Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

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Most of the times I choose the wine. However, sometimes the wine chooses me!  This is one of those times.

The wine is Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.  The occasion was a dinner with my son, Will, and his wife, Dana. We were celebrating the birth of my Grandson, Beny.

When the notice of Beny’s pending arrival was announced his parents sprang into action. Through the thoughtful use of a pair of baby socks two wines were crowned, one sock for each bottle to be opened upon the baby’s arrival.  When I got my bottle, I was so clueless that the lovely and talented Josephine had to explain the situation to me.  Sorry folks I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed.

For my bottle I had selected Sassetti Livio Brunello Di Montalcino 2008, and I’ll have more on that in another post.  My son selected the Heitz Cellar.

Heitz Cellar holds a venerable spot in wine history.  Started in 1961 on an eight-acre vineyard about a mile from St. Helena, ground zero for California wine, Joe and Alice Heitz set up shop. Joe was born in Illinois, but was in the Air Force stationed in California during the Second World War. At the end of the war, he stayed. He took classes at UC Davis, earning both a bachelor and a master’s degree in Viticulture and Enology in 1951. He worked with the dean of Wine, the guy who started the California wine revolution, Andre Tchelistcheff, at Beaulieu Vineyard for 10 years.

He and his wife Alice purchased “The One and Only” vineyard in 1961, and started his own wine business. In 1965 they purchased a 160 acre ranch which would become their home and winery.  The original winery is the visitors center today.

His breakthrough moment came in 1965 when he signed an exclusive agreement with Tom and Martha May, owners of some pretty extraordinary grapes on a 34 acres of land in Oakville California called Martha’s Vineyard. Hietz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet became the benchmark that all California Cabernets would be compared to for the next twenty years. The 1968 vintage was considered the greatest wine ever made in America up to that time.

Robert Parker once wrote of a Martha’s Vineyard wine that it had, “no nose.”  Heitz sent Parker a box of linen handkerchiefs with a note to blow his nose.  Men were men back then.

At the age of 81 Joe passed away. Warren Winarski, another of the California wine pioneers, said that Joe Heitz was the first to grasp the single vineyard concept and the first artisan winemaker in Napa.

Okay, on to our wine. Well, I think Parker was right, the wine had a very slight nose, especially when compared to today “Parkerized” fruit bomb Cabs of California.  This is an old school European style Cabernet, definitely not your typical California Cabernet. I think many who like the high power Napa wines would be a bit put off with this wine.  Color was a deep purple, very nice in the glass.  Flavor was excellent, no flaws but no excitement either.  What we have is a excellent tasting, food friendly, possibly over-priced but not-so-typical California wine.

Did I like it? YES!  Would I run out and buy another bottle? No, but a lot of that is the price tag.  Did this wine capture the hopes and ambitions I have for my grandson? Absolutely. I hope he grows to see and appreciate life in all it various shades, shapes, and flavors. I also hope he acknowledges the work of a great winemaker like Joe Heitz.

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Renault Noah

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Where oh, where has the WINEDAR brought us? Oh where, oh where can we be?

New Jersey, NEW JERSEY!

Egg Harbor to be precise, Silverton yachts, and the faltering lights of Atlantic City on the horizon.  We are at Renault Winery, one of America’s oldest continuous wine producers specializing in bubbly wine since 1863.

Our story begins in France during the mid-1800’s. Our hero, master vintiner Louis Nichols Renault, has very big problem. He is the representative for the well established Champagne Houses, Duke of Montebello, in Rheims France. You see, Renault’s big problem was a little bug, Phylloxera, and it had killed most of their vines.  No vines, no grapes, and with no grapes, no bubbles.

In 1855, Renault immigrated to the United States with some cuttings from his vineyard, and went to California. The vines promptly died.  He next read of a East Coast Grape that was resistant to Phylloxera, so he moved to Southern New Jersey where the grape was said to thrive.

The grape is called Noah, like in the Ark.  The wine term used to describe the Noah grape is “Foxey” which is not to say it looks good in lingerie.  Foxey in wineo means a wine that has a musty animal smell, or an odor of an old fur coat, acceptable to a point and that point for most people is reached rather quickly.  Most people are put off by “foxy” wines as they are very sweet; think the sweetness of Welch’s grape jelly.

