Paolo de Marchi of Isole e Olena was one of those presenting barrel samples at the Chianti Classico Anteprima this year, and to be quite honest I am not a tremendous fan of barrel samples -- they offer a preview of what the wine is likely to be, but are far from being definitive. So Paolo and I got out our cellphones, consulted the calendars, and decided to meet later, and taste through more than just the new Chianti Classico.
Later was yesterday; it was a pretty day and a nice drive on country lanes (the road to Isole is now paved), and when I arrived Paolo had set out current and past vintages of the wines he makes in Tuscany, and the current vintages of the wines he and his son Luca make at Proprietà Sperino in northern Piemonte. I took advantage of his having set out several 2006 vintages to compare them with other vintages of the same wine, and also quite enjoyed the quick vertical of the his Chianti Classico D'Annata.
Before we get to the wines, an important thing: Since I was tasting in Italy, the bottles I tasted were all sealed with corks. Paolo, like many Italian winemakers, is not happy with corks -- they're expensive and cork taint is a serious and growing problem -- but the regulations in Italy (and consumers) almost invariably demand cork. Elsewhere consumers and governing bodies are more open to innovation, and if you purchase his IGT wines outside of Italy, in particular his Chardonnay and his Cepparello, you may find them with screw caps. I tasted his cork and screw cap Cardonnay side-by-side in 2009 and found the screw cap wine to be fresher and crisper, and scored it slightly higher. Paolo says he has noted the same thing with Cepparello in screw cap bottles, which offer the additional bonus of being completely free of corkage problems.
The wines, tasted March 10 2011
Collezione De Marchi Chardonnay IGT Toscana 2009 Pale brassy greenish gold with brilliant greenish reflections. The bouquet is rich, with elegant greenish butterscotch supported by deft savory minerality and spice, and underlying dappled shade. Beautiful definition and control. On the palate it's full and rich, with slightly languid tropical fruit laced minerality supported by mineral acidity that gradually revolves into citric as the wine flows into the finish, which also has a long mineral undercurrent. Quite beautiful; it has the lithe firm grace of a dancer, and is one of those wines that you open, and secretly want to keep for yourself. The vineyards are more than 20 years old, and fully express their potential in a way that they didn't quite in the past. Well worth seeking out. 93-4
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2007 Elegant cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is deft, with dusky cherry fruit that has some jammy cherry overtones and is supported by deft slightly brambly acidity and pleasingly vibrant spice; it's very much alive in a smiling key. On the palate it's medium bodied, with rich cherry fruit supported by dusky bitterness and pleasing mineral acidity, while the tannins are rich, and have a slight dusky burr that lows into a long dusky cherry fruit finish. It's quite elegant, in a slightly more brooding key -- this is a characteristic of the vintage -- on the palate than the nose, and will work very well with grilled meats or roasts, and you will find yourself wondering where it went. A second bottle is definitely in order. 88-90
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2008 Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections; it's slightly darker than the 2007. The bouquet is rich, with deft sour cherry fruit supported by some berry fruit acidity and pleasant minerality with hints, of iodine and some graphite shaving bitterness. Quick to write, but quite harmonious and quite pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's graceful, with rich rather dusky cherry fruit supported by deft berry fruit acidity and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a long cherry laced finish with a deft tannic underpinning that has a slight burr, and continues at length, gaining definition from pleasant savory minerality. Very nice, coupling approachable elegance with considerable finesse, and it will drink very well with grilled red meats or light stews, and also with roasts, though I would think more in terms of roast beef cooked rare than leg of lamb. Expect the bottle to go quickly, and you will want another. 90-91
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2009 This is a barrel sample; it's elegant cherry ruby with black reflections and hints of violet that carry into a violet rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with jammy cherry fruit supported by some violets and graphite shaving bitterness with some underlying brambly acidity. Promising. On the palate it's medium bodied, with rich cherry fruit that has slight sweetish jammy accents supported by deft acidity and slight nutmeg spice, and by smooth sweet tannins -- there is a burr, which is understandable given their youth -- that flow into a clean slightly bitter cherry finish. Very promising, and will be worth waiting for. It's a little riper than either the 07 or the 08, and this is due to the vagaries of the vintage.
