Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wine grapes from the Biblical era resurface in a Palestinian fruit market

Table grapes from a vineyard near Hebron. I shot this from a car. Who knows what ancient varieties may be there?
If you are a fan of unusual grape varieties, the Israeli winery Recanati has a couple of wines for you. Their story is, literally, epic: centuries spent in hiding until Israeli-Palestinian cooperation brought them back. The ancient white wine has been available for four years; the ancient red is just coming on the market this year.

Marawi and Bittuni are ancient grapes that disappeared from wine production during the centuries that Israel was ruled by Muslims. Wine was important in the Biblical era, and there is plenty of archeological evidence of wine production in the Holy Land. But in the modern era, until Edmond Rothschild restarted wine production in the 1880s, the area was a viticultural desert.

Rothschild brought the best-regarded French grapes at the time, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and the Jewish community made generally lousy wines with them for decades, before and after the founding of the state of Israel. Cab and Merlot aren't well-suited for the Mediterranean heat of the low-lying areas where they were planted.

Much of the best terroir is in the West Bank
Israeli wine has been on a resurgence for about two decades, led mainly by growers planting in higher-elevation, cooler areas. (Complicating things, many of these areas are in Palestinian territory.) Everyone understood that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are believed to have originated in the 1700s in France from natural crossings in vineyards, were not the grapes of the Bible. Most people just assumed that the grapes behind sage advice like "Use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities" (1 Timothy 5:23) were lost to time.

Dr. Shivi Drori at Ariel University thought he knew how to find them.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

What is Jimmy Butler drinking to celebrate the Minnesota Timberwolves making the playoffs?

I love that he's specific. Not just "wine," or "good wine." Butler knew exactly the bottle he was going to open.

For those of you not following the NBA, Minnesota had not made the playoffs since 2004, the longest stretch of no-postseason play in a league where more than half the teams make the playoffs. The Wolves faced Denver on Wednesday in the final game of the regular season, with the winner going to the playoffs and the loser staying home. The Wolves won in overtime. Congratulations Minnesota! You earned that fine bottle of wine.

If you want to enjoy the same wine as Butler, you can buy it here. It's not cheap, but neither are NBA playoff tickets.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The evolution of Napa Valley in a series of glasses at Charles Krug

Peter Mondavi Jr. last week
Few wineries in the United States can give you the taste of history, for better and worse, like Charles Krug.

It's all there: the world-class wine made in California before outsiders realized it was possible; the hardship wrought by a bitter lawsuit between brothers; the slow rebuilding of vineyard sources; the modern move toward ever-riper wines.

I attended a vertical tasting of Charles Krug's top wine, Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, last week at the winery. The experience was fascinating partly for the wines themselves -- some were so delicious that I lingered behind to finish my tasting portion -- and partly for the glimpse at Napa Valley history. The Mondavi family's history has been entwined with Napa Valley's since 1943, when Cesare and Rosa Mondavi assented to their son Robert's ambition and bought Charles Krug. So let's go through the wines in chronological order, the way we tasted them, for a history lesson.

(Note: Three of these wines will be available to the public in June. Charles Krug is planning to do a limited-release of a three-pack including the '74, '91 and '03. I don't know what the price will be, but I do know these wines will be worth having. Here's the winery's contact info.)

1964: Brothers Robert and Peter Mondavi were not getting along, and had not been for a while. Robert, the marketing wizard, was chafing to do greater things that would prove Napa Valley was a world-class wine region. Peter, the winemaker, just wanted to make decent wine and have his brother sell it.