Palazzo Della Torre

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Beep, Beep!  Hello it’s Griffy in his Canary yellow Fiat 500 convertible.  Hop in, we on our way to Verona, Vapolicella, Italy, the “Valley of many Cellars.”
 
Palazzo Della Torre is a beautiful example of the wines from this area.  It’s made from a blend of 70% Corvina Veron, 25% of Rundinella, and 5% Sangiovese.  This is a wonderfully tasty wine, with flavors of dark cherries and plums, a full-bodied experience your palate will long remember.
 
The wine is made from a method called “Ripasso”, the grapes are harvested and 70% are vilified right away.  The other 30% are allow to dry until they look like raisins.  Not totally dry like raisins, but about 60% of the moisture is allow to dry away.  The fresh wine from these grapes is then blended with the fermenting juice of the dried grapes, which triggers a second fermentation yielding a very tasty, complex wine that is just so good.  Let’s pull into the Allegrini Vineyard and have some.
 
The Allegrini family has been making wine here in Fumane di Valpolicella since 1858.  They call Palazzo Della Torre the “Baby Amarone”, the more accurate description might be the affordable Amarone.
 
Amarone, which in Italian means “the great bitter,” is blended of Corvina 40% to 70%, Rondinella 20% to 40% and Molinara 5% to 25%.  After harvest all the grapes are allow to dry, the process is called Appassimento, “to dry,” or Rasinate, “to shrivel.”  This allows the sugars to concentrate and increase.  The juice also stays in contact with the skins, increasing the intensity of the color and the flavor of the wine.  Back in the day, this processes used to occur on straw mats in sealed barns.  Today, the process is done in stainless steel drying chambers.
This yields a raisiny full body, with little acid and an off-the-charts alcohol level.  Then typically the wine is aged for 5 years.
 
Lots of things can (and do) go wrong in this process, which is why your typical Amarone wine has a lofty $80 retail price.  That’s why I say that Palazzo Dalla Torre, at $20 a bottle, is a delicious yet cost-effective alternative.
 
Before we get back into the Fiat, let’s talk about one more wine made here in Valpolicella.  It’s made with the promace left over from making the Amarone wine, and is called Ripasso Valpolicella.  Ripasso means to  “repass.”  In this process they pour the Valpolicella blend wine through the promace from making the Amarnone.  This adds color and complexity to the Valpolicella and cuts its bitterness.
 
Before we leave Verona let’s take a look at its history.  Wine history here goes back, like all over Italy, to the Greeks.  But its war and politics that really got wine production going here.  War between the Venetian Republic and the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century caused frequent blockades of Venetian ports, cutting the supply of wine from the Greek Isles.  Unacceptable! So, enterprising Venetians pushed into the hills of Verona, and with a little ingenuity and a strong profit motive, the rest is history!
 
 

Wine Odyssey

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I’m doing research for my upcoming vacation to the Western Mediterranean.  So many things I want to see, so much I want to learn about, and yes, most of it revolves around wine.  In fact, if I am not careful this trip will turn into a wine odyssey. 
 
My trip begins in Rome, which is in Lazio Providence, and is home primarily to white wines.  So, let’s start the trip like a diner with an aperitif of Fontana Candida’s Frascati Superiote Terre dei Grifi for about $13 a bottle.  As you might have guessed, I love the name.
 
IMG_0550Next stop is Florence, where I’ll be following the plot of Dan Brown’s Inferno.  But it’s also Tuscany, home of Chianti, which I think is Italy’s best-known, least-understood, and most under-appreciated wines.  I just finished a bottle of $6 Chianti that I loved.  For the most part a $6 bottle of wine gives you a wet tongue and a bad hang over, but this wine was really enjoyable.  I plan to delve deeper into Chianti in a future blog, however if you want to take an early spin try Straccali 2011 for about $10, rated 89 by Wine Spectator.
 
IMG_0539Two other stops on the trip will be Provence, France and Valencia, Spain.  These just happen to be the home towns of the Mourvedre grapes for their respective countries.  I’m excited about taking on this grape on its home terroir.  If you want to try a great domestic Mourvedre try Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre for around $18 from California.  I recently enjoyed this wine out by the fire pit with an Olivia G series cigar and it was fantastic.
 
This trip will mark my first time in Sardinia, Italy.  Sardinia is Italy’s Wild West; rugged and remote, it boasts of some of the highest longevity rates in Europe and the world.  The trend is linked, some say, to the local wine Cannonau.  While there, I will be visiting the Argiolas Vineyard.  Sardinia until the 1700’s was ruled by Spain, so many of the local wines are more at home in Spain than in Italy.  The Island’s main stay wine is Cannonau, also known as Garnacha.  If you want to try a bottle, I suggest Costera from Argiolas, a wonderful blend of Cannonau, Carignano and Bovale.
 
