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Archives: March 2016

Finding Our Way Through Châteauneuf-du-Pape

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Chateauneuf 1998With Les Printemps de Chateauneuf right around the corner, and the recent passing of the iconic Henri Bonneau, I find myself thinking quite a bit about Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Like many others, I found my way to Châteauneuf-du-Pape through the words of Robert Parker, who seemed to be on a mission to propel the region and its wines to stardom. The results of his efforts put the village and its wines on the map for collectors around the globe. In fact, it is said that much of the region changed the entire style of their wines to fit his palate in hopes of achieving the Parker points that would secure their future. Whether or not this was a good thing is not for me to say.

GrenacheHowever, what this phenomenon created was an entire generation of wine lovers who had to find their own way in a region where the top-scoring producers were often not the same people that made the wines that we actually loved to drink. Then there was the question of when to drink these wines, as we all hoped that the massively rich and ripe 100% Grenache style that was all the craze would one day settle and reveal some mystery to us all—somehow we are all still waiting. Lastly, there is the pricing, which has increased drastically. In a great vintage we can stomach it, yet the same pricing has made these wines prohibitive for daily drinking.

Don’t get me wrong; many wine lovers still enjoy the ripe style of vintages like 2007 and 2009, and just as many prefer 100% varietal Grenache. However, through much trial and error, I became a lover of a more traditional style of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

caskWhat does traditional mean to me (because I’m sure someone will disagree)? For one thing, it’s the blend of various Rhone varieties, which adds a kaleidoscope of flavors and aromas but also makes for a more balanced wine throughout both cool and warm vintages. Next is the stems, as their addition to the fermentation process adds not just wild aromatic layers and depth, but also textural richness. And then there is the aging in cement or completely neutral oak barrels.

I’ve come to see this as the traditional formula, and you’d be surprised by how many producers follow these standards with their entry-level wines. You just need to be careful and follow either a trusted palate, or do the research before buying. In fact, these entry-level “traditional” wines are some of the best deals to be found in the region.

That said, the best fruit will continue to find its way into the top wines of each estate, that is of course, unless you know a producer who only makes one wine from the best fruits in a traditional style. One that comes to mind is Domaine Charvin.

chateauneuf-2012-charvinRecently, I was lucky enough to have a chance to sit with Laurent Charvin and talk about his wines. Let me first say that Laurent is a man of passion. One who could never imagine making his wines in any other way. For him, it is a matter of honor, family tradition, and respect for Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Laurent took the reins of his family’s winery in 1990. For five generations, the Charvin family was made up of growers and bottlers who sold to various negociants. However, he saw serious potential in their property and immediately began bottling for direct sale. What didn’t change were the traditional methods used and his belief in a winemaker’s connection to farming and nature. While many properties began to produce prestige bottles for international markets, Laurent stayed the course and continued to produce only one Chateauneuf du Pape made from the estate’s best fruit.

The Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape is a blend of 85% Grenache completed with a mix of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Vaccarese, all grown in stone, covered clay and limestone-rich soils in the northwest of the appellation.

The winemaking continues in the traditional vein with no destemming and fermentation in concrete tank, which is the same vessel used for the wine’s 18-month maturation before bottling. The goal is to create a wine that speaks of the southern Rhone, its grapes, and terroir, all while maintaining balance, freshness and the potential to mature in the cellar.

After tasting his 2013 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, what stunned me the most was how it transcended the difficulties of the vintage. It was beautiful, glorious, and a wine I would place in my own cellar. Passion is the key, as Laurent would say, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Charvin Chateauneauf 2013Below are my tasting notes:


2013 Domaine Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape – The nose was gorgeous, showing intense red and black fruits, dark florals, spice and earth tones. On the palate, it displayed silky yet lifted textures with ripe strawberry fruit, sweet herbs, and spice. Hints of pepper, inner floral tones and bitter cherry lingered throughout the finish. This is so beautiful today that it’s hard to imagine waiting. (94 points) Find it at Morrell

Charvin Cotes du RhoneAs for the Cotes du Rhone, keep in mind that it is not a second wine. Le Poutet is made in a similar style to the Châteauneuf, but comes from a vineyard just outside of the AOC. It is well worth checking out.

