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BC Report – May 2016

BC Report – May 2016

Rhys Pender

Rhys Pender MW

Starting this month, May 2016, I will be writing a monthly column on WineAlign, the BC Report. Up until now we have been sharing the BC Wine Report amongst the BC critics but starting fresh this spring, like so much in the vineyard, I will be writing this one on my own. Living on an organic vineyard, in the heart of the Similkameen Valley, and farming and producing wine simply and sustainably undeniably roots me to the local wine industry.

I thought I would take this first installment to introduce the concept and goals for what I would like to achieve. I see the BC Report as a chance to get into the nitty gritty of issues affecting the BC wine world. It will be a chance to discuss everything from controversial and divisive topics to sharing industry successes, plus everything in between.

There is plenty to discuss: our place in the wine world, wine quality, finding the best combination of grape and place and the creation of sub-regions, shipping wine freely across the country, how and where we sell our wine and so much more. Right now we are once again in the midst of a very warm and very early spring with budbreak having already taken place on some varieties.

I want the BC Report to be something where everyone can have their say so please both send me ideas (rhys@wineplus.ca) for topics and give your opinions in the comments section to encourage debate.

 

Rhys Pender MW

~

WineAlign in BC

In addition to Rhys Pender’s BC Report, we publish the popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide and the Critics’ Picks report which highlights a dozen of our favourites from the last month (at any price point). Treve Ring pens a wandering wine column in Treve’s Travels, capturing her thoughts and tastes from the road and, lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out the month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential critic.

 


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Celebrating New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Text and photos by Steve Thurlow
(with introduction by Treve Ring)

It was the Steve & Treve show representing WineAlign in Marlborough earlier this year, crossing paths at the International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration along with 300 sommeliers, trade, producers and journalists from around the globe. Steve details the Celebration and Kiwi translation of Sauvignon Blanc below, but I wanted to start with a little primer into the distinctive grape itself.

SAUVIGNON BLANC {SOH-vin-yohn BLAHNGK; soh-vee-nyawn BLAHN}

also known as “Cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush.”

#SauvBlancThat was my initial introduction to sauvignon blanc. For a budding wine enthusiast this was at once terrifying (you want me to drink what?) and relieving (finally wine descriptors that make sense!), and now even as a gnarly vine wine enthusiast that description has stuck with me. Of course, sauvignon blanc is so much more than that memorable phrase. This green-skinned grape most likely hails from France’s Loire Valley, where it can blindingly shine in the Kimmeridgian limestone and Silex flint. As the third most planted white variety in France, sauvignon blanc (from the French for sauvage, meaning wild), is also comfortably at home in Bordeaux, blending in harmony with Semillon; as well as throughout Languedoc-Roussillon, contributing greatly to lean and tart Pays d’Oc IGP. The highly vigorous grape is widely adaptable, spreading as easily worldwide as its tangled and aggressive foliage. All things green are its hallmark: grass, hedge, meadow, asparagus, kiwi, green peppers, gooseberries, as well as passion fruit and elderflower in slightly warmer climates. Crisp, piercing acidity permeates all wines, save for those harvested in the hottest regions, and helps preserve freshness and zest in late harvest or oaked examples. As Steve writes below, the grape rocketed to fame over the past 20 years in New Zealand, finding a prime home for a concentrated, pungent, fresh and unoaked style.

May 6th marks the 7th annual International Sauvignon Blanc Day and celebrations will kick off in New Zealand and travel around the globe in restaurants and bars, and on social media. You can share in the celebrations by using the hashtag #SauvBlanc on Twitter and Instagram – all in fun to share the love for New Zealand’s most popular grape. May also brings us the Great New Zealand Wine Tiki Tour with trade and consumer events being held in Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto. You can find complete details here, including a special offer for WineAlign members.

~ TR

Celebrating Sauvignon Blanc

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Marlborough sauvignon blanc has been a runaway success story. No other country has been able to enter the modern world of wine with a premium priced product and grow its market share like New Zealand. Other recent arrivals on the scene like Chile, Argentina and South Africa have brought us value wines, but are still struggling to get us to buy their premium priced products. No wonder everyone wants to emulate New Zealand’s success.

In Canada, New Zealand, and in particular Marlborough, has been the reference for sauvignon blanc for the last ten years or so and its very distinctive style has become the benchmark for producers across the world. Previously it was the steely, minerally sauvignon from Sancerre in France that winemakers were aiming to emulate, but that has been replaced by NZ as the benchmark by most of the New World producers.

I first visited New Zealand in 2004 and have been back there almost every year since, closely watching the growing success of this far-away wine producer. So I was delighted to be among 300 people from all over the world who gathered in Marlborough in February of this year at the first ever International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration (#SauvignonNZ). Since they are the current world leaders in this variety, it was appropriate that we all met there (and it was also a good time for me to escape a Canadian winter).

Before I recount what I discovered on this visit, let’s examine why Marlborough sauvignon blanc has been so successful. To start with, this grape has one good thing going for it. As Matt Kramer told us in his keynote address to the conference, “Sauvignon blanc is the world’s most reliably good dry white wine.” Notice he did not say it was the greatest white wine, just that it was reliable. An excellent go-to-wine when you just want something white to drink that is predictable.

But Marlborough sauvignon blanc is not just any sauvignon blanc; it has its own special distinctive signature. So distinctive that even those unblessed with great vinous skills are usually able to recognize it. It is this distinctiveness that is one of its greatest attributes and why it is emulated by winemakers around the world.

From the moment in life that you first approach a juicy succulent Marlborough sauvignon blanc you will always remember those gooseberry-tinged, green apple, passion fruit, green pepper, green grass, blackcurrant leaf aromas touched by honey that have become its signature. You will soon then notice that your palate is entranced by that lime or grapefruit mouthwatering acidity and its fresh, clean, slightly bitter finish, all wrapped with just enough sweetness to make it delicious.

New Zealand did not start making wine until around 1980, making its wine industry approximately 45 years old. Its success is totally tied up with the success of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, which represents nearly 80% of what they produce. With New Zealand population levels modest, it has, by necessity, been an export driven success.

Being distinctive and popular has facilitated the growth of a brand. I noticed about five years ago that there was a similarity developing within this brand. Every producer was aiming for the same thing and by 2010 they were mostly getting there. The wines were starting to taste and look the same and sell for about the same price, which is understandable when you have seen such success. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with this; the wines were delicious and it demonstrated the ability of growers and winemakers to deliver a consistent product to meet growing demand. And since no other region is able to replicate your brand, why not make hay while the sun shines?

At the conference I detected the sense that wineries were reaching a mid-life crisis. They need to be sure of the path to take to continue to be successful. There seemed to be two major pitfalls that will need to be considered, price and premiumisation.

In the last five years I have been tasting some sauvignons from elsewhere that are starting to replicate the Marlborough style. Some wines from the Leyda Valley and the coastal Aconcagua Valley in Chile, from Darling in the Western Cape in South Africa and Carcassonne in Southern France are getting there. These are not high cost producers so there is a vulnerability here for New Zealand to watch since it is a high cost producer. Another danger of such distinctiveness is the difficulty to establish more premium brand extensions. That is to say, how do you improve on the accepted norm and get people to spend more money, when they are happy with the status quo.

Wairau Valley Marlborough

Wairau Valley Marlborough

The conference and the weeks of personal travel that followed were a great opportunity to see where things were going. As in all successful wine regions that produce a single varietal wine, there has been a steady trajectory for more site-specific wines. The success of many of the early wines from the region was down to complexity created by blending grapes from different parts of the region. In Marlborough, somewhat simplistically, there were originally two basic regions: The cooler Wairau River to the north and the Southern Valleys holding the tributary rivers of the Wairau River to the south, where it is warmer and drier with different soils. Further south over the hills, there was little planted in the nearby Awatere Valley. It’s a different landscape now, with massive planting in the last ten years in the Awatere. So today, three places provide the fruit that goes into the regional blends to create the distinctive wine that we all know. And it’s a wine that is largely made with little manipulation by winemakers. It is the growers and those who blend the wines from different sources who have made  Marlborough what it is today.

There is a movement for more site-specific wines and the three large regions are being delineated as wineries bottle wines from these subregions. In time, I am sure people will start to put boundaries on viticultural maps and give these places names that we will come to recognize. I will look at some of these wine growing activities later on, but first let’s look at what winemakers are doing.

Marlborough sauvignon blanc is mostly made today without maturation in oak barrels and using cultivated yeasts. The techniques employed have been perfected to produce the fresh, clean, pure, flavourful and balanced wines that put the place on the map. So it is also a natural that winemakers are starting to experiment with new styles using natural yeast fermentation, oak maturation and other techniques to enhance what nature, soil and climate have so far delivered. I was most anxious to see these efforts and there were certainly some promising results.

However, I do want first to recognize and give credit to the big players who have put the region on the world map, as they inevitably do in any successful wine region. These are the companies with an international reach and established sales channels who can also, because of economies of scale, make very good, inexpensive wine. The success of Marlborough would not have been possible without their presence and they will continue to open new markets in places yet to experience the delight of Marlborough sauvignon blanc. They will also be able to make better blends and fight off any emerging international competition. Pernod Ricard New Zealand, with its Brancott and Stoneleigh wines, Constellation with Nobilo and Kim Crawford, Delegats with Oyster Bay and Villa Maria, along with others, have played a vital role in today’s success.

As well as continuing to develop new international markets, these big organizations are leading the search for the next big thing. They are bottling site-specific wines and providing resources to their winemakers to make even better wines. A recent development is surely designed to attract the drinkers of lightly sparkling wines – wines like Prosecco from Italy that are so popular recently. Lightly sparkling sauvignon blanc is being made by a few wineries now. These wines are very appealing, simple and sweetish and are very drinkable as a party or reception wine. This may be a hook to get these folks to try the more traditional brands.

Anyway let’s start looking at specific producers and wines that illustrate what I have been talking about. Most wineries these days are making more than one sauvignon blanc. There is usually an entry level wine, often a regional blend, and then others at a premium price that are from a single site, or have been enhanced by the winemaking techniques already mentioned.

Stoneleigh

This is one of the best known and most popular NZ brands in Canada. Their sauvignon blancs are mainly sourced from the Stoneleigh vineyard in the central part of the Wairau Valley region. The gravelly river soils in this region augment the stonefruit aromas and flavours and add mouthwatering grapefruit acidity to the Stoneleigh 2015 Sauvignon Blanc making it lively and exciting to drink. The Stoneleigh 2015 Latitude Sauvignon Blanc is more understated, maybe classier, with some complex aromas and more crunchy green apple flavours.

However it was the Stoneleigh 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Wild Valley that really excited me. Marlborough sauvignon blanc is traditionally made with a cultured yeast once the natural yeasts have been killed off following crushing. This wine, however is fermented naturally using the yeast that lives in the vineyard with the grapes. Winemaker Jamie Marfell uses this to give the wine added texture and enhanced flavour. The natural process is slower which allows the wine to develop texture along with more complex flavours.

More Stoneleigh wines reviewed here.

Jamie Marfell Winemaker at Stoneleigh

Jamie Marfell Winemaker at Stoneleigh

Brancott Estate

The southern side of the Wairau Valley, where the Brancott Vineyard is situated, has a higher clay content than the river bed soils further north. It is also warmer and drier with less stone and more nutrients. The Brancott brand is relatively new to Canada and the very impressive Brancott Estate 2015 Letter Series B Sauvignon Blanc has just arrived at the LCBO. It is a complex wine that has benefited from an elaborate winemaking process. About 20% of the fruit is handpicked and then wild fermented. The other 80% is machine harvested, which seems better at preserving the components that yield the elevated passion-fruit, grapefruit and tropical aromas (thiols) that characterize Marlborough sauvignon blanc. A small percentage of the machine picked fruit is matured in oak vessels. It is a delicious well priced white that is elegant and complex with a mineral tone and lovely lively fruity palate.

More Brancott Estate wines reviewed here.

Brancott Estate Marlborough

Brancott Estate Marlborough

Villa Maria

Villa Maria was founded by George Fistonich in 1961. It has been a major contributor to the wine industry ever since and seems to win more awards for its wines than any other winery. As one travels around New Zealand one meets countless winemakers and viticulturists who at some time in their careers have worked at Villa Maria. Everyone has phenomenal respect and admiration for the founder and his winery which remains a family business.

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc has always been one of the best value sauvignons and it is deservedly one of the most popular. The Villa Maria 2015 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc is consistent and faithful to the successful distinctive style with classic aromas of gooseberry, passion fruit, grapefruit, white pepper and delicate fresh herbal notes of green peas and dill.

For a few dollars more one can upgrade to the Villa Maria 2015 Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanca very classy Marlborough sauvignon with lifted classic aromatics. The nose and palate are pure and fresh with a rich creamy texture.

Villa Maria 2015 Lightly Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc is a charming well-made, pure, fresh bubbly with aromas of passion fruit with grapefruit, mint and nettles. It is creamy smooth with a hint of sweetness and is very refreshing. Not that complex but quite delicious as a party or reception wine.

More Villa Maria wines reviewed here.

Villa Maria Auckland Winery2

Villa Maria Auckland Winery

Whitehaven

Whitehaven winery was founded in 1994 by the late Greg White. His widow, the energetic Sue White, manages the operation which has expanded considerably in recent years. They make two wines from sauvignon blanc. Whitehaven 2015 Sauvignon Blanc is a classic fresh, fruity style, quite herbaceous with a nice mineral salty tang and excellent length.

Whitehaven 2015 Greg Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is a single vineyard wine from the Alton Downs Vineyard in the Awatere Valley. It is well structured and quite mineral with aromas and flavours of gooseberry and guava fruit with spearmint, peapod and lemon tones. Designed for short term ageing, it still needs another year or two of bottle age before it hits prime time.

More Whitehaven wines reviewed here.

Awatere Valley

Awatere Valley

Dog Point Vineyard

This winery was founded by two veterans of the NZ wine business, James Healy and Ivan Sutherland. These pioneers met at Cloudy Bay where they worked together for many years, Ivan growing the grapes and James making the wines. In 2004 they decided to create Dog Point and since then have become a beacon of excellence in the region. Several family members are actively involved in the affair and they now export their wines to over 40 countries – pretty remarkable for a 30,000 case winery founded so recently. When you sample their wines it soon becomes clear that this is a haven for high quality wine produced by passionate people.

They produce two wines from sauvignon blanc. Dog Point 2015 Sauvignon Blanc was the best traditional sauvignon that I tasted this spring in New Zealand. It is textbook Marlborough, made 80% from cultured yeast with stainless steel maturation. The palate is lively and brimming with mouthwatering grapefruit acidity and juicy tropical fruit. The other wine is made 100% from sauvignon blanc but it is called Dog Point 2013 Section 94 after its source in their vineyard. It is fermented with wild yeast in oak barrels and has intense flavours and full bodied fruit. This is another powerful wine best sampled in a few more years when it will become better integrated and age has softened some of its hard edges.

More Dog Point wines reviewed here.

Greywacke

This winery, owned by Kevin Judd, shares the winery facilities of Dog Point. Kevin is another veteran winemaker who also spent many years perfecting his technique at Cloudy Bay. Additionally, he is one of New Zealand’s best vineyard landscape photographers and his pictures are widely used to celebrate the beauty of the NZ wine regions. I have been tasting his wines for many years and have almost always been mega-impressed. The Greywacke 2014 (Kevin Judd) Sauvignon Blanc is in stores in Ontario at present. Quebec and BC also buy this wine each year.

He has another wine in stores in Ontario currently, the Greywacke 2012 Wild Sauvignon Blanc. This is a very impressive and beautiful sauvignon blanc made using wild fermentation in a mixture of new and used oak barrels. The majority also goes through malolactic fermentation and it spends its life prior to bottling on its lees. In effect, it’s made like many chardonnays and as a consequence is a long way from traditional Marlborough style. Complex, elegant and subtle and highly recommended. I also tasted the 2014 vintage of this wine and it was one of the best sauvignon that I tasted on my latest visit. Made largely the same way except very little went through malolactic fermentation and only 7% spent time in new oak. Such was the difference between the 2014 and 2012 harvests. We will have to wait and hope that this vintage also comes to Canada.

More Greywacke wines reviewed here.

Before I conclude, there is need to mention sauvignon blanc produced elsewhere in New Zealand. The Sacred Hill, Craggy Range, C.J. Pask and Sileni wineries located in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island produce sauvignon blanc in both Hawke’s Bay and in Martinborough, as do many other wineries, though the total quantity is small compared to Marlborough. Many of these wineries also have vineyards in Marlborough and so it interesting to compare the pairs of wines from the same vintage and same winemaker.

The other regions tend to be warmer and so the fruit is more tropical, the greenness less strident and the acids softer. For me, the non-Marlborough sourced wines do not have much of a distinctive character such that in blind tastings I have often been unsure of their origin, whereas I think that Marlborough’s  unique signature leads me to guess their origin more surely. Though maybe in future a Leyda Valley or Darling wine might throw me in the wrong direction.

Marlborough sauvignon blanc is one of the great successes of the New World wine industry over the last few decades. It is distinctive, pure and easily recognizable and will, I am sure, remain the go-to wine for many. Provided costs and prices remain reasonable, it will continue to prosper and be the backbone for the entire NZ wine industry.

Innovation and site selection, as we have seen, are being applied to make more interesting and hence more premium wines. There isn’t a formula for these, as there is for the basic brand, and there doesn’t need to be. I will keep watching closely and look forward to returning in 2019 for the next edition of #SauvignonNZ. Meanwhile, I will be focusing on January 2017 which sees the next edition of the Pinot Noir NZ Celebration.

