A SUMMER SENDOFF SIPPER

ALERT TO WINE SNOBS OUT THERE! What you are about to read might prompt eye rolls, upturned noses or perhaps even trigger your gag reflex. Just bear with me as we discuss the often dissed and sadly misunderstood Pinot Grigio.

 
I recently picked up a few bottles of Kirkland Grave Pinot Grigio at my local Costco. With an influx of visitors about to descend upon my house, not all of them wine connoisseurs, I figured a convenient screw-capped, low price point wine would quench the thirst of the masses without breaking my budget.

 
At $5.89 a bottle, I wasn’t expecting more than a simple, alcohol infused lemonade of sorts. That’s the unfortunate reputation of Pinot Grigio, a Chardonnay alternative introduced into the U.S. market in the late 1970s. Plenty of it is mass produced and plenty of it is indeed lackluster.

Kirkland Friuli Grave PG 2Pinot Grigio has been maligned as a result. I’ve come across several colorful descriptions of this ubiquitous white wine:

 
“It’s a glass of water with a lemon wedge.”

 
“Drinking Pinot Grigio is often like experiencing an IKEA rug, Ben Stein’s voice, or a dose of Paxil: neutral, monotone, and devoid of highs.”

 
“It’s spiked Sprite soda that had gone flat.”

 
“Pinot Grigio is a bubble-headed bleach blonde with a perilously low IQ.”

Will Ferrell and PG

Hilarious reviews aside, the Kirkland Pinot Grigio caught my attention because it hails from Friuli, a cool climate wine region in northeastern Italy bordered by the Alps. Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the full name of the region, is renowned for producing quality white wines. The Kirkland bottle also had a DOC designation, (denominazione di origine controllata – try saying that five times fast), a rating which denotes the wine has undergone a lengthy set of specifications meant to ensure high standards. (To learn more about Italian wine quality classifications, visit https://www.dalluva.com/wine-journal/vdt-igt-doc-docg-italian-wine-classifications-demystified/).

 
Opening the bottle is a breeze because of the screw cap. I admit that when screw cap wine bottles first started showing up on the market, I raised a supercilious brow. In my estimation, screw caps were cheap Charlies yelling nanny nanny boo-boo at cork closures.

To add insult to injury, the ceremony of uncorking a bottle of wine with great flourish is lost with the screw cap. But what is also lost is the risk of cork taint and the higher price tag of cork closures. Just some food for thought for cork devotees.

 
With my first taste of Kirkland’s Pinot Grigio, I was pleasantly surprised. Expecting a simple little sipper akin to the aforementioned spiked Sprite, I was taken aback by its refreshing acidity and balance. Nearly colorless with a slight green tinge and a light body, I was bracing myself for a vapid vino experience, but I was startled by the aromas that practically catapulted out of the glass. Scents of lemon dominated, not surprisingly, but aromas of honeydew melon, green apple and a hint of white flowers gave the wine’s overall nose a surprising depth. On the palate, flavors of lemon and green apple cavorted with pineapple and pear. If I dare say, it’s akin to SPRITE SODA* (see footnote below) but with sophistication and spritely acidity.

 
One more thing: a confession. See that last derogatory description of Pinot Grigio a few paragraphs back? That was mine. The wine snob monster in me, usually hidden under a cloak of forced politeness, does manage to sneak out and rear its ugly head from time to time. But thanks to my insatiable curiosity to learn about the wondrous world of wine and the fact that Italy is on my every growing bucket list of wine country trips, my wine snob monster has deservedly been put to rest.

 
Don’t let skepticism or snobbery prevent you from serving this bargain wine. I received two glowing endorsements the last time I poured Kirkland’s Pinot Grigio. An oenophile friend who is blessed with a very refined, discerning palate took one sniff and sip of this wine and deemed it worthy. My daughter, a fine wine devotee who proclaims she dislikes Pinot Grigio, was incredulous over how tasty this vino really is.

 
Summer is nearly over. Labor Day weekend is right around the corner and with that, we signal the end of these lazy, hazy, crazy days. As I bid a fond farewell to my favorite season, I’ll be opening a few bottles of Kirkland’s Pinot Grigio. Remember, it’s from Friuli, it’s practically free so you can freely (or Friuli, as it were!) pour it with gleeful abandon which makes it a fun find for frugal fanatics who often entertain friends and family!

