#19 WILDFIRES, RED OCTOBER, PUMPKIN BREWS, DAME DIANA… AND PRESIDENTIAL POURS

PHOTO: JOSH EDELSON / GETTY IMAGES

The hell-bent wildfires in the west have claimed more than 30 lives and burned 5 million acres, 4 million in California.

They’re the worst in history. The fires are bigger and the temperatures hotter. They started earlier and will end later. There have been 8,320 of them.

And not preventable just by forest management, trimming trees, and raking leaves.

Twenty-one major wildfires remain uncontained across the state. They’ve reduced towns to ash and smoke and have damaged or destroyed structures at 31 wineries in Napa Valley.

Among those affected: Burgess Cellars, Cain Vineyard & Winery, Newton Vineyard, Castello di Amoroso, Chateau Boswell, Spring Mountain Vineyards, Sherwin Family Vineyards, Sterling Vineyards, and Tuck Beckstoffer Vineyards.

Grapes have been tainted by smoke in California, Oregon, and Washington State. And the impact on the 2020 vintage could be devastating.

In this year of crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the economic freefall, it’s difficult to think of comforts. But winemakers have provided them.

They do now and will again.

RED OCTOBER

Cabernet franc is a grape used primarily in the blend for the red wines of Bordeaux. It adds finesse and a light, sometimes peppery fragrance to, for example, the bigger and bolder cabernet sauvignon.

Sometimes, it’s the main red grape, typically in Touraine in the Loire Valley. Cabernet franc also the essential grape of one of the world’s greatest red wines, Chateau Cheval Blanc.

In California, a leading producer of cabernet franc is Chappellet, which also is acclaimed for its cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and chenin blanc.

The 2017 Chappellet Cabernet Franc (★★★★ $85) is a grand wine from the Pritchard Hill Estate. It’s a juicy mountain-grown, Napa Valley star with cassis and cherry. There are notes of vanilla, too.  The wine, which includes 12 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent malbec, and 3 percent petit verdot, and delivers a floral aroma led by lavender. Winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus’ elegant production is the right company for a porterhouse steak.

Blackberry, black cherry, and plum, plus oak and vanilla, add to the pleasures of the ruby-hued 2017 Inglenook Rutherford, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (★★★★ $100). Inglenook was established in 1879. The name and the reputation were reborn under the ownership of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and family. The stellar 2017 cabernet sauvignon is both intense and smooth, balanced and big. Expect it to mature for a decade, before you uncork it to accompany your favorite cut of steak.

The 2014 Trinchero BRV Napa Valley Sauvignon (★★★ $80) is a full-bodied and concentrated choice, with suggestions of cassis and blueberry, plus plum and a hint of anise. And the 2015 Trinchero Mario’s Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (★★ $60), with blueberry and currant accents, is a lush, round instantly appealing production. Both are part of Trinchero’s very satisfying and reliable “Heritage Collection. Both ready for beef or lamb, grilled or roasted.

The 2017 Stags’ Leap Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (★★★ $60), medium-bodied and about ready to pour, could benefit from another year in the bottle. But it’s a treat right now, heady with blackberry and boysenberry, and a peppery note. Definitely company for a New York strip steak.

Two wines that always are eagerly anticipated are Shafer’s Relentless and TD-9.

The 2017 Shafer Relentless (★★★★ $95) is a classic study in syrah, with a some petit sirah, from winemaker Elias Fernandez.

 It’s ripe and loaded with dark plum and blackberry, and a bit herbaceous. Vivid and vibrant, with soft tannins. The exceptional Napa Valley red, enjoyable alongside red meat, will age gracefully for several years.

 The 2018 Shafer TD-9 (★★★ $60) blends merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec in a plummy-raspberry package. There also are traces of black cherry and rose, with an undercurrent of spice in the Napa Valley wine.

The TD-9 name refers to John Shafer’s vintage tractor, which symbolized his transition from riding a Chicago commuter train to driving this in Napa Valley in 1973.

IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN

Just as you’re finishing those last bottles and cans of Oktoberfest brews come the pumpkin ales and stouts, spurred by pie spices and some more adventurous ingredients.

Elysian Brewing is defined by its variety of beers. It goes all in on pumpkin.  Elysian Punkuccino is distinctive, with more than a suggestion of coffee, so you have your dessert and accompaniment in a single pour. The Seattle brewer also signals the season with Night Owl, a lively pumpkin ale spiced up with cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and clove. It’s spiked with pumpkin seeds in the mash.

Southern Tier Pumking Imperial Ale is a copper-shaded mouthful from the brewery in upstate New York’s Chautauqua County. Malt-sweet and spurred by vanilla, clove, and more, it’s a feast in a bottle, medium-bodied and delightful.

