Duca Di Saragnano Vecciano

untitledRecently I listened to a conversation between a sommelier and the director of sales for Chateau Palmer.  The history of the Chateau was fascinating, sold by Madame Marie Bumet de Ferrier in 1814 during a stagecoach ride for 100,000 francs to an English General, Charles Palmer, who stayed in France after the Napoleonic wars.  Palmer tried to make a go of the wine business until 1844 when his money problems forced him to turn the property over to his bankers.  The bank did little with the land until they sold it to the Pereire Brothers in 1853.  At that time the Pereire family was involved in a battle with the Rothschilds to see who would be the biggest dog is the French wine business, and all suffered from Chateau envy.

At this point the sommelier asked about Chateau Palmer’s status as a third growth, which of course was not to imply that the sales rep had not washed in several days, but that she was looking for a lower cost.  Unfazed, and using a book that I will need to find and read titled, “What Price Bordeaux,” the sales director went on to describe the terroir geography, the layout of the vineyards, and how there is really no relationship between the classification system, quality and price. The wine is worth the price, which is about $300 to $500 a bottle depending on the vintage.

Now before I hear too many ooohs and ahhhs I’d love to tell you I was at the table with these two, enjoying the wine in a five star Michelin restaurant in Pairs, tasting a bottle of 1961 Chateau Palmer.  I’d love to tell you that, truely I would.  Truth was I was listening to a podcast on my treadmill in my basement, banging out my three miles staring at a green wall.

The podcasts are produced by Sommelier Elizabeth Schneider and her husband who goes by M.C. Ice.  The programs are called Wine for Normal People.  Their moniker is “the podcast for people who like wine but not the snobbery that goes with it.”  The podcast is perfect for my time on the treadmill or exercise bike.  I’d recommend it for anyone with an interest in wine and 30 minutes to an hour to listen.

Now back to the table because the subject that I most enjoyed listening to them talk about was how Italians are far better at marketing than the French, or basically how to circumvent your own DOC.  For example, with the Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino, its the Rosso that pays the producers bills while the Brunello ages.  I never knew how fierce the rivalry between the French and Italian winemakers was until they talked about how the new super tuscans were similar to Bordeaux blends.

I had never connected the two before but makes perfect sense.  Right off the bat I’m not saying they are anything like each other; the tuscans are all muscle and power while the Bordeaux are feminine and elegant.  But they are similar in thought and design.  And just to make it clear, I’m talking comparably priced wines, not a $3k bottle vs. $10.

It just so happens that our wine this week is a super Tuscan, the Duca di Saragnano Vecciano Toscana 2008.  Now this wine was very close to a Bordeaux in taste. The Duca is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese.  Take the Sangiovese and replace with Petite Verdot or Cabernet Franc and this wine might speak French.  The color is intense, oh lord, RUBY red, I need another color name.  The nose is more restrained than most Italians, with ripe fruit and a hint of vanilla, very enjoyable.  You get that dry mouth feel that good Italian wines have, with excellent tannins that I found very tasty, and a nice finish.  Remembering back to some of the Bordeaux I recently reviewed, yeah, these wines are incredibly similar.

So here is your assignment; go out and buy a bottle of Bordeaux and a super tuscan, make sure they are around the same price.  Get four people together with some cheese and crackers.  Covering the bottles is optional unless you fear bias, then pour, sniff, taste and compare.  Consider adding some fruit and see how the taste changes, trust me your wine experience will improve with mindful drinking.  Let me know about you experience, I’d really like to know.

Also, check out Wine for Normal People and let me know what you think.

“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.”

John Keats


Seghesio Zinfandel & Ombrato Primitivo

A tale of two wines.

It was the best of wines, it was the worst of wines; the reality was, both wines were pretty good, but thank you for allowing me to channel my inner Dickens.  Stuff like this happens with me, why just the other day I was talking with Bard of Avon and said “To Drink or not to drink, that is an improbable proposition,” at which point William Shakespeare said, “Thank God, pour for two.”  And of course with Shakespeare being only a spirit, I had to drink both glasses.  Can you tell?

This week’s wines are “Seghesio” Sonoma Zinfandel, and Ombrato Primitivo from Puglia Italy.  Some of you know that Primitivo is the Italian version of Zinfandel, and Zinfandel happens to be my favorite food group.  We had some friends over for dinner and whenever there are enough people around to justify opening two bottles of wine, it almost certainly becomes an opportunity for a tasting.  Let the games begin!

ombrato-primitivo-puglia-igt-italy-10548514The Primitivo was off to an early lead winning the label competition.  It’s black bottle paired a bright orange label with a really neat inscription: “It has passed into Proverb, that wisdom is overshadowed by wine,” by Pliny the Elder.  I have quoted this Roman officer original encyclopedist before, I’m sure he knew what he was talking about.  The Seghesio had an understated white label with Blue and Black script.  I think my son’s philosophy shined through on this debate, “It’s orange, which means it’s the best.”

