Saturday, March 28, 2015

Southern Italy

Southern Italy

Well, any class that starts with the words, "What can I say about the wines of Southern Italy?"  Pthhhh! With parsed lips and spit in a French accent... Did not think the class would be worthy of my time, but... I have had southern Italian wines that are enjoyable, and the value is certainly there.  If I have learned anything about wine since starting these classes, it is sometimes you get surprised.  Sometimes you anticipate liking something because of the label, where it is grown, the grape variety, or any host of other indicators including the price you paid for the bottle.  Yep I said it, the price is a big indicator of quality bias, and we can't escape it.  What you find in the bottle however is flat and uninteresting.  The flip can be true too.  You can anticipate a lackluster wine, and find that it is fantastic.  

This has nothing at all to do with Italy, so bear with me.  Last week I attended a Pinot Noir convention in Chicago called Pinot Days.  I went because I don't always love Pinot Noir, and I wanted to find some that I liked that were not Burgundian in price (If you know what I mean).  We tried wines from California, up and down the coast.  We tried wines from Washington state and from Oregon.  There was even a table with wines of New Zealand, any of which should by all accounts make some good Pinot.  To my surprise, the wine of the day for me was from a well known wine producing area... Ontario Canada.  The winery  Vieni, (There is the Italian piece of this) makes many wines including two Pinots.  the best of which was a Reserve wine that was Burgundy for a fraction of the price.  And why not, it was a cold weather Pinot.  Some years they ripen well, others not so much, but the wine maker and I talked about how 2011 was a bellwether year.  SURPRISE!!!

To say all of southern Italy produces wines that are great would be a lie, and to say Pthhhh is equally a lie.  Wine is wonderful because it is always surprising.  There is always something to be learned, and there is always something, when you least expect it that is going to blow you away.  For me, Vieni Pinot Noir was that wine.  I will have a case please...

Back to Italy,  The history of the south of Italy and wine goes back to ancient people, and wine has been made in Southern Italy.  In fact the ancient Greeks used to call Italy's Heel the land of wine (Oenotria).  So wine has been made here for centuries.

The southern part of Italy has 10 major wine regions.  Starting with Umbria in the north and heading South to Abruzzi, Molise, Puglia (The heal of the boot), Basilicata (The arch), Calabria (The Toe), Sicily, Sardinia, Campania and finally Lazzio.

Umbria has 2 DOCGs both make red wines.  Sangrantino di Montefalco and Torgiano Rosso Riserva.  They also are famous for a white wine called Orvieto that can be served both dry and sweet.  

Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG, considered the best wine of Umbria, is made from a grape called Sagrantino and must contain 13% abv.  Secco (DRY) with the Vigna indication must have 13.5% and Passito (Sweet) must have 18% and 80-180g/l sugar making this a whopping dessert wine.  Secco and Passito must be aged a min of 30 months prior to release.  This grape was almost extinct but is now grown in Tuscany, Sicily, California and Austrailia.

Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG is made from a minimum of 70% Sangiovese.  It must have 12.5% abv min and must be aged a min of 3 years with at least 6 mo in a bottle.  This is a relatively new DOCG and has only been established since 1990.  While less prestigious, this wine is more popular than Sangrantino.

Perhaps the best know in the Umbria region is Orvieto a blended wine with Trebbiano and Verdello with 15-25% Grechetto.  Recently more modern renditions may have Chardonnay, Savignon blanc and Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanco.  This wine has a long history of praise by many including popes and royalty.  Although Orvieto is a DOC and not DOCG, its popularity as a white wine from the region has continued to grow.  It comes in a dry, Abboccato and Amabile version with the latter two being sweet and usually served as a dessert wine.

Abruzzo has only one DOCG but also has 4 DOCs worth noting.  With the region being both hilly and mountainous, it is a great region for growing grapes.  The two best of the region are Montepulciano and Trebbiano.  The region also produces some high yield, low quality grapes for blending making it Italy's largest producer by volume.  One thing of note, and this is one that trips me up ALL THE TIME, there is a town, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, and in this case a grape called Montepulciano de Abruzzo.  This one is the grape... CONFUSION!!!!!

The Montepulciano grape is named after the Tuscan region of Montepulciano in Sienna.  However, the grape is probably more likely from Abruzzo.  These are deeply colored wines with ripe and BIG tannins.  The same grape is also used for Rosso Conero DOC in Marche, Rosso Piceno, and in Offida wines.Montepulciano d'Abruzzo uses the grape it is named for but may contain up to 15% Sangiovese.  It is often described as rustic with pepper and spice abundant.

Cersuolo is a rose from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  the word means cherry red, and it is a deep pink despite limited skin contact.  Many find this wine interesting due to the flavors of orange peel, cinnamon, strawberries and dried cherries.

Molise has 4 DOCs Biferno, Molise, Pentro d'Isernia, and Tintilia del Molise (Red).  This is an overlooked region, but new technology and a focus on wine production techniques could make this an up and coming region.  Molise DOC.  Molise produces many grape varieties including Aglianico, Cab Sauv, Chardonnay, Falanghina, Greco Bianco, Moscato, Pinot Bianco, and others.  The geographical gifts that have been bestowed on the region should have it making exceptional wines, but until now, those gifts have not translated into most bottles from the region. 

Aglianico, pictured at left, is a grape that was rumored to come from Greece, however more evidence points to its origins being in Italy.  this is a grape that has grown in popularity due to its easy pairing with food and fantastic aging potential.  This is due to its firm full tannin structure, and its high acidity.  Despite the picture, this is a red grape that pairs well with meat.

Pentro d'Isernia is made in a red and pink variety.  The grapes are Montepulciano and sangiovese with a max of 10% other.

Biferno can come in red, pink and white.  Red and Rose are blends of Montepulciano (60-70%) with 15-20% trebbiano, anglianico and others.  they must have 11.5 abv or higher.  The whites are made mostly from Trebbiano, with Bombino Bianco and Malvasia Bianco.  they must have a min of 10.5% abv.

