Archive | November, 2017

Standards – The Rainbow Daily Slosh

24 Nov

Years ago I read Bill Gates’ book, The Road Ahead. I didn’t take much from it except for his explanation of the concept of an ever elevating standard (my words). Essentially technology pushes into the marketplace and over time, if successful that technology becomes a standard – a standard of hardware, software, functionality, etc. until the next standard comes along. Just five or six years ago, CD’s were still relevant – the standard in music. Now, they are used to prop up wobbly tables – the standard is streaming services. We kind of pay for these services as if we need them. Likewise automobile ‘options’. You can’t find a car without air conditioning, power windows, back up cameras. These things have become standard and are built into the price instead of set outside as an add-on that we can choose. They just include them because we ‘need’ them, damn it!

Kings College

I was driving past our local university today and I was struck with the student cars parked on the side of the road surrounding campus. Well, not actually struck as in hit by them but, you know, I noted something significant. There were a lot period and many were automobiles that I can’t presently afford. As a student, on my res floor there was one car owner, Steve, and he lent his car out judiciously until I hit someone with it. Shit happens.

But the point is, there weren’t any student cars. It just wasn’t so. The standard was walking or public transit. Now, I think that a car for many students is a standard. At least in this town. They wouldn’t think of going to school without one. And you can think of so many other standards that we all now have – smartphones, home security, concealed weapons and 400 rounds of ammo (just kidding…….well, kind of), tablets, wi-fi, funky socks, Netflix. It goes on and on.

Now, wine. Many in the wine blogging community talk about reviewing wines in an easily understood and unpretentious way. Sounds kind of condescending when I say it like that, doesn’t it? I know that I used to prescribe to that mantra. But, just as Mercedes and BMW’s now sit in a student parking lot, my standard has risen in price and pretentiousness steadily over the last few years. I cop to the pretentiousness as it’s always been a part of my personality. I can’t even walk the General Listing aisles at the mother ship anymore. I dismiss those wines as without merit. My standard is Vintages and I have fallen into the belief that price does predict quality which I know in my little arrogant heart isn’t always the case. And still, I struggle to find a wine to talk about that’s under $30!

I’ve heard from people who read my stuff that they don’t want to pay as much for wine as I’m recommending they do. I get that. Although some have admitted that I’ve upsold them and they have more or less become accustomed to it – many going without heat and hydro to support their habit.

So, I realize that I’m an elitist and I hear those that would like me to bring the price down to their standard. I’m not saying that much is going to change but I will at least be aware of my standard and realize that not everyone wants air conditioning. They are fine with a window open. And if I can find them a nice breeze, I’ll tell them about it.

I have had a few wines from earlier releases that warrant a look:

2013 Abad Dom Bueno Mencia #291989 $16.95 – see that’s a bit cheaper. I finished my stash of the 2008 of this wine just this year. This vintage is much fresher and nervous understandably. Mencia is a grape that you may not have knowingly had. It ages well – witness the 2008 – is usually medium-bodied and is medium plus aromatic. It looks great in the glass as well. I like it a lot and it’s a nice break from Temporanillo and Ganarcha without losing the Spanish vibe. This is nicely oaked, full of red berry goodness on the sniff, the gargle and the finish. More modern tasting than the 2008 but that might make it the crowd-pleaser you’d want to have on hand for the holidays.

2014 Rabelo Mosteiro Duoro Tinto #523571 $22.95 This is a 40% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, 20% Touriga Franca, and 5% Tinto Cāo blend. The first, third and fourth are ones used in the production of Port. The second one, Tinta Roriz is Tempranillo with a Portuguese passport. This is a sophisticated wine. I didn’t decant but think that this could use an hour or two minimum to improve that element even more. Although a caveat: I have to say it is an Eliza Doolittle wine – able to deliver sophistication on the outside but you can’t be blind to the other Eliza – powerful, gutsy and bawdy underneath. Wine can be elegant and fun too. This proves the point.

2013 Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux Red Blend #287425 $20.95 – This is a perennial favourite at the mother ship. A Washington blend of Merlot, Syrah, Viognier, and Cabernet Franc it fits firmly in the New World red camp. It’s a lovely full-bodied red with enough tannin peeking through the blackberries, pepper, and a coating of smoky toasty oak to keep it interesting and not flabby. Trust me when I say that friends and family will love this wine.

From the November 26th release:

N/V Gerard Bertrand Cuvée Thomas Jefferson Brut Crémant de Limoux #438838 $19.95 – My first taste of Crémant de Limoux was in the south of France from which it comes. Not unlike Cava or Prosecco, it is standard there to start an evening of wine drinking and food with a glass of this. Limoux claims to be the first wine made using the ‘Methode Traditionale’ or the same method as Champagne. Hence, it predates Champagne. This is made with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac, and Pinot Noir. Gerard is one of my heroes. Here he has continued the love affair with Languedoc-Roussillon. There’s an herbal quality to this. Dry, not overly lemony, nicely balanced and a snap at the end. Switch it up and serve this instead of your usual.

2015 Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling #089029 $18.95 – Always a favourite of mine. This vintage doesn’t disappoint. It’s a powerful Riesling at this price point – citrus (lemon/lime), a hint of petrol on the sniff but not yet following up, huge acid on the finish which will help this age nicely, I think. It suggests Off-Dry but the tartness of this wine doesn’t allow any sugar to show up. Another good year for this Sketches.

So you want a bargain, eh? Well, look no further than the 2016 Honoro Vera Monastrell #167684 $13.95. Love this wine. It’s not complex but it’s substantial, has some characteristics of spice, garrigue, and dominant dark fruits like blackberries. Great value. On the same planet is their Honoro Vera Garnacha #440867 $12.95  (there’s lots of the Garnacha around so take a look and see of there’s some of that near you). Both of these wines are great value and wines that I bet will get folks talking around your dinner table. Plus the labels are fascinating.

A modest upsell. The 2012 Travaglini Gattinara #713354 $29.95 is a Nebbiolo from the Gattinara DOC which doesn’t get the love that its more famous cousins, Barolo and Barberesco do. If Nebbiolo is your sweet spot like it is one of mine, this is a great representation at a far lower price point than the others. This is shy at first with some stony/granite mouthfeel. But don’t mistake this for the tannins covering everything up. This is the Nebbiolo – it is a shy grape. It’s sleek and given a good decant or a violent swirl in the glass opens up to flowers and red fruits. A pleasure to sniff and even better to quaff. Worth every penny. Perfect with a sturdy supper. And the bottle is cool too.

Cheers.

