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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.

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

 

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

Rehabilitaion Lives – Buy Frescobaldi

20 Oct

I wasn’t going to do this but. I mean, it’s Gord Downie we’re talking about. “There’s no simple explanation for anything important any of us do”.

We’ll eulogize Tom Petty next time.

I was reading a recent Wine Enthusiast and lingered on the last article. It was a great story about a visit by Amiee White Beazley to the island of Gorgona off the coast of Tuscany. Gorgona is a penal colony. A real penal colony where bad guys are isolated from the Italian population to do penance for whatever crime they’ve committed.

Gorgona

The deal at Gorgona is that the Frescobaldi family has a vineyard and winery there. It’s built on the remnants of an historic vineyard. The vines and buildings have been rehabilitated with the manpower and support of the inmates of the island. Although the Frescobaldi family lead the whole operation, the article tells us how involved the guests of the state are in the day-to-day operations – training to become vineyard managers, winemakers. And, how the work has forever changed them. I don’t say that off-hand. I mean it. They are changed. People can and do change if given the opportunity and kept away from firearms, reality television, and FoxNews.

I’m second from right in back row

As some of you know, I used to work in the corrections system. I left. Offenders have since pleaded with authorities for a sympathetic ear and an empirically-based approach to their rehabilitation. Can we just get some love and mercy (channelling Brian Wilson)? Anyway, this article touched me – took me back to an early passion and a heartfelt belief.

We used to have correctional farm operations in this province. I worked at an institution that had a woollen mill, an abattoir (misplaced optimism that a murderer or someone who pulls wings off flies would benefit from killing cows?), vegetable, livestock, and grain operations. I didn’t stay long enough to see the kind of change that this article talks about. However, having worked on farms, I can attest that it does change you and for the better. It provides a connection to the land, your place in it, and the onus of stewardship on us all. It humbles you. Despite the hard work (or perhaps because of it) getting your hands dirty in a tomato patch or baling hay is damn near spiritual. And yes, somedays, I hated spiritual but am glad I experienced it.

So, to honour Fescobaldi’s commitment to and investment in change, I’m reviewing the available Frescobaldi products in our market today plus a few I tasted in Italy last month.

A little history first:
(From Frescobaldi website) “The history of the Frescobaldi family starts over a thousand years ago and is closely connected with the history of Tuscany. At the high point of medieval Florence, the Frescobaldis spread their influence as bankers, earning the title of treasures (sic) to the English crown. A little later, with the flowering of the Renaissance, they became patrons of major works in Florence, such as the construction of the Santa Trinita bridge and the Basilica of Santo Spirito.

The family has always looked to develop and celebrate the diversity of Tuscany’s terroir. Being proud owners of some of the greatest vineyards in this region they have always sought to maintain the identity and autonomy of each property.”

Basilica di Santo Spirito

Cool, that part about the Basilica of Santo Spirito. When we were in Florence in September, our flat backed on to the Giardino di Palazzo Frescobaldi. And was a stone’s throw from the basilica. We dined al fresco on the Piazza Santo Spirito in front of the basilica. Isn’t that the beauty of Italy? All the cool stuff around you all the time.

As mentioned above, the Frescobaldi holdings are wide and varied, and include: Tenuta Castiglioni; Tenuta Remole; Castello Pomino; Castello Nipozzano; Castello Giocondo; Tenuta Ammiraglia; Gorgona; among others. Iconic labels include: Mormoreto; Giramonte; Montesodi; Masseto; Ornellaia (with Mondavi); and, Luce della Vita (with Mondavi). We’ve probably all quaffed a bunch of their wines. Hell, you couldn’t go wrong stacking your Tuscan racks with just their stuff. So, let’s get to the tasting!

