Tag Archives: Morellini di Scansano

Paying For Amy – Value and Wine #MWWC10

25 Jun

There’s a self-abusive, yet strangely entertaining, monthly event in wine writing circles called the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. Last month the challenge was won by The Sybarite. And, as is the custom, he got to choose the theme for this month’s challenge – Value.

MWWCWe hear all the time about ‘value wines’. Wine Spectator and the other trade publications have an annual “Value Wines” edition. Frankly it’s a tall order for anyone to land on what wines might provide value for others. I used to studiously pour over the lists and compare to my local availability. Sure, it’s how I twigged to some of the wines that I’ve come to love in most vintages. So, it is a start to finding wines that taste good and within their definition don’t cost as much as they deliver. But I believe that’s a narrow definition of ‘value’. How does anyone, expert or not, determine what wine is of ‘value’ to me? And, does it have anything to do with price? I’m sure other bloggers will talk about this very thing in their value discussions. It’s not possible to set a value on a wine for me or anyone else – in monetary terms or otherwise. Each of us gets to decide a wine’s ‘value.’ And, how would we do that?

It’s kind of like paying for Amy. Wait, that came out wrong – it’s kind of like ‘paying’ Amy –that’s better.

galway pubLet me explain. We were recently in Galway, Ireland. One of the coolest cities I’ve visited in the last while – vibrant, youthful, pubs and music everywhere, great food, and loads of opportunities to experience what the city had to offer – few barriers to enjoyment. One of the things that we did was take a walking tour of the city. Amy, our guide, introduced us to a new concept – Free Tours! The way this works is that you take the tour and at the end, pay what you think the tour was worth to you. Sounds pretty simple – but think about it. How many times in your life have you been afforded the opportunity to set the tariff for a service or product that you receive? It isn’t easy to determine what to pay. Do you pay what you imagine Amy believes she should net for her efforts? I mean Amy has had to master the skills of storytelling, learn all the things that might be needed on the history of Galway and spent 2 hours of her time wandering you around. Or, do you pay based on what you learned against a previously determined schedule of objectives developed in concert with your annual personal growth plan? Sorry, couldn’t help myself, I used to be a bureaucrat. How about based on how many times you turned to your significant other and said, “Man, this is good?” What is the value of the tour to you – just you – because you have to attempt to translate that value into a dollar, or in this case, Euro figure. And you’re the one to reach in your pocket or man-purse.

Back to wine. We can’t drink a bottle of wine, say, take the figurative tour of a California Pinot Noir, and then, like in Galway finally determine what we think we should pay for it. I get that. Let’s just admit that the relationship between quality and cost QPR (Quality Price Ratio) is just one way to measure ‘value’. Maybe cost is the least of your considerations when asking yourself, “Do I highly value that wine?” So if it’s not cost that determines a wine’s value, what is it?

Good question, le Professeur Grand Fromage. Maybe the best way to explain my muddied thinking is by discussing some of the wines that hold my highest value ratings ever and trying to figure out why that is so.

In no particular order:

Morellino di Scansano (vintage and producer forgotten)

We enter a small ristorante in Rome – basement kind of place, staff in cool suits and none under the age of 50, passing a pile of the made-that-day mozzarella as we drift by the kitchen to our table. Once seated, I order a plate of ravioli with butter and sage. The wine? A Morellino di Scansano – maybe the third least expensive red on the wine list. Let’s just say, “I loved this wine.” The ravioli was superb – the best pasta I’ve ever had. I mean the situation was top drawer. Did the wine hold great value to me? You bet. But, why? Along with the meal (I’m not sure this wine was a match in any accepted matching paradigm) and the ambience, it held very high value for me. So, great food and ambience for me can contribute to the subjective value of a wine.

