PICARO: RIBERA GONE ‘ROGUE’

We go out of our way to taste as many things as we can.  But for us Spain is a particular penchant.  We taste a lot of remarkable wines in the course of our research, as well as the usual percentage of clunkers and other offerings that are getting a lot of critical attention that we simply don’t ‘get’.   Ribera del Duero is seen as a more ‘serious’ appellation with the neighborhood harboring such heavyweights as Vega Sicilia, Hacienda del Monasterio, Pingus, and Pesquera.   There are plenty of discussions about ‘old school’ and ‘new school’, but one of the wines that lit our fire from a discovery perspective last year didn’t seem part of any school.

Jorge Monzon and Elizabeth Rodero founded the winery only in 2010 after Jorge spent years selling his produce to ‘several high profile neighbors’.  They have definitely separated themselves from the pack in a very good way and we can only marvel at their successful new approach and how Aguila takes such a stylistic diversion and makes you wonder why more people haven’t done this.

The wines are the brainchild of Dominio di Aguila, and he labels them ‘Picaro del Aguila’, the term Picaro making reference to someone as a ‘rascal’ or a ‘rogue’.  The playful nature of the program belies how serious these folks are about what they do and the clarity and purpose of their vision.  The winemaking is purposeful and innovative, but ultimately all of the serious winemaking goes to produce wines that are, ultimately, ‘fun to drink’

We first profiled Domino del Aguila last year with the tasty and rather eye-opening 2015 version. The ‘recipe’, if you will, relies heavily on the appropriate clone of Tempranillo.  But he has chosen some rather unusual bedfellows for this part of the world including Grenache, Bobal, a varietal we associate more with Valencia to the southeast, and Albillo, the rare, indigenous white of the Ribera.  Put them all together (del Aguila actually co-ferments them) and what do you get.  As we described the 2015, you get a Ribera with its ‘party hat’ on.  The 2015 went on to get 92+ points and a small novelette from Advocate’s Luis Guttierrez.

The 2016 walks the same line, scored higher and is clearly an even more complete effort.   There’s plenty of richness here, but there is also a lift to the flavors that is unlike anything else we have tasted from the area, probably due to the inclusion of the white grapes in the fermentation a la Cote Roties in the northern Rhone.  Gushing mulberry and cassis flavors abound but there’s a streak that is like a marinated black cherry and more expressive floral elements to the aromatics that announce this is no garden variety Ribera.

The viticulture and winemaking here are more than serious.  The vines, somewhere north of 50-years-old, are farmed organically/biodynamically,  The grapes are trodden by foot before being put in French oak for malo-lactic fermentation and a sojourn in wood (though there is no obvious wood in the flavors).  The vineyards here are north-facing, which give the wine a little cooler profile to begin with and affords the grapes a little more hang time.  The fruit  notes have a certain ‘wild’ character, a more lifted personality that doesn’t sit heavy on the palate, and an effusive spiciness.  The Dominio del Aguila Picaro Ribera del Duero Vinas Viejas 2016 is a gregarious, slippery, tasty and, yes, fun beverage.

Advocate’s Gutierrez went off again, “The youngest of the released wines I tasted is a red—the 2016 Pícaro del Águila Tinto. It is from what they consider to be one of the best and freshest vintages in recent times. This is produced with the vines from the warmer parts of La Aguilera, a cold place to start with (and in a cooler year). The old vines are planted with a mix that is dominated by Tempranillo but also contains some 5% other grapes. All the grapes are picked and fermented together with full clusters and natural yeasts in concrete and stainless steel vats. It matured in oak barrels for 13 months.

“This is fragrant, expressive, open, aromatic and really attractive. The palate is really balanced, with great freshness, fine tannins and a very pleasant mouthfeel—supple, balanced and with great depth. This is the best version of this bottling so far…”   Juicy, well-meshed (it was quite engaging on day two as well), well-priced and versatile, all done in a style all its own, the eagle (aguila is Spanish for ‘eagle) has landed.

 

 

Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas 2015

Given how long and extensively we have worked with the Rhone, and the southern Rhone in particular, it’s a little surprising that this is only our second go around with this stylish Gigondas estate.  Our first foray, the 2010 Gour de Chaule Gigondas was a huge hit and lot of boxes disappeared from the old location.  This is actually the first volley in the newer spot, and the price is a little bit more than it was five years ago (that’s to be expected), but we are big fans of what this estate is doing.

