Thursday, February 1, 2018

1985 Barbi Brunello - Wonderful Tradition

 This wine was very impressive at a recent dinner with friends, showing very well beside other solid Tuscans. Fattoria dei Barbi is a very traditional producer and their methods paid off well in the vintage, which was an outstanding one in Montalcino. The Barbi estate, located about 3 km southeast of Montalcino, has been producing wine for more than 200 years. While many producers have joined in the production of Brunello in the past 30 years, this particular wine has been made for over 100 and the experience shows.

1985 Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 13% ABV (Recent Vintages around $45)

Decanted and poured within 30 minutes. The wonderful scent of fragrant, dried herbs wafts out from the glass immediately, followed by warm underbrush, and subtle smoke. Dried red cherry, perfumed wood and rose petals are also present in the complex and alluring nose. On the palate there is fresh acidity, pure flavors of dried red cherry, distinct coffee notes and a bit of forest floor. The tannins are fully integrated leaving a clean finish. Still fresh and pretty, with excellent balance, and the stamina to last for 2 hours in the decanter without fading. A thorough pleasure. 95 Pts.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Lorenzo & Isabelle Return!

A while back I posted about a wonderful wine produced, only once, by Il Palazzone, in 2005. That wine was a beautiful IGT blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. I enjoyed it on multiple occasions and found it enchanting every time. One key to its excellence was the character it developed with time in the bottle; it was eight years old at the time. I didn't expect to see it produced again, thinking it was a one-time homage to the parents of winery owner Dick Parsons; but I was wrong (happily).
A new vintage of the "Lorenzo & Isabelle" has been produced, for the 2013 vintage, and it shows every indication that it will mature into another beautiful expression. I checked in with Laura Gray, at Il Palazzone, to see if we can expect to see this wine going forward. She told me they are "hoping that this release will start a momentum" in that direction and "even justify planting or purchasing more vineyards with the international varieties" needed. Maybe, someday, we can enjoy a long vertical of "Lorenzo & Isabelle".

2013 Il Palazzone "Lorenzo & Isabelle" IGT. 13.5% ABV                                                  Cabernet Franc / Sangiovese / Petite Verdot from Montalcino

Elegant and firm at the same time, with perfumed blackberry notes that are fresh and dark. Notes of incense and forest floor are also present on the nose. The palate has plenty of texture and well balanced components, although they need time to come together. Firm blackberry and incense carry through to the palate, with fragrant dried herbs showing as well. The acidity is dark and moderate with nice, fine-grained grip to underscore everything. Young, clean, detailed, and complete. This edition of Il Palazzone's special IGT shows all the components needed to emulate its predecessor. 90-92 Pts

2005 Il Palazzone "Lorenzo and Isabelle" IGT,  13.5% ABV
Cabernet Franc / Sangiovese / Petite Verdot from Montalcino $60
 Deep and dark at first on the nose, with plenty of fragrant earth and beautiful, aromatic blackberry and black cherry. There is a clean and fine grained character to the nose, with subtle strength beneath. The first thing to strike me on the palate was a wonderful freshness in the black fruit, with subtle perfume, flinty earth, and kirsch. The balance is excellent, especially in the way the components blend together seamlessly. The finish shows moderate grip, with fine grained, mouth coating tannins. There is plenty of vigor, and I believe there is a whole other set of qualities yet to come out, given sufficient time. This is a wine of stature, depth, freshness, and finesse. Quite complete and drinking very well at this time. 93 Pts. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Couple of 2009 Brunello Values

The 2009 vintage is said to be one for early drinking due to the weather challenges that prevented full development of structure and detail in many wines. Still, for near-term drinking, they can be quite enjoyable. These two are a great example of that 2009 characteristic, with their depth of fruit and forward nature. Both fall into the low end of the Brunello pricing spectrum, offering good relative value.

