Monday, December 30, 2013

Screw caps or cork?

Screw cap or cork? The long debate that many are not knowledgeable about, which was apparent to me when I used to work in retail. I would have folks ask for a recommendation and if I would bring them over to a screw cap they would ask for something that had a cork. No other reason than they felt that they would look cheap at a party or they wanted to go through the motion of pulling a cork. I can understand enjoying pull the cork out of the bottle because I like the process myself, but if anyone looked at me cheaply because I bought a screw cap I couldn't help but laugh for their ignorance. 

The problem with corks is that about 5% of wines, give or take, are ruined due to the wine being “corked”. You will know it when it happens. It can be described as if smelling a wet dog or it has a moldy, musty smell. I'm sure many of you don't enjoy that nor would you want to drink something that smells like that. This is caused by TCA, trichloroanisole, which is a reaction between molds and the chemicals used in the cork production.

Screw caps first boomed in New Zealand and many Australian producers have adopted using it as well. A lot of the Old World countries are slow to adopt the transition of some of their wines to screw caps like Italy and France. Screw caps provide freshness to the wine without ruining it due to any oxidation or being “corked”. There is a question whether some of the long-term aging wines will develop in the bottle and grow with age using this method. Another benefit to bottles with screw caps is that you can keep the bottle upright, on its side, upside down, whichever way you want where with corks it must be at least on it's side for the wine to come in contact with the cork or else the cork will begin to dry and air will seep in oxidizing the wine.

There is another option of replacing corks instead of the screw cap and that is synthetic corks made from plastic. If I had to choose these over corks though I would go with corks because synthetics aren't proving to be solving the problem either as oxidation can slowly take place with these, therefore, if you wanted to age this wine at all it's not reliable.

I think as the years go on and as more and more producers begin to introduce their wines with a screw cap people are getting to understand the benefits to it, but I think we still have a ways to go with the general public.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A great Falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio

feudi di san gregorio falanghinaItaly has hundreds of grape varietals, which the majority of them many won't know. The varietal I'm writing about today comes from southern Italy and is called Falanghina. Falanghina is a white varietal typically coming out of the coastal areas slightly north of Naples including Naples and the Amalfi coast. It can be blended with a variety of grapes depending on the producer. Recently I enjoyed Falanghina from a highly regarded producer, Feudi di San Gregorio, located in Campania. 

Feudi di San Gregorio has been in business since 1986 in Campania, in particular Sorbo Serpico in the Irpinia region part of the Avellino province. I also have to note that one side of family is from Avellino, including many folks in the Boston area. Feudi started off with 30 hectares and have grown to over 300. The terroir here is very unique due to the volcanic ash from Mt. Vesuvius nearby. 

Avellino in Campania
Avellino, Campania
In addition to Falanghina, Feudi produces other great wines including Aglianico, Greco di Tufo, Taurasi and Fiano. A lot of whites in Italy tend to be drier including this one, but it has some nice floral notes with some pineapple hints on the palate. It was aged 5 months in stainless steel tanks. 

This bottle will run you about $12 to $15 so if you're looking for something to replace your typical Pinot Grigio challenge yourself to try something new and grab a bottle of this. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The process of how to make homemade wine

One of the things I have yet had the time to do, but am very interested in is homemade wine. Definitely a fun and interesting hobby and something you can experiment with and fine tune over time. I have taken a wine making class locally at the Beer & Wine Hobby shop in Woburn, MA and it's a great place to learn, get the basics and get all your supplies including the juice itself. Plus, how great is it to go to a holiday party this time of year and pop open your own wine than buying one off the shelves? It's a great conversation starter!

Making homemade wine

For home wine making enthusiasts, fall is the time to begin making a fresh supply of homemade wine to get you through the upcoming winter (New England especially).  One of my good friends shared with me the process that he takes part in every year with his in-laws of Italian descent that taught him the ropes. This is the process that he goes through, but I'm sure everyone's process differs slightly.

Be prepared to invest as least two full afternoons to the process, plus you will need to occasionally check on the wine and transfer it to a new container to rid it of sediment. The start-up cost can be quite high if you don’t have the necessary equipment.  If you don’t, I’d suggest asking around to see if there are any clubs you might join or places that will let you utilize their equipment.   

