is not this book's strong point. I doubt very much that a nebbiolo wine that had not undergone malolactic fermentation would go sour over time. It may referment, break bottles, if bottled, but sour? Possibly volatile, but sour? It is stated the General Pier Francesco Staglieno, working for Camillo Benso, count Cavour, in 1836, was the first to use closed vat fermentation (I wonder how he did it?), sulpher, and different sized casks. However, the history is interesting and shows that we are not too far away from wine making prehistory if all of the history of making Barolo begins early in the 19th Century. Even the founder of Italian Swiss Colony winery in California, Pietro Carlo Rossi, gets mentioned.

Better knowledge of both viticultural and enological technology and terminology would stand this work in good stead. An example: The term "mildew" is quite specific in viticulture. There is both powdery and downy mildew. In English, devatting is commonly called "racking." It probably is a question which has more to do with which English speaking country is being addressed.

I also doubt whether or not that the early attempts in 1908 at protecting the name Barolo really did lead to the creation of the DOC system of appellation control which was instituted in 1963.

Translations into English leave something to be desired, as do proof readings. A Cantina Sociale is not a "Social Cellar." It is a cooperative cellar. Grenache is translated as "grenage." The family name of Mirafiore is generally misspelled Mirafiori. This is a shame, since it appears to be a hyper correction. It is also one of the most famous names in Barolo, since it belonged to the last private owner of Fontanafredda.

The vicissitudes of nebbiolo and Barolo are well documented: its poor color, excessive tannin, late ripening and general difficulties of production. The "tricks" of the trade are described by some producers, merely hinted at by others. Photographs of the soil and vineyard exposures show the labor intensive viticulture necessary for the production of Barolo, both today and yesterday.

The interviews with the 35 producers who represent the flower of Barolo production are the highlight of this work and its greatest achievement. The interviews really show how some want to continue in a traditional mode; others to become more "international." However, one thing that is really pervasive is the fact that Barolo is a special wine with special characteristics and possibly not for everyone. Fair enough, all wines do not have to be the same, with the same characteristics and taste. Some can be different. It is the drinker who has to come to the wine, not the wine to the drinker. Otherwise, what would be the use for appellations, notions of "terroir," and the reason for having wine growing areas? Everything could come out of the same pot, so to speak.

Some of the verities spoken in the interviews are wonderful. Angelo Gaja, probably the most dynamic of the producers, comes out with a zinger. "Never forget what Enzo Biagi said of the Italian people. 'They forgive everything but success.' "

From the promotional, technical and historical work done in the late 1970s by my old friend Renato Ratti, sadly missed these days, to the traditional methodology explained by Bartolo Mascarello, and the newest Bordeaux styling used by Elio Altare, The Mystique of Barolo shows a wonderful wine in all of its lights: good, bad, indifferent, warts and all, humanizing it and showing that wine is more than a grape, soil technology. It is a culture; a way of life; a philosophical ideal and can be a delicious tasting experience.

 

--reviewed by Darrell Corti

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 17:01

Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers

Vintage Humor for Wine Loversby Malcolm Kushner

 

Malcolm Kushner and Associates

ISBN 978-097045893

168 pages, paperback, $9.95

 

vintage-humor-wine-lovers

Wine should be a joyous subject. Too often, it’s not—at least not in this country. In Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers, Malcolm Kushner offers levity, instead of tedium.

Organized into 13 chapters, the collection features writings of the author/editor, quips from persons well known and otherwise, and some anecdotes and jokes that may have been rewritten to make the situation fit in a wine context. Sometimes this doesn’t work, as in the case of the reference to a pricey old bottle of “Mouton Lafite Rothschild” found in storage in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse (presumably waiting forever for a pennant winning celebration). However, there are plenty of comments on wine and drink not lost in non sequitur.

Champagne references I liked were:

“The House of Lords is like a glass of Champagne that has stood for five days.”--Clement Attlee

“You’ve forgotten those June nights at the Riviera . . . the night I drank Champagne from your slipper—two quarts. It would have been more but you were wearing inner soles.”--Groucho Marx

Some of the comments are more fun for those who have some wine knowledge:

“The wine seems to be very closed-in and seems to have entered a dumb stage. Sort of a Marcel Meursault.”--Paul Winalski

Some have some depth or pith:

“I’ve taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has ever taken from me.”--Winston Churchill

“Not all men who drink are poets. Some of us drink because we aren’t poets.”--Unknown

Others just made me laugh:

“A mind of the caliber of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows.”--George Bernard Shaw

“Every time I learn something new it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Like that time I took that home wine-making course and forgot how to drive.”--Homer Simpson

“My uncle was the town drunk and we lived in Chicago.”--George Gobel

Longer pieces don’t lend themselves to description here. Some of them were pretty funny; others seemed to be trying too hard. A wonderful touch is the inclusion of many cartoons on the subject from The New Yorker.

