Friday, December 13, 2019

A Year in Review & Top Wines of 2019

Touring Vineyards with Daniel Landi
Here we are, quickly approaching the end of 2019, a year that seemed to fly by due to just how jam-packed it was with events, tastings, and memorable moments. It was also a year of new discoveries, which I consider myself lucky to have been a part of, and I am very happy to share these with my readers. What's more, I gained a new respect for a region that I had dismissed to a certain degree, and in doing so have now opened my eyes to a category of domestic wine that will be filling my cellar for decades to come. As for tastings, I was fortunate to have been included in some of the most amazing events I can remember throughout my time as a wine lover, which became apparent as I toiled with the winner of my Top Back-Vintage Wine of the Year. And so, without further ado:

Welcome to my 2019 year in review.

This was a year that started at a high point of tastings, leading off with a dinner at the new Legacy Records, NYC. The hype is warranted at this trendy westside location, with the Honey Lacquered Duck being the food highlight of the night. As for wine, however, starting the year with a taste of the 1995 Poggio di Sotto Brunello Riserva set a high standard for the year. Anyone that follows my notes probably knows that I am a huge fan of the Piero Palmuci era of Poggio di Sotto - the only sad thing is how expensive these wines have become. However, this is a rare occasion where it’s truly warranted. This evening also began a series of vintage Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo tastings that continued throughout the year (and yes, I feel blessed for that).

As we moved into February, like most years, the onslaught of producer visits and organized tastings began. Keep in mind that there isn’t much for a winemaker to do in the winery or vineyards during the months of January and February, so most get on the road to visit accounts and talk about new vintages. One of the standouts this year was, undoubtedly, Luca Currado of the Vietti winery, who in conjunction with Jeff Porter (ex-Bastianich Beverage Director and the mastermind behind Sip Trip), held a focused tasting of the Vietti crus that all go into making the Barolo Castiglione. The Castiglione Barolo is one of the best values to be found in the region, vintage after vintage, and at this tasting, Luca went into detail to explain the terroir of each vineyard, just how important they are from an individual standpoint, and how each of them affects the final blend of Castiglione. It was eye-opening, to say the least.

Next up was a memorable 20-year retrospective of 1999 Barolo, organized by our private Barolo group, which was formed through the Vinous forums. It was a remarkable evening, showing how this vintage has slowly worked its way toward maturity, and in doing so, proved its worth. 1999 fell through the cracks for a large number of collectors since it landed in the middle of an amazing streak of great vintages in Barolo, but its importance is apparent. My closing remarks from that evening still echo clear: “Do you have enough 1999 Barolo in your cellar?”

From there, an event I look forward to each year: I started to gear up for Antonio Galloni’s, La Festa del Barolo. What made the 2019 edition of Antonio’s event truly special was his Rare Wine Dinner, held at Nomad’s rooftop and featuring a rare vertical of large-format, Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva. This was a once-in-a-lifetime tasting, with the majority of the wines coming from one collector’s cellar, and a bottling that is never commercially released. The only way to build a collection such as this was to be a friend of the family or a long-standing, regular customer at the cellar door for decades. Not only was it like tasting history, it also showed how much provenance counts--the wines were pristine. This was also the night that I tasted my Top Back Vintage Wine of the Year (hint, hint).

As the year moved on and tastings continued to present themselves, one that stands out and opened my eyes to a neglected category was La Tablee, which featured wines from the Rhone, where each producer put a new vintage against a mature one for attendees to taste. The Rhone, particularly the south, has always represented a love-hate relationship for me, as I was introduced to it in the heights of the Parker Era of wines from the region. 2005, 2007, and 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape still lines my cellar, but I find those vintages a little hard to stomach. That said, what this tasting gave me was a newfound respect for the “lesser vintages”, which have since provided me with a great deal of pleasure, 2004, 2006, and 2012 being years that I follow closely now. What’s more, if you haven’t tasted the wines from the 2015 through 2017 vintages, then you don’t know what you’re missing. Châteauneuf du Pape has completely upped its game.

Tasting with Gonzalo Iturriaga of Vega Sicilia
Next up was a sit-down with Gonzalo Iturriaga, head winemaker of Vega Sicilia, who was showing the most recent vintages from all of the Vega properties across Spain and even into Hungary. What struck me most was how these wines have evolved over the short period of time that I’ve had the pleasure of tasting them. Spain is changing right before our eyes, and Vega isn’t missing a beat. Little did I know at the time that this tasting would be followed by a trip to Spain only two months later, but not to see the historic properties. Instead, this was a trip to visit the “off-the-beaten-path” producers of the region, and what better way to preface such a trip than by reading Luis Gutierrez’s recent book, The New Vignerons. I was enthralled by the The New Vignerons, which turned out to be an easy page-turner, filled with new producer names and regions that I had never thought to explore. It was a great preface to my visit, which brings me to my most memorable moment of 2019--my trip to Spain.

Preparing to climb to Tumba del Rey Moro
Having already been to the major wine-producing regions of Spain, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect, but little did I know that this trip would introduce me to a whole new way of thinking about the region. Today’s Spain is no longer about centuries of tradition and trying to be or replicate the prestige of any other wine-producing region. Instead, it’s about defining terroir, looking to locations that have over a century's worth of vinous history, yet had never previously been known outside of the small mountain-top villages that enjoyed them. Names like Dominio del Aguila, Comando G, Envinate, Casa Castillo, and just about anything with Raul Perez’s name attached to it are sure bets for the future. The only problem is how limited they are.

Chris Figgins of Figgins Family and Leonetti
As is usually the case, the travel period of each year seems to go at breakneck speed, which brings me to the next trip of 2019, and my realization of just how important this oft-forgotten region of domestic wine is: Washington State. My trip out west to Washington proved that this is a category to watch. As we all lament over the cost and limited nature of California Cabernet and Bordeaux blends, here we have a region that produces some of the best examples that I’ve tasted in years, and they’re doing it at a fraction of the price. What’s more, these aren’t California look-alikes, nor are they trying to be Bordeaux. Instead, Washington falls comfortably in the middle of the two; lovers of both the Old World and the new can find a lot to like here.

Five Years of
Morrell Catalogs
My return home meant the start of the 2019 Morrell Wine Catalog, a time that I’m incredibly proud of, but as is usually the case, envelops the entire months of July through October. In the end, it’s always been worth the effort, and this year was no different. Volume 5 of Morrell Wine’s catalog is the largest (184 pages), most comprehensive version to date, along with a digital version that contains 240 pages worth of content. Each year, I struggle with the dilemma of how to outdo the year before. This year, it was through the introduction of many new producers that were discovered throughout the year. Even the cover is a departure from the norm, showcasing one of the most dramatic vineyards I’ve ever encountered: the old vines of Pintia in Toro, Spain.

With November came our gearing up for the Holidays, as well as sneaking in one more Giuseppe Rinaldi tasting for good measure, courtesy of a good friend and collector. But also, the start of a new project which I’m very proud of, and that’s the new producer video interview series, which began with Giuseppe Vajra of G.D. Vajra, and has now also includes Claudia Cigliuti and Andrea Sottimano. Being a collector puts me in a position where I find myself with a lot of questions for winemakers, which I believe consumers are eager to know the answers to as well. Keep an eye out for many more to come in 2020. This is something that I’ve wanted to do for many years.

Behind The Scenes with
Andrea Sottimano
Which brings us to December and what has yet to come. I know the holiday season always presents some great tasting opportunities and surprises, but what’s gotten me even more excited is what 2020 will bring. In fact, I’ve never been so eager to get a jump on a new year as I am right now, because I have a feeling that 2020 will be EPIC. Until then, enjoy my top wines of 2019, and cheers to the new year ahead of us.

Eric Guido’s Top Wines of 2019

Daniel Landi of Comando G
Spain, Italy and Washington hold the top spots of my list this year, and each of these wines has earned their place. In fact, 5 years ago, I would never have believed you if you had told me that these would be my top three wines. Why? When it comes to Spain, all I had the opportunity to taste were oak-slicked wines of dark ripe fruit. As for Fontodi in Tuscany, I was a devout lover of Vigna del Sorbo, and I would always say that Fallianello was too “Internationally-styled”. And then there’s Washington, which I respected, but simply didn’t understand at the time. However, today, Spain has a new pulse, Fontodi and Tuscany has achieved an unprecedented increase in quality and level of balance, and Washington continues to refine, improve, and also benefit from one of the best recent vintages: 2016.