In no particular order (and, as always, these were not samples – no inducement provided by Frescobaldi or their agents – I do this just for you):

2015 Frescobaldi Campo al Sasso Rosso di Montalcino #429415 $21.95 Rosso di Montalcino is wildly variable in quality, in my experience. This had a mustyish nose which got my heart racing. Crystal clear ruby red – really pretty wine. This wine opens with a burst of acidity. It put me off at first but over time, it tamed down significantly and you get the pure cherry fruit, clean mouthfeel and a medium finish. This would be a great pairing with a simple tomato/basil pasta. But, let the air out of this for awhile.

2015 Castello di Nipozzano Montesodi (2012 is available in limited supply at LCBO #304501 $51.00Enjoyed this at the Dei Frescobaldi wine bar in Florence (a story for later). This 2015 was surprisingly mature for it’s age. It might have been the wine bar situation – being open for awhile. However, it oozes leather/tobacco both on the nose and on the swish and swallow. I love that vibe. Dried berry fruit reinforcing the aged quality – oak integrated. A big wine. A really big wine, actually.

2014 Terre More Ammiraglia Cabernet Maremma Toscana IGT €8 (N/A at LCBO) This is a Cabernet-based red wine from Maremma which is in the southwest corner of Tuscany, near the coast. I’ve always viewed Maremma as good value but also quite variable in quality. The rule for using the Maremma nomenclature means that the wine is at least 85% of the variety on the label. Well, you could definitely pick out that fact without instruction. Straight forward Cab. Faint nose (but tasted in a tumbler not proper glass)- cassis on the swish – no oak effects – light to medium body – some lingering hint of Tuscany but can’t tell you what – maybe style rather than substance on that point. Matched our early evening cheese board, olives, and bread.

2016 Albizzia Chardonnay Toscana €11 (N/A @ LCBO) Like the one above, first night in Tuscany wine. A light to medium weight Chardonnay. Definite citrus nose. Peach in the mouth with some slight butteriness on the finish. Very good effort. A great sipper – maybe you’d want something a little more dynamic for food.

2007 Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino (2012 is available at LCBO in their Essentials program #650432 $52.95When you join CellarTracker, you’re asked to identify your dream wines. Brunello is one of mine. It just represents so well. It’s usually wise beyond its years, extremely food friendly or just fine being your friend, and always provides me an image of a seasoned (read: old) Italian gentleman standing at a cellar door with an inviting smile. I adore it. This 2007 was at a perfect age to create that image. Just starting to brown around the edges, tobacco on the nose with some cherry pie peeking its head out as well as some fumes indicating the power lurking. In the mouth, it replayed the cherry pie emphatically with some funk, liquorice, and leather. All in all a very elegant, balanced wine. I buy a few of these each year and wonder when to open. I’ve been too early (tannins really chewy and hard to get to fruit) and too late (flabby). I hit a home run with this one.

2014 La Vite Lucente #747030 $34.95 A Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon bend this qualifies as a Super Tuscan. And before the purists ‘harrumph’, I agree that not all Super Tuscans are ‘Super’. And, many aren’t that ‘Tuscan’ either. Well, put away the daggers. This is both. And both in a big way. My notes on the 2013 suggest musty cherry aromas – solid replay of the cherry with cola and liquorice on the swish and swallow. Medium finish. The Tuscan part is the restraint. I feel like they could have hit us over the head with ripe fruit – heavens knows it’s warm enough to ripen the fruit pre-harvest. However, there’s a veneer covering the fruit component, it’s fruit last not first – the nice acidity which I associate with Tuscany.

2015 Castello di Pomino Bianco #65086 $19.95 This is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco. It’s a superb sipper. Think sitting on a piazza with a plate of charcuterie, fresh tomatoes (I know there are always fresh tomatoes with me), olives, bread and olive oil. Perfect match – enough weight to carry the meats and enough acid to cut the fat of that meat and olive oil. Enough fruit to battle the tomatoes and lift the flavours of the Chardonnay. I’m not a big fan of Italian white wines but the three profiled here are ‘mighty fine’ which is a wine professional’s term. And, I’m a professional, so don’t try it at home.

