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December 1995 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 196 Rejected: 171 Approved: 23 Selected: 2

In some ways, I guess you could say that we've got a "big" finish to the year. After all, we're featuring a des¬sert wine from the 18th largest winery in California and a sparkler from a producer who makes a mere 150,000 cases of sparkling wine and 750,000 cases over all. They may seem big, but the prod¬uct they offer is pretty spectacular. And that's all it takes to get us interested.

The other thing you could say about our two selections is that they've been around for a while. Gibson was started over 50 years ago. That isn't very long when compared to most European win¬eries, but most European wineries weren't derailed by Prohibition in the 1920s and 30s. Must have been a fairly talented family. Their father founded the Gibson Greeting Card company almost a century ago. Wonder what mom did? She was probably respon¬sible for deciding to plant the Valdepenas and make one of the nicest Ruby Ports around.

When we get to Jaume Serra is where we start talking age. Imagine, this winery was founded almost 350 years ago! The Mayflower had just set sale for this uncharted territory called America. George Washington wasn't even born yet. Guess we have a way to go when it comes to claiming a history. Not that any of this means they make a wonderful product, mind you. Of course they do. This may be the best we've ever tasted. While most Spanish sparklers, are well made, they tend to lack character and definition. This one defines a new taste in sparkling wines from the area.

Domestic Selection

LA PIÑA, NV. RAMANO VINEYARDS
La-PEEN-ya Rah-MAN-No

The Wine of the Month Club was founded on the idea that someone needed to offer those little jewels that few people ever find on their own. The small, ar¬tisan wineries were hard to get hold of, but well worth the trouble to seek out, especially after tasting the wines they crafted. Obviously it worked. We've grown every year for nearly a quarter century. Once in a while, we change direction. Maybe big isn't bad!

When discussing the Ramano Vineyards, aka Gibson Wine Com¬pany, we're talking big...the 18th larg¬est winery in the United States. Inter¬estingly, Gibson is actually more of a co-op of growers than a full scale win¬ery. The company was founded by Robert Gibson in 1944, when he pur¬chased the Elk Grove winery. Gibson was actually from Ohio and based his company there, even though the grapes came from California. He took in growers as partners, which is how he was able to enlarge so rapidly. Be¬sides making table wine, Gibson is the largest producer of pure grape juice and fruit and berry wines in Califor¬nia. This is big, right?

Well, then comes along a little plot here and a small batch there, and all of a sudden there are a few cases of this experimental Ruby Port that someone forgot about and one day it crops up on an inventory printout!!! How you lose track of 400 barrels of wine is a good question. We don't have the answer, but it ended up being a superb selection.

Port is a sweet, opulent and rich dessert wine from Portu¬- spire to allow the production of fine wine in gal, which has been attracting fans for nearly 900 years. It has the distinction of probably being the world's first bottled "vintage" wine (1775), the first demarcated wine dis¬trict sanctioned by the government (1678) and undoubtedly the most fa¬mous wine discovered by accident.

Rumor has it that as far back as the 14th Century, red table wine was be¬ing exported to England in cask. Be¬cause the reds of Portugal were much coarser than their French counterparts, the trip made the wines "sick." Brandy was added to help preserve them. Oddly enough, the wine that finally docked in England some three months later actually tasted better than the wine that left Portugal!

This revelation, coupled with England's war with Spain which cut the supply of Sherry (a British favor¬ite), forced them to seriously look at Portugal as a source of supply for des¬sert wines. And so, over 400 years later, we have a British "invention," Port, to the delight of many aficionados.

Gibson produces this elegant port-styled wine from the rare Valdepena grape. It is quite scarce in California, being predominately found in the his¬toric La Mancha region of Spain. This is a classic Ruby style. Bing cherry and sweet/tart cranberry are enveloped around a vanilla robe. Try with ripe cheeses, pecans and apples.

Cellaring Suggestions: Very drinkable now, will hold for 5-10 years.

Imported Selection

BRUT, NV. JAUME SERRA
Jow-MAY SAYR-ah

Jaume Serra was founded in 1943 by Jaume Serra Guell in the Penedes region of Spain approximately 30 miles south of Barcelona. The original site of the winery was a fortress built because of its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea in 1647. Legend has it that there was an escape tunnel from the castle to the center of town and was used during the wars with France.

In 1975, the winery was purchased by Ramon Rato, who invested millions in building a state-of-the-art winery in 1984. It was completed in 1986. Jaume Serra produces 14 different wines, half of which are sparkling. They grow Parellada, the local variety used in making sparkling wines, and also purchase grapes from 15 growers with whom they have exclusive contracts.

Cava is the term the Spanish use to denote their sparkling wines made in the same manner as French Champagne. This is the most costly method for making sparkling wine because it uses the most amount of labor. Sparkling wines made in this manner start out as still, crisp wines. They are then bottled in the traditional sparkling wine bottle to which a tiny amount of sugar solution and yeast is added and the bottle sealed with a crown cap. A second fermentation takes place. The yeast converts the sugar to approximately 50% alcohol and 50% carbon dioxide gas, just as it did in the primary fermentation. The difference is that, unlike the first fermentation which takes place after the grapes were picked and placed in an open top fermenter, this second phase be just one, Sangiovese. By law. until just a takes place in a sealed bottle. Since the carbon dioxide gas can't escape into the air, as it could in an open-top fermenter, it goes into the wine and makes it sparkling. The yeast cells die off and fall to the bottom of the bottle. This is where the labor comes in.

