Friday, October 29, 2021

A Toast to the Good Life with La Camporena Chianti Classico Riserva

 It’s been a busy month between a vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a milestone birthday for myself and anniversary celebrations, but I’m glad to be sharing a wine given to me by my Italian friend living in Tuscany when he attended my wedding in Bucine 8 years ago.  I’ve been nervous opening some bottles I’ve been holding onto as you never know how they have held up, especially since some of these bottles have traveled with me overseas and have been involved in a home relocation a few years back.  Today’s bottle that I’m sharing is a 2009 La Camporena Chianti Classico Riserva from Greve in Chianti and am happy to say it has withheld the test of time. 

I couldn’t locate too much information on this winery, but have reached out to them so I’m hoping I can circle back with an update at some point.  The current owner was inspired by his father whom relocated to Greve after the war and invested a lot of hard work into La Camporena.  The trigger for him to start producing wine of his own came from stumbling across a bottle of his birth year, 1967, that said Camporena and he knew this was a sign to start producing his own wine, which began in 2006.  The winery sits on 17 acres and is just a mile or two outside the center of Greve in Chianti.  

Tuscan hillsides through Chianti Classico
Tuscan hillsides
I think many of us daydream of Tuscany whether we’ve been there or not already.  If you’re never been to Greve it’s a must stop on your way out of Florence heading south as you enter into the Chianti Classico region that stretches 40 miles north to south ending in Siena.  The central focus of Greve is Piazza Matteotti, which is encircled by loggias, shops, restaurants and museums.  A great little town for a short visit paired with great wine.  I still even have some great Chianti Classico memorabilia I purchased from a small shop in town. 

I couldn’t locate the makeup of grapes for this 2009 La Camporena Chianti Classico Riserva, but standard Chianti Classico Riserva wines have regulations they must follow in order to be labeled as such.  The wines must be made of at least 80% Sangiovese, although many producers use higher quantities if not 100% Sangiovese.  Up to 20% of other allowed red grapes including CanaioloColorino and some international grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon can be used.  The wines must be aged at least 24 months with at least 3 of those months spent in the bottle.  The alcohol must also be a minimum of 12.5%.   

The 2009 La Camporena Chianti Classico Riserva was surprisingly still in tact.  Ruby in color leaning towards brick red hues.   Cherry was clearly showing on the nose and on the palette as well.  A lighter medium bodied wine with dried herbal notes.  A lingering acidity with elegant tannins finishing with sweet tobacco notes.   It almost went down too smooth.  I do not have the SRP to share since it was a gift.  ABV 14%  

2009 La Camporena Chianti Classico Riserva

Friday, October 8, 2021

Merlot with Chicken in a Mushroom Wine Sauce

October ever year is a nationwide feature on the Merlot grape for the event sponsored #MerlotMe and I’m always happy to be a part of sampling such a variation of Merlot from around the world.  Over the years I have sampled Merlot from the same producers with different vintages and this year I had the fortune of trying 4 new wineries.  I had been traveling this past week so a few were delivered while I was gone so I will add them over the next week so make sure to come back and revisit.  We’re going to dig right into the wines highlighting each bottle of Merlot and the winery.   

The Wines 

The 2018 Rombauer Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot was my pick of the tasting.  Family owned since 1980 originally purchased by Koerner and Joan Rombauer the vineyards span both Napa Valley, Sonoma, Lake County and the Sierra Foothills.  The winery practices a number of sustainable initiatives and their main aim is to produce “distinctive, fruit-driven wines”.     

Made from 83% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4$ Petit Verdot this wine spends 15 months in 40% new French oak.  The color was a beautiful ruby, rather translucent in the glass.  Lush, ripe raspberries with aromas of vanilla.  Velvety on the palate with supple tannin showing juicy berries, raspberry and black cherries with vanilla notes.  ABV 14.5% SRP $48 

Merlot wines for MerlotMe
The 2019 Oberon Napa Valley Merlot is part of the Michael Mondavi Family.  Their focus is on Napa Valley Bordeaux varieties.  Owner and winemaker, Tony Coltrin, is a Napa Valley resident born in St. Helena and has been part of wine harvesting for over 45 years.  The majority of the blend is Merlot with 89.4% coming from Oakville vineyards and 8.6% Syrah from Dry Creek with 2% Zinfandel from Middletown.  The wine spends extended maceration with a long malolactic fermentation spent in 45% new French oak.   

