At AVIS we try harder!

How many remember these great old ads?  “Where’s the Beef”?  “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”.  “Plop, Plop, fizz, fizz oh what a relief it is”.  Maybe it’s me but I don’t understand the new ads.  I don’t understand the drop the mic ad for Verizon. That ad wouldn’t move me to purchase anything.  Maybe it’s because I’ve moved into a non-targeted demographic group and I’m no longer hip so the ads are targeted to people who understand them.

You don’t need to be a millennial to understand when you not number one, you need to work harder to get notice and close the sale.  Often, that worked out for the consumer, they got more value.  Something we don’t seem to talk to much about any more.  Warren Buffett always said, “price is what you pay, value is what you get.”

So I’d like to talk about two wine regions that are not well known, are trying harder, and are making great wines that I think are fantastic values.

You say Barolo, I say Roero.  I don’t know how many of you drink wines made from nebbiolo grape, but if you enjoy a good, strong, full body, highly tannic, dry wine, you should look into this wine. “Tastes great, less filling”, sorry couldn’t help myself!  Really these wine are wonderful.

Nebbiolo home is Piedmont in northwestern Italy.  As the “Pour Man” man,  wow, I wish I had thought of that one, Michael Austin says Roero is that place around the place where great nebbiolos are from.  He’s talking about Barolo and Barbaresco. These wines are legendary and expensive.  So, Roero is the DOCG that’s trying harder and offering great value.

Now I’m not going to tell you the wines of Roero are better than the Barolo or Barbaresco, they’re not.  But it’s like paying $200 a seat to see your favorite performer, or paying $20 to see a really good tribute act.  They do offer the person who loves to drink nebbiolo the experience for a lot less money.

IMG_2830Our wine was Matteo Correggia 2011 under $20.  Color was on the mark, a nebbiolo should  be brick red, this on was perfect. Inviting and satisfying aromas. Tannins were much softer than the Bartolo’s I have been fortunate to taste, this is another advantage to the underdog, this wine is far more approachable young vs. the better known neighbors.  Flavor of cherries and tobacco.  Wine Spectator rated this wine a 89.

The region also produces a white wine from the arneis varietal.  I haven’t found one yet, but you know I’m looking.

Matteo Correggia is the guy  that helped get Roero international recognition.  He died in a tractor accident in 2001, he was only 39 years old.  The other Roero winemakers helped his wife take over, and she’s done a great job ever since.

For our next appellation that’s trying harder, we head west to Spain.  On a high plain, sitting at an altitude of 2300 to 2800 feet about 100 miles north of Madrid welcome to Ribera del Duero.   Ribera del Duero mans “bank of the Duero” and yes we are talking about the famous Duero river that runs through Portugal.  

The grape is tempranillo.  I love this grape because of it dry fruity taste.  Local names use in Ribera del Duero are tinta fino and tinta del pais.  The 800 pound gorilla for this wine in Spain would be Rioja.

The wine comes in three model levels; crianzas, base model, reserva, sport model, and Gran Reserva, luxury model.  Crianzas spend 12 months in oak barrels and a year in the bottle.  Reservas spend 12 months on oak and two more years in the bottle before release. Gran Reservas spend two years in the barrel and three years in bottles and can be unnervingly expensive.

IMG_2833Our wine is Montecastrillo an outstanding bargain at $11.00 from Center Wine and Spirits in Glastonbury CT.  Color intense Cardinal red.  Aroma licorice and flowers.  I’d almost say, jelly bean.  Flavor of red and black berry fruit with a hint of minerality.  Nice long finish.  Dry.  I paired with lentil soup and with dark chocolate tollhouse cookies for dessert, AWESOME!

So, “try it, you’ll like it”.  These wines can “take a licken and keep on ticking”.  “Just do it”.  “They’ll melt in your mouth, not your hand”.

You can read Michael Austin “The Pour Man” in the Hartford Courant’s Living Section every Thursday, it’s the only thing I like about the Hartford Courant.


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.


Short Sipper #4

Hello Ullo!

Okay, how many wine gadgets do you have?  How many toys?  Anyone have a battery operated cork remover?  I have two, neither is worth a damn.  Fancy aerators?  Again I have two, I like them, but hardly ever use them. Trust me they do help on reds.  How many fancy cork removers do you have?  I like my rabbit the best.  How about metal ice cubes or real rock “rocks”?

