Just as autumn puts in motion a craving for hearty red wine, when the temperatures drop and start to signal the onset of winter, I’m suddenly put in the mood for Scotch. For the wine drinkers out there who haven’t explored what a dram of Scotch is truly capable of, I beg of you to give it a try. A good glass of Scotch deserves your full attention. Take a quick series of small sniffs at the rim of the glass, allowing your senses to acclimate to the initial burst of heat. Then take that next full sniff, and suddenly all of the aromatics are open for you to enjoy. Add a few drops of water (literally just a few drops), and watch it open up even more—I’ll make a believer of you yet.
Do you prefer smokey, or sweet?
This is a very personal question. My preference is right down the middle, but it’s the smokey category where I find the most interesting examples where I can spend the most time indulging in them. Which brings us to finding the right Scotch. Single Malts and high-profile blends continue to flood the market, and as demand increases, prices follow suit. However, there are still some great values to be found. Ardbeg is a true to character, Islay single malt. Islay, being a small island off of Scotland’s coast, is known for the precious peat which is instrumental in the production of the Ardbeg range. Ardbeg is also a name steeped in history, but it wasn’t until the late nineties, when it was acquired by Glenmorangie, that this 200-year old distillery received the credit it deserved; being named Distillery of the year in 1998 and World Whisky of the year in ’08, ’09 and 2010.
Awards aside, when I started to get into Scotch and asked around to build a collection to taste through, Ardbeg came up repeatedly as “The Peaty (smokey) Scotch.” However, what makes this so attractive goes beyond that meaty, smoky character; it’s the balance that Ardbeg manages to achieve, coupled with a fantastic briny / mineral character, which imparts amazing depth.
Last week was also the first time I was able to taste the Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, and what an experience. All the intense mineral-laden smokiness you could desire, wrapped in a package of sweet spice and rich textures. Each of them were highly-enjoyable, but the Uigeadail was a beguiling dream, which kept me coming back to the glass over and over. Ardbeg may be an old name, but their reserves are still quite new; having tasted what they’ve done with the ten-year range, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the future.
Ardbeg 10-year is a remarkable value. In this price range, I usually don’t expect too much depth, and yet here it is, all on display. A wonderfully peaty Scotch, yet not over the top. The nose shows smoked meats, hints of citrus, menthol and seaside minerals. It’s smooth and pure on the palate. This is my “go-to” peaty Scotch.
Ardbeg Uigeadail is beautifully influenced by the sherry casks it’s finished in. A Scotch of remarkable character and beautiful silky textures. The nose is rich and deep with an initial smoky presence, which gives way to dark chocolate, toffee, spice, and a mix of woodshop notes. It’s a balanced whisky that will please both camps of whisky drinkers and keeps you coming back to the glass over and over.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan kicks it up a notch in the intensity department, yet balances that intensity with rich, velvety textures. The nose is a mix of roasted nuts, linseed oil, caramel, raw honey and spicy herbal tones. It dominates the palate and won’t let go with a mix of pepper, espresso bean, and minerals. Dark fruits seem to saturate the senses as its weighty textures slowly recede from the senses. This opens up beautifully with a few drops of water. It’s a scotch to enjoy slowly over time; quite an experience.
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
My exploration of German Riesling has led me to Austria. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Just as German Riesling has become known for its tremendous value, Austria has garnered similar notoriety for its high level of quality. However, prices abound, yet at the top level these wines are still world class and relative values when compared to other regions. FX Pichler has recently come onto my radar, and I must say that I am enamored with these wines. Once you’ve started down this path, it won’t be long before you taste a Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s most widely produced varietal—then you’ll be truly hooked.
What’s interesting is that it wasn’t that long ago that the wines of Austria were looked down upon in world markets. The industry was in shambles and producing masses of industrialized wine for cheap and early consumption. It was only 30 years ago when Austria began to undergo a complete overhaul and focus on producing world-class wines of exacting standards.
Today, Austria enforces some of the strictest laws in Europe. Yet in the Wachau, the focus on quality began even sooner, the result of pioneering wineries (such as FX Pichler), who were determined to produce wines of purity and integrity. In fact, they’ve taken it a step further by adopting their own system; The Codex Wachau, which goes beyond the countries DAC classifications, to produce the purest expressions of Grüner and Riesling that you can possibly imagine.
The names Franz Hirtzberger, Prager, and Emmerich Knoll are all worth seeking out, but today, I want to talk about FX Pichler.
FX Pichler is not just considered one of the top wineries in Austria, but also in the world. Located in the Wachau Valley, along the snaking Danube River, Pichler has become world-renowned for their intense and crystalline styles of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, which dazzle the senses while intriguing the intellect. It’s a family-run business to the core, as Franz Xaver (FX), who took the reins of the winery in 1971, still continues to work the vineyards, while his son Lucas Pichler now oversees winemaking.
With each vintage, their goal is to provide a perfect representation of the climate, the vineyard and the grape. Nearly half of their single-vineyard bottlings hail from steep terraced slopes, originating from the 13th century, looking south over the river Danube. From these hand-tended vineyards come wines born of the soil, which consists of weathered, primary rock, sometimes containing iron, sometimes interspersed with gneiss, granite and mica slate.
