Bucket list visit with Emidio Pepe

Chiara de Lulis Pepe and Emidio Pepe

If someone said you could only visit 10, or five, or even three wine producers anywhere, which estates would make your shortlist? Emidio Pepe in Contrada Chiesi, Abruzzo has long been on that list for me, for so many reasons, all of which are the right ones. Senore Pepe and the next two generations have been making some of Italy’s greatest wines but that is only part of the story. The family’s humanity is their reason for being. Their sustainable and regenerative approach to agriculture, culture and people is what sustains them and attracts so much good. In June of 2022 I finally made my pilgrimage and five months later I am still feeling so right about who I am, having been granted the good fortune to spend time with this special family.

With Emidio Pepe

Related – The natural wines of Emidio Pepe

By way of recall I first met Emidio Pepe’s granddaughter Chiara de Lulis Pepe when I hosted her in Toronto at Barque Smokehouse back in May of 2015. After that meeting and tasting I wrote the following: “Natural, healthy viticulture. No chemicals ever. Ever. Organic, biodynamic, only indigenous yeasts (more on that later), no fining or filtration. Red berries de-stemmed by hand. White grapes trod by foot. Fermentation in concrete. Bottling in early March and laid to rest. Then the bottles are decanted by hand, re-corked and released. The entire premise begins and ends with amazingly clean and pure fruit.” Seven years later più cambia, più è la stessa cosa. Translated from the famous epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, but I’m sure you get the drift. Today Chiara will tell you that soils are persistently in flux, constantly eroding and failure always precedes success. The maintenance of healthy vineyards is a never-ending battle, the decision to treat nature and people with respect a choice that turns problems into solutions.

Contrada Chiesi

I am the lucky one, having been gifted the opportunity to meet a legend in his 90th year. “Emidio Pepe founded his winery in 1964, after working alongside his father and his grandfather which already back in 1889 where making wine at Casa Pepe. Before anyone else, he strongly believed in the great ageing potential of trebbiano and montepulciano d’Abruzzo and he dedicated all his energies to those two indigenous grape varieties, proving their incredible potential and showing it to the entire world.” Emidio and Rosa, followed by Sofia and Daniela, then granddaughters Chiara and Elisa. Sofia the oenological one, in production and for quality; Daniela in administration and finance; Chiara, spokesperson and export markets; Elisa, the next chosen one, to guide Emidio Pepe forward. Their vineyards are located 10 km from the Adriatic and 45 minutes from the Gran Sasso d’Italia mountains. The unique saddle and its clay-limestone soil encourage roots to burrow five to six metres downward, to a subterranean comfort zone, where the temperature is always constant.

Chiara stands in the vineyard and explains “it is the diversity of genetic materials in this plot that seems to have an ability to adapt and adjust, to withstand the changing climate. All plantations make use of their genetics. We don’t only make use of previous genetics but also the ones that have been added on top of them. This is the beauty.” Chiara goes on to say that the specific of skins on these grapes must also be preserved because their specificity keeps elegance and a softness in the tannins of the wines they produce, especially from those raised in the pergola vines, which she says, grandfather has always loved.”

When asked “how many hectares do you have” Chiara will say, “we don’t have surfaces, we have volumes.” Trees bring up water from the deeper soils, aiding in nutrient sharing with vine roots that interact in the space between them. “There must be a symbiotic relationship between the roots of vines and trees. They need to be ensconced, especially in times of climate change, strife and crisis. It’s not just about what is above ground.” Anyway, she does eventually concede that the current 17.5 will soon become 19 hectares. As time passes more vegetative growth is encouraged, no leaf plucking and pruning is done in a “bigger” way. “All the great winemakers around the world are the ones who show the most sensitivity to their vines and their lands.”

Silica spray is used early in the morning to capture light refraction and encourage photosynthesis. “A magical preparation within the biodynamic system at Pepe.” There are 80,000 bottles produced annually, 45 trebbiano, 35 montepulciano, 15 pecorino and five cerasuolo. whites are hand-stomped, skins and stems removed and then straight to basket press. Th juice is put to concerte tanks for two years on the gross lees. As for reds, friction skin versus non-friction skin of montepulciano is key. “If you know the difference then you understand montepulciano. The basket press is responsible for zero friction.” Chiara adds “for me the lees are very important for their reductive power and we make sure to do nothing that encourages cloudy ferments,” And so because Pepe wants to do everything to avoid sediment, wines 20 years and older are decanted, rid of solids and re-corked.

Again, “if there is one single winemaker who defines natural, who lives, breathes and embodies the much maligned phrase “minimal intervention winemaking,” Emidio Pepe is the one. Not because of the techniques, practices and religious adherence to undomesticated viticulture, unadulterated and soulful viniculture. The reason Emidio Pepe is the benchmark and the ragione d’essere for natural wines to matter is because the wines are impossibly fantastic.”

Seven years after first meeting Chiara in Toronto I am humbled for my time spent with the Emidio Pepe family in Abruzzo. Chiara’s relationship with her grandfather and unwavering commitment to their land is everything that matters in making exceptional and memorable wine. It’s not only what you do but also who you are. Thank you and thank you to Vini d’Abruzzo for bringing us together. These nine tasting notes chronicle an afternoon and an evening spent with the famiglia Pepe and I am richer for the experience in ways tangible and intangible. I count the days to the next encounter. Manteniamoci giovani.

Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC 2019

Rainy vintage, ill gifted for montepulciano so not made in this vintage but for trebbiano and pecorino it was a good season. A honeyed vintage, beeswax and lanolin, phenolic but so in control. Super herbal yet again a bottled, instigated and estimable one, in dried florals too. Then the transition to luxe and palate lavishing, nurturing and care taken for the duration. More honey, mellifluous and mixed with tannins just a touch drying while the last note played hums for minutes. A day in Emidio Pepe life. Would like to wait two more years to see this cross over into the world where it occupies a mature sense of itself. Drink 2023-2037.  Tasted June 2022

Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC 2009

The youthfulness of honey after ten years turns to racy citrus and a vapour trail smoulders behind in this petrol-mineral and flinty trebbiano. The tenure is just about 35 deep for Emidio Pepe and this seems to exist in a transitional-next level aging epoch (in and around 2009) for an Abrusseze trebbiano that shows 12-plus year-old wisdom. Not only wisdom but calm and good nature. The finish carries a Manzanilla character that is an EP speciality but only in certain vintages. I suppose this would be one. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted June 2022

Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC 2004

As with all aged trebbiano (d’Abruzzo) from Emidio Pepe there comes about an almost (if I may) Jura meets Hunter Valley character, here by the hands of Sofia Pepe who was winemaker at the time. A seasonal profile for sure, cool-ish and comparatively more so than the 2009 tasted alongside. Chamomile and scraped orange skin, a true juiciness and most of all a textural element that sets it apart. There is a tart component as well, almost grapefruit, a peppery kick and piques everywhere, especially on the back end. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Emidio Pepe Pecorino d’Abruzzo DOC 2013

Emidio Pepe have been working with the grape since 2010, after planting in 2006 and 2007. A variety connected to the mountains, north facing, protected from the sun. Aromatic, thick skinned in tight punches like pinot noir. Glistening, viscous, a scintillant of a white wine and leave it to Emidio Pepe to see it age. A one point four hectare vineyard right behind the house. Acidity is easily maintained, especially from a cool vintage which also happened to be wet. A saffron note suggests a smile of botrytis and now like all aged EPs there is honey and here, also green fig. A grape high in pH and yet the opposite seems to be what 2013 delivers. And with age the viscosity builds, the aromatic compounds multiply and mingle with frâiche flavours in Abruzzese cahoots. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June 2022

A perfect plate at Emidio Pepe

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2007

Hard to imagine a montepulciano of this age could be so fresh and indeed it was a warm vintage but remember two things. Concrete and no wood. Aged in one and without any contact with the other. Also consider it resting in an aging room and then after 15 years, coming away cool, crisp and clean. That it exhibits with grace and esteem is the problem solved, like grandfather and the way he walks, carries himself, passes the torch. A smoky subtlety and even now the initialization of fungi porcini but truth is only secondary notes are at the fore. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted June 2022

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2003

Much further advanced as compared to 2007, not surprising considering the heat of the vintage and yet acidity is so very preserved. Also consider this having rested in an aging room and then, after 10 years, opened to decant from sediment and then re-corked to ensure its ultimate refinement. That is has kept and behold as it still rolls along.  Last tasted June 2022

At the teenage (in wine years) number 12 this is showing less evolution than expected, especially in consideration of the European year that was 2003. Another divaricating Abruzzo, with a dried fruit component that pullulates in a very hydrated way. From a scorching season where anxiety was felt by both the vines and their keepers. Possessive of a bricking that gives of the cracked earth, of dusty, ambivalent rocks and warm, pulpy air. Through the humid tones and with thanks to pergola trellising, balance prevails with close encounters in acidity of the rampant kind. Tannins rage as well, strong and bullish above the earthy notes and peppery berry bites. The old vines and sleight of winemaking hand are ensconced to this vision, void of faults and yet advancing from the frame. Needs just a few more years to find the median point on the chronometer. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2015

