Sunday, December 29, 2013

Producer Focus: Il Palazzone Winery and Owner Richard Parsons

In conversations about better Brunello producers, it's usually not long before the name Il Palazzone comes around. This is a winery that produces consistently excellent Brunello Di Montalcino, and a wonderful non-vintage Rosso of great value.
So what is behind the consistency and quality for which  Il Palazzone has come to be known? To answer that question I've taken the opportunity, over the last few months, to get better acquainted with the wines and people behind the label. 

I'm happy to say that I developed my first impression of this winery well before I learned that it was owned by a major American businessman, Richard "Dick" Parsons. Therefore, I didn't have the opportunity to develop any presuppositions about it possibly being a casual hobby for one of the rich and famous (although I like to think that I still would not have done so). Still, there is some concern at Il Palazzone that some might dismiss the winery off-hand based on the owner's storied career. That would be a mistake.

The story of Il Palazzone is one of rebuilding, team work, family, and, most importantly, a passion for well made Brunello.

The winery is located just southwest of the village of Montalcino, in Tuscany, high on the slopes that fall away from this historic hilltop. Its elevation, more than 500 meters above sea level, places it among the highest of Brunello producers. The grapes are sourced from their three vineyards, one located at the winery, and two others near Castelnuovo dell'Abate, at approximately 200 meters elevation.

For this article, I interviewed three members of the Il Palazzone team, Richard "Dick" Parsons (owner), Laura Gray (she and her husband Marco run the winery), and Mandy Presser (Head of  U.S. sales, distribution and marketing). Speaking with each of them, certain consistent impressions kept coming through; they approach wine making, and the wine business, as a team process and everyone on that team views traditional quality as a top priority. The team is close and loves the work that they do. There seems to be a sort of balance in the way they run the enterprise, a balance between practicality and passion.

Apparently, when they first took over the estate, Dick and his team had some work to do in order to bring things up to the standard of quality found today in a bottle of Il Palazzone. It seems the vineyards had been overworked and needed a lot of attention to bring them into harmony with the philosophies of the new owner. It's clear, from conversations with the team, that the vineyards are today handled with tender loving care and are cultivated using practices that favor quality over quantity.

Overseeing the day-to-day operations, are Marco Sassetti and Laura Gray.
Laura jokes, "Marco and I have nothing in common, that’s why we make such a good couple. He doesn’t have e mail, and I don’t know where the keys to the tractor are." "He does the vineyard and cellar management, and I do people and paper."

Listening to Laura describe Marco, her husband and General Manager of the property, I get the impression that he is a denizen of the vineyard, constantly checking the status of things, verifying the tasks of the workers, and basically getting as complete an awareness of the vines as he can.
She says, “He’s a kind of wild man, forager, hunter/gatherer. Very much a man of his context” “It’s difficult to get him out of Montalcino for very long. That's what makes him such a key element here...this is his life."
Marco is a native of the Montalcino zone, born in San Angelo in Colle.
Mandy Presser said of him, "Marco is such a part of the fabric of Montalcino, whether he's trying to get the butterfly population to come back, or to get our new bottling machine up and running, he knows where to go and what to do to make it happen. It was his idea to use willow ties, instead of plastic, to be even more traditional, and more natural. He just wants to make the best wine that he can."

Laura is Scottish, a graduate of Oxford University, and a trained Sommelier. She has lived in Montalcino for 18 years. At Il Palazzone, she cares for the finances, world sales (outside the U.S.), marketing, and general administration.

Marco and Laura

Together, Laura and Marco are the day-to-day anchor of the winery, living there with their three children.

I asked Laura about the potential of people who might be turned-off when they hear that the winery is owned by an American business man, assuming that some non-traditional impact is being made by his influence. She did note that they sometimes play down the owner's history so as to side-step such prejudices. Of Richard she said, "There's no micromanaging from him. He has a galvanizing...great effect...makes you want to do this properly." Of Il Palazzone she says, "It's a real farm, with real people, making good decisions. People [who work there] come from many walks of life. It's a lovely world to be in."

Another key member to the team is veteran oenologist, Paolo Vagaggini. Sometimes called "Mister Sangiovese", he has 30 years of experience making Brunello, and other wines from Sangiovese, and consults for approximately one third of the producers in Montalcino. I asked Laura about his impact on the wine making there and the style. She said, "Here he gets a chance to flex his muscles a different way... he comes to us quite often" "But the reality of the consultant wine maker is, there has to be someone at the estate with a clear philosophy at the helm, and that is the case here. He takes into consideration the style and preferences of the winery."
In my conversation with Dick Parsons, he told me an interesting story that illustrated how Dick had the same stylistic bent as this renowned winemaker.

        "My winemaker is a guy named Paolo Vagaggini, who is probably right now, the best known of the  Brunello oenologists, and one of the best in Tuscany. He is as much a part of the team as anybody. He and I, essentially, make the wine each year. 
Paolo always says to me, '"You have a good palate.'"  This year we went to blend the wine from our three different vineyards...
We had 11 bottles to blend from... and we're trying to make the best blend. He's using all his scientific data, and all I had was my taste buds and nose. My best friend was with me, and I said, watch this. I took the first, the third, and the seventh bottle, and a mixed them up and said, "taste that". "Steve (Dick's friend) said, this is really good!"
So then Vagaggini came back from the computer room, with his blend, and I was joking with him, and I said, "I got it for you already", and he tasted it and said, "'that is this!"'
He picked the same three bottles, and he was pretty close on the percentages. "'How did you know?"', he asked.  And he showed me his paper, and except for the exact percentages, we had the same blend.
He and I are getting really close in that. And he's a really good man.