1999 Ch. Leoville-Barton, 2002 Ch. Montelena Napa Estate

We have a place in what we call God’s Country. It’s 300 feet of lakeshore on a Muskoka lake – surrounded by trees. You’re immersed in nature and family memories. So, one of our great pleasures is having friends visit us and share our favourite space. And, should one of those friends love wine too, there’s a bit of a pressure placed on them and me to deliver a good to great wine experience while on the lake. Last year we had a great day with friends. I can’t even remember the meal. The wine, however – 1999 Ch. Leoville Barton and 2002 Ch. Montelena Napa Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, I remember. Now, both these wines carry a bit of a price tag in my circle. I mean that they are more expensive than we usually drink. But, really. I mean, REALLY. There are moments that tell you seeking, finding, splurging on, and drinking wine is a very good thing. Very good. This was one of them. These wines held disproportionate value too. But why? Well, they were exquisite, beautiful, and that beauty was enhanced with friends. So, we have meal (accompaniment), ambience, the subjective experience of the wine itself, and friends all creating value in wine.

Last one: Assyrtiko

While in Santorini, we visited a winery whose name I can’t remember that perched high on the edge of the cauldera. If you’ve been to Santorini you’ll know what magic that place carries. As we sat by the edge (and, I’m not big on edges), sipping a glass of Assyrtiko, it all made sense. In my view, there are few, if any, wines that tell you where they come from more than Assyrtiko. It couldn’t come from, say California, south of France – maybe Sicily – nope not Sicily either. Assyrtiko is pure Santorini in a glass. Wine geeks call it terroir. Not sure what I’d call it. But, this wine provided such a connection between what we were experiencing at the edge of the cauldera and the swish, sip, and swallow. After all, winemaking is agriculture and when a glass of wine connects you to the land from which it comes it is an experience brimming with value for me.

So, there you have it IMHO. Food, ambience, objective experience of the wine, friends, and connection to its source, for me, all contribute to the value of a wine. And, even better in combination. And, unless, I’m not paying attention, none of those include a sterile evaluation of the wine against cost in the midst of a tasting room full of a hundred or so other wines. How much would I pay for those valu’able’ wines? If I took the “tour” in advance, it might have been expensive. But, alas, we can’t experience the wine first then determine, like with Amy, how much we will pay. So, instead, I pay attention to the when, with whom, with what, where from, and where of a wine that I’m thinking of buying or pulling from the basement. And, hopefully, the value takes care of itself.

BTW, Amy was great. Fun, informed and personable. Highly recommend both Galway and Amy. What did we pay? That’s a secret.


Italian Wines Newly Discovered

23 Oct

photoI promised that I’d tell you about some of the wines that I quaffed while in Italy. If I’d been a true and dedicated blogger with my readership front of mind, I’d have posted regularly with interesting anecdotes of our trip. “As we approached Guagnano from the north, the facade of the imposing cathedral cast a long protective shadow across the surrounding countryside like a grey polar fleece blanket on an autumn morn. I shifted into third gear and took a long drag on my dwindling Guitane. I shifted into third gear and tried to get my bearings. I wondered what the vineyards of Taurino Cosimo would have in store for a weary traveler and his sleeping wife.” But, “Bill, we don’t really care” right? Although I sniffed, quaffed, tasted, drank, swallowed many wines, there are but a small proportion mentioned in this post. Some of the left out wines were very local and never to be seen on these shores. The ones I’m reporting on are from producers with connections in North America or, in the case of the Morellino, a type of wine that I haven’t really mentioned much in my posts but bears looking out for at your local store.

