Daily Archives: February 8, 2013

A Wine Review Valentine: St Michael Eppan, Alto Adige Pinot Grigio “Sanct Valentin” 2010 DOC

St Michael Eppan, Alto Adige Pinot Grigio As a valentine to my wine enthusiast readers, in this review I will share my tasting notes for a quality Italian Pinot Grigio: St Michael EppanAlto Adige Pinot Grigio “Sanct Valentin” 2010 DOC ($30). As you may know, “Sanct Valentin” is the flagship line in St Michael Eppan’s wine offering.

The Bottom Line

Overall, a very good wine and a quality product of Pinot Grigio grapes.

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

Let’s start with some general information about Pinot Grigio, AKA Pinot Gris, as a grape variety. Pinot Grigio is a color mutation of Pinot Noir whose origins can be traced back to the XVIII century in both Germany and France. Pinot Grigio is said to have been cultivated in Northern Italy since the XIX century. Pinot Grigio is a grey-berried grape with generally high sugar levels and moderate acidity. In Italy, for some reason, Pinot Grigio came into fashion in the late Ninenties/early two thousands, a trend that has been fueled by booming exports especially to the UK and the US of mostly inexpensive and lackluster wines made out of an overproduction of this grape variety. This phenomenon somewhat tarnished the reputation of Pinot Grigio, which was often associated with a cheap, mass-production type of wine, until in the last few years it started falling out of favor. Fortunately, some quality Italian Pinot Grigio is still made, particularly in the regions of Friuli, Alto Adige and Veneto (grape variety information taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012).

Our Detailed Review

Having said that, let’s now move on to the actual review of one of such quality wines: St Michael-Eppan‘s Alto Adige Pinot Grigio “Sanct Valentin” 2010 DOC. As you may know, “Sanct Valentin” is the flagship line in the wine offering of Alto Adige’s solid winery St Michael Eppan. The Pinot Grigio Sanct Valentin is available in the US where it retails at about $30.

The Pinot Grigio Sanct Valentin is made from grapes harvested from 15 to 20 year old vines at an elevation of about 500 mt/1,640 ft in proximity to the town of Appiano (near Bolzano). One third of the wine is fermented in new barrique (small oak) casks and two thirds in used ones, where the wine rest on its lees for 11 months, then 6 months in steel vessels.

My review is based on a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting sheet (for more information, see my post that provides a detailed overview of it).

In the glass, it poured a warm straw yellow, and it was thick when swirled, indicating good structure.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, fine and complex, with aromas of pear, white flowers and citrus coupled with hints of butter, white pepper, flint and oaky notes.

In the mouth it was dry, warm and creamy, with pretty good acidity and noticeable minerality, which made it a balanced wine with good structure. The wine had a pleasantly long finish. In terms of its evolutionary state, it was ready, meaning that it can definitely be enjoyed now and can possibly evolve even more with one or two years of additional aging.

Happy Sanct Valentin, everybody! 😉

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An Overview of the ISA Wine Tasting Protocol

StefanoOne of the key building blocks of the sommelier certification course offered by the Italian Sommelier Association (ISA) is their standardized wine tasting protocol. This is a protocol that has been devised over the years by the association with a view to uniforming wine evaluations and reviews as much as possible among ISA-member sommeliers through the use of a common procedure and a common vocabulary.

A few years ago I went through all of the three levels of the ISA sommelier certification course at the Milan chapter of ISA and I thoroughly enjoyed the great learning experience that such a course offered, so I hope that many of you will find this quick overview of the ISA wine tasting protocol an interesting read. Besides, the main reason why I want to introduce these concepts is that I intend to utilize a simplified version of this evaluation process in wine reviews that I plan on publishing in future posts on this blog.

An ISA-protocol wine tasting is divided into three main phases, as follows:

  • Visual Analysis
  • Scent Analysis
  • Taste-Scent Analysis

Each phase is divided into multiple steps, each of which needs to be addressed by the taster using the ISA standardized vocabulary and the ISA wine tasting sheet. For our purposes, we will not focus on each of the 116 wine tasting terms in the ISA vocabulary or this post would grow out of proportion, but the following overview should anyhow give you a pretty good idea of what the process entails. If you have doubts as to the meanings of certain of the wine terms used below, you may want to refer to our Wine Glossary.

