Saturday, May 17, 2014

Vino Movies: Take III

Continuing in our series of the Top Five flicks to watch while imbibing VAVINO's finest, we move on to pick #3, a movie that was released in 2004, the year Virginia winery openings skyrocketed (about 30 new wineries opened between 2003 and 2006), and the year the Notebook blogmasters ramped up our winery hopping in a very big way:


This movie came out ten years ago, but you still hear the movie and its characters mentioned in tasting rooms all over the country (especially if Merlot is brought out during the tasting process). The movie was a sleeper box office hit and Award winner (nominated for multiple Oscars including Best Picture), and its impact on the general wine buying public was so widespread that Merlot sales nationwide actually declined by about 25% between 2004 and 2006! And, on the flip side, American interest in Pinot Noir increased by about the same percentage.

The movie is actually more of a deep character study than a film about wine and vineyards, but the cinematography during Miles' and Jack's escapade into central California coast wine country is beautiful and the idea of "bringing your buddy out for partying before tieing the knot" is not too far removed from other male bonding comedies, particularly Swingers.

Most wine fans have seen this film so there's no need to delve too much into the plot. Director Alexander Payne knows how to hook an audience with real characters and believable situations (his other films include About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson, The Descendants with George Clooney and most recently, Nebraska, with Bruce Dern). For Sideways, realism is not as high when Miles and Jack enter the tasting rooms (the blogmasters, two straight guys into wine and tasting rooms, have never hooked up with women at restaurants near wineries, or women working in tasting rooms, who are 100% unattached). But the friendship between Miles and Jack, on opposite ends of the spectrum regarding their respective outlooks on life, is undoubtedly one of the best Hollywood friendships in '00s cinema.

The movie is filled with colorful vulgarity and some intense sex scenes (not to mention some hilarious full frontal male nudity), so you'll never see this movie showing during business hours in a tasting room (compared to our soon-to-be-revealed second and first choices as quintessential winery movies).

So, if you haven't seen this wonderful film, you may be asking "why did Merlot sales drop by 25% after this movie came out?" Miles, wonderfully played by Paul Giamatti (who brought some of Miles into every character he's played since, including John Adams), makes his disdain for the red wine (which was booming in popularity with yuppies in the 1990s) well-known (complete with the F word), when his traveling, soon-to-be-hitched, womanizing buddy Jack insists he keeps his mouth shut if their dates want to order Merlot at a restaurant. Jack is played by Thomas Hayden Church, then only known to most viewers from TV's "Wings," and embodied Jack to the point where you simply cannot imagine any other actor (including superstars like George Clooney or Brad Pitt) in the role.

The film also introduced Pinot Noir to many Americans, who actively sought out the temperamental grape and wine after hearing Miles obsess over it. Miles also mentions Riesling (in a positive context) and Virginia's red Cabernet Franc (in a negative context) in the film, but luckily the comment about Cab Franc didn't deter wine newbies from trying that varietal in Virginia tasting rooms.

There are millions of people who adore this movie, and almost as many who detest it. The bloggers have encountered many people (mostly women, for some strange reason) who hate the movie. While Jack's (and to a lesser degree, Miles') actions are not always sympathetic, this is a character study, not a silly slapstick yuckfest where males do stereotypical "dumb guy" (and pathetic) things (aka The Hangover and the sequels).

To fully enjoy (or enjoy for the fourth or fifth time) Sideways, bottles of Pinot Noir (and Riesling) are highly encouraged. Virginia is not as well-suited to Pinot Noir growing compared to central and northern coast California, Oregon and New York's Finger Lakes (the film explains why Pinot Noir is so finicky to grow). But a few wineries in the Commonwealth, which boast vineyards at higher elevations compared to most other wineries in the state, offer Pinot Noir. Of course, don't expect a Pinot Noir with the complexity (and high ABV) of an Oregon and Sonoma Pinot, but these winery's Pinots are unique in their own way:

Rockbridge Vineyard (north of Lexington)
Afton Mountain Vineyards (south of Waynesboro)
Ox Eye Vineyards (Staunton)

As for Riesling, another difficult-to-grow grape in Virginia, visit these tasting rooms:

Shenandoah Vineyards (near Woodstock, VA)
Prince Michel Vineyards (south of Culpeper)
Doukenie Winery (Loudoun County)

To whet (or re-whet) your palate for Sideways, check out this clip, one of the quietest and most emotional scenes in the film, where Miles' love interest Maya (played by Oscar nominated Virginia Madsen) explains what wine means to her:

And click here if you missed the Notebook's last two top Vino Movie entries (#4 and 5).

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Virginia Varietal Spotlight: Petit Verdot

To fans of Virginia wine, Cab Franc may be the be-all, end-all of red varietals common to the Commonwealth. As the earthy, smooth red grows so well in the state, it's easy to understand why (you'd be hard presssed to visit a Virginia winery that does not offer a Cab Franc). But other reds are snapping at Cab Franc's heels, with promises to stand beside Franc as the signature red representing the state.

Petit Verdot belongs on that list of reds, along with Norton, Chambourcin, and up and comers like Lemberger. Petit Verdot is known throughout the world as a Bordeaux blend, commonly used along with Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc and/or Cab Sauv, to create popular wines such as Meritage. When used for blending, Petit Verdot is usually on the lower end of the scale (below 10% in some cases), mainly to add tanins and complexity to the wine. However stand-alone Petit Verdot is gaining acclaim and popularity, especially in Virginia (as well as California, Texas and Washington state), due to its ability to age gracefully and accompany hearty meat dishes. But, like many other unique New World reds, stand-alone Petit Verdot may get some getting used to.

We discovered stand-alone Petit Verdot about seven years ago at Glen Manor Vineyards. Their 2005 Petit Verdot is the most prized bottle on David's wine rack, at the time pretty expensive ($28), but getting better by the year. Given its complex character, the notes that surround Petit Verdot range from vanilla and nutmeg to blackberry and plum to licorace and molasses. Petit Verdot tends to have a high alcohol content, only adding to its ability to age gracefully. Most Petit Verdots from a recent year that we've tried had a bit too much bite to them. In the "open and enjoy now" mindset of many new Virginia wine fans, these notes don't lend well to picking up bottles to go. As a result, most Virginia wineries grow Petit Verdot mainly to blend with other reds.

Glen Manor Vineyards does not offer a stand-alone Petit Verdot at this time. Following in the lead set by winemaker Jeff White's mentor Jim Law of Linden Vineyards, Glen Manor only develops the grape into a stand-alone wine if the growing season and harvest is perfectly suited to the varietal. And given the unpredictable nature of Virginia's weather, this is fairly rare. Besides 2005, Glen Manor offered 2007 and 2009 vintages of Petit Verdot (there is something about those odd numbered years).

Where to try stand-alone Petit Verdot now:

If you don't feel like waiting for the next International Award winning Petit Verdot produced by Glen Manor, there are other wineries in the state that offer it; their Petit Verdots may not be the perfectionist quality of Glen Manor, but some drinkers may actually prefer the wines offered by other locations. With wine, it's all about the taste buds of the participant. Below are wineries (hyperlinked to website) that offer distinctive Petit Verdots. Give it a try. And imagine this wine with a juicy steak or warm bowl of stew.

Ingleside Vineyards (Northern Neck)
General's Ridge Vineyards (Northern Neck)
Potomac Point Winery (Stafford)
James River Cellars (north of Richmond)
Willowcroft (Loudoun County)
Roger's Ford Winery (near Culpeper)