Over the years, Zinfandel gained the nickname of “America’s grape”. Yes, it has been around a very long time AND its evolution has been quite remarkable to say the least. Recently, I had been reminded by long time, noted wine journalist Randy Caparoso, the merits of the Zinfandel grape variety—not only at how tasty and interesting it can be and how very different it can be when grown in a different terroir and microclimate, but mainly how wonderfully food friendly it can also be. Although all of his points were well founded, I found the food friendly reminder the most intriguing. That is what really inspired us to do this dinner.
The challenge with Zin is finding the “good” ones, as not all Zins are created equal. We will feature three very tasty, interesting and unique renditions for this evening. We have worked hard to get these wines because they are so different and each provides a glimpse of their respective region and their VERY different style of winemaking. Chef Keith Endo created dishes for each and we hope the wines and the pairings will not only taste good, but will shed light on what can be.
WINE: Scherrer Zinfandoodle “Alexander Valley”–One of my true aha moments with Californian wine was the tasting the 1991 Scherrer Zinfandel, it truly was that good and memorable. In a day, where BIG, black, opulent, heart, robust renditions were in fashion, the Scherrer was instead quite elegant, suave, wonderfully transparent, textured and finely balanced. It took us somewhere between seven to nine years to finally get some of his Zin to Hawaii. In the past few years, Fred Scherrer then released a Zinfandoodle—a fanciful name coined by his grandfather—which a much more playful, delicious, wonderfully food friendly blend of two or three vintages of fruit also from his father’s vineyard in the Alexander Valley. (I later discovered part of the core is from a small patch of vines which produce seedless grapes). We love how unpretentious and welcoming it truly is and on this night we want to show how special it can be at the dinner table.
WINE: Edmeades Zinfandel “Mendocino”–My love affair with Edmeades began starting with the 1994 vintage. Then winemaker Van Williamson fashion such brooding, burly, hearty, wild and wooly old vine, single vineyard Zinfandels that were masculine, full of mojo and soulfulness. The most fascinating bottling, however, proved to the “Mendocino” Zinfandel. I learned it was fashioned after the homemade wines of old. In the old days, European migrants didn’t have the luxury of producing a white wine for fish AND a red wine for meat. So, the one wine they made had to work with both fish AND meat. This was that style of wine—much more tame, civil, well textured and balanced. The current Edmeades winemaker, Ben Salazar has since fine tuned the winemaking—freshening it up and taking out the funk-centric idiosyncrasies AND without comprising the mojo, virility and soulfulness whatsoever.
WINE: Ancient Peaks Zinfandel “Paso Robles”–Ancient Peaks is a winery owned by three families down in southern Paso Robles. Their estate vineyard, Santa Margarita Ranch is located at roughly 1,000 feet in the very remote hills of the appellations coolest sweet spot. There are at least five different and unique soil types, of which are used to produce this wine. I chased and lobbied to get some of this wine to Hawaii for years. I love its blue collar, down to earth personality and how delicious, food friendly and gulpable it really is.
Hudson Valley Duck Confit—homemade cavatelli, Swiss chard & port wine reduction
This was quite an interesting dinner!
featuring a very different slant on what wine & food pairing could be.
We continually search to find really “good”, interesting wines from along the Mediterranean basin and from afar to bring home to offer our valued guests. Here is a taste of four sparkling wines it has taken some time to gather. While Champagne is still “King of the Hill” in the bubbly category, there are some interesting, unique & completely refreshing sparkling wines to experience. Each of these provides a very different slant of bubbly can be. Each brings a smile to the face, when reminiscing of my first taste/encounter. And, I feel they deserve a “voice”. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity.
Lokelani Brut Rose–Here is a wonderfully, light, tasty, completely refreshing sparkling wine from Maui Winery. I have so much respect for Paula Hegele, the proprietor/visionary. Despite seemingly insurmountable challenge after challenge, she has stayed the course for 43 years of grit, determination and complete passion. Imagine, for instance, NO dormancy for the vines, no “sleeping/rejuvenation” (imagine you never sleeping?). Imagine being in tropical climate where there are diseases, pests, etc that no one would know how to treat? Paula persevered through it AND with the charming, ulifting, genuine smile and twinkle in her eye. She deserves our support. A toast to Paula!
Birichino Cinsault “Pet Nat”—“fizzy & so tasty & refreshing”. You start off with really interesting Cinsault grapes, in this case from the iconic Bechthold vineyard out in Lodi, which was planted in 1886!!!! Most is used to produce their Old Vine Cinsault bottling. The leftover and the saignee is used to this orange-brown tinged Petulant Naturel—“Pet Nat”, using the Old World’s Ancestrale Methode”, capped thus trapping the CO2 in solution. Yes, a completely different take of what fizzy wine can be.
Lambert de Seyssel “Petite Royal”–One of the historic, iconic sparkling wines of France—located in Savoie of eastern France. This estate was bought back and is being resurrected since 2008. 70% Molette and 30% Altesse which are two indigenous grape varieties of the area grown in clay-limestone. The sparkling wines of Seyssel indulge in the same méthode traditionnelle production techniques used for Champagne. This cuvee is two years sur latte and an additional ten months on the lees. Pure, minerally, wonderfully refreshing AND a completely different slant on what sparkling wine can be.
