What is a Super-Tuscan?

A selection of some of my favorite Super-Tuscans, L-R: Masseto, Le Pergola Torte, Ornellaia, Le Pergole Torte, Le Serre Nuove ell Ornellaia, Gabro, Isola e Elena Cepparello

I get asked this question a lot when the subject of Italian wines comes up. Someone always comes up to me and asks, “So, what’s the deal with Super-Tuscans?”. It’s not as easy to answer this question as you may think. First let’s look at how wines are categorized in Italy and then we’ll see where Super-Tuscans fit in.

Italy adopted the appellation system for wines from France in the 1960’s, about 30 years after France initiated theirs and which all other appellation systems are based on. In France it is called the Appellation d’Origine Controlee or AOC. It is used not only for wines but for cheese, butter and other agricultural products all based on the idea of terroir or place. The origins of the modern French AOC system date back to the early 1400’s when Roquefort cheese was regulated by parliament to protect the name. In essence an AOC is a controlled place-name. In Italy the equivalent is called Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).

In order for wines to qualify for the DOC(G) designation the producer must grow, or source, the grapes from the designated geographic region, make the wines in the region and follow strict rules regarding grape variety or varieties, yields, production methods, aging requirements which may include the size and type of vessel, and other things. In addition the wines must pass a blind tasting and chemical analysis before being awarded a seal of approval for the neck of the bottle. Some of these DOC(G)’s are very rigorous and demanding for the producer. This is all done to protect the name and reputation of the DOC(G) and give a wine that shows typicity of the place where it is produced (terroir).

An example wine would be Chianti and Chianti Classico, both DOCG’s. In order for the wine to be called Chianti it must come from the geographic area designated as Chianti, in the heart of Tuscany. This area has been expanded over the years to accommodate increased production and is now very large. Chianti Classico on the other hand is a smaller, better DOCG which is in the historic heart of the Chianti region. It lies in the hills between Florence and Siena. Both wines must contain Sangiovese. Chianti must contain a minimum of 70% Sangiovese and the balance can be made up of traditional and international red grapes and a 10% maximum of white grapes. The wine can be 100% Sangiovese. Chianti Classico must be made from a minimum of 80% Sangiovese. The producer can then round out the wine with traditional and international red grapes. White grapes are no longer allowed in Chianti Classico and the wine can be 100% Sangiovese. Producers must then follow all of the other rules pertaining to yields, alcohol levels, aging, etc. These are just 2 of the over 300 DOC(G) wines in Italy today.

So, what if you are a producer in Tuscany who doesn’t want to follow all the rules and regulations of the DOC(G)? Maybe you are a producer in the Chianti zone but want to make a wine using only international grapes like Cabernet and Merlot. That’s perfectly legal but you cannot call your wine Chianti. It does not adhere to the rules of the DOCG. Or, maybe back in the 1960’s and 70’s, you are on the coast of Tuscany, in no-man’s land, and want to produce a Bordeaux blend. That was, and still is, legal but what did you call your wine? There were no DOC or DOCG wines that these would fall under so your wine was just a table wine or Vino da Tavola. This is where the Super-Tuscan’s come in.

Super-Tuscans came about in the 1960’s and 70’s. They were high-priced, high-quality red wines that did not fit into any of the new official categories or DOC(G)’s. The wines were something not seen before in Italy. They were made with international grapes or non-traditional blends and aged in small, new French oak barrels. The bottles had fancy labels with fantasy or proprietary names. Since these wines did not fit into the DOC(G) system they had to be labeled as lowly table wines or Vino da Tavola. This was considered scandalous due to the high prices these wines were fetching. How could a lowly table wine cost more than a classic DOC(G) wine?!

Sassicaia

The first of the Super-Tuscans was Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia produced in the town of Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast. Tenuta San Guido was established by marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta. The wine  was first produced in 1948 from Cabernet Sauvignon and intended for the family’s consumption only. In 1968 the machese’s son Nicolò and nephew Piero Antinori convinced him to release it commercially. The first vintage was in 1971. Demand soon skyrocketed and the marchese hired the famous consulting enologist Giacomo Tachis to further refine the wine while production increased. Today the wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Cabernet Franc. It is extremely expensive and in very high demand.