Kirkland Friuli Grave PG

*ANOTHER WINE SNOB ALERT! Back in my prehistoric, pre-oenophile days, I drank cheap White Zinfandel cut with diet SPRITE. I know, I know. What a Neanderthal I was! But our first experiences with wine, as gauche as they may have been, leave an indelible vinous footprint on our brains and emblazon our hearts (of which mine will forever have a soft spot for SPRITE and White Zin!).

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PERFECT PÉTILLANT PORTUGUESE PORCH POUNDER

 

I just hosted a PORCH POUNDER wine event. Actually I called it a PATIO POUNDER. I suppose you could call it a DECK DOUSER or perhaps a TERRACE TIPPLE…

 

…Po-TAY-to, Po-TAH-to, whatever you want to call it, I call it good to finally be able to sit outside in shirtsleeves & sip some refreshing vino. PORCH POUNDERS are adult beverages with a low alcohol content and a high gulp factor, something you can liberally imbibe without ending up too tipsy.

 

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Vinho Verde (VEE-nyo VAIR-djuh if you want to sound authentic) is my PORCH POUNDING go-to. Vinho Verde is a popular Portuguese white wine (it also can be red) that hails from the Minho region, a cool, wet area in northwestern Portugal. The CVRVV (Comissão de Viticultura da  dos Vinhos Verdes – let’s tackle the pronunciation of that mouthful another time) recommends seven white grapes and eight red grapes that are ideal to cultivate for Vinho Verde.

 

Vidigal Vinho Verde is a blend of three of these indigenous grapes: 40% Arinto (A-REEN-toe), 30% Loueiro (Loh-RAY-roo) and 30% Trajadura (Trah-zjah-DOO-rah). The Arinto grapes (also known as Pedernã) lend a citrusy freshness. Loueiro adds richness to the palate. Trajadura offers a round mouthfeel. An injection of CO2 right before bottling gives Vinho Verde its signature spritz that is wonderfully refreshing on a hot day.

 

Vidigal Vinho Verde has a low alcohol content of just 9.5%, and a residual sugar content of just 12.6% making it a dry, deck dousing drink that whets your whistle without rendering you wasted. It qualifies as the PERFECT PORCH POUNDER.

 

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To the eye: Lemon yellow with a green tinge

On the nose: Melon, green apple, lemon

On the palate: Lemon lime with a lovely, light tongue tickling effervescence. Vibrant minerality and acidity.

 

And just look at that gorgeous sky blue bottle! Notice that it’s empty. What can I say. PORCH POUNDING happens.

 

The label on the back of the bottle states: “The perfect wine to share with friends on a warm, sunny day!” Now if that is not the PERFECT PORCH POUNDER punchline, I don’t know what is.

 

With a glorious summer on the horizon in my northwest Montana neck of the woods, I predict they’ll be some serious PORCH POUNDING. Head on over to the Coco Cabana. I’ll pour you a glass of this PERFECT PÉTILLANT PORTUGUESE PORCH POUNDER and we’ll practice our Portuguese pronunciation!

 

Saúde! (Saw-OO-day). That’s “cheers” in Portuguese!

MONTANA: The Last Best Place for Grapes?

MONTANA! It’s Big Sky Country, the Treasure State, and Land of the Shining Mountains. A river runs through its dense forests. Wheat crops flourish on vast prairies, and cows outnumber people 3 to 1. The fourth largest state in the union is renowned for its glaciers and grizzlies…but grapes? Is Montana the Last Best Place for vineyards?

This is the question I posed to attendees that recently gathered at the Montana Grape and Winery Association conference, now in its third year. This gregarious group of grape growers and winery owners collectively answered a hearty and affirmative YES! And it truly is with affirmative heart that those affiliated with Montana’s promising wine industry perseveringly pursue their passion in a challenging climate where Mother Nature’s dalliances with Father Winter often deliver meteorological mayhem.

