Benvenuto Brunello: Agile to Brooding, each with its own Story to Tell

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I was delighted to spend an entire day welcoming the 2012 Brunello di Montalcino vintage at Gotham Hall in NYC! Hosted by Jeff Porter, acclaimed wine director for Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich restaurants, along with the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the seminar and following walk around tasting was a fantastic way in which to become immersed with the latest vintage of Brunello.

Montalcino is in Tuscany, the central region of Italy and is bordered by the rivers Ombrone, Asso and Orcia. It is located 40 km from the sea and 100km from the Apennine Mountains and has a Mediterranean climate. Wine and olive oil have been crafted there for over 2000 years. Etruscan wine amphorae [clay jars], dating to the 4th century BC, along with numerous documented mentions regarding the wines of Montalcino from Medieval times on, testify to the continuous production in such an esteemed area.

Although it has the dimensions of a small square box, it is not a homogenous territory; the climate, soil and altitude all play a part in creating different terroir. Situated on a hill, the soils differ immensely from area to area, most drastically seen with loose soil at the lowest areas that increase in minerals as one goes higher up the hill. At one time many, many years ago the area was actually underwater; the soil is loaded with crushed marine sediment, especially marl [or mudstone, a clay soil with high amounts of calcium carbonate] and limestone.

The seminar was a great window into the factors that comprised the 2012 vintage, and an opportunity to immerse oneself in their character. Following are my impressions:

• The Brunello region consists of 24,000 hectares, 3500 hectares of which is vineyard, 2000 hectares devoted to Brunello vines amongst 250 producers. 30% of all Brunello is imported into the United States.

• Rather significantly, 2012 has been given a 5 star rating from the Consorzio. This occurs in about 25% of vintages.

• The movement towards sustainability and organic farming continues to increase. There isn’t a lot of disease to fight, and producers are witnessing the multitude of advantages to environmentally conscious methods. The current estimate has 15-20% of estates organic and/or biodynamic.

• Brunello are known for their incredibly lengthy ageing capabilities, however this doesn’t mean they need to be cellared for 10 years in order to be enjoyed. Ultimately, ageing is subjective. It depends on your personal taste; do you enjoy more fruit and acidity? Or are you a fan of less fruit and subtler earth/mineral flavours? All producers feel that the wines are drinking now, or can be cellared. Personally, I feel that many I tasted needed a couple of more years to fully develop; however that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying a few bottles now!

• As with many Italian wines, All Brunello is intended to go with food; “they’re not cocktails”.

• The weather was erratic and unpredictable in 2012. The year started off dry without any snowfall. Brunello is one of the most arid regions in Tuscany, they rely on snow for ground water, and so this was problematic. February saw lots of snow, but unfortunately it was late and stunted the vines a bit. Next up were Torrential downpours that struck right in the middle of flowering, causing more loss. May thru August was incredibly hot, then absolute perfection arrived in the middle of august and continued thru to September. Many winemakers feel that the vintage was really made in those final 8 weeks.

• Due to the above listed circumstances, the 2012 harvest was one of the smallest in many years, the turbulent weather ultimately reducing the production by about one-third. Grapes were small and the bunches themselves also small, leading to fantastic overall grape quality. The smaller the better with Sangiovese, as smaller berries retain their fruit flavours, aromas and acidity better.

• Overall, the consensus from winemakers and all of us fortunate enough to have tasted numerous 2012 bottles, is that the wines are bright with ripe fruit and acidity, and have a “pretty” quality about them. Some have seen this as a return to more elegant, classic, traditional styled Brunello. Others, such as famed wine critic James Suckling considers their “vibrant fruit, lively acidity, and ultra-fine tannins” to be wonderfully bold and intense; a “rockstar” vintage.

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The seminar presented 7 wines from the 2012 vintage. Whilst all were fantastic, below are the ones that I found to be most engaging,
All are 100% Sangiovese.

Talenti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

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Hailing from the southwestern part of the region, accessible and easygoing in character. Bright layers of red berry fruit, pepper spice and earth with an herbaceous streak. Baking spices pair up with berries on the plush finish.
15% Alcohol
$50

Collosorbo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

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Not as complex as most, but with it’s own identity. Strikingly meaty, with dark fruit and clay minerals culminating in a lengthy, pepper spice finish. Rich and brooding, just lovely.
14% Alcohol
$50

La Magia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

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So new, its label hasn’t caught up yet.

