Category Archives: Wine

Full Report About Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC 2014

Gambero Rosso - Tre Bicchieri World Tour 2014 - NYC

Finally, I managed to find the time to organize my notes and write my full report about the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2014 Italian wine fair that took place in New York City back in February. Just for background, the Tre Bicchieri event is one of the most exclusive and prestigious Italian wine fairs in the world, one where only those wineries that are awarded a coveted ranking in the Gambero Rosso wine guide are invited to attend.

As was the case for the Vinitaly International/Slow Wine NYC 2014 event, I attended the Tre Bicchieri event with fellow wine blogger and friend Anatoli who authors the excellent Talk-A-Vino wine blog.

This year 180 wineries were represented at the Tre Bicchieri event, just a handful more than last year, showcasing some of their best wines. As always for this kind of events, I am going to list below those wines that impressed me most among the many great ones that I got to taste, grouping them by region. It goes without saying that the list below is far from being complete, because (i) clearly I did not get to taste the wines of all of the 180 producers participating in the event and (ii) I made an effort to be extremely selective in my choices below in order to keep this post to a manageable length. This means that there were many more very good wines that I tasted and yet that did not “make the cut” to be mentioned on this post.

So, let’s get down to it:

1. TRENTINO

FerrariTrento Extra Brut “Perlé Nero” 2007: a very good Classic Method Blanc de Noirs from the Trento DOC appellation in Trentino, with a complex bouquet of toast, roasted hazelnut, sugar candy, pineapple, citrus and slight smokey notes; structured, creamy smooth and mineral in the mouth – Outstanding Outstanding

2. ALTO ADIGE

Abbazia di NovacellaAlto Adige Valle Isarco Sylvaner “Praepositus” 2012: a wine that immediately engages your senses, from sight (intense straw yellow) to scent (captivating aromas of juicy pear, apricot, tropical fruit, herbs and mineral hints) to of course taste (great fruity flavors reminiscent of the wine’s aromatic palette and intense minerality to keep it always engaging) – Outstanding Outstanding

Cantina Produttori ColterenzioAlto Adige Sauvignon “Lafoa” 2012: an exciting Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of nettle, tomato leaf, cat pee, grapefruit, lime and minerals, good acidity and structure – Outstanding Outstanding

Elena WalchAlto Adige Gewürztraminer “Kastelaz” 2012: this single vineyard Gewürz delivers a symphony of tropical fruit, mineral hints, citrus, peach, face powder and honey on the nose along with vivid minerality and bright acidity in the mouth – Spectacular Spectacular

3. PIEMONTE

Fratelli AlessandriaBarolo “Monvigliero” 2009: a great nose of cherry and raspberry with hints of vanilla and milk chocolate coupled with a very pleasant mouth feel thanks to the wine’s already supple tannins despite its young age – Very Good Very Good

Michele ChiarloBarolo “Cerequio” 2009: pleasant aromas of violet, plum, blackberry, licorice, cinnamon and a balsamic hint, all wrapped up in a very smooth, immediately enjoyable Barolo with a long finish – Very Good Very Good

Marchesi di BaroloBarolo “Sarmassa” 2009: aromas of animal fur, soil, plum, licorice, roses and nutmeg, with a structured but silky smooth mouth feel – Very Good Very Good

Tenuta Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di GresyBarbaresco “Camp Gross Martinenga” 2009: a wonderfully pleasant single vineyard Barbaresco with an elegant bouquet of violet, plum, wild berries, dark chocolate and hints of black pepper; a wine that is superbly balanced in the mouth, with a round smoothness that complements its freshness and well integrated tannins – Spectacular Spectacular

4. LOMBARDIA

BellavistaFranciacorta Extra Brut “Vittorio Moretti” Riserva 2006: a wonderful, Classic Method cuvée from the premium Franciacorta appellation, with a complex bouquet of yeast, toast, sugar candy, apple, pineapple, hazelnut and minerals along with elegant acidity and minerality – Outstanding Outstanding

Ca’ del BoscoFranciacorta “Cuvée Annamaria Clementi” Riserva 2005: magical as always, Ca’ del Bosco’s top of the line Classic Method vintage sparkling wine greets the taster with a kaleidoscope of aromas reminiscent of apples, citrus, Italian confetti (a traditional wedding candy made of sugar and almond), toast, pastry, freshly baked biscotti… as well as a symphony of acidity and minerality in the mouth to keep it all together – Spectacular Spectacular

Ca’ del BoscoFranciacorta Brut Vintage Collection 2009: an excellent, budget-friendlier alternative to the Annamaria Clementi, a Classic Method sparkler made out of 22 base wines and sporting an exciting nose of toast, roasted hazelnut and apple that goes hand in hand with great acidity and pleasant minerality – Outstanding Outstanding

5. VENETO

BertaniAmarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006: a classic Amarone with a bouquet of plum, spirited black cherries, licorice, potpourri and balsamic hints that complements a robust but well balanced structure that integrates the wine’s muscular ABV into energetic and yet supple tannins and pleasant minerality – Very Good Very Good

Tenuta Sant’AntonioAmarone della Valpolicella “Campo dei Gigli” 2008: a sleek Amarone with a bouquet of black cherry jam, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, vanilla and cinnamon, along with an imposing structure, well integrated tannins and masterfully controlled ABV, resulting in a perfectly balanced full-bodied red with a long finish – Spectacular Spectacular

6. LIGURIA

Cantine Lunae BosoniColli di Luni Vermentino “Etichetta Nera” 2012: a good Vermentino with enticing aromas of apricot, herbs, resin and sugar candy, along with a crisp acidity counterbalancing a nice smoothness – Very Good Very Good

7. TOSCANA

Stefano AmerighiCortona Syrah 2010: a solid Tuscan rendition of a varietal Syrah from biodynamically grown grapes, a delicious wine which delivers lots of quality for the money, with aromas of animal fur, soil, wild berries, black cherry, black pepper, licorice, cocoa, wet soil and mineral hints; full-bodied, with muscular but perfectly integrated tannins – Outstanding Outstanding

Casanova di NeriBrunello di Montalcino “Cerretalto” 2007: a great single vineyard Brunello with a bouquet of cigar box, plum, raspberry, licorice, ground coffee, cocoa and mineral hints, along with an imposing structure and substantial but already silky smooth tannins as well as a long finish – Spectacular Spectacular

8. MARCHE

VelenosiRosso Piceno Superiore “Roggio del Filare” 2009: a very good MontepulcianoSangiovese blend with inviting aromas of cherry, red fruit candy, plum, licorice, violet and black pepper, good structure and well integrated tannins – Very Good Very Good

9. UMBRIA

Castello della SalaCervaro della Sala 2011: a wonderful, powerful rendition of ubiquitous Chardonnay (blended with a touch of Grechetto grapes) from Umbria, with fine aromas of hazelnut, toast, apple, citrus, honey and buttery notes, along with a sensuous sip of significant structure that masterfully balances acidity with smoothness and ends up in a very long finish – Spectacular Spectacular

10. CAMPANIA

Nanni CopèSabbie di Sopra il Bosco 2011: an exciting blend based on Pallagrello Nero, a variety indigenous to Campania, with aromas of wet soil, underbrush, herbs, juniper, blackberry and tobacco, a medium body and a long, delicious finish; it is still young though and will evolve over the years holding up well thanks to its lively acidity – Outstanding Outstanding

Elena FucciAglianico del Vulture “Titolo” 2011: aromas of Mediterranean brush, tobacco, cocoa, blackberry and plum for a wine delivering plenty of structure, muscular ABV and well integrated but astringent tannins, showing a lot of promise if one can wait for it to mature a few more years – Very Good Very Good

PaternosterAglianico del Vulture “Don Anselmo” 2009: a great Aglianico, with aromas of cherry, tobacco, cocoa and minerals that complement pleasant flavors matching the aromatic pattern, with additional hints of licorice and herbs, along with fine tannins and a very long finish – Very Good Very Good

Terre degli SveviAglianico del Vulture “Re Manfredi” 2010: a wonderful, very “black” Aglianico with aromas of tobacco, cocoa, rhubarb, super dark chocolate and blackberry, plenty of structure, supple tannins and a long finish – Outstanding Outstanding

11. SICILIA

DonnafugataPassito di Pantelleria “Ben Ryé” 2011: spectacularly consistent over the years, it presents aromas of dried apricot, honey, raisin, candied fruit, herbs, resin coupled with a sensuous sweetness counterbalanced by lively acidity and tastiness – Spectacular Spectacular

GraciEtna Rosso “Quota 600” 2010: a wonderful varietal red made from Nerello Mascalese grapes, a variety that is indigenous to Sicily and grows on the volcanic slopes of the Etna mountain, which give the wine a unique bouquet comprising noticeable mineral notes (iron), juniper, berries, Mediterranean brush, wet soil, menthol and balsamic hints, coupled with an elegant taste profile, supple tannins and a long finish – Spectacular Spectacular

PlanetaNoto “Santa Cecilia” 2010: the usual, fantastic Santa Cecilia, a fabulous varietal Nero d’Avola with aromas of tobacco, herbs, licorice, plum, blackberry and mineral hints (graphite), along with a smooth sip with gentle tannins and a long finish – Outstanding Outstanding

12. SARDEGNA

PalaCannonau di Sardegna Riserva 2011: greets the taster with an appealing nose of herbs, Mediterranean underbrush, plum, ground coffee and red fruit candy, along with a structured mouth feel – Very Good Very Good

Sella & MoscaAlghero Rosso “Marchese di Villamarina” 2008: a great Sardinian rendition of Cabernet Sauvignon with aromas of Mediterranean brush, cherry, raspberry, rhubarb, tobacco, incense and balsamic notes along with a sip delivering plenty of substance and smoothness – Outstanding Outstanding

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Wine Review: Masciarelli, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo S. Martino Rosso “Marina Cvetic” DOC 2007

Masciarelli, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo S. Martino Rosso "Marina Cvetic" DOC

Masciarelli, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo S. Martino Rosso “Marina Cvetic” DOC

In a previous post we reviewed an excellent white wine made by Masciarelli (a quality producer based in the central Italy region of Abruzzo) the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo “Marina Cvetic”. Today we are going to review another great wine made by Masciarelli, this time a red, namely Masciarelli, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo S. Martino Rosso “Marina Cvetic” DOC 2007 ($22).

Not unlike the case of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, even this wine is made from a grape variety that over time has had some pretty mixed reviews. Due to it being so widely grown a variety in central Italy, quality may vary dramatically from producer to producer, which in essence means that you need to be aware of who the best producers are in order not to be disappointed.

Masciarelli is definitely one of the great Montepulciano producers and hopefully this post will help readers become acquainted with quality Montepulciano wines and have an idea of what to expect from them.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the S. Martino Rosso was an excellent wine at a very attractive price point – provided, like I said, that before enjoying it, it is left aging enough to mellow its vibrant tannins. The bottle I had sported a great, complex nose, coupled with an awesome mouth feel showing great correspondence with its aromas. With seven years of aging under its belt, it had supple tannins, great structure, still good acidity and a long finish. For those who can wait, it can age for a few more years and continue improving.

Rating: Outstanding and definitely Recommended given its excellent QPR Outstanding – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

Montepulciano is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to Italy (most likely, the Abruzzo region) and is widely planted across central Italy (about 30,000 HA), especially in the regions of Abruzzo, Marche and Molise. Beside Italy, it is also grown in California, Australia and New Zealand. It is a grape variety that results in deeply colored wines with robust tannins, that are often used in blends. On account of the wide diffusion of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines made out of them varies considerably – hence, caveat emptor: you need to know which producers to trust and buy from.

(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

The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC appellation is one of the eight DOC appellations of Abruzzo (as at the date of this post). The appellation was created in 1968 and it encompasses a large area near the towns of Chieti, L’Aquila, Pescara and Teramo. Its regulations require that the wines produced in this appellation be made of at least 85% of Montepulciano grapes, to which up to 15% of other permitted black-berried grapes may be blended.

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review, Masciarelli, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo S. Martino Rosso “Marina Cvetic” DOC 2007, retails in the US for about $22.

As mentioned on a previous post, Marina Cvetic is both the name of the wife of the founder of the Masciarelli winery (Gianni Masciarelli) and the brand under which Masciarelli’s flagship line trades.

The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Marina Cvetic” that I had was 14.5% ABV and was made from 100% Montepulciano grapes grown in Masciarelli’s vineyards near the town of Chieti, at an altitude above sea level ranging from 655 ft (200 mt) to 1,310 ft (400 mt). The density in the vineyards ranges from 1,600 to 8,000 vines/HA.

The must was fermented in stainless steel vats for 15 to 20 days at 82-86 F (28-30 C). The wine underwent full malolactic fermentation and then aged for 12 to 18 months in 100% new oak barrique casks.

As mentioned in the About the Grape paragraph above, Montepulciano is a variety that makes wines with robust tannins: this means that, in order to really enjoy your bottle of Montepulciano, you need to give it some aging or you may be disappointed because its tannins may strike you as harsh and edgy. Much like in the case of Barolo’s and Brunello’s, drinking too young a bottle of Montepulciano is one of the main reasons why certain consumers are put off by this variety: let it age at least 6 to 8 years and you will see that your sensory experience will be entirely different, definitely for the better!

As usual, for my reviews 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 was ruby red and viscous.

On the nose, it was intense, complex and fine with aromas of black cherry, blackcurrant, sweet tobacco, black pepper, dark chocolate and hints of licorice.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, tannic, tasty. It was full-bodied, balanced, with intense and fine flavors of black cherry, blackcurrant, licorice, black pepper and dark chocolate. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was ready.

Wine Review: Montelvini, Prosecco di Asolo Superiore Millesimato Extra Dry “Venegazzù” DOCG NV

Disclaimer: this review is of a sample that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review 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 wine are my own.

Montelvini, Asolo Prosecco Superiore Millesimato DOCG Extra DryIt has recently been reported that, in 2013, worldwide sales of Prosecco were for the first time greater than those of Champagne (307 million vs 304 million bottles, respectively – thank you Franklin Liquors for sharing the link to this piece of news).

In spite of such a commercial achievement, if you have been following this blog for a while, you may recall that generally speaking I am not a big fan of Prosecco, with very few exceptions. I just like the extra complexity and structure that is typical of a Classic Method sparkling wine (like Champagne or Franciacorta, for instance) over the simpler, fruitier profile of a Charmat-Martinotti Method sparkler (like Prosecco). If you are not familiar with the two methods, please refer to my previous posts on the Classic Method and on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.

Having said that, I am always happy to try and taste new Prosecco’s to hopefully add new… “exceptions” to my list. So I was excited when representatives of Italian Prosecco producer Montelvini were kind enough to have a couple samples of their premium Prosecco (Montelvini, Prosecco di Asolo Superiore Millesimato Extra Dry “Venegazzù” DOCG NV – $15) delivered to me so I could taste it and possibly review it.

Now, let’s see how it was.

The Bottom Line

OverallI quite liked this Prosecco (despite being slightly irked by its label) and I appreciated its fine perlage, considering that the Charmat-Martinotti Method generally results in bigger bubbles. It is a nice, easy to drink sparkler with an appealing quality-to-price ratio: it has pleasant mouth flavors and mineral hints that make up for its not very complex or intense aromas. It definitely has its place as a Spring-y/Summer-y “cool but not intimidating” 😉 aperitivo.

