Sunday, September 8, 2019

Dona Paula 2005 "Selecction de Bodega" Malbec

The dinner we made was outstanding: Cuban-style pork, slow-cooked with lots of onions, garlic, carrot, celery, tomato, and enough smoked paprika to outfit the Hungarian army for a year. Over our own potatoes smashed wtih our chives and some vegan butter and roasted our garlic. Bueno!

But the (expensive) wine didn't rise to the occcasion:

Here is Robert Parker's 94-point review of it:

"The 2005 Malbec Seleccion de Bodega received 24 months in new French oak. It has a splendid nose of pain grille, pencil lead, plum, black cherry, and earth notes. This is followed by an opulent, rich wine with gobs of flavor, incipient complexity and a 45-second finish. This wine will develop for another 6-8 years with prime drinking from 2015 to 2035."

All I can say is that, in 2019, with the wine 14 years old, is that none of that review is true. It may have been true once, but not tonight.

Be careful, my friends! If you lay down a plethora of wines with high scores, be prepared for the fact that not all of them will age well. You know that I like finding good wines that aren't so expensive. I wish I had a dollar for every time I carefully researched a wine and laid it down, only to find later that it doesn't do it for me.  This one didn't have much fruit, even thought its color suggested it's still young. It had a faint whiff and taste of wet newspaper (probably a little Brett). It just didn't come together. What's wrong with me? I found a similar result in another Walla Walla big red that I opened last week after years of cellaring. 

Could it be that it's better to find good cheaper wines, and drink them within a year? I think so. I think the lure of laying down great wines is not quite all it's cracked up to be. Yes, there are glorious successes. When I turned fifty, we had a party where I opened fifty-year old Lafite and Haut Brion; both were very interesting (though not great), and what was REALLY interesting was how different each of them were, when both were made in 1957 only miles apart. Old wines see the fading of fruit, and tertiary flavors come forward. Did you see Parker's reference to burnt toast and pencil lead? How much do you want to pay for pencil lead and burnt toast in your wine? Just asking. I had a fight once in elementary school, and the other guy jammed his sharp pencil into my hand. The tip broke off in my skin. I asked the teacher, "If it's lead, isn't it poisonous inside me?" and she said we call it lead but it's just carbon. Until a few years ago, you could still see its green spot in my knuckle. Fun memory, but in your wine????

To be fair, Jane liked this wine. I guess the further I go, the pickier I get. That dish was GREAT! And tomorrow, or the next day, the wine will be, too...

(Photo Credit: Cookpad)

On sheds

Somehow, it is true that we live in shed country. My Vancouver neighborhood was built in the 1930s, with large lots. Plenty of space for auxiliary construction, and nature abhors a vacuum!

When we lived in (fill in the blank:) Tulsa, or Houston, or Nashville, there were a few sheds in those cities (maybe; not sure), but not two in every yard! I love my neighbors, because they are great friends and cool people. But also because they have a lot of sheds. It's a new way of life to me. It's a way of expanding your reach over your land. It's a way of making a CAMPUS of what would otherwise be, well, a HOUSE. Jeff told me that in Vancouver you can built a shed, up to 200 square feet, without a permit, and I suppose that rule feeds Shed Fever. It doesn't hurt that he and Jose have excellent construction skills. They have constructed what might be called Taj Mahals, but for that pesky 200' requirement. Such attention to finish detail! Straight lines; good materials. Over the fence, I see: a massive grape arbor/outdoor patio, a huge and lovely grape-covered patio, yet another (uncovered) outside patio, and a shed that served as a teen boy hangout, and a shed that is a fine artist's studio (with a vew of the Fremont Bridge!), and a high-ceilinged garden shed to die for, and two detached garages, and a new wraparound deck that's covered and has surround benches, and the list goes on. That is just in TWO properties.

I built a carport (to ward off hot summer sun and bird poo). Sort of like a shed. We're building a metal shed now, from a kit (as the many sheet metal cuts to my hands can attest). Because the outdoor table and chairs, and the fire pit, and the wheelbarrow need a place. That kit has about 10,000 parts, so shedbuilding is not a matter to be undertaken lightly.

You get to the point where any open space starts screaming for a new shed. Just so, there is another space where I could build a 10x20 shed, tricked out as a spare bedroom, with electricity and a chamber pot and wraparound deck. It could even have a secret door to an underground wine cellar. And a rooftop sun lounge! Maybe a small antenna to listen for extraterrestrial signals! ("Is anybody out there?" thank you, Pink Floyd).

It's not like we don't have nice homes. Each of us has a very nice home. If we were normal like you, we could just sit inside our homes and not even think about sheds. But there is a Lure of the Shed here, be it She-shed, or He-shed, or They-shed. It's enough to make you shed a tear. It beckons the hammer, the saw. You get your dream juices flowing. You are charmed by the Siren Call of The Home Depot (is that a rail stop for houses who travel by train?), or the Lure of Lowes. Eagerly you reach for the bait, only to find the hook in your mouth. The new shed rises. It's almost like San Gimignano, where it was fashionable to make your home as tall as you possibly could, only here it's about making the campus of your dreams, a network of locii for your luxurious livification.

