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What a night! Notes from OTBN 2020

March 14, 2020 7 comments

Open That Bottle Night is the best wine holiday out there. It is nice to celebrate all the individual grapes – Chardonnay Day, Albarigño Day and the likes – but that can’t compare with an opportunity to open a special or the most special bottle you have in your possession, and most importantly, share it with fellow oenophiles, the people who appreciate and respect that special bottle.

I’ve been lucky for two years in the row to be invited to someone’s house to celebrate OTBN – last year Jim VanBergen of JvBUncorked fame was our host, and this year John Fodera of the Tuscan Vines hosted of amazing wine night.

John did a great job organizing this memorable night for the group of people most of whom he never met face to face (yours truly included – we had been following each other for close to 10 years, but managed to avoid any face to face contacts until now) – he developed a loyal group of followers as Italian wines expert, and I’m sure everyone was happy to finally meet him in person.

John managed to come up with a great program. After the round of Lambrusco bubbles (which is the rave nowadays) we started the evening with two blind tastings. We had 2 groups of 3 wines each, trying to identify at least a place and type of wine, and ideally even the producer. We also voted for the group’s favorites. I generally suck at blind tastings, so I did poorly (as expected). I also decided not to use the external factors in the tasting (I.e., John is Italian wine guy, so we should simply expect all the wines to be Italian; another guess would be that as John’s blog is called Tuscan Vines, all the wines will be from Tuscany).

Here are my notes for the first flight:

Wine 1: Touch of mint, full-body, good structure, a touch of black currant – super Tuscan?

Wine 2: great concentration, dark fruit, layered, silky smooth – Montepulciano di Abruzzo?

Wine 3: nice fruit, bright, good structure. Super Tuscan? New World?

Needless to say that I was absolutely wrong with all three. Again, I could’ve used a bit of psychology and figure out that John would be pouring only Tuscan wines, but I deliberately refused to do so. The wines were perfectly polished and complex, all three, without screaming “I’m Chianti” with the appearance of leather, tobacco, or tart cherries. To make a long story short, all three wines happened to be Chianti Classico Gran Selezione from 2016 vintage, provided to John by Chianti Classico Consortium. In the order of appearance, these were the wines:

2016 Fèlsina Chianti Classico Colonia Gran Selezione DOCG ($NA, 100% Sangiovese)

2016 Rocca delle Macìe Riserva di Fizzano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ($NA, 95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot)

2016 Fontodi Vigna Del Sorbo Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ($NA, 100% Sangiovese)

I want to add that the second wine, Rocca delle Macìe Riserva di Fizzano, won a popular vote with 5 votes out of 10 – this was also my favorite wine.

The next flight consisted again of three wines. Here are my notes:

Wine 1: dark fruit, eucalyptus, crushed berries, green tannins – Bordeaux blend, can be from anywhere

Wine 2: Roasted meat, plums, salami, plums on the palate – Grenache/GSM? Can be from anywhere

Wine 3: too aggressive, green tannins, black currant. Bordeaux blend, can be from anywhere.

Again, I should’ve expected another line of Italian wines, but I thought John could play some tricks, so I didn’t go with an obvious idea of Super Tuscans. And I was wrong. All three wines were well known Super Tuscans (these three wines were courtesy of Kobrand Wines):

2017 Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno Toscana IGP ($75, 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot)

2016 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto Toscana IGP ($54, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot)

2016 Lodovico Antinori Tenuta di Biserno Il Pino di Biserno Toscana IGP ($70, Cabernet Franc with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot)

I really didn’t appreciate the tannic nature of wines number one and number three, and those tannins were not only aggressive but literally biting. Oh well. Wine #1, Oreno, was the crowd’s favorite (7 votes out of 10). This time around my vote didn’t match the majority, as I went with the wine #2, Guidalberto, as this was the only drinkable wine for my palate.

After finishing the tasting and discussing the results, it was time to eat. First, there was pasta bolognese, which John masterfully prepared:

And then there was meat. John decided to spoil the group with 2.5” porterhouse steaks, to make Bistecca Fiorentine:

We went to work the grill which was an interesting adventure, mining the grill to prevent flare-ups on a cold night. We actually had to make two attempts to get the steaks right, as they were still mooing after the first pass. But we managed to produce something delicious in the end and not ruin the amazing steaks.

