Tag Archives: Italy

Highlights from The Corkscrew Winter Wine Fair – Part 2

 For Part 1 – which included my sparkling and white wine choices – click here.

Looking back over my notes now I realise that I regretfully missed quite a few wines that I would really loved to have spent some time over: a tableful of Portuguese dry wines ruefully skipped; another table that held nothing but sherries, a missed opportunity to  fill in a major gap in my knowledge; the reds of Domaine La Perriere and Domaine Sagat, whose whites I really enjoyed; the first ever craft beer section; and so on.

But such is life, and these things roll around again. Anyway, below are some reds that jumped out at me on the day:

Allegrini La Grola 2010
€27.95 from The Corkscrew, Mitchell & SonWineOnline.ie

A beautifully rich and intense wine, herb-tinged and deliciously structured. Another cracker from Allegrini, and an interesting mix of 80% Corvina, 10% Syrah and 10% Oseleta, the previously ‘lost’ grape native to the Veneto recently ‘resurrected’ by Masi.

 

Rodet Bourgogne Pinot Noir
€15.99 from The Corkscrew

For me the generic ‘Bourgogne Pinot Noir’ is something of a minefield. Burgundy is the home of Pinot Noir and where the best expression of the grape can be found, albeit at a price. The more affordable bottles – simply labelled Bourgogne (i.e. Burgundy) – mostly don’t do the region any justice and tend to be thin and cheap-tasting in my experience.

But this is the best generic Bourgogne I’ve come across. It’s noticeably light but has a lovely mineral streak over some delicate savoury flavours. Refreshing and elegant.

 

Niepoort Rótulo, Dão 2012
€17.50 from The Corkscrew

Dry Portuguese reds are definitely in the ascendancy at the moment, but it’s a style I’m ashamedly not familiar with. Interestingly,  Niepoort have opted to prioritise – nay, exalt – the Dão region very prominently on the colourful label ahead of the historic and famous Niepoort name, or indeed even its given

It’s very intense, taut and concentrated but with elegant floral and dark fruit flavours; the tannin is just right and calls out for food. But I won’t event try and pronounce the grapes: Touriga Nacional, Jaen and Alfrocheir.

 

Ziereisen Tschuppen 2011
€23.95 from The Corkscrew

“This is Pinot Noir”, said the man behind the table (who I later discovered was Ben Mason of Origin Wines). “Or do you mean … Spätburgunder?” said I, twinkle in my eye. “Ho ho ho” we chuckled together, knowingly, for what fun we trade insiders have .

Seriously, this was an amazingly impressive wine, a steal at under €25. It toes the line between the New World and Old World style of Pinot deftly, taking the savoury elegance of the latter and combining it with some headonistic richness of the former. A really notable wine.

 

Château du Cèdre Heritage Malbec 2011
€14.95 from Le Caveau, The Corkscrew, TheWineShop.ie

Another great value wine from Le Caveau with fresh, juicy, ripe sweet fruit. Given it’s organically produced the value is even more impressive.

 

Chaume-Arnaud Côtes du Rhône 2012
€16.55 from Le Caveau, MacGuinness Wine Merchants

Another VGVFM (Very Good Value For Money) wine; medium-bodied, spicy and noticeable tannins that cry out for some meaty food. A traditional blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Cinsault.

 

Maison Ambroise, Cotes de Nuits Villages 2010
€28.90 from Le Caveau and MacGuinnes Wine Merchants

A delicious, fresh wine of cherry and red berries but also an underlying savoury note, light but packed with flavour, really beautiful. Again organic; chapeau to Le Caveau for sticking their neck out and producing such ethical, delicious wines for such amazing prices.

 

Mouchão 2007
€38.95 from The Corkscrew

An incredible, amazing nose of smoky complexity. Outstanding stuff, deep, intense, multi-layered, meaty, taut and with tingling acidity. An outstanding heavy-hitter, made predominantly from Alicante Bouschet with a small percentage of Trincadeira

 

Château de Pierreux Brouilly Réserve 2007
€24.95 from The Corkscrew

A Beaujolais no doubt! I’m usually wary of the region, which I’m aware is a sweeping generalisation, but good examples for me tend to be few and far between, diamonds in the rough. This is one such wine, though; smooth and delicious with some gentle spice , noticeable tannin and a lip-smacking finish.

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Wines I’ve Had Recently (September to November 2014)

I’ve had a folder sitting on my desktop named “Wines” which contained an increasing number of hastily-taken iPhone photos of wines I’ve had over the last couple of months, and only now I’ve finally come around to writing up the  notes on them. At last!

Some I took proper notes for – recorded on my CellarTracker account – others I’m only recalling now off the top of my head. Looking back over the below it looks like I haven’t had a lucky time of it as it appears at first that I didn’t like any of them! But apart from one or two duds I did really enjoy all of them, despite some honest reservations or critiques which I had no problem in highlighting of course.

