DREAM ‘SWEETS’: Part 1

First off, thanks for clicking. It never ceases to amaze us that when you say something is a dessert style, people (the same ones that drink Chardonnays with 2% residual sugar and love those sweets when they are poured in their glass) scurry away. It is not a sin to like fruitier wines, nor does it mean you aren’t ‘cool’, in spite of what the populace at large might do to suggest otherwise. Far too many people act like drinking dessert wines is akin to drinking pancake syrup. But in fact the sizzling acidity that supports the great ones make them brighter and more versatile than a lot of wines out there.

Anyway, we are still fans of the genre and appreciate their place in the wine spectrum. Also, in spite of all of the negative attitude out there, we sell a lot of them…often providing we don’t say the ‘S’ word. For the moment we have a couple of gems that deserve a word. First up is the Felsina Vin Santo 2007, a fascinating and complex wine that is the result of an equally fascinating process.

The grapes in Felsina’s case are Trebbiano, Malvasia and Sangiovese that are harvested by hand and put through a rigorous sorting before the grapes are placed on mats until January/February. They are then de-stemmed and pressed, and the must is transferred to sealed, 100-litre oak casks containing the “mother” (a thick substance remaining from previous vintages).

After 7 years in storage, the cask is opened and the wine is bottle-aged for a minimum of 6 months. It’s a little bit ‘life on the edge’ because anything can happen in that closed environment for such a long period of time. When the stars align, it is magic, and this complex peach, dried apricot, carmel and spices elixir is one of those engaging examples.

Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner went off on this one saying, “The 2007 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico (375-milliliters) is a gorgeous wine with so many descriptors that apply to the ever-evolving and complex bouquet. This golden dessert wine offers distinct aromas of dried apricot, honey and saffron. But give it a few moments and earthy or autumnal tones of wild mushroom, forest floor and aged cheese also rise to the top. The effect is almost savory and definitely very sophisticated. The wine glides smoothly over the palate with creamy richness and viscous smoothness. ..94+.”

Simply a stunning way to end an evening and, if you don’t finish it, it will hold up for a few days. (Go to ‘Dream Sweets: Part 2’)

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’.

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.

LUSH, ENGAGING BARBERA FOR A SONG: CA’VIOLA D’ALBA BRICHET 2015

Beppe Ca Viola is ‘one of the most important oenologists in Italy’ according to multiple sources that write about such things, yet unless you are pretty deep into Italian wine you have likely never heard of him.  He started under the wing of one of the superstars of Piedmont at the time, Elio Altare, who encouraged him to bottle his own efforts early on, and has gone on to be a consultant at a number of elite addresses.  He is working or has worked with the likes of Pecchenino, Albino Rocca, Vietti, Sette Ponti, Damilano, and Luigi Einaudi, something of a who’s who lineup  But, while his credentials are pretty impeccable as a consultant, it is his own efforts from his winery near Dogliani that really get us excited.

As much as we are and have been fans of Ca Viola for a decade or more, there have been precious few opportunities to taste his wines.  Production is small, distribution here has been a little inconsistent, and the wines, for as good and distinctive as they have been, haven’t been getting the media attention that they deserve.  We have a bit of a hard time deciding what to think about the general lack of coverage and enthusiasm on the part of the critics for a producer of this caliber who makes such an engaging style of wine.

His wines are consistently among the best of Italian producers, and there is a tenderness and perceived sweetness to the fruit component that sets them apart from most Italian efforts, yet the wines don’t lose their ‘Italian’ identity in the process.    The Ca Viola Barbera d’Alba Brichet 2015 is from a variety of vineyards with an average vine age of 20 years-old, farmed organically (though they haven’t concerned themselves with the ‘certification’ process) fermented with only native yeasts, and put in large barrels for 12 months.

The resulting wine, no doubt aided by the lush 2015 vintage, is loaded with evident plum/blackberry fruit that is tender and juicy but fresh and light on its feet.  The tannins are refined, the acidity is ripe and well integrated, and the whole experience is engaging.  This is a Barbera that drinks like a Pinot Noir and is fruit driven enough to drink on its own, though it sings with food as one would expect.

This particular rendition even go a little love from the  press, a 93 point tout and some compelling words from James Suckling, “There’s minerality on the nose of this Barbera, but also some smoky complexity, not to mention brambleberries and blackcurrants. A structured palate with firm tannins, refreshing acidity, and a succulent, chewy finish. Drink now.”  As to that ‘drink now”, absolutely.  This is a Barbera where it will be hard to put down the glass and a thrilling example of the kind of flashy, engaging, well priced wines we expect from Ca Viola’s own label.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘NATURALLY’ TASTY: QUERCIA GROSSA BATTIFOLLE TOSCANA 2014

You’d think after doing this as long as we have, we’d have the sense to be a little more selective of the topics we choose.  Sadly, or perhaps not, we are in it for the experience and to highlight wines that deserve attention from folks who love wine, famous or not.  It sometimes takes you in directions you aren’t necessarily expecting to go.  Quercia Grossa is one of those times, but the wine definitely made it worth the ‘trip’.

