Fontodi Chianti Classico 2008 (375 ml)

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2008

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2008

At work, our team Italian wine expert is my colleague Stephen. Whereas I’m more the French and American wines geek, he knows his Italian wines — especially the Brunello. Today we are talking about another Sangiovese-based Italian classic. Chianti Classico means it is made in the ‘classic’ or original historic region of production. Located within central Tuscany, the region of Chianti is larger now, with several other sub-regions including Chianti Rufina and Chianti Colli Senesi. And only the Classico region can have the famous black rooster symbol on the neck of the bottle (see second photo), indicating the producer is part of the Chianti Classico consortium. This consortium focuses on improving the quality and integrity of the wines. Originally known for the straw-basket bottles called fiascos (a few producers still bottle it in those), Chianti DOCG is Italy’s most exported red wine. It is a region with many centuries-old vineyards. They are typically aged in oak – botte or the French barriques. This wine is aged in the French oak for 12 months, and their grapes are all organically grown. Chianti is primarily Sangiovese, but up to 20% can be other varietals, usually local ones like Caniaolo and Colorino. In the earliest forms of Chianti, there were even white grapes like Malvasia Bianca and Trebbiano allowed. Sangiovese wines give you a good amount of acidity and tannin, so the blending of other varietals makes it a bit less astringent. While this is 100% Sangiovese, it is sufficiently mellowed at this age.

The Chianti Classico Black Rooster logo

The Chianti Classico Black Rooster logo

On to the Fontodi story… So Steve had promised me a nice bottle of wine if I completed all my goals for the month, and I did. Well, about a month later, or was it two, I finally did get that gift. And what a great one it was. So, while I like to tease him for how long it took to get to me, I am really thrilled he gave it to me. I shared it with another one of our colleagues that very night. 2008 was a great vintage in the region, and Fontodi is one fantastic Chianti. After all, this is a wine and vintage that James Suckling gave 93 points, and got 90 points from Parker’s Wine Spectator. They are one of the current stars of the region.

On the nose, there’s intense black cherry, cocoa, plum and vanilla notes. On the palate it has deep, complex berry notes, spicy toast aromas from the oak, black pepper and a tobacco element as well. It was a tasty, tasty wine and between the two of us, did not last long.  Salute!

International Grenache Day 2014: Borsao Garnacha 2012

Borsao Garnacha 2012

Borsao Garnacha 2012

Sorry for getting this in so late folks, but it was a work day, and it was the good kind of busy! So no history lesson today but I wouldn’t miss this opportunity to plug a tasty varietal like Grenache/Garnacha! Today’s choice is a bold, rich example from Aragon, Spain and bearing the proud seal of the Campo de Borja D.O. region. This wine is a fairly young, tasty fruit bomb — yet teeming with the complexity I love from this grape. All sorts of great aromas pop from the nose of the dark, confectious wine in my glass. It does not need a single thing to compliment it, yet it compliments so much. Lush, concentrated black fruit melds with cherry, leather, and a spicy vanilla note. It is really seductive.

On the palate the cherry and blackberry continue to pop as does that nice spice note but this is super smooth. The tannin and acid you want in there with the fruit in a balanced wine are there, without being too much. It is about as smooth as can be. I am enjoying it with some rustic Kalamata olive crackers and fig spread, and will polish it off with some seared filet mignon and sauteed escarole with olive oil and garlic. My mouth was watering for the meal my wife told me she was preparing, but this wine got a head start and gave me way more than I was expecting right out of the gate. It’s going to be a great night.

At the local wine shop, this wine was priced at a ridiculous value – $9 a bottle, with a high recommendation on quality.  And was he ever right. It is delicious, go try one! Wish I had more than one but at least I know I can afford it! Wine-Searcher has it at many places even cheaper. Nice to know you can still find a knockout wine for a great value.

Finding Devotion in the Cold and in Wine

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

This is my entry in the monthly wine writing challenge (#MWWC7). If you like it, go over to their website and vote for it.  And please take time to enjoy my fellow wine-bloggers’ wonderful entries as well. And now…

While I’ve truly enjoyed both of the wines below in this cold snap, they share some common threads and inspire my own story on the theme of devotion, this month’s topic, chosen by last month’s winner, SAHMmelier. I’ve been enjoying reading all the entries from my fellow wine bloggers.

