The House of Dionysus

The joke around the office is, “A life of wine, Women and Song has caught up to Griffy, so he has to stop singing.” It’s true, too soon we get old, too late we get wise.

I think my first love is pretty well established, but today I want to talk about my other passion in life: travel.

In mid-October I departed on a cruise from Rome to Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, a bonus week in Sicily was added. It was a great trip and a perfect opportunity to combine my two loves of wine and travel.

One of the places I visited was Paphos Cyprus. Now, there are many interesting things to see around Paphos. There is Perta tou Romiou, the mythical birth place of Aphphrodite the Greek goddess of love and beauty, which really caught my attention. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, she was born when Cronus cut off Uranus’ genitals (I know Too Much Information) and threw them into the sea, and from the sea foam (aphros) arose Aphrodite. The cult of Aphphrodite made Paphos a very important place in Greco-Roman times.

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So, around 2 to 4 AD some enterprising member of the wealthy class built a beautiful villa with fantastic mosaics with sense of Greek mythology mostly featuring Dionyus, the Greek god of the grape harvest or the god of wine! Dionysus is also known as Bacchus. This beautiful place is now known as the House of Dionysus.

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Back in it’s day this house would have been around 2,000 square feet with about 40 rooms. They used mosaics like we use rugs for decoration with the added advanage that mosaics last 2,000 years, try that with wall to wall carpeting! You can click on the pictures to make them bigger then click on back to return to the post.

The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons
The Victory of Dionysus that's me on the right!
The Victory of Dionysus that’s me on the right!

The best mosaic is in the Dinning Room it shows many mythical adventures of Dionysus and is called the “Victory of Dionysus”.

So why am I putting this in a wine blog? Because wine has been an intergual part human history for 6,000 years. The history of wine is the history of man kind, with limited bloodshed. Anyone who knows their history will known their wines. I encourge you to read more about Dionysus and the amazing parelles between him and Jesus.

Cypruss is a old wine country experiencing a resurgance in wine production with new world technogly. Currenlty they are the worlds 37th largest producer of wine. For a little island nation that’s pretty impressive. Soon we will be enjoying good qualtiy wine from Cypress and Dionysus will dance again!

I leave you with one of the most famous mosaics at the site “Ganymede being taken back to Olympus by an Egale.

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Guado San Leo

IMG_0278[1]I’m taking a brief break from Wine Spectators Top 100 to explore a wine from Puglia (Apulia), Italy .

What do you know of Puglia ? Don’t worry; I didn’t know much about this area either. All I knew of Puglia was that Primitivo, an Italian Zinfandel which is one of my favorite wines, was from there, but not much more.

Puglia is the “high heal” of the Italian boot, on the southeast coast of Italy along the Adriatic Sea . The area is known for many of the same reasons for exploring as does great wine: Character, Uniqueness, Insight, and Value. It’s also one of the richest archaeological areas of Italy . Remember Hannibal and the elephants? That battle, the battle of Cannae, was fought in Puglia . Emperor Frederick II, the most powerful leader of the Holy Roman Empire (and a Sicilian), lived in Puglia at Castel del Monte. Frederick was also the King of Jerusalem. Not bad for a kid from Palermo !

Well you know me, once I read about someplace I have to try the wine.

The wine is called Guado San Leo from the Vineyard D’Alfonso Del Sordo. The grape is Uva di Troia [OO-vah dee TROY-uh], a red wine grape variety grown in the Italian region of Puglia , particularly in the coastal areas around Barletta in the Province of Bari . The name probably derives from the town of Troia in the Province of Foggia , whose legendary founder was the Greek hero, Diomedes, who destroyed ancient Troy . The name is sometimes translated “Grape of Troy” for an association with ancient Greece , but most claim that “Troia” actually means “lady of the night” in the sailors’ slang of Bari , Puglia ‘s seaport city.