Rating: Good and  Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape and the Appellation

The main grape variety that is used in the production of the wine Prosecco was called Prosecco Tondo (now Glera) which DNA profiling has shown to be identical to a rare variety that is indigenous to the Istria region of Croatia named Teran Bijeli. This evidence supports the theory of an Istrian origin for the Prosecco/Glera grape variety. Glera is a partly-aromatic white-berried grape variety (grape variety information taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012).

Prosecco wine is made in two Italian DOCG appellations and in one more loosely regulated inter-regional DOC appellation, as follows:

  • Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene (or simply Prosecco di ValdobbiadeneDOCG in the Veneto region, near the town of Treviso;
  • Prosecco dei Colli Asolani (or Prosecco di Asolo) DOCG in the Veneto region, near and including the town of Asolo (this is the appellation of the wine we are reviewing today);
  • Prosecco Spumante DOC, an appellation which covers a vast territory stretching between the regions of Veneto and Friuli.

Montelvini Estate, Asolo

The Montelvini estate in Asolo (image courtesy of Montelvini)

With regard to residual sugar levels, according to applicable regulations, Prosecco spumante wines may be produced in any of the following styles, and therefore except only in the Extra Brut (less than 6 gr/lt of residual sugar) or Sweet (more than 50 gr/lt of residual sugar) versions:

  • Brut (less than 15 gr/lt of residual sugar)
  • Extra Dry (12 to 20 gr/lt of residual sugar)
  • Dry (17 to 35 gr/lt of residual sugar – as in the case of the bottle that we are reviewing)
  • Demi-Sec (33 to 50 gr/lt of residual sugar, which would make it taste quite sweet).

For more detailed information about Prosecco and the Glera grape variety, please refer to our post on the Charmat-Martinotti Method and to the “Glera” entry in our Grape Variety Archive.

About the Producer and the Estate

The Serena family, who owns Montelvini, has been in the wine making business for 130 years in the hilly area surrounding the town of Asolo in Italy’s Veneto region. Nowadays, they manage 35 HA of vineyards in four different estates, with Glera, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon being the most cultivated grapes, accounting in the aggregate for 85% of the total vines, with an average density of 4,500 vines/HA.

Montelvini: Alberto, Sarah and Armando Serena

The Serena family (image courtesy of Montelvini)

The annual production is 3 million bottles, 20% of which are exported to 36 countries. The Montelvini winery accommodates 48 temperature-controlled autoclaves dedicated to the production of Charmat-Martinotti Prosecco sparkling wines.

Our Detailed Review

The wine we are going to review today is Montelvini, Prosecco di Asolo Superiore Millesimato Extra Dry “Venegazzù” DOCG NV, which retails in the U.S. for about $15.

The wine is made from 100% Glera grapes, has 12% ABV, a pressure of 5.6 ATM and comes in the “Extra Dry” variety, with 15 gr/lt residual sugar.

One thing that I did not like is the use of the word “Millesimato” on the label of the wine. In Italian that word refers to the vintage of a wine, particularly a sparkling wine, and is utilized to distinguish a vintage sparkler from a non-vintage one. However, the label of the Prosecco that we are reviewing does not contain any indication of the vintage of the wine, which makes the use of the term “Millesimato” pointless or even potentially misleading. I believe Montelvini should either keep the word “Millesimato” and include the year of the harvest (if their wine is in fact a vintage wine) or drop the use of “Millesimato” altogether if their wine is non-vintage.

Anyway, let’s move on to the actual review of this Prosecco.

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 was brilliant and pale straw yellow in color. Its bubbles were in the average in number, fine and long-lasting. A very nice perlage.

On the nose, its bouquet was moderately intensemoderately complex and of fair quality, with aromas of apple, white blossoms and hints of tangerine.

In the mouth, it was off-dry, with medium ABV and moderately smooth; it was acidic and tasty. It was medium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors reminiscent of apples with hints of tangerines and minerals. It had a medium finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning: do not cellar, drink now to enjoy its freshness.

The Best of Vinitaly International/Slow Wine 2014 NYC

VinItaly International 2014 - NYC

SlowWine 2014 - NYC

On February 3 I went to the 2014 Vinitaly International / Slow Wine event that was held in New York City, where Slow Food Editore (the publisher of the Slow Wine Guide, a guide in English to Italian wines) and Vinitaly (the largest Italian wine fair in the world) once again joined forces and brought together a number of quality Italian wine producers in the two sections of the fair, the one managed by Vinitaly International and the one managed by the Slow Wine organization. Another cool feature of the event, beside the tasting stations of the various producers, was a series of limited admission master classes dedicated to certain specific top Italian wines and organized by the Vinitaly International Academy.

Should you wish to read my impressions and tasting notes of the 2013 edition of the event, check out my wrap up post from last year.

This year, I was fortunate enough to go to the event with fellow bloggers and good friends Anatoli (AKA Talk-A-Vino) and Oliver (AKA The Winegetter): I had a great time in their wonderful and knowledgeable company (a special mention goes to Oliver who flew in from Michigan for us to hit the City together!) You can read their takes on the event directly on Anatoli’s and Oliver’s blogs. I have not yet read their accounts of our foray into Italian wine territory myself because I did not want to be influenced by their own experiences, but I will rectify that shortly now that I finally got this post out! 🙂

A few numbers: this year there were 69 producers represented in the Vinitaly International portion of the event (down from the 86 that there were last year) and 70 in the Slow Wine portion (down from 78 last year). The Vinitaly International Academy offered three master classes, each one focusing on a different Italian top wine: Barolo Cannubi; Franciacorta sparkling wine; and Amarone. I was able to attend the Franciacorta and the Amarone seminars.

The event was well organized except for two aspects:

  1. Personally, I would find it much preferable if the tasting tables of the various producers were organized by region instead of by distributor or according to an apparently random order, which makes it more difficult to focus on the wineries that one is mostly interested in; and
  2. For some inexplicable reason, in the master classes that I attended the wines in the glasses on each desk followed an order that was different from that of the tasting note sheet that was given to the participants such that, for instance, wine number 1 on the sheet corresponded to glass number 7, wine number 2 to glass number 10, and so on: just a big, awkward mess.

Anyway, below are my personal highlights of the day, the wines that I liked best from both the master classes and the walk around on the tasting floor, together with the short tasting notes that I could jot down while I was tasting. For ease of reference, I grouped my personal favorites by region, from north to south – enjoy the virtual tasting!

(A) Friuli

1. Ronco del Gelso, Friuli Isonzo Rive Alte Sauvignon “Sottomonte” 2012 (white): a wonderful varietal bouquet of asparagus, tomato leaf, boxwood, typical cat pee(!), nettle and minerals, combined with fresh acidity: Spectacular Spectacular

2. Le Vigne di Zamò, Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosazzo Pignolo 2007 (red): a kaleidoscopic nose of juniper, wild berries, plum, blackberry jam, cocoa, freshly ground coffee and minerals, complementing a structured and smooth wine: Very Good Very Good

(B) Piemonte

1. Borgogno, Barolo Riserva 2006 (red): from 40 year old vines, with great aromas of tobacco, cocoa, herbs and plum; structured, with already well controlled tannins and a long finish – ready to be enjoyed now or even better cellared for several years to be wowed even more later: Spectacular Spectacular

2. Damilano, Barolo “Cerequio” 2009 (red): a solid Barolo with a good quality to price ratio; it sported aromas of plum, violet and licorice, enhancing a structured and already smooth wine: Very Good Very Good

3. Vajra, Barolo “Bricco delle Viole” 2009 (red): one of my favorite Barolo’s, with a sensuous nose of violet, plum, carnation, raspberry jam, tobacco and cocoa going hand in hand with a structured, elegant, smooth wine, with astringent but well controlled tannins and a long finish: Spectacular Spectacular

4. Vajra, Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2010 (red): a great Barbera with fine aromas of rose, blackberry, dark cherry and licorice; structured and smooth: Very Good Very Good

(C) Lombardia

1. Bellavista, Franciacorta Gran Cuvée 2007: a very good Classic Method white sparkling wine with extremely fine bubbles and pleasant aromas of citrus, apple, pastry, white flowers and roasted hazelnut, a zippy acidity and pleasant minerality: Very Good Very Good

2. Contadi Castaldi, Franciacorta Satèn 2008: a solid Classic Method white sparkling wine with a fine perlage, a crisp personality and aromas of roasted hazelnut, toast, croissant, chestnut honey and pineapple: Very Good Very Good

3. Enrico Gatti, Franciacorta Brut 2007: another quality Classic Method white sparkling wine with a fine bouquet of peach, citrus, herbs, pastry and intense mineral hints: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

4. Ca’ del Bosco, Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige S.A.: Ca’ del Bosco’s entry-level Classic Method white sparkling wine never disappoints, sporting aromas of apple, croissant, yeast, roasted hazelnut and a slightly briny touch: needless to say, the Annamaria Clementi is not (to know more, just wait for my overview of the 2014 Gambero Rosso event!) but certainly Good Good

(D) Veneto

1. Pieropan, Soave Classico “La Rocca” 2011 (white): a great white wine with aromas of Golden apple, vanilla, peach, almond and minerals, with a crisp acidity that counterbalances the wine’s smoothness and a long finish: Outstanding Outstanding

2. Brigaldara, Amarone della Valpolicella “Case Vecie” 2008 (red): one word – wow! A gorgeous, garnet red Amarone with intense aromas of black cherry candy, roses, cigar box, ground coffee and minerals – an imposing structure which however has masterfully metabolized its impressive 16.5% ABV and kept its significant tannins perfectly at bay, delivering a masterfully balanced wine which is a true pleasure both for the nose and for the mouth: Spectacular Spectacular

3. Masi, Amarone della Valpolicella “Costasera” 2009 (red): a great rendition of the Costasera, with an intense bouquet of spirited cherries, raspberry candy, dark chocolate, coffee, licorice and balsamic hints, perfectly integrated ABV and smooth tannins: Outstanding Outstanding

4. Musella, Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva 2008 (red): intense and peculiar aromas of menthol, rhubarb, licorice, spirited cherries and camphor in a pleasant Amarone with well integrated 16.5% ABV and tannins: Very Good Very Good

5. Zenato, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2009 (red): pleasant aromas of spirited blueberries, black cherry jam, cigar box, cocoa, black pepper and hints of licorice complement a very smooth wine, with well integrated ABV and a pleasant fruity feel in the mouth: Very Good Very Good

(E) Toscana

1. Castello di Monsanto, Chianti Classico Riserva “Il Poggio” 2009 (red): a solid single vineyard high-quality Chianti, with aromas of blackberry, black cherry, herbs, leather and black pepper, a good structure and supple tannins: Very Good Very Good

2. Podere Il Carnasciale, Caberlot 2010 (red): Caberlot (available in just 2,500 magnum-sized bottles a year) never stops wowing me – if only it were a tad more accessible… An intense, multi-layered, complex bouquet of blackberry, wild berries, tobacco, licorice, raspberry, black pepper, cocoa complements a wine that packs enough structure and acidity, coupled with silky smooth tannins and a long finish, for it to age for many years and impress even more: Spectacular Spectacular

(F) Marche

1. De Angelis, Anghelos 2011 (Montepulciano-based red blend): pleasant and intense aromas of plum, black cherry, tobacco and cocoa in a full-bodied wine with well integrated tannins: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

2. Marotti Campi, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva Classico “Salmariano” 2010 (white): elegant aromas of peach, apricot, juicy golden apple and vanilla complete a great white wine with good acidity, smooth and a very long finish: Outstanding Outstanding

3. Marotti Campi, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore “Orgiolo” 2011 (red): appealing and peculiar aromas of juniper, wild berries, wet soil, raspberry; structured and well balanced: Very Good Very Good

4. Velenosi, Offida Rosso “Ludi” 2009 (Montepulciano-based red blend): aromas of spirited cherries, raspberry, licorice, dark chocolate and balsamic hints in a full-bodied red with gentle tannins: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

(G) Umbria

1. Tabarrini, Adarmando 2011 (Trebbiano Spoletino-based white wine): a great, structured white wine with aromas of citrus, tangerine, herbs and minerals: Very Good Very Good

2. Tabarrini, Sagrantino di Montefalco “Campo alla Cerqua” 2009: one of two wonderful single-vineyard Sagrantino’s made by Tabarrini (the other one being the “Colle alle Macchie“) – this one is sure to impress, with a bouquet of violet, plum jam, licorice, dark chocolate and black pepper, complementing a full-bodied wine with plenty of structure and robust and yet supple tannins along with a long finish, a wine that will evolve and become even better with a few more years of cellaring: Outstanding Outstanding

(H) Basilicata

1. Cantine del Notaio, Aglianico del Vulture “La Firma” 2010 (red): aromas of cherry jam, tobacco, licorice, leather and herbs – full bodied, smooth, round, with well integrated tannins: Very Good Very Good

(I) Sicilia

1. Planeta, Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” 2008 (red): one of my favorite Nero d’Avola’s, with aromas of cherry, raspberry candy, licorice, cocoa, rhubarb and mineral hints; full-bodied, smooth and with supple tannins: Very Good Very Good

2. Planeta, Sicilia Fiano “Cometa” 2012 (white): yet another memorable vintage for this wonderful Fiano, exuding appealing aromas of peach, apricot, pineapple, citrus, herbs and minerals; structured, with a perfect balance between smoothness and acidity, and a long finish: Spectacular Spectacular

Wine Review: Masciarelli, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo “Marina Cvetic” DOC 2008

Masciarelli, Trebbiano d'Abruzzo "Marina Cvetic" DOCThe white wine that we will review today is very special: it is a wine made from Trebbiano d’Abruzzo grapes by Masciarelli, an excellent quality producer based in the central Italy region of Abruzzo – specifically, today we are going to review Masciarelli, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo “Marina Cvetic” DOC 2008 ($50).

Some of you may be surprised that today we talk about and review a wine made from a grape variety that has had a pretty bad rep over the years as being too extensively grown to mass produce bland, nondescript and generally poor quality white wines.

But, today’s review is intended to let you know that such bad rep is mostly due to poor viticultural and winemaking choices that were made by producers who were only interested in volumes, not quality. There are howevever a few who, fortunately for us, did the right thing, planted carefully selected Trebbiano vines in locations that had the most appropriate terroir for those grapevines to thrive, reduced yields dramatically to maximize quality and made significant investments to make their wine in such a way that would underscore the potential of so bashed a variety.

Masciarelli is one of those selected few and this post, along with another one that is in the making and that will focus on another wine of theirs (this time, a red), is my way to tip my hat to them and their hard work, a remarkable example of a successful “made in Italy” story, one that they persistently and proudly pursued by resisting the temptation to go “the easy way” of grape variety standardization and instead investing on a challenging project. One that eventually paid off and realized their vision.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the “Marina Cvetic” Trebbiano d’Abruzzo was an exciting sensory experience: a full-bodied, structured white with a wonderfully complex bouquet, appealing mouth flavors and unashamed minerality. A wine that was smooth, long and perfectly balanced despite its high ABV.

Rating: Outstanding and Recommended Outstanding – $$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

Throughout Italy, there are several white-berried grape varieties which include the word “Trebbiano” in their names (examples include Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano Giallo, Trebbiano Spoletino and Trebbiano Toscano), but interestingly DNA analysis has proved that, despite what their names could lead you to believe, they are mostly unrelated to one another. The first documented mention of Trebbiano dates back to 1303 in an Italian agricultural treatise where it is referred to as “Tribiana“; it is however not possible to tell which among the various Trebbiano varieties the author was referring to.

