Book Review: “The Treasury of American Wines” by Nathan Chroman, 1976

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Dust jacket for “The Treasury of American Wines” by Nathan Chroman, 1976. Please click to enlarge the photo to full resolution.

I’m a geek when it comes to food history, but I’m especially nerdy about California’s wine history. Old wine books are often fascinating to me because they’re like time capsules, snapshots from a bygone era. The California wine industry has evolved so dramatically over the last four decades, it’s interesting to be reminded of past trends and early beginnings.

To place “The Treasury of American Wines” into historical context,  this book was published in the summer of 1976, perhaps just weeks before California’s triumph at the now-famous Judgment of Paris. I thought it was prescient (and perhaps just coincidental) that the very wine that won the Chardonnay category in Paris — the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay — is actually pictured on the dust [… read more …]

Eating Well: Slow Food Napa Valley’s Potluck Brunch @ Ehlers Estate Winery, St. Helena

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The dining area outside Ehlers Estate.

Slow Food Napa Valley hosted a pig roast and potluck on Sunday, September 11th, in conjunction with Ehlers Estate in St. Helena. The following photos highlight the event, which provided a forum for SFNV members to discuss the future of SFNV, and how they can help to increase interest and awareness of the Slow Food movement. Naturally, the brunch was amazing. Please click on any photo for a full-screen view.

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Pig cracklins, up close.

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CIA instructor Patrick Clark carves the Mulefoot Hog, which was provided by Michael Fradelizio of the Silverado Brewing Company and Beer Belly Farms.

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Michael Fradelizio (left) and Patrick Clark (right) remove the pig from the Caja China roasting box. A hungry crowd gathers.

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A [… read more …]

Book Review: “Riesling Renaissance” by Freddy Price

“Coffee’s for closers only.” Anyone who has seen 1992’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” might recall this line from the film’s first act, when Alec Baldwin delivers one of my all-time favorite movie monologues. The scene marks Baldwin’s only appearance in the film — a scant seven minutes — but his abusive tirade establishes the movie’s tone, and it sets up the second act perfectly. In “Glengarry,” Baldwin plays the character of Blake, an über-alpha real estate salesman, and a role that was written specifically for Baldwin by playwright David Mamet (as great as it is, Baldwin’s “Glengarry” monologue was not part of Mamet’s original 1983 stage play). During his brilliant rant, Baldwin espouses the acronym “ABC” — short for “Always be closing” — a hard-boiled sales mantra that he imparts to an ensemble of A-listers, including Jack Lemon, Ed Harris, and Alan Arkin (with Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey rounding [… read more …]

Book Review: “When the Rivers Ran Red” by Vivienne Sosnowski

As an American and an avid wine enthusiast, the Prohibition Era will always fascinate me: I find it incredible, for one thing, that the Temperance movement could gather enough momentum to actually change the U.S. Constitution. Beyond that, I’m also amazed that Prohibition lasted nearly 14 years, and furthermore, I’m amazed that the Noble Experiment occurred within the last century. As someone who was born in the 1970s, it’s odd to consider that I only missed the Prohibition Era by about 50 years, or slightly less than two generations. As I’ve grown older, Prohibition somehow seems much less “distant” to me than it used to be. After all, if Prohibition still retains some living witnesses, then it really couldn’t have happened that long ago, right?

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In Vivienne Sosnowski’s 2009 book, “When the Rivers Ran Red,” the Prohibition Era is examined through the lens of [… read more …]

Book Review: “A Hedonist in the Cellar” by Jay McInerney

I once had an English professor at UCLA who claimed that the purpose of being an English major was to learn how to write essays about books that you’ve never read. This comment was as cynical as it was correct: I winged way too many midterms on a plot summary and a prayer. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Frankly, I was far more interested in devoting my time to the student newspaper, writing stories for a sports section that always garnered top national awards (I was surrounded by super-talented folks, and will only take a minimal share in this credit). I suppose my priorities could have been more academically-oriented, but seeing my byline in print just felt inherently more rewarding than reading the classics. Plus, I never really wanted to memorize Shakespeare, and I still don’t.