Both wines had good color, and it was here that the Seghesio started showing it superior terroir as it had a slightly deeper heart.  Both wines were beautifully red and clear.  On the nose the Seghesio again distinguished itself over the Ombrato.  I caught the aroma of berries and pepper from the Seghesio, while the Ombrato was mostly silent on the nose, which was a little disappointing.

When we arrived at the first taste, what had started as a slight lead turned into a landslide victory.  Again, the clear table favorite was the zns_webmainSeghesio.  Even Josephine gave the wine a very infrequent thumbs up, which is an endorsement that makes Robert Parker blush.  The Seghesio was medium-bodied, a little tannic, and while it had all the typical berries it was not as fruity as other Zin’s I have tasted.  The Ombrato was lighter bodied, not nearly as full body as the Seghesio.  The Ombrato was clearly being out-classed, it was a featherweight boxing a middleweight.  The Ombrato fought hard and went all 15 rounds, and although there was no knockout the judges’ vote was unanimous, the clear winner was the Seghesio.

There really should be no surprise here; Sonoma is one of the premier terroirs of the world.  The Seghesio family has been producing Zinfandel here since 1885.  With four generations of winemaking experience the outcome was a forgone conclusion.

I think it’s only fitting to allow Mr. Dickens to have the last word, seeing how he’s traveled a century to be with us today.  “Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.”  Sure thing Mr. Dickens, here you go!


Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #14 (#MWWC14)wine-stain1-3

This is a “special edition” of Griffy on Wine.  I have decided to enter the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.  The MWWC was created by another blogger “The Drunken Cyclist” and “The Armchair Sommelier”  to  promote more creative wine writing. The thought was that we get caught up in tasting notes, winery visits, and the occasional food porn and we soon forget that part of the reason we put in all the hours that we do on these silly blogs is that we love to write!

I haven’t been drinking wine long enough to have developed any of my own wine traditions, so I went looking for some to learn about.  That’s what wine has become to me: education, history, geography, culture and civilization all available to me at the pop of a cork!

It didn’t take me very long to find a wine tradition, and one that is about 3,000 years old no less!  I can hear Tevia singing “Tradition” in my head, because today we’re talking Kosher wine.

The Kashrut is the body of Jewish law dealing with what can and cannot be eaten.  More specifically, it details how those foods must be prepared.  The root of the word is KaF-Shin-Resih, which means “fit” or “proper.”

Are these laws Religious or just common sense health regulations?  A little of both and none of each.  No blessings are uttered over the food, and food can be Kosher without any involvement from a Rabbi.  Also, the laws really don’t have anything to do with health.

So to channel Tevia, why do they do it? “I don’t know but it’s a Tradition,” but the short answer really is because the Torah says so.  The word used to describe this is “CHUKKIN:” laws which there are no reasons for.  It’s a way for Jews to demonstrate they are different and that they simply make a choice to trust and obey a higher authority.  It’s a tradition that takes a humble meal and turns it into a religious event, or a  simple table into a temple.  Rather impressive if you ask me.

Wine is the quintessential beverage to the Jewish faith, as it is to many other religions of antiquity and today.  There is the rub, wine used for any of these other rituals can not be Kosher. Therefore the laws about making wine are the most sensitive, complicated, and tedious of the Kashrut.

Growing the grapes is not much of a problem.  Usually the grapes are left untouched and are 100 percent organic.  The entire process of growing and tending the grapes must be done by observant Jews.

The hard part begins at harvest.  Once delivered from the vineyard the entire winemaking process is under the direction on the Mashgichim, the “supervisor.”  No non-Jews can enter the wine processing area or take part in any part of the process.  If they do, the entire harvest is lost.

Any ingredients used must also be kosher and must be handled by observant Jews up to the point of bottling or pasteurization, whichever comes first.  If bottled first the bottle is marked with a “helhsher” seal of approval and the wine can now be handled by non-Jews and still be considered Kosher.

The other route is called “mevushal” or boiled wine, where the wine is heated to between 164 and 194 degrees.  Once it reaches this point the wine is kosher.  The mashgichim marks the tanks with his seal and now the wine can be handled and aged in normal fashion and by Jews and non-Jews alike.  The winemaker must be extremely careful not to cook his wine, as this will limit its age-worthiness, but this is the most common way of making kosher wine.  Again, no one knows where this boiling of the wine comes from but it is not an uncommon practice, even for other religions that are close to Israel.  For example, boiling water is added to sacramental wine used by the Eastern Orthodox Christians.