Wolfberger Cremant d’Alsace Rose–Now, here is something one doesn’t run across too often here in Hawaii—a sparkling wine from Alsace, France. Back in the 1990’s in my former life as a wine distributor, we used to bring in the Wolfberger because of its breathtaking purity, its silky, though uplifting texture and its true deliciousness. Well, here is their Cremant d’Alsace Rose—100% Pinot Noir–done in the same méthode traditionnelle production techniques used for Champagne (15 months on the lees). Yet, another different perspective in what sparkling wines can be!
Over the years, I have encountered many red zinfandels that stunned me with their beauty, intriguing vinosity, savoriness, tastiness and wonderful food-friendliness. I vividly remember the 1976 Ridge “Lytton Springs” as one of the first to absolutely wow me and create a lifelong memory.
My journey with this long-time California grape variety has continued and evolved, with many other memorable experiences.
I was recently reminded by Randy Caparoso, a noted wine journalist and former founding partner/wine guru of the Roy’s Restaurant group, that we should be paying more attention to zinfandel-based wines, as they can have lots of flavor, mojo and innate character, while also being incredibly food-friendly, a point that Caparoso, as a former sommelier, strongly advocates.
In addition, many top producers are championing really old, heritage vines grown in various nooks and crannies throughout California, rather than replacing those vines with more popular, mass market grape varieties. The real enticement, however, is value —especially compared with grapes like pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
Care for a taste? Here are recommendations for really interesting zinfandels:
2016 Ancient Peaks Zinfandel “Paso Robles”–grown in the Santa Margarita Ranch, in the hills of southern Paso Robles, Calif., at roughly 1,000 feet in elevation, is owned and operated by three ranching families (real cowboys). My wife and I chased & lobbied them for many years to get some of their wines to the islands. The ranch has at least five distinct soil types, three of which contribute to this wine — shale, volcanic and rocky alluvium. I love how earnest, blue-collar and welcoming this wine is, year after year. Serve it at barbecues (slightly chilled), with pizzas and meatloaf, or simply pour it when friends come over to talk story after an especially long, hard day at work.
2013 Edmeades Zinfandel “Gianoli Vineyard”–Starting with the 1994 vintage, Edmeades, with winemaker Van Williamson at the helm, has crafted some of the most provocative, hearty, robust, soul-stirring zinfandels out of California. Now under the direction of winemaker Ben Salazar, Edmeades zinfandels are somehow more civil, not as wild, wooly and “funk-centric,” yet they remain true to the soul of their stable of top-notch vineyards. I’ve written before about Edmeades “Mendocino” bottling which is more readily available. They also produce a small, high-quality portfolio of single-vineyard zinfandels, in this case from Gianoli Vineyard, an iconic site in the remote, rugged, high-elevation Mendocino Ridge appellation. It was first planted in 1882, although roughly 40% was replanted in 1997 using cuttings from onsite heirloom vines. The wine is certainly is something to write home about — bold, full of mountain-grown, old-vine character, structure and complexities. While only 250 cases were produced, it is worth searching out.
2016 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines”–This has been a unique and heartfelt rendition of old-vine zin since the original 1991 vintage. Smelling and tasting that 1991 bottle was an aha moment for me, providing a compelling example of what zinfandel can be. What draws me to this wine is that it is an old-vine zinfandel crafted by a pinot noir master, meaning it is much more transparent, civil and refined. Recently, a regular guest kindly shared the 1997 vintage of this wine with several of us. It certainly had a pinot-esque edge in terms of transparency, texture and balance. It was truly lovely. Having tasted every vintage of this bottling over the years, I can say the 2016 is stellar today, but just wait and see what 20 or more years of additional bottle aging will bring. It certainly will be a worthwhile adventure. Scherrer also produces Zinfandoodle–a charming blend of two or three vintages. This terrific wine “find” is also quite a good match for a wide array of dishes, from fowl to meat, from casual to more serious fare.
This is just the starting point. Other noteworthy renditions I have also seen available in Hawaii on a much more limited basis include those from—Carlisle (one of the most acclaimed & prolific masters of old vine Zinfandel); Turley (quite the cache producer of unique Zins from up & down California, now with winemaking prodigy Tegan Passalacqua at the helm); and Linne Calodo (the Problem Child & Outsider bottlings, which showcase the minerality of the marine soils of Paso Robles and therefore a completely different slant on what Zinfandel can be).
As a side note, Caparoso is now championing many family owned, old-heritage-vine zinfandels from the Lodi, Calif., region, where he lives. I have tasted several, and would say they give a completely different perspective on what this grape variety wants to say. As more of these real treasures come to the islands, I will make sure to spread the word.
At VINO as regulars well know by now, we continually search to find really “good”, interesting wines from along the Mediterranean basin & from afar to bring home & offer our valued guests. Once in a while, we strike GOLD. Yup, this is one of those occasions. The Jackpot!!!!…featuring a quartet of Muscat based white wines. The Muscat grape is very widely planted throughout the world. There are many sub-varieties of this vine and they all produce very different takes, most of which can be quite forgettable. We are fortunate to sample Muscat based wines from around the world. Our task for this tasting was to find four which will show tasters what this grape variety can be, under the right circumstances. Yup, we think these four unforgettable wines are really worth tasting and experiencing. I am pretty jazzed about this one, as we are always looking for really good aromatic white wines, which can create a whole ‘nother dimension to wine & food pairings. Yes, this is yet another tasting that we hope will help affect change.