Montana sits between the 45th and 49th parallel north, just within the temperate latitude for vineyard planting. But because of its short growing season and harsh winter temperatures (snow has been recorded every month of the year), grapes are slow to ripen and are at risk of winter kill. Vineyards are concentrated in Northwest Montana, many hugging the pristine shores of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Thanks to the lake’s moderating influence and the surrounding slopes of the Mission and Salish Mountains, Mother Nature’s temperature tantrums are tempered. Other vineyards are nestled in “banana belts” where warmer temperatures and lower elevations provide a more hospitable environment.

Montana Vineyard Map

While Montana grape growers in the roughly 45 vineyards across the state have each carved out their ideal geographical niches, they have consulted with specialists to help hone their craft and guide their endeavors. I’ve dubbed these experts the DIVINE VINE SUPER HEROES, the caped grape crusaders who are noted scholars in their respective fields. They wield their collective expertise, granting grape growers the extra edge needed to maintain viable vineyards in cold climates.

DR. PATRICIA McGLYNN, the Montana State University extension agent for Flathead County, is the GRAPE GROWER GURU. Instrumental in forming a grape grower advisory panel which evolved into the Montana Grape and Winery Association, she also wrote and was awarded two grants to establish the Cold Hardy Wine Grape Trials in 2011. Four plots were planted to test 10 wine grape and 2 table grape varieties. The research trial just concluded providing helpful data on the feasibility of establishing a viable grape industry in the state.

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DR. ZACH MILLER is an assistant professor and superintendent of the Montana State University’s Western Agricultural Research Center located in Corvallis, Montana. He has traveled the globe conducting research in plant and pest ecology. His mission is to serve agricultural producers in his region, guiding them in the latest technology and methods of producing high-value specialty crops. His role as the AMAZING AG ADVOCATE is a bounteous boost to local grape growers.

LARRY ROBERTSON, a soil conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is also a grape grower and vineyard owner in Polson, Montana. He has been working closely with Dr. Miller at the Western Ag Research Center on the technical aspects of cold-hardy grape growing. In addition, he provides technical and financial assistance to Montana grape producers. He advocates careful irrigation and water management in successfully growing grapes in the state’s challenging terroir. His expertise and incessant practice of his craft deems him the SAGE OF SOIL.

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DR. HARLENE HATTERMAN-VALENTI, a professor at North Dakota State University, has conducted research on cold-hardy grape varieties since 2001 when the ND state legislature allowed for commercial wineries. Though her emphasis is on weed science and not plant pathology, she is a veritable GRAPE DISEASE SLAYER for her astute diagnosis and treatment of the most common Montana vineyard ailments: black rot, powdery mildew and downy mildew.

TOM PLOCHER, co-author of the book, Northern Winework: Growing Grapes and Making Wine in Cold Climates, is the GRAPEVINE WHISPERER. A retired staff scientist at the corporate laboratory of Honeywell International, he mentored under the venerable Elmer Swenson, the pioneering cold-hardy grape breeder. Tom now devotes his time to creating cold-hardy wine grapes in Hugo, Minnesota, ravaged by winters even more wretched than Montana’s. His Petite Pearl, Crimson Pearl and Verona grapes were bred to hold dormancy with delayed bud break and are being successfully grown in Montana vineyards.

Linda Coco and Tom Plocher
Both Tom and Larry conducted a pruning workshop during the conference. Larry recently took over a vineyard on Finley Point in Polson, Montana. Believed to be one of the oldest Montana vineyards originally planted with Pinot grapes, Larry is now nurturing Marquette, Verona and Petite Pearl grapes. Tom advised the workshop attendees in how to best prune these cold hardly grape varieties and was bold enough to hand a brown thumb like me, a.k.a. the Serial Plant Killer, a pair of pruning shears!

Patricia, Zach, Larry, Harlene and Tom are the FANTASTIC FIVE of Montana’s up-and-coming grape industry. Montana’s climate would otherwise be the wrath of grapes if not for the expertise of these grape crusaders. They indeed are a treasure of the Treasure State. Paired with the passion of Montana’s vineyard owners and winemakers, the Big Sky Country has the potential for making a big mark in the wine world.

