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by Fred McMillin
for November 1, 2001

 

The Joy of Booking

 

Prologue

"What wine book should I give as a gift this holiday season?" My students and readers soon will be asking that question. Here are some recommendations.

 

A Beauty For Beginners

In the late summer dusk, as I walk past an ancient vineyard, the fluid purple light plays tricks with my eyes: the stubby old vines look for all the world like they are trying to claw their way out of the stony soil. Thick stumps of wood, they are weathered, twisted, arthritic, their spindly black arms punctuated by tufts of foliage, half disguising clusters of dark-blue grapes...these vines were making wine before my grandfather was born.

Wine is the best convenience food in the world. You don't have to heat it, or mix it with anything, or garnish it, or chop it up.

Growing the best grapes possible has become the major preoccupation of wine producers in the twenty-first century. They're all out there, right now, playing with the soil and vines, chanting the adage "wine is made in the vineyard."

Right now, outside your front door, trillions of microscopic yeast cells are floating through the atmosphere, searching, searching, yearning to pounce on the first molecule of sugar they can find. The clever ones settle on the outside of grapes [and wait for] the release of all that sugary juice.

God I love Chardonnay. No, I mean I really love Chardonnay.

To the wine drinker, Vintage is the most beautiful word in the English language. Vintage sums up all that is most exciting about wine—the fact that, each year, a new grape harvest throughout the globe produces millions of bottles of wine that are different in some way from the millions of bottles that have gone before.

How White Wines Are Made
A gleaming place, a light-filled place, a temple of sparkling stainless steel. Ah, the hygiene, the hygiene.

How Red Wines Are Made
The skin is the thing in red wine. The skins of red grapes [provide] red color, tannins and robust flavors.

The Italian Mob
Italian grape varieties could be the great red hope of interesting wine drinking [with] flavors that don't have anything in common with the dominant grapes like Cabernet.

Conclusion: Life really is far too short to drink bad wine.

Opinion of accomplished author James Halliday: "This is the best first wine book ever written by a new author."

The Book
Red and White, Wine Made Simple, Max Allen, The Wine Appreciation Guild, San Francisco, $25 (with fabulous photos by Adrian Lander)

 

How To Make The World's Greatest Zinfandels


The Original Zins

Only a few decades ago, the first Zinfandels of stature arose from a handful of California wineries. "People began to focus on the '3Rs':Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenblum." and they have not lost their leadership. Wouldn't it be nice to know the policies/philosophies that remain so successful? Well, Cathleen Francisco gives us these answers in her important Zinfandel, A Reference Guide to California Zinfandel.


Rosenblum Cellars ("rows en bloom")

Kent Rosenblum founded the winery in 1978; he's still owner and winemaker.

Rosenblum produces about 15 different Zins a year, some 75% of their total production.

Mountain and older, head-pruned vineyards supply the grapes, which are hand harvested and quickly brought to the winery for crushing. Then, the wine is made with a minimal amount of machinery and manipulation. After aging in French and American oak, the wine often is bottled without fining or filtering.


Ravenswood

Joel Peterson, with business partner W. Reed Foster, founded the winery in 1976. He's still the winemaker (and now, president).

Two thirds of the production is Zinfandel.

Paul Draper

Paul Draper has made the awesome Ridge Zinfandels for decades.

Many of the grapes come from 70 to 100 year old vineyards, which yield low crops of highly concentrated fruit.

The wine is aged in small French oak barrels and then usually bottled without filtering or centrifuging, to avoid loss of flavor.


Ridge Vineyards

Paul Draper was asked to become winemaker of the relatively new winery in 1969. He's still the winemaker (and now, CEO).

Initially Paul worked with some 40 single Zinfandel vineyards, before selecting such now-famous properties as Geyserville (includes 15 acres of 107-year-old Zin) and Lytton Springs (includes 42 acres of 109-year-old Zinfandel).

Paul says "the wine does not require any physical or chemical manipulation." It is aged in air-dried American oak and then bottled.

 

So What's the Secret?

The similarities are striking. These fabulous Zinfandel wineries found an outstanding winegrower who chased down properties with great old vines. Then, don't bruise the grapes or the wine. So that's just an example of what can be learned from this unique examination of California's most widely-planted red wine grape. No Zinfandel fan should leave home without it!

The Book
Zinfandel A Reference Guide to California Zinfandel By Cathleen Francisco, The Wine Appreciation Guild, $25.
Scope—The 373 pages covers over 100 other noteworthy Zin producers, where the variety is grown and why, an outstanding glossary, etc.

 

Watch for the Baron Herzog label.Postscript

Here are some Zins from other wineries in the book that have done well in our tastings. The highest-scoring wine is listed last.

8th—Gundlach-Bundschu '98 Sonoma Valley, p. 120
7th—Folie à Deux '98 Harvey Vineyard, p. 99
6th—Baron Herzog, '99, Lodi, p. 19
5th—Pedroncelli, '97, Dry Creek Valley, p. 198
4th—Haywood, '97, Los Chamiza Vineyard, p. 125
3rd—Sobon Family, '97, Amador County, p. 285
2nd—Dry Creek Vineyards, '99, Heritage Clone, p. 66
1st—Beaulieu, '99, Signet Collection, p. 21

Too Late for Review

The most striking wine volume I've seen this year...the world's 159 wine regions...912 pages...37 authors...magnificent photos...The Global Encyclopedia of Wine.

Whadda gift! For outlets, call Bryan, (800) 231-9463.

 
 

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.

 


 
 

This page created November 2001

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