Spring is here and I’m feeling renewed, refreshed and thirsty. Apple trees are blossoming. The poppies are vibrant. The roses are soaking in the sunshine and much needed rain. Bottles of wine have magically appeared at my doorstep and I have discovered a few gems.
Hey! That’s an Iris…ok you can stay.
Before you envy me and my lavish lifestyle as a cheap wine aficionado, take note, this is hard work, especially for my palate. Waaa waa waa, poor me. No seriously, there is a special place in hell for cheap wine reviewers. You get a pauper’s ransom in cheap ass wine. Some is brutal swill. To be more truthful, most are blech! 98% of all the wines I recommend are ones I’ve precariously selected and bought myself. But when I receive a sample from a winemaker that is delish, well, hey ho, it’s payday. Oh yeah, I only get paid in wine, good or bad.
EVERYDAY A BEACH DAY…
MARTIN CÓDAX 2014 RIAS BAIXAS ALBARIÑO, SPAIN $15
Everyday feels like beach day when sipping on Albariño. This wine is perfect paired with scallops, prawns, garlicky shrimp. Bright, citrus, lemony with a crisp, even, dry finish, this delightful wine will finish your last bite of wood plank grilled salmon perfectly. And for that, I rate this wine a buy again!
I was rather impressed and the winemaker, Katia Alvarez sent a lovely note about her vintage. Founded more than 25 years ago by 50 local farmers in the Galica region of northwest Spain, today Martin Códax is now supported by more than 550 families and cooperatives. The winery is located in the historic city of Cambados in the heart of the Salnés Valley and the birthplace of Albariño. Coastal wet climate, steep grades, and granitic vineyards make this grape produce aromatic and medium bodied wines. In ancient times, the trade of shells from the harvests of the sea were deposited throughout the coastal regions. The shell deposits can still be found in the vineyards today and the calcium brings a perfect balance of pH to the soil.
Fun fact: Martin Codax, the character who this winery is named after, was one of the most important medieval Galician troubadours. His ballads, the oldest in Galician-Portuguese, extol his love and passion for the sea. Hey, you had me at garlicky shrimp.
WINE SO GOOD, I FORGOT TO TAKE A PICTURE…SO I FOUND SOME FOR YOU. GHOST PINES 2013 PINOT NOIR, 37% SONOMA & 63% MONTEREY COUNTY $23 GHOST PINES 2014 ZINFANDEL, 30% SONOMA, 66% SAN JOAQUIN, 4% LAKE COUNTY $20
Well, what can I say, I forgot to shoot this wine because I was enjoying it to the point of utter dereliction. Riveted to the telly watching the fireworks of the US presidential elections can throw anyone off their game, but fortunately for me, I had this bottle as consolation. My appreciation to the winemaker and fellow Sonoman Aaron Piotter.
The name is intriguing, it is a poetic reference to the Gray Pines dotting the Northern California coastal hillsides. The marine layer can look ominous and obscure the fauna and flora. Hence, the “Ghost Pine.” While driving along windy coastal roads, hapless wildlife can be veiled by the fog as well, but obviously road kill “Ghost Squirrel” is not an appealing name for a fine Pinot Noir. But he’s out there…
First bottle, the Pinot Noir…rated: buy again. Cool ocean breezes and blankets of fog consumed gradually by sunshine are the desirable conditions for Pinot Noir. Both Monterey and Sonoma coasts provide the cool loving environment these grapes require to bring forth the bright flavors and acidic lift that a Pinotfile like myself expects. What I found interesting about this wine was the boldness and intense fruit. Ripe red cherry, pomegranate and lavender with a medium body, baking spice and cocoa finish – a very nice surprise.
Secondi, the Zinfandel rated: guestworthy. The tech sheet on this wine opened with “Ghost Pines knows no boundaries…” well, ok now….easy does it! My readers may be winos, but they are respectable budget conscious people. Possibly God-fearing but likely agnostic.
Well, what my very close future friend Aaron was actually referring to was their focus on the fruit. They look for quality lots in various vineyards and secure the best fruit regardless of AVA. What this has done is create layers and complexities that play to each regions strengths leading to unique flavors and profiles. Although this Zinfandel had the classic profile – bold fruit, jammy, ripe berry with some toasty oak – it also had lovely layered flavors of strawberry, spices and pepper with a long lush finish. I took this bottle of Zin to a dinner with friends at The Fig Cafe in Glenn Ellen. A local favorite, they famously offer fabulous courses with no corkage. Although bold, this Zin paired perfectly with the fig arrugula salad with chevre, pecans and pancetta drizzled with a port and fig vinaigrette. Even better, my fancy friends were impressed. Mon dieu! One of them was French. When asked where I got this wine of course I told him it magically appeared on my doorstep.