More specifically, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (which is the variety from which the wine that we are about to review is made) is a white-berried variety that has long been known in the Abruzzo region, in central Italy. Its origins are still unclear, and many believe that Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is identical to Bombino Bianco, a white-berried variety originating from Puglia. However, DNA analysis has suggested a possible genetic relationship with a different variety known as Trebbiano Spoletino. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is essentially only grown in the region of Abruzzo and, to a lesser extent, Molise, which altogether amounted to a mere 418 HA of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo vineyards in year 2000.

(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

The Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC appellation is one of the eight DOC appellations of Abruzzo (as at the date of this post). The appellation was created in 1972 and it encompasses an area adjacent to the towns of Chieti, L’Aquila, Pescara and Teramo. Its regulations require that the wines produced in this appellation be made of at least 85% of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Bombino Bianco and/or Trebbiano Toscano grapes, to which up to 15% of other permitted white-berried grapes may be blended.

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review today is Masciarelli, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo “Marina Cvetic” DOC 2008. It retails in the US for about $50.

Marina Cvetic is both the name of the wife of the founder of the Masciarelli winery (Gianni Masciarelli) and the brand under which Masciarelli’s flagship line trades.

The Trebbiano d’Abruzzo “Marina Cvetic” was 14.5% ABV (a white that is not for the faint at heart!) and was made from 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo grapes grown in Masciarelli’s San Silvestro and Ripa Teatina vineyards, near the town of Chieti, which measure 5 HA altogether and are located at an altitude above sea level of 1,280 ft (390 mt) the former and 820 ft (250 mt) the latter. On average, the vines are 50 years old.

The must was fermented in 100% new oak barrique casks for 15 to 30 days at 64-68 F (18-20 C). The wine underwent full malolactic fermentation and then aged for 22 months in barrique casks.

As usual, for my reviews 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 golden yellow and thick when swirled.

On the nose, the wine had an intense, complex and fine bouquet presenting layers after layers of delicate aromas, including orange blossoms, clementine, peach, herbs, honey, butter, roasted hazelnut and briny notes.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, warm, smooth; freshly acidic and tasty. It was full-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of clementine, peach, butter, roasted hazelnut and plenty of minerality which was reminiscent of salt water. Those enticing flavors lingered in the mouth with delightful persistence.

WinEvents: Vinitaly International/Slow Wine NYC 2014 & Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC 2014

Just a quick FYI to let our US-based readers know that, once again, the time has come for the two most important Italian wine fairs in the US: both Vinitaly International in association with Slow Wine 2014 and Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri US Tour 2014 are upon us.

VinItaly International 2014 - NYC

SlowWine 2014 - NYC

Vinitaly International/Slow Wine 2014 will take place in New York City on February 3, 2014 from 9:30am to 5:00pm at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W 18th Street. Registration is limited to members of media and trade and is available on the Vinitaly International Website, along with the program of the event itself and that of the master classes.

Are you curious how the event was after all? Check out our post with the full coverage of the Vinitaly International/Slow Wine NYC 2014!

Should you wish to read my summary of Vinitaly International/Slow Wine 2013, please check out my post from last year.

Gambero Rosso - Tre Bicchieri World Tour 2014 - NYC

Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri US Tour 2014 will be in New York City on February 6, 2013 from 2:00pm to 6:00pm at the same venue as Vinitaly International/Slow Wine 2014, the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W 18th Street. Even here, registration is limited to members of media and trade: more information is available on Gambero Rosso’s Website.

Are you also curious about how this event turned out to be? Check out our post with the full coverage of Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC 2014!

Should you wish to read my summary of Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri US Tour 2013 – NYC, please check out my post from last year.

I will be attending both events with Talk-A-Vino’s Anatoli (as I did last year) and this year we will be joined for the Vinitaly International/Slow wine event by The Winegetter’s Oliver! Should any of you plan on participating, please drop me a line in the comments section: it would be fun if we could get together!

Wine Review: Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT 2009

Planeta ChardonnayToday’s review is of a Sicilian Chardonnay made by excellent Sicilian winemakers Planeta from whom we have previously reviewed their outstanding Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” and their Syrah – specifically, today we are going to review PlanetaChardonnay Sicilia IGT 2009 ($35).

Will it be in the same league as their wonderful reds? Keep reading and let’s find out together! 🙂

The Bottom Line

Overall: What can I say… a spectacular wine and excellent value for money! A wonderful golden color, a sensuous, complex, multi-layered bouquet that strikes a perfect balance between fruity secondary aromas and delicate tertiary aromas, luscious on the palate with a kaleidoscope of delicious flavors; acidic, tasty and super long. This is a wine that should be tasted by those who are skeptical about Italian whites in general or about Chardonnay’s potential in warmer climates such as Sicily. Oh Man… This is a wine with the “wow” factor!

Rating: Spectacular and, needless to say, wholeheartedly Recommended! Spectacular – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

Chardonnay is a white-berried variety that is indigenous to the French area between Lyon and Dijon, encompassing Burgundy and Champagne. The earliest documented mention of Chardonnay dates back to the late XVII century in the village of Saint Sorlin (today known as La Roche Vineuse) under the name “Chardonnet“, although the variety takes its name from the village of Chardonnay near the town of Uchizy in southern Burgundy.

DNA analysis showed that Chardonnay is a natural cross between Pinot and Gouais Blanc.

Chardonnay Rose is a color mutation of Chardonnay, while Chardonnay Musque’ is a mutation with Muscat-like aromas.

Chardonnay is one of the most versatile and adaptable white grape varieties, which explains in part why it has been so extensively grown all over the world. Chardonnay grapes are generally high in sugar levels and do not have a dominant flavor of their own, so the wines made out of them tend to take on a variety of aromas depending on where the grapes are grown and how the wines are made. Thus Chardonnays run the gamut from subtle and savory to rich and spicy still wines as well as being one of the base wines for Champagne and other Classic Method sparkling wines.

Chardonnay is a typical international variety given how widely it is cultivated on a worldwide basis, from native France, to Italy, North and South America and Australia.

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

About the Estate

Planeta’s Chardonnay is made out of grapes coming from the 51 HA Ulmo vineyard and the 42 HA Maroccoli vineyard (the latter situated at 1,475 ft/450 mt above sea level) within Planeta’s Ulmo estate, located near the town of Sambuca di Sicilia (Agrigento), on the western coast of Sicily. The density of the Chardonnay vines in the two vineyards is between 3,800 and 4,500 vines/HA.

Ulmo is the first and the oldest among Planeta’s current estates: it became operational in 1995, along with its winery, and it encompasses 93 HA of vineyards where ChardonnayMerlot, Grecanico, Nero d’Avola and Syrah are grown to make certain of the wines in the Planeta lineup, including their Chardonnay “supercru“.

Our Detailed Review

The Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT 2009 that I had was 13.5% ABV and retails in the US for about $35.

The wine was made from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in Planeta’s Ulmo and Maroccoli vineyards (on which, see above for more information). It fermented for 15 days in French oak barrique barrels (50% new and 50% previously used ones) with the addition of selected yeasts.

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, it poured a rich, golden color, thick when swirled.

On the nose, it was intense, delectably complex and excellent, with aromas of banana, melon, grapefruit, lemon, peach, hints of herbs (rosemary), hazelnut and minerals.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, warm, smooth; fresh and tasty. It was full-bodied and masterfully balanced, with intense and excellent mouth flavors of peach, lemon, almond, minerals, herbs and hints of acacia honey. Its finish was exquisitely long and its evolutionary state was ready (i.e., wonderful to enjoy now, but it might be even better, more complex if it rests one or two more years in your cellar).

Saint Emilion Chronicles #6: Chateau de Ferrand, a Visit and a Wine Review

The wine tasting area of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

After a hiatus due to the winter holidays and the addition of cyclone Sofia 😉 to our family, it is time to resume our Saint Emilion series.

Today we will briefly talk about one of the Chateaux that we visited during our stay, namely Chateau de Ferrand, and I will review their Grand Vin, of which I brought a couple bottles home.

On a previous post, we have provided a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system: if necessary, take a look at it for a refresher.

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

About the Producer and the Estate

Chateau de Ferrand is located near the town of Saint Emilion, on the right bank of the Dordogne river, not far from Bordeaux. The Chateau was founded in 1702 and since then it was remarkably owned by only two families: that of Elie de Bétoulaud, the founder, and since the XX century that of Baron Marcel Bich, the man who became world-famous for the inexpensive, disposable ballpoint pens which still bear an abbreviated version of his name, “Bic“.

The wine case storage area at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Incidentally, there are two interesting anecdotes regarding the Baron and the abbreviation of his name: (i) Baron Bich was actually Italian – he was born in 1914 in Turin and relocated to France when he was in his thirties and (ii) the decision to drop the “h” at the end of his name in the pen brand was reportedly due to commercial reasons, namely the concern of how the word “Bich” could sound when pronounced by English-speaking consumers… 😉

Nowadays, Chateau de Ferrand is managed by Pauline Bich Chandon-Moët, a descendant of Baron Marcel Bich who married Philippe Chandon-Moët, whom we have been fortunate enough to meet and chat a little bit with in the course of our visit.


The vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

The estate counts 32 HA of vineyards where Merlot is the dominating variety (75%), as is generally the case in Saint Emilion, followed by Cabernet Franc (15%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). The estate lies on a limestone plateau with clay-rich soils where the vines are planted at altitudes ranging from 150 to 330 ft (46 to 100 mt) above sea level. The average density reaches an impressive 7,000 vines/HA and the Chateau’s annual production is about 180,000 bottles.

Ripening Merlot grapes at the vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)About the Grapes

You can find out many cool facts about and the DNA profiling of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon by checking out our Grape Variety Archive.

About the Wine

Chateau de Ferrand is a Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé wine: it was promoted to the status of Grand Cru Classé in the 2012 revision of the classification of the wines of Saint Emilion (for more information, see our previous post about it). It is made as a Bordeaux blend of the three varieties that grow in the estate. Although the percentages in the blend vary from vintage to vintage, by and large they are similar to those of the plantings that we mentioned above.

Interestingly, in the winemaking process, Chateau de Ferrand’s enologist uses a cutting-edge Italian-made destemmer and optical grape sorting machine called X-Tri to automatically sort the grapes worthy of their Grand Vin from those that are not up to standard. Should you wish to know more about this unbelievable machine (it can accurately sort about 15 tons of graps per hour!), check out the producer’s website, which also includes a pretty cool video demonstrating how it works.


The X-Tri optical grape sorter of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

The must then goes through a short 2-day pre-fermentative cold maceration phase to maximize the extraction of color and aromas, followed by approximately 10 days of fermentation with natural yeast in concrete vats and then full malolactic fermentation that is started naturally, by increasing the wine’s temperature (without adding any lactic acid bacteria).

Concrete fermentation tanks at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Finally, the wine ages for about 15-16 months in 60% new oak barrique barrels and 40% one-time used barriques (these are mostly French oak, with about 10% of US oak) plus 24 more months of in-bottle aging.


The barrique cellar at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Our Review

Based on my tasting of several vintages of the Grand Vin at the end of the visit (there is also a Second Vin called Le Différent de Châteaux de Ferrand), I decided that I liked 1999 the best, so that is the wine we are going to review today.

Hydraulic presses at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

As always, 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.

Chateau de Ferrand, Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC, 1999 ($35)


The wine tasting area of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé) with their resident sommelierThe wine was 13% ABV and the proportions of the blend were 83% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. In the U.S. it retails for about $35, while in France it retailed for €50. I decanted it for an hour before enjoying it.

In the glass, the wine was ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense and fine, although not particularly complex, with aromas of cherry, cocoa and black pepper.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, medium ABV, silky smooth; still moderately acidic, with velvety tannins and tasty; it was medium-bodied and wonderfully balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of cherry, raspberry, licorice and dark chocolate. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning to be enjoyed now as it will likely start declining if left to age longer.

Overall, the Chateau de Ferrand 1999 was a very good wine: despite its aromas being not particularly complex, the wine really won me over once it was in my mouth.  After 14 years of aging, its mouth flavors were still lively and elegant and the wine was perfectly integrated and cohesive, silky smooth and gently tannic, with still enough acidity to keep it alive and kicking – not for much longer though, so should you have a bottle in your cellar, I suggest you find a good reason to enjoy it now!

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)


The vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Two Wines, Three Mysteries

StefanoRight before the winter holidays, creative fellow wine blogger Jeff (AKA The Drunken Cyclist) launched a fun initiative: a wine-based Secret Santa that he aptly renamed Secret Alcoholic. Basically, Jeff’s wife kindly took care of pairing each participant with a buddy Secret Alcoholic to whom one or two surprise bottles of wine could be shipped.

So, I mentioned in the title that there would be three mysteries to be solved – these are:

1. Who was my Secret Santa?

2. Which wines was she kind enough to send my way?

3. What did they taste like?

These three gripping mysteries worthy of Huckle Cat were all solved by the beginning of the New Year…

Right before Christmas, I received my package which, much to my 7 year old daughter’s delight, was nicely decorated with festive stickers, which led her to claim that the package “had to be” for her… 😉 After redirecting her to more age-appropriate presents, I opened the box and found a holiday card that solved mystery number 1: my Secret Santa was witty and ever pleasant to read Kirsten, AKA The Armchair Sommelier!

In a matter of seconds was mystery number 2 also solved: thoughtful and generous Kirsten had sent me two wines: a Viognier from her own State, Virginia, and one of her favorite Californian Syrahs, which is also a hard-to-get, wine-club-only red that has received some very positive attention from wine critics.

I very much appreciated the thought she put into selecting those wines: not only for her generosity in parting from and sharing with me a bottle of that exclusive Syrah, but also because she chose that Viognier to introduce me to one of the best expressions of that variety in Kirsten’s own State. I am all for promoting quality wines made from locally grown grapes, especially if they come from wine regions that are not as well known to the general public as others that enjoy widespread repute. So, way to go, Kirsten – I bow to you!

With Kirsten’s bottles in hand, solving mystery number 3 was only a question of waiting a few days before opening them and tasting their contents – just to make sure that they would recover from any bottle shock.

As is always the case for me with any wine, this was the most exciting mystery to unveil. Because no matter how well you may know a wine’s grape variety, the region it comes from, its environmental conditions, the producer or even previous vintages of that same wine, no matter all that, you may sure make your own educated guess about what to expect from it, but in the end you will always have to taste that specific bottle to appreciate all its subtle nuances.

To put it in the succinctly eloquent prose of fellow wine blogger Julia Bailey, who has devoted her own entry to Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #6 (theme: Mystery) to this very topic: “It is simply impossible to know exactly what your wine will taste like until you pop that cork.” So true: if you want to learn more, I definitely suggest that you read Julia’s entry wherein she elaborates on several reasons why this is so.

As for me, time to wrap things up by sharing my tasting notes of the two wines. My tastings have been conducted in accordance with the ISA wine tasting protocol, but for brevity here I will not go through the entire step-by-step tasting process: I will only summarize the main characteristics of the wines and of course provide my own assessment.

Check out our Grape Variety Archive for cool facts about the Viognier and Syrah grape varieties, including their DNA analysis which suggests that they are relatives!

1. King Family Vineyards, Viognier Monticello 2012 (13% ABV – $22)

King Family Vineyards, Viognier Monticello 2012In the glass, it poured a nice straw yellow and was moderately viscous when swirled.

On the nose, it offered intense and pleasant aromas of yellow peach, apricot, pineapple, white flowers and hints of white pepper (a tertiary aroma suggesting some gentle oak aging).

