Tommasi Family Estates

One of the first times I experienced the magic of Amarone della Valpolicella Classico was with the wines of Tommasi. I have since grown incredibly fond of Amarone in general, placing the region easily in my top three.

Tommasi is considered a Viticoltori, or “Viticultural Company,” which is akin to a Negociant in France. Bascially, Tommasi owns vineyards and wineries in a number of regions in Italy, four to be exact, stretching from their starting point in Verona and reaching as far east as Tuscany and as far south as Puglia. While diversification is key to a successful wine business, sometimes it can be a distraction which impacts focus and ultimately quality. Not so in the case of Tommasi. The family run organization is large enough to manage the growth and breadth of the business.

Tommasi was founded in 1902 and is situated in Pedemonte (not to be confused with Piedmont), in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico region, on a small piece of land in the Northwest part of Verona, between the plains and the Lessini mountains near Lake Garda.

Giacomo Tommasi started with a tiny vineyard in Valpolicella, and has since grown steadily over the course of many years. Today Tommasi owns vineyards and estates in four different Italian regions:
– Tommasi Viticoltori and Filodora Estate in Veneto;
– Tenuta Caseo in Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy;
– Casisano in Montalcino and Poggio al Tufo in Maremma Tuscany;
– Masseria Surani in Manduria Puglia.

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The estate is run by nine, 4th generation family members all aligned with the overall mission of Tommasi – producing the most genuine Italian wines with the highest level of quality available.

In the Veneto, Tommasi offers a very broad portfolio of wines, consisting of whites, reds, roses, sweet and even Grappa. For me, the Valpolicellas are noteworthy, especially the Amarone wines. In our cellar we have numerous vintages going back as far as 1990. Recently, we opened a 1997 Amarone and it was stunning. The wine was vibrant, full-bodied with seemingly infinite complexity. All the familiar markers of well-aged Amarone were present: dried, cooked fruit, figs, raisins with subtle black pepper and allspice notes. Prodigious length provided a stage upon which a never-ending collection of evolving flavor and aroma sensations were on display. Almost exactly 20 years old and this wine is still an explosive powerhouse. The most interesting thing to note… this bottle is Tommasi’s “entry-level” Amarone. The winery boasts a Riserva, which must truly be a remarkable wine.

TommasiAmarone

While the Amarone is the subject of my fascination here, we have their Rafaèl Valpolicella and their Ripasso bottles in our cellar, both tremendous wines in their own right.

Tommasi’s portfolio, as I noted previously is quite extensive.

Their Website is a great repository for all their wines. Of particular note is the List of Award Winning Wines – Truly impressive.

While no longer the value that it once was, Amarone is worth the expense and it appears to be an investment that improves and grows over time.

 

 

Nellie Rose Middleboro, MA

 

NellieRoseMenu

For a brief period of time, I called Middleboro, MA home… It was between Jr. High and College. During this time, I found a dentist and an eye doctor, both of which I maintain to this day. Having regular appointments brings me back to Middleboro a few times a year and you guessed it, the visits are usually timed around breakfast. Shocking, I know.

On one such visit, I stopped into a relatively new place (to me, at least), called Nellie Rose (https://www.facebook.com/nellieroserestaurant2/). Located in the space formerly known as the Flatiron Café, the restaurant has ample space for entertaining. On these quick hits, I always opt for counter service, when available. Turns out that the original, sister location is in Whitman, in case that location is more convenient.

When I’m in a new restaurant for breakfast, there are certain go-to test items that I almost always try to order. Coffee, obviously can be a deal breaker. Toast is a good measure of quality, as are any other baked goods that the restaurant claims to make on premise. Corned-beef hash is a critical yardstick, especially if the joint claims to make theirs from scratch. You get the idea…

Well, I’m happy to report that Nellie Rose passed on all accounts! First off, the coffee was great – full-bodied and flavorful without being over-roasted or bitter. A nice added touch – the server placed a small plate with four small pieces of various muffins beside the coffee. Apparently, Nellie Rose make their own muffins and they give each customer a little taste, almost an amuse bouche of muffins… They were great and had I been in a muffin mood, I would have ordered one to go. I ordered the Nellie Rose Favorite – basically two eggs, home fries, hash (homemade) and toast. What more could I ask for? Nothing, really. The hash was clearly homemade and hit the spot – rich and flavorful without being greasy. Home fries were good – crisp and moist. Toast was spot on – they offer raisin bread, which I love and which they lightly buttered. By the way, raisin toast is the perfect accompaniment to corned-beef hash… must be an Irish-thing.

