Tag Archives: 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…

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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…

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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

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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…

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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…

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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:…

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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…

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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

Nikon D800 & Action Photography: a Swiss Army Knife?

USA, Nantucket (MA)‚Ä® Kite surfer on a windy day

Nikon D800, Nikkor AF-S 70-200 f/2.8G VR II; 1/1600 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 250

After my previous post about how to effectively customize a Nikon D800 so as to make it work the way you want/need, a question from a reader prompted me to write again about the D800 and explain why I think that, if properly configured, the D800 is a dream camera (at least in the Nikon camp) and a star performer not only for photographing still subjects but also action.

Let’s start from a few basic facts: the D800 has a so-called “FX” format full-frame CMOS sensor, capable of recording images at the stunning resolution of 36MP in the traditional 35mm format of 24×36. At this resolution, the D800 resolves much more detail than any “legacy” 35mm film-based camera and approaches medium-format territory. The flip side of such phenomenal resolution is that, given the¬†huge amount of data that the camera needs to move from the sensor to the flash card, at maximum resolution the D800 achieves a relatively slow continuous shooting speed of 4 FPS (frames per second). In addition, if you are shooting NEF (i.e., RAW files – which I think you should for the reasons explained on¬†a previous post), even with a fast CF card the buffer would fill after about 17 consecutive shots (using the “14-bit lossless compressed” NEF setting).

While of course the above limitations are not a concern if/when you shoot stationary subjects, they will most likely get in the way if you plan to also use your D800 to shoot action.

USA, Nantucket (MA) 
Kite surfer on a windy day

Nikon D800, Nikkor AF-S 70-200 f/2.8G VR II; 1/1600 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 250

So, is all hope lost and do¬†you need to resign yourself (as many have lamented on the World Wide Web) to choose the D800 if you shoot landscapes/portraiture/architecture OR the D4 if you shoot sports or active wildlife?…

The short answer is: not really.

Let me explain why. Your D800 could be compared to a Swiss Army knife: if you have the corkscrew tool out, your versatile knife will let you pop a bottle nice and easy, but will it be as effective a tool to, say, cut an unplugged electrical wire? Of course not: to do that you will have to switch to the appropriate tool for the job, a blade.

Much the same way, Nikon engineers did not pack all that unbelievable technology in the D800 for no reason: you need to configure your camera so as to maximize its capabilities of shooting action.

USA, Nantucket (MA) 
Windsurfer on a windy day

Nikon D800, Nikkor AF-S 70-200 f/2.8G VR II; 1/1600 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 200

Let’s see what I think you should do:

  1. Set the AF Mode to AF-C (Continuous Servo AF) and the Release Mode to CH (Continuous Shooting – High Speed)
    *
  2. If you shoot NEF (as you should), set your compression to “14-bit Lossless Compressed”
    *
  3. Set the Image Area function to the DX (24×16) format
    *
  4. Use a fast CF (or SD) Card! For best results, get an UDMA 7 card, such as Lexar Professional 1000x or SanDisk Extreme Pro UDMA 7
    *
  5. Purchase the optional MB-D12 external battery grip (note that the street price for it in the US is almost 50% less than what Nikon USA charges) and a D4 battery (EN-EL18) and connect them to your D800

USA, Nantucket (MA)‚Ä® Kite surfer on a windy day

Nikon D800, Nikkor AF-S 70-200 f/2.8G VR II; 1/1600 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 250

That’s it! By configuring your camera as above, you achieve the following benefits for action photography:

  • You maximize the D800 “base” 4 FPS rate, by increasing it by 50% to 6 FPS, which is adequate for most action shooting scenarios, barring only those involving extremely fast moving subjects (such as if you professionally shoot F1/NASCAR/MotoGP)
    *
  • You increase the number of images that can be saved to the buffer before this fills up by 70%, from 17 to 29, depending on how fast your memory card is
    *
  • Although by switching to the DX image format you reduce the file size from 36MP to 15MP, your image size is still going to be plenty enough to print even large photographs or to submit to agencies/magazines
    *
  • By switching to the DX image format, you get the “1.5x magnification” effect typical of such format, which effectively adds 50% to the focal length of your long lens, something desirable for most action shooters who, no matter how long¬†a lens they are shooting with, often find themselves hoping it were even longer! (A technical note: technically speaking, it is incorrect to call such effect a “magnification” as by switching to DX there is no optical difference – what happens is that the file you get is just an in-camera crop of the center portion of your full-frame FX image. But in practical terms your image, at the reduced DX size, will be very similar to the image that you would get if you used a 50% longer lens at the larger FX size)

USA, Nantucket (MA)‚Ä® Kite surfer on a windy day

Nikon D800, Nikkor AF-S 70-200 f/2.8G VR II; 1/1600 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 250

Also, the accuracy of the D800’s Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus sensor module¬†and 15 cross-type AF sensors is phenomenal – it¬†really nails down the focus on almost all images, so much so that you will soon come to realize¬†that, if you have occasional out of focus shots, in most cases it is due to operator error, not inaccurate technology!