There are numerous places locally that sell a wide variety of wine grapes and/or grape juice.   My friend has traditionally frequented wholesalers at the Chelsea & Everett fruit market.  Grapes typically begin arriving in mid-September through the end of October.  While the majority of grapes are sourced from California, you can also find a number imported from overseas markets including Italy.  Just as a good chef seeks out the freshest ingredients make sure to shop around in search of the best quality grapes.  

Determining which varietal of grapes to purchase is a personal decision.  When purchasing grapes, pay attention to how the grapes look - - do they appear fresh?; is the skin firm?; or does it give?; are there signs of premature rot? - -and feel free to ask questions of the seller.  It may help to break off one or two and taste for quality.  Wine grapes are typically sold in 35lb wooden crates.  On average 15lbs of grapes will yield about 1 gallon of wine, though this varies depending on how much juice you press out of them.  If this is your first time you may want to start off small. 
Making homemade wine

Once you buy your grapes, the first thing you want to do is crush them requiring a crusher & destemmer.  You’ll need something to store your crushed grapes.  The cheapest option is to use 5 gallon plastic trash cans.  Crushing the grapes allows the fermentation process to start.  You can let this process happen naturally or once you're more experienced you can check PH levels or add yeast.   

Once you finish crushing the grapes, take some stirring device and  turn over the mixture a few times.  One very important point to note:  it’s crucial that you turnover the mixture at least once, though preferably twice, each day in the intervening week. My friend lets the crushed mixture rest for a week before pressing them. 

Pressing the grapes is a lot of work, but makes for a social occasion.  You will need access to a press for this important step.  My friend typically presses each load of grapes twice to ensure he's extracting as much juice as possible.  The juice from the press falls into a bucket positioned underneath the press and is then transferred into a 5 gallon glass or 9 gallon containers for aging/storage.  You can place a screen in the funnel to filter out any leftover debris from the pressing process.  Ensure each storage vessel is filled up to the neck and properly sealed using a rubber stopper.  Store in a dark, cool location and ensure it is away from any heat source. 

After about 6 weeks, you will want to transfer your wine.  You will want to do a second transfer, but typically wait 8+ weeks to do this.  Usually the wine is drinkable around Christmas, but really hits its peak around Easter.  By summer, most homemade wines start to turn, though it’s still possible to have a great tasting homemade wine a year later. 

There’s no true right or wrong way to go about making homemade wine.  Provided you follow the basic steps, you should be able to easily create a pleasing homemade wine.  Note, if white wine is your thing, worry not.  The primary difference in the process is that you simply combine the crushing and pressing process into one long day as you do not want the juice to begin fermenting on its skins as you would with a red wine. 

It’s a great activity to pass the time on a fall weekend with a group of close family and friends and as mentioned above you could be enjoying a bottle now for the holidays!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tis the season for prosecco from Caneva da Nani!

Valdobbiadene DOCG wine mapIn celebration of the holiday season at my last Italian language class of the year we celebrated with lots of treats and one of them being a prosecco from the producer, Caneva da Nani, from Guia di Valdobbiadene, Italy. Guia is a village in the town of Valdobbiadene, which is situated in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy in the province of Treviso. 

The name, prosecco, derives from the name of an actual town prosecco near Trieste. Prosecco originates from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region and Veneto region and the majority of the prosecco of this area is produced in Valdobbiadene, where this wine comes from, and also Conegliano.

Caneva da Nani has been in business since the early 70's. Their vineyards are set on steep slopes providing great drainage. It's very similar to the previous blog that I wrote on the Aosta Valley. The location of this region is between both the Alps and the Adriatic Sea so they have many influences with cold air coming in from the alps and more warmer air coming in off the Adriatic Sea helping to create some good crisp, acidity in the prosecco.

The best comparison to prosecco if you haven't had it would be champagne, but obviously can't be called that due to not be growing in the Champagne region of France. I would recommend consuming it within a few years of production or like most folks do, as soon as you get home from the wine or liquor store. It can be enjoyed alone as an apertif, but in Italy it's also enjoyed as a mixed cocktail called a Bellini, mixed with white peach juice. They even sell bottles pre-made of Bellini if you don't want to mix it yourself.

Typically I'm not one that enjoys many things with bubbles, but this was enjoyable, especially with some fresh parmigiano reggiano. It was very light, easy drinking and had tiny bubbles that almost created a frothiness in my mouth. It was a drier style with some light apple and tropical hints.

