Tilla Malbec 2014

W Tilla 2014Malbec from Eastern and Southern Mendoza, Mendoza, Cuyo Region, Argentina

100% malbec

13.0% alcohol

Purchased:  12 Nov 2017  –  $9.99

Opened:  29 April 2018

els:  8.8/10

Robert Parker:  90

Flagstaff Magazin:  90

Vinous:  87

Wine Enthusiast:  87

Wine Spectator:  87

Cellar Tracker:   86

Argentina’s wine history dates back to the 1500s when Catholic priests planted vineyards around their monasteries to guarantee wine for the parish and Holy Mass. The country was the first South American country attempting to commercially grow vines, beginning in Mendoza in the early to mid-1800s.  Many of the initial plantings came from Chile in the early 1800’s but the varietals that would change world wine history came from the Bordeaux region of France in 1853, including the ubiquitous Malbec.  Eventually, Mendoza was producing world-class Malbec wines, on par or superior to those produced in France, mainly due to its high elevations in the foothills of the Andes, well-drained soils, and lots and lots of hot sunshine. Today the country produces 75% of the world’s Malbec.

Argentina is the world’s 6th largest producer of wine by volume, just behind the US and ahead of Australia. It produces about 6% of the world’s total wine. The country has 510,000 acres planted in grapes, 55% in red wine grapes, 25% in roses and the rest in whites. Malbec plantings account for 20% of the total acres planted with Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay accounting for another 20%. Argentina has 4 main wine-producing regions: Atlantic, Cuyo, North, and Patagonia.

Cuyo is the largest and most important wine-producing, macroeconomic region in central Argentina and includes the wine sub-regions of La Rioja, Mendoza, and San Juan; with Mendoza being the largest of the 3 by area, population, GDP, and wine production. The region produces about 80% of all wine in the country. The area is arid to semi-arid receiving less than 20 inches of rain per year and experiences large diurnal temperature variations of about 35°F.

The Mendoza region, lapping up onto the eastern foothills of the youthful Andes, is the largest wine producer in Argentina, accounting for 65-75% of the country’s total. A third of the country’s vineyards are dedicated to Malbec with Mendoza also producing the lion’s share of that variety with 85,000 acres planted. The Mendoza wine region is partitioned into another 5 sub-areas: Central Oasis, East Mendoza, North Mendoza, South Mendoza, and Uco Valley. North Mendoza, aka Lujan de Cuyo, designated as an appellation in 1993,  contains an additional 6 micro-regions including: Agrelo, Barrancas, Las Compuertas, Perdriel, Ugarteche, and Vistalba.

The East or Eastern Mendoza sub-region, 50 miles southeast of Mendoza, is the country’s largest wine-producing area with almost 175,000 acres of vineyards and is further divided into 3 smaller areas: Rivadavia, Junin, and San Martin. The largest plantings are in Bonarda, Malbec, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The vineyards are grown in the foothills of the Andes at 2100-2500′ above sea level with maximum summer temperatures in the low 80s°F and averaging 8″ of rain per year. Because of the low rainfall, the vineyards are irrigated with snowmelt waters from the Andes. The soils are mostly a heterogeneous mix of infertile, sandy loams and rocks.

The Southern Region is located 100 miles due south from Mendoza, at an elevation 3,000-4,000’ above sea level in San Carlos County. Bonarda and Malbec are the commonest grapes grown in the region. The high elevations mean lower temperatures and bright sunshine. The Southern Region is a desert with annual rainfall averaging about 14″ per year and summer temperatures that get up into the high 80s°F.

Malbec, Argentina’s national and highly celebrated grape was brought to the country in 1853. With its introduction, and other varietals, to the country the legislature established Quinta Normal, a school of agriculture, in Mendoza on 17 April 1853 which was to become the date for the annual Malbec World Day.

Malbec is a black, thin to thick-skinned, depending on elevation, grape that tends to ripen early. The wine from the grapes has aromas of cherries, strawberries, or plums; producing soft flavors and mild but meaty tannins. Malbec’s aged in oak keep for a long time and can be kept uncorked for 10 years or more. Malbec has many synonyms including Cot, Cahors, Grifforin, Hourcat and Quincy.

Bodegas Esmeralda, founded by Don Juan Fernandez is named in honor of his only daughter: Esmeralda Fernandez. The winery is located in the city of Junin, approximately 300 miles west of Buenos Aires and almost 800 miles east of Mendoza, producing wines both for the local market and for export. The winery’s Tilia labeled wines, named after the Latin name for the Linden tree, are all produced for the export market.

Tilia’s Malbec grapes are sourced from a variety of vineyards in the 3 counties that make up the Eastern Region: San Martin, Junin, & Rivadavia and San Carlos county of the Southern Region. The vineyards are in a true desert climate, receiving less than 1″ of rain per month and are irrigated with the Andes’ snow melt waters flowing down through the Tunuyan River. Because of the desert conditions the sun shines 90% of time throughout the year, generating hot days and cool nights.

After harvesting and sorting, the grapes are fermented for 12 days in stainless steel tanks at 81-84°F. The wine undergoes a 15 day maceration period followed by 6-9 months ageing in French and American, new and used oak barrels; steel tanks, and concrete vats. The wines are aged in bottles for 3 months before putting them on the market.

A dark purple wine with aromas of black cherries and plums with a hint of vanilla. The wine is medium to full-bodied with flavors of blackberries and currants. A nice finish with easy tannins and a crisp acidity.

Malbec wines go well with simple foods. We served this wine with a simple meal of spaghetti and meatballs in a marinara sauce producing a solid and enjoyable combination.

A good wine at a great price. It should last until 2022-24. Decanting this wine did it a world of good.

$7.99-9.99 wine-searcher.com

 

 

 

Out of Eden

The Ancient Mediterranean World: From the Stone Age to A.D. 600B Mediterranean 2004

Written by:  Robin W. Winks and Susan P. Mattern-Parkes

Published by: Oxford University Press

Copyright:  © 2004

Homo erectus, an upright fellow, showed up during the Pleistocene about 2 million years ago and quickly dispersed throughout Asia and Africa even though his starting point is ambiguous. After mucking about the tropics, the lack of clothes makes it difficult to take skiing vacations in the Alps, decided to take on a bigger brain and chin with less eye brow protuberance, and developed into our mum: Homo sapiens, a couple of hundred thousand years ago.  Some say we came from east Africa, others say east Asia but regardless of our origins we showed up in what is now Israel around 100,000 years ago and our quest for ever larger cell phone screens and civilized table manners had begun.

