Thursday, October 20, 2005

Thoughts about Sediment

A few years ago I visited a winery near the eastern boarder of the Chianti Classico region, and, since it was near Christmas, I asked the cellermaster if he had any Riserva left. He said no, then hesitated. "Well, I do have last year's, but I don't know if you'd like it - we've had lots of people return it to us."
It turns out that he doesn't filter his wines, and for some reason that vintage gave off more sediment than usual. He must have seen something in my expression, because he ventured, "I can let you have it at 5 Euros per bottle - all sales final, you understand."
I tasted it and bought a case.
The sediment? Well, to be honest I'd almost rather that a well-aged red wine have some - it's a natural byproduct of the aging process, a mix of tartaric acid crystals and other chemicals that settle out as the wine matures. An old wine with no sediment at all would make me wonder what has happened to it that has kept it from developing in the bottle. Has it been filtered, perhaps? Filtration will improve clarity, but at the expense of body, color and bouquet. Or has it received some other insult - a shot of sulfur dioxide? The compound works as a preservative, but can make the wine smell like a burnt match. Better to have a little bit of sediment, which indicates that the wine is still alive. Note the word little – if there's a lot, there may well be something amiss. Also, the wine above the sediment should be crystal clear, not cloudy.
Returning to sediment, it is true that finding a dark deposit in the bottom of your goblet (we are talking about an aged wine here) is a bit off-putting. To avoid this, simply decant the wine. Though the procedure looks complicated, it's easy to do: A day or two before you plan to open the bottle, stand it upright to give the sediment a chance to settle to the bottom. At opening time you will need a decanter (crystal or clear glass is best, because it reveals the color of the wine) and a candle. Remove the metal capsule and uncork the bottle gently. Light the candle and slowly pour the wine into the decanter, holding the bottle in front of (not over) the candle, and watching the candle flame through the neck of the bottle. When the sediment reaches the neck of the bottle it will appear as a dark stream silhouetted against the flame; at this point stop pouring. With practice, you will be able to pour all but the last half-inch or so before the sediment gets there. The trick is to be gentle. And then, enjoy!

Monday, October 10, 2005

A Few Wines from Cantine Lungarotti

Lungarotti Rubesco Vigna MonticchioGiorgio Lungarotti, whose family owned land in Torgiano (Umbria), became interested in wines in the late 1940s, and realized immediately that the emphasis the then Italian Minister of Agriculture's preference for high volumes rather than quality would lead to a dead end. So he decided to concentrate on quality, and began by doing away with the traditional tenant farmer system on his land; he called everyone together and told them to choose: take the herds or take the land. Almost everyone chose the herds, and began working for him as salaried workers rather than tenant farmers. Since they no longer had a direct interest in the wine (under the tenant system the farmers split the wine, or its value, with the landowner) they were much more receptive to his decision to reduce yields and take other measures to improve quality.

A great deal has happened since then, and now the Cantine Giorgio Lungarotti is Umbria's most important and best-known winery. It's also one of the largest, with 250 hectares of vineyards currently in production, and another 20 in Montefalco (for Sagrantino), whose first vintage, the 2003, will be released next year.

Alas, Giorgio will not see the new wine; he died in 1999 and the leadership of the winery has passed to his daughters, Chiara and Teresa. I recently met with Chiara Lungarotti, at a press luncheon organized in Florence's Ristorante Oliviero. An extremely pleasant meal, during which she poured five of her wines.

We began with Torre di Giano Bianco di Torgiano DOC 2004. It's 70% Trebbiano and 30% Grechetto, and is quite simple, with rich floral and fruity accents on both nose and palate.
Next came Aurente, a barrel fermented 2003 Chardonnay dell'Umbria IGT. Though only 25% of the wood is new (25% is a year old, 25% is 2 years old, and the remainder is 3 years old) I found it to be fairly oaky on the nose, with smoke and ash mingling with butterscotch and white fairly tropical fruit. On the palate it's rich and full with crisp mineral notes supported by mineral acidity and tropical fruit that gains some peppery notes in the finish. A classic, fairly international hot climate Chardonnay, and it will work very well with rich, not too spicy cold cuts (we had it with finocchiona, a Tuscan fennel-laced soft salami, and fig crostini), white meats, or fish.

Next came the 2002 Rubesco Rosso di Torgiano DOC, which is Lungarotti's best known wine. It's 70% Sangiovese -- Chiara finds Umbrian Sangiovese to be softer than Tuscan Sangiovese -- and 30% Canaiolo. In short, the classic Central Italian blend, and it was quite nice, with berry fruit supported quite a bit of acidity (the vintage, in part) on the nose, and lively on the palate, with deft, bright fruit and an undercurrent of graphite bitterness that leads into a long graceful finish. It's one of those wines that will go very fast, and will work well with pasta dishes, including richer meat sauces or stuffed pasta, and also with succulent, not too fatty white or red meats.

