Going against the "season trend": Cremini Mushroom Soup for TDPC

Mushroom soup

Mushroom soup

The Dinner Party Collective’s Winter Menu is finally out and it looks amazing!

At the beginning of this social roller-coaster, I asked our lovely Chief Editor Margot to be given a chance to play my first food round in the opposite hemisphere. Margot and Sandra graciously allowed me to join them and I “won” the appetizer.

After a few email consultations with my co-conspirators, a mushroom soup got two thumbs up. So I did what I usually do when cooking time comes: I took out my magic wand and… bibbidi bobbidi boo… I had a lovely mushroom soup!

No, not really! ūüėČ You see, this time my magic wand had to work a little bit harder because… ok, here is the ugly truth: I do not like mushrooms! Oops!

But, don’t you love a challenge? I do! Especially when it calls for ingredients that I don’t like (but let’s no go there because the list is quite long!) I love the way this soup turned out: it’s well-balanced, creamy and full of flavors. It is a great appetizer and I ended up making it for Stefano already a few times.

If I could do it, you… yes you… I’m sure you love mushrooms… you can do it too and your dinner party will be off to a perfect start. If you feel inspired, you can find the recipe on The Dinner Party Collective’s blog.

Stay tuned for a wonderful first course by Sandra and a delicious and gorgeous dessert by Margot – plus Stefano’s wine pairing suggestions of course! ūüėČ

Have a great week!

Francesca Xx

Mushroom soup

Mushroom soup

#OperaWine 2015: My Wine Tasting Notes for Central Italy

With some delay, here is part 3 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 Central Italy. As you will see, lots of winners here.

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. For my tasting notes for the wines from Italy’s northeastern region, go to the second post in this series.

1. Emilia Romagna

Ermete Medici, Gran Concerto Rosso Brut 2011Ermete Medici, “Gran Concerto” Rosso Brut 2011 ($N/A/‚ā¨12): an extremely interesting Classic Method sparkling Lambrusco Salamino which matured for 30 months on its lees and was disgorged in 2014. The nose is immediately catchy with aromas of wild strawberries, raspberries, violets and fresh toast. The mouthfeel is refreshing and pleasant, smooth with good acidity and sapidity, just slightly astringent tannins and flavors of wild red berries (strawberries and raspberries), yeasty notes and mineral hints. A great choice to surprise your guests at a Spring or Summer party out on the patio.¬†Very Good¬†Very Good


Drei Don√†, Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore “Pruno” Riserva 2010 ($35/‚ā¨23): a very good single vineyard Sangiovese with an intense nose of black cherry, black currant, violet, licorice and a mineral note preluding to a medium-bodied, smooth mouthfeel with already supple tannins and flavors of black cherry, dark chocolate, coffee and licorice. Very enjoyable. Very Good¬†Very Good

2. Toscana

Le Macchiole, Messorio 2004 ($190/‚ā¨150): an excellent varietal Merlot which shows in my view the potential of this too often undeservedly bashed variety. A great nose reminiscent of violets, black cherry, blackberry, wet soil, Mediterranean brush, aromatic herbs, cocoa and graphite notes precedes a luscious, full-bodied mouthfeel with high ABV, intense sapidity and firm, just slightly astringent tannins together with flavors that precisely follow the aromatic profile. Long finish.¬†Spectacular, perfectly ready now but fit for cellaring for another few years¬†¬†Spectacular

Le Macchiole, Messorio 2004

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia 2005 ($150/‚ā¨160): wow. Perfectly aged, with ten years of maturation behind it, the Ornellaia 2005 performs and enchants like a Berliner Philharmoniker symphony: captivating aromas of wild berries, licorice, herbs, Mediterranean brush, pinecone and sweet tobacco on the nose leave way to a structured, spellbinding sip whose perfectly contained power and silky smoothness are masterfully counterbalanced by gentle and refined tannins and juicy sapidity supporting delicious flavors of wild black berries, aromatic herbs and licorice lingering in your mouth in a very long finish.¬†Spectacular¬†¬†Spectacular

