Thursday, November 17, 2011

Give the gift of wine for Christmas

From $20 - $40 dollars, Ten bottles that make great gifts.

It's that time of year again. Christmas is bearing down on us quickly, and wouldn't it be great to give or receive a nice bottle of wine? However, the fact is that the wine you usually receive as a Christmas gift is typically horrible.  All the good intentions in the world won't protect you from making a poor purchasing decision based on a retailer’s marketing.  That stack of cases in the front of the store is not always the best place to pick a bottle to give away.  And what impression does that leave on you when the bottle is opened and it performs horribly?

It doesn't need to be this way.  An informed decision can make a world of difference; and so, I have gone through all of my notes of the last year to find some great bottles for gift giving.  Each wine listed below will deliver the goods in spades.  I've also included Wine-Searcher links to help you find a retailer that carries the bottle.  The first thing to realize is that the average "Wine and Liquor" store is not the place to buy your gifts.  Unless you have a trusted retailer that stores their back stock properly and is more concerned with your satisfaction (than their bottom line), then I urge you to expand your horizons and check out Wine-Searcher.  I've also provided a list of some of the trustworthiest retailers from my experiences.  In the end, you can't go wrong by picking a bottle from the list or giving a call to one of the retailers listed.

And so, on to the wines:

United States - This list below runs the gamut and is great for exploration. 

From the North Fork of Long Island, the Paumanok Merlot is a great gift to show a wine lover just what the North Fork is capable of producing.  It's a great bottle of wine with a price tag that's easy to swallow.  

2007 Paumanok Merlot (avg. $22)
Find it on Wine-Searcher!
Paumanok Website!

The Merryvale Cabernet is a crowd-pleaser, especially for those who think that good wine can only come from Napa, but think that it needs to cost an arm and a leg.  This rich yet balanced Napa Cabernet drinks better than most bottles that cost twice as much.  It's a wine that provided me with a pleasant surprise when I first tasted it, and I think you'll agree.

2006 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Starmont (avg. $26)
Find it on Wine-Searcher!
Merryvale Website!

Lastly, if it's going to be Zinfandel (red, not white) then it's got to be Ridge.  The 2009 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel is a great way to turn the head of any wine lover who hasn't yet explored the wonders of red Zinfandel.  Ridge continues to improve upon what was already an amazing array of wines, and in 2009 they really shined.

2009 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel (avg. $30)
Find it on Wine-Searcher!
Ridge Vineyards Website!

Italy - My first love was Italy, and I've yet to find another region that can provide the enjoyment, value and diversity that can be found there.  The first bottle is for the true Italian wine lover.  We'd all love to give or receive a bottle of Barolo for Christmas, but it's not the easiest thing to afford. 

No worries; the Vietti Perbacco Nebbiolo is a serious overachiever that will please any Nebbiolo lover (Nebbiolo being the grape that makes Barolo and Barbaresco).  It's a wine that I buy in every vintage, sourced from fruit that could easily be made to make Barolo and made by a true master in the region.

2007 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco (avg. $25)
Find it on Wine-Searcher!
Vietti Website!

The Sartarelli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Balciana is a white that drinks like nectar from the gods.  Verdicchio is often used to make easy-drinking white to pair with seafood, but this bottle takes it to all extremes.  It may not be typical of Verdicchio, but it's a wine that you will not soon forget. 

2008 Sartarelli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Balciana (avg. $22)
Find it on Wine-Searcher!
Sartarelli Website!

The Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is for the Sangiovese (Chianti and Brunello) lover.  It's a racy wine with all the stuffing to stand up to big, hearty cuisine.  It's also a great alternative for the Chianti drinker who's looking for something a little different. 

2007 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (avg. $28)
Find it on Wine-Searcher!
Avignonesi Website!