The last 3 weeks have brought epic amounts of snow to my front door. This has had some negative implications. To name a few: back-breaking shoveling, dangerous driving and lots of cold. But also, some positives such as ski trips, extra days spent home with family, and time and reason to open some additional wines and catch up with my reading on my favorite subject.

Land of Nod Chocolate Raspberry Dessert Wine

I wrote up our visit to this rustic Connecticut family winery about 18 months ago and briefly mentioned my enjoyment of this wine among the several tasted. You can read that here. I don’t know what took me so long to open the bottle I brought home. Maybe just that I was collecting so many more and determined to visit as many wineries and try as many different wines as possible since then. I’d say mission accomplished. There it was sitting on my smaller rack, and I was craving something sweet with a little heat for a night cap. As soon as I opened it, it brought back the pleasant recollection of that first tasting.  On the nose, this wine IS a dessert in itself. Rich cocoa notes paired with aromatic raspberry fruit waft from the glass, as well as obvious alcohol. At 17% abv, it’s no lightweight. Yet everything was so smoothly integrated, and I found myself not needing any actual dessert to accompany it, though I did pair it with one or two Valentine’s chocolates to much success.

Land of Nod Chocolate Raspberry Dessert Wine

Land of Nod Chocolate Raspberry Dessert Wine

I then returned to more of the wine itself, as it was fitting my mood precisely. And, that kick from the alcohol certainly kept me warm and cozy.  I shared some with the family and everyone agreed this is a delicious little gem from the northwest corner of our state. I pass there often on my way to hike or ski the beautiful Berkshires and Appalachians, and I will be stopping in again for more. A nationally recognized bicentennial family farm going back to before the American Revolution, I would surmise the Adam family are well-devoted to agriculture and their surroundings, and the wines are just another successful side of their endeavors with a passion that shows in the product. At the time I don’t think I knew that I’d have fallen even deeper for the subject and craft that is wine, but that devotion is alive and well today, and even stronger.

2011 Corvallis Cellars Pinot Noir

While Pinot Noir isn’t normally the big winter-warming red one would reach for in the cold, I can’t keep away from this grape, and recently just about everything I’ve been eating has been a better pairing with Pinot Noir than a big red like Cabernet. Make it a Willamette Pinot and well, I succumb to it’s allure. And, being wine, it warms me up just fine, even at 13% abv. This Corvallis Pinot Noir came from a local shop and while not a 90+ point example with a price tag to match, I can’t justify that cost for everyday drinking. I love finding values for my daily sips and this one that my wife brought home does a nice job of exemplifying the style in the region on a budget. A little less rich in fruit and spice and a shorter finish than the top dogs in the region, but enough to enjoy with a good meal, and thereafter. Definitely a value at $16.

2011 Corvallis Cellars Pinot Noir

2011 Corvallis Cellars Pinot Noir

This of course brings me to my own steadfast devotion to Pinot Noir, and those from this region in Oregon that started my full-blown enthusiasm for the wine world.  I have my father-in-law to thank for those six bottles of Patton Valley Pinot Noir he sent me for Christmas in 2010. At that time I had only interviewed for my first career in the wine business. And here I am today, fully entrenched in the field, or should I say vineyard. A few months later while studying for the first of my WSET certifications offered at my new wine job, I began this blog to further my own education, and share my stories and learning in the process.  My first blog entry was a Pinot Noir, my last entry was a Pinot Noir, and here we are again. I imagine there’s many in between. In everyday application, I tell my customers my stories, and my devotion to it, and pass on that enthusiasm in the process, hopefully making new fans of the grape and the region. I have many more in my cellar that I’m saving for a special occasion. And my eyes light up every time I discover a new one.

I have also been using this extra time to finally get through the majority of my latest wine-read, Neil Rosenthal’s “Reflections of a Wine Merchant.” There’s nothing more exciting and educational for me than first-hand accounts of another wine lover who has devoted his life to the subject and turned that passion into a career. Meeting and courting vignerons both world-recognized and virtually unknown, and the ups and downs of each journey to their cellars and the business made or lost in each experience makes for an eye-opening read. I recently enjoyed Lawrence Osborne’s own memoir on the subject, “The Accidental Connoisseur” (which I very much see myself as). I look forward to my next adventure, with Kermit Lynch’s “Adventures on the Wine Route“.  Throw in all the trades I keep on top of, tasting, collecting and cataloging my own cellar, and sharing my experiences with you all here, and its just a wonderful way for me to also try and inspire devotion in you, my readers. And there is so much more to come.