Once a day, the cellarman gives each bottle a slight shake and a quarter turn. With each turn, the bottle is reinserted at a new, more upright angle until it is perfectly vertical, cork side down.

After about 2 to 6 months of this treatment, all of the sediment (expired yeast cells) is collected at the neck of the bottle and the yeast cells, having done their best, have retired to yeast heaven. The bottles are placed in special racks for aging on the expired yeast cells for as many as 1 to 3 years. The longer they rest on the yeast, the more complex the flavors become. The wine can actually pick up a "yeasty" component reminiscent of fresh baked bread. The neck is then frozen and the small plug of yeast cells is removed under pressure and refilled. Jaume Serra ages their cavas an average of 24 to 36 months, which is what accounts for the smooth, crisp, clean flavors.

Clean lemony, citrus and melon flavors with a smooth finish. A perfect holiday accompaniment to a shrimp appetizer in a serrano /mint pesto.

Cellaring Suggestions: At its prime now. Should easily maintain this quality level for another year.

Member Inquiry

"Paul, Most of us just taste wine for the enjoyment. If we were to get more scientific about it, how would we approach it?"
L.L., Pacoima.

Wine appeals to four senses: sight, smell, taste and touch. Each by itself is important, but the final impression is an amalgam of all four. Most experts pay more attention to smell than to taste, but the majority approach wine tasting to determine a total, overall assessment of the wine's quality or lack thereof. It is important to note that wine is a very subjective thing, yet the professional taster must be objective as much as pos¬sible. Professional tasters are constantly fighting their own shortcomings. Hav¬ing a cold, an upset stomach, even hav¬ing personal or business problems can affect one's ability to taste a wine accu¬rately. Moreover, everyone's tasting ability varies from day-to-day, even from morning to afternoon.

What we call the sensation of "taste" involves smell, sight, and even touch. A wine of brilliant color, for example, usu¬ally will score higher in a tasting than a wine of lesser brilliance, even if the lat¬ter is superior. Part of the subjectivity of wine involves one's "threshold," which is different for everyone. Thresh¬old is the ability to smell or taste vari-ous compounds in wine at minimal con-centration. For instance, one taster might be able to detect a very tiny amount of sulfur dioxide in a wine (burned match), while another taster will not detect it until the concentration is 5 times greater. The former has a low threshold for sulfur dioxide, the latter a high threshold. One's threshold is different for every compound, and varies daily.

As with any comparison, that is very subjective, professionals must strive to be objective and rank a wine on its merits. It is very difficult not to rank a wine best which a taster personally likes. A good wine taster may rank one wine as best of several tasted, but drink a lower-ranked wine with lunch because they like it better. Also, it should be kept in mind that many wines might not be particularly to one's liking by itself, but will taste extraordinarily good with food. In the same vein, an ordinary wine in a beautiful setting will taste delightful, while a great wine in poor circumstances may not measure up to expectations. For this reason, professional tastings are usually conducted under rather clinical conditions.

Understanding how we taste is very helpful. The greatest proportion of what we normally consider to be taste or flavor is actually smell. When wine is sniffed, the small olfactory (odor-sen¬sitive) portion of the nose is opened and collects information that is transmitted to the brain. Additional information reaches the olfactory regions when a wine reaches the mouth where it is aer-ated and warmed sufficiently to release more volatile components which are exhaled through the nose.

A moderate sip is usually enough to get the full impression of the wine. Swirl the wine completely around the mouth so it comes in contact with all parts of the tongue. Part the lip slightly, draw air through them into the wine to agitate and aerate it as much as possible. This procedure, though a bit noisy, is the best way for your senses to achieve the full impact of the wine.

Adventures in Eating

I used to think of mint as something that went into pies and toothpaste. Okay, so I was a little behind the times back then. After several visits to a few exceptional Thai and Indian restaurants I began to ask questions about the ingredients. While they were new and different to my taste buds, they sure were tantalizing. I found the combination of the cool mint flavor with the heat of the chiles a terrific contrast which excited the taste buds and begged for clean, crisp still or sparkling wines. This dish is a knockout with this month's sparkler.

SHRIMP WITH SERRANO AND MINT PESTO
For this recipe you'll need a food processor, large bowl and sauce pan.
INGREDIENTS:
1 lb. Rock shrimp (if unavailable use white shrimp)
2 walnuts shelled
4 cloves garlic
2 small Serrano peppers sliced with seeds removed
2 bunches (about 1 cup) fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 /2 tsp. Dark Karo Syrup or brown sugar.
2 tablespoons olive oil (more if you desire) or 1/4 cup Magic Sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1/4 cup each of cilantro and parsley if desired.
olive oil
8 corn tortillas
cooking spray
PREPARATION:
Spray each side of the tortillas lightly with cooking spray. Cut into 1/4" strips and heat in 350° oven for approximately 20 min. or until very crisp.