Elegant and mineral driven. Cherry, flinty minerals and spice glide atop silky tannins, culminating in a dry fruit and clay mineral finish. Delightful and engaging, this would be fantastic with just about any dish.
14.5% Alcohol
$40

Loacker Corte Pavone Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

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From the famed biodynamic pioneering Loacker family, this is a powerful expression of Brunello. [Coincidentally perhaps also the darkest shade of garnet seen in the 7 wines.] Velvety and intense with layers of fruit, spice and floral notes. Licorice and a hint of bitter chocolate linger on the plush finish. With its velvety softness and well-integrated, dynamic flavours, this was not only a personal favourite, but also that of many of my fellow attendees.
15% Alcohol
$75

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A study in contrast: the dark, inky garnet Loacker on the left, transparent ruby red of the Pian delle Querci on the right.

Pian delle Querci Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

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In direct contrast to the Loacker Brunello, this hails from the far north of Montalcino and was the lightest in colour. Agile and bright with an herbaceous edge [think pine and cypress] to the vivid strawberry and blackberry fruit, energizing savory elements and traces of bitter cherry comprise the wonderfully dry finish.
14% Alcohol
Currently not imported into the US

A study in character, from elegant to agile to powerful to brooding, each bottle with its own story to tell.
Cheers!

Media event hosted by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Happy New Year!

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“It is the very mark of the spirit of rebellion to crave for happiness in this life.”
-Henrik Ibsen

It’s tradition for me now on New Year’s Day to open up the stats page and compile a list of the 5 most popular pours of the newly past year. I have a decent idea of what a few of them will be, and there are always a couple of fun surprises. I was intrigued to see the Leonucci Stefano Montignanello LS010 2010, a review I did in 2013, have such a resurgence in 2016.

Here are the wines that received the most attention in 2016:

5. Leonucci Stefano Montignanello LS010 2010

4. Lone Dove Wines ‘Cuvée Noir’

3. Castello di Farnetella Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG 2012

2. Montes Trio Tasting: Three Diverse Wines to Enjoy All Summer

And the most popular post of 2016 was one of the most enjoyable seminars I attended:

1. Romagna Sangiovese: “Good Food, Good Wine, Good Life”

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Sláinte!

Moscato d’Asti: Poetry & Passion in Each Bubbly Sip

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Holidays, brunch, hot summer days, celebrations, afternoons, dinner, dessert, spicy food, salty snacks….these are all opportunities to give a pour to Moscato d’Asti! I was delighted to attend a Master Class tasting on the wonders and possibilities of Moscato d’Asti, held at the renowned Del Posto restaurant in NYC.

Neighboring on Barbaresco and close to Barolo, the Asti region is located in the lower left corner of piedmont, northern Italy. The territory is UNESCO protected, reflecting the distinct “sense of place” expressed in its wines. Although it is a tiny area, there is a lot of diversity in the soil composition and climate, which leads to different terroirs. The cultivated areas are very specific, from super steep hillsides to the lower valleys, which additionally contributes distinct characteristics. The steep sites [200-600 meters above sea level] are known for their limestone and sand soils, which bestow a delicate, airy edge, whilst the lower vineyards have sedimentary soils resulting in more concentration and richness of flavour.

Labeled a sweet wine, Moscato has been limited to dessert parings. While it is delicious with sweets, it is wonderful on its own, with appetizers, cheese, fruit [such as figs and melon] and absolutely fantastic with spicy and salty food! Well balanced, with great acidity, it seems more appropriate to consider it along the lines of a sweet Cabernet Sauvignon or red blend.

So what sets Moscato from Asti apart from all of those other Moscatos?

• Moscato d’Asti is made only from the Moscato Bianco grape. Cultivated since ancient Roman times, it is the variety from which all other varieties of Moscato [there are hundreds of types!] derive from.

• Moscato Bianco has the highest level of Terpenes [specific organic compounds that can range in aroma from sweet and floral to woodsy and herbaceous] of all the Moscato varieties, which makes it highly aromatic and gives it its renowned floral and peach aromas.