Yet it’s also the very special microclimate which lends these wines their textural intensity and unending layers of aroma and flavor. The southern exposure provides the best light, along with an Eastern-Pannonian climate, which brings warm air and dry winds with a cooling influence from the woods above the vineyards, creating large diurnal shifts between day and night. The result is an extended growing season and wines of textural richness and significant character.
It should be no surprise that 80% of their production is classified as Smaragd, the highest level of quality in the Wachau. Grüner Veltliner is the priority of the house, yet the Rieslings of FX Pichler are hailed as some of the greatest examples from Austria (think Alsace more than Germany). However, FX Pichler also produces a miniscule amount of Sauvignon Blanc—some of the most intense and dramatically layered examples of this variety that you could hope to ever experience. As enjoyable as these are young, they will also reward cellaring—but it may be very difficult to keep your hands off of them.
Dürnsteiner Kellerberg is considered one of the greatest vineyards in all of Austria. From deeply rooted, old vines in poor terraced soil, FX Pichler creates a beguiling Grüner Veltliner. The impossibly-rich textures are perfectly balanced by a core brisk acidity, while ripe fruits are contrasted by a pulse of minerals. These wines are pure elegance.
2010 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Dürnsteiner Kellerberg – With a truly unique color in the glass of lime infused gold, the 2010 Pichler Dürnsteiner Kellerberg exploded from the glass with confectionery notes of spiced peach with ripe apple, lemon zest and minerals. On the palate, it was weighty with overripe apricot, peppery spice, and herbs, yet remained balanced on the edge of overboard. The finish was long, as the mouth watered and mineral-tinged peach skins lingered on the senses. (93 points)
The steeply terraced slopes of Dürnsteiner Liebenberg creates wines of intense mineral character, elegance and structure. They can be misleading in their youth, yet will seriously reward time in the cellar. The soil is heavily weathered gneiss and mica schist, which shines through in the finished wine.
2011 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Dürnsteiner Liebenberg – The nose was clean with steely notes of green apple, minerals, undergrowth and a hints of tropical fruit. On the palate, it was rich yet unbelievably pure and balanced with ripe, white fruits and spicy inner floral tones, which lasted beautifully through the mineral laden finish. Stunning. (92 points)
Primarily from Loibner Loibenberg terraces, some of the steepest in the region, comes the FX Pichler ‘M’ (for Monumental); a wine that teeters on the edge of finesse and intensity. The perception of sweetness and textural richness on the palate is the result of leaving the best fruit on the vine to further mature after the initial harvest. This is an opulent wine, yet wonderfully vibrant.
2011 F.X. Pichler Riesling Reserve ‘M’ – Intense and fruity on the nose with ripe tropical fruits, sweet, spicy floral tones, and a contrasting hint of bitter lemon rind. On the palate, it was rich yet balanced, showing ripe peach, grapefruit, wet slate and minerals. Spiced peach and lemon zest lingered on the finish, closing the experience with fresh and clean note. Very Nice! (94 points)
From select vineyards throughout the Niederosterreich, comes one of the most unique and enjoyable glasses of Sauvignon Blanc that I have ever tasted. Encompassing only 1% of FX Pichler’s production, this isn’t the easiest wine to find, yet it is worth the search. There is so much intensity here—be prepared.
2010 F.X. Pichler Sauvignon Blanc Grande Réserve – The nose of the Pichler Sauvignon Blanc is all about intensity and form. Ripe peach, lemon curd and sweet cream are offset by notes of wild herbs and hints of forest funk. On the palate, it was weighty with a hint of sweetness, yet balanced perfectly by brisk acidity, showing young peach and herbal notes. The finish was long and rich, showing palate-saturating lemon and lime along with inner floral tones and a mouthwatering quality which seemed to accentuate the entire experience. (94 points)
Getting into wine is a journey, and there is always something new to learn and regions to explore. When you open a wine of FX Pichler, take your time with it. Don’t serve it too cold and make sure to let it breathe or open in the glass–You’ll thank me down the road.
Article and Tasting notes by: Eric Guido
Luca Currado of Vietti winery just left the office, having brought a lineup of Vietti wines to taste. Vietti winery has been trailblazing in Piedmont, Italy for many decades and now is considered one of the very top producers of Barolo. The single vineyard 2010 Barolo Ravera recently received 100 points from Antonio Galloni, not an easy feat. The Ravera is a traditionally-made Barolo, and according to Luca, started out as an experiment which has come full circle.
As I tasted, I began to think about the wines of Vietti as a whole and just how diverse the portfolio is. With nine years of serious wine collecting under my belt, I can think of no other winery with such a high level of quality and vast selection as Vietti. What truly started me on the road to collecting wine with the intention of cellaring and enjoying throughout my life was the Vietti Barolo Rocche. It was “that” bottle, the one that convinced me that a wine can cost $150 and be worth every penny. The good news is that Vietti is not just about $150 bottles of Barolo.