2016 Familia Nin-Ortiz Garnacha Priorat Nit de Nin Coma D'en Romeu - Now this is unique and highly enjoyable, showing a display of dried strawberries, offset by spicy orange zest, hints of lime, exotic spice, savory herbs, dried red florals, smoky minerals and hints of brown sugar. On the palate, I found velvety textures, enlivened by fresh acidity, continuing the citrus theme, as ripe red berry fruits, sweet spices, and hints of fine tannin settled on the senses. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to the long, long finish, showing saturating minerality, spices, red fruits and hints of wild herbs, as lingering acids buzzed upon the senses. (97 points)

To My Surprise, Flaccianello Edged out
VdS in 2016
2016 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT - The nose was alluringly dark, spicy and floral, with crushed stone, giving way to blackberry, savory meats, animal tones and wild herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by zesty acidity, with saturating spices and mineral-infused dark fruits cascading across the senses in a wonderfully fresh expression, before fine tannins settled in. The finish was long, almost salty and savory, with tart blackberry and minerals soaking the senses with grippy tannins. Wow. A totally different expression of young Flaccianello, and I like it a lot. In fact, I’m noticing that Flaccianello has been impressing me a bit more than Vigna del Sorbo in recent vintages. (97 points)

2016 Leonetti Cellar Reserve Walla Walla Valley - Here I found a mix of dark, herbal-infused fruit, with lifting mineral tones and sweet spice. On the palate, velvety textures host a wave of ripe dark fruits, sweet spice, and minerals, as inner florals emerged, along with saturating tannins. The finish was long, intense, spicy, but also perfectly balanced, as dark fruit and tannin slowly faded from the senses. The 2016 Reserve is already showing so beautifully, yet it is also built for the long haul. (97 points)

Following up my top three is a series of wines that are almost impossible to categorize by quality. In fact, wines holding the fourth through tenth spots are all overperformers. In many cases, they are overlooked or misunderstood, but in my mind, they represent the future of each region.

Like Splitting Hairs Trying To Decide:
The 2015 Scavino Barolo Collection
2015 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric dël Fiasc - The nose was intense and viral, as the bouquet wafted up from the glass with masses of dark red fruit, crushed stone, dried rosy florals, wild herbs and smoke. On the palate, I found silky textures, displaying fleshy ripe cherry offset by zesty spices, minerals and acids. The finish was long, resonating on mineral-infused dark red fruits with energizing acids and balsamic spice, as fine tannins slowly mounted. This is so easy to like already, but it is structured and balanced for the long haul. (96 points)

2016 Daniel Gómez Jiménez Landi Vino de la Tierra de Castilla El Reventón RV - The nose was slightly restrained, yet very, very pretty, showing fresh, ripe strawberries off the vine, moist earth, dusty sweet spices, a mix of exotic florals, stone dust, and hints of white pepper. On the palate, I found silky-soft textures, with an almost-creamy feel, delivering a sweet but peppery display of ripe and savory cherry, raspberry sauce, confectionary spices, minerals and wonderfully balancing acidity. The finish was long, but subtle, with pretty red fruits, red licorice, spice, and masses of tactile inner florals, as I felt a warming, pleasing sensation of heat going down. What a crazy wine and so easy to like already. (96 points)

2016 Sottimano Barbaresco Pajoré - The ‘16 Pajore was pure elegance in a glass. The nose showed dark wild berries, dried roses, spice box, dusty earth and hints of floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures over a weighty framework, as brisk acidity added poise, showing a mix of cherries and strawberries, with sweet inner florals and spice. It was so balanced and, at times, pliant. As its youthful tannins mounted, the finish slowly resolved into an expression of dried red fruits and clenching tannin. (96 points)

2013 San Giusto a Rentennano La Ricolma Toscana IGT - The ‘13 La Ricolma showed a darker and spicier expression than the vintages surrounding it. Here I found a bouquet of crushed black raspberry, tart cherry, sage, dusty earth tones, stone dust and dried florals. On the palate, silky textures were contrasted by savory spice, minerals and lively acidity, as an intense mix of saturating red and blue fruits bombarded the senses, leaving youthful tannins in their wake. The finish was long and structured, as zesty acids gave life to lingering tart cherry, spice and minerals. There are many years of evolution in store for the ‘13, and anyone who has it in their cellar will be very happy in another ten years. (96 points)

Cristiana Tiberio with Levi Dalton
and Giuseppe Palmieri
2015 Tiberio Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Fonte Canale - The nose was deeply expressive, showing more like a steely white Burg than what you’d expect from an Italian Bianco. Here I found a display of rich white stone fruits, savory minerals, rubbed sage, sea air, and hints of spice. On the palate, I found round textures on a medium-bodied frame showing savory minerals, green apple, young peach, and saline-infused yellow citrus. The finish was long, with saturating mineral tones, resonating tart apple acidity, hints of lemon peel, and inner florals. (95 points)

2016 Domaine Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape - The nose was incredibly fresh and pretty, showing crushed stone with dusty, violet pastille infused blackberry, fresh black cherry, and dark, dried floral tones. On the palate, I found velvety textures, yet still so fresh and lifted by brisk acids, seeming like liquid violet florals splashing across all of the senses, showing a mix of blue and black fruits with sweet spice, minerals and hints of tannin. The finish was fresh, with just a hint of heat, displaying saturating young tannin and dark floral-infused black fruits. This is so fresh yet still structured to age. I can imagine that 2-3 years in the cellar will reveal an even better experience. Wow! (95 points)

2016 Domaine Saint-Damien Gigondas La Louisiane - The nose was intense, with a complex display of blackberry, crushed stone, smoke, incense shop, exotic spice, wild mountain herbs, pepper and hints of violet flowers. On the palate, I found silky, verging on velvety, textures, offset by a mix of compact blackberry and cherry fruit, followed by spices, minerals and fine tannin, which all seemed quite poised, like a bomb waiting to go off, as brisk acidity kept the experience juicy and pleasurable, and an inner floral note of violets toward the finale. The finish was long and structured, as fine tannins saturated the senses, leaving savory minerals and dried black fruits to linger on and on. This is a serious Gigondas, distinctly savory, and in need of some time in the cellar. It's a gorgeous wine. (95 points)

Wines eleven through thirteen hold a special place in my heart, as I originally intended this to be a “Top Ten” list, but I just couldn’t leave them out. Each of these wines truly moved me. Granted, all three of them are very limited, but in my opinion, they are all worth seeking out, and they represent amazing value in their category.

2016 Domaine Georges Vernay Côte-Rôtie Maison Rouge - The nose was gorgeous, with purple florals giving way to smoky crushed stone, blackberries, a dusting of violet candies, and sweet spice. On the palate, I found soft textures contrasted by salty minerals, tart black fruits, brisk acids and savory spice. The finish was long, saturating the senses with tart black fruits, savory dried meats, minerals and young tannins. This is just a baby, and with so much potential. (95 points)

2017 Montsecano Pinot Noir - The nose was gorgeous and exotic, more lifted than the 2016, as a burst of orange and yellow citrus gave way to bright strawberry, sweet, dusty minerals, a bouquet of fresh florals and spice. On the palate, I found silky, pure red-fruited textures, guided by laser-like acidity, as a mix of saline-minerals, tangerine and sweet herbs flooded the senses. The finish was long, yet quite feminine and graceful, echoing the citrus-tinged red fruits from the nose and palate, while showing sizzling acids, salty minerals and fine tannin, with a hint of tamarind that seemed to last for well over a minute. At this time, the gutsy ‘16 has a leg up on this vintage, but with time, that opinion might change. (94 points)

2014 Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits St. Georges Blanc - What a gorgeous intoxicating bouquet on the ‘14 Nuits-Saint-Georges Blanc. It literally kept me coming back to the glass over and over again. On the nose, I found a savory, salty expression of sea air mixed with smoked meats, green olive, and savory spice. Behind it I found the prettiest white floral tones. On the palate, soft textures flooded the senses, as a wave of acid-infused, salty minerals cut through them like razor, revealing white peaches and inner floral tones. The finish was long and spicy, with wild herbs and resonating minerality. What a gorgeous wine. (94 points)

My Top Scoring Vintage Wine of the Year

I know that finding this wine in the market will be extremely difficult, but if you have the means, then it’s worth the hunt. 1978 is considered one of the greatest vintages of the region, and Giuseppe Rinaldi captured all of that magic in his 1978 Brunate Riserva. I was humbled by this wine, moved, and left in awe. It is now ranked among a small list of wines that have achieved a 99-point score from me.