Agriculture, originating about the 12th century B.C., traces its roots back to the fertile crescent; beginning at the Jordan River progressing north and northeast to the headwaters of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and then back down south to the rivers’ marshlands, eventually pouring into the Persian Gulf.  By 9500 B.C. man was cultivating wheat, flax, rye, peas, and other crops that brokered the way for cities, government, laws, and taxes; otherwise known as civilization.

The earliest civilizations are conveniently timed to the discovery of bronze around 2500 B.C.  Bronze tools and weapons, an amalgam of copper and tin, galvanized the rise of city-states and empires until the tin ran out in 1200 B.C., then the Dark Ages set in. Virtually every major city in the eastern Mediterranean was sacked and burned during the first 50 years of the advent of these interesting times, many to disappear from the map forever. The technology to smelt carbon steel brought a renewal of civilization during the Iron Age and the cementing of the Assyrian Empire–for awhile.

By the end of the Iron Age the bright lights of civilization have shifted from Mesopotamia to the northern shores of the Mediterranean; first settling into the Aegean peninsula around the 8th century B.C. before migrating to Rome in the 3rd century B.C.  By the 3rd century A.D. Rome was a spent force and the remnants of the empire shifted back to the eastern Mediterranean in Constantinople.

Christianity’s rise followed Rome’s decline through the Mediterranean. The rapid spread of Christianity is somewhat of enigma, as are other philosophies or religions such as Buddhism and Islam, but the prevailing thoughts are that church improved the lives of its followers and promised a way to life every after.

The authors, Drs Winks and Mattern-Parkes, professors of history at Yale and the University of Georgia respectively, have written a short history of the region that engrosses and enlightens without preaching.  If interested in the history of the Mediterranean from the Stone Age to Islam, this is quick read and is eminently readable.

 

Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2015

W Schug 2015Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, North Coast, California, U.S.

100% pinot noir

13.8% alcohol

Purchased:  7 April 2017  –  $19.99

Opened:  19 April 2018

els:  9.0/10

James Suckling:  93

Wilfred Wong:  92

Tastings:  89

Cellar Tracker:  87

The US, when first discovered by the Vikings, was covered in vines and they named the area Vineland. Unfortunately the early settlers discovered that those vines produced a terrible wine. The effort to find a suitable vine for the US began in earnest in the 1600s with the introduction of the Mission grape to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and Vitis vinifera to Virginia.  America’s first commercial winery was not established until 1798, finding its home in Kentucky.  Today the US is the 4th largest producer of wine in the world, behind Spain and ahead of Argentina, accounting for 8% of the world’s wine production. There are 89 regions in the country planting 129 prime varieties of grape. The country has almost 8000 wineries that produced 800 million gallons of wine in 2016.

The California wine industry was initially established by Spanish in the 18th century, planting the Mexican sourced “black grape” around their Catholic missions to be used for religious ceremonies and enjoying Californian sunsets.  The “black grape” or the Mission grape, was originally brought to the new world buy Hernan Cortes in the 16th century. It did nothing of note for the Aztecs but it dominated the state’s industry for almost 200 years.

California is far and away the largest grower and producer of wine in the country accounting for about 85% of US production.  The state still ranks as the 4th largest producer in the world just behind France, Italy, and Spain; without including the rest of country. There are over 600,000 acres of vines, 5900 growers and just shy of 4700 wineries in the state producing 285 million cases of wine in 2016. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most common wine varieties, accounting for about 90,000 and 85,000 acres planted, respectively. In 2016 the state had about 44,600 acres planted in Pinot Noir grapes.

The state has 5 main growing regions: Central Coast, Inland Valleys, North Coast, Sierra Foothills, and South Coast.  Within these 5 regions are upwards to 200 AVAs.  The AVAs  are defined by geography only; counties are automatically classified as an AVA without further registration with the federal government.  85% of the grapes used on an AVA that’s smaller than a county, must be grown there but there are no restrictions on what grapes or amounts that can be used. If it is a county labeled AVA only 75% of the grapes need to come from that area.

The North Coast region, just north of San Francisco, includes the counties of Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. The area stretches 100 miles, north to south, and about 50 miles east to west. From Clear Lake on the eastern boundary to the Pacific Ocean on the western edge, the area includes the valleys just north of the San Francisco Bay to the North Coast Mountains in the northern part of the region. The North Coast contains almost half of all the state’s wineries spread over 3 million acres with more than 130,000 acres dedicated to vineyards within 50 smaller AVAs. The predominate grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Sonoma County wine history dates back to the early 1800s when a Catholic priest established a vineyard around the San Francisco Solano Mission which is now in the city of Sonoma. By the early 1920s the county boasted 20,000 acres of vines and 250 plus wineries. Prohibition knocked Sonoma’s wine industry down to a shadow of its former glory and it took almost 60 years for the county to recover from that social experiment.

Sonoma County has a rich, heterogeneous geography of mountains and valleys that present a profusion of soils and climates that make the French landscape look like vanilla pudding.  The area’s soils are heavily influenced by volcanism along the county’s eastern boundary in the Mayacamas Mountains.  The volcanoes include the Plio-Pleistocene aged Mount St. Helena and Hood Mountain which, among others, spiked the surrounding soils with ash and other wine-loving volcanic ejecta. The climate of the area is a product of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean which has endowed the area with foggy mornings, warm days, not too hot, and cool nights.

Sonoma County is the North Coast’s largest AVA, about 50 miles on a side, containing more than third of North Coast region’s grape acreage, along with 1800 growers, and 400 wineries. The county grows 66 varieties of grapes on 60,000 acres but just 7 of these account for about 90% of all the wine produced.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon are the top 3 grapes grown. The area produces about 6% of California’s total wine production versus 4% for Napa.

The county is further subdivided into 3 large AVAs loosely based on geography: Northern Sonoma, Sonoma Coast, and Sonoma Valley with each of these containing an additional 15 distinct AVAs within their borders. These include:  Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros Sonoma, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Fort Ross-Seaview, Fountaingrove District, Green Valley, Knights Valley, Moon Mountain District, Petuluma Gap, Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Mountain. Petuluma Gap was granted AVA status in 2018.

Sonoma Coast, awarded AVA status in 1987, has about 2000 acres planted in vines and around 10 wineries. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most planted variety in the AVA with Syrah coming in third. The climate in this area is cooler and wetter than the rest of the county with lots of fog.