The fact is that Vietti is a producer of some of the best quality-to-price ratio wines coming out of Piedmont, Italy today. With an entry level, yet absolutely stunning Barbera Tre vigne and a fresh and bubbly Moscato d’Asti, to fill the any-day nitch. The Roero Arneis is a versatile, floral and mineral-driven wine with a gorgeously long finish that can satisfy your thirst for both an unassuming as well as a thought-provoking white wine. The extremely affordable Nebbiolo Perbacco is practically an entry-level Barolo in all but name. It’s rich with ripe cherry and floral rose on the nose, yet stacked and muscular on the palate; great to pair with food now or on its own after a few years in the cellar.
In fact, Vietti has a wine for just about any palate and any occasion. Their upper tier Barbera and Barbaresco are seductive and nuanced with over a decade’s worth of aging potential. And then, of course, there are the Barolos. The Barolo Castiglione is one of the best values in Barolo, which receives fruit from a number of esteemed vineyards and at an average cost of $50. Vietti treats each parcel that feeds the blend of Castiglione, the same way he treats his single vineyard, top shelf Barolo. It’s a tremendous wine and a tremendous value. Lastly, there’s a set of unique, single vineyard bottlings, which are each tailored to fit any preference of Barolo, whether it be the delicate and finessed Rocche or the dark, rich and mineral inflected Lazzarito.
Can you tell I’m smitten?
Well, it’s all that and more. If you know Vietti, I’m sure you agree, and if you don’t, then I suggest you seek them out. Because whether you have a ten-bottle capacity wine fridge in your kitchen or a 10,000-bottle cellar you call home, these are wines that belong in everyone’s collection. And for those of you that are searching for that 2010 Ravera, Luca assured me that you can look forward to this wine being produced for many vintages to come.
If this article has really peaked your interest in this amazing winery, I strongly urge you to check out their website. Vietti is a family-run business that can trace its roots back to the 19th century, and their website is an excellent resource for information on the family, its wines and even some great Piedmont recipes.
2010 Vietti Barolo Castiglione – The 2010 Vietti Castiglione is one of the most aromatically impressive examples of this wine that I have ever come across. It’s dark and intense with red berries and sweet spice, yet floral with a hint of menthol, giving lift and dark soil tones, adding contrast. On the palate, it showed amazing density of fruit with a regal structure. Even at this youthful stage, it shows ripe red berries, herbs and hints of spice. The finish is floral and long with saturating red fruit, yet slightly austere with youthful tannin. This is an amazing wine now and will only get better. (94+ points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
Rhys has quickly risen to fame producing what many believe to be the new reference point for Pinot Noir in California today. I can tell you that I’ve been a fan for years. Their single vineyard bottles are already enjoying cult status. The goal here is to produce unique and expressive Pinot, Syrah and Chardonnay from rocky soils that exist within the mountainous, cool, coastal climates of California. Owner Kevin Harvey and winemaker Jeff Brinkman have been experimenting for 15 years with their vineyards, vinification and aging. The results are obvious, as with each vintage this Santa Cruz property is gaining momentum and more loyal followers.
The wines from Rhys continue to become very difficult to obtain, with a waiting list to boot, yet the winery has been determined to make their wines more available to a wider market, and that’s where the Rhys Pinot Noir San Mateo County comes into play. San Mateo is a blend of barrels from their esteemed Alpine, Horseshoe and Family Farm vineyards. They are treated to the same rigorous farming and winemaking as the single vineyard pinots. Frankly, this is not an entry-level wine in any way, and Rhys could have slapped a much higher price tag on this offering—my hat’s off to them. The San Mateo Pinot Noir has officially found some space in my cellar. If you want to understand what Rhys is capable of, this is the place to start.
With a two-hour decant, the 2010 Rhys Pinot Noir San Mateo was singing. It was an immediate hit with everyone tasting it. What really stole the show was the bouquet, with its fruit, earth and that beautiful citrus note that brought it all home. On the palate, it was beautifully defined and elegant with radiant red fruits. Talk about a head-turner, plus a great introduction to RHYS for my guests.
2010 Rhys Pinot Noir San Mateo County – What a gorgeous glass of wine. The nose was slender yet beautifully focused with tart cherry and cranberry up front with a whiff of grapefruit, which was followed by a soothing note of nutmeg and contrasted by soil and floral tones. On the palate, it was soft with medium weight and elegance; slowly revealing its layers as an initial burst of juicy red fruit gave way to citrus notes and inner floral tones. The finish was shorter than I anticipated, yet still completely satisfying with hints of red berries and an autumnal, earthy note which I usually associate with well-aged Nebbiolo. What more could I ask for? (94 points)
Article and Tasting Note by: Eric Guido
As a warning, the following prose and tasting notes detail an experience which could be described as a wine lover’s dream come true. The path to understanding Burgundy may result in a life-long obsession, which could take priority over everything else you hold dear. Readers Beware!
Wine in its essence is a very personal thing, sometimes even sensual. A good wine will provide enjoyment, relax the soul, and help bring down barriers between fellow tasters. However, a great wine—a great wine leaves a mark on you. Like your first love, a great wine imprints itself into your memory and stays with you for the rest of your life. Finding a great wine takes work, as many of the best things in life often do. Yet all of this work is instantly rewarded when the moment of greatness is realized.
Understanding Burgundy takes work. Knowing that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the two main grapes of the region is easy, but delving into the winemakers, many of which share family names, and the vineyards, which are broken up into tiny subplots throughout the region—that takes work. There is no better way to understand Burgundy than to taste and taste again. You will have letdowns, as quality is not necessarily guaranteed by the name of the vineyard and whether it’s a premier cru or not. But in the end, it is all worthwhile when you find that great bottle.