Lastly, the 2000 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio is a gorgeous wine that any Italian wine lover would enjoy.  Il Poggio is a barrel selection riserva from Monsanto.  It’s a bottling that's hard to come by and usually costs upward of $60 on release and much more with age.  Imagine how happy I was to find that Grapes the Wine Company had this killer bottle for $40.  It's a beautiful bottle of wine that's drinking well with 11 years of maturity under its belt.  If you know an Italian wine lover, and you're looking to impress, this is the way to go.

2000 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio
(Grapes The Wine Company $39.99)

FranceI don't drink much French wine because I find that it's hard to find value from this region.  I know that many people would disagree, but I can only tell you what I taste.  However, when I do find value, it's usually in spades.  In 2009, the Southern Rhone turned out another excellent vintage.  What's more, the wines can be enjoyed now or put away for a few years to mature.  The 2009 Vignobles Mayard Châteauneuf-du-Pape Clos du Calvaire goes right to the point.  It's a big wine with a lot of sex appeal that pleases on many levels, yet refrains from becoming overly rich or flabby.  If you're going to gift French, you might as well do it with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, especially at this price point.

2009 Vignobles Mayard Châteauneuf-du-Pape Clos du Calvaire (avg. $30)
Find it on Wine-Searcher!
Vignobles Mayard Website!

Germany - One of my new-found loves in life is German Riesling.  For years I would taste these wines and ask myself why I didn't drink them more often.  This year I changed all of that and set out on a tasting spree of every German Riesling I could find.  In the end, I have a lot of favorites, but the 2009 A.J. Adam Dhroner Hofberger Riesling Kabinett took the cake for quality versus price.  It's an amazing elixir of a wine that pushes masses of citrus and mineral with a hint of sweetness and then turns the tables on you as its zesty acidity massages your taste buds and makes your mouth water.  It's amazing stuff.

2009 A.J. Adam Dhroner Hofberger Riesling Kabinett (avg. $22)
Find it on Wine-Searcher!
A.J. Adam Website!

ChileFor those of you looking for an alternative to the big three, Chile offers tremendous value for a large selection of styles and grape varieties.  One of my favorites this year was the 2009 TerraNoble Carménère Gran Reserva.  Carménère, which was nothing more than a blending grape in Borduexe has shown its true potential in Chile.  Some are light and easy-drinking, while others take it to the level of fine wine.  TerraNoble excels at the latter and does it very well.  It’s rich with a blend of intense fruit with savory, earthy notes, yet it’s balanced by excellent, focused acidity and a long finish.  I bought half a case for myself, and it’s now all gone; enough said.

2009 TerraNoble Carménère Gran Reserva (avg. $17)
Find it on Wine-Searcher!
TerraNoble Website!

The V.I.P. Table's list of my most Trusted Wine Retailers!

An Umbrian spin on Sangiovese

Tonight I took a break from tasting new wines. It had been a long day and I needed to stack the deck. I needed a wine that would not let me down, a wine that I had been saving for a day like today. Tonight, I opened a bottle of Paolo Bea.

The last time I talk about Paolo Bea was in my piece “Paolo Bea: A legacy in the making”. My opinions have not changed. These are amazing wines that, I believe, will one day stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the biggest names in Italy. Tonight's bottle was the 2003 Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva Vigna Pipparello, from the region of Umbria. It's a blend made primarily from Sangiovese (60%) with Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (25%) and Sagrantino (15%).  If you love Brunello or top-shelf Chianti Classico, then this is a bottle that you must seek out.

The 2003 Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva Vigna Pipparello came across as slightly more mature than expected, yet stunning none-the-less and with many years of fine drinking ahead of it. Coming from a perfectly stored bottle and tasted over the course of a number of hours. It was wonderfully soft and sweet on the palate with a haunting bouquet that pulled me in. Paolo Bea continues to impress me and it’s a wonder that this winery isn’t on the A-lists of more Italian wine lovers.