NellieRoseFavorite

Overall, not a single complaint.

Service was excellent. Attentive, friendly and fast.

I enjoyed Nellie Rose so much, I’m actually looking for an excuse to go back before my next appointment…

 

Boyd’s Jig and Reel, Knoxville, TN

 

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Had the opportunity to check in at a Scotch Malt Whisky Society partner bar, Boyd’s Jig and Reel in Knoxville, TN. While not as imposing as Jack Rose in Washington, DC, Boyd’s still boasts close to 800 different bottles of spirits, most of them of the brown ilk.

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I opted for three, self-created flights. The first, a set of four Bruichladdich 21-year old Whisky, each in a different wood. The lineup was as follows:

Bruichladdich 21

The straight-up 21 is finished in Oloroso Sherry casks and the combination of the wood, with the extended maturation really makes for an intense experience. The spirit is full-bodied and creamy with wisps of smoke and salty brine. An endless finish evolves on the palate with layers of complexity.

Bruichladdich 21 PX

Cuvee 407: PX (Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask)

This Cuvee 407 has been further matured in rare Jerez butts that for decades held unctuous and ultra-rich sherry, made from the Moorish Pedro Ximenez grape.  Once harvested, the grapes are shriveled to a raisin-like state under the baking sun of Andalucia to concentrate the sugars, resulting in a sweet wine of legendary viscosity and intensity.

For centuries, PX casks have been revered by whisky distillers for the Madeira cake richness they bring to maturing spirit; and our casks, extracted from the Fernando de Castilla Solera, are of the very highest provenance. This Bruichladdich Cuvee 407 is an indulgent, licentious whisky, a whisky for when the air is redolent of old leather, Cuban tobacco and cedarwood. A whisky to lose oneself in – an indulgent dream of a dram.

My favorite of the flight. Rich and sweet with intense butterscotch and coffee notes. The echoing hints of PX were clearly evident and added an interesting dimension to the palate. Endless on the finish with traces of vanilla and smoke.

Bruichladdich 21 Eroica

Cuvee 640: Eroica (Cognac Cask)

Cuvee 640 has been further matured in Limousin oak casks from Aquitaine that for many years contained one of the great eaux de vie. These casks tannins have added new layers of rich complexity to our own elegant, floral Bruichladdich. This is a spirit to give pause, to reflect on. A spirit as much for the mind as for the palate.

This profound, challenging whisky jealously guards its secrets from the uninitiated, but to those with patience and curiosity it reveals layer upon layer of subtle nuance, from Turkish Delight and wild strawberry, to darker notes of dark chocolate orange and espresso. To be enjoyed at the end of a great meal or a great day, alone or with a small cadre of like-minded Argonauts.

Of the four, the Eroica was my least favorite. More refined than the other three, the Eroica had milk chocolate notes with a surprisingly short finish. As the note above alludes, this Whisky seems a bit shy and needs lots of coaxing to bring out the beauty of the spirit.

 

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Bruichladdich 21 La Berenice

Cuvee 382: La Berenice (Sauternes/Barsac Cask)

This American-oak-aged Bruichladdich has been further matured in casks that previously contained the lush sweet white wines of two of the greatest chateaux of Barsac and Sauternes. Casks that have held wine from grapes grown to honeyed intensity from some of the most blessed plots of Bordeaux now meet classic Bruichladdich spirit that has slumbered in our dank, dark loch-side warehouses for two decades. Elegant vanilla from the white oak, the honeyed fruit of the wine, the toasted malt of the the barley, the floral elegance of the spirit produced by our long-necked Victorian stills and the fresh tang of salt laden Atlantic winds here produce a sensuous, decadent and flirtatious whisky, with more than a hint of forbidden fruit.

