Category Archives: Wine Education

An Overview of France’s Alsace AOC Appellation

On Flora’s Table, we just published an overview of France’s Alsace AOC appellation and its main grape varieties: if you are interested, go check it out! ūüôā

Flora's Table

AOC AlsaceSince I have recently received three samples of Pinot Blanc wines from Alsace which I am going to review on one of the next posts, today I am going to provide a brief overview of northeastern France’s Alsace AOC appellation in anticipation of my reviews of those three wines.

Geography and Soils of Alsace

Alsace is a region in France‚Äôs northeast, bordering with Germany and stretching some 105 miles/170 KM from north to south, encased between the Vosges Mountains to the west and the west bank of the Rhine River to the east. The region is divided into two departments: the ‚ÄúBas-Rhin‚ÄĚ to the north (near the region‚Äôs capital, Strasbourg) and the ‚ÄúHaut-Rhin‚ÄĚ to the south.

Alsace AOC Map Alsace AOC Map ‚Äď Courtesy of Wine and Vine Search (click on map to go to website)

Throughout Alsace there is a significant diversity in terms of soils, with clay…

View original post 2,129 more words

Advertisements

An Exciting Project and Powerful Tool: Italy’s DOCG Appellation Database

Check out a cool new project that just launched over at Flora’s Table: a database summarizing the main regulations of all of Italy’s top DOCG appellations broken down by region plus an explanation of the basics of the Italian appellation system!

Go take a look for yourself! ūüôā

Flora's Table

StefanoWe are pretty excited to share the news of a new wine project and powerful tool that we just rolled out on Flora’s Table: an overview of all of Italy’s 74 DOCG appellations (those that are at the top of the Italian appellation system pyramid) broken down by region.

More in detail:

  1. On the main page of our DOCG database you will find a map of Italy and its regions as well as a general explanation of the basics of the Italian appellation system; and
  2. Each regional page contains a map of such region and, for each DOCG appellation, a standardized summary of their main regulations and permitted grape varieties, most of which link to the corresponding entries in our Grape Variety Archive, which in turn illustrate the main facts and information about those varieties.

At the time of this post, the project is still a work in progress as a little more…

View original post 144 more words

An Overview of the Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation and Its Wines

Check out on Flora’s Table our overview of the Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape wine region and appellation, including its history, terroir, permitted grape varieties and winemaking practices.
Enjoy! ūüôā

Flora's Table

As a prelude to our next post in which we will temporarily leave Italy and review a French Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape wine, in this post we will provide a brief overview of the southern French wine region that goes by the same name, including its history, terroir, permitted grape varieties and winemaking practices.

In General

Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape is an area encompassing 3,200 HA of vineyards¬†that is located in the southern part of the Rh√īne Valley, in France, between the towns of Orange (to the north) and Avignon (to the south).

Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation Map Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation Map ‚Äď Courtesy of F√©d√©ration des syndicats des producteurs de Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape

Thirteen different grape varieties are authorized in the¬†Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards, with Grenache, Syrah and Mourv√®dre (the so-called ‚ÄúGSM‚Äú) being the dominating varieties, as well as the traditional core grapes in the Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape blend (see below for more information about these grape varieties). Other permitted varieties include Cinsaut

View original post 1,178 more words

Variety Show: Spotlight on Primitivo… Or Zinfandel?… Or Tribidrag?

Check out on Flora‚Äôs Table the new post in the Variety Show series, this time dealing with the tough question: are Primitivo and Zinfandel two different grape varieties or one and the same?… Or is there even more to it?…

Find out for yourself and discover in the process cool facts about their origins, history, DNA profiling, main appellations and recommended producers!

Enjoy! ūüôā

Flora's Table

StefanoToday’s grape in the limelight of our Variety Show is Primitivo, a black-berried grape variety that has sparked a long-lasting controversy as to whether it is the same variety as Zinfandel or a different one.

With the help of the precious and up-to-date scientific data from the brilliant tome Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012, this post intends to shed some light on this debate and provide an overview of the scientific evidence that settled it.

1. A Brief History of Primitivo

The earliest documented mention of Primitivo in Italy dates back to 1799 and can be found in a note of an amateur botanist from Puglia who called ‚ÄúPrimativo‚ÄĚ (from the Latin ‚Äúprimativus‚Äú, meaning ‚Äúfirst to ripen‚ÄĚ) a particularly early ripening grapevine that he found in his own vineyard.

2. How Zinfandel Made It To The USA

The introduction of Zinfandel to…

View original post 920 more words

Variety Show: Spotlight on Aglianico

Check out on Flora’s Table the new post in the Variety Show series, this time putting the Aglianico grape variety in the spotlight! Discover cool facts about its origins, DNA profiling, main appellations and recommended producers.
Enjoy! ūüôā

Flora's Table

StefanoToday’s grape variety in the spotlight is… Aglianico, together with its clone Aglianico del Vulture.

1. Aglianico’s Origins And History

Aglianico is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to Southern Italy. The earliest written evidence of this variety dates back to 1520 referring to the grapes as ‚ÄúAglianiche‚ÄĚ.

Although it is widely believed that the name ‚ÄúAglianico‚ÄĚ comes from a variant of the word ‚Äúhellenic‚ÄĚ, hinting at a Greek origin of the variety, this theory is confuted by others (including the authors of Wine Grapes) who contend that the word actually comes from the Spanish word ‚Äúllano‚ÄĚ (meaning ‚Äúplain‚ÄĚ), thus referring to Aglianico as the ‚Äúgrapes of the plain‚ÄĚ.

2. Aglianico’s DNA Profiling

DNA analysis supports the authors’ theory as Aglianico’s DNA profile does not resemble that of any of the modern Greek grape varieties, while it is similar to Aglianicone’s, a Campanian variety…

View original post 363 more words

Variety Show: Spotlight on Glera (AKA Prosecco)

FsT Variety Show: the first grape in the spotlight is Glera, also known as Prosecco. Learn some cool facts about this variety and its origins!
Enjoy! ūüôā

Flora's Table

StefanoToday’s grape in the limelight of our Variety Show is Glera, formerly known as Prosecco.

Up until recently, Prosecco was the name for three things: the wine, its main grape variety and the homonymous village near the town of Trieste (in the Italian region of Friuli) that probably gave the wine and the grape their name. Relatively easy so far.

Then in 2009, with Prosecco’s popularity and sales soaring (in 2011 the overall production of Prosecco was about 265 million bottles, 55% of which were exported), the consortium of Prosecco producers obtained an official change in the name of the grape variety, from Prosecco to Glera, so that Prosecco would only be the name of the wine (and not of the grape variety too) and could therefore be reserved for its designation of origin, thus preventing other producers from other Italian regions or other countries from…

View original post 412 more words

A New Column: Variety Show

Check out Flora’s Table new column, Variety Show, which will showcase different grape varieties from all over the world, providing cool facts and DNA profiling data!

Flora's Table

StefanoToday we are going to launch a new column called Variety Show. Each post in this series will feature a different grape variety from around the world.

Each post will contain cool facts, cutting-edge DNA profiling data¬†and ampelographic notions about a specific variety, mainly taken (of course, with the authors‚Äô kind permission) from the wonderfully informative and scientifically researched volume ‚ÄúWine Grapes‚ÄĚ authored by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012. Wine Grapes is an impressive 1,242 page long collection of detailed and up to date information about 1,368 vine varieties¬†from all over the world. Please consider¬†purchasing your own copy of¬†Wine Grapes: it will provide a ton of invaluable information about everything that you may want to know about grape varieties.

