Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wines I'm Making: First Sulfur Spraying (2010)

This morning I finally had the opportunity to spray the grape vines with sulfur to prevent mildew. The forecast is now for clear skies for at least a week. The longest shoots on the Sangiovese vines are already about 18 inches long. The longest on the Cabernet vines are about six inches long. Spraying with sulfur is the one tedious chore involved in making wine. I enjoy just about everything else. It has to be done though. The vines will need to be sprayed again in another couple of weeks, as new growth becomes vulnerable. In the photo you can see the sulfur on the leaves. A tiny grape cluster is clearly visible a well.

Wines I'm Drinking: (Oops) Carménère Rosé

Some of my long-time readers may remember that I reviewed a large group of Carménère wines in these pages a while back (January 2009, to be precise) that included the 2006 (oops) Valle Central Rosé of Carménère (Grocery Outlet, $2.99). It was cheap and good. It's not that it was "good for the price." It was good wine, period. Forget the silly name. The ridiculously low price was a bit of icing on the cake. Not surprisingly, the wine disappeared almost overnight.

I'm happy to report that my local Grocery Outlet (Santa Rosa) suddenly has this wine again. I bought a case. There appear to be at least three cases left. It's worth checking your local store. Only $2.69 a bottle if you buy by the case.

One caveat: The wine is now a year older than it was when I first tasted it. I figured it worth the gamble. After I open the first bottle, I'll report back if anything disastrous has happened to it since last year. A link to my original review appears below.

[April 30 Update: I opened a bottle. It's very tasty--although somewhat sweeter than I remembered it. It still has a wonderful honey and passion fruit scent and an interesting waxy flavor (in a good way) that's reminiscent of the wines of France's Costières de Nîmes appellation.]

2006 (oops) Valle Central Rosé of Carménère

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Birds I'm Watching: Oaks at Oakmont and Melita Rd.

Yesterday, I had errands to run near Oakmont. I took a quick look in some of the pockets of oak trees in the area. There are a number of side streets off the main road trough Oakmont that have large oaks in them and little traffic (often they are cul-de-sacs or loops that go nowhere). These streets offer excellent habitat for birds like chickadees, nuthatches, the oak titmouse, scrub jays, Pacific slope flycatchers, and, at this time of year, warblers. I suppose the place is called Oakmont for a reason. The streets have names like Oak Leaf Dr., Oak Point Ct., Oak Brook Ln., and Oak Mesa Dr.

I also looked around Melita Rd. I didn't see much of interest except a single white-throated sparrow. April 27 is a very late date to see one in Sonoma County. I think the latest record is May 1. Most of them will have already begun to move south after wintering here. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me. I may try to go out again today to get a picture of him, although he is likely to have moved off.

Art I'm Looking At: Graffiti Preserved--A Travesty?

I came across an interesting Reuters article today on Yahoo News. The story, entitled "Cleaners Paint Over Priceless Art," is about street cleaners in Canberra, Australia that painted over "graffiti art" the city wanted to preserve. The Canberra government is now scrambling to protect (with clear coat) other examples of work there by the street artist known as Banksy.

This strikes me as very odd. If property owners encourage graffiti or preserve it, they effectively neuter it. It becomes a travesty. If graffiti artists seek to create work knowing it will be considered a positive addition to an urban landscape and that it will be preserved as art, their work is no longer a rebellious and criminal act--which it seems to me is much of the point of graffiti. The graffiti artist is no longer an outsider. Instead, he or she becomes a participant in a modified version of the traditional relationship between artist and patron. The whole thing seems rather wrong-headed to me. While I understand wanting to preserve an interesting work once it has been created, shouldn't the graffiti artist have to accept that his or her work may be painted over or removed at any time? This reminds me of the original London punk subculture and its Mohawk hairstyles and the Takenokozoku performers in the Harajuku area of Tokyo. What began in each case as a pure expression of the self devolved into a series of hollow stunts for tourists. Perhaps it's just a problem of words: Street artists that use buildings as their canvases with the understanding that their work will be condoned are just that--street artists. It seems to me, however, that they should not be called graffiti artists. What do you think?

