Musto Carmelitano Serra Del Prete


Helen Keller said, “Life is either an adventure or it’s nothing at all.”  Although I’ve never seen my life as an adventure, I do see wine as one.  Today’s wine, Musto Camelitano Serra Del Prete, is an adventure all its own, and one I hope you decide to take.
Like every wine I write about there’s a story.  I learned of the Musto Camelitano Serra Del Prete through an e-mail ad from a wine store near where my daughter lives.  The hook for me was the grape: Aglianico (pronounced) “ahl-YAH-nee-koe” (it is good to live with a beautiful Italian woman who can read the labels for me.)  Aglianico del Vulture is considered one of the best wines of Italy, right up there with Nebbiolo, the noble grape of the north that produces Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont.  A wine that is as good as a Barolo for $19, oh baby let the adventure begin!
The Aglianico grape came to Southern Italy like almost all the wines of the region, from Greece.  Some say the name is a corruption of vitis hellencia, Latin for “Greek Wine.”  My money is on the possibility that it’s a corruption of Apulianicum, the Latin name for Southern Italy in Roman times.  In ancient Rome Aglianico was the principal grape of the famous Falernian wines that I’ve talked about before.  The truth is most likely the first story because the grape was called “Ellenico,” the Italian word for “Greek,” until the 15th century when it acquired its current name.
The grape is most-widely cultivated in Basilicata Italy (I dare you to find that on a map!)  Here’s where the adventure comes in.  I’ve become a aficionado of Southern Italian wines.  My first adventure with Southern Italian wine came from my adopted homeland of Sicily, then to the very attractive and history-rich Puglia, and now Basilicata.  That’s over 470 miles of journeying through Southern Italy I’ve drank through.  Basilicata is so unknown that even most Italians don’t know where to find it.  So to help: if Puglia is the heal on the boot kicking the football of Sicily and Campania is the toe, Basilicata is the ankle, or roughly halfway between Puglia and Salerno on a map.  If I ever get the chance to get back to Sicily for and extended stay I’m renting a Fiat, which are built in Basilicata, and driving Campania, Basilicata, and Puglia to enjoy wine all along the trip.  One stop will be Castle of Melfi the other the town of Sere Del Prete.
The wine is deep red in color, I would say ruby, but that’s a little over-worked.  The nose is calming, almost like a good old-fashioned candy store, one that sells a lot of licorice.  The taste when you first open is very tart with aggressive tannins, so you will need to let this one breath a little.  Decanter and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes and it will be less of a slap in the face, and then you can savor the majesty the Musto has to offer.  No matter what you do you’ll have a powerful wine in your hands, so I’d pair this with some equally powerful food and let the magic happen.  The wine softens and mellows both the food and itself.  I had mine with tacos, very spicy homemade tacos, and both tasted better together than apart.
The vineyard is on the eastern slops of Monte Vulture, an old volcano which provides excellent soil for growing wine.  The wine is 100% Agloanico, aged for 6 months in stainless steel barrels, cement refined for 6 months, and then spends at least 4 months in the bottle.
Gambero Rosso has rated this wine as “TRE BICCHINE,” or three glasses, but you can do much better than that.  My bottle was a 2009, the same year rated by Gambero Rosso, and it tasted very young.  I would love the opportunity to get another bottle, cellar it for two years, and revisit.  I’d be willing to bet it would be even more wonderful than the first!
Take the adventure, explore Southern Italian wines, and I promise you will not be sorry. I leave you with this toast: “Here’s to cold nights, warm friends, and a good drink to give them.”