2015 Botani Moscatel Old Vines”–This is old vine (planted in1946, 1968 and 1975) Moscatel de Alejandría grown on the very steep, rocky (slate & quartz soiled) hillsides of Sierra de Málaga. Yes, yet another dry, aromatic white wine, done with a more masculine, virile touch. We love its uplifting, mesmerizing combination of lime blossom & stony nuances & its striking, dynamic mouthfeel. “Botani Moscatel was chosen in 2016 by Robert Parker as one of the three best wines of the world with best value for money”.
2013 Zind-Humbrect Muscat—“undeniably the most celebrated Muscat producer in the entire appellation”. Where the home turf of Alsace is a rather sleeping, relaxing countryside, it is also the home turf to Olivier Humbrecht one of the world’s larger than life superstar winemakers AND his extraordinary white wines. Yes, his wines have incredible concentration levels, but today, done with much more grace & civility than in his younger years. AND, they also have a clearer focus on terroir than amplification & sheer power. The 2013 Turkheim bottling featured fruit from mainly the alluvial Herrenweg vineyard. It was also a vintage where the acidity levels were naturally higher & the resulting wine that much fresher on the palate. Definitely a wine that will add interesting & different perspective to this tasting.
2014 Les Mille Vignes Muscat Sec–Hear ye, hear ye! Let us introduce you to the wine wizardry of New Age winemaking prodigy Valérie Guérin, the hottest wine phenom in France who has a cult like following for her wines. Her family’s domaine is located in Fitou down in southern France (an exclusively red wine appellation). “The terroir is an amalgam of strong natural elements: clay, limestone, and schist soils; wild scrubland scented with thyme and lavender, and perhaps the most potent force of all, Tramontagne—a fierce wind that sometimes seems it will never stop blowing”. She also produces a miniscule amount of white wine, though not labeled as Fitou, this is a most dazzling and unique white wine produced from the Muscat à petit grains. You will be entranced by how she masterfully combines the stoniness of the soils, character of the surrounding wild countryside with the exotic, profuse, mesmerizing perfume of the Muscat grape, as only she can do. I doubt you have ever had a wine like this before.
2018 Giovanni Montisci “Modestu”–To end this fabulous tasting, we finish with a VERY rare treat!…..a wine I would easily describe as “otherworldly”, it is so wonderfully unique & noteworthy. It really is the wine which made us jump on a plane for 32 hours of planes & airports to go see. PLUS, many hours of driving the radically, ever turning/winding, narrow roads just to actually get there. Montisci owns & works but 2 hectares of vines….in this case at least 60 years in age, grown in sandy-granite soils at roughly 2200 feet in elevation, in the remote mountains of central Sardegna. Yes, this is old vine Moscato vinified dry (or close to it, with a most interesting & unique, fleshy, viscous texture & lots of swag. It certainly caught my fancy. Thankfully, we were able to get ONE case & after a few of years of trying. No, it is not a fad wine. It is a real standout & redefines what this aromatic grape variety can be!
We continually search for really interesting wines from around the Mediterranean basin—indigenous, family owned and operated, heirloom/heritage vines and farmed sustainably. We recently ran across TWO very noteworthy family wine projects—one from Campania and one from Mt. Etna in Sicily. They certainly caught our attention! Really good juice. Here is your chance to try them yourself. How often do opportunities like this come around?
Terre del Vescovo–We continually search for interesting wines in Italy’s Campania region which is probably most famous for being the home turf of Mt. Vesuvius. We feel this is also the home turf (of potentially Cru quality) of the indigenous, highly revered Aglianico grape variety. The true artisanal, more traditionally produced renditions are indeed getting harder and harder to find! Terre del Vescovo recently popped up on the radar screen and we were quite taken with their wines. “They own and farm four hectares of vineyards in Montemarano, a top cru of the Taurasi zone where the appellation’s highest-elevation sites yield chiseled, mineral, age-worthy reds. At up to 2100 feet above sea level on soils of clay and limestone, the vines benefit from significant diurnal temperature shifts crucial to developing complex, well-defined flavors and preserving freshness at this southerly latitude. Thanks to this slow maturation, the late-ripening Aglianico is harvested in November, sometimes under a blanket of snow”. On this night, we will sample two of their wines.
2017 Coda di Volpe “Kisteis”–Coda di Volpe is an ancient grape variety to the area and is used to make very interesting regional white wines, most notably Lacrima Christi Bianco. This is a very interesting, fresh, stony rendition grown in the estate’s clay limestone soils and age on its fine lees for 2 to 3 months. Certainly caught our eye.
2010 Irpinia Campi Taurasini “Re’na Vota”–“The King” is produced from 100% Aglianico, planted in 1952. This wine deftly shows the vast potential Aglianico innately has. The wine spends four years in large botti and one year in bottle before release. Here is your chance to try it, in all its glory.
Grottafumata–Interestingly, this estate is really noted and revered for their high quality olive oil. Come to find out, they also produce small amounts of wine too, on the eastern slope of Mount Etna. The area is actually named Mount Ilice—1.4 hectares located on the closest part of Etna to the Mediterranean Sea—at a 45 degree slant, nearly 2800 feet in elevation. The old vines (40 to 100 years in age) struggle in the volcanic soils, strong winds, cooler growing temperatures to eke out some very special juice. We will be tasting two of their wines on this night.