Recently, I was able to taste through a number of great Burgundies, all in one sitting. The location was Betony in New York City, where Chef Bryce Shuman (formally of Eleven Madison Park) has created a diverse and inspired modern American menu of the highest caliber. I can think of no better place to have tasted these wines than at Betony. The interior styling was classy with dark oak, lavishly upholstered chairs, candlelight and a large banquet table created for our group. Although this was not conducive to this taster’s desire to photograph plating, the atmosphere and arrangement made for a truly engaging, yet relaxing tasting, as each guest could easily see and chat with nearly anyone at the table.
However, in the end, this was a tasting of Blue-Chip Burgundy, composed of some of the top names, top vineyards, best vintages and perfectly aged bottles. Recounting this experience was less about thinking of what to say and more about stopping myself from going on and on. So without further ado…
Morrell Wine’s Blue Chip Burgundy Dinner
The Mystique of Chablis
Hailing from rich clay and chalky limestone soils in the northern reaches of Burgundy, closer to Champagne then the Côte d’Or, Chablis may be the greatest white wine in the world. With age, they begin to show beautifully nuanced and layered bouquets, with depth and richness on the palate which seduces the senses. It is a wine of terroir, and as you put your nose to the glass, you can almost imagine the Jurassic seabed which formed these soils. I loved each of these wines for completely different reasons. The Raveneau was seductive and intense, while the Roulot intrigued the senses and continued to pull me back to the glass. As for the Dauvissat, it was beautiful on this night and perfectly poised for greatness.
2007 Dauvissat-Camus Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos – Initially this was closed on the nose, yet it began to blossom and expand in the glass with mineral notes up front, followed by sour apple, apricot, wet slate and blanched almond. On the palate, it was soft, supple and waxy with flavors of peach skins and mineral-laden stone. A core of brisk acidity added balance and verve. Tart apple lingered on the finish, maintaining that satisfying waxy tone. It is youthful and fun with so much potential. (93 points)
2004 François Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre – The nose was immediately pleasing, and it showed incredible richness and depth with notes of stone fruit, crushed stone, citrus, gorgeous floral tones and a hint of smoky spice. On the palate, it was driven and focused as mineral-tinged apple was offset by a hint of flower petal bitterness, creating wonderful contrasts. It faded slowly from the palate, leaving inner floral notes with a hint of steely minerals. Simply put, this is a beautiful wine which pleases from the second you put your nose to the glass. (94 points)
2004 Domaine Roulot Meursault Les Luchets – Almost marine in its profile, yet in the best possible way, the 2004 Roulot Les Luchets opened up with an angular, mineral-laden bouquet, which quickly fleshed out in all directions with a mix of green apple, citrus rind, undergrowth, chalk, slate, flint and smoke. On the palate, it was remarkably fresh and driven by brisk acidity, yet fleshy all the same, showing stone fruits, and saline minerals. The mineral-laden finish reminded me of the seaside with a hint of burnt butter lingering on the senses. It’s a beautiful wine, transparent to its terroir. (94 points)
The 2002 G. Roumier Premiers
The focus at Roumier is the land and the vine. No winemaking magic or intrusive oak, just the fruit of the land made into wine. Frankly, it was almost unfair to place these wines next to each other. The Roumier St. Denis is a gorgeous young wine with a tremendous amount of upside potential. It’s focused with dense, ripe fruit and an elegant structure. I would take this wine over most others on any given day. However, as soon as I put my nose to the glass of the Amoureuses, a premier cru with grand cru potential in the hands of Roumier, all of my olfactory senses were suddenly put on high alert, and I found it difficult to pull away. People talk of Burgundy being a cerebral wine with haunting aromatics—you’ll find no argument here.
2002 Georges Roumier Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Clos de La Bussière – The nose was immediately pleasing and literally radiant with sweet red berry fruit, dark soil and autumnal notes of crushed leaves and hints of mushroom. On the palate, a refined structure with silky textures gave way to herb-tinged tart berry, plum and spice with a zing of acidity and ripe tannins tugging at the cheek. The fruit dried slightly on the finish along with soil and floral tones lingering on the senses. (93 points)
2002 Georges Roumier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses – If the night was judged on bouquet alone, I’d be hard pressed not to award the Roumier Les Amoureuses the winner. The nose was stunning and literally leapt from the glass in a savory expression of black cherry, seared meat, sautéed herbs, and shallots, with exotic spices, saline minerals and hints of mushroom. It was focused with incredible depth on the palate, showing young red berry, blackberry, citrus rind and spice. A core of brisk acidity lent tension as tannin tugged at the palate throughout the medium-long finish. I imagine that this will only get better. (97 points)
Perfectly Aged 1989 Méo-Camuzet
A real treat in an evening full of wonders was the two 1989 Méo-Camuzets. 1989 marked a time of transition at Méo-Camuzet, as Jean-Nicolas Méo had just taken over the management of the cellar, yet these wines are a perfect example of the greatness for which he was capable of. Each of them showed beautifully yet were remarkably youthful. This was the flight where each of the attendees stopped to take notice and found it difficult to move beyond. The Cros Parantoux was everything I’ve ever wanted out of an aged Burgundy. It was a dark and mysterious beauty which tempted the imagination and kept me guessing with each tilt of the glass.