Tenuta dell'Ornella, Ornellaia 2005

Felsina, Fontalloro 2011 ($46/‚ā¨38): a young but already very enjoyable varietal Sangiovese with a delicious nose of plum, black cherry, aromatic herbs, soil, potpourri and a balsamic note. In the mouth it is a big, full-bodied red, with substantial but already fine tannins, good acidity and all-around smoothness accompanying flavors that nicely match the¬†wine‚Äôs aromas. It will perform even better after a few years of judicious cellaring.¬†Very Good¬†Very Good

Felsina, Fontalloro 2011

Testamatta, Colore 2005 ($550/‚ā¨600): I am a bit puzzled by this¬†wine, I have to admit. I mean, by all means it is a good, even very good red blend (it has Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino in pretty much equal parts) but… 600 euros for a 0.75 lt bottle? Seriously? I don’t know, as much as I like it I could think of several different combinations of absolutely outstanding reds (plural) that I could invest those 600 euros into instead of coming back with just one bottle in my hands… But then again, who am I to judge their pricing policies. Anyway, the nose was very pleasant with aromas of black cherry, plum, licorice, tobacco and aromatic herbs and the mouthfeel was equally enticing, full-bodied, big, gently tannic and smooth, with nice correlation between flavors and aromas.¬†Good to Very Good¬†Good to Very Good

Testamatta, Colore 2005

Carpineto, Cabernet Sauvignon “Farnito” 1997 ($30/‚ā¨19): This varietal Cab that the producer made available for tasting with the benefit of 18 years of aging and maturing was a real treat. Its intense nose was appealing with aromas of black cherry, plum, green peppers and a minty note. Its mouth lent itself to some interesting considerations, particularly in terms of how age-worthy this¬†wine¬†is: despite 18 years in the barrel first and in bottle later, the¬†wine¬†was still incredibly freshly acidic and still had muscular tannins, all of which suggests that the¬†wine¬†will continue to benefit from additional cellaring: my sense is that in five more years it will be even better than it is today. The¬†wine¬†was moderately smooth and tasty, with flavors that closely followed its aromatic profile and a medium finish. Great value for money.¬†Good to Very Good¬†Good to Very Good

Carpineto, Cabernet Sauvignon Farnito 1997

3. Marche

Umani Ronchi, Cumaro 2007 ($40/‚ā¨20): a very good varietal Montepulciano with an appealing nose of red berries, tart cherries, aromatic herbs, leather, cocoa and licorice followed by a full-bodied sip that is smooth and gently tannic and provides flavors of raspberries, wild strawberries, dark chocolate and aromatic herbs. Very Good¬†and appropriately aged¬†Very Good

Umani Ronchi, Cumaro 2007

4. Umbria

Lungarotti, Rubesco Torgiano “Vigna Monticchio” Riserva 2005 ($45/‚ā¨28): a delicious single vineyard Sangiovese/Canaiolo blend with a great nose of cherry, red flowers, sweet tobacco, chocolate, aromatic herbs, mushrooms and a mineral note of graphite. Its mouthfeel is perfectly round and smooth, with silky tannins and flavors of cherries and chocolate. Perfectly aged to its full maturity.¬†Outstanding¬†Outstanding

Tabarrini, Sagrantino di Montefalco “Colle Grimaldesco” 2009 ($50/‚ā¨32): Tabarrini is a producer who has succeeded in showing the different terroir of their vineyards in their single vineyard wines. This one has a captivating, intense nose of black cherry, licorice, dried roses, aromatic herbs and a mineral note. In the mouth it is big, full-bodied, with high alcohol and muscular but gentle tannins; it is smooth and tasty, with flavors of spirited black cherries, licorice and rosemary notes.¬†Very Good¬†Very Good

Caprai, Sagrantino di Montefalco “25 Anni” 2010 ($80/‚ā¨55): in my view 2010 is still way too young a vintage to adequately showcase the qualities of this great Sagrantino and unfortunately it ends up penalizing its performance a bit. The nose was pretty closed and shy, with notes of ripe plums, violets and quinine as well as a toasty note; in the mouth it is big, with abundant structure and alcohol but still a bit edgy, with muscular and astringent tannins and flavors matching its aromatic profile. It needs more time resting and maturing in the cellar, until it develops into the great, coherent¬†wine¬†that we all know and have repeatedly enjoyed.¬†Good to Very Good¬†Good to Very Good