The idea behind Sassicaia was to produce a wine that would rival that of Bordeaux from an area that was relatively unknown but had great potential with Bordeaux grapes. Others followed. Since this was a part of Tuscany not covered by any of the newly formed appellations or DOC(G)’s, the wines were labeled as simple Vino da Tavola. But Sassicaia and the other coastal wines were just the beginning. In the early 1970’s a revolution was about to begin in the Chianti Classico region that would turn the appellation on its’ head and change it forever.

At this point in time Chianti was synonymous with mass-produced, watered down versions of the original. Many producers were dissatisfied with the tired, old rules and regulations of the appellation. Back then white grapes were mandatory not only in Chianti but Chianti Classico. The inclusion of international grapes was forbidden as was making a wine solely from Sangiovese. Some producers took matters into their own hands and started to make the wines they wanted to make. Antinori introduced Tignanello and Solaia and others were not far behind. These were all wines based on Bordeaux varieties with or without the addition of Sangiovese. But it wasn’t all about Bordeaux varieties.

In 1981 Sergio Manetti of the Montevertine estate, in the middle of the Chianti Classico region, was fed up. He felt that not only the mandatory addition of white grapes (white grapes are no longer allowed in Chianti Classico) but the addition of international grapes to make a more broadly appealing wine was doing a disservice to the noble Sangiovese. He was to become the champion of Sangiovese. So much so that in 1981 he produced his last vintage of Chianti Classico vowing to never again include any other grapes with his beloved Sangiovese. He produced the first 100% Sangiovese Super-Tuscan under the name Le Pergole Torte from the Montevertine estate 6 miles south of Radda in Chianti. This wine, like the other Super-Tuscans of the day fell out of the DOCG regulations and was labeled a Vino da Tavola. But Sergio didn’t care. Even after Chianti Classico changed the rules to allow a 100% Sangiovese based wine he refused to join the appellation.

The success of the original Super-Tuscans eventually led to major changes in the Chianti and Chianti Classico DOCG’s. No longer were white grapes permitted in Chianti Classico, international grapes were now allowed in limited quantities and a 100% Sangiovese wine was now permitted. It also led to a new category of wine being approved in 1992, Indicazione Geographica Tipica or IGT. This is a category that is less strict than DOC(G). It is the equivalent of France’s Vin de Pays. It provides the winemaker more choice in terms of grapes and production methods. Sassicaia would eventually be awarded its’ own DOC (Sasscicaia Bolgheri) in 1994 and other DOC’s for Super-Tuscans would follow.

Today the term Super-Tuscan is a bit overused and misunderstood. To some, a Super-Tuscan is any wine produced in Tuscany that is not DOC(G). But, as we have seen, some Super-Tuscans are now DOC wines! Super-Tuscans also used to be very expensive but today not all are. There are some that are quite reasonable.

I think what those original Super-Tuscans did was to shake up the establishment and force the governing bodies and producers to take a hard look at the what was going on at the time. Quality was suffering and experimentation was stifled by outdated rules and regulations. Not all of these new wines were good and many were criticized for not being typical of Italy. Some producers even abandoned using international grapes and winemaking and returned to more traditional practices. But these ground breaking wines were instrumental in moving Italian wine from quantity to quality based and today Italy is making better wines than ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2007 Montevertine Le Pergole Torte

The Montevertine estate is comprised of about 50 acres at an elevation of 425 meters in the town of Radda in Chianti. The vineyards are 90% Sangiovese and they make 3 wines with Le Pergole Torte being the flagship. The oldest vines, from 1968, are used for this wine exclusively. The grapes are hand-harvested and fermentation takes place in cement cuves for at least 25 days. The wine is then racked into large, Slovenian oak for about 12 months before being transferred to small French oak for another 12 months. The wine is never filtered and sees an additional 6 months in bottle. Everything at the winery is done by gravity with no mechanical pumping of the wine.

Wow! This was a stunning wine. It’s starting to show its’ age in the glass with a pale ruby/garnet color and pronounced, watery rim with some brickish highlights. The nose was phenomenal though. Still fresh and vibrant with red cherry, red fruits, game, dried rose petal, savory herbs, underbrush and a touch of cedar. This is soft and appealing on the palate. It has a velvety texture that is fuller than you might expect. The tannins sneak up on you but are ripe and well-balanced with bright acidity that keeps everything fresh. This has another 5-10 years at least.

