MWWC#35: Eclipse

“Charleston was once the rage, uh huh
History has turned the page, uh huh
The minis skirts, the current thing, uh huh
Teenybopper is our newborn king, uh huh”

A musical introduction for the latest Monthly Wine Writing Challenge and this is the thirty-fifth entry, but somehow, I missed one, so it is my thirty-fourth entry. Erik of “Red, White and Cru” had the honor of winning the last time and his award is to pick the theme for the newest challenge and his word is “eclipse.” Now last month the eclipse was one of the hottest topics in the media, as well as Social Media, so it makes sense.  How does one link eclipse to wine? I went to my dictionary that is a focal point in the library and looked up the word, yes, I could have just used Google, but I predate Google and when I wanted to research something I started with the dictionary. Beyond the mentioning of the lunar and solar eclipse, which is what most people think of, there is another meaning “to leave out, pass over, to forsake, to cease, to be eclipsed.” There was my starting point and it was great to let me relive some of the earlier days of wine enjoyment.

The first big push that I could remember in wine, trying to get new drinkers from the cocktail crowd and the beer crowd was from a winery in Portugal and that was Mateus Rosé in their very unique shaped bottle. The advertising campaign was extremely successful and people were considered very trendy and cosmopolitan for drinking this wine. It was everywhere. There were a few other major wine campaigns that began, because of it. Dean Martin and his “Little Old Wine Drinker, Me” kind of paraphrased the Swiss Colony Winemakers of California slogan and it was also a big hit with Robert Mitchum. Orson Welles many years after his Citizen Kane began touting “We will serve no wine, before its time” for Ernest and Julio Gallo. Mateus held their own, until they were eclipsed by a charming character in a white suit, Aldo Cella, for Cella Lambrusco and the world was enamored with Lambrusco, and I think that this was the start of the trends in the wine industry; and it has been going on ever since.

In those old days, people did not eat out as much, not like today, so going out was a treat. French cuisine was rather imposing, but Italian food became the leading restaurant for something different than what was being made at home. Chianti was one of the first wines that most people could pronounce and ventured to try, to be chic, when having a plate of pasta or a big pizza pie. Most Italian eateries back then had as part of their decorations fiascha bottles everywhere. Fiascha bottles were these squat green bottles that were wrapped with wicker and they were very cute, the wicker-works probably cost more than the wine, but people were discovering wine more each day. It didn’t take long for the fiascha to be eclipsed by Chianti in a real wine bottle, and then there was Chianti Classico which even became more prevalent and accepted. Brolio and Ruffino became power houses and to this day, I am sure that the majority of the wine drinkers can identify these brands and would still order them and they would have a fine bottle of wine, especially if they were Riserva. Then Chianti and almost all other Italian red wines were eclipsed by the “Super Tuscan” wines that emerged. Here was a case of French grapes that were grown in Italy, by some rebels and renegades and the rebellion won. Wines with the names of Ornellaia and Sassicaia became famous, in fact so famous that Bolgheri Sassicaia went from a Table Wine designation to having Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC. The world was moving at a much faster pace.

White wines were not left in the dust either, back in the early days for most of the population there were wines called California Chablis, which had no relation to the Chablis wines of France, in fact it was even made from different grapes. The world was looking for a white wine and I think the marketing genius of Jess Jackson emerged with his Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay took off and it is still, I am sure, the largest Chardonnay brand known to the public and it is always a safe bet to order. Then there was a curious backlash and a new movement began, as the wine drinking public discovered a new rallying cry “ABC” or “Anything but Chardonnay,” and while Chardonnay was not totally eclipsed it was getting more competition. The public was getting more savvy and they started looking for other white wines and some growers in California, Australia and New Zealand hit the gold mine with Sauvignon Blanc a white wine that was not buttery and had a fruit-forward taste that became accepted. There was also an Italian varietal that captured the imagination of this new group of wine drinkers that became much more accepted than even its French cousin. Pinot Grigio was easy to say, and I think sounded nicer than Pinot Gris and another wine front was created. While all of this was happening, there were other wineries that were making crisp Chardonnay wines and eschewing the oak barrels for a totally different taste.