2015 Benefizio Pomino Bianco Riserva (N/A @ LCBO) Enjoyed this wine at the Dei Frescobaldi wine bar in Florence. Not sure what the price might be here but I’m thinking…….high. This is a small production Chardonnay blend. Moderately oaked, apples and citrus on the nose – butter and peaches on the finish. A very sophisticated wine. Very, very nice. We sipped it with nothing other than conversation. But, I’m thinking this is a food wine – chicken, pork, mild to medium cheeses.

2015 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni #145920 $21.95 OK. I’ve promoted this wine from the beginning of my on-line life. This is pure Italy at a reasonable price. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese that leans toward a truly Tuscan wine. All that to mean that the Sangiovese is present enough that you’ll know where this wine comes from. The style is medium body, streak of acidity that provides a bit of bite on the first sip, and moderate tannins. Fruit is red – “No shit Bill, it’s a red wine’ – but what I mean is that it is cherries and strawberries. Some leather but no real evidence of major oak. Easy drinking, interesting wine.

I’m taking a deep breath here. Ok, on to the next. The 2013 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Riserva Chianti Rùfina #395186 $29.95 brings a classic vibe to the path we’ve been on here. Put your hand up if you remember Chianti as the wine in the basket (candle to be applied later) that was weak, variable in quality and perfect for the third bottle of the night. I see some hands up there. Well, this isn’t your second year university Chianti. It exudes ‘old’. It screams ‘traditional’. There’s a solidness to this wine. It’s a wine for grown ups (wonder why I like it?)  – elegant, sophisticated, and settled. No one is going to take a sip of this and fall over in ecstasy. But give them a second and third sip and they will fall in love. I read a review of another vintage and they used the term ‘honest’. That pretty well sums it up. Great, great food wine.

I know that I’ve been absent from these pages. I will be posting a bunch of stories in the next few weeks on our Italy trip and about some great wines coming to the mothership.

Cheers.

Bill

Geology Meets Wine Geek – John Szabo’s Volcanic Wines

24 Aug

When I was a grade school student, one of the most chilling assignments was the book review. Chilling in that you knew the teacher had read it – so you couldn’t Coles Notes (Cliffs Notes for my US friends) it. And, because in some cases you had to read your work in front of the class. A real knee knocking experience. I swore off book reviews since. Well, I’m throwing away that pledge to give you a little gift.

I’m travelling to Sicily next month to do a bit of a wine wander. So, to better understand the place, among other reads, I asked for John Szabo’s Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit, and Power for Christmas. And Santa obliged.

First I need to tell you a little about growing up in my house. It explains why this book might hold some extra allure for me.

My father was a soft rock geologist and worked plotting and trying to understand the earth so that his employer could find and extract oil. He clearly was committed to his discipline. I know this because….

Yup, that’s a wadi!

When we would take a trip to visit grandparents, travel to the cottage, or take a short jaunt to a neighbouring community, my father would pull over on the side of the road and point out features in the landscape. As a type of higher level instruction, he would have us tromp through the field to an area and would ask us what we saw. It didn’t take long before we were identifying wadi (“There’s a wadi, Dad,” from the back seat), hummocks, and homoclinal ridges among other formations. At the cottage, he and I walked on the Canadian Shield and I learned about its age, its origin and the nature of the igneous rock that made up it’s beauty.

So, when I read a review of John Szabo’s work, I had to have it.

Although I am not through the book in it’s entirety, I can tell you how thrilled I am to be learning a bit more about the connection of the history of the earth’s crust to viticulture and great wine.

Mount Etna

Now, if you’ve had a bunch of wine and paid even a little attention, you know that wines that come from certain areas – areas known for harsh, almost un-arable conditions where vines struggle – are staggeringly powerful and distinct. My personal experience includes sipping an Assyrtiko while gazing out over the barren, windy, hot and rocky landscape of Santorini. “How does any wine come from here, let alone something this special?” Nothing quite like it. Or, enjoying a Taurasi near Pompeii almost in the shadow of Vesuvius. There isn’t really anything that compares.