Puglia has 4 DOCGs.  They are Castel del Monte Bombino Nero Rosato, Castel del Monte nero di Troia Riserva, Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva and Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale.  This region makes the best Italian Rose wines in Castel del Monte.  You will also see a shift to more warm weather grapes like Zinfandel (Primitivo).  This is a region in transition.  Traditionally they have made alcohol heavy wines with high production.  They are currently re-tooling to focus on quality.  Puglia has 25 DOC regions, but only 2% of the wine produced is DOC.Northern Puglia produces dry white wines that are medium bodied, fruity and have high acidity and a beautiful bouquet. Most of the whites come from Verdeca although others may be used as well. (Bianco d'Alessano, Malvasia, Trebbiano, and Bombino Bianco) Reds are made from local varieties like Uva di Troia, Bombino Nero,  Montepulciano and Sangiovese.  The only region with any international presence is Castel Del Monte in the North.

Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG produces a rose from a min 90% Bombino Nero.  It may also contain other grapes and must contain 12%abv. Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva DOCG must have a min of 90% Nero di Troia and 10 percent max of other grapes.  It must have alt least 13% abv, a max Risidual sugar content of 10g/l making it potentially off dry, and must spend 2 years aging with at least one year in wood.  Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva is made from 65% min Nero di Troia grape.  It must have at least 13%abv and must spend 2 years aging with 1 in wood.  It also can have up to 10g/l sugar.

Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG is a high alcohol (16% abv) wine with at least 50g/l sugar.  This is a sweet wine made from Primitivo which is the same grape as Zins are mad from in California.  Many times the grapes are dried to increase the sugar content.

The south of Puglia is the heel of the boot.  It is a hot area with a cooling effect from the sea.The best grape in Puglia is Negroamaro (means dark and bitter) which may be related to Sangiovese.  These wines are rustic with earthy bitterness.  often these wines are blended with Malvasia Nera. 

Basilicata is the arch of the boot and has 3 regions worthy of discussion.  Aglianico del Vulture DOC, Aglianico del Bulture Superiore DOCG, and Grottino di Roccanova Doc.  They also make sweet wines form Moscato and Malvasia.

Aglianico comes from the name Hellenico meaning from the Greeks, but the vine may actually be local as I mentioned above.  Pronounced Ahl-yah-nee-koh, produces a robust red wine with deep color that is most certainly age worthy.  Grown in volcanic soil, it is at its best.  The Aglianico del vulture Superiore DOCG requires 100% Aglianico grapes, 13.5% abv, and superiore must be aged 12 months in wood and an additional 12 in bottles.  Riserva wines require 2 years in wood and 2 in bottles.  Additionally Malvasia and Moscato are made in the region to make sweet wine similar to VDN in France.

Calabria is the toe of the boot, and very popular right now for its chili peppers.  One can't eat at a fine restaurant without something served with the sweet hot little red peppers.  Unfortunately, the wine and the cuisine have not gelled.  Calabria has 12 DOCs but not a single DOCG.  The  most popular is Ciro, which maeks white, red and pink wines.  Ciro clasico risirva (Gaglioppo Grape) is a red that can age for over ten years.  It has dusty tannins, and is often described smelling like roses.   The rose is best drunk young, and the white, made from the Greco grape is fresh and pairs well with seafood.  A sweet white is also made from the Bianco grape called Greco di Bianco.

Sicily has 1 DOCG and 23 DOCs.  they are also known for Marsala wine which while in the US is largely known for cheap cooking wine, they can be fantastic after dinner drinks.  Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG makes two reds, Cerasuolo di Vittoria and a classico version of the same.  These wines are made from 50-70 percent Nero d' Avola grapes and rounded out with Frappato.  they have a min of 13% abv, and the vittoria may not be sold until Jun1 after harvest, with the Riserva requiring a hold until march of the following year.  This is another area that promises to produce FANTASTIC wines as there is a shift from quantity to quality.  These are wines that are popping up on a lot of wine lists due to the value that they represent.

Marsala is also making a resurgence with people in the know favoring the Marsala Vergine, ad Superiore Riserva varieties.

Mero d'Avola is Sicily's most planted grape.  It produces wines with plum and chocolate charachter with high tannin and a medium acidity.

Sardinia, the South's other island produces Vermentino di Gallura DOCG.  The wine making history has been influenced by many a traveler with Spain taking the lead role.  Moscato and Malvasia clones as well as many varieties only found in italy such as Giro, Cannonau, Nuragus, Monica, Semidano, Torbato and Vernaccia di Oristano.Vermintino dominates the whites produced most notably in Vermention di Gallura DOCG.  The wines of this region must be 95% or more Vermentino.  This wine is also grown in Tuscany and other parts of Italy as well.  At its best, it is dry, medium body and fruity showing apple, stone fruit, herbs and rocky minerals.

Vernaccia di Oristano is another distinctive wine from the island.  It is made in chestnut vats for 3 to four years with O2 hitting the wine.  The vats are not topped off creating (a Flor) beneficial yeasts to develop.  This creates a musty and nutty flavor and smell.  This wine is not to dissimilar to Sherry.  

Nuragus is the most popular white.  It is one of the oldest varieties in the region.  It makes dry crisp bright whites that should be enjoyed YOUNG.

Reds made on the island are Cannonau (Related to Grenache, and Carignano and Monica are also of Spanish origin.  Cannonau can also be made into a fortified wine similar to Port.

Campania has 4 DOCGs.  Aglianico del Taburno, Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, and Taurasi represent the best of the region.  Falerno del Massico Bianco are made from an ancient vine called Greco, while the Roso is made from Aglianico and Piedirosso.  Sometimes wine makers will add primitivo and Barbera.  

Aglianico del Taburno must use a min of 85% Aglianico.  there are Rosatos and reds with 12% abv required and a Riserva requiring 13%.  Rosso must be aged 2 years, Riserva 3 years with at least 1 in oak, and 6 in the bottle.