2017 “Lato Sud” Bianco–This is a studly, masculine white wine with lots of bravado and swag. Yup, nothing shy or demure here. 70% Carricante, 30% Catarratto, with very small percentages of Minnella, Grecanico, Terribile, Inzolia and Coda di Volpe (40 to 100 years old). The wine is then wild yeast fermented in clay amphora for three days, completes its malolactic in and then aged in stainless for nine months.
2017 “Lato Sud” Rosso–This is NOT a big, full throttle red, as most tasters might expect. It is quite masculine, VERY savory, vinous, stony with quite a surprising transparency and purity of old vines (40 to 100 year old vines) & terroir. Well worth the effort of getting some that’s for sure!
One of the world’s most famous soil and vine combinations is Chardonnay grown in limestone/calcareous soils. They usually create an incredibly dynamic synergy which creates oenological magic, in a way which creates something so unique and somewhat unrecognizable to most avid New World Chardonnay fans. Yes, these are wines somehow much more about the soil the vines grow in, rather just flavors & nuances associated with the Chardonnay grape variety itself. It is the caterpillar that has transformed into a gorgeous, breathtaking butterfly. Something you, after the fact, scratch your head in wonderment. Here are four terrific renditions to better show you what we mean. All four come from Burgundy, France, each with a different composition of limestone influenced soils AND each done by a different winemaker. How often do opportunities like this come around?
2016 Henri Perrusset Macon Villages–We start off with a “country” style Chardonnay, produced by a father and son team. I say “country” style because of how unpretentious it thankfully is. NO fanfare, NO oak, NO foo-foo. Just downright delicious, earnest, food friendly and gulpable. A true standout in its category. I wish there were more wines made today with these kinds of values.
2014 Maison L’Envoye Bourgogne Blanc “Vieilles Vignes”–What a terrific discovery this 2014 has been. Produced from 45 to 50 year old vines, biodynamically raised down in the Maconnais. It is really a wine about limestone soils and old vines, rather than grape variety and winemaking. We absolutely love its purity, minerality and remarkable etherealness.
2014 Antoine Jobard Bourgogne Blanc–As many of this domaine’s neighbors would attest to, Jobard produces some of the very best Bourgogne Blanc and wines in all of Burgundy. The grapes, for this seemingly unassuming labeled white wine, are a blend of four parcels–Herbeaux, En l’Ormeau, La Monatine, and Sous la Velle—a total of 1.12 hectares. The wine is fermented and aged in barrel with lengthy lees contact–all is done in a very slow, continuous manner. Don’t be deceived by the label and nomenclature, this is a wine to behold, because of its fortitude, mojo, pedigree and vehement structure. Historically, the Jobard wines take a very long time to unwind and strut their stuff. Antoine carries his truly iconic father’s legacy forward, which we can readily see with this wine.
2015 Larue St. Aubin Premier Cru “Murgers des Dents de Chien”–St. Aubin is located just behind the Montrachet and Chevalier slope and just north of Chassagne Montrachet. Domaine Larue is one of the most revered out of St. Aubin and Burgundy, in general because their mastery of growing and masterfully making their Chardonnay based whites that “sing its limestone birth right”. The Premier Cru “Murgers des Dents de Chien” parcel is their showpiece and is but 1.12 hectares in size, planted in 1946, ‘64, ‘72, ‘90 & ‘97. It is barrel fermented and spends ten to twelve months on the lees. The resulting whites have mesmerizing purity/minerality with wonderful vinosity, innate and more “delicate” complexities which are quite stunning.
There is no doubt that the Grenache grape variety is capable of producing top echelon wine. Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a prime example and I would also add to that the Sucette Grenache from Vine Vale of southern Barossa Valley, Australia. There are far more so-so Grenache based grapes being grown & produced and like with all categories of wines, it really is about sifting through the onslaught of possibilities and finding the gems. Here are four very interesting renditions. I believe each will give tasters a perspective on what this venerable grape variety can be.
2015 Cirillo Grenache “The Vincent”–One of very top Grenache specialists from Australia. What separates this wine from many of its peers is its wonderful savoriness. The Vincent is a thank you to my father who has passed eight generations of Italian winemaking & grape growing knowledge down to the ninth. This Grenache is produced from two 100+ year old vineyards, which are predominately sand, from the renowned Barossa Valley of Australia”. This wine deftly combines The inherent fruitiness of this unique Grenache with the innate vinosity of these old vines & transparency & core of minerality highlighted by the predominately sandy soils the vines grow in.
2016 Tres Ojos “Old Vines”–A very delicious, charming old vine Grenache based “country” styled red wine from Calatayud in northern Spain. The warm climate and loose, rocky soils work together to make this a perennial Great Value.
2015 Gramenon Vinsobres “La Papesse”–Gramenon is truly one of the champions of uber-sustainable vineyard work, bordering fanatical and are renown internationally reverently for their beliefs AND their resulting wines. The La Papesse bottling is produced from 100% 60+ year old Grenache vines grown in a small enclave in northern part of the southern Rhone valley named Vinsobres. Typically for me, this is the star bottling as it deftly displays a very provocative transparency and profound vinosity and savoriness.
2017Giovanni Montisci Cannonau de Sardegna “Barossu”–Is Cannonau in fact Grenache? To some yes, even in Sardegna they say it is the same, but I, on the other hand, would say they are related. In any case, this producer, his vineyards and his wines were one of the real standout visits during a long, pretty comprehensive wine trip to the islands of Corsica and Sardegna late last Fall. I wouldn’t say they are Grand Cru in their intent. His wines have a deliberate-ness, a core of old vine-ness, savoriness and soul that stirs one’s gut and moves you. Grown high up the hills of Mamoiada, this real garage-ist is one to definitely keep an eye on. I place it along with the most unique, memorable, artisanal wines of our 40 plus year journey. We have been waiting along time for its arrival and here is your chance to try it.