5. Lazio

Falesco, Montiano 2007 ($40/‚ā¨30): Falesco is one of the producers who have been at the forefront of Lazio’s¬†wine¬†renaissance, thanks also to the ability of owner-winemaker Renzo Cotarella, one of the best in Italy. Their Montiano is an outstanding varietal Merlot with an intense, elegant nose of roses, black cherry, black currant, aromatic herbs, licorice, cocoa and black pepper. In the mouth it is structured and silky smooth, with supple tannins and matching flavors of black cherry, black currant and licorice that linger in your mouth in the¬†wine‘s long finish. In my view, 2007 is at or near its top now. Outstanding and very good value¬†Outstanding

Masciarelli, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo "Villa Gemma" Riserva 20046. Abruzzo

Masciarelli, Montepupulciano d‚ÄôAbruzzo ‚ÄúVilla Gemma‚ÄĚ Riserva 2004 ($77/‚ā¨55): a nice nose reminiscent of forest floor, mushrooms, potpourri, black cherry, black currant, tobacco, licorice and a barnyard note goes hand in hand with a great, structured and smooth sip with gentle albeit slightly astringent tannins and flavors of black cherry, licorice, dark chocolate and aromatic herbs. Long finish. Outstanding and perfectly agedOutstanding

Portrait of a lady: Marella Agnelli – The Last Swan

Marella Agnelli - The Last Swan

Lately Stefano has been traveling a lot for work and, as a result, I have been cooking much less. No complaint there because I have had more time to dedicate to one of my passions: books. Right now, I’m devouring the four books of “The Brilliant Friend” series written by the extraordinary Italian author Elena Ferrante (this is a pen name – we don’t even know whether the writer is a woman or a man). The series is about the lives and the beautiful and yet very complicated 60-year long¬†friendship of two women who were born and raised in a poor neighborhood in the Neapolitan suburbs. These books are one of the best things I have laid¬†my hands and eyes on in the last couple of years and I loved every hour spent reading them. However, lately I have also been spending a lot of time in the company of another very special Italian woman: Marella Agnelli.

The Agnellis are for Italians by and large what the Kennedys are for Americans. One of the richest and most powerful Italian families living a life that not even celebrities will ever experience¬†because – let’s be honest here – there is a huge difference between making money and be born and raised in a family that made and still makes history. Unfortunately, as was the case for the Kennedys, the Agnelli’s fairy tale has been spoiled and its members have been scarred by gossip, scandals and tragic and painful events. Doesn’t that invariably¬†happen?

Gianni Agnelli was the head of the family. Known as the “Avvocato” (which means “the Lawyer”, although the nickname was largely inaccurate as he had graduated out of¬†law school but¬†had never taken the bar exam), he was a¬†tycoon¬†and the largest¬†shareholder of the worldwide known car maker FIAT. Marella was his wife and now his widow (he died of cancer in 2003).

Born Princess Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto, she was the daughter of the Neapolitan Prince and diplomat Filippo Caracciolo and the American cosmopolitan Margaret Clarke. Before becoming an Agnelli, she was an art student in Paris, a model in New York working with the famous photographer Erwin Blumenfeld, a photographer herself and a Condé Nast contributor. She has been immortalized by the most celebrated photographers of the last decades РIrving Penn, Richard Avedon and Robert Doisneau, who was sent by Vogue to take the photos of her wedding. РShe was an icon of style and elegance and all the designers wanted her to wear their creations: her wedding dress was a Balenciaga, just to name one.

Marella Agnelli - The Last SwanThe book “Marella Agnelli: Ho coltivato il mio giardino” is the latest accomplishment of Marella and her niece Marella Caracciolo Chia. The English title of the book “Marella Agnelli: The Last Swan” makes reference to Marella’s neck as captured in her iconic portrait by Richard Avedon. Funny enough, also Truman Capote, once one of her best friends, used to include her in his famous circles of “swans”, stylish and wealthy women he loved so much to hang out with.