This on-the-fly round-up of wines I’ve tasted at home or out and about will likely be a regular feature, so I hope you enjoy this inaugural edition!

 

Chanson Gevrey-ChambertinChanson Père et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin 2007
€48.50 from O’Brien’s, nationwide; and Millesima
Really very nice, though perhaps lacks the complexity for the price. Nicely balanced with savoury characteristics to the fore. Nice minerality and delicate acidity. Good length, a good all-round package but, as I said, I was found wanting somewhat.

 

Patrick Regnault Champagne Grand CruPatrick Regnault Champagne Grand Cru Vintage 2004
€40.00 from The French Paradox, Dublin
Delicate with baked pear most evident. Lean and a refreshing, but maybe a bit one-dimensional. This is a fantastic price for a vintage Grand Cru, but I was expecting perhaps more complexity for the prestige.

 

Serego Aligheri AnniversarioSerego Alighieri Valpolicella dell’Anniversario 2009
Approx. €20.00
A wine that impressed me immensely when I tasted it first maybe 3-4 years ago. Far richer than your usual light and refreshing Valpolicella – in fact it’s more comparable to Masi’s ripasso-style Campofiorin (Serego Aligheri is produced by Masi which may explain the potential similarity). This had kirsch cherry and bitter chocolate notes over a concentrated, taut palate.

 

Pol Roger 2000Pol Roger Champagne Vintage 2000
€67.99 from O’Brien’s, nationwide; Terroirs, Dublin; Mitchell & Son, Dublin; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin
The big one: taut and complex, mineral and steely, this was really impressive. I expected it to simply be a “better version” of the Pol Roger ‘White Foil’ non vintage whereas in fact it was it wasn’t really possible to compare this reserved and austere offering to the richer, more forward non-vintage label.

 

Domaine Guillot-Broux Mâcon-CruzilleDomaine Guillot-Broux Mâcon-Cruzille 2010
€19.99 in On The Grapevine, Dublin and Cabot & Co., Mayo
I tasted this originally a couple of years ago in On The Grapevine in Dalkey when they had a bottle open on tasting. I was really impressed by it: a refreshing and interesting Burgundian Pinot, whereas I was taken aback by the fact that it was in fact 100% Gamay, which I thought was only grown with any seriousness in Beaujolais. In fact Mâcon-Cruzille Rouge AOC can only be produced Gamay. I’ll need to read up on that one.

With some chagrin I bought a bottle to enjoy later. Problem is that I might have left it too late: this was, four years on, overly acidic and lacking in fruit, and a bit of a chore to get through. Either that or the bottle was flawed. Pity, but maybe I’ll try a fresher vintage some other time.

 

Chateau Dereszla Sparkling TokajiChateau Dereszla Sparkling Tokaji
€14.99 from Mitchell & Son, Dublin
A Hungarian sparkling wine made from a grape more famous for its sweet wines. If that doesn’t turn heads at your next dinner party then I don’t know what will (actually, here are few other fantastic factoids). This proudly proclaims itself as being frizzante, or lightly sparkling, despite being sealed under the traditional ‘mushroom cork’ used for fully-sparkling Champagne and Cava.

Pungent passionfruit, grapefruit and very ripe pear leap from the glass. Palate is equally generous with the sweet white fruit. Unfortunately it lacks the acidity or balance to offset its off-dry style – might be pleasurable for many but not my style. A nice interesting sparkler that’s well priced and goes down easily, but I’m not reaching for the third glass.

 

Allegrini Palazzo della TorreAllegrini Palazzo della Torre 2011
€24.99 from Mitchell & Son, Dublin; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; The Vineyard, Galway; Red Nose Wine, Tipperary; Greenacres, Wexford; The Drink Store, Dublin; WineOnline.ie
Very ripe and fruit forward, thick and mouthfilling palate, blackberry, smoke, some vanilla. Hedonistic, a bit chunky, but appealing if a big gutsy wine is what you’re after. Though in the same league as the Napa Cellars, above, in terms of weight and style, it has the balance and depth to match up to its beefy nature which is what the Napa Cellars lacked. A really nice drop.

 

CXVBodegas La Rosa CXV Cientoquince 2011
€26.95 from No. 21 Off-Licence, Cork
Really lovely, rich wine but with a balance that belies its 14.5% alcohol and New World origins. Not a shy wine by any means, this has plenty of sweet vanilla and coconut but that glycerine sweetness that’s usual from 14.5% alcoholic blockbusters is not much evident (again, see Napa Cellars above), resulting in a smooth and refreshing, full-bodied red. Nicely integrated tannin with a tingle of salinity. Really recommended.

