Introducing TDPC – Francesca

Francesca:

I have decided to welcome Spring by joining an exciting collective project whose concept was developed by Margot who authors the sleek Gather and Graze cooking blog.
In a nutshell, the project is named The Dinner Party Collective (in short, TDPC) and revolves around creating seasonal menus and wine pairings that may inspire readers in hosting their own dinner parties.
Why don’t you take a few minutes of your time and go check it out: it’s a pretty cool venue, I promise! :-)
Have a great weekend!
Francesca Xx

Originally posted on The Dinner Party Collective:

FrancescaHello everyone!

My name is Francesca and I think I can be considered a very late bloomer in the kitchen.

Until a few years ago, my interests and passions lied in anything but food: career, fashion, books, home decorating, flower arranging, traveling around the world and anything else that would satisfy my sense of beauty and aesthetics.

And then one day not very long ago – as it so often happens in life – due to a “force majeure” event, I found myself in front of the stove, in that room of the house that I had utterly ignored up until then!

What to do then? Oh well! I had no idea where to start from, but I knew I had two weapons on my side and I was very determined to make full use of them.

Firstly, I was born and raised in Italy and my country’s culinary tradition is totally unique. Secondly, I come from a very traditional family where every…

View original 508 more words

Posted in The Dinner Party Collective | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wine Review: Three 2013 Alsatian Pinot Blancs… Or Should I Say One and a Half?

Disclaimer: this review is of samples that I received from the producers’ US PR agency. My review has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the ISA wine tasting protocol and the opinions I am going to share on the wines are my own.

AOC AlsaceWhen I got an email asking whether I would review samples of three Pinot Blancs from France’s Alsace region, I wholeheartedly accepted because I generally very much like Alsatian Rieslings and Gewürztraminers, but I was not familiar with their Pinot Blancs so it sounded like a great opportunity to make myself an idea. Plus, Pinot Blanc is not a grape that you often see in varietal (as in, 100% Pinot Blanc) wines: it is more often used as a blending partner of other grapes, including in the context of the blend of certain French or Italian Classic Method sparkling wines together with Chardonnay or Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

So, let’s get to it and let me tell you how I liked them.

About the Grape(s)

Well, before we even start talking about Pinot Blanc, let me just reiterate something that I mentioned on my previous post about the Alsace AOC appellation.

Although the rules of the Alsace AOC appellation require that, if a variety is indicated on the label, the wine must be entirely made out of grapes from that variety (which is all good), this is actually not true for Pinot Blanc wines. More specifically, Alsace AOC rules permit that a wine labeled “Pinot Blanc be either a blend of, or even made entirely out of, any of the following varietiesPinot BlancAuxerrois (which is a separate variety that is often confused with Pinot Blanc), Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (vinified white, as in the Champagne region). In other words, under Alsace AOC rules, a wine that is made out of 100% Pinot Gris grapes may legally be labeled and sold as “Pinot Blanc”(!)

Now, this kind of bothers me: I mean, how would you like it if you went out to buy a Toyota and they sold you a Nissan that is however branded as a Toyota? Nothing wrong in my book with either a Toyota or a Nissan, but one should be able to get what they went out to buy, right?

Anyway, two out of the three wines that I reviewed were exactly in the situation described above (for details, see below in the individual descriptions). One of the wines was a truly varietal Pinot Blanc, the second wine was a blend of Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc, and the third one was a blend of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. So, the first wine was 100% Pinot Blanc, while the Pinot Blanc component in the blends of the second and third wines combined was just 50%, hence the title of this post.

For information and cool facts about all the varieties that were used for making those three wines, please refer to my previous post about the Alsace AOC appellation or click on any of the grape variety links above which will redirect you to the relevant entry in our Grape Variety Archive.

About the Appellation and the Alsace Region

For an overview of the Alsace AOC appellation and the Alsace wine region, its terroir and main grape varieties, please refer to my previous post.

About the Reviewed Wines and Their Producers

Here below are my reviews of the three wines that I tasted, as well as some high-level information about their producers. It is interesting to note how the second and the third wines were similar in style, while the first one had a style of its own.

As always, for my reviews I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher. For your own structured wine tastings, consider downloading our FsT Wine Tasting Chart!

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

My Overall Opinion: In a nutshell, to me there was a clear winner among the three 2013 Pinot Blancs that I tasted in this mini-horizontal tasting exercise, and that was the Meyer-Fonné Vieilles Vignes Pinot Blanc. It was the wine that delivered the most complete package among the three, with a nice nose and a very pleasant, interesting mouth, and it was the most balanced of the three, with its smoothness being effectively countered by intense minerality and tastiness. Then Domaines Schlumberger’s “Les Princes Abbés snatched second place, with a wine whose pleasant mouthfeel was penalized by its timid and narrow nose. Albert Mann’s Pinot Blanc came in last, as the wine’s good nose alone was not enough to save a mouth that lacked those levels of acidity and tastiness that would be desirable to effectively counterbalance its smoothness and make it interesting.

Below you can find my detailed reviews of the three wines and decide for yourselves.

1. Third PlaceAlbert Mann, Pinot Blanc Alsace AOC, 2013 ($18) 

Albert Mann, Pinot Blanc Alsace AOC (Image courtesy of Snooth.com - click on image to go to website)

Albert Mann, Pinot Blanc Alsace AOC (Image courtesy of Snooth.com – click on image to go to website)

Albert Mann is an Alsatian winery that manages a 21 HA/52 acre estate which hosts five Alsace Grand Cru wines (i.e., Schlossberg, Furstentum, Hengst, Steinbrugler and Pfersigberg – for more information about the Alsace Grand Cru AOC, please refer to our previous post about Alsace). The winery applies organic and biodynamic methods to grape growing.

The wine that I reviewed was made out of 100% Pinot Blanc grapes grown according to biodynamic agriculture methods at Albert Mann’s Kientzheim and Wettolsheim vineyards on marl limestone soils. The average age of the grapevines is 25 years. The must was fermented in stainless steel vats. The wine was 12.5% ABV.

The Bottom Line: A good nose with aromas of peach, Mirabelle plum, yellow flowers and mineral notes (flint). In the mouth it feels off-dry and very smooth but in my view with not enough acidity to effectively balance its smoothness and make it interesting. The flavors are coherent with the aromatic profile and reminiscent of peach and Mirabelle plum, with slight mineral hints. Overall: a good nose but a mouthfeel that is not on par with its bouquet. Fairly Good Fairly Good – $

Our Detailed Review: In the glass, it poured straw yellow and moderately viscous. The nose was moderately intense, moderately complex and fine, with aromas of peach, Mirabelle plum, yellow flowers and mineral notes (flint). In the mouth, it was off-dry, with medium ABV, smooth; scarcely acidic and moderately tasty. The wine was medium-bodied and slightly off-balance, with intense and fine flavors of peach and Mirabelle plum, along with slight mineral hints. The finish was medium and the wine’s evolutionary state was mature, meaning drink now.

