Tag Archives: Merlot

Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part II: A Wine Tasting of Chateau Figeac 1988

Chateau Figeac 1988

Following our previous post about the history, estate, terroir and winemaking process at Chateau Figeac in Bordeaux’s Saint Emilion region, let’s now focus on my review of a bottle of their Grand Vin that I had an opportunity to taste: Chateau Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC, 1988 ($200).

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Chateau Figeac 1988 that I had was an outstanding, elegant wine: after 26 years of aging, it still performed flawlessly, offering a broad aromatic palette that unsurprisingly underscored tertiary aromas, but still presented fruity, secondary aromas to complement them. It still had enough acidity to keep it alive (although I would not wait much longer to drink it) and noticeable but gentle tannins, along with great smoothness – attaining a nice balance. It had pleasant and vivid mouth flavors of fruit and spices and a long finish. Outstanding!

Rating: Outstanding and Recommended Outstanding – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grapes, the Producer and the Estate

For plenty of information about Chateau Figeac, its history, estate, terroir and winemaking process, please refer to our previous post about it.

As to the grapes, Chateau Figeac’s quite unique Bordeaux blend is made up of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot. For detailed information about each of those grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive or simply click on the hyperlinks of each of the three grape varieties above.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – The stunning tasting room at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Our Detailed Review

The wine that we are going to review today is Chateau Figeac, Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC, 1988.

As mentioned in our previous post, Chateau Figeac is a Premier Grand Cru Classé “B” wine according to the 1955 classification of the wines of Saint Emilion (for more information about it, see our previous post providing a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system).

You can find very detailed information about how this wine is made in our previous post about Chateau Figeac.

The wine was 12.5% ABV and the proportions of the blend were 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot (for more information about those grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive). In the U.S. available 1988 bottles retail for about $200, while in France they retailed for about €160. I decanted it for an hour before enjoying it.

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 garnet red and moderately viscous.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, presenting a kaleidoscope of aromas: cherry, raspberry, tobacco, underbrush, wet soil, dried leaves, potpourri, herbs (sage, rosemary), cocoa, vanilla and black pepper.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, had medium ABV, and was smooth; it was still moderately acidic, tannic and tasty. It was medium bodied and wonderfully balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of cherry, dark chocolate, tobacco and rhubarb. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning to be enjoyed now as it will decline if left to age much longer.

Saint Emilion Chronicles #7, Part I: A Visit to Chateau Figeac

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

For those of you who remember our Saint Emilion series, this is its next installment: after our post on Chateau de Ferrand, today we will talk about another Chateau that we visited – Chateau Figeac.

On a previous post, I have provided a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system: if necessary, take a look at it for a refresher.

History

Chateau Figeac’s origins date back to the II century AD, when it comprised a Gallo-Roman villa and a large estate which were owned by the Figeacus family after whom it has been named.

By the XV century, Figeac became one of five noble houses in Saint Emilion and there is evidence that in the XVI century (when Chateau Figeac was rebuilt in a Renaissance architectural style) grapevines were grown and wine was made at the estate. Documents dating back to the XVIII century confirm that Figeac wines were already being shipped overseas.

However, it was not until the late XIX century/early XX century that Chateau Figeac primarily became a wine estate and marketed its wine under the “Chateau Figeac” label. The turning point was the acquisition of the estate in 1892 by the Manoncourt family, who hired a preeminent agricultural engineer by the name of Albert Macquin, who brought a scientific approach to the vineyard and winemaking process and equipped the cellars with oak vats.

In 1955, Chateau Figeac was ranked as a “Premier Grand Cru Classé B” in the 1955 Saint Emilion classification (for more information about the 1955 classification, see our previous post about Saint Emilion and its wine appellations). It was also around that time that, in Merlot-dominated Saint Emilion, Chateau Figeac settled for a wine with quite a unique Bordeaux blend of grapes (approximately, 30% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon) which became known as “Figeac style”.

For more information about the grape varieties making up Figeac’s blend, please check out our Grape Variety Archive

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – The stunning tasting room at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

The Estate and Its Terroir

With almost 100 acres (40 hectares) where over 240,000 vines are grown, Chateau Figeac is the largest property in Saint-Emilion. It is located to the west of Saint-Emilion, bordering Pomerol.

Its soils are mostly composed of sand and gravel, with some relatively deep clay layer. Gravel in particular is the typical feature of Figeac’s topsoil, which favors the retention of heat creating a favorable environment for the ripening of the grapes.

As previously mentioned, three main grape varieties are grown in nearly equal proportions at Chateau Figeac’s estate which form the blend for its wine: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which is something fairly unique in the Bordeaux area.

Lately, massal selection has been implemented at Chateau Figeac, resulting in the selection of the best of the estate’s oldest vines (some of which are almost 100 years old) for grafting newly planted vines so as to preserve the distinctive features of the Figeac vineyards.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- The vineyards at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Winemaking Process

The winemaking process at Chateau Figeac combines traditional methods with modern techniques: during the visit of the winery, I have had the pleasure to speak with an extremely competent employee of the Chateau with whom I had an opportunity to discuss many aspects of their production process.

This is a summary of the main steps in Chateau Figeac’s winemaking process:

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- The barrique cellar at Chateau Figeac

1. Harvesting. Given the three varieties that are grown at the estate and make up Chateau Figeac’s blend, unsurprisingly the harvesting of the grapes is staggered based on the desired ripening point of each variety.

