The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and Aldo Conterno

Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito

Francesco 2014Today, I wanted to pick two wines I’ve drunk recently that I know you will love. They are terrific, and if you love Italian wines, you won’t want to miss them.

I can easily say that every time I taste a Le Volte, I always say “Now, that’s a great wine for the dollar!” That said, the 2013 is the best vintage I have yet tasted from Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s entry-level wine. There is just something about the 2013 Tuscan wines in general that makes them stand out from the other vintages, and this Le Volte is a Super Tuscan to know and love. Next up is Poderi Aldo Conterno, the estate that bears the name of “he king of Barolo.” While Aldo Conterno’s wines are very well known, I’ve found they’re really exciting me these days. The estate’s 2011s are to die for and the best part is that they are so approachable and very delicious right now, especially the Colonnello.

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia 2013 Le Volte $29.99

Composed of 50% Merlot, 30% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, with all varieties vinified separately, this 2013 Le Volte bottling is the best I’ve had from Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. Rich, aromatic, voluptuous and exquisitely finessed for a $30 bottle of wine, this Super Tuscan has got everything you want and need. With winemaker like Axel Heinz behind it, you know it’s going to be good.

Poderi Aldo Conterno 2011 Barolo Colonnello $149.99

I’ve never smelled aromatics in a recent vintage Barolo quite like those in this ’11 Barolo Colonello—they’re complex, enticing and extraordinary. The Colonnello vineyard is known for wines with lighter structure, bursting aromatics and approachable nature, and this Conterno is so beautiful that it’s hard to keep your hand off of it. I just drank one of these ’11 Barolo Colonnellos on Monday, so it’s still fresh in mind—all I want is to find another reason to drink one. The beguilingly rich aromatics alone are worth the entrance fee!

Expert Picks: Bruno Giacosa and Giuseppe Rinaldi

Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito

Francesco 2014Bruno Giacosa and Giuseppe Rinaldi are two of the best Barolo producers known, and if there were a Mt. Rushmore of Barolisti, these guys’ heads would absolutely be on it! Both winemakers craft a very classic style of Barolo that embody the traditions and meanings of “Barolo” and “Nebbiolo.” I’ve chosen a pair of Barolos that share the commonality of being from riper years, making them approachable and medium-term wines, which is nice given the string of intensely structured vintages like 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 that make you wait to enjoy them.

Bruno Giacosa 2003 Barolo Le Rocche Falletto 159.99

Currently drinking in all of its glory, the 2003 Le Rocche shouldn’t be missed if you need a beautifully drinking Barolo at a killer price. Everything is right where it needs to be in this wine: the aromatics leap from the glass and the structure has integrated, leaving firm yet ripe tannins on a lasting finish that lets you know you are drinking classic Barolo from one of the Piedmont greats!

Giuseppe Rinaldi 2007 Barolo Brunate Le Coste 159.99

After having enjoyed the 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2004 bottlings of this wine, Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste has easily become one of my favorites. Rinaldi’s wines have gathered a cult-like following, and these Barolos have proven to be very hard to get, especially back vintages—Rinaldi simply doesn’t make enough wine. 2007 was an anomaly in Barolo; the combination of ripe fruit, aromatics and fresh structure are rarely in this kind of equilibrium. 2007 one of my favorite vintages in Barolo, and it just doesn’t get any better than Giuseppe Rinaldi!

Expert Picks: Château de la Maltroye and Bachey-Legros

Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito

Francesco 2014It’s quite difficult to find exceptional values in Burgundy, so whenever I come across some spectacular Burgundy bottles in the under $40 range, I get pretty excited. Château de la Maltroye and Bachey-Legros both make phenomenal Burgundies, and they somehow manage to keep the price down, while keeping the quality very high. Maltroye’s Bourgogne Rouge has always been one of my very favorites and you simply can’t beat a $35 Chassagne-Montrachet from Bachey-Legros. Don’t hesitate to snag these value Burgundy bottles!

Château de la Maltroye 2013 Bourgogne Rouge $29.99

This wine is pretty, delicate, floral, and elegant. Château de la Maltroye makes Pinot Noir the way it’s supposed to be, and to get this Bourgogne Rouge for less than $30 is a steal. It drinks way above its price point; pound for pound, it’s one of the best pours out there!

Bachey-Legros 2013 Chassagne-Montrachet Plantes Momiéres $34.99

Exclusive to IWM, Bachey-Legros has taken us by storm. It’s simply unheard of to get a high quality Chassagne-Montrachet with character for less than $35. This one derives from a single plot of land, Plantes Momiéres, adding even more distinction and character to this wine from a rarely heard of producer. This ’13 Chassagne-Montrachet is a definite bargain that’s easy on the wallet and delicious on the palate!