Onto my spiritual home of Sicily.  There are no vineyards for me here, so instead I’m going to see the Greek ruins.  But I do hope to acquire a bottle of Nero d’Avola, and I’d suggest you find a bottle of Cusumanos for about $12 and try this wine for yourself.  Other Sicilian stand outs are the vineyards of Planeta, COS, or anything from Mount Etna.  My personal favorite is Tenute delle Terre Nere’s Etna, rated a 90 by Wine Spectator for about $25.
 
Last stop on our Wine Odyssey is Campania, home of Italy’s second largest city, Naples.  It’s also the home of Aglianico, the red grape sometimes called the Barolo of the south.  It’s also where the winner of this year’s Great White Wine hunt, Donnachiara Fiano, is grown. 
 
The big news is that the Mastroberardino Family, the leading producer of Aglianico wine in Campania, has replanted the vineyards at Pompeii and is producing a wine called Villa dei Misteri from those grapes in the exact locations where those vineyards were located on that fateful day in 79 AD when Vesuvius buried the city alive.
 
I hope you can feel the excitement I’m feeling for this trip.  I also hope you try some of the wines I’ve suggested here.  They are not expensive or hard to fine and very similar wines should be available everywhere.  I can’t wait to write about these places.
 
 

Wine Cellar Confession

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Recently, well, if you read Griffy on Wine regularly, you would have seen how happy I was to have my big, bad, 80-bottle capacity wine cellar full to the brim.  And I was…WAS being the operative word.
 
The next day I conducted an inventory of the cellar.  I’m glad I did, and what an insightful effort this was.  It turned out I actually had 85 bottles of wine so I was 5 over capacity.  Yay me!  I also learned I had 13 bottles past prime.  Wow, 15% of my pride and joy was “PLUNK”!  So for today, I have a couple of wine lessons I have unfortunately had to learn the hard way.  
 
I know pride goeth before a fall but how could I have let this happen?  In my case, 13 bottles of wine got lost in the shuffle of storage and aging.  Lesson one,  keep a real-time inventory.  Putting together an inventory list of your collection, logging in and logging out every bottle, and making sure you have a drink-by date will help ensure none of your bottles go by the wayside.
 
Lesson Two: Conspicuous Consumption.  Why do I have 85 bottles of wine?  When I started drinking wine aging was the time between buying the bottle and driving home.  Now, I know I have wine I purchased over a year ago just sitting there in the basement.  Only about 5% of all wines made are made to age, and few to none are in my price range so it begs the question, “what was I thinking?”  Be aware of your wines, specifically whether they can survive the test of time, and keep a glass at the ready in the event they can’t.
 
Lesson Three: Be mindful about your wine.  Actually, be mindful about everything.  I’m 60 years old, the last time I checked I was 21, what the hell happened to 40 years?  Life!  It is true that I checked in from time to time, but I still feel that I was pretty much on auto pilot for long stretches of  time.   Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans but I really wished I’d had respected mine more. 
 
The same goes for your wine,  have a better  reason for buying that bottle than a pretty label. Have a purpose for handing over the cash. Is it a new varietal you wanted to explore or a new interpretation of an old favorite? New wine maker you find interesting? Have a reason do some home work then go ahead and spend the money. Buying wine just to have it, well, seems mindless not to mention soulless. I know I’ll pay more attention to this going forward.
 
For the longest time my battle cry was, “better wine, not more wine,” and my Wine Cellar experience confirms this logic to me.  Do I really need wine at diner every night?  Well that depends on what you are drinking for.  For me it’s the experience of the wine, so think about it, what wine pairs best with leftovers?  Some do great, some make the leftovers bearable.  The point I’m trying to make is I only need about 156 bottles of the “right” wine to satisfy my annual drinking requirements, then what am I doing with a half year supply on the shelf?  Being a thinking man sure makes me thirsty.
 
Now 156 bottles still leaves a lot of room for adventure provide you haven’t got 80 bottles already purchased, that only leaves 80 bottles for the imagination.  Never fear, I still have some interesting stuff within date to share with you on Griffy on Wine.  Anyone want a wine rack?

The Sicilyan Wines

This is the story!

