Rombauer 2009

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Heard it from a friend,

who heard it from a friend…

Actually, I heard it from my boss, who got it from his boss that the Rombauer was a pretty good wine.  Come to think of it, that almost works with the melody from the REO Speedwagon song as well.

To be honest with you, for me to review a California Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa is a little like being a Turkish tour bus driver, “and on your left, you’ll see a Greek ruin, then on your right you’ll see a Greek ruin, and up ahead, yet another Greek ruin.”  Okay that’s probably a little harsh.  While the ruins in Turkey are plentiful, they are nonetheless both magnificent and beautiful.  You can say the same for Napa wines, and in the case of the Rombauer, a very good one.

So as a change of pace, let’s review the wine first this time.  At the pop of the cork you are met with a fantastic aroma, easily my favorite part of the wine experience.  A heavy fragrance of plum and spice rises from the bottle to greet you.  The plum theme carries over to the color, which blends with some crimson.  At first taste you will find this is a powerful wine; big and bold, but well-controlled.  You’ll taste the spice and dark fruit up front, it’s a Cabernet from California, which means no surprise there.  The Rombauer brings everything you’d expect from a California cab to the table, which includes the $40 price tag.  I know I’m being a little boorish and I apologize, but I swear you could push a stick into the ground in California and in three years you’d be making Cabernet Sauvignon from it.

As you can tell, I’m a bit hesitant on Napa wines.  With such a wide variety, and in my opinion with most of them tasting more-or-less the same, I find it difficult to separate the exceptional from the rest of the pack.  All of this makes me wonder, where do you get your info on wine?

According to Vinitaly, Wine Searcher is the number one resource wine drinkers use to find wines.  I’m surprised, I would have said Wine Spectator, but that was number two.  Wine Searcher gets the edge because in addition to recommending all these fine varietals, it tells you where you might locate the wine you are looking for.  Their mobile app is annoying as hell, though, because it locks up and the only way to clear it is to delete the app and reload.  Wine Searcher was the first web based wine resource to out-rank the traditional magazine format, so web development aside it still is a fantastic research option.

Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are probably the best known publications, and if you love wine you likely subscribe to one or the other, or possibly both.  Each are great for finding out the biggest trends in the industry, both have developed web-based options that cater to a 21st century online readership, and they feature some of the most knowledgeable insight into the world of wine.  That being said, both want to sell advertising, and the ratings will usually have a direct correlation to  which wines are spending the most for ad space.  I may be in a grumpy mood towards them, but I’m also pretty sure I’m right.

My favorite web-based wine resource is SNOOTH: great continent, captivating stories, interesting reviews, and I don’t get the feeling they are trying to sell me something, which is strange because they undoubtedly are.  On the other hand there is WTSO (Wines Til Sold Out), and trying to sell you something is the only thing these guys do.  Shamelessly commercial, this website puts up one bottle of which they might have 10 to 100 of cases to sell, and that bottle remains up until sold out.  I like the site because it gives me ideas on wines I might like to try.  One other site I would recommend is Wine Folly, great for the beginner, and really, aren’t we all beginners at heart?

You may have heard about Lot 18.  I’ve heard good and I’ve heard bad.  It’s based in Westchester County, New York and was started by the guy who started SNOOTH, Phillip James.  My vote is stay away.  You need to subscribe like a wine club, and I’m told the values aren’t all that great.  Then again, I’ve also been told the deals are great and the wines are super.  I’ve never use them so I can’t tell you, but my feeling has always been when in doubt, live without!  If anyone has had good luck with Lot 18, let me know and ease my skepticism.

Do you use Twitter?  I know Twitter can be a social media cesspool, but if you stay on subject you should be safe, and some of the stuff you pick up with just a few seconds of reading is just amazing.  Here is a list of people or organizations I find beneficial to follow: Bon Appetit, (great food ideas and sometimes wine pairings), Food & Wine Magazine, (they have great cocktail recipes), Jancis Robinson, (famous wine critic with some good ideas), Wine Spectator (daily wine recommendations in three price levels, the only trick is finding them), Robert Parker, (snobbish, & overbearing, but some good picks), db Dinks Business (get the insider view, written mostly for people working in the booze business), James Suckling, (people love to hate this guy, I have no idea why), and Eric Asimov (wine critic for the New York Times, I hate the Times, but I like this guy).  Oh and lest we forget, follow Griffy on Wine @jgriff4039!