It's a great affordable alternative to champagne and it's especially great around the holidays. Pop a bottle at New Years and toast with your loved ones for a healthy, happy New Year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Great premium wines at affordable prices with 90+ Cellars!

This weekend I attended a fantastic tasting at Lucia's Bodega in Windham, NH. It was my first visit to this wine shop and won't be my last. If you're in the area and can attend a tasting that they hold on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays I recommend it. They have a great tasting bar. The tasting this past Saturday featured 90+ Cellars and I was able to meet the CEO, Kevin Mehra. I had heard such great things about their wines and was happy to be able to sample 7 of their wines: Lot 85 Chardonnay, Lot 98 Spatlese Riesling, Lot 53 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 94 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 90 Rosso Toscana, Lot 100 Monster Red and Lot 101 Syrah.

To give you some background on 90+ Cellars, their business started in 2009. They are a Boston based company and they buy high end surplus wines from wineries all over the world. They are the number 1 fasting growing brand in New England and are #3 in premium wine sales. They currently sell their wines in 8 states. The wineries they purchase from have extra inventory that they sell off. Some of the wines 90+ Cellars receives are bottled ready without a label, they put their label on it and sell it for a fraction of the price. Each state is different with the way they handle this process and most wineries will sell their surplus to other wineries. If they don't sell off their surplus and can't move their wines they now would have to reduce their prices, which in turn would affect their status and reputation in the market so this turns out to be a great option for them.

The wines they carry are from all over the world. Some of the wines I tasted were from the Mosel region in Germany, Mendoza in Argentina, Bordeaux in France and Rutherford, CA. They carry a few different levels of wines from the entry levels at $10-15 then those around $15-$20 and then those that are more limited and highly allocated. They purchase their wines by the lot. They are the same producer time after time to provide consistency. Sometimes they get their hands on some great wine and it's a one time deal so they will retire that lot number once they are sold out.

My personal favorites from the weekend were Lot 85 Chardonnay and Lot 101 Syrah, with a close third being Lot 100 Monster Red, which was a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. I look forward to continuing to tasting more of their wines and I strongly suggest you go out and grab a bottle or attend a tasting of their wines. It's a great way to taste some premium wines at an affordable price. Especially during this time of the year with the holidays. Impress your family and friends with some great bottles of 90+ Cellars.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to pair wine and food, what goes and what doesn't

So one of the most common questions I used to get in wine consulting is “I'm having____and what is the best wine to pair with it?” This can be easy or complicated depending how you look at it. For me it's easy because most of the time when I'm drinking wine I prefer to enjoy the wine on it's own so I can truly pick up the aromas, characteristics and taste of the wine without the masking of the pairing with food. Think about it, most people are drinking wine while they are cooking, sitting a bar or restaurant with friends chatting and then it's consumed with dinner or if you're lucky in some cultures like Italy being able to enjoy some wine over lunch. Don't we all wish we could do that during the day? I like to drink what I like rather than what I'm told goes well together. After all, it's your taste buds that are living the experience. Don't get me wrong, I have attended wine and food pairings and have tasted some great compliments to one another such as melon wrapped in prosciutto paired with a Moscato d'Asti. The saltiness of the prosciutto with the sweetness of the Moscato were a perfect match.
italian wine and food pairing

With that said, there are some general rules to follow and some things you should keep in mind when trying to make the perfect pairing. Number one, think of the density of the food you are eating. Is it light, like a fish, or are you eating something heavy, like steak or lamb? The common saying that I'm sure everyone has heard is to drink white with fish and red with meat. It's a good rule to follow, but you also need to think about how it's prepared.

That leads me to number 2, what types of sauces is the dish being prepared with? A grilled simply seasoned fish isn't going to be the same as a fish in a cream sauce. You might do a sauvignon blanc with the grilled fish, but a chardonnay to pair with the cream sauce. Try to take a look at the fat content in the food itself in addition to the accompaniments or how it's prepared. A nice meaty, hearty steak is going to be fattier than a piece of chicken so it will stand up better to a bolder, richer red like a cabernet sauvignon.

Wine and Food pairing flight

Alcohol is another factor that can overpower the dish if not paired correctly. Typically wines that are 14-15%+ are considered to have high alcohol, which you can usually sense in the wine because you'll feel the heat in your mouth or throat. Not paired correctly it will overpower the dish and ruin the taste of the dish. You will also get the same effects in spicy foods. If you have a dish that is spicy that creates its own heat in your mouth and now you have a high alcohol wine neither will be enjoyable. Salts are also known to do this. For example, if you are having asian foods with a slight spice you might want to try pairing it with a Gewurztraminer or a Riesling to balance it off.