Bill

P.S. Just thought of how this discussion applies to the guys and gals who really do have the wherewithal and the inclination to only drink wines in the upper echelon of price and prestige. “Seriously, Chauncey, I couldn’t bear another bottle of Domaine Romanee-Conti La Tâche that was younger than 20 years!” There’s part of me that would love to join them but there’s also a part that really likes where I’ve landed. I’m fortunate. No need to get greedy or have a friend called Chauncey..

Italy 2017 – Florence

22 Nov

Saw these guys a couple of weeks ago. Great musicianship!

After 6 days in the Tuscan countryside and 5 days in Sicily, we hopped back up to Florence by air, took a short cab ride into town and bedded down there for 4 days.

I had never been to Florence before. Triple Wow! Wow One – Man, there are a lot of tourists. I thought that Athens, Rome, London were a bit touristed up. But Florence takes the cake. Not sure why that is. Maybe it’s a bit more compact than Rome or London. And, guys, the tourists are old. I was a relative youngster compared to many. Or, it just might be that I view myself as still in my early thirties. At least people tell me they think I look that young. Wow Two – Damn it’s a charming city. The River Arno, the architecture, the cobbled streets. It’s as if the only changes over the past hundreds of years are store fronts – I mean they couldn’t very well have had a flagship Ferragamo store or Desigual in 1700, could they? Wow Three – The Renaissance. The city just oozes art and culture. Some cities tell a story of joie de vie (Paris), royalty (London), nation-building (Washington). Well, Florence provides a short course in culture, period.

The urn outside a flower shop on our street. Yes, those are radishes! Uber cool and creative.

And, while I’m at it – the fashion! You know those fragrance commercials. You’ve seen them. The ones where there’s some kind of art film scene with a woman melding into the sky while a man stares at his watch. They end together partially naked? Well, people dress and look like that in Florence. It was best captured in a single moment. We were eating dinner in a street-side cafe. A woman rode her bicycle past us. An upright bicycle with a basket, the woman with a flowing mid-length skirt, fashion boots, glistening mane of dark hair. I mean styling’, baby. Audrey Hepburnesque – absolutely stunning.

The guys are the same – casually out of control manes of hair, scrubby near-beards, and jackets over open neck shirts. Truly beautiful men. We got neck cramps people watching. We witnessed this same phenomenon in Paris to some degree and even Montreal has a bit of a similar attention to style. It’s an added bonus for Florence and it made us want to shop, unfortunately.

Evening view from terrace. That’s the Duomo peaking up in the middle

We did Airbnb in Florence. Apartment on Via Santo Spirito close to Ponte alla Carraia. From the ground floor, walk up 25 steps to the elevator, take the elevator up three floors, get out and walk down two flights to the apartment. We had out own roof-top terrace which was accessed by walking up three flights of stairs past the elevator, of course. But, it was special returning to the apartment each afternoon and taking some wine, cheeses, bread, olives, etc. up and watching out over the rooftops as the city flips the switch from day to night. The apartment was a bit tired furniture-wise but we didn’t spend much time inside. Airbnb listing here.

So, what does a wine guy do in Florence? Despite impeccable research – my plans were pretty sketchy. So, I reached out to a fellow wine Tweep – TuscanVines, @JohnMFodera, to ask that very question.. John said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Get thee to Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina. Guys really know their stuff. Rare wines!” That’s what we did.

It’s a small cantina and wine tasting shop with seating outside overlooking the Pitti Palace. Very scenic. What did I taste? Well, I asked the owner to just give us some different stuff that he thought was interesting (Stuff – a wine  professional’s term – do not try it at home). Here goes:

1980 Fattoria Salvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva – I haven’t ever kept any of my Chianti, Riserva or otherwise, for 36 years (Remember: I’m barely 36 years old myself). So, I didn’t know what to expect. This wine was still packing a lot of flavour. Of course it had settled out much of the tannin but the acidity was still there – mature dried fruits, tobacco – subtle and pleasing. It was Old School. I think it could last for a number of years more. A huge and pleasant surprise. It has encouraged me to leave some of my better Chianti alone longer.

2009 Bucciarelli Chianti Classico Riserva This is made at Antico Podere Casanova in Castellina in Chianti and is organic. These two wines couldn’t be more different. To the point where you might expect that the grapes used weren’t the same variety – Sangiovese. This was in a more modern style – cherry fruit up front on the sniff and continuing right through to the finish. Not a huge wine but elegant and what we’ve all come to expect from Chianti Classico – it’s all-Italian wine.

The Director was treated to two whites. 2013 Gattaia Toscana Bianco from Terre di Giotto was a wine that wasn’t in our typical sweet spot. It is 70% Chenin Blanc, 25% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Sauvignon Gris. It poured and looked like an orange wine. It was very aromatic and started out quite bitter. We asked if it was oaked because it reminded us of wines that take on a bitterness from the oak. But it hadn’t been. It did round out a bit and the bitterness subsided. But not a wine that we would gravitate to.

2015 Le Oche Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore – Now, this is what we’re talking about! Maybe it’s me (and, it’s my blog so that’s fair) but I think that Verdicchio is my favourite Italian white on balance. I love Grillo and Arneis but this stuff pushes all the buttons. This wine did not disappoint. It’s texture reminds me of a Riesling with some oiliness or weight – hard to describe. Almonds on the sniff and finish. Lemon zest and pears. Lipsmackingly good.

As we were speaking with the proprietor, Edoardo Fioravanti, he asked my opinion on a wine that an agent had dropped off for the cantina’s consideration. It was a label, from Piedmont, that I am very familiar with – their entry-level Barolo – 2013 – and I was excited to try it. In an effort to avoid blow back – I won’t mention the winery. Upon completion of a reasonable amount of time and study, I said, with much trepidation “It’s undrinkable.” And waited…1,2,3. Edoardo said, “You are absolutely right. I cannot believe that they can sell this for that price.” I suggested that, like most Barolo, it just might need time but Edoardo went on to say the he felt that time wouldn’t do much to improve this wine – it was hollow. What a great characterization – bang on.

They have a great esoteric collection of wine for purchase as well. If you get to Florence, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina is a ‘wine’ must. Website here. Thanks, John.

Since I admire the Frescobaldi family’s enterprise (story here), I felt compelled to visit Dei Frescobaldi Wine Bar. This is a small bar attached to the bigger ristorante of the same name. Easy to find the risto (just off Piazza della Signoria) – harder to find the wine bar which is around the corner tucked up between two buildings. There’s a shady outside seating area where we enjoyed a couple glasses of the house wine. The place brings a whole new meaning to ‘house wine’.  My post on Bolgheri spoke of damning the price and just going for it. Well, same here. They carry all the Frescobaldi wines by the glass as they use a Coravin system at the table – no need to worry about fatigued wine. Time to dig in and enjoy,

2013 Mormoreto Toscana IGT from Castello di Nipozzano. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese with a touch of Petit Verdot from a singe vineyard of the same name (25 hectares) – opaque ruby, beautiful looking wine. And looks matter, don’t kid yourself. Dark berries and espresso on the sniff. A very smooth wine despite its youth – rich, velvety mouthfeel. Some heat from the alcohol (14.5% ABV) and a little not unpleasant nip of bitterness on the finish. Complex and intriguing. If you enjoy deconstructing wine, this is a good one. Or, just enjoy it sans thinking with some pasta in a meaty tomato sauce.