Easter is coming, Easter is coming! Hurry, stock up on wine, chocolate eggs, ham, millinery and wine. And after you dust the mantle, press the table linens and polish the silver, go ahead and buy even more wine. Every good Christian, not in recovery, needs plenty of after church lubrication. Depending on the the brunch, lunch or dinner you will be giving or receiving, quantity of wine is highly variable, but for God’s sake, don’t run out. Whatever the event, remember, Jesus is the reason for yet another season, so let’s raise a glass of his finest juice. Alleluia!
I found the perfect Cava for this Eastover (Easter+Passover.) Although, the occasion of this wine’s discovery was during a lunch that followed an ominous birthday outing at Sonoma Traintown. More on that later.
Cava can be priced at a 1/4 of the price for Champagne and better sparkling wines. Cavas are refreshingly dry and crisp. Who can resist a burst of earth, sun and the espirito de España with their roasted pork, potatoes au gratin, rich buttery fish or as an apertivo with Marcona almonds, Manchego cheese accompanied with slices of crisp green apples and honey. Yuuuuum. Excuse me while I take a fridge break.
Ok, I’m back.
NV M. Chevallier Carte Noire Methode Traditionelle Brut Cava $6
The sparkler I have road tested for you today is a Cava I acquired at Trader Joe’s. M. Chevalier was well situated amongst the masses of value wines. Lovely, classic label, easy to find and priced just right. There was incipient potential.
The occasion was my sister’s father-in-law’s 72nd birthday. We arranged a visit to Sonoma Traintown* with the raucous brood of grand kiddies and a requisite pizza party après voyage. My sister’s father-in-law, a retired DDS and self proclaimed wineaux, is now officially my drinking buddy at family gatherings. In his honor, I decided to break out the cheap stuff. M. Chevalier was the perfect libation to celebrate not only his birthday, but our aplomb at search and rescue. After the retrieval of a grand daughter from the duck pond and the end to a frantic 15 minute search for a missing grandson (found oogling toys in the gift shop of his own volition,) it had been a lovely day without an Amber Alert, but my nerves were eviscerated. My only respite was shoving pizza in my face while drinking bottles of bubbly in a completely fenced-in back yard sans livestock and naturally or artificially occurring bodies of water. We all needed to let off some steam. And good news! This wine made me want to sound the horn. Chooo chooooooo.
The nose was faint, but the first sip was delightful, crisp green apple, a hint of brioche, a smooth nutty finish with a lovely minerailty. Cavas can have a bitter finish, hence, they are often not at the top of my bubbly list, although their price points are in my repertoire. Nice effervescence that was great for cooling the engines and sparking vibrant family debate about historical revisionism of our childhood memories. To each his own version of that harrowing trip to the Grand Canyon.
This wine was a delight and very guest worthy as the septuagenarian birthday boy loved it too. He noted it was not complex and although a rather mild wine, it still held his interest. This wine will pair as well with your Easter or Pasover feast as it paired with my peperroni pizza at the end of a ride on the “crazy train.” Music please….
*Sonoma Traintown is a fabulous getaway for the family. Reasonably priced and surrounded by delicious restaurants, vineyards and gorgeous scenery. My characterization is based solely on my personal angst about visiting amusement parks with throngs of small reckless children and insouciant senior citizens. Traintown can be very crowded on weekends during high season. If you have the luxury of visiting on a weekday, it is a sheer delight. Be forewarned about visiting the gift shop with your children – you may risk embarrassing fits of extortion if you don’t make a purchase.
Golly! Is it really Thanksgiving time already? I just got out of recovery from Halloweek and without missing a beat, we are off planning the big Turkey trot. I have never hosted more than a Taco Tuesday but have logged many hours assisting a hapless host on this most notorious of American holidays. Hosting is a performing art typically reserved for the patriarch &/or matriarch of the family. When not in the homeland, the stage is kindly set by a friend who has a few extra seats at their folding table and a tolerant extended family too enthralled with football to succumb to social awkwardness. Ahhhh, the memories. And when the police have left to have dinner with their own families, and the dishes are dried, the pie put away and bail has been posted for that gregarious uncle who got a little carried away, we tuck ourselves in for the night and give thanks for the wine that got us through it.
This holiday you will be tasked with making wine selections for an array of occasions. Hostess gift, friendly gathering, family affairs, work events and after parties of one. Sure, sure, sure. Who wants to look gauche by bringing cheap wine to a party – the horror! Then again, who realistically can serve unlimited bottles of fine vintages for hundreds of guests other than your wealthy relatives – actually, they won’t be either.