1989 Domaine Méo-Camuzet Clos Vougeot– This showed a wonderful, expressive nose of tremendous depth as layer upon layer slowly unfurled in the glass. At first it was rich and sweet with polished dark fruits and spice, yet it quickly gained more dimension to reveal fresh-turned soil, soaring dried floral notes, and minerals. It was silky on the palate, caressing the senses, as notes of red berry contrasted between sweet and sour with a hint of spice and stem. The finish was rooted in the earth with inner floral notes and dried fruits lingering long. (95 points)
1989 Domaine Méo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Cros Parantoux – The ’89 Méo-Camuzet Cros Parantoux may be one of the best wines I’ve tasted this year. The nose was seductively rich, savory, sweet and spicy, all at once. Notes of dark ripe fruit and exotic spice were contrasted by savory mushroom, charred meat, espresso, and a beguiling aroma of crushed seashells. On the palate, this wine was driven and rich, showing sweet red berry and plum. As the fruit darkened with time in the glass, a hint of bitter herbs and saline minerals joined the fray, and through this all, a dry lingering note of exotic spice seemed to coat the senses. This wine finished long with dried fruits and dark soil. (97 points)
The Greatness of ’05 Burgundies
2005 was hailed as one of the greatest vintages in Burgundy, and these two wines certainly make the case. The Fourrier being one of the best young Burgundies I can remember tasting, literally brimming over with potential. Both wines were incredibly young, showing tension on the palate, but with beautiful focus. The Fourrier gained my favor through its impeccable balance. However, I would love to have either of them in my cellar.
2005 Domaine Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St. Jacques Vieille Vigne – A model of poise and balance, as the nose showed dark red fruits, contrasted by soil tones and moist clay with a lifting hint of mint and herbs. On the palate, it was delicate, supple and finessed with focused red fruits, blackberry, dry spices and earthy soil tones. Remarkably long and fresh on the finish with dried red fruit and herbal hints lingering long. It’s a beautifully balanced wine in its early maturity, yet has decades ahead of it. (96 points)
2005 Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St. Jacques – The nose was savory and dark, almost sensual, with black cherry, spice, the darkest chocolate, and hints of burnt sugar. On the palate, it was rich and expansive yet quickly firmed up as its youthful structure touched upon the senses. An alluring mix of dark berries, hints of brown stem, and minerals created a truly autumnal mélange of flavors, which slowly faded through the close. (94 points)
In closing, if you haven’t already decided to committed yourself to exploring these fine wines, than I must not have done my job of conveying just how special they really are. Burgundy does take work, and it doesn’t come cheap–but these are some of the greatest wines in the world. Enjoy!
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
Greenhook Ginsmiths: American Dry Gin
It took two brothers from Brooklyn with a little vision and a lot of passion. This is a truly artisanal Gin, distilled in Greenpoint Brooklyn, N.Y. and delivering some of the most gorgeous aromatics you could imagine. According to founder Steven DeAngelo, the secret is in their careful distillation process, which is completed at much lower temperatures than usual. This allows the ingredients to show their inherently fresh and vibrant characteristics.
Nose to the glass, the American Dry Gin is remarkably fragrant and intense with a bouquet of peppery spice, coriander, citrus, chamomile and cinnamon. It’s refined and floral on the palate with perfect focus and smooth textures. Floral and spice notes Linger on and on through the finish. It’s literally good enough to enjoy on its own, yet would also make an amazing martini or gin and tonic.
Seldom do we have the chance to taste the greatest wines in the world. For years I’ve been assembling tastings, procuring bottles and creating menus, and each time it’s a painstaking process. However, it’s the end result which makes it all worthwhile. For one thing, looking back on these experiences is what forms the foundation of our wine knowledge. Yet it’s more than that; it’s the people you share them with and the stories they tell around the table, or the food you pair it with and the atmosphere of the restaurant. My favorite tasting memories include the faces of some of my best friends and the memory of an amazing pairing.
As for me, my heart is in Italy. There’s just something about the wine, the food, the people, and the tradition, which all tie together to form a perfect symmetry. There is nothing I enjoy more than an aged Italian wine with an Italian meal. Barolo, Brunello and Amarone are three iconic wines from Italy—of course, we can’t leave out the Super Tuscans, a movement which defined a region. Put this all together, and host it at one of New York’s premier, Italian-inspired steak houses, and you have found your perfect symmetry.
The location was Costata where Chef Michael White and the Altamarea group have created a haven for steak lovers and wine lovers alike. Located on Spring Street in Soho, Costata provides an atmosphere where elegance meets comfort. A private elevator brought me to the dining room, and as the doors opened, I was greeted with a smile and a glass of champagne. The seating for the event felt more like a nostalgic Sunday dinner with family than a restaurant, which created an environment where stories were told and laughter was heard. Yet as the courses began to come to the table, I was quickly reminded that this is fine dining.
