Monthly Archives: July 2013

Wine Review: Muri-Gries, Alto Adige Lagrein “Abtei Muri” Riserva 2007 DOC

Today’s review is about a northern Italian red wine that I particularly love (Muri-GriesAlto Adige Lagrein “Abtei Muri” Riserva DOC 2007 – $38) which is made from an Italian indigenous grape variety that in my view undeservedly gets too little attention in the wine world: Lagrein.

Muri-Gries, Alto Adige Lagrein "Abtei Muri" Riserva DOC

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Abtei Muri was an extremely good, marvelously smooth, fruit-forward wine with supple tannins and good structure, an ideal companion to a red meat dinner. I think that with a couple more years of evolution under its belt, this wine may become truly spectacular: I will have to look for one more bottle from the 2007 vintage, if I can find one!

Rating: Outstanding and definitely Recommended, given its great QPR Outstanding – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

The earliest mention of Lagrein is contained in a 1318 document found (of all places!) in Gries, near Bolzano, and surprisingly it refers to a white wine, that researchers have not been able to identify yet. Instead, the first reference to the red Lagrein that we know dates back to 1526.

Recent DNA analysis proved that Lagrein is a variety that is indigenous to the Alto Adige region of Italy, that it originated as a natural cross between Teroldego and an unknown variety and that, among other cool facts, it is a sibling of Marzemino and a cousin of Syrah!

In Italy, Lagrein is mostly grown in the northern regions of Alto Adige and Trentino. Outside of Italy, Lagrein can be found in California (Paso Robles) and Australia.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

About the Appellation

A few words about the appellation. Alto Adige is a portion of the northern, mountainous region of Italy known as Trentino Alto Adige that is close to Austria and produces several wines of excellent quality, including indigenous Lagrein and very good Schiava and Pinot Noir among the reds and excellent whites ranging from Riesling and Sylvaner to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Given the great quality of the wines from this area of Italy, it is somewhat sad to notice that they all come from one single appellation that encompasses the entire Alto Adige area, known as Alto Adige DOC. It is true that this macro-appellation includes a few subzones (among which St. Magdalener, Terlaner and Valle Isarco) but still, one appellation with over 20 permitted grape varieties??? Talk about the importance of terroir… 😦  So, as of today one can mostly rely on the seriousness and commitment to quality of many Alto Adige producers. Personally, I hope that at some point at least certain of those subzones may be upgraded to self-standing appellations, focusing only on the grapes that are best suited for that specific subregion.

About the Estate

Muri-Gries is currently a Benedictine monastery in the village known as Gries near the town of Bolzano (Bozen), in the northeastern Italian region of Alto Adige. The original building was erected in the XI century as a fortress and kept that purpose until 1407, when it was gifted to Augustinian canons who had lost their monastery due to a flood and it was converted into a monastery. Grapevine growing and winemaking started in 1845, when the monastery passed on to Benedictine friars, who had been ousted from their monastery in Muri, Switzerland, and who eventually settled in the Gries monastery, which changed its name to the current Muri-Gries. As of today, the Benedectine friars still take care of the monastery and its vineyards.

The monastery owns nearly 30 HA (75 acres) of vineyards (80% of which are Lagrein) and 52 HA (131 acres) of orchards, beside some 45 cattle, which make the monastery essentially self-sufficient. Even part of the wine made in the monastery is earmarked for the friars’ own consumption.

Our Detailed Review

Let’s now move on to the actual review of the Muri-Gries, Alto Adige Lagrein “Abtei Muri” Riserva 2007 DOC that I recently tasted.

For starters, “Abtei Muri” is the flagship line of the monastery wine production. This premium lineup comprises four wines: the Lagrein that we are about to review, a Pinot Noir, a white blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio, and a sweet Moscato Rosa.