Judeka and Sampietrana – Italian Wines, Not Pacific Islands

I really didn’t know what to expect when I saw the names Judeka and Sampietrana for the first time. Were they, as I alluded to in the title, small islands in the Pacific? Or somewhere in the Caribbean near Trinidad and Tobago perhaps?

But no, given that the Tweet in which I first saw the names was from The Wine Workshop then they had to be wine-related. A half a second research revealed them to  be Italian, another half a second showed they were imported by the fantastically-named (and fantastically-talented) Enrico Fantasia of GrapeCircus, and the final half second showed that it was free. Sold!

I’m sure it’s probably looking a bit suspicious now, but I’m not in any way associated with or paid by The Wine Workshop. With that out of the way, let me wax lyrical about how well this tasting was set up. Despite being free to attend, there were generous bowls full of delicious olives and olive oils accompanies by platesful of doughy bread, the glasses used were proper Riedel ones, and there weren’t just a few wines but six of them in total. Though quite simple in execution it was obvious that real care and attention went into the evening, much like the shop itself.

Wine Workshop Glasses
Now that’s how you set up a wine tasting… (Image via @MorganVanderkam)
The Wines

So, on to the wines. First thing that struck me – apart from the odd names (to me at least) – was how young both companies were: Cantina Sampietrana was started in 1952 while Judeka is only a bábóg, having set up only in 2007. Bearing in mind that two Italians I have close associations with, Antinori and Masi, were established in 1180 and the late 18th century respectively, you can see the difficulty I have in getting my head around how youthful these guys are…!

The second thing that struck me is how consistently good the wines were, and as a result what great value they turned out to be when I checked their prices a few days later. Enrico must really be commended for sourcing such interesting wines at such good prices, and I’d really encourage anyone to grab a bottle of any of the below as soon as they spot them.


Judeka Logo Judeka

Increased  interest in Sicilian wines has meant many producers there rushed to vinify their wines to appeal to an international (read, American) palate. That is to say, over-extracted and over-oaked. I was surprised to learn that Judeka, however, don’t use any oak at all. Reducing oak ageing significantly is fair enough, and indeed it’s the trend of the last few years, but to completely absolve from any oak at all is quite radical I think, at least in my (limited) experience. Judeka instead stick religiously to stainless steel and are trying out terracotta and some ceramic too. This allows the purity of fruit to show through, though also means that the wines aren’t built for ageing.

I asked if this young firm was established perhaps as a rebellion against the recent trend towards international grape varieties and global tastes, and I was assured it wasn’t. However Judeka’s apparently dogmatic approach to Sicilian wine seems to suggest otherwise. They grow almost exclusively Sicilian varieties such as Insolia, Nero d’Avola, Grillo, Frappato and Zibibbo, with Syrah the only outsider in their stable. They practice organic viticulture and, as mentioned, don’t use oak in their vinification and are experimenting with traditional terracotta and ceramic. Add in some very modern twists – photovoltaic cells, natural irrigation and more – and you have a very exciting young winery. One to watch.

 

Judeka Insolia 'Angelica'Judeka Insolia ‘Angelica’ 2013
€14.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online)
I started with this, the only white of the night. After a couple of sips and listening to the spiel, I asked what the grape variety it was. There was a brief pause and some polite hesitation before I was told it was insolia, which was printed in large on the label I was directly looking at. I had never heard of insolia before, but this is one of dozens, if not hundreds, of indigenous Italian grapes that don’t often see the light of day outside the country, so I could take some small solace in that fact. Didn’t make it any less embarrassing though.

This was a lovely, light, fresh, lemon-and-lime wine with some apricot. It was deliciously refreshing, and I couldn’t get over how light, both in colour and texture, it was, but without feeling insipid. Would be amazing on a warm spring or summer day.

 

Judeka Nero d'Avola 'Orlando'Judeka Nero d’Avola ‘Orlando’ 2013
€14.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online)
This is the accompanying red to the white above – indeed, this is the Orlando of Orlando Innamorato (Orlando in Love), an epic poem published in 1482 by the Italian Renaissance author Matteo Maria Boiardo. Angelica (above) was a princess and the love interest in the tale. These two characters are beautifully rendered on the labels and it’s always great to have a little story behind them too. Read more about the tale on Wikipedia here.

But, what about the juice? I’m delighted to say it was just as appealing as the labels (phew!). This differed so much from Nero d’Avolas I’ve had before which tended to be big, hot and spicy. This was deliciously fresh and light with bright juicy red fruits. It had nice integrated acidity: enough to be noticed, and to go really well with food, but not too much to be a major factor. A touch of dustiness and salinity underneath the juicy fruits added a distant allure to an otherwise delightfully appealing wine.