Cheap is chic! Living well doesn’t mean living expensively. Sharing those special splurgy vintages with winos who can appreciate it is much different than ensuring your Great Aunt Helen enjoys that glass of quaffable red that puts some color in her cheeks. And if the hostess is a snob, then rise to the occasion and bring a respectable wine, but I don’t know a wino who doesn’t appreciate a good tip and a smart deal every now and then. Hey, every bottle does not find a place in the cellar, they often end up at the next party or in the fridge….yes even the reds!
After 6 months of mining the bottom two shelves for the most delightful of deals, I present my 2014 top 10 wines under $10 USD. I urge you to let me know if I’m full of giblets. If you violently disagree with any of these selections, please pipe up. I am not perfect and sometimes I’m swept away by the “conviviality” of the tasting. My first and foremost objective is to provide good guidance. Mistakes happen and when they do, better it be a value wine than a $78 bottle-o-fancy like the one I bought a few months ago. Oh, boy, was that a party.
My fave! These guys sell a tonnage of this wine in Texas at HEB – the number one red wine sold currently. I love this wine because, every time I decant it, the flavor changes and is so smooth, enjoyable and guest love it. They ALWAYS comment on how good the wine is – this is red wine crack for guests. It is on the fruit forward side for those winos with a rarefied palate, but let me tell you, me likey and can’t image a dish (other than fish) that this would not complement. I would even venture to serve this with a rich chocolate dessert – outstanding!
I’m finding that this brand hits it outta the park with its other varietals as well, so I’m gonna give them props for getting it right and making a red jammy whammy that pairs well with turkey smothered in rich gravy with a italian sausage stuffing. I think this would be great with lamb and any gamey flavorful meats. Prime rib would be a match made in heaven.
I have bought this wine now 3x and enjoyed it more than I should.Crisp, not grassy like other NZ Sauvs and very citrusy acid without a trace of a sour aftertaste – eeeew – hate that. Pairs well with a turkey left over sandwich on sourdough, aioli, pepper, butter lettuce, tomato and let’s throw in a piece o’bacon for good measure.
Oh, so delicate, delightful, it takes me to Provence. Not much more to say. Perfect for those guest ambivalent about white or red and want something light to complement their meal, not take over the show. The lightly roasted brussels sprouts will love this co-star as well as the harcourt verts and cauliflower au gratin.
The bold richness of this wine will definitely pair nicely with the heartier foods on the table. Cheesy potatoes au gratin, crusty olive loaf bread and onion tartes. Turkey lovers will enjoy the mingling flavors when this is paired with buttery mashed potatoes and rich brown turkey gravy.
I think this Merlot is a great starter wine to get the appetite going. Serve this with hors d’oeuvres, olives, bold cheeses, charcuterie and mon rêve: a creamy, dreamy Emmental and Gruyère fondue – ahhhh go big or go home.
For those guests who want white wine, this is a crisp but hearty white that helps keep the palate cleansed between bites and finishes nicely with roasted potatoes and veggies drizzled with butter, spices and a little balsamic. Perfect match for asparagus and hollandaise.
A shockingly good Cab whose price per bottle is less than a latte. Easy drinking once it breathes for an hour and lovely paired with a bite of turkey and cranberry sauce. The fruit and the tannic spice will enhance the succulent flavors and spices of your Thanksgiving dinner.
A lighter red that will pleasantly build on the flavors of rich gravy, buttery potatoes and savory dressing. This wine will cut the richness and finish strong without an overwhelming boldness.
Most of these wines are widely available at Safeway, Von’s, TraderJoe’s, WholeFoods and various national grocery chains. If you must search further, I suggest going to WineSearcher.com which is a great resource for finding wines in your hood.
This is the final installment of my wine education trilogy at Blogdramedy. It is a brain dump from my illustrious visit to Champagne, France. Ahhhhh, memories, I hope you enjoy the tiny bubbles of knowlege as much as I did acquiring them. This is a trip one must make at least once in your life, if only to be the envy of all the mothers at your son’s fancy pants nursery school – ha. ha. ha. ha. In all seriousness, it was an incredible trip and one that taught me the true passion, artistry, tradition, and science that makes one of the most celebrated spirits what it has been for centuries. To this day, I marvel at how jealously guarded the brand “Champagne” has been by the region and how incredibly smart of them to be such jerks about it – seriously – they are fully entitled to the name and what it represents. Cross the line and you will be served something other than bubbles. Voila!
It was truly an expensive honor to have the credit card maxxing opportunity to enjoy what this region has to offer. I am now well prepared to get back to the business of reviewing $10+under wines people – for a long, long, long, long time! Bloody hell.
