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Bill’s Best Bets – March 19th Cellier Arrivals

The Riches of Italy – Part Two
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Italy is the focus of the March CELLIER magazine and I must congratulate the SAQ for having put together a really good selection of wines. Of the 30 wines from either March 5th or March 19th, I found the large majority to be highly recommendable. Normally at a tasting such as this, if I can find 10 of 30 that stoke me, then that’s pretty good.

And to add to the fun the vast majority of the wines are in the $20-$30 range making them very accessibly priced. What do you want? Nebbiolo? Aglianico? Grecanico? You might as well go for all of them. I have already posted my top picks from the March 5th selection in Part One, now here’s Part Two with the wines that I really loved from the March 19th group.  (Please note that you may not see all of the store inventory until the release date, but you can still plan ahead!)

CELLIER March 19 release

To kick things off, Paolo Scavino’s 2013 Vino Rosso is a remarkable wine for under $20. Light, bright but with remarkable complexity that is made with grapes harvested from the estate’s younger vines.

Another very reasonably priced Piedmont wine is Castello di Neive’s 2010 Barbaresco. While it should properly be called a Langhe as it doesn’t show the complexity of many more expensive Barbarescos, it nicely shows the finesse and aromatic joy that is the nebbiolo grape.

Paolo Scavino Vino Rosso 2013 Castello Di Neive Barbaresco 2010 Silvano Piacentini Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2012 Gerardo Cesari Jema Veronese 2010

If you are a fan of Ripassos, then Silvano Piacentini’s 2012 is a must try. Without going sweet, the wine is textured, complex and with admirable tannins that grip but don’t dry. For a twist on the theme, Cesari’s 2010 Jema is made with 100% corvina, and shows a touch of sweetness which ramps up the aromatics of dried fig and dates. Great wine for cheese.

Di Majo’s 2011 Norante is made with organically grown grapes from the Molise DOC, which is located in the southern part of the Abruzzo. Ripe and so wonderfully rustic, for $18, you can’t go wrong.

Di Majo Norante Algianico 2011 Prà Otto Soave Classico 2013Cos Rami Sicilia 2012

For you fans of Soave, one of the region’s best producers Prà, has an entry-level Soave that hits all the right notes. While they work on a riper style, the signature pulsing minerality drives this wine nicely.

And to finish, perhaps my favourite wine from the tasting is the 2012 Cos Rami. This Sicilian white, made grecanico and inzolia and vinified with extended skin contact which gives it a darker hue, is best drunk after a few hours in a carafe and at 10-16C. With lobster season around the corner, it makes a really interesting pairing. Incredible complexity and so much fun to drink.

CELLIER Premium Feature

Cellier New ArrivalsFor Chacun son Vin Premium members, we have added something new to the site to make your CELLIER shopping even easier. Now if you look under the Wine tab in the menu bar, you will see an option for <<CELLIER New Arrivals>>. By clicking here, you will be brought to a new page where we have grouped all of the new release wines and reviews together by date.

So you can check out my tasting notes on all the wines in one place.

Ciao!

Bill

“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

From CELLIER March 19, 2015:

Bill’s Best Bets
All Reviews
Part One – March 5th

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 7th – Part Two

The Tuscan Tapestry
By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES has entitled its March 7 release: The Tuscan Renaissance. Tuscan wine has been reborn so many times – even within the span of my 30 year career – that the word renaissance hardly applies anymore. It must be in the genome of the place to always be evolving, and nowadays Tuscan wine has become a blur of all its various eras, grape varieties, climates, altitudes and winemaking philosophies. Starting out, one still needs to learn the main appellations (or DOCs) and their authorized grape varieties, with sangiovese as its soul, but you then need to embrace all the variations as well.

It’s easiest in the end to try to define Tuscan wine as a whole – as it manifests in the glass. What is it? Is there a hook, a mood, a signature? Well I am looking for wines that are linear, trim, tucked in (like a well made bed), with aromas and flavours that are detailed, nuanced and finely interwoven – like a finely embroidered tapestry. Tuscan wines should not be loud, brash, aggressive or – god forbid – sweet or mochafied. They always seem to be aiming for sophistication even if some don’t achieve it.

The 15 Tuscan wines in this release offer a decent cross-section of regions, prices and styles with very good to excellent quality, and we three critics cover most of the selection here.

Nipozzano 2011 Vecchie Viti Riserva Chianti Rúfina, Tuscany ($29.95)

Il Grigio Da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010 Fattoria Carpineta Fontalpino Do ut des 2011 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Riserva Chianti Rúfina 2011David Lawrason – This lovely Chianti best expresses the sophisticated weave I was trying describe above. It has real charm and very good depth with classic, modern Chianti attributes.
John Szabo – Made from the oldest vines on Frescobaldi’s Nipozzano estate (age not specified), this clearly has better depth, structure and complexity than the average. I like the firm and dusty structure and the balanced-lively acids typical from this, the coolest and highest elevation Chianti subzone. It will certainly gain in complexity over the next 2-4 years in the bottle and hold even beyond that.
Sara d’Amato A premium bottling from the Nipozzano estate, this spicy, bold and exotic Chianti Rufina is undeniably compelling. I was enamored with the complex tapestry of cool spices, licorice and juicy cherry. Top notch!

Fattoria Carpineta 2011 Fontalpino Do ut des, Tuscany ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Vintages matter in Tuscany, and 2011 was not one of the greats. But this is one of the better 2011s I have had – showing better depth and power than most.  It is still young and sinewy with vibrancy and energy.
John Szabo - I’ve admired the Do ut des for several vintages now from Carpineta Fontalpino, a blend of equal parts sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon grown in the heart of the Classico zone of Chianti. I like the dark and smoky fruit profile, the abundant spice, the integrated barrel influence and the clear concentration and density. It’s enjoyable now, but better after 2017.

Il Grigio Da San Felice 2010 Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Tuscany ($46.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Il Grigio carries the Gran Selezione designation, only two years old now, which demands a longer ageing period than a riserva, a panel tasting and requires the use of highest quality fruit of the estate. Certainly living up to its top quality rank, the wine exhibits exquisite complexity, great harmony and impressive length.
David Lawrason –  I first encountered this wine while tasting the range from San Felice, one of the grand wineries and hotel properties of Tuscany. It was clearly the most structured and deepest wine, and the longer ageing had clearly – and by design – removed fruit as a flavour focus. Yet there is great complexity. It is a wine from a great vintage destined to be drunk around 2020.

Castelli Del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico, Tuscany ($23.95)

Tenuta Di Trecciano Chianti Colli Senesi 2013 Rocca Di Frassinello Le Sughere Di Frassinello 2011 Panzano Chianti Classico 2008John Szabo - Castelli del Grevepesa is an association of 150 winegrowers throughout central Tuscany, and this is a selection from the village of Panzano in the Classico zone. It’s an ambitious style, which, at 6 years of age, has entered a nice stage of evolution with its dried plum, dried cherry and freshly-turned damp earth character. Acids and tannins are still firm and structure-giving – the cooler vintage shows through – making this a lively and balanced wine.
Sara d’Amato – This Chianti has been perfectly held back and is ready for immediate enjoyment. Fig, cherry and leathery notes are boosted by acidity from a cooler vintage.

Rocca Di Frassinello 2011 Le Sughere Di Frassinello, Maremma, Tuscany ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The southern, more coastal Maremma region is in one sense the new wild west of Tuscany, where sangiovese opens its arms to cabernet, merlot and other varieties. This is the ‘second’ wine of a large joint venture between Castellare di Castellina and Domain Baron de Rothschild. This is a quite ripe, fairly opulent, fleshy yet dense and very warming. Delicious yet still Tuscan.

Tenuta Di Trecciano 2013 Chianti Colli Senesi ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Another allure of Tuscany is its lively, fresh young sangioveses. Minimum oak, lighter structure and exuberant sour red fruit aromas. This is a fine and easily affordable example.

A Nod to BC

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Shiraz

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013Four wines from British Columbia are grouped as a mini-feature in this release. Wines from Canada’s left coast are vastly under-represented by the LCBO – this is our country after all – so it’s somewhat encouraging to see this grouping. There should be many, many more. Of course the best way to appreciate what’s happening in the Okanagan, which is bursting with innovations and new wineries, is to plan a week wine touring this summer. Get to know your favourites personally then begin to order them direct. The LCBO says you can’t do that, but the federal government says you can, and many in Ontario are already doing just that. It is entirely legal, by the way, for British Columbians to order Ontario wines direct.

Gray Monk 2013 Pinot Gris, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Gray Monk Pinot Gris is a benchmark for a variety that is almost the white signature of the Okanagan. It’s bright and tender and full of peachy fruit.

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Shiraz, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($26.95)

David Lawrason – Mission Hill has been working hard to up its game with the red grape that has taken the southern Okanagan by storm in recent years.  From an excellent vintage, this catches classic blackberry/cherry fruit, chocolate and peppery notes, finishing with that earthy desert sand and sage finish common in BC reds from Oliver-Osoyoos.

~

Who’s the best Sommelier in Canada?
by Sara d’Amato

If you happen to find yourself in Toronto this weekend, the Best Sommelier of Canada Competition 2015 will be taking place on March 8th at Montecito Restaurant presented by CAPS and Wine Country Ontario.

CAPS Best Sommelier of Canada Competition

Top Sommeliers from across the country will compete in front of a live audience beginning at 10 AM.

It is free to attend the viewing, however purchasing a Day Pass ticket will get you into two Master Classes: Wines of Chile with WineAlign’s John Szabo MS and that of the BC Wine Institute lead by Kurtis Kolt and Véronique Rivest. In addition, Day Pass holders will have the option to attend an exclusive afternoon tasting and lunch as well as a sparkling reception and dinner.

Tickets can be purchased at : Best Sommelier of Canada Competition.

~

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 7, 2015:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
John Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

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!


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Bill’s Best Bets – March 5th CELLIER Preview

The Riches of Italy – Part One
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Italy is the focus of the next CELLIER magazine release and I must congratulate the SAQ for having put together a really good selection of wines. Of the 30 wines which will be put on sale in stores either March 5th or March 19th, I found the large majority to be highly recommendable. Normally at a tasting such as this, if I can find 10 of 30 that stoke me, then that’s pretty good.