Legend ascribes its colonization to this hero of the Trojan War, the founder of many towns in Puglia . Diomede, a castaway sailing across the Adriatic Sea, discovered the mouth of the Ofanto River . Sailing upstream until he found an ideal place to settle, he used the stones from the walls Troy as ballast, for boundary stones, to mark the territory that he named “Campi Diomedei.” One of these stones can still be admired between Barletta and Canosa and is known as the Menhir of Canne Della Battaglia. But stones likely weren’t the only plunder Diomedes brought with him from the sacking of Troy .

The story goes that vine shoots planted on the banks of the Ofanto gave rise to the Troia Grapes. This is the legend that also echoes in some recent ampelographers works. One report, which also names the synonyms of the Troia grapes (Vitigno di Canosa, Tranese, Black of Troia, Troiano, Uva di Barletta, Uva della Marina), describe it as “native to Troia and imported to Apulia by the ancient Greeks,” (S. Del Gaudio, L. Ciasca, “Principali vitigni da vino coltivati in Italia”, Vol. I, Conegliano 1960.) A wine born from Greek heroes, now this I had to try.

The color is elegant deep ruby with purple highlights. The bouquet is pleasant, with moderate berry fruit and a hint of spice. On the palate the taste is ample and quite smooth, with rich cherry prune fruit supported by warm, slightly tannic acidity and warmth. Finally, smooth-dry tannins flow into a clean, fresh, dry tannic finish. This had to have been one of the most balanced wines I have ever enjoyed. This is a full body wine, so pair with beef and game dishes. I enjoyed mine with a great beef stew.

My advice is to give this wine a try. Lift a toast to Diomedes, Hannibal and Fredrick II, and enjoy a taste of history in a glass.

Donnachiara

IMG_0274[2]I’m attempting to drink my way through as many of Wine Spectators top 100 wines of 2012 as I can. Today I found myself enjoying Donnachiara Aglianico Irpinia 2008 a $20 super value wine from Italy and number 100 on the list!
I find this wine so interesting because its made for 100% Aglianico grapes. Aglianico pronounced roughly “ahl-YAH-nee-koe” is a black grape grown in the Campania region of Italy. This wine is nicknamed “the Barolo of the Southern Italy”. The name Apulianicum was the name for all of southern Italy in ancient Rome. During this period, it was the principal grape of the famous Falernian wine, the Roman equivalent of a first-growth Bordeaux wine today. Falernian wine was a subject of one of my early blogs and I’ll repost that story. So I’m getting a kick out of drinking wine that Roman Senators from 120 BC would be familiar with.
Well, that’s why I drink wine, history in a glass.
This wine has a stunning display of character and is not for the faint of heart. The wine has a great ruby red color. The bouquet is full, complex and intense inviting you to drink. The taste was full favor, warm and elegant. This wine has an excellent refined finish. Everything comes together in this wine making it a pleasure to drink. Some may wish to Decanter, I found the wine enjoyable right from the start.
Wine maker Chiara Petitto should be very proud of this wine. Like a good Falernian wine it comes from 30 year old vines on hillside vineyards from the province of Irpinia which is just west of Naples. “Bacchus amat colles” — “Bacchus loves hills”. The wine is fermented in stainless steel, and then aged in French oak for 6 months. I’d start looking now for this wine, only 1,600 cases were made. Alcohol content is 13.5%. I found my bottle at Center Street Wine and Spirits in Wallingford Connecticut.

Falermian

Img0140If you were a God, Emperor, or nouveau rich, you’d be drinking Falernian, or maybe a fake, it was the cult wine of 121 BC.

Our image of ancient Roman drinking—bloated patricians, slurry sophists and jezebels washing down coarse wine from jars—is only part of the story. Ample evidence exists that ancient Rome had a fine wine culture much like today’s, with prestige regions, cult wines and a love of bold, rich styles meant to be aged for decades. Within this rarefied wine community, one wine stood above the rest, the toast of poets and senators alike.

The origins of Falernian wine are the stuff of legend. The story goes that an old Roman farmer (that would be Falernus) eked a humble existence from the soil of Mt. Massico, about 30 miles north of Naples, when one day he was visited by Bacchus in disguise. Falernus prepared him a simple meal, and in gratitude for the hospitality, the god of wine caused the cups at the table to fill. When a hungover Falernus awoke the next day, Bacchus was gone, and the whole mountain was blanketed with healthy vines.

