Beechaven’s The Judge’s Choice Chambourcin

Beachaven’s The Judge’s Choice Chambourcin

Judge's Choice

Things never go the way I expect them.  That’s both a joy and a frustration.  As I get older and my sun sets further into the west I find myself minding this less and less.  In fact, it’s the surprises that make me smile the most, the truly great stuff you just don’t see coming.

Case in point is this weeks wine, Judge’s Choice, from Beachaven Vineyards and Winery in Clarksville, Tennessee.  Now, truth be told, I have been to this vineyard many times viciously searching for wine.  And I have enjoyed every drop of it.  You may remember my niece, Lindsay, who is the wine club manager at Beachaven.  If you ever want to try some of their varietals the Wine Club would be the way to do it!


It is the wine that’s special.  If you have been a consistent reader of Griffy on Wine you know I am the Captain Kirk of wine drinkers; boldly going where most wine drinkers have never gone before.  Or, as one reader put it, “where the hell do you find these varietals?”


This wine is made with the Chambourcin grape.  What, Chambourcin, never heard of it?  Well, I’m not surprised, as the grape didn’t exist before 1963.  A Frenchmen, Joannes Seyve, developed it in 1860 using American root stock and Seibel hybrid grapes.  To be honest, no one is certain of it’s family tree.  The grape is still grown in France, Portugal, and Australia; man I’m hitting all the relatives’ home turfs.  But it’s home is here in the U.S., from the mid-Atlantic to the South and up to Michigan. Or, as I call it, Nappa Valley East!  This wine was made from 100% Tennesse fruit.


The Chambourcin makes a very aromatic wine with a nice ruby tone.  Dry and medium-bodied I found it an absolutely delicious red wine.  The official color is “teiturier,” a term I was as familiar with as Chambourcin.  It means a grape whose juice is pink or red rather than clear like most reds, or “vitis vinifera cultivars.”  Seriously, where else but here are you going to learn stuff like this?


Like me, this grape was a born in the lower middle class, but is working its way into the domain of vinifera high society.  It fled the confines of French wine law, and is now free to express itself as a truly American wine.  If only more Americans were to drink it!   Taste this wine, you will be impressed and know it has a promising future.


In the early 1900’s, Tennessee, like most states at that time, had many small vineyards producing thousands of gallons of wine.  Then, in 1919, Prohibition put an end to commercial winemaking in Tennessee for many years to come.


In the late 1970’s, Judge William O. Beach pioneered legislation that revived Tennessee’s wine industry.  His years of successful amateur winemaking sparked the desire to open a commercial winery in his home town of Clarksville, Tennessee.  By the early 1980’s,  Judge Beach and his son-in-law Edward Cooke planted a large commercial vineyard.  Then, in 1986, Judge Beach, Ed and Louisa Cooke founded Beachaven Vineyards & Winery LTD.  Beachaven quickly established a reputation for wine quality and vintage consistency.  Since Judge Beach’s death in 1991, the Cooke family has continued to build on the dreams and successes.  Beachaven is leading Tennessee’s wine making comeback.


Check out Beachaven Vineyards and Winery at  Tell them Giffy sent you!



santorini_satellite_imagePeople have been asking me over the last couple of weeks if the WINEDAR is broken?  I’d like to report that it’s working just fine, and I have been drinking some really good wine.  The truth is I’ve been busy with the rest of my life, and as a result September was a blur.  I became a Grandfather, welcoming my grandson Beny to the world.  We hosted family from Australia, and that was a blast!  Work, as always, has been a hassle, then we have the crisis du jour, and frankly I’d rather drink wine than write about it.

I confess, I have been struggling with the blog.  I want it to be fun, interesting, and informative.  I want to get you fired up and excited to go explore and drink wine.  I want you to enjoy it, look forward to it, and tell about 50 million of your friends about it so they read it too. What I don’t want to do is become like Apple and put an “I” in front of everything.

One of the places that the WINEDAR, and my son in law, has lead me to explore is Greece.  They have been making wine in Greece for roughly 6,000 years, which means they might get it right yet. Ouch! That’s not to say the wine isn’t good it is, but it still hasn’t quite got the bang of say Spain or Portugal.  Greece is making huge progress, and the wines are worth trying.

