Isole e Olena has changed a great deal since I first drove up a dirt road looking for the place in the early 1990s. Winemaker Paolo De Marchi was mobbed at Vinitaly, so I made a late morning appointment to discuss some of the changes, and how the estate and his thoughts have developed since the last time I wrote something down. Unfortunately, his early morning appointment went way past morning, so the discussion will have to wait -- after I finished tasting the wines, which took me almost as long as it took him to wrap up his first appointment, his wife Marta and I talked about the pitfalls of raising adolescent boys, and then we simply ate lunch and chatted.
So: the wines.
I started with Paolo's Chardonnay, which featured a surprise this time: To combat problems of corkage, he's experimenting with screw caps, and I got to compare bottles with the two kinds of closure.
Isole e Olena Collezione De Marchi Chardonnay 2007
Lot 808 Screw Cap
This is not an experiment, but is the first vintage that Paolo has applied a screw cap to. It's the same lot as the regular cork-stoppered Chardonnay because they were bottled on the same day. Brassy gold with brilliant golden reflections and white rim. The bouquet is bright and fresh, with deft tropical fruit -- passion fruit and some pineapple supported by barest hints of butterscotch and bright slightly greenish acidity. Quite pleasant and very much alive, in a wide-eyed, welcoming sort of way. On the palate it's full and rich, with clean, elegant white fruit supported by clean bright lemony mineral acidity and by rather languorous hints of butterscotch structure that flow into a long, deft slightly bitter finish. Great control and extremely pleasant to drink; it is the sort of thing that will work well with elegant creamy dishes -- a seductive risotto with shrimp comes to mind, as does the spring standby, asparagus risotto -- and is also the sort of wine you may simply decided to enjoy with a special somebody, far from the table. Impressive.
Isole e Olena Collezione De Marchi Chardonnay 2007
Lot 808 Cork
Brilliant brassy gold with a very slight greenish cast to the golden reflections that I see and don't see, and white rim. The bouquet is bright, with tropical fruit, a mix of passion fruit and pineapple laced with hints of heather and butterscotch; it does differ slightly from the screw cap, with slight vegetal accents, while the screw cap seems a little crisper. On the palate it's full and rich, with elegant lemony passion fruit with clean bright citric acidity that is less mineral than the screw cap's, and supported by a pleasant languidity from butterscotch and glycerin. It's a bit softer and more seductive than the screw cap wine, and not quite as crisp; in terms of serving suggestions I would go with slightly less creamy dishes, say an elegant fish sauced pasta, or with grilled fish that's flavorful but not too sharp. Sea bass comes to mind. And again, it will be nice far from the table.
Comparing them side-by-side is like looking at a pair of twins, who might seem identical at first glance, but reveal differences as one gets to know them; the screw cap wine is just a touch crisper and has a slightly harder edge to it, whereas the cork-stoppered wine is a little softer, and comes across as slightly more seductive. Both are very fine, and which you prefer will be a matter of taste. To continue with the twins analogy, one trains competitively -- the screw cap -- while the other -- the cork stopper -- dances.
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2005
Delicate black cherry ruby with black reflections. The bouquet is fairly rich, with brambly cherry fruit supported by slightly greenish acidity and by warm slightly balsamic accents and slight animal tang; as it opens hints of menthol also emerge. Nice balance, and pleasant to sniff, in a slightly underripe key -- it was a wet cold summer and the aromas reflect this. On the palate it's medium bodied and rich, with clean slightly brambly cherry fruit supported by bright acidity that has a greenish cast, and by tannins that have a clean deft burr and flow into a clean sour cherry finish with tannins underpinning. Very pleasant, and a fine food wine; it will work very well with succulent grilled meats, and also with light stews -- beef or pork, while there is also sufficient acidity for it to work well with a platter of mixed fried meats and vegetables.
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2006
Elegnat cherry ruby with black reflections and white rim. The bouquet is muted -- youth at work, though swishing brings up cherry fruit supported by dusky overtones and some vegetal accents. It opens nicely, but needs another year to get its bearings and develop. On the palate it's medium bodied and rich, with elegant cherry and forest berry fruit supported by smooth sweet tannins -- smoother than those of the 05 -- and by bright slightly citric acidity that flows into a clean fresh slightly sour cherry finish. Very pleasant, and will be very nice with grilled meats or light stews, though it does need another year to come together and develop. Expect it to age well for 5-8 years. Worth seeking out.
