This is not the first time that I am writing about Resveratrol, the chemical naturally occurring in wine and a few other foods which has some amazing therapeutic and disease preventing properties. In an era where people for the most part have become strongly chemophobic the overwhelming interest received by Resveratrol is extraordinary. Right or wrong people look with anxiety and disdain at the presence of nitrates and nitrites used to preserve the red color in processed meat, MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate) used in instant soups and more to enhance flavor, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate added to various foods as microbial inhibitors – to name a few. But with Resveratrol the attitude is totally different. The fascination with Resveratrol comes from its multifaceted functionalities. It has the ability to fight cardiac disease, to block certain types of cancers, to protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease, to activate a “longevity” gene that extends the life span and recently discovered that it fights obesity. Resveratrol has very impressive credentials almost too good to be true.
The interest and discovery of Resveratrol can be attributed to a phenomenon that has been occupying scientists’ minds for a long time. The term “French Paradox” was first used by the French researcher Serge Menard in 1991 in a segment of 60 minutes where he stated that by US Standards the French do everything wrong in their diet habits eating fatty foods high in cholesterol while unexpectedly have 60% less incidents of heart attacks than Americans. What is it about the French that they can indulge in rich foods like pastries, cheeses and cream sauces while staying healthy and having a remarkably low obesity rate? This phenomenon has been investigated extensively and found to be related to both the lifestyle and wine drinking habits of the French people. For the French eating a regular meal is a celebration which is always accompanied with wine. France is the second highest wine consuming country in the world next to Vatican City, and followed by Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Portugal and Switzerland.
While Resveratrol may be a contributing factor for the French Paradox it may not be the whole story. The French have a very high opinion of themselves thinking that they have the best culture, food, wine and way of life. They eat less and longer than Americans with the whole family together making every meal a food experience. The wine and conversation which follows the meal slows things down and plays an important role in their social rituals. They feel that being French is a marker for a higher social level of more aware people living a fuller life which makes them happier and healthier. Does this sound like a case of self-aggrandizement?
Our beautiful wine region, the Sierra Foothills which includes Amador and El Dorado Counties with the corresponding AVA’s of Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown in Amador and Fair Play in El Dorado has always suffered from a lack of true recognition for its potential to make world class wines. Looking back we are now at the same place that Napa was in the sixties and early seventies. In 1976 a miracle happened that moved Napa to the forefront of wine regions in the world. This was a result of the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, better known as “The Judgment of Paris”. The story which sounds almost like a fairytale goes like this:
Steve Spurrier, a British wine merchant living in Paris, owner of a wine shop and a prestigious wine school named L’ Académie du VIN, had an idea to compare Napa with Burgundy Chardonnays and Napa Cabernet Sauvignons with Bordeaux’s. On May 24, 1976, he assembled a group of 9 French judges, all wine aficionados with credentials representing la crème de la crème of the French oenology community. The judges were asked to grade the wines which were presented to them incognito on a scale of 20 points. The results were astounding. The Napa Chardonnays and the Cabernets were preferred over their French counterparts. This incident was reported by Time under the heading of “The Judgment of Paris” hit the wine world like an earthquake.
The question is whether “The Judgment of Paris” can happen for the Sierra Foothills. Could we have our own guardian angel “Steve Spurrier”? To me, what happened at “The Judgment of Paris” is like winning the lottery – a chance in a million that will never happen again. How is it that 9 French wine aficionados could not tell the difference between Napa Cabernets and Bordeaux’s? How could have they missed the regional identity of Bordeaux’s? The differences between these wines, especially the ones from the 70’s are striking. If they knew which wines were Bordeaux and which were from Napa, wouldn’t have they picked the Bordeaux’s to be the winners?
