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Wednesday, 10 July 2013 12:00

Sniff the Cap: The Night We Drank the Grandpere

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Past its prime? Perhaps. Still fantastic? Definitely. Past its prime? Perhaps. Still fantastic? Definitely. Deidre Pike

The night we drank the 2004 Grandpere, we’d spent the day at our grandson Lathan’s birthday-party carnival. A couple dozen kids, balloon animals, face painting, carnival games.

“Everyone’s a winner!”

Kids raced about collecting candy and filling up bags of popcorn from a rented machine, washing it down with juice drinks in foil pouches.

We’d stayed to watch Lathan—his face painted superhero green—open a giant pile of presents. The booty included many things Hulk, from undies to action figures to two sets of Marvel The Avengers Gamma Green Smash Fists.

We ate cake.

The party was a huge success. And exhausting. We’d planned on going out. I’d looked up some venues with live music. I’d checked the theater schedules.

Then we got in the car. Tired. Hungry. “Wanna stay home and cook?”

I ticked through the stuff in the refrigerator. “Do we have chicken? I can make masala and naan.”

We picked up cilantro on the way home and sent my adult son Jesse, home for a rare night with the ’rents, back for yogurt.

Now: Choose a wine that goes with chicken tikka masala.

I started drinking red wines with Nepalese and Indian food at the Himalayan Kitchen in Kaimuki, Honolulu, during the year I worked in Hawaii. It was a BYOB place. The food was terrific, so I experimented with lighter, gentler red wines: a grenache and a barbera. These were great. But it seems that, with spicy and tangy sauces, a bigger fruit-forward red balances the spice, smoothes the heat. It’s not unheard of for chefs to pair a dark, fruit-forward syrah with a tikka masala dish.

We scanned our wine list, stared at our wall of reds and popped our head into our 40-bottle wine cooler, where we keep the good (for us) stuff.

The time seemed right.

“The Grandpere? It’s a 2004. Probably not getting any better with age at this point.”

We’d purchased the award-winning 2004 Renwood Grandpere at the Amador winery around the time Renwood filed Chapter 11 and was sued for millions regarding contract disputes.

The Grandpere wasn’t crazy expensive, and it had won several awards, including the 2007 Schott Zwiesel Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Robert Parker gave the 2004 vintage 90 points.

The vintage came from a small crop out of a 20-acre vineyard in Plymouth, Calif., which boasts of being “home to the oldest clone of zinfandel in America.”

Our bottle was No. 10. We should have opened it between 2008 and 2011, according to online “when to drink” advice.

I started the naan dough, and Dave opened the bottle to let in some atmosphere. I wrote dates on the cork. These grapes were grown and the wine was made before our granddaughter was born, Dave said.

I thought about 2004, the year that Dave climbed Kilimanjaro. “That was the year you went to Africa,” I said. My husband returned that fall before U.S. voters re-elected George W. Bush. My vote canceled his vote. Now I read in Dana Milbank’s Washington Post column that people are forgiving Bush, forgetting what they didn’t like about him. With time comes balance, transfers of power.

Argentine billionaire oilman Alejandro Pedro Bulgheroni bought Renwood in 2011. Improvements ensued. The brand is getting increased visibility, participating in Hollywood’s Independent Spirit Awards and sponsoring film premieres. I haven’t been back to see the winery’s spiffy new digs, including fireplaces, patios and a “handsome new tasting bar.”

Kneading dough gives me time for reflection.

Jesse peeled pearl onions. I grated fresh ginger and mixed it into the yogurt with cinnamon, cumin and cayenne, then tossed in chicken and veggies to marinate. I picked fresh mint and lemon balm to throw in the blender with the cilantro, lemon juice and spice. My version of hari (green) chutney.

The night we drank the 2004 Grandpere, Dave set Pandora to play “songwriter/folk.” Jack Johnson covered Lennon, telling us to “imagine there’s no heaven.”

Dave decanted the wine. We inhaled some promising esters. But appreciating the smell doesn’t always equate to liking the taste or the tactile sensation of the wine on the tongue. We were reserving judgment ’til all the sensations were in.

“We’ll either be disappointed or not disappointed.”

Dave took out our Schott Zwiesel German crystal glasses.

“I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one,” sang Johnson.

We poured wine, rust-colored with perfect clarity, into the crystal.

Ting.

Long smooth fruit and vanilla flavors didn’t distinguish themselves at first. The 9-year-old wine once was characterized as having “rich generous aromas of raspberry, vanilla and white pepper, with blasts of sweet cocoa and nutmeg.”

Those notes are still there, but not in “blasts.” This is the way the bottle ends, not with a bang, but with a floral bouquet and the calm suggestion that pepper and brown spices exist as Very Good Things. This wine goes quietly into that good night with a long finish of rich plum.

Grandfather Dave downloaded a new constellation app to his iPad. Tonight, we can look at the stars, he said.

“Should I start the grill?”

“Not yet. Just getting on the sauce.”

I showed Jesse how to scald tomatoes to get the skin off. I opened a rose of zinfandel from Mendocino and added a cup to the simmering sauce. Often, I will add the wine we’re drinking to the food we’re cooking. But not the night we drank the Grandpere. Every drop belonged in our mouths.

A pause over the counter. A swirl in the glass. A taste.

“I like it.”

“I like it, too.”

“It’s probably past its time. It hasn’t gone bad, just not what it was.”

We’re past our prime. We don’t taste bad. Just different.”

I like complicated things. Naan rises twice. After it doubles the first time, you pull it apart, make ping-pong balls out of it, and let it rise again. After this, stretch it and put it on the grill. Brush with butter and garlic.

Dave grilled the naan, coming into the house to sip his wine. After a half-hour or so, his happy wine smile was getting happier.

“It’s opening.”

Then onto the grill went the skewered meat and vegetables.

Into the sauce went more spices, more wine, the grilled meat and veggies, a dollop of heavy cream. Decadent.

The smooth fruit of the aged zinfandel was drinking well when we put the first bites of spice in our mouths.

For dessert, we finished off the bottle. We didn’t make it out to look at stars.

Grandparents, we are. Wine makes us sleepy.

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