The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A First Look at the 2010 Brunellos

Posted on | January 21, 2015 | Written by Robin Kelley OConnor | No Comments

Vines at Il Palazzone

Vines at Il Palazzone

This is an important week for Brunello di Montalcino in the United States. Yesterday the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino hosted their annual tasting at the spectacularly beautiful Gotham Hall. It was apropos that such noble wines were presented in such a majestic setting. Forty-five of the more than 230 producers made the journey to the U.S. to debut the 2010 Brunello di Montalcino and 2013 vintage of Rosso di Montalcino. Many brought an older vintage of Brunello di Montalcino for compare and contrast purposes; in addition, some estates also brought non-specific vintages of their Sant’Antimo Rosso DOC and Moscadello di Montalcino DOC. All the wines are made exclusively in the municipality of Montalcino.

Montalcino has a rich history and a fascinating array of microclimates. The region is almost formed in a square, bound by the rivers Asso, Aria, Ombrone and Orcia, and the town of Montalcino as the crow flies is 25 miles from the sea and 62 miles from the Apennine Mountains. The surface area of Montalcino is 59,305 acres with 8,648 acres planted with grape vines. Generally mild during the vine’s vegetative process, Montalcino has a Mediterranean climate with most of the rainfall concentrated in the spring and late fall; however, it’s generally fairly dry. Mount Amiata at 5,700 feet, sits to the south of Montalcino and protects the territory from potential harsh weather like hail storms, fog, ice and heavy rain. The vineyards tend to be planted at 330 to 2,150 feet above sea level, and yields are strictly controlled with a maximum production of 8 tons or 52 hectoliters to the hectare (2.47 acres).

Sangiovese Grosso is the grape for making Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino. In fact, Sangiovese is known as “Brunello” in Montalcino, which gives you some idea of how synonymous the wine is with its home.

From my very first taste, my impression the 2010 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino is that this vintage is going to be absolutely magnificent, and none of the subsequent tastings have changed that opinion at all. As a follow up to yesterday’s tasting, the Consorzio invited me I for lunch today at Del Posto. This lunch allowed some of us wine professionals to interact with a small group of winemakers and producers to have a more intimate look at a selection of the 2010 Brunellos, as well as a starter flight of 2012 and 2013 Rossos.

My guides for the tasting were Giovanna Neri of Col di Lamo and Enrico Viglierchio, General Manager of Banfi. It was fascinating to have two different perspectives. Giovanna’s Col di Lamo is a tiny estate in the northeast corner of Montalcino producing on average 2,000 bottles of Brunello, while the Banfi estate sits in the opposite end of Montalcino in the southeast and produces 540,000 bottles of its Normale, or, as Enrico refers to it, the Classico Brunello. However different, both Giovanna and Enrico agreed that the 2010 Brunello may be the greatest vintage in the last 20-30 years. Vincenzo Abbruzzese, the owner of Valdicava has said that “The 2010 vintage represents a new point for Brunello di Montalcino, and the wines have a unique style that make them incredibly attractive when young but also structured and beautiful for aging. They will be the new standard in quality to judge all Brunello.” The quality is so high with all the components of fruit, tannin, acid, concentration, depth and finesse being in complete harmony and balance.

Del Posto served Gigli Verdi al ragu Bolognese with five 2012 and 2013 Rossos. With a New York Strip served rare, we drank seven 2010 Brunello di Montalcino Normales (the Riservas have not been released) from Armilla, Banfi, Capanna, Col di Lamo, Col d’Orcia, Palazzo and Talenti. To finish off this wonderful experience we were served a very classy and delicious 2007 Col d’Orcia Riserva Brunello.

The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino and its merry band of producers are off to San Francisco this afternoon to finish off the week. I’m sure they’ll bring great delight to those lucky Northern Californians who will partake in their grand tasting.

