My Week in Wine Labels (2)

A (hopefully) continuing series on wine labels under the macro lens . . .

I’ve been experimenting lately, taking photos of pieces of wine labels with my macro lens.  It’s great 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.

Before you scroll down, do you recognize any of these guys??

Wine Labels (d)

Clockwise, from the top-right:

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Riesling Turckheim 2005 ⭐⭐/84
An old-school label from an Old World producer, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, one of the best-known producers in Alsace.  The bottle looks blue in this photo, but it’s an accidental camera trick — it’s not blue (it’s brownish-green).  I almost took a photo of the iconic fleur-de-lis crest on the label, but decided that was too obvious.  I was drawn to the neck of the bottle, with its old world lettering and gold metallic paint.

My husband and I enjoyed a 2006 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Riesling at The Inn at Little Washington while celebrating our 22nd wedding anniversary.  I couldn’t find the ’06 Herrenweg for sale anywhere, so I ordered the closest thing I could find — an ’05, from the much broader Turckheim region.  It’s not nearly as good.  It was probably good a few years ago, but it’s jumped the shark now.  Tastes like apricot and Werther’s Originals candy.  Needs acid, in the worst kind of way.  $45.

Creta Roble Ribera del Duero 2011 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90
There’s an absolute dearth of information on the Internet about this wine.  Other than finding out it’s “a custom cuvee made exclusively for importer Eric Solomon,” there’s just crickets out there.  So, I poured myself another glass of this pretty nifty cuvee, and started thinking about terroir . . . and that nautilus shell on the label.  En Español, Creta means chalk, and Roble means oak.  So, literally translated, this is oak chalk wine.  I get the oak (Tempranillo and oak have a great affinity).  But what about the chalk?

The seashell on the label was a bit of a head-scratcher for me, since Ribera del Duero is nowhere near the sea.  So, I started digging around on the Internet (dangerous, I know). Seashells are made of calcium carbonate.  And, since the only thing I know about calcium carbonate is absolutely nothing, I knew I had to reach out to someone who does know.  My aunt’s husband is a professor of Organic Chemistry (and also a wine lover), who very patiently tolerated my pedestrian questions about seashells and chalk.  Stay with me.

Calcium carbonate is the foundation for limestone, which is a sedimentary rock, made up of ancient sediments from the shells of various marine critters.  Limestone is also one of the key soils in the terroir of Ribera del Duero.  And, depending on what kind of ancient seashells contributed to the limestone, the limestone could be chalk.  If the ancient seashells were mollusks (like that nautilus shell), the calcium carbonate in their shells would be its crystallized form, as aragonite.  And aragonite is named after its place of discovery, in Aragon, Spain, which is only about 400km from Ribera del Duero.  Is your head ready to explode yet?
I feel like I just completed the world’s most complicated connect-the-dots puzzle.

I have no idea if this is really why there’s a nautilus shell on the label, but it sounds at least plausible, right?  (It’s equally plausible that Eric Solomon just really likes nautilus shells).  Oh! Before I forget — this is an almost obscene value for Ribera del Duero — $17 bucks.  If you see it, pick up one or six.

Stinson Merlot Monticello 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/87
This Merlot is from one of my very favorite Virginia wineries.  Stinson is a small, family-owned, boutique winery just west of Charlottesville, modeled after the garagistes of Bordeaux. Garagistes (the French word for mechanic) are a group of winemakers who make small batches of some pretty killer wine in (waitforit) a garage.  Stinson is built into an old three-car garage — and there is a representation of the garage doors on the wine label.  I love the use of brown kraft paper on the labels.  It’s so simple, and yet so elegant.  It reminds me of when we used to cover our school-books with brown paper grocery bags.  (Yep, I’m that old.)  I received this Merlot as a sample from Stinson, and it came with exciting news — 2013 marks the first time they’ve made a red wine from all Stinson Farms fruit (85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon). There’s a great softness and approachability in this Merlot that’s often absent in Virginia Merlots.  Another indicator of the really good things going on at Stinson.

Standing Stone Vineyards Riesling Old Block West 2013 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90
Located on the east side of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes, Standing Stone Vineyards is named after the Oneida Tribe of upstate New York.  Oneida, or Onyota’a:ka, means People of the Standing Stone.  I couldn’t find any information on the impetus for the label, so I’m left to surmise (it keeps my brain from getting all cobwebby).  The label looks to be a pen and ink drawing of the vineyard property.  But under the macro lens, it reminds me of a medieval village.  It’s not a medieval village, of course, but the macro lens does change perspective. Absent on the label (as far as I can tell) are any standing stones.  😉 This wine was probably the stand-out Riesling of our summer trip to the Finger Lakes.  It’s a beautifully dry Riesling that’ll hold up to just about any food you match with it.  $20.


