Sunday, December 27, 2015

Franciacorta - Fine Traditional Bubbles From Northern Italy

What is more appropriate than a dry sparkling wine, made in the methode champenoise, to start a
festive event? Certainly the pop of the cork and the tickle of the bubbles adds to the importance of these occasions. Even better, is when the wines are of top quality, as is the case of those from Franciacorta DOCG. Produced in the Iseo Lake region, of southern Lombardy, these wines provide an excellent option for special occasions. While other enjoyable sparkling wines can be found in Italy, few reach the quality level that is the standard of Franciacorta.

DOCG regulations help ensure that Franciacorta is traditional in its style, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir being the primary varietals used; Pinot Blanc is also permitted, but is much less common in the blends. Regulations also require the traditional Champagne method, but with a minimum of 24 months in bottle, six months longer than in Champagne. Consumers will find these wines to be primarily in the Brut category, showing very low levels of residual sugar. They are typically clean and crisp, with bright minerality, and an overall fresh character. Lovers of fine, sparkling wine should become familiar with the Franciacorta option.

Here are some examples I tasted recently from two top Franciacorta producers, Barone Pizzini and La Valle.

NV La Valle "Primum" Brut Franciacorta DOCG 12.5% ABV, $40

The nose is vibrant with fresh lemon flesh, sweet mineral notes, and some dried grapefruit. Very clean and energetic. The palate is well balanced and seamless with ripe lemon, some green apple, and subtle savory notes. There's a soft and easy texture on the mid-palate and a mildly tart finish with gentle minerality lingering. Lovely, complete, and very easy to drink. 93 Pts

2011 Barone Pizzini "Saten" Franciacorta DOCG 12.0% ABV, $45

Fresh, finessed lemon and lime notes, on the nose, are complimented by mineral, toasty notes and sweet white flowers. The palate texture is notably soft and silky with tart peach, subtle sweetness underneath, fresh acidity, and lingering minerality. There is a pleasant mousse texture as the bubbles dissolve on the palate. Lovely. 100% Chardonnay 92 Pts

2009 La Valle "Naturalis" Franciacorta DOCG Extra Brut 12.7% ABV, $55

The nose is complex and forthcoming with ripe grapefruit flesh, wet stones, white mineral Earth, and a hint of apple pie. Very elegant, with a pure, fresh overall character.  The top note on the palate is the pleasant minerality followed by dried lemon rind, some underbrush, crisp acidity and toasted bread. The minerality carries everything to a satisfying, mouthwatering finish, Solid and a little bold. 92 Pts.

2008 Barone Pizzini "Bagnadore" Franciacorta DOCG Riserva, Dosage Zero 12.0% ABV, $60

This single vineyard beauty is a particularly outstanding example of the quality one can find in Franciacorta wines. The nose offers fresh tangerine and lemon flesh with blended mineral notes, and emergent aromas of sliced peaches. On the palate there's tart peach and nectarine,
and a noteworthy weight to the mouthfeel. Crushed white flowers and minerality and provide further detail that lingers long on the finish. This wine develops very well with time in the glass, and still shows lovely details long after being poured.  A complex and elehgant experience. Aged 60 to 70 months in bottle on natural yeasts and named for the nearby river; the grapes come from the vineyard named Roccolo, which is farmed naturally. The winery was one of the first in the region to promote biodiversity and natural farming methods. 50/50 Chardonnay/Pinto Nero 93 Pts

La Valle Rose Franciacorta DOCG Brut N/V 12.5% ABV, $55

The nose is finessed, overall, with floral spice, fresh strawberry, pomegranate and a saline note. The palate has a creamy texture, with tiny bubbles, bread dough, dried strawberry, a subtle savory note, and clean minerality. Nice length on the finish. 90 Pts

