Tag Archives: DOC

Wine Review: St. Michael-Eppan, AA Sauvignon “Sanct Valentin” DOC 2013

St. Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Sauvignon "Sanct Valentin" DOC Image courtesy of St. Michael-Eppan

 

 

Looking for a special wine for Valentine’s Day? Here is one to consider, a delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Italy’s northeast region of Alto Adige: St. Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Sauvignon “Sanct Valentin” DOC 2013.

Check out our full review and… Happy Valentine’s Day! 🙂

Flora's Table

St. Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Sauvignon "Sanct Valentin" DOC Image courtesy of St. Michael-Eppan St. Michael-Eppan, AA Sauvignon “Sanct Valentin” DOC
Image courtesy of St. Michael-Eppan

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, there is just no other wine that comes to mind than St. Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Sauvignon “Sanct Valentin” DOC 2013 ($34) 😉 So, that is the wine that we are going to review today.

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all! 😉

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Sauvignon Sanct Valentin was very good: it had an expressive bouquet with tertiary aromas well under control (thanks to its being aged mostly in stainless steel) and a great, coherent mouthfeel, where its high ABV and gentle smoothness were perfectly balanced by its intense sapidity and zippy acidity.

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape Variety and the Appellation

Sauvignon Blanc is a white-berried grape variety originating from France.

Recent DNA analysis has identified a

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Wine Review: I Borboni, Asprinio di Aversa “Vite Maritata” DOC 2011

Today’s wine is a very particular, small production Italian white wine from a little known appellation in the Campania region, namely I BorboniAsprinio di Aversa “Vite Maritata” DOC 2011 ($21).

The Bottom Line

I Borboni, Asprinio di Aversa "Vite Maritata" DOCOverall, the I Borboni Asprinio was a good to very good white wine from an appellation that is not widely known, with a good QPR. It had a very good nose, if not too complex, with nice citrus and flowery aromas and hints of herbs. In the mouth its crisp acidity was all the way to the top of the scale and it went hand in hand with a marked, pleasant sapidity, both of which were very nicely balanced by the wine’s creamy smoothness. I Borboni’s Asprinio is a solid, good-priced option to consider for a warm Spring or Summer day, either by itself or paired to a seafood pasta or Francesca’s asparagus and pea flan.

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

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape Variety and the Appellation

While Asprinio has for a long time been considered an autonomous grape variety (and still is by many today), DNA profiling has recently showed that Asprinio is actually exactly the same variety as Greco, which in turn is close to Aleatico. Greco is a white-berried grape variety that is mostly cultivated in Southern Italy, particularly in the Campania region.

If probably the best known appellation for Greco-based wines is Greco di Tufo DOCG near the town of Avellino in Campania, “the” appellation for Asprinio wine is Aversa DOC (also known as “Asprinio di Aversa DOC”) which was created in 1993 and encompasses an area, always in the Campania region, near the town of Aversa and the city of Naples, requiring the use of a minimum of 85% of Greco (locally known as Asprinio) grapes.

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

Harvesting Asprinio di Aversa (AKA Greco) Grapes Image Courtesy of the Town of Aversa

Harvesting Asprinio di Aversa (AKA Greco) Grapes
Image Courtesy of the Town of Aversa

The word Asprinio is a variant of the Italian word “aspro” which means “sour” due to the high acidity that is typical of the wines made in this appellation. Based on the ISA wine pairing guidelines, this makes it the perfect wine to pair with dishes with considerable latent sweetness (please refer to my post about wine pairing guidelines for a more detailed explanation).

Another distinctive feature of the Asprinio di Aversa DOC appellation is the traditional way to grow the local ungrafted grapevines, where tall trees serve as natural trellis, resulting in vines that climb up to 82 ft (25 mt) high and require the use of very tall ladders to harvest the top grapes – the photograph to the right illustrates this singular grapevine growing method which is also known as “vite maritata” (literally, “married grapevine”).

About the Producer and the Estate

The winery that makes the Asprinio that we are reviewing (I Borboni) as well as their vineyards are located in the town of Lusciano, near Caserta, in Southern Italy’s Campania region and have been owned by the Numeroso family since the early 1900’s.

There, the Asprinio is still fermented and briefly aged in a winery that was built in a cave 43 ft (13 mt) deep into the ground, right underneath the owners’ family house. This provides an ideal environment for making and preserving the wine, ensuring even temperature, coolness and dampness throughout the year.

Our Detailed Review

I BorboniAsprinio di Aversa “Vite Maritata” DOC 2011 was 12% ABV and it fermented for 15 days in stainless steel vats, where it then aged for 6 months, plus an additional month in bottle. A minor gripe that I have is that the bottle comes with a silicon closure, which I just find cheap and unbecoming of a good wine… but maybe that’s just me. 😉 It retails in the U.S. for about $21.

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

In the glass, the wine was a lush golden yellow in color and moderately viscous.