(A) Visual Analysis

  1. Clarity: this is an assessment whether the wine looks clear or instead presents debris or insoluble particles (as it may happen in old wines or unfiltered wines) – standard term for red wines is “clear”, standard for still white wines is “crystal clear” and standard for quality sparkling white wines is “brilliant”
  2. Color: self-explanatory, based on codified color terms for each type of wine (e.g., for white wines: greenish yellow; straw yellow; golden yellow; amber yellow). To properly assess color, one should hold the glass tilted forward (i.e., away from you) at a 45° angle against a white backdrop and assess color by looking in the middle of oval made by the surface of the wine in the glass. After assessing color, one should focus on the top part of the rim made by the wine in the glass (where the wine is shallower) to assess whether there are any perceptible color variations or “hints“: for instance, for a structured red wine with a few years of aging, the color analysis could be “ruby red with garnet hints” or vice versa a red wine that is still fairly young could be “ruby red with purple hints”
  3. Viscosity: this step entails swirling the wine in the glass and observing how fluidly or viscously it rotates and then observing the shape of the “arches” and the velocity of the “tears” that the wine leaves on the inside of the glass – two indicators of the wine’s alcohol by volume (ABV)glycerol content and structure or body (the faster the wine to stop swirling after you stop rotating the glass and the slower the tears to fall, the more ABV/structure the wine will have). Viscosity is only assessed in still wines
  4. Effervescence: as opposed to viscosity, this is a quality that is only assessed in sparkling wines. Here the taster should assess three characteristics of the perlage of the wine: the number of bubbles (the more, the better); the grain of the bubbles (the finer, the better); and the persistence of the bubble chains in the glass (the longer they last, the better)

(B) Scent Analysis

  1. Intensity: here the taster swirls the wine in the glass once again and then smells its bouquet. This first step of this phase assesses how clearly perceptible the wine aromas are in the nose of the taster
  2. Complexity: here the taster should assess how many different aromas he or she can pick up from the wine through successive inhalations: the more perceptible scents, the more complex the bouquet of the wine
  3. Description of the Aromas: here the taster indicates what kind of aromas he/she felt (or thinks that he/she felt!) in the nose, like aromas of flowers, fruit, herbs, spices, animal, soil, tobacco, minerals, etc.
  4. Quality: this is an overall evaluation of the quality of the bouquet of the wine, based on the three previous steps

(C) Taste-Scent Analysis

This phase of the ISA wine tasting protocol requires a premise: this is (finally!) the moment when the taster gets to actually taste the wine in his/her mouth.

Before getting to evaluating its quality, the taster classifies the wine in light of its essential characteristics, which are divided into two macro-categories called “softness” and “hardness“. The former category comprises sweetness, alcohol by volume and smoothness, while the latter encompasses acidity, tannins and tastiness (see more about these terms below). This analysis is important because, depending on its outcome, the taster will later decide whether the wine is balanced or not. But let’s now get to the various steps of this phase:

(i) Softness:

  1. Sweetness: here the taster classifies the wine based on its residual sugar level: dry, off-dry, medium-dry, sweet…
  2. Alcohol: here the wine is classified based on the perception in the mouth of its ABV: a wine for which a high ABV is clearly perceptible (but not disturbing) is called “warm” because of the feeling of apparent “heat” that alcohol conveys in the mouth
  3. Smoothness: this quality of the wine is that sense of “roundness” or “silkiness” in the mouth that is generally more common to red wines than whites, although there are exceptions. It is mainly given by the glycerol levels present in the wine, as a result of the alcoholic fermentation process or the action of Bortytis Cinerea in botrytized wines

(ii) Hardness:

  1. Acidity: here the wine gets classified based on the extent of perceptible acids present in the wine. A wine with crisp acidity is called “fresh”. Good acidity levels are generally desirable in white wines and particularly so in Brut sparkling wines. One of the key indicators of a wine with good acidity is increased salivation in the mouth
  2. Tannicity: this assessment is made only for red wines, because white wines have negligible amounts of tannins (because the white winemaking process lacks the maceration phase that in the red winemaking process permits the extraction of tannins). Depending on the grape variety/ies that are used to make a wine, this will be more or less tannic
  3. Sapidity: here the taster assesses the minerality of the wine, that is the extent to which mineral compounds are clearly discernible in the mouth, in the form of a vaguely salty taste

(iii) Structure:

– Body: this is an assessment of the structure or body of the wine, which is given by its dry extract and alcohol by volume: wines with a higher dry extract and ABV are called full-bodied

(iv) Assessment:

  1. Balance: this is a very important call that the taster is required to make in light of the aforesaid classifications. Generally, a wine is deemed balanced when its “softness” and “hardness” components balance each other out, but this is not a rule that is carved in stone and there are important exceptions. For instance, when tasting a white wine, it is commonly considered desirable that its “hardness” side have an edge over its “softness” side, while the opposite is often the case for structured red wines
  2. Intensity: as in the Scent Analysis phase, this is an assessment of how clearly perceptible the flavors of the wine are in the mouth of the taster
  3. Persistence or Finish: here the taster is called to classify the wine based on how long its flavors linger in his/her mouth after having swallowed a sip of wine. The finish is deemed long if the wine flavors are still perceptible after 7-10 seconds of swallowing
  4. Quality: here the taster assesses the quality of the wine flavors that he/she felt in the mouth: a quality judgment of “fine” implies that the flavors are (or include those) typical for the grape variety/ies of the wine and are pleasant in the mouth
  5. Evolutionary State or Life Cycle: here the taster classifies the wine based on its aging potential. A wine that is classified as “ready” means that it can be pleasantly drunk today but it would benefit from a few years of additional aging in order to achieve its full potential. By contrast, a wine is deemed “mature” when it is already deemed at its top and additional aging would make its quality degrade
  6. Harmony: this is the final, overall judgment about a wine, that is defined as a coherent synthesis of the three phases of the ISA wine tasting protocol resulting in a outstanding quality level. A wine that did well but not outstanding would be deemed “not quite harmonious”.