Szabo says of volcanic wines, “The best examples, like all great wines, seem to have another, or at least different, dimension, a common sort of density that can only come from genuine extract in the wine, not alcohol or glycerol, or just tannins and acid, It’s a sort of weightless gravity, intense, heavy as a feather, firm but transparent, like an impenetrable invisible force shield of flavour that comes out of nowhere but doesn’t impose itself……………..It can be gritty, salty, hard, maybe even unpleasant to some, but unmistakeable.”

And, although I thought I knew why they were special, I was kidding myself. It is a lot more complex and technical. But, given my childhood lessons on igneous rock, I should have known that.

Assyrtiko vines of Santorini

Szabo’s book examines wine regions as disparate as Napa/Sonoma, Macaronesia, Pitigliano, Campania, Soave, Sicily and, yes, Santorini, among others. He tells us how the earth’s crust is currently composed, the geological history of that land, the continuing impacts of volcanic activity. Most importantly for wine geeks, he tells us what the wines take from all that, what grapes flourish, who makes the most of it, the people, and the glory of it all. I know. Glory is a pretty absolute and unequivocal word. I meant it as such.

I won’t go into detail or give away the plot (although I think I already have). Suffice it to say, that the book is a master class in the intersection of volcanic geology and wine. It’s a big honking book. It could serve as a coffee table book. It has utterly spectacular photography – vineyard porn. But, don’t leave it sitting. Pick it up and get up to speed on regions of the wine world that will captivate with their story and their wine. Then get thee to the mother ship and get some of these wines to experience what the fuss is all about!

I know all about that last part. This book has already cost me a bit of cash propping up my meagre cellar with more Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici and some Etna Rosso. I’m looking to dig a little ‘weightless gravity’. If you know what I mean.

Cheers.

Bill

FYI – Volcanic Wines is available through Amazon. John Szabo’s coordinates are:

http://www.johnszabo.com      @johnszabo

Porcupine Leading to Drinking Alone

25 Jul

A loon captured in front of our cottage by my cousin’s talented photographer wife, Brenda Dickie

Just returned from three full weeks at the lake. No wireless, no television, just sports radio and expensive data through my iPhone. So, haven’t been following the news – wine news or world news. Although I’m guessing that The Donald did something to get Daddy’s attention.

So, how about a story from the wilds of Muskoka?

You can hear the echoes on the lake: the lonesome whippoorwill (homage to Hank Williams); the haunting call of the loon; the laughter of children swimming; and then there’s THE SOUND.

The sound might remind the untrained ear of someone dragging a hammer claw under the floor of your abode. Or, a small jet aircraft revving on the runway prior to takeoff. It occurs only at night while you sleep. It’s loud, the vibration moving up through the floor, through the bed frame, through the mattress and into your bones. The Director lies sleeping. I, on the other hand, leap from the bed a la the man in the Christmas poem to see what is the matter.

Most would wake and yell, “What the hell is that?” I, however, in a matter of seconds, know exactly what ‘that’ is and simply say, “Oh shit, the porcupines are back.” Yes, folks porcupines can plague even a seasoned cottager like yours truly.

A porcupine pre-glue sniffing

What the heck do porcupines do that makes that sound, you ask? Well, they gnaw on the striated beams that support our cottage with their humongous sharp teeth. Striated beams are made by gluing together a zillion strands of wood. They are as hard as steel.

Years ago, the porkies gnawed right through the floor of our cabin (an abode since torn down) and through the hole, you could see their beady little eyes blinking as they tried to extract as much salty glue as they could from the plywood. That’s right folks – porcupines are glue addicts (Editors Note: They love the glue because plywood glue has salt in it – they crave salt). Imagine the strung out porky retired to his little whatever it is he lives in, bending over a small paper bag of hard won glue, taking a big sniff, and saying, “Far out man, that’s good shit,” as wisps of resin float about his little prickly face.