1990 Brunello di Montalcino
The name Brunello has achieved more than just fame. These days it’s a brand, just as much as Bordeaux. It’s a brand that is asked for and reached for whenever an Italian wine is needed for a special occasion. Made from 100% Sangiovese and required to age for many years in oak and bottled before release, Brunello typically enters the market in a monolithic state. They are often large, imposing wines with a tannic structure that can take many years to evolve. Some winemakers work hard to achieve a Brunello that is more approachable in its youth, but the fact remains that most Brunello is consumed long before it yields the heights of its bouquet and the depths of its flavors.
Tasting 1990 Brunello is a rare treat, and one I hope everyone can in his or her wine-drinking life, enjoy. It was a precocious vintage, yielding ripe and intense wines; yet the high acidity inherent in Sangiovese, along with the tannin from extended barrel aging, produced Brunello of epic standards. These two wines are beautiful today, yet they have many years of development ahead of them.
1990 Campogiovanni (San Felice) Brunello di Montalcino – The Campogiovanni was a deep and highly expressive wine, just now peaking, and with the balance to keep going strong for over a decade. The second I put my nose to the glass, I knew I was in for a treat, showing a bouquet of dried cherry and spice, leather, undergrowth, and hints of cedar. It was still rich and youthful on the palate, with gorgeous, focused red berry fruit and hints of exotic spice. The fruit turned darker and saturated the senses throughout the finish along with dried inner floral notes. Stunning! (95 points)
1990 Tenuta Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio al Vento – The 1990 Poggio al Vento is a dark and brooding Brunello with years of development ahead of it. Even at this age, it remains a massive and imposing wine in need of decanting. With a slow start on the nose, this began to open up in the glass with aromas of dried black cherry, roasted meat and dusty potpourri. On the palate, it was rich and supple with dark red fruits and inner floral notes of dried flowers and leaves, yet there a concentration here that drives this wine and tempts the imagination. The finish was refined and even juicy with lingering hints of dried herbs and tobacco. (93 points)
The wines of Soldera have achieved a cult following of devotees, much like those of Quintarelli and Giacomo Conterno. This is not your average Brunello or your average winemaker. Soldera is devoted to the land and to creating a harmonious ecosystem of plants, vegetables, birds, animals and vines. His rigorous methods in the vineyard are designed to achieve optimal ripeness. In the cellar, the wines are fermented using only naturally-occurring yeast and without temperature control. They are then moved to large barrels for no less than five years of aging. Soldera releases his Brunello when he believes they are ready and has been known to hold a wine back for as long as a decade. The production numbers are miniscule, and the results are often phenomenal. These are unique wines with exotic aromas and a hint of VA, which accentuates their idiosyncrasies. If Soldera is your style, then you’ll find yourself seeking them out for the rest of your days.
1996 Soldera (Az. Agr. Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – The ’96 Soldera Riserva was a perfect, seamless wine with depths which seemed almost unreachable. It was one of those experiences where the wine seemed to change each time you put the glass to your nose. It was beautifully expressive with dark berry, earth and undergrowth up front. The bouquet then turned to dried flowers, tree bark and exotic spice. On the palate, it was youthful and dark, yet a zing of acidity kept it lively and fun to drink. Notes of black cherry, dark chocolate, earth and spice formed on the palate and carried through the finish as the mouth began to water, accentuating the flavors. It’s a dark beauty of a Brunello. (96 points)
1984 Soldera (Az. Agr. Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino – The 1984 Soldera Brunello is in a perfect place right now with no sign of decline. Dried red fruits with hints of mint, dusty minerals and spiced orange came to together to form a stunning bouquet. On the palate, it was soft, yet seemed almost weightless, as dried red fruits were complemented by inner floral tones, herbs and dried spice. The word exotic certainly comes to mind as a burst of acidity invigorated the palate, leaving a clean and lively finish with dried fruits to spare. (95 points)
Exploring older vintages of Barolo can be one of the most fascinating pastimes for an Italian wine lover—and one of the most addicting. Understanding the details of each vintage, the style of each producer, the vineyards from which the grapes were sourced and how it all came together to form what is presented in the glass could make for a lifetime of study. Yet there’s no harm in just sitting back and enjoying these perfectly aged beauties. In the ‘60s, there was no discussion of modern verses traditional; it was all about small family grower winemakers, like Scarzello, and larger houses, such as Borgogno, blending from some of the greatest vineyards of the Langhe. The one common denominator was their passion for the wine. These wines are magical and must be tasted to be believed.
