Bodegas Mas Alta Artigas 2010

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Okay, we find ourselves once again cruising along in the imaginary Canary-yellow Fiat 500 convertible, following the Winedar.  We are heading about 70 miles south of Barcelona to the sea side town of Tarragona, where we’ll head inland for another 15 miles or so  to Vilella Alta.

We are in the Priorat DOC, one of the worlds most unique wine areas. It is completely surrounded by the Montsant DO.  It is one of only two DOC’s in Spain, the other being Rioja.  Remember DOC means you are getting top-tier wine.  One of the very few world-class wines based on Grenache, wines from here have been raised from almost complete anonymity to being some of the worlds most expensive bottles.

What drives the cost?  Yields!  Spain is very dry, and Priorat is one of the driest, warmest areas in Spain.  The dryer the terroir, the lower the yields, and the lower yields generally mean better quality.  Couple the dry climate with poor soil and old vines, and you get an expensive, good tasting wine.  The soil is Llicorella, a free draining, nutrient-poor soil made of partially decomposed slate and quartz. Llicorella is the Catalan name for slate.

Although wines from Priorat seem to be a new phenomenon, wine production here goes back to the 12th century where Monks (God bless the Monks) of the Carthusian Order established the Priorato Dei Scala Dei Monastery. Ruins of the monastery can still be seen today, and of course the vines still hug the hillsides.

The monks managed the vines until the state took control in 1835.  At the end of the 19th century Phylloxera wiped out most of the vines, bringing economic ruin and large scale emigration from the area.  Bulk cheap wine was the thing from 1954 to 1984 when the locals made the switch to quality wine.

Much of the wine development in Priorat wine can be credited to Rene Barbier and Alvaro Palacios.  Barbier was a winemaker working for the Palacios family making Rioja.  He saw the potential and bought some land in 1979, then he convinced the Palacios family to invest and plant new vineyards in 1991.  The area became a DOC in 2006.

Our wine comes from Bodegas Mas Alta, a joint venture started in 1999 between owners Michel and Christine Vanhoutte, Rhone Negociant/ winemaker Michel Tardieu, and Enologist Philippe Cambie.

The wine is a red blend of 70% Grenache, 25% Carignan and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Aged in French Oak on a 16 month rotation of 35% new barrel, 30% 1 year old barrel and 35% two year old barrel, there is a method to the madness!

Okay, the tasting notes from the vineyard say the wine was blood red, but my eyes have to disagree.  The color is a deep purple, very pleasing to the eye, and opaque.  The nose is rather opaque too.  I’m not sure if this is the fault of the wine or my cold, but I’m going to blame the cold.  I did get a very nice mineral nose with the red fruit aromas.  The taste was okay, to be honest I was disappointed, for the cost of the wine $25, I had expected more.

Possibly I should have benched myself, or put myself  on the two week DL (Disable List)  drinking wine with a cold stupid and possibly a wasted of time and money.  Plus, I’m in a bit of a slump, I haven’t picked a wine that has wowed me for weeks now.

For now I’m going to just relax, kick back and see where the remainder of the bottle takes me.  Try some wine from Priorat and let me know what you think.

I have enjoyed great health at a great age because everyday since I can remember I have consumed a bottle of wine except when I have not felt well. Then I have consumed two bottles.

~A Bishop of Seville Baron

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The best $30 I’ve ever spent on a Cruise ship

Okay, I might be exaggerating, but the $30 I “invested” (thank you George Lakoff for teaching me how to pick my words) on the two wine tastings I enjoyed on my last cruise were just great.   See Jo, I didn’t “spend” $30, I INVESTED it!

2014-12-04 12.26.12The first tasting was held on our first day at sea, and making it even sweeter was the fact that it happened to be my birthday.  The tasting was held in the very elegant French dining room, which just added to the flavor of the event.  The theme of this tasting was Old World vs. New World, so we were partaking of wines from Europe (old world) against wines from the U.S., Argentina, Australia and South Africa (new world).  For example, we compared a French Chardonnay (Laboure-Roi) with a Australian Chardonnay (Penfolds).

There were about 16 participants from around the world, and the wine managers from the two dining rooms on the ship were the hosts, each giving brief descriptions and overviews of the wines.  After sampling the hosts would ask for impressions and comments.  Here is where the education and enjoyment began.  The different interpretations of the same wine, sampled at the same time, were amazing.  I liked the old world wines while the guy sitting across from me, a businessman from Hong Kong, enjoyed the new world wines better.  Some couldn’t taste any difference at all, but everyone was sensing and tasting different stuff.