2011 Barone Pizzini Rose Franciacorta DOCG 12.9% ABV, $45

Toasty on the nose with bread dough, dried raspberry, tangerine undertones, and a nice tangy snap. Over time in the glass, plenty of detail emerges, filling out the personality. On the palate there's great texture, with minerally acidity, and a bit of grip, under the lean raspberry and fresh brioche. Shows some nice structure and a long mineral finish. 91 Pts

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Badia a Coltibuono - Outstanding and Organic

Badia a Coltbuono was established in 1051, yes 1051; that's not a typo. It was founded by the Vallombrosan order, who may have been one of the first to cultivate Sangiovese in the region. Today, the Stucchi Prinetti family runs things, and produces Chianti Classicos that are one of the standards for the area. In addition to being elegant, and impressive, their wines are also organic. The wines of Badia a Coltobuono can be relied upon for consistent quality and stature, year in and year out. Below are a few examples of this go-to wine with a classic Chianti heart.

2009 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 14.5% ABV $35

The dark red cherry fruit is beautiful and pure on the nose with rose petal scents and cedar on top. The general character of the nose is fine toned, elegant, and precise. The palate has aromatic red cherry dust, pomegranate, with charred Earth, sandalwood, cardamom, fine texture, and firm undertones. Well structured, with fine grip and dark acidity. The finish lingers nicely, with tart mineral Earth, dried herbs, and leather. 91 Pts.

2012 "Coltibuono RS" Chianti Classico 13% ABV $15

The nose starts off with a distinct, dark, brambly note, followed by a streak of fresh red cherry skins, a little perfumed vanilla, flinty Earth, and dried flowers. The palate is fresh and light with bright red cherry, and red currant, with plenty of acidity, subtle tannins, and a lingering, chewy finish. Aged in French barriques, 120,00 bottles produced. 88 Pts

 1999 Badia a Coltibuno Chianti Classico Riserva 14% ABV, $65

 Quite finessed on the complex nose, with elegant black cherry, and layers of spice, faint incense, spearmint, dried oregano, and forest floor. The palate is Earthy but elegant, with dried blackberry and other fresh dark fruit, clean acidity that lends a subtle tartness. Fine tannins and gentle structure on this lovely, mature, Riserva. 91 Pts.

 2012 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 13% ABV, $20

Pure, piercing red fruit is featured on the nose of this solid Chianti Classico with wild dried strawberries and lean red cherries and a subtle core of richness. Notes of dried leaves, iron, and subtle dried mint round out the complexity. The palate is juicy and appealing, with aromatic dried red cherry, nutmeg, mineral Earth, and dried herbs. Well structured with sweet tannins and juicy acidity. Traditional and satisfying. 88 Pts

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Four Vintages - Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico

A study in vintage characteristics

Castello di Querceto in Greve
Here is a revealing look at vintage differences in a solid traditional Chianti Classico Riserva.  Castello Querceto produces these wines from grapes grown in a valley near the lovely village of Greve, in the north-eastern part of the Chianti Classico zone. The vineyards are at elevations ranging from 350 to 500 meters, which is very favorable to Sangiovese quality. These wines were composed primarily of Sangiovese, with approximately 5% Canaiolo, and small amounts of other ancient varetals traditional to the region.Castello Di Querceto was one of 33 founding members of the Chianti Classico Consortium, in 1924.
From one vintage to another, there is little variation in the methods employed to produce these Riservas, with the exception of fine tuning that must be made to deal with variations in weather. This consistency in wine making makes these wines an excellent tool to compare vintage impact on wines in the region. I found the differences to be pronounced and very interesting.