2. Destemming and Sorting. The harvested grapes of each variety are separately destemmed and sorted using an optical scanner capable of sorting 5 tons of grapes per hour! For more information about destemmers and optical grape sorting machines, go back to our post about Chateau de Ferrand which has an image and a video about such prodigious piece of equipment.

3. Crushing and Treatments. The sorted grapes are then crushed and pumped into small-sized fermentation vats along with their juice, skins and seeds, and sulfur dioxide (AKA SO2) is applied to the must. This enological treatment is essentially an antiseptic, an antioxidant and it facilitates the dissolution of the pigments (AKA anthocyanins) from the skins of the berries. For more information about sulphur dioxide, refer to our previous post on sulfites and wine.

4. Cold Maceration. The must then undergoes a cold maceration phase (i.e., a short, low-temperature, pre-fermentation maceration) of about three days in order to maximize the extraction of the primary aromas that reside in the skins of the grapes and therefore enhance the wine’s bouquet.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion 
- Oak Fermenters at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

5. Fermentation and Maceration. Chateau Figeac utilizes both ten open-topped oak vats and twelve stainless steel vats to ferment its wine. Here the must ferments for about one week at controlled temperature using the grapes’ natural yeast (i.e., without adding selected yeasts) and macerates for about three weeks with regular pump-overs and rackings.

6. Malolactic Fermentation. The wine then undergoes full malolactic fermentation that is started by means of the addition of lactic acid bacteria to the wine.

7. Pressing. After the malolactic fermentation, the free run wine (the one that flows freely out of the fermentation vat) is transferred to the aging barrels, while the cap gets pressed and the resulting press wine is reblended with the free run wine.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion
 – Automated basket grape press at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

8. Aging. The Grand Vin then ages for 15 to 18 months in 100% new French oak, medium-charred barrique casks, while the Second Vin is aged 80% in second-fill French oak barriques and 20% in new French oak barriques.

9. Fining and Bottling. After appropriate aging, the wine is fined for clarity, stability and reduced astringency by using egg whites and finally bottled, capsuled and labeled.

FRANCE, Saint Emilion -
 Capsuling and labeling machine at Chateau Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé B)

Chateau Figeac has an average annual production of about 100,000 bottles of the Grand Vin (“Chateau Figeac“) and 40,000 bottles of the Second Vin (“Petit Figeac“).

This is it for today: I hope you enjoyed this virtual visit to Chateau Figeac. The next post will focus on a wine tasting of a bottle of Chateau Figeac’s Grand Vin, vintage… 1988! Stay tuned! 🙂

Saint Emilion Chronicles #6: Chateau de Ferrand, a Visit and a Wine Review

The wine tasting area of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

After a hiatus due to the winter holidays and the addition of cyclone Sofia 😉 to our family, it is time to resume our Saint Emilion series.

Today we will briefly talk about one of the Chateaux that we visited during our stay, namely Chateau de Ferrand, and I will review their Grand Vin, of which I brought a couple bottles home.

On a previous post, we have provided a general overview of the Saint Emilion wine region and its wine classification system: if necessary, take a look at it for a refresher.

Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

About the Producer and the Estate

Chateau de Ferrand is located near the town of Saint Emilion, on the right bank of the Dordogne river, not far from Bordeaux. The Chateau was founded in 1702 and since then it was remarkably owned by only two families: that of Elie de Bétoulaud, the founder, and since the XX century that of Baron Marcel Bich, the man who became world-famous for the inexpensive, disposable ballpoint pens which still bear an abbreviated version of his name, “Bic“.

The wine case storage area at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Incidentally, there are two interesting anecdotes regarding the Baron and the abbreviation of his name: (i) Baron Bich was actually Italian – he was born in 1914 in Turin and relocated to France when he was in his thirties and (ii) the decision to drop the “h” at the end of his name in the pen brand was reportedly due to commercial reasons, namely the concern of how the word “Bich” could sound when pronounced by English-speaking consumers… 😉

Nowadays, Chateau de Ferrand is managed by Pauline Bich Chandon-Moët, a descendant of Baron Marcel Bich who married Philippe Chandon-Moët, whom we have been fortunate enough to meet and chat a little bit with in the course of our visit.


The vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

The estate counts 32 HA of vineyards where Merlot is the dominating variety (75%), as is generally the case in Saint Emilion, followed by Cabernet Franc (15%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). The estate lies on a limestone plateau with clay-rich soils where the vines are planted at altitudes ranging from 150 to 330 ft (46 to 100 mt) above sea level. The average density reaches an impressive 7,000 vines/HA and the Chateau’s annual production is about 180,000 bottles.

Ripening Merlot grapes at the vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)About the Grapes

You can find out many cool facts about and the DNA profiling of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon by checking out our Grape Variety Archive.

About the Wine

Chateau de Ferrand is a Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé wine: it was promoted to the status of Grand Cru Classé in the 2012 revision of the classification of the wines of Saint Emilion (for more information, see our previous post about it). It is made as a Bordeaux blend of the three varieties that grow in the estate. Although the percentages in the blend vary from vintage to vintage, by and large they are similar to those of the plantings that we mentioned above.