The Comtesse du Cheapeaux
It is with great pride I share my very first video post – the first of many near-masterpieces to come! If you had the pleasure of experiencing my prior VideoPress technical difficulties, I deeply apologize. I know my very public pleas to the WP support team were uncomfortable for all of us. Well, the issue was resolved after I called Uncle Dick – he’s from the Cheney side of the family, very very very distant cousins, but none the less, helpful in a pinch. So magically my video post worked unexplainably, but if there are WP execs on an extended leave to Guantanamo Bay, I hope they are enjoying the ocean breeze, cigars and water sports. With a humiliating spectacle behind us, I send my deepest appreciation to all who choose to read my posts. I know you have a multitude of options for your viewing pleasure and I value your patronage…if you would like to see my desperate cries for help on the WP support forum click this . With out further adieu – here’s to a day in the office on a Malbec safari!
( Video is best viewed NOT through a Safari browser.)
2012 Castle Rock, Cuvée Pinot Noir, CA (cellared and bottled in St. Helena)
I am always scared to taste a Pinot Noir under $10. Why? Because a good Pinot under $10 cannot be done. Can-not! No way. No. Not ever. Never. Well you know what they say about saying never. Never.
Wincing, I opened the bottle. My victim that day was a local chef and presumably someone who would unfriend me for exposing him to this swill. I prefaced my tasting with apologies and gratitude for his bravery. We uncorked, poured and the rest is surprising. We are still friends.
It smelled like a Pinot to me, fresh, light, young, with notes of cherry and hibicus. First sip was peppery, baking spices, dark fruit, currant, medium bodied and very mild tannins with a pleasant woody finish. Very drinkable. Wow, what a delight. I have yet to meet a Pinot for this price point that I could take home to momma – this passed the sniff & sip test…with flying colors.
Who is Castle Rock? I like to research the makers of these fine wines of “Cheapeaux” and often you find a barrel load of corporate drivel laced with fabrications about growers, makers and wineries you will never visit because they in a warehouse in Commerce, California. Ok, I am verging on snobby which is not my style, but let’s keep it 100. How is it possible for these wines to be priced so freakin cheap? Yes, we have all heard the machinations about Two Buck Chuck consisting of high percentages of gopher guts and pesticides (my friends at Trader Joe’s HQ vehemently deny these rumors and I believe them.) But when a wine is actually good and as guest worthy as this one, I’d like to understand how they pulled it off. I mean, bravo, they actually made a ridiculously cheap bottle of wine truly enjoyable.
Moreover, Castle Rock wines are widely available. I believe this one was acquired at a Safeway. So after poking around, I discovered they offer wines from Napa/Sonoma in California, Willamette Valley, Oregon, and Columbia Valley, Washington but they are HQ in Rancho Palos Verdes in Southern California. What exactly does “bottled and cellared in St. Helena” mean anyways? The plot thickens. Go to the source – their website. Ah-ha – this is how they do it.
Well, I like a straight shooter, especially when it’s about what’s going in my Riedels. Moreover, their wines have won several awards of distinction, this 2012 Pinot Noir was awarded a double gold medal and 92 pts from the SF Chronicle Wine Competition. Oh-la-la! Pas mal.
Adding further confidence, their wine makers/growers are both very established and respected in Washington and California. Greg Powers was recognized as a “Rising Star” by Wine Spectator and as one of the “50 Great U.S. Cabernet Producers” by Wine Enthusiast. He started his esteemed career very young by helping his father plant 80 acres of grapes on the family vineyard, Badger Mountain in the Columbia Valley which under his supervision, transitioned the farming from conventional to organic. The California grower and maker, Vic Roberts, is the owner and winemaker at Victor Hugo Vineyards and Winery in the heart of California’s Paso Robles wine country. In 1985 he pursued his dream of being a wine maker by planting 15 acres of grapes on his property which now stands at 78 acres, with the winery located in a picturesque, recently renovated 100 year old barn.
I believe the care and expertise that is put into these widely distributed value wines is fascinating and obviously yields impressive results. This is the dawning of the era of good cheap wine in the US. With producers like Castle Rock, I look forward to trying more….although I cannot guarantee I won’t wince before the first sip.
2012 Grifone Primitivo, Puglia, Italy, from old growth Zinfandel $3.99
Wowza! Just when everyone was losing faith in my crusade to uncover the best wines under $10 – Eureka! I think we struck gold.
My checkered past…
Let’s go in the way-back-machine to about 30 days ago….I was hitting rock bottom, I could not respectably review the wines I was tasting, those bottles will remain nameless but for all intents and purposes, let’s refer to those wines as shite.
A prior post recounted the events that led to the Tepranillo-Gate scandal. I was nearly impeached from cheap wine forever and I believe there were dark forces at work against me. There was a conspiracy behind that unfortunate event, alas alack, there is no point troweling through the past when the future is before us. In this instance, a cheap and cheerful Primativo.