The basic Rubesco was followed by Lungarotti's flagship wine, Rubesco Riserva Vigna Monticchio 2000 Torgiano Rosso DOCG, which Chiara is partial to because it's the first vintage she oversaw from beginning to end. It's a deeper pigeon blood ruby than the basic Rubesco, and is also more concentrated on the nose,with ith rich berry fruit jam and considerable warmth mingled with peppery spice; it's nicely balanced and gives an impression of softness that's not quite there on the palate, where it's full, with rich red berry fruit supported by tannins that have a warm splintery burr and flow into a long fruit laced peppery (the spice) finish with lasting warmth. Quite elegant, and it drank very well with the roast pork it was served with.

We finished with Dulcis, a fortified dessert wine made by interrupting the fermentation of a white wine through the addition of alcohol. For me it was the low point of the tasting, especially coming as it did upon the heels of the Rubesco Riserva; the nose is alcoholic and sweet, with dark brown sugar, spice and hyacinth, while the palate reminded me of the sweet chewyness of crushed moscato grapes.

In summary, a very nice meal, and excellent wines; I especially recommend the Rubesco 2002, to be drunk now, whereas the Vigna Monticchio will be a good choice for an elegant meal built around a roast, and will also age nicely at least through 2010.

Cantine Giorgio Lungarotti | Torgiano's Banco D'Assaggi, one of the most important Italian wine shows (founded by Giorgio Lungarotti)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Things to do in Chianti

Joe recently wrote, saying he will be staying in Greti, a hamlet near Greve in Chianti for the first two weeks of October, and asking what he should see. The Distillerie Bonollo, artisinal grappa producers located in Greti come to mind, and you'll find a number of other suggestions in a Chianti itinerary I wrote a number of years ago.
Have a great trip!


Monday, September 26, 2005

San Luciano's D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT

There are two kinds of verticals: Those of established wines, and those of new wines. In an established wine vertical, one is tasting a wine that has been made from the same vineyards in the same manner for years if not decades: One notes how the wine evolves over time, and how it shows in different sorts of vintages, be they wet, hot, dry, even, or whatever. In a new wine vertical one sees how the winemaker establishes the wine, adjusting the proportions of the varietals in the blend, deciding exactly how to ferment it -- in wood, steel, or cement, number and type of pumpovers or pushdowns, fermentation temperature, maceration time on the skins, malolactic in wood or in steel, and so on, and, finally, how to age it -- what size barrels, from where, what toast, and for how long. In short, a new wine vertical is actually a tasting of several different, closely related wines, each like the one before it except for a specific detail, for example maceration time or kind of wood. Though one obviously cannot draw any long-term conclusions about the wine from a new-vertical tasting, seeing how the winemaker approaches the target he or she is aiming for is quite interesting, and this is what we have here.

The Azienda Agricola San Luciano is a medium sized winery (63 hectares of vineyards) in the Valdichiana, a part of southern Tuscany much better known for its beef, the famed Chianina breed, than for its wines, and to be honest this is the way the big negociants of better-known nearby areas like it, because it gives them a ready supply of low-priced wines to bottle; the larger Valdichiana producers in turn have a ready market for their wines, and everyone is happy. At least everyone who is happy with this sort of setup; producers who decide they are no longer happy simply being suppliers -- a change of heart that often comes when the younger generation finishes enological school, decides to pursue quality rather than quantity, and justly wants to have its name on the label -- have instead found themselves hampered by the Valdichiana's reputation for producing plonk. Not that this has stopped them, of course.

For San Luciano the change of heart came when Ovidio Ziantoni's son Marco, who oversees the vineyards, decided to try vinifying some of their Sangiovese separately in the late 1990s (until then they had concentrated primarily on bulk production of reds and whites). He called the new wine Ardia, drew up a label with his computer, and entered it in a local competition. It won, but, more importantly, Giacomo Tachis noted it.

One really cannot ignore Giacomo Tachis, the man who shaped both Tignanello and Sassicaia, and at this point Ovidio, Marco, and his brother Stefano (who oversees the cellars) enlisted the help of Fabrizio Ciuffoli, an enologist who also happens to be a relative. Fabrizio thought that they had potential, but told them their equipment primitive, and that if they wanted to do things right they had to put hand to billfold, as it were, and invest. They did, buying new equipment, setting up a bariccaia (a barrel hall), and replanting their vineyards, and were quickly noticed by the Italian wine press.