Isole e Olena Vino Atto a Diventare Chianti Classico DOCG 2007
This is the blend, which will soon go into bottle. It's lively cherry ruby with youthful hints of violets, and has an elegant bouquet that's quite impressive for an unbottled wine, with an abundance of violets and jammy forest berry fruit, in particular blackberries and some black cherries. Youth, snd very nice to sniff. On the palate it's medium bodied with rich cherry and forest berry fruit supported by slight jammy accents and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean jammy fruit finish; by comparison with the two older wines it's less acidic and consequently comes across as smoother, though there are pleasant bitter accents to provide a counterpoint to the fruit; because of its having less acidity it will be better suited to somewhat drier meats -- in other words, not sausages, nor spare ribs, but rather chops (lamb or pork) or roasts, for example lean roast beef cooked rare.
Isole e Olena Cepparello IGT Toscana 2004
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is rich and powerful, with elegant sour cherry fruit laced with slightly savory acidity and supported by hints of cedar -- there is wood, but it supports discreetly -- and slight greenish accents. Beautiful and very young. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful cherry fruit supported by deft berry fruit acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean bright cherry finish with some sour savory underpinning. It's well muscled, but very light on its toes, rather like a gymnast, and is quite capable of making what would seem very difficult for others seam easy. Beautiful, and it will lend magic to a meal built around a porterhouse steak, though I would be tempted to set it aside, because it will improve markedly over the next 5-10 and perhaps even 15 years.
Isole e Olena Cepparello IGT Toscana 2005
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fairly intense, with moderate cherry fruit supported by fairly intense cedar and some savory accents; there isn't much acidity, and wood is carrying the show. The palate reflects the nose; the wine is fairly rich, with pleasant moderately intense cherry fruit supported by smooth cedar-laced tannins and moderate berry fruit acidity that flow into a clean fairly fresh cedar-laced finish. It's clearly from a weaker vintage, and relies much more on wood than wines from better vintages do. Wood that does a nice job, but for the wine to really work for you, you have to like wines that are oaked -- oaked well, but oaked.
Isole e Olena Cepparello IGT Toscana 2006
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is elegant, in a rather haunting key, with clean rich berry fruit laced with sea salt and spice, and also some deft mineral acidity, and slight underbrush. Very pleasant, though still a babe; it's obviously at the beginning of a long journey. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful cherry fruit supported by deft shadowy berry fruit acidity and by sweet tannins that have a slight youthful burr and flow into a clean sour berry fruit finish with a greenish tannic underpinning. Very pleasant, though it needs time; one could drink it now with a steak or leg of lamb, but to do so would be an infanticide. It will begin to be drinkable in 2-3 years, and age nicely at least through 2020.
Isole e Olena Syrah Collezione De Marchi IGT Toscana 2004
Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is rich, with jammy berry fruit laced with underbrush and deft mentholated spice. Quite elegant, and still very fresh, with a lot going on. On the palate it's medium bodied and quite rich, with deft, rather languid forest berry fruit, a mixture of blackberry and currant with underlying cherries, supported by moderate tobacco leaf acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean rich berry fruit finish. Quite elegant, and will drink very well with succulent red meats that aren't too fatty; roast beef cooked rare for example, or leg of lamb. It will also age nicely for at least another 5-10 years.
Isole e Olena Syrah Collezione De Marchi IGT Toscana 2006
An unlabeled sample from the bin where the bottled wines are aging.
Deep violet ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is bright and rich, with considerable underbrush supported by spice, bell pepper, and underlying berry fruit; it's more varietal than the 2004 and though this is perhaps pertly youth, it's also a vintage variation. On the palate it's medium bodied, with rich mineral berry fruit laced with leaf tobacco and supported by deft, almost lacy acidity, and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean bright berry fruit finish with an underpinning of underbrush. Quite pleasant, and will drink very well with red meats now, though I might be tempted to give it a few years, because it will also do interesting things with time. In short, a wine to buy several bottles of, and to follow.
Isole e Olena Cabernet Collezione De Marchi IGT Toscana 2001
This is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, though there is just a little Cabernet Franc. It's deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim, and has an elegant bouquet with rich, fairly tart berry fruit supported by clean vegetal accents, and deft bright acidity. I certainly wouldn't have guessed its age without seeing the label. On the palate it's rich and full, with powerful bright cherry fruit supported by bright slightly vegetal cherry acidity, and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a farly long slightly tart cherry finish. Very pleasant, and will bring magic to a meal featuring hearty red meats, from steak through stewed wild boar. Most impressive, and will age nicely for at least another decade, or perhaps more.