We climb mountains because we can (well, some of us can). We "shed" because we can. Some say that experiences are worth more than "stuff," and there is the truth of it. Building a shed is about the design, the building, and the pride in a job well done. The fact that you can store stuff in it is ancillary. Right? Right?

But build it well. Because the World is Watching. And, who put the "shed" in "dashed," as in, "the shed failure dashed his hopes?"

(photo credit:

These heavy rains: What's it mean for the 2019 grape harvest?

1. Is this a good or a bad year for grapes, here on the wet (west) side of the Cascade Mountains? That is still hard to say for sure, but there are many large problems facing us grapegrowers now, that we don't see in a year with dry weather all the way to ideal harvest time.

Here are the factors:

a. Weather: If a great year has a long, dry summer, then the weather for grapes is TERRIBLE this year. First, the grapes budded out about two weeks later this year than last, due to a late, cool Spring. (And, even last year, another cool year, the grapes budded out later than normal.) Second, we didn't have enough heat in this short summer to let the grapes catch up, so they stayed behind. Third, these heavy rains we're getting yesterday, today, tomorrow and Tuesday are super-early -- about a week earlier than last year (which was also very early) and three weeks earlier than the end-of-Septembe/early-October rain return date that we grapegrowers hope for. Heavy rain prevents further grape ripening and dilutes the grapes' flavors (the water content rises inside the grape). That can throw the desired sugar/acid balance out of whack. And it can even split the grape, which ruins it.

If you like numbers, look at Growing Degree Days (GDDs), which use temperature as a proxy for sunshine: Through today, my vineyard (Woodland, WA) has had 1,940 GDDs year-to-date, whereas in the warm year of 2015, we saw about 2,100 GDDs through this date -- a huge difference.

b. Grapes' defenses against predation: When it is cloudy or rainy, the birds take it as a signal to come in and eat the grapes. I saw that start up big-time a few days ago. It doesn't take many birds to eat out a good-sized vineyard in just a few days. Even nets don't totally protect the fruit. Also, wasps need to eat sugar before the winter, and they love grapes. Wasps have trouble piercing thick-skinned grapes, but thin-skinned grapes are easy prey. A grape like Riesling can hang into November wtih its tough skin, but a grape like Regent is toast after heavy rains and wasps. Pinot Noir is not very tough, either, and neither are some of my modern varieties.

c. Grapes' defenses against disease: I don't have to spray for fungus because my modern grape varieties are resistant, but a susceptible grape can succumb to fungus during a rainy spell when the farmer can't spray. Grape disease pressure rises very high, with high humidity.

d. Vineyard and grape variety factors: In an average summer, if Fall rains come early, I can have most of my grapes already picked and safely in the winery, because my vineyard has steep South-facing slope (which receives more solar radiation then a flat vineyard), and because my varieties ripen very early. But the grapes budded out so late this year and the rains came back super-early, so I was able to pick only two varieties so far, just before this deluge (half my Leon Millot and all my Labelle). I have many very-early varieties, but they are all way behind, so outside they sit, with my fingers crossed. Surely the most-common vinifera varieties (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris) are also way behind, because they ripen long after mine.

All of that sounds pretty bad, for this year.

However, if the grapes survive these rains, it looks like there are still many sunny days probably coming, after next week's two-day return of yet more rains. That is why it's so tough to say, now, whether this is a good or bad grape year here. The big question will be: Does anybody still have healthy grapes, with good flavors, after the rains, birds, wasps, and fungus have all done their worst? I am not very optimistic that most vineyards will do well this year. I know that I will lose a lot of my remaining fruit.

Many grapegrowers put such a heavy spin on late-season rain that they begin to lose credibility. They want you to think it's not so bad, because they have wines to sell. I've heard remarks like, "Oh, we needed some rain, because the grapes were very dry." Maybe, if the vine was so drought-stressed that there was danger the fruit wouldn't ripen. But usually a super-dry summer will result in great fruit, as the plant (pardon my anthropromorphism here) is worried about the drought conditions, and is in fear for its own survival, and tries extra hard to make its grapes the most-delicious-possible so the grape-eating predator will scatter the seeds for the mother plant. Irrigated vineyards might water during the summer, but by about mid-August they shut off the watering, because the fruit is best when it finishes dry. That is the plain truth.

On the hotter, dry side of the Cascades, it is probably still looking good.

This kind of summer makes me very glad that my vineyard is small and I don't need the wines from this year's fruit to be able to pay the bills. And yet, I have to say that the wines I'm already making should turn out good. But overall yield could be quite low this year, and overall quality could also be low, depending on the above factors for each specific location and variety.

(photo credit: Tanzania)

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