Apparently this is how Nero d’Avola used to taste before the oak brigade took over (see intro) and it makes me wonder why they ever diverged from the standard. The Judeka Orlando sees no oak at all which retains its purity of fruit and that delightful fresh characteristic. A pleasure to experience. I’m glad that we have the opportunity now to taste what Nero d’Avola was originally meant to be like.

 

Judeka Cerasuolo di Vittoria

Judeka Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2012
€22.99 from Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online)Donnybrook Fair

This was another new one for me (a common theme that night). I was told that Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only D.O.C.G. in Sicily, which struck me as surprising. This is made of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, the latter being another unknown before that evening.

And again, the label: apparently the area in which Cerasuolo di Vittoria is produced is famous for its colourful ceramics, the style of which is produced beautifully on this label (and also the company’s website). Caltagirone, one of the major towns in the region, has a pretty epic staircase showcasing this local expertise.

This was a beautiful, fragrant and elegant wine, lovely and light but with depth too. Crunchy red fruits like cherry and raspberry were evident, but it was the intangibles that got me, its clean, fresh, ethereal elegance. A delight.

 


Sampietrana LogoCantina Sampietrana

From Sicily to Puglia, the ‘heel’ in Italy’s ‘boot’, and from young bucks to someone a little more traditional you could say. Cantina Sampietrana doesn’t seem to have as much of a story as Judeka does, as far as I can see, which may be down to the fact that they’re a co-op (unionised grape-growers hardly gives rise to exciting backstories), so we’ll let the wines speak for themselves…

 

Sampietrana Primitivo 'Ambasciatori'Sampietrana Primitivo ‘Ambasciatori’ 2012
€12.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); John R’s, Listowel, Co. Kerry
Ambasciatori translates as, er, ‘ambassadors’, an odd name perhaps for an entry-level wine. Still, dress for the job you want and not the job you have, as they say.

Primitivo is known as Zinfandel in the US. Yep, that quintessentially American grape was originally brought over by an Italian emigrant but unidentified until long after its new name was too established to be changed. Mind you, Primitivo itself is said to have descended from either Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski or Tribidrag, so who’s keeping check?

Spicy damson, prune and a touch of leather. Lighter than expected and a little bit short on the finish, but for the price it’s forgivable. A decent mid-week quaffer that comes in a disappointingly cheap, Lidl-like bottle.

 

Sampietrana Negroamaro 'Principe Moro'Sampietrana Negroamaro ‘Principe Moro’ 2009
€15.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; The Blackrock Wine Cellar, Dublin; Listons Delicatessen, Dublin; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford
Principe Moro = Dark Prince. That’s more like it. Negroamaro itself means something like “black bitter”, so it’s all dark and gloomy here, which showed in the wine too. Dark and brooding aromas of smoke, coffee, clove, cinnamon and black tea. Deep and intriguing.

The palate was grippy and mouthwatering, savoury and moreish. Delicious, “like Christmas cake in a glass” as someone said out loud, but the length could have been a little longer. Still, for this price it’s excellent value, and you could make up for the medium length by just buying another bottle.

 

Sampietrana  Vigna delle MonacheSampietrana Salice Salentino, Vigna delle Monache 
€18.99 from The Wine Workshop, Dublin; Sheridans’ Cheesemongers (in store and online); Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Ardkeen Quality Food Store, Waterford
This is another Negroamaro, but from the Salice Salentino D.O.C. and also a riserva, meaning it spent 12 months in barrel versus the 6-9 months of the IGT Negroamaro above (exact details are hard to find). To be honest it doesn’t warrant the €3 premium in my opinion, and I’d much rather the Principe Moro if both were offered to me. The nose on this was concentrated and a little overpowering, with a little violet giving some respite.

On the palate it’s more intensity but without focus, just all toast and vanilla from all that oak ageing, which itself is very evident in the flavour profile. Though it finishes a little lighter and crisper, this is precisely the sort of over-worked, big-boned wine that Judeka is judiciously avoiding. It will undoubtedly suit many tastes, but after the exercise in lightness and beauty beforehand this came across as very clunky.

 

Wine Workshop
The tasting in full flight. (Image via @MorganVanderkam)

Cabernet Franc: The DWC September Tasting

A couple of weeks ago I was honoured with an invite to the mid-September meeting of the Dublin Wine Collective, a fantastic new shining light on the Dublin wine scene. A rotating and changeable collection of wine industry figures – be they involved in the trade directly or not – the Dublin Wine Collective meets once a month to contribute and partake in a themed tasting, with each participant bringing a bottle to the party.

Apart from a basic theme (usually variety-based, such as this Cabernet Franc one) there is no other restriction or requirement on what to bring, so the potential for two people to bring an identical bottle is quite high. Thankfully, though, this has not yet happened, and adds an exciting feeling of pot luck to the whole proceeding.