Interestingly, in the winemaking process, Chateau de Ferrand’s enologist uses a cutting-edge Italian-made destemmer and optical grape sorting machine called X-Tri to automatically sort the grapes worthy of their Grand Vin from those that are not up to standard. Should you wish to know more about this unbelievable machine (it can accurately sort about 15 tons of grapes per hour!), check out the producer’s website, which also includes a pretty cool video demonstrating how it works.


The X-Tri optical grape sorter of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

The must then goes through a short 2-day pre-fermentative cold maceration phase to maximize the extraction of color and aromas, followed by approximately 10 days of fermentation with natural yeast in concrete vats and then full malolactic fermentation that is started naturally, by increasing the wine’s temperature (without adding any lactic acid bacteria).

Concrete fermentation tanks at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Finally, the wine ages for about 15-16 months in 60% new oak barrique barrels and 40% one-time used barriques (these are mostly French oak, with about 10% of US oak) plus 24 more months of in-bottle aging.


The barrique cellar at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

Our Review

Based on my tasting of several vintages of the Grand Vin at the end of the visit (there is also a Second Vin called Le Différent de Châteaux de Ferrand), I decided that I liked 1999 the best, so that is the wine we are going to review today.

Hydraulic presses at Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

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.

Chateau de Ferrand, Saint Emilion Grand Cru AOC, 1999 ($35)


The wine tasting area of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé) with their resident sommelierThe wine was 13% ABV and the proportions of the blend were 83% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. In the U.S. it retails for about $35, while in France it retailed for €50. I decanted it for an hour before enjoying it.

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

On the nose, its bouquet was intense and fine, although not particularly complex, with aromas of cherry, cocoa and black pepper.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with medium ABV, silky smooth; still moderately acidic, with velvety tannins and tasty; it was medium-bodied and wonderfully balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of cherry, raspberry, licorice and dark chocolate. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning to be enjoyed now as it will likely start declining if left to age longer.

Overall, the Chateau de Ferrand 1999 was a very good wine: despite its aromas being not particularly complex, the wine really won me over once it was in my mouth.  After 14 years of aging, its mouth flavors were still lively and elegant and the wine was perfectly integrated and cohesive, silky smooth and gently tannic, with still enough acidity to keep it alive and kicking – not for much longer though, so should you have a bottle in your cellar, I suggest you find a good reason to enjoy it now!

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)


The vineyards of Chateau de Ferrand (Grand Cru Classé)

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)

Meet the Maker: An Interview with "Mr Sassicaia"

Italy, Bolgheri: Marchese Nicolo' Incisa della Rocchetta in the Tenuta San Guido wine aging cellarOn my previous post we talked about my visit to Tenuta San Guido (the estate where fabled Sassicaia is made) and my tasting of the latest available vintages of the estate’s wine lineup: Le Difese 2011, Guidalberto 2011 and Sassicaia 2010.

Also, on a previous post we went through the history of Super Tuscans and particularly of their archetype, Sassicaia, and how this great wine came to be. If you missed those posts, I suggest you take the time to check them out as they provide a lot context for this post.

Now, without further ado, let’s move on to my interview of Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, the owner of Tenuta San Guido, a true gentleman and big time dog lover (he has some 40 dogs, most of whom he got from the shelter) beside of course being the son of Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, the man who created the myth Sassicaia.

Here are the questions I asked the Marchese, along with a summary of his answers:

Q1. Which vintage of Sassicaia are you most fond of and why?

A1. If I had to pick one, it would be 1988: of course everyone goes crazy about 1985 because it received a perfect score from Parker, but to me 1988 was also a stellar year that really shows the Sassicaia style loud and clear and that vintage also did extremely well in the Tasting of the Bordeaux Premier Growths.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards at Tenuta San Guido ready for harvesting with olive tree orchard in the background

Q2. Certain consumers worry about investing a considerable amount of money into a bottle of wine like Sassicaia, which they normally plan to hold on for several years before opening, because they fear that when they do open it, it might be corked. Do you or your distributors have a policy in place as to how to handle situations like that?

A2. In Europe, our distributors replace corked bottles, I am not sure whether our US distributor has a similar policy in place. The good news is that, while of course it is impossible to avoid the risk of the occasional corked bottle altogether, the incidence of cork taint on Sassicaia is much lower than the average: we estimate that there are about 10 corked bottles of Sassicaia for each vintage.

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido

Q3. Speaking of corks, certain of the top quality producers around the world have started experimenting with closure systems alternative to cork, such as synthetic or screw caps, one very visible example being Chateau Margaux. Are you also looking into it? Current regulations require that Sassicaia be sealed with a cork: looking ahead, do you think that using a closure other than cork for a wine like Sassicaia would still be perceived by consumers with a negative connotation?

A3. No, we are just not interested. A bottle of a wine like Sassicaia deserves being sealed by a cork, period. On top of that, the minimal contact with oxygen that the cork ensures makes a wine like Sassicaia that is generally meant for several years of in bottle aging beautifully evolve.

Italy, Bolgheri: Bolgheri sunsetQ4. Italian enologist Graziana Grassini has recently taken over the honor and the responsibilities of making Sassicaia from guru enologist Giacomo Tachis, who can be seen as the father of Sassicaia, along with your father of course. How did she approach the myth Sassicaia? Is she following the path of tradition or is she trying to leave her own mark on Sassicaia?

