Tag Archives: red

#OperaWine 2015: My Wine Tasting Notes for Central Italy

About time! Finally I managed to get the third chapter of my series about the OperaWine 2015 event in Verona published on Flora’s Table. This post includes my tasting notes for the wines from central Italy: check it out as there are a number of great wines and a couple of real gems!

For my general observations about the event and my tasting notes for Italy’s northwestern region, please refer to the first post in the series. For my tasting notes for Italy’s northeastern region, please refer to the second post in the series.

Enjoy! 🙂

Flora's Table

With some delay, here is part 3 in my series about my tasting experience at the OperaWine 2015 event in Verona last month. On this post we will focus on my tasting notes for the wines from Central Italy. As you will see, lots of winners here.

For my general notes about the event and my tasting notes for the wines from Italy’s northwestern region, please refer to the first post in this series. For my tasting notes for the wines from Italy’s northeastern region, go to the second post in this series.

1. Emilia Romagna

Ermete Medici, Gran Concerto Rosso Brut 2011Ermete Medici, “Gran Concerto” Rosso Brut 2011 ($N/A/€12): an extremely interesting Classic Method sparkling Lambrusco Salamino which matured for 30 months on its lees and was disgorged in 2014. The nose is immediately catchy with aromas of wild strawberries, raspberries, violets and fresh toast. The mouthfeel is refreshing and pleasant, smooth with…

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#OperaWine 2015: My Wine Tasting Notes for Italy’s Northeast

There we go: check out on Flora’s Table the second installment in my series of posts about the OperaWine 2015 event in Verona. This post organizes my tasting notes for the wines from Italy’s northeastern region.

For my general observations about the event or my tasting notes for Italy’s northwestern region, please refer to the first post in the series.

Enjoy! 🙂

Flora's Table

Here is part 2 in my series about my tasting experience at the OperaWine 2015 event in Verona last month. On this post we will focus on my tasting notes for the wines from Italy’s northeastern region.

For my general notes about the event and my tasting notes for the wines from Italy’s northwestern region, please refer to the first post in this series.

1. Trentino Alto Adige

Ferrari, Trento “Perlé” Brut 2006 ($34/€30): an outstanding Classic MethodBlanc de Blancs from the Trento DOC appellation expressing the delicate aromatic complexity that it developed in the five years that it spent maturing on its lees: fresh toast, roasted hazelnut, apple, white peach, honey and white blossoms. Then a creamy smooth sip that is perfectly supported by fresh acidity and tasty sapidity with matching flavors of apple, toast, roasted hazelnut and mineral notes. Outstanding Outstanding

Ferrari, Trento Perlé Brut 2006 Ferrari, Trento Perlé Brut…

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#OperaWine 2015: The Event and My Wine Tasting Notes for Italy’s Northwest

Check out on Flora’s Table the first post of my series about the outstanding OperaWine 2015 wine event in Verona, Italy, inclusive of my tasting notes. This post focuses on Italy’s NorthWest.

Enjoy! 🙂

Flora's Table

On March 21 I had the opportunity to attend OperaWine 2015, an exclusive wine tasting event that serves as the preamble to the Vinitaly event in Verona, Italy. OperaWine is jointly organized by Wine Spectator and Vinitaly and it aims at showcasing 100 of the greatest Italian wine producers selected by Wine Spectator, thus recognizing excellence in Italian wine.

OperaWine 2015 - Palazzo della Gran Guardia OperaWine 2015 – Palazzo della Gran Guardia

The event is reserved to media and trade and is much more compact than Vinitaly. OperaWine took place in the beautiful context of Verona’s Palazzo della Gran Guardia and the organization was excellent: registration was straight forward and the booths of the 100 selected producers were laid out in a logical order.

One thing the organizers deserve particular praise for is their decision to encourage selected producers to bring to the event (where appropriate depending on the wine they were…

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Wine Review: Domaine Chante Cigale, Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, 2009

Check out our latest wine review on Flora’s Table: Domaine Chante Cigale, Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, 2009 – a delicious CDP wine with a good quality to price ratio.
Enjoy! 🙂

Flora's Table

Domaine Chante Cigale, Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOCOur previous post provided a general overview of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the territory, the appellation and the main winemaking practices, so if you missed that you may want to go back and take a look at that before reading this post, which instead revolves around my review of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine that I really like: Domaine Chante Cigale, Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, 2009 ($35).

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Chante Cigale CDP 2009 that I had was a very good to outstanding wine: I was impressed both by its broad and intense bouquet of aromas (tart cherry, black currant, wild berries, violet,  cocoa, wet soil, leather, sweet tobacco, rosemary, vanilla, licorice, black pepper, forest floor and a barnyard note) and by its delicious mouthfeel, which combined fruity and spicy flavors with a smooth, balanced sip. All in all, an extremely pleasant and ready to drink wine which delivers good bang for the buck.