2005 Castello Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva, 13.5% ABV, $15

The first impression on the nose is that of organic Earth notes and forest floor, suggesting some age. This was less pronounced as it opened up in the glass. Also on the nose is lean red and black cherry with Asian spice and tobacco underneath. The palate is rustic, with dried black cherry, tobacco, leather, and dried herbs. The finish continues the pleasant theme of rusticity with lingering tobacco notes. 88 Pts
2006 Castello Di Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva, 13.5% ABV $15
The nose starts with firm dark fruit, blackberry and black cherry skins, with a little white pepper and anise. There is also a slight note of sweet vanilla. The palate shows more of the same black fruit which is dense and textured with mineral and tobacco notes, and good complexity. This developed well in the glass and was complete from the classic start to the fairly long finish. Well balanced, and satisfying. 91Pts
2007 Castello Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva, 13.5% ABV, $15
Beautiful aromas of spiced, ripe, black cherry flesh pushes out of the glass to meet you. This is followed by aromatic dried herbs, and some dried flower notes. On the palate, there is ripeness at the core of the black cherry and blackberry fruit, with firm edges supporting it, dried herbs, cardamom, and some mineral. There's a distinct contrast between the plush nose and leaner palate. 89 Pts

2009 Castello Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva, 13.5% ABV, $15
This one is straightforward with firm red cherry and a bit of dried herbs on the nose. The palate has tart red cherry, fresh acidity, and good grip. The elements that form the base of any decent Chianti are here, but not much else. There are no flaws, per se; it just doesn’t go past the basics. Earthy, baseline Chianti. I've tasted the 2009 Riserva from bottles with two different labels, but there was no noteworthy difference between the two. 86 Pts

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Producer Focus: La Fiorita

Making Wines with Style and Grace

The lovely floral label, on a bottle of La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino, is a fitting allusion to what one will find inside, and to the qualities of the people who make it. Roberto Cipresso and Natalie Oliveros are the team that have blended their individual talents to take La Fiorita to a high standard, and beautiful style. Here is some of the story behind this excellent Brunello producer.

Roberto and Natalie at La Masseria New York

Natalie Oliveros and Her 2006 LaFiorita Riserva

Natalie, Roberto, the Vineyards, and the Wine

I recently spoke with Natalie, as we shared a bottle of her 2006 Riserva Brunello, and enjoyed seeing her love for wine making, and for La Fiorita. Her first venture into wine came when she partnered with Roberto Cipresso, in 2006, producing wines made from grapes grown in the Lazio and Campania regions, under the "Savanna" label. These wines, produced from special ancient varietals, were critically acclaimed, and decidedly flamboyant in their branding. 
Not long after that, Natalie bought-out Roberto's partners at La Fiorita, and teamed with him to produce Brunello Di Montalcino.
Their Brunelli are blended from the fruit of two distinctly different vineyards, adding greater complexity to the final product.The two vineyards of La Fiorita are Poggio al Sole (150 m elev.) and Pian Bossolino (350 m elev.), both located in the Castelnuovo dell'Abate region of the Brunello DOCG zone. The impressive 2006 Riserva that we enjoyed, was composed of Pian Bossolino fruit only, although it's not designated as a single vineyard wine. The '06 normale Brunello was composed of grapes from both vineyards.

Natalie described an additional vineyard that they are adding (Giardinello?) , where they are converting an area that was an olive grove. "It's very beautiful with a staircase down the middle leading away from a pool, with roses, ancient olive trees, and a statue. The vineyard is south-west facing, with sandy soil" Sounds beautiful. 
The winery itself is located about 15 minutes west of the village of Montalcino. There they produce less than 30,000 precious bottles. Another factor that adds to the quality of their wines is the aging time before it is released. The DOCG laws require 24 months in wood and 4 months in bottle before it can be released; La Fiorita ages for 24 months in barrel, 8 months in steel, and another 24 months in bottle. The barrel time is further divided by 12 months in French barrique and 12 months in large Slavonian Botti. This results in an arrival to market slightly later than many of their Montalcinese counterparts, but they believe it is necessary for the best expression.

