Morrell Wine Bar

The Cellar Table at Morrell Wine

Italy’s Sleeping Giant? Make Room for Taurasi

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alivineyardSomething has been happening to me lately, which I welcome with open arms. For many years, I’ve heard tales of “The Barolo of The South”, otherwise known as Taurasi, made from the Algianico grape in the hills of Avellino, in the region of Campania. Yet, time and time again I would try these wines and find disappointment. Not in the quality of the wine, but in the anticipation of tasting “The Barolo of The South”, which in reality is quite a boast. How do you live up to such a title? Most Taurasi I would taste were of high quality–earthy, dark and full-bodied with structure to spare–but not Barolo.

77mastroberardinoBut then something happened. It was a perfectly-stored, won-at-auction bottle of 1977 Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva–and it changed my opinion of the wine forever. In its youth, tasting any wine that can live for 40+ years is a challenge, especially without a reference point. This wine was that reference point. Suddenly all of that rich, dark fruit (not sweet or ripe, mind you) contrasted against gobs of soil, minerality and vibrant acidity–suddenly everything started to make sense.

With elevations of 1800 feet and higher, the Algianico grape found the perfect home in these volcanic soils mixed with calcareous marls, strewn with limestone. The dark black fruit and smoky character of Taurasi makes it very easy to connect the wine to the place from which it’s grown, and its imposing tannin, while making them hard to understand in their youth, also lends a staying power that can carry them for decades in the cellar.

Did I mention that Taurasi usually costs about half the price of your average Barolo?

molettieri-mix-1Now fast forward to today and the producer Salvatore Molettieri. In comparison to Mastroberardino (which is an article all to itself), Molettieri is much smaller in production and still a relative newcomer by Italian standards, with its first vintages released in the mid-eighties. However, the family itself spent four generations tending vineyards in the hills of Montemarano to produce grapes that were sold to the top names in the region. Salvatore, who is a humble man with the simple desire to create a great wine, decided to begin bottling his own production, with the first release in 1988.

To say that he succeeded in his quest for a great wine would be an understatement, as Molettieri is thought by most to be one of the top producers of Taurasi today, with the Cinque Querce vineyard considered to be his Grand Cru.

rock2These are imposing wines in that austere, high-acid Italian way that I love. Yet there’s an elegance to them, which provides a level of enjoyment now, even though they beg for time in the cellar to express themselves properly. The nose is all black stone-earth (if black quartz had a smell, this would be it), with its fruit currently as an afterthought. The more I taste the wines of Molettieri, the more I want in my cellar, in hopes of one day finding the next 1977 Mastroberardino Riserva.

But is it the Barolo of the South? My short answer would be… No. Yet that’s because, in my opinion, Taurasi, and especially Molettieri, is good enough to stand all on its own–without the cliche.


molettieri-taurasi-riserva-2008On to the tasting notes:

2008 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Riserva Cinque Querce – The nose was intense with sweet spice, espresso bean, crushed black cherry, sweet herbs, dusty earth, and exotic floral tones. On the palate, it was firm and tense with concentrated cherry, blackberry, and dark chocolate drying out the senses with its youthful structure. It finished long and tense with hints of citrus and layers of tart cherry and blackberry fruit. This is in need of a decade in the cellar, yet it is so full of potential. (94 points) Find it at Morrell

2006 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Cinque Querce – The nose was deeply pitched yet still fresh, displaying blackberry, black cherry, exotic spice, graphite, dusty florals and earth, yet it remained so fresh. On the palate, I found silky textures with blackberry and a bitter twang of citrus, turning more angular toward the close, yet the tannins have pulled back with maturity. The finish was long with palate-staining blackberry and a touch bitter with hints of tart citrus and undergrowth. Beautifully done. (93 points) Find it at Morrell

molettieri-taurasi-20062005 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Cinque Querce – The nose showed radiated dark earth, stone and minerals, with tart cherry and herbal notes rounding out the fruit. On the palate, soil-laden, sour red fruits with rich, focused concentration flowed across the senses. The tannins were chewy, but not overwhelming, leaving an impression of austere elegance. It finished with palate-staining dark red fruits and tannin, which slowly faded yet never seemed to disappear. Day two was even more enjoyable, as this wine darkened even more, while also taking on undergrowth and notes of mushroom, which continued to accentuate the experience. Earthy, so very Italian, and enjoyable to the last drop. (93 points)

2008 Salvatore Molettieri Taurasi Cinque Querce – The nose showed animal musk and undergrowth up front, turning to savory cherry sauce, smoke, dusty spice and dried flowers. On the palate, I found silky textures which soaked the senses, giving way to tart cherry with a hint of citrus. The finish was long with fine tannin gripping the senses yet not overwhelming. This is drop-dead gorgeous but still quite youthful, and it may one day deserve a higher score. (92 points)

molettieri-irpinia-2011It may not be Taurasi, but it would be a shame not to include Salvatore’s Aglianico Irpinia.

2011 Salvatore Molettieri Aglianico Irpinia Cinque Querce – The nose showed cherry and blackberry fruit, with hints of graphite and floral undergrowth. It was rich and silky on the palate, with dark fruits, which were a touch bitter, as they should be in Aglianico. The finish was long with dark fruits, tart cherry, and inner floral tones. This is a tremendous value. (91 points)

Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido

Exploring Three Generations of Bartolo Mascarello

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Bartolo Mascarellotastings 1955smIf there was one wine that not only defined Barolo for me, but for the majority of longtime collectors, it’s Bartolo Mascarello. When I first fell in love with Barolo, I was quick to learn that to understand not just what Barolo is about but also where it came from, looking back on the great vintages of Bartolo was the place to start and in many cases to end. This remains true even to this day, if not more so. As we often speak about traditional versus modern producers, Bartolo stood for the hardline traditionalists. Bartolo, who referred to himself as the last of the Mohicans, carried the torch of traditional methods and spoke out often about the values that separated the old from the new school.

Up to the very end, his ideals were followed to the letter, even as his health declined and the region changed to appeal to current tastes. A visit to Bartolo Mascarello was on the bucket list of collectors around the world, and in most cases it was a difficult goal to accomplish. Even today as we look back on vintages from 60 years ago, the wines epitomize and define Barolo.

Bartolo MascarellotastingssmThe reason for this was his respect for what came before. Following in his father Giulio’s footsteps and changing nothing about the way Barolo had been produced in their family cantina since the beginning, Bartolo took the hard stance of speaking out against what most of the region considered to be progress–the modernist movement.

With holdings in the prestigious crus of Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué, and Rocche dell’Annunziata, Bartolo continued to produce one Barolo, which was a blend of crus, instead of giving in to the trend of single-vineyard bottling. In the winery, the only aging vessels you would find were large Slavonian oak casks, and he became known for his venomous remarks toward barrique, as well as various politicians and world matters.

Bartolo Mascarellotastings15smThrough it all, the house of Mascarello maintained its loyal following, becoming something of a city of Mecca for collectors, media, politicians, and anyone seeking truth in Barolo. Today we see the entire region bending back to the traditional methods that Bartolo worked so hard to maintain, and we are also quite lucky that in his daughter, Maria Teresa, we have found yet another generation of Mascarellos who have chosen to follow family traditions.

Bartolo’s passing was a moment that will never be forgotten by collectors of the time, yet in the capable hands of his daughter Maria Teresa, the wines have found a new level of purity and finesse, while still maintaining his ideals. Today, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo has ascended to the highest ranks of the region, with respect from producers and wine lovers from across the world. I’m sure the man would be very proud.

Bartolo Mascarello 1955smOur recent tasting spanned vintages from 1955 (Before Bartolo joined his father Giulio in the wine making process), through the ‘80s,’90s (some of Bartolo’s greatest vintages) and then into the recent vintages of ‘05, ‘06, ‘07 and ‘09 (which show the beginning of Maria Teresa’s time at Mascarello). It was an evening that I will never forget, and it has only reassured me that these wines, from any of the decades past, are worth seeking out and should be in the cellars of any devoted collector of Barolo.

** A note on the naming of the 1955 and 1958. Prior to a renaming by Bartolo in the early ’80s, the wines were labeled as Cantina Mascarello. What’s more, although the first two wines state Canubbi on the label, they are both blends of the Mascarello vineyards. The name Canubbi was added for it’s prestige.

On to the tasting notes:

Cantina Mascarello 1958sm1955 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi Riserva – The ‘55 Bartolo was unbelievably youthful at first pour, especially with its gorgeous deep color, yet still perfectly mature, displaying a bouquet of dried flowers, dried cherry, and hints of bitter herbs. On the palate, I found soft textures, with vibrant acid and a flash of dried red berries, before pulling back with a hint of decay. It finished medium-long on tart red berries and a hint of smoke. I could sit with this glass all night. (94 points)

1958 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi – The ‘58 worried me, with its completely resolved color showing only a slight red hue. On the nose, a display of earth tones, dried flowers, and musk gave way to hints of maderization. On the palate, herb-infused, tart red fruits gave way to elevated acidity that seemed to touch upon all of the senses. It finished long on dried cherry, cedar, leather and a twang of acidity. It was completely mature and on the decline, but still highly enjoyable on this evening. (92 points)

Bartolo821982 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The ‘82 showed just how fickle Nebbiolo can be, coming from a bottle that was opened many hours before serving. My first impression was of a closed and hard wine that wouldn’t reveal its treasures, yet over the course of this tasting it blossomed into an elegant beauty. The nose showed hints of pine and parchment up front, yet gained depth in the glass, as dusty dried flowers turned to dark, mineral-laden red fruits. On the palate, I found a deeply focused expression of dark red fruits with still-youthful tannin. It finished long and drying, yet a bolt of acidity enlivened the senses. This is something of a sleeping giant. (95 points)

1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – I’ve always found ‘90 to be a difficult vintage to truly understand, and I’m not sure if this Bartolo has added more questions than answers on this night. The wine itself was tremendous, and it didn’t show any of the attributes I associate with ‘90 Barolo. Here I found deep, yet focused red fruits with dried roses, pine, dusty soil, and balsamic tones, in a feminine and lifted display. On the palate, youthful red fruits were aided by zesty acidity, providing a sensation of pure refinement. As it sat in the glass, its textures seemed to soften and expand while never losing its energy or verve. The finish was long and youthful, with tart red berry fruit lingering on and on. (94 points)

Bartolo Mascarellotastings 1990sm1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – It’s not often that a ‘95 crosses my path and leaves a such an impression as the ‘95 Bartolo Mascarello did. This displayed a rich, spicy and red floral bouquet with notes of brown spice, savory cherry and sweet herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures with red berries, minerals and inner floral tones, in a perfectly mature expression of nebbiolo. It finished on dried cherries and floral tones. The ‘95 was simply a pleasure to drink. (94 points)

1996 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The ‘96 Bartolo was as puzzling at this stage as most wines from this ‘Iron Vault’ of a vintage. The nose showed depths of dark red fruit with soaring minerality and hints of menthol. On the palate, I found refined, yet tightly-wound, concentrated red fruit with saturating acidity and firm tannin. It finished structured and lean with a mix of cheek-puckering acidity and palate-coating tannin. I wanted so badly to like this wine more, especially from its amazing bouquet, but the palate still leaves me questioning if ‘96 fruit has the endurance to outlive those intense tannins and acid. (92 points)

Bartolo Mascarellotastings 1997sm1997 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – Another standout from a ripe vintage, the ‘97 displayed a rich, deep and intense nose with mineral-infused red fruits and dried flowers. On the palate, I found a remarkably fresh expression for the vintage, with soft textures which soothed the senses while notes of focused red fruits saturated everything they touched. Dried flowers, tart berry and minerals lasted on on the finish, along with a hint of dried orange peel. Well done. (92 points)