Now, some of the matchings I didn’t think made sense, like pairing off a Ruffino Chianti and Colores del Sol Malbec.  These are not comparable wines in taste, which in my opinion wasn’t a fair contest.  When I pressed about it, the host explained that he wanted you to taste the distinctive flavors of the wines, and how an Old World distinctiveness differed from the New.  I liked both of them.  The last pairing in this flight of wines was between two red blends: Marchesi de Frescobaldi, Italy, and red blend from Chateau St Jean, California.  The Italian was simply outstanding.

The second tasting was a week later after we have visited all but one of our ports, and we had two days at sea to relax and think about what we had seen. 2014-12-10 14.59.39 This tasting was held in the far less formal environment of the Spanish restaurant, with it’s big picture windows and Greek islands flowing past and our ship headed to Naples from Istanbul.

This was a “Progressive Tasting.”  I’m on guard at the very word “progressive” but in this case the term means tasting wine from the lightest to boldest.  We started with a Beringer White Zinfandel, which was very tasty to the shock of all participants.  Next was a Matua Sauvignon Blanc, a Bonterra Chardonnay, the Estancia Pinot Noir, a Penfolds Shiraz, and at the far end was Bonterra, an “organic” Cabernet Sauvignon which really needed help to get any praise.  Each wine would be sampled first on its own, second with a green apple, third with lemon, and last with Brie.

You have to try this on your own!  I’m telling you, you’ll be surprised.  The food will radically alter the flavor of the wine.  Sometimes the lemon would spice up the wine or flatten it, or ruin it altogether, while the apple calmed run-away tannins or added body to a weak wine.  The organic Cab would have been DOA if not for the Brie.  It was a blast to watch and hear the reaction of the participants.

Now let me tell you why I said this blog isn’t about the wine, its about WINE.  None of these wines tasted were “special;” they were at best $10 to $15 bottles that on the ship were $40.  Drinking wine at sea is even more expensive then at home.  I enjoyed pretty much all of the wines from the first tasting, but from the second I only really enjoyed the Beringer, Estancia, and Penfolds.  Making both events memorable though were the hosts and the participants.  The summaries, the explanations of the wines, and the setting of the themes were brilliantly done.  Frankly, I’d never thought of tasting the same wine with lemon, apple and cheese.  Now I’m doing it all the time.  So, if nothing else these tastings opened my mind to that experience.  The locations were pretty cool too!

As you may have noticed, the true joy for me was in talking with the people, listening to their stories and telling some of my own.  To the woman from Spain who was telling me about going to dinner at the home of a boyfriend and knowing the relationship was over when he put the Rioja Gran Reserva in the the refrigerator, I smiled wondering how the rest of that evening went.  The guy from Hong Kong who skips lunch to go to tastings at a yacht club, I hope to start the same diet.  And to the Australian couple who had never tasted wine before and wanted to give it a try, and afterwards couldn’t wait to get home and get going, I hope your first bottle was a good one.

I sat and talked with people well after the last drop of wine had been poured, smiling ear to ear as we conversed about our shared passion.  From time to time, the long-suffering Josephine would look into the room, turn around, and go.  I think she was happy for me, because for that brief time I wasn’t Griffy the minion, but Griffy on Wine, enjoying sunlight and water held together with love.

Sassetti Livio Brunello Di Montalcino

What attracted to me to this wine was it’s listing on Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines for 2013. Due to alcohol laws that I don’t believe anyone understands, least of all the people who write them, I could not get this wine in Connecticut. So I found this bottle at the Hoosick Street Wine Cellar in Troy, New York. My son, Willie, works in Troy and routinely picks up wines for me at the home of WeSpeakWine.com.

It was early in the new year and I was enjoying a visit with his family. Willie went to get me my most recent order that included the Brunello and as he brought it out I noticed it had a little baby sock on it. I thought that was cute, thanked him for getting the wine for me, and noticed the five people in the room looking at me like I had five heads.

So, in good humor my son says to me they are going to change my moniker to GPG. Ah, a light shines over my marblehead. GPG is what my kids and I called my father; it’s short for Grandpa Griffith. My daughter in law was with child, I was going to be a grandfather.

Fast forward 10 months and on September 14, 2014 we welcomed Benigno Lee Cruzgriffith into the world! Hello Beny! We opened up the wine and celebrated my little Beny Boy with a joyful dinner.

The wine lived up to its to 100 rating from Wine Spectator. Now, right off the bat let me tell you this is a very modest Brunello at about $46 a bottle. Truth be told, this wine tasted more like a well-manored Bordeaux or a muscular Pinot Noir to me than a Brunello. There was plenty of aromatic pleasure and a deep red garnet color. The taste was so smooth, totally drinkable, and very fruit forward for a Brunello. While it’s no Biondi-Santi, it was nonetheless a very good wine.