Allagash Ghoulschip is a tart, dry, and fruity brew that includes molasses and pumpkin seeds. Allagash Brewing Company, in Portland, Maine, favors Belgian-style brews, and the repertoire includes a standout wheat beer and session ale. But Ghoulschip is mandatory for Halloween.

Also recommended: Samuel Adams Jack-O Pumpkin Ale, which tastes as if citrus joined the party; Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale, crisp and sparked by nutmeg; and Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale, a big, brown number fueled with brown sugar, from a brewery popular for its IPAs.

MRS. PEEL

The passing last month of Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and English actress, invites memories of roles in films and on stage and television.

Diana Rigg’s most recent, memorable contribution was to “Game of Thrones,” portraying Olenna Tyrell, the witty, sardonic Queen of Thorns. It earned her four Emmy nominations.

Fans of James Bond movies will remember her as the elegant, compelling Contessa Teresa di Vincenzo in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” She would be 007’s only on-screen wife, though Eva Green seemed en route as Vesper Lynd in “Casino Royale.” Both, of course, were doomed.

But then, there was Emma Peel.

Mrs. Peel was essential to “The Avengers,” that very Sixties secret-agent TV series, which also featured Patrick Macnee as her partner, playing the dapper John Steed, complete with bowler and cane.

His outfit, however, was frippery compared with Mrs. Peel’s – the incomparable black leather catsuit, worn with easy irony and absolute aplomb.

Besides, Mrs. Peel was very confident, very smart, with a deep purr of a voice:  a master spy, fencer, and chemist, who drove a Lotus Elan. And elan is certainly what she had.

Diana Rigg became Mrs. Peel only after the departure of actress Honor Blackman, who left the British series to play Pussy Galore, reaching stardom in “Goldfinger.” Blackman died in April.

Mrs. Peel and Dame Diana do deserve a toast. This sleek, slightly bubbly cocktail noir might do.

  • 2 oz. Blavod Black vodka
  • 1 oz. cassis
  • 1 oz. Mexican Coca-Cola, made with cane sugar
  • 1 twist of lemon peel to garnish

Blavod is the only black-colored vodka. The hue comes from Black Catechu, an extract from the Asian tree, Uncaria Gambier. If you use clear vodka, a splash of Kahlua could help tint the drink.

PRESIDENTIAL IMBIBING

When President Richard M. Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai made their “toast to peace” in 1972, it was with a 1969 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, one of America’s finest sparkling wines.

Very good choice, history notwithstanding.

In this election year, almost everyone could use a stiff drink. Actually, every four years.

Nixon presided with taste. He savored first-class Bordeaux, and historians note that he was especially fond of Chateau Margaux, though didn’t exactly serve to everyone.

You could reasonably guess that Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed a traditional martini or Manhattan and that Harry Truman liked bourbon.

John F. Kennedy: daiquiris and Bloody Marys – but he did have a collection of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and riesling.

It’s said that Dwight D. Eisenhower would occasionally down Scotch and that Lyndon B. Johnson would do so more often.

Ronald Reagan’s favorites took in Beaulieu Vineyards. Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and an Orange Blossom cocktail, made with vodka, sweet vermouth, and orange juice.

George W. Bush had stopped drinking alcoholic beverages by the time he was elected president. Barack Obama preferred beer but chose Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs to serve at state dinners. Donald Trump’s beverage of choice: Diet Coke, on demand.

STOCKING STUFFERS, EARLY EDITION

“Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide” (Mitchell Beazley/Octopus Publishing, $16.99) is in its 44th year. The new edition, reliable as always, includes a valuable section on terroir and on wine grapes so you know your Olaszrizling from your Xarello.

“The Cocktail Dictionary” (Mitchell Beazley/Octopus Publishing, $20) by Henry Jeffreys goes through the alphabet and lots of drinks, presented colorfully and clearly. For the record, the Yale cocktail includes gin; the Harvard, Cognac. They’re between the Aberdeen Angus and the Zombie.  Sip away.


about the blogger

For 34 years, Peter Gianotti reviewed wines, spirits, restaurants, and books at Newsday. He twice won Press Club of New York awards for food writing. Before he became a food critic, Gianotti was a Washington correspondent, a financial writer, and New York City reporter for the newspaper. His books include “Food Lovers’ Guide to Long Island” and “A Guide to Long Island Wine Country.” Gianotti received his B.A. from Fordham University, where he taught journalism; and his M.S. from Columbia University, where he also was a Bagehot Fellow. Harry, his Creamsicle-hued assistant, prefers the bouquets of riesling and pinot noir.

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