Taurasi DOCG is also based on Aglianico.  It must be aged 3 years with 1 being on wood.  if labled Riserva it must be aged 4 years.

Greco di Tufo DOCG is made with at least 85% Greco (White).  It is very zippy and fresh with a rocky mineral finish.

Fiano di Avellino DOCG is a rich, WAXY, strongly flavored white wine.  There are sweet wines made in the region, but a dry version sells internationally.  It features toasted Hazelnuts in its nose.

Lazio has 3 DOCGs Cannellino di Frascati, Cesanese del Piglio (Sometimes just Piglio) and Frascati Superiore.    

Cannellino is made form 70% Malvasia Bianca di Candia and or Malvasia del Lazio and 30% others from the region.  These wines must have 12.5% abv and a min RS of 35g/l (So they are mildly sweet).

Piglio mades a red from Cesanese di Affile and or Cesanese Comune.  Min abv must be 12% in the standard, 13% in the superiore, and 14 percent in the riserva.  Riserva is aged 20 months, Superiore cannot be sold for a year and the normal wine can be sold 5 months post harvest.

Frascati Superiore DOCG makes white wines form Malvasia with up to 30 percent coming from other local sources.  Superiore must have 12% abv, and the Riserva must have 13.  Riserva must be aged a year including at least 3 months in the bottle.

Next week we will talk about Spain, minus Sherry.  Thanks.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Central Italy/Toscana

Central Italy/Tuscany

Perhaps one of the most fantastic vacations I have had the pleasure of going on in my lifetime was a trip to Florence, and a stay in Radda in Chianti.  We stayed in an old manner house in a medieval town.  The town was nestled into the hills, and the words, "Go straight" to a driver had no real meaning.  Way up in the mountains, overlooking the valley below.  The sun casting shadows from the few clouds that floated bye.  Tuscany is beauty.  It is the birthplace of the art world as we know it today, it is home to some of the most beautiful and simple food that the world has to offer, and it is the home to some of the best olive oil and vinegar (Aged Balsamic).  It is also the home to Chianti Classico.  To understand Italy, and it's people, one must simply sit in a wine bar, or a enoteca (wine cafe) with a glass of Chianti, some bread, and a plate of food (Whatever they suggest that day).  Food is Italy, and food is never served without wine.  A meal without wine in Italy is called breakfast, and I really do mean that.

Radda in Chianti
On day 3 of our trip, after buying some expensive bottles of wine, a very nice server walked over to our table, and said, "you know, you don't have to do that."  Do what? said we.  She said, "Buy expensive wines in Italy."  Why?  The local "house wines" were fantastic, and at 12 Euros a bottle, much less expensive than the stuff we were ordering.  It is what the locals drink, and it was great.  They were proud to display it, and proud to serve it, and we were all too happy to drink it.

So, lets talk about the wines of Tuscany shall we?  One cannot discuss Tuscany without Sangiovese, a grape that is so elegant, and yet so misunderstood.  Why?  Because it used to be served in America as Chianti,  in a bottle called a Fiasco.  These are the bell bottom bottles with wicker baskets on them.  The wine in Fiascos is NEVER good, and thus, that was the thought of Chianti in the United States.  Too bad really, because Chianti is great, and Sangiovese is the grape that makes it so. 

There are 11 DOCGs in Tuscany including Chianti Classico.  The other red DOCG that gets a lot of street cred in the world market is Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (Thought to be among the best wines in the world), Carmignano, Chianti (Note that all Chiantis are not Chianti Classico), Elba Aleatico Passito, Montecucco Sangiovese, Morellino di Scansano, Rosso della Val di Cornia, Suvereto, Vernaccia di San Gimigano, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ( A beautifully rustic red).

Brunello di Montalcino wines are made from 100% of a clone of Sangiovese called Brunello, and must be grown in the Montalcino region.  Brunello must be aged a minimum of 2 years in wood, plus another 4 months in the bottle.  They may not be sold until 5 years after the harvest on January 1.  Thus, the 2010s are just hitting the market now in 2015.  Brunello Riserva must spend a minimum of 2 years in wood plus 6 months in a bottle, and cannot be sold until 6 years following the harvest.  So the 2010s will come out next year in 2016.  Additionally, due to the long cellar times, producers of Brunello may also produce a little brother wine called Rosso di Montalcino which is less tannic and often more approachable young.  Therfore, Rosso only needs to be in the cellar for 1 year prior to release, and only 6 months needs to be in oak.  These wines are lighter and fresher and 1/3 to 1/2 the price of a Brunello.  There is good wines to be had in the Rosso category as well.

Carmignano is another Sangiovese based red that must contain at least 50% Sangiovese but also has french varieties like Cabernet Sauv and Cab Franc (Up to 20%), and a host of other grapes like Toscano, Malvasia (White) Canaiolo Bianco (White) up to 10 percent.

Chianti Classico and it's big brother Riserva are grown between Florence and Siena.  Chianti Classico used to be limited the amount of Sangiovese that they included in the blend to 80%, however, that requirement has since been lifted, and many wines are made with 100% Sangiovese.Traditional blends included white grapes like Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianco, but they are no longer alloud since 2006.  Chianti Classico must have 12% ABV, and be aged 1 year, Riserva must have 12.5% alcohol and be aged 24 months and 3 months in the bottle, and Gran Seiezione wines must be produced from estate fruit, contan 13% ABV, and aged a minimum of 3 years.

Chianti DOCG must have 70 percent or greater Sangiovese.  They are alloud up to 10 percent white grapes and no more than 15% Cabernet Sauv or Franc.  The Chianti Senesi must be greater than 75% Sangiovese, can no longer have white grapes after 2015 (Up to 10 percent until then) and no more than 10% of the cab cousins Franc and Sauv.   Depending on the region there are different ABV requirements ranging from 11.5% up to 12.5%.  All must be aged for at least a year with the Reserva being held back for at least 2 years.

