Jan 312012
 
Montalcino

Photo by: Paul Wagner

When you arrive in Montalcino, there is no question about what this town does.  It seems as if every doorway is a wine shop, and they are all selling a great selection of Brunellos.

Where Montepulciano is the Renaissance, Montalcino is all about the Middle Ages.  There are no delicate filigrees here—this town is all business, and the business is wine.  And whether it’s true or not, it seems that it has been that way for centuries.

It’s quite a contrast.  Solid, dark stone buildings tower over the narrow streets, and in many cases there are tunnels or covered passageways from one street to another.   And in the shops the sophisticated and elegant merchandising sense of Italian design takes over:  glorious and subtle displays of some of the best red wines in Italy.

While other regions may charm you with warm beaches, soaring cathedrals, or stunning art, Montalcino doesn’t let you get confused.  It’s all wine, all the time.

After hours of wandering its wonderful streets, we finally found a supermarket, tucked away in a corner.  But we never did find a place to buy clothes.  Or a hardware store.  That’s for other towns.

Jan 272012
 
Church of Eunate

Photo by: Michael Wangbickler

Take a little bit of medieval Europe, blend in a little Romanesque architecture, add a dash of regional cuisine, sprinkle in some of Spain’s most underrated wines, round it out with a little running of the bulls and some Hemingway, and what do you get? Navarra.

This past fall, we had the privilege of visiting this diverse region in Northern Spain, and we were immediately struck by the vibrancy of the place. It virtually buzzes with excitement. This energy may be because of the rich culture and history of the place, but more likely is due to the independent and entrepreneurial spirit of the people who live there.

We spent a week in the area, using the famous town of Pamplona as our base of operations, touring the stunning country side in search of some of Navarra’s best bodegas and restaurants. We visited renaissance castles, Romanesque churches, roman ruins, and of course, the town of Pamplona itself.

Photo by: Michael Wangbickler

Navarra is a melting pot of many different cultures (Castillian, Navarran, Basque), diverse climates, and independent spirit that is reflected in its cuisine and its wine. And oh, what wine. Navarra is located about halfway between Bordeaux and Rioja, and has been influenced by both. Lucky for us, the wines of Navarra don’t carry the same high price tags of those two regions’ best wines. You can grab some outstanding wines at a great value.

It’s truly a special region, and we can’t wait to go back.

Jan 252012
 
Montepulciano

Photo by: Paul Wagner

It’s gotta be one of the best names in wine:  Vino Nobile di Montepulciano—the noble wine of Montepulciano.  And when you visit the town of Montepulciano, you understand even better.

It’s small, maybe about 5,000 people on a good day. And the central piazza looks an awful lot like the grand city of Florence—not surprising, since the Medici family played a big role here as well.  In fact, when you look at the town hall of Montepulciano, you can’t help but think of the town hall of Florence.  Only the one in Montepulciano has also been featured in some of those famous vampire movies…if you like that sort of thing.

One difference?  The cathedral in Florence got finished, so it’s a multi-colored marble fantasy.  In Montepulciano, they’re still waiting to add the marble veneers.

But other than the unfinished cathedral, the town is a spectacular place to visit—wonderful Renaissance architecture and those famous sun-kissed hills of Tuscany.

Tim Gaiser MS

Photo by: Paul Wagner

Only we were there in December, and there was damn little sun.  The sky was grey, the piazza was grey, and everything looked just right for, well, a dreary vampire movie.

So we went into the offices of the Consorzio to taste through about thirty wines with a couple of real  bona fide wine experts:  Tim Gaiser, MS, and Tracy Ellen Kamens, Ed.D., DWS.    We were led deep, deep into the cellars underneath the piazza to taste through the offerings from about twenty different producers, and six or seven different vintages.  Delicious, wonderful wines; they made us completely forget about the ugly weather above us.

And when we came back upstairs and ventured out into the piazza, the world had changed.  A few last rays of the sun had illuminated the clouds above, and the whole piazza glowed with rosy splendor.

Just goes to show what a few good glasses of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano can do.

 

Jan 232012
 
Chianti Classico - Gallo Nero

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

If you think you know Chianti Classico, think again. No really. Sure, you know that it no longer comes in the straw-wrapped bottle that ubiquitously served as a candle holder throughout the 1970s. Maybe you also know that it pairs well with a variety of cuisines – not just the kind served at Italian restaurants of the red-checked tablecloth variety. But do you know that Chianti Classico has undergone a further revolution that has vastly improved its quality?

Today’s Chianti Classico wines represent the finest the region has seen. Yes, climate change can account for some of this (as it has in other regions), but more importantly, it is the Consortio’s decades-long investment – a project known as Chianti Classico 2000 – that has made most of the difference.

Sangiovese - Chianti Classico

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

Yes, the name sounds a bit futuristic (or at least it did when it was launched back in 1988), but in reality, the program returned to the roots (literally) of Chianti Classico, a wine that is made up of at least 80% of the Sangiovese grape. With an emphasis on identifying the very best Sangiovese grapes, viticulturists toiled for years planting new vines, producing sample wines and testing the results. By the end, the project found 7 different versions of Sangiovese that yielded the best wines. And, not surprisingly, wineries in the region have used this research to replant many of their vineyards resulting in better wines all around.

Do you need to know which types of Sangiovese? Of course not. All you really need to know is the name Chianti Classico and that these are wines worth drinking.

At a tasting at the Consortio’s new headquarters, housed in a former monastery, the proof was in the glass. Sipping sample after sample from the 2008 vintage, it was a challenge to narrow down the selection to only three wines for a seminar in New York — the wines were that good. Now you know.

Jan 202012
 

UGC or BUSTYep, more than one hundred classified growth Bordeaux chateaux, all pouring their 2009 vintage at a series of tastings through America:  Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, New York…and all represented by the chateaux owner.  It’s a dream come true.

Admittedly, we’re organizing the whole thing, so sometimes those dreams are interrupted when we wake up in the middle of the night and make sure that we’ve thought of everything.  Usually we have.  Back to sleep.

And we don’t have to try and taste all of the wines in a single afternoon.  In fact, we usually pace ourselves:  first city is dry whites only, from Pessac-Leognan and Graves.  Then the next night we move on to the reds of Pessac-Leognan, and work our way through the Medoc and Haut-Medoc wines.  And then the third evening is all about the Right Bank:  St. Emilion and Pomerol.  And we wrap up our tour with the rest of the Left Bank:  Margaux through St. Estephe…

Sauternes and Barsac, you ask?  Every night, just a few.  Mmmm.

The 2009 vintage is a truly great one in Bordeaux, and we are very excited about the wines.  And it may be an even better vintage for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.

And we quote the coach of the San Francisco 49ers:  Who has it better than us?