 

Quick and Easy Turkey and Sausage Chili and a Wine to Match

Now that winter is in full swing we are turning to heartier fare up here in Vermont. And what better cold-night dinner than chili? And let’s keep it healthy by using, mostly, turkey. This is a super-simple to make, one dish meal that only takes about 25 minutes.

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 small Spanish onion, medium dice

1 yellow pepper, medium dice

1 green pepper, medium dice

1 red pepper, medium dice

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 pound ground turkey

1 pound bulk hot Italian sausage

1 32 ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 16 ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons chili powder (or you can use equal parts ground garlic, cayenne, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes)

In a large saucepan heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion, peppers and garlic. Saute until translucent, about 4 minutes.

Add the ground turkey and sausage and cook for additional 5-7 minutes.

Add the beans, tomatoes and chili powder. Turn heat to med-high and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10-15 minutes. You may need to add a bit of water if it gets too thick.

Serve in bowls with some crusty French bread. You can also shred some cheddar on top.

Serves 4-8 depending on size and you’ll have some leftover.

With something hearty and a bit spicy like this chili I like a wine that is a little rustic but also has some fruit to stand up to the spice. I reached for a Syrah/Grenache blend from southern France.

2012 Chateau Cadenette Costieres de Nimes, about $12

This is a juicy, rustic wine from a region that straddles the border of the Rhone Valley and Languedoc. The wines here are blends of several grapes, this being mostly Syrah with a smattering of Grenache. The nose is very aromatic with ripe red and black fruits, prune, cooked plums and tomato skin. The palate is fresh and clean with soft, ripe tannins. This, or something very similar, is a perfect match to this hearty, spicy chili.

New Year’s Resolutions for the Wine Lover

Sparkling wines in New Zealand

It’s a new year which is always exciting. It’s a clean slate. An opportunity to try new things, get better at something, be a better you. So, why shouldn’t wine be a part of that? After all, you’re a wine lover. Right?

So, here are some suggestions for improving the wine lover in you for the upcoming year. These don’t take a lot of effort so no excuses and no quitting half way through.

Forget about ‘Dry January’.

Don’t deprive yourself. I know, I know. The health benefits of taking a month off. All the weight you are going to lose because you aren’t drinking anymore. Blah, blah, blah! Instead, why not just cut down your wine consumption by half. It will save you some money, you’ll lose a few pounds and maybe you’ll be able to stick to your newly purchased gym membership. But by drinking a little you will still be supporting your local wine merchant and/or restaurant when they need you the most. And just think of how good that glass of wine will taste on Friday after work when you have been abstaining all week.

Napa Valley

Visit a winery. Or, better yet, plan a vacation to wine country.

There is a winery in every state which means that you can find one, or more, within a couple hours drive. Wineries are fun places. The people are  always really nice, you get to learn something and you get to taste a bunch of wines. Some of which you may have never tasted before. And wine country vacations are the best, IMHO! One, they are located in beautiful places. Think of Napa, Chianti, Burgundy, Argentina. I could go on but you get the point. Two, the restaurants in wine country are usually really good. At the least you’ll be able to find one or two outstanding restaurants some of which may be at a winery. Three, hot air ballooning. Yes! I know this is on a lot of people’s bucket list and most wine regions have someone giving hot air balloon rides. Why not combine them?! If you need any help in planning your getaway, I’m here to help.

Step out of your comfort zone.

Always drink New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc when you go out to eat? Try something different. Even if it’s Chardonnay. Drinking the same wine over and over again must get really old. I know. I do it and have to stop myself sometimes. Branch out and try something you’ve never tried before. How about a Gruner Veltliner or an Arneis instead of that SB? Instead of reaching for a Malbec (the new Merlot, sorry Miles!) try a red from the Languedoc or a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. There’s too much wine out there to be drinking the same thing all the time.

Open that bottle you’ve been saving for the last 15 years.

