Thursday, February 27, 2014

Amarone: An Island Unto Itself

Touring through the wines of Italy is a journey of true diversity. This has a lot to do with how I fell in love with Italian wine; you simply can never get sick of it. If the austerity of Barolo becomes too much, then you can go to Tuscany for a glass of Chianti. If the food-craving acidity of Chianti leaves you longing, you can fall back on the ripe, round fruits of Sicily. You can go on and on like this, because Italy has it all, and in the thousands of grape varieties found there--you can be assured that there will always be something new and exciting. In my opinion, one of the most interesting, and sinfully enjoyable Italian wines, is Amarone.

Nowhere else in the world have I found a wine like Amarone. Many regions try to recreate it, and some make good wines, but a great Amarone is an island onto itself. These are wines of immense proportion, with a richness and weight that is seldom achieved, while maintaining a wine of balance. And balance is what Amarone is all about. It's the balance that allows Amarone to achieve +15% alcohol without seeming hot or flabby, and it's that same balance which marries intensely ripe fruit with a contrast of dark bitter flavors. Many great wines are compared to the grace of a ballerina with their underlying power--Amarone has all of that, yet with a sassy, extroverted personality that loves a good party.

There is one drawback: there is no such thing as cheap Amarone. Now that's not to say you can't find a good value, but keep in mind that it is all relative. We are talking about a wine that is essentially made from raisins (raisinated grapes to be precise). Those grapes must be grown and coddled in the vineyard like any other great wine. They must be harvested with the same care. However, what truly sets them apart is the drying process (appassimento), where the grapes are laid out on mats, or (more often today) in bins, to be dried for three to four months. Great care must be taken to avoid unwanted rot. When the process is complete, the juice of each grape has been greatly reduced. I'm sure you can imagine how difficult it must be to make wine from raisinated grapes, and all the while maintaining depth of flavor and fresh acidity. Hence, finding good Amarone under $40-$45 can be nearly impossible.

The good news is that these wines will give great wines from around the world a serious run for their money. So when you consider that a great Amarone may cost $75, it certainly looks very attractive next to +$150 wines from around the world. What's more, from my recent tasting of current releases, my top scoring wine happens to also be one of the most affordable.

I ask you to give these wines a chance, and spend the extra money. The proof will be in the glass, and they will impress almost any wine lover.

On To the Wines:

2009 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – The nose was exuberant with medicinal cherry, crushed raspberry, dark chocolate, floral undergrowth and a hint of volatile acidity. On the palate, it was velvety smooth with intense, bright cherry, which remained fresh yet dense, with herbs, black licorice and spice. A slight bitter note lasted into the finish with spiced cherry and dark chocolate. It’s a beautiful wine! (95 points)

Producer website: Zenato
Avg. price $50
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Case Vecie – The nose was massive with dark ripe fruit and earth, showing dark chocolate-covered cherry, crushed berry, hints of earth herbs and fresh turned soil. On the palate, it was big with velvety textures, saturating fruit and a fine tannic spine. Medicinal cherry and dark chocolate seemed to coat every inch of the palate, yet stayed fresh throughout the finish. (94 points)

Producer website: Brigaldara
Avg. price $52
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Venturini Massimino Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – The nose was confectionary with ripe black cherry and cinnamon, yet turned savory in the glass as hints of undergrowth and wild herbs joined the mix. On the palate, it was weighty, yet silky with medicinal cherry, dark chocolate and savory herbs. The staying finish showed bitter cherry and dark chocolate, which seemed to go on and on. Very nice. (93 points)

Producer website: Venturini
Avg. price $45
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Lorenzo Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Ca' Bianca – The nose was, at first, shy; yet with time in the glass, it began to blossom, showing dried cherry, blackberry, menthol, rock dust and a hint of volatile acidity, which helped more than hurt. On the palate, it showed soft, silky textures, but quickly turned tart and mouthwatering with dark fruits and black licorice. Tart cherry fruit seemed to encompass the senses throughout the long and seductive finish. WOW! (93 points)

Producer website: Begali Wine
Avg. price $67
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – The nose was, all at once, sweet, savory and earthy, showing dried cherry, dusty spice, dark chocolate, floral undergrowth and hints of green stems. On the palate, it was dense with velvety textures, as bitter cherry and dark, dark chocolate notes saturated the senses, yet remained balanced throughout. The finish was dark with a hint of heat, and bitter chocolate and rosy floral perfumes persisted. (92 points)