• Asti Moscato is “gently sparkling”, a soft bubbly or frizzante made thru the natural fermentation process, without the addition of any sugar.

• The acidity and creamy texture integrates well with a meal.

• Low alcohol, hovering right around 5%.

• A price range of $13-$25

And then there is the story behind each bottle from Asti. These are wines that are “made out of pride, not for money”. The majority of winemakers grew up watching their grandfathers work out thru trial and error the parts of the land that would accept vines. The land is extremely difficult to farm, and was not at all rewarding, it was their “grandfathers passion” to make Moscato wines.

Today, 95% of the winemakers in Asti are farmers, sharing a proud motto of “history equals skill”. All of the vines are organically farmed [not necessarily certified] or working towards organic standards. As Gianpiero Scavino of Ceretto stated “we realized it wasn’t hard to respect the earth”. The estate is certified organic beginning with this 2015 vintage, and also utilizes biodynamic and sustainable methods. Appropriate for a family with a motto of “The land is the soul of our wines.”.

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Gianpiero Scavino of Ceretto

For me, the two most compelling reasons why Moscato d’Asti rises above others are attributed to the winemakers themselves:

• Stefano Chiarlo of the renowned Michele Chiarlo estate stated that his “main job is to capture the aromas of the grape as you walk thru the vineyards and pour it into the glass”.

• Ceretto’s Gianpiero Scavino explained the distinctness as “landscapes are beautiful and that is part of the difference. The work that’s required, that’s priceless”.

Poetry and passion, found in each bubbly sip.

I greatly enjoyed all of the wines presented, below are the ones I found the most engaging and expressive of where they come from.

Michele Chiarlo ‘Nivole’ Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015

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Pale yellow with green highlights in colour, with lush aromas of honey, lemon and an herbaceous hint. Bursting with floral notes backed by creamy honey, lemon and apricot flavours. The light fizziness adds a crisp, refreshing edge.

100% Moscato Bianco
5% Alcohol
$17 [average price]

Marenco Vini ‘Scrapona’ Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015

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Gold in colour with wonderfully intriguing aromas of sweet honey, citrus blossom and savory herbs. Vivid peach, sage, lime and orange blossom flavours culminate in a golden honey and clean mineral finish. Named after the single vineyard, Scrapona where grapes were hand harvested from, this is distinct and fascinating, with a delicate edge.

100% Moscato Bianco
5.5% Alcohol
$15 [average price]

Ceretto Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015

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Deep gold in colour with inviting aromas of grapefruit, peach and white flowers. A woodsy, herbaceous streak harmonizes with vivid peach and apricot flavours. Finishing with sunny acidity and fine, zippy, citrus-laden bubbles. Engaging and interesting, this is was spectacular with spicy chickpeas, artichoke and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

100% Moscato Bianco
5.5% Alcohol
$17 [average price]

Caudrina ‘La Caudrina’ Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015

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Deep straw yellow in colour with aromas of white flowers and sea salt minerals. Creamy lemon and honey flavours are dusted with honeysuckle, culminating with peach and apricot notes on the mineral driven finish. Well balanced and elegant, you keep reaching for more.

100% Moscato Bianco
5.5% Alcohol
$17 [average price]

 

 

Media event hosted by Consorzio dell’ Asti DOCG

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Between the Lines Winery

Located in Niagara on the Lake in Ontario, Canada, Between the Lines Winery is run by brothers Greg and Yannick Wertsch. They grew up in Germany working their grandfather’s vineyards, when the family came to Canada their father purchased land in order to carry on the family’s winemaking traditions. The name of the winery is a reflection of the roads in the area, which are labeled north/south as Line 1 Rd, Line 2 Rd, etc. [If they had used their surname, the pronunciation would have resulted in it sounding like “Worst Winery”]

Greg studied Wine Economics at Geisenheim University in Germany. He is the more public face of the winery and manages the marketing and day-to-day operations. Yannick studied winemaking and viticulture at Niagara College, and then continued at Weinbauschule University in Weinsberg, Germany. He is known as “the quiet one” and focuses on winemaking, “allowing the region to speak for itself instead of influencing it through aging or other winemaking processes”. Their red wines are only briefly barrel aged in order to maintain the terroir and preserve the fruit character.

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Greg explaining his innovative ‘Origin’, sparkling Vidal single serving cans. At the time of my visit it was unreleased. It is now taking the market by storm and receiving fantastic reviews.