Located in the southern part of the Maremma, the warmer part of Tuscany, this wine has the distinction of being from a ‘genre’ that is no longer recognized as en vogue (super-Tuscan), made in a ‘natural’ style (definitely something that sends up reds flags to us because of how many sloppy wines hit the market under that banner), and from one of the most difficult vintages in the region in this century.  It would be very easy, simply based on the data, to just look past this one.  But the wine was simply too compelling and had an engaging, rather unique personality.

It starts with the farming.  In their words, “In the course of this venture, we recovered a number of old vineyards scattered around Roccatederighi in various small plots on the undertaking that they would be treated like a garden, in tune with the rhythms of nature.  Production is not forced in the vineyard, and, as far as possible, we use manual working methods in order to avoid using products that may be harmful to the plants and environment.  Respect for nature and the environment requires the absence of insecticides, botritycides, weed-killers and chemical fertilizers. Treatment in the vineyards is kept to the minimum.”

As to the harvest itself, “Grapes are hand-picked into small crates, so that they can be examined and sorted if necessary during the harvesting process. The grape harvest is a magical moment in which a symbiotic bond forms between man and the grapevines that have been trained and shaped by generations of loving hands. After the grape clusters have been picked and laid carefully in small crates, they are taken to the winery: an intimate, magical place. Here they undergo a delicate vinification process; the grapes give off an intense aroma and start to macerate in small concrete vats for a period of up to forty days. Fermentation takes place naturally with the aid of the indigenous ‘wild’ yeasts present in the grapes.”

“Achieving and preserving a harmonious balance between man, the grapevines and the surrounding countryside in keeping with the concept that “wine is made in the vineyard” is the key to creating a wine with personality: a wine produced by a local winemaker who treats the grape cluster with the utmost respect, applying a philosophy based on simplicity.”

If you have read enough wine writings, you have heard all of this kind of thing before.  The difference here is that, unlike all of the ‘natural’ folks out there that seem to use the process as an excuse for marginal winemaking, the folks at Quercia Grossa made a little magic when the odds were against them.  Of course, having former Cristom Pinot-master Tim Manning consulting and informing the wines with an extra level of elegance doesn’t hurt.

We aren’t trying to qualify the achievement either.  This tender, fruit centered, surprisingly ample wine is just plain tasty, with a uniquely appealing texture, plum, cassis and black cherry fruit with notes of earth and minerality, and gentle, unfettered tannins.  The Quercia Grossa Battifolle Toscana 2014, still presented under the indeterminate banner of IGT, is a blend of 40% Sangiovese, 40% Merlot , and  20% Cabernet Sauvignon , after which it is placed into 225 liter second and third use barrels with minimal sulphite addition.

For the guy who imported this wine, this is a labor of passion.  But this genteel, tasty red deserves an audience which is why we bought it.

Sizzling Sudtirol Triple-Play

The more we find out about this Sud-Tirol producer, the more impressed we are.  We are big fans of the whites from these pristine sites nestled near the Alps, which we lovingly refer to as the German part of Italy.  Sparkling high valleys, clean air, unique ad varied soils, we dare say that when Nature cooperates, these are some of the most riveting whites anywhere.  Margreid has been one of the standard bearers for the region since we first ran across his precise wines maybe three vintages back.  The rest, as they say, is history, though this latest set of releases kind of border on ‘historic from the standpoint of excelling true to the region.

If you like big, buttery Chardonnays, these will not be your muse.  But if you fancy driving fruit delivered atop vigorous, fresh acidity, clean, pure flavors and superb integration, your Schiff has com in.  We were recently presented with this lineup from Margrein, featuring efforts from the 2016 vintage (which has been enormously exciting in this region) and we couldn’t help buy everything we were presented.  This ‘triple play’ was quite a show!

The thing is that these perform nearly perfectly for what they are intended to be.  It isn’t a genre that gets a lot of attention, nor are these the kind of wines that will play to the typical media palate.  But the execution for our tastes is so impressive, we find talking them up an imperative even if it is for a small, select audience.  How excited can we get about Kerner, Pinot Grigio and Schiava?  If they taste like this, pretty darned excited!  And the prices are very modest for wines this good.

Nals Margreid Kerner Sudtirol Alto Adige 2016While this aromatic white grape, first created in Germany in 1929 as a hybrid between Schiava and Riesling, is something of an also-ran in its native country, on this side of the hills it hits remarkable heights.  The exotic fruit component flashes tropical notes, candied citrus, dried peach and honey, yet is bone dry with a trace of salinity.  The tension between the fruit and well-integrated acid keeps the flavors lifted and vigorous but there is plenty here to make an impression.  Even though it is crisp and nervy, it is packed with flavor.

Nals Margreid Pinot Grigio Sudtirol Alto Adige 2016One of the most unique and interesting examples of this varietal we can recall.  There’s a persistent florality to the nose that grabs you immediately, followed by impressions of pear and apricot that avail themselves as the wine unfolds.  Plenty of flesh to make an impression up front followed almost immediately by a fresh underpinning of acidity that drives the fruit through the back-palate.  Yes we know that there is a lot of insipid Pinot Grigio on the market.  The people who drink those probably wouldn’t like this one because it has waayyy too much character.  This is an elite performance because it is loaded with character yet still plays on the racy side as it should.

