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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

 

Visiting Niagara Region Day 1 – #SundaySips

17 Apr

This was playing while I composed this and it seems appropriate…….’cause we are taking the car or bicycle to Jordan.

Spring has finally arrived.

And Spring deserves a road trip. My favourite road trip that doesn’t require a road map for me is down to Niagara to visit some of the most underrated wineries around. “How underrated are they?” Well, I get the Wine Enthusiast and Wine and Spirits and I can’t remember when they have ever mentioned a Canadian, let alone Niagara, wine. Decanter did a  nice piece with a Canadian wine on the front cover. But generally, Niagara is the Rodney Dangerfield of wine. Even here in Ontario, I have friends who wouldn’t consider a wine from Niagara regardless of my strong recommendation – they just don’t even want to try it – they know they don’t like it. Let me repeat that – “regardless of my strong recommendation”. Are you shitting me? If I, Duff, recommend it, you can abso-friggin-lutely count on the fact that…………….I’m going to like it a lot. And, by extension, maybe you will too.

I get the lack of air play and respect for Niagara, I think. Low volumes, low brand recognition, strong competition in all categories, and many of their better wines’ price point. There’s lots of noise for a wine consumer to navigate.

I want to provide a bit of a guidebook to a tour of Niagara. And after you’ve taken it literally (or in the comfort of your own home) and sampled their offerings, you make up your own mind.

As I see it, Wineville Niagara is laid out like this – there are the wineries you visit on the way to or from (Niagara Escarpment/Twenty Valley) and those that you visit when you have unloaded your stuff in a lovely inn or bed and breakfast in or near that tony village – Niagara-On-The-Lake. If you try to mix it up, there are issues related to time pressure, confusion, wrong turns, marital discord, and potential DUI convictions. Trust me – I know this. And, it’s important to sample wines from both of these larger chunks. So, don’t miss either.

The lens I’m using is one that takes into consideration travel time (assuming a couple days at least) and the experience that you’ll have (both wine and atmosphere). And, it’s my blog so these wineries and dining places are from my own experience and are tailored to my palate and taste. There are 88 wineries in Niagara and some will be horribly disappointed that they don’t get a mention on this heavily subscribed blog but here’s a hint for them: it’s easily rectified with an invitation to a tasting/tour and free swag for Duff. After all, I am that easily bought. Here we go.

Before we start, make sure you’ve done a little research. I’ve listed one solid resource at the bottom of the page. For restaurants and accommodations, of course, there are the usual suspects TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. Also, I’m trying out a new app called Winery Passport. Let me know if you use it and opinion.

First Day (on the way to NOTL)

A good mix of wineries from large to artisanal, from Riesling to Pinot to Viognier to Chardonnay. I’m somewhat travelling towards NOTL from Hamilton:

Leaning Post – 1491 Hwy 8 Stoney Creek, ON Tel: 905-643-9795 http://www.leaningpostwines.com Artisanal winery – taking grapes from small plots throughout the area. Great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay but also make Gamay, Riesling. Up and coming.

rosewood

Rosewood Winery

Rosewood Estates Winery – 4352 Mountainview Road, Beamsville, ON Tel: 905-563-4383 http://www.rosewoodwine.com Lovely winery situated amongst several others (Angel’s Gate, Thirty Bench – so you could kill a flock with one stone). They have an apiary and make mead as well as very nice Riesling (MS), Pinot Noir, and Merlot. And, they had a senior dog when last I was there. I pay attention to this kind of detail. Check to see if they are having a wedding there before you go.

Daniel Lenko Estate Winery – 5246 King Street West, Beamsville ON Tel: 905-563-7756 http://www.danilelenko.com Great Old Vines Chardonnay, Heritage, Merlot, and a few takes on Viognier which are interesting (many barrel and bottle aged e.g.. 07’s and ’08’s available) family style presentation, family run grape growers from way back. Great down home vibe.

Vineland Estates – 3620 Moyer Road, Vineland ON Tel: 1-888-846-3526 http://www.vineland.com Beautiful  tasting room/reception centre, tour, etc. Exceptional restaurant. Specializes in Riesling for my money although other varieties are available.

The Malivoire Wine Company – 4260 King Street East, Beamsville ON Tel: 1-866-644-2244 http://www.malivoire.com I wrote about Malivoire here. Chardonnays, Gamay, Foch, Rosé.