In the mouth, the wine was smooth and exhibited only moderate acidity, which suggests that this wine should be enjoyed now. It was balanced and medium-bodied, with intense mouth flavors that matched the aromatic pattern perceived on the nose, and had a medium finish.

Overall, a good white with a nice bouquet and fruity mouth flavors, ending up in an intriguing, slight peppery finish. Not extraordinarily complex, but definitely pleasant.

Rating: Good Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. Herman Story, Syrah “Nuts & Bolts” California 2009 (16% ABV – $45)

Herman Story, Syrah "Nuts & Bolts" California 2009In the glass, it poured ruby red and thick when swirled.

On the nose, it released an impressive array of intense and complex aromas of blackberry jam, wild berries, black cherry, tobacco, ground coffee, black pepper and licorice. A great bouquet that anticipated the “blackness” of this wine.

In the mouth, it immediately struck as a big, chewy, fruit-forward wine: its very high ABV (which nears the limits of alcoholic fermentation and pushes this wine to the highest step in the ISA scale of ABV perception: alcoholic) was tough for the wine’s good acidity and solid but unobtrusive tannins to counterbalance, also due to the wine’s not particularly high smoothness (I wonder whether it did full malolactic fermentation). This high ABV perception, that is clearly evident on the top of the palate, throws the wine a bit out of balance: given its good acidity, I would let it rest for two or three more years and then re-taste it.

The wine was full-bodied, exhibiting intense mouth flavors of blackberry, black cherry, plum, coffee, tobacco, dark chocolate, licorice and black pepper, which closely trailed the wine’s aromatic palette, and it had a medium to long finish.

Overall, I found the Nuts & Bolt somewhat of a “double-faced” wine: on the one hand, it had great, complex and intense bouquet and (if a little over the top) mouth flavors, but on the other hand, its very high alcohol (which its other qualities did not seem to effectively counter, at least at this stage of its life) made the wine feel a bit imbalanced. A few more years of aging may help make this wine more graceful.

Rating: Good (especially in perspective) Good – $$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Meet the Maker: Valtellina’s Nebbiolo – An Interview with Ar.Pe.Pe.’s Enologist

On previous posts, we have presented the Italian wine district of Valtellina and introduced one of the finest Valtellina wine producersAr.Pe.Pe. along with a tasting of their wines.

On this post, which concludes our mini-series about Valtellina, you can find an interview that Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist and co-owner Isabella Pellizzatti Perego was kind enough to do with me.

Ar.Pe.Pe.'s enologist and co-owner in their stunning tasting room

Here are the questions I asked Isabella, along with a summary of her answers – let me give you heads up about the fact that some of the discussion is fairly technical in nature, but at the same time I think it is very interesting and educational:

Q1. First of all, would you care to explain the logic behind the various labels in your lineup and their release to the market? I understand they are not all available every year, so maybe you can elaborate a little bit on that?

A1. Certainly: essentially, we are pretty black and white with our production – let me try to explain.

At the top of our range there are the following four Crus or Riservas: Grumello Buon Consiglio; Sassella Rocce Rosse; Sassella Vigna Regina; and Sassella Ultimi Raggi.

These current Crus will soon be complemented by two new Crus that we have started making since the 2009 vintage and that are currently at the beginning of their aging phase. These new wines will be released to the market in 2018: one is our first Riserva from our vineyard in the Inferno subzone and the other one is a new Riserva from our Grumello vineyards that is going to complement our Buon Consiglio Cru.


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s 5.5 HL wood tonneau aging casks

Beside those, we have the Inferno Fiamme Antiche which, so far, is the only label that we make from our vineyard in the Inferno subzone. When our new Inferno Cru becomes available, the Inferno Fiamme Antiche will be its second vin.

Finally, there is our entry-level, easy and ready to drink wine known as Rosso di Valtellina.

Now, the Rosso di Valtellina is the only one of our wines that is available every year.

Instead, our concept for our premium wines is that, depending on our assessment as to the quality of the grapes we harvest, we decide whether they are worthy of a Cru or they should be “downgraded” to second vin. We do not compromise: the entire crop for each subzone either becomes a Cru or a second vin.

So, for instance, if one year you see that we release the Grumello Buon Consiglio Riserva, that means that for that year the Grumello Rocca De Piro will not be released, and vice versa, which of course entails a significant sacrifice in terms of revenues. But we are happy this way: we want to stand behind the quality and reputation of our wines and we do not take any shortcut to do so.

Mountain Nebbiolo grapes in Ar.Pe.Pe.'s destemmer

Q2. The mountain Nebbiolo of Valtellina has been recognized as a biotype that is geographically distinct from Piemonte’s Nebbiolo and several clones have been identified. Can you tell us something about the clonal choices that you made in your vineyards?

A2. Valtellina’s Nebbiolo presents greater biodiversity in its clones compared to Piemonte’s Langhe Nebbiolo (where the three main clones are Michet, Lampia and Rosé). In Valtellina at least 10 different clones have been identified. For our vineyards, we have selected a mix of the various clones and we are observing how each of them has adapted to our terroir and how it performs. This way, we can identify the vines that perform best and then use those same clones to add new vines or replace existing ones.

Q3. Let’s talk a little bit about viticulture: what’s the average density and age of your vineyards? Are your vines all grafted? Which month of the year do you harvest and is it all done by hand?

Helicopter carrying Nino Negri's harvested mountain Nebbiolo grapes

A3. Our average density is 5,500/6,000 vines/HA and on average our vines are 50 years old – most are grafted, but there still are a few plants that are ungrafted.

We harvest exclusively by hand due to the characteristics of our territory, which prevent the use of anything mechanical. It is pretty much the same for all of the Valtellina producers, although some (such as Nino Negri) go as far as using helicopters to carry the crates with the harvested grapes as fast as possible to the winery. In general, we harvest the grapes for all our wines in the second half of October, except only those for our Ultimi Raggi Cru (which is our late-harvest wine) which get picked in the second half of November, just before the first snow of the season.

Q4. Speaking of the Ultimi Raggi: this is a wine that falls within the Valtellina Superiore Riserva DOCG appellation (subzone Sassella). Since it is a dry raisin wine, can it be considered your own take of a Sforzato della Valtellina? Why does it not fall within that separate DOCG?

A4. Well, yes and no: our Ultimi Raggi is a late-harvest dry raisin wine like a Sforzato, but it cannot be classified as such as the regulations for the Sforzato della Valtellina DOCG appellation require that the grapes be picked during the regular harvest season and then be dried on straw mats (in other words, it is not a late-harvest wine).

Instead, with the Ultimi Raggi we have made the choice of drying the grapes while they are still on the vine, by picking them generally a month later than the regular harvest. It is a riskier choice, because a few years ago we had just finished harvesting the last vines for the Ultimi Raggi when it started snowing: had it happened one day earlier, a large part of our harvest would have been lost. So, it is a riskier choice, but we feel that it really pays off in terms of the quality of the wine that we make.

Q5. How do you feel about organic viticulture? Is it something you are considering embracing?

A5. We practice an integrated approach to viticulture, which imposes very restrictive practices already. We would love to go all the way to organic, but considering our geography, that is made of steep mountain slopes and makes it impossible for us to mechanize anything, currently we are not in a position to incur even greater labor costs. Just think that the integrated viticulture approach that we practice results in 1,300 working hours per year for each hectare of vineyards: more than twice the number of man hours that are required in Piemonte’s Langhe and about three times as many as those required to harvest hill vineyards in general.


Delastage "rack and return" process of Ar.Pe.Pe.'s fermenting must

Q6. Let’s move on to your ultra-conservative winemaking choices: what kind of vats do you use to ferment your wines? Also, do your wines do malolactic fermentation? And for both fermentations, do you use selected yeasts and acid bacteria or are both fermentations spontaneous?

A6. We still use 50 HL wood barrels to ferment our wines: we have them made using the same traditional, proprietary mix of oak, chestnut and acacia that we use for our aging barrels. Then, after each fermentation, we gently scrape the inside of the barrels to remove any possible residue. It is a lot of work compared to just using stainless steel vats, but we think it is worthwhile because of the additional flavor and smoothness it contributes to our wines.

All of our wines go through a couple of day of pre-fermentative cold maceration to maximize the extraction of color and primary aromas, then they go through spontaneous alcoholic fermentation using only indigenous yeasts and finally they do a full, spontaneous malolactic fermentation that is kick started by careful temperature control.

Q7. What kind of barrels do you use for aging your wines and what is the main driver for your choice?

Ar.Pe.Pe.'s aging barrels

A7. As is the case for our fermenting vats, we use large 55 HL wood barrels for aging our wines too: these are made of a proprietary mix of oak, chestnut and acacia woods that we have traditionally been using from the very beginning. We also have a few smaller 5.5 HL tonneau casks made of the same wood mix that we sometimes use, but it is an exception.

In addition, none of our aging barrels is toasted: we only use un-toasted wood to minimize the release of tertiary aromas/flavors to our wines. We made this conservative choice because we want our wines to underscore primary and secondary aromas and to be a reflection of their unique terroir. Anyone can add spicy notes to a wine that, in itself, could be not very exciting: we want our consumers to appreciate our wines for the story they tell about our grapes, our territory and the environment our vines grow in.

Q8. Speaking of terroir, how would you briefly describe that of your vineyards? Also, how would you say that the wines made from grapes grown in the three different subzones you have vineyards in (Sassella, Inferno and Grumello) differ from one another?


Valtellina mountain vineyardsA8. The Valtellina district of Lombardia counts a little over 800 HA of vineyards altogether, and our grapevines grow on mountain slopes at an average altitude ranging from 400 to 600 mt (1,300 to 2,000 ft) above sea level. The soil here is scarce, as rocks abound.

This is also one of the main differences between the Grumello subzone versus the Sassella and Inferno subzones: the former has somewhat more soil, it is less rocky and this makes for easier, readier to drink wines, whilst the latter subzones have very little soil and rocks prevail – this makes the wines coming from these areas more austere and dependent on longer aging periods to properly assemble and integrate their components and smooth their edges.

Q9. Now, regarding the commercial aspects of your business: your annual production is about 60,000 bottles – what is roughly the split between export and domestic consumption? Which are the top three countries to which you export?

A9. This year marks the first time that we export more than we sell domestically: 60% of our production has in fact been exported.

Geographically, the USA is the top country we export to, Japan is the second and Russia (which we just started exporting to this year) came in third. This year we also started selling to a few new countries beside Russia, among which Hong Kong, Taiwan and a market that we are excited to finally be in Canada – our Rosso di Valtellina will be soon available in Quebec and we are very excited about this new challenge.

Q10. Finally, are there any new projects that you are working on that are worth pointing out to our readers?


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s fermenting barrelsA10. Yes, definitely. We already talked about the two new Crus which will become available in 2018, for which we are very excited and feel very strongly about their quality and potential.

Beside such product news, from a viticultural perspective we have decided to convert our vineyards to the Simonit-Sirch pruning method for controlled grapevine growth. In the context of a Guyot-type training system like the one we use in our vineyards, this method has the objective to optimize the performance of each vine through selective pruning of only young (one or two year old) stems growing out of the head of the trunk.

The purpose of this is to cause the vine to develop two main stems that originate from opposite sides of the head of the trunk and run parallel to the bending wire, giving the vine a characteristic T-shape. This optimizes the canalization of the plant’s lymph into such two main vessels and makes a vine grown with a Guyot-type training system more similar to a free-standing bush vine, which nowadays is considered the most efficient vine training system and one that considerably increases the life expectancy of the vine.


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s stunning tasting room

That’s all: hope you enjoyed the read, and let me thank Isabella once again for her exquisite hospitality and for being so patient as to answer all of my questions! 🙂

Meet the Maker: History and Wine Tasting of One of Valtellina’s Finest: Ar.Pe.Pe.

On our previous post, we have presented the Italian wine district of Valtellina, its territory, history, dominant grape variety and just briefly, its wines. Now is the time to focus on one of the finest producers of Valtellina wines, Ar.Pe.Pe. (pronounced “Ahr-Pay-Pay”).

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s History

The somewhat curious name of this premium Valtellina winery is an acronym that stands for ARturo PEllizzatti PErego, that is the full name of the winery’s founder.


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s stunning tasting room

Arturo was the descendant of a Valtellina family who had been in the wine industry since 1860 and who, by the 1960’s, had grown to own or manage 50 HA of vineyards. Arturo’s father, Guido, had built the family business’s winery by carving it into the rock of those very mountains on the slopes of which their vineyards lay: the new winery became operational in 1961.

Guido’s death in 1973 resulted in a paralizing feud among his heirs over the allocation of his estate: because of this, the heirs decided to sell the family’s business and the “Pellizzatti” brand to a then large wine and food conglomerate to which the family also leased the vineyards for a 10 year term.


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s fermenting barrelsIn 1983, however, upon the expiration of the vineyard lease term, Arturo claimed back his own portion of the family’s vineyards (12 HA), bought back the winery that his father had built and started afresh his own wine business, under the current Ar.Pe.Pe. brand.

Arturo devoted all his knowledge, experience and energy into creating a range of top quality wines that would underscore and maximize the potential of the mountain Nebbiolo grapes and Valtellina’s unique terroir. In so doing, he took his chances and from the very beginning he decided not to compromise on anything, aiming for top of the line wines that would be optimally aged by the time they were released to the market.

This meant that for the first six years following Ar.Pe.Pe.’s creation, their vineyards were harvested for six times, wine was made for each vintage, but not a single bottle was released to the market because of the very long aging times that Arturo had prescribed for his wines. This is what his heirs affectionately refer to as his “nostalgic hardheadedness“.

But when the first bottles of one of his top Crus, the Valtellina Superiore “Rocce Rosse”, were finally made available to retailers in 1990, all those sacrifices paid off and the immediate success and rave reviews proved that Arturo’s philosophy of unwavering commitment to excellence had been right and long sighted.

Ar.Pe.Pe. then quickly became one of the most respected and prestigious brands in the landscape of Valtellina’s Nebbiolo’s. In 2004, Arturo passed away and his legacy passed on to his three children: Isabella (who became Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist), Guido and Emanuele, who have since shared the leadership of the family business.

Isabella, 
Ar.Pe.Pe.'s enologist and co-owner, with her brother Emanuele in their tasting room

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s Wine Tasting

On the next post, we will publish our interview of Isabella Pellizzatti Perego, Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist and co-owner, but before that here are my quick tasting notes (i.e., these are not full-blown wine reviews) for those wines in Ar.Pe.Pe.’s lineup that had just been released to the market at the time of my visit and that my gracious hostess Isabella was kind enough to let me taste:

  • ArPePe, Rosso di ValtellinaRosso di Valtellina DOC 2011 (13% ABV)

This is Ar.Pe.Pe.’s entry-level wine, made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes harvested from their lower altitude vineyards (1,150/1,300 ft – 350/400 mt above sea level) in the Grumello and Sassella subzones (for more information, refer to our introductory post to the Valtellina district). The wine ages 6 to 12 months in large wood barrels before being released to the market. The Rosso di Valtellina retails in the US for about $32.

Tasting Notes: The wine’s color was ruby red, with aromas of violet, cherry and raspberry. In the mouth, the wine was freshly acidic, with smooth tannins – a young, easy to drink, ready to be enjoyed red.