Chiara and Elisa

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2002

The subtle and gentle elegance of 2002 is almost mystifying, if at least a surprise that kinda hypnotizes. Memory serves up a case of conflict and adversity, if also vintage envy for the bookends of 2001 and 2003. And yet the cool of the night prevails to elongate a montepulciano for our pleasure and make it sing 20 years later. It was also decanted to reduce the lees sediment and then re-corked for our benefit. Words cannot express what a beautiful place this 2002 EP is found to be. It is a treat to taste and also behold, exactly as of right now. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2001

Laden with Brett and other exceptional volatility. The lift and high tonality are at the threshold of problematic. Less so on the palate but there are clearly concerning elements in this bottle.  Last tasted June 2022

If the ’03 acts a bit like a hormonal, impulsive, testy, cavilling or petulant teenager, this 2001 is the adolescent. Full of boundless energy, willingly and excitably adventurous and ready to participate in the game. This from a terrific vintage with great aging potential, here Montepulciano manifests with gravity defying weight, like careful Nebbiolo or graceful Burgundy. Where this separates itself from other Grand Cru varietal infinity is in its yeast directive. Singular, remarkable, devoid in spice as if by wood. The structure is innate, indigenously calculated, developing in bottle, verbalizing flavour. Like a bone from the skin of the clay, piaculum by limestone, passed through and brought to light by the leavening catalyst. Drink 2020-2036.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 1983

After seven more years this 1983 remains and persists as one of the greats. “It was the first important vintage that we piled up bottles so high in the aging cellar,” explains Chiara. It marked a turning point for her grandfather and while the tannins are of course long gone the acidity still rises, bringing it into balance at nearly 40 years of age. “It was undrinkable to grandfather because it was so dense and powerful in its first years. The key to understanding and making his wine was time.” This is not a wine that has too much of anything and it is so organized. The aromatics, of cinnamon, rose petal and fenugreek are in multifold metaphysical existence and concentration. They are the driver for all else to follow.  Last tasted June 2022

In 1983, the bottling is the Riserva. Give Emidio Pepe’s reds thirty odd years to develop and the impossible happens. To postulate in a moment’s assessment without remembering the pious tradition with which this was made would be a crime against Pepe, Abruzzo, the natural world and the wonders of the universe. With this much passage the spice cupboard that emits is wow times a thousand. Clove, cinnamon, cardamon, orange peel, galangal and like golden raisins that pass through quarries to become rubies. This wine is perfect. It has not broken down an iota. It requires no decanting. It defies logic, perception and time. There is no sediment, only energy. Speaks from the glass as if it were a child of destiny and mythology. The 1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva arrives from along the same road taken but its transmogrification proves that the result, with thanks again to the endemic froth, is different every time. Drink 2015-2029.  Tasted March 2015

Good to go!

godello

Chiara de Lulis Pepe and Emidio Pepe

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

15 Mind blowing wines of 2015

Old Sherry at the Cariñena Museo del Vino

Old Sherry at the Cariñena Museo del Vino

“You can choose your philosophy of critiquing just as you choose how to live. The freedom to personalize or substantiate thoughts on structure sacrifices the detail to meaning and meaning to preciseness.” I wrote that nearly a year ago. It holds true, as before, near, dear and clear to me today.

Extreme cold ushered in January of 2015 and the obvious lede was Coming wine from the cold. Halfway through the month an epiphany of sorts knocked upside the cerebral cortex, elaborated upon in Varietal Spanish wine. That smithy precursor would lead to revelations in October.

As January wound down and I prepared to hit the Niagara Icewine Festival, (revealed in We the Icewine) I first asked a matter of fat cat factual question, Is writing making a mess of wine? “The combined fugitive pieces of wine and its critics pose questions without answers. They must be asked very slowly.”

Related – Mind blowing wines of 2014

The weeks of suffering through frozen days and night breeds reflection and thought. While the temperatures remained cursedly south of 20 I begged the question, Why drink that?, “looking for heroic entablature and architectural wonder in bottles of wine. We see them as DNA and in their liquids we can read their entire future. We sip them again and again until we taste them for the first time. To remember generations.” Have wine forget winter.

Good bye and thank you for your hospitality South Africa @WOSA_ZA @WOSACanada @CapeWine2015

Good bye and thank you for your hospitality South Africa @WOSA_ZA @WOSACanada @CapeWine2015

I penned If it’s value you want, it’s South Africa you need and later in May, Shades of South Africa. Oh sweet, naive, wait until you travel there and see what’s really up, Godello. Same for A new Greek morning and Getting into Greece. One week in the Peloponnese and my psyche would be altered forever.

In March I explained Why it matters to taste wines again, urged sharing through the practice of Take a bottle, leave a bottle and waxed parenthetical in yet another meaningful soul-searching moment. Why hate wine? was waged with a comment on “the wine geek who hates certain wines. The wine aficionado who picks on specific bottles, bullies them to the point of hatred. Slags them beyond reproach. Rants to the world about the injustice of their existence.” Bugger off.

The Old Third, Pinot Noir 2008

The Old Third, Pinot Noir 2008

Then April. “The Ontario wine industry is the best kept secret in the world. It has grown, accelerated and advanced with more success than might have been imagined as recently as five years ago. Ontario winemakers have figured it out. The “world-class” comparative humanities of aging and longevity aside, the comprehensive and widespread phenomenon of excellence, regardless of vintage, is now an Ontario reality.” Now you know the answer to Why taste Ontario?

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

In May further validation with Searching for Somewhereness and I’m a little bit County, setting the stage for an October visit to proportion enormity across ridges and eskers. Further understanding culled in The Old Third and older County wines and The ridges of Prince Edward County.

Saturday night @barquebbq #smokerschoice and '08 @bodegasmuriel #rioja #spain

Saturday night @barquebbq #smokerschoice and ’08 @bodegasmuriel #rioja #spain

“Wine is a commensurate animal, altricial such as it is, acaudal, acersous, agnostic, aculeate and allocryptic such as it is not. Wine that is not so much off the beaten path as actually growing on one.” Path straying wines. The game changer happened one day in May at Barque Smokehouse with Chiara De lulis Pepe and The natural wines of Emidio Pepe.

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

The June WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada followed Ontario Wine Awards judging, inclusive of tastings at Niagara College, Creekside Estates, Ravine Vineyard, Trius, Treadwell CuisineDomaine Queylus and The Good Earth Wine Company. A great, learned experience at Master classes of Terroir shed brilliant light on Gamay. Then the most important query of the summer. Can Chardonnay get any cooler? Well, one of two. Great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Nova Scotia? My maritime wine sojourn is summarized in East coast swing 2015: Time, tides and wine.

View of the mountains from Tetramythos, Aigialia, Peloponnese

View of the mountains from Tetramythos, Aigialia, Peloponnese

My great Greek Achaian adventure was told in three tales, Till I reach Achaia groundBring me Achaia love and Gateway to Achaia, from Roditis to Mavrodaphne

South Africa’s memories spilled out in waves, from Once upon a time in the Western Cape to Wines of South Africa: It’s the fling itself, through South African duck dynasty and Wines of South Africa: Go Cars Go.

The Empire of Garnacha

The Empire of Garnacha

October and November trips to Aragaon, Catalonia and Franciacorta opened eyes and expanded minds like never before. We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja was followed by CariñenaSomontanoTerra Alta and Calatayud.

With Pablo Alvarez (#vegasicilia) and Laurent Drouhin (#josephdrouhin) at #fourseasonstoronto for #primumfamiliaevini Can there be a more visceral wine experience than tasting some of the world's greatest wine estates and all the while their principals just seem to only talk about history and family? Makes me think about parents, grandparents and children. About accomplishments, passing torches and smelling roses. Or something like that.

With Pablo Alvarez (#vegasicilia) and Laurent Drouhin (#josephdrouhin) at #fourseasonstoronto for #primumfamiliaevini…Can there be a more visceral wine experience than tasting some of the world’s greatest wine estates and all the while their principals just seem to only talk about history and family? Makes me think about parents, grandparents and children. About accomplishments, passing torches and smelling roses. Or something like that.

Far out, man

Far out, man

Here are some mind blowing wines tasted in 2015.