After 1976 the French were totally eclipsed by this area of the world that at one time was not taken seriously called California. There were a group of winemakers that have been endearingly called the Rhone Rangers and they were growing to that time some unknown grape varietals that were famous in France, especially in the Rhone Valley and while not all of them are using grape for grape versions this concept has taken off and it has allowed more of the population to try even more new wines and sometimes at considerable savings to the wines that they are emulating across the pond in France. It is just not the Rhone Valley that is getting attacked, the famed and beloved Clarets of Bordeaux are feeling it as well. A new group of wines emerged with fanciful proprietary names that really didn’t evoke anything, but they were Bordeaux blends and a society was formed to further entrench this concept, and the society has stringent rules and the wines are now called Meritage. In fact, some of the early “Meritage” wines were made by the French who opened wineries in Napa Valley; think of Dominus and Opus One.

There is one triangle of grapes that are always eclipsing each other and for an amusing take on this, Gundlach Bundschu Winery has made a delightful mini-film about the constant cycle of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. These three varietals are always in the forefront and always attempting to gain the limelight from the other two. Cabernet Sauvignon is king and it has always held that position both in the Old World as well as the New World. Merlot is the one waiting in the wings for the new crown, as it is more mellow and not as feisty as a Cab to a lot of drinkers. Pinot Noir the most finnicky grape to grow has its steady army to back it up as well. These three always seem to be in a perpetual ebb and flow of solar and lunar eclipses amongst themselves. I am sure that this triangle will continue long after I have stopped drinking the nectar of the Gods.
There will always be a new region, a new country and a new varietal that will attempt another eclipse and they will have their moment in the sun. As for me, call me an old diplomat in my spats, striped pants, vest and cutaway coat; but I will always find the occasion where one will be chosen over the others, as I have had the good fortune to watch the rise and fall of all of the wines that I have mentioned, as well as watching the horizon for new stars. Just watch me go “gaga” if I see a Cabernet Franc on a wine carte while having dinner. The only constant is change, just like the eclipse, though the eclipse phases are good sports and actually do them on a set date.


“And the beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.”

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Two Special Burgundy Reds

I had the good fortune to try a couple of more red Burgundy wines when I stopped by Elie Wine Company in Birmingham, Michigan. Once I get over a major case of wine envy after walking up and down the aisles, I can get down to some tasting, but of course, as is my wont, I do have to greet the proprietor to let him know that I appreciate his notices. Since I am not wealthy, I realize that there are some wines totally beyond my scope and pocket book, but on occasion I can at least taste some wines. When one thinks of red Burgundy one immediately thinks of Pinot Noir, at least I do, and this was the case. The two wines that I tasted were from Domaine Odoul-Coquard and they are on their fourth generation of family winemakers. The Domaine owns eight and a half hectares of property spread out among Morey-Saint-Denis, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée and Nuit-Saint-George and from these sites they produce seventeen different labeled wines.

The Domaine Odoul-Coquard Vosne-Romanée 2014 was a very serious Pinot Noir with a good rich color and a decent nose that one would expect from this grape. The wines from this district originally went by the name Vosne, but they appended the second part over the years in honor of their greatest climate La Romanée. The winery starts some of their wines in Stainless Steel or Enamel vats and then transfers the juice to French Oak to be aged for somewhere between fifteen to eighteen months.

The last wine that I tried that day was also a very serious wine. The Domaine Odoul-Coquard Morey-Saint-Denis 1’er Cru Clos la Riotte 2014. Morey-Saint-Denis was originally marketed as either Gevrey-Chambertin or Chambolle-Musigny, their two adjoining neighbors. Clos la Riotte is one of the larger Premier Cru vineyards and Domaine Odoul-Coquard has basically a monopoly on this property, but they donate a third of the crop back to the commune for special events to be used throughout the year. I wish every Pinot Noir could have this flavor and then I would be a very happy man, but that is why it is lauded and has been for decades.

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I am often learning about wines, but I just learned a new word in French, lieux-dits, which means localities. This all came about from going to a wine tasting at one of the finest wine shops I have ever been to, namely Elie Wine Co. I have written about this shop several times, because they do not encompass the world, they only do French wines, and a few Spanish wines that he is now acting as an importer for. I mean can you say First Growth? I am rambling again, but two wines that I tasted are felt to be on the short list to becoming a Premier Cru, according to the smart money, and I am not in that circle.