Isole e Olena Cabernet Collezione De Marchi IGT Toscana 2003
Paolo is just starting to sell this vintage -- after several years of bottle age. It's deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is deft, with fairly rich jammy berry fruit supported by some greenish spice, slight vegetal accents, and by hints of prunes. Clearly from a hot vintage, though not cooked. On the palate it's full and rich, with fairly sweet dusky cherry and forest berry fruit supported by moderate acidity -- enough to provide direction, but not much more -- and by clean sweet tannins that have some dusky cedar accents, and flow into a clean fairly rich berry fruit finish with peppery spice that does have some bell pepper accents. It's pleasant, in a rather voluptuous fruit driven key that is dictated more by the vintage than by stylistic concerns of the winery; it's also a wine that will drink nicely with flavorful, not too fatty roasts or stews. It's further along than the 2001, but this is because of the vintage.
Isole e Olena Vinsanto Del Chianti Classico DOCG 2001
Lot not apparent.
Tawny amber with brilliant dried apricot reflections. The bouquet is mind-bendingly rich, with sweet dried apricots mingled with brown sugar and hints of oatmeal, and rich green walnut skin, and warmth, and a fair amount of alcohol, and polished wood, and… new things keep emerging. On the palate it's rich and full, with powerful dried apricot fruit supported by deft apricot acidity and walnut bitterness that gradually give way to apricot laced sugary warmth, while the walnut skins carry on, slowly emerging with time. A beautiful vinsanto, of the kind that one can sip today and remember (vividly) next year, and if one is blessed with a memory for wines, for much, much longer.
Proprietà Sperino is an estate in Northern Piemonte that has been in the De Marchi family for a while, and Paolo has long dreamed of making wines there. Now he is, with his son Luca, who also signs the labels, overseeing things Day to Day.
Proprietà Sperino Uvaggio Coste della Sesia Rosso DOC 2006
This is a blend of Nebbiolo, Vespolina and Croatina -- the traditional blend of the region -- and is pale almandine ruby with black reflections and white rim. The bouquet is fresh and tart, with lively sour cherry fruit supported by bright slightly greenish acidity and by barest hints of sandalwood; it's quite pleasant and very welcoming in a wide-eyed sort of way. On the palate it's rich, with bright sour cherry ft supported by lively berry fruit acidity -- a mix of red currant and sour cherry -- and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean slightly greenish sour cherry finish. Very pleasant, a bright eyed, bushy tailed wine that will work very well at a cookout or with meats off the grill, and is something I would drink sooner than later, because though ti will age nicely for a few years, its freshness is captivating. Expect it to go quickly, and you may want a second bottle.
Proprietà Sperino Lessona DOC 2005
This wine has both Paolo and his son Luca's signatures on the label; it's a Nebbiolo and is elegant almandine ruby with black reflections and some almandine in the rim. The bouquet is delicate, and still somewhat closed, though swishing brings up cherry and red berry fruit supported by some rosa canina and hints of underbrush, with delicate spice and acidity as well. It's clearly still getting its bearings, but promises quite nicely. On the palate it's full and rich, with brash sour cherry fruit supported by bright berry fruit acidity and by tannins that have a lively greenish burr and flow into a fairly long tart finish. A classic Nebbiolo of the Alto Piemonte, replete with lively aggressiveness, and will drink very well with succulent red meats, either from the oven or the stew pot, and if you prepare a rich platter of mixed grilled meats that's long on things such as ribs (well seasoned) you will find it works well with them too. Impressive, and even those who prefer the smoothness of the more international style will find things to think about; if you're a traditionalist you will enjoy it very much.
Proprietà Sperino L'Franc Bandit Vino Da Tavola
This doesn't have a vintage because it's a table wine and they can't have vintages, but it's a 2004. As the name implies, it's a Cabernet Franc. Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The nose is, well, varietal: a tremendous rush of grilled pepper with underlying vegetal accents, and quite pleasant, though still young, and less complex than it likely will be. On the palate it's rich, with lively bell pepper laced berry fruit supported by moderate acidity and by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean fresh rather bitter pepper-laced finish. It's a classic Cabernet Franc, and brashly satisfied at being what it is; if you like the varietal you will enjoy the wine. Considerably. If you're less of a Cabernet fan you may like it less, though chances are that you'll still find things to think about and appreciate in it. It will work quite well with grilled meats, hearty roasts, and also stews, including more exotic things such as goulash.
Want to know more about Isole e Olena? Check Paolo's site. And, if you want to find the wines, check Wineaccess or Snooth.
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