This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme is Wines of Piedmont, Italy and is hosted by David McDuff and his excellent blog, McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail. This is a great theme as there are really a great variety of interesting wines, some very well known and some not so well known, available from this north-west region of Italy. Just a quick perusal of my wine book Wines of the World (Eyewitness Companions) which is handily arranged by country and region leads me to consider some of my options: Barolo and Barbaresco (Nebbiolo), Barbera, Dolcetto, Gavi (Cortese), Moscato (still and sparkling), Arnies, Asti (sparkling), to name a few of the well-known offerings.
I chose for this assignment an affordable ($11.99) wine from producer G.D. Vajra, the 2007 Langhe Rosso, Langhe D.O.C. appellation, purchased from Groton Market. Groton Market has a relatively rich selection of Italian wines from small producers as they work with New England importer Adonna Imports, as do a number of fine wine stores in the Boston area.
This is the newest vintage of this blended red wine from G.D. Vajra. Each vintage represents an entirely different blend of grapes from the vineyards under the pervue of this producer in different areas, and as such has to be labeled Langhe D.O.C. It was difficult for me to find out exactly what is in this wine as the G.D. Vajra web site is quite… larval. I found a reference to this 2007 vintage on the website of Cambridge, MA gourmet food & wine store Formaggio Kitchen, here. This blend according to this writeup is composed of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa and Merlot (not sure of percentages). There is a nice writeup of G.D. Vajra in a web site devoted to producers of Barolo, here. This is an great writeup of the 2006 vintage of this Rosso and other wines on… McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail (hi, David!), here. This is apparently a great Piedmont producer.
I don’t have a lot of experience drinking wines from Piedmont. A few weeks ago I did enjoy a Nebbiolo varietal wine from producer Vietti quite a bit. This Rosso from G.D. Vajra has some Nebbiolo so I expect to detect the famous ‘tar and roses’ from that varietal. Tasting notes – color is a lovely mid-raspberry, would make a fantastic lipstick color. Body is light-medium. On the nose are wafts of woodiness, perfume and sour cherry and… roses? The mouthfeel is pleasantly sour-acidic mouthfilling while maintaining some roundness. The finish is good and reminds of red licorice. I do like it quite a bit. It is light and somewhat refined and would probably go with a variety of foods as is not too alcoholic (13.5% ABV). Not a powerhouse, but well-made. So, this is a great WBW theme. We could probably have a Piedmont WBW every month and be able to post about different great wines for years if we were so inclined!
UPDATE March 21, 2014
Anna from G.D. Vajra has helpfully pointed me to their new beautiful web site and the fact sheet for this wine which lists the grape varieties blended into this wine: Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Albarossa, Freisa, and Pinot Noir.
El Jefe (Jeff Stai) of El Bloggio Torcido (the Twisted Oak Winery blog) has presented an interesting Wine Blogging Wednesday theme this month: Wine for Breakfast! Or, more accurately, Wine with Breakfast Food. No sparkling wines, nor dessert wines are allowed – only dry red or white table wines. I do love breakfast foods of all sorts but don’t generally think of the wine pairing possibilities. I decided to make some sort of omelet (which may end up being scrambled eggs, depending on which pan I’m using) and didn’t have any idea of suitable wine pairing so I decided to use the Wine & Food Matcher applet on Natalie MacLean’s site, Nat Decants. I plugged in Eggs, then Omelet, and out popped its matching wine: Frascati. Cool – um, what is Frascati? Ah, a nice Italian white wine made in the environs of Rome, Italy! And quite conveniently my most local of local wine stores, Groton Market, had a very reasonably priced example for $7.99, namely the Cantine San Marco Frascati Superiore Secco “CRIO 10” 2007. And what grapes are in this wine? Well, some unusual, indigenous grape varieties…
“Da uve Malvasia Puntinata del Lazio, Bellone, Trebbiano
Toscano e Malvasia di Candia con percentuali più consistenti per i primi
due, autoctoni tipici di questa regione.”
There is a nice map of the Frascati DOC on Wein-Plus.com. Zoom out on the map to see its proximity to Rome. Frascati the white wine that has been made for a *very long time* from grapes grown on volcanic soils near Rome. It can be dry or sweet, still or sparkling. My example is dry (Secco) and still. So how well did this wine and food pairing fare? I think, quite well. The wine is quite light-bodied but full of citrus flavors and acidity, and perfect with ‘light’ dishes such as my red pepper and cheese omelet with cranberry-orange scone. This wine is quite a bargain and I do recommend it!