Domaine Regis Bouvier Marsannay Les Longeroies 2014 was a charming wine that I tried. Marsannay is considered the “Gateway to Nuits-Sainte-Georges in Burgundy and they only received AOC status in 1987, and also what is unique, is that they have AOC for red, white and rosé, and Domaine Regis Bouvier makes all three, but I had the red. There are no Premier Cru wines in Marsannay as of yet, but Les Longeroies is listed as lieux-dits, so the cru has been acknowledged and may in the future be designated, but I have no idea how long decisions can take in Burgundy, as it is nothing to be sneezed at. This wine is pure Pinot Noir and has been aged for twelve to sixteen months in French Oak, of which thirty percent is new.

Domaine Odoul-Coquard Nuits-Saints-Georges Aux Saints-Jacques 2014 was another charming red Burgundy wine that I had the good fortune to try. In Nuits-Saints-Georges there are no Grand Cru sites, but there are Premier Cru sites and Aux Saints-Jacques is another lieux-dits. This site is made of seventy-year-old vines and made in the old school manner and I was very happy to try this wine as well.

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Café Cortina

Well I have to announce that I am another year older, but probably not any wiser. One of the questions that I received is where would you like to go for your dinner? I mean in the Metro Detroit area there is a plethora of fine dining, more than I can ever recall and probably more than we will ever attempt to dine at, at this point, as we are kind of watching our pennies as we get closer and closer to full retirement. As I thought of the venue that I wanted to try and there are so many, I kept going back in my head for something old school, which would be so fitting for the occasion. Café Cortina is such a place, they have been at the original location for forty years and when they bought the property it was a five-acre apple farm and how things have changed in the area. Café Cortina has also been voted “the most romantic” restaurant year after year that I can remember and the funny thing is that both my Bride and I have dined there, we were never there together, so that had to be rectified.

We were seated in probably the most “romantic” part of the restaurant at a table for two adjacent to the fireplace, and I watched as they kindled the fire from the next room over, so that we would not be disturbed. It is definitely old school with the amount of people servicing our table. My Bride ordered the “Pesce Fresco del Giorno dal Mal Tirremo” and gladly she did not try to pronounce it, and the Fish of the Day was Halibut simmered in a picante plum tomato, caper and Gaeta olive sauce with an Italian version of sliced potatoes with cheese. I would have been more at ease ordering the “Osso Bucco di Manzo in Amarone Della Valpolicella con Risotto al Midollo,” which was a bone-in Short Rib, braised in Amarone wine reduction served with green peas, carrots and bone-marrow Risotto and sautéed vegetables. To start off the dinner, they brought us some wonderful hard-crusted rolls that were so delicious that I think I actually ended up having four of them, and I am not a bread eater. The salad that came was a simple, but elegant tossed field greens with paper thin radish slices and tomatoes lightly covered with creamy house-made Italian dressing. Then there was a nice plate of house-made pasta with a Marinara Sauce with some fresh basil. When our entrée plates came, we both were unsure of how much we could manage, while I did a yeoman’s job and finished mine, my Bride showed some tact and upbringing and only ate half of her order. It was a birthday celebration, so we were going to have a dessert and I was going to go with a Limoncello pastry, but our waiter nixed it, in favor of their “chocolate cake.” The cake was a creation of sixteen crepe layers with chocolate Grenache between each layer of crepe with some Crème Fraiche atop and fresh strawberries. We somehow managed to finish off the cake between us. Of course, the restaurant was brought to a standstill for a moment, when our waiter lit a candle on the plate, that was more akin to a Roman Candle for a Fourth of July celebration, and he claimed that he didn’t want to jeopardize his tip, so he refrained from singing.

