Will work for Wine

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Before wine took over my life my interests included politics, economics, and taxes.  I’m still very passionate about all three subjects and they are easy to follow because they are all related.  My wife was happy when I began tuning down the politics, as I was (and still am from time to time) volatile at dinner parties when politics get discussed.  But this time of year, March to April 15th, is one of my favorite times of year because I enjoy doing taxes.  Yeah, I know I’m a nut case.
 
I still do about 10 peoples’ taxes a year, down from about 50, comprised mostly of family and friends.  It’s fun for the most part, sometimes a little scary, especially when I call them on the phone and tell them, “You owe…”  Doing taxes is a window into someone’s financial soul it’s very interesting to see how a person thinks financially about their world.
 
This year, after being told they’ll get a nice refund, one longtime client rewarded my “labors” with a bottle of wine Stonestreet Merlot 2005.  Now, my favorite wine is the one that didn’t cost me anything, but oh baby, this was a great bottle of wine!
 
The color was a pleasing deep reddish-purple.  The hook for me on this wine was the nose.  I loved it.  It’s not your typical Merlot; stronger, more like a Cabernet than a Merlot.  The taste was excellent: deep, slightly tannic (dry), with deep red fruits that were very tasty, and with a nice lingering finish.  I find merlot’s a bit “soft”, but not this one this had spice and fire of a Syrah or Zinfandel.  The winemaker did an outstanding job of bring out the intensity of the Merlot grape displaying more muscle and flavor in this wine than in most other Merlots I’ve drank. 
 
Now if just enjoying a great glass of wine isn’t enough reason to go out and get a bottle of Stonestreet, let me give you some tax reasons to drink.  The average American needs to work until April 17th to pay their combined Federal, State, and Local taxes.  That’s 29.2% of your income.  Think about that.  If you are lucky to live in Texas your Tax Freedom date is April 11th (nice job guys, wish I was there.)  In California, you skip free on April 20th.  For my buddy in Washington you’re off the hook April 24th.  Massachusetts, you get emancipated April 22nd, Illinois gets off the treadmill on April 23rd, while New York and New Jersey are free on May 1st.  But here in Connecticut, we’re number one, we’re number one; we have to work to May 5th to enjoy the people’s socialist workers paradise.  Remember this the next time you vote.  Now, where’s that bottle of wine!
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Colonia Las Liebres

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For those who best like my posts when I recommend a $10 wine for being outstanding, fire up your printers because this week’s wine is a winner!  This wine has everything I look for–Character, Uniqueness, Insight–and at a great value.

Las Liebres is from Mendoza, Argentina, the Napa Valley of Argentina.  The grape is 100% Bonarda.  If you have never heard of it, you’re not alone as I had not either.  There are four distinct red grape varieties that use the name Bonarda.  Three are from Northern Italy, the oldest being from Piedmont and is now very near extinction, but at one time this grape rivaled Barbera and Nebbiolo in fame.  Most of the plantings were wiped out in the 1880’s phylloxera epidemic.  The second calls Croatia home and is used in a sparkling wine called Olterpo Pavese.  The third is called Uva Rara, and is now key in red wines around Pavia.  The majority of Bonarda are grown in Argentina, where it is also called Charbono, and is often blended with the other Argentinian mainstay wine, Malbec.

The color is a red purple hue; the nose is a very nice red and black fruit, which gives the wine an outstanding first impression.  On the palate, Las Liebres is fresh and lively, with silky-smooth finish.  This wine receives no oak treatment, so it shows the fine taste of Bonarda grape in it’s purest expression.  Simply put: this is a great wine.

Las Liebres was a top pick by Wine Spectator in July of 2012 and has been in my cellar for months, so I don’t know how many of the 10,000 cases produced remain, but at $10 a bottle I know I’ll be looking for more.

Just in time for March Madness, here’s your Griffy on Wine salute to the NCAA Basketball Tournament with some wine news near and dear to the hearts of us folks in Connecticut.  

Along with his seven NCAA Championships with the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team and a Gold medal win in the 2012 London Olympics, head coach Geno Auriemma is a successful wine entrepreneur.  He released his first line of wines in 2009, and Wine Spectator is reporting that Coach Auriemma’s newest line of Italian wines, made in partnership with Wines by Design and by 47 Anno Domini vineyards in Italy’s Veneto region, is set for release.

The new wines will include a Prosecco, a 2012 Pinot Grigio, a 2010 Puglia Rosso and a 2008 Cabernet – Merlot blend.  These wines will join Geno’s already established cast of Nero D’Avola, Pinot Noir and a Pinot Grigio.

Along with wine, Mr. Aurienmma also owns a restaurant called “Fastbreak” located at the Mohegan Casino in Uncastville, Connecticuit.

The #1 seeded UConn Lady Huskies kick off their 2013 tournament run today at 1:35 pm against Idaho. Best of luck to Auriemma’s team, restaurant, and wines.

