Saturday, April 27, 2013

2000 Barolo & Barbaresco Revisited

By: Eric Guido

So we all love to talk about how wrong the critics were with the 2000 vintage of Barolo and Barbaresco. Such a highly touted vintage that drank so well on release, yet that seemed to be all that it was. Now, with 13 years of age on these bottles, we take a glimpse into what they have matured into, and although I wouldn’t recommend aging these in your cellar, most of them are drinking beautifully.

However, to add insult to injury, we decided to add another twist to this tasting by stacking the deck with a number of "modern-style" Baroli. Modern-styled (or Internationally-styled) Barolo has become something of a bad word in Piedmont, with scores of producers now moving away from small French barrels and adding their own large Slovenian casks to their cellars for aging. There was a time when extremely low yields, roto-fermentors and small oak barrels were the mark of a modern producer. Cellars turned from dank caves into marvels of modern technology. The idea was to make a Barolo that was more approachable, younger-drinking and more acceptable to the international palate. The fact is that over the years the terms modern and traditional have become quite blurred. As even the traditionalists realized that there was nothing wrong with clean wine-making and lower yields, some even opting for roto-fermentation, yet sticking to aging in large barrel.

However, back during the 2000 vintage, modern-styled winemaking was still in its heyday. My fear was that the combination of the ripe vintage, higher concentrations and the use of new oak, would result in muddled, over-ripe, over-extracted and completely undrinkable wines; and for the most part, I was wrong. What this proves, for one thing, is that winemaking has more to do with the producer than the vintage. And another important point is that the quality of the fruit can outlast and outshine some of the most aggressive winemaking.

In the end, I wouldn't be buying these wines to put away in the cellar today. Most of them are drinking great now, and the few that need more time only need a few more years to come together. These can provide a lot of enjoyment at this time, and if you see some of the top bottles for a good price, buy them. You won't be disappointed.

On to the Wines:

2000 Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco Asili – The nose was classic and slightly rustic with aromas of cherry, forest floor, earth tones and hints of green stems. On the palate, it was amazingly soft and feminine with red fruits, inner floral notes, and a mineral core. The finish showed drying tannin and red fruits, begging for a few more years in the cellar. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2000 Elio Altare Barolo La Morra – The nose showed lush red fruits, red licorice, dried flowers, intense spice and herbs. On the palate it was soft and enveloping, coating the senses in concentrated red fruits with brisk acidity to keep it fresh, showing ripe cherry and earthy soil tones. It dried out slightly on the finish with notes of dark chocolate and tart cherry. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2000 Paolo Scavino Barolo Riserva Rocche dell'Annunziata – The nose was dark, and brooding with black cherry, cinnamon, spiced oak, saw dust, moist undergrowth and herbs. On the palate, it showed a smooth sheen of oak with tart red fruits, dark chocolate, cedar and wood tannin, which dried the palate. On the palate, a wave of refreshing acidity made the mouth water, leaving only a gentle tug of tannins at the cheek. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2000 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito – The nose was classic with dusty cherry, tobacco, minty herbs, minerals and savory, seared meat. On the palate, it was juicy throughout with notes of strawberry, herbs, a smooth hint of oak and a truly Burgundian feel. The finish turned tart, yet stayed juicy with lingering red fruits and cedar. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2000 Andrea Oberto Barolo Vigneto Rocche – The nose was expressive, rich, yet classic with roses, tart cherry, animal musk, tobacco and hints of spice. On the palate, it was unbelievably silky, yet turned grippy, with red fruits, cedar and a core of minerals driven by fresh acidity. The finish showed its youthful side with hints of drying tannin, saturating red fruits and tobacco clinging to the senses. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2000 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Vignolo – The nose was intense yet brooding with a mix of red fruit, perfumed floral notes, soil and undergrowth; it was like smelling a bouquet of fresh cut roses, stems and all. On the palate, it was rich yet juicy with black cherry fruit, inner floral tones and herbs. The finish lingered on and on with dark, saturating red fruits. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2000 Elio Grasso Barolo Riserva Rüncot – The nose was beautifully expressive, revealing layer upon layer of its enticing bouquet as it sat in the glass. Notes of black cherry, brown sugar and sweet spice gave way to a dark yet explosive array of mint, ripe strawberry, and sweet, spicy floral tones. On the palate, it was focused, balanced and still youthful, showing sweet ‘n sour cherry, herbs and minerals, which filled the senses. The finish was slightly tart, showing balanced structure and hints of tannin. I can see this wine getting even better with a few years’ time. Beautiful. (95 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