Next week Treve will report on the New Zealand Sparkling and Chardonnay Symposium.

Steve Thurlow

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Whitehaven Vineyard

Whitehaven Vineyard


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Buy The Case: The Vine’s Hidden Gems

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

Buy the CaseIn this regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines. 

For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here

The Vine Agency

Sometimes we fantasize about Ontario being populated with fine wine shops owned by some of the top wine importers and Ontario wineries – people who love wine, select their portfolio’s with pride, and sell them with diligence and the utmost in customer service. While there are many “agencies” that we can envision in this role, we suspect that The Vine Agency would end up being among the most popular and successful. Owner Rob Groh founded The Vine with the goal of bringing Ontario wine drinkers and restaurateurs a fine selection of wines from Italy and California (primarily). We tasted a selection of new arrivals for this feature, and it was a delightful experience.

The Vines mantra (taken from their website) is “Authenticity, Distinction, Character” and for a glimpse into how this is achieved consider their approach to their relationship with their suppliers. “When we take on representation, our view is long term. Because we insist on the highest standards, we visit the wineries and get to know the people. We look for relationships where we connect both personally and professionally, and only work with those who meet these criteria”. We suspect they deal with their customers with similar sincerity and thoroughness.

Sometimes you buy a product because it is specifically the product you want; sometimes because you like and trust the store. Here are our critics picks from current Consignment offerings at The Vine.

Podere le Boncie Le Trame 2012, Tuscany, Italy ($59.95)

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni Le Torri 2010

Podere Le Boncie Le Trame 2012Michael Godel – Giovanna Morganti makes Le Trame, from southeastern Tuscany in San Felice just outside of Castelnuovo Beradenga. It is essentially Chianti Classico but labeled IGT, known as “the intrigues” and that it surely is. It will drink into longevity up there with some of the best Brunello, Vino Nobile and Gran Selezione. A Cellaring Wine
John Szabo
– Fans of elegant/delicate sangiovese should line up for this gorgeous example, organically/biodynamically farmed in the heart of Chianti Classico. It’s elegant, an expression of pure finesse, all ripe and vibrant red berry fruit flavoured, exhaling faded roses and spice. A supremely pretty wine with soaring grace all in all, to enjoy now or forget for a decade.
David Lawrason – This is an estate grown sangiovese with great energy and fruit depth. Balanced to drink now but will stretch beyond 2020. It is available in six packs, so just go for it. It is so good that you might regret splitting it with friends. It’s also an ideal size for trying it out on a wine list.
Sara d’Amato – An authentic Tuscan blend from an organically farmed vineyard planted at high density. Predominantly wild yeast fermented sangiovese, this sophisticated find is absolutely captivating. Drink on its own but best with roasted pork.

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni 2010 ‘Le Torri’ Rosso Piceno Superiore, Marche, Italy(21.95)

John Szabo – A leading estate from Le Marche, Cocci-Grifoni’s montepulciano-sangiovese blend is an engaging, dark, earthy-spice, roasted coffee, and bitter chocolate flavoured red, succulent and satisfying. It’s a big and robust mouthful of wine perfect for big cuts of roasted/grilled meat.
David Lawrason – It’s a bit rustic and may not appeal to all tastes – so I would be wary of buying for by-the-glass pours or occasions where you don’t know your guests tastes. But this is delicious in its way; ready to drink and a great match for stews. Buy a case for autumn and winter drinking and split with like-minded friends. Great value from one of the best estates of the region.
Steve Thurlow – This is quite delicious with a delicate nose of black cherry fruit with mineral, herbal and spicy notes. It is complex on the palate also with the delicate fruit finely balanced by soft acidity and gentle tannin. This is ready for fine dining with roast meats or bold mature cheese. Buy a case and enjoy a bottle from time to time over the next few years.

La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino di Scansano 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95)

Valdibella Kerasos Nero D'avola 2014

La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino Di Scansano 2014Michael Godel – One of the freshest and most exciting examples of Morellino di Scansano to come across the consignment channels of the Ontario market. A project of Mario Batali and the Bastianich family, this is one of the best examples of humble decadence in their portfolio. Should very much be considered when bringing tutta la famiglia al tavolo. Consider wine pooling.
David Lawrason – From a modern estate in the southwest corner of Maremma this good value is a blend 85% Morellino (the local name for Sangiovese in Maremma), 5% Syrah, 5% Alicante, 2% Colorino and 3% Ciliegiolo. Sangiovese turns in a riper, darker performance in this area, with a certain plushness and richness. But it’s also quite lively and fresh. It could be my Tuscan house wine, or a decent pour by the glass in an Italian restaurant.

Valdibella 2014 Kerasos Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy (19.95)

John Szabo – Here’s a particularly lovely, lively, floral and vibrant version of nero d’Avola, organically grown. I love the energy and tension, the vibrancy and genuine flavour concentration. Dark spice, earth and ash flavours linger.
Michael Godel – Truly modern Sicily here from Valdibella, a.k.a. the “cherry tree”. Its wide ranging flavours make it a limitless match for so many different foods and because it’s amenably virtuous in so many ways. Restaurant pour by the glass. 

Château de Saint Cosme 2013 Gigondas, Rhône, France($57.95)

Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Chateau De Saint Cosme Gigondas 2013David Lawrason – Of all the Cotes du Rhône villages Gigondas often produces wines with the most finesse. Power too, but there is a textural evenness thanks to limestone marl in the soils. It becomes Chateauneuf-like, and is priced in that realm as well. But still good value for fans of southern Rhône. It comes in a six-pack, ideal for a home or restaurant cellar.
John Szabo
– Saint Cosme has crafted a savoury grenache-based masterpiece here in 2013, massively concentrated, but not heavy, structured and full of black pepper and spice. This has enough of an acid lift to keep fruit and spice focused, with abundant but fine and dusty tannins that lend grip. I’d love to see this again in another 3-5 years; there’s more than enough stuffing to see this blossom.
Sara d’Amato – A very old, revered and consistent producer. Grenache and very peppery syrah make up the majority of this spirited and well structured blend. Many great Gigondas keep step with the best of Chateauneuf du Pape and here is a spot-on example.
Steve Thurlow – There is great finesse to this wine with a very fresh pure yet complex nose of black cherry fruit with some sweet herbs a hint of licorice and a floral hint. It is midweight and delicate on the palate with the fruit well balanced by acidity and fine tannin. Excellent length.

Von Strasser Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California (89.95)

John Szabo – This is another terrific vintage from Rudy von Strasser, making the most of his superb volcanic terroir on Diamond Mountain. It’s a classic Napa ‘mountain’ cabernet, which is to say dark and swarthy, ripe and firmly structured to be sure, with serious depth and length, and significant black fruit extract. Broad shouldered but flexible, this has all angles covered, best after 2018.
David Lawrason – This has terrific presence and structure with lifted aromas of blackcurrant, green cedar/conifer, earth, mineral and dusty, spicy oak – all well integrated. It’s full bodied with some heat and tannin to be sure, but fine acidity as well. The focus and length are excellent. I would age it another three years to calm the tannin. Best 2019 to 2030. Split a case with cab collecting friends.

Groth Hillview Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California ($56.95)

De Conciliis Selim Spumante Brut

Groth Hillview Vineyard Chardonnay 2014Michael Godel – From a 44-acre Yountville vineyard founded in 1982 and (mostly) re-planted in 1996. This is a perfect and prime example of all the right directions Napa Chardonnay has taken in the last 10 years, with kudos to Suzanne Groth for embracing the ideal, from restraint, for elegance and in balance. Gifting Wine.
Sara d’Amato – If you are suffering chardonnay fatigue, this ought to spice things up! Whole cluster pressed, fermented in fine French oak but offering youthfully exuberant fruit. A chardonnay worth its weight in coin.
Steve Thurlow – This is a beautiful classic California chardonnay that’s fine now but will improve in integration and complexity with a few more years in the cellar. Expect aromas of pineapple and cantaloupe melon, with smoky, nutty and buttery tones with hints of caramel. It is full bodied but feels slimmer due to soft lemony acidity. Excellent length.
David Lawrason – This is a very classy, rich and well honed chardonnay that’s delicious now but could also age nicely for five years. Agree with Michael that it would be a great gift item for chardonnay fans, or introducing casual California chardonnay drinkers to the real thing!

De Concilis Selim Spumante Brut, Campania, Italy ($32.95)

Sara d’Amato – Here is something you don’t come across that often, a tank method sparkler from Campania based on local fiano and aglianico grapes. Pricey for a curio find but the result of this winemaking effort is most definitely rewarding. Available in a six bottle case.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


This report was sponsored by The Vine Agency. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. The Vine has provided the following agency profile.

About The Vine Agency

The Vine AgencySince we took the leap to start The Vine in 2000, our goal has never been to be the biggest, most all-encompassing wine agency in the province or the country. Instead, we set out to offer a focused selection of wines that reflect our personal taste and interests. We believe that smaller wineries – estate oriented and family-owned – provide the best source of characterful wines that deserve our attention. We also place a high value on trust: yours.

To that end, we strive to deliver outstanding customer service, trustworthy recommendations and informed conversation. But ultimately, the portfolio speaks for itself – this is a collection of great wines, selected and supported by people who know the people behind the wines. Most of the winery owners we represent in Ontario are people we are proud to consider friends.

Join our Mailing List

If you wish to have your name added to our mailing list (to be notified of featured wines, tastings or events) please call 416-693-7994, email wine@thevineagency.ca or write to The Vine, 105 – 625 Queen St. East, Toronto ON M4M 1G4

All the wines are sold in cases of 12 bottles, unless noted otherwise. Unfortunately, mixed cases are not possible due to LCBO regulations. We quote prices per bottle, excluding
Refundable Bottle Deposit. HST is included in Retail prices. Delivery charges may apply.

EXPRESS PICK-UP SERVICE
Nobody home to receive your delivery? No problem – just give us 36 hour’s notice — we’ll have your wine ready for drive-by pick-up. You’ll barely have to slow down. Our office is on Queen St. East, immediately opposite the ramp to northbound DVP. Call as you drive up, we’ll run your wine out to the car, and load it in while you stay warm & dry.

 


 

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Tomatin – The Softer Side of the Highlands

By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Named “Distiller of the Year” at the Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Awards 2016, the Tomatin Distillery Co Ltd has been on people’s tongues for centuries if not exactly top of mind. During the seventies it was the largest single malt distiller in the world, though not well known outside of industry circles as most of the whisky ended up in blends – until about fifteen years ago.

Johnnie Walker, J&B, Chivas Regal, Dewars and Ballantine’s all have used Tomatin in their blends. Today the distillery produces two million litres per annum of whisky with half a million litres laid down for single malt. The 14 working warehouses can store around 220,000 casks. It all started long ago.

The Tomatin area in the Monadhliath Mountains in the Highlands of Scotland, 16 miles south of Inverness, has been a producer of malt whisky since the 15th century. Originally it was produced illegally by the local laird who owned the land where the modern day distillery is located. The first formal licenced distillery came into operation in 1897.

Tomatin is a community distillery: 80% of the employees live in housing on the site which is provided by the company. It’s one of the last of these special type of distilleries left in the country and loyalty among employees is strong. Between them, the Master Distiller, Cooper, Head Mash Man, Head Stillman and Warehouse Manager have worked at the Distillery for over 180 years.

Tomatin (rhymes with satin) is one of the highest distilleries in Scotland at 315 metres above sea-level. The waters of the Alt-na-Frith (Freeburn) run pure from the mountains over granite rock, collecting few minerals. This soft water leads to a soft, delicate whisky. Hence their slogan “The Softer Side of the Highlands” is very apropos for the brand.

A few other factors help make Tomatin special. All the barley used is grown in Scotland by farmers with which the company has growers’ contracts to ensure quality and consistency. The pot stills are unique with long necks and an imposing ball in the neck to help create a reflux and ensure a nice soft final spirit. In addition they run the stills very slowly to make certain that none of the heavier flavours make it to the final cut.

Their ‘coup de grace’ is an in-house cooper who works with their casks which come directly from sherry bodegas, bourbon distilleries and other prime sources within the wine and spirit world. Experts believe that 70% of the final flavour in whisky comes from the wood, yet few distilleries in Scotland still employ their own cooper.

Japanese owned since 1986, about fifteen years ago the company changed focus from bulk whisky to brand blends and single malt. They have plans for steady growth of the core brands and some expressions. Recent repackaging efforts have resulted in a more upscale looking bottle that’s squatter and broader with classy colours. Watch for the new packaging to hit our shelves in about six months time.

Tomatin Legacy Highland Single MaltTomatin 12 Year Old Highland Single MaltTomatin 14 Year Old Port Wood Highland Single Malt Tomatin 15 Year Old Highland Single Malt

Best news for whisky lovers – Tomatin has a good stable of older stocks, unlike many other Scottish distilleries which are running low.

Legacy is the newest edition to their core line and is a non-age statement entry level single malt aged in part in virgin wood. Tomatin 12 Year Old is a lightly sherried malt that’s the flagship of the range. Tomatin 14 Year Old is port wood finished which gives it a copper hue and fruity smoothness. Bourbon cask matured Tomatin 15 Year Old is about to disappear from the North American market so buy it while you can.

Tomatin Cù Bòcan Highland Single Malt Tomatin 18 Year Old Highland Single MaltThe delicious, full bodied Tomatin 18 Year Old is heavily sherried from time spent in oloroso sherry butts. Cù Bòcan is the lightly peated version of Tomatin – just 15 parts per million phenol in the distilled spirit – enough for a slight smokiness without the dominant reek of a highly peated malt.  Cù Bòcan – The Sherry Edition is lightly peated and finished in sherry casks. Only 6,000 bottles of this wonderful expression were produced so I suggest you stock up. The name in Gaelic means ghost dog and it’s easy to see how this would disappear quickly.

As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines and spirits submitted by a single winery or agent. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the submissions – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend selections to appear in the profile. Agents pay for this service. Ads for some products may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign. 

~

More about Tomatin Distillery

OUR PRIDE. OUR PASSION. OUR PLACE.

At Tomatin, we are more than just another distillery. Since 1897, our people have worked hard to build the Tomatin community that exists today and lies at the heart of everything we do.

Tomatin Life is a celebration of our people, our place and, of course, our whisky. It is a taste of what makes Tomatin the ‘softer side of the Highlands’. Over the next few months, we invite you to share a dram and uncover #TomatinLife.

Please note: All fans must be over the legal drinking age in their country.


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Tomatin Distillery

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The Answer is Wine. What was the Question? April 2016

by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

If I had a dollar for every question that friends, family and colleagues have asked me about wine, I would certainly have a much more impressive cellar than I do now. With the popularity of wine and easy access to information and education on all things enological, there still seem to be queries and questions that many wine drinkers have but are afraid to ask. This is your chance to ask about all things vinous that weigh heavy on your mind and see if the answer shows up in our monthly column. Remember, unlike some gimmicky wine labels, there are no stupid questions.

So welcome to the first installment of The Answer is Wine. What was the Question? Each month I will answer a few of the most interesting questions submitted by readers. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions and please keep them coming. Email your queries to AskDrJDo@WineAlign.com or tweet them with the hashtag #AskDrJDo.

Q: NB asks: While my question may not be interesting per se, I believe it has practical value. Once a white wine or sparkling wine has been chilled, can it be removed from the fridge and stored for later consumption?  (unopened, of course) Or would the change in temperature and then re-chilling it affect the quality of the wine?  I’ve asked a few LCBO employees over the years, and nobody has been able to give me a confident response.

A: I am sure there are many wine drinkers who have wondered about this as they remove the stash of left over bottles from their fridge after a party.

In terms of temperature fluctuations, while you don’t want to subject your wines to repeated and rapid changes in temperature by chilling and re-chilling, particularly with older, more delicate whites, white wines will not be affected after refrigeration and can easily cope with the change from room temperature (around 20 to 22 Celsius in most homes) to the fridge (4 to 6 Celsius on average) and back again, at least once and even multiple times.

What you do want to avoid is drastic and frequent variations in temperature such as putting bottles in the freezer and then taking them to sit on your deck when its 35C and then back to the freezer or storage if unopened. It is important when storing wine for later consumption that you avoid heat and direct sunlight, as extremes can permanently damage wine, even with short exposure. On the opposite end of the thermometer, extreme cold doesn’t usually damage wine. Occasionally wines that have been frozen can develop crystals, which are harmless tartrates and have no effect on the flavour of the wine.

The same applies to sparkling wine that has been removed from the fridge for storage and chilled at a later time. It will not be ruined, nor have fewer bubbles, though it is a good idea to chill down bubbly and whites by submerging the bottle into a bucket of ice water (adding a few handfuls of salt will chill it even faster), rather than sticking it into ice alone or in the freezer. Sparkling wine that is chilled down in a freezer can sometimes result in a frothy explosion when you open the bottle, which is something you likely want to avoid unless you are celebrating winning a stage at the Tour de France.

Q: JH asks: We buy a couple bottles or a case of a wine we like: one bottle tastes great, the other is somewhat “off” (funky?). How can this happen? Same vintage, screwcap, sometimes all in the same case, sometimes different bottling date, nothing old (often whites from the current year).

A: Funky bottles can often be the result of cork taint caused by the microbial compound 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, or TCA, which typically smells of wet cardboard, wet dog or a moldy basement. Cork closures are also frequently the reason why one bottle can taste different from the other, due to the inherent variability of a natural product (cork comes from the Cork oak tree, Quercus suber) and variance in the amount of oxygen that enters the bottle, affecting how each bottle ages. However, the funky wines that you purchased were under screwcap so the much maligned cork cannot be the culprit here.