1978 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Riserva Speciale delle Brunate - The 1978 was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We often hear about how great this vintage is, yet we seldom get to experience it. The nose was dark, rich, layered…intense, showing a mix of brown spice, crushed black fruits, dried strawberries, balsamic tones, savory herbs, dusty soil and hints of sour animal muskiness. On the palate, silky textures were perfectly balanced by refreshing acids and lingering tannin, as red berries and spice tones emerged, along with lifting minerality and masses of dark inner florals. It finished long, balanced, and wonderfully enjoyable, with lingering spice, earthy minerals and resonating dried florals. What a dramatic and perfectly matured bottle of Barolo. I will never forget it. (99 points)

My Top Scoring Current Release Wine of the Year

It’s one thing to read about a producer and a region and another to actually visit them. My trip to Spain included a hike up the Tumba del Rey Moro vineyard in the Gredos mountains, and I must say that it felt like a pilgrimage of sorts. At 1200-1300 meters above sea level, this centennial vineyard exists in spite of its poor rocky soils and desolate climate, but it produces Garnacha of such remarkable beauty that I was left speechless. I sat with this glass for at least an hour, watching it blossom and evolve. Only a master could capture such immaculate purity in a bottle, and Comando G is apparently up to the task.

2016 Comando G Tumba del Rey Moro - To walk through and witness the magnitude of the Rey Moro vineyard, and then taste the wine, was such an amazing experience all on its own. Here I found an absolutely stunning, savory and alluring bouquet, showing mountain and brush herbs, cracked pepper, smoke, crushed rocks, and embers, as the wine opened more in the glass, evolving into ripe strawberries fresh on the vine, rose petals, and exotic spices. On the palate, silky textures flooded the senses, laced with peppery spices, liquid florals, fresh strawberries, and saline-infused minerality, with energy in abundance as brisk acids made the mouth water, and youthful tannin slowly mounted. The finish was long, savory and almost salty with its intense minerality, darker fruit than the nose and palate, and lingering savory herbs. What an incredible wine. So unique, so fresh, and so intense. (98 points)

Best Value Buy of the Year

What’s a top wines list without the value score of the year, and the 2017 Descendientes de José Palacios Pétalos is the winner. This is a remarkably energetic wine that balances between sweet and savory, along with an acid spine that keeps it juicy and fresh. It can pair with a wide variety of foods from seafood to hearty red meats, and it simply keeps you coming back to the glass over and over again. The Pétalos is a field blend that’s based on Mencia, but it also contains a mix of other reds, and even a few indigienous white varieties. It’s off the beaten path, but a path worth traveling. I highly recommend seeking it out.

2017 Descendientes de José Palacios Bierzo Pétalos - The nose showed a mix of dusty cherry and strawberry fruits, with savory smokiness and admirable richness, as notes of sage and floral undergrowth developed. On the palate, I found soft yet vibrant textures giving way to zesty acids, with spicy red and black berries, violet-tinged inner florals and saturating minerality. The finish was long, spicy, and staining to the senses, with notes of mineral-soaked raspberry and hints of fine tannin. To think that this is their entry-level wine is amazing. (92 points)

Luca Currado of Vietti, who speaks of passion
for Piedmont through his every word.
And that’s that. Another year done, and quite an amazing one at that. I want to thank all of the amazing friends, collectors and business partners who opened these amazing wines for me.

Eric Guido

Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido

Thanks you to David Bowler Wine

Thank you to IPO Wines

Thank you to Skurnik Wines

Thank you to Cristiana Tiberio and Jeff Porter

Thank you to Luca Currado, Giuseppe Vaira, Claudia Cigluti and Andrea Sottimano

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Family, Tradition & Barolo: Video Interview with Giuseppe Vaira

My sit-down and chat with Giuseppe Vaira of G.D. Vajra to talk about family, the history of Vajra, life-long traditions, and what the future looks like.

One of the most impactful moments of my career in wine, was meeting Giuseppe Vaira over ten years ago, at a local shop, as he talked about his love of the region and wine.  His spirit, and passion moved me, as well as having a taste of the great wines G.D. Vajra produces.  Imagine my excitement over having the opportunity to sit with Giuseppe and ask him all the questions that my heart desired. 

This interview is packed with insights from Giuseppe on the region, a great family history and some Easter eggs regarding what we have to look forward to in the years ahead.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Walking a Tightrope: 2017 Chateauneuf Du Pape & Southern Rhones

For me, the majority of southern Rhone isn’t about maturing wines until they are “ready” to drink.

Frankly, with the exception of only a small number of wines, I have seldom witnessed a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigiondas, Vacqueyras, Cairanne or Rasteau get significantly better with age. In fact, what I have experienced more often than not are wines that go from being a contrast of dark richness balanced by primary, energetic fruit in their youth, to becoming muddled and flat, showing overripe, unbalanced and just being plain uninteresting in their “maturity”.

Granted, this doesn’t happen overnight, and in my opinion a solid Rhone wine will gracefully evolve over the course of five to eight years. While a few of them do shut down during that time (these are the ones to put away in the cellar), the majority continue to deliver pleasure throughout this time period. This reminds me of a mistake I’ve made too often, and that’s burying too many bottles in my cellar to catch them in their maturity, only to come back later and find a wine that is past its prime. That’s not to say that there aren’t examples and vintages that mature more gracefully, but I am saying that it’s a crapshoot. For every great mature bottle I’ve experienced, there have easily been five-to-ten others that fell seriously short.

I feel confident in making this statement because, as a collector, I enjoy mature wines. I love secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors, but let’s just be honest, not all wine should be aged for ten-plus years. It took a lot of time and a lot of over-the-hill bottles, but I’m finally ready to admit that I find much more pleasure in young, primary and energetic Southern Rhone wines, and that’s exactly why I’m finding so much to love about the 2017 vintage.

Having said that, I still believe that the dark and graceful 2016s and powerful 2015s are technically better vintages (yes, I am a fan of the 2015s). In my opinion, both vintages are also more likely to yield wines that will make the ten-year mark, but I’m still not ready to hide them away like I did with the 2007s (talk about a lot of wines that are now unbalanced and tasting overly ripe). I will continue to enjoy them and go deep on the ones I love, but they will always remain within reach.

However, I’m getting off topic, because the fact is that the inspiration that caused me to begin typing today is the 2017 vintage and how impressed I’ve been as I’ve tasted these wines. One thing I would like to point out is that the majority of my tastings have been of the “tradition-level” bottles from producers. You know what I mean, right? I am talking about the “entry-level” village bottles--which happen to be the classic wines, typically the producers’ best expressions of house style, using a “traditional” blend of Rhone varieties, and are also your best bet for a Rhone wine to pair well with a meal.

In my opinion, most of those top-shelf and prestige-level wines are usually the ones that end up coming across as over-the-top and unbalanced in their youth and maturity. They are styled to appeal to the palates of a collector that fits more of the old-school Robert Parker days of Southern Rhone wine criticism. This is a general statement (exceptions I’ve found; Janasse VV, Marcoux VV, St. Cosme Gigondas, Prefert St. Giraud, Clos du Caillou Quartz), but my best advice to anyone seeking to explore the southern Rhone is to start with a producer’s “tradition-level” wine, and if you love it (and only if you love it), you should begin looking to their other wines.

It’s through this practice that I form the majority of my opinions about a vintage, as well as checking in on a number of Cotes du Rhone wines from my favorite producers. Sometimes, like with the Janasse CdR Les Garrigues, you find a wine that performs on a higher level than expected, which can also save you a lot of money when building your collection.

Domaine de Marcoux Cellar
So what is it that I love about the 2017s? For starters, the majority of them show a balance of intense deep red and pretty blue fruits, which isn’t something you often find. Imagine crushing a handful of ripe raspberries and blueberries together, then adding in some sweet violet florals, or better yet, that dusty sweet spice of violette candies--that’s the bouquet of a 2017 southern Rhone. Does that sound appealing? Well it is, very much so. Next, it’s the textural experience. The 2017 vintage was hot, remarkably dry and with low yields. This resulted in small and very concentrated berries. Many of the wines show this through their textural richness, which is otherworldly when balanced by a good core of acidity, creating an elegant yet lifted expression. Lastly, it’s how they handle their alcohol. Seldom did I find any hint of heat, even though some of them reached 16% abv.