You know that bottle of Champagne you got as an anniversary gift 12 years ago? You know, the one sitting on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Open it!! It’s probably past its’ due date but what the hell. It’s not going to get any better. Unless it’s Krug or maybe Dom. Hey, most wines are meant to be drunk within the first two years of release. So what are you waiting for. Go to your cellar and look at what you’ve got, pick something and open it. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion. I’ve had phenomenal wines with pizza. Remember the Scavino Barolo I talked about in my last post? That’s a $95 bottle of wine that we drank with a burger. There’s even a night called ‘Open That Bottle Night’.

Getting ready for a Languedoc-Roussillon tasting.

Take a wine class or attend a tasting hosted by a professional.

Yes, I’m being a bit selfish here as I teach classes and host tastings. But, if I had a buck for each time someone told me they wanted to take a class I wouldn’t have to teach classes anymore. Ironic, huh? So just take the class. Most formal classes are not inexpensive but they are well worth it. You’ll be able to wax poetically about malolactic fermentation and rotofermenters at the water cooler or your bosses holiday party. (If you don’t know what those two terms are contact me to sign up for a class). But seriously, you’ll learn a lot. Even at the informal tastings I host everyone learns something. The easiest way to do this is to have a wine professional like me come to your house and host a tasting. They are a ton of fun. Going to your local wine shop’s Saturday tastings don’t count. I’m talking about a sit-down tasting hosted by a wine geek.

So there you have it. That’s your homework for the year. If you have a particular wine resolution that you are committing to this year I’d love to hear about it.

Happy New Year!

A couple of great Barolo’s for my birthday.

Two stunning Barolos

Last week was my birthday and I always treat myself to some good wine on my birthday. This year I decided to make it a multi-day event and opened a couple of stunners from the cellar: 2004 Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra and 2008 Paulo Scavino Barolo Carobric. I’m glad I pulled them as they were both delicious, not too old and not too young, just right.

Barolo is made in the Langhe region in Piemonte from the Nebbiolo grape exclusively. It is considered the king of Italian wines due to its’ age-worthiness, complexity and long-standing reputation. Nebbiolo only does well in a few places on the planet, all in Italy, but it reaches its’ zenith in the Langhe hills near Alba. The wines are tannic when young but reward time in the cellar if you can resist them.

Domenico Clerico and Enrico Scavino are contemporaries. They are considered two of the iconic producers of the region who followed similar paths in the vineyard and cellar over the last 4 decades or so. There was a time when both men were considered ‘modernistas’ of Barolo in that they used small French oak and made wines which were more fruit driven and laden with vanilla and toast from the oak. These wines were sometimes criticized for abandoning the traditions of the appellation and making wines that did not fit with the history.

Some of this is true. These modern wines were a bit overblown. The oak masked the characteristics of the Nebbiolo grape and the terroir of the region. But they also introduced other practices that have since been adopted by almost every producer. Some of these like the use of stainless steel, rotofermenters, shorter maceration times and better practices in the vineyard are taken for granted now. And the wines are better for them.

2004 Domenico Clerico Barolo ‘Ciabot Mentin Ginestra’

Clerico’s estate is in the heart of the Barolo appellation in the town of Monforte d’Alba. He crafts outstanding wines which express the exceptional terroir from his vineyard holdings in some of the top vineyards: Ginestra, Bussia, Pajana and Mosconi.

He was a key proponent of the modern Barolo movement making wines with more power and more rounded fruit. There was a time when new French barriques were employed for all of his Barolo. Now, the percentage of new oak is down. He is a believer that the grape is more important than the production method and is an advocate for the land in the winemaking process. This may explain his focus on single vineyard wines.

This wine comes from his 5.5 hectare plot in the Ginestra vineyard from vines planted between 1965 and 1970. Rotofermenters are used and the wine sees 24 months in French barriques, 80% of which is new.

2004 was an exceptional vintage in Barolo and this is an exceptional wine. It is ready now but can still be aged for another decade or so. That’s good because I still have a couple of bottles left. This is a great example of an aged Barolo. The fruit is still there with aromas of red cherry and red fruits but they are overshadowed by dried rose petal, underbrush, mushroom truffle, turned earth, iron and a touch of cocoa and cigar wrapper. The tannins have really mellowed but still have some grip. The acidity keeps everything lively. This took a few minutes in the glass to really come around but when it did it was special. The finish lasted for minutes. The only downside was the amount of sediment. I would say that at least a half a glass was undrinkable due to it. See above.