1961 Scarzello Barolo – The 1961 Scarzello Barolo is completely mature, yet for those who enjoy older vintages of Barolo, this is a perfect wine for drinking right now. The pigments in the glass were verging on a Rosé, a reminder of the nebbiolo grapes’ naturally light hue. The nose showed dried roses, crunchy dried leaves, tar, hints of strawberry and spice. On the palate, it was soft with very little weight and a still lively acid structure. Notes of soil and dried flowers lingered on the finish. This was a very pretty wine which may have gotten even better if left to breathe. (90 points)
1961 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Classico Riserva – This original release 1961 Borgogno Riserva was CLASSIC Barolo in every way. The bouquet lifted from the glass without the need of any swirling, as dried cherry, spice and roses greeted the senses, followed by notes of tobacco, forest floor and herbs. It was rich and meaty on the palate with perfectly ripe red fruits complicated by dried inner floral notes and soil. It was perfectly balanced with great acidity, lending it a youthful personality. This is a testament to the staying power of nebbiolo, even in a ripe vintage. The fruit for the 1961 was picked in the first week of September; imagine that. (94 points)
1967 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Classico Riserva – The 1967 Borgogno was a much darker and meatier example of older Barolo. The nose opened with tobacco and tar, turning to dried red berries, undergrowth and herbal hints. On the palate, it was supple with dark, macerated fruits, old wood and dried herbs, yet its acidity continued to refresh the senses. Dried roses defined the finish with hints of dried spice. (90 points)
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc from Tuscany take on wild, mineral and acid-driven characteristics, which are purely Italian. The house of Antinori was there at the shatter-point, when Tuscany was in need of a vinous revolution. The wines of Tuscany had lost international favor. The blending restrictions were choking the industry, and so the Super Tuscan movement was born. Bordeaux varieties grown in Tuscany, produced through exacting standards and aged in French oak, became the new top-shelf wines of Italy. The warmth and early harvest of the vintage affected these similarly as it did with Brunello, yet the raw materials and winemaking prowess of these producers created wines which remain to this day youthful, rich and seductive.
1990 Castello di Ama Vigna l’Apparita Toscana IGT – The 1990 l’Apparita was incredibly youthful for a 24-year-old wine. The nose was dark and seductive with intense wild berry, blueberry skins, licorice and hints of mint. On the palate, it was velvety smooth, yet still structured with a great balance of acidity. Rich dark fruits seemed to penetrate the senses here with a slight herbal hint, turning to dark bitters and tart fruit on the finish. This was a beautiful, sensual wine. (93 points)
1990 Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT – The 1990 Solaia was a perfect example of class and elegance. The addition of sangiovese (20%) in this blend seems to have breathed life into this wine, while its foundation of Tuscan cabernet has kept it sturdy and structured. The nose was rich and dark with blackberry, currant, and dried floral notes. On the palate, it was elegant with focused dark fruits and minerals, which seemed to saturate the senses throughout the finish. (92 points)
1990 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia Vino da Tavola – The 1990 Ornellaia surprisingly came across as a smaller-scaled wine next to the Solaia. Its dark nose showed wild berry, savory herbs and dried floral tones. On the palate, it was rich and focused with dark fruits and hints of sage, yet turned slightly tart through the finish. I can’t help but feel that this wine needed more time in decanter to open up. (91 points)
In many ways, Giuseppe Quintarelli has defined what Amarone is today. An entire region striving to recreate what one man had maintained for decades. Not that Quintarelli had invented Amarone, but that he had become an icon. The wines are very rare and fetch some of the highest prices in Italy, yet for the Italian wine lover, the Amarone of Quintarelli must be tasted at least once in their life. Many of the greatest producers of Amarone started working in the Quintarelli winery or vineyards. Their styles may vary, but the experience had left an imprint on them all, which finds its way into the wines. Essentially, Amarone is a wine made from raisins, or at least raisinated grapes, and because of this, it can reach depths of flavor and intensity which are unheard of in any other region. However, when using this process, it takes a skilled hand to deliver a wine of elegance and finesse, and that is where Quintarelli has excelled.
1998 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – It is always a treat to taste Quinartelli Amarone. The nose showed dusty dried flowers and powdered cocoa, eucalyptus and preserved cherries with a slightly smoky hint to it, spice box and molasses. It was finessed, yet intense on the palate with a smooth consistency and weight, as notes of candied cherry, rum raisin and cardamom coated the senses. The finish stayed for over a minute with notes of cherry, fig and spice. (96 points)
2001 Giuseppe Quintarelli Cabernet (Franc) blend “Alzero” – The 2001 Alzero was a treat from the first second my glass was poured. The nose was classy, fruity, sweet, savory and funky all at the same time. Spiced black cherry, dark chocolate, blackberry, savory herbs and undergrowth all came together to form a bouquet which was truly seductive. On the palate, it was intense and weighty, yet with a lively zing of acidity, with notes of spiced cherry, cocoa, herbs and sweet floral tones. Fruit coated the palate throughout the finish, which seemed sweet then bitter, then sweet again. This is luxury in a glass at the highest level. (95 points)
Article and Tasting Notes By: Eric Guido
Almost every Barolo and Barbaresco lover remembers that “ah-ha” wine. You know what I mean. It was the one that set you on this course and left you hungering to know, to taste, and to understand more about Barolo. Maybe it was a modern producer, or maybe traditional; in the end it doesn’t matter, because it all leads to the same realization: Barolo and Barbaresco transcends the expectations of time. For me, the ’96 Pio Cesare Barolo was that “ah-ha” wine. To this day I remember each and every detail; the unbelievably earthy, yet floral and fruity nose and the way it seemed sweet while also savory and with a tug of tannin which kept it all in check. However, it was the experience itself which marked me. It was the thought that I could sit with that glass for hours and never grow tired of it.
