MONTEPARONI: CHIANTI FOR MATURE AUDIENCES

As we see it, our job is to find the good stuff.  Period.  If there is widespread success, and lots of good stuff, so be it.  If there is a concentration of standouts in one region as opposed to others, that’s OK, too. Tuscany has had their share of good fortune of late, though 2017 was a bit more difficult from a farming perspective, though mostly from an economic standpoint (early weather quirks curtailed a lot of cropload). We aren’t going to tell you the vintage was like 2016. There haven’t been many at that level. But there certainly was a good enough vintage canvas for talented artists and this small estate is one of the under the radar stars.

This will be our third straight vintage with Monteraponi. Yes, for some folks, Chianti comes in those little, woven fiasco bottles.  But this is on a completely different plane. Value is a relative thing and means delivering for the fare. This estate makes one of the more serious Chiantis you’ll taste, though it isn’t all gussied up with wood.  It can go toe-to-toe with Gran Seleziones, a new, and still rather nebulous ‘reserve plus’ designation.

Monteraponi is in Radda and the vineyards are at high altitude (from 1300-1500 feet above sea level).   The wines are carefully made in a very natural way, which is to say no added yeast, nutrients, or malolactic bacteria are used, fermentation takes place in cement tanks, followed by long macerations (even the Chianti Classico is kept on the skins for at least 25 days), the wines are aged in large neutral oak only, and they are not fined or filtered.

Plenty of complex, terroir-driven fruit, this ‘regular’ bottling somehow has more gravitas than most Chiantis we encounter, price notwithstanding.
The deep core of dark red fruit comes to the fore, with accents of earth, menthol, pepper, cedar, sandalwood, and violets.  But it also has another gear that carries more through the back of the palate and length to the flavors. It gets pretty consistent accolades from the press (93 for both the 2015 and 2016 from Vinous for example) and we expect the same here. It has plenty of fruit and, if you had the 2016, this one will be a little higher toned and lighter on its feet by virtue of the vintage. Delicious and very soulful, a little air time will allow it strut its stuff.

Monteraponi is in Radda and the vineyards are at high altitude (from 1300-1500 feet above sea level).   and the wines are carefully made in a very natural way, which is to say no added yeast, nutrients, or malolactic bacteria are used, fermentation takes place in cement tanks, followed by long macerations (even the Chianti Classico is kept on the skins for at least 25 days), the wines are aged in large oak only, and they are not fined or filtered.  

WELCOME BACK: MATTEO CORREGGIA ROERO ROSSO 2016

This was one of our favorite under-the-radar labels from back in the 90s when Corregia was part of the ‘new school’ Italian troupe under the Marco di Grazia banner. Corregia’s wines always had an engaging warmth and suppleness supported by ample dark fruits, gentle acidity and ripe tannins. He was thrust into winemaking at an early age when his father passed away in the ’80s, and he himself was killed in a vineyard accident in 2001. In between, he decided to bottle his own wine and developed a very captivating, generous style that won a lot of friends

A lot of his new school Barolista associates at the time, who created a bit of a sensation with using modern oak regimens in their winemaking, developed big reputations in the press. Corregia made his bones with more modest appellations like Roero, Barberas and Nebbiolos from sandier terroirs. After his death, the winery understandably lost some of its mojo, and we went quite a while without seeing much of the label here. Being presented the wine recently rekindled our interest in this lCorreggia and brought back memories as it is the same kind of honest, generous, palate caressing, bright red that we recall from the days of yore.

It is still a family affair with son Giovanni working with long-time winemaker Luca Rostagno, and mom, Ornella, handling the business and hosting. There are no secrets here. This is 100% Nebbiolo from a sandy parcel surrounded by a forest. All is harvested by hand and the finished wine sees six months in big barrels. We couldn’t find a review more recent on the Roero than 2012. But Correggia was never a media darling, especially given the high-profile folks he was associated with, just a guy who made juicy wines people enjoyed drinking.

