2010 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico, Italy

Having grown up on Chianti poured from the infamous fiasco, or straw flask, I am always elated when I find a bottle of Chianti that merges all the best from the past with all that is good with today’s viticultural techniques.

Since 2000, Chianti Classico has been undergoing a formal “upgrade.” Changes in wine laws were enacted then, all intended to improve the quality, and sales of Chianti Classico wines. Many older properties resisted the changes, but many did embrace the new order and as a result, started producing wines of distinct quality. One such property is Poggio Bonelli – a 16th century wine estate that commands about 160+ acres of very high-quality vineyard in the heart of Chianti Classico.

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The estate has been passed down since the Middle Ages, finally ending up in the hands of a large global real estate company, Monte dei  Paschi di Siena. Well-financed with access to talented wine makers and the best technology, the wines of Poggio Bonelli are exceptional. Most notable is the combination of traditional Chianti characteristics with more modern hints – there is an earthy quality with layers of dried cherry and old leather, combined with jammy fruit and exotic spices. The result is just lovely.

At an average per bottle price of $24, finding this gem at Martignetti’s in Brighton MA at $15.99 (before the discount) was, in a word, awesome…

My tasting note:

Jammy nose with blackberry, black cherry, earthy hints. Full-bodied with moderate acidity and firm, dry tannin – well balanced. Dark fruit core with intense cherry, crushed lavender and cedar notes. Long finish – smooth with spice, dried fruit and vanilla on the aftertaste. Drinking well now with 5 to 7 years of aging potential. A super value.

Cheers!

2010 Château Pied d’Argent, Côtes de Bordeaux

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Small, inexpensive Bordeaux producers shine during great vintages. I have said it before and it bears repeating: “the best way to look for value in Bordeaux is to search out small producers, or the second labels of well-known chateaux, in superior vintages.”

I can’t tell you a lot about Château Pied d’Argent, information was scant at best. They are a small producer with vines in the AOC region of the Côtes de Bordeaux. The vineyards of the Côtes are primarily along the three rivers of the region (well, two rivers and one estuary), which means that they are planted primarily to Merlot. As such, the wines tend to be plumier and livelier than their cousins elsewhere in the region. The Château did win a coveted bronze medal in the famous Concours de Bordeaux and was greeted with great press across Europe.

Priced modestly at $14.99 per bottle before any discounts, the wine represents a very good value. Recently, the wine was a put on special offer at a metro-Boston wine shop, with a net price of $9.99 per bottle – no further discounts. At that price, the wine is an amazing value and deserves anyone’s attention.

My tasting note:

Ripe, lively nose with bright cherry, blackberry and lilac hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and moderate tannin – good balance. Dark fruit core with black cherry, tobacco and light cedar notes. Moderate length, simple and smooth, somewhat closed. Drinking well now and the wine should improve with some bottle age. Great value!

Cheers!

2012 Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir, Monterey County, California

I remember one day being asked why I liked the music of a particular artist. The inquisitive person, who I think was my father couldn’t understand what was so appealing: “all his songs sound the same.”

My reply: “Well, I guess I don’t mind all his songs sounding the same… I really like the song!” Little did I know that this same phenomena would exist with wine.

A few years ago I blogged about a wine from Talbott: (http://blog.musingsonthevine.com/2012/05/11/2009-talbott-sleepy-hollow-vineyard-pinot-noir-santa-lucia-highland-california/) and as a result of really liking the wine, picked up a case.

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Fast forward to today and wouldn’t you know, I ran across another bottling from Talbott, their Kali Hart Pinot Noir from Monterey County and like my musical tastes, I just had to try it.

The Kali Hart Pinot Noir is an estate grown wine that is named for the youngest daughter of Robb Talbott, Kalin. In reading the technical details of the wine, we see that the grapes are sourced from the same vineyard, the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, as the wine I reviewed back in 2012. The difference being that the Kali Hart is taken from younger, less mature vines, suggesting the wine is similar in character, but perhaps lacking the refinement and intensity that older vines can often impart.

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True enough, the Kali Hart has all the markers of being from Talbott – good balance – not too fruity with a judicious amount of earthy complexity. But, as I expected, the wine is less intense than the designated Sleepy Hollow wine. I had no problem with this, since the “song sounded the same.”

And, where we spent $24 NET per bottle for the Sleepy Hollow, the Kali Hart comes in at $17.99 BEFORE the discount, so it is conceivable to find the wine at less than $15 NET. I would say that given the similarity between these two wines, the potential $9 savings makes the Kali Hart a really good bargain.