2013 Domaine Charvin Côtes du Rhône (Le Poutet) – The nose showed crushed raspberry, exotic spice and white pepper. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by fresh strawberry, inner floral tones, and hints of pepper. It finished fresh with lingering hints of herbs and spice. (90 points)

Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido

Piedmont Lover, Barolo Collector, or Adventurous Palate–Enter G.D. Vajra

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vajracorkMany years ago, as a lover of Barolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, and–let’s face it–all things Piedmont, I walked into one of my favorite retailers on a Saturday morning with the intention of browsing their selection. Instead, I was greeted to an in-store tasting that introduced me to a producer who has since become a staple of my own collection, as well as a selection of wines that I’m proud to represent in our own store today. That producer is G.D. Vajra.

The international face of G.D. Vajra is Giuseppe, son of the owner Aldo, and a man who exudes passion for both his family and the Langhe. At first, it was this passion that drew me to the wines; yet the second I put my nose to the glass and then took a sip, it required no more convincing. I knew I was a fan.

vajratasting2-05-15This tasting spanned the entire range of wines, from the native Freisa (which Vajra has mastered), to the venerable Barolo, and onto one of the best Riesling you’ll ever taste from Italy. It inspired me to look deeper and understand more. I asked myself, how could a producer of wines such as these stay off my radar for so long? Much of it has to do with location, as this property isn’t located within the township of Barolo, or Castiglione, or La Morra. Instead, the G.D. Vajra winery is located in Vergne, the highest village on the western edge of the Barolo-growing area.

briccovioleCan you name me another Barolo producer in Vergne? I’m sure that, today, some of the most devoted Barolo collectors can. However, ten years ago, I’d be amazed if they knew one. Much of this is the result of global warming, as this high-altitude location is benefitting from climate change. The vineyard of Bricco delle Viole (within Barolo) was once considered a site that would only produce lifted and finessed wines, yet could be looked to for a more serious example in warmer vintages. Today, however, it’s producing utterly classic examples in both warm and cool years.

This is not to say that G.D. Vajra has only come to the world stage due to climate change. Quite the opposite; this winery, firmly established in the early seventies, had been a pioneer among Barolo producers in the region, having started as fully organic before others even had the insight to do so. What’s more, it’s a truly traditional house that had realized early on that the only drawback to the older ways was in the cleanliness of their cellars. And so, G.D. Vajra operated for decades as a traditional producer who was well ahead of the times.

Vajra_mix_2_(1_of_1)Today, G.D. Vajra operates under many of the same principles, maintaining the same level of excellence and tending their parcels through sustainable practices, yet has firmly established itself as one of the largest producers of wine in the region. Their classic and finessed single-vineyard Barolo Bricco delle Viole is now one of the top-scoring wines of every vintage, and it has now been perfectly complemented by the acquiring of the Baudana winery and their lineup of Serralunga Baroli.

What’s even more amazing is Vajra’s ability to produce their Barolo Albe, one of the greatest values in the region today. With fruit from a mix of high-altitude vineyards within Barolo (Fossati, Coste di Vergne and La Volta), the Able is said to be made in a more forward style, yet one can not deny its ability to mature gracefully for a decade or more.

Giuseppe Vajra

Giuseppe Vajra, courtesy of The Fine Wine Geek

Add to this their Barbera Superiore (a personal household favorite and one of the best of it’s kind), the Freisa Kyè (Dark, rich, intense with a hint of tantalizing bitterness), and the Dolcetto Coste & Fossati, (which would prove even the most stubborn Dolcetto naysayer wrong), and you have all of the Piedmont classics covered.

So what’s left? Riesling, Moscato, Chinato… Yes, they excel with these as well.

So as we are looking at vintages ahead and what’s come before, I hope my message is clear that G.D. Vajra is not just a producer to watch, their wines are a must-have for any Piedmont lover, Barolo collector, or adventurous palate. They are the perfect introduction to the region, as well as a reference point producer, and if you find yourself chatting with Giuseppe Vajra one day down the road, listen well, as the complete picture of what this family has accomplished is hit home by the love they have for their land, their family, and Barolo.


Below are a few of my favorite wines in recent vintages.