Tetramythos Roditis 2014

Tetramythos Roditis 2014

Tetramythos Roditis 2014, PDO Patras, Greece (SAQ 12484575, $15.75, WineAlign)

Pulled from four vineyards at 650-850m of altitude and from vines 19-42 years old. No skin contact though it shows a light, slight tinge of colour. Nearly platinum in its yellow hue, perhaps attributed to organics says Papagiannopoulos, Eighty per cent was achieved through natural ferment (with zero malolactic) plus “one tank for security.” Roditis can go clean or develop anti-austerity, texture, viscosity in the direction of a dirty projector. The Tetramythos glides “forward through the clover and the bergamot.” I can see what she’s seeing. Tasting like a leesy ripe peach, this is the best “basic” Roditis tasted in Achaia. Serious match of Aleria Restaurant‘s Sea Bass Tartare. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015

To taste again @lafouceller in @doterraalta is today's master plan @VINOS_ICEX #lovegarnacha #garnatxablanca #crdoterraalta

To taste again @lafouceller in @doterraalta is today’s master plan @VINOS_ICEX #lovegarnacha #garnatxablanca #crdoterraalta

Lafou Celler Garnatxa Blanca 2014, DO Terra Alta, Spain (WineryAgentWineAlign)

Ramon Roqueta Segalés, winemaker, soothsayer, visionary, seeker of the Garnatxa Blanca of today from “a narrow valley.” Ramon is very concerned with the valleys, the landscape, the geology, how the wind, the mediterranean climate and the ancient rivers that run through, having left their glacial deposits, all combine for this particular and most important expression of Garnatxa Blanca. Established in 2007, this wine was first released in 2011. Combines old and young fruit, some harvested fresher at a greener stage and others picked later, riper, brought together. Vinified separately, with some skin maceration, looking for fat to surround acidity. Ripe fruit (10 per cent) sees oak, the rest in egg shape concrete tanks with six to seven months of lees contact. Smells like a ripe peach, fresh and without sugar but instead a sprinkling of subterranean, ancient riverbed harvested salt. The tang is layered, variegated, mineral, mastered over and in corralling of oxidation, elaborated with gentle but forceful demand. “We learned that you can get a balance by harvesting and an early and a later stage, sometimes three times.” Finishes with lime, fresh squeezed, sweet tonic and distilled flowers. A wine that has succeeded in “mastering the oxidation process.” Plus the tannic (anti-oxidative) aspects offered in micro-oxygenation from the slightly toasted new oak. Approximate price $28.95 CAN. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted October 2015  @lafouceller  @oenophilia1

Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015

Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Days of Yore 2014 (Winery)

Chris Alheit’s brand might allude to a chapter in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers but Days of Yore must pay some homage to the 80’s thrash metal band and with great irony. This Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault blend is no Doomsday for the Receiver and certainly No Place for Disgrace. What it is instead is pure liquid brilliance. Old 1960 Cabernet Sauvignon bush vines are (even if unintentionally) farmed the way they used to be, back in the days of yore. Now cropped, tended and produced in pitch perfect cure, the resulting wine (when Cabernet is blended with Albeit’s dry-farmed, stomped and tonic-singular Cinsault) shows smoky depth and musicality. Sour-edged or tart can’t begin to describe the tang. It’s something other, unnameable, sapid, fluid and beautiful. It brings South Africa from out of the heart of its wayfinding darkness. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisAlheit  @ZooBiscuitsWine

"If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz, then you won’t see it in Riesling" @AlsaceWines #olivierhumbrecht

“If you can see the differences of terroir in Gewürz, then you won’t see it in Riesling” @AlsaceWines #olivierhumbrecht

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer Clos Windsbuhl 2011, Ac Alsace, France (Agent, $64.00, WineAlign)

This is the most northerly Zind-Humbrecht vineyard, in Hunawihr. Like oil and water from this to 2012. So much more richness, unctuousness, classic western European riverbank gluck and heavy weighted metal. Layers upon layers of texture though not nearly as dramatically sweet as it might appear to be. Hides it so well, thanks to those remarkable Windsbuhl gifting phenols and intense grape tannin. This has presence so very rare in Gewürztraminer. In the end its a glass full of liquid gems, polished, elegant and refined. Allow the sugars several more years to fully realize its potential relationship with the acidity. Drink 2018-2033.  Tasted November 2015  @olivier_dzh  @TrialtoON  @AlsaceWines  @VinsAlsace  @drinkAlsace

Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile (403980, $70.00, WineAlign)

The 2010 Don Melchor harkens backwards, to years like 2001 and 2003, rephrasing and rewriting the paradigmatic book. From seven contiguous, sub-divided blocks of Cabernet, the ’10 speaks most highly of Lot Two, emphasized by chocolate, menthol and mineral, in cohorts with Lot Four, in elegance and depth. Extended glom and time-lapse picking between April 22 and May 27 was the casualty turned blessing of a cooler growing season in the semi-arid Mediterranean-like scrub desert of Puente Alto. The alluvial motion hauteur of slow-ripened fruit can’t be overestimated. The frame by frame capture has resulted in aromatics wafting off the charts; violet, anise, roasting cocoa bean, garrigue, ferric filings, mortar on wet stone, Cassis and eucalyptus. There is no heat, rendering the 14.6 declared alcoholic irrelevant. Best of all, it smells like Chile as much as it does Cabernet. There is no need to discuss the (97 per cent) CS in terms of Bordeaux, that is until you taste. Then the tobacco angst and silky texture elicit Margaux. Black currants and fine chocolate melt on the finish, still with a mouthful of stones. For winemaker Enrique Tirado, this may be his “El opus.” It will age effortlessly for 12-15 years. For anyone who purchased this wine more than 10 vintages ago, comparing current cost can be a byproduct in natural preoccupation. Who would not want a return to the sub-$50 Don Melchor going back a decade or more? Yet while tasting the present decimus, $100 crosses the fiscal mind and seems completely apropos. At $70 the clarity and sonority of its value is the blazon of an epistle. Few Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines from Bordeaux or Napa Valley can compare. Drink 2016-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @conchaytoro  @MikeAikins1  @DrinkChile

Mullineux & Leeu Syrah Iron 2013, Wo Swartland, South Africa (WineryAgentWineAlign)

If such cure, grip, ferric grab and intense tannin has ever infiltrated South African Syrah it has not yet found its way over to me. In a side by side comparative tasting with the Schist Syrah this one wrestles to win. The Schist is all perfume and soft elegance. The Iron draws power to strength from strength. It is an unrelenting conduit of energy, from soil clearly designed to outlive humanity. The Syrah is a product of geological wonder and winemaking that steps aside to let the terroir speak its mind. Demanding and filled with tension now, time will soften the stranglehold and loosen the wires. Lots of time. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2015  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxChris  @Nicholaspearce_

Fleury Père et Fils Cépages Blancs Extra Brut Champagne 1990, Champagne, France (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

The expediency of weighted oxidation in flight flies effortlessly as a traveller propelled with verve and intrepid behaviour. Dried tangerine and so many tannic aspects are exaggeratedly exceptional for Champagne, fast forward thrusted and draughted with effortless urge. Derived as if from concrete shaped in purest form, of and before life. The dried fruits and a pith so calming are gathered for a level of citrus almost never before encountered. A very, very special 25 year-old bottle of bubbles from a pioneering organic and biodynamic producer in Courteron. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted February 2015  @ChampagneFleury

Most exciting wines tasted in a long time @winesorarg #carasur #bonarda #criolla #argentina #valledecalingasta

Most exciting wines tasted in a long time @winesorarg #carasur #bonarda #criolla #argentina #valledecalingasta

Cara Sur Bonarda 2014, Barreal, San Juan, Agrentina (Approx. $140)

Dry farmed, mordant and agile varietal red, a garagiste of a dirt road, in minuscule production, from natural run-off water and wild yeast. Only 500-600 bottles are produced, from north of Mendoza, in the Valle de Callingasta and Zuccardi funded. The natural cure is off the charts, the Emidio Pepe of Argentina, in which winemaking is really just perfect. Smells like the scrape of the amphora, already imbued of the aromatics of years, the answers of age, the design of ancients. You could keep this in the glass for a week and it will hardly evolve. Imagined as a 40 year wine for sure. Purity incarnate. Drink 2015-2040.  Tasted August 2015  @winesofarg

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, California (220517, $150.00, WineAlign)

A tremendously ripe, rich and layered Syrah that has few equals or rivals in California so in that sense the price is benevolently justified. Winemaker Matt Dees is no flash in the pan. His wines are cerebrated and cogitated with no stone left unturned. They are showy, chiselled wrestlers, boxers and ultimate fighters but they are the real deal. This ’08 is a veritable protein potpourri, of wafts from the finest boucherie, all hung limbs and wrapped sheep’s cheeses, in caves, on counters and under glass. The expression is also very Côte Rôtie meets côte de bœuf rôtie, with added luxe perfume, chalk and lacy grain. The fruit boundaries are endless, the chew meaty, cured and smoky. Ultra Syrah of never wavering red fruit in a packed vessel with alcohol declared at a meagre 14.9 per cent. Even if it is really more like 15.5, the wealth of fruit, acidity, tannin and structure can handle the heat. With so much happening, this wine will age like the prized hind quarters and mother’s milk solids it smells of. Jonata La Sangre De Jonata Syrah 2008 says something and I’d love to hear what that is 15 years down the road. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted May 2015  @WoodmanWS  @CalifWines_CA

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

As I get on the 707 @penfolds 1999 #cabernetsauvignon carries me far away #treasurywineestates #southaustralia #bookofdreams

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, South Australia, Australia (Agent, $175.00, WineAlign)

The Bin 707 was first produced in 1964 though passed over from 1970 to 1975 and then in 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011. With Grange in mind, were it to look in the mirror, it would see its reflection as Cabernet Sauvignon. A true South Australian Claret, multi-regional blend from Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully. The ’99 was the 28th and as I get on board in 2015 and taste the 707, it carries me so far away. Today, in this world and how we play it, this is as fresh as Cabernet Sauvignon can be. It reads like a book of dreams. It is a miller of fruit, in secondary ester of refinement. It is a jet airliner, leaving behind a voluminous, velutinous trail of exhaust. “I feel like it’s all been done,” but not like this, aged for 18 months in 100 per cent new 300 litre American oak hogsheads. Not with this precision from veraciously selected fruit. Not like this. Look to 2025 for the tertiary period to begin. Drink 2015-2024. Tasted August 2015 @penfolds  #treasurywineestates 