And to add to the fun the vast majority of the wines are in the $20-$30 range making them very accessibly priced. What do you want? Nebbiolo? Aglianico? Grecanico? You might as well go for all of them. I have lots to recommend, so let’s get right to it.

These are the wines that I really loved from the March 5th group, and I’ll post Part Two in time for the March 19th release. (Please note that you won’t see any store inventory until the release date, but you can still plan ahead!)

Bill’s Best Bets from March 5th

While Dolcetto is considered by many as a secondary grape in Piedmont, or even third after nebbiolo and barbera, in Dogliani it can produce some exceptional wines. The 2011 Chionetti San Luigi is a great example of the complexity that can arise from the grape – and at under $20, a great deal as well.

On a similar style is Pelissero’s 2012 Langhe nebbiolo. Made with younger vines, this offers up a great introduction to the nebbiolo grape at a fraction of the price of a Barolo or Barbaresco. Delicate aromatics and fine tannins await.

Chionetti San Luigi Dogliani 2011Pelissero Langhe Nebbiolo 2012Andrea Oberto Barolo 2010

But if you want the real taste of Barolo, traditionally grown and made, then try the 2010 from Andrea Oberto. Very elegant and ready to drink wine and at $42, nicely priced.

On the opposite end of the flavour spectrum is the 2013 Thesys Isola dei Nuraghi from Pala. This Sardinian winery’s blend of old vine bovale with syrah is a meaty and richly flavoured red that is absolutely unique and will do honour to any red meat. And at $20, a great deal.

One of my favourite Italian grapes is aglianico and the 2011 Rubrato from Feudi di San Gregorio is a “Tootsie Roll” of intensity. Tightly wound, full of dark fruits and tannin. Got a T-Bone? This is your wine.

Pala Thesys Isola Dei Nuraghi 2013Rubrato Aglianico Feudi Di San Gregorio 2011Fattoria Viticcio Beatrice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011Bianco Maggiore Cantine Rallo 2012

In Chianti, there is a new style and category of wine called Gran Selezione. Most examples I have tasted are simply too concentrated and oak ridden for my tastes and essentially kill the subtle qualities of the sangiovese grape. While they can be impressive, the wines tend to speak more about the winemaking than the terroir. But Fattoria Viticcio’s 2011 Beatrice is an extraordinary wine which highlights the fruit and earthy components of the sangiovese grape without overpowering it with oak. Really good.

White wine fans have an option as well with the 2012 Bianco Maggiore from Cantine Rallo. This organically grown wine made with the grillo grape is low alcohol, full of tropical fruit, and a perfect aperitif.

Introducing the CELLIER Premium Feature

Cellier New ArrivalsFor Chacun son Vin Premium members, we have added something new to the site to make your CELLIER shopping even easier. Now if you look under the Wine tab in the menu bar, you will see an option for <CELLIER New Arrivals>.

Click there, or the links below, and you will land on a new page where we have grouped all of the new release wines and reviews together by date.

So you can check out my tasting notes on all the wines in one place.

Ciao!

Bill

“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

From CELLIER March 5, 2015:

Bill’s Best Bets
All March 5th Reviews

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son Vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 7th – Part One

Native Wine Grapes of Italy and Sundry Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The spotlight this week shines on the native grapes of Italy, or at least a handful of them. Despite the promising billing of the thematic, the February 7th release will disappoint anyone hoping for a real chance to discover some of the more obscure, unique regional treasures of this implausibly wine-rich nation. Considering that Italy is home to more native wine grapes than any other country – a staggering one-quarter of the world’s known commercial varieties (anywhere from 377 to around 2,000, depending on who’s counting and how you define “native”) – the selection proffered by the LCBO is, well, dissatisfying to say the least.

There are some fine wines from already familiar friends like sangiovese and dolcetto which we’ve highlighted below in the Buyer’s Guide, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is a hopelessly corporate release, playing it ultra, ultra-safe. To build a feature around barely ten grapes, all of which Ontarians have seen countless times before, and from producers already well drilled on the LCBO shipping and payment process (there’s not a single new producer included in the feature) seems to me a huge opportunity lost. But it’s a reality of the monopoly world, you’ll say.

The selection in Ontario is of course much broader if you’re keen enough to search for wines in the private import/consignment program, where you’ll find an impressively comprehensive range of unique, native Italian grapes if you look hard enough. But you’ll have to buy them a case at a time. Otherwise, I’d suggest a stop at one of the more enlightened restaurants and wine bars across the province, where the chances of expanding your horizons are much greater.

Native Wine Grapes of ItalyFor anyone looking to learn about, if not taste, Italian wines, I couldn’t recommend more strongly the monumental, magnum opus by Italian-Canadian wine authority Ian D’Agata entitled Native Wine Grapes of Italy. D’Agata spent no fewer than thirteen years researching the work (not counting the other dozen and a half years that he’s been covering the world of wine for publications like Gambero Rosso, Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, The World of Fine Wine, Decanter and others), and has compiled the most complete, accurate and detailed work on Italy’s native grapes imaginable. Each of the hundreds of entries includes details on where the grape is found, its history, etymological origins, synonyms, and general style/flavor profile, and which specific wines to choose and why. Curious about pelaverga, timorasso or frappatto? You’ll find everything you need to know, and much more besides, in the book.

With the author’s permission, I’ve quoted some interesting tidbits on a few of the varieties mentioned below to give you a bit of the flavor of the work. Anyone seriously studying wine should have this classic reference book in their library.

Also in this week’s report is a collection of sundry whites, including some memorable wines from central Europe and a pair of west coast chardonnays.

Buyers Guide: Native Italian Wine Grapes

Volpaia 2011 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($27.95)

Feudi Salentini Luporano Primitivo Del Tarantino 2012Salcheto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011Volpaia Chianti Classico 2011D’Agata on Sangiovese: “One of the etymological possibilities includes a mythological reference to the blood of Jupiter (sanguis jovis), unsurprisingly given the wine’s longtime association with myths, symbols, and sacrifices to the Gods. Another possibility is that the monks in Santarcangelo di Romagna, at the foot of the Monte Giove near Rimini, chose the name sanguis jovis when forced to call the wine they made by a name other than vino”.

John Szabo - Admittedly I love the classic style of Volpaia, representing the finessed side of sangiovese, grown in some of the highest elevation vineyards in Tuscany. The 2011 is a wine for fans of lighter, more elegant Chianti Classico, which should really hit ideal drinking in another year or two, at which point succulent savoury flavours will lead the way.

Salcheto 2011 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95)

John Szabo – 2011 was the first experiment with wild yeast fermentation at Salcheto, an organic estate. The result, as fine as past vintages, is an earthy, savoury vino nobile, still a year or two away from prime drinking, but with an attractive range of resinous herbal notes to encourage additional sips.
Sara d’Amato – This generous Tuscan red of the prugnolo gentile varietal (sangiovese) is concentrated, musky, compelling and organically produced. A well-known sustainable producer, Salcheto was named Gambero Rosso’s “Sustainable Winery of the Year” in 2014.

Feudi Salentini Luporano 2012 Primitivo Del Tarantino, Puglia, Italy ($17.95)

D’Agata on Primitivo: “Puglia is Primitivo’s home in Italy, and at 11,133 hectares it is one of the country’s ten most planted red varieties…. When very good, Primitivo is creamy-rich and heady, usually not shy in alcohol (16 percent is common) and awash with aromas and flavours of ripe red cherry, strawberry jam, and plums macerated in alcohol”.

John Szabo – Like D’Agata’s description above, I often find primitivo to be overly sweet, alcoholic and raisined. This example, on the other hand, has rare balance and freshness. You might say it’s not “classic”, but I find it pleasant and highly drinkable. No fork and knife required.

Abbona 2013 Papà Celso Dogliani, Piemonte ($24.95)

Beni Di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2006Resta Salice Salentino 2011Abbona Papà Celso 2013D’Agata on Dolcetto: “The Dolcetto di Dogliani… can also be the most powerful. This is because in the Dogliani area Dolcetto has always been viewed as the most important grape and the best sites have been reserved for it.”

John Szabo – Abbona’s dolcetto supports the above description of Dogliani’s more powerful versions. This is made from 50-60 year old vines in the Bricco di Doriolo, a prime hilltop sight. Fruit is ripe and in the dark berry plum spectrum, with considerable density and length on the palate.
David Lawrason – As I have always been a fan of fruit-first reds like gamay (Beaujolais) I have also had a soft spot for dolcetto. An eyebrow raises that it has hit $25, but not unexpected now that it has its own Dogliani appellation. This is a lovely fresh and fruity, and even substantial – estate grown old vine example from a producer I admire.
Sara d’Amato – A consistent over-performer, this dolcetto from the relatively recent Dogliani DOCG once again proves a terrific value. Exotic spice, violets and pepper dominate the soft, round palate. Although dolcetto’s name means, “the little sweet one”, it is rarely sweet but rather low in acid (making the wine feel less than dry) and high in tannins. Thankfully, in this example from Abbona, the tannins are rather supple, balanced and allow for immediate enjoyment.

Resta 2011 Salice Salentino, Puglia, Italy ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Italy’s deep south is a gamble, with all kinds of modern, soft, fruity/jammy pleasing but often not very interesting reds (as on this release). Then again there are gems from another era (or at least a traditional mindset) that are very complex, edgy and powerful. Go to school on this imperfect, slightly volatile classic. Great winter fare.

Beni Di Batasiolo 2006 Riserva Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Ok, this doesn’t have the heft and structure you might expect from great Barolo. But it has exact aromatics that are wonderfully complex, and I have often said that scents are what make Barolo really fascinating. And the fact that it is a mature wine, from a great vintage, at $40 makes it all the more appealing. Go to school here.

Ocone 2012 Flora Taburno Falanghina del Sannio, Campania, Italy ($18.95)

Eco Pecorino D'abruzzo Superiore 2013Michele Chiarlo Le Marne Gavi 2013Ocone Flora Falanghina 2012D’Agata on Falanghina: “Along with Aglianico, this is believed to be Campania’s oldest variety… Today we know that there are at least two genetically distinct Falanghinas, Falanghina Flegrea and Falanghina Beneventana… Falanghina Flegrea wines (especially those from Sannio where Falanghina Flegrea will ripen up to three weeks earlier), tend to be less complex but more fruity, with flavours and aromas of unripe peach, golden delicious apple, apricot kernel, and cherry pit.

