Category Archives: Wine Regions

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)

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.

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)

#chianticool: "Not Your Grandma's Chianti" – A Chianti Tasting in NYC

Chianti The Wine Logo

A few weeks ago I attended a seminar and wine tasting event organized by the Consorzio Vino Chianti (a producers’ consortium that has been promoting and controlling the quality of Chianti wine since 1927) in the posh context of the Beer Garden of the Standard Hotel in the always cool Meatpacking District in the City That Never Sleeps. As is often the case, I went with my wine blogger friend Anatoli AKA Talk-A-Vino: you can read his own take of this event on his blog.

Standard Hotel, NYC: The Beer Garden (courtesy of Standard Hotels)

Standard Hotel, NYC: The Beer Garden (courtesy of Standard Hotels)

Notions About Chianti

As I guess everybody knows, Chianti is a red wine that has been made in central Italy’s region of Tuscany for centuries (the first documented reference to Chianti wine dates back to 1398, and by the XVII century Chianti was already exported to England). Nowadays, Chianti is made in two different appellations: the smaller Chianti Classico DOCG and the larger Chianti DOCG. Both appellations were approved as DOC’s in 1967 and then upgraded to DOCG status in 1984.

The Chianti Classico DOCG appellation comprises a 70,000 HA territory adjacent to the cities of Florence and Siena, namely the area surrounding the towns of Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and, partly, those of San Casciano Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle. This territory was identified in 1932 as “the most ancient area where Chianti wine originated”. In the map below you can see the Chianti Classico DOCG territory colored in bright red (the purple-red striped area within the red area indicates the even smaller, original territory where Chianti was made in the period from 1716 to 1932).

The Chianti DOCG appellation comprises instead a larger territory near the cities of Arezzo, Florence, Pistoia, Pisa, Prato and Siena, which is the one contoured by the black line in the map below. The Chianti DOCG appellation also counts seven subzones (Chianti Colli Aretini; Chianti Colli Fiorentini; Chianti Colli Senesi; Chianti Colline Pisane; Chianti Montalbano; Chianti Montespertoli; and Chianti Rufina) that are color-coded as per the legend on the right side of the map.

Chianti Appellation Map

Chianti Appellation Map (courtesy of Consorzio Vino Chianti)

Chianti Classico "Black Rooster" LogoIn terms of winemaking, the Chianti Classico DOCG regulations require that wines be made from 80% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended with other permitted black-berried varieties (including indigenous Canaiolo and Colorino as well as international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) up to a maximum of 20%.

Chianti Classico DOCG minimum aging requirements are as follows:

  • Base Chianti Classico wines may be released to the market not earlier than October 1 of the year following that of the vintage
  • Chianti Classico Riserva wines must age for a minimum of 24 months, at least 3 of which in bottle
  • Chianti Classico Gran Selezione wines must age for a minimum of 30 months, at least 3 of which in bottle

All Chianti Classico wines must bear the traditional black rooster (“Gallo Nero“) logo and must use cork as their closure system.

Chianti LogoChianti DOCG regulations require instead that wines be made from 70% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended with permitted white-berried varieties up to a maximum of 10% and/or permitted black-berried varieties, provided that Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon shall not exceed 15%.

Wines from the subzone Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG shall be made from 75% or more Sangiovese grapes, which may be blended only with other black-berried varieties (no white-berried varieties allowed), provided that Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon shall not exceed 10%. To the left you can see the cool logo of Chianti DOCG wines.

The minimum aging requirements of Chianti DOCG wines are as follows:

  • Base Chianti wines may be released to the market not earlier than March 1 of the year following that of the vintage
  • Chianti Riserva wines are required to age for at least 24 months
  • “Riserva” wines from the subzones Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG or Chianti Rufina DOCG must age at least 6 out of the required 24 months in wood barrels
  • “Riserva” wines from the subzone Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG must age at least 8 out of the required 24 months in wood barrels plus 4 months in bottle

Chianti DOCG wines may be made according to the traditional “governo all’uso toscano” (literally, “handled the Tuscan way“) method, which entails a slow refermentation of the wine with the addition of slightly dried grapes of the permitted varieties.

The top three countries Chianti DOCG wines get exported to are Germany (32%), the USA (17%) and the UK (12%).

Chianti barrels (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti barrels (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti DOCG NYC 2014: The Seminar

At the Chianti DOCG seminar, six different 2010 Chianti Riserva’s were presented in a guided horizontal tasting: three base Chianti Riserva’s, and one each from the following three subzones: Chianti Rufina Riserva, Chianti Montalbano Riserva and Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva.