However, there is one feature of the 2017 vintage that I must warn you of, and that’s how many of these wines needed time to open up in the glass, versus starting strong from the moment they were poured. It’s because of this that I believe that many people who tasting these in large format or at standing tastings will very easily miss the charms of the ‘17s. These are not your average pop-and-pour Rhones, as each of them came to life only after a few minutes in the glass. Don’t make this mistake, because they deserve your attention, and you will not regret giving it to them.

On to the Tasting Notes

Domaine Isabel Ferrando

The is the passion project of Isabel Ferrando (Domaine St. Prefert). It’s always 100% Grenache from sandy soils in the lieu-dit of Colombis, located on the western edge of the appellation. Isabel has also been experimenting with varying degrees of whole-cluster fermentation.

Domaine Isabel Ferrando Châteauneuf-du-Pape Colombis 2017 - The nose showed rich brown spices, ripe strawberries, lavender and mint, hints of dried orange and tobacco, smoky crushed stone, and lifting florals. On the palate, I found soft textures, guided by brisk acids, spice and minerals, as zesty red fruits swept across the senses, leaving hints of sweet herbs and blue fruits. The finish was long and structured, not showing a hint of its 15% alc, but instead a fresh display of red and blue fruits with sweet florals lingering long. (96 points)

Roger Sabon

With most of their vineyards located in the Northeastern section of Chateauneuf du Pape, in sandy soils with a high concentration of red clay and limestone, the wines of Roger Sabon find a balance between elegance and graceful lift. In my opinion, you don’t need to look beyond the Reserve to find the true wine of the house. The Reserve is composed of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre, refined for 18 months in a combination of 40hl foudres, 25hl cuves tronconiques 25 and demi-muids.

Roger Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve 2017 - The nose was dark and brooding at first, yet with time in the glass, it blossomed beautifully to reveal notes of smoky bacon fat, opening further as sweet violet florals and lifting minerality was added, then strawberry, exotic spices, hints of pepper and savory herbs. On the palate, velvety textures flooded the senses, maintaining wonderful freshness through brisk acids, as sweet spice-tinged blueberry, strawberry and saturating minerals fleshed out, leaving hints of fine tannin and inner violet florals. It finished amazingly long and lightly structured, resonating on dried blueberries, hints of black tea, subtle sweet spice and a bump of acidity, which kept things fresh and wonderfully vibrant. This was the first 2017 that I’ve tasted where I believe it outclasses the previous vintage. (95 points)

Clos Saint Jean

To be honest, I didn’t expect to enjoy the 2017 VV as much as I did, as Clos Saint Jean is known as being one of the more modern estates in the region. Their source of fruit is undeniable, coming from within the southeastern plateau of La Crau in iron-rich red clays topped with galets. The Vieilles Vignes also sees some fruit from vineyards bordering La Crau, growing in alluvial clay and sand. It’s a classic blend of Grenache (raised in concrete), Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Vaccarèse, and Muscardin (all refined in French oak).

Clos Saint Jean Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2017 - The nose was rich and intense, showing crushed raspberry and blueberry fruits mixed with white smoke, dried orange citrus, a dusting of holiday spice, and violette candies, as a hint of animal muskiness added a bit of a rustic leaning. On the palate, deep, velvety textures gave way to zesty, spice-infused red and black fruits, as sweet herbs and minerals saturated the senses, with hints of youthful tannin slowly mounting. The finish was long, focused on red and black fruits and liquid violet florals, enlivened by zesty acids yet also structured, as a bitter twang of minerals and citrus offset its ripe fruit profile.

This is a great rendition of Vieilles Vignes, as I believe the 2017 vintage really played right into their hands. This is another '17 that I believe outperforms its '16 counterpart. While the '16 might be a better wine with age, the '17 is already giving so much and handles its 16% abv. effortlessly. (94+ points)

Domaine Giraud

I’ve become quite a fan of Domaine Giraud, and I’m a buyer in almost every vintage. The Domaine itself is located in the southern reaches of Chateauneuf du Pape, yet their vineyards are spread throughout, including the renowned Pignan. The Tradition is composed of 60% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre grown in clay and sandy soils, covered in rounded stones. It’s a classic that drinks well young but also matures beautifully. I also included their CdR Les Sables d'Arène, a 100% varietal Grenache from 65-75-year-old vines planted in a sandy part of Lirac. It’s a real standout in 2017.

Domaine Giraud Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tradition 2017 - At first it seemed almost over the top, yet it leveled off and gained wonderful complexity, showing a bouquet that really pulls you toward the glass, with a mix of exotic spices blowing off to reveal crushed raspberry, ripe blueberries, violet-tinged florals, garigue, smoke and crushed stone. On the palate, velvety textures enveloped the senses, giving way to ripe blackberry, cherry, sweet floral-infused spices and minerals, as it glided effortlessly on a core of brisk acids. The finish was long and fresh, yet also showing a coating of fine tannin with saturating black fruits and minerals lingering long. If you don't give the 2017 Tradition the attention it deserves, you could almost mistake it for an easygoing and ripe expression of the vintage, yet with just a little time in the glass, it reveals its true self. What a beautiful wine. (94 points)

Domaine Giraud Côtes du Rhône Vieilles Vignes Les Sables d'Arène 2017 - The bouquet of the 2017 Les Sables d'Arene literally rose up out of the glass without a single swirl, as a mix of blackberries, zesty spice, notes of crushed violet candies, and licorice gave way to savory leather, pepper and lifting minerality. On the palate, I found silky textures, with ripe red and blue fruits, yet offset by a mix of acid and spice, which made the tongue curl, as hints of sweet herbs and a twang of citrus flooded the senses. The finish was medium in length and wonderfully fresh for such a large wine, as black fruits lingered along with sweet spices and a hint of tannin. (92 points)

Domaine de la Janasse

Janasse is one of the producers of CdP that first convinced me to explore the region deeper, having enjoyed a mature 2001 Chaupin. Granted, they are considered more modern, yet not overpowering. In fact, the wines are a model of elegance. The Tradition-level CdP comes from Northern vineyards, planted mostly in red clay, limestone, galets, and sand, along with some fruit from La Crau. The wine is fermented with a small percentage of stems and is a blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, and 5% Cinsault refined for 12 months in a combination of vat and 20% in new barrels. I also included the CdR Les Garrigues, a wine I love, produced from century-old Grenache, planted in red clay pebbly soil in the northwest of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and refined only in tank.

Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2017 - The bouquet was seductive, with its ripe blue and black berries giving way to baked plum, with a dusting of crushed violette candies, white smoke, minerals, and with time, hints of undergrowth. On the palate, silky textures washed across the senses with a mix of raspberry and blueberry tones, guided by cool-toned acids adding vibrancy, as sweet spice and purple florals resonated throughout. The finish was medium in length, showing a mix of violet florals, blackberry, spice and a twang of vibrant acids. This is a very pretty expression of the vintage, so easy to like, and with a gentle nature. (91 points)

Domaine de la Janasse Côtes du Rhône Les Garrigues 2017 - The nose was remarkably fresh, showing bright strawberry and crushed blueberries laced with violet florals, smoke, a dusting of sweet spice, hints of citrus and wet stone. On the palate, I found silky textures, lifted through brisk acids, which also created stunning vibrancy throughout, as ripe red fruits flooded across the senses with spicy intensity, followed by saturating minerals and purple-tinged inner florals. The finish was long with a twang of zesty spice and acids lingering, as red and blue fruits slowly faded to reveal a layer of fine tannin across the senses. I was amazed by the purity and refreshing qualities of this vintage of Les Garrigues. Also of note is how I’ve found this to slightly outperform the house’s Chateauneuf du Pape Tradition two vintages in a row now. (94 points)

Domaine de Marcoux

The Pinot of the Southern Rhone? I can’t argue; the wines of Marcoux have a silky grace and red fruit to them that’s gorgeous. The Tradition comes from a mix of different vineyards from around the village in various soils of red clay, galets, sand, gravel, clay limestone, and marls. It’s composed of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault, refined eighteen months in 90% concrete and 10% neutral wood. It’s a truly gorgeous and balanced expression worth seeking out, but also one of the pricier tradition-level wines.