Rating: Good Good

  • Valtellina Superiore Sassella “Stella Retica” Riserva DOCG 2006 (13% ABV)

ArPePe, Valtellina Superiore Sassella "Stella Retica" RiservaThis is the second vin of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s two grand vins in the Sassella subzone (the “Rocce Rosse” and the single-vineyard “Vigna Regina”). As will be better explained in our interview of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist, the Stella Retica is only made in those vintages when the Rocce Rosse is not released (i.e., for any given vintage, either one of the Rocce Rosse or the Stella Retica is made).

The Stella Retica is made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown at an altitude between 1,300 and 1,650 feet (400 to 500 meters). It ferments in Ar.Pe.Pe.’s signature mixed wood fermenting barrels (more about this in our interview of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist) for 12 days and ages in large wood barrels for 24 months, plus 24 additional months of in-bottle aging. The Stella Retica retails in the US for about $48.

Tasting Notes: The wine’s color was ruby red with garnet reflections, with a fine and intense bouquet of cherry, wild strawberry and mineral hints of granite. In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was freshly acidic, gently tannic, and tasty, with medium body. All in all, a very pleasant and enjoyable wine.

Rating: Very Good Very Good

  • Valtellina Superiore Sassella “Rocce Rosse” Riserva DOCG 2002 (13% ABV)

ArPePe, Valtellina Superiore Sassella "Rocce Rosse" RiservaThe Rocce Rosse is one of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s two grand vins for the Sassella subzone (in addition to the single-vineyard Vigna Regina): it is made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Sassella subzone only in those years in which the quality of the harvest is extraordinary. It ferments in wood fermenting barrels for 40 days(!) and it ages in large oak, chestnut and acacia wood barrels for 48 months, plus 36 additional months of in-bottle aging.

The Rocce Rosse is a top of the line wine that is suitable for long-term aging. It retails in the US for about $72.

Tasting Notes: The wine’s color was garnet, with a spectacular, complex and intense bouquet of cherry, raspberry, cocoa, nutmeg and hints of tobacco, licorice and minerals (granite). In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and silky smooth; it was acidic, gently tannic, and tasty, with full body and a long finish. A spectacularly exciting wine, already perfectly balanced and integrated after 11 years: a true sensory pleasure to be enjoyed with red meat or game dishes.

Rating: Spectacular Spectacular

  • Valtellina Superiore Sassella “Ultimi Raggi” Riserva DOCG 2006 (14% ABV)

ArPePe, Valtellina Superiore Sassella "Ultimi Raggi" RiservaThe Ultimi Raggi is Ar.Pe.Pe.’s late-harvest dry wine, made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Sassella subzone vineyards at the highest altitude (about 1,950 feet/600 meters above sea level) and left on the vines to naturally dry and therefore concentrate and maximize sugar levels through a late harvest.

The wine is fermented for 20 days in wood fermenting barrels and aged for 24 months in large wood barrels, plus 12 additional months of in-bottle aging. The Ultimi Raggi retails in the US for about $79.

Tasting Notes: The wine’s color was garnet, with a complex, intense and explosive bouquet of spirited cherry, strawberry jam, raspberry, red fruit candy, cocoa, tobacco. In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, with supple tannins, and tasty, with mineral hints of granite. It was full-bodied and with a long finish. An outstanding, structured and masterfully balanced wine: the perfect companion for structured red meat or game dishes or seasoned cheeses.

Rating: Spectacular Spectacular

Meet the Maker: An Introduction to Valtellina’s Mountain Nebbiolo and Wines

After our post about Tenuta San Guido (the Bolgheri estate where Sassicaia is made) and our interview of Tenuta San Guido’s owner, Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, here come three new posts in our “Meet the Maker” series.

This time around we move from Bolgheri, Tuscany, all the way north to the Valtellina district in Lombardia to:

  1. Provide an overview of this very special area and its wines;
  2. Present one of the finest Valtellina producers, Ar.Pe.Pe., and taste certain of their wines; and
  3. Interview Isabella Pellizzatti Perego, Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist and co-owner.

Map of Valtellina

Map of Valtellina, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About the Territory and History

The Valtellina district is an area in the northernest part of Italy’s Lombardia region, close to the border with Switzerland, that comprises two mountain ranges stretching from west to east (known, from north to south, as Alpi Retiche and Alpi Orobiche) and a narrow valley in between, where the town of Sondrio lies.

Due to the geography of this area, viticulture in Valtellina has always been challenging, since most of the vineyards grow at an altitude of about 1,300 to 2,300 feet (400 to 700 meters) above sea level on narrow stone-walled terraces carved from the steep southern slopes of the northern mountain range (Alpi Retiche), so as to maximize the grapevines’ sun exposure. The rocks of the Alpi Retiche mountain range are prevalently granite-based, which means that the soil where the Valtellina grapevines grow is a sand-limestone mix and a very shallow one, as it is often less than 3 feet/1 meter deep.

Valtellina’s harsh geography means that vineyard mechanization is virtually nonexistent, with grapevine treatments, pruning and harvesting being made exclusively by hand, thus significantly increasing the average production cost.


Valtellina mountain vineyards

Historically, the first evidence of viticulture in Valtellina dates back to the IX century (specifically, to year 837 of the Common Era). We have to wait until the XVI century, however, to have the first documented information about the size of the Valtellina vineyards, which back then were about 3,500 HA. As a result of the spread of the grapevine pathogen Uncinula necator (a fungus that causes powdery mildew of grapes) and the Grape phylloxera (an aphid-like pest that attacks the roots of Vitis vinifera grapevines and that almost completely destroyed the vineyards throughout Europe in the late XIX century), the overall size of the Valtellina vineyards dropped to less than 1,200 HA in the XX century.

The relevance of Valtellina as a wine grape landscape of significant cultural value is underscored by the fact that Italy put forward Valtellina’s candidacy (together with that of the Langhe/Roero/Monferrato area in Piemonte) to be nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Valtellina’s candidacy is currently still pending and is part of UNESCO’s Tentative List.

About the Appellations

The Valtellina district comprises two DOCG, one DOC and one IGT appellations, as follows:

  • Valtellina Superiore DOCG
  • Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG
  • Valtellina Rosso DOC
  • Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT

The Valtellina Superiore DOCG appellation, which we are going to focus on for the purpose of this post, encompasses a territory of approximately 430 HA in the vicinities of the town of Sondrio. The appellation is further divided into five subzones, as follows:

  1. Grumello (about 78 HA)
  2. Inferno (about 55 HA)
  3. Maroggia (about 25 HA)
  4. Sassella (about 130 HA)
  5. Valgella (about 137 HA)

The appellation regulations require that wines be made from 90% or more Nebbiolo grapes and that they be aged (i) for a minimum of 24 months, at least 12 of which in wood barrels for the base version of Valtellina Superiore or (ii) for a minimum of 36 months, at least 12 of which in wood barrels for the “Riserva” version.

Ar.Pe.Pe.'s fermenting barrels

About the Grape Variety

As mentioned above, in Valtellina Nebbiolo (which is locally known as Chiavennasca – pronounced “key-avennasca”) is king.

The regulations of both of Valtellina’s DOCG appellations and the Valtellina Rosso DOC appellation all require that wines be made from 90% or more Nebbiolo grapes.

You can find several cool facts and much information about Nebbiolo on our Grape Variety Archive page (which has been compiled based on Information taken from the excellent volume Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012) – here is just a short abstract:

Nebbiolo is without a doubt Piemonte’s most world-famous black-berried grape variety. Researchers have recently been able to trace back the origins of (or at least the first documented reference to) Nebbiolo to 1266, at which time the grape was called Nibiol. This makes Nebbiolo one of the oldest grape varieties in Piemonte. While Nebbiolo is definitely an Italian indigenous variety, doubts still remain as to whether it originated from Piemonte or Valtellina (a mountainous district in the neighboring region of Lombardia, where Nebbiolo is still grown nowadays and locally known as Chiavennasca).


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s 5.5 HL wood tonneau aging casks

About the Wines

The wines of Valtellina are not very well known to the general public, but they resonate with Italian wine connoisseurs because those wines that are made by serious producers are fabulous Nebbiolo-based reds, that pack tons of quality and structure, are suitable for long-term aging and still can be had for significantly less expensive prices than their better-known counterparts from Piemonte.

Interestingly enough, 2013 marked the first year in which a wine from one of Valtellina’s top producers (Mamete Prevostini, Valtellina Superiore Sassella “Sommarovina” DOCG 2009) made it into Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2013 (in 82nd position – congratulations!): perhaps this will contribute bringing the wines of Valtellina more into the limelight with wine aficionados.

On the next post, we will focus on one among my absolute favorite Valtellina producers: Ar.Pe.Pe. and on a tasting of certain of their wines. On the last post of this mini-series, we will then publish an interview of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist and co-owner, Isabella Pellizzatti Perego. Stay tuned! 🙂


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s enologist and co-owner with her brother Emanuele in their tasting room

Product Review: Elertus Wine Protection System

The Elertus System

I have recently been approached by a representative of Utah-based consumer electronics company Elertus who loaned me for a few weeks a sample of a newly released product of theirs targeting the wine market for me to test and consider for a review.

The product is called Elertus Wine Protection System and basically revolves around a small (3.1×2.6×1.05″ and 2.5 oz), battery-powered, wireless sensor that monitors and alerts users if anyone opens their wine cellar, wine cooler, or liquor cabinet door. So, the main purpose of the system is to notify users of potential theft or unauthorized access to their wine storage facility.

The system also continuously monitors light levels, temperature (-30 to 150 F) and humidity (0% to 100%) conditions, ensuring wine collections are stored in an optimal environment. It also notifies users if the sensor is moved from its current position.

The system is compatible with any wine or liquor cabinet with or without a locking mechanism. The sensor is designed for simple installation without special tools or permanent cabinet modifications and it connects to your Wi-Fi system.

Elertus AdThe Elertus system comes in a small box complete with the required batteries and visual, simple, easy to follow, step-by-step instructions for connecting the sensor to your local Wi-Fi network. I have to commend Elertus for providing a set of clear and simple instructions that really makes it easy for you to install the sensor, configure it and connect it to your Wi-Fi network in a breeze: I think I got my system up and running in about five minutes.

Once the system is operational, it immediately starts tracking the environmental conditions the sensor is in. Also, through the control panel of the system app, you can configure acceptable ranges of values both for temperature and humidity and then what you want to be notified of (such as temperature and humidity outside of the user-defined ranges of acceptable values, door open, light turned on or off, movement of the unit) and the way you want to be notified in (such as any or a combination of email, text message and smartphone notification alerts).

So, once it is customized, the Elertus app can notify you if any conditions change, such as the cellar door is opened, the light is turned on or the temperature or humidity gets too high or too low. In addition, you receive a weekly system-generated email that provides a snapshot of the conditions recorded by the sensor at the specific date and time the email is generated (i.e., no weekly average, just a read out of the current conditions). The Elertus system can be monitored and configured through a computer or smartphone app (iPhone®, iPad®, iPod touch®, and Android™).

The Elertus Wine Protection System is available at www.elertus.com for $199, inclusive of monitoring, alerts and smartphone app.

In a nutshell, these are my conclusions about the Elertus system after using it for a couple of weeks:

PROS:

  • Super easy, quick and trouble-free installation and configuration
  • Nice, clean and user-friendly user interface app
  • Works as advertised (monitors temperature, humidity, light level, movement and door open and notifies you in the way you set the system up for)

CONS:

  • Expensive for personal use, that is other than in a commercial establishment
  • I could not find a way to remotely trigger an instant read out of the current conditions (in the absence of a status notification) through the user interface app
  • Light level sensor is not very sensitive (requires a fairly bright light to be triggered)

Rating: Good to Very Good

Wine Review: Three First Drop Shiraz from Down Under

First Drop WinesAs most of you know, the wine-related part of this blog mainly focuses on Italian wine, although non exclusively as now and then I post about non-Italian wines that I have tasted and enjoyed: so far, I have posted about French, Portuguese and New Zealand wines: it is now time to talk about Australian wines.

Australia is one of the largest wine making countries of the New World, coming right after the USA and Argentina. A few official data: in 2012 in Australia there were 91,000 HA of red wine vines (almost 50% of which were Shiraz/Syrah, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and the South Australia region accounted for almost 60% of the entire red wine production. In terms of white wines, in 2012 Australia had 57,000 HA of white wine vines (almost 50% of which were Chardonnay, followed by Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) and the South Australia and New South Wales regions combined accounted for over 70% of the entire white wine production. The overall Australian wine production in 2012 was about 1.2 billion liters (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics)

One of the obvious consequences of so large a production is that out there you may find some excellent Australian wines but also some… less than stellar ones. So, not wanting to go through a potentially long trial and error process, I decided to ask Laura, an Australian wine expert, accomplished cook and last but not least author of the food blog Laura’s Mess, if she would be willing to help me in my quest for quality Australian wineries whose wines I could taste and review, by giving me a few pointers (by the way, should you not be familiar with Laura’s blog already, do pay her a visit because it is a food blog that is definitely worthwhile following, both for the great content and for the beautiful food photography).

Well, Laura went above and beyond what could be considered “fellow blogger courtesy” as she went to great lengths to provide me an overview of Australia’s main wine regions and a detailed description of her favorite producers and wines in each of them. Laura, thank you so much once again for your invaluable guidance in helping me learn more about the Australian wine world.

Anyway, after going through Laura’s terrific survey and cross-referencing the producers that impressed me the most with the reality of what is available in the US market (and the awful lot of good stuff that unfortunately is not), I decided to start my Aussie tasting experience from First Drop, a young winery based in Australia’s prime wine region of the Barossa. This is because they came highly recommended from Laura, they focus on a variety that I like a lot (Shiraz/Syrah), their vineyards are in one of the premium Australian wine regions (the Barossa Valley, in South Australia) and last but not least I managed to find a US online retailer who carries most of their lineup. So I went ahead and placed a sampler order, buying four of their red wines, from entry-level to top of the line, which would hopefully give me a nice overview of the First Drop range.

These are the four bottles that I bought:

  1. First Drop, Shiraz “Fat of the Land” Greenock Cru, Barossa 2009
  2. First Drop, “Two Percent“, Barossa 2009 (a 98% Shiraz, 2% Tempranillo blend)
  3. First Drop, Shiraz “Mother’s Milk“, Barossa 2011
  4. First Drop, “Half & Half“, Barossa 2010 (a 50% Shiraz, 50% Monastrell blend)

Today I will publish my tasting notes of wines number 2, 3 and 4. The Fat of the Land will have to wait both because of my impressions about the three wines that I have tasted (keep reading if you want to know how I liked them!) and because wine number 1 is one First Drop’s top of the line single-vineyard crus, which in the US retails for a not inexpensive $72 price tag and therefore I want to give it a few years of cellar time before enjoying it since it is still pretty young. Now, of course, were First Drop’s US importer to ever send me a sample to try out right away, I would be very happy to oblige… 😉

But let’s now cut to the chase and see how those three First Drop wines that I tasted performed.

As always, 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. First Drop, “Half & Half”, Barossa 2010 ($18)

First Drop, Half & HalfAs mentioned, this is an unusual 50% Shiraz, 50% Monastrell blend. The must ferments for 6 days on the skins, then the wine goes through malolactic fermentation and ages for 15 months in French oak. In the US, it retails for about $18.

In the glass, Half & Half poured ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was moderately intense, moderately complex and of fair quality, with aromas of cherry, red berries, coffee, black pepper, and hints of animal fur and tobacco.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, moderately tannic and moderately tasty. It was medium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fair mouth flavors of cherry, red berries, red fruit candy, and dark chocolate. It had a medium finish and the evolutionary state was ready (i.e., fine to drink right away, probably better if you let it rest for a couple more years in your cellar).

