Whatever 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.
In 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.
So 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.
My 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
1996 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)
1996 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)
1996 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)
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)
1996 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
If 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.
This 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.
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.
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.
Take 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 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-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)
Julian 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)
A.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)
A.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 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
Schloss 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)
Dönnhoff 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)
Schlossgut 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 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
What’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.
Location… Terroir… Letting 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.
In 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.
Imagine 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:
2012 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.
2012 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.
2012 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)
2012 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)
2002 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
Caponata 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.
As 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.
The 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.
- 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
1. 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.
5. 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.
No 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
It’s 2016, and as fans of Barolo and Barbaresco, that means that we have a great reason to organize both 20- and 15-year retrospectives of two of my favorite past vintages, 1996 and 2001. Plans for a ‘96 retrospective are in the works, but today I’d like to share our recently-completed tasting of 2001 Barolo.
2001 is a vintage that has a lot of meaning to me. As a collector, it was the first classic vintage that I could taste on release. Thinking back to those days, and all of the hype surrounding the 2000 vintage, I vividly recall the first of the 2001s arriving. Compared to the 2000s, I couldn’t help but be moved by the ‘01’s sense of refinement and structure. It was the first time that I had witnessed a wine that moved me emotionally, and although they weren’t pleasurable to drink at the time, it was possible to imagine, or forecast, the greatness of these sleeping giants.
The aromatics displayed an intensity of fruit that was held in check by floral, mineral and earth tones. On the palate, we were presented with a glimpse of their potential as a pure core of razor-like focused fruit that steamrolled across the the palate, yet was then quickly smothered as a wave of fine tannin coated the senses. The 2001s were finessed, mid-weight and built for the cellar. At the time, I couldn’t even put these sensations into words, as it took tasting many more structured vintages before I truly understood what I was experiencing.
As I placed these wines into my cellar, I was fully aware that it would be many years before I could consider opening one on the basis of it providing a pleasurably mature experience. I would shake my head in regret each time I read a tasting note on 2001 Barolo, for how could they possibly be ready to drink?
Then in December of 2011, my Barolo tasting group held our first blind 10-year retrospective on the vintage. It was a painful experience. Even as the wines had been decanted much earlier in the day, they were a wall of tannin. We left the experience with palates that were lashed by tannin. Doing my best to report back to readers on the vintage, all I could do was to use the small data-points that I was able to retrieve prior to each wine’s tannic shutdown on my palate. The broad message was that these wines needed more time.
However, what followed were a number of events that cast a worrisome light over the vintage. First was a report from Antonio Galloni of Vinous in 2012 that reported that he had found a high percentage of cork-related issues as he completed his own 2001 retrospective. This was followed by a number of tastings of my own, as well as by fellow collectors, where the wines were found to be overly austere, or in a state where the fruit seemed to be drying as the tannin remained firm and overwhelming.
For years now, we have all worried about the 2001 vintage, and so going into our recent tasting, there was a level of anxiety that was shared by the group. Would these wines confirm our worries or put them back on track to being a youthful yet classic vintage?
I’m very happy to report that it is the former. Our blind 2001 tasting showed a vintage of remarkable character that will continue to mature over the next two or more decades and is just now starting to show its entry into an early drinking window. Are these wines ready to drink? Absolutely not, but with a little coaxing, I’m sure you’ll have the same experience that we did. As for the regiment, each member was instructed to open and double-decant their wine by noon for a tasting that started at 7pm. When it comes to the cork issues that Antonio had experienced, we did have one corked bottle, but these things happen, and it’s difficult to either confirm or deny the problem without tasting a much broader selection of wines.
For the sake of providing a more in depth selection, I have included, with our blind retrospective, a small number of 2001 Barolo that were tasted within the last six months. They have been marked as “Non-Blind!”. Enjoy!
2001 Barolo Retrospective
(This was a blind tasting with capsules removed before bagging. Most wines were double-decanted at noon. Bagging was done with no set order. Attendees knew what wines were present at the table, but they had no information otherwise.)
Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia Riserva 2001 – An initial whiff of nail polish remover gave me pause; however, the ‘01 Granbussia came around in the glass to reveal ripe dark-red fruits, sweet herbs, and spice in an intense expression on the nose. On the palate, it displayed silky textures with herbal-infused red fruits and a hint of bitter blackberry. The finish was medium in length and slightly herbal. Having tasted this on a number of occasions, I admit to being surprised by this night’s slightly clumsy performance. (91 points)
Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2001 – The nose showed smoky cherry with minerals, dried leaves and hints of savory herbs. It was dark on the palate, driven by minerals and tart black fruits, on a medium-bodied frame with cheek-puckering tannin. It finished on dried cherry and hints of wood. Although this came across as slightly austere, there is some pleasure to be found in its current state of evolution. (92 points)
Conterno Fantino Barolo Sori Ginestra 2001 – The nose was deep in its spice-inflected dark red fruits, spice and earthy mineral tones. On the palate, I was greeted by soft and inviting textures with dark, spicy fruits enveloping sweet tannin. Earth tones emerged over time, as well and minerals and savory herbs. It finished on palate-saturating fruit and a hint of bitterness. (91 points)
Gaja Sperss 2001 – I was greeted by a dark, intense, yet polished bouquet of black cherry, spice, tobacco and sweet herbs. On the palate, brilliant red fruits, exotic spice, and floral tones were contrasted by hints of pine, earth, and fine-grain tannin. The finish was long, yet inward in its tart black fruit and tannin, begging for more time in the cellar. (93 points)
Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis 2001 – On the nose, I found ripe cherry and minerals with dusty red floral tones, hints of spice and sweet herbs. It was soft and alluring on the palate through its brisk acidity, displaying notes of ripe cherry, plum and earth. Tannins mounted through the experience as the fruit seemed to saturate the senses, turning darker with time, leading into a finish that showed the structured youth of this young Riserva. (93 points)
Brovia Barolo Rocche 2001 – What an intriguing bouquet, as the Brovia Rocche seems to pull you deeper into the glass with its display of undergrowth and crushed stone giving way to charred meats, dark fruit and hints of herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures, firmed up quickly by brisk acidity and youthful tannin, yet still showing focused cherry and strawberry fruit along with inner floral tones. The finish was long, yet youthfully austere with remnants of dried cherry and minerals. (94 points)
Comm. G.B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero 2001 – The ‘01 Monvigliero is almost impossible to resist at this stage of its life. On the nose, a display of exotic floral tones, savory herbs and black olive were offset by alluring notes of ripe strawberry fruit and minerality. On the palate, I found soft, velvety textures with fleshy, yet bright and vibrant red fruit, sweet herbs and inner floral tones. It finished on a note of sweet herbal tea and dried strawberry, with fine tannin that was nearly enveloped by it’s juicy and vibrant fruit. This was a real stunner. (94 points)
Cappellano Barolo Piè Rupestris Otin Fiorin (Gabutti) 2001 – The nose displayed airy and lifted red fruit with notes of dusty spice, menthol and licorice wrapped firmly around a mineral core. On the palate, it displayed radiant cherry and pomegranate with hints of spice and firm ’01 tannins, which provided a saturating and concentrated fruit sensation along with grip to spare. The finish resonated on fine tannin and lingering dried cherry and sweet herbs. (94 points) Non-Blind!
Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste 2001 – The bouquet was pretty but compact, showing black cherry, dusty soil, licorice, sweet spice and undergrowth. On the palate, it was tightly wound up in its structure, with notes of dried cherry, strawberry fruit, tobacco and savory herbs. It finished tight and restrained with dried fruits lingering long. This really showed the classic structure and tannin of the vintage with brilliant, focused fruit, yet remains many years away from its peak. (95 points) Non-Blind!
Vietti Barolo Rocche 2001 – The ‘01 Rocche was the personification of pure class and elegance. On the palate, I found dark red fruits with a hint of wood, followed by floral rose, sweet herbs and spice. Soft textures eased the senses, while brisk acidity gave life to brilliant cherry fruit, minerals and inner floral tones in a truly elegant expression of Rocche. The finish was long with hints of fine tannin, dried cherry and lasting inner floral tones. If you have the ‘01 Rocche in your cellar, then you’re in for a real treat. If not, then what are you waiting for? (95 points)
Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido
With the 2015 Bordeaux futures in full swing, It’s gotten me thinking a lot about the world’s most collectible wine. As a wine lover and collector myself, I almost entirely ignored Bordeaux, mainly because of timing. For me, it was the 2005 futures that were being heavily advertised during the formative years of my wine-collecting life. I watched as prices climbed and collectors scurried to buy the very best wines. Many speculated if the inflation could possibly last, while others bought deeply. I, for one, was priced out before I could even jump in. At the time, Italy was my thing, and so Bordeaux got put on the back burner.
Fast forward thirteen years, and I found myself tasting through a large horizontal of 2005 Bordeaux. As I moved from bottle to bottle, I couldn’t help but think about how much of a fool I had been. Not only did I fail to buy these wines upon release, but I also misjudged the market, as the 2005 vintage not only maintained its value, it actually continued to increase. That night, I learned a valuable lesson about the staying power of Bordeaux.
These days, I take advantage of any chance I can get to taste mature Bordeaux, even as the region has seen some decline in popularity over the last few years, I believe Bordeaux is on the verge of a major comeback. All it takes is a tasting of vintages’ past and a little faith, as these are wines that truly belong in the cellar.
So as the 2015 futures continue to trickle out, my advise is to watch them closely; maybe even jump in as I should have all of those years ago. Because if you think that Bordeaux has hit a ceiling, think again. These wines will be pleasing palates and appreciating in value for many decades to come.
About a month ago, I was given the opportunity to taste through a large selection of Bordeaux’s best from recent vintages. Names like Hosanna, Haut Bailly, Palmer, Ducru Beacaillou, Pichon Lalande and Mouton Rothschild all adorned the table. Tasting these young wines was a challenge and maybe even a bit of a shame since they were so far away from maturity. Yet it was the potential that was on display. That tense, tightly coiled fruit, like a freight train across your palate, that leaves a searing score of tannin in it’s wake. It’s that same intensity that tricks you into thinking these wine might be too dry or reticent–but that’s simply what young Bordeaux tends to be.
Then to taste these same wines later in the evening, but instead from vintages that were 10, 15 or even 20 years old–it’s a tasting like this that seals the deal for anyone who’s on the fence with Bordeaux.
As these wines age, they soften. It’s not that they gain volume or weight; instead what time adds to Bordeaux is texture, that and the tertiary aromas and flavors that mature wine is known for. As the youthful tannins recede, that same tightly coiled fruit relaxes, unveiling a sensation like silky being drawn smoothly across the palate. The experience continues to heighten as the wine moves through the incline of its drinking window, which can last for decades. It’s an experience like this that seals the deal for a collector like myself, and it begs the question of why I don’t buy more Bordeaux.
On to the tasting notes:
2005 Château Hosanna – Worth waiting for, the 2005 Hosanna was at first quite coy and ungiving, as members of the group quickly passed it up for the 2000 vintage. Yet as it sat in the glass, an evolution took place that firmly placed this wine as one of the best of the evening. The nose showed dark red and blue fruits, along with savory herbs and gravel dust. On the palate, a core of crushed raspberry and currant saturated the senses and left notes of dark chocolate and savory herbs. The finish seemed to go on for over a minute, along with a coating of fine tannin that should guarantee this Hosanna another 20 years or more of positive development. (96 points) at Morrell
2000 Château Hosanna – What a great way to start an evening of Bordeaux. The 2000 Hosanna is a wine that gives and gives yet remains perfectly balanced and elegant throughout. Its alluring and evolved bouquet combined a mix of cedar and spicy with ripe strawberry and chalky minerals. Undergrowth and a hint of blueberry skins emerged with more time in the glass. On the palate, it displayed silky textures contrasted by tart berry fruit, inner floral tones and a hint of sweet pepper. A hint of tannin remained on the long finish, yet the 2000 is already perfectly enjoyable today. (94 points) at Morrell
2008 Château Haut-Bailly – The ‘08 Haut-Bailly showed beautifully and open on this night with an alluring mix of ripe plum, cherry, tobacco and sweet herbs on the nose. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by a hint of rough tannin, yet its mix of blackberry and cherry fruit provided cushion against the ‘08’s austerity and ultimately resulted in a highly enjoyable performance. The finish showed more of the wine’s tough structure, yet it was forgivable after everything this wine gave before. (92 points) at Morrell
2000 Château Haut-Bailly – The nose was intriguing and really seemed to pull me closer to the glass with each sip. Here i found a savory mix of olive and rosemary with intense black raspberry fruit and minerals. On the palate, still-youthful tannin and a bump of acidity created a very taut persona with a twang of bitter fruit. It finished on dried red berries and fine tannin. (91 points) at Morrell
2006 Château Palmer – The turning point of the tasting for me was the 2006 Palmer, a dark and authoritative wine that would probably not appeal to a wider audience, but it was exactly what I wanted on this night. The nose was black as pitch; actually, you may have found notes of pitch buried beneath its wealth of black currant, haunting floral tones, brown sugar, savory spices and tobacco. On the palate, it displayed a series of textural waves that moved the senses, all kept in check by brisk acidity and notes of dried dark fruits and savory herbs. It finished with a display of youthful tannin, earth and inner floral tones. (93 points)
1995 Château Palmer – This is in a wonderful place right now, displaying a dark yet vibrant nose of crushed black cherry, sweet herbs, cedar, smoke and tobacco. On the palate, I found lifted textures with perfectly resolved tannin, possibly decanted too long as a hint of oxidation creeped in, yet altogether beautiful, as dark fruits and tobacco came together along with inner floral and earth tones. It finished on a note of bitter black fruit and dried flowers. (93 points) at Morrell