Laura says of Dick, "He's been quietly learning for 13 years off stage, he has clear ideas about what he wants from the estate." "He chooses the wine that he likes best, what works for him".

Winery Owner, Richard "Dick" Parsons

Richard Parsons purchased Il Palazzone in 2000. He is best known for his prominent role in American business having been Chairman and CEO of Time Warner, and Chairman of Citigroup. You may have seen his face on the cover of Newsweek, Black Enterprise, or another magazine. I asked him how he came to be a Brunello producer.
Dick Parsons at his office in Manhattan. Photo: Bob Fyke

Dick: I was not committed to Brunello at first. For my 50th birthday, I took my wife, myself, and some friends, on a tented safari in Africa...and you get up in the morning and watch the world come alive out there on the savannah. It is a fabulous thing. And one day I was sort of contemplating, this is cool, I'm really liking this. At that point in time I was fairly well off, because Time-Warner had done really well before the AOL merger. So I said to my wife, maybe I'll retire. She said, "You're 50 years old, you can't retire, I don't want to have this conversation with you for at least another ten years.
And secondly, when we do have the conversation, don't give me any nonsense about how maybe you'll teach or write...because what would you do the next week? You work. You need to find something that will absorb your time and attention and pull you away from work and that you can establish an interest in. So that when you stop working you can move into it."

I thought it was good advice. It would be fun to own a vineyard. I had brought all these wines with us on the safari from my collection, we drank very well.
So, the next year, we went to Florence...and we set-up base camp there, the same group of people that were on the safari. The women all went shopping, all day, every day....I had this guy, Silvio, who would pick them up every morning and drop them off at night."Incredible" was all he ever said.
Dick, Mandy, and Central Park. Photo: Bob Fyke
So the guys, we started up north of Lucca, and we drove down through Chianti, looking for vineyards and fields, and we ended up in Montalcino, and we had a great Brunello, and I looked around and said, this is the place.And that's how I ended up in Montalcino. And then I spent the next year looking for a vineyard in Montalcino.
Me: And Il Palazzone happened to be available?
Dick:Yes.There's a big dollop of luck in everything. That was good luck.

You can read much more about Dick, and how he came to be a wine maker, in my full interview with him.

Distribution and Sales

Mandy Presser, director of sales in The United States, was kind enough to shed some insight on the business end of things. I asked her about production levels.
Mandy: The 2006 normale Brunello is only 8300 bottles, and the Riserva was just 100 cases. So, we're not trying to take over the world." "The Rosso production for the 2013 blend is around 13,000 bottles."
Me: Do you do "cellar releases" of later vintages.
Mandy: Sort of. We don't specifically hold back vintages for later sales, but if inventory remains, when the next vintage comes out, then we focus on selling the new vintages and the remainder stays in the cellar for a while.
Me: What might I, as a consumer, be able to find?
Mandy: The oldest that is out there right now is the 2001 Riserva, there are a handful of the 1995's.
Me: Here's a corny question, what would you say is the "heart" of Il Palazzone.
Mandy: Well, I'm going to give you a corny answer. The personalities...Dick, Laura, and Marco are great.
Really the heart of it is the great passion that they have for the work's not just a's like every bottle is a child going out to the world. We love to hear stories of people enjoying the wine as part of a special evening.

 The Environment
Laura says, "When people ask, "Are you organic?", I joke about the proximity of our children to the vineyard, playing on their swing set, a few meters away." Il Palazzone is not certified, organic, which is a rigorous process that may be more trouble than it's worth for some producers.
The kids at play amongst the Sangiovese
"We seek a symbiotic, sensitive relationship with the environment. We're not certified organic, but we are extremely careful, giving consideration to things like packaging, and bottle weight so as to minimize our carbon footprint. Whatever we do is subject to revaluation; we're constantly striving to make good decisions." They have even gone to the extent of using willow ties to secure the vines, a practice that was used in ages past.These simply fall to the ground and biodegrade when their useful life is over.Il Palazzone is a member of One Percent for the Planet, a non-profit whose members have committed to donate one percent of their gross sales to planet friendly organizations. You can read more about that in my post from May 2013.

Wine Making Modernization

Marco oversaw the construction of their new cellar, a beautiful structure that fits perfectly with its old world surroundings, but has modern wine making capabilities, and environmental considerations. It was designed to be as "green" as possible, and to support Il Palazzone's policy of sustainable agriculture. You can read much more about this in Mandy Presser's post on their blog.
In addition to building a new cellar, the winery has added eight new wood fermenting vats. These too represent a traditional approach to wine making while utilizing the modern tools that are available. Fermentation in wood is a significant refinement over the former stainless steel.
One of Eight New Fermenting Vats
 The temperature in the vats is individually controlled by a computerized system, but fermentation is natural, using yeasts indiginous to the grapes.

