Grifone Sangiovese 2012

You may or may not have noticed, but I’ve been making my way through some inexpensive Sangiovese wines of late.  The goal is to learn a little more about the wine as well as what is available to the budget-minded consumer in this varietal.  I realize that to learn more, I’ll have to splurge a bit.  And I will, I will.  Of course, there is also the whole Chianti thing.  Since many of the Chianti selections are blends, however, I’m sticking to the single varietal Sangiovese right now to help me understand this grape and the kind of wine it becomes.  My exploration of this varietal is precisely why I couldn’t pass up this selection.

Winemaker: Grifone by Roccadoro (Castellani)
Varietal: Sangiovese
Vintage: 2012
Appellation:  Puglia IGT, Italy
Price: $4.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  This cheap Italian was dark red in the glass.  I’d compare it to a velvet curtain in a traditional opera house.  That shade of red.  On the nose I found violets, plum and pepper.  The body was very light but with a gentle plushness on the tongue.  Acidity was good.  Alcohol was at 12.5%.  Tannins were moderate but distinctly present.  As far as flavors I detected, there was an overarching woodiness (think dried twigs) to the wine, some pleasant plum, and a touch of pepper.  The finish was a mix of tart and bitter much like pomegranate.  This is definitely a good value.  Amazing?  No.  Decent?  You bet!

Raymond Hill Chardonnay

OK, we had a little departure from the “budget-friendly wine” focus of this blog with my last post.  So now we’re going to come swinging back with a post about a truly inexpensive selection.  It’s from Raymond Hill which is evidently owned by the same company, the Bronco Wine Company, that makes the Charles Shaw line for Trader Joe’s.  No surprise, I suppose, that it was cheap and that I found it at the local TJ.

Winemaker:   Raymond Hill
Varietal:  Chardonnay
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  California
Price: $6.99 per Magnum at Trader Joe’s

Notes: The color was a light lemon yellow.  The bouquet was quite faint with honey, citrus, pear, and floral notes.  Alcohol was at 12.5 %.  The acidity was good, and the body was light.  The flavor profile was fairly simple.  I tasted citrus, pear, and dusty floral notes in the main with grapefruit and lemon grass at the finish.  On the one hand, it was surprisingly not too bad for such an inexpensive selection.  On the other hand, I don’t think I’d serve this to guests.  If it were easy to make really good wine, more people would be doing it.  The trick, of course, is the blend of the elements – the flavors, acidity, residual sugar, etc.  Even though I didn’t think this was an especially refined selection, you could do worse for a cheap house white.  Heck, I’ve had worse and paid more.  Still, this is definitely not a connoisseur’s or serious enthusiast’s wine.  (But we already knew that, didn’t we?).

Nights of Wine and Chocolate

We’ve all heard about “the days of wine and roses.”  Well how about “the nights of wine and chocolate?”

It’s a blessing to have friends and family who understand and encourage you in both your vocation and avocation – especially when your job or your hobby (as in my case) entails wine appreciation and exploration.  Right?  Some time ago I related the story of Xmas Eve Dinner at Mary Ann’s house and the Parducci Petite Sirah we enjoyed.  Well, she is one of those supportive family members!  An enabler in the best sense of the word.

A few weeks back she and her daughter, Ashley, traveled to our area for a volleyball tournament.  Ashley was playing, not Mary Ann.  Although I would pay big bucks to see Mary Ann out on that court.  No doubt she would be a fierce competitor.  lol   We went to see Ashley play, of course, and Mary Ann very generously showered us with gifts for being loyal fans.  Those gifts included a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley and a box of chocolate wafers that the wine store clerk recommended as an accompaniment.  Formidable!  What a sweetheart, this Mary Ann.  I did my best to exercise self control and didn’t open them right away.  But I could only resist temptation for so long.

Winemaker: Eddy Family Wines
Wine: Elodian
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage:  2006
Appellation: Napa Valley, California
Price: $35.00

Notes:  Let me say right at the outset that I tasted the wine first without any chocolate.  It was a pretty deep ruby in the glass.  It’s bouquet was a pungent mix of earth, forest floor (sous bois), spice, a touch of wood and ripe blueberry.  It was medium-bodied with fairly high acidity and medium tannins that were somewhat aggressive in their onset.  Alcohol was at 14.5%.  Flavors included considerable woodiness – much of that attributable to the grip of the tannins – as well as plenty of pepper, some leather, a bit of dark cherry with an underlying blanket of ripe blueberry.  The finish was what I consider of medium length with menthol and tart cranberry as it left the palate.  I think this Napa Cab was downright good.  It was complex and interesting.  It could also cellar another few years with the amount of structure it has.  Could be fascinating to see how it settles.

What about the chocolate?  First, let me name it properly.

Chocolatier:  Eclat Chocolate by Christopher Curtin
Name:  Aleppo Pink Peppercorn Mendiant
Price:  $14.50

I really enjoyed these little wafers!  I do like spicy, peppery things.  And it’s true that the peppercorns and the chili pepper in the chocolates were complementary to the flavors of the wine, creating almost a MAD effect on the taste buds.  You remember that from the old Cold War days, don’t you?  MAD was mutually assured destruction.  [a horrible thought]  With all the capsaicin hitting the taste buds from both sides, the effect was to lessen the perceived heat from each source and smooth out the experience of both wine and chocolate.  Most interesting was the aromatic effect of biting into one of the pink peppercorns.  It brought almost a floral scent to the nostrils.  Good stuff.