The grape growers and winery owners certainly sing the praises of the FANTASTIC FIVE and I in turn praise the growers’ and winery owners’ dedication and dogged devotion to their dream of nurturing great grapes destined for great wine. Coming from all walks of life and seasons in life, many of them husband/wife dynamic duos, I was duly impressed with their craft. Because my educational focus is more on the “A.D.” side of the industry – ACTUAL DRINKING, I was delighted to macerate in the “B.C.” angle of wine – BEFORE CONSUMPTION.

TOM and BINA EGGENSPERGER of Thompson Falls have been growing grapes since 2010 when they started with 25 vines of Marquette, a crossing with Vitis vinifera and Vitis riparia developed at the University of Minnesota. In 2012 they added 75 more vines and debuted their first vintage in 2014. 2016 was a banner year with a harvest of 725 pounds, double the amount from the previous year. His label “Silcox” is inspired by Mt. Silcox, a well-known peak in Thompson Falls named after the first regional forester in northwest Montana. The Eggensperger’s winery, GUT CRAIC is an homage to Tom’s German heritage and Bina’s Irish roots. It translates to “Good Fun” and is an apt name that reflects Tom and Bina’s infectious enthusiasm and friendly demeanor.

Tom EGGENSPERGER & Silcox

The Eggensperger’s Silcox is 100% Marquette and their wine embodies the classic profile of the grape which is a grandson of Pinot Noir and a cousin of Frontenac, another cold-hardy grape planted in Montana. The Silcox 2016 is unfiltered and sulfite free. I was enamored with its deep maroon hue, fruity bouquet and high notes of cherry and strawberry punctuated with black pepper and spice. Tom and Bina used a yeast strain to lower acidity then aged the wine for six months in medium toast American oak and a malolactic bacteria inoculation.After several satisfying sips followed by a flurry of note scribbling, I walked to the next winemaker’s table display. Tom followed me, eyes twinkling, and eagerly asked, “So what did you think of the Silcox?” I answered honestly with a broad smile, totally incapable of maintaining any journalistic neutrality. “It was sensational! I’m impressed!”

KEN SCHULTZ of Hidden Legend Winery is a sensation himself. Clad in a kilt and highland boots, he makes quite an impression standing next to his winery’s logo, a burly Viking. Ken launched into the world of wine as a teenager. His uncle, a research scientist, made wine and Ken was so fascinated by the process, he presented his 8th grade science project on fermentation. In 1975, he began making wine as a hobby, sourcing native grapes from the Great Lakes region. In 1979, he and his wife moved to Montana where they began producing mead, eventually including their sons in the business.

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Today, in addition to making mead, the Schultz’s make wine sourced from grapes grown in Montana. Their wine line-up features several cold-hardy grapes: Marquette, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, St. Pepin, Marechal Foch and La Crescent, a relative of St. Pepin. Their catchy labels, savvy marketing and charisma attract a loyal following. But it’s the contents in that alluring bottle that brings in the awards.

One of their award winning wines is Skalkaho White made from St. Pepin grapes in a Rhine off-dry style. The 2014 vintage won a gold medal in the Indy International Wine competition. The 2015 vintage won a silver medal in the Tasters Guild International Wine Judging and a bronze medal in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.

ROD and LINDA ALLEN, who live just a few miles from the Schultz family, have sold their grapes to the Schultz’s and have partnered with them in producing award winning wines. Their Allen Ranch Somerset wine took 2nd place in the conference’s people choice competition. Though known as a table grape which is cold hardy to -30 degrees, they’ve created a lovely wine from it that is fruity, slightly effervescent, and much like a Riesling in its flavor profile.

Allen Ranch Somerset

Rod is a graduate of University of California, Davis, renowned for its viticulture and enology programs. Linda is his avid vineyard keeper (and wine taster!) and a font of information on cold hardy grapes.

“St. Pepin is not self-pollinating so Frontenac Gris is often chosen to grow alongside St. Pepin since they flower at the same time. Marechal Foch and Marquette grapes are wildly prolific and spread like crazy,” Linda explained, gesturing widely with her arms. “But Petite Pearl is much more mannerly.”