Domaine de Marcoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2017 - The nose showed a zesty expression of crushed raspberry, blueberry, both sweet and savory spice, and lifting violet florals, complicated by dusty minerality and smoke. On the palate, the softest, most enveloping textures imaginable were contrasted by cool-toned red fruits and brisk acids, as a staining of liquid florals and minerals coated the senses, leaving saturating fine tannin in their wake. The finish was long yet fresh, as hints of mineral-infused red berries, spices, and violet inner florals slowly faded amidst grippy young tannins. The '17 Domaine de Marcoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape seemed to close in on itself the longer in spent in the glass, which leads me to believe that the best is still yet to come. Simply gorgeous. (93 points)

Domaine Saint Prefert

I’m not sure how much higher Isabel Ferrando can raise the bar at this historic property in the South of Châteauneuf du Pape. In 2017, the Tradition at this estate was composed of 85% Grenache, 5% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre and 5% Cinsault, refined for 15 months in tank concrete. It’s a joyful expression of the region and varietals.

Domaine Saint Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2017 - The '17 Saint Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape has evolved since my last taste a few months ago. Here I found a bright, spicy blend of crushed raspberries and strawberries, with sweet herbal lift, smoke, violette pastille, and fresh red florals. On the palate, silky textures were energized by brisk acids, giving way to ripe red fruits, exotic spice, and liquid sweet florals, which coated the senses, leaving minerals and youthful tannin behind. The finish was long, displaying palate-staining red fruits, which dried slightly due to the wine’s hidden structure, as inner florals and spice lingered long. This is beautiful juice, and at only 13.5% abv--for CdP, amazing! (93 points)

Domaine Brusset

The one Gigondas I was able to get my hands on in time for this article was the ‘17 Domaine Brusset Les Hauts de Montmirail. The Domaine is located at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, where terraces carry their vines into the limestone soils of these mountain slopes. Les Hauts is composed of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah, which are crushed and fermented separately before being blended and refined in oak, 50% of which is new. If you’re looking for a 2017 to bury in the cellar, this is certainly a good candidate.

Domaine Brusset Gigondas Les Hauts de Montmirail 2017 - The nose was dark and rich, displaying crushed plums and blackberries, laced with violet pastile, smoky minerals, hints of air-dried meats, white pepper, and a dusting of sweet and savory spices. On the palate, velvety textures coated the senses, as an intense wave of tart black fruits, minerals, and brisk acidity cut through with laser-like focus, leaving fine tannin in their wake. Notes of savory spice, Alpine herbs, and smoked meats gave way to a long finish, with staying tannic clout, resonating on dried blueberries, blackberries, dark chocolate, and pepper. This is a serious bottle of Gigondas that should be amazing with another three to five years in the cellar. (92 points)

Monday, November 18, 2019

Exposing The Regal Terroir of Serraboella

Sitting down with Claudia Cigliuti of Cigliuti Barbaresco, talking about the past, present and future of the region and her family.  They are pioneers and farms at the core, making great Barbaresco, just happens to be a very happy result.  Enjoy!

If you would like to learn more, check out The Cellar Table Blog for a full write up of the producer and their wines.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Exploring The New Frontiers of Spain

Bitten by the Spanish Wine Bug at The V.I.P. Table

It all started with Rajat Parr’s newest book, a real page-turner I must add, The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste.  However, what captivated me most was the very final chapter on Spain.  I’ve read more books about Italy, France, and Germany than I can recount.  However, what I’ve had very little exposure to was a well-written and insightful piece on Spain, and that is exactly what the final chapter of Rajat’s book spoke about.  The best part was that this section didn’t speak about the usual suspects.  Instead, Rajat went on to talk about what was exciting him, which was the new generation of winemakers, some of whom were working in the well-known regions of Spain, but others were exploring new frontiers, terroir, and making the best use of often-forgotten vineyards.

As I’ve come to realize, as soon as someone begins to talk to me about biodynamic winemaking, ancient vines mixed with ancient techniques, forgotten landscapes and unique grape varieties, my ears perk up like a starving man hearing the dinner bell.

I jumped in feet first.  Some of these producers I had already heard of, such as Dominio del Aguila and Nin Ortiz, but others were completely new to me, and I decided it was time to seek them out.  

What I found only increased my desire to explore and learn more.  Each and every example provided me with an entirely new array of aromas, tastes and sensations, things that I had never expected from a glass of wine, such as those from Daniel Gomez Jimenez Landi, where the bouquet of each wine was like touring through a selection of the most carefully curated rose gardens, or a florist shop full of sweet flowers and spices.  Each expression was remarkably different from region to region, producer to producer and grape to grape, yet all of them so inviting, seductive and refined.

Refined is the most important part I must add, because if there a signature for Spanish wine in my opinion, it’s always been about brute power, with only a few producers being able to also obtain refinement.  However, this was a common theme across the range.  In some cases, the wines were incredibly powerful, but also remarkably refined.  In other cases, they sported only 12.5% alcohol, yet had the depth and intensity of a well-muscled stallion.  It became hard to understand how each of them could be so diverse, interesting and off of my radar for so long.

That’s when I decided to go deeper, and I purchased The New Vignerons, by Luis Gutiérrez.  If you don’t know the name, then all you need do is look at the shelf-talkers in the Spanish wine section of any reputable wine store.  Luis heads up the Spanish wine reviews at The Wine Advocate, as well as a number of related regions, and he’s also one of the most trusted and knowledgeable sources on Spanish wine that you could ever hope to find.  The book was amazing, not focusing on the typical data or the same old stories we’ve heard over and over.  Instead, Luis focused on the people, what led them to wine, how they worked, struggled and ultimately the fruit of their labor.

Apparently, Luis had been keen to the swell of new talent and interesting projects around Spain (as we would expect he would be), and he had been following, tasting and trying to get the word out for quite some time.  Granted, in most cases these are mostly small production wines, produced from tiny parcels of abandoned or forgotten vineyards.  One theme that seemed to follow throughout most of the winemakers I had been introduced to was that they searched for and slowly acquired these parcels.  Sometimes they would be located in what appeared to be impossible locations to farm, or were tended to by old farmers who continued to keep them up out of respect for tradition and family.

I think back to my last visit to Spain, and what struck me more than anything else about the country was the amount of old dilapidated and abandoned farmhouses, homes, and wonders of architecture that dotted the countryside.  It added flavor to the landscape, as these sights are often beautiful despite the cold reality. That reality being that poverty or the mass exodus of families from rural areas, in search of making a living, had created these glorious ruins.  

Those are the images that went through my mind as I read through Luis’s book, when he talked about the slow acquisition of vineyards by Descendientes de José Palacios, around the village of Corullon, a village with a current estimated population of 937 inhabitants.  Ricardo Perez of Descendientes had to prove to the people of Corullon that he would take proper care and put their vineyards to good use.  Today, they are more than happy to be a part of his vision, a man who literally lives among his biodynamically farmed vines.

At this point I was truly hooked.  These new frontiers of Spain were providing me with the whole package, a unique and diverse set of wines from rugged, forgotten terrain, made by true passion-driven artisans, most often through 100% natural winemaking techniques. Call it organic or biodynamic, but in the end these are people who want to put the best, most natural product into the bottle.  They want to communicate terroir.  I was in a beautiful haze of new experiences, and the best part is that the experience has no end in sight, and there are still so many new producers to explore.

I find myself with a growing collection of Spanish wine in my cellar, consisting of names that many people have never heard of.  I also find myself longing to return to Spain so that I can see these locations, meet these people and taste new vintages for myself.

So yes, I have officially been bitten by the Spanish wine bug, and I don’t think there’s any going back. The best I can do now is to share some of my findings with you, because in the end, anyone who’s made it this far through today’s blog truly deserves to know what’s out there.

Daniel Gomez Jimenez Landi

So I’m starting with one of the most interesting projects that I’ve had the fortune of stumbling upon, Daniel Gomez Jimenez Landi.  Daniel is a partner of another project that’s turned my head, yet is even more limited: Comando G.  The best part about these wines is that the word is already out about Comando G, and allocations disappear quickly.  However, very few people realize that these vineyards are managed, the grapes vinified and the wine finished, by the exact same team.  They aren’t cheap, but if you’re looking to better understand what the region of Gredos is capable of, then this is the best way to get informed.  What’s more, I remember when first starting to explore this range that I read that the main inspiration for these wines was Chateau Rayas, and I will say--they have nailed it.  This is a Spanish Garnacha like you have never tasted before and worthy of the tariff. 

