Please pass the Claret Carson!

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If you’re a fan of the period piece Downtown Abbey as I am, you are no doubt experiencing withdrawal symptoms now that they are on hiatus for the rest of the year.  Yet, I am always enthralled at the ritual involved when the wine is selected by Carson and Lord Grantham, and the elaborate pouring rituals begin. This ritual is, of course, part and parcel for the Bordeaux wine trade in years past.  British “Claret” increased in popularity in Britain when Eleanor of Aquitaine married in to the royal family, paving the way for Bordeaux exports.  At that time, most wine was from Graves, and was called “clariet”, which is why the name still sticks today.  Until relatively recently, the English would buy barrels of wine, import them across the channel, and bottle them themselves, translating the somewhat confusing French labeling system in to a more English friendly naming convention. Today, we don’t have to go to such great lengths to get the delicious wines from the Bordeaux region.  We are able to purchase, and taste, wines of wide variety and price point; In fact, we don’t have to go through quite the elaborate decanting rituals that Carson the Butler does in Downton Abbey, in thanks to modern bottling techniques and cleaner process. This month, as I study for my CSW, we are meandering through France.  I’ve already talked a bit about the Loire Valley region, but now we are delving in to serious, hard core, confusing, amazing, enthralling, Bordeaux.  Bordeaux is located roughly halfway down the western coast of France, where the Girdone river meets the Atlantic Ocean, and moves inland to the southeast where there Gironde and the Dordogne meet to form the Garrone River.     Bordeaux is a challenge for me, with over 30 distinct subregions, Left Bank, Right Bank, middle bank (Entre-deux-Mars) and the uniqueness that comes with each of these.  After tasting a beautiful array of Bordeaux a the Union des Grand Crus last month, I have come to discover that my heart lies on the Right Bank, with the silken elegance of the Merlot based wines, but there are several areas of the Cabernet driven Left Bank that call to me as well.  The myth of Bordeaux as an old man’s luxury has been dispelled, and today, it is an accessible option to even the most budget friendly wine drinker. First, some 411 on the basics.  Yes, I know this is overly simplifying the details quite a bit, but going in to detail on the 37 distinct regions is just too overwhelming for most wine lovers, unless you are a Francophile.  For a long time, I didn’t like the tannic, seemingly thin, overly astringent flavors in the Bordeaux that I had experienced.  Fortunately, there is such a wide array of wine available, that there really is a wine for everyone, at every budget. The primary regions of the Left Bank are Graves, Medoc, and Pauillac, and are Cabernet based blends.  The Right Bank includes […]

A walk in the clouds…

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A Walk In The Clouds, the somewhat cheesy although romantic movie set in Napa Valley in the 1940s had perhaps some of the most visually stunning scenery in a wine movie.  Yes, much of it was CGI generated, and yet the scenes are evocative of the early era in winemaking in California, and conjure up images of a time gone by.  Or has it? All of this Hollywood history brings me to my new favorite winery discover,  Rubissow Vinyeards.  Rubissow was introduced to be at the Wine Bloggers Conference this year, when Leslie Bramwell-Smith, who is working with them, invited us to taste and tour the Mt. Veeder property.  With a little scheduling magic, we finally go to take the opportunity and I am so glad we did! The house that sits on the property on Mt. Veeder was build in 1860 as a hunting lodge for the city folk, and they ran the property for game.  Mt. Veeder was the first grape producing region in these parts and some of the vines go back as far as that property.  The Rubissow family bought the property in 1983, but it had been a vegetable farm up until that time.  Converting a farm into a producing vineyard took some effort but it has paid off well.  Together with his partner Tony Sargent, Rubissow-Sargent was born, sourced entirely from the 45 acre Rubissow estate.  Peter Rubissow and his sister Ariel bought the property in 2004, and Rubissow Sargent became just plain (or not so plain) Rubissow.  winemaker Tim Milos is producing some really amazing wines up here, and these wines are one of the many examples of why I have come back around to Napa Valley. Up the hill, our blogger crew started out with a little hike int he blistering heat.  I pooped out halfway up the mountain, but that was enough for me.  The expansive view of Carneros to the south west was impressive and I sat in the shade with Liza while the others melted up top. There are two distinct terroirs up here, where the first is warmer and less windy, it is best suited for Cab and Merlot.  The second area is more similar to Carneros, where the fog rolls in and a hot wind blows, where Merlot develops a bracingly high acidity.  Winemaker Tim Milos really believes that place is important when tasting a wine.  If you can’t taste the place in the glass, what is the point?  Wines should be distinctive of their vines.  This is further refined by the two soil types, the top being volcanic and the lower elevations being marine sedimentary in nature.  Tim really allows the land to speak for itself in his wines, and it shows. The first time I visited Rubissow, it was August and it was about 102 on the porch.  We were all melting, but the wine was amazing.  This past weekend, I got to visit them again, when the fall colors were coming out and the […]