Their flagship wine is D'Ovidio, which Marco and Stefano have named after their father; it's a blend of 40% Sangiovese, 40% Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, 10% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet, and this calls for a quick explanation. Sangiovese is, of course, Tuscany's great red grape, and as such it belongs in a Tuscan estate's best wine. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, on the other hand, was brought by migrant workers who would stay the season with the Ziantonis back in the 1960s -- the first year they came they found the local wine lacking, so the next they brought some vines and planted them. Marco and Stefano are very happy with how Montepulciano D'Abruzzo has adapted to its new home, and therefore include it in the blend. The international varietals? To add an international touch.

D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT 1998
This is the first vintage; it's deep garnet ruby with some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is rich, almost chewy, with red berry fruit and some berry fruit jam mingled with sea salt and a fair amount of underbrush, with underlying cedar and some bitter underbrush. On the palate it's full, and strident, with lively acidity and sour red berry fruit that supported by rather dusty tannins; it has potential as a wine but is also quite rustic, almost to the point of coarseness, and is the sort of wine that a lover of delicacy and smoothness will be put off by. It will, however, drink well with a succulent steak or leg of lamb. Quite a bit of acidity and a great deal of life.
One Star.

D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT 1999
With this vintage they decided to see what would happen with increased extraction, and macerated the wine on the skins for 40 days. It's a considerably deeper ruby than the 98, with more ruby and less almandine in the rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with quite a bit of wood and underlying red berry fruit that gains depth from some berry fruit jam, and also considerable India ink bitterness. It's much more polished than the 98, and this comes through in the palate as well, with intense cherry and forest berry fruit supported by some sweetness, and by clean fairly sweet tannins that lead into a long sweetish berry fruit finish with nice tannic support. Charged -- what one gets with 40 days of maceration on the skins -- and muscular too; it's more about power than finesse, but does have nice balance, and will drink well with succulent red meats.
Two Stars.

D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT 2000
40 days maceration was too much, so they halved it, and also began to remove the lees by hand, rather than pumping them out, because pumping crushes the pips thereby extracting green tannins. The wine is deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and some almandine in the rim, and has a smoky bouquet with a fair amount of cedar, and considerable India ink bitterness underlying red berry fruit and sea salt. On the palate it's medium bodied tending towards full, and fairly sweet, with bright berry fruit supported by some sweetness and by considerable tannic bitterness; by comparison with many 2000 wines it is richer, and shows the August heat less, though it remains quite young, and is once again muscular, rather than refined. In terms of accompaniments, succulent red meats.
Two Stars.

D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT 2001
The target is by now visible, though they have yet to settle on what wood; they begin with Alliers, followed (in the next vintage) by Nevers and other areas. This vintage is deep black cherry ruby with cherry rim, and has a cleaner bouquet than those of the preceding years, with red berry fruit laced with some India ink bitterness, sea salt, and mint; it's a distinct step up from the 2000 and has quite a bit to say. On the palate it's full, and rich, with powerful cherry plum fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins that have some sweet vanilla overtones, and flow into a long clean fresh finish with considerable fruit. It's quite pleasant, in a well-muscled nicely rounded way, and will drink well with grilled meats or steaks now, though it will profit from another 2-3 years in bottle. The wine's potential begins to emerge.
Two Stars.

D'Ovidio Rosso Toscano IGT 2003
Deep black pyrope ruby with purple rim. The bouquet is rich, and quite clean, with bright cherry plum fruit supported by some berry fruit jam and by clean spice; there has been tremendous progress from 98, and it displays considerable finesse as well as underlying power. On the palate it's full, with rich cherry plum fruit supported by dusty tannins that have slight bitter ashy overtones, and leads into a long clean berry fruit finish that has some glancing over-young tannic overtones. It's a babe in the woods, but will grow up quite nicely, and will drink well with red meats, though it needs at least another 3-5 years to develop.

In summary, with D'Ovidio the Ziantonis are definitely zeroing in on their target, and my impression is that this winery is worth keeping an eye on. In the United States their importers are: Dall'Uva Ltd for Oregon and Washington, Enoteca Internazionale De Rham for New York and California, and Vino Imports for Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Florida.

And their address?
Azienda Agricola San Luciano
Località San Luciano, 90
52048 Monte San Savino (Arezzo)
Tel +39 0575 848 518
Fax +39 0575 848 210
Email: info at

We're Back in Business, and Thoughts About the Current Vintage

The view from our new homeWhen I signed off in early June, saying I would be taking some time off because we were moving, I certainly didn't expect the process to take as long as it did; there were renovations here, and we also decided the time had come to sell my late mother's house in Pennsylvania, so we spent the second half of the summer in the US packing it up and getting it ready. With no more moves planned, it's time to get back to work.