The tastings take place at The Wine Workshop, another new shining light on the Dublin wine scene; in this case though the hand of the quite established Il Vicoletto Italian restaurant  is very evident – indeed it’s splayed handsomely across the large plate glass window of the shop.

I can’t begin to tell how excited I am about this venture, which reminds me in no small part of the Tasting Room of The Vines of Mendoza, a wine bar in, you guessed it, Mendoza in Argentina. There education is very much at the fore, whether via self-guided themed flights or formal, structured classes – they even have their own vineyards and winery where you can produce your own wines to your own specification.

When I was there in April this year I wondered why there wasn’t something similar in Ireland, but thankfully The Wine Workshop has answered that call (though without their own vineyard for obvious reasons), injecting some new life into the Dublin wine scene in the process.

DWC Logo

As you might have guessed from the title, this tasting focused on Cabernet Franc, that oft-forgotten grape found most commonly in Bordeaux and the Loire. However it was brought to my attention – with some surprise I have to say – that 13% of the world’s Cabernet Franc can be found in Italy, mostly the Veneto and the Tuscan coast. You learn something new every day.

Over the years I’ve been able to build up a decent enough cellar that I would consider to be somewhat well varied, but I couldn’t but curse my luck when the invite came through specifying Cabernet Franc as the theme for my inaugural visit. Not one bottle do I have that contains any bit of that grape, so I hurriedly popped down to my local, Deveney’s of Dundrum. Thankfully Tom Deveney managed to source a bottle that he particularly likes – after a tense 5 minutes trying to remember where he put it, where I was sure that he had actually sold out of it – and blushes were spared on the night.

Five of us turned up that evening, and armed with plentiful water and grissini graciously supplied by Morgan of The Wine Workshop, we began…

 

Langlois Saumur ChampignyLanglois Saumur Champigny 2012
O’Brien’s nationwide, €14.99

This was a really easy-drinking, typically quaffable French red with sweet red berry fruit and nice tart acidity. An initial, surprising touch of alcoholic heat belied its mere 12% alcohol, but that died off after a time.  Simple, uncomplex but appealing, we agreed that it would best be served a little chilled and drank carelessly, as much enjoyable wine should be.

Then there is was: the stalkiness. Much discussion that evening was around this characteristic which in other wines would be quite undesirable and indicate unripe grapes when vinifying, but much ink has been spilled marking it as a defining characteristic of Cabernet Franc. And this had it in spades, but I had to admit that it wasn’t all that unpleasant, once you know to expect it.

After some time in the glass some additional characteristics revealed themselves, like graphite, violets and a dustiness to accompany the stalkiness. Some nice light tannin was the rubber seal on the opinion that this was very much a stereotypical French weekday lunch wine.

 Verdict: It doesn’t set the world alight, but if you know what you’re in for it can be very enjoyable.

 

Stocco Cabernet FrancStocco Cabernet Franc 2011, IGT Venezia Giulia
Deveney’s Off-Licence Dundrum, €14.99

This was my bottle, and at first I thought I was “the noob with the dud” – the first smell of it was as though a hand jumped out of the glass and punched me in the face; I was sure it was faulty in some way. But after some serious sloshing into and out of glasses in an attempt to air it out a bit, we managed to tackle it eventually.

The nose was a bit more floral than the Langlois, with some violets, brambly fruit and fresh herbs. On return later I got a charred meat note, some smoky spice and some cracked black pepper; this was developing into a nice little  surprise.

The palate was nice and smooth and fuller than it predecessor, again with a little spicy heat at the end and some savoury undertones – “teriyaki chicken” was mentioned, which was impressively accurate –  I never tire of these outlandish tasting notes, especially when they’re spot on.

But I thought there was a little residual sugar on the palate too, which is a trick often used whereby winemakers mask poor fruit by leaving a little sugar to hide the defects. After a few sips it tired easily and I didn’t fancy drinking much more of it. A pity after the multitude of promises on the nose.

Verdict: The nose was the best part of it, elusive and changeable, but the palate didn’t match up.

 

Domaine Jo PithonDomaine Jo Pithon  2010, Anjou AOP
Approx. €10.99 from somewhere in France

For want of a better word, this was the curveball of the evening. Brought in straight from a supermarket in France, this is produced biodynamically in a ‘devil-may-care’ approach, we were told, with the ethos being minimal intervention.

This was very interesting. It had a dusty mocha nose with some dried fruits, and eventually that tell-tale stalkiness at the end. On return there was a hint of clay too. The palate had sweet spicy fruit, with some cherry, plums and dried cranberry; silky with lovely fresh acidity and a nice little hint of grip at the end.

Despite the very French approach to its vinification (i.e. stubborn and dogmatic) it was surprisingly un-French in style, in that it was quite opulent, forward and rewarding. A relly classy drop.