Pinot Noir, native to the Burgundy region of France, is a cool climate, thin-skinned, fussy grape. It is a popular drinking wine, ranking as number 10 in the world by acreage. France and the US are the largest growers of the vine, each with about 75,000 acres under cultivation out of 215,000 acres worldwide. The grape produces a garnet to ruby colored wine with low tannins and medium-body.  The low tannins generally mean it does not age well but that property can be quite unpredictable. Young wines have aromas of cherries and raspberry but older wines tend to acquire more earthy smells.

Schug Carneros Estate Winery, a family operation, with strong wine-making roots in Germany has been making North Coast Schug wines since 1980. In 1989 the family purchased 50 acres in the Sonoma part of the Carneros Sonoma AVA from which winery has grown to its present form of old world tradition and new world wine-making techniques.

This Pinot Noir is sourced from several owned and non-owned vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA area including: 29% Ricci, 16% O Tirado, 13% Stage Gulch, 5% Schug Estate, 4% Sangiacomo, 15% Russian River, 14% Sonoma-Carneros. The grapes were harvested from 24 August through 19 September 2015.

After harvesting, the wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks with pump over occurring 2-4 times daily, followed by malolactic fermentation in neutral oak casks. Aging was in neutral French oak barrels.  The wine was released for sale on 1 October 2016.

A dark garnet color with aromas nuts, chocolate, cherry and a hint of oak.  A spicy medium-bodied wine with a medium finish.

We enjoy Pinot Noir as a sipping wine, indulging in them in the late afternoon, slightly chilled, with a plate of sliced fruits and chocolates nearby to provide some contrasting tastes to this fruity wine.

An outstanding wine at a fair to good price. It should last until 2019-2021. Decanting this wine did it a world of good.

$16.99-29.00 wine-searcher.co

Played

Funeral in BerlinM Funeral 1966

Theaters:  December 1966

Streaming:  August 2001

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  102 minutes

Genre:  Action – Classic – Drama – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  6.5/10

IMDB:  6.9/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.5/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Guy Hamilton

Written by:  Evan Jones (screenplay), Len Deighton (book)

Music by:  Konrad Elfers

Cast:  Michael Caine, Paul Hubschmid, Oscar Homolka, Eva Renzi

Film Locations:  Germany, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $

Harry Palmer (Caine), an expendable British spy, is sent to East Germany to bring in  a Russian intelligence colonel, Stok, (Homolka) who is tired of his no-win job providing security for the Berlin Wall and wants to defect to the west. Palmer, a born cynic and an insolent one at that, doesn’t believe the Russian’s story, doesn’t accept that he is seduced, willingly, by a glamorous model, Steel, (Renzi) because of his charm and great looks, and he doesn’t trust his West German contact, Mr. Smooth and Rich, British agent Johnny Vulkan (Hubschmid).  With no good options Palmer just carries on and sees where his strolls at midnight take him.

Funeral in Berlin, written in 1964, is the 3rd spy novel in Len Deighton’s Unnamed Hero series and 2nd one that was made into a movie starring Caine. This book was preceded by The Ipcress File in 1962 and Horse Under Water in 1963.  The 4th book in series was Billion-Dollar Brain published in 1966.  All the books were made into movies except Horse Under Water which was scheduled to be the 4th movie with Caine but was canceled when Billion-Dollar Brain fared poorly with the critics and the box office.

Deighton, part of the popular triumvirate of British spy novelists along with Ian Fleming and John le Carré, wrote his first spy novel, The Ipcress File while living in Dordogne, France, an expat community of Brits, socialists and communists. All 3 not necessarily being the same person. The book was an instant success and it was quickly adapted into a movie of the same name in 1965 which also met with critical success.  His books were hailed for their realistic detail to bureaucratic bumbling and pettiness, germane to all large departments and agencies the world over.

Evan Jones, born to banana farmers in Jamaica, studied in Jamaica and the U.S., taught in the U.S., then moved to England to write for television and film.  Evan Jones loosely followed Deighton’s book when writing the screenplay.  In the book the defector is a Soviet scientist who has been granted approval to leave by the Russian security guru Colonel Stok.

Guy Hamilton, director of 4 James Bond movies, has a deserved reputation for injecting high-brow humor into his action movies and he does not let his viewers down with his, and Evan Jones’, interpretation of the Funeral in Berlin. The action is low-tech with tight scenes of suspense interspersed with Caine’s acerbic cracks at the establishment. Hamilton’s efforts are better than what Ken Russell accomplished in Billion-Dollar Brain but significantly inferior to Sid Furie’s The Ipcress File.

Michael Caine and Oscar Homolka are brilliant in the movie. They play off each others morbid sense of humor and dial the thriller down to a level of fun and games in a world of known mostly for deadly results.

The L.A. Times reported in 2007 that Howard Hughes in a codeine induced haze watched Funeral in Berlin, in the buff, 3 times in row.  Regardless of Hughes critique this is a good movie, not a great movie, but Michael Caine makes it fun to watch.

Slow Sadness

Touch of EvilM Touch 1958

Theaters:  February 1958

Streaming:  October 2000

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  95 minutes

Genre:  Classics – Crime – Drama –  Film Noir – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.1/10

Amazon:  4.4/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  8.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.2/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Orson Welles

Written by:  Orson Welles (screenplay), Whit Masterson: aka Robert Wade and Bill Miller (book)

Music by:  Henry Mancini

Cast:  Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Film Locations:  US

Budget:  $829,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $2,247,465

A man runs through a parking lot in a small Mexican town along the US border carrying a small package, placing it in the trunk of convertible moments before the owner and driver, Rudy Linnekar (Jeffery Green) and his young girlfriend Zita (Joi Lansing) arrive.  With the bomb ticking in the trunk of the car, Linnekar slowly drives through the town, filled with tourists and locals enjoying the cool night, heading for the nearby US border and home.  As they are driving, they pass the strolling newly married couple of Mike Vargas (Heston), a Mexican drug cop, and his American wife Susie (Leigh). The car crosses the border into the US and explodes.

Captain Quinlan (Welles), an obese cop with a bum leg, walking with the aid of a cane, arrives to take over the investigation of bombing. He quickly surmises that Sanchez (Victor Millan), who is secretly married to Rudy Linnekar’s daughter Marcia (Joanna Cook Moore), is the prime suspect.  Quinlan’s partner Pete Menzies (Joseph Calleia) plants incriminating evidence in Sanchez’s apartment and he is arrested. Vargas knows that the evidence against Sanchez was planted and begins to investigate the bombing and Quinlan, while letting his wife spend her honeymoon alone in some cheap deserted hotel in the dry scrublands of the American southwest.