2. The Runner UpDomaines Schlumberger, Pinot Blanc “Les Princes Abbés” Alsace AOC, 2013 ($17)

Domaines Schlumberger, Pinot Blanc  "Les Princes Abbés" Alsace AOC (Image courtesy of Domaines Schlumberger)

Domaines Schlumberger, Pinot Blanc “Les Princes Abbés” Alsace AOC (Image courtesy of Domaines Schlumberger)

Domaines Schlumberger manages an over 121 HA/300 acre estate in Guebwiller and is the largest Grand Cru producer in Alsace.

The wine that I reviewed was a blend of 70% Auxerrois and 30% Pinot Blanc which was left to mature on its lees for seven months following fermentation. The wine was 13.5% ABV.

The Bottom Line: It starts with a very timid nose, with a rather faint and narrow aromatic profile of apple and citrus. When you taste it, however, it switches gears and offers a pleasant mouthfeel with decent acidity and good sapidity that make it refreshing as well as nice, citrusy flavors intertwined with interesting mineral and saline notes. Overall: good minus, saved by its mouth. Good- Good / $

Our Detailed Review: In the glass, it poured straw yellow with golden reflections and viscous. The nose was scarcely intense, scarcely complex and fair, with aromas of apple and citrus. In the mouth, it was dry, with medium ABV, smooth; moderately acidic and tasty. The wine was medium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine flavors of citrus, along with mineral and saline notes. The finish was medium and the wine’s evolutionary state was mature, meaning drink now.

3. The WinnerMeyer-Fonné, Pinot Blanc “Vieilles Vignes” Alsace AOC, 2013 ($19)

The Meyer-Fonné estate was founded way back, in 1732. The winery does not use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides to treat its grapevines.

Meyer-Fonné, Pinot Blanc "Vieilles Vignes" Alsace AOC (Image courtesy of Meyer-Fonné)

Meyer-Fonné, Pinot Blanc “Vieilles Vignes” Alsace AOC (Image courtesy of Meyer-Fonné)

The wine that I reviewed was a blend of 65% Auxerrois, 20% Pinot Blanc and 15% Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. The grapes were grown in a 6-acre vineyard on 40 to 50 year old vines and were hand-picked at harvest time. After pneumatic pressing of the grapes, the must fermented in stainless steel vats and oak barrels for a period of one to three months using natural yeast, after which it matured on its lees until bottling. The wine was 12.5% ABV.

The Bottom Line:  A rather restrained but nice nose with aromas of citrus, yellow peach, lemon blossoms, almond and a mineral note (graphite?) In the mouth it is definitely pleasant: bone dry, smooth and very tasty, with flavors of citrus and yellow peach along with noticeable mineral and iodine notes, which make the wine almost saline. Overall: very pleasant and perfect for Spring and Summer parties or relaxing evenings out on the patio. Good to Very Good Good to Very Good – $

Our Detailed Review: In the glass, it poured golden yellow and moderately viscous. The nose was moderately intensemoderately complex and fine, with aromas of citrus, yellow peach, lemon blossoms, almond and a mineral note (graphite?) In the mouth, it was dry, with medium ABV, smooth; moderately acidic and tasty. The wine was medium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine flavors of citrus and yellow peach along with noticeable mineral and iodine notes, making the wine almost saline. The finish was medium and the wine’s evolutionary state was mature, meaning drink now.

Posted in White Wines, Wine, Wine Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Overview of France’s Alsace AOC Appellation

AOC AlsaceSince I have recently received three samples of Pinot Blanc wines from Alsace which I am going to review on one of the next posts, today I am going to provide a brief overview of northeastern France’s Alsace AOC appellation in anticipation of my reviews of those three wines.

Geography and Soils of Alsace

Alsace is a region in France’s northeast, bordering with Germany and stretching some 105 miles/170 KM from north to south, encased between the Vosges Mountains to the west and the west bank of the Rhine River to the east. The region is divided into two departments: the “Bas-Rhin” to the north (near the region’s capital, Strasbourg) and the “Haut-Rhin” to the south.

Alsace AOC Map

Alsace AOC Map – Courtesy of Wine and Vine Search (click on map to go to website)

Throughout Alsace there is a significant diversity in terms of soils, with clay, limestone, marl, granite, gneiss, schist, and even volcanic soils all coexisting in the region. This results in marked differences in the grapes that are grown in the area, depending also on the type of soil the grapevines benefit from.

Generally speaking, the Alsace vineyards are located at an altitude between 650 ft/200 mt and 1,300 ft/400 mt above sea level on the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, for maximum sun exposure.

Alsace Vineyards - Courtesy of Vins d'Alsace (click on image to go to website)

Alsace Vineyards – Courtesy of Vins d’Alsace (click on image to go to website)

Alsatian Appellations

Generally speaking, there are three AOC’s in Alsace:

  • Alsace AOC: created in 1962, it is the largest of the three, making up for about 71.5% of total production (more on this below);
  • Alsace Grand Cru AOC: created in 1975, it accounts for a mere 4% of total production, but it identifies the 51 estates that are considered those with the ideal terroir for the only four grape varieties that are authorized under the Alsace Grand Cru AOC rules: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat d’Alsace; and
  • Crémant d’Alsace AOC: created in 1976, it represents 24.5% of total production and is reserved to sparkling wines made according to the Classic Method.

Having said that, for the purposes of this post, we will focus only on the Alsace AOC appellation.

Flûte (or Rhine) Bottles (courtesy of Chandler Resources)

Flûte (or Rhine) Bottles (courtesy of Chandler Resources)

The vast majority of the Alsace AOC wines are still white wines (92% of the total) and all Alsace AOC wines must be bottled using the typical “Rhine bottle” (AKA “flûte”).

There are eight main grape varieties that are authorized under the Alsace AOC rules: Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois (which in Alsace is confusingly considered interchangeable with Pinot Blanc, although it is a separate variety – see below), Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, Muscat d’Alsace and Pinot Noir (the only permitted black-berried variety).

Although, according to most sources, the rules of the Alsace AOC appellation require that, if a variety is indicated on the label, the wine must be entirely made out of grapes from that variety, this is actually not always true: at least, it is certainly not true for Pinot Blanc wines. More specifically, Alsace AOC rules permit that a wine labeled “Pinot Blanc” be either a blend of, or even made entirely out of, any of the following varieties: Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois (which, as mentioned above, is a different variety that is often confused with Pinot Blanc), Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (vinified white, as in the Champagne region). In other words, under Alsace AOC rules, a wine that is made out of 100% Pinot Gris grapes may legally be labeled and sold as “Pinot Blanc”(!)

Talk about avoiding confusion among consumers…

For completeness, under the rules of both the Alsace AOC and the Alsace Grand Cru AOC appellations, grapes of any of four permitted varieties that are harvested very late in the season and that have developed “noble rot” (Botrytis cinerea) may be labeled as Vendages Tardives or Sélection de Grains Nobles, two particularly sought after sweet raisin wines.