2015 Daniel Gómez Jiménez Landi Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León Las Iruelas El Tiemblo - The '15 Las Iruelas pulled me in with its gorgeous and beguiling bouquet of dried flowers, exotic spices, stone dust, moist undergrowth, licorice, hints of pepper and spicy black fruits. On the palate, I found soft yet lifted textures with a sensation of dry fruit and floral extract that immediately coated the senses in a violet-infused menagerie of wild berry, raspberry and blueberry fruits, with savory minerals, saturating spice and a cheek-puckering tug of acidity; all while remaining warm, savory, seductively textural and truly unique. The finish was long... and I mean long... spicy, and with a note of fine tannin. (95 points)

2016 Daniel Gómez Jiménez Landi Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León Las Iruelas El Tiemblo - The nose opened with a mix of savory wild herbs and spicy floral tones, as notes of white pepper, crushed stone, animal musk, dried orange, and bright strawberry developed in the glass. On the palate, I found enveloping textures like pure silk, which were quickly offset by layers of wild red berry, saturating minerals, savory smokiness, masses of inner red florals and a tart twang of acidity. The finish was long, grippy, mineral-laden and promising, as tart wild berry lingered among exotic spices. A note of hard red candies could still be recognized on the palate over a full minute later. There’s a wild and exotic persona here, deserving of a good deal of time to truly absorb what is going on in the glass. (95 points)

2016 Daniel Gómez Jiménez Landi Vino de la Tierra de Castilla El Reventón RV - The nose was slightly restrained yet very, very pretty, showing fresh, ripe strawberries off the vine, moist earth, dusty sweet spices, a mix of exotic florals, stone dust, and hints of white pepper. On the palate, I found silky-soft textures, with an almost creamy feel, delivering a sweet yet peppery display of ripe yet also savory cherry, raspberry sauce, confectionary spices, minerals and wonderfully balancing acidity. The finish was long yet subtle, with pretty red fruits, red licorice, spice, and masses of tactile inner florals, as I felt a warming yet pleasing sensation of heat going down. What a crazy wine, and it’s so easy to like already. (96 points)

2016 Daniel Gómez Jiménez Landi Vino de la Tierra de Castilla El Reventón RVL - The nose was darker, moodier as well, then the RV, displaying peppery-spiced, black cherry, strawberry, dusty dried florals, and savory herbs. On the palate, I found a finessed expression with silky textures lifted by cool-toned acids, as the RVL coasted effortlessly across the senses with pretty strawberry and cherry tones, followed by filigree sweet spices, saturating minerals and inner florals. It was feminine and caressing, as the finish evolved more toward mounting structure than fruit, with a twang of zesty spices, lingering acids and minerals. The RVL really comes to life about an hour or two after opening, and it hints at serious cellar potential. (94 points)

Comando G

The word is out on Comando G, and all we can do now is hope to grab an allocation.  I’ve had the pleasure of tasting these with the distributor over the last few years, yet there is something about the last two vintages that have totally made me a believer.  The 2015s and 2016s show a whole new level that Garnacha can reach on the high altitude vineyards of Sierra de Gredos.  The inspiration behind these wines comes from Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, who are entirely responsible for putting the region on the map.  Having tasted the wines of Landi alone, I would say that Comando G adds a dark, animal nature to the exotic florals and spice. They are inspiring to say the least.

2015 Comando G Las Umbrias Las Rozas de Puerto Real - What an incredible bouquet on the 2015 Las Umbrias. I would think I was visiting a mix of a florist shop and confectionary boutique before thinking that I was nosing a wine. A gorgeous mix of florals, both fresh and dried, were joined together with exotic spices (clove, cinnamon, ginger... on and on), a sweet dusting of powdered sugar, crushed strawberry, green olive and saline minerality. On the palate, I found a wonderfully fresh, silky expression, as it glided effortlessly across the senses, showing notes of ripe strawberry, with floral and mineral hints, as fine tannin and brisk acid tugged slightly and pretty inner florals developed. The finish was long, showing the first hint of promising structure, along with dried cherries, clove and sweet lingering florals. Wow. (96 points)

Familia Nin-Ortiz 

I’ve sung the praises of Ester Nin in the past, and so I won’t go too deep here.  However, what Nin Ortiz has accomplished in Priorat is nothing short of remarkable.  Today they spend much of their time teaching biodynamics and vineyard management to producers throughout the region. They have, without a doubt, reinvented the region of Priorat.  If you thought it was all about power, oak influence and overripe wines, then it’s time to check out Nin Ortiz.  They will bring you back to Priorat. 

2016 Familia Nin-Ortiz Priorat Planetes de Nin - Amfora - Sitting with the 2016 Amfora really put this wine into perspective. The bouquet was a dark and savory mix of crushed stone and smoke, with brown spices, blackberry, raspberry, hints of animal musk, savory herbs and floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found soft textures with medium-weight, offset by zesty acidity and spice, displaying dried cherry, herbs, saturating minerality and slow mounting tannins. The finish was medium-long and incredibly fresh, resonating on tart red fruits and spice, with lingering acids that made the mouth water. (93 points)

2015 Familia Nin-Ortiz Garnacha Priorat Nit de Nin Coma D'en Romeu - So maybe I don't get it, but this comes off to me as a very, very good, yet not the 98-point experience that The Wine Advocate has attached to it. The nose was dark and intense yet fresh, showing a mix of crushed blackberry, black cherry and plum, with crushed stone, hints of provencal herbs, smoke and exotic spice. On the palate, I found silky textures, showing violet-floral infused black fruits, saturated with saline-minerals and spice with zesty acids adding a mouthwatering contrast. The finish was long, as youthful tannin tugged at the senses and crunchy, mineral-encased black fruits slowly tapered off. (94 points)

Descendientes de José Palacios

Now we’re walking off the beaten path. Descendientes is probably the most exciting project in Spain today (maybe tying Comando G).  It all started with Alvaro Palacios, a name you should know if you’ve ever delved into the top wines of Priorat. The fact is that Alvaro was in no small part responsible for the region’s rise to fame. He spent years in the region, seeking out the perfect vineyard locations to create his dream wine, before ultimately setting to work. The result was the creation of L'Ermita and Finca Dofi--to this day, two of the most iconic wines of the region.

However, during the time that he spent surveying vineyards and seeking that perfect location, there was another region that he fell in love with, even though Priorat won out in the end, and that was Bierzo. It was the combination of steep hillside vineyards, complex schist-dominated soils, and ancient Mencia vines that intrigued him, but the opportunity had been missed until his nephew, Ricardo Perez, took interest. Ricardo had been cutting his teeth in Bordeaux, at the likes of Chateau Margaux, when his uncle’s desire to explore Bierzo piqued his interests. Together, they formed Descendientes de J. Palacios and began to buy up the best parcels they could find around the town of Corullon.

Today, Descendientes de J. Palacios creates a mix of single-vineyard expressions that garner stratospheric scores from the press, but also demand Stratospheric prices. Yet, this isn’t where the savvy collector should focus. In my opinion, it’s the Villa de Corullon that communicates the terroir of the region mixed with the house style. It’s essentially a village-level wine, sourced from old Mencia and Palomino vines from around the town of Corullon, and vinified in a similar fashion to the single-vineyard expressions that win critics’ hearts.  Also of serious note is the Petalos, their “entry” level wine that punches well above its price point.

2016 Descendientes de José Palacios Bierzo Pétalos - The nose showed a mix of dusty cherry and strawberry fruits, with savory smokiness and admirable richness, as notes of sage and floral undergrowth developed.  On the palate, I found soft yet vibrant textures giving way to zesty acids,  with spicy red and black berries, violot-tinged inner florals and saturating minerality.  The finish was long, spicy, and staining to the senses, with notes of mineral-soaked raspberry and hints of fine tannin. To think that this is their entry-level wine is amazing. (92 points)

2016 Descendientes de José Palacios Bierzo Villa de Corullon - The nose was spicy and pretty, opening more with time in the glass, displaying mineral-infused raspberry, strawberry, crushed violets, lavender, a dusting of clove, moist dark soil tones, and hints of animal musk. On the palate, I found creamy, silky textures which seemed to glide effortlessly across the senses, leaving pure red and hints of blueberry fruit, saline-minerals, a mix of inner rose and lingering violet florals. The finish was medium in length with a twang of zesty acidity, tart red fruits, and a coating of savory minerals. This was such an enjoyable experience, with its lively persona mixed with depths of aromatic complexity, purity and persistence. (93 points)

Dominio del Águila

This is another project that I’ve been getting excited about for a while.  The funny part is that I would hear their names spoken by some of my most trusted contemporaries, always in hushed tones.  The comments would also be similar: “Have you heard about Dominio del Aguila?”, “Do you think they are really the next big thing from the Ribera del Duero?”  I believe that we are firmly at the point where the latter can be answered with a resolute “YES”.        