One final note: for your convenience, you may decide to assign one of the four customizable Shooting Menu Banks available on the D800 to your action shooting settings, so that you may recall them at any time with just one click. See page 268 of the D800 User Manual for instructions how to set it up.

Now have fun and go shoot some action with your Swiss Army knife D800! ūüôā

USA, Nantucket (MA)‚Ä® Kite surfer on a windy day

Nikon D800, Nikkor AF-S 70-200 f/2.8G VR II; 1/1600 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 200

Raw Moves: Three Reasons for Shooting RAW Instead of Jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sulfites and Wine: an Inseparable Couple?

On October 17, 2012¬†I came across an interesting post¬†that appeared yesterday on Dr. Vino¬†(Tyler Colman’s excellent wine blog) regarding the legend “contains sulfites” that is required to be affixed to most bottles of wine that are sold in the U.S.

This gives me the opportunity to share some information regarding which sulfite disclosure requirements are in force in the European Union and more in general why wines contain sulfites.

Not unlike in the U.S., EU regulations (see, Article 51 of Commission Regulation (EC) 607/2009 and Article 6 of Directive 2000/13/EC) require that wine labels indicate a “contains sulfites” legend whenever a wine contains “sulphur dioxide and sulfites at concentrations of more than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/liter expressed as SO2.”

Which now leads us to briefly discuss the reasons why the addition of sulfites is an oenological practice that is generally used in the winemaking process.

Technically, sulfites are chemical compounds (anions) formed by the reaction of a sulfur dioxide molecule (SO2, which is acidic) with basic oxides or an aqueous base.

Sulfur dioxide (or SO2) is a gas that is the product of the burning of sulfur and is broadly used in winemaking as one of the main treatments of must. The purpose it serves is essentially threefold:

  • It is an antiseptic agent that fights germs and inhibits undesirable microorganisms (however, its use in the fermentation phase must be controlled because, if certain limits are exceeded, it also inhibits the yeast action);
  • It is an antioxidant which helps stabilize the original color of a wine and fights oxidation, thus helping to preserve the organoleptic characteristics of a wine;
  • In the maceration phase of the red wine making process, it facilitates the dissolution of anthocyanin pigments from the grape berry skins, which are responsible for the color of red wine.

EU legislation (see, Article 3 of Commission Regulation (EC) 606/2009) sets limits to the maximum SO2 content of wines, which shall not exceed, subject to certain exceptions:

  • 150 mg/lt for red wines; and
  • 200 mg/lt for white or ros√©¬†wines.

As such two different thresholds show, generally speaking white wines contain more SO2 than red wines. This is because in the winemaking process of the former grape skins and seeds are removed right after pressing and before fermentation, while these are retained in the fermentation of red wines. This means that polyphenols (i.e., tannins and natural pigments such as anthocyanins) that are found in grape skins and seeds and that naturally act as antioxidants only get extracted in the red wine fermentation process: hence the need to use more sulphur dioxide in the white wine fermentation process to compensate for such absence.

One thing to be aware of is that, among the exceptions to the maximum¬†SO2 limits indicated above, sweet raisin wines (including Sauternes, Barsac, Tokaji,¬†Trockenbeerenauslese, Albana di Romagna Passito, and¬†ice wines) are permitted to contain up to 400 mg/lt of sulfur dioxide, double the maximum amount permitted for¬†white/ros√©¬†wines: this leniency is justified by the high sugar content of such wines, which could trigger natural re-fermentation processes were these not inhibited by¬†SO2. So, be aware that, when you drink that kind of wines, you will likely be assuming more¬†SO2 than with “regular” wines.

One last remark: recently certain producers and organic wine makers have started marketing “no added sulfite” wines. Regardless of how you feel about this emerging trend, one should note that this does not mean that “no added sulfite” wines do not contain sulfites: it only means that none were added to the wine. All wines, in fact, contain some extent of sulfites because these are a natural byproduct of the yeasts that are used to cause the alcoholic fermentation.

Hope you found this informative: feel free to share your opinion by leaving a comment below!