DID YOU KNOW:  In days of old, Tuscany invented a technique called Governo in which they dried some grapes and held them back from the initial fermentation.  If the yeast got stuck, they would add these high sugar raisins to the must, and it would help kick-start fermentation again.  Temperature controlled tanks did away with the need for this technique, however, some winemakers still use the technique by choice, especially with grapes like Verdiccio which can be bitter.  Governo helps to counteract the natural bitterness of the grape.

Back to the program.Elba Aleatico Passito is made in Livorno.  This is made from 100% Aleatico after air drying causing a very high sugar content (30%).  The ABV must be over 19%.

Montecucco Sangiovese also makes wine with Sangiovese and must be greater than 90%.  These wines have a minimum abv of 13% with the Riserva being a min of 13.5.  They must be aged a minimum of 1 year in barrels and 4 months in a bottle, with the Riserva being aged for 24 months in oak and 6 months in a bottle.

Morellino di Scancano is produced with Cabernet... Kidding... SANGIOVESE at 85% or greater.  These wines have a min alcohol of 12.5% and the riserva at 13% Abv.  They must be aged for 1 year and the Riserva for 2.

Val di Cornia Rosso is another Sangiovese blend, but this one only requires 40%.  Minimum Abv is 12.5, and 13% for the Riserva.  It must be aged for one year, with Riserva aged for 18 months in oak and 6 months in the bottle.

Suvereto is actually made from Cabernet Sauvignon and or Merlot plus a max of 15% other red grapes.

Vernaccia di San Gimigano is a funny wine in Tuscany for two reasons.  First, it is a WHITE wine.  Second, it is a white wine grown in the most macho of places.  The town is built of Medieval skyscrapers to scare away its enemies.  This is the town that produces white wine... Irony.  Vernaccia is the grape but they do allow up to 15% other white grapes.  It must be 11.5% alcohol or 12.5% for the riserva.  This wine is aged a minimum of 11 months including at least 3 in the bottle,

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is another Sangiovese based grape but locally it is known by the name Prugnolo Gentile.  It must contain a min of 70% Sangiovese, but can include other Tuscan grapes.  It must be aged 24 months in wood, or 18 months in wood with 6 in an alternative container, or 12 months in wood with 6 months in a bottle and the rest in an alternative container.  Riserva must be aged a min of 3 years including 6 months in the bottle.

Two other notable wines from Tuscany include Vin Santo and Super Tuscans (Which have absolutely nothing in common but that they are left to discuss)  Vin Santo, or wine of the saints, is made from partly dried grapes and aged in small wooden barrels.  It is made mainly of Malvasia and Trebbiano though some can be made from Sangiovese as well.  It is a beautiful age friendly wine often served at the end of a meal.  The flavors of almond, and orange, honey, and a bit of oxidation are always present.  It is the perfect way to finish a meal.  Frequently, the Italians have Vin Santo with Biscoti and they dunk the cookie into their wine.  It is a marriage made in Italian Heaven.

The last wine I will discuss in Tuscany is the Super Tuscan (So named by Americans)...  Tuscana wines emerged out of Italy as a revolt of sorts.  I know, wine and war should not go together, but sadly it does.  In 1970 a group lead by Sassicaia decided that they were not going to follow Italy's wine laws, which should land you in wine jail (I don't know what that is, but it sounds like a place I would enjoy).  The punishment was that these wines had to be called "Table Wines" and did not get their own DOCG.  Death to wine?  NO!!  Instead, it pushed boundaries, and produced better Italian wines garnering a price premium.  Later followed Tignanello with a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Today, Super Tuscans can be a blend of Cab, Merlot, Pinot Nero, and even Syrah.

Marches also sits in "Central Italy" (Pronounced Mar-Kay).  Marches has 5 DOCGs and produces 2 main grape types.  Verdicchio (White) and Rosso Piceno which is Marches for Sangiovese.  Lets start with whites.

Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva must contain 85% Verdicchio and achieve 12.5% abv.   It must be aged 18 months including 6 months in the bottle.

Conero is a red from Montepulciano but may contain up to 15% Sangiovese with a minimum abv of 12.5%  These wines are aged for a minimum of 2 years.

Offida makes both a red and white wine.  The white is made from Pecorino (or Passerina) while the  red made from Montepulciano.  The whites must have 12 percent alcohol if made with Pecorino or 11.5% abv if made with Passerina, while the reds have a min of 13 percent.  Red wines must be aged for 24 months including 12 months in wood and 3 in the bottle.

Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva is a bitter wine made from 85% Verdicchio.  It must have 12.5% abv and be aged 18 months.

Vernaccia di Serrapetrona is made from Vernaccia Nera and is a sparkling red (Rosso Spumante) and can either be dry or sweet.   It must have a minimum of 85% vernaccia Nera and 40% of the grapes must be dried.  It may not be released until June 30th the year after harvest.  It can be made both in the traditional method (Seldom, or the Charmat method.

Lacrima di Morro d' Alba is a red wine not unlike Pinot noir in its nose.  It is very aromatic and smells of Roses, boysenberry jam.  It has nice acid and  soft tannins.

This is a country full of great wines.  Try them.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Northern Italy


Weird right?  In France we went region by region, and the France we know is hardly a modern concept.  French people are likely to tell you they are from France.  They will not tell you they are from Burgundy. 

Italy is different.  The concept of a united Italy is a VERY modern concept.  Italy was a collection of smaller nation states until 1861.  Yet, we talk about Italy and their wine making collectively.  Why?  Well, that is because it is not France.  Just like we will likely talk about the USA and their wine making as a collective.  More to come on that when I am in a class on NEW WORLD WINES.  That will not be until next semester.