The first order of business is a few words on the outlook for the 2005 harvest, which is now underway. Though we did have a couple of weeks of very hot weather in late June/early July, the second half of July was relatively mild, as was August, which also saw quite a bit of rainfall, to the point that the countryside was much greener than usual. Fortunately, the clear days between the storm fronts were quite sunny, with substantial day/night temperature excursions, and therefore the grapes did develop rich aromas, though they didn't ripen as much as they do in hotter, drier vintages.

Because of these conditions, the outlook for 2005's white wines, almost all of which are by now fermenting, is actually good: their bouquets will be rich, and on the palate they will be elegant and crisp, with lively acidities that will allow them to pair quite nicely with foods. They will also age nicely.

The outlook for the reds is more problematical; at the end of August the producers I talked to were optimistic, saying that the grapes on the vines were nice, but that they needed clear weather to ensure optimal ripening and the absence of rot in the vineyards. Unfortunately, we've had quite a bit of rain in the course of September, and the outcome is now in the hands of Mother Nature: if the weather holds steady for the next couple of weeks, those whose vineyards are free of rot and mold will have a good, if not stellar vintage. If, on the other hand, the rains continue, we'll have a repeat of the 2002 vintage, with lean, strident wines.

An important thing to keep in mind, when I evoke the specter of 2002, is that one has to go region by region; the rains of the past couple of weeks have primarily affected the central and northern sections of the Peninsula, while in the south conditions have been drier. Also, the truly late-harvesting varietals, in particular Nebbiolo, could shrug off even more rain now if the weather clears later: in the Valtellina 2002 was a 4-star vintage, thanks to a perfect October.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A Service Announcement Of Sorts

I have not been posting as much material as I would like on this Blog, primarily because the past couple of months have been in large part devoted to packing – we have sold our house in downtown Florence and will be moving to Strada in Chianti next week. I was planning to use my portable and cellphone to connect to the web in the interim, but today a bottle of bubbly sprayed both of us and the notebook didn't take it well. Since the disk I need to configure my wife's computer to work with the cellphone is packed, I'll be without an internet connection from Monday until we're in the new house (the 20th) unless the repair people who are washing my computer can get it to work.

Tasted at Vinitaly: A couple of Dolcetti from Batasiolo

With the arrival of summer in the Northern hemisphere it’s time to think about lighter, defter wines that have bracing acidity and will work well with the stock in trade of hot weather – grilled foods, fried foods, and other things that can either be cooked quickly indoors, s as to avoid heating the kitchen, or cooked outside where the heat simply rises. Dolcetto is perfect in these situations, and here are a couple of wines from Batasiolo.

Batasiolo Bricco di Vergne Dolcetto D’Alba 2004
This is a Dolcetto d’annata from high altitude vineyards, and is lively ruby and has a powerful bouquet with n abundance of forest berry fruit and bitter almond mingled with acidity and alcohol. On the palate it’s rich and direct, with bright cherry fruit supported by considerable acidity and warmth that flow into a long sour cherry finish. It’s scrappy with body, and will drink well with grilled meats, served with fairly fatty side dishes along the lines of potato or pasta salad. In short, a perfect cookout wine.
2 stars

Batasiolo Arsigà Dolcetto D’Alba 2003
This is intended to be a more important Dolcetto than the above, and also spends three months in barriques. It’s deep almandine ruby and has a powerful jammy bouquet mingled with spice; it has nice depth but is more restrained than the Bricco Vergne. On the palate it is full and smooth, with powerful red berry fruit, but reveals the influence of the hot 2003 summer in the form of reduced acidity that makes it heavier and less agile; it will drink well with rich, fairly lean meats or light stews.
1 star

Friday, June 03, 2005

Wine for Risotto?

Got a question a couple of days ago, and apologize for being slow to get to it, but we've been packing in preparation for moving -- for months, it seems like. In any case, here we go:

Greetings. I watched a television food show filmed in Italy -- the subject was Risotto, and they mentioned a wine (or grape). I thought I'd remember and didn't write it down. It wasn't a name I was familiar with, they said Italians buy a bottle of this when there's a birth and hold it until the child is ??? old...I'm blank and intended on purchasing this. I know this may be too vague for you to help me, but if you can, I am truly grateful.

Though I do have winemaking friends who set aside cases at the birth of a child, there is no particular wine all Italians set aside to mark the happy event. What people will do, if they can afford it, is buy a few bottles of the best local red wine, be it Barolo or Barbaresco, Amarone della Valpolicella, Brunello, Taurasi, or whatever, and start breaking them out when the child reaches majority (18). But as I said there's nothing specific across Italy.