My detailed piece on this exciting projected can be found at “Exposing Terroirs of Ribera del Duero,” but I will go into some small detail here to get your juices going.

Jorge Monzon of Domino del Aguila has been exposing the unique terroir and native varieties of Ribera del Duero for the last decade, while working for some of the most prestigious properties in the area. Let’s keep in mind that Tempranillo is as closely tied to the Ribera as any variety can be to a historical region. In fact, a wine can not be included in the Ribera del Duero designation without being at least 75% Tempranillo. The problem is that much of the recent plantings are using high-production clones, plus adding more Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot in the place of old-vine, less productive, Tempranillo.

These are vineyards from another time, when different varieties were interplanted to create field blends. When these vines were first planted, the wines they created may have been simple, easy-drinking, farmers’ wines. However, today these ancient vines are 80-150 years old!!! What’s more, they are planted in locations that may not be ideal for modern-day farming, but perfect for the artisan who works by hand.

Jorge identified these locations and slowly acquired them over the course of ten years while working for Arzuaga-Navarro. Throughout that time, he nursed the vines and soils back to health using organic principles, while selling his production to the who’s who of the region. Jorge was basically biding his time to be able to launch Dominio del Aguila in 2010, when he was confident in the fruit he was producing and how to properly vinify them into the style of wine he envisioned.

Today, eight years later, these are officially the most exciting wines being made in Ribera del Duero.

2014 Dominio del Águila Clarete Pícaro del Águila - The nose was remarkably pretty, showing fresh crushed strawberries, with hints of dusty earth, sweet herbs and minerals. On the palate, I found soft textures with pure red fruits, a stunning mix of acid and minerals with hints of citrus. The finish was spicy and medium-long finish with lasting minerality. (91 points)

2010 Dominio del Águila Ribera del Duero Reserva - Here, I found a seductive bouquet, mixing sweet, savory and floral, with a burst of roses and violets giving way to a combination of earthy minerals and animal musks, with crushed strawberry, sweet spice, white pepper and a hint of vanilla. On the palate, silky textures gave way to depths of dark red and blue fruits, plums, sweet herbs, and tobacco, along with zesty minerals and acids to balance, as fine tannin slowly creeped in. The finish was long, lifted and structured, showing citrus-tinged red berries, with exotic spiciness, sweet florals and lingering fine tannin. Where is this wine going? I’m not sure, but I’m very excited to find out. (94 points)

2014 Dominio del Águila Viñas Viejas Blanco - The nose was incredibly spicy, with a burst of hot green peppers and curry leaf up front, giving way to wild herbs, crushed stone, lemon rind, and hints of fresh green apples. On the palate, I found silky, deep textures with minerality up front, as young pit fruits and wet stone came forward, complemented by brisk acidity adding verve and lift from the mid-palate through the finale. The finish was long with saturating minerals, wet stone, wild flowers and spice. Wow. (95 points)

2014 Dominio del Águila Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva Penas Aladas - The nose was dark and intense, showing animal musk, crushed stone, and dark soil tones backed by notes of herbal-infused blackberry, blueberry, wild flowers, and hints of tangerine. On the palate, I found silky, creamy textures with zesty spiced red fruits, lavender, inner herbal tones, saline-minerality and inner soil tones. It was as if the nose transposed perfectly to the palate. The finish was long, showing saturating black cherry and lasting minerality with a coating of fine tannin. I was amazed by how intense and layered, yet fresh the ‘13 Gran Reserva was. (96 points)

Suertes del Marques

Now it’s time to go completely off the beaten path, to a selection of wines that are truly meant for the explorer, the taster looking for an almost intellectual experience, and a portfolio of wines that are so unique that it may set the average wine drinker aback.

The subtropical climate in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the coast of northwestern Africa, is something you don’t often find in a wine-producing region.  However, that’s exactly why these wines are so unique.  They are produced using a mix of lesser-known varieties, from vines that grow along sheer cliffs, with vines that are like tentacles, snaking 30 to 40 feet in each direction.  No average winemaker would tell you that this mix should work for creating a create wine, yet it does, and the results are quite special.

The two wines listed below are both what I would call, “experience wines”.  The Los Pasitos hosts a total of only 12.5% alcohol, yet it shows a depth and elegance that I would never expect, coupled with a wild bouquet that seems like something you would expect to find in a well-curated garden before a glass.  It’s produced from 100% ungrafted Baboso Negro; ungrafted, because Phylloxera never made it to the Canary Islands.  Meanwhile, the El Ciruelo, comes from old-vine (90 years old) Listán Negro.  Topping out at a whopping 13% alcohol, it is showing a structure that may well make my current score look low over time.  Keep in mind that I don’t have a baseline for wines as unique as these.  They both come from volcanic soils, farmed and produced through a hands off approach, with minimal racking and sulfur.  Like I said, these are “experience wines.”

Suertes del Marqués “Los Pasitos" 2016 - The Los Pasitos had a gorgeous perfume that wafted up from the glass with an array of spicy florals, roses and wild herbs, backed by pepper, crushed stone, sheer black rock, moist soil and hints of crushed wild berries.  On the palate, I found soft textures with energizing acidity that carried it effortlessly across the senses, leaving tart wild berry fruits, offsetting peppery spices and inner floral tones. The finish was medium-long on fruit, but lasted for minutes with spices, wild herbs, pepper and minerals. (94 points)

Suertes del Marqués “El Ciruelo” 2016 - El Ciruelo seemed to pull me into the glass, at first coy and withdrawn, but the closer I came to it, the more it blossomed, showing dusty minerals, smoke and crushed stone up front, giving way to dried flowers, bright strawberry and hints of violets.  On the palate, I found finesse, lifted textures with pure red berry fruits, wrapped in savory minerals, with spicy inner florals, hints of pepper and a slight tug of tannin.  It was so pure and almost juicy, yet with a tart twang that made it tactile and memorable, as the El Ciruelo finished clean, peppery and with a lasting tug of young tannin.  (92 points)

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Balance of the Blend

What It Takes to Make the Vietti Barolo Castiglione

What does it take for a producer of Barolo to decide that it’s more important to create one great wine to please the majority of collectors, at a tremendous price, versus creating five single-vineyard Cru Barolo that they could charge 3-4 times as much for and easily sell?

Passion? Tradition? Responsibility? Love for the region and for their family?  I’m of the opinion that when it comes to Luca Currado of the Vietti winery, each of these reasons come into play.

As Luca talks about Barolo, Piedmont and all that has come before him in this region, he speaks with such love, excitement and reverence, that it becomes easy to understand why the Vietti Barolo Castiglione continues to be produced.  To this day, it is one of the greatest examples of traditional Barolo, as well as being priced remarkably fair and able to stand proud next to many of the top wines of the region.  It’s because of this that I feel compelled to be an advocate of both the wine and the winery, to make sure that people know just how much goes into producing it.  However, there’s another reason as well, and that reason is that I also feel it’s my duty to make sure that Barolo lovers really do understand the benefit of having the Barolo Castiglione in their own cellars.

The first thing to understand is that Luca is determined to make Vietti’s flagship wine the best Barolo that he can in every vintage.  And don’t fool yourself.  The flagship of this house is not the multiple 100-point-scoring Ravera, the classic Rocche with its amazingly long track record, the Lazzarito from one of the region’s “hottest” locals, or the Brunate, with its famous location and name.  No, the flagship at Vietti is the Castiglione.

In order to make Castiglione the best that it can be, Luca looks to a collection of single vineyards,  He could easily vinify and bottle each of these on their own, however, he chooses to instead blend into one Barolo, the Castiglione.  This doesn’t mean that all of the fruit is picked and added to massive tanks and barrels, like many other producers would do.  Instead, Luca chooses to raise the fruit from each of these parcels like it would one day be a single-vineyard bottling of Barolo.  Each one receives unique care and upbringing through the aging process.  It is only after the refinement in large neutral barrels that Vietti begins the blending process and completes the Castiglione.

Recently, I was granted an amazing opportunity to taste through the different vineyards that will produce the 2016 Barolo Castiglione--hold onto your seats, because 2016 is going to blow your minds.

The 2016 Barolo Vintage

Just to provide a bit of background on the year, as I’ve been tasting 2016s from barrel now for the past two years, it’s a vintage that may outperform the best of the last three decades.  The vintage doesn’t require a producer to express their own excitement over it as you taste, because from the moment you put your nose to the glass, or take that first sip, the importance of 2016 becomes apparent.  