2008 Paolo Scavino Barolo ‘Carobric’

Scavino has always been one of my favorite producers. The wines are always good no matter the vintage. The wine making is exceptional. The attention to detail unmatched. Enrico Scavino’s winemaking philosophy has change over time but one thing has remained constant: his dedication  to hygiene in the cellars and the health of the grapes. This is something he inherited from his father Paolo and his grandfather. The estate has been in the family since 1921. In the 1950’s brothers Paolo and Alfonzo split the holdings and Enrico and his cousin Luigi took possession of prized holdings on the famed Fiasco hill. (Luigi is the owner of Azelia, another great producer)

Enrico employs the same winemaking for all of his Barolo. Exceptional care is taken in the vineyard to ensure the healthiest of grapes at low yields. The grapes are sorted and each plot is vinified separately, using only indigenous yeasts, in stainless steel tanks. The wines are aged in a combination of old French oak and large Slovenian oak before a time in stainless and then bottle before release. After the first year of ageing the wines are evaluated. Under performing lots are sold off in bulk and not included in the final blends.

2008 was a very good vintage that was cooler than average. A late warm spell saved the wines. They are still young and could do with a bit more time in the cellar but I thought this was drinking really well with some time in the glass. I would decant for about an hour or so.

This is a blend of three of Scavino’s best vineayrds: Rocche di Castiglioni, Cannubi and Fiasco. It offers a great interpretation of Barolo that is still evolving. The tannins are more present than the Clerico but well-integrated. There is more fruit on the nose with dark, black cherry, and stewed plums. Violets, rose and lilac fill the glass along with chalky earth, tar and cocoa. For a fairly young Barolo it was round and pleasant to drink. Actually it was delicious and kept getting better and better with time.

It was a good birthday for wine!

 

Great read from Andrew Jefford about one of my favorite wine regions: Languedoc-Roussillon

I wanted to share this article by Andrew Jefford from Decanter magazine on the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon. More specifically, the IGP or Vin de Pays of the region, here called Pays d’Oc.

The Languedoc-Roussillon is one of my favorite wine regions for so many reasons: the breadth of selection of wines; beautiful scenery; the history; the food; the charming towns and villages. I could go on and on. But one aspect I’ve been telling folks about for years is the affordability of the wines. And I’m talking really good wines at ridiculously reasonable prices.

Vineyards in the Languedoc-Roussillon, courtesy Wine Scholar Guild

Pays d’Oc fit into the middle of the quality pyramid of French wines. There are rules that need to be followed in order to make the wines. But the winemaker has much more leeway when it comes to available grapes and wine making techniques among other things. In the Languedoc-Roussillon this means that there are over 50 grapes at the winemaker’s disposal and just about anything goes when it comes to turning those grapes into wine. The winemaker can source grapes from anywhere within the region and blend them together to make his wine. With so much being grown here this is beneficial to the grower, the winemaker and finally the consumer because it keeps prices low.

As Andrew points out, the vast majority of the wines are single varietal. And, more importantly, the name of the grape can appear on the label. This is important because the next level up the pyramid (AOC wines) requires the place-name of the wine. So, a Pays d’Oc wine might read ‘Laurent Miquel Syrah’. While an AOC wine from the same producer might read ‘Laurent Miquel St. Chinian’. With the first wine you know what you are getting, Syrah. But what are the grapes in the second wine? You may not know unless you are a student of the region. Pays d’Oc wines are easier to understand for the average consumer, are reasonably priced and are, mostly, well-made. Enjoy the article. (By the way a St. Chinian is a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and other grapes and they are delicious!)

Read on to find out more.

 

Sparkling Wines for New Years Eve. It’s not all about Champagne.

In a couple of days a lot of sparkling wine is going to be opened, sprayed around the room (maybe) and then drunk in celebration of the new year. That’s a good thing. But what sparkler will you be drinking? And how much do you plan on spending? Sparklers will set you back anywhere from $6.99 (stay away from these please) to $699. How do you choose? I’ve done some of the leg work for you. Here are several good options at different price points.

