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Monthly Archives: July 2018

Chianti Classico and the Black Rooster

A couple of weeks ago, we were out to dinner with friends at a quaint, local Italian restaurant. As one does when dining Italian, we ordered a bottle of Chianti, or more specifically, Chianti Classico. As we sat enjoying the food, wine, and company, the discussion turned to the little black rooster on the Chianti Classico bottle. Perhaps you’ve seen it…

I started to explain the history behind the black rooster, and why it appears on every bottle of Chianti Classico. However, much to my own embarrassment (I’m a wine blogger, after all; people look to me as a font of wine knowledge and wisdom) I couldn’t recall the story. I knew there was some dispute some centuries ago, and that a black rooster was somehow involved, but that was all I could remember at the time.

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So I did what any self-respecting and self-proclaimed wine “expert” would do.

I Googled it.

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Contrary to some popular belief, Chianti is not a wine grape. It is a region in Tuscany, Italy, renowned for its red wines made from the Sangiovese grape. Sure, a few decades ago, Chianti suffered from a bit of an identity crisis, but then again, didn’t we all? Back then, Chianti was usually a cheap, low quality wine, better known for its gitchy “basket” bottle (bonus points if you know that it’s called a “fiasco”) than for the wine quality. The fiasco, in turn, was better known as a holder for colorful, dripping candles than as a vessel containing delicious wine.

 

The Chianti wine region is expansive, spanning some 100 miles between Florence in the north and Siena in the south. However, the most highly regarded Chianti wines come from what has been designated the Chianti Classico region. The Chianti Classico region is that portion of Tuscany considered the original and best Chianti hills and vineyards, dating back to the 1700’s when the Chianti region was first designated.

Which brings us to our story.

As legend has it, in the 13th century, before Italy was a unified country, Florence and Siena were engaged in a land dispute. Can you blame them? If you could claim rights to a prime wine region, wouldn’t you? Anyway, the two feuding cities decided to end their dispute with a race. The plan was that at the crack of dawn on the day of the race, each city would send a rider on horseback toward the other. Where the riders met, the new land border would be established. Of course, 800 years ago, they didn’t have Smartphones to wake them up, or even alarm clocks. Back then, they relied on the good old, low tech rooster!

In Siena, a white rooster was selected as the most dependable, and was given the task of waking their rider. Of course, some strategy must be employed to ensure victory, so the people of Siena fed their white rooster well, to keep him happy and crowing strong! To the north in Florence, a black rooster was chosen. However, the people of Florence had a different strategy. They put their rooster in a box for a few days before the race, with no food.

On the morning of the race, the very hungry and understandably grouchy black rooster of Florence woke at the first sign of light and began crowing, waking the town and more importantly, the rider. In Siena, however, the white rooster, content with a full stomach, slept in a bit.  Thus, the rider from Florence got a head start on the rider from Siena and covered much more territory. So much so, that they met just 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) from the walls of Siena. The new border was established, much in Florence’s favor, and the black rooster was established as the mascot of Chianti. The emblem was first adopted in 1384, and has been in use ever since.

Now that you know the story, make a reservation at your favorite local Italian restaurant, order a bottle of Chianti Classico, and amaze your friends with your very impressive knowledge of this entertaining tale.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

References:

https://www.chianti.com/wine/chianti-classico.html

https://www.wine-searcher.com/regions-chianti

https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/how-a-starving-rooster-made-chianti-classico-famous/

 

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Experience Alexander Valley, Day 2 – Clos du Bois, Trione, and Alexander Valley Vineyards

If life is full of disappointments, Alexander Valley is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Robyn and I had been invited to attend Experience Alexander Valley, and we were looking forward to our Sunday Experiences; Yoga in the Vineyard for both of us in the morning, and a Spa Treatment in the afternoon for Robyn. Alas, a few days before the event, Rosie, from Alexander Valley Winegrowers contacted us to let us know that, because not enough guests had signed up for those two Experiences, the host wineries were forced to cancel them. Fortunately, however, there were plenty of exciting Experiences available from which we could choose.