Rating: Very…

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An Overview of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation and Its Wines

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

Flora's Table

As a prelude to our next post in which we will temporarily leave Italy and review a French Châteauneuf-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

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an area encompassing 3,200 HA of vineyards that is located in the southern part of the Rhône Valley, in France, between the towns of Orange (to the north) and Avignon (to the south).

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation Map Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation Map – Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Thirteen different grape varieties are authorized in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards, with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (the so-called “GSM“) being the dominating varieties, as well as the traditional core grapes in the Châteauneuf-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! 🙂

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 “Aglianiche”.

Although it is widely believed that the name “Aglianico” comes from a variant of the word “hellenic”, 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 “llano” (meaning “plain”), thus referring to Aglianico as the “grapes of the plain”.

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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Wine Review: A Special Tasting – Gaja, Barbaresco DOC 1967

Read on Flora’s Table the whole story behind a special wine tasting: Gaja, Barbaresco DOC 1967! Tasting notes, grape variety information, facts about the Gaja estate and much more.
Check it out! 🙂

Flora's Table

Gaja, Barbaresco DOC 1967The wine we are going to review today was certainly quite a treat: last month, my good friend Anatoli (who pens the Talk-A-Vino wine blog) and other friends came over for dinner and I decided time was right to open a bottle that had been sitting around for a while: Gaja, Barbaresco DOC 1967.

This post tells the story of that experience. For a different take on it (plus other wines we had that night), check out Anatoli’s post on his blog.

But let’s get to it.

The Bottom Line

Overall, Gaja’s 1967 Barbaresco was a spectacular treat to taste after 48 years of aging: a true testament to the longevity and age-worthiness of a wonderful, albeit difficult, grape variety such as Nebbiolo. Even after so many years spent in the bottle, the wine was still an outstanding performer and still retained much of its fruity aromas and flavors…

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Full Report On Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC 2015 – Part III (Southern Italy and Islands)

Check out the third and last installment of my full report on the 2015 Gambero Rosso “Tre Bicchieri” wine event in New York City. Part 3 focuses on wines from Southern Italy and Italy’s main islands.
Enjoy! 🙂

Flora's Table

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2015

In this third and last chapter of my report on Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2015 NYC event, you will find my tasting notes for those producers from southern Italy and the two main islands (Sardinia and Sicily) that I enjoyed the most among those that I tasted at the event. It goes without saying that the list below is far from being complete and that there were many more very good wines at the event that are not listed on this post.

For more information about the Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2015 NYC event and my tasting notes for northern Italian producers, please refer to the first chapter of my report, while for my tasting notes for central Italian producers, please refer to the second chapter of my report.

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

1. CAMPANIA

Alois, Trebulanum 2011 ($N/A): an interesting, varietal Casavecchia

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Full Report On Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC 2015 – Part II (Central Italy)

Check out part 2 of my full report on the 2015 Gambero Rosso “Tre Bicchieri” wine event in New York City. Part 2 focuses on Central Italy’s wines.
Enjoy! 🙂

Flora's Table

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2015

In this second chapter of my report on Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2015 NYC event, you will find my tasting notes for those central Italian producers (loosely interpreted, as I am adding Liguria among them…) that I enjoyed the most among those that I tasted at the event. It goes without saying that the list below is far from being complete and that there were many more very good wines at the event that are not listed on this post.

For more information about the Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2015 NYC event and my tasting notes for northern Italian producers, please refer to the first chapter of my report that was published in the immediately preceding post.

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

1. LIGURIA

Cantine Lunae Bosoni, Colli di Luni Vermentino “Etichetta Nera” 2013 (~$30): a white wine from Liguria with a pleasant bouquet of…

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Full Report On Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC 2015 – Part I (Northern Italy)

Check out part 1 of my full report on the 2015 Gambero Rosso “Tre Bicchieri” wine event in New York City. Part 1 focuses on Northern Italian wines.
Enjoy! 🙂

 

Flora's Table

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2015

A couple of weeks ago was that time of the year yet again, when I got to participate (along with my good friend Anatoli, AKA Talk-A-Vino) in one of the most eagerly anticipated Italian wine events in New York City reserved to media and trade: Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2015 NYC. As you may know, only those Italian wineries that are awarded the coveted “Tre Bicchieri” (i.e., three glasses) top ranking in the Gambero Rosso wine guide are invited to participate in the event.

This year 180 wineries were represented at the Tre Bicchieri event, just the same as last year, presenting some of their best wines to media and trade.

The organization of the event was okay, except the totally unintuitive (at least to me) order of the tasting tables and the lack of an index of the participating wineries that would group them by…

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Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part II: A Wine Tasting of Chateau Figeac 1988

Chateau Figeac, 1988

 

Here comes our second post about Chateau Figeac: a wine tasting and full review of a bottle of Chateau Figeac, vintage… 1988!

Check it out to see how it was! 🙂

Flora's Table

Chateau Figeac 1988

Following our previous post about the history, estate, terroir and winemaking process at Chateau Figeac in Bordeaux’s Saint Emilion region, let’s now focus on my review of a bottle of their Grand Vin that I had an opportunity to taste: Chateau Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC, 1988 ($200).

