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Rare By Nature, Rare By Nurture (The Inside View Of Rutherglen Rare Topaque And Muscat)

Vinted on August 2, 2012 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, sexy wines, wine review

Geographic isolation engenders resourcefulness. As well as entire rooms that smell like caramel and sultanas.

Let’s start with the resourcefulness.

When Scottish friends George Sutherland Smith and John Banks decided in the 1860s that they couldn’t wait for materials to be shipped in to them to build All Saints, a winemaking property on the bank of the Murray River in Rutherglen’s Wahgunyah, they did what any self-respecting Aussies would do; they did it al themselves. Smith and Banks went ahead and established their own brick kiln so they could make their materials; presumably in a hurry to finish, fingerprints can still be seen in the bricks where Chinese workers laid down the material that had just barely cooled.

The result of their ingenuity is a structure that was once believed to be the largest winery in the southern hemisphere, an imposing building modeled after the their home country’s Castle of Mey (All Saints Estate was purchased in 1992 by the Brown family of Milawa, and Brown descendants Eliza, Angela and Nicholas now run the show), and built “on the back of money made running paddle steamers up the Murray and selling dry goods to miners” according to their PR folks.

The surfeit of caramel and sultanas come to us by virtue of All Saints hosting a tasting of Rutherglen’s now most famous wine export: “stickies” in Aussie slang, fortified dessert wine to the rest of the wine world. For my visit, All Saints had poured, for a comparitive master-class tasting, glasses of nearly every Rutherglen producer’s Topaque offerings, from the simpler Rutherglen level all the way through to what are called “Rare” with good reason: they’re made in tiny quantities, and aged somewhere around thirty years in barrel.

It was the Rares in which I was most interested, because… well, because I’m not above that sort of thing but primarily to tell you what they taste like, even though the chances of finding them stateside are fairly… rare

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Bubbly At 150 (Schramsberg Recent Releases, And Why It’s Okay That California Is Not Champagne)

California sparkling wine has come a long way (baby) since German draft-dodger and later NYC barber Jacob Schram decided that the hot and sunny knolls of Calistoga in the 1860s looked like a suitable place to plant vines like those he’d left behind in his beloved Rhineland (after all, he’d seen hills far steeper – and a lot more difficult to farm – back in Germany).

Schram wasn’t making bubbly back then – that Calistoga climate barely managed the mostly German varietal still wines that he produced there, so much so that he hired Chinese laborers, fresh off work on the railway lines, to dig the site’s now-famous hillside caves in order to protect his wines from the heat (pickaxe marks are still clearly blazoned into the walls). So, Schram would probably be as surprised as anyone by the success that his namesake – Schramsberg – has had in the domestic sparklers department (though Schram was no slouch – by the time of his death due to complications from paralysis in 1905, his winemaking venture was quite successful, and he’d counted among his friends people like Robert Louis Stevenson).

Schram’s son Herman wasn’t so lucky; lacking his father’s passion for the business, he couldn’t overcome the double-fisted body-blows of phylloxera and Prohibition, and tax records form the time suggest that the winemaking family business stumbled mightily by the time it was sold in 1912.

That Schramsberg could again be firing on all winemaking cylinders 150 years later probably seemed just as unlikely in Shcram’s time as any California sparkling wine being able to stand toe-to-toe with some of the best that Champagne has to offer in our time; yet (based on my recent visit this past June), both are clearly happening at this Calistoga hamlet

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What’s In A Name, Anyway? (Recent Releases From Steven Mirassou’s Not-Quite-Family-Named Brands)

After six generations of pressing grapes in California, the Mirassou family has only one son left who owns a wine brand: Steven Mirassou.

But he can’t legally use his own name on his bottles, despite the fact that Mirassou’s have been making wine since the mid-1800s, probably longer than any other CA winemaking family. He cannot use the family name because Gallo picked up the Mirassou brand in 2003. David Mirassou now represents that brand for Gallo, but the San Jose winery where they once made their products is long gone.

The family-name-scooped-up-by-the-big-conglomerate story that seems to be rampant in the wine world (whether you’re a Mondavi in CA or a Taylor in NY) doesn’t seem to have slowed Steven Mirassou down much, though.

After setting up shop under the Steven Kent brand (which is as far as he can go legally in terms of sticking his name on the bottles) in Livermore, along with La Rochelle winemaker Tom Stutz he’s crafting some of the most stunning – and exciting – wines in all of California…

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Cuckoo For Pou-Fu (“Zen” Sauvignon Blanc From Salon des Vins de Loire 2012)

Vinted on March 1, 2012 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, sexy wines, zen wine

Readers here could be forgiven – what with all of the French wine mini-review action, and the Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Loire features running here lately – for thinking that 1WineDude.com has gone totally Francophile. But then, after I start pumping out the coverage from my recent Napa jaunt, you’ll probably start calling me a CA-o-phile… whatever…

I like to think in more Zen terms, in that swinging the pendulum one way, followed by a full-on go-for-broke swing in the other direction, maintains (ironically) a sense of centeredness to our vinous proceedings here.

And so it’s in that Zen vein (Zein?) that I top off the Salon des Vins de Loire feature-style coverage by going back to where my Loire wine journey started in the first place, many moons before I’d ever dreamed of actually going there.  After tasting a enough Loire valley wines (most of them new to me) to probably fill the region’s river, I’m coming full circle. I’m going to delve into what have long been my two favorite regions in all of its river’s serpentine 600+ mile length: Sancerre and  Pouilly-Fumé. Sooooo predictable…

Prior to my press trip to a very chilly and snowy Angers, I was a sucker for the almost-hypnotic flinty, lilting qualities of what might be the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc from those areas on the far eastern side of the Loire. And hundreds of Loire wines later, I’m still a sucker for the almost-hypnotically flinty, lilting qualities of what might just be the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc.

So it’s with a warm spot in my ticker and notes of papaya and grapefruit on my tongue that I give you my thoughts on two family-run outfits that are making near-heart-stoppingly good Loire Sauvignon Blanc, but the whole thing is even more Zen precisely because they aren’t at all in-your-face about it: Domaine Vacheron and Chateau de Tracy

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