2005 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou – The nose showed a mix of lush red fruits with sweet floral tones, gravel dust and brown spice. On the palate, it was unbelievably silky and refined, seeming to touch upon all the senses with fleshy dark red fruits and minerals, firming up on the finish, as its youthful tannins saturated the senses. What a beautiful showing, and it’s a wine that will likely continue to evolve for the next two decades. (95 points)
1995 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou – The ‘95 Beaucaillou didn’t show as well as I’d hoped on this night, with an intense dark fruit and sweet tobacco and floral bouquet that seemed to be missed the slight rusticity that I love in these wines. On the palate, I found rich, dense textures with dark red fruits, hints of spice and fine tannin. It finished medium-long on dried fruits. (92 points) at Morrell
1996 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande -The ‘96 Pichon showed a beautiful, mature bouquet with earth tones up front leading to crushed red fruit, dried flowers and spice. On the palate, I found saturating dark red fruits on broad and fleshy frame, as a bump of brisk acidity provided lift. It finished earthy yet fresh with hints of savory herbs and olive. (94 points)
2005 Château Mouton Rothschild – The nose showed an intense core of currant and black raspberry encased in a shroud of tobacco, cedar, spice and graphite. On the palate, it was center-focused with concentrated dark fruits and bitter herbs, as tannin clenched the senses. It finished structured, as tannin saturated the palate, and hints of mineral tinged dried fruits lingered. With everything going on in this glass, it’s almost impossible to imagine this wine at peak. That said, it’s balanced to the core and built like a bomb wanting to explode. (96 points)
1996 Château Mouton Rothschild – Talk about a perfectly mature first growth. The ‘96 Mouton was simply stunning, showing a bouquet of dark soil tones, sweet herbs and olives, then turning more exotic with dusty spice, minerals, smoke and crushed black currant. On the palate, I found intense dark fruits with massive textures that filled the senses and brisk acidity giving way to savory herbs, leather and inner floral tones. Fine tannin mounted on the palate but never seemed to get in the way, especially through its long dark fruit finish. (95 points)
I would also like to take a moment and shout out to Lafayette Grand Café & Bakery, whose service, cuisine and event space made for the absolutely perfect place to enjoy these great wines. This was an incredible evening, and much of that was due to their flawless execution.
Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido
When asked if I would be interested in attending a ten-year retrospective of Terre Nere, my response was a resounding YES! For me, Terre Nere represents something more than just the sum of its already-impressive parts. Those parts being the location, winemaker, and pioneering methodologies. What Terre Nere represents to me is coming full circle with Sicilian wine and the impetus behind Mount Etna’s rise to the world’s stage.
When i think back to over ten years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to put an Etna wine against the world’s top regions. In fact, the general consensus about Sicily as a whole was that they were trying hard–but failing. That all changed because of Terre Nere. Yes, there were many great wineries before them, and a number of pioneers placed stakes and made moves on Etna. However, Terre Nere was the property that broke out of the Sicilian wine category and put Mount Etna on the map.
Much of this is the result of its owner, Marco di Grazia, whose unrelenting passion for Italian wine guided him to become one of the most famous exporters and innovators in the world. You see, Marco didn’t just discover producers to propel to international fame; he literally guided them to create a product that the world’s wine consumers wanted at the time. The list of Italian properties whose names are staples in the industry today may never have arrived if it wasn’t for this man.
So you can imagine that, when the time came that he wanted to buy vineyards and start his own winery, the entire industry waited with bated breath to hear where Marco di Grazia’s new project would be started. When the news came that it was on Mount Etna, an unproven and volatile region of Sicily, many people scratched the heads in wonder. What did he see in this region? Why would someone want to make wine on the side of an active volcano? Little did they know the level of success that would follow.
In truth, what Marco had done in creating Terre Nere was use the same skill set that helped him succeed as an exporter; he literally saw the potential in something that others missed. On Mount Etna, he found vineyards filled with ancient vines, complex soils, diverse climates and a myriad of possible expressions from a native variety that had the potential to make great wine: Nerello Macalase.
Instead of creating one wine, the choice was made to separate each vineyard parcel to express the diverse terroir of the region. With the majority of his holdings on the Northern side of Mount Etna, Terre Nere began its production with the 2002 vintage. In the grand scheme of things, success came quickly, as my first introduction to the brand was with the 2005 vintage, and already the industry was buzzing about the amazing wines then coming from Mount Etna.
So here I was, over ten years later, and in front me stood a ten-year retrospective, which was followed by a focused tasting of the ‘12 and ‘13 vintages. What was even more amazing was when Marco explained that he had never had the opportunity to taste so many vintages back-to-back, hence it would be an exploration for all of us.
A few of my general impressions:
Two of the questions I had always had regarding Terre Nere was how well they would age and what the drinking window would be on the average bottle. One of the best descriptions I can give to explain these wines and the variety to a newcomer is that they fall somewhere between the expressions and structures of Barolo and Burgundy. Each time I’ve tasted them through the years, I would wonder how the tannin would resolve and what would be waiting on the other side of the aging curve.
Vintage variations aside, I would say that a general guideline would be to wait between 6 – 8 years before they enter their early maturity. This was seen with the ‘08, ‘07 and ‘05 vintages (with 2006 still needing some time to soften).
As for the different vineyard designations, three now stand out to me the most. First is the Santo Spirito, for its early appeal, allure and elegance. Then there’s Calderara Sottana, with its layers of dark fruit, earth and classic structure. Lastly, the Prephylloxera, as it is a wine of such balance and elegance while remaining wild and savage. These three designations have formed my holy trinity of Terre Nere, but don’t sleep of the rest of the lineup. Guardiola, a vineyard at a steep, 30-degree incline, which sits adjacent to Santo Spirito but at higher elevation, is something of a perfect marriage between elegance and structure, while Feudo di Mezzo seems to be the most balanced and consistent wine of the group.
My thoughts on vintages after hearing Marco’s commentary:
- 2014 was an unusual vintage of ups and down, yet with excellent results and producing alluring yet perfectly balanced and structured wines.
