Wine of the month
Herding Cats Merlot/Pinotage
The wine: Medium-bodied, dry red table wine in a 3-liter box
The grapes: Merlot and pinotage
The source: South Africa
The verdict: I have said good things about many wines sold in cardboard containers — boxed wines. Or, as the Aussies call them, cask wines. This new, lively red comes to us from one of the Southern Hemisphere's largest producers of quality table wine, South Africa. And the pinotage grape is to South Africa what the zinfandel grape is to the United States. Pinotage was created by 19th century French immigrants to South Africa who bred together the pinot noir and hermitage (also known as cinsault) grapes. Pinotage, like zinfandel, is quite flexible, producing light-, medium- and full-bodied reds, as well as Port-like dessert wines. With this new arrival, Herding Cats offers a good, solid wine for the money that's great with hamburgers, pizza, steak, sausage on the grill, etc. The merlot helps reduce the earthiness that is characteristic of pinotage. This box holds the equivalent of four standard-sized wine bottles, and the airtight foil container within keeps the wine fresh for four to six weeks after you pour the first glass. Nice wine, with the convenience of the cask. It should be on supermarket shelves by this time.
The price: About $17
Don't look now but Halloween's over your shoulder and the next big family holiday bash is Thanksgiving. And, of course, the burning question of the day is not whether President Barack Obama should have been given the Nobel Peace Prize or if the Army Corps of Engineers will try to turn Lake Lanier back into Death Valley East.
No. The question of the day is of far greater import than that. It is ... what wine do you serve with the Thanksgiving dinner?
As I have observed for many years, my idea of the perfect wine with that succulent roast turkey is a good, dry gewurztraminer. No, not the stuff with the Fetzer label; something drier and crisper. Gewurztraminers from the Alsace region of France are the best, but there are some good ones from our West Coast — California, Oregon and Washington.
I proselytize about the gewurztraminer-turkey pairing because it illustrates just how the right match makes each one of the items better. "Gewurz" is a German prefix meaning spicy. And a good gewurz has a spicy component. The wine is nicely dry so it stands up to the seasonings and the natural turkey flavor. So that's my white wine choice.
If you prefer reds, pick a lighter red, not something ponderous like a Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon or even merlot. Try a pinot noir. Some great ones come from Oregon. And red Burgundies (the real ones, from France) are made from pinot noir grapes.
Now here's a new product I suggest for your table: Champagne is the universal table wine, accompanying virtually any kind of food ... red meat, white meat, seafood, poultry, veggie offerings. And from one of California's sparkling wine pioneers, Korbel, comes this year a brut "Champagne" made from organically grown grapes. "Brut" is the word describing the driest form of sparkling wine.
I put the quotation marks around the word because technically the name "Champagne" can be applied only to the wines from the Champagne region of France. In Europe it's the law. But in this country some sparkling wine producers ignore that restriction. Korbel is one of them.
But this is a nice bubbly; crisp and dry with a hint of toastiness that is one trademark of Champagne. It will dress up your Thanksgiving bird and, because it is certified organic, will give you a sense of doing something friendly for the Earth.
Happy Bird Day to all!
A good read
Took a two-week cruise about a month ago, down the St. Lawrence River with stops in Canada and along our East Coast. And one of the books I took along, courtesy of the Hall County Library System, was — surprise — about wine. But "Bordeaux" by Paul Torday is a dark and troubling exploration of a wine lover whose life is spinning out of control — because he is becoming saturated by the nectar of the grape.
Wilberforce, the only name we know him by until halfway through the book, has inherited a massive wine cellar from his elderly mentor. To his star-crossed wife, concerned about his excessive consumption, Wilberforce tut-tuts, "Don't confuse tasting with drinking, darling." This from a guy who regularly consumes two, three or more bottles daily.
But Wilberforce seems intent on doing himself damage — subconsciously, perhaps. Torday explores this strange world of Wilberforce "in four vintages," beginning toward the inevitable end of the tale and working backward through time and travail.
Wine lovers will recognize some basic truths about the world of wine, wine-making and wine consumption. And for some, it may offer a cautionary tale.
I enjoyed the book — and recommend it — for a few reasons: It's a good story and well told. Torday's writing style is easy to grip and hold on to. Peeking through the window at Wilberforce's self-induced undoing is a little like watching an auto accident unfold — frightening but thrilling at the same time.
And I learned quite a bit about wines from Bordeaux that, because of rarity and price, I will never see.
Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? E-mail him. His column runs on the first Wednesday of the month.