One of the major reasons for bottle variation in screw cap wines may be attributed to what wine geeks call reduction. Reduction refers to the absence of oxygen in the winemaking process, a practice used to preserve the fresh, primary fruit characters of the grape. Excess reduction in winemaking can also produce volatile sulfur compounds, which can make a wine smell like rotten eggs, garlic, cabbage or burnt rubber. It is not the actual screw cap that causes this reduction, but if a wine is already reduced, a screw cap will hold all the aromas within the bottle, which would not be the case with cork as more oxygen is transmitted. Although unpleasant at first, try decanting the wine or giving it a good swirl and shake in your glasses because in most cases the reduced or funky smells blow off. If that still doesn’t get rid of the funkiness, return the bottle to store for a refund.

Q: GS asks: Greetings Dr. JDo:  I am subscribed to WINEALIGN and find their content to be most interesting, informative and helpful. I am writing now as a member of an organizing committee for an anniversary and fundraising dinner. It will be a formal Polish dinner for 150 to 180 guests and consist of food items such as Cabbage Rolls (Golabski), Pirogi, Pork Cutlet (Kotlet) and Borscht (Barszca). The committee has chosen to serve only wine even though beer and vodka may be more popular for a Polish feast. Since I am responsible to select the wines, I researched the Web extensively but found it very challenging to come up with some consistency as to which wines to serve. I am finding it challenging to find appropriate wines for this type of event and menu and wanted to know if you have any guidelines for food and wine matching for this type of menu? CAN YOU HELP? 

A: Sounds like a great line up of food and reminiscent of my childhood. I too would agree that beer and vodka might be more popular and I know that was certainly the case at my family gatherings. That being said, we needn’t get too hung up on food and wine matching, as the menu contains a range of flavours and textures and there is never only one wine to match perfectly with everything.

The best thing to do in situations like this is to identify the primary flavours and textures. In this case, we should pay attention to butter and onions in the pirogis, salty and vinegary flavours in the borstch and a fair deal of starch, fat and weight in dishes like cabbage rolls and pork cutlets. You also need to keep in mind that for a large crowd it is always good to have a range of wines, say 2 to 3 whites and 2 to 3 reds,  to accommodate the different tastes and preferences of your guests.

With this in mind, for whites you could easily go with a moderately oaked Chardonnay, and a dry and fruity white, like Chenin Blanc, both of which could complement and balance the buttery pirogis and pork. In terms of reds, you should lean towards medium bodied wines with a lighter oak touch, some savoury notes and acidity to balance the richness of some of the dishes. A few that come to mind include Gamay (which I think works with many dishes and I often take to my family’s Ukrainian Christmas feasts) or Grenache, also known as Cannonau in Sardinia. Rosé would also work well with this kaleidoscope of flavours and I would go for a fruity but drier style. Here are a few options that are sure to please the crowd. Na zdrowie!

Marisco The King’s Legacy Chardonnay
Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay
Secateurs Badenhorst Chenin Blanc
Malivoire Gamay
Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages Combes aux Jacques
Sella & Mosca Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna

Marisco The King's Legacy Chardonnay 2013Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay 2014 Secateurs Badenhorst Chenin Blanc 2014 Malivoire Gamay 2014 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages Combes Aux Jacques 2014 Sella & Mosca Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna 2011

If you need more suggestions, check out WineAlign’s Food Match tool. It doesn’t cover every possibility, but it’s a useful feature to help you get started.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions and please keep them coming. Email your queries to Janet Dorozynski at AskDrJDo@WineAlign.com or tweet them with the hashtag #AskDrJDo.

 


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New releases from Italy: 2012 Anteprima Amarone and 2014 Valpolicella

Text, Reviews and Photos by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

This report offers the fourth and final look at new releases from Italy, the 2016 edition of Anteprima Amarone focusing on the excellent 2012 vintage. 2012 produced wines of great power, balance and longevity; I tasted through close to 80 wines in late January in Verona to sift out a top dozen worth tracking down, all destined for marathon ageing in the cellar. Did you have a child, or get married in 2012? These will make for great anniversary wines. And for more immediate gratification, I’ve pulled out a quartet of top Amarone currently in the market.

I’m also hugely enthusiastic about straight-up Valpolicella, which is for me (and many producers) the most authentic expression of wine from the slender hills north of Verona (heresy!). While big, powerful slightly raisined wines can be made in dozens of places around the world, there are far fewer regions that can naturally produce such delicate, vibrant, joyfully fruity reds as Valpolicella, from a collection of unique grapes. I list my top picks from the 2014 vintage, which put terroir and production skills under a magnifying glass.

Anteprima Amarone

The precise genesis of Amarone is a cause of contention. Some point to Bertani as the first producer to make dry wine from partially dried grapes, sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. Others tell the tale of a local cooperative in the early 1920s, where a vat of Recioto della Valpolicella, the sweet red wine produced from dried grapes with a 1500 year history at least in the Veneto, accidentally fermented all the way to dryness, much to the embarrassment of the cellarmaster.

Whatever story you choose to believe, one thing is clear: Amarone was essentially born as an accident, like so many of the world’s great ‘discoveries’. Until the second half of the 20th century, dried grapes were exclusively destined to produce sweet recioto wine. But as the market for sweet wines, especially sweet red wines, began to erode like a sand bar in a stormy sea of dry wines, the discovery that powerful dry reds wines could also result from the appassimento process turned out to be a very shiny silver lining indeed.

Sunset-3688

And as it turns out, the grapes used to produce Amarone – corvina, corvinone, rondinella, and to a lesser extent molinara – are particularly well suited to drying. Especially the first two, which account for over 2/3rds of a typical blend if not more. These grapes are relatively thick-skinned, and resist mould and rot in properly ventilated drying chambers over the three or four month appassimento period. They’re also absent the vegetal pyrazine character that makes other varieties, notably from the Bordeaux family, less suited to appassimento, since everything, green flavours included, is concentrated in the process. High natural acidity abetted by Valpolicella’s relatively cool climate, also concentrated in the drying process, promotes balance and freshness, no mean feat in a wine that typically contains 16% alcohol or more. These factors contribute to the uniqueness of Amarone, and the difficulty in replicating the process elsewhere.

High alcohol, high acidity and abundant tannins conspire to make Amarone particularly ageworthy; ten years is a good starting point for any top example. And 2012 is a fine vintage for the cellar.

Amarone in Canada

Canada has been identified by the Valpolicella Consorzio as a key target market, as the large contingent of Canadian wine writers discovered during the opening presentations of the Anteprima. Sales were up a modest 3% over the last five years, representing 13% of all Amarone exports, but are predicted to grow by a much more impressive 17% over the next five, outpaced only by China. And the bulk of those imports – nearly 50% – will find their way to shelves in Ontario and Quebec.

Why do Canadians swoon at a sip of Amarone? Is it our cold winters, when a soul-warming bottle is the order of the day? Our highly educated population? (One interesting statistic revealed is that over 30% of Amarone drinkers have a post-graduate degree.) Our love of all things Italian? The huge Italian community living in Canada? The Italian restaurant seemingly on every corner? It’s a little of all that I suspect.

The 2012 Vintage

Appassimento-36952012 was a hot year in the Veneto, drawing early comparisons to scorching 2003. But there were a few critical differences that made 2012 much better balanced and ageworthy than 2003. A rainy spring charged soils with sufficient moisture to weather the extreme heat and dryness of June, July and August, though the drought was not relentless; there were rain events at opportune times throughout the summer. And even more critically, September was relatively cool, slowing ripening and thus promoting more even, thorough maturation of grapes. Sugar levels fell into a normal range alongside ideal phenolic ripening (ripe tannins), and flavours were neither green and vegetal nor raisined and baked. Bunches were also loose, favouring an easy, rot-free appassimento. The net result on the whole is ripe but well-balanced, concentrated wines, and although the most polished and supple versions are surprisingly almost enjoyable now, the majority of the top cuvees will benefit from a decade at least in the cellar.

Amarone styles across the region still vary considerably, in no small measure because of the significant impact that producer decisions have on the final product. Harvest time, and especially the length of the drying period and the location (more or less humid/ventilated/average temperature) are critical style factors. So too is subsequent ageing, with sharp divisions still drawn between the faction favouring large old casks with little impact of wood flavour vs. producers seeking the more flashy, polished style rendered by new oak barrels. There are successes in both camps, where balance is ultimately achieved.

A Top Dozen from the 2012 Vintage, plus Top Current Releases

2012 Corte Sant’Alda Amarone della Valpolicella

A savoury, succulent, juicy example of Amarone here. Firm, tight, well-chiseled, with excellent length and depth, high-toned but not excessively volatile. Complex and savoury, with fine-grained tannins. I love the vibrancy and freshness here – there’s genuine tension, energy and life, so often lacking in the appassimento style. A fine wine overall, and a reference for the region, from the biodynamic vineyards of Marinella Camerani. Tasted January 2016. Score 95

Marinella Camerani, Corte Sant'Alda-3721

Marinella Camerani, Corte Sant’Alda

2012 Roccolo Grassi Amarone della Valpolicella

Tasted from a barrel sample, so take this review/score as provisional, but this is top quality Amarone. There are masses of fleshy dark fruit character and solid, real fruit tannins, succulent acids, and terrific length. A wine of genuine concentration and length. This is quality wine, which won’t reach full maturity for at least another 8-10 years. Tasted January 2016. Score 94 (via Trialto)

2012 Ca’ La Bionda Amarone della Valpolicella

A maturing, old school style Amarone in the best sense, sappy and resinous, savoury and complex. I love the earthy fruit, the dried herbs and tertiary oxidative notes creeping in, rendered in the traditional fashion and aged in large old wood. Exceptional length and genuine depth and complexity. Score 94 (via Le Sommelier)

2012 Fratelli Degani La Rosta Amarone della Valpolicella

This offers great aromatics, blending fruit, spice, herbs and wood in a harmonious ensemble, in a more forward and modern style, the top bottling at Degani. The palate is rich and dense, with exceptional extract and terrific length. Fine wine from the modern camp. Score 93

2012 Vigneti di Ettore Amarone della Valpolicella

A very densely fruity and spicy example, with sweet paprika and blue fruit, concentrated, dark, and fleshy. Wood is not a major influence, while length and depth are exceptional. Really fine example. Score 93

2012 Ca’ Rugate Amarone della Valpolicella Punta Tolotti

A shift to a more elegant style of Amarone has occurred at Ca’ Rugate over the years. This 2012 is not excessively ripe, nor overwrought, nor woody nor green, hitting a comfortable middle ground of intensity and balance. There’s a fine range of dark fruit flavours and suave tannins, and the length is very good to excellent. Relatively light at 15% alcohol. Score 92

Mezzane Valley from Corte Sant'Alda-3708

2012  Cà Botta Amarone della Valpolicella

Bright, saturated red colour. Explosively aromatic, notably oak-infused but with plenty of red and some black fruit in support. This has plenty of sap on the palate, rich, dense, showing very youthfully at the moment, and surely a decade away from prime enjoyment. Exceptional length. Fine, modern-style wine. Score 92

2012 Fratelli Degani Amarone della Valpolicella

The more traditional style Amarone in the Degani range, this is nicely balanced, succulent and savoury, firm and well structured yet supple, with palate warming alcohol. Very good length. Fine wine. Score 92

2012 Fidora Amarone della Valpolicella

Sweet, natural fruit-scented, lightly oxidative (tasted from a barrel sample), but with great succulence and juiciness on the palate, a real and genuine mouthful of wine, made from ripe fruit from the start, nicely concentrated. This should evolve very favourably. Score 92 (via the Living Vine)

2012 Bennanti Amarone della Valpolicella

Heavy, coconut-inflected wood aromatics lead off, though the palate shows a better balance of fruit and oak on a mid-weight, firm and nicely chiselled frame. This appears to have the stuffing and the acidity to age gracefully, while length and depth are impressive. Best after 2020. Score 91

2012 Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella

A savoury and traditionally-styled Amarone, with intriguing resinous-herbal notes and nicely focused, daintily dried fruit character. The palate is well-balanced, firm but not hard, saliva-inducing and pleasantly saline. Excellent length. A fine, classically styled wine from one of the region’s historic producers. Score 91

2012 Gamba Amarone della Valpolicella

A rich and modern, densely extracted, chewy yet supple and voluptuous style here from Gamba. Alcohol is high, palate warming, but fits surprisingly well into the ensemble. A generous and widely appealing Amarone all in all. Score 91

 

A Top Quartet of Amarone In the Market

(Click on the links for reviews and availability)

Prà 2010 Amarone della Valpolicella

Masi 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Campolongo di Torbe

Musella 2010 Amarone della Valpolicella

Masi Mazzano 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico

Prà Morandina Valpolicella 2014 Masi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Campolongo Di Torbe 2009 Musella Amarone Della Valpolicella 2010 Masi Mazzano Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2009 

For the Love of Straight-Up Valpolicella: 2014

2014 was a very cool wet vintage in the Veneto, posing many challenges for winegrowers, and the margin of error was ultra slim. As often occurs under such conditions, the best sites, farmed with attention and care, offered the most memorable results. It was a perfect vintage to get a grasp on the best terroirs and the best winegrowers.

A Top Half-Dozen 2014 Valpolicella

2014 Cà La Bionda Valpolicella Classico 

Ninety percent corvina and corvinone. Open, fresh, aromatic, very lively and dainty, floral, pleasantly herbal. The palate is really fine and delicate, with beautiful strawberry-cherry flavours, and very crunchy acids. This is ultra-delicate and fine. Burgundy in Valpolicella. Score 91 (via Le Sommelier)

2014 Cà La Bionda Valpolicella Classico Casal Vegri

The cru Valpolicella from Alessandro Castellani, all guyot-trained vines aged 20 years on average, grown on limestone. Corvina 70%, corvinona 20%. Eighteen months in 3000l oak cask, bottled a month ago. Needs another year at least – the wood is noted in the perfume and taste, but this is still fine grained and elegant. Really fine and bright. Try again in 1-2 years. Score 91 (via Le Sommelier)

Alessando Castellani, Ca' La Bionda-4179

Alessando Castellani, Ca’ La Bionda

2014 Prà Morandina Valpolicella

This is a terrific Valpolicella from one of the most reliable, if relatively new, names in the region. The challenging 2014 vintage provided an opportunity to really shine with this ‘entry-level’ bottling, the sort of detailed and confident wine that can only be born from attentive viticulture and a deft hand in the cellar, rendered in a style for which Valpolicella should be better known, and a model to follow. This is all crunchy red fruit, mid-weight, fresh and lively, buoyed by fine, ripe acids and unhindered by either oak or excessive extraction – a pure pleasure to drink, especially with a light chill. This will bring to mind fine cru Beaujolais or Loire cabernet franc, for example, fruity but also gently leafy and lightly reductive. Score 90 (via The Vine Agency)

2014 Corte Sant’Alda Ca Fiui Valpolicella 

Ca’ Fiui is the name of the property, probably from Casa dei Fiumi (House of Rivers), after all of the small rivers that form on this hilltop when it rains. 5% molinara. Pale colour, bright, very floral perfume, pleasantly grassy and lively, herbal, very gamay like, wild cherry, tart and bright, with a pleasant bitter almond note and saltiness on the lingering finish. Impressive complexity and depth for such a light (12%) wine. Everything that Valpolicella should be. Score 90

2014 Ca’ Rugate Valpolicella Campo Lavei

Mostly corvina with rondinella and molinara, of which 40% are given a short period of appassimento. This works nicely, ripe and satisfying, fullish, dark fruit, generous but ripe tannins, long finish. Fine stuff. Score 90

2014 Secondo Marco Valpolicella Classico

Crisp and crunchy, lightly herbal, lightly reductive. Lively acids, well-structured. Natural grape tannins. Plenty of tart red fruit and light pepper spice. Genuine density and weight, albeit on a classic, light Valpolicella frame. Bone dry.  6 months each in concrete and large wood. Great stuff. Structured. From Fumane. Score 90

Marco Speri, of Secondo Marco-4168

Marco Speri, of Secondo Marco

2014 Novaia Valpolicella Classico

Intriguingly spicy, bright red fruit-scented, with firm acids, and light but grippy tannins. This needs another 6 months to a year for prime drinking, but it’s a succulent, transparent expression, sapid, salty and mineral. Score 88 (via B&W Wines)

2014 Marco Mosconi Valpolicella Montecurto

Pure corvina, no wood. Pleasant, light, crunchy red fruit, bright acids, solid length. I would happily drink this all night, even if it’s not the most complex or ageworthy example. Score 88

2014 Monte Del Frá Lena di Mezzo Valpolicella Classico

A bright, tart, crisp and highly drinkable expression of Valpolicella, the way it was meant to be. I love the fresh strawberry and red currant flavours, the absence of oak influence, and the bright, saliva-inducing acids. Lots of pleasure here. Drink lightly chilled. Score 88

If you missed my earlier reports on the new releases from Italy, you can find them here:

The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 1 Montalcino
The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 2 Montefalco
The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 3 Montepulciano

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

If you are the Canadian Agent for any of the wines mentioned, please send us a note to feedback@wineAlign.com with availability and pricing and we’ll gladly update our site.

Vineyards, Valentina Cubi, Fumane Valley-3642


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Frozen Harvest

by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Across the country, the Icewine harvest has recently finished. The Canadian ambrosia, which has put focus on our burgeoning wine regions, is still our greatest wine export and one that is big business. Although numerous wineries across the country produce at least one bottling per year, others focus the majority of their resources on Icewine.