2014 Montesodi Toscana IGT also from Nipozzano is Sangiovese from a single vineyard of the same name (20 hectares). Ruby red but not as opaque as the one above – more crystal and sparkly. This wine had a bit of a hard nose until it sat for a bit. Then it opened with dark berries and balsamic notes. The dark berries continue on the gargle and it finishes off with a nice hit of anise. Surprised by how dark this was – usually look for red cherry/berries with sangiovese. Oak evident but not a real factor – balanced.

2014 Beneficio Pomino Bianco Riserva DOC We enjoyed the Planeta Chardonnay in Menfi a lot. Well, this was full value against that white. Elegant, rich, deep, peaches and cream, lightly oaked – butter and a citrus snap, lively on the finish. Can I call a Chardonnay sturdy? Built for the cellar. Lovely wine.

There were loads more wines to talk about. I might do another post on Italy to cover those. But for now, we returned home with heavy luggage and heavy hearts. Plus, a commitment to return for a long stay in the future.

Cheers.

Bill

P.S. A quick Happy Thanksgiving to our neighbours. I will toast you all with a pitcher of beer as I watch my Lions lose…..again, I fear.

#MWWC36 – The Environment? You Bet

19 Nov

Love Marvin Gaye. This version does him justice. “How much more abuse from man can she stand.”

There is a monthly event that wine bloggers subject themselves to called the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. I have been absent for quite some time. I enjoy writing so I’m not sure what the barrier has been. Last month’s winner, Jeff of The Drunken Cyclist – or should I say Jeff, The Drunken Cyclist? won the challenge and as is the rule, he got to choose the theme for this month’s challenge – Environment.

I couldn’t let this one go by without an effort. I’ll try to keep it short and not too preachy.

Wanted Poster

As I’ve waxed on about far too often here, I was a hippy in university. I wore the uniform of hippiedom – jean shirt with dome snaps, frayed bellbottom jeans with colourful patches installed by yours truly, work boots or sandals depending on the season, a copy of Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush  permanently affixed to my hand, and hair down my back. I did hippy stuff – smoked up, read Timothy Leary (if you know what I mean), followed the Grateful Dead, watched Ingmar Bergman movies, argued whether Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck was the Best Guitarist Ever, and raised the alarm on social/political issues. I marched on Parliament Hill protesting the Vietnam War with my conscientious objector and deserter friends. I mean I wasn’t even involved in the war nor was Canada (besides harbouring my friends) but it was imperative to march or I’d have to cut my hair. I stole Abby Hoffman’s book, Steal This Book, and didn’t trust anyone over 30. I was in to being a hippy. Big Time.

One of the ’causes’ that my friends and I got in to was the ecology. It was “Far out, man.” Yes, even way back then, ecology/the environment was a pressing issue – to use today’s lexicon, it was ‘trending’. I bought all the Paul Ehrlich books, had a brain crush on Rachel Carson, and firmly believed that we were doomed as doomed can be. Since then, I’ve tried to be aware of my contributions to the world’s condition and done ‘little things’ i.e. buying local, composting, recycling, managing a greening social enterprise for several years, and wearing the same housecoat for 10 years without washing it. TMI? Let’s face it, I’ve become part of the problem. But, in my defence, I care, I pay attention, I believe, voted for the Green Party, and I do still try. And that’s apparently not enough.

So, what does this have to do with wine? Well, one of the biggest trending topics on wine social media and wine media generally in North America is the California wildfires and whether the state wine industry is devastated or surviving remarkably well thank you very much. The consensus is that it has generally survived with some sad casualties and we all need to support the industry there.

First, let me say that I agree wholeheartedly with that approach – support our fellow (wo)man – particularly if they’re doing the wine thing. I’ll will do my part on that score. However, I do believe that we are missing an opportunity. Let me explain.

A few years ago, one of my Wine Spectators talked about the business end of climate change in Napa. It spoke of investments in planting in cooler areas – Atlas Peak, etc., technical approaches to deal with warmer average temperatures, managing the prospect of earlier ripening fruit, and other stuff I’ve forgotten. The point of the article, I think, was to talk about climate change and the adaptation required to stay in the business of making good to great wine. It was a good read.

It, along with this month’s theme, did get me thinking, “What if moving chairs around on the Titanic works and we can still get really good wine from the Denali AVA? Does climate change really matter then?” See how I went from a reasoned, rational discussion to panic? Although to be fair, that scenario is viable as the cool evening temperatures at Denali in 2070 would make for some great Pinot!

Furthermore, I was in Sicily in September and people there told us that they were just coming out of the biggest wildfire season on record. And yet, despite a preponderance of evidence (and, please don’t argue with the science. Regardless of the ‘why’ it is happening. It is indeed happening), there is a half-hearted and not universal effort to either adapt to and/or change the trajectory of our planet. Campaigns with pictures of polar bears floating off to oblivion, winds whipping through a newly created desert, icebergs slipping into Greenland waters, and F-A-C-T-S haven’t worked.

Southwest facing slope perfect for cool climate Pinot Noir in 2070

Here’s what I’m suggesting: The wine media empire further raises the alarm. Yup, a little less “Berries on the attack”. And more, “Holy shit! Wineries in Virginia unsustainable past 2070!” That last one might even get someone’s attention, if you know what I mean. Let’s help wine enterprises who now have to invest their hard earned money in adaptation strategies and technologies or patiently wait until the next wildfire to have people ‘support’ them.

There are many commercial and non-profit initiatives underway to assist them in dealing with climate change, reducing their own footprint, etc. So, let’s seed our narrative from time to time with the imperative. Maybe the key to action on the big issue is getting wine swilling politicians, corporate leaders, and generally the 1% to fear that their wine will be effected. If we won’t do it for polar bears, let’s do it for our grandchildren. Because I’m a good Grandpa and I want those kids to get great Pinot when they grow up just like I did. And let’s do it, even if, and in full disclosure I have shares in Denali Cellars, we do have the Denali project in our back pocket.

Cheers.

Bill

 

Italy 2017 – Menfi – Planeta

18 Nov

After 6 days in Tuscany, we took the short (90 minute) flight to Palermo from Florence. As ‘under development’ as Florence Airport was, Palermo’s airport (Falcone-Borsellino) was the finished product – shiny and clean. A beautiful atmosphere at the shoreline in the shadow of mountains.