Keep an eye out for a recipe for
Pizzoccheri Valtellinesi on Whats Cookin'
It was enjoyed with a plate of Pizzoccheri Valtellinesi, which is a recipe I’ve been trying to master for a few weeks now. It’s seriously stick-to-your-ribs, home-style, Northern Italian cooking with fresh buckwheat pasta, cabbage, potatoes and onions, in a Fontina and sage butter sauce. Sounds easy right? Well, I’ve been having trouble getting right until—today. It was awesome and the Paolo Bea made it really shine.

2003 Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva Vigna Pipparello - The nose showed intense black cherry, cinnamon stick, and chalky minerals with notes of mushroom and forest floor. On the palate, sweet ripe cherry enveloped the senses, like a sweet and savory sauce with beefy notes and clove spice, adding complexities. With each sip, I was tempted to take another. It was soft as silk yet weightless on the palate with high-toned red fruit, hints of mint and herbal tea on the finish. (94 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

As much as I love Wine-searcher, sometimes an individual retailer deserves the spotlight: Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland Oregon has a great selection of Paolo Bea wines. They also carry an excellent selection of wines from around the world, along with some of the most highly sought after Italian wines you could hope to find. If you're interested in exploring the the wines of Paolo Bea, this is a great place to start.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2003: Barolo Retrospective

I started collecting Barolo just as the 2003 vintage was about to be released.  What a time that was, just on the heels of the highly acclaimed ’01 vintage and the absolute dismal failure of ’02.  At the time, my hopes for ‘03 had already been dispelled by reports of unrelenting heat resulting in overripe fruit and under-ripe tannin.  The ’03 growing season literally baked the fruit throughout the days and never gave them the much-needed cooler nights to rest.  The results were wines of intense concentration with high alcohol and aggressive tannin.  A few critics had picked a small number of wines that they deemed very good, but nowhere near classic.  The warning was: Buyer beware; it’s good, but it doesn’t taste much like Barolo.

Still, I am a completeist and I had to put some bottles in my cellar.  And so, I cherry-picked.  Some were the usual suspects; however, with time, stories came out here and there about ’03 Baroli that were atypical, hence, better than the regular ’03 Barolo. 

The dinning room at Paprika, where
our tasting was held.  Paprika continues
to impress across the board.  Keep an eye
out for my special focus on Paprika
Restaurant at
Some bottles that come to mind are; Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia, which was touted to have been helped by the juice from the Monfortino bottling that wouldn’t be produced that year.  Next was Aldo Conterno’s Il Favot, which is usually nothing more than a Langhe Nebbiolo, yet was praised by a well-respected wine writer as being as superior as any Barolo because it was essentially a blend of all of Conterno’s grapes and not aged in French Oak (as the Il Favot typically is).  Then there was the Roagna Paje, which was highly praised by Antonio Galloni as being a standout in the vintage.  Among all of these, the only one to truly impress across a broad range of tasters has been the Roagna.  In fact, it seems that the wines of Roagna, as a whole, were very classic in ’03 and certainly deserve our attention.

The two wine's of the night. The
Roagna was classic, while the
Scavino impressed with its
sheer, sexy personality.
The results of the tasting below were a mixed bag.  As Barolo lovers, we all have considerable amounts of money invested in our cellars and we all want to feel like the choices we made were the right ones at the time.  Unfortunately, when it comes to 2003 Barolo, the only sound investment is one that was made off the blowout list from our favorite retailer.  Don't get me wrong; there are a number of stellar bottles, such as the 2003 Paolo Scavino Bric del Fiasc that scored 93 points.  However, if I had paid the $90 release price instead of obtaining it for $60 on sale, I wouldn't feel as good about it right now.  With only a few exceptions, these aren't wines for the cellar.  Those exceptions, such as the wines of Roagna, should continue to impress, but the most common descriptor used for these bottles is "not typical of the 2003 vintage."  For current drinking, there are some values to be found, when the price is right.  But don't make the mistake of ordering a bottle of 2003 Barolo off a restaurant wine list, thinking it's going to behave like Barolo.  Informed decisions are an absolute necessity, and with that, on to the wines:

2003 Roagna Barolo Vigna Rionda - The nose of the Roagna was classic in every way as a bouquet of cherries and earth with tar, roses and undergrowth wafted up from the glass.  On the palate, it was, at first, very tight and focused with sweet cherry.  With time in the glass it began to take on weight and show darker red fruit with earthy minerals and cedar.  The finish was structured, yet long and truly showed this wine's youth.  From all the 2003s I've tasted, it showed the most classic and will benefit from further aging. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2003 Aldo Conterno Il Favot - The nose was dark with overripe plum and crushed berries.  It was almost confectionary at times, yet it had an appealing note of black olives.  On the palate, I found sour cherry with clove, yet the fruit was flabby and lacked balance.  The finish was long, however cloying with a lingering note of hard candies (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2003 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc - The nose showed rich, dark black cherry with roses, cinnamon and clove.  On the palate, I found intense raspberry fruit balanced by a full and luxurious body with menthol, earth and sweet spices which lingered through the long finish.  The ’03 Bric del Fiasc may not be a wine for the ages, but it has many more years of enjoyment ahead of it.  It’s a dark, appealing... sexy wine. (93 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2003 Pio Cesare Ornato - The 2003 Pio Cesare Ornato was hard to understand.  I kept hoping the nose would improve with time, but upon tasting this wine, I had to wonder if it was simply flawed.  The nose showed bread crust and a rusty note, with cherry fruit lurking beneath it all.  On the palate, I found sweet cherry, yet the acidity in this wine burned, literally, into the finish. (83 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2003 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - The nose showed sweet red berries with spicy clove, roses and crushed fall leaves.  On the palate, it was soft and juicy with red fruit and earth.  The finish was long and pleasant.  This isn't what you'd expect from Barolo, yet it's enjoyable all the same and should improve slightly over the next few years. (92 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2003 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto - The nose showed tart cherry and blackberry with a note of waxy lipstick.  On the palate, the fruit was intense, even overripe with blue and blackberry jam.  The structure quickly overwhelmed the palate with harsh, drying tannin that coated the mouth through the finish.  It's hard to imagine that this wine will ever balance out. (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!
2003 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia – The nose showed big briary red fruit, cinnamon, herbs and dark chocolate with a whiff of unmistakable heat.  On the palate, I found sweet, spiced red fruit and raisin but it was chewy with cloying, gravelly tannins that shut down the wine’s finish. (88 points) Find it on Wine-Searcher!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

VinItaly comes to New York

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend VinItaly in New York City, at the Metropolitan Pavilion.  I'm sure that many of my readers are familiar with VinItaly in Italy.  For those who aren't, VinItaly is a massive, multi-day event that takes place in Verona.  Thousands of producers attend, and many more thousands of wine consumers and business people come to taste.  VinItaly N.Y.C. is a significantly smaller event, spanning over the course of a single day, yet still made very enjoyable by providing a number of clinics and hundreds of Italian wines to chose from.

Provveditore, some of the best
Morellino di Scansano I tasted at
This year, there was a large emphasis placed upon Morellino di Scansano. This was very educational for me, since Morellino di Scansano is a wine made primarily from Sangiovese (at least 85%, but known locally as Morellino), yet from a part of Tuscany that I have not had a chance to thoroughly explore; Scansano, in the Maremma.  What's even more interesting, yet not necessarily to my taste, is that Morellino di Scansano is allowed to be bottled very young, literally in March following the harvest.  As I researched this wine, many of my tasting notes started to make a lot more sense to me, since I felt that almost every bottle I tasted could benefit from a couple years’ worth of age.  However, the wines themselves were very good.  What I enjoyed even more were the Morellino di Scansano Riservas, which are aged at least one year in barrel and another in bottle before release.  You can find a number of my tasting notes of Morellino di Scansano Here.

Donnafugata continues to impress me
The Ben Rye was an easy choice for
my top ten wines.
Another standout was the number of dessert-style wines that simply blew me away.  I know that sweet wines have been out of style for decades now in the United States, but I'm here to say that these wines are worth your attention; they were simply stunning.  From as far south as the island of Pantelleria (2008 Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé) to Verona in the north (2006 Villa Almé Raboso Passito El Rásego), these were some of my highest-scoring wines.