Our Abtei Muri Lagrein was made from 100% Lagrein grapes and was fermented in steel vats and then aged for 16 months in barrique oak casks. It is 13.5% ABV and it retails in the US for about $38, which (as you will soon find out if you keep reading) is great value for this wine.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine poured ruby red with purple hints and thick when swirled

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with aromas of blueberry, blackberry, black pepper, tobacco and licorice.

In the mouth, it was dry, warm, smooth; quite fresh, with deliciously supple tannins, and tasty. The wine was full-bodied and perfectly balanced. The mouth flavors were intense and fine, with nice correspondence to the aromatic palette and hints of blueberry, blackberry and black pepper. It had a quite long finish and its evolutionary state was ready (that is, perfectly good to enjoy now, but will probably evolve even more with two or three years of additional aging).

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Wine Review: Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012

Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc MarlboroughEver since fellow wine blogger and friend Oliver was kind enough to ask me to contribute a guest post to his excellent blog, The Winegetter, I have been really excited about the idea. Since the theme was “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” and the post was going to be published in the summertime, I thought reviewing one of my favorite New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs (Cloudy BaySauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012 – $30) would just be the way to go: definitely “somewhere beyond the sea” pretty much from anywhere you look at it (unless of course you are a Kiwi!) and a refreshing summer wine. So there we go – and of course: (i) you may find this post also in Oliver’s blog and (ii) thank you so much, Oliver, for including me in your list of distinguished guest contributors – I feel honored and it has been a lot of fun!

The Bottom Line

Overall, I think that Cloudy Bay is a very pleasant Sauvignon Blanc in the “Down Under” style: intense, concentrated fruit and herb aromas, lively acidity and citrus-centric flavors. So very refreshing and summery that I would keep drinking it all Summer long… if budget permitted!  😉

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

A few interesting notions about the origins of Sauvignon Blanc: recent DNA analysis has identified a parent-offspring relationship between Savagnin (an old white-berried variety that is common in the Jura region of France) and Sauvignon Blanc and, there being much earlier documents mentioning Savagnin than Sauvignon Blanc, the former is believed to be the parent of the latter. DNA results also support the thesis that, contrary to common belief, Sauvignon Blanc did not originate from the Bordeaux area, but rather from the Loire Valley in France, where documental evidence dates back to 1534 (compared to 1710 in Bordeaux). However, it is interesting to note that, when Sauvignon Blanc was grown in the Bordeaux area, it spontaneously crossed with Cabernet Franc to create Cabernet Sauvignon.

In New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc was first planted in the 1970s and soon became the most widely grown variety in the country, especially in the Marlborough region.

(Information on the grape varieties taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012  – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

About the Estate

Cloudy Bay‘s vineyards are located in different subzones of the premium wine region of Marlborough at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island, alongside the Wairau River. Cloudy Bay also sources part of the grapes used for making their wines from a few independent Wairau Valley growers with whom they have established a long-term business relationship.

Our Detailed Review

Let’s now get to the actual review of Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012, which in the US retails for about $30.

The wine has 13.5% ABV and was made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes sourced from estate and grower vineyards located in the Rapaura, Fairhall, Renwick and Brancott subzones of the Wairau Valley. Fermentation was primarily carried out in stainless steel, except for a small percentage that was fermented in old French oak barriques.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine poured crystal clear, a beautiful straw yellow in color, and thick with narrow arches and slow dripping tears

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with pleasant, Summer-y aromas of lime, grapefruit, citrus, green apple and herbs (nettle, mint)

In the mouth, it was dry, quite warm, quite smooth; fresh, quite tasty. The wine was medium-bodied and balanced, despite its freshness (i.e., acidity) being the dominating component – but that is in most cases a desirable feature in a dry white wine and in our case it also helped make the quite muscular ABV of the wine not so evident in the mouth, which is a good thing, so it did not change our assessment that the wine was balanced. Its mouth flavors were intense and fine, with pleasant, refreshing notes of lime, grapefruit, citrus and herbs. The wine’s finish was quite long and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning ready to be enjoyed now, with additional cellaring not likely to benefit the wine.

Yoga Meditation (or Balanced Rock at Twilight)

Balanced Rock at twilight

Shooting famous, over-photographed landmarks such as balanced rock in Utah’s Arches National Park challenges the photographer to come up with images that are not cliche, that portray such landmarks in a different light, from a different perspective or in a fresher way.

Silhouetting your subject may be a way to reinterpret such well-known scenes. Silhouetting essentially transposes your 3D subject into a 2D world, so shape becomes key for a successful silhouette. Thus, moving around your subject, changing your angle of view may radically  alter your final image, the 2D rendition of your subject.

When I saw a sunset with potential (because of some lingering clouds) behind me, I quickly hiked to the other side of balanced rock and moved around until that impressive rock formation took on the shape (at least in my eyes) of a person sitting before a beautiful sunset in a yoga meditation position. Click, click, and there we go: a symbolic rendition of balanced rock! 😉

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

Raw Moves: Three Reasons for Shooting RAW Instead of Jpeg

Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) play-fightingCaption: Canada, Hudson Bay – Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) play-fighting

A while ago, the exquisite Fairy of the North, Dina (who so elegantly authors the blog The World According to Dina, masterfully combining her beautiful images with perfectly selected quotes to complement them) asked me if I would write a post about why I think anyone who shoots digital and takes his or her photography seriously should shoot RAW as opposed to straight off the camera Jpegs.

By the way, before we even get to the point, what is a RAW file, just in case you were wondering? A RAW file is essentially the equivalent of a film negative in the digital age. Every camera manufacturer has their own proprietary formats of files containing the raw (hence the name), unprocessed input captured by the sensor. In fact, RAW files are called in several different ways and have different extensions, depending on the various camera makers: for instance, Nikon’s are called NEF and Canon’s are called either CRW or CR2, depending on the models.

Unlike straight out of the camera Jpegs (which are the result of the camera’s computer processing the sensor data, making arbitrary choices that you as the photographer cannot control and producing a file format that is immediately viewable by anyone), RAW files need to be processed through specialized software such as the camera manufacturer’s proprietary processing software or third-party software such as Adobe PhotoShop or Lightroom or Apple Aperture and then converted to a usable file format, such as TIFF, PSD or Jpeg.

In essence, processing a RAW file requires more of the photographer’s time because he or she has choices to make (in terms of optimizing white balance, exposure, contrast, color balance/saturation, etc.) but puts the photographer back in control of his or her creative decisions and what’s best, in a totally non-destructive, reversible way (more on this later).

Having said that, here are the three main reasons why I think you should set your camera to shoot RAW instead of Jpeg:

1. Unlimited White Balance Adjustments: This is one of the most powerful reasons for choosing a RAW file over an in-camera Jpeg. In short: if for any reason you shoot an image using a white balance setting that is not optimal for the scene you are shooting and you have your camera set to produce a Jpeg file, then you are stuck with that suboptimal white balance and changing it (or at least improving it) will be a difficult and time-consuming task to be performed in your image processing software. If instead you shoot RAW, you can easily correct your white balance with just one click in your processing software. Done!

2. Lossless Process: Jpegs are image files that are considerably smaller than other formats. This is because they utilize a compression algorithm that is lossy, meaning that it discards a bunch of color information from the image to make the file smaller. The more you compress, the more subtle color transitions and image sharpness you lose. In addition, image data loss is cumulative, meaning that every time you save or re-save a Jpeg file, you lose information that cannot be recovered later on. If you shoot RAW instead, you retain all of the information captured by your camera’s sensor, forever. This means not only that, should you need to perform some intensive editing of your image you will have more information to work on, but also and more importantly that you will forever retain full access to all the information that the sensor originally captured.

3. Non-Destructive, Reversible Editing: If you shoot Jpeg and then edit your file in post processing you can then either keep it as a Jpeg when you save it (in which case, all your edits will become permanent AND you will experience image data loss when you save your processed Jpeg) or work using layers (if available in your processing software). The latter is definitely the way to go, because layers can always be discarded later on, should you wish to process your image differently. However, Jpegs do not support layers, so if you use them and want to retain them, you will have to save your processed file in a format that supports layers, such as TIFF or PSD which are both lossless formats but end up in bigger file sizes. Instead, if you shoot RAW and process your RAW file, all your edits will be stored in a so-called “sidecar file”, meaning a small text file that goes hand in hand with your RAW file and contains all the information about the edits that you performed. This means that your RAW file will never be altered and you will always be able to change any of your edits at any time in the future with no damage to your image file or information loss. Pretty cool, huh?

As a final note, even if after reading these compelling reasons for shooting RAW 😉 you were to choose to continue shooting in-camera Jpegs, at the very least make sure that as soon as you download them to your computer you immediately save them to a lossless image format: as we said earlier on, not only will this let you retain your adjustment layers if you so choose, but it will avoid image degradation every time you re-save that Jpeg.

Wine App Review: Winery Passport

Winery Passport App IconLast week, Scott, the developer of a brand new wine-related app, reached out to me to let me know about the roll out and to ask me whether I would download it and give it a spin and, if I liked it, whether I would write a review.

So, as you are reading this, you may already guess that I did download it and I did like it 😉

But let’s start from the beginning: the app is called Winery Passport (WP).

Screenshot5

Before we get more into it, note that you may have an interest in this app provided that you (i) are into wine (of course!), (ii) live in or plan a wine-focused trip to the USA, and (iii) at least for now, are iOS based.

Now, what exactly does WP do? Essentially, WP is (or will soon be) a database of all the wineries in the US coupled with a cool GPS feature that shows the wineries that are closest to wherever you are, ordering them from closest to farthest away and showing you how far you are from each of them. Alternatively, you can also browse or search the entire winery archive, that is broken down by State.

Either way, whenever you select a winery, WP shows you its address and gives you a few options, including taking you to the winery’s Web site, connecting to Google Maps so you can get driving directions from wherever you are to the winery with one click, or even call the winery directly from within the app.

Screenshot1Thanks to these two different modes, WP’s features come in handy whether you have a sudden urge to discover and visit a winery near you, regardless of where in the US you are, or you are planning a trip to a US wine region and want to chart your route based on where the various wineries of the area are located or their average rating. Pretty cool, and all at your fingertip.

But there’s more. WP also a “passport” part that keeps track of the wineries that you visit, lets you rate them and take notes and even syncs with Facebook and Twitter so you can share your experience with other WP users. Neat idea.

And in case you are wondering how much downloading WP is going to set you back, well no sweat and click that download button as it is a free app!

Screenshot3Now, although WP is fully functioning and sleek looking, here are a few things to bear in mind:

1. The winery database is still a work in progress: to date, there’s almost 1000 wineries in 17 States, all on the East Coast so far (so, no California yet), that have been uploaded already, but they are quite obviously not all. Scott is working to add more and eventually map all 50 States out, but it is a huge task and it is going to take a while. Scott anticipates getting to 25 States by August.

2. So far, WP is only for the iPhone or iPod Touch. I asked Scott whether he planned to also develop a version for the iPad and he said that it would be rolled out later on, as right now completing the winery census is understandably his priority.

Screenshot4

3. Regarding Android: I asked and Scott said once the iOS version is completed, with all the wineries uploaded, he would look into making an Android version, so Android users sit tight and hold on as no hope is lost! 🙂

Wrapping things up: I really like the idea behind WP and its implementation: the app is sleek, simple and yet very effective… and it’s free! I can’t wait for the full-screen version for the iPad to be released!

Rating: Very Good and recommended

Thank you, Scott, for developing such a cool app, making it available for free and giving me heads up about it!

For more information about WP, visit the developer’s Web site. You can download WP from Apple’s App Store or by clicking here.

Wine Review P2: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, “Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia” Range

Disclaimer: this review is of samples that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review of the wines has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the ISA wine tasting protocol and the opinions I am going to share on the wines are my own.

After learning about the producer, Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, the estate “Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia and the “Ammiraglia” wine range in general on our previous post (should you have missed it, please refer to it before reading this one), let’s now focus on the actual contents of the three bottles that I got to taste and move forward with my tasting notes.

In an effort not to make this post too lengthy, if you are interested in some very cool facts about the various grape varieties from which the wines in the Ammiraglia lineup are made (i.e., Vermentino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo), by all means check them out on our Grape Variety Archive page. As always, such information is taken from the excellent guide Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012,

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

1.  Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, Vermentino “Ammiraglia” Toscana IGT 2012 ($18)

The 2012 Vermentino Ammiraglia was 12.5% ABV and was made out of 100% Vermentino grapes harvested from just 5 HA of vineyards in the Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia estate, which achieve a good 5,500 vines/HA density.

After the grapes underwent a partial cryomaceration phase, the must fermented for 10 days at 68F/20C in stainless steel vessels, with no malolactic fermentation. After that, the wine rested for 4 months in steel vats, plus one additional month in bottle before becoming available for sale.

The fact that part of the grapes did cryomaceration and that the wine did not do any oak are both indications that the wine was made in such a way as to emphasize primary and secondary aromas and that it is intended for immediate consumption, not for cellaring. The Vermentino Ammiraglia retails in the US for about $18.

In the glass, the wine poured a light straw yellow and moderately thick when swirled.

On the nose, the bouquet was quite intense, quite complex and fine, with aromas of grapefruit, citrus, honey, orange blossoms, with herbs and almond hints. One important factor to keep in mind to fully appreciate its aromas is service temperature: if you serve this wine too chilled, its bouquet will be restrained and will not do it justice. I noticed that a temperature of about 53-55F/12-13C is where the wine’s aromas peak, so bear that in mind if you buy a bottle.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, quite warm, smooth; fresh and tasty. It was balanced and medium-bodied, with intense and fine mouth flavors of citrus, almond, minerals and evident iodine notes. The finish was quite long (to reinforce the wine’s mineral and iodine flavors, the aftertaste leaves you a slight feeling almost of saltwater in your mouth!) and the evolutionary state was mature (meaning, drink it now, it will not benefit from cellaring).

Overall, I really enjoyed this Vermentino: ideally, I wish its aromas were a touch more intense, but its aromatic palette is quite complex (if tasted at the right temperature) and very enjoyable, as are its balance and tasty mouth flavors. And at a retail price of about $18, I think this wine delivers plenty of bang for the buck.

Rating: Good to Very Good and Recommended, given its great QPR Good to Very Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, “Terre More dell’Ammiraglia” Maremma Toscana DOC 2011 ($18)

The 2011 Terre More was a whopping 14.5% ABV Bordeaux-style blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot and 5% Syrah grown in 55 HA of vineyards in the estate with a good density of 5,500 vines/HA, on par with the Vermentino.

The must fermented for 10 days in stainless steel vats at 82F/28C and underwent 12 days of maceration as well as full malolactic fermentation. The wine finally aged for 12 months in second or third time used French oak barrique casks before becoming available for sale. The Terre More retails in the US for about $18.

In the glass, the wine poured ruby red with purple hints and unsurprisingly (given its ABV) thick when swirled.

On the nose, the bouquet was quite intense, complex and fine, with aromas of wild cherry, plum, blackberry, leather, coffee, tobacco and black pepper, with the tertiary, spicy aromas given by the oak aging being a little dominant over the secondary, fruity aromas (despite the wise choice of second/third time used barriques).

In the mouth, the Terre More was dry, definitely warm, quite smooth; fresh, tannic, quite tasty. I have to say that the wine’s muscular ABV was very evident, and tended to tip the wine mouthfeel a little bit off balance. The tannins were firm but quite integrated, despite the wine’s young age. The wine was full-bodied and had intense and fine mouth flavors of plum, blackberry, coffee (quite evident) and black pepper. The finish was quite long and the evolutionary state ready, meaning you can drink it now but it will most likely benefit from a few years of additional in-bottle aging.

Overall, I ended up having mixed feelings about the Terre More: I quite liked its bouquet (despite the slight prevalence of oaky, tertiary aromas and it being not as intense as I would have hoped), but was not entirely convinced by its mouthfeel: despite its pleasant flavor profile, the heat of the wine’s ABV was in my view a little too evident. Truth be told, it is still a very young wine and a few years of cellaring would likely be beneficial. Having said that, with a retail price of $18, I think this wine is still a pretty good deal to pair with a juicy steak just off the grill.

Rating: Fairly Good Fairly Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

3. Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, “Pietraregia dell’Ammiraglia” Morellino di Scansano Riserva DOCG 2010 ($25)

As mentioned on our previous post, the 2010 Pietraregia started off on the right foot by having a nice cork closure. 😉 Beside that, the wine was 14% ABV and was a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Ciliegiolo and 5% Syrah.

The must fermented in stainless steel vats for 10 days at 86F/30C, underwent 20 days of maceration on the skins and did full malolactic fermentation, The wine aged for 24 months in French oak barrique casks and 2 additional months in bottle before becoming available for sale. The Pietraregia retails in the US for about $25.

In the glass, it poured dark ruby red and thick when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was quite intense and a bit narrow, with aromas of plum, blackberry, violet and black pepper, but certainly fine. It is interesting to note how few spicy tertiary aromas the wine picked up after spending 24 months in French oak barrique casks. Honestly, I would have hoped that the nose of this wine delivered a bit more than it did.

In the mouth, the Pietraregia was dry, warm, smooth; fresh, tannic, tasty. It was a full-bodied wine with intense and fine mouth flavors of plum and dark chocolate. The finish was quite long and its evolutionary state was ready (you know what that means: fine to drink now, but if you cellar it for a few years it will likely improve over time).

Overall, I liked the Pietraregia: while I wish it had more to give in its bouquet, in my view the pleasant mouthfeel of this wine definitely made up for whatever it lacked in its aromatic palette. Once you sip this wine, it will make you happy, especially if you still remember that you paid some 25 bucks for it, which I think is more than adequate for what you get.

Rating: Good and Recommended Good – $$ 

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

So, to sum things up real quick:

1. I am generally pleased by the quality that the three wines of the Ammiraglia range that I got to taste delivered, of course given their price points.

2. Personally, I would definitely buy the Vermentino and the Pietraregia, which in my view are good value for money, while (once again, personally speaking) I think I would pass on the Terre More as, while it certainly is not a bad wine, it does not quite meet my own tastes.

And of course, many thanks to Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi’s US importer for providing the samples.

As always, if you get to taste any of these wines, please share your experience in the comment section!

Wine Review P1: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, “Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia” Range

Disclaimer: this review is of samples that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review of the wines has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the ISA wine tasting protocol and the opinions I am going to share on the wines are my own.

The US importer of the Italian winery Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi has been so nice as to mail me samples of a range of wines that are literally just being launched in the US market as we publish this post so I could try them out and see how I liked them… which I gladly did! Needless to say, the opinions in my review are my own and are untainted by the fact that the wines I reviewed were free samples (which is something that, however, I greatly appreciated as it gave me the opportunity to preview a range of wines that I was not familiar with!)

The wines that I am going to review are made by well-known Tuscan producer Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi and they are part of a line called “Ammiraglia”, after the name of the estate (Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia) where the grapes from which the wines are made come from.

In order not to make this post unbearably long, I am going to break it down into two parts: (i) this post will provide information about the producer, the estate and the Ammiraglia range in general, and (ii) the next post is going to focus on my tasting notes of the three wines in the Ammiraglia lineup that I had the opportunity to taste.

About the Producer

The Frescobaldi’s are an Italian (florentine) family of noble descent that, among other endeavors, have been in the wine business for quite a while. More specifically, the oldest documented reference to their wine production activities dates back to… the year 1300 (!) at the historic estate of Tenuta di Castiglioni in Val di Pesa, southwest of Florence.

According to the Frescobaldi’s records, their wine business took off pretty well pretty soon, as by the beginning of the 1400’s great Italian Renaissance artists such as Donatello and Michelozzo Michelozzi had become loyal clients. One century later, the Frescobaldi wines were served at the tables of the Papal Court and the Court of Henry the Eighth of England.

According to the Frescobaldi’s Web site, in the second half of the XIX century they were also at the forefront of wine making innovation in Italy, as in 1855, at their estates of Nipozzano and Pomino, they were the first in Tuscany to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while in 1894 at Pomino they built the first Italian gravity-fed cellars.

About the Estate

Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia is the Frescobaldi’s latest project. This estate is situated in Magliano, near the town of Grosseto, in that beautiful, sunny and wild part of coastal Tuscany that is known as Maremma. Commercial production of the Ammiraglia wine range started recently, with the first vintage of two of the wines in the lineup being 2006, while the remaining two wines were introduced in 2009 and 2012 (see below for details). Even the state-of-the-art, environmentally conscious Ammiraglia estate winery was completed and became operational only in 2011.

About the Ammiraglia Range

The Ammiraglia lineup comprises four wines:

1. Vermentino Ammiraglia: the only white wine in the range and its newest addition (first vintage: 2012)
2. Terre More: a Bordeux-style blend (first vintage: 2009)
3. Pietraregia: a Sangiovese-based Morellino di Scansano Riserva (first vintage: 2006)
4. Ammiraglia: a varietal Syrah (first vintage: 2006)

However, currently only the first three wines in the Ammiraglia range have been imported into the US and therefore will be covered by my review. Word has it, though, that it will not be long before even the missing Syrah joins the other three wines on US wine store racks (probably, as early as next year).

Before we wrap this post up, here are three general observations on the wines that I have tasted – two good and one… not so good.  😉

– The good ones:

(A) The price: if these wines deliver in terms of quality (I don’t want to spoil the outcome of my reviews here, so stay tuned for the next post!) I think they are going to sell really well: two of the three have a suggested retail price of $18 and the third one (the Pietraregia) of $25: certainly appealing.

(B) The capsule: the three wines come with a nice tin capsule, which I like so much better than cheap feeling and cheap looking plastic capsules. Besides, tin foil is much easier to take off in the context of a proper wine opening procedure (yes, at some point I will write a post about what this entails exactly!)

– The not so good one (at least to me): only one of the three wines that I tasted (the more expensive Pietraregia) utilizes cork as a closure. The other two resort to a synthetic closure in a color that vaguely resembles cork.

Now, I realize that retailing at some $18 these two wines are not premium segment wines and using synthetic instead of cork helps keep the retail price down; I understand that they are not meant for long-term aging and this takes care of the question marks about the long-term effectiveness of synthetic closures; and I also appreciate that using synthetic avoids the dreaded TCA taint problem (AKA, the occasional corked bottle) altogether. I get all that, of course. Still, my personal reaction to a synthetic closure in a bottle of wine is not one of excitement: I don’t know, I may be old school and everything, but to me, it just makes the bottle feel cheap.

By the way, if you are interested in the whole wine closure debate, I have come across a pretty interesting article published by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture summarizing the outcome of research conducted in 2007 at Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center regarding the “Effects of Wine Bottle Closure Type on Consumer Purchase Intent and Price Expectation” that essentially shows how consumer appreciation and price expectations of a bottle of wine (a Chardonnay and a Merlot) were affected by the use of a screw cap, a synthetic closure or a real cork (the article also cites the outcome of previous studies on this topic).

Anyway, forget about my prejudice about synthetic closures: this is the end of part 1 of this review. On the next post, we will get to my actual tasting notes of the three wines that I got to taste, so stay tuned for more! 🙂