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It almost sounds like a set up for a bad joke, “What happens when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a segregationist governor walk into a bar?” But it’s actually a great story, and I’ve included a link for your to enjoy it yourself this holiday, recounted in Doc Lawrence’s “pull up a log and set a spell” natural storyteller’s voice.

From: “A WINE TASTING FOR THE AGES: DR. KING AND FINE WINE: A HISTORIC MEETING”  by Veteran Atlanta journalist and broadcaster DOC LAWRENCE and his wonderful Sips Across America column and blog.

 

“On a rainy night in Atlanta, four men met somewhat accidentally in a wine store with a rear lounge. One was the great Civil Rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Another was the segregationist governor of Georgia. They were joined by the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper editor Ralph McGill and the store owner, Jim Sanders, the foremost wine importer in the South at that time. Sanders, a gifted writer, recorded the events of that evening, typing everything on his ancient Underwood typewriter.”

As he approached death in 1999, Sanders told me the story and entrusted me with his manuscript. I promised to share it with the world and to this day believe it to be one of the most fascinating tales involving wine and its potential for peacemaking.

I read Sanders’ transcript of that historic evening on my Atlanta radio show and proudly share it as Jim Sanders intended. I hope you join in sharing this with others.

There are many things to love about this odd evening of wine and conversation, and how, in a small, intimate moment over fine wine (a rosé, a sauternes sampling and a 1957 La Tache –Now selling for $3000-4000 a bottle, if you’re having a REALLY festive MLK day) these four men from very different perspectives and walks of life were able to civilly converse, and put aside their differences if only for a moment. One of Dr. King’s gifts to this country is, he helped get us to a place where the conversation lasted a lot longer and the civility took root in our hearts not just on the surface. In the spirit of a life well-lived and a philosophy of which we are the lucky recipients, here’s some ideas for wine and food pairings you can try for Martin Luther King Day.

If you’re feeling expansive (and fully recovered from Christmas and New Year’s excess) by all means, follow Dr. King to the mountaintop of deliciousness and indulge in a Southern feast fit for a King (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

This is a great post from RJ Reeves Jr. in Scrumptious Chef “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Favorite Foods: Celebrating The Great Man On His Birthday.”

However, The Sonomaist is endeavoring mightily to keep up her New Year’s Resolution of simpler and lighter, so y’all will have to let me know how those southern fried delicacies worked out! As an alternative to RJ’s righteous blowout, here’s an easy, light Southern Butter Bean Soup Recipe from Elizabeth Kelly that is both a tribute to Dr. King, and, bonus, a great pair with an “unassuming and flavorful little rosé”  of the type that was on the menu at Jim Sander’s wine shop that fateful evening. Since the name of that particular wine has been lost to history (and let’s face it, do you really want a 50 year old rosé? Didn’t think so.) Here are three choices from blowout to bargain —

2010 MacPhail Pinot Noir Rosé ($20) Crisp with a funky, barnyard-y strawberry nose. Nice barnyard finish that pairs well with the earthiness of the butter beans. (87 pts.) * Link is to the 2011 vintage.

N.V. Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé ($33) OR the 2007 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé  ($42) Both are toasty bright strawberry inflected sparklers, but the 2007 vintage has a bit more gravitas than the more straightforward but perfectly enjoyable non-vintage offering which tends more towards the berry and less towards the rose petal and smoke of the 2007. Let’s put it this way, the N.V. is brunch and the 2007 is dinner. (N.V. 86 pts./2007Vintage 89 pts.)

2009 Inman Family Brut Rosé Nature Sparkling “Endless Crush” ($68) If you really want to blow it out big (It is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, after all) you can’t go wrong with this incredible 100%  Russian River Valley Pinot Noir stunner. Bone dry but with beautiful mineral, yeast and raspberry notes, followed by a bracing key lime acidity on the back. This is a gorgeous wine to cellar for a few years, or, break out this MLK day, even better! (94 pts.)

It is well-documented that Dr. King’s absolute favorite food was pecan pie, a difficult food to pair with wine to be certain, but I think it’s interesting that Mr. Saunder’s recounts in his memoir that Dr. King came to the wine shop searching for Sherry and ended up sampling three Sauternes, both a bit off the beaten track, but great matches for, you guessed it, pecan pie! Here’s a great post from Wine Peeps with some fantastic pairings (Sherry and Sauternes, natch) for that most quintessentially Georgian desert.

I find that legendary historical characters are far more interesting when we can look at them as ordinary people who did extraordinary things (doesn’t that make them even more extraordinary? If they don’t have capes and still perform amazing feats of strength?) That’s what I love about Saunders’ tale, it was a small intimate moment in a larger-than-life man’s existence. I like to picture Dr. King checking his watch and hurrying home after this strange evening at Sanders’ wine shop and recounting to Coretta the crazy night he had, perhaps over a nice glass of Sherry and a generous slice of  homemade pecan pie. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day everyone!