The first featured variety on our next post will be… Glera, the grape used for making Prosecco sparkling wines:…

View original post 2 more words

Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part I: A Visit to Chateau Figeac

Check out a new chapter in our Saint Emilion Chronicles saga, featuring a visit to famed Chateau Figeac and a detailed overview of their winemaking process.
Enjoy! ūüôā

Flora's Table

FRANCE, Saint Emilion‚Ä® ‚Äď Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Class√© B)

For those of you who remember our Saint Emilion series, this is its next installment: after our post on Chateau de Ferrand, today we will talk about another Chateau that¬†we visited¬†‚Äď Chateau Figeac.

On a previous post, I 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.

History

Chateau Figeac’s origins date back to the II century AD, when it comprised a Gallo-Roman villa and a large estate which were owned by the Figeacus family after whom it has been named.

By the XV century, Figeac became one of five noble houses in Saint Emilion and there is evidence that in the XVI century (when Chateau Figeac was rebuilt in a Renaissance architectural style) grapevines were grown and wine was made…

View original post 963 more words

Downoladable FsT Wine Tasting Chart!

StefanoFor the convenience of those readers who do not follow Flora’s Table, below is a post that I published on that blog today with some material that may be of interest to fellow oenophiles: a free, downloadable wine tasting chart! Keep reading if you want to know more about it.

Exactly two years ago, I had published a post on this blog providing a general overview of the Italian Sommelier Association wine tasting protocol and the steps it entails.

Over time I have kept giving some thought about wine tasting and how¬†the use of a common procedure and a common vocabulary may help¬†making different people’s tasting experiences more comparable and convey information about a wine that readers can more precisely appreciate.

As a result, I have developed a one-sheet wine tasting chart that is based on a simplified and adapted version of the Italian Sommelier Association wine tasting protocol that I have been using in the wine reviews that have been published on this blog over the last two years.

After much work, consideration and fine tuning, I am quite happy with it and I am pleased to make it available as a free download through the link below to those wine enthusiasts out there who are prepared to take a more structured and disciplined approach in their tasting experiences, want to categorize their tasting notes in a standardized format or maybe just want to have fun with a few buddy wine aficionados in a blind tasting and then compare notes.

One¬†caveat: the attached wine tasting sheet is loosely¬†inspired by¬†the wine tasting protocol of one of the several organizations out there which promote their own takes of wine tasting and its principles and¬†criteria. As such,¬†it is not intended to be the Holy Grail, the “ultimate oenophile bible” or “the one and only way to conduct a wine tasting”. Far from it. What it aims¬†to be is a¬†reasoned, structured way for non-professional wine tasters¬†to keep track of their tasting experiences¬†and organize and share their tasting notes in a standardized format.

A few words about the FsT Wine Tasting Chart:

  1. The tasting process is divided into four macro-phases: Sight, Scent, Taste and Overall
  2. Each of such macro-phases is divided into a number of steps to guide you in your tasting and assessment of the wine
  3. Those steps are organized in a progressive numerical order which should be followed during the tasting process
  4. Most of the steps only require that you check the box of the most appropriate assessment/option for the wine that you are tasting
  5. Most of the¬†assessments are structured in this way: you will find an adjective that¬†describes a quality of the wine to its fullest extent (meaning, when such quality is distinctly perceivable – for instance, “intense” in the scent analysis), and then two more choices that describe such quality in a less discernible manner by using the qualifiers “moderately” and “scarcely” (following¬†the same¬†example, a wine whose aromas are not very intense would be “moderately intense” and one with weak aromas would be “scarcely intense”)
  6. Color, Viscosity, Alcohol, Quality and Life Cycle are the only steps with four choices instead of the usual three
  7. The only open-ended, descriptive parts of the chart are those referring to the descriptors of the aromatic and taste profiles of the wine, where the taster should describe the aromas and the flavors that he or she identifies in that wine
  8. For an explanation of the meaning of the various steps, please refer to my post on the ISA wine tasting protocol

So, if you like the goal of this project and you have not had professional wine tasting training, feel free to

 Download the FsT Wine Tasting Chart

and then give it a shot the next time you taste a wine and see how you like it!

After you do, please make sure to come back here and share your comments (good or bad!), suggestions or questions about the FsT Wine Tasting Chart through the comment box below.

The FsT Wine Tasting Chart is a free download for all, but please (i)¬†refrain from using it for commercial purposes¬†without asking for our prior consent and (ii) if you want to share it via social media or your own website or blog, feel free to do so but¬†give proper credit to the author (Stefano Crosio, Flora’s Table, LLC) and the source by linking to the original post on Flora’s Table blog or to this post.

Have fun and enjoy some good wine in the process! ūüôā

#chianticool: “Not Your Grandma’s Chianti” – A Chianti Tasting in NYC

A few weeks ago I attended a¬†seminar and wine tasting event organized by the¬†Consorzio Vino Chianti¬†(a producers’¬†consortium that has been¬†promoting and controlling the quality of Chianti wine since 1927) in the posh context of the¬†Beer Garden of the¬†Standard Hotel¬†in the always cool Meatpacking District in the City That Never Sleeps. As is often the case, I went with my wine blogger friend¬†Anatoli AKA¬†Talk-A-Vino: you can read¬†his own take of this event on his blog.

Standard Hotel, NYC: The Beer Garden (courtesy of Standard Hotels)

Standard Hotel, NYC: The Beer Garden (courtesy of Standard Hotels)

Notions About Chianti

As I guess¬†everybody knows,¬†Chianti¬†is a red wine that has been made in central Italy’s region of¬†Tuscany¬†for centuries (the first documented reference to Chianti wine dates back to 1398, and by the XVII century Chianti was already exported to England). Nowadays, Chianti is made in¬†two different appellations: the smaller¬†Chianti Classico DOCG¬†and the larger¬†Chianti DOCG.¬†Both appellations were approved as DOC’s in 1967 and then upgraded to DOCG status in 1984.

The¬†Chianti Classico DOCG¬†appellation comprises a 70,000 HA territory adjacent to the cities of¬†Florence¬†and¬†Siena, namely the area surrounding the towns of¬†Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and, partly, those of¬†San Casciano Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle. This territory was identified in 1932 as “the most ancient area where Chianti wine originated”. In the map below¬†you can see the Chianti Classico DOCG territory colored in bright red¬†(the purple-red striped area within the red area indicates the even smaller, original territory¬†where Chianti was made in the period from 1716 to 1932).

The Chianti DOCG appellation comprises instead a larger territory near the cities of Arezzo, Florence, Pistoia, Pisa, Prato and Siena, which is the one contoured by the black line in the map below. The Chianti DOCG appellation also counts seven subzones (Chianti Colli Aretini; Chianti Colli Fiorentini; Chianti Colli Senesi; Chianti Colline Pisane; Chianti Montalbano; Chianti Montespertoli; and Chianti Rufina) that are color-coded as per the legend on the right side of the map.

Chianti Appellation Map

Chianti Appellation Map (courtesy of Consorzio Vino Chianti)

Chianti Classico "Black Rooster" LogoIn terms of winemaking, the Chianti Classico DOCG regulations require that wines be made from 80% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended with other permitted black-berried varieties (including indigenous Canaiolo and Colorino as well as international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) up to a maximum of 20%.

Chianti Classico DOCG minimum aging requirements are as follows:

  • Base Chianti Classico¬†wines may be released to the market not earlier than October 1 of the year following that of the vintage
  • Chianti Classico Riserva¬†wines must age for a minimum of¬†24 months, at least 3 of which in bottle
  • Chianti Classico Gran Selezione¬†wines must age for a minimum of 30¬†months, at least 3 of which in bottle

All Chianti Classico wines must bear the traditional¬†black rooster (“Gallo Nero“) logo¬†and must use cork as their closure system.