That’s all I’ve got for now, see you soon, and I’ll try to less of a curmudgeon!

Chateau Millegrand Grande Reserve 2010

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So there I was cruising along in the magical canary-yellow FIAT 500 convertible; roof down and music playing when all of a sudden the left turn signal goes on!  The car starts down-shifting, the brakes engage, and I come to a complete stop.  This could only mean one thing: the factory installed Wine-dar was going off.  I checked the screen and, wouldn’t you know, I had arrived in Minervois, France!

Where the hell is Minervois, you ask?  Minervois is a long, “crescent”-shaped region of France along the Mediterranean Sea, situated with Provence to the east, the Pyrenees to the West, and Spain to the South.  Well, that explains the hard left and heavy braking.  

Minervois takes its name from Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom.  Well, one thing you can say about the Romans: they knew a thing or two about wine.  2000 years ago they figured out some pretty good places to make wine, and leave it to the Wine-dar to lead me to it.

Today Minervois is one to the top wine appellations in Southern France’s  Languedoc region.  This terroir is just perfect for making full-flavored and distinctive reds.  Oh, did I happen to mention, they are affordable too!  A very good bottle can be had for around $15.

I know, enough with the Geography and Economics Griffy, let’s talk about the wine.  It’s a blend of Syrah, Carignan, and Grenache.  My own internal Wine-dar suggests keep you eye on Grenache, I have a feeling it is going to be the next hip varietal.  It’s been getting a lot of press lately and many up-and-coming winemakers, not to mention some established superstars, have been singing it’s praises en route to making some sensational  wines.

The Chateau Millegrand is a dirty ruby red.  It’s aroma, and yes this is where I was hooked, features intense plum and blackcurrant with hints of the herbs that grow all over the area.  The taste is ripe dark fruits, a nice round body, and the well over-worked pepper and spice.  The label suggests you decant for an hour before serving, but I drank mine right out of the bottle.  Well okay, I did pour it into a glass.  Before that, the wine aged in French Oak for 12 months.  The experts say that’s where the spice comes from, but I say it’s the terroir.  As I mentioned before, lots of herbs and spice plants grow around the vineyard, and bees will go from plant to plant.

So listen to Griffy’s Wine-dar, go ask at your local wine store for a bottle from Minervois.  It will be Chateau Something-or-other, giving you a name will not really help you, but a good wine man will know the region and steer you towards a worthy drink.  You can pay $100 a bottle but don’t, you’ll get a great bottle for $15 to $25, and you too will fall in love with the wines from Minervois.

Remember Wine is not the answer, but it will help you to forget all those annoying questions.

What’s in a number?

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Say the number 5,000.  Sometime this week Griffy on Wine was viewed for the 5,000 time by some lucky individual.  This is  a milestone to be sure.  But what is in that number 5,000?

The guy that got me started blogging, Gary Vaynerchuk, who has become a millionaire due to his wine blog, would remind me not to worry about hits, but rather to concentrate on content.  Great content will yield great numbers.  Two things are required to get people to read your blog: either you touch them emotionally or give them information.  I hope I do both.

Another number in this 5,000 is 700; as in bottles of wine.  This stat comes from the lovely and talented Josephine, who seems to monitor things like this.  She keeps the corks, and occasionally reminds me, while pointing at the corks, “there’s a vacation.”  700 seems like a lot, but I have 100 more in the cellar and plans to buy, and drink, even more.  And yes, I plan to tell you all about the tasty and interesting ones.

30 is the number of wine stores I have bought wine from and or visit on a fairly regular basis.  The best way to learn and get great recommendations on wine is to make friends and contacts with people who sell the product.

I’ve toured 17 vineyards in 4 different countries.  Something about seeing the vines growing puts a smile on my face, a spring in my step, and a strong desire to hit the sampling room to try it all out.  Vineyards are beautiful, calming, and relaxing, so I recommend visiting one near you as often as you can.

I’ve read about 14 wine books, including one that was all about corks.  That guy was a great writer to keep me interested in corks for 348 pages.  Reading pairs extremely well with wine.  Add a little cheese and some fruit, peace and serenity soon will follow.  You guessed it, I have more books on the way.  I’m known at my public library as the wine guy, and I’ve been told their favorite title is, “RED, WHITE, AND DRUNK ALL OVER.”