Over the last couple years, I’ve done a fair amount of [… read more …]

Time in a Bottle: "The California Wine Book" by Bob Thompson and Hugh Johnson (1976)

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For a wine geek like me, old and out-dated wine books can sometimes be fascinating time capsules. I was rummaging through a used bookstore in Berkeley the other day, when I uncovered an old copy of “The California Wine Book” by Bob Thompson and Hugh Johnson. Published in 1976, this book has now become irrelevant for the most part, especially in terms of its original purpose, which was to provide a contemporary assessment of California wine. Considering how much the California wine industry has evolved over the last 30 years, the introduction to the book is almost mind-bogglingly quaint, as the authors acknowledge that keeping up with California wine has become increasingly difficult. They point out that, compared to the early 60s, “Now is a more engrossing time. Two dozen Cabermet Sauvignons demand consideration.” Two dozen? For all of California?

Although “The California Wine Book” can no longer offer [… read more …]

“Vineyard Tales” by Gerald Asher: Book Review

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Like many of the great books within its genre, Gerald Asher’s “Vineyard Tales” is one part history lesson and one part wine appreciation. Originally published in 1996, “Vineyard Tales” remains an invaluable text, offering plenty of insight regarding wines that span the globe. Along the way, Asher seems to cover most of the interesting American regions, touching upon places such as Washington State and New York’s North Fork, while also devoting requisite chapters to Napa Cabernet and Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

Considering the scope and diversity of his topics, Asher’s detailed histories are the strength of his book, and the author’s accounts reveal his tremendous breadth of wine knowledge. “Vineyard Tales” is often stunning in its depth, and I would argue that Asher is perhaps the greatest living wine scholar in the world today (although I am going to ponder this statement further). Regardless, his [… read more …]

Wine Tasting Notes, 2008: Kuleto Estate

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The impressive view from Kuleto Estate.

My recent quest for Zinfandel lead me up Sage Canyon Road this afternoon — about 1400 feet above the valley floor — to Kuleto Estate. This remarkable mountain-top property, with a driveway as steep and as crooked as it is long, certainly ranks as one of the most remote destinations in the Napa Valley. Yet the winery is absolutely worth the trip, even as gasoline prices continue to soar into the stratosphere.

To be sure, Sage Canyon Road tends to be off the radar for most of Napa Valley’s visitors. Anything with a Sage Canyon address is a destination winery by definition, and few of these places (if any) are open to the public without prior appointments. Sage Canyon Road, which is also a segment of Highway 128, begins at the Silverado Trail (just a touch south of [… read more …]

Tasting Notes, 2008: Vincent Arroyo Winery

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For most folks, visiting the Napa Valley simply means cruising the main drag, Highway 29, between Yountville and St. Helena. It’s what tourists have been doing here for the last 30 years. But, given the high concentration of wineries along this particular stretch, you can’t really blame people for taking the road most traveled: for the uninitiated, staying within the boundaries of this eight-mile segment has the dual benefit of being (a) easy to navigate with (b) most of the wineries offering decent enough wines. For tourists in the know, this stretch also provides an address for many of Napa’s longtime favorites, such as Grgich Hills, Cakebread or Heitz.

Basically, this little piece of Highway 29 is the wine-tasting epicenter of Napa Valley, and the traffic on this road can be significant, especially since Highway 29 has just one single lane running in either direction. [… read more …]

Book Review: “Matt Kramer’s New California Wine”

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A longtime contributor to Wine Spectator magazine, Matt Kramer represents the contingent of wine drinkers who eschews overly-alcoholic wines in favor of those with subtlety and nuance. Among wine critics, Kramer seems to be in the minority in this aspect, but those of us who share his tastes can take umbrage in the fact that Kramer is an outstanding, knowledgeable wine journalist. His book “Matt Kramer’s New California Wine” underscores this notion, and is an indispensible guide to the dizzying California wine landscape.

Kramer begins his book with a thoughtful introduction to California’s short history of serious wine production, including an insightful essay about the ever-changing approach of grape growing and winemaking. With origins rooted in the effort to maximize vineyard yield, California has slowly shed its farmer’s mentality and has begun to place quality ahead of quantity. Kramer touches upon the early contributions of UC Davis professors Amerine [… read more …]