John Szabo – I can’t say that Ocone’s version is particularly fruity, in fact it offers more organic oil, rock and earth than fruit flavour, but there’s a point of bitterness on the palate that is indeed reminiscent of cherry pit and apricot kernel. In any case the flavour intensity is impressive for the price category. Drink this at the table with white meats, pork and poultry, heavily herb-flavoured.
Sara d’Amato – Ocone is a certified organic winery practicing minimalist intervention with grapes from seriously old vines. Falaghina is the winery’s star white varietal, a grape almost exclusively planted in the southern, coastal region of Campania on the volcanic soils surrounding Mt. Vesuvius. This version shows off the varietal’s distinctive floral characteristic and has a good dose of succulent citrus balanced with a decadent, mouth-filling texture.

Michele Chiarlo 2013 Le Marne Gavi, Piedmont, Italy ($16.95)

D’Agata on cortese: “One romantic legend has it that the name of Cortese’s most famous wine, Gavi, derives from the golden-haired, beautiful, and gentle-natured Princess Gavia, daughter of Clodomiro, King of the Franks, who eloped to get married against the wishes of her family.” “Cortese wines, when well made, have many selling points: high acidity, real minerality, and even ageworthiness

John Szabo – Chiarlo’s version fits into the mould of pleasantly fresh and fruity, with balanced acids and light alcohol, for current enjoyment, chilled, without excessive contemplation.

Eco 2013 Pecorino d’Abruzzo Superiore, Abruzzo, Italy, $17.95
Sara d’Amato – An organically produced wine from Italy’s eastern coast – home to the fresh, exotically floral and mineral pecorino variety. Eco’s very characteristic interpretation is dry, zesty and lightly peppery with notes of jasmine and apple blossom.

Buyer’s Guide: Sundry Whites

Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt RK Riesling 2008Weingut Zahel Riedencuvée Grüner Veltliner 2013Wieninger Nussberg Alte Reben Wiener Gemischter Satz 20122012 Wieninger Nussberg Alte Reben Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wien DAC, Austria ($37.00)
John Szabo – This may seem pricey for a wine you’ve likely never heard of, but it’s a marvellous old vines (“alte reben”) field blend (“gemischte satz”) from one of the greats of Viennese winegrowing. Nine different varieties, grown biodynamically in a stunning limestone vineyard overlooking downtown Vienna, converge to yield a powerful and complex wine with fleshy white and yellow fruit. Just picture yourself in Wieninger’s heurige as you sip – pleasure guaranteed. Wieninger on the ’12 vintage: “Unfortunately, there was a very small quantity due to the damages caused by hailstorms and hungry wild boars.“ Ahh, the perils of growing grapes in a major European capital…

Weingut Zahel 2013 Riedencuvée Grüner Veltliner, Wiener Lagen, Austria ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This wine slowly reeled me in. At first glance it presented the basics – a fresh, firm and balanced grüner. Then it hooked me with its very fine structure, depth and subtlety. If you have not yet ventured into Austrian grüner here is a very well-priced example you can’t afford not to try.

Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt 2008 RK Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($15.95)
David Lawrason – From one of the great estates of the Mosel, this is a clinic and fine value in a mature riesling. I really can’t believe it has landed here, six years later, at $16. So there is no excuse not to see why mature Mosel riesling is the darling of so many aficionados. It’s off dry but tender, elegant and impeccably balanced.

Girard Chardonnay 2012Caves Orsat Fendant 2013Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2012Poplar Grove 2012 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, B.C. ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Poplar Grove has long been one of BC’s boutique wineries doing a better job of getting beyond BC’s borders. It has improved with new ownership in recent years, and importantly the quality consistency has evened out. This is a quite complex, well balanced and firm chardonnay.

Caves Orsat 2013 Fendant, Valais, Switzerland ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Fendant or chasselas is Switzerland’s second most planted grape variety after pinot noir. Although chasselas is found throughout Europe, it is most celebrated in Switzerland. An adaptable varietal, it is generally subtle and nuanced but in the best cases can exhibit a rich mouthfeel. This fresh version from Caves Orsat is nicely representative of a Swiss chasselas (rarely seen here on our shelves) and exhibits a creamy, delicate nature with a touch of white pepper spice.

Girard 2012 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA ($26.95)
Sara d’Amato – A slightly creamy but bright Russian River chardonnay that displays impressive refinement, balance and restraint. The Girard winery is currently owned by former Pump Room sommelier, Pat Roney, who is very much inspired by the cool climate chardonnays of Burgundy.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES February 7, 2015:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

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!


AdvertisementStags' Leap Winery Chardonnay 2012

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Rare Grapes and an Unknown Land

Sardinia – An Italian island eager to join the international wine sceneJanuary 21, 2015

by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Given that it is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean, it is remarkable that Sardinia is relatively unknown to most Canadians. Even among those Canadians who can trace their origins to Italy, there are few who have a past that includes Sardegna, as the island is called by the inhabitants. So it is not surprising that its wines are equally obscure to us. In fact it was the only wine producing region in Italy that I had never visited in nearly 40 years of global wine travel. So I was pleased to be invited to join a group of eight wine writers from Canada to spend three days last November on this large island that lies about 250km southwest of Rome.

It is not clear why Sardegna has been slow to join the international wine scene. It is distinct from the rest of Italy in that it was ruled for around 400 years until 1708 by Aragon, now part of modern Spain. This probably explains why its most widely planted red grape is cannonau (known as garnacha in Spain or grenache in the rest of the world). Cannonau is rare on the nearby Italian mainland despite, I am told, being the most widely planted red grape in the world. Moreover vermentino, the island’s most popular white grape, is supposedly a form of malvasia that also came from Spain.

Rare grapes and an unknown land made for an exciting three days in the northern part of the island.

The best vermentino comes from the northeastern corner, Gallura. So it was there that we started our exploration at the Cantina Gallura in Tempio Pausania. This is clearly a very poor part of the country with many small homes that stood in sharp contrast to the opulence of the Costa Smeralda, but more about that later.

The cantina makes several wines from vermentino and its wine shop displays the dozens of prizes it has received from wine competitions all over the world.

Cantina Gallura

My favourite was the Cantina di Gallura 2013 Canayli Vermentino di Gallura Superiore. It has a dry floral peachy nose, a rich minerally palate and very good length. A great seafood wine. It is not available at present in Canada but can be found in the USA for around $20.

After tasting wines at the winery we were whisked away in the fog to the nearby Ristorante Il Melograna da Claudio in Nuchis for one of the best seafood meals I have ever had. The menu consisted of the freshest seafood and delicious combinations of Sardegnan cuisine carefully prepared by chef Claudio. The service and atmosphere were superb, such that it could have been a fantastic eating experience matched to the wines of the Cantina. Unfortunately we were all exhausted from the travel, trying to stay awake having crossed the Atlantic with little sleep for 36 hours. It was frustrating that the trip planners timed this meal just after our arrival from Canada.

Pedres - Wine DispenserThe next day after a good sleep, there was a visit to a couple of wineries – Piero Mancini and Cantina Pedres. Piero Mancini makes a delightful sparkling Vermentino di Gallura Spumante Brut which has a fresh floral, mineral, lemon, baked pear nose with a soft elegant palate and long pure finish; a good reception wine. They have hopes of sales in Newfoundland.

We had an excellent buffet lunch at Pedres where, while tasting their wines, I noticed this wine dispensing apparatus.

It looks a bit like a gas station pump. Locals arrive with a plastic can, like one does for gas in Canada, and you purchase by the litre. It is €2 per litre for red or white, that’s about C$2 per bottle, tax included.

After lunch we went to visit the millionaire’s playground of the Costa Smeralda. The area was developed in the 1960s by an investment consortium led by Prince Karim Aga Khan. With white sand beaches, golf clubs, private jet and helicopter services and exclusive hotels, the area has drawn celebrities, business leaders and other affluent visitors.

Costa Smeralda is now the most expensive location in Europe for real estate. House prices of over $400,000 per square meter have been reported.

If you are just visiting, the Presidential suite at the Hotel Cala di Volpe can be yours for C$37,000 for the night. There are discounts for longer stays.

Porto Cervo, the largest community, has a resident population of 421 very wealthy inhabitants. It was created to resemble a fishing village on the shores of a  natural harbour. To me, it felt like touring a very large film set; a sort of make-believe village that could occupy part of Disneyland.

Porto Cervo

Anyway after hearing stories of billionaires and film stars it was time to get back on mission and taste some more local wines.

The Surrau winery is close to all this splendour and it fits right in. It is a stunning modern winery built by three brothers who are all active in the local construction industry.

It is built on the site of their grandfather’s farm and is called Surrau after the name of the valley in which it is located.

Surrau Winery Visitors Centre

The visitor area is opulent and the winery is modern and  splendidly equipped with the latest that technology can deliver. The wines are also very impressive.

Surrau 2012 Cannonau di Sargenga Sincaru is a deep ruby red with a rich fruity nose and palate with white pepper, raspberry and strawberry fruit. It sells in the USA for around $30.

Surrau Isola Dei Nuraghi Rosso 2012 Surrau Sciala Vermentino Di Gallura 2013The single vineyard Surrau Sciala 2013 Vermentino di Gallura has a floral nose of white peach and baked lemon with a minerally firm rich fruity palate. Most impressive was Surrau 2012 Isola dei Nuraghi Rosso. This is a blend of cannonau, carignano and cabernet sauvignon with 10% of the local grape muristellu. It is a lively, fruity, fresh well-structured cool climate red with smoky, savoury, cherry and cranberry jelly aromas and flavours and excellent length. Both are available in Ontario for $27.95 through WineWire.ca. After supper at the winery we left our hosts for the hotel. It had been another very long day.

Our final day was spent driving back across the north of the island to Alghero, where we had landed two days before, to visit the Sella & Mosca winery. The trip organizers had left the best to last. This winery was established in 1899 and was initially planted with over 1600 different grape varieties. Experimentation over the years has reduced this to less than 20 today. The estate has around 520 hectares planted  making it the largest on the island.