2011 Vajra Nebbiolo2011 G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo – The nose was vibrant with cherry and raspberry, hints of spice, crushed fall leaves and floral perfumes. On the palate it was juicy with intense red berry, clove and cinnamon stick, yet not sweet. The finish showed hints of tannin with tart cherry and mouthwatering acidity providing a beautiful balance. (90 points)

2013 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba Coste & Fossati – The bouquet was dark and intense with violet floral tones up front, blackberry and tart cherry, pine, savory herbs, and minerals. It entered the palate with silky textures, then a sudden burst of acidity and tart blackberry fruit; yet as the cheeks puckered, the mouth also began to water, forming beautiful contrasts. If finished incredibly fresh, displaying inner floral tones, minerals and tart berry fruit. (92 points* Find it at Morrell

VajraBarberaSuperiore2012 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba Superiore – The nose was gorgeous, showing dark red fruit, licorice, sweet herbs, and dusty spice. It was silky, yet driven by vibrant acidity on the palate with crushed tart cherry, exotic spice and saline-minerality. Finishing with a coating of concentrated fruit upon the senses, yet suddenly becoming mouthwatering and fresh—what an experience. This is an amazing value and a wine of stature. (93 points* Find it at Morrell

2013 G.D. Vajra Langhe Riesling Petracine – The nose was bright with intense fruit and floral aromas, showing ripe stone fruit, spring florals, and hints of citrus and minerals. On the palate, it showed persistence with its green apple and lime fruit with a hint of herbs and a pleasant tang of zesty acidity. The long floral finish made a lasting impression. (91 points)

vajrafreisa2006 G.D. Vajra Langhe Freisa Kyè – The nose was dark, sensual and exotic, showing dusty spice, crushed dried flowers, pine, black raspberry, and stone. On the palate, intense yet silky textures were made vibrant by a core of juicy acidity. Cherry turned to cranberry with herbs and hints of cocoa, brightening as it traveled across the palate. The finish was mouth-puckering and long with tart fruits and tannin saturating the senses. Still very young, and demanding a few more years before the next visit. (94 points)

2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe – The 2010 Barolo Albe impressed with a bouquet which literally reached up from the glass to pull you in. Notes of pine nettle and mint were front and center, joined by wild berry fruit and floral rosy tones. On the palate, sappy, brooding red fruits were contrasted by a streak of vibrant acidity. It was tightly coiled yet silky at the same time, with an herbal lift lending freshness. The finish was long and seemed to touch upon all the senses while also revealing a formidable structure, which was otherwise buried under its intense fruit. It’s surprisingly enjoyable now yet will reward further cellaring. (92 points)

G.D._Vajra_(2_of_4)2010 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole – Talk about potential. Through a series of events, I was given the opportunity to taste this bottle three times throughout the day, and each taste was better than the one before. At 10am, it was all about intensity and densely-packed fruit laced with minerals and finishing on tannin. At 1pm, it began to open, gaining flesh and nuance as spice, leather, earth and balsamic tones joined the mix. At 5pm, it was a study in elegance. Still youthful in its tannin, but so giving all the same. Gorgeous floral tones and dark red fruits gave way to cedar and minerals. This is a wine for the ages. (95 points* Find it at Morrell

baudanabarolocerretta20092009 Luigi Baudana (Vajra) Barolo Cerretta – This was yet another tremendous experience with 2009 Baudana; this time the Cerretta vineyard. The bouquet was dark and powerful with intense red fruits offset by violet floral tones, minerals and chalk dust. The longer it sat in the glass, the more this beautiful wine continued to open. On the palate, rich, dark red and black fruit seemed to saturate the senses yet was held in check by strict Nebbiolo tannin and acidity. The finish was redolent of black licorice and dried cherry, making for a truly impressive finale. This is simply gorgeous and a standout of the vintage. (94 points)

Article and tasting notes by: Eric Guido

Spring is Upon Us. Are You Ready for Primavera?

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ricottaThere’s something about the onset of spring that screams for Primavera sauces. Look up the word Primavera in an Italian dictionary, and the translation will be “In Spring”. Fresh vegetables and herbs are exactly what we crave as the weather begins to warm, yet the addition of butter, cream or rich tomatoes keeps us grounded and helps us easy our way into warm weather dinning. Substitute pasta with quinoa, and now you have a modern and healthy twist on a classic preparation.