Another big improvement is the new bottling machine, which has quickened and improved that process. Its first assignment, was the bottling of the latest Rosso Del Palazzone, in June of this year. Next, the 2009 Brunello bottling, all 9,304 bottles, was completed in one single (long) day. This resulted in more time for other important tasks.
Clearly, there is no skimping here when it comes to creating a facility that enables them to make the best wine that they can. This bodes well for future releases, which should logically improve the, already excellent, level of quality.

The Rosso Del Palazzone
Most Brunello producers make a Rosso Di Montalcino, DOC, as a second wine to their Brunello. Il Palazzone does not produce a Rosso Di Montalcino, rather, they produce their "Rosso Del Palazzone", which is composed of 100% Sangiovese Grosso, but does not officially conform to the DOC protocol for a Rosso Di Montalcino.
Because their Brunello is made from a blend of three different vineyards, and the selection is critical, at the blending of each vintage a certain amount of wine from a particular vintage / vineyard may not be included. The "left over" wine is blended (multiple vintages) to make the Rosso Del Palazzone. The result is an excellent wine that outshines a fair number of Brunellos, and this at a great price.

Laura says, "I'm very proud of the Rosso [It was her idea]. I thought if we make a wine that was unique, and had its own story, it would be easier to market.
It's always terrifically popular and we always run out quickly. Stories sell wine...the Rosso is a great story since it is the remaining "Brunello" that we chose not to use in the final blend. The most recent (2013 release) is a blend of 2011 and 2012, both top vintages."
In my conversation with Mandy Presser, she explained that the Rosso is a great candidate for "by-the-glass" pours in restaurants and is frequently used as such.
I asked her if people are turned off by the "NV" (non-vintage) designation. She said, "Actually, I think it sometimes helps sell the wine. It starts a conversation about why it's non-vintage, and then they hear the story of how it's made."
About 13,000 bottles of the NV Rosso were produced this year. Until recently they were only distributed in New York, where they sold out quickly. Now the Rosso can be found in Florida, Las Vegas, and California.

The Vineyards
Il Palazzone's Due Porte Vineyard

Il Palazzone grows grapes in three vineyards, two are located in the vicinity of Castelnuovo delle'Abate, about 15 minutes from the winery, at approximately 200 meters elevation. These are noted for producing juice with mineral and saline character, due to the presence of  marine fossils, magnesium, and manganese in the soils. The vines in these vineyards are over 30 years old. The remaining vineyard, "Due Porte", is located close to the winery at 530 meters elevation, and is known for producing highly aromatic wines due to the altitude, the temperature swing between night and day, and the influence of the nearby woodlands. These contrasting vineyard characteristics work well to add complexity in the final Brunello blend.

There is much good taking place at this lovely winery that is rich with Montalcinese tradition, and international team passion. While the current and recent releases are very nice, the wines can only get better thanks to the constant improvement and development taking place. Does ownership by a big-time American business man serve as a negative influence? Absolutely not! On the contrary, Dick Parsons has given Il Palazzone new vitality by pulling together a wonderful team, supporting them with the resources needed, and by inputting his own preferences, to make great wines.

My Tasting Notes on Il Palazzone Wines

2004 Il Palazzone Brunello Di Montalcino

2005 Lorenzo & Isabelle IGT

2005 Il Palazzone Brunello Di Montalcino

2007 Il Palazzone Brunello Di Montalcino

Rosso del Palazzone NV (the 2012 release)

More Information
Il Palazzone has an excellent and informative website that not only gives insight to their winery and vineyards, but also to Brunello Di Montalcino in general. Don't miss Laura's blog that provides current news about the vineyard, harvest, winery, and more. Along with Laura's posts, Mandy Presser, the VP of North American Sales, frequently contributes as well.

*At press time, Mandy Presser has moved on to a new position in Australia; Laura says, "We all miss her very much, but her replacement (Jenny Cuddihy) is great!"

Monday, December 23, 2013

2001 Camigliano Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino


2001 Camigliano "Gualto" Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 13.5% ABV, $80

This starts off with a big, masculine nose of dark blackberry fruit that is ripe, but firm and chiseled as well. Added to that is aromatic cedar, some dried flowers, a bit of raisin, and other dried fruits. The palate is solid as well, with firm black cherry, more cedar, and lovely tobacco on the trailing edge. There are pleasant angles to the palate, continuing the masculine character. The finish is long and firm with charred earth, dried black cherry skins and more tobacco. Substantial, and serious, with plenty left in all components to last. 92Pts
Camigliano is located in the south west corner of the Montalcino zone, at a general elevation of approximately 200 meters. Often fruit from lower elevations, such as this, lacks complexity and longevity, but that's not the case here. The "Gualto" has excellent stature and plenty of character; an exception to the rule.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sangiovese Value List #1 - Under $20

Guest Post on "The Reverse Wine Snob" Blog

Morellino Di Scansano is One of Several Excellent Sourcesof Sangiovese Values

 At the invitation of my buddy, Jon Thorsen (The Reverse Wine Snob), I wrote a post on his blog about Sangiovese wine values. In it I talk about some of the regions where they may be found and I list some recently tasted wines that offer excellent quality for the money. Best of all they're all under $20. So click the link and check out my post, and maybe poke around to see what other values Jon might turn you on to. Happy Hunting!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