Grandpas, Red Barns & Syrah: Going Vertical with Herman Story Nuts & Bolts

I’ve been a Herman Story wine club member since 2008, making Herman Story my oldest and most enduring wine club.  I’ve jumped onto and off of a lot of wine club bandwagons over the years.  But I’ve stayed with Herman Story — because I haven’t stopped looking forward to my wine shipments.  That’s my barometer — if I stop looking forward to my shipments, then it’s time to break-up.

Earlier this summer, my family gathered in the Finger Lakes region of New York for our triennial Family Wine Trip.  Yep, that’s a thing in my family.  We’ve been doing these trips/reunions for 12 years now.  It was at our second reunion, in Paso Robles, when we got to know and love Herman Story even better (any winemaker that not only invites your crazy family to have a picnic in the middle of their barrel room, but sits down with you, and pops open half a dozen bottles of wine, is tops in my book).

Over time, I’ve accumulated several vintages of several different Herman Story wines.  And, since we were driving (vice flying) to the Finger Lakes (and had the luxury of being able to stuff as much wine in the car as it could hold), I thought it might be fun to do a vertical tasting of Herman Story Nuts & Bolts Syrah.  Why the Nuts & Bolts?  Why not?

Also, the Nuts & Bolts labels are really, really cool.

Meet the lovelies:  2008 through 2013.  They cut a handsome figure, don’t they?


I was curious about the inspiration for these really, really cool labels, so I asked Herman Story, and they were gracious enough to zap me a response:

Herman Story (Russell’s Grandfather) moved around a lot but always had a red barn on his property.  So every year we grab a camera and drive around and look for red barns here in San Luis Obispo county to photograph for the new label.  Nuts and Bolts is our highest production wines and always one of the best, but it’s also the nuts and bolts of our business and a mosaic of about 9 different vineyards.

OK, I really, really love that.  Grandpas and red barns . . . gets me right in the feels.

These labels are even more awesome when they’re grouped together.  Can’t you just see these printed on canvas and hanging above the fireplace?

There were ten of us tasting that night, and as everyone voiced their comments and observations, I tried to scribble them down, but my pen could barely keep up!  When I went back to read them, I noticed two things.  One, my handwriting used to be much better (I used to have second-grade teacher handwriting).  And two, my tasting notes looked like word salad — so many of the descriptors kept repeating.  So, instead of trying to untangle my tasting notes, I decided it might be fun to organize them graphically.  I threw my tasting scribbles into a word cloud generator.


For all you visual learners out there, this exactly sums up the style of Nuts & Bolts Syrah.
I couldn’t write a wine review that illustrates it any better.


But, I know what you’re thinking.  A vertical tasting is about vintages, not styles.  How does the same wine evolve over time?

I asked everyone to pick a favorite vintage, and a runner-up.  Here are our results:

Vintage First Place Votes Runner-up Votes
2008 1 8
2009 7 2
2010 2 0
2011 0 0
2012 0 0
2013 0 0

This just got interesting.  No votes for the young’uns?  This doesn’t mean the younger vintages aren’t good — they are.  And taken singly, you might not notice.  But when compared alongside the older vintages, the younger vintages are all muscle car — handsome and powerful, but a little unbridled.  The older vintages are James Bond Aston Martin — still handsome and powerful, but with a sleek edge of elegance.

The bottom-line and big, bold takeaway for me is this:  The older, the better (kind of like George Clooney or a pair of cowboy boots).  As the wines get along in years, something magical happens inside those bottles.  The downside?  Older wines require patience, Grasshopper.  If you can’t wait, you won’t be disappointed with the younger wines.  But good things come to those who wait*.


*Or decant.  Always do your Herman Story wines a solid and decant them.  Heck, double-decant, even.  You will be rewarded!

Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 62

I’m having another one of those stop-the-ride-I-want-to-get-off kind of weeks.  I have way too many irons in the fire.  It’s my own fault, though.  I was supposed to get rid of one of my volunteer jobs.  Instead, I violated the NAVY principle:  Never Again Volunteer Yourself.

I volunteered.  Again.

And so, today’s words (and my motto for this week) come from 13th century Persian poet and mystic, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, better known to the western world as simply, Rumi.

I’ve never read Rumi before.  I mean, he wrote poems (and if you’ve read my blog for a while, you know poems give me a headache).  But these words . . . these words spoke to me.