A4. It seems to me that she is walking in Tachis’s footsteps: they both have this approach that they are there just to underscore the unique terroir of the Sassicaia vineyards and make it shine in the wine they make. Tachis hated being called a winemaker, because he felt he was not there “making” (in the sense of artificially “building”) Sassicaia – he considered himself the guardian of the brilliant characteristics of those Cabernet clones that my father planted in the heart of the Maremma almost three quarters of a century ago and the terroir they grow in.

Q5. All your three wines are blends and all three have Cabernet Sauvignon as their prevailing variety in the blend, but each of them pairs it with a different blending partner: Cabernet Franc for Sassicaia, Merlot for Guidalberto and Sangiovese for Le Difese. Taken as a given that the Sassicaia is at the peak of the pyramid of the wines you produce, how would you briefly describe the concepts behind the Guidalberto and Le Difese?

A5. The Guidalberto was introduced to the market with vintage 2000 and we do not consider it the second vin of the Sassicaia. It was developed as a more affordable wine with its own identity, different from Sassicaia’s. A wine that can be enjoyed earlier than Sassicaia but is all the same meant for aging up to 10 years. Only about 10% of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes used in the making of Guidalberto come from the Sassicaia vieyards, the rest comes from dedicated, younger vineyards. Le Difese was launched with vintage 2002 and we view it as the second vin of the Guidalberto: it was developed with the idea of an affordable wine that is ready to be enjoyed upon release and is not meant for aging.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards and olive trees

Q6. How much of the wine you produce gets exported, and which are the top three countries you export to?

A5. We export about 60% of the production. By far the number one country we export to is the United States, followed by Germany and, maybe surprisingly considering its relatively small size, Switzerland. We are slowly starting to export to China too, but we want to be cautious: it is a huge market with an incredible demand for luxury products, including top wines like Sassicaia, and it is easy to let that cloud your vision. Considering that the number of bottles of Sassicaia that we make is not going to increase, what we do not want to do is penalize our historical and loyal customer base and distributors in the countries we are already in just to jump onto the Chinese bandwagon. It will be a gradual process.

Italy, Bolgheri: One of the buidings in the Tenuta San Guido estate

Q7. Organic viticulture: are you considering to embrace it or staying away from it?

A7. We view it as an emerging marketing trend which certainly appeals to consumers, but whose risks overweigh the benefits. In other words, we do spray our vines but we have always done so in the least pervasive way, as has been done for decades in traditional viticulture. We are a relatively small operation and we just cannot afford the risk of a blighted crop.

Q8. Let’s talk about your winemaking process: do you use pre-fermentation cold maceration? And how about micro-oxygenation?

A8. No to both questions: we feel our wine does not need the additional extraction of color or aromas that pre-fermentation maceration allows, and we certainly stay away from micro-oxygenation: we much rather let time do its work by leaving our wine in the barriques for as long as we think appropriate for it to be exposed to the oxygen that naturally breathes into the casks. No need to fast-track anything.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards ready for harvesting

Q9. What kind of fermentation do you go for: selected yeasts or spontaneous (indigenous yeasts)? Same question for malolactic fermentation: do you inoculate lactic bacteria or does it start spontaneously?

A9. In both cases we opt for spontaneous fermentation: we do not add anything to our wine, we just let the temperature start both fermentations spontaneously. We think this practice helps give our wines their own, individual character, which makes them different from other wines.

Italy, Bolgheri: Sassicaia French oak barrique cask

Q10. Last question: which barrique casks do you use to age Sassicaia and are they new, previously used or a mix of the two?

A10. In the beginning we used Slavonian oak, but then we realized that those barrels were assembled with sawn planks, which occasionally were not perfectly airtight. So we switched to French oak, where planks are axe-split instead of sawn. For the aging of Sassicaia we use barriques made of French oak coming from the Massif Central region of France, because oak from that area is known to release the least tannins/tertiary aromas to the wine and therefore we prefer it over more intrusive oak. Sassicaia ages in 1/3 new barriques and 2/3 previously used ones, which may be up to a maximum of 8-time used before, after which we retire the barrique.

Thant’s all: I hope you enjoyed the read as much as I enjoyed having this informational and pleasant conversation with Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta.

As a final note, I would like to take the opportunity to sincerely thank the Marchese for his graciousness and for the time he took to sit down with me and answer my questions. I also wish to extend my dy deepest gratitude to Carlo Paoli for his kindness in making all of this happen.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards and cypress trees

Meet the Maker: A New Column plus a Tasting of Sassicaia 2010 and Its Little Brothers

Italy, Bolgheri: Carlo Paoli, Tenuta San Guido's General Manager

A New Column: Meet the Maker

This post is going to be the first in a new column that I thought I would call Meet the Maker – this column will provide interviews with wine producers or other key players in the wine industry.

When I decided to give this new feature a go, I thought I might as well just start big 😉 so with some luck and lots of gratitude to Carlo Paoli, the gracious General Manager of Tenuta San Guido, I had the pleasure of sitting down for an hour or so in the wine tasting room of Tenuta San Guido with Carlo and Mr Sassicaia himself, Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, who was kind enough to answer my questions while we were tasting the whole lineup of the estate, which was something pretty cool.