Now back to Northern Italy.  When I talk about Northern Italy, we are talking about the area surrounding Piemont.  This includes Liguria (Cinque  Terra), the Acosta Valley, Lombardy, Trentino-South Tyrol, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna.  Note that I will make an arbitrary cutoff and say that Tuscany is part of central Italy.  Why?  Because my teacher said so.  Note the word arbitrary.  

Today's class had two remarkable discoveries.  First, I STILL LOVE Nebbiolo.  It is yummy.  Second and perhaps more remarkable, there is a wine region in Italy called Soave.  If you do not know it, you should.  Mostly because it will save you a lot of money.  It is a rare bargain in the wine business of an age-worthy WHITE wine with great almond, vanilla, peach and wood.  Similar in a lot of ways to Burgundy but at a fraction of the price.  I will say more later.

First Piedmont.  Most of the wines produced here are either DOC or DOCG.  Remember, it is only special if not everyone has the designation.  Piedmont is home to Nebbiolo.  It flourishes here.  With two wines, not just one.  The first is Barolo.  A manly, wine with lots of tannins.  It is grown in a rocky soil.  The Italians will tell you that grapes grown in hard soil produce manly wines, while grapes grown in soft soil produce softer wines.  Barbaresco, also made from Nebbiolo is grown in sandy soft soils.  In a lot of ways Barbaresco is Barolo's softer sister.  She is approachable, drinkable today, and is really fun to be around.  On the other hand, Barolo is the gruff older brother.  He can be harsh when he is young.  But with a bit of age, he is mellow and also a lot of fun to be with.  Barolo must be aged 3 years, and Barbaresco only 2.

Be careful if you buy a Barolo.  THIS IS IMPORTANT because there are two types of Barolo wines.  The ones made in a modern style, and those made more traditionally.  Why did i say IMPORTANT.  Lets say you want to drink your wine today, and you are making some great steaks for your friends who are coming to dinner.  You buy a traditional Barolo at the store, and you take it home.  SURPRISE.  That wine will not be drinkable, much less be good for at least 10 years.  A big Tannin BOMB.  Teeth shrinking in their sockets, not enjoyable tannin bomb.  If it was 10 years old, you might be able to drink it, but it will not be for another 10 years that it will be FANTASTIC.

Now, lets say that you bought the same vintage from a modern producer.  He/She has realized that a profit is important, and that people don't have the space or the desire to cellar wines for eons.  Therefore, the modernist has figured out that spending less time on the skins and aging in smaller barrels leads to more approachable wines that are drinkable and enjoyable sooner.  Ahhh, this is what you were after.   Regardless, Barolo is considered to be one of Italy's most cellar worthy, best wines.  The wines that are modern in style and therefore approachable earlier on include:

Ceretto, Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo, Elio Altare, and Renato Ratti

In more recent years the line between the two has blurred with both sides taking the best from what the other has to offer.

Barolo is produced predominantly in 5 areas.  The further south, the softer the soil, and the softer the wine.  They are as follows:
  • Barolo (Softer wines)-Tortonian Soil
  • Castiglione Falletto
  • La Morra  (Softer wines)- Tortonian soil
  • Monforte d'Alba
  • Serralunga d'Alba 
Some of the best wines from Barolo include Canubi, Brunate, and Samassa, in La Morra Brunate, Cerequio, Le Rocche.  Serralunga d'alba has producers Lazzarito and cerretta, Castiglione Falletto has Rocche, Monprivato, Villero and Bricco Fiasco, and finally Monforte d' Alba has Bussia, Ginestra, and Santo Stefano.

Barbaresco is broken into 3 communes, Barbaresco which has top Crus Asili, Roncagliette, Martinenga, and Rabaja.  Neive which has Serraboella, Gallina, and Basarin, and finally Treiso producing crus in Pajore, and Bricco di Treiso.

Other wines that are produced in Piedmont include Dolcetto (Little sweet one) which is usually dry despite the name, and Barbara (3rd most commonly planted grape in Italy) perhaps the most under-rated approachable wine of the bunch.  The beautiful soft tannins and acid make Barbara a perfect pairing with most meals.  You can also find Asti Spumante here, but why would you want to?  Cortese,  a white grape can be found in a white wine called Gavi, and another white grape called Arneis. There has also been a push since the 1980s to grow more experimental varieties here as well.  They are vast and not traditional Italian grapes like Syrah, Cab and many others.

Roero DOCG produces reds also from Nebbiolo, but is most known for a floral white from the Arneis grape Gattinara and Ghemme also produce wines from Nebbiolo but they blend Vespolina and Bonarda to get a wine called Spana.  It is lighter and more acid focused then its Nebbiolo cousins.Lessona and Sizzano also produce Nebbiolo based red blends.Barbera d' Asti and Barbera del Monferrato produce Barberra in the Monferrato hills east of the Barolo country.  Barbara d'asti is released after just 4 months of aging, however, Monferato must spend 14 months aging with six months being spent in wood prior to release.

Dolcetto is produced in 3 DOCGs including Dogliani, Dolcetto di Ovada and Dolcetto di diano d' Alba.  All Dolcetto must be aged for a minimum of one year.  In Ovada, the wines must be highr in alcohol to qualify for DOCG, but the others benefit from the status just by being.

Gavi is also a DOCG.  Made from the Cortese grape it is usually still but can be found in slightly fizzy forms as well.

Others include a sweet wine called Brachetto d'Acqui, Asti (From Moscato), Alta Langa (Champagne like from Pinot Noir and Chardonay), Brachetto d'Acqui (Sparkling red), Freisa (Red similar to Nebbiolo), A favorite of mine Grignolino (light red with great acid and pepper), and Moscato d' asti (Lightly sparkling).  As you can tell, Italians will make wine out of just about anything.  Sparkling, still, sweet, dry, red white, and rose.  In Italy, wine is life, and life is wine... or at least it is food, which needs the wine to go down.