Tawse Winery – 3955 Cherry Avenue, Vineland ON Tel: 905-562-9500 http://www.tawsewinery.ca I wrote a bit about Tawse here. They make exceptional terroir-driven Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and Cab Francs. Solid Riesling too.

Flatrock Cellars – 2727 Seventh Avenue, Jordan ON Tel: 1-855-994-8994 http://www.flatrockcellars.com I wrote about Flat Rock here. They have a beautiful reception area, reasonably priced and tasty Chardonnays, Pinots, and a great Riesling (Nadja’s Vineyard). Great vibe. You can see all the way down to the lake and across to Toronto on a clear day.

Westcott Vineyards – 3180 Seventeenth Street, Jordan ON Tel: 905-562-7517 http://www.westcottvineyards.com A family-run boutique winery specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. You can read what I wrote about Westcott here. I believe that on weekends in the summer, there is a nice bistro-like place to sit and get some local food.

creeksideCreekside Estate Winery – 2170 Fourth Avenue, Jordan ON Tel: 1-877-262-9436 http://www.creeksidewine.com Summertime weekends (check web site) there’s a great casual bistro – The Deck – that offers light stuff. Good place to pause particularly if you are cycling. Creekside has a counter-culture vibe. To that end, they grow and make Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz (not even calling it Syrah which is de rigeur here).

Bonus Coverage: Dillion’s Small Batch Distillers – 4833 Telford Road, Beamsville ON Tel: 905-563-3030 Yes there is a distillery in Beamsville. Dillon’s makes exceptional gin, oak-aged Canadian rye whisky (white), vodka, bitters, and absinthe.

Note: All wineries, and Dillon’s, charge a tasting fee. In most cases they waive that should you purchase. If you want to be sure, ask.

Where to Eat

OnThe Twenty – 3836 Main Street, Jordan ON Tel: 905-562-7313 Can’t recommend this highly enough. Exceptional takes on classics and seasonal, local stuff. Upscale

Vineland Estates – Address above Tel: 1-888-846-3526 ext. 33 Inventive cuisine, good pairing program. Upscale

Jordan House Tavern – I wrote about this here. Traditional roadhouse fare. Craft beers, local wines.

Where to Stay in Jordan

Inn On The Twenty – 1-800-701-8074 http://www.innonthetwenty.com Upside is that it’s in Jordan which means quiet and close to wineries. Downside is that there is limited nightlife.

Where to Stay in NOTL

riverbendinn

Riverbed Inn

http://www.vintage-hotels.ca  several upscale establishments. My fave is The Prince of Wales – good dining room, spa). These are all upscale.

River Bend Inn http://www.riverbedinn.ca (winery, a bit out of the town, beautiful setting, exclusive feel)

Oban Inn http://www.oban.com Lovely inn rebuilt from the ruins of the original that burned down a decade or so ago, good dining

BranCliff Inn http://www.brancliffinn.com (close to the theatre and main drag)

Bed and Breakfast There are a zillion bed and breakfasts. I’d recommend one of the heritage homes on a side street or down by the river

Resources:

Wineries, local map, info: http://www.winecountryontario.ca/niagara-escarpment-twenty-valley

In a couple weeks in another #SundaySips, we will explore NOTL or Niagara-on-the Lake

 

 

 

Family Day For A Wino – #Sunday Sips

27 Mar

family

There’s an artificial holiday in Ontario called Family Day. I believe Don Getty while Premier in Alberta was the first to think that we wanted to spend time with our family. Seriously? What family do you live in? Eventually in Ontario, politicians didn’t want to appear anti-family values, so now we too have a Family Day here.

The Director and I took the opportunity to head to Niagara for a quick look see at some of our favourite wineries. It was a shitty day weather-wise and promising to be horrid by nighttime – sleet, snow, freeing rain.

First stop was just off the QEW on the outskirts of Grimsby at Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery. I don’t believe that I’ve spoken about this winery.  They have an exceptional restaurant in an old Victorian house with the winery Visitors Centre in a newer building. The tasting room (below) is generously appointed with the usual tasting bar, knick knack displays, hewed wood beams, etc. They have a pairing menu of artisanal cheeses and/or chocolate. FYI, most wineries in Niagara and all that I’m mentioning here have a reasonable tasting fee ($5 – $10 which is $1.50 US) that they wave with purchase.

penridge

Tasting Room at Peninsula Ridge

Reds

2012 A.J. Lepp Vineyard Reserve Merlot $18.95 I tend to shy away from Niagara single variety Bordeaux wines – they just don’t seem to get ripe enough – showing green pepper too much. This Merlot had but a hint of that – telling you it was Niagara born. Full-bodied, plummy with firm tannins. Needs time or a long decant to really open up.