 

Jim Barrett 1927 – 2013

                Will you join with me tonight in lifting a toast in Celebration of the life of Jim Barrett.   Jim passed away last Thursday March 14th, he was 86.

                Jim was an icon in the wine industry and owner of Chateau Montelena in California.  Jim shot to fame in 1976 when his 1973 Chardonnay beat the best of the French wines in the Famous Judgment of Paris.  You can see his life fictionalized in the Movie “Bottle Shock”, or read the real story in George Taber’s book “Judgment of Paris”.  Jim helped put California forever on the world’s wine map, but more importantly he helped open the world to the possibilities of making fine wines.

In Jim’s own words “Not bad for kids from the sticks”.

               

Mollydooker “The Boxer”

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Mollydooker “The Boxer”

So, I think I can guess your first question: what’s a Mollydooker?  Mollydooker is Australian slang for a left handed person.  If you know any Australians, then you know they are fun people, both very engaging and vivacious. So are their wines.  Vivacious is an excellent word to describe Aussie wines.  One of my favorites was “Clancy,” which I reviewed a while ago and, if I can find it, I will repost.  But more recently it’s the Mollydooker series of wines have absolutely got my attention.  

Mollydooker has a concept that is new to me; they’ve trademarked what is known as the Marquis Fruit Weight.  The vineyard prides itself on its WOW factor, they want to gauge the wine’s ability to make people go “Wow, this is amazing!”  Fruit Weight is defined as the percentage of your palate from the tip of your tongue to the back of your throat that is covered by the velvety sensation of fruit, before you experience any of the structural components of the wine.  I have no idea what that means and there is a 3 minute video that tries to explain it on the Mollydooker website.  Whether it’s marketing b.s. or a serious wine term, I have no idea, but the quality of the wine speaks for itself.

“The Boxer” is a big-fisted Shiraz.  If you can, buy two bottles, one to drink now, and the other to drink sometime in 2014, because this wine needs time to mellow a little.  If you only buy one and plan to drink right away, it would be best to decanter or aerate.  The wine is aged for 11 months in American oak.  The color is a beautiful, inky-dark purple, and the nose is full of black fruit.  Despite the fruity nose, the taste is less of a fruit bomb than I expected, but it’s still a fruit bomb nonetheless.  If you like your wine have an understated elegance, better pass on this one.  If you like your wine full-bodied and about 16% alcohol, welcome home.  The finish is sweet and extremely enjoyable.  I was thinking that drinking this wine is like playing rugby in the mud with a bunch of very good friends.  Not the most elegant way of describing a wine, but it fits.  This wine was a blast, I loved it and I can’t wait for my next bottle!

For fun visit the Mollydooker website at www.MollydookerWines.com.  Trust me, you’ll enjoy it.

On a side note, my study of wine has brought a very good book to my attention.  Written by Paul Lukacs “Inventing Wine” is a history on how wine has changed from a food source to a source of spiritual significance over the last 8,000 years.  If you can give this book a try and enjoy a very fascinating and entertaining tale.

Rhone Ranger

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I want to be a Rhone Ranger, drinking wines with excitement and pleasure…
 
Wine is fascinating, and this week my fascination has brought me to investigate Rhone-style wines.  The Rhone is a river that runs through southern France, and the Rhone river valley is the home of numerous wines under a number of various Appellations, the major one being Cotes du Rhone.  The area is generally divided into two sub-regions: Northern Rhone (Rhone septentrional) and Southern Rhone (Rhone meridional).
 
The history of the Rhone valley is long and cloudy at best.  Wines have been produced here since around 600 B.C., with the chief grape being Syrah.  Some say it was the Greeks who brought the grape to the Rhone valley from the Persian city of Shiraz.  My relatives say the grape came from the Sicilian city of Syracuse.  My own investigation leads me to believe there is truth to both stories, but that Syrah may have originated in the Rhone region itself.  DNA testing and my research for my last story shows Syrah is the great-grandchild of the Pinot Noir grape.  Regardless of origin, when the Romans exited the Rhone river valley, so to did the area’s interest in wine.  It wouldn’t be until the 13th century when the Pope moved to Avignon that wine production again took off in the region.
 
In the North, Syrah is the only red wine that is permitted and is generally blended with white wines like Viognier or Marsanne.  The big gun AOC in the North is the “Hermitage,” a steep hill overlooking the Rhone River.  The South is home to the famous Chateauenuf-du-Pape, a blend of 13 wines (eight red, 5 white).  The rules in the South allow blending of Syrah with other reds; Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault.  This blend is sometimes called GSM for Grenache (for fruit), Syrah (for dark color and spice) and Mourveder (tannin and body).  Now, you may have heard the terms Right Bank and Left Bank in relation to Rhone wines.  Well, depending on what side of the Rhone River you are standing on, there are different styles and flavor.   The wines from the Left bank are more full bodied, with rich tannins.  Wines from the Right bank are slightly lighter and fruitier.
 