The La Berenice was my second favorite of the flight. It was richer in character than the straight 21, with a honeyed quality and loads of creamy notes.

 

The second flight was a set of Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottles of varying age. The lineup was as follows:

 

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44.65 (24-year-old Craigellachie)

Third favorite in the flight. Smoky and sweet with layers of spice. A strong peaty character with more smoke on the finish. Aged in refilled Ex-Bourbon hogsheads, this Speyside malt seemed a bit shy and needed lots of coaxing to show its best. Despite being bottled at 52.4%, the spirit was surprisingly tame.

 

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95.2 (18-year-old Auchroisk)

Second favorite in the flight. Sweet and creamy on the nose with a little heat on the palate. Woody with a persistent sweetness. Aged in second fill Ex-Bourbon hogsheads, this Speyside malt also needed a bit of coaxing to show its best. Being bottled at 53.2% explains the heat on the palate.

 

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37.75 (18-year-old Cragganmore)

My favorite of the flight. Soft and perfumed on the nose with vanilla hints. Smooth and sweet with a creamy, almost buttery finish. Absolutely beautiful. Aged in second fill Ex-Sauternes hogsheads, this Speyside malt is pure heaven. Despite being bottled at 55.1%, there is no trace of heat on the palate, just lush, creamy goodness.

 

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28.3 (25-year-old Tullibardine)

My least favorite of the flight. Grassy and floral on the nose with a trace of honey, smoke and wood. Sweet on the palate with vanilla and butterscotch. The odd juxtaposition of the toffee-like sweetness against the green, grassy nose detracted. Aged in second fill Ex-Sauternes hogsheads, this Highland malt is tough to love. Being bottled at 53.3% surprisingly did not hurt the palate.

 

The third flight was a mix that the barkeep, Justin helped create (Betsy wanted to put this flight together and she did an admirable job!). The lineup was as follows:

 

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Amrut Raw Cask (Blackadder)

Blackadder is a Scottish bottler, which specializes in unusual distilleries and/or orphaned casks. The Amrut is an interesting experience. Sweet and herbaceous in the nose with hints of anise and cumin. Rich on the palate, candied with echoing spiciness of cumin and curry. Strong iodine/briny finish. Aged in second fill Ex-Bourbon hogsheads, this single malt Whisky is made in Bangalore India. No age statement could be found, but the Raw Cask designation means that the spirit is bottled, unfiltered at cask strength. In this case, cask strength is 61.4% and it shows powerful heat on the palate. Despite the heat, the Whisky is remarkably complex and easy to drink with a few drops of spring water.

 

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Auchentoshan 24-year-old (Blackadder)

My favorite of the flight. Woody with a strong vanilla and toffee nose. Intense on the palate, hot with incredible richness. Complex with a creamy note and loads of spice and pepper. Unusual burnt rubber on the finish, but it did not detract. Aged in second fill Ex-Bourbon hogsheads, this Lowland malt is superb, perhaps one of the best bottles of Whisky I have ever had. As with the Amrut, the Auchentoshan is a Raw Cask, bottled at 55%.

 

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35.142 (21-year-old Glen Moray)

My second favorite of the flight. Sweet with strong vanilla notes. Smooth on the palate with a light spiciness and continued vanilla and butterscotch. Long finish with layers of complexity. Aged in first fill toasted hogsheads, this Speyside malt is perhaps one of the most underrated distillers in Scotland. Consistent and pleasant are the hallmarks of this producer.

 

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9.9 (26-year-old Glen Grant)

My least favorite of the flight. Soft with a spicy and floral nose. Sweet and candied on the palate with continued spiciness and a briny, seaside finish. Aged in first fill Ex-Bourbon hogsheads, this Speyside malt is interesting, but undistinguished. Being bottled at 55.1%, it was surprising how little heat was present on the palate.