Producer website: Allegrini
Avg. price $68
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2010 Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – The nose was confectionary, showing plum, black cherry, medicinal herbs and bitter molasses. On the palate, it was soft with velvety textures as sweet dark fruit covered the palate with dark chocolate and holiday spice. The finish showed medicinal cherry and a hint of heat, which lingered long. (92 points)

Producer website: Tommasi
Avg. price $47
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Sant'Urbano – The nose came across as fruity, but savory, with black cherry followed by animal musk, floral perfumes and herbal tones. On the palate, it was bright with a medium body, showing tart cherry, dark chocolate, saline minerals and a medicinal herbal note. The finish was long, with a hint of heat showing bitter cherry. I often enjoy this wine, yet the 2009, as good as it is, seems to lack the energy of past vintages. (91 points)

Producer website: Speri
Avg. price $55
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera – The nose showed cherry and sweet floral tones, animal musk and a cool, lifting herbal note. On the palate, it showed ripe red fruits, herbal hints, and saline minerals. The fruit turned tart through the finish with blackberry and cranberry notes, contrasted by fine tannins. (89 points)

Producer website: Masi Agricola
Avg. price $50
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Azienda Agricola Musella Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva – The nose was at first restrained, yet with time in the glass began to show dusty spice, dried cherries, and hints of cranberry. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a child’s cherry candy. On the palate, spiced cherry and red licorice spread across the senses with soft and silky textures. The finish showed bitter cherry, yet seemed to lack depth. (88 points)

Producer website: Musella
Avg. price $50
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2007 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli – The nose was restrained, yet with time in the glass began to show black cherry, dusty cocoa, airy floral notes and black licorice. On the palate, it was silky and smooth with weighty notes of bitter cherry, yet it lacked any serious depth. Cherry and cola notes fleshed out on the finish. Enjoyable, yet lacking character. (88 points)

Producer website: Tenuta Sant'Antonio
Avg. price $63
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2008 Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Capitel Monte Olmi – The nose showed tart cherry, sour floral notes, green steams, green peas, and animal musk. On the palate, an impression of dark raspberry jam was kept fresh by vibrant acidity and excellent balance. The finish showed tannins complemented by dark red fruit, which was slightly bitter. (86 points)

Producer website: Tedeschi
Avg. price $82
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

2009 Barolo: Is Good Not Good Enough?

Cannubi reigns supreme with a number of excellent wines!
As we are all bombarded with news of how amazingly great 2010 Barolo is, and as importers and retailers speculate on just how much money they can squeeze out of us on presales of wines--which in some cases haven’t even been blended and bottled—I’m looking at the current release of 2009 Barolo. And why not? Oh wait; wasn’t this vintage canned as overly ripe with harsh tannins? Why, yes it was. However, that’s a broad generalization. The fact is, while many of us are spending ridicules amounts of money on wines we can’t even taste yet, there are wines turning up on the shelves now that may not be for the ages, but will drink well right out of the gate. What’s more, with all the speculation over 2010, don’t be surprised if you see these 2009’s heavily discounted. I’m not saying this is a great vintage, or even a good one, but there are some standout bottles that Barolo lovers will enjoy.

Cascina Gavarini at Monforte
2009 was an idiosyncratic vintage. Many people are simply calling it ripe and comparing it to 2007. However, the fact is that 2009 wasn’t your typical ripe vintage. Heavy snows built of up water reserves through the winter, (usually a good thing), but it didn’t stop there as a cool damp spring resulted in irregular flowering with more rain. In late July a steady heat set in, which didn’t relent. The ground water helped here, but combined with an excess of constant sun, the vines suffered without expert canopy management. Late August saw better temperatures and ripening into September, but further rain on the horizon prompted many growers to pick early. In the end, these wines were made in the vineyards, and those who failed there failed across the board.

You may wonder, why should we even consider buying them? I will admit that I have a tendency to associate classically-styled wines with quality. Yet, as the years go by and my cellar full of young Barolo (too young to drink) increases, I welcome a vintage that I can enjoy in the near term. In many cases, that’s what 2009 is, and in my opinion (because I heard many people say the same about 2003, and I disagree), it is one of the first young vintages that I’ve tasted where I actually enjoy drinking the wines.

So as we worry about how good 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2008 will one day turn out, and as we worry how we’re going to afford 2010, I suggest grabbing a bottle of Paolo Scavino Cannubi, Pecchenino Le Coste, Burlotto Monvigliero or any of my top scoring ‘09s, and give them a taste for yourself. I think you’ll be sipping and smiling, thinking about all those wines you might enjoy after twenty years in your cellar, and how much you’re currently enjoying the glass in your hand right now.

