The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Badia a Passignano and Guado al Tasso

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiIf you love Italian wine and don’t know the name “Antinori,” then you have been living under a rock. The Antinori family is royalty in the real world and in the wine world, and its roots date back hundreds and hundreds of years. Like many families with such history, the Antinori’s influence is widespread. Piero Antinori and his daughters don’t own just one estate; rather, they are responsible for over a dozen properties ranging across Italy and into the rest of the world. What might be most impressive about this is that despite their stretched tendrils, the Antinori team never sacrifices quality. I have never had a wine from Antinori that didn’t make me appreciate the hard work and maniacal attention to detail at every property. Here are two of my favorites.

Badia a Passignano 2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione $45.99

Chianti is serious business. There may have been a time when these wines were dismissed, but that is most certainly in the past. Badia a Passignano’s Chianti Classico Gran Selezione is a top-ten bottle in my eyes. What sets the Gran Selezione apart from the rest is that Antinori’s chief enologist Renzo Cotarella believes that it should be 100% Sangiovese. Because this Chianti is a mono-varietal wine, there is an incredible earthiness with mixed in with sweet fruit and rounded edges. This Chianti Classico is a treat. Drink now until 2025.

Guado Al Tasso 2012 Guado Al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore $109.99

Bolgheri rests along the coast of Italy and it’s arguably region most famous for the creation of the Super-Tuscan genre of wines. And that’s what this Guado al Tasso is—a great, definitive Super-Tuscan wine. A deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and a touch of Petit Verdot, this wine is rich and rustic, structured yet elegant. This Antinori bottling is always a favorite, especially if your training grounds for wine were in Napa or Bordeaux. Guado al Tasso offers excitement in its youth, but don’t be afraid to let this age a decade or more and enjoy. Drink 2017 to 2030.

Expert Picks: Il Palazzone and Fontodi

Two expert selections from Michael Adler

Michael Adler 5.29.15One of my favorite things about the Sangiovese grape is its versatility. From the humblest $8 bottle of table wine up through the timeless Brunello Riservas of Soldera and Biondi-Santi, Sangiovese offers pure pleasure to wine lovers across the globe and it’s always a perfect companion to food. Today I’m featuring two Sangiovese wines on nearly opposite ends of the spectrum; one is the entry-level non-vintage Vino da Tavola Rosso from Il Palazzone in Montalcino, while the other is one of Tuscany’s most emblematic wines, the always impressive 2004 Flaccianello from Fontodi, presented in magnum.

Il Palazzone sits west of the town of Montalcino and produces phenomenal, classic Brunellos that are traditional in style. Owned by American businessman Dick Parsons since 2000, this three-hectare estate is committed to crafting its Brunellos with the time-honored traditions of Montalcino. Rather than bottling a Rosso di Montalcino, the estate makes a Rosso del Palazzone instead, and it’s a unique, wonderful treat that’s quite affordable. The current interation of the non-vintage Rosso del Palazzone was bottled in January 2015 using juice from the 2004, 2009, 2012 and 2014 harvests to create a round, balanced expression.

Located in Panzano, the most prestigious subzone of Chianti Classico, the Fontodi estate crafts some of Italy’s very best and most sought-after wines. From its $35 Chianti Classico up through its flagship wine Flaccianello, Fontodi makes dazzling, expressive Sangiovese wines. To share a bit of personal history, when I first tasted Fontodi’s 2001 Chianti Classico back in 2008, I got my first epiphany of how insanely delicious Italian wines could be. This experience set me on the path that led me to IWM (thanks, Fontodi!).

Il Palazzone NV Rosso del Palazzone $27.99

Mid-weight and supremely delightful, the non-vintage Rosso del Palazzone bursts from the glass with expressive aromas of succulent red fruits, dried flowers, tobacco, spice, minerals and earth, and its jaunty acidity keeps the palate lively and energetic through its bright, juicy finish. An ideal wine for a Tuesday night, this Rosso del Palazzone always over-delivers its humble price, and it pairs well with just about any meal. Drink through 2018.

Fontodi 2004 Flaccianello (1.5L) $580.00

There isn’t much I can say about Fontodi’s iconic flagship Flaccianello that hasn’t already been said, but I can say this: it is incredibly delicious and will make those lucky enough to own a bottle very happy. A mono-varietal Sangiovese that’s been aged in new French oak, Flaccianello marries the very best of Toscana viticulture with French viniculture to dazzling results. A massive wine upon release, this 2004 has softened considerably, and it has settled into an ideal drinking window. Presented in 1.5L magnum, the ‘04 Flaccianello has many years left ahead of it, as the lower ratio of air to wine in the magnum bottle slows the maturation process. Those who are seriously passionate about Sangiovese should not miss out on this gem from Fontodi!

Expert Picks: Il Conventino and Cupano

Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito

Francesco 2014We all know that Thanksgiving Day is coming in just a couple of weeks, but the question of what to drink on that glorious smorgasbord of food day is still an open one. Red? White? Sparkling? Rose? Who knows! My favorite combinations tend to be good people, good food and good wines. Those three aspects inspire conversation and create lasting memories, so I don’t get too inventive about what to serve on Thanksgiving. If it helps you answer that all-important question of what to pour, here are two wines I am planning to drink!