 

A shout out to our two barkeeps: Justin and Vanessa. We were cosseted and pampered during our stay at the bar, which made for an incredibly pleasant experience!

 

The King’s Cocktail

KingsCocktail

Koningsdag, or King’s Day is a national holiday in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is celebrated on April 27th, which is the birthday of the presiding King, Willem-Alexander. Up until 2013, when Queen Beatrix abdicated and was succeeded by her son Willem-Alexander, the holiday was known as Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day and was celebrated on April 30th, the Queen’s birthday… You see how this works, right?

The holiday was initially observed on August 31, 1885 as Prinsessedag, or Princess’s Day, the fifth birthday of Princess Wilhelmina, heir to the Dutch throne at the time. On her accession in November 1890 the holiday acquired the name Koninginnedag, and was first celebrated on August 31, 1891. In September 1948, Wilhelmina’s daughter Juliana ascended to the throne and the holiday was moved to Queen Juliana’s birthday, April 30th. The holiday was celebrated on this date beginning in 1949.

Juliana’s daughter, Beatrix, retained the celebration on April 30th after she ascended the throne in 1980, even though her birthday was January 31st. All very confusing, really…

Queen Beatrix abdicated on Koninginnedag in 2013 probably as a result of not maintaining the holiday on her specific birthday, and her son, Willem-Alexander, ascended the throne (the first king since the observance of the national holiday). As a result, the holiday became known as Koningsdag beginning in 2014, and the celebration was moved to the King’s birthday, April 27th.

Koningsdag is known for its nationwide vrijmarkt (“free market”), which is essentially a country-wide flea market. Quite scary, actually… The day is also an opportunity for “orange madness” or oranjegekte, a frenzied celebration of the Dutch national color. Orange is everywhere on April 27th, and I mean everywhere…

In honor of this auspicious holiday, why not create a cocktail celebrating King’s Day?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, The King’s Cocktail, or De Konings Cocktail:

2oz. Gin

1oz. Grand Marnier

1/2oz. Campari

1/2oz. Lemon Juice

Shake the ingredients with crushed ice, vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Enjoy!

 

Aram’s Coffee Café Belmont, MA

AramsLogo

I used to head into Belmont religiously to have my older cars serviced. As my cars became newer models, and after we left Somerville, it became less convenient to make the trek. I still head back, at least twice a year, though, to have the tires changed (summer -> winter and back again) and when I do, I make my pilgrimage back to Aram’s Café (https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&rlz=1C1CHZL_enUS687US687&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=aram’s+cafe+Belmont)…

It’s no secret. If you have been reading my blog then you know my feelings about breakfast (and many other things, as well). So, an opportunity to savor authentic home-cooked, ethnically-oriented breakfast food will not be missed.

Aram’s is exactly that opportunity. I usually visit early… like, “I’m the second guy in the door early…” Never crowded at that time, but I imagine it could get quite busy. The space is small – a counter that seats about ten and another four four-person booths – that’s it. Cooking is done right before your eyes, with only a few prep activities taking place in a back-kitchen area. Family run – I’ve only met the patriarch himself – a sixty-eight-year-old first generation Armenian who reminds me of my late father. You know, older, distinguished, a little out of shape, but in the day, you can tell he was ripped. Engaging and opinionated – don’t ask a question if you don’t want to get a lecture… and don’t be surprised if you don’t agree… thing is, Aram really doesn’t care whether you agree… For me, I love the guy… but I’m a bit of a grumpy old fart myself.

The food is great. All home-cooked, all fresh. I always get one of the Armenian omelets – either tomato and soujouk (sausage) or the tomato and basterma (pastrami). Both are wonderful, with exotic flavors that don’t overpower. Served with home fries and toast, they make a filling breakfast that easily carries me through the day. I’ve also had the eggs benedict and can say that Aram makes a mean Hollandaise sauce.

AramsSoujouk

Prices are right, especially for what you get, inclusive of the conversation.