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido

About the Estate: Tenuta San Guido

But let’s start from the beginning: as you may know, Tenuta San Guido is a huge 2,500 HA estate that is located in that beautiful stretch of forested coastal Tuscany known as Maremma and it belongs to the Italian noble family of the Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta. The estate encompasses a 513 HA wildlife preserve managed by the WWF (Oasi Padule di Bolgheri), the training facility for the Dormello-Olgiata thoroughbred race horses, the most famous of whom was legendary “superhorse” Ribot, and of course 90 HA of vineyards from which glorious Sassicaia plus two more wines (called Guidalberto and Le Difese) are made.

More specifically, 70 of those 90 HA of vineyards are dedicated to the production of Sassicaia and therefore are for the most part Cabernet Sauvignon with some Cabernet Franc. In the remaining 20 HA, Merlot and Sangiovese (the blending partners of, respectively, Guidalberto and Le Difese) are grown, beside Cabernet Sauvignon (the common variety in all three blends). Among the three labels, Tenuta San Guido produces about 700,000 bottles per year.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards approaching harvest time with the Bolgheri church in the background

On a previous post, I have provided a pretty detailed story of the vision of an enlightened man, Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta (Nicolo’s father, the creator of Sassicaia), how Sassicaia came to be and how it became the archetype of all Super Tuscans, so if you missed it, I would suggest you go back and take a look before you continue reading this post.

As is described in detail on that previous post, the turning point for Sassicaia was Marchese Mario’s intuition to hire Antinori’s enologist, Giacomo Tachis, in the late 1960’s. Tachis optimized Sassicaia’s production process turning Sassicaia from a good wine to the wine that was awarded a perfect 100 score by Robert Parker for the 1985 vintage. Mr Tachis, arguably the most famous and revered among Italian enologists, eventually retired and Graziana Grassini took the helm of making Sassicaia (along with the responsibility to ensure that the legend lives on) as of the 2009 vintage.

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido's wine aging cellar and wine tasting room

About the Appellation

Interestingly enough, in an effort to recognize Marchese Mario’s vision and tenacity in creating a wine that gave Italian winemaking international lustre and fame, in 1983 Italy created a DOC appellation called “Bolgheri DOC” that would encompass a small territory surrounding the Tuscan town of Castagneto Carducci (in the Maremma, near Livorno) and within that territory a specific subzone was identified by the name of “Sassicaia” which precisely matches those about 70 HA owned by Tenuta San Guido where the Sassicaia is made. This has been the first case in Italy in which an official subzone of an appellation has been created to precisely overlap with the area where a single producer’s wine is made. As a result, Sassicaia is the only wine that can be made in the “Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC” appellation.

In terms of permitted grape varieties, the “Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC” appellation requires the use of at least 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, which can be blended with up to 20% of other black-berried varieties permitted in Tuscany, and a minimum aging of 24 months, at least 18 of which must be in oak barrique casks.

Italy, Bolgheri: vineyards in the Bolgheri DOC appellation

Our Tasting Notes

Before moving on to the actual interview of Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta (which will be the subject matter of the next post), these are my succint tasting notes of the three wines in the Tenuta San Guido lineup that I got to taste with the Marchese:

1. Le Difese 2011 ($35):

Italy, Bolgheri: An old well at Tenuta San GuidoTenuta San Guido’s entry-level wine, whose first vintage was 2002. It is a 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese blend that is aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrique casks and is released ready to be enjoyed (it is not meant for aging).

Pleasant and linear, with no frills: nice (although not particularly intense) nose of wild berries with hints of licorice and ground coffee. Well integrated tannins and good structure in the mouth for an enjoyable red with a good QPR.

Rating: Good Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. Guidalberto 2011 ($40):

Tenuta San Guido’s mid-range wine (not Sassicaia’s second wine, as the Marchese pointed out in the course of the interview). It was released with vintage 2000 and it is a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot blend, aged for 15 months in mostly French and in small part American oak barrique casks, plus 3 additional months of in-bottle aging. The Guidalberto is a wine that can be enjoyed right away, but is meant for aging up to 10 years.

A very good wine, despite its young age, with an enticing nose of black berries, ground coffee, tobacco, cocoa and black pepper. In the mouth it was already round and smooth, with tame tannins and significant structure as well as a long finish. In my view, with a few more years under its belt, the Guidalberto will give plenty of joy to those who can wait.

Rating: Very Good Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido's Sassicaia aging cellar

3. Sassicaia 2010 ($155):

The King of the Hill, of which we already said much in relation to its 1995 vintage on a previous post. It is an 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc blend that is fermented in steel vats and undergoes 15 days of maceration. It ages for 24 months in all French oak barrique casks plus 6 additional months in bottle. Sassicaia is a wine that is meant for aging and in my view it should not be enjoyed before at least 5/7 years after its vintage year.

The 2010 vintage that I tasted was already mind-blowing: the nose was very intense with a symphony of black cherries, blackberries, cocoa, licorice, coffee, sandalwood and leather. In the mouth it is still a bit “separate” in its core elements, which need time to fully assemble and integrate, but it already showed glimpses of how spectacular a wine it will be for those who can wait: full-bodied, with plenty of structure and tannins that are already supple, intense mouth flavors and good acidity, topped off by a long finish. Perfect to be cellared and forgotten for a few years and then enjoyed the way it deserves.