Casanovia De Neri Brunello di Montalcino


It’s all Mario’s fault!
There was a time not long ago that I thought Italy only made one wine, Chianti, and that the really good ones came in a wicker basket.  The first step is always admitting you have a problem, I was young and naive, and since then I’ve come a long way thanks in no small part to Mario’s tutelage!
It was at Mario’s wine shop that not only Italian wines, but the rest of the world’s wines were opened up to me, in some cases quite literally.  I learned about Sangiovese, Barbera, Barolo, Nero d’Avola and of course, Brunello.  It was down in the cellar of Mario’s shop that I got my first taste of Brunello di Montalcino.  I remember it was a Biondi-Santi and it was the best thing I ever tasted.  This is just one of many wine adventures with Mario.  With his battle cry of “John, you had a heart attack, you don’t have time for cheap wine” ringing in my ears, I purchased the Casanovia di Neri, Burnello di Montalcino for my birthday. 
I found a great deal, so far off book price had to be a mistake, but that’s a win for me.  The vineyard Casanova di Neri is one of the best known in the world.  It has three vineyards in prestigious subsumes; the lower Sesta zone on the southern slop; the onyx quarry at Castelnuovo dell’Abate’s northern side and the Cerretalto vineyard in the red earth badlands of the great eastern part of Montalcino.
I’d like to take a moment to mention the passing of Franco Biondi-Santi, who left the world on April 12th 2013.  He was 91 and it was his grandfather who invented Burnello di Montalcino.  The Biondi-Santi family has been making the wine since 1888.
Before we get to the wine we need to ask what makes a Brunello a Brunello?  There’s only one place in the world you can get a Brunello di Montalcino and that is from Italy, in the Tuscany wine region about 80 miles south of Florence, in the town of Montalcino.  Brunello is a diminutive of Bruno, a male given name that means “brown.”  I’ll go into greater detail later, but you can see that in the color of the wine.  It was thought that the Brunello grape was an individual grape verity grown in Montalcion, but DNA testing has proven that the grape is in fact Sangiovese.
The first records of “Burnello” were from the early 14th century.  Burnello has been of interest to wine drinkers ever since.  In the mid-19th century a revolution is wine making occurred, as wine makers in France, Spain, Germany and Italy were determined to take wine to a higher level of quality and taste.  A local farmer named Clemente Santi isolated certain plantings of Sangiovese vines to produce a wine that could be aged for an extremely long time.  In 1888 his grandson Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, a soilder who had fought with Giuseppe Garibaldi during the Risorgimento, produced the first modern version of Brunello di Montalcino, a wine that could be aged for a decade in large wood barrels.  The rest is, as they say, history!
By 1945 there had been only four vintages of Burnello: 1888, 1891, 1925, and 1945.  The only guy making it was Biondi-Santi. By 1960 there we 11 producers, in 1970 there were 25, in 1980 it had blossomed to 53 producers, and by 2000 there were 200 producers of Brunello wines.  Mostly they were small farmers and family estates, but they were producing about 330,000 cases a year.  To get an idea of what that means in the wine business, Gallo alone makes 77 million cases of wine a year.  Gallo is the second to Constellation Brands, in the very heart of wine making territory, Victor, NY,  which is the largest.
Why did Casanova di Neri blend wine from three different vineyards to make this wine?  Montalcino sits on a mountain about 1850 feet above sea level.  The north side gets less sunlight and is cooler; the grapes ripen more slowly and therefor produce a racier, more aromatic wine.  The south side gets more sun and more maritime winds, so these grapes produce a wine with a more powerful flavor and complexity.  The top producers blend wines from both sides.
Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese.  The wine goes through a long maceration period where the color and flavor is extracted from the skins.  Following fermentation, the wine is aged in oak for 3 years.  Then the wine is aged in bottles, 50 months for regular Brunello, 62 months for riserva.  Break these rules and you could be sent to jail where you can age for up to six years.
Okay, now I’m thirsty, lets talk about the wine!
The color is brick red, almost rusty, and dark.  Hence why we get the name “Bruno” or “Brown.”  The nose is expressive, full of plums.  The flavor…simply wow…now I know why people seek and pay big money for aged wines.  The flavor of this wine is smooth, soft and so pleasing.  I tasted tart cherries, plums and raspberries.  The finish was long with flowers and spices.  By Brunello standards this was still a “young wine” not expect to reach maturity until 2020.  I wanted to replace this bottle, was told the 2005 has been sold out and was no longer available.
For me this was an experience.  I would love to drink wine like this all the time but I simply can’t afford to.  Nor can I wait 10 years for a wine to age to a point of perfection.  See Mario, “I don’t have time to drink expensive wine!”
To the 1,000 of you who helped drive my passion thus far, and those I hope are still to come, I dedicate this post to you.  Thank you again for your kindness and support.

Dinastia Vivanco, Crianza 2008


Dinastian Vivanco’s marketing team obviously was designed to get my attention, as I think I would have bought this wine if, for nothing else, because I love the bottle.  It’s modeled after a typical bottle of 18th century Spain, very elegant.
But it isn’t just the packaging that makes the Crianza 2008 so noteworthy.  On Wine Spectators Top 100 list for 2011, Crianza is a wonderfully tasty wine at about $18 a bottle that pulls a 90 rating from both Spectator and The Wine Advocate.  It’s a great Rioja that you can cellar and enjoy for 5 to 10 years. 
The wine is 100% Tempranillo and aged for 16 months in French and American oak before getting bottle aged for an additional six months.  The nose has a classic cigar box fragrance mixed with cinnamon.  The wine is delicious, with soft tannins and very light acidity.  Don’t hesitate to put the bottle right on the table as you are not going to need to decanter.  A very balanced red-fruit taste culminates with a nice long finish.  The Crianza 2008 will light up the table with a beautiful red color. 
I got curious and decided to find out what “Crianza” actually means.  Rioja, it turns out, has four categories.  The youngest is just “Rioja,” which is aged less than a year.  “Crianza” is aged two years, minimum, in oak.  “Rioja Reserva” is aged three years and “Rioja Gran Reserva” is aged two years in oak and three in the bottle.
This was a great sipping wine for the an evening with cheese and crackers.  Unfortunately for me, I was sipping it while the Patriots were losing their Super Bowl bid to the Ravens.  While the game left a sour taste in my mouth, I’ll remember the wine fondly.  I will also be on the lookout for more, because this wine was a great value.
Well, the votes are in and Griffy on Wine did cross the 1,000 views milestone.  The winner is Casanovia di Neri Burnello di Montalciino.  What really made the week special was hearing from some readers, it was a ton of fun to talk about some of the wines you hold special and get some great suggestions for future stories.  Any time you have a question or suggestion send it to me at