The soil is still incredibly rocky. Even after over a hundred years of cultivation and rock removal, rocks still keep appearing out of the ground.

Altogether they have 1200 hectares of vines on the island making Sella & Mosca one of Italy’s largest wineries.

Sella & Mosca became part of the Campari group in 2002. Subsequent investment in the property and equipment is starting to show in the quality of the wines.

Campari also has a vast distribution network which means that wines from the property are widely available throughout the world. In Canada, Quebec has been their most successful market in terms of numbers of wines but Ontario is important from a volume perspective, with Sella & Mosca 2010 Riserva Cannonau Di Sardegna as a VINTAGES Essentials for many years.

Sella & Mosca Riserva Cannonau Di Sardegna 2010 Sella & Mosca Marchese Di Villamarina Alghero 2009 Sella & Mosca Terre Rare Carignano Del Sulcis Riserva 2009 Sella & Mosca Capocaccia 2010

The flagship wine is Sella & Mosca Marchese Di Villamarina. The 2009 vintage of this cabernet sauvignon would not be out of place in a line-up of top quality Bordeaux.

They also produce a wine from carignan, Sella & Mosca 2009 Terre Rare Carignano del Sulcis Riserva, that is in the stores in Quebec, as is the Sella & Mosca 2010 Capocaccia, Alghero Rosso.

The latter is a beautiful blend of cannonau with cabernet sauvignon. It is elegant and well balanced with excellent length.

The winery is a delight to visit with massive underground cellars and a fascinating museum of artifacts that have been found on the estate. The remains of a stone-age necropolis have yielded many interesting finds, copies of which can be seen at the winery.

Sella & Mosca winerySella & Mosca winery

We packed a lot into the three days spent in the north of Sardinia. I enjoyed the fresh, pure, rich Vermentino do Gallura whites and the island’s reds, mostly based on cannonau. I hope to return one day to see the southern part of the island better known for reds wines from the Cagliari and Sulcis areas.

Thanks are due to the Italian Trade Commission for organizing the trip and to our many hosts on the island. The welcome we received, the hospitality, the meals and the wines were exceptional. I wish them every success as they strive to market their wines in Canada.

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


AdvertisementsGuardian Reserva Red 2012

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Courrier vinicole – Grandes richesses d’Italie

Soif d’ailleurs avec Nadia
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier - New - Cropped

Nadia Fournier

Ce vendredi 7 novembre, la SAQ mettra en vente par le truchement de son Courrier vinicole une vaste sélection de vins italiens de renom, provenant de la plupart des régions du pays — avec une préférence marquée, comme toujours, pour le Piémont et la Toscane. Parmi les belles bouteilles proposées, voici quelques vins dégustés au cours des dernières semaines. La liste est concise, car je n’ai pu goûter à tous les vins du catalogue. Ainsi, j’ai pris la liberté d’ajouter une liste de valeurs sûres, offertes à des prix (relativement) abordables.

À Barolo, plus que nulle part ailleurs en Italie ou dans le monde, les producteurs sont divisés en deux camps : les traditionalistes et les modernistes. Les premiers privilégient de longues macérations dans des foudres, les seconds de courtes macérations, souvent en barrique. Pour flirter avec le style traditionnel, rien de mieux que le Barolo Monprivato 2009 élaboré par Mauro Mascarello. Éminemment racé, digeste et drôlement accessible pour un barolo si jeune.

La famille Scavino appartient certainement aux camps des modernistes, et elle le revendique avec brio. Son Barolo 2008, Riserva Rocche dell’Annunziata est musclé, mais sa puissance s’accompagne de saveurs intenses et persistantes. À apprécier tout au long de la prochaine décennie.

Mascarello Monprivato Barolo 2009 Paolo Scavino Rocche Dell'annunziata Riserva Barolo 2008 Ceretto Bricco Asili Barbaresco 2009 Quintarelli Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2004

Asili est l’un des plus grands terroirs de Barbaresco et certainement le triomphe de Ceretto. Je tombe rarement dans les superlatifs, mais j’oserais dire que le Barbaresco 2009 Bricco Asili est plus grand que nature ! Un pur bijou d’élégance; très séduisant, éthéré et d’une classe inimitable.

Figure légendaire de la Vénétie, le vigneron-artiste Giuseppe « Bepi » Quintarelli s’est éteint en 2012. Sa fille et ses petits-enfants ont pris la relève et n’ont rien changé à la façon de faire ultra-traditionaliste qui a contribué à la réputation de la maison. Sans surprise, l’Amarone della Valpolicella 2004 est sublime ! Une seule gorgée suffit pour comprendre pourquoi une légion de fidèles accepte de payer des sommes folles pour les vins confectionnés par ce grand maître.

Fondé en 1984, Tua Rita fut le premier domaine à s’établir dans le secteur de Suvereto, dans la province de Livourne. Il s’est fait connaître sur les marchés internationaux notamment grâce au Redigaffi, une cuvée issue exclusivement de merlot et vendue à un prix astronomique. Le 2010 se situe dans une classe à part, ample, élégant et doté d’une profondeur certaine.

De la même trempe, mais composé de syrah, le Per sempre 2011 (« Pour Toujours ») est une autre belle réussite que les amateurs de ce cépage rhodanien – au portefeuille très bien garni – voudront découvrir.

Tua Rita Redigaffi 2010 Tua Rita Syrah 2011 Duemani Altrovino 2011 Duemani Suisassi 2010 Falesco Montiano 2008

L’œnologue Luca D’Attoma est un adepte de la biodynamie. Sur son domaine Duemani, à Riparbella, une vingtaine de kilomètres au nord de Bolgheri, il produit le Altrovino, un vin particulièrement complet, issu de cabernet franc et de merlot. Saveurs pénétrantes, texture velours et excellent potentiel de garde.

Du même producteur, le très bon Suisassi 2010 est composé à 100 % de syrah, cépage que l’on devine au nez, avec ses tonalités animales qui rappellent la viande fumée. Servi frais autour de 17°C, le vin était particulièrement engageant et faisait preuve d’une fermeté caractéristique du cépage. À revoir dans cinq ans.

Plus au sud, les frères Riccardo et Renzo Cotarellla ont développé la marque Falesco, sous laquelle ils commercialisent des vins d’Ombrie et du Latium. Dans cette dernière région, ils élaborent le Montiano 2008, un merlot très séduisant, qui a de quoi rivaliser avec bien des cuvées plus coûteuses produites en Toscane. Pas spécialement profond, mais flatteur et finement boisé.

Sans les avoir tous goûtés récemment, je vous suggère de porter une attention particulière aux vins suivants comme autant de valeurs sûres :

BLANCS

Gini, Contrada Salvarenza 2010Italy  38 $

Jermann, Vintage Tunina 2011  74 $

Masciarelli, Marina Cvetic 2010  45 $

COS, Pithos Bianco 2012  42 $

Benanti, Pietra Marina 2009  52 $

ROUGES

Aldo Conterno, Langhe 2010  37 $

Fèlsina Rancia 2010  49 $

Fontodi, Vigna del Sorbo 2010  65 $

Montevertine, Le Pergole Torte 2010  138 $

Masciarelli, Villa Gemma 2006  69 $

Occhipinti, Siccagno 2011  45 $

Occhipinti, Grotte Alte 2008  69 $

Feudo di Mezzo Il Quadro delle Rose 2011  54 $

Argiolas, Turriga 2009  69 $

~

Quelques vins de Toscane

Même si ces vins sont moins étoffés et moins intenses que les « grands vins », leur qualité est loin d’être négligeable. Et surtout, ce n’est pas parce qu’ils coûtent deux – sinon cinq ou dix – fois moins cher, qu’ils sont deux fois moins bons.

Personne ne nous oblige à dépenser une fortune pour les gros canons vendus ponctuellement. Les Solaia, Ornellaia, Redigaffi sont très bien, mais on peut aussi acheter les Vistorta, San Felice, Vigna del Sorbo et combien d’autres beaucoup moins coûteux.

Grâce aux efforts conjugués des œnologues Enzo Morganti et Leonardo Bellacini, San Felice, une vaste propriété située au sud-est de l’appellation Chianti Classico, a grandement contribué à la réhabilitation de variétés autochtones de Toscane. Chaque année, le Il Grigio est à retenir parmi les meilleurs chianti classico de facture classique; sans artifices, mais non moins savoureux.

San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 Capezzana Ghiaie Della Furba 2008 San Fabiano Calcinaia Cellole Gran Selezione Di Chianti Classico 2010 Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Créé en 1804 au coeur de la Toscane, Capezzana est l’un des plus vieux vignobles d’Italie. Malgré son âge vénérable, la propriété des Bonacossi conserve tout son dynamisme et demeure une force motrice de Carmignano, situé à l’est de Florence, à l’écart de la zone de Chianti Classico. Chaque année,  le Ghiaie della Furba étonne par sa fibre très toscane, malgré qu’il soit issu de cabernet, de merlot et de syrah. Chaleureux, sans jamais sacrifier l’élégance.

La dénomination Gran Selezione n’a été approuvée qu’en 2014, mais les vins de millésimes antérieurs qui respectaient les critères de cette nouvelle appellation de chianti classico peuvent aussi être commercialisés comme tels. Loin de miser sur la puissance brute, le Cellole de San Fabiano Calcinaia brille par son large spectre aromatique; intense et complexe. Un excellent vin de garde.
Depuis plus d’un quart de siècle, dans les hauteurs de Gaiole in Chianti, Marco Pallanti veille sur Castello di Ama, domaine appartenant à la famille de son épouse, Lorenza. Du plus modeste au plus grand, tous ont en commun un équilibre et un raffinement exemplaires. Lorsque goûté en août dernier, le Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 était dans une forme exceptionnelle. À apprécier tout au long de la décennie.

Et du Piémont

À leur meilleur, les nebbiolos d’Alba peuvent constituer d’excellentes solutions de rechange – parfois économiques – aux vins de Barolo et Barbaresco. Le Nebbiolo 2012 dai Vigneti di Proprietà du domaine Mascarello (Giuseppe e Figlio) n’a pas d’égal. Substantiellement plus cher que la plupart des nebbiolos, mais sa qualité égale celle de bien des vins de Barolo et Barbaresco.