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Expert Picks: Tenuta San Leonardo and Château Belair-Monange

Posted on | January 21, 2015 | Written by David Gwo | No Comments

d gwoBordeaux. Even if you’re brand new to the world of wine you’ve likely heard of this famous French wine region. The history of Bordeaux is extensive, and even today it stands as a benchmark, producing some of the world’s greatest wines. The biggest problem with being one of the best? Competitors are always trying to take the title. Bordeaux’s coveted status gave rise to what are some of the now premiere Cabernet Sauvignon producing appellations and regions. And their goal is to prove that they can use the Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot) to make wine that rivals this iconic area.

When we talk about Italian Bordeaux-style blends the first thing that comes to mind is the Super-Tuscan category of wines. Tuscany is famous for labels like Sassicaia, Ornellaia, and Guado al Tasso that have utilized Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends. In my opinion, they’ve done this with great success. The last place you’d think that would craft a superior quality Bordeaux-blend in Italy is Trentino-Alto Adige. Nestled between Switzerland and Austria in Northern Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige’s winemakers are better known for their white wines. It’s mind-boggling that this cold climate region could grow warmer climate grapes like Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, and Merlot successfully. One estate stands out, and it’s Tenuta San Leonardo, whose wine I’m featuring today.

The other wine I’ve chosen is an actual Bordeaux from the iconic 2009 vintage. 2009 and 2010 blessed Bordeaux with back-to-back historic vintages. As most wine-lovers know, Bordeaux is split by the Gironde Estuary (Garonne and Dordogne Rivers) into two sub-regions, referred to as the Left Bank and Right Bank. The Left Bank focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon dominated wines with Cabernet Franc and Merlot playing supporting roles. The Right Bank focuses on Merlot dominated wines with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon playing supporting roles. Château Belair-Monange is a Right Bank Bordeaux from Saint-Emilion that is absolutely breathtaking in this tremendous vintage.

Tenuta San Leonardo 2006 San Leonardo $69.99

I tasted the San Leonardo with skepticism a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve got to say I was very impressed. This is San Leonardo’s flagship wine and is one of the best vintages produced in the last decade; it is an outstanding representation of what this under-the-radar estate can do. This wine is full-bodied possessing perceptible yet polished tannins that are backed by a medium level of acidity and a well-balanced degree of alcohol. On the nose you get notes of dark fruit, cigar, minerality, and a dash of smoke that carry through on the palate followed by a long finish. Incredibly well made a terrific deal at $55 per bottle. Try it for yourself!

Château Belair-Monange 2009 $199.00

I’m fond of this château for one main reason: the winemaker, Christian Moieux, who is the winemaker for both Chateau Petrus in Pomerol (also Right Bank) and Dominus Estate in Napa. Chateau Petrus is considered by most to be the greatest Merlot in the world and commands thousands of dollars per bottle on release, and Dominus Estate in Napa Valley also happens to be one of the California Cabs that I enjoy. Christian Moieux’s first vintage of Château Belair-Monange was 2008, which was an outstanding wine, and the 2009 Château Belair-Monange is a stunner. It’s a full-bodied wine with significant structure and ripeness that is indicative of the strength of the vintage. It is deep and concentrated with very primary notes of dark fruits, currants, minerality, and well-integrated oak. This wine will age gracefully for years to come.

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Go-to-Wine Tuesday: Il Palazzone Rosso del Palazzone NV

Posted on | January 20, 2015 | Written by David Bertot | No Comments

VDTMy wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Il Palazzone in Montalcino this past October, and it was a pleasure through and through. The Il Palazzone property is perched up on a hill overlooking the Tuscan countryside; the views go on forever, the sights and sounds romanticize you, and you enjoy every second of it. Owned by Dick Parsons, former CEO of Time-Warner and CitiGroup, the Il Palazzone estate is managed by the husband-and-wife team of Laura Gray and Marco Sassetti, a winning combination.  As estate manager, Laura carefully takes care of sales, marketing, and finances with a systematic approach. Marco is general manager of the property; he has a deep, complex understanding of Montalcino’s microclimate, and he treats the vines accordingly.