Specifically, the main requirements to make Vendages Tardives or Sélection de Grains Nobles wines are as follows:

  • Grapes must be any of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling or Muscat d’Alsace
  • Each wine must be made entirely out of one of the four permitted varieties
  • The grapes must be hand-picked
  • The grapes must be late harvested and must have developed “noble rot
  • The grapes must have very high sugar levels (at least 235 to 257 gr/lt for Vendages Tardives or 276 to 306 gr/lt for Sélection de Grains Nobles, in each case depending on the variety)
  • The grapes must have very high total alcohol levels (at least 14% to 15.3% ABV for Vendages Tardives or 16.4% to 18.2% for Sélection de Grains Nobles, in each case depending on the variety)

The Main Grape Varieties in Alsace

Total vineyard extension in Alsace in 2014 was 15,545 HA. The three most planted varieties are Riesling (21.8% of the total), Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois (21.3%) and Gewürztraminer (19.8%), followed by Pinot Gris (15.4%). Note how even for statistical purposes Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois are mistakenly considered together despite their being two different varieties.

Total annual production in Alsace of AOC wines is about 150 million bottles, accounting for 18% of the total production in France of still white AOC wines. Of those, about 36 million bottles (or 26% of the total) are exported.

For the purposes of our forthcoming reviews of the three Alsatian Pinot Blancs, we will focus here on the following four varieties: Auxerrois, Pinot BlancPinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

1. Auxerrois

Auxerrois is a white-berried grape variety from France’s Alsace-Lorraine region. The earliest documented reference to this variety occurred in 1816 in France’s Moselle region.

DNA analysis showed that Auxerrois is one of the several natural crosses between Pinot and Gouais Blanc, which therefore makes it a sister variety of Chardonnay and explains why it is known as “Pinot Auxerrois” in Alsace.

Auxerrois wines tend to be fairly neutral and low in acidity. In Alsace it is generally blended with Pinot Blanc: it is interesting to note that, somewhat surprisingly, Alsace AOC rules permit that a wine labeled “Pinot Blanc” be actually prevalently made out of Auxerrois grapes or even exclusively (as in, 100% Auxerrois)!

In France there were 2,330 HA of total Auxerrois plantings in 2008, mostly in Alsace and the French Moselle, while Germany had 285 HA, mostly in the Baden and Pfalz regions.

2. Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc, AKA Pinot Bianco, is not a separate grape variety: DNA analysis proved that it is a clone of the Pinot grape variety (for more information, see the “Pinot” entry in our Grape Variety Archive) and specifically a color mutation of Pinot Noir. Pinot Blanc is a white-berried grape. Until the end of the XIX century, Pinot Blanc used to be often confused with Chardonnay, until French ampelographer Victor Pulliat in 1868 distinguished the two different grapes.

Pinot Blanc wines tend to be moderately structured and have moderate acidity. It may be used in the blend of Classic Method sparkling wines (this practice is fairly frequent in Italy, where several producers use Pinot Bianco in lieu of Pinot Meunier in the blend of their Classic Method sparklers).

France had 1,292 HA of Pinot Blanc plantings in 2009, most of which in the Alsace region, where Pinot Blanc can be used for making both still wines (oftentimes blended with other varieties) and Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wines. Some Pinot Blanc is also grown in the French Moselle region.

Italy had a total of 5,126 HA of Pinot Bianco vineyards in 2000, most of which in the north east (e.g., in the Alto Adige and Friuli regions) and in Lombardia (where it is mostly used as a blending partner of Pinot Nero and Chardonnay in certain Franciacorta Classic Method sparkling wines).

Germany’s Pinot Blanc (locally known as Weissburgunder) plantings in 2008 were 3,731 HA, most of which in the Baden region, while Austria had 1,995 HA in 2010.

In the USA, most Pinot Blanc vineyards occur in California (particularly in Santa Barbara, Sonomona and Monterey), although total plantings were a mere 217 HA in 2010.

3. Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris, AKA Pinot Grigio, is  not a separate grape variety: DNA analysis proved that it is a clone of the Pinot grape variety (for more information, see the “Pinot” entry) and specifically a color mutation of Pinot Noir whose origins can be traced back to the XVIII century in both Germany, where it was first mentioned in writing in 1711 in the Baden-Württemberg region under the name Rülander, and France, where it was mentioned in a 1712 document in the region of Orléans under the name Auvernat Gris. The first references to the current Pinot Gris name date back to 1783-1784 in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or region.

Pinot Grigio is said to have been cultivated in northern Italy (especially in Piemonte) since the early XIX century.

Pinot Grigio is a grey-berried grape which may be much darker in color than most white-berried grapes and generally has high sugar levels and moderate acidity.

In France total Pinot Gris plantings in 2009 were 2,617 HA, mostly in Alsace.

In Italy, for some reason, Pinot Grigio came into fashion in the late Ninenties/early two thousands, which is confirmed by the staggering size of Pinot Grigio plantings in Italy which, at 6,668 HA in 2000, are almost three times as much as France’s. This trend was fueled by booming exports especially to the UK and the US of mostly inexpensive and lackluster wines made out of an overproduction of this grape variety. This phenomenon somewhat tarnished the reputation of Pinot Grigio, which was often associated with a cheap, mass-production type of wine, until in the last few years it started falling out of favor. Fortunately, quality Italian Pinot Grigio is still made, particularly in the regions of FriuliAlto Adige and Veneto.

In 2008, Germany had 4,481 HA of Pinot Gris (locally known as Grauburgunder), mostly concentrated in the Baden, Rheinhessen and Pfalz regions, while Hungary had 1,522 HAof plantings under the local name Szürkebarát, mostly in the north of the country.

Following in Italy’s footsteps, even California knew a Pinot Grigio boom, which led to total plantings of 5,223 HA in 2010. Pinot Gris is also considered Oregon‘s signature white wine with 1,107 HA of vineyards in 2008.

4. Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is a black-berried clone of the Pinot grape variety (for more information, see the “Pinot” entry in our Grape Variety Archive).

Before being given its current name, Pinot Noir was known by three main synonymsMorillonNoirien and Auvernat.

The earliest documented mention of Pinot Noir dates back to 1283 in the Île-de-France region in northern France under the name “Moreillon“. The name “Noirien” was used around that same time to indicate Pinot Noir in Burgundy and particularly in the Côte d’Or. The name “Auvernas” was instead used somewhat later, in the XIV century in the Loiret district. The first documented use of the current name Pinot took place in France in 1375.

Pinot Noir vines like temperate climates and do particularly well in calcareous-clay soils. The early ripening characteristics of Pinot Noir make it suitable to cooler climate regions, the only ones to permit a long enough growing season to produce interesting wines. Pinot Noirs tend to have relatively soft tannins and to be fruity and easy to like, with some of the best quality Burgundy examples requiring several years of cellaring to fully assemble and perform at their best.

Some of the world’s best examples of quality Pinot Nors can be found in France’s Burgundy region, where terroir differences can often be noticeable in Burgundy wines. Outside Burgundy, quality Pinot Noirs can also be found in France’s Jura region. In 2009 total Pinot Noir plantings in France were 29,576 HA, most of which (10,691 HA) in the Champagne region where it is one of the key components in the traditional Champagne blend, vis-à-vis just 6,579 HA in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or.

Northern Italy also makes quality Pinot Noirs, especially in the Alto Adige region and in Lombardia’s Oltrepò Pavese. Total plantings in 2000 were 3,314 HA.

