Two Gravenstein apples, rendered artfully by a connoisseur.
Some prefer an apple
to a glass of pinot noir
By JOYCE KIEFER
Vineyards are overtaking the apple orchards of Sebastopol, a town in Sonoma County about 55 miles northwest of San Francisco, I recently read in The San Francisco Chronicle. Pinot Noir grapes are displacing Gravenstein apples, a delicious first apple of the season that made Sebastopol as famous to fruit lovers as Napa is to wine connoisseurs.
Something decadent is going on when wholesome apples are replaced by wine. An apple a day kept the doctor away, especially when you knew where, exactly, the apple was grown and when that place was in your regional back yard. But wine? Think wine, women and song; Lips that touch wine shall never touch mine; and the religions that forbid its members to drink the stuff. Place a glass of deep red pinot next to a shiny, ruddy-striped Gravenstein. Which one would a good mom serve her kid as an after-school snack? Which one would this kid bring to the teacher in hopes of an A?
Now the doctor tells us that red wine is healthy, that it cuts back cholesterol, that a glass a day might keep him away unless, of course, you care to share.
When wine replaces apples, its time to hone your taste buds to go beyond the sweet and sour that work fine for a piece of tree-ripened fruit. The Chronicle quoted a Sebastopol winemaker as saying the pinots of his area are distinguished by darker fruit, more earth and more minerality, are more masculine and have a bit more mid-palate weight.
Sounds like a handful of pebbles youd find under the apple trees.
I enjoy wine tasting but, raised on an apple a day after school, I still cant grasp the extreme subtleties of flavor that the critics describe. I know I prefer dry reds to whites unless the weather is hot, and that wine makes a good meal great. I enjoy touring our friends through the wineries of the Shenandoah Valley in the Sierra foothills near our vacation home. But after the second winery I find myself distracted by the flavor of the crackers (one place has heart-shaped lavosh to die for) or the cleverness of the sayings on aprons and T-shirts (Ill drink no wine before its timeIts time!). I give four stars for a bucolic picnic area or a friendly chien or chat de la maison.
Part of the tasting game for us is to find a unique and pleasing wine at a relatively low price. But once my husband indulged in an over $40 dollar a bottle just for the nameGrandperebecause we had a new grandson.
The challenge of tasting wine is to detect the flavors that are detailed in the description or review and then drink it anyway. Heres The Chronicle on one of the Sebastopol pinots: Earthy and dusty on the nose with hints of creosote and shoe polish; bright cherry, raspberry and cranberry on the palate, plus black pepper and caramel; dusty tannins; well balanced.
Im not making this up.
Did the grapes grow on railroad ties? Do shoe polish and caramel really go together?
Possibly the critics imagination was cranked up bydare I saytoo much tippling?
On the other hand, a practiced wino might pick up on the industrial flavors. He might enjoy the pinot with the complex nose that is simultaneously mineral, petrochemical . . . and silky, tarry and handsome on the palate. Perhaps if I liked sushi Id get past the first gulp of the pinot that begins with seaweed and forest floor aromas and get to the mineral finish that displays elegance, length and beauty.
I do salute anyone who can pick up on a hint of cooked milk curd in a taste of wine preceded by the taste of freshly brewed green and black tea. Our nephew Drew is one of those people. Part of his test to become a sommelier was not only to detect the flavors as the wine travels to various parts of the mouth but to identify the region worldwidewhere the grapes were grown.
As for me, the taste of a Gravenstein apple calls up memories of the quirky little town Sebastopol was when I was a child. The railroad tracks ran through the middle of the main street. The town was supposedly named for a fist fight in the 1850s. The fight was so long it reminded locals of the British siege of Sebastopol during the Crimean War then in progress. The area eventually became the Gravenstein capital of the world. Horticulturist and local resident Luther Burbank wrote, It has often been said that if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year, no other apple need be grown.
The first bite awakens my mouth to a burst of sweet juice that juggles a tartness reminiscent of Meyer lemons. The crispness delights my ears as I begin to chew. My imagination is pricked with thoughts of great pies and cobblers. At the swallow, I feel an afterglow of fresh fruit warmed by the California sun. What lingers is an aftertaste of sadness for the orchards being plowed under.
There is not a hint of shoe polish on my palate.
©2008 by Joyce Kiefer. The photo is by the author. This column first posted Sept. 8, 2008.
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