Enter the Rhone Rangers.  This was–and now is again–a group of American winemakers, mostly located in California, who banded together to promote wines containing at least 75% of the 22 Rhone grape varieties, especially Syrah.  For those of us who love Zinfandel, we have our own organization called Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP).  To get an idea of how eccentric the Rhone Rangers are, check out Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards, or read his book “Been Doon so Long.”  But for a real eye-opener, try some of his wines (Big House or Cardinal Zin).
 
For the rest of us, being a Rhone Ranger is more of a state of mind; we simply love the wine.  For this edition I’ve selected Famille Perrin Cotes Du Rhone Reserve ($13).  I picked this wine for a number of reasons.  First, it was recommended by a co-worker, my very own Rhone Ranger, who we lovingly refer to as “The Sheriff.”  The Perrin family had already piqued my interest, as they are in the news for adopting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who will be producing a wine called Cotes de Provence 2012 rose which will be a joint venture with Chateau Miraval.  Brangelina aside, the vineyard is also famous for its other celebrity wines.  “Pink Floyd” rose is made here and the “The Wall” was recorded at Le Studio de Miraval in 2008.  Other famous names who have recorded at the winery are rock star and Tuscan vintner Sting, along with Sade, the Cranberries and the Gypsy Kings.
 
The wine is a classic Cotes du Rhone, fruity with slight tannins and a beautiful, deep ruby color.  The nose was a light by my standards, but still enjoyable while the finish was quick, soft, and very well balanced.  The blend was a traditional GSM 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre.  Vinification takes place in stainless steel and oak, and aging lasts three months.  If I was the wine maker I would have cut back on the Grenache and added more Syrah for more body, but that’s why they make the big bucks and why no one asks me.  This is a great everyday drinker for those who want to drink every day.  This wine is a great value and a sure-fire crowd pleaser to bring to any diner that includes pork, lamb, light beef, and poultry.  The Perrin paired well with my beef stew.
 

Wine’s Eden

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Where is wines Eden?
 
And on the eighth day, God opened a bottle of Yquem, enjoyed the beautiful color, breathed in the wonderful nose, sipped, slurped, savored the fantastic wine and said, IT IS GOOD.  My apologies to Biblical scholars everywhere, but the question begs to be asked: where was the first wine appellation?
 
Join me as we search for wine’s Eden.
 
From what I found in my research, humanity’s long history of cultivating grapes for wine may have begun in southeast Anatolia, in modern day Turkey.  Other possible birthplaces for viticulture are in Transcaucasia – in what is now Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.  This area, which includes Anatolia, is known as the Fertile Crescent; the place where history shows humans first domesticated wild grains, became farmers and settled down form our nomadic wanderings.
 
Using DNA testing scientist Jose Vouillamoz compared DNA profiles of different grape varieties and found a dense concentration of similarities between wild and cultivated grapes in Anatolia.  Evidence suggests that grapevines were once abundant in the Fertile Crescent region.  The question then becomes: if wild grapes were so abundant why plant vines, why not just gather the wild grapes?  Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.  Wild grapes are not easy pickings, at least not the good ones.  Wild vines climb trees, making the grapes hard for humans to reach, yet easy for birds and other wildlife.  Our ancestor’s knuckles may have dragged on the ground, but they were smart enough to know it’s easier to get grapes if they are at shoulder level rather than 40 feet in the air.
 
Excavating ancient dumps in Anatolia has unearthed vessels, clearly intended for liquids that date back to 9000 BC (wonder if Rudy Kurniawan has any of that vintage for sale).  Scientists speculate that wine production most likely began sometime between 8,000 and 6,000 BC.
 
Most of the Western European grapes that we know and love were introduced independently from somewhere from the Middle East, Egypt, Turkey or Greece at different times and in different places.  They were only a few, about 13, and they are known as the “founders”.  These “founders” and their decedents are what we cultivate and enjoy today.  All 13 either originated, or are descended from, grapes cultivated in southeast Anatolia, from what were local wild grapes.  The 13 “founder” grapes are the Pinot Noir, Gouais Blanc, Savagnin, Cabernet Franc, Mondeuse, Noire, Garganega, Nebbilol, Teroldego, Lugienga, Muscat Blanc a Petis Grains, Cayetana Blanca, Reze and Tribidrag. 
 
As the wine began to flow, there emerged a need to store it.  The first wine bottle–and when I say wine bottle I mean a container that chemical analysis has shown to have a residue that contains the chemical compound found in wine–was found in Iran.  That bottle dates back to somewhere around 5400 to 5000 BC.  Most likely a bottle purchased at a wine tasting event held at a casino in Anatolia.