Il Conventino 2014 Rosato $19.99

A 100% Sangiovese Rosato is not only a thing of beauty, but it is also pretty hard to come by. Most people do not think of Sangiovese being made into a rosato, which is why I want to bring this one to light today. This wine is extremely versatile due to its fresh and mildly fruity character, making it a dream to pair with many types of foods and palates. I always have a rosato on the table for most any family occasions, and the Il Conventino is one of my go-to bottles. It’s a great way to start a meal!

Cupano 2004 Rosso di Montalcino (1.5L) $94.99

More than likely you are going to have a large group of people at your Thanksgiving dinner, and one of my favorite things to do for a group is to open large format wines with a little bit of age. A Rosso di Montalcinos is perfect for a Thanksgiving feast because it is a very versatile wine that can pair with just about anything. This Cupano Rosso di Montalcino is elegant enough for turkey and rich enough to stand up to the more opulent side dishes. Cupano’s 2004 Rosso hails from one of the top recent vintages in Montalcino, so it’s a complete all-star.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Castello di Selvole 2012 Chianti Classico  

A tasty under $25 Sangiovese Chianti Classico that’s anything but ordinary!

RD9047-2When you think about Tuscany, you probably think of Chianti, one of the most famous wines in the world. The beautiful Castello di Selvole Chianti Classico 2012 is not your ordinary Chianti. A historic producer whose roots stretch back to 1070, Castello di Selvole embodies the role that Chianti Classico has had in shaping Tuscan identity. This Chianti Classico, which is among my personal favorites, is crafted in a mix of traditional and international protocol; this wine ages in barrique before bottling, where it rests for three months before release. It’s a delicious, evocative Chianti Classico that makes food sing.

As fall is unfolding with its beautiful light and colors, I wanted to make a comforting dish that would be ideal for the crisp weather. The ragù Toscano that I chose to cook is actually the first Italian recipe I learned how to prepare. When I first moved to Italy, one of my good friends named Giovanni was an apprentice chef and shared with me this recipe he originally got from his Tuscan grandmother.

I highly recommend opening the beautiful Castello di Selvole Chianti Classico a couple hours before tasting. The high acidity of the Sangiovese grape is perfect for the tomato-based ragù, and it pairs perfectly. This ’12 Chianti Classico has great balance, and after aerating for a couple of hours, it shows beautifully. Open a couple of bottles of this $25 Chianti Classico, invite a bunch of your friends, and celebrate the fall with my friend Giovanni’s recipe for ragù Toscano.

Ingredients for fettuccine al ragù for 8-10 people:

Extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half

2 carrots, finely diced

4 celery sticks, finely diced

One bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley

Three sprigs of thyme

One sprig of rosemary

A few fresh basil leaves

2 bay leaves

2 bottles of Castello selvole Chianti Classico

3 Pounds of ground meat (ideally 50% beef and 50% veal)

2 classic Italian sausages.

Canned peeled San Marzano DOP tomatoes (approximately 70 oz)

3 teaspoons of tomato concentrate

Salt and pepper to taste

soffrittoFinely dice the onion, carrots, and celery and mix them together.

In a very large pot gently heat some extra virgin olive oil and add the vegetables, let cook this soffritto for 5 min at medium heat or until the vegetables have softened.

ragu meatIn the meantime, open up the sausages and mix together with the ground meat in a very large bowl.

Add some olive oil, salt, pepper, minced parsley, thyme and rosemary to the meat. Mix well.

ragu meat cookingAdd the meat and the garlic cloves to the vegetables in the pot; increase the heat to HIGH and stir well. Once the water released by the meat evaporates, add ¾ of bottle of Chianti Classico. Keep the heat on HIGH to let the alcohol evaporate for approximately 7 minutes.

tomato cookingOnce the alcohol has evaporated, add the peeled tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of tomato concentrate and a cup of water. Adjust the salt level. Mix well and bring to a boil.

ragu near finishedLower the heat to LOW and cover. Let cook for 3 hours.

You can stir gently every 45 minutes. For the last 45 minutes of cooking, you can take the lid off and let your ragù evaporate a little bit to reach desired consistency.

Toss the pasta in a 5-quart pot filled with salted water. Once the pasta is cooked, put it in a large plate, cover with the ragu sauce and add some leaves of fresh basil. You can use long pasta like pappardelle, tagliatelle, spaghetti, or you can use short pasta like paccheri, or rigatoni.

Tm6aWg0MS1vV5TNA2ZWPlEKRr26KMmBMNC-zKftjoLGKMGUlh5Purs3VC1HOE21H-tbtSg=s2048Then settle back and enjoy the warmth of friendship, home cooking, and Chianti Classico!

How We Got Chianti Classico

Why Chianti Classico embodies the whole history of Italian wine

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All roads lead to Chianti

As much as Chianti Classico is the embodiment of Toscana, it is also a quintessential illustration of how deeply problematic DOC laws can be. The history of Chianti Classico–both its geographical location and its wines–is more or less the story of a restless conflict between the wine producer and the governing body, and how, in the end, though the latter may try to shape the former, the wine producer wins.