Il palazzone vinesI’m always raving about the value of Rosso di Montalcinos. These wines often pack a delicious punch while providing a tremendous value. Most wineries in Montalcino produce a Brunello di Montalcino and a Rosso di Montalcino, both classified appropriately as DOCG. Often approached as “Brunellos in training,” estate’s Rosso di Montalcino usually derives from younger vines, from grapes not selected for the final aging barrels that make the Brunello. However, Il Palazzone’s approach to this wine is a bit different.

Technically Il Palazzone’s Rosso is classified as VDT, Vino di Tavola (table wine), but the estate uses 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes designed to make Brunello from three different areas in Montalcino. All the fruit is picked by hand and vinified as a Brunello, and the barrels that are not chosen for that vintage’s final Brunello blend are designated for the Rosso. All of this is pretty normal, except that Il Palazzone makes a VDT because the final Rosso blend does not have a singular vintage; instead, it’s a blend of 2-3 vintages. The end result is a beautiful, complex, inexpensive, and approachable Rosso from Brunello quality Sangiovese Grosso.

il palazzone mealI opened a bottle of the most recent release of Il Palazzone Rosso del Pallazzone and I found the wine to be fresh with good acidity and a solid finish. The nose displays red fruit and a tiny spice nuance while the palate delivers blackberries and bright rosemary. The Rosso paired beautifully with a sirloin with trumpet mushrooms in a red wine and shallot reduction. But, really, it will pair nicely with any pizza, tomato-based pasta, or meat dish, and priced at under $28, it’s a wine you can enjoy any night of the week.

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Expert Picks: Begali and Castello della Sala

Posted on | January 20, 2015 | Written by Garrett Kowalsky | No Comments

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiIt has been my experience that dessert wines get the short end of the stick. I have no idea where the pre-conceived notion that dessert wines were somehow inferior to table reds and whites, or where the idea that they were less desirable came from, but I do know these ideas need to go away. It seems to me that people have no problem ordering a hefty slice of cheesecake or dollops of chocolate mousse to cap off a meal when, really, it would be just as satisfying for their palate if they were to select a sweet vino! Here are two of my favorites.

Begali Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2010 500ml $49.50

This red dessert wine hails from the north, in Veneto. A blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara (famous for their use in the region’s other great wine, Amarone), this is a powerful wine that stains your taste buds. Molasses, espresso, spice and dried cherries and berries appear on a velvety palate and show you why Recioto is the perfect way to end a meal. Drink now and for ten years.

Castello della Sala Muffato delle Sala 2008 750ml $54.99

This dessert wine comes from our friends at Antinori and their incredible Umbrian estate. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Grechetto, Traminer and Riesling, this wine’s flavors are rich, the nose entrancing, and the palate seems to go on for days; you could even venture to call this the “Sauternes of Italy.” Drink now and for ten years.

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How To Get the Most from Your Tasting

Posted on | January 15, 2015 | Written by David Bertot | No Comments

RKO illustrates the sniff

RKO illustrates the sniff

Almost every Saturday, IWM hosts wine tasting events, and just about every day, we have informal tastings for the staff. We introduce a lot of people to tasting wine for fun and profit, and we taste a lot ourselves. When you go to a tasting, you want to get the most out of it by experiencing it fully and by recalling what you’ve smelled, swallowed and spit. Building onFrancesco’s successful blog post where he discusses how super tasters are made and not born, I thought I’d give some simple tips to maximize any tasting:

Rules are for the Weak: Let me please preface by saying that there are no rules.  Wine snobs will tell you that you are doing something wrong or right.  This is false. Wine is an incredibly customizable, very personal experience.  The following tips are just loose guidelines, like the pirate code.  It’s very easy to have a great time at a tasting—and I just want to help you have the best time you can while retaining what you experienced.