Indeed, the well behaved Petite Pearl is meeting with great success in Montana. SAM and CATHERINE BERGMAN of Billings, Montana, own North Slope Vineyard founded in 2013. The windswept south central portion of the state suffers especially blustery winters, and it was during one of these challenging seasons that Sam delved into research about growing grapes. On his in-law’s plot of land, he was determined to show Mother Nature who’s boss.

“My goal is making a great quality wine,” stated Sam as I savored North Slope Vineyard’s 2016 Petite Pearl. As first time conference attendees, Sam and Catherine were unaware that they needed to bring several bottles for the competition. I was fortunate to sample the last few drops from the last of the two bottles they had brought as Catherine quipped, “Don’t you love our fancy label?”

North Slope Vineyard Petite Pearl (2)

Never judge a book by its cover, as the adage goes, and indeed I was quite impressed with the complexity of their wine. A medley of blackberry, raspberry, leather and chocolate sang on the palate in perfect harmony.

It’s no surprise that Sam and Catherine took the People’s Choice first place award in the red category. What perhaps came as a surprise was how impressed I was at the caliber of wine presented at the conference. Montana is better known for its craft beer and microbreweries which understandably take the limelight. But stay tuned! Montana is gearing up to make its mark in the wine world.

This won’t be the last word from the Last Best Place!

A RIESLING RAVE BY A RIESLING REBEL

Confession time. I have never really liked Riesling. This might very well be a cardinal sin to Riesling disciples out there. So what if this noble grape has long been the favorite among sommeliers, chefs and wine professionals? So what if it’s a versatile food-friendly wine that pairs especially well with spicy Asian cuisine that I dearly love? So what if its high acidity makes it exceptionally age-worthy?

SO WHAT?

I’ll tell you what. I’m a skeptic at heart and all of the rah-rah surrounding Riesling hasn’t wooed me. Why? I prefer bone dry wines. I pooh-pooh Riesling because of its typically higher residual sugar content. Even the drier Rieslings don’t wow me.

Until now.

Let me introduce you to Smith-Madrone, a winery located in the spring Mountain District which is on the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley. Andrew Doolan, a sommelier in Rhode Island, recently sent me a bottle of the 2014 Riesling. I know Andrew from the Vivino wine app community and he’s probably read a few of my Riesling rants. His glowing review of the Smith-Madrone Riesling piqued my interest. He encouraged me to give it a swirl. But before I did, I did my due diligence and researched the backstory of this wine which, by the way, has gotten high ratings and favorable reviews across the board.

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The story begins with brothers Stuart and Charles Smith (not the Charles Smith of Kung Fu Girl Riesling fame) who own and operate Smith-Madrone winery. Stuart, while pursuing his master’s degree in viticulture at UC Davis, purchased land at the highest point of Spring Mountain in 1971. His hopes to plant a vineyard were boosted when he discovered that the land actually supported a vineyard back in the 1880’s.

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Charles joined Stuart in 1973, a rugged man and outdoor enthusiast like his brother. So began the journey of Smith-Madrone vineyards, the name Madrone being a tribute to the predominant tree on the property. The Madrone is an evergreen with reddish-brown branches and trunk. The tree bears lily-of-the-valley-like flower clusters in springtime and orange-red berries in autumn.

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The vineyards are situated at elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 feet, on steep slopes up to a 34% grade. Along these precipitous inclines, specific grape varieties with differing exposures have been planted. Chardonnay is planted on cooler north facing slopes, Cabernet Sauvignon on flatter southwestern patches, and Riesling on eastern exposure slopes. The vineyards are dry-farmed meaning no irrigation or watering takes place. By relying solely on Mother Nature’s contribution in the form of rainfall, vines produce smaller berries with higher juice to skin ratio that results in a more intensely flavored grape. Grapes will hit natural maturity at a lower sugar level than if irrigation took place.

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BAM! This must be one reason I love Smith-Madrone Riesling. Concentrated juice and low residual sugar!