In a food processor drop walnuts for two 1-sec. pulses; then garlic for two 1-sec. pulses; then serranos for two 1-sec. pulses. Add mint, lime juice, cilantro, parsley, Karo syrup and salt. Process until smooth

While processor is running add 2 Tblsp. olive oil in steady stream until all is used. Heat pesto in microwave or saucepan until warm but not boiling.

Sauté shrimp in olive oil until just barely done. In a separate bowl toss shrimp, tortilla strips and pesto together and serve. Can also be used on pasta. Serves 4 as a first course or 8 as an appetizer. Serve with fine, crisp sparkling wine like our Jaume Serra Brut.

Earlier Selections

Item: Description Qty. Member Reorder Prices Total #1295A La Pilla, NV. Ramano "Creamy, smooth black cherry" Reg. Price $8.99 33.37% disc. $71.88/case $5.99/each
#1295B Brut, NV. Jaume Serra "Citrus and melon" Reg. Price $9.99 30.00% disc. $83.88/case $6.99/each
#1195A Cab. Sauv, '83.Smith & Hook "Licorice and cherry." Reg. Price $15.00 56.33% disc. $78.60/ case $6.55/each
#1195B Anjou, '93. Ch. d Montget "Pineapple, kiwi and guava nuance." Reg. Price $6.79 20.02% disc. $65.16/case $5.43/each
#1095A Chardonnay, '93. Sylvester "Tropical fruit and vanilla flavors." Reg. Price $6.99 20.03% disc. $67.08/case $5.59/each
#1095B Merlot, '94. Piat "Blackberry and spice." Reg. Price $7.99 20.02% disc. $76.68/case $6.39/each
#995A Cab. Sauv. '86. Dom. Michel "Dense, chocolate and tobacco." Reg. Price $10.99 36.76% disc. $83.40/case $6.95/each
#995B Angelico, '94. Calvet "Bright melon and nectarines." Reg. Price $8.99 36.71% disc $68.28/case $5.69/each
Please call for shipping prices outside CA in states where Sub-Total permissible. Recipients must be 21 years or older. 8.25% CA Sales Tax (CA Bottles) 1-2: $3.75; 3-4: $4.65; 5-6: $7.65; 7-8: $10.50; 9-10: $11.25; 11-12: $11.50 S&H Check enclosed for $_____. Charge my: □Visa□M/Card□AmEx.□Disc. TOTAL
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Mail to: Wine of the Month Club, P.O. Box 660220, Arcadia, CA 91066 (800) 949-WINE ● (818) 445-8281 ● FAX (818) 445-8361 (See reverse side to order Wine Gifts)

Gift Order Form

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!"
All Wine Of The Month Club gifts are guaranteed to arrive in perfect condition... gift wrapped... and with a gift card.
GIFT # DESCRIPTION QTY. COST TOTAL 10G 2 Bottles The 2 current club selections $18.00*
20G 6 Bottles Assortment of recent selections $48.50*
30G 12 Bottles (1 Case) Assortment of recent selections $93.50*
4GP 4 Months Subscription: 2 Bottles (the Club Selections) a month for 4 months or every quarter for 1 year-specify gift #4Q (8 bottles total). $63.00*
5GP 6 Months Subscription: 2 Bottles (the Club Selections) a month for 6 months or every other month for 1 year-specify gift #5B (12 bottles total). $93.00*
6GP 1 Year Subscription: 2 Bottles (the Club Selections) every month for the next 12 months (24 bottles total). $183.00*
LOG 2 Bottles The 2 current Limited Series selections. $43.00*
LGP 1 Year Subscription: 2 Bottles every quarter (Limited Series) for the next 12 months (8 bottles total). $163.00*
Recipients must be 21 or older. (*Gift wrapping included.) Sub-Total CA SHIPPING CHARGES: OUT OF STATE CHARGES: 8.25% CA Sales Tax Gift #10G, LOG $3.75 Gift #10G, LOG $5.50 Gift #20G $8.15 Gift #20G $14.65 S&H Gift #30G $12.35 Gift #30G $21.65 Gift #4GP, LPG $15.00 Gift #4GP, LPG $23.00 TOTAL
Gift #5GP $22.50 Gift #5GP $33.00 Gift #6GP $45.00 Gift #6GP $67.00 Check enclosed for $ _________. _________________________________________ Charge my: Card # Expiration Date □ Visa □ MasterCard _________________________________________________________ □ American Express □Discover Name (Please Print) Signature _____________________________________________________________________________________________________ Address _____________________________________________________________________________________________________ City State Zip Phone (evening) Phone (day) Please ship Gift # _________ To: ________________________________________________________________________ Name _____________________________________________________________________________________________________ Address City State Zip Special note on gift card: __________________________________________________________ (Attach another sheet of paper to list other recipients)
MAIL TO: WOMC, P.O. Box 660220, Arcadia, CA 91066 or call (800) 949-WINE ● (818) 445-8281 ● FAX (818) 445-8361

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