Chianti LogoChianti DOCG regulations require instead that wines be made from 70% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended with permitted white-berried varieties up to a maximum of 10% and/or permitted black-berried varieties, provided that Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon shall not exceed 15%.

Wines from the subzone Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG shall be made from 75% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended only with other black-berried varieties (no white-berried varieties allowed), provided that Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon shall not exceed 10%. To the left you can see the cool logo of Chianti DOCG wines.

The minimum aging requirements of Chianti DOCG wines are as follows:

  • Base Chianti¬†wines may be released to the market not earlier than March¬†1 of the year following that of the vintage
  • Chianti Riserva¬†wines are required to age for at least 24 months
  • “Riserva” wines from the subzones Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG or Chianti Rufina DOCG¬†must age at least 6 out of the required 24 months in wood barrels
  • “Riserva” wines from the subzone Chianti Colli Senesi¬†DOCG¬†must age at least 8 out of the required 24 months in wood barrels plus 4 months in bottle

Chianti DOCG wines may be made according to the¬†traditional¬†“governo all’uso toscano”¬†(literally, “handled the Tuscan way“) method, which entails a slow refermentation of the wine with the addition of slightly dried¬†grapes of the permitted varieties.

The top three countries Chianti DOCG wines get exported to are Germany (32%), the USA (17%) and the UK (12%).

Chianti barrels (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti barrels (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti DOCG NYC 2014: The Seminar

At the Chianti DOCG seminar,¬†six different 2010 Chianti Riserva’s¬†were presented in a guided¬†horizontal tasting:¬†three base Chianti Riserva’s, and one each from the following three subzones:¬†Chianti Rufina Riserva, Chianti Montalbano Riserva and Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva.

The Chianti Riserva wine that opened the tasting presented the opportunity for some interesting considerations. The wine was made from 80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% white-berried Trebbiano grapes and had aged for 6 months in large barrels plus 20 months in barrique casks. The nose was vinous, with aromas of cherry, red berries and hints of licorice. In the mouth, the wine was decidedly veered toward the hardness side, with over the top acidity and gritty tannins, which threw it off balance ending up in an unsatisfactory final rating Рat least to me.

The interesting point was¬†an¬†argument that ensued¬†between an elderly gentleman who¬†said that¬†he loved the wine¬†because it reminded him of the Chianti that he used to drink when he was young, in the traditional “fiasco” bottles, while a woman (with whom I wholeheartedly found myself in agreement) contended that¬†the wine was actually pretty bad¬†and totally unbalanced. This brief argument just proved to me how different and subjective tastes are, and how the assessment of a wine may reflect personal experiences.

The Consorzio Vino Chianti made the very good point that¬†today’s Chianti is not your grandmother’s Chianti, alluding to the much better quality of most of present-day Chianti versus the “fiasco-bottled Chianti” of the old days. But that gentleman at the seminar proved that old-style Chianti may still surprisingly find a few¬†admirers even in this day and age.

Fortunately for the rest of us at the seminar, the remaining wines were much better than the opening one. Among those six wines, the one that I personally liked best was the last one that was presented:

Castelvecchio,¬†Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva “Vigna La Quercia” DOCG 2010¬†($27). This is a 90%¬†Sangiovese, 10%¬†Cabernet Sauvignon¬†single-vineyard wine with 14% ABV, that was aged for 12 months in new French oak barrique casks plus¬†additional 12 months in bottle. The wine had a beautiful¬†garnet color, with¬†an¬†intense bouquet¬†of red cherries, red berries, black pepper, herbs, cocoa and hints of vanilla, offering a nice balance¬†between secondary and tertiary aromas.¬†In the mouth¬†it was very smooth, with very well integrated tannins and well controlled ABV, definitely balanced and with a good structure.¬†Its flavor profile was subtle and elegant, with intense flavors of red cherries and raspberries going hand in hand with dark chocolate notes and hints of coffee.

Rating: Very Good¬†Very Good¬†–¬†$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Cork Art (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Cork Art (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti DOCG NYC 2014: The Walk Around

The walk around¬†that concluded the event offered the opportunity to taste¬†many more exciting Chianti’s. Here below you may find¬†my tasting notes¬†of those wines that impressed me most among those that I could try:

Corbucci,¬†Chianti Riserva “Corbucci” DOCG 2009: 100% Sangiovese, aged 24 months in French oak barrique casks plus 6 months in bottle, with aromas of leather, tobacco, cherry and strawberry; smooth and balanced in the mouth, with supple tannins and a flavor profile of cherry, tobacco and cocoa¬†– Very Good¬†Very Good

La Cignozza, Chianti Riserva DOCG 2008: 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo, aged 24 months 50% in small French oak tonneau casks and 50% in large French oak barrels, with aromas of licorice, raspberry, red fruit candy and vanilla; smooth and structured in the mouth, with muscular but well integrated tannins ending up in a graceful balance РVery Good Very Good

Lanciola,¬†Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva “Lanciola” DOCG 2011: 90% Sangiovese, with aromas of barnyard, soil, leather, cherry and sandalwood; silky smooth in the mouth, with already supple tannins, full-bodied with great finesse and a flavor profile of cherry and mineral notes¬†– Very Good¬†Very Good

Pieve De’ Pitti,¬†Chianti Superiore “Cerretello” DOCG 2009¬†($17): 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Malvasia Nera, aged 6 months in cement vats and 2 months in bottle, with aromas of red berries, raspberries, licorice, Mediterranean brush; perfectly smooth and masterfully balanced in the mouth¬†– Very Good¬†Very Good

Pieve De’ Pitti,¬†Chianti Superiore “Cerretello” DOCG 2010¬†($17): 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Malvasia Nera, aged 6 months in cement vats and 2 months in bottle, with aromas of strawberries, raspberries, red fruit candy, dark chocolate fudge and¬†licorice; smooth in the mouth with supple tannins¬†– Good to Very Good¬†Good to Very Good

Emanuela Tamburini,¬†Chianti Riserva “Italo” DOCG 2010: 90% Sangiovese, aged 6 to 8 months in French oak barrique casks, with fruity aromas of violets, cherries and raspberries; ABV a little evident in the mouth, but supple tannins and a fresh flavor profile matching the secondary-dominated bouquet¬†– Good to Very Good¬†Good to Very Good

Italy (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Italy (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

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 producers, Ar.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 Рlet 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 Ros√©). 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 Рthis 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 Рwhat 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 Рour 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! ūüôā

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.

‚Ä®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) Рhere 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! ūüôā


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

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 cannel√©s) and the place we stayed at during our Saint Emilion visit, just head over there and see for yourself! ūüėČ

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 Control√©√®“).

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 Class√©s or Premiers Grands Crus¬†Class√©s, 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‚Ä®: 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 √ľber-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)

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 Рthis 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 ūüėČ 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 Р$$

(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 Р$$

(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 Р$$$$$

(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 App Review: Winery Passport

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

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

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

Screenshot5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot4

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

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

Rating: Very Good and recommended

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

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

New Resource: The Grape Variety Archive

Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012

I would like to share with you all a pretty cool new wine-related resource that just recently went live on this blog and on Flora’s Table: I am talking about a new page called Grape Variety Archive that combines alphabetically, in one centralized spot, all the information about the grape varieties of the wines that I have reviewed, so that¬†such information¬†may be easily referred to by readers.