The vineyard soils are mainly deep-red Aiken Stoney Clay loam, volcanic-based, well-drained and deep for mountain soils. The soils are quite rocky allowing for vine roots to grow extremely deep, a boon for grapevines which inherently thrive better in challenging conditions. This combination of soil, elevation, sun exposure and the Smith brothers’ dry-farming approach is, in my estimation, a magic formula for producing stellar Riesling.

The Smith brothers’ philosophy in growing grapes is gutsy and admirable. Because they are in a semi-arid climate which in recent years has suffered drought, they honor water as a precious commodity and practice restraint in water consumption. They believe grapevines are intuitive and will adapt to their natural environment without too much human intervention. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. German winemakers have flown out to interview them, hoping to glean techniques to improve their own Riesling vineyards.

Now armed with some fascinating facts and a healthy respect for Stuart and Charles, I uncorked the bottle of Smith-Madone 2014 Riesling, my hopes elevated, only a smidge of my Riesling rebel skepticism present.

From the first sniff and sip, I was left nearly speechless. One word burst forth: KALEIDOSCOPE! In my mind’s eye, I saw multiple points of lights in dazzling array, reflecting in sparkling symmetry. Layer upon layer of myriad shapes and colors coalesced in prism perfection, evolving in an ever changing, ever enchanting montage.

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This Riesling is just that. From its lush bouquet of honeysuckle, lemon, orange blossom, stone fruit, pear, mint and a hint of petrol to its layered palate of apricot, peach and lychee (stone fruit trifecta!) and grapefruit, tangerine & lime (citrus trifecta!), there is no end to the vibrant scents & flavors of this immensely complex wine! There is just the faintest whisper of sweetness, barely discernible, thank the heavens above! The strong backbone of minerality is laced with pleasing salinity. Crisp & defined like the jagged points of a kaleidoscope pattern, each sip shaves the palate clean. Yet juxtaposed on that trademark acidity is a lingering silky finish that made me slap my hand on the counter & sigh.

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This is a phenomenal Riesling for Riesling haters!

This is a phenomenal Riesling for Riesling lovers!

I have reformed. No longer a Riesling rebel but now a Riesling raver, I hope you take my rah-rah review seriously. And not with a grain of salt, please, but rather a tiny bit of residual sugar on top. Trust me, an encounter with this wine will color your world in brilliant kaleidoscope patterns.

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A few more specs on this special wine:
• The 2014 vintage of Smith-Madrone Riesling is 100% pure, unadulterated Riesling from 42-year-old grapevines
• 12.8% alcohol
• 0.76% residual sugar (just the smidge I prefer. The 2012 vintage was a mere 0.45 RS!)
• pH of 3.05
• Only 1551 cases produced
• $30 for 750 ml bottle. JUST THIRTY DOLLAH! Fabulous price point for a quality wine!
• You might see kaleidoscope patterns upon first sip!

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UNDERWOOD UNDERSTOOD

I’ll be FRANK. I’m not a big Pinot Noir fan, let alone one packaged in a can. But check out the UNDERWOOD wine label! What a perfect wine to drink as Season 5 of HOUSE OF CARDS launches today!

I got hooked on the series and binge watched all four seasons at once thus leaving me high and dry for months as I eagerly awaited the debut of Season 5. I can only imagine what new depths of depravity FRANK UNDERWOOD will dip to. And along with his equally cunning wife CLAIRE, politics UNDER the UNDERWOOD regime are sure to prove far more nefarious than we can even begin to imagine.

Frank Underwood in can

UNDERWOOD Pinot Noir is FRANK UNDERWOOD in vinous form. Its sheer violet hue is hypnotic. Its gossamer shimmer draws you in much like a silken spider web whose delicate wispiness belies its fatal purpose.

Stick your nose into this Pinot Noir and initially you are engulfed in blackness: black plum, blackberry and black raspberry, all tightly interwoven with a whisper of creamy vanilla. But dive in deeper and the dark forest fungal funk that UNDERgirds this wine will grip your senses a la FRANK UNDERWOOD.  Is it no wonder his initials are F.U.? Don’t let his honeyed words and smooth southern drawl fool you. Once he has you captive, that acidic bite will whip you speechless.