Verdict: Perhaps the most cerebral one of the evening with a little bit of everything to keep you interested.

 

Le Macchiole 'Paleo'Le Macchiole ‘Paleo’ 2001, Bolgheri, Toscana IGT
Cabot & Co., €62.00

Wow wow wow, this is a hedonistic treat. A rich, complex, heady, brooding, concentrated nose of, well, everything … sweet tobacco, violets, cinnamon/nutmeg … stunned silence greeted the initial approach. The palate was luxurious, silky, incredible … chocolate, prune … length that goes on and on…

For wine reviewers, when there is a dearth of tasting notes it often means one of two things: that the wine is too crap to even bother with, or it’s majestic enough to render you speechless. This was the latter.

The Le Macchiole Paleo was rated as one of ‘the most underrated Super Tuscans’ in this Wine Searcher article, and comes from an estate that grows just three varieties: Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot, none of which are exactly typical of their region. But fortune favours the brave (and the bold) and this is an example of what comes of that.

Verdict: …

 

Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos GuillotDomaine Bernard Baudry ‘Le Clos Guillot’ 2005, Chinon AOP
Cabot & Co., €25.00

There was slight trepidation of this wine following the behemoth of the Paleo, but we need not have worried as this wine had enough of its own character to shine through.

This Chinon brought us back down to earth – literally. It had a very distinctive, earthy, stony nose, “like sticking your nose in the ground” as one member quipped. Still, there was something perfumed above all this – violets again?

The palate was really lovely, smooth initially then a spicy grip at the end. Graphite and more violets popped up, and it had a very noticeable – but not unpleasant – dirtiness to it. It was slightly cloudy so had obviously seen minimal filtration, and given all the talk of ‘earthiness’ up to now (I wish I had another word for it!) then it all seemed very fitting. However the length was perhaps a little short.

Verdict: A nicely intriguing and honest wine, but one that wouldn’t do well beyond a club of wine geeks I think…

 

Overall Verdict

Despite an initial rolling of eyes when I say that Cabernet Franc was the theme of the evening, I was grateful for the opportunity to attend this meeting as there would otherwise be no way that I would sit down to thoughtfully taste through five Cabernet Francs. The location was fantastic, the company was brilliant, and I ended up experiencing five very different takes on the same grape, a variety I had written off long ago. so I was fortunate for the experience, to say the least.

And as for the wines? I’d gladly have each one again, but more specifically I’d enjoy the Domaine Jo Pithon over dinner and the Le Macchiole ‘Paleo’ by the fire afterwards; both very different styles for different occasions.

The Gold of Naples (and Puglia)

Sometimes, you come across an article so energetically and passionately written it completely consumes you and you instantly want to eat that food, drink that drink or travel to that place in order to share in the experience that the author so emphatically puts across.

I had bookmarked – and only now re-discovered – an article from the website of US food magazine Saveur called The Gold of Naples in which Keith Pandolfi revisits the home of his “beloved but long gone great-grandfather” to discover the true origins of pizza.

Ostensibly it’s not a terrifically exciting subject, I agree, but you can’t but be carried along by the enthusiasm and zeal with which it is written; the hallmark of excellent writing, in other words. I dare you to read it and not crave a pizza afterwards.

In fact, over the weekend I did indeed cobble together my own attempt at Naple’s most famous export, using Pizza da Piero‘s guiltily excellent pizza bases. To match I had a bottle of Tormaresca Torcicoda 2010, a Primitivo from Salento in Puglia, the ‘heel’ of the Italian ‘boot’, so to speak.

Primitivo is Puglia’s native grape, and in my (admittedly limited) experience tends to be overly hot, spicy, and uninteresting (often due to the aforementioned hot spiciness). Fans of Californian Zinfandel will, without realising it, be very familiar with this grape since they are one and the same: clippings brought to America by a Puglian emigrant were unwittingly believed to be a new variety, and so christened Zinfandel, though no-one knows where that name originated.

Back to  South Italian Primitivo though. Tormaresca is the Puglian sub-brand of the Antinori Family’s Tuscan-based empire, and I was confident in approaching this bottle since you can be sure that anything produced by this famous dynasty isn’t done half-heartedly.

Bright ruby in the glass, it was surprisingly more rounded in the mouth than I expected, compared to the number of harsh and angular Primitivos I’ve had in the past. The palate is quite New World Cabernet-like: deep dark fruit with blackberry dominant, with some anise after it opened out and some slight tannic bitterness at the end which called out for food. Ideal for my pizza, then.

In all a plush, glossy wine and highly recommended, though at 14% meant that I had to be careful of just how much I imbibed. But this, alas, was a sample bottle from the winery that I had hanging around and isn’t currently available in Ireland (as far as I’m aware). You can get it in the UK, though. Sorry about that.