Since risotto is most common in northern Italy, I'd hazard a guess that the risotto you saw was made with either Barolo, Barbera, or Barbaresco if they were talking about Piemonte, or Amarone or Valpolicella Classico Superiore if they were talking about the Veneto. If they were talking about another region, for example Lobardia, it would be a different dry red wine. The recipe is straightforward:


  • 2 1/2 cups (500 g) Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice

  • 3/4 cup (150 g) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 an onion, minced

  • 1 quart simmering beef broth (lightly salted bullion, including vegetable if need be, will do)

  • 3 cups dry red wine, warmed

  • 2 cups (100 g) freshly grated Parmigiano or Grana Padano (this will likely be more than you need)

  • Salt to taste

Heat half the butter in a pot, add the rice, and cook over a very low flame, stirring lest it stick and burn. In the meantime, sauté the onion separately, in 1/4 cup of butter, until it is lightly browned. Keep warm.

When the rice is done frying and the grains have become translucent, begin adding the wine, a glass at a time, and letting it evaporate between additions. Then add broth, a ladle at a time, and stir in the onions. Once the rice reaches the al dente stage turn off the heat, stir in the remaining butter, most of the cheese (bring the rest to the table for those who want more), and serve. The wine? More of what went into it.

Enjoy! Or, if you want to be decadent, use a white sparkling wine.

Friday, May 27, 2005

A Vertical of Castello di Bossi's Il Girolamo IGT Toscano

GirolamoCastello di Bossi draws its name from the Bosso tree, an unusual evergreen whose limbs drape like those of a Lebanese Cedar, and whose needles are fleshy, rather like those of plants that grow in arid regions. Medieval maps of the area show groves of bossi, which were used to make strongboxes that were kept in the watchtower -- la Torre dei Bossi. In the 1450s the Ricasoli family, lords of nearby Castello Brolio, had the Torre dei Bossi burned down; when the owners rebuilt it they included the foundations of the 11th century tower in their new castle, which is a classic fairly squat square structure with a central courtyard. We don't know what, if anything, the Ricasoli family did about the bosso groves, though they are now gone -- there is one surviving tree, in the park just outside the castle walls, and Marco Bacci says he keeps close watch over it; despite a lightning bolt a few years ago it is growing well.

Marco and his family bought Castello di Bossi in 1982, from people who had supplied grapes to Antinori, and therefore had planted the vineyards with the assistance of Giacomo Tachis, Antinori's chief enologist. The Bosso TreeIn addition to Sangiovese, Marco found both Cabernet and Merlot, which he thinks were probably illegal when they were planted in the late 60s -- he says his family wasn't sure what the grapes were at the time, but realized that the vineyard that turned out to be Merlot ripened sooner than the others. His family used it as a blending wine for their Chianti Classico Riserva.

In 1997 they had more than they needed -- about 15 extra barrels -- and decided to try bottling it separately as Girolamo, a single vineyard IGT Toscana Rosso. It caused a sensation, so in 1998 they made it again, just a thousand bottles this time, and then again in 1999. Fermentation takes place at about 30 degrees C, and is followed by a long maceration on the skins, 30 days in 1999, to extract as much as possible. The wine goes into French barriques for the malolactic fermentation, and then matures for 15 months. Production volume continues to vary from vintage to vintage, and is in any case limited to better vintages. There will be no 2002 Girolamo (or any other Castello di Bossi wine).

The Wines:

Castello Bossi EntranceGirolamo IGT Toscano 1997
Deep black pigeon blood ruby with some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is powerful, and heady, with a rush of freshly crushed black currants supported by peppery spice and deft vinous overtones, with some mineral and slight green leather. Very nice to sniff. On the palate it's full, rich, and smooth, with intense black currant fruit supported by ample, sweet rather dry tannins that flow into a long dry berry laced finish. Great depth and balance, and it will drink very well with flavorful drier dark meats, for example stewed or roasted game birds. Assuming you don't decide to drink it far from the table. In terms of its evolution, it's youthfully mature, and will give great pleasure now, though one could also hold it for another decade or more.

Girolamo IGT Toscano 1998
Deep pigeon blood ruby with black reflections and some garnet in the rim. The bouquet is full, and rich, with powerful crushed black currant fruit mingled with slight bramble and hints of underbrush, and some underlying alcohol as well. On the palate it's full, with fairly intense black currant fruit supported by sample sweet tannins and some slightly brambly acidity that gives the wine direction, and leads into a long black currant finish that ends with smoky bitterness. It's not as rich as the 97, but does display a very pleasing brightness, and will drink quite well with succulent red meats. In terms of its evolution, it's not as well fleshed as the 97, and therefore seems a little further along. In any case, it's still quite young, and though one could drink it now with a roast, if I had a couple of bottles I'd set one aside for 5-8 years.