On my last visit, Aram offered that he is thinking of retiring in a few years, turning the daily operation over to his kids… visiting when he wants to help out now and then… I said that sounds like a good plan. We looked at each other and laughed… we both knew that would never happen…

 

2000 Les Tourelles de Longueville

LesTourelles

The 2000 vintage in Bordeaux was considered an exceptional vintage. It was mildly hyped, in comparison to many other vintages like 2005, which tended to keep prices moderate. The 2000 vintage was preceded and followed by vintages that were only considered “good quality” with less aging potential. This fact worked against the moderate prices, as demand for age-worthy wines increased. For the average wine consumer, buying “second labels” afforded some relief.

In the 2000 vintage, we purchased about twenty different producers that we felt represented good value. We employed the classic buying strategy – buy the “second labels” of noted properties. Turns out the strategy paid dividends, because among those producers purchased was the second label of Pauillac powerhouse Château Pichon Baron, known as Les Tourelles de Longueville.

Château Pichon Baron is a “second growth” wine in the famous classification of 1855. As such, the wine has extraordinary pedigree and generally produces wines of considerable structure and age-worthiness. The Château Pichon Baron website clearly states that their flagship wine “is a wine that improves year after year and can age for over 40 years in the cellar.” Age-worthy indeed.

PichonBaronEstate

Château Pichon Baron was once part of a much larger estate, owned by Pierre de Rauzan. In 1850, the estate was divided into two properties, Château Longueville au Baron de Pichon-Longueville and Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, or as they are commonly known: Château Pichon Baron and Château Pichon Lalande.

 

Château Pichon Baron has approximately 177 acres under vine, planted with 65% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The vineyard is arranged into several plots, the best of which is called the “Butte de Pichon Baron.” The average age of the vines on this plot is 30 years. Grapes are harvested and sorted by hand, and then placed in stainless steel temperature controlled vats for an extended maceration of 20-30 days. Fermentation is conducted at between 82.4°F and 89.6°F, which is considered moderate and accounts for the perfumed nature of wine’s nose. The wine is finished and aged in oak barrels.

According to the Château Pichon Baron website, the second label Les Tourelles is composed mostly of Merlot taken from the Saint Anne plot, a lesser plot than the “Butte de Pichon Baron.” No matter, in a great vintage like 2000, even the lesser plots performed admirably. The reliance on Merlot certainly accounts for the roundness and smooth, integrated flavor of the Les Tourelles. The website claims a 15 year, or more, aging window. Recently tasted at 17 years and the wine is going strong. Although it tastes like the wine may have levelled off in terms of potential improvement, the wine possesses enough density and structure to continue to hold for many more years.

So, a look at the numbers… Château Pichon Baron was released in 2003 at approximately $100/bottle. Wine Spectator rated the wine at 93 points. Today, the wine can be found in many outlets in the US and it carries an average price of $264/bottle (164% increase). The wine was re-tasted by Wine Spectator in 2016 and scored a 94. Slightly improved.

Les Tourelles was also released in 2003 at approximately $20/bottle (we paid $24.64/bottle). Wine Spectator rated the wine at 88 points. Today, the wine can only be found in Trenton, NJ at $80/bottle (224% increase from our cost). The wine was never re-tasted by Wine Spectator, but our recent taste confirms that it is holding fast.

Looking at the numbers and judging by our most recent sample, I’m really glad we bought the case of Les Tourelles when we did. Now, while you can’t get the 2000 Les Tourelles anymore, unless you happen to have healthy disposable income and are convenient to Trenton, the moral of the story proves that the “second label” buying strategy in great vintages is sound and should be heeded. Why is this important? Because recent vintages in Bordeaux ARE available and the hype and prices are not getting any better… So buying second labels is an effective way of bringing great, age-worthy wine into the cellar without completely ruining the budget.