The Chianti Riserva wine that opened the tasting presented the opportunity for some interesting considerations. The wine was made from 80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% white-berried Trebbiano grapes and had aged for 6 months in large barrels plus 20 months in barrique casks. The nose was vinous, with aromas of cherry, red berries and hints of licorice. In the mouth, the wine was decidedly veered toward the hardness side, with over the top acidity and gritty tannins, which threw it off balance ending up in an unsatisfactory final rating – at least to me.

The interesting point was an argument that ensued between an elderly gentleman who said that he loved the wine because it reminded him of the Chianti that he used to drink when he was young, in the traditional “fiasco” bottles, while a woman (with whom I wholeheartedly found myself in agreement) contended that the wine was actually pretty bad and totally unbalanced. This brief argument just proved to me how different and subjective tastes are, and how the assessment of a wine may reflect personal experiences.

The Consorzio Vino Chianti made the very good point that today’s Chianti is not your grandmother’s Chianti, alluding to the much better quality of most of present-day Chianti versus the “fiasco-bottled Chianti” of the old days. But that gentleman at the seminar proved that old-style Chianti may still surprisingly find a few admirers even in this day and age.

Fortunately for the rest of us at the seminar, the remaining wines were much better than the opening one. Among those six wines, the one that I personally liked best was the last one that was presented:

Castelvecchio, Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva “Vigna La Quercia” DOCG 2010 ($27). This is a 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon single-vineyard wine with 14% ABV, that was aged for 12 months in new French oak barrique casks plus additional 12 months in bottle. The wine had a beautiful garnet color, with an intense bouquet of red cherries, red berries, black pepper, herbs, cocoa and hints of vanilla, offering a nice balance between secondary and tertiary aromas. In the mouth it was very smooth, with very well integrated tannins and well controlled ABV, definitely balanced and with a good structure. Its flavor profile was subtle and elegant, with intense flavors of red cherries and raspberries going hand in hand with dark chocolate notes and hints of coffee.

Rating: Very Good Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Cork Art (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Cork Art (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Chianti DOCG NYC 2014: The Walk Around

The walk around that concluded the event offered the opportunity to taste many more exciting Chianti’s. Here below you may find my tasting notes of those wines that impressed me most among those that I could try:

Corbucci, Chianti Riserva “Corbucci” DOCG 2009: 100% Sangiovese, aged 24 months in French oak barrique casks plus 6 months in bottle, with aromas of leather, tobacco, cherry and strawberry; smooth and balanced in the mouth, with supple tannins and a flavor profile of cherry, tobacco and cocoa – Very Good Very Good

La Cignozza, Chianti Riserva DOCG 2008: 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo, aged 24 months 50% in small French oak tonneau casks and 50% in large French oak barrels, with aromas of licorice, raspberry, red fruit candy and vanilla; smooth and structured in the mouth, with muscular but well integrated tannins ending up in a graceful balance – Very Good Very Good

Lanciola, Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva “Lanciola” DOCG 2011: 90% Sangiovese, with aromas of barnyard, soil, leather, cherry and sandalwood; silky smooth in the mouth, with already supple tannins, full-bodied with great finesse and a flavor profile of cherry and mineral notes – Very Good Very Good

Pieve De’ Pitti, Chianti Superiore “Cerretello” DOCG 2009 ($17): 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Malvasia Nera, aged 6 months in cement vats and 2 months in bottle, with aromas of red berries, raspberries, licorice, Mediterranean brush; perfectly smooth and masterfully balanced in the mouth – Very Good Very Good

Pieve De’ Pitti, Chianti Superiore “Cerretello” DOCG 2010 ($17): 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo and 5% Malvasia Nera, aged 6 months in cement vats and 2 months in bottle, with aromas of strawberries, raspberries, red fruit candy, dark chocolate fudge and licorice; smooth in the mouth with supple tannins – Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

Emanuela Tamburini, Chianti Riserva “Italo” DOCG 2010: 90% Sangiovese, aged 6 to 8 months in French oak barrique casks, with fruity aromas of violets, cherries and raspberries; ABV a little evident in the mouth, but supple tannins and a fresh flavor profile matching the secondary-dominated bouquet – Good to Very Good Good to Very Good

Italy (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Italy (courtesy of Consorzio Vini Chianti)

Meet the Maker: An Introduction to Valtellina's Mountain Nebbiolo and Wines

After our post about Tenuta San Guido (the Bolgheri estate where Sassicaia is made) and our interview of Tenuta San Guido’s owner, Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, here come three new posts in our “Meet the Maker” series.

