It’s getting late – not in the day but in the year – and I’m catching up with some of the bottles sitting empty around my place.
Winter came late for western Colorado. A couple of weeks ago it still was 50 degrees in mid-afternoon but that changed just in time for a white Christmas. As I write this, there is light snow and 11 degrees headed south to around zero.
Which means I’m looking for something a bit stouter than pinot grigio to put in my class. Not that I have anything against pinot gris/grigio; it’s a great summer/fall wine.
But it’s obviously not summer.
I recently received a some samples from Michael David Winery, the Lodi, Cal. winery named after brothers Michael J. and David J. Phillips. The Phillips family farm dates to the 1860s according to the winery website, and while it mostly grew vegetables, the operation survived Prohibition by growing “15 different wine varietals that were shipped throughout the country during Prohibition with instructions on ‘how not to have the grapes turn into wine’.”
Michael started the winery in 1984 and now he and David are the fifth generation of Phillips to farm the land. Their aim, according to the website, is “to show the world of wine drinkers that wines made from Lodi grapes can compete against wines from anywhere in the world.”
Incognito 2010 Red Wine – A complex blend of seven varietals based on syrah (40 percent), this wine offers the cherry and dark berry flavors along with a hint of spice. Medium tannins, 14.5 alcohol. $18. There also is an Incognito white blend.
Sixth Sense 2010 Syrah – Syrah is a favorite varietal at Michael David and these vines date from 1982, making them some of the oldest syrah vines in the California. Sort of named after Michael’s son Kevin, now the sixth generation of Phillips growing grapes. Syrah with some “Petite Sirah blended in,” according to the press sheet.
Big, bold and intense with dark-red cherry and plum fruit, a bit of smoke, coffee but still a balance of acid and tannins. 15.5% alcohol. 88 points from Wine Spectator, July 2012. $16.
Freakshow 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – The only wine I can think of with a subtitle, in this case “A ‘Michael David Joint’.”
Michael David makes big wines and this is one of their biggest. Big-bodied but not overwhelming, with dark cherry, spice, blackberry, a hint of dried raisins and dark oak. Mellow tannins. Would have been great with barbecue last summer. Or next. 14.5% alc. $20.
7 Deadly Zins – The brothers Phillips call this their flagship zin and it’s lived up to that with steady consistency. It feels like a bit hotter alcohol than the 15% alcohol on the label but that’s just being picky. True to the varietal with plenty of berry fruits, pepper and spice. $16.
Colorado’s wine grape crop came through the hot, dry summer in better condition than many people might have expected, given the long drought and its effects on western Colorado.
While there aren’t yet any numbers on the total production, comments from producers and winemakers indicate the summer growing season was short, intense and productive.
“Everything came in early,” said state viticulturist Horst Caspari of the Colorado State University Orchard Mesa Research Center. “I think everything was picked by the 20th of October this year and sometimes they pick into November.”
Parker Carlson at Carlson Vineyards said he was done a month ahead of his normal schedule. “Harvest was really good, in fact almost too good,” Parker said. “We got a lot of grapes and quality was for the most part pretty good.”
“The weather had everything ripening on top of other but this was the first time in my 24 or 25 years (of grape growing) that we were finished by end of September,” he said. “It really gave us another month of our lives back.”
Guy Drew of Guy Drew Vineyards near Cortez called the harvest “fast and furious.”
“Basically it was over in a month,” he said. “It didn’t even get into October, it was all over in September. I couldn’t go to Winefest this year because I was busy dealing with grapes.”
Caspari said the growing season started normally but a warmer-than-usual May and June pushed the crop ahead.
“We had bud break pretty much as normal but with May and June very warm and it just kept getting warmer,” Horst said. “We have never had a warmer year during our growing season, which is the first of May to the 30th of September. “So everything got ripe very early.”
Most grape varietals ripened two weeks to a month early, Caspari said. “I picked the grapes at my site (on Orchard Mesa) on the 22nd of August and I’ve never picked anything in August,” he said.
He said the crop overall was “pretty decent, probably a record for us quantity wise and maybe quality.”
But a continuous hot growing season isn’t necessarily a good thing. Unrelenting hot weather has a drawback – the hot days build sugar in the grapes but winemakers want cool nights to develop the acids that balance sugars, tannins and alcohol.
Winemakers watch grapes as carefully as a mother watches her sleeping child. Grape maturity is monitored daily, and sometimes more often, as the grapes near the level of ripeness the winemaker is seeking.