That’s why “The Judgment of Paris” will always remain a mystery. That’s why there isn’t much that we can learn from it. To advance the cause of our region, we should build on our strengths and educate our customers and the wine judges to accept the diversity that different wine regions offer. In California we are very fortunate to consistently have warm weather enabling the grapes to ripen on time for harvest. Within California there are regional differences in the weather and soil composition that affect the styles of wines that are created. This diversity gives each region an identity which should be celebrated. This diversity can only enhance the pleasures of drinking wine. The wine judges should be educated to accept this diversity so that they can judge wines not based on their region of origin but on their true attributes.
Rather than waiting for miracles to happen, let us all in unison communicate this to the general public to get the Sierra Foothills from anonymity to fame. Cheers!
Isn’t it a miracle that we, humans, possess the senses of taste and smell that enable us to perceive, identify and enjoy (or reject) the foods that we eat? Actually, we could have survived with only senses of hunger and satiety which we lack. The senses of taste and smell have been given to us as a luxury, a gift from heaven that we take for granted. These two senses while they are separate, each with their own receptors, they are nonetheless intimately entwined and work in concert together. What is also surprising that our tongue, which is our tasting organ, has only 5 kinds of receptors with the ability of tasting basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (Japanese for savory).
Imagine biting into a tomato or juicy orange or tasting wine. In either case you expect to taste more than just sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. And chances are you will, unless you have a bad case of a cold and your nose is completely plugged. The reason you taste tomato, orange and wine is because your sense of smell is participating in the tasting process. Actually while the sense of taste has only 5 receptors the sense of smell has 388 receptors and 80-90% of the taste that you perceive comes from your sense of smell. Here is a perfect case of a synergistic cooperation between two senses that outweighs by far what each sense could contribute by itself. Think about it. Whether some of us have a gift for a more refined sense of taste and smell is a matter of debate. Maybe we have amongst us some olfaction prodigies that have an exceptional talent to smell and taste. If we only had a way of identifying these olfaction prodigies we could delegate to them the task of choosing for us all the foods that we consume and especially the wines that we drink. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to identify an olfaction prodigy as it might be the case for a musical prodigy.
While there are many self-proclaimed olfaction prodigies running around I predict that very soon, as we are getting close to deciphering the entire DNA code, there will be organizations licensed to grant certifications for different levels of mastery in olfaction based on the DNA. This will take away the burden of making choices as what foods we should eat or what wines we should drink. But until this happens, as I have always said don’t be a wine spectator, be an activist. Trust your own senses when judging a wine and don’t allow anyone to obstruct the uncovering of your own taste.
Socrates once said: “The expression of taste is an expression of freedom; the moment You abdicate responsibility for your own taste, you voluntarily abdicate your freedom”.
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved has a vineyard on a very fertile hill
He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted with choice vines;
He built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;
“Isaiah 5,1 and 5,2”
If you are familiar with the Old Testament, I am sure you will understand that Isaiah was not writing a love song or having anything to do with the romance of having a vineyard. But rather he was using these as metaphors to make a contrarian point. But I am taking this quote literally for its beauty and its relevance to my life. The vineyard that I planted meticulously and which I cared for with outmost attention gives me a lot of joy and at times considerable pain. This year I am truly overwhelmed with love for my vineyard because it has given me a level of joy that makes me forget all the pain that I suffered over the years. Because this year it has given me a crop of grapes that I have longed for since I planted the vines. Just continue reading and you will find out…..
Harvest 2013 is over. We picked the last lot of Tempranillo and Cabernet Franc last Thursday.
I am so excited about our wines this year that during our recent Open House event last weekend, instead of pouring the regular wines that we had on the menu, I was taking groups of people to our fermentation tanks to taste the brand new 2013 vintage wines, some of which have not even been pressed. Those of you that came to this Open House will attest that we tasted more than half a dozen wines including, the Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga National, both the wine and the Port, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Primitivo and Syrah. I have always been a fan of my own wines but I tried to keep it to myself. This year I cannot contain myself.
What all these wines have in common are loads of fruit, bright acidity, a big body to fill your mouth, a high degree of refinement, balance and strong varietal identity. And the wines are not even one month old.