On to the wines:

2009 Paolo Scavino Barolo Cannubi – The nose really jumped from the glass in the 2009 Scavino Cannubi, showing dark raspberry, hints of spicy oak, chalky and sandy minerals with a slight sour floral note. On the palate, it was intense with dark red berry, mineral-infused stone and a formidable structure, which perfectly balanced the wine’s intensity. Saturating red fruit, which stayed long on the palate, personified the finish as this wine’s intensity slowly melted away. This dark beauty is a truly serious wine. (94 points)

Producer website: Paolo Scavino
Avg. price $115
Find it on: Wine-Seacher!

2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole – The nose was feminine and elegant, especially for this ripe vintage, showing mixed ripe berries, rosy floral tones and lifting hints of menthol. On the palate, it was focused and refined with bright red fruits, which showed excellent depth before being pushed back by the wine’s youthful structure. The finish was long and elegant, yet drying as expected. This is a beautifully balanced, finessed wine which should drink well relatively early. (93+ points)

Producer website: G.D. Vajra
Avg. price $80
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Pecchenino Barolo Le Coste – The nose was dark and powerful with ripe red fruits, sweet florals, spice and a mentholated freshness. On the palate, a grounding note of bitter, medicinal herb and spice, which provided a beautiful contrast of textures, met ripe raspberry and cherry. The finish was long with earthy dark fruits, which seemed to saturate the senses. The 2009 Pecchenino showed wonderful balance in its dark and brooding nature, a true standout in the vintage. (93 points)

Producer website: Pecchenino
Avg. price $65
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 G.B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero - The color was a beautiful translucent ruby. On the nose, I found heady aromas of ripe red berries and roses with crushed Kalamata olive, rosemary, and savory roasted meats. On the palate, it was tightly wound and feminine, showing densely packed dusty cherry fruit, herbal tones and minerals before it's fine tannins coated the senses. The finish was long, yet dry with red berry-concentrate saturating the senses. With time, this will gain weight and volume on the palate, making it a truly complete experience. For now, it needs time to fill out. (93 points)

Producer website: G.B. Burlotto
Avg. price $58
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Brezza Barolo Cannubi – The nose showed intense tart cherry and herbs with a bright and vibrant floral rose and hints of grapefruit. On the palate, it was feminine, yet concentrated and pure with tart cherry and inner floral tones. The finish was long, showing dried strawberry and hints of residual tannin. (92 points)

Producer website: Brezza
Avg. price $50
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Luigi Baudana Barolo Baudana - This showed a classic Barolo profile on the nose with dried cherry, crushed fall leaves, hints of iron, minerals and exotic spice. On the palate, I found juicy, ripe strawberry, yet it firmed up quickly, turning leaner with tannic heft. This wine was feminine and pure throughout with red fruit, inner floral notes and minerals on the finish. (92 points)

Producer website: Luigi Baudana
Avg. price $75
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Virna Barolo Cannubi Boschis – The nose was floral and vibrant, showing a mix of cherry, strawberry, floral rose and minerals. On the palate, it was silky upon entry with ripe strawberry, inner florals and herbs, yet it quickly tensed up to reveal slightly gruff tannins. The finish was unrelenting with beautiful inner floral notes and a hint of citrus. (92 points)

Producer website: Virna
Avg. price $59.99
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Cascina Bruciata Barolo Cannubi Muscatel – The nose was, at first, restrained, yet it opened beautifully in the glass to reveal strawberry, with a savory, almost meaty note, followed by floral perfumes and a hint of sweet citrus. On the palate, this showed an abundance of energy with dark cherry and a hint of citrus peel. The finish was tart yet long on fruit with hints of tannin tugging at the palate. (92 points)

Producer website: Cascina Bruciata
Avg. price $60
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera – Intense red berry, rosy floral perfume and dusty, dry spices filled the senses with one whiff from this feminine and floral Barolo. On the palate, I found tart, young berry fruit in a bright, feminine and floral expression of Nebbiolo fruit. A formidable tannic structure embodied the finish with tart berry extract clinging to the palate. This is a great value and excellent wine for the vintage though it is in need of time in the cellar to fully show its qualities. (91 points)

Producer website: Elvio Cogno
Avg. price $63
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Damilano Barolo Cannubi – The nose was ripe and dark, showing intense depth with mixed berries, hints of spice and cranberry, dark soil and undergrowth. On the palate, soft textures quickly turned to intense concentration, which really saturated the senses with medicinal cherry, inner floral tones and earth. The finish was beautiful, as the usually Nebbiolo tannins laid back to display inner floral notes and red fruit. Very nicely done, yet drinking early for a Barolo. (91 points)

