Apr 162012
 

Baseball grape - SangioveseEarlier this week I wrapped up three days of seminars called “Tuscan Wine Masters.”  The three days were comprised of lectures and in-depth tastings of Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino.  The common denominator of the three days was, of course, the Sangiovese grape.  After tasting through the better part of 30 wines with the attendees over the three days I have decided to call Sangiovese the “baseball” of red grapes.  Stay with me for a second while I explain.

I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a kid growing up in Albuquerque in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s where the home team was the Dukes, the triple-A club team for the now hated Dodgers. I’m a long-time Giants fan which will explain the previous Dodgers remark (more on that some other time).  But what struck me even as a kid way back then was that baseball seemed to be the perfect game; that teams had to face the opposing pitcher and score with exactly 27 attempts to do just that.  Even with the introduction of the designated hitter or the infield fly rule, or something as completely lame as the commissioner ending an all-star game in a tie, nothing could really change the game.  I could go on but my point is that no matter what the proverbial “they” have tried to do to baseball, they can’t wreck the game.

So what does that have to do with Sangiovese?  Easy.  What we—the attendees of the Tuscan classes and your humble narrator—found in our tasting excursions during the three days was that the character, and especially the structure, of the Sangiovese grape is immutable and unstoppable.  That try as winemakers often do, the character of Sangiovese shows through like a consistently brilliant light; and the structure, while not quite like the dominatrix commonly known as Nebbiolo, never takes any prisoners.  Here are some further thoughts on the tastings and one of my favorite of all grapes.

Day I: Chianti Classico

A great line up wines that really showed the tremendous impact of the Chianti Classico 2000 project has had and will continue to have on the Chianti Classico wines for decades to come.  The high quality of the wines was also the biggest discovery of the three days for the class attendees. Here’s an encapsulation of markers we as a group came up with for the wines:

Fruit:

Predominantly tart/sour red fruits such as sour cherry, red raspberry, pomegranate, and rhubarb.

Non-fruit:

Floral (usually dried flowers or potpourri), anise or red licorice, sandalwood, leather, bitter herbs (usually dried), iodine, tomato/tomato leaf.

Earth:

Mushroom/truffle, forest floor, su bois, and other soil elements.  Add a pronounced chalky note from the galestro soils.

Oak:

Brown spice, toast, and smoke notes predominated.

Overall the major variations in the wines had to do with the use of Cabernet and Merlot which contributed a darker fruit character and the use of small French barrique which added more spice elements.

Favorites of the flight: 2008 Felsina “Berardenga,” 2008 Fontodi Riserva “Vigna del Sorbo,” and the 2007 Monteraponi Riserva “Baron Ugo.”

Day II: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Day two and we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.  Several major differences in the wines from the day before were immediately apparent: first, nearly a complete lack of chalk/limestone character in the Vino Nobile wines as these soils are infrequently found in the Montepulciano region.  The Vino Nobiles also consistently showed more dark fruit character probably due to the laws allowing for the blending of up to 30% non-Sangiovese grapes (including 5% white grapes). Longer cask aging compared to Chianti Classico also made for more wood influence which was not always positive as the overall winemaking of the flight was inconsistent in terms of hygiene.  Here’s a snapshot of the general style of the wines:

Fruit:

More dark fruit and plum/prune character overall.  Still the sour cherry and cherry pit, especially on the finish.

Non fruit:

The wines were definitely not as floral as Chianti Classico and also a lack of the chalky minerality that was the key note of Chianti Classico.  In its place much more pronounced dark earth, mushroom, turned soil and decaying wood.

Oak:

The oak regimen was all over the map.  Lots of traditional large Slavonian barrels mixed with large and small French cooperage.  One of the wines even had partial American oak barrique.  Momma mia!  Imagine your pappardelle pasta with wild boar and a splash of maple syrup.  You get the idea.  Just a bit outside …

In the end what also separated the flight of Vino Nobile from the Chiantis the day before was winemaking.  More than a few of the wines displayed a quality that we shall politely call “rustic.”

Favorite wines: 2008 Lodola Nuova and the 2008 Il Greppo.  The shining star of the flight was the 2008 Poliziano, a remarkably elegant, complex and seamless wine.

Day III: Brunello di Montalcino

A packed house for the third tasting.  After all, how often does one get to taste ten Brunellos in a single sitting?  Overall the wine quality was far better than the Vino Nobile flight the day before and easily as good as day one.  Stylistically the wines were very consistent across the board.  However, what was interesting was that for the first time ripeness and alcohol level played a key role in determining wine style.  About 30% of the wines sported levels up to 15% with very ripe, even stewed fruit characteristics.  The riper wines also tended to display a medicinal, mentholated note and a lack of floral qualities.  Wines that stayed at or below the 14% level tended reflect more pure red fruits with lifted floral notes.  Oak regimen also played a key role in the style of finished wines with the riper bottlings consistently showing more new wood influence because of the use of smaller barriques.  Combine that with ripe fruit and high alcohol and you have the magic recipe for what might be called the “international style.”  Here’s a snapshot of the overall wine style:

Fruit:

Ripe but tart red fruits with pronounced black fruit character in some of the riper wines.

Non fruit:

Dried roses/potpourri, anise and red licorice, leather, menthol/mentolatum.

Earth:

Both inorganic and organic earth notes as in rocks and dirt: the same pronounced chalkiness as Chianti Classico in some wines combined with the rich truffle dark earth notes of Vino Nobile.  Truly, the best of both worlds.

Oak:

Vanilla, brown spice, toast, smoke, caramel, cola, root beer.

Overall, the Brunellos were the most powerful and large-scaled wines of the three days and again very high quality in terms of winemaking.  The wines also command the highest average retail price per bottle of the three appellations–and they deserve it.

Favorite wines: 2007 Camigliano, 2007 Capanne Ricci, 2007 La Lecciaia and the 2007 Sassodisole

Extra Innings

Back to baseball.  What struck me at the end of three days was how the character of the Sangiovese grape is basically unstoppable.  That you can throw the high alcohol, the stewed-pruney fruits, the Vicks VapoRub, the lumber mill, and that splash of Mrs. Butterworth’s Maple Syrup at it but nothing seems to stop Sangiovese from being its brilliant self.  And that’s a remarkable and wonderful thing.  Nine innings?  Not a problem.  It can easily go the distance and beyond.  Play ball!

You can also see a copy of this posting on my own blog, TimGaiser.com.

Apr 132012
 

Bernard DeLilleAmerica’s most visited winery isn’t in Napa. It isn’t even in California. Rather, with 600,000 guests annually, the imposing Biltmore Estate can be found in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, NC. With a driveway measured in miles (glad I don’t have to shovel it), the 1895 mansion was ahead of its time with electric lighting and an elevator and continues to be forward-thinking in its emphasis on being a self-sustaining estate. In this regard, the on-premise dairy was replaced with a winery in 1985.

Growing grapes in North Carolina is not an easy task. The humid climate wreaks havoc in the vineyard, encouraging the growth of mildew. Accordingly, healthy grapes at harvest are not a given. Despite these less than favorable conditions, Bernard DeLille has made wine at the Biltmore Estate for over 25 years.

The Burgundy-trained winemaker responded to an advertisement in 1986, intrigued by the opportunity to make wine in the U.S. Although he was working in Madiran and Jurançon (both in southwest France) at the time, DeLille welcomed the opportunity to produce wines without the rigid constraints of France’s appellation system. Accordingly, he packed up his wife, two children and their belongings and headed to North Carolina to begin his new position. Joining the staff under the direction of Philippe Jourdain, by 1991, he was promoted to the position of winemaker.

Given the challenges that North Carolina presents, along with the need to increase production, Biltmore Estate now sources grapes from California for many of its wines. In order to comply with U.S. regulations, wine production for these wines takes place in California. However, the estate vineyards have not been abandoned; DeLille will continue to make wines at home as well. In this regard, consumers can choose from two Blanc de blanc sparklers – one from North Carolina and the other from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. Two still Chardonnays are also similarly produced (Sonoma County and North Carolina). Not surprisingly, their red wine production centers on California.

A recent luncheon at New York’s Lincoln Restaurant provided members of the wine media to become acquainted with a selection of the Biltmore’s wines, including side by side tastings of the two sparklers and the two Chardonnays.

This new approach to winemaking has provided DeLille with many rewards. Yet, he admits that it can be complicated to keep up with the need to make wine in two different facilities, separated by an entire continent. But, on the whole, DeLille seems to have taken well to the balancing act required.

I wish I could say the same of the restaurant’s servers. In clearing the flutes and white wine stemware, both DeLille  and I were the recipients of a Chardonnay shower. Luckily, as a veteran journalist, I was wearing black and was consequently, soggy, but not visably stained.

All in all, it was a nice introduction to these wines, or rather, re-introduction, as I had visited the Biltmore Estate back in 1997 as a belated honeymoon. Thus, the winery has a special place in my heart and I appreciated the changes being made in expanding the Biltmore Estate’s range of wines.

Apr 112012
 

VinTank WISMIThis week VinTank released their Wine Industry Social Media Index. For those of you unfamiliar with VinTank, they are a software company that provides social intelligence for the wine industry. In laymen’s terms, they help wineries see who is talking about them and why, and gives them the tools to make it easier for them to engage with wine drinkers. The Social Media Index is their foray into helping wineries judge how well they are communicating through social channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

So what?

Well, the wine industry generally lags behind the rest of the business world in connecting with the people who actually drink the wine they are selling. There are several factors why this is, but mostly it has to do with the fact that most wineries are still family owned and they just don’t have the resources (time or money) to spend on social platforms. The Social Media Index gives a glimpse into which wineries are doing it best and which have room to improve. This is great for the consumer because I believe that this will encourage more wineries to invest more in their social media marketing programs, providing a richer online experience and helping consumers connect with their brands.

Time will tell whether wineries actually take advantage of this potentially valuable resource.

 

Apr 032012
 

Wine blogsRecently, our friends at VinTank posted a blog article on The 9 Most Important Wine Bloggers in the US. It’s a great list, and we highly recommend reading all of them. But, in addition to these great industry luminaries, there are also a bunch of other wine blogs that we read on a regular basis and highly recommend. So, here is an addendum to Paul Mabray’s list in alphabetical order.

Beau’s Barrel Room – Beau’s a relative newcomer to the wine blogosphere, having only been doing it since the end of 2009. He’s an insider himself, selling wine for a living. His focus is mostly on reviewing wines and reporting on events and wine regions. We always enjoy reading his posts.

Luscious Lushes – Written by Thea Dwelle, this blog is a true reflection of her larger than life persona. Thea is one of the veterans of the wine blog world and she knows what she’s talking about. She is a fixture at local wine events, and she takes her wine drinking very seriously. She has a day job outside of wine, so the fact that she posts so often is impressive.

My Wine Education – Michelle Lenz is as good as they come. She is a writer and trainer by trade and it’s reflected in her blog. Few are better written or as insightful. Not being a wine expert when she began, this blog has been a journey through her education. She’s another old-timer, having written her blog since 2004.

Vinopanion – Ward Kadel is the brain (they don’t get much smarter) behind this anthology of wine. Ward is a cancer researcher by day and wine hero at night. Not only does he write this blog, but he;s also the West Coast Ambassador for WineLog.net and one of Le Wine Buffs.

The Wine Curmudgeon – Jeff Siegel is your old-school journalist. He’s been writing about sports or wine for more years that we can count. Jeff is the former wine columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but now devotes most of his time to his blog. He specializes in reviewing less expensive wine, which is perfect for most of us. He’s also the driving force behind the Drink Local Wine movement.

Wine Predator – Gwendolyn Alley (aka Wine Predaor aka Art Predator) loves writing and wine. She teaches writing at the local University and coaches people on becoming better writers. She is a free spirit, which is reflected in her writing. We just adore her.

There are many other blogs that are worthy of this list, but if we were to include them all, we’d run out of bandwidth. We like highlighting other blogs though, so you should expect to see other lists like this in the future.