Sonoma Vineyards Merlot 2010


I’m going to blame the movie “Sideways” for any denigration I’ve ever done of Merlot.  If you are not familiar with the movie it is a male chick flick about two guys on a road trip to wine country.  One, Miles Raymond, wants a quiet week of golfing, eating good food, and drinking great wine.  The other guy, Jack Cole, wants one last sexual fling before he marries and settles into domestic life.  Wine is a significant subplot in the movie, where Miles the wine snob sings the praises of Pinot Noir while dumping all over Merlot.  The wine industry has data that shows the movie caused a 16% increase in Pinot Noir sales and a 2% decline in Merlot sales, and as a result a significant lowering of Merlot prices.

If you had asked me a month ago what I thought about Merlot, my inner Miles Raymond would have told you that I really don’t drink too much of it.  Well, I’m putting Miles to rest and declaring that I do enjoy Merlot, and I have the wines that prove it.

The wine that kicked off my Merlot redemption was the recently-reviewed Le Grand Chai 2010.  You would then have to go back to March 30th, 2013 and read my review of Stonestreet Merlot to see a Merlot that wowed me.  Now, does this mean Griffy is going to become the all Merlot channel?  No.  I rarely drink anything twice, but Merlot has certainly moved up my list of favorites. Oh, and anyone willing to donate a mixed case of fine Bordeaux First Growths or even super seconds, contact me and I will give you shipping instructions.

Today’s wine is Sonoma Vineyards Merlot 2010.  Bordeaux is the spiritual home of Merlot but Sonoma does a really good version; richer and bolder, but tasty nonetheless.  The winemaker here is Greg Morthole.  Greg is a scientist-turned-winemaker and although most winemakers are viewed as artists, Greg, and really the American west coast in general, tend to be more methodical in their approach to making wine (sometimes I think too methodical, as in lab kit mentality).

That is not the case here, because in the Sonoma we have a beautiful work of art.  The color is, you guessed it, RUBY-PURPLE RED!  It is very pretty in the glass, but I’m just so tired of everything being ruby red.  The wine had a great, long lasting nose.  The taste was smooth, full-bodied, and came with all the fruit flavor you’d expect from a California wine.  The Sonoma’s drink-by date was 2015, which surprised me a little.  The first night I enjoyed a pairing with steak salad.  The wine was perfect.  The second night I savored the Sonoma all by itself while I watched my garden grow.  The wine had gone a little flat, but not much; certainly not so I didn’t enjoy it.  All my trials and tribulations often end up in a gentle pool of wine.

Now the fun part, let’s compare Le Grand Chai 2010 to the Sonoma Vineyards 2010.  Both are 100% Merlots with the typical deep red color, though the Chai was a little lighter than the Sonoma.  On the nose, while both were great the Sonoma was stronger, a bit more pronounced, and in a revelation that kinda rocks me I like the more subtle Le Grand slightly better.  Holy Robert Parker, Batman!  When it came to the taste, again both were awesome, but the Sonoma was the richer, bolder, more fruit forward experience I remembered with the Stonestreet Merlot too.  Oh man, I have to say I like the more finesse taste of the Le Grand.  I will admit, the differences I’m describing here folks are very subtle, but I’m definitely tasting them.  I’m not saying the Le Grand was wine and the Sonoma was jam, but on a scale that comparison would be accurate.

I struggled to find the comparison that would explain what I was experiencing.  At first I thought BMW vs. Mercedes, but both of those are German, not American and French.  And I know there are differences but not enough to matter to me.  Next, I thought of fashion.  Specifically of the differences between say Ralph Lauren vs. Yves St. Laurent.  But again, if I saw one person dressed in Ralph Lauren and the other St. Laurent, I could maybe tell some subtle differences but I couldn’t tell one from the other.  I needed something distinct for each.  Then it hit me and boy am I going to be in trouble with this comparison: women.  Yup, I’m doing this!  The difference was like the differences between a French woman and an American woman.  Both are beautiful, (pander, pander, pander) but American woman are, oh god, bigger, bolder, louder (keep digging Griffy) and more (eek) vocal?  Meanwhile, my impression of French women are that they are smaller, more refined than flamboyant, subtle, and quiet.  Maybe I’m just channeling my inner Jack Cole, the other character from the movie “Sideways” and I might be dead wrong, or likely just dead when the women who read this are done with me.  But, it’s my blog and I’m sticking to it!

So in conclusion, the Sonoma Vineyards has bigger hips than the Le Grand, but if you’re lucky  enough to sample either one, like a good woman both will leave a smile on your face.

Signing off from a bunker, deep below the steel and concrete of a nondescript building…

Wine is like Duct Tape, enough of either fixes everything!


LE Grand Chai 2010


What if wine was a religion, (and I’m not saying it isn’t, so don’t get all fired up with me)?  I mean we have all the fixin’s of a great religion: millions of devoted followers, charismatic leaders, a great tradition.  Robert Parker could be our Pope, Jancis Robinson could be our Archbishop of Canterbury, and Rudy Kurniawan could be our Judas.  There would be saints; Mondavi, the twins Ernest and Julio Gallo, Rothschild, Winiarski, Barrett, Lehmann, Biondi-Santi, and Swift.   We have wine bibles, songs about wine, wine holidays, and old pagan wine gods.