So, Sunday morning we headed to Clos du Bois winery for an exploration of Marlstone Through the Years. When we arrived, our host, Chris, greeted us in the tasting room with a chilled glass of Lightly Bubbled Chardonnay; a delightful and refreshing unoaked, frizzante wine, perfect for the warm day. Thankfully, the previous day’s record heat had abated, and Sunday was more seasonal in the mid-80’s, so our tour of the demonstration vineyard, with chilled Chardonnay in hand, was quite pleasant.

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You may know Clos du Bois; their “Classics” series wines are widely distributed in wine stores and supermarkets across the country. What I didn’t know, and you may not either, is that in 1978, Clos du Bois was the first winery in Sonoma County, and only the second in California, to produce a Meritage wine. Contrary to popular belief, the word Meritage is not French, and is not pronounced as a French word. Meritage is a term coined by a group of American vintners to identify American made, Bordeaux-style blends. The term is a conjunction, representing Wines of Merit, Vines of Heritage. The pronunciation rhymes with Heritage – as “Meri-tidge.”

Clos du Bois’ Meritage wine is called Marlstone. As Alexander Valley is a prime Cabernet Sauvignon region, Marlstone is dominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot as the secondary component. However, in any given year, the blend can include some or all of the other five noble grapes; Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. Here’s where the real fun began!

After the vineyard tour and some barrel tasting, Chris escorted us into a private tasting room where we got to taste through all five components, and the finished Marlstone 2014. Once we had our baseline, we got to create our own blend to see how close we could come to the winemaker’s version. Each component was spectacular on its own, and it was amazing to experience the changes as we blended them in the glass. I don’t know how the others did, but my blend was nowhere near as good as the Marlstone!

After lunch, Robyn and I parted ways again so we could cover more Experiences for you. (You’re welcome!) Robyn spent the afternoon at Trione Vineyards & Winery for a Bocce Ball Tournament, while I enjoyed a mountain-top Cabernet Sauvignon tasting at Alexander Valley Vineyards. Here’s Robyn to tell you about her Experience:

When I arrived at Trione, anticipating the Bocce Ball Tournament, they welcomed me outside with a glass of their tasty 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. I sipped on the cool, crisp Sauv Blanc under the trellis, parallel to two Bocce courts. I sat with Henry Trione, son of the founders, and learned about the family and winery history. Trione Vineyards & Winery was established in 2005. The winery building was completed in 2008. The winery is located next to an historic 1908, beautiful stone building, which the family restored and is now an event center.

As the Bocce Ball Tournament got started, since Kent was across the valley, I needed a partner. Luckily, as promoted, there was a handsome instructor to teach me the rules. I was quickly “adopted” by wine club member, Meredith, and her husband. For a while, we were in the lead. Although not a Bocce veteran, I do enjoy a good game of corn hole, and my accuracy is not too bad. I think my dead-eye aim came in handy on the Bocce court!

Adding to the friendly vibe, throughout the tournament, we sipped on Trione Rosé of Pinot Noir 2017. It was so good; I had to bring a bottle home to share with Kent. It’s a crisp and refreshing wine, and the perfect thirst quencher on the Bocce court. Sadly, our luck didn’t hold, and we lost the round. No worries, it was super fun and it’s always all about the company. Oh, and the wine! Cheers!

While Robyn was getting her Bocce on at Trione, one of Alexander Valley’s newer wineries, I headed across the valley to one of the older wineries, Alexander Valley Vineyards. There, Head of Operations and Family Partner Harry Wetzel met us for a history lesson and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. Alexander Valley is named after Cyrus Alexander, who settled in the area in 1840. Fast forward to 1962, when Harry and Maggie Wetzel (our host’s grandparents) bought a portion of Cyrus’ original homestead. In time, they planted a small vineyard, and in 1975, their son Hank produced the first vintage of Alexander Valley Vineyards wine.