I asked Natalie if she finds people fail to respect her role at La Fiorita, and discount her value, since she is a woman who did not grow up in the wine business. "Yes, I do get that sometimes. I'll be talking about the wine, and the vineyards, and people will turn to someone else in the middle of a sentence, and I'm like, "Hellooo?" On the subject of respect she says, "I love it when I sense people are discounting my role, and knowledge of wine, and then I see their expression change as they realize I do know what I'm talking about, and I am fully involved in the wine. That gives me some satisfaction."
Natalie has put real effort into learning about wine making, getting involved in the process, and  understanding what makes the La Fiorita wine style.
"I became interested in wine through my ex-husband, and met Roberto [Cipresso] through him, and decided that I wanted to do more with wine, and build on my knowledge."
As a child Natalie had some exposure to wine making, as her father would make wine every year in the cellar of their home in Gouveneur, NY, located in the far north, near Canada. Today, Natalie says of her move into the wine business, "I wanted to do something my family could be proud of....this is who I am today."
Natalie is actively involved in the business decisions for the winery, for example, recently deciding whether to lease or purchase a new tractor and working it out with their accountant. She also contributes her opinions on the blending of the wines, although she says, "It's Roberto Cipresso's baby". 
I asked her about the style of La Fiorita wines, their elegance and the brand. 
Natalie explained, "It's the wine that made me fall in love with Roberto as a winemaker."  "But I never really liked the was kind of masculine." 
 "So you designed a different label?" "Yes, I wanted to keep true to the brand, but added these roses that represent the beauty in the vineyard, and an elegant style. Like a clean slate."

Roberto Cipresso 
Roberto Cipresso 
Roberto began his career with wine in 1985, at  Case Basse, the home of Gianfranco Soldera, and (arguably) the greatest Brunello made. Working along side a master of Sangiovese, such a Soldera, was certainly a great place to build a reservoir of knowledge. From there he moved on to become the Director of Ciacci Piccolomini, in 1987, and then established La Fiorita in 1992. Mixed in with that history are countless affiliations with other winery's and accolades for wine making greatness. Considering Roberto's bio, it is no surprise that the wines of La Fiorita are so beautiful.

Natalie said, "He has a special passion for La Fiorita. He oversees a lot of vineyards, but this one is his very own."

Together, this passionate duo has taken La Fiorita to a place of high quality, and beauty.

Here are my notes on a few La Fiorita Brunelli I have tasted recently.

2009 La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 14.5% ABV $65

The nose starts off with beautiful, dense, black cherry flesh, subtle smoke, dried aromatic herbs, and some charcoal. The palate is solid, with substantial fruit presence, but good balance. Balckberry and lean black cherry lead the way with some underbrush and anise compliments. The structure is refined, and sufficient, with fine grained tannins, and enough acidity to keep it fresh and energetic. 90 Pts

2008 La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 14.5% ABV $70

The nose is elegant and pure, with fragrant red cherry and Asian spice and a fresh and clean character. The palate is forward with a ripe core of raspberry and red cherry flesh. The fruit is luscious and mouthwatering with dried herbs in the finish. Balanced and easy to drink. 90 Pts

2007 La Fiorita Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 14% ABV $95

There is beautiful depth on the nose, with rich Asian spice,anise, fragrant red cherry and red cherry skins, a little burnt orange rind, and a faint layer of crushed forest leaves. Later the nose shows subtle dried flowers. The palate continues the theme of aromatic red cherry, with subtle tartness, and mineral underneath. Dried sweet herbs, sweet tannins, and mouthwatering acidity add to the completeness. There is excellent texture and detail in this wine, and good length on the finish. Thoroughly enjoyable. 93 Pts. 

2007 La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 14% ABV $55

Pretty dried floral aromas and subtle pie spice form a layer atop the black cherry flesh on the nose of this lovely wine. Underneath, there is a subtle woodland aroma, with dried violets, and a bit of iodine, providing a nice counterpoint. The palate has delicious spiced black and red cherry flesh, a bit of strawberry, with lingering tobacco and black fruit on the long finish. Well balanced, aromatic, and very drinkable. 91 Pts

2006 La Fiorita Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 14% ABV $70

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. 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 located in the Castelnuovo dell'Abate subzone of the Montalcino DOCG, an area rich in fine Brunello producers. 92 Pts.