Champagne

All Champagne is sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. In order for a wine to be called Champagne it has to come from the Champagne region in northern France and it has to be made in a very specific way. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier grapes are used to make a base wine. This base wine is then placed in a bottle with some sugar and yeast and then capped. The yeasts eat the sugar giving off some more alcohol and carbon dioxide which is dissolved into the wine since it cannot get out of the bottle. After all the sugar is consumed the yeasts die. The wine is then aged on the dead yeasts, or lees as they are now called, which imparts the distinctive yeasty, bread, biscuit and toasty aromas you get with Champagne. The yeasts then must be removed from the bottle by riddling the bottles. This is a long and labor intensive process. Once complete the bottle is topped off with some reserve wine and sugar (not always) and then corked.

There are other sparkling wines that go through this same process but they cannot be called Champagne. Often they will use the words, Methode Traditionelle or Traditional Method Sparkling Wine but they will not be the same as Champagne. Champagne is unique due to the grapes used, the place they are grown and the process. It is a wonderfully unique, delicious wine that cannot be replicated anywhere else. Some places come close but they cannot match the complexity and energy that Champagne delivers. And for that you pay a premium. Champagne is not cheap. The method, reputation and demand all contribute to the high price we pay for this extraordinary wine.

You can expect to pay upwards of $40 for a bottle of Champagne. There are some out there for slightly less money but I think if you start at $40 it’s a safe bet that you’ll get a good bottle. Some names to look for are: Duval Leroy, Bollinger, A. Margaine, Aubry, Krug (super expensive!), Le Mesnil (one of the great bargains in wine), Tattinger, Billecart-Salmon, Egly-Ouriet, J Lasalle.

Cremant

If a sparkling wine is made in France using the same method as in Champagne but is made outside of the region of Champagne, then the wine is called Cremant. These are good alternatives to Champagne at much friendlier prices, usually from $15 upward. They lack the concentration and depth of Champagne but are more fruit forward. Look for wines labeled Cremant de Limoux, Cremant de Loire, Cremant de Alsace, Cremant de Bourgogne and Cremant de Jura.

An assortment of sparkling wines from around the globe – Italy, Argentina, France and Spain.

Cava

Another wine made in the same way as Champagne but from Spain and one of the great values in sparkling wine. You can get a good Cava for under $10! One of my favorites is the Segura Viudas Cava Brut Rose that can be found on sale for $8.99. Once again, these wines are more fruit driven and less complex than Champagne.

New World Traditionally Made Sparkling Wines

Almost everywhere wine is made there is a producer making sparkling wine using the traditional method like in Champagne. Some of these are very good and outstanding and some terrible. I would stick with producers from well-known wine regions that have a reputation of making good wines. These wines will fall on a broad spectrum from sweet to dry and from fruity to yeasty and complex.

In California some safe bets are Roederer, Mumm, Iron Horse, Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon. Plan on spending upwards of $25 for a good bottle. I really like a wine from Argentina that we tried recently. It’s pictured above from Domaine Bousquet. The wine is a very pale salmon color made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There is just the slightest bit of sweetness but it has great body and a creamy mousse (bubbles). It’s made in the traditional way and is only $14. Buy it by the case if you can find it.

Tank Method Sparkling Wines

There are several ways to make a wine sparkle. The method used to make Champagne discussed above is considered the best way. The worst way is to inject wine with carbon dioxide. And then there is the Tank, or Charmat Method. This involves making a base wine, putting it into a sealed tank with sugar and yeast and letting the second fermentation take place in the tank. The wine is then filtered to remove the dead yeasts and bottled all under pressure. This is much less time-consuming and labor intensive. It is also good at showcasing fruit. These wines are made all over the globe but there are two countries that excel at them.

Italy

Prosecco is the first sparkler that comes to mind when Italy is mentioned, and for good reason. It is one of the best-selling sparkling wines on the planet. It comes from the Veneto region of northeastern Italy from the Glera grape. It’s fruity, slightly sweet (off-dry), easy and inexpensive. Everyone likes Prosecco. Chances are you’ll pay about $10-15 for a good one and most producers are a safe bet. Some of my favorites are Zonin, Foss Marai, LaMarca, Carpene Malvoti.