 

The Looking Glass Cafe, Wrentham, MA

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A nutritious and delicious breakfast is the key to happiness. This is probably why I love diners so much… There is nothing like the stick-to-your-ribs cuisine found in the American diner. I mean nothing. Some diners are traditional, Worcester Dining Car types, others are mere holes in the wall. Then there are the more visible, retro-styled establishments reminiscent of the 1950’s car hops. Some are just café store fronts. Regardless of the form, you can usually count on great food, served fast and at a great price.

The Looking Glass Café (https://www.facebook.com/TheLookingGlassCafe/) is one of those store-front type diners located in the heart of Wrentham Center.

The décor is clean and simple with counter service, two booths and another five or six tables. Not a lot of space, but enough.

The food is standard diner fare, with breakfast served from until closing and lunch from around noon to closing, which is 3:00 pm daily.

LookingGlassTasteOIrish

My favorites are the Taste of Ireland and the Looking Glass Eggs Benedict – both are served with homemade corned beef hash. In the case of the Taste of Ireland, you enjoy two eggs any style, two slices of raisin toast, home fries and the previously mentioned hash. With the Benedict, substitute Canadian bacon for hash and you’re rolling. The Hollandaise is silky and creamy and home fries are extra.

Breakfast specials are always a treat, like their Chili and Cheese Omelet!

LookingGlassChiliOmelette

There are a host of other goodies and the lunch specials are always a treat.

Weekends can get busy, but the efficient wait staff keep things moving so wait times are always reasonable.

So, if you find yourself on Route 1A in Wrentham Center, make sure you stop in at the Looking Glass Café…

Argiolas

 

It was over 30 years ago when I first tasted Sardinian wines. The wine maker had traveled to the US to promote his wines, which at the time were almost unknown. He had contacted small tasting groups in the area and literally came into my friend’s house to offer his wines. It was my first exposure to the island wines of Sardinia and one that I have never forgotten. The wines were unique and tasted like nothing I had drank up to that point. Not to say that I had much in the way of “global” wine experience back then, but the wines all had a refreshing and vibrant character, reflective of the sunny climate of the islands. Today, Sardinian wines are much more prevalent, almost mainstream. Although, the grape names can be confusing and many are only grown in Sardinia, which proves a challenge to sell. Despite the challenge, many restaurants and wine shops are doing their level best to introduce us all to the magical wines of Sardinia.

 

One producer that is making a big splash is Argiolas (http://www.argiolas.it/en/index.html), a family-owned winery that was started in the early 1900’s in the commune of Serdiana in southern Sardinia. The commune is roughly 12 miles north of the capital city of Cagliari. Here in Sedriana the Argiolas family owns several vineyard parcels, planted with mostly traditional Sardinian varietals. The family also owns vineyards in adjoining communes, Parteolla, Siurgus, Selegas and Guamaggiore. Overall, Argiolas has over 500 acres under vine in some of the most prized areas of Sardinia. The variety of soil, climate and elevation of their many properties gives them an opportunity to truly showcase the many indigenous grapes known only to Sardinia.

 

Two wines of note that I have enjoyed recently are the Costera and the Perdera, both wines in the Argiolas Tradition, or “mid-priced” category.

Argiolas-costera_et

 

The Costera is a Cannonau di Sardegna (DOC) wine. The varietal is Cannonau, or Grenache as it is known in France and was brought by the Romans to Sardinia from Spain. The grapes are sourced from several vineyards, with the predominant soil having limestone, and clay elements, with a medium, loose mixture of small and medium-sized stones and pebbles. The climate is predominantly Mediterranean, with mild winters, limited rainfall, and very hot and windy summers. The wine is produced in a state-of-the-art facility employing temperature controlled primary fermentation, lasting about 12 days following maceration. Full malolactic is employed to soften the acids and the wine is then aged in small oak cooperage for up to 10 months. The wine is unfiltered, but mildly fined to remove some sediment. The wine itself has a bright, ruby and garnet color with a lively, spicy nose. On the palate, the wine exhibits red fruit notes with moderate tannin and acid providing good structure and balance. Not intended for long-term aging, the wine is drinking very well, although some bottle age will integrate the tannins.

