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Bloody Hell, College Was Brutal

Alas, it wasn’t this way for me (or you either probably) but in England historically, wine—and especially Port—played a notable part in college life. According to the Rare Wine Company (an importer/retailer specializing in Port and Madeira) in the early part of the nineteenth century, important universities like Cambridge and Oxford had breathtakingly enormous wine cellars, and there was ten times as much Port in those cellars than any other wine. Far from being a mere hedonistic indulgence, Port was “currency”—often used by students to pay off wages, bets, and fines.

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Tribology…Who Knew?

Despite its importance, the texture or mouthfeel of wine is one of the least studied aspects of sensory perception. At least until now. As reported in Wines & Vines, researchers at U.C. Davis are currently working to develop what they call a “tribology” method to analyze the physical aspect of red wine perception. In particular, Dr. Tonya Kuhl and Dr. Aude Watrelot hope to understand the physical interaction between tannin (astringency) and saliva (lubrication). The word tribology comes from the Greek word for “rubbing.” In engineering and biomedical research, tribology is the science that deals with the design, friction, wear, and lubrication of interacting surfaces in relative motion (as in bearings or gears or, for that matter, your knee joints).

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42nd Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris

Next Thursday, May 24, is the 42nd Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, widely considered the tasting that vaulted California wine onto the international stage. We asked Steven Spurrier, the creator and organizer of that historic event, what the Judgment of Paris has meant to him.  Steven responded:

“A couple of years ago my 8 year old grandson asked ‘Grandpa, why are you famous?’  All I needed to do was to show him George Taber’s book ‘Judgment of Paris’ whose subtitle was ‘the historic 1976 Paris Tasting that revolutionized wine.’ While this event did make me famous, it turned out to be a ‘win-win’ situation for both California and France, but more importantly it created a template whereby unknown wines of quality could be tasted blind against known wines of quality and if the judges themselves were of quality, their opinion would be respected.  The best example of this was Eduardo Chadwick’s 2004 Berlin Tasting.  Paris 1976 opened the game to all comers.” 

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Fifty Feet and a Gazillion Seeds

Lodi, the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World (it produces over 32% of California zin), is also home to 100 different grape varieties, more than any other California region. These include: albariño, tempranillo, verdelho, sangiovese, and carignan, as well as more ubiquitous varieties like cabernet. The region began to evolve as a wine region in the early 1900s. Before that, Lodi had been dubbed the Watermelon Capital of the World, boasting melons that were said to be up to 50 feet long. (Hmmmm). Today, Lodi includes some 90 wineries and almost 800 growers farming 100,000+ acres of grapes. The region, about 90 miles east of San Francisco, has become a hotbed for young winemakers priced out of more expensive land elsewhere. Lodi also possesses some of the oldest plant material in the state. Numerous vineyards were planted in the 19th century.

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It Takes Two to Be Tangy

It’s Spring, and for me, that means it’s time to drink a ton of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, still among the two best wines in the world for salads and green vegetables like spring peas and asparagus. And there’s another reason I love Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé: goat cheese. The tangy/creamy/chalky/salty flavor of most goat cheeses can make red wine taste hollow. But Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are perfect with goat cheeses in part because they are so tangy themselves. In particular, the combination of Sancerre and Crottin de Chavignol, a small disk of goat cheese from the village of Chavignol, is considered to be a classic French marriage. (Crottin, by the way, is French slang for goat turd).

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The “Cristal” of Cavas?

Cava wants to be taken seriously. And Spain may finally have an answer with a new classification called Cava de Paraje Calificado (CdP for short). Only the best single-vineyard cavas (Spanish sparkling wines made by the traditional Champagne method) can be called CdP— and there’s a rigorous path to getting there. These top-tier cavas must originate from terrior deemed special, and they must be made with lower yields of grapes. CdP cavas are also aged longer— a minimum of 36 months on the lees. The end result are cavas with extraordinary characteristics that compete with other crème de la crème sparklings around the world.  (And yes, they are expensive).

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I, Harry, Do Solemnly Warrant…

As anyone who has tasted it knows, English sparkling wine is superb. (I personally think the top English sparkling wines are fantastic). Now, England’s Camel Valley Vineyard has become the first English wine producer to be granted a Royal Warrant. Royal Warrants are given by the Royal Family to top “suppliers” of the Royal Household—Veuve Clicquot has a Royal Warrant; so does Twining’s Tea and Martini Vermouth. Could Camel Valley’s ascendency to Warrantdom be a precursor to its Brut being served at Prince Harry and Megan’s (royal) wedding? One hopes so.

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Chenin Blanc in 3 Easy Facts

One: The most famous, vibrant chenin blancs of the world come from the Loire Valley of France. The Loire Valley is also the ancestral home of this grape, which arose as a natural cross of savagnin and an unknown parent.
Two: The best chenin blancs are stunningly complex wines with shimmering acidity and flavors of apples and honey. Chenin blancs are made in a variety of degrees of sweetness, from bone-dry to fully sweet.
Three: Chenin blanc was the most widely planted white grape in California before chardonnay took its place in the 1970s.

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Cross Over

We have nothing against milk chocolate bun(nies), but in terms of Easter treats that actually go with wine, hot cross buns are infinitely better. The buns—doughy, raisin-studded, and crossed with icing (or a zing of lemon curd)—are a tradition during the week leading up to Easter. In fact, Napa Valley’s own Model Bakery has some of the best. Hot cross buns are thought to have been created on the Friday before Easter (Good Friday) by a monk, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, in St. Albans, England in the 14th century. There are also several fables concerning the buns. Allegedly, for example, hanging a few buns in the kitchen expelled evil spirits. Among bunophiles, Queen Elizabeth I clearly understood bun power. She decreed they could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas and burials. As for the best wine with hot cross buns, I vote for Tokaji Aszú from Hungary, a wine that’s not syrupy sweet, just mesmerizingly complex.

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Queen (for More Than a Day)

The first wine queen in California (a state which has also anointed garlic queens, artichoke queens and so on) was crowned in 1913 in Escondido, San Diego County, a time when the state’s wine industry was centered in the south. Wine queen popularity grew in the 1920’s—curiously, during Prohibition. With their “hometown girl” beauty, wine queens were often the highlights of harvest celebrations and county fairs. In the 1930s, when wine production exceeded demand in Germany and later in Spain and Austria, those countries also began crowning wine queens to help promote wine consumption and sales. In the U.S., Lodi crowned its first wine queen in 1934 during the annual Lodi Grape Festival. (One of the Lodi queens is pictured above). Local queens often competed for an even grander title; being crowned the California State Fair wine queen was the height of queendom in the 1950s and 1960s. (By the way, what well known woman was named an honorary Artichoke Queen?) Before Wiki-checking, send your answer to [email protected].