Now, time to meditate. Nope, this was not an organized food prayer session. What happened was that the bottle of Soldera Brunello di Montalcino was poured out of the decanter. Mike Giordano brought a bottle 1999 Soldera Brunello de Montalcino in completely unassuming, low key, way. Gianfranco Soldera was a legend, who bought a property called Case Basse in Montalcino in 1972, with an aim to produce the best Brunello wines. By 1990s Soldera wines reached cult status, coupling impeccable quality with small production. Talking about Gianfranco Soldera and his wines would be best suited for a separate dedicated post, as controversy completely surrounded him; I have to say that I never expected to taste his wines – until this memorable OTBN.

Just look at this color…

1999 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino DOCG was truly a meditation wine. “Meditation wine” might not be a simple term to explain in words, but if you like wines, there is a chance that you experienced it one time or the other. The nose, the aroma, the bouquet of this wine were simply magical. Taking the whiff from the glass, the time was stopping – no need to try to analyze the amazing palette of flavors to come up with individual descriptors – this wine should be described purely on the sensory level, as every smell was bringing a pure, hedonistic pleasure. I didn’t care for food, I didn’t care for talking – I just wanted to take another smell, and another, and another. When I finally took a sip, the wine was magnificent on the palate too – a perfect balance of plums, cherries, textural layers, structure, sage, rosemary – a perfect harmony of flavors. It is quite possible that this was my wine of the year 2020 – I know it is only March, but this was an experience that is seriously hard to beat. I don’t feel that I should even try rating this wine, but if I would dare, this would be my second ever 10- (don’t ask me why not 10, I have no idea what my perfect 10 wine should smell and taste like).

After the meditation session, just a few words on the dinner. In addition to the delicious meat, John made a couple of side dishes – the sautéed white beans were an absolute hit, adored by all literally as much as the beef. John actually promised to share a recipe – you can find the recipe in this post.

This was not the end of our wine program. We also had 2016 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi – Campochiarenti is a producer John is always raving about in his posts, so it was definitely interesting to finally taste this wine (Campochiarenti wines at the moment are not imported into the US, but available directly from the winery). The wine was classic and simple, and for about $12 (if it will be imported into the US, this is expected retail price) it will be definitely a great value. I brought a bottle of 2010 No Girls Grenache from Walla Walla in Washington, which was very tasty but radically non-Italian, so I don’t think it was well-received. I also brought one of my recent finds – 2016 Pedro Cancela Selecção do Enólogo from Dão, which was an old world and a lot closer to the overall theme, and an amazing QPR at $9 per bottle at the local Bottle King store. 2010 Capanna Brunello Di Montalcino was delicious, but it was a tough call to get everyone excited after experiencing the Soldera. Lastly, we had 1999 Natale Fantino Nepas Nebbiolo Passito Piedmont which was interestingly dry and light, but not necessarily my favorite.

That gives you more or less a full picture. We also had a wonderful spread of Italian desserts, and truth be told, for the first time ever I tasted cannoli which I liked. It appears that the good cannoli should be filled with cream at the moment of purchase and not before – now I will know.

And now we are done. How was your OTBN 2020? Cheers!

Benvenuto Brunello, or Notes from Brunello Deep Immersion

February 2, 2014 4 comments

This is not a quiz post, however – let me start with the question: what do you think of Brunello di Montalcino, the noble wine made out of the Sangiovese? Well, technically it is Sangiovese, but in practicality Brunello di Montalcino is made out of the grape called Sangiovese Grosso, sometimes simply called Brunello. When people need to provide an example of the best Italian wines, the triple-B, Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello, are the very first names which cross oenophile’s mind, so this is the Brunello we are talking about here. So, what is your experience with Brunello?

To carry the denomination of Brunello di Montalcino DOC or DOCG, the wines must be made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes, and age at least 2 years in oak casks, and then at least 4 month in the bottle (at least 6 month for Riserva designation), but many producers age it for a lot longer. First time Brunello wines can appear on the store shelves is 5 years after the vintage date.

There are tons of books and web sites with countless pieces of information about the region, the history of the wines, the food, the people – I’m not going to simply repeat all of that. However, I can’t resist to share this magnificent picture of the Montalcino, as it was shared by the Brunello Consortium – I generally only use my own pictures in the blog, but this is soooo beautiful!