But Italy is not all about Prosecco. Asti, from Piemonte in the northwestern region of Italy, is another famous Italian sparkler made in the tank. This is always off-dry to sweet and offers incredible value as well. Moscato d’Asti is a slightly sparkling (frizzante), sweet wine that pairs well with desserts. And let’s not forget Lambrusco. These dry to off-dry red sparklers are perfect for antipasti, charcuterie and cheeses. There are also traditionally made sparklers from Italy that rival Champagne. These are Franciacorta and Trento DOC

Germany

Last but not least is Germany. The Germans consume a lot of sparkling wine. Much of it is imported. But it is not always sparkling when it gets there. The Germans import excess wine and add the sparkle when it gets there using the Tank Method. These are called Sekt and are great values. They can be anywhere from dry to sweet. Expect to pay $10-15 for a good Sekt. Henkell is a good producer that should be easy to get.

So, there you have it. A primer on sparkling wines for the New Year. I’ll post another article that goes a bit more in-depth into the production methods in the future. In the meantime if you have any questions or comments I’d  love to hear from you. What will you be toasting with this weekend?

 

3 GOOD AND COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WINES

Had these three over the course of a couple of days and was very pleased. The great thing is that they could not have been more different from each other. Variety is the spice of life!

2011 Flametree Cabernet Merlot, Margaret River, AU

Flametree bust onto the Aussie wine scene in 2008 for its’ first-ever wine, the 2007 Cabernet Merlot. The wine received award after award. And the rest is history. A short history, but a good one nonetheless. The winery was started in 2007 when the Towner family purchased some land in Margaret River in Western Australia with the intent of making exceptional, hand-crafted wines. They have come a long way in such a short time regularly being recognized as one of the best, small wineries in the country.

The 2011 Cabernet Merlot is actually a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a good smattering of Merlot and some Petite Verdot and Malbec thrown in for good measure. This is almost opaque purplish that stains the glass. Very aromatic with blackcurrant fruit, cassis, blackberry and some smoke. The oak is there but very well-integrated. The palate is ripe and lush with soft tannins. Plenty of fruit here but not jammy or over the top. Nice long finish. Very good at $35.

2012 Pasquale Pelissero Barbaresco ‘Cascina Crosa’, Piemonte, Italy

Ornella Pelissero and her husband Lorenzo now own the Cascina Crosa farm outside of the the town of Neive. She worked the land with her father, Pasquale, until he passed away in 2007. Even though the farm has been in the family since 1921, the first bottling came in 1971 when Pasquale transitioned from a grower based on quantity to a producer based on quality.

The grapes for this Barbaresco, one of 3 made, come from the cru San Giuliano in the commune of Neive. This is still a bit tight but it does show the tell-tale Nebbiolo markers of rose petal, violet and cherry along with a turned earth note. The tannins are still young and high making this very grippy. Give it some time in a decanter or the glass and it rounds out nicely. This needs food to tame the tannins. Steak would be the obvious choice but lamb, duck or quail would also work. About $34.

2012 Domaine Hauvette Les Baux de Provence ‘Amethyste’, Provence, France

Domaine Hauvette sits at the foothills of the Les Alpilles near to the Roman ruins where Van Gogh painted his famous ‘Starry Night’. The land is wild and rocky with limestone soils, perfect for the vine. Garrigue (the aromatic vegetation found in southern France) is everywhere, even showing up in the finished wines with its’ notes of pine resin, rosemary and lavender. Dominique Hauvette came here in the 1980’s from Savoie to raise horses and make wine. She now has a reputation as one of the best natural wine producers of the region.

She started to focus on biodynamics in 2000. When you are making wines as naturally as she does, a focus on the health of the land is absolutely necessary. Healthy, perfect grapes are mandatory to produce wines of this caliber. In the cellar she is decidedly hands-off and low-tech with outstanding results.

This wine surprised me a bit. The color was a pale ruby. Or was it garnet? Either way, one would not expect such a pale wine from this very hot corner of Provence. The blend is made up of mostly Cinsault with Carignan and Grenache rounding out the grapes. Very perfumed but delicate aromas of raspberry and strawberry with thyme and pine. No oak here. This wine is not a lightweight but certainly not full-bodied. The palate is soft and inviting. It reminds me a bit like a Valpolicella or Barbera in that the tannins are barely there and the acidity is high. Red fruits abound on this juicy wine. This is so refreshing that you cannot help but want to take another sip. Delicious. $35.

