Friday, May 1, 2015

Aia Vecchia - Quality and Value from Coastal Toscana


 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







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, April 24, 2015

Il Vino Dei Poeti 2010 Brunello


This 2010 Brunello was a pleasant highlight of my Benvenuto Brunello experience this year.
S.p.A. Bottega has a large portfolio of wines and spirits, with a significant presence in the grappa market, but this Brunello struck me as more artisinal in character. It is not currently imported to the US, but that situation is likely to change soon, given the quality found in this bottle.

2010 Bottega S.p.A. "Il Vino Dei Poeti" Brunello Di Montalcino 14.5% ABV 

Not Yet Imported to the US


This wine offers a complete experience from start to finish. The nose shows dark black cherry that is dense, tart, fresh, and pure, followed by warm Earth, orange rind and dried herbs. The palate has a lovely elegant weight and soft texture, with more clean dark cherry, mouthwatering acidity, savory herbs, and a very fine grained grip. There are no weak spots here, and the structure and balance bode well for a long life. 94Pts


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Producer Focus: Tenuta Brunelli

Luca Brunelli

 Luca Brunelli is steeped in Montalcino wine making experience, and that experience is evident in the wine he and his family produces. I recently enjoyed a conversation, and several of his wines, with him and got to learn the background of this fine Brunello label.


 

Luca chose to pursue farming at a relatively early age, after being inspired by AGIA, Italy's Association of Young Agricultural Entrepreneurs.
Eventually he became president of AGIA, and took the lead in supporting young agronomists across Italy. Recently, he literally outgrew that position, as he turned 40 years of age (he doesn't look it!), and is now president of CIA, a similar organization for technical and political support of small-scale agricultural concerns. 

As I spoke with him about this, and about his wine making, I recalled why I so enjoy interacting with wine makers; they have a love of the work first and foremost, and their desire for financial success is a necessary second concern. Truly, in view of the disasters that nature can sometimes dish out, you would have to love the work of wine making in order to persevere and succeed. In this world where integrity, and quality of character is becoming so scarce, it's refreshing to find heartfelt people, like Luca, who put quality first.

Family - Roots

Luca seems to have a connection to most of the producers in Montalcino, one way or another, which is natural considering his lifetime of involvement with the wine making industry in Montalcino. His first pursuits were in the development of new vineyards at various estates around Montalcino. In this work, he interacted with numerous Brunello producers. Listening to him describe it, I got a clear impression of the family like unity among many in the Montalcino agricultural community.
Gianni Brunelli is his uncle and is the namesake of the Gianni Brunelli winery, which produces excellent organic Brunello's. His parents, Mauro and Anna, are the owners of the Brunelli estate, which they founded, and then expanded in 1998. Today, Luca has taken a lead role in the winery, and is an ambassador of the label around the world.

The Farm
Located just south-west of the village of Montalcino, Tenuta Brunelli cultivates 5 hectares certified to Brunello production, and another 10 for Rosso, IGT, and oil production. The average elevation of the vineyards is 250 meters, with a general south-west facing disposition. These factors, combined with the efforts of the Brunelli wine making team, result in consistently excellent Brunello that is elegant and full of character.