 

Argiolas-perdera_et

The Perdera is a Monica di Sardegna (DOC) wine. Monica is a red grape that is almost solely grown in Sardinia. Like Cannanau, the grape originated in Spain, but it is no longer grown there. The grapes are sourced from several vineyards, again with limestone and clay structure and loose gravel top soil. The climate is Mediterranean, again with very limited rainfall, only averaging about 21 inches per year. Like the Costera, fermentation is temperature controlled, lasting about 10 days allowing a moderate extraction of tannin and pigment. The wine is again unfiltered and is aged in small oak cooperage for up to 8 months. The wine has a bright, ruby complexion with dark undertones and a spicy, lightly jammy nose. On the palate, the wine exhibits cherry and berry fruit with a hint of “sweetness.” The wine is structured, but possesses roundness with a smooth finish. Not intended for long-term again and drinking nicely.

Masi Agricola

 

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The more time I spend tasting the wines from the Veneto, the more I appreciate their many treasures. The Veneto has a long history of wine making and is one of the most productive regions in all of Italy. The wines of the Veneto have great diversity of style and represent the largest production of DOC-level wines in all of Italy. More than half the wine production is to white wines, but it is the red wine that has made the Veneto so famous. While Soave is undeniably one of the most well-known white wines in the world, Valpolicella and Bardolino rank high on the list of well-known reds. A lot of this fame is due to the massive quantities of mediocre wine that flooded the market during the 60’s and 70’s, which is something that producers in the Veneto are actively trying to change. The good news is that the once low-brow opinion of Venetian wines is being supplanted by critical acclaim.

 

One of the producers leading the way to excellence is Masi Agricola (http://www.masi.it/eng/home/), an old, family-owned operation that has its roots in the Veneto going back to the 18th century in the Vaio dei Masi, or the small valley in Valpolicella where their original production began. The original owners of Masi, the Boscaini family still own what has grown into a massive wine enterprise, producing some of the best wines from the Veneto, as well as extending beyond Italy to produce award-winning wines from Argentina. Masi is considered a leader in the Veneto, perfecting the time-honored process of Appassimento, or air-drying of the grapes to produce wines of great intensity and complexity.

MasiFranklin

 

I had the pleasure of joining several folks at the Franklin Wine Club last week to taste through a representative portfolio of Masi wines. The tasting was led by Tony Apostolakos, US Director of Marketing and Sales for Masi Agricola. Tony was entertaining and informative and the wines showed beautifully. The wines that stood out for me, are the following:

MasiPG

 

2015 Masi Agricola Masianco Pinot Grigio, Venezie – A lovely wine with a lemony/citrus nose with honey and toffee hints. The wine is surprisingly full-bodied for a Pinot Grigio, likely due to the addition of Verduzo to the blend. Well-balanced with a pleasant, long finish. A very good value.

MasiRosa

 

2016 Masi Agricola Rosa die Masi, Venezie – A charming and refreshing rosé wine with a soft floral nose and peach hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity. Red berry and strawberry notes on the palate with moderate length. 100% Refosco. Good value.

MasiCampofiorin

 

2013 Masi Agricola Campofiorin Rosso, Veronese – A deep, dark wine with black cherry, exotic spice and dried fruit hints on the nose. Medium-bodied with firm acidity and tannin. Sour cherry palate with subtle complexity on the finish. 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 5% Molinara, vinified individually after a brief appassimento and then blended.

MasiBrolo

 

2010 Masi Agricola Brolo Campofiorin Oro, Veronese – An intense and magical wine with a complex nose suggesting allspice, dried fruit, leather and blackberry jam. Medium-to-Full-bodied with soft acids and moderate, but well-integrated tannin. The palate is rich and laden with black fruits and tarry, tobacco notes. Very long finish with more spicy complexity and light cocoa and dark chocolate notes. The traditional blend of Corvina and Rondinella is enjoined by the rare Oseleta grape and aging takes place in small oak cooperage.