- 2013 was difficult as it was wet and unusually cool through the fall. The wines are enjoyable today, but they lack the stamina found in better vintages.
- 2012 was a dry, warm vintage that produced tiny grapes with thick skins. However, these wines showed enough structure to hold their ripe fruit firmly. They show beautifully with plenty of cellar potential.
- 2011 was considered a classic, near-perfect vintage. Dry winter, mild spring, warm summer and perfectly timed rain in September led to an ideal harvest. Classic is the word here, as the wines I’ve tasted are of excellent quality with cellar potential.
- 2010 was off to a good start with an equally beneficial summer, but ups and downs into the fall disturbed ripening. My only example to go by was the Prepylloxera, which show ethereal weightlessness. The jury is still out.
- 2009 was a difficult vintage defined by a harsh winter, short summer and rainy harvest. The Guardiola was a prime example, being my least favorite of the flight with lean fruit and over-accentuated tannin.
- 2008 had some irregular weather, including hail, yet resulted in a late ripening and ultimately beautiful vintage. Warm weather into the fall pushed ripeness to the limits, yet the Santo Spirito still showed very balanced. Past experiences have also been very positive, and I’d keep my eyes out for well-stored bottles to snatch up.
- 2007 (Limited comments from Marco)–I would say this was a riper vintage, and the wine is ready now. I admit to checking wine-searcher for more 2007s immediately after this tasting.
- 2006 (Limited comments from Marco)–Still structured but with the fruit to carry it for many more years.
- 2005 (Limited comments from Marco)–Balanced, pretty, elegant and ready to drink today. Keep an eye out for well-stored ‘05s.
On to the tasting notes (by vintage):
2014 Terre Nere Calderara Sottana Bianco – This had a rich and robust nose, with ripe apple, peach, smoke, hints of tropical fruits, even banana. It was then freshened by minerals and florals with a hint of lemon zest. On the palate, a silky veil of ripe stone fruit covered the senses, providing a pleasing feel, as hints of minerals and inner floral tones set in. This finish displayed a buzz of vibrant acidity with hints of lime and stone lingering long. (93 points) at Morrell
2014 Terre Nere Prephylloxera Vigna di Don Peppino – This showed an intense, exotic and deeply-layered nose, as savory cherry gave way to notes of charred meat and Indian spice before it turned fresh and invigorating with spiced citrus and wild herbs. On the palate, I found rich, intense yet silky textures, with savory cherry and spice giving way to sweet herbs and a hint of citrus. Is it grapefruit and brown spices or dried orange? It’s hard to tell, but the results are stunning. The finish was lifted and long with sweet tannin coating the senses, as notes of sour cherry and orange peel lingered long. This is drop-dead gorgeous–a truly wild yet elegant wine. (97 points) at Morrell
2013 Terre Nere Prephylloxera Vigna di Don Peppino – This was a wine of beautiful contrasts, as intense spiced cherry was offset by soaring floral aromatics, smoke and black earth, in an exotic yet nuanced expression. On the palate, it was lifted and ethereal while saturating the senses with sweet tannin-wrapped black cherry, sweet tobacco and herbs. The finish was floral with fresh red fruit and minerals, yet its tannic clout lingered on. The ’14 may be a step up, but the ’13 is pure class. (94 points)
2013 Terre Nere Santo Spirito – The nose displayed dusty cherry and spice, with smoke-tinged minerality giving way to sweet tea and floral tones. On the palate, vibrant acidity mixed with silky tannin, providing a grippy sensation, as notes of cherry and sweet tea permeated the senses. It finished with dried red fruits and inner floral tones. The 2013 is remarkably youthful, feminine and perfumed. (91 points) at Morrell
2013 Terre Nere Calderara Sottana – What a tremendous bouquet, showing olive and earth up front, followed by rich and massive wave of black cherry, currant and spice with hints of undergrowth. On the palate, it was soft and caressing, displaying ripe cherry and strawberry in a pliant and positively satiating experience. It finished with medium length, as its fruit tapered off and left the mouth watering. This wine was a gentle giant. (92 points)
2013 Terre Nere Feudo di Mezzo – The nose was rich, showing black cherry and herbs with crushed stone minerality. On the palate, I found a mix of tart cherry and strawberry, which seemed to morph into an intense and saturating note of pomegranate, yet through it all a wave of brisk acidity provided a liveliness and mouthwatering experience. It finished with medium-length, displaying hints of wild berry and a twang of lively acidity. (92 points)
2012 Terre Nere Feudo di Mezzo – What a gorgeous wine. The nose was dark and brooding with crushed stone and black earth up front. Dried raspberry came forward with time in the glass, along with dry cocoa and flowers. On the palate, it was silky with acid-driven vibrancy to its tart cherry and spice. It turned floral and mineral-like through the finish with a long and lingering note of sweet tea and smoke. This is so enjoyable today for its pliancy and richness on the palate, yet there’s a lurking structure beneath that is sure to carry it for many years (like Volnay). (93 points)
2012 Terre Nere Calderara Sottana – If I had to pick one wine from these recent tastings to put in my cellar today, this would be it. The 2012 Calderara Sottana was deep, rich, and vibrant. On the nose, I found dark earth, ripe black cherry, crushed raspberry, sweet herbs, dusty spice and minerals. On the palate, silky textures were contrasted by sweet tannin-laced black cherry, spice, cocoa and saline-minerality. It coated the senses throughout the finish with concentrated cherry and pomegranate, while hints of tannin lingered on. Wow! (95 points)
2012 Terre Nere Santo Spirito – The nose was intense and alluring, displaying crushed stone up front, then opening to reveal spiced cherry, dusty floral tones, a hint of herbs and green olive. On the palate, I found soft textures, which were contrasted by a core of spice and tannin-wrapped cherry fruit. Like a freight train speeding along a track, the fruit component seemed unstoppable and center-focused, saturating the senses. It finished on lingering spice, sweet tannin and a coating of concentrated dried cherry. I can only imagine that the future is very bright for the 2012 Santo Spirito. (94 points) at Morrell
2011 Terre Nere Calderara Sottana – The nose was tense and deeply pitched, showing red currant and brown spice, contrasted by pretty floral tones and crushed stone. On the palate, silky textures were contrasted by a mix of minerals, spice, and tart cherry, then seemingly turning to ripe strawberry. It finished remarkably long on sweat tea leaves, spice and a hint of citrus. The ‘11 Calderara Sottana is a pleasure on the palate for its remarkably silky yet refined and elegant expression (all stone and rock soil mixed with black pumice). (95 points)
2010 Terre Nere Prephylloxera Vigna di Don Peppino – The nose was intense, giving and remarkably pretty, displaying sweet herbs and spice up front, giving way to rosy floral tones, a hint of red pepper, and bright cherry. On the palate, it was finessed and pretty with light cherry and inner floral tones This relies on beauty over power and comes across as quite classic. The mouth watered throughout the finish, as a coating of sweet tannin lingered along with citrus-tinged spice. (93 points)