Overall, Half & Half was a pretty good, entry-level red in the First Drop range, a wine with no frills: smooth, with medium tannins, easy to drink and quite pleasant in the mouth. One might wish that its bouquet were a bit more intense and complex (maybe some decanting/aeration could have helped, despite the wine’s young age?), but all in all it is a solid, every day wine, given especially its reasonable price point.

Rating: Good Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. First Drop, Shiraz “Mother’s Milk”, Barossa 2011 ($18)

First Drop, Mother's MilkThis varietal Shiraz is fermented for 8 days on the skins, then goes through malolactic fermentation and is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. In the US it retails for about $18.

In the glass, Mother’s Milk poured ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, moderately complex and fine, with nice aromas of plum, blackberry, sweet tobacco, leather, cocoa and black pepper.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, tannic and moderately tasty. It was full-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of plum, blackberry, tobacco, dark chocolate and black pepper. It had a medium finish and the evolutionary state was ready (i.e., fine to drink right away, probably even better if you let it rest for a couple more years in your cellar).

Overall, I very much enjoyed my bottle of Mother’s Milk (sounds kind of creepy, I know, but that’s the name they picked!) Considering its appealing price point and how young the bottle I had was, Mother’s Milk was a good to very good performer, with intense and pleasant aromas and mouth flavors and a high ABV that was however well integrated into the wine’s structure and counterbalanced by already smooth tannins. Allowed to mature for two or three more years in bottle, I think the wine’s already pleasant aromas and mouth flavors would further evolve into an even more compelling, cohesive red that will be an even better value for money.

Rating: Good to Very Good and definitely Recommended Good to Very Good – $ 

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

3. First Drop, “Two Percent”, Barossa 2009 ($35)

First Drop, Two PercentThis is a 98% Shiraz, 2% Tempranillo blend that ferments for 8 days on its skins, goes through malolactic fermentation and then is aged for 24 months in French oak barrels. In the US it retails for about $35.

In the glass, the Two Percent poured ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with pleasant aromas of cherry, plum, raspberry, cigar box, vanilla, coffee, black pepper and rhubarb.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, tannic and tasty. It was full-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of cherry, raspberry, vanilla, dark chocolate and black pepper. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was ready (i.e., fine to drink right away, but certainly even better if you let it rest for a few more years in your cellar).

Overall, I loved Two Percent! Considering how young it was, it already performed as a show stopper: a big wine with an elegant, complex bouquet and lush, chewy mouth flavors, a silky smooth texture and perfectly integrated tannins, plus a long, lingering finish that just makes you want more. Definitely excellent value for money. Wow.

Rating: Very Good and definitely Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Now I can hardly wait to try that Fat of the Land bottle… 😉

Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2013

A few days ago, Wine Spectator magazine has published the entire list of their Top 100 Wines of 2013… according to them, of course! :-)

Like last year, these are in a nutshell a few comments about their 2013 top 10 wines:

  • CVNE‘s Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 is Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year 2013 (rated 95 points) as well as the first Spanish wine to date to earn top ranking in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list: congratulations!
  • Five U.S. wines made it to the Top 10 (3 from California, 1 from Oregon and 1 from Washington State), up from three last year
  • Only one Italian wine made it to the Top 10 scoring sixth place and 95 points (Giuseppe Mascarello‘s Barolo “Monprivato” 2008 DOCG), same number as last year but better placement, up three spots
  • France put three of their wines in the Top 10, down from four last year
  • A wine from Bordeaux’s Right Bank was awarded second place (and 96 points) in the Top 10: Chateau Canon-La Gaffeliere 2010, a Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé B (for more information and a photograph of the Chateau, check out our previous post on the Saint Emilion appellations and wine classification)
  • For the presumable happiness of The Drunken Cyclist 😉 a Pinot Noir from Oregon scored third place in the Top 10: Domaine Serene‘s Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Evenstad Reserve, 2010 (rated 95 points)
  • Just like in 2011 and 2012, 9 of the top 10 wines are red and only one is white, Kongsgaard‘s Chardonnay Napa Valley 2010 (fifth place, rated 95 points)
  • Four out of the top five wines are below the $100 price mark, with the Wine of the Year 2013 being the least expensive at $63 and confirming how much good value for money can be found in a Rioja, even a top of the line one like CVNE’s; on the other hand, all wines in sixth to tenth place are above $100 (thank you, Anatoli, for suggesting this additional bullet!)

For more detailed information and access to the full Top 100 list, please refer to Wine Spectator’s Website.

Saint Emilion Chronicles #5: Saint Emilion and its Wine Appellations

Saint Emilion: 
Clos La Madeleine and its vineyards

First off, you may be wondering: what about chapters 3 and 4 in the Saint Emilion series??? Well, those have only been published on Flora’s Table as they were not wine related nor were they specifically about photography, so if you have not seen them and you are interested in finding out about Saint Emilion sweet treats (macarons and cannelés) and the place we stayed at during our Saint Emilion visit, just head over there and see for yourself! 😉

Saint Emilion: Les Grandes Murailles (the Big Wall) and the vineyards of Chateau Les Grandes Murailles

Now, on previous posts we have talked about the town of Saint Emilion and one of its churches – it is about time that we start talking about wine. This post will provide a general overview of the area from a wine standpoint, while future posts will focus on a few chateaux.

Saint Emilion: old grape press and vineyards of Chateau Canon

As we said in the introductory post of this series, Saint Emilion is a town that is located in the Libournais area, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, not far from Bordeaux. From a wine standpoint, the area surrounding the town of Saint Emilion is divided into several different appellations (known as “AOC” – in French, “Appelation d’Origine Controléè“).

One slightly confusing thing to bear in mind is that Saint Emilion AOC and Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC are two different appellations that for the most part comprise the same territory. However, the regulations of the latter are stricter than the former as they require lower production yields and a 12-month minimum aging period. So, a bottle that is labeled “Saint Emilion Grand Cru” only indicates that it has been produced under the rules of that AOC, but not necessarily that it is one of the Grands Crus that are part of the Saint Emilion wine classification (more on this later), which instead are identified as Grands Crus Classés or Premiers Grands Crus Classés, depending on their ranking.

Saint Emilion: Chateau La Gaffeliere and its vineyards

The two largely overlapping appellations of Saint Emilion AOC and Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC encompass a territory of, respectively, 5,600 and over 4,000 HA where the dominating grape variety is Merlot, beside Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The average annual production is in the ballpark of 235,000 HL for Saint Emilion AOC and 150,000 HL for Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC.

Saint Emilion
: Chateau Lassegue and its vineyards

As we alluded to above, in 1954 the  Winemaking Syndicate of Saint Emilion decided to compile a classification of the best estates (or Chateaux) in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC based on criteria such as quality, sales and renown: this classification was published in 1955 (which is why it is often referred to as the “1955 Classification“) and is supposed to be revised and updated every 10 years, although in fact the updates have been more frequent (since inception, it has been updated in 1959, 1969, 1986, 1996 and 2012).

Saint Emilion: 
Chateau Cheval Blanc and its vineyards

The 1955 Classification divided the estates that made the cut into the following three tiers (in parentheses you can find the number of chateaux in each tier, based on the 2012 revision of the 1955 Classification):

  1. Premier Grand Cru Classé A (4)
  2. Premier Grand Cru Classé B (14)
  3. Grand Cru Classé (64)

Originally, there were only two Chateaux in the first tier of the 1955 Classification: Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc, while two more estates have been promoted to the Olympus of the Saint Emilion wines in the context of the 2012 revision of the 1955 Classification: Chateau Angelus and Chateau Pavie.

Saint Emilion: Chateau Pavie and its vineyards

If you are interested in finding out more about the 1955 Classification, on this Website you can find the complete list of the estates comprised in each of the three tiers of the classification.

For completeness, bear in mind that in the Saint Emilion area there are also four satellite appellations, as follows: Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion AOC, Montagne-Saint-Emilion AOC, Puisseguin-Saint-Emilion AOC and Lussac-Saint-Emilion AOC.

Saint Emilion: church emerging from the vineyards in Pomerol

Another famous appellation in the greater Saint Emilion area is the adjacent Pomerol AOC, a small 770 HA Merlot-centric appellation which is home (among other premium estates) of the world-famous, super-exclusive, very rare and über-pricey Petrus. The estates in the Pomerol AOC were not considered for the purposes of the 1955 Classification (which, as we said, was limited to those in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC): this explains why Petrus is not part of it.

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Wine Review: Two Chardonnays from Piemonte – Coppo, Chardonnay “Monteriolo” Piemonte DOC 2007 & Chardonnay “Costebianche” Piemonte DOC 2010

Disclaimer: this review is of samples that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review 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.

Today we are going to review two Chardonnays from the northern Italian region of Piemonte, made by Italian producer Coppo.

About the Grape

A few notions about Chardonnay as a grape variety, that you can also find on our Grape Variety Archive page, along with several other varieties that we have previously reviewed.

Chardonnay is a white-berried variety that is indigenous to the French area between Lyon and Dijon, encompassing Burgundy and Champagne. The earliest documented mention of Chardonnay dates back to the late XVII century in the village of Saint Sorlin (today known as La Roche Vineuse) under the name “Chardonnet“, although the variety takes its name from the village of Chardonnay near the town of Uchizy in southern Burgundy.

DNA analysis showed that Chardonnay is a natural cross between Pinot and Gouais Blanc.

Chardonnay Rose is a color mutation of Chardonnay, while Chardonnay Musque’ is a mutation with Muscat-like aromas.

Chardonnay is one of the most versatile and adaptable white grape varieties, which explains in part why it has been so extensively grown all over the world. Chardonnay grapes are generally high in sugar levels and do not have a dominant flavor of their own, so the wines made out of them tend to take on a variety of aromas depending on where the grapes are grown and how the wines are made. Thus Chardonnays run the gamut from subtle and savory to rich and spicy still wines as well as being one of the base wines for Champagne and other Classic Method sparkling wines.

Chardonnay is a typical international variety given how widely it is cultivated on a worldwide basis, from native France, to Italy, North and South America and Australia.

As always, this grape variety information is taken from the excellent guide Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012.

About the Producer and the Estate

You may find information regarding the producer, Coppo, and the estate in the first post of this series of reviews of the Coppo lineup.

Our Reviews

The Coppo lineup comprises three Chardonnays: beside the top of the line Riserva della Famiglia (which is currently not available in the US), Coppo makes the mid-range Monteriolo and the entry-level Costebianche, both of which we are going to review today.

As usual, for my reviews 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. Coppo, Chardonnay “Monteriolo” ($60)

Coppo, Chardonnay "Monteriolo"The first wine that we are going to review is Coppo, Chardonnay “Monteriolo” Piemonte DOC 2007.

1.1 The Bottom Line

Overall, the Monteriolo was a good, solid “gently-oaked” Chardonnay. Both its bouquet and mouth flavors are pleasant and “clean”, if just a tad subdued, presenting a nice balance between secondary and tertiary aromas. In my view, however, the $60 suggested retail price is pretty steep and makes the Monteriolo face tough competition in the premium Chardonnay market segment.

Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good – $$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

1.2 Detailed Information

The 2007 Monteriolo was 12.5% ABV and was made out of 100% Chardonnay grapes harvested from Coppo’s vineyards near the town of Canelli, Piemonte.

The must fermented for about 12/15 days at 59F/15C in stainless steel vessels. The wine then rested for nine months in 50% new and 50% previously used French oak barrique casks, plus eight additional months in bottle before becoming available for sale. The Monteriolo has a suggested retail price in the US of $60, but can be found for retail prices in the neighborhood of $50.

Let’s now see how the Monteriolo performed in our tasting.

In the glass, the wine poured golden yellow and quite thick when swirled.

On the nose, the bouquet was quite intense, quite complex and fine, with aromas of citrus, apple, herbs, and hints of butter, vanilla and roasted hazelnut.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, quite warm, smooth; fresh and quite tasty. It was balanced and medium-bodied, with quite intense and fine mouth flavors of citrus, apple, butter, and hints of vanilla and roasted hazelnut. The finish was quite long and the evolutionary state was ready (meaning, fine to drink now, but may improve with one or two years of cellaring).

2. Coppo, Chardonnay “Costebianche” ($20)

Coppo, Chardonnay "Costebianche"The second wine that we are going to review is Coppo, Chardonnay “Costebianche” Piemonte DOC 2010.

2.1 The Bottom Line

Overall, the Costebianche was a pretty good Chardonnay. Its bouquet is pleasant, although a bit narrow and veered toward tertiary aromas, those that develop with oak aging, that in this case tended to be dominant over the fruity aromas. Also, I found the Costebianche a little “thin” in the mouth – I wished it had a little more body (this feeling is confirmed by its quite low ABV and glycerol levels, which both contribute to determine the structure of a wine). All in all, a fairly good, if a bit “soulless”, wine.

Rating: Fairly Good Fairly Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2.2 Detailed Information

The 2010 Costebianche was 12% ABV and was made out of 100% Chardonnay grapes harvested from Coppo’s vineyards near the towns of Canelli and Aglianico.

The wine underwent partial malolactic fermentation and then six months of aging, during which 70% of the wine rested in French oak barrique casks and the remaining 30% in steel vats, plus six additional months in bottle before becoming available for sale. In the US the Costebianche has a suggested retail price of about $20.

Let’s see how the Costebianche did in our tasting.

In the glass, the wine poured straw yellow with greenish hints and quite thick when swirled.

On the nose, the bouquet was intense, fairly narrow and quite fine, with aromas of Granny Smith apple, roasted hazelnut, and butter.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, quite warm, quite smooth; fresh and tasty. It was balanced and light-bodied, with intense and fine mouth flavors of citrus, Granny Smith apple, roasted hazelnut, butter, and wild herbs. The finish was quite long and the evolutionary state was ready.

Wine Review: Coppo, Gavi “La Rocca” DOCG

Disclaimer: this review is of a sample that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review 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 wine are my own.

The white wine that we will review today is a Gavi (an appellation in the southern part of Italy’s Piemonte region) made by Italian producer Coppo from Cortese grapes, namely CoppoGavi “La Rocca” 2011 DOCG ($17).

The Bottom Line

Overall, honestly I was not particularly impressed by this Gavi, but it did not disappoint either: I wish its bouquet and mouth flavors showed more complexity and the wine a bit more personality, but it is still an enjoyable (if very focused), “easy to drink” white wine, with lively acidity and tastiness. In my view, it is not a show stopper, but at a retail price of about $17, it may be an option worth bearing in mind.

Rating: Fairly Good Fairly Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape and the Appellation

1. The Grape. Cortese is an indigenous Italian white-berried grape variety whose first documented mention dates back to 1614 in Italy’s Piemonte region.

Nowadays, it is mostly grown in the area surrounding the towns of Asti and Alessandria (in south-eastern Piemonte), where it especially is the only grape variety allowed by the Gavi (or Cortese di Gavi) DOCG appellation. Cortese generally makes wines with rather neutral aromas and good acidity.

(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)

2. The Appellation. The Gavi (AKA Cortese di Gavi) appellation was created in 1974 as a DOC and was upgraded to DOCG status in 1998. Gavi DOCG encompasses the territory surrounding the town of Gavi (near Alessandria) and certain other neighboring small towns. The appellation rules require that the wines be made exclusively from Cortese grapes and that “Gavi Riserva” wines be aged for a minimum of 12 months (of which at least 6 in wood barrels), and “Gavi Spumante” wines be aged for a minimum of 24 months (of which at least 18 on their lees).