The Icewine harvest is the catalyst for a profusion of festivities celebrating this golden-hued nectar. In Ontario alone, the celebrations showcasing Icewine include Niagara’s Icewine Festival, the Xerox Icewine Gala, Jordan’s Winterfest and Niagara-on-the-Lake’s equally chilly Icewine Fest where Icewine-based cocktails are showcased for an international panel of judges. When the harvest is in full swing, so are a multitude of rosy-cheeked wine lovers on Niagara’s wine route.

A 200 year-old German accident, thought to be the result of an early frost in Franconia may have been the birth of Icewine, but it has become known as a Canadian specialty. British Columbia wins the race for the earliest commercial incarnation of Icewine which was produced by the Okanagan’s Hainle Vineyards in 1978. In Ontario, Karl Kaiser, Austrian-born biochemist and viticulturalist, is widely credited as the pioneer of our Icewine tradition with notable contributions from Donald Ziraldo, his business partner and co-founder of Inniskillin, along with the efforts of Peter Gamble, at the time winemaker of Hillebrand and Ewald Rief, of Reif Estates, among others. Cementing Canada as Icewine specialists was the win of Vinexpo’s Grand Prix d’Honneur in 1991 given to Inniskillin’s 1989 Vidal Icewine. This award was not only a tremendous honour but one that shifted the world’s attention, if only for a moment, to our heritage and to the potential future of wine production in our nation.

Icewine 2016 Chateau des Charmes 2

We have an advantage here in Canada: it is cold every year, cold enough every winter for the grapes to freeze on the vines, should we let them, and make a relatively fine Icewine. Even the majority of Icewine producing nations cannot claim this level of reliability. As much as some may hate to admit it, it is the cold that has made us famous.

Our VQA standards are strict for the production of Icewine and it is these high standards that strengthen our reputation. These requirements include a sustained temperature requirement of minus 8 degrees Celsius or lower in order to begin harvest.  Most producers wait until the thermometer dips just a little further, between -10 and-12 degrees for the sake of certainty. Harvest is usually done after nightfall, when the temperatures are lowest. These temperatures hit the country’s Icewine producing regions anytime between December and February. This year’s harvest, largely complete by January, proved to be right on average for Ontario and even earlier in BC.

Due to the specialized requirements of Icewine, harvest is usually done by hand, but recently, mechanized harvesting has become a possibility. The main advantage of machine harvesting is speed, which is nowhere more imperative than in the picking of Icewine where timing is crucial and expense is steep.

In addition to the temperature restrictions, in order to bear the VQA symbol the grapes must be either vinifera or made from the vidal hybrid variety. Those hallowed varieties must be carefully monitored from just before full ripeness to the moment of picking. Grapevines destined for Icewine production must be netted to prevent bird attacks, at least to some extent. We’re not the only ones with a sweet tooth – without those pricey nets, you might think you were in a Hitchcock film. Other perils such as wild animal grazing, including bears, require clever diversion.

Pressing of these frozen morsels must also be done at the same low, sustained temperatures. As about 80% of the grape is composed of water, and in the case of Icewine, most of it frozen, only about 15% of a normal table wine yield is expected. Not only are these grapes frozen but they are also partially dehydrated, further concentrating the sugars. The pressing is usually done in smaller sized, hydraulic presses and requires a much greater degree of pressure than for other wines. Left behind in the press is much of the frozen water, separated from juices that are often measured well above the minimum VQA Brix requirement of 35. If that number is of no meaning for you, it is often twice the amount of sugar required for a table wine of the same variety. Brix is the scale for measuring the amount of sugar in a solution at a given temperature.

Icewine Wines of Ontario 2

As frosty and uninviting as the Icewine harvest sounds, once the pressed juice enters the winery, the hardest part is not over. Even once the temperature of the juice rises, having yeasts ferment in such a high sugar medium is no easy task. Many winemakers have aptly called this process “extreme winemaking”.

Debra Inglis, Ph.D. and associate professor at CCOVI at Brock University, in her cleverly titled article, “Make Icewine Easier, at Least for Yeast” offers an “arsenal of best practices” for winemakers to use to combat the problems of this “hostile territory for yeast”, causing “sluggish, incomplete fermentations, which can lead to wines with low alcohol and high volatile acidity (VA).” This volatile acidity can be quite notable in a problematic Icewine and is a greater risk for wines harvested at very high Brix levels.

Yet, year after year, hardy Canadian winemakers and viticulturalists brave the cold and defy odds in the winery to produce this most famous Canadian treat. Thankfully, the results seem promising for a quality vintage in 2015 for two of the most important Canadian regions for quality Icewine production: BC and Ontario.

ONTARIO

We all think we’ve been lucky this year with a green Christmas and featherweight parkas into January, but despite some higher than seasonal temperatures, it was not an unusual year for Icewine. The harvest was largely complete in January and although many producers were reporting lower yields than the norm, VQA reports this has been a relatively average year.

Icewine 2016 Chateau des Charmes

However, the vintage of 2015 will certainly be more than just “average”. One of Niagara’s most esteemed producers of Icewine, Piliteri Winery’s Director of Viticulture, Jamie Slingerland (and reigning Grape King) says, “The 2015 vintage of Icewine grapes this year was a resounding success contrary to opinion that numerous media outlets felt would occur.” He also reports that birds were less of a problem this year, fewer in number and well fed due to less snowy ground cover which helped yields in certain sites. Pilliteri’s winemaker Aleksandar Kolundzic also predicts great results as a “few days after fermentation started, the whole fermentation room was filled with aromas of flower garden in full bloom which is sign of good Icewine in making.”

Michèle Bosc of Chateau des Charmes winery echoes these thoughts: “January 12th came and we saw daytime temperatures hover around -12C. Perfect conditions. We picked everything that day.” Although yield reductions were notable for the winery, they were not cause for alarm.

BC

In BC, the harvest was early and the yields were low, at least in some parts of the Okanagan – both of those factors make for a promising outcome. In fact, the first picking this year was as early as November 25th when the temperatures first dipped below 10 degrees Celsius. January 2nd saw the last of the frosted grapes picked, at a time when most in Ontario had not yet begun. The BC Wine Institute reports that this is the third consecutive year BC’s Icewine harvest started as early as November.

Volcanic Hills Winery was one of the earliest to harvest, reporting that: “Our Icewine harvest this year was really fantastic. We picked the majority of our chardonnay, riesling, and zweigelt Icewines on Nov. 25th. An early harvest means we aren’t competing with the hungry birds and bears, and we also had an unusual early 2015 Spring”, says proprietor, Amit Gidda.

Winemaker David Paterson of Tantalus Vineyards makes the point that Icewine is a much riskier business in BC than it is in Ontario. Due to the variegated sloped terrain, mechanized picking is not possible in most areas and many wineries, such as Tantalus would agree that Icewine is a very small portion of their business. In some years, it is difficult to produce any Icewine south of Naramata due to warmer temperatures. Although Icewine isn’t big business in BC, certainly in comparison with Ontario, the last three, early harvested vintages have shown some exquisite results.

This year, a great range of grape varieties were used for the production in BC including cabernet franc, chardonnay, ehrenfelser, gamay noir, gewürztraminier, merlot, oraniensteiner, pinot blanc, pinot noir, riesling, sauvignon blanc, syrah, vidal, viognier and zweigelt, reports Laura Kittmer of the BC Wine Institute.

Icewine in Export

How are we doing? Strong and steady! In Ontario, the largest export market by far is China with an estimated $4,022,135 sold in 2015.  In 2013 the Icewine craze hit the United States, resulting in a six-fold increase in Ontario Icewine sales. The US now sits just behind China with an estimated $3,969,644 in sales in 2015. South Korea followed by the UK are showing steady increases in sales since 2011.

BC’s much smaller production and hence smaller exportable product has seen less growth and is more affected by variations in crop yields and vintages. Regardless, despite vintage fluctuations, its export quantities remain steady with 25,422 litres exported in 2014.

Icewine Wines of Ontario 3

Despite an often lukewarm appeal to wine lovers at home, there is no sign of decline in popularity of this sweet nectar abroad. There is no way around the fact that it is a “special occasion” beverage due to its price and high level of sweetness. Luckily, Icewine has an extremely long lifespan due to the convergence of, primarily, a high degree of residual sugar and an important acid content, so there is plenty of time to find just the right occasion to indulge.

Varietal Selection and Technological developments

Icewine is more dynamic than one might expect. It can be drunk right away, or can age and develop for decades. But further to this, it can be made from a multitude of varieties, though only possible with ones hardy enough to make through the coldest months of the year. An aromatic character and a good balance of natural acidity are also preferable for producing high quality Icewine.

Despite the rise of the popularity of red Icewines, most notably that of cabernet franc, the two main varieties remain vidal and riesling. The hybrid vidal that makes up a considerable percentage of Ontario’s total wine production is very winter hardy and grows easily in Niagara’s climate (where the majority of Icewine is produced). Due to its bracingly high natural acidity, Riesling is a star candidate for producing finely balanced Icewine. The best stuff is not cloying and the natural potency of freshness innate to the riesling grape makes for a consumer favourite.

Icewine Wines of Ontario 1

New technologies over the past 5-10 years have lead to a significantly better product and most of these advances are focused on crop loss, pressing, and speed of harvest. Martin Werner of Ravine Vineyard credits new colour-striped netting helpful in bird diversion for lessening crop loss.  Jamie Slingerland of Pilliteri sheds light on how new technologies have greatly impacted their production:

“I have to credit the changes in technology that have resulted in greater efficiencies of harvest and presses. 20 years ago most grapes were harvested by hand and people lasted 4-6 hours in the cold on their knees when cold snaps lasted 24 hours. Today there are significantly fewer people looking to pick Icewine and significantly more wineries. Mechanical harvesting has enabled growers to harvest more per hour, lose less grapes and work much longer hours…  As for pressing the frozen grapes, the industry uses specialized hydraulic presses for Icewine only. These presses are five times faster than screw or bladder presses and extract better/more juice per hour. With our crews working around the clock a vintage of Icewine grapes can be pressed within a three week period.”

Terroir in Icewine

The most intriguing and noteworthy wines display a sense of regional character, and a sense of place that gives them unique character. However, in wines that have a high concentration of alcohol, oak or sweetness, one could argue that that sense of place is overwhelmed or masked. Does the blanket of sweetness obscure the expression of terroir in Icewine? In order to get some perspective on the issue, I spoke to “terroir specialist” David Paterson of Tantalus Vineyards in B.C., who focuses on the production of single-vineyard wines that express an authentic sense of place. Paterson suggests that early picks of Icewine show a greater expression of terroir than do later picks. The thawing and freezing common to later picks causes some desiccation and cellular breakdown leading to complex flavours but it is the pure flavours of the early freeze that allow the wine to express the terroir more authentically. The terroir marker of “crunchy acids,” apparent in the white wines of Tantalus, is also notable in their early freeze Icewines of the past three vintages. That acidic component gives the wines a tart-sweet lemon meringue pie flavour as opposed to a cloying feel.

Sue Ann Staff Howard's Vidal Icewine 2012

Cave Spring Riesling Icewine 2014

Malivoire Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013The Canadian Icewine industry is indisputably evolving with the rise of the export market, more efficient production methods and growers and producers finding new ways to promote and encourage the consumption of Icewine locally. The meritorious hype regarding this 2015 vintage in BC and Niagara will surely only help to ensure the survival and flourishing of this product that has put Canada’s wine industry on the international wine map. And although Canadian producers seem to be divided by those who put out an obligatory Icewine and those who choose to focus the majority of their attention on the style, we still, as an industry, to some degree rely on the awareness of it to promote other wines. Love it or hate it, the 2015 vintage will be one that is worthy of our attention and perhaps, rediscovery.

Top Ontario Picks:

Malivoire 2013 Cabernet Franc Icewine, Beamsville Bench, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Cave Spring 2014 Riesling Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Sue Ann Staff 2012 Howard’s Vidal Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula

 

Santé,

Sara d’Amato

Photos courtesy of Chateau des Charmes and Wines of Ontario


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Treve’s Travels: Cape Wine Discoveries

Cape Wine Discoveries
by Treve Ring

Cape Wine Discoveries

*not a photo of Treve

When discovering the wines of South Africa, there are some things to wrap your head around straight off. First, most of the selection we see in Canada has nothing to do with what is actually happening in the country. There are some exceptions (thank you Nicholas Pearce, UNIVINS, Noble Estates, Vinexx, Trialto, Symbioses, Rézin), but by and large, our world view of the wines of RSA is pinhole sized at best, and industrially dominated at worst.

Second, South Africa has over 350 years of winemaking knowledge, with first plantings dating back to 1659. They are currently in the midst of a full borne renaissance, kicking off with the end of apartheid and the beginning of democracy, only just in 1994. Forget outdated “New World” thinking, and focus on “New Wave” thinking. The golden era is now.

These past two decades of freedom have opened up the wine world to South Africa, and vice versa. For the first time, growers and winemakers were able to travel outside the country, learn, experience and taste. Wine export and import shackles relaxed, allowing for the flow of information as much as for wine.

Today, South African wine production is in a golden age, fuelled by a league of youthful, travelled and passionate winemakers, many in their late twenties and early thirties. Camaraderie and collaboration runs high, with collectives such as PIWOSA (Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa), Swartland Independents, Zoo Biscuits and the brand new Cape Vintner Classification banding together for marketing, touring and resource pooling. Many of these talented folks run senior positions at large, established wineries while developing their own brands. Vineyard land, especially pockets of older, heritage vines in exciting fringe areas, is still relatively affordable, encouraging experimentation and garagiste wine culture. We all know that small, nimble operations are at the fore of change, adaptable and experimental; tasting through the country last fall it was readily evident that the trends sought after in major wine cities and by sommeliers worldwide are in full effect in the Cape. Fresh, lower alcohol reds and textured, higher acid whites; natural winemaking; reviving heritage vines; terroir exploration; pet nat; traditional method fizz – just a few darling, available and accessible finds. Quality is very high and prices are low – a unicorn find for wine consumers and professionals.

Expanded wine education available to South Africans is key to this quality boom, driving a better understanding of viticulture. Much of this has been the rediscovery of abandoned heritage grapes, though local terroir expert Rosa Kruger also attributes strides to the greater understanding of site, soils and grapes. For the last decade Kruger has been mapping the old vines in the Cape, building a registry of vineyards which is now accessible on her www.iamold.co.za website. A lawyer by trade and an adventurer at heart, Kruger has helped match winemakers who share her vision of vine preservation and terroir expression to specific sites. Some of the most lauded names in Cape winemaking today are a result of her pairing: Eben Sadie, Chris and Andrea Mullineux, Adi Badenhorst, Chris and Suzaan Alheit amongst them.

The current sorry state of the Rand aside (it makes the Canadian peso look kingly), and not without recognizing and absorbing the extreme social barriers in South Africa, tasting around the Western Cape feels more energized and positive than any wine region worldwide that I’ve been to in the past few years.

Winegrowing Areas of South Africa

WHAT is the Western Cape?

Recognizing that most consumers aren’t as familiar with the Western Cape, I thought it apropos to give a little primer. South Africa’s vineyards are mainly situated in the Western Cape, near the coast. These Cape Winelands stretch from the rugged slopes of the Coastal Region (seldom reaching beyond 50k to the ocean) to the open plains of the Klein Karoo, where river valley viticulture is at the fore. On the coastal side of the Western Cape rainfall is relatively plentiful, up to 1000mm/year, though it dramatically decreases as you travel up and over the mountains into the hinterland. There are nearly 99,500 ha of wine grape cultivation spread out over nearly 800km in length. Place matters; Under the Wine of Origin (WO) rules, this area is divided into six main regions, which encompass 26 diverse districts and 67 smaller wards. Soil variation is high and complexed, but the three most important soil types include derivatives of Table Mountain sandstone, granite, and shale.

The diversity in microclimate and soils is evident when you take into consideration the native vegetation of the region. Over 95% of the wine is produced within the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of only six such plant regions in the world, this being the smallest and richest of them all. Over 10,000 recognized plant species have been identified here – more than the entire Northern Hemisphere. Seventy percent of the plants found here are not found anywhere else on earth. Recognizing and protecting that diversity has been a huge push for the wine industry. Producers can become certified as sustainable and the Wine and Spirit board seal on their bottles earmarks this commitment. Consumers can use the numeric code on each bottle to trace it back through to the vineyard practices. South Africa also boasts more Fairtrade wines than any other country, with 75% of all Fairtrade wines sold in the world originating from there.

 

DISCOVERED : What to Watch For

Part of the thrill of exploring South African wines is the discovery; pretty much everything I tasted was new. Here’s my personal list of what to hone in on:

CHENIN BLANC

In many parts of the world, chenin is relegated to a workhorse status and blending partner. Though the Loire is still considered the zenith, twice as much chenin is planted in South Africa. Chenin is firmly rooted in the Western Cape, where Jan Van Riebeeck introduced the first vines in 1655. There are still gnarly aged bush vines here being taken care of by adventuresome growers, especially in Stellenbosch. The Swartland is also a striking area for Chenin, where vintners are letting the grapes express themselves through hands-off, sustainable winemaking. Chameleon-like, examples veer from vegetal and meadow through to waxy pours of lanolin and honey, and from bone dry to heady and sweet. Unmistakably constant in cared-for wines is the spiking acidity, apparent even through softening with time in wood or via heavy-handed winemaker intervention. Well handled, these compelling and memorable wines carry texture and complexity to match some of the finest whites in the world, and can last for a decade or two.