In some ways, it all begins and ends in the eighteenth century. In 1716, the Grand Duchy of Toscana Cosimo III de’Medici wrote the first set of laws regulating the cultivation of grapes and vinification of Tuscan wine and designated the hilly region nestled between Siena and Firenze as Chianti. This geographical designation stayed in place until the 1932 Dalmasso Commission (a DOC precursor) expanded the region and added additional sub-zones to the Chianti name; these included San Casciano Val di Pesa to the west, as well as Chiocchio, Strada (in Chianti), and San Polo to the north. This enlarged area became the geographical basis for the 1967 DOC designation, during which time there was no DOC distinction between Chianti and Chianti Classico. It was all just Chianti.

What this rezoning meant was that Chianti Classico, other than gaining in size and going from a relatively tidy zone to a bloated region, also saw its wine tradition become suddenly more diffuse. This diffusion, however, wasn’t exactly anything new. Historically, Chianti had been made of Canaiolo, Sangiovese, and Mammolo and Marzemino. But Chianti also was as much a region as a style of wine, for historical slang called any vermillion or Florentine wine “Chianti.” In an attempt to codify his region’s most famous wine, nineteenth- century nobleman, Baron Bettini Ricasoli advised that the Chianti formula be crafted using Sangiovese for its basis, along with added parts of Canaiolo and white grapes, and in fact he mandated that the region’s vineyards grow specific percentages of these grapes.

Panzano's Fontodi gives a view of the Conca d'Oro

Panzano’s Fontodi gives a view of the Conca d’Oro

Taking the Baron’s somewhat apocryphal recipe as a form of gospel, the DOC officially made it the formula for Chianti in 1967, requiring Chianti to use Sangiovese (from 75-100%), with ample doses of Canaiolo (max. of 10%), and up to 30% of white grapes (Trebbiano Toscano and/or Malvasia Bianca). While the Baron created his Chianti mandates with the best of intentions, he ended up paving the road to bad wine, for those good intentions essentially gave a blank check to the impoverished producers of 1960’s and 70’s Italy to make wine for sheer quantity, not quality.  The cheap, pizza-place, fish-shaped, straw-covered fiasco Chianti was born.

But if it’s true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then it’s equally true that necessity is the mother of invention, and so in 1924 some producers in what had been the original 1716 Chianti region–and what would later become Chianti Classico–staged a revolt. These producers did two things: they banded together to create the Gallo Negro, or Black Rooster, a consortium of like-minded producers, and they made great wine that staunchly refused to fit the DOC paradigm.  Producers like Antinori, Fontodi and Tenuta San Guido rebelled by making wines that were 100% Sangiovese, or Sangiovese mixed with international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, and thereby they gave birth to the so-called Super-Tuscan movement. Sitting outside the DOC paradigm, these wines were called vin da tavola and designated IGT–or table wine–the lowest classification. It didn’t matter. People bought them. And soon the DOC realized they had to change.

In 1984, two DOCG designations, Chianti Classico and Chianti, were created that forever split the region. Chianti Classico’s geographical area essentially replicated the original 1716 Chianti designation. In addition to a smaller, neater region of 17,000 acres, DOCG regulations for Chianti Classico limited the grape production, so while those same 17,000 acres produced 8.5 million gallons of wine in the late 1980s, by 2004, production dropped to about 6.5 million gallons.  In fact, the 1984 DOCG Chianti Classico laws support the Black Rooster’s aim of making Chianti great: in addition to maximum production amounts, DOCG laws set minimum extract amounts (extracts are the solids in wine that provide flavor), longer aging requirements and more flexible varietal requirements.

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Castello dei Rampolla unfolds in biodynamic rows

The Chianti Classico DOCG laws that followed in 1984 decreased the allowable usage of white grape varietals to a maximum of 6%. Conversely, the laws allowed international varietals—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah in a maximum of 10%. Producers responded by making improvements in the cellar like installing temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, replacing older botti with smaller barriques, and implementing longer maceration periods. The end result was Chianti that tasted like Toscana: bold, powerful, earthy, and redolent of fruit and violets.

In 1996, Chianti Classico DOCG once more revised the initial laws established in 1984 to include a maximum of 15% international varietals—making the white grape blessedly optional. In 2006, an additional provision was mandated; starting with the 2006 vintage, wines labeled Chianti Classico DOCG must be comprised of 80-100% Sangiovese and 20% other permitted red grape varietals. Other than geography, this elimination of the white grape requirement delineates the main difference between Chianti Classico DOCG and Chianti DOCG. (Chianti DOCG retains the 1984 laws, which allow for a higher percentage of white grapes and a lower percentage of international varietals.)

For a list of IWM’s fine Chiantis, go here. There are some beautiful Sangiovese wines from them there Tuscan hills. And don’t miss the 2010 La Maialina Chianti Classico featured in today’s eLetter. It’s under $19!

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