Isole e Olena Cepparello IGT 2006 Deep black cherry ruby with black reflections and some almandine towards the rim. The bouquet is elegant, with deft sour cherry fruit supported by some slightly balsamic spice and very slight cedar that doesn't impinge, but whose absence would be noted, and by deft minerality with fairly rich sea salt as well. Great finesse and harmony; it's one of those wines you can sniff, and sniff again, and suddenly realize you are ignoring everything else in the room. On the palate it's rich, with elegant slightly sour cherry fruit supported by deft mineral acidity with some graphite bitterness, and by tannins that have hints of cedar to them and flow into a clean slightly bitter cherry laced finish. It's very elegant, but has a certain austere hardness to it, like a pretty girl wearing a suite of armor (we have the new Alice in Wonderland dvd), and is not the most user friendly wine I've had. However, if you are willing to give it time and space, and attention -- it's like those rare, infuriating people who are full of themselves but have the right to be so -- it has a great deal to say and will only have more in coming years. If you instead want to just drink it, it will be superb with a Porterhouse steak. In short, it's a wine that can be approached at many levels. If I were lucky enough to have a case, I would enjoy a bottle or two now, with wine-loving friends, and put the rest away for posterity, or close to it. 95
Isole e Olena Cepparello IGT 2007 Slightly darker and brighter black cherry ruby, and this is due to greater youth. The bouquet is more approachable, with enticing slightly jammy cherry and forest berry fruit supported by hints of chocolate and some underlying spice; like the 2006 it's extremely harmonious, but is a little more luscious. And, like the 2006, it will capture your attention. On the palate it's medium bodied, with deft cherry fruit supported by delicate sour cherry acidity and smooth sweet tannins that flow into a long, delicate cherry finish that lasts and lasts. A beautiful wine that ahs a great deal to say, and that will work superbly with a steak or an elegant roast; I would be tempted to think of a Gran Pezzo, or crown roast, though it will also make a leg of lamb extremely memorable. By comparison with the 06 it is a bit more approachable, and doesn't have that feeling of distance and austerity; this means that it is a bit easier to drink, and may capture the attention of non-wine geeks in a way that the 06 likely won't. If this sounds like a back handed compliment it isn't meant to be so; simply the 07 is a wine I would open with any friend, whereas the 06 I would reserve for a select few, and also give it time. The 07 is readier now, and though it will age very well is not, I think, going to be as long lived as the 06. 93
Collezione De Marchi Syrah IGT 2004 Impenetrable black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is rich, with deft cherry fruit supported by delicate underbrush and some jammy accents, with slight wet leaves and wet bark as well. Quite harmonious -- I've been using that word a lot -- and with considerable depth. On the palate it's full, with rich, languid cherry fruit supported by mineral acidity and slight underbrush bitterness, while the tannins are smooth and sweet. If it were younger one would be tempted to write about larks, but this is richer and has more substance; it's a beautiful expression of Syrah as it comes form Tuscany when the vineyard is mature, with a delicacy that the more aggressive Tuscan varietals don't display. Not that's it's soft, because there is acidity to provide direction, but it's a touch more languid. And very, very nice. One could get used to it, and then where would one be? 93-4
Collezione De Marchi Syrah IGT 2006 Impenetrable black cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, with slightly more underbrush than the 0f, and also slightly duskier there's also berry fruit and savory accents, but it has a more distant feel to it. Quite elegant, in a slightly more reserved key. On the palate it's full, with rich cherry and berry fruit supported by underbrush laced mineral acidity and by tannins that have some hints of underbrush to them, and flow into a slightly more dusky finish than that displayed by the 04. Very nice, in a more austere key than the 04, and in this it resembles the relationship between the 06 and 07 Cepparello; this wine has the same sort of distance -- perhaps to a greater degree -- as the 06 Cepparello, and is a wine that one could drink now with a steak, but that will reward those with patience, and in any case demands attention. It's a wine I would break out with wine loving friends, and probably sip in silence (mine and theirs), whereas the 04 is something that will capture most anyone. 95