2004 La Fiorita Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino 14% ABV $100

Masculine, deep and rich on the nose, with dark red cherry, red currant, some spiced Earth, and dried rose petals. The palate shows lean red cherry fruit, mineral, leather, and aromatic Earth. Lean on the finish, with easy acidity, lingering anise notes, and fine grained tannins. 91 Pts.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

2010 Brunello Vintage Report - Part 1

Benvenuto Brunello 2010

 I very much enjoyed this year's Benvenuto Brunello event, where approximately forty producers gathered to introduce the 2010 vintage. The setting was Gotham Hall, in Manhattan, as it has been for the last three years. It is a wonderful space, and a well run event, but the best part, of course, was the wine. This year was especially wonderful because the current vintage release is 2010.

After tasting approximately 40 examples of 2010 Brunello, it is safe to say this is an outstanding and classic vintage; a fact that is fairly well known thanks to the abundant press to that effect. Perhaps the most pronounced common thread among these examples is the freshness of fruit; not a "new wine" kind of fruit, but rather a freshly cut black and red fruit style. This freshness supports a finesse that I saw in many examples. By finesse, I mean an elegance despite the firm power and structure that comes with well made Brunello.
In a word, 2010 Brunello Di Montalcino is versatile. So many of them are drinking well now, but are still showing great composition, balance, and depth that indicates they will last and improve with age.
You won't find very many highly extracted "fruit bombs" in this year's class, except for those producers who have that style as a deliberate goal, but the fruit is completely ripe, and well supported by the acidity essential to the Brunello experience. The tannins are there as well, and in some cases they are pronounced, but that only speaks to the longevity of the vintage, which should be significant. Add to that the prevalence of great balance, and you have a vintage made for the classic Brunello lover.
Is this the vintage of the century or of a lifetime? I hope not, since this is the way Brunello should be every year, weather permitting. Should you run out and buy 2010 Brunello? Of course, but don't forget the other vintages which will be available at a lower price. Personally, I'm shopping for 2004 and 2006, in addition to the '10s. Enjoy!

Here are my notes on a few representatives and favorites from the event, and elsewhere.*

2010 Le Ragnaie "Fornace"  Brunello Di Montalcino $14% ABV $120

  There's a "wow" factor as the aromas push their way out of the glass making an immediate impression with dark, warm, red cherry blended with cardamom, turmeric, and cloves.The palate has a savory character, with sweet charred meats, anise, dark Earth, dried basil, and wonderful aromatic action. Quite complex, and hard to pin down, which is what I love about well made Sangiovese wines. Very well balanced and complete, with plenty of stuffing and a long finish. 96 Pts




   2010 Il Poggione  Brunello Di Montalcino 14.5% ABV $65

The nose is solid and finessed at the same time, showing dense, firm black cherry fruit and skins,  with some warm spice, rose petals, and lanolin. The palate has a dignified character with plenty of detail, but expressed in a reserved way, letting out a little at a time. There is delicious spiced red cherry with fresh acidity, and a firm streak. In addition there are layers of tobacco, aromatic dried herbs, and a faint dairy note. Clearly poised for a long life and improvement with integration, it can easily be enjoyed now too. Il Poggione consistently produces excellent, traditional Brunello at a price point that is very good for this level of quality and the 2010 is a prime example. 95 Pts


2010 Le Chiuse  Brunello Di Montalcino 13.5% ABV $57

The nose is full and firm with minerally black fruit richness at the core, faint vanilla bean, dates, sweet grilled meats, a little dark chocolate, and a layer of dried flowers.There's a pleasant, slightly chewy texture to the palate, with baked red cherry fruit that combines rusticity with subtle sweetness. The grilled meat carries through on the palate as well. Finishes with savory notes, and good balance. 89-90 Pts