On the nose, it was moderately intense (bear in mind that this wine really opens up when it is not too chilled: for me, it peaked at 58 F/14.5 C) and moderately complex, with fine aromas of citrus, orange blossoms, orange zest, butter and herbs.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, had medium ABV and was smooth; it was acidic and tastymedium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine flavors of citrus, orange, minerals and brine, with very accentuated sapidity and a medium finish. In its life cycle, the wine was mature, meaning drink now, do not hold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

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

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

About the Appellation

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

Our Detailed Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

Rating: Outstanding and Recommended Outstanding – $$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

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

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

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

About the Appellation

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

Our Detailed Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s History

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


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s stunning tasting room

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s Wine Tasting

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

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

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

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

Rating: Good Good

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

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

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

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

Rating: Very Good Very Good

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

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

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

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

Rating: Spectacular Spectacular

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

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

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

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

Rating: Spectacular Spectacular

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

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

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

About the Grape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Producer and the Estate

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

Our Reviews

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

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

1. Coppo, Chardonnay “Monteriolo” ($60)

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

1.1 The Bottom Line

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

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

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

1.2 Detailed Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.1 The Bottom Line

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

Rating: Fairly Good Fairly Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2.2 Detailed Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Maker: An Interview with “Mr Sassicaia”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards and olive trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards ready for harvesting

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

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

Italy, Bolgheri: Sassicaia French oak barrique cask

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

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

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

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

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards and cypress trees

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

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

A New Column: Meet the Maker

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

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

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido

About the Estate: Tenuta San Guido

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Appellation

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

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

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards in the Bolgheri DOC appellation

Our Tasting Notes

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

1. Le Difese 2011 ($35):

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

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

Rating: Good Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. Guidalberto 2011 ($40):

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

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

Rating: Very Good Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

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

3. Sassicaia 2010 ($155):

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

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

Rating: Outstanding Outstanding – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

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

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

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

Wine Review: Coppo, Monferrato “Alterego” 2007 DOC

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

Rating: Good and Recommended Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grapes and the Appellation

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Producer and the Estate

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

Our Detailed Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

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

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

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

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

About the Appellation

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

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

About the Estate

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

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

Our Detailed Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Review: Donnafugat​a, Contessa Entellina Bianco “Chiarandà” 2009 DOC

Donnafugata, Contessa Entellina Bianco "Chiarandà" 2009 DOCOn a previous post over at Flora’s Table, we have talked about how Chardonnay is successfully grown in various regions throughout Italy, literally from Valle d’Aosta in the north to Sicily in the south, and how several Italian wineries make some excellent wines from such a widely cultivated international variety.

Very broadly speaking, I have to say I rather review and promote wines made out of Italian indigenous grape varieties, essentially because they differentiate themselves from the ubiquitous international varieties, because there are many excellent ones and because, by so doing, I think I am giving my small contribution to preserve biodiversity also in the vineyard (a wine world populated only by Chardonnays, Sauvignons, Pinots and Merlots would be a pretty boring one, if you ask me!) and to make certain Italian wines better known outside of Italy.

However, it is undeniable that certain international varieties have been successfully grown in Italy and that excellent, elegant wines are made out of such grapes which oftentimes are not very well known to the general public.

So today’s review is of a Sicilian Chardonnay that I very much like and that illustrates the point that Chardonnay is an extremely versatile variety that can give excellent results even in warmer climates like Sicily’s.

The wine I am talking about is Donnafugata‘s Contessa Entellina Bianco “Chiarandà” DOC 2009 ($35).

The Bottom Line

Overall, I very much enjoyed the Chiarandà, which I found to be a very elegant and “clean” Chardonnay, in which its oaky notes are not dominant but rather very well integrated such that they add to (instead of overwhelm) its pleasantly fruity and mineral flavor palette.

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

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Producer and the Wine

Founded in 1983, Donnafugata is one of the top Sicilian wineries that contributed to the “Sicilian wine revolution” by contributing passion, investments and professionalism to raise the profile of Sicilian winemaking and produce top quality wines.

Their Chiarandà is a 100% Chardonnay wine made from the grapes grown in Donnafugata’s vineyards in a hilly region of the Contessa Entellina DOC appellation near the homonymous town (about halfway between Marsala and Palermo), in the western part of Sicily, at an altitude between 200 and 600 mt (650 to 1,950 ft) above sea level. The vineyards from which Chiarandà is made achieve an excellent density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA and the vine training system used is spurred cordon.

The wine has 13% ABV and is fermented in stainless steel vats and then undergoes 6 months of aging on its lees in a mix of concrete and oak vessels of various sizes plus 24 additional months of in-bottle fining. Given its lively acidity (see, tasting notes below) it is a wine with great aging potential, in the 10 year range. In the US, the Chiarandà retails for about $35.

Our Detailed Review

Let’s now get down to the actual review of the 2009 Chiarandà that I had. As usual, I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, it is a beautiful golden yellow in color, and thick when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet is intense, fine and definitely complex, with an array of enticing aromas of peach, tangerine, butter, vanilla, herbs (sage), mineral and iodine notes.

In the mouth, the wine is dry, warm, smooth; with lively acidity and pronounced minerality. It is medium to full-bodied with good structure and very balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors reminiscent of its aromatic palette and a long finish, with those flavors pleasantly lingering in the mouth long after gulping down a sip. Its evolutionary state was ready (meaning, fine to drink now, but can take two or three more years of aging without compromising its qualities).

As usual, if you have tasted Chiarandà before, let me know how you liked it.

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 GuidoBolgheri 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 – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Before we get into the details of that almost mystic 🙂 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 “table wines” and more recently as IGT wines (a more loosely regulated Italian appellation) in spite of their quality and substantial price tags. The “grandfather” 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 Wine Review Valentine: St Michael Eppan, Alto Adige Pinot Grigio “Sanct Valentin” 2010 DOC

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

The Bottom Line

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

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

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

Our Detailed Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sanct Valentin, everybody! 😉

An Unusual Italian Red Wine: Tintilia del Molise DOC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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