Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sanguine wine: when seeing red is a good thing

Gordon Kendall

Good Libations columnist Gordon Kendall

  • Gordon Kendall's column, "Good Libations," runs monthly in Extra. He welcomes readers' questions and comments about wine, beer or spirits.

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I was up very late the other night, sipping red wine and engrossed in an episode of "True Blood," when I heard a hollow tapping sound on my front door. The door creaked as I pushed it open to reveal Count Dracula standing on my front porch.

"Gordon, I presume," he whispered in a eastern European accent, "I am here to taste your blood so I can make sure I like it."

My grogginess evaporated quickly and I replied, "How about some red wine? It is just as good and I have some open. As a matter of fact, this is Vampire Cabernet, which was highly rated by the wine critics.

Dracula scrunched up his brow for a moment, pondering the offer and replied, "Well I have wanted to learn more about wine, and I like the name, so I will try it."

I poured some into a glass and offered it to him. "Swirl it around so you can enjoy the aroma and then taste it," I advised.

"Not bad," he remarked, "It has a spicy nose and notes of black currant and oak with a soft finish. I will take this instead."

The next thing I knew, he and the bottle were gone, leaving wispy vapors on my front porch.

The relationship between blood and wine goes back hundreds of years. Consider the popular Spanish wine punch with brandy-soaked fruit called sangria. The name means "act of bleeding."

When the Romans conquered Spain about 200 B.C., they planted numerous vines that bore red grapes. The locals began mixing red wine with fruit, juice and brandy. The concoction often had a blood-red color from the wine. Sangria was introduced to America at the 1964 World's Fair in New York and is enjoyed today around the world, especially in summertime.

How about some bull's blood wine? Egri Bikaver, meaning "bull's blood of Eger," is Hungary's most famous red wine. The legend goes back to 1552, when the strategic Castle of Eger was under siege by the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, who commanded 40,000 troops. The Turks expected weak resistance from the 2,100 people defending the castle, but the thick stone walls withstood the zarbuzans (siege cannons).

The defenders lobbed exploding powder kegs and rolled a waterwheel loaded with gunpowder through the enemy ranks, showering them with fire. The Hungarians were fortified with food and wine. It was rumored through the Turkish ranks that bull's blood had been mixed with the wine, strengthening the defenders' resolve. The Turks finally gave up and retreated.

Today the wine is a melange of grapes including cabernet sauvignon, merlot and indigenous varieties. The wine is aged for two years in oak barrels in volcanic stone cellars, lending it rusticity. It pairs well with game and red meats. Unfortunately, it is not available at Roanoke-area retailers.

Another variation is the Spanish Sangre de Toro (bull's blood) from Miguel Torres. A toy plastic bull is attached to the bottle to help you remember the name. The Torres winery was founded in 1870, and Sangre de Toro was introduced in 1954 with great success. The winery says the wine is inspired by the Roman wine god Bacchus, who was known as "Son of Bull."

The heavy-metal band Slayer recently released Reign in Blood, a California cabernet sauvignon named after their 1986 album. According to the importer's site, "The wine is as uncompromising and tough as the band. After a couple of Seasons in the Abyss, the wine has an undisputed attitude and a soft nose of dark berry fruits with oak and spicy nuances."

The wine is currently available only in Sweden, but I did find a few bottles on eBay priced from $54 to $200 — and an empty one for $24! A coffin-shaped gift box or blood-stained apron with the Reign in Blood logo also are available in Sweden, if you like to listen to metal while you grill.

In 1985, entertainment attorney Michael Machat was cruising through the desolate Nevada desert on an inky black night and envisioned a vampire wine. He traveled to Transylvania and tried to set up shop, but the bureaucrats of Romania's Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu would have none of it.

In 1988, Machat bottled an Algerian red under the Vampire label and sold 500 bottles to the rock star Alice Cooper. The next year, Machat switched to an Italian sangiovese (which means "the blood of Jove") and sold 672 bottles to the Ann Rice Fan Club in New Orleans.

In 1989, Ceausescu was executed, and Machat began to make wine in Transylvania. The wine gained exposure in the media and sales grew to more than half a million bottles a year.

In 2007, Machat relocated his operation to Paso Robles, Calif., in an effort to improve quality. Today he produces Vampire Cabernet, merlot and pinot noir, along with Dracula Syrah and zinfandel. There is also a Trueblood chardonnay from Carneros.

I suggest you have some red wine on hand in case Dracula comes tapping on your door.

Tasting notes

Available locally

*Prices and availability may vary

Vampire Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Napa, Calif.

There is an excerpt of "The Giaour," a great poem by Lord Byron, on the back label. The wine has a deep, blood-red color and aromas of black fruits and cigar box. Flavors of blackberry, cassis and fruitcake spice envelop the palate. The finish has a bit of loamy earth and just a trace of cedar bough. Serve with a steak grilled medium rare. 13.5 percent alcohol by volume, $10.50

Torres Sangre de Toro 2009

Catalunya, Spain

This is a deep crimson blend of garnacha and carinena grapes. The wine displays rustic aromas of strawberries, black pepper and earth. The wine has flavors of blackberries and forest floor and finishes with firm tannins. Serve with paella, the classic Spanish rice stew. 13.5 percent alcohol by volume, $11

Sangria recipe

1 lemon, sliced

1 lime, sliced

1 orange, sliced

1 apple, diced

1/3 cup sugar

4 ounces Cointreau

4 ounces brandy

750 ml bottle dry red wine

1. Place the fruit into a large pitcher and sprinkle with the sugar.

2. Pour the Cointreau and brandy over the fruit and let it rest about an hour.

3. Add the wine and wait another hour.

4. Pour into a wine glass with some ice.

Gordon Kendall's column on wine and spirits runs monthly in Extra.