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Chateau Figeac 1988 that I had was an outstanding, elegant wine: after 26 years of aging, it still performed flawlessly, offering a broad aromatic palette that unsurprisingly underscored tertiary aromas, but still presented fruity, secondary aromas to complement them. It still had enough acidity to keep it alive (although I would not wait much longer to drink it) and noticeable but gentle tannins, along with great smoothness – attaining a nice balance. It had pleasant and vivid mouth flavors of fruit and spices and a long finish. Outstanding!

Rating: Outstanding

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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! 🙂

Flora's Table

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé 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 – 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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Tasting Notes from the Benvenuto Brunello 2015, NYC Event

Here is my review of the Benvenuto Brunello 2015 event in NYC and of my top 10 Brunello’s from the event. Enjoy!

Flora's Table

Consorzio Brunello di MontalcinoLast week I had the opportunity to attend the Benvenuto Brunello USA 2015 event which was organized and sponsored by the Brunello di Montalcino Wine Consortium at the gorgeous location of Gotham Hall in New York City in order to unveil to the press and trade the 2010 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino wines made by 44 selected producers.

I definitely enjoyed attending the event and the related seminar about Montalcino and its exceptional 2010 vintage, despite a few problems marring the seminar – namely:

  1. The organizers failing to give preferential seating to those who had pre-registered (what is the point of pre-registering then?)
  2. The seminar starting 30 minutes late because of technical difficulties setting up the slideshow (setting it up ahead of time, perhaps?…)
  3. The seminar taking place on an open space overlooking the hall where the main walk around tasting was underway, which resulted in considerable background noise…

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#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 ArezzoFlorencePistoiaPisaPrato 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 AretiniChianti Colli FiorentiniChianti Colli SenesiChianti Colline PisaneChianti MontalbanoChianti 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 Merlotup 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 – at 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:

CastelvecchioChianti 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 aromasIn 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:

CorbucciChianti 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 CignozzaChianti 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 – Very Good Very Good

LanciolaChianti 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’ PittiChianti 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’ PittiChianti 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 TamburiniChianti 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)

Full Report About Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC 2014

Gambero Rosso - Tre Bicchieri World Tour 2014 - NYC

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

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

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

So, let’s get down to it:

1. TRENTINO

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

2. ALTO ADIGE

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

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

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

3. PIEMONTE

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

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

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

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

4. LOMBARDIA

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

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

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

5. VENETO

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

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

6. LIGURIA

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

7. TOSCANA

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

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

8. MARCHE

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

9. UMBRIA

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

10. CAMPANIA

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

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

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

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

11. SICILIA

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

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

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

12. SARDEGNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

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

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

About the Appellation

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

Our Detailed Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best of Vinitaly International/Slow Wine 2014 NYC

VinItaly International 2014 - NYC

SlowWine 2014 - NYC

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

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

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

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

The event was well organized except for two aspects:

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

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

(A) Friuli

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

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

(B) Piemonte

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

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

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

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

(C) Lombardia

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

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

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

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

(D) Veneto

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

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

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

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

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

(E) Toscana

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

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

(F) Marche

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

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

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

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

(G) Umbria

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

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

(H) Basilicata

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

(I) Sicilia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

About the Producer and the Estate

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

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

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

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


The vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

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

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

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

About the Wine

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Our Review

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

Hydraulic presses at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)


The vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Two Wines, Three Mysteries

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

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

1. Who was my Secret Santa?

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

3. What did they taste like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Good Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helicopter carrying Nino Negri's harvested mountain Nebbiolo grapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Ar.Pe.Pe.'s aging barrels

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s stunning tasting room

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

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

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

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s History

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


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s stunning tasting room

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ar.Pe.Pe.’s Wine Tasting

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

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

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

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

Rating: Good Good

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

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

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

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

Rating: Very Good Very Good

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

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

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

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

Rating: Spectacular Spectacular

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

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

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

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

Rating: Spectacular Spectacular

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

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

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

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

Map of Valtellina

Map of Valtellina, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About the Territory and History

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

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

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


Valtellina mountain vineyards

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

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

About the Appellations

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

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

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

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

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

Ar.Pe.Pe.'s fermenting barrels

About the Grape Variety

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

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

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

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


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

About the Wines

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

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

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


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

Wine Review: Three First Drop Shiraz from Down Under

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

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

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

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

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

These are the four bottles that I bought:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Good Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

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

Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Emilion: 
Clos La Madeleine and its vineyards

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

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

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

Saint Emilion: old grape press and vineyards of Chateau Canon

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

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

Saint Emilion: Chateau La Gaffeliere and its vineyards

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

Saint Emilion
: Chateau Lassegue and its vineyards

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

Saint Emilion: 
Chateau Cheval Blanc and its vineyards

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

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

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

Saint Emilion: Chateau Pavie and its vineyards

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

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

Saint Emilion: church emerging from the vineyards in Pomerol

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

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)