There will be some who take offense at parts of his collection of wine-related humor, and not just at the jokes that involve drunkenness. Those people would be the ones with little sense of humor. What’s funny to one person may not be so to another, humor being a very personal matter. It gave me enough amusement to easily justify its price. Ten bucks could otherwise buy you a fairly pedestrian bottle of Chardonnay. And how many smiles would that put on your face?

Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers is available at Amazon.com,independent bookstores, and directly from the publisher.

 

--Reviewer Dan Clarke writes about wine and food and appreciates a good laugh about either.

Napa and Sonoma may get all the press, and the Gold Country may have all of that rugged history, but the wine country of California’s Central Valley has its story too. Rightly famous for its rich soils and temperate climate, the Central Valley can produce wines of character that, when compared to some of those other regions, are a great value. You may not be familiar with some of these California wine regions, but they're definitely worth investigating.

 

Yolo County

Known for its warm days and mild Delta breezes, the wine country of Yolo County yields unforgettable wines of great character and diversity. Here you’ll find outstanding Syrah, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Cabernet Souvignon, but also lesser-grown varietals such as Viognier, Malbec, Primitivo, and Albarino, plus Sparkling and Port. You’re sure to find something memorable, and affordable, to suit your taste.

bogle port weekend CORKS SMALL

Virtually all of Yolo County's some two-dozen wineries are family owned and operated—including major producer Bogle Vineyards in the Clarksburg AVA—making for a more intimate experience for visitors. In the little town of Winters you can sample wines at the tasting rooms of Berryessa Gap and Turkovich Family Wines (also home to the Winters Cheese Company, which offers samples, as well). In Clarksburg, the Old Sugar Mill is a unique, historic venue, housing six tasting rooms representing eight wineries all under one roof!

Yolo County is also home to the U.C. Davis Viticulture and Enology department, as well as the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science

From Clarksburg to Davis, Winters to verdant Capay Valley and Dunnigan Hills, you’ll also enjoy gorgeous scenery, great dining opportunities, and comfortable, welcoming places to stay. For more information about Yolo County wineries and other attractions, visit www.yolocvb.org.

 

Suisun Valley

Suisun Wooden Valley Winery I 31n SMALLThree generations of the Lanza family have made Suisun wine at Wooden Valley Winery. Photo by Jo Diaz

Suisun Valley is rustic wine country, nestled in the unspoiled Solano County farmland between San Francisco and Sacramento. The Suisun Valley appellation was established in 1982, and is nestled between two coastal mountain ranges, southeast of Napa Valley. In this diverse agricultural region are approximately 10 wineries, whose vineyards grow 23 different wine grape varieties. They are best known for their Petite Sirah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you fancy Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhone varietals, you must visit Ledgewood Creek, a winery named after the creek that meanders along the northern border of this estate. For lesser known varietals—such as a Malvasia Bianca made in a late harvest style—visit Blacksmith Cellars. And for a rugged, natural experience try Winterhawk Winery, which has placed owl houses and hawk boxes strategically throughout the vineyard, beckoning a wide variety of birds including Red-Tailed Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, Sparrow Hawks, and Northern Harriers.

Besides the wineries, visitors will encounter many farm stands, selling fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and freshly produced olive oils, from family farms that have been handed down for generations. There are also regular, seasonal events that are fun and laid-back. For more information about Suisun Valley wineries, visit www.suisunvalley.com.

 

Lodi

Though Lodi has produced wine for well over a hundred years, quality has soared in recent years. Growers have made commitment to the best viticultural practices and they've planted many new varieties to complement the Zinfandel which has always done well here. Located directly east of San Francisco at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, the Lodi appellation (which has seven sub-appellations) is noted for its classic Mediterranean climate and its distinctive sandy soils. Today you can choose from nearly 80 wineries that call Lodi home, an abundance that’s impossible to bypass.

Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World, producing more than 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel. Many of the region’s most distinctive wines come from the thousands of acres of “old vines”, some dating back to the 1880s. Styles range from medium to full-bodied with intense red and black fruit flavors of cherries, raspberries, and blackberries.

Lodi is predominately a red wine producer with approximately 66 percent of the acreage dedicated to red varieties. For many years it was California’s best kept secret, enhancing the fruit in many of the state’s most popular premium varietal wines. Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay account for the lion’s share of the acreage; however with more 60 varieties in commercial production Lodi offers a vast portfolio of exciting wines.

No visit would be complete without a stop at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Here guests can taste from more than 200 Lodi wines and marvel at the hands-on demonstration vineyard.

For more information about Lodi wines, visit www.lodiwine.com.