We stayed 5 days at an Airbnb outside of the small town of Menfi – directly south of Palermo on the south shore of Sicily. Having never Airbnb’d it before we were a little nervous about how this might all end up. And, we had the recent experience of Wrong Date Dufton in Volterra to give us pause.

In Tuscany it seemed that most everyone you would  bump into spoke some English. In Menfi, the opposite may be true. Those involved in hospitality certainly speak some English but most other people don’t. Our host didn’t. Then there’s Sicilian which is a nothing like Italian. Ah, but there was Google Translate.

I had used Google Translate to find words or phrases for this blog or in a previous life – typing in the English to read the translation. I hadn’t used its spoken functionality on the fly though. Agostino, our Airbnb host (an absolutely charming guy) met us at a preordained spot with his cell phone at the ready. He greeted us with, “Hello, Beel.” and then proceeded to speak Italian quickly into his phone. Then turned the phone toward us where a lovely lilting UK-accented woman said, “I now take you to the house.” Got it. It was a discovery that was of great assistance on the rest of our journey. I like my new friend GT, she’s cool.

The home in Menfi

The accommodation was beautiful – a purpose-built home on a hill overlooking an olive grove that flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea – south-west facing for the sunsets (below). Four minutes to the shore.  There was an organic farm on the property where we could avail ourselves of fresh organic pomodoro, melanzana, basilico, etc. We harvested and ate several meals from the garden served along with the prior year’s olive oil from the grove surrounding the house. If you’re ever heading that way, the Airbnb link to this property is at the bottom of the post. Highly recommend it.

Sunset in Menfi

On the wine front, there were many options and opportunities to explore in the area. There is a huge and I mean yuuuge, Carolyn, wine co-op in Menfi. Settesoli is the biggest wine operation on the island.

Settesoli wines are marketed under the Mandarossa or Inycon labels and include: Pinot Grigio; Zibibbo; Grillo; Chardonnay; and, Nero d’Avola among many others. There is even a ‘life-style’ magazine put out by ‘Mandarossa’. A neat little boutique with knowledgeable staff at the winery property is easy to find in the southeast corner of Menfi town .

As we looked out at the sea from our house, there was a rolling grove of olives trees that led all the way to the shore. Those olive trees were part of Planeta’s operation. Planeta is a wine, hospitality, and olive oil operation. They have wineries throughout Sicily (Noto, Etna, Vittorio, Capo Milazzo), the olive oil farm (Capparrina) and a beautiful agriturismo (Foresteria) the latter two just outside Menfi town. And, it all started just outside Menfi below the town of Sambuca di Sicilia on the shores of Lake Arancio.

Planeta, the family, has been involved in agriculture for 17 generations beginning on the site near Sambuca. The ethos of the whole Planeta family of wineries is: (from their website):

Planeta at Ulmo – Vines leading down to Lake Arancio

“The ethics of production and the protection of the environment, the countryside and the culture of each place, through sustainable long-term viticulture, wineries perfectly integrated in the landscape and wines which perfectly represent each territory, are common to our presence everywhere. The spontaneous impulse to pursue beauty pushes us to seek ever new ways to be witness to them, not only with our wines and olive oils but also through the projects for hospitality, art and social responsibility in which we continue to invest.”

Strada del Vino Terre Sicane

So, we were off to Planeta at Ulmo below Sambuca di Sicilia. After but one turn around on the Strada del Vino, we arrived at the town of Sambuca di Sicilia – I never did find out if the anise-flavoured flaming digestif was named after the town but I somehow doubt it. Prior to setting out, The Director had asked if I needed to get ‘real’ directions to the winery. In a misplaced sense of confidence (and unfortunately being a man), I replied, “No worries. It’s a pretty big operation. There will be directional ‘PLANETA’ signs all over the place.” That would be wrong, Bill. To arrive there, I had to perform as a wine diviner sans rod – a virtual wine dowser, if you will. Because I can indeed find the wine is all I’m saying. I’m good. It’s intuitive. I have a gift. How can I monetize it?

Barrels of Chardonnay

At Planeta, we were met by a lovely woman (who’s name my notes don’t reveal. Damn). She apologized profusely as her English was a ‘disaster’.  Not at all. She was great! After a tour of the winery – in the midst of fermentation – which was cool, we toured the barrel room where we were treated to the small cave of Traditional Method Blanc de Blancs made from Menfi Chardonnay.

The road down to Lake Arancio flanked by vines

Then back to an al fresco tasting room for the main event. Well, here we go.

We started with a sparkling wine from Etna – Planeta Metodo Classico made from 100% Carricante. A big hit with us. Not really a food wine but an above grade bubbly for toasting, appeftif, or just sipping afternoons by the lake. Crisp, clean, mineral, apples and citrus.

Then followed the 2015 Planeta Cometa. The Cometa is made with  100% Fiano from the Menfi area. Fiano is pure Southern Italy. It shines predominantly in Campania but this Sicilian take is representative of the grape – herbal, floral nose – crisp at first sip (nice acidity) then rounding out a bit as it progresses – minerality, citrus vibe. Medium finish. Very nice effort.

The crown jewel of Planeta at Menfi is their Chardonnay. They make it at Ulmo, hence the barrel room above. It is the wine that put Planeta on the map initially and, I’d have to say it’s the best Chardonnay that I’ve ever tasted from Italy (notwithstanding the Frescobaldi offering I’ll talk about next post). We tasted the 2016 Planeta Chardonnay €20. Toast, lemon on the sniff. Oak evident on the palate – nice lip smack on the finish. Balanced, not overly oaky (French oak – 50% new), opens nicely in the glass. A very classy sip. Did not present as being from a hot climate as in the fruit wasn’t as ripe as you might expect – restrained. Well made wine.

On the red front, we led with the 2016 Santa Cecilia €20 from their Noto operation. This was a 100% Nero d’Avola wine. Wine Enthusiast gave the 2011 vintage a 94 and said, “Always one of the finest expressions of Nero d’Avola.” That’s a pretty good endorsement. The most evident thing in this wine was the chalky, minerality – both on the sniff and the gargle. It presented as a more mature wine taste-wise than it’s real age might have predicted – dried fruits, leather, raspberry. But, the tannins were still a bit hard and the wine needs some time down below to reach its full potential IMHO. We saw how that might work out when they popped the cork on a 2007 Planeta Santa Cecilia N/A. This wine smelled of stony prunes and tasted like blueberries – big time on the finish, pomegranates. Tannins well integrated. Verrrry nice wine. Truly Old School Nero d’Avola. Just typing this makes me wish I had brought a few bottles of the 2016 home.