I always try to find some kind of source for the words I post in Wine, Words & Wednesday, so I don’t contribute to the spread of wrongness on the Internet.  That said, I couldn’t find these exact words, but I did find what are almost certainly the real words.

The real words appear in a Rumi poem, called The Instrument:

Who is the luckiest in this whole orchestra? The reed.
Its mouth touches your lips to learn music.
All reeds, sugarcane especially, think only
of this chance. They sway in the canebrakes,
free in the many ways they dance.

Without you the instruments would die.
One sits close beside you. Another takes a long kiss.
The tambourine begs, Touch my skin so I can be myself.
Let me feel you enter each limb bone by bone,
that what died last night can be whole today.

Why live some soberer way and feel you ebbing out?
I won’t do it.
Either give me enough wine or leave me alone,
now that I know how it is
to be with you in a constant conversation.

And so the question begs . . . how much is enough wine?

I’ll leave the interpreting to you.  I’ve got some volunteer work that needs doing!  😉


Weekly Photo Challenge: Creepy

Sixty-five feet beneath the streets of Paris . . . Les Catacombs (aka The Empire of the Dead).

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Creepy.
Our instructions: This week, share an image of something creepy. Unsettling. Eerie. Disgusting. Give us some heebie-jeebies!

As far as creepy things go, walking through a labyrinth of underground tunnels, among the skeletal remains of six million people is pretty creepy.  It’s got both heebie and jeebie covered!

Les Catacombs are a 186-mile network of underground tunnels, created from ancient Roman limestone quarries, located beneath the city of Paris.  The limestone from those quarries was used to build much of Paris.  Today, the tunnels function as an ossuary, housing the skeletal remains of six million people.

Yes . . . 186 miles and six million people.  That’s a lot of bones.

Historical Background:  By the 18th century, the city of Paris was the largest city in the world. There were people everywhere.  The main burial ground (St. Innocents) was smack-dab in the middle of the city, next to a market.  Over time, St. Innocents ran out of space for new residents.  The cemetery became wildly overcrowded, but since the church received a fee for each burial, they weren’t in a hurry to stop burying people there.  They just buried them improperly, in graves that were too shallow, or left open altogether.  And well, this kinda stunk. Literally.  And when a spring rainstorm caused a cemetery wall to collapse, spilling a bunch of corpses into the market, the neighbors complained.

What to do?  What to do??

The solution was to transfer the contents of St. Innocents (and really all of the city cemeteries) into the old limestone quarries, and away from the city center.  It took the city of Paris twelve years to move all of the bodies into the tunnels.  The last bodies went into the catacombs in 1860.

Only a small portion of the catacombs are open to the public.  However, there are people, who call themselves Cataphiles, who make it a hobby to explore the other parts of the tunnels, accessing them through secret entrances, located all over the city.  It’s an illegal and dangerous hobby — people have gotten lost and died while exploring the Catacombs.  During World War II, the French Resistance hid in Les Catacombs, and the Nazis built bunkers there.  I would love to see those parts of Les Catacombs, but not enough to risk getting lost and dead, or being arrested and detained in a foreign country (hey, I’ve seen Locked Up Abroad).

Every time I show someone this photo, they ask, “What did it smell like down there?”  Honestly? A wet basement.  A wet basement full of dead people.  Kidding.  It doesn’t smell like dead people.  It smells like a wet basement.  And a plaster cast.  Which isn’t as strange as it sounds when I tell you the catacombs were once mined not only for limestone, but also gypsum, the key ingredient in Plaster of Paris.

It is somewhat disconcerting how quickly you get used to walking around next to the stacked bones of six million people.  It’s shocking at first, but as you keep walking through the cold and humid maze (it’s 55 degrees and damn near 100% humidity down there), you become almost numb to it.  I kept thinking, “So that’s it, then.  You live your life, you die, and then your femur ends up part of one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris.”



Nikon P510
ISO 800 | 4.3mm | f/3.0 | 1/8 sec


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 61

Today’s words are brought to you by early-19th century French lawyer turned gastronome, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.

One of the world’s first food writers, Brillat-Savarin is considered the father of low-carb diet. He’s even got a namesake cheese, Brillat-Savarin (triple-cream Brie made in the Normandy region of France).  A huge cheese fan himself, Brillat-Savarin once remarked, “a meal without some cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”  We enjoyed some brilliant cheese plates (including Brillat-Savarin) while we were in Normandy earlier this summer, so I’m rapidly warming up to the cheese course.  I’m not sure I’d ever give up chocolate for cheese, but you never know.

Brillat-Savarin (the man, not the cheese) was a bit of a character.  One time (not at band camp), a friend offered Brillat-Savarin some grapes for dessert after dinner.  Brillat-Savarin pushed the plate aside and said, “Much obliged, but I am not accustomed to taking my wine in pills.”