  2010 Castello Banfi "Poggio lle Mura" Brunello Di Montalcino 14.4% ABV, $75

Straight forward with pronounced fruit, on the nose and palate, making up the primary component of its personality. The nose starts with some floral notes atop the solid black cherry, and woodsy brambles. There is a hint of caramel present there as well. The palate is full of tart black cherry and blackberry with some sandalwood and fine grained tannins. The mid-palate falls off a bit, but this is a relatively easy-drinking style that is ready to go now. 89 Pts




  2010 Il Palazzone Brunello Di Montalcino 14.4% ABV $85

The nose is firm, and a bit closed at the moment, but reveals more with coaxing. Pretty dried black cherry skins with a lovely floral layer, some charred Earth, and aromatic dried herbs all unfold with a little time. Later, some pie spice and tobacco evolve on the nose. The palate starts with fresh red cherry and blackberry flesh that are underscored by clean mineral Earth, turmeric, and more dried herbs. The structure is serious and finessed, with good acidity that blends into the fruit, and fine grained tannins underneath. Good length, and a elegant finish. Probably the most classic and best Brunello I've tasted from Il Palazzone. Outstanding. 95 Pts





2010 Bottega S.p.A. "Il Vino Dei Poetti" Brunello Di Montalcino 14.5% ABV Not Yet Imported

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

2010 Caparzo Brunello Di Montalcino 14% A.B.V. $50

Rich blackberry fruit and a little sweet vanilla bean are notable on the nose, with some mineral notes as well. The palate has fresh blackberry, flinty Earth, and a dusty finish. Well balanced with a nice freshness. 90 Pts

2010 Col Di Lamo Brunello Di Montalcino 14% A.B.V. $60

This was a very pleasant standout in the class of 2010 that showed great complexity and finesse. The elegant nose starts off with dried black cherry skins, with subtle black cherry flesh and cranberry at the core, underscored by mineral Earth, dried basil, and a faint dairy note.Quite fragrant. The palate has a nice medium weight with tangy black plum, other firm, dark, aromatic fruits, grilled beef, and more mineral Earth. The structure is solid, and well balanced, with fine grained tannins that coat the mouth on the finish. Complete and satisfying, with good length on the finish. 95 Pts

2010 Ferrero Brunello Di Montalcino  15% ABV, $65 

Needed a few minutes to blow off at first, but opened up into a complex and solid wine with a distinct personality. The nose has notes of decomposed forest floor, charred meat, tobacco, lean blackberry, and dried black cherries, The palate shows full, firm fruit, with blackberry that is dark and serious. There are notes of anise, and aromatic wood with mineral Earth and dried cherry skins. Masculine, with big structural components and good balance, the development of this wine over time should be enjoyable. 93 Pts

*Watch for updates to this post in the future as I add notes from other producers.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cortona Syrah - In The Right Place

Tienimenti Luigi d'Alessandro

Syrah is a wonderful grape that has found a home in many places around the globe, manifesting itself in a variety of styles as a result. One such place is Cortona, in Eastern Tuscany, where Syrah has been made into some particularly excellent wines. I spoke with Gaetano Soccoccio, Export Manager for Tienimenti Luigi d'Alessandro, and he enlightened me to a bit of history surrounding Syrah in the Cortona region. As it turns out, the d'Alessandro family pioneered the growing of Syrah in the region. Moving there from Rome in 1968, their goal was not to grow the grape that they wanted to grow, but rather to grow the grape that was best suited to the place.Over a five year period, they experimented with plantings of different varietals on various plots until they determined that Syrah was the best fit. Eventually other producers started growing Syrah as well, and in 1999 DOC status was granted to Cortona Syrah.
Gaetano Saccoccio, Export Manger and Great Syrah Ambassador

I have to agree that the pairing of Cortona terrior and Syrah is a good one. I've tasted quite a number of them, from various producers, and they are generally quite enchanting. Here are my notes on examples from the d'Alessandro family.

