Daily Archives: February 4, 2013

Wine Spectator’s Top 10 Wines of 2012

On November 16, 2012, venerable Wine Spectator magazine published their Top 10 Wines of 2012… according to them, of course! 🙂

In a nutshell, these are the comments I would like to share with you about their 2012 top rankings:

  • Shafer Vineyard‘s Relentless Napa Valley 2008 (a blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah grapes) is Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year 2012
  • Only 3 U.S. wines made it to the top 10 (2 from California and 1 from Oregon), down from 4 last year, although one of them was picked as Wine of the Year 2012
  • Only 1 Italian wine made it to the top 10 scoring the ninth place and 94 points (Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona‘s Brunello di Montalcino 2007 DOCG) compared to 2 last year
  • France put 4 of their wines in the top 10, up from 3 last year
  • Just like in 2011, 9 of the top wines are red and only one is white (and, just like last year, the only white wine in the top 10 is a sweet wine)
  • Syrah is present in variable percentages ranging from 100% down to 10% in all of the top 4 wines, with the Wine of the Year being a blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah (note that, despite the name, the latter is a separate grape variety from Syrah, which comes from a cross between Syrah and Peloursin vines) and in the third place there being an Australian Shiraz (100% Syrah grapes)

For more detailed information, please refer to Wine Spectator’s Website. I hope you are fortunate enough to get to enjoy one of the top 10 wines of this year!

Advertisements

Sulfites and Wine: an Inseparable Couple?

On October 17, 2012 I came across an interesting post that appeared yesterday on Dr. Vino (Tyler Colman’s excellent wine blog) regarding the legend “contains sulfites” that is required to be affixed to most bottles of wine that are sold in the U.S.

This gives me the opportunity to share some information regarding which sulfite disclosure requirements are in force in the European Union and more in general why wines contain sulfites.

Not unlike in the U.S., EU regulations (see, Article 51 of Commission Regulation (EC) 607/2009 and Article 6 of Directive 2000/13/EC) require that wine labels indicate a “contains sulfites” legend whenever a wine contains “sulphur dioxide and sulfites at concentrations of more than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/liter expressed as SO2.”

Which now leads us to briefly discuss the reasons why the addition of sulfites is an oenological practice that is generally used in the winemaking process.

Technically, sulfites are chemical compounds (anions) formed by the reaction of a sulfur dioxide molecule (SO2, which is acidic) with basic oxides or an aqueous base.

Sulfur dioxide (or SO2) is a gas that is the product of the burning of sulfur and is broadly used in winemaking as one of the main treatments of must. The purpose it serves is essentially threefold:

  • It is an antiseptic agent that fights germs and inhibits undesirable microorganisms (however, its use in the fermentation phase must be controlled because, if certain limits are exceeded, it also inhibits the yeast action);
  • It is an antioxidant which helps stabilize the original color of a wine and fights oxidation, thus helping to preserve the organoleptic characteristics of a wine;
  • In the maceration phase of the red wine making process, it facilitates the dissolution of anthocyanin pigments from the grape berry skins, which are responsible for the color of red wine.

EU legislation (see, Article 3 of Commission Regulation (EC) 606/2009) sets limits to the maximum SO2 content of wines, which shall not exceed, subject to certain exceptions:

  • 150 mg/lt for red wines; and
  • 200 mg/lt for white or rosé wines.

As such two different thresholds show, generally speaking white wines contain more SO2 than red wines. This is because in the winemaking process of the former grape skins and seeds are removed right after pressing and before fermentation, while these are retained in the fermentation of red wines. This means that polyphenols (i.e., tannins and natural pigments such as anthocyanins) that are found in grape skins and seeds and that naturally act as antioxidants only get extracted in the red wine fermentation process: hence the need to use more sulphur dioxide in the white wine fermentation process to compensate for such absence.

One thing to be aware of is that, among the exceptions to the maximum SO2 limits indicated above, sweet raisin wines (including Sauternes, Barsac, Tokaji, Trockenbeerenauslese, Albana di Romagna Passito, and ice wines) are permitted to contain up to 400 mg/lt of sulfur dioxide, double the maximum amount permitted for white/rosé wines: this leniency is justified by the high sugar content of such wines, which could trigger natural re-fermentation processes were these not inhibited by SO2. So, be aware that, when you drink that kind of wines, you will likely be assuming more SO2 than with “regular” wines.

