Are you Seeing Red?
No, it’s not because I’m an angry person by nature. Actually it’s almost the opposite as I’m
usually a Type B personality. Though I do enjoy seeing red… red in my wine glass that is. But
because I reside in the 50th where only two seasons are usually experienced, a very hot summer
running from October through May and an unbearable summer running from June through
September, the red wines usually remain in storage. So I often reach for that chilled bottle of
Champagne, Rose or white wine to experience the chill. Just because a massive, fruit driven,
alcoholic Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah is definitely not what the doctor ordered. It’s
like wearing plush wool on your palate in the dead of summer!
But for the past couple of weeks, we’ve experienced several cold fronts passing over the islands
which made it a prime opportunity to uncork those cold weather wines.
Red Wines of the Rhone
You’ve probably seen these red wines either bottled as individual varietals such as Syrah (Shiraz),
Grenache or Mourvedre or bottled as blends also including Cinsault, Counoise and Carignan. In
the US and Australia, they are usually labelled by the grape varietal whereas in France, they are
labelled by the region such as Cote Rotie, Hermitage or Cornas or in the south as Chateauneuf
du Pape, Vacqueyras and Gigondas. But all of these wines originate from the same red grape
varietals and especially in the US and Australia, tend to produce very fruit forward wines usually
with higher alcohol levels. Which usually isn’t a desired beverage when the mercury is well
above 90 degrees in the shade. But with the recent cooling in the 50th, I found it an ideal time
to “re-visit” some of my favorite reds from the Golden State.
I first sampled the wines of Helen Keplinger at a private tasting at 750 Wines located at the
northern end of St Helena town just off of the main highway. 750 Wines is run by David and
Monica Stevens and seems more artist’s loft than wine store where private tastings are arranged
by the couple that entail much more than sampling what they sell. Before your tasting
appointment is scheduled, along with asking you what grape varietals you prefer, they also
inquire what you normally drink, what price point you normally purchase down to the specific
genre of music you prefer. So when you sit down for your tasting, it is a total wine tasting
experience. And that’s where I first sampled the Keplinger Lithic which is a blend of Syrah,
Grenache and Mourvedre grown high in the Sierra Foothills and what captivated me was the
nose which included violets, lavender and sweet tea along with earth and dark red and black fruit.
Since that first encounter several years ago, I signed up for the Keplinger mailing list and have
continued to purchase their newest releases twice a year. Keplinger currently produces about 16
different wines though most of them are from blended red Rhone varietals. None of the
Keplinger wines have disappointed including their one white wine, the Eldorado which is a
Viognier blend. The Keplinger wines are perfect for slow roasted proteins and braised lamb or
beef which is compatible under our current climatic conditions.
Started almost 20 years ago by Matt and Maureen Trevisan in Paso Robles, Linne Calodo
produces about 14 different wines usually with traditional red Rhone varietals though they do
make one white wine along with several Zinfandel based wines. They even have one label that
includes American, Rhone and Spanish red varietals. What is shared by all of the Linne Calodo
wines is the presence of dried spices that you get in the nose and on the palate framed by ripe
fruit. After first tasting the wines, I intended on immediately signing up on the mailing list but
since most of the line-up is now available in the 50th, I prefer having my local wine shop
“store” the wine for me (until I purchase it) and also pay for the shipping costs. My current
favorites – which can change with the Linne Calodo line-up because the blends aren’t exactly
the same every vintage is the Overthinker which is a typical Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre
blend and the almost impossible to find Martyr since it’s not produced every year and even when
it is produced, only about 6 barrels are created.
Because of the abundance of dried spices in their line-up, I find that the Linne Calodo wines
work particularly well with braised beef and lamb dishes that include spice like cinnamon, star
anise and five spice.
The Golden State Bad Boy
Yes, it’s that one grape varietal that fetches the most dollars per acre or ton that put Napa
Valley on the map during the Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976. When Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar’
s 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon beat the likes of 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, 1970 Chateau
Montrose, 1970 Chateau Haut-Brion and 1971 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, the Golden State didn’
t just enter the international wine world, it blew the doors off. Since that time, Napa Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon has commanded top dollar often fetching $300 per bottle directly out of
the winery and double that on the secondary market. And for the longest time, what was in
vogue was ultra-ripe, ultra-concentrated, fully extracted high alcohol wines that almost needed
chewing. Definitely not hot weather wines. And forget about pairing any foods with these wines
short of 14 hour smoked brisket liberally slathered with gooey barbecue sauce.
But there are still winemakers out there focused on restraint creating Cabernet that balances the
natural tendency for ripeness in the Golden State with terroir that’s desired in the Old World.
And once again, I had my first taste of Detert Cabernet Franc at 750 Wines.
Detert Family Vineyards tucked away behind the famous To-Kalon vineyard started in 1954 and
initially simply sold grapes to Charles Krug and Robert Mondavi. In 2000, the three great-
grandsons of original owner Hedwig Detert started their own label which today only includes
three different wines, a Cabernet Franc, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a high end East Block
Cabernet Franc. And again what captivated me was the nose of the Cabernet Franc which
usually just has notes of green pepper in basic renditions. Detert also had notes of violets and
cassis and the pepper notes were more charred green chili notes than bell pepper. So I also signed
up for their mailing list and continue to purchase their wines. And though Cabernet Franc is
one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, its subdued aroma and flavors can even pair with
roasted pork and poultry especially when a hearty sauce is employed.
Uncork those Bold Reds
So while I’ll continue to uncork those big, bold reds for the next month or so as long as the
mercury remains less than 80, all of you in the Golden State can do the same almost all year
long. And as an added benefit, you can also make that hour long drive to St Helena to schedule
your private wine tasting at 750 Wines all year long. Life’s too short just to enjoy just one
single grape varietal or a single brand. I have about a dozen favorites… and that’s just with the
And on a final note, with the next bottle of vino I uncork, I’ll pour a second glass for a fellow
Nichi Bei columnist whom I met just once but forged a friendship from that solitary meeting.
To the Kaeru Kid, Glenn Nakadate, may you rest in peace my friend. Namu amida butsu.