If you experiment with it you will also notice in some wines that are highly tannic or that have high acidity, when paired appropriately, will smooth and round out. I recently had a Malbec Riserva that was a great wine alone, but it was so rich and full bodied that I probably could only enjoy a glass of it, but once I had paired it with my meal it had changed it's characteristics based on the pairing and now I felt I could finish the bottle (if I really wanted).

Sometimes it helps to think of the origin of where the food came from as well. When I lived in Italy many years ago someone taught me that some believe the food there was established around the wine. When you think about it, it stands true for many of the regions I've visited in Italy. For example, a pasta with sauce or “gravy” can be classically paired with a Chianti Classico or a dish with porcini mushrooms might pair well with a Barbaresco, Nebbiolo or even an Arneis due to it's earthiness and meaty consistency. This stands for a lot of the European and Old World countries that have centered their meal around the wine to complement the food.

So I may have said it's easy and after mentioning all these factors it may still be a lot to think about, but the more you experiment the easier it will get. Great harmonies can be created with the right pairing. Don't be afraid to ask for pairings at your local wine shop or shoot me an email and I'm happy to provide my insight. Have fun with it!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Orvieto and wines from the Umbria region of Italy

vineyards in orvieto umbria italy
Vineyards in Orvieto
Orvieto is a town in the region of Umbria, which is centrally located in Italy. It's almost halfway between Rome and Florence. The most popular wine of the Umbrian region is Orvieto, which is named after the beautiful hillside medieval town. Like Tuscany with its Chianti and Chianti Classico, Orvieto also has Orvieto and Orvieto Classico, which comes from a smaller territory within this region.

Orvieto is known for being a dry, lighter style, crisp white wine. The grapes that make up Orvieto are mostly trebbiano with also some verdello, grechetto, canaiolo bianco and a little malvasia. One of the more popular producers of Orvieto is a name you may be familiar with, Antinori, whom comes from the Tuscany region, but also produces Orvieto wines.
orvieto vineyards and wines
Beautiful setting in Orvieto
There are red wines produced in Umbria as well, but they are lesser known to us. One is Torgiano Rosso Riserva, which comes from the town of Torgiano. It is produced with mostly sangiovese and canaiolo and trebbiano. One of the key players of this area is the producer Lungarotti. The other red is Sagrantino di Montefalco produced from the Sagrantino grape in the town of Montefalco. The best known producer here is Adanti. Sagrantinos are more powerful and robust where the Torgiano are more medium body. Both of these wines have earned the DOCG status and they are both are more central in the Umbrian region where Orvieto lies more in the southwest.

Orvieto consists of 13 DOC regions, but the history here doesn't date far back as in some other regions. Some of these regions were created only within the last 30 years. This wine was an originally a sweet wine enjoyed by popes and there are still some well raved about sweeter style dessert wines from both Montefalco and Torgiano.

Out of the 20 regions in Italy, Umbria is the fourth smallest so wine has never been a main focus of this region due to olive oil production and grains. It has the capability to be much more as it has similar topography to Tuscany. If you haven't yet tried Orvieto wines or any wines from the Umbria region, expand your horizons and grab a bottle for your next meal. It will be a lot easier for you to find the white Orvietos than some of the others. If you sample some let me know what you tried. I love to hear experiences.
pozzo della cava orvieto wine caves
Etruscan wine cellars
Just an added tidbit, but these were old Etruscan caves found underground in Orvieto that were ideal places for storing wine.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

La Viggni de Crest and wines of the Aosta Valley in the Italian Alps

aosta valley vineyards and wine
View from Viggni de Crest
I spent the last part of my honeymoon in the northwestern corner of Italy in the Italian Alps
bordering France and Switzerland. We stayed in the Aosta Valley in the town itself of Aosta. The Aosta Valley is the smallest wine region in Italy and has the highest vineyards in Europe. They are all on the steep slopes of the mountain side so therefore they are harvested by hand. You may know this area for the famous mountain, Monte Bianco or Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in western Europe. I was pleasantly surprised by entering this region just how many vineyards there were.