The fact sheet reads something like this, with deference to the importer’s extensive and accessible information.  The Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, situated in the heart of the village of Gigondas, was founded in 1900 by Eugene Bonfils, the great-grandfather of the current proprietor, Stephanie Fumoso. All the wine produced at the estate was sold in bulk to negociants until 1970 when Madame Rolande Beaumet, Eugene’s daughter and the grandmother of the current owner, Stéphanie, began to bottle a small percentage of the estate’s wine for sale to private clients.

Madame Beaumet’s daughter, Aline Bonfils, took the reins of the domaine in the early 1980s and it was she that broadened the tradition of estate bottling significantly.  Stephanie was at the helm when we flipped over that 2010, and we were immediately captivated by a wine that, while it had all of the moxie one would expect from a Gigondas, it also had a polished presence that was considerably less ‘rough and tumble’ than most of the other ‘local produce’.

Were going to go out on a limb and suggests that a woman’s touch is clearly evident here (are we allowed to say that any more?) as the wine has the size and substance to stand among most Gigondas, but without the gritty tannins that are so often a part of wines from this appellation.  Dark berries, stony minerality, pepper, and garrigue here, typicite is not an issue but this is a more white tablecloth version of the genre.

This Grenache based cuvee comes from three separate plots with the average vine age approaching age 60.  Yields are most and the grapes are hand harvested, never destemmed, and sees no new oak.  The wine is put into large foudres for 18 months before it is bottled unfiltered and unfined.  Bottom line, this is a classy example from an often rustic area.

This is still kind of an under-the-radar property in the broad market, but the media is starring to take notice.  Wine Advocate’s  Joe Czerwinski had this to say, “Still in foudres and concrete, the 2015 Gigondas Cuvee Tradition is incredibly creamy, ripe and fresh. This full-bodied wine is bursting with ripe Grenache fruit, while the finish displays plush tannins. It’s not hugely complex—or maybe the fruit is just covering some of that complexity right now—but it sure is delicious…90-92 points.”  He got the delicious part right, but that review was posted in Oct., 2017, which means it was tasted well before that.  A lot can change in a year and a half (or more).

Even more upbeat was the prose from Josh Raynolds of Vinous, “Brilliant ruby. A heady bouquet evokes ripe red and blue fruits, Indian spices and smoky minerals, along with a hint of candied lavender in the background. Deeply concentrated yet energetic black raspberry, boysenberry and spicecake flavors unfold slowly, picking up a licorice quality that expands on the back half. Shows excellent clarity and mineral cut on a sweet, seamless finish shaped by smooth tannins…92-94 points.”

We know a lot of folks out there aren’t necessarily convinced by ‘barrel scores’.  We tasted the Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas 2015 out of the bottle.  It’s delicious, complex and all we can say is ‘you go, girl’.

Special Red: ‘Superior’ Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore

This is a difficult category for a lot of people because of the diversity.  The basic story is that a Ripasso spends time on the lies of the Amarone which enriches and amplifies the Valpolicella.  So what is it?  Is it the glorious and memorable (and very expensive) efforts from the likes of Dal Forno, Tommaso Busoll, and Accordini?  Or is it the sweetish, slightly oxidized Amarone wanna-be that, sadly, too many are.

While there are some exceptional and identifiable labels out there, all too often it is a crapshoot.  So when we find something new that works at a high level, we get very excited.  The Corte Sant’Alda Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore Campi Magri 2015 is one of those rare finds that brings the magic.  The first order of business for this kind of wine is texture.  There must be a luxurious mouth feel,  smooth edges from front to back, and, in the best cases, weightiness without being ponderous.  Bingo, the Corte Sant’Alda has it all.

Dark fruit, a little bit of a roasted character yet fresh at every point, this wine is deceptively full sized and definitely grabs your attention.  For those who know the genre, this is a beautiful version that is among the best examples we have had at any price.  If you are more of the New World school, we’d be surprised if you had many Italian wines sporting this kind of palate weight and plush demeanor.   The warm 2015 harvest was great for this genre of wine and this came from a densely planted vineyard of head trained bush vines farmed biodynamically. Corte Sant’Alda Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore Campi Magri 2015 then sees a 24 month sojourn is large and is made from ‘the usual suspects’ (Corvina Grossa, Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara).