In Germany, Pinot Noir (locally known as Spätburgunder) enjoys huge popularity, which reflects in its 11,800 HA of plantings in 2008, most of which in the regions of Baden, Rheinhessen and Württemberg.

With 4,401 HA in 2009, Switzerland also has substantial Pinot Noir plantings (under the name Blauburgunder).

In the USA, Pinot Nor is big in California, thanks also to the notoriety that the “Sideways effect” brought to the grape, which in 2010 had a total of 15,091 HA of vineyards, especially in Sonoma and MontereyOregon also had 4.533 HA of plantings in 2008, mainly in the Willamette Valley.

Both Australia and New Zealand have sizable Pinot Noir plantings, with respectively 4,490 HA in 2008 (particularly in the Yarra Valley in the state of Victoria and in Tasmania) and 5,000 HA in 2011 (especially in the Marlborough area).

(Information on the grape varieties taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about these and more grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

(Main sources about Alsace AOC: Vins d’Alsace; VinsAlsace.com)

Posted in Wine, Wine Education, Wine Regions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

#OperaWine 2015: My Wine Tasting Notes for Italy’s Northeast

Here is part 2 in my series about my tasting experience at the OperaWine 2015 event in Verona last month. On this post we will focus on my tasting notes for the wines from Italy’s northeastern region.

For my general notes about the event and my tasting notes for the wines from Italy’s northwestern region, please refer to the first post in this series.

1. Trentino Alto Adige

Ferrari, Trento “Perlé” Brut 2006 ($34/€30): an outstanding Classic Method Blanc de Blancs from the Trento DOC appellation expressing the delicate aromatic complexity that it developed in the five years that it spent maturing on its lees: fresh toast, roasted hazelnut, apple, white peach, honey and white blossoms. Then a creamy smooth sip that is perfectly supported by fresh acidity and tasty sapidity with matching flavors of apple, toast, roasted hazelnut and mineral notes. Outstanding Outstanding

Ferrari, Trento Perlé Brut 2006

Ferrari, Trento Perlé Brut 2006

Elena Walch, AA “Beyond the Clouds” 2012 ($52/€34): I have said it many times, this producer from Tramin, in the Alto Adige region, is one of my absolute favorites. This time around, I was particularly excited because at the event I got to meet in person the owner herself, Elena Walch. She was there with one of her daughters, Karoline, who is in charge of the foreign markets. But let’s talk about the Beyond the Clouds 2012: this Chardonnay blend really takes you to cloud 9 and beyond. A captivating nose of ripe pear, golden delicious apple, pineapple, white flowers and fresh toast is the prelude to a sip that combines fresh acidity and distinct sapidity with a smooth body of medium structure and flavors of apple, butter, fresh toast and a tingly mineral note. Outstanding Outstanding

Elena and Karoline Walch with their Beyond the Clouds 2012

Elena and Karoline Walch with their Beyond the Clouds 2012

Hofstätter, AA Gewürztraminer “Kolbenhof” 2012 ($44/€21): a wow nose with a broad aromatic palette of passion fruit, lychee, pink grapefruit, face powder, wisteria, white rose and aromatic herbs (sage?) precedes a full-bodied mouthfeel dominated by zippy acidity and marked sapidity, which perfectly counterbalances the wine’s imposing ABV (14.5%!), making it very pleasant to drink and nicely balanced. Long finish. Outstanding Outstanding

Hofstätter, AA Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof 2012

Hofstätter, AA Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof 2012

Foradori, “Granato” 2010 ($60/€45): a very good Teroldego from 60 to 80 year old vines with a flowery and fruity nose of cassis, black cherry, roses, violets and licorice that introduces a silky smooth sip with gentle tannins and flavors of blackberries and aromatic herbs. Very Good Very Good

Cantina Terlano, AA Terlano Pinot Bianco “Vorberg” Riserva 2011 ($30/€19): a pleasant nose of herbs, citrus, tangerine and briny notes nicely complements a balanced mouthfeel that is smooth with moderate acidity but marked sapidity and delivers fruity flavors of citrus and tangerine. Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

2. Friuli Venezia Giulia

Jermann, “Vintage Tunina” 2012 ($60/€36): as always, Jermann’s fabulous blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Picolit, Malvasia Istriana and Ribolla Gialla does not disappoint. A wonderfully intense and complex nose of Granny Smith apple, citrus, kumquat, lemon tree blossoms, mineral hints and slight toasty, smoky notes opens the door to a structured and smooth mouthfeel with tasty sapidity and flavors of apple, citrus, toast as well as mineral and briny notes. As an interesting aside, since the 2011 vintage Jermann have converted to the use of screwcaps for their top of the line wine: even in Old World Italy, times are a-changin’… Spectacular  Spectacular

Jermann, Vintage Tunina 2012

Jermann, Vintage Tunina 2012

Russiz Superiore, Collio Bianco “Col Disôre” 2011 ($N/A/€25): this blend of Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano and Ribolla Gialla offers an enticing nose of gooseberry, Mirabelle plum, candied citrus, aromatic herbs, vanilla and sugar candy, which is a pleasing introduction to a smooth and tasty full-bodied sip with citrusy and herbal flavors, ending in a long, mineral note. Very Good Very Good

Livio Felluga, Rosazzo “Terre Alte” 2011 ($70/€40): this Friulano/Pinot Bianco/Sauvignon Blanc blend offers a slightly faint nose of apple, pear, apricot, white flowers and face powder as well as a structured mouthfeel with noticeable mineral notes and flavors that match the wine’s aromatic profile. Good Good

3. Veneto

Masi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Costasera” Riserva 2009 ($60/€50): an excellent Amarone with a wonderfully complex nose of black cherry, blackberry, roots, sage, aromatic herbs, cocoa, quinine, wet soil and forest floor that complements a luscious, full-bodied sip with matching flavors. The wine’s acidity and noticeable but supple tannins are counterbalanced by its smoothness and perfectly well integrated alcohol. Long finish. Spectacular Spectacular

Masi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera Riserva 2009

Masi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera Riserva 2009

Tedeschi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Capitel Monte Olmi” 2004 ($80/€50): an outstanding Amarone with a great nose of cherry, mushrooms, roots, dried roses, herbs, leather, vanilla and soil that combines with a powerful and tasty sip. The substantial alcohol and supple tannins are perfectly integrated into the wine’s structure and delicious flavors of raspberry, strawberry, ripe cherry, chocolate and vanilla. Long finish. Outstanding Outstanding

Tedeschi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Capitel Monte Olmi 2004

Tedeschi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Capitel Monte Olmi 2004

Allegrini, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006 ($60/€55): a big and bold Amarone with a complex nose of aromatic herbs (thyme?), roots, wet soil, iron, violets, cocoa, tobacco and black currant which is the prelude to a powerful sip exhibiting plenty of structure and high alcohol in the context of a smooth wine with muscular but non-aggressive tannins and flavors of spirited berries, tobacco, dark chocolate, herbs and a mineral note. Long. Very Good Very Good