Rating: Outstanding Outstanding – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Italy, Bolgheri: Tenuta San Guido's wine bar/store

That’s all for today: until the next post, which will feature my interview to Marchese Nicolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta.

Italy, Bolgheri: One of the buidings in the Tenuta San Guido estate

Wine Review P2: Marchesi de' Frescobaldi, "Tenuta dell'Ammiraglia" Range

Disclaimer: this review is of samples that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review of the wines 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.

Marchesi de' Frescobaldi's "Ammiraglia" LineupAfter learning about the producer, Marchesi de’ Frescobaldithe estate “Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia and the “Ammiraglia” wine range in general on our previous post (should you have missed it, please refer to it before reading this one), let’s now focus on the actual contents of the three bottles that I got to taste and move forward with my tasting notes.

In an effort not to make this post too lengthy, if you are interested in some very cool facts about the various grape varieties from which the wines in the Ammiraglia lineup are made (i.e., VermentinoCabernet SauvignonCabernet FrancMerlotSyrahSangiovese and Ciliegiolo), by all means check them out on our Grape Variety Archive page. As always, such information is taken from the excellent guide Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012,

As usual, 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.

1.  Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, Vermentino “Ammiraglia” Toscana IGT 2012 ($18)

Marchesi de' Frescobaldi, Vermentino "Ammiraglia"The 2012 Vermentino Ammiraglia was 12.5% ABV and was made out of 100% Vermentino grapes harvested from just 5 HA of vineyards in the Tenuta dell’Ammiraglia estate, which achieve a good 5,500 vines/HA density.

After the grapes underwent a partial cryomaceration phase, the must fermented for 10 days at 68F/20C in stainless steel vessels, with no malolactic fermentation. After that, the wine rested for 4 months in steel vats, plus one additional month in bottle before becoming available for sale.

The fact that part of the grapes did cryomaceration and that the wine did not do any oak are both indications that the wine was made in such a way as to emphasize primary and secondary aromas and that it is intended for immediate consumption, not for cellaring. The Vermentino Ammiraglia retails in the US for about $18.

In the glass, the wine poured a light straw yellow and moderately thick when swirled.

On the nose, the bouquet was quite intensequite complex and fine, with aromas of grapefruit, citrus, honey, orange blossoms, with herbs and almond hints. One important factor to keep in mind to fully appreciate its aromas is service temperature: if you serve this wine too chilled, its bouquet will be restrained and will not do it justice. I noticed that a temperature of about 53-55F/12-13C is where the wine’s aromas peak, so bear that in mind if you buy a bottle.

In the mouth, the wine was dryquite warmsmoothfresh and tasty. It was balanced and medium-bodied, with intense and fine mouth flavors of citrus, almond, minerals and evident iodine notes. The finish was quite long (to reinforce the wine’s mineral and iodine flavors, the aftertaste leaves you a slight feeling almost of saltwater in your mouth!) and the evolutionary state was mature (meaning, drink it now, it will not benefit from cellaring).

Overall, I really enjoyed this Vermentino: ideally, I wish its aromas were a touch more intense, but its aromatic palette is quite complex (if tasted at the right temperature) and very enjoyable, as are its balance and tasty mouth flavors. And at a retail price of about $18, I think this wine delivers plenty of bang for the buck.

Rating: Good to Very Good and Recommended, given its great QPR Good to Very Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, “Terre More dell’Ammiraglia” Maremma Toscana DOC 2011 ($18)

Marchesi de' Frescobaldi "Terre More"The 2011 Terre More was a whopping 14.5% ABV Bordeaux-style blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot and 5% Syrah grown in 55 HA of vineyards in the estate with a good density of 5,500 vines/HA, on par with the Vermentino.

The must fermented for 10 days in stainless steel vats at 82F/28C and underwent 12 days of maceration as well as full malolactic fermentation. The wine finally aged for 12 months in second or third time used French oak barrique casks before becoming available for sale. The Terre More retails in the US for about $18.

In the glass, the wine poured ruby red with purple hints and unsurprisingly (given its ABV) thick when swirled.

On the nose, the bouquet was quite intensecomplex and fine, with aromas of wild cherry, plum, blackberry, leather, coffee, tobacco and black pepper, with the tertiary, spicy aromas given by the oak aging being a little dominant over the secondary, fruity aromas (despite the wise choice of second/third time used barriques).

In the mouth, the Terre More was drydefinitely warmquite smoothfreshtannicquite tasty. I have to say that the wine’s muscular ABV was very evident, and tended to tip the wine mouthfeel a little bit off balance. The tannins were firm but quite integrated, despite the wine’s young age. The wine was full-bodied and had intense and fine mouth flavors of plum, blackberry, coffee (quite evident) and black pepper. The finish was quite long and the evolutionary state ready, meaning you can drink it now but it will most likely benefit from a few years of additional in-bottle aging.

Overall, I ended up having mixed feelings about the Terre More: I quite liked its bouquet (despite the slight prevalence of oaky, tertiary aromas and it being not as intense as I would have hoped), but was not entirely convinced by its mouthfeel: despite its pleasant flavor profile, the heat of the wine’s ABV was in my view a little too evident. Truth be told, it is still a very young wine and a few years of cellaring would likely be beneficial. Having said that, with a retail price of $18, I think this wine is still a pretty good deal to pair with a juicy steak just off the grill.