Plus chaleureux que le 2010 commenté l’année dernière et faisant bien sentir ses 14 % d’alcool, le Nebbiolo 2011 de Pio Cesare n’était pas très volubile lorsque goûté en septembre dernier. Néanmoins recommandable pour son équilibre et ses saveurs franches.

Sans surprise, le Nebbiolo 2012 des Produttori del Barbaresco propose une interprétation juteuse et friande du cépage nebbiolo, davantage reconnu pour la charpente et l’ossature tannique qu’il confère aux Barolo et Barbaresco. Authentique et vibrant. Bravo !

Scudetto 2010, c’est la barbera en mode majeur, interprétée avec brio par Mauro Mascarello. L’attaque en bouche est très mûre, laissant presque une sensation de sucrosité, mais le tout forme un ensemble parfaitement harmonieux, racé et haut en couleur.

Pio Cesare Nebbiolo Langhe 2011 Produttori Del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2012 Mascarello Giuseppe E Figlio Scudetto Barbera d'Aalba 2010 Bava Stradivario 2001, Barbera d'Asti Poderi Colla Pian Balbo Dolcetto d'Alba 2012

Fidèle au style classique du domaine de la famille Bava, tout en subtilité et en finesse, le Stradivario 2001 est encore incroyablement jeune pour un vin âgé de près de 12 ans. Pas donné, mais il y a un prix à payer pour avoir dans son verre un vin à parfaite maturité.

Les vins de Poderi Colla, vénérable maison piémontaise, ne donnent jamais dans la facilité racoleuse. Loin de miser sur le seul potentiel fruité du cépage, le Dolcetto 2012 Pian Balbo fait preuve d’une certaine sève et de beaucoup d’authenticité.

À votre santé!  Salute!

Nadia Fournier

Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 60 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins !


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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages August 17 Release

Alt-Italy, Wines of Place, 90 Point Reds Under $20, Emmanuel Giboulot

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Every year at this time I comment on the patchy quality of VINTAGES August releases – less well known and sometimes less well made wines that need to get out on the shelf at some point. And in some cases perhaps best when fewer are watching. We are still watching at WineAlign although I admit less than full scrutiny this time as I too have missed a tasting opportunity in order to take a week by a lake. I have tasted 83 of the 139 products – missing a swath of inexpensive Ontario wines that were curiously not presented for preview to media or product consultants, as well as several from South America in particular.

Alt-Italy (aka not Tuscany, Piedmont, Veneto)

Here in the thick of summer you may not want to be drinking many of the southern Italian reds that dominate this alt-Italy selection. There are a couple of northern reds and some intriguing whites, but the bulk assembled for this dog days release are heavy sledding southern reds – some of them intellectually interesting – but in general they are thick, hot, sour-edged and unbalanced. They need lasagna and grilled Italian sausage on a chilly autumn eve.

Taurino Riserva Salice Salentino 2009Ippolito 1845 Liber Pater Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore 2010Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2011Bastianich 2011 Adriatico Friulano ($19.95) is a very classy, sumptuous yet refined white for a mellow summer evening. It is from a winery founded in 1997 and owned by Lidia and Joseph Bastianich – a mother & son team who are movers and shakers in the culinary world (owning 20 restaurants). Their goal is to give the best modern expression to the potential exotic native white varieties of Colli Orientali del Friuli in the far northeast. Friulano is one of the most well known grapes (formerly called Tocai Friulano).

Ippolito 1845 Liber Pater 2010 Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore ($14.95) from Calabrese is a big yet balanced red from one of the most rugged and isolated parts of Italy. The Ciro DOC is set in sparsely vegetated hills overlooking the Ionian Sea. It is made 100% from a grape called gaggliopo. Liber Pater is ‘an Italic wine god’. To lose you in a Google translation: “His (the wine’s) character reminds the strength of the earth from where it is said that Liber Pater, Italic god of wine and vineyard, would stretch the delicate aroma with which intoxicated the festivals in his honour”.

Taurino 2009 Riserva Salice Salentino ($14.95) is my favourite wine of the group. I have always admired the traditional wines of Taurino, based in Salento – the heartland of the Puglian wine. This is 85% negroamaro “the bitter black grape”. More importantly it is made in a traditional style that envokes all kinds of nutty, leathery character; that flirts with volatility; that overwhelms the senses and leaves most modern reds at this price in the dust in terms of its homerun length. Will you like it? Maybe. But at $14.95 you can’t afford not to find out.

Fine Whites of Place

One of the great joys and benefits of this work is visiting the places where the wines are made. It establishes such an important connection. When you go to a place, and taste heavily, you create a mental, sensorial blueprint. I have recently been to each of the locations represented by the whites and red wines below and I can personally vouch that they are prime examples of how the wines of the appellations can, should and do taste. It is the winemaker’s job to translate it well; and these all excel. At very good prices.

Blind River Sauvignon Blanc 2012ANDRÉ BLANCK & SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANCJosé Pariente Verdejo 2012Blind River 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) is from Marlborough, NZ, but more importantly it is from a cooler sub-region called the Awatere Valley. The winery has rightly added this information on the label, but Awatere – along with many obvious sub-regions in NZ – is not yet an official appellation. When there is such distinctive character as shown here – with a cooler region accentuating sauvignon’s greener/herbal element – the foot-dragging authorities don’t have a leg to stand on. This is Awatere sauvignon – pure, simple and very nicely balanced. Move over marketers, and let the wine speak.

André Blanck & Ses Fils 2011 Rosenbourg Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France ($14.95) shares a similar story, and demonstrates the evolution of a new site. Rosenbourg is not a “Grand Cru” classified vineyard, but as recently as the 1980s the growers near the village of Wettolsheim just south of Colmar realized that this clay limestone based hillside was producing different wines with “exotic aromas”. Indeed! This is a pinot blanc of impressive fragrance and richness. It’s hard to believe this unsung grape can achieve fruit like this. And for $15 here in Ontario!

José Pariente 2012 Verdejo ($16.95) is from a winery whose roots in the region go back to the 1960s when Jose Pariente began making 100% verdejo wines on the limestone-based soils of this high plateau of north central Spain. His daughter Victoria took over after his death in 1998. The winery is now modernized and still very focused on this grape with its “extraordinary aromatic balance of fruity and herbaceous tones”. If you have not yet ventured into verdejo you will not find a better value entrée.

Fine Reds of Place

In recent dispatches I have featured European reds, often of less well known appellations, that express a sense of purity and place. This time I highlight some very fine New World reds. New World regions are places too, and though their details may be less well evolved and defined, they are totally legit. And they are working on it!

Jules Taylor Pinot Noir 2011Elk Cove Pinot Noir 2011Kenwood Jack London Vineyard CabernetKenwood 2010 Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($37.95) is among the top wines of this release. I have written before about this single-vineyard cabernet from a hilltop site in Sonoma where the famed American author lived in a cabin while writing some of his best works, like Call of the Wild, White Fang and The Sea-Wolf, at the turn of the 20th Century. The lava soils of this site were first planted in the 1800s. Since 1976 (the early days of California’s renaissance) the site has been owned by, and the wines made by, Kenwood. The eucalypt and fruit purity here is enthralling.

Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Noir ($37.95) is from one of Oregon’s pioneering properties founded in 1974. This is very early days for Oregon pinot folks. It has been in and out of Ontario over the years, but the Adams clan, now with its second generation at the helm, has been in command all the way. This is a wine with a fine sense of proportion and balance. It is from south facing slopes on four different estate sites. That makes the vines pushing 40 years of age.

Jules Taylor 2011 Pinot Noir ($24.95) from Marlborough, NZ, is the product of the person and her place. Jules Taylor was born in Marlborough the year the vines were first planted. She’s not saying, but I am guessing 1973. She launched her own wines in 2001, with the local insight to be searching out not just certain vineyards, but nooks and crannies of certain vineyards. She is making classy, natural ferment wines with all kinds of complexity and context.

More Fine 90 Point Reds – Now Under $20

Emiliana Winemaker's Selection Syrah 2011Paxton MV Shiraz 2011Boutari Naoussa 2008Emiliana 2011 Winemaker’s Selection Syrah from Chile’s Casablanca Valley ($19.95) is one of the first syrahs I can recall from this coastal region. It hails from a vineyard high in the hills above the valley floor. And it’s a winner. Emiliana is among the leading green producers of Chile, with legendary winemaker Álvaro Espinoza Durán as a consultant. Their range includes the first biodynamic wines made in South America, and if not entirely organic their whole portfolio claims to be made with “integrated management practices”. As important, I like what this $20 syrah says about the potential of this grape in Chile.

Paxton MV Shiraz 2011 ($17.95) is another winner. Ben Paxton is a low key but focused winemaker who has set out to make his Landcross Farm one of the leading properties of McLaren Vale – all through biodynamic viticulture. I can’t establish whether this was made from his fruit but I suspect so, if only because it has a depth and energy I have come to equate with biodynamic wines. It is really remarkable to find this kind of structure and depth under $20.

Boutari 2008 Naoussa ($12.95) is a curio from Greece. You need to be a fan of traditional Euro reds to get your head around this nutty nugget, but it has quite amazing complexity, and firm structure, especially at $13. As mentioned in my tasting note, it would not be out of place in a line-up of older Barolos. It is made from the xinomavro grape grown on mixed soils in hills above the plain of Macedonia in northern Greece.

Best of the Bunch

Brochet Hervieux Premier Cru Brut Champagne 1997Brochet-Hervieux 1997 Premier Cru Brut Champagne ($72.95) is a masterpiece in mature Champagne. It is from a family property established in 1945 as the Second World War ended. Whereas so many Champagnes are made from grapes gathered throughout the region, this growers Champagne is about 80% pinot noir, from premier cru sites in the hills around Ecuil. About 45% of the final blend is of reserve or aged wine, perhaps resulting in the complexity here. But most of all I love the acidity in this outstanding Champagne – riveting stuff that is remarkably alive at over 15 years of age. And a great buy under $100.

