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Escape back to ancient times of winemaking
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The wine: Primarius Pinot Noir 2011.
The grapes: 100 percent pinot noir.
The source: Oregon, primarily Willamette Valley.
The verdict: I love Oregon pinot noirs. Outside of Burgundy in France, this locale generates the most luscious, subtle full-fruited red wines I know. The pinot noir grape, the sole red wine grape of Burgundy, is temperamental, finicky, a pain in the butt to grow and vinify; but when handled properly, produces heavenly red wine. Primarius is one of those few offering a hint of Burgundian brilliance without the Burgundian price tag. I love the tang of raspberry and cherry, with gentle nudges of oak. This is a wonderful wine and I hope to load up my vault with a few extra bottles.
The price: About $20.

Those who find the subject of wine fascinating are advised to grab a book I just finished. No, not my copy; buy one of your own. It truly is one of the best offerings on the subject I have encountered in 30-plus years.

The book is “Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures” written by noted wine and food writer Paul Lukacs. It has occupied much of my time since Christmas, when our younger daughter presented it to me. And when I have finished it — which by this time I surely have — I’m plowing right back in to read it anew. It’s that intriguing.

Lukacs takes the reader from the most ancient of winemaking times to the frenetic present. In the journey, he details in a most readable fashion how those who produced wines in times past more often than not brought forth sour, thin, often undrinkable wines to people who consumed them purely for the alcohol. Why? That’s all the technology of the time allowed them to make.

After all, 10 centuries ago nobody knew about the glass bottle, the cork, the fine points of the process of fermentation and how to keep wine from spoiling within weeks. Wine, as we know it, did not exist until 150 years ago.

Yes, Dom Perignon did help develop the cork-finished bottle, although he most likely did not, despite the persistent legend, “invent” Champagne. It is one of many wine legends Lukacs happily dismantles.

Louis Pasteur dug into the chemical details of fermentation, in which yeasts devour sugar while producing alcohol and finished wine. His revelation that exposure to oxygen causes wine to spoil changed forever the art of making wine.

In modern times, Lukacs explores the contributions of the giants of American wine, such as Robert Mondavi and the Barrett family of Chateau Montelena, and those in other New World wine-producing nations such as Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

For anyone who looks for a fascinating and easily readable historical perspective on the evolution of wine — from the astringent, short-lived swill of the Middle Ages to the sophisticated growths of the 21st century — “Inventing Wine” offers the opportunity to travel back in time. And to feel very good about the state of the art of growing and making wine in the 21st century.

* * *

I try to keep this column positive. I seldom offer negative thoughts about wines, wine products, wine publications or wine people (except wine snobs). We get enough testy news; why drag wine into the muddy arena?

Having said that, here’s some advice regarding a sparkling wine I encountered recently. And my advice is avoid it.

This is painful because the name on the bottle is one I have admired and respected for more than three decades: Robert Mondavi. Mondavi, who died in 2008, was the energetic, irrepressible pioneer who helped put California wines on the world’s wine lists. He did more for the globalization of wines than just about anyone. And he absolutely did not make or countenance mediocre wines.

Woodbridge Brut by Robert Mondavi, a sparkling wine from the low-budget Mondavi Woodbridge operation, is a mediocre wine.

I did not know a Mondavi operation had produced a bubbly, so when I spotted it in a local supermarket I grabbed a bottle. The half-price markdown should have been my first clue.

While it’s not disgusting, it’s not very good, even at half price. And Robert must be spinning to know a sparkling wine with his name on it was made using the Charmat method to produce the bubbles. In that process, the wine is fermented for a second time — producing those bubbles — in a huge tank. Then it’s bottled.

Champagne and quality sparkling wines come from the second fermentation in the bottle. That’s more costly, yes, but the wine quality is far better.

The analogy is this: When making furniture, you can use solid wood for quality, or particle board for a low price. Woodbridge went the particle board route. The best use I can think of for this sparkling dud is to add it to some Sangria. That should make both better.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on

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