Griffy Hits 1,000


The next few days are going to be exciting.  Girffy on Wine will shortly be hitting our first milestone of 1,000 views!  The Blog is about 6 months old and it’s been very gratifying to see at least 1,000 people think I’ve got something to say, and I thank you all for your support.
So, in honor of the occasion, I am proud to announce the first Griffy on Wine poll challenge.  I’ve picked four wines from my cellar to review, and I want you, the readers, to choose which I will drink to celebrate the blog’s first benchmark accomplishment.
The choices are:
Casanovia di Neri Burnello di Montalcino 2008
Fattoria Del Barbi orelline di Scansano 2008
Quilceda Creek  Cabernet Savuignon 2009
Lapostolle Canto de Apalta 2010
( If you happen to have a bottle of Mouton Rothschild Vinfolio 1929, feel free to send that and to hell with voting!)
To vote, either comment on this post or email me at  I’ll give you until Saturday, April 13 to vote.  The winning wine will be announced in the next blog, with the review to come the following week. 
Any time you’d like to ask me a question please feel free to send it along.  Thanks again for sharing in my passion of wine!

Chateau Poitevin


Warren Buffett once said that, “Price is what you pay, and value is what you get!”  This week continues our trend of value wines with Chateau Poitevin.
The Chateau Poitevin Medoc 2010 is hard to find in Connecticut, but easy to find just about everywhere else, so my local readers shouldn’t worry too much.  My bottle comes from Upstate New York courtesy of some co-workers who help feed my passion for wine; Thank You Wendy and Eric!
Before we get into the wine, let’s talk a little about the word Chateau.  If you walk down the French wine aisle, you would think France is covered in little Mc-Mansions called “Chateaus.”  That’s because just about every bottle is from le Chateau something or other!  Well, what can I tell you, is Chateau means something completely different to the French than to us, they are  French after all.  When we think “Chateau” we imagine a fancy old mansion, maybe in Bordeaux.  The French think only of the land where the grapes are grown and the wine that comes from it.  
The term got going in the 1800’s and is part of the long evolution of wine, from what was considered nectar from the Gods to what it is today a multi-billion dollar industry.  But the advent of “Chateaus” marks a very important point in wine history, when people started to take notice of where the wine was coming from, who was making it, and its history or “providence.”  The development of this providence provides for a classification of wines in 1855 that divided Bordeaux wines to a list of 58 red wines assigned to separate tiers.  There were four premier crus, or first growths, twelve second growths, fourteen third growths, eleven fourth growths and seventeen fifth growths. Remarkably, in 158 years, the list is virtually the same.
Medoc, where today’s wine hails from, was a swamp in 1240 when they started making wine there.  Until the 19th century, there were no bottles, no corks, and to put it bluntly, the wine sucked.  Wine went bad very quickly, especially drier varieties.  Dry wines were the wines of the ordinary people.  Kings, nobles, cardinals and Popes drank sweet wines made with almost raisin grapes, mostly because they tasted better, lasted longer, and, as a result, were very expensive.  Medoc was near the Atlantic and close to its major market, England, so they made wine to be shipped quickly before it spoiled. 
Around 1677 people started to notice that wine from the Medoc region lasted longer and had a better taste than others.  In 1750, with the development of bottles, corks and a new method of fermentation called chaptalization, in addition to adding sulfur, wine costs dropped. The wine was getting better and cheaper, and the best came from the Medoc region.  Then in 1855, with the advent of the Chateau and crus ratings (another Medoc invention) we have the birth of modern wine.  The next development made in Medoc was barrel-aging.  So, throughout its history, Bordeaux–in particular the Medoc region–has been on the cutting edge of wine evolution for almost 800 years.
So for $15 retail you can pour 800 years of wine history into your glass and enjoy.  First, the color–a beautiful deep purple–and the nose is textbook Medoc: violets.  I could smell my mother’s violets intwined with dark fruit.  The blend is 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot aged 14 months in 30% new oak.  The taste is marvelous, nice cherry and ripe fruit with vanilla.  For $15 you can get a wine that not only could, but should be cellared for 3 to 5 years and enjoyed more each time you pull a cork. I would recommend decentering for one hour. Chateau Poitevin is an exceptional vintage, and superb value.  Buy soon, this will sell out!