Now, I’m only writing from a Christian point of view here, and I mean no disrespect, but wine as a religion would look a great deal like any major religion.  That is with one major exception, to date, no wine geek has bombed a beer garden, so followers are mellow and non-violent.

All great religions have Holy Sites, places of significance to the faithful, where miracles have occurred, or great religious buildings have been constructed.  Wine has these sites all over the world; the United States, Italy, Spain Argentina, Australia, Germany, South Africa, Chile, Portugal, and France.  And we make pilgrimages to these places in the form of wine tourism or we simply buy wine from these places and pretend we are there.

Where would wine’s Jerusalem be?  Well, we could run a contest but if you’re a wine drinker you know the answer.  It’s Bordeaux!  No other place fires the mind with anticipation of greatness, no other region is more powerful, more commercially cleaver, more important as a source of complex age worthy wines.  700 million bottles flow from here every year, not to mention some of the world’s priciest.  It’s Rome, Jerusalem, and Mecca all rolled up in a French chapo!

I programmed the WineDar to take me to the very heart of Bordeaux.  About half way between the North Pole and the Equator, between the Gironde, Dordogne and Garonne Rivers, with the Atlantic to the west we stopped in Saint-Emilion.  Now, I might cause a fist fight, or at the least a lot of bad words in French, calling Saint-Emilion the heart of Bordeaux, but if you look at a map it looks like the center to me.  Some will argue that Medoc is the heart, or perhaps Graves.  Certainly the wines of Medoc are more famous, but in WineDar I trust, so it’s Saint-Emilion for Le Grand Chai 2010.

Now, I had a certain Ah-Ha moment with this wine, a turning point in my wine tasting life where I think I began to understand French Wine.  Normally I like robust wines, and this wine certainly was powerful.  Not like a weightlifter’s strength, think more like a full Philharmonic Orchestra; strong and powerful, yet elegant and refined.

Right from the start this wine had me hooked with a beautiful nose.  It was just a purely wonderful combination of cinnamon and plumbs.  As is the case with Bordeauxs, Le Grand Chai had the mandatory deep ruby color.  I’d love to simply describe the taste as great, maybe toss in an awesome, but wine always seems to require all the other stuff that no one really gets.  I’m not going to do it, the wine tasted awesome!  I wish I had purchased more; the wine will age and keep until 2020.  The grape was Merlot, not blended, which is a bit unusual for Bordeaux.  This will be the second Merlot that I have tasted that has earned a place of high esteem in my wine-tasting memory banks, I’m flat out impressed.  I have acquired a California Merlot that is supposed to be quite special that I plan to review very soon, so we have a bit of a competition going here.

I doubt that there is a reader who has not tasted a Bordeaux wine.  No I’m not going to give you any recommendations, go to a good wine store, give a price range, and ask for Bordeaux.   Really big or really good wine shops will break down the region to sub-regions: Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Pomerol, Saint-Emilion and Graves.  Don’t ignore the lesser districts where you could find some absolute diamonds in the rough, places like Listrac and Moulis, Ente-Deux-Mers (between two seas) or the area called the  Cotes, a good wine guy will guide you.  Seriously, you can go nuts with Bordeaux wine; vintage charts, Classifications, First and Super Seconds  and Lesser Growth, but don’t.  I recommend you just buy a bottle, or if you’ve got the cash, a mixed case of several of the sub-regions and, explore, learn, enjoy and worship the wine of your choice.

Baco Noir


It wasn’t the wine-dar that brought me to Chatham-Hudson Winery in Ghent, NY.  It was a factory-installed Nissan GPS, the promise of hand-rolled Dominican cigars, and of course, Wine.  Specifically, the Baco Noir.  At the center of it all were my son Willie and his wife Dana, who had cleverly planned it all as a Father’s Day celebration.

What’s a Baco Noir, you ask?

As you all know I’m an adventurerist wine drinker.  If I find a new varietal of grape and they make wine with it, I pull a Captain Kirk and boldly go where no Griffy has gone before to drink it.

Baco Noir is a hybrid red wine grape produced from crossing Vitis Vinifera Folle Blanche, a French wine grape with a unknown indigenous grape Vitis Riparia.  It’s kind of the Pocahontas story of wine: a rugged French Grape, meets pretty, hearty native American grape, and the result is a red grape that produces a pretty tasty wine that can stand up to the harsh winters of New England, New York and Eastern Canada.  Thank you Maurice Baco, the guy who performed the marriage.

The wine is a very tasty red, with a rich, highly-pigmented red color, and pronounced acidity.  Think a “dry” taste with a long finish.  The grapes for my bottle were grown in the Finger Lakes region of New York, which just reinforces my desire to get there this year.  These wines have the ability to age well, and in fact need some cellar time to soften its aggressive acidity.  Some reviewers have referred to this wine as the “lumberjack” wine because of it tannic muscularity, woodsy full-body taste, and hardworking nature.  You’ll never see the Baco Noir referred to as a “finesse wine.”