This time around we move from Bolgheri, Tuscany, all the way north to the Valtellina district in Lombardia to:

  1. Provide an overview of this very special area and its wines;
  2. Present one of the finest Valtellina producers, Ar.Pe.Pe., and taste certain of their wines; and
  3. Interview Isabella Pellizzatti Perego, Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist and co-owner.

Map of Valtellina

Map of Valtellina, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About the Territory and History

The Valtellina district is an area in the northernest part of Italy’s Lombardia region, close to the border with Switzerland, that comprises two mountain ranges stretching from west to east (known, from north to south, as Alpi Retiche and Alpi Orobiche) and a narrow valley in between, where the town of Sondrio lies.

Due to the geography of this area, viticulture in Valtellina has always been challenging, since most of the vineyards grow at an altitude of about 1,300 to 2,300 feet (400 to 700 meters) above sea level on narrow stone-walled terraces carved from the steep southern slopes of the northern mountain range (Alpi Retiche), so as to maximize the grapevines’ sun exposure. The rocks of the Alpi Retiche mountain range are prevalently granite-based, which means that the soil where the Valtellina grapevines grow is a sand-limestone mix and a very shallow one, as it is often less than 3 feet/1 meter deep.

Valtellina’s harsh geography means that vineyard mechanization is virtually nonexistent, with grapevine treatments, pruning and harvesting being made exclusively by hand, thus significantly increasing the average production cost.


Valtellina mountain vineyards

Historically, the first evidence of viticulture in Valtellina dates back to the IX century (specifically, to year 837 of the Common Era). We have to wait until the XVI century, however, to have the first documented information about the size of the Valtellina vineyards, which back then were about 3,500 HA. As a result of the spread of the grapevine pathogen Uncinula necator (a fungus that causes powdery mildew of grapes) and the Grape phylloxera (an aphid-like pest that attacks the roots of Vitis vinifera grapevines and that almost completely destroyed the vineyards throughout Europe in the late XIX century), the overall size of the Valtellina vineyards dropped to less than 1,200 HA in the XX century.

The relevance of Valtellina as a wine grape landscape of significant cultural value is underscored by the fact that Italy put forward Valtellina’s candidacy (together with that of the Langhe/Roero/Monferrato area in Piemonte) to be nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage SiteValtellina’s candidacy is currently still pending and is part of UNESCO’s Tentative List.

About the Appellations

The Valtellina district comprises two DOCG, one DOC and one IGT appellations, as follows:

  • Valtellina Superiore DOCG
  • Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG
  • Valtellina Rosso DOC
  • Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT

The Valtellina Superiore DOCG appellation, which we are going to focus on for the purpose of this post, encompasses a territory of approximately 430 HA in the vicinities of the town of Sondrio. The appellation is further divided into five subzones, as follows:

  1. Grumello (about 78 HA)
  2. Inferno (about 55 HA)
  3. Maroggia (about 25 HA)
  4. Sassella (about 130 HA)
  5. Valgella (about 137 HA)

The appellation regulations require that wines be made from 90% or more Nebbiolo grapes and that they be aged (i) for a minimum of 24 months, at least 12 of which in wood barrels for the base version of Valtellina Superiore or (ii) for a minimum of 36 months, at least 12 of which in wood barrels for the “Riserva” version.

Ar.Pe.Pe.'s fermenting barrels

About the Grape Variety

As mentioned above, in Valtellina Nebbiolo (which is locally known as Chiavennasca – pronounced “key-avennasca”) is king.

The regulations of both of Valtellina’s DOCG appellations and the Valtellina Rosso DOC appellation all require that wines be made from 90% or more Nebbiolo grapes.

You can find several cool facts and much information about Nebbiolo on our Grape Variety Archive page (which has been compiled based on Information taken from the excellent volume Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012) – here is just a short abstract:

Nebbiolo is without a doubt Piemonte’s most world-famous black-berried grape variety. Researchers have recently been able to trace back the origins of (or at least the first documented reference to) Nebbiolo to 1266, at which time the grape was called Nibiol. This makes Nebbiolo one of the oldest grape varieties in Piemonte. While Nebbiolo is definitely an Italian indigenous variety, doubts still remain as to whether it originated from Piemonte or Valtellina (a mountainous district in the neighboring region of Lombardia, where Nebbiolo is still grown nowadays and locally known as Chiavennasca).


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s 5.5 HL wood tonneau aging casks

About the Wines

The wines of Valtellina are not very well known to the general public, but they resonate with Italian wine connoisseurs because those wines that are made by serious producers are fabulous Nebbiolo-based reds, that pack tons of quality and structure, are suitable for long-term aging and still can be had for significantly less expensive prices than their better-known counterparts from Piemonte.