1999 Cerbaiona Brunello Di Montalcino

1999 Cerbaiona Brunello Di Montalcino 14% ABV, $150

 The nose is a beautiful amalgam of details that presents as one complex impression, later flashing fine components over time in the glass. There is solid (and still youthful) black cherry and black cherry skins, laced with Asian spice and a core of mushroom all forming the foundation, with a layer of dark incense and plenty of dried herbs on top. The palate starts off with a soft texture and then turns to a medium chewiness with solid black fruit coming through again with embellishments of spice and Earth notes. The structure is excellent, with the acidity and tannins well integrated, providing plenty of support, but not standing out individually. There's a oneness about the many parts that make the single personality of this wine. Without a doubt, there are plenty of years left here. Probably not yet approaching its peak. 95 Pts

Cerbaiona comes from Diego Molanari, one of the true traditionalists in Montalcino. The winery is located in the immediate vacinity of the village of Montalcino, at approximately 350 meters elevation. The production is quite low, with the total vineyard being just 3 ha in size. A rare pleasure.

Monday, December 2, 2013

La Fiorita Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 2006

2006 La Fiorita Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino ABV 14% $90

Decanted for 1 hour. Wonderfully spiced red and black cherry fruit with strawberry notes as well. Notes of fennel, nutmeg, and other dried herbs overlay the fruit, along with dried flowers and dusty aromatic wood.
The palate is pleasantly chewy, with a fine granularity. More sweet spice and dark cherry extract with strawberry preserves and some plum. Quite dense all around, with a pretty layer as well. The structure features juicy acidty and moderate tannins, both playing an important balancing role to the rest of the characteristics. The finish is long and interesting with spice cake and mineral notes.

This riserva walks the line between modern and traditional very well. There is plenty here for everyone: fruit, texture, structure, and satisfaction. 91 Pts.


Interestingly, this wine spends time in both new French oak and traditional Slavonian botti, which apparently helps with it's split personality. Also contributing to the traditional side is the altitude of the vineyard from which these grapes are sourced, 320 meters. La Fiorita is located in the Castelnuovo dell'Abate subzone of the Montalcino DOCG, an area rich in fine Brunello producers.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

San Polo: Brunello Di Montalcino 2008 and Rubio 2010

Here are two wines from Allegrini's Montalcino winery, Poggio San Polo.

2008 San Polo Brunello Di Montalcino 13.5% ABV, $55


The nose is both elegant and deep in character, with spiced cherry fruit that is full, but not overly ripe. Underbrush notes support the aspects of the nose. Also present are hints of snuffed-out candle and subtle spearmint, both adding pleasantly to the complexity.
The palate is medium weight and full flavored showing solid red cherry fruit with cherry liquor undertones and sweet Asian spice. Good acidity supports, but doesn't overshadow the personality of the palate. Easy tannins follow, with a bit of cinnamon, and dried cherry skins on the finish. Plush, and pleasant. 89 Pts

2010 San Polo "Rubio" IGT 13.5% ABV, $13


Composed primarily of Sangiovese from the Montalcino zone (the producer does not specify what other grapes may be included) the Rubio is a straightforward and solid IGT wine, aimed at the burgers and pasta niche. The nose starts of with cherry liquor notes, prominent underbrush and dried herbs on top. Subtle spice notes, perhaps anise and / or nutmeg, peek through as well..The palate is mid-weight and fairly bold with plenty of good acidity, balanced by firm tannins and dried red cherry fruit. It finishes with some earthiness, charcoal, good grip, and moderate length. 88Pts

You can read my post about other Allegrini wines here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Allegrini Celebrates at The Guggenheim

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the James Turrell exhibit at The Guggenheim Museum in New York, Allegrini celebrated 30 years of their single vineyard wines, La Grola and La Poja. The evening was colorful and exciting, highlighted by the pouring of 2010 La Grola and 2007 La Poja, and by Maralisa Allegrini's address to the gathering. (Click here to learn more about James Turrell on

Milo Manara's Art for the 2011 La Grola Label
Allegrini is best known for its wines produced in the Veneto, in north eastern Italy. The Amarone is consistently well ranked among critics, and the Palazzo Della Torre is very popular and widely available. The two featured wines of the night are also products of that region. La Grola is a blend of Corvina Veronese, Oseleta, and Syrah from the Valpolicella zone. La Poja is 100% Corvina Veronese, a traditional grape of the region.

The realm of Allegrini extends well beyond the Veneto, with five wines from the Montalcino zone, including a Brunello called "San Polo". Also, from Bolgheri, in the west of Tuscany, they bring five IGT wines, under the Poggio Al Tesoro label. Accept for the Vermentino, these are composed primarily of Bordeaux varietals.

Finally, they have the Corte Giara label which is geared, for the most part, toward bringing everyday wines to the market, with options ranging from Amarone to Merlot to Pinot Grigio, eleven wines in all.

For this evening, the focus was on the two single vineyard Veronese wines, and the special commemorative art for the 2011 La Grola label, created by Italian illustrator Milo Manara.

This label was designed around the legend of the La Grola vineyard, which was shared with the gathering by Maralisa, and is recounted below.

Classic Turrell Lighting Above the Event

Not to be overlooked was the wonderful setting of the Guggenheim, and Turrell.