This reinforces the point – our wine cellar is loaded with verticals because when we find a producer we like, we tend to follow them from year to year and from wine to wine. Sure, some may say that this a bit myopic, but in fact, if you follow a producer long enough, like a great musician, you see how the wisdom of age subtly changes their style and interpretation through the years.

Isn’t that what true appreciation is all about?

My tasting note:

Bright, fruity nose with lively red berry aromas and light floral hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and supple tannin – well balanced. Fruity palate with raspberry, cherry and blackberry notes. Moderate length – smooth with a bit of earthy complexity on the finish. Drinking well now and should hold for another 2 to 3 years. Very Nice!

Cheers!

Greater Boston Wine Festival – July 27th!

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Musings on the Vine will be at the Greater Boston Wine Festival this coming Sunday, July 27th.

The festival is being held at the Marshfield Fairgrounds in Marshfield, MA.

We will deliver three sessions during each of the Festival hours – 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM.

The sessions are:

Exploring Massachusetts Grown Wines (11:30 AM or 4:30 PM)

Exploring Apple Wines and Ciders (12:15 PM or 5:15 PM)

Wine & Food in Balance (1:00 PM or 6:00 PM)

 

Check out: http://www.masswinery.com/events/ for more information!

Cheers!

2012 Le Fraghe Brol Grande, Bardolino Classico

Back in June I wrote about a rosé wine from Le Fraghe and noted that, based on the quality and appeal of the wine, I would be “seeking out other wines from Matilde Poggi.” Well, true to my word, I came across a red wine from Le Fraghe that I just had to try.

 

Le-Fraghe-Brol-Grande-Bardolino-Classico

The Brol Grande is a single vineyard Bardolino Classico red from the commune of Affi. The wine is a blend of Corvina and Rondinella grapes from vines with an average age of 15 years. The vineyard is southern exposed at an elevation of approximately 600 feet. Each grape is vinified separately with maceration lasting about 7 to 8 days. The wine is pumped over daily and subject to complete malolactic fermentation. Upon completion, the wine is then placed in large 1,000 gallon wooden vats for 8 months of aging and further settling.

The resulting wine is truly charming and seductive, emphasizing the fruity, spicy nature of both the Corvina and Rondinella grapes. While not built for long aging, the wine does possess elegance and structure with moderate levels of fruit. At an average pre-discount bottle price of $17.99, this wine is an excellent value!

To learn more about Le Fraghe, check my prior post: http://blog.musingsonthevine.com/2014/06/03/2013-le-fraghe-rodon-bardolino-chiaretto/

My tasting note:

Bright, lively nose with fresh cherry, allspice and floral hints. Medium-bodied with firm acidity and supple tannin – well balanced. Slightly tart, red berry palate with juicy cherry and strawberry notes – seductive. Moderate length – smooth with a crisp finish – some nice layered complexity on the finish – mineral, black pepper and nutmeg. Drinking well now – should hold well for another 2 to 3 years. Good value.

Cheers!

Bittermilk

People who know me, understand me to be a purist. Nothing halfway about my pursuits. This posture brings about both joy, as well as disappointment. In the end you often realize that it’s the journey and not the destination that is important. Which is why I am constantly searching…

In a recent copy of Imbibe magazine I learned about a new line of pre-made cocktail mixers from an outfit called Bittermilk in Charleston, South Carolina. Like the author of the piece, I eschew most pre-made cocktail mixers, primarily because they are really bad and don’t make anything even close to the cocktail suggested on the bottle. I would rather pass on a cocktail, or struggle to find the right ingredients before using the usual dreck that constitutes pre-made cocktail mixers.

Imagine my joy when I read about Bittermilk and promptly ordered their three cocktail mixer compounds. According to the web site: “Bittermilk compounds are designed for the modern day cocktail enthusiast, to help mix up unique, quality cocktails following a simple ratio of Bittermilk to your choice of spirit. Each of our products use a bittering agent, a sweetener, and an acid to achieve a balanced cocktail. The labor is in the bottle.”

The three compounds currently available are:

BitterMilkN1

No. 1 – Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned

BitterMilkN2

No. 2 Tom Collins with Elderflower and Hops

BitterMilkN3

No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour

After sampling them with my favorite spirits, I can justly say they are amazing. The Whiskey Sour is about the best I have ever had, bright, refreshing with near perfect balance. The Old Fashioned is lush with a lovely, nuanced vanilla character. The Tom Collins is light and floral with a crisp, bright finish. The other nice aspect to these compounds is that you basically pick your spirit, mix with the recommended proportion of compound, shake/stir/strain and you’re done. Nothing could be easier, nor more pleasing. The labor really is in the bottle.