When I first tasted the wine I was expecting a Pinot Noir.  Surprise, absolutely not!  Pinot is a refined and silky dress shirt with French cuffs, Baco is plaid flannel shirt with rolled up sleeves.  I would bet they do have similar DNA though, as some things they share is common is an earthy taste and tobacco on the palate.  The ideal pairing of this wine would be barbecue.

However, Baco in the hands of a skilled winemaker–and I would say Carlo DeVito the winemaker at Chatham is as skilled a winemaker as I’ve come across–is making Baco Noir into a Port wine.  Chatham-Hudson as several ports that get the most out of this wine, and they pair EXTREMELY well with Dominican cigars!

Folks I feel a little bad telling you about this wine because outside New York state and Ontario Canada, you are not going to find it.  But only a little, because the wine was really good.

Hugh Johnson the English writer once said, “Wines don’t make statements, they pose questions.”  The question this wine asks first is, “Where can I get it?”



1: a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun 2: a : a question or problem having only a conjectural answer b : an intricate and difficult problem 3: a very good red or white wine blend Charlie Wagner, the maker of Conundrum, shows me that he truly understands wine by using the name Conundrum, because the basic nature of wine is unknowable, hence it’s a conundrum. I’ll explore this more, but right now let’s explore the wine. Conundrum comes in two versions, a red and a white. Today we’re going to focus on Conundrum red and save the white for another post. The color is a clever purple-red. The bubbly purple reminded me of the Quilceda Creek, which I would call a great complement to this $20 bottle of wine. I was a little disappointed with the nose, thought it could have been a little more pronounced and firmer. Other people at diner thought it was fine. The taste was great and paired well with my grilled steak. It’s a little sweet to start, then opens so you can taste the tannins, and caps off with nice finish. You get the mandatory red fruits that make California, well, California. Wagner doesn’t tell you the blend, but rather he leaves you guessing on your own. They have been making the white for about twenty years, but this is only the second year for the red. I’d say well done, keep up the good work. Reviewing the Conundrum wine allows me to address the number one question I get about wine, “what do I need to know about wine to drink it?” I have heard this so many times, “wine is difficult, wine is too complex,” or, “you need to know too much stuff to drink wine.” BUNK! Wine exists for only one reason, to bring the partaker pleasure. That’s what it’s all about. Not complicated, intellectual, or difficult. Do you know why Consumer Reports doesn’t do wine reviews, because you can’t quantify wine, despite what Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator says. It’s not a computer, it has no micro-processor speed you can check or measure. It doesn’t do zero to 60 in anything, it just sits there until someone decides to open it and drink. The only way you can measure a wine is how it makes you feel. What emotions, if any, do you experience? Have you ever walked through a museum and seen the artwork rated on a scale of 100 points? Wow, that Rembrandt is a 95, but Picasso only got an 88. Never, ain’t going to happen. Can you understand the Mona Lisa by being told about the canvas that it is painted on, the number of brush strokes, or that there are 17 shades of gray used? Nope! How about your favorite piece of music, do you care about the key, time signature, or the number of notes, or sharps, or flats? Didn’t think so, what you care about is how the lyrics, melody or beat makes you feel. Not complicated, don’t need to know a thing about music theory or paint style in order to enjoy music or art. Same thing with wine. Now if you love music, that passion for music might lead you to learn an instrument, how to read music, maybe take some classes on composition. If art is your thing you might learn about water colors, oil paints, or sculpture, but would you say you need any of that stuff to enjoy art or music? No. The same is true of wine. Knowing the grape, how long it was fermented, if the season had been dry or wet, if they picked early or late, or if they aged in oak and, if so, what size barrel, is all cool information but it will not really tell you a damn thing about the wine. Get a corkscrew, open the bottle, and drink. Bam! You’re a Connoisseur. Drink a 100 and you’re an expert, or a drunk. If you like wine, you’ll learn the other stuff just to increase your knowledge and enjoyment. With my eyes closed I can’t tell one wine from another, and I have no intention of memorizing 4,000 flashcards like the guys in the movie SOMM. I’m here for the fun, not the trivia! I don’t want to spend four minutes with a glass of wine; see, swirl, sniff, sip, slurp, and spit then tell the the world what a great wine that was. That’s like spending 40 seconds listening to a song saying it’s got a good beat you can dance to it I’ll give it a 85. Hell no! I want at least a bottle. I want a meal and I want friends, and conversation and I want time, in fact I’d like a case of the wine and years to drink it. You never drink the same wine twice, wine is alive and changing. The only certainty about wine is it’s elusive. Approach wine from any angle, analyse it intuitively scientifically, historically, economically, or literally, and if we are honest, we have just our impression, because wine is never completely knowable. To paraphrase “Forrest Gump” Life is like a bottle of wine, you never know what you got until you open the bottle and drink.