The Summer Winter of Our Disconnect: 12.5% Cabernet? And other good stuff we ate and drank in California

chino farms

Above: Both my buddy John Rikkers and I ordered the “Market Salad” at Market in Rancho Santa Fe. It’s no longer on the menu but they’ll make it for you on request. All the lightly blanched ingredients are sourced from San Diego’s legendary Chino Farms farmers market.

Everywhere you go in California, people are complaining about the cool summer weather. By most accounts, it’s the coolest summer we’ve had here for more than 70 years.

On Sunday, Vinogirl (who authors my all-time favorite California wine blog, Vinsanity) didn’t mince words: “Actually, I am very surprised that [veraison, i.e., ripening] is happening at all as it only managed a whopping high of 70F today,” she wrote plaintfully. “So far, the weather in 2010 has been pathetic!”

mea culpa

Above: I’d never had the Bouvier grape, known as Ranina in Slovenia, until last night at Market, where sommelier Brian Donegan always has something by the glass that will surprise and delight the adventurous wine lover, like this 2007 Mea Culpa by Kogl. I would have guessed it was a dry Muscat but it had some gentle orchard fruit notes seemed to speak a Slavic as opposed to Romance language.

Yesterday, in a fantastic post, one of America’s wine industry social media pioneers Tom Wark (and all-around nice dude) wrote and asked rhetorically, is this a bad thing?

    If this weather keeps up, it’s entirely likely that some winemakers are going to have to learn how to make good Napa or Sonoma Cabernet with an alcohol content of (brace yourself)…12.5%. […]

    Clearly 2010 is looking to be a better vintage for early ripening grapes like Pinot Noir. But even the Pinots are likely to suffer a diminishing alcohol content. The question is this: is that a bad thing? I think it might be for many winemakers, particularly those that tend to produce big, fat, huge unctuous Pinots with high alcohol content.

ettore germano

Above: The acidity in Ettore Germano’s Chardonnay was, as Tracie P likes to say, “tongue-splitting.” It’s not like me to order Chardonnay from Italy (outside of Friuli) but I must say that I dug this wine completely. Very mineral, very bright acidity. Always something good by the glass at Market.

Of course, the mystery of California’s unusually cool summer begs the question among its “red state” populace: with summer temperatures like these, how can the pinkos still cling to their claims of global warming?

seaweed salad

Above: Seaweed salad at Zenbu in La Jolla.

I’m sure I imagine that Tom would agree with me: anyone who works in the wine industry and spends times with grape growers will tell you that European winemakers — even the most conservative among them — believe that global warming is indeed taking place. In Tuscany, where the grapes used to ripen in October, grape growers will tell you that they now ripen as early as late August (although this year, at least in Sant’Angelo, grapes are ripening about a week behind schedule).

California roll

Above: One of the thing I love about Zenbu is the playful California creativity in the menu, with items like the “Jackie Chan” roll and the “Mexicali” roll. That’s the gorgeous sashimi roll (a contradiction in terms?). There’s nothing worse than boring sushi!

Once, when I interviewed a famous winemaker in Piedmont for a commercial writing gig of mine, he unabashedly told me, referring to the remarkable string of great vintages in Piedmont spanning 1996-2001, “global warming has made me a very rich man.”

Above: French Toast at Jaynes Gastropub in North Park (San Diego).

To those who claim and believe global warming is part of a secret left-wing conspiracy, I say: who cares whether it’s true or not? At 43 years of age, I’m old enough to remember the first “energy crisis” in the 70s: whether or not you believe in global warming, there’s no denying that it’s high-time to “clean up our act.”

bellyup tavern

Above: My childhood and a best friend Charlie George created this “White Trash” gift basket raffle item for a benefit for local musician Michael Muldoon last night at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, where Charlie and a bunch of other friends of mine performed.

So whether (weather) you’re sweating your nuts off in the rest of the country, wearing a sweater in Sonoma, or getting ready to pick grapes in Tuscany, don’t forget to turn off the lights! And be sure to eat your California leafy greens…

Thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “The Summer Winter of Our Disconnect: 12.5% Cabernet? And other good stuff we ate and drank in California

  1. As usual, this post includes a dozen delicious and interesting concepts, but I’m going to focus on just one, the low alcohol Cab Sav.

    Last year, I got to try a Mexican Bordeaux-style blend from Baja California for the first time. It was a great bottle, and at 12% alcohol it was just so pleasant. I took it over to Fredric’s and let him taste it blind. His take on the bottle, and appreciation for the restrained alcohol:

    I’ve had 12-13% abv red wines from Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, etc. At some point you have to say, look, if you can do it there, it shouldn’t be that difficult in NoCal.

  2. That Market Salad looks delicious, I had to carry my laptop over to Vinomaker to show him just how impressive it was…of course, it would be more eco-friendly if the veggies were raw, not blanched ;)
    Thanks for the shout-out.
    Great post – as always.

  3. I’m thrilled about the lower alcohol content in CA wines. That has generally been one of the reasons that I’ve opted for European wines (specifically, FR)–the big, bold taste of CA cabs was just a bit too much for me.

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