While I did not look for them locally, you can order them from the web site: www.bittermilk.com. They run $15 per compound, plus shipping – not inexpensive, but for the quality and the ease of use, they are certainly worth the price.

So, if you too are a purist at heart and want to find a credible pre-made cocktail mixer, the search is (partially) over – Bittermilk Cocktail Mixer Compounds…

Cheers!

2011 Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel, Contra Costa County California

Zinfandel is the “All American Grape,” despite having highly-probable European and Eastern-European ancestors. Zinfandel can also be thanked, or blamed, depending on where one’s tastes lie for the massive sea of sweet, lightly pink blush wines coming out of California in the 1980’s. I sit clearly on the “blame” side of the fence, but given the resurgence of red Zinfandel evolving since the 1990’s, I choose to forget these transgressions, the way one forgives folks for collecting Beanie Babies…

First, let’s talk of ancestry. For many years, ampelographers, or the botanists focused on the study and classification of grape vines, strongly believed that Zinfandel and Primitivo were related. Initially, the scientists believed that the grapes were clones of each other – the story being told that immigrating Italian wine makers brought Primitivo from their native Puglia in the southern heel of Italy. The wayward vines were planted in California around the time of the Gold Rush (1840’s) and thus was born Zinfandel. Makes for great marketing on the back label… As the practice of DNA analysis of grape varietals became more prevalent, the story began to change. Rather than Primitivo begetting Zinfandel, it appeared that the two grapes may be siblings. The analysis strongly suggested that the two grapes shared a parent – Crljenak from Croatia. Recently, the debate has reopened, with newly uncovered evidence suggesting that the two grapes, while genetically similar do not share the same parent – Crljenak, but instead their parent is actually another Croatian grape – Tribidrag… Isn’t genealogy fascinating? Just think six degrees of Kevin Bacon…

Next, let’s talk of history. Regardless of its ancestry, Zinfandel found its way to America and was planted on the west coast during the middle of the 19th Century. The grape is a hardy vine and it thrived in the dry, hot regions of Central and Northern California. Ten percent of all vineyards in this part of California are said to contain plantings of Zinfandel vines and it was the most planted varietal in California as the 20th Century dawned. Production soared during the run up to Prohibition, but like most grapes at that time, Zinfandel suffered mightily at the hands of our noble experiment. It actually wasn’t until the early 1970’s, when Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery began experimenting with Zinfandel, creating a light, blush version that was slightly sweet, that Zinfandel reappeared on the wine landscape. And as they say, the rest is history.

Fortunately, the rebirth of Zinfandel did not damn it to a golden age of mediocrity. Plenty of winemakers realized the potential of the grape and began crafting red versions that underscored the intense fruit and spicy character of the varietal. One such producer is Rosenblum Cellars, founded in 1978 by Kent Rosenblum, the veritable “King of Zin,” located in Alameda, California. Rosenblum focuses solely on Zinfandel and actually, unlike many California wine makers, searches out small grape growers to source produce for their wines. They choose this approach, in lieu of practicing the “estate” model of cultivating their own vines, for several reasons: it provides a showcase for small, passionate producers from underappreciated regions; it underscores the differences between mountainside versus valley floor grown grapes; and it allows the nuance and power of many “old vine” vineyards to validate the credibility of Zinfandel as a world-class varietal.

Winemaking at Rosenblum is handled by John Kane, a 2001 graduate of Enology from Fresno state. Interestingly, when you talk to wine makers in California they describe the Fresno program as “learning about winemaking by getting your hands dirty.” Presumably, as the story goes, if you really want to learn to make wine “old school,” then you go to Fresno, as opposed to Davis, where the focus is more on classroom and science. I like old school…

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I featured the 2011 Rosenblum Contra Costa County in my Summer Sippers class this past June. It struck me as an ideal red wine for summer, possessing enough tannin to give it structure to stand up to hearty grill fair, but fruity enough to make it pleasant on a hot afternoon. The wine was also right-priced at around the pre-discount price of $14.99/bottle.

