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King of the Grapes
Just about everything’s already been said about this grape called Cabernet. Pretty much the whole world is in love, and this wino is frankly a little over all the praise. Really, I get it – you love Cabernet Sauvignon. You think it’s the biggest, baddest red on the block and all other reds are a little scared when Cabernet comes strutting down the street with his leather jacket on and his brash, easy charm on full display. He’s the 800 pound gorilla of the red world, the oft-proclaimed, probably self-proclaimed, “King of Grapes.” (Sidebar: the “Queen of Grapes” title generally goes to my favorite grape. she’s probably the true force behind the grape throne)

Bible Wine Time
Really though, this grape is the Grape of Ecclesiastes. Like old school, OT nothing new under the sun grape. Like Noah and Lot showing up sloppy, and Solomon getting a little carried away in his amorous song musings before penning an ode to the sheer brutishness of Cabernet while singing “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Incidentally, I blame The Byrds for all the exclamation points showing up in sentences these days.

Young Candy Cane
Strange thing is, Cab (shortened because it’s that cool) is a pretty young grape. It just FEELS like it’s been around forever (see: Kardashian). Truth is, before the 18th century when Cabernet Franc (a serious sounding, respectable red grape if ever there was one) started shacking up with Sauvignon Blanc (white and minerally as the limestone it loves), there was no Cabernet Sauvignon. But from that moment on, it was everywhere. France, Italy, Chile, California, Australia, Lebanon, probably Fiji and Hawaii for all I know. And what a blend it was. Not since Candy Canes has the world seen such a red-white marriage of elegance.

Napa Obsession
Napa Valley, California’s most famous wine region, has embraced Cab with aplomb typically reserved for reunited lovers at the airport baggage claim. Find Napa on the map, and you find Cab wrapped all over it, smothering it with kisses and making all the other wine regions a little uncomfortable but a little happy at the same time. Famous Napa names in the WoW (“World of Wine” – sorry gamers) often run into the hundreds of dollars a bottle, and the names of Caymus, Cakebread, Screaming Eagle, Mondavi, Opus One and Far Niente all elicit sighs of purple paradise from Cab lovers across the great state of California.

Far Niente
Far Niente, the subject of today’s excess, happens to be a name that two wino friends with incredibly different tastes recommended to try. One friend (Dr. Econ), a lover of big wines and making her dinner guests pass out in her floor from all kinds of delicious paneer makhani (her soporific recipe here), counts Far Niente among her top California wines and she’s BIG into the biggest of California wines so her word is golden. Another friend (Sommi Seleño), a trained sommi who brightens up at the mention of old-growth Verdejo and Romanian dessert wine, highly recommended the Far Niente tour and the wines when discussing highlights of Napa.

Visiting Far Niente
How then to visit Far Niente? Easy – plug in your destination as Far Niente, start your car rolling from its home base in Santa Rosa and drive. Mountains, hills, sun, happiness – you’re nearly there. Then, continuing to follow the directions of Google Maps, continue left onto a dirt path into the middle of a giant field of grapes (is this even a road? Gmaps says it is), continue past the giant fan that spits water onto the field, wave to the migrant workers taking a water break, turn right at the third giant fan in the middle of the field and continue right until you emerge onto pavement. Only then notice the “No Trespassing” sign. Destination reached – thanks Google Maps, you knew we wanted the full (illegal) tour of the Far Niente facilities.


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Detail Up!
Far Niente 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California, USA – 94% Cab with 3% each of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot

Taste
“Dusty velvet draped around an iron fist” – that’s what I remember precisely. True, this wino wasn’t taking the best of notes given all the food, friends and general mayhem (courtesy of a night spent crashing with Dr. Econ) but definitely remember a really long finish that kept finding new tastes every time a breath was taken. *Breath* (plums?) *Breath* (dutch candy?) *Breath* (currant?) *Breath* (chocolate?) *Sigh* (another glass?)

Random Googles:
* Far Niente – meaning “sweet doing nothing” aka “not a care” aka “hakuna matata” – is one of the oldest Napa wineries going back to 1885 (h/t these guys for the bottle image).
* Bordeaux in France originated Cab and has led some to speculate that it’s the reason the Anglo world is slightly obsessed with Cab. Others say it’s because Cab grows really well globally. Both camps agree the obsession is hard to resist.
* Few wines are bigger than Cab (i.e. have more tannins – that smacking where your tongue gets stuck in your mouth), which is why Cab is usually thought of as the heaviest red wine. There are some wines that can be bigger though – Tannat and certain Italian grapes can go bigger.

