Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 68

I’m still on a Dr. Maynard Amerine kick this week.

And, if I’m being honest, I feel a little bit like I’m coming apart at the seams this time of year (for a pile of reasons I won’t bore you with), and I needed a quick post.

While researching last week’s W3 post, I came across these words, and thought they were pretty delicious.  And so I decided to save them for you, for this week.


Touché, Dr. Amerine.

And then there’s really crappy wine (pick your favorite), that leaves you with something, well, let’s go with unpleasant.



My Week in Wine Labels (5)

A (hopefully) continuing series on wine labels, and the wines they adorn, under the macro lens . . .

I’ve been experimenting lately, taking photos of pieces of wine labels with my macro lens.  It’s a lot of fun to see the colors, and especially the textures, on a wine label that you wouldn’t ordinarily see (or maybe even notice).  It’s almost as fun as drinking the wine.  Almost.  So, I thought . . . why not stitch the photos together into a collage?

Voila!  My week in wine labels.

Do you recognize any of these guys??

WeekinWine5I didn’t notice it until I was putting these pictures together for this post, but apparently, this was Family Crest Week here at Haus Armchair Sommelier!

Clockwise, from the top right:

King Family Vineyards Viognier 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/86
King Family is one of my favorite Virginia wineries.  True confessions:  I don’t enjoy Viognier as much as I used to (maybe I’m having a mid-life palate crisis?), especially the too hot and too tropical styles of Viognier.  Happily, King Family’s Viognier is consistently good as a middle-ground between the lean, quiet styles of Viognier and the louder, more tropical styles. This photo is a close-up of the King Family crest (well, I’m not certain it’s the King Family crest, but it would be silly to put the Smith Family crest on their wine bottles) that appears on their simple, yet elegant labels.  The shading reminds me of pointillism.  Retail = $27ish.

It’s been a while since I’ve been down to central Virginia, but my last review of King Family can be found here.

Bodegas Bilbainas Viña Zaco Rioja 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/86
I tasted this Rioja as part of September’s #winestudio.  Calling itself “The Other Side of Rioja”, Viña Zaca is stressing a shift toward modernization, both in the vineyard and at the winery. 100% Tempranillo.  Tasted more New World than Old to me, though the the longer it sat in my glass, the more its OW origins showed — a bowl of cherries, sprinkled with fresh tobacco, leather, and dust.  By design, this wine is meant to be consumed young (Viña Zaco doesn’t use a Crianza or Reserva designation).  It’s not terribly complex or thought provoking, but I suspect that’s not what they’re going for.  Did I mention this wine is $10?!?  Tough to squeeze more out of a wine at that price point.  The label design is sleek and modern, the tilda on the N/Z reminds me of a mustache!

Domaine des Patureaux Pouilly Fumé 2014 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/92
100% Sauvignon Blanc, from the Loire Valley.  And wow, I think I just found my Sauvignon Blanc wheelhouse — I really need to be drinking more Pouilly Fumé.  This is a super wine.  Say goodbye to grass — this wine tastes nothing like lawn clippings — it’s teeming with flint and minerals and seashells.  I’ve been studying the Loire Valley for my CSW exam, and I keep reading about the hallmark of Pouilly Fumé — a smoky, gunflint (pierre à fusil, literally, rifle-stone) nose.  I totally get that now.  Beautifully structured and balanced.  I bought this on WTSO and I think I paid $18.  And lucky me, I bought 3!!

Unfortunately, I found exactly zero information on the Internet about the winery or the winemaker . . . or the label.  That leaves me with semi-educated guesses.  The crown looks like a mural crown, which is a representation of city/town walls.  And there is a town called Les Pâtureaux, in the Upper Loire Valley (just north of Bourges).  The crest (beneath the crown) is wickedly similar to the coat of arms for Pouilly-sur-Loire, a town famous for Pouilly Fumé wines.  But ultimately, I have no idea if I’m on the right track.  We’ll just have to appreciate the crest as a mystery.

Castello Banfi SummuS 2004 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/93
SummuS (and yes, they capitalize both the first and the last S) is Latin for highest.  This is a Super Tuscan blend of 40% Sangiovese, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Syrah.  I got this bottle from my cousin Barry (he owns a wine bar in Omaha).  Cousin Barry has yet to steer me wrong!  Italian wines have always intimidated me (I’m not sure why — maybe I shouldn’t have watched The Godfather when I was 12), but when I drink a bottle of Italian wine this good??  I realize I need to be buying more Italian wines — putting them in my cellar, and ignoring them for 10+ years.  Expressive, powerful, and wearing its age beautifully, this is a wine that inspires you to think (I mostly thought about needing another glass or three).  Retail = $65ish.