My tasting note:

Intense, jammy nose with black berry, dried fruit and exotic spice hints. Full-bodied with moderate acidity and moderate, firm tannin – well-balanced. Dark fruit core with loads of black cherry, black berry and tarry notes. Fruit forward but very nicely structured. Moderate length – smooth with many evolving layers of complexity – seductive and spicy – charming. Drinking well and should hold for another 2 – 3 years in bottle. Great value.

Cheers!

2012 Sant’Antonio Scaia Corvina IGT Veneto

Everyone always asks what my favorite wine is… Tough question to answer as someone who deeply appreciates so many wines, but I always pony up a few: Châteauneuf du Pape for one and Valpolicella Classico della Amarone for another… My love of both these wines borders on the unnatural, but if you know them at all, you understand. Each represents a magnificent, age-worthy wine with an interesting story and a bevy of unfamiliar grapes. They were, many years ago, value leaders that today, unfortunately have taken on more expensive habits. This last realization is why I patiently scan the horizon for opportunities. In CDP, the values are found in the lesser production of fabled CDP producers within the Côtes du Rhone appellation, or possibly in neighboring Gigondas or Vacqueyras. In VCdA, the values are found in Vino Ripasso, or better yet, the recently delimited Indicazioine Geografica Tipica Veneto wines.

Which brings me to my subject wine… Anyone who knows anything about VCdA knows that the principal grape in the blend is Corvina, which is the star of most red wines grown in the Veneto. Rondinella and Molinara are its usual companions, and for good reason. Corvina can be difficult, providing too much acid and not enough fruit, which can make for tart, anemic wines. This is a large reason why the Venetians have taken to allowing their largely Corvina-based Valpolicellas to age on the lees of their bigger, more impressive Amarone brothers… The intensity, complexity and depth imparted makes for a real game changer.

Producers in the Veneto tend to have diverse portfolios. This isn’t a detraction, but more an economic reality. The folks at Tenuta Sant’Antonio have a very diverse portfolio, ranging from award-winning Amarone to youthful Soave to soulful Grappa di Amarone. Of all their wines I have tried, and there are many, there isn’t a bad one in the lot. The nice thing about a diverse portfolio is that there are bound to be some real values. The Scaia Corvina may be the best wine value I have come across in the last 12 months.

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The Scaia, produced from 100% Corvina harvested from vines with an average age of between 3 and 10 years, is a youthful powerhouse. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel, which preserves the freshness and lively spiciness of the grape. The naturally high acidity of the Corvina is tamed in this wine, instead being possessed of suppleness and smoothness. Closed under Stelvin, the wine should remain fresh and vibrant for many years, allowing for more complexity to evolve over time. And the best thing about this wine – the price… Sub $10 per bottle in most areas before the discount… That is an impressive feat given the quality, exuberance and potential of this wine!

My tasting note:

Bright lively nose with fresh cherry, black berry and black pepper hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and supple, well-integrated tannin – well balanced. Dark fruit core with cherry, dark chocolate and spicy notes. Moderate length with a smooth, seductive finish and a spicy aftertaste. Drinking well now and should improve for the next 2 to 3 years in bottle. Superb value!

Cheers!

2013 Armas de Guerra Mencia Rosado, DO Bierzo, Spain

Yes, you knew that it would only be a matter of time and a ridiculously inexpensive, wonderful Spanish Rosado would show up in my blog… And you also knew that it would be a little bit different, from a grape and region with which you are probably less familiar.

Bierzo is a delimited wine producing area (Denominación de Origen) in the northwest province of Léon (Castile y Léon) Spain. The region is relatively small and contains a mix of both mountainous (Alto Bierzo) and lowland plains (Bajo Bierzo) geography. The name of the region is derived from the pre-Roman city of Bergidum and it is from the Romans that the area inherited its culture of viticulture. Grape growing and wine making continued to flourish, with the Cistercian monasteries exploiting the viticultural capabilities of the region during the Middle Ages. The region became very popular in Galician and Asturian markets, but the invasion of the phylloxera root louse destroyed the vineyards completely. Further economic issues caused many people to leave the area and it wasn’t until recent times and the advent of rootstock grafting that the region began a rebirth. The DO was granted in 1989 and since then, continuous growth has brought Bierzo back from extinction.

The climate and soil of Bierzo are particularly well suited to grape growing, which in turn leads to fine wine production. The climate is a mix of both Galician and Castilian climates, combining humidity and rainfall with a hot, dry climate. The grapes achieve peak ripeness quickly, allowing them to retain acidity, promoting good balance and structure. The soil is a mix of loess with fine quartz and slate throughout, possessing a high degree of natural acidity.

