By Celia Strong
Introducing three new wines to taste and choose from this week. With three choices, each of us is bound to like at least one of them. Yay! Also, because I know we did do white wines three weeks in a row, this threesome gives those of us who favor red wines a chance to catch up. Yay, again! Of course, if you’re one of us who like white wines and red wines, you’ve been happy all along. A big, third yay!
So, we go to California this week. To begin with, let’s look at the name, label name, of our wines. Rusina. Even though the history of this label is pretty young, its name has an ancient history. Going back to ancient Rome. From multiple, previous lessons, we have learned that many of the wines we drink now can actually trace their roots back to this ancient civilization. And this is also the case with the name “Rusina.” Ancient Roman religion, to help its civilization cope with all the harshness and insecurity and unknown of their lives, covered almost every aspect of life. This included the growing, harvesting and storing of their crops. In some cases, specific crops even had their own specific deities. The major agricultural deities were Ceres and Saturn. Between 272 BC and 264 BC, four temples were built and dedicated to four separate agricultural gods (Consus, Tellus, Pales and Vortumnus). Historians claim that the mere existence of these four temples, all built within an eight year period, shows a high degree of concern for the crops’ success. “Rusina” was the Goddess of the Fields. (Our English words “rural” and “rustic” are both derivatives of the Latin “rus” and “ruris.”) Personally, I like this story, and, definitely, I prefer to drink a wine named “Rusina” than Vortumnus. Sober or tipsy, Rusina just sounds better. Hmmph. Oops, a digression.
Back on course, our first wine is the Rusina Cabernet Sauvignon. The gray colored label. The grapes for this wine come, one hundred percent, from Paso Robles, California. Cabernet from Paso Robles has its own distinct style, flavors and textures. The climate here is quite a bit warmer, hotter is probably much more accurate, than Napa or Sonoma. Daytime temperatures during the summer can get as high as one hundred degrees for multiple days, while, at night, they have been known to drop up to fifty degrees lower. These ups and downs let the grapes ripen more slowly than they would in 24 hour days of really warm temperatures. The soil here has limited nutrients and is calcereous with a high pH. Not Napa, but easily as good for growing Cabernet grapes. Some of the winemakers in Paso Robles believe if Robert Mondavi had built his winery in their area, instead of Napa, Paso would now be the home to California’s best and most expensive Cabernet Sauvignons. The wines from Paso Robles grapes have full fruit flavors and big, though smooth textured, tannins. The Rusina grapes are hand picked, destemmed, and fermented, temperature controlled, in stainless steel. Rusina Cabernet Sauvignon is full of ripe berry flavors, strawberry jam, black currant, Chinese Five Spice powder and hints of leather. It is aged in both French (vanilla) and American (clove) oak barrels. One yay!
Rusina Zinfadel, with the green colored label, is made from Lodi fruit. Lodi is an area in the Central Valley of California, a warm and lush appellation. Also, more southern than Napa and Sonoma, with a warmer climate. Zinfandel vines in Lodi are some of the very oldest in California. Wines from these grapes are usually juicy and approachable. (See a pattern in the smoother, juicier texture of wines from this part of California?) Our Rusina Zin is a full bodied wine, with raspberry jam, toasted oak and hints of black pepper in it. These grapes are also destemmed, and fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. The different lots of grapes are fermented separately from each other, and barrel aged separately also. Twenty percent American oak barrels are used and give the finished, blended wine cola and clove flavors. Eighty percent French barrels enhance the tannins, the finesse of the wine and nice, round vanilla notes. Two yays!
And, finally, we come to our Rusina Symposia. The red colored label. “Symposia” is the plural of “symposium.” We usually use the word “symposium” to mean a meeting or conference to discuss or study a certain topic. If we back up a bit, the word “symposia” comes from the Ancient Greek and meant a drinking party, followed by the evening meal. It would have had only men attending, and included songs, and games and entertainers. (Women, I believe, were included as the entertainers.) After the Greeks, the Ancient Romans adopted the same word for themselves. (My thinking is they adopted the whole drinking party idea and just used the same basic name for it.) But, another digression. So, our Symposia wine is a blend of Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi Zinfandel, Lodi Petit Sirah and a splash of Monterey Syrah. Each variety is picked, destemmed and fermented by itself. Yes, in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. By making each variety into its own wine, there is more control over how the blended wine turns out in the end. The separate wines are also aged in oak, averages being thirty percent in American and seventy percent in French. This wine’s flavors include rich berries (blackberry, raspberry, strawberry), toasty oak, with its clove and vanilla, and pink peppercorns. Its textures are round and lush feeling in our mouths. Three yays!
And, there is our modern day Rusina. Not a goddess of the fields, but a wine from specific fields (vineyards). The philosophy at Rusina is to grow each variety where it can show its flavors and textures well, and then to make each wine so that we, the drinkers, get exactly that in our glasses. And, now, we are in a position to understand and enjoy these wines for what they are. Because they have not come from Napa or Sonoma, we gain one more advantage with them, as well. Coming from more southern parts of California, the prices on our three Rusina wines does not have to pay for vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. And we win again. These are great wines at everyday prices. Each is $11.99. So, try them all. With each, think of other wines in this price range. Compare. Savor. Choose a favorite. If you can. Or if you need. But, enjoy.