2009 La Rasina Brunello Di Montalcino 14.5% $40

The nose is wonderfully Earthy, with good depth and a forward character. Dense black cherry flesh, with some ripeness, and dark spice are also prominent. The palate is full and voluptuous, with plenty of ripe black cherry, some pomegranate, Asian spice and subtle aromatics. Sweet tannins and gentle acidity are rolled into the palate profile. Limited complexity, but likely to please the crowd. 88 Pts

2009 Mastrojanni Brunello Di Montalcino 15% ABV $45

Dusty, spiced Earth, red cherry, and some forest floor make up the initial impression on the nose. Later there is mineral, sandalwood, and some dried rose petal adding nuance. The palate shows brite red cherry fruit with cardamom and hints of beef broth. Round tannins and easy acidity make up the structure with late notes of toasted Earth. An easy drinker with some complexity. 89 Pts.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Aia Vecchia - Quality and Value from Coastal Toscana

Update 10/2/16: 2013 Lagone note added below. The quality of the 2013 provides further evidence of the value in the Lagone.

As I've said before, one of the great joys of wine loving is discovering wines you can enjoy without having to spend a large sum. Aia Vecchia is a great source for exactly that sort of wine.

Aia Vecchia is a Tuscan producer with estates in Bolgheri and Maremma.  I met up with Elia Pellegrini to taste their wines and discuss his family's business. The Pellegrini family has been in the wine industry for generations, but did not found Aia Vecchia until 1996, when they set out to make quality super Tuscan blends at a good price. In addition to their Bordeaux blend I.G.T. wines, they produce two wines made from classic Italian varietals, a Vermentino, and a Morellino di Scansano (Sangiovese).

Elia, who recently took over global marketing for Aia Vecchia after his professional soccer career was ended by injury, told me that one of their most important goals is to make wine with great QPR (quality to price ratio). Having tasted there wines, on multiple occasions, I believe that are meeting that goal.
Elia Pellegrini of Aia Vecchia
A big factor in getting these to the American consumer, at such reasonable prices, is the role of  Dalla Terra Direct, who's business model minimizes middle men and mark-ups. These wines make their way to the consumer without taking on too much price baggage, typically reducing mark-ups by 20%or more. Aia Vecchia is one of eighteen wineries currently imported by Dalla Terra.

Aia Vecchia's production is fairly modest, at 250k bottles per year, which allows this family run enterprise to focus on quality. Fifty percent of that production goes to the American market.
Here are my notes on a few examples.


2011 Sor Ugo Bolgheri D.O.C. Superior 15% ABV, $35

Starts off with a beautiful nose of perfumed black cherry flesh and black currant with a rich core and nice complexity. Dark chocolate, tobacco, dried blackberry, and violets all intermingle and provide plenty of nuance. The palate is firm and dark with black cherry skins, and dried herbs with subtle underlying savory notes. The structure is solid, but finessed with nice juicey acidity and a fine coating of tannins. Nicely balanced and satisfying. 30 days maceration and 18 months in French barrique. 91Pts
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cab Franc, 5% Petit Verdot

2013 Aia Vecchia Lagone IGT 14.5% ABV, $15

The nose is inviting, with ripe dark fruit, sweet, dusty red cherry aromas, plum, and some black cherry flesh. The fruit is underscored by a persistent cured tobacco scent that is lovely, along with a bit of dried spearmint. The palate is full bodied with black cherry skins, pie spice, savory dried herbs, and a dusty grip. A balanced structure completes the profile with dark supporting acidity, firm, but fine-grained, tannins, and a flinty finish that lingers nicely. 90 Pts.