2012 Reserve Syrah $24.95 That’s right a Syrah from Niagara. You’d think that it would thrive here. But only a few wineries grow it. This was far and away the best of the wines I tasted at Peninsula Ridge. Peppery, smoky, balanced, solid tannins, long finish. Loved it! I bought but only one bottle as this was the start of the day and, alas, gave it to my sister-in-law as part of a birthday present. Which means I’ll have to return soon.

Whites

2009 Beal Vineyard Chardonnay $18.95 Pen Ridge has a very successful non-oaked Chardonnay called Inox #594200 $14.95 usually available at the LCBO. This one, however, was touched by oak. Nonetheless, the thing that I noted most was the acidity on the finish – not large oak influence. Apples, citrus. A very nice Chardonnay for patio and potato chips.

Peninsula Ridge’s web site: www.peninsularidge.com

Next we trundled to Jordan for lunch. We ate at a new (at least new to us) eatery called Jordan House Tavern right on the corner. Now, you might ask, “What corner?” Well, you clearly haven’t been to Jordan. They’ve done a really nice job at the place. Refurbished an old warehouse-style building. Menu a bit of a blend of roadhouse and English pub. Good selection of craft beers and local wines – I enjoyed a local 20 Valley Cream Ale with my wings – it screamed, “Cottage!”

Then it was off to some more wineries. We stopped at a couple places (nothing notable) en route to Tawse. This is one of my faves – the wine is just so consistently excellent and the venue, staff, etc. are top drawer.

Here’s a great video on how they operate. Take some time, watch it and you will want to head there to taste what they create. Lauded by Decanter magazine, Canadian Winery of The Year multiple times.

Whites

2012 Tawse Estate Chardonnay $37.95 Tawse Chardonnays have a kinship with those of Burgundy. In fact, Tawse has vineyards there. This white was perfectly ready to quaff. Melon, apple, and some oak influences on the nose and in the mouth. Long, lip smacking finish.

2012 Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay (certified organic and biodynamic) $35.95 This was notably more mineral in character than the Reserve – almost stoney in places. More restrained on the oak influence. Certainly not Chablis in character but definitely leaning toward ‘less is more’. Loved it!

They had a half case of Chardonnays unavailable in single format that The Director decided she needed. Looking forward to cracking one for our Easter dinner today. FYI, the case held- 2011 Beamsville Bench, 2011 20 Mile Bench, 2011 Celebration Chardonnay (this wine was served at the i4C in 2015, I believe).

Reds I love Tawse Pinot Noirs and may have expressed this opinion several times on these pages. They are structured, lean, powerful, and even I can pick out the nuances of the different cuvèes. Which, according to the video above, is the goal here.

2011 Tawse Quarry Road Estate Pinot Noir (certified organic and biodynamic) $34.95 Spice, liquorice, and menthol on the sniff and the swish. This is quite mineral with darker red berries – big, smoky and a long finish. Great effort!

laundry2011 Tawse Laundry Cabernet Franc #130997 $31.95 OK, I know I’ve sung the praises of the Burgundy varieties at Tawse. But, really, if you want to get a sense of the winemaking, this is the test. This is an Old World Cab Franc. Bursting with life both in the glass as you swirl and sniff and then – pow – you get a hit of the mint and black berries. This is Sean Penn – intense, a bit rough around the edges, purposeful, story telling. Love it! Needless to say, it was an expensive day at Tawse.

Off we went with our car listing a bit due to the extra weight. West on King Street and a hard left up the drive to another of my faves – Malivoire. Malivoire has a cool vibe. Where Tawse is somewhat opulent, formal, Malivoire is more playful, experimental. The winery is set into a hill with a quonset hut styled metal roof. This allows a gravity fed operation. Malivoire hit it big a number of years ago with a unique bottling – Old Vines Foch. It became a cult wine. They’ve since got everyone to pay attention to their overall prowess and the many different wines they craft. I seem to annually recommend their Ladybug Rosé #559088 $15.95 (having as a pre-dinner sip with Easter dinner) and Guilty Men Red #192674 $15.95 but tasted other wines this time.