Tasting with Emmanuel Giboulet – An i4c treat

In the hours after the chardonnay inundation at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration the winemakers dispersed hither and yon – some going to the USA, some straight home to get back to work, some taking in the local wineries and exploring Toronto. I was pleased to spend an hour tasting with Emmanuel Giboulot who dropped by the palatial WineAlign offices on Dundas Street West en route to the airport, along with agent Martine-Garaguel O’Brien of MCO Wines. I had briefly tasted Giboulot’s steely chardonnays at i4c and was delighted to have a much more structured tête-a-tête.

Giboulot makes wines from small parcels totalling 10 hectares around the appellation of Beaune, with most of his biodynamically farmed (since 1996) parcels being from non-premier cru sites near the top of the hill on thinner, very rocky soils. (Thus their Côte de Beaune appellation). They are fermented in old oak using natural yeast and minimal sulphur dioxide. As a result they are chardonnays of scintillating tautness and minerality. I can understand how those who love generous, rich chardonnays, might find them difficult. But they certainly enforce the argument underlying i4c that chardonnay can also be very much a wine of place.

We tasted two chardonnays 2011 Pierres Blanches (92 points) and 2011 Combe d’Eve (93 points) then finished with a very fine red, Beaune 2010 La Lulune (93 Points) from a small hillside parcel facing onto Volnay. It’s hard to imagine a more terroir driven, unplugged pinot noir. I have posted my complete reviews on WineAlign. These wines are available through private order by contacting MCO.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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From the Aug 17, 2013 Vintages release:

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for August 17th 2013

Italy off the beaten path (and worth knowing); Top Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The cicadas are singing their late summer songs, and there’s no time for meandering prose. Reach for a special bottle and enjoy the dog days before they tail off into crisp autumn afternoons. This week’s report highlights notable wines from the August 17th release, with a focus on some off-the-beaten-path Italian wines as well as more smart buys from around the world.

And for those interested in lower alcohol wines, and sulphur-free wines, read my latest article on the cutting edge research undertaken in Sicily to achieve these goals.

Other Italy

The lesser-known vinous corners of Italy, outside of Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto, are swept into the spotlight of the August 17 VINTAGES release. It’s a good opportunity to get to know a few of the vast number of indigenous Italian grapes that can produce memorable wine at forgettable prices.

Taurino Riserva Salice SalentinoIppolito 1845 Liber Pater Cirò Rosso Classico SuperioreVilla Mora Montefalco Sagrantino 2006The south, having undergone a massive transformation in the last couple of decades from bulk wine producer to source of highly characterful, if occasionally rustic wines, has a couple of reds to offer: Taurino’s 2009 Riserva Salice Salentino ($14.95) from the southern part of Puglia known as the Salento Peninsula, is very much in the ultra-traditional style, highly evolved, dominated by savoury-umami, cedary, resinous, earth, and pot pourri character with all fruit in the dried/baked range. The palate is mid-weight and firm, with light dusty tannins and bitter cherry finish. The 2009 has some brettanomyces (leather, horse blanket) that some will consider a defect, but as with previous vintages, there’s a hell of a lot of flavour and complexity for the money.

Ippolito’s 2010 ‘1845 Liber Pater’ Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore ($14.95) is in a similar vein, with fruit having slipped into the dried cherry/red currant spectrum while plenty of resinous herbs and earthy notes have moved in. The palate is firm and dry-astringent, in the style of the gaglioppo variety, reminiscent of a more savoury, less fruity version of sangiovese (if you can believe that). Fun, cocktail party facts: the wines of Cirò were used to toast victors at the ancient Greek Olympiads.

The flavour range of the 2006 Villa Mora Montefalco Sagrantino ($19.95) from Umbria, the “green heart” of central Italy falls into more familiar territory for most. Be sure to decant this at least thirty minutes before serving to allow some of the dust to blow off and for the palate to reveal its surprisingly fleshy and fruity side, with plump plum and black berry fruit that’s more reminiscent of a mature Napa Valley cabernet than a central Italian red. This was a bit of a conundrum admittedly to score, since this is not a classic sagrantino nor even Italian style wine, but at the price I’d say it’s definitely worth a look and should generate some interesting discussion.

Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2011Terredora Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2011Two fine whites are worth pointing out, especially another terrific vintage of the Terredora Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo ($17.95), a consistent 89-90 point wine in my estimation, at a price that hasn’t increased in at least three vintages. The 2011 offers very fine complexity yet again, mixing delicate lees notes with ripe orchard fruit, wild herbs, light sweet and savoury spice and sun-warmed lemons, while the palate is dense and fullish, with substantial flavour intensity and terrific length. This is a wine worth buying in multiple bottle lots, and alongside some mozzarella di buffala and assorted antipasti, you might just find yourself teleported to the Bay of Naples.

From the opposite end of the Italy in the north-eastern region of Friuli, the native friulano variety shines in the 2011 Bastianich Adriatico Friulano ($19.95). It has a pronounced deep golden colour and late harvest-like profile (or rather appassimento/partially dried grapes, though this isn’t specified in the technical specs, only that half of the grapes underwent an eight-hour cold soak before fermenting), and is highly complex for it. The nose mixes a wide range of ripe orchard fruit, peaches in cream, candied rose petal, cherry cobbler and lightly honeyed notes, while the palate delivers a rich and dense expression, certainly not zippy but in a concentrated ripe and creamy style. It’s the sort of substantial white for enjoyment alongside grilled white meat (chicken, veal) and similarly full-flavoured dishes.

Classic Tuscany

Volpaia Chianti Classico 2010Caparzo Rosso Di Montalcino 2010All right, for those who can’t get enough of the Italian classics, there’s a pair of Tuscan wines hitting the shelves that deliver serious enjoyment: 2010 Volpaia Chianti Classico ($24.95) and the 2010 Caparzo Rosso Di Montalcino ($19.75). Volpaia’s 2010 is one of their best yet, capturing the elegance of this vintage in a perfumed and ultra-classy style with a fine balance of dusty red fruit and polished, integrated old wood spice (large old botti). Caparzo’s Rosso is no less refined, while the palate impresses with its dense structure and juicy black cherry flavours typical of sangiovese grown around Montalcino.

More Smart Buys

Château Prieure Canteloup 2009Château Croix Mouton 2009Boutari Naoussa 2008There are eight more smart buys this week ranging from $12.95 to $19.95. At the bottom end of the price range but by no means the least impressive wine is the 2008 Boutari Naoussa Pdo Naoussa ($12.95). This will have you thinking of fine nebbiolo at a price unknown for that variety.

Another two excellent 2009 Bordeaux will be released on the 17th: the nicely mature and very pure 2009 Château Croix-Mouton ($19.85) with little excess or shortage of any components, ready to enjoy now or hold mid-term, and the substantially flavoured and structured 2009 Château Prieure Canteloup ($18.85 ), which needs another year or two minimum for the high quality oak and tannins to come together.

Bodega Del Abad Dom Bueno Crianza 2006Eidosela Albariño 2011Paxton Shiraz 2011Spain provides two excellent drinking experiences for less than $15: the 2006 Bodega Del Abad Dom Bueno Crianza ($14.95) with its amazing depth of character, intensity and old vine concentration, and the 2011 Eidosela Albariño ($13.95) with its well measured palate, fine complexity and solid dose of minerality to seal the deal.

Fans of big, full and rich Aussie shiraz should head straight to the 2011 Paxton MV Shiraz ($17.95). It’s a full-on, ripe, plump, extracted, biodynamically-farmed wine with heaps of blue and black berry flavour and the depth of many similarly styled wines at three times the price. It’s a great late summer BBQ wine.

See the full list of smart buys below.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

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From the Aug 17, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Smart Buys
Italian Selections
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John Szabo shares some Research from Italy

Latest Research Promises Lower Alcohol Wines and Elimination of Sulphites

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Sicilian Regional Institute of Oil and Wine (IRVOS) released the results of recent experiments to a group of professionals at the 9th Vino Vip conference, held from July the 13 -15, 2013 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, northern Italy. In response to increasing market demands for softer, lower alcohol wines, the Institute has identified and isolated a native strain of yeast, Candida zemplinina, that has been shown to yield wines that are lower in alcohol, with higher glycerol, than control samples. IRVOS also revealed protocols for the production of wines without added sulphites to address the growing percentage of the population that is sensitive or allergic to the natural preservative.

New Yeast Strain Produces Less Alcohol, Softer Texture in Wines

It’s widely agreed that global warming and the expansion of vineyards into warm regions, in addition to more efficient viticulture and the widespread cultural preference for ripe flavours in wine has led to an overall increase of average alcohol levels worldwide. Yet at the same time, growing consumer backlash against high alcohol wines has left many producers wondering how to manage their vineyards and winemaking techniques to satisfy world markets.

IRVOS panel

IRVOS panel

Daniele Oliva, head of the technical and scientific department of IRVOS began a research project with the 2005 and 2006 harvests in Sicily with the aim of identifying consistent and controllable ways to increase wine complexity using multiple strains of yeast for alcoholic fermentation, as happens during wild or indigenous fermentations, but without the associated risks of such uncontrolled fermentations. Research has shown that mixed yeast fermentations can produce more complex wines than those conducted by a single strain of inoculated yeast.

Oliva and his team set about studying the biodiversity of native Sicilian yeast populations, focusing in particular on non-Saccharomyces strains (the dominant yeast in most fermentations). Among the species identified, Candida zemplinina was one of the most abundant. IRVOS’s consulting enologist, Graziana Grassini, then conducted micro-vinifications of musts inoculated with zemplinina to assess the technological and quality characters of the strain. The researchers discovered that the Candida strain produces wine with half a percent lower alcohol and 50% more glycerol on average than the control samples fermented with Saccharomyces cerevisiae alone.

Glycerol contributes to the body and mouthfeel of wine, with increased levels associated with a fuller body and softer texture overall.

It was also determined that the inoculation of Candida zemplinina produced a fermentation in two stages; zemplinina alone couldn’t finish the fermentations, and that mixed Candida-Saccharomyces fermentations were necessary to produce fully dry wines.

