Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wine Industry Outside California Update - Orchard Country's Audrey Grace

For how I got started trying wines from outside California, check out my previous article. Today the very nice UPS man came and delivered my bottles of Lautenbach's Orchard Country Winery's Audrey Grace. Just popped one open and here are my instant impressions: wow, this is really good. I'll try not to sound too much like the Silly Tasting Notes Generator while talking about this.

The color is a nice dark raisin; a little too brown to be called red but too red to be called brown. The nose - smell - is warm (actually, it had me a little worried at first), with cherries, olives, and honey. The taste is fruity, but not to a fault, as it has enough acid to balance it out very nicely. More olives here! Some tannins to round it out and give it some nice oomph. The finish is like a dream! A little lingering tannin to make me think it could age a little. And of course, these are just my impressions; YMMV.

But most importantly... its a great wine to drink. As soon as I tasted it I wanted a big, thick, juicy steak to go with it.. it might be a "lighter" red but the flavors here just BEG for it.

So, after all that, does it have what I hoped for, a Wisconsin/Door County terroir? Well, I can't answer for the second half, but I think I can for the first. There's a flavor here.. the olive-y flavor maybe? I'm not 100% sure, its hard to pin down, but the only other place I've tasted it is in my parents homemade wines. So I'd venture to say that yes, my experiment was successful. Of course, even if this was a generic, terroir-less wine.. its still really tasty, and in the end that's what counts, right?

Great wine, great price, and I'm definitely going to buy it again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Fall

Went to see a movie this weekend, and it was totally, utterly spectacular. I'm talking about the critically panned "The Fall" - the movie that is bumping aside "Iron Man" and "Kung Fu Panda" on my best movies this year list.

I almost don't want to review this movie because it would give things away that really should just be seen and experienced. There are three especially wonderful things about this movie:

1. Everything visual. Eiko Ishioka, my favorite graphic designer and one of my aesthetic influences, does the costume design (much as she did for the Director's earlier work, "The Cell" - don't think this is going to be a "The Cell 2" tho, it's much, much better!). All of the production design by Ged Clarke and the art direction by Lisa Hart is devastatingly gorgeous (and IMHO led by the spectacular costumes). For me the really amazing, refreshing, and wonderful thing is that all of the effects were done in-camera... no CG!! There are some sequences that have to be seen to be believed - elephants swimming, backgrounds becoming people, gates that dwarf skyscrapers. I'd say go see this movie just for the visuals. But there's more!

2. The story. This is a great, timeless story, that reminded me of all things of Muppet Babies. Bear with me! It has nothing childish or cute about it. It doesn't shirk from some really hard truths about life in the period it is set in (and life in general). But it does share the hope, optimism, and belief in the power of imagination that Jim Henson endowed into his creation. The movie is nothing less than a poem about storytelling and imagination, and how both can help change lives.

3. The acting. All of the supporting actors were wonderful in their roles. The leading man, Lee Pace, did a great job showing the humanity of a character that handled slightly differently could have come off as completely reprehensible. But it's Catinca Untaru as Alexandria that really makes this movie go from a really good art house film to something amazing and spectacular. She's totally natural, never overacting, yet she's as engaging and charismatic as Shirley Temple at her best. I can't think of another child actor I've ever seen who is as good as her.

So... go see "The Fall"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wine and Terroir, or, There is an American Wine Industry Outside California

I've become wine-obsessed lately. This is in part due to the fact that I'm living in a new house with a peaceful and green backyard patiently waiting for me to lay in my hammock with a good book and a glass of great wine, and partly due to the fine folks at Bonny Doon Vineyard. It was they who introduced me to the concept of "terroir" - a fancy French term that means that the best wines (and food) should exhibit a sense of place; should have some clues in the fragrance and taste as to where they came from. I found this concept instantly fascinating - of the wines I've drunk so far in my short wine-tasting life, my favorites invariably came from small to medium (and sometimes even large) producers working with varietals that are not so well known, but often are particularly suited to their growing site. Not that I haven't enjoyed a bottle of Two Buck Chuck, but it is a much different experience than, say, the Bonny Doon Barbera/Freisa Amarone, a wonderful, complex red produced in Bonny Doon's biodynamic Ca'Del Solo Vineyard, or even the much larger production Ironstone Obsession Symphony, a semi-sweet but extremely well-balanced white produced with Symphony grapes grown in the Central Valley (where the Symphony grape thrives in the heat).