How do they taste?  I couldn’t notice any difference in nose or flavor between a Kosher wine or non-kosher wine.  It gets back the point that you are making a choice to follow a different drummer or not, the wine will not be the determining factor.

Finding Kosher wines will not be the easiest thing to do.  There are only three 100% kosher vineyards outside Israel, and they are in California, Oregon and France.  The vineyard in France, Parnassa, which means “Prosperity,” is a growing enterprise but is being hampered by growing anti-semitism in France.  The world is being hampered by growing intolerance everywhere and it’s a shame that something as innocent as wine is being effected.

There is a tradition I will adopt and that is the reciting of the  Borei Pri Hagafen when opening a bottle of wine:

“Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine”.


Penfold’s Bin 2 2010

IMG_1394One of the things I like best about writing is for brief moments you can be anyone, anywhere, at any time you’d like to be.  For example, right now I’m an Italian-American Australian parking my imaginary canary yellow convertible Fiat 500 in the Penfolds parking lot in Adelaide Australia.  Hoorah!

Penfolds is clearly Australia’s most respected vineyard and winery.  From the flagship ‘Grange” at $850.00 a bottle to the Griffyonomy class Bin 2, 8, 9, and 23 at $15, a Penfold’s wine is a can’t miss bottle of pure drinking joy.

Penfolds story begins in London in 1838, when Doctor Christopher Rawson Penfold and his young wife sailed off to the Free Colony of South Australia.  They arrived and purchased 500 acres, planted Grenache on the hills overlooking the Gulf of St. Vincent, and built what is today is known as the Magill Estate.  They started making a port-like wine in 1844.

The good Doctor died young but Mary forged onward, forming a partnership with her son-in-law Thomas Hyland.  By 1890, Penfolds and Company is producing about ⅓ of all the wine in South Australia.

Nothing much changes until the late 1940’s, when Australian servicemen return home from World War II with a taste of European table wines.  In 1948, a young assistant winemaker named Max Schubert is sent to Spain to study Sherry Production.  He makes a side trip to Bordeaux, catches the Bordeaux bug, and can’t wait to get home to make his own Bordeaux-style wine based on Shiraz (Syrah).

In 1957 Hermitage Grange is born to less than rave reviews: “a concoction of wild fruits, sundry berries and crushed ants predominating” was not exactly an ego boost.  However, Max is determined to keep trying, and with permission from a Penfolds family member keeps working under cover until 1959, when he gets approval from the directors to release the wine.

The wine was a success. and 1960’s Schubert leads Penfolds into other table wines based on Australian and international varietals.  Shooting from the hip and flying by the seat of his pants, Schubert was a stickler for quality and the brand grows.

Don Ditter took over for Schubert in 1973.  Far more analytical, Ditter still kept the values set for Grange by Schubert.  In 1989 John Duval took on the chief winemakers role.  In 2002, a high school math teacher turned winemaker Peter Gago took control.  Now with 60 year old vines, Grange’s consistency from vintage to vintage allows their wines to stand on the same stage as any other high-profile, age-worthy wine in the world.

Today Penfolds is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, which is one of the largest wine companies in the world.  They produce 31 million cases a year from labels such as Beringer, Chateau St, Jean, St. Clement, Stages Leap, Castello di Gabbiano in Italy, Colores del Sol in Argentina and Rosemount, Lindemans and Coldstream Hills in Australia. Penfolds is the jewel in the corporate crown, worth about $2.8 Billion.

Penfold’s is not very creative in naming wines.  For the most part they just use Bin numbers. Originally these numbers would refer to where the wine was stored underground in numbered alcoves call “bins”.  In 1970 they set the bin numbers to the wine, not the alcove, to keep from driving their customers nuts.  The bin number has nothing to do with the cost or age of the wine.  If you want to decode the bin numbers you’ll need a chart.

Our wine is a Bin 2, 2010, first released in 1960, an “Australian Burgundy”.  It’s a palate-pleasing blend of Shiraz and Mourvedre. There is only a slight nose and deep purple color to greet you in the glass, but what makes this wine a champ is the taste.  Its soft, medium-bodied,  and just begs for you to drink it and enjoy.  This is a fun wine that offers complexity that adds to the value of the wine and not confusion.  The Bin 2 has the manors of a nice Rhone with an Aussie accent.

If you ever have to bring a wine to an event and your are not sure of what wine to choose, you cannot go wrong by choosing a Penfolds wine.  Especially if your host doesn’t want to get clubbed over the head with a fruit bomb wine.