Tasting experimental wines

Tasting experimental wines

From tastings conducted at Vino Vip comparing two pairs of the native Sicilian varieties frappato and nero d’Avola, one made using a mixed zemplinina-cerevisiae fermentation and the other from pure cerevisiae-inoculated must, I observed a significant difference between the frappato samples, and somewhat less pronounced differences in the nero d’Avola pair. In both cases, the zemplinina samples showed less pronounced fruit aroma/flavour, and more spice, earth character. The texture of the zemplinina frappato was markedly softer and rounder, with slightly less alcoholic warmth. The differences on the palate of the nero d’Avola samples were less obvious, findings that are consistent with the results of earlier triangle taste tests conducted by IRVOS, leading to the conclusion that the taste effects could be variety dependent. The measurable differences of alcohol and glycerol, outside of organoleptic differences, appear so far to be consistent.

Similar results have been obtained using genetically modified yeasts, but since GMOs are not permitted in the European Union, Oliva is excited to have identified a naturally occurring species with these characteristics. He cautions that it is still early days, however: “Here we are really at a completely experimental stage, because this yeast has never been produced. We are talking about experimental wines, a kind of prototype”.

Oliva knows of only two other institutes currently researching Candida zemplinina. He predicts that the yeast will be ready for sale to winemakers within three years. The commercial implications are huge; I would expect demand for non-GMO yeasts capable of producing less alcoholic, softer wines with good complexity to be extremely high. “Some Sicilian wineries are already interested in producing them, as long as the production costs are on par with those for wines made with Saccharomyces yeasts”, says Oliva. An un-named large-scale producer will begin experimenting with this yeast this year.

Protocols for Producing Suphur-Free Wines

Virtually all consumable products contain sulphites as a preservative, and wine is no exception. Sulphur is added to wine in varying amounts to protect it from oxidation and unwanted microbial activity. Even wines to which no sulphur has been added usually contain sulphites, which are naturally produced during alcoholic fermentation. Although the amount used in wine is generally below threshold, a growing number of people appear to be allergic to sulphites. Zero added sulphur wines are not new; many small producers around the world who adhere to the “natural” wine movement eschew the use of sulphur, while other large companies such as Boutari in Greece have conducted small experiments on single lots of wine made without any added SO2.

Graziana Grassini

Graziana Grassini, consulting enologist

But the Sicilian Regional Institute of Wine and Oil (IRVOS) decided to experiment with and design winemaking protocols for the production of added sulphur-free wines on a large commercial scale, and more importantly, to share those protocols with winemakers in Sicily with the aim of improving the quality and image of the large island’s wines. IRVOS is the first research institute to my knowledge that has undertaken such a project for the benefit of many rather than a single commercial enterprise.

The experiments were carried out during the 2012 harvest by consulting enologist Graziana Grassini under the guidance of Daniele Oliva. Organically grown grillo and nero d’Avola were fermented at IRVOS’s Winery in Marsala in duplicate batches to compare conventional methods using sulphur to those employing no sulphur.

Subsequent sensory analysis by 30 trained tasters was repeated several times comparing samples using duo-trio tests (two wines with added sulphites and one without) and preference tests. “During the first sensory analysis some slight differences were found, but not a preference for one or the other. From recent tastings we are convinced that these differences are decreasing”, explains Oliva. Grassini adds that “In any case, we can claim that with the use of our vinification procedure, without the use of sulphites, it has been possible to obtain wines that are just as enjoyable as those made with sulphites”.

The full details of the sulphur-free protocols have not yet been released, but according to Grassini, there are a few basic points:

1)      Grapes must be hand harvested

2)      The winery must be scrupulously clean; a quasi sterile environment is needed

3)      Grapes/grape must/wine must be protected at all times from oxidation from vineyard to bottling through the use of inert gases: argon, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Argon and CO2 are heavy gases, heavier than air, nitrogen is lighter but useful in some cases.

It’s acknowledged that red wines are easier to make without added sulphur than white wines thanks to their generally higher level of tannins, which are natural anti-oxidants.

At Vino Vip, a pair of whites made from grillo and reds from nero d’Avola were compared, one of each made without any added sulphites. In both cases I preferred the zero sulphur sample, although the white grillo evolved much more quickly in the glass and lost aromatic quality over time. The differences between red samples were less obvious, and the unsulphured red held up well in the glass.

An analogy came to mind, perhaps a little extreme, but the aromatic differences observed were like the difference in the scent of essential oils versus synthesized aromas. While synthesized aromas can be quite pretty (most perfumes and eau-de-toilet are made from manufactured aromatic compounds), there’s a purity to essential oils that can’t easily be reproduced. The unsulphured wines had a higher degree of purity, like the fruit itself rather than something that reminds you of the fruit.

The results were by no means unanimous, however. Most tasters at the conference, which included winemakers as well as importers, distributors and journalists, preferred the conventionally-made grillo, while there was more of an even split of preference for the red samples. It was acknowledged during the discussion after the tasting that both consumer and trade education is needed when approaching sulphite-free wines. It will take some learning and exposure, especially for the trade used to squeaky-clean wines, to introduce sulphur-free wines into their lexicon. Tolerance for low degrees of oxidation would have to increase.

A potential side benefit of introducing such protocols is that it might lead to better winemaking overall, given the extra attention to detail needed to succeed in making sulphur-free wines, starting in the vineyard and finishing with bottling.

But there are several other issues to consider. For one, consumers can expect to pay a premium for sulphur-free wines, as there are additional production costs involved: the use of relatively expensive materials like dry ice and inert gases like argon, the gas of choice, which costs 30% more than more commonly used nitrogen, for example, not to mention the higher labour costs that come with more attentive vineyard management, hand harvesting, and cellar micro-management to name but a few factors.

The question remains: will the value added by producing sulphite-free wines offset these extra costs? In other words, will consumers be willing to pay more? There is also the challenge of communicating the differences between un-sulphured and conventional wines without casting a negative shadow on the latter, which still represents the overwhelming majority of wines produced today.

And while I support the move towards low/no-sulphur wines, I also question the adaptability of the protocols for large-scale production: the larger the volume, the bigger the risks. Will large producers be willing to take such risks? I think it’s unlikely, unless consumer demand really grows exponentially. Also, many existing wineries, particularly old, traditional cellars constructed from materials difficult to keep scrupulously hygienic like wood, and cellars carved from natural rock may not be able create a suitably safe environment for the production of sulphur-free wines. And are corks a suitable closure for such wines? Or would the relatively greater security afforded by screwcaps or glass stoppers be preferable? And would wineries willing to make the switch?

Most agree that sulphur-free wines age more rapidly and thus have a shorter shelf life than sulphured wines, another point that needs to be delicately communicated to consumers. And importantly, there are potential issues with transportation, considering that sulphur-free wines are less stable and more susceptible to spoilage from temperature variation.

Considering these and other issues, one has to wonder if sulphur-free wines won’t remain the domain of small artisanal producers selling most of their production from the cellar door. I, for one, hope they do gain wider acceptance and distribution, as I do love the pure scent of essential oils.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

About Vino Vip

Vino Vip is a biennial conference that takes place in Cortina d’Ampezzo, northern Italy, and is organized by the Italian wine Publication Civiltà del Bere under the direction of Alessandro Torcoli. The event gathers a selection of Italy’s top producers, industry stakeholders and journalist to discuss important issues in the world of wine and examine future trends, in addition to comprehensive tastings of top Italian wines. 

 

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Italy Featured: Top Tuscan Wines And the Best of the 2013 Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri Awards

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Attenzione lovers of Italian wine! I know you’re out there in large numbers, and this special report is for you. It’s focused on wines from Alto-Adige to Sicily, and specifically on highlights of the recent Gambero Rosso tre bicchieri tasting, as well as a comprehensive look at Tuscany with reviews of the latest releases from Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano covering 2007-2011.

Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2013 

Gambero Rosso’s highly anticipated “Tre Bicchieri” (“three glasses”) tour landed in Toronto for the first time on June 5th. The event highlighted over 130 wines, including nearly 120 awarded the tre bicchieri, the highest rating given for wines in the Vini d’Italia guide, now celebrating its 27th edition. In 2013, The Vini d’Italia Guide assigned 399 tre bicchieri out of a total of 40,000 wines tasted from over 2,350 producers. Piedmont led the way with 75 tre bicchieri awards, followed by Tuscany with 68 and Veneto with 36. 
From my little corner of the Liberty Grand ballroom where I looked like the most antisocial guest in attendance, and from a handful of other agent-organized tastings pre and post the main the event, I managed to taste and review nearly 40 wines – not comprehensive admittedly, but these wines demanded attention and time to unravel. I discovered several new gems in any case, and reconfirmed affection for long time favorites.

Gambero Rosso Tre Biccieri Event

Tre Bicchieri Tour

One interesting observation is how the style of the three glass winners appears to have changed in recent years. There has of course been no stated policy change in the criteria for winning wines; the evaluations “are above all humanistic, cultural and hedonistic rather than scientific”. But it seems that hedonism has taken on a new meaning. Whereas in earlier editions of the guide it was often the most impactful, full-bodied, rich, extracted, heavily oak influenced wines that came away with a three glass rating, in 2013 there were decidedly many more leaner, more savoury, fresher, less-wooded wines that came out on top.

I discussed this with several winemakers and we share the feeling that the shift is for the better. Sergio Germano of Az. Agr. Ettore Germano in Piedmont was pleased that his 2010 Riesling Hérzu won three glasses, while his flagship, and more expensive Barolo Cerreta earned two red glasses. Stefano Bariani from San Patrignano in Emilia-Romagna was also not displeased that the estate’s mid-range “Ora” Sangiovese di Romagna garnered the highest accolade, instead of the top of the range “Avi” Sangiovese. “Next year my goal is to win three glasses for San Patrignano’s Aulente Rosso” he laughed, the winery’s entry-level, unoaked bottling. There’s evidently a cultural shift underway in Italy, returning towards more drinkable, less “important” wines, and it’s great to see a guide with the clout of Gambero Rosso driving the change, or at least recognizing that consumer preferences have shifted.

All of my reviews from the tastings, including several absolutely cracking nebbiolos from Piedmont, Burgundy-like Brunello, and many more familiar and little known gems are posted on WineAlign. Availability varies (LCBO, Consignment, Private order), but all are available from one channel or another. (You can find them by entering “Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Event” in the search panel, top right.)