agriturismo la viggni de crest winemaking
Luckily, the beautiful agriturismo where we were staying, La Viggni de Crest, were harvesting their own grapes upon arrival. There is something special about watching friends & family getting together to harvest their grapes from their hard labor throughout the season. If you're not familiar with what an agriturismo is, it's similar to a B&B, but they are working farmers so they produce a lot of their own crops and live a lot off their own land. They are some of the most beautiful places that I have stayed at in Italy including this one. 

vines of la viggni de crest aosta valley
View from La Viggni de Crest
La Viggni de Crest has both apple orchards and vineyards with about 1 hectacre of orchards producing 300 liters of apple juice and 2 hectacres of vineyards producing about 18,000 bottles. The grapes they produce for reds are some that are specific to this area including Fumin for reds, but also Petit Rouge and Gamay, known for being one of the grapes in the Beaujolais wines in France. For whites they produce Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Traminer (from the Bolzano area of Italy), and Muller Thurgau (a German grape).

cave des onze communes aymavilles
Our hosts, David and Emanuela Crest, were very hospitable. They sell their grapes, as well as many others do in the area, to a facility, Cave des Onze Communes. The Cave des Onze Communes is a cooperative winery that takes the grapes from 11 different municipalities and produces the wine. They produce about 400,000 bottles with 19 different DOC wines under the DOC Valle d'Aosta label. I was very impressed by all the whites and reds (and a yummy dessert wine from muscat) including those that indigenous to this area like Mayolet, Petite Arvine and Torrette. Unfortunately they don't sell their specific wines outside this area so I enjoyed them as much as I could while visiting and even took some home to enjoy.

cave des onze communes aosta valley
Cave des Onze Communes
I have been to many, many regions of Italy, but this part is a hidden gem that is not well tourist traveled, except for the winter ski season. The wines are great and the surroundings are some of the most peaceful and beautiful I have ever seen.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Vignavecchia - Chianti Classico producer in Radda, Tuscany

wine tasting at Vignavecchia winery in Radda TuscanyMy first stop for my day out in Tuscany's wonderful world of vineyards was the winery, Vignavecchia. They are located in Radda, which is one of the main provinces in Tuscany for Chianti Classico production. It has been in the Beccari family since the 1870's. They had inherited the estate from the original owners, the Minucci family, that had started the winery in the 18th century. 

There are about 7.5 acres of olives groves planted and 47 acres of vineyards with 70% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo, 7% colorino, 5% each of merlot and cabernet and 3% chardonnay. They produce about 10,700 cases with Chianti Classico dominating the output. About 34.5 of those acres are dedicated to Chianti Classico which is under the DOCG status.

It takes about 2 weeks and ten people to complete their harvest and when we were there they were going to be done in about 5 days, so by now they have finished.

chianti wine tasting at Vignavecchia winery in Radda TuscanyThe director, Stefano Miniati, was fantastic. He did the tasting for us and couldn't have been any nicer. Of all the wines that I tasted they were all great in their own way, but I enjoyed their 2009 Vigneto Odoardo Beccari, which is their Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva. It's a blend of 90% sangiovese and 10% canaiolo. It comes from a smaller parcel of land and only 1,000 cases are produced annually. It goes through about 18 months maturation time with about 6 months in the bottle. It was a classic Chianti Classico and was a lot drier than the others, but had a long beautiful finish. Stefano's opinion was that the last great vintages were 2007 and 2008 and everything else since then had been average.

If you have an opportunity to taste any of the wines from this vineyard make sure you do so and if you're ever in Radda make sure you stop by.  Stefano is a pleasure to deal with.  You can't go wrong with any wines from here including their vin santo as well.   Visit their site at Fattoria Vignavecchia

Don't go to Tuscany without this beautiful and detailed map.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Castellare di Castellina in the Chianti Classico region in Tuscany

One of the days while staying in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany I toured a few of the
wineries in the reknowned Chianti Classico region as discussed in one of my previous blogs, Chianti region. A very well known producer, Castellare di Castellina, was one of our stops. Loredana gave us our tasting and explanation of the vineyards.
Castellare di Castellina in Tuscany

The owner has three vineyard sites, one in Tuscany, “Castellare di Castellina”, one in the Maremma area of Tuscany, “Rocca di Frassinello”, and the other in Sicily “Feudi del Pisciotto”. Rocca di Frassinello is about five times the size of Castellare and is a joint venture with Domaines Baron de Rothschild-Lafite. Just some tidbits about these vineyard sites regarding the labels for Castellare di Castellina display all the endangered birds of the areas and the labels from Feudi del Pisciotto include designers like Versace and Valentino. Part of the profits from the wines sold there get donated to those involved and learning the arts in Sicily.
Grape harvesting at Castellare di Castellina