Why Brunello Di Montalcino for Beny? Just like every picture tells a story, so does every wine. Brunello, arguably one of the world’s great wines, has humble roots. The grape used is Sangiovese, same grape used for Chianti. Montalcino has one of the warmest and driest climates in Tuscany, with the grapes in the area ripening up to a week earlier than in other nearby towns. It is the most arid Tuscan DOCG, receiving an average annual 30% less rainfall than the rest of the Chianti region.

Like in all Northern regions, vineyards planted on the north sides of hills receive less sun than those on the southern sides. Vineyards planted on the northern slopes ripen more slowly and tend to produce wines that are racier and more aromatic. Vineyards on the southern and western slopes receive more intense exposure to sunlight and more maritine winds, which produces wines with more power and complexity. The top producers in the area have vineyards on both slopes, and make use of a blend of both styles.

So you see greatness can be achieved by using what you have, to the best of your ability. My dad once told me “we all can’t be roses, most of us will be dandelions, but strive to be the best dandelion you can.” I never really liked that analogy, I always felt a sting of disappointment in me from my dad, but I realize there is truth there.

However there is another reason for the exceptionalness of Brunello Di Montalcino, great parenting. In the mid-19th century, a local farmer named Clemente Santi isolated certain plantings of Sangiovese vines in order to produce a 100% varietal wine that could be aged for a considerable period of time. In 1888, his grandson Ferruccio Biondi-Santi released the first “modern version” of Brunello di Montalcino that was aged for over a decade in large wood barrels. So, never underestimate the power of loving parents or winemakers in the making of a great kid or a great wine.

Both also require patience. Aging a wine for over a decade, you have to be incredibly patient. Raising a child is no different, whether it’s calming a fussy newborn or getting a moody teenager to do their homework. Patience was something I wasn’t always good at.

So, I hope my Grandson will be a Brunello Di Montalcino, strong in flavor, reflective of his terroir, proud of his history, confident of his abilities, and prized and appreciated for who he is. Here’s to you Beny, may 2014 be a fantastic vintage, live long and prosper!

GPG

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The Three Bordeaux Birthday Bash

IMG_1122One Bordeaux, two Bordeaux, three Bordeaux, floor!  In all honesty is sounds a lot worse than it actually was.  Now, understand the abuse of wine is something that really does get my Irish up–remember I’m Italian only by association–but truth be told this was a memorable wine experience.  Being a professional, I offer this disclaimer: no brain cells were injured during the making of  this memory; maybe a bit twisted perhaps.

The occasion was the birthday celebration for my best friend, my comrade, Tony.  For over twenty years Tony and I have been the odd couple, suffering the slings and arrows of life, and dealing with the outrages of lack of fortune.  So, it was no surprise when Tony showed up at the house with a bottle of wine.

The wine was Chateau Haut Mont-St. Fort 2009. Following two glasses, some cheese and crackers, we arrived at IMG_1106our studied conclusion that this was a good wine.  A blend of  60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, quite the tasty combination.  We arrived at our first intermission while Tony went to pick up his mother.

What goes well with Mom’s spaghetti and meatballs?  Why a nice Bordeaux J-P Moueix Private Reserve 2010. J-P Moueix is a Bordeaux négociant founded in 1937.  The company distributes prestigious wines from Saint Emilion and Pomerol and manages its own portfolio of estates.  The jewel in their crown is Château Pétrus, the most sought after Merlot in the world. The family have been almost wholly responsible for the rise to stardom of Saint IMG_1107Emilion and Pomerol over the last 50 years and are even making waves in the Napa with their super premium Dominus Estate.  All that aside, the wine is smooth, ripe and long.  More sophisticated wine drinkers would label this wine a claret.

After a second intermission, which included a walk about the block to ponder the difficult issues of life the universe and everything, Tony and I arrived at the answer of 42, and a third bottle of wine.

Dinner!  Oh hell yes, Pork Loin, mashed potatoes, veggies and oh yeah and a third bottle of IMG_1110Bordeaux, la Chapelle.  Another winner of a blend 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15.5% Cabernet Franc, 28.5% Merlot.  I don’t know if sommeliers all around the world are shaking their heads in disgust, but to me this was a super food pairing with the wine.  The arrival of Tony’s sister heralded one last glass with cake; this was a day for the record books.

Now did we give these wines the attention they deserved?  Probably not, but they joy and memories they help create will lived longer than anything from Decanter Magazine.   Another page in a life well lived, bless you all.

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