James Suckling took a shine to this one as well, commenting “An expansive yet elegant nose of dried mulberries, blueberry tart, mince pies and hints of ash and bark. The palate taps into the wonderful freshness but there is also a nicely structured palate, grainy tannins and a pretty finish. What a find! Drink now. … 95 Points!”  What a find indeed.

AN EXCITING ‘REFUGE’ FROM HIGH PINOT NOIR PRICES

We said back in January, 2016, “We expect Chile to continue its breakout ways and surprise us with more ‘wait, that’s from Chile?’ type stuff…”   The progress has been coming slowly, progressively, and unimpeded for a few years now.  But it seemed like we started seeing some really ambitious new things coming along through the latter part of 2015.  It was clear then that the Chileans are going through an ‘awakening’ of historic proportion. They are finding new terroirs and creating new projects, as well as rediscovering and reenergizing some of their longtime producing areas.

Definitely the biggest surprise in Chile has been Pinot Noir.  Who knew? With over 2600 miles of coastline, it makes perfect sense that there would exist some unique spots in coastal valleys with mediating ocean influence in which Pinot would thrive.  Folks think of Chile as Cabernet country, but the real excitement has been producers figuring out what to do with other varietals.  Some of these breakout Chilean Pinot Noirs have been very compelling stories, though we still haven’t run across a more interesting tale than Montsecano.

The cast of characters is small, but interesting.  Julio Donoso, who founded this estate, is a world famous photographer who had a passion to create a wine project from scratch.  This he did by researching a number of different terroirs not far inland from the Chilean coast.  He settled on a rather wild, unspoiled spot located near the town of Las These, in the commune of Casablanca. The narrow, winding road leading to the cellar speaks volumes about his Cordillera de la Costa.  Here, 10 kilometers from the sea, there’s no power, steep slopes and poor granitic soils, an unattractive place to establish ‘conventional’ viticulture, but Montsecano is anything but.

Of course, by nature, photographers see things a little differently.  Hence, against the advice of the locals, the not-particularly-conventional Donoso planted six hectares (about 15 acres) of Pinot Noir on steep, rocky hillsides in the Chilean version of ‘the middle-of-nowhere’.  Who was going to make this Pinot?  Well, Julio took the next ‘logical’ step by enlisting the services of one of Alsace’s greatest talents, Andre Ostertag, who is typically not as busy in France during Chile’s (opposite) growing season.  The idea of working with reds intrigued Ostertag.  Thus, a label was born.

Andre also directs the farming, which is done biodynamically, with plowing by horses.  The cellar, which is unobtrusively wedged into a hillside, has no corners (it’s oval).  The wines are made as naturally as possible in a facility that depends on natural power, and there is no oak involved as everything is done in stainless steel and concrete eggs.  We featured this walk-on-the-wild-side project a couple of years ago and they have only improved in that time

These clearly delineated, expressive Pinot Noirs are considered by some among the best wines in South America.   They are still not a household word around these parts because they don’t make a lot of wine and are brought in by a small, extremely passionate and knowledgeable importer who hasn’t had much time to ‘network’ yet.  But here they are making news again with their Montsecano Pinot Noir Refugio Casablanca Valley 2017.  This is a dark, powerful Pinot that, quite honest, takes a little while to open up, but has a remarkable density and purity of fruit to reward a little patience.   Full bodied, plush, superbly balanced, this has a seamless, sweet core of mulberry are dark cherry fruit with subtle streaks of minerality.   The original bottling we reviewed (2015) was a James Suckling 93, and so is this one.

But the energetic review by wine Advocate’s Luis Gutierrez kicks it up a notch, “The 2017 Refugio Pinot Noir shows a reductive personality that I love as well as some flinty notes, so decanting in advance could be a good idea… Ostertag’s son, Arthur, is now involved in the winemaking, and as a result, they made a lot of changes in 2017, such as including about 25% full clusters in the fermentation. They use no sulfur and no oak in the production of this wine, and it has some of the character from the full clusters. However, the palate is very relaxed and harmonious and also mineral, with plenty of finesse and perfectly ripe fruit without excess. This is subtle, elegant and simply amazing; it has depth yet is approachable and very drinkable. I love the style of this wine. I believe this is the best vintage they have ever produced. A real bargain. I’d buy this by the case...94 points.”