Welles loosely based the movie’s screenplay on a 1956 Red Badge Mystery serial novel, Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson. The crime novel slowly solves the mystery of who killed Rudy Linnekar by blowing up his house with dynamite. The murder is investigated by police officers Hank Quinlan and Leron McCoy along with an assistant district attorney.  The 2 cops quickly make an arrest of Ernest Farnum, who soon commits suicide, even though incriminating dynamite was found in the apartment of Linnekar’s future son-in-law Delmont Shayon.

Whit Masterson is a pseudonym for 2 authors: Robert Allison “Bob” Wade and H. Bill Miller.  The pair, good friends since the age of 12, wrote more than 30 novels in their lifetimes with at least 6 adapted for movies.  Two other well received movies adapted from their books, in addition to this movie, were the 1942 All Through the Night with Humphrey Bogart, and The Yellow Canary starring Pat Boone.

Orson Welles, director, writer, actor, producer, and occasional illusionist was born an entertainer.  Shakespeare and presenting visual interpretations of the classic books were his passions. His colossal talent spanned the stage, radio, and movies, bequeathing an artistic ensemble to the world that increases in stature every year. In 1938, Welles produced, directed, and acted in Caesar, an updated version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The play was a monumental success. In the same year he narrated Mercury Theater’s adaptation of  H. G. Wells’, The War of Worlds, bringing him instant fame or at least infamy. In 1941 Welles, wrote, produced, directed, and acted in his greatest gift to movie goers everywhere: Citizen Kane.  A critical success on opening but financially not too great, held back by the Hearst’s family distaste and advertising boycott of the movie. Its impact on the public, though, has increased over time and by 2017 it was considered the greatest film ever made. He is also considered the 2nd greatest director of all time, with only Hitchcock ranking above him.

A Touch of Evil was Welles’ last Hollywood movie and one of the last in the film-noir genre, at least in the era of Hitchcock, Wilder, and Huston.  It ranks as one of his finest. Filmed in black and white, his use of upward shots, long sequences, and garish, crowded scenes gives the movie a dark and sinister look, foretelling from the beginning an ending of bleakness and sorrow.

Welles and Dietrich steal the show.  They are the 800 pound gorillas among the lesser greats of Heston, Leigh, and Cotton.  Heston’s acting is worthy of his name and this movie but casting him as a Mexican is a head scratcher.  Every time he appears in a scene you have to think about why he is portraying someone he clearly isn’t.

A Touch of Evil expresses the shadows of our lives that we all try to suppress, not by standing in the light but hiding them in our dark lonely places. Quinlan always getting his man regardless the cost, Vargas forsaking his wife to play the good cop, crime bosses sinking lower, night watchmen to afraid to do the right thing.  A tale of crossroads, with the right and left forks leading to the same forlorn scene of heartache and grief.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.  It is a great film-noir movie consistently ranking as one of the top 100 movies of all time.

Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz 2016

W Blue Eyed 2016Shiraz from The Gateway, McLaren Vale, Fleurieu Zone, South Australia, Australia

100% shiraz

16.0% alcohol

Purchased:  6 April 2018  –  $60.00

Opened:  6 April 2018

els:  9.1/10

Cellar Tracker:  91

In the beginning, Australia’s entire stock of vines had to be imported from Europe and South Africa since it does not have any native grape varieties. In the early 1800s John Macarthur, established the first successful vineyards and winery near Sydney. By the early 1820s wine was being produced in sufficient quantities that the first exports were recorded in 1822.  In 1833 James Busby brought additional cuttings from Europe and introduced Shiraz to the fledgling wine industry. By the latter half of the 1800s, Australian wines were garnering world-wide attention and tasting awards.  Then the unspeakable happened. Phylloxera reached Australia around 1875 destroying a majority of vines in the country.  It would take until the 1960s before Australia moved beyond fortified wines and started producing good to great table wines again.

Wine is currently produced in all 6 six of the country’s states which are further divided up into 65 wine regions that contain over 2400 wineries.  The regions creating serious wines, though, are all located in the cooler southern states of Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania.

Australia, in 2016, was the 5th largest producer of wine in the world, behind the US and ahead of China, making 343 million gallons of wine or about 4% of the world-wide total.  Australia consumes about 40% of their wine or a little more than 135 million gallons and exports 60%, about 215 million gallons in 2017, and is 4th largest exporter of wine in the world.  The country exports to 126 counties but five of those countries; China, the US, the UK, Canada, and Hong Kong account for 75% of the total wine exports. China is by far the country’s largest market, sending about a 3rd of their total wine exports, by value, to their thirsty northern neighbors.

The country grows over 130 varietals with just a few accounting for the lion’s share of all grapes harvested. The red grapes Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot accounted for 85% of all grapes harvested in 2017. Shiraz contributed 47% to that years red grapes total harvest.  Chardonnay is the top white grape harvested in 2017 accounting for 42% of the total.

South Australia is the largest wine area, by acres of vines planted and wine produced, in Australia.  The temperatures vary widely over area, cool along the coast and hot in the interior. The area is consistently dry and requires irrigation almost everywhere. The area first started growing grapes and producing wine back in the 1830s.

The region had almost 190,000 acres planted in 2017, more than half of the country’s total.  The area produced over 160 million gallons of wine in 2017 and exported 135 million gallons. China-Hong Kong, the UK, the US, and Canada are South Australia’s largest export markets.

There are 7 wine zones, further divided up into 20 distinct regions in South Australia. The zones are: Barossa, Fleurieu, Mount Lofty Ranges, Far North, Limestone Coast, Lower Murray, and The Peninsulas.  The 20 regions are all recognized appellations known in the country as Australian Geographical Indications or AGIs.

McLaren Vale, 1 of the 5 regions within the Fleurieu zone, is one of two premier South Australia wine-producing regions in the country; the other being Barossa Valley. McLaren Vale’s wine history goes back at least 175 years to the time of John Reynell and Thomas Hardy and their first grape plantings in the region.  Today’s Accolade Wines traces its beginnings back to the establishment of the Thomas Hardy and Sons winery, in 1853, in Old Reynella, now a suburb of Adelaide. With its Mediterranean climate and well-drained soils, McLaren Vale has 18,000 acres planted in vines and more than 80 wineries. Its star pupil is Shiraz, accounting for 55% of all grapes grown and processed. The region also produces great wines from Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache grapes.

