Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Valpolicella, Amarone & winemaker Giuseppe Nicolis of Nicolis Winery

Last night I had a great tasting as usual at Gordon's Fine Wines in Waltham, MA. The star of the night was the winemaker Giuseppe Nicolis of Nicolis winery in the Valpolicella wine region in the Veneto, northeastern part of Italy. Below is the line up of wines that we tasted with Giuseppe walking us through each one.
Giuseppe Nicolis of Nicolis winery
Giuseppe Nicolis

2012 Valpolicella Classico
2010 Valpolicella Classico Ripasso "Seccal"
2007 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
2006 Amarone della Valpolicella "Ambrosan"
2004 Recioto della Valpolicella Classico

The Nicolis family has been producing wines since 1951 from their estate vineyards in San Pietro in Cariano, but it wasn't until 1978 when they had their first bottling, labeled it and started to share their wines with the world. The winery has been passed down from Giuseppe's father Angelo. Giuseppe has quite a big family with 3 other brothers and 4 sisters. The men actively run the winery with Massimo doing the accounting, Giancarlo
focusing on the vineyards and Giuseppe left Masi to return to Nicolis Winery to take on the role as the enologist when his senior brother passed away. Their winery produces about 220,000 bottles a year and they own about 17.5k acres.

If you're not familiar with this region it resembles a hand with 5 hills and the valleys in between. Whites like pinot grigio and prosecco are grown here, but they are famous for their reds, in particular Valpolicella and Amarone, also known as “baby brunello”. This region has been producing high quality wines for ages now and it wasn't until 2010 when they were granted the right to label their wines D.O.C.G for those that qualify.

For Giuseppe 2007 was a great vintage, but he states that there isn't much difference in vintages because if they face undesirable conditions they won't produce, which is what they decided upon in 1999 and 2002. 2013 hasn't been a favorable vintage as well due to hailstorms that resulted in a lower yield.

Giuseppe Nicolis of Nicolis winery

You can reference one of my earlier posts about Amarone and Valpolicella wines here, but I'll touch upon the highlights of Amarone produced by the Nicolis winery. They dry their grapes single layer in plastic boxes in temperature and humidity controlled rooms where they are checked daily for molding. Some vintners play with the temperature by increasing or decreasing it, but this can affect the taste and aromas dramatically. They are then pressed in January. The yield is no greater than 40% of the other wines due to the process. About 60-70% of the juice is lost during this process to make the grapes more concentrated. The juice is aged 30 months in Slavonian oak and another 6 months in the bottle.

Nicolis wines
The '12 Valpolicella Classico was a young, fresh, simple wine with mouthwatering acidity and a nice finish. It's best to be enjoyed 3 afters after bottling by itself, with pasta or an appertivo. Next, I tried the '10 Valpolicella Classico Ripasso style named “Seccal”, which is a vineyard site established long ago they believe was named this due to the dryness of the area with the word stemming from
“secco”, meaning dry. This wine was harvested in October and pressed in January. It was refermented on the lees of the Amarone, which creates the structure to this wine. It was very easy drinking, smooth and had nice balance with rich fruit and a hint of green bell pepper. 

Moving on to the '07 Amarone della Valpolicella D.O.C.G, which is sourced from three different vineyard sites and the '06 Amarone della Valpolicella “Ambrosan”, which is a single-vineyard wine. It was fun to compare these two wines back to back. Last month '07 Amarone received 90 points from the Wine Spectator and the '06 Ambrosan is a Tre Bicchieri winner. The Ambrosan had a higher alcohol content of about 16-16.5% compared to the '07, which was 15%, but I didn't pick up the high alcohol level, except in the '07. They were very different wines, which proves to you what a single-vineyard site can produce. I was a big fan of the Ambrosan due to the elegance of it and the vanilla profile. It was very smooth and had feminine qualities. The '07 Amarone had more complexities with tobacco notes and subtle tannins. Lastly, we finished with the '04 Recioto della Valpolicella, a dessert style wine. It had deep color with a velvety richness and with the sweetness makes it a perfect way to end a meal.

Amarone wines can be aged for up to 15+ years and these Amarones that were2006 and 2007, had been opened an hour and the 2006 single vineyard Ambrosan was drinking beautifully, but I would've either aged the 2007 or decanted it longer. They can be enjoyed with meats, game and robust cheeses.