Mulderbosch Vineyard 2014 Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch
A series of three identically made wines on different soils and sites, this is a wine geek’s dream. Each wine was whole bunch pressed, racked to neutral oak and wild ferment, after which it spent 11 months on fine lees.

Mulderbosch

Mulderbosch Vineyard 2014 Block A Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch
Sandstone, 140m altitude. Floral and orchard fruit rises from glass. Pear, apricot pit and a wave of pithy mandarin on the juicy finish. Cushion of gentle lees. 90 points

Mulderbosch Vineyard 2014 Block S2 Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch
Shale, 240-265m altitude. Lemon curd creaminess, with earthy, grippy texture. Light, nutty lees and stony spice on the finish. 91 points

Mulderbosch Vineyard 2014 Block W Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch
Decomposed granite, dry farmed, massale selection, 4km to ocean. Intense smoked stone notes, light nut, powerful structure and weight. For the future. 92 points

Mullineux Wines Granite Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland
This is one of the top tier Single Terroir Range wines from Mullineux Family Wines (see Syrah below). This comes from two vineyards in the Paardeberg, 38 and 42 years old, each with deep, decomposed granite soils. As with their other wines, winemaker intervention is minimal (wild yeast, low sulphur, no enzymes) allowing the terroir-transmission powers of chenin on granite in Swartland to shine. After whole bunch pressing and four weeks for the natural ferment this spends a year in older French oak before being bottled unfiltered. Give this singular wine some breathing room to air off a slight reductive note. With a bit of time to stretch its legs (I recommend decanting), alluring wild herbs, sea salt and broken stones emerge, backed with a concentrated and intense palate of pear, flint and a fine citrus peel. Very textured palate draws you through this powerful, finessed wine to a lengthy finish. Only 165 cases were made, so if you find some (or its cousin, Quartz Chenin Blanc), scoop and enjoy or cellar for the next decade. 93 points

 

CINSAULT

Bet you thought I was going to say pinotage, yeah? Though pinotage has great genes (pinot noir crossed with cinsault in 1925), it’s overworked, overcropped, overoaked, overvillified status has it fallen from favour. And while cabernet sauvignon and syrah are the most widely planted reds, I was charmed by the characterfulness of humble cinsault. It used to be the most widely planted red variety, well adapted to the heat and capable of high yields – a workhorse grape. Cinsault was long a silent softening partner in red blends, and a historically favoured grape alongside cabernet sauvignon. In blends, cinsault brings perfume and lift, with a finely rasped pink and white peppercorn spice. These lovely, lighter, fresher perfumed qualities are readily apparent when the grape is vinified solo. At higher yields, a delightful and gulpable fresh red, ready to be chilled and enjoyed, abundantly. At lower yields, something more serious emerges, with stoniness, wild raspberry and wild herbs interwoven amongst the perfumed lightness. There are currently less than 2000 ha planted, though much of this is old vine material that nimble producers are working with, particularly in the Swartland. Here early picking, whole bunch and skin contact are making remarkably characterful, alluring wines – the type that one bottle simply isn’t enough.

Silwervis 2014 Cinsault, Swartland
Young, fun and passionate team Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons focus on finding old, special vineyards and making wines of them. This is a cinsault bottled under the Silwervis line and Avant Garde wines label, picked early from a sandy, shale layered site. 100% whole bunch spends three weeks on skins before going directly into concrete egg. Hugely fragrant and lively acidity, with finely gritty tannins, savoury wild cherry and alluring white pepper on the fresh finish. Highly pleasurable, almost too easily gulpable. 91 points

Silwervis

 

Alheit Flotsam & Jetsam 2015 Darling Cinsault, Darling
Chris Alheit is a name you’ll see popping up again and again – he is also responsible for Alheit Vineyards Cartology. The focus for Chris may be still white wines from South Africa’s heritage grapes, though he is also highly handed with reds, as this wine attests. This is 35-60 year old dry farmed bush vines from Darling, whole bunch fermented with a short time in wood and early to release. The result is a very pale, lifted, light and fresh red with gossamer fine tannins and a stony base, imprinted with cherry and raspberry. Quietly confident and very charming. 91 points.

Flotsam & Jetsam

SPARKLING

More specifically, traditional method sparkling. In South Africa, these are called Methode Cap Classique, or MCC. The term was created in 1992 by The Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), a group of like-minded producers who banded to promote quality traditional method fizz. There are now 150 members producing 7.5 million bottles annually. Any grapes are allowed, though Chardonnay is seen as the best, and wines must spend nine months on the lees and a total of twelve months in bottle. According to Pieter Ferriera, sparkling winemaker guru and head of Graham Beck (transitioning to entirely fizz production), the goal is to up the minimum lees time to fifteen months in 2016.

Graham Beck 2010 Brut Blanc de Blancs, Robertson
Winemaker Pieter Ferreira is one of the leading proponents of the MCC (Methode Cape Classique) association, and a globally recognized fizz specialist. Graham Beck is transitioning to a 100% sparkling wine house, a move propelled by his skill at the style. This fresh, focused chardonnay was disgorged in 2014, yielding a fine balance between subtle tangerine pith and gently creamy, biscuit-laced lees. You can feel the wake of the region’s warmth on the finish, though this crisp and saline fizz rings with freshness. Robertson has a high proportion of limestone soils and this chardonnay is predominantly sited on them. 91 points

Graham Beck

Huis Van Chevallerie 2013 Filia Chenin Blanc Brut Nature Kap Klassiek, Swartland
From gnarly old bush vine chenin from Paardeberg, planted at 330m. This is zero dosage, but with 4 g/l of residual sugar naturally left from the wild ferment, it is labelled Brut. Fourteen months on the lees provides this skeletal and racy fizz with a little cushion on its bones – just enough to prop up the green apple, salty, wet stone and lemon pith raciness of the chenin. 90 points.

Filia Chenin Blanc

 

COMMUNITIES

The Zoo Biscuits is a like-minded gang of merry vintners making interesting low intervention wines across the Western Cape that honour terroir. To many, including me, they typify the energetic, intelligent passionate current generation of vintners propelling this golden era of wine (last year they held a tasting event titled The Young and the Restless).  It’s hard to miss the roving pack – just watch for the VW camper van. They were the hit of Cape Wine 2015. www.zoobiscuits.co.za 

 

Duncan Savage 2014 Follow The Line, Western Cape
This is the personal project of Duncan Savage, successful winemaker at Cape Point Wines and somewhat of an informal leader of the Zoo Biscuits collective. He sources fruit from mostly marine-influenced vineyards, preferably at altitude, for his finessed, graceful and precise wines. This is predominantly cinsault, splashed with equal parts grenache and syrah. Expressive and fragrant wild herbs and thorny florals, wild strawberries and raspberries open and drive through to the palate where rasped white pepper and plum join in. Tannins are fine, lithely structured and grippy. There’s a lovely core weight here, precisely balancing freshness with an anchor of gravitas. It strikes that chord between lightness and concentration that is intrinsic in the very best wines. Tasting beautifully now, but will continue to reward with 5+ years easy. 94 points

Savage

 

Craven 2014 Faure Vineyard Syrah, Stellenbosch
A global affair, husband and wife team Mick (Aussie) and Jeanine (South African) met while working at a winery in Sonoma before returning to Stellenbosch to source fruit for their natural wines. This was grown on granite, shale and dolomite, entirely whole bunch fermented with wild yeast and gentle extraction before 10 months in old barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Light and finessed, with fragrant violets, savoury broken stones, blue and black plum and a pulse of fine grained black pepper. Very savoury and fresh, and at only 11.5%, this haunting syrah is a surprising beauty. 93 points.

Craven syrah

 

Crystallum 2014 Clay Shales Chardonnay, Walker Bay
Brothers Andrew and Peter-Allan Finlayson are third generation winemakers and the sons of the fellow who pioneered Pinot Noir in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley. This is a single vineyard wine crafted from fruit grown just outside of the Hemel en Aarde Ridge ward, at 300 metres in altitude. Whole bunch press with no additives, fermentation and aging lasted 10 months in barrel, with 17% new wood. Salted lemon and stone are integrated seamlessly into creamy, earthy lees and crystalline lemon curd, brightened and tightened with green apple and a lightly toasted almond note. Beauty focus and concentration here, one that will last this wine over the next decade. 92 points

 

Swartland Independent Producers

This group of like-minded independent individuals share the goal of making wines that purely express the Swartland. To this end, grapes are all from the WO, vinified naturally (without additives) and see no more than 25% new wood. They are also limited to varieties that have proven themselves suited to the terroir. A minimum of 90% of a red wine must be from syrah, mouvèdre, grenache, carignan, cinsault, tinta barocca or pinotage; and a minimum 90% of a white wine must be chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne, viognier, clairette blanche, palomino or semillon. This grape list is reviewed every couple of years as further exploration continues. www.swartlandindependent.co.za

A. Badenhorst 2014 Secateurs Chenin Blanc, Swartland
Welcome to new wave South Africa, from the leading oracle of doing things traditionally, Adi Badenhorst. Savoury earthy herbs and salt lead the nose, before pear, stone, meadow blossoms and fennel join in. A welcome chenin waxy sheen coats the textured palate, drawing almond, pear, nut shell, subtle honeycomb, melon and citrus pith along with it. Lively, energetic acids finish off with savoury salts. Lovely focus and drinking well now, but will reward with 3-5 years cellaring. And this, Secateurs, is their starter tier; it only goes up from here folks. 91 points.

Secateurs

Porseleinberg 2013, Swartland
One of the Swartland Independents, Porseleinberg is a wine sourced from Porcelain Mountain, and a label produced by Marc Kent and Boekenhoutskloof. This lifted syrah is a great place to start realigning your thinking of South Africa. Organically farmed, with wild yeast and low sulphur additions, Porseleinberg is 100% whole bunch (“a record of the vintage, according to winemaker Callie Louw”), and seen time in concrete eggs and aged foudre. Bright and crunchy, fragrant with red berries, cracked cassis and black cherry. A vein of wild herbs is drawn across grippy, fine tannins to a textured, stony finish. Tactile and fresh (only 13.7% alcohol) down to the labels – printed on the farm on a 1940 Heidelberg platen letterpress. 92 points

Porseleinberg

 

Rall 2013 Red, Swartland
Donovan Rall is another name that you’ll see connected to many projects, and many delicious wines. Rall is his personal project since 2008 and focused on making one red and one white wine from the most interesting vineyards he can find. 2013 Red is mostly syrah with 10% grenache, the former grown on schist and the latter on decomposed granite (and from the 2014 vintage). Authentic and bright, 50% whole bunch has left yielded a very savoury light red with crunchy acidity and fine, grippy tannins. Wild raspberry, strawberry and cherry crackles with energy, finishing with fine perfumed red fruit and white pepper. 92 points.

Rall

Mullineux Wines Single Terroir Range
One of the most respected names in the Cape, Chris and Andrea Mullineux began sourcing fruit in 2007, and now work with a dozen exciting vineyards. They focus on South Africa’s heritage grapes, including working with 115 year old cinsault, the oldest red vineyard in Africa. The Single Terroir Range Syrah mirrors their chenin blanc project (mentioned above).

Mullineux Wines 2013 Iron Syrah, Swartland
Sourced from a single parcel of organically farmed dry land bush vines on a rolling hillside west of Malmesbury. 100% whole bunch, with dark kirsch, black raspberry and a beautiful, persistent violet perfume. A sheen of dark cherry, black plum, iodine-laced fruit covers grippy, structured tannins. Full bodied and powerful, easily mitigated and balanced by brisk acidity. 92 points

Mullineux Wines 2013 Schist Syrah, Swartland
This syrah is sourced from a single parcel of 17 year old vines from the stony, schistose soils of Roundstone Farm on the Kasteelberg. Gently ripe cassis and a flow of kirsch and red plum offers a moderate generosity on the palate, though this savoury wine is ruled by its rocky structure and dusty, grippy tannins. Layers of thorny, savoury fruit and broken stone. Though drinking well now (decant in advance), it is still very much in youth, and full potential of this wine will be revealed with time. 93 points

Mullineux

 

*Thanks to Dr. Jamie Goode for sharing photos from Cape Wine 2015. 


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The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 1 Montalcino

Montalcino, Montefalco and Montepulciano
Text, Reviews and Photos by John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Each year, wine regions throughout Italy organize tastings to showcase the latest vintage released to market, called anteprime, the Italian equivalent of Bordeaux’s en primeur tasting, with the one difference being that in many, but not all cases, wines are already finished and in bottle. This year I report on the anteprime from Montalcino for 2011 Brunello (by law, Brunello must be cellared five years before release), 2012 Montefalco Sagrantino, and 2013 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The articles are posted in three parts for easier access.

Part 1: Benvenuto Brunello 2016

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Brunello do Montalcino DOC in 1966 (DOCG as of 1980), and it would be hard to overstate the meteoric rise of Brunello in the ensuing years. From one of Siena province’s poorest communes at the beginning of the 19th century – a rural backwater of woods, mixed agriculture, honey production and wine sold by the liter in demijohns – Montalcino has become one of the wealthiest. And the success has been built almost entirely on wine and the gastro-tourism it encourages. In 2015, 1.2 million tourists clambered up to the charming hilltop town (population: 5,272) and surrounding hamlets, lured in large measure by the allure of Brunello di Montalcino, now one of Italy’s most famous wines.

Brunello's 50th anniversary of the DOC (Credit_Brunello Consorzio)

Brunello’s 50th anniversary of the DOC (Credit_Brunello Consorzio)

There were only about a dozen dedicated commercial bottlers in the 1960s. Today, that number has ballooned to 208, farming over 3,500 hectares (of which 2100 are registered to Brunello). Wineries are run by a mixture of farmers-turned-winemakers and wealthy Italian and foreign industrialists looking to cash in on the region’s growing fame. The explosion in production and popularity of Brunello is one of the wine world’s greatest success stories. And production is on the rise once again, with an astonishing 9,800,000 bottles of Brunello released for sale in 2015, up 17% over the previous year.

And the world is clamoring for it. 70% of the total production is exported (+2.5%), with 30% finding its way to US cellars alone. As one producer, who makes wine in Montefalco, Montepulciano and Montalcino put it: “we can’t make enough Brunello. Despite being the most expensive in our portfolio, it it’s the easiest to sell and always sells out first.”

Per capita, howver, Canada is the most thirsty for Brunello, absorbing an impressive 12% of exports, or some 823,000 bottles. This year the LCBO was awarded the consorzio’s prize for the best retail assortment of Brunello di Montalcino outside of Italy, underscoring the deep love between Ontarians and Brunello.

LCBO buyer Colby Norrington receives the award for best foreign Brunello retail assortment (Credit_Brunello Consorzio)

LCBO buyer Colby Norrington receives the award for best foreign Brunello retail assortment (Credit_Brunello Consorzio)

But such growth obviously comes with a cost. Consistent quality can’t be guaranteed in such large volumes, and the extension of the territory permitted for the production of Brunello di Montalcino, particularly in the 1990s, has come to included parts of the commune that the Consorzio’s founding fathers would never even have considered for quality grape growing.

The zone of Montalcino, some 40 km from the coast, has a varied geological history, reflected in the enormous variability of soils, not all of which are suitable for quality grapes. Various mixtures of clay, limestone, schists, marls and sands have their say on Sangiovese’s vineyard sensitive nature. But perhaps even important is slope orientation and especially elevation, ranging from barely 100 meters above sea level to over 600. This is especially important given the weather extremes, the alternation of relentless heat, drought stress and excessive rains experienced in different vintages, which are the new normal in the context of global climate change. When the DOC boundaries were drawn up, for example, areas above 600 meters were excluded, as sangiovese simply wouldn’t ripen that high up. That restriction was recently eliminated, a recognition that change is real and temperatures are increasing.

The original zone around Montalcino itself, ranging from about 350-450+ meters where most of the top historic producers have vineyards, is notably cooler than areas further south and lower down, near the towns of Sant’Aneglo in Colle and Sant’Angelo Scalo, a critical advantage in the increasingly ‘normal’ hot vintages. Another unofficial subzone around Castelnuovo dell’Abate, also in the south, however, is moderated by cool air descending from the ancient volcano Monte Amiata and includes a clutch of top vineyards. The heavy clays around Torrenieri to the northeast were thought so unsuitable by Brunello’s founding fathers that they didn’t even bother officially excluding them. Today dozens of hectares are planted there. It’s complicated. The creation of subzones has been discussed for years, but efforts have so far been thwarted by the sheer complexity of the situation – divide by soil? Elevation? Vineyard site? And the stakes are now too high.

Vineyards at Pieve Santa Restituta, south of Montalcino-4209

Vineyards at Pieve Santa Restituta, south of Montalcino

Vintage 2011: 4 Stars

The 2011 vintage highlights the variability of the denominazione, and the 4 star rating (out of 5) it was awarded by the Consorzio simply splits the difference between truly excellent and mediocre. Amidst the excitement over the 2015 harvest (about which respected oenologist Vittorio Fiore says: “I have seen over 50 vintages during my career, of which at least 40 at Montalcino and I do not remember any other vintage with such great balance and so productive for long-ageing wines like Brunello”), 2011 was a year of variability and extremes, where vineyard site trumped all efforts in the cellar to make great wine. Simply put, 2011 is the year of the vineyard.