Tormaresca Torcicoda 2010
www.tormaresca.it
Approx €12-€15, from these outlets in the UK, Italy and Germany
100% Primitivo

La Foresteria Ariel View

A Visit to Masi: Part 3 of 3

This is the third post of three – click here for the first post, and here for the second.

A Stay at La Foresteria

Perhaps not entirely wine-related, but our stay at Serego Alghieri’s La Foresteria during our visit to Masi couldn’t go without mention.

For all my years dealing with Masi I didn’t realise that there wasn’t really a central focal point for the company per se, beyond their functional offices and the areas seen on our tour which, even then, isn’t available to the general public.

Instead Masi use the Alighieri family’s magnificent estate next door, only about 100 metres away; that is, if you go to Verona looking for the Masi experience then you’ll be deferred to La Foresteria, as its proper name will have it, in order to experience, taste, and enjoy.

But this isn’t a bad thing, In fact it’s a bloody amazing thing – La Foresteria is an idyllic, rambling estate accessed via a pretty cypress tree-lined avenue and consisting of a number of buildings of varying ages, with eight unique apartments that hold a varying number of people and contain kitchenettes and living rooms, all named after native local grape varieties of course. Ours was Corvina.

Our Basic but Cosy Accommodation
Our Basic but Cosy Accommodation

The estate was renovated in what they call “the aristocratic country house style,” which means, baldly, that the décor of the accommodation on first sight looks quite meagre and basic, but very quickly becomes very homely and comfortable. Precisely the style they were going for I’m sure.

As well as guest accommodation La Foresteria also has conference and banqueting facilities, regularly holding weddings and product launches, as well as a cookery school. I even stumbled across the traditional drying lofts, more exposed to the air in the old-school style rather than the more controlled environment of the nearby Masi winery, and what’s better is that they were actually fully-functioning drying lofts and not something superficial for the benefit of guests.

The Serego Alighieri Drying Lofts
The Serego Alighieri Drying Lofts

The estate wraps itself around a couple of picturesque courtyards, the more beautiful of the two containing a fountain and leading onto a small manicured garden. The whole complex opened out onto a gentle slope overlooking the vineyards of Valpolicella, with cypress trees punctuating the distant haze. To say that La Foresteria is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in the world sounds like hyperbole, but it really is.

It’s here that Masi also have their ‘cellar door’ – that is wine shop and tasting room, where pretty much all of Masi’s wines can be tasted and bought, as well as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, grappa di Amarone (a spirit that really wasn’t to my taste), the Veronese speciality Vialone Nano rice, acacia honey, chestnut spread (another local speciality) and cherry jam – all served up by genial staff.

We bought ourselves a chilled bottle of their Conte Federico Brut 2009 sparkling wine, made of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and had an impromptu alfresco picnic of bread, cheese and meats sourced from a nearby supermarket, settling ourselves out the back of the estate which, typically, looked out onto a fallow field overshadowed by a old Italian hilltop village. I’m really struggling to find synonyms for ‘picturesque here,’ but I’m sure you get the idea.

A View Out the Front, and the Back
The View Out the Front, and the Back

So without labouring the point I couldn’t recommend La Foresteria more highly. Located only 20kms or so north of Verona it’s a must if you’re in that part of the country. Believe me: you won’t be disappointed.

Richie at Masi

A Visit to Masi: Part 2 of 3

This is the second post of three – click here for the first post, and here for the third.

The Cellars

From there we descended to a couple of unassuming rooms that contained some of Masi’s experimental endeavours. Scores of bottles, both in racks and boxes, were tagged at their necks with hand-written labels and containing ancient grapes resurrected and unusual varieties vinified in various ways.

Oseleta is one such grape that Masi has ‘resurrected’ after having being forgotten or ignored for decades. In typically Masi fashion they have raised this baton and carried it proudly. This is a grape historically disregarded for its difficulty, producing tannic and harsh wines, but Masi have been unafraid to take the bull by the horns and have been experimenting in a multitude of ways in order to coax the best out of what they have come to see as something of a prodigal son returned.

These experimental bottlings sat beside square barrels, another Masi trial but one abandoned given the difficulty of keeping the multiple corners watertight, as well as other regular barrels made of weird and wonderful woods, and cross-sections of a number of soil samples taken at various points in the Veneto in Masi’s effort to identify the perfect sites for their plantings.

Masi Experimental Barrels and Bottlings
Masi’s Experimental Barrels and Bottlings

From there we descended again to their cellars proper, where hundreds of barrels in various sizes, shapes and woods were spread across a maze of irregularly-sized rooms. These also included walls of bottled Amarone that lay ageing, tightly packed in dark hulking masses, as well as some mosaics, sculptures and some ornate barrels – one of which, filled with Amarone, was to be signed by the winners of the upcoming Masi Prize ceremony only a few weeks after our visit.