Strike Three!  I couldn’t find any information about the Banfi Family crest, either.  The namesake of Banfi Wines is Teodolinda Banfi, who was the head of household for Pope Pious XI.  The crown on the top of the crest looks like a count’s crown (Il Conte).  Maybe if you shake the Banfi family tree, a count falls out?  😉 Again, who knows if on the right track.  But as far as crests go, this one’s a keeper!  I have no clue what my own family crest looks like, but I hope there’s a chalice and an eagle on it!

My Wine of the Week:  The SummuS wins.  Because, damn.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

A praying mantis, clinging to the screen of my sunroom window . . . changed to blend into his surroundings.  Is he the hunter or the hunted?

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Change.
Our instructions:  Change is commonly defined as “to give a completely different form or appearance to; to transform.”  What does change mean to you?

The praying mantis is on a very short list of insects that do not freak me out.  In fact, I’ve always kind of liked them.  The mantis is, however, a cousin to the cockroach, which freaks me out in spades.

Earlier this week, I was watching a praying mantis, clinging to the outside window of my sunroom.  He was there for hours.  And I couldn’t figure out why he’d be there.  Don’t praying mantes prefer shrubbery?  And then I saw it (but just barely, because holy cow, the praying mantis strikes FAST) — it’s snack time!  Praying mantes eat stinkbugs!!  The outside of my sunroom windows are covered with those foul little cilantro-bugs — he found himself a 24-hour, all-you-can-eat stinkbug buffet.

Now that I think about it, this explains why lately, my patio smells like a someone murdered a cilantro plant.

This is not my best or favorite photo, but it does illustrate natural change and adaption.  The praying mantis is able to camoflague himself to mimic his his surroundings.  He looks kind of like a window screen (he’d look pretty obvious sitting there wearing his bright green suit), but he looks even more like a giant stink bug.

Bon Appétit, Mr. Mantis!


Nikon D800
ISO 720 | 420mm | f/10 | 1/500 sec


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 67

Today’s words come to us from Dr. Maynard Amerine, former Professor of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis.  Dr. Amerine taught, researched, and wrote extensively on the effects of climate on grape growing, and the sensory evaluation of wine.
Dr. Amerine’s research blazed a trail for the growth of the California wine industry after Prohibition.

So what did he do, exactly?

In 1944, Dr. Amerine and his colleague, Dr. A.J. Winkler, created The Winkler Scale (sometimes called the heat summation method), which is a technique for classifying the climate of wine growing regions, and which grapes are best suited for growing in each region.  The system is based on mean temperature — specifically, the number of “degree days” above 50 degrees fahrenheit (the magic temperature required for grapevines to grow).  There are a total of five regions, with Region 1 being the coolest (think Champagne and Pinot Noir) and Region 5 the warmest (think Northern Africa and Muscat).  The Winkler Scale is sometimes criticized for not taking into account other factors, like rainfall, altitude, sun exposure, latitude, soil, or microclimates.

In 1959, Dr. Amerine and his staff created the Davis Scoring System (aka, the Organoleptic Evaluation Scoring Guide For Wine), as a method for evaluating wines.  It’s a 20 point scale based on ten different criteria — appearance, color, aroma, volatile acidity, total acidity, sweetness/sugar, body, flavor, astringency, and general quality.  I sometimes think about switching my mental wine evaluation to a 20-point scale (it seems simpler), but I came of age thinking about wine using the 100-point scale, and making that switch now is about as easy as switching from standard to metric measurements.  I still can’t do it.

Anyway, without further delay, here are today’s words:


In theory, I agree completely with Dr. Amerine.  Drink the book, not its cover.  But in practice, I’ve been guilty (more than a few times) of buying a wine solely because of a label.  Sometimes I get lucky and the wine under that label is good, and sometimes, it’s just a good label.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Grid

The interior of the translucent barn silo at RdV Vineyards in Delaplane, Virginia.

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Grid.
Our instructions: We often superimpose a mental grid over things we photograph to help with composition. This week, let’s go literal — take the humble grid out of the shadows, and make it the star.