Fire Roasted Tomatoes & Squash Primavera over Red Quinoa (pronounced: KEEN-Wah).

What started out as a recipe that may have resembled Pasta alla Norma became something much more because I needed to make the sauce into something so engaging, flavorful and significant that it would please the senses, the palate and the appetite, all on its own. This dish is vegetarian and extremely healthy but if you let that deter you, or convince yourself that “healthy” may equal “boring”, then you will be missing out.

ZucchiniFire Roasted Tomato and Squash Primavera is a sauce loaded with vegetables in a sweet and spicy tomato reduction. The vegetables remain slightly firm, and each of them holds their own characteristic flavors. As you work your way through this dish you first find the sauce at center stage, which is smooth yet bursting with tomato flavor. It is slightly sweet but with a spicy kick that is only felt at the tail end. The ricotta cheese adds a creamy contrast and helps to cleanse your palate and prepare you for the next bite.


Eating healthy never tasted this good. Quinoa is a perfect pasta alternative and also happens to be gluten free.

Now comes the squash with an intensity that only roasting can obtain. Yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant are all identifiable through their colors but also through their unique flavors. When you add a little quinoa to your fork, you realize how it all comes together, with a slightly crisp mouth feel and nutty flavor. It takes the sauce to the next level and creates a medley of flavors and sensations on your palate that causes eyes to roll as the satisfying sound of “umm” echoes around the table.

When selecting a wine, Sangiovese is the first thing that came to mind, as I’ve always found it to be a great compliment to tomato sauces with a spicy kick. One of my go-to producers is, San Giusto a Rentennano, a Chianti Classico which often displays a slightly richer and almost savory (in the best possible way) fruit profile. The mix of the property’s southern-most location in the region and mineral-laden soils provides the San Giusto a Rentennano with a depth not usually seen in Chianti. It really is the perfect pairing. (tasting notes below)

Fire Roasted Tomato and Squash Primavera over Red Quinoa
(Serves 4)

This recipe takes a good amount of prep time but I think you’ll find the actual cooking process to be quite easy. Since the presentation depends on the vegetables, make sure to take your time and make them as uniform as possible. You can make the sauce hours, or even a day, ahead of time and then warm at the time of service. I advise using a large roasting pan for the fire roasting and to sweat the mire poix. You will also need a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and a medium size saucepot.

caponataprep2(Optional) A note on the preparation of the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant: Wash them thoroughly because you will be using the skins. Do not peel them. You should aim to have a piece of skin on each piece of squash. Slice the squash into thirds (length-wise) with the centerpiece about two times the size of the other two. Reserve the two side slices and turn the center slice on its side. Now slice again into thirds. The result should be that the center of the squash (containing the majority of the seeds) would be left over without any skin. You can leave the center of the squash out of the recipe. The slices you made with the skin intact are what you want to use for your small dice. This is not necessary, but it adds a significant amount of visual appeal to the final product.

(Optional) A note on the San Marzano tomatoes: It’s beneficial to remove the seeds because they add bitterness to the final product, but it is not absolutely necessary to do so. This is not as difficult as it may sound, nor do you need to remove every seed. Set up two bowls with a wire mesh strainer in each and one bowl without. Open a can and pour the contents into the first strainer. Take a tomato in hand and, with your thumb, open the side of the tomato over the second bowl and strainer. Juice and the seeds will flow out of the tomato. Place that tomato into the third bowl and continue to do this until you have deseeded all tomatoes. Once this is complete, collect all of the juice into one bowl and, with a spoon (or your hand), massage the remaining contents from each strainer into the juice until the only thing left are seeds. In the end you should have one bowl of dry, deseeded tomatoes and one bowl of strained tomato juice.

sanmarzano2 28oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes (drained with seeds removed & juice reserved)
2 cups sweet onion (small dice)
1 cup carrot (small dice)
6 cloves garlic (fine dice)
1 cup yellow squash (small dice)
1 cup zucchini (small dice)
1 cup Italian eggplant (small dice)
2 Tbls. capers (rinsed and drained)
¼ cup sherry vinegar
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup white wine
¾ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. oregano (dry)
1 tsp. basil (dry)
1 Tbls. butter