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Memory, all alone in the Mooooon-light
Certain wines take you back – to specific, memorable moments complete with cherubs, picnics and wooded vales. Barbera is that wine for me, except the cherubs are replaced by parking lots and the wooded vales were clear-cut for a strip mall. Welcome to Suburbia – Picnics still allowed.

As bleak as that sounds, the restaurant at the edge of the strip mall next to the flat expanse of concrete was excellent. Rosso Pizza – look it up if you’re ever in Santa Rosa, California. Consueldo, Exacto and I plopped down and immediately opened the menu (yes, the WINE menu – our priorities are straight) to decide what to order. We asked the waitress about a local wine with an English grandmother name “Barbera” and… it happened.

Rosso Waitress
Never before has a waitress verbally orgasmed in front of three unsuspecting guests at Rosso Pizza in Santa Rosa. Words like “God,” “unbelievable,” “sooooo good,” “THE BEST,” “love,” “amazing” spewed out between moans of ecstasy. Sitting in the strip mall next to the parking lot, we felt a little awkward being in public… and near children. Still, we ordered two.

Thanks to that energetic waitress, Barbera is forever seared into my mind. And it’s a good thing too as it’s the kind of wine that tickles the food fancy. Not too big and overpowering, seems to work with pretty much anything carb-related and fairly easy to find – this is Barbera.

Barbera’s Summer Home
Unbeknownst to this wino, Barbera shows up all over the place, not just in California pizza joints. Italian sailors couldn’t get enough of Barbera and took it with them wherever they landed. New World, meet Old Italians. Even though it’s original home is Piedmont, up in the northwest of Italy, the New World is Barbera’s summer home. Argentina received more than its fair share of Italians back in the 20th century immigration wave and, true to form, they had loads of Barbera (sadly, no more). Brazil, Australia, the US and Uruguay all received big influxes of Italians and all have grown Barbera with delight.

Grape Joys
One of the joys of the grape is that it produces lots of fruit. Plus, it can be harvested early so a late frost isn’t going to destroy your crop and leave you with nothing but water for the winter. To top it off, the tannins are on the lower side so it’s easy to drink young and with food. No waiting around for your unborn child’s college graduation on this wine – bottoms up!

Taste
Notes from the wine(s) ordered at Rosso kept it simple and could sum up what’s best in a food wine. “Cherry, violets, medium body with long finish and some spice – really excellent.” Should have added, “totally worth the public embarrassment. NSFW.”

Detail Up!
UNTI Barbera 2009 from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma, California (thanks for the image UNTI guys)

Random Googles
* Italian reds in three words: Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Barbera. Numbers #1, 2 and 3, in order of how much acreage Italians devote to the vines.
* They don’t make learning wines easy in Italy. Barbera synonyms include: Barbera Mercantile, Gaietto, Besgano, Ughetta and (my favorite) Barber a Raspo.
* Hanna-Barbera. Not hard to guess what language Hanna’s partner grew up speaking at home.

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Minor Key of Grapes
Minor grapes are usually minor for a reason. Too acidic, too tannic, too sexy for your glass. Once in a great while, minor grapes also produce minor miracles. Think Cahors – a grape headed for extinction in France that takes an ocean voyage in its junior year of college to “discover itself” and ends up in Argentina. Goodbye Cahors, hello Malbec!

Petit Bordeaux
Petit Verdot is one such minor grape that gets buried at the bottom of the wine label, in the part that nobody reads except those really fastidious, tedious wine geeks searched for their pH buzz. Try and name the grapes that go into classic, famous Bordeaux. Cabernet – check. Merlot – check. Ummmmmm…. Cabernet Franc? Yes. And some others – correct. Turns out those “others,” at least in the red Bordeaux, are Malbec/Cahors and Petit Verdot (RIP Carmenere). Petit What? – correct.

Petit Out of Favor
Petit Verdot has that too _____ flaw. In this Mad Libs experiment, the ________ is “late-ripening” so it’s been falling out of favor in the old world faster than Greeks at a Central Banker retreat. New Worlds have new ways however, and the US, Argentina and Chile have taken up the banner of the crestfallen Petit Greek. California is one of the biggest producer since they’re big into Meritage wines that seek to replicate the Bordeaux blends and often do just that. 1976 – a great year for the California wine industry. Happy Birthday USA!

Taste
Minor no more, this is Petit Verdot in its 100% pure form. Ah-hem… this is rare. Not blended, not subsumed, this is Petit Verdot stepping out from the background. Ringo, please take this solo. We’ll manage the cymbal.

