This week, I was visited by David Mirassou of Mirassou Winery in California. He will be making a couple of appearances at local events this week and came to promote them and talk about his product.
I just wanted an excuse to sip wine at 10 a.m.
When he arrived at our meeting carrying seven bottles, I knew it was going to be a good morning. I had prepared myself by eating a hearty steak-and-egg burrito for breakfast and having a good cup of coffee. Mind you, recently I have been more healthy by cutting down on alcohol, but this chance was too good to pass up. And not that I expected to get drunk on a work day, but it was in the interest of good local journalism that I put myself in harm’s way and it would have been unwise not to be ready for the effects of this particular assignment. I love that I’m the one who gives out assignments.
We sat down and he began to tell me about the various vintages. He brought a Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I felt tipsy just looking at them.
But before we imbibed, we talked a little about him and his winery. Six generations ago, his relatives began making wine in California. His great, great, great grandfather, Pierre Pellier, and his wife, Henriette, had a nursery in France. In the late 1840s, Pierre came to the Golden State to strike it rich in the Gold Rush, leaving Henriette to take care of the business at home. He sailed around the tip of South America to try his luck, but he soon discovered the roads in California were not paved in gold. Instead, he found another treasure in the ground: rich, fertile soil. He came home to fetch Henriette and some grape vines (including what would be the first Pinot Noir grown in America) and returned to California.
On the boat ride here, the ship’s captain told Pierre and Henriette that if they didn’t stop using all the good water for their grapes that he’d throw the plants overboard. To save their precious cargo, the pair stuck the vines in potatoes from which they could suck the moisture. The rest is wine-making history.
Which brings us 150 years later to a very happy Thursday morning for me. As he opened the first bottle, he told me about the four S’s of wine tasting: swirl, sniff, sip and spit (if you plan to taste a lot of wine, otherwise the last ‘s’ is swallow).
We started with the Riesling and its flavors of apricot and peach. Mirassou told me he has a good recipe for maple-brined pork chops with sage-apricot butter to complement that wine. Each wine has suggested food pairings available at www.mirassou.com. He also said the Riesling goes well with spicy food because it helps cool the mouth.
From there we had some Pinot Noir. Mirassou told me that red wine such as this tends to lose some flavor if it is too cold when consumed. He suggests taking it out of the refrigerator 15 or 20 minutes before drinking. I have always liked white wine more, but this Pinot Noir was very good with its light tannins (a chemical component of the grape skin, seeds and stems) and “focus on the forward fruit,” Mirassou said. I will drink some more and get back to you on what the back-end fruit is.
When it comes to detecting the various essences of wine, Mirassou suggested “component tasting.” This is like doing exercises for the taste buds. At such a tasting, participants sniff little bottles of various essences, such as pineapple, and then sip the wine and practice matching the smell with the taste. It sure sounds like more fun than sit-ups.
For “dessert” we had Cabernet Sauvignon, with hints of dark chocolate and black cherries. This one goes well with rare or medium-rare steak, he said, because the meat tempers the acidic tannins of the wine. Wines that are “ageable” are heavy on tannins, though he added that about 80 percent of wines are meant to be consumed right away.
“We’re trying to make wines that are easy to drink, true to varietal and fun,” he said. “When people learn about wine I tell them to have fun with it.” It is important not to make drinking wine feel like a homework assignment, though doing 50 math problems would be a lot more fun with wine.
Mirassou has a son who will be 9 years old in April who loves to go out into the vineyard with his dad.
“I told him ‘You’re a seventh generation,’ and he said, ‘So if I don’t do it I’m breaking the chain?’ ” Mirassou said. “I told him, ‘You don’t have to worry about that.’ The last thing you want to do is give a kid all that pressure.”
I’d take that kind of pressure.
Mirassou will be the featured guest at the Party for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society on Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Ben’s Fine Wine & Spirits at 2990 Sullivan Lane in Sparks. He will also be signing bottles at Scolari’s, 4788 Caughlin Pkwy. in Reno from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find my corkscrew.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.