In our day and age some folks aren't willing to wait to drink wines and that's why decanting can play a big role in opening up these wines so they can be enjoyed now. An idea is to buy a couple bottles, enjoy one now and save the other to compare years from now and experience the life of the wine as it ages through the years.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Chianti Classico has risen the bar, new Chianti Classico Gran Selezione

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione

With Chianti Classico being so popular in the USA and the world you probably familiar with the DOC and DOCG status, but now they have introduced a new designation above the DOCG known as Gran Selezione, meaning “grand selection”. The territory remains in the same Chianti Classico area in Tuscany as well as requiring at least 80% sangiovese, but there are different upgraded requirements in terms of the aging and the alcohol level. The grapes must be harvested from the producer's vineyards either single vineyards or from a selection of their best grapes. Currently the laws for Chianti Classico must be aged 1 year, where the Chianti Classico Riserva has requirements of 24 months with 3 months in the bottle. The new Gran Selezione will require 30 months aging with 3 months also in the bottle. In regards to alcohol levels, the Chianti Classico requires 12%, the Chianti Classico Riserva 12.5% and the new Gran Selezione will be 13%.

According to the Consorzio, 80% of Chianti Classico is exported from Italy. The sales of Chianti Classico sales had been increased by 10% in 2012 and 2013 is showing steady results as well with an increase of 30 euro per liter. The Gran Selezione designation will make up about 8-9% of the Chianti Classico production. As Americans, we make up the lions share of the market importing 30% of Chianti Classico.

This law goes into effect immediately and was ruled in by the European Commission earlier this month. It's times like these that I wish I was still living in Firenze, “Florence”, because over the last week they celebrated this new announcement there with vintners showcasing their wines for tasting and meet and greets. Wines that are eligible for this new designation will be the 2011's that can be showcased as early as July of this year.

With this new designation Italy is raising the bar in terms of quality production and their commitment to continue to produce some of the top quality wines of Italy and the world.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

More Barolo please from La Cantina Damilano!

Cantina DamilanoAnother stop on my journey through the Piedmont wine region from Alba to Barolo, along the side of the road, I stopped in to La Cantina Damilano. The tasting room was very modern with multiple tables for tastings and walls lined with bottles on slanted shelves. I tasted their Nebbiolo d'Alba, Barbera d'Alba and three of their Barolos from different vineyards (Cannubi, Liste and their “Lecinquevigne” which comes from 5 different towns/vineyards). Our host had stated that their '04 and '05 vintages were fantastic and followed in the shadows of the '97 that were mellowing out.
2004 Damilano Lecinquevigne Barolo
The story of this winery began in 1890 with the original founder, Giuseppe Borgogno. It was passed down to his son-in-law, Giacomo Damilano and is now managed by the grandchildren, Guido, Mario and Paolo since 1997. They have 73 hectares of land that is partially owned and leased in multiple territories including some of the top cru pieces of land in this area: Cannubi, Liste, Brunate and Cerequio. The Cannubi and Brunate crus are known for their elegance and the Liste and Cerequoi for their structure, which is demonstrated in Damilanos Barolos.

Cantina Damilano in Piedmont

Damilano winery in Piedmont
Damilano's production is over 460,000 bottles annually and
you can find them in 26 countries with about 50% of their market in America. My Valentines night out at Buono Bistro even had one of Damilano's Barolo on the list. I love when I eat at a restaurant and can look at the wine list knowing I have met the winemaker or visited their estate and have that connection with the land and the people.

Some quick insight for those of you that aren't too familiar with the grape, nebbiolo, which can be found in a few regions in Italy including Piedmont, Valle d'Aosta and Lombardia, but it's most known in the Piedmont region for producing these amazing wines that I have been covering over the past week. Nebbiolo is a late ripening grape being harvested into late October, early November. It's name meaning “fog” originating from the word “nebbia” due to the fog that sets over the Barolo and Barbaresco territories. It has a very thin skin, which is the reason why the color is so light in color for such a bold and powerful wine. This color will turn more orange with age. It can have a very high tannin and alcohol level as well, but this is part of the reason why I love this grape when it's balanced well with its aromatic aromas.
Barolo wine at Damilano Piedmont
For a wine to be labeled a Barolo it must be produced from 100% nebbiolo grapes and be aged at least 2 years in oak and at least 1 year in the bottle, but a riserva must be aged for 5 years prior to release with a least 3 of those years in oak. I will talk more about the difference between Barolo and Barbaresco as I continue to explore Piedmont.