What’s even better is that all of the grape variety information on the Grape Variety Archive has been taken from the wonderfully educational, gorgeously illustrated and scientifically researched volume ‚ÄúWine Grapes‚ÄĚ authored by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose¬†Vouillamoz,¬†Allen Lane 2012. Wine Grapes is an impressive 1,242 page long collection of detailed and up to date information about 1,368 vine varieties from all over the world. Quoting directly from the¬†Web site¬†dedicated to the book:

“Where do wine grapes come from and how are vine varieties related to each other? What is the historical background of each grape variety? Where are they grown? What sort of wines do they make? Using the most cutting-edge DNA analysis and detailing almost 1,400 distinct grape varieties, as well as myriad correct (and incorrect) synonyms, this particularly beautiful book examines viticulture, grapes and wine as never before. Here is a complete, alphabetically presented profile of all grape varieties relevant to today’s wine lover.“

I don‚Äôt think I need to say much about the authors, as if you are into wine they are all very well known, but just in case: Jancis Robinson has been a wine writer since 1975 and¬†the¬†Financial Times‚Äôs wine correspondent since 1989. Her principal occupation now is taking care of her own Web site,¬†JancisRobinson.com, which gets updated daily. Julia Harding is a linguist, an editor and a qualified Master of Wine. She is Jancis Robinson‚Äôs full-time assistant and ‚Äúassociate palate‚ÄĚ.¬†Dr Jos√© Vouillamoz¬†is a Swiss botanist and grape geneticist of international repute. He was trained in grape DNA profiling and parentage analyses in the world-famous laboratory of Professor Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis.

And speaking of the authors, I wish to take the opportunity to sincerely thank them for being so kind and generous as to grant me permission to pull together and publish the Grape Variety Archive page, which I think can become over time a great resource for gaining a quick snapshot of the various varieties that make up the wines that I review on this blog, beside giving readers an idea of the amazing wealth of information that can be found in Wine Grapes.

Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012

If you read this and are seriously into wine, I think you should definitely consider acquiring Wine Grapes as it will provide a ton of invaluable information about everything that you may want to know about grape varieties. Besides, let me tell you: Dr Vouillamoz’s DNA profiling work about all the grape varieties in the book is nothing short of unbelievable and well worth the price of the book in and of itself!

Please check our new page out and let me know what you think!

Oh, one final note: congratulations to fellow wine blogger and friend Oliver AKA The Winegetter who has been the first one to like the new page, even before its official roll out! Thank you, Oliver!¬† ūüôā

In the Name of the Grandfather: Wine Origins in the USA

StefanoThis post finds its roots in a virtual conversation that I had a while ago with fellow blogger Suzanne from the cooking blog A Pug in the Kitchen in the comment section of my post on Flora’s Table about my participation in the 2011 Vintage Port Tour in NYC.

In that context Suzanne asked me about a bottle of “Port” that someone had gifted her, a Port that was made in the United States (California), from a grape variety that is not among the over 100 grape varieties that are recommended or permitted by Portuguese regulations for the production of Port and that (literally speaking, dulcis in fundo) had some chocolate syrup added to it (ugh). The ensuing discussion prompted me to promise her that I would publish a post about what is kosher and what is not in the US in regard to the use of certain notorious foreign geographical terms associated to wine, so here we go.

In a Nutshell

The short of it is that there is good news and bad news for the American wine consumer. The good news is that since 2006 the US has had a set of rules in place to prevent the appropriation of those famous foreign wine terms by wineries in the United States; the bad news is that those same rules contain a grandfather provision to the effect that those US wineries that already marketed their wines using those restricted foreign names before 2006 are authorized to legally continue to do so as an exception to the general rule. But let’s dig a little deeper into this.

The Sad State of Affairs Pre-2006

US regulations (namely, section 5388(c) of Title 26, Internal Revenue Code, of the US Code – in short, 26 USC 5388(c)) identify certain “name[s] of geographical significance, which [are] also the designation of a class or type of wine” that “shall be treated as semi-generic” designations. These semi-generic names include such world-famous European wine names as Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Marsala, Madeira, Moselle, Port, Rhine Wine, Sauterne, Sherry, Tokay and others.

Until 2006, those US regulations permitted the appropriation of any of such names by any US winery provided that the winery disclosed on the label, next to the appropriated name, “the true place of origin of the wine” (for instance, “Russian River Valley¬†Champagne”, such as the one that was unfortunately served on the occasion of the inauguration of President Obama’s second term in office and other US Presidents before him).

In essence, by so doing US wineries were legally authorized to exploit the notoriety of those wine names that were clearly associated with specific European territories, permitted grape varieties and strictly regulated enological practices (to have an idea of what I am talking about, you may want to refer to my previous post on Champagne and other Classic Method sparkling wines) by slapping those names on the bottles of their wines and just adding the State they were made in. This prompted the birth of not only Zinfandel-made “Chocolate Port” but also such other enological creations as “Almond Flavored California Champagne“, “California Chablis” coming in 5-liter cartons reportedly made from such varieties as Thompson Seedless, Chasselas, and Burger (instead of Chardonnay), and so on.

Which begs the question: what purpose were those rules serving? Were they in the interest of the education of the US consumers or perhaps were they just meant to increase the sales of domestic wine producers by allowing them to piggy back on world famous names that had gained notoriety through centuries of know how, hard work and quality regulations? One gets to wonder, because it looks like such rules were actually promoting confusion and misinformation among most of the vast US wine consumer base without educating them about the importance of concepts such as appellations, terroir, traceability, authenticity, specific enological practices, local traditions and ultimately quality.

2006: New Dawn or Unsatisfactory Compromise?

On March 10, 2006 the US Government and the European Union executed an agreement on trade in wine (the “US/EU Wine Agreement“) pursuant to which, among other things, (i) each party recognized the other’s current winemaking practices; (ii) the US agreed to restrict the use of such semi-generic wine names in the US market to wines originating in the EU; and (iii) each party recognized certain names of origin of the other party in its own market.

As a result of the US/EU Wine Agreement, legislation was passed in the US (in the context of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act) on December 20, 2006 to amend 26 USC 5388(c) so that it would be consistent with the principles set forth in the US/EU Wine Agreement.

So, everything seemed finally to go in the right direction, with a commitment by the US Government to prohibit potentially deceptive practices such as appropriating famous foreign wine names. However, things are rarely black and white and, as they say, for every rule there is an exception: enter the grandfather clause.

Beside agreeing on banning the appropriation of such famous foreign wine names going forward, the US/EU Wine Agreement “grandfathers” (i.e., exceptionally tolerates) those same prohibited practices as long as they had already been in place in the US and approved by means of the issue of a COLA (Certificate of Label Approval) before March 10, 2006.

This exception is the reason why certain US wineries still enjoy the privilege of legally calling wines made in the United States Champagne, Port, Chablis, Chianti, Sherry and so on.

Boycotting Grandpa

From a strictly legal standpoint, I can see the reasons why the US Government had a hard time stripping wineries that had until that time been authorized to legally use those names of the right to use them anymore.

However, in practical terms, I think that creating a division in the market between those wineries that are authorized to continue a potentially deceptive practice and those that are not just because the former happened to start such practices before (or instead of) the latter is wrong because:

(i) it keeps confusing the consumers and does nothing to educate them by introducing them to the originals of some of the world’s most famous wines; and

(ii) it sounds like an unjustified penalty to all those US wineries that had “done the right thing” by refraining from following such dubious practices and building customer recognition for their own products based on their merits alone, instead of taking the shortcut of “name dropping”.

Because of the reasons mentioned above, I have personally decided not to patronize or review wines made by those US wineries that have chosen to carry on those potentially deceptive practices, although permitted under the grandfather clause of the US/EU Wine Agreement.