2011 Mantelassi Morellino di Scansano

mantelassiScansano is a village in the Tuscan region near the city of Grosseto. So, it’s south and closer to the coast than many of Tuscany’s more familiar DOC(G)’s. Morellino di Scansano is a Sangiovese based wine (in Scansano, they call Sangiovese – Morellino). The wine doesn’t carry the importance or the critical acclaim of other Sangiovese wines – Chianti, Montalcino, but I’ve always found these wines great value, early drinking, and food friendly. The Morellino grapes ripen a bit more here than north and they capitalize on that with a fresh, early drinking wine. I had this wine at a trattoria in Roma with what ended up being my favourite dish of the whole trip – spinach and ricotta stuffed ravioli with a butter sage sauce. You could smell it coming across the floor. Somehow that sounds like a Neil Young song? Utterly orgasmic – the ravioli that is. Why can’t we get pasta like this in North America? The wine was a great match to this with its understated herbal character, moderate acidity, and red fruits. If you have never had a Morellino, do pick one up or search out on a restaurant’s wine list. They are usually inexpensive. Yes, got it, Neil Young’s Unknown Legend – “I used to order just to watch her walk across the floor.” Approximate cost $15 CAD. Recommend.

2011 Feudi di San Marzano SUD Primitivo di Manduria

sudprimitivoManduria is a commune (circa 30,000 pop) that lies between Taranto and Lecce in Puglia. It has been making Primitivo wines forever if not longer. Much of that was shipped north to be blended (allegedly in some cases unmentioned with high priced juice) to add weight and roundness in watered down years. However, in the last couple decades, growers and wineries have started to focus on making fine local wines from this early ripening grape. Primitivo is a descendent of a Croatian grape and, I’ve read, is a DNA match for zinfandel. I don’t taste any great similarity but then again it’s a very different climate, soil, method of growing and vinification than California.  We purchased this wine in Alberello (picture – bottom of page) north east of Brindisi for our room (I really should say ‘I’ purchased it as Arlene doesn’t drink reds). So, bread, cheese and potato crisps were the accompaniment. All very ‘local’ as in purchased at the local Alimentari. This wine is a great introduction to Primitivo di Manduria. It had loads of what you typically find in southern France – a garriguish note with the fruit very much in the background in the glass until you take a swig. It’s round with softish tannins – which was a surprise as I usually get tannins that are pretty robust with these wines. Great red fruit, some of that same garrigue, and little to no meaty flavours and just as the finish finishes finishing there’s a hint of chocolate. OK, I made up the chocolate part to get you to try some. Loved this! Approximate price here will be about $16 CAD. I did recommend the 2010 in my newsletter a year or so ago. Would highly recommend this!

ilselva2011 Il Selva DOC Locorotondo

While in Alberobello, we were entertained by an owner of an alimenteri and butcher shop. He and his brother (I’m assuming here) told us all about the homemade charcuterie and local wines. I picked up the SUD Primitivo mentioned above which wasn’t all that local and Arlene tasted and purchased an interesting white from the winery located in Aberobello – Cantina Albea. White wines from hot locales, IMHO, tend to be crisp, lighter, and minerally usually. This white had some roundness – our host suggested that there was some Chardonnay involved. But I think that he overheard that Arlene’s favourite white was Chardonnay. In doing some research, the blend is 60% Verdeca, 35% Bianco di Alessano, and 5% Fiano Minutolo. It had a refreshing fruitiness, nice length and just loved being served cold which is just what we needed.

2011 Leone de Castris Villa Santera Primitivo di Manduria

villasanteraThis producer is perhaps the oldest one in Puglia as far as bottling their own wines. They work out of Salice Salentino, have large holdings themselves and purchase grapes from many growers in the region. Their flagship wines are generally Salice Salentinos (we get them in Ontario) but I thought that since I was on a Primitivo kick, I’d keep the meter running. I had this wine in Otranto. This didn’t have the heft of the one abovefairly unmemorable and my notes indicate a bit of flailing around trying to describe this wine – never a good sign. Although not higher in alcohol than the San Marzano – it carried a bit of heat that I attributed to the lack of balance generally and my sipping while talking without food mode. Approximate cost $14 CAD. Would not recommend this. But, do try their Salice Salentino Riserva – in most years good value. An incredibly consistent winery.

