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Wineaux: Good wine in the time of COVID-19

In previous years I have “given up” ranting for Lent, but since the 2016 election, I’ve been wholly unable to make that sacrifice.

In fact, this Lent my rants have ramped up. This one, though, has nothing to do with Trump, electoral politics, the climate crisis, or even COVID-19 (you don’t really need another rant about that, do you?). Or maybe it does.

This is a Napa rant. During the last 15 years, the town of Napa has been a quick, lovely, relaxing getaway from the, well, everydayness of my life in Davis. Napa, after all, has hills and a peaceful river — in addition to good restaurants and two excellent wine shops (Back Door Wines and the much smaller collection at Compline).

On my last trip, just a few weeks ago (you know, the old days when we could travel), though, the cracks showed — and I’m not talking about the many cracks in the sidewalks or the cracks that rendered unsafe so many buildings there after the 2014 earthquake. What I mean here is perhaps best illustrated by a change in rhetoric: no longer are downtown storefronts offering tastes of wine from local vineyards for increasingly hefty fees like $10 to $15. No, now they offer “wine-tasting experiences,” in “tasting lounges,” which are, you may have guessed, much more expensive. (Of course, as of last week, no one is offering any in-person activities at all.)

And this experience is ubiquitous. Clothing boutiques, craft stores, art galleries — by the end of my 24-hour Napa visit, I was surprised that the toy store didn’t have a wine bar or tasting lounge.

And then there was the “wine weekend” that touted a seminar on preparing a cheese board that’s “Instagram worthy.” Gee, I thought a cheese board was an assortment of excellent cheese with a few nuts and dried fruits for the enjoyment of our friends. That is, for our friends to eat, not look at on their screens.

And the wines! Exuberantly priced cabs and even pinot noirs topping 15% alcohol, 14.8% chardonnays. All oaky and jammy and glamorous and homogeneous — like the beautiful people who wander in and out of the shops.

So it was a great relief to stumble upon Outland, a small tasting venue that features the wines of three producers, one of them Forlorn Hope. At that point, I was thinking that the forlorn hope was finding a low-alcohol, food-friendly, natural wine among all the fruit-bomb, manipulated horrors. And that guess was not entirely wrong: Forlorn Hope was named for a band of soldiers who volunteered to lead a charge directly into enemy defenses. Chance of success, minimal. Reward, great.

365体育投注Winemaker Matthew Rorick (grad of UCD Viticuture & Enology) calls his wines Rare Creatures because they’re “from appellations unknown and varieties uncommon.” “These wines,” he continues, “are our brave advance party, our pride and joy — our Forlorn Hope.” I might fault him for inflated rhetoric if I didn’t so love his Rare Creatures.

Take, for example, the bottle we purchased from Outland to drink with our dinner — the 2017 Ost-Intrigen. It’s made from the St. Laurent grape, a dark-skinned and aromatic variety related to pinot noir, parent to zweigelt and mostly cultivated in the Czech Republic.

These particular grapes, though were grown by Dale Ricci in his Carneros vineyard (Napa) and were whole-cluster-native yeast fermented, unfiltered, with minimal manipulation and minimal sulfur. Exotic, spicy, bright, lightly tannic, the aroma alone was practically worth the price of the bottle, but it was also the perfect accompaniment to the wood-oven-roasted vegetables and pizza we ordered at Ca’Momi that night.

All our irritation at the Napa excesses faded as we sipped this terrific, life-filled, ever-changing wine. And the alcohol on this beauty? 9.85%. That’s not a misprint.

Had we been buying a white, we would have chosen the 2013 Forlorn Hope Nacré, from 100% semillon grapes grown in Napa Valley by the Hoxsey family — dry farmed and organic. The fruit was hand-picked, pressed whole cluster, and it underwent spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel.

365体育投注I was shocked by the year — 2013 — but was informed that semillon, carefully produced (this one was aged five years in the bottle prior to its release last winter), can last for decades. As it does in the semillons of Australia’s Hunter Valley. Matthew calls his version Nacré — mother of pearl — in honor of its affinity for oysters.

The wine’s amazing — layer upon layer of focused fruit that’s crisp but quite rich, assertive but elegant, fascinating and elusive. Alcohol? 11%.

Rare Creatures are, indeed, rare. Not only for their unusual grapes and vineyards but for their small production. You won’t be surprised to learn that they’re not cheap — prices are in the $25 to $35 range — much less than a fancy Napa cab or chard but definitely in my “special occasion” category.

These days, though, I’m feeling that a few hours without seriously bad news constitutes a special occasion, worthy of a really good wine. And — a bit of good news among the bad — you don’t have to join the beautiful-people procession in Napa to get it.

365体育投注The Co-op has brought in an excellent selection of Forlorn Hope, including the Nacré and the Ost-Intrigen. And if you’re willing to make just a short drive to The Pip in Dixon (more about that soon), you can pick up a bottle of Rorick’s Queen of the Sierra Red ($21 — this is his second label).

Get a bottle and celebrate something, anything — a quarter-inch of rain, the publication of the third volume of Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, spring in beautiful Davis, or your newfound leisure. I read recently about the “last supper” requests of death row inmates, steak and fried chicken high on the list.

365体育投注I’m feeling a bit Last Supper-ish myself as I prepare meals in these plague days. But I’m more inclined to wish for fresh lobster served over homemade pasta. And I’ll take a bottle of the Nacré to drink with it.

— Susana Leonardi is a Davis resident; reach her at [email protected] Comment on this column at redaslaoui.com.

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