This makes it a tricky vintage for all but the most savvy consumers who happen to know who has vineyards where. Triage is necessary. But the best wines are exceptional, perhaps ultimately not as ageworthy as the almost universally superb and powerful 2010s, but hauntingly beautiful wines nonetheless that will offer immense pleasure for the next 10-15 years. One of the main challenges was intense summer heat, and especially hot, grape shrivelling winds from the south. According to Gaia Gaja, “spring was normal – neither hot nor cold – but summer heat was problematic, especially two weeks in August with constant hot Scirocco winds drying grapes. There was little hydric [water] stress, but the upper parts suffered”.

Some wines taste hard, tannic and baked, as though they were made from raisins, which they probably were. Cooler sites protected from the winds, with higher daytime-nighttime temperature shifts, preserved life-giving acidity and freshness, resulting in beautifully perfumed and fragrant, fine, silky textured wines.

One positive general observation on the current Brunello scene was the evident shift away from excessive extraction, ripeness and obvious new wood that was far more commonplace in previous editions of Benvenuto. There seems to be a more universal effort to protect the delicate, perfumed nature of sangiovese, a grape that quickly turns to Ribena juice when overripe, becomes ungracious and hard when overworked, and is easily overwhelmed by oak. There are happily more pale garnet, fragrant wines with firm but delicate structure, the way sangiovese is meant to be.

Looking south to the Monte Amiata from Below Montalcino-4226

Looking south to the Monte Amiata from Below Montalcino

Below are my top picks from the 2011 vintage, out of 100+ wines tasted. Note that not every producer submits their wines for Benvenuto, and several notable estates were not available for review.

Top 10 2011 Brunello di Montalcino: 94+ points

2011 Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino

This is perhaps the wine of the vintage. Giulio Salvioni’s vineyards southeast of Montalcino sit at some 420 meters, with particularly rocky, friable marly soils. Brunello is fermented with natural yeast, aged in large botti (there are no barriques in sight) and are bottled unfiltered. The 2011 is spectacularly perfumed in the traditional style, while the palate is exceptionally elegant, concentrated, delicate, yet so deep and complex, with amazing depth and staying power, and outstanding length. It’s hard to imagine it getting any better, but sadly, prices have come to reflect this. Best from 2018. (98 points.)

2011 Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino 

Le Ragnaie has turned out an exceptional range of 2011s from their organic vineyards south of Montalcino, just below the region’s highest point at 662 meters. Fermentation in cement is followed by ageing in both 2500l cask and barriques for three to four years. My top pick is the straight estate blend, at least for now, very peppery and still on the reductive side, but wonderfully silky and delicate on the palate, fully ripe without excess, with terrific concentration and energy. This is on another level, with evident viticultural care applied to a great site. Best after 2020 (95 points). Le Ragnaie’s single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino ‘Fornace’, and the Vigna Vecchia Brunello di Montalcino are barely half a step behind, however. The former, from a site in Castelnuovo dall’Abate, is a polished and elegant expression, bearing substantial, ripe cherry fruit with superb staying power on the palate and supple but structured tannins and acids to shore up the ensemble. (94 points.) The latter old vine selection from the estate pours with the deepest colour and is notably hazy (unfiltered), but the nose is pure fruit in a lightly oxidative, open style, and the palate is explosively concentrated with palpable, chewy extracted. It has an extra measure of umami over the rest of the excellent range, though not as tightly chiselled or well defined overall. (94 points.)

2011 Mastrojanni Vigna Loreto Brunello di Montalcino

Gabriele Mastrojanni was a pioneer in the area of Castelnuovo dell’Abate when he bought his ridge top property in 1975, now one of the top unofficial subzones in the DOCG. The estate was sold to Grupo Illy (of coffee fame) in 2008, though quality is as good as ever. The Vigna Loreto is a real step up in depth and concentration from the basic annata, fullish, sappy, succulent and dense with exceptional length and depth. Tannins are firm and well structured and need a few years to relax, but this has more than enough fruit extract to see it through to perfect balance in time. Terrifically complex. Outstanding wine, best after 2020 (95 points). Imported in Ontario by The Profile Wine Group.

2011 Conti Costanti Brunello di Montalcino

6th generation winegrower Andrea Costanti’s historic Colli al Matrichese estate, with roots back to the 19th century, covers 12ha of vineyards between 310 and 400 meters planted on limestone-rich galestro. No single vineyards are made; all grapes go into the annata and occasionally a Riserva, aged first in tonneaux, then large cask. A perennial favourite, the 2011 is exceptional. It offers a very fine nose, complex, evolved, and complete, while the palate delivers exceptional extract and length, with explosive flavours beginning from a point, than expanding into infinity. The quality of tannins is brilliant – fully ripe, polished but structured. (95 points.)

2011 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino

Vineyards of this venerable estate, established in 1962 by Primo Pacenti, are some of Montalcino’s best-situated, one parcel on the highest point of Canalicchio (320+m east exposure) and another on the famed Montosoli (southeast-facing), both northeast of Montalcino. The house (vineyard) style is one of finesse and refinement, and the 2011 shows tremendous elegance and fragrance, and beguiling suave and silky texture. Terrific tension and length hold this together perfectly, with haunting length – a beautiful expression. (95 points.)

2011 Caparzo La Casa Brunello di Montalcino

Established in the 1960s, and later purchased by Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini in 1988, this exceptional property lies north of Montalcino. La Casa Caparzo’s single vineyard cru on the marley Montosoli Hill takes a fine direction in 2011, with supremely fine-grained tannins in an ultra-elegant profile. Fruit is perfectly ripe, still fresh, with exceptional length on the palate. (95 points.) Imported in Ontario by The Case for Wine.

2011 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino

Piero Palmucci’s established his cult estate in 1989, but it was recently sold to former telecommunications engineer Claudia Tipa in 2011, so it’s too early to say if he will maintain the decidedly Burgundian style Brunello for which Poggio di Sotto is so revered. After several years of searching for the ideal site for sangiovese grosso, Palmucci planted 12 hectares of vineyards on relatively, high 200-400m, steep, south facing slopes with a view to Monte Amiata above the Orcia River, south of Castelnuovo dell’Abate. Palmucci researched, with the assistance of the University of Milan, clonal selection and planting density to maximize quality; vineyards have been organically farmed from the start. The 2011 is already quite open, high-toned, even lightly acetic, a wine of supreme finesse and elegance, but a polarizing style to be sure. This is as much like natural pinot noir as Brunello, with it’s ultra-fine grained tannins, light but firm, pitch-perfect balance, and excellent length. This is all savoury- umami happiness, with terrific persistence based on genuine concentration. I wouldn’t say this is one for long-term cellaring, so drink over the next 5-8 years or so. (94 points.)

2011 Tenuta Croce di Mezzo Brunello di Montalcino

The 4.5 vineyard hectares of Barbara and Roberto Nannetti are just off the road from Montalcino to Sant’Antimo. Wines aged in large cask and are crafted in old school style, perfumed and savoury/pot-pourri-inflected, in the finest way. The 2011 is lithe, elegant, delicate, a lovely refined wine, with terrific perfume and length (94 points).

2011 Ucceliera Brunello di Montalcino

Born in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, Andrea Cortonese, jumped at the chance to buy part of the nearby Ciacci Piccolomini estate, called Ucceliera, in 1986. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, just as Brunello’s wave was starting to crest. The style here is sumptuous and deep, powerful and concentrated, what could be described as more modern, yet one that doesn’t sacrifice sangiovese’s grace and savoury character. The 2011 is indeed very ripe, with wood and extract in the fore, but stays on the right side of balance, with excellent length and depth. There’s no doubting the care and ambition applied here in this expansive wine. (94 points.)

2011 Caprilli Brunello di Montalcino

Founded in 1965, Caprili’s vineyards belong to he former Villa Santa Restituta estate near Tavernelle, south of Montalcino, in the neighbourhood of Soldera’s Case Basse and Gaja’s Pieve Santa Restituta. The style blends the inherent power of Brunellos from this zone with an appealing traditionalism; fermentations are wild, and only large casks are used for ageing. The 2011 is ripe, dark and concentrated, fullish and rich, generously proportioned and with great flavour density and extract, not to mention exceptional length. (94 points.)

Also outstanding (93 points):

2011 La Rasina Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Franco Pacenti Canalichio Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Sesta di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Le Potazzine

2011 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Fonterenza Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Terre Nere Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Villa Poggio Salvi ‘Pomona’ Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Agostina Pieri Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Az. Agr. Martoccia – Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Col di Lamo Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Fornacella Brunello di Montalcino

92 Points

2011 San Lorenzo Brunello di Montalcino

2011 La Manella Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Le Chiuse Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Le Macioche Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Piancornello Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Pinino Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Renieri Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Collemattoni Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Tenuta San Giorgio Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino

2011 Campogiovanni Brunello di Montalcino

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Like Montalcino, Montepulciano lives on wine. The industry drives 70% of the local economy. Some 2200 hectares under vine are farmed by over 250 growers (1300 registered for Vino Nobile), and bottled by 90 companies. Average production per estate is higher than in Montalcino, with 7 million bottles of Vino Nobile reaching the market in 2015. But exports are higher, representing 80% of turnover, of which a modest 2% is sent to Canada. Vino Nobile also celebrates its 50th year as an appellation in 2016, first official defined as a wine with “ruby red colour, dry, slightly tannic taste, a scent of violets, and alcohol content of not less than 12 degrees” (now 12.5%).

Vino Nobile had the toughest gig among the various anteprime this year, presenting the challenging 2013 vintage. The contrast was especially stark since my last visit to the Fortress of Montepulciano in 2013 when the excellent 2010 vintage was on offer, atasting provided some of the most memorable wines of the year and some of the best surprises, particularly when value is factored in (Vino Nobile sells for about half the price of Brunello).

But cool and rainy 2013 is another story, despite the 4 star rating awarded by the consorzio. In the words of one producer, the wines are “crudo”, literally raw, in other words, lean, sinewy and sometimes downright sour and sharp, short on flesh and charm. Yet as always, producers with the best sites and the most attentive viticulture produce consistently admirable wines even under challenging conditions.

Styles are highly variable in Vino Nobile, given the legal addition of up to 30% of grapes other than prugnolo gentile, the local biotype of sangiovese. And the list of recommended or authorized red grapes in Tuscany is long. Some wines are marked by the telltale colour and aromas of the cabernet family of grapes, while others hew much closer to the classic pale garnet, savoury-earthy character of sangiovese. It’s a question of knowing your producer. Yet one of the most appealing and pervasive features of Vino Nobile in general is their notable salinity, more common than in either Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino.

Below are my top, finished and bottled picks out of the 44 wineries who presented at the anteprima; the top barrel samples are listed separately, followed by the top 2012 riservas, also presented this year.

Buyer’s Guide: Top 2013 Vino Nobile di Montpulciano and 2012 Riservas

2013 Tenuta Vallocaia Bindella “I Quadri” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

From the southern sector of the appellation, this parcel selection including 15% colorino, canaiolo and mammolo aged in tonneaux, is a nicely rustic, succulent, blood-iron driven wine with marked salinity on the palate. Tannins and acids work in tandem to create firmness on the palate; length and depth are better than the mean. Solid. (90 points.)

2013 Le Bèrne Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

The hillside vineyards of Le Bernè (from the Etruscan term verna, or ‘hillock) yield a subtle but classy pure sangiovese with old wood (large cask and 40% barrique) bright red fruit, and light cinnamon spice aromatics leading, while the palate shows real depth and elegance. Tannins are fine but firm, acids succulent, juicy, and balanced, and length and depth are genuine. This should be very fine in 2-3 years, and hold at least another half dozen after that. (90 points.)

2013 Palazzo Vecchio “Maestro” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

The wine from the majestic hilltop property of Palazzo Vecchio in the eastern part of the zone wine shows more ripeness and depth than the average in 2013, sappy and fruity, but also savoury, with a genuinely salty taste on the palate. Superiore length and complexity, too. I like the range of savoury, earthy-resinous notes. Quite distinctively salty. Sangiovese with 10% cannaiolo, 5% mammolo. Best after 2019. (90 points.)

2013 Antico Colle Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Evident wood spice and herbal-cabernet family aromatics lead off, despite just 5% merlot blended in– such is the delicate nature of sangiovese – but it works nicely nonetheless. The palate is mid-weight, juicy, with solid depth, length and ultimately complexity. This is juicy and pleasant, less aggressive than many of the 2013s. (89 points.)

2013 Gattavecchi “Parceto” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Gattavecchi is one of the historic names in Montepulciano, and the cellars in the center of town date back the Etruscan period, but the style is thoroughly modern. The Parceto selection is a riper, more forward and darker fruit-scented than the standard range from Gattavecchi, still in a more modern style, but with solid flesh and fruit extract to match firm acids and tannins. Length and depth are good to very good. Give this a year or two for toasty wood notes to better integrate. (89 points.)

2013 Lunadoro “Pagliaretto” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

This is fine and fleshy, relatively soft (but still very sangiovese-esque), with succulent acids and a nice volatile lift on the finish. I like the fruit character here, the fleshy morello cherry flavours; a touch of acetic acid adds complexity and lift. (89 points.)

2013 Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Boscarelli is a relatively small, 14.5ha estate established in 1962 on the celebrated Cervognano hill in the southern sectore of the appellation. The 2013 is a pretty, bright, red fruit-led expression, with fleshy, better-than-average depth on the palate. Tannins are still firm and puckering, but riper than the mean for the vintage. Classic sangiovese character (plus 15% canaiolo, colorino and mammolo), with solid length. Best after 2019. (88 points.)

2013 Tenuta di Gracciano della Seta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

The Gracciano hills north of Montepulciano are one of the area’s historic crus, and the estate’s history stretches back to the early 19th century. In 2011 Marco, Vannozza and Galdina della Seta acquired the property from their grandmother and have embarked on conversion to organics and a low-intervention approach in the winery the results of which are already noted. The 2013 is attractive and bright, with tart red fruit, succulent acids and good to very good length and complexity overall. A firm, honest, balanced wine, if not expansive or overly complex. (88 points.)

Promising 2013 cask samples

2013 Fattoria della Talosa Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

This was one of the properties that most impressed me on my last visit to Montepulciano, and happily quality is still among the top in the appellation. Talosa was indeed among the first wineries to focus on quality, established in 1972 by Angelo Jacorossi, with historic Etruscan cellars right under the town’s main square. Attentive farming, simple winemaking and ageing in large old cask express the region faithfully. The 2013 is certainly quality wine, succulent, balanced, fresh and spicy, unusually fleshy for the vintage with very good length. (90-91 points.) There’s also an excellent 2012 Riserva in the pipelines from Talosa, still in cask.

2013 Tenuta Valdipiatta “Vigna ‘d’Alfiero’ Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Fullish, fleshy, concentrated and quite ripe, with abundant, still rough and sandy tannins that should integrate in time. Fruit slips seamlessly between red and black, and wood is not a significant flavour influence. Long finish. Tidy wine. (91-92 points.)

2013 Montemercurio “Messagero” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Another promising sample, fleshy and fruity, like a fresh morello cherry, black cherry, succulent and juicy, Alcohol spikes a touch but the fruit holds on. Tannins are slightly drying, but I think there’s enough fruit extract to hold it together. (90+ points.)

2013 Salchetto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

A promising result here in 2013 from Salchetto, firm in the vintage style, but not hard or shrill. There’s fine, fleshy fruit, mostly red, and limited barrel influence – this is all about the savoury red berry character. (90-91 points)

2013 Fattoria del Cerro “Antica Chiusina” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

A heavily toasted barrel-influenced version, crafted in a modern, forward, coffee-inflected style. Fruit is ripe and verging on jammy/candied, and the palate is thick. Concentrated to be sure, but certainly not excessively overdone, In a forward style nonetheless. This will appeal widely no doubt. (89-90 points.)

Top 2012 Riservas

2012 Avignonesi “Grande Annata” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Avignonesi is the biggest player on the DOCG with over 200 hectares, all the more impressive that owner Virginie Saverys has undertaken biodynamic faming since acquiring the property in 2009. Although the 2013 did not particularly impress, the 2012 riserva is a terrific wine, ripe, classy, complex, succulent and silky yet finely woven and taught. I love the firmness, the juicy acids, the savoury fruit character, the excellent length. Best after 2018. (92 points.)

2012 Lunadoro “Quercione” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

Resinous and closed off the top, but the palate is fleshy, succulent and deep, with expansive flavours and very good length. This is fine wine, best in another 3-4 years no doubt. (91 points.)

2012 Fattoria La Braccesca “Santa Pia” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

Antinori’s Montepulciano outpost, La Braccesca’s large, 330ha vineyard borders Umbria in the east sector of the DOCG. The Santa Pia Riseverva is generous and ripe, fruity and toasty example, modern in style but full of pleasure, with ripe tannins and marked but balanced acids. Wood could still use a couple of years to fully integrate, but this shows lots of promise for those seeking a more immediate and generous style. (90 points.)

2012 Il Conventino Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

I’ve been following Il Conventino for many years now, always a reliable name in the region, organically farming 25 prime hectares in the southern sector. The 2012 riserva is still somewhat closed on the nose, but the palate is nicely weighted, juicy, firm, without obvious wood influence, and mostly tart red and dark berry fruit and good to very good length. Solid. (90 points.)

2012 Le Bernè Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

A markedly woody wine on the nose, resinous, with little fruit currently on display, but the palate picks it up with considerable salinity and juicy acids. This comes across as a Rioja-like wine, woody, but light on its feet. Length, depth and complexity are indeed quite good. (90 points.)

2012 Tenuta Gracciano della Seta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

A fleshy, mid-weight, succulent and juicy Riserva here, with old world styling, firm and crunchy acids, and very good to excellent length. This is a solid mouthful, authentically rendered, with solid complexity and expansiveness. (90 points.)

