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Anatomy of Flavor

July 22, 2022 4 comments

Anatomy of Flavor???

The author clearly goes on a tangent here. Everyone knows what anatomy means, and it has nothing to do with the wine. And nevertheless, let’s take a look at some definitions and see if we can actually analyze the anatomy of flavor.

Webster’s dictionary defines anatomy in a few different ways:

 

Definition number five describes anatomy as

structural makeup especially of an organism or any of its parts

Anatomy explains to us how living things are constructed. How do they move, jump, roll, smile, and cry.

Of course, the flavor is not a living being – but it is amorous, it changes, it morphs, it is perceived, and it is perceived differently every time, depending on many, many, many factors that we can spend days and days discussing.

I like definition number three more, as it is more appropriate for our purposes:

the art of separating the parts of an organism in order to ascertain their position, relations, structure, and function

Anatomy offers a firm structure – can we apply the same to flavor and understand how our perception of it works? Mostly, and luckily, no – we can’t. We have no idea how we will perceive the flavor of the particular wine once it is open – of course, we have expectations, but this is only one of the subjective factors in our perception of flavor, one of many. Instead, I can offer you to look at how the flavor is being built.

There is also definition number six:

a separating or dividing into parts for detailed examination

Anatomy explains to us how our muscles work and how they grow. Let’s see if we can take a similar look at the flavor of the wine.

We can’t do this with any random wine – if someone makes single-grape Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir wines, all those wines are not connected to each other, they are unique and different – we can not taste Syrah and make expectations about Pinot Noir (assuming these are good quality wines) – as they have nothing in common. Most importantly, they better taste differently. But – there are wines which are perfectly suitable for our exercise. Do I have an example? Of course, glad you asked, but before we talk about particular wines, let’s take a look at the region they are coming from. Let’s go to Northern Italy, to the region called Valpolicella.

Valpolicella is a winemaking region east of Lake Garda, in the province of Verona, which is in turn located in Veneto. The region is influenced by the Alps to the north, Lake Garda to the west, and the Adriatic Sea to the east. Valpolicella received its DOC status in 1968, and Amarone and Recioto received the DOCG status in 2009. In terms of DOC wine production volume, Valpolicella is the second region in Italy after Chianti.

There are a few types of wines produced in the region – Valpolicella DOC, light wines considered to be similar in style to Beaujolais, Valpolicella Superiore, which should be aged at least one year, Valpolicella Ripasso, and, the most coveted wines, Amarone and Recioto.

It is not exactly known when winemaking started in Valpolicella. Still, it is typically associated with the ancient Greeks who were famous for making sweet wines made from partially dried grapes. That tradition of drying grapes before pressing is also a requirement for both Recioto and Amarone wines – this converts grapes to almost raisins and concentrates flavors. A lot of attention is also paid to preventing any sort of rot setting on the grapes as this imparts undesirable flavors.

Talking about red grapes, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara are considered the main winemaking grapes, even though many winemakers are trying to avoid Molinara as of late. Corvina should constitute between 45% and 95% of the blend – but up to 50% of Corvina can be substituted with Corvionone, which was identified as a distinct variety and not a clone of Corvina only in 1993. Out of all Val[policella wines, Ripasso stands aside as quite unique – it is made by macerating the Valpolicella wine with the pomace (grape skins) left after making Amarone and Recioto wines, which enriches the flavor of the wine – Valpolicella Ripasso is often referred to as “baby Amarone” (or “poor man Amarone” – you take your pick).

Of all wines made in Valpolicella (most of them are red), Amarone stands apart as the most sought-after. The grapes have to dry for anywhere between 3 and 4 months before they can be pressed to make Amarone. Those dried fruit flavors are retained by the final wine, assuming it is well made. The combination of the dried fruit aromas and powerful, dry, usually high-alcohol wine creates really a unique experience – if you have not had Amarone before, this is something that needs to be experienced by any wine lover.

Also going back to our “premise” with this post – to take a deeper look at the build-up, the anatomy of the flavor, Valpolicella wines offer an almost unique opportunity. Most of the Valpolicella wines are made from the same set of grapes, sometimes even used in the same proportions. The winemaking process is what creates the difference. Base Valpolicella wine can be aged for a year to get to Superiore designation. The same base wine can be macerated with Amarone pomace to become the Ripasso. The same grapes that are used for basic Valpolicella can also dry for 3-4 months, and then become an Amarone.

Let’s go one level deeper and look at some practical examples, shall we?

Tedeschi family ancestors purchased vineyards in Valpolicella four centuries ago, in 1630. The modern history of the Tedeschi winemaking family started 200 years ago, in 1824 when the family winery was established by Niccolò Tedeschi. Today the winery is operated by the fifth generation of the family, continuing the winemaking traditions.

Tedeschi estate is located in the village of Pedemonte di Valpolicella, with 75 acres of vineyards planted on the 200 acres estate. Tedeschi firmly believe that good wines are made in the vineyard, and they focus not only on showcasing the terroir but also conduct studies to understand the soil composition in the vineyard. Another important winemaking element is the use of not only the main 3 Valpolicella grapes (Corvine, Covinone, Rondinella) but the full range of grapes including Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, and Forselina. They also produce all types of Valpolicella wines – Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone, and Recioto.

For our “anatomy” exercise, I had an opportunity to taste 3 of the Tedeschi wines – Valpolicella Superiore, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone della Valpolicela. All three wines are made from the identical set of grapes, used in the same proportions, so the difference is only in the winemaking techniques. Below are my notes with some additional information about the wines.

2019 Capitel Nicalò Valpolicella Superiore DOC (13.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 1 month, 1-1.5 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark ruby
Captivating nose of earthy dark fruit, tobacco, rocks
Beautiful fruit, blackberries, cherries, cherry pit, tart, focused, perfectly structured, perfectly balanced – lots of pleasure.
8/8+. Delicious.

2018 Capitel San Rocco Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC (14.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, alcoholic fermentation on the marc of Amarone and Recioto for 8-10 days, 1/2 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Garnet
A hint of dried fruit, toasted nuts
Round fruit, cherries, soft, approachable, earthy undertones, well-integrated tannins, a hint of tobacco on the finish.
8/8+, delicious.

The name Marne 180 is a nod to the marl soils where the vineyard is located and 180 is degrees of exposure, from south-east to south-west. Source: Tedeschi

2018 Marne 180 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (16.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 4 months, 30 months in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet
Dark, concentrated, forest underbrush
Dried fruit, cherries, intermingled layers, powerful, well structured, delicious.
8+

Can we conclude anything from our flavor research? The wines share some similarities, but this is probably all I can say. I don’t see a clear progression from one wine to another, they are simply tasty wines, each one in its own right. Does it mean that we can’t talk about the anatomy of the flavor? I think we still can, but it is definitely more complicated than it seems.

The important outcome of this research project is three tasty wines from Tedeschi which I’m happy to recommend to you for your daily drinking pleasure. And this is the best conclusion we can make. Cheers!

Pineapples and Wine Snobbery

May 19, 2011 1 comment

One of the great pleasures of travel is ability to try local food and wine – said it many times before, nothing original here. However, as I’m in Hawaii now, I gladly obey that simple principal. Talking about food, it is a lot of Asian fusion – we had being to a few places, food is consistently very good so far. But – let’s talk about wine.

Hawaiian wine – what can I find here? Yes, I know I’m in Hawaii and not in France. Of course the wine is sold in every supermarket, Walmart and so on – and of course it is wine from all over the world. But we want to go local, remember? So, what is the local grape in Hawaii? I’m sure there is one, as wine is produced in all 50 states in US. Until we will figure the grapes out, let’s think fruit.

Yep, so here it is – a bottle of Tedeschi Vineyards Maui Blanc, a Pineapple wine. Let’s read together wine description from the back label: “Maui Blanc is a wine made from the juice of fresh golden pineapples. Fermentation of the rich golden juice takes place in temperature controlled vats and is stopped at near dryness. The result is a soft, dry fruity wine with an unmistakable pineapple bouquet. Serve chilled.” Don’t know if you typically sport reading back labels on the wine bottles, but based on this description, what do you expect from this wine?

I often talk about expectations in this blog. Expectations is one of essential factors which can affect the way you perceive the wine – at least until the first or second sip. While expectations are based on many factors (you can find more in-depth analysis here), the breadth of your horizon as wine drinker is one of the factors I want to touch on here. Some of the lucky wine lovers try a great wine, like first growth Bordeaux and magnificent Grand Crus of Burgundy and they are set for life in their wine preferences. The story of the most I believe is different. People often start from White Zinfandel, then discover that red wine exists and they like it. After expanding the variety of the personally acceptable red wines, it is possible that some of the wine lovers will stop moving out of the familiar circle and will declare that no other wines would worth their attention. This is the birth-point of wine snobbery. Some people will never move on. But many will – by accident, or by influence of overly insisting friends, they will try a white or rose or desert wine – and discover that the wine world is much bigger that they originally thought. From that point on, they are on the way to becoming real wine connoisseurs.

Sometimes I wonder where am I myself in that journey and how much of the wine snobbery I still keep. Don’t know. I’m really trying not to judge the wine by its cover, err – label, and all of my blind tasting experience is helping to keep the humble view into the wine world. Now coming back to the Maui Blanc, the Pineapple wine, I had no expectations. Here is the bottle, I said I will try it, let’s see what will happen.

The wine actually was very good (in other words, better than I expected despite having no expectations). Nice bright acidity, lots of fruit on the palate (pineapple fruit, needless to say). It probably fell a bit short on the finish, as it didn’t evolve anywhere. But in any case, this is very drinkable wine for the summer day (I will put drinkability at 7).

Try to step out of the familiar circle tonight – just grab a bottle you never tried before, hold your expectations and give it your best try – and prepare to be surprised. There is a good chance that you will be surprised – and in a good way. To the wonderful discoveries – cheers!

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