Interestingly enough, 2013 marked the first year in which a wine from one of Valtellina’s top producers (Mamete PrevostiniValtellina Superiore Sassella “Sommarovina” DOCG 2009made it into Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2013 (in 82nd position – congratulations!): perhaps this will contribute bringing the wines of Valtellina more into the limelight with wine aficionados.

On the next post, we will focus on one among my absolute favorite Valtellina producers: Ar.Pe.Pe. and on a tasting of certain of their wines. On the last post of this mini-series, we will then publish an interview of Ar.Pe.Pe.’s enologist and co-owner, Isabella Pellizzatti Perego. Stay tuned! 🙂


Ar.Pe.Pe.'s enologist and co-owner with her brother Emanuele in their tasting room

Saint Emilion Chronicles #5: Saint Emilion and its Wine Appellations

Saint Emilion: 
Clos La Madeleine and its vineyards

Now, on previous posts we have talked about the town of Saint Emilion; one of its churchesSaint Emilion sweet treats (macarons and cannelés); and the place we stayed at during our Saint Emilion visit – it is about time that we start talking about wine. This post will provide a general overview of the area from a wine standpoint, while future posts will focus on a few chateaux.

Saint Emilion: old grape press and vineyards of Chateau Canon

As we said in the introductory post of this series, Saint Emilion is a town that is located in the Libournais area, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, not far from Bordeaux. From a wine standpoint, the area surrounding the town of Saint Emilion is divided into several different appellations (known as “AOC” – in French, “Appelation d’Origine Controléè“).

One slightly confusing thing to bear in mind is that Saint Emilion AOC and Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC are two different appellations that for the most part comprise the same territory. However, the regulations of the latter are stricter than the former as they require lower production yields and a 12-month minimum aging period.

Map of the Libournais Area and Main Appellations - Courtesy of Janoueix Clos du Roy (click on map to visit website)

Map of the Libournais Area and Main Appellations – Courtesy of Janoueix Clos du Roy (click on map to visit website)

So, a bottle that is labeled “Saint Emilion Grand Cru” only indicates that it has been produced under the rules of that AOC, but not necessarily that it is one of the Grands Crus that are part of the Saint Emilion wine classification (more on this later), which instead are identified as Grands Crus Classés or Premiers Grands Crus Classés, depending on their ranking.

Saint Emilion: Chateau La Gaffeliere and its vineyards

The two largely overlapping appellations of Saint Emilion AOC and Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC encompass a territory of, respectively, 5,600 and over 4,000 HA where the dominating grape variety is Merlot, beside Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The average annual production is in the ballpark of 235,000 HL for Saint Emilion AOC and 150,000 HL for Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC.

Saint Emilion
: Chateau Lassegue and its vineyards

As we alluded to above, in 1954 the  Winemaking Syndicate of Saint Emilion decided to compile a classification of the best estates (or Chateaux) in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC based on criteria such as quality, sales and renown: this classification was published in 1955 (which is why it is often referred to as the “1955 Classification“) and is supposed to be revised and updated every 10 years, although in fact the updates have been more frequent (since inception, it has been updated in 1959, 1969, 1986, 1996 and 2012).

Saint Emilion: 
Chateau Cheval Blanc and its vineyards

The 1955 Classification divided the estates that made the cut into the following three tiers (in parentheses you can find the number of chateaux in each tier, based on the 2012 revision of the 1955 Classification):

  1. Premier Grand Cru Classé A (4)
  2. Premier Grand Cru Classé B (14)
  3. Grand Cru Classé (64)

Originally, there were only two Chateaux in the first tier of the 1955 Classification: Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc, while two more estates have been promoted to the Olympus of the Saint Emilion wines in the context of the 2012 revision of the 1955 Classification: Chateau Angelus and Chateau Pavie.

Saint Emilion: Chateau Pavie and its vineyards

If you are interested in finding out more about the 1955 Classification, on this Website you can find the complete list of the estates comprised in each of the three tiers of the classification.

For completeness, bear in mind that in the Saint Emilion area there are also four satellite appellations, as follows: Saint-Georges-Saint-Emilion AOCMontagne-Saint-Emilion AOCPuisseguin-Saint-Emilion AOC and Lussac-Saint-Emilion AOC.

Saint Emilion: church emerging from the vineyards in Pomerol

Another famous appellation in the greater Saint Emilion area is the adjacent Pomerol AOC, a small 770 HA Merlot-centric appellation which is home (among other premium estates) of the world-famous, super-exclusive, very rare and über-pricey Petrus. The estates in the Pomerol AOC were not considered for the purposes of the 1955 Classification (which, as we said, was limited to those in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC): this explains why Petrus is not part of it.

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)