All of that and under $20? Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

 

 

Classic Gruner at a sub-$20 fare

We have espoused on our version of the theory of relativity on a number of occasions.  The heart of that theory is that one’s perception of a wine is greatly influenced by what else might be on the table.  You are likely to have a better impression of a particular wine if it is tasted among lesser efforts, and, conversely, a really great wine’s magnitude might not be fully appreciated if it is tasted solely amongst other great wines.

Given that belief, it would follow that the Vorspannhof Mayr Gruner Veltliner Ried Loiser Weg Kremstal 2017, which we tasted after a knockout lineup of Ott Gruners, should have been swept away.  The fact that it held its own in that company speaks volumes.  From the northern end of Kremstal, near Kamptal, the soils here are loess and gravel, and the wine’s style and expression is much more ‘traditional’ with in the realm of Gruners.

Classic snap pea and watercress high tones with some white pepper and a little apricot, with a driving minerality and salinity through the middle to make everything sizzle, these folks are bringing it ‘old school’ in a good way.  It could hang with the flashier Otts because of its drive.  This one slices through food and leaves the palate energized for more, and the price performance in particular was impressive at $18.98.

BILA HAUT: AN UNCOMMON VALUE ONCE AGAIN

Not everything in the wine business makes sense (in fact a lot of it doesn’t).  Take for example Michel Chapoutier.  Here’s a guy that makes some of the most compelling single vineyard wines in the world from iconic sites on Hermitage.  Yet we can’t remember the last time we got really excited about one of the other bottlings he presents under the Chapoutier label.  You rarely see these on our shelves as they are serviceable but not compelling.

Enigma?  You bet.  Yet this guys makes some of the best values in the wine world.  He just doesn’t do it in the Rhone.  His Bila Haut program in the Roussillon has been an iconic source of value since Michel bought the property in 1999.  Yeah they have put out a number of memorable specialty bottlings during that time, but it is their bread-and-butter entry level offerings that amaze the most, vintage in and vintage out.

The beautifully appointed Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Cotes Du Roussillon Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge 2017 hits that mark again.   Since it is one of the first 2017 reds to hit the floor we can’t make any sweeping statements about the vintage.  But if this wine is any indication, it’s looking good.  The fruit component suggests red and black fruits, some white pepper, tea, and a subtle underpinning of slatey minerality.  There’s plenty of energy and urgency to the fruit and an underly lift comparable to the 2016.

While we aren’t necessarily in agreement with Jeb Dunnuck’s suggestion that this is a doppelganger for a Saint Joseph, and see more of the higher toned Grenache in the mix, he got the rest right, “The 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Les Vignes de Bila Haut reminds me of an impressive St Joseph (despite having lots of Grenache in the blend) with its black raspberry, white pepper, and leafy herb aromas and flavors. It’s seamless, elegant, and balanced, with both acidity and richness. Put this in a blind lineup of Northern Rhônes and shock your friends. ..92 points.”  As always, a fine buy at $12.98.

COLLOSORBO ROSSO DI MONTALCINO 2016

There are many ways to approach wine.  You can buy at the top, or you can buy on the cheap.  There’s nothing wrong with either approach depending on one’s expectations.  For us, it is always about finding the best juice for the best price.  That sounds easy enough, but opportunities are not always there.  Pricing is, of course, the principal issue.  But getting the better wines greatly depends on vintages as well.  As we have maintained for years, finding the little wines from serious producers is always a higher percentage play as a rule.  But those elite producers obviously have greater upside potential on all of their wines when Nature cooperates.

Again, as we may have mentioned, there are few vintages in Tuscany that compare to 2016.  Chiantis?  A number of ‘best ever’ performances from a variety of producers.  Brunello? Folks will be anxiously awaiting the 2016s, but they are two years away.  We’ve have seen a number of thrilling ‘little’ wines from the ‘big boys’ in Bolgheri.    But poor little Rosso di Montacino, essentially declassified Brunello in many cases, is still pretty much under the radar.

In short, Nature smiled on Sangiovese in 2016 and we have come across some crazy good Rossos that perform well above their station.  Admittedly prices for Rossos can be all over the board. But given the vintage, one should take a good, hard look at the category.  The Collosorbo Rosso di Montalcino 2016 is one of those exciting finds by virtue of both price and performance.

While every Brunello producer’s Rosso story is a little different, this one doesn’t have a lot of twists and turns.  This wine comes from the same vineyards as the Brunello and is hand harvested into small baskets, pressed softly into temperature controlled stainless steel before a sojourn in Slavonian and French barrels for about a year.   That’s the way they do it all the time, but the results in 2016 reached new heights based on our experience with Collosorbo and we have had some pretty good runs with this bottling in the past (the 2010 comes to mind).