How many of you got a wine preserver for Christmas?  For the value sippers, did you get the VacU Vin wine saver, of did you blow the $350 bucks for a Coravin?  Drink the rest tomorrow is a concept that I believe most readers of Griffy on Wine would find foreign.  And really for a $10 bottle of wine is it really worth the effort to “preserve”?

Well, today I read about a new gissmo, a wine purifier, named Ullo, for $80 dollars this miracle device will remove sulfites from you wine.  Wow! How does it do that?  Well, I talked to a chemist.  I’m told it’s pretty easy to do this.  I’m told that wine is a very complex mixture, containing multiply molecules.  Some of these molecules will be attracted to each other due to their atomic composition.  So if you want to remove one specific molecule from a mixture all you need to do is pour the mixture through a resin loaded with another molecule that attracts it.  The two bind together and the rest goes on by.  Ullo uses a coffee filter type disposable filter pack that contains the right food grade whatever that binds with the sulfites.  Each filter is good for one bottle of wine.  I think they are expensive at $20 for 6 filters.

Now, I’m told nothing is perfect and some of the sulfites will still get through and some molecules that you are not targeting will get caught too.  This could be sediment and lees which is a good thing. However, no matter how careful the filter is there is going to be collateral damage to the wine.  Which is fine if you are drinking a commercial grade factory wine.  But, if you have invested  in a wine expecting to savor the winemaker’s skill, craft and nuance looking for something special, you just killed your mojo!

Now my Chemist tells me there is another way of ridding you wine of sulfites.  It’s cheaper, far less high tech and can be found in most bath rooms, but please do not try this as home, I might need a real lawyer if you do.  Hydrogen peroxide oxidizes sulfites, turning sulfites into hydrogen sulfates.  As the Chemist said a few drops of H2O2  and you’re good to go.

Turns out this product already exists.  SO2GO, that’s the name, comes in a small spray bottle $25 for 100 uses.  Spray into your glass two to three squirts and pour the wine, no sulfites.  There is also a single use packet for a bottle of wine. There is another product called Just the Wine which is also applied to the glass about three drops should do the trick.  Both product use “food grade” H2O2.  I’m told you will not taste the difference  but if you’re drinking a first-growth Bordeaux, I’d skip this and buy aspirin.

For kicks I asked about using regular Hydrogen Peroxide.  I was told it would work, but it would taste like your were drinking from a metal bucket with a serious level of bitterness. And you might vomit!

The real question is do sulfites cause headaches?  No scientific evidence exists that says they do.  Yet, legions of drinkers say it’s true.  For me, I don’t care, red wine is great, and I don’t need a filter to enjoy it.

Now how about something to drink?  


This wine is a great value.  “La Bette” 2013 Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages.  This is a great wine for under $20.00.  The wine is a blend of 35% Grenache, 50% Carignan and 15% Syrah it’s all about the fruit.  On the nose you get black and blueberry. Color dark red I’d call it garnet.  Taste I got red currant, chocolate and black pepper.  This wine made me think of warm days and soft summer breezes.  La Bette is the nickname to a distinctive style of Catalan fishing boat.  They are common all around the Mediterranean they look like they have a pointed bow at both ends.

This is one of the most violent wine areas in the world.  Near the Spanish border you will see militant Frenchmen stopping tanker trucks hauling cheap Spanish wine and dumping the wine on the road.  Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest wine producing area in the world.  It’s also the most economically depressed one too.  Synonymous with cheap low quality wines the area is not without its bright spots producing value packed wines.  Cote-du-Roussillon Villages is one of these developing wine areas.  This wine and wines from this area bat well above their pay grade.


And if you prefer a white; Manoir des Herbauges, Muscadet Cotes de Grandlieu 2015.  The grape is Melon de Bourgogne and is  white grape synonymous with the Muscadet appellation. I have never tasted this varietal before so I was in for a treat.  The grape’s original home was Burgundy, but it was exiled in the early 1700 because the Dukes of Burgundy didn’t like it.  The growers in the Loire valley were looking for a cold resistant white and so they adopted the orphan.

Don’t  mistake  Muscadet for Muscat.  Muscadet is crisp and dry and Muscat is super sweet.