Tasting these wines upon release can sometimes be difficult, but what truly puts it all into perspective is to see where it’s all going. Recently I was given the opportunity to taste through a range of Pio Cesare Barolo and Barbaresco. It felt like something of a homecoming. The best part was that this tasting was focused on a comparison of new releases, followed by the ‘06s and then a vintage from the nineties. It was a perfect example of the evolution of Nebbiolo.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Pio Cesare was one of my first Barolo experiences; the name has been synonymous with Barolo for over 100 years. It’s a name that goes back to another time; long before vineyard-designated Barolo ruled the scene. Pio Cesare was one of the largest bottlers of Barolo in Piedmont, back when most farmers sold their grapes and large houses created blends of vineyards that would represent the house style and what they believed was the perfect, balanced Barolo. It is in this blend of vineyards that many producers insist on to this day, and in a way this is all coming full circle.
Through the decades, as vineyard-specific Barolo and Barbaresco came into style, Pio Cesare was already poised to jump into the game, with over 130 acres of vineyards across Barolo and Barbaresco. The winery decided on the Ornato vineyard in Serralunga for their single vineyard Barolo, a commune known for its dark, brooding, mineral-inflected wines with tremendous aging potential. As for the Barbaresco, they chose the best sites from their Il Bricco estate in Treiso for its finesse and gorgeous floral tones. However, with these wines, they also decided to take a more modern approach—a departure from their classic Barolo and Barbaresco, which to this day remains firmly set in the traditional style.
Yet as I said before, Barolo and Barbaresco has an ability to transcend the expectations of time, and this tasting was a testament to that end. As I taste through the ’97 and ’99 single vineyard Barolo and Barbaresco, I can’t help but admire how beautifully they have aged. The oak has integrated beautifully, and even in a wine as young as the 2006 Barolo Ornato, I have to give credit to how utterly brilliant the fruit remains in contrast to a slight hint of oak. Like most producers in Piedmont, Pio Cesare is now dialing back on their new oak, and the future is very bright.
What about that classic Barolo? You see, as good as these single vineyard wines may be, it was the classic, multi-vineyard Barolo that was my “ah-ha” wine many years ago. Pio Cesare has never lost sight of their roots, and the classic Barolo is their true flagship. To this day it remains an amazing value in Barolo. Yet there’s more to this than meets the eye. Global warming is changing the scene in Piedmont, and you can see from the reviews of the top critics that multi-vineyard Barolo is making a big comeback. Simply put, the sum can be much greater than its parts. I believe we’ll see a lot more blending in the future, yet Pio Cesare is already on the scene. The 2010 Barolo is a classic in the making, and at a price that makes it an extremely attractive option. This is a wine which will surely make it into my cellar.
On To The Notes:
2010 Pio Cesare Barbaresco Bricco Di Treiso – An initial whiff of vanilla quickly blows off in the glass to reveal rich, ripe cherry, sweet floral rose and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, it is intense and structured, yet finessed with focused red fruits and inner floral notes. The palate-coating finish shows youthful tannin yet still provides much enjoyment as lingering fruit slowly fades from this ripe and feminine Barbaresco. (91 points)
2006 Pio Cesare Barbaresco Il Bricco – The 2006 Barbaresco shows all the hallmarks of a classic in the making with a nose of dried cherry complemented by soil and undergrowth, tobacco and a hint of caramel. On the palate, it shows sweet red berries, violets and inner floral tones with a tannic tug, which pulls at the senses and leaves an impression of classic young Nebbiolo. This is a wine with incredible potential. (94 points)
1999 Pio Cesare Barbaresco Il Bricco – A great example of ’99 Barbaresco with notes of dried cherry, minerals, sous bois, tar and dried leaves. On the palate, it shows perfectly resolved tannin with plum and dark berry in a sweet and savory expression of fruit. The finish was long with sweet dark fruit, soil, minerals and crushed dried leaves. This is perfectly seated in its early drinking window with years to go before any sign of decline. (94 points)
2010 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato – The 2010 Ornato is a dark and mysterious Barolo with dark cherry, black licorice, mineral and hints of caramel. On the palate, I find a mix of ripe wild berries, dark soil, and minerals, yet it quickly firms up as it flexes its tannic muscle, leaving the senses saturated in dark fruits with a savory, bitter note adding complexity. (92 points)
2006 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato – The 2006 Ornato is a beautiful monster with massive dark red fruits, roses, soil, minerals, and a hint of brown sugar. On the palate, it is rich and seductive with notes of dark berry and soil tones, yet still youthful with chewy tannin. A note of sage rings out on the finish with long dark fruits. This wines shows huge potential and walks the line between intensity and finesse. (94 points)
1997 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato – Most ‘97s these days come across as slightly disjointed or in their drinking prime, yet the ’97 Ornato remains backward in the best possible way. The nose shows dried cherry, dusty spice, menthol and hints of undergrowth. It’s angular on the palate yet balanced with a mélange of dark fruits, soil and minerals. Its Serralunga roots show in spades here and make for an excellent contrast to the vintage’s inherently ripe character. (93 points)
2010 Pio Cesare Barolo – Traditional and classic to the core, the 2010 Pio Cesare Barolo shows dark red fruits and floral perfumes contrasted by notes of tobacco and mountain herbs. Tart, yet intense red berry fruit permeates the palate, complemented by rich soil and mineral tones. Tannin clenches the palate through the finish, quelled only by its focused red fruit, promising many years of development. (94 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
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