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Grapes The Wine Press

Sideways - Have you seen the movie? - posted 6.17.2005

>"I do like to think about the life of wine, how it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining that summer or if it rained... what the weather was like. I think about all those people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it's going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive -- it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks -- like your '61 -- and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so f---ing good." - Our favorite excerpt from Sideways, released by Fox Searchlight Pictures

>This movie has several other wine quotes that were enjoyable as well. The belief that Sideways has led to increased interest in Pinot Noir, reduced interest in Merlot, and added to the tourism of the Santa Barbara wine country is being called "The Sideways Effect." Visitors to the sites of the movie's most memorable scenes are often following a Sideways Map they have picked up from the local visitor's bureau. They visit restaurants, motels, and bars pictured in the movie, and buy the wines mentioned in the movie at local wine stores.

>Says director, Alexander Payne, "I don't work for the wine industry, nor am I getting much free wine. But I'm happy that people are drinking more wine – it's such a wonderful part of life."

>We're thinking a movie about winemakers is overdue, and we know just the right place to film it…

Chilean Wines - posted 3.18.2005

>Rich soils, rainy winters and warm, dry summers are the perfect combination for producing some of the best wine grapes in the world. Europe and California are not the only places to find this combination. Excellent wine grapes are being grown in Chile, a place very much like California in that it is defined by the Pacific Ocean on one side, and a mountain range (the Andes) on the other. Due to these geographics, the region south of Santiago, which includes the fertile Curico Valley, remains cooler and cloudier – an ideal location for growing the popular Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot, as well as the lesser-known Carmenere and Malbec.

>Carmenere is an old Bordeaux varietal now rare in France. Unlike Europe in the late 19th century (and more recently California), Chile was spared the ravages of the phylloxera root louse, which wiped out most of the world's Carmenere. Only recently did Robert Mondavi recognize the Carmenere vines misidentified in some Chilean vineyards as Merlot.

>Carmenere is a fruity, lush varietal, similar to Merlot. Chilean winemakers originally blended it with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, but now are also producing Carmenere as a single varietal wine with great success. Chilean Cabernets, Syrahs and Merlots are also getting rave reviews, as Chile establishes itself as the greatest winemaking region south of the equator.

Malbec is also an original contributor to Bordeaux wines. When used as a blending varietal, Malbec adds intensity to medium-range reds like Merlot in order to produce darker, fuller-bodied wines. The softer, less tannic variety of Malbec grown in Chile is also being appreciated as a straight varietal, with no blending required.

The Spring 2005 Chilean Winemaking sessions are open to those who missed our fall California winemaking sessions, or any of our current winemakers who would like to add Chilean winemaking to their repertoire. It should be an extraordinary, south of the equator experience!

Life After Merlot - posted 01.17.2005

Many of our wine enthusiasts tend to drink medium-range reds, and while Merlot is often favored in this range, there are other medium reds to be considered as well. Two of California's increasingly popular medium red varietals are Pinot Noir and Syrah (Shiraz).

Pinot Noir falls on the softer side of Merlot. It tends to have a light color, but don't let that deceive you when it comes to taste. California vintners have spent the past twenty years improving growing techniques and now provide Pinot Noir grapes of great distinction. The wines made with these grapes have a potent cherry, raspberry, ripe tomato aroma, and if allowed to mature in fairly new oak, a vanilla and earth bouquet that deepens the flavor. The most appealing quality of Pinot Noir is its soft, velvety texture. Drinking Pinot Noir is like drinking liquid silk, and it leaves a delightful, lasting impression on the palate.

Syrah, known as Shiraz in Australia and South Africa, is a varietal that can be developed into a wine of great character and depth. While still considered a medium red wine, Syrah is darker than Pinot Noir, and would fall on the heavier or edgier side of Merlot. Again, California is experiencing great success with growing Syrah. The climate of California falls between the coolness of France and the heat of Australia, which allows for a happy medium in which the Syrah grape can reach full ripeness, maximizing its complex flavors. Aromas and flavors have features of currents, blackberry and mocha. The wine has a rich feel and good complexity, with a succulent finish.

If you have enjoyed Merlot in the past, but are looking for more variety in your range of medium reds, you might want to try a Pinot Noir or Syrah.

Matching Wine with Food - posted 8.10.2004

Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator editor at large, offers this advice: "The first thing to remember about matching food and wine is to forget the rules. Forget about shoulds and shouldn'ts. Forget about complicated systems for selecting the right wine to enhance the food on the table. This is not rocket science. It's common sense. Follow your instincts."

Steiman suggests that choosing a wine that you want to drink by itself is a perfect approach to any food and wine pairing, as much of the wine will be enjoyed before and after the meal.

And common sense comes into play when you determine if you want the taste of a red wine with tannins, or a white without, and which distinctive flavors (currant, cherry, stone fruit of reds, or apple, pear, citrus of whites) you think will gracefully coexist with the foods you have prepared.

Consider wines according to their places in the spectrum of lightest to fuller-bodied wines. "If you balance the wine with the food by choosing one that will seem about the same weight as the food, you raise the odds dramatically that the match will succeed," says Steiman.

Lightest wines include pinot grigio, Riesling, sauvignon blanc, and pinot noir. Medium wines include chardonnay, barbera, Bordeaux and merlot. Fuller-bodied wines may include some chardonnays, as well as zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah.

Cabernet is as vigorous as lamb chops, the rich texture of pinot noir equals that of roast beef, and the slighter density of sauvignon blanc rivals that of shellfish, so these are pairings that will, for the most part, be agreeable to most palates.

"To make your own classic matches, start off on the traditional paths and then deviate a little," recommends Steiman, "That's the way to put a little variety into your wine life without straying too far from the original purpose."