1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – It was hard to decide if the ‘98 was a damaged wine or just a bad bottle, as the nose was overtly intense with herbal-infused medicinal cherry and spice. On the palate, I found soft textures with dark red fruits, yet little else and seriously lacking energy. It finished on minerals with a hint of oxidation. I decided to score this, because it was still a serviceable wine, just not what you would expect from Bartolo Mascarello. (87 points)

Bartolo Mascarellotastings 1999sm1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – What a pleasure it was to enjoy the ‘99 once again. It’s a truly great wine in the making. Here I found a bouquet of mineral-infused, dark red berry fruit with hints of sweet herbs and spice. With time, dusty floral tones came to the fore. On the palate,a focused wave of red berry fruit with acid and mineral-driven tenacity splashed against the senses, leaving inner dried floral tones and hints of fine tannin. It finished structured and classic, with tart red fruits and dried spice. This was a gorgeous showing, and it’s a wine that anyone who loves Bartolo must have in their cellar. (97 points)

2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The nose showed citrus-tinged red berry and pretty floral tones. On the palate, I found soft textures, unexpected so for an ‘01. There was also a lack of depth. This finish was dry with fine tannin and tart, mineral-infused tannin. I’ve heard stories of the ‘01 being a variable bottle, and tonight’s wasn’t nearly as exciting as my last bottle. (90 points)

2004 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The 2004 is a perfect example of how this vintage can confuse a taster, as it’s so beautiful today and unexpectedly approachable. The nose was a mix of pure red fruits, spice and dried flowers. On the palate, it was refined and open with deep red fruits, soft and lifted textures, and inner floral tones. It finished refined and lifted, with only a hint of tannin. (93 points)

2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The ‘05 was gorgeous and a great introduction to Maria Teresa’s winemaking style. The nose was very pretty, and I’d go as far as calling it mesmerizing, showing dusty tart cherry, and exotic floral tones with hints of sweet spice. On the palate, I found lean tart berry lifted by brisk acidity and inner floral tones. It finished on focused, intense red fruit and fine tannin structure, built like a dancer so to speak. This is highly enjoyable already, but sure to drink well for a decade or more. (94 points)

Bartolo Mascarello2006sm2006 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The ‘06 was an iron vault of a Barolo, but behind its imposing structure, there was so much potential. The nose displayed deep, dark, spicy red fruit, with dried florals, spice cookie and mint. On the palate, dark, mineral-infused red fruits and rich spices saturated the senses, yet stayed fresh through brisk acidity and refined tannin. It finished long on palate-coating tannin, dried cherry and balsamic tones. This was just a baby, but with 30-40 years of potential. (96 points)

2007 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – As expected, the ‘07 Bartolo Mascarello showed the heat of the vintage, yet managed to do it with grace. The nose was intense with rich depths of red berry fruits, spice cake and sweet florals. On the palate, I found silky-soft textures giving way to ripe cherry with plenty of flesh, sweet spices, hard red candies and stunning acidity which provided energy. The long finish balanced spicy red fruit with hints of sweet tannin, yet remained fresh throughout. (92 points)

2009 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – The nose showed mineral-infused dark red fruits and balsamic tones. On the palate, I found rich black cherry with slick, almost sappy textures in something of a monolithic display. The finish was long with grippy tannin, dark minerality and dried red berries. Unfortunately, the ‘09 does suffer from the heat of the vintage, yet never becomes overwhelming. (91 points)

A big thank you to all of my fellow members fo our Vinous tasting group.

Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido

Bartolo Mascarello Lineupsm

Is It Washington Wine’s Time to Shine?

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Cadence_2012This is a question that I feel like I’ve been asking myself for the last eight years. I still fondly remember buying a six-pack case of 2005 Cadence Ciel du Cheval and slowly working my way through it (if you can call that “work”). As classically structured and refined as it was, I couldn’t help but feel like I was rushing that wine. Each year, I would eagerly check in, and each year I’d have a similar result, and that was that it was only getting better. As I got down to my last two bottles, I started to wonder what I would do when it was all gone. Due to their limited distribution, I couldn’t find them on the shelves of my local retailers, and before I knew it, my stash was gone.

So why did I wonder if it was Washington’s time to shine? Simple. Because as much as I loved that wine, it seemed to be the exception, not the rule. I would check in from time to time on other producers at the local tastings, but I could never recreate the magic that seemed to emanate from that bottle of Cadence. The wines were often very good, but seldom great. In fact, if there was a term that I would have used to describe Washington wine to another wine lover throughout those years, the term would “dependable.” Good, solid, consistent, satisfying, but hardly great–until recently.

In the last two years, I have enjoyed tasting through a large number of Washington wines, and not just in one category. The fact is that what these wines are now expressing to me, which seemed lost somehow in the examples I had tasted before, is a sense of place. Recently, Washington wines don’t seem like they were trying to be Bordeaux or Napa; instead they are an expression of Washington, and I couldn’t be happier.

Keep in mind that Washington state, and its wine-producing regions, are quite large. The Columbia valley starts in the south and runs through the center of Washington, including nearly 99% of the state’s vineyards. However, as we look deeper into the smaller AVAs, we start to find a number of exciting terroir to discover. Walla Walla, Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope are just a few worth mentioning, which have been turning out wines of world-class standards.

So, what is it then?

leonetti_mixIs it possible that the region is changing, or is it just that the quality level in general has gone up as more and more producers become keen on setting themselves apart from the pack, and not simply trying to make good wine? I believe it’s the latter, as there have always been trendsetters here. Leonetti (a name that should be known by all) has been in the game and turning heads since 1977. Jim Holmes founded and planted one of the first vineyards on Red Mountain in 1975; the name of that vineyard is Ciel du Cheval, the same one that captured my attention through that fateful bottle of 2005 Cadence. Frankly, the list goes on and on, and it even includes modern-day trendsetters like K-Vintners, where Charles Smith has shown us the heights which Rhone varieties can achieve in Washington soils.

The best part is that Washington remains largely under the radar with the exception of a few well-known producers, yet it is the second-largest producer of wine in the United States. So finding these wines is much easier today than it ever was, and the prices remain very fair.

When I take this all into consideration, I believe it is Washington’s time to shine.

Below I’ve included some of my favorite Washington state wines from the last year, along with a few details about the vintages, as this can really help to point you in the right direction.

The Undeniably Classic 2012s

I must say that 2012 is the vintage that turned me back on to Washington State wines. The most interesting thing about it is that many people considered it to be relatively warm at the time, yet not so when compared to 2013 and 2014. By Washington standards, this was a classic and even vintage with near-perfect weather at harvest. When sampling them, it’s the freshness and balanced structure of the 2012s that draw me in. They are wines that I want to spend time with and watch mature.

Cadence_2012label2012 Gramercy Cellars Syrah John Lewis Reserve – The bouquet was wild and fresh showing savory herbs, black olive and dark black fruits. It was dense, with lifting acidity on the palate, as black fruits gave way to intense minerality. It finished long on dark fruits, pepper and spice. Nicely done. (94 points)

2012 Cadence Ciel du Cheval Vineyard – The nose showed crush black cherry with minerals, floral tones and a distinct savory richness. On the palate it was truly intense yet smooth with notes of cherry, sweet herbs and dark chocolate. The finish showed more of its youthful tannin, giving the fruit a dry yet still wonderfully concentrated persona. The 2012 Ciel du Cheval should spend a couple of years in the cellar for the best experience, as I am quite excited to see where it’s going. (94 points)

2012 K-Vintners Syrah The Hidden Northridge Vineyard Wahluke Slope – The nose was gorgeous, both richly intense, yet fresh and lifted with florals and minerality, showing dark earth, blackberry, savory herbs, violet floral tones, smoke and hints of toasty oak. On the palate, it displayed velvety textures like a sheet of heavy silk drawn across the senses, leaving remnants of black fruit, plum and hints of spice in its wake. The Hidden is a wine of layered aromatics contrasted by dense textures on the palate. It’s less about details today, with an almost black-hole persona that seemed to envelope all that it touched. (94 points)

DelilleD2_20122012 Cadence Tapteil – The Taptiel vineyard is showing a distinct savory quality with minerals, undergrowth, currant and hints of herbs. On the palate, it was at first angular, but with the fruit intensity and caressing silky weight to keep it fun. In fact, what left the biggest impression on me was its balance, as a mixture of bittersweet dark fruit seemed to touch upon all the senses and remained throughout the finish with an almost sappy concentration. This is some pretty intense juice, and yet again another wine that will probably benefit from a few years in the cellar. (93 points)

2012 DeLille Cellars D2 – This was a very pretty and floral red on the nose, showing spirited ripe cherry tones, blueberry skins, a hint of wax, and candied spice. Persistent red fruit gave drive to the palate along with notes of mocha, herbs and cedar. The textures were gripping yet silky smooth, leaving the senses perfectly attuned for another sip. Very nice. (91 points)

2012 L’Ecole No. 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard – On the nose, I found sweet tea and intense spicy red fruit. It was grippy on the palate with saturating dark red, finishing fresher than expected. It was almost too easy to like, and it was defined by soft textures. (90 points)

Getting Warmer Now: 2013, The Tightrope Vintage

L'ecoleno41Ferguson2013Coming out of the Classic 2012 vintage, it seemed like another cool vintage was on the horizon, with a late flowering and cool spring. Then came July and August, and with them a significant rise and lasting heat. The saving grace of 2013 was in the fall, when temperatures moderated and allowed growers to pick at perfect ripeness. The result is a set of wines with intensity and richness, yet offset by vibrant acidity.

2013 L’Ecole No. 41 Ferguson Vineyard – What a gorgeous bouquet on the ‘13 Ferguson. Here I found floral and sweet herbal tones, followed by crushed-stone minerality, and a mix of tart cherry and blueberry. On the palate, it was structured yet still powered on through its intense deep red fruits and caking minerality. The finish displayed an array of dried fruits, graphite and sweet herbal tones. It displayed a great amount of potential with its structure and concentrated fruit to spare. (95 points) find it at Morrell

2013 K Vintners Syrah River Rock – The nose showed exotic florals with marine minerals, and olive, then turning to sweet spice and black fruit. On the palate, I found dark blue and black fruits, with marine minerality coming through from the bouquet. The finish was incredibly fresh and lifted by inner floral tones. This wine wouldn’t be for everyone, but it’s certainly my cup of tea. (94 points)

GramercyCellarsJohnLewis20132013 L’Ecole No. 41 Apogée Pepper Bridge Vineyard – On the nose, I found dusty spice, black cherry, blueberry, sweet tea and chalky minerals. On the palate, velvety textures gave way to saturating black fruits with fine tannin, which saturated the senses. It finished long, like a black hole of fruit. (93 points)

2013 Gramercy Cellars Syrah John Lewis Reserve – The ‘13 John Lewis displayed a gorgeous bouquet of crushed blackberry, violet floral tones, saline-minerality, and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found lifted, silky textures with pepper-infused black fruits, zesty acidity and saturating mineral tones. It was remarkably pretty with its inner floral tones and lingering black fruit finish. (93 points)

2013 L’Ecole No. 41 Apogée Pepper Bridge Vineyard – On the nose, I found dusty spice, black cherry, blueberry, sweet tea and chalky minerals. On the palate, velvety textures gave way to saturating black fruits with fine tannin, which saturated the senses. It finished long, like a black hole of fruit. (93 points)

2013 Gramercy Cellars Syrah The Deuce Walla Walla Valley – The nose was dark yet full of life with intense black fruits, exotic florals, white pepper and spice. On the palate, I found rich, silky textures matched by youthful fine-grain tannin with dense black fruits, in a balanced yet currently monolithic effort. The finish was focused, long and youthful. I’d love to see where this wine is going. (91 points)

Rich, Big, Racy but Balanced: The Warm Vintage 2014s

K-Vintners-Milbrandt-2014The 2014 vintage was warm from start to finish, but in this case the heat was more even and less jarring to the vines than in 2013. The results were perfectly-even ripening. Meaning that although the ‘14s display the ripeness of the vintage, they do so while remaining balanced, and in a truly alluring way. Having only tasted a small set of early release 2014s, I must admit to enjoying them quite a bit.