For a deeper look at the 2000 vintage Baroli, check out "2000: Barolo Retrospective" from October 2010.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Portugal: Expand Your Wine Horizon

By: Eric Guido

What a difference a year can make. This time, last year, Portugal meant one thing to me; it meant Vintage Port. It’s a wine I have enjoyed in place of a dessert or for a quick guilty sip. It can last for many decades and makes for a great way to mark special occasions and birth years. But something Port is not is a table wine or a wine that can be easily sipped and enjoyed on a regular basis; it’s simply too rich, too sweet—too hedonistic. Yet it has a valued place in the world of wine and is as branded as Bordeaux. So why look any further, right? Wrong.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about wine, it’s that a closed mind and palate stunts your growth. You’ve seen those people, such as the Italian wine lover that still drinks Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. So when the opportunity arose to try a dry table wine from Portugal, I made sure to give it a shot, and I sure am glad that I did.

If you’re imagining another spin on Cabernet and Chardonnay, just in a Portuguese style, stop right there. This isn’t about the usual suspects’ grown in another terroir; this is about obscure and native varieties like Aragonez (or Tempranillo), Alicante Bouschet, Viosinho, Rabigato and Touriga Nacional, which are heavily relied upon in blending for Port. They produce beautifully fragrant wines with unique aromas and exciting textures, complemented with ripe fruit that fills the palate and exceptional balance and structure.

Remember, this isn’t a new, emerging viticultural area. This is a country that has been producing fine wine since the days of the Roman Empire. The fact is that what we’ve always seen as a country devoted to the production of Port is in reality a region that’s producing exceptional wine of many styles, of which we have only recently been introduced to. Listed below are two wines that I just had the pleasure to taste, and both are worth your attention. Also, these are just in time for the Spring season. The Dourum, a white blend, would make a great accompaniment to seafood salad, scallops or sushi, and the Alente Riserva is a versatile red that would do well against hearty red meats, rich chicken dishes and a showstopper at a barbeque.

On to the wines:

2006 Adega do Monte Branco Vinho Regional Alentejano Alente Reserva - The nose showed a mix of ripe wild berries and sweet spice, with hints of ginger, leather, dusty earth and floral violet tones. On the palate, it was medium-bodied and soft with a zesty personality, showing notes of blue and blackberries with pleasant spice tones and inner floral notes. It leaves a beautiful floral-blueberry flavor on the finish that lingers long. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2011 Dourum Douro Tons de Duorum - The wine showed the color of white gold in the glass. On the nose, I found a mix of ripe peach and pineapple with hints of lime, sea breeze and minerals. It was immediately pleasing and soft on the palate with ripe pit fruits, green apple and brisk acidity, which kept it lively and refreshing. Tart green apple and minerals last through the fresh, crisp finish. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fontodi: Modern Touch, Traditional Feel

By Eric Guido

With the start of each new year comes the myriad of Italian wine tastings that have become the highlight of these early winter months. Each year, I find myself tasting the new releases of all my favorite wines. This year, one winery that has truly stood out among the rest for its entire portfolio, it's the Tuscan property of Fontodi.

I have loved these wines in the past, often in their more mature states, yet two years ago I was left breathless by the youthful 2007 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve Colli della Toscana. From top to bottom, they are highly enjoyable wines that show tremendous relative value. However, this year, the entire range was something to be marveled at. The entry-level Chianti Classico is a wine that every lover of Italian wine should be enjoying today, while the Riserva level Vigna del Sorbo soared in its youthfulness, yet begged for time in the cellar; and the Flaccianello, while nothing like the 2007 is graceful, youthful and full of potential.