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New Year’s resolutions tend towards the simple. Rarely do people stuff their January 1st intentions with closets full of Birkin bags, Lamborghinis or vows to best Kobayashi in competitive eating endeavors. The vast majority (and easiest to keep) are the basics, eat a little less, spend time and money more wisely. An extra hour on the treadmill, ten more bucks a week to the 401k. Make time to slip out early as to not miss that dance recital or Pop Warner game.

In this spirit of simplicity, one of my resolutions is to include more “weekday/weeknight” recipes and tips. Ideas that can be integrated into the routine to compliment the more fanciful entries about Sonoma travel and tastings. Of course, there will always be the whimsey…So in the spirit of both simplicity and fancy, let’s talk about Arista Winery…

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Tiny waterfalls, mossy rock formations and stunning Japanese Maples placed with a minimalist’s eye combine to create this serene, Zen retreat overlooking valley vistas. You can rest your weary mind and even picnic here (customers only, please.) It’s a beautiful spot to slowly exhale…That is, once you’ve inhaled the gorgeous aromas of their impressive slate of reds that echo the elegant simplicity of the physical plant.

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Belly up to the small and often crowded tasting bar in a spartan converted farmhouse and enjoy the warm, laid-back hospitality of the McWilliams family who are often on hand to pour and talk about their wines, and always eager to point visitors in the direction of local tasting rooms with similar concepts (the fine folks at Arista are responsible for hipping me to Benovia, C. Donatiello and V.M.L. in the past, as well as others yet unvisited that are at the top of my wish list since they’re batting .1000 in their advice!)

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While the entire tasting is really fantastic, standouts included the 2010 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge ($52) The Mendocino Ridge is more than 1500 feet above sea level, so the grapes grow above the fog line, offering constant sun exposure, yet, it’s still cool enough because of the elevation that they get the slow, gentle ripening that yields exceptional pinot noir. The Perli opens with a full nose of farmyard and Bartlett pear, a medium body full of raspberry, licorice and wet concrete dusted with white pepper and a whisper of French oak. This is drinking beautifully now, but hints at an even more auspicious future given a few years of cellar time. It would be an amazing pairing for salmon in a potato crust.

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Having long been a fan of Arista’s pinots, I sometimes forget that they do a wonderful “pinot take” on what I consider a difficult to love varietal, zinfandel…

Their 2010 Smokey Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($36) is one of those zin exceptions that, for the most part, defies my low expectations of the grape. The huge nose of black pepper, Smuckers strawberry jam and lime rind are certainly zin-ny. As is the “drink on a weeknight at your own risk” 15.9% alcohol content. But on the palate is where it diverges from its peers. The strawberry fruit is bright and fresh, not dense, jammy and cooked like many zins. And the slightly tannic cocoa powder finish gives it gravitas to balance out the mouthwatering berries.  This is a zin touched with Arista’s zen. A lucky wine indeed!

RATINGS 1-10 (1 = Give it a miss. 10= Move heaven and earth to make this a part of your journey!)

INTERIOR = 6  EXTERIOR/VIEW = 9.5  WINE QUALITY = 9

OVERALL RATING = 9.2 *

 
Arista Winery
7015 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 473-0606
 
Open Daily 11-5
Tasting Fee $10
 
*Dogs are welcome, bachelor and bachelorette parties are not. That alone gives them an extra bonus point in my book!
 

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De Loach Winery is always a tasting room stop we make. It’s a testament to their consistently well-made wines (The legend, Greg La Follette, was their winemaker for many years and since 2008 his protégée, Brian Maloney has been at the helm.) The tasting room itself hits all the “correct” notes, some library bottles and chachkis, but there is a bit of a coldness there. I don’t know if it’s because DeLoach is under corporate ownership (Boisset purchased the winery in 2003) or if the tasting room had a stand-offish vibe even back when it was family owned (all that wine has dulled my memory!)

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I am certainly not one who revels in the “Party Bus” experience in a tasting room (to get a taste of that, try Merryvale in Napa after 6pm.) But I always find it pleasant when the employees seem engaged and interested and/or there has been some thought put into the layout of the tasting room, an attempt to infuse some personality into the experience. Unfortunately (and it really is, because the wine is terrific) the De Loach tasting room seems to be simply “going through the motions” on every level.

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The wines are what bring us back, and if you have time and aren’t just trying to hit a “best of” list, then De Loach is definitely worth a stop. Their Pinots are exceptional, from the rich, voluptuous, 2010 De Loach Estate Collection Pinot Noir to the 2008 De Loach Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir on the other end of the spectrum with its more austere profile wrapped in yeasty smokiness. See more DeLoach wine reviews here.

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Some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had has been served under flickering fluorescent lights on chipped formica tables. Would I have preferred linens and low lights? Of course. Do I wish De Loach Winery had a tasting room personality that matched the magic they’re putting in their bottles? Sure. But sometimes, you just have to close your eyes and enjoy the moo shu in front of you.