About the Producer and the Estate

You may find information regarding the producer, Coppo, and the estate in the first post of this series of reviews of the Coppo lineup.

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review today is CoppoGavi “La Rocca” 2011 DOCG.

The 2011 La Rocca was 12.5% ABV and was made out of 100% Cortese grapes harvested from Coppo’s vineyards in Monterotondo di Gavi (near the town of Alessandria).

The must fermented for 20 days at 59F/15C in stainless steel vessels, with no malolactic fermentation. The wine then rested for 2 months in steel vats, plus three additional months in bottle before becoming available for sale. It is a wine that is intended for immediate consumption, not for cellaring. The Gavi La Rocca retails in the US for about $17.

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 straw yellow and moderately thick when swirled.

On the nose, the bouquet was intensenarrow and quite fine, with aromas of peach and citrus.

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 and peach and mineral notes. The finish was quite long and the evolutionary state was mature (meaning, drink it now, it will not benefit from cellaring).

Meet the Maker: An Interview with “Mr Sassicaia”

Italy, Bolgheri: Marchese Nicolo' Incisa della Rocchetta in the Tenuta San Guido wine aging cellarOn my previous post we talked about my visit to Tenuta San Guido (the estate where fabled Sassicaia is made) and my tasting of the latest available vintages of the estate’s wine lineup: Le Difese 2011, Guidalberto 2011 and Sassicaia 2010.

Also, on a previous post we went through the history of Super Tuscans and particularly of their archetype, Sassicaia, and how this great wine came to be. If you missed those posts, I suggest you take the time to check them out as they provide a lot context for this post.

Now, without further ado, let’s move on to my interview of Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, the owner of Tenuta San Guido, a true gentleman and big time dog lover (he has some 40 dogs, most of whom he got from the shelter) beside of course being the son of Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, the man who created the myth Sassicaia.

Here are the questions I asked the Marchese, along with a summary of his answers:

Q1. Which vintage of Sassicaia are you most fond of and why?

A1. If I had to pick one, it would be 1988: of course everyone goes crazy about 1985 because it received a perfect score from Parker, but to me 1988 was also a stellar year that really shows the Sassicaia style loud and clear and that vintage also did extremely well in the Tasting of the Bordeaux Premier Growths.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards at Tenuta San Guido ready for harvesting with olive tree orchard in the background

Q2. Certain consumers worry about investing a considerable amount of money into a bottle of wine like Sassicaia, which they normally plan to hold on for several years before opening, because they fear that when they do open it, it might be corked. Do you or your distributors have a policy in place as to how to handle situations like that?

A2. In Europe, our distributors replace corked bottles, I am not sure whether our US distributor has a similar policy in place. The good news is that, while of course it is impossible to avoid the risk of the occasional corked bottle altogether, the incidence of cork taint on Sassicaia is much lower than the average: we estimate that there are about 10 corked bottles of Sassicaia for each vintage.

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido

Q3. Speaking of corks, certain of the top quality producers around the world have started experimenting with closure systems alternative to cork, such as synthetic or screw caps, one very visible example being Chateau Margaux. Are you also looking into it? Current regulations require that Sassicaia be sealed with a cork: looking ahead, do you think that using a closure other than cork for a wine like Sassicaia would still be perceived by consumers with a negative connotation?

A3. No, we are just not interested. A bottle of a wine like Sassicaia deserves being sealed by a cork, period. On top of that, the minimal contact with oxygen that the cork ensures makes a wine like Sassicaia that is generally meant for several years of in bottle aging beautifully evolve.

Italy, Bolgheri: Bolgheri sunsetQ4. Italian enologist Graziana Grassini has recently taken over the honor and the responsibilities of making Sassicaia from guru enologist Giacomo Tachis, who can be seen as the father of Sassicaia, along with your father of course. How did she approach the myth Sassicaia? Is she following the path of tradition or is she trying to leave her own mark on Sassicaia?

A4. It seems to me that she is walking in Tachis’s footsteps: they both have this approach that they are there just to underscore the unique terroir of the Sassicaia vineyards and make it shine in the wine they make. Tachis hated being called a winemaker, because he felt he was not there “making” (in the sense of artificially “building”) Sassicaia – he considered himself the guardian of the brilliant characteristics of those Cabernet clones that my father planted in the heart of the Maremma almost three quarters of a century ago and the terroir they grow in.

Q5. All your three wines are blends and all three have Cabernet Sauvignon as their prevailing variety in the blend, but each of them pairs it with a different blending partner: Cabernet Franc for Sassicaia, Merlot for Guidalberto and Sangiovese for Le Difese. Taken as a given that the Sassicaia is at the peak of the pyramid of the wines you produce, how would you briefly describe the concepts behind the Guidalberto and Le Difese?

A5. The Guidalberto was introduced to the market with vintage 2000 and we do not consider it the second vin of the Sassicaia. It was developed as a more affordable wine with its own identity, different from Sassicaia’s. A wine that can be enjoyed earlier than Sassicaia but is all the same meant for aging up to 10 years. Only about 10% of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes used in the making of Guidalberto come from the Sassicaia vieyards, the rest comes from dedicated, younger vineyards. Le Difese was launched with vintage 2002 and we view it as the second vin of the Guidalberto: it was developed with the idea of an affordable wine that is ready to be enjoyed upon release and is not meant for aging.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards and olive trees

Q6. How much of the wine you produce gets exported, and which are the top three countries you export to?

A5. We export about 60% of the production. By far the number one country we export to is the United States, followed by Germany and, maybe surprisingly considering its relatively small size, Switzerland. We are slowly starting to export to China too, but we want to be cautious: it is a huge market with an incredible demand for luxury products, including top wines like Sassicaia, and it is easy to let that cloud your vision. Considering that the number of bottles of Sassicaia that we make is not going to increase, what we do not want to do is penalize our historical and loyal customer base and distributors in the countries we are already in just to jump onto the Chinese bandwagon. It will be a gradual process.

Italy, Bolgheri: One of the buidings in the Tenuta San Guido estate

Q7. Organic viticulture: are you considering to embrace it or staying away from it?

A7. We view it as an emerging marketing trend which certainly appeals to consumers, but whose risks overweigh the benefits. In other words, we do spray our vines but we have always done so in the least pervasive way, as has been done for decades in traditional viticulture. We are a relatively small operation and we just cannot afford the risk of a blighted crop.

Q8. Let’s talk about your winemaking process: do you use pre-fermentation cold maceration? And how about micro-oxygenation?

A8. No to both questions: we feel our wine does not need the additional extraction of color or aromas that pre-fermentation maceration allows, and we certainly stay away from micro-oxygenation: we much rather let time do its work by leaving our wine in the barriques for as long as we think appropriate for it to be exposed to the oxygen that naturally breathes into the casks. No need to fast-track anything.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards ready for harvesting

Q9. What kind of fermentation do you go for: selected yeasts or spontaneous (indigenous yeasts)? Same question for malolactic fermentation: do you inoculate lactic bacteria or does it start spontaneously?

A9. In both cases we opt for spontaneous fermentation: we do not add anything to our wine, we just let the temperature start both fermentations spontaneously. We think this practice helps give our wines their own, individual character, which makes them different from other wines.

Italy, Bolgheri: Sassicaia French oak barrique cask

Q10. Last question: which barrique casks do you use to age Sassicaia and are they new, previously used or a mix of the two?

A10. In the beginning we used Slavonian oak, but then we realized that those barrels were assembled with sawn planks, which occasionally were not perfectly airtight. So we switched to French oak, where planks are axe-split instead of sawn. For the aging of Sassicaia we use barriques made of French oak coming from the Massif Central region of France, because oak from that area is known to release the least tannins/tertiary aromas to the wine and therefore we prefer it over more intrusive oak. Sassicaia ages in 1/3 new barriques and 2/3 previously used ones, which may be up to a maximum of 8-time used before, after which we retire the barrique.

Thant’s all: I hope you enjoyed the read as much as I enjoyed having this informational and pleasant conversation with Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta.

As a final note, I would like to take the opportunity to sincerely thank the Marchese for his graciousness and for the time he took to sit down with me and answer my questions. I also wish to extend my dy deepest gratitude to Carlo Paoli for his kindness in making all of this happen.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards and cypress trees

Meet the Maker: A New Column plus a Tasting of Sassicaia 2010 and Its Little Brothers

Italy, Bolgheri: Carlo Paoli, Tenuta San Guido's General Manager

A New Column: Meet the Maker

This post is going to be the first in a new column that I thought I would call Meet the Maker – this column will provide interviews with wine producers or other key players in the wine industry.

When I decided to give this new feature a go, I thought I might as well just start big 😉 so with some luck and lots of gratitude to Carlo Paoli, the gracious General Manager of Tenuta San Guido, I had the pleasure of sitting down for an hour or so in the wine tasting room of Tenuta San Guido with Carlo and Mr Sassicaia himself, Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, who was kind enough to answer my questions while we were tasting the whole lineup of the estate, which was something pretty cool.

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido

About the Estate: Tenuta San Guido

But let’s start from the beginning: as you may know, Tenuta San Guido is a huge 2,500 HA estate that is located in that beautiful stretch of forested coastal Tuscany known as Maremma and it belongs to the Italian noble family of the Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta. The estate encompasses a 513 HA wildlife preserve managed by the WWF (Oasi Padule di Bolgheri), the training facility for the Dormello-Olgiata thoroughbred race horses, the most famous of whom was legendary “superhorse” Ribot, and of course 90 HA of vineyards from which glorious Sassicaia plus two more wines (called Guidalberto and Le Difese) are made.

More specifically, 70 of those 90 HA of vineyards are dedicated to the production of Sassicaia and therefore are for the most part Cabernet Sauvignon with some Cabernet Franc. In the remaining 20 HA, Merlot and Sangiovese (the blending partners of, respectively, Guidalberto and Le Difese) are grown, beside Cabernet Sauvignon (the common variety in all three blends). Among the three labels, Tenuta San Guido produces about 700,000 bottles per year.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards approaching harvest time with the Bolgheri church in the background

On a previous post, I have provided a pretty detailed story of the vision of an enlightened man, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta (Nicolo’s father, the creator of Sassicaia), how Sassicaia came to be and how it became the archetype of all Super Tuscans, so if you missed it, I would suggest you go back and take a look before you continue reading this post.

As is described in detail on that previous post, the turning point for Sassicaia was Marchese Mario’s intuition to hire Antinori’s enologist, Giacomo Tachis, in the late 1960’s. Tachis optimized Sassicaia’s production process turning Sassicaia from a good wine to the wine that was awarded a perfect 100 score by Robert Parker for the 1985 vintage. Mr Tachis, arguably the most famous and revered among Italian enologists, eventually retired and Graziana Grassini took the helm of making Sassicaia (along with the responsibility to ensure that the legend lives on) as of the 2009 vintage.

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido's wine aging cellar and wine tasting room

About the Appellation

Interestingly enough, in an effort to recognize Marchese Mario’s vision and tenacity in creating a wine that gave Italian winemaking international lustre and fame, in 1983 Italy created a DOC appellation called “Bolgheri DOC” that would encompass a small territory surrounding the Tuscan town of Castagneto Carducci (in the Maremma, near Livorno) and within that territory a specific subzone was identified by the name of “Sassicaia” which precisely matches those about 70 HA owned by Tenuta San Guido where the Sassicaia is made. This has been the first case in Italy in which an official subzone of an appellation has been created to precisely overlap with the area where a single producer’s wine is made. As a result, Sassicaia is the only wine that can be made in the “Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC” appellation.

In terms of permitted grape varieties, the “Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC” appellation requires the use of at least 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, which can be blended with up to 20% of other black-berried varieties permitted in Tuscany, and a minimum aging of 24 months, at least 18 of which must be in oak barrique casks.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards in the Bolgheri DOC appellation

Our Tasting Notes

Before moving on to the actual interview of Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta (which will be the subject matter of the next post), these are my succint tasting notes of the three wines in the Tenuta San Guido lineup that I got to taste with the Marchese:

1. Le Difese 2011 ($35):

Italy, Bolgheri: An old well at Tenuta San GuidoTenuta San Guido’s entry-level wine, whose first vintage was 2002. It is a 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese blend that is aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrique casks and is released ready to be enjoyed (it is not meant for aging).

Pleasant and linear, with no frills: nice (although not particularly intense) nose of wild berries with hints of licorice and ground coffee. Well integrated tannins and good structure in the mouth for an enjoyable red with a good QPR.

Rating: Good Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. Guidalberto 2011 ($40):

Tenuta San Guido’s mid-range wine (not Sassicaia’s second wine, as the Marchese pointed out in the course of the interview). It was released with vintage 2000 and it is a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot blend, aged for 15 months in mostly French and in small part American oak barrique casks, plus 3 additional months of in-bottle aging. The Guidalberto is a wine that can be enjoyed right away, but is meant for aging up to 10 years.

A very good wine, despite its young age, with an enticing nose of black berries, ground coffee, tobacco, cocoa and black pepper. In the mouth it was already round and smooth, with tame tannins and significant structure as well as a long finish. In my view, with a few more years under its belt, the Guidalberto will give plenty of joy to those who can wait.

Rating: Very Good Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido's Sassicaia aging cellar

3. Sassicaia 2010 ($155):

The King of the Hill, of which we already said much in relation to its 1995 vintage on a previous post. It is an 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc blend that is fermented in steel vats and undergoes 15 days of maceration. It ages for 24 months in all French oak barrique casks plus 6 additional months in bottle. Sassicaia is a wine that is meant for aging and in my view it should not be enjoyed before at least 5/7 years after its vintage year.

The 2010 vintage that I tasted was already mind-blowing: the nose was very intense with a symphony of black cherries, blackberries, cocoa, licorice, coffee, sandalwood and leather. In the mouth it is still a bit “separate” in its core elements, which need time to fully assemble and integrate, but it already showed glimpses of how spectacular a wine it will be for those who can wait: full-bodied, with plenty of structure and tannins that are already supple, intense mouth flavors and good acidity, topped off by a long finish. Perfect to be cellared and forgotten for a few years and then enjoyed the way it deserves.

Rating: Outstanding Outstanding – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido's wine bar/store

That’s all for today: until the next post, which will feature my interview to Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta.

Italy, Bolgheri: One of the buidings in the Tenuta San Guido estate

Wine Review: Coppo, Monferrato “Alterego” 2007 DOC

Disclaimer: this review is of a sample that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review 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 wine are my own.

Our overview of the wines in the Coppo range that are imported into the US continues on with the review of a wine that “on paper” had piqued my interest because of its unusual blend: enter the Alterego, a 60/40 Cabernet Sauvignon/Barbera blend.

The Bottom Line

Overall, Coppo, Monferrato “Alterego” 2007 DOC ($35) was a good, pleasant to drink wine, a good match to red meat, game or meat-based pasta. Ideally, I wish its bouquet were a little more intense on the nose, but the aromas (if a little muted) are certainly pleasant. Also, it is a nicely balanced wine, where its ABV, acidity and tamed tannins exhibit an enjoyable equilibrium.

Rating: Good and Recommended Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grapes and the Appellation

1. Barbera: You may find all relevat information regarding Barbera as a grape variety on the “Barbera” entry of our Grape Variety Archive.