Montefalco Sagrantino

Around the turn of the millenium, Umbria’s flagship native grape variety sagrantino was very likely not on your radar, nor even most Italians’ radar. I know it wasn’t on mine. Despite it’s 500+ year history in the region around the town of Montefalco in the region of Umbria (“The green heart of Italy”), by the 1960s the grape had all but disappeared. But Umbria, and Montefalco, are on the move. Tourism is up significantly. The number of producer-bottlers has risen dramatically in the last couple of decades, now numbering over 60. If a glass of Montefalco Sagrantino has yet to pass your lips, chance are that will change very soon.

For most of its existence, sagrantino was used to produce sacramental wine, the favourite of local clergy for its propensity to produce powerful, sweet, long-lasting wines from partially dried grapes in the style of recioto in Valpolicella. The original name of the grape, as you may have guessed already, derives from sacrament, and until fairly recently was still called sacrantino.

But sweet passito styles had fallen out of fashion, and producing a palatable dry version of sagrantino proved to be a considerable challenge. The grape is most famous for being the most extract-rich variety known, by which I mean deeply coloured, but also especially tannic. Young sagrantino can be downright beastly, mouth-stripping, sucking every last once of moisture out of your desperately parched mouth.

It didn’t help that vineyards were set up all wrong to make dry wines, planted at low densities, and trellised to maximize production. The already late-ripening sagrantino never really stood a fair chance of reaching full maturity, and temper those fierce tannins. Yet when partially dried and fermented to leave some residual sugar, producers could balance the tannic excess and create intriguing bitter-sweet sacramental wines. But fermented dry, the wines were all but undrinkable.

Things started to change in the 1970s. Although not the first – Adanti and Antonelli were already bottling wines in the 1970s – Arnaldo Caprai is the man generally credited with reviving the fortunes of sagrantino. He purchased his property in 1971 and revived commercial production, shifting away from the sweet versions, virtually the only ones known in the period. But it was his son Marco who would raise quality and bring sagrantino to the world under the Caprai name after taking over the family operation in 1989. Marco set about revolutionizing production, undertaking multiple experiments with the help of the University of Milan with the goal of producing quality dry red wine.

The starting point was the vineyards. Caprai experimented with various trellising to determine the best way to reach higher and more consistent levels of ripeness (finally landing on cordon spur training), and higher densities, between 5000 and 7000 vines per hectare. Different vinification techniques were then explored. Counter-intuitively, Caprai found that longer macerations, 3-4 weeks or longer, actually had the effect of softening tannins.

As Filippo Antonelli later explains, “the highest percentage of tannins in sagrantino come from the skins and are released in the first 3-4 days of fermentation. So shortening the fermentation, as was done, say, in Barolo to soften nebbiolo, doesn’t work with sagrantino”. Caprai, Antonelli and others learned that extending the maceration after fermentation allowed the skins to re-absorb some tannins and colour, resulting in a relatively more supple expression. It’s also speculated that the skins eventually start to release proteins, which further soften the texture by adding supple mass.

Most producers today also agree that eliminate a percentage of the seeds during fermentation – source of the most astringent tannins – in a process called délestage, or rack and return is a critical step in production. Fermenting must is drained out of tank through a fine screen that catches the seeds, which are them removed before the wine is returned to the vat.

Barrel ageing remains somewhat contentious. Some producers like Caprai believe that small barrels, new French wood in particular with at least medium toast is key to softening sagrantino’s texture. His top cuvée, Montefalco Sagrantino ‘25 Anni’ is given the 200% new wood treatment, racked after a year or so from new barrels to another set of new barrels. It’s a wine that takes years, however, to come around in bottle.

Yet others firmly believe that large casks and time are key to softening and polishing the grape’s firm character. Newcomer Milanese Peter Heilbrun uses only large, 5000+ liter Slavonian oak casks for long ageing to great effect, his first vintages showing tremendous refinement and a perfumed, ethereal, almost nebbiolo-like character, a wine he loves and models his sagrantino after. Tenuta Castelbuono, owned by the Lunelli family of Trentino (owners of the successful Cantina Ferrari, producers of sparkling Trento DOC) also uses large casks exclusively for ageing sagrantino, yielding wines of impressive elegance; experiments with clay vessels are also underway, the aim being to allow critical oxygenation to soften tannins without the unwanted addition of oak flavour. Adanti uses both tonneaux and large cask to similar, excellent effect, as does Antonelli, whose experimentation has extended to both clay and ceramic vessels for ageing.

All in all, the wine scene in Montefalco is vibrant and developing rapidly. Riper grapes and better winemaking have radically altered character of sagrantino, launching it into the modern wine world. But make no mistake; these are still big, structured, highly ageworthy wines. Sipping sagrantino on the terrace is not counseled. Given the necessity of full ripeness, and the grape’s efficiency in producing sugar thanks to its large canopy and propensity to grow new, photosynthesis-effective young leaves, sagrantino under 14% alcohol is impossible to find. 15%+ is more common. As one producer put it: “drinking sagrantino without food would be unthinkable, preferably with roast lamb, wild boar or other game meat. Sagrantino is a veriety that leaves a strong impression.”

Most of the region’s 2000 hectares of vineyards (of which about 700 are sagrantino) are planted on predominantly heavy clay soils, with some more stony, limestone-influenced sites, others with more sand. Yet the relationship between sagrantino and vineyard site is not well understood. The next step for the region is to gain a better understanding of vineyards, and their influence on style. “The interaction between sagrantino and vineyard is not well known”, relates Antonelli, curiously, since his family has had vineyards in the region since the late 19th century. “In Montefalco, vineyards were never shared here as they were in, say Piedmont where grape traders understood what each site gives. Here, the hand of the producer is more prevalent. House style really drives the wine style. As for vineyard expression, it’s ground zero”, he continues. But with sufficient producers now producing and bottling quality wine, it’s a just matter of time.

Montefalco Rosso and Trebbiano Spoletino

A good entry point into the wines of the region is through Montefalco Rosso and Rosso Riserva, earlier maturing, easier drinking wines made predominantly from sangiovese (60-70%) with the addition of sagrantino up to 15%, and other permitted grapes up to 15%. House styles of course vary, but in general these are lively, savoury wines ideally suited for the table.

A special mention is due here to Trebbiano Spoletino, in my view the most interesting white variety in Umbria, and indeed the most illustrious grape within the large and undistinguished trebbiano family of grapes. There’s speculation that the Spoletino biotype is related to the Greco of Campania, and indeed there’s a steely, minerally edge coupled with impressive extract, making it uncommonly ageworthy among Italian whites as several older vintages have shown. With age, trebbiano spoletino acquires an unusual white and black truffle scent (dimethyl sulphide), and a kerosene like note reminiscent of aged Riesling (or Greco). Along with verdicchio, tebbiano spoletino is arguably central Italy’s best white wine. For top examples try Tabarrini’s ‘Adarmando’, made from vines over a century old, still trained up trees in the style that’s been around since Etruscan times. Examples from Perticaia, Antonelli, Le Cimate and the first release from Brocatelli-Galli are also excellent.

Vintage 2012

2012 is considered an excellent vintage for sagrantino. Yields were naturally reduced thanks to late frosts in April and May, which turned out to be a blessing over the long, hot, very dry summer. Lower crops reduced water stress, despite hot winds lasting into September. October rains rebalanced the vines, completing maturity without excessively raisined flavours, and harvest continued into early November. On the whole the wines are generously proportioned, fully ripe, full-bodied, with excellent ageing potential.

Montefalco Sagrantino: A Top Dozen 2012s

2012 Tenuta Bellafonte Montefalco Sagrantino

Milanese entrepreneur Peter Heilbrun makes an uncommonly elegant sagrantino, this 2012 cask sample showing sweet-fruited perfumed with no evident wood character, all red fruit and candied-floral aromatics, supple, ripe tannins and balanced acids. There’s a great deal of succulent fruit extract and the length is excellent. Sappy and fleshy, with genuine concentration and expansiveness, what you could call a Piedmont-inspired expression. (94 points.)

2012 Fattoria Colleallodole Milziade Antano Montefalco Sagrantino Colleallodole

Ultra-traditionalist Milziade Antano makes big and bold wines, though his 2012 old vine selection ‘Colleadole’ selection appears lighter and slightly less rustic style then previous vintages. It’s still dense and full of concentrated ripe red fruit to be sure, but lifted by orange peel and floral notes. The palate is supple, ripe and wholly satisfying, and notably clean without wood flavours, and while alcohol is definitely high, it’s integrated in the ensemble. This could even be called elegant. (94 points.) The “regular” 2012 Montefalco Sagrantino is just a step behind equally deeply coloured and ultra-ripe, lightly volatile (acetic), but well within acceptable bounds, brimming with concentrated fruit and without obvious oak flavour. This should age very nicely. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Cavinona.

2012 Moretti Omero Montefalco Sagrantino Vignalunga

Moretti Omero is a fine discovery, an organic farm producing refined sagrantino since the early 1990s. The vineyard selection Vignalunga is an elegant, stylish, uncommonly supple sagrantino, immediately inviting and attractive, polished and modern, but alive, with high quality wood spice (aged two years in French tonneaux) (93 points). The ‘regular’ selection is very nearly as good, with a beautiful fruit expression accented with light wood spice, and perfectly pitched tannins. (92 points.)

2012 Adanti Montefalco Sagrantino Il Domenico

One of the original Montefalco producers bottling since 1979, Adanti’s lovely 2012 Sagrantino (cask sampl) is pale garnet, open, high-toned, and floral, with a touch of acetone but correct, and vibrant red fruit, like dried strawberry, with no evident oak (aged in cask and tonneaux). The palate is balanced and juicy, lively, firm to be sure but ripe, with attractive fruit and supple texture. (93 points.)

2012 Tenuta Castelbuono – Tenute Lunelli Montefalco Sagrantino Carapace

Aside from the stunning winery designed in the shape of a shell (‘Carapace’) by celebrated artist Arnaldo Pomodoro, the wines of Tenuta Castelbuono, certified organic from 2014, show a similar artistic touch, light, unmanipulated, focused on elegance, produced under the guidance of respected Tuscan consultant Luca d’Attoma. Sagrantino sees only large cask, and in 2012 the result is fine and fragrant, spicy and complex without exaggerated ripeness. This sports some intriguing herbal-resinous-peppery spice, alongside ripe, lightly dried mostly red fruit. The palate is med-full and well balanced, with relatively fine-grained tannins and long-perfumed finish. 2015 experiments with clay amphora and small tunconic wooden fermenters are very promising. (93 points.)

2012 Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino Campo delle Cerqua

Fifth generation winemaker Gianpaolo Tabarrini is Montefalco’s iconoclast, an energetic, outspoken winemaker with a contagious affection for the region and its native varieties. He was the first in his family to begin bottling in the mid-1990s. The full range is exceptional, and of the two single vineyard expressions of sagrantino, Campo delle Cerqua is the more elegant, crafted in a lifted, high-toned, floral style with fine-grained tannins all in all, and relatively higher acids. It’s one of the top 2012s to be sure, still heavily extracted, dense, dark concentrated, massive, in need of many years in bottle. (93 points.) Colle alle Macchie, a warmer site, is an unapologetically massive and bruising wine, but remarkable all the same. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Trialto Wine Group.

2012 Romanelli Montefalco Sagrantino Medeo

Devis Romanelli is a young, ambitious producer, who’s first bottled vintage was 2008. The aim from the start was to produce rich, supple, very ripe sagrantino in a more polished and modern style. He farms organically but has not sought certification (his olive groves are certified organic), Medeo is a vineyard selection from his 8 hectares, a parcel which, according Romanelli, shows more balanced and consistent maturity, first bottled in 2011. The 2012 is a great leap forward, however, offering better fruit quality and less obvious wood (the 2011 was all new wood; the 2012 includes a percentage of old wood), and dense and rich, powerful and concentrated palate. Tannins are ultra-abundant but fully ripe, palate coating, bolstered by succulent acids. Excellent length. The top in Romanelli’s range. (93 points.)

2012 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino ’25 Anni’

The top sagrantino selection from Marco Caprai, 25 Anni is generally produced from the same plot each year, but not systematically a vineyard selection. Since this wine was first made in 1993 (when celebrating 25 years of winemaking), Caprai’s vineyards have expanded considerably, now c. 140 hectares; the oldest of which were planted in 1989. It’s given the 200% wood treatment, moving to a second set of new barriques for half of the 28 month elevage. There’s sweet wood/cacao noted off the top – this is still extremely young – and dark fruit leads, with roasted spice and toasted wood to match. The palate is structured to be sure, but again the tannins are relatively refined, surrounded by abundant, fleshy/plummy fruit. Very good to excellent length. Sagrantino is surely one of the only varieties in the world that can handle this much new oak, for so long, without becoming overwhelmed, even if it’s not necessary in my view. Patience required; best after 2022. (92 points.) Imported into Ontario by the Stem Wine Group.

2012 Colsanto Montefalco Sagrantino

Colsanto’s lovely 2012 is deeply coloured with lightly baked/raisined/oxidative fruit, like red berry jam, with full, supple, texture, evidently high in extract, concentration and alcohol, and generously proportioned; a satisfying mouthful. Wood is not a significant factor. Pleasantly bitter on the finish (barrel sample, 92 points.)

2012 Terre della Custodia Montefalco Sagrantino

A clean and technically spot-on sagrantino, fragrant, spicy, red fruit-inflected, attractively complex, without obvious oak aromatics. The palate is balanced-mid-weight, with fine, black pepper spice, firm but fine-grained tannins, abundant but neither overly plush nor hard, rather refined all in all. A fine wine, hitting the right place between regional/traditional, and widely appealing. (Barrel sample, 92 points.)

2012 Fratelli Pardi Montefalco Sagrantino

This is intriguingly spiced, like an incense-infused church interior, with a light black pepper note and abundant ripe but fresh dark fruit. The palate is relatively suave and fleshy, with no apparent barrique influence (although aged for 18 months in barrel), just plenty of succulent red and black fruit character. Fine, supple tannins, relatively, concentrated and fully ripe, are in balance, albeit on a massive frame. (91 points.)

2012 Il Colle di Saragnano Montefalco Sagrantino

This is a refined and elegant, fullish, supple, concentrated and clean sagrantino, with no apparent oak flavours, or at least very well integrated into the ensemble. High alcohol accompanies ripe tannins and slightly jammy flavours, and overall this works very nicely. (91 points.)

Top Current Releases/Older Vintages

2006 Antonelli Sagrantino Montefalco Chiusa di Pannone

Antonelli is a reference for the region, crafting uncommonly delicate and refined wines across the board, from the former property of the Archbishop of Spoleto, in the family since the late 19th century. Chiusa di Pannone is Antonelli’s excellent single vineyard expression of sagrantino, from the highest elevation vines on the property at 400m, facing southeast, the first high-density planting on the property in the early 1990s. It’s given more time in wood and bottle before release. This is downright succulent and elegant; tannins are really fine and tightly knit. Excellent length. Perfumed, classy. A top example.  (94 points.) Imported into Ontario by Cavinona.

2010 Antonelli Sagrantino Montefalco

Open, perfumed and elegant on the nose, pleasantly peppery and spicy, with wood a minor influence. The palate is balanced and elegant, with firm but not hard tannins, and lingering finish. Really refined and fabulously elegant, also unique and distinctive. 15% alcohol is perfectly integrated. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Cavinona.

2008 Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino Campo delle Cerqua

In the exceptional Tabarrini range, the Campo delle Cerqua is the more elegant expression of sagrantino, crafted in a more lifted, high-toned, floral style with fine-grained tannins all in all, and relatively higher acids. This verges on elegances within the massive and concentrated range of Montefalco, with outstanding length. This is superb wine. (94 points.) Imported into Ontario by Trialto.

2007 Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino Colle alle Machie

A warm site in a warm vintage, the Colle alle Macchie is an impenetrably deep, dark red colour, with a rich, prune jam like expression on the nose and palate, and massive extract and ultra intense concentration. This is a take no prisoners wine, with massive tannins coated in extreme fruit extract – a classic wine for the region, no apologies for its bruising character but remarkable all the same. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Trialto.

2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino

A marvelously rich and full-bodied, firm but not unyielding sagrantino, in the Pambuffetti family sine the mid 20th century. This is dense and concentrated yet neither heavy nor pasty, and while it may not have the flash and new wood styling of some of the more modern sagrantinos emerging from Umbria, this has ample regional and varietal character in an uncompromising style. Don’t expect soft and cuddly – this is authoritative and palate grabbing, with flavours that are slipping into the dried fruit spectrum, and loads of earth and wet forest floor notes. Very good length. A wine to warm the body on a cold winter’s night.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 2 Montefalco
The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 3 Montepulciano

Italy New Vintage Report Part 4: 2012 Amarone and 2014 Valpolicella

If you are the Canadian Agent for any of the wines mentioned, please send us a note to feedback@wineAlign.com with availability and pricing and we’ll gladly update our site.


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The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 2 Montefalco

Montalcino, Montefalco and Montepulciano
Text, Reviews and Photos by John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Each year, wine regions throughout Italy organize tastings to showcase the latest vintage released to market, called anteprime, the Italian equivalent of Bordeaux’s en primeur tasting, with the one difference being that in many, but not all cases, wines are already finished and in bottle. This year I report on the anteprime from Montalcino for 2011 Brunello (by law, Brunello must be cellared five years before release), 2012 Montefalco Sagrantino, and 2013 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The articles are posted in three parts for easier access.