Muscate Cotes de Grandlieu is one of the four Muscadet appellations in the Loire Valley’s Pays Nantais district.  This covers that are surround Lac de Grand Lieu, one of the largest natural lakes in France.

Melon de Bourgogne is not a powerhouse of flavor and the winemaker must take great care to not to produce a bland featureless wine.  Our wine was anything but bland.  Color was an extremely pale yellow, I’d say  clear.  Distinct apples and citrus on the nose.  Flavor was again apples, citrus, hints of pepper and salt and minerality, think chalk.  This wine would make you think, fairly complex.  I’d serve with scallops or white fish or lentil soup.  This was another great wine for under $20.  Your best values will be from the Loire France, but you’ll find great offering of this wine from Oregon and Washington state also.

Electronics of Wine Making

My passion is wine.  I pay my bills working in the electronics industry.  I’ve  sold electronic components for nearly 40 years.  When my passion for wine coincides with my ability to  sell electronics, I get very excited.  I’m very excited.

It is said that  “we don’t know what we don’t know”.  And it is very true.  I didn’t know TJ Rodgers was the founder of Cypress Semiconductor.  I didn’t know how strongly he advocates for laissez-faire capitalism.  I didn’t know he was a winemaker and  wine enthusiast.  I didn’t know he is cited as one of the “100 People Who Changed Our World”.   After doing my research, he gets my vote.

Rodgers love of wine, especially Burgundy wine started when he was in graduate school.  His wine company is called Clos de la Tech.  It started in 1996 when Rodgers  planted 1 acre of Pinot Noir at his home in Woodside California.  Domaine De Docteur Rodgers is his own hand made 100 cases limited production wine.  Yes, he makes it himself.

As you might expect and guy who makes “electronic chips” for a living might need a little help when it comes to making wine.  So, he picked up the phone one day and called UC Davis.  The guy who took Rodgers call at UC Davis was Professor Boulton. It should be noted that Rodgers does have a degree in chemistry as well as electrical engineering.

At the time UC Davis was planning to build a new  34,000 square-foot teaching and research winery.  In 2009 plans were beginning to gel and as a way of saying thanks, Rodgers wanted to help the school out with a gift of $3.5 million for equipment and engineering.

But it wasn’t just a financial gift.  Rodgers sat down with the school and presented hand drawn sketches of a fermentation system  he had envisioned.  This would be a full integrated wireless wine fermentation network.  It will measure temperature, brix level and control pumps and report all readings to a central control station for 152 small fermentation tanks.  Remember this is a research center not a production house, however, this technology can be transferred to production size equipment.

Winemakers have known for a long time if they take control of the fermentation process the quality of the wine improves.  Two most important factors are; (1) Brix level and (2) fermentation temperature.  What is BRIX, it’s the sugar level in the must.  Add yeast and the sugar is converted to alcohol.  That process creates heat.  Like all living things yeasts have a comfort zone.  Too cold below 40 degree F they shut down, too hot above 100 degree F, they do wild and crazy things, none of them good for the flavor of wine.  

The type of wine you wish to product will have a optimum temperature range.  Formulas exists for predicting the temperature rise per Brix.  The temperature will rise 1 degree F for each degree of Brix and assumes 40% of the heat escapes to the surrounding atmosphere.  Other factors are size and shape of fermentation vessel, ambient air temperature and fermentation speed all enter into the equation. Allow the temperature to rise too fast the must will get too hot you’ll  get hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and a wine that has the taste of rotten eggs and the aroma cooked cabbage.  Too cool and you’ll risk contamination by organisms that can endure the lower temperatures like mold and bacteria. You can lose the whole vat, or your whole years production.

How it’s done now is by monitoring by the winemaker and staff.  Manually measuring the brix level and temp two to three times a day.  Using insulated containers with heating or cooling jackets or heat exchangers to heat or cool to contents.  Regular punch downs pushing the wine cap ( the grape skins floating on top of the wine).  The typical punch down is a worker with a long pole pushing the cap under the wine in the tank.  This exposes the worker to the by product of fermentation carbon monoxide and the wine to oxygen.  They also employ the technique of  what’s called a “pump over” where they pump the wine from one tank to another to allow the wine to cool or gain heat.  This process is time consuming and open to a number of human errors.  Any mistake here could mean damage or an end of life experience for the wine.