We began the meal with glasses of Cavas Hill 1887 Brut Metodo Tradicional NV and what a wonderful glass of bubbly it was. It was one of the finest glasses of Cava that I had ever tried, more reminiscent of a Champagne with the texture and a steady consistent stream of very fine bubbles, until the glasses were finished. This was a charming straw-colored wine from Penedes in the Catalonia district of Spain and was a classic blend of Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada. As you can tell from the label the winery began in 1887 and they had this wine down pat, as it was aged for twelve months before release. For dinner, I was going to go with an Amarone since the Osso Bucco was in a reduction sauce of that wine, but I chose a different red altogether. The Corte Alla Flora Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG  Riserva 2011 was a real winner, and of course all I have to say to my Bride is “Monte” and she is game, no matter what her entrée is. Corte Alla Flora for a Tuscan winery is rather unique, because they are only around twenty years of age, in an area where some wineries can count centuries of existence. Since the wine was almost entirely Prugnolo Gentile (the local name for Sangiovese) it was blended with ten percent Merlot and ten percent Cabernet Sauvignon and could still carry the DOCG designation. As it was a Riserva, the wine was aged for two years in the barrel and then an additional year in the bottle before being released. It was a nice heady wine with a deep purple color and I thought was a perfect match for my dish, but a bit heavy-handed for the halibut. So, for the next almost two months my Bride and I are of the same age, so I will have to wait until her birthday, before I can start saying that she “robbed the cradle” for the next ten months.

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The Duo in Grand Rapids

While Ms. Yoga was up visiting us, it was not just all for pleasure, she also was up drumming up some business and making new connections, or in the modern parlance, she was networking. Ms. Yoga and my Bride both ended up leaving me high and dry to venture off to Grand Rapids for a two-day trip, as they could both accomplish some business and have some great time to catch up with each other on the commute both ways. They stayed at the Grande Dame of hotels in Grand Rapids, namely the Amway Grand, which is a beautiful hotel in the downtown area. The Amway Grand many years ago added an entire wing to the soaring hotel that it already was, and I prefer to stay in the original wing, if possible, because it has the charm of an older and more genteel times, but they ended up in the new wing, which is so similar to other hotels of the same ilk.

The hotel has had many changes even. from the last time, we were there and that includes the restaurants as well. The two of them had dinner at The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck. Over the years we have dined at several different and divergent restaurants all under the auspices of the famed celebrity chef. I miss the days when the hotel had their own restaurants, as I do enjoy dining in singular restaurants, instead of chains, when possible. The hotel decided that they needed some names to attract new businesses, so they went with Wolfgang Puck and Ruth Chris; and there really is nothing wrong with either, but they are just homogenizing the dining scene across the country. I sometimes feel that I am like John the Baptist out in the wilderness bewailing the loss of individual communities, but I guess I may, because my Armenian first name is named for this Saint. There I go rambling on, but to get back to the duo, they decided to have dinner and they had Pad Thai, which is a dish that my Bride does not get a chance to eat that often, as I am not inclined to dine at most Pan-Asiatic restaurants, and I am not sure if Mr. Puck would be considered an authority on Thai cuisine.

They did have a very interesting wine with their meal and that caught my attention. They were enjoying Domaine de la Terre Rouge Fiddletown Viognier 2014. I am sure that they went with a Viognier wine for the taste and the delightful nose that a great winemaker will deliver. Domaine de la Terre Rouge is an organic winery in Amador County, in the Sierra Foothills of California. They produce about thirty different wines, most with a production of five-hundred cases or less of each wine, so it is a wine that will probably not be found in a corner market. This Viognier was harvested from the Rice-MacDonald Vineyard in the Fiddletown Estate AVA. The wine was fermented in Stainless Steel and then transferred to older French Oak barrels, with a couple of new ones for nuance and aged for about five months. The message I received from my Bride with the accompanying photo was “this was a really good wine!” After dinner, they stopped and had another glass of wine at the bar, and I guess they finished the bottle off, and took the bottle for the unique label for me. Alas, the label is not savable as it is printed directly on the glass, but I now have the cork to commemorate the bottle. I recently wrote about the wine at a tasting that I attended, so I will not get into a discussion about the wine again, but it was Tank Garage Winery Nothing Gold Can Stay Chardonnay 2015 from Napa Valley. All in all, the duo had two great wines for the evening.

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Keeping Up with Ms. Yoga

I have never asked her, but I am sure that Ms. Yoga must have been voted “Miss Popular” in high school. When she is in town, there is just a whirl-wind of activity and she attempts to see everyone on her list, both friends and clients. She can remind one of the “Tasmanian Devil” from the old Looney Toon cartoons that I watch on television as a child, and if they are no longer being shown and you are of a much younger generation, ask someone older for a description (if it is not available on Google or YouTube). I guess the yoga classes gives her boundless energy. She wanted to see some mutual friends and so we were off.