Foundation is Key: It is important for perseverance that you have something in your stomach.  The perfect casual meal the morning of a tasting is an egg and cheese on a bagel.  I know it sounds silly, but it really is a great combination: the eggs keep your body’s metabolism going, and the bagel is a needed boost of carbohydrates.  I would definitely avoid consuming spicy foods because that will certainly alter the palate. Try not to drink coffee, brush your teeth, drink orange juice, or drink anything but water an hour before the beginning of the tasting. It’s hard, but do your best.

Go with Greige: Preparation is simple, and the mouth and nose should be as neutral as possible–the nose is equally important to the mouth.  Try to avoid smoking at least 30-60 minutes prior to the tasting, and try to avoid any strong smells, as you want your nose to pick up on the subtleties and complexities of the wine.  Also, avoid all perfumes because you—and everyone around you—will smell them and not the wine.  If you find yourself at a tasting having just drunk a shot of espresso, drink a lot of water and eat bread before your first glass. Barring that, rinse your mouth with the lightest, most innocuous wine the event is pouring. Your sommelier will help you out; we’ve all been there.

Embrace Your Inner Gandhi: To maximize the learning experience it is important to approach the wines and judge equally.  Let go of prejudice. You may find that this is the day you find a Riesling you like. It could happen, but only if you free your mind. But it is best to go from fizzy to white to red, and within those categories, from light-bodied to full-bodied wines. If you’re confused, ask your sommelier for direction.

RKO illustrates the sip

RKO illustrates the sip

It’s All in the Wrist (and the Schnozz): Start simple with a solid swirl around the glass for a few seconds.  If you’re new to swirling, try doing it with the glass on a flat surface like a coffee table. Swirl, then stick your nose in and take your first whiff.  This is not a make it or break it moment; it’s only a small introduction.  Of course, you can tell whether or not you like the wine immediately, but really understanding takes a little digging.  I like to take a sip and suck in a little oxygen so that the wine interacts with a little blast of oxygen on your taste buds.  It is best to swirl, sniff, sip a few times to really pick up on the important subtleties that describe the wines.

Try, Try Again: Challenge yourself to really whiff a little deeper, think a little harder, as it will be easy to imagine yourself in that vineyard, standing on the terroir that defines the liquid in that glass.

It’s Not the MTA: Spitting is fine. Just use the spittoons, and keep napkins handy. Everyone dribbles.

Make Like George Costanza and Do It With Food: Snacks are great when tasting, especially cheeses.  My favorite saying on this is if it grows together, it goes together.  Cured meats can be glorious with medium-to-full reds.  As mentioned in a blog post where I talked about pairing Bolognese sauce and wines, positively charged proteins react with negatively charged tannins in wines.  A good balance of this chemical reaction is what produces that wow factor in a pairing.  Avoid cheeses too high in acidity (like goat cheeses) as it throws off lots of reds.

RKO elegantly illustrates how to spit

RKO elegantly illustrates how to spit

Imagine All the Questions: Wine tasting is not only a chance to socialize and have fun, but it is the opportunity to directly enjoy the often very painstaking work of an entire wine making team.  I like to imagine who I would drink the wines with (my beautiful wife) and with what foods it would pair best with.  The person pouring the wines is always full of expert level information about the wines.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions, you’ll learn a lot more this way. Everyone was a beginner once, even that person standing in front of you answering the questions so confidently.

Documents, Please: Every tasting you go to will give you a little booklet for notes. Write down your thoughts. If you find yourself tasting a wine without a booklet, take a picture with your cellphone, jot notes on a smartphone app, or just ask for something to write with. When you write things down—including your impressions—you’ll recall them later.

Take It Home: Don’t just remember what you enjoyed best; experiment with similar wines in the future.  Wine is a living, ever-changing tapestry, and discovering it is an extremely rewarding experience.

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