Primitivo or Zinfandel: are they cousins, siblings, identical twins?
Primitivo is a descendant of the rare Croatian varietal Crljenak (pronounce that!) There is plenty of discussion about the differences and similarities of Primitivo and Zinfandel. The latter is often defined as the exact replica of the Crlienak while Primitivo is defined as being a clone. The difference? I’ll have to get into that in another post but you can do a deeper dive here. Read the debates online and decide for yourself, but when planted next to each other the variance is noticeable in size, bunch density and color. What’s the big deal? About $10-$20 in price. Primitivo is sold typically at a value between $10-$15 while Zins can be twice as much. Unlike Europe, U.S. labeling laws don’t allow the names of the two varietals to be used interchangeably. Hmmmm. Market forces at work.
Well I notice a difference and maybe it’s wine stye, but the Puglian Primitivos, although intense in flavor, seem lighter in body, more refreshing (a touch chilled with a wedge of juicy orange – Mwah!) with a pleasant Italian bitterness in the finish that lends itself to the grape’s unique complexity. Zinfandels are jammier, fruit forward and I find them heartier, more body, tastes like California sunshine with a coastal breeze to me. This variance could be due to the propensity for Primitivos to ripen earlier (hence the name which means “early one”) which produces a younger tasting wine high in alcohol and tannins, which can mellow with age.
Without further adieu, I proudly present my latest discovery of undeniable significance…ecco qui:
2012 Grifone Primitivo, Puglia Italy $3.99
This wine was rather delightful. Color in the glass is rich garnet like pomegranate juice. Nose is dark cherry, some light spice. First sip, mmmmmm, juicy rhubarb, rose petal, very smooth, rich, strong yet balanced tannins and a finish that departs as soon as you want another sip. Very enjoyable and also flexible for various food pairings. Will go great with stronger flavors like BBQ, venison and will complement richer fattier delights like foie gras or a densely marbled Kobe. If you were pairing wines for 4 courses, this would be best served with the main course. I actually believe this is caseworthy as it will only get better with time. Dude! Do the math, only $48.00 a case? That’s the price of ONE splurgy bottle of Zin…OMG! No me digas! Sacré bleu! Exclamation exclamation.
Upon my second foray in this friendly competition, I have experienced a wine blogger community that is a knowledgeable and encouraging group of bon vivants. I have been fortunate to personally engage with several influential and talented wine writers and I am grateful for the acquaintance. I see the camaraderie and overall good will amongst these colleagues and I hope one day to be friends with all of them. Kudos to @Dracaenawines for last month’s well earned win and for providing a great theme for this month’s challenge – a theme that describes a virtue they have afforded me – friendship!
Nothing is more heartfelt than a friendship that endures through the highs and lows of life. May sound trite, but it is truly when you know who is really a friend. Prior to this challenge, I became intrigued by a historic friendship that embodies this principle. This is a friendship of legend that is rooted in rebellion, revelry, wine and phylloxera.
I came across this story (the research was inspired by @Fiery01Red review of Wolfersheim’s Wisconsin wine) while thumbing through a tourist guide on the history of Sonoma, CA at a local bookstore – remember those places? During my perusal, I learned more about the friendship between General Mariano Vallejo, one of the founding fathers of California and Count Agoston Haraszthy, the father of California Viticulture (many scholars have challenged this claim but let’s go with the romance of the Haraszthy legend.) Although not much is written about this friendship other than the eventual melding of the families, I can only imagine as neighbors, land owners, pioneers, and winemakers these two men shared many interests in business, leisure and grooming.
Both men where charismatic, courageous, and enterprising. If I had to contrast the noble Gen. Vallejo and the flamboyant Count Haraszthy you could characterize the General as a leader in every sense of the word and the Count as a visionary dreamer. Although both were powerful brilliant men, the contrast in their personas was stark. In a modern context you could compare them to the famous duos Ethel and Lucy, Mick and Keith, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Miles & Jack and so on…I have yet to find the perfect example, but you get my point. One pragmatic, the other audacious, both equally irrepressible.
Gen. Vallejo was born and raised in California. The son of a Mexican army sergeant assigned to the presidio in Monterey, Vallejo was destined to follow his father’s military career. After completing an education provided by an English merchant who tutored and employed him, Vallejo was well educated and immediately recognized as a born leader. He rose through the ranks quickly becoming the Commandant General of Mexican California by the age of 29. Vallejo and his brother Salvador, an accomplished field officer, served together successfully in several campaigns against the indian tribes of Alta California. Mariano was a skillful military strategist and although he fought against the indians he was also able to engender trust with tribal leaders. His ability to build alliances with the indians proved successful in the constant fight against other waring tribes, illegal immigrants from the US and Russian colonists. Together they secured the territory for Mexico and were generously rewarded by the Mexican government. Thousands of acres in Sonoma and Napa were given to the brothers to farm and ranch.