1 ½ cups red quinoa
1 ½ cup vegetable stock
1 ½ cup water
1 Tbls. butter

1 cup ricotta cheese
salt & pepper (for seasoning)
olive oil (as needed)
1 bunch fresh basil

The Sauce

Pour the strained tomato juice into a medium pot and place over a medium flame. Stir in the sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano and basil. This mixture will cook like this through most of your cooking process, but it is important to stir from time to time. The goal is to reduce the liquid by half.

roastingpanTurn your broiler on low and place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Put the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant into a bowl and pour in enough olive oil to coat the vegetables. Toss to coat and season with salt. Check to make sure you have added enough oil; each piece should be lightly coated. Add more if necessary and pour the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant onto a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Spread the vegetables out and place in the oven on the center rack.

Place a large roasting pan over low heat (it will likely span across two burners) and pour enough olive oil to just barely cover the bottom of the pan. Add the carrots, onions and garlic, and stir to coat with oil. Season them well with salt and allow them to sweat over low heat for about five minutes.

Check on the squash in the oven and stir if it appears to be browning.

Using your hands, break up the tomatoes into small chunks and place them into the roasting pan with the onions, carrots and garlic. If there is any juice at the bottom of the bowl, pour it into the saucepot, which should still be reducing. Also add the capers to the roasting pan and stir to combine. Continue to cook for about three minutes.

Now pull the squash from the oven. If it doesn’t look done, it’s okay, because it will continue to roast with the rest of the mixture. Pour the contents into the roasting pan and stir again to combine.

Place the roasting pan into the oven under the boiler on low. Roast, under the broiler, for six minutes and then stir. Repeat this process three more times (24 minutes total) but make sure that nothing begins to burn. While these items are roasting, check to make sure that the sauce is not reducing too much. Your goal is to reduce by half.

redreductionNow pull the vegetables from the oven and place the roasting pan back onto the stovetop over a medium flame. Pour in the white wine and stir. Continue cooking for another five minutes to allow the wine to cook off.

The sauce should be properly reduced at this time. Pour the contents of the saucepot into the roasting pan and stir to combine.

Remove from heat, add the butter and stir until combined. Lastly, season with salt and pepper to taste. It can be served now or cooled and set aside for later.

Red Quinoa

Cooking time can vary depending on the brand you buy, but the ratio of quinoa to liquid should be about 1 to 2.

Place vegetable stock and water in a medium saucepan, over high heat, and bring to a boil.

Add red quinoa and stir. Reduce heat to low medium and cover. Cook for about 15 – 20 minutes but make sure to check packaging for cooking times.

While the quinoa cooks, take the basil and remove the ‘blooms’ for garnish. Take a small bunch of leaves and chop fine.

Primavera Eric Guido focusWhen the quinoa is done, add the butter and stir to combine. Season the quinoa with salt and pepper. Lastly, add the chopped basil and stir. The quinoa should have a fresh, vegetal and nutty flavor.

The Plate

Take a two-inch, round dough cutter and place in the center of the plate. Spoon the quinoa evenly around the dough cutter. Ladle the primavera sauce into the center of the dough cutter. Top with a dollop of ricotta cheese and a basil bloom. Pull the dough cutter straight up and off of the plate. Clean the rim of your plates with a warm, moist towel and serve.

… as for the wine:

sanGiustoaRentenanno2013 San Giusto a Rentennano Chianti Classico – This is another great vintage for San Giusto. The nose showed a thrilling and intense display of crushed raspberry, cherry, dusty floral tones, cedar, and spice. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by a vibrant core of acidity, showing tart red berries, charred meat, minerals, savory herbs and fine tannin. The finish was long, with its saturating red fruits and savory tones, yet most notable was it’s saline minerality, which lingered for well over a minute. (92 points) Find it at Morrell

Article, recipe and tasting notes by: Eric Guido

The New Formula for Barolo: (Traditional+Modern)/Balance = Progressive

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Plus a producer who’s already ahead of the game.

Barolo and Maialino-5mediumSince the beginning, I have always counted myself as a fan of traditionally-styled Barolo. As I began this journey to better understand the region, its vineyards, and its producers, it has always been the wines that saw long macerations and aging in large botti which would please me tasting after tasting. I dug through every book I could find to read and study the histories of producer after producer to better understand what I truly loved about the “king of wines and the wine of kings”.

Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Teobaldo Cappellano, and Giacomo Conterno became my mantra when dwelling upon that recipe that made Barolo great.

However, over time, something began to happen. It didn’t just happen to me. I noticed it throughout the entire community of Barolo collectors, enthusiasts, and even the most admired critics. Barolo was changing, and the word “traditional” was beginning to lose its meaning.

blogger48What truly made a Barolo traditional? As Aldo Conterno would tell stories of his father placing barrels of aging Barolo on the roof to age, soften—oxidize? As we look to the genesis of the “Modernist Movement,” what made these forward-thinking individuals change everything they could about the old ways? Suddenly dirty cellars were cleaned, and old botti (which were rotting after half a centuries use) were being replaced. Vines were tended to with individual care, and technology was introduced that would allow a winery to perform tasks safer, cleaner and better.

Hear me out, and erase any thoughts that this lover of traditional Barolo has had a change of heart. That’s not what this is about. Not at all. Today’s blog is about positive change and what is being called “progressive winemaking” in Piedmont.

azeliavineyard7The fact is that the modernists weren’t necessarily wrong. In fact, in some cases, they had the right idea. The problem was that they wanted change fast, and nothing about changing a historic winemaking region can happen fast. Instead we look at Barolo today, 25 years after the modernist movement was in full swing, and we see an easy marriage between modern and traditional winemaking.

We see a balanced green harvest.
We see a movement toward organic practices.
We witness producers seeking physiological ripeness.
We see spotless cellars and new, yet neutral, large barrels.
And we see a new Barolo, which is quite different from the wines of 30 years ago, which impresses the lovers of both the traditional and modern styles.

It’s a very exciting time to be a Barolo lover.

Azelia_(2_of_3)Let’s talk about a producer who, unlike most, seemed to have an insight into where Barolo was going, long before the rest: Azelia.

Having flown comfortably under the radar for decades, Azelia is now one of the top estates in the region. The reason for this was a misunderstanding from the wine buying public; in thinking that this was a “modern” Barolo producer. Those who loved the over-extracted and oaked versions of Barolo found Azelia to be too lifted and finessed for their tastes. Meanwhile, fans of the traditional school picked up on the hints of oak in their youth, and they immediately disregarded the wines, without giving them the time and platform to properly express themselves.

azeliastocksAnd so, vintage after vintage passed, and Azelia continued by selling their production to a subset of fans that understood and truly loved the wines. In that time, they also built something that is very rare in Piedmont today; they built an incredible library of back vintages.

Years ago, Antonio Galloni of Vinous began to look back at vintages of Barolo for ten- and fifteen-year retrospectives, and one producer that was suddenly scoring at the top of the pyramid was Azelia. This wasn’t a change of tastes as much as it was an opening of minds. In fact, I witnessed it myself two years ago at a blind tasting of 1996 Barolo. A group of die-hard lovers of traditional Barolo were all blown away when the unveiling showed a ’96 Azelia Bricco Fiasco as the group’s third-place wine out of twelve.

azelailuigivineayrdsSo what is so different about Azelia? For one thing, when speaking with Luigi Scavino, you realize that this man has changed very little about the way he makes Barolo over the last thirty years. Since the beginning, the Azelia style has been about balance, both in the vineyards and the cellar. Luigi, having taken the winery over as a fourth-generation winemaker, found himself with a substantial holding in the Fiasco vineyard. Planted by his father Lorenzo in the 1940s, the Azelia Fiasco parcel sits at a higher elevation than that of Paolo Scavino. And yes, these two families are both closely related.

Luigi took to the modern movement with a skeptical approach, realizing that green harvesting was a useful practice but also quickly shunning the use of chemical fertilizers, preferring instead to only use periodic applications of manure (every four years). He also saw the potential of other vineyards within the region, especially in Serralunga, where the family now produces single-vineyard wines from Margheria, San Rocco and Voghera.

