Three From Texas

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If I had to pick a state where I would like to live it would be Texas. I love Texas; no-nonsense but unfailingly polite people with a get-it-done attitude and Faith and Family First beliefs.  You don’t need to spend a whole lot of time figuring a Texan out.  Unsurprisingly, that attitude seems to come through in their wine too.
 
If you don’t know, Texas is the 5th largest wine-producing state in the country, behind only California, Washington, Oregon and New York.  The one name that you may have heard of from the Lone Star State is Becker Vineyards.  Becker began when Dr. Richard and Bunny Becker were out looking for a log cabin summer home in the Texas Hill Country outside San Antonio.  They found their dream cabin in 1990, which came with 46 acres of land.  Both Beckers were happy gardeners.  Planting their first vines in 1992, they yielded their first harvest in 1995 which led to a 1500 bottle a year vineyard.  Today, Becker Vineyards produces 100,000 bottles annually, with a thriving bed and breakfast and wedding venue.
 
Becker is best known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, however I decided to try the Merlot instead.  It had the muscle and beef of a Cabernet, with rich flavors of plumbs and cinnamon.  Normally I’m not a big fan of Merlots, but in this case I enjoyed the wine.
 
The second Texan wine was a complete surprise to me.  Leave it to Griffy to find an Italian wine in the wild west, because at McPherson Cellars you can find a Sangiovese.  It happens that the High Plains area of the Texas panhandle is pretty good for growing Tuscan wines.  The McPhersons have been growing wines in Texas for 40 years and were the first to plant Italian wines in Texas.
 
The wine was as good as any Chianti I’ve ever tasted.  The color wasn’t as dark as a traditional Italian, but the taste as spot on.  This Sangiovese had the distinct flavor of berries–most prominently raspberries and blackberries–and the berry aroma blended nicely with the subtle tones of leather. I want to try there DBS blend,  it’s a blend of Dolcetto (56%), Babera (29%), and Sangiovese (15%), which made this wine an absolute winner to me.
 
The third and last wine from my Trilogy of Texas comes from the town of Lubbock, which is located in the Texas High Plains.  This blend is perfect for you Rhone Rangers out there: Tempranillo blended with Mourvedre and Carignan.  Popping the cork you are met with a nose that opens with cranberry and vanilla.  The taste is full-bodied and heavy in cherry and spice.
 
While sampling my wines, I got a chance to look through Dr. Russell D. Kane’s “The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine.”  This is one that I definitely intend to buy, as there are many stories in the book that sound very interesting.  One in-particular that caught my attention where a scientist from El Paso saved the French from the 1800’s Phylloxera epidemic.  There is also a story about the Mustang Grape (vitas mustangeusis) which sounds like it is the Poison Ivy of grapes.  I can’t wait to read about it all!
 
So as I fly over Arkansas and Tennessee on my way back to Connecticut, I look forward to my next visit to Texas, where I plan to continue my wine travels.  If you get the chance to try a Texas wine, do it!  Wine after all, like travel, is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, so have a glass and expand your horizons.

The Prisoner 2012

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Back in the late 60’s when I was just a lad, there was a TV show that I loved called “The Prisoner.”  Those were heady times: the Cold War was at its chilliest with the Cuban Missile crisis fresh in everyone’s mind.  It also was the era of Sean Connery, who pioneered the secret agent genre with hits like James Bond, I-Spy, Man from Uncle and Get Smart!
 
If you don’t remember the show, it was about a unnamed British Spy, played by Patrick McGoohan, who storms into M6’s office and violently resigns.  He happily drives home in a spiffy sports car and starts packing to leave his apartment when suddenly someone sticks an umbrella into the keyhole of his apartment door, filling the room with knockout gas.   He wakes up in a little seaside town known only as “the village”.  He is assigned a number (Number 6) and the next 17 episodes are of him trying to escape the village by getting around Rover, a menacing giant red beach ball that provides security for the village, and outsmarting his nemesis, Number 2. 2 was trying to find out why 6 had quit while 6 tried to find out where he was and what government he was up against.  The underlying theme of the show was individualism versus collectivism.
 
Back then I wanted Number 6 to get out, foil the agency that had imprisoned him, beat the bad guys, stick it to the man with his “up yours” attitude, and make the world safe.  Come on I was 13, I still had hope.
 
 Today 60 year old Griffy would invite number 2 over for dinner, open a bottle of Brunello Di Montalcino, swap old spy stories, and discuss how we could get Rover to pick up litter and respond to my Life alert bracelet in case I had a medical emergency.  And If I had to choose between escape or staying in the village, I’d grab a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a picnic basket and peddle my bike down to the beach to watch the Millennial’s play tag with Rover while the gulls fly overhead.
 
So, why this trip down TV Land Lane?  This week we are taking about Dave Phinney’s The Prisoner.  While I think my vision of the Prisoner is better than the poor bastard in chains on the bottle’s label, let me tell you he at least has the honor of being the poster boy for a very good wine.  In fact, The Prisoner is the most sought after domestic wine in America.  This blend made Phinney a rock star debuting in 2003 and became such a huge success that he sold the franchise to Huneeus Vineyards for $40 million in 2010.  Our bottle is 2012, the last year Dave had a hand in making the wine.  No suffering here at all, just solid comfort in captivity. 
 
The wine pours a  nearly opaque deep purple, and the nose is an understated elegance of dark fruit.  I expected a bulldozer based on the wines ingredients: 46% Zinfandel, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Pette Sirah, 12% Syrah and a dash of Charbono.  I got a well-behaved heavy weight in a great-fitting suit with a nice finish.  All in all, the Prisoner was a well-balanced, and just plain a lot of fun, wine to drink.
 