Diario del Vino

Sicilia

Sicilia has more vineyards than any other region in Italy; it also grows more grapes. Granted, the vast majority of those vineyards raise grapes for marsala, the sweet and dry fortified wine that’s produced in the seaside town of the same name. But in recent years, there’s been a lot of excitement around Sicilia’s regular red and white wines, as producers of bulk wines have started focusing on the quality of their own bottles.

Palermo

Sicilia is an autonomous region of Italy, and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. At its widest point, between Messina and Marsala, the island measures 175 miles (280km) east to west, and about one third that distance north to south. Its roughly triangular shape led the island to be dubbed Trinacria (the triangle) during the Middle Ages, and is reflected in the triskelion (a motif with three protrusions) at the center of the regional flag.

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Hooray for Zinfandel

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I’m struggling to kick this story off.  I want to say Zinfandel is the All-American wine, and I can make a very strong case for that statement. But, for me I still would prefer to give than moniker to Norton, because in my heart, that wine is THE All-American wine.
 
However, Zinfandel has been an American wine since the 1820’s, about the same time Norton was first being developed and grown for wine production.  The oldest Zinfandel vines in the world are here in America, accounting for about 12% of wine production in the United States.  So, if Zinfandel is not the All-American Wine, then how about we call it the Horatio Alger of wine, an immigrant kid becomes great success story?
 
Like just about everything in America, Zinfandel arrived in States as an immigrant, from a nursery in Vienna to a nursery in Boston.  By 1835, Zinfandel was a popular table grape being grown in nearly every corner of the Northeastern United States.  Massachusetts still grows and produces Zinfandel grapes and wine.  Then they tax it to death.
 
The roots (pardon the pun) of Zinfandel go back to Croatia, where it is known as Crijenak Kastelanski, a name guaranteed not to lead to commercial success.  In the 1700’s, the grape had moved to the heal of Italy where today it enjoys great success under the name of Primitivo. Primitivo in Italian means primitive, a label most likely given to the grape because it ripens early.  I’ve also been told it means, first life, most likely for the same reason.
 
Where the name Zinfandel comes from, no one really knows.  It starts showing up in Boston produce records in the 1830’s and grows to be in records all over the Northeast.  It first appears in records in California in the 1860’s.
 
Zinfandel moved to California with the 1849 gold rush, just like so many Americans.  The reasoning was clear: miners wanted a good, substantial drink and growers wanted a vine that produced easy-to-grow, healthy, and plentiful fruit.  They both got what they wanted with Zinfandel.
 
Now some of you are saying, “Griffy isn’t Cabernet Sauvignon the king of wines in America?”  It is king in terms of production and recognition, but its spiritual home is Bordeaux.  For Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, their home is Burgundy, and for Rieslings it’s along the Rhine River in Germany.  For Zinfandel the world looks to Lodi California.  It’s here where the oldest vines are growing, where the traditions for growing the grapes and making the wine developed, and where they are still evolving.  Like it or not, Zinfandel is America’s native contribution to the international world of wine.
 
I love Zinfandel.  One of the many reasons is there are so many interpretations of this grape.  You want an Old World taste?  Try a Primitivo.  Looking for a modern slant?  Try Cigar Box Zin.  For this review, I went old school, old vine, Mendocino County California, the 2008 Wild Thing!
 
When I say old school, I mean traditional, not out of date.  The wine maker is Carol Shelton, and she would starch me even balder than I am if she heard me say or write it, but she’s old school, having worked with and for the likes of Andre Tchelistcheff and Robert Mondavi.  With Wild Thing she has produced a Zinfandel for the ages, or at least the last 20 years.
 
The color is the dark, dark purple of Zinfandel.  On the nose we get the signature aroma of black cherry and raspberries. You can taste plumbs, black cherries, raspberries, and a hint of vanilla all sliding towards a “welcome home where you been” finish.  I’ve had a creamery zin before, but at twice the price of Wild Thing.
 
The wine is a blend, kind of, 83% Zinfandel, 13% Carignan, 2% Petite Sirah, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s aged for 24 months in oak.
 
Back to the Horatio Alger side of the story; most wine drinkers I know don’t take Zinfandel seriously.  Why?  Because when they hear the name Zinfandel, their minds go to SUTTER HOME WHITE Zinfandel and they run screaming from the room.  If you have ever had this very popular with the ladies wine, you will know what I’m talking about.  It’s abundantly sweet, in fact I would describe it as unbearably sweet, and they’ve sold tankers of it.
 
That’s not the Zinfandel I am so passionate about.  I’m telling you, Zinfandel is an extremely rewarding wine experience that you can enjoy from California for about half the price of a California Cab.  Seriously try it!