Malivoire tasting room entrance Spring

Malivoire Tasting Room entrance Spring

White

2011 Mottiar Chardonnay $29.95 Tropical and toasty on the nose (I’ve seen ‘brioche’ used but definitely not confident in that until I’ve brioches a bit more). Vanilla, roundish stuff in the mouth with a nice crisp finish which was a surprise given the smoothness of the rest.

2011 Chardonnay $19.95 Although this wine is available at the LCBO #573147, I’m not sure of the vintage currently in stock. I kind of like this better than the more expensive one above. Can’t put my finger on it. This might have a little more zip in the mouth. Flavour profile as far as fruit and oak elements very similar but less tropical more apple. More food friendly. Not that I didn’t love the other – just saying’ for $10 less, I could get 5 bottles of this instead of 3 bottles of the other. Oops, let the cat out of the bag.

2013 Rennie Vineyards Christine Chardonnay $35 I don’t quite understand the relationship between Maliviore and Rennie. Rennie is a family owned and operated vineyard on the Bench, In any event, there clearly is some symbiosis of vineyards if not cross-pollination of staff as well. This wine is a beaut! Can we talk? Frequently New World Chardonnays are one-dimensional – they’re naked, they’re not, they’re round, they’re crisp and acidic. This wine defies some of that. I don’t claim to have a sophisticated palate. For instance, I can’t tell the difference between Maduro tobacco and just plain tobacco. Or, Montmorency cherries from, well, regular black cherries. Mea culpa. This wine, however, helped me to relax and just let it come to me. There was an overall feeling of bon ami. OK, what it really tasted like was a bit tropical – pineapple – an alcohol bump (14%ABV), and the best finish for the whites we tasted that day – medium length, citrusy. It’s a warmer wine than the others, if that makes sense.

Red Here’s where it gets fun at Malivoire. I mentioned above the Old Vines Foch. Let’s start there.

Background Note: My father was a home fermenter. He made wines from anything that could be constituted as fruit – dandelions, sour cherries, etc. But, he also was part of a cooperative venture that purchased fruit from Niagara and everyone got together, drank last year’s stuff (I was a DD) and crushed, fermented, and eventually bottled their wine together. I remember his Marechal Foch bottling as, well, almost the same as all his other bottling – hint of sulphur, very fresh, fruity and light. And not to speak ill of the dead, but it was pretty lacklustre. Not suggesting that my friends and I didn’t poach a few of each case – just sayin’. Now, fast forward to Malivoire’s 2013 Old Vines Foch

2013 Old Vines Foch $24.95 I remember this wine in previous vintages was one of the most unique reds that I’d ever had from Niagara. This doesn’t disappoint on that score. In the gurgle and swish, it feels French to me – Southern France – kind of Grenache-ish. And I love Grenache!  ABV 12% which avoids any heat – chocolatey goodness. You get a sense of power with this wine. I love it now like I loved it before (Fleetwood Mac lyric? Help me here). Dad, wish you could taste it.

2014 Small Lot Gamay $19,95 Gamay might be making a comeback. I read a great review of a Cru Beaujolais by a fellow blogger, Jim VanBergen, you can read it here. To paraphrase, Jim sang the praises of natural wine and how smashing a particular naturalBeaujolais from Morgon was. I also read a piece in a recent Wine Enthusiast about Gamay now being made in Washington. Interesting to watch the ebb and flow of the popularity of grape varieties. hard to keep up. Malivoire has three Gamay bottlings – a single vineyard (Courtney – $25.95), a generic ($17.95), and a Small Lot. The Small Lot is a fun, fresh cherry bomb. This is all about the fruit with just a hint of grassiness hiding on the finish. I bought a few and am waiting for the first Spring weather day to open with apps – yes, I have an app for Gamay. Chilling this wine for a few minutes wouldn’t hurt and would add to it’s refreshingness. Refreshosity? Refreshmency? Love this wine!

We left Malivoire, raced down the QEW to overnight in Hamilton just beating the freezing rain. Watched it all from our room with one of our purchases chilled and popped. I like Family Day.

That’s our day. In the next month or so, I’m going to put together my ideal wine tour of Niagara so that you can benefit from my swings, misses, and home runs.

Cheers.

Bill

 

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