November 2011

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Thieving Sultana
You’ve eaten Sultana grapes before. Probably stolen them from your local supermarket too. They’re those enormous looking green grapes that children and degenerate adults love to pop into their mouths in the produce section when no one is looking and hopefully no cameras are pointing in your direction. We just call them Thompson Seedless, which is too bad since Sultana sounds way more regal, powerful and exciting.

California’s Most Planted, Least Known Grape
Sultana is far and away the most planted grape in California. One of every three vines in California is Thompson and the next most planted grape (Chardonnay) doesn’t even have half the acreage of Sultana.

California Raisins
And yet, we don’t see bottles of Sultana at our local wine stores, either under Sultana or Thompson Seedless. Why? Turns out Sultana can be made into wine and that wine is fine but pretty insipid if passable. A better use is turning the grapes into raisins. California Raisins – yes, that famous advertising icon begins life as a Sultana grape and ends life as a Saturday morning cartoon show.

Crisp with medium body for a white. Similar to Viognier in body and fruit but really different finish. Think Rkatsiteli on the finish – that’s the pretty obscure rape from Georgia (the country) that one should definitely try if one is ever lucky enough to be in the Finger Lakes at the vineyard of Dr. Frank Konstantin.

Detail Up!
Çankaya white wine by Kavaklidere Vineyard from Anatolia, Turkey. Available in tiny bottles on Turkish Airlines when you ask for the Turkish white wine.

Random Googles:
* Sultana is the father of a wine grape grown in California called Princess. Fitting that Princess is the daughter of Sultana – someone clearly had a lot of fun naming that grape.
* Narince can be thought of as a less oaky Chardonnay from Turkey. Probably impossible to find outside of Turkey but Kavaklidere has a bottle made only from Narince grapes.
* Emir grapes grow in really high altitude, cold parts of Turkey. With scant information on the grape available online, let’s leave it to a random tweet to tell us it has “great great potential.”

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Toulouse Anderson Valley Pinot Gris 2010MC Pinot
Pinot Gris, you won the first round of Hide and Seek. Here I thought you were all original and unknown, like when my brother put on music by MC Lars, and it turned out to be this weird fusion of styles that jumbled up everything recognizable into a new kind of musical scrambled eggs that somehow made it new and better.

Pinot Gris/Grigio
But Pinot Gris isn’t MC Lars. Pinot Gris is just Pinot Grigio, not even MC Pinot Grigio. Yes, it’s Pinot Gris who makes that $5 Italian wine labeled Ecco Domani that lingers on the dusty bottom shelf at your supermarket. Pinot Gris, take off your mask. You won this round.

One Glass, Then Water
So should we flee from pee-no gree (actual pronunciation)? Probably not. Because realistically, Pinot Grigio can be great even though most of it is really terrible and leads to headaches that make people hate white wine – truly, a crime. So drink one glass of Pinot Grigio with dinner but no more. And drink lots of water.

Manorexic Wine
Because Pinot Gris isn’t Pinot Grigio – at least not in how it tastes. Pinot Grigio usually has that high acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc but no real body backing it up. Manorexia comes to mind when drinking Pinot Grigio – not so much with Pinot Gris.

The Depths of Pinot
Because Pinot Gris has lots more going on – you can talk to Pinot Gris and not just about male modeling. Luscious, rich, tropical – these are the words you see describing Pinot Gris, which aren’t exactly the same words you hear on the catwalk. On the catwalk.

Shapeshifting Mutants
Out in California, way up in the north part where these giant redwoods grow (see photo – that’s me at 6’2.25″ barely noticeable in the bottom left), there’s a small group of producers playing around with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and probably some other mutant pinots that Professor X has at the mansion. Because apparently Pinot Noir is a grape that keeps mutating (like the annoying shapeshifter from the old Commodore 64 game) and Pinot Gris is just one of those mutations from back in the day.

Goose Fetish
On perhaps the most relaxing vacation of 2011, Cristina and I stopped by northern California for some catching up with friends (thanks Begs and Jess), some redwood hiking and some mutant wine tasting. By far the prettiest of the vineyards we visited in the Anderson Valley near Mendocino was Toulouse, a family run operation with a strange affinity for geese in ridiculous postures. Really engaging winery with premium Pinot Noir and affordable Pinot Gris – you can imagine which bottle made it home.

Sunny Memories
Now, half a year later, it’s cold in November and time to break into those bottles of whites that bring back memories of summer, California and general lusciousness. Hola Pinot Gris – let’s see what your Too Loose bottle has to say.

Delicate, slightly tart, some peach, lots of flowers in mouth – light/medium mouthfeel with a lingering but not strong finish. Good acidity and balance – bit too heavy on the alcohol. Sunshine and outdoors warmth definitely recognizable.

