Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wines I'm Drinking: 2008 Dancing Coyote Albariño

I recently tasted the 2008 Dancing Coyote Albariño, made from grapes grown in Clarksburg, in Yolo County, California, just south of Sacramento. When I think of Albariño, I think of Galicia, in Spain, and northern Portugal, where this grape makes fresh, light, crisp, but not insubstantial wines of sometimes exotic perfume. I was skeptical, but the Dancing Coyote wine was a pleasant surprise. I'd have to call it quite successful as an expression of Albariño.

The wine was a pale straw color with the faintest hint of green. The nose was characterized mostly by a fresh, light, clean, sappy scent with a suggestion of passion fruit in it. Later there was something peachy, vaguely reminiscent of a Viognier wine. Still later, I was getting brown sugar along with hints of yogurt and cucumbers. On the palate, the wine was clean, crisp, and light with some tropical fruit flavors. While the wine is quite dry and I would pair it with seafood or other foods that go well with crisp, dry white wines, it began to seem somewhat heavy as the evening went on (perhaps needing a little more acidity?). Having said that, this was tasty wine very much in the mold of the European wines that are its roots. I'm very pleased to learn that someone is making good Albariño in California. I think Clarksburg may deserve a visit one of these days. Reasonably priced at $7.95 at Andy's Market, in Sebastopol. Recommended for everyday drinking.

One thing seems odd, though: The label is quite plain considering the evocative name of the winery. Maybe a label re-design is in order? I do that sort of thing....

For more wine reviews, use the Wines I'm Drinking label.

[Update: I did some Internet image searching. I see the brand has used a much more interesting label in the past (and on the 2009). I don't quite understand this label, I'm afraid. Hmmmm..... But it's the wine that counts.]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Miscellaneous: You Can't Keep Creative People Down

Four men and a theft. According to an interesting little article in the New York Times today (October 26, 2010), these band members had their instruments stolen not long before they performed on a New York subway using their iPhones as virtual instruments. I hope it's a true story. If it is, it's a testament to the indomitable human urge to create. To tell the truth, I'm a bit skeptical. It all looks planned to me, but planned serendipity can still be fun. Very interesting that you can play like this on an iPhone.

Birds I'm Watching: Sierra Arroyo Dr./Strawberry School Park, Santa Rosa (October 26, 2010)

I've done so much bird watching recently--in the past two years. I'm not sure why all of a sudden. Partly it's been because work has been slow; I've had more free time than usual. But that's not the only reason. My parents were occasional bird watchers, and they always pointed out anything interesting that might be flying around when we were traveling or when we visited the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens or Central Park (I lived in Brooklyn until I was seven). Once in a while we made trips specifically to see birds--to places like Greenwich, Connecticut and Jamaica Bay. So, I grew up with a sense that birds were something worth looking at, and these things stick with you.

Not all the associations are pleasant. My father was (and remains) a short-tempered man that was incapable of making concessions to the attention span of a child. The trips at times were excruciating, to tell the truth. My brother and I were always being yelled at for scaring the birds away. We were expected to walk quietly and attentively in a way that we weren't capable of at that age. It was at times frightening to be with my father when he was focused on seeing something and we were in the way. Still, I enjoyed seeing unusual birds even at that age--when everything went right, when we found something worth seeing that my brother and I had managed to keep from scaring away, when my father was in an agreeable mood.

Still, I didn't take much of an interest until years later, in Ohio, during my summers at Glen Helen, in Yellow Springs. Even then, though, I would have been a casual bird watcher at best. But things rub off on a child.

Partly it was the names. I loved the sound of names like "Purple Gallinule" and "Greater Yellowlegs" and "Scarlet Tanager" and "Ruby-crowned Kinglet." What was a tanager? I had no idea, but I loved seeing its flaming red form flitting in the trees in Greenwich--one of the very early sightings I clearly remember. I would have been about six. And then there were the Rand McNally flash cards we played with. I can still see the the red, blue, and yellow box they came in. My parents believed in educational toys, and they were fun--so many fewer things to be distracted by in those days. The names of the birds I could enjoy without having to worry about scaring anything away.