Two Works of Art
  The most stunning part of the Turrell exhibit, by far, was the Guggenheim rotunda ceiling filled with colored light of varying intensity. The effect bathed the room, and guests below, in shades of violet, blue, turquoise, red, grey, and more.

The Anniversary Label Bathed in Turrell's Light
The light subtly transitioned from one color to the next creating a supernatural ambiance. Below are few photos from the evening, and my tasting notes from this very enjoyable event.

Maralisa Allegrini Addresses the Gathering

 Recounting the Legend of "La Grola", The Crow

 The Legend of La Grola




Allegrini La Grola 2010. 13.8% ABV  $30

Tar and floral notes start the impression on the nose with a pleasant bitterness. The fruit here is raspberry and blackberry with a bit of milk chocolate.
The mid-weight palate has a nice chewy texture, with mineral, grippy strawberry fruit and nice length.
Firm and textured with an excellent composite of fruit and structure that produces a satisfying completeness. 91 Pts
80% Corvina / 10% Oseleta / 10% Syrah
16 Months in barrique, then 2 additional months after blending, followed by 10 months in bottle before release.


The 2007 La Poja and Turrell's Guggenheim Ceiling



 Allegrini La Poja 2007

The nose is complex and yummy showing dark plum and black cherry with espresso, nutmeg,
toasted almond / coconut cookie and tobacco.
The palate has nice dried black cherry and blackberry tart flavor, along with a little cherry liquor note and solid structure that works well at balancing out the yumminess factor with a fine grained grip.The finish is long and firm, with  nice minerality and sweet tobacco. 90 Pts
100% Corvina Veronese from a single vineyard, "La Poja" $87

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Siro Pacenti "Pelagrilli" 2007 Brunello Di Montalcino

Siro Pacenti Pelagrilli, Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

 14.5% ABV

Forward dark fruit character on the nose, with pure black cherry and a little bit of funk.
On the palate, the black cherry continues, with more of a roasted nature to it. There is a nice earthiness, underlining on the palate, and a bit of minerality.
The finish shows light tannins and some warmth. 89Pts $40

Siro Pacenti actually consists of two farms, Pelagrilli, located northeast of Montalcino, the other Piancornello, just south of Sant' Angelo in Colle. Most of the vines are 20 to 30 years old.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

2005 La Velona Brunello Di Montalcino

This Brunello is at that nice price point where we sometimes find solid quality equal to others costing twice as much. Sometimes you get what you pay for, others times you get more. This is an example of the latter.
The '05 La Velona really delivers and is readily available across the U.S. Interestingly, it is yet another quality wine from the area of Castelnuovo dell'Abate, a section of the DOCG zone that has an abundance solid producers, and frequently yields wines that hit my sweet spot.

2005 La Velona Brunello Di Montalcino 14% ABV, $39

Sweet perfume at first on the nose over brambles and rich black cherry fruit. There are also notes of charred aromatic wood and some warm spice that developed with time. The palate shows abundant lean black cherry with excellent structure that really stands out. Also on the palate is flinty Earth, anise, and nice aromatic action. The tannins are fine grained and significant as they shape the somewhat smokey finish. This is a forward wine with nice sharp edges. 90Pts

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Teroldego - A Big and Beautiful Italian Red

Vineyards in the Valle dell'Adige, Trentino Italy

The Trentino-Alto Adige Region of Italy

I recently attended a tasting event for the wines of Trentino, a province and wine making region located in the far north-east of Italy. While the area is known for producing outstanding white wines, and I tasted several, the highlight for me were the Teroldego wines. That is to say, the red wines made with the Teroldego grape. I hadn't experienced many of these before, or hadn't paid attention, but on this occasion I was impressed with the class and stature that they showed. As one who loves solid Italian reds, Brunello, Barolo, Amarone, etc. Teroldego was a natural addition to my shopping list. The examples I tasted showed chiseled power, with finessed nuances, distinct character, and good levels of complexity.
The Grape
The Teroldego grape is cultivated in Trentino-Alto Adige, and pretty much nowhere else. Typically it has solid, dark fruit, good acidity, and a bit of chewiness, along with plenty of strength and structure underneath.
Below are a few examples, tasted at the Trentino event, and elsewhere.
Paolo Endrici with his Gran Masetto

Endrizzi Gran Masetto 2009  IGT Vigneti delle Dolomiti
(15% ABV)
The Gran Masetto is fairly unique in its production method. As Paolo Endrici explained, 50% of the juice comes from a select vineyard, Masetto, where a careful green harvest, and thinning of the leaves takes place several times during the summer to ensure even ripeness. The Masseto grapes are harvested late and then dried for three months until a third of the water has been removed, then they are crushed. The other 50% comes from the communes of Mezzolombardo and Mezzocorona, with the grapes being harvested, and vinified, more typically. The two are combined to make one of the more unusual and impressive versions of Teroldego. My thanks to Paolo who shared his wine, and knowledge generously.