On October 14th 2008 I attended another tasting/class at Gordon’s which featured some wines from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates; specifically, some from their Antinori portfolio of wines. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates acquired the rights to sell Antinori wines approximately 2.5 years ago. Interestingly enough, I had just watched a 60 Minutes piece on Antinori 2 days previous to the class. The CBS site shows the segment here. So I was naturally pretty curious about their wines. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, based in the Columbia Valley, Washington, represents, owns, or distributes wines from at least 18 different labels including of course Chateau Ste. Michelle.
In this class, National Wine Educator George Foote chose to highlight 7 wines from Antinori. Generally, the wines tasted in the class are on offer at Gordon’s, and this was no exception. However, no Guado Al Tasso nor Tignanello at the tasting; they are still on my ‘wish list’ from Antinori. The 60 Minutes piece on Antinori stated that the winery has been owned by one family since its inception in 1385 from its home base in Tuscany.
My favorites from the tasting include one white wine and one red. The 2007 Antinori Santa Christina Campogrande Ovieto is an affordable, refreshing white wine made from some unusual grapes: 40% Procanico, 40% Grechetto, 15% Verdello, and 5% Drupeggio & Malvasia. It is from the Orvieto Classico DOC in Puglia. I found this floral, fresh, fruit-forward, with a nice zingy acidity that always make me happy. My favorite red of the evening had to be the 2004 Antinori Marchese Chianti Classico Riserva from the Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG in Tuscany. This is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet. I found this to be intensely fruity and spicy, yet balanced and smooth Chianti. A real ‘double bubble’ wine – delicious now, but could be aged for 10 years or more.
Last night my best buddy and I enjoyed a beef stir-fry with a bottle of Institut Agricole Régional Cornalin, from Valle d’Aosta in Italy, vintage 2006. The Institut Agricole Régional is an agricultural school in the Valle d’Aosta (Aosta Valley) which is at the very northerly top-western area in Italy and borders France and Switzerland. Yes, this wine is made by students. I believe in supporting student enterprises. This school produces quite a few wines under DOC designation, all with an identifiable painterly label style as shown here:
Cornalin is the grape variety used in this wine. This is an obscure and ancient grape not commonly seen on the market. Unable to find this varietal in my Oz Clarke book Grapes and Wines (a book I recommend to all wine enthusiasts) I found this definition on the web:
“CORNALIN: (a.k.a Rouge du Pays). Vigorous ancient variety grown in the Valais canton of Switzerland and used to produce rich, plummy, concentrated red wine claimed by some to be reminiscent of french central Rhone versions and often requires similar aging.”
I found an even more enthusiastic desciption of Cornalin here:
“A jewel in the crown of the winegrowing traditions of the Valais, Cornalin can pride itself on being one of the most ancient vines to be planted in the canton. There is no close or near relative among the other varieties: it is 100% valaisian. On account of its rarity, it is virtually unknown beyond a small band of enthusiastic connoisseurs. Cornalin gives grudgingly of its fruit, demanding the sites best exposed to the sun, and is late-ripening and capricious; it has broken the hearts of generations of winegrowers. It owes its return to centre stage alongside the great varieties to its supremely aristocratic character. With its violet robe, it offers a deliciously complex bouquet and a perfect body, a turbulent but splendid youthfulness, that age transcends in accumulated finesse.”
I did find this wine to be quite enjoyable and would buy it again. It is less concentrated than the above descriptions would suggest – somewhere between light and medium-bodied. I served it cold, as I’ve had to refrigerate some of my wines this summer, which was better in my mind than having them cook in the heat. The color is a beautiful light ruby-red. On the palate are plums, mint, a touch of cedar, and a definite finish of butterscotch. My sensation of butterscotch was unusual (to me), and I felt vindicated in this feeling after reading and attempting to translate this page describing the wine on the Institut Agricole Régional site: “..talvolta confinante con il caramello“, which apparently means ‘almost neighboring with caramel’ (literal translation).
On May 15th I had the pleasure of tasting through some wines of different vintages presented by maker Ferdinando Zanusso of i Clivi of Friuli, Italy. The tasting was held at Lower Falls Wine Co. of Newton, MA (located on Rt. 16 on the Newton-Wellesley line). This is an elegant light-infused wine shop with beautiful blond wood fixtures and a well-heeled clientèle.
I had previously enjoyed the i Clivi 2000 Galea Rosso (100% Merlot), but know that i Clivi is more generally known for elegant white wines made from local grape varietals Tocai Friulano, Verduzzo Friulano, Malvasia Istriana, and others. Friuli is at the upper right tip of Italy, and the 2 i Clivi vineyards (Brazan, Galea) are very nearly in Slovenia near the Adriatic Sea in Collio and Colli Orientali del Fruili D.O.C.s, respectively. i Clivi will be certified with the next vintage as 100% Organic.
I tasted the 1999 Galea Bianco and found it to be aromatically very exciting and quite complex with a beautiful lingering finish. The 2002 Galea and Brazan Bianco cuvees are subtly different but both quite pleasing. The 2003 Galea (the latest vintage) is from a very hot growing year and not quite as refined as either 2002, to my palate.
Mr. Zanusso answered many questions about his Organic winemaking techniques. I avoided asking him about Friuli cult winemaker Josko Gravner, about whom I know he has strong opinions, even though I was somewhat curious.
On April 26th I attended another big mass tasting of wines at The Vineyard in North Andover, MA. This is located on Rt. 114 very nearly across the street from my Alma Mater Merrimack College (where if I recall correctly the preferred potent potable was beer, LOTS of beer). I love these big mass tastings as it gives me, as a newly hatched wine enthusiast, a chance to expand my palate, as it were, and figure out what I like. Also I’ve decided to try to join the Wine Century Club. The WCC sends you a neat certificate if you have tasted at least 100 different grape varietals (compliance is by honor system, and they do email you a nice spreadsheet for keeping track). I’m up to 56 at last count, since last November – I must be some kind of wino.
There were 48 wines there at The Vineyard to be tasted from 6 different distributors. I scoped out the wines beforehand so as not to get my palate fatigued on the less worthy stuff. For instance, I noted that the Bogle Pinot Noir received a VaynerPAZZZZZZ from Gary Vaynerchuk so pazzzed on tasting that one. I also went to the table first with the potentially most interesting selections.
I found several nice wines that pleased my tasting apparatus and went home with a few. Firstly, the Morgon Chardonnay Metallico 2006, a really delicious & crisp Monterey CA chard that I can only describe as mouth watering. Also splurged on the Clayhouse Vineyard Estate Cuvée 2004 which is a really fine “Rhone blend” of Grenache, Petite Syrah, and Syrah. This received the following review from Stephen Tanzer/IWC Sept/Oct 06 review (from Clayhouse Vineyard website):
2004 Clayhouse Estate & Vineyard Estate Cuvee Paso Robles 85
($30; 43% syrah, 43% petite sirah, 14% grenache) Bright ruby-red. Raspberry liqueur, dark chocolate and pepper on the rather roasted, exotic nose. Sweet, dense and unrefined, with a somewhat gritty element of torrefaction and a saline quality. This is stuffed with dark berry and spice flavors but comes across as rather ungiving.
I thought this cuvee was the most giving thing I tasted at the Vineyard :-). Well, maybe a year in a half in bottle since this review has made it more generous. Tanzer liked the Clayhouse Hillside Cuvee 2004 much more (91) so I feel just obliged to try that out sometime as well. Next I found the overperforming Santa Ema Reserve Merlot 2004 from Maipo Valley in Chile. At about 10 bucks, this is a must buy. In fact, if I had a ‘house red’, this would probably be it. Lastly, I fell for the very fruity Pure Love Layer Cake Primitivo 2006. The Italian varietal Primitivo has been proven via DNA tests to equivalent to the CA varietal Zinfandel. This wine was jammy and aromatically reminded me of cake batter, which doesn’t bother me. We also picked up 2 really excellent Sauvignon Blancs – the Marlborough New Zealand Dryland Sauvignon Blanc 2007 which was just about the most varietally correct, crisp SB I’ve ever had, and the interestingly fizzy & zesty Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc 2006 from Sonoma.
On April 23rd I attended a tasting of the wines of famous Tuscan producer Isole e Olena at Salem Wine Imports (in Salem, MA) with the North Shore Winers, which is a wine interest group organized by Richard of A Passionate Foodie. The wines were being poured by the famous Isole e Olena winemaker himself Paolo di Marchi. The laws governing how to label Tuscan wines are rather byzantine, having to do with the percentage of Sangiovese grapes and the percentage and types of other grapes, if any, included. There’s an interesting article about this here.
The most famous offering being poured was the highly regarded 2004 Cepparello, his 100% Sangiovese ‘Super-Tuscan’. He cannot label it as a Chianti Classico Reserva as it doesn’t have enough ‘other’ indigenous Tuscan grapes in it. This wine is refined with silky tannins, very enjoyable. Mr. di Marchi is an expert in Sangiovese grape clone selection. Also being poured were his Chardonnay, Chianti Classico, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. There were also a few other wines from the Piedmont in northern Italy that were outstanding. I picked up a bottle of the Chianti Classico (90 points Stephen Tanzer/IWC) and will enjoy with some Italian food some time soon, undoubtedly.
Salem Wine Imports is small, but has a carefully selected inventory of wines with emphasis on outstanding imports from Italy.
For detailed tasting notes, be sure to check Richard’s blog soon (he took notes – I didn’t). The tasting room was small, hot, and many people showed up to taste the famous producer’s offerings. Overall, a beautiful day in historic Salem.
Before I attended the tasting, I had some time to kill, so did a tour of the Salem Witch Museum. It’s more of a pre-recorded presentation in-the-round with scary dioramas of girls having hysteria, people being tried, pressed to death, and hung. 19 people were killed in Salem 1692 – but apparently hundreds of thousands of presumed witches in Europe were killed around the same time – where is their museum, I wonder? Next tasting in Salem I will allocate more time beforehand and visit the awesome Peabody Essex Museum.
Saturday we attended another wonderful wine tasting – this time at Harrington Wine & Liquors in Chelmsford, MA. Available to try were 50 wines from 6 different distributors. This was a well-attended event, apparently an annual Spring happening at Harrington’s. There was no theme to the tasting – just cool new wines to try. There were grapes, cheeses, and crackers there to cleanse the palate/munch on. A few people seem to recognize me because I bring that special glass from Pier-1 to tastings. Anyway, we did enjoy this quite a bit and I wanted to note a few of my favorites. My wine of the day was: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina 2004. This was just the silkiest and smoothest Chianti, and so well balanced. Classy effort. Well, I’ve figured out that I’m really turned on by silky tannins and turned off by rough, grainy, or excessively mouth-puckering tannins. This is not so surprising in this relative newbie oenophile stage. Another surprise was the scarily named TAIT The Ball Buster Barossa Valley 2006. Despite the moniker this wine possesses a smooth refinement on top of the fruit-bomb flavorfulness that I really appreciate. Just deliciousness all the way. I also approved of the Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois Rosé 2006 which is a pleasant quaffer blend of syrah, merlot, and gewurztraminer. I was very impressed with the d’Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz/Viognier 2006, which was a big wine with gobs of fruit and gorgeous aromatics.
Tastings are so great for trying different producers, countries, regions, varietals… expanding your palate, opening your vinous mind, and for practical consumer purposes, testing out before you buy.
Afterwards we went to Sakura for sushi that was fabulous. I’ve never had actual raw sushi before (only CA rolls).
This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme is hosted by Spittoon. The task this month is to describe an Italian red wine in 7 words – no more, no less. This is sort of an easy challenge for someone like me whose tasting notes are pretty minimalist anyway. My choice for this assignment (which I choose to accept) is the La Corte Salice Salentino 2005. Cost: $10. This is 80-85% Negroamaro and 15-20% Malvasia Nera. It comes from a region in Italy (Puglia) on the ‘heel’ of the ‘boot’. I was seduced into buying this by an enthusiastic hand-written shelf-talker at Colonial Spirits. Here is a view of the bottle with my trusty watch-Hedgehog Prickles keeping a close eye on the situation:
So… OK, a somewhat oaky nose w/dark fruits (mainly plums) and beets? On the palate, pretty acidic/sour, medium bodied, lighting up my bitterness taste buds, not terribly tannic, not fruit-forward enough for me. Like most Italian reds, screaming for Italian food pairing! Yes, better with cheese. Now for the 7 word summation:
Salice Salentino Is Too Bitter For Me