The Noah is a white grape, sweet tasting, with a light straw color.  I can see how this grape would make an acceptable Champagne.  As a still wine, it doesn’t fare as well, but for me it made an acceptable dessert wine, served with apples, pears, and cheese.  The aroma was, well, “foxy”.

Renault selected Egg Harbor because the terroir was similar to Rheims: rich with chalk and minerals, with the sea near by and the Gulf Stream flowing offshore to the East bringing warmth. He had an environment perfectly suited to grape cultivation.  He planted his Noah grapes in 1863, started bottling in 1870, and soon after both the United States and the world loved his New Jersey Champagne.  Not long after, people were calling Egg Harbor “Wine City”.

In 1919 Prohibition hit and the winery was purchased by John D’Agostino.  It operated with a special permit to make wine for religious and medical purposes.  I love this, they made a “wine tonic” which sold only in drug stores with a special warning “do not chill the tonic because it will turn to wine which is illegal.”  Elliot Ness must have spit!

John passed away in 1948 and his sister Maria took control.  She had a eye for design and constructed many of the building you see today at the vineyard.  She even had a wineglass museum.  In 1968 the winery was purchased by Universal Foods.  In 1974 the property was purchased by MCC Presidential, an investment company, who sold it to the present owner, John Milza, in 1977.

Milza was a former newspaper publisher and he took control with his eye on the wine.  Today the Milza family has returned the winery to a thriving enterprise with wine as the focus, and today is a popular tourist attraction.  The new additions to the structures built by Maria are the Tuscany House, a 25 room hotel, and an 18 hole golf course.

So if you go, look past the tourist trappings, give a smile and an a thought to Renault, who on the sands of New Jersey contributed his drop of wine history.

Orange: the New White – or the Fourth Wine Colour?

Austrian Wine

A new term is dominating the wine trade, forums and fairs these days: Orange wine.  But no one quite knows what it actually means. And no wonder. Because there are no regulations, no rules and no specific definition for this wine style.

Austrian wine journalist Helmut O. Knall tries to shed a bit of light on the subject:

Orange Wine. Where does it come from? Of course an English-speaking colleague invented this term when he had the wine in his glass for the first time. And it’s not inaccurate, especially because many of these wines have an orange shimmer to them when exposed to light. But, to put it simply, it is mainly a white wine that has been matured like a red wine. This means the grapes are not just destemmed and then pressed; first, they soak on their skins for a few hours – which is called maceration.

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Meridion par Pierre Perrin 2011

IMG_1050Today I want to talk about a concept that I touched on in the last blog; the idea that wine needs to be drunk in context.  Don’t go running for your wine dictionary or Wikipedia, I don’t think you’ll find the term. I’m just developing the framework now because, well, it’s my blog and I get to do things like that.  Context is defined as, “the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines it’s meaning,” or more plainly, “the circumstances in which as event occurs; a setting.”

When all is said and done–and trust me, more will be said than done–wine is just a beverage.  The people reading this who love wine just went into shock, and if you are currently convulsing on the floor I’m sorry, I should have given more warning, and I feel your pain.  However, the statement is true.  It was developed historically because the water supply around most human settlements quickly became questionable because, to put it plainly, humans are lazy and pooped where they lived.  So instead of better hygiene we opted for an intoxicating beverage made from grapes.  Far better to get drunk and forget where we put the keys to the castle then to dig a privy.  And what better thing to do with our extra time from not digging latrines then spend the next 800 years learning how to make better wine and telling even more fantastic stories about how we did it!

Enter the concept of context.  Our first form of context is food.  Wine does taste better when consumed with food and food tastes better when eaten with wine.  A good example is white wine with fish or red wine with beef.  Why?  That guy probably had a blog too and it stuck!  In truth, fish actually does taste better with white wine most of the time, but not always.  It depends entirely on the wine and upon the fish; i.e. context.