The grapes allowed in Bierzo are Mencia and Garnacha Tintorera for reds and Doña Blanca, Godello and Palomino for whites. Any other varieties can only be used in Crianza and Reserva wines up to 15%. Various styles of wine are produced in the region ranging from young White, Rosado and Red wines to Reserva wines. Wines considered Crianza must be aged a minimum of 6 months in oak, plus an additional 18 months in bottle, while Reserva wines must be aged a minimum of 12 months in oak, plus an additional 24 months in bottle.

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Armas de Guerra is part of the Vinos Guerra Empire, a large international export company that specializes not only in Galician wine, but also in anisette, brandy and a peculiar brand of Bierzo Coca Cola. Vinos Guerra recently joined the relatively young cooperative of Vinos del Bierzo. The cooperative was founded in 1963 and utilizing the best technology and equipment from France, undertook the mission of increasing the sales of Bierzo wines, which would directly contribute to the preservation of Bierzo’s ancient vineyards. The cooperative represents about 40% of total wine sales for the region and through continuous reinvestment, promotes quality improvements across all of its members.

The Armas de Guerra Mencia Rosado is a beautiful rosé wine made from 100% Mencia grapes harvested from 45 – 55 year old vines. The soil is primarily clay and slate with a relatively cool growing climate that promotes retention of the grape’s highly aromatic character. The wine sees no time in oak, so the purity of the varietal comes through loud and clear. At an average, pre-discount price of $9.99 per bottle, you cannot go wrong with this wine.

My tasting note:

Lively, red berry aromas with sweet floral and wet stone hints – very pretty. Medium-bodied with firm acidity – good balance. Soft, fruity palate with raspberry, strawberry and light citrus notes. Moderate length – clean and crisp – bright and refreshing – lovely. Drinking well – not for aging. Great value.

Cheers!

2011 Sterling Vintner’s Collection Meritage, Central Coast

Sterling Vineyards has a long wine making history, for California standards, founded in 1964 by British international paper broker and Financial Times writer Peter Newton. Like many Europeans, Newton discovered that the climate and soil of America’s west coast had great potential for making fine wine, so he bought an established 50-acre parcel outside Calistoga. Through the end of the 1960’s, Sterling Vineyards continued to acquire property in the Napa and Sonoma area, eventually bottling California’s first vintage dated Merlot in 1969. The 1970’s marked a period of development and growth at Sterling, with the construction of their Italianate winery, complete with aerial tramway for visitors, as well as the continued acquisition of prime Napa property – the Rutherford and Diamond Mountain Ranch vineyards. Sterling’s growth sped up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, especially with the implementation of a six-phase plan to increase production efficiency and improve quality, all designed to meet the exploding demand for fine, west coast wines. The culmination of the program led to the launch of the Vinter’s Collection line of Sterling wines in 2000, representing over one million cases annually across nine varietals, sourced primarily from Central Coast, Monterey and Paso Robles vineyards. Further winery renovations, including an all new visitor center were completed in 2002 and a dedicated facility to produce the Sterling Reserve wine label was added in 2008.

Throughout all of its history, Sterling has tried to remain true to the founding philosophy of producing the best wine that California can offer at reasonable prices that your average wine lover can afford. The Central Coast Meritage that I tasted recently is a good example of this philosophy. Crafted from the five varietals allowed to produce red wine in Bordeaux, the Meritage is a pleasing example of easy drinking, Californian sunshine. A blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc, Sterling’s Meritage is a very ripe, almost plump version of its Gallic cousins. Loaded with fruit, the wine is the consummate expression of the west coast’s easy-drinking style. Don’t buy this wine expecting any of the common markers you find in Bordeaux, though, for while it shares the same grape varieties, their emergence from vineyards in California’s Central Coast is like a richly tanned, buff surfer emerging from the waves… wonderful in the moment, but probably not built for the long term.

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And that’s okay – I found my bottle locally for $8.99 (Marked down from $14.99), which is a great price for a BBQ-friendly wine. OBTW – The Sterling website indicates that the wine is SOLD OUT through their channels, so scoop it up fast, if you’re so inclined.

My tasting note:

Lively, jammy nose with fresh cherry, red berry and explosive floral hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and soft, supple tannin – good balance. Dark fruit core with loads of black cherry, blackberry jam and tarry, chocolate notes – very juicy. Moderate length with a smooth, simple, infinitely quaffable finish. Drinking well – not for aging… at all. Great value, at the marked down price, less so at its full retail price.

Cheers!

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