There you have it, four really interesting renditions of what Grenache can be.
Another leg of our late Fall trip to Italy was up to Alto Piemonte, a roughly 2 hour drive north (& slightly east) of Alba. I had wanted to visit this wine growing area for many years, actually after my first eye opening tastes of THREE different bottlings (each on a separate occasion) of Gattinara, back in the 1980’s. Though they displayed spellbinding Nebbiolo character through and through, each were not like any Barolo/Barbaresco/Roero I had had previously.
Furthermore, with the rising prices, especially over the past decade, of quality Barolo (& Barbaresco), a sourcing/insight gathering trip to the area would hopefully lead to finding fine & interesting Nebbiolo based red wines from small, artisan wineries AND at much more affordable prices.
In short, it was a truly incredible trek providing far more insight & knowledge (from an incredible core of regional insiders) than I could have wished for. AND, I walked away shocked at how small the area is in terms of vine acreage & production & how limited the number of producers there actually are (I was told somewhere between 40 & 50)!
We visited 3 to 5 winemakers a day (including walking the vineyards & tasting some wine). As tired as we might have been, for me, I was exhilarated. As I had noted on previous posts, this trek reminded me so much of the one I did in the late 80’s/early 90’s to France’s Rhone Valley, BEFORE it became an “IT” wine region & small, true artisan wines were so authentic–movingly so– & still relatively undiscovered in the U.S..
Well, from the Alto Piemonte visits, my cousin Mike, my wife Cheryle & I hand carried some bottles back to the Islands, so we could one day do a tasting with a group just to share our spoils–very carefully selected wines, pictures & stories. This was that day!
You will note most of these wines, unlike their counterparts in Barolo/Barbaresco are NOT 100% Nebbiolo. FYI–the legal grape mix maximums/minimums of each area is governed by law & were set based upon years of experience & history. Some have even noted, while this certainly adds to the differences of their wines, we found it really is their terroir (what the vineyard wants to say) that is their focus in any given year.
So, here was the line up for this tasting. (I only wish we could have carried back even more as there were so many notable producers that we visited & tasted their wines, but we just had no room in our collective luggage).
BALDIN–the lead off batter for this tasting was a Bramaterra from phenom, rising winemaking star Matteo Baldin. In our planning stages, we had wanted to visit him, but he declined because it was harvest after all. Completely understandable. (I later discovered he also serves as winemaker for Poderi ai Valloni of Boca–so he is actually wearing at least 2 different hats professionally.) Matteo owns but 1.5 hectares in Bramaterra, planted in 2004 in clay-volcanic-porphyry soils. His own wine was very good & very stylishly crafted– comprised of 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina & 10% Vespolina, seeing 12 days in stainless & 24 months in small barriques. It thankfully still showcases the Nebbiolo mojo, structure & linear tannins, but is much more civil, seemingly more suave, rounder than other’s wines, as it flows on your palate.
ANTONIOTTI–here is yet another Bramaterra star. In fact, I should rightfully ADD that Odilio Antoniotti is without a doubt one of the most revered, long time, iconic winemaking masters of the entire Alto Piemonte according to all of his peers we met & spoke with. (& I would add–deservedly so). For some unexplainable reason, Antoniotti was NOT on our PRE-trip radar screen. Thank goodness he came so vehemently recommended AND by so many different insiders. (In fact, it really was regional superstar winemaking consultant, Cristiano Garella, who was able to get a last minute visit, which I am so thankful to him for). Odilio & his wines really moved me & greatly added to our Alto Piemonte experience, that’s for sure! Antoniotti owns & farms 5.5 hectares in Bramaterra) on mostly volcanic-porphyry (low organic matter) soils. (Because he spoke no English, when we were in his vineyard, he made it a point to break apart one of the rocks to show us the more reddish core, showing us there is also some iron present as well). Odilio is the 6th generation of his family to own & run the estate, which is at least part of the reason why his plantings have a lot of old vines (averaging 50 years in age–something not too many other estates of the entire region can boast about). His son Matia now has joined the estate. Theirs is what they say is a more traditional grape mix–70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina, 7% Vespolina & 3% Uva Rara. Their Bramaterra is co-fermented (using NO stems) in OLD (1901) underground concrete & then aged in BIG, OLD oak for 3 years before bottling. Yes, theirs is authentic, very traditional minded Alto Piemontese red wine–provocatively earthy, musky, wonderfully savory & intriguingly rustic in character, mouthfeel & soul. This certainly proved to be one of the real standout “finds” of our trip. This wine was so deserved of the very prestigious Tres Bichieri (3 glasses) recognition it recently was honored with by Gambero Rosso, one of Italy’s highest accolades.