2014 K Vintners Syrah Milbrandt Vineyard – The nose was airy and fresh with intense bright blackberry, exotic spice, olive and sweet herbs. I found silky textures on the palate with saturating raspberry, blackberry fruit, and sweet inner florals. It was intense on the finish, yet it remained fresh throughout with staining black fruits with a hint of tart citrus. (93 points)

AndrewWill20142014 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon – The ‘14 Columbia Valley Cab is just stunning today. Here I found rich dark fruits and spice cake mixed with wild herbs and floral undergrowth in a truly alluring performance. On the palate, soft textures gave way to exotic spice and hard red candies with a hint of tannin that provided perfect grip. The finish showed a bit of austerity, yet its focused fruit and balance kept things fun and urged me to take another sip. (92 points)

2014 SIXTO Chardonnay Moxee – The nose was big and rich with dark oaky flavors, spiced apple, pear and sweet herbs. On the palate, it was rich but with great mineral cut and seductive notions of ripe, spiced pear. The finish was long with a tart acids that made for the perfect end-cap on this rich yet undeniably enjoyed wine. (92 points)

Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido
Red Mountain Vineyard photo courtesy of Washington State Wine and Andréa Johnson Photography

So You Think You Know Italian Wine? Welcome to Collisioni

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CastledelBaroloegYou think you know Italian wine. You spend ten years studying and tasting. You research, you write, and you spend every spare moment immersing yourself in the topic. You also taste with individuals that share your passion, and you meet with visiting producers on a regular basis. Over time, you start to feel as if you have become an authority on the topic. Your friends believe you have mastered it, and you may have even have convinced yourself of this. Then you go to Collisioni, and you realize that all you know is just the tip of the iceberg.

My first introduction to Collisioni was through an e-mail I received from Ian d’Agata, who if you don’t already know is something of a jack-of-all-trades within the wine world. You can imagine that, with his experience as a wine writer and critic for Decanter, International Wine Cellar and now Vinous media, author of the Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Scientific Advisor for Vinitaly, and creative director of Collisioni, an email from Ian d’Agata is not something you ignore. Over the years, I’ve received many invitations to be included in trips and tasting tours, but this one really stood out. In fact, I was sold the second I read the invitation.

BaroloFriendsCollisioni started as a festival for music and literature, but it grew in a short time to encompass food and wine. What started as a small event hosting 10,000 in 2009 has now grown to expect 150,000+ attendees that fill the streets of the small town of Barolo. The preparation for such an event is a massive undertaking, and being one of the guests, I was able to watch as the town of Barolo went from sleepy streets to a bustling festival over the course of only a few days.

The best part is that the who’s who of Piedmont winemaking turned out for the event. Even producers who weren’t involved in the myriad of tastings, round tables and tours could still be seen walking the streets and taking in the many sights and sounds. As this was a festival born from music and literature, it seemed as if every corner held an attraction, with onlookers amassed throughout each nook and cranny of the cobblestone streets.

EltonJohnCollisioniegOn one night, the entire city gathered to watch Elton John. If you can imagine the streets of Barolo, completely empty, as the sounds of “Rocket Man”, “Candle in The Wind”, and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”, echoed throughout. Every soul seemed to be aligned that night with Elton John’s timeless setlist. It amazed me how everyone there seemed to connect during the show. Even people who didn’t seem interested in attending the concert earlier that day were found singing along. It was a magical evening.

The entire experience was something truly special.

collisionifavssmHowever, what we are here to talk about is wine, which Collisioni excelled at, as it provided its guests with a selection of regional tastings from around Italy that were as challenging as they were interesting. We aren’t talking about the average room full of tables with which professionals tour in search of the handful of wines that stand out. Instead, this was five days of intense tastings, each done in a round table style with producers in attendance to answer all questions and a panel of specialists to comment and drive the conversations.

My attendance placed me tableside with producers in panel discussions and accessing wine in front of the crowd on a regular basis. Each night followed with a visit to a winery, where we were able to soak in the gorgeous surroundings of the region and taste with some of Piedmont’s best and up-and-coming producers. All this while surrounded by fellow professionals and experts from around the world. The days were long and not a moment was spent waiting for something to do–but you know what? I loved every second of it.

I’ve decided that the best way to honor this experience is to showcase a number of the standouts and most memorable moments.

Enter Dogliani

Dogliani_6egsmallerIsn’t it ironic that on a trip to the heart of Barolo, surrounded by producers and great wines, one of the most impactful evenings was spent with producers of Dolcetto Dogliani?

One of the main topics throughout our Collisioni experience was how Nebbiolo was slowly replacing all other varieties throughout the villages that make up the Barolo appellation. It’s believed that the days of seeing a Barbera or Dolcetto d’Alba will soon be over. This will leave a large void for lovers of Piedmont’s other great varieties. However, in the case of Dolcetto, Dogliani has us covered.

First let me say that if you’ve tasted Dolcetto from anywhere else and decided that it’s not for you, then you owe it to yourself to taste a Dolcetto Dogliani.

San_Fereolo_Dogliani_2007smKeep in mind that Dogliani has the same diverse terroir and rolling hills that your find throughout Barolo. The difference is that these producers take advantage of the best expositions to plant Dolcetto, not Nebbiolo. It’s difficult to compare Dogliani Dolcetto to one from any other location.

The best part is that, after tasting a number of wines from the 2105 vintage, now is the perfect time to jump into this region. These are tremendous examples of the variety, and the vintage is so easy to like. As for recommendations, I was smitten with examples from Addona Marziano, Chionetti, San Fereolo, and Einaudi.

Top Wine: San Fereolo Dogliani Superiore 2007 The bouquet was positively refreshing and exotic with a mix of blackberry, and crushed raspberry fruits, followed by dried flowers and both sweet and savory spices.  On the palate, it was alluring in it’s soft yet rich textures, and lifted by vibrant acidity and minerals, giving way to blackberry and plum fruit.  It finished long and fresh as the fruit faded slowly to reveal fresh inner floral tones.  Really this is just a pleasure to drink. (93+ points)

What’s a Lucana?

AglianicoVultureThis was one of those moments when you realize that you knew much less than you thought you did. Sitting at our lunch pavillion (think of a buffet at a movie set, but make all the food Piedmontese), I stared at my schedule and noticed that the Regionale Lucana tasting was to follow. I asked the other guests at my table, “What’s a Lucana?”, and they all shrugged.

In the end, this was one of the best focus tastings of my trip. Lucana, otherwise known as Lucania, is also known as Basilicata (starting to make sense now?). Basilicata is a region of Southern Italy which borders Campania, and it is one of the few regions that has a coast on two sides of the boot. What it is also well known for is Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano, that gives its name to Aglianico del Vulture.

elenafucciAglianico del Vulture is a DOC that I’ve taken a lot of interest in over the years, since I believe that it has all of the potential and ingredients to be a world-class wine, but no one has come along as a champion for the region. The ingredients I speak of are first and foremost the variety, Aglianico, which is renowned for its use in creating Taurasi in Campania. Add to that the diverse volcanic soils, moderating influences from two seas, a large range of altitudes and degrees of elevation, and you’d think that Aglianico del Vulture would be the next big thing in Italy–but it’s not.

Why? Well that was what I was here to find out. Unfortunately, the reason seems to be more about growing pains and devotion than it is about a quick fix. If anything, this tasting revealed that there are a small number of quality-minded producers who are working very hard to put Aglianico del Vulture on the map. The problem is that there are many more who aren’t giving it their all.

That said, out of 28 wines tasted, the cream did rise to the top. Elena Fucci, Cantina di Venosa, Donato D’Angelo, Cantine del Notaio and Madonna delle Grazie all deserve your attention. (Tasting notes: Cellar Tracker)

Top Wine: Elena Fucci Titolo 2013The nose was wonderfully expressive, showing tobacco, earth and ash up front, followed by focused blackberry and notes of fresh herbs.  On the palate, I found dark red fruits, pepper, violet florals, leather and youthful tannins.  The finish was youthfully austere, yet complex in it’s black fruit, savory spice and fine tannin.  I would love to see this wine again in five years. (93 points) Find it at Morrell Wine!

Nonino Grappa

Grappa1smIn Italy, wine is food. It’s created to be enjoyed with a meal, and going back through history, it was often used as a way of surviving and fortifying oneself for a hard day. However, wine is seldom thought of in Italy as a “drink.” When dinner is over, and the time for a drink is upon you, Italians in the north reach for Grappa.

That’s not to say that Nonino Grappa should be thought of as just another spirit, because frankly it is so much more than that.

Located in Friuli, Nonino is a family-run company with a history going back over 100 years and can lay claim to the fact that they put Grappa on the map. Their success in the media and worldwide markets opened the minds of consumers and placed Grappa on their tables.

Yet, to this day, there is Grappa and then there is Nonino. After this experience, I believe it’s safe to say that much of this is the passion of the family who’s running the show. We tasted through six different variations of Nonino Grappa, each made from the pomace of varying grape varieties. For my tastes, it was the Grappa Nonino Monovitigno Il Moscato that stole the show, with its unending array of aromatics. In fact, each time I returned to the glass, there seemed to be an entirely new and exotic mix of aromas. This tasting made me a believer.

rissottosmBuild a Better Albe

Okay, in all honesty, I don’t think I could build a better Vajra Albe than Aldo Vaira himself, but I couldn’t help but try. This was one of the best tastings of our entire trip. After a day full of tasting and regional focus groups, we were sent off to Locanda in Cannubi, a restaurant located in the heart of Cannubi. The cuisine was phenomenal, with traditional regional specialties that were given a contemporary twist. The Bertolini-Boggione family do an amazing job here, since after a week of eating traditional foods, I found myself salivating over each plate that was placed in front of me.

However, the real honor was in sharing my table with Milena Vaira (Aldo’s wife), Ian d’Agata and two Masters of Wine. Seriously, how could we fail?

buildalbesmTo be honest, it was a cutthroat competition, right up to the final announcement that our time was up. We took the more logical approach of blending by the percentage of Vajra’s holdings throughout the three vineyards that produce Albe (Fossati, La Volta, and Coste). In the end, Ian gave a last-second splash of La Volta that rounded our blend out nicely.

We were victorious.

But it bears mention that Levy Dalton, of “I’ll drink to that” fame, demanded a rematch in 2017.

For the Love of Amarone

I have to admit, as difficult as I find it to keep Amarone in my personal rotation, I truly do love these wines. For many years now, I’ve been attending tastings with the Famiglia dell’Amarone d’Arte, and with each vintage I find myself enjoying them more and more. Frankly, they are easy to love. Especially since the organization was created to showcase the classical zone of the region and unite producers who were dedicated to upholding tradition and quality production. In the end, they are hedonistic wines of pure pleasure, but the hard part is maintaining refinement amidst all of the richness and intensity of Amarone. These are the producers who have mastered the art.

amaronestandoutsOne thing I will say is that as we all become aware of two distinctly different styles of Amarone (the rich going on confectionary, versus the rich going on bitter and savory), I have to ask if there will ever be an official way to identify them on the shelf. A perfect example is the conversing styles of Speri (who I love for their classicism and poise) and Zenato (who I love for their ripeness, intensity and richness). If you are looking for a wine for a fatty steak, grab the Speri. If you are looking to pair something with a chunk of blue cheese, then Zenato is a match made in heaven. So how does the consumer tell the difference?