The last wine tasted was the 2013 Planeta Burdese €18. This wine made from 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc was intriguing. After my time in Bolgheri, I was interested in seeing how Bordeaux grapes translated further south. This smelled of earth, dark fruit with a hint of the 14.5% ABV wafting up. Full on cassis on the gargle – very fruit forward – international style dominated by the Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the only wine that we tried that didn’t really do it for me. It could have been the fact that it was late in the tasting. Or, my lack of enthusiasm at times for Cabernet Sauvignon. So, I’ll give this one another chance all on its own.

They make a 100% Syrah at Sambuca – 2013 Planeta Maroccoli Syrah €30. Our host was very insistent that I take a bottle home – spicy, toasty, ready now or hold for 7 to 10 years. I’m an easy target on stuff like this.

Planeta makes wines from other grapes at this site as well –  Grillo, Grecanico, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

We also picked up the 2008 Planeta Chardonnay €30. Our guide threw in a 375 ml Chardonnay, “Madam, you must”, and an apron. She was fabulous. We left with a stash that was going to prove problematic on the flight back to Florence. I long for the olden days when you could bring liquids on to the flight. Back then, that was me with the tinkling 85 pound carry-on.

Returned home for a glass on the terrace.

When we checked out after 5 days, our host came in to the kitchen, took one look at the empty wine bottles on the counter smiled and said, “Ah, Beel.” Not sure if that was meant as, “Ah Beel, you crazy bugger. You are my hero.” Or, “Ah Beel, time for an intervention.”

Southwest Sicily is truly amazing! If you do go, word of advice: bring along GT.

Cheers.

Bill

Settesoli website

Menfi Holiday House

Planeta website

 

 

Italy 2017 – Secondi – Bolgheri

12 Nov

 

That’s me striding with purpose (a raging thirst) into the town of Bolgheri

When we last met our intrepid traveller, he was sipping Vernaccia di San Gimignano and asking the universal traveller’s question, “What the hell are we going to do tomorrow?” Oh yeah, head to Bolgheri.

Day 2 – Bolgheri

The plan was to wander Bolgheri and then head to the beach at Marina di Bibboni. It was about a 50 minute drive from Volterra, Without a map or GPS – only 10 minutes longer. Yes, I’m the guy in the Fiat calmly driving the round-a-bouts twice. Did that ruin the day? Never. If you read my first instalment, you know that getting lost can be… not exactly fun, but interesting. Plus, it’s a character builder. First, I’ll tell you a little about Bolgheri as a wine DOC.

Guado al Tasso

DOC Bolgheri and DOC Bolgheri Superiore lie south of Livorno between the Tuscan hills and the coast, near the village of Bolgheri. The DOC isn’t big (1200 hectares – 40 members of the Bolgheri Consorzio) but it is mighty. Many of the first Super Tuscans came from Bolgheri with Sassicaia (first made as such in 1968) being the most famous. In fact there is a DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia which requires 80 % Cabernet Sauvignon, aging for 2 years, 18  months of which has to be in 225l barriques. Wow, that’s prescriptive!

The distinguishing thing about DOC Bolgheri red wines versus other Tuscan DOC’s/DOCG’s is the use of Bordeaux varieties (allowable % in brackets): Cabernet Sauvignon (0% – 100%), Merlot (0% – 100%), Cabernet Franc (0%-100%), Petit Verdot (0% – 30%) and Syrah (0% – 50%). they also continue to grow Sangiovese (0% – 50%). It’s hard to keep up but just think that most of these wines feature the Bordeaux Big 4 potentially supported by Sangiovese and Syrah. Of course, wineries can make wines somewhat outside these restrictions but they’d be IGT Toscana wines not DOC Bolgheri. Confused? Bolgheri labels that you might know include Guado al Tasso, Tenuta San Guido, Satta, Le Macchiole, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Podere Grattamacco, Campo all Sughera, Poggio al Tesoro, Gaja Ca’Marcanda, and the list goes on.

There is still a wee bit of controversy about the use of traditional ‘Bordeaux’ grapes instead of autochthonous (wine geek speak for ‘indigenous’) grapes in Italy – Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Barbera, etc. While I agree that there already is enough Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in this world, there are two compelling reasons that I’m a ‘yeah’ to Bordeaux in Tuscany: 1) the wine is really, really good; 2) everywhere else does it, so why dis Bolgheri. And did I mention, it’s really good?

Sassicaia

Although reservations to visit may, in fact, be needed in many wine regions in the world, reservations really are the exception. When we were in Napa, you needed reservations for Duckhorn, Quintessa, and Caymus, for example. But many other wineries accommodated you as a walk-in. Similarly in Niagara, Languedoc, and much of Tuscany. These wineries have adequate tasting rooms and sell much of their stuff from the cellar door. Well, Bolgheri don’t roll like that, baby. I guess Tenuta San Guido doesn’t want a busload of seniors from Goderich, Ontario working their way through a case of Sassicaia one taste at a time. Then buying a few sachets of lavender and staggering out to the bus.

In this environment, the one casualty of playing it ‘by ear’, other than a poor rendition of Smoke On The Water, is that you might not be able to taste at some wineries. Hell, you might not even get in through the automated gate. We did have a reservation at Le Macchiole but it cratered. So, we wandered around anyway – dropped in to Guado al Tasso, Relais il Beserno (unbelievable place), Tenuta San Guido – nice chats but nary a drop of wine. I was getting thirsty. In my Lonely Planet it talked about a wine bar in the little town of Bolgheri where you can taste just about anything that comes from Bolgheri. As if. So, we wandered into the town and found the sign below out front of Enoteca Tognoni! Seriously?

You are reading that right, wine peeps. Ornellaia and Sassicaia by the glass! And, you can get tasters of it too – 5cl or 10cl. Friends, there is a bit of a downside to having this type of selection and, in Italian, that downside is called il conto.

The inside of Enoteca Tognoni is crazy cluttered with wine bottles, stacks of half-opened wine cases and amongst all that, tables to sit, taste, and eat if you wish. It’s atmospheric. I’ll give it that. Service was exceptional. We had a very knowledgeable woman who took time to give us a selection that fit our palate, pocketbook, and understanding. She stood by us and explained each wine – who, what, particularities, vintage, etc.