Rain: More than Half an Inch of New Rain (April 28, 2010)

More rain last night and today has added 0.65 inches to our 2009-2010 season total, which now stands at 30.85 inches (as of 2:00PM April 28). That's above the historical average rainfall for April 28, which is 29.90 inches and just below the historical annual average for Santa Rosa, which is 31.01 inches. I'm reporting rainfall at my own house, but some Santa Rosa stations have reported nearly 36 inches already this year. There was a little bit of hail mixed in this morning, but not enough to do any damage.

Wines I'm Drinking: Four Wines from Tuscany

Last night I tasted four red wines from Tuscany--three bottles of Chianti Classico and a Brunello di Montalcino--from Trader Joe's. I tasted the wines blind. They ranged in price from $8.99 to $19.99 (the Brunello). While $19.99 is an excellent price for any decent Brunello these days, I was curious to see whether it really stood out in a blind tasting. Notes follow:

2005 Incanta Chianti Classico Riserva
Medium deep brownish red with good color to the rim. Scents of wood, prunes, nutmeg, and orange rind. Tannic at first, with moderate fruit. Woody mid-palate. Fruit drops away fairly quickly. Finish is a bit tart with fine-grained tannins lingering. Comparatively long with some interesting brandy-like flavors on the end. After opening up a little, the tannins softened, but there wasn't a lot of fruit behind them. Bright, fresh acidity makes this easy to drink, but it doesn't have a lot of depth. Perfectly acceptable everyday wine, but the same can be had for less money. $9.99 at Trader Joe's.

2006 Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico
Medium deep brownish red. Color a bit less intense than in the first wine. Interesting nose. Wood, nutmeg again and something that put me in mind of women's makeup--stage pancake, perhaps--which is an odd association, but there it is. Noticeably richer on the palate than the first wine. Attractive sweet, ripe fruit. Light tannins. Round. Tasty right off the bat. Well integrated flavors. Not a powerful wine, but immediately appealing with delicate, lingering, woody flavors. Delicate but with a decent balance of fruity sweetness, soft tannins, and acidity. This turned out to be my favorite wine of the four. As it's half the price of the Brunello (which I also liked), I went back for more of this. I don't know if it will improve much with time (I'll reserve at least one bottle for a few years), but tasty for immediate consumption. $9.99 at Trader Joe's. Recommended.

2007 Il Tarocco Chianti Classico
Color again very similar to the first two wines, but somewhat deeper. Had some "off" scents. Smelled of iodine and musty paper. The wine was slightly corked. I took it back for a replacement. The second bottle was fine. Mostly scents of leather with something a bit musky as well. Hints of prunes. Something was suggestive of sour hard candies, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Sour plums, maybe? Initial impression on the palate was tartness with some woody flavors. The mid-palate was more attractive, but overall the wine seemed somewhat short and austere with dry, woody flavors predominant. Remained fairly tannic even after quite a bit of time open to the air. Not unpleasant in any way, but not an especially generous wine. Acceptable for everyday drinking, but this was the least attractive of the four wines in my view. It's well worth spending the extra dollar for the Lamole di Lamole wine. $8.99 at Trader Joe's. [Update: This showed much better the following day, suggesting it might be worth tucking away a bottle or two for a few years.]

2003 Bonacchi Brunello di Montalcino
I was excited to find this. Brunello is one of my favorite wines (I have very fond memories of the 1985 Lisini Brunello, among others. Ahh, those were the days...). To get a good Brunello today usually requires spending anywhere from about $45 to $85, so $19.99 looks very attractive (for my local readers, the best selection of Brunello is usually at Traverso's, which has moved from its downtown Santa Rosa location to a new store off Fountaingrove). The wine was tasty, but I wouldn't say it was anything like twice as good as the Lamole di Lamole wine. On taste alone, I'd have chosen this as the best of the group, but in terms of cost performance it was a disappointment even though it's undeniably inexpensive for a Brunello.