In the Chianti region there are over 400 Chianti Classico producers. They have about 57 acres and produce about 200,000 bottles annually and this is considered a mid-size producer. They have 4 different vineyard sites named Coniale, Piano a Casa, Pendicciaccia and I Sodi Di San Niccolo. Of the wines I tasted the 2008 I Sodi Di San Niccolo was the best. This is their Super Tuscan and is their prized wine. It's the best voted Tuscan wine ever and has won numerous awards. It has fantastic structure, beautiful length and rich fruit.
grape harvesting in Castellare di Castellina in Tuscany

While we were there they were in the middle of harvesting working very long days. It takes them about 6-7 weeks to harvest their grapes and a crew of 30. Ten of those folks are their normal crew during the slow season and the other 20 are folks brought in from the area that they get year after year. Eighty-five percent of those grapes being harvested are the Sangiovese grape, the principal grape in making Chianti. They had already picked their merlot and chardonnay grapes and were working on the rest. This region is known for their reds, but some producers also do make some whites. Here they do produce chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but only 1,000 bottles so it's not for tasting, only for sale. 

Multiple times they have made the Top 100 on Wine Spectator and some of their wines have earned the 3 Bicchieri del Gambero Rosso, which comes from the Italian food and wine magazine, Gambero Rosso. The 3 Bicchieri, “meaning 3 glasses”, is the highest rating from a blind tasting of experts valuing them as extraordinary wines. With so many producers in this region it's such an honor to stand out from the rest like Castellare does and produce such a quality product.

As you know I am a huge fan of Italian wines and Castellare was just another reason why I love this region and the wines that are produced here.  Visit them at Domini Castellare di Castellina.

Discover Tuscany with this beautiful detailed map.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

150 Vins - Celebration of the Grand Cru of Bordeaux in Monaco

Upon my recent visit to Italy for my wedding, we spent three days of our honeymoon at the French Riviera, or as the Italians says La Costa Azzurra. This was my first visit there so needless to say there was a lot to see in such a short period of time. One of the days we spent in Monaco, more specifically Monte Carlo, which was definitely one of the richest places in the world. Between the jewelry, clothes, cars and boats it was astonishing to see how some people live.  

Hotel de Paris Monaco 150 vins Grand Cru
One of the interesting things that we came upon in front of the Monte Carlo Casino was circular display called “150 vins”. It's a celebration of 150 years of the Monte Carlo SBM (Societe des Bains de Mer), which is a public company that runs some of the big establishments in Monaco like the Monte Carlo Casino and the Hotel de Paris. This event started June 22nd for 150 days where the Hotel de Paris brings up 150 Grand Cru Bordeauxs from their cellars for tastings by the glass. The wine cellar of the Hotel de Paris is personally funded by Marie Blanc, whose husband created the SBM back in 1863. This wine cellar is now to become the largest wine cellar in the world with over 350,000 bottles and is about 16,145 square feet.  
It was pretty neat that right in the center of the roundabout between the Monte Carlo Casino and the Hotel de Paris they had a circular display of all baby vines that were actually growing grapes to celebrate this event. Unfortunately while we were in France we didn't travel to visit any wine regions since there were so many amazing places to see like Nice, Monte Carlo and Cannes. There is always tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Brunello di Montalcino, the king wine of tuscany!

Steps towards better wine quality production in Italy began in the 80's with the creation of the DOCG, Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita, which had stricter regulations for producers from the original DOC category. The first wine granted the DOCG status was Brunello, which I'm writing about today. The others were Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, discussed in the previous blog, and the Piedmont regions with the wines known as Barolo and Barbaresco.

Montalcino Tuscany vineyardsBrunello is made from a clone of sangiovese, but it is not combined with other grapes though as Vino Nobile and Chianti can be. It also requires more aging, four years with at least two of those years in oak barrels. Their riserva requires five years of aging with at least half of that in oak. With this part of Tuscany in the town of Montalcino being a little warmer, it has deeper, richer flavor profiles and fuller versions of sangiovese.