North of Peidmont is the Valle d' Aosta DOC.  This is a region that sits furthest North in Italy.  It has few people, it makes less wine than any other region in the country, and it has a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers.  Top wines produced are Blanc de Morgex.  These are cool grapes because they are still on un-grafted rootstock and have never been impacted by phylloxera probably due to the elevation and seclusion they enjoy.  Enfer d' Arvier made from petit rouge grapes with others blended in.  It is a medium body wine with racy red fruits.  Similar to a Beaujolais with an Italian ZIP.

Lombardy is next.  Most known for their sparkling wines, Lombardy is also the state that contains Milan.  Fashion conscious, wealthy business people have quite a thirst for their wines, but ironically, the wine making regions are far from the city capital.  Lombardy has 5 DOCGs including Franciacorta, Oltrepo Pavese metodo Classico, Valtellina Superiore, Sforzato di Vatellina, and Moscato di Scanzo.  There are also 4 DOCs.  More on that later.

Franciacorta makes sparkling wine by the traditional method.  These wines are Champagne like and produced using Chardonay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco.  The aging on these sparklers is amazing.  NV wines must be aged for 18 months, while vintage must get 67 months of aging with 5 years spent on their lees.  Pink versions must be aged a minimum of 37 months.

Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico produces classic Champagne style wine from Pinot Nero (70% min), and if they have at least 85% Pinot Nero, they can be labeled Pinot Nero (Same as Pinot Noir).  NV must spend 15 months on the lees, while vintage must spend 2 years.

Valtellina is the most important of Lombardy's red wine making zones.  Again, the star is Nebbiolo, but unlike it's neighbor in Piedmont, these wines are lighter in style.  In the region, Nebbiolo is known as Chiavennasca. Valtellina Superiore is a higher version of the Valtellina and must be aged for a minimum of 2 years with 1 year in cask, and 3 years if a Riserva wine.  Finally Valtellina Sforzato is produced from dry grapes like Amarone.

Other wines from the Lombardy region include Botticino (Red blend), Barbera, Bonarda Piemontese, Butafuoco, Cortese, Trebbiano, Trebbiano di Soave, Lambrusco (Sparkling red),

Liguria is the state that holds the idyllic vacations spot know as the Cinque Terre.  Beautiful cliffs overlook the ocean.  Here the vineyards are planted on extremely steep slopes and have beautiful views of the ocean.  All grapes must be picked by hand.  The grapes benefit from sea spray.  These wines are good, but they are expensive.  Mataossu is similar to Vermentino.  It has racy snappy acid with a layer of peach/orange Popsicle.  It pairs perfectly with lighter fish so frequently enjoyed in the region.  Rossese di Dolceacqua is a pale cherry color with a pink rim.  Floral accents with wood get a berry fruit and a vegital finish.  Minerals and acid make this a great wine to drink with food.Vermention is a white wine with great acid and freshness.  These wines are very aromatic.

Emilia Romagna is the home to lots of famous Italian things including Ferrari, Lamborghini, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and Moderna Balsamic vinegar.Unfortunately, their wines are far less interesting.  Such a let down after that set up...No?

Lambrusco is the most interesting wine produced in that it is a red sparkler that pairs well with the dried meats of the area.  Lambrusco rose is a newer take on this wine and is gaining popularity.  Albana di Romagna, a white that comes in all levels of sweetness from dry to sweet.

North is a dual town that really is two towns in every way.  Trention-Alto Adige/Sudtirol.  In this community there are 7 DOCs including Caldaro, Casteller, Teroldego Rotaliano, Trentino, Trendo, Valdadige, and Alto Adige.  The town of Trentino is found to the south of its sister.  Trentino is mostly Italian speaking, while its sister town Alto Adige speaks German.  Wines produced here can be from a number of grapes including Chardonay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Muller-Thurgau, and Sauv Blanc in the whites, and Gewurztraminer (Which may be from here originally).  The town is well known for its white wines, however reds are produced here as well.

Schiava is the predominant red grape.  This grape may be combined with Lambrusco, Merlot, and others to provide blends.  Lagrein is another red that is denser and spicier then Schiava.  Teroldego is also a red grown in the region.Often described as a cross between a Beaujolais cru and a Chianti.

Vento is next on the list.  It is at the base of Italy's Butt (Boot reference).  Veneto houses it's capital city of Venice.  It rpoduces more wine than any other region of Italy.  this is LARGELY a low quality, High YEILD area.the most important wine from the region is Amarone della Valpolicella.  Made from raisins, this wine grabs great complexity and high alcohol content.  the wine is made from Corvina blended with Rondinella.  Other grapes may be used as well.  Appassimento is a higher order of Amarone in which it ages for an additional 2 years prior to release.  It may also get the label of Riserva if it sits and ages for 4 years.

Made from the same grapes is Valpolicella Classico.  this has had a long history of being Meh wine.  Yep technical term in the wine industry.  Valpolicella comes in Classico and Ripasso, a technique in which they take the Amarone skins and soak them in the Valpolicella to get greater depth, and Appassimento.

Bardolino lies between Valpolicella and the shores of Lake Garda.  Corvina and Rondinella grapes dominate and they are slightly lighter then Valpolicella.  Rose exists as well as Bardolino Chiaretto.

Perhaps the BIGGEST SURPRISE (PAY ATTENTION cause it will bring cheap pleasure).  Soave is the principal and most important wine in the Veneto.  These wines are primarily made from the Garganega grape.  (FUN TO SAY)  Soave may also use Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonay as well.  The expanse of the DOC has been ridiculed in the area, but the DOCGs (Recioto di Soave, and Soave Superiore make some great wines.  Soave Superiore is aged for at least one year and may be called Reserva with two years of aging.  We had one in class that tasted similar to a white Burgundy with great complexity, and it elevated and changed over the evening in the glass.  Note some of the extensions of the DOC have marred the reputation of the wine for good reason, but the wines in this region that are good, are GREAT.  A recommendation includes VIGNETO DU LOT SOAVE CLASSICO.  it retails for 20 dollars and has a flavor and complexity far beyond that price.  Gambellara and Breganze Torcolato make similar wines to Soave.