“We didn’t get the cool nights of September like usual,” Drew said. “It was so hot, we couldn’t get the acids we needed and the while the sugars stayed high, the acids are low.”
A study by climatologists Greg Jones of the University of Oregon and Robert Davis of the University of Virginia indicated (and I’m paraphrasing greatly here) that in the last two decades, grapevines in Bordeaux have seen a longer growing period, which causes Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals to have higher sugar-to-acid ratios, greater berry weights and a “greater potential wine quality.”
However, sugars and acids develop at different rates, and hot weather can cause grapes to be phenologically ripe but not evenly ripe, with sugars and acids out of balance.
Plus, more sugars equate to higher alcohol content, one reason California wines tend to have higher alcohol than French or German wines, which don’t get as ripe due to generally cooler growing conditions.
Without the balancing crispness of acidity, white and red wines tend to be soft and dull – “flabby” is one term used – and in years such as this it’s not unusual for winemakers to augment the acidity by adding either tartaric acid or cream of tartar, both of which occur naturally in grapes (along with malic and citric acids).
Also, it was evident early in September that picking crews were going to be doing double duty – trying to get the last of the peaches off the trees while fielding calls from grape growers.
“The fruit from down here was good early but we weren’t able to pick it when it should have been picked,” Guy said. “Most of the fruit I buy from Grand Junction comes from (grower Bruce) Talbott but his crews can only do so much.”
“When they are busy, even if you need it picked today, you aren’t going to get it done.”
CURITIBA, Brasil – This lively, eclectic city of 2 million in southwest Brasil has much to offer the casual tourist – Lush parks and gardens scattered throughout the city, a pedestrian-friendly walk through the heart of the business/shopping center and world-famous museums, botanic gardens and historic sites dating from the indigenous inhabitants found (and subsequently disrupted) by the earliest invaders.
What this city might have in short supply are above-average dining spots. Not unlike their neighbors to the (way,way) North, Curitibanos have a fondness for unsophisticated eating, whether it’s churrasco at a small park-side restaurant or standing in line at one of the McDonald’s or Subway shops much-too common in any country with an abundance of delicious, intriguing native dishes.
One of the dining oases discovered during a recent trip was DUO Cuisine, an elegant restaurant in the Batel district on the city’s southwest side.
Chef Rodrigo Cavichiolo and business partner Marco Castro opened DUO in 2008 after deciding the city needed something new, a place where above-average food and wine merged with a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
Despite the gracious and welcoming atmosphere, the restaurant still struggles to attract the local clientele.
“It hasn’t been easy to convince the people of Curitiba,” said Rodrigo on a recent night. The restaurant, which takes up the second floor of the two-story building and offers a stunning view of the city, was about one-third full on this Thursday night.
“I have people flying in from Sao Paolo (just over 200 miles) just to eat here, but I can’t get the locals to come in,” Rodrigo lamented. “Maybe I’m a few years early.”
Cavichiolo said he’s largely self-taught but has long been fascinated by food, cooking and the intertwining of flavors.
“I love to bring out the best in my ingredients and to pair those with wines that fit the foods I prepare,” he said.
Our meal included an amusé of a small Brasilian soft-shell crab followed by two kinds of ceviche (one Peruvian, the other a Brasilian specialty) and (there were four of us) delicious entrées, including a smoked haddock, a grilled asparagus-and-brie on ciabatta and a nicely turned filet with a sauce of tomatoes and green olives (I forgot the fourth entrée).
The wine list is quite interesting, with an emphasis on Chile and Argentina to match the Brasilian appetite for beef.
We enjoyed several selections from Ventisquero, a fairly new (founded in 2000) Chilean winery with vineyards in Chile’s most-prestigious wine-growing areas, including the Coastal Maipo, Casablanca and Apalta valleys.
We had the ceviche with a Qeulat 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, followed by the Ventisquero Ramirana 2010 Sauvignon Blanc/Gewurztraminer (citrus, tropical fruits, minerality) with a shrimp risotto, and the 2010 Ventisquero Grey 2009 Merlot, another single-block wine showing spice, red fruits and a hint of pepper, paired well with the various entrées.
“I really like Ventisquero,” said Rodrigo. “Their wines are excellent for quality and value and I feel we share the same desire to prove ourselves by doing something beyond what others are doing.”
The ability to succeed by achieving and not over-reaching is a valuable facet in any endeavor. The more so when you’re a restaurant pushing the high-end envelope in a city rapidly transitioning into its role as one of the co-hosts of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.