Producer website: Damiliano
Avg. price $78
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Oddero Barolo Rocche di Castiglione – What was most striking about the Oddero Rocche was the color; a bright red and orange hue that’s almost transparent. However, one sniff, and this perfumed wine showed its power, as rich and dark ripe red fruits, spice, and hints of animal musk filled the senses. On the palate, it was structured yet focused, showing spiced cherry, cedar and earth. The finish was cut short by this wine’s tannic heft, yet a pleasantly earthy hint of fall leaves and wild berry lingered on. (91 points)

Producer website: Oddero
Avg. price $95
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Fratelli Alessandria Barolo Monvigliero – The nose was fresh and lifting with pretty, sweet floral notes, cherry and stony minerals. On the palate, it was ripe with silky textured, dark red fruits and herbs. Inner floral tones lasted into the finish, along with saturating red fruit, which clung to the senses. (91 points)

Producer website: Fratelli Alessandria
Avg. price $61
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 La Spinetta Barolo Vigneto Campe Vursu – The nose was dark yet restrained at first, yet with time in the glass it began to open up, showing ripe black cherry, dried, dusty floral tones and hints of spice. On the palate, ripe red fruits quickly turned tart and structured, yet there was a focus and elegance to the fruit. Tart red berry lingered on the youthful finish with hints of undergrowth. (91 points)

Producer website: La Spinetta
Avg. price $60
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato – The nose was dark with powerful ripe red fruits, spicy wood tones, potpourri and black licorice. Yet, on the palate, it was soft with silky textures, showing notes of cherry and dried spices in a very balanced and pure effort. The finish was long with spicy, dark red fruits and hints of tannin. Honestly, this wine was a pleasure on the palate, and it’s simply a shame to find so much oak influence in the nose. Maybe time will resolve that issue, yet with the 2009, I’m not sure the fruit will outlast the tannins. Yet, for someone who enjoys a modern style, this may be right up your alley. (89 points)

Producer website: Pio Cesare
Avg. price $100
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche – The nose showed ripe berry, hints of sweet spice and rosy floral tones. On the palate, it was soft and velvety with raspberry, dark spices and a hint of cedar. The finish was long and juicy, yet I continued to wonder throughout this experience: where are the tannins? An excellent wine for instant gratification. (89 points)

Producer website: Cerretto
Avg. price $190
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe - The nose was floral and ripe, showing spiced cherry, sweet florals, graphite, and lifting notes of peppermint. On the palate, it was juicy with weightless, silky textures and a dark red fruit persona. Sweet spices and inner florals lasted through the finish as tannins began to saturate, and dry out the senses. An excellent wine for it's price point and a great way to enjoy Barolo as your more expensive and austere bottles mature. (89 points)

Producer website: G.D. Vajra
Avg. price $37
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi – The nose was restrained, yet with coaxing, showed an elegant mix of dark cherry, rose, soil and minerals. On the palate, I found soft textures met by flavors of red berry and tealeaf; however, there seems to be a lack of concentration here. It finished much in the same manner as a pretty wine, yet falling slightly short. (88 points)

Producer website: Chiara Boschis
Avg. price $86
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Damilano Barolo Lecinquevigne – The nose showed tart cherry with floral rose, dark soil and gravel. On the palate, ripe red fruits were met by inner floral notes in an almost sweet style. Tannins took control through the finish, drying out the palate. (87 points)

Producer website: Damilano
Avg. price $32
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2009 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cannubi – The nose showed textbook Barolo notes of dried strawberry, floral rose and dusty spice, yet lacking any serious character. On the palate, it was intense with savory red fruit tones and a rough tannic structure that seemed to muddle its focus of fruit. Dark soil and red fruit remained on the finish with grainy tannin tugging at the cheeks. (86 points)

Producer website: Michele Chiarlo
Avg. price $93
Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Worth The Hunt: Dolcetto di Dogliani

An article by: Eric Guido

Dolcetto grapes on the vine, looking good enough
to eat.
There is a lot to love about the wines of Piedmont. It seems that there is something for everyone and a wine to pair with every course of the meal. When I started down this road of wine appreciation, Barolo was one of the first wines I grew to truly adore. I was drawn to its power, which seemed to perfectly coexist with its gracefulness and elegance. As I worked to understand this wine and the grape (Nebbiolo), which it is made from, I also began to read about the people and the place from which it came from. I experimented and fell in love with the cuisine. I think back to large tasting menus I created, centered on Piedmontese edibles. Then there was the wine and the multiple varieties from the region. Almost anyone who knows Barolo will also be familiar with Barbera. It's also not a stretch to see Arneis at your local wine shop. However, one grape that still doesn't receive the attention it deserves is Dolcetto.