Part of the problem is finding the stuff.  There are four pillars to Greek wine Assyriko, Moscofilero, Agioritiko, and Xinomaro.  The other problem of course is being able to pronounce these names.  I wish to try each of these varietals.  However, after over 200 miles driven during three weekends I’ve only found the first two, and those are the whites.  Don’t believe wine stores when they say they stock something on there website, you drive 40 miles only to be told we can get it, but we’d have to order it, and you find yourself taking home a bottle of Yellow Tail.

image_3563080_fullMy Assyriko was 2013 Domaine Sigalas from Santorini.  It starts with a straw yellow color, and like most whites, try as you might to get a nose, all I could get was the faint and fleeting scent of tropical fruit.  Refreshing when served cold, this medium-bodied white had an okay taste; not too bad, but I didn’t stand and cheer.  The thing I like best was the acidity, which was almost salty.  It was like you could taste the sea in each sip.  The only problem was it was fleeting and the finish left you disappointed.  The “experts” compare the Assyriko with Riesling or Chardonnay.  Absolutely not, you could oak this wine to the end of time and not have it come anywhere near the DW30 taste of Chardonnay.  I like Rieslings, especially Finger Lake Rieslings, and this wine is no Riesling.

No, what you have here is a wine that accurately and uniquely displays it’s terroir, which is the main reason I like it so much.  The flavor taught me about the wine. You can TASTE Santorini and the Aegean Sea in every sip folks, and that experience is why I drink wine.  This bottle of Domaine Sigalas is unique and tells its story beautifully.

Santorini is a rock in the Aegean Sea about 100 miles southeast of Athens.  3600 years ago it was home to a thriving civilization, then the volcano blew.  The crater collapsed into the sea, leaving behind miles of cliffs with dramatic views of the watery world surrounding it.  3500 years later hotels would be built along those cliffsides, making Santorini one of the world’s most popular and expensive Honeymoon destinations.

That same eruption would cover the surrounding land with light pumice gravel, black sand, and lava rocks, which happen to be ideal for wine grapes.  The soil was almost sterile, which has prevented phylloxera from ever visiting the island, and some vines are over 400 years old.  They use  “bush-trained” vines vs trellis, planted in depressions to protect the vines from the constant winds. The vines are trained to grow in what looks like a basket or coiled rope shape to protect the grapes from the sun.  There is little water on Santorini, so the dew provides most of the moisture for the grapes.  Yields are extremely low as a result.  The sea plays its role adding the iodized flavors I enjoyed.

Why do they do it?  It’s Greek!

My son in law brought me back a bottle of Estate Argyros “Atlantis Red”  This wine is a blend of 90% Mandilaria and 10% Mavrotragano grapes.  Making a red wine on Santorini is a little Atlantislike making a ship sail on dry land, it can be done, but it takes a lot of effort.  In retrospect, I wish I had waited for a better time to sample this wine, the situation was way too chaotic to really study the Atlantis and let it speak.

The wine was bright red, thin, again there was a slight and fleeting nose.  The wine was full-bodied despite what must have been pretty thin juice from the grapes.  The Atlantis tasted full of red fruit and was very enjoyable.  Like the Assyriko, you could taste Santorini.

My experience with these two wines has been so positive Jo and I have removed Santorini from our bucket list.  We’ll be making our last trip to the Eastern Mediterranean in December, it’s just not safe there anymore.

Do try these wines if for no other reason the education and history they will impart to you.

GIA SOU ( I drink to your health)

Cigar Zin 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel

Now we have met, we have look’d, we are safe;

Return in peace to the ocean, my love;

I too am part of that ocean, my love–we are not so much separated;

Behold the great rondure–the cohesion of all, how perfect!

From Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd by Walt Whitman


There are very few things that go together as well as a good cigar and a fine wine. They are drops in the same ocean; a vast sea of taste and passion moved by a churning tide of tradition. If wine is history in a glass, then surely cigars are the same in an oily maduro wrapper.

