Pinot Now

Radical Wine Thought

Author: som1special (page 2 of 2)

Que Syrah, Sirah?

In most grocery store wine sections you’ll usually find bottles of Syrah in the same vicinity of bottles of Petite Sirah. Unfortunately this is probably because the person who stocks those shelves doesn’t know very much about wine. Though it sounds the same, Petite Sirah is not a baby version of Syrah. It’s a completely different grape, known in other climes as Durif. About the only thing they share in common is that both types of grapes are used to make red wine.

Shiraz, on the other hand, is Syrah… just different names. The Australians call it Shiraz and claim they are being true to the grape’s origin, which is reputed to be the city of Shiraz in southwest Iran… known as the city of Poetry, Wine and Roses. The French apparently wanted to make Shiraz sound a little more pretentious, so they renamed it Syrah. The Californians knew that they could charge more for a wine made from a French sounding grape, so they stuck with Syrah for the most part. Since they are grown upside down, the Australians may just like to be a little contrary too. They also produce Durif.

Can all of this get a bit confusing? You bet shiraz.

Pinot Now Recommendation:

Yellowtail Shiraz or Yellowtail Reserve Shiraz, $6 to $12 – it’s inexpensive, it’s rich, it’s inky dark and chocolaty. You can buy it at your local gas station, and it’s probably made using techniques that are illegal in other parts of the world, but Yellowtail Shiraz has won my personal wine tasting competition two years in a row. Serve it in a decanter and your guests will say it’s the best wine they ever had.

Keep Your Coolness

It is commonly thought that the rule of temperature for serving wines is: red at room temperature, white chilled in the fridge. Though common, these guidelines are, without being too judgmental, wrong. The mistaken idea that red wine should be served at room temperature evolved out of the intended wisdom that red wine should be served at cellar* room temperature. Whereas we like to keep the temperature of rooms in which we actually spend time around 70 to 72 degrees F, cellars tend to be much cooler because they are insulated by the earth. And wine, when extracted from these underground caverns and served above ground in a dining room for example, will have a refreshingly cool sensation on your palate.

White wines, as well, are often served too cold. When you serve a white wine right out of the fridge, its flavors will be subdued and your palate will be slightly numbed by it… which is a great trick if you’re serving swill, but not if you want to enjoy a nice wine to it’s fullest. Whites too should be served right around cellar temp.

So how cold is cool? Technically speaking, somewhere between 55 and 65 degrees F – generally 55 to 60 for whites, 60 to 65 for reds. As a frame of reference, if you went to the beach right now and stuck your feet in the water you might let out a yelp… but ocean temp in Southern Cali right now is around 56 degrees F… perfect for a nice Sauvignon Blanc.

*For those of you from Los Angeles, a cellar is a room, or series of rooms, under the ground floor of a house. In other parts of the world these things are common and are also known as basements. Good places for storing wine, rat poison, and unwanted children.

A Brief History of Wine, Part 1

Did you ever wonder about the history of edible plants? I grew up with a garden that contained Rhubarb. My mom always told me, “Don’t eat the leaves. Only the stalks are good.” How did she know this? My guess is that her mom told her the same thing, and her mom’s mom told her mom, and so on backwards through time… to what?

Well, it would seem we would have to conclude that at some point the world was a blank slate and our ancestors were hungry. They either drew straws, flipped a Drachma, or picked that gullible cousin, Grug, to take a bite out of the various plants around them. “Here, Grug. Try this little red phallic thing growing in this wildebeest dung. Looks delicious.” After several hours of observation, if Grug was still alive they added a new item to the menu. If Grug was dead, for generations to come parents would tell their kids, “Don’t eat the leaf of that plant. Grug ate the stalk and he was fine. But when he ate the leaf he spewed green slime and turned inside out.” Of course if Grug was alive, but suddenly standing upright, speaking a new language, and seeing God…they might have discovered hallucinogenic mushrooms. But that’s another article.

Isn’t it amazing the variety of edible plants we now have? Think of all the poor, gullible cousins who sacrificed their lives so that we would know what we could and couldn’t eat – which brings us to the grape. The grape was one of those discoveries that must have been cause for celebration. It’s pretty, it’s sweet, it’s juicy… and it doesn’t kill you! We probably stopped trying other plants for a while once we discovered the grape… why risk death when you’ve got something so yummy and safe already?

So here it is… an end-all, be-all scrumptiously perfect edible plant and what do we do? We jump up and down on it, mash it into a big mushy pulp, and then let it rot. So I ask you, from an evolutionary standpoint, does that make any sense at all? I can see why some might point to divine intervention in the case of the invention of wine. I mean we couldn’t even legitimately ask of the inventor, “What was he drinking?”

Whatever the happy accident that caused it, wine has been around since before recorded history. It’s first mention was around 5400 BC in Sumeria. Back then it was socially acceptable to be drunk. Heck, the gods went around smashed most of the time. It was almost a sign of being godly. In the Epic of Gilgamesh the gods had a being whose sole purpose was to make wine for them – Siduri, the Woman of the Vine. In the Hebrew Bible, the first thing Noah did when he got off the ark was plant a vineyard, make wine, and get plastered. What would you do if you just spent a year on a boat with thousands of animals and ancient plumbing? Jesus was a big fan of wine too. His first miracle in fact resulted from his having forgotten to bring a gift to his cousin’s wedding, so he made up for it by turning the water into wine at the reception.

What about recent history? Read A Brief History of Wine, Part 2.

A Brief History of Wine, Part 2

The U.S. is responsible for nearly destroying wine forever, and also saving it… twice!

In 1863 an American grape vine root louse hitched a ride on a native species of grape vine taken from America to England. This louse, known as phylloxera, eats grape vine roots, causing the vines to die. Not a good thing if you like wine. By 1865 the louse had made its way to the mainland and over the next 20 years it destroyed over 75% of the grape vines in Europe. You think the Europeans don’t like us now? Imagine if they were sober!

Extinction was near. They didn’t know what to do. Until one day a Texan realized that American grape vines had evolved a tolerance to the louse by growing roots with thick, strong bark. The European vines could be grafted onto American roots, and thus be saved. And that’s what they did. One by one, every vine in Europe was grafted onto American roots, thus saving the vines from extinction. What I want to know is did we charge them for those American roots used to save the European vines from the American louse… hmmm?

While our hit-louse was wreaking havoc on the European continent, the U.S. wine industry was enjoying an unprecedented boom. Coincidence… hmmm? However, it didn’t take us long to screw that up. In 1920 Prohibition cut the legs off the wine business. Never mind that Jesus himself had made some fine wine in his time, the “Drys” claimed the mention of wine in the Bible was misinterpreted grape juice. By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933 the wine industry had been decimated, as had respect for legal authority. Another irony: the term “wino” was coined during the 1920’s… when you couldn’t drink wine… hmmm.

Well, the U.S. is now just as good at making wine as we are at making war, and perhaps a bit better actually. But there are lessons to be learned from knowing your wine history. Primarily: enjoy it now because you never know when we’re going louse it up again. And buy a round for your European friends… we owe ‘em one.

Pinot Now Recommendation:

Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel – From Lodi, California, this gargantuan flavor bomb owes some of its immensity to vines that are up to 110 years old – which means they survived louses, Prohibition, two World Wars, Vietnam, and every other pestilence in the last epoch of trouble… and they’re all the sweeter for it. Taste the love.

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