Down the Rabbit Hole with Reds: Pinot Noir and Syrah

A guest post by Henry Trione of Trione Winery

I reached for the tapered Burgundian wine bottle in the cellar, thinking it was a Pinot Noir to serve my guests. Pinot, the classic safe choice to share; a varietal ubiquitous to the typical Californian wine cellar, and a versatile selection for food pairings from pâté to dessert. Many wine connoisseurs enjoy a good Pinot, especially Marin County residents, as were my company. As I brought the bottle into the light it became immediately apparent that it was in fact not a bottle of Pinot Noir, but actually… Syrah.

It was too late. The Marinites saw the bottle. I couldn’t put it back. I suddenly realized I had given away the last bottle of Trione Pinot Noir as a Christmas gift to a friend who had unexpectedly stopped by. My mind raced. ‘The Pinot is gone; the Syrah is all I have. The Syrah is good, to be sure, but was it too exotic for the sensibilities of my guests?’ Seconds passed, it seemed like eternity. I recovered well, though.

“I have a lovely 2013 Russian River Valley Syrah for you try. I chose it specially to pair with the cheese.”

I must confess, even growing up in Sonoma County in a family involved in the business of wine, Syrah was not a common sight. Pinot and Cabernet comprised the extent of my red wine knowledge. To be fair, I was only five years old. Still, I have noticed even today that when perusing the wine list at a restaurant, there are often more labels of Pinot Noir than Syrah. I personally enjoy them both, and yes it depends on the situation, the food pairing and even the weather. Or sometimes, as it appeared in my story above, that is simply what is available.

Let’s look a little into the historical geographical incidence of the two varietals. Pinot Noir originates from the Burgundy region of France, an east-central region of the country with a cooler climate conducive to growing the thin-skinned grape. With weather much like the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, it is not a coincidence that the River Road Ranch is where Trione produces the fruit for it’s Pinot, hand selecting the top three percent of the crop that finds its way into bottles with the Trione Vineyards & Winery label. In the old world, Syrah has historically been grown in the Rhône Valley of France. The climate varies from the north to south of the valley, with the northern part cooler than the southern end. As you may have guessed, the conditions of the Russian River Valley AVA are somewhere in between. At Trione, the top three percent is siphoned off to the winemaker, Scot Covington, before the balance of the crop is sold to other local wineries.

Scot employs a French style in winemaking, so all things being equal on the production end, it is fascinating to taste just how different these wines are and why Syrah is deserving of respect. While Scot describes the Trione Pinot Noir as “Fresh tilled earth, clean, rich and… a walk through a medieval forest, dark but with layer upon layer of blackberry compote.” He describes the Syrah as smoky and “peaty, wet earth with hints of plum, blueberry and wild blackberry preserves.” In his tasting notes, he goes on to say that the Trione Syrah is “Pinot lover’s Syrah.”

Wait a minute.

Describing the Syrah in reference to Pinot is no mistake. People just know and love an earthy, peaty tasting Pinot, so why not compare the lesser known to the standard of excellence in the field? But is it fair to compare two such different wines? This is not what Scot was doing, but I believe I was guilty of this thought process when I was entertaining my guests with the bottle of 2013 Syrah. Syrah should not be considered the less gifted sibling compared to the superstar kid wonder Pinot that went to an Ivy League, rowed on the crew team and achieved a 4.0, while Syrah went to a respectable Junior College and did just fine. The point has been made that the two varietals are distinctly different, and Scot has cued us in with the tasting notes. So, how are they really different and what to pair with?

As we see in the tasting notes, Syrah is classically smoky. It is full bodied and spicy. It is bold, and I have heard it described as “barbecue wine.” At this juncture, I should add that the Trione Syrah contains 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier. This is a stylistic choice, and does not in my opinion obscure the true nature of the varietal. Pinot, on the other hand, is high in acidity, earthy, red fruit notes but lighter. So, when we really break it down to their simplest descriptions, Syrah is bold and Pinot Noir is lighter. This gives us an idea of how to pair.

Pinot Noir is indeed versatile, and the range of foods with which it pairs is generally determined by how tannic or conversely light it is. The bolder more tannic Pinots stand up well to wild game and heavier dishes, while the lighter fruitier variants are more appropriate for poultry, pastas, and seafood like salmon. At a Trione Winemaker Dinner, I even enjoyed the Russian River Pinot Noir with a fruit-based dessert. Syrah, while a significantly different to its Pinot Noir counterpart, actually pairs with similar foods as an elegantly tannic Pinot. For example, Syrah is a good partner to gamey-tasting meats, lamb, and anything barbecue. And cheese? That’s a gouda. Just steer clear of most seafood dishes, and delicate flavors that are overpowered by this full-bodied red.