2010 Tenuta San Francesco Costa d’Amalfi 4 Spine

4spineI purchased this from a little wine shop in Amalfi. Il Costiera Amalfitana is quite simply – spectacular. To find local wines was just a pleasant bonus. Friends, Susanne and Brenda, had been to the area in June and visited this winery in Tramonti, so I wanted to look up their wares. This was supposed to be a ‘bring home’ wine @ 20 Euros but that concept got lost when I had to keep looking at it in our room in Ravello. Well, we had some local sheep’s milk cheese, a crust of bread and such (Bless the Child), and some fruit. It was perfect for an afternoon repast and gazing out over the Mediterranean (picture of view at top of post). This wine is a blend of 60% Tintore, 30% Aglianico, and 10% Piedirosso. To say I was blown away might be an understatement. This wine needed about an hour to clear the cobwebs and settle down which meant that I only had half a bottle left when it found its stride. Full-bodied, licorice, tar, and dark plums and black stuff – simply lovely to sit and sip. Contemplate life, a pre-dinner snooze, and re-cap the day’s walk. No heat present – balanced with more than enough tannin to match the sheep’s milk cheese and would duel well with red meat, I bet. Approximate cost $28 CAD. Highly, highly recommended! Did I say that I liked it?

2012 Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio

lacrymaI had read a recent post by The Armchair Sommelier about this remarkable winery and man. He has been in large part responsible for the rejuvenation of the Taurasi DOCG and plantings in and around Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius (see below – my keeper wine). This wine is predominantly Piedirosso and I suspect a little blending of Aglianico (couldn’t find out definitively). I purchased this in the restaurant, drank half with a huge plate of scampi and prawns with mint sauce.  Did I say it was yuuge? I took the rest of the wine back to our room. I finished it up over the next two days. Anyone who knows me knows that that is a lie. I finished it that night! Well, if you like dirty reds – this wine is for you. Earthy, traces of foliage, figs and red dripping fruit on the nose and in the mouth everything coming through but with some minerality (the volcanic soil?). Moderately tannic but not too much so. Medium bodied and just plain nasty and delicious. I am going to make it my mission to turn people on to this inexpensive wine. Approximate price $17 CAD (at the friggin’ restaurant!). Highly recommend. Thanks to the Armchair Sommelier!

What I Learned In Italy Lesson #4

Based on the recommendation of The Armchair Sommelier, as I mentioned above, I looked for wines from Mastroberardino and found quite a few. They were readily available in Amalfi and Ravello. But not knowing that, I jumped the gun and the first ones I saw in a wine shop in Amalfi, I bought,. The man there was the best wine merchant on the trip – he was very convincing on the benefit of purchasing two bottles of everything. “You have now, you think about it, you leave other one for later? Good way.” Well, I ended up with a 1999 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici. Given how good cheaper wines were, I was thinking that I’d overspent at approximately $38 CAD (28 Euros). It’s now nestled safely in my basement and I can’t wait to drink it. The thing that I wanted to mention though was the variation in pricing in Italy generally but especially in tourist areas. The same wine in Ravello was 65 Euros or about $90 CAD. That’s $52 CAD or $51 USD more! Another revelation was the relatively solid pricing we have in Ontario for Italian wines compared to the Duty Fee at Roma Fuicimino. Example – Frescobaldi’s Castelgiocondo Brunello costs me $49.95 here. At the Fuicimino Duty Fee it was 40 Euros or about $58 CAD! Likewise Luce, Tignanello (80 Euros! – $102.00 CAD here). So, word to the wise – cheap wines abound in Italia just not as you’re exiting stage left or wondering around Villa Cimbrone.

Thanks to Karen McNeil’s Wine Bible, Wikipedia, and http://www.winesearcher.com for some of the more arcane details of these wine regions and grapes. “Somewhere on a desert highway. She rides a Harley-Davidson. Her long blond hair flying in the breeze. She’s been running half her life. The chrome and steel she rides  – colliding with the very air she breathes.”


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