The 2016 vintage was one of the longest growing seasons on record, with an early start in the late winter due to drier and warmer conditions than usual.  Budbreak took place in early March, yet as the season continued, it became cooler that usual, hence slowing down the maturation.  Summer brought long dry days with moderate temperatures, which was followed by a mild and dry September.  The result was that picking for Barolo began late on October 5th (in Brunate) and ended on the 25th in Ravera.  The fruit was healthy and abundant with ripe tannins and balanced acidities.  As for Luca Currado, he believes it may be the greatest collection of wines he’s ever produced, including the Castiglione.

Back to the Castiglione

As I’ve mentioned, the Castiglione is a traditional blend of vineyards. In 2016, those vineyards included Ravera (Novello), Teodoro (Serralunga), Scaronne (Castiglione), Rocchettevino (La Morra), Bricco Fiasco (Castiglione), and a mix (due to the small size of the parcels) of Mosconi and Le Coste (Monforte).  In each year, Luca will use as much or as little of these barrels that’s necessary to create the perfect blend of the Barolo Castiglione.

However, before today, I was never been able to taste each of these wines separately, all while hearing Luca’s comments on each of them.  Of course, with Ravera, I’ve had the chance to taste this when barrel-tasting with Luca.  Keep in mind that Vietti is able to fill three large, neutral botti with their production from Ravera; it’s one of their largest holdings.  From those three barrels, only one makes the cut for the single-vineyard, while the rest can go on to be added to the Castiglione.  While visiting with Luca in Piedmont, I’ve been able to taste from all three of those barrels, and I can’t tell you how hard it must be for the Vietti winery to decide which one will be the “Cru” and which will go into the blend, because they are all sublime. 

That said, one of the most eye-opening bottles on this day came from a little-known vineyard in Serralunga, named Teodoro.  It was the vibrancy of the fruit, remarkably pretty florals and exotic nature of the wine that first caught my attention.  However, what sealed the deal was Luca’s explanation of how the wine is made.  Apparently, Teodoro is one of the few vineyards in Barolo that produces fruit that benefits from whole-cluster fermentation.  This is a practice that isn’t often used in the region, simply because the character of the grape and terroir doesn’t lend well to it.  Most of us know that one of the region’s most highly regarded wines today (Burlotto Monvigliero) is made with whole-clusters.  However, that location, with its sandy soils and cool climate, is a perfect example of one terroir that does benefit from it.  Apparently, so does Teodoro, and since Luca is always willing to experiment, he found the perfect mix by leaving 60% of the stems intact.  What’s more, we were able to taste two different bottlings of Teodoro, one made “traditionally” and one left in barrel for only 18 months, which is a much older tradition from the early 20th century.  Comparing these two wines was fascinating.

Granted, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as the completed 2016 Castiglione is not assembled and ready to taste, but I can tell you that I’d be happy with a Barolo made from any one of the components we tasted.  That said, with the blending prowess of Luca Currado to make the final decisions, I’m extremely excited to see what the end result will be.

The Blend Component Tasting

All wines were barrel samples that had been bottled for this event.  Also, my opinions of what each component lends to the blend are my own, and I’m sure Luca has his own thoughts on the matter.

L35 Ravera di Novello - This is a wine that I have tasted from barrel and loved each time. Here I found a dark and exotic expression, showing wildberry fruit with notes of purple florals, crushed stone minerality and sweet spice. On the palate, it was smooth, showing pure red berry fruit in a lifted expression with saline-minerals, showing a tactile mix of acid and tannin that saturated the senses all the way through its dark fruit finish, leaving hints of balsamic spice. I see this as the core of the blend, and the soul. (94-96 points)

L44 Teodoro (Serralunga) - The 2016 Teodoro was absolutely gorgeous on the nose, with an array of wild red berries, rosy florals, earth, and hints of savory herbs, as the wine continued to open in the glass, becoming more Burgundian, lifted and refined.  On the palate, I found a soft expression, with tantalizing acidity paving the way for fresh red fruits, inner florals and grippy tannins.  The finish was medium in length, resonating on red fruits and florals. The Teodoro is a relatively recent acquisition, and likely what has given the Castiglione its recent boost of aromatic complexity. (92-94 points)

L20 Scarrone (Castiglione) - This is another wine that I’ve tasted in the past, and as before, one I wish that Luca would consider bottling one day on its own.  The nose was remarkably pretty, bursting with an intense expression of red fruits.  Raspberry, strawberry and cranberry seemed to all come together as a sweet dusting of spice, minerals and red florals filled the senses.  On the palate, I found silky textures, which were offset by saturating red berry and sweet spices, kept in check by a wash of grippy young tannin, which lasted throughout the long finish.  I can only imagine what this might taste like in twenty years, and I doubt I will ever find out. That said, the Castiglione would miss the addition of Scaronne, as I see this as the spice in the blend. (93-95 points)

L41 Rocchettevino (La Morra) - Here I found a floral expression with rosy red berry fruit complemented by dusty sweet spice, and minerality, creating an exotic and feminine expression.  On the palate, soft, enveloping textures gave way to seductive dark, ripe red fruits with a grounding wash of brisk acidity to balance them out beautifully.  Hints of tannin emerged on the long, dark fruit finish, yet all in all, this is a wine of texture and very easy to like.  I think it goes without saying that the Rocchettevino levels out the structure, giving Castiglione its silky presence on the palate.  (91-94 points)

L39 Mosconi and Le Coste (Monforte) - The nose was dark and woodsy, showing a mix of sweet herbal and floral tones, offset by woodland berries and hints of moist earth.  On the palate, I found silky textures, yet restrained by a web of complex tannin with mineral underpinnings, as dark red fruits fought to make an appearance.  The finish was medium in length, showing the wine’s power and drying its dark red fruits.  This is certainly the backbone of Castiglione, and it is sure to lend the structure necessary to mature. (90-93 points)

L43 Bricco Fiasco (Castiglione) - The nose was dark and rich, with a mix of brown spices, crushed red berries, and earthy minerality, yet with time, it became prettier, more floral and gained a note of sweet spice.  On the palate, I found a feminine expression, with silky, lifted textures giving way to mineral-encased, crunchy black fruits, echos of dark florals and spice.  The finish was long, as fine tannin mounted, slowly drying the wine’s fruit and leaving an expression of power.  I find this to be the iron fist that comfortably fits into the Castiglione’s velvet glove.  Gorgeous. (93-95 points)

On a side note, and a bit of a treat

As Luca had explained, the Teodoro vineyard is one of the few locations within Barolo where the harvested Nebbiolo benefits from whole-cluster fermentation.  He also went on the explain that what we all consider traditional only depends on how far back into history that we are looking, and that he is often looking further back to consider everything that came before.  Thinking along these lines, Luca looked to a time before the first World War, a time when your average Barolo producer would only have one large barrel in their cellar, which was used to collect all of their fruit, ferment it, and age it.  What this meant is that with the next harvest, the barrel would have to be emptied so that they could use it for the next harvest--meaning that Barolo of the early 20th century was only aged 12 months before being bottled.

As time went on and the region began to recover from the second World War, producers began to add more barrels to their cellars when possible, but at the time, the region was still quite poor.  It was during this period that the aging of Barolo in barrel moved from 12 to 18 months.  With this in mind, and while tasting his whole-cluster feremented Teodoro, Luca decided that he would experiment by aging part of his Teodoro fruit for only 18 months, to see if it would benefit the wine.  Luca’s thought is that, one day, we may see more Barolo aged for less time in wood.  Sort of a “what was old is new again” approach.  Luckily for all of us at this tasting, he brought a sample.

L1861 Teodoro (Whole-cluster 60%, aged in Neutral barrels 18 months) - The nose was remarkably pretty and spicy, showing intense layers of sweet herbs, rosy florals, and crushed stone minerality, before giving way to dark red berry tones with hints of pepper, dried orange peel and hints of new leather.  On the palate, I found silky textures offset by a vibrant wave of acidity, as zesty red berry fruits with floral and peppery underpinnings washed across the senses, leaving hints of tannin and spice in their wake.  The finish was long with a twang of acid tapering off to reveal dried red fruits and hints of fine tannin.  This is something like I’ve never tasted before from Barolo, and it’s an expression of Nebbiolo that I would absolutely seek out if available on the market. (92-94 points)