Estrangement from the Federal Government of Mexico and the growing presence of US interests with the gold rush, Vallejo recognized the benefits of alignment with the United States. Vallejo used his political graces to persuade other wealthy Californios, ranchers, farmers and land holders of Mexican nationality, to support the US annexation. In June 1846, a month after the start of the Mexican-American war, US settlers in Sonoma concerned about the threat of deportation, captured General Vallejo in what is known as the Bear Flag Revolt. Vallejo was by this time sympathetic to the cause. He was a successful rancher and land owner, selling hundreds of acres to the very people who were in revolt. When the posse knocked on the door of the General’s Casa Grande, he invited the leaders in to discuss the confrontation. As hours passed, the circling crowd became concerned, only to find that Vallejo had opened his wine cellar to the rebels to help facilitate “negotiations.” Sadly, Vallejo was imprisoned but not for long as the US forces acknowledged his allegiance to the US and his role in a successful resolution to the Mexican-American war.
In addition to his other holdings, Vallejo had a vineyard that produced enough wine and grapes to amount to an annual income of $20,000. Many of his grapes were from the root stock of the padres who founded the missions in California wherein they planted “mission” grapes to make wine for their sacrament. These same vines provided the first cuttings to start the Napa vineyards of George Yount, who Vallejo employed as a carpenter.
In 1840, Angoston Haraszthy [AG-goo-stawn HAH-rahs-th’ee] came to the United States and was the first person of Hungarian descent to settle in the US. A flamboyant character who came from European nobility, references to him would vacillate between Count or Colonel Haraszthy. I suspect his title was a matter of convenience – when out East, an air of European aristocracy was to his benefit but when out West, the pioneers took more kindly to someone of military rank vs. class ascension. Regardless, America was the land of opportunity and this fueled the Count/Colonel’s enterprising ambitions. His accomplishments were quite industrious. Upon coming to the new world, he first landed in Wisconsin where he planted a vineyard that is still in existence today called Wollersheim Winery. He also owned and operated a passenger steam boat that traversed the Mississippi.
Health issues and word of the gold rush drove Haraszthy and his family to leave Wisconsin and set out for California. Most Western pioneers dreamt of gold, Haraszthy dreamt of establishing a vineyard and benefitting from the surrounding economic boom. He and his family settled in San Diego where he planted fruit orchards, operated a livery stable, a stagecoach line, opened a butcher shop, organized a syndicate to subdivide a large section of the San Diego Bay shore into streets, parks, and building lots, imported grape vines by mail, planted a vineyard, was elected sheriff, served as city marshal and as a private contractor, he built a jail for the city of San Diego, which was completed in 1851 – but not with out controversy over the jail’s effectiveness to contain its inmates (for a juicy tid-bit click here.)
Upon being elected to the California State Assembly as a representative of San Diego, Haraszthy was drawn to the San Francisco Bay Area. He purchased land and tried to plant grapes on the peninsula, but it was too foggy and the crops were unsuccessful. While representing San Diego in the state legislature in 1852, he met General Vallejo who was a state senator. Vallejo invited Haraszthy to visit him in Sonoma and with that, the legendary friendship began. In 1856 Haraszthy purchased property from Vallejo’s brother Salvador in Sonoma and named the land Buena Vista (The Buena Vista Winery and the Bartholomew Park Winery have beautifully preserved this land and continued to produce fine wines.) Upon arrival to Sonoma, Agoston and General Vallejo soon became very good friends. They were both brilliant, accomplished men passionate about family and wine. They had a friendly competition and both won awards for their wines in the agricultural fairs of the time.
Not only did these two men get on famously, so did their children. On June 1st in 1863, Attilla Haraszthy, 28, and Natalia Vallejo, 25, as well as Arpad Haraszthy, 23 and Jovita Vallejo, 19 were married in a double wedding. (Buena Vista Winery recreated the event upon the 150th wedding anniversary and @CulinaryGadbout was an attendee. Click here to read her account of it)
Haraszthy, always enterprising, soon became acquainted with a group of Hungarian metallurgist lured by the gold rush. Together they started the Eureka Gold and Silver Refinery. He was soon the first California assayer for a branch of the US Mint in San Francisco. All was going well until $150,000 of gold went missing and between 1857 and 1861 Haraszthy battled a criminal and civil case that he was ultimately exonerated of all charges as they were able to prove that shrinkage occurs during the refining process – the missing gold had gone up in smoke.