2012 Aia Vecchia Lagone IGT 14.5% ABV, $15

Named for a small stream the passes through the estate, the Lagone is a wonderful value that straddles the worlds of "modern" and "traditional" wine making. There is solid extraction and ripeness here, but it is balanced and well structured. The nose is rich, and serious in its first impression, with dark plum, blackberry, and pomegranate fruit, brambles, dried floral notes, mint leaves, and faint green pepper. The palate has a soft attack, and is medium-weight, with more dark plum, a little charred sandalwood and nice aromatic action on the back of the palate. The acidity is present in good measure and lends energy to the large profile, while the tannins are fine grained, but sufficiently pronounced to complete the impression of quality. I would not be surprised to see it age gracefully for 5 years, which is saying something for a bottle at this price point. 60% Merlot / 30% Cabernet Sauvignon / 10% Cab Franc
90 Pts

2010 Aia Vecchia Lagone IGT 14.5% ABV, $15

Big, pure, dark plum fruit wafts out of the glass on first pour, with dark berries, blueberries. Rich, ripe, and pretty with off-setting notes of aromatic underbrush, dark chocolate, sweet tobacco, and coffee. The palate has solid energy, with more dark plum and blackberry, juicy tannins, great dark acidity, dried herbs and underbrush, a dusty grip and plenty of backbone to offset the ripe fruit. Plenty of enjoyment for the low price. 90 Pts

2014 Aia Vecchia Vermentino Toscana 13% ABV, $12

 Fresh citrus and stone fruit comprise the nose, with some white peach, and lemon rind, underscored by subtle salinity. The palate is mouth-watering and clean, with a bit of weight, pleasant fruitiness, and nice balanced. The same fruit elements found on the nose, come through in the palate, with fresh acidity, subtle structure, and fine minerality underneath. A lovely white for everyday enjoyment, but still showing solid quality. 88 Pts

Friday, July 22, 2016

What Makes a Year a Vintage?

Hortense Bernard, of Millesima, Shares Her Insight

Whether you're a wine maker, a retailer, or a consumer, everyone knows that the year on a wine label can make all the difference when it comes to the experience you'll find inside the bottle; it's just understood. Just because you loved the 1999 version doesn't mean the 2003 will offer the same satisfaction. But what, exactly, determines the product that comes from a certain year's harvest? Is it simply the weather, or is there more that shapes the final product?
One factor is the evolution of production methods that has occurred over the last few decades. There have always been especially skilled winemakers and vintners who know all the tricks to dealing with a "challenging" year, but in the past there were plenty who did not. This is much less true today, when a great many winemakers start their career in university, studying oenology. The end result is more "good" years. Or in other words, more successful (and enjoyable) vintages in the bottle.

Vintage variation shapes wines in every region of the world, but no place is better known for this than Bordeaux. I recently enjoyed tasting through three different vintages, from two Bordeaux producers, and the vintage contrast to be clearly evident. In addition, I was able to discuss this topic with a native Bordelaise whose family has been in the business of grape-based alcoholic beverages since 1928. Hortense Bernard, of Millesima USA, grew up in Bordeaux, in a family that has been involved with wine and spirits for four generations. She has been passionate about Bordeaux wines since childhood, and is today an expert on what makes one bottle different from another. Her family's company, Millesima, has more then 2,500,000 bottles of Bordeaux in their inventory.

Our conversation gave me greater insight into the components the come together to create a "vintage". Here are a few notes from that conversation, and about the wines we tasted.

Hortense Bernard of Millesima

B- How is "vintage" about more than just weather?

H- It's not just because it's raining that you take an action, it's the decision you make when it rains. It's also the assemblage, when you mix your varietals and decide which plots go into your first wine and your second. That selection is an important part.

B- So the character of vintage, in a particular bottle, is dependent on more than just the weather?
H- Yes.

B- Do Bordeaux producers make different choices regarding varietal blend based on the vintage?
H- Since the blend is determined by the percentages of each planted in the vineyards; it doesn't change much. Although vines have to be replanted every so often, sixty years or so, but the terroir of the vineyard dictates the best varietal to plant, and the varietal in the vineyard doesn't change much. There is a selection as to the assemblage (blend) of the first label versus the second label. They will choose which plots to put in the first, and which for the second, based on the quality of the plots in that vintage. That selection is an important fact in making good wines.