So, what’s Ringo do with his solo? He goes dark, very dark. Dark in the glass, dark in the mouth. Thinking blackberry and that black British currant jam they sell at overpriced supermarkets. Really pretty balanced and full… at least until you try tasting it after a couple California Cabs – then it feels thin and anorexic. Moral of the story – save your Cabs for another day and focus on the wine at hand. This one’s an impressive, rare example.

Detail Up!
100% Petit Verdot 2008 Ferrari Carano from the USA out in Dry Creek Sonoma, California

Random Googles
* Peh-teet ver-dough. Sounds way hotter (and more pastry-like) than it’s spelled.
* Keep an eye on Virgina – not just for all those presidents it turned out. It’s now looking to be a big Petit Verdot player.
* Rosé Petit Verdot – apparently, it exists. And is even pretty good, according to this guy.

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Geh-hurts

Geh-hurts. Tra-Meaner. Wine that sounds this tough and inscrutable gets passed over on the menu all the time. Puzzling out why it’s skipped over on the menu is easy enough to understand when you pronounce out the five-syllables required to ask for this grape.

Mildred
Imagine if Lolita had begun with “Geh-hurts. Geh-hurts. Tra-Meaner.” Might as well call her Mildred – not exactly illicit connotations jumping to mind when you hear your great-aunt’s cane in the hallway. Not to mention how difficult it would have been for Nabokov to describe his famous paramour: “Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” Try describing Gewurztraminer that way – it gets pretty comical, pretty fast.

Strangely enough, Gewurztraminer is your great-aunt Mildred in those really old photos on the wall. She’s young, all smiles and playful in a pre-WWII (pre-Humbert) way. We’re talking white wine, yellow (not clear) in the glass, hugely aromatic (second to only one) and the first choice for BYO dinners at Asian restaurants. Even that ugly “Gewurz” prefix has a pretty meaning in German – “perfumed.”

Tastes
West Coast Sample (WA) – Pretty dark yellow color, a round full body like a peach, sweet on the tongue and tastes like lychee and apple (Red Delicious variety – thanks michigan upbringing)

East Coast Sample (NY) – Honey smell and honey taste with some floral stuff thrown in. Starts with full body, long middle, finish falls a bit flat.

Detail Up!
Montinore Estate 2006 Gewurztraminer from Willamette Valley in Washington, USA.
Anthony Road 2008 Gewurztraminer from Finger Lakes in New York, USA.

Google Randoms:
* Gewürztraminer – rarely spelled right. Umlaut optional
* Traminer is a really old, mostly forgotten (other than Geh-hurts) grape aristocracy occupying the former Hapsberg lands.
* Lots of new grapes have spawned off from Gewurztraminer thanks to breeders’ tinkering. Traminette is one to try – it recently became Indiana’s signature grape.

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Political Wine
Politics pairs with wine about as well as mustard does. Best to keep it in the kitchen and add in little bits before the meal, never during the meal. A rare exception to the mustard rule though is found in the wine shown above. All Seyval Blanc, a prolific grape throughout the United States and Canada, one blog terms this the “Rodney Dangerfield” of wines, so you’re forgiven for not recognizing the grape name. It’s a blend of American grapes and European grapes, meaning neither continent really gives it much R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Victory White
Thankfully though, somebody in the Blue Map part of the country decided to devote their vintage to the victory of Barack Obama and make this disrespected Seyval Blanc grape into something quite respectable. Not that the Victory Wine was without precedent – Clinton Victory 1992 and Clinton Victory 1996 also resulted in Victory Wines. Apparently, Bush Victory 2000 and Bush Victory 2004 didn’t sell well in New York.

Hardy Wine
Seyval Blanc, even without the NY brand of “I <3 Dems" politics, manages to grow pretty ubiquitously in this New World of ours, although probably more east of the Mississippi. 40 states apparently grow this unknown, un-respected grape, and still nobody’s heard of it. Wine growers do love its cold-weather hardiness, and it’s quite possible Seyval Blanc ice skates in the off-season with Vidal Blanc and Gretzsky.

Taste
Smells acidic so you’re thinking “mussels wine,” but tastes almost sweet and much much thinner than expected. Thinner not in an anorexic way but more in a healthy, girl-next-door way. Wine coats the mouth but doesn’t cling (think vee-OHN-yay, not chardon-NAY) – it just makes its mark and moves on. white flowers, peach and some fresh cut grass all come to mind, which is to say, the wine has a lot and i’m not entirely sure about everything that shows up but pretty confident peach is in the mix.

Random Googles:
* England, much in the news as of late for its bubbly, grows loads of Seyval Blanc.
* Blue cheese on a hamburger – take it from a chef and pair your Seyval Blanc up right.
* Home winemakers in North America seem to love this grape if their posting quantity is any indication. Maybe the commercials should take note.

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