BONIPERTI–we purposely poured this wine from Fara next, although, Fara is a very different denomination than Bramaterra. The intent, however, was just something traditional minded (Antoniotti) side by side with something more contemporary minded (Boniperti). The difference was crystal clear, at least to me. In addition,
this Fara was also bestowed Tres Bichieri by Gambero Rosso. Most of the more experienced tasters really gravitated to this wine because of how suave, surprisingly refined & well textured it really is, without compromising character & mojo. Owner/winemaker extraordinaire Gilberto Boniperti is very charming/endearing, well mannered & well spoken in a very down to earth manner. He was as much a highlight of this trip as was his wines. Boniperti owns roughly 4 hectares in Fara (planted in 2003). (I was shocked to find out that between the 2 villages of this appellation (Fara & Briona) there are today only 5 producers.). Cristiano Garella is the behind the scenes winemaking consultant/advisor. This microclimate is warmer than Boca or Gattinara which might help explained its rounder mouthfeel. The Fara wine is typically 70% Nebbiolo with the rest made up of Uva Rara or Vespolina in varying amounts vintage to vintage. The wine sees 1 year in BIG barrel. This is certainly a wine to keep an eye out for. With all of the recent accolades & acclaim, let’s hope moving forward the prices do not escalate based upon a supply-demand fever.
PODERI AI VALLONI–I was really quite taken with this estate (& proprietor Anna Sertorio), which we found out is the oldest in the Boca appellation. There is much thought given to its current renaissance AND all done with respect for the land & this family’s long heritage with the property. Very heartfelt. There is but 3 1/2 hectares planted (still mostly nurturing some of the oldest vines in the appellation)–southeast & southwest facing, at 1600 feet in elevation–located within the the Mount Fenera national (UNESCO–2014) park, a spot which historically was greatly affected when an ancient volcano imploded. The main soils are therefore red & yellow porphyry. The vineyards are planted on the hillsides contouring around the apex where the winery is located, all done with much care & respect for the surrounding area. Their Boca is typically produced from 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Vespolina & 10% Uva Rara–each fermented separately & later blended together. We really liked the wines–as they were so savory, virile & earnest. I would add, however, since there is a true renaissance happening here, especially with the addition of winemaking phenom Matteo Baldin (since 2017), I suggest you keep an eye out as this estate truly blossoms to a whole ‘other level.
CARLONE–also calls Boca home. Currently there is 10 hectares of vineyards planted at roughly 420 feet in elevation (one of the coolest spots in the appellation) with porphyry-sand soils & very rocky under the top soil. (There is currently plans to prep & plant roughly 2 more hectares on the much steeper, more evidently rocky slope across the road.). We were fortunate to be there at harvest & can say Davide Carlone is one of the last to harvest–(where almost all of his peers had their grapes at the winery already, Carlone was picking the 2019 harvest only the day before the forecasted week long heavy rains–at least 2 weeks later than some). While Davide is seemingly so self assured & strong willed, Cristiano Garella is wisely a consultant here too. Watching Cristiano observe the harvesting, the grape crushing, also checking out the fermentations & then giving his advice on all of the facets to Davide was fascinating. It was an exercise, not only on tweaking the winemaking methodology, but also a masterfully executed delivery of getting the strong minded Davide to listen & understand the hows & the whys. When Cristiano left, Davide, despite being in the middle of crunch time, insisted we try some of his wines–bottled & barrel samples (each showcasing one of the 8 to 10 different Nebbiolo clones/vine selections, whose ready to harvest grapes which we sampled in the vineyard. Yes, this was an incredible, unforgettable opportunity!). There were several cuvees which we found exciting & so noteworthy. His is a more contemporary style–suave, riper, more forward in its youth, without compromising the “dirt” & the fiery, robust, mojo of the core. This is a style of wine which will gather lots of accolades & win over lots of new, perspective buyers. (By the way, his Boca is typically –70 to 90% Nebbiolo, 10 to 30% Uva Rada/Vespolina–the mix varying from vintage to vintage. And, the wine will age in older, LARGE Slavonian oak–(I didn’t see any small barrels while there)–for 24 months.
MAZZONI–there were 2 wines we were recommended to try on the first night when we arrived–one from Brigatti & the other from Mazzoni. (By the way, BOTH were highly & thankfully recommended
as “must sees” pre-trip by Gilberto Boniperti). So, on this night, we tried a bottle of each. They were stellar AND only heightened our excitement for the upcoming visits. Mazzoni is a small, 3 generation, truly artisan estate–complete with 5 hectares of vines, planted in argilo-clay soils. Their vineyards are so very remote, located in the hills. (We certainly would not have found them on our own). Though the Mazzoni clan are quite traditional minded, their Ghemme is 100% Nebbiolo (10 to 40 year old vines) & sees 24 months in large barrels. I was really captivated how provocatively masculine, stoically structured & savory it was upon first taste. Stylistically, it reminded me of a wild stallion because of its untamed, virile mojo & its innate, yet quite unassuming fortitude. I wish I could have this wine which it is 30 years old. I bet it would be glorious, in a way that only well aged Nebbiolo can be.