Australia is the second largest producer of Shiraz or its genetic French twin, Syrah, in the world, France being the first. These are dark-skinned grapes that produce wildly different flavors depending on the terroir they spring from. The cooler climate versions tend towards medium-bodied wines with higher tannins, producing flavors and aromas of pepper and tobacco.  In the hotter climates, such as McLaren Vale, the wine is fuller in body, softer in tannins with notes of leather and velvety chocolate. Ageing potential is 10-15 years.

In 2006, Sparky and Sarah Marquis established their own brand: Mollydooker, and opened their winery the next year just a few miles southwest of Adelaide and a hop, skip, and jump from the Gulf of St. Vincent in The Gateway sub-region of McLaren Vale. From the outset they have produced outstanding wines garnering high 90s ratings and wine of the year accolades, seemingly without effort. The winery includes 3 vineyards: Long Gully Road, Coppermine Road (Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road produced weed and whiskey),  and the Home Block, totaling 114 acres planted in Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The grapes for Blue Eyed Boy were grown on all 3 of Mollydooker’s vineyards: Coppermine Road, Long Gully Road, and Home Block. The vines are growing in ancient, Snowball Earth, Pre-Cambrian to Cambrian metasediments, usually extremely weathered and kaolinized. The metasediments include various textures from siltstones to sandstones and limestones to dolostones.  The Mollydooker vineyards are situated a little over 450′ above sea level and enjoy a Mediterranean climate with growing season temperatures ranging from 55-85ºF.  Rainfall is generally less than 1.25″ per month during the growing season.

The grapes are barrel fermented and matured in American oak, 58% new and 42% one- year old.

A dark, dark purple wine with a ruby rim. Aromas of  blueberry, plum and a hint of vanilla. A full-bodied wine, well-structured, and solid tannins. Juicy, silky and smooth, with a very long finish. The high alcohol content does sneak up on you after a couple of glasses.

An outstanding wine.  My wife and I had this for dinner at the Helix Wine and Bites restaurant in Grand Forks, ND.  We shared an entrée of a fall-off-the-bone rib eye, served with baked new potatoes and fried broccoli in olive oil and garlic.

The wine with the meal was simply astounding. The wine is on the pricey side but worth it for special occasions. It is a little young to drink now, wait awhile.  It should last until 2026-2030. Decanting this wine did it a world of good.

$48.99 wine.com

Out the Double Double

The Spy Who Came in from The ColdM Spy 1965

Theaters:  May 1965

Streaming:  July 2004

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  112 minutes

Genre:  Action – Classics – Drama –  Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  7.5/10

IMDB:  7.7/10

Amazon:  4.3/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.7/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: 1 Golden Globe

Directed by:  Martin Ritt

Written by:  Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper (screenplay), John le Carré (book)

Music by:  Sol Kaplan

Cast:  Richard Burton, Oskar Werner, Claire Bloom

Film Locations:  Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $7,600,000

Alec Leamas (Burton), station chief for the British “Circus” in West Berlin, has just lost one of his operatives and is recalled to London.  He is given a new mission in London to play the part of an angry alcoholic, drummed out the secret service, desperately in need of money to get by, and to make his plight as public as possible.  The East Germans take notice of his condition and entice him to defect; trading state secrets for a cushy retirement.  He agrees and is whisked off to East Berlin to be interrogated. His cover story quickly nabs a double agent in the East German spy office but Leamas finds himself a pawn rather than the checking knight.

Germany after WWII was divided into 3 sectors in which Britain, the US and the Soviet Union administered starting in 1944.  From 1944 to 1948, Berlin was administered jointly by the 3 powers but in 1949 the Soviets claimed sole possession of East Berlin and declared it the capital of Germany Democratic Republic. The post-war East Berlin economy was ruined, as it was in West Berlin, but because of Soviet control it was excluded from the Marshall Plan used to rebuild the rest of western Europe.  East Berlin’s centrally planned economy had supposedly the highest standard of living in the Soviet controlled sphere of Europe and Asia but the inhabitants were leaving the city and country in droves, with estimates of 1000 per day leaving in 1960. To stop the emigration and retain skilled workers, up went the wall in 1961 and the East German soldiers were instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.  The East Germany security forces, the Stasi, formed in 1950, tightened their grip on the East German citizens, spying on everyone to break up any dissent.  Additionally the Stasi extensively infiltrated West Germany to obtain industrial, political, and military secrets, eventually bringing down West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1974 because his personal secretary was an East German spy.

David John Moore Cornwell, a British writer of mysteries and spy novels under the pen name of John le Carré, worked for the English secret service until his 3rd novel in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became an international best seller. He quit the service in that year and devoted his time to writing, mainly cold war spy novels dealing with the psychology of gamesmanship and spy craft rather than James Bond type action. His stories usually center around the moral cost of attempting to contain the communist empire without absorbing the stain of their criminality and depravity. Prior to his 1963 novel being published, Heinz Paul Johann Felfe, a German double agent that spied for everyone, Nazis, Soviets, West Germans, Brits; was caught by the West Germans, while in their employ, in 1961, and sent to prison for treason.

Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper wrote the screenplay for the movie and it follows the novel very closely. Dehn was a writer of plays, musicals and movies.  His first screenplay in 1950, Seven Days to Noon, won him an Oscar. Guy Trosper was a writer and producer from Lander, Wyoming best known for this movie and the 1962, Birdman of Alcatraz.

Martin Ritt, actor, director, writer, and producer, gives the viewer a somber message of spy craft without any glamour or gadgets.  Presenting a story about dubious principles and ugly spy results, he sticks to script and makes one of the best spy movies of all time.  This is his 2nd best movie, his 1963 Hud is his best.  The rest of his 30 or so movies are just a rehash of communist talking points and politically correct drivel. Nominated many times for Best Director he never managed to pull down Oscar or a Golden Globe.

The acting in this movie couldn’t get any better.  Richard Burton and Claire Bloom team up to create a tragic series of dichotomies revolving around youth and age, communism and freedom, innocence and cynicism, idealism and debauchery.  In the end they are both occupying the same poles, one learning nothing, the other wanting to learn no more.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.

Innocence Lost

The Third Man M Third 1950

Theaters:  September 1949

Streaming:  November 1999

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  93-108 minutes

Genre:  Classic – Crime – Drama – Film Noir – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.2/10

Amazon:  4.2/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  9.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: 1 Oscar

Directed by:  Carol Reed

Written by:  Graham Greene (screenplay and book)

Music by:  Anton Karas

Cast:  Joseph Cotton, Trevor Howard, Orson Wells, Alida Valli

Film Locations:  Austria, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $618,173

Holly Martins (Cotton), an American writer of 3rd rate westerns, broke and drunk more often than not, is invited to post-WWII Vienna by his old friend Harry Limes (Welles). Martins arrives in Vienna in time to witness Limes’ funeral.  Martins begins to ask around about the death of his friend and slowly becomes suspicious that the official account of his death, a traffic accident, is cover for a murder. Martins, an innocent fool, sets out to discover the truth about his friend’s death, stumbling through a city filled with experienced cynics, thugs, and kriminelle.