Girolamo IGT Toscano 1999
Impenetrable pyrope ruby with black ruby rim. Poured ink. The bouquet is quite young, with brambles mingled with crushed black currants and slight graphite; it's quick to write but there's a lot going on and one could sniff it at length. Great finesse. On the palate it's full, and rich, with powerful black currant fruit supported by ample smooth sweet tannins that are extremely refined, and flow into a clean long black currant fruit finish with some smoky bitterness. By comparison with the earlier vintages it's smoother and less acidic (though it doesn't have the cloying softness that some associate with Merlot), and shows greater balance; it's also still quite young and I would give it another 3-5 years to get its bearings, because it is nice now but at the beginning of a long climb.

Girolamo IGT Toscano 2000
Impenetrable pyrope ruby with deep cherry ruby rim. The bouquet is powerful, and a step apart from the others, with rich black currant fruit of the sort you smell if you crush a bowl of fruit in your hands, bordering on overripe but not overstepping the boundary, with deft barest hints of balsam and cedar. Great depth, and a lot going on. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful black currant fruit that's a touch sweet, with smooth sweet tannins that flow into a long graphite-laced black currant fruit finish. It's more a classic Merlot than the other wines, perhaps because the late summer heat brought greater ripeness and concentration of the grapes, and a greater softness to the tannins. I would give it another 3-5 years to develop, though it will drink well now with succulent, fairly dry roasts or stews (i.e. stewed game birds, or stewed furred game).

Girolamo IGT Toscano 2001
Impenetrable pyrope ruby with black reflections and deep cherry rim. The bouquet is very young, with deft black currant and forest berry fruit supported by clean cedar and some hints of vanilla. It's like looking in on a toddler whose parents are both beautiful, and though it was a shame to open it now it is very nice to sniff. On the palate it's full, and rich, with powerful black currant fruit that has slight animal overtones that add depth, and is supported by ample smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean long black currant finish. Most impressive, and well worth seeking out, though unless I were lucky enough to have several bottles I wouldn't open one before 2008, and would expect it to drink very well through 2015.

In summary, I liked the 97 very much though I found it a bit more rustic than the more recent vintages, and this isn't too surprising since they decided to bottle excess barrels on a whim. 98 was a transition year, and more recent vintages display greater concentration and depth, while also reflecting the vagaries of the vintage. By comparison with some of the other Tuscan Merlots, Bossi's is a little less varietal (with the exception of 2000) -- it's not quite as soft, nor quite as smooth as what one finds elsewhere, though it does display the opulence and fullness that I (at least) associate with fine Merlot. In terms of progression through the vertical, taking the characteristics of the vintages into account I found a distinct increase in finesse and elegance beginning with 1998.

For more information on Castello di Bossi, check their website.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tasted at Vinitaly 2005:
Primo Volo 2001

Count Giordano's villa outside PadovaPrimo Volo is the brainchild of Count Giordano Emo Capodilista and Andrea Faccio, owners of the La Montecchia and Villa Giada wineries, respectively; the wine began as a blend of Merlot from near Padova (in the Veneto) and Barbera from Agliano Terme, outside Asti (in Piemonte).

The first vintage, 1998, was, says, Andrea, "a lark," but in 1999 they decided to do it seriously and began to attract the attention of the wine press. Then Andrea met Sergio Zingarelli, who produces Chianti Classico at Rocca delle Macie, on a plane, and Sergio asked if they wanted to add some Sangiovese to their blend. They said yes, and the result, which combines Merlot's softness with Barbera's lively acidity and Sangiovese's steely structure, is quite nice.

The 2001 vintage is deep pigeon blood ruby with ruby rim, and has an elegant bouquet with powerful black cherry and black currant fruit (the latter from Merlot) nicely balanced by spice and supported by considerable citric acidity (from the Barbera) that confers considerable life and brightness. Quite a bit going on. On the palate it reveals its youth to a greater degree; it's rich, with powerful red berry fruit, a mix of cherries and black currant fruit supported by deft acidity that gives good direction, and by sweet tannins that combine Merlot's softness with a clean peppery burr that's part oak and part Sangiovese's steel. The finish is long and pleasing. It's quite harmonious, and though one could drink it now with a fatty roast (I drank it with a pork rump roast -- a happy marriage indeed -- and a suckling pig would also be nice, as would be a succulent leg of lamb) or a flavorful stew, I'd give it another 3-5 years to develop.

The Primo Volo site

Tasted at Vinitaly 2005:
Villa Petriolo

Villa Petriolo is located in the township of Cerreto Guidi, a few miles north of the Arno River and a few miles southwest of the town of Vinci. As such it's down river from Florence, in an area long noted for olive groves, forests, and, especially, vineyards, which Emanuele Ripetti mentioned in 1833, saying they were "di eccelsa qualità," of superb quality. At the time much of the area belonged to the Alessandrini Family, which directed 13 poderi (farms) from Villa Petriolo, a property they had owned since at least 1574.