One of the biggest producers in this region that helped to make Brunello what it is today is the producer Biondi Santi, which I'm hoping I'll be able to stop and visit while there. In the late 19th century he planted brunello in his vineyards. At this time many folks were only drinking light style Chianti and sweeter wines. He let the skins macerate with the juice and then aged the wines at a time when all of these steps were unheard of. They didn't even have a road out to Montalcino until the 1960's. Due to his efforts he paved the way for this amazing wine to be what it is today.

It's one of the most expensive wines in not only Tuscany, but also all of Italy along with some others from Piedmont, but is also very ageworthy. These wines can age over 40 years. I myself have some that I brought back to the states years ago that have been aging about 15 years and its recommended you don't drink them for at least 10 years. Some of the wines from this area need the time to settle down from their youth and develop further in the bottle. So don't be fooled when they say wines aren't ageworthy. It all depends on what you're drinking, but as a society we typically don't have the patience and usually stop in to a store to buy a wine we will drink that night. The best part about opening these bottles years later are the memories that are revisited from the times spent at the winery. Do yourself a favor and splurge one day, hold on to the wine and open it years from now for a special occasion and you will experience a treat. I'll share with you some of the producers that I have visited that are a treat. Shoot me a message or leave a comment.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

All about Chianti including laws, sangiovese and territorities

Tuscany vineyards chianti classico region

Probably one of the most known wines in all of Italy is Chianti. If you have ever been to Tuscany you have experienced utter beauty with it's rolling hills, cypress trees, olives groves and never ending row of vines.   

Chianti, along with it's many different mutations, is definitely one of my favorites, along with the wines from Piedmont that I will cover another time. Chianti been around since B.C. and has changed so much over the years, especially in recent decades. Some of you may remember Chianti from the old straw bottles known as fiasco, but some say to stay clear from those as it demonstrates some of the older production of Chianti and it has come so far over the years that there are many better wines to explore.

Gaiole in Chianti, Tuscany
For those of you that don't know, Chianti is made up of the sangiovese grape, but there are many other mutations of sangiovese such as Brunello, known for making one of the highest quality wines in all of Italy, Brunello di Montalcino. Prugnolo Gentile is another, typically known for making Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, as well as some other mutations such as, Morellino and Sangioveto. The variety of these styles along with different soils and elevations throughout the region produce many different styles of Chianti.

There are a couple different designations like Chianti Classico DOCG, which are all the wines produced in the regions between Florence and Siena. The Chianti Classico area's main communes are Greve, Radda, Gaiole and Castellina. There is also Chianti DOCG, which are for all the other winemaking regions that come from 6 subzones. If it's outside those zones it will just say Chianti, otherwise you'll see these subzones listed on the label: Chianti Colli Pisane (Pisa area), Chianti Colli Fiorentini (Florence area), Chiantii Colli Senesi (Siena area), Chianti Colli Aretini (Arezzo area), Chianti Montalbano (NW area of Tuscany) and the most popular and known to be the best quality, Chianti Rufina.

Chianti can be made up of 100% sangiovese, but at least 75% must be sangiovese. The rest can be up to 15% red with canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and up to 6% white, usually malvasia and trebbiano. Chianti riserva have a requirement of aging at least 27 months and being 12.5% without any white grapes blended. Most Chiantis are medium bodied, with a lot of cherry notes and tartness. There is usually mid to high acidity along with some tannin. You may even get some tobacco notes.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rosso di Montepulciano & Vino Nobile di Montepulciano w/ Dei winery

Palazzo Comunale Montepulciano TuscanyAs many of you know I am getting married in Italy in October and wanted to write about all the different towns and areas that I will be visiting and tasting wines ahead of time so when I write about some of my experiences later you will understand a little background of the area.

Last weekend I went out to eat in the seaport at Salvatore's in Boston and enjoyed a bottle of Rosso di Montepulciano from the producer Dei. There is a Rosso di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montalcino, both towns in Tuscany, but this one one is from Montepulciano, southeast of my favorite place Florence “Firenze”. Two wines come from this area, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano. 

Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile are made up of at least 70% of the sangiovese grape clone, Prugnolo Gentile. For those of you that don't know Sangiovese is the grape responsible for making Chianti. It is also blended with no more than 20% of Canaiolo Nero, Malvasia and Trebbiano. Don't confuse these wines with the grape Montepulciano. That actually comes from the southern region of Abruzzo.

Some of the biggest differences between Vino Nobile and Rosso di Montepulciano are that Rosso is aged in a much shorter time for about 6 months where Vino Nobile is require to be aged at least 2 years with at least 6 months in the bottle and 3 years for Riservas. There are usually larger yields for Rosso and the vines are typically younger. It's a lot cheaper as well based on some of these factors. Vino Nobile earned DOCG status back in 1980 while Rosso is DOC status. 

Some big producers to keep an eye out from this region are Avignonesi, Poderi Boscarelli, Contucci, La Braccesca, Dei and Poliziano. I have visited a couple of these estates in the past and their quality was fantastic! 

Tuscany in general, especially around this area, is known for
Bistecca alla fiorentina
their Bistecca alla Fiorentina. It's from the white chianina cows and is served rare. I'm not one for rare meat, but it's phenomenal. Enjoy it with some of these great wines and the experience is a complete joy!

Montepulciano Tuscany
If you have visited this region leave a comment with where you have been and what you have enjoyed. I love to hear of recommendations and experiences.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Maine Wine Trail (Savage Oakes, Breakwater Vineyards, Cellardoor)

My closest girlfriends surprised me with a weekend away at the Maine wine trail for my bachelorette party. It’s always interesting and fun exploring local wineries that are not well known like the rest of the world’s infamous wineries and then being pleasantly surprised. 
Savage Oakes Winery

Our first winery, Savage Oakes Winery, was our smallest production winery of the day. This winery has always been a farm and decided to open a winery back in 2002 when they were trying to find a way to maximize their blueberry fields that expanded into grape growing. They started off with 2 acres and now have grown to 4 acres and over 10 varieties grown. They are located in Union, ME, 30 miles east of Augusta. Many of their wines are 100% Maine grown grapes. Some of my favorites here was Georges River made with the Cayuga grape, and First Kiss, a dessert style made from St. Pepin grapes. You can also buy their meats on-site as well.  
Breakwater Vineyards & Farm

The second vineyard was Breakwater Vineyards located in Owls Head, ME. What a gorgeous town to start and a beautiful vineyard to top it all off. This was my highlight vineyard of the day. Not only for the beautiful establishment and area that they are in, but also the quality of the wines here were really great. Their hospitality was also top notch. This winery has 3,000 grapevines with 32 acres producing 1,500 cases, so obviously much bigger production. Some grapes are grown on-site organically, but others are imported from NY including the Finger Lakes and the North Fork.  They follow a 3 tiered system where they grow their grapes only on the bottom.  They also are the only vinifera producer in the state of ME.  
Breakwater Vineyards & Farm
I enjoyed both their oaked and unoaked chardonnays.  They had a real interesting rosé called Rosé Rugosa that was almost like a dessert style, but lighter. Their pinot noir had nice fruit with a beautiful finish. A big hit here with the ladies was their hard cider, but its not my style. Our last tasting was their Breakwater Blues just released, paired with chocolate, which brought out such a different side to the wine and the chocolate.  It was a beautiful way to spend a tasting where we were privately served on their patio outside their garden and vineyards by our wonderful host Martha. 
Cellardoor winery vineyards

Our last stop was at Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, ME. This winery was started in 2007 on a 200 year old farm that had been recently restored. The owner decided to leave her career and follow her passion.  Something I’m sure we all wish we would do! Cellardoor has a great commercial kitchen and entertainment space where they hold many events as well as a great tasting room with many gifts and a chance to sample some local products of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They have about 5.5 acres of vines planted with about 15,000 cases of wine produced annually.  They also import grapes as well from NY along with WA and CA. 
Cellardoor winery

We got a ride in “Dumbo” their oversized golf cart down to the vineyards. Their tasting list was very extensive so we got a variety of samples all great in their own way. They had an interesting blueberry wine with 10% maple syrup that was a rather tasty way to taste local products in a different way. I grabbed a glass of Gewurztraminer to tour the vineyards, which was delicious! 

The tough part about growing grapes in this part of the country is our climates. We aren’t privileged with the longer growing seasons like other parts of the country. Here in the northeast many of the wineries are growing cold climate grapes as I had mentioned like in the Finger Lakes as well. So unless you have gone to visit wineries around the northeast you may not be familiar with the some of the names from shopping in your local liquor store. Red grapes such as Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, Frontenac, Marquette and white grapes like Cayuga, LaCrosse and Frontenac Gris. Try them if you get a chance and support your local wineries!