Cheers!

Rayas Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône 1986 Reserve Syrah

1986 Rayas Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Reserve Syrah

1986 Rayas Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Reserve Syrah

This past weekend I had the good fortune to be invited to drink some 27-year-old Rhône Syrah. A friend was having a party and there were several culinary treats. Pizzas grilled on the barbecue with fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden, homemade mozzarella and sangria, and our favorite cider on tap. Add the fire pit and this wine surprise, and I was in heaven there for a while. The bottle  was presented by one of the guests who received it as a gift. While not knowing a ton about the wine, the age obviously made it special and they asked whether I thought it would be good. While this would likely be considered past maturity, I certainly thought it would still be drinkable and was excited to try. We decanted it for about 50 minutes as there was plenty of residue, and to allow it to open up.

As you would expect, the fruit was fully developed and the complexity was rich – black pepper everywhere, with subtle black currant fruit notes and hints of liquorice, bramble and soil. The tannins were subdued as was the acidity, and it was all very smoothly integrated by this point. And it was not musty at all. There was definitely rim variation on the edge of the wine due to its age.

The Appelation of Côtes du Rhône tells you that this wine has reasonable quality even if it doesn’t come from a more famous appelation in the region. There are many fine wines of this type within the region. If anything, this translates into a good buy for your money as often these other vineyards are right on the other side of a boundary of a famous appelation. Red wines in this broader appelation are usually a blend of the three big red varieties, GSM — or Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Cinsault and Carignan are used too. These days, stating just Syrah on the label would indicate that this varietal makes up 85% or more of the blend. I don’t know the exact percentages of the varietals in this wine but I would guess Syrah makes up a healthy portion if it is stated there, even by older laws.

More recent vintages seem to have a majority of Grenache with Cinsault next and only last, Syrah. This makes me wonder why Syrah is so prominent on the label of the 1986. This vineyard is located in the central Côtes du Rhône Villages area, so one can’t assume its due to it being from the Northern Rhône where Syrah dominates. I would guess that it was either an older generation’s chosen blend, or weather factors in that growing season made for nice ripe Syrah which they wanted to showcase. Since 2005 this region has become part of Côtes du Rhône Village Massif.

Decanting 1986 Rayas Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Reserve Syrah

Decanting 1986 Rayas Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Reserve Syrah

Fonsalette is a brand, not a domaine. The actual vineyards are in Lagarde-Paréol but the wines are vinified at Château Rayas. It belongs to the Reynaud family, who bought Rayas in the 1880s when former notary Albert Reynaud became deaf and had to change careers. Its been passed down the generations since, and with the addition of Chateau des Tours. All said, they also make a Côtes du Rhône Blanc, Châteuneuf du Pape and Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc in their vineyards and estates. They are old-world, described even as the ‘antithesis of modern winemaking’. These are low-yielding old vines, and the winery itself is nothing grand in appearance, choosing to focus on the wine above all else.

I’ve seen the price listed anywhere from $135 in France to over $300 in the U.S when searching the web. Parker gave the vintage 78 points, though I enjoyed it a lot more than that! And he wrote fondly about his meeting then-winemaker Jacques Reynaud (Albert’s son) in his 1997 book “Wines of the Rhone Valley” and holds their wines in high regard. If anyone else has any experience, insight or clarifications on this wine, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Happy Cabernet Day!

Shalestone 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Shalestone 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

I’m guessing its late for some of you readers, but here in New England its happy hour! And it’s Cabernet Day. I am celebrating by enjoying the great 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon I had from and with the winemaker from Shalestone vineyards in New York’s Finger lakes region. That article is here. I think that I may have to go back or place an order online, because I have gone through all of their wine I brought home already.  I think the addition of some pepper jack and olives will make a perfect pre-dinner treat! This winery was a hidden gem that I was luckily tipped off about on my first trip to the region. And it’s always great to meet the winemaker and talk with them about their wine and winemaking philosophies.

Happy Cabernet Day!

Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto (and a brief primer on Port styles)

Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto

Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Porto

Lately there has been a lot of Port in my life. This is a good thing. I went to a Portuguese wine tasting about a week and a half ago. One of those wines was a nice 20-year-old Tawny Port, and I ended up leaving with one of those bottles, which I am reviewing here today. Then, our company wine tasting at work last week was all about Port. We had a Ruby, a Late Bottle Vintage (LBV), a Tawny Port with indication of age (also a twenty-year-old) and a Vintage Port.