Wine Origins

On a final note, in 2005 the regions of Champagne (France) and Porto (Portugal) joined forces to create an organization based in Washington DC that is called The Center for Wine Origins and that aims at educating and sensitizing the US consumers and lawmakers as to the importance of the place of origin of a wine and of affording greater protection to wine place names by keeping wine labels accurate so that consumers are given a chance to make informed choices when selecting their wines. You can learn more about this initiative through the organization’s Web site, www.WineOrigins.com.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts on this subject through the comment section below.

An Overview of the 2011 Vintage Port Tour, NYC, and the Basics About Port

Last week I felt inspired by reading Anatoli’s wonderful accounts of his recent trip to Portugal on his excellent wine blog, Talk-A-Vino. Beside telling us all about the restaurants he dined at, he of course shared plenty of information about the wines he tasted over there, including of course Portugal’s world-famous fortified wine, Porto. And finally, today by total coincidence, he published a wonderful, extremely¬†thorough post on Port, with all you need to know about it – had I known in advance, I would have spared myself the work to research and write an overview of Port altogether (see below)! ūüôā¬†However, since by the time Anatoli published his post my Port write-up was all done already, I am going to publish it nonetheless, and then if you want to dig deeper into Port, please refer to Anatoli’s post of today!

Anyway, in order to remotely taste my own share of Portugal, I enthusiastically accepted the invitation to participate in the 2011 Vintage Port Tour that was held in New York City last week to offer to the press and the trade a preview tasting of Vintage Port’s latest production from the prestigious collection of brands belonging to the Symington Family.

Quoting directly from the literature that was handed to participants at check in, “the Symingtons, of Scottish, English and Portuguese descent, have been Port producers for five generations since 1882”. The Symingtons own four historic Port brands: Graham’s, Cockburn’s, Dow’s and Warre’s, plus the other three brands Quinta do Vesuvio, Smith Woodhouse and Quinta de Roriz. All such seven brands were represented at the 2011 Vintage Port Tour.

According to the brochure we were provided, the brands controlled by the Symingtons account for over one third of all premium Port and, with 965 HA (2,385 acres) of vineyards, the family is the largest vineyard owner in the Douro Valley. Also, Dow’s 2007 Vintage Port is so far the only Port in the XXI century to have been awarded a perfect 100 point score by Wine Spectator.

Before getting to the chase and telling you which ones among the Ports that I tasted at the event impressed me most, let’s take a look at a few basic facts about Port.

As we said, Port is a fortified wine, which means a wine in which the regular alcoholic fermentation process gets interrupted about half way through the conversion of the grape sugars into alcohol, CO2 and heat by the addition of a neutral grape spirit (a grape brandy). Port is made from a blend of different grape varieties, that must be included in an official list of authorized grapes that was compiled by the Portuguese government in 1940.  The main grape varieties that are used in the making of red Port are: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão.

Although at some point I will publish a post that explains the wine production process more in detail, here suffice it to say that one of the inhibitors of the yeast fermenting action is the presence in the must of alcohol in excess of about 16/17% VOL, which is why adding a spirit to a fermenting must blocks the fermentation process. The result of this addition is two-fold: on the one hand, it quite obviously increases the ABV of the resulting wine (generally, to about 19% to 21% VOL; hence the name “fortified wine”); on the other hand, by interrupting the conversion of grape sugars into alcohol, it leaves a considerable amount of residual sugar in the wine, which therefore tastes sweeter.

After being fortified, Port is moved into steel vats and/or oak or other wood casks for aging: depending on the intended type of Port, the aging process can be relatively short or even extremely long, with some of the finest Ports aging up to a century! After aging in casks, the wine gets bottled for consumption or for more in-bottle aging.

There are many different styles of Port, including White Port that is made from different, white-berried varieties. However, speaking of “regular” Port made from black-berried grape varieties, there are three main styles that are worth mentioning:

(i) Ruby: this is the most basic, simple style – it is a blend of different vintages that have aged for a relatively short period of time (generally, 3 to 6 years) in steel vats and/or wood casks and are meant for immediate consumption;

(ii) Tawny: this is a more complex, developed style of Port – it gets to age in wood casks for a very long time (essentially, 4 years or longer, with some Tawnies called Age-Designated that bear on the label an indication of how long they aged, ranging from 10 to 40 years), thus acquiring complex tertiary aromas and turning tawny in color due to the oxidation process induced by the lengthy in-cask aging;

(iii) Vintage Port: this is the king of Ports, which is made exclusively from grapes from a single vintage and only in the best years. After a minimum aging of 2 years in steel vats and/or wood casks, they are bottled unfiltered (which means that they will likely develop sediment in the bottle) and are meant for decades of in-bottle aging before being enjoyed at their best.

With all of this said, let’s now talk about my experience at the 2011 Vintage Port Tour.

The event was compact and well organized, with one table for each brand and each brand (except only Quinta de Roriz, which only had the 2011 vintage) offering for tasting both their own 2011 Vintage Port and an older vintage for comparison. In the exclusive interest of adequately covering the event, I got to taste *all* of the exhibited Vintage Ports: I know, when the going gets tough, the tough get going! ūüėČ Broadly speaking,¬†all the Ports that were showcased at the event¬†were very good, although some of them had a different style than others, clearly also because of the different aging of the older vintages made available for tasting.

Here below I will point out those that were my own personal favorites (with their approximate retail prices in the US) among the 13 Vintage Ports that I tasted, along with my tasting notes for each of them:

(1) 2011 Vintage:

Quinta de Roriz (about $60): purple in color; intense and complex aromatic palette, with a bouquet of caramel, black cherry, rose, licorice, raspberry, black pepper and tobacco; sensuous in the mouth, with intense flavors of plum, raspberry, licorice, dark chocolate, fruit candy and vanilla; warm, smooth, well balanced and long. Rating: Spectacular, with Excellent QPR Spectacular

Graham’s (about $90): purple in color; fairly complex bouquet (it needs aging to develop) of blackberry, black cherry, licorice and tobacco; wonderful in the mouth: intense, with excellent flavor-scent correspondence, plus additional flavors of dark chocolate and vanilla; warm, smooth, well balanced and very long. Rating:¬†Outstanding¬†Outstanding

Dow’s (about $80): purple in color; fairly narrow aromatic palette (it needs aging to develop) with aromas of plum, blackberry and licorice; very good in the mouth, with flavors of licorice, dark chocolate and spirited black cherry; quite warm, super smooth, balanced and quite long. Rating: Good to Very Good¬†Good to Very Good

Smith Woodhouse (about $55): purple in color; fairly narrow bouquet (it needs aging to develop) of fruit candy, licorice, ethereal notes; good corresponding mouth flavors; warm, smooth, balanced and long. Rating: Good Good

(2) Older Vintages:

Quinta do Vesuvio 1994 (about $90): garnet in color; with a not very broad and yet elegant aromatic palette of wild berries, wild strawberries, violet and chocolate; but the little bit that it lacked on the nose was more than compensated on the palate, with intense and outstanding mouth flavors of raspberry jam, licorice, tobacco and dark chocolate; warm, smooth, balanced and long. Rating: Outstanding Outstanding

Smith Woodhouse 2007 (about $55): purple in color; elegant and complex bouquet of black cherry, spirited wild cherry, raspberry, rose, tobacco, sandalwood and black pepper; wonderful in the mouth, with pleasing flavors of spirited wild cherry, dark chocolate, rhubarb, licorice and tobacco; warm, smooth and long. Rating: Outstanding, with Excellent QPR Outstanding

Dow’s 1985 (about $95): garnet in color; intense, unique and complex bouquet very focused on tertiary aromas with tobacco, gunpowder, black pepper, raisin and a hint of wild cherries; intense, luscious mouth flavors of spirited raspberry and wild cherry, Amarena Fabbri (if you guys know what I am talking about!), licorice and dark chocolate; warm, smooth, well balanced and long. Rating:¬†Outstanding¬†Outstanding

Graham’s 1980 (about $105): garnet in color with orange hints; to be honest, given its aging, I would have expected a broader aromatic palette: I picked up aromas of tobacco, black pepper, licorice, plum and wild cherry; very good and more expressive in the mouth, with flavors of raspberry candy, licorice, vanilla and spirited cherry; warm, smooth, balanced and long. Rating: Very Good¬†Very Good

Cockburn’s 2000 (about $70): ruby in color with garnet hints; intense nose with a fairly narrow bouquet of cherry, strawberry, plum and licorice; in the mouth, sweeter than the others, with pleasing flavors of licorice, vanilla, cherry jam, dark chocolate and tobacco; warm, smooth, balanced and quite long. Rating: Very Good¬†Very Good

That’s all for today. As always, let me know how you liked it in case you happened to enjoy one of the Ports that I reviewed!