Nazi Germany annexed Austria, known as Anschluss Oesterreichs, in March 1938 with significant support of the Austrian public.  In 1943 the Allied powers; Britain, France, US, and the USSR, agreed to nullify the German annexation and have it revert back to an independent country at the end of the war.  The Allies, in 1945, divided Austria and Vienna into 4 sectors with each sector controlled by one of the 4 powers.  This arrangement was to last until 1955 when the country agreed to maintain eternal neutrality. The allied powers initially stationed 260,000 troops in the country after 1945, which was entirely paid for by the Austrian people. The cost of the occupation coupled with the war-destroyed industries and poor harvests lead to wide-spread hunger, lack of heating for homes and businesses, and unemployment.  The post-war years of 1945-46, with little in the way of an Austrian police force, saw crime spiral out of control with Soviet troops responsible for 90% of all reported crimes. The underground economy flourished with little or no regulation or oversight.

Graham Greene, considered as the greatest English writer of the 20th century and with the publication of his 1940 novel, The Power and the Glory, cemented his reputation as one of the best writers of his generation. Early in life he joined the communist party and a few years later converted to Catholicism. He initially wrote a short novel for The Third Man, not intending to publish it, but to provide background for the screenplay. The novella was eventually published under the same name as the movie, The Third Man in 1950. The book is not very good, basically because it is in an unfinished state. Ignore the book and watch the movie.  Greene, in 1948, personally researched the book and screenplay by exploring the streets, nightclubs, and sewers of Vienna along with immersing himself into the clandestine black-markets within the city.

MU Zither 2018A pedestrian movie filmed in Vienna would require a musical score relying heavily on orchestral waltzes with dance scenes showing gay Venetians circling the glossy dance floors of resplendent Viennese palaces. Well this movie isn’t pedestrian by any means; no waltzes, no orchestras, and no palaces make an appearance.  The entire score is delivered by a single instrument; the Zither, a multi-stringed, wooden instrument played either in an upright position or laid flat on one’s lap. The movie opens with the Anton Karas playing  an instrumental on a Zither. It is initially foreign and harsh to the ear but as the movie progresses you warm to its sound and melody, eventually succumbing to its hypnotic effects, realizing in the end that no other musical approach or sound would have worked.

Carol Reed took Greene’s ok screenplay and transformed it into the greatest British film ever made.  The black and white scenes of mountainous mounds of Viennese bombed rubble, the back-lit monstrous shadows, tilted horizons that change the normal perspective to an austere strangeness fitting of the black undertones of the movie; effects that add to the downbeat story of innocence lost in the harsh glare of a crooked reality.   The movie begins and ends with a funeral, letting you know that the only happiness you will find in post-war Vienna comes with death: death of desire, death of devotion, death of decency.

The acting in this movie is superb. Joseph Cotton’s innocence, Trevor Howard’s natural stoic acceptance of a world gone bad, Alida Valli’s stubborn attachment to love, but its Orson Welles that stands out as the films larger than life anti-hero.  An auteur with only acting credits in this movie, but he still insists on bringing along his own style, ad-libbing his lines when it suited him, inserting one of the most memorable lines in the movie:

You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

It doesn’t really matter that it was the German’s who invented cuckoo clocks and the Swiss were content with being bankers, sans the Hapsburgs, and providing mercenaries to the other European powers’ wars.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.

Little Mole

The Little Drummer GirlM Drummer 1984

Theaters:  October 1984

Streaming:

Rated:  R

Runtime:  130-132 minutes

Genre:  Drama – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  4.5/10

IMDB:  6.1/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.4/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  George Roy Hill

Written by:  Loring Mandel (screenplay), John le Carré (book)

Music by:  Dave Grusin

Cast:  Diane Keaton, Yorgo Voyagis, Klaus Kinski

Film Locations:  Germany, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, UK

Budget:  $20,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $7,828,841

Charlie (Keaton), a creator of alternate realities and a so-so actress believes in the Palestinian cause; in their quest for a country and peace.  She is recruited by Israeli intelligence, telling her they also want peace. They want her help in finding a Palestinian terrorist bomber, using her well honed abilities at deception and misdirection.

David John Moore Cornwell, a British writer of mysteries and spy novels under the pen name of John le Carré, worked for the English secret service until his 3rd novel in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became an international best seller.  He quit the service in that year and devoted his time to writing, mainly cold war spy novels dealing with the psychology of gamesmanship and spy craft rather than James Bond type action. His stories usually center around the moral cost of attempting to contain the communist empire  without absorbing the stain of their criminality and depravity. In 1983 he broke from his successful template of cold war spy novels and wrote about the ethical ambiguity between Palestinian and Israeli methods of prosecuting and defending against acts of terror in his novel, The Little Drummer Girl. The novel was the 4th highest selling novel in the US in 1983. Loring Mandel is mainly known for his long-time writing involvement for the TV soap opera, Love of Life and his 2001 screenplay for the Nazi final solution movie, Conspiracy depicting the 1942 Wannsee Conference.  His screenplay for The Little Drummer Girl is a faithful and true rendition of le Carre’s novel.

George Roy Hill directed 14 movies, 8 were nominated Oscars and 9 for Golden Globes. Four of the movies won Oscars and 3 won Golden Globes. He was nominated, but didn’t win, the Best Director Academy Award for the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. His high water mark came in 1974 when he won the Best Director Academy Award for the 1973 movie The Sting. His movies slowly declined in quality after that, with his last 2 films, The Little Drummer Girl and Funny Farm receiving little praise from either the public or audiences. His direction of The Little Drummer Girl was not spectacular, workman-like rather, but that wasn’t what destroyed this movie, that distinction belongs to Diane Keaton.

Diane Keaton is absolutely horrendous in this movie.  Some of the polite critics say she was miscast, which is true, but that doesn’t negate the fact that throughout this movie she just recites lines without conviction or is capable of displaying any proper scene awareness.  Diane Keaton made her name in 1970s acting in movies with the incestuous Woody Allen.  The apogee of her career  came in 1977 with her playing Annie Hall in the movie of the same name.  It has been downhill for her ever since.