During our visit*, I had the immense pleasure of a private tasting with Greg. Knowing your soil is one of the foundations of winemaking and Greg provided in-depth detail about the distinctive terroir of their 40 acres of vineyards. Pockets of glacial deposits cut across the land, so the soil can dramatically change every couple of feet. The main soil is mixed, sandy loam, whilst the glacial deposits are heavy clay. They take advantage of these contrasting characteristics to suit different varietals needs. Cabernet Franc is planted in the lighter soils, as it receives more heat, whilst Chardonnay is grown in the clay deposits, as clay remains cooler in the heat.

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Between the Lines Riesling 2014
Their Riesling is the result of years of listening to what their customers are looking for and experimenting with different fermentation approaches. People were not interested in a dry Riesling, so they use maolactic fermentation on half the volume of the wine. Malic acid confers granny smith and buttery notes and removes some of the acidity and dryness.
Fresh and fruity with citrus, apples and minerals. Light, clean and crisp, this is perfect for summer sipping.
$15 [Canadian Dollars]

Between the Lines Gewurztraminer 2014
Well balanced, with a fantastic play of sweetness and acidity. Loaded with fresh fruit [peach, apricot traces of mango] along with hints of buttery fruit tart, culminating in a fruity finish.
11.5% Alcohol
$15 [Canadian Dollars]

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Between the Lines Pinot Noir 2013
The 2013 harvest saw the Pinot Noir grapes coming in with high alcohol; they did open fermentation in order to reduce the level. Aged for 3 months in French oak barrels, the wine was very aromatic with aromas of cherry and sun warmed bricks. Soft cherry and black cherry flavours are backed by a food friendly acidity, finishing with hints of earth and dried cherry. [The brothers are honored that this has been selected as the official Red Wine served and sold at Ontario’s Legislative Assembly for 2016. In fact, during our visit, they were in the process of removing the original label and replacing it with one chosen by the Assembly.]
13% Alcohol
$16 [Canadian Dollars]

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Between the Lines Meritage Reserve 2013
Aged for 18 months in oak, Cabernet Franc is the star of this blend. Bright tart fruit harmonizes with a streak of almost smoky minerality. Fantastic with hearty dishes.
12.5% Alcohol
$28 [Canadian Dollars]

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Between the Lines Vidal Icewine 2013
Decidedly different from many Icewines, this is wonderfully balanced with a vibrant acidity to break up the sugar. Gorgeous, rich pear, peach, and honey flavours are never overwhelming. This is fantastic with both sweet and savory dishes.
11% Alcohol
$40

*During our visit to NOTL [Niagara on the Lake] in Ontario, my husband and I booked an all day, private winery tour with Niagara Vintage Tours. Check out their fantastic array of tours and packages here. Our driver Chris, was incredibly engaging and all around fantastic. He took the time to learn what we were most interested in, and focused the tour around those aspects.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: What You Need to be Pouring [and Aging!]

I was delighted to attend the New Zealand Wine Fair along with a seminar titled The Ageability of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The tasting and seminar were held at the Metropolitan Pavilion in NYC. Members of the seminar panel included Joe Czerwinski of Wine Enthusiast, Ruud Maasdam, founder and winemaker of Staete Landt Vineyards, and Christine Kernohan, managing director and winemaker of Gladstone Vineyard.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has made an incredible impact on wine drinkers throughout the world. A speedy, steady growth in beginning in the 1990’s has resulted in Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand setting the style benchmark for the grape. Recently at the second Drinks Business Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters competition New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc “took home the lion’s share of medals across the board” [157 wines were entered from 11 different countries]. Most significantly in the “Value for Money” category [under £15], out of the 14 wines competing, New Zealand won 9 of the gold medals.

The rise in popularity [currently Sauvignon Blanc is the UK’s top-selling white variety], mirrored New Zealand’s commitment to sustainability. Today nearly 100% of wines produced are certified sustainable, with many also being certified organic and biodynamic.