I am looking forward to the next opportunity to show you my 2013 wines straight out of the tank during our Open House in November. In all likelihood this will be your last chance to taste these wines before they go into barrels. I am afraid this time they will have stiff competition from the 2010 Proprietor’s Blend that will be released that day.
This month’s club release is my 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite its prominence, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is a relatively new variety. DNA studies conducted in 1997 at Davis by Carol Meredith concluded that Cabernet Sauvignon is the product of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc which most likely occurred in the 17th century. The name “Sauvignon” is attributed to the French word “Sauvage” which means “savage” or “wild”.
For me the release of my 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is a reason to celebrate. It has taken me a lot of effort to get to the point where I can make a Cabernet Sauvignon with distinctive varietal characteristics that doesn’t taste like green bell pepper. Maybe it’s because I am too fussy. After all this is a flavor that naturally evolves in this variety and there are many Cabernet Sauvignons selling for big bucks from some of the “best” appellations that reek of bell pepper. So what’s the big deal? It’s all about my personal preferences.
How does the bell pepper flavor get into the wine? The culprit is a chemical called pyrazine which is created by the plant in the early stages of the development of the fruit. From my flavor chemistry days I remember that pyrazines are a very prolific family of aroma chemicals. While some members of this family may taste herbaceous, grassy and vegetal, others are nutty, chocolaty, caramel-like and even sweet. On the vine when the grapes ripen the pyrazines are transformed into other compounds eliminating the bell pepper flavor. Since Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape variety that ripens late in the season sometimes in cool climates when the weather conditions are not favorable, the season may progress without materially depleting the level of pyrazines. In that case the wine produced will have bell pepper flavors. Strangely enough the same thing happens in very hot climates. The excess heat causes the Cabernet Sauvignon vines to shut down bringing the ripening process to a halt.
You might ask and rightly so, how was I able to make a Cab devoid of any bell pepper flavor in this hot weather region. The answer is first by appropriate clonal selection (using clones that are less prone to generating pyrazines) and second by shading the fruit that gets a high level of sun exposure. After 8 years of trying I think I have arrived. I like the Cab that I made and hope that you will like it too. Cheers!
Global Warming? Still Arguable! Or is it?
Climate change is progressing at an alarming pace. The arctic sea ice is melting causing coastal erosion and flooding; China experienced the coldest winter in 30 years; the heat waves in Australia triggered massive fires; Jerusalem, that hardly ever has any snow, received 8 inches last winter; this week Death Valley is expected to experience a world record temperature of 129 degrees. Are these individual episodes or do they reveal a trend? Actually, why go so far as the Judean Hills of Jerusalem or the arctic seas of Alaska when you can find these extreme weather patterns right here at home. Within one week in June of 2013 we experienced in our vineyards a temperature fluctuation of 40 degrees. On June 26, the maximum temperature in our vineyard was 68 degrees with a precipitation of over ½ in and on June 29, it was 108 degrees. The big question is whether these erratic weather patterns are going to last another week….. another month….. or will they be a way of life for the future?
An even more important question is how these “erratic weather patterns” are going to affect the grapes that we produce? And this is anyone’s guess! All we can do is set up the defenses to counteract the potential damage of the extreme hot weather. Right now my entire crew is involved in providing more shade to the clusters by moving the shoots away from the trunk of the vine, allowing them to droop over the clusters. On hot afternoons we have two tractors spraying water on the vines creating a swamp cooler effect protecting the fruit from getting sun-burned. Live and learn!
A duet to challenge your senses…… This month’s Gallery Collection Club release is one bottle each of our 2009 Encontro and 2008 Proprietor’s Blend. I purposely chose these two wines which are on different ends of the spectrum. The 2009 Encontro is a crisp and playful wine with loads of black cherry. Take a sip and you will think you are biting into a black cherry pie. The 2008 Proprietor’s Blend is a more serious wine stylistically falling almost in the middle between a new world and old world wine. The 2008 is probably the best one of the 7 vintages of Proprietor’s Blend wines that we released so far.
Learn from the above: Stay in the shade and use a mister to stay cool. Enjoy the Summer!