 

Fresno

In the heart of the Central Valley, and a gateway to Yosemite National Park, Fresno is a surprisingly good destination for wine tasting in rambling Madera County. Nearly 20 wineries are open to visitors here, with vintners who are passionate about making the best wines possible.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and Chardonnay are the leaders here, but visitors will also find excellent Tempranillo, Albarino, Sangiovese, and Barbera, plus delightful late harvest Zinfandel and luscious ports. Quality is paramount for these largely boutique wineries. For example, Engelmann Cellars focuses on creating hand-crafted reds and blends. Third-generation Ficklin Vineyards specializes in ports, including their lineup of flavored “Passport” wines. Nonini Winery, a fourth-generation family operation established in 1936, has 15 varieties of premium wines and offers a tour of the winery starting with the 1941 Garolla grape crusher from Italy and ends with the finished product resting in redwood tanks/oak barrels.

Two venues give visitors a chance to try several wines at once. Vino & Friends is a downtown Fresno wine store with a changing tasting menu. Also, be sure to stop by Appellation: California Wine Tasting & Visitor Center, which pours products from family owned wineries or vineyards of the Central Valley. The Center also offers wine education classes.

For more information about Fresno wineries and other activities in and around town, visit www.playfresno.org.

 

Editor's note: Planning a visit to any of the areas mentioned in this article? You'll find links to hundreds of lodging and dining options in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

Friday, 20 April 2012 13:41

Thirsty Work

Thirsty Work

by Matt Skinner

 

Running Press Book Publishers

Philadelphia, PA 2005

ISBN: 0762425334

175 pages soft cover $24.95

 

 ThirstyWorkMatt Skinner packs a lot of solid wine information into this breezy effort. Though it may target the novice, Thirsty Work is enjoyable reading for the knowledgeable wine buff, too. Though young, the writer seems to know his stuff and has obvious passion for the subject.

The author is Australian. Occasionally there are comments Americans might find unfamiliar. But you don't have to have eaten Vegemite as a child to understand that it may be to an Aussie kid what peanut butter is to his American counterpart. Nor must you know much about someone named Kylie who's referenced in a section describing the texture and body of wine to appreciate the point. Wine is pretty much universal and Matt Skinner's lively writing, however accented, is easy to understand.

Chris Terry's many photographs illustrate and amplify the text. There's not a question of their artistic merit, but most affecting are those informal portraits of the “real people” whose efforts are essential to taking fruit in the vineyard all the way to the customer's glass.

For fledgling American consumers who may have had too much exposure to too few varieties, Thirsty Work provides a picture window to the world beyond Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Just enough—but not too much—information is delivered to the reader about other grapes, their characteristics and where they come from.

Reading Thirsty Work isn't really work at all. It's fun and the book is one of those you're kind of sad to finish. It's a great gift for someone beginning his understanding and enjoyment of wine.

 

--reviewed by Dan Clarke

 

 

 

Friday, 20 April 2012 13:30

The Cork Jester's Guide to Wine

The Cork Jester's Guide to Wine

by Jennifer Rosen

 

Clerisy Press

ISBN 1-57860-277-7

222 pages $14.95

 cork

Much of what is written about wine is tedious. This is not the case with Jennifer Rosen's work.

In her Cork Jester persona, the Denver Rocky Mountain News columnist has done the wine industry a service. Her Guide to Wine is an excellent primer for someone beginning to indulge a wine hobby. It's also worthwhile reading for the wine fan growing tired of books that are more arcane than amusing.

Learning more about wine probably enhances the subsequent pleasure of indulging in it. When that enhanced understanding comes in a form that's more fun than it is pedantic, that's a bonus.

Organized in sections addressing related topics, the book presents short pieces that read like—and many probably were—newspaper columns. Within the Labels section Rosen devotes four pages to “Animal Farm Wine is going to the dogs . . . and monkeys . . . and kangaroos.” Her take on wine marketers who assume that pictures of furry things will help move product, though not especially edifying, is still breezy reading,. Also amusing--but more useful--is “Cracking the Code Be a label sleuth,” in which she identifies the information on a label that really might be helpful to the potential purchaser.

In a chapter titled “The Restaurant Experience,” she provides background that could prove valuable. How does a restaurant price its wines and why are they so much more expensive than when buying retail? What questions can you ask a sommelier/server that will help him to help you? These hints don't come in an atmosphere of complete supplication, as Rosen skewers the all too frequent state of unpolished service. She doesn't necessarily want to know a waiter's name, doesn't care what his favorite menu items are and isn't keen to hear his “Good Choice” benediction.

Rosen is knowledgeable about wine and, at the very least, a clever writer. There were times when I thought she was reaching a tad too hard to turn a phrase in these 200-some pages. More frequent, however, were the times I thought something like, “now that's funny . . . and accurate.”

 

--reviewed by Dan Clarke

 

 

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