Red, Hot August and the Search for the Missing Holiday

If you saunter through today’s Gregorian calendar, you’ll notice that in virtually every month, there is pause for either a traditional holiday or some kind of National Celebration Day, honoring something. We have the whole year covered, as our country’s full of them. Obviously, January 1st kicks it all off, with a midnight kiss. Fast forward to year’s end and you have two really big ones that occupy November and December. And then there’s April’s special Sunday, with chocolate bunnies and eggs. There’s also a couple of national 3-day weekends, at the end of May and beginning of September. And of course, don’t forget the pyrotechnic celebration every July, honoring our nation’s birthday. Still, for every one of those traditional, grand occasions, we also have lesser, but equally important days of recognition, like February and lovers, March and leprechauns, October and goblins, and June’s two Sundays, one each for mom and dad.

Then there’s August. Lonely, forgotten August. The month where everyone skips town, trying to stretch out summer as long as humanly possible before begrudgingly returning home to get ready for school, or work…or Congress. Sure, you have celebratory days of the JV kind, like National Mustard Day, on August 4th, and Wiggle Your Toes Day, on the 8th (that’s a heck of a week). And don’t forget doozies like Left Hander’s Day, on the 13th, and National Spumoni Day, on the 21st. But the one day that truly epitomizes August happens to fall on the 27th National Just Because Day. That’s right, just because. I must confess, though, I love NJBD, for it sets up my favorite celebration day that August somehow managed to snatch up for itself, and that is National Red Wine Day, on August 28th. Now that’s how you polish off the month!  

After months of crisp whites and floral rosés, red wine is swirling inside the barrels, just waiting to explode. And no matter how high the thermometer climbs, a great red just can’t be denied, especially when the AC is cranking. So, for this issue, I’ve picked two producers and six rosso selections that I think are perfect for August.

Seth Cripe makes great California pinot noir. Hailing from Anna Maria Island, Florida, Seth was bitten very early by the wine fruit fly, showing earnest, if not unusual interest at the age of 12, and reading anything and everything he could about the wine world. Soon after, the restaurant gigs came, as did wine list exposures. His calling was heard and, at 17, he left for California to pursue his wine dreams. After 12 harvests at some of the world’s most renowned wineries, including Caymus and Pfeiffer Vineyards, he founded LOLA (named after his favorite dog) in 2008, and set out to make high quality, yet approachable wines. Of his numerous offerings, my favorites are his three pinot noirs – North Coast 2016, Russian River 2016, and his single-vineyard beauty, Artisanal Series Pinot Noir 2014.

The North Coast PN 2016 is a unique blend of pinot vineyards from Mendocino, Russian River, and the Sonoma Coast. An entry-level, walk-in wine, it preserves dark cherry fruit, a touch of cola, and redwood forest aromas. His Russian River PN 2016 is a step up, with darker concentrations of both fruit and terroir, all exclusively sourced from California’s most prestigious region for pinot noir. It is both refreshing and refined. If you want the best, then you must try his Artisanal Series PN 2016, a small batch of wine produced solely from the Coast Grade Vineyard, situated less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, on Ben Lomond Mountain – the westernmost area of the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation. This wine is gorgeous, with overflowing aromas of ripe plum and strawberry, with a palette to match. Throw in a touch of spice, fresh fig, and excellent acidity, and you have greatness. Any (and all) of these three wonderful pinots can be best enjoyed, in honor of LOLA of course, on August 10th. You know, National Spoil Your Dog Day.    

Staying in California, my old stomping grounds, we turn to the beautiful red wines of the Peter Franus Wine Company. Much like Seth, only add a few decades, Peter’s winemaking skills were born of a passion, both for wine and the way of life that it offers. He is both studied and imaginative, a craftsman and an artist, and his wines reflect the core knowledge and heartfelt love that he has for his winemaking home, Napa Valley. Napa Valley represents barely 5% of California’s total wine production, but its stature is global. And for the countless number of visitors it welcomes every summer, it knows that red wine isn’t just for winter consumption, not even close.

Peter’s wines are world-class, and in choosing his reds, I’ve decided on three that I think separate him from so many others who are still trying to be great, his Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Brandlin Vineyard Mount Veeder Zinfandel 2014, and Lake County Red Hills Rhone Blend 2014.

If you’re going to drink Napa, you have to drink Cabernet. Peter produced his first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1981, as winemaker for Mount Veeder Winery; he knows what he’s doing. His Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 is produced in the legendary Howell Mountain AVA, in the northeast corner of the valley. This is a majestic wine, dark ruby in color, with a shower of inviting aromas such as dried herb, cassis, and subtle vanilla. Floral notes add to its elegance and approachability. Ripe yet moderate tannins and good acidity create balance, and plum/cherry overtones add freshness and focus. It’s full bodied, but never weighty.

Brandlin Vineyard Mount Veeder Zinfandel 2014 is the way to go if you want to “dance with the one that brung you.” Zinfandel is truly a California original, despite its Primitivo grape origins, and Peter’s Zin is a showstopper. Coming from one of the most exclusive vineyards in Mount Veeder, 1200 feet above the Napa Valley floor, this wine is alive, bursting with spice, black cherry, cranberry, cinnamon, and pepper, all in a firm and concise structure. Zinfandel is a zesty grape and this wine doesn’t miss a step. It’s a big night out at the end of a hot summer day.

And finally, something a little different. Lake County Red Hills Rhone Blend 2014 is a gamble that paid off. A spectacular property, situated at 3000 feet elevation, Red Hills is a not place for every winemaker. Soils are thin and drain instantly, and the elevation sets vines well above the hot summer heat trapped in the valleys below, aligning them in the path of cool westerly Pacific breezes. And all of this makes for superb wines, if you can pull it off.

This French-inspired bottling is composed of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, the three classic varietals of the Rhone Valley, France. Not your typical Napa wine, but brilliant nonetheless. Peter’s skills truly shine here, as each grape’s characteristics come through – the clove, smoked ham, and pepper of Syrah, the lavender and floral notes of Grenache, and the brooding fruits of Mourvèdre, all commanding complete attention. And like LOLA, Peter Franus red wines are absolutely perfect for those special August occasions – like National Friendship Day on the 7th, National Relaxation Day on the 15th, and Kiss and Make Up Day on the 25th.  

Whatever your day of choice, just get to the 28th, and all will be right in August.

If you have any questions about the wines, you can find me at info@winespique.com. Until then, Happy Vino’ing!

Mark Luna
About Mark Luna 11 Articles
Mark Luna is a Portfolio Rep for Roanoke Valley Wine Company. He has a Level 3 Advanced Certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and is a member of the prestigious Wine Scholar Guild, where he’s finishing his Italian Wine Scholar post-nominal accreditation. Through and beyond his work for RVWC, Mark writes, teaches and guest-speaks about wine in a variety of both industry and privately held events. He lives in Nokesville with his family. For events, Mark can be reached at mluna96@gmail.com.

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