Marketing helps contribute to the way we approach our wines.  Laws that assign particular times, places, and reasons for drinking wine have occurred throughout human history, and only adds to the suspense.  Going to a party?  Get the bottle with the happy kangaroo with the yellow tail.  Wife or girlfriend making a “special” dinner?  Head straight to the supercharged high-alcohol California or Australian reds for a night she’ll never remember…I mean forget.  Looking for a gift for the Boss?  Nothing says “notice me and my brown nose” more than a over priced Bordeaux.  What drives our wine selections gives that bottle it’s context.

The next concept we will touch upon is socialization.  Wine tastes better when consumed with friends, so civilized human beings invented a time where people could all get together to loudly complain about work, quietly complain about spouses, critique their government, lie about how important they were, and lament about how misunderstood and miserable we as a society felt.  We called it “Happy Hour.”  Why?  You guest it, that guy had a blog too and it stuck!  However, you’ll all agree that wine does taste better when we drink it with other people.  Socialization takes the edge off of life, and makes us feel less alone in the world.  Ironically enough, so will a few glasses of wine.

So, what about when you have a mediocre wine; not bad, but not great, what do you do?  Tell a great story.  In the John Ford classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, when Jimmy Stewart admits that it was John Wayne and not he who shot Liberty Valance, the reporter exclaims, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”  Much of human history is popular fiction, and the Romans, Greeks, Monks, Kings, Popes, movie stars, singers, athletes, battles, sex, neat labels, and great name have all lent their names to keeping even the most boring wines en vogue for centuries.  Their legacies help in setting the context.

Well, I think it’s time to talk about wine, and specifically this week we are talking about the Meridion par Piette Perrin 2011.  A tasty red wine wine from Cotes-du-Rhone which I enjoyed alone in my backyard by the fire pit after a week of  aggravation, it features a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan and Syrah grapes.  The Meridion is unoaked, which was an enjoyable surprise.  A nice aroma, which stood up to both my Grandson’s celebratory Alec Bradley It’s a Boy toro and the wood fire, wafted across on the Connecticut Autumn breeze.  The taste was great: a mood altering black cherry, nice chewy tannins, and a long, smooth finish.

So, what’s the hook?   Read the label, who made the wine?  Jean and Francois Perrin.  These are the winemakers behind the wines of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  They are Decanter’s Men of the Year, rock star winemakers whose work luckily found it’s way to me!  And that is the context of this wine!

El Campeador 2012

El CampeadorThis blog is about wine, and I’ll try to keep it that way.  However, wine isn’t just fermented grape juice and I’ll never just talk solely about what comes out of the bottle.  I firmly believe that wine should be consumed within context; a meal, an event, your emotional state, or terroir. I have found this to be true many, many times: If you allow the wine to talk, it will tell you the story of the land it is from.  This might seem silly if you view wine only as a beverage.  If that is the way you feel, may I suggest coke or water, it certainly would be cheaper.

With this wine, the story (context) might outshine the wine.  You might think that means the wine isn’t that great, but that is not the case.  Perhaps we have a really good story, or maybe I’ve become a better story teller.

The wine is Pamela Geddes’s El Campeador 2012 from Jumilla, Spain.  Pamela is Scottish by birth, and began her career making Scotch Whisky.  There’s a surprise!  She fell in love with wine and moved to South America, then Australia, before finally owning her own vineyard in Spain.

The wine is a tasty blend of Syrah, Monastrell, and Petit Verdot. The color of the El Campeador is inky black.  We’ve talked about Monastrell, Mourvedre for the Frankophiles before in Griffy on Wine.  I really enjoy its smooth velvety texture and dark fruit flavor.  The Petit Verdot adds spice to the mix.  The aroma was very firm black fruit and a hint of vanilla.

The name of the wine “El Campeador” comes from Spain’s nation folk hero, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar.  We in America know him better as El Cid!  Rodrigo lived from 1043 to 1099.  He was called El Cid (the Lord) by the Muslims and El Campeador (the Champion) by the Christians.  He fought for and against both Muslims and Christians.  He was a nobleman from Castile, served in the court of King Ferdinand the Great, and was both the commander and royal standard bearer for Ferdinand’s son Sancho.  El Cid lead military campaigns against Sancho’s brothers and Muslims in Andalusia.  He became famous for his victories in these campaigns while he enlarged Castilian territory at the expense of the Muslims.  In 1072 Sancho died suddenly from a bad case of murder, so Alfonso, Sancho’s only heir, came to power and exiled Rodrigo.