What’s the secret? No secret. Consistent producer, excellent harvest, not rocket science.  This is about fruit…pure, generous, rather ample Sangiovese fruit that wears its terroir for all to see yet can be appreciated simply for its outgoing, well-stuffed, rather gushing demeanor.  It plays dark cherry, some earth and anise in the mix, shows surprising size for a ‘simple’ Rosso and the flashes the kind of polish to suggest higher aspirations in this wine.  The Collosorbo Rosso 2016 played as nicely with a steak as with a plate of pasta because of its gregarious fruit core and bright flavors.  It was engaging from the first sip.

It got some pretty serious ink for a ‘little’ wine as well.  Monica Larner of Wine Advocate comments, “The 2016 Rosso di Montalcino opens to a bright ruby color with purple highlights. The wine is youthful and bright in personality with a full load of plump cherry and ripe blackberry. You also get hints of spice, crushed mineral and balsam herb to round off the bouquet. The mouth feel is rich, generous and nicely structured. This is an excellent value buy…90 points.”

James Suckling kicked it up a notch, “Offers more concentration on the nose with mostly notes of blackberry pie, plum cake and even some Christmas pudding. On the palate, the fruit is melded beautifully with chewy yet tight tannins and taut acidity. Great stuff for what it is. Drink now… 93 Points.”

This ‘best ever’ effort exceeds previous efforts for this series from a review perspective, but shares an important number with the 2010…the price.  Thanks to a variety of factors that worked in concert here, $19.98 will buy you a pretty spectacular bottle of Rosso that doesn’t play like your ordinary ‘second wine’.

An exceptional ‘go-to’ while it lasts.

A QUICK LOOK AHEAD…

As we always do, here’s a look ahead at what promise to be some of the hottest topics in 2019:

2016 BORDEAUX:  This is another great vintage and better priced than the last two iconic years, 2009 and 2010.  It’s going to get hot and heavy early on as the critics race to beat each other to get the final ‘in bottle’ scores to market and the Bordeaux negociants move to strike while the iron is hot as far as making sales.  Like they did with 2009, things could heat up quickly.  This is a vintage to own of you are a fan of Bordeaux and it was successful throughout the appellations for reds.  The 2015s are no slouches either so there is plenty for the Bordeaux aficionado to look through.  Bargains may avail themselves if the market moves quickly to focus on the 2016s and leaves the 2015s by the wayside, but that’s a lot to hope for with Bordeaux.

Having just run through a good sampling at the Union des Grands Crus tasting in January, we can tell you that these wines in bottle are impressive and the real deal.  ‘Classic’ Bordeaux fans will be very happy with the performance of the old, familiar names as a number of the iconic Left Bank properties were at the top of their game in 2016.

2016 SOUTHERN RHONES:  We have been banging this drum for a while now but there are still a few producers to be heard from in 2016 as well as the opportunity to pick from all of the remaining cool stuff that has already hit the market.  The supplies are definitely dwindling and we are starting to see 2017s.  The 2016s, as we have said many times, certainly rank among the very best without question and may be the best in the southern Rhone we have ever tasted.   There are still a few bits of the 2015s from the northern Rhone as well, again a vintage of historic proportion for Syrah.

2015/2016 TUSCAN REDS:  There are a few 2015s to still come to market, though 2015 Brunellos are still a ways out (like a year).  The 2016 Rossos are starting to come to market and they are polished and fruit driven.  In many cases the 2016 versions from Chianti and Bolgheri are even better than the vaunted 2015s.  Like the 2016s in the Rhone and Bordeaux, the 2016 Tuscans have a unique combination of tender, powerful, harmonious fruit and surprising buoyancy.  Rest assured we will not be saying the same thing next year or the year after that as some merchants might.  The 2016s are the real deal for both current applications or for the cellar.  Given what we have seen of the ‘second wines’ of people like Sassicaia and Guado al Tasso, the ‘big dogs’ should be epic.  Chiantis continue to amaze from 2016.

BURGUNDY/BEAUJOLAIS-The watchword here is tasty.  While we don’t expect either area to be heralded by the critics in the same way as the 2015 versions were, there will be a number of very appealing wines hitting the market in both categories and some that will probably get serious ink simply because they are very likeable (critics are people, too) .  As a vintage, 2017s are generally tender and well liked, though likely earlier maturing than either of the two prior vintages.  It’s all relative though.  We suspect there would be considerably more fuss about 2017s following 2013s rather than 2015s.  But there is plenty of pleasing juice coming down the pipeline.