This organic estate is located in the heart of the Chianti Classico region, just south of the town of Panzano. Using a gravity-fed cellar and focused on maintaining the natural integrity of the grapes, Fontodi turns out beautiful Sangiovese-based wines with a modern touch. However, don’t write these off as modern wines, as the 2009 Flaccianello proves in spades. With less dependency on new oak, this wine shines like never before. If you haven’t experienced them before, now is the time, and if you have the chance to taste a mature Vigna del Sorbo, do not pass it up, as these are regal wines of the highest caliber.

2009 Fontodi Chianti Classico – The nose showed cherry sauce with Tuscan dust, spicy notes, hints of mushroom and citrus. On the palate, it was focused with refined red fruits and inner floral notes. The finish was clean with pure red fruits and hints of structure. This was easily one of the best entry-level Chianti I’ve tasted this year. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2009 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo – The nose showed red berries, floral notes, herbs and a slight hint of vanilla. On the palate, I found tart red berries with dusty spices and herbal notes leading to a structured finish with fine grain tannins. This was a great young expression of Vigna del Sorbo. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2009 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT – The nose was beautiful, showing intense dark fruits, woodsy and earthy notes with berries and flowers. On the palate, it was soft and balanced with ripe berry fruits and violets on a medium, balanced body that walked the tightrope between richness and cleansing acidity. The structured finish was long and filled with inner floral notes. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Visit the Fontodi Website!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Ribera del Duero: Thriving through Adversity

By Eric Guido

I’m about to leave my comfort zone. Let’s face it, having a comfort zone is a bad thing for anyone that credits themselves as a student, teacher—heck, professional in any way. For me, my comfort zone was always Italy, with a little France, Germany and Napa mixed in. However, the longer I wrote about wine, the more regions I explored and now I’ve found myself off the deep end. There is more great wine out there than you or I could ever imagine. So today, I’m keeping it a little old world, yet new to me just the same, with Ribera del Duero.

When I think of Spain, the first thoughts that come to mind are Rioja and Priorat. Rioja, because I have loved many aged Rioja Gran Reserves in my life. They have always been a secret passion of mine. Priorat, on the other hand, was all about marketing. For years wine publications have told us to love Priorat. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some good ones, but over all, I have trouble finding value in Priorat.

Then there’s Ribera del Duero. It’s not a new region, nor is it the most fashionable thing these days. Instead, it’s a region that has been delivering great wines (ever hear of Vega Sicilia?), and in all price ranges for decades, including some of the best values around. The thing that struck me most about these wines is how easy they went down, yet how much you could sink your teeth into them if you choose to take your time.

The grape of choice here is Tempranillo and boy does it shine beautifully through adversity, especially from these high altitude vineyards. But it’s not just altitude that makes these wines what they are; much of it has to do with the extreme climate of the region and its long growing season. The Ribera del Duero sees long, dry, hot summers, followed by hard winters during which temperatures may drop as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit. You can imagine that a vine that survives these conditions would be full of character.

The resulting wines show perfectly ripe fruit, earth tones, great acidity and broad structures that add to the experience, instead of drying you out. What’s more, the expert use of oak is neither too little, nor too much. These are very enjoyable wines that can easily pair with dinner, be enjoyed with a plate of cheese or better yet, accompany an evening of Tapas. Below, I’ve listed a number of my favorites from the recent Snooth "People's Voice Wine Awards" tasting. Give them a try and join me in escaping your comfort zone.