This last time, I got out of bed and proceeded to pound on the floor over the area where I surmised the porky sat. I yelled, I pounded, I stomped, The Director slept. Seriously?

Eventually, the big fellow – I just noticed that I’ve assigned a gender to this creature. Let’s see – the animal’s a pain in the ass, has no ambition, is glue addicted and up drugging at 3 in the morning – of course, it’s a ‘he’. Where was I? Oh yeah, he crawled out from underneath the cottage and waddled up the path and into the woods. Phew, it’s over. Back to bed? Unfortunately I’m not built like that. Once up – I’m up – really up. That’s a surprise?

This brings me to the wine. You knew that I’d get there. My challenge? Pairing wine to three in the morning in your pyjamas and Googling on your phone “how do I get rid of a porcupine?”

What did I do about the wine? Decision tree on pairing: no food – just empty calories at that time of day – unlike the alcohol, wink, wink; palate a little muted by snore breath; heart racing because, although I know the porcupine isn’t going to burst through the door and begin shooting his quills shouting, “Say hello to my lil’ friend,” I’m just a little anxious; and most importantly, I don’t want to upset my whole three weeks of wine planning by taking a bottle out of turn when the mothership is a one hour drive away.

You might say – how about Port? Too nutty and heavy. Or, maybe a cup of tea? Tea? You think I drink tea? Red wine? Naw, too intense.

As it turned out, there was an open bottle of Chardonnay in the fridge. It’s a familiar label in this market – J. Lohr Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay #258699 $19.95 . It’s a great value Chardonnay with some oak but nothing chewy or over-buttery. Ripe, round and medium weight. This night a glass went perfectly with my frantic internet search for creative ways to rid myself of a beast. OK, it was two glasses.

How can an animal survive with a glue sniffer’s approach to life? Well here’s how, the only predators that porkies need to fear up here are Subarus – the official car of Muskoka. They just go about their business without a care in the world. You can shoot them or poison them and I don’t have the heart for either. So, I’m stocking up on the J. Lohr and learning to live with it.

So, if you’re up in the night with a bit of anxiety and some homework to do, I’m suggesting a medium weight Chardonnay. It doesn’t solve your problems because that, as we all know, requires Scotch. But, it sure beats tea.

Or, might you have any suggestions from personal late night experience?

Cheers.

Bill

Confession – it was two and a half glasses!

Blogging Peril? – A Friday Night Ramble

10 Mar

I’ve been communicating to my peeps for over 8 years now and I’ve noticed a subtle change in the wine journalism that I read. Before I ramble further, let me expose my biases.

I write because I love to write. I write about wine because I love wine. I’m an amateur. I identify as a blogger and am proud of it. I reach a fraction of the readers that other bloggers or wine writers do. I get it. I only matter to a few. I love those few!

I like the wine blogging community too. I appreciate their contribution to wine education, wine culture, and wine buddyism. Wine buddyism is the camaraderie that wine people experience when discussing, drinking, and appreciating wine together. FYI, it works best while doing the drinking part.

I like that this community, in an effort to make wine more approachable, are generally inclined to communicate with most wine drinkers; instead of just those that have an elevated understanding of wine. However, I notice a troubling trend.

It seems to me that more and more posts have a connection to a gift of sorts. At the extreme, it could be a trip and tour of a wine region or winery. At the low end, it’s simply a sample or samples. And, in fairness and to be transparent, I am not allowed samples in this Victorian jurisdiction unless I am at the cellar door or one of a few professionals paid by the LCBO. I pay for every drop that I review Goddammit. So, I could just be whiney here and, hell yes, I’d take a free trip and samples too. That’s not the point that I’m going to make.