2009 Terre Nere Guardiola – The nose showed dark fruits with hints of dried cherry and crushed raspberry, giving way to saline minerality and savory herbs. It was tense on the palate, as vibrant acid provided a buzz on the palate that resolved into saturating cherry fruit and herbal tones. Savory cherry remained through the finish, along with a coating of gruff tannin. (90 points)
2008 Terre Nere Santo Spirito – The nose started restrained, showing dried cherry and minerals, yet it opened dramatically in the glass, as hints of potpourri and exotic spice filled the glass. On the palate, I found silky textures with intense, densely-concentrated red fruit, which seemed to be wrapped in a mix of spice and sweet tannin. It finished on finesse and was quite pretty with dried red fruits and inner floral tones. (94 points)
2007 Terre Nere Calderara Sottana – The nose showed dark, brooding fruit with savory herbs and brown autumn spice, ultimately very pretty and finessed while adding a note of dried flowers. On the palate, I found silky, alluring textures with black cherry, strawberry fruit and sweet spice that seemed to coat the senses. It finished long, long, long on fresh cherry pits and minerality. This is so beautiful today, both focused and intense, yet ready to enjoy. There may be the slightest hint of heat on the finish, but it is an undeniably beautiful wine. (95 points)
2006 Terre Nere Guardiola – The nose was dark yet quite closed, showing plums, dark spice, crushed stone, black earth, and wax. It was angular on the palate yet still fresh, with notes of bright cherry and softening textures over time. It finished long on candied cherry, inner floral tones, and minerals. This still needs a few more years to truly come together, but it is already enjoyable. (92 points)
2005 Terre Nere Feudo di Mezzo – The nose was pretty and finessed, showing spice-tinged cherry and minerals, along with dusty dried flowers. On the palate, I found a finessed and lifted wine with notes of dried cherry and inner floral tones. It was very pretty on the finish with a mix of tart cherry and minerals. This is ready to enjoy today. It’s vibrant through balanced acidity with perfectly resolved tannin and beautifully pure fruit. (93 points)
Article, Photos and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
I remember the early days of my exploration into Italian wine, and to this day, it’s interesting to think about the effect it had on me. You see, I was very new to wine at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I had delved into wines that were well-branded and known by the average consumer, but beyond having a belief that wines I didn’t enjoy were the result of my unrefined palate–instead of the possibility that they were simply poor wines (a common misconception)–all I really knew were names.
I tried them all, yet often didn’t understand what I was tasting. Rioja, Chianti, Burgundy, Barolo and Bordeaux all sat on my table at one time or another. Then came my real introduction to wine in Culinary School, and everything changed. I found so much to like in the wines that were poured for me that I decided to go on my own vinous exploration, and having heard that Italy was one of the most complex countries to understand–that’s where I decided to start. In my mind, mastering the most complex wine-producing country would only make it easier to understand the rest of the world.
What I didn’t expect was that I would develop an undying love for Italian wine that has lasted since those early days. Why did this happen? It’s simple. It’s because Italy not only has a seemingly unending rollcall of their own varieties and expressions, they have also come close to mastering many of the world’s greatest wine styles and international varieties.
That brings me to the Super Tuscan movement, which is today a very hard category to define, but at one time had been best understood as Italy’s attempt to compete with Bordeaux. Let’s put Sangiovese and the Chianti wars aside for a moment and focus on Bolgheri, the Tuscan coast, and what is in my opinion the First Growth Bordeaux of Italy–I’m speaking about Ornellaia.
Although Sassicaia still receives more attention from collectors and auction houses to this day, and lays claim to be the impetus of the Super Tuscan movement, It was Ornellaia who came onto the scene with an image, a sense of style, and the ability to create a brand or name that would outgrow the moniker of Super Tuscan. For Sassicaia, this happened much on its own momentum, yet Ornellaia was a force to be reckoned with, and today, works hard to improve upon their goal of perfection.
Founded by the Marchese Lodovico Antinori, Ornellaia released its first wine with the 1985 vintage. These weren’t lands that had been used for vine-growing in the past, but instead a well-planned development of vineyards with the intention of harnessing the terroir that Sassicaia had already proven capable of successfully growing Bordeaux varieties. So determined to compete with Bordeaux as they were, famed oenologist Michel Rolland was brought in early to help the estate realize its aspirations.
When tasting these early wines, you can see the potential that the winemakers were faced with, even though they were going through a time of exploration and experimentation. Looking at the ‘95 vintage, the wine it produced is a perfect example, as this was not a great vintage for the region, and yet the wine is glorious to this day.
In an average year, Ornellaia is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, but in varying percentages depending on the vintage. Techniques have certainly changed since those early days, as has the winemaker, and yet as Ornellaia evolves, it is remarkable to taste across vintages, because the real secret behind its success is terroir.
Today, Ornellaia is owned by Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi (as of 2005), with a winemaker who has earned his own fame, Axel Heinz. What Axel brought to the picture was a more refined approach and the willingness to allow the wine to firmly express its Tuscan terroir. Other major advancements in the brand included the creation of both a second and third wine. The Le Serre Nuove now uses the fruit that doesn’t make the cut for Ornellaia and has become a wine of some renown in its own right. This further refinement and selection of fruit has resulted in an even more focused and esteemed expression for the company’s flagship wine, Ornellaia.
No expense is spared, just as any first growth in Bordeaux would boast, and the methods rely fully on a strict adherence to excellence, which is seen in the vineyards and the winery. Hand-picking and tending each block of the vineyards separately not only starts in the vineyard but is also followed throughout the vinification process, as parcels are crushed, macerated, fermented and aged for the first year before blending begins.
What this means for the consumer and fans of Le Serre Nuove is that even Ornellaia’s second wine is given the same attention as their flagship all the way through the winemaking process. In the end, the proof is in the bottle, and with each vintage, whether it’s cool, cold or warm, Ornellaia emerges as the pinnacle of what the Bolgheri hills can produce.
It’s also important the recognize the variation between the Tuscan coast and the rest of the region. Here, warm vintages and cold are both moderated by maritime influences. As seen with the 2002 vintage, strict selection returned a wine that is drinking beautifully today. Michel Rolland admits that the owners at the time were quite displeased with the amount of fruit he dropped in hope of creating a great wine in a vintage that most other producers were lucky to produce anything worth drinking at all. Yet that is exactly what sets Ornellaia apart from all the rest–the pursuit of excellence.
With the new release of the 2013 vintage, we can see that even after changing ownership three times over, and with a completely different winemaker at the helm, this is a wine that truly deserves the standing of Tuscany’s First Growth.
Nowhere else is this more evident than in a vintage retrospective that spans nearly twenty years of Ornellaia, the likes of which I was lucky enough to experience first-hand (detailed below). The final result was the conclusion that Ornellaia is as important a wine as any in the world. We will be drinking these vintages for 20 to 30 years, and I’m fully confident that auction markets will sooner or later catch on.
So without further ado, on to the tasting notes:
2013 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia – The nose was youthfully compact, displaying red currant, dusty spice, and minerals, along with a hint of bell pepper. On the palate, it opened with silky textures turning to concentrated tart cherry and cranberry fruit which seemed to grip and saturate the senses with a coating of fine tannin. The long, structured finish was center-focused and lean with hints of bitter herbs lingering. (93 points) find it at Morrell
2012 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia – The nose was elegant, expressing cool red toned fruit, as well as black currant, hints of cola and a beautiful perfume of herbal mint with hints of tobacco leaf. On the palate, it was silky-smooth, yet quite closed, showing dark weighty textures which nearly masked its fine-grained tannin. Flavors of tart red berry with a hint of herbs lingered long into the finish. This is a very pretty expression of Ornellaia, in need of time in the cellar for the palate to catch up to the bouquet, and may warrant a higher score down the road. (94 points) find it at Morrell
2010 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia – The nose showed cherry and floral undergrowth in an elegant and lifted expression. With time in the glass, notes of plum came forward, along with spice and savory herbs. On the palate, I found tart cherry on a medium-bodied frame with hints of minerals, yet ultimately lean in its expression. The finish showed dried strawberry and hints of lingering tannin. (93 points)
2009 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia – The nose was densely packed with black currant, blackberry, and plum with hints of herbs and orange peel. On the palate, it was rich and youthful with black fruits and dark chocolate but lacking depth. The finish was long, showing silky structure with lingering blackberries and dark chocolate. This may not be one of the great vintages for Ornellaia, but there’s no denying how enjoyable it is today. (92 points)
2007 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia – The nose was dark and intense, showing crushed black cherry, dusty spice, plum sauce and hints of sawdust. On the palate, I found rich, silky textures with notes of ripe red fruits, tobacco and sweet herbs, turning savory toward the back palate, as hints of tannin and vibrant acidity contrasted. The finish lingered long, showing a mix of cherry, plum and spice. The 2007 is in a great place right now and still has many years of development ahead. (95 points)
2005 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia – The 2005 Ornellaia is in a wonderful place right now, displaying a dark yet vibrant nose of muddled red fruits (cherry, raspberry and strawberry), giving way to tobacco and floral undergrowth. On the palate, silky, soft textures ushered in a mix of black cherry and dusty spice, along with pretty inner floral tones. Hints of tannin were still present on the long finish, yet the emergence of dried strawberry and earthy minerals provided a perfect counter-balance. The 2005 is on the verge of peaking. (94 points)
2004 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia – The nose was elegant and refined with intense aromas of crushed raspberry, black currant, and tobacco with hints of smoke and spice box. On the palate, I found silky textures over a tannic spine, providing a wonderfully classic feel with resonating notes of wild berry, herbs and tobacco. The finish revealed its still-youthful state with a coating of refined sweet tannin across the senses providing measured grip. This is a gorgeous, classic Ornellaia. (97 points)
2002 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia – Sometimes lightning does strike twice–I tasted the 2002 Ornellaia last year, a wine I didn’t expect to be impressed by, and here we are again. The nose on the 2002 is giving and alluring with pretty floral tones up front, followed by sweet cherry, apple, and with time, turning savory and spicy. On the palate, I found silky, soft textures with notes of rich cherry sauce, plum, currant, and sweet spice. The finish was long and soft with a lasting impression of ripe red fruits and fig. Is there a hint of heat? Maybe just a little; but still, it is just stunning. (93 points)
1995 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia – The ‘95 Ornellaia is perfectly matured and giving at this stage of its life. Here I found notes of savory roasted meats, undergrowth, dried cherry and flowers, fall leaves, and hints of spice. It caressed the palate with notes of dried red fruits, minerals and inner floral tones, as hints of tannin and acidity mingled. The finish was refined and long, showing dusty spice, dried strawberry and earthy florals. This was a beautifully elegant and mature showing, and it was enjoyable in every way. (93 points)
Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido
Taking lunch at Gotham Bar and Grill with Cyril Chappellet, of the historic Chappellet winery, is an experience I will not soon forget. As Napa Valley is always in a state of flux, it’s refreshing to hear the words of a man whose family has been entrenched in the industry for almost 50 years. In fact, Cyril’s experience in Napa started as a small boy, when his parents Donn and Molly decided to plant the Valley’s first high-elevation vineyard on Pritchard Hill. It’s a winery that watched today’s Napa Valley grow up around it.
Imagine, if you will, being raised up in such an environment and witnessing the entire industry morph over the course of decades. Today, the hillside and mountain top vineyards in Napa Valley are all the rage, yet the Chappellet family was producing a prestigious portfolio of wines long before our modern-day critics became keen to the location. Thinking back to only ten years ago, it was seldom said that terroir mattered. Yet the Chappellet family now works with what is considered a Grand Cru of the region, and they do it with class. All of the vineyards are managed through strict organic practices, and of all the families holdings, only 16% of their land is used as vineyards, while the rest remains uncultivated.
It seems to me that they manage themselves as custodians of old-school Napa ideals and values, while always keeping an eye on the future. Chappellet is now neighbors with some of the biggest names in the region, yet in the grand scheme of things, their prices remain remarkably fair. The style is not of the rich, ripe giants of the valley, or the over-restrained. Instead, they aim for balance, elegance and a wine that will only improve with maturity. These wines exude class, and their popularity only confirms what this family has always understood yet humbly refused to boast–Chappellet is one of the top producers of the region.
While most consumers look immediately to the high-scoring Signature or Pritchard Hill Cabernets, it’s wines like the Chenin Blanc that tell a deeper story and show a commitment to the land. This is a wine whose fruit is sourced from Pritchard Hill, a prestigious terroir and location that could easily be used to plant more Cabernet and increase production of their flagship bottling. Instead, Chappellet thumbs their nose at the idea of tearing these vines up. As a result, the Chenin Blanc is one of those special kind of wines from Napa Valley that we seldom see, and it offers a tremendous experience.
Yet there’s also a lot to be said for value, which is another Chappellet ideal. The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon is not to be confused as second wine, as the majority of its fruit is sourced from the Pritchard Hill vineyards, with the balance coming from trusted local growers. In its price point, you can’t beat the quality–and that speaks volumes to their commitment to both the land and their customers.
And so, as I taste with the humble, witty and insightful Cyril, I can’t help but think about how hard it is to decide what’s more interesting–the conversation or the wines in front of me. I guess great wine really does come from great people, and the Chappellets are a perfect example. If you don’t already know them, then allow me to make the introduction.
On to the tasting notes:
2012 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard – The nose showed dark, mineral-tinged blackberry fruit, tobacco, exotic spice, and a hint of black licorice. On the palate, I found dense, weighty textures infused with fine tannin, as rich dark fruits fought for supremacy. It finished long on grippy tannin with tart, saturating black fruit, dark chocolate and spice. There is so much going on here, yet the wine is 5-10-years away from its drinking window. Bury it deep. (95 points)
2013 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – The nose showed a mix of dark red fruits and minerals offset by hints of vanilla, cocoa and clove. On the palate, it displayed silky textures with impeccable balance, showing red and black berries, spice and fine grain tannin that provided perfect grip. The finish was wonderfully long with a mix of red currant, spice, sweet herbs, and palate-coating tannin. A hint of blackberry bitterness lingered. The 2013 Signature was stunning today, but it should be even better in five years’ time. (93 points)
2012 Chappellet Cabernet Franc – The nose showed ripe blackberry and mineral-infused cherry, sweet herbs and earth tones. On the palate, silky rich textures hosted a mix of dark red and black fruits in a vibrant, balanced, yet dense effort. It finished beautifully long on saturating fruits, dark chocolate, sweet herbs and a hint of tannic grip. (92 points)
2013 Chappellet Chenin Blanc – The nose was highly expressive with ripe tropical fruits up front, sweet herbs, crushed stone, banana and exotic floral tones. On the palate, it was ripe yet unbelievably fresh with notes of mango and citrus saturating the senses along with fleshy textures which seemed more like nectar than wine. The finish was long, palate-coating, yet fresh, with hints of banana and sweet lemon. To think that this is all neutral wood is amazing. This is just pure Napa Chenin Blanc. (92 points) Find it at Morrell
2013 Chappellet Chardonnay Signature – This showed a stunning and unique bouquet of savory herbs and hints of olive up front, followed by ripe peach and pear. There was an exotic richness on the nose that kept me coming back to the glass. On the palate, I found smooth and pliant textures with notes of sweet herbs, ripe apple, kiwi and minerals. The finish was staying with hints of young peach and a lingering kiss of sweetness. (91 points)
2013 Chappellet Mountain Cuvée – The nose was generous, but not overdone, with ripe red fruit, currant and blackberry giving was to savory herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures with red berry and blueberry fruit, sweet herbs, spice, and hints of tobacco. It was wonderfully juicy and vibrant while maintaining fleshy contours and finishing fresh with red berry fruits. This is a tremendous value for Napa Cabernet. (91 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
I must also pay tribute to Gotham Bar and Grill for their absolutely amazing meal and presentation. It’s not often that a meal leaves an impression during such an amazing tasting. However, this one had me talking about it for the rest of the day. I’m looking forward to returning soon.
It’s been a long road for Austrian wine, as one of the most dynamic, informative and constant marketing campaigns that I have ever witnessed continues to push strong against misinformation and bad reputations of the past. Don’t get me wrong; you shouldn’t feel bad for Austria, as its reputation in the United States and beyond continues to grow by leaps and bounds. However, what’s amazing to me is how often I run into groups of wine lovers who are not so sure what Austrian wine is about, if it’s any good, or what to expect.
I suppose I’ve decided that it’s about time I did my part to make a stand and place onto these pages my affirmation that I am a true lover of Austrian wine and believe that they are world-class in every way. Granted, we are currently talking about an entire nation and its wine production. So in the spirit of keeping my love-rant under 2000 words, let’s focus on just one region within Austria, and that’s my favorite: the Wachau (pronounced Va – cow).
But first, let’s get the history part out of the way, because the fact is that Austria has a deep attachment to the vine, and a few key moments in that history’s development sheds light on a number of strengths and weaknesses within the region–so here it goes.
History tells us that early cultivation of vines for grape production dates back to 700 B.C., yet it was the Romans who brought organized viticulture to the river Danube nearly 700 years later. Wine production flourished and continued even as the Romans withdrew from the region. However, between the 10th and 12th century, the Cistercian order (a group of monks who left Burgundy in search of a simpler life of serving God without profit) began to introduce Burgundian vine-growing and winemaking techniques to the region, along with the Bavarians, who began building the trellis along the river Danube, which makes today’s modern wine industry possible. Austria flourished as a wine-producing nation, with nearly three times the amount of today’s production through the 15th and 16th century. These vast vineyards along the Danube stretched from Vienna to the borders of Germany.
Wine production continued to be a major resource for Austria, yet it suffered severely (as did the rest of Europe) during the outbreak of phylloxera. The industry saw another major setback in the early 20th century, as power changed hands with the coming of the first World War. However, through it all, the industry continued to plow forward. Then in 1985, Austrian wine saw its modern demise, as a group of Austrian winemakers were found to be adding diethylene glycol (an additive you often find in antifreeze) to their large production tank wines.
As horrible as this was for Austrian wine as a whole, the fact is that today’s industry and the level of fine wine produced in the country may not exist if it wasn’t for this one unforgettable moment in history. It is believed that Austria now upholds more stringent rules governing its wine production than any other nation through its DAC system (Districtus Austriae Controllatus).
This brings us back to the Wachau, as we near the end of our history lesson. Before the scandal in 1985 was even uncovered, a group of winemakers within the Wachau region were already hard at work creating their own set of rules and standards by which the region would govern its winemaking, and that is the Codex Wachau. Some of today’s most famous producers had a hand in creating this set of rules, which employs rigorous standards and a focus on each individual varietal and the terroir which works best for it. It’s because of these standards and the producers who created and upheld them that the Wachau is now one of the world’s leading producers of fine wine.
So makes the Wachau so special? The Wachau is something of a perfect storm for the creation of fine wine. Over the course of millennia, the river Danube cut its way through a complex mix of ancient rock to create a winding valley. Through time, this rock was covered with a mixture of Loess, which is a windblown silt made up of clay and sand. Nearer to the river, these deposits formed a mineral rich soil for Austria’s favorite white variety, Gruner Veltliner. On the steep terraced cliffs, the Loess exist in a much thinner layer over hard granite, gneiss, marble and quartz. These locations are ideal for growing Riesling. Yet it’s also the confluence of four major climatic zones that mix within the valley walls. These are cold winds from the north, warm Pannonian influences and from the east, cool Atlantic from the west, and temperate Mediterranean from the south. When you add their harsh winters, hot summers, and the moderating influences of the Danube river, you have one of the most interesting and complex terroir you could ever hope to find.
So why are we still working so hard to introduce the world to Austrian wine?
For one thing, their largest production is in Gruner Veltliner, a grape that isn’t on the average American’s radar, which is a shame. This amazing grape not only impresses the white wine drinker with it’s minerality, balanced acidity and unique peppery bouquet, but it also scores points with red wine lovers for its rich, weighty, yet still perfectly-balanced performance on the palate. What’s more, as you move up the scale from table wine to fine wine, Gruner can be downright tropical and savory all at the same time. It’s a stunning mix. Plus, Gruner Veltliner happens to be one of the most dynamic wines to pair with nearly any kind of cuisine.
Then there’s Riesling, the Wachau’s second largest-production grape. Now I’m not quoting any scientific data; yet in my experience, if you poll twenty average American wine drinkers about Riesling, 19 of them will tell you that they don’t drink Riesling because it’s sweet. This one piece of misinformation has done as much harm for Riesling in this country as the movie Sideways did for Merlot. It’s time to get over this misconception. Riesling from Austria (and to a large part Germany as well) is not made in a sweet style. There are off-dry styles of Riesling, but you need not worry about finding one in an Austrian wine selection unless you are specifically looking for it. Instead, you’ll find mineral-laden wines with ripe stone fruits and zesty acidity.
However, the greatest asset that the Wachau has is actually its producers. Names such as Prager, Hirtzberger, F.X. Pichler, Knoll, and Alzinger all stand for a level of quality and consistency that is unreal. The question is not if you’ll find a great wine from this group of producers. The question is, how will you pick from all of the great wines they produce? The simplest explanation I can volunteer is this: F.X. Pichler is an intense, ripe and rich wine that somehow remains remarkably balanced. Knoll is the old world classic; tradition is what matters here, and the wines show it. Hirtzberger walks the traditional path, yet there’s an intense vibrancy that lends these wines a level of verve seldom found in Gruner. Prager is all about intensity, minerality and the ability to age for decades. Alzinger thrives on clarity and precision, sourcing fruit from a number of the most prestigious vineyards and turning out wines that are transparent to terroir.
As I had mentioned with Prager, the wines do age beautifully, and in the case of Pregar, they really do require some time to come together. However, you don’t need to put the majority of these in the cellar to properly enjoy them. In the end, all of these producers are turning out age-worthy wine (another characteristic of Gruner and Riesling); however the majority of them are just as enjoyable young.
For my taste, as a lover of intense wines with the ability to age, I often look to the Smaragd classification, which is a wine made from their best vineyards and selection fruit picked at optimal ripeness. However, there is a lot to like in the classifications of Steinfeder (easy-drinking, great for pairing with food and affordable) and Federspiel (a baby step below their best Smaragd bottling).
In closing, I’ve listed a number of my favorite bottles and tasting experiences below. I sincerely hope that I’ve done my part to show you that Austria is not only worth your attention, but also that the wines deserve a place on your table and in your cellars.
2011 Franz Hirtzberger Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Honivogl – Alzinger Honivogl is firing on all cylinders. Rich, ripe, savory and fresh all at the same time. On the nose, I found green apple contrasting ripe mango with savory herbs and crushed stone minerality. It was unbelievably soft on the palette yet also lively and fresh. Ripe tropical fruits and inner floral tones were offset by a zing of vibrant acidity. On the finish, I found tart stone fruit and minerals. Wow! (94 points) Find it at Morrell
2011 Prager Grüner Veltliner Stockkultur Smaragd Achleiten – The nose was at first floral with undergrowth and limestone, leading to rich peach, which filled the senses with a slight effervescence. On the palate, it was gorgeous with ripe stone fruits saturating the senses and oily textures offset by balanced acidity. The finish was long and seemed to melt from the senses, revealing a beautiful refreshing character. (93 points)
2014 Weingut Knoll Gruner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Schütt – This was classic Knoll to the core. The nose was exuberant and peppery with green apple, minerals, moist soil and fresh floral tones. It caressed the palate and excited the senses while delivering masses of ripe apple, spice and inner floral perfumes. It finished on minerals with a twang of tart acidity and spice. (91 points)
2014 Alzinger Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Loibner Frauenweingarten – The nose was very pretty with notes of apricot, apple, lime and wet stone. On the palate, a bitter citrus note gave way to inner florals and green apple. It finished on crushed stone minerality with a tug of acidity. This was lighter than expected yet very enjoyable all the same. (89 points)
2013 Weingut Knoll Riesling Smaragd Ried Schütt – The nose showed pretty spiced floral perfumes, ripe apple and pear, sweet cream, brie rind and crushed stone. On the palate, I found dense textures contrasted by zesty acidity ushering in flavors of lemon rind, grapefruit, and mango with intense minerality, which seemed to saturate the senses. Caking layers of minerals, kiwi, tart citrus and hints of botrytis lingered long on the finish. This is balanced to the core and quite enjoyable. (93 points) Find it at Morrell
2013 Alzinger Riesling Smaragd Loibenberg – This was a wild ride with a rich bouquet of yellow flowers, apricot, spiced apple, smoke and hints of roasted nut. On the palate, I found medium weight matched by brisk acidity, leading with a note of ripe cheese, yet quickly changing to lime, green apple, and tart citrus. It finished incredibly fresh and mouthwatering with lingering citrus rind and hints of undergrowth—a wild ride indeed. (93 points) Find it at Morrell
2011 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Singerriedel – The nose was racy and intense, showing spicy floral notes, rich lemon curd and a whiff of sweet herbs. On the palate, it was rich and juicy yet muscular in its youthful state, with notes of ripe peach, lemon pith and minerals. Throughout the finish, the palate remained saturated with peach and hint of mineral-tinged tropical fruit. (95 points) Find it at Morrell
2011 F.X. Pichler Riesling Reserve ‘M’ – This was intense and fruity on the nose with ripe tropical fruits, sweet, spicy floral tones, and a contrasting hint of bitter lemon rind. On the palate, it was rich yet balanced, showing ripe peach, grapefruit, wet slate and minerals. Spiced peach and lemon zest lingered on the finish, closing the experience with a fresh and clean note. Very Nice! (94 points) Find it at Morrell
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
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