There are 10 growing regions that cover 1000 miles, from the subtropical northern regions to the mountainside vineyards in the south. This regional diversity creates a broad spectrum of styles within New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. There are 2 main styles within the range; the classic or “Greywacke” style which is the most widely known, especially to the American market. A pungent aroma, loads of tropical fruit, bell pepper, legendary grass notes and a vibrant acidity are characteristics of this “classic” style, which is cold fermented in stainless steel. The second style or approach are wines that are crafted with natural yeasts, have been aged on the lees and see a bit of oak. These wines tend to display a wider range of flavours and complexity.

The seminar explored those styles further by contrasting and comparing Sauvignon Blanc from 3 different regions.
Marlborough vineyards are of predominantly clay soil, which produces wines with high, astringent acidity, complimented by tropical fruit and herbaceous flavours. These are regarded as “the perfect examples of New Zealand terroir”, the trademark of New Zealand style.
Wairarapa, located in the southeastern part of the North Island, produces wines in a more “gentle style”. The wines are known for their expressive minerality and elegance.
Wairau Valley is more northern in location and has a greywacke soil, producing wines in a classic, fruity style.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has an interesting value scale. Whilst there is good value in the average $10 bottle, by going up in price a couple of dollars, the quality increases vastly. The example given was that it’s possible to double the quality of the wine just by going from a $10 purchase to $12.

Sauvignon Blanc has a naturally high acidity due to the cool climate; this increases its ability to age well. Putting Sauvignon Blanc away for 10-15 years is just not a common practice, but it should be. “Good vineyards will give a nice reward” when aged.

In addition to not giving wines the ability to develop with a bit of age; I also observed that many times, white wines are served too cold. The wines in the seminar had been opened and left at room temperature for about an hour, which allows the fruit and elegant minerality to really develop.

I enjoyed all of the 9 wines presented, below are the ones I found the most engaging and expressive of where they come from, along with representing different winemaking approaches. [Ordered from youngest to oldest vintage.]

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Matua ‘Lands and Legends’ Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015
Immediately recognized as the New Zealand style and even more specifically, that of Marlborough. Energetic aromas of tomato leaf and melon introduce this classic style, with stone fruits, melon and herbal hints highlighted by a bright acidity and clean finish.
Cold fermented.
[This was the only wine that was accompanied by food; it was paired with oysters, one of the classic styles’ most popular pairings.]
$20

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Villa Maria Single Vineyard ‘Taylors Pass’ Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015
[Awatere Valley]
Vibrant, fresh and well balanced with apricot, tomato leaf, lemon, and a streak of minerality. A bit of spice surfaces on the zesty, citrus finish. My tasting notes have “just lovely” underscored multiple times.
13.5% Alcohol
$25

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Gladstone Vineyard Reserve ‘Sophie’s Choice’ Sauvignon Blanc Wairarapa 2012
Tasting like liquid lemon tarts, this has a wonderful nutty undercurrent. Floral and sweet grass notes compliment vibrant acidity, finishing with flinty minerals and more bright lemon. Winemaker Christine Kernohan said she believes this can continue to age for another 12-15 years.
13% Alcohol
$22 [current vintage price as this is no longer on the market]

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Churton ‘Best End’ Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013
From biodynamic vineyards located at an extremely high elevation in the mountains, my immediate reaction was “whiskey-like”. Bright, rich flavours of fruit and smoky spice with a streak of honey, ginger and minerality, this is memorable and engaging, and keeps you reaching for more.
The “new style”, barrel aged for 1 year.
14% Alcohol
$28

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Dog Point ‘Section 94’ Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2008
Incredibly interesting with the characteristic fresh herbaceousness, tomato leaf and stone fruits [I tasted nectarine specifically]. Smoke, buttered toast, and a trace of salinity meld into subtle vanilla on the finish. Fantastically intriguing, Joe Czerwinski said he has tasted this in previous years and feels it has improved with age.
Aged for 18 months in old French oak barrels.
14% Alcohol
$30 [current vintage price as this is no longer on the market]

Staete Landt Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2004
The oldest Sauvignon Blanc of the seminar, still displaying a racy acidity, still intense and bright. Flavours of peach and tomato leaf, citrus and nuances of buttered toast carrying thru to the finish. Complex and mellow, with an elegant edge, proving that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has the fortitude for decade plus of ageing.
Some wild fermentation, aged 40-50% in steel, the rest in old barriques.
$18 [current vintage price as this is no longer on the market]

Media event hosted by New Zealand Winegrowers