Detail Up!
Pinot Gris 2010 from Toulouse Vineyard in Anderson Valley, California

Random Googles:
* Pinot Gris (France) = Pinot Grigio (Italy), except in style. Same grape, different wardrobe.
* Alsace, that French region up near Germany, produces the most famous Pinot Gris styles. Oregon, California and Washington produce pretty significant amounts too.
* Surprisingly, all Top 10 Restaurant wines in the US are white wines. Three are Pinot Grigio.

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Grape 57: Cinsaut

Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah

Adopt a Parent, Please
Think which grape you would want to adopt. Riesling? Cabernet? Maybe even Muscat, the original grape of grapes? Chances are Cinsaut isn’t the grape you’re adopting. You’re descended from a noble, regal, princely grape, not Cinsaut, not Bastardo (an actual grape!) – a fashionable, avuncular grape with name recognition. Sorry, South Africa – you just adopted Cinsault. No backsies.

All my legal advice comes from wine blogs
But Cinsaut is a PARENT grape, not a CHILD grape – it can’t be adopted! Babies are for adoption, children are for adoption. Parents are not for adoption. Wrong. Parents are for adoption too, and Cinsaut is your adopted parent, South Africa.

Are You My Mother?
South Africa loves to shine the spotlight on its famous grape – Pinotage – because the grape is truly an African grape, having been created in South Africa in 1925. And because Pinot is so popular, Pinotage is a great name to have on your bottle. Pinot, he’s so hot right now.

Photo Credit to Red Bubble (they sell t-shirts of this?)

Suffix Shame
But shhhhhh, don’t mention that -tage suffix hanging off the end of Pinotage. That’s the part you’re not supposed to notice. Because -tage comes from Hermitage, which is what 1920s South Africa called Cinsaut. And Cinsaut isn’t popular or really, really ridiculously good looking.

Clash of Consonants
Cinsaut grows all over the cheapest part of France, down in the south where even the name is meant to discourage wine consumers: Languedoc-Roussillon. No American has ever pronounced that correctly. It’s just a disaster of consonants.

Halfling Cinsaut
And Cinsaut doesn’t stand on its own – producers blend it in with other grapes (usually Grenache and Carignane) to make balanced, smooth wines. Think of it as the halfling minstrel at your D&D party – it’s not exactly Cinsaut leading the charge into the dragon’s lair.

African Wine Denoument
In a strange twist however, Cinsaut is the perfect grape for adoptive parenthood in South Africa. It performs spectacularly in drought conditions and Algeria loaded up on Cinsaut for exactly that reason. So in a strange twist, Pinotage – that hallmark African grape – owes a very large debt to its adopted African adult Cinsaut since Cinsaut hails from (among others) Algeria, nicely alliterative with Africa. Welcome Home Adopted African Dad!

Adopt This Wine Producer
Andre Brunel is the grandfather who makes this wine. Not sure exactly if he actually is a grandfather but he’s eminently adoptable if he’s up for the role. Just have a look at his twinkling eyes and it’s easy to see how Lucien (co-owner of the estate) fell in love with this man. Maybe wine had something to do with it, maybe not – but he has a lot to teach in the fine art of twinkling eyes.

Rhone in The Cities
Word on Adopted Grandpa Andre is that he makes exceptional Chateauneuf du Pape, probably the most famous (and $$$!) of the wine villages scattered along the French Rhone valley – check out the long blue stretch of France on the map where the buffalo rhone. Fortunately, Grandpa Andre also makes really good cheaper wine that we halfling minstrels can down with Travail food and laughter when visiting family and adopted family in The Cities.

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Very smooth, almost velvety texture. Light black fruit and light spices – nothing too overpowering. Worked really well with dishes from seafood to lamb.

Detail Up!
2008 Andre Brunel from Cotes du Rhone, France (somewhere on that blue line). Sadly, the only Buzz (RIP 2010-2011) for this wine comes from one wine store in Asheville that identifies the grape as 75% Grenache, 15% Cinsaut, and 10% Syrah, from 40 year old vines. No corroboration possible on the internets but my memory recalls this a blend with Cinsaut and others so money’s on the table that this is the wine.

Random Googles:
* Cinsaut is the key grape in Lebanon’s most famous wine, which commands prices equal to small vehicles (or three months worth of antifreeze for my brother’s beater).
* Amusing yet long treatise compares (fairly convincingly) Cinsaut to Posh Spice. Warning – Posh Spice is pretty NSFW.
* Robert Parker, lawyer turned wino, might already have dibs on adopting Andre Brunel. Certainly sounds like it from all the praise.

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