We had a box of bird flash cards and a box of animal cards. Each of the bird cards had a picture on the front with the name of the bird on the back. Again, the names seemed magical. They were mostly exotic birds on the cards that didn't show up in New York City. There was the Roller, a mostly blue European bird (I was thrilled to finally see real Rollers during my two months in France this summer); the Hornbill, with its absurdly big bill; and the Cuckoo, among many others. These birds and birds like the Scarlet Tanager are imprinted in my brain in a peculiarly distinct way. The names even today send me tumbling back in time in a wave of associations that can be momentarily disorienting.

The birds from Glen Helen form another group with strong associations--the Eastern Wood Pewee in particular, for reasons that are obscure to me--again, I think I just liked the name. These were birds pointed out on hikes through the woods with camp friends. I don't know how much I was paying attention, but it was around that time that I began to get a sense of the great diversity of birds, and that's probably what I find most interesting today. It's freshly astonishing to me every time I go out to be able to see 40 or sometimes 50 or 60 distinct species in a single day of walking in the woods or at the ocean's edge, little more than half an hour from home.

And so I have begun to look for birds in the past couple of years, as if remembering a forgotten habit, as if I've been doing it regularly in all the intervening years. This morning I took a walk from Hoen Ave. to Summerfield Rd., along Sierra Creek, the creek that runs alongside Strawberry School Park. It was comparatively quiet, but I saw 26 species in the course of about an hour. Many Western bluebirds were around, attracted by ripe berries (they looked like hawthorne berries to me) and there were quite a few yellow-rumped warblers as well (photo).

Birds I saw today were: Yellow-rumped warbler, Mourning dove, Crow, Western bluebird, California towhee, Black phoebe, Song sparrow, White-throated sparrow (first of the season), Golden-crowned sparrow, Nuttall's woodpecker, Scrub-jay, Northern mockingbird, Chestnut-backed chickadee, Northern flicker, Anna's hummingbird, Ruby-crowned kinglet, Canada goose (about 60 in a beautiful V-formation), Bewick's wren, Bushtit, White-breasted nuthatch, Dark-eyed junco, Robin, Acorn woodpecker, Starling, Spotted towhee, Turkey vulture, and Oak titmouse.

For more information about bird watching in Sonoma County, see my Website Sonoma County Birding Spots

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wines I'm Making: Cabernet Malolactic Fermentation Initiated (2010)

Yesterday (October 24) I introduced an Enopherm Alpha malolactic bacteria culture into the Cabernet Sauvignon. It's often hard to tell whether malolactic fermentation has started or not, but it should be under way. About two weeks of very tiny bubbles at the edge of the wines is usually all you can see. Right now there is a fair amount of foam at the top of the carboys, but I suspect that's the end of the primary fermentation--yeast using up the last traces of sugar--rather than evidence of the malolactic fermentation under way. Molalactic fermentation will convert some of the malic acid in the wine to the softer lactic acid, which is a pretty routine step in making red wines. Once that's done, it will be time to rack the new wine into clean containers to leave behind most of the yeast and other residues still settling into the bottom of the containers. So far, everything continues to look good. The Sangiovese rosé continues its primary fermentation in the garage.

As usual, after finishing the real wine I didn't want to throw out the pressed skins and seeds. It seems such a waste. I decided to make a second-run wine again this year. I tried it last year with poor results, but I made an incorrect acid addition and made the wine artificially sharp, so it doesn't really seem like it was a fair trial. So, I added water back into the spent pressings and enough sugar to bring the soup to 20 Brix again and it has started fermenting spontaneously. Plenty enough yeast is left behind to initiate a new fermentation. This, too, will probably be undrinkable, but, you never know. It looks like wine (below).

Miscellaneous: Rain (October 23-30, 2010)

We had the first storm of the 2010-2011 season over the past weekend. At this location, we got 4.85 inches of precipitation--which is much more than normal at this time of year. It's good for the plants and the water table. The new rain brings the total for this year so far to 5.2 inches. According to the website I look at to keep track of these things, 1.74 inches is normal on October 24, so, we're off to a good start. Another wet winter ahead?

[Update: Rained again on the 29th and the 30th, adding 0.7 inches. That makes a 2010-2011 season total of 5.9 inches.]
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