Rating: Fairly Good Fairly Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

3. Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, “Pietraregia dell’Ammiraglia” Morellino di Scansano Riserva DOCG 2010 ($25)

Marchesi de' Frescobaldi "Pietraregia"As mentioned on our previous post, the 2010 Pietraregia started off on the right foot by having a nice cork closure. 😉 Beside that, the wine was 14% ABV and was a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Ciliegiolo and 5% Syrah.

The must fermented in stainless steel vats for 10 days at 86F/30C, underwent 20 days of maceration on the skins and did full malolactic fermentation, The wine aged for 24 months in French oak barrique casks and 2 additional months in bottle before becoming available for sale. The Pietraregia retails in the US for about $25.

In the glass, it poured dark ruby red and thick when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was quite intense and a bit narrow, with aromas of plum, blackberry, violet and black pepper, but certainly fine. It is interesting to note how few spicy tertiary aromas the wine picked up after spending 24 months in French oak barrique casks. Honestly, I would have hoped that the nose of this wine delivered a bit more than it did.

In the mouth, the Pietraregia was drywarmsmoothfreshtannictasty. It was a full-bodied wine with intense and fine mouth flavors of plum and dark chocolate. The finish was quite long and its evolutionary state was ready (you know what that means: fine to drink now, but if you cellar it for a few years it will likely improve over time).

Overall, I liked the Pietraregia: while I wish it had more to give in its bouquet, in my view the pleasant mouthfeel of this wine definitely made up for whatever it lacked in its aromatic palette. Once you sip this wine, it will make you happy, especially if you still remember that you paid some 25 bucks for it, which I think is more than adequate for what you get.

Rating: Good and Recommended Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

So, to sum things up real quick:

1. I am generally pleased by the quality that the three wines of the Ammiraglia range that I got to taste delivered, of course given their price points.

2. Personally, I would definitely buy the Vermentino and the Pietraregia, which in my view are good value for money, while (once again, personally speaking) I think I would pass on the Terre More as, while it certainly is not a bad wine, it does not quite meet my own tastes.

And of course, many thanks to Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi’s US importer for providing the samples.

As always, if you get to taste any of these wines, please share your experience in the comment section!

Wine Review: Casa Sola, Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 DOCG

Disclaimer: this review is of a sample that I received from the producer, who also happens to be a friend of mine! My review of the wine has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the opinion I am going to share on the wine is my own.

Casa Sola, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCGToday I will review a bottle of Chianti Classico Riserva that I received as a sample from the producer, who happens to be a former schoolmate of mine and a friend. The wine that I am going to review is Casa SolaChianti Classico Riserva 2007 DOCG (\sim \!\, $35). As I said in my disclaimer, my review will not be tainted by my personal relationship with the producer and will be as objective as a wine review can be. 🙂

The Bottom Line

Overall, I found Casa Sola’s Chianti Classico Riserva to be a very pleasant Chianti, which could nicely complement a juicy steak or game dish.

Rating: Good to Very Good and Recommended Good to Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Let’s now say a few words about Chianti in general.

About the Appellations

Chianti wine may be produced under two different Tuscan appellations: Chianti Classico DOCG or Chianti DOCG.

The Chianti Classico appellation encompasses that stretch of Tuscan territory where the grapes for making Chianti have traditionally been grown for centuries (the first document referring to Chianti dates back to 1398!): this means an area surrounding the cities of Florence and Siena, including such landmark towns as Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti and Gaiole in Chianti.

The Chianti Classico regulations require that the wine be made from 80% or more Sangiovese grapes, while the remaining maximum 20% may come from other permitted black-berried grapes (these include Canaiolo, Colorino or international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot). The minimum aging required is (i) 12 months for the base version of “Chianti Classico” and (ii) 24 months, at least 3 of which must be in bottle, for “Chianti Classico Riserva“. Every bottle of Chianti Classico wine must bear the “black rooster”  logo on its neckband. Plenty of additional information may be found on the Website of the Chianti Classico Wine Consortium.

The Chianti appellation encompasses a significantly larger territory in the surroundings of the Tuscan towns of Arezzo, Firenze, Pistoia, Pisa, Prato and Siena. The Chianti regulations require that the wine be made from 70% or more Sangiovese grapes, while the remaining maximum 30% may come from other permitted grapes, provided that (a) the use of permitted white-berried grapes may not exceed 10% and (b) the use of Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc grapes may not exceed 15%. The minimum aging required is (i) 6 months for the base version of “Chianti“; (ii) 12 months for the “Chianti Superiore” version, and (iii) 24 months for “Chianti Riserva“.

About the Grapes

Regarding Sangiovese, Chianti’s main grape variety, it is a variety that is indigenous to Central Italy and was first mentioned in writing in 1600 under the name Sangiogheto (which begs the question: if the first documented use of the word Chianti to identify the wine dates back to 1398, what did they call the wine’s main grape for those 200 and change years???).  In 2004, DNA parentage analysis showed that Sangiovese originated as a cross between Ciliegiolo (a Tuscan grape variety) and Calabrese di Montenuovo (a quite obscure variety from Calabria). Sangiovese is a vigorous and late ripening variety that is one of the most widely cultivated in Italy, especially in the regions of Toscana, Umbria and Emilia Romagna. Some is also grown in California and Washington State. (Note: information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

Sangiovese is one of the most renowned Italian grape varieties and is utilized for making several signature Italian wines, including (beside Chianti) Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Morellino di Scansano. Varietal wines made out of Sangiovese grapes tend to have fairly aggressive tannins when they are still “young” and are generally best enjoyed after a few years of aging, when time takes care of taming them. Given the massive quantities of Sangiovese that are produced, quality levels of the wines made out of such grape variety tend to be inconsistent and knowledge of the various appellations that allow its use and of the specific wineries is important to avoid unsatisfactory experiences.