Prosecco is made in the region in all sweetness levels and can be a very refreshing wine.  Look for ones that are dry or off dry.  There are two DOCGs   Conegliano Valdobbiadene, and the more obscure Asolo Prosecco.

In closing, Italy is a charming, beautiful place, with beautiful food, beautiful people, and a beautiful culture.  Wine is an accent to be paired with the food.  One thing I have noticed over the years, is Italian wine is tough to sip.  Without food, the wines of Italy are like pasta without sauce.  Eat well and drink well.

Monday, March 9, 2015



Ever hear of it?  Many people in the US have not, which is weird, seeing as though this is the region of France that supplies the largest vineyard surface space in all of France.  It is also the largest grower of vines in the world.  The region is so big, that it contributes nearly 30 percent of the total production of FRANCE. BUT... Historically, the region has not had the best reputation.  Much of France's cheap quaffing wines come from this region.  It is also the reason for the diminishing prices of European wine due to over production. Thus, many have called it the "Wine Lake".

While there is still plenty of bad wine coming from the Languedoc, there are also some incredible innovators coming from the region as well.  Due to more lax wine making laws, producers in the region take the best from French wine tradition, and apply new world wine making techniques to them.  Because of this, most wine from the region are sold under the Vin de Pays d'Oc AOC.

We will start with geography.  Languedoc touches Provence, and in a lot of ways offers the same things that Provence has to offer.  White sand beaches, beautiful ocean, but without the pissy attitude to tourists.  Roussillon is more secluded.  Due to the fact that it is a border town with Spain, many drive through here on their way to Spain.  Additionally, you will see a lot of Spanish influence in the region.

The region basically grows a bit of everything in the grape kingdom.  Two that you might not find in most places include Carignan (Mazuelo, Bovale, Grande, Carinena, Carignane are other names it goes by) Llandoner Pelut  (a "Hairy" mutation of black Grenache.  More to come on grapes as we delve deeper.

Languedoc gets its name from the dialect spoken there.  The root of the word (Langa d'OC) literally translates to the language of yes with oc being how one says yes in Occitan.  There are 15 distinct AOPs in the Languedoc alone.  Roussillon has 7 AOCs.  Most of the vineyard space hugs the Mediterranean sea.

The  Languedoc's best vineyards in the region are clustered on the western side of the region.  Fitou is the oldest appellation dating to 1948.  It is broken into 2 districts, Fatou Maritime, and Fitou Montagneux.  The wines are always red blends, and Carignan based.  the red wines are a minimum of 60 percent(COMBINED) Grenache (Min20%), and Carignan (Min 20%) but may also include syrah and mourvedre (Up to 10% combined)  No grape may account for over 80% of the blend and Grenache and or Carignan MUST be at least 50% of the total blend.  

Fitou is embedded within Corbieres AOP which produces reds, roses and a small amount of white wine.  Corbieres has variable soil types including red sandstone, stony, grey clay, schists, and coarl limestone.  it is a Mediterranean climate that is dry and windy.  The majority of production from the region is red (95%) and 3.5% rose.  Carignan is the major grape here, and may account for up to 50% of the wine.  syrah, granache Noir, Mourvedre, lledoner Pelut and Cinsault may be included up to 20% for reds and up to 70% for rose wines.  There are also a small amount of whites produced from Bourboulenc, white Grenache, Maccabeu, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Rolle (Vermintino, Terret blanc, Picquepoul, and Muscat (Maximum 10%).

Corbieres-Boutenac produces red wine from Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.  there are only 18 producers here.  

Minervois produces mostly reds  (94%) with 2% white, and the remaining rose.  Grapes used here are Carignan (Up to 40%), Grenache, Lledoner Pelut, Mourvedre, and Syrah.  White may be made of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Maccabeu, Bourboulenc, Rolle, Clairette, and muscat.  There is also a sweet (VDN) wine mad here from Muscat called Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois.  

At the Heart of Minervois is a sophisticated area called Minervois la Liviniere.  The soils here are made of limestone.  There is also wind to cool the grapes at night, and significant water shortages in the summer.  Thus the vines suffer... and thus make good grapes.  The wines from Minervois la Liviniere must be bottled at the source, and thus, there are NO NEGOCIANTS here.  Wines are made from 60% Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache (40 percent minimum of syrah or mourvedre) and may contain Carignan, Cinsault, Terret, Piquepoul and Aspiran (Not to be confused with the Aspirin I will need because of all of the grape types grown in the region)  Finally, these wines are tasted for quality before being called Minervois la Liviniere.

Cabardes is another red producing land with 90% of its vineyards devoted to the red grape.  The soil here is chalky clay, limestone and rocky terroir.  The wind here is overpowering the air dry, and the Mediterranean climate keeps things warm.   Growers grow both Mediterranean and Atlantic varietals.  The growers must grow 50/50 between the two, and must blend the wines.  Interestingly, there is not mins or maximums on the blend however.  One could mix 99 percent Syrah with 1% Cabernet if so desired.

The Cotes de Malepere are similar in style and geographically close to Cabardes (Directly North).  These are made from a bunch (hahaha) of different grapes from traditional Mediterranean to Bordeaux varieties.  Cab, Malbec, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsaut.  The terrain is hills or Cotes, made of Calcareaous material and gravel hill tops.  This is a transitional climate with both Oceanic and Med elements.

Saint-Chinian AOP has historically been a red and Rose world, but have recently added whites to its toolbox.  the same suspects apply with Min 30% Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne and vermentino.  Also alloud but with a max of 10% combined are clairette, Carignan Blanc and Viognier.  Depending on the age of the vines, they may also allow Macabeu (If planted before 1998) and Bourboulenc (If before 2005)  The Rose and red wines are from Grenache, Lladoner Pelut (Min 20 percent combined) Mourvedre, and Syrah (Min 20% combined)  Also included at times are Carignan and Cinsault.

