Monday, March 14, 2011

Royal Riblet

OK. This is admittedly weird. I direct you here to discuss wines and today we will deliberately go in another direction because while researching Arbor Crest Vineyards for this week's tasting I found something much more interesting...Royal Riblet! Sounds like an entree, right? Read on.

Royal Riblet (not kidding) was an inventor credited with inventing a tramway which was instumental in public works projects in the northwest. He was born in Iowa in 1871, moved to South Dakota in 1890, and then to Spokane, Washington at the turn of the century. Riblet was a tinkerer with things mechanical, opening a bicycle repair shop in South Dakota and becoming a long distance cyclist in the 1890's. Imagine the technology and terrain!

Riblet's move to the Pacific Northwest was prompted by his older brother, Byron, who was a civil engineer educated at the University of Minnesota and employed at the time by the Northern Pacific Railroad. Byron Riblet patented many improvements to tramway technology but didn't actually invent the thing, itself. He did, however, start the Riblet Tramway Company in Spokane, hiring two of his brothers to manage different departments. Royal had the blacksmith shop for fabricating parts until 1933 when he was fired for diverting company money to his own personal use!

So why is Royal Riblet relevant to a discussion of Arbor Crest wines? Well, the focal point of Arbor Crest is a historical landmark called Cliff House contructed in 1924 on the edge of a cliff 450 feet above the Spokane River. It is a three story Florentine Mansion with extravagant tiling surrounded by patios, gardens and pools. It was originally called Eagle's Nest by its owner, one Royal Riblet who may have built it with moneys purloined from the Riblet Tramway Company!

The Mielke family, fruit growers for a century in the area, renamed it Cliff House when they purchased it in 1985, three years into their Arbor Crest winemaking venture. In December of last year, sad to say the house was gutted by a fire caused by a defective power strip. The nearest fire hydrant was more than a mile away. The structral integrity of the building was left intact, however, and the family is intent upon historically reconstructing the interior.

Come to the tasting Saturday March 19th 3-5pm and receive a free half pound of Pecorino Romano cheese by saying the secret password, "Royal Riblet".


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Van Ruiten of Lodi, California

So what makes a winery special, accolades from the critics or a really good history? With Van Ruiten of Lodi, California you get both. My passion is history though, so here goes. John Van Ruiten was a young dutch immigrant after World War II who settled in Lodi to raise cattle and run a dairy farm. He had a european's love of wine and soon bought an old Zinfandel vineyard at a time when Lodi was known as a grape growing region for bulk wine producers. Over the years Van Ruiten added to his vineyard land holdings and supplied grapes to Ravenswood, Delicato (DFV), Blackstone, and Constellation, amongst other larger wineries. In 1999 he broke ground on his own winery and had his first Van Ruiten vintage the same year.

In 2001 Van Ruiten hired Ryan Leeman, an upstate New York cheesemaker, to make wine for him, an oddly appropriate move for a dutchman. Leeman's efforts have earned him the "best Zinfandel in America" award from the Wall Street Journal and Hugh Johnson's "one of the twelve best wines in the world" recognition. Those accolades were for the 2007 vintage Zinfandel characterized as "rich, juicy, and velvety with blackberry and coffee". We will be tasting the '08 here Friday evening which is fine with me because the vintage after a great one is usually a sleeper.

Lodi is located halfway between the Sierra Foothills and the San Francisco Bay. The Van Ruitens (three generations) have 800 acres in vines with the best 150 reserved for their own label. Van Ruiten is a custom crush contracting winemaker (like DFV) that is increasing its production capability from 3,000-5,000 cases to 80,000-100,000 annually! The Lodi appellation produces 25-40% of each of the major wine grape varities in the state. Apparently the soil and climate are about perfect.

Mention this article at our Friday evening (5-7pm) tasting here at the store to avaid the $5 cover charge.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Cabernet vs Pinot Noir

This entry will be a little different. Rather than getting all scholarly on you, this will be stream-of-consciousness instead, relying on my thirty years of accrued wine knowledge to show the fundamental differences between the two finest red wine grape types in the world. The occasion for this rant is this afternoon's tasting of cabs and pinots and my expectation that the cabs will show better and be much better received.

Cabernet is grown everywhere where fine wine vineyards exist and seems to produce well wherever planted. So if you want a good wine selection, all things being equal, hedge your bets and get a cab at any price you desire. Your selection should display a breadth of complex and complimentary flavors housed in a medium body format which may include the jammy forward fruit so popular currently. Typically Cabernet shows black currant, blackberry, and black cherry fruit flavors along with pepper, tar, and others drawn from oak barrel aging. Cabernet is ideally paired with strongly flavored red meat dishes like steaks and game and may require decanting or aerating prior to dinner.

Pinot is the ying to Cabernet's yang. It should not be widely planted because frankly it is a low yielding vine that performs poorly in most venues. Pinot compliments roast anything, meat sauces and gravies, and crosses over with salmon and fowl. The flavor profile includes cherry, strawberry, and raspberry but also ripe tomato, mushrooms, truffles, and barnyard. Pinot should be earthy but inexpensive examples often yield just the fruit flavors. Pinot Noir is lighter in body than Cabernet and features a longer flavor from its aroma (often floral) through its finish. The jamminess of Cabernet flavors contrasts with the elongated and winier flavors in Pinot Noir.

While there are good Cabernets and Pinots available everywhere at popular prices, as stated above, Cabernet is usually the safer bet. Really good Pinot is expensive and not always a solid performer even then. But when it is good, it makes the search seem minor compared to the reward. In case you can't tell, you can put me in the Pinot column.

Thanks for reading,