Family fortunes do change, however, and about 40 years ago Villa Petriolo was bought by Moreno Maestrelli, an industrialist who also loved the countryside and working with his hands. For him the estate was a country home and place to get away from it all, but 8 years ago his daughter Silvia decided to return the property to its roots, as it were, transforming it back into a working estate; after bringing back the facilities she turned her attention to the land, and planted her first Sangiovese vineyard in 2002. She has now been joined by her sister Simona, who handles press relations, tastings, and such, and by the enologist Attilio Pagli.

Given the youth of the new vineyard it's obvious that they are now working with what they already had, and I enjoyed what I tasted at Vinitaly this spring. The wines:

Villa Petriolo Chianti 2004
Lot 05/02
Recently bottled, but with a well developed bouquet that has bright, abundant slightly sour cherry fruit and lots of violets, supported by savory overtones and heather. Bracing youth, which also reveals underbrush with more swishing, while the acidity holds it up. On the palate it's deft, and medium bodied, with rich sour cherry fruit that gains depth from some underbrush and direction from acidity, while the supporting tannins are ample, smooth, and sweet, and flow into a long peppery sour berry fruit finish. It will be quite nice with grilled meats or light stews, and you may want a second bottle.
2 stars

Fattoria di Petriolo Golpaia IGT Toscana 2001
Lot 03/02
Golpaia is a Sangiovese in purezza; the 2001 vintage is deep black almandine ruby with almandine rim, and has powerful bouquet with strong underbrush mingled with some spice and hints of hardwood ash, and underlying red berry fruit. There's something haunting about it. On the palate it's full and medium bodied, with powerful berry fruit supported by clean sweet tannins that flow into a fairly long clean finish. Pleasant, in an international key, and will drink well with succulent roasts or stews, and also has the wherewithal to age nicely for 5-8 years.
2 stars

Fattoria di Petriolo Golpaia IGT Toscana 2003
Lot 05/05
There was no 2002; this had just been bottled and is still closed, though swishing does bring up cedar mingled with spice, underbrush, chalk, and ground pepper. It needs time. On the palate it's medium bodied tending towards full, and fairly rich, with pleasant cherry and forest berry fruit supported by clean sweet tannins whose oaky component still sticks out; it needs at least a year to get its bearings, at which point it will be elegant in an international key that's fairly soft -- the heat of the summer reduced the acidity of the grapes -- and will work well with succulent roasted white meats, for example turkey with rich gravy or pork loin with sauces. Expect it to age nicely for 5-8 years.
2 stars

Fattoria di Petriolo Vin Santo del Chianti 1999
Amber with apricot reflections. The bouquet is powerful and fresh, with walnut skins and dried apricots mingling with some brown sugar (the moist variety) and hints of oatmeal. On the palate it's full, languid, and soft, with brown sugar sweetness and a degree of tannic support from walnut skins that flows into a clean butter-lipped finish that is quite persistent, and is kept from flagging by lingering dried apricot acidity. A little more dried fruit on the palate would have given it greater spark, but it is pleasant.
2 stars

In summary, Villa petriolo works well with what they have, and will bear watching in the future.

Contact info:
Villa Petriolo
Azienda Agricola Petriolo
Via di Petriolo, 7
50050 Cerreto Guidi (Firenze) Italia
PH +39-0571-509491
FAX +39-0571-509646

Friday, May 13, 2005

Farewell, Tocai Friulano

The word Tocai (Tokaji or Tokaj in Hungarian, and Tokay in English) refers to both a wine producing region in Eastern Hungary and to a number of different wines, the most important of which are Hungarian Tokaj, a sweet wine that Louis XIV called the "Wine of Kings and the King of Wines," the French Tokay d'Alsace, and the Italian Tocai Friulano, a dry white wine made from the Tocai Friulano varietal.

Though the Friulani have records showing that their Tocai vines are indigenous, and were transplanted to Hungary in the 1100s, the Hungarians have long argued that theirs is the original Tocai wine and that the other Tocais are usurpers riding upon their coat tails. In 1993 the European Union agreed with Hungary, decreeing that by 2006 other European producers had to abandon the use of the word Tocai on their labels; though the Friulani appealed the ruling repeatedly, citing their historic records, there has never been much question regarding the ultimate outcome of the contest, because the Tocaj region is in Hungary. And indeed, the EEU has now ruled that the word Tocai must go from Non-Hungarian labels in 2007.

