Tuesday, November 25, 2008

White Wine: A Turkey?

Some people think I don’t like white wine. What I don’t like is the thought of making it because making good white wine in large quantities typically involves refrigeration for which we just don’t have the equipment. After months of drinking thick, chewy Nebbiolo wine or rich, inky, Petit Sirah with every dinner, a little white wine would be a welcome relief. In fact, one of our favorite experiments this wine making season has been “Bluey’s Blush” -- we took a 40-lbs. basket of Petit Sirah,Tempranillo and Zinfandel grapes from our vineyard, crushed them (breaking the skins and removing the stems) then immediately pressed them (separating the juice from the skin and seeds) and began the fermentation process with pink grape juice. The result has been surprising. We love the rose color and there is a hint of “banana” —it was a wonderful use of the grapes, since this is just the “second leaf” of the vines planted 18 months ago and the grapes are not that complex, yet. This is a fun wine. Like Nouveau Beaujolais. Something not to be taken too seriously. But to enjoy.

As we had run out of food a couple of days ago and the cupboard was bare and oranges, pomegranates and lemons can only sustain you for so long, I made my first trip to the grocery store in months, a Trader Joe’s located in the valley 15 miles from the vineyard. The first thing that caught my attention was “white wine” for $1.99 which wasn’t white at all. It was labeled White Zinfandel, and it was pink as Bluey’s Blush, so I put a bottle in my basket as I wanted to give it a try to see how we compare with Napa winemaker Charles Shaw. And who do I see at that moment but none other than Joe the Wino, vintner and owner of a high tech company who’s seen me just make a selection of $2 wine.

“How ya doin’ there partner?” Joe asked.

“Doin’ fine. Doin’ fine, thank you. Spending all my money on women and wine and the rest of it I’m wastin’. Good to see you Joe.” We shook hands. “Whatcha doin’ here at Trader Joe’s – buying Two Buck Chuck to refill your empty bottles of Chateau Laffite for your dinner guests?”

“How did you know?” Joe winked.

Just then a cute little thing acting as a sommelier came up to the millionaire vineyard owner and asked, “May I help you select a wine?”

“I like Pinots; do you have any Pinot noir?” Joe asked.

“This one’s my favorite,” said the Trader Joe’s staff member pointing to a bottle. “And it’s only $9.95.”

“I like the picture on the label,” Joe said. Then he asked, “Do you have any Pinot more?”

“Pinot what?”

“I heard it through the grapevine. A new varietal developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis. A new grape designed for older people like myself. After drinking a whole bottle at dinner, it’s not necessary to get up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom. It’s called Pee-No-More.”

My eyeballs rolled and the little thing blushed pinker than the rose wine and Joe The Wino just laughed at himself. It seems Joe must be on the same e-mail list as my father who sent me the joke earlier in the week. I asked the attendant if they had any local wines for sale. She said sometimes. I made a note that some of the wines were selling for $30 or more, and this would be a good place to sell Blue-Merlot – especially if the Trader Joe’s artists did a picture of Bluey in Technicolor on the chalkboard. Something like this:

Since John the Avocado Grower from New Zealand is planning to visit us this weekend, I bought a package of kiwi fruits. Our vineyard used to be a kiwi ranch 25 years ago but fell into disrepair as the price of kiwis fell lower than the cost of water, so the place was abandoned. When we moved in, it was a ghost town, navigating through remnants of the old kiwi trellis system, and the locations of a thousand kiwi vines. There was nothing left of the old vines, except for dried, rotted roots which we found as we dug up the place planting olives, persimmons, apples, avocados, macadamias, almonds, figs, guavas, blood oranges, palms and eventually end posts and grapes. Except for under the Man In the Rock. The Man In The Rock is a rock formation whose frown always follows you from whatever angle you look. Is he an Indian? The guardian of the property? Or just a rock? Under his shadow, we found a shoot. A remnant from an old kiwi root, which sprouted forth a few green leaves, unmistakeably those of a kiwi plant. Imagine that, after 14 years of neglect. A survivor. What were the odds? The Queen watered the baby vine very day, and it grew, and she covered it with a clothes hamper from the laundry to keep out the rabbits. When she arrived one day with her water bucket, the kiwi was gone. Nothing. Nothing but a hole. The hole of a gopher. And thus started The Gopher Wars, which will be rekindled after a brief Thanksgiving Truce, with John the Avocado Grower at my side. The Kiwis Strike Back!

Back at Trader Joe’s, I pick up a bottle of Nouveau Beaujolais which I’m delighted to see. The Queen and her species love Nouveau Beaujolais. Where she comes from, they think that this is high quality wine – but it’s Thanksgiving and I know it will make her happy so I’m willing to splurge and spend $8 for the bottle (well, if she drinks that, then I’ve saved one of our $39 in inventory and can sell that and make some money and pay off the Beaujolais purchase). I bumped into Joe The Wino at the checkout counter. His cart was full as he was shopping for Thanksgiving and I wagered the cashier, “I’ll bet you a bottle of wine there’s $200 of groceries in Joe’s cart,” and the cashier said, “You’re wrong – there’s $300.” And at the end of it there was $277.77 and I got to thinking there’s about a week’s worth of food in there and if there are 4 weeks in a month then that’s over $1,100/month for food and that just includes Two Buck Chuck and his $9.95 Pinot More and that’s what I used to spend on my mortgage and now food alone is that much. How is Joe The Plumber going to live let alone this guy who drives a Jaguar?

Back at the ranch there’s an e-mail from my friend Jeff who runs our local commercial winery Belle Marie, where I’ve entered a contest with my answer to the question: “What’s the best temperature to serve white wine?”

To which replied, in order to score a free bottle with at least the most creative answer: “When wine is involved, any temperature is good for serving and drinking!” Lum Eisenman, our master winemaker mentor, would like that answer.

Jeff writes:

“Well there's a sales guy's answer if I've ever heard one! Not that I take issue with your logic. Just so you know, in our opinion a fine dry wine is best served at about 55 degrees. Since most refrigerators are maintained at about 45 degrees, this means that a white wine served directly out of the fridge is too cold. The next time you try a premium white wine, such as our 2006 Paradiso or our 2007 Fume Blanc, try taking the wine out of the refrigerator for 15 or 20 minutes before you drink it... or pour a glass right away but drink it slowly, paying attention to how the wine changes as the temperature rises. In the end, the best serving temperature (just like the best wine) is up to you, the one doing the drinking and enjoying! Thanks for playing along with our challenge Craig. Since taste is subjective and your answer is at least our sentimental favorite, you are officially entered into our drawing to win a bottle of premium white wine. We'll look forward to seeing you again soon. “

I’ll need to remind Jeff that at our house, wine lasts about 15 seconds after being taken out of the refrigerator, and to all of you drinking white wine on Thanksgiving, I send you a toast, as we sample from our land pomegranates, persimmons, olives, oranges and gopher filled with Stauffer’s stove-top stuffing.

1 comment:

Craig Justice said...

I got home last night late and found my bride asleep but she had opened the bottle of Nouveau Beaujolais and left me some. My first taste in more than five years! I almost choked when the label described the wine as "elegant" -- my blood pressure rose. If they had said this is a fun, new, light wine to be enjoyed with friends, that would have been grand. But words like "elegant" just made me say, "Merde." I noticed the "white Zinfandel" was also open, so I tried that. Also, not so good. At least the bottle was honest -- there was no description of the wine -- we got what we paid for.