European Wine Wars: after Tocai, it is the time of Prosek… and Teran

The international press, Dr Vino and several other sources all reported yesterday that, as a result of Croatia’s imminent accession to the European Union at the end of a 10-year long process, Croatian wineries will be required to stop using the name “Prosek” to identify a traditional local sweet raisin wine that has been made for centuries mainly in the Dalmatia region from local grape varieties such as BogdanuŇ°a, MaraŇ°tina,¬†Plavac mali and¬†PoŇ°ip.

The reason for the requirement is that, according to EU officials, the name of the Croatian wine is too similar to Italy’s Prosecco and therefore it might be confusing to consumers. And this in spite of Prosek and Prosecco being two very different wines, made out of different grapes (Glera for Prosecco and the Croatian grape varieties mentioned above for Prosek) and in different styles (Prosecco is mostly sparkling and is not a sweet wine, while Prosek is a still, sweet raisin wine).

Unsurprisingly, the EU requirement has caused considerable commotion in the Croatian wine world and some producers indicated that the Croatian authorities are even considering initiating a legal dispute to challenge the EU requirement.

However, the chances that Croatia be allowed to retain its right to use the name “Prosek” for their wine after joining the EU are very slim, as the case is virtually identical to the one that a few years ago prevented Italian winemakers (mostly in Veneto and Friuli) from using the word “Tocai” to identify a local dry wine that had been made for centuries from the homonymous grape variety because the name was too similar to Hungary’s Tokaji, a famous local sweet raisin wine made from Furmint grapes (for more information about the Tokaji/Tocai dispute, please refer to my previous post¬†over at Flora’s Table that dealt with it).

But, as the saying goes, bad news never comes alone, at least for Croatia, that is. Beside the Prosek debacle, Croatia has to face a claim made by neighboring Slovenia that Croatia should also be prevented from using the word “Teran” to identify a red wine that is made in Italy’s region of Friuli, in Slovenia and in Croatia from the grape variety known as Terrano or Teran in Croatia. Slovenia’s claim is based on the fact that the EU granted Slovenia a protected designation of origin for Terrano grapes grown in the Slovenian region of Kras. The European Commission very recently decided the Teran dispute in favor of Slovenia, with a decision that will likely also negatively affect Italian Terrano producers.

Even in this case, the decision gives rise to many doubts, as Terrano is a very ancient variety (the oldest references date back to 1340 in Slovenia) which originated from the Karst plateau, an area that is shared among Italy (Friuli), Slovenia and Croatia (Istria). DNA profiling has also proved that Terrano is identical to Refosco d’Istria (a Croatian variety) and Refosk in Slovenia (information on the Terrano grape variety, cit.¬†Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012).

Given the above, which side of the fray are you on?

Wine Review: Tenuta San Guido, Bolgheri Sassicaia 1995 DOC… and the History of “Super Tuscans”

Tenuta San Guido, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOCLast month, a friend of mine invited me and a common friend to dinner at his place. At the time of the main course, he showed us what he had decided to share with us: not only was it a bottle of Sassicaia, but it was a 1995 vintage!

The Bottom Line

Tenuta San Guido,¬†Bolgheri Sassicaia “Sassicaia” 1995 DOC ($150):¬†let me say it right from the outset –¬†WOW!¬†Although I had had Sassicaia before, having the opportunity to taste a bottle having 18 years of in-bottle aging under the belt was beyond fantastic.

Rating for this excellent wine: Spectacular Spectacular Р$$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Before we get into the details of that almost mystic ūüôā experience, let’s take a closer look at the notion of “Super Tuscans” and let’s delve into some history about the archetype of all Super Tuscans, that is in fact Sassicaia.

History of the “Super Tuscans”

If you pardon my quoting my own Wine Glossary, the term “Super Tuscans” indicates certain Bordeaux-style red wines that have been made in Tuscany, since the early Seventies by winemakers who wanted to experiment and veer off traditional Tuscan winemaking styles, often utilizing international grape varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah) as opposed to traditional local ones (such as Sangiovese). In order to enjoy such freedom to experiment, those winemakers produced their Super Tuscans outside the strict rules of the most prestigious Italian appellations (DOC and, more recently, DOCG), which resulted in those premium wines to be initially labeled as ‚Äútable wines‚ÄĚ and more recently as IGT wines (a more loosely regulated Italian appellation) in spite of their quality and substantial price tags. The ‚Äúgrandfather‚ÄĚ of the Super Tuscans is Sassicaia, whose notoriety and quality led to the creation in 1994 of the DOC Bolgheri which includes a Sassicaia sub-zone, thus making Sassicaia the first Super Tuscan to enjoy DOC appellation status.

Although it appears that nobody knows for sure who coined the incredibly successful moniker “Super Tuscans“, some believe that it was created by Burton Anderson, a wine reviewer who covered Italy for Wine Spectator in the 1980s. What is certain though is that it very quickly became the name by which that kind of wines were internationally identified.

As we said, the wine that started the Super Tuscans phenomenon¬†was Sassicaia. This fabled wine was created by the Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who first completed his agrarian studies in Pisa in the Twenties and then, thanks to his being a family friend of the Baron de Rothschild (the owner of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, one of Bordeaux’s Premier Crus), he had an opportunity to visit the famous estate and study the terroir where the grape vines that produced one of the world’s finest reds grew. Incisa then went on to acquire a few rootings of 50-year-old¬†Cabernet Sauvignon¬†and Cabernet Franc vines from an estate near Pisa owned by the Dukes Salviati to transplant them in 1942 at the family’s San Guido estate in Bolgheri, Tuscany.

His decision to transplant those vines in an area of Tuscany that up until then had never known any serious viticulture was due to the resemblance of the soil of that area (“Sassicaia” alludes to the Italian word “sasso” meaning stone, and seems to refer to a pebbled terrain) with that of the Graves (which in French means gravel) on the Left Bank of the Garonne river near Bordeaux, where another Premier Cru, Chateau Haut-Brion, is located.

At first, Sassicaia had not enthused the Marquis (nor his employees working the vineyards, who supposedly called the wine, with typical Tuscan coarseness, “good only for the pigs“): this convinced Incisa to keep the first “experimental” vintages of the wine for personal consumption only. However, Incisa soon realized that, after a few years of aging, that same wine that had not convinced him initially would turn into a much better wine.