These are questions for another time. For now, my standouts were Tommasi, Speri, Tedeschi and Zenato. (Tasting Notes: Cellar Tracker)

Top Wine: Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2009The nose was deep, rich and intense with ripe cherry giving way to notes of orange peel, brown spice, dark chocolate, and hints of undergrowth.  I found broad and silky, palate-coating textures contrasted by zesty bright cherry and spice.  It finished with fine, classic tannins, bitters, sweet herbs and dried black cherry. It was big, rich, intense and hard to resist.  An unapologetic Amarone. (95 points)

We’re in Piedmont; what about Barolo?

baroloMapsmBarolo, I didn’t forget about you. How could a lifelong fan of Barolo and all things Nebbiolo not give these wines the spotlight they deserve?

So, yes, I did taste a lot of Barolo. Probably the most important data point I can provide is on the 2012 vintage, of which I tasted quite a bit. There are many publications that have gone on about the vintage conditions, so I won’t rehash that here, but I am happy to share some general observations.

The 2012 vintage falls into a shadow that is being cast by the power of the 2011s, the classicism of the 2010s, and the speculation over the much-touted 2013s. These are good wines, but the fact remains that they possess neither the vibrancy and drive of a warm vintage, nor the structure and refinement of a cool vintage. They are pretty wines that display the purity of nebbiolo fruit. Most have beautiful aromatics, but they lack the details on the palate that would round out the experience. There are standouts, as there are in all vintages, but the bulk of the wines lack any thrill factor.

cognoriserva2006smSo what do we do while we wait for 2013?

We backfill classic vintages (’04, ’06 and ’08) and look at the often overlooked 2011s. Many Barolo collectors have been conditioned to shun warmer vintages, but I believe this is a huge mistake when considering the 2011 vintage. They are ripe and often intense, but beneath all of that fruit is a structure of sweet tannin and a bold acidity that carries the wines gracefully. My opinion is that we will be drinking these wines twenty years from now and wondering why we didn’t buy more.

My 2012 Barolo Standouts: Giuseppe Rinaldi, Rocche Costamagna, and Giacomo Fenocchio. (Tasting Notes: Cellar Tracker)

Top Wine: Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate 2012 – The nose was soaring from the glass with a display of deep, dark red berry fruit, dried roses, tobacco, leather and savory spice. On the palate, wonderfully pure, silky textures ushered in ripe, bright cherry fruit, minerals and inner violet floral tones, as fine spicy tannin settled in and dried the sense. It finished more on subtle tannin, with fresh plum, cherry, and inner floral tones. There’s a Pinot Noir like elegance here, showing remarkably pretty and pure. (94 points)

Tidbits and outtakes (since I felt this was verging on a novelette):

  • collisionidietsmA person can live on a diet of Carne Cruda, Vitello Tonnato, e Pomodoro con Buffalo Mozzarella twice a day for a week straight.
  • Verdicchio deserves more attention (See: Notes).
  • I know just enough Italian to get into a lot of trouble.
  • There’s a rumbling in Abruzzo; check out Tiberio (you’ll thank me later).
  • Donnafugata Ben Rye may be the greatest dessert wine on earth.
  • Tasting 32 Grignolinos sounds a lot worse than it really is. (See: Notes)
  • Donatella Cinelli is doing some exciting work in Orcia.
  • Senza Glutine doesn’t work as well in Piedmont as you might think.
  • There’s more to Gavi than La Scolca.
  • There’s a underground Terracotta aging movement in Piedmont (check out Rivetto).
  • Piedmont is most definitely the most beautiful wine region on earth.

That’s all. In closing, I would like to thank Ian d’Agata for including me and the Collisioni team for all of their hard work. This was an undertaking of immense proportions. Well done!


Article, Photos, and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido

Modern-Day Pioneers of Californian Winemaking: Peter Michael

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Peter Michael GlasssmSome tastings leaving you wanting more, while others are hardly of note. However, sometimes you find yourself at a tasting that leaves such an impression on you that afterwards you think about how lucky you were to experience it. That’s exactly what happened to me when tasting through nine vintages of Peter Michael.

The story of how the Peter Michael Winery came to be is a fascinating one, especially when it’s being told by his son Paul, who was just a teenager on holiday with his family when he one day realized that the trip was really meant to scout out a location for their new winery.

In 1982, Peter Michael purchased 630 acres of volcanic ridges on the western face of Mount St. Helena in Knights Valley. It was a little-known location, which had played host for vines over a century ago, but disappeared into history through prohibition and disease; and so, it came with no guarantees of success. However, Peter was determined and believed in the terroir. Suddenly, family vacations became the start of a whole new era for the entire family, as they began planting and laying the foundations for today’s Peter Michael Winery.

PetermichaelValleyIt all started with Bordeaux varieties, and then with the help of Helen Turley, the winery released its first wine in 1987, a Chardonnay. Much has changed since then, as the family has worked to delimit each of their parcels, splitting them up by soil types and microclimates. Looking to marry the ripeness and fruit intensity of Sonoma with classic old world winemaking, Peter Michael enlisted a team combining winemakers from the old world and the new. In fact, the list of famed winemakers who have contributed goes on and on.

On thing that has remained the same is the family that brings us these amazing wines. Peter’s mantra, “mountain vineyards, classical winemaking, and limited production”, has been followed since the beginning, and the goal is to keep the winery under 100% family ownership for at least 100 years. Looking at the pride Paul feels when speaking about his family and their accomplishments, it’s hard to imagine that they will ever give up the reins. Knight’s Valley is in their blood.

Peter Michael 2smOn this day, it was a tasting of two wines, both from the estates Les Pavots (The Poppies) vineyard. The first was the acclaimed and highly sought-after L’Apres-Midi, a Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Semillon, which pays tribute to the great white wines of Bordeaux, but in a truly Peter Michael style. This was followed by the wine bearing the vineyard’s name, Les Pavots. This is a wine that speaks to the old-world wine lover, as well as the new. It’s a Bordeaux blend, made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon, with varying amounts of Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Somehow the cooler climate and rocky volcanic soil lends Les Pavots a classic feel and refined balance, all while displaying perfectly ripe California fruit. Both wines are beautiful, and both are also highly limited.

In the end, it’s amazing to think about the courage it must have taken for the Peter Michael family to embark on such a journey. Today, they enjoy a much-earned respect from wine lovers around the world. Enjoy!

On to the tasting notes:

petermichaelmidi2010sm2010 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose showed intense citrus and minerals, gaining richness with time in the glass, adding floral tones and hints of wild herbs. It displayed soft textures on the palate, along with flavors of ripe peach, apple, melon, hints of honey and inner floral tones. It finished with a zing of acidity, yet remained pure and elegant, tapering off with notes of young peach and crushed stone. (93 points)

2011 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – Showing a darker and richer side of L’Apres-Midi, the ‘11 opened up with notes of ripe peach, kiwi, and minerals in an alluring display. On the palate, I found silky textures, which gave way to smoky peach, apple and wet stone. The finish was long and intense with floral perfumes, ripe peach and hints of honey. (94 points)

petermichaelmidi2013sm2012 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose showed intense fruit and floral tones, displaying ripe pear, apple, hints of spice, crushed stone and honey suckle. On the palate, it displayed perfect balance with soft textures giving way to tart lemon, zesty minerality, and exotic inner floral tones. Sweet apple, citrus and spice waited for me on the finish, which was remarkably long and fresh. What a beautiful performance from a wine that I would love to sit with for hours. (95 points)

2013 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose was rich and fruity with hints of vanilla and wild herbs, which turned to floral perfumes. On the palate, it was lively and pure, seeming to hover upon the senses, displaying ripe stone fruits, and sweet inner floral tones. Hints of honey and ginger lingered on the finish. The ‘13 L’Apres-Midi is gentle giant of a wine that finds beauty in its understatement. (93 points)

2014 Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi – The nose was peppery with rich and savory notes of lemon, wild herbs, olive and green apple. On the palate, I found tense, angular textures with young stone fruit and hints of spice. It finished on wild herbs, lemon and brisk acidity. The ‘14 is hard to judge today, as it comes across and remarkably youthful. (92 points)

LesPavotslineupsm2006 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was gorgeous with rich black currant, cherry sauce and spice, complicated by hints of wild herbs and olive. On the palate, silky textures faded to reveal intense dark red fruits and spice, yet it remained remarkably elegant and refined. The finish was long with saturating raspberry fruit, herbs and minerals. The ‘06 is in a beautiful place right now. (95 points)

petermichaellespavot2007sm2007 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose showed tart cherry and floral perfumes with hints of sage and dusty spice . On the palate, I found silky textures with medium weight, giving way to black cherry and blueberry with still-youthful tannin contrasting vibrant acidity and providing a truly classic feel. The finish was long with notes of dried blackberry, pine, tobacco and herbs. I’m usually not a fan of the ‘07 vintage but Peter Michael’s Les Pavot is a real standout. (96 points)

2008 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was restained with notes of dark earth, dried cherry and minerals. On the palate, I found a mix of cherry and blueberry, yet all was kept in check by a mix of brisk acidity and tannin. It finished on hints of cola and spice. At nearly eight years old, I found the ‘08 to be a bit of a mystery to me, but it’s possible that we’re seeing it through an odd phase. (92 points)

2009 Peter Michael Les Pavot – This showed a dark, deep and layered bouquet of blackberry and herbs in an almost-savory performance with hints of tobacco pulling up the rear. On the palate, tart cherry gave way to wild herbs and minerals, and it gave a perfectly balanced and almost juicy performance. It finished on a contrast of vibrant acidity and ripe fruit. This wine is a pleasure to drink. (94 points)

petermichaellespavot2010sm2010 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was dark and brooding, showing blue fruits, savory cherry sauce, dusty spice, hints of wild herbs, minerals, and pepper. On the palate, it was soft-textured, almost creamy, with intense black cherry that seemed to coat all of the senses. Youthful tannin came forward on the finish, as its rich fruit slowly tapered off. The ‘10 is still quite young yet full of potential. (93 points)

2011 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The ‘11 Les Pavot is already quite appealing today, with a mix of spicy red and blue fruit and minerals on the nose. It was super-soft, yet not weighty on the palate, with notes of ripe blueberry and spice. Hints of tannin came forward on the finish, drying the palate, yet not detracting from the experience. In fact, I found ‘11 Les Pavot to be one of the most enjoyable and ready-to-drink wines from this day’s flight. (94 points)

2012 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The ‘12 displayed a gorgeous bouquet of dark fruit and spice, with hints of pepper, lifting herbal tones, and minerals. On the palate, I found silky textures, yet seemingly weightless somehow, displaying a mix of cherry and blackberry, which gave way to wood spice and sweet tannin. It finished long and refined as its dense core of fruit persisted and youthful tannin coated the senses. This is a classic in the making. (96 points)

2013 Peter Michael Les Pavot – The nose was restrained at first; yet with coaxing, it opened up to reveal dark earth and minerals, followed by dried blueberry, floral tones and brown spice. On the palate, I found a soft and elegant expression with blackberry fruit and spice, followed by sweet tannin that saturated the senses. It was long, structured and spicy on the finish, with hints of dried berries, ginger and dark chocolate. This is so youthful today, yet you can sense the potential in the glass. Truly Stunning! (97 points)

Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido

A Vinous Evolution: Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo

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fontodi-villaI started with Chianti Classico, like many other Italian wine lovers, I’m sure. It’s simply the most likely of all Italian wines to be placed in front of you throughout your life. Whether it was at a pizza restaurant growing up or a friend’s table when you were just getting old enough to want to move beyond beer and wine coolers–Chianti was there for us all.

However, not all Chianti is created equal, as we’ve all learned the hard way. And what’s more, wine writers have only just started to broach the topic of the many different expressions and diverse terroir of Chianti. I for one look forward to this new renaissance of Italy’s favorite wine.

fontodilineup2smOver the years, I’ve written hundreds of tasting notes on Chianti Classico, and I have probably tasted a thousand more that didn’t move me to pick up my pen. Through it all, there have been a handful of wines that have stood out as the pinnacle of what the region and its producers are capable of. These are the wines that thrill us in their youth but also have the potential to age, which isn’t a trait that many people associate with Chianti. I can count these producers on one hand, but within that group, you will always find Fontodi and their top Chianti Classico, Vigna del Sorbo.