Nals Margreid Galea Schiava Sudtirol Alto Adige 2016Schiava anyone?  Yes this fresh red is virtually unknown to most folks, mostly functioning as a cool, go-to red in this mountain country.  But with a little more ripeness’ the possibilities expand greatly.  Here we have the insistent spice of the varietal augmenting a somewhat riper and more tender version of red fruits that lean a little blue.  Schiava from a cooler vintage can have a bit of an edge.  But somehow, in Goldilocks speak, this one is ‘just right’.  Roses, fresh outdoor spiciness, a touch of earth, bright flavors., from century-old vines, it is medium weight and dangerously quaffable.  Serve with a slight chill.

 

 

LITTLE ITALY, PART ONE: DOLCETTO

Dolcetto days are here again.  It has been tough couple of years for Piedmont.  While Nebbiolo is king, the everyday wines like Dolcetto and Barbera are the mainstays of the vintners as well as fantastic food choices for us Americani.  The problem for both was back to back ‘stinker’ vintages.  Yes, thanks to some late sunshine, the 2013 Nebbiolos have been juicy, complex and dazzling.  Everybody is looking forward to the Barolos and Barbarescos.  But the Dolcetto and Barbera, often planted in the lesser sections of some of the top vineyards, got hit with untimely rain and couldn’t hang on until the sun shined.  As to 2014, it was all kinds of difficult across the board.

For those reasons, there simply hasn’t been very many choices for the category …that is until the 2015s started showing up.  It’s a brand new day, with ripe, plump and engaging examples of both started to show up on supplier lists.  The success of 2015 hit Piedmont as well, and the Dolcettos are no exception.  We dare say that the turnabout seems even greater here than most other European regions.  Whereas in Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone were also pretty good in 2014, in this part of the world it was not.  So the difference between the 2014s and 2015s borders on staggering, the salient point being we have some seriously good Dolcetto at hand now.

The Piemontese love Dolcetto for its outgoing fruit, food versatility, and attractive pricing (the Piemontese are notoriously frugal).  You can even put a slight chill on it for service on warmer days, and it will play with virtually anything from a hearty Italian stew to a plate of salume.   It’s one of Italy’s best ‘little’ reds,  and we’re  pleased to have not only good stuff to sell, but really engaging juice to drink thanks to 2015.  To that end we have three fine, fresh examples from some of our favorite sources.

The story of Olek Bondonio is a little unusual.  Olek, who has eastern European roots as well as Italian, visited the estate he currently operates in summer as a child.  He then made his name as a competitive snowboarder before becoming a winemaker.  His family has been involved here for some 200 years but Olek only started making wine here in 2005.  His Barbaresco comes from the Roncagliette, perhaps better known by the name used by his neighbor, Sori Tildin.  He is very ‘hands on’ when it comes to working the vineyard but he is all about letting the vineyard shine through.

The Olek Bondonio Dolcetto d’Alba 2015 reflects that attention to detail with a great purity to the fruit and inviting scents of blue fruits, violet, and a little almond skin.  Sleek and polished, the expressive fruit of the vintage is perfectly punctuated by fresh acidity and the kind of lift that makes this an easy quaff.   It’s what Dolcetto is all about, with the extra added attraction of coming from storied dirt.  The vines are 30-50 years old, all is done with native yeasts and gravity flow, and it’s bottled unfiltered.

Andrea Bosco is the passionate young owner of Bosco Agosatino, named for his father and founded by his grandfather in 1904.  Again here all of the juice is state grown, all within the confines of La Morra, and the surface area of the estate is around 10 acres.  The hillside faces south west and it composed of clay and limestone, and 70% of the Dolcetto vines are over a half-century in age.   The fermentation is controlled and done entirely in stainless steel to both preserve the gregarious fruit and prevent the extraction of unwanted tannins.  As you may have expected, Andrea’s single-vineyard Agostino Bosco Dolcetto d’Alba Vantrin 2015 is something of a fruit bomb with effusive blackberry and mulberry character, a streak of minerality and earth, and just enough cleansing freshness to keep things on point.

Finally, it’s hard to talk about things like Dolcetto and Barbera without mentioning perennial all-star Luca Currado who seems to do everything well all the time.  Granted the young vignerons above have established themselves as players but no one is more passionate than the folks at Vietti.  While Luca’s Vietti Dolcetto d’Alba Tre Vigne 2015 isn’t necessarily as ‘aristocratic’ as Olek’s (serious dirt for Dolcetto) or as ‘big’ as Andrea’s, it is plump, engaging and very likely to disappear while whatever the discussion is continues.  Friendly and harmonious.

It’s great to have Dolcetto back on the shelves, and this time around we have some great Dolcetto thanks to our network of proven producers and the gloriously decadent 2015 vintage.