Philosophy

Paolo Vaganini is the consulting oenologist for Brunelli, as he is for many of Montalcino's best producers, and he is highly regarded, even being called "Mr. Sangiovese" by some.Certainly, his influence is a big part of why Brunelli's wines are so solid.
Low yields that are well below the maximum permitted by the DOCG laws, help promote concentration of energy and character in these wines, albeit at the sacrifice of quantity. Luca said this sacrifice must occur in order to produce wines of high quality.
Brunelli has multiple vineyards, with varied dispositions, which help offset the impact of vintage variation. In hot vintages, the western facing slopes off-set the heat, in cooler vintages, the eastern facing slopes collect added heat to support ripening. In perfect vintages, there is an abundance of quality from all the vineyards.
Regarding vineyards, Luca explained, "When I have a little money, I try to purchase more land for vineyards, but it has become very difficult to find good vineyard land that is available"
I asked him if his wines were organic and he told me, "They are organic in practice, but not certified" and added, "I drink my wine", to emphasize his preference for grape growing that is free from unwanted chemicals.
He will not produce a Riserva Brunello unless the vintage is outstanding. One reason for this is to protect the quality of his normale bottling. Unless there is an abundance of perfect grapes to support both, he will only make the normale. In 2010, the Riserva production totaled only 1,400 bottles, in 2007 it was 2,100, both minuscule quantities. The normale is typically around 10,000-15,000 bottles.
In the cellar, a combination of large 80% Slovonian botti, and 20% French barrique, are used for the barrel aging, drawing from the qualities of each approach.

The net result of these elements is consistently solid Sangiovese character that is easy to appreciate. Elegance is a characteristic that comes through repeatedly, along with a style that balances old and new world style elements. Below are my notes on three examples.
Luca Brunelli's Lovely Bottles, Luca in the  Background



















2009 Tenuta Brunelli Brunello Di Montalcino 14% ABV $60 

The nose is dark and firm, with black cherry skins, mineral Earth, and serious floral notes on top and a suggestion of spearmint. The palate is finessed, with great strength underneath, showing elegant red cherry, and raspberry, with Asian spice, and fine texture. Notes of charred Earth accent the structure, which is complete and balanced, albeit a bit disjointed at this young age. The finish has good length and a fine grained grip. There is a depth to this wine that draws you in to focus your attention. No riserva was made in 2009, so all of the Brunello grape production went into this wine, and it shows. Luca told me that the challenge in 2009 was deciding when to harvest. According to Luca Brunelli,the heat in the summer was substantial, and carried through into September. Harvesting too early in September had to be avoided; he harvested late in the month. 91 Pts

2008 Tenuta Brunelli Brunello Di Montalcino 13% ABV $60

Clean and straightforward with red currant, raspberry, anise, dried herbs, and a sprinkle of fragrant incense. There's a pleasant lightness on the palate, elegant in style, with pomegranite, and lean red cherry, shale, and some brambles. It does fall off just a bit on the mid palate, but comes back nicely in the moderately long finish. Well balanced and finessed. 89 Pts

2007 Tenuta Brunelli Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 14% ABV $100

Lovely perfume, dried flowers, clean, red cherry flesh, and a bit of spiced strawberry make up the initial impression on the nose. Also present are notes of underbrush, and forest floor, lending a rustic undertone. The palate is elegant and light weight with lean red cherry, pomegranite, black tea, and dried herbs. Theres solid structure, despite the elegant style, with brisk acidity and firm tannins that are well balanced with the fruit profile. The finish is long, and aromatic. 91Pts

2011 Tenuta Brunelli Rosso di Montalcino 13% ABV $20

The finessed nose shows dried red cherry skins, sweet spice, flinty Earth, grilled meat, and some clay. The palate has a soft texture with subtle cardamom and nutmeg spice added to the firm red cherry, mineral Earth and mouthwatering acidity. Elegant and easy drinking with a judicious touch of grip and nice length on the finish. 89 Pts

Friday, March 20, 2015

Something New From Zenato - Alanera


Zenato has been making wines in the Veneto since 1960; you may be familiar with their lovely Amarone and Valpolicella. Today they produce two million bottles a year from 70 hectares of vineyard land. Very recently they have added a new wine to there portfolio that fills I nice niche in their red wine line-up, Alanera.
As you may know, Amarone is produced by the appassimento method, where all of the grapes for the wine are partially dried prior to being pressed. This results in great concentration, wonderful complexity, and special spectrum of characteristics.It also results in a premium price point, since the net result is much less juice then you would get if you did not dry the grapes first; it's a trade off.