Tasting note: On the nose there is excellent complexity with earthy black cherry and spiced strawberry jam, aromatic wood and leather notes accent the fruit, along with a subtle perfume. The first thing I noticed on the palate was the texture, a fine chewy-ness. This is combined with more spiced strawberry, some dark cherry and brambles. The jamminess is beautifully balanced by good acidity, really making this both serious and easy to drink. The finish shows a nice balance of components, with easy tannins and good length. Robust and complex, it leaves you wanting more. A personal favorite. 92 Pts

Nusserhof "T......." (Teroldego)  Vino Rosso, L10 (2010) Erzeugerabfullung (Estate Bottled), Heinrich Mayr  13% ABV

This one is certainly its own wine; quite unusual in many respects. To start, the label does not state that this is Teroldego, but rather uses the description "T........". One source suggests that this is perhaps intended to avoid Teroldego Rotaliano DOC rules, although the grapes aren't grown whithin the DOC zone, so I'm not so sure about that theory . Teroldego is a very small portion of the grape crop at Nusserhof; they produce much more Lagrein and Blatterle, other native grapes of Trentino.The winery is certified organic. The 2010 starts off on the nose with finessed aromatic blackberry and violet notes. Underneath there is good earthy support. The palate is where the real distinction takes place for this wine, as it presents a very savory character showing beef broth, tangy black pepper, olives, and very subtle black cherry / cranberry fruit. The finish shows good structure with subtle tannins and acidity, and dried herbs trailing off. 86Pts  $30.

 Roeno Teroldego Vallagarina "I Dossi " 2010, 12% ABV, $15

Perfumed black fruit notes are the first impression on the nose, with black cherry skins and dusty violets. At the core there is a subtle earthy richness and a bit of funky earth. Fresh and dark at the same time. The palate shows lean blackberry fruit, charcoal, and shale, with a fine grained texture. The acidity is understated, but present, and the tannins are subtle and easy. With time, a faint suggestion of dark chocolate comes out.

It’s interesting how this wine presents as being firm overall, without the structural components standing out. I think it’s the overall dark character of the fruit that drives this, and is key to the satisfaction. I Dossi is the single vineyard from which this wine is sourced.
NEXT DAY... This wine really passed the “Overnight Test” with flying colors. After  24 hours, in an open bottle, the last glass continued to show nice aromatic fruit, along with a little more chocolate. Still complex, and fresh. Impressive. 90 Pts

Cantina Rotaliana Manuella Giovanni, Teroldego Rotaliano Clesurae, 2009 14% ABV, $30
Elegant perfumed nose with roasted black cherry, subtle floral notes, and flinty earth. The palate is dense and well structured with violets, black cherry, black berry liquor, and a bit of 75% cacao dark chocolate. Elegant with a powerful foundation. From 50 year old vines, aged in french oak for 24 months. 88 Pts.

You can learn more about the Trentino region and its wines at the Visit Trentino Web Site.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Il Palazzone "Lorenzo & Isabelle" IGT 2005

This wine was produced specifically to honor the parents of winery owner Richard Parson's. "Dick" has been the owner of Il Palazzone since 2000. The back label of the bottle describes the wine, and his parents, very nicely.
"Lorenzo was powerful yet elegant; Isabelle was heart and soul. As a couple, they brought out the best in each other."
I can say, without hesitation, that the wine reflects exactly such complementary characteristics.You won't find this wine just anywhere, but it can be found, with just a little effort, and it's well worth it.

 Il Palazzone "Lorenzo and Isabelle" IGT, 2005. 
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.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ciacci Piccolomini 2006 Brunello Di Montalcino

The Ciacci Piccolomini winery is located near Castelnuovo Dell'Abate, about 15 minutes south of Montalcino. As I recall from a visit a few years ago, the winery is lovely, and in a beautiful setting amongst low hills, just below Castelnuovo Dell'Abate. The vineyards are at an elevation of approximately 300 meters.The Pianrosso vineyard is the source for their single vineyard and Riserva releases. The "Annata", their normale Brunello, ages for 24 months in large Slavonian oak casks, and then for at least 4 months in bottle. The soil is typical for the Castenuovo dell'Abate area of the zone, primarily marl, which is a significant factor in the fine acidity in this wine.

2006 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello Di Montalcino "Annata", 14.5% ABV , $50.00
Great aromatics of  charred earth and wood, with dark spice notes, clean red cherry, and a suggestion of roses. There is also a subtle richness in the nose. The aromatic behavior continues on the palate, with solid balance. Lean blackberry and black cherry fruit are supported by vibrant acidity and an active structure. Later on the palate, notes of sweet tobacco, cherry liquor and more spice linger on the fairly long finish. This wine is pleasantly angular, with charred Earth underscoring everything. A nice combination of strength and finesse. 90 Pts

Monday, July 8, 2013

2005 Il Palazzone Brunello Di Montalcino

Here's a bit of advice; buy wine from very good producers in less-than-great vintages. Why? Because the reputation of the vintage either impacts the price (lower) or reduces demand (increasing availability). This is to the consumer's advantage, because the quality of a solid producer prevails despite the challenging vintage. Here is a case in point. Il Palazzone, along with a number of other top wineries in Montalcino, makes solid Brunello in just about any circumstance. 2005 was a vintage that saw rain at harvest time, and has been described as a less than stellar year. Yet, in tasting their '05, you probably wouldn't suspect there were any major difficulties; at least that was my impression. Is it 2004? No. But it is still thoroughly satisfying, and of excellent standing.