Vigna del Sorbo has come a long way since it’s inception in 1985. In the beginning, it resembled the best qualities that Chianti had to offer at the time, with sangiovese at its core (as Chianti Classico requires), a healthy dose of Cabernet Sauvignon and aging in new wood. Yet what set Vigna del Sorbo apart, and is only just starting to be talked about today in Tuscany, is terroir. That term that we see over and over again, yet don’t think for a moment that the word’s overuse should ever take away from its importance–as Vigna del Sorbo is a perfect example of just how important terroir is.

FontodiVigna del Sorbo was the brainchild of Giovanni Manetti, the man behind the scenes at Fontodi. It was his passion for Sangiovese which drove him to experiment and finally arrive at the elevated position which his winery enjoys today. You see, even going as far back as the 1985, Giovanni wanted to show the world that a 100% expression of Sangiovese could create a world-class wine. It’s because of this that he created the well-received Super Tuscan, Flaccianello. However, it took time for Giovanni to realize what Vigna del Sorbo was truly capable of.

A recent tasting of thirteen vintages followed Vigna del Sorbo from it’s deep roots in modern-Chianti (of the time) with the 1995, through the growing pains of the early to mid 2000s, and right up to the truly epic (100% Sangiovese) 2012 vintage.

Fontodi-galestroIt was amazing to witness not only the vintage characteristics, but also how Fontodi has tinkered with and refined their style. I was lucky to be sitting with a longtime friend and great resource of Chianti knowledge, Gregory dal Piaz (who happens to be in the middle of writing a book on the topic of Chianti). Greg’s insights on each vintage were priceless.

However, what became apparent to me throughout the evening was that no matter the winemaking style of Fontodi at any given time, the abilities of its winemaker and the prestige of the sight also shone through. The ‘95 was classic, as was the ‘99. They made me question how anyone would choose to change this formula. However, all doubts faded away when tasting the ‘10 and ‘12, because they were as beautiful an expression of Vigna del Sorbo that we could ever hope for.


Federico Manetti, the new generation at Fontodi

Watching as the percentage of international varieties faded from the 2008 through 2012 Vigna del Sorbo was an eye-opening experience. Some would say that this decision had a lot to do with global warming and how it became difficult to keep alcohol levels down with the addition of Cabernet. The word from Giovanni himself is that he was able to acquire a second parcel of Vigna del Sorbo, one which contained significantly older vines. The addition of this fruit is what Giovanni believes makes the current vintages as good as they are.

No matter what the reason, what this tasting proved to me without a doubt is that Vigna del Sorbo is a world-class wine, which I would place against the best of the best. I’m happy to have many of these vintages in my cellar, and I look forward to adding many more.

On to the tasting notes:

vignadelsorbo1995Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1995 – The bouquet had me the second I put my nose to the glass. Here I found a perfectly mature display of crushed black cherry, floral undergrowth, dusty dry spices and hints of musk. On the palate, it displayed a perfect balance of acidity and mature red fruits, which were fleshy and vibrant next to the wine’s integrated tannin. It finished long with dried floral and earth tones. What a great way to start our tasting, as the ‘95 was perfectly mature and holding strong. (94 points)

Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1997 – The nose was dark and slightly muddled with ripe black cherry and sweet herbal tones. On the palate, I found soft textures and brisk acidity with red fruits, yet there’s a serious lack of depth here. The finish was clipped and a bit simple. Like most ‘97s, the wine ultimately came across as fading, with a decline in purity of fruit and leaning toward a dank and unbalanced place. (87 points)

vignadelsorbo1998Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1998 – The ‘98 is drinking beautifully, and it suffered only from being placed so close to the ‘95 and ‘99. On any other day, I believe this wine would be turning heads with its dark and earthy bouquet of ripe strawberry, florals and cedar. On the palate, I found soft textures with spicy, dark red fruits and hints of mushroom. With time in the glass, it lost some of its persistence on the palate, yet still showed strong, finishing long on dried cherry and hints of earthy funk. (93 points)

Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 1999 – The ‘99 is classic in every sense of the word. Today it still comes across as young, yet there is a balance of fruit, tannin and acid that makes it seductive and easily enjoyable. The bouquet was pure class, showing haunting dark floral aromatics followed by black cherry, strawberry, spice and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, I found fleshy textures, with a core of sweet tannin and brisk acidity lending vibrancy. Black cherry, spice, and minerals were all on display in this perfectly balanced beauty. It finished long and intense, still showing youthful structure and promising years of development down the road. (96-97 points)

FontodiVignadelSorbo-2001smsmFontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2000 – The nose showed undergrowth and moist soil up front, followed by blackberry and minerals. On the palate, I found pliant, juicy textures, yet lacking the fruit concentration of other vintages. This finish was pleasant yet a bit short with mature strawberry and cherry notes. I don’t see much of a future for the 2000, yet it’s drinking perfectly well today. (90 points)

Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2001 – While some other tasters felt the ‘01 lagged behind, I found it to be youthful yet truly classic with vibrant fruit and sweet tannin. The nose showed rich cherry with dusty florals, spice and fresh-turned soil. On the palate, it was still youthfully tight with gripping tannins slightly restraining its bright red fruits. A core of minerality added further depth and lasted throughout the finish along with dried cherry and spice. This wine is in need of another five or more years before entering its early drinking window. (95 points)

FontodiVignadelSorbo-2004smFontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2004 – The nose was earthy with dusty soil, leather, dried flowers and sweet herbs. On the palate, I found angular textures with gripping tannin, giving way to tart cherry and brisk acidity. Tannin coated the palate throughout the finish, drying the senses and the wine’s otherwise beautiful fruit. I hope to be wrong one day about the 2004, as on this night it seemed as if the wood tannin may outlive the fruit. At the moment, it’s a hard wine to like. (91-94 points)

Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2006 flawed

(Tasting Notes from 10-27-15) This is dark and brooding, still a black hole of a wine, and in need of time. The nose displayed floral perfumes of mint, cedar and savory herbs, followed by dark red fruit and hints of dusty spice. On the palate, angular textures gave way to youthful tannin, bitter black cherry and wood tones. It was dry on the finish, but youthfully so, with a core of concentrated red fruit that wouldn’t relent. This may be a classic in the making, but in need of 5-10 years in the cellar. (94 points) Find it at: Morrell Wine

FontodiVignadelSorbo-2008smFontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2007 – Big, fleshy, racy and hot may work in Napa, but it’s hard to pull off in Tuscany. The nose was large-scaled with ripe black cherry, espresso bean and intense sweet spice. On the palate, I found weighty textures with densely packed red fruits wrapped in a mix of sweet, sweet tannin and spice. It finished on dried cherry, cheek-puckering tannin and a hint of heat. There’s an audience for the 2007, but it’s not with a group of Chianti lovers. (93 points)

Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo 2008 – The nose show masses of dark fruit, olive brine, espresso and savory spices. On the palate, it was large-scaled and monolithic with a wave of dark fruits and murky, almost moldy notes. It finished clipped, with remnants of undergrowth and funk. The 2008 came across as either being in a very odd stage or having been too fruit-concentrated and oaked-influenced at the winery. (NA)

Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2010 – The 2010 is a classic in the making with a perfect balance of intense yet pure fruits and sweet tannin. On the nose, I found sweet, dusty spices along with ripe cherry and cedar. On the palate, it was polished, refined and perfectly balanced, as intense red fruit and minerals coated the palate, followed by a wave of sweet tannin and spice. The finish was structured, yet its persistent fruit continued to resonate. I see this aging into something resembling the amazing ‘99. (96 points)

FontodiVignadelSorbo-2012smFontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2011 – The nose showed dark red fruits, black olive and hints of pepper. On the palate, I found blackberry, cherry and licorice with hints of savory herbs. It finished with big, gruff tannin, feeling rich yet unbalanced. This was another hard wine to judge among its present company. However, as much as I’d like to think it was just outclassed, the ‘11 came across as dark, beastly and lacking balance. (91 points)

Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2012 – The 2012 took all the the classicism of 2010, but it added an airy, almost ethereal quality, which in the end was quite attractive. The nose showed bright cherry with sweet floral tones and dusty spice. It was lively and intense on the palate, with focused acidity ushering along a core of concentrated red fruit, minerals and spice. This was like a freight train across the palate in its youthful state, yet it still finished long and refined with a classic coating of sweet tannin. This is even better than the last time I tasted it, and it’s another one to put in the cellar to love for a long time. (96 points) Find it at: Morrell Wine

Just for fun, I’ve added Fontodi’s Dino.  Giovanni’s tribute to ancient wine making techniques.

FontodiDine2013smFontodi Dino 2013 – The nose opened with exotic floral tones, ripe cherry, dark soil, minerals, and a hint of undergrowth. On the palate, it displayed racy textures with sweet strawberry fruit, a hint of tropical citrus, spice and tantalizing acidity. The finish was fresh with vibrant acidity dancing on the senses. Simply gorgeous. Dino is one of the most balanced and enjoyable Amphora wines that I’ve tasted from Tuscany. (94 points) Find it at: Morrell Wine

Article, tasting notes, and photos by: Eric Guido

1996 Barolo and Barbaresco, 20-Year Retrospective

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Mascarello_Monprivato_Ca_D'Morissio_1996smWhatever happened to our dreams of 1996 being a great vintage? For over a decade, I’ve been pursuing this vintage with hopes that it would be another 1989, yet now I begin to wonder. Last year we put together a blind ‘96 Barolo tasting, and the outcome led me to believe that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. The odd thing about that tasting was that the best-performing wines were all produced in a modern style. That wasn’t the case here at our 20-year retrospective tasting.

At the 20-year mark, the majority of these ‘96 Barolos are still as hard as nails. What’s more, in some cases, the fruit appears to be receding and drying out, even as their tannin and acidity continue to power on. On this night, we tasted the best of the best, and when all was said and done, only a handful of them truly impressed. However, what a handful that was, as two of my top three wines are at the peak of the pricing pyramid and extremely hard to find. In fact, the most all-around enjoyable wines of the evening were from the Barbaresco flight, which did well here due to their more feminine and softer fruit profiles. Of course, three out of four were Bruno Giasoca, with Cappellano (a wine made from purchased fruit) scoring very high as well.

Barolo_MixsmIn the end, considering the list of names tasted here and the notes and scores I left with, I’d find it very difficult to recommend many of these bottles to the average consumer. While the Ca d’Morissio was drop-dead gorgeous and with a long life ahead of it, I only see availability in Europe, and at almost $500+ per bottle. My runner up, the Giacosa Riserva Asili can be had for $450+ in the US, which isn’t so bad when you consider the cost of recent vintages. That said, I won’t be seeking out any to buy. As for the Massolino Vigna Rionda, that’s the bottle that I would buy, assuming you can find it (for readers in the UK and Switzerland, you may be in luck). The Massolino was ridiculously close in quality to the top-scoring wines at this tasting. If you really want a great ‘96 Barolo in your cellar, that won’t break the bank, then this is the one to hunt for.

Barbaresco_mixsmSo how long do we need to wait for these wines to come around? At this time, I would look to start drinking any ‘96 Barolo from a modern-styled producer. For the traditionalists, you’re looking at another 5-10 years or more. As for Barbaresco, with the proper decanting, these are just entering their drinking window.

As is usually the case, whenever my vintage reports come back with any negative feedback, I’m sure there will be many who will call me out. However, what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t share my honest opinions with my readers? I hope I’m wrong, but at this time, ‘96 isn’t looking like the all-around great vintage we had all hoped for.  At the top of the pricing pyramid, your chances of a great experience increases.

Barolo_Blind_1996smMy advise is to tread lightly, and look for Barolo recommendations from those who have recently tasted the wines. As for Barbaresco, this tasting has tempted me to dig deeper, as this night’s examples were showing beautifully.