The Brunello was very similar in color to the other wines, although a bit deeper in hue and more garnet. Attractive "dark," musky scents laced with prunes, plums, and nutmeg again. At first seems tart and woody, but has a good mid-palate with ripe fruit and an extended, dry, finish marked by attractive, delicate tannins. Has some finesse. Fairly tight. This will need a little more time to be at its best, perhaps. The wine kept evolving over the course of the tasting, however, which is always a good sign. Later it seemed softer, with scents of leather and meat developing. While this is tasty, well made wine, it was not as exciting as I was hoping. Probably fairly priced at $19.99 at Trader Joe's, but, as noted above, the Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico was nearly as good and half the price.

For many more wine reviews, use the "Wines I'm Drinking" tab on the right.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Movies I'm Watching: The Best Movies I've Never Seen (April 27, 2010)

I've just seen three more of the films recommended in Leonard Maltin's 151 Best Films You've Never Seen. These three were all stinkers. I'm really surprised Maltin likes these films. Having said that, I've never thought much of Maltin's recommendations, and so far my prejudice has been reinforced by seeing the movies he singles out in this book--and I'm still in the "B"s. I saw American Dreamz, The Ballad of Little Jo, and The Big Hit. None of these three have much to recommend them in my view. Save your time and money.

American Dreamz (2006, written and directed by Paul Weitz, starring Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Willem Defoe, Sam Golzari, and others) is an example of everything that's wrong with American filmmaking today--slick, bland visuals; mediocre acting; and flat writing that insults the viewer's intelligence. The film's one redeeming feature is the interplay between the Hugh Grant and Mandy Moore characters, two people who don't think much of themselves that are attracted to each other precisely because they understand each other so well. American Dreamz is billed as a comedy, but I don't think I laughed once. Typical Hollywood laziness. Almost entirely lacking in wit or intelligence. I can't imagine what Maltin sees in this. Two thumbs down, to borrow a phrase.

The Ballad of Little Jo (Written and directed by Maggie Greenwald, starring Suzy Amis, Bo Hopkins, Ian McKellen, David Chung, Heather Graham, Rene Auberjonois, and others) at least has in it the kernel of an interesting story--although there isn't a great deal of drama in the plot. A plot synopsis would seem to exhaust as much of the story's potential interest as the film itself has.

A woman with a child born out of wedlock on the East Coast flees to the West (leaving her child behind). She finds life tough as a single woman. The film suggests the only roles available to her are wife or whore. The central character, however, chooses an alternate path through life: she becomes a man, by cropping her hair, dressing as a man, and working as a man. She eventually finds a place among the people she settles near. In a subplot, the Chinese laborer she takes on as a manservant becomes her lover. Almost no one else knows she is a woman until she dies and the undertaker begins to prepare the body for burial. Everything else that happens is pretty much standard western fare.

The Big Hit (1998, directed by Kirk Wong, written by Ben Ramsey, starring Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christina Applegate, Avery Brooks, and others) was about as good as American Dreamz, which isn't saying very much. It is a mostly dull, sophomoric action piece that seems to be trying to laugh at itself, but without much success. It occasionally veers off into Hong Kong-style martial arts effects, especially toward the end of the film. An implausible romance between sensitive hitman Melvin Smiley (the Mark Wahlberg character) and his kidnap victim, Keiko Nishi (played by China Chow), is embedded within strife among gangsters. At the same time, the sensitive hitman is trying to please two other women he's involved with, his Jewish fiancé, Pam Shulman (played by Christina Applegate), and Chantel (played by Lela Rochon). The kidnapped girl (daughter of a Japanese tycoon that has gone bankrupt) goes to a girls' school that has a uniform with the inevitable short plaid skirt, allowing the filmmakers to titillate in the style of soft-core Japanese schoolgirl porn. Although Christina Applegate was sporadically amusing as the Jewish bride-to-be struggling with her parents that aren't about to accept her non-Jewish fiancé, I suspect this film was more fun for the people that made it than it is likely to be for people who watch it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Carpenteria, Digitalis, "New Dawn" Climbing Rose, White Bush Rose (April 26, 2010)

First blooms of 2010 today on the Digitalis that comes up every year under the hammock. I'm still not sure how this got started. It was probably in some seed I threw around the garden years ago. This is Digitalis purpurea. It always looks pretty in the spring but then suffers through the dry summer. It has been quite reliable nevertheless.