Probably a varietal wine made from a grape the Romans called Aminea Gemina, Falernian was grown in three vineyards on the slopes of Mt. Massico. (Today, the area encompasses the Falerno del Massico DOC, where the primary grapes grown are Falanghina, Aglianico and Piedirosso.)

Numerous “domaines” held stakes in the three vineyards, but the one midway up the Massican slope was considered to have the best terroir, and it was, at least for a time, owned by one man, named Faustus—think Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and the La Romanée-Conti and La Tâche grands crus.

If the partitioning of the vineyards mirrored a Burgundian system, the hype surrounding Falernian was all Bordeaux. Falernian from 121 B.C. (the vintage of a lifetime!) was celebrated for decades; multiple ancient sources mention having the chance to taste the wine 200 years after its vintage date. (Writing in the first century, Pliny the Elder acknowledges that the wine was a bit past its peak by then.) Gaius Trimalchio, the new-money buffoon of Petronius’ comedy Satyricon, acts the big shot when he serves this vintage—by this time 180-year-old vinegar—at a dinner party.

As Falernian became a byword for luxury, inevitably, the demand for it spurred spurious “Falernians” into the market, another ancient practice still alive today. On one tavern wall preserved at Pompeii, the wine list can be seen: “For one as [a unit of currency; a loaf of bread cost two] you can drink wine; for two, you can drink the best; for four, you can drink Falernian.” This is suspicious, though, the equivalent of your local Sizzler pouring Pétrus.

What was this wine like? Author, philosopher and polymath Pliny identified three types of Falernian—“the rough, the sweet and the thin.” Falernian may have been either white or red—or both, we don’t know. Some people believe Aminea could either be today’s Greco di Tufo (a white) or Aglianico (a red), but so far no one has extracted ancient grape DNA to conclusively identify it.

However, says Dr. Patrick McGovern, author of Ancient Wine and Uncorking the Past, “Roman writings seem to point toward white being more special, which is interesting because white grapes represent a mutation that occurs relatively infrequently.”

The grapes were harvested late and, like many ancient wines, left to dry before being fermented to 15 or 16 percent alcohol—though the Romans cut their wines with water when drinking. The Vin Santo and Amarone we drink today are made much the same way.

“These ancient techniques really stand the test of time,” says McGovern, scientific director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory. “When you read these [wine] treatises from the Roman period, it’s almost like you’re reading a modern handbook on viticulture. They follow a lot of the same principles we do of trying to train the vines to grow in certain ways, protecting them from the sun or getting them enough sun, plus managing watering and irrigation issues.”

Falernian likewise stood the test of time, ranking among Rome’s top wines for at least five centuries, through the vagaries of many emperors’ tastes. Not every regent preferred Falernian, though; some even rolled their eyes at the hype. Marcus Aurelius, an emperor who usually shrugged at the finer things, kept a sense of perspective about this luxury: After all, he wrote, even “Falernian wine is just juice from a bunch of grapes.”

Descendientes de J. Palacios

IMG_0270[1]Wine Spectators list of the Top 100 wines for 2012 is out and the mad scramble to drink as many of these wines as you can afford is on. Surprisingly many of these wines are very affordable.

My first acquisition was number 57 on the list Descendientes de J. Palacios.

The wine maker is Alvaro Palacios who is a leader in the modern era of Spanish wine. It’s from the Bierzo region in the North West portion of Spain. The grape is Mencia, which is completely new to me. It tastes like a lite version of Cabernet Franc to me. The wine is from 60 year old vines and was aged in French oak for 10 months. The wine has an alcohol level of 14% but is very well hid.

I had great expectations for this wine, having driven to New York to buy, not a drop of it could be found in Connecticut. At first I was disappointed. The wine had great color. However, only a slight nose, what there was, is good, but you really had to work to find it. Flavor was good as I said reminded me of a very lite Cabernet Franc. I have found Spanish wines to be like that, lighter than say French or Italian wines of the same style. No finish that I could detect.