I read The Emperor of Wine many years ago and was fascinated by the origins of Robert Parker’s influence. In the beginning of wine criticism/review, wine critics were flown to Bordeaux, feted, and sampled to death by the wineries so that they could give an opinion on vintage and individual chateaux, wink, wink. Parker argued that this presented either a true conflict of interest or the appearance of one. His Wine Advocate, on the contrary, took no advertising revenue, received no compensation for travel, etc. Ergo, it presented itself as the true uncompromised, objective source of wine reviews. You could trust it. It relied on the revenue of readers. I subscribed to The Wine Advocate for years regardless that my tastes (aside from Neal Martin and Antonio Galloni when he was there) didn’t line up with those expressed in that publication.  I particularly appreciated the lack of advertising.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not impuning the character of those journalists that report positively on their trips and samples. When I’ve been entertained at wineries, I’ve written about it too. And in fairness, most blog posts don’t involve reviewing stuff or experiences that are free or when they do, there are clear declarations of that fact. I guess what I’m saying is that it is a slippery slope. It seems to be the new normal of wineries/distributors for promoting their wines – get a wine writer to talk about your stuff by providing some swag. I’m just wondering if we are getting sucked in.

But here’s where I get truly scared. The Wine Bloggers Conference this upcoming November. A major session is titled: “What Companies Want From Wine Bloggers.” 

Seriously? How much more compromised can we appear if we start from the premise that we want to understand what ‘companies’ want from us and how we can give that to them. Help me understand this. WTF is a company? If I assume that it’s a winery or wine distributor/negotiant, I get that there is symbiosis here. But, it shouldn’t be a servile relationship. I simply don’t understand why we’d give a shit enough to have a session – and I understand it is a “premium full session spot”, promoted as a highlight on this topic?  Bloggers can’t appear any more collusional or compromised than this.

When I read a review of a wine or a winery, I don’t want the writer to serve a commercial interest of a winery or frigging ‘company’. whatever the hell that means. I want to trust that they are expressing ‘their’ truth about the wine. I believe that most of the people I follow are doing just that (People I follow: please read that last sentence before writing in the comments section). But, if bloggers are reporting on their findings while being subsidized either through samples or trips, and the refinement of their craft is schooled in conferences around how to satisfy wine conglomerates and wineries, it just looks bad. I mean it looks really bad. It can all be explained away but so can Trump Tower speed dials set for Russia. Why would we want to create this suspicion or compromise what we do?

Now it is entirely possible that my (now former) blogging friends may see their role differently than I see mine. Maybe being a purist is insufferable. Wait, if you’ve been reading this blog for long you know that I am always insufferable. I may take wine too seriously, you may say. No I don’t. I take fantasy baseball too seriously. Wine is more recreational. But, let me know if you agree that there’s some cause for worry in the Comments section below. Or, you can just just give me shit for my opinions. I don’t get paid either way.

Cheers

Bill

Answers #SundaySips

19 Feb

answers

Well, ask a question and you shall receive answers. On Thursday I posted my usual pre-release recommendations. I started the post with a question about whether people finished off a bottle at the end of the evening or re-corked and savoured it the next day. I confessed to most often finishing it off under the condition that it was an extraordinary wine. Maybe I wasn’t clear that I do sometimes re-cork but that’s the exception.

The verdict is in, people have spoken and I’m thinking I have a problem (“No shit, Sherlock”). Most responders re-corked – red on the counter, white in the fridge – and savoured it the next day. Several felt that the wine changed for the better and that it was instructive and even of benefit to taste it with the extra evolution.

I agree. There is an evolution once oxygen has rattled the wine. It’s like a decant effect – some funk may get blown off, tannins integrate, and the wine opens up and tells us about its aspirations and the previous evening of neglect.

chdmI have listened and I have heard you. I can’t promise anything because tonight I’m opening a 2003 Pauillac (Ch. Duhart-Milon for the geeks out there). That’s VGS quality. And, my level of restraint post-first glass of great wine isn’t the best. Wish me luck.