First blooms today also on the Carpenteria californica by the birdbath and on the "New Dawn" climbing rose on the back fence, behind the grape vines. The white bush rose by the Osmanthus also bloomed today. The Carpenteria was a new addition to the garden last year, so I have no record of a bloom in 2009. Actually, there is another Carpenteria in the garden planted a couple years earlier, but it has never bloomed, for some reason.

"New Dawn" is a beautiful old-fashioned climber with full pink blossoms that open out of tight buds. I can't remember when I planted it (around 2002, I think), but it is now as tall as the fence (more than six feet high) and about 10 feet wide. It was the closest thing I could find to the pink climber that used to bloom on the fence at what was my grandmother's house in Dayton, Ohio--a rose that long ago became effectively nameless. It had been there forever. "New Dawn" bloomed on April 20 in 2009. A year according to this plant was thus 371 days.

The white bush rose (another nameless rose--although it may be "Tumbling Waters") also had its first flower of 2010 today.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wines I'm Drinking: 2005 Château Roudier Montagne-Saint-Émilion

Last night I tasted the 2005 Château Roudier Montagne-Saint-Émilion. The appellation Montagne-St.-Émilion is one of four surrounding St. Émilion proper allowed to append "St. Émilion" to their own names. The wines of the St. Émilion satellites can be solid (I've had the best luck with those from St. Georges-Saint Émilion), but they rarely have the power and finesse of wines from St. Émilion itself and the nearby Pomerol--or even from other "small" appellations on the right bank of the Dordogne, such as Fronsac. 2005, however, was the kind of year that favors even the smallest, unsung producers. I'm always on the lookout for tasty, inexpensive wines from that year, hoping to repeat the many successes I had finding wonderful little wines in 1989 and 1990--especially because most of that wine is gone now.

The 2005 Château Roudier Montagne-Saint-Émilion was an appetizingly deep red with a hint of garnet. It looked neither young nor old. The nose was suggestive of flowers and perfume with hints of leather immediately coming up out of the glass. Swirling the wine brought out considerably more--cherries and licorice, and hints of barnyard and violets. The violets, in particular, persisted.

The wine was initially rather harsh on the palate--quite tannic and closed, but it did have some ripe fruit pushing through. I decided to decant it to let it open up. (If you buy this wine, I recommend doing the same.) There was a very light deposit in the bottle, but I decanted the wine mostly to give it air. With air and a little time, some nice cherry flavors developed and later I began to detect scents of vanilla and oranges along with the violets. While the tannin fell away to reveal some nice fruit flavors in a clean, compact package rounded out by sweet tannins on a shortish finish, the wine was rather low in acid, which made it begin to seem a bit flat as soon as the tannic bite moderated a little. I enjoyed the wine for its flavors of cherries and (later) very ripe plums and for lingering suggestions of violets that made it seem something like a well-made Côtes-du-Rhône, but it lacked the balancing acidity a wine needs to continue tasting fresh and alive. I suspect that this will not be a long keeper (on the following day, it tasted very flat indeed). It may be at its best now, decanted. Fairly priced at Trader Joe's at $12.99 a bottle, but I probably won't go back for more of this. Then again, I might.

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Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Sally Holmes Rose (April 25, 2010)

The first buds opened today on the large climbing rose "Sally Holmes" behind the grapevines. This is one of my favorite roses. When fresh, the flowers look almost like dogwood blossoms. When whole groups of them open at once (and the buds form in large clusters), the plant looks like a woman in a green gown holding numerous bridal bouquets. When the flowers age, they go pale and spotty and look rather forlorn--contributing to the plant's charm. But, I must admit, I like Sally Holmes best when her bridal bouquets are new. Sally Holmes first bloomed in 2009 on April 16, so a year according to Sally was 374 days.
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