Allegrini, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006

Allegrini, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006

Tommasi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2002 ($50/€40): a very good Amarone with a nose of tart cherry, violets, cocoa, tobacco, herbs and vanilla as well as a full-bodied, super smooth mouthfeel where the substantial ABV is perfectly well integrated and balanced by the wine’s tasty sapidity. Flavors of tart cherry, licorice, chocolate and a mineral note of graphite. Long finish. Very Good Very Good

Tommasi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2002

Tommasi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2002

Pieropan, Soave Classico “La Rocca” 2012 ($32/€33): a distinctly mineral nose of citrus, nectarine, slate, herbs and briny notes precedes an equally mineral, smooth mouthfeel with flavors of nectarines, citrus and mineral notes. Very Good Very Good

Suavia, Soave Classico “Monte Carbonare” 2012 ($23/€15): a captivating nose of peach, medlar, citrus, lemon zest, gooseberry and mineral notes as well as a freshly acidic and tasty mouthfeel with flavors that closely match the wine’s aromatic profile. Very Good Very Good

Cesari, “Jèma” 2010 ($35/€18): an unusual (and therefore interesting!) varietal Corvina with a nose of red currant, forest floor, moss, soil, coffee and a slight barnyard note serves as an introduction to a smooth and tasty mouthfeel with flavors of red currant, tart cherry, licorice and herbs. Good Good

Nino Franco, Brut “Grave di Stecca” 2008 ($45/€20): a nice, Spring-y Prosecco with a fairly immediate, fruity nose of citrus, peach and white flowers complementing a freshly acidic mouthfeel with fruity flavors reminiscent of pear intertwined with a zippy mineral note. Just one minor observation: perhaps I would have brought a younger vintage? Good Good

Posted in Red Wines, Sparkling Wines, White Wines, Wine, Wine Reviews, Winevents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

An Exciting Project and Powerful Tool: Italy’s DOCG Appellation Database

StefanoWe are pretty excited to share the news of a new wine project and powerful tool that we just rolled out on Flora’s Table: an overview of all of Italy’s 74 DOCG appellations (those that are at the top of the Italian appellation system pyramid) broken down by region.

More in detail:

  1. On the main page of our DOCG database you will find a map of Italy and its regions as well as a general explanation of the basics of the Italian appellation system; and
  2. Each regional page contains a map of such region and, for each DOCG appellation, a standardized summary of their main regulations and permitted grape varieties, most of which link to the corresponding entries in our Grape Variety Archive, which in turn illustrate the main facts and information about those varieties.

At the time of this post, the project is still a work in progress as a little more than 70% of Italy’s DOCG appellations (i.e., all those in Northern Italy plus Emilia Romagna and Toscana in Central Italy) are available live on the blog, but the project will be progressively completed in the next month or so.

UPDATE: Just a quick update to inform readers that, as of April 18, 100% of the DOCG appellations are in final form and therefore the project has been completed and is fully available.

The objectives of this project are those of:

  • Mapping the appellations that sit at the pinnacle of the Italian appellation system;
  • Spreading knowledge about a cross-section of some of the best that the Italian wine world has to offer; and
  • Highlighting the peculiarities of Italy’s different wine regions and permitted grape varieties.

This resource is accessible through the “Wine” drop-down menu of our blog, through the button on the sidebar or through this link.

I would appreciate it if you could take the time to take a look for yourself, tour your favorite Italian wine regions and see how you like it. Your feedback, comments or feature requests are always welcome.

Posted in Wine, Wine Education | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

#OperaWine 2015: The Event and My Wine Tasting Notes for Italy’s Northwest

On March 21 I had the opportunity to attend OperaWine 2015, an exclusive wine tasting event that serves as the preamble to the Vinitaly event in Verona, Italy. OperaWine is jointly organized by Wine Spectator and Vinitaly and it aims at showcasing 100 of the greatest Italian wine producers selected by Wine Spectator, thus recognizing excellence in Italian wine.

OperaWine 2015 - Palazzo della Gran Guardia

OperaWine 2015 – Palazzo della Gran Guardia

The event is reserved to media and trade and is much more compact than Vinitaly. OperaWine took place in the beautiful context of Verona’s Palazzo della Gran Guardia and the organization was excellent: registration was straight forward and the booths of the 100 selected producers were laid out in a logical order.

One thing the organizers deserve particular praise for is their decision to encourage selected producers to bring to the event (where appropriate depending on the wine they were showcasing) not the latest released vintage but an older one which would showcase the wine at or near peak conditions. This resulted in some pretty spectacular tastings, as you will see from my tasting notes below and the following posts in my OperaWine series.

Since no event is perfect and even the best organized ones could have a few aspects that could be improved, here are a few minor suggestions I have for the organizers for next year’s edition:

1. It would be real nice if the booklet that gets handed out on registration for taking tasting notes had the names of the showcased producers and wines pre-printed at the top of its pages, one wine per page: this would considerably cut down on time to take notes

2. I found that two and a half hours for a 100 producer event is not much: even a mere half hour more would make a significant difference – please extend it to at least three whole hours

3. It would be nice if there could be a few cheese, fruit and cracker tables here and there, pretty much as in all professional wine tasting events.

OperaWine 2015 - The Layout

OperaWine 2015 – The Layout

Having said that, let’s move on to my tasting notes from the event. I have organized my notes by region, in geographical order from north to south and within each region starting from my top rated wine down. This first installment of my OperaWine series will focus on the north-western part of Italy:

1. Valle d’Aosta

Les Crêtes, VDA Chardonnay “Cuvée Bois” 2012 ($50/€35): this mountain Chardonnay never disappoints those who appreciate an oaky style that is not over the top. This one has an elegant nose of apple, toast, roast hazelnut, butter and vanilla, as well as a silky smooth and tasty mouthfeel with good structure and nicely matching flavors of apple, butter and roast hazelnut. Long finish. Very Good  Very Good

Les Crêtes, VDA Chardonnay Cuvée Bois 2012

Les Crêtes, VDA Chardonnay Cuvée Bois 2012

Maison Anselmet, VDA Chardonnay “Élevé en Fût de Chêne” 2012 ($N/A/€30): another good mountain Chardonnay, although this time just a little too oaky for my taste. Nose of fresh toast, roast hazelnut, honey and pineapple followed by a structured mouthfeel of noticeable sapidity where the oaky notes tend to prevail. Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

2. Piemonte

Bruno Giacosa, Barolo “Le Rocche del Falletto” Riserva 2004 ($190/€190): an elegant nose of cherry, wild strawberries, licorice, rosemary, soil and dried roses is the prelude to an inviting, full-bodied sip which is silky smooth and has completely integrated the wine’s alcohol and its fully tamed tannins. Flavors of ripe cherry, wild strawberries, licorice, vanilla and aromatic herbs. Long finish. Spectacular Spectacular

Bruno Giacosa, Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva 2004

Bruno Giacosa, Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva 2004

Massolino, Barolo “Vigna Rionda” Riserva 2000 ($120/€65): a captivating nose of violet, rose, vanilla, tobacco, licorice, soil, cherry and raspberry complements a deliciously smooth mouthfeel with substantial but well integrated alcohol and gentle tannins as well as intriguing flavors of cherry, raspberry, licorice, herbs and soil. Long finish. Spectacular Spectacular 