I’m certain Haraszthy sought peace in the vineyards from the issues that plagued him. I can imagine that the kindly and wise Vallejo was a good friend, confidant and drinking buddy. Throughout this ordeal, Haraszthy was able to start the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society and focus on building a stone winery with cave cellars like the ones he knew well in Europe. Built mostly by Chinese laborers, the cave cellars were carved into the hillside and the surrounding buildings built with the stones that were quarried. (Sadly the Chinese didn’t stick around to contribute to the Asian cuisine of the immediate area.) He hired Charles Krug to be his winemaker and voila, the start of the California wine industry! The facility he built can still be visited today at the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma. At the time, it was proclaimed to be the largest commercial winery in the US.
In 1858 Haraszthy wrote the “Report on Grapes and Wine of California,” which is considered the first treatise on traditional European winemaking practices in the United States. In 1861 Haraszthy was appointed by the California Governor to be a commissioner on the agricultural advancements of grape growing. Under this charge, he decided to make a fateful trip to Europe to investigate the best European vine-planting and winemaking practices. He traveled through France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain and upon his return in December 1861, Haraszthy had more than 100,000 cuttings of over 350 different varieties of vines.
Haraszthy intentions to sell the cuttings to the state were dashed when the state refused to purchase them. He was left with the cuttings and all the expenses that were incurred. What to do? He started to distribute the cutting throughout the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. He promoted and implemented the agricultural practice of layering wherein an existing vine develops root stock from one of it’s attached branches. It allows faster propagation of new vines but can leave a crop more vulnerable to infection.
Haraszthy’s management of the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society was both visionary and cavalier. He borrowed heavily against the property to continue it’s expansion. Shareholders were critical about his business practices. There was a scandal about the misappropriation of funds and the importation of molasses to make brandy. As controversy again swirled, he was able to keep the plates spinning in the air until phylloxera hit.
Mid 1860’s, the vines at Buena Vista were growing brown. Haraszthy’s critics believed this was due to layering, but in fact it was the first infestation of phylloxera ever known in California. This nasty root louse was non-existent before making an appearance in Sonoma. In subsequent years, phylloxera nearly destroyed all the vineyards in California. It even crossed the Atlantic to Europe, where it also devastated crops in France.
Various indiscretions, misfortune and now infestation of his vines led to intense struggles for Haraszthy that continued until he had to claim bankruptcy and was forced from his beloved Buena Vista. His son Arpad remained in the industry and continued to grow grapes, but soon his entire crop but one surviving vine was gone as well.
Another controversy, another frontier. Seeking to rebuild his fortunes, Haraszthy went to Nicaragua in 1868 to plant sugar cane and make rum. On July 6, 1869 it is suspected that while crossing a crocodile-infested river via a tree used as a bridge, he slipped and fell into the water, and as the legend concludes, he was consumed by a crocodile.
Vallejo, died in his 80’s peacefully on his estate, Lachmyra Montis, in Sonoma with his family around him. He too faced some serious financial set-backs leaving his finances a pittance to the wealth he enjoyed throughout his life. But I believe a life well loved is a life well led and by all accounts these two friends, through their conquests and failings, made the most significant US contributions to the wine culture we enjoy today.
March 2007, the Culinary Institute of America inducted Angoston Haraszthy into the Vintners Hall of Fame. Seventy wine journalists cast ballots honoring him for his contribution to the development of the California wine industry. The award was accepted with honor by his great-great grandson, Vallejo Haraszthy.
For more reading pleasure I must credit and provide links to the following sources:
So there I was, tapping away at the keyboard, enjoying my new-found self-appointed career as a food and wine journalist dreaming up idea after idea of posts to like, retweet, memes to create, memes to share, people to poke, chats to follow, inside jokes to make, hashtags to use…you know the typical stuff one does when one doesn’t really want to earn a living. Then startlingly I received one, possibly my first ever, guest comment on my blog from someone at McCue Communications.Mon Dieu!
She wanted me to give her my information so she could send me some wines to try. They were actually going to send me wine? Huh? What’s the catch? Ah ha….so that’s what this is all about. This was a similar epiphany to the day I realized that golf was more about betting money and drinking beer with the “fellas” than it was about golf. I gave up golf too soon to fully partake. Quelle dommage.
Being accustomed to buying and reviewing wines of my own volition, I was concerned about my freedom to express an opinion untethered by wine sent gratis. What do I do if they, ahem, are not so good? Luckily, the Arrogant Frog wines by Domaine Paul Mas made my job much easier and euphemistic free. Moreover, I had the pleasure of tasting with other wine writers I deeply admire including Sir Jeff Siegel winecurmudgeon.com, Michelle Williams rockinredblog.com and Beth Smith travelingwinechick.com – who happens to be my neighbor so we made a lunch date.