Countless hours of reading Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Snooth and other wine blogs, research, vineyard blogs, Wikipedia; you would think this would keep my out of trouble, but it doesn’t.  I get yelled at for being on the computer too much.  For writing too much.  For talking about wine too much.  But the joy and the satisfaction of learning about something I have passion for is pretty cool.

One of the most precious numbers I have is one beyond counting: the quantity and quality of new friends made since starting this journey.  There’s Mario, who opened my eyes to Italian wine, and Charles, who is my French wine guy.  Tony, Ernesto, Sal and Jim are my wine drinking buddies.  Two young women Jo and I met in Spain from Hawaii (I hope you’re still reading), “mind blowing”, inside joke, sorry folks.  Many readers have sent me stories and tell me they enjoy the blog.  My Texas connection who sends me great ideas on wine varietals to try, my New York groupies, who get me wines that I can’t get in Connecticut, you all have my thanks. Look at me I’ve got peeps! People who share my love and respect for wine.

Most importantly I have to recognize the number of hours my kids have put into making Griffy on Wine a reality.  A big shout out needs to be made to my youngest daughter, Vic, my son, Willie, my daugher-in-law Dana, and Beny, my soon-to-arrive grandson.  They have been there to help with my lack of computer skills, my forays into social media, and my general lack of basic spelling and grammar.  And there’s Nathan, Austin, and Kiely, my young apprentices, who have all demonstrated the correct way to sample wine at their school’s milk and cookie break, much to the chagrin of their Mom.  It goes without saying, but through family dreams can be made into realities.

And finally to you, the readers.  Keep reading please.  That’s what’s in a number, the number 5,000.  It’s all very special to me and I thank you.

Giesta 2010

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Ready to go on a road trip?  Come on, pile into the magical canary-yellow Fiat 500 convertible and let’s go!

Okay, remember how I told you about Etna two years ago?  Well today its the hottest Wine location in the world,  being recommended by both sommeliers and wine critics alike. I’m now going to take you to the next hot spot, Dao DOC, Portugal.

Griffy, where in the world are we now?  We’re in Central Portugal, far to the south of Douro’s famous for Port wines.  Dao is a huge plateau that is sheltered on three sides by the granite mountain ranges of the Serra da Estrela, Serra do Caramulo, and Serra Da Nave.  Protected from the ravages of the nearby Atlantic, this ideal climate features plenty of rain (mostly in the winter) and enjoys long, warm, dry summers right up to harvest time.  The granite-rich land is just perfect for growing grapes.

As you survey the landscape here in Dao, you may notice the distinct lack of vineyards!  In fact, only about 5% of the land is under grape.  Griffy, if this is such a hot spot why no vineyards?  Government Regulation; two of the most despicable words in any language.  The area has been a DOC since 1908, but in the 1940’s the Government established the mandatory use of co-op producers in the region.  Effectively, it means if you wanted to grow your own grapes and make your own wine, you couldn’t.  As a result, producers had a wine with less flavor than wall paper paste.  In 1979, when Portugal entered the EU, they abolished this monopoly (well for another monopoly called the EU) but the result at least for now is for a remarkable increase in quality and quantity of good-tasting table wine.

Dao is often referred as Portugal’s Burgundy.  Not because of any physical similarity between the regions, but because of its style.  Wines of Doa are not power wines, they rely more on subtlety and finesse; very European.  The taste will be peppery and spicy, with the newer, younger winemakers pushing more full-bodied, fruit-forward wines.  But you’ll still get a full helping of Portuguese character, which is just great in a wine world becoming increasingly standardized, homogenized, and uniform.  And there’s a reason to drink them in itself!

The reason for this individuality is the grapes.  No standard receipt Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, blah, blah, blah here; we’re drinking Touriga Nacional, Portugal’s most important red grape and the grape most often used in Port, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo is Spain), and Jaen and Alfrocheiro Preto.

Our wine, Giesta, is a blend of 32% Touriga Nacional, 45% Tinta Roriz, and 23% Jaen.  The color is a dark reddish purple with an aroma of raspberry and cherry and spice (oh my!).  The taste features red fruit, a little oak, and great body.  Long finish.  Let’s enjoy a glass while the Fiat gets refueled.

