Happy new year
Here’s hoping Nature and humans will make this a wonderful year
This holiday season, Nature has been kind to us, taking us into a gorgeous January from a rainy December. Rain in the holidays, apart from being much needed in our parched State, has a wonderful way of making us huddle. Jigsaw puzzles come out, movies are screened, and knives, spatulas, and hands move rhythmically, as we yap around the kitchen counter.
So it was for my family and me on Christmas eve. The menu for our Christmas dinner was driven by the wines I wanted to serve – cart before the horse, as winemakers will tell you – but so it was. I had been aging two wines, both, as it turns out from wine country south of the Bay Area. The 2014 Tempranillo from Diablo Paso was from Paso Robles in Central California; the 2011 Shapeshifter, from Turiya Wines, a blend of Petit Verdot and Sangiovese, from Santa Barbara County.
As you’ve probably noticed, I often write about women winemakers. Although more visible now than a mere decade ago, they still account for only a fifth of winemakers in California. But for the truly rare, you have to turn to Angela Soleno of Turiya and Enrique Torres of Diablo Paso, both Latino. The absence of posts on ethnicity is driven not by preference but rarity. There are but few Latinos in the winemaking business, even in California. Angela and Enrique have blazed a path with fabulous wine.
Enrique, who came to the US from Mexico in 2001 to marry the woman he loved, started in the wine industry as a “cellar rat,” as he told me in his usual good natured way. In 2012, he started his own winery. He knew he wanted to make only Spanish varietals and started with Tempranillo. In the beginning, that was all he made. A couple of years later he to branched out into others, such as Albariño, which I have written about here.
Although Angela comes from a family of farm workers, wine came to her after a broken heart. (Heart seems to be the theme here.) As she said in an interview when I met her a few years ago, she drank a glass of wine on a trip and…the feeling was similar to “when you wake up after being sick for a week and suddenly feel better.” A winemaker was born. But being in Santa Barbara, she said she didn’t want to fall into making Rhône-style wines or Pinot Noir. She wanted to do something different: Bordeaux was her choice. She makes reds only, unfiltered and minimally racked.
Maybe because I’m relatively new to wine, I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out pairings of cheese and food with wine. For our family Christmas dinner, I decided to go with the flow, meaning we’d cook up dishes as we felt like with scant regard for pairing with the two wines we’d already selected. Spoiler alert: Everything went swimmingly.
We started the evening by opening the reds. Medium to high in acid, both our choices worked well with every offering on the appetizer boards. The Tempranillo ($45) wowed us with its aroma. On the palate, it was fruity yet subtle enough to let us enjoy the varied flavors of the cheese, fruit, charcuterie, and salmon. We nibbled the cheeses with drizzles of honey – acacia, blueberry, orange blossom, and rhododendron – and the flavors matched the wine beautifully. This varietal carried over easily to dinner.
The Shapeshifter, ($100) was excellent. Garnet colored and medium-plus bodied, age had rounded it well, smoothing its tannins and softening its acid to make it feel wonderfully velvet on the palate. Its long finish extended the pleasure of each sip as we worked our way from the appetizer to the main course. This blend paired superbly with our dinner of fennel, arugula, and orange salad, roasted cauliflower with chimichurri sauce, root vegetables, and baby butternut squash with brown and wild rice with mushrooms.
Enjoy 2020. Salud!
Featured photo: Shutterstock.