There you have it. Pinot Noir and Syrah. We have barely scratched the surface of these two red varietals. They represent an intriguing comparison in my opinion because of the spectrum on which they lie. On opposite ends they are just that – diametric reds with the light, highly acidic Pinot Noir on one end and the smoky tannic Syrah on the other. Tangentially close but never quite overlapping on the spectrum, we find fuller-bodied Pinots and less toasty Syrahs. With the multitude of labels available for both varietals, there is seemingly endless opportunity to test the merits of each and to explore one’s preference. To quote The Matrix, “You take the red pill… and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Virtual game night!

Not only for Father’s Day – what about a virtual game night on Zoom with your friends? I collected a few popular options for you!

Cards Against Humanity

While I personally am admittedly not a fan, I know a LOT of people who are!

If your virtual event is adults-only, you could play a game like Cards Against HumanityPlayingCards.io offers a free version called Remote Insensitivity enabling you to play on your phone while you video chat on the computer. Just text everyone the link to your personal game room and voila – let the games begin!

Bingo

If you are a Bingo fan, a website like My Free Bingo Cards is for you – either to play a traditional game with a virtual caller, or to play a custom Bingo game with a theme (a movie or TV show that your group likes). Small prizes for the winners make it all even more appealing!

Trivia

You can still work on your trivia skills with proper social distancing. For a game on Zoom, there is a  random trivia generator – just start asking questions. Have each person send their answer in the Zoom chat at the same time.

DIY project with your kids: a whimsical mailbox

Collaborate with your youngsters to turn your run-of-the-mill mailbox into a little piece of art and make your mail carrier’s jaw drop! Just be aware that for this project it is necessary to wear a face mask – so it’s only suitable for kids old enough to do that and use a spray paint can responsibly.

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

Medium-grit sandpaper

Painters masks

Painters tape

Aluminum primer

Metal paint spray paint in the beautiful color of your choice

First of all, outfit all participants with protective masks, then start sanding off rust and old paint from your mailbox.

Next, you need to cover house numbers and the mail flag with painters tape (older kids can do that!).

Spray on aluminum primer and allow it to dry.

Then, apply the metal spray paint and let it dry completely. AND THEN the real fun begins! Have your young artists decorate your mailbox – easiest way is using stencils. Want to go one step further? Make a sculpture of your mailbox! Get inspired:

Clownfish
Piggy
Woof!

And the results? WOW!!

How did Father’s Day come into being – do you know?

Per Wikipedia, Father’s Day is a day of honoring fatherhood and paternal bonds, as well as the influence of fathers in society. In Catholic countries of Europe, it has been celebrated on March 19 as Saint Joseph’s Day since the Middle Ages. In America, Father’s Day was founded by Sonora Smart Dodd and celebrated on the third Sunday of June for the first time in 1910. It is held on various days in many parts of the world all throughout the year, often in the months of March, May and June.

On June 19, 1910, the very first Father’s Day celebration was held at the YMCA in Spokane, Washington, by Sonora Smart Dodd whose father, a single parent, had raised his six children there. She felt that fathers should have a similar holiday like Mother’s Day to honor them, and on June 19, 1910, sermons honoring fathers were presented in churches throughout the city.

Ms. Dodd raised awareness for the new holiday at a national level with the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes, and any traditional presents for fathers. 

 In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.  Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

So – now you know! What are you doing for Father’s Day?

Gummy Bears!

The gummy bear we all love originated in my native Germany as “Gummibär” (gum or gummy bear), or – much more popular in the endearing form – as  “Gummibärchen” ([little] gum or gummy bear). As Gum arabic was the original base ingredient used in the gummy bear recipe, the little guys are still carrying the term gum or gummy in their name. The company that invented the original gummy bear was founded by confectioner Hans Riegel in Bonn (and called Haribo) in 1920. Riegel wanted to offer a “children’s article,” and two years into his new company, in 1922, inspired by the trained bears at street festivities and county fairs in Europe through to the 19th century, he invented the Dancing Bear (Tanzbär), a small, inexpensive, fruit-flavored gum candy treat for children (and adults alike), which was much larger in form than its later successor, the Gold-Bear (Goldbär) which we are enjoying today. Even during the horrific economic crisis in Germany in the late 1920s and 1930s, Haribo’s fruit-gum Dancing Bear treats remained affordably priced for a mere 1 Pfennig, (roughly – half a US penny!) in pairs, at kiosks. In 1967, the smaller version of the Dancing Bear was invented – the gummy bear we can buy today as “Haribo Goldbär.” It is certainly one of the most successful (and beloved…) candy products EVER!