The book is so much more than a beautiful collection of photographs of Marella’s residences and gardens in Italy (Turin, Milan and Rome), France, Switzerland, New York and Morocco. It is so much more than a glimpse at a lifestyle which is simply unattainable by mere mortals. Marella, with her simple and yet elegant prose, takes the reader by the hand and brings her¬†into her own life, rooms and memories, from her childhood in Florence to the marriage with Gianni, from her friendships with legendary characters (John and Jacqueline Kennedy and Truman Capote, just to name a few) to her interactions with some of the most famous architects, interior decorators and landscapers of the century (Stephane Boudin, Russel Page, Gae Aulenti, Renzo Mongiardino, Peter Marino and Madison Cox, just to name a few)¬†who¬†helped her realize her vision.

That’s right! Her vision! Marella and Gianni were avid and eclectic art collectors of the greatest masters and every room of their residences has been furnished and decorated having a masterpiece and its distinctive colors in mind as a starting and focal point of the whole room, thus achieving¬†the result of making that particular work of art stand out even more, if at all possible. She even designed some unbelievably beautiful fabrics and wallpapers to surround and enhance their amazing artwork. And she is the only one in my book who has decorated all her residences with some wicker furniture and succeeded in making it look effortless and elegant at the same time.

Her gardens are enchanted to say the least, but not in any artificial way. She has always respected the natural beauty of the places and worked with those plants and flowers that would be more congenial to the local landscapes. Some of her green creations are “manicured” in an extraordinary way so as to¬†look totally natural. She even managed to build a swimming pool whose colors are those of the surrounding trees: a dream come true!

Marella Agnelli - The Last Swan

Although the book starts from her childhood and ends with the photographs of her beloved Marrakesh home, where she has been spending most¬†of her time now that she is in her eighties and where her beloved granddaughter Ginevra got married, the book is not a biography – at least not in the strict meaning of the term. Sure, her life is the subtle common thread to all the chapters (which are¬†divided by decades), but she does not reveal anything about her most intimate self. Her disappointments and sufferings are just briefly touched upon, without going into any detail. Her gardens and homes along with the interactions with those who collaborated with her to create those beauties are the central theme of the book and every room, garden, vision and project is described simply and concisely without any triviality or show off to impress the reader. She doesn’t want that. She doesn’t need that. She is a princess – a real one, and she knows that. Everybody with taste knows that.

This book is a little treasure and I enjoyed it immensely. If you have a special person in your life, someone who is chic and sophisticated, who is in love with beauty, art, elegance and understatement and who has the sensibility to appreciate a book like this one, The Last Swan is the perfect gift and a great way to say “I think you are special” to that person!

I wish you all a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

Francesca Xx

PS: Of course, The Last Swan was a gift from the most elegant woman I have ever met… my mother! ūüėč

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 Gew√ľrztraminers,¬†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 varieties:¬†Pinot Blanc,¬†Auxerrois¬†(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-Fonn√© 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 Abb√©s¬†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 Place: Albert 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 Р$

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 Up:¬†Domaines Schlumberger, Pinot Blanc “Les Princes Abb√©s” Alsace AOC, 2013 ($17)

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

Domaines Schlumberger, Pinot Blanc “Les Princes Abb√©s” 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 Winner:¬†Meyer-Fonn√©, 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-Fonn√©, Pinot Blanc “Vieilles Vignes” Alsace AOC (Image courtesy of Meyer-Fonn√©)

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 Р$

Our Detailed Review:¬†In the glass, it poured golden¬†yellow and moderately viscous. The nose was moderately¬†intense,¬†moderately 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.

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, Gew√ľrztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat d’Alsace; and
  • Cr√©mant 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.

Fl√Ľte (or Rhine) Bottles (courtesy of Chandler Resources)

Fl√Ľte (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 “fl√Ľte”).

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), Gew√ľrztraminer, 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 S√©lection 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 Gew√ľrztraminer, 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¬†S√©lection 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¬†S√©lection 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 Gew√ľrztraminer (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 Blanc, Pinot 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 ‚ÄúPinot Auxerrois‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúPinot Blanc‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúPinot‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúPinot‚ÄĚ 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-W√ľrttemberg region under the name¬†R√ľlander, and¬†France, where it was mentioned in a¬†1712¬†document in the region of Orl√©ans under the name¬†Auvernat Gris. The first references to the current¬†Pinot Gris¬†name date back to¬†1783-1784¬†in¬†Burgundy‚Äôs C√īte d‚ÄôOr¬†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 Friuli, Alto 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¬†Sz√ľrkebar√°t, mostly in the north of the country.