One final word regarding the recommended type of glass to perform a wine tasting exercise: it needs to be made of clear glass (ideally, a crystal glass), it needs to have a stem (that’s how one is supposed to hold the glass, by the stem), and it needs to have a bowl that is larger at the bottom (to allow wine to deposit when the color analysis is performed and to permit smooth swirls in the assessments of fluidity and bouquet) and smaller at the top (to concentrate aromas in the nose, thus facilitating bouquet assessment).

This is all: I hope you enjoyed this overview – stay tuned for a few wine reviews to come!

Psychobubbles Part IV: Some of the Best Prosecco’s

Cheers!

There we go, at last our series of posts on Italian spumante is coming to an end, with this last installment focusing on a few recommendations for quality Italian Method spumante wines.

As we said on the second post of our series, the two most renowned Italian Method sparkling wines are Prosecco and Asti Spumante. Beside being made from different grapes (Glera for the former, Moscato Bianco for the latter), Prosecco is generally produced as a dry wine (as per the applicable specifications, it can be produced in any of the variants ranging from Brut to Demisec in terms of residual sugar), while Asti Spumante is a sweet dessert wine with over 50 gr/lt of residual sugar.

On this post, we will just concentrate on Prosecco because… I have to admit it: I am not a huge fan of Asti Spumante or sweet sparkling wines in general. Should any of our readers be interested in a couple of recommendations of quality Asti Spumante wines, feel free to leave a comment on this page and I will gladly oblige 😉

Montesel, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore "Riva dei Fiori" Brut DOCGBefore getting to the actual recommendations, let’s just say a few words about Prosecco in general: Prosecco is made prevalently or exclusively from partly-aromatic Glera (also known as Prosecco) white-berried grapes in two Italian DOCG appellations and in one more loosely regulated inter-regional DOC appellation, as follows:

  • Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG in the Veneto region;
  • Prosecco dei Colli Asolani DOCG in the Veneto region;
  • Prosecco Spumante DOC, an appellation which stretches between the regions of Veneto and Friuli.

Prosecco is one of the main examples of a sparkling wine made according to the so-called Italian Method production process, although there are a few producers who also make some very good Classic Method Prosecco’s, such as Valdo‘s Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico Numero 10 DOCG (see, our full review of this outstanding Prosecco).

Bepin De Eto, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut DOCGCompared to the Classic Method, the Charmat-Martinotti Method is a quicker and cheaper production process for sparkling wine, which is known to maximize primary (or varietal) aromas although it generally sacrifices the wine structure and the finest perlage. For more detailed information, please refer to our post on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.

Now, let’s move on to a few recommendations of quality Prosecco’s:

  • Adami, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut “Bosco di Gica” DOCG (95-97% Glera grapes/3-5% Chardonnay grapes, with aromas of wisteria, pear, apple, peach, Mirabelle plum and herbs);
  • Astoria, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore “Cuvée Tenuta Val de Brun” Extra Dry DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with a bouquet of white flowers, pear, apple and citrus);
  • Bepin De Eto, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with scents of rose, wisteria, apple, pear, peach, bread crust and minerals – commendable is the investment made by the owners to achieve a very good density of 4,000 vines/HA);Adami, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut "Bosco di Gica" DOCG
  • Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG (100% Glera, with a bouquet of white flowers, peach, citrus and herbs);
  • Marsuret, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore “San Boldo” Brut DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with aromas of mint, broom, elder blossoms, apple, citrus and minerals);
  • Montesel, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore “Riva dei Fiori” Brut DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with scents of elder blossoms, wisteria, pear, apple, lime and minerals);
  • Nino Franco, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG (100% Glera, made in the finest sub-zone of the appellation known as Cartizze and displaying fine aromas of jasmine blossoms, passion fruit, citrus, herbs and minerals);Valdo, Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico Numero 10 DOC
  • Nino Franco, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene “Grave di Stecca” Brut (100% Glera, with scents of wild flowers, almond, apricot and citrus).

Hope you have an opportunity to enjoy some of these wines and, if you do, feel free to share your opinion here.