Thursday, May 28, 2009

Your Chateau or Mine?

The first time I realized that not all wine producers were created equal was the night our waiter brought out Chateau St. Michelle chardonnay with a slight frown. At that point, I assumed there wasn’t much difference, like Coke or Pepsi. The person who ordered the wine politely corrected the waiter, saying that he asked for Chateau St. Jean. The waiter’s face lit up like Christmas, and he apologetically excused himself to retrieve the superior bottling. The waiter was now happy, and we seemed to get better service afterwards. With hindsight, this was perhaps also my first experience with shabby-snobby waiter in a nice restaurant.

No disrespect to our friends at Chatean St. Jean, but for me, if I’m paying the bill, make mine Chateau St. Michelle. This Plonkalicious producer of top-notch value red (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah) and white (chardonnay, dry Riesling, gewurztraminer, pinot gris, riesling, sauvignon blanc, rose) wines regularly hits singles and doubles in the $7 to $15 dollar range under their Columbia Valley label, and also makes wonderful, higher priced bottlings under the Ethos and Artist Series labels. In fact, I’ll put their $7 Sauvignon Blanc up against anybody, anywhere, anytime. Your Chateau or mine?

Best, Joe Plonk

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Winemaker or Storytelling Genius, or both?

John Lasseter is the creator of my favorite adulthood cartoon character – Lightning McQueen. As the creative genius behind Pixar and the Walt Disney Animation Studios, his work is beloved by millions and twice earned him an Academy Award. To me, the hallmark of John’s storytelling is great characters that achieve against the odds. In his own personal story, he and his wife Nancy are seeking to overcome odds to turn a neglected Sonoma winery into a world class producer of wine in the French style. While not the first Hollywood insiders to make great wine (Coppola, Frank Family, Smothers Brothers), the Lasseters own Rubicon involves their doing so in an environmentally friendly manner. The vineyard they purchased in 2002 has been converted to organic farming practices, and they are slowly moving forward with the winemaking process.

Lasseter Family Vineyards’ label includes a smiling bee (John’s first cartoon character) approaching a rose (representing Nancy) over five grapes (representing their five sons). They currently produce a Syrah Rose, a St. Emilion-style red blend (40% Merlot, 32% Cab, 24% Malbec, 4% Cab Franc), and a Rhone style red. I had the good fortune to try the St. Emilion-style red, and it was very enjoyable. It had muted cherry, plumb, and spice notes, with a cedar and smoky finish. It was balanced red wine in the French style that they are trying to pursue.

Okay, here we go. Focus. Speed. I am speed. One winner, forty-two losers. I eat losers for breakfast. Breakfast? Maybe I should have had breakfast? Brekkie could be good for me. No, no, no, focus. Speed. Faster than fast, quicker than quick. I am Lightning.


Best, Joe Plonk

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Real American Idol: Helen Turley

Let’s hear what our judges have to say:

Randy Jackson, “Yo, yo, yo, yo, Helen… check this out. For me, for you, that zinfandel you made for your brother Larry’s winery was the perfect varietal choice for you. The way you took that classic California zinfandel, and made it into your own, was really off the charts. I loved the Hayne Vineyard, Dusi Vineyard and the Howell Moutain Black-Sears. I thought you got a little bit pitchy with the Juvenile – oops, I guess that wasn’t yours anyway. Listen, dog, you can really make wine.”

Then there was some nonsensical, white-noise that I didn’t understand or listen to.

Paula Abdul, just sitting down from her dancing, “I think you bring something special to each wine you make. I thought your Martinelli wines were just wonderful. You bring such power and finesse every time you go into the cellar. You’re ready to make wine right now. There are three names that matter in winemaking, and they are Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Robert Mondavi and you, Helen Turley.”

Simon Cowell, “Well, I think I’m going to have to agree with Paula and Randy on this one, but I don’t think they’ve quite got it right. Your Marcassin chardonnay and pinot noir are your best, and the 2003 Marcassin Blue Slide Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is the best wine in this competition. Well done."

So, there you have it, my friends. Helen Turley – the Real American Idol.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I’ll Pass On Dessert…

I’ll pass on dessert every day that the sun sets in the East. If you really want to make me turn up my nose, make mine something without chocolate. For the other seven days of the week, chocolate will do just fine. And, the perfect pairing for any chocolate dessert is Pelican Ranch Winery’s Raspberry wine.

While I typically don’t care for sweet wines from apricot, peach or anything called gooseberry, Pelican Ranch Winery’s Raspberry wine is a wonderful mouthful of bright, zingy, raspberry flavor. It is neither overpowering (so it can be sipped by itself) nor underwhelming (it can stand up to the darkest of chocolates), but right on the money in terms of structure.

Best known for its vineyard and region designate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Pelican Ranch Winery has scored a major victory for chocolate lovers everywhere. The Raspberry wine is available only from the winery, so you’ll have to call or stop by to get it. It is a limited time bottling, so do hurry. The sun is still setting in the West.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Case of Cuvee

Last weekend was the quarterly club members wine pick-up at Windy Oaks Estate Winery. This is always a great event to sample new releases at my favorite Pinot Noir maker, as well as catch up with owners Judy and Jim Schultze. Judy was recently profiled in the “Women and Wine” article in the recent Metro Santa Cruz weekly magazine. They accurately describe her as “vivacious, articulate, world-traveled,” all important ingredients to making and selling top quality Pinot Noir.

This most recent release included their new 2007 Windy Oaks Estate Wood Tank Fermented Limited Release Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. Lots of words – just think yummy. Medium bodied pinot with complex cherry, pine, earth and spice flavors. 14.2% alcohol, 47 cases, $55 (20% discount available through their wine club). Certainly not inexpensive, but will deliver on those occasions where you need more than Plonk.

While picking up my order, one of their helpers had to climb a ladder to get my shipment – which prompted my alter ego Dr. Plonkenstein to say: “It looks like you’ve come down with a case of Cuvee…”

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Red red wine you give me whole heap of zing

Joe Plonk sashayed his way through college in the late 80s/early 90s, and if you were alive then you certainly know UB40’s ubiquitous reggae classic “Red Red Wine.” Most of the sorrowful lyrics describe a guy’s effort to forget a girl, but the rap section remains a classic:

Red red wine you make me feel so fine
You keep me rocking all of the time
Red red wine you make me feel so grand
I feel a million dollars when your just in my hand
Red red wine you make me feel so sad
Any time I see you go it make me feel bad
Red red wine you make me feel so fine
Monkey pack him rizla pon the sweet dep line
Red red wine you give me whole heap of zing
Whole heap of zing mek me do me own thing
Red red wine you really know how fi love
Your kind of loving like a blessing from above
Red red wine I love you right from the start
Right from the start with all of my heart
Red red wine in a 80's style
Red red wine in a modern beat style, yeah

Dreadlocks, togas, and lampshades all around!

Best, Joe Plonk

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cellar No. 8 is No. 1

In 1881, Andrea Sbarboro founded the Asti Winery in northern Sonoma County. Sbarboro was an Italian immigrant and San Francisco banker who moved to northern Somoma County where he founded a winemaking community. The winery was named after the Asti region in northern Italy. Cellar No. 8 was the location at the original Asti Winery where Sbarboro would age his red wine in barrels. The winery was later bought by Beringer, which was subsequently bought by the Foster’s Group. While Andrea is undoubtedly spinning over the fact that his beloved wine community is now owned by Aussies, the current caretakers at Foster’s are producing enjoyable, fruit forward, ready-to-drink wines in a California style.

Today, Cellar No. 8 produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel, all great values at $9 per bottle. (They also produce several reserve bottlings price around $25 and a few whites.) Cellar No. 8 wines are currently part of BevMo’s 5 cent sale, so you will be able to buy their enjoyable wine under $5 per bottle. I’m sure Andrea is happy about that.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Breaking Champagne Bottles for Maritime Luck

It is traditional to smash a champagne bottle across the bow of a newly launched vessel. Maritime lore holds that if the bottle fails to smash, the ship will be destined for tragedy at sea. In ancient times, people believed that rainstorms reflected the anger of the gods, so people offered a sacrifice of wine or whiskey. This custom was later adapted to the current ceremony involving champagne and some local dignitary or celebrity.

Frommer’s reports on several more memorable moments:

- In 2002, Dame Judi Dench christened the Carnival Legend in Essex, England. After being well shaken on the first two attempts across the bow, the bottle finally broke on the third attempt spraying all near by and prompting local newspapers to run the headline: “Judi Drench!”
- In 2002, while christening the Norwegian Dawn in New York, “Sex in the City” star Kim Cattrall told the audience that the Dawn was 'by far the biggest ship in New York...and don't let anyone ever tell you that size doesn't matter!' before suggestively smashing the bottle across the bow.
- In 2003, Sophia Loren spontaneously said, 'mama mia', as she christened MSC Opera.
- In 1997, the original Love Boat Cast reunited to christen the Dawn Princess, upon which seven years later Jill Whelan (Captain Stubing's daughter Vicki on the show) got married with Captain Stubing (Gavin MacLeod) giving away the bridewith a kiss.

Buon Voyage!

Best, Joe Plonk

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