With the Alanera, they have applied the appassimento process to just half of the grapes, drying them for 45-60 days. A further twist, that makes it special, is the addition of a small amount of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to the traditional Valpolicella grapes in the blend. Finally it is aged for 12 months in French oak, and then 3 months in bottle. The end result is an individual wine that brings a little from the world of Amarone, without bringing the price tag with it. Here is my tasting note from a sample I recently received from their US distributor, Winebow.

 

 

2012 Zenato "Alenara" Rosso Veronese IGT 13.5% ABV, $17

Rich, spiced, dark plum is prominent on the nose with a solid layer of shale and mineral Earth underneath. Also present are black pepper, olive, aromatic dried herbs,espresso notes, and black cherry liquor. The palate shows ripe blackberry with lean edges, dark chocolate, and nice acidity balancing things out.There is a definite "yummy" factor in the overall impression, but it has the structure to keep it from getting boring. The finish is long and dusty with a subtle grip and lingering notes of espresso and tobacco. 55% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 10% Corvinone, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. 90 Pts

Saturday, March 14, 2015

2009 Castello di Bossi "Berardo"

2009 Bacci Castello di Bossi "Berardo" Chianti Classico Riserva 14% ABV, $29


The nose is just plain beautiful on the Berardo. There's a delicate blend of sweet, dried strawberries, layered over black cherry skins, with dried flowers, sandalwood, a little sweet vanilla bean, and some forest floor leaves underneath.The black cherry forms a nice ripe core around which the other components gather. The palate is firm, but easy due to great balance, with dried black cherry, aromatic blackberry, a hint of sweetness, more sandalwood, and a little black pepper. There are elements of austerity and ripeness here that interplay to create alluring complexity. A joy to consume now, and certainly built to develop in the cellar.. 93 Pts

Castello di Bossi is located in Castenuovo Berardenga, in the southern part of the Chianti Classico zone, due east of Siena.
The Berardo is 100% Sangiovese, grown at 350m (1100 ft), with 20 days of maceratio, 24 months in barrique, and 12 additional months in bottle.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

1988 Monsanto "Nemo" Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon with a Purely Tuscan Heart


1988 Castello Di Monsanto  "Nemo" I.G.T. 13.5% ABV $40

Opened and immediately poured, the impression of maturity is distinct at first, with a little
funky Earth, mushroom, and sweet tobacco, but then the evolution begins. This developed wonderfully in the glass, over the course of two hours, with an elegant nose showing fine red cherry and red cherry dust, sweet brown tobacco, dusty ground herbs, cardomom, savory, and other spices. The palate is weightless, textured, and finessed with more dried cherry, aromatic sandalwood, hints of carmel, anise, and a fine grained chewiness on the finish. Perfectly balanced, and fully integrated, the acidity is lively and supportive with fine sweet tannins underneath. Later, the spice continues on the nose, with dried flowers immerging and some charred Earth, as it continues to impress. Apparently at it's peak, with plenty of detail and energy. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 95 Pts

Castello Di Monsanto is one of the top producers of Chianti Classico, and always a reliable source for quality. Their Nemo comes from the Il Mulino vineyard from vines that are nearly 40 years old (today). After 18 months in barrique, it spends another year in bottle before release.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

2012 San Guisto a Rentennano Chianti Classico


2012 San Guisto a Rentennano Chianti Classico 14% ABV $29


Open and demonstrative, the nose shows spiced dried red cherry, dried violets, a subtle savory undercurrent, mineral Earth, and a little cocoa powder. The palate is layered with aromatic dried cherry
that is fresh and subtly sweet, pretty Asian spice, anise, a solid dark cherry core, charred rare
beef on the mid-palate, a nice tart bite, and a big dusty grip. The moderately long finish is quite firm,
but leaves the palate clean at the end. Forthright and satisfying. 95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo. 91 Pts

San Guisto also makes Percarlo, an important 100% Sangiovses IGT wine. The estate is located in the southern part of the Chianti Classico zone, with vineyards at an average elevation of 270 meters. They are certified organic.