MasiTupungato

 

2014 Masi Tupungato Passo Doble, Mendoza, Argentina – Another deep, intense wine with a lively, fruity nose with blackberry and black cherry hints. Medium-to-Full-bodied with moderate acidity and a tight, tannic structure. Jammy palate with an intense, dark core of black fruit. Long finish with layered complexity. Blend of Malbec and appassimento-treated Corvina. A superb value.

MasiCostasera

 

2011 Masi Agricola Costasera Amarone Classico – A tremendous, age-worthy wine with a vibrant nose suggesting figs, dried fruit, exotic spice and floral hints. Full-bodied with moderate acidity and firm tannin. Lush palate with layers of complexity. Very long finish – endless flavors emerge on the aftertaste. Very young with incredible potential – will easily improve and evolve over the next 30 – 40 years. Excellent value for Amarone.

 

2010 Château Poujeaux – Moulis

2010Poujeaux

Wine making in Moulis, the Bordeaux commune from which Château Poujeaux originates, dates to the Romans. Evidence of several Roman vineyards have been found in Moulis, with genetic material uncovered of the Biturica grape, which was believed to be the first grape cultivated by the Romans in Bordeaux. Like many grapes found in France in ancient Roman vineyards, the trail leads back to Spain. In fact, it is believed that the Romans brought the Balisca grape from Spain to Southwest France and began cultivation of vines in Bordeaux. The natural harbor and the well-drained soil was a primary factor in the Romans choosing Bordeaux as a major wine center. Over time, it is believed that the Biturica grape evolved into Cabernet Sauvignon, although it is more likely that the evolution produced Carménère instead. Whichever is the case, we can be thankful that the Romans did what they did, because the modern wines from Moulis are wonderful.

Another interesting fact – the name Moulis derives from the word Moulin, or Mill. The commune owes its name to the historic use of the region, after the Romans departed, which was the milling of grain. Once the Dutch entered the picture and made substantial investments to dramatically increase wine production for export by the Dutch East India Company, the grain milling days of Moulis ended.

Château Poujeaux is arguably one of the best properties in Moulis, vying for attention with another well-known Moulis property, Chasse-Spleen. Both are favorites of mine and our cellar has vintages of both wines going back to 1970. In 2003, the Cru Bourgeois reclassification bumped Poujeaux, along with eight other wines into the higher-level category of Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels, worthy recognition for sure. The property was owned for many generations by the Theil family until early 2008. At that point, ownership changed to Philippe Cuvelier, who is also owner of the Saint-Émilion property, Clos Fourtet.

The property itself consists of approximately 126 acres under vine, with the typical blend of grapes to be 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Unlike neighboring communes Margaux and Graves, the soils of Moulis have smaller concentrations of gravel mixed with clay and limestone. While not ideal, the soil type is beneficial for Merlot, which likely is a factor in the blend.

Unlike the West Coast of the United States, specifically, California, vintage quality and character can vary widely from year-to-year. Case in point, comparing and contrasting 2009 with 2010 offers a very good example. With the 2009 vintage, my experience with Bordeaux is a story about lush, jammy wines that have well-integrated tannins. Approachable and quaffable from their youth with solid potential to improve. With the 2010 vintage, my experience is more a story of intense structure with deeper, darker fruits that are more tightly wound. The wines are drinking okay, but it is clear that 2010 is more of a “classic” Bordeaux vintage, requiring some bottle age to produce wines of exquisite beauty.

This is clearly evident in Poujeaux, where the 2010 is absolutely classic Right Bank Bordeaux. A dense, dark fruit palate is supported by great tannic structure and while the wine is nice to drink now, I can see that the wine has tremendous potential. Compare the 2009 and you find a wine that is far less structured, with a rounder, simpler palate. The potential is harder to see in the 2009, although I expect the wine to age nicely.

Interestingly, the 2010 is priced at about $10 less than the current retail price of the 2009, which is often the case when a less-opulent, less-touted vintage arrives – as it is with 2010 versus 2009. Based on my notes and experience, I would buy and lay down the 2010 now before the price creeps and if you haven’t already purchased the 2009, pass.