Guys this wine region should be on your radar for the excellent quality-to-price ratio, we are talking great wines for $10 to $35 a bottle.  Here are some suggestions: Casa De Santa 2010 Dao, Sogrape Dao Quinta doc Carvalhais Dugue de Viseu Red 2009, (don’t you wish they just called it Dead Bolt?) and Caves Aliance Dao Reserva 2010.

If I was a young winemaker and if I could stand the socialistic feel of the EU I’d be beating a path to the Dao.  Low land cost, great terrior, that’s a hard combo to beat in today’s wine world.

McPherson Cellars Wine Vibes

One of the Texas wines I tried when I was in Texas.

I Heart TX Wine

Fortunately for those of us who can’t spend every weekend traveling and tasting wine across Texas- which would totally rock- more Texas wines are being sold in our local stores. Only you miss experiencing the winery itself; but, open a few bottles of the same label and you’ll usually find their unique vibe. After tasting McPherson Cellars 2010 Viognier and 2009 Sangiovese a couple years ago, I found their vibe. And I liked it. I will make it to Lubbock for a legit visit someday! To me, McPherson wines are elegant and pleasant, but confidently strong and independent. My notes on the Viognier- color was like a golden yellow sapphire; nose had apricot and peach; taste was deep, rich and complex; finish was strong for a white wine. It was like a lovely, delicate young lady with underlying strength, depth and confidence. My notes on the Sangiovese- color was earthy…

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Return to Quilceda Creek

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Sounds like the title to a John Wayne western!

Nope, we’re talking wine here partner, high end, the good stuff.  Quilceda Creek is a premium wine, in a past blog I reviewed  Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon (January 24th 2014) and it demonstrated exactly why it’s 10 year average Wine Spectator score of 98 and 10 year run on that magazine’s top 100 list.  The wine is as near to perfect as can be achieved.  But at $225 a bottle, it should cook, clean, and walk the dog.  So, the question is can they make a wine for under $100 that is equally as good?

The answer is, well, pretty freaking close.  The wine we are talking about is Quilceda Creek Red Wine  2010.  The wine is a red blend: 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 2% of one of my personal favorites Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec.  The wine still has a premium price tag of $70.00 and a Wine Spectator’s score of 92.

In trying to compare the two it would be like comparing any real luxury automobile to a Rolls Royce.  The Cabernet like the Rolls is in a class all by itself.  But those other cars are awesome too at a fraction of the cost.

So it is with this wine.  Pretty Awesome!  The up front perfume is intensely gratifying and I found myself going back to the glass time and again sometimes I actually took a sip.  The aroma was just great.

Color was a beautiful red, which if you hadn’t seen the stately royal purple of the upscale version color you would not had been disappointed.

Taste, yummy!  That’s a technical term trust me.  The wine had a full body, red and black fruits, a little spice, and a tad cedar, lots of great flavor, long gratifying finish.  The only way you would know this wine lacked the polish and elegance of the other upper tier offering is if you had double down the cash and purchased the big kahuna!

So Pilgrim, the bottom line for this cowboy is this was a great wine, with a big ticket price tag and would certainly make a special occasion, even more special.  But please don’t drink this with Pizza, show some respect.

You don’t have to spend $70 or $225 for a bottle of wine.  Stick with me and we’ll enjoy some pretty good $10 and $15 bottles.  But every now and then splurge and go big. You’ll be a better wine drinker for it.

If you want to make great wine: you cannot tame Etna…

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Passopisciaro vineyards  in winter. Passopisciaro vineyards in winter.

Over the last few years, I have constantly stated that ‘Each year, the interest in wines from Mount Etna continues to grow.’ This interest is global: it is from winemakers, the press and the public. It is easy to see why this is the case.

These wines are alluring, they are highly complex and they are mysterious. Each glass in each bottles shows a different side of Etna that is like a slideshow of flavours that draw you closer to the mountain. Mysterious Etna has fascinated people for thousands of years and now it is doing it to wine lovers all around the world with world class wines.

As our interest grows in the mountain, so does our knowledge of what works in regards to vineyard practices and wine making methods. What is obvious, that if you want to make great wine, you cannot…

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