We all climbed into one car and went off to visit the friends at their home. Our mutual friends are retired, but they put out a marvelous spread for us to snack on while we were there. Sometimes a sumptuous table of munchies brought out in a sequence is much more nourishing and enjoyable than a sit-down feast. The flow of food and conversation was at the perfect pace and one cannot ask for more. As a side note, the jumbo shrimp were divine and it took vast amounts of will-power not to devour the entire platter.

We had taken a bottle of JaM Cellars Butter Chardonnay 2015 with us, as this has become one of my Bride’s go-to wines these days, as it is an easy to drink Chardonnay for the price. The wine carries a California AVA designation as the fruit comes from Mendocino County, Santa Barbara County and Clarksburg. It is a commercial bulk wine that has some appeal, and since it is not done in oak barrels for aging, they use oak chips to impart the taste of the oak and the butter taste and texture that one gets from small batch Chardonnay wines. Our hosts brought out a bottle of wine that they wanted me to try, as they know my fondness for wines. We opened up a bottle of Leelanau Cellars Merlot 2012 from the Leelanau Peninsula. Now we had just got back from doing a few tastings up in that area and I was very impressed with the strides and quality that I was tasting in the red wines, as historically I had preferred the whites in the past. This wine confirmed my new thoughts. Leelanau Cellars is one of the older and larger wineries in that area, as they had originally started as a cherry orchard and processing facility and they planted their first batch of vines in 1974, and created their first commercially offered wines in 1977, and they now produce about two-hundred-fifty-thousand cases of wine a year. This particular wine was aged over one year in American oak and easily won nods at the table for its easy drinking flavor. Just another day of fun with Ms. Yoga.

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Bocelli Prosecco

With Ms. Yoga in town, the families got some special time, first with ours and then the next morning with her family. We were going to meet at The Sardine Room, which is in downtown Plymouth and more or less centrally located for everyone. The Sardine Room, is the third restaurant owned by the same family and all the restaurants are right in a row on the main drag, and all three have sidewalk dining areas during the nice season. Of course, with a party of ten, we ended up eating indoors, because of the limited capacity on the sidewalk area. As with all families, messages got garbled in transmission and the restaurant originally had the reservation for eight, and my Bride and I grabbed a high top overlooking the big table and that was going to work out as far as we were concerned. Our waitress who was taking care of our high top, also was taking care of the party of eight and somehow, she commandeered another table to add and we all ended up dining together.

Sometimes when one hears the word brunch, visions of a long buffet table with chafing dish ad infinitum is pictured in one’s mind, or just a fancy word for a sit-down affair with some usual and some not so usual breakfast items; and that day it was the latter. There was quite an array of food being ordered and some of the younger nieces and nephews were in awe of the fanciness of the plating on their orders. My Bride and I had more of a classic selection for breakfast. My Bride had two eggs, bacon, house potatoes and toast. I went one step fancier and had Eggs Benedict with a ham steak, English Muffin, Hollandaise sauce and the house potatoes.

A lot of the people were enjoying the Bloody Mary drinks, which are quite popular for brunch, but my Bride and I went the real classic way and had Mimosas. The brought out a large carafe of Mimosas made at the bar, and I asked our waitress, if I could see the bottle of wine that was being used, expecting to see a popular Charmat Methode California sparkling wine, but instead the sparkling wine was from Italy. The wine used was Bocelli Prosecco Extra Dry NV and this is from a winery that was established in 1730, and currently they have vines on the property that are over seventy years in age. If the name sounds familiar, one of the current Bocelli family members is Andrea, who has made quite a name for himself with his singing, but here is a case where it is not a “celebrity” wine, as the winery predates the celebrity. The Bocelli family spread their winemaking a bit more and started partnering with others in Valdobbiadene-Veneto and starting making Prosecco in 2011. They partnered with Trevisol, who is considered the “first family of Prosecco.” All the wines produced by the Bocelli family are hand-harvested, without irrigation and also without the use of pesticides or chemical agents. The wine is pure Prosecco and has been aged for two months in the bottle and it was a delightful taste change for the Mimosas. The weekend was just made for families this time.

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