 On to the Wines:

2009 Ortega Fournier Ribera del Duero Urban – The nose showed vibrant, ripe red fruits and stony minerals. On the palate it was juicy with tart, dark red fruits on a medium-bodied frame. The finish was saturating to the senses yet juicy throughout. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2011 Bodegas Barco de Piedra Ribera del Duero – The nose showed red berries with chalky minerals and seemed to gain volumn and fruit sweetness with time in the glass. On the palate, it was juicy and fun with red berry fruits and inner floral tones. The finish was juicy and refreshing. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2006 Convento San Francisco S.L. Ribera del Duero – The nose showed ripe cherries with notes of fresh turned soil, minerals and clay. On the palate it was lush with ripe strawberry fruits and hints of stems, which gave way to fine grain tannins that slightly dried the palate and turned the fruit tart. The finish was overshadowed by this wines structure, which should resolve with time. (89 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2001 Bodegas Valduero Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva – The nose was dark and rich with great intensity, showing black cherry, plum, spices, dark chocolate and coffee grinds. On the palate, it was full-bodied with lush textures, showing tart mulberry and a hint of citrus. The finish was long with pure, fucused dark fruits. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2005 Bodegas Hnos Perez Pascuas Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva Viña Pedrosa – The nose showed an intense mix of ripe wild berries followed by masses of floral notes. On the palate, it was medium-bodied, ripe yet fresh showing red fruits that turned from juicy to tart. The finish followed suit with juicy tart berries lingering through the close. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2011 Bodegas Felix Callejo Ribera del Duero Flores de Callejo - The nose showed tart cherry with ashy earth, clay and minerals. On the palate, I found blackberry and cherry fruit with an herbal quality. The finish dried the palate and took a turn toward tart red berries. I enjoyed this wine quite a bit for it’s mix of fruit and earth. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2007 Bodegas y Viñedos Montecastro Ribera del Duero Montecastro y Llanahermosa – The nose was refined with a regal aura, showing ripe red fruits, a whiff of floral perfume, airy herbs and vanilla. On the palate, it was juicy and mouthfilling with sweet red fruits, spice and minerals. The long, intense finish lingered with dark red fruits. (90 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2005 Legaris Ribera del Duero Reserva – The nose showed intense red and blue fruits, sweet spice, hints of herbs and floral tones. On the palate it displayed silky textures with ripe red berries, licorice and a mintiness that mixed with this wines vibrant acidity lending it a juciy, yet beautifully balanced personality. The finish turned slightly tart, giving me the desire to take another sip. Well done. (91 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2009 Bodegas Cepa 21 Ribera del Duero Malabrigo – The nose showed black cherry, minerals and herbal tones with an airy, energetic feel. On the palate it was refined and beautifully balanced with focused red fruits and a mouthfilling sturcture leading to a finish full of wild berries with a tinge of citrus. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2010 Bodegas Los Astrales Ribera del Duero Astrales – The nose showed ripe, dark cherry, dark chocolate, caramel and a hint of vanillin oak. On the palate, I found ripe red and blackberries, it was beautifully blanced with vibrant acidity. Dark fruits lingered on the long, engaging finish leaving me with a truly satisfiying experience. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2001 Condado de Haza Ribera del Duero Alenza Gran Reserva – The nose was dark and spicy with ripe black fruits, hints of herbs, tar and vanilla. On the palate it was lush, yet balanced with dark frutis, minerals and earth, turning tart into the finish. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

** The best part about this tasting were the people I enjoyed it with. This Ribera del Duero tasting was hosted by Snooth for their "People's Voice Wine Awards". My tasting companions were made up of some of the best wine bloggers from around the country. Below are links to their impressions from this exciting lineup of wines. Enjoy!

My Vine Spot: Ribera del Duero Lunch at Salinas

Benito's Wine Reviews: Snooth PVA: Ribera del Duero

Wine Julia: Experiencing Spain in New York City with Ribera del Duero Wines at Salinas

Vindulge: Wine and food are a great match for Ribera del Duero

The Reverse Wine Snob: Reveling in the Wine of Ribera Del Duero Plus 3 Top Value Picks From This Region

Brunello Bob's Wine Blog: Ribera del Duero Lunch -Salinas NYC

Monday, April 1, 2013

Amarone: A Balanced Decadence

By Eric Guido

Can Amarone age well? Absolutely!
I had no intention of writing today, but when inspiration strikes, you go with it. In this case, that inspiration has come in the form of two excellent bottles of Amarone that I've enjoyed in the last 24 hours.