-foto-cantina-img06The care in the vineyards is the foundation, which Azelia is built on, an approach that has taken longer than you’d imagine to catch on in Barolo. In the winery is where the lines between modern and traditional are blurred even further, as Luigi chooses to vinify each Barolo differently depending on vineyard characteristics. So while the use of roto-fermenters are still used for gentle extraction, the aging of the wines can take place in small Barrique (only 25% new) or large Slavonian and Austrian botti. All fermentations take place with wild yeasts, and the wines are never filtered or clarified, and each flow process is carried out through the use of gravity.

azeliavineyards2Imagine if you will, today, as Luigi, along with his son Lorenzo, tends their 65 – 85 year-old vines through organic practices and then employs some of the most forward-thinking (yet respectful to nature) approaches in the winery, to create wines of impeccable balance. Does this not sound like a Barolo that we’d all love? It does to me.

If you don’t believe me, then grab a mature bottle and see for yourself. In my opinion, Azelia is one of the next superstars of the Barolo region. They are still under the radar for the most part, but I doubt that can last much longer.

If their 25% new oak aged Bricco Fiasco or San Rocco still scares you, then try the Barolo normale, Margheria or Riserva Bricco Voghera, which all complete their aging in large casks. Either way, you owe it to yourself to check out Azelia, one of the leaders of progressive winemaking in Piedmont today.

Below are some of my most recent tasting notes of Azelia Barolo. Enjoy.

Azelia Barolo 19961996 Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco – This showed a gorgeous bouquet with earth and forest floor up front, followed by red berries, minerals and dried spice. On the palate, it displayed silky textures with dark red fruit, spice, herbal tea and inner floral notes. Long and dark on the finish with perfectly resolved tannins in an expression which can only be described as classic. On this night, the Azelia Bricco Fiasc stole the show. (94 points)

1999 Azelia Barolo San Rocco – Without taking any official tasting note, this was a dark beauty of a wine that is firmly in its drinking window. The nose was full of dark fruits, minerals, florals and earth. On the palate, it was remarkably vibrant with a pulse of acidity pumping mineral-laden dark fruits across the senses. It finished long with a slight sweet tannin, yet there’s really no reason to wait when considering this wine. That said, I’m sure it will drink well for many years to come. (94 points)

Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco 20012001 Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco – This was wonderfully expressive and showed beautifully for its youth. In fact, this may be one of the most opened, balanced and expressive 2001 Barolo that I’ve had in recent memory. The nose was vibrant, yet haunting all at once, showing dark soil, balsamic, mushroom, savory herbs and dried cherry. On the palate, it displayed rich textures which were quickly firmed up by youthful tannin, with flavors of dried strawberry and cherry, inner floral tones, tobacco and spice. It finished with a youthful tug of tannin yet remained fresh and vibrant in its fruits. Hints of rose and tobacco lingered long. (95 points) Find it at Morrell

2004 Azelai Barolo – The 2004 Azelia makes the case of blending for balance. The nose was dark with rich black cherry, earthy floral tones and savory spice. On the palate, I found silky textures contrasted by grippy tannin, crushed tart cherry, minerals and earth. Youthful tannin coated the palate throughout the finish with lingering minerality. (91 points)

azelia Barolo Marcheria 20112011 Azelia Barolo Margheria – The bouquet on the 2011 Margheria is dark and almost animal in nature, as notes of black fruit and brown spices were contrasted by sweet floral tones, smoke, and crushed stone minerality. On the palate, it was feminine and pure with notes of dried cherry, saline-minerals and earth, which were firmed up by sweet tannin. Minerals and dried fruits coated the palate throughout the finish, leaving an impression of a youthful and classic Barolo. (93 points)

2011 Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco – The wonderfully aromatic nose displayed dark red fruits and floral tones with sweet spice and lifting minerality. On the palate, I found silky textures contrasted by sweet tannin with notes of black cherry, plum, sweet herbs and inner floral tones. It finished on a note of dried cherry and lingering fine tannins. (94 points)

2011 Azelia Barolo San Rocco – The San Rocco was intense and dark on the nose with rich black cherry, savory spices, sweet-dark floral tones and leather. On the palate, this was all about balanced intensity, as a mix of silky textures were contrasted by sweet tannin and brisk acidity; yet a core of concentrated fruit prevailed with strawberry, cherry and plum. Sweet tannin lingered on the finish. (95 points)

View the entire selection of Azelia Barolo at Morrell Wine & Spirits

Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido

Coming Full Circle in the North Fork: Paumanok

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PAUMANOK2Ask a wine lover about wineries on the North Fork, and chances are that Paumanok will be recommended first.