FRANCHINO MAURO—We were really looking forward to visiting this 3 generation run estate in Gattinara. Now run by (nephew) Alberto Raviciotti, Franchino Mauro is renown for growing & producing very traditional minded Gattinara & I was therefore quite anxious to better understand their take on what the hills & vines of this iconic appellation could offer. They have but 3 hectares of vines located at roughly 1350 feet in elevation, mostly south facing. It was so peaceful walking their vineyards & gazing at the wild, remote surrounding countryside, but nothing earth shattering in appearance. The topsoils swayed more to clay, BUT, because it had been raining for a few days straight AND in fact drizzling while we walked, there was no puddling anywhere about. In fact, upon closer look to the cross sections, there were lots of rocks evident for the at least the 6 to 8 feet we could see. I was also amazed that Alberto noted they used 100% Nebbiolo for their Gattinara (although I might have misunderstood because of the language challenges). Their winery was an elaborate maze of tunnels & large, old oak formats tucked away in the various niches here & there & all of the concrete also very old. It all looked so very Old School. It was therefore no surprise that their Gattinara smelled & tasted quite Old School in style–nothing bright, fresh, juicy or exuberant–nuances we found in many of the contemporary red wines we were tasting on this trek. The 2015 was more musky, earthy, wonderfully savory, more linear its flow on the palate with intriguingly dampened earth, roasted chestnut/sandalwood & a slightly floral accent. It was so different than anything else we tried over the previous 4 days. (by the way, 35 months, 24 months in large old barrels).
ANTONIOLO—We ended the day’s tasting with a 2013 Antonio Gattinara “Le Castelle”. At the end of our recent trip to Alto Piemonte, there was no doubt that the Antonio Gattinara was the most Cru like in quality. It has presence, grandeur & is something to truly behold. Le Castelle is one of the crus Antonio owns & bottles separately when apropos. It is only 1 hectare in size (of their 18 hectares they own)–she said 100% Nebbiolo–located at 1100 feet in elevation , in soils with less rock & more sand to the composition (in comparison to the others). That is why the resulting wines tends to be more austere, has more color & power than the others. The wine is fermented in old concrete (1960’s) & then for 3 years in BIG barrels. 3 generations. This is some kind of wine that’s for sure!
Today, we brought together a group of young wine professionals to share some of the wine discoveries we brought home with us from our October trip to Italy.
We pared down the tasting list to 12 wines, just to make it more manageable AND keep everyone’s attention.
The first trio of wines were from Dolceacqua in the western reaches of Liguria, Italy. Hidden in the inner, mountainous territory away from the sea, Dolceacqua still seems stuck in time. The town itself is quite small & like the surrounding villages of the area not so westernized yet.
The hillsides are steep, rocky, terraced & vertically remote. The roads to the various nooks & crannies are narrow, wickedly winding & quite rugged. If you want anything up in the vineyards, you have to take there by road.
It is therefore no wonder that the majority of what was once vineyards, today lay fallow. The hills are filled with these ghost vineyards & they serve as a reminder how much passion driven, back breaking work it must take to farm, constantly repair & harvest them.
In addition, we were totally shocked to find out these vignerons lost at least 40% of their crop in 2019 to wild animals–such as deer, boars & badgers.
WINE #1 2015 TENUTAANFOSSO Rossese di Dolceacqua
Upon my very first taste of their wines, I instantly knew I had to go for a visit. What I didn’t realize then, however, was how small this winery is in production AND how breathtakingly steep their vineyards truly are. (A real clue was from on our previous visit to Punta Crena & Paolo Ruffino showing us with his hand & arm how much steeper Dolceacqua vineyards really were in comparison to how steep, their own steep mountainous vineyards are). I became even more fascinated. The estate is today run by Alessandro Anfosso (the 6th generation of his family). Anfosso owns & farms 5.5 hectares of vineyards—2.5 hectares Luvaira (planted in 1905), 2 hectares Poggio Pini (planted 1888) & 1 hectare Fulavin (planted in 1977 & 1998)–all mainly flysch soils. This particular bottling is a blend of all 3. 50% de stemmed & fermented in stainless. We love the undeniable savoriness which the Anfosso wines innately. Rather than berries, dark cherries & fruit nuances, the Anfosso red wines have earthy, musky nuances with a roasted chestnut, fresh compost, slight wild sage core, which we find so compelling & provocative. In this day & age of a growing availability of more “correct”, bordering “safe” wines, these thankfully instead represent a unique, indigenous grape variety (mostly old vine), grown in a very unique niche of the wine world (remote, steep, bordering unforgiving) with thankfully its own “voice”, ALL at more reasonable prices than offered by many of Italy’s trophy red wines.
WINE #2 2018 PERRINO TESTALONGA Bianco
Our original intent in showing the Perrino Testalonga wines was to showcase VERY authentic, old school made wines from the Dolceacqua DOC. ( I would consider the Tenuta Anfosso wines authentic too, BUT Perrino Testalonga uses old barrels in their fermenting & raising of their wines (meaning NO stainless steel); foot stomping; NO temperature control & VERY limited use of SO2). While that may be admirable in theory & print, the resulting wines are very wild, untamed, rustic & NOT scientifically perfect. That is okay by me, as long as the wines are good! Unfortunately their RED Dolceacqua wine we brought back was sadly corked. We still, however, showcased their 2018 Bianco–100% Vermentino–from the lower terraces just above the winery. It was wild yeast fermented in 6 to 7 year old 225 liter barrels, NO temperature control, fermented until there is no sugar left. A small amount of SO2 November to June only to stabilize the wine. The wine is aged in bottle for 1 & a half years. In 2018, there were only 200 bottles produced. (Please keep in mind they only own but 2 hectares). As one can readily see by the color, the wine is on the orange side, BUT without the tannins & therefore bitterness in the finish. Yes, it does have oxidative nuances & therefore not for everyone. I liked the wine. AND, it was a reminder of how small, artisan wines were made in the old days, pre-stainless steel.