MOntalcino Panoramica Source: Brunello Consortium

Montalcino Panoramic. Source: Brunello Consortium

To celebrate the release of 2009 vintage, The Consortium of the Brunello di Montalcino Wine (Cosorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino), an association of all Brunello producers, arranged the series of seminars and tastings in New York and Los Angeles, and I was fortunate enough to attend the event in New York – hence this post where I’m sharing my impressions. Before I will get down to the details and inundate you with tasting notes and pictures, let me share some general notes and observations (yes, you can call it an executive summary):

  1. According to the representative of the consortium, 2009 was a “4 star year” as opposed to the 5-star, such as 2007 or 2001 (or upcoming 2010). In 2009, growing season had rainy spring, but good hot and sunny September, which helped with overall quality.  2009 Brunello supposed to be more approachable at the younger age (my note: some were, and some were very far from being approachable).
  2. Some interesting facts:
    • There are 90 clones of Sangiovese used in the production of Brunello di Montalcino.
    • Montalcino is a large region, so different areas of Montalcino region produce different wines, due to vastly different soils and climate conditions (what is Italian for Terroir?) Unfortunately, those different areas are not indicated in any way on the label – you actually have to know the location of the vineyards for each respective producer to know what to expect. The special guide produced for the show had very helpful tiny maps showing the approximate location of each and every winery represented in the guide.
    • The use of oak (type, duration, etc) is changed from vintage to vintage.
  3. I actually think that while deemed approachable, 2009 still needs time. Few of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Brunellos which snuck into the tasting, showed up just magnificently.
  4. The 2012 vintage of Rosso di Montalcino, a simpler, typically less oaked wine, also made out of Sangiovese Grosso, is showing up in the stores. This wines should be ready to drink now (but many will age well too, depends on the winemaking style).
  5. Based on the tasting, I much preferred 2011 Rosso di Montalcino over the 2012 – don’t want to think too hard about the reason, but if you are looking for delicious bottle of a good Italian wine to drink now, 2011 Rosso di Montalcino might be “it”.
  6. Don’t know if this is a trend (and definitely don’t want to be spotting any trends), but in this tasting, there were surprisingly large number of corked bottles. I had to call out at least two bottles, and with another three I ate my words, only mumbling “aha, this is good”. I do attend trade tastings regularly, and this is not normal. I rarely drink Brunello, so if anyone who is reading this actually drinks a lot of Montalcino wines, I’m curious to know your opinion. Bottom line here – trust your palate. If you think the wine is corked, most likely it actually is!

Now, let’s talk about the seminar. Both the seminar and the tasting were, of course, about Montalcino wines. The difference is that during the seminar you are sitting down and listening to the presenter(s) as opposed to walking around with the glass and the book in your hand – but most importantly, you have enough time to completely analyze the wine – color, nose, palate – everything at your own pace, one by one. Here are my notes regarding the 8 wines presented during the seminar, in the order of tasting:

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2009 Capanne Ricci Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $54.99, aged 3 years in large oak barrels plus bottle age). Drinkability: 7
Color: Garnet color
Nose: Very pronounced and intense, with cherries and leather
Palate: Austere, just powerful tannins, some good background acidity. Way too tannic to be appreciated at the moment.

2009 Col D’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $55, aged 3 years in Slavonic and French oak casks plus 12 months in the bottle). Drinkability: 7+
Color: Bright ruby
Nose: Touch of plums
Palate: Nice cherries, much softer than the previous wine, can be drunk right now

2009 Loacker Corte Pavone Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (15% ABV, $75, aged 3 years in oak). Drinkability: 8-
Color: Dark garnet color
Nose: Spectacular, intense, with a lot of bright fruit.
Palate: Cherries and lots of bright fruit, has a lot going on. Still needs time, but very enjoyable already.

2009 Palazzo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $70, aged 36-40 months in oak, 8-12 months in the bottle). Drinkability: 7-
Color: Dark ruby
Nose: Overall quite restrained, with a hint of cherries
Palate: Cherries and then tannins and only tannins on the palate. The tannins feel over-extracted – this wine might never open.

2009 Pinino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14% ABV, $50, aged 30 months in Slavonic oak). Drinkability: 7
Color: Garnet with brick-ish hue
Nose: The fruitiest nose of all. Cherries and blueberries.
Palate: Cherries and tannins. Tannins overly intense in front of the mouth, and somewhat uni-dimensional.

2009 Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $69.99, aged 12 months in new and old french barriques,  18 months in large Slavonic oak barrels, at least 12 months in the bottle). Drinkability: 7+
Color: Garnet.
Nose: Nice and balanced, with the hint of cinnamon and coffee.
Palate: Nice, open, with bright cherries and more manageable, but still aggressive tannins. Can be enjoyed now, but still needs more time.

2009 Il Grappolo Fortius Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $N/A, aging in oak barrels plus bottle age). Drinkability: 8
Color: Garnet with brickish hue
Nose: Very promising, elegant, with cherries and raspberries.
Palate: Beautiful, lots of fruit, ripe cherries, present but not overpowering tannins. Best of tasting.

2009 Tenuta San Giorgio Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $55-$60, aged 12 months in French oak barrels, then 24 months in large Slavonic oak casks, 12 months in the bottle). Drinkability: 7
Color: Garnet with brickish hue
Nose: soft and expressive, but shows off alcohol
Palate: nice fruit, sour (very sour) cherries, pepper in the back is a bit out of place. Aggressive tannins.

For the walk around tasting, I did my best to taste as many wines as possible, before my palate gave up (it is very hard to taste only red, intensely tannic wines – remember, there were no whites)  and the place got really really crowded. I used the same system of plus signs (+, ++, +++) as I do in the trade tastings – of course with few of the ++++ exceptions. Below is the list of most exceptional wines I experienced in the tasting:

2009 Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – beautiful! +++

2007 Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – wow! ++++

2009 Belpoggio Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – very nice, approacheable

2012 Belpoggio Rosso di Montalcino DOC – beautiful fruit, open, herbs

2011 Brunelli Rosso di Montalcino DOC – integrated, beautiful! +++

2006 Camigliano Gualto Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – beautiful! nice depth, density. +++

2011 Capanna Rosso di Montalcino DOC – beautiful, open +++

2011 Caparzo Rosso di Montalcino DOC – one of the most unusual. Intense strawberries on the palate.

2009 Il Palazzone Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – nice, good fruit +++

2007 Il Poggione Vigna Paganelli Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – excellent, powerful and balanced

2011 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino DOC – excellent, great fruit +++

2008 La Togata Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – probably the most delicate, beautiful fruit, tobacco in the back ++++

2008 Podere Le Ripi Lupi Sirene Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – wow! beautiful! open! ++++

2006 Podere Le Ripi Lupi Sirene Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – wow! ++++

2009 Podere Le Ripi Amore & Magia Rosso di Montalcino DOC – beautiful! complex, Crème brûlée (no sugar!) on the palate ++++

2008 Podere Le Ripi Bonsai Rosso di Montalcino DOC – wow!

2007 Ridolfi Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – very good! needs more time +++

2009 Sasso di Sole Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – excellent fruit! +++

2004 Sasso di Sole Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – plums, cherries, wow! Perfect complexity, both nose and palate ++++

2011 Sasso di Sole Rosso di Montalcino DOC – spectacular nose, good fruit, tobacco, earthiness +++1/2

2012 Talenti Rosso di Montalcino DOC – tobacco, complexity, balance! +++

2009 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – sweat and beautiful! +++

2008 Uccelliera Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – wow! stunning! ++++

2012 Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino DOC – great! tobacco, fruit, exellent! +++

2011 Verbena Rosso di Montalcino DOC – wow! ++++

2011 Villa Poggio Salvi Rosso di Montalcino DOC – excellent! +++

2012 Voliero Rosso di Montalcino DOC – beautiful! +++

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And we are done! But before we part, I have to leave you with the drool picture, the one which makes the oenophile’s heart race:

Old Brunello wines. Source: Brunello Consortium

Old Brunello wines. Source: Brunello Consortium

This was a great experience, and I’m already looking forward to welcoming Brunello 2010. I have a sneaky suspicion it will be pretty tasty… Cheers!

Taste Expectations, Or Notes From The Blind Tasting

February 28, 2012 2 comments

If you had been drinking wine for a while, I would expect that you have developed certain taste expectations. As you drink the wines from the different regions, you find that the wines from the same geographic locality made from the same grapes would have somewhat of a similar taste and style (yes, of course, I just described what is properly called Terroir without using the word itself). At some point, the associations between the origin of the wine and its expected taste become engrained in your mind. Looking at the bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, you are expecting to find bright acidity and citrus flavor profile even without opening the bottle. Looking at the bottle of California Cabernet Sauvignon you are expecting to find good amount of fruit with some explicit black currant notes and probably good amount of tannins – note that I’m really trying to generalize here, but you got the point.

This is the way the wine was for a very long time. However, when you taste modern wines, do you have a feeling that your expectations no longer valid and don’t match the reality any longer? I had this experience many times lately, when Amarone didn’t taste like anything expected (you can find my rant of pain here), or when unoaked Chardonnay tastes rather like Pinot Grigio – and there are many more examples of “taste confusion”.

Recently, I had another case of “broken” taste expectations – this time it was somewhat sanctioned, as we did a double (almost) blind tasting. The theme was set a bit ambitiously, as France and Italy. The “ambitious” part is coming from the fact that these two countries on their own have such a variety of wine production that it makes literally impossible to recognize the grape or at least the style of wine (either one of those countries would provide a plentiful selection for a double blind tasting on its own). Anyway, with the main goal of having fun with the wines, we actually had a great time.

We blind tasted 5 wines, which happened to be 4 reds and one white. For what it worth, here are my notes as we were moving along:

#1 – Very nice, a bit too sweet. I think Italy, Super Tuscan/Barbera/Dolcetto

#2 – earthy, nice, little green bell peppers, roasted notes? Bordeaux?

#3 – France, nice bright fruit, good sweetness, noit enough acidity? No idea about the grape.

#4 – interesting, lots of fruit, very nice – no idea.

#5 – great, round, good fruit – no idea.

While I understand that these a rather limited wine descriptions, would you try to guess what was what? Well, you can see the answers below in the picture (wines are set in the order we tasted them, left to right):

 

Here is an actual list: 2007 Comm. G. B. Burlotto Barolo Verduno; 1995, Chateau Haut-Corbin Saint-Emillion Grand Cru; 2009 Petracupa Greco di Tufo;  2005 Pascal Marchand Pinot Noir and L’oca Ciuca Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – now compare that with my guesses above…

In case you are curious – of course we voted for the favorite – Brunello (#5) was a clear winner, with Greco de Tufo (#3) trailing it closely behind (one point difference).

Where is the case of broken taste expectations? Fruit forward, bright and loaded wine with well masked tannins and almost non-existing earthiness, bright purple in color – 2007 Barolo? I’m very far from Barolo expert, but this doesn’t match my expectations of Barolo, albeit well decanted. Even winning Brunello was quite uncharacteristic, lacking earthiness and tartness, the traditional Brunello bite. I can’t comment on Greco do Tufo (it was actually quite nice), and the only varietally correct wine was 1995 Bordeaux. Am I making too big of a deal from varietal correctness and taste expectations here? It depends. On its own, both Barolo and Brunello were good wines, but if I would order either one in the restaurant with the goal of pairing with food, that could’ve been quite disappointing…

Okay, I can’t leave you with this sad impression of disappointment – it was not that bad at all. Also, we had a great cast of supporting wines, even with some pleasant surprises.

First, two sparkling wines. Chevalier de Grenelle Cuvee Reserve Saumur AOC, a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc with 10% Chardonnay was very good, full bodies sparkling wine, with good notes of apple and toasted oak. In addition to good wine, this was also a very special bottle – a magnum with metal imprinted label. Second sparkling wine was even more unusual – Abrau-Durso Semi-Dry – a sparkling wine from Russia, made by reincarnated famous producer of sparkling wines for Russian Tzar (original company was created in 1870). This wine had just a hint (a whiff) of sweetness, lightly toasted apple and nutmeg on the palate. Very refreshing and delicate. I suggest you will find a bottle and try for yourself – there is a good chance you might like it.

And for the last surprise – 2002 Fontanafredda Barolo DOCG. Why surprising? If you will look at the Wine Spectator’s Vintage Chart, you will see that 2002 was regarded as a very bad year for Barolo, with the rating of 72 and recommendation of wines being past prime. I decanted this bottle at some time in the late morning, and by the early evening, when we actually drunk it, it opened up very nicely – while it was lacking powerful tannins, otherwise it was quite enjoyable wine, very balanced with quite a bit of finesse.

Play with your wine, get friends together and do the blind tasting – I guarantee you will learn something new about your palate, your wine preferences and may be even your friends!

Cheers!

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