On to my tasting notes:

(All wines were served blind in three flights.  Bottles were opened between 9am – 11am, decanted for sediment, and then returned to their original bottle until the start of the tasting.)

Castiglione & Monforte d’Alba

AldoConterno_Granbussia_1996sm1996 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia – The nose displayed dark fruit, as blackberries dipped in liqueur, sweet spice and hints of espresso dominated. On the palate, it was soft, dare I say diluted, with notes of plum and tart cherry. It finished stern, with drying tannin and bitter remnants of red fruit. Everything about this wine made me believe it would be a modern-styled Barolo. (90 points)

1996 Vietti Barolo Rocche – The nose opened strangely, revealing notes of crushed seashell and saline-minerality. However, with time, the Rocche evolved with a display of floral undergrowth, brilliant red fruits and fresh green flora. On the palate, it was firm from start to finish, with earthy red fruits and intense minerality. Dried floral tones lingered throughout the finish, along with drying tannin and minerals. I had high hopes for this bottle, but it appears to be in a very closed phase. (91 points)

Mascarello_Barolo_Ca_dMorissio_1996_2sm1996 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Monprivato – The nose showed dark red fruits, menthol, sweet spice and dried flowers. With time, its fruit fleshed out, as a beautiful expression of fresh roses appeared. On the palate, it was lean yet with persistent tart cherry fruit that stained the senses. It finished structured and tense, yet the fruit remained intact. I have to wonder if this may have scored even higher had it not been tasted next to the Ca d’Morissio. (93 points)

1996 Giuseppe E Figlio Mascarello Barolo Ca d’Morissio Riserva Monprivato – This revealed a bouquet of dusty black cherry, dried flowers, dark exotic spice and crushed stone minerality. It was hauntingly dark and and floral. On the palate, I found pure fruit and saturating tannic structure, as tart black cherry steamrolled across the senses, leaving a trail of acid-tinged minerals in its wake. The finish was long and structured, with lingering notes of dried berries and inner floral tones. I can only imagine that this wine will see a very long life, and I seriously hope to be able to taste it again. (96 points)

Barbaresco (Or the story of three Giacosas and a Cappellano)

Giacosa_Barbaresco_Asili_Riserva_1996sm1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Asili – The nose was deep and layered, revealing ripe red fruits, plum, sweet spice, tar, smoke and earth. It was dark, seductive, and even a bit savory. On the palate, I found silky-soft textures with spiced cherry and plum coating the senses, along with licorice and violet florals. It finished incredibly long yet balanced and fresh with inner florals and remnants of dried cherry fruit. As it was tasted blind, I had guessed this to be the Rabaja–looks like I should be buying more Asili. (96 points)

1996 Cappellano Barbaresco – The nose showed dusty florals up front, with ripe cherry, exotic spice, menthol and sweet floral tones. On the palate, it was vibrant with silky textures that caressed the senses, as dark red fruits and inner floral tones persisted well into the long finish. Its structure loomed, along with a coating of minerals and a hint of herbs. This may not be quite as moving as the last bottle I tasted, but it was still an amazing experience. (94 points)

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Rabajà – The nose was sweet and layered with dark red fruits, dusty florals tones and minerals. On the palate, I found soft, juicy textures with vibrant red berry fruit that coated the senses. Tannin came late and lasted long into the finish, along with lifted minerality and dark fruit. (92 points)

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Albesani di Neive – The nose was perfumed and floral with bright cherry and minerals in a very pretty expression. On the palate, I found soft textures with dark red fruits and spice, yet there seemed to be something missing throughout the mid-palate. It finished on dried red fruits and inner floral tones. On this night, the Santo Stefano came across as small-scaled and pretty, but not much else. (90 points)

massolino_Barolo_1996_smSerralunga d’Alba

1996 Massolino Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda – The nose showed intense minerals, almost saline, with sweet herbs and dark red fruits. It was structured on the palate, yet showing intense dark fruits with a zing of brisk acidity before it’s still youthful tannin took effect and saturated the senses. It finished dry with a coating of minerals and tart cherry extract. This is still a baby, but it’s sure to enjoy a long and fulfilling life. (95 points)

1996 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto – The nose showed dark black cherry and minerals, yet it was restrained and ungiving at this stage. On the palate, the fruit turned crystalline and brilliant with mineral-wrapped black cherry and dark herbal tones that shot across the senses. It finished on concentrated red fruits, iron and fine tannin. I feel like many of the other tasters were let down by the Falletto tonight, yet I found it to be youthfully poised to grow into a beautiful wine. (92 points)

Cappellano_Barolo_Otin_Fiorin_96sm1996 Cappellano Barolo Piè Franco Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) – The nose displayed an attractive mix of minerals, dusty red fruits, spice, and iron, all with a savory leaning. On the palate, I found dark, bitter red fruits and minerals with earth tones and inner florals. It finished on fresh herbs, minerals and earth, with a coating of gruff tannin that saturated the senses.  As is often the case with Otin Fiorin, I have to wonder if it just needs more time to truly show it’s potential. (94 points)

1996 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato – The nose was almost savory, showing olive brine and sweet herbs before turning to crushed cherry, brown sugar and dark chocolate. On the palate, it was silky but also a bit one-dimensional, with notes of red berry, smoke and a hint of minerality. It finished on dark red fruits, yet it was murky and partially restrained.  Unfortunately, I feel that the fruit here simply didn’t integrate well with Ornato’s barrique oak aging.  (89 points)

Article, Photos and Tasting Notes: By Eric Guido

The Vintage We’ve Been Waiting For: 2015 German Riesling

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Schloss Lieser mix smIf you love Classic German riesling, then hold onto your seat, because 2015 in Germany is easily the best young vintage that I have ever tasted. I say that without any doubt in my mind. I say it as a fan of Riesling who has been tasting and working to understand the region for many years now. I say it feeling confident that 20 years from now, you’ll be remembering the moment you decided to go deep on 2015s, and you will smile from ear to year.

However, before you go out and buy all of your favorite Grosses Gewächs and Trocken-style wines, heed my one warning; 2015 German Riesling is all about the classic Prädikat-styled wines. In other words, wines with residual sugar. We aren’t talking about “sweet” wines (however those are off the charts as well); what we’re talking about are the styles of Feinherb, Kabbinet and Spatlese. These are wines that carry varying degrees of residual sugar, but it’s a sweetness that you often don’t perceive, because the acidity and fruit concentration of the wine balances everything out to a tee. That is the magic of the 2015 vintage.

Selbacj-Oster-Mix-2015smThis is not to say that there aren’t any amazing Grosses Gewächs from the vintage, yet what was apparent to many of the best producers was that the best way to use their perfect fruit was to allow the natural ripeness and purity of the vintage to shine through.

The ripeness and balance of 2015 came developed from a series of events that unfolded throughout the year and blessed the majority of the northern regions. The Mosel, Rheinhessen, Rheingau and the Nahe were all treated to a perfect natural blend of climatic conditions. This started with an extremely dry and warm summer, which excelled the ripening and prompted the berries to develop thicker skins. Just when growers started to worry that the vintage would suffer from heat and hydric stress, rain came and temperatures regulated. In the south, this made for an earlier vintage, but in the cooler regions, producers held on and were treated to a harvest season of unheralded perfection.


Brauneberger-Juffer Vineyard, source of Schloss Lieser’s Kabinett

Instead of worrying about when to pick or avoiding inclement weather, they were treated to five weeks of an Indian summer, which was propelled even further as the nighttime temperatures turned cool and dry. And so, through the month of October, growers were able to pick at leisure as the heat of the day and cool, brisk evenings created perfect physiological ripeness in the grapes and aided in keeping botrytis in check. The results were fruit of outstanding depth, perfect ripeness and bright, brisk acidity.

Speaking of acidity, this was both the blessing and the curse of the vintage. Producers who waited, achieved deep, concentrated berries, and they found balance in the vintage’s high acid. However, those who did not, or who picked early to create a drier-styled wine, were subject to a level of acid that I can best describe as “searing”. In fact, in tasting for this article, there were moments that my gums burned as I worked through certain portfolios. What’s worse is that some producers decided to deacidify, which created wines of round textures and fruit that lacks the verve of the vintage.

naheBut enough about the producers that failed. Let’s talk about the majority of the wines and the producers who succeeded in every sense of the word.

What really makes this vintage shine is balance and concentration. When reading through many of my notes, I found it amazing how often I used the words rich, savory and sweet herbs, as these are not often descriptions I find myself adding to a Riesling tasting note. However, in 2015, many of the Prädikat wines show these exact virtues. It’s amazing as I tasted so many of the Kabinetts and found them to be utterly spellbinding. It was difficult when making buying decisions, because I have so many fond memories of the wines in this range. As for the Spatlese, they are so young, yet so perfectly compact and balanced. In many cases, these are 30 – 40 year wines that a young collector could build an entire cellar on. The exact same can be said for the Auslese category, many of which may be immortal.

aj-adam-mixsmTake the perfectly ripe and pure fruit of the vintage. Add the depth created by the warm days and cool nights of the harvest. Then factor in the intense, vibrant acidity, and what you get are some of the most exciting wines that Germany (in my life) has ever produced.

I hope you agree and join me in going deep on 2015 Riesling.

Explanation of Terms and Tasting Notes:
Trocken = Dry as a bone. (Reminder: dry even if Spatlese Trocken)
Großes Gewächs = The Grands Crus of Germany, and Dry as a bone.
Feinherb = Off Dry and remarkably balanced.
Kabinett = A hint of sweetness balanced by lively acidity.
Spätlese = A rich wine from extremly ripe grapes., yet perfectly balanced.
Auslese = Selected harvest. Riper and richer than Spätlese, able to age for many decades.

On to my tasting notes (organized by region):

Mosel Saar Ruwer

Selbach-OSter-Zeltinger-Sonnenuhr-2015smSelbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken – The nose was fresh and lifted with minerals up front, followed by notes of ripe pear and floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures contrasted by mouthwatering acidity which excited the senses and brought notes of sweet citrus and inner floral tones to life. The finish was long with lingering notes of ripe apple and lemon. For the money, you cannot go wrong here. (92 points)

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese feinherb Ur Alte Reben 2015 – The nose was rich and deeply pitched with ripe stone fruits and spicy floral tones. On the palate, I found silky textures with tart apple, lemon and mineral thrust. It washed across the senses like a veil, with a shot of energy in the mid, then finishing long, long, long, laden with minerals. (94 points)

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese* 2015 – According to Johannes Selbach, this fruit was technically Auslese level in ripeness, and from the depth in the glass, you can certainly feel it. Here I found a deep and rich mineral-laden perfume, showing dried flowers, ripe apple, mango and hints of lemon curd. On the palate, I found silky, broad textures, which soothed the senses while a wave of acidity forced the mouth to water, releasing notes of spiced citrus and tropical fruits. The finish was long with notes of sweetened lemon and apple, then fading to become spicy and floral. (95 points)

Selbach-Orster-Domprobst-Auslese-2015smSelbach-Oster Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese 2015 – In 2015, I believe the Domprobst Auslese may be Selbach’s best sweet wine in 2015. The nose was intense with layers of crushed stone, tart citrus, and tropical fruits. It seemed to coat the entire palate in silky textures until a wash of minerals and acidity refreshed the senses, leaving flavors of spiced apple, mango and sweet inner floral tones. It finished on tension and seemed to go on for well over a minute. Sweet, but not, and built for the cellar. (96 points)

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling “Rotlay” 2015 – The nose was fresh and fruity with sweet floral tones. On the palate, I found silky textures displaying ripe mango, apple and lemon, before turning floral tones and spice. The finish was long with palate-coating tropical fruits, yet wonderfully fresh at the same times. This wine is so perfectly balanced. (94 points)