The wine is pricy by my standards, so naturally I’m very happy to have received the wine as a gift from my son and daughter-in-law so I didn’t have to spend the cash to have enjoyed it.  The real winner here is Dave Phinney though, he’s the star, not the wine.  The Prisoner is excellent, but it’s in the rear view mirror now and Dave has moved onto other creations.  I’m most interested in his Locations series of wines; blends from Spain, France and Italy that are half the price of Prisoner.  With talent like his, it may not stay that way for long!

Two Buck Chuck!

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If you are lucky enough to live in a “Progressive “ state, one where you can actually buy your wine and cheese in the same store, I envy you.  Unfortunately, you can’t do that in Connecticut, it’s illegal.  Those of you out there who live in such glorious states may know about Trader Joe’s and some of the unbelievable wine deals you can find there.  
 
I hope you get the opportunity to visit a Trader Joe’s and experience it.   If you already have, then you know what I’m talking about.  It’s effectively a wine store that grew into a supermarket, according to one employee I talked too.  A manager told me that is not exactly true; it was more like a 7-Eleven on steroids.  The company was started by Joe Coulombe in 1967.  An environment friendly company, about 80% of the products they sell are their own private label.  They pay above minimum wage, around $10 to $12 an hour, and today are owned by the German company Aldi.
 
Joe’s is the exclusive retailer of Charles Shaw vineyards ,and yes at one time you could get a decent bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for $1.99!  Hence the name Two Buck Chuck.  The price has risen over the years so now they just call it Up Chuck, but don’t laugh, you could pay $25 a bottle and not get wine as good.
 
Their method is to go and taste a vineyards wine, and if they like it they buy the whole production of that vineyard.  They taste over 100,000 different wines, mostly submitted by California and New World vineyards.  Most of these come from what management describes as, “pretty desperate vintners.”  The majority are not wonderful and subsequently rejected.  However, some are pretty good, and they get national distribution, or at least as far as their production will allow.  This means some wines that would never get a chance get to see the light of day get the exposure to a large number of wine drinkers, and of course, the income to grow and improve.
 
My bottle of Four Buck Chuck comes from Italy.  Come on tell me you’re surprised.  You’re going to love the name: Grifone, no kidding!  It’s a Primitivo from Puglia.  Primitivo is Zinfandel, which as you know is one of my favorite wines, and let me tell for $3.99 a bottle you would have no need to hang your head in shame.  This was a solid, good-tasting wine.  
 
The color was a deep, deep red with blue hues, indicating a young wine.  The freshly poured glass gave off inviting scents of red berries.  As I said, the taste was great.  Maybe not as spicy or as strong of tannins as a more expensive Zin, but for four bucks this was a totally enjoyable bottle of wine.  The only place you can get this wine is at the vineyard in Italy or Trader Joe’s, but I bet they are sold out!

ST. Laurent Vom Steinfeld 2006

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Most of life’s best experiences happen completely by accident, and in the case of this week’s wine we have a completely incidental pleasure.  The most perplexing question with this wine right now is where the hell did it come from?  I don’t remember where I purchased it, or why for that matter.  I’m not a casual wine buyer, my purchases are pretty specific and purposefully done, so I usually don’t buy a wine I don’t have a reason to buy.  I need an answer to this very important question because, well, it’s a damn good wine and I’d like more!
 
The varietal is St. Laurent, and if you’ve heard of it you’re a better wine man than me.  It’s a member of the Pinot Noir clan.  This bottle hales from Austria and is a surprisingly good red from a country known for its whites.
 
Pouring from the bottle is a dark, almost black-purple drink with the scent plumb.  I loved the nose, but just as quickly as it entranced my sense of smell, it faded.  The taste was a silky dark cherry, combined with a hint of cigar smoke, and ending with a nice finish.  What you have here is a great, well-balanced, elegant wine that is worth whatever the hell I paid for it!  I read in the reviews that this is an age-worthy wine, and my bottle is from 2006 so I whole heartily agree, although my bottle gave it’s full measure in one sitting.
 
The vineyard is Johanneshof Reinisch; wow that name just flows off the tongue doesn’t it?  It’s located about 30km south of Vienna and has been producing wine since 1923.  Ratings on this wine range from a low of 85 to a high of 90 points, well worth a hunt to find.  And lo and behold, I have found where I got my bottle, Mount Carmel Wine and Spirits in Hamden, CT.  The reviews have listed a cost of around $20 for this wine, but my receipt says I paid $8!  Good deal Griffy!
 
I had a fling with beer,
A Passionate affair with Cognac.
But, the love of my glass is wine!

“Pursuit of Happiness” follow on

The USDA has declared a “crop disaster” for vineyards located in the counties of Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Oswego, Yates, Allegany, Cortland, Erie, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tomp­kins, Wayne and Wyoming New York.
 
This declaration will allow winemakers to apply for aid from an emergency loan program to rebuild crops destroyed by record low temperatures seen this winter due to the “Polar Vortex”.  Temperatures were, on average, 40 degrees colder than normal.
 
The result is that most vineyards have experienced bud loss of 50% or more, and according to report in the New York Post, damages in the Finger Lakes region could exceed 75% to 90%.
 
Upstate New York is home to 900 vineyards which contribute around $830 million to the state’s economy.  The financial assistance program covers up to 65% of the cost of replanting, and 50% of the cost for pruning and vine removal.
 
Let’s hope for the best to the folks in the wine industry in Upstate New 
York.