One last remark: recently certain producers and organic wine makers have started marketing “no added sulfite” wines. Regardless of how you feel about this emerging trend, one should note that this does not mean that “no added sulfite” wines do not contain sulfites: it only means that none were added to the wine. All wines, in fact, contain some extent of sulfites because these are a natural byproduct of the yeasts that are used to cause the alcoholic fermentation.

Hope you found this informative: feel free to share your opinion by leaving a comment below!

In Homage to Christopher Columbus: An Overview of the Best Wines from Liguria, Italy

NOTE: this post was originally published in Flora’s Table on October 12, 2012, hence the historical references below.

On October 12, 1492, precisely 520 years ago, Italian world-known explorer and sailor Christopher Columbus and his expedition set foot in the Americas (on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas) in Columbus’s first voyage to the New World.

Since Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy (which, coincidentally, is also where I was born, “just” a few centuries later!) I think it makes sense that I honor the memory of that event by providing our readers a quick overview of the best wines from the Italian region of Liguria (of which Genoa is the capital).

Liguria is a narrow strip of mostly mountainous land in the Northwest of Italy facing the Ligurian Sea. Because of its geography and its relatively small size (about 2,100 sqm/5,420 km, which makes it the third smallest region in Italy), agriculture in general and viticulture in particular have traditionally been challenging for its residents – so much so that in the coastal areas of Liguria vines are grown on artificial terracing, a typical method of cultivation. Nowadays, Ligurian wine grape acreage is about 3,645 acres (1,475 HA), approximately 50% of which are part of the eight DOC appellations of Liguria, and total production of wine stands at about 2.64 million gallons (100,000 HL).

On average, quality of Ligurian wines has not been outstanding. However, over the last decade or so there has been a serious effort on the part of select producers to invest the required energy and resources to produce top quality wines and, as a result, there are now a limited number of commendable wine makers who attained excellence in at least one of their wines. Let’s take a quick look at a sample of just a few of the top wines that are part of these “best of the crop” wineries (incidentally, all of the wines in our overview earned the prestigious “5 bunches of grapes” top rating in the 2,000 Wines Guide made by the Italian Sommelier Association).

Two of the best grapes that have traditionally been grown in Liguria to make white wine are Pigato and Vermentino, the former being cultivated exclusively in Liguria and the latter being the most planted white-berried grape in such region. Vermentino originated in the Middle East, was brought to Spain and from there made its way to Italy where, among other places, it was widely planted in Liguria and Sardinia.

An outstanding winery for Pigato is VisAmoris, whose Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato Verum 2011 DOC is without a doubt the best Pigato I have ever tasted so far – it undergoes a short phase of maceration on the skins in order to maximize the extraction of the aromas, which results in an intense and seducing bouquet of apple and herbs and a good balance in the mouth between its acidity and minerality on the one hand and its smoothness on the other. Another producer of excellent Pigato wine is Bio Vio, whose top wine is the Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato “Bon in da Bon” DOC. This is a dry white varietal wine made of 100% Pigato grapes, with good acidity and pleasant scents of peach, sage, mint and minerals.

One outstanding Vermentino is the Colli di Luni Vermentino “Boboli” DOC from wine maker Giacomelli. The Boboli is a dry white wine made of 95% Vermentino and 5% Malvasia di Candia grapes, with delicate aromas of citrus, grapefruit, algae, honey and pine resin, as well as good acidity.

In the best Ligurian tradition, both the Pigato and the Vermentino are wonderful pairings for fish/seafood dishes, typical cheese focaccia or trofie or trenette pasta with pesto, potato and string beans. Also, both wines that we just recommended have a very good price/quality ratio.

Probably, the best Ligurian black-berried grape is Rossese, whose origins date back to at least the XV century, but other than that remain fairly obscure.

A very good Rossese that is certainly worth a try should you come across a bottle, is the Rossese di Dolceacqua Superiore “Poggio Pini” DOC from producer Tenuta Anfosso. This is a dry varietal red wine made of 100% Rossese grapes with fairly noticeable tannins and nice scents of rose, blackberry, strawberry jam, pepper and cinnamon. It pairs well with meats, such as lamb chops or goat dishes, and for a quality wine it is surprisingly quite affordable.