A family-run operation, Paumanok has been producing wine on the North Fork since 1983. With 127 acres under vine, this winery manages to turn out one of the largest selections of quality wines from the region. Owned and operated by Ursula & Charles Massoud, and with their son Kareem overseeing the vineyards and winemaking, Paumanok has truly carved out a name for itself in North Fork history. Finding another producer on the North Fork that doesn’t respect the efforts and accomplishments of this house is near impossible.

francYears ago, when I visited the North Fork, the grape on everyone’s mind was Cabernet Franc. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few outliers (both Paumanok and Macari come to mind), most of the Cab Franc tasted on the Island years ago were far too green and funky. Fast forward to today, and the red grape that has firmly positioned itself as North Fork’s finest is Merlot – and for good reason. The Merlot on Long Island has truly begun to show that it can produce highly enjoyable fine wine, and what’s even better is that Long Island Merlots are starting to show a sense of place. Paumanok stands out at the head of this charge; not only do they produce a fresh and vibrant style of Merlot, but also one of importance: the Grand Vintage.

However, this region goes far beyond red varieties. One of the most highly-praised wines of the North Fork is produced by Paumanok as well; it’s the Chenin Blanc. Outside of Paumanok’s nine acres, you won’t find much Chenin planted on the North Fork, but what Paumanok has accomplished with it is astounding. Having received praise locally from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, it quickly became something of a local phenomenon and is awaited by fans with each vintage. Today, we even see Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate praising the wine. Why this hasn’t caught on throughout the region is beyond me, but when you consider the excellent Cab Franc and Chenin produced at Paumanok, you start to see that Loire varieties can fit the region well–in the right hands.

PAUMANOK3Recently I was able to sit with Kareem and taste through a lineup of Paumanok’s current releases. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised by the level a quality I found from bottle to bottle. Admittedly, I’ve been a fan for many years. The Chenin remains one of my absolute favorites for its balance of ripe fruit and acidity, plus one of the most stunning bouquets you’re likely to find in the North Fork. The straight Merlot may be one of the most enjoyable and vibrant from the region, and when compared to the Grand Vintage Merlot (a barrel selection with further oak aging), the only choice is if you are in the mood for purity or austerity matched by depth.

In the end, if you’re looking to North Fork, then Paumanok should be firmly on your radar.

paumanokcheninblanc2001Below are a few of my tasting notes of their recent releases.

2014 Paumanok Chenin Blanc – The nose was wonderfully expressive with ripe pear and apple up front, followed by floral tones, lime and chalky minerality. On the palate, a sweet-and-sour act of green apple, citrus and spice dazzled the senses. A last thrust of minerality and sour apple lasted on the mouthwatering finish. (92 points) Find it at Morrell

2013 Paumanok Merlot – The nose showed fresh, ripe red fruit offset by stunning minerality. On the palate, I found tart cherry and tantalizing brisk acidity with hints of sweet herbs. It finished fresh and vibrant with dried red fruits offset by mouthwatering acidity. (90 points)

PAUMANOK62014 Paumanok Cab Franc – Here I found a beautiful and fresh bouquet of red berries, chalky minerals, dried flowers, hints of herbs and white pepper. Silky textures were contrasted by tart berry fruit and zesty acidity, with caking minerality that lasted into the close. It finished fresh on dried berries and hints of herbs. (91 points)

2013 Paumanok Merlot Grand Vintage – I was greeted by a mix of intense fruits, showing ripe raspberry, strawberry and blueberry, complemented by sweet spice and herbal freshness. On the palate, a stream of focused red fruit with hints of blueberry skin and fresh herbs splashed against the senses with a hint of tannin left in its wake. It finished on a mix of dried wild berry fruit with hints of spice. (93 points)

PAUMANOK72013 Paumanok Assemblage (46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 18% Petit Verdot) – The nose showed a mix of sweet spice, lifting floral tones, and rich red and blue fruits. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures, with saturating red fruits giving way to intense spice, sweet herbs and fine tannin. It finished long on dried cherry while remaining fresh throughout with noticeable grip. This is a wine to watch as it matures in the cellar. (93 points)

Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido