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!

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Briccotondo Langhe Dolcetto DOC 2010

Briccotondo Langhe Dolcetto 2010 DOC

Briccotondo Langhe Dolcetto 2010 DOC

Italian reds are without a doubt among my favorite wines and I enjoy them on a regular basis. It doesn’t hurt that I love Italian food as well, so pairing is easy. And Piedmont reds are among my favorite Italian reds. Could it be a coincidence that Piedmont has the most DOCs and DOCGs in all of Italy?  I usually go for the Barberas though don’t get me wrong I love a nice classy Barolo or Barbaresco. It’s just that such wines illicit a more serious food pairing to match the complexity. All that well-developed tannin and acidity that makes it so wonderfully ageworthy demands a fine meal. So on an everyday-drinking level, the region has many other nice reds that can be quaffed solo and pair well with contemporary fare as well.  While my beloved Barbera is light in tannin and more acidic, Dolcetto is more tannic yet still fruit-forward and  hence somewhere in the middle. Due to the light acidity, this is a wine best enjoyed young. And like Barbera, its accessible to smaller budgets while not lacking in quality and flavor by any means and are a great value for the money.

While Langhe is most known as the greater de-classified region surrounding Barolo and Barbaresco, it is also home to some tasty Dolcettos.  The most common are from one of my favorite Barbera regions – Asti – though Dogliani is the most famous, and is the DOCG of note for the variety.  This particular wine is from the greater Langhe appellation.

I tasted and purchased this wine at a charity tasting for a very admirable cause called “Wine into Water” (http://winetowater.org/), a charity now reaching farther and farther, with the purpose of providing clean drinking water for needy people around the world.  Approximately 1 in 6 people in the world don’t have access to clean water. The idea was started by a former North Carolina bartender, Doc Hendley. He learned first-hand the effort many communities had to go through just to secure drinking water, that often was not clean enough to drink even if it was accessable. The charity now uses its proceeds to provide water filters and wells in these places.  This particular event was hosted by wine merchant Nicholas Roberts.

Ruby in color, on the nose are prune, cherry and soft plum. On the palate the tannins are quite smooth and well-balanced, and tart bold fruit fleshes out the body which is medium but with all that going on feels fuller. It says 13% on the bottle but there’s good alcohol in the back of my throat.  There is some floral note as well – rose, perhaps? It is bold but has some of that rustic note you expect in Piedmont wines. I did not pair the wine in this instance but it would be a fine match to some of my favorite Italian cuisine.

Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano D’Abruzzo “il vino dal tralcetto” 2010

Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano D'Abruzzo 2010

Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2010

One of my favorite Italian wines is without a doubt, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. That is to say, it’s the Montepulciano grape, made in the region of Abruzzo. Don’t confuse it with Vino Nobile de Montepulciano from Tuscany, which is Sangiovese-based. The region of Abruzzo is centrally located on the Aegean (Eastern) coast of Italy nestled between Marche, Lazio and Molise. This is a wine that is not known for being especially age-worthy, or usually terribly complex. Some do age it, but it doesn’t really develop that much. It’s typically enjoyed young and is rich, spicy, ripe and bright. And that is why I love it. It is a quality wine, and a quality grape.

Save for Pescara and Teramo in the north, most Montepulciano’s are DOC-level wines. I’m good with that. I don’t have to break the bank, and I am as happy with it at a Trattoria accompanying a bowl of Carbonara as I am at home with one of my own concoctions. Its copious fruit means I can also enjoy it on its own. They pack a lot of flavor value per dollar.

This is one I find at my local shop, and quite concidentily I saw a magnum of it proudly displayed as decoration at a local trattoria today. It is an attractive bottle,  from its hand-written font, uneven-cut pleated paper, and straw ribbon tied to the neck with a stick. What is this a stick of, and I wonder is there any significance to it other than decoration?

The nose speaks of cherry, smoke, spice and a little black olive. Even a bit of tea now that I give it another whiff. On the palette is pronounced ripe plum and cherry and more spice, with bright but well-integrated acidity, and a medium body and finish. This is an estate-bottled Riserva, which indicates it is vinified and bottled on the same property the grapes are grown, and aged longer in oak though the oak too is well-integrated and fairly neutral. You can also see the age in the color of the wine, as its moving towards garnet on the rim. While DOC Montepulciano does not often see aging to the point that it can be labelled a Riserva, it certainly adds some nuance. And this is still in a weeknight wine budget. It was delicious with my sausage ravioli and pesto. It fits a rich white sauce as well as a red. I paid $14.99. You can probably find it for less. ABV is 13%. A very enjoyable wine! Can anyone tell me what “dal Tralcetto” means? I had a hard time finding the answer to that question online.

DOCG Reds of Piedmont, Part 3 – Travaglini Gattinara 2007

Travaglini Gattinara

Travaglini Gattinara

Before I forget, Happy National Wine Week to my co-patriots… I know for most of us wine bloggers, every week is wine week!

In part three of this series on the great reds of northwestern Italy’s Piedmont region, I would like to tell you about a variety I had for the very first time a few weeks ago at a tasting. Not only did I love it, but it stood out more than the Barolos or Barbarescos in the room, to me anyway. It made quite an impression, and so let’s talk about Gattinara. Making such a discovery is exciting, so I hope you share that enthusiasm with me and try one.

Gattinara is a DOCG wine from the region, also made from Nebbiolo. Originally a DOC, it was upgraded in 1990. It is from the commune of the same name, in northern Vercelli province. One principle difference in this wine is that up to 10% of it can be a blend of Bonarda di Gattinara and up to 4% Vespolina.

From the 2007 vintage, it has been aged at least 3 years (1 in oak), yet still has a dark ruby color at this age. However as you know the variety lends itself nicely to aging, and they do make a Riserva which is more orange to garnet in color like Barolo. That is because it has been aged longer — at least 4 years, with 2 in oak. I have seen vintages of this online as old as 2001. And there is definitely some rim variation on this one leaning towards that color.

Gattinara used to be known as the best place in the region for Nebbiolo. While it may no longer be in the spotlight, the quality is still there. And you will still pay $30 plus for a good bottle. This region has more volcanic soil than Ghemme or Langhe, so the result is lighter and softer.  This bottle has a fascinating shape, perhaps designed to be held more easily. It is quite a conversation piece for a wine tasting.

On the nose is a complex yet also somewhat austere aroma of earth and roses (I am reminded a little of Bordeaux), but with strong cherry and spice notes. Alcohol is at 13.5%. On the palate there is some complexity as well, with a balance of floral, earth, acidity and cherry spice. I get medium body and medium plus tannins so this is a good wine to match with local special meats and cheeses. So I paired it with broiled Italian sausage and the fatty sausage cut right through the tannin as expected. Before that, I had some freshly sliced parmesan to whet my appetite. How do you say delicious in Italian?

This is the most known producer of the variety and they produce many wines across many price ranges. Most of these are more affordable than Barolo and Barbaresco but some are in the higher price ranges. This one was about $30. Visit their site here for a broader view of their range.

Starting this weekend I will be doing my first LIVE blogging series as I visit more wineries in my favorite local up-and-coming wine region, the glorious North Fork of Long Island. I have covered many fine wines and great wineries from this region on my blog, and this weekend I’m going back for my third visit. I thought it would be interesting to blog-on-the-spot from several local wineries. Maybe I can even get a few questions in with a local winemaker…maybe…

DOCG Reds of Piedmont, Part 2 – Conti Speroni Collection Terroirs Barbaresco 2008

Conti Speroni Collection Terroirs Barbaresco 2008

Conti Speroni Collection Terroirs Barbaresco 2008

For part two of the series of reds from my favorite region of Italy, I paired the 2008 vintage of Conti Speroni Collection Terroirs Barbaresco with home-cooked pork chops in a white worcestershire sauce with much success. The delicious chops were compliments of my in-laws and their annual Christmas gifting of two crates of frozen cuisine from Omaha Steaks.

The wine poured an expected ruby-garnet color with some noticable rim variation. This is indicative of the aging on the wine, as well as the characteristic lighter color of the variety, Nebbiolo. The rim will change to a brick-orange hue as its aged for several years. Barbaresco is traditionally a bit lighter than its big cousin Barolo. And while once considered the lesser of the two, Barbaresco is coming close if not equal in quality, save for perhaps a reputation well-protected by makers of Barolo. Therefore it is also less costly. Another reason for the lesser cost is the time required to age and vinify it is significantly less. But this doesn’t mean its not high quality. It too is a DOCG wine (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), meaning of the highest quality and its vinification processes, varieties and aging time ‘guaranteed’ by the wine authorities of Italy and the EU. And as I mentioned in part one, Piedmont has the largest number of DOC and DOCGs in all of Italy.

Nebbiolo however isn’t just found in Barolo and Barbaresco. Other regions in Piedmont employ the variety as well, albeit with blending allowed. Generally speaking, Piedmont is the home of Nebbiolo, though it is not the most common or widely grown in the region by any measure.

When young, Nebbiolo is highly tannic and acidic, but as this wine is from the 2008 vintage it is nicely mellowed. Malolactic fermentation also aids this mellowing. The Nebbiolo grape is among the earliest to bud and latest to ripen here as well, providing more fruit on the palate. In this level of wine, the finest vineyard sites are selected, typically facing southwest on slopes a few hundred feet high.

Now, how about the wine? On the nose were distinct red and black cherry notes, some spice and subtle oak. On the palate there was more cherry, medium tannins, and peppery spice. It was medium in body and had a nice lingering finish. Overall it was well balanced, with everything in the right place.

I am always amazed at how affordable Italian wines are in the United States, most likely as a result of how much is imported. This one was only $18, which is well below the $30 plus you’d spend on most quality Barbarescos! While not the very best one I’ve had, its a very good quality wine I would serve, and can afford. Apparently the italians are a bit shocked we import so much of their wine. I don’t know why. They must keep the REALLY good stuff for themselves!

DOCG Reds of Piedmont, Part 1 – Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Superiore Le Orme 2010

Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Superiore le Orme 2010

Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Superiore le Orme 2010

Except for maybe Willamette or Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Napa Cabernet and a few other star American wines, Italian wines are among my favorite, and reds in particular. While I cover a lot of American wines on this blog, there are many vineyards within a short distance, and hence there is a certain convenience factor. In fact I drove by two more I have yet to visit in the beautiful (and presently snow-covered) Farmington valley the other day on the way to my ski destination. That being said, I am very fond of many other wines from my homeland. But many at the top of the list are on the opposite coast, not much shorter than a trip to Europe I’m afraid. I will get to visit them one of these days. I also like to support local winegrowers and winemakers, one of which I hope to be one day. If I could get to Italian vineyards as easily, there would be a lot more of that talk here! Fortunately though they are easy to get. Well, most, anyways.

Though there are many, I’d say Piedmont has the most different types of wines that I regularly enjoy. Not to mention, the region has the most DOC and DOCGs of any in Italy. So the odds are already in its favor. I love a good Nero D’Avola, Montepulciano or Primitivo, but let’s talk Piedmont for the moment. I would like to note that there are also very nice whites in the region including Gavi and Roero Arneis, some of which I will review, perhaps even after this series. We went to a wine tasting event focused on Piedmont wines last week, and I discovered some great new wines. While Barolo and Barbaresco are the ruling reds of the region, I can’t wait to tell you about my first meeting with Gattinara in the last installment. But unlike Gattinara, Barolo or Barbaresco which are made from Nebbiolo, Barbera is it’s own variety. It actually makes up 50% of the red wine DOC output from the region.

This wine I’ve had a few times now. It’s a perfect example of a quality Barbera D’Asti, ruby in color, low tannin, high acidity, fruit-forward and medium-bodied. It has nice black cherry notes on the nose and palate and some smoke, earth, and oak aromas as well. It is made from hand-picked old-vine grapes. The vineyard’s southwestern and eastern-facing hills are full of the calcium and minerals perfect for growing this variety. Once vinified, it is then aged a year in oak.  It is 12.5% abv and you can find it at most larger U.S. retailers for $10-$14 which is a great bargain, and another reason I keep coming back. After doing a little research on comparitive pricing, I see it is also very well reviewed and popular on several online wine retail sites. This doesn’t surprise me. I had it with chicken cacciatore and it was a fantastic pairing for both the poultry and the red sauce.

I have yet to try Barbera D’Alba, a slightly fuller and less acidic (and more expensive) Barbera, but it’s on the list once I can find it in a store. Seems there are not many in Connecticut that have it. Based on how much I enjoy the Barbera D’Asti, I will track it down so I can do a side-by-side comparison! In the meantime, I highly recommend it.  In the next installment, Barbaresco, and some homemade porkchops.

Zardini Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2007

Zardini Valpolicella di Ripasso 2007

Zardini Valpolicella Ripasso 2007

I missed National Cabernet Day. That’s not to say I wasn’t drinking, I just wasn’t drinking Cabernet. I found out too late, and I was already working my way through this bottle with no regrets. Next year!

Anyway, when my wife brought home this Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso with a variety of my usual favorite Italian reds (and some new ones) from our local shop, my eyes lit up. This was the first time I’ve had one of these, and I have distinct memories of trying to memorize the process, without getting my Amarone/Valpolicella and passito/ripasso confused along the way.  Hailing from the Veneto wine region of (northeastern)  Italy,  its second in DOC production in the country after Chianti.  Valpolicella (‘valley of many cellars’) is not a variety but a regional DOC wine made of three varieties traditionally: Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. Typical Valpolicella on its own is a lighter-bodied red, and so this ripasso technique evolved to create a bigger, bolder wine. It is made by re-fermenting  (‘re-pass’ = re-ferment)  the local Valpolicella Superiore wine with the partially dried (passito) grape skins left over from production of Amarone and recioto sweet dessert wines, which have DOCGs of their own.  Therefore, you will typically find more tannin, and more fruit, complexity and color in this wine. They are also more aromatic, with some tar, resin, and spicy characteristics of the Amarone.  Valpolicella di Ripasso got its own DOC in 2007.

It was impressive. The color was a deep intense ruby. This makes a lot of sense given the double soaking on the skins and fermentation. On the nose there was rich black cherry and dried cherry with a compliment of oak.  Its palate was intensely fruit forward as expected, full of black and red cherry. It was very concentrated but the tannins and fairly bright acidity were very well integrated. It had a nice full body and a long, delicious finish.  I paired it with some pasta – it was perfect.