The Rodgers tank constantly monitors brix and temperature to the formula of the wine you wish to make.  Too hot a pump adds cool water to the cooling jacket, too cool, it adds  warm water to the jacket.  The tank also employs what looks like a French press for wine, where a press can be deployed to push the “cap” down into the must to lower the temperature.  This press also means the wine will have more uniform mixing for better color and flavor. The winemaker  can see this data in real time or program a warning to notify  them if the temperature gets out of the range the wine’s profile calls for. Once the profile has been perfected it can be automated.

I like how Rodgers approached the problem.  He decided how he wanted to make the wine and them developed the technology that would allow him to do it.  Rodgers says he studied a 1830’s manuscript on how to make wine and employed those principles in his design.  When asked if this takes the magic out of winemaking Rodgers says not at all, “it allows you to understand how the magic works”.  

Clos de la Tech has grown beyond the 1 acre lot in Rodgers backyard.  He added Domaine Valete the “snow vineyard”  set at 2,300 feet in the Santa Cruz mountains in 2002 and then a 80 acre site Domaine Lois Louise in production is 2004.  It is at the Domaine Lois Louise site they built their production Winery.

The winery is a  series of caves.  Three main caves and then crossing caves that connect them.  Each  cave is 30 feet wide, 30 feet high and 300 feet long. The winery system is built on gravity feed system.  Fermentation Cave is on the top.  The facility includes 56 of the Cypress integrated fermentation tanks.  It also includes a high tech wine press that was also designed by Rodgers.  Next cave is the Barrel cave.  They will be able to store two years of production in French oak barrels.  Final stop is the bottling cave.  Once again they will be able to store two years of production in the bottling cave.  All this sound very high tech.  The idea however, come from a 1888 winery  Seppeltsfield Estate in Australia.  No pumps or any mechanical force is needed.

There is one other modern miracle at Domaine Lois Louise.  The tractor.  The tractor they use at this vineyard has no motor, no steering wheel, no brakes and it has to contend with the slope of the vineyard and the close space density of the vines.  It’s pulled by cables on a x-y access.  Controlled with a joystick, driven like it was a video game.  Right now it’s the only one in the world and it was developed by Rodgers and Clemens agricultural equipment in Germany.

One last thing before we leave Clos de la Tech.  Each year at Cypress they vote for the “chip” of the year.  The device the employees at Cypress say was the best they produce for that year.  That chip is then wax stamped onto every bottle of Clos de la Tech.  It’s a honor as a chip designer to have your chip selected to go on the wine bottle.

If you are still with me reader, I know this was long and no pictures, but for me this was an absolute joy to write.  For me it was a huge “I got this” I understood the wine process and I understood the electronics.  It confirmed to me that I knew what the hell I was doing for sixteen years better than I even gave myself credit for.  I hope that joy came through in the story.

One last thought from TJ Rodgers that sums everything up; “If the wine doesn’t blow you away, then the technology doesn’t matter”.

To see and hear TJ Rodgers describe his wine and technology go to YouTube and type in Clos de la Tech.

Scarcity of resources.

I have fought this problem all my life.  In economic speak the term is PAUCITY.  For the rest of us we all are too familiar with the problem of having unlimited wants.  In my case; wine, travel, cigars, wine, taxes, wine, home repairs, travel, wine, insurance, wine and food.   And living in a world of limited resources.  

Some people, with the effortless action of Greek gods pooping marble, don’t seem have this problem.  $50 bottles of wine show up on their on the doorstep almost daily.  They are off on adventures and excursions almost all the time. $300 lunch at a Michelin five star restaurant, a little shopping, swing by the vineyard and then dinner at Maxine’s.  Hell yes, I’m Jealous!

I know I shouldn’t be crying in my Cabernet.  I have if far better than 95% of the world’s population and should be grateful, and I am!  So, who’s more excited than me when I actually get a chance to hobnob with the rich and famous.

IMG_2820Yeah, I got to meet with the Italian vintner Niccolò Chioccioli.  Niccolo is a second generation oenologists in the Chioccioli family.  His dad Stefano is a legend in Italian wine.  His wines have be selected over 70 times for the coveted “Tre Bicchieri” Gambero Rosso guides to wines highest award. Niccolo is now at the helm of Altadonna.  He Manages all activities of the Tuscan office.  He oversees wine production in the families other locations, from growing the vines to the bottling.