The history of both Griffy on Wine and Good Smoke dates back nearly 30 years, when the two authors met for the first time, face to face, as father and son. Over the last couple of years the blogs have run autonomously from one another, more side-by-side than in tandem, but we have a special treat this week: Griffy on Wine’s first guest blogger! Welcome to Cruzgriffy on Wine.

While you got the tale of the smoke on the trip to the Jersey shore in 2013, the reality is that evening was as much about the wine as it was the cigar. While a wine-infused cigar is an intriguing concept, it pales in comparison to a bottle of the real deal. Cigar Zin is the real deal, and it has since cemented itself as my favorite wine.

My 2012 Cigar Zin Old Vine Zinfandel hailed from California, specifically from the Lodi, Mendocino, and High Valley regions. The blend of 90% Zinfandel, 5% Petit Sirah, and 5% Syrah begins with the grapes being sorted and fermented for seven days. The wine then ages for 11 months in a 50/50 composite barrel of French and American oak.

When I popped the cork I was overwhelmed with the fragrance of black cherries. My wine palate isn’t the most defined in the world, but I have a pretty good sense of smell, and the powerful scent was unmistakable. The liquid that poured from the bottle had the color of blood; deep, hearty red. If what my father taught me was true, I would deem this a young wine, as the richness of the red wasn’t fully opaque. But, as is the case with anything you put in your mouth, the real selling point of the Cigar Zin was the taste. The cherry flavor wasn’t just an hint, it was a bold statement. The wine was drier, fuller-bodied, and spicy. On the finish, I got almost a vanilla creaminess that made the Cigar Zin a wonderfully smooth drink.

The Cigar Zin motto is “Grab life by the bottle,” and I couldn’t agree more. It was mere coincidence that I was drawn to this bottle, more my love of cigars themselves than a foreknowledge of the product. Still, even if it was dumb luck that brought it to my attention, I’m at least being struck dumb by a mouthful of delicious wine.

The Velvet Devil

Velvet Devil

The Velvet Devil 2014

Quick what was the name of that great French wine you drank last week? AH! Next question, what wine has funny names, and funky black and white labels? If you said Charles Smith, marketing and advertising executives are cheering all over the world. Extra credit question, what’s your favorite Charles Smith wine? If you said any, I bet it was KungFu Girl, or simply Charles Smith Cabernet Sauvignon, but it you drew a blank, then you can see the limits of even great marketing.


Located in Washington State is Charles Smith, rock band manager and promoter-turned-winemaker who has become a rock star in the wine world as well. His brands include K Vintners, $35 to $50, Charles Smith Wines $12 to $20, Charles & Charles–a collaboration between Charles Bieler a New York wine importer and Smith rose wines–and Secco Bubbles, a project of Smith’s wife and two sisters.


I’ve come to both enjoy and admire Smith and his wines. My first experience was with his Cabernet, which was good, but not  great. My next adventure was with Kung Fu Girl, and I am now realizing that sounded a lot better in my head. Kung Fu Girl is a Riesling, and it’s become my go-to wine whenever Jo and I have Chinese take out food at home.  It’s really good, affordable, and possibly the largest single vineyard bottling anywhere–130,000 cases to be precise–and it was still a top 100 bottle on Wine Spectator’s 2013 list.


So, when I saw the Velvet Devil Merlot, I wanted to try it. I’d like to say the Devil made me do it but I can’t, I walked right up and purchased it all on my own. Well, we all know what happens when you mess with the Devil, you lose your soul. And that’s my complaint with this wine: it’s got no soul.


The wine had a nice purple color and poured like it’s name suggested; velvety. Try as I might I couldn’t get more than a hint of nose, and what I got  was so faint I can’t describe it.  At the first taste, well, it wasn’t bad but that’s not why I drink wine. Words ran through my head like “watery” and “thin,” but the bottom line for me was the wine didn’t tell a story. This wasn’t Charles Smith, this wasn’t Washington State, this wasn’t Merlot.


Disappointed I finished the bottle and moved on.  I don’t like writing negative reviews–I think this is only my second one–and come to think of it the other was about a Merlot too. Maybe Miles Raymond from Sideways is on to something.