This realization gave him the incentive to keep at it, making several improvements, including being the first one to import small barrique oak barrels into Italy for aging Sassicaia and cutting a deal with wine producer Antinori (Piero Antinori was Incisa’s nephew) for the future distribution of Sassicaia, as a result of which arrangements Antinori sent their well-known enologist Giacomo Tachis to the San Guido estate to work on Sassicaia. Tachis refined the blend, the wine making process and the cellaring of the wine until, in 1968, the first “official” vintage of Sassicaia hit the market with just 3,000 bottles and initially it did not really rock the wine world…

The turning point was 1974, when Luigi Veronelli, a famous Italian food and wine writer, published a rave review of the 1968 Sassicaia. International acclaim for Sassicaia came not long after that, in 1978, when during a worldwide blind tasting of 33 Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines organized in London by Decanter Magazine, the 1975 Sassicaia took the top spot, ahead of all the prestigious Bordeaux reds, thus marking the beginning of the Sassicaia success story. Later, Robert Parker awarded Sassicaia’s 1985 vintage (universally considered the best yet) a perfect 100 point score and James Suckling of Wine Spectator even compared it to the 1985 Mouton-Rothschild, admitting Sassicaia into the Olympus of the world’s best wines.

(Credits for most of the information that I researched as a basis for this Sassicaia history: Decanter; L’Acqua Buona; Sassicaia.it; and Sassicaia.com)

About the Estate, the Appellation and the Producer

For detailed information about Tenuta San Guido and the “Bolgheri Sassicaia” appellation, please refer to this post.

I would definitely recommend that you also check out this other post featuring an interesting interview with the owner of Tenuta San Guido, Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta.

Our Detailed Review

Now, on to my tasting notes for the Sassicaia 1995 that I had the pleasure of drinking! Considering the high profile of this wine, I am going to follow all of the steps of the ISA wine tasting protocol in my review (for more information, see my previous post about such protocol and its various steps).

Tenuta San Guido, Bolgheri Sassicaia “Sassicaia” 1995 DOC¬†is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, with just 12% ABV. It underwent between 14 and 18 days of maceration and malolactic fermentation. It aged 24 months in barrique casks, part new and part previously utilized. The Sassicaia 1995 vintage retails in the US at about $150.

For more information about the grape varieties Sassicaia is made from, please refer to our Grape Variety Archive.

In the glass it was clear, ruby red with garnet hints, thick.

The bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with aromas of black cherry, blackberry, sweet tobacco, cocoa, vanilla, soil and a graphite hint.

In the mouth it was dry, warm, silky smooth; quite fresh, gently tannic, quite mineral; medium-bodied, perfectly balanced, intense in its mouth flavors (with very good correlation to the bouquet), with a long finish, of excellent quality; mature and definitely harmonious.

A Horizontal Tasting of Eight 2008 French Pinot Noirs

In January I was in Milan and I attended another wine tasting event organized by the local chapter of the Italian Sommelier Association: whenever I can, I participate in these events because they are very well organized and the association often signs up producers or interesting personalities in the wine world, which make these gatherings entertaining and always educational.

This time the event revolved around an international grape variety and a wine that is the bread and butter of fellow wine blogger Jeff, AKA the drunken cyclist: if you know Jeff and follow his excellent and entertaining wine blog (and if you do not, I think you should) you know that I refer to Pinot Noir, a wine/grape variety of which Jeff is definitely an expert. On the contrary, I am no expert of Pinot Noir, although I like good Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, the US and Italy (Alto Adige) and I particularly like the grape variety in the context of a good Champagne or Classic Method sparkling wine such as a good Franciacorta. If Jeff reads this post, he may weigh in and share his thoughts on the subject.

Anyway, the guest of the event was Prof. Moio, an Italian agronomy professor who spent a few years in Burgundy (admittedly the “purest” region in the world for growing Pinot Noir) to research Pinot Noir and particularly its varietal (or primary) aromas and its fermentation and aging (AKA secondary and tertiary) aromas as well as¬†their perception by the human brain¬†from a chemical standpoint. It goes without saying that, considering the area in which it was performed, no research would ever be complete without a fair share of practical¬†testing in the field! ūüėČ

Jokes aside, he presented the findings of his chemical research which, leaving aside some very technical stuff, were pretty interesting. I will pass on just a few points that I found noteworthy (you will notice a few technical wine terms Рif in doubt, please check out our Wine Glossary):

  • As you may know, the main part in a grape berry where primary aromas reside is the skin (hence some white wine producers nowadays make their whites undergo a short maceration phase so as to maximize the extraction of terpenes, the molecules that are mainly responsible for the varietal aromas of wine)
  • The research conducted by Prof. Moio isolated four molecules that are¬†present in the skins of Pinot Noir grape berries and are responsible for the main varietal aromas of Pinot Noir: these molecules release scents reminiscent of cherries and red berries
  • The release of the aromatic molecules of wine (a specific type of esters is one of the main carriers of aromas) is faster in wines with lesser structure and conversely slower in more structured wines that have a greater dry extract: this is the chemical reason why Grands Crus (which¬†tend to be¬†more structured and therefore release aromas at a slower pace) tend to have a longer finish than generally¬†less concentrated Appellations Communales
  • The human brain categorizes those molecules that carry one single scent (for instance, pineapple) associating them with a sort of “image” to be able to recognize that same scent on future occasions; however, when¬†different molecules carrying different scents (for instance, pineapple and peach) are present at the same time (as is often the case in wine) then one of two things may happen: either the brain tells the two different scents apart correctly and associates them to the correct “mental images” or it combines the two scents together generating a third and different “mental image” (say, apricot) – according to Prof. Moio, this is why different people who sniff the same glass of wine may have different perceptions of its aromas.

But enough chemistry now, and let’s move on to the best part of the event, that was obviously the wine tasting part! What we did was a horizontal tasting of eight different Pinot Noirs of the 2008 vintage, all of which came from the Cote d’Or (the best area in Burgundy for growing Pinot Noir) and specifically four of them came from Cote de Nuits (the northern part of Cote d’Or) and the other four from Cote de Beaune (the southern part of Cote d’Or).

Clearly, this tasting had no scientific meaning, especially because different winemaking styles (and therefore the secondary and tertiary aromas that derive from the winemakers’ choices) influenced the final bouquets of the wines that we got to sample. However, it was a nice way to introduce us to certain producers and appellations and to show us a sample of Pinot Noirs coming from the two subzones of the best area in France (and admittedly the world) for that kind of wine.

Jumping to the, like I said, non-scientific conclusions of our tasting experience, it was apparent from the limited sample we got to try that, among the eight wines that we tasted, Pinot Noirs made in Cote de Beaune tended to retain more distinctly the varietal aromas of Pinot Noir compared to the wines made in Cote de Nuits where secondary/tertiary aromas of fur tended to be more evident and sometimes to overwhelm the delicate red berry varietal aromas. My personal ratings of the eight wines I tasted that night seem to by and large confirm that conclusion as the Cote de Beaune wines generally fared a little better than the Cote de Nuits ones.

Just for clarity, I am by no means implying that therefore Cote de Beaune Pinot Noirs are better than Cote de Nuits Pinot Noirs (where 24 out of 25 of the Grands Crus can be found): all I am saying is that, among those 8 wines that I tasted, I happened to personally like the Cote de Beaune Pinot Noirs a little better than their Cote de Nuits counterparts (although, as you will see, I liked the Gevrey-Chambertin Pinot Noir of the Cote de Nuits quite a bit).