The Humble Wine Maker
It was a privilege to partake in the virtual tasting with fourth-generation vintner Jean-Claude Mas to learn about his latest value vintages. His family has led premium winemaking in the Languedoc region from their centuries-old estate since 1892 and when M. Mas took the reins in 2000, he dedicated his wine making practices to preserving the land and the beauty of Languedoc. In 10 years, he plans to transition all 8 of his family wineries into organic vineyards that employ natural farming principles through the use of the latest technology. This has already reduced the need for pesticides and other chemical based agricultural practices that can harm the natural balance. “We must preserve the beauty of Languedoc, and feed the Earth with nutrients in the way nature intended. The use of chemicals for the past 50 years has stressed the vines and now we need to use technology to bring us back.” In summary, it is about making old world wines with new world attitude. C’est tout!
7 Things that I learned about the Jean-Claude Mas philosophy:
1. He prefers new American Oak to French Oak – definitely a new world attitude.
2. He believes advancements in agricultural technology will replace the need for chemicals – hooray!
3. He believes a vacuum wine stopper is “utter stupidity” – good to know.
4. The Frog on the front of the bottle is the “humble wine maker” – I chose to name him Hubert de Vin-chy.
5. He likes Stelvin screw caps for white wines and cork for red. (pro vs. con see this post on bauduc blog)
6. He believes all his wines taste even better after 24hrs. I agree.
7. His style of wine making is not aggressive but soft due to the ripeness of the grapes in the South of France.
Now on to the wines…
Arrogant Frog 2013 Sauvignon Blanc $10
The first thing I detected in the nose was lemon and grass. First sip is crisp, citrus and bright – reminded me of a New Zealand Sauv Blanc vs. the California Sauv Blancs I enjoy at this price point which can be more fruit forward. I enjoyed this wine and found it had a nice bright mild acidity and a smooth finish that was a touch buttery. It was very enjoyable. For $10 at retail, it would be a challenge to find a wine of this quality for a better price – I’d buy it again. I’m about to harvest my peach trees in a couple of weeks so I think this will pair perfectly with some grilled peaches and a cheese board of aged cheddar, gouda and a Humboldt Fog.
Arrogant Frog 2013 Pinot Noir $10
The color was dark garnet with a red-brown halo, which was unusual to me. There was a comment made about this being a “refreshing” Pinot Noir. As it was a warm climate Pinot, when slightly chilled, one can appreciate the delicate flavors of cherry and very light oak. Due to the warm climate in Languedoc, the Pinot grapes mature fast, unlike classic Pinots (like on the Sonoma Coast) that mature slowly. M. Mas explained that he takes great care in deciding where these grapes are planted to ensure the best result, although he did admit, this Pinot was unlike most typical Pinots. I found it very unexpected. I let it open up the next day and albeit pleasant, it was not necessarily the right flavor profile for this Pinofile. I would say it was respectably drinkable and it was fantastic the next day for braising chicken with tomatoes and peppers picked from my garden in my Le Crueset for hours and hours and hours – delish! What little wine there was left, did sip nicely with the meal.
Arrogant Frog 2013 Chardonnay $10
The nose was immediately and undeniably pineapple. First sip was lemony with a light oak finish – 25% of this wine was aged in Oak which contributed to the lactic character on the mouth which is the toasty flavor the oak expresses through the wine – some refer to this as creme brûlée. I enjoyed this wine and it was an outstanding value for $10. This Chardonnay was aged in American Oak which was quite intriguing to me. When I asked what the difference was between American and French Oak M. Mas explained that the American oak gives more lactone resulting in more toasty vanilla notes than the French oak which is more subtle. When the oak is very dry, it does not dominate the character of the wine. (Note to self, more wine knowledge to be had in the procurement, aging and use of oak in the wine making process. I found a succinct post on thekitchn.com about French vs. American Oak) In Mediterranean made wines, the American oak is preferred as it lets the wine breathe less and is better when aging very ripe grapes. As M. Mas explains “in Languedoc we can pick the grapes when we want, not when we can. Think about that…” I think this Chardonnay is a delight. An everyday luxury I would buy again.
Arrogant Frog 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (55%) Merlot (45%) $10
Nose is blackberry, blueberry, dark fruit. First sip is spicy, cocoa, vanilla, coconut and raspberry. Nicely complex and toasty from the US Oak. Soft, round not aggressive and very refined tannins and acidity. This wine is excellent with dessert, especially chocolate! Rich and bold, this wine could easily pass for a $40 bottle of wine. When asked about how the cocoa flavor was achieved, M. Mas answered it was from the ripe fruit and the American Oak. This wine is a buy again. I don’t want this wine, I need it!