2005 Il Palazzone Brunello Di Montalcino, 13.5% ABV
The nose has notable perfume and floral notes hovering over spiced cherry fruit. There's a subtle core of richness to the fruit. The palate is medium weight with a wonderfully textured dark red cherry that coats the mouth with finessed flavor. Again, Asian spice enhances the fruit, along with good aromatic action. The structure is subtle, but quite sufficient. Later, the fruit tends more toward aromatic blackberry. The finish is long and satisfying, with sweet tobacco and easy tannins. The amplitude is low, but the quality is high. 91 Pts

Monday, July 1, 2013

Santa Giulia Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

Here's one that you won't find state-side, at the moment, but it would certainly be worth bringing in. Azienda Agricola Santa Giulia is located in the northeast corner of the Montalcino zone, near Torrenieri. The vineyards are at 300 meters elevation and it is aged, traditionally, in large Slovonian oak botti.  The Torrenieri area is sometimes controversial because of the predominance of clay and the challenges that the soil presents, but the facts speak for themselves in this wine. As always, the proof is in the glass, and here is what I found there.

Santa Giulia Brunello Di Montalcino 2007, 14% ABV
Opened, poured, and enjoyed over a long dinner with two other Brunellos and four good friends. Pretty red cherry, leather, and finesse are the initial messages conveyed by the nose as it opened slowly and developed its full character. With a little time in the glass, earthy notes filled in underneath, accompanied by brambles and some Asian spice.The palate is on the elegant side with lean red cherry, more pronounced, and pleasant spice, followed by some astringency, meaty notes, and anise. The acidity is in good balance with the fine grained tannins. It finishes with a good, satisfying grip, and a bit more of the brambles coming through as well. Just 8000 bottles produced. 89 Pts.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

San Giorgio "Ugolforte" Brunello Di Montalcino 2005

Here is a moderately priced Brunello that starts off reserved, but opens into a lovely wine.

Opened about 45 minutes in advance, and not decanted, the '05 Ugolforte played it cards close to the vest initially, and required a good 20 minutes in the glass for it to come around and open up. I would recommend an hour in the decanter before pouring. San Giorgio ages this for 12 months in a mix of 50% new, and 50% one year old, French oak barriques. Next, it spends 24 months in large, traditional, Slovonian oak botti.

Who is Ugolforte, you may ask? The story goes that he was a good hearted bandit, like Robin Hood, who sought to free the people of Montalcino from Siena. Here is a wine too, that has a good heart.

San Giorgio "Ugolforte" Brunello Di Montalcino, 2005 13.5% ABV
Montalcino Zone: Castelnuova dell'Abate
Initially, quite reticent on the nose, showing faint notes of fresh red cherries and leather. With time in the glass, the nose revealed lovely spiced red cherry, saddle leather, and earth. The palate is clean and firm, with a light weight in the mouth. There are dried red cherry skins, aromatic leather and flinty earth notes on the palate. The acidity is a fairly crisp, and the tannins moderate. The finish is brief, but pleasant, providing nice grip. The Ugolforte gives a general impression of finesse and elegance, with some strength beneath. It really showed its best toward the end of the bottle, after plenty of time to open up. 88 Pts

Monday, June 3, 2013

Soldera Case Basse 2001 Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino, 13% ABV

Opened, decanted, and poured, this note is based on an hour or so of time opening up with a beautiful NY Strip Steak.

 Early on, the nose shows musky / earthy aromas, along with sweet spice and sandalwood, over a base of pomegranate and dried strawberries. On the palate, there's a delicate sweetness and fine red cherry on the tip of the tongue that combines with the sweet acidity and firm tannins to create a very pleasant texture and mouth watering impact. This Brunello has that textural, spiced, earthy cherry character on the palate that I see in many of my favorites. The balance is perfect, with plenty of finesse, although it needs a lot of time to integrate and settle into the Soldera it will ultimately become. Later, notes of anise, faint smoke, vague spearmint, and more sandalwood grew on the nose and palate. The finish was long and pleasant with good grip. It's excellent now, but has so many components that should come together beautifully as it matures. 95Pts Tasted 5-25-13.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grapes of Philanthropy - 1% For The Planet

The thing at the core, that draws me to wine, is its human-ness, if that's even a word. What I mean is, the way that wine influences people, places, and events. For example, almost every time I speak with a winemaker, about their wine, I hear words about quality, tradition, purity, and expression of place. I also see joy, and sincerity in the people speaking. Yes, it's a business, but for most winemakers, I believe, the business aspect is just a means by which these people can pursue what they love, a channel for being the person they want to be, a person giving something with soul to the world.

This belief of mine was reinforced one recent evening, at the Time Warner Center in New York, where I attended an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of 1% for the Planet, an organization that is successfully bringing businesses together with non-profit organizations in order to preserve and protect our planet and support communities. To date they have facilitated more than 100 million dollars of funding toward 3356 non-profits that are helping a wide variety of causes, ranging from Air Quality, to Sustainable Farming, to Wildlife Protection.