With the success of the gummi bears, many similar products have followed – gummy candies  that look like animals and other objects: rings, worms, frogs, snakes, hamburgers, cherries, sharks, penguins, hippos, lobsters, octopuses, apples, peaches, oranges… So, what’s YOUR favorite?

The fascination of vintage scarves

Today I would like to share with you my fascination with vintage scarves – Hermes scarves, to be precise. I know, I know – they are considered a bit conservative these days… but I love them for their beautiful motifs and colors and for the effortless elegance they lend to any outfit. Here I am wearing one of my favorites, a maritime motif in shades of white and blue, with jeans and a shirt:

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I have to admit, I have collected a few over many years, and I’d like to give you an idea why (and maybe get you enthusiastic as well!). Each of these scarves is a little piece of art, printed on silk twill in a step-wise process. The most intricate patterns ever made by Hermes show Native American scenes and contain 140 colors which are printed one after the other! Amazingly, the print lines are 100% sharp and crisp. No wonder these scarves are so expensive! I do not own any one of this collection, but I’d like to share a sample:

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It’s quite amazing, isn’t it? And from a practical standpoint – look at how these colors work with each other, allowing to wear this scarf with so many outfits – ivory, navy blue and black; natural tones, even red. So versatile! Given that the House of Hermes originated as a saddlemaker, many of their classical motifs are equestrian-themed:

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Unsure how to wear such a scarf, how to tie it, how to style it? Here are some examples – get inspired!

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And lastly, given that with hair salons closed, we are all having more-than-average bad hair days, it might be time to bring back this timeless style from the fifties and sixties:

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Start experimenting!!

Working at home – with our beloved pets!

All of us pet lovers have always been wishing to spend more time with our “fur babies,” and for many of us this wish has suddenly come true as we are working from home. But – since we are home all day, our cats and dogs expect us to focus on THEM, so that arrangement turns out to be trickier than we had thought. How to keep Fido or Kitty entertained and happy while getting some serious work done? Because if they get bored, they might find “entertainment” themselves – and not necessarily the type we like…

The key is providing mental, physical and emotional stimulation, for example through “enrichment toys” that require a certain mental effort – preferably, in order to get treats!

You can also make your own simple toys, e.g. for tug-of-war (a tennis ball in an old sock, tie a knot – done); a rattle bottle (empty water bottle with a few small rocks or pennies); a little bundle of feathers or a ball of yarn for your kitty.

Also, consider adding a game into your work schedule. Take a few minutes and play hide and seek with your furry friend; you can also incorporate their favorite toy or a treat into the game. And – most importantly, at least for doggie parents: take them out in the yard,

on a walk or to a dog park (with proper distancing, of course).

Dogs have a natural need for running (most of them at least), so allow them that big joy at least once a day. It’s good for you, too; and once puppy is happy and tired, you will get in those necessary hours of work. Win-win!

The Fairmont – an icon of San Francisco history

Everybody knows “The Fairmont,” right? It’s one of those truly iconic San Francisco landmarks. But do you know where it got its name? And who built it?

I was curious, and here is what I found out (courtesy of Wikipedia and my personal contacts).

Gavin Farrington Photography

The hotel was named after mining magnate and U.S. Senator James Graham Fair (1831–94) by his daughters, who built the hotel in his honor.

The hotel was nearly completed before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Although the structure survived, the interior was heavily damaged by fire, and opening was delayed until 1907. Architect and engineer Julia Morgan was hired to repair the building because of her then innovative use of reinforced concrete, which could produce buildings capable of withstanding earthquakes and other disasters.

Gavin Farrington Photography

In 1945, the Fairmont hosted international statesmen for meetings which culminated in the creation of the United Nations. The United Nations Charter was finalized in the hotel’s Garden Room, and a plaque at the hotel memorializes the event.

Evonne and Darren Photography

The Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel was where Tony Bennett first sang his famous “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in December 1961.

The Fairmont has been “the stuff of legends” – especially surrounding its famed Penthouse suite where all presidents visiting San Francisco have stayed.

Evonne and Darren Photography

The suite houses among other “follies” the Moroccan-themed Billiard Room – all walls adorned with artful mosaic.

Evonne and Darren Photography

The 2-story suite also houses a double-height library with a secret passageway to the roof (hidden behind a swiveling bookshelf on the upper level) which used to serve as an emergency escape route for the dignitaries lodging in the suite.

Photo: ADLNO

Rumor has it that the passageway was also used to smuggle President John F. Kennedy’s mistress, the actress Marilyn Monroe, in and out unseen when the president was in residence.

