The Holiday season in the Griffy family begins on Halloween and runs non-stop through to the Super Bowl. That’s because of a preponderance of birthdays in November, December, January and February. What can I say, we take Valentine’s Day seriously!
Oh, and lest we forget you can toss in celebrations for the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays too!
So since my jump into wine, this time of year has become the most Winefull time of the year, and to be honest I’m having a blast!
We’ve talked about the Fox Run Cabernet Franc–very tasty–but there’s been more. For my Birthday dinner I served a great Melbec, Ascencion. Now, some will hate me and some will think well of me and most will think “ah so what,” but Ascencion is from the Wall Street Journal wine club, a subject we will talk about in a future blog. But my guests all agree Ascencion was a good wine. It’s from one of Argentina’s oldest vineyards, and one of the highest too, sitting 3784 feet above sea level, in the town of Salta. So you could say this was a Malbec with “Altitude”! It’s dark color, black fruit flavor, soft tannins, and hint of smoke and chocolate left me telling my son-in-law that I hoped the glass would never end. It did eventually, but the memory lingers.
Now moving onto my grandson’s birthday, where I served Mongrana by Agricola Querciabella. This is a Wine Spectator’s number 80 for 2013’s Top 100 Wines, but I bought it back in September because my friend Mario told me it was a great wine. Bingo! This is from Tuscany but it is not a Chianti. The Mongrana is a Tuscan blend of 50% Sangiovses, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Merlot. If my math is correct, that makes it 100% delicious! If I had a case I could have sold every bottle. If you can find it, buy it and enjoy.
At the Company’s Year End Celebration where my co-worker is the planner, you know wine would be involved. After all I am a powerful and influential member of the electronics community! One of the wines served was A to Z’s Wineworks. This is a celebrity wine, number 55 on this year’s Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines. Wineworks is a Pinot Noir and it was very good, I wish I had purchased this wine for Thanksgiving. Hailing from Willamette Valley, one of my co-workers came up to me and said he had been concerned because the good Pinot’s come from Dundee, but this Pinot was good.
At three nieces and a nephew’s birthday party we had a Marogne Valpolicella Ripassp by Zeni. This was like drinking a dark purple velvet, so smooooth! I’ve described in depth the Valpolicella Ripasso method of making wine in past blogs. If you haven’t tried a Vapolicella wine, what are you waiting for? Seriously this wine goes great with roasts. Or if you are a hunter you can’t miss with a venison steak, and I know at least four of you that have got deer recently, so I’ll bring the wine!
What’s on deck? Well, there’s a Luce di Lave Enta Rose which is a blend of two varietals I’ve never tried, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccion. A homemade Ararone, also a Valpolicella. A Quilcede Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. A Casanova di Neri, and who knows what else.
Let me tell you it’s good to be me!
There I was just sitting minding my own business, reading my Wine Spectator magazine, and what should my wondering eyes behold but a story about the bestselling imported Cabernet Franc in Belgium. Turns out it’s from a vineyard on Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, Fox Run Vineyards. Bells and whistles started going off in my brain.
Belgium is not a wine power house by any means, however, one wine they do pretty well is Cabernet Franc. They also have a wine culture. Something I have learned from talking with other bloggers who are trying to build an import or export wine business in a country that has a wine culture is that it is a very difficult thing to do. Locals will simply drink local wines. They always have, they know the good producers, and they are generally less expensive than imported wines. So, this Cab Franc must be pretty good to gather a following in Belgium.
The second bell that was ringing reminded me that I have contacts, “friends” who live in upstate New York who travel frequently back and forth from Connecticut, so this wine was obtainable. So we have a unique wine which I can get my hands on, and it just so happens that I love Cabernet Franc, wow a trifecta!
Still, more research was required. Fox Run turns out to be one of the best wineries on the East Coast. That’s according to Carlo DeVito’s Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia East Cost Wineries. The vineyard is owned by Scott Osborn, who made his bones working on vineyards in Long Island. The winemaker is Peter Bell, and their team has produced several award-winning wines, including an outstanding Pinot Noir and several Rieslings. By the way, I’d compare a Riesling from the Finger Lakes Region in New York to any Riesling made anywhere in the world. If you can find them, try them, they are that good.
Another tumbler clicks into place.
I phoned a close friend and asked them to get me a bottle of the Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, which they did. Now as you know, I am a man who loves a bargain, and oh my god was the wine super affordable. I ended up getting a noteworthy wine from a award winning vineyard for about the same cost as a big factory wine. BAM!
Next, I needed to arrange transportation. 4th Quarter Business Reviews are scheduled and my wine has a ride home in my boss’s car, this is getting better and better. Dashing though the season’s first Nor’easter, Joe delivers my wine. But wait, there’s more!
My care-package from the frozen tundra of Rochester also includes a Cabernet Franc from the Billsboro Winery. Billsboro is owned by Dr. Robert “Bob” Pool, who is a VIP in the Finger Lakes Region. He is in charge of vine management and research for the state of New York and makes some outstanding wine of his own when he is not teaching at Cornell University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Also included were two bottles of homemade wine; an Amarone Red and a Super Tuscan. Everything arrived just in time for my birthday!