As we toured the property, Harry took us to The Adobe, the oldest structure in Sonoma County, and one-time home to young Cyrus Alexander. We also saw the old, 1868 Alexander School, a one-room schoolhouse, moved from its original location, just down the road, in 1972. Finally, Harry drove us up to a mountaintop picnic bench, set with a flight of Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted through the 2016 Estate, the 2015 Organic, the 2014 Reserve, the 2012 Single Barrel, and the 1999 Wetzel Family Estate. I normally gravitate to slightly younger wines, but the 18 year old 1999 was amazing; mature, soft and subdued, yet still retaining juicy fruit notes. (Yea, I bought some.) I don’t know which was more amazing; the fantastic wines, the breathtaking view, or having 45 minutes to visit with the family partner of such an historic and wonderful winery.

As we headed down the mountain back to reality, I got Robyn’s text that her Experience was winding down. Back across the valley, I picked up Robyn and we reluctantly headed home. We enjoyed our time at Experience Alexander Valley, and have a new love for the region. We will definitely be back!

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Be on the lookout for next year’s event. We encourage you to come and Experience Alexander Valley for yourselves. Please. We really want to do Yoga in the Vineyard next year!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Experience Alexander Valley, Day 1, Part 2 – deLorimier Winery

I arrived and deLorimier a little bit early for the Sensory Experience. Kent had to drop me off and get to his experience across the valley. As I waited for the event to start, I enjoyed walking in the beautiful courtyard and nearby grounds, while sipping on a glass of deLorimier’s 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, that the tasting room staff had brought out for me.

I was first greeted by Ben, the shy vineyard dog. He hesitantly approached me, and dropped a piece of wood, with the apparent expectation that I would throw the wood and engage in a game of fetch with him. Owner and winemaker, Diane Wilson, explained that once you engage with Ben, you’re on the hook.

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The two other guests arrived, and we were escorted into a beautiful, private tasting room. My eye was drawn to the tables, which were hand-made by a local craftsman, and made from old wine barrels cut in half lengthwise, filled with corks and some deLorimier wine bottles, and covered with glass. I love artistic expression! Our tables were set with a blind tasting, complete with black, non-transparent wine glasses. I’d never done a sensory experience, so I was really excited to see what I would learn, and how I would do in the blind tasting.

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We were presented with five paper strips, each with a particular essential oil scent. It was at that moment, that I was wishing Ben could be my wingman. As a dog, according to Diane, Ben has 300 million olfactory receptors, as compared to humans, who only have 6 million. Nevertheless, I put my sniffer to the test.

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First, we took a sip of each wine, to identify only whether it was a red or a white. If we wanted to throw out a guess at the varietal, we could. They were all room temperature, to make it more complicated. I got all the colors right, although I mistook their Rosé for a Chardonnay. (They didn’t say there could be a Rosé in there.) I smelled each of the scents, and one by one, matched them to the wines. I must say, I surprised myself; I was close or right on many of the aromas and varietals.

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The most exciting part of the experience was the food pairing. Chef Donna Parsons prepared the most delectable dishes to pair with each of the wines. That was our last challenge: pairing each dish with the appropriate wine. Luckily, she made it easy and presented left-to-right. But, still, I picked correctly with each wine and food pairing!

During the experience, Ben was by my side the whole time. I would kick his piece of wood a short distance, and then he would pick it up, bring it back, and drop it on my foot until I kicked it again. I think he was my lucky sensory partner! Maybe Ben was my wingman after all.

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After this amazing experience, Kent and I met up, grabbed some lunch, and then enjoyed a Cabernet Sauvignon and Chocolate pairing at Stonestreet Estate Vineyards. You can read about that in Part One of our series.

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Later that evening, we returned to deLorimier for a Blues concert. The concert was an added bonus, included with our event tickets! The band was Brad Wilson & the Rollin’ Blues Thunder Band, and they were amazing! Kent and I got the dancing going, and pretty soon the dance pad was full.

With great music and dancing, delicious food catered by Jimtown Store, and deLorimier wines, it was a great way to end an amazing day in Alexander Valley.

  • By Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael and Kent Reynolds