Massolino, Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserva 2000

Massolino, Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserva 2000

Ceretto, Barolo “Bricco Rocche” 2006 ($150/€145): a great nose of black cherry, blackberry, soil, roots, forest floor and ground coffee coupled with a structured and smooth mouthfeel with well integrated alcohol and slightly astringent tannins underpinning flavors of black cherry, blackberry, roots and mineral notes. Long finish. Outstanding Outstanding

Ceretto, Barolo Bricco Rocche 2006

Ceretto, Barolo Bricco Rocche 2006

Paolo Scavino, Barolo “Bricco Ambrogio” 2011 ($57/€55): the youngest of the showcased Barolo’s was a surprisingly very good performer already. An enticing nose of dried roses, cherry, raspberry, herbs, rhubarb and cocoa introduces a structured sip which is already coherent with nice acidity, muscular but well controlled tannins and pleasant flavors of ripe cherries, raspberries, chocolate and coffee. Very Good  Very Good

Poderi Aldo Conterno, Barolo Bussia “Romirasco” 2006 ($170/€ 120): a pleasing nose of violet, rose, cherry, ripe strawberries, tobacco and cocoa, as well as a full-bodied sip with slightly astringent tannins and flavors of cherry, dark chocolate and coffee. Long finish. Still needs time to fully evolve. Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

Cavallotto, Barolo “Bricco Boschis” Riserva 2006 ($60/€49): an elegant nose of dried rose, cherry, licorice, tobacco, soil and forest floor complements a structured and smooth mouthfeel with flavors of cherry, cocoa, coffee and tobacco, and a high alcohol note, just a little too evident. Good Good

Sandrone, Barolo Cannubi “Boschis” 2003 ($120/€85): pretty faint nose of tart cherry, wild berries, licorice and structured, smooth mouthfeel with moderate acidity and supple tannins along with cherry and licorice flavors. Good Good

3. Lombardia

Ca’ del Bosco, Franciacorta “Cuvée Annamaria Clementi” 2004 ($90/€75): as always this Italian Classic Method sparkling wine sits right there, at the pinnacle of the Italian Classic Method production. It was disgorged in 2012 after spending a whopping 84 months maturing on its lees. The nose is almost aphrodisiac, with a kaleidoscope of intense aromas reminiscent of freshly baked sugar cookies (like old-fashioned Italian canestrelli), ripe golden apple, yellow peach, honey, fresh toast, almonds, face powder and mineral notes. The mouthfeel is just as seductive, with still plenty of fresh acidity and lively sapidity balanced out by its creamy smoothness and intense flavors that impressively replicate its aromatic palette. Spectacular Spectacular 

Ca' del Bosco, Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 2004

Ca’ del Bosco, Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 2004

Mamete Prevostini, Sforzato di Valtellina “Albareda” 2011 ($60/€35): a totally wow nose for this raisin mountain Nebbiolo, with an intense bouquet of cherry jam, laurel, aromatic herbs, wet soil and cocoa opens the door to a delicious sip, where the imposing structure and high alcohol are perfectly kept under control, with no hard edges: the mouthfeel is smooth with already silky tannins and enticing flavors of ultra ripe cherries, aromatic herbs and dark chocolate. Outstanding Outstanding

Mamete Prevostini, Sforzato di Valtellina Albareda 2011

Mamete Prevostini, Sforzato di Valtellina Albareda 2011

Nino Negri, Sforzato di Valtellina “5 Stelle Sfursat” 2010 ($75/€50): a wonderful nose of aromatic herbs, spirited cherries, chocolate, vanilla and face powder. The sip is just as exciting with flavors of ripe cherries, black pepper, aromatic herbs and dark chocolate supported by plenty of structure that is however delivered in an elegant fashion, with a smooth mouthfeel, perfectly integrated alcohol and already supple tannins. The 5 Stelle never disappoints. Outstanding Outstanding

5. Liguria

Cantine Lunae Bosoni, Colli di Luni Vermentino “Etichetta Nera” 2013 ($30/€15): a great, intense nose of mint, aromatic herbs, lime, nectarine and sage introduces a pleasant sip where the wine’s acidity and mineral notes are nicely balanced by its smoothness. Very Good  Very Good

Cantine Lunae Bosoni, CDL Vermentino Etichetta Nera 2013

Cantine Lunae Bosoni, CDL Vermentino Etichetta Nera 2013

Terre Bianche, Rossese di Dolceacqua “Bricco Arcagna” 2010 ($35/€20): this varietal Rossese (a black-berried variety indigenous to Liguria) introduces itself with an intense and pleasing nose of wild strawberries and red currant, red flowers, licorice, herbs and soil followed by a youthful, round and medium-bodied sip dominated by wild berries. Perfect red to grace a Spring night. Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

Posted in Red Wines, Sparkling Wines, White Wines, Wine, Wine Reviews, Winevents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

When conversations get surreal: potato and saffron soup with pancetta croutons

Potato, saffron and pancetta soup

A couple of days ago Stefano was getting ready to go to work and he told me that I must have done something wrong with the laundry because his pants felt tighter.

Now, you can tell me anything (because any human being is entitled to their opinion!), you can even offend me but you cannot, and I underline “cannot”, tell me that I did something wrong with my laundry!!!

I modestly like to think of myself as the “Pavlova of the Laundry”! ;-) Let’s not even talk about the time it took me to find just the right detergents that would satisfy me. I can spend hours in the detergent and cleaners aisle and every time I see a new product I get pretty much as excited as when I see a designer’s new collection!

Let’s talk about the process: every stain is pre-treated, loads are divided by fabric and color, every washer cycle is carefully selected, the dryer is reluctantly used (we do not use dryers in Italy and I wouldn’t dream of putting an item that I bought in my country in the dryer – it simply wouldn’t survive) and everything gets ironed. Yes! Everything including sheets, towels, underwear and socks. That’s how Italian houses roll (or should roll) and mine is no exception. ;-)

Potato, saffron and pancetta soup

Now you see what I mean when I say that there can’t possibly be anything wrong with my laundry? The ugly truth? Stefano has put some weight on and he is in total denial!

And what do you do when someone is in denial? Desperate times call for desperate measures! I cut all the fatty dishes out and I declared soup season open! Soups are fantastic and when you want to lose some weight, they really can do magic. They are low on calories yet healthy, very satisfying to your stomach and, above all, delicious!

Last night Stefano was particularly famished, so I decided to make some potato soup with a twist. I played with some saffron and the result was fantastic. The saffron really complements the potatoes and the pancetta croutons are really the cherry on the cake! :-)

So that’s how I did it! ;-)

Ingredients:

6 Potatoes, cut into cubes
1/4 Cup, extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 Cup, chopped pancetta
1/3 Cup, finely chopped spring onion
2 Cups, vegetable stock
1 and 1/2 Sachet, powdered saffron
2 Tbsp, Mascarpone cheese
1 Cup, Milk
Salt
Ground white pepper

Directions:

Potato, saffron and pancetta soupIn a non-stick medium/large pot, heat 1/3 cup of olive oil, add the pancetta and fry, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta gets golden and crispy.
Remove the pancetta from the pot and place it on some paper towel so it can lose the excess oil.