Cheers.

Bill

#WBC16 – Serious Business? #SundaySips

21 Aug

The 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC16) was held last week. It’s a big deal where wine bloggers get to meet their virtual wine buddies in the flesh, drink wine together and talk wine and the art of the blog. This year it was held in Lodi. So, tastings, tours, etc. were of that region. Did I mention you drink wine together?

This shouldn’t be construed as indicating that wine bloggers have their shit together. Bloggers are a bit troubled and conflicted.

Let me explain. Most people practicing the genre (always wanted to use that word), started by enjoying wine, being interested in learning more about wine, educating themselves and/or taking some formal structured learning, perhaps getting into the trade, and then being encouraged by delusional loved ones and friends (in my case, imaginary) to write a blog.

UmBut, here’s the challenge that we face. Wine bloggers are needy. We mistakenly think that we want to be taken seriously. We really do want a lot of ‘follows’, daily stats, even if we deny it. We might write for ourselves (so, we say) but it’s nice to know that we’re not whistling in the wilderness, isn’t it? Did anyone out there follow my suggestion to buy some 2010 Chateau Obscure? Damn, didn’t think so. We want our opinion heard and weighed. And, yes, followed – at least once in awhile. But, there’s the rub. We want all that but we don’t want to be viewed as ‘them’. You know who I’m talking about.

I took an informal poll and discovered that there are 1 billion wine drinkers on the planet (survey results have a 95% confidence level plus or minus half a billion people). And wine isn’t any more important to most of them than having an aquarium, sorting their sock drawer, and/or Bob Ross’ Still Life with Apple.. Oh, we wine geeks would like to think that most people, if given the chance to experience a vintage DRC or Ch. Haut-Brion, would come over to the dark side and ‘get into wine big time’. They’d be like, “Yes, I love, love, luuuuuve, the finish on that d’Yquem.” They’d argue the benefits of Stelvin closures. I am not shitting you – there is a debate about closures. They’d be more like us. Validate our obsession. But, aah, I’m thinking that they really wouldn’t. They really, really don’t care that much.

So, that leaves bloggers talking to bloggers, casual wine drinkers who, remember, don’t really care, and friends who are too rude to unsubscribe.

awesomBut, how does that compare to serious wine scribes? You know the names: Parker, Molesworth? Well, most bloggers truly don’t care about having that kind of Klout score. And yet, we’d like just a little more than we currently have. What blogger wouldn’t like his/her name on a shelf talker. “Duffs Wines Recommended.” I used to think that I’d love to see that. Even better, a case of wine that I recommended in a friend’s cellar. Bloggers want people to value their experiences and opinions. Who wouldn’t?

But wait a minute my blogger friends. If we did – have that much power, that is. We would be forced to do the unthinkable. Get deadly serious about wine. I mean Sauternes versus Barsac serious. Be held accountable (I’m too old to be held accountable, BTW). We would be more obnoxious than we already are. We would spit more before noon than we drink before noon now. Speaking personally here, that’s a lot of spitting. We would be subjected to full eight hour days of tasting hundreds of wines – enjoying none of them. Plus, think about having to come up with new esoteric aroma and flavour descriptors. How else to explain Maduro tobacco and fig paste?

I’m not sure I could handle it. So, although saying this is totally unnecessary, “You don’t have to take me seriously”. I know that with a few exceptions………actually, without exception, I don’t take the bloggers I follow very seriously either. I just simply really enjoy them, thanks.

That brings us back to WBC 16. I wish I could have been there. I’d love to spend time with some of my social media and wine writing peeps. I’d like to be surprised by who they really are. I might surprise some of them with my substandard singing voice and misplaced sense of self-importance (hence, this self-indulgent ramble). And we would never be serious. Well, with the exception of the closure debate. Wouldn’t that be great?

Like a Leafs’ fan, I will just say, “Maybe next year.”

Cheers.

Bill

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