Thursday, November 3, 2016

Further Down The Rabbit Hole: Burgundy 2016

For the longest time, I saw Burgundy as forbidden fruit. I would delve into a premier cru here or an upper-level village wine there. From time to time, a good friend would share something truly special, and I would swoon. As a lover of all things wine, its history, and with the inclination to learn about how each individual terroir creates such unique expressions, Burgundy was always a source of study. However, to study such a vast topic without the practical experience of tasting broadly only makes such a thing more trivial. And so, like many others out there, Burgundy was somewhat untouchable—until the summer of 2016.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Working as a wine director has its ups and downs. One of the ups is, without a doubt, the
ability to travel to a region such as Burgundy, taste with over thirty of its top producers, and do so in the company of some of the most knowledgeable Burgundy lovers I’ve ever met. It didn’t hurt that these lovers of Burgundy were also foodies like myself, but that is a story for another time. For now, I’m here to talk about my journey further down the rabbit hole with some of the best Burgundy I’m sure I’ll ever taste.

The organizer of our trip placed us in the perfect location to access both the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. We made our home for this trip at the L'Hôtel de Beaune, located within the walled portion of the city and surrounded by an extensive mix of restaurants, wine shops and culture. This provided the perfect launching point for each day and the ideal location to unwind at night.

Having arrived only days after a horrible frost and weeks following a mass hail storm, the thing first and foremost on everyone’s minds was how the 2016 vintage would pan out. With each visit, you could see it on their faces as producers would try to make light of these events, but only so they could alleviate their own fears. We tend to think of the prices of Burgundy and assume that producers are well-compensated for their efforts, but the reality is that the majority of them are small houses that wax and wane with each vintage. Often times, the price of land or the rules of inheritance make their livelihoods very difficult. One bad vintage, one short vintage, or one lost vintage can be enough to sink even the most highly regarded Domaines.

2014: The Insiders Vintage

In The Cellar of De Montille
Tasting barrel after barrel, one thing that becomes immediately apparent is that the 2014 vintage created wines that speak to our hearts and minds. With a slight preference for the whites over reds, there’s no denying that 2014 has produced some of the most brilliantly sculpted and refined examples that we are sure to ever see. The reds will impress early with medium-term cellaring, and may even not make old bones, as they absolutely thrilled us with their purity and chiseled personalities. As for the whites, they are off the charts and are sure to please a broad audience. The 2014 White Burgundies are all about balance, with a noticeable density of fruit contrasted by stunning minerality and backbone.

Looking Forward to 2015

What’s sure to be a critic’s vintage, the 2015s seem to explode from the glass. Their unbridled power and broad-shouldered fruit is sure to settle more as they continue to age in barrel, but clearly 2015 will be a bigger and more fruit-focused vintage. This is a not a bad thing, as the wines possess the focus necessary to impress both upon release and with medium-term cellaring. In fact, we will probably find 2015 to have a long drinking window and to be a vintage that will provide a lot of pleasure for a lot people.

Top Visits, Top Wines

With over thirty visits in seven days, it would be impossible to list them all, yet I’ve done my best to recount the visits that resonated with me the most, without waxing poetic about DRC for the next 2000 words. (And, yes, DRC was the experience of a lifetime.)

Domaine Duroche

Tasting with Pierre Duroche was something of a revelation. Pierre is the 5th generation to run the estate, and with a soft-spoken manner and wine thief in hand, he showed us some of the trip’s best 2015 red Burgundies that we had the pleasure to taste. Each of Pierre’s micro-cuvees from throughout the Gevrey village were stunning, and as we moved up through the Premier and Grand Crus, my opinion was assured that this is one of the next great Burgundy producers in the making.

Wines of note: 2015’s Gevrey Chambertin Village, 1er Cru Lavaux St. Jacques, and 1er Cru Estournelles St. Jacques.

Bernard Moreau

Based in Chassagne-Montrachet, today’s Bernard Moreau is run by Alexandre and Benoit. Alexandre took us from barrel to barrel, touring through their 200 yearold cellar, and tasting all of the current vintages. If there was one thing that I took from this visit, it’s that Bernard Moreau is making some of the best white Burgundy in the market today. What’s more, the 2014s at this address are off the charts. Picking favorites was like splitting hairs.

Wines of note: ‘14 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot, ‘14 1er Cru Les Champs-Gain, and ‘14 1er Cru Grandes Ruchottes.

Georges Mugneret Gibourg

Arriving at Mugneret Gibourg in Vosne-Romanée, and peeking out the back door at the sprawling vineyards of the village heading down to the D974, is a moment that I will never forget. I could practically feel the energy of this location welling up through the ground. We were greeted by Marie-Christine, who took us down into the cellars and began to pour glass after glass, both ‘14s from tank and ‘15s prepared earlier in bottle. These were some of the greatest young Burgundies I’ve ever tasted. Each wine was pure elegance in a glass, yet infused by the earth. They are simply gorgeous.

Wines of note: ‘14 Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots,‘14 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes, ‘14 Ruchottes-Chambertin and ‘15 Ruchottes-Chambertin

Domaine Marquis D'Angerville

Now the third generation winemaker of Marquis D'Angerville, Guillaume d’Angerville greeted us like an old friend as he walked us through the gardens surrounding the estate. D’Angerville is all about Volnay, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. Guillaume led us through a selection of his ‘14s, which were spectacular. The elegance, matched by power and structure of these wines, creates a perfect balance and sense of raw potential.

Wines of note: ‘14 Volnay 1er Cru Les Fremiets, ‘14 Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds, and ‘14 Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Ducs


Jean Grivot

Where do you go before your visit at the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti? To taste at Jean Grivot, of course. Our early morning meeting with Etienne at their cellar in Vosne-Romanée was a fantastic way to start the day. The wines of Jean Grivot may have crossed into the realm of price prohibitive, but I firmly believe they are still a good value compared to the company they keep. The ‘14s at this house are in perfect form, and the ‘15s (in mid-malo at the time) were coming along in an exciting trajectory.

Wines of note: ‘14 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts, ‘14 Clos Vougeot, ‘14 Echezeaux, and ‘14 Richebourg

And so there it is. My trip further down the rabbit hole has left me feeling both anxious to taste these wines again and hoping to add many of them to my cellar. In the end, we all know that the best of Burgundy comes at a premium, but what other wines on earth can incite such emotion and such passion, and what for some becomes a lifelong obsession?



Article, Tasting Notes, and Photos by Eric Guido

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cantina Bartolo Mascarello, Three Generations in The Making

If there was one wine that not only defined Barolo for me, but for the majority of longtime collectors, it’s Bartolo Mascarello.  When I first fell in love with Barolo, I was quick to learn that to understand not just what Barolo is about but also where it came from, looking back on the great vintages of Bartolo was the place to start and in many cases to end.  This remains true even to this day, if not more so.  As we often speak about traditional versus modern producers, this was the name that stood for the hardline traditionalists.  Bartolo, who referred to himself as the last of the Mohicans, carried the torch of traditional methods and spoke out often about the values that separated the old from the new school.

Up to the very end, his ideals were followed to the letter, even as his health declined and the region changed to appeal to current tastes.  A visit to Bartolo Mascarello was on the bucket list of collectors around the world, and in most cases it was a difficult goal to accomplish.  Even today as we look back on vintages from 60 years ago, the wines epitomize and define Barolo.  

The reason for this was his respect for what came before.  Following in his father Giulio's footsteps and changing nothing about the way Barolo had been produced in their family cantina since the beginning, Bartolo took the hard stance of speaking out against what most of the region considered to be progress--the modernist movement.  

With holdings in the prestigious crus of Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué, and Rocche in La Morra, Bartolo continued to produce one Barolo, which was a blend of crus, instead of giving in to the trend of single-vineyard bottling.  In the winery, the only aging vessels you would find were large Slavonian oak casks, and he became known for his venomous remarks toward barrique, as well as various politicians and world matters.

Through it all, the house of Mascarello maintained its loyal following, becoming something of a city of Mecca for collectors, media, politicians, and anyone seeking truth in Barolo.  Today we see the entire region bending back to the traditional methods that Bartolo worked so hard to maintain, and we are also quite lucky that in his daughter, Maria Teresa, we have found yet another generation of Mascarellos who have chosen to follow family traditions.

Bartolo’s passing was a moment that will never be forgotten by collectors of the time, yet in the capable hands of his daughter Maria Teresa, the wines have found a new level of purity and finesse, while still maintaining his ideals.  Today, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo has ascended to the highest ranks of the region, with respect from producers and wine lovers from across the world.   I’m sure the man would be very proud. 

Our recent tasting spanned vintages from 1955 (Before Bartolo joined his father Giulio in the wine making process), through the ‘80s,’90s (some of Bartolo’s greatest vintages) and then into the recent vintages of ‘05, ‘06, ‘07 and ‘09 (which show the beginning of Maria Teresa’s time at Mascarello).  It was an evening that I will never forget, and it has only reassured me that these wines, from any of the decades past, are worth seeking out and should be in the cellars of any devoted collector of Barolo.

** A note on the naming of the 1955 and 1958. Prior to a renaming by Bartolo in the early '80s, the wines were labeled as Cantina Mascarello. What's more, although the first two wines state Canubbi on the label, they are both blends of the Mascarello vineyards. The name Canubbi was added for it's prestige.

On to the tasting notes: 


1955 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi Riserva - The ‘55 Bartolo was unbelievably youthful at first pour, especially with its gorgeous deep color, yet still perfectly mature, displaying a bouquet of dried flowers, dried cherry, and hints of bitter herbs.  On the palate, I found soft textures, with vibrant acid and a flash of dried red berries, before pulling back with a hint of decay.  It finished medium-long on tart red berries and a hint of smoke.  I could sit with this glass all night. (94 points)

1958 Cantina Mascarello Barolo Canubbi - The ‘58 worried me, with its completely resolved color showing only a slight red hue.  On the nose, a display of earth tones, dried flowers, and musk gave way to hints of maderization.  On the palate, herb-infused, tart red fruits gave way to elevated acidity that seemed to touch upon all of the senses.  It finished long on dried cherry, cedar, leather and a twang of acidity.  It was completely mature and on the decline, but still highly enjoyable on this evening. (92 points)

1982 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘82 showed just how fickle Nebbiolo can be, coming from a bottle that was opened many hours before serving. My first impression was of a closed and hard wine that wouldn’t reveal its treasures, yet over the course of this tasting it blossomed into an elegant beauty.  The nose showed hints of pine and parchment up front, yet gained depth in the glass, as dusty dried flowers turned to dark, mineral-laden red fruits.  On the palate, I found a deeply focused expression of dark red fruits with still-youthful tannin.  It finished long and drying, yet a bolt of acidity enlivened the senses.  This is something of a sleeping giant. (95 points)

1990 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - I’ve always found ‘90 to be a difficult vintage to truly understand, and I’m not sure if this Bartolo has added more questions than answers on this night.  The wine itself was tremendous, and it didn’t show any of the attributes I associate with ‘90 Barolo.  Here I found deep, yet focused red fruits with dried roses, pine, dusty soil, and balsamic tones, in a feminine and lifted display.  On the palate, youthful red fruits were aided by zesty acidity, providing a sensation of pure refinement.  As it sat in the glass, its textures seemed to soften and expand while never losing its energy or verve.  The finish was long and youthful, with tart red berry fruit lingering on and on. (94 points)

1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - It’s not often that a ‘95 crosses my path and leaves a such an impression as the ‘95 Bartolo Mascarello did.  This displayed a rich, spicy and red floral bouquet with notes of brown spice, savory cherry and sweet herbs.  On the palate, I found silky textures with red berries, minerals and inner floral tones, in a perfectly mature expression of Nebbiolo.  It finished on dried cherries and floral tones.  The ‘95 was simply a pleasure to drink. (94 points)

1996 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘96 Bartolo was as puzzling at this stage as most wines from this ‘Iron Vault’ of a vintage.  The nose showed depths of dark red fruit with soaring minerality and hints of menthol.  On the palate, I found refined, yet tightly-wound, concentrated red fruit with saturating acidity and firm tannin. It finished structured and lean with a mix of cheek-puckering acidity and palate-coating tannin. I wanted so badly to like this wine more, especially from its amazing bouquet, but the palate still leaves me questioning if ‘96 fruit has the endurance to outlive those intense tannins and acid. (92 points)

1997 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - Another standout from a ripe vintage, the ‘97 displayed a rich, deep and intense nose with mineral-infused red fruits and dried flowers. On the palate, I found a remarkably fresh expression for the vintage, with soft textures which soothed the senses while notes of focused red fruits saturated everything they touched.  Dried flowers, tart berry and minerals lasted on on the finish, along with a hint of dried orange peel. Well done.  (92 points)

1998 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - It was hard to decide if the ‘98 was a damaged wine or just a bad bottle, as the nose was overtly intense with herbal-infused medicinal cherry and spice.  On the palate, I found soft textures with dark red fruits, yet little else and seriously lacking energy.  It finished on minerals with a hint of oxidation.  I decided to score this, because it was still a serviceable wine, just not what you would expect from Bartolo Mascarello. (87 points)

1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - What a pleasure it was to enjoy the ‘99 once again.  It’s a truly great wine in the making.  Here I found a bouquet of mineral-infused, dark red berry fruit with hints of sweet herbs and spice.  With time, dusty floral tones came to the fore.  On the palate,a focused wave of red berry fruit with acid and mineral-driven tenacity splashed against the senses, leaving inner dried floral tones and hints of fine tannin.  It finished structured and classic, with tart red fruits and dried spice.  This was a gorgeous showing, and it’s a wine that anyone who loves Bartolo must have in their cellar. (97 points)

2001 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The nose showed citrus-tinged red berry and pretty floral tones.  On the palate, I found soft textures, unexpected so for an ‘01.  There was also a lack of depth.  This finish was dry with fine tannin and tart, mineral-infused tannin.  I’ve heard stories of the ‘01 being a variable bottle, and tonight's wasn’t nearly as exciting as my last bottle. (90 points)

2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘05 was gorgeous and a great introduction to Maria Teresa’s winemaking style.  The nose was very pretty, and I’d go as far as calling it mesmerizing, showing dusty tart cherry, and exotic floral tones with hints of sweet spice. On the palate, I found lean tart berry lifted by brisk acidity and inner floral tones.  It finished on focused, intense red fruit and fine tannin structure, built like a dancer so to speak. This is highly enjoyable already, but sure to drink well for a decade or more. (94 points)

2006 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The ‘06 was an iron vault of a Barolo, but behind its imposing structure, there was so much potential.  The nose displayed deep, dark, spicy red fruit, with dried florals, spice cookie and mint.  On the palate, dark, mineral-infused red fruits and rich spices saturated the senses, yet stayed fresh through brisk acidity and refined tannin.  It finished long on palate-coating tannin, dried cherry and balsamic tones. This was just a baby, but with 30-40 years of potential. (96 points)

2007 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - As expected, the ‘07 Bartolo Mascarello showed the heat of the vintage, yet managed to do it with grace.  The nose was intense with rich depths of red berry fruits, spice cake and sweet florals.  On the palate, I found silky-soft textures giving way to ripe cherry with plenty of flesh, sweet spices, hard red candies and stunning acidity which provided energy.  The long finish balanced spicy red fruit with hints of sweet tannin, yet remained fresh throughout.  (92 points)

2009 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The nose showed mineral-infused dark red fruits and balsamic tones.  On the palate, I found rich black cherry with slick, almost sappy textures in something of a monolithic display.  The finish was long with grippy tannin, dark minerality and dried red berries. Unfortunately, the ‘09 does suffer from the heat of the vintage, yet never becomes overwhelming. (91 points)



Article, Tasting Notes and Photos by: Eric Guido

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Italian Wine In The Extreme: The Collisioni Experience

Article and Photos by: Eric Guido

You think you know Italian wine. You spend ten years studying and tasting. You research, you write, and you spend every spare moment immersing yourself in the topic. You also taste with individuals that share your passion, and you meet with visiting producers on a regular basis. Over time, you start to feel as if you have become an authority on the topic. Your friends believe you have mastered it, and you may have even have convinced yourself of this. Then you go to Collisioni, and you realize that all you know is just the tip of the iceberg.

My first introduction to Collisioni was through an e-mail I received from Ian d’Agata, who if you don’t already know is something of a jack-of-all-trades within the wine world. You can imagine that, with his experience as a wine writer and critic for Decanter, International Wine Cellar and now Vinous media, author of the Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Scientific Advisor for Vinitaly, and creative director of Collisioni, an email from Ian d’Agata is not something you ignore. Over the years, I’ve received many invitations to be included in trips and tasting tours, but this one really stood out. In fact, I was sold the second I read the invitation.

Collisioni started as a festival for music and literature, but it grew in a short time to encompass food and wine. What started as a small event hosting 10,000 in 2009 has now grown to expect 150,000+ attendees that fill the streets of the small town of Barolo. The preparation for such an event is a massive undertaking, and being one of the guests, I was able to watch as the town of Barolo went from sleepy streets to a bustling festival over the course of only a few days.

The best part is that the who’s who of Piedmont winemaking turned out for the event. Even producers who weren’t involved in the myriad of tastings, round tables and tours could still be seen walking the streets and taking in the many sights and sounds. As this was a festival born from music and literature, it seemed as if every corner held an attraction, with onlookers amassed throughout each nook and cranny of the cobblestone streets.

On one night, the entire city gathered to watch Elton John. If you can imagine the streets of Barolo, completely empty, as the sounds of “Rocket Man”, “Candle in The Wind”, and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”, echoed throughout. Every soul seemed to be aligned that night with Elton John’s timeless setlist. It amazed me how everyone there seemed to connect during the show. Even people who didn’t seem interested in attending the concert earlier that day were found singing along. It was a magical evening.

The entire experience was something truly special.

However, what we are here to talk about is wine, which Collisioni excelled at, as it provided its guests with a selection of regional tastings from around Italy that were as challenging as they were interesting. We aren’t talking about the average room full of tables with which professionals tour in search of the handful of wines that stand out. Instead, this was five days of intense tastings, each done in a round table style with producers in attendance to answer all questions and a panel of specialists to comment and drive the conversations.

My attendance placed me tableside with producers in panel discussions and accessing wine in front of the crowd on a regular basis. Each night followed with a visit to a winery, where we were able to soak in the gorgeous surroundings of the region and taste with some of Piedmont’s best and up-and-coming producers. All this while surrounded by fellow professionals and experts from around the world. The days were long and not a moment was spent waiting for something to do–but you know what? I loved every second of it.

I’ve decided that the best way to honor this experience is to showcase a number of the standouts and most memorable moments.

Enter Dogliani


Isn’t it ironic that on a trip to the heart of Barolo, surrounded by producers and great wines, one of the most impactful evenings was spent with producers of Dolcetto Dogliani?

One of the main topics throughout our Collisioni experience was how Nebbiolo was slowly replacing all other varieties throughout the villages that make up the Barolo appellation. It’s believed that the days of seeing a Barbera or Dolcetto d’Alba will soon be over. This will leave a large void for lovers of Piedmont's other great varieties. However, in the case of Dolcetto, Dogliani has us covered.

First let me say that if you’ve tasted Dolcetto from anywhere else and decided that it’s not for you, then you owe it to yourself to taste a Dolcetto Dogliani.

Keep in mind that Dogliani has the same diverse terroir and rolling hills that your find throughout Barolo. The difference is that these producers take advantage of the best expositions to plant Dolcetto, not Nebbiolo. It’s difficult to compare Dogliani Dolcetto to one from any other location.

The best part is that, after tasting a number of wines from the 2105 vintage, now is the perfect time to jump into this region. These are tremendous examples of the variety, and the vintage is so easy to like. As for recommendations, I was smitten with examples from Addona Marziano, Chionetti, San Fereolo, and Einaudi.

Top Wine: San Fereolo Dogliani Superiore 2007 - The bouquet was positively refreshing and exotic with a mix of blackberry, and crushed raspberry fruits, followed by dried flowers and both sweet and savory spices. On the palate, it was alluring in it’s soft yet rich textures, and lifted by vibrant acidity and minerals, giving way to blackberry and plum fruit. It finished long and fresh as the fruit faded slowly to reveal fresh inner floral tones. Really this is just a pleasure to drink. (93+ points)

What’s a Lucana?


This was one of those moments when you realize that you knew much less than you thought you did. Sitting at our lunch pavillion (think of a buffet at a movie set, but make all the food Piedmontese), I stared at my schedule and noticed that the Regionale Lucana tasting was to follow. I asked the other guests at my table, “What’s a Lucana?”, and they all shrugged.

In the end, this was one of the best focus tastings of my trip. Lucana, otherwise known as Lucania, is also known as Basilicata (starting to make sense now?). Basilicata is a region of Southern Italy which borders Campania, and it is one of the few regions that has a coast on two sides of the boot. What it is also well known for is Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano, that gives its name to Aglianico del Vulture.

Aglianico del Vulture is a DOC that I’ve taken a lot of interest in over the years, since I believe that it has all of the potential and ingredients to be a world-class wine, but no one has come along as a champion for the region. The ingredients I speak of are first and foremost the variety, Aglianico, which is renowned for its use in creating Taurasi in Campania. Add to that the diverse volcanic soils, moderating influences from two seas, a large range of altitudes and degrees of elevation, and you’d think that Aglianico del Vulture would be the next big thing in Italy–but it’s not.

Why? Well that was what I was here to find out. Unfortunately, the reason seems to be more about growing pains and devotion than it is about a quick fix. If anything, this tasting revealed that there are a small number of quality-minded producers who are working very hard to put Aglianico del Vulture on the map. The problem is that there are many more who aren’t giving it their all.

That said, out of 28 wines tasted, the cream did rise to the top. Elena Fucci, Cantina di Venosa, Donato D’Angelo, Cantine del Notaio and Madonna delle Grazie all deserve your attention. (Tasting notes: Cellar Tracker)

Top Wine: Elena Fucci Titolo 2013The nose was wonderfully expressive, showing tobacco, earth and ash up front, followed by focused blackberry and notes of fresh herbs. On the palate, I found dark red fruits, pepper, violet florals, leather and youthful tannins. The finish was youthfully austere, yet complex in it’s black fruit, savory spice and fine tannin. I would love to see this wine again in five years. (93 points)

Nonino Grappa


In Italy, wine is food. It’s created to be enjoyed with a meal, and going back through history, it was often used as a way of surviving and fortifying oneself for a hard day. However, wine is seldom thought of in Italy as a “drink.” When dinner is over, and the time for a drink is upon you, Italians in the north reach for Grappa.

That’s not to say that Nonino Grappa should be thought of as just another spirit, because frankly it is so much more than that.

Located in Friuli, Nonino is a family-run company with a history going back over 100 years and can lay claim to the fact that they put Grappa on the map. Their success in the media and worldwide markets opened the minds of consumers and placed Grappa on their tables.

Yet, to this day, there is Grappa and then there is Nonino. After this experience, I believe it’s safe to say that much of this is the passion of the family who’s running the show. We tasted through six different variations of Nonino Grappa, each made from the pomace of varying grape varieties. For my tastes, it was the Grappa Nonino Monovitigno Il Moscato that stole the show, with its unending array of aromatics. In fact, each time I returned to the glass, there seemed to be an entirely new and exotic mix of aromas. This tasting made me a believer.

Build a Better Albe


Okay, in all honesty, I don’t think I could build a better Vajra Albe than Aldo Vaira himself, but I couldn’t help but try. This was one of the best tastings of our entire trip. After a day full of tasting and regional focus groups, we were sent off to Locanda in Cannubi, a restaurant located in the heart of Cannubi. The cuisine was phenomenal, with traditional regional specialties that were given a contemporary twist. The Bertolini-Boggione family do an amazing job here, since after a week of eating traditional foods, I found myself salivating over each plate that was placed in front of me.

However, the real honor was in sharing my table with Milena Vaira (Aldo’s wife), Ian d’Agata and two Masters of Wine. Seriously, how could we fail?

To be honest, it was a cutthroat competition, right up to the final announcement that our time was up. We took the more logical approach of blending by the percentage of Vajra’s holdings throughout the three vineyards that produce Albe (Fossati, La Volta, and Coste). In the end, Ian gave a last-second splash of La Volta that rounded our blend out nicely.

We were victorious.

But it bears mention that Levy Dalton, of “I’ll Drink to That” fame, demanded a rematch in 2017.

For the Love of Amarone


I have to admit, as difficult as I find it to keep Amarone in my personal rotation, I truly do love these wines. For many years now, I’ve been attending tastings with the Famiglia dell’Amarone d’Arte, and with each vintage I find myself enjoying them more and more. Frankly, they are easy to love. Especially since the organization was created to showcase the classical zone of the region and unite producers who were dedicated to upholding tradition and quality production. In the end, they are hedonistic wines of pure pleasure, but the hard part is maintaining refinement amidst all of the richness and intensity of Amarone. These are the producers who have mastered the art.

One thing I will say is that as we all become aware of two distinctly different styles of Amarone (the rich going on confectionary, versus the rich going on bitter and savory), I have to ask if there will ever be an official way to identify them on the shelf. A perfect example is the conversing styles of Speri (who I love for their classicism and poise) and Zenato (who I love for their ripeness, intensity and richness). If you are looking for a wine for a fatty steak, grab the Speri. If you are looking to pair something with a chunk of blue cheese, then Zenato is a match made in heaven. So how does the consumer tell the difference?

These are questions for another time. For now, my standouts were Tommasi, Speri, Tedeschi and Zenato. (Tasting Notes: Cellar Tracker)

Top Wine: Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2009 The nose was deep, rich and intense with ripe cherry giving way to notes of orange peel, brown spice, dark chocolate, and hints of undergrowth. I found broad and silky, palate-coating textures contrasted by zesty bright cherry and spice. It finished with fine, classic tannins, bitters, sweet herbs and dried black cherry. It was big, rich, intense and hard to resist. An unapologetic Amarone. (95 points)

We’re in Piedmont; what about Barolo?


Barolo, I didn’t forget about you. How could a lifelong fan of Barolo and all things Nebbiolo not give these wines the spotlight they deserve?

So, yes, I did taste a lot of Barolo. Probably the most important data point I can provide is on the 2012 vintage, of which I tasted quite a bit. There are many publications that have gone on about the vintage conditions, so I won’t rehash that here, but I am happy to share some general observations.

The 2012 vintage falls into a shadow that is being cast by the power of the 2011s, the classicism of the 2010s, and the speculation over the much-touted 2013s. These are good wines, but the fact remains that they possess neither the vibrancy and drive of a warm vintage, nor the structure and refinement of a cool vintage. They are pretty wines that display the purity of nebbiolo fruit. Most have beautiful aromatics, but they lack the details on the palate that would round out the experience. There are standouts, as there are in all vintages, but the bulk of the wines lack any thrill factor.

So what do we do while we wait for 2013?

We backfill classic vintages (’04, ’06 and ’08) and look at the often overlooked 2011s. Many Barolo collectors have been conditioned to shun warmer vintages, but I believe this is a huge mistake when considering the 2011 vintage. They are ripe and often intense, but beneath all of that fruit is a structure of sweet tannin and a bold acidity that carries the wines gracefully. My opinion is that we will be drinking these wines twenty years from now and wondering why we didn’t buy more.

My 2012 Barolo Standouts: Giuseppe Rinaldi, Rocche Costamagna, and Giacomo Fenocchio. (Tasting Notes: Cellar Tracker)

Top Wine: Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate 2012The nose was soaring from the glass with a display of deep, dark red berry fruit, dried roses, tobacco, leather and savory spice. On the palate, wonderfully pure, silky textures ushered in ripe, bright cherry fruit, minerals and inner violet floral tones, as fine spicy tannin settled in and dried the sense. It finished more on subtle tannin, with fresh plum, cherry, and inner floral tones. There’s a Pinot Noir like elegance here, showing remarkably pretty and pure. (94 points)

Tidbits and outtakes (since I felt this was verging on a novelette):



  • A person can live on a diet of Carne Cruda, Vitello Tonnato, e Pomodoro con Buffalo Mozzarella twice a day for a week straight.
  • Verdicchio deserves more attention (See: Notes).
  • I know just enough Italian to get into a lot of trouble.
  • There’s a rumbling in Abruzzo; check out Tiberio (you’ll thank me later).
  • Donnafugata Ben Rye may be the greatest dessert wine on earth.
  • Tasting 32 Grignolinos sounds a lot worse than it really is. (See: Notes)
  • Donatella Cinelli is doing some exciting work in Orcia.
  • Senza Glutine doesn’t work as well in Piedmont as you might think.
  • There’s more to Gavi than La Scolca.
  • There’s a underground Terracotta aging movement in Piedmont (check out Rivetto).
  • Piedmont is most definitely the most beautiful wine region on earth.


That’s all. In closing, I would like to thank Ian d’Agata for including me and the Collisioni team for all of their hard work. This was an undertaking of immense proportions. Well done!