I was going to say the wine lacked Character until it hit me, this wine is like Evan Taylor the young musical prodigy in the movie August Rush. Easy to ignore when you first meet it, but then genius comes out. The uniqueness of the wine really does remind me of Evan, plain, ordinary, until he plays music. The wine is the same, if you just drink it, it’s a pleasant enough experience, but give it a little time and the genius of Alvaro Palacios comes out.

The Mencia grape adds a new dimension to my wine experience. I would defiantly look for other wines made from this grape.

With 50,000 cases of this wine made it should be easier to find than it was. Look for this one early because I think it will soon be gone. Decanter or open several hours or a day before you plan to drink. The wine really tasted better the second day.

Questions

If I have said this once I’ve said it a thousand times, “the quality of your life is determined by the quality of the questions you ask.” Simply put, the better questions you ask, the better your life will be!

This is true for wine too. The better questions you ask of your wine, the better your wine experience will be. I’m thankful to Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator Magazine for bringing this to my attention.

Most of us ask only one question of our wine: does it taste good? Matt refers to this as the Hedonistic group. I call this group the “unplug and glug gang” of which I was a card carrying member. Now I know there’s more, much more, to the enjoyment of wine.

Let the interrogation begin!

1) Does the wine have Character?

-Let’s face it, if the wine doesn’t taste good the interview is over. Pour it into the sink, pass the diet Coke! If the first reaction “ah so what” then the wine probably lacks character, it’s a commodity. On the other hand, if you get a sensation of “wow, did you taste the …, ooh I love the nose, man I’ll get another bottle of this,” then you have a wine with Character.

2) Is the wine Unique?

-This is a hard question to ask, especially if you’re a novice. I’ve only been drinking wine seriously for a year, but even I have noticed some wines are unique. For example: Clancy’s is like nothing I’ve ever had before, Boggel Essential red is very different, and Bruenello Di Montalcino may be the best wine in the world. For me, these distinctive wines answered the question in the affirmative.

3) Is the wine a “knockoff?”

-It’s a fact of the industry that wine makers like to copy styles. This is a hard question even for Robert Parker; as a reviewer if he likes big “fruit bomb” wines, wine makers make more fruit bomb wines. Look at the Cabernet Sauvignon section at you wine store. How big is it? Now ask yourself, are they all unique or do you think someone had grape envy and tried to copy “the leader”. Modern wine making technology makes this fairly easy, that’s why Question #1 is so important. If you have a nagging sense you’ve had this wine before, then you’re probably on to something. Look for the original.

4) Does the wine offer insight?

-Do you find yourself saying, “I had no idea a taste could come from nature like this,” remember, you’re drinking earth, water, sunshine and time. If you get that feeling, turn in your unplug and glug card, you’ve graduated! A wine that can tell you something about the mysteries of nature the French call “terroir,” and it’s an experience like no other. This is why I love drinking wine. Asking a wine to give you insight is the highest demand you can make. A great wine will answer you.

5) Does the wine evolve?

-Strange question I know but wine does evolve. Ever open a bottle one day and finish it the next? My experience has been that the wine in, most cases, tastes better the second day, it has evolved! The cliché goes, “wine gets better with age,” and as I always say the older I get, the better I like it!

6) Do I want more of this wine?

-If your wine meets all of the above requirements, then most likely the answer will be yes.

7) Was the wine worth the money I paid for it?

-I told my son that, as I have come to appreciate more and more about wine, it’s hard to determine whether it’s worth the extra money to get a pricey great bottle of wine when there are so many very good bottles at a reasonable price. If you bought a wine that has character, was unique, wasn’t a knockoff, offered insight, evolved with time, and left you wanting more, then obviously I’d say yes it was worth it. That being said I have felt at times like I had over paid for the experience, while other times I felt like I should have waited, saved my money, and bought a better wine.

Drinking wine has become one of the great pleasures of my life. Reading about wine, and experimenting with food parings and tasting wine groups add a great deal of joy to me. I only have so many sips left; I want them to be memorable, and to be shared with people I love.