In the same olive oil where you fried the pancetta, place the spring onion and cook until it softens. Add the potatoes, the stock, some salt and white pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Cook, stirring often, for about 20 minutes. Eventually, the potatoes will turn kind of mushy and the stock will almost completely evaporate. Add 1 sachet of saffron and toss to coat until the mixture gets a vibrant yellow color.

Transfer the soup to a food processor or a blender. Add the mascarpone, the rest of the olive oil and the milk and blend until it is smooth and creamy.

Return the soup to the pot and, on low heat, cook for a few minutes, stirring often.

Pour the soup into two serving bowls or plates, add some fried pancetta on top and garnish with some powdered saffron.

Will Stefano manage to lose some weight? Only time will tell! ;-)

Posted in Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Wine Review: Domaine Chante Cigale, Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, 2009

Domaine Chante Cigale, Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOCOur previous post provided a general overview of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the territory, the appellation and the main winemaking practices, so if you missed that you may want to go back and take a look at that before reading this post, which instead revolves around my review of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine that I really like: Domaine Chante Cigale, Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, 2009 ($35).

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Chante Cigale CDP 2009 that I had was a very good to outstanding wine: I was impressed both by its broad and intense bouquet of aromas (tart cherry, black currant, wild berries, violet,  cocoa, wet soil, leather, sweet tobacco, rosemary, vanilla, licorice, black pepper, forest floor and a barnyard note) and by its delicious mouthfeel, which combined fruity and spicy flavors with a smooth, balanced sip. All in all, an extremely pleasant and ready to drink wine which delivers good bang for the buck.

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Appellation and the Grapes

For plenty of information about the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation and the “GSM” grape blend, please refer to our previous post about Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Regarding Cinsaut, a grape that is part of the Chante Cigale blend beside the GSM trio, this is a black-berried grape variety originating from southern France, probably from the Languedoc-Roussillon area. Its earliest documented mention dates back to 1600 under its old synonym “Marroquin“; later on (1829) it was referred to as “Sinsâou” and finally by 1888 it took its current name of Cinsaut.

Cinsaut has also been known and cultivated in Italy since the XVII century (both in Sicily under the name “Grecaù” and in Puglia under the name “Ottavianello“) and in Spain under the name “Sinsó“.

Notably, Cinsaut was also used in South Africa to breed the Pinotage variety (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, the latter erroneously referred to as “Hermitage” in South Africa).

Cinsaut finds optimal conditions in southern Frances’s warm and dry soils, where it produces red wines that are generally smooth, fruity and aromatic and it often serves as a blending partner. Cinsaut also makes pleasantly fresh and perfumed rosé wines.

In 2009, total plantings of Cinsaut in France were 20,800 HA, mainly in the Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence-Côte d’Azur districts, as well as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where it may serve as a minority blending partner in the local red.

The country with the second largest Cinsaut plantings after France is South Africa, with 2,241 HA in 2008.

In Italy, total plantings in 2000 were a mere 288 HA, mostly in the Puglia region (particularly in the Ostuni DOC territory) under the synonym Ottavianello.

Cinsaut is also cultivated in Morocco and Lebanon, as well as in California that in 2008 had just 47 HA.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about this and more grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

About the Producer and the Estate

The history of Domaine Chante Cigale starts in 1874, when the then owner Mr Hyppolite Jourdan named his 28 HA estate “Clos Chante Cigale” (meaning, “vineyard of the singing cricket”). The name of the estate was then changed to the current “Domaine Chante Cigale” in 1936, when its wines earned the AOC appellation.

Currently, the wine is made from a blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 5% Cinsaut grapes that grow in 33 HA of vineyards on a soil that is a mix of limestone, sand and pebbles. Grapevine density ranges from 2,500 to 4,500 vines/HA and the average age of the vines is 45 years. Total production is 120,000 bottles per year.

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review today is Domaine Chante Cigale, Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, 2009.

The wine was a whopping 15% ABV and the proportions of the blend were 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvédre and 5% Cinsaut (for more information about those grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive). In the U.S. it retails for about $35.

The grapes underwent a 5-day prefermentative cold maceration phase at 50F/10C, followed by a 28 to 35 day fermentation and maceration phase with punch-downs and pump-overs. The wine then aged for 15 to 18 months 70% in concrete vats and 30% in new oak barrels.

As always, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher. For your own structured wine tastings, consider downloading our FsT Wine Tasting Chart!

In the glass, the wine was ruby red and viscous.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, presenting an impressive kaleidoscope of aromas: tart cherry, black currant, wild berries, violet,  cocoa, wet soil, leather, sweet tobacco, rosemary, vanilla, licorice, black pepper, forest floor and a barnyard note.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, had high ABV, and was smooth; it was still moderately acidic, moderately tannic and tasty. It was full bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of tart cherry, wild berries, dark chocolate, licorice, rosemary and a peppery note. It had a medium finish and its evolutionary state was ready approaching maturity, meaning great to be enjoyed now but suitable to be kept in the cellar for not more than a couple more years.

Posted in Red Wines, Wine, Wine Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

An Overview of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation and Its Wines

As a prelude to our next post in which we will temporarily leave Italy and review a French Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, in this post we will provide a brief overview of the southern French wine region that goes by the same name, including its history, terroir, permitted grape varieties and winemaking practices.

In General

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an area encompassing 3,200 HA of vineyards that is located in the southern part of the Rhône Valley, in France, between the towns of Orange (to the north) and Avignon (to the south).

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation Map

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation Map – Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Thirteen different grape varieties were originally authorized in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards (now they have been increased to 18), with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (the so-called “GSM“) being the dominating varieties, as well as the traditional core grapes in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend (see below for more information about these grape varieties). Other permitted varieties include Cinsaut, Clairette, Roussanne, Muscardin and Picpoul.

Total production in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation is approximately 14 million bottles per year. Although the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC regulations permit the production of both red and white wines, reds largely dominate (on average, 94% red versus 6% white). About 60% of all Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine is exported, with Switzerland, Belgium and Germany being the main importing countries.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape History

In 1309, distressed by factionalism in Rome, pope Clement V decided to move the papal capital from Rome to southern France and, as a result, the popes took temporary residence in Avignon, France. The so-called “Avignon papacy” period ended in 1377, when pope Gregory XI moved the papal capital back to Rome.

During the Avignon papacy, under pope John XXII, the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape became the summer residence of the popes. Pope John XXII granted the local wine the rank of “Vin du Pape” (meaning, “pope’s wine”), thus opening Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines the doors to the European nobility’s courts.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape: The Village and the Vineyards - Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Chateauneuf-du-Pape: The Village and the Vineyards – Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape later became one of the first French AOC wines, in 1936.