SOUTH AMERICA There’s no reason not to expect the upward trajectory in this category to continue.

SPAIN– Since so many different vintages will be arriving at various levels, it would be hard to make any sweeping statements.  There are always Reservas and Grand Reservas from a variety of vintages and you can bet we will be all over those.  At the value end, some of the ‘little’ 2015s are starting to show up and they are delicious on the whole.

WHITES– The 2017 whites from northeastern Italy, western Spain and Germany will be some of the first places we look this year while they are around.

BORN IN THE USA– Oregon Pinots will be strong choices again, and a renaissance of Oregon Chardonnays will provide some real surprises.  Vintages are strong up and down the Coast so the potential exists for all manner of exceptional wines.  California, as usual, will provide plenty of thrills.  The category is not without issues however, but they are not relative to the very good harvests (though we don’t know the full effects of the fires as yet).

There is plenty of smoke (and mirrors) with regards to pricing.  Simply there are too many $40 wines selling (OK, maybe just ‘asking’) for $60 fares and $60 bottlings trying to get $100+.  We think (and have seen) many consumers say ‘no’ to the inflated prices while wineries act like everything is just peachy.  Something will give and, after so any years of this same dance, the truth might start seeping out.

Finally, sadly, the ‘control group’ style of manipulating wine with all sorts of ‘winemaking tricks’ seems to be getting more pervasive.  We’re noticing that whiff of artificial ‘cake frosting’ and shameless residual sugar showing up in a growing number of wines.  The purpose is to give consumers a consistent, familiar profile by dumbing down the wine.  To us that isn’t wine, it’s Pepsi (or Coke).  Pricing and the lack of true soul in so many of our local value wines is one of the most disturbing trends in the market and part of the reason we will likely be concentrating on imports at the value end once again.

LEGAL STUFF– While there are always lots of things going on in the wine world, this year one of the most significant will be happening in the court room, The Supreme Court no less.  Depending on the rulings, the outcome of Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association vs. Blair could possibly have sweeping effects on how wine and spirits are sold in this country and change the landscape for consumers, retailers and wineries.  Without getting too far into the arguments (hey, we aren’t lawyers), it looks to be yet another spin on the good old Commerce Clause vs. the 21st Amendment story, but from a different angle.

You heard a lot of the same things back with Granholm v. Heald in 2005, but the court ruled within very specific points of law which, while it benefitted a few people greatly (wineries), kept the post-ruling interpretations rather narrow.  This time around could be very different depending on the outcome and how ruling is written.  One can only hope…

 

 

 

GREAT BURGUNDY VALUE ‘IN DISGUISE’

There are two parts to this story, the most important being a delicious, well-priced bottle of Pinot Noir from older vines.  The house of  Maison Bertrand Amboise is a well-respected source for red and white Burgundy with a particularly important association with the villages of Nuits-St.-George and an elevated reputation for that appellation since the early 90s.

The domaine itself dates back to the late 18th century. Bertrand took control of the estate in 1988 after the death of Martin’s (Bertrand’s wife) father and has never looked back. Today Bertrand’s son, Francois, manages the vineyards (w/Bertrand) & daughter, Ludivine, manages the commercial aspects of the domaine; allowing Bertrand to concentrate on the winemaking.

Low yields and ripe skins allow for long, slow fermentations on the skins, sometimes 3+ weeks, which is why these wines have more color than most and a sweeter impression of the tannins.  All cuvees are 100% destemmed.  The Victor Fagon Bourgogne Rouge 2016 exhibits a lovely blue fruit note in the peripheral flavors as a result of that ‘ripe skin’ process.  It is particularly evident in the case of a 2016, a good vintage but one that didn’t always show that ‘next level’ ripeness.  This wine actually shares textural and flavor elements that are a bit more pandering like a 2015 red Burgundy, but a brightness more associated with the vintage of record.