I’m happier than a bar fly in a Lees pile! You can’t build a wine addiction like mine without many enablers, God bless them.
Oh, speaking of the wine, the Belgians are right, this is a really good wine. The color is a classic rich red. There is a slight European nose, no fruit bomb here, just warmth and comfort, which is nice on a winter’s night. Take a sip and you’re met with a mouth full of berries in a French style, a kiss on the lips not a slap on the side of your head. You can definitely taste the oak. The finish is nice and dry, and I love a dry wine.
I want to visit this vineyard, maybe next fall, as they list a few other wines I want to try. Lemberger for example. You hear the name and, if you;re like me, I bet your thinking cheese, and cheese would go well with this wine; a signature red of Germany. They also have a wine called Sable which they call a “soft red” and a Meritage red blend. They also have a Gewurztraminer I would like to try.
This is all great fun for me. It’s very cool to experience a local vineyard giving an Upstate New York interpretation to Northern European red wines and doing a great job of it. And to my friends who enable me to be the Lovable Little Fuzz Ball Wine Blogger.
It was Helen Keller who wrote, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” I’ve never viewed my life as an adventure–more of a combination of Greek Tragedy and a Devine Comedy–but there is something in my spirit that leads me every year to head out on Griffy’s Great Adventure.
Enlightenment comes in surprising, simple moments on these trips. For example: dinner on our ship was late every day on our last cruise, so to calm the savage hearts of us passengers the cruise director gave tickets for a glass a of champagne. Now as an experienced wine critic I know the best wines are the wines you don’t pay for, so I partook of this offer every chance they gave me.
Each night at the same bar, seeking that evening’s “spirit” of adventure, I got to know the bar tender. One night he said, “you know what drink you’d enjoy?” which I think was his subtle hint hint to stop drinking the free crap and buy something, “a sidecar!”
What’s a side car? It is two parts Cognac, one part Cointreau, and one part lemon juice. It was named for an American Captain in the First World War who would be driven to a local bistro in a motorcycle with a side car so frequently the locals called him “side car,” and the name stuck to the drink he had every night. I tried one and I now have a new cocktail.
Cognac is interesting stuff. It’s not a wine but it is made from grapes. It takes its name from the town of Cognac in France and it is in the Brandy family. Despite it’s French heritage, the drink was actually invented by the Dutch, and like most things French is a host of contradictions. The wine that forms as a base is so bad it’s virtually undrinkable. It’s made from the grape ugni blanc, which the locals call St. Emilion and has nothing to do with the wine district in Bordeaux. Why? Because it’s France, that’s why!
So the Dutch were trading the French for salt, which they sold to the English, so as always it is all about business and commerce. They sampled the wine, and it was so bad the Dutch decided the only recourse was to burn this crap and sell it to the English! The process of “burning” today we call Distillation, and before my relatives down in Kentucky claim they invented that, that distinction belongs to the Egyptians, who were using this process from 3000 B.C.E. to make perfume. The Dutch called the product “brandewijn,” or burnt wine. To the surprise of everyone the English and other Northern Europeans liked it, started buying it en masse, and the rest is history!
Like in the case of Chianti, there are different grades of Cognac. First there is V.S., or Very Special, which makes me smile because this is the base model, the new stuff, stored for about two years. It’s “special” all right! V.S.O.P., the Very Special Old Pale its aged at least four years in wooden casks, but most of the time longer than four years. This is the cognac of masses. My son got a bottle from his sister-in-law that he loved. The X.O., or Extra Old, is now where we’re talking expensive. Stored at minimum for six years, though most for 20 or more years, these are exceptional bottles. In 2016, the French Government will require a cognac to be aged for a minimum of 10 years to be labeled X.O.
There is also Vielle Reserve or Hor d’age, cognacs that have been aged beyond the X.O. levels and can cost over $3,000 a bottle. Expect to pay between $100 to $200 a bottle for a top Cognac. Courvoisier’s Succession JL sells for more than $3,700 a bottle.
Unlike wine Cognac is expected to be consistent in taste year after year, and most don’t carry a vintage date. They achieve this by blending. A cognac two years or older would be eligible for blending, however most manufactures blend far longer some over 30 to 60 years. These old cognacs are called “ranico.”
Cognac is stored upright, don’t lay them down on their sides like you would a bottle of wine. Why? Cognac has a high alcohol content, usually 40% plus, and that alcohol can “rot the cork,” causing an unpleasant aroma. An open bottle of Cognac will last about a year. Take small sips not big ones to enjoy the taste. If you’re more prone to gulp, drink vodka! A serving is about 1 to 2 ounces, and please don’t fall for the Hollywood crap of heating the glass over a flame. Simply warm it with you hand, as the extra warmth will release the cognac’s aroma and flavor.
This Christmas treat yourself to an adventure and try Cognac.