The Fairmont has been featured in many films, including The Rock, starring Sean Connery. My longtime friend and colleague, event planner Duncan Reyes, happened to be the Events Director at the Fairmont just then. I asked him what the most memorable event was when the movie was filmed. You will not believe this: for the escape scene (through the hotel kitchen) at the beginning of the movie, the entire hotel had to be shut down for a whole week!! Go watch the movie and enjoy!

The new breakfast fun: pancake cereal!

Not sure you’ve seen it yet – it’s all over the web and social media these days: pancake cereal! It’s just a new and fun breakfast item, and so easy to DIY at home.

I found this tutorial online:

Looks yummy, right? I made it for my family, and they LOVED it. Here’s the recipe I used:

And if you don’t feel like whipping up the batter from scratch – I have alternatively used Bisquick (their “enriched” pancake batter recipe on the box), and it worked just fine. Enjoy!

The Science of Wine demystified: Trione Whites!

A guest post by Henry Trione of Trione Winery

Trione Lineup: The Whites

Trione Vineyards & Winery grows both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes in the Russian River Valley AVA, on the River Road Ranch.

This ranch is right in the middle of the appellation, a prime climate and soil for these cooler climate varietals. The two varietals are distinctly different! From their intrinsic character to the winemaking process, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay each take separate paths to the bottle and on entirely different schedules. To explore the differences, let’s start with their flavor profiles and work our way back to the crush pad.

When someone asks me, “What is your favorite wine varietal?” I reply, “What is the occasion or food pairing?” Applied to the white varietals of the Trione lineup, it is necessary to consider the flavor profiles of the respective wines. In the words of the Trione winemaker, Scot Covington, the River Road Ranch Sauvignon Blanc tastes like the following:

White peaches, nectarines and mandarin zest are the first hints on the nose. The acidity and sweetness on the palate are in perfect balance. This wine is mouth-watering and leaves one craving for fresh oysters, sourdough baguettes, aged gouda, a sandy beach and a setting sun.

I could not have described it better myself, but if I had to define this wine in one word it would be floral. (While also leaving me craving a sandy beach and setting sun, of course!)  Sauvignon Blanc is considered an aromatic white grape, light and refreshing with just the right amount of residual sugar to balance the natural acidity. This differs from the richer qualities of Chardonnay and the slight oak flavor imparted from the mixture of new and “neutral” French oak barrels in the winemaking process. In Scot’s eloquent words:

Bottled poetry is the description of the 2017 Trione Chardonnay. Burgundian in style of both nose and palate. Rich and inviting, this wine offers a complex mix of toasty baguette, warm melted brie; silky but with the structure demonstrating the aging potential. The 2017 Chardonnay is tasting great now but will be awesome for the next 5-7 years.

So what do you enjoy these varietals with? The answer is a resounding whatever you like! Personally, Sauvignon Blanc is light and refreshing enough that it can be a stand-alone wine, not requiring any paring to enjoy. The Chardonnay, on the other hand, is a fuller-bodied wine and in my opinion better served with seafood, poultry and lighter pasta dishes. If you want to pair the Trione Sauvignon Blanc with anything in particular, I recommend cheese or oysters. The sweet-tangy characteristics of the wine seem to do these foods justice.

Working backwards, we can see how we arrived at the individual attributes of these varietals, aside from their intrinsic qualities. Unlike the Sauvignon Blanc, the Trione Chardonnay tastes slightly oaky. To achieve this quality, the winemaking process employs the use of 40% new French oak barrels and 60% neutral barrels that have been used in one to two previous vintages already and thus do not impart all that much oak flavor, but still create a softer mouth feel than if it were produced in stainless steel. The oak compliments the grape’s natural hardiness relative to the Sauvignon Blanc grape. So, the winemaking process is quite different, and takes much longer for the Chardonnay. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, the Trione Chardonnay spends 12 months in French oak barrels, while the Sauvignon Blanc is harvested about the same time in the late summer or early fall, and already bottled by April. As Scot mentioned in the quote above, the Chardonnay is suited to age a number of years because of its robustness compared to the Sauvignon Blanc, which in my experience does not benefit from aging. Harvesting the grapes, however, is on a similar schedule. Both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are considered early-ripening varietals. This is because they do not need as much time on the vine to achieve the appropriate sugar content.

The differences between the two white varietals in the Trione lineup, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, can be attributed to both nature and nurture. Nature gave the fruit different qualities, and the nurturing of the winemaking process further developed these distinctions. The result is a wine appropriate for different situations. One is light, refreshing and floral, the other is full-bodied, rich and creamy. How you choose to enjoy, is entirely up to your personal taste, and the best way to determine that preference is to experiment for yourself.