2010 Domaine Nau Bourgueil ‘Les Blottieres’, Loire Valley, France

Abel Nau and his family craft some extraordinary wines that offer stunning value from the Bourgueil AOC in the Loire Valley. The Domaine sits in the charming village of Ingrandes-de-Touraine next to the river. It is windy here but the property is protected by the plateau north of the river. The 30 acres of vines they tend on the hillside gives them all the resources needed to make reds and a rose from Cabernet Franc. There is nothing fancy here just good old hard work and dedication to their craft. These are solid wines that are a great introduction to the appellation. It’s tempting to drink them young but if you wait a few years your patience will be rewarded.

Normally this would have been drunk by now. I was rearranging my cellar and saw this on the bottom shelf and immediately knew that I had just found a little treasure. This is made exclusively form the free-run juice of 30-year old vines. Everything is done by hand including the punch-downs in cement tanks. Time has been kind to this wine. The color is still a vibrant, youthful ruby with a surprisingly narrow, brickish rim. Red fruits, earth, violets and a touch of graphite leap from the glass. Smooth would be a good descriptor as the tannins have really mellowed. Medium bodied with tart red fruits and a lively mineral streak lead to a long finish. This would be excellent with duck, roasted root vegetables and a currant sauce. If you can still find the 2010 (only 2,500 cases made) grab all you can. It’s a steal at $19.99.

2015 Slavcek Sivi Pinot, Slovenia

Sivi Pinot is Slovenian for Pinot Gris or Grigio. Although just across the border from one of the premiere white wine regions of Italy, Friuli, this is not what most Italian Pinot Grigios look, smell or taste like.

Look at the color. It’s a beautiful pale salmon. It almost looks like a rose. I guess you could also call this orange as it does lean that way. The color comes from contact with the skins as in red wine making. Just a little contact goes a long way with Pinot Grigio as the skins are more grey than white or golden. The skin contact not only adds some color but loads more to the wine.

The nose is yeasty and biscuity. There is some toast and nutty notes with very ripe pear, figs, dried fruits and a hint of citrus. This has some body to it without being heavy or dull. The acidity helps there by keeping it fresh and vibrant. The finish is slightly bitter but I don’t mind as I think it adds another level of complexity to this interesting wine.

If you have heard of orange wines but have not had a chance to taste on look for this. If we can get it in Vermont, I’m sure it’s available in most major metro areas. I think it’s a great introduction to the genre from a 200 year old winery and a steal at under $15.

2011 Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico

It’s been a while since I’ve had a Chianti Classico. After tasting this I regret having waited so long. I also regret that I did not buy more of this. It was my last bottle and I’m already upset at the realization that I may not be able to drink this wine again. Yes, it’s that good.

Rampolla has been owned by the di Napoli family since 1739. For most of that time wheat, olives and other crops were sharecropped. In 1965 Alceo di Napoli inherited the land and set out to produce wines worthy of the land located in the valley of the ‘Conca d’Oro’ just south of Panzano in Chianti. He planted vineyards and sold some of those first grapes to the likes of Piero Antinori. It would not be until 1975 that he made and bottled his first wines. The estate is now run by his son and daughter Luca and Maurizia after passing away unexpectedly in 1991.

This area, the Conca d’Oro or Golden Basin or Valley, has been historically significant since the middle ages. The valley has a perfect southern exposure making the growing of wheat here special (the valley gets its’ name from the golden wheat fields). So much so that the cities of Florence and Siena were both vying for this land situated in the middle of Chianti. Today, that wheat has been replaced by grapes and this part of Chianti Classico is one of the most exciting areas of the appellation. This is hot bed of organic and biodynamic producers as the conditions are nearly ideal. The producers are very conscious of the fact that they are doing something special in this area of Tuscany. Not only are the exposures almost perfect throughout the basin but the soils are perfectly matched to the Sangiovese grape.

This is drinking well right now with dark red and black fruits wrapped up in an elegant package. The tannins have had time to mellow and the bright acidity keeps everything fresh. There is a touch of smoke, earth, tobacco leaf and just a hint of that Sangiovese barnyard funk (I mean that in a good way). The addition of small amounts of Cabernet and Merlot help this out by adding some complexity. Perfect with Bistecca Fiorentina.

If you can find this buy as much as you can. At $34 it’s not inexpensive but worth every penny.