I published this photograph a few months ago (for a black and white photo challenge), but I’ve picked up a handful of followers since then, so decided to push the easy button this week and go for the re-run.  That, and I just didn’t have time to hunt all over the Virginia Piedmont for another grid.

Designed by the architectural firm Newmann Lewis Buchanan (out of Middleburg, Virginia), the winery at RdV is a three-wing barn, with the silo as it’s axis and focal centerpiece.  The building was designed to melt into its rural surroundings, and it does, seamlessly.  I’ve hiked up to the top of Lost Mountain at RdV, and from that vantage point, you can look out across the countryside and count the other silos — RdV fits right into the neighborhood.

The beautiful kaleidoscopic pattern inside the silo is actually wind bracing . . . and a lovely illustration of our grid theme.

DSCN5778-1RdV makes superb wines (well, technically they only make two), but they are superb.  Not just superb for Virginia wine, superb world-class wine.  The kind of wine you make a special trip to taste.  If you’ve never been out to RdV . . . go.  Go for the wine.  Stay for the aesthetics.

Nikon P510
ISO 100 | 4.3mm | f/3 | 1/50 sec


Related RdV Vineyards posts:
Stigma, Bias & Choice:  Tasting Blind at RdV Vineyards
Field Trip:  RdV Vineyards

Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 66

Today’s words come to us from German revolutionary and eventual Illinois Lieutenant Governor, Gustav Koerner.  I know, I know.  Gustav who?!?  Koerner easily makes the list of Who’s Who in Obscure American History.  But, he’s actually kind of important.  Because he was one of the guys responsible for winning Abraham Lincoln the Republican Presidential nomination in 1860.  Do the historical what-ifs . . . if Lincoln hadn’t won that nomination, he wouldn’t have been president.  And if Lincoln hadn’t been president . . . well, the historical dominoes might have fallen a little differently.

A little background . . .

In 1833, Koerner tried (and failed) to overthrow the municipal government of Frankfurt, Germany.  The Germans don’t just love it when people try to overthrow their government, so they gave him a choice — exile or prison.  Kernel took the “America, here I come!” option. Koerner arrived in America that same year, and landed in Illinois, where he met a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln.

Fast forward to the Republican Convention of 1860.  It was Koerner who arranged for the convention to he held in Chicago, which in effect, gave Lincoln home-field advantage.  Well played, Herr Koerner.  At the start of the convention, there were five candidates:  Lincoln, William Seward (widely considered the front-runner), Edward Bates, Simon Cameron, and Salmon Chase.  The Republicans knew they couldn’t win the general election without the support of German-American immigrants in the midwest (by 1860, an estimated 1.3 million German immigrants lived in the United States, most of them in the midwest).  Koerner lobbied tirelessly in the background, convincing the German-American delegates to throw their support behind Lincoln.

But, Koerner also indulged in a little political trickery.  On the eve of the ballot, Lincoln’s political team distributed scads of counterfeit tickets, packing the convention center floor with Lincoln supporters.  Seward’s supporters were happily parading around outside the convention center, and by the time they arrived to take their seats, they were shut out.  The ballots began, and (longer story short), by the third ballot, Lincoln was the nominee.

Koerner and Lincoln remained friends throughout Lincoln’s presidency.  And Koerner served as one of the pallbearers at Lincoln’s funeral.

What the heck does any of this have to do with wine?

In addition to a pile of politics, Koerner’s memoirs are peppered with references to Rhine wine. Koerner was a German, after all.  When Koerner first arrived in the United States in 1833, he tells a story about stopping at an Illinois farm and being offered some “wild grape wine”.  This wild grape wine was probably made from the Isabella grape (a Vitis x Labruscana hybrid), which Koerner called, “a good eating grape, but a very indifferent wine”.  It was probably a foxy wine (think Welch’s grape jelly), and often doctored with sugar, a practice Koerner attributed to an American preference for sweet wines:

gustavHmmm.  I wonder what Koerner would have thought of White Zinfandel??

The full quote gives a more complete context, so here you go:

Of course we were all very curious to taste it [the Isabella wine].  It was really very good, though it had been doctored a little by an addition of sugar, the Americans having no liking for wine unless it is sweet.  I have heard Americans who were excellent judges of brandy, Madeira or sherry, pronounce the finest and most aromatic Rhine wines as unfit to drink, and as sour as vinegar.  Of course the taste has now been much trained in this respect in this country, and good Rhine wine is appreciated very generally.*

Well, I for one, appreciate good Rhine wine . . . very specifically.


