Sunday, July 21, 2013

What does a native Californian drink in California on his birthday?

There’s nothing like breaking one’s obsession by going in a totally opposite direction. Thusly, I headed for Napa Valley this week, leaving Sicily behind. I’m not a Napa Cab basher, per se, but I’m pretty picky. I am also an unrepentant white and rosé wine lover. For it to be red it has to rub me like fine grain sandpaper – nothing coarse and heady. That said, we mixed it up pretty good this week. I managed to get a few Italian wines in, but I was there to taste what was in front of me.

I’ve had my navel-gazing moments, though. I am, after all, from this land. It’s pretty easy for me to slip out of the adapted Texas twang and reach for the can of mixed fruits and nuts and settle myself on a pillowy cloud somewhere over the valley.

What does a native Californian find in the vineyards after having come back from Sicily? Oddly, the recent Sicilian experience has colored my lens. Variegated topography, hills, wind, sun, a mixture of old and new vines, along with a variety of trellising. At one time, when someone else was driving (and yes I had my seatbelt on) I looked up and thought for a moment I was back in Sicily. Small wonder many Italians were drawn to this area.

The wines are completely different. As they should be. What I see now in California winemaking is a wide spectrum of styles, from the high-octane fruit bombs to high-acid leaner styles. Both red and white. As in Sicily, where Chardonnay co-exists with Carricante, so in California I am seeing more tolerance for the different grapes that have been brought to this area, again from Chardonnay to Ribolla, Cabernet to Grenache.

I reckon one will really never be able to hold California down on the mat long enough to elicit one grand style. It’s too diverse with grapes and personalities. Minus the obligation of tradition, California is free to re-invent itself every generation, every harvest, indeed every morning. And so it does.

Driving past the old Beaulieu winery, the site where I had an epiphany over California wine and Cabernet, many years ago, I lament that the winery has now gone in another direction. No longer does the wine hold, for me, the highest rung on the pole of admiration. Maybe the bean-pole has gotten longer and they have stayed where they were, keeping to their spot safe and secure, while others have climbed up and notched theirs. Isn’t that evolution?

As it was, I once again found myself in California on my birthday ( it is a personal tradition).Thinking this would be the one day when I could go “all out” we gathered in a dark, cool lunch spot on the main drag, Cook, and had burgers and Barbaresco. Marchesi di Gresy cheeseburger, a half bottle of 2008. Decadent, delicious and very fattening (the food, not the wine).

Over dinner with a bottle of 2000 Mayacamas Chardonnay (and a perfectly roasted chicken), a wine from a cool, rather challenging harvest, thirteen years later it takes one on a journey of flavor much like Manuel de Falla does with music: pulsing, rising, falling, changing, lilting, releasing, recharging and finally finishing with a flourish. Yes, I am talking about a Napa Valley Chardonnay!

Several nights we swirled and sampled wines from other not so entrenched in the classic view of Napa Valley wines, one night with the Matthiasson “White Wine” Ribolla/Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2010 and the Scholium Project “Rhododactylos” Cinsault California 2012. The night after with the Massican white, “Annia" Tocai Friulano / Ribolla Gialla / Chardonnay 2012 and Ryme Cellars (Hers) Vermentino 2012. Now we’re seeing Italian grapes, sometimes intermingled with grapes like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Sometimes white wines, sometimes, slightly “orange”, as in the case of the “Rhododactylos” from Abe Schoener. California, straddling the fault lines, like Etna, is a state of change, movement, sometimes smoke, sometimes mirrors. Never boring.

Yes. I’m in California this time and I’m wandering, not on the streets but in the vineyards, and these wanderings bleed over into these pages. Sorry. So it is with non-linearity and off-the-clock musings. Would you expect otherwise? One the wine trail, in Italy, in California, in time, out of mind…

...more to come.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Marco Moscato di Passito said...

Happy Birthday amico! Chen-Daan!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Old Timer,
Small correction, the Annia is the Massican and isn't an orange wine, the one from Matthiasson is. Yeah, picky, picky picky...

And you're in Napa and you don't write, you don't call, you don't set a bag of dog turds on fire on my front porch? Well, it is your birthday, my friend, you do as you please.

Happy Birthday! Many more on and damned Trail you choose.

The Matthiassons said...

Hope we can meet on your next trip out. Thanks for mentioning the White Wine.

FYI, neither the Matthiasson White Wine nor the Massican Annia are skin-fermented.

The Ryme Vermentino "his" is while the "hers" isn't. Not sure which one you had. Both are great.

Looking forward to meeting you.

Cheers, Jill Matthiasson

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks, Jill.

I confused the two nights ( Probably having too much fun). Of course you (and the Hosemaster) are the experts in this area. I have changed the post to reflect reality.

Yes, I too hope someday to meet you all, thanks for commenting and setting me straight (he says, from Mendocino) ;^)

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks, Ron....

Yes, I mixed up the Matthiasson with Massican. thanks for the correction.

Although when I had the Massican it was in a darkened dining room and I got confused. That had nothing to do with the fact that Kelli @ Press was trying all manner of wines on us that night;)

I thought you lived in Sonoma? did i get that wrong too? Sorry :(

Oh, and thanks for the ride the other day...

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