B- Bordeaux producers typically have first labels, and seconds, etc. Do they make less of the first label in a difficult vintage to preserve quality or reputation, putting more juice into the second label?
H- Sometimes, but not necessarily. Keep in mind that the first label sells for much more than the second. If they produce much less, it will cost them money. Do they want to make only 10% first label instead of 50%, it all depends on the winery and what they can afford. If your price reflects whats in the bottle, then it doesn't matter. That is a big characteristic of Bordeaux, the fluctuation of price due to the vintage quality.

B-Does the weather really impact one part of Bordeaux differently than another?
H- It seems stupid to speak of differences in weather in Bordeaux, since it is such a small place, but in 2014, for example, the right bank had more rain than left bank, so there was a difference. For example, you may wake up in the morning in New York and think that it's a bad day for the beach, but if you had gone, you would have seen it was lovely, because the weather can vary considerably, just a few miles away. The Medoc, on the left bank, is often different than the right.

B- How do great winemakers make good wine in a difficult year?
H- It's not just the winemaker, but really the team. It's also very important to know your terroir. You can be a good winemaker, and move to another estate, and not manage [well]  your first years. You have to know your vines, your soils, how it goes every year, and have recollection of how it goes in the past. There are so many tools he can use to focus what is going to happen, and make a big difference.
That's why the estates that do well every year are the ones that have been repeating [there method] for years and are very consistent.

B- So vintages from the best producers are more consistent because of their experience with the specific terrior?
H- Yes.

B- Let's talk about a specific example. In 2003, a very hot vintage, how did producers still make good wine?
H- They accepted what was happening and did something atypical, but that was something really nice too. If you try to make the classic Bordeaux style [under such circumstances] I think you loose something.

B- The vintage chart, in Millesima catalog, rates 2002 as a good vintage, but 2002 is known for being a very difficult vintage in most of Europe. What made it less so in Bordeaux?
H- American consumers love to buy the best vintages; they buy 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010; in between, almost nothing. On my shelves right now there are so many 2002. Americans don't buy the smaller vintages, "in between" vintages. The 2002's are really good right now. They are good, but many need to be consumed earlier.
B- That sounds like a buying opportunity for consumers.
H- Yes, because it's cheaper, and the vintage was not lauded. But right now they are drinking really nicely.

Hortense and I tasted through six Bordeaux wines, from two different producers, to get a sense of the differences that occur from year to year. Tasting "verticals" of the same wine, from the same producer, is a revealing (and fun) way to see how vintage influences the final product, since other factors are equal.

 Three Vintages From Two Bordeaux Producers

Chateau Fombrauge, Saint-Emillion, Bordeaux, France

2003 Ch. Fombrauge, Saint-Emillion Grand Cru

Quite forward in the nose with coffee, dense black plum, a bit of anise, and a layer of fresh blackberry on top, There's also a subtle floral perfume note. There is full black fruit on the palate that is fairly round, with firm edges and subtle acidity.The finish shows focused tannins and lingering espresso notes. Dense, charming, and a bit yummy.

 2008 Ch. Fombrauge, Saint-Emillion Grand Cru

Very different than the 2003 with a more finessed nature. While the fruit is still dense and solid, the characteristics are that of dried red raspberry, dried black plum with gravel Earth, pretty floral notes, some forest floor, and subtle pencil lead. The palate shows more lean black fruit, with a firm texture, and a pleasant, easy finish.

2010 Ch. Fombrauge, Saint-Emillion Grand Cru

 The nose takes some coaxing at first, showing limited notes of brooding dark fruit, with fine firm edges. Black cherry, and blackberry, charred meat, and lanolin fill things out with some time in the glass. The palate has savory, mouth-watering black fruit, with bright acidity and fresh blackberry.The finish is long, savory, and satisfying. Complete from beginning to end, this is complex, and seductive, albeit reserved.