*Koerner, Gustav.  Memoirs of Gustave Koerner, 1809-1896, Life-sketches Written at the Suggestion of His Children.  

My Week in Wine Labels (4)

A (hopefully) continuing series on wine labels, and the wines they adorn, under the macro lens . . .

I’ve been experimenting lately, taking photos of pieces of wine labels with my macro lens.  It’s a lot of fun to see the colors, and especially the textures, on a wine label that you wouldn’t ordinarily see (or maybe even notice).  It’s almost as fun as drinking the wine.  Almost.  So, I thought . . . why not stitch the photos together into a collage?

Voila!  My week in wine labels.

Do you recognize any of these guys??

Week in Wine Labels 4

Clockwise, from the top right:

Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses 2014 ⭐⭐⭐/88
A Rosé from the Languedoc, in the South of France.  It’s a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah.  And I freely admit I bought it entirely because of the unique and striking bottle, designed by a student at the Ecole Boulle (a school of fine arts in Paris).  The bottom of the bottle is cut to look like a rose in bloom — it’s just beautiful.  And, when photographed under the macro lens, even more so.  The wine itself?  Tastes like a bowl of grapefruit, rose petals, and cream.  A perfect pairing for the penultimate week of summer.   I will absolutely buy more (in a few weeks, when fall turns to winter and I’m freezing my tukus off, and I need a little infusion of summer).  Retail = $15ish.

Codorníu Anna Brut NV ⭐⭐⭐/87
I tasted this Cava as part of September’s #winestudio.  The woman you see in the photo is Anna de Codorníu, and this drawing is modeled after the 1659 wedding bust of Anna de Codorníu and Miquel Raventós.  Anna was the first Cava to introduce Chardonnay into the traditional Cava blend of Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo.  Anna is 70% Chardonnay, 15% Parellada, and 15% Xarel-lo and Macabeo.  I actually had my act together for #winestudio last week, and paired Anna with a José Andrés recipe, Cold Tomato Soup with Boiled Egg and Serrano Ham.  Killer pairing.  That said, Anna also pairs perfectly with Tuesday.  Reminds me of an almond brioche with a side of green apple slices.  I don’t find it as complex or mineral driven as Champagne, but hey, it’s $13 bucks.  Winner.

Domaine Weinbach Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru 2013  ⭐⭐⭐⭐/91
The Capuchin Monks established Domaine Weinbach in 1612.  You know I can’t resist a good historical tangent, so I’ll tell you this was two years after King Henry IV (Louis XIV’s grandpa) was murdered by a Catholic extremist, making Henry’s son, Louis XIII, King of France at age 9 (I’ll bet papa’s crown swallowed him whole).  This was also right about the same time Galileo was making some pretty nifty improvements to the telescope, and making some mind-blowing astronomical observations (like the earth revolving around the sun, and not the other way around), that got him into boiling-hot water with the Catholic Church.

Anyway, all of Domaine Weinbach’s wine labels give a nod to the Capuchins by featuring a monk (and the words, Clos des Capucins, or, Vineyard of the Capuchins) on the neck of each bottle.  However, Clos des Capucins is only one of Domaine Weinbach’s vineyards (and people say French wine labels are confusing).   This particular Riesling isn’t from the Clos des Capucins vineyard, but from the upper slopes of the Grand Cru Schlossberg vineyard.  It’s everything you could want in a Riesling (minerals, acid, stone fruit, eloquence) and more.  The more wine I drink from Alsace, the more I want.  Retail = $37ish.

Bodega San Pedro Regalado Embocadero Viña del Águila Ribera del Duero 2010  ⭐⭐⭐/88
In Spanish, Viña del Águila means Eagle’s Vineyard.  I bought this lovely on WTSO, mostly because it’s from one of my very favorite wine regions (Ribera del Duero), but also because of the sensational silver eagle on the label (you know how much I love birds).  I was going to be really bummed if this wine wasn’t good, but I shouldn’t have worried.  Love this . . . and all of its rustic, dusty, tobacco glory!  My only disappointment?  I couldn’t find much information about this wine on the Internet.  Frustrating, but I’ll overlook it because this is such an insane bargain, at $15.