Translucent ruby in color with raspberries, plums and blackberries on the nose.  I picked up a hint of green pepper in the beginning, but this wine needed to aerate as the tannins were quite tight in the beginning.  Rich with blackberries and currants with great acidity.  ABV 13.9% SRP $23 

The 2020 Ironstone Vineyards Merlot is from Lodi, CA.  Owner, John Kautz, started off as a grape supplier covering over 7,000 acres across the Sierra foothills and Lodi.  He was one of the top 10 grape growers of California.  In 1988 he started producing his own wines under Kautz Wines and then brought in Steve Millier as the winemaker when it became Ironstone Vineyards.  In 1989 the family built the new winery on his wife’s family’s ranch in Murphy, California.   

Translucent ruby in the glass with notes of dark cherries, blackberries and toasty vanilla.  Rich, lush fruit and smooth on the palette with supple tannin and good acidity.  I’m surprised this wine was only $14.99 a bottle.  ABV 14.5%  

L'Ecole Merlot Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley
This is my 3rd vintage trying the wines from L’Ecole, but the first year I was able to do a side-by-side of their Columbia Valley Merlot and Walla Walla Valley Estate Merlot. 

The 2018 L’Ecole Columbia Valley Merlot is their black labeled bottle where the grapes are sourced from a variety of vineyards including Dionysus (old vines), Candy Mountain, Ferguson, Seven Hills, Klipsun and Pepper Bridge vineyards.  The wine is made of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.  They produce about 5,300 cases and are typically found more in distribution.  The winemaker, Marcus Rafanelli, stated that the biggest difference between these 2 Merlot is that the Columbia Valley shows more of the varietal expression where the Walla Walla Valley is more terroir driven.  

The Columbia Valley Merlot was aged 30% in small new oak barrels for 18 months.  This wine was ruby in color with a tingle of purple.  Expressive fruit on the nose and palate showing cherries and black cherry.  The fruit shines on this wine and is an approachable, bright with moderate tannin.  ABV 14.5% SRP $25 

The 2018 L’Ecole Walla Walla Valley Estate Merlot is sourced equally from 2 very different certified sustainable estate vineyards, Fergus and Seven Hills.  The Ferguson vineyards sit on a 15 million year old salt lava flow and the vines grow in soil that is comprised of basalt with is very mineral rich in iron.  These grapes are made from lower yields and are richer in structure.   Those from Seven Hills are in a warmer climate with wine blown, mineral rich loess soil.  The red grapes here are the first harvested and these grapes lend more of an elegance to the tannin. 

The wine is made from 84% Merlot with 12% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Between the two wines this was the beefier, more structured wine.  Ruby in color with a pretty nose violets, wet rock and red fruits.  The fruit wasn’t as purely shown in this wine and had some gripping tannin up front that seemed to smooth on the finish.  Would definitely pair this with a lamb or steak.  ABV 14.5% SRP $37 

Due to lack of time I didn’t have the opportunity to sample a multitude of dishes in time for my blog this week, but since I used a Coravin I plan on experimenting with these wines throughout the month.  Keep an eye on my social media.  I chose to pair these wines with a chicken-based dish simmered in a mushroom white wine sauce seasoned with thyme.  I think the baby bella mushrooms were the perfect complement to these Merlot and made the pairing.   

Chicken in a mushroom wine sauce paired with Merlot

Join my fellow Merlot wine and food lovers as they share their delish pairings.  Catch us live on Twitter this Saturday @ 11am EST at #WinePW as we chat more about Merlot.  

*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.

Friday, October 1, 2021

A Toast to Brunello with Val di Suga

As we come into the last few months of the year our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group (#ItalianFWT) is featuring the three B’s of Italian wine: Brunello, Barbaresco and Barolo.  Although we know there are others these are some of the most prominent wines of Italy.  I thrilled to have Brunello be the feature for October as not only is my birthday and anniversary month, but if I had to pick a favorite wine Brunello may take the cake. 

The Region ~ Tuscany

Brunello hails from the Tuscan town of Montalcino located in the Val d’Orcia, about 20 miles south of Siena.  This area was granted as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2004.  As most of Tuscany is known for it’s splendid landscapes, this area is rich in rolling hills, olive groves and forests.  It’s a rather close proximity to the Tyrrhenian Sea and about 70 miles also from the Apennines mountains. 

Brunello di Montalcino
Copyright of Federdoc

The climate here is mostly Mediterranean and can be rather mild during the grape growing season.  The Montalcino area is also one of the warmest and driest climates.  The northern part of Montalcino the grapes will ripen slower where in the southern part they receive more sun and winds resulting in different styles of wine. 

In historical finds, wine has been made by the Etruscans in this area over 2,000 years ago.  The wines were originally appreciated by the elite, but started to receive recognition by one of the pioneers of this area Biondi Santi after World War II.  He was a soldier in the Garibaldi army whom left to take over his grandfather’s estate.  Biondi Santi was the only commercial producer at that time.  His practices in Brunello winemaking were different than any others starting to develop at the time.  He vinified the grapes separately where at the times this was not the norm.  He forego the secondary fermentation and the fruit profile in his wines were pure even though they were aged in wood.  In the 60’s there were around 10 producers with today the area of Montalcino features over 200 producers of Brunello.

Montalcino Tuscany
Copyright of Consorzio del vino Brunello di Montalcino
The Grape ~ Sangiovese

Brunello wines must be made from 100% Sangiovese, but a clone known as Sangiovese Grosso.  They’re larger Sangiovese berries and are known as the “little dark ones”.  They have thick skins resulting in high acidity and higher tannin wines with bold fruit flavors. 

Sangiovese Grosso Brunello di Montalcino
Copyright of Consorzio del vino Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello di Montalcino is a wine that was granted DOC status in 1966 and later elevated to DOCG in 1980.  It was the first in Italy actually to receive this higher designation of DOCG.  In order to be labeled a Brunello di Montalcino DOCG the wines must undergo 4 years of aging with an added year to be a riserva.  A minimum of 2 years must be aged in oak and at least 4 months in the bottle, with the riservas requiring at least 6 months in the bottle.  The grapes are also grown on hillsides between 120-650 meters as grapes at higher elevations do not receive the prime ripeness and right characteristics for a Brunello. 

The more traditional style, typically what I prefer, are those that have a longer maceration and age in large Slavonian vats resulting in wines that are drier and more tannic.  The modern style have a shorter maturation where the wine is aged in small French oak barrels with a more fruit forward style. 

The Winery ~ Val di Suga

Val di Suga began in 1969 when a company owned by Aldo Moro purchased vineyards in the north of Montalcino.  They started producing wine in their own cellars in 1982.  The winery had changed hands in 1994 under the Angelini Group and Bertani Domains.  They own about 135 acres of vineyards dedicated to Sangiovese Grosso and is one of the select wineries that owns territory across 3 diverse terroirs of Brunello with different slopes, sun exposures and soils. 

Their 3 cru single vineyard sites are Vigna del Lago, Vigna Spuntali and Poggio al Granchio.  The vintage Brunello I’ll be sharing is a blend across the three cru sites.  Vigna del Lago is located in the northeast section of Montalcino with vineyards that are located lakeside in front of the estate.  This is their oldest vineyard made of clay soil.  The climate there is mild and cool.  Vigna Spuntali is one of the most famous cru sites bought in 1988 that is in the southern part with southwest facing slopes.  The soils here are limestone and has more of a Mediterranean climate.  Poggio al Granchio is located in the southeast and was purchased in 1999 featuring galestro or slate type soils. 

The Wine

Unfortunately I guess I didn’t realize how limited my stock was of Brunello where I only have 1 bottle left that I brought back some years ago from my visit to the winery.  With a milestone birthday that I celebrate this month I figured no time like the present to enjoy.  I’ll be updating my post in another week for my birthday celebration as I’ll be sharing the 2001 Val di Suga Brunello di Montalcino so make sure to come back and check out my notes.

2001 Val di Suga Brunello di Montalcino

Food Pairings

Brunello is a classic match to the local Tuscan pecorino cheese along with red meats like the local wild boar (one of favorite dishes of Tuscany) and the melt in your mouth Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

These wines speak for themselves, but Wine Spectator back in 1999 ranked Brunello as one of the top 12 best wines in the 21st century and later in 2006 it’s one of the absolute best in the world.  Although they come with a heftier price tag, when I see what some of the wines go for produced in the US you’ll find me hunting down a Brunello any day over those.  

Join my fellow Italian food and wine lovers as they share their pairings and Brunello selections this month.  Catch us live on Twitter this Saturday at 11am EST @ #ItalianFWT.  Ci vediamo!  See you soon!