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Event

Tuscan Previews

For the last twenty years in late February, consortiums from each of the big three DOCGs of Tuscany – Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino – have coordinated a series of comprehensive tastings to introduce the latest vintages to the professional wine world. These have become significant events on the yearly calendar; this year over 200 journalists from 30 countries attended the Chianti Classico Collection preview in the Leopolda Train Station in Florence, and they came in even greater numbers to Benvenuto Brunello in a wet and uncharacteristically cold and snowy Montalcino. Read on for a brief report on each region along with specific recommendations.

Degustazione alla Toscana

Unlike the primeur tastings held in Bordeaux, which feature unfinished wines drawn from barrels, the vast majority of the wines presented for the Anteprime Toscane (“Tuscan Previews”) are finished and bottled, if not yet commercially released. This makes the tastings far more useful and representative of what consumers can expect to actually purchase down the line. And there is often more than one wine on hand from a single estate, considering special designations such as riserva, legally matured for longer before release than non-riserva wines, as well as special single vineyard cuvees. Add in IGTs, and other appellations like Rosso di Montalcino, Sant’ Antimo and Moscadello di Montalcino, and the list of wines available for tasting is very long indeed.

Over the four days that I attended these events – a day each in Chianti Classico and Montepulciano and two days in Montalcino – I tasted several hundred wines. Yet even still I was unable to cover everything. I wrote full reviews on some 200+, and further whittled the list down to just over 85 recommended wines from across the three regions. Many of the estates will be familiar to Canadian drinkers (at least those who drink Italian wines), so you can expect to find them available in restaurants, consignment/private import portfolios and provincial liquor board shelves in the coming year.

Sommelier Pouring in Montalcino

Sommelier Pouring in Montalcino

The format for the tastings is quite unique. Attendees are provided a catalogue of all available wines, referenced by number. Each then selects the wines they wish to taste, jotting down the numbers for one of the army of sommeliers on hand in the traditional Associazione Italiana Sommeliers attire, complete with silver tastevins hanging around the neck on a thick heavy chain. The wines are quickly brought (stunningly quickly in fact, considering the number of samples available), and poured for you at your table. All the necessities of modern tasting – WiFi, electrical outlets, bottled water – are provided. You can taste at your own pace, and cover all, or only some of the wines offered. And if you’re still in the mood for more, many of the producers are on hand in a separate room pouring yet more preview wines.

I’ve included some brief notes on each region, the conditions of the vintage previewed, and the odd observation or two on the evolution of wine styles. Following that is the list of recommended wines, broken down into categories.

Chianti Classico: A new Designation

In the news, the Chianti Classico Consortium announced some modifications to the DOCG regulations during the preview. In addition to the existing “Annata” and the “Riserva” designations, a new level of Chianti Classico, called Gran Selezione, is reserved for wines “produced exclusively and entirely by a single producer, allowing no percentage whatsoever of grapes (or wines) bought from other producers”. Gran Selezione, which takes effect from the 2010 vintage, can be released on the market 30 months after the harvest, of which a minimum of three months must be in bottle. The Riserva minimum ageing requirements remain 24 months, and 12 months for the Annata.

The announcement of the category has been met with mixed reviews. Paolo De Marchi of Isola e Olena told Decanter.com that “People are already confused between Chianti and Chianti Classico. I don’t really see the need for a new category unless it relates directly to wines of origin.” But Sergio Zingarelli, president of the Chianti Classico Consorzio, contends that: ‘Gran Selezione will not create any confusion. Rather, our aim – which we are certain we’ll achieve with this new type of Chianti Classico – is to give better order to our denomination and further valorise our territory’s excellent wines.’

Vittorio Fiore of Poggio Scalette believes that ‘The new denomination should be based on the differences of the region, not on shortcuts that are an end in themselves,’ while David Berry Green, Italian wine buyer for Berry Brothers & Rudd in the UK, ridiculed Gran Selezione as ‘bureaucratic tinkering’ and ‘more of a whimper’. We shall see.

Additionally, in a minor modification to the regulations for the Riserva designation, producers are now required to declare the intended classification of a wine (annata or riserva) at the beginning of the certification process, with the goal of encouraging “producers to plan more effectively which grapes they intend to use for each level wine, from the beginning of the harvest.” Previously, the riserva designation could be applied for any wines that had spent the required two years in the cellar before release, regardless of whether the quality merited such long aging or not. This should in theory tighten up quality, forcing producers to separate out the best, most ageworthy parcels from the start, and remove the temptation to retroactively apply for riserva for wines that had simply been sitting around in the cellar long enough. And considering that riserva wines currently represent 30% of the total production and 40% of the total revenue for the DOCG, this change could have a significant financial impact.

The Chianti Classico Style: Hard to Define

Over 500 wines from 150 producers in the region between Florence and Siena were presented for the Chianti Classico Collection preview 2013, mostly from 2011, 2010 and 2009. I found the quality overall to be quite spotty, with wide stylistic variations. The addition of up to 20% of grapes other than sangiovese, including both other local varieties such as cannaiolo, colorino and mammolo, and international grapes like merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Add in the variations on ageing (stainless steel, concrete, large old botti, small new barriques and everything in between, and it’s become tougher to pin down a regional or sub-regional style.

ChiantiClassicoAnteprima

Chianti Classico Collection

I also got the impression that a lot of time, effort and money, much of which goes into the pockets of freelance consulting oenologists, has been spent on making “important” wines, with maximum extraction, concentration and structure, to compete with the world’s other perceived important wines. There’s nothing inherently wrong with aiming high, but sangiovese is not generally suited to making big, burly wines. At its best it is a refined, perfumed and delicate grape, comfortable in the medium, not full-bodied range. Perhaps if the benchmark model were Burgundy rather than Bordeaux or Napa Valley, Chianti Classico (and other sangiovese-based wines) would be much finer.

On the positive side, there are many excellent wines that do manage to capture sangiovese’s hallmark crackling acidity and fine-grained, gritty tannins, with a range of flavours that have little to do with chocolate, vanilla and coffee grounds, and everything to do with vibrant red berry fruit, savoury herbs, faded flowers and an umami-laden succulence that makes sangiovese a food-friendly wine with few equals.

Recommended Wines:

Chianti Classico

2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico

2011 Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico

2011 Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico

2010 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico

2010 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico

2010 Querciabella Chianti Classico

2010 Toraccia di Presura Il Tarocco Chianti Classico

2010 Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico (Barrel sample) 

Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Le Fonti Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello di Querceto Il Pichio Chianti Classico Riserva

2008 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello di Meleto Vigna Casi Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello Vicchiomaggio Vigna La Prima Chianti Classico Riserva

2010 Tolaini Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva

2008 Setriolo Chianti Classico Riserva

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Montepulciano

Welcome to Montepulciano

Overall I was very impressed with the Vino Nobiles presented in the Fortezza di Montepulciano, the first time that the anteprima has been held here. The wines showed considerable consistency and a lot of finesse, and they represent some of the best values coming out of Tuscany. Larger houses like Avignonesi have taken up the challenge to push quality to the outer limits, and since taking over in 2009, Valery Saverys has converted the entire estate – nearly 200 hectares and one of the appellation’s largest – to biodynamic farming. Having a driving force like Avignonesi with a strong international reputation and wide distribution will only serve the interests of the entire appellation. Already 70% of the DOCG’s production is exported, and sales are strong. The DOCG is outperforming most other sectors of the Italian economy to be sure.

“Were optimistic about the quality of our wines, which is rising every year”, says Andrea Rossi, president of the Consortium of producers of Vino Nobile. He describes the wines as “austere, wines of the interior, not the sea, with solid structure and astringent tannins”. Although admittedly, this is about the opposite of what I found at the tasting.

In general I find the 2010s to be far fresher and more balanced than the 2009s.

Recommended wines:

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Talosa Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Montemercurio “Messagero” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Croce di Febo Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Godiolo Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Corte alla Flora Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Il Conventino Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Tenuta Valdipiatta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva & Vineyard Designated

2009 Canneto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

2010 Lombardo “Poggio Saragio” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Tenuta Valdipiatta “Vigna d’Alfiero” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Bindella “I Quadri” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2009 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

2009 Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

2009 Corte alla Flora Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

Brunello di Montalcino

I’m a big fan of the 2008 vintage, which was the year on display at Benvenuto Brunello for the normale bottlings. According to the Consortium, the 2008 harvest took place in optimal conditions and the wines showed good acidity, with soft structures and not too aggressive tannins. “The result – declared President of the Consorzio, Fabrizio Bindocci – are wines fascinating for their aromatic intensity and for their softer characteristics. A balanced and pleasant Brunello, that can be enjoyed straightaway and that fully deserves the four stars that had been assigned to it five years ago”.

Benvenuto Brunello

Benvenuto Brunello

Today 65% of the total production of Brunello di Montalcino is exported, a significant increase since 2007. In real terms, this translates to an increase of over 2 million bottles in the last five years.

Times are indeed prosperous in Montalcino and property is hot; investment is also coming in from abroad. The Argiano estate was recently purchased by Brazilian investors, while Swiss industrialist Ernesto Bertarelli acquired the Poggio di Sotto estate in 2011 and Riccardo Illy, ex-governor of Friuli Venezia Giulia and president of the Gruppo Illy, took over the Mastrojanni Estate in 2008, to name but a few.

The wines are of course not inexpensive, but the top remain among the best in Italy and the world, and the overall median quality is very high – the stakes are just too big these days to get away with mediocre wine under the Brunello DOCG.

Recommended Wines:

Rosso di Montalcino

2004 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino

2008 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino

2010 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino

2008 Salicutti “Piaggione” Rosso di Montalcino

Brunello di Montalcino

2007 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Gianni Brunelli Le Chiuse di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 95

2008 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Agostina Pieri Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Campogiovanni Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino

2004 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino

2008 La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2006 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2005 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Barbi Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Capanna Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino

2008 San Polino Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Val di Suga Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata

2006 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata

2008 Paradiso di Frassina Brunello di Montalcino

2007 Fornacina  Brunello di Montalcino

2007 Fattoi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino 

Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva & Vineyard Designated

2007 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2006 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2008 Siro Pacenti Pelagrilli Brunello di Montalcino 94

2007 Siro Pacenti PS Brunello di Montalcino

2004 Col d’Orcia Poggio al Vento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2006 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso Santa Caterina d’Oro

2007 Sesti Phenomena Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Castello di Velona Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 La Velona Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Pianrosso

2007 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

Saluti!

John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

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