Of course, this new-found obsession with wine and terroir returned to a place most of my obsessions do: the Midwest - especially Wisconsin. And lo and behold - yes Virginia, there is a grape wine industry outside of California.

In fact, the wine industry in the middle of the country used to be HUGE - with Missouri and Virginia having some of the largest vineyards in the country. Of course, then came prohibition, and perhaps because those states were ever so much closer to the center of government the vineyards were ripped out en masse and the wine industry east of the Sierra died out.

Prohibition didn't last forever tho, and now vineyards and wineries are popping up everywhere. While perhaps not as polished and frankly snooty as their California cousins, the small (and not so small) wineries being started in the Midwest and East Coast are fascinating.

In Wisconsin places like Lautenbach's Orchard Country Winery are using varietals uniquely suited to Northern growing climates like Frontenac and Foch to create wines that are winning rave reviews - and I'm hoping a distinct sense of place (I can't see growing Cabernet in Wisconsin giving any kind of sense of place - grapes need to be suited to the climate, and beyond that the unique growing site). I've got a couple of bottles of the Orchard Country's Audrey Grace on order - and I'll let you know if it indeed has a uniquely Door County Wisconsin Terroir - I'm hoping for some cherry and a little bit of the Lake Michigan minerals. They should be arriving sometime in the next couple of weeks - I ordered them last weekend - and I'll let you know how it goes.

Another wine that I'm excited to try in the near future grows better slightly further south - the Norton or Cynthiana varietal. Its the only native (or part native - this is a good history of the grape) grape that's considered to have the right characteristics to make a really fine table wine. Being a native grape in my eyes gives it a great terroir advantage - it has evolved to work in North America, and its flavor will be truly unique to this continent. I'm still not sure which Norton variety I want to try - I'd definitely like to go with one that is either small family farmed (not so much of a problem since factory wine-making hasn't reached too far east yet), and/or organically raised (or even biodynamic, but I don't think that biodynamics has reached far out of the west coast yet.)

My overall point here is - if you live outside CA, try looking into locally produced grape wines (and hey, fruit and honey wines can be fun too, if only for dessert!). They might surprise you with their quality, inexpensiveness, and perhaps even with their terroir. And if you live in California - get your nose out of the air and into some glasses filled with wines from outside Napa/Sonoma.

Friday, June 13, 2008

And... we're back.

Nothing like taking a couple of months off to move to a new house! But I'm back and have a bunch of ideas for entries, so hopefully I'll get back in the swing of things fairly quickly. For now, I've got three short-form movie reviews on the three big blockbusters of the summer (and no, I'm not going to be reviewing "Sex in the City" - its not "Star Wars for girls" as some reviewers claim. Star Wars was Star Wars for girls. And even that wasn't as Star Wars as it used to be, if you know what I mean.)

1. Iron Man - See it, see it, and if you've seen it see it again. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this movie - brilliantly directed and acted, with spectacular visual effects (hey, that's what you get when you have practical effects for almost everything that are just ENHANCED with CG...) and all around great comic-book action. Special girly mention goes to the blue dress - I'd kill for a dress that color! Oh, and Gwenneth Paltrow's shoes at the end of the film. Niiiice. Oh, and the "control surfaces" sequence totally made me geek out - nice blend of science, sci-fi, and comic book coolness. Oh, and best of all, a beefed up Downey in just a wifebeater and pants... surprisingly enjoyable eye candy, there. Best movie so far this Oscar year. (As to rumors that they won't let Favreau direct the next one... are they friggin CRAZY?!? Pay the man what he wants!!!)

2. Indiana Jones - If you can avoid it, do. While not as soul-wrenchingly bad as the Star Wars prequels, George Lucas still shows that he should no longer have anything to do with the cinema. The directing is campy and boring at the same time, the plot has holes as big as the trucks they drive through the warehouse, and the CG is beyond laughable. Seriously, CG in an Indy film? Ewwwww. Oh, and Harrison gives some of the worst line readings this side of the Blade Runner voice-over. Don't get me wrong, the actors REALLY tried to make something out of this, but... *sigh* Any time you get into "King Kong" land of "things are happening because... they are..." its a bad sign.

3. Kung-fu Panda - VERY close runner up to Iron Man for best movie this Oscar year. A perfect blend of Kung-fu action and family friendly comedy - Pixar couldn't have done it better, and Dreamworks HASN'T done it better. The Tigress was sorta... boring... and a couple of characters were under-utilized, but still a GREAT film whether you have a family or not.