Collezione De Marchi Cabernet IGT 2004 Impenetrable leathery black cherry ruby with pigeon blood ruby rim. Impressive and no hints of garnet at all. The bouquet is powerful, with rich black currant fruit with ints of ripe blackberry, and cherry fruit as well supported by deft spice and nicely balanced by hints of cedar and slight balsamic accents, while there are underlying hints of blackberry jam, the home made kind that has whole blackberries in the jar. Tremendous harmony, and is -- once again -- a wine that will capture your attention and have you ignoring everything else in the vicinity. On the palate it's full, with rich black currant and blackberry fruit supported by deft mineral acidity and by tannins that have a warm burr that brings wet tree bark to mind -- and this is a very nice thing -- and flows into a very long berry fruit finish with deft tannic underpinning. Extraordinary depth and finesse, and though I could continue with superlatives, I will quit while I'm ahead. It will drink beautifully now with succulent roasts -- a crown roast would be perfect, and leg of lamb too -- now, and also age beautifully almost indefinitely. This is what Cabernet should be all about. Like all wine writers, I have tasted my share of Cabernet, and can't recall any that would come close to eclipsing it. 95
Isole e Olena Vinsanto del Chianti Classico DOCG 2003 Lot 6.10 Tawny amber with brilliant apricot reflections and greenish tawny amber accents towards the rim. The bouquet is enticing, with dates and dried figs mingled with considerable sweetness and slight walnut skin; there's a little less acidity than in some years, and this is thanks to the long hot 2003 summer. On the palate it's full and quite sweet, with delicate date and dried fig st supported by warmth more than acidity tout court, which flows into a long deft date fruit finish that has some almost crystalline sugar to it, and lasting warmth. While this is quick to write, there's considerable depth in a somewhat softer key than usual -- the long hot summer did influence the grapes -- and it's a wine that will drink very well with green cheeses. Perhaps not aggressive Roquefort, but somewhat milder variations on the theme, for example Gorgonzola Dolce or some of the English Stiltons. Cheddar, too. 2 stars
Proprietà Sperino This is the De Marchi Family's estate in Lessona, in northern Piemonte. Paolo's son Luca is managing it, and they make two wines:
Proprietà Sperino Uvaggio Coste della Sesia Rosso DOC 2007 This is a blend of Nebbiolo, Vespolina, and Croatina; it's lively almandine ruby with black reflections and almandine rim. The bouquet is elegant, with rich slightly greenish wild flowers supported by savory notes, berry fruit and lively sour berry fruit acidity again laced with greenish accents and spice. It's a tomboy in a glass, and a smiling one at that. On the palate it's medium bodied, with rich sour cherry fruit supported by savory minerality and by tannins that have a warm savory burr with hints of bramble, and flow into a clean brambly sour cherry finish with lasting warmth. Quite elegant, in a rather feisty key; if you like the smooth softness of a ripe Merlot you will find it too aggressive, but if you prefer livelier wines it will do spectacularly with a platter of mixed grilled meats, and work nicely with roasts or a hearty stews too. So9me might say it is too much for a cookout, but if I were putting lamb chops and steak on the grill I would be very happy with this wine, and it would also be a nice bet with fried meats, especially lamb chops. 88-90
Proprietà Sperino Lessona DOC 2006 This is Nebbiolo, with a little Vespolina. It's Elegant garnet with black reflections and garnet ruby highlights, while there is dusky garnet in the rim. The bouquet is deft, with savory cherry fruit supported by slight rosa canina and some elegant, almost brambly minerality, and the greenish vegetal accents that Nebbiolo from Northern Piemonte often displays. Considerable harmony and finesse in a youthful key, and very pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's medium bodied, with rich slightly sour cherry fruit that gains definition from brambly sour cherry acidity, and is supported by powerful dusky tannins with slight greenish accents that flow into a fairly long savory sour cherry finish with bright slightly greenish tannic underpinning. It's quite elegant in a brash key, and also quite young, a wine that will work very now with grilled meats or roasts, but that will also age well for ate least a decade, and as it mellows also work well with stews, and perhaps be something to sip with like-minded friends. It is not a wine for everyone; it is demanding and demands attention, but if you are willing to give it what it asks, it will richly reward you. 92-3
NO STAR goes to wines that are correctly made but nothing to get excited about.
ONE STAR goes to wines that are good. TWO STARS go to wines that are very good to excellent. THREE STARS and a POINT SCORE (90-100) go to wines that are superb to extraordinary. And I will give pairing suggestions, which I consider much more important than the scores.