Fino, Don P.X. '86 and '62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Fino, Don P.X. ’86 and ’62 w: @sorgatoBTA @toroalbala @LeSommelierWine Magical, impossible, unchanging. Bucket list to revisit in 150 years #pedroximenez #bodegastoroalbala #montillamoriles #spain

Bodegas Toro Albalá Don P.X. Reserva Especial 1962, Do Montilla Moriles (424085, $205.00, WineAlign)

Unlike the 1986 which under recent European law (because it is not a red wine) must not be named Gran Reserva, this grandfather of a Pedro Ximenez is free to be what it’s supposed to be. A wine that was housed in a home somewhere in the village 10 years before the winery was created. A wine harvested in 1962, then took two months to ferment (to 7 or 8 per  cent alcohol). Estate distillate was added to fortify and raise it to 17 per cent, followed by a slumber for two years in concrete vats. The final resting place was in American wood where it slumbered peacefully for 49 years until it was bottled in 2011. In a show of future forward thinking and in retrospect, of historical allegiance, the signature on the bottle belongs to its original maker. Egresses from such delicate aromas, from citrus to coffee and stands in remarkable freshness belying its 50 years. The nuts are smoked with a zesting by citrus and a dusting in nutmeg. Chestnut and hazelnut curiously form a crasis of sensation, airy and creamy like mousse, sabayon or Caudreau. If you allow it, the finish will not let go. The sugar (300 g/L RS) and acidity (5.73 g/L TA) are the tangible aspects of its futuristic longevity. Like the ’86 this is another dessert wine secured of natural preservatives; undefined, magical, impossible. These wines opened could last for 20 plus years, unchanged. Unopened that number could surpass 100, without question, no problem. Like honey, this is an earthly substance that can last, seemingly forever. So, one glass of P.X. every day, going forward, for self-preservation. Drink 2015-2060. Tasted October 2015  @LeSommelierWine

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 1983, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $279.95, WineAlign)

Give Emidio Pepe’s reds thirty odd years to develop and the impossible happens. To postulate in a moment’s assessment without remembering the pious tradition with which this was made would be a crime against Pepe, Abruzzo, the natural world and the wonders of the universe. With this much passage the spice cupboard that emits is wow times a thousand. Clove, cinnamon, cardamon, orange peel, galangal and like golden raisins that pass through quarries to become rubies. This wine is perfect. It has not broken down an iota. It requires no decanting. It defies logic, perception and time. There is no sediment, only energy. Speaks from the glass as if it were a child of destiny and mythology. The 1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva arrives from along the same road taken but its transmogrification proves that the result, with thanks again to the endemic froth, is different every time. Drink 2015-2029.  Tasted March 2015

Gaia Gaja and 1978 Barbaresco #veryproud #nebbiolo @StemWineGroup

Gaia Gaja and 1978 Barbaresco #veryproud #nebbiolo @StemWineGroup

Gaja Barbaresco 1978, Piemonte, Italy (Agent)

Tasted with Gaia Gaja as an added, as good a bonus as there ever was to an already exceptional line-up of Gaja wines, the 1978 Barbaresco is untangled, untwisted and liberated. Nebbiolo spoken with the utmost clarity. Cherries falling from the tree the moment the tips of fingers come within a hair of the touch. Spring is indeed in the air (despite it being early fall), a trick of the Gaja Genesis tale, “fields of incentive covered with green.” A mesmerizing Barbaresco, pure as driven snow, clear as a pool of fallen rain, quiet as an undisturbed slumber. Ancient longings of leather and dusty cocoa are but pipe stuffing, not yet lit. This Nebbiolo is pretty, feminine, beautiful and forcefully elegant. “When you’re asleep they may show you, aerial views of the ground, Freudian slumber empty of sound.” Only available from Nebbioli of the highest caste and order. Drink 2015-2028.  Tasted September 2015

Five little ducks all in a row @BellaVistaVino #anothersongaboutthefizz #franciacorta #largeformats #1987 #1989

Five little ducks all in a row @BellaVistaVino #anothersongaboutthefizz #franciacorta #largeformats #1987 #1989

Bellavista Winery Brut Sparkling 1987, Franciacorta, Italy (From a Six litre bottle, Agent, Winery)

Tasted alongside a 750 mL, Magnum, Jeroboam and nine litre 1989. The Methuselah is the first wine to show similarly to any of the others so the comfort level rises and yet this rocks out flinty and reductive most like the 3L. The energy is consistent, but here the spice is magnified and the nutty sense that showed in the Magnum has come forth. This seems to combine the pique aspects of both the Magnum and the Jeroboam. A best of all worlds bottle plus what it brings that neither had. Absolute freshness. Does not evolve in the glass in its first few minutes like the others that came before. It evens glistens unlike the others, as if it knows how complex, special and alive it is. This is the bomb for sure. Dart straight through the heart. Crazy exceptional Sparkling wine. It should be interesting to try and assess, which is a major act of liberty in assumption, to gauge with accuracy how format affects age. To close one’s eyes tight and place a number on each wine, to where it has evolved and why. Here, Jeroboam still three to five years away from even that beginning. Truly. Drink 2018-2037.  Tasted November 2015  @BellavistaVino  @Noble_Estates

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The natural wines of Emidio Pepe

Chiara and wines

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and the wines of Emidio Pepe at Barque Smokehouse, March 10, 2015

Emidio Pepe‘s granddaughter Chiara De Lulis Pepe says that in 5o years of winemaking nothing has changed. Nothing, save for a conglomerate-like expansion from 1.5 to 15 hectares of farming vines in Abruzzo. No seriously, do the math. Emidio Pepe remains and likely always will be a tiny, boutique, garagiste, artisan producer.

To say Emidio Pepe is unique and singular for Abruzzo and outwards into the natural winemaking diaspora is as gross an understatement as can be made. Consider the approach. Natural, healthy viticulture. No chemicals ever. Ever. Organic, biodynamic, only indigenous yeasts (more on that later), no fining or filtration. Red berries de-stemmed by hand. White grapes trod by foot. Fermentation in concrete. Bottling in early March and laid to rest. Then the bottles are decanted by hand, re-corked and released. The entire premise begins and ends with amazingly clean and pure fruit.

Pundits and critics will sit across a table and discuss. Point. “This is the essence of natural wine. No manipulation and zero handling.” Counterpoint. “There is no such thing. All wine is handled. All winemakers influence the outcome of their wines.” Point. “It’s all about the yeasts. They and their grapes are the heart and soul of natural wine.” Counterpoint. “To sell the wines, those yeasts and their grapes, once inside the bottle, must travel on planes, trains and automobiles. What is natural about that?”

The fact is Emidio Pepe‘s wines do not have to travel. They do not produce enough for that necessity but by heading out on tour they spread the gospel and bring a natural crush to the people. They are spokes-wines of history, health and possibility. They defy the naysayer’s argument because they are the godparents of natural wine.

If there is one single winemaker who defines natural, who lives, breathes and embodies the much maligned phrase “minimal intervention winemaking,” Emidio Pepe is the one. Not because of the techniques, practices and religious adherence to undomesticated viticulture, unadulterated and soulful viniculture. The reason Emidio Pepe is the benchmark and the region d’essere for natural wines to matter is because the wines are impossibly fantastic.

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and Emidio Pepe

Chiara De Lulis Pepe and Emidio Pepe © https://www.facebook.com/emidiopepewines?fref=ts

The vineyards are located 10 km from the Adriatic and 45 minutes from the Gran Sasso D’Italia mountains. The unique saddle and its clay-limestone soil encourage roots to burrow five to six metres downward, to a subterranean comfort zone, where the temperature is always constant.  Hand de-stemming is a tradition “but we believe it makes a superior product,” says Chiara. Concrete fermentation is done “to keep the integrity of the wine.”

For Emidio Pepe it begins and ends with the yeasts. Complexity and richness comes from “the family of yeasts that started the fermentation.” Chiara truly believes that yeasts will determine the flavours of the wine. “Selective yeasts make for simple wines,” she insists. “If you use them in different countries, 50-60 percent of the taste of those wines will be the same.” With indigenous yeasts, “the years will put a stamp on the personality of the wine.”

I sat down with Mark Cuff and Zinta Steprans of The Living Vine, John Szabo M.S., Will Predhomme and Peter Boyd to taste with Chiara De Lulis Pepe at Barque Smokehouse in March. Chiara brought some special wines to the table. Here are the notes.

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

The line-up from Emidio Pepe

Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2007, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $154.95, WineAlign)

Skip straight past the naming and intimating of aromas and flavours. Here it is not the point. Trebbiano that is a product of having finished fermentation in bottle, with natural CO2, now virtually dissipated but persisting in echoes, to act as a natural preservative. The moniker natural does this little justice. The sweet sapidity and etching of acidity are so very grown-up, classically-styled, mature, precise. Trebbiano in which texture, above all else, stands out and firm. There is a dichotomous relationship, between viscosity and delicatezza. Natural respect, of a grace on a face, in twinkling wrinkles and gossamer flowers tucked impossibly into an aigrette of golden hair. In every facet to acting natural with a stupidly frank elegance to defy age, showing no signs of movement after eight years. The Robin Wright of white wine, expressive of tenderness but certainly not shy. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2003, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $94.95, WineAlign)

At the teenage (in wine years) number 12 this is showing less evolution than expected, especially in consideration of the European year that was 2003. Another divaricating Abruzzo, with a dried fruit component that pullulates in a very hydrated way. From a scorching season where anxiety was felt by both the vines and their keepers. Possessive of a bricking that gives of the cracked earth, of dusty, ambivalent rocks and warm, pulpy air. Through the humid tones and with thanks to pergola trellising, balance prevails with close encounters in acidity of the rampant kind. Tannins rage as well, strong and bullish above the earthy notes and peppery berry bites. The old vines and sleight of winemaking hand are ensconced to this vision, void of faults and yet advancing from the frame. Needs just a few more years to find the median point on the chonometer. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2001, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $169.95, WineAlign)

If the ’03 acts a bit like a hormonal, impulsive, testy, cavilling or petulant teenager, this 2001 is the adolescent. Full of boundless energy, willingly and excitably adventurous and ready to participate in the game. This from a terrific vintage with great aging potential, here Montepulciano manifests with gravity defying weight, like careful Nebbiolo or graceful Burgundy. Where this separates itself from other Grand Cru varietal infinity is in its yeast directive. Singular, remarkable, devoid in spice as if by wood. The structure is innate, indigenously calculated, developing in bottle, verbalizing flavour. Like a bone from the skin of the clay, piaculum by limestone, passed through and brought to light by the leavening catalyst. Drink 2020-2036.  Tasted March 2015

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 1983, DOC BIO Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $279.95, WineAlign)

Give Emidio Pepe’s reds thirty odd years to develop and the impossible happens. To postulate in a moment’s assessment without remembering the pious tradition with which this was made would be a crime against Pepe, Abruzzo, the natural world and the wonders of the universe. With this much passage the spice cupboard that emits is wow times a thousand. Clove, cinnamon, cardamon, orange peel, galangal and like golden raisins that pass through quarries to become rubies. This wine is perfect. It has not broken down an iota. It requires no decanting. It defies logic, perception and time. There is no sediment, only energy. Speaks from the glass as if it were a child of destiny and mythology. The 1983 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva arrives from along the same road taken but its transmogrification proves that the result, with thanks again to the endemic froth, is different every time. Drink 2015-2029.  Tasted March 2015

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Looking red ahead at December 6th in VINTAGES

Álvaro Palacios presents his wines from Priorat, Rioja and Bierzo Photo (c): Eric Vellend

Álvaro Palacios presents his wines from Priorat, Rioja and Bierzo
Photo (c): Eric Vellend

When I walk into the tasting lab at the LCBO this morning to taste the red wines on the December 6th release, there will be more than 100 bottles staring me down. Not just any 100 bottles. The assembled wines will be deep, dark, dense and intense, a December agglomeration meant to drink down with the holidays.

The VINTAGES releases are so protracted at this time of year the media tastings have to be split across two consecutive weeks. Champagnes and whites were put out last Friday so today’s reds will stain teeth, pile on the tannin and cause a general convocation in dehydration. A perfect Friday.

Luma's Bocconcini and Preserved Vegetable Salad

Luma’s Bocconcini and Preserved Vegetable Salad

Over the past few weeks I’ve managed to taste some of the releases at trade events, with my colleagues at WineAlign and yesterday with Álvaro Palacios. At the invite of Woodman Wines and Spirits I had the indubitable pleasure of being heralded through a paramount cross-section of the Spanish wandering winemaker’s portfolio, from Priorat, Rioja and Bierzo. Palacios poured six of his wines at Luma Restaurant in Toronto. Reviews for the Riojan La Vendimia, the Bierzo Corullón and the Priorats Camins and Les Terraces will be found on WineAlign.

Last fall I wrote about Spanish wines, insisting that Spanish winemakers “do not pussyfoot in producing superannuated yet contemporary wine.” I talked up the Iberian wine making superstars. Red and white wine heroes. Álvaro Palacios was at the top of the list. Jason Woodman felt and still feels this way. “If anyone embodies the promise and spirit of “The New Spain”, it is Álvaro Palacios.” I elaborated. “It has not been much more than 20 years since he took control of the esteemed empire built by his father, Jose Palacios Remondo, but Álvaro Palacios has already become one of Spain’s most famous and well-respected winemakers.”

Related – Ancient, state of the art Spanish wine

One Rioja and one Bierzo by the Palacios domain are reviewed here, along with six other new releases coming to stores December 6th. Here’s a sneak peek, looking red ahead.

Palacios Line-Up at Luma Restaurant Photo (c): Eric Vellend

Palacios Line-Up at Luma Restaurant
Photo (c): Eric Vellend

Palacios Remondo La Montesa 2011, Doca Rioja, Spain (674572, $18.95, WineAlign)

La Montesa epitomizes everything about the Álvaro Palacios application; professionalism, breviloquence and balance. It also brings together essentia to one common Riojan crossroads; Atlantic and Mediterranean, Tempranillo and Garnacha, French and American oak. In fact, it does the latter with such seamless ease, as neither barrel disturbs the proportion or the harmony. Fresh, pointed, serious and value-driven with ridiculous compete, the silky smooth Montesa uses calcareous soil as an organza overlay and acidity to keep it real. The alcohol is certainly real but like the wood (and the tannin), is never overdone. From now to 2018 with bells on.  Tasted November 2014  @WoodmanWS  @RiojaWine

Tenuta Rapitala Alto Nero d’Avola 2012, Sicily, Italy (Agent392852, $19.95, WineAlign)

The winery known as the “Beautiful Garden of God” has burnished a Nero d’Avola from the northwest corner of Sicily so perfumed you may consider dabbing some on your neck. Like the sweet-smelling roses that endow Nebbiolo with its characteristic charm, this Sicilian sports the same except that it is magnified by sunshine and salinity. A meeting of red fruits macerating in a bath of freshly squeezed plum juice does nothing but make you want to sip and sip. In the end there is tannin, but also prune juice and really daring acidity. This is a big but not over the top southern Italian red to enjoy now and for three more years. Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines

Cantina Zaccagnini 2012, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Doc, Abruzzo, Italy (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

There is much to admire about this most righteous and humble Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. From a west-facing vineyard with coarsely textured soils in the municipality of Bolognano, province of Pescara, very close to the Adriatic Sea. The maritime influence, while not dramatic, is significant, as nosed in salinity and humidity. The Zaccagnini spent a scant and refreshing four months in Slavonian oak barrels. The impart is gentle and sincere. The freshness and calm here reminds of a certain type of Syrah from St. Joseph, low in alcohol, preserved in acidity and full of savoury flavour. This is really well-judged, honest MdA that will linger in evolution for two to three more years of pure, simple drinking pleasure.  Tasted November 2014  @Zaccagninivini  

Lavau Rasteau 2012, Rhône, France (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)

Equal parts Syrah and Grenache gather in this very warm Rasteau that spent (15 per cent of the cuvée) 10 months in French oak barrels. Typical of the upward trend in Rhône reds of elevated alcohol and vibrant spirit. There is no shortage of ripe fruit, concentrated flavours and modern attitude here. Beyond the up front aromas of raspberry and baked clay the Lavau continues its hearth oven stay and churns out roasted game, savoury pie and smouldering Rosemary branches. It’s a veritable Lavau luau, with both beef and pork in the pit and in need of a glass of something rich and spicy. This Rasteau will do the trick.  Tasted November 2014  @WinesOfFrance  @oenophilia1

From left to right: Tenuta Rapitala Alto Nero d'Avola 2012, Cantina Zaccagnini 2012, Lavau Rasteau 2012, Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Trinchero Mario's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

From left to right: Tenuta Rapitala Alto Nero d’Avola 2012, Cantina Zaccagnini 2012, Lavau Rasteau 2012, Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Trinchero Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Clare Valley/Coonawarra, South Australia (142398, $24.95, WineAlign)

A most blanketed tapestry of aromas come flying like a magic carpet from this Clare Valley and Coonawarra specimen. The best of both worlds collide; blue fruits and cool mint/eucalyptus. Though slightly murky and vanilla distilled simple syrupy, the aromas make the grade and put on the show. The fine grain in tannin and chalky texture are a plus though they do cause separation anxiety for the delicate fruit. Very much like a good blue and red fruit Malbec, from Mendoza or the Clare Valley, this is not overly, varietally Cabernet Sauvignon but it is a very effective and spiced red for near-term drinking.  Tasted November 2014  @Taylors_Wines

Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2012, Do Bierzo, Spain, (675207, $26.95, WineAlign)

From Ricardo Palacios, nephew to and with Álvaro, this Mencia is so indicative and representative as the “naked grape” of Bierzo. Anointed with a concentrated perfume and panegyrized by a fruit transparency that is just not present in the Palacios wines of Rioja and Priorat. With Mencia, what you see, smell and taste is what you get. It’s varietally obvious and this Palacios plays the part with thespian control. A caramel note lifts, not drags this dense, purposed red, purple in every way, condensing the happy freshness of the vintage. Lactic black fruits are milky, developing to creamy, then on to licorice and candied nasturtium. Has a Bordeaux-like dusty camino real drive to it, in perfect sunshine, the vapors rising off the arid track. The Mencia asks “and would you let me walk down your street, naked if I want to.” Yes is the answer, because it is such an honest, moby grape. In ferment it makes cause for another composed wine by Palacios.  The clarity and ambition will take it safely to the next decade.  Tasted November 2014

Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy (398073, $44.95, WineAlign)

From estate grapes grown on the hillside which slopes down towards the Orcia and Ombrone rivers. The Bartolommei family needed a summons of their winemaker’s acumen to reign in advanced fruit from a vintage that saw soaring summer temperatures. This ’09 runs on full throttle, high-octane Grosso and yet is a remarkably, obiter dicta fresh flood of sanguine, berry chalky juice. All that and more actually and while it’s flat out fun to taste at such a young age, its ability to go long is not a sure thing. Plan to enjoy now and for three to five big years.  @Caprili  @NaturalVines

Trinchero Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California (399600, $64.95, WineAlign)

There is nothing chary about this single-vineyard Cabernet, named after the winery’s founder, situated in St. Helena. From soils ranging from gravelly to loamy to alluvial, the vines were only 12 years old when this dark beauty was made. Pitchy fruit is roped and tied by a whack of French oak, surrounding it with an aromatic bubble filled with lavender, charcoal, vanilla and licorice. A multi-plex of a red, darker than many, structured yet reliant on that mask of oak. Due to the mass and mess of fruit this will age nicely for 10 years but the wood will never go away. It’s just made that way.  Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines

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Recently tasted here, there and everywhere

Wihr au Val, Alsace (c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

Wihr au Val, Alsace
(c) Cassidy Havens, http://teuwen.com/

During my week-long visit to Alsace in June I tasted more than 300 different wines. Over the course of the four months that followed that most amazing journey to the heart of a great wine region, I published more than 50 tasting notes. I also told stories about the winemakers, the Grand Crus and lieu-dits. I will continue to write and publish equal or more amounts about Alsace.

Related – Giving Grand Cru Pinot Noir d’Alsace its due

The British wine writer Jamie Goode recently published two articles on the subject of wine criticism versus wine journalism. His first, Whatever happened to wine journalism, appeared on the website run by Tim Atkin MW. The second, Wine critics and wine writers on his own blog, Wine Anorak. Goode is a man on the pulse of what it real and what needs to be said. He is correct in telling us that the most engaging wine writing comes from scribes who visit vineyards and tell their stories. There can be no disputing this to be true.

Jamie hopes that the future of wine writing is not fraught with short reviews and inflated scores. He sees the Utopian model in experiential travel, in meeting hard-working people, wandering over variegated soils and terroir, tasting at the source. Jamie fears that his wine writer self will go the way of the wine critic, tapping away on a computer while tasting wine in an air-conditioned office. His version of wine hell. Riesling specialist Stuart Martin Piggot agrees.

But Jamie is not entirely right either. At least in the context of the Ontario model (and those of other Canadian provinces), along with I would imagine, many wine markets in other countries. Much of what wine writers taste on globetrotting journeys is not to be found on shelves back home. While that may be pathetic and certainly a pity worthy of some kind of wine crime, it is the brass tacks of the global wine industry. I agree with Goode that we should do everything in our power to change it and we should publish stories, not just tasting notes and scores.

The problem for the reader is that most, if not 95-plus percent of the wines that are reviewed from a region like Alsace are not available for purchase in Ontario. While that is just a crying shame, it is a reality. If you purchase wine in Ontario and look for critical voices to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, you require notes on available wines. That is why writers must spend so much time tasting samples in the sterile LCBO laboratory, at our dining room tables, in restaurants and with the hard-working for not enough reward Ontario wine agents. And we must write-up the tasting notes and publish them on websites like WineAlign. This is the fact of Ontario wine importing, purchasing and consumer life. Would it be any different if there was no provincial monopoly? Yes, but it wouldn’t help in the telling of better vineyard stories.

I taste wines here, there and everywhere. Here are 16 recent samples that gave me cause to raise an eyebrow, pause, ruminate and formulate a response to the spoken sentiments of the ferment. All 16 are available for purchase in Ontario.

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

From left to right: Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012

Domaine Chiroulet Les Terres Blanches 2013, Vins De Pays Côtes De Gascogne, France (Agent 223222, $13.95, WineAlign)

This is a Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc that whistles boldly like a howling wind. While the nose is high-toned and full of herbal complexities, it’s also indiscreetly alarming. The aromas are quite massive; pine needles decomposing on a wet forest floor. Kefir, cloudy and enzymatic, curdling and churning into itself. Petrol spills on asphalt, baking in the midday sun. To taste it is tangy and juicy, but also very mineral, intensified by the outcroppings of retzine in the vineyard’s limestone. The overall composition punches way above its weight but the heightened sense of reality is also a bit hard to take. Terrific effort but comes with a warning sign.  Tasted November 2014  @CotesdeGascogne  @TrialtoON

Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign)

The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish.  Tasted November 2014  @toroalbala  @MontillaMoriles  @LeSommelierWine

Château des Charmes Sauvignon Blanc 2013, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (391300, $14.95, WineAlign)

Sets a (St. David’s) benchmark for how to reign in and then release the charmes of Sauvignon Blanc from the Niagara Peninsula. Done in a decidedly fresh and lively style, this gathers up a bunches and conservative yield-managed vineyard’s warmest, ripe fruit for the purpose of bonhomie potation. Smells of vitality, of fresh herbs and citrus just cut, of a salt spring, of things zoetic. Cream elevates the texture, albeit pellucid and unobtrusive. The triad coming together of Sauvignon Blanc, St. David’s Bench and 2013 is the new CdC yardstick. The price only cements the offer.  Tasted November 2014  @MBosc

Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Rhône, France (535849, $15.95, WineAlign)

The Ogier self-professed traits of patience, savoir-faire, observation and intuition are on tidy display in this piquant, spiced-note, olive branch and indigo traditional Rhône blend. So very Mediterranean, warm and herbal by day, cool and minty by night. One stage short of lush, one notch comfortably above thin, this slots into all right moves; pleasant, value-driven and so effective for so many purposes. Stand alone or with classically prepared fare, this is all you need. Bring on the roast chicken.  Tasted November 2014  @MaisonOgier  @Select_Wines

Bodegas Mengoba Brezo Grégory Pérez 2012, Bierzo, Spain (Agent, $16.95)

Mencia as it once must have demanded of itself, iron clad, funky and gamey. This Bierzo is no antiseptic perfumed bottle of modern, manufactured violet Febreeze, though it’s so very vanilla and rich as a Porchetta sandwich with the porcine cure and fat driven right in to every nook and cranny. Or a taste sensation like bacon wrapped cherries. High toned with formidable tannins. A chew of sinew both in faux-wood and as the conceptual result of a roasted animal’s tension. Value gained vicariously through complexity.  Tasted April 2014  @TheLivingVine

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta 2013

Fita Preta White Reserve Alentejano 2013, Alentejo, Portugal (Agent, $16.95)

An endemic blend of Antão Vaz (40 per cent), Roupeiro (40) and Arinto (20) from infertile rocky schist soils in southern Portugal’s Alentejo region. Ostensibly a field blend, like the Alsace cépage a terroir of Marcel Deiss, the Fita Preta or “black tape” comes from an extreme and arid land. Portuguese winemaker António Maçanita and resident English viticulturist consultant David Booth usher out flint and mineral to capture a host of synapses from a wine region that had failed to fire in years. The landscape described  as “Portugal’s Australia” gives a white like a cross between simple, flinty Chablis and aged Hunter Valley Sémillon. The acidity is in abject anti-congruence to the region’s usual heavy-leaded output, mimicking cool-climate Chardonnay in tight and bracing stonker fashion.  Tasted November 2014  @fitapretavinhos    @LeSommelierWine

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

From left to right: E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône 2011, Southern Rhône, France 2011 (259721, $18.95, WineAlign)

In a world where anything is possible, the Guigal Côtes Du Rhône effect is predictable, trenchant and essential. The vintage specific focus in alacrity drives the savoury, rich black fruit to domesticated compliance, easy on the eyes, nose and palate. This just smells like a good meal; as if a game bird were roasting in the oven, surrounded by a rough and large kerf of mirepoix, of caramelizing root vegetables baptized by dried herbs and spices. Do not be fooled. This is a warm CdR with generous alcohol (14 per cent disclosed) and an even warmer, though not uncomfortably tannic or acidity riddled finish. It is a whack of Rhône grapes within grasp of a mere mortal’s budget. Drink now and for two years forward.  Tasted November 2014  @DOMAINEGUIGAL  @VinexxWine

Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (68858, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 release

A modern take on Sangiovese to be certain with a penchant for the authenticity extracted from the best parts of history. Siena red dirt dredged, cherry macerated, fined, filtered and spiked with a crush of Brandy soaked Amaretti cookies. Clean and with Spring plum blossom in the air. Il Palio dirt for appetizer, Fiore di Zucca pie for dinner and sweet, nutty Panforte for dessert. So modern but so proper. Makes no bones about its made-up face but has plenty of solid ossein in its body. Good piquancy and a rush of verve on the back palate. Oaky but not creamy, bitter yes, but not woody.  Tasted November 2014  @oenophilia1

Red Tractor Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Creek Shores, Ontario (Winery, $19.99, WineAlign)

The savoury aspect of this Cabernet Franc steals the show out of what is just an ideal vintage. The fruit was sourced from the Dim Vineyard in the Creek Shores appellation, a piece of the Peninsula ideally suited to the sharp and earthy aspects of Cabernet Franc. Despite 20 months of seasoning in barrel, the Tractor has maintained its red fruit character, accented by currants, spice and a deep-rooted sense of licorice. There is enough grain in its texture to carry it for three or four more years but it will never be bigger than it is now, nor will its length grow any longer.  Tasted November 2014  @SideroadTwenty