There are many intelligent aspects to the way 1% FTP accomplishes its goals; two especially stand out for me. First, is the way that the money gets to the non-profits. 1% FTP is not the middle-man; rather, the business makes its contributions directly to the organization that they wish to support, provides documentation of that financial support to 1% FTP, who then certifies them as actually having contributed one percent of their revenue toward one of the causes. Second, is the fact that 1% For The Planet does the investigation of the non-profits first, providing a long list to choose from, so companies can easily find an organization that matches their charitable goals. There are currently more than 1200 member companies, from six continents, engaged in this process. The results have been outstanding.
The theme for the evening, "Grapes of Philanthropy", was perfect since the featured speakers, both members of 1% FTP, are from the world of fine wine: Dick Parsons, owner of Il Palazzone, an outstanding winery in Tuscany, and Charles and Ali Banks, founders of Cultivate Wines.

Dick Parsons, Il Palazzone Winery, Tuscany

Il Palazzone chose Pesticide Action Network from the list of non-profits because they have seen firsthand how pesticide use can impact the Earth, and diminish sustainability. There are no chemical pesticides used in the vineyards at Il Palazzone, and a variety of environmentally conscientious techniques are practiced in the vineyards, winery, and shipping to ensure minimal impact.
In his comments, Mr. Parsons provided some insight into his reasons for being affiliated with 1% FTP. He stated the fundamental fact that, "You can't just keep taking and taking from the have to give back." He also noted that when you understand that sustainability keeps productivity alive then, "You establish that it's in your business interest to save the planet."
Il Palazzone produces one of the top Brunello Di Montalcino and under Dick’s leadership, is making key improvements each year to bring the quality to an even higher level. In speaking with him, I got a clear impression that he loves the business he entered in 2000, and puts quality as a top priority. He presents an easy going manner, and gives little indication of his noteworthy past, as CEO of Time Warner, and Chairman of Citigroup. I am currently working on an in depth look at Il Palazzone, and will publish that in the coming months.

Ali and Charles Banks, Cultivate Wines
Ali and Charles Banks are the founders of Cultivate Wines, a business they created with the core goal of giving back 10% to community. This came out of a moment of reflection about what they wanted more of in their lives, which, as it turns out, is what we all want more of: love, happiness, friendship, and celebration with friends. The word "Cultivate" in the name is short for Cultivate Change, which is what they are doing. In one year's time they contributed $459,000 to 45 communities, supporting education and basic human needs. Membership in 1% For The Planet was a natural for for them. I strongly encourage you to go to their site and watch the videos that well illustrate the wonderful impact of their efforts.

Oh yeah, they make wine too. What you will find in their line-up, are wines that come from around the world and provide strong value and quality. A key criteria, in the types of wines they sell at Cultivate, springs from their experience as the former owners of Screaming Eagle, perhaps the ultimate cult Napa Cab. In their comments at the event, Ali and Charles both described how it was both gratifying and disappointing to see a bottle of "Screagle" go for thousands of dollars at a charity auction. Yes, they were happy to see the money go to worthy causes, but were saddened that more people couldn't participate in the giving on that occasion. They also lamented that more people couldn't enjoy their wine, because it was so expensive. Those feelings, along with their desire to cultivate the important things in their lives, and the lives of others, inspired them to start Cultivate Wines and to partner with 1% For The Planet. Their wines are priced in such a way that anyone can enjoy them, and it doesn't have to be a state dinner to open and enjoy a bottle with friends. In addition, every person who purchases their wine is giving back to worthwhile causes.
Left to right: Tina Peterson. Charles and Ali Banks, Dick Parsons, Terry Kellogg Photo: Bob Fyke,

Terry Kellogg , CEO of 1% FTP
Wrapping up the evening, with a few poignant words, was Terry Kellogg, CEO of 1% For The Planet. 

Making a fitting analogy, he recounted the story behind the American Civil War song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Its author, Julia Ward Howe, wrote stirring, and motivational words, that she hoped would move people to action, but she did not write the music. Instead, she wisely set the lyrics to a tune that was very popular at the time, thereby taking advantage of an existing energy, in order to drive interest in, and adoption of, her words.With this method, she hoped to move people to action.

The same philosophy is at work in 1% FTP; the important message of protecting, and giving back to the Earth is being carried by the energy of successful businesses who are contributing their momentum to the causes identified by 1%.. 

Terry reiterated the point, "If you keep on taking, and taking, and taking from the land, eventually, the land will give out.". 1%, and its partners, are working hard to reverse that trend.

I found the evening to be eye opening, and moving. The atmosphere amongst those in the room there at The Time Warner Center was one of great synergy and motivation. A clear message was conveyed; good business requires good Earth citizenship.1% For The Planet is busy facilitating that practice.

Wines Poured

Fittingly, there were two wines poured during the event, from two member companies, the 2009 Cultivate Dream Walking Chardonnay. I didn't get to spend much time with the Dream Walking Chard, so I don't have detailed notes, but I do recall it being clean, and crisp, with good minerality.

The second wine was the 2007 Il Palazzone Brunello Di Montalcino. The nose is focused and solid, with Asian spice, wood and leather notes, dark strawberry and black cherry.  The spice carries through to the palate, which is still young and firm,with lean dark fruit, charred brambles, good balance and plenty of firm tannins on the finish. There is nice length here with incense and charred wood carrying on. More complexity developed over time in the two glasses that I enjoyed, which is always a good sign. It's a bit clunky at this time, but has all the components in good quantity to meld together with a little age. This is serious Brunello. 93 Pts