This will be easy for the people in Alsace, whose wine is made from Pinot Grigio: They have already added the words Pinot Gris to their labels, and are now phasing out the word Tocai. It's more difficult for the Friulani whose wine is made from the Tocai grape, because they can't simply list their varietal. So what will happen?

Some producers will be giving their Tocai-based wines nomi di fantasia; for example, Radikon has settled upon Jacot, a palindrome of Tokaj. Others are instead pushing for a new regional name for Tocai-based wines, perhaps Friulano. We shall see.

More information? Craig Camp has posted an excellent article on Tocai, with a number of tasting notes, on Egullet.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A Traditional
Chianti Classico Riserva:
La Fattoria La Ripa

Casella Postale n°1
50020 San Donato in Poggio (FI)
Tel. 055.807.2948

Fattoria La Ripa is an old, old Tuscan estate: In 1400 it belonged to Antonio Maria di Noldo Gherardini, Monna Lisa's father, who gave it to his daughter as part of her dowry when she married Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo and moved to Vignamaggio, where Leonardo is said to have painted her portrait. And it's nice to think of her as a little girl, walking the vineyards, and perhaps even picking some of the grapes, though as the future owner she wouldn't have had to do the heavy work.

The Fattoria was also important from a strategic standpoint, because it borders one of the highways connecting the Via Francigena, the major pilgrimage route to Rome, which followed the Val D'Elsa, with the Val di Pesa, which led to Florence, and therefore appears on the maps of the Guelph Captains who patrolled Florence's territory.

Moving much closer to the present, in 1968 the Fattoria, which now belongs to the Caramelli Family, began to bottle its wines and olive oil. It is now directed by Sandro Caramelli, an extremely personable engineer who lived and worked in a number of places before deciding to return to Italy and to the soil, as it were; his son Niccolò, who grew up at the Fattoria is technical co-director, while Marco Chellini is the estate's enologist.

We tasted a number of vintages of the Chianti Classico Riserva, and two more recent vintages of the basic Chianti Classico; as a general introduction one can say that stylistically the wines are quite traditional, with bright acidity and brambly tannins. No wood-induced smoothness, nor soft French varietals to tame Sangiovese's bite.

Tasting Notes | Fairs & Samples

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Tasted at Vintaly 2005:
Tommaso Bussola

Via Molino Turri, 30
37024 Negrar(VR)
Tel. 045.750.1740
Imported to the US by Rare Wines - Vieux Vins (CA)

I met Tommaso Bussola a number of years ago, when I visited him in the course my first in-depth visit to Valpolicella. He's affable, and very laid back, and I found his low tech system for drying the grapes destined to become Amarone and Recioto -- in a well-ventilated roofed shed -- quite refreshing after some of the high tech drying systems I'd seen in other cellars, which do to guarantee consistent results from year to year, but also remove one of the major elements that defines a Valpolicella vintage, namely the fall weather. By comparison, the air in Tommaso's shed was damp, because it was raining heavily outside, and he was worried about rot. Put simply, Tommaso takes what Nature dolls out, rolls with the punches, and works very well with what he has; the wines reflect not just the weather of the summer, but also what happened in the fall, which may be dry one year, resulting in quick drying of the grapes that favors the concentration of certain elements and certain transformations in the skins, and wetter the next, resulting in a slower drying that favors the concentration of other elements and other transformations in the skins, and perhaps a touch of Noble Rot (which he doesn't look for, but will accept if it happens).

The result of all this is that one never knows quite what to expect with one of Tommaso's wines, though one can be certain it will not disappoint.

Tasting Notes | Fairs & Samples

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Discoveries at Vinitaly 2005:
Az. Agr. Podere Casale

Via Creta - 29010 Vicobarone Ziano Piacentino (PC)
Tel. 0523.868302 - Fax 0523.840114

The wines of the Colli Piacentini were already known in Roman times (during a debate in the Senate, Cicero criticized the Piacentine native Lucius Calpurnius Piso for speaking too highly of them), were exported to France in the 1300s, and were singled out for praise by in the 16th century by Sante Lancerio, Pope Paul III's cellermaster.

Unfortunately, as is the case with so many other wine producing areas of Italy, in the more recent past the emphasis shifted in large part to high volume, lower quality wines aimed at local consumers. As a result the region's renown faded, but now producers are again beginning to emphasize quality, and there are some very nice wines to be found.

I stopped at the Azienda Agricola Podere Casale's booth at Vinitaly by chance -- saw a friend talking to the winemaker, so I sat down and asked to have what he was having -- and was pleasantly surprised. It was a Gutturnio, a wine that is a blend of 55-70% Barbera and 30-45% Croatina, a varietal that is locally known as Bonarda.

Tasting Notes | Fairs & Samples