Think that’s ominous enough? Hold on and give UNDERWOOD Pinot Gris a gander. Pour this elegant champagne hued wine in a tall flute to admire its shimmery gold with a hint of blush pink. Much like CLAIRE UNDERWOOD’s statuesque fair beauty, this Pinot Gris in its flaxen luminosity simply glimmers in a tall glass.

Claire Underwood in can

But get a little closer and you’ll be greeted with a steely gaze beneath that lovely exterior. Like the femme fatale who entices then entraps, UNDERWOOD Pinot Gris’ initial heavenly citrus and pear scents subversively morph into a vinous Hades of dank earth and decaying UNDERgrowth. Oy, that trademark Oregonian fungal funk. For me, it repulses yet captivates.

On the palate this Pinot Gris is lean and angular with a surprising bracing acidity, much like CLAIRE UNDERWOOD’S persona. Pinot Gris is often considered a neutral and approachable wine, the vinous equivalent to matte beige interior paint. But looks can be deceiving. Much as CLAIRE UNDERWOOD can hold her own against her conniving husband, so does this UNDERWOOD Pinot Gris. Don’t assume this is an UNDERdog. It makes an indelible impact.

So there you have it, my review of UNDERWOOD canned wine. It’s surprisingly decent despite its unconventional packaging. If all you can offer is tepid canned applause, keep in mind UNDERWOOD wines are available in bottles to keep wine purists appeased.

And as HOUSE OF CARDS Season 5 gets UNDERway, UNDERstand that UNDERwood is UNDERrated…and oh so dangerous!

BOOK REVIEW: ROSÉ WINE – THE GUIDE TO DRINKING PINK

Everything’s coming up rosés!

Spring has sprung and is hopscotching into summer. I love this time of year when all things are made new again, at least here in the northern hemisphere. Mother Nature dons a brand new wardrobe, draping herself in vibrant shades of green accessorized with colorful pops of flowers. I, too, eagerly pack away my winter drabs and delight in sporting sundresses, shorts and sandals.

After a long Montana winter, my palate is also ready for an overhaul. I start craving lighter fare and lighter wines, especially rosés which start debuting in May for May Day, Mother’s Day and the Kentucky Derby. While those thoroughbred derby horses compete in The Run for the Roses, I, in my quest to drink pink, Run for the Rosés!

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In this season of thinking pink, I am tickled pink to highlight a new book by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, a Master of Wine who just released her second publication, ROSÉ WINE: The Guide to Drinking Pink.

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This book debuts in perfect timing with rosé’s renewed popularity. There’s a pink revolution happening, and rosé is rising above its reputation for being sweet and seasonal. It’s also bounding over gender boundaries. Rosé earned a reputation as being a frilly, feminine wine reserved females, but men now account for 45% of all rosé consumed in the United States. Shall we call it “Brosé?

Simonetti-Bryan expounds upon this rosé revolution in the first chapter then goes on to explain the making of rosé and the tasting of rosé using the FIVE Ss: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor.  As in her first book, THE ONE MINUTE WINE MASTER, Jennifer includes a quiz to help identify styles of rosé that you are likely to enjoy based on a generalized assessment of your taste and scent preferences.

The next chapters are dedicated to the four different rosé styles: BLUSH, CRISP, FRUITY and RICH. Under each style section, Jennifer features wines made in that style accompanied by a photo of the bottle or label. Detailed tasting notes and information about the winery or winemaker are included. Over 70 rosés are highlighted from areas around the globe. From the palest pink to the deepest magenta, you’ll delight in seeing the world through rosé colored glasses, all the while vicariously traveling around the world in 80 rosés!

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The book concludes with a helpful resource section that contains a food pairing guide, a pronunciation guide and a quick reference wine checklist of all the wines featured, categorized per rosé style.

Punctuated with fun facts, lovely photos and helpful graphs, ROSÉ WINE: A Guide to Drinking Pink is a precise 176-page primer on pink. It’s especially suitable for those new to drinking rosé (or to those who heretofore have shunned it!). As a wine educator, I appreciate the approachable and friendly tone in which it is written.

Bravo to Jennifer-Simonetti-Bryan, the passionate promoter of pink! Let’s raise our pink drinks and clink our glasses of rosé together in celebratory cheers!