I know many people tend to always go to Tuscany, but I strongly recommend exploring the Piedmont region. It's just as beautiful and the rolling hills seem wider where you can view acres upon acres of vines. It's just stunning!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Feeling a little "Sideways"?

I am a fan of the movie "Sideways" (2004), which was a turning point for Pinot Noir for many wine consumers.  If you haven't seen it I definitely recommend it.  It's a great comedy and I wanted to share one of my favorite parts of the movie that is the reason why I find wine so intriguing and the reason my passion continues to drive me to explore more.  Some just pour a glass and drink and others think of this:

"I like to think about the life of wine, how it is a living thing.  I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing.  How the sun was shining,  if it rained.  I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes.  And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now.  I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive.  And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity, that is until it peaks.....and then it begins its steady, inevitable decline."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fratelli Revello and the wines of the La Morra

My experience in the Piedmont region in Italy was honestly the best trip I have taken there, other than my experiences living in Florence, which is my true love. The people of the Piedmont region were so hospitable and so welcoming at the vineyards that I stopped into. The hills are densely packed with vineyard after vineyard all perfectly plotted and aligned. This region also has some phenomenal food that goes so well with the wines of the region along with this time of year being the truffle festival so it couldn't be beat. 
Fratelli Revello La Morra, Piedmont
Carlo & Paola
One of the days I decided to pull off the road at a winery I saw to fit in one last wine tasting of the day at Fratelli Revello. It was a busy time that I was there in the heart of the harvesting season, the first week of October. Workers were working tirelessly in the vineyards and trucks driving along the windy roads full of grapes to bring to the winery. 

Paola greeted me and did a private tasting in the upstairs tasting room with a beautiful view overlooking the Annuziata hills providing a history of the family and the wines. I tasted everything from their Barbera d'Alba and Barbera d'Alba Ciabot du Re along with their 5 Barolos from Giachini, Conca, Rocche dell'Annuziata, Gattera and Gorette. I was fortunate as well to have both the Revello brothers come up to meet me, Carlo and Lorenzo. They provided me with a great book “L'Insieme Il Cerchio Aperto” that I'll go over more in depth at another time, but it's a charity project from 8 of the local producers from the Langhe area that contribute to a wine, L'Insieme, that is sold with proceeds going to needy causes. Lorenzo signed the book and gave it it to me for my birthday that I was celebrating that day.

The Revello family has a great history in the Annuziata hills in the La Morra commune. The family had always sold their grapes and wine unlabeled or wholesale to folks like Ratti and Borgogno. In 1990 they were influenced by their neighbors, like Elio Altare, whom knew the potential and quality of the grapes they were growing in this area and whom at that time had learned from his recent trip to France about improving winemaking techniques like pruning and barrel fermenting. In that year the family started to sell their own wines and their mother, Maria Rosa, started an agriturismo. There was no turning back for the family. 

Fratelli Revello winery Piedmont

Lorenzo, along with his wife Luciana, and Carlo, along with his wife Paola, all began to work in the family business managing the agriturismo and the brothers focused on the vineyards with Carlo caring mostly for the vineyards and Lorenzo, with his love of mechanics, caring for the tractors and cellars. If you're ever in the area stop by or even stay at their lovely winery in the heart this beautiful wine region.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cannubi expanded in Barolo in the Langhe

Barolo, part of the Langhe wine region, is in the Piedmont region in the northwestern part of Italy. It is a DOCG designated wine made from the nebbiolo grape. It's one of the highest respected wines in Italy and the world. The Langhe has parcels of land that are divided based on the soil composition, angle of the sun and altitude. There are many single vineyard areas that produce high quality wines in this area, but Cannubi is one of the “cru” wines of the Barolo area. Cannubi is famous for its south-eastern steep slopes, rich soil and ideal microclimate.

grapes from barolo in piedmont
On October 3rd it was decided by the Council of State in Italy that the four vineyards surrounding the famous and historic vineyard in the Barolo area, Cannubi, can use the Barolo name on their label. This will expand the Cannubi area from 37 acres to now 84 acres. This has some of the local vineyard land owners, 11 of them, disgruntled due to their ownership of land in the original territory and the level of prestige and quality associated with the original Cannubi territory. Now the additional four vineyards, Boschis, Muscatel, Valletta and San Lorenzo, will be able to use the Cannubi name as well on their labels.

I'll be discussing more about Barolo, nebbiolo and this territory in an upcoming blog when I share some of my experiences meeting some of the winemakers of this region, in particular Carlo Giacosa, Damilano and Fratelli Ravello. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Veneto region and the famous Ripasso & Amarone with Cesari

Cesari winery & AmaroneI wanted to include some additional wines that I tasted from my 2nd meeting with Alessandra Marino from Cesari wines. At this event she brought some of the more A game players from their line including their 100% Corvina named Jema from one of their cru estates to their 2011 Mara Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso and lastly their Amarone Classico. After the previous tasting with Alessandra these wines were by far the more lighter bodied, easier drinking selection compared to these three mentioned that had much more complexity. These wines are produced in the Valpolicella region in the Veneto/Venice region near Verona, a beautiful city. 
The first wine I tasted was Cesari Jema that is 100% Corvina. Alessandra shared with me that these grapes are dried in grates once picked off the vine for 20 days and then are fermented in stainless steel. The wine is aged 18 months in oak and then another 6 months in the bottle. This wine is from a single vineyard estate and is both a product of dry farming, no irrigation takes part in the process, and also green harvested, where they prune the top and bottom layers of the vines. This was a fuller bodied feminine wine displaying ripe, red fruit with a lasting finish.

Next was the 2011 Cesari Mara Vapolicella Ripasso named after the matriarch of the estate. This ripasso had raisin accents on the nose, which is typical of these wines. It is a blend of 75% Corvina, 20% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. The wines in this region in general are very interesting as they follow a unique process. This particular wine is aged in stainless steel and then the juice is refermented on the dried grape skins of the Amarone grapes, which is known as the ripasso method, meaning “repassed”, and then its racked for a few more months for the malolactic fermentation. From there it's aged 12 months in barrel and 6 months in the bottle. This wine is smooth, showing ripe fruit with nice depth. 

For those that are unfamiliar with wines from the Valpolicella area, the three grapes mentioned above are a typical combination at varying levels of percentages with Molinara sometimes not part of the equation. It's a similar wine compared to the Amarone where it uses the same grapes, but the Amarone has a different process I will discuss and they are aged longer, but you will get a similar flavor profile just with more complexity and richness in the Amarone wines. The Valpolicella Ripasso is a more approachable wine with similar characteristics and is more affordable than the Amarones. 
Saving the best for last was their 2009 Cesari Amarone Classico made of 80% Corvina and 20% Rondinella. The process with Amarone makes it special because the grapes are picked and laid out in these rooms to dry and in this particular case for 120 days bringing them into the January timeframe before the press and fermentation begins. About 40% of the water evaporates during this process making the grape more concentrated. Cesari ages their Amarone in barriques for about 1.5 years and 8 months to 1.5 years in the bottle. The aromas on the nose of dark red fruit and raisins was prevalent on the palette. Its full bodied with good balance and nice fruit. This wine can be aged for at least 10+ years, but will obviously transform in the bottle. The tannins I picked up on the finish will smooth out as well. 

I've been aging some of my Amarone that I brought back from Italy some years ago and I look forward to watching how they have transformed over the years.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Meeting winemaker Caterina Sacchet from Carpineto winery in Tuscany

Caterina Sacchet from Carpineto
Caterina Sacchet and me
My first stop of the night at the Easter Seals Winter Wine Extravaganza was the Carpineto winery to meet the winemaker herself, Caterina Sacchet. Luckily, Caterina grew up in this business in the heart of the Chianti Classico territory in Tuscany in the area of Greve, but the Carpineto winery also has vineyard sights in Montepulciano and the Maremma. Carpineto was established in 1967 and is a partnership between Giovanni Sacchet and Antonio Zaccheo. Caterina graduated in 2008 and became the winemaker for her family's estate after also having worked in the Languedoc in France and Australia as well. About 95% of their wine production are reds and the majority of them are aged at least 3 years or more. Their production is about 2.5 million bottled annually and shipped all over the world. They pride themselves on their sustainable, low impact farming techniques with renewable energy and biodiversity.

I used to sell and recommend these wines back in the day when I worked for Martiginetti's in the North End of Boston, but we only had a small representation of their wines so I'm glad I had the chance to explore some of the others they produce, especially the 2008 Brunello and 2007 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva. I tried everything from their Dogajolo line of wines, which they call their Baby Super Tuscans, including the Dogajolo white, which was a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Grechetto and 30 % Sauvignon Blanc which had nice fruit, but was well balanced by acidity. Then I sampled their Rosso blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet, that was very smooth and is more of your easy drinking red. Caterina didn't have a favorite, but would enjoy this line and the Chianti Classico under the Carpineto label as her every day wines and would save the Vino Nobile and the Brunello for more special celebrations, as I would do the same and do currently do myself with my own personal Italian collection I’m aging. The Chianti Classico's, especially the Riserva, were full bodied, drier with supple tannins and a nice long finish.

Topping the list for me was their 2008 Brunello di Montalcino, which was aged 4 years in barrel and 1 year in the bottle and was a lot smoother than the Vino Nobile due partially to the longer aging process, but they are also grown in two separate areas of this more southern part of Tuscany. The Vino Nobile is produced out of Montepulciano, where the Brunello is produced out of Montalcino. I found the 2007 Vino Nobile to be a beautiful expression of this varietal with elegant texture, nice red fruit with some spice and a great finish. Both of these towns are great by the way if you ever go to visit this region. Back in the day I wouldn’t have needed a reservation to taste at some of these wineries, but with these wines becoming more wide known, which is great for the producers, you have to make reservations in advance.

Tuscany vineyards
Hills of Tuscany

Carpineto is an internationally, well-respected wine producer with its roots initially in the heart of the Chianti Classico region, but has proven that they can produce quality wines in other territories of Tuscany. It’s great to see family members remain loyal to carrying on the traditions established and continue to develop upon the brand and produce top quality wines. I look forward to following this winery for years to come and hopefully visiting them in my future trips back to the motherland.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Meeting winemaker Marco Fizialetti fom Castello di Querceto

This past Thursday evening was a wonderful event put on by the NH Liquor Stores & Wine Outlets for Easter Seals.  Such a great event to help a good cause, taste over 1,500 wines, meet winemakers and taste a variety of samplings from some great restaurants throughout the state.  

Chianti Classico region of Tuscany
Chianti Classico region
What a great way to finish the night stopping by to say Ciao to our friend, Andrea Cecchi again from the night before, but also meeting Marco Fizialetti, the winemaker from Castello di Querceto in the town of Greve in the heart of the Chianti Classico region in Tuscany.  I love the Italian people for their hospitality and the excitement they portray in meeting folks that show interest in their wines.  Marco was one of those folks.  I enjoyed sharing some stories with him of my times living in Tuscany and traveling throughout the wine region and listening to to his passion for his wines.

Marco Fizialetti from Castello di Querceto
Marco Fizialetti ~ Castello di Querceto
Castello di Querceto has been in the Francois family since 1897.  Marco Francois at the beginning of the century started to make the estate more focused towards agriculture.  In 1978 his grandson, Alessandro, started to make some investment changes and during this time is when most of the vineyards were planted.  In 1924 they became one of the 33 founding members of the Consorzio del Chianti Classico.  Marco Fizialetti had met the daughter of Alessandro Francois and moved to the family's estate later marrying into the family.  He learned from Alessandro the traditions, history of the estate and its wines and today continues to improve the different terroirs and characteristics of the wine and the way it is produced over the 60 hectacres of land.  

I sampled wines from their Castello di Querceto line, which exclusively comes from the estate's vineyards.  They also had wines under the Querceto brand which are bottled in Greve, but the grapes are sourced outside the Chianti Classico region so therefore they have to labeled an IGT.  I enjoyed their Chianti Classico Riserva, but when I got to their single vineyards and cru wines, including all their Super Tuscans, it was a whole other tasting.  I started with La Corte, their Super Tuscan from a specific 5 acres in Greve.  It is 100% Sangiovese that had nice body and balance to it being aged 12 months in barriques and at least 6 months in the bottle.  Then I moved on to two of their best wines in my opinion, 2007 Il Querciolaia, their Super Tuscan made of 65% Sangiovese and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 18-20 months in barriques and at least 6 months in bottles, and lastly 2008 Il Sole di Alessandro, their other Super Tuscan produced 100% from Cabernet Sauvignon aged 20-24 months in barriques and also at least 6 months in bottles.  These wines had such complexity, depth and structure and the finish just lingered for enjoyment throughout my conversation with Marco.

Greve in Chianti, Tuscany
Greve in Chianti
For winemaking that has really only begun within the last 100 years, this estate has such fantastic wines, especially the Super Tuscans.  I would highly recommend splurging and enjoying one of these bottles mentioned above for a special occasion.  Although in my opinion any time you open a bottle such as these, that is the special occasion.   More to come from that night......