2011 Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Borgo Syrah, Cortona DOC 13% ABV, $19                                            

Fresh blackberry and strawberry fruit, with a dark, dense heart, overlaid with dried violets, aromatic herbs, and coffee notes. The palate has chewy blackberry and raspberry, with char-grilled meats, some tobacco, espresso, and a little sweet vanilla. The balance is excellent with plenty of acidity to carry the density, and tannins that add a delicate grip. The finish is solid, with lingering tobacco notes to complete the experience. Alluring and satisfying. 90Pts


2009 Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Il Bosco Cortona DOC 14% ABV, $48

Deep, dark, black fruit. Blackberry, black current, and some blueberry, with notes of melba toast, aromatic smoke,and grilled meat. The palate has wonderful texture, aromatic roasted black cherry and blackberry skins, charred Earth, and sandalwood. Great structure and balance. The finish is long and vigorous with nice aromatics, lively tannins, solid acidity, and flinty Earth. Plenty of stuffing and balance to support longevity. 92 pts.

2009 Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Migliara Syrah, Cortona DOC 14,5% ABV, $80

Dried violets lay atop black cherry dust, and blackberry compote with a vein of savory aromas. The palate is serious and firm with fresh, lean, black cherry, baked strawberry, bitter chocolate, charred meats, and scorched sandalwood. The balance is excellent, with plenty of textured grip, juicy acidity, and animal character. The finish is long, solid, and aromatic. 92 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.


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.

Friday, January 23, 2015

1994 Soldera Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino

A classic example of great wine making.

It is said that the best wine makers still make good wine in difficult vintages, they just make less of it. The 1994 Soldera is a classic example of that statement. I have tasted this wine at least eight times, and it has consistently shown as a truly great example of the qualities Brunello Di Montalcino can attain. 1994 was a less than stellar vintage, with a few challenges, but you can't tell that from this wine.

1994 Soldera Case Basse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 13% ABV $450

Tasted November 2014

Opened and poured, the '94 is still going strong. This bottle shows tart red cherry, cardamom, coffee, and a little orange rind on the nose.The palate has a plush texture that is typical of Soldera, with blended Asian spice, red cherry, penetrating acidity, a little brown sugar, and super-fine tannins.  It stands up well over the course of the meal, and develops notes of tobacco leaf, and charred Earth near the end of the bottle. Elegant and nuanced, but still powerful at is core. 94 Pts

Tasted May 2009

Popped and poured. More floral / perfume than previous bottles. Still complex but the fruit is, unfortunately, fading. Even as this star burns out, it produces new colors. Or maybe it just this bottle. We'll see.

Tasted June 2008

Garnet red with a hint of brown. Sour cherries at first, quickly blew off to a nice tartness, which also mellowed after twenty minutes. Incense, warm spices, mushroom, young cherries. Almost fully integrated tannins. This, once again, plays like a middle aged burgundy. Great complexity of nose and palate. Wonderful development in the glass such that the last sip is a regret. Seemed like it was fading, but then came back strong over the course of 2 hours. Opened 1 hour beforehand and sampled. Not decanted.

Tasted November 2007

Pretty, light ruby red with lovely clarity. All characteristics are elegant and subtle. Nose of bright cherry, fine shale and roses and a hint of charcoal grill. On the palette clean medium body with cherry, bramble, leather, anise, carmel and asian spice. Seamless. Great balance of sweet acid, fruit and fine tannins. Incredibly long finish. Once again, a fine Burgundy like Brunello.

One unfortunate element of the Soldera story is the financial impact of the 2012 vandalism attack the resulted in the loss of nearly all wine in barrel from recent vintages. Market prices have soared since that event. This particular bottle could be found for under $150 before the attack; today I see it priced between $425 and $625, making it virtually unattainable for many lovers of Brunello.  Given the very limited quantities of the 2007 thru 2012 vintages that remained after the barrels were drained, the prices won't be going down any time soon. Still, if you can, you should taste Soldera to experience the glory that Sangiovese can achieve at the hand of Gianfranco Soldera.