In 1937, the estate owners in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation territory created the famous bottle that is still used nowadays for their wines, with the embossed logo symbolizing a papal tiara placed above the keys of St. Peter with the inscription: “Châteauneuf-du-Pape contrôlé” written in Gothic letters around this emblem.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Terroir

Soil in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape area can be very diverse: generally speaking, the western part is mostly limestone, while sand and clay soil with large stones occur on the plateaus; mixed sand, limestone and red and grey clay dominate in the northern part, while shallow sand and clay soil on a well-drained layer of gravel is typical of the south. The large pebbles that are typical of the area contribute to the quality of the vines and grapes by storing heat during the day and holding water.

The Harvest at Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The Harvest at Chateauneuf-du-Pape – Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The Main Châteauneuf-du-Pape Permitted Varieties – The “GSM”

1. Grenache (or “Garnacha” or “Cannonau“)

Garnacha is an old variety that has undergone several color mutations (there are a black-berried variety, a grey-berried one and a white-berried one) and whose origins are uncertain: it may be Spanish (most probably from the Aragón region) or it may be Italian (from the island of Sardinia, where it is locally known as “Cannonau“).

The earliest documented mention of Garnacha in Spain dates back to 1513, when it was referred to as “Aragones“, while its first mention under the name “Garnacha” occurred in 1678.

On the other hand, in Italy’s Sardinia island, the earliest mention of Garnacha, under the old local name “Canonat“, was in 1549.

If historical data make both hypotheses plausible in terms of where the variety originated, DNA data seem to indicate a Spanish origin.

Garnacha is also known in France under the local name “Grenache“.

Garnacha Tinta (Garnacha’s black-berried color mutation) is one of the world’s most planted varieties. It is prevalently used in the context of blends, notably in the one typical of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, which is generally referred to as “GSM“, standing for Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.

In France, where it is known under the name “Grenache Noir“, it is the second most planted variety after Merlot, with a total of 94,240 HA of vineyards in 2009, almost exclusively in southern France and particularly in the southern Rhône district, where it is the prevailing blending partner in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. These tend to be deep-colored, high in ABV and often tannic, with herby and spicy notes.

2. Syrah (or “Shiraz“)

Syrah is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the northern Rhône region of France, where it was first mentioned in a document dating back to 1781 under the name “Sira de l’Hermitage“.

DNA analysis proved that Syrah is a natural cross between Mondeuse Blanche (a Savoie variety) and Dureza (an Ardeche variety) that probably took place in the Rhône-Alps region.

Syrah has historically been mostly grown in the Rhône Valley in France and in Australia under the name Shiraz, although recently its planting has become more widespread as a result of an increasing popularity of its wines.

3. Mourvèdre (or “Monastrell“)

Monastrell is a black-berried grape variety that originates from the Valencia region, in eastern Spain. The name derives from Latin and is a diminutive of the word “monastery”, suggesting that the variety was first cultivated by monks. The earliest documented use of the name Monastrell dates back to 1381 in the Catalunya region of Spain.

Monastrell later made it into France (probably in the XVI century) from the Spanish port-town of Sagunto near Valencia, which in Catalan was known as Morvedre, so in France the grape took the name of Mourvèdre.

Monastrell wines are typically high in alcohol and tannins and may have intense aromas of blackberry. Monastrell/Mourvèdre is widely grown in Spain and in France, and it is also cultivated in the USA (especially in California), Australia and South Africa, where it is sometimes known under the name of “Mataro“, which was the name of a Spanish town on the Mediterranean.

(Information on the grape varieties taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about these and more grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Aging Cellar - Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Aging Cellar – Courtesy of Fédération des syndicats des producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Winemaking

Traditionally, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine has been fermented in concrete tanks. Since the 1980’s, however, many winemakers have switched to stainless steel vats, as they are more hygienic, are easier to clean and allow a more precise temperature control. Recently there has been a trend to go back to fermenting the grapes in newer, coated versions of the traditional concrete tanks, which have made them more efficient and acceptable by today’s winemaking quality standards.

Since Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are blends, winemakers can choose between two different fermentation techniques. One is known as co-fermentation and calls for mixing all the varieties in the blend within the same tank and fermenting them all together. The other technique instead calls for separate fermentation of the different grape varieties (so as to keep their main characteristics intact) with the resulting wines being later assembled in the final blend.

Alcoholic fermentation of red Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines usually lasts between one and four weeks and is generally followed by malolactic fermentation. The wines are then aged in stainless steel, epoxy or concrete vats and/or in oak barrels for 10 to 18 months. During this period, racking may take place one or more times.

(Main sources: Châteauneuf-du-Pape; Rhône Wines. For more in-depth information about Châteauneuf-du-Pape, refer to this excellent article on the Wine Cellar Insider)

Posted in Red Wines, Wine, Wine Education, Wine Regions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

When celebrity chefs feel the need to reinvent the wheel: Carlo Cracco and his infamous garlicky Amatriciana

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

Last month, the Italian culinary world has been shocked by the Amatriciana recipe suggested by one of our superstar chefs: Carlo Cracco.

While attending an Italian TV show, the famous chef listed a garlic clover as one of the ingredients of the worldwide known pasta dish!  Anyone who is only vaguely familiar with (authentic) Italian cuisine knows that garlic does not belong in the Amatriciana (for reference, check out our recipe for an authentic Amatriciana)!

As if the first slap in the face of Italian culinary tradition wasn’t enough, during an episode of the Italian edition of Masterchef, first Joe Bastianich and then Cracco himself suggested that one of the contestants use some onion when making “pasta alla Gricia”, the famous ancestor of the Amatriciana which doesn’t call for tomatoes and… most certainly does not call for onions either!!!

Enough was enough, so much so that specialized media, social networks, restaurant owners and even the Mayor of Amatrice “took the field” ready to crucify Cracco and his garlicky dish in defense of the one and only recipe. The Amatrice Culinary School went as far as to publicly invite Cracco to visit them so he can finally taste the real thing! Ouch!

I think one of the commentators hit the nail on the head: nobody can dispute that you can get creative in the kitchen and experiment as much as you like, but when you decide to add garlic to the Amatriciana, don’t call it that – because it’s not! As good as it may be with the addition of the extra ingredient, it’s simply another dish!

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

My reaction to all this fuss? One of kind of sadness and disappointment. Both Italian and non-Italian gourmands who happen not to be experts in my country’s cuisine often look up at celebrity chefs like Cracco to learn the Italian food gospel. I think that people who enjoy all that notoriety have the moral responsibility to… spread the word, and spread it right. How can I go on happily complaining about the oh so many restaurants in my adopted country that serve me Amatriciana with garlic and/or onion when one of our star chefs is teaching exactly that? ;-)

Anyone who knows me a bit is well aware of my aversion toward social networks. However, in this case, I truly hope their popularity will help to set the record straight!

Curious about a third slap in the already bruised face of Italian culinary tradition? Another Italian hugely popular chef, Davide Oldani, recently declared that butter can be used in making pesto!!! I mean, butter. Seriously? I believe people from Genoa (including Stefano!) and the Liguria region in general must be incessantly calling the food police! Such an affront.

I’m telling you: if another Italian celebrity chef comes along suggesting that heavy cream can be used in making Carbonara, I’ll consider giving up my Italian citizenship!!!

Hope you enjoyed this little foodgate!

F. Xx

Posted in Stuff We Like | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments