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1997-02 February Classic Newsletter


February 1997 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 213 Rejected: 200 Approved: 13 Selected: 2

Fascinating People
Where's the time machine when you really need one? After hearing about the people associated with this month's selections, I had this incredible desire to meet them, learn of their goals and aspirations as well as taste the wines from their respective eras. Not that I don't find most of the people associated with our selections interesting, but for some reason the story around these two wines and the people associated with them were particularly compelling.

Fountain Grove gets an "A" on the fascinating people scale. The story of California's first Japanese winemaker, educated in Scotland, was about as interesting as it gets. I'm not sure how much more I can find out about Mr. Nagasawa and his adopted father, Timothy Harris, but I'll certainly start looking them up in my wine history books.

And then, of course, there's the lovely Montepulciano D'Abruzzo. How could you not be intrigued by a winery founded by Princess Farnese over 400 years ago? The wine is a great value, as Montalpucianos have been for decades. Either selection would be a treat with any meal.

Domestic Selection

The story of Fountain Grove begins in 1875 when Thomas Lake bought 400 acres of oak-studded hills just north of Santa Rosa. He had founded the Brotherhood of New Life in New York and came to California in search of a climate more congenial to the cultivation of wine. He increased his holdings to 1700 acres, making it one of the largest and most prestigious in the state.

Among Harris's many beliefs, catalogued in heavily-wrought prose from his own printing press, was a faith in the health-giving and spiritually uplifting properties of fine wine. He had produced fine wine in New York, an arduous task even today, and was determined to make world-class wine in California. He did with the help of his adopted Japanese son, Kanaye Nagasawa, in what has to be one of the most fascinating stories in the world of wine.

As a young samurai member of the Satsuma clan, Nagasawa was sent to England to learn the ways of the west. The leader of his clan felt that Japan's isolationism would stunt the growth of this great nation unless it learned to interact with the West. From England, Nagasawa went to Scotland where he acquired a Scottish accent and a love of cigars. It was here that he befriended a follower of Harris, whom he followed to California and learned winemaking.

Nagasawa inherited his father's estate in 1906 upon Harris's death, and went on to become one of California's most revered winemakers. He died in 1934, a wealthy and successful man who counted the likes of Luther Burbank as close friends. The winery and vineyards were gobbled up in the urban sprawl of Santa Rosa until the history and buildings were resurrected by wine enthusiasts Dick Goldwin and Bob Cappuccino.

For decades, Chenin Blanc was turned into bland, tasteless and non-descript wines either labeled by the grape or the catch-all phrase, "Chablis." Fortunately, Goldwin and Cappuccino are familiar with the lovely, pear-blossom scents and delicate flavors this grape is capable of producing . Along with the Fountain Grove name, they are restoring both to their rightful place in the world of wine. We heartily approve.

Chenin Blanc, 1995. Fountain Grove
SHEN-in Blonk
Piquant fruit flavors of spiced apple and pear with the barest hint of sweetness. Excellent follow through in the mouth depositing lots of fresh fruit and a touch of herb. Serve with shrimp dish on pg. 6.
CELLARING SUGGESTIONS:
These wines are made to be drunk now. No need to hold on to them for too long. Serve chilled.

Imported Selection

The bond between the house of Farnese and the picturesque town of Ortona along Italy's Adriatic coast began over 400 years ago. The Princess Margherita of Austria, who was married to Prince Farnese, visited Ortona and became enchanted with the coastline and the climate. She retired here and devoted her country estate to the production of Montepulciano D'Abruzzo.

The lineage of landowners throughout the last four centuries have preserved the Farnese name, built upon it and elevated it to the position of being one of top producers in the area. The vineyards are located in the Mariella Mountain Range, approximately 9,000 feet above sea level and 18 miles from the coast. These factors produce an ideal microclimate for this wine, giving it all the attributes of greatness; low yields, good color and enticing flavors.

The area is dominated by mountains, most prominent are the Apennines. Fully 65% of Abruzzo qualifies as a mountain zone. The remaining 35% is hills. There are practically no flat areas at all. It's hard to drive there, but great for grapes.

Like many of the names of Italian wines, this one tells you exactly what you need to know by its very name. Montepulciano is the grape. It was named after a wine made in Tuscany named Vino Noble di Montepulciano. That wine however is a special clone of Sangiovese which is the principle grape in Chianti. The Montepulciano D'Abruzzi was thought to be a clone of Sangiovese which had mutated to the grape it is today. This theory has been proven false, but the name has stuck. It is just another instance of the rampant confusion which seems to affect the Italian wine trade more than any other country.

Of course this fact shouldn't take away from the wine! Montepulciano D'Abruzzo has been one of the best buys in Italy for decades. While prices have been escalating out of sight for the big names like Chianti and Barbera, this grape has kept a low profile, rewarding us with flavors reminiscent of the higher priced offerings.

Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, 1995. Farnese
Monteh-pul-chi ANO. dee Ah-BRUTZO Far-NAYSEE
Bold, bright and dense garnet color. Lots of spice and cassis in the nose. First class flavors of ripe plum, cherry and cassis give way to a tantalizing crispness in the finish. A must have with roast chicken or the Shrimp-Lime Pasta on pg. 6.
CELLARING SUGGESTIONS:
Perfect now. Should hold for another year or two. Serve cool.

Member Inquiry

"Paul, What effect have the recent rains in Northern California played on the grape industry?"
G. M. Redlands

This is an interesting question and one we've been asked a lot recently. First of all, let me start out by saying that rain at this time of year is exactly what the growers want. Most vineyards are planted on hillsides where drainage is best, so heavy rains, even the torrential ones we've had lately, won't have too serious an effect at this time.

Vines are dormant in the winter so there is basically no activity within the vine. As long as the grapes are grown in soil with good drainage, like hillsides and mountains, the water doesn't pile up around the vine. Instead, it drains into a water table deep below the earth where the root system of the vine accesses it as needed.

Vines planted close to the bottom of hills and on flatlands can be seriously damaged by heavy rains. The most common problem is root rot. The roots actually deteriorate just like any other wood exposed to too much moisture. If the land doesn't purge the excess moisture, the vine could be destroyed.

There have been stories of torrential rains which have run off so much top soil that the vine is literally carried away. This can even happen on hillsides, though rarely. The pictures look pretty bad on the news of the neighborhoods under water. If it rained that much for the vine to be carried off, those neighborhoods would probably already be floating in the ocean! It takes more rain than we've seen so far for that kind of damage to occur.

Most growers would trade a drizzle in the spring when the vines are pollinating for the heavy rain we've had lately. Rain during the spring can be much more devastating than the downpour of late because it inhibits pollination and thus grape yield. Rain during the fall harvest season is a major problem because there's no way to effectively dry the grapes before crushing. Water gets into the vat along with the grapes and dilutes the wine.

The rains have been a problem for those living in the affected area. But for grapegrowers, it's better now than at any other time during the season.

Adventures in Food

I've been wanting to try pairing up a wine like Montalpuciano D'Abruzzo with challenging foods to see what the results would be. It reasoned that a sauce with some acid would complement the Montalpuciano's acidity, so I decided to make a lime-based sauce for shrimp.

The line of reasoning worked out pretty well! The acidic lime-tarragon sauce helped to mellow out the Montalpuciano's acidity, leaving just lovely fruit and smoky tar components. The starchy pasta the shrimp was on seemed to help mop up the wine's moderate tannins. The shrimp wasn't overpowered by the red wine in the least! Of course, our Chenin Blanc selection also works well.

The key to this dish, as with any pasta dish is to finish it in the sauce. The starch from the pasta thickens the sauce and also helps the sauce to adhere to the pasta.

I'm looking forward to serving the lime-tarragon shrimp dish to some friends sometime and seeing the looks on their faces when I pop open a Montalpuciano D'Abruzzo to go along with it!

SHRIMP IN LIME TARRAGON SAUCE
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
dash red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
2 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped (or 2 tsp. dry)
2 cups chicken broth
3 - 5 Tbsp. lime juice
1/2 lb. (10-15 large) shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 lb dried spaghetti or linguini
PREPARATION:

In a large pot, boil water for pasta. Add salt when water begins to boil and then add pasta. Cook until almost done, but still slightly hard to the bite. While pasta is cooking, heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté onion for 3 minutes, add the garlic, shrimp and red pepper flakes and sauté for another 2 minutes. Remove just the shrimp from the pan and set aside. Add the vermouth, tarragon, chicken broth and lime juice. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 min. Raise heat and boil sauce for 5 minutes or until reduced by half. Taste sauce and adjust acidity with more lime juice if needed. The sauce should be fairly tart, but not painfully so! Return shrimp to pan, add cooked pasta and simmer about 2 minutes until all is warmed.

Earlier Selections

Guaranteed Available DESCRIPTION QTY. MEMBER REORDER PRICES TOTAL #297A Chen. B1., '95. Fountain Grove "Pear and apple scents." Reg. Price $6.99 24.32% disc. $63.48/case $5.29/each
#297B Mont. D'Abruzzo, '95. Farnese "Up-front fruit, great finish." Reg. Price $7.99 20% disc. $76.68/case $6.39/each
#197A Cab. Sauv, '84. Creston Man. "Soft, firm and ripe cassis." Reg. Price $15.99 56% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
#197B Landes, '95. Dom. de Labelle "Fresh and clean quince flavors." Reg. Price $6.99 20% disc. $67.08/case $5.59/each
#1296A Port, NV. LaQuinta "Lush black cherry and plums." Reg. Price $11.99 45.87% disc. $77.88/case $6.49/each
#1296B Brut, NV. Cava Dubor "Tangy, crisp apple flavors." Reg. Price $9.99 36.00% disc. $76.68/case $6.39/each
#1196A Chard., '92. Stonegate "Green apple, oak and kiwi." Reg. Price $12.99 47.78% disc. $81.48/case $6.79/each
#1196B Cabernet Franc, '95. Brione "Ripe cherries, vanilla and spice." Reg. Price $7.49 20.00% disc. $71.88/case $5.99/each
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It's the Perfect Gift for a... Thank You, Housewarming, Wedding, Anniversary, Congratulations, Holiday, Father's & Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Christmas & New Year's. Business Thank You, Bon Voyage... or just to say "I Love You!" GIFT # DESCRIPTION QTY. COST TOTAL 10G 2 Bottles The 2 current club selections $18.00*
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