Part 2: Montefalco Sagrantino

Around the turn of the millenium, Umbria’s flagship native grape variety sagrantino was very likely not on your radar, nor even most Italians’ radar. I know it wasn’t on mine. Despite it’s 500+ year history in the region around the town of Montefalco in the region of Umbria (“The green heart of Italy”), by the 1960s the grape had all but disappeared. But Umbria, and Montefalco, are on the move. Tourism is up significantly. The number of producer-bottlers has risen dramatically in the last couple of decades, now numbering over 60. If a glass of Montefalco Sagrantino has yet to pass your lips, chance are that will change very soon.

For most of its existence, sagrantino was used to produce sacramental wine, the favourite of local clergy for its propensity to produce powerful, sweet, long-lasting wines from partially dried grapes in the style of recioto in Valpolicella. The original name of the grape, as you may have guessed already, derives from sacrament, and until fairly recently was still called sacrantino.

Montefalco from Poggio Turri-4412

Montefalco from Poggio Turri

But sweet passito styles had fallen out of fashion, and producing a palatable dry version of sagrantino proved to be a considerable challenge. The grape is most famous for being the most extract-rich variety known, by which I mean deeply coloured, but also especially tannic. Young sagrantino can be downright beastly, mouth-stripping, sucking every last once of moisture out of your desperately parched mouth.

It didn’t help that vineyards were set up all wrong to make dry wines, planted at low densities, and trellised to maximize production. The already late-ripening sagrantino never really stood a fair chance of reaching full maturity, and temper those fierce tannins. Yet when partially dried and fermented to leave some residual sugar, producers could balance the tannic excess and create intriguing bitter-sweet sacramental wines. But fermented dry, the wines were all but undrinkable.

The Umbra Valley surrounded by the Apennines-4346

The Umbra Valley surrounded by the Apennines

Things started to change in the 1970s. Although not the first – Adanti and Antonelli were already bottling wines in the 1970s – Arnaldo Caprai is the man generally credited with reviving the fortunes of sagrantino. He purchased his property in 1971 and revived commercial production, shifting away from the sweet versions, virtually the only ones known in the period. But it was his son Marco who would raise quality and bring sagrantino to the world under the Caprai name after taking over the family operation in 1989. Marco set about revolutionizing production, undertaking multiple experiments with the help of the University of Milan with the goal of producing quality dry red wine.

Caprai's experimental vineyards in Montefalco-4275

Caprai’s experimental vineyards in Montefalco

The starting point was the vineyards. Caprai experimented with various trellising to determine the best way to reach higher and more consistent levels of ripeness (finally landing on cordon spur training), and higher densities, between 5000 and 7000 vines per hectare. Different vinification techniques were then explored. Counter-intuitively, Caprai found that longer macerations, 3-4 weeks or longer, actually had the effect of softening tannins.

As Filippo Antonelli later explains, “the highest percentage of tannins in sagrantino come from the skins and are released in the first 3-4 days of fermentation. So shortening the fermentation, as was done, say, in Barolo to soften nebbiolo, doesn’t work with sagrantino”. Caprai, Antonelli and others learned that extending the maceration after fermentation allowed the skins to re-absorb some tannins and colour, resulting in a relatively more supple expression. It’s also speculated that the skins eventually start to release proteins, which further soften the texture by adding supple mass.

Most producers today also agree that eliminate a percentage of the seeds during fermentation – source of the most astringent tannins – in a process called délestage, or rack and return is a critical step in production. Fermenting must is drained out of tank through a fine screen that catches the seeds, which are them removed before the wine is returned to the vat.

Barrel ageing remains somewhat contentious. Some producers like Caprai believe that small barrels, new French wood in particular with at least medium toast is key to softening sagrantino’s texture. His top cuvée, Montefalco Sagrantino ‘25 Anni’ is given the 200% new wood treatment, racked after a year or so from new barrels to another set of new barrels. It’s a wine that takes years, however, to come around in bottle.

Marco Caprai-4280

Marco Caprai

Yet others firmly believe that large casks and time are key to softening and polishing the grape’s firm character. Newcomer Milanese Peter Heilbrun uses only large, 5000+ liter Slavonian oak casks for long ageing to great effect, his first vintages showing tremendous refinement and a perfumed, ethereal, almost nebbiolo-like character, a wine he loves and models his sagrantino after. Tenuta Castelbuono, owned by the Lunelli family of Trentino (owners of the successful Cantina Ferrari, producers of sparkling Trento DOC) also uses large casks exclusively for ageing sagrantino, yielding wines of impressive elegance; experiments with clay vessels are also underway, the aim being to allow critical oxygenation to soften tannins without the unwanted addition of oak flavour. Adanti uses both tonneaux and large cask to similar, excellent effect, as does Antonelli, whose experimentation has extended to both clay and ceramic vessels for ageing.

Peter Heilbrun, Tenuta Bellafonte-4364

Peter Heilbrun, Tenuta Bellafonte

All in all, the wine scene in Montefalco is vibrant and developing rapidly. Riper grapes and better winemaking have radically altered character of sagrantino, launching it into the modern wine world. But make no mistake; these are still big, structured, highly ageworthy wines. Sipping sagrantino on the terrace is not counseled. Given the necessity of full ripeness, and the grape’s efficiency in producing sugar thanks to its large canopy and propensity to grow new, photosynthesis-effective young leaves, sagrantino under 14% alcohol is impossible to find. 15%+ is more common. As one producer put it: “drinking sagrantino without food would be unthinkable, preferably with roast lamb, wild boar or other game meat. Sagrantino is a veriety that leaves a strong impression.”

Most of the region’s 2000 hectares of vineyards (of which about 700 are sagrantino) are planted on predominantly heavy clay soils, with some more stony, limestone-influenced sites, others with more sand. Yet the relationship between sagrantino and vineyard site is not well understood. The next step for the region is to gain a better understanding of vineyards, and their influence on style. “The interaction between sagrantino and vineyard is not well known”, relates Antonelli, curiously, since his family has had vineyards in the region since the late 19th century. “In Montefalco, vineyards were never shared here as they were in, say Piedmont where grape traders understood what each site gives. Here, the hand of the producer is more prevalent. House style really drives the wine style. As for vineyard expression, it’s ground zero”, he continues. But with sufficient producers now producing and bottling quality wine, it’s a just matter of time.

Montefalco-4267

Montefalco

Montefalco Rosso and Trebbiano Spoletino

A good entry point into the wines of the region is through Montefalco Rosso and Rosso Riserva, earlier maturing, easier drinking wines made predominantly from sangiovese (60-70%) with the addition of sagrantino up to 15%, and other permitted grapes up to 15%. House styles of course vary, but in general these are lively, savoury wines ideally suited for the table.

A special mention is due here to Trebbiano Spoletino, in my view the most interesting white variety in Umbria, and indeed the most illustrious grape within the large and undistinguished trebbiano family of grapes. There’s speculation that the Spoletino biotype is related to the Greco of Campania, and indeed there’s a steely, minerally edge coupled with impressive extract, making it uncommonly ageworthy among Italian whites as several older vintages have shown. With age, trebbiano spoletino acquires an unusual white and black truffle scent (dimethyl sulphide), and a kerosene like note reminiscent of aged Riesling (or Greco). Along with verdicchio, tebbiano spoletino is arguably central Italy’s best white wine. For top examples try Tabarrini’s ‘Adarmando’, made from vines over a century old, still trained up trees in the style that’s been around since Etruscan times. Examples from Perticaia, Antonelli, Le Cimate and the first release from Brocatelli-Galli are also excellent.

Vintage 2012

2012 is considered an excellent vintage for sagrantino. Yields were naturally reduced thanks to late frosts in April and May, which turned out to be a blessing over the long, hot, very dry summer. Lower crops reduced water stress, despite hot winds lasting into September. October rains rebalanced the vines, completing maturity without excessively raisined flavours, and harvest continued into early November. On the whole the wines are generously proportioned, fully ripe, full-bodied, with excellent ageing potential.

Montefalco Sagrantino: A Top Dozen 2012s

2012 Tenuta Bellafonte Montefalco Sagrantino

Milanese entrepreneur Peter Heilbrun makes an uncommonly elegant sagrantino, this 2012 cask sample showing sweet-fruited perfumed with no evident wood character, all red fruit and candied-floral aromatics, supple, ripe tannins and balanced acids. There’s a great deal of succulent fruit extract and the length is excellent. Sappy and fleshy, with genuine concentration and expansiveness, what you could call a Piedmont-inspired expression. (94 points.)

2012 Fattoria Colleallodole Milziade Antano Montefalco Sagrantino Colleallodole

Ultra-traditionalist Milziade Antano makes big and bold wines, though his 2012 old vine selection ‘Colleadole’ selection appears lighter and slightly less rustic style then previous vintages. It’s still dense and full of concentrated ripe red fruit to be sure, but lifted by orange peel and floral notes. The palate is supple, ripe and wholly satisfying, and notably clean without wood flavours, and while alcohol is definitely high, it’s integrated in the ensemble. This could even be called elegant. (94 points.) The “regular” 2012 Montefalco Sagrantino is just a step behind equally deeply coloured and ultra-ripe, lightly volatile (acetic), but well within acceptable bounds, brimming with concentrated fruit and without obvious oak flavour. This should age very nicely. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Cavinona.

2012 Moretti Omero Montefalco Sagrantino Vignalunga

Moretti Omero is a fine discovery, an organic farm producing refined sagrantino since the early 1990s. The vineyard selection Vignalunga is an elegant, stylish, uncommonly supple sagrantino, immediately inviting and attractive, polished and modern, but alive, with high quality wood spice (aged two years in French tonneaux) (93 points). The ‘regular’ selection is very nearly as good, with a beautiful fruit expression accented with light wood spice, and perfectly pitched tannins. (92 points.)

2012 Adanti Montefalco Sagrantino Il Domenico

One of the original Montefalco producers bottling since 1979, Adanti’s lovely 2012 Sagrantino (cask sampl) is pale garnet, open, high-toned, and floral, with a touch of acetone but correct, and vibrant red fruit, like dried strawberry, with no evident oak (aged in cask and tonneaux). The palate is balanced and juicy, lively, firm to be sure but ripe, with attractive fruit and supple texture. (93 points.)

2012 Tenuta Castelbuono – Tenute Lunelli Montefalco Sagrantino Carapace

Aside from the stunning winery designed in the shape of a shell (‘Carapace’) by celebrated artist Arnaldo Pomodoro, the wines of Tenuta Castelbuono, certified organic from 2014, show a similar artistic touch, light, unmanipulated, focused on elegance, produced under the guidance of respected Tuscan consultant Luca d’Attoma. Sagrantino sees only large cask, and in 2012 the result is fine and fragrant, spicy and complex without exaggerated ripeness. This sports some intriguing herbal-resinous-peppery spice, alongside ripe, lightly dried mostly red fruit. The palate is med-full and well balanced, with relatively fine-grained tannins and long-perfumed finish. 2015 experiments with clay amphora and small tunconic wooden fermenters are very promising. (93 points.)

2012 Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino Campo delle Cerqua

Fifth generation winemaker Gianpaolo Tabarrini is Montefalco’s iconoclast, an energetic, outspoken winemaker with a contagious affection for the region and its native varieties. He was the first in his family to begin bottling in the mid-1990s. The full range is exceptional, and of the two single vineyard expressions of sagrantino, Campo delle Cerqua is the more elegant, crafted in a lifted, high-toned, floral style with fine-grained tannins all in all, and relatively higher acids. It’s one of the top 2012s to be sure, still heavily extracted, dense, dark concentrated, massive, in need of many years in bottle. (93 points.) Colle alle Macchie, a warmer site, is an unapologetically massive and bruising wine, but remarkable all the same. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Trialto Wine Group.

2012 Romanelli Montefalco Sagrantino Medeo

Devis Romanelli is a young, ambitious producer, who’s first bottled vintage was 2008. The aim from the start was to produce rich, supple, very ripe sagrantino in a more polished and modern style. He farms organically but has not sought certification (his olive groves are certified organic), Medeo is a vineyard selection from his 8 hectares, a parcel which, according Romanelli, shows more balanced and consistent maturity, first bottled in 2011. The 2012 is a great leap forward, however, offering better fruit quality and less obvious wood (the 2011 was all new wood; the 2012 includes a percentage of old wood), and dense and rich, powerful and concentrated palate. Tannins are ultra-abundant but fully ripe, palate coating, bolstered by succulent acids. Excellent length. The top in Romanelli’s range. (93 points.)

2012 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino ’25 Anni’

The top sagrantino selection from Marco Caprai, 25 Anni is generally produced from the same plot each year, but not systematically a vineyard selection. Since this wine was first made in 1993 (when celebrating 25 years of winemaking), Caprai’s vineyards have expanded considerably, now c. 140 hectares; the oldest of which were planted in 1989. It’s given the 200% wood treatment, moving to a second set of new barriques for half of the 28 month elevage. There’s sweet wood/cacao noted off the top – this is still extremely young – and dark fruit leads, with roasted spice and toasted wood to match. The palate is structured to be sure, but again the tannins are relatively refined, surrounded by abundant, fleshy/plummy fruit. Very good to excellent length. Sagrantino is surely one of the only varieties in the world that can handle this much new oak, for so long, without becoming overwhelmed, even if it’s not necessary in my view. Patience required; best after 2022. (92 points.) Imported into Ontario by the Stem Wine Group.

2012 Colsanto Montefalco Sagrantino

Colsanto’s lovely 2012 is deeply coloured with lightly baked/raisined/oxidative fruit, like red berry jam, with full, supple, texture, evidently high in extract, concentration and alcohol, and generously proportioned; a satisfying mouthful. Wood is not a significant factor. Pleasantly bitter on the finish (barrel sample, 92 points.)

2012 Terre della Custodia Montefalco Sagrantino

A clean and technically spot-on sagrantino, fragrant, spicy, red fruit-inflected, attractively complex, without obvious oak aromatics. The palate is balanced-mid-weight, with fine, black pepper spice, firm but fine-grained tannins, abundant but neither overly plush nor hard, rather refined all in all. A fine wine, hitting the right place between regional/traditional, and widely appealing. (Barrel sample, 92 points.)

2012 Fratelli Pardi Montefalco Sagrantino

This is intriguingly spiced, like an incense-infused church interior, with a light black pepper note and abundant ripe but fresh dark fruit. The palate is relatively suave and fleshy, with no apparent barrique influence (although aged for 18 months in barrel), just plenty of succulent red and black fruit character. Fine, supple tannins, relatively, concentrated and fully ripe, are in balance, albeit on a massive frame. (91 points.)

2012 Il Colle di Saragnano Montefalco Sagrantino

This is a refined and elegant, fullish, supple, concentrated and clean sagrantino, with no apparent oak flavours, or at least very well integrated into the ensemble. High alcohol accompanies ripe tannins and slightly jammy flavours, and overall this works very nicely. (91 points.)

Top Current Releases/Older Vintages

2006 Antonelli Sagrantino Montefalco Chiusa di Pannone

Antonelli is a reference for the region, crafting uncommonly delicate and refined wines across the board, from the former property of the Archbishop of Spoleto, in the family since the late 19th century. Chiusa di Pannone is Antonelli’s excellent single vineyard expression of sagrantino, from the highest elevation vines on the property at 400m, facing southeast, the first high-density planting on the property in the early 1990s. It’s given more time in wood and bottle before release. This is downright succulent and elegant; tannins are really fine and tightly knit. Excellent length. Perfumed, classy. A top example.  (94 points.) Imported into Ontario by Cavinona.

2010 Antonelli Sagrantino Montefalco

Open, perfumed and elegant on the nose, pleasantly peppery and spicy, with wood a minor influence. The palate is balanced and elegant, with firm but not hard tannins, and lingering finish. Really refined and fabulously elegant, also unique and distinctive. 15% alcohol is perfectly integrated. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Cavinona.

2008 Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino Campo delle Cerqua

In the exceptional Tabarrini range, the Campo delle Cerqua is the more elegant expression of sagrantino, crafted in a more lifted, high-toned, floral style with fine-grained tannins all in all, and relatively higher acids. This verges on elegances within the massive and concentrated range of Montefalco, with outstanding length. This is superb wine. (94 points.) Imported into Ontario by Trialto.

2007 Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino Colle alle Machie

A warm site in a warm vintage, the Colle alle Macchie is an impenetrably deep, dark red colour, with a rich, prune jam like expression on the nose and palate, and massive extract and ultra intense concentration. This is a take no prisoners wine, with massive tannins coated in extreme fruit extract – a classic wine for the region, no apologies for its bruising character but remarkable all the same. (93 points.) Imported into Ontario by Trialto.

2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino

A marvelously rich and full-bodied, firm but not unyielding sagrantino, in the Pambuffetti family sine the mid 20th century. This is dense and concentrated yet neither heavy nor pasty, and while it may not have the flash and new wood styling of some of the more modern sagrantinos emerging from Umbria, this has ample regional and varietal character in an uncompromising style. Don’t expect soft and cuddly – this is authoritative and palate grabbing, with flavours that are slipping into the dried fruit spectrum, and loads of earth and wet forest floor notes. Very good length. A wine to warm the body on a cold winter’s night.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 1 Montalcino
The “TreMonti” New Vintage Report: Part 3 Montepulciano

Italy New Vintage Report Part 4: 2012 Amarone and 2014 Valpolicella

If you are the Canadian Agent for any of the wines mentioned, please send us a note to feedback@wineAlign.com with availability and pricing and we’ll gladly update our site.


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