There are two sub-regions called Berlou and Roquebrun with slightly different blend rules,  Berlou must have 60% combined Grenache (20% min), Syrah (20% min, and Mourvedre.  It must also have Carignan at up to 25%.  Roquebrun must have a min of 25% Syrah and 20% Granache (70% combined syrah, Granache, and Mourvedre)  It may also have carignan at up to 30%.

Fageres has mountainous influences in its landscape.  wines here are made from Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvedre and syrah for both reds and rose wines.  Whites are made with Rousanne, white Grenache, Marsanne and Vermention.  These are soft wines with integrated rounded tannins.

So as you can see, there are a lot of rules, and even more grapes.  It is a place to experiment in France... In fact, one of the few.  That is why there is sooooo much excitement suddenly coming from the area.  If yoiu think we are done with our journey, we are not.  On do Limoux.

Limoux makes 4 varieties of wine;  a cremant, white, rouge and a Blanquette (Sparkling in the ancestral method made from Mauzac grapes.The two sparkling wines from the region (Blanquette and Cremant) go to assemblage after the still wines are made.  After nine months, existing lees are eliminated and an expedition is added.  the Cremant is stored for at least 12 months and sold 15 months after it is bottled.  Blanqette undergoes natural fementation and has less then 7% alcohol.

Clairette du Languedoc hugs the herault river on cliffs or terraces.  The grape grown here is easy to remember because it is called Clairette. This is a rare single varietal wine from the region.  It is a white, and it has been here since the Roman times.  It can either be drunk dry or semi-sweet.

Languedoc Regional AOC has made wines that were uninspired for years.  In recent years, the focus has been on improving quality.  There are several sub-zones including Gres de Montpellier (St Christol, St Drezery, st Georges d' Orques and La Mejanelle), Penzenas, La Clape, Pic St. Loup, Cabrieres, Terasses du Larzac, Quatourze, Montpeyroux, st. Saturnin, and Sommieres.  Hold on to your hat, we will go through these quickly.

Languedoc AOP makes white and red wines as well as rose.  Whites are made up of Granache blanc, Clarette blanc, Bourboulenc, Piquepoul, Marsanne, Roussane, Vermentio and Tourbat.  These have to be a blend of two or more of the grapes listed above.  Secondary grapes may be included as well.  These include Terret, Carignan, Ugni, Macabeu, Viognier.  Seconday blending grapes cannot be more then 30% and viognier cannot be less then 10%.the wines should be a minimum of 11.5% ABV.  Reds and Rose wines can be made from Grenache, Lladnoer Pelut, Syrah, Mourvedre(At least 50%), and Carignan can be no more then 40%.  Minimum of 20% Frenache and Lladdoner Pelut.  Secondary grapes may not exceed 10%  These include Counoise, Grenache rose, Piquepoul and Terret.

Picpoul only grows one grape (Picpoul de Pinet).  It is made for fish with its floral, citrus and acid.  The bottle is COOL and has Neptune with the Languedoc Cross.

Pic Saint Loup AOP has Mourvedre based wines showing color, spicy and meaty complexity with a hint of earth.  They are more elegant than the rest from the Languedoc plains.  This is due to swings in temperatue from day to night.  A great part of this region is a birthday celebration for me.  On the first Sunday after March 19th (My bday), anyone climbing the Pic Saint Loup gets a glass of wine at the summit.

La Clape mountains are known as the mountains of lakes because they used to be under a lake.  This region is known for its whites made from 60% Bourboulenc.  it also makes reds and rose but they are less interesting.

Finally, BREATHE, there are a series of Muscat producing small fortified wine appellations called the Languedoc Muscats collectively.  These include Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois AOP, Muscat de Mireval AOP, Muscat de Lunel AOPand Muscat de Frontignan AOP.  These can be either VDN or Vin de Liquer (Natural or with fortification added).

Roussillon is next.  Roussillon AOPs is made up of several sub AOPs.  These include Banyuls Grand Cru (VDN red, Banyuls (VDN red and white), Collioure (Red, white, rose), Cotes du Roussillon (Red, white), Maury (VDN white, VDN red, dry red), Muscat de Rivesaltes (VDN white) and finally Rivesaltes (VDN white and VDN red).

Collioure makes whites from Grenache blanc, gris, and secondarily  from tourbat, Maccabeu, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Vermentino.  Reds and Roses can be made from Grenache Noir, and secondarily from Syrah, Mourvedre, (Carignan, and Cinsault for reds,) and (Granache Gris for rose).

Cotes du Roussillon make 60% roses, and 38 percent red.  Grenaches noir and blanc, Carignan noir, Llandoner Pelut, Cinsault, Macabeu, Malvoisie du Roussillon.  New grapes are also added like Syrah, Mourvedre, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Vermentino.

Cote du Roussillon Villages AOP makes Carignan noir, Granache noir, Lladoner Pelut, Syrah, and Mourvedre.  there are 32 villages and typically the village is included on the label.

Cotes du Roussillon les Aspres must be in oak for 12 months and are made with a higher degree of Syrah and Mourvedre.

Sweet wines as mentioned above are made through much of the region.The Ambre and Touile styles are aged in an oxidative environment until March 1 of the 3rd year following the harvest.  Grenat wines are aged reductively for one year and must be bottled before juen 30 of the following year.  These wines are at times aged in the sun in a glass jar (HUMPH).  Rivesaltes hors d'age AOP wines are aged for a minimum of 5 years and at times up to 20.

The last sweet wine region to discuss is Banyuls Grand Cru AOP.  These must be made with 75% Grenache Noir and have been aged for a minimum of 30 Months.

Maury AOP may be aged up to 20 years, but the Cendanges ou Recoltes bottled early to preserve freshness.

Whew.  Lots of wines made here...  Thanks for coming with me.