My host for the evening was the Madison Wine shop in Madison CT.  If you have never visited this store you should.  I believe you’ll be impressed with the warmth and feel of the place and the knowledge of  the staff. The sponsor was Cellar Fine Wines who specialises in finding new “nascent” wines and introducing them to the Connecticut market.  One of their motto’s is “Pour a glass of IMG_2816somewhere”. My thanks to both.

The evening began with a little champagne which I thought was kind of classy.  Hey, I don’t get out often. Sorry, I don’t remember the name if they even told us.

Niccolo described his vineyard as looking like a V or that the property was on sides of side by side hills or mountains.  Their land is 16 Hectares, surrounded by a state forest.  They are in the town of Gaiole not far from Siena.  This town is located in the Chianti Classico DOCG. The land is split between the two vineyards Altadonna is the lower level.  Altadonna is Niccolo’s mother’s family name.  Chioccioli is his dad’s family name and covers the upper level.  Where one ends and the other begins is, well, debatable.

The first wine  was Altadonna Chianti Classico.  Rated a 93 by James Suckling.  95% Sangiovese and 5% Merlot.  Color was ruby red and garnet.  I didn’t find any nose at all, very disappointed.  Taste was full bodied, very light tannins and spicy red fruit.  Served with spinach scachatta.  Very nicely done guys.IMG_2815

The vineyard is worked by Niccolo, Enrico a Sommelier, lawyer, web and label designer and Niccolo’s younger brother, and Ginvera their younger sister who is a college student.  And two full time assistants.  The wine is “hand made”.  The biggest obstacle on the vineyard is deer, they eat the fruit.  Remember the vineyard is surrounded by a state park.  Niccolo’s most valuable assistant “wolfs” they like deer, and don’t eat grapes.

The second wine was Chioccioli Chianti Classico.  You can taste the difference in the terroir, remember, Chioccioli is harvested from the upper level of the vineyard.  The blend is different too; 85% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, 5% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Color was similar to the first wine but darker. Taste lots of red berries and liquorice.  This wine is harvested and the grapes are cooled overnight.  The grapes are then double sorted.  Fermented in stainless steel and the pumped into French oak barriques for 14 months.  The wine ages a little more in bottles before this is released.  Served with meatball tomato and mozzarella cheese on toasted Italian bread, fantastic!IMG_2813

Niccolo employees three fermentation methods; (1) stainless steel tanks, (2) French barriques with traditional press down, (3) a French method that his dad saw in consulting in France using the barrigues mounted on rollers.  The wine is gently rolled during fermentation.  He is one of the few winemakers in Italy using this method.

Third wine Altadonna Chianti Classico Riserva.  Color a little more intense than the first wine and about the same as the second.  Again, I’m not getting a very notable nose.  Taste, red and black fruit spice and tobacco.  I like the tannin, nice fruit and spicy finish.  The blend here is the same as the first wine 95% Sangiovese and 5% Merlot.  The Riserva is a chianti that can vote.  By law it is aged two years in wood and a minimum of 3 months in the bottle.  This was served with a meatball and puree cherry tomato. Food is getting better and better.

IMG_2814Our little symposium is breaking down into idle chatter.  So let me impress you with a interesting fact; Only about 20% of all Chianti is Chianti Classico Riserva.  Hey, I got another meatball!

Our fourth wine is a Super Tuscan Assalto.  Super Tuscan is a consumer term not an official designation.  They are a creation of the 1970’s and 1980’s and they are what most people said could never be done Italian and international at the same time.  The more popular Chianti became the more white grapes were added to the point most chianti’s were pretty dull.  In the 1970’s  innovators began taking steps to oppose the “spaghetti Chianti”  and began blending international varietals with sangiovese.  Some Super Tuscans have no sangiovese in them at all.  Two of the most famous Sassicaia and Ornellaia.

Assalto is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deeper in color I would still call it ruby.  This wine had a better nose and similar to the other wines.  Tates was thicker and richer.  More complex and more refined.  This wine shows off Enrico’s design talents with a design inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. Assalto is a IGT Toscana Rosso.  It’s also delicious.  Served with marinated mushroom with mozzarella on pita toast.