The wine is the important thing and Correggia’s style was then, and is again, pleasing and comfortable with a supple core of dark cherry fruit augmented with floral notes and brown spice notes. The Matteo Correggia Roero Rosso 2016 is a wine to drink with gusto and, while you can get contemplative if you want to, that clearly isn’t the point here. Glad to have them back, and the vintage probably played right into the house style. Some folks out there don’t take wines labeled ‘rosso’ seriously. We say ‘respect the Rosso’.

YET ANOTHER KILLER 2016 CHIANTI VALUE: CASTELLO DI VOLPAIA

Castello di Volpaia has been on our radar for a long time.  We have, at one time or another, sold their black label Riserva, and specialty bottlings Coltasala and Balifico.  But we can’t remember a time the ‘regular’ Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico turned in a performance like this.  Hey, this is a good house that has a solid track record and an occasional ‘home run’ (their 2015 Riserva was #3 on Wine Sectator’s Top 100 last year…of course it had been sold out for months).

But an exceptional vintage like 2016 has the power to lift the level of all wines great and small and put this ‘little’ wine into a special place.   The Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico  is usually a pretty good utilitarian choice, but this time around this 2016 is touching another level.  As we have explained a few times, the scores for this wine are typically going to be influenced lower by the fact that there are a number of upper tier selections from the same house for scribes to review.  But the fact that everybody gave this wine a nice ‘number,’ and even nicer comments, speaks volumes.

For our part, we’ll say that the rounder texture, lift, and darker fruit component, as well as the easy-to-swallow price ($17.98), made this a must.  Here are quick hits on the critic’s words,

Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media : “The 2016 Chianti Classico is all class. Fresh, floral and beautifully lifted, the 2016 offers a terrific expression of the estate in its mid-weight personality. All the elements meld together in this effortless, classy wine from the family. The 2016 is quite accessible today, but it also has enough brightness to age nicely for a number of years. What a pretty wine it is… 91 Points”

Monica Larner, robertparker.com: “Showing ripe fruit and rich intensity, the 2016 Chianti Classico (made with 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot) would pair nicely next to pasta with extra cheese grated on top. This wine is bright and fruit-forward with the fresh acidity to cut though the fat in cheese, butter or cream. The tight and focused nature of the wine’s sharp berry flavors would also make a perfect contrast to the natural sweetness in those ingredients. This is always a great food wine, but this vintage is even better poised to match your favorite Italian dishes…90+ points!”

James Suckling: “Aromas of cherries, dried strawberries and red plums. Medium to full body, round and ripe tannins and a nice, fresh finish. Drink now….92 points.”

Decanter Magazine: “…Merlot is included to make it more approachable, but it still has the potential to age. Red berries and earth notes reveal themselves slowly, with perfumed violet nuances showing up on the palate. Firm but refined tannins hold it all together, and the finish lingers with appetizing  minerality…91 points”

Another superb ‘go-to’ from Chianti in 2016…enough said.

IT’S ROSSO TIME: LISINI ROSSO DI MONTALCINO

As you have probably gathered if you have read enough of our rants, 2016 has been a generally very good vintage in Europe and ‘lights out’ in certain regions like Bordeaux and the southern Rhone.  Tuscany is one of those ‘lights out’ areas as our tastings have shown.  We have had spectacular Chiantis and the market is anxiously awaiting the big dogs from Piedmont, Bolgheri, etc.   As an adjunct to the highly anticipated Brunellos coming two years down the road, we have come across the most remarkable crop of Rosso di Montalcinos we can recall from the 2016 vintage, and they are here now.

Yeah, we are fully aware that we are fighting convention.  A lot of consumers don’t take Rossos seriously, like they are some unwanted stepchild or byproduct.  Believe what you want, we’ve had a number of Rossos in 2016 that are better than the Brunellos are most years, and ceretainly more appealing.

