Wine is a chemical symphony!

These words of wisdom are from Dr. Maynard Amerine former professor at University of California at Davis.  I saw them in a blog that a fellow wine blogger had posted.  This interpreted man is studying for the first unit of his WSET (Wine Spirits Education Trust) test.  He’s working on becoming a certified wine educator.

I would suggested chanting this to the melody of the the “Bitter Sweet Symphony”;

Polyphenols, krypton (the noble gas, not Superman’s home planet), mannoproteins, anthocyanins, isinglass (curiously, not a realm in Lord of the Rings), colloids, ferrocyanide (which doesn’t sound at all like something that should be in wine), laccase, tyrosinase (not a dinosaur, but maybe should be), potassium bicarbonate, and because it’s so fun to say (not at all) . . . polyvinylpolypyrrolidone.

In the blog he said that studying this stuff  was like reading the Dark Arts and Black Magic workbook from Hogwarts.  Maybe, I better keep my ideas to myself.

So, let’s talk about what I’ve been drinking this week.


First wine is Murrieta’s Well, “The Spur”.  And if you can remember back to  a recent post called “Witches Brew” about my fascination with red blends, this is one at I would highly recommend.  Here is the list of ingredients guaranteed to even make Hermione happy.

40% Petite Sirah, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Malbec.  A brew worthy of Severus Snape.

Inky violet color.  Great aromas of black cherry. Fantastic taste.  I got all the black fruits, very fruit forward but not overpowering.  Strong tannins, but I like that.  You can taste the oak and spices here.  This wine was a recommendation by a sales person at Amity Wines and Spirits great price under $20, drinks like it cost twice as much.

Murrieta’s Well is one of California’s original wine estates established in 1884.  In 1933 Louis Mel sold the property to Ernest Wente.  Wente has become one of my favorite wine companies.


Second wine is a classic.  Caparzo 2011 Brunello Di Montalcino.  Sometimes I think the blog should be called Griffy on Italian Wines, because I drink a ton of Italian wine and love them.  I’m something of a Brunello freak, ever since I was introduced to the wine by my wine mentor Mario of Center Street Wine and Spirits in Wallingford CT.

I kind of went out of my mind on this one and bought a case.  No, I can’t afford it, but when you get a chance to by a Brunello for the same or lower cost as a  Chianti Classico I say take it. My wife said something far different.  Here’s the great news.  I now have about a five year supply of Brunello and that’s okay by me.

I did check and 2011 was a terrific year for Brunello.  I can drink it now and I’ll be good until 2022.  The wine had a deep garnet color. I got an elegant scent of rose and iris and berries mingling in the glass.  On the palate I got cherry, strawberry, orange, and a hint of cinnamon.  The wine has solid tannins and that’s important to me.  It’s rated a 91.

Since I brought it up what is the difference between Chianti Classico and Brunello?  Both are made with the sangiovese grape, so how different could they be?  The short version would be winemaking practices and geography.  Let’s take a look.

Brunello by law has to be 100% sangiovese, Chianti as we already know can be a blend as long as 85% is sangiovese.  The sangiovese grape tend to be less fruit driven than say merlot or cabernet sauvignon, so by blending these grapes with sangiovese or “cut” with these grapes will result in a change the texture and flavor of the wine.  But many Chianti’s are made with only sangiovese so this doesn’t explain the whole story.

There are many different clones of sangiovese use in Italy.  The two most important are sangiovese grosso, which is the clone used in  Brunello and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano where it is called “prugnolo gentile” and sangiovese piccolo which is grown in Chianti.  They have debated for centuries which one is better with no clear winner.  I will say that using data only on what is planted in Tuscany Sangiovese grosso is winning.

Brunello spends three years in oak and then  one year on the bottle before release.  Chianti Classico Riserva spends 5 years  split between barrel and bottle.  This explains why these wines are pricey, the producers have to sit on inventory for a few years.

There’s also a big difference in geography between northern Florence and southern Siena. Brunello is made where it’s warmer.  The soil is limestone these two factors gives the grapes more power and ripeness.  The wine’s color is darker.  The tannins are “grippier”, I’m not kidding that’s a real wine term, it means they need to age a little to mellow before you can drink them.

With Chianti Classico the soils are shale and clay.  This soil produces a wine with greater acidity and more finesse.  The temperatures are cooler too which slows the ripping and lowers the sugar levels of the fruit.

Which one is better?  How can you love one child more than another?

Caparzo was started in the 1960’s by a group of friends that liked the wines of Tuscany.  The vineyard was replanted  and the winery was modernized.  In 1998 Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini purchased the estate.  She and her children manage and operate Caparzo today.

No one is sure where the name CAPARZO comes from.  One story is it’s from an old map which labels the property as CA’ PAZZO.  Another says it’s from the Latin CAPUT ARSUM, meaning “place touched by the sun”.  They make a great wine either way.



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