Our Detailed Review

Now, on to the actual review of the wine I tasted, Casa SolaChianti Classico Riserva 2007 DOCG.

This Chianti Classico is a blend of 90% Sangiovese, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Merlot grapes grown in the winery’s vineyards near the town of Barberino Val d’Elsa, in proximity to Florence. The wine has a muscular 14.5% ABV and was aged for 18 months in a mix of larger oak barrels and barrique casks plus 8 months of additional in-bottle aging. The Riserva retails in the US for about $35.

As usual, 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.

In the glass, the wine poured ruby red and thick.

On the nose, its bouquet was intensequite complex and fine with aromas of cherry, strawberry, sweet tobacco, licorice and vanilla.

In the mouth, the wine was drywarmsmoothfreshtannic and quite tasty. It was a full-bodiedbalanced wine and its mouth flavors were intense and fine, revolving mostly around fruity notes of cherry and strawberry. Its tannins were gentle and offered a pleasant counterpoint to the wine’s smoothness. It had a quite long finish and its evolutionary state was ready, meaning definitely enjoyable now but a few more years of in-bottle aging could make it evolve even more and add additional complexity.

Finally, beyond producing wine and olive oil, Casa Sola also offers guided tours of the vineyards and winery culminating in a wine tasting experience, cooking classes and in-house accommodation in 11 rustically-furnished apartments: for more information, please refer to Casa Sola’s Website.

"Tasting Chateau Margaux 16 Ways": An Excellent Post on Dr Vino's Blog

StefanoJust a very quick note to give heads up to our wine enthusiast readers as to an in my view excellent post that got published yesterday in Tyler Colman’s wonderful wine blog, Dr Vino.

In the post, Tyler gives a full account of a one-of-a-kind wine tasting experience he had the good fortune to attend where Paul Pontallier (the man who has been the managing director and winemaker at Chateau Margaux for the last 30 years) led selected few to taste the base wines of the various grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) that will create Chateau Margaux’s 2012 Grand Vin, pre-blending, as well as samples from the Chateau’s organic, biodynamic, and conventional test vineyards and more samples illustrating the Chateau’s experimentation with, and position on, wine fining, filtration and closure (with a very interesting perspective about the debate among cork, screwcaps and synthetic closures, especially from a Premier Cru maker’s standpoint).

As you may know, Chateau Margaux is one of the five Premiers Grands Crus Classés wines that rank at the top of the 1855 classification of the best Bordeaux wines from the West Bank that was ordered by Emperor Napoleon III of France in view of the then forthcoming Second Universal Exhibition in Paris, which still stands almost unmodified as of today (the only change in the top ranking being the addition of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild in 1973 as the fifth Premier Cru).

By the way, if you are interested and want to know more about the fascinating history behind the 1855 classification of the Grands Crus Classés of the West Bank region of Bordeaux, I suggest you check out the excellent Official Web site of the Grands Crus Classés in 1855 and download their “History of the Classification” PDF file: it is definitely worth reading!

I found the post extremely interesting, educational and enriching, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you check out the full account on Dr Vino’s blog.

Enjoy the read!

Mac & Cheese – Recommended Wine Pairing

Go red to complement Nicole’s mouthwatering Mac & Cheese, pick something with medium body, good acidity and gentle but still noticeable tannins.


Recommended Italian wines to go with Mac & Cheese include a quality Chianti, such as a Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Ser Lapo Riserva DOCG, a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot with intriguing aromas of plum, wild berries, graphite and a slight foxy note, or a Geografico Chianti Colli Senesi Riserva Torri DOCG, a blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Canaiolo with scents of wild cherry, blackberry, mint, leather and tobacco along with subtle tannins, or even an I Sodi Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, a blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Canaiolo with aromas of violet, wild cherry, blueberry, blackberry jam, licorice, tobacco and soil.

Another very good option would be a Barbera from Piemonte, such as an enjoyable Pico Maccario Barbera d’Asti Lavignone DOCG, made of 100% Barbera grapes and with appealing aromas of rose, violet, raspberry and red currant, or a Batasiolo Barbera d’Alba Sovrana DOC, with pleasant scents of dried flowers, fruit jam and a slight toasty note.

If you prefer to stay in the USA, consider a nice, basic Merlot, such as a Bogle Merlot California 2009 (88 points, Wine Spectator) with cherry, herb and red currant aromas and distinct tannins, or a Kenwood Merlot Sonoma County 2008 (88 points, Wine Spectator), which is a blend of 96% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon with scents of cherry, raspberry, plum, tomato leaf and chocolate.

By the way, all of the above options have very interesting quality/price ratios.

And if you want to share your experience or have another wine that you would like to suggest, just leave a comment below!

Cheers!