JulianHaaryMoselle2015smJulian Haart Riesling Moselle 2015 – The bouquet opened with ripe apple, mango, exotic kiwi notes, and it then turned almost savory, showing crushed stone and hints of pepper. It was racy on the palate and beautifully balanced with mid-weight textures, showing spicy green apple and minerals. The finish was long with mineral intensity, which seemed to saturate the senses. (92 points)

Peter Lauer Ayler Riesling Senior Faß 6 2015 – The nose was almost savory with its showing of green herbs, floral tones, spice and minerals. On the palate, it was soft with teeming green apple acidity, hints of lime and saline-minerality. The finish remained vibrant with coating minerals, almost salty in nature. This was not what I was expecting, but it was beautiful all the same. (91 points)

A.J. Adam Riesling Trocken 2015 – This displayed a darker and richer Riesling profile with ripe apple and hints of spice. On the palate, it was intense, as tart apple and citrus were kept juicy by brisk acidity, morphing into inner floral tones over time. It finished remarkably fresh and long with a lasting impression of tart citrus and minerals. (91 points)

AJ-Adam-Hofberg-2015smA.J. Adam Hofberg Riesling (GG) Trocken 2015 – The nose was slightly restrained, yet it was all there below the surface, as yellow floral tones mingled with tart apple and wet stone. On the palate, it showed remarkable intensity, as notes of concentrated green apple, grapefruit and minerals saturated the senses, yet it was kept vibrant and clean by cleansing acidity. The finish displayed a deep well of stone fruits, a coating of minerals, and lingering notes of dried flowers. Gorgeous. (95 points)

Weingut Adam & Haart Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling trocken 2015 – The nose was restrained, showing only light floral tones, stone fruits and a whiff of minerals. On the palate, it came to life with rich yet vibrant textures, as tart apple, sour citrus and minerals soaked the senses, providing contrasts to the wine’s weight. It finished long on saturating tart fruits and a buzz of brisk acidity. (92 points)

A.J. Adam Im Pfarrgarten Riesling Feinherb 2015 – The nose showed crushed stone up front, followed by an abundance of ripe stone fruit and wet slate. On the palate, I found a perfect balance of silky textures and tantalizing acidity, along with citrus, sweet herbs, and closing on inner floral tones. The finish was juicy, vivid and long; as in my notes, the single word “Wow” is scribed at the finale. (93 points)

AJ-Adam-In-der-sangerei-2015smA.J. Adam Dhron Hofberg Riesling Feinherb “In der Sängerei” 2015 – The nose was rich and spicy with ripe citrus, flowers and sweet herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures that filled the senses before contrasting notes of green apple and tart citrus joined the fray. The finish was long with cheek-puckering intensity, yet not severe in any way, as it was simply balanced with sweet citrus and minerals. I love this layered wine, and it was one of the highlights of my 2015 tastings. (94 – 95 points)

A.J. Adam Dhron “Has’chen” Riesling Kabinett 2015 – The nose was deep and rich, however restrained, with only hints of wild herbs and minerals. On the palate, I found ripe apple and melon with hints of savory spice, which seemed to coat the senses in their concentration. It finished fresh on ripe apple and mouthwatering acidity. (92 points)

A.J. Adam Dhron Hofberg Riesling Spätlese 2015 – The nose was youthfully restrained. On the palate, I found full-bodied textures lifted by brisk acidity. The fruit was tropical and ripe but kept in check by stunning minerality. The long finish lent a buzz of mouthwatering acidity which provided freshness. It was very nice but painfully young, and I doubt my score will do it justice years down the road. (90 – 92 points)

A.J. Adam Dhron Hofberg Riesling Auslese 2015 – The nose showed ripe apple and pear. On the palate, I found luscious textures, yet lifted and fresh, with notes of mango, orange peel and ripe apricot. It finished long on sweet florals and hints of spice. This wine requires time to find itself, as I have no doubt that it will grow into something much more than it is today. (94 – 96 points)

schloss-lieser-WS-KabinnettsmSchloss Lieser Helden Riesling Spatlese Trocken 2015 – The nose showed tart citrus with intense minerals, floral tones and musky undergrowth. On the palate, wow, concentrated yet silky with intense rich citrus contrasted by a coating of minerals and spice. The finish was long and spicy with tart citrus and an almost-smoky quality. (92 points)

Schloss Lieser Riesling Estate 2015 – The nose was fresh, showing young mango, apricot, lemon zest and minerals. On the palate, I found soft, almost creamy textures, mixing lemon with ripe apple and zest acidity. It turned tart, then made the mouth water throughout the finish. (90 points)

Schloss Lieser Estate Riesling Kabinett 2015 – The nose showed crushed stone minerality with hints of ripe pear. On the palate, I found soft textures, almost creamy, with sweet citrus, apple and perfectly balanced acidity. The finish was long, almost floral, with lingering hints of tart citrus. (91 points)

Schloss Lieser Riesling Kabinett Brauneberger Juffer 2015 – The nose showed ripe pear, and spice, then turned mineral with sweet florals. On the palate, I found soft textures giving way to ripe apple, pear, and rich lemon curd; but through it all, there was great energy and tension. The finish coated the palate with sweet apple and inner floral tones. (92 points) Find it at Morrell

SchlossLierserNHSpat2015smSchloss Lieser Riesling Kabinett Wehlener Sonnenuhr 2015 – The bouquet was intense and almost savory, with floral perfumes, spice, fresh ginger, and wet stone minerality. On the palate, it was perfectly balanced, silky and ripe yet contrasted with green apple acidity and coating minerals, then turned to inner florals. The finish was ridiculously long on ripe apple and sweet citrus with a slight buzz of acidity. It’s a mind-bending wine. (94 points) Find it at Morrell

Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese 2015 – The nose was deep and rich, showing crushed stone minerality with floral tones, lime, and sweet herbs. On the palate, it was silky, coating the senses with sweet textures lifted by stunning bright fruits, including floral peach, ripe pear, ginger and citrus. The finish seemed to go on and on, slowly tapering off over time with lingering hints of minerals and lemon. (93 points) Find it at Morrell


Dönnhoff Felsenberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs “Felsenturmchen” 2015 – (limited notes) The nose was rich and deeply layered with intense minerality and young stone fruits. On the palate, it was fresh and well-balanced, yet a twang of acidity seared the mid through the close. It finished mouthwatering and spicy. (91 points)

Dönnhoff Hermannshöhle Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2015 – The nose was gorgeous with intense floral perfumes, fresh sliced apple, and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found zesty minerality with green apple acidity, and pure and precise notes of apricot, pear and inner floral tones. A coating of tantalizing minerals saturated the senses throughout the finish. This is gorgeous. (93 points)

Dönnhoff Kreuznacher Krotenpfuhl Riesling Kabinett 2015 – It was holding back on the nose, showing only hints of its future self, as notes of young peach and hints of spice mingled in the glass. However, on the palate, I found juicy, ripe stone fruits accentuated by zest acidity and minerals. It finished long yet fresh, as its ripe fruits backed down and revealed floral tones and spiced green apple. This is beautiful. (94+ points)

Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett 2015 – (limited notes) Showing a mix of ripe stone and yellow tropical fruits with silky textures excited by bright acidity, leaving a coating of minerals and notions of fresh green apple. (91 points)

Donnhoff_Hermannshohle_2015smDönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese 2015 – The ‘15 Hermannshohle Spat was off the charts, with a bouquet of spiced florals, sweet sliced apple, crushed stone and hints of fresh ginger. On the palate, it was layered and intense yet still lifted with saturating notes of lemon curd, spiced apple, minerals and electrifying acidity. It finished fresh and long with lingering notes of citrus and minerals. This wine has decades of development ahead of it. (96 points)

Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Auslese “Goldkapsel” 2015 – (limited notes) The nose was floral with sweet tropical fruits. On the palate, I found a mix of silky textures, zesty acidity, sweet citrus and saline-minerality. The finish was palate-staining and long, but also wonderfully fresh. (93 points)

Schneider Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Trocken “Magnus” 2015 – The nose was rich, almost savory, saline and intense. On the palate, tart apple and a rush of intense minerals were overly accentuated by searing acidity. It coated the palate with minerals throughout the finish and forced the mouth to water. I’m not sure when this wine will find its balance, but on this day, it was almost painful. (89 – 92 points)

Schlossgut Diel Riesling Feinherb ‘Von der Nahe’ 2015 – Here I was treated to a bouquet of ripe apple, sweet herbs and floral tones. On the palate, concentrated layers of citrus and tart stone fruits were offset by a soft wave of balancing ripeness. It was mouthwatering and intense throughout the finish with a zesty buzz of acidity through the close. (91 points)

Schlossgut Diel Dorsheimer Goldloch Riesling Kabinett 2015 – The Dorsheimer Goldloch Kabinett showed intense minerality on the nose, more expected from a GG than a Kabi, with fresh floral and lemon zest. On the palate, I found vibrant textures with pure ripe citrus fruit. The details haven’t fleshed out here yet, but the purity is simply stunning. The finish was long and fresh with zippy acidity that prompted me to take another sip. (92 points)

Von-Winning-Kirchenstuck-2015smSchlossgut Diel Pittermannchen Riesling Spatlese 2015 – The nose displayed a mix of sweet florals and herbal tones with hints of mango and ripe pear. On the palate, I found a refreshing mix of ripe stone fruits, coating minerality and citrus zest. It was long and caressing to the senses with layers of ripe stone fruits on the finish. (92 points)


von Winning Kirchenstück Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2015 – As expected from von Winning, the 2015 Kirchenstuck showed intense minerality on the nose, with a saline or marine quality, along with young mango and pear. On the palate, I found a wonderfully fresh expression with soft textures to contrast its saturating minerality and hints of tropical fruits. It finished remarkably long and floral, yet tense. It’s still holding much back, but the concentration here is intense, and the acidity is in perfect balance. Put it in the cellar. (94 points)


Spreitzer_Jesuitengarten_Spatlese_2015smSpreitzer Oestricher Lenchen Riesling Spatlese ‘303’ 2015 – On the nose, the ‘303’ is still holding back; yet on the palate, it went off like a bomb. Here I found intense sweet lemon and tropical notes offset by scintillating acidity which reinforced its tropical layers and coax the senses to water. This lasted throughout the long finish, adding mineral and sweet herbal tones. (92 points)

Spreitzer Winkeler Jesuitengarten Riesling Spätlese 2015 – The nose was rich and floral with notes of ripe apple, minerals and floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found zesty acidity with notes of ripe tropical fruit and minerals in a very balanced and alluring expression. It finished long with saturating tropical fruits offset by zesty citrus tones. (94 points)

Künstler Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Trocken 2015 – The nose was so layered and fresh, smelling like Spring, with a mix of floral tones, herbs and young peach. On the palate, I found tart lemon and inner floral tones with tantalizing green apple acidity. It finished long, lifted, floral and mouthwatering. Definitely among the top Trockens I’ve tasted from 2015. (92 points)

Künstler Hochheimer Kirchenstuck Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2015 – Künstler really delivered the goods on the Hochheimer Kirchenstuck, as an exotic and almost-savory bouquet of spicy florals was given added depth with hints of caraway and fresh apple. On the palate, it was remarkably soft-textured on entry but then cleansing through vibrant acidity. Inner floral tones prevailed, as its fruit seemed to take a back seat. However, I’m not worried here, as there’s so much going on, which is still not at the surface. (92 points)


Keller Riesling Limestone 2015 – The nose showed a bright mix of a ripe spiced apple with wet stone minerality and zesty lemon. On the palate, I found vibrant, soft textures, leading with succulent ripe apple and then turning tart with intense minerality and inner florals. Granny Smith tartness lingered long, long, long on the mid-palate, along with saturating minerals, all while remnants of zesty acidity forced the mouth to water. (91 points) Find it at Morrell

Article, Tasting Notes, and Photos by: Eric Guido

The Grand Crus of Napa Valley: BOND

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Bond_Melbury_2012_(2_of_2)smWhat’s become one of the highlights of my year is the tasting of new releases from BOND estate. This year it was the 2012 vintage that was under the microscope. To just say that I’m impressed would be a serious understatement. Last year the 2011 vintage really wow’d me, which is a testament to what Bond has created through their selection of vineyard sites. These wines transcend vintage, yet when you combine this level of quality winemaking, the prestigious terroir that BOND has chosen, and a good vintage like 2012, you end up with something purely magical.