A chaotic but thrilling wall of wine at Enoteca Tognoni. Glad I don’t have to do inventory

Here’s the thing. Is it expensive? Yeah. But, will I ever have another chance to taste these wines together? Probably not. So forget il conto and taste! One flight tasted out like this –  2012 Arnione €35 from Campo alla Sughera. Made from 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, and 20% Petit Verdot – powerful, balanced and still early in its development. This carried the day for me. I know that the Merlot here was just one of many players but it shone through – cherry and mint. Smooth tannins, deep wine. Loved, loved this wine! The 2013 Castello Bolgheri €50 is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. It was strictly cellar material – fruit hiding behind tannin and acid. Nonetheless, it was powerful stuff which seems to be the theme here. I wish that I could figure out where it might end up. The last of this flight 2013 Aldone €48 from Terre dei Marchesato is all Merlot. It did have a real Pomerol feel to it. Dusty, tannic and needing a load of time in the cellar. It opened a bit over time. Well, 30 minutes. Another wine worth mentioning – 2011 Cont’Ugo €35 – 100% Merlot from Guado al Tasso (Antinori). And for the Cabernet Franc fiends out there, I tasted Le Macchiole’s 2013 Paleo Rosso €70 – 100% Cab Franc. Stunning! Still hiding out a bit but what a wine. These may all seem a bit on the expensive side but significantly cheaper than comparable Napa Bordeaux stuff.

The flight above-mentioned

So, what did the Sassicaia by the glass cost? €40 is all. A tasting of 5cl (1.7 oz.) was  €14. If you have to ask on the Ornallaia, you can’t afford it. I’ve had them both before – snobbish yawn. So, stuck to wines new to me.

Did we get to the beach? We did. This wine stained wretch snoozed in the shade (wonder why I was sleepy) and my Mediterranean companion soaked up the sun. And, then it was back to Volterra. We went a different way. By design? Not really. We just kept heading to Volterra by road sign and then visually. Hard to miss Volterra when you’re anywhere within 40 kilometres. Then back to Podere San Lorenzo for nibbles and wine.

Spring-fed pool/pond at Podere San Lorenzo

I learned something in Bolgheri. I rail against big wines that are too oaked, too thick, too fruit forward, and/or just too much. And yet, I loved the wines that I tasted in Bolgheri and they weren’t shy, subtle, restrained efforts. They weren’t blockbusting behemoths (quoting Parker here) either. Likewise the wines that I love from Priorat – they too are largish. I may have to just admit that the issue of size isn’t as important to me as I let on sometimes. Maybe, “Size doesn’t matter,” he says, always the contrarian. Thoughts?

Cheers.

Bill

 

A Canadian Quickie – The White Daily Slosh

9 Nov

So, what is a Canadian quickie, you ask? The funny answer probably has something to do with parka zippers, a station wagon, and a Canadian Tire parking lot. Not that I’d know anything about that. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

But, what I mean here is that I’m sending out a few ‘quick’ recommendations for the November 11th release and they are all Canadian wines.

I recommend the Flat Rock Cellars stuff a lot. The 2016 Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling #578625 $24.95 has crept in to my basement and taken up residence with the last few vintages of this same cuvée. It’s about as solid a dry Riesling as the region produces. You notice I said ‘dry’. The rating is ‘medium’ but I find that this wine carries such a dose of acidity that you don’t notice any residual sugar. On the sniff it gives off a little petrol but, after a swirl, mostly peachy vibes. Quite a rocky, minerally, and spicy wine in the mouth. Medium + finish.

Another Niagara Riesling on offer is the 2013 Henry of Pelham Estate Riesling #557165 $17.95. This winery is another that has been featured here a bit but mostly for their spectacular Reserve Baco Noir – a classic take on a grape that most people haven’t had, IMHO. Here the Riesling does exhibit a bit of sweetness but nothing cloying and more about what the grape gives than by design. This wine isn’t quite as insistent as the one above. It kind of pleads its case rather than shouts at you. Maybe better suited as a sipper than Nadja. More citrus as well. Powerful label art – well done.

Last but not least is the 2014 Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay #148866 $28.95. Prince Edward County is about as cool climate as Chardonnay gets. This wine exudes that character – restrained, not overly oaked but expressing some wood effects on the finish, in particular. Clean, acid on the gargle and finish. Apples and citrus on the sniff and swallow. Love it!

Have a great weekend. Cheers.

Bill

Remember – The Red Daily Slosh

8 Nov

Remembrance Day is this coming Saturday (November 11th) and it’s time to give thanks and appreciation to those that have served and those that continue to serve our country. I have been blessed to have been born a white boomer-generation man in Canada. I’ve never been conscripted or required to fight in a war nor have my children. I have been able to keep a roof over my head, I can walk the streets of our cities and towns without fear any time of day, my healthcare is always there when I need it, and generally speaking my nation’s hockey team wins more times than it loses.

I didn’t earn this good fortune. It was bestowed on me by the generations that came before through philanthropy, creativity, industry, and, yes, by serving militarily. We all have family heroes in this latter regard. Take time this Saturday, if not every day, to give thanks to and remember these heroes. Wear the poppy proudly!

Phew, “That was a little heavy for a wine blog,” he says while dabbing his teary eyes and slurping his wine.

Before I start on this week’s (November 11th) release I want to alert you to three wines from previous releases.

I’m a sucker for Iberian wine. I particularly like Lopez de Haro Crianza as an everyday Rioja – relatively inexpensive ($14.95) and tasty. Their Reserva is now on shelves. The 2010 Lopez de Haro Reserva #357335 $18.95 is a bargain at this price. A criticism of Rioja might be that it’s a bit over oaked. And some can be way too woody or vanilla.  This carries quite a bit of cedar on the sniff and in the mouth. I like this style myself if the wood effects realize some balance with the fruit and the structure. This wine does. It’s soft – pretending to be much older than it is – I had to check its ID to truly believe that it’s as young as a 2010. Upside? Ready to drink now. Downside? I don’t see this lasting any more than five years or so. If you’re looking for a great sipper or dinner Rioja and you don’t want to spend for the Ardal below, pick up a few of these.

Another wine to seek out is the 2015 Two Hands Angels’ Share Shiraz #9480 $24.95. I have spoken of these guys before. You may have seen their Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz which makes a regular appearance at the mother ship. Or, their ‘Garden Series’ wines which used to frequent my cellar but have slipped into a price range that has caused me to hesitate. They make a variety of Shiraz’ crafted to reflect the region. This one is from McLaren Vale. The Two Hands house style is reserved, elegant and sophisticated. This one is all that. Spicy, dark berries, and cola. A superb Shiraz for lamb – tannin to cut the fat – spice to match usual lamb seasoning. Don’t waste it on just sipping, as I did. Get some food to the table and pop the cork. In this case, I mean twist the cap.

A nice value pick is the 2015 Falernia Reserva Carmenère #269175 $14.95. Interesting, Carmenère smokey. At this price point worth a few bottles to have for weekday sipping. Easy drinking Chilean red.

Now to the release.

Referenced above is the 2006 Ardal Reserva #167700 #22.95a product of the Balbas folks. I flogged the eponymous Balbas last time out here. This is a bit more substantial – a heavier wine. It’s balanced, typical Ribera del Deuro, a sense of minerality, slate on the sniff, and a decent finish. The fruit is a bit darker than you might expect. Probably due to 20 % Cabernet Sauvignon. I mean how can you go wrong with this wine? Unlike the Balbas, this will withstand some more time down below. I will test that theory by putting some down and seeing what happens. I tried that last time this vintage was out and……….well, it’s all gone. My solution to this continuing problem is to buy more wine to cellar. Or, I could use some restraint…………..nah, I’ll just buy more wine.

Have you ever had a wine that scored  as high as 99? Well, now’s your chance. The 2014 Corte Medicea Athos #475996 $28.95 is an IGT Toscano that was given a score of 99 by Annuario dei Magliori Vini Italiani. A IGT Toscana designation usually means some variation from the Sangiovese-first or winery management regime applied in Tuscany for many specific DOC’s and DOCG’s. I tried to find a winery website to see what’s up but to no avail. I know it’s from the Montepulciano area but that’s it. This is a big wine. And that’s not just the 5 pound bottle it comes in. It overflows with thick creamy dark fruit. Solid but integrated tannins and a good dose of acidity. It is a food wine. If you’re thinking Tuscan, I’d say roast pork or wild boar. Love the boar (sometimes available at the Covent Garden Saturday market). The wine needs some time to open up a bit. So, sit on it or decant for a few hours. And, make sure guests see the red “99” medallion on the bottle when served.

I’m always trying to get people to take another look at Beaujolais. Most people of my generation’s first experience with Beaujolais was Beaujolais Nouveau or the generic ‘flower’ label of Georges DuBoeuf – fresh, fruit forward, and fun. Nothing wrong with that but if this is it for Beaujolais, you might not take it too seriously. Too bad really. I love Beaujolais! I have more Morgon down below than US wine. Now, I know that I need to do something about that but just sayin’. This week, there’s a Beau from Moulin-a Vent, my second favourite cru Beaujolais.The 2014 Stéphane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Moulin-a-Vent #368134 $21.95 is a great example of what this area can magically create. Very substantial wine – extremely age-worthy (5 plus years, easily). Typical of Moulin-a-Vent, the wine has loads of structure supporting the red fruits of the Gamay – depth and complexity worthy of a stew such as coq au vin. This isn’t your bistro Beau but I guess I’ve stressed that enough.

Wines that I haven’t had but will check out:

2104 Ridge Lytton Springs #982413 $64.95 – a benchmark Zinfandel in most years, this one is effusively reviewed (94+) by Antonio Galloni who I seem to share similar tastes with. I used to get this once in awhile when I wanted a classy, classic Zin. The price had started to scare me away but this year might be an exception.

2014 Demogenzon DMZ Syrah #404202 $16.95 – this Stellenbosch winery pipes Baroque music throughout the vineyard. I mean, the Goldberg Variations would have to help this Syrah, wouldn’t they?

2015 Viñedo de Los Vientos Catarsis #514158 $16.95 – a wine from Uruguay. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tannat, and 30% Barbera. What a weird blend. I’m curious.

Cheers.

Bill

To check availability, simply click on the link for each wine (stock number and price), drop down the city menu, choose your burg and then click Find Stores to see inventory near you.

Italy 2017 – Prima Parte – Volterra, Volpaia

3 Nov

We did a bit of a wander in Italy in September that had all sorts of little bits but also some wine. I’ll deliver the wine highlights in instalments. This is the first.

When we travel, we self tour. By that I mean that we don’t do ‘escorted tours’. We pencil a few things but that’s it. We get up in the morning and decide what we’re going to do. We drive ourselves, book all the stuff we need, including: flights; trains; accommodations; wine visits. So, I plan big time. I spend hours on-line checking out TripAdvisor, individual web sites, flight information, prices – taking a sip of wine, he goes on – Lonely Planet recos (love Lonely Planet but why is it?… Lonely, that is?), talk to everyone I know that has been where we are headed, and print out every relevant document that we might need; all inserted into a nifty blue plastic folder.

Last time we went to Italy, I left the folder at home (well-crafted story here). That time we arrived at Pearson without any flight information, hotel information, car rental information, receipts for things already paid for. We were essentially flying blind, pardon the pun. But, it all worked out. Lesson: you don’t need half the stuff you think you need for travelling. I found out all I need is your passport, a credit card, that damn smartphone, a fantastic memory for details, an understanding partner, and some other stuff that I can’t remember right now. But nonetheless, this time I left with full folder.

Fast forward to Florence airport – Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola. Have you been? It’s a bit of a “site under development” right now. I’m sure when they’ve finished the updates and improvements, it will be great. As we left the baggage claim area, we wandered around in circles for a while until we came to what looked like it might be a security zone, We couldn’t figure out where the way out was. We finally corralled a security guy – “Dove è l’uscita?”and he pointed at  a very large sign over a set of automatic doors that read: Way Out. You know, the doors that people were streaming out of. Umm, that simple, eh? I guess the lesson is – it’s OK to be a follower.

Hopped in our little rental and sped to Volterra. Did the full trip sans maps and GPS. That’s right – no road maps for 2 weeks. An adventure every time we set out. Some times a What a great adventure! and others a Oh shit another adventure!

Volterra

Volterra is a walled town that is not a big tourist draw. I’m not sure why because we visited “must see” San Gimignano, which is almost next door, and it wasn’t any more beautiful, interesting or historical. In fact San Gimignano was a pain in the ass tourist-wise. Flooded with bus tours and picture takers. Selfies? Ya think?

Laneway in to Podere San Lorenzo

Arrived at our agriturismo – Podere San Lorenzo (picture above) – a beautiful smallish place with fantastic staff, food, quarters, environs just outside of Volterra. Highly recommend it. Remember how I studiously plan, check, re-check, etc. Well, we arrived at Podere San Lorenzo and met Simona, a wonderful woman who checked her register and said, “I’m sorry but we don’t have Dufton here.” There was a time when I would have become apoplectic, shit myself, and demanded to see the manager (perhaps not in that order).

But, despite the 20 hours lack of sleep and general travel angst, I quietly and slowly rifled through my folder and triumphantly pulled out an email that I had exchanged with them with confirmation of the 6 nights’ stay. I would be vindicated! After Simona reviewed the email, she slowly pointed to the dates that I had confirmed therein. They were the same dates when we were going to be in Sicily – starting 6 days hence. I had mistakenly booked two places a thousand kilometres and a 90 minute flight apart for the same 5 days later in the month!

Guess what? I was fine with it (not completely true). At least The Director didn’t have to bring out the defibrillator. But Simona checked through their bookings and said that she would move someone else later in the week and we could have an apartment as promised for the 6 days. Phew. I needed a glass of wine right then. Hmmm, what pairs with sheepish?

Of the 6 days in Volterra, only two were dedicated wine days – which isn’t nearly enough.

Wine Day One – Chianti Classico.

Chianti Map courtesy of http://www.italianwine.com

Wine regions are somewhat economically and politically devised and regulated (if you want to get a history on this, the book Wine Politics by Tyler Colman is a great read). And primarily for these reasons, there are several Chianti zones that you’ll see on labels. The most common ones are Chianti Classico which is roughly the original 1716 Chianti zone. The others are Chianti Rufina (elegant and ageworthy), Chianti Colli Senesi (value and fun), and Colli Florentini, among a few others.

The Classico zone began around the towns of Radda, Gaiole, and Castellina, with Greve added later. The towns of Radda, Gaiole and Castellina have the suffix ‘in Chianti’ added to their names now. Want to hear about the varietal restrictions, label nomenclature, regulated vineyard practices, required vineyard uniform, grooming restrictions, secret handshake, etc.? No?

Castellina in Chianti

Where was I? Oh yeah – a day in Chianti. We trekked to Castellina in Chianti. Remember – no maps or GPS – so only two times turning around. OK, three times. But no harm – no foul. On these explores, I am inclined to be definitive. So, when I think that we are lost – there’s no telling me otherwise. We are ‘absolutely’ on the wrong road. I mean absolutely! I want to turn around right then. And, if I think we are on the right road, I drive for miles before I can conceive that we are heading in the wrong direction. The good news? I know me and have come to grips with my fallibility. Just you don’t mention it.

2013 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva

Castellina in Chianti – a pretty village on the top of a hill looking out over a spectacular valley strewn with vines and olive trees. A cool little spot with loads of noshing, shopping, and sipping opportunities. There is a neat wine shop in Via delle Volte, a tunnel that runs under the village wall just as you enter from the car park. The shop specializes in Chianti Classico and Super Tuscans. They had a wide selection of tasting opportunities (they had a large WineKeeper dispenser) – Brancaia Il Blu, Veneroso, Oreno to name a few that I sipped. It was early but it’s never too early, yeah? I picked up a bottle of 2013 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva €21 just in case. Love Brancaia and this wine didn’t disappoint. Although drinking well now – could use another three or so years. For those of us in Ontario, there is the 2015 Brancaia Chianti Classico #519173 $24.95 a Chianti from Radda worthy of your consideration.

We left Castellina in Chianti and drove to Radda in Chianti. It’s another village on the top of a hill overlooking vineyards and olive groves? It never gets boring though. The headquarters of Chianti Classico. Lunched in a road side cafe by the big cock. Oh stop it!

The Chianti Classico Symbol to be found on the neck band of most Chianti Classico and at this piazza in Radda

Volpaia

On to Volpaia. Ah, Volpaia. If you had to go to only one Chianti winery, this might be the most impressive yet unsullied one that you can find. I’m not saying that the bigger, grander spaces like Passignano or the spectacular Livernano aren’t impressive. This just seems less ‘designed’, if you know what I mean. Volpaia is a village, not far from Radda, that is solely owned by one family. The whole village has been turned into a winery, a very small agriturismo with bistro and cafe. There are only 15 permanent residents who are tasked with care taking mainly. The reason I chose Volpaia as a destination was that it’s hard to get here and my only experience with their wine. I had a near flawless bottle of 2010 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva a couple years ago and was eager to see the operation – why was this wine so superb? Now, I know. The hills around the village are farmed either by the family or contract families who have been supplying the Volpaia winery for 50+ years. Many labels are organic and in Italy, I’ve found, organic does make a positive difference.

One of the many small barrel rooms

We wandered around the village to the deconsecrated church cellar (full of barrels), the many prior residences with either barrels, olive presses, or stainless steel fermentation tanks, there’s a wine duct that runs throughout the village. It was reminiscent of Gratallops in Priorat where doors opened on to narrow streets to reveal full-blown winemaking operations under residences. It is pretty cool. Forget the castles, chateaux, reception centres, this is what I love about wine – you can fancy the peripherals up but it doesn’t replace solid vineyard management, established vineyards, and expert winemaking. Our guide was superb. Suffice to say that she was very knowledgeable and conversant in several languages. And, she had a definite fashion sense that permeates all of Italy in my experience. I’ll talk about that vibe when I post on our time in Firenze.

The wines?

2016 Bianco di Volpaia €8 A great start to a tasting. Crisp, mineral on the palate. Made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grown at 2,000 feet above sea level. Perfect early evening sipper.

2016 Prelius – Vermentino €8.50 A wine made from grapes grown near the coast in Bolgheri. Organic. Fresh, carrying the Vermentino fruitiness that we came to appreciate while in Italy. Solid wine for sipping and with fresh seafood.

Volpaia Library Wine Cellar

2015 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico €12.50 This is what we’re talking about. Pure Sangiovese fruit on the gargle and the medium finish. This is a fresh, pop and pour wine. From grapes grown 1,000 to 1,750 feet above sea level – perhaps some of the highest Sangiovese in Classico. At this price, it’s a steal.

2014 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva €20 This was my favourite wine of the whole tasting. Perhaps the vintage but I think that this is a well crafted Classico in a ‘classic’ style, if that makes sense. Aged for 24 months, the wine shows the effects of barrel aging in the leather and vanilla on the finish. Fruit supported by integrated tannins and a beautiful vein of acidity. Restrained and elegant. The 2010 vintage was Wine Spectator’s #21 wine in their Top 100 of 2014.

2013 Castello di Volpaia Balificio €36 This is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet from older vines (circa 60 years). Although this was perhaps bigger in mouthfeel than the Riserva, it was a bit more reserved (pardon the pun). International in style, it seemed a bit out of place for me. It clearly was a well made Super Tuscan but, in the midst of this magical village, I preferred the more ‘naturally’ Tuscan reds. Perhaps back at home it would have shone.

2012 Vinsanto del Chianti Classico €21 375 ml Since The Director doesn’t drink reds, our guide offered her some of this sweet delicacy. It was almost Port-like – nutty, spicy. From their web site – “The healthiest and most beautiful bunchers (sic) of Malvasia and Trebbiano were harvested in October. They were then hung up to dry on rafters in our Vinsantaia, a huge attic where the grapes are dried and the vinsanto stored, so it is effected by all the changes in temperature. By February the sugar content was high enough to press the shrivelled grapes. The highly concentrated must was then left to ferment in small oak casks where it was allowed to mature for a full five years.” I liked it a lot in spite of myself.

We returned to our Volterra abode with a stash of wine and sat out on our terrace overlooking the landscape below with some young Pecorino, local cherry tomatoes, crackers, and some Vernaccia di San Gimignano. All in all, a great day.

Cheers.

Bill

http://wine.volpaia.com

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