It is simply a function of the 2016 vintage.  In Tuscany, the reds have brighter profiles and more flesh, taking them quite literally to another level.  If you tried any of the Collosorbo Rosso 2016 we featured a while back, you already know what we are talking about.  Now our toughest decision is figuring out which ones to put one the floor out of the uncanny number of outstanding examples we have encountered.

Even being as picky as we are being, Lisini is definitely one of the stars.  Lisini is a highly regarded house in the first place, and has been for a long time.   But while the scribes rush to present their opinions on all of the top-line Brunellos, the Rossos are largely ignored.  In 2016 that would be  a mistake.  This wine has all the trappings of a big time Brunello with a rich, layered fruit core, emerging aromatics of confectionary cherry, mineral and anise, and well integrated, ripe tannins.  You literally couldn’t design them any better.

The texture is perhaps the most noticeable difference with the 2016 Rossos vis a vis other vintages of Rosso or even Brunello.  The wines are round and seamless from front to back, with surprisingly tender edges for their relative youth all as a function of this unique year where the wines are at once plush and light on their feet.  There are vineyards designated for Rosso at Lisini, all from the same missal material as the Brunello.  There can also be some declassified Brunello juice in the mix though, in such an exceptional vintage, we doubt much got selected out.

It’s not like the Lisini Rosso di Montalcino 2016 needed more.  It’s pretty loaded, though it will differ from the ‘big dog’ by virtue of its accessibility.  We’ve never tasted Rossos like these.  They are friendlier than the 2010s and fresher than the 2007s, and in our minds perform a couple of notches higher than either.  Given the sourcing and vintage, this is a very classy wine for the modest fare of $24.98.  The only issue is that some of your friends may not be suitably impressed by something that says ‘rosso’ on it, until they taste it that is.

THIS IS LAMBRUSCO CLASSICO: REFINED, VERSATILE, DRY

Popular wines in the 70’s sometimes resulted in a negative spin on a the categories at large.  Soave, Bardolino, Chenin Blanc, ‘Pink Wines’ in general, all had their purpose but those mass market versions tainted the genres’ images moving forward.   One of the unfortunate victims was Lambrusco, typically in those days seen as a fizzy, sweet, often mawkish red.  Believe us when we tell you that the Lambruscos we are talking about here bear no resemblance to those Cella/Riunite memories of times gone by.  Lambrusco has always had a cadre of more sophisticated wines and were are starting to see more and more of them now.  From Central Italy, they have been around for a long time, just not in this market in any significant way.

Bone dry with definite fruit character, these play beautifully with a plate of charcuterie, pasta dishes, and cheeses, to say nothing of drinking them alone where they play like a lower dosage Champagne only with more of a ‘winey’ character and gentler bubbles.  Certainly we have to be careful introducing new categories to people  but are pretty confident that the duo from Paltrinieri will make our point elegantly.

Paltrinieri Radice Lambrusco di Sorbara 2017 is a visual surprise with its coppery salmon color and crown cap closure.  The region is Emilia Romagna and the grape is Sorbara, and the flavors here run to a drier tropical fruit, early season strawberry, and intriguing notes of spice.  As a Wine Enthusiast piece states, “One of the wines that put Lambrusco back on the map, this vibrant, linear wine boasts aromas of wild strawberry, violet, red cherry and grapefruit. The aromas carry through to the slightly sparkling, savory palate along with cinnamon and white pepper notes. Crisp acidity lifts the savory finish…93 Points!”  A refreshing change of pace, very food friendly, serve chilled, a Suckling 92 as well.

Paltrinieri Leclisse Lambrusco di Sorbara 2017 looks more like what you would expect from Lambrusco but, again, expresses itself with more of a wine personality with small, not overly aggressive bubbles rather than a soft drink kind of mouth feel.  Texturally appealing, you get more of the ‘red wine’ feel from this darker version but, more important, you get a unique experience with the berry/citrus flavors and creamy mouth feel.  Not a lot of folks write about this sort of thing, yet.  But what we did find was most ‘enthusiastic’ from Wine Enthusiast, “…this delicious, stunning wine opens with enticing scents of wild berry, rose petal and citrus. The aromas carry over to the elegant, foaming palate along with juicy strawberry, creamy nectarine, grapefruit and a sprinkling of white pepper. A silky mousse gives it an irresistible texture, while fresh acidity keeps it balanced…94 Points.”