LocationTerroirLetting Cabernet Sauvignon speak in Napa Valley.

Over the last 20-years BOND estate has been working to define Napa Valley’s Grand Crus, which is something that speaks volumes to me—and my single-vineyard-loving roots.

BondCorksmIn fact, I recall tasting at a very prestigious Valley winery some years ago, where they allowed me to sample pure Cabernet from each of their vineyard sites. I was amazed by the quality and enjoyment I found in each glass, yet completely disappointed as I knew they would ultimately be blended to create the estate’s flagship wine. Of course, for a very long time, this is what Napa Valley was all about. However, today we see the importance of place finding traction in California, and BOND is at the head of the pack.

What BOND has done is to seek out and define five distinct locations, each with noticeably different terroir, and create a series of single-vineyard expressions. With their vineyard manager, Mary Maher, overseeing each sight, and winemaker, Cory Empting vinifying each of the wines in the same fashion, BOND has succeeded in bringing us an exciting collection of Napa Valley Cabernet.

Bondlineup2012smImagine this as you sip from a glass of Melbury, with it’s vibrant, plush fruit, supple textures and elegance, a result of the ancient sedimentary soils and compressed clay that these vines grow in. Now move on to Quella, from the eastern hills overlooking the valley. A steep southwest facing slope, atop an ancient riverbed, covered by a layer of volcanic ash. It’s a graceful and vibrant wine with more blue fruits and a refined finish. With St. Eden we move further south to a rocky knoll, just north of Oakville in soils composed of iron-rich volcanic rock. In my opinion, St Eden is the most all around pleasing wine in the lineup, a classic Napa Valley Cabernet. Moving on to Vecina, we take a turn to structure, intensity and savory tones, as this terraced volcanic slope is mixed with exposed bedrock and alluvial sediments. It shows the darker side of Napa with its blackberry fruits, also layered with a melange of exotic aromas and flavors. Vecina is a serious wine, built for the cellar. Lastly there’s Pluribus, their highest elevation site, located on Spring mountain in soils made up of decomposed volcanic rock. Pluribus is dark and intense, again a candidate for the cellar, and a wine that will please lovers of the old-world and the new.

As you can see, BOND has something for every palate. Yet each time I think I’ve picked my favorite, a different vineyard expression impresses and makes me rethink the decision. I can’t help but want to study each of them and the intricacy within each glass. Never have I felt more compelled to buy a collection of wines versus deciding to settle on one.

On to the tasting notes:

Bond_Melbury_2012_(1_of_2)sm2012 Bond Melbury – This displayed a vibrant and alluring bouquet of bright red fruits along with blueberry, sweet spice, dusty soil and dried floral tones. It showed intense and concentrated red fruit on the palate, yet it’s velvety and dense textures supported it all effortlessly, as tart cherry and spice seemed to saturate the senses. The finish was long on lingering fruit yet not tiring at all. The ‘12 Melbury was a real treat and so easy to like. (94 points) Find it at Morrell.

BondQuella2012sm2012 Bond Quella – The nose was closed at first, yet time in the glass revealed dark red fruits, pretty violet tones, baking spice and a hint of orange peel. It was graceful and silky on the palate, with a mix of spiced red and blue fruits, which seemed to coat the senses and slowly taper off to reveal savory minerality and a lasting impression of blueberry on the back palate. The ‘12 Quella is an understated wine and comes across with beautiful refinement and elegance. (93 points) Find it at Morrell.

2012 Bond St. Eden – The nose was gorgeous, as it balanced fruit and earth, displaying floral undergrowth, animal musk and dark earth up front, followed by crushed cherry and sweet herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures giving way to wild berry fruits, baking spice, and a coating of fine, sweet tannin. It finished long on sweet spice and a mix of red and blue fruits. (94 points) Find it at Morrell.

BondVecina2012sm2012 Bond Vecina – The nose on the ‘12 Vecina was deep and layered, and it required a bit of coaxing before it sprang to life. Here I found intense dark red and black fruit, balanced by dusty earth, wild floral perfumes and stunning minerality. On the palate, I found silky textures delivering formidable weight and tannic clout, as a wave of massive dark fruit swept across the senses, leaving notes of cocoa, dried herbs, and confectionary spice in it’s wake. The finish was long with notes of tobacco, dark chocolate and sweet herbs. I simply didn’t want this glass to ever empty. The ‘12 Vecina is simply stunning! (98 points)

BondPluribus2012sm2012 Bond Pluribus – The nose was dark and refined, showing crushed stone, savory herbs, tobacco and tart cherry. On the palate, I found silky textures giving way to youthfully restrained dark fruit laced with a minerals and tannin. Structured and somewhat monolithic today but dence and remarkably balanced, it finished on a core of haunting dark fruits and inner floral tones. It will be many years before we can really see where the ‘12 Pluribus is going, but once it gets there–watch out! (96 points) Find it at Morrell.

And as a great reference we tasted a number of back vintages.

1999 Bond Vecina – The nose was stunningly fresh yet also perfectly mature, displaying crushed strawberry, dried leaves, moist soil tones and hints of spice On the palate, it was softly textured and still vibrant, as spicy red fruits gave way to hints of cocoa and minerals. It finished on sweet herbs, dried cherry and plum, with inner floral tones lingering long. This is perfectly mature and a real treat. (95 points)

Bond Pluribus 2010sm2002 Bond Melbury – Absolutely stunning and unexpected for me, as I have often loved Melbury for its vibrance and youthful appeal, yet never really thought of it as a wine that would mature this beautifully over the course of 14 years. The nose showed a mix of fresh herbs, dried flowers and dusty soil with fresh ripe strawberries. On the palate, it was silky, plush and alluring with vibrant acidity giving life to its flavors of sweet herbs, crushed berries, minerals and dried spices. It finished long, with lingering minerality and hints of green olive. (96 points)

2010 Bond Pluribus – The nose showed violet florals with black fruits, crushed stone, hints of smoke and lifting herbal tones. On the palate, it displayed silky textures, yet it was still youthfully lean and tannic with smoky red fruits, exotic spice, and minerals. The finish was structured with a coating of fine tannin contrasted by dry yet saturating dark fruit and spice. This is still so young and hard to read. (94 points)

Article, Tasting Notes and Photos by: Eric Guido

Are You Ready for an Sicilian Summer: Caponata

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caponata6Caponata is a vegetarian dish that’s centered around eggplant and fresh, harvested vegetables. It’s a celebration of produce and on the palate obtains a melding of fresh, salty, and sweet flavors that truly makes it a celebration for your taste buds as well. It is satisfying, refreshing and delicious.

It’s a dish that can be served cold, at room temperature or warm, and it can be an appetizer, side dish or main course. It’s difficult for me to think of another dish that is as versatile as caponata, especially since it can thrill you on a paper plate in the yard or served on fine china at the table.

My favorite way to serve caponata is at room temperature as an appetizer. When served at this neutral temperature, the medley of flavors in this dish is on full display. Each ingredient still bears its unique flavors while contributing to the whole.

ilmimomassicansmAs for a wine pairing, I like to go with a wine that can stand up to the vibrant acidity of caponata. Remember that this dish has a sweet and sour profile and could be overwhelming next to a new world-styled wine. However, it’s also a dish that showcases the finessed yet sometimes fragile flavors of fresh vegetables, so it wouldn’t stand up well to a heavy-handed red. Lastly, I want a wine that will augment the flavors of the caponata. On this occasion, I went with a small-production boutique producer from California, who is experimenting with Italian varietals and combining their old-world characteristics with the ripe flavors of California fruit, and a producer from northern Italy making one of my favorite summertime rosés out of Nebbiolo.

The Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo Colline Novaresi Il Mimo 2015 was the color of a gorgeous deep-red rose with forest floor, intense cranberry, red florals and chalk dust on the nose. The palate was smooth, juicy and almost a little sweet with cherry, strawberry fruit, dried orange and a hint of spice. It was very enjoyable and thirst-quenching, providing fruity contrasts to the earthiness of the caponata’s eggplant.

The Massican Annia 2014 is a wine that you really need to give the proper attention to.   It’s a blend of 45% Tocai Fruiliano, 32% Chardonnay, and 23% Ribolla Gialla, with a nose that was at first restrained, showing a beautiful bouquet of green apple, white flowers, wild herbs, and a bit of lemon. The palate displayed vibrant and forward acidity, which enriched it’s flavors of green apple, citrus, and wet stone, with minerality that carried well into it’s fresh citrus finish. This wine was a pleasure to drink as its brisk acidity kept your palate perfectly tuned in for another bite of caponata.


caponatamiseThe most important thing is to use the best quality ingredients. This dish doesn’t mask a thing. Instead, it amplifies the flavors of each ingredient, and that’s part of its magic. Many recipes will tell you to peel the tomatoes, but in this case we’re using grape tomatoes for visual appeal and their bittersweet flavor. You could also use plum or vine tomatoes, in which case you should blanch and peel them.

Serves four

  • 3 – 4 Italian eggplants, about 2 pounds (or look for a mix of colors; smaller is better)
  • salt and pepper, as needed
  • grape seed oil, for frying
  • 4 – 5 stalks of celery, large dice
  • 4 tbls extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, small dice
  • 1 cup green Italian olives, sliced in half with pits removed
  • 1 pound of grape tomatoes, sliced in half with seeds removed
  • 2 tbls of capers, rinsed
  • 7 tbls of red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbls of sugar
  • 1 loaf Italian bread, to serve
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, to serve

caponataprep21. Slice the eggplant crosswise into ¾-inch slices. Line a sheet pan with paper towels and a cookie rack. Coat both sides of each eggplant slice generously with salt and place on the rack. The salt will pull the bitter flavors out of the eggplant. Allow the eggplant to sit like this for one hour. Then rinse the eggplant well, and dry.

2. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. At the same time, place a large sauté pan over a medium flame and pour enough grape seed oil in to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the oil is hot, place the eggplant into the sauté pan. (Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. You may need to fry the eggplant in two batches.) Fry the eggplant on one side until golden brown and then flip to achieve the same sear on the other side. Once both sides have been cooked, remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.

3. Set up a small ice bath. Place the large dice of celery into the salted boiling water. Blanch for three to four minutes or until the color becomes a deep vibrant green. Pull the celery from the pot and place into the ice bath for no more than one minute. Then drain and set aside.

4. Cut the eggplant slices into large dice with a very sharp knife; remember they are soft from being fried, and make sure to keep the skin on the eggplant.

caponataprep35. At this time you are ready to begin the final assembly of the dish. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan. Once hot, add the onions and season with a pinch of salt. Allow the onions to cook for three minutes. Add the olives, tomatoes and celery and stir together. Allow to cook for another five minutes.

6. Now add the eggplant, capers, vinegar and sugar. Stir the contents of the pan together well and allow to cook for 10 minutes.

7. Taste for seasoning, and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

8. Move the entire contents of the pan to a serving dish.

If you are looking to serve this at room temperature, allow the dish to sit for up to an hour before serving. To serve hot, allow only ten minutes. To serve cold, place it in the refrigerator for two to three hours.

caponataprep4No matter what temperature you are aiming for, when ready to serve, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Slice the Italian bread into ¼-inch slices, brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil and place on a parchment-lined baking dish. Put in the oven for five minutes to toast slightly. Chop the fresh basil and add to the caponata; stir to combine.

You can serve the caponata plated out with the toasts, or serve it family-style.

Article, tasting notes, photos and recipe by: Eric Guido