The juice comes from vines that average 50 years old located in Premeaux-Prissey, the southern part of Nuits-St-Goerges.  Raised in 2-5 year old barrels, it is rather dark in color for a Burgundy with upfront, powerful blackberry fruit in the nose, refined tannins, and loads of darker fruits across the palate with aspects of soil and oak spice.   It’s a surprisingly good effort for the fare, and, like we said, shares as much with a 2015 as 2016 stylistically.  This would have been an email but people have already been nibbling on it to the point where our ‘par’ quantities were below necessary levels.  We wrote this so a few more folks got the ‘411’ before it disappears.

Why are we talking about Bertrand Amboise and Victor Fagon in such a casual, back and forth manner? We know it’s a little confusing, with the wine’s moniker different from the estate notes.  This happens occasionally in the world of wine.  Sometimes a producer is linked with an importer who may not be doing everything the producer would like.  But the producers have legal/contractual restraints as to what they can market under their own brand.  This is one of those cases, and this is a great ‘workaround’ for such cases.

The name on the label represents Francois’s son “Victor” and “Guy-Crescent Fagon”, doctor to Louis XIV and important benefactor to the wines of Nuits Saint Georges.  Victor Fagon is an amalgam of the two names for marketing purposes.  In the end, it’s the wine that matters, and this one delivers.

‘Modern’ (Easy Dinking) Chianti

Chianti as a category can be a bit daunting.  You’ve got commercial stuff in straw fiascos in the red checkered cloth Italian restaurants, the $100+ single vineyard bottlings from Castello di Ama, and a rainbow of stuff in between.  It’s all called Chianti even though some have nothing in common.  To further complicate matters, you have a variety of terroirs like Chianti Classico, Rufina, and Greve that make their own unique contribution to the finished wine.  Finally, you have individual styles of the wineries themselves.

While most of the producer names that come to mind fall into more or less in what would be the ‘traditional’ camp, today we thought we’d touch on a couple that were more ‘new school’ at least in how they come across.  While the whole discussion of ‘camps’ doesn’t really come up a lot relative to Chianti, we felt the need to share a couple of wines that have a plumper, sweeter core of fruit that gives a more fruit-driven, ‘modern’ element to their profiles.

The first was a staple at the Orange store for years, though this is the first time this ‘regular’ bottling of the Fattoria Basciano Chianti Rufina 2015 has appeared here.  We hadn’t seen the wine in a while.  The fact that this came from the juicy 2015 vintage made a perfect platform for Basciano’s gregarious stylistic bent.  Key words that seem to come up consistently when we talk about Basciano are ‘lip smacking’ and ‘juicy’.  Father Renzo and son Paolo Masi run something of a negociant enterprise with the idea of consistently getting high quality fruit to create enviable quality at attractive prices.  This they have done quite well for a long time.

The 2015 has the bright, slippery, ripe black and blue fruit core that should appeal to anyone.  The wine is packed with tender fruit, has plenty of energy, and is far too easy to haul off and drink for something from Rufina.  At this point we don’t see a lot of the minerally terroir that appears in a supporting role in most efforts from this part of Chianti.  This wine is the proverbial, succulent ‘fastball down the middle’.

Wine Spectator’s descriptors work efficiently here, “Pure aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry and floral gain depth from earth and leafy tobacco accents. Firms up on the finish, with a pleasant astringency.”  One doesn’t write paragraphs on this one.  One drinks it with relish.  The Basciano simply wants to be liked and it succeeds admirably on that score.  Don’t let the $12 price scare you either.  This delivers plenty of character and value as well.

The Gagliole Chianti Classico Rubiolo 2016 plays to the same crowd, but for different reasons.  We have had a few presentations of this Gagliole bottling in past vintages, but this is the first one to ‘make the cut’.  We are probably not going out on too much of a limb to suggest the 2016 vintage may have had something to do with that, ome article suggesting later harvesting during this cooler vintage probably did a lot to elevate and enrich this wine’s fruit core.

It is that outgoing fruit that makes the Rubiolo appealing to a larger audience.  Not sure if ‘fruit driven’ and ‘modern’ was the intent here but that is what this delivers.  The Rubiolo is 95% Sangiovese, clearly a big beneficiary in the 2016 vintage as a varietal, but also contains five percent Merlot to give the edges a bit of polish.

While this is our first dance with the Rubiolo that we can recall, there seems to be a ready audience with a 91 from Wine Advocate with comments, “This wine is an absolute steal…” James Suckling tossed a 92 on it and it got two glasses from Gambero Rosso to boot.  Plump, seamless, focused on a joyous core of plumy fruit, it is easy to like, and won’t break the bank at $14.98.