IMG_2812The last wine was a fantastic wine, Chioccioli Chianti Riserva.  I think Niccolo is happy and proud of all of his wines.  But, I’ll bet that when he wants to sit quietly by himself and contemplate life, the universe and everything, this is the wine he takes with him.

This wine is a limited production wine.  It’s aged for 80 months on wood.  Riservas use to be made only in the best vintage years and I hope Niccolo holds true to this notion.  This was a great wine.  A very refined aroma.  Taste of fig chocolate cigar and spice.  The flavor linger long after I swallowed.  This was a fine way to end a great evening.

IMG_2811I had a great evening and I’m thankful for the opportunity to meet Niccolo hear his story and most importantly drink his wine.  I would have loved to taken a bottle of the Chioccioli Chianti Riserva, a block of cheese and some bread and sat and talked with him, but the  poor guy was trapped answering questions about his girlfriend and where he was staying.  And me I had to get back to my life of adapt and improvise to get ends to meet, or maybe just maintain a reasonable gap.

So, Cent’Anni Niccol!  Good Luck with the dear!


Who is Cameron Hughes?

This question is from a reader and former co-worker.  Have you heard of Cameron Hughes?

The short answer was NO.  But asking me a question about wine is like waving a red flag in the face of a bull, once the gauntlet has be thrown down, the search is on!  Fortunate for me life is pretty easy with the internet.

In the simplest of terms Cameron Hughes is a “negociant”.  For anyone not familiar with that word it’s a French term for a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under their own name or brand.  And since I became aware of the wine world, it’s what I’ve wanted to grow up to be.

Historically the negociant has been the mover and shaker of the wine world.  They buy everything from grapes to grape must in various states of completion.  They buy finished wines in barrels or even vats.  They blend the wines, they age the wine, they bottle the wine, they make a market for the wine.  Sometimes they buy “shiners”, wine that is already in the bottle but no label and no place to go.  The wine is sold under the negociants name.

In the past owners of vineyards and wine producers had no direct access to buyers.  They didn’t have the enough product to sell or lacked the capital for wine making equipment like wine presses, fermentation tanks, barrels, or bottling lines.  Not to mention wine making knowledge, and sales and marketing channels which could all be out of reach for  a small family farmer.

Many negociants are also vineyard owners.  Names you might recognize are Jadot, Duboeuf, Jaboulet, and Mirabeau.  And these names are known for the areas they specialize in, for examples Duboeuf is know for Beaujolais, Jadot for Burgundy and Mirabeau for Provence.  The largest negociant in the United States is Gary Agajanian.

Cameron grew up in a wine family.  He dad was a wine salesperson.  He and his wife Jessica Kogan started the business in 2001 after Cameron sold his own wine collection to raise capital, invested in surplus wines, blended them and sold them out of the back of his Volvo.

They sell wines from their own retail location and website, through other retails, my bottle came from Total Wine, and thorough wholesalers.  They get wines for “top-tier” wineries whose identities are protected under confidentiality agreements.  Which allow Cameron to sell a great bottle of wine for $30 and you might pay $100 for if you know where it was from.  Frankly, I drink wine, not labels, so I don’t care.

How does it work?  Like everything else in life; contacts, access, hard work, and good taste buds.  Cameron has knowledge of people, places and wines, all around the world.  Add lots of tastings, risk taking, blending and a non-disclosure agreement and bam, you’re in business.  Result, amazing values!

Most of Cameron’s wines are released in the “Lot Series” these are one of a kind vines, when they are gone, they are gone.  They also have four brands GreenLip, Hughes Wellman, Zin Your Face and CAM Collection.  One of Cameron’s biggest customers is Costco.

Our wine is a CMA Cameron Hughes Chardonnay 2012.  Now, first thing you need to know is I am a card carrying member of ABC, ANYTHING BUT CHARDONNAY.  I’m not kidding. Chardonnay is my least favorite wine, but, this one was pretty good.  As mentioned before I purchased from Total Wine for under $15, remember I’m an under $20 a bottle guy.  Color was a really golden blond, might be showing a little age the wine being 2012.  Aroma was a very pleasing honeysuckle hint of oil.  Taste not buttery thank god!  Flavor I got was stone, think mountain waterfall and lemon.  Body was creamy.  Nice finish.