He went to work fighting for Muslim rulers against other Muslims and their Christian allies. He also defeated the Almoravids from North Africa.  In 1092, the Almoravids returned and instigated an uprising that resulted in the death of Rodrigo’s friend and benefactor, al-Qadir, in Valencia.  He laid siege to Valencia and took control of the city in 1094.  Rodrigo established an independent principality around Valencia.  A pluralistic state that enjoyed popular support of both Christians and Muslims, this was El Cid’s greatest accomplishment.

He fought against the Almoravids for the rest of his life.  He was never defeated by them, but his son and only heir, Diego, was killed in a battle in 1097.  El Cid died in 1099.  His wife ruled Valencia until 1102 when she surrendered to the Almoravids.

By 1147 it was all over for the Almoravids.  Combined forces under Alfonso of Castile and the king of France forced them out of Spain.  They were the medieval ISIS, their name meant “ one who is trying” or literally “one who is ready for battle at a fortress.”  They didn’t retreat, they fought to the death, never surrendering.

Which makes me wonder, where is our El Cid?  Where is our El Campeador?  Who is going to step up and take their place in history and bring Christians and Muslims together and stop this stupid fighting to the death.

Do yourself a favor get the movie El Cid starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren.  Then grab a bottle–make that  two bottles, it’s a long movie–of  Monastrell, the wine of Valencia, and watch a movie where leaders know what the hell they were doing.

COS Cerasuolo Di Vittoria.

COSMost of the time I allow the WINEDAR to take the lead, but sometimes I know exactly where I want to go to get myself a great bottle of wine.  Such is the case in this week’s Griffy on Wine.

The poem Desiderata suggests that we go “placidly into the world….” and I’ve tried.  However, the world is becoming a very dark and threatening place, I’m getting more and more  disillusioned by its violence, lack of enlightenment, it’s sham and drudgery.  I’m home sick.

So, I punched in 36 degrees 57 minutes North, 14 degrees 32 minutes East on the WINEDAR, and all you sailors out there know where we are: Vittoria, Sicily.

I’m here for some comfort wine.  COS is located here, the vineyard founded by three friends who had nothing to do before college started so they harvested a couple tons of Nero d’Avola, crushed the grapes with their feet, fermented it in an old cement vat, corked 1400 bottles and sold it in one of the kids’ Grandfather’s wine shop in Palermo.  The rest as they say is history, two of the friends are still running the business that now produces 200,000 bottles a year.  It’s amazing what a little free time can produce.

Our wine is COS Cerasuolo Di Vittoria.  The wine is a traditional Sicilian blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato.  It’s the Frappato grape that has attracted me here, because I hadn’t heard of it before.  As near as any DNA test can find Frappato is related to Sangiovese, but they have found at least 10 other unidentified matches as well.  Hey, this is Sicily!

Cerasuolo means Cherry, which is the color of the wine and the predominant flavor.  The Frappato adds the aromatics–you guessed it, Cherry–and a little acidity to the wine.  The result is a medium-bodied wine that tastes great and makes you feel like putting your feet up to relax safe at home.  This is the first Sicilian wine with it’s own DOCG.  Some wines are aged in large oak casks, some in small oak barrigues.  At COS, they ferment and age their wine in amphorae made from terracotta, same as the Greeks did 2000 years ago.

But the story continues: there is a new star in Sicilian wines and her name is Arianna Occhipinit, who happens to be the niece of the the “O” in COS, Giusto Occhipiniti.  Arianna started by making 2,000 bottles of Frappato wine from grapes on the family farm in 2004, now 11 years later she has a 14,000 square foot winery, exporting to 25 countries about 110,000 bottles a year. See, it’s true what they say about Sicilian women, they are more serious than a shotgun!

It’s amazing what passion can do for you.  These wines are terrific, please give them a try, you’ll be happy you did, and I promise you will not be home sick anymore!

If your heart is warm with happiness you’ll need  a glass, if sorrow chills your heart , have two!