Finally, in the Ligurian appellation Cinque Terre DOC one can find one of the least known and most delicious sweet white raisin wines in Italy, the Sciacchetrà (this is pronounced something like “Shackaytra”).

One of the best SciacchetrĂ  you can have the delight to enjoy is the Cinque Terre SciacchetrĂ  Riserva DOC of the Capellini winery. This sweet, golden raisin wine is made out of 80% Bosco, 10% Vermentino and 10% Albarola white-berried grapes and gives out pleasant scents of honey, dried apricot, citrus, rosemary and dates. It can be enjoyed by itself, as a meditation wine, or coupled with a traditional Ligurian dessert, such as pandolce (the Ligurian take of panettone) or canestrelli (a kind of flower-shaped cookies). Given the very limited yield of this wine, its price is pretty steep, but if you can afford it, you will not regret paying it once you have a sip of SciacchetrĂ  in your mouth!

As usual, any remarks or experiences you want to share with all of us on the wines of Liguria are very welcome: just leave a comment below!

An Unusual Italian Red Wine: Tintilia del Molise DOC

What a pleasant surprise! In October 2012 I was in Milan, Italy, and went to a restaurant with a friend. While I was browsing their wine list, a very peculiar wine caught my eye: they had a bottle of Tintilia in the cellar!

Now, unless you are REALLY into Italian wine, you will most likely be like, what the heck is Tintilia? Which is a fair question as it is one of the least known wines in the vast Italian repertoire, but it also gives me the opportunity to tell you something about it – so, if you are interested, read on!

Tintilia is the name of a red grape variety that is indigenous to the small region of Molise, in Southern Italy. Tintilia is often mistakenly believed to be the pseudonym in Molise of the Sardinian “Bovale Grande” grape variety. This is a red grape which is widely grown on the island of Sardinia, Italy, and is generally used in blends. Bovale Grande is the same clone as the Spanish grape Bobal, which had been brought to Sardinia by the Spaniards at the time of their domination back in the XV century.

However, genetic testing performed at the University of Molise on 22 samples of Tintilia coming from 21 vineyards in Molise conclusively proved that Tintilia is actually a grape variety that is genetically different from Bovale Grande and is indigenous to Molise.

Because of its low productivity, many Tintilia vineyards had been abandoned and this peculiar grape variety risked falling into oblivion, until recently a select number of quality producers from Molise invested in growing Tintilia grapes and in making quality varietal wines from such grapes. Just a few of these commendable producers (with their best Tintilia wines in parentheses) are: Catabbo (Tintilia del Molise Riserva DOC), Cantine Salvatore (Tintilia del Molise Rutilia DOC) and Angelo d’Uva (Tintilia del Molise DOC, the one I got to try that night).

From an appellation viewpoint, Tintilia is one of the red grape varieties allowed for the “Molise DOC” appellation, which was created in 1998 and encompasses an area in Molise surrounding the towns of Campobasso and Isernia.

From a wine tasting perspective, Tintilia wines are generally ruby in color, have fine red fruit (mainly cherries, strawberries, raspberries) and/or black fruit (mainly plums, blackberries, blueberries) aromas and, depending on the aging choices made by the producers, they can give out pleasant spice scents, such as licorice, tobacco and pepper. In the mouth they are pleasantly fruity, with good acidity, defined tannins and a relatively long-lasting aftertaste.

Tintilia is certainly not the king of Italian red wines, but, if you pick a bottle from a quality producer, it is an enjoyable red wine at an affordable price point. Suggested pairings would essentially be meats, from veal to pork to game.

If you want to know more about Tintilia, you may want to read a very interesting and informative article on the Website of Catabbo, a very good producer of Tintilia in Molise, and an article on the genetic testing of Tintilia samples that was published in The Journal of Horticultural Science & Biotechnology.

So, that’s all folks as far as Tintilia is concerned: if you happen to come across a bottle of Tintilia, just give it a shot and let us know how you like it! And by the way, is there anybody out there who has already tried Tintilia out? If so, how did you like it?