Here are some basics on Port. Port wine is a fortified wine that is made by the addition of a grape spirit or Brandy (in this case 77% abv) to a red wine blend that is fermented to about 7-8% abv. This kills the remaining yeast and stops the fermentation, leaving residual sugar as well as preserving the wine. The British began importing Port by that name by ship in 1678. This process originally began to protect the wine from the long hot voyages by ship however it was an afterthought and the method known today of fortifying it during fermentation has only existed since the 1800s. The source wines are made inland in the Douro river region of Portugal and then brought downstream to Vila Nova de Gaia (originally by boats) where it is then aged, blended and bottled in loges (warehouses) and then exported. The wine takes its name from Oporto, on the other side of the river, from where it was originally exported. Now of course there are modern methods of exporting the wine directly from the Douro region (since 1986).

The Douro became the first legally demarcated wine region in the 1750s though wine has been made here for two thousand years. And while Port-type wines are made elsewhere, none replicate the unique terroir or expression of Port, nor can it be legally called Port. The source wine is usually a blend of local stars Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz (known as Tempranillo in Spain), Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela and Tinto Cão, but there are almost thirty types of grapes used in making it. They are all thick-skinned small berries that produce the rich, concentrated must needed to make a fine Port. The son of the founder of Taylor’s was one of the pioneers of the Port trade, and they’ve excelled at it ever since. Taylor’s actually still crushes (treads) the grapes by foot for richer results.

There are several types of Port with various methods of production. The winemakers will decide with each harvest which must is best suited to which type of Port. Your standard Ruby Ports are not aged beyond 2-3 years in oak casks and are then bottled ready to drink, whereas Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) Ports are from a single vintage, aged for four years in oak and sometimes an additional three in bottle. These are therefore richer than Ruby as they improve with bottle age, like a Vintage Port does. And like a Vintage Port, decanting will usually be necessary. Reserve Ruby Ports are aged five years and are the finest blend of vintages, with richer fruit. Then come Late Bottle Vintage Modern Ports which are aged 6 years and are fined and filtered and ready to drink. All of these Ports are darker in color, have more berry and blackcurrant flavors than tawny or vintage ports and are traditionally enjoyed younger.

Map of Duoro/Port region. Photo Credit - My WSET Level 3 textbook

Map of Duoro/Port region. Photo Credit – My WSET Level 3 advanced textbook

In the Tawny category you have basic Tawny which are aged 2-3 years and are paler than Ruby Ports due to longer cask oxidative aging. Reserve Tawny Ports are matured 7 years in wood and are smooth blends with nice complexity. Colheita Ports are Tawny Ports that are aged around 8 years and are from a single vintage so they will have a bottling date on the label too. Then you have the Tawny Ports with indication of age that I drank last night. These are the finest of the Tawny Ports, and some are aged over 40 years, with the price increasing based on the age.  These are smoother with more nutty and raisin flavors and aromas due to the prolonged time in oak casks and longer exposure to oxygen. This is an average age and will have the bottling date on the label.

White Ports are made from classic regional white varities, aged 2-3 years and can be made in drier or sweeter styles.

Vintage Ports are intended for aging in bottle though they do spend about 2 years in oak first. They are a blend of the finest wines of a vintage. They are not made every vintage but the years they are made is usually a collective decision on the part of all the Port houses to promote a great year. They require decanting, as do single Quinta Vintage Ports which means they are from a single vineyard. There are also Crusted Ports which are produced the same way as Vintage Ports but are from several vintages as opposed to one. They get their name from a crust of natural sediment which develops in the bottle and requires decanting. With all this variety of styles and flavors, there are endless pairing possibilities.

Last night I was looking for a nice after-dinner cordial to pair with my delicious rich chocolate father’s day cake, and so I opened up the Port I had bought at the tasting. This is a fine example, with the expected nutty, chocolate, coffee and oxididative aromas on the nose with the addition of a nice acidity on the palate. There really couldn’t have been a better pairing in my opinion. Wine Enthusiast gave this 90 points, Wine Spectator 92 points and The Wine Advocate also 92 points. Smooth and honeyed, it is delicious and reminds me why I bought it after tasting it. Another great thing about Port is you can enjoy it for weeks without it spoiling. If it lasts that long without being enjoyed, that is.