 

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.

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.

‘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.

Tenuta di Trinoro Toscana IGT Le Cupole 2015

That bizarre red and yellow label with the picture of a swan on it that kind of looks like it was botched at the printer has been a fixture around here for some time.  That’s because we are big fans of the pioneering work of Andrea Franchetti in this part of southwestern Tuscany.  His Tenuta di Trinoro wines have a serious following but it is with the Tenuta di Trinoro Toscana IGT Le Cupole 2015 that we get the most excited.  Here is a meticulously produced blend of Bordeaux varietals that has the seamless nature, polish, and fruit driven style of his icon bottlings but is a fraction of the price.  It is a true ‘second wine’ as it faultlessly emulates the harmonious style of the house and is a great window into the workings of this unique estate.  The ripe 2015 vintage didn’t hurt either.

Our ‘little wines from great producers’ mantra is in full array here and we think this 2015 is one of the juiciest in the series.  From Advocate’s Monica Larner, “…(it) is far more sophisticated and richly textured compared to the great majority of wines from the surrounding hillsides of Tuscany. Black cherry, sweet spice and tarry earth converge on the bouquet. The mouthfeel is slightly sweet and rich in texture…92 points.”   With 2018 showcasing such an amazing volume of great efforts from Italy in general and Tuscany in particular, a lot of really exciting stuff like this is still ‘on deck’ as far as email offers and may never get its time in the spotlight.  But this is a versatile and appealing red not to be missed.

Mount Etna: The Awakening Continues

If you ask people dialed into the wine industry what’s the hottest new place to find exciting wines, Sicily’s Mount Etna will get a lot of votes.  It isn’t a new area.  The appellation got its DOC way back in 1968 and century old vines are not uncommon as are, sadly, terraced vineyards that have been long abandoned.  But there are exciting things happening now in terms of quality and the produce of the local varietals, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, is finding many fans.
The wines are unique in profile yet seem hauntingly familiar and strangely compelling.  The textures are relatively supple and this particular mountain expresses its terroir of varied soilscapes (it is after all an active volcano) as a melange of supple tufo mineralities.  We are sold on the region and have found lots of very interesting wines over the last 15 years or so including the wines of Giuseppe Russo with the Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso ‘a Rina 2016 being one of the finest value plays yet in this emerging category.
Giuseppe Russo, a former pianist, took over the family estate in 2005 and is now farming organically.   ‘A Rina is their ‘entry cuvee’ made the old fashioned way with natural yeasts, no refrigeration, hand punch downs, and no fining or filtration.  It’s pretty ‘natural’ stuff without any of the funk or oxidation that affect so many such wines.  It is a round, easy, flavorful beverage with great purity of fruit and soft tannins (seemingly a common thread for Nerellos).
The press seems to agree on this one.  James Suckling says, “Cranberries, boysenberries, red licorice, fresh herbs and some tobacco. The pure fruit character comes through more here than the other single-vineyard bottlings this year, while the tannins are softer, more compact and more velvety. Intense and long on the finish. 94 points.”
Similar kudos from Wine Spectator’s Alison Napjus, “Fresh earth and mineral notes provide an aromatic overtone for flavors of ripe cherry and strawberry fruit in this well-knit and chewy, medium-bodied red. Fresh and creamy, with hints of dried fig, anise and herb lingering on the finish…92 points.” 
Let your Etna immersion start here, this one, as you would expect, is also very food-friendly.  Is Nerello going to be ‘the next big thing’?
Frankly it wouldn’t surprise us, especially as more producers of this quality hit the market.