In the end, it was a great tasting, filled with many wines that were new to me and a few that have become repeat favorites.  I've provided my top ten wines of the tasting with notes and scores below.

On to the Wines:

2006 Villa Almé Raboso Passito El Rásego – On the nose, this wine draws you in with a mixture of ripe figs, black cherry, dark chocolate and soy.  The palate was rich and weighty yet beautifully balanced with flavors of sweet cherries, raisins, tobacco and poached figs.  The finish lasts for well over a minute, yet it remains fresh and begs you to take another sip. (94 points)

Villa Alme Website!

2008 Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé - Aromas of candied orange rind in brandy with hints of lemon zest and floral notes rose up from the glass in enveloping waves.  On the palate, this wine showed immense weight, yet it remained elegant and fresh with sweet herbal tea, caramel and citrus flavors.  The finish lasted and lasted for well over a minute and all the while left me with a mouth-watering desirer for another sip.  (94 points)

Donnafugata Website!

2005 Travaglini Gattinara Riserva - The nose showed masses of crushed red berries with mint and tea leaves.  On the palate, it was at first smooth and enveloping before its structure took control and tannins coated the senses.  However, a dense core of red fruits and earth were unmistakable and lasted through the long finish.  This is a wine for the cellar.  I know I’ll be putting some away in mine. (93 points)

Travaglini Website!

2008 Agricola Provveditore Morellino di Scansano Primo Riserva - The nose showed deep, dark red fruits with floral and spice notes.  On the palate, it was first full-bodied and smooth with layers of red fruits and herbs, but it then shut down quickly with a stern, structured finish.  The 2008 Primo needs time and should age beautifully. (93 points)

Agricola Provveditore Website!

2007 Barone di Villagrande Malvasia delle Lipari Passito - The nose showed spicy tropical fruit with lemon and florals.  On the palate, it was medium-to-full-bodied with rich peach flavors.  It was almost unbearable to spit this wine as its wonderful balance was both luxurious, yet fresh on the palate.  The finish was loooong.  Highly enjoyable.  (93 points)

Barone di Villagrande Website!

2006 Tenuta Greppo (Biondi-Santi) Brunello di Montalcino - The nose showed whiffs of brown sugar with dark raspberry fruit and hints of herbs.  On the palate, it showed impeccable balance, with a core of rich red fruit.  The finish was long, yet structured, and promised many years of upward development. (92 points)

Biondi-Santi Website!

2008 Luce La Vite Lucente Toscana IGT - On the nose, I found dark chocolate with cranberry sour patch candy.  On the palate, it showed juicy, spicy red fruit with a full body, which led to a long, long finish.  It was ripe, yet balanced, and very enjoyable. (92 points)

Luce della Vite Website!

2006 Argiolas Turriga Isola dei Nuraghi IGT - The nose showed black raspberry jam with notes of dark chocolate and tobacco leaf.  On the palate, this was elegant and weighty with black fruits and spice.  Rich yet refined, the Turriga is another wine from Argiolas that I’d love to spend more time with. (92 points)

Argiolas Website!

2007 Barone di Villagrande Sciara di Villagrande Sicilia IGT - The nose was savory with mixed berries followed by an aroma of rich, meaty broth and earthy stems.  On the palate, it was smooth and balanced with spicy red fruits and minerals.  A bit of firm structure showed through on the medium-long finish. (92 points)

Barone di Villagrande Website!

2007 Fattoria Le Pupille (Elisabetta Geppetti) Morellino di Scansano Riserva - The nose showed dusty dark chocolate with red fruits and hints of wild herbs.  On the palate, I found tart berries with a firm structured backbone.  There was no doubting the quality of what was in the glass, yet this wine still needs a few more years to strut its stuff.  (91 points)

Fattoria Le Pupille Website!