The barrels ranged in size from the regular barriques you see in winery photographs and which hold 225 litres of wine, right up to fusto Veronese which hold 600 litres. I think there were some old-school botte that held 1,000L+, but by now my head was swimming so excuse me if I’ve forgotten a few details!

Needless to say it was a fantastic endeavour, but the best was yet to come.

The Tasting

We emerged, blinking, into the bright reception hall of a modest Masi’s villa which sits next to their workaday offices, from where we were led to the left to a dining room where a full tasting session was laid out for us.

I was aware of a tasting of wines at the end of the tour, but not to this extent: a beautifully delicate room complete with walls adorned with frescos of orange trees and windows framing the beautifully hazy Venetian countryside outside held a long mahogany dining table with each place complete with official tasting mats, booklets, pens, pre-poured glasses of wine and packets of grissini to nibble on. Now this is how you do a wine tasting!

The Incredible Tasting Room at Masi
The Incredible Tasting Room at Masi

After a short video introduction we began with the Serego Alighieri Posessioni Rosso 2011, a blend of Veneto’s Corvina and Molinara with Tuscany’s Sangiovese. Serego Alighieri was a descendent of the poet Dante Alighieri, he of The Divine Comedy fame, and Masi now produce wines on behalf of the current head of the family, Count Pieralvise di Serego Alighieri. Their property in the Veneto was bought as far back as 1353 by Pietro Alighieri, Dante’s son, who had followed his father into exile in Verona from Tuscany and had stayed in the area after the poet’s death. They don’t do history by halves here in Italy.

Anyway, this wine is their entry-level one, and accordingly is a light, fruit-forward, spiced cherry quaffer for every day drinking. A nice simple start to the tasting.

Next was Masi’s own Brolo Campofiorin Oro 2009, the next step up from Masi’s ‘sort-of-Ripasso,’ Campofiorin. This differs from the regular Campofiorin in that instead of the standard Venetian blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, the latter in this case is swapped out for 10% of Oseleta, the resurrected grape mentioned in my last post.

But I found this to be somewhat ‘hot’ and overpowering, which with a little time in glass gave up some clove and pepper characteristics along with some savoury notes. However this ‘big brother’ of an already powerful wine I think needed some extra time in the bottle to mellow out.

The regular Campofiorin for its part, though not tasted that day, is soft and supple and more easily approachable than the Brolo Campofiorin Oro and is widely available here.

We then moved on again to another Serego Alighieri wine, this time their Valpolicella dell’Anniversario 2009. I had this before and loved it, and this tasting was no different. It’s a really premium Valpolicella, leagues away from the everyday Valpolicellas enjoyed on more casual occasions. Rich, deep and surprisingly aromatic, it had notes of dried fruit due to some of the blend containing apassimento grapes and had fantastic length with a nice bit of subtle grip at the end. On return I got come violet and dried tea. A delight.

Then it was on to the first of two Amarones, beginning with Masi’s flagship Costasera 2008. It has in intensely concentrated nose that with some time reveals tobacco, leather and again some clove and tea leaves. These repeat themselves on the palate which carries an illusion of sweetness due to it glycerine content, which is increased in the apassimento process. A huge, bear-hug of a wine, but one to be approached with caution, both due to its intensity and its alcohol, the latter of which comes in at a whopping 15%.

The next Amarone was the Vaio Armaron 2006 from the Serego Alighieri estate which, though containing the same grapes and undergoing the same apassimento process, spends extra time in wood and bottle, hence the two year difference between this and the Costasera. The result is, if possible, an even more concentrated wine, though more perfumed than the Costasera. However it was slightly rougher, I felt, than the supple Masi Amarone, with more spice and raisin/date notes evident too.

Claudia suggested that while the Costasera is best served with food, the Vaio Armaron is better on its own, but I found myself disagreeing. The Vaio Armaron was that bit more tannic and acidic than the Masi Amarone, which I felt would suit food more, while the smoothness of the latter better befitted sipping on its own.

Finally, we ended the incredible tasting with Casal dei Ronchi 2009, Serego Alighieri’s Recioto, basically a sweet version of Amarone. This was very fruity and generous on the nose with cherry and redcurrant, but it lacked enough supporting acidity to make it that bit moreish. That said it wasn’t cloying, but the end impression was pleasant yet fleeting. Though not available in Ireland, the Italian price of €28 per 500ml bottle meant that the resulting price-quality ratio left a lot to be desired.

In all it was a revealing and worthy tasting, one thoroughly enjoyed, though I didn’t expect half of the six bottle selection to consist of Serego Aligheri wines. Which was no hardship, of course, especially given that we were staying on the incredible Serego Alighieri estate itself, of which more in the next post…