Brillat-Savarin and I would have made fine dinner companions.  I’ve often thought for as much as I love wine, I really should enjoy grapes more than I do.

And this?  This just made me smile . . .

Happy Wednesday!  Will you think, talk, or do silly things tonight?


My Week in Wine Labels

I’ve been experimenting lately, taking photos of pieces of wine labels with my macro lens.  It’s great 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.

Any of these guys look familiar??

Labels 81515

I’ll try to say something cogent about each of the wines, mostly focusing on the label, without indulging in too much “redolent of wild juniper berries with a spine of frankincense” nonsense.  😉

Clockwise, from top right:

Tendil & Lombardy Blanc de Noirs Brut Champagne NV ⭐⭐⭐/87
Sometimes, you just need to open a bottle of Champagne on a Wednesday.  I love the simplicity and texture of this label.  You can’t go wrong with black and gold.  Reminds me of a little black dress with a delicate gold necklace.  And the Champagne’s really good, too.  Think toast with mineral jam (mmmm . . . crushed rocks on toast), and a grapefruit juice chaser.

Herman Story Smash City Pinot Noir 2012 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/91
There’s a monster truck with red flames on the label.  And there should be a monster truck with red flames on the label.  This is not a dainty Pinot.  It’s loud, and a little bit dirty.  I had a bottle right when it came out, and I’ll admit, I wasn’t the biggest fan.  It was just too . . . much. So, I put my other two bottles to rest in my cellar (aka, the cupboard under my basement stairs).  A year later and . . . Wowza!!  I can’t believe I only have one more bottle of this stuff. I’m gonna let it hang out in my cellar for another year.  And go beg Russell (the winemaker) for more.  Postcript:  the more I look at this photo, the more I’m digging the texture of the paper on the label.

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ⭐⭐⭐/86
I first tasted this wine at a Carpe Vinum wine club tasting four years ago (before I started writing this blog).  I was impressed enough then to buy another bottle and hold onto it for a few more years.  We decided to pop it open to celebrate the end of summer (well, the end of our summer, anyway — the kids go back to school here tomorrow).  The golden bird on the label is a phoenix, or firebird.  It symbolizes the birth of Thelema Vineyards, out of the ruins of an old fruit farm in Stellenbosch, South Africa.  Under the macro lens, it looks as though someone has painstakingly and perfectly dripped gold-leaf onto the label.  The wine wasn’t as good last night as I remembered it (the balance seemed a little off), but still a lovely way to close out summer.

Loring Parmelee Hill Chardonnay 2011 ⭐⭐⭐/88
Loring always showcases their vineyards in beautiful black & white photos on their wine labels. It’s a great way to visually connect with where the wine truly lives.  If there was a personal ad for this wine, it would say, “Must love oak”.  I once heard someone describe the use of oak like this:  “Oak is a spice, not a sauce.”  Right?!?  And the oak in this Chardonnay is definitely spice, not sauce.  But if you’re Team Stainless, this probably won’t be your thing.  I found quite a few tartrate crystals hanging out at the bottom of my bottle.  They don’t bother me, though. Interesting note, this was even better on day two.

I had a lot of fun putting these photos together.  It’s a great way for me to practice macro photography, and learn a little bit more about the wines, outside of simply popping and pouring.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Beneath Your Feet

Calling all mycologists!  Teeny-tiny mushrooms, of unknown variety, in my garden.

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Beneath Your Feet.
Our instructions: This week, look down and capture the ground beneath your feet.

Earlier this week, I was attempting to do some weeding in my garden.  Honestly, I don’t know why I bother — by this time of the summer, the weeds are not only winning, they’ve lapped me.  I looked down, and just about stepped on these tiny little mushrooms (you could fit the whole group of them under the canopy of a dime).  So I ran inside to get my camera, and my macro lens.

Practice time.

I’ve never seen mushrooms like this before.  I did a little Nancy Drewing online, but couldn’t definitively ID them (do you have any idea how many different species of mushrooms there are?).  They’re probably some kind of harmless garden mushrooms.  Or . . . they could be the kind of mushrooms that murder you.  One never knows for sure with ‘shrooms.

They look like an inspiration for the 1970s Tupperware palette, don’t they?

Apparently, a person who studies fungi is called a mycologist.  So, if there are any mycologists (or fungi fanatics) out there who can identify my ‘shrooms, I’d love to know what they are!

DSC_0815-1Nikon D800
ISO 400 | 105mm | f/5.6 | 1/2000 sec