Following in Italy‚Äôs 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‚Äės 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 ‚ÄúPinot‚ÄĚ entry in our Grape Variety Archive).

Before being given its current name, Pinot Noir was known by three main synonyms: Morillon, Noirien and Auvernat.

The¬†earliest documented mention¬†of Pinot Noir dates back to¬†1283¬†in the √éle-de-France region in northern France under the name ‚ÄúMoreillon‚Äú. The name ‚ÄúNoirien‚ÄĚ was used around that same time to indicate Pinot Noir in Burgundy and particularly in the C√īte d‚ÄôOr. The name ‚ÄúAuvernas‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs best examples of quality Pinot Nors can be found in¬†France‚Äôs Burgundy region, where¬†terroir differences can often be noticeable in Burgundy wines.¬†Outside Burgundy, quality Pinot Noirs can also be found in France‚Äôs¬†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-√†-vis just 6,579 HA in Burgundy‚Äôs C√īte d‚ÄôOr.

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¬†Sp√§tburgunder) enjoys huge popularity, which reflects in its¬†11,800 HA of plantings in 2008, most of which in the regions of Baden, Rheinhessen and W√ľrttemberg.

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 ‚ÄúSideways effect‚ÄĚ brought to the grape, which in 2010 had a total of¬†15,091 HA¬†of vineyards, especially in¬†Sonoma¬†and¬†Monterey.¬†Oregon¬†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 ‚Äď 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)

#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 “Perl√©” Brut 2006 ($34/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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

Hofst√§tter, AA Gew√ľrztraminer “Kolbenhof” 2012 ($44/‚ā¨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

Hofst√§tter, AA Gew√ľrztraminer Kolbenhof 2012

Hofst√§tter, AA Gew√ľrztraminer Kolbenhof 2012

Foradori, “Granato” 2010 ($60/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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 Dis√īre” 2011 ($N/A/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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, “J√®ma” 2010 ($35/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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

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.

#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 Cr√™tes, VDA Chardonnay “Cuv√©e Bois” 2012 ($50/‚ā¨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 “√Člev√© en F√Ľt de Ch√™ne” 2012 ($N/A/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨ 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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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 “Cuv√©e Annamaria Clementi” 2004 ($90/‚ā¨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 Cuv√©e Annamaria Clementi 2004

Mamete Prevostini, Sforzato di Valtellina “Albareda” 2011 ($60/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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/‚ā¨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

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”! ūüėČ 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. ūüėČ

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! ūüôā

So that’s how I did it! ūüėČ


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
Ground white pepper


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! ūüėČ

Wine Review: Domaine Chante Cigale, Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape AOC, 2009

Domaine Chante Cigale, Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape AOCOur previous post provided a general overview of Ch√Ęteauneuf-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 Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape wine that I really like: Domaine Chante Cigale, Ch√Ęteauneuf-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¬†‚Äď $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Appellation and the Grapes

For plenty of information about the¬†Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape appellation and the “GSM” grape blend, please refer to our previous post about¬†Ch√Ęteauneuf-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 ‚ÄúMarroquin‚Äú; later on (1829) it was referred to as ‚ÄúSins√Ęou‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúGreca√Ļ‚ÄĚ and in Puglia under the name ‚ÄúOttavianello‚Äú) and¬†in Spain¬†under the name ‚ÄúSins√≥‚Äú.

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 ‚ÄúHermitage‚ÄĚ 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-C√īte d‚ÄôAzur districts, as well as in Ch√Ęteauneuf-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 ‚Äď 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¬†‚ÄúClos Chante Cigale‚ÄĚ (meaning, ‚Äúvineyard of the singing cricket‚ÄĚ). The name of the estate was then changed to the current ‚ÄúDomaine Chante Cigale‚ÄĚ 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, Ch√Ęteauneuf-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.