2. Cabernet Sauvignon: Regarding worldwide famous Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a black-berried variety that originates from the Gironde region in south-west France. The oldest documented reference to it (under the name “Petit Cabernet”) dates back to the second half of the XVIII century.

DNA profiling showed that Cabernet Sauvignon originated as a (probably spontaneous) cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. In the XX century, there happened two genetic mutations of Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia that produced in one case pinky bronzed berries (now known as Malian) and in the other case white berries (now known as Shalistin).

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes make deep colored, concentrated and tannic wines, apt for long-term aging. Beside its native Bordeaux region, where Cabernet Sauvignon plays a key role in Bordeaux blends, it is a variety that has been planted extensively around the world and that (along with Merlot and Chardonnay) has become the epitome of the international varieties.

(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)

3. Monferrato DOC: Finally, the appellation Monferrato DOC was created in 1994 and it stretches across a fairly large territory near the towns of Alessandria and Asti, in Italy’s Piemonte region. Monferrato DOC is a loosely regulated appellation as regards grape varieties, in that the wines may be made out of any of the grape varieties that applicable regulations permit to grow in the Piemonte region, with the only exception of aromatic varieties that are not allowed.

About the Producer and the Estate

You may find information regarding the producer, Coppo, and the estate in the first post of this series of reviews of the Coppo lineup.

Our Detailed Review

The wine we are going to review today, Coppo, Monferrato “Alterego” 2007 DOC, is the only red blend in the Coppo lineup: it has 14% ABV and retails in the US for about $35.

Alterego is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and 40% Barbera grapes grown in the estate vineyards around the town of Canelli, in Piemonte’s Monferrato district. The wine is fermented for about 10 days in stainless steel vats, goes through malolactic fermentation and is aged in new French oak barrels for 12 months.

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, Alterego poured ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was moderately intense, moderately complex and fine, with aromas of blackberry, plum, tobacco, cocoa and black pepper.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, tannic (with noticeable but well integrated tannins) and tasty. It was full-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of wild berries, plum, dark chocolate and black pepper. It had a medium finish and its evolutionary state was ready (i.e., absolutely fine to drink right away, but probably even better if you let it rest a couple more years in your cellar).

Wine Review: Planeta, Syrah Sicilia Rosso IGT 2007

Planeta, Syrah Sicilia Rosso IGTToday’s review is of a Sicilian varietal Syrah made by excellent Sicilian winemakers Planeta.

As usual, let’s first provide a brief overview of the Syrah grape variety.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I loved this Sicilian take of an international grape variety! PlanetaSyrah Sicilia Rosso IGT 2007 ($35) was a luscious red, with an elegant bouquet, interestingly devoid of those animal fur notes that Syrah from other geographic regions may exhibit. Despite its muscular ABV, the wine was wonderfully balanced and offered supple tannins counterbalancing its silky smoothness. Its rich, pleasant mouth flavors completed the picture.

Rating: Very Good and definitely Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

Syrah is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the northern Rhone region of France, where it was first mentioned in a document dating back to 1781 under the name “Sira de l’Hermitage“.

DNA analysis proved that Syrah is a natural cross between Mondeuse Blanche (a Savoie variety) and Dureza (an Ardeche variety) that probably took place in the Rhone-Alps region.

Syrah has historically been mostly grown in the Rhone Valley in France and in Australia under the name Shiraz, although recently its planting has become more widespread (as in the case of the Sicilian Syrah that we are going to review) as a result of an increasing popularity of its wines.

(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 Estate

Planeta’s Syrah is made out of grapes coming from the 42 HA Maroccoli vineyard situated at 450 mt/1,475 ft above sea level within Planeta’s Ulmo estate, located near the town of Sambuca di Sicilia (Agrigento), on the western coast of Sicily. The Maroccoli vineyard density is 5,000 vines/HA.

Ulmo is the first and the oldest among Planeta’s current estates: it became operational in 1995, along with its winery, and it encompasses some 93 HA of vineyards (including Maroccoli) where Chardonnay, Merlot, Grecanico, Nero d’Avola and of course Syrah are grown in different crus.

Our Detailed Review

The PlanetaSyrah Sicilia Rosso IGT 2007 that I had was a red wine made from 100% Syrah grapes grown in the Maroccoli vineyard and had 14.5% ABV. It is available in the US where it retails for about $35.

The wine fermented in steel vats for 12 days at 25C/77F and aged 12 months in French oak barrique casks, 1/3 of which were new and the remaining 2/3 previously used ones. As you may know, the reason for using barrels that had already been used before is to limit the interference of the oak with the organoleptic profile of the wine, so that the tertiary aromas developed during the barrique aging period do not overwhelm but rather coherently complement the fruity secondary aromas developed by the wine in the fermentation phase.

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 viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, moderately complex and fine, with aromas of black cherry, plum, tobacco, soil and leather.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was moderately acidictannic and tasty. It was full-bodied and perfectly balanced. Its mouth flavors were intense and fine, with notes of black cherry, dark chocolate, sweet tobacco and black pepper. Its tannins were supple and masterfully integrated. The wine had a long finish and its evolutionary state was in my view approaching its maturity, meaning the peak in terms of its potential (in other words, for best results enjoy it now or in the next year or so).

Chronicle of a French Wine Country Trip: Saint Emilion

Saint Emilion
: View of the town

Saint Emilion: the bell tower of the Monolithic Church

Francesca and I have recently spent a few days in France, at Saint Emilion, in the heart of one of the most renowned among the Bordeaux wine districts and appellations. There we have enjoyed the courteous hospitality of a fellow blogger (more on that later, on a dedicated post), the culture and the beauty of those places, a lot of good food and wine and of course the magic of the Bordeaux wine country and its multitude of Chateaux.

This post is the first in a series that will take you with us, if only virtually, to visit Saint Emilion and its surroundings and discover some of the attractions that such area has to offer.

Saint Emilion: The Monolithic Church and its bell tower

Saint Emilion: 
La Porte de la Cadene (the Door of the Chain)

We will start by showing you the town of Saint Emilion and telling you something about its rich history on this post, then on future posts we will show you one of its churches, we will talk about the wine country and the Saint Emilion wine classification system, we will take you to a beautiful nearby village and to a full-blown visit of our gracious host’s residence, we will make you visit a lively food market, we will take you food and wine shopping in Saint Emilion, and of course we will visit a few Chateaux and talk about their wines… Yes, it will be a fairly extensive trip, but don’t worry, we will take a break here and there with posts on different subjects, but we think it will be worth your time! 😉

Saint Emilion: 
La Maison du Vin and the bell tower of the Monolithic Church

Saint Emilion: The bell tower of the Monolithic Church

Now, without further ado let’s talk a bit about the town of Saint Emilion.

Saint Emilion is a beautiful, elegant small town located in the Libournais area, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, not far from Bordeaux. Saint Emilion’s long history goes back to the Roman times, and precisely to the IV century when the Roman ruler Decimus Magnus Ausonius (after whom the famous Chateau Ausone, one of the four Premier Grand Cru Classé “A” wineries, was named) erected a property there, where he eventually retired. Incidentally, it was the Romans who got the long-standing Saint Emilion wine tradition started by introducing viticulture to the region.

The beauty of the Saint Emilion landscape and its wine-making history have won the area UNESCO status of World Heritage Site for its being an “outstanding example of an historic vineyard landscape that has survived intact and in activity to the present day”.

Saint Emilion: Les Grandes Murailles (the Big Wall) and the vineyards of Chateau Les Grandes Murailles

Saint Emilion: 
a "tertre" (steep alley) and a pastry shop

Saint Emilion is a town of steep alleys known as “tertres, winding narrow streets, pleasant squares dotted by bistros as well as several food and wine stores, beautiful Medieval buildings and ancient churches built in the yellowish local limestone, and hectares and hectares of lush vineyards.

Probably the focal point of the town revolves around the central Place de l’Eglise Monolithe: this square borrows its name from the homonymous Monolithic Church, the largest underground church in Europe, that was dug out of Saint Emilion’s limestone rock walls by Benedictine monks between the IX and the XII century. The Monolithic Church’s finely sculpted portal dates back to the XIV century and presents scenes inspired by the Last Judgment and the resurrection.

Saint Emilion: 
ancient buildings in town

Saint Emilion: detail of the Place de l'Eglise Monolithe and portal of the Monolithic ChurchUnderneath the Monolithic Church lie the Benedictine catacombs and the Hermitage, an underground cave where Saint Emilion himself (an VIII century Benidctine monk called Emilian, who became the town’s patron saint) is believed to have spent the last years of his life, from 750 to 767. There visitors can see an underground spring that was used for baptismal water, a bed and meditation seat both carved in rock, and graffiti reportedly dating back to the French Revolution. Above the Monolithic Church stands an imposing 53 mt/174 ft tall bell tower that was built between the XII and the XV century, while to the side of the church is the XIII century Chapelle de la Trinité (Trinity Chapel) hosting well preserved frescoes on the walls of its apse.

Saint Emilion: The Eglise Collegiale and the bell tower of the Monolithic Church

Saint Emilion: La Maison de la Cadene (House of the Chain) and la Porte de la Cadene (Door of the Chain)The inside of the Monolithic Church and the complex comprising the catacombs, the Hermitage and the Trinity Chapel can only be accessed and visited through a guided tour operated by the tourist office and, unfortunately, photography is not permitted anywhere within the complex – so here you will only be able to see images of the outside of the complex.

Other notable monuments in Saint Emilion are the Romanesque Eglise Collegiale (Collegiate Church) and its XIV century cloister (this will be the subject of another post), the complex of the Maison de la Cadene and the Porte de la Cadene (House of the Chain and Door of the Chain) located at the top of a steep tertre and dating back to the XVI century, and Les Grandes Murailles (the Big Wall) which are the last remains of what used to be a XIII century Benedictine monastery that collapsed for the most part and are now immersed in the vineyards of the homonymous Chateau Les Grandes Murailles, one of the 63 Grand Cru Classé wineries in the Saint Emilion wine classification.

Saint Emilion: 
elegant building in Rue des Ecoles

Saint Emilion: the bell tower of the Monolithic ChurchTypical of Saint Emilion are also several pastry shops selling two local specialties: the Macarons (delicious almond-based cookies) and the Canelé (small, chewy sweets with a caramelized sugar outside and a core of rum-infused custard).

Enough for today: I hope you enjoyed this first stop in our Saint Emilion trip and our general overview of the town – stay tuned for the next chapters of our chronicle! 🙂

Saint Emilion: Restaurant tables at Place de l'Eglise Monolithe

Wine Review: The Barbera Trilogy #3 – Coppo, Barbera d’Asti “Pomorosso” 2006 DOCG

Coppo, Barbera d'Asti "Pomorosso" DOCG For the epilogue of our “Barbera Trilogy” series, I am going to readapt here my review of the Pomorosso that I published a while ago.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I found CoppoBarbera d’Asti “Pomorosso” 2006 DOCG ($60) to be one of the best Barbera’s that I have had so far, a wine that is a pleasure to drink and savor sip after sip – a perfect companion for a red meat dinner.

Rating: Outstanding and definitely Recommended Outstanding – $$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape and the Appellations

You may find all relevat information regarding Barbera as a grape variety and the four appellations in Piemonte where Barbera is the main grape variety on the “Barbera” entry of our Grape Variety Archive.

About the Producer and the Estate

You may find information regarding the producer, Coppo, and the estate in the first post of this series of reviews of the Coppo lineup.

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review today is Coppo, Barbera d’Asti “Pomorosso” 2006 DOCG.

The Pomorosso is the flagship varietal Barbera in the Coppo offering (which, as we have seen in previous posts, includes two less structured, less expensive alternatives: L’Avvocata and Camp du Rouss).

It is definitely a complex Barbera: it is made out of 100% Barbera grapes grown in selected vineyards of the 56 HA Coppo estate located in the surroundings of the town of Canelli, near Asti (Piemonte). The Pomorosso 2006 had 13.5% ABV, was fermented and macerated in stainless steel vats for 12 days at 28-30C/82-86F, went through full malolactic fermentation and aged for 14 months in all new French oak barrique casks. In the U.S. it has a suggested retail price of $70, but its street price is generally around $55-60.

Let me say outright that the Pomorosso is a great, structured red wine, that is suitable for several years of aging (the 2006 vintage that I had was a symphony of aromas, flavors and balance). But let’s now move on to the technical wine tasting.

As usual, 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 2006 Pomorosso poured ruby red and viscous.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine with a sequence of aromas of violet, plums, blueberries, cherries, tobacco and chocolate.

In the mouth, the Pomorosso was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, tannic and tasty. It was a full-bodied, perfectly balanced wine and its mouth flavors were intense and fine, showing good correlation with its bouquet as well as a perfect integration of the oaky notes released by its barrique aging. Its tannins, although very discernible, were also equally gentle and supple, with their delicate astringency counterbalancing the wine’s lively acidity. The Pomorosso had a long finish, with its flavors pleasantly lingering in the mouth for a very long time. Its evolutionary state in my view was mature, meaning that, with 7 years of aging under its belt, it was at or approaching its peak in terms of quality, making me think that additional aging, while certainly possible, would not likely improve its quality any further.

Wine Review: The Barbera Trilogy #2 – Coppo, Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” 2009 DOCG

Disclaimer: this review is of a sample that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review 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 wine are my own.

In this second post of the “Barbera Trilogy” we will review Coppo‘s mid-range Barbera, “Camp du Rouss”, a fancy name which, in the dialect of Piemonte, means “field of the red-headed”(!) – apparently, the reason for the name is that the previous owner of the vineyard where the grapes for this wine are grown was a red-headed man.

The Bottom Line

Overall, CoppoBarbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” 2009 DOCG ($23) was a good, muscular Barbera, with a nice balance between its secondary, fruity aromas and the tertiary, spicy ones as well as an appealing price. It makes a good complement for red meat dishes. As a matter of personal preference, while I liked the Camp du Rouss, I liked L’Avvocata a tad better, because of the slightly lower ABV and more delicate tannins. But again, this is just a question of personal taste and YMMV! 😉

Rating: Good and Recommended, considering its good QPR Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape and the Appellation

You may find all relevat information regarding Barbera as a grape variety and the four appellations in Piemonte where Barbera is the main grape variety on the “Barbera” entry of our Grape Variety Archive.

About the Producer and the Estate

You may find information regarding the producer, Coppo, and the estate in the first post of this series of reviews of the Coppo lineup.

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review today is CoppoBarbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” 2009 DOCG.

It has a muscular 14.5% ABV and is fermented for 14 days in stainless steel vats, before going through full malolactic fermentation. It then ages for 12 months in French oak barrique casks, 80% previously used ones and 20% new ones. The reason for utilizing used barriques is to limit the interference of the oak with the organoleptic profile of the wine, so that the tertiary aromas developed during the barrique aging period do not overwhelm but rather complement the fruity secondary aromas developed during the fermentation phase. The wine finally ages for an additional 12 months in-bottle before being released for sale. In the U.S., it retails for about $23.

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 Camp du Rouss poured ruby red and unsurprisingly thick when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intensequite complex and fine, with aromas of red cherries, raspberries, leather, and cigar box.

In the mouth, the wine was drywarm (you can distinctly feel the “heath” of its ABV on your palate!) and smoothfreshtannic (with firm but not harsh tannins) and tasty. It was full-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of wild cherries and black pepper. The finish was quite long and the evolutionary state ready (i.e., fine to drink right away, but likely better if you let it rest 2/3 more years in your cellar).