A parmigiano polenta topped with wild mushrooms,
is one of my favorite Dolcetto pairings.
Dolcetto was, and in many ways still is, the everyday wine of Piedmont, being grown throughout the region. In many cases Dolcetto fills the vineyard areas where Nebbiolo—or, these day, even Barbera--won't thrive. It can be easily made into a young and remarkably fresh daily drinker. However, there is also a tannic backbone, allowing some producers to create a more serious expression, with short-term ageability. It pairs beautifully with a large array of foods, from starters to entrees of hearty stew, game, red meat, pasta and almost anything with mushrooms. The fruit leans to the darker spectrum with ripe blackberry, hints of herbs, minerals and with a bitter twang, yet doesn't take very well to new oak. The result is a beautiful varietal wine of character. Frankly, it's one of my favorite wines for winter.

The Pecchenino Farm in Dogliani 
However, there is one more factor to keep in mind. As I mentioned, Dolcetto is grown throughout the region, but in many places it sits second or third place to the bigger wines that can demand a higher price. A Dolcetto d'Alba or d'Asti can be great, and there are many that I love, but it wasn't until I began to explore the neighboring areas, some of which specialize in Dolcetto (such as Dogliani), that I truly began to understand what Dolcetto is capable of. In Dogliani, Dolcetto sits second to none. Here, Dolcetto has been produced for hundreds of years, and now by artisinal wine makers willing to give it the attention it deserves, while the vines enjoy the best vineyards and exposures that the region has to offer. The wines are intense and expressive, robust, elegant and often fruit-forward. Dolcetto Dogliani are incredibly food-friendly and made in both easy to understand and intense, deep styles. They are absolutely worth searching for and should fill the shelves of your local wine shop.

Below, you’ll find my tasting notes from a number of the best producers’ current releases from the region. This is in no way the end all list, but it’s a great place to start. I urge you to give them a try and to add these incredible, unique wines to your arsenal--and try paring them with some of your favorite foods. You will not be disappointed.

On to the wines:

2010 Pecchenino Dogliani Bricco Botti – This was explosive on the nose, showing intense ripe blackberry, sandy mineral tones and spice. On the palate, it was rich yet balanced with blackberry, hints of bitters and black licorice. Fine tannin showed itself throughout the finish, giving this even more depth and resulting in a long and satisfying experience. (94 points) avg. cost $36 Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2011 Marziano Abbona Dolcetto di Dogliani Papa Celso – The nose was rich, exciting and somehow autumnal, showing blackberry and spice, violet floral notes and undergrowth. On the palate, tart blackberry and herbs filled the senses in a juicy, soft textured effort. The finish was long and saturating with herb infused black fruits. Beautiful. (92+ pointsavg. cost $23 Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2011 Poderi Luigi Einaudi Dolcetto di Dogliani - The nose was intense and ripe yet wonderfully fresh, showing dark cherry, blackberry, herbal hints, chalk dust and floral undergrowth. On the palate, it was rich with saturating dark fruit spreading across all of the senses, followed by a tug of tannin, which lasted into the finish. It's a food wine, for sure, yet just as satisfying to enjoy a glass on its own. (92 pointsavg. cost $18 Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2012 Pecchenino Dolcetto di Dogliani San Luigi – A fresh yet energetic expression of blackberry jam, toast (not oak) and hints of wild herbs. On the palate, it showed ripe, juicy blackberry and herbs, which lasted through the mouthwatering finish. This was easy drinking, yet pure beauty in simplicity. (91 pointsavg. cost $15 Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2011 Gillardi Dolcetto di Dogliani Cursalet - The nose showed blackberry, floral notes, and herbs with a fresh airiness that imparted a lifting note to the blackberry fruit. On the palate, it was rich with juicy dark fruits and a hint of tannic heft, which gripped the senses, ending in a refreshing, dark fruity finish. This was everything I wanted in a Dolcetto. (90 pointsavg. cost $18 Find it on: Wine-Searcher!

2011 Francesco Boschis Dolcetto di Dogliani Vigna Dei Prey - The nose showed blackberry jam, herbs, lifting menthol-laced floral notes, and hints of peppery spice. On the palate, it was acid-driven with focused dark fruits and a mineral core. The finish showed drying tannin with tart blackberry and citrus notes. (89 pointsavg. cost $21 Find it on: Wine-Searcher!