You can't drink Amarone every day, nor would I want it on a regular basis. It's a wine of hedonism and luxury that nearly overwhelms the senses--but not quite. When the time for Amarone arises, it's a moment that you are aware of, you crave it. It may be for a special occasion or in place of a dessert after a wonderful meal. Whatever the occasion may be, these are very special wines and they should have a place in your cellar because not only do they perform beautifully straight from the bottle, the best can age for decades.

Amarone hails from the Veneto region of Italy. These are wines that are made by the hand of man through processes like Recieto (Appassimento), where the harvested grapes are left to dry for months before being pressed, raising sugar (hence alcohol) levels and giving the wine a haunting level of depth, complexity and the ability to age. Be warned, however, that in the hands of some producers these techniques are used to cover up an otherwise inferior wine; but in the hands of quality producers they can create works of art.

Giuseppe Quintarelli "The Master of the Veneto"
Now gone, but has left a linage of great producers
of Amarone that were once his cellar or vineyard 
managers.  These are giant wines, with giant price tags.
When I think of Amarone, I think of a mix of sweet and savory, often seductive aromas, met by textures on the palate that lull you into a submissive state as dark, luxurious fruits, spices and sometimes confectionary elements that are balanced by a bitterness that is the call-card of a great Amarone. Acidity is also a key component. I think of experiences with Quintarelli and how fresh and vibrant they were, even with their lush, nearly dessert like aromas and flavors. However, don't think sweet when you think of Amarone, as the word Amarone itself translates to "the Great Bitter".

The following wines were all showstoppers from my recent tastings. Be warned, good Amarone is not cheap, but when the time is right, they are worth every penny.

2007 Fratelli Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Sant'Urbano - A dark, deep purple color in the glass. On the nose, a mix of dark cherry and blackberry dominated, hinting at herbal tones with notes of cinnamon, milk chocolate and undergrowth. It was like velvet on the palate with rich textures yet a surprisingly vibrant and elegant feel with a fine structure lurking beneath it's layered intensity. Ripe black fruits and dark chocolate saturated the senses with a bitter core that followed this wine from first sip through the long, vibrant finish. It was so obviously Italian in breed, but not what I've come to expect from Amarone, as there was a balance here, seldom found in a wine made through the recieto process. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! / Producer Website

2006 Tommaso Bussola Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Tb - The nose was rich and slightly confectionary with cherry sauce, plum-raisin, fruit cake and spice cookie. On the palate, rich, velvety textures were met by brisk acidity to form a beautiful balance, yet there was a touch of noticeable alcohol, showing notes of brown sugar, raisin, sage, and molasses with a bitter twang that leaned this more toward savory than sweet. The finish was long with palate saturating black fruits, plum and black currant. This wine was on the richer, more hedonistic side of Amarone, yet still beautifully balanced. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! / Producer Website

2006 Azienda Agricola Musella Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva - The Musella Riserva was savory and sweet with notes of olive tapenade, cherry sauce, potpourri and dark soil tones. On the palate, it show excellent balance with brisk acidity which lent a juicy quality to the rich dried cherry, bitter chocolate and herbal flavors. The finish was long, showing inner floral notes and dried fruits.(94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher! / Producer Website

And for the true masochists, I thought it would be insightful to post an older note from my experiences with one of the best Amarone I have had the pleasure of tasting.

1995 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva - The 1995 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva was a dark mahogany color with rich and wild aromas rising from the glass. I found it difficult to take that first sip because the aromatics were so seductive that I simply didn’t want to take my nose from the glass. Black cherry sauce with saw dust, and then butterscotch and hazelnuts which then turned to spiced ginger cookies and plum reduction. So many layers could be pulled away to continue finding descriptors in this wine and I was only sad that we didn’t have the time to spend hours with it. On the palate I found a menagerie of red fruits as cherry, then raspberry and cranberry filled the palate. Vanilla and milk chocolate, butter cream and roasted nuts with spicy cedar. However, with all this concentration, the wine remains finessed and fresh on the palate. Its 16.5% alcohol is nearly invisible due to the impeccable balance of this wine. The finish lingered for 30 plus seconds with cherry dark chocolate. (99 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!