WINE #3 2018 Giovanni Montisci “Modestu”
Leave it to my cousin Mike to bring some kind of thought provoking wine to the tasting to share & create more conversations. Well, this is just not any wine. The visit to Giovanni Montisci was the highlight to our trek to Sardegna a couple of years ago. While they are most world renown their Cannonau de Sardegna red wines, their Modestu (dry Moscato) is their most startling & explosive. It is so exotically aromatic–a combustible mix of the very outgoing exotic lime blossom/ star fruit/ tropical fruit/ slightly honeyed nuances of the Moscato grape variety with the stone/mineral core from the 60 year old vines, planted in the sandy-granite-clay in the vertically remote (2100 feet elevation) of their 2 hectare (only .7–Moscato). In addition this wine has a very thick, bordering oily unctuality which is both quite unique & very compelling. This wine is dry with lots of swag & a somewhat piquant finish. How does Mike get these wines that is the final question? Thank you sir for always sharing.
We continue our search for interesting good wines from different wine growing regions, especially those countries serving Mediterranean inspired foods. This night, we take a look at four very unique and interesting, “country” styled wines from Spain. Come on be adventuresome. These wines are worth checking out.
2014 Jose Antonio Garica Bierzo “Unculin”–here is a wine from one of the New Age winemakers ushering his appellation into the modern era of wines. The wine is delicious, & has wonderful fruit-stone nuances with unassumingly vinosity & an intriguing, underlying earthy-savory-dry herbal pungency. “Located in Bierzo, within Castilla y León, his vineyards provide an unspoiled genetic window to another era before modern clones were selected for higher yields. From Jose’s organically-grown, family-owned vineyards in the village of Valtuille de Abajo at 1600 to 2000 feet elevation in clay, sand littered with stones & is planted with 60 to 100-year-old traditional mencía bush vines from an ancient genetic ancestry. Some of these vines are more than 200 years old. Grapes are hand-picked, leaving stems on 30% of the bunches. Unculín undergoes a spontaneous fermentation by natural, indigenous yeast in large, neutral, French foudres with a 30-day maceration post-fermentation. Four months of aging on the fine-lees and malolactic fermentation in stainless steel without topping up. Bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal intervention.“.
“Unculín is a fresh, vin de soif style Bierzo (the appellation) Mencía (the grape variety) which offers an antidote to over-blown, internationally-styled wines previously made in the region. Jose’s mineral Unculín echoes the forgotten traditions of the Bierzo region while pushing the envelope”.
2018 Amerztoi Getariako Txakolina–On our last trip to San Sebastián, Spain, we were in awe of the sheer plentitude of regional tapas available. There were so many to choose from and each small eatery had their own specialties. What even made it more memorable was washing down the morsels with glasses of well chilled Txakoli, a fizzy, lively, remarkably light and completely refreshing local Basque specialty produced mainly from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape variety. Here is one for you to better understand how Txakoli adds to the pure enjoyment of the whole dining scene there. “Ameztoi is a renowned producer in Getariako Txakolina & owns twenty hectares of estate vineyards located in the most privileged position in the region, facing the Bay of Biscay. High in the vineyards, planted on the dramatic sea-side cliffs of the ancient fishing village of Getaria, one can see the town of San Sebastian, which lies just twenty minutes away along a serpentine highway. Ignacio Ameztoi is the fifth generation of his family to carry on the tradition of making txakolina in the province of Getaria & has been a driving force in the txakolina discipline. Ameztoi Txakolina is traditionally built with high acidity and low alcohol, utilizing only native varieties hondarrabi zuri and hondarrabi beltza. The wine is fermented in refrigerated stainless steel tanks utilizing indigenous yeasts from the vineyard. The tanks are closed to preserve natural carbonation from fermentation, which is the preferred style of Getaria. The tanks are kept chilled to near 32 degrees Fahrenheit before bottling, which preserves the wine’s delicate, effervescent character and signature mousse.”
2015 Botani Moscatel Old Vines”–This is old vine (planted in 1946, 1968 and 1975) Moscatel de Alejandría grown on the very steep, rocky (slate & quartz soiled) hillsides of Sierra de Málaga. Yes, yet another dry, aromatic (high toned lime blossoms) white wine, done with a more masculine, virile touch. “Botani Moscatel was chosen in 2016 by Robert Parker as one of the three best wines of the world with best value for money”. This wine defies the odds with not only wine drinkers but where it is produced as well. It comes from the Sierras de Malaga. This is a mountanous region near the Southern Tip of Spain. It is actually very close in proximity to where most Sherry is produced. It is extremely hot and typically white wines do not do well here. Leave it to the genius that it is Jorge Ordonez to figure out that a beautiful Moscatel can be made here. Jorge takes chances and it almost always pays off.
2017 Bodegas del Palacios de Fefiñanes Albariño–Back in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, I thought Albariño would undoubtedly be the next “it” grape variety. It really hasn’t caught on as I imagined yet. The problem I later discovered was that I made my assessment based upon tasting only TWO different renditions of Albariño. Over the years since then, despite tasting many, many other renditions, my top two are still the same–Bodegas del Palacios de Fefiñanes still being one of them. There is not a lot of marketing oriented backstory or romantic story telling to this, other than the wine is just plain good! This is Spanish Albariño as I think it should taste—pure, captivating, minerally, wonderfully fresh, aromatic & full of vigor & hutzpah. The 2017 is lovely & was rated 94 points by noted wine writer Jeb Dunnuck.