This is a movie that you never need to watch unless you wish to watch all of John le Carre’s books come to life on the big screen. Just be aware that the story is good but Keaton is painful to watch.

Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port

W Graham Ruby 2018Ruby Port from Vila Nova de Gaia, Douro Valley, Portugal

Main Grapes: touriga franca – touriga nacional – tinta roriz – tinta barroca

Secondary Grapes:  tinta amarela – tinta cao – souzao – tinta francisca

19.5% alcohol

Purchased:  6 March 2017  –  $19.99

Opened:  31 March 2018

els:  9.0/10

Decanter:  95

Wine and Spirits:  91

Wilford Wong:  91

Falstaff Magizin: 91

Wine Enthusiast:  89

Wine Spectator:  87

Cellar Tracker:  87

Grapes in Portugal extend back 4000 years to the times of the lost civilization of Tartesso, with vineyards being established in river valleys along the southern Iberian Atlantic coast. Tartesso is thought, by some, to be synonymous with Atlantis or at minimum, a contemporary cousin and both are now believed to be drowned, sunken cities, possibly somewhere on the southern Iberian continental shelf. The Phoenicians, who began arriving in 12th century BC, followed by the Celts in the 8th century BC, and the Greeks a century later, all likely contributed to increasing the plantings, production, and trade of Iberian wine. The first real evidence of wine production comes from the 5th century BC and the arrival of the Carthaginians, who replaced the Phoenicians and closed the Gibraltar Straits to the Greeks. Meanies. Then the Romans came, gaining partial control of the Iberian Peninsula from the Carthaginians after the first Punic War in the 3rd century BC, and cementing their control by the conclusion of the second Punic War.  The Romans were instrumental in expanding the vineyards of southern Portugal and establishing the first vineyards in northern Portugal, including the Douro River Valley. The Christians and the barbarians continued the wine making and trade after the Romans left until the 8th century AD, Arab conquest of the peninsula ended their reign. This caused the wine industry to experience setbacks and difficulties, mainly in the 12th century, but everything returned to normal after they were expelled from Portugal in the 13th century.  Beginning in the late 14th century, the British, in their thirst for wine, slowly took control of Portuguese wine industry, and trade between the two countries thrived.

Portugal is the 11th largest producer of wine by volume, behind Germany and ahead of Russia.  In 2015 the country produced 177 million gallons of wine or 2.4% of the world-wide total. The country is the 9th largest exporter of wine, by volume, shipping 74 million gallons or about 2.7% of the total world-wide exports, behind Germany and ahead of Argentina.  Fortified wines accounted for 19 million gallons of the 74 million exported. Their exports rank 10th in the world by value, shipping $805 million worth or 2.5% of the world total, behind Argentina and ahead of Hong Kong.  Their vineyards exceed 550,000 acres planted in grapes, about 2.5% of the world-wide total.  France, UK, and Angola are the top markets for Portuguese wines.  There are more than 2900 wine producers growing in excess of 250 types of grapes in the country.

Portugal’s wines are categorized into 3 different levels of quality. At the upper end of quality scale are 31 DOCs (Portuguese label) or DOPs (European Union label), with clearly defined geographic limits and strict rules for grape usage, and yield. The mid-level quality wines are the 14 large regional areas labelled as VR, IG, or IGP; 12 on the mainland and the 2 island regions of Madeira and the Azores. The rules for these wines are less strict than DOCs but details such as grape varieties and alcohol content are still prescribed. At the bottom of the scale are table wines, which are not necessarily bad wines, but this level has no rules to constrain the artistic impulses of the area’s wine makers.

The Porto and Douro DOC, with a bit more than a 100,000 acres of grapes under cultivation, occupies the valley created by the 550 mile long Douro River, its headwaters near the small Spanish town of Duruelo de la Sierra at 7300′ above sea level. The Portuguese portion of the river flows westward about 90 miles through the Mountains of Leon from the eastern Spanish border to the  Atlantic coastal city of Porto. The DOC’s geographical limits in the valley stretch from the Spanish border and continue westward about 60 miles to the small city of 4500 inhabitants: Mesao Frio, an ancient shelter along a Roman road and the Douro River dating back to the 3rd century AD.

Wine in the Douro region is known from at least the time of the 3rd century Roman occupation but likely goes back to the beginning of the first century AD. It is the oldest region in the world with a formal demarcation (appellation) for making wine.  A royal Portuguese edict in 1756 stipulated the geographic boundaries for Port wine. Two other less formal wine region declarations in the world preceded Douro: the 1716 Lega del Chianti which defined the geographic area for production of Chianti wines in Italy, and the 1730 Hungarian vineyard classification in the Tokaj region which used soil and the propensity for the grapes to rot as an area specific guide.

The wine region’s vineyards are terraced into the steep slopes of the mountains, planted in man-made soils of broken up schist and granite.  The schist soils are usually reserved for grapes used in the production of Port while the granite soils grow grapes for table wines. The mountains protect the grapes from the full climatic effects of the Atlantic Ocean’s cold winds.  The DOC is divided up into 3 sub regions: Baixo Corgo, the cooler, wetter, western-most area with the most vineyards, 35,000 acres, but with the generally the lowest quality wines; Cima Corgo or Upper Corgo, the heart of Port wine production with 47,000 acres planted; and the eastern-most Douro Superior, having the coldest winters and hottest, driest summers. This latter area is currently experiencing rapid growth in grape plantings and wine production but currently only 21,000 acres are cultivated. Temperatures in the valley during the growing season range from 45-90°F with rainfall averaging 0-2.3″ per month. There are 5 main Port grapes grown in the area: Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, and Tinto Cão, all usually planted together in the older vineyards but the modern method is to plant single varietals. The Sousão grape is also gaining popularity in the Douro vineyards.

Port, a fortified sweet wine, takes its name from the northern Portuguese, Atlantic coastal city of Porto, the main export center for the valley’s wines. The grapes are grown, and the wine is produced upstream in the Douro Valley while the blending and ageing generally occurs across the river from Porto in the sister city of Vila Nova de Gaia. No one really knows exactly when Port wine was created but is believed to have its genesis in the later part of the 1600s or the beginning of 1700s, and as legend has it, the monks in the Douro Valley monastery of Lemago were responsible for its inception.