Nigl Gartling Grüner Veltliner 2013, Kremstal, Austria (453281, $21.95, WineAlign)

The ever-present, front loaded, laser sharp attack may feign spritz amid hushed whispers of CO2, but not from any chemical alteration. It’s actually a post fermentation, double negative breath of residual covalent bonding. The fast action bottling captures pressure to act as catalyst for freshness, especially in such a lean, high acidity vintage. A sway of tall grasses and that gas smothers whatever residual sugar might try to weigh down this low (11.5 per cent) alcohol stunner. Very much alive though the depth is challenged by all that forward thinking expression. Still a very good showing for this classic Grüner.  Tasted November 2014  @AustrianWine  @LeSommelierWine

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand (677450, $21.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 release

The prototypical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc hitting all the classic numbers is right here in the Dog Point 2014. Low pH, high acidity, minuscule residual sugar and elevated aromatics. It’s ripe but ripped by citrus juice and zest. Like cubes of honeydew, bitter winter melon and dried lemongrass soaking in and flavouring a dish of briny scallop carpaccio with coarse sea salt and capers. The sapidity is palpable, the excesses vivid. I would avoid too much variegated gastronomy when sipping this wine. Opt for simpler fare because its talents would otherwise be mimicked and suppressed.  Tasted November 2014  @DogPointWines  @TrialtoON

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d'Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

From left to right: Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011

Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011, Wo Coastal Region, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $23.95, WineAlign)

Iconic Bordeaux partners with South Africa for a red that is a surprising saunter into fair Cabernet-Merlot territory. Ripeness, extraction and alcohol are all exercised with restraint. The South African gauze is wound but of a thin wrapping, thanks to the allowance for fruit to shine in bright, red cherry tones. Western Cape is a terrific place to express Bordeaux-styled reds, especially when done with such hands off ability. A bit sapid and even sour edged, this would be a fine example to share when partaking in a little R & R. Wait a year and drink up to 2018.  Tasted November 2014  @Dandurandwines  @WOSACanada

Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2012, Ac Côtes De Roussillon Villages Latour De France (643239, $24.95, WineAlign)

From vineyards composed of Devonian Period gneiss and schist soils and Kimmeridgian period limestone. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The heft of this craggy, cultured terroir in a Côtes De Roussillon’s bottle is never in question, nor is the puritanical excellence of its harvested fruit. Some years just heat up to a point of no return, like this 2012. Chapoutier is fully cognizant of the warmth and savagery from the soils and the climate. Finding even temperament and balance is the challenge. This vintage comes across as over the scabrous edge, cooked by the sun and dredged in the particulate. Classic Mediterranean notes of brine, brush and lavender keep it grounded, not to mention graphite and grilled meat, but for the sappy and life-sapping heat, this would be a candidate for 10 years in the cellar. As it is, drink this with quality warm-blooded protein over the next year or two.  Tasted November 2014  @M_Chapoutier  @Dandurandwines

Marcel Deiss Pinot d’Alsace 2012, Alsace, France (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

This Pinot d’Alsace is what Jean-Michel Deiss refers to as “du cépage a terroir” or “tous les cépages.” Though there can be as many as 13 grape varieties in the field blend, most of the content comes from the Pinot family. Though likely in Blanc, Gris and Auxerrois predominance, this is a co-planted field blend so if Jean-Michel were to change his tune from talking terroir to varietal percentages, even he would not know the true make-up. Regardless, this is a (vintage) rich and balanced white blend, an avatar for the Alsace idiom. A wanderer in angles, an adventurer into corners and a wearer of many aromatic costumes; sweet, sour, citrus, flint and spice. Indicates orange, lemon and grapefruit but it’s never that straightforward. More like Jincheng, Lemongrass and Pomello. An exemplary introduction to Deiss, Alsace and the dry summation of many white parts. Tasted twice, June and November 2014  @marceldeiss  @AlsaceWines

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $30.00)

Carries and buffets an unmistakable aromatic conveyance that comes from a grouping to include Le Clos Jordanne, Bachelder, Queylus and The Farm. Where the cherry tree digs its roots into the earth, where the fruit rolls in the clay dust, where the tension in fruit meets tannin, intersecting at acidity. Just a touch of funk in a non-reductive, vineyard sense and the fruit does flirt with right of centre cherry, inching towards the black side. Chalk and tangy dust, and finally, tannin that holds court. This is quite big for Niagara Pinot Noir and it will age righteously for three to five years. Though it is not yet ready to lay claim to greatness, Westcott is a vineyard to keep a wide and watchful eye.  Tasted October 2014  @WestcottWines

Closson Chase S. Kocsis Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

The real deal in Bench gain from out of the most enigmatic and occult vintage, the primitive vineyard giving life and lesson to Chardonnay. Austerity in second and third fill barrels sends butter in search of toast, imagined through pendular churning. A reckoning follows, connecting round fruit to linear acidity in character, oomph and excellence. Aromas indicate spirited confiture choices at the breakfast table to garnish flaky pastry. Biting and demanding yet sweet as a cool summer’s night.  Tasted October 2014  @ClossonChase

Good to go!

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Where did all the Nouveau go?

Nouveau 2014

Nouveau 2014

Of which camp are you? Have the Nouveau got the hairs raised on the back of your neck? Do you love it or hate it? Are you giddy with annual excitement? Are you agitated by what you feel is a black eye dis to properly produced Beaujolais Cru? Are bubble gum and fermenting banana your go to sensations? If you were playing the Family Feud and asked this question: “What is you favourite winemaking technique?,” would you answer, “carbonic maceration?”

Tomorrow will mark the third Thursday of November and the annual Beaujolais Nouveau release will hit shelves around the globe, including here in Ontario’s LCBO stores. Beaujolais Nouveau, as in barely fermented, Burgundian nether, or to the curiosity seeker, best friend.

Related – Beaujolais Nouveau: your new BF wines

Last year’s Godello Beaujolais Presser offered up a quick Nouveau 101. A reminder that the wine formerly known as Beaujolais Nouveau is now simply Nouveau because other wine growing nations have joined the party. Italians produce a Novello and in Niagara they have adopted the Nouveau, if only because the English “new wine” is not the most marketable of phrases. Neither is the Franglaise, Newvin, or Nouwine.

Related – Beaujolais Nouveau Presser 2013

Nouveau has reached critical mass and is now stationed at a vinous crossroads. Long-time LCBO Product Consultant Neal Boven offered me fair facetious warning as I sat down to taste the 2014 crop. “Just be careful, those are some really tannic wines.” Not, but what they are, more than ever, are new Gamay (and Syrah, Merlot, etc.) reds soaked and macerated in maximum thrust, skin-contact extrication for full neon hue and blinding fluorescent glow. In many examples they go deeper still so some wanna be fierce tannin is actually getting through. The question begs. Is that what this perversion of Beaujolais was meant to be, or is Nouveau no longer the correct vernacular? Where did all the Nouveau go? Also, what happened to last year’s clear-cut winner, Seven nation Gamay, Generation Seven? Where did you go Château des Charmes?

Cries of “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!.” can still be heard and so the 2014 Nouveau wines will be arriving in select LCBO stores on Thursday, November 20. Here are notes on the nine presented.

Ontario

Reif Estates The Fool Gamay Nouveau 2014, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (220483, $11.95)

The rich hue is so like a Côtes du Rhône, a young one mind you, a Rhône Nouveau. The aromas conjure up corner stores and a wonderland filled with bubble gum and cotton candy sprinkled with dried lees dust. Sweet and sour, with a spritz of lime and the bitter citrus pith of grapefruit. Also green tobacco leaf and coffee beans. The concentration is admirable and even though the wine is as raw as open sores on feet hiked in new boots, give credit to the complex nature of the festivities.

France

Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2014, Burgundy, France (897934, $13.95)

Quite consistently the most accomplished if unabashedly contrived BN, year in and year out. The hue has deepened, the extract been probed and the senses muted. Acting like the real deal in southern Burgundy, the Mommessin feigns Morgon with simulated scenes of burlesque and method acting. The grit of earth mixed with the brightness of black cherries may give you reason to believe. If not for the banana blow moment, this could have been as much Zappa as Ween. “A little something to help the time go by. Just a little something to help to keep you high.” In the end, Morgon throws out the counterfeit lawsuit and congratulates the Nouveau for acting like itself.

Art’s Beaujolais Primeur Nouveau 2014, Beaujolais, France (366476, $13.95)

In the upper echelon of the BN cost continuum and it shows. The sulphur must be blown off to keep moving in the assessment, but that is does. Does not come across cloyingly candied and breathes dark fruits mixed with some plum instead. A touch dusty and adroitly Gamay so there is patronage in the Arts. The acidity is pleasant and adjunct the ripe but not over extracted fruit. Still the hue goes for expression over the wine’s impression but the restraint and the aromatic profiling fit the old school bill. Dry and possessive of quite decent length.

Catalans Primeur Syrah Merlot 2014, IGP Southwest, France (220533, $9.95)

Everything about this Syrah and Merlot mélange is steroidal and an oxymoron within the contextual happenstance of the thematic. So skintastic in extraction and wildly sauvage in aromatic impropriety. A thick, viscous liqueur of mashed banana and Chapati paste. Sickly sour and Lik-m-Aid sweet. It is dry on the finish, I will give it that. But it’s so over the top, if Syrah-Merlot Nouveau can be.