Said Robert Parker in The Wine Advocate on Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Ports:

“It is my opinion that Taylor’s tawny ports are the best of their type. When tasted against other tawnys, they all exhibit more aromatic personalities, greater fruit and ripeness, and a wonderful sweetness and length. Although I find the Thirty Year Old Tawny admirable, I prefer the richer, more vibrant Twenty Year Old Tawny.”

This fine Port cost $47.99 which is the average price for this brand, age and style of Port.

Big Names in California Wine, Part 4: Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Pinot Noir 2011

Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Pinot Noir 2011

Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Pinot Noir 2011

Over the weekend, I opened up the last bottle for my classic California series – a 2011 Chalone Monterey County Pinot Noir. All I can say is, wow. This wine was so much more than I expected. This isn’t even their top-of-the-line Pinot Noir. But seeing as how Chardonnay from Chalone, along with Chateau Montelena, surround a Mersault Charmes Roulot in the Top 3 whites at the infamous upset the Judgement of Paris, I kinda figured I’d be pleased by the quality. Rent “Bottle Shock” if you want to see an entertaining take on that event.

If you don’t know this about me, I’m also a sucker for Pinot Noir. It is my favorite grape. I’m a bit of a Pinot elitest and I don’t just grant any Pinot a ‘wow’ designation. I’ve had a lot. This is a seriously good Pinot Noir. I excitedly shared a small glass with my sister-in-law and father-in-law, the one who introduced me to my favorite grape. But only a small glass mind you. I wanted this one all for myself. I moved on later to a Super Tuscan – another favorite – so I could save the last glass of this for dinner tonight. But I did manage to put down a tasting note before plowing through a large percentage of the contents smacking my lips at every sip. It was the perfect marriage for my BBQ chicken kebabs and couscous.

Savory black and red cherry and raspberry on the nose and palate are beautifully integrated with a peppery edge, medium body and some baking spice hints from the French oak aging of its Burgundian counterparts. Some say tobacco but I wasn’t picking that out. An incredibly supple mouthfeel and a perfect reminder of why I love Pinot Noir so much. When it is done right it is done RIGHT. Usually I’m drinking Willamette, Russian River Valley, Carneros or of course Burgundy. This is my first Monterey County Pinot. Chalone is the oldest running vineyard in the county, with vineyards high up on Chalone peak from which it derives its name as does the AVA in which the vineyards lie. They are also the only vineyard in the Chalone appellation, one of many smaller ones in the larger Central Coast AVA. The name for the peak and hence the vineyard is Native American, named after the local tribe that first inhabited the region, the “Chollen”.

With Pinot this good and award-winning Chardonnay, its not surprising that the first vineyard on this land was begun by a Burgundian winemaker, Charles L. Tamm in the turn of the last century. The limestone and calcium and granite soil were just like those of his homeland and he sought them out for this very reason. When the new owners aquired it in the 1960’s, additional lower vineyards and varietals were added. This purchase and the Chalone label as it is now known began with former Harvard music grad and Naval officer – Dick Graff and his family. He was so impressed by the results he tasted at this vineyard he was working at after his service, that he took oenology classes at UC Davis and bought the vineyard with a family loan. With the help of his brothers he set out to make a Burgundy-style top Chardonnay, among other great wines. In 1976, they made good.

In the process of making their fantastic new wines,  he also helped spread the technique of malolactic fermentation and the fermentation of white wine in small oak barrels as they do in Burgundy, around California. He also was one of the first to import and sell Burgundian oak barrels in the state. Their modern wine group now owns other vineyards in California as well as partly owning Chateau Duhart-Milon in France, while they themselves are owned by wine giant Diageo. Dick Graff passed away in 1998 when he crashed piloting his single engine plane. But not without leaving a legacy behind him. He also founded the American Institute of Wine and Food with Julia Child and Robert Mondavi.

They also have an estate-grown heritage Pinot Noir (higher-priced at $45) I plan to go right out and try, as well as their Chardonnays for obvious reasons. I’d give this around 90 points. Wine Enthusiast gave the 2010 88 points and Cellar Tracker 87 points. So I’m in good company there.

At an average price of $15-$20 this is a steal and can go up against far more expensive examples without a doubt. Nice to know I’ve found a Pinot Noir that won’t cost me $35+ every time I want a good one.

Visit them at chalonevineyard.com