Port is made by adding a neutral grape spirit, sometimes referred to as brandy, to the wine before the fermentation process has completed.  The grape spirit stops the fermentation leaving residual sugar and boosts the alcohol content and sweetness of the wine.  The addition of the grape spirit, was to ‘fortify’ or protect the wine for its trip to England. There are numerous styles of Port including: Ruby, a young, blended wine of  different vintages and varietals, aged for less than 3 years; Tawny is a blended wine that is aged in wood for more than 3 years and sometimes up 40 years; Vintage is a single, exceptional year harvest, allowed to age in a barrel for 2 to 3 years and then bottled. Not all years produce a Vintage Port.  Vintage Ports should be allowed to age for 15 years or more in the bottle before drinking.  They can take up to 60 years to fully mature. The six most widely used grapes for Port wine are Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, and Tinta Amarela.

Touriga Franca is the most commonly planted grape in the Douro DOC, accounting for about 20% of all acreage planted. The wines are  dark and dense with aromas of black fruits and flowers. The tannins are high which provide for excellent aging potential.  For Ports and red blends it is commonly mixed with Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional wines.  The grape is almost exclusively grown in Portugal, accounting for 99.97% of the world-wide plantings.  It is the 59th most commonly grown grape in the world, planted on 28,600 acres world-wide.

Tinta Roriz, also known by its more familiar name, Tempranillo, is a black grape used to make full-bodied red wines, or in Portugal, one of the main varietals used to make Port.  The grape is believed to have existed on the Iberian Peninsula since the time of the Phoenicians. It produces a ruby-red wine with flavors of berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, and herbs. Tempranillo is the 4th most common grape grown in the world.  In Portugal it is grown on 41,300 acres versus 575,000 acres world-wide.

Tinta Barroca is another commonly planted vine in the Douro area and is almost exclusively grown in Portugal. It is seldom used as a single varietal wine. It is a thin-skinned grape that adds dark colors, the tannins are few, with flavors of plums and cherries. The grape does poorly in high temperatures or excessively dry conditions. This varietal is the 96th most common grape in the world being grown on 15,250 acres world-wide of which 14,675 acres are planted in Portugal.

Touriga Nacional is Portugal’s finest red grape and is planted throughout all 14 of the country’s regions but is believed to have originated in either the Dao or Douro areas. It is a low yielding, thick-skinned grape, high in tannins, with intense flavors of  black currants, raspberries, and liquorice. The varietal is the 67th most common grape in the world, planted on 25,800 acres world-wide, of which 25,000 of those acres are in Portugal.

Tinta Cao dates back to the 1700s in the Douro Valley. The thick-skinned grape has great balance between tannins, acidity, and sugar. It has floral aromas, is well-structured, and is frequently blended with Touriga Nacional and Aragonez wines. The grapes produce very low yields making them very difficult to justify, economically, in the growers’ vineyards. This varietal is ranked 411th in the world and is only found in Portugal.  It is grown on about 900 acres and may soon be extinct.

Tinta Amarela is a difficult grape to grow, doing best in hot, dry climates.  The grapes are full of tannins producing dark, full-bodied wines but are primarily used in Ports.  The grapes are fairly high-yielding, producing aromas of blackberries, flowers and herbs.  The berries are susceptible to rot in wetter climates and have a harvesting window of just a few days. This grape ranks 75th in the world and is almost entirely grown in Portugal. In Portugal it is planted on 22,850 acres with only about another 60 acres grown in the rest of the world.

The brother’s Graham, William and John,  British mercantilists, founded their firm along the banks of the Douro River in Porto, Portugal. There initial business was to trade in textiles but in 1820 they bartered twenty-seven barrels of Port for textile debt. From that point forward they decided that making the best port in the world was much more interesting and enjoyable than buying and selling patterned cloth.  The brothers bought their own vineyard in Douro Valley in 1890.  That same year they also built their Vila Nova de Gaia lodge, across the river from Porto.  The lodge is still used today to blend and age their ports. The cellar contains 2000 pipes (126 gallon wooden barrels), and 40 tonels (cement vats) and balseiros (large wooden, vertical vats).

In 1970 the Symington family fortuitously took control of the company with that year’s vintage being considered one of the greatest in the century.  The families Portuguese heritage dates back to the arrival Andrew Symington, arriving in Porto from Scotland in 1882. Today, 5 Symington cousins run Graham’s, along with Warre’s, Dow’s, Blandy’s, Leacock’s and many others. They are the largest owners of vineyards in Douro which today amounts to about 2300 acres.

Graham’s has 5 terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley; all with well-drained, unirrigated schistose soils, growing in a hot dry climate: 1) Quinta Dos Malvedos, the original Quinta, in the Upper Corgo grows 4 different grapes: 35% Touriga Franc, 29% Touriga Nacional, 18% Tinta Barroca, and 13% Tinta Roriz. 2) Quinta Das Lages in Rio Torto, a northern tributary of the Douro River, grows 38% mixed varietals (it is quite common in the valley for growers not to know exactly what varietal is growing) 22% Touriga Franca, 21% Touriga Nacional, and 14% Tinta Barroca. 3) Quinta Da Vila Velha in the Upper Corgo, produces 38,000 gallons of wine each year from 4 varietals: 33% Touriga Franc, 17% Tinta Roiz, 13% Touriga Nacional, and 12% Tinta Barroca. 4) Quinta Do Vale De Malhadas in the Douro Superior grows 3 varietals: 55% Tinta Roriz, 24% Touriga Franca, and 15% Touriga Nacional.  5) Quinta Do Tua in Upper Corgo has some of the oldest vines, growing 4 varietals: 28% mixed varietals, 21% Touriga Nacional, 17% Touriga Franca, and 17% Souzao.

Six Grapes, Graham’s short hand for their best grapes, sources them from the same 5 vineyards that produce its Vintage Ports. Approximately 35% of the best grapes from the vineyards are set aside each year to potentially source their Vintage Ports. Only a small percentage, if any, of those grapes eventually are bottled as Vintage Ports with the remaining being used to make Six Grapes Port.

The grape varietals are fermented separately at the company’s Quintas and are brought down river to Vila Nova de Gaia to be aged 1-2 years in the cellar’s seasoned, wooden barrels.

A dark, inky wine with flavors of plum and sweet cherries. A great structured wine with a very elegant, lasting finish.

Although there is some movement to serve Port with a meal containing beef, I find this difficult to pursue or appreciate. I believe there are only a few options for enjoying Port, either as an after dinner digestive, by itself as an after work or late night restorative, or with chocolate.  My preference is to have a few Godiva raspberry truffles on hand when drinking this Port.  They were absolutely made for each other.

An outstanding ruby port at a fair price. Drink this year but will be good for many years, decades even, after buying.

$19.99 wine.com

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