Yep, I’d say this was a very nice night of wine and chocolate, indeed.  Thanks, Mary Ann!

Coppola Rosso 2012

As I sit here writing this post, I can hear the recycling truck collecting the bottles I have put outside in the bin.  It’s a cacophany of high-pitched tinkles and crashes (with an idling diesel engine thrumming out bass in the background) that would normally be unsettling.  But knowing that those bottles – including the empty Coppola Rosso – may one day return to me as a container for yet another adventure in wine, I choose to hear those sounds as music celebrating the cycle of a wine’s life rather than the hubbub of a busy urban landscape.

Winemaker:  Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Wine: Coppola Rosso
Vintage: 2012
Varietal:  Red Blend
Appellation:  California
Price: $7.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  The color of this California blend was a dark garnet.  On the nose I detected sweet berries, some spice and a touch of earth.  It was a medium-bodied red with fine acidity and very light tannins.  Alcohol was at 13.5%.  On the palate I tasted dark cherry and berries, a tad of spice, some pepper, and ash along with a distinctively floral finish.  As the wine oxidized, I thought the fruit flavors settled a bit in favor of a solid core of black cherry.  It was definitely enjoyable and would probably serve well as a house wine for casual sipping and lighter meat dishes.

A Little Winery Down B’ham Way

That’s B’ham as in Birmingham, Alabama.  Not what you were expecting?  Me neither!

On a road trip awhile back I had the time for a quick stop at the Vizzini Farms Winery in Calera, AL just south of Birmingham.  It’s conveniently close to I-65 – just around the bend.

First, let me say that the staff are very friendly and helpful.  In addition, the winery building has a relaxed coziness to it.  Like many wineries these days, they have a little in-house bistro with indoor and outdoor seating.  Seems like it must be pretty popular, because there were several occupied tables when I arrived in the mid-afternoon on a Monday.  Since I was on a schedule, I didn’t have the time to linger and try their dishes.  But I was able to belly up over at the wine bar where I tasted a few of their products.  They make a full line of wines there but grow only their Muscadine grapes on site.

For the quick tasting I tried their Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Great White (Muscadine).  It was an interesting group of selections.  I didn’t take detailed notes.  I was on a road trip, after all.  Still, I did get definite impressions of several.  For instance, I was fascinated by the intense viscosity and smokiness present in their Muscadine selection.  The label indicates it’s made from Scuppernong grapes.  In addition, I thought the Pinot Grigio and Viognier were very much in keeping with what I understand to be typical varietal characteristics.  I was personally a little disappointed in the Pinot Noir.  It wasn’t terrible, but it struck me as a bit weak and lacking in character.  As for the Sangiovese, I bought a bottle so that I could ponder it at my leisure.  They were willing to waive the $6 tasting fee if I bought something.  So, of course, I did!  I’ll be posting my tasting notes on that bottle soon.

Overall, it was a nice visit.  I do wish I’d had more time to relax and enjoy their hospitality.  Maybe next time I’m that far south I can drop in again.  On the other hand, there are a number of other wineries on the Alabama Wine Trail.

A Naming Convention For My Wine

There are times when I find the “name game” in wine labeling just a bit frustrating.  That’s because there are a number of varietals that are known by numerous titles.  At times it just feels like folks are trying to make things hard to suss out.  I can appreciate that much of it may stem from long-held, local traditions, but it still feels a bit like secret code sometimes.  On the other hand, there are instances when a naming convention provides important information about what a person may reasonably expect from the wine they’re choosing.  Shiraz v. Syrah is just that.

Consulting the Wikipedia Page on the subject of the Syrah grape and Syrah wine we find “As a general rule, most Australian and South African wines are labelled Shiraz, and most European wines (from such regions where varietal labelling is practiced) are labelled Syrah. In other countries, practices vary and winemakers (or wine marketers) sometimes choose either Syrah or Shiraz to signify a stylistic difference in the wine they have made. “Syrah”-labelled wines are sometimes thought to be more similar to classic Northern Rhône reds; presumably more elegant, tannic, smoke-flavoured and restrained with respect to their fruit component. “Shiraz”-labelled wines, on the other hand, would then be more similar to archetypical Australian or other New World examples; presumably made from riper berries, more fruit-driven, higher in alcohol, less obviously tannic, peppery rather than smokey, usually more easily approached when young, and possibly slightly sweetish in impression.

Having seen but never tried a Little Penguin wine, the question remaining for me was, “Is the Little Penguin selection exemplary of this Shiraz v. Syrah delineation?”  Well …

Winemaker:  The Little Penguin
Varietal:  Shiraz
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  South Eastern Australia
Price:  $6.99

Notes:  The color of this medium-bodied Shiraz was dark ruby.  On the nose I found pepper, spice, berries and damp earth.  It showed good acidity and a certain “coat-the-tongue” quotient that was reflected in very present legs on the glass.  Tannins were moderate, and alcohol was at 13.5%.  Flavors for me were straightforward and engaging, including plentiful oak, pepper, plum and tea leaf.  I’d call it a simple, casual wine that would be fine with some take-out pizza.

And, yes, I think the use of Shiraz on the label followed the convention nicely.