To finish up this long post, these are my favorite wines among the eight 2008 Pinot Noirs that we tasted (along with their approximate prices in the US):

1.¬†Volnay, Domaine Marquis d’Angerville (Cote de Beaune) ~ $70

By far the best of the eight, at least to me, with aromas of blackcurrant, red berries, cherry, and hints of tobacco and fur. In the mouth it had good structure and it was smooth and tannic, perfectly balanced and with a long finish. Outstanding Outstanding

2.¬†Aloxe-Corton, Domaine Tollot-Beaut “Les Vercots” Premier Cru¬†(Cote de Beaune) ~$50

Nice bouquet of blackcurrant, red berries, licorice, hints of menthol. In the mouth it had good structure and concentration and it was noticeably tannic. Very Good Very Good

3. Gevrey-Chambertin, Domaine Trapet Pere et Fils (Cote de Nuits) ~$55

Nose of blackcurrant, redcurrant, fur, soil, tobacco, violet. Tannic and balanced in the mouth. Very Good Very Good

4.¬†Chambolle-Musigny, Domaine Bruno Clair “Les Veroilles” (Cote de Nuits) ~$90

In the nose this wine started very subdued and it took a while for it to open up nicely into a bouquet of blackcurrant, red berries, violet, slight hint of fur. In the mouth it had plenty of structure and concentration, along with tannins that still felt quite aggressive, suggesting that it would be best left aging a while longer. Good Good

5.¬†Chassagne-Montrachet, Domaine Bruno Colin “La Maltroie” Premier Cru¬†(Cote de Beaune) ~$75

The nose of this wine did not convince me completely, as tertiary aromas of oak and tobacco were predominant and tended to overwhelm the primary aromas of red berries. In the mouth, however, it proved to be a solid wine, smooth, tannic and with a long finish. Good Good

I will not mention the remaining three wines we tasted as honestly I was unimpressed and I would not recommend buying them.

Have you had a chance to try any of the Pinot Noirs mentioned above? If you did, what do you think about them?

An Overview of the ISA Wine Pairing Criteria

As promised a while ago to Suzanne, the gracious author of food and cooking blog apuginthekitchen, in this post I will briefly go through the core foundations of food-wine pairing, providing an overview of the main criteria conceived and recommended by the Italian Sommelier Association (ISA). This should hopefully offer readers a few guidelines that they may consider trying out the next time they will need to pair a wine with food.

Our discussion about wine pairing will utilize certain of the concepts and terminology that we have gone through in the context of our overview of the ISA wine tasting protocol: if you are not familiar with it, consider reading that post before continuing on with this one.

The first step in the wine pairing process is to assess the food you intend to pair a wine with: in so doing, you should consider (and ideally write down) which of the following characteristics are present to a noticeable extent in your food:

  • Latent sweetness (this is that sweetish feel that you perceive eating such foods as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, carrots, certain seafood such as shrimps¬†or prawns,¬†most ham, bacon, etc. – note, this is NOT the full-blown sweetness of a dessert)
  • Fatness (this refers to the presence of solid greases, such as in most¬†cheeses, salame,¬†hard-boiled egg yolk,¬†etc.)
  • Tastiness (it is given by the¬†presence of salt¬†in a food, such as for instance in most cured meats, salame or cheeses)
  • Latent bitterness (it can be found in such foods as artichokes, raw spinach, radicchio, liver, grilled¬†food, etc.)
  • Latent sourness (it is generally found in tomatoes, seafood marinated in lemon juice, salads with vinegar-based dressings,¬†etc.)
  • Sweetness (typical of a dessert, honey or most fruits)
  • Aftertaste (meaning,¬†whenever the flavor of the food tends to linger in your mouth after swallowing it – for instance, venison meat generally¬†has a longer afterstate than veal meat)
  • Spiciness (this merely indicates the moderate use of spices in the preparation of the food, it does NOT indicate a “hot” food – examples are the use of saffron, curry, pepper, vanilla, etc. in foods like cured meats, risotto, desserts…)
  • Flavor (this indicates a noticeable, distinct¬†flavor that is typical of a certain food or ingredient, such as in the case of blue cheese or goat cheese, salame, foods complemented by herbs, such as pesto sauce or butter and sage ravioli, coffee, cocoa…)
  • Juiciness (there are three types: (i) inherent, which is that of foods that have noticeable quantities of liquids in them, such as a fresh buffalo mozzarella or a meat cut cooked rare; (ii) due to the addition of liquids, such as a beef stew to which some kind of gravy or sauce was added, a brasato, etc.; and (iii) induced, which is that of salty or relatively dry foods, which cause abundant production of saliva in the mouth, such as in the case of a bit of aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese)
  • Greasiness (caused by the presence of oil¬†or other liquefied greases¬†that¬†is still noticeable in the mouth at the end of the preparation of the food, such as in a bruschetta, seafood salad, grilled sausage, etc.)
  • Structure (this depends on the complexity or the extent of elaboration of a food – for instance, a cracker with cheese¬†or a bowl of white rice¬†shall clearly be considered¬†foods with little structure, while a dish of goulash or a Sacher torte shall be considered¬†foods with significant structure)

Now, the core of the wine-food pairing criteria preached by the Italian Sommelier Association is that certain of the aforesaid qualities of a food (to the extent of course they are detectable to a noticeable extent in the food you want to identify a good wine pairing for) shall be paired by contrast with certain qualities of a wine (see below), while certain others of such food qualities shall instead be paired by association with the corresponding qualities in a wine.

Having said that, let’s now move on the second step and see specifically which qualities in a wine relate to the food qualities that we have listed above and how:

Food Quality

 

Wine Quality

(A) Pairings by Contrast

Latent sweetness ==> Acidity
     
Fatness ==> Effervescence or Minerality
     
Tastiness    

Latent bitterness

==> Smoothness

Latent sourness

   
     
Juiciness / Greasiness ==> ABV or Tannicity (by contrast)

(B) Pairings by Association

Sweetness ==> Sweetness
     
Spiciness / Flavor ==> Intensity of nose/mouth flavor
     
Aftertaste ==> Aftertaste or Finish

Wherever per the above guidelines a food quality presents an alternative in the choice of the related wine quality, structure of the food can often dictate which of the alternative wine qualities should be picked. So, for instance, in the case of the greasiness of a delicate seafood salad whose dressing is olive oil-based, the choice in the related wine quality should fall on a white wine with good ABV over a red wine with noticeable tannins, which would have a structure that would overwhelm the much simpler, more delicate structure of the seafood salad dish.

A few side notes on some “special situations“:

  • Very spicy (as in “hot”) food is very difficult to successfully pair: the best thing one can do is to pick a wine with plenty of smoothness and intensity in an effort to compensate, but if the food is too spicy, it will always overwhelm the wine
  • Particularly sour dishes are another challenge, such as in the case of salads with significant vinegar- or lemon-based dressings
  • Ice cream, gelato and sorbet are also tough pairings, because their cold nature makes taste buds even more susceptible to wine acidity, tannins or minerality – sometimes, the best bet is to pair them with a spirit (such as in the case of Granny Smith apple sorbet with Calvados or lemon sorbet with Vodka)

One last comment: the above guidelines are just that, guidelines that should offer you some pointers as to “which way to go” in your choices of which wines to pair with a certain food, but they are certainly not carved in stone, nor are they not meant to be breached now and then if you think there is good reason for it: ultimately, the bottom line is that whatever wine pairing you choose ends up being a pleasant one for your and your guests’ mouths!

Now have fun and experiment!¬† ūüôā

An Overview of the ISA Wine Tasting Protocol

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

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

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

  • Visual Analysis
  • Scent Analysis
  • Taste-Scent Analysis

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

(A) Visual Analysis

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

(B) Scent Analysis

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

(C) Taste-Scent Analysis

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

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

(i) Softness:

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

(ii) Hardness:

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

(iii) Structure:

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

(iv) Assessment:

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

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

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