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ABBAtucci Rocks!

ABBAtucci! MAMMA MIA!

Nikki, the wine merchant and manager at a popular local market, recommended this Abbatucci Rouge Frais Impérial, a French red wine, to me. Her palate is as finely tuned as the tight harmonies of Swedish band extraordinaire, ABBA. Being an ABBA fan, I honed in on that portion of the ABBAtucci name, and if you will allow me to indulge in a bit of word whimsy, let me sing the praises of this wine.

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This wine boasts 100% Sciaccarello grape which is the DANCING QUEEN on the island of Corsica whose volcanic, granitic soils create SUPER TROUPER wine. I almost sent out an SOS after I nearly fainted with pleasure over the floral and herbal aromas of this ethereal translucent red beauty that shimmers like gossamer in the glass. Juniper, rosemary and laurel shrubs are prolific throughout Corsica, and thusly the NAME OF THE GAME in the intoxicating bouquet of this Rouge Frais.

“TAKE A CHANCE ON ME”, this elegant wine whispered from the bottle. “LAY ALL YOUR LOVE ON ME”, I answered, swooning after the first luscious sip. GIMME! GIMME! GIMMEE more of the delicate acidity & fine-boned tannins of this exquisite libation! I bet winemaker Abbatucci makes MONEY MONEY MONEY on this wine! I HAVE A DREAM of someday visiting Corsica, my first stop being the Domaine Comte Abbatucci from where this wine hails.

ABBA Abbatucci wine

And speaking of the winemaker (or shall we say in Français, vigneron), Jean-Charles Abbatucci is a direct descendant of General Jean-Charles Abbatucci, a Corsican hero of the French Revolution. Throughout the island, streets, plazas and monuments bear the revered general’s moniker.

Abbatucci Statue

Jean-Charles Abbatucci the vigneron is much revered as well for creating exceptional wines in his vineyard located in Casalabriva, a tiny town near the Corsican capital of Ajaccio. Jean-Charles is a proud Corsican and honors the unique terroir of this mountainous French Mediterranean island. He passionately adheres to biodynamic practices in tending to his vineyard. He maintains a pristine poly-culture ecosystem with sheep herds foraging through the vines; olive trees thrive on terraces nearby and untouched forests embrace the periphery. His vines are from cuttings of indigenous grapes whose history traces back to peasant farmers. In essence, he has saved these ancient grape varieties from extinction. When harvest-ready, these grapes are hand-picked, gently de-stemmed and fermented with indigenous yeasts.

Jean-Charles Abbatucci

Because of his careful adherence to such practices, Jean-Charles Abbatucci’s wines are certified biodynamic. He has been known to go the extra wild mile in following biodynamism to the letter, a philosophy that roots itself in the interconnectedness of the universe’s energies, eyebrow raising to some traditional lines of thought.

So for those sitting on the biodynamic fence who question the philosophy and skeptically wonder whether harvesting grapes when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars makes a critical difference, let me share this with you. Jean-Charles goes as far as to broadcast music from loudspeakers as he tends to his vineyard. He plays that music again during the production process.

Jean-Charles Abbatucci in vineyard

Do you wonder if he regales his grapes with ABBA tunes? Wouldn’t that be delightfully apropos given his surname? Actually, Jean-Charles plays traditional Corsican folk songs as he traverses the rows of his beloved vineyard, all in the spirit of being biodynamic and in being true to his ancestral roots. This serenading of the grapes might verifiably be the secret ingredient of his heavenly wines.

On a final note, and in keeping with my ABBA theme, let’s consider this: Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica and was comrade in arms with General Jean-Charles, so I’d venture to say WATERLOO would be the perfect ABBA tune to pair with ABBAtucci!

Abba Waterloo

Santé! And if I have whetted your appetite for Abbatucci, keep your eyes peeled. The wines are difficult to find here in the United States and sell out quickly. I count myself blessed to have savored this delectable Rouge Frais Impérial, thanks to Nikki kindly setting a bottle aside for me.

Nikki, thank you for your thoughtfulness. And Jean-Charles Abbatucci, THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC!