Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ruchè: A Little Unknown Never Hurt Anyone

Speaking of unique wines from Italy, having just wrote a piece on a dry Brachetto, I find myself drinking a Ruchè from the producer Crivelli. If you’ve never heard of Ruchè, I wouldn’t be surprised, it is one of the lowest production wines in Italy. However, I have to wonder why. As I have tasted the wines of Valle d’Aosta and as they become trendier, I think of how similar this Piedmontese native is to many of the peppery alpine wines of that region. I’ve read of similarities to Nebbiolo, yet I don’t see that in this glass. Instead, I see wild floral aromas and earthy flora contrasting a palate of sweet, intense berry fruit.

From master Class Risotto on
What's Cookin'
It’s certainly not for everyone but if you credit yourself as an open-minded explorer of Italian varietals, then this is the wine for you. To me, it’s a dive into the culture of the region and an understanding of the people. This wine screams for a plate of risotto or roasted game, anything with mushrooms or a rich plate of polenta.

You certainly don’t find a $22 bottle of wine that’s this interesting in Burgundy or Bordeaux and especially not Napa. I guess that’s one of the reasons I find myself going back to Italy over and over again; originality and value.

Give it a try and you won’t be disappointed.

2010 Crivelli Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato – The nose was alpine-wild with pungent hillside flowers in the shade of yellow, crushed bush honeysuckle berries, chalk dust and notes of black pepper. From the nose, you’d expect the austere, yet on the palate it displayed medium weight with sweet raspberry, kept juicy by vibrant acidity. Then inner floral and lots of pepper notes carrying into the finish, which was long with remnants of ripe berries, pepper and a bit of clinging tannin. While sipping this, my mind wandered to the wines of Valle d'Aosta, with their peppery alpine profile. (89 points) Find it on Wine-searcher! 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Falling For Italy All Over Again

It’s not often that a single wine would move me to stop what I’m doing and write something to share here. Usually it’s a Barolo with some age on it or a rare bottle that was sourced and treated with the upmost care from pulling the cork and meticulously sampling it over the course of a few hours. However, in this case, it’s a wine that was recommended to me by a trusted retailer—a wine that I decided to open on a Wednesday with dinner and put a small amount away to sample again a few days down the road. It’s a wine that only cost $14, and now that I’m sipping it (having been open for three days), I’m left speechless—well, almost.

The nose is stunning and is hard to describe to someone that isn’t sipping it alongside of you. It’s floral and sweet, but not just the usual red floral note; instead, this is a basket of fresh violet flowers that were just picked in the height of spring. It is bursting with spice but feminine and finessed. On the palate, sweet red fruits and earth sweep across the senses like a sheet of silk. It’s not residual sugar. It’s more like the fruit sweetness you find in perfectly-aged Burgundy; soft, inviting, intoxicating and perfectly balanced.

The biggest surprise is that this is a single varietal wine, made from Brachetto… yes, you heard me right, Brachetto. Brachetto is a grape that is better known for sweet sparkling wines that are often associated with strawberries or chocolate and paired with desserts, or just sipped at poolside. It’s usually a good, easy-drinking wine but easily forgettable. This, however, is a Brachetto that was fermented to dryness and I will not forget it for a long time. In fact, I will buy more.

So if you’re looking for something new and off the beaten path, something that you might just fall deeply in love with, give it a try.

The Matteo Correggia
2010 Matteo Correggia Anthos - The color was ruby red and quite pretty to look at. On the nose, I found masses of floral notes, much like a Lacrima d'Alba with lavender and violets. Further exploration revealed chalk dust and minerals with lemon balm and stems. On the palate, it was at first light in body with young cherry, spice and notes of herbal tea but with time it gained volume and depth as the fruit sweetened and it's presence turned silky.  The finish was pleasant with lingering purple florals, spice and medicinal cherry. (90 points)

I got this bottle from Grapes: The Wine Company, check out their website and join the mailing list. I have no official attachment to them, other than being a very happy customer.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer craves Sauvignon Blanc

Summer is here and the weatherman forecasted 98 degrees today! I admit that I'll miss the big, structured red wines that I love so much, but this time of year has me longing for something different; something with enough fruit to soothe my craving, yet cold and with enough acidity to keep it mouthwatering. Summer craves Sauvignon Blanc.

I know that some people might think of Chardonnay, or even Riesling, but not me. For me, Sauvignon Blanc is the ultimate warm weather wine. It’s extremely versatile with lunch, dinner, the grill or just sitting around on a hot summer afternoon. What’s more, you can find it in all styles, from rich with ripe tropical tones to mineral-laden with tart citrus that makes your cheeks pucker.

It’s also one of the most versatile food wines I know. How many wines do you know of that can pair with salad, asparagus or sushi? The right Sauvignon Blanc can. What can be confusing is knowing what you’re going to get from a bottle. You can generalize that California will produce a ripe Sauvignon, but it’s often the grower and winemaker that determine a wine's characteristics. Was the climate moderate or hot? Was the soil gravel or schist? Was the wine aged in barrel or stainless steel? The good news is that they are all wonderful expressions of this zesty white wine and a good rule of thumb is; if it goes with lemon, then it goes with Sauvignon Blanc.

This year I had the pleasure of tasting some outstanding wines from a number of different regions. Many of these have found their way into my cellar and I'm hoping you will enjoy them as well.

On to the wines:

Larkmead's Sauvignon Blanc found its way to the top of my list again this year. Unfortunately, it is made in such small amounts that it never finds its way to retail shelves but is a great reason to visit the winery if you're ever in Napa Valley. Larkmead remains one of a small amount of wineries, whose mail list I am signed up for, with high quality wines across the board.

2010 Larkmead Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Lillie B4 Block - The aromas leapt from the glass, showing sweet peaches in cream, a bit of honey with floral and grassy notes and hints lime on wet stone. On the palate it was rich yet focused and beautifully balanced, with young peach and cheek puckering citrus that stay through the long finish with lingering notes of melon and young mango. This wine was absolutely gorgeous and will be interesting to follow over the next few years. (93 points) Visit the Larkmead website!

Over time, I have become a big fan of the white wines of Trentino, and this Sauvignon Blanc was so good that it stopped me in my tracks. There was so much intensity, yet it remained so pure and focused with great balance. Concilio, a cooperative winery in Trentino, was a new name to me this year but I will be looking out for these wines going forward. Also worth seeking out was their 2011 Gewürztraminer Trentino Conoidi.

2011 Concilio Sauvignon Blanc Trentino Arjent - The nose was striking with aromas of fresh-squeezed lemon, floral perfume and stony minerals. On the palate, it started soft and enveloping yet quickly turned clean and focused as flavors of lemon zest and granny smith apple filled the senses. The finish was lingering yet mouthwatering with lemon and floral notes. This was a great example of Sauvignon Blanc from a northern climate. (92 points) Visit the Concilio website!

My recent trip to The North Fork of Long Island turned up a number of great white wines from the region. Macari's Sauvignon Blanc "Katherine's Field" was one of my favorites. A visit to Macari provides taste after taste in a colidoscope of different varietals and styles that are all highly enjoyable. There is absolutly something for everyone.

2010 Macari Sauvignon Blanc "Katherine's Field" - On the nose, I found ripe tropical fruits, citrus and herbs. On the palates, it had a focused concentration of ripe citrus fruits and lots of brisk acidity to keep it fresh and very pleasant. The sour patch finish was long, long, long. (92 points) Visit the Macari Vineyards website!

To me, Pouilly-Fumé are classic Sauvignon Blanc. They are fresh and mouthwatering with the perfect balance of acidity, fruit and spicy floral notes. Often, these wines might seem light-hearted for New World tastes, but each wine has it's place and this one is a stunner on a hot summer day.

2010 Francis Blanchet Pouilly-Fumé Cuvée Silice - The nose showed sea air, lime zest, salty hard cheeses and herbs. On the palate, it was weightless yet full of flavor with salty minerals on the attack, followed by grapefruit and inner floral notes. The wine's crisp acidity washed down effortlessly and left the flavor of intense grapefruit on the palate. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

I was so sad when I realized that this wine wasn't available at any U.S. retailer (Hint to any importers who are looking for a great Sauvignon Blanc for their portfolio). I tasted this at Gambero Rosso this year and it was a highlight of the entire tasting. If you can find it, buy it, you won't be disappointed.

2010 Girlan Sauvignon Flora - The nose was intense with sauvignon fruit as aromas of citrus, herbs and pungent floral notes penetrated the senses. On the palate, it showed juicy citrus and inner floral notes. The mouth-coating finish was beautifully fresh as it melted away from the palate. (92 points) Visit the Cantina Grilan Website!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dolcetto: A Perfect Anyday Wine

I have something of a secret affection for Dolcetto. It started almost as far back as my love for Barolo. Let’s face it; we can’t drink Barolo everyday, although I know some people who try. Dolcetto, which translates to Little Sweet One, is for the most part, an easy drinking wine from Piedmont, Italy. However, it’s hardly ever sweet and if you know the right producers to look for, than you can find Dolcetto with amazing depth, clarity and nuance. Far from just an easy drinking wine.

Some producers use Dolcetto as a means to turn a quick buck with affordable juice that can be enjoyed and sold while their Barolo ages toward release. Other’s, like many on this list, look at it as it’s own beautiful expression of terroir. Personally, I believe it is the ultimate weeknight spring or summer wine. Dolcetto goes wonderfully with food, especially sausage, lamb, burgers and pizza. And on a very hot day, try one at cellar temperature (55 degrees) for a real treat. I obviously couldn’t include every wine I admire, but what follows are some of the best Dolcetto I’ve had this year.

Marziano Abbona

Most of the Dolcetto you'll find stateside will come from Alba. However, the Dolcetto from Dogliani is another animal all together. In Alba, Dolcetto vines are grown in the poorest sections of Barolo vineyards but in Dogliani, Dolcetto is king. With a focus on quality, optimal vineyard locations and older vines (in this case 47 -60 years old), you'll find much more powerful and even age worthy examples here.

2009 Marziano Abbona Dolcetto di Dogliani Papa Celso - The nose was like a blackberry pie with black fruits, herbs and aromas of toasty savory pate brisse. On the palate, it was juicy with more blackberry and medicinal herbs. The finish was tight with woodsy notes. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Flavio Roddolo

Flavio Roddolo was a new name for me this year and one I will not soon forget. The wines are made "naturally" from vines that are 10 - 70 years old and have not seen chemical treatments in 40 years. Fermention is done using indigenous yeast and there is no filtering before bottling. This results in wines that show true terroir, character and depth with the potential to improve in the cellar.

2010 Flavio Roddolo Dolcetto d’Alba – The nose showed a darker and more seductive side of Dolcetto with black cherry and dark wild berries; floral perfume followed with a hint of Indian spice. On the palate it was velvety soft, but not heavy, with juicy acidity ushering in blackberry fruits and then flexing it’s structural muscle with slightly drying tannin. On the finish an attractive herbal character mixed with wild berries lingered to the close. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

G.D. Vajra

Everything the house of G.D. Vajra touches, seems to turn to gold. At a recent portfolio tasting, I was floored by the consistency across the board. The Baroli are top notch, with their Bricco delle Viole being one of my top scorers each year. Their Dolcetto is no different.

2009 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba - The nose showed focused blackberry fruit with spice, floral notes and wood tones. On the palate, this showed vibrant acidity with more blackberry and hints of citrus, leading to a clean fruity finish that provided those token Dolcetto bitters that I have grown to love. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Elio Grasso

I would be remiss not to mention the excellent Dolcetto made by Elio Grasso. It's made in a slightly rustic style that's not for everyone, but that's okay, because then there will be more for me. However, if you love Dolcetto or want to understand it, then you owe it to yourself to check it out.

2009 Elio Grasso Dolcetto d'Alba dei grassi - The nose showed ripe blackberries, with floral undergrowth and a hint of bouillon. On the palate, it was soft and enveloping in a mid-weight style with blackberries, a hint of sweet spice and a touch rustic with juicy acidity. The finish was pleasant and fresh just as a Dolcetto should be. I thoroughly enjoyed it. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Bartolo Mascarello

This is one of those Dolcetto that actually appears to need more time to come around. The house of Bartolo Mascarello needs no introduction to anyone that knows about Barolo. The style is a bit rustic but with intense purity and layers that seem to keep unfurling in the glass. As much as I enjoyed this recently, I will purposely forget a few bottles in the cellar for future enjoyment.

2010 Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d'Alba - The nose showed crushed blackberry, floral notes, wild herbs and earth with a rustic twist. On the palate, it was medium bodied with plush blackberry fruits and a bit of tart citrus, which coated the senses and lasted through the long finish. The wine's structure could be felt in the close as hints of tannin clung to the palate. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Domenico Clerico

Domenico Clerico goes for a richer style of Dolcetto yet somehow manages to keep it juicy and fresh. It’s a combination that I find particularly appealing on autumn and winter nights.

2010 Domenico Clerico Dolcetto Visadi Langhe - The nose was robust, showing rich black cherry, blackberry jam, dark chocolate, pepper and hint of herbs. On the palate, intense dark fruits and earthy stone were ushered in by gripping acidity, which blossomed toward the finish with a bitter twinge and hints of tannin. This was racy yet unexpected and atypical of a Dolcetto. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

G.B. Burlotto

Burlotto makes some great Barolo in a traditional style. However, you’re missing out if you don’t try their entry-level wines as well. The Barbera, Freisa, Pelaverga and Dolcetto are all worth the price of admission

2009 Comm. G.B. Burlotto Dolcetto d'Alba - As I sat and sniffed around the edges of this glass, it reminded me of everything I love about Italian wine. The first impression was of blackberry jam and brioche, but with time in the glass, the slightest hint of barnyard and earth added dimensions that I had at first not noticed. It was easy on the palate, with perfect balance and flavors of wild berries and a bit of old wood. Some gravelly tannin was noticeable on the finish but it served to remind me that this wasn't just a forgettable wine from who-knows-where, this was Dolcetto from Piedmont and a truly excellent example at that. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!