To try other Cameron Hughes Wines it looks like I will have go to their website.



Ooh, what a headache!

I am a fairly healthy person.  Okay, I’m overweight, high cholesterol, and have one heart attack under my belt.  I still view myself as healthy. Yes, and denial is a river in Egypt!

As such, I am not very sympathetic to people who have bad backs, allergies, and migraines.  In fact, I’ve been told, I am sometimes an absolute shit!  And they say I’m unsympathetic!  One group of people  that I have been less than understanding with have been the poor souls who say they get wine headaches.  I’ve had a “hangover” maybe three times in my life, so I don’t understand how people can say, “wine gives me a headache’!

Well, I have done extensive research. Okay, I listen to a really good podcast from Wine for Normal People.  Come to think of it, normal people is another concept that I haven’t fully gotten down yet either.  If you ask me, we’re all nuts!  However, that is a subject to be covered in a later blog.

Wine for Normal people did a really good blog on why you might get headaches from wine.  And because the host of Wine for Normal people Elizabeth Schneider use the Family Feud analogy in another podcast, I’m going to use it here.

What is the number one reason for wine headaches?  Survey says! Alcohol!  Didn’t see that one coming did yah?  Yes, wine contains alcohol and alcohol causes dehydration which can cause headaches.  I usually never drink wine by itself, I always drink it with food.  At the bare minimum cheese and crackers. The food slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream reducing the chance of a headache. Professional drinkers, by that I mean people in the wine industry, usually have a trusty bottle of water with them and drink lots of water in between glasses of wine.  You could also switch to wines with lower alcohol levels. Most red wines have an alcohol level of 14%, some higher, French wines are a little lower at 11% to 12%. Check the label the alcohol level will be there it’s required by law.

Second reason for headaches is Histamines. Histamines are compounds that basically were put on Earth by God to make us miserable.  That means if you have been frowned upon by the Almighty, and you have a sensitivity to these freaking enzymes, then you get rashes, sneezing and yes, headaches.  Alcohol will raise your histamine level in your blood and guess what, you could end up with a headache.  Taking an antihistamine about a half an hour before you drink wine, with a FULL glass of water to prevent dehydration could be the solution to your problem.  Always  check the box to make sure there are no nasty interactions between the antihistamine and the alcohol.

Do you get headaches when you eat pepperoni or hot dogs, soy sauce or Bleu cheese?  If so you might get headaches from wine too because of the amino acid tyramine.  These little buggers also cause migraines.  Wine contains less of these amino acid than most foods, but the effect is cumulative if you combine the foods above, you might get a headache.

Wines that go through Malolactic fermentation, a  process where the tart tasting malic acid is converted into softer tasting lactic acid, can also cause headaches.  Most red wines go through Malolactic fermentation to reduce bitterness. Malolactic fermentation raises the “amines” by about 200% and that can give you a headache.  Research here is not conclusive.

Number Three on the survey is Tannins.  Tannin comes from skins, pits and stems of the grapes and is a natural preservative in red wine.  It’s also the reason they do malolactic fermentation to “soften” the taste.  When you think tannin, think “astringent”.  This is also why cheese and beef taste better with red wine, the “milk” or “fat” in the food will  soften the tannins.  Personally I love highly tannic wines, can you say Brunello di Montalcino.  

Now this might be your issue with red wine if you can drink whites without getting a headache.  Tannins change your serotonin level and yes this can also cause migraines.  They also release fatty acids called prostaglandins that can lead to a headache.  

The solution is take some aspirin or tylenol before drinking wine.  Once again, my law firm of Dewey, Cheatem, & Howe tells me to advise you to check the box for interaction between the wine and the drug.

Number four on the list is Sulfites.  Sulfites are the natural result of fermentation, and are added to wine to control spoilage and browning. If you can eat dried fruit or most lunch meats and not get a headache then sulfites are not your problem.  Medical research shows that 1% to 5% of the population have a sulfite allergy and you will know it long before you can legally drink wine.  The reaction goes way beyond a headache, think asthma attack or worse.

I don’t know if this helped you but it sure made me feel better.  After doing this research I now have all kinds of compassion for you folks who get headaches drinking wine.  My solutions are simple (1) drink lots of water, (2) take an aspirin or antihistamine, or (3) let me drink the wine and I’ll tell you how great it is!