Talking About Tannins

Why the tannin backbone matters

Tannins are responsible for red wine’s color and giving you that dry and puckering feeling in your mouth. We most notice tannins in red wine, though they do exist in whites, however imperceptible (orange or skin-contact wines, like those made by Josko Gravner, are higher in tannins. Some like the astringent feeling of tannins, some don’t, and still others take tannins on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether the tannins add or take away from the wine.  Most novice wine drinkers tend not to prefer the feeling of tannins, but a red wine with the correct balance of tannins will spark your interest and leave you yearning for more.

Tannins are the “backbone” of a wine. Just as a spine in the body provides a framework for muscles and bones, tannins provide the wine with structure, balance, body, complexity and longevity. While also found in the stems, skins and seeds of the grape plant, the most important tannic compounds come from the skins. Because the tannins found in sites other than the skins are very harsh and bitter, winemakers minimize their presence during winemaking; the stems are removed before crushing and the grapes are pressed very slowly as to not break the seeds and release the bitter oils.  Some winemakers, like those in the Rhone Valley for instance, use the stalk and stems in precise amounts to add tannin to their wines.  Another, but less important, source of tannins come from the actual wood from the barrel where the wine was aged. Regardless of the source of the tannins, they are integral to good wine, and astute winemakers manipulate them to the wine’s best advantage.

The tannic backbone is the main reason why some wines will have a lifespan of two years and some for over twenty.  Tannins are in a class of chemical compounds called polyphenols.  At the heart of the molecule is a phenol molecule, which is a benzene ring with a hydroxyl group attached to it, and it is a highly reactive molecule.  Bonds are constantly broken and created during a wine’s life, but no one really knows how tannins help a wine age.  There is the notion that the smaller tannin molecules come together to make larger molecules, and they eventually fall out of solution to form the sediment sometimes seen in old wines.  The exact opposite could also happen whereby the tannins get smaller.  Regardless of how they do it, tannins make wine age better, and as a wine ages its tannins get softer, silkier and less perceptible. The wine’s tannic loss is our delicious gain.

Grape vines are wild plants with a myriad of biochemical, physical, and evolutionary processes that have helped them flourish. One of the main goals of the grape vine is to survive and reproduce.  When the fruits of the vine are young they are green, acidic, bitter and very tannic.  This insures that the berries make it to their full ripeness, changing to a beautiful color and becoming less tannic, sweeter, and less acidic.  Now they are ready to be consumed by an array of different animals who eat, digest, and scatter the seeds all over the ground, ready for germination and growth into new vines. Tannins, therefore, play an evolutionary role in assuring that we have wine—as well as making the wine we have more enjoyable and age longer.

Tannins provide me with a level of enjoyment from red wines that I can’t get from white wines.  Don’t get me wrong—I love white wines for their acid, but sometimes I just need that tannic red wine with a grilled steak. Tannic wines are great with grilled red meats, stews, braises, and older cheeses.  The tannins provide a counterbalance to strong flavors of these dishes and help to prepare your mouth for the next round. The quality and balance of tannins can make all of the difference, but be careful because a wine that seems exceedingly tannic is also not good.  As I’ve said in other posts, it is not the strength of one particular characteristic that makes a wine, but how all of these components mesh together.

Expert Picks: Aldo Conterno…And Aldo Conterno!

Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito

Francesco 2014Poderi Aldo Conterno, the estate that bears the name of “The king of Barolo,” makes some excellent “business card” wines. The estate’s Barolos often overshadow these excellent bottles, so I wanted to bring them to your attention. These two bottles are some of my favorite wines at these price points. Both will blow you away! I think these two lower-tier bottles show just how good this estate has become in past decade. I could drink these all day long!

Poderi Aldo Conterno 2012 Langhe Rosso $29.99

This is an incredibly interesting blend of 80% old-vine Freisa, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. No one really knows that Aldo Conterno makes this stuff, and for $30 it’s a steal for this great-drinking, thought-provoking and crowd-pleasing wine. The Freisa lends freshness and cherry fruit while the Cab and Merlot sneak in to provide texture, concentration and some color. Don’t miss this bottle. We don’t have much and it will be gone before they hit our cellar next week.

Poderi Aldo Conterno 2012 Langhe Nebbiolo Il Favot $64.99

A Langhe Nebbiolo from a pedigreed producers is a dream to right away or over the medium term. Last year I drank Aldo’s 2003 Langhe Nebbiolo and was totally taken aback, but the 2012 has even more oomph and concentration going for it, as well a much better vintage behind it. It drinks gorgeously right now and will continue to do so for the next decade. I would buy a case, drink half now and save the rest. Your palate will thank me!

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