Ch, Pontet Canet, Les Hauts de Pontet Canet, Paulliac, Bordeaux, France

2000 Les Hauts de Pontet Canet, Paulliac 13% ABV, $50

Raspberry, blackberry preserves, cured meats, and subtle notes of mint and smoke make up the nose with later notes of coffee coming out. Complex and elegant on the nose. The palate shows fresh clean fruit character, with crushed lean blackberry and dried plum underscored by tobacco, coffee, dried herbs, and a savory finish. Well balanced with nice acidity providing freshness. The tannins are fine grained, providing an easy grip.

2005 Les Hauts de Pontet Canet, Paulliac 13% ABV,  $50

Pretty dried floral nose highlight the fresh, clean black currant and blackberry. Mild Earthiness underscores the nose, along with bitter dark chocolate notes. The palate is full and firm with lean blackberry, lovely fresh acidity, and a pleasant lightness. Later notes of coffee appear on the firm finish. 

2008 Les Hauts de Pontet Canet, Paulliac 13% ABV, $66

Most prominent on the nose are notes of dried basil and other aromatic dried herbs overlying ripe red cherry and red plum with dried pomegranate. There's an elusive note of anise there as well, but very subtle. The palate is well balanced, medium to light weight, with plenty of acidity. Cured tobacco, char-grilled meat, and subtle pencil shavings make-up the profile. The finish is brief and a bit tart with fine grained tannins that are subdued. Easy drinking with understated complexity.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Satisfaction: 2010 Bouchard Clos De La Mousse

2010 Bouchard Pere & Fils 1er Cru Beaune Clos De La Mousse Burgundy, France 13.5% ABV, $50

Deep, Earthy strawberry and spiced strawberry preserves form the anchor to this wonderfully layered nose. Immediately, and over time in the glass, solid details emerge: grilled meats dusted with a microscopic pinch of cocoa, Earthy mineral, warm dried herbs, dried rose petals and toasted hazelnuts. The palate is firm, medium weight and satisfying, showing charred Earth, dried strawberry, red cherry skins, dark mineral, clean tannins and a perfect amount of acidity. Finshes with good length and lingering notes of charred red cherry and flinty Earth. Solid from first pour to last sip; this with clearly age well. 93 Pts

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Dal Forno - Incredible

At the very top of the wine spectrum in Veneto is Dal Forno Romano, producing wines of the highest standard and quality. This quality comes at a price, but it's an experience that is hard to forget. Here are two examples I recently enjoyed.

Dal Forno Romano, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, 2009,  16.5% ABV, $300

Powerful finesse, is the overriding descriptor for this wonderful wine. The nose begins with dense, dark, sweet, fruit notes dried blackberry and warm strawberry with pie spice, sweet, dried, aromatic tobacco, and charred violet incense. The palate is delicious and complex with fruit that is concentrated but fresh, with flavors of blackberry, blueberry, and raspberry all present. These flavors are dense, but have a lean edge and good acidity, supported by fine grained grip and notes of 90% cacao chocolate. The palate has a weightless character that offsets the density beautifully. Everything is underscored by the grip and juicy acidity. The finish lingers for minutes. 98 Pts

Dal Forno Romano, Valpolicella Superiore  DOC, 2009, 14.5% ABV, $90

The details in the nose of this incredible wine just keep manifesting themselves over several minutes of examination. Those details include sweet dark tobacco, charred meat, ripe black fruit, blackberry liquor, perfumed ink, fresh aromatic herbs, sweet vanilla, and a suggestion of toasted coconut. The palate is fresh, energetic and delicious with lean blackberry and black currant, dried herbs, and tobacco. There's plenty of supporting acidity, excellent balance, and super-fine mouth-coating tannins. Made in the appassimento method, with grapes dried for 90 days, this "Valpolicella" behaves like a top Amarone. Aged 36 months in new barrique and 24 months in bottle. 97 Pts