RATINGS 1-10 (1 = Give it a miss. 10= Move heaven and earth to make this a part of your journey!)

INTERIOR = 5 EXTERIOR/VIEW = 7 WINE QUALITY = 8.5

OVERALL RATING = 6.8

De Loach Winery
1791 Olivet Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Phone: 707-526-9111
 
Taste 5 wines for $10
Picnic basket for two $30
Vineyard designate wines by the glass $12
Wine and cheese plates, tours and special experiences available to book online.

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Nothing like planning a trip to God’s Country to get my heart beating a little faster (in anticipation of all that resveratrol, no doubt.) Problem is, even vets can forget the basics when planning an exciting wine country jaunt. So I decided to write it down, for both of us.

• OFF-AIRPORT RENTAL CARS – If you weren’t able to fly into my favorite airport of all time and are forced to get to Sonoma via SFO (San Francisco International Airport) you can save yourself a bundle of cash by renting your car from one of the off-airport rental agencies. All the rental car agencies are accessed via a multi-stop tram ride from the main terminal. Once you get to the rental car building, if you’re going with one of the “bigs” (Hertz, Avis, etc.) you’re set. But, if you’re willing to add an extra half hour or so, you can save big and take a second shuttle to one of the off-airport rental agencies.

I was actually referred to our off-airport rental agency by an agent at Hertz when I was booking a busy holiday weekend. They recently purchased a company called Advantage that carries Hertz cars (maybe they’re a little older? Ours only had 11,000 miles on it) but at half the price ($173 for aChevy Malibu with free GPS for a busy holiday week versus double that at Hertz.) That brings me to my next must…

• GPS…AND DIRECTIONS – GPS is an absolute necessity on the windy, not always well-marked roads of wine country. Maps are annoying and often useless. Rent or bring your own GPS. And whatever you do, DO NOT depend on the GPS on your cell phone or Waze, or any cell-dependent service that does yeoman service in the big city. Cell service is notoriously spotty in Sonoma and will inevitably leave you hanging at some inopportune time. Once you’ve achieved GPS, you should STILL get directions. GPS is excellent at getting you to the right general area, but more often than not, you need to know that you “cross three cattle guards then take a right at the wagon wheel” to actually get where you’re going.

• ADDRESSES – Another reason to ask for directions and confirmations is that many wineries, especially smaller ones that don’t have formal tasting rooms, often have multiple addresses. One might be the actual vineyard, one the winemaker’s private home and another the space they use for tasting, sometimes a barn, storage facility or space in an office park. Call or e-mail ahead and make sure you’ve got the correct information. I remember years ago scheduling a tasting at Merry Edwards before she opened her tasting room. The Mister and I followed our trusty GPS to the address we’d found online and were quite confused when we found ourselves on a leafy suburban cul-de-sac, no vines in sight. But when we “arrived” we did see Merry Edwards…unloading groceries from her car. We’d gone to her house!  Not only embarrassing, but made us late for a private tasting with their gracious tasting room host, Ron. You don’t want to be late for Ron, trust me.

• TRAVEL TIMES – Just as your “citified” cell phone GPS will do you no good in Sonoma, neither will your big city/suburban notions about travel time. “10 miles away” in Los Angeles is a completely different animal in wine country when you’re talking about twisting one-lane roads, being stuck behind a bike tour or a combine, and the inevitability (even with the GPS and spot on directions) of getting lost. Pre-program your GPS to see what the estimated travel time is from point A to point B and then add at least 50%.

• DRINKING AND DRIVING – Obviously, if you’re visiting tasting rooms there’s going to be at least one person in your vehicle who has been drinking. The legal limit in California is %.08 BAC. You obviously don’t want anyone to get hurt or arrested. There are ways to keep that from happening. The most effective are hiring a car service (any hotel can arrange this for you, or you can look online) or designating a driver. If the person who is driving is going to have a few sips, these are my suggestions —

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Lucy at Hartford Family, know “when to say when” Lucy!

– A standard pour at a tasting room is going to be about 1 ounce. A standard glass of wine is about 5 to 8 ounces. Depending on your sex, height and weight, you’re able to metabolize between half a glass to two glasses in an hour. Here’s a blood alcohol calculator that isn’t intended as gospel or binding legal advice, but at least gives you a good idea so you can be conscious of where you stand and then make sure you stay well below your limit.

– Swirling and spitting is completely acceptable (of course ask for a bucket or cup, spitting onto the floor is considered gauche even in laid back Sonoma!)

– Drink LOTS of water. Stash big bottles in the car and sip as you go.

– And my personal favorite, share a tasting. Just because the tasting sheet specifies a price “per person” or “per tasting” doesn’t mean that everyone in your party has to do their own. The Mister and I share tastings all the time and no one ever bats an eyelash. Then, if you find yourself dying to have more, buy a bottle (or a few!) Most places will comp your tasting fee when you make a bottle purchase, and it will give you something to look forward to when you get home, and something to sip on as you plot your next adventure in God’s Country!

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