DuBoeuf Gamay Nouveau 2014, Beaujolais, France (891846, $9.95)

A return to the olfactory confection and the colour of Cru Beaujolais though it is weeks and years away from turning the page and living that dream. The carbonic crafting is in full marauding maceration in this ’14 DuBoeuf. The saving grace is a minor lead funk in the key of autumn plants, trampled underfoot. “Greased and slicked down fine, groovy leather trim.” Quite rustic despite the sugar-coating.

Italy

Negrar Novello Del Veneto 2014, Veneto, Italy  (899955, $9.95)

The aromatic waft of this Venetian (Bardolino-Valpolicella) Novello is like fruit and vegetable road kill beneath a truck. So very composted and steaming, it’s as if this is still fermenting away in bottle. This gives the word carbonic a whole new meaning. The texture and body are quite elegant (used with creative license, not in any disparaging way I promise) and the finish is long and puckering.  It is what it is.

Tollo Novello Rosso Terre di Chieti 2014, Abruzzo, Italy (271759, $9.45)

The Giocale is an interesting specimen from Abruzzo, qualified as a “regional blended red.” Not exactly Nouveau material is it. With what must likely be MdA as its dominant grape variety, strawberries in many incantations are its focus, in leaf, of near-ripe fruit and mixed with avocado for one odd smelling (and tasting) milkshake. This has a young Negroamaro or Nero d’Avola feel, but also a raisined, pruny appassimento appointed sensation. There is forest floor in its nose, vineyard funk in its flavor and tension in its voice. It’s already evolved, slightly oxidized and needs to be consumed with haste. That said it shows some interesting complexity and even a few stanzas of structure so give it points. It’s also correctly priced.

Drouhin Beaujolais-Nouveau 2014

Drouhin Beaujolais-Nouveau 2014

VINTAGES

FRANCE

Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2014, Beaujolais, France (113266, $15.95)

The paid piper in the group of nine leads by example. At $16 Drouhin had better fashion an exemplary Beaujolais Nouveau to justify the price. With so many just plain stellar $15-16 wines on the market today, the caché  of just recently pressed Gamay juice spiked by 12 per cent alcohol is not enough of a presser. Does this Drouhin raise the bar? Yes, that it does, but not in the way it should. There is clearly developed acidity, tannin and quality grapes in this pour. What happened to Nouveau? Why so proper in pH, TA and so low in RS? Where did the new juice go? Sorry Mr. Drouhin, if I want Gamay this good I can buy it any other week of the year.

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2014, Beaujolais, France (932780, $14.95)

This Duboeuf more closely resembles what Beaujolais Nouveau should be and has been for a near-half Millennium. Like ripe raspberries and bananas mashed together, shaken and even baked into short pastry for a quick cobbler or clafouti. The most aromatic on the table, this reminds me of years gone Nouveau by, of bygone Beaujolais that has just kissed the tank and been kissed by the yeast meets sugar marriage of a young wine. Hits the mark, finishes dry and leaves you not wanting anything more.

Good to go!

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Gripping wines from Spain and Italy

Europe

How can winemaking trump terroir?
Photo: 1xpert/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Winemakers in the most famous regions of Spain and Italy have gone pro in the practicum of wine that speaks loud and clear. If there is a downside it is the blurring of lines and overlapping of circles, where regions set far apart show similar, if near identical characteristics in their wines. How does this happen? How can winemaking trump terroir?

The simple answer is wood. Barrel usage is a global affair, with wineries scouring oak forests the world over to age their wine. French oak is most used and whether you make wine in central Italy or northern Spain, the oak you employ may result in more than just the commonality of wood. If your processes are tied by similar or even identical ties, your wines may taste eerily like one another, if not outright like kissing cousins.

Despite the oligopoly of technique and the lack of winemaking individuality gone viral in this generation, there are three things that continue to work in favour of regional character. The first is obvious. Soil. Or, more importantly, the components, the rocks and minerals that fleck the earth. Secondly, attitude. Call it conceit if you like but when a winemaker has the guts to make wines we like to call grippy, you can’t help but stand up and take notice. Third and so important to the consumer, is price. Spending $15-30 on wines from the most historic locales such as Burgundy and Bordeaux is almost always nonsensical and a waste. No where else in the world offers grip, pomp and pride like Spain and Italy and in that go to mid-price range.

A pentavalent and benevolent group fits this requiem for commercial gain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat from Spain. Chianti and Abruzzo in Italy. A Venn diagram of commonality can be agglomerated from their proclivities. It is in these fab five Old World wine regions where a twain of ancient and state of the art collide. Here are seven gripping wines from Spain and Italy.

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

From left: CEPA 21 HITO 2010, ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, and RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004

Ribera Del Duero

The history: Located in north-central Spain, on a plateau, 90 minutes from Madrid. Ribera, or “river bank,” extends from both sides of the Duero. The Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero dates back to 1982.

The lowdown: Highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes. Summers are hot, winters are cold, rainfall is minimal. Lower vineyards are alluvial with sand and reddish clay. Higher ones built of limestone, marl and chalk. Tempranillo in the main grape. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

CEPA 21 HITO 2010, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (360503, $17.95, WineAlign)

Oh the shaken, modern humanity. Nothing shocking here, this 100 per cent Tempranillo parfait of silky chocolate, mixed berries, vanilla and wood chips. Finds parity in biting red cherry flavour. Though it may as well be any ambiguous, heterogeneous or hermaphroditic $30 IGT, its price puts it at the front of the line. Fun to drink, high-toned, textured and structured, though its origins are not at once obvious. Will evolve felicitously for five to seven years.  89  Tasted December 2013  @DrinkRibera

ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (355099, $21.95, WineAlign)

Amid a sea of Spanish reds, this Ribera stands alone as the most modern on the table. Dusty, trenchant dark chocolate, mocha crema, thick, syrupy, rehydrated plum fruit. Accented by both white and black pepper, anise and a late lash of astringent tannin. Abrasive as a pleading Waits croon, this Crianza is “better than a cup of gold. See only a chocolate Jesus can satisfy my soul.” Another Ribera with qualities akin to present day, Sangiovese dominated Chianti Classico. Immaculate confection.  89  Tasted December 2013  @EuroVinatage

RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004, Ribera Del Duero, Spain  (355107, $31.95, WineAlign)

Typically modern version with just the right amount of age. Interesting to see nearly 10 year-old Ribera, with so much obvious oak and modernity retain its fruit lushness and presence after such a chunk of time could have stripped away its freshness. Candied violets and pansy, peppery nasturtium and marble slab, rocky road ice cream. Oak nearly integrated but persistent in chalky texture. Confounding bareback ride on a wild 100 per cent Tempranillo horse that bucks as if Bordeaux or Rhône varieties would seem to bolster the whole.  90  Tasted December 2013

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

From left: CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, and ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004

Abruzzo

The history: Central Italy, stretching from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea.

The lowdown: Mostly mountainous and wild terrain. The four DOC produced in Abruzzo are the Contro Guerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. Montepulciano is the most planted red variety. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2009 and 2010.

CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, Abruzzo, Italy (663939, $17.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker superstar to be Francesco Cirelli does what more should do. Age organic grapes of purity and pristine quality in clay Amphore. The natural empathy and wisdom of crop rotation (for more than just grapevines) drives the logic and proportion of Cirelli’s wines. This Md’A smirks and balks at thoughts of it as entry-level, though it concedes to the moniker ’poster child’. From 15 year-old vines set in sandy clay soils near Atri in the Colline Teramane zone. The fruit is like raspberry felt, lifted, spritely, gregarious and inviting. The wine never plunges into bitterness, nor does it depend on any crutch to remain upright and weightless.  90  Tasted September 2013 and January 2014  @TheLivingVine

Chianti

The history: In central Tuscany. The two Chianti zones, Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), produce the largest volume of DOC/G wines in Italy.

The lowdown: Chainti Classico must have a minimum 80 per cent Sangiovese, the main variety of the region. Other indigenous grapes include Canaiolo and Colorino, bur Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also used. Soils vary from marl of layered sandstone, to chalk and clay, blue-grey sandstone and clay-limestone. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2007 and 2011.

CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, Tuscany, Italy  (680496, $22.95, WineAlign)

Heather meadow Sangiovese, emotive of old school Chianti Classico aromas, notably tea, new leather and sour cherry. Texturally succulent and lush, like mini-modern Sangiovese Grosso. Nearly syrupy and 90′s-styled by a heavy-handed, wood-soaked guilty conscience. The kind of CC to “waste away the weekend with perfect regard for how cavalier we used to be.”  89  Tasted December 2013  @ChiantiClassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Priorat

The history: In Catalunya, northeast Spain. The most recent regulations of the DOQ were defined in 2006.

The lowdown: Dominated by hillside vineyards with poor soils, the dark slate called Licorella and low-fielding old vines. Garnacha and Carinena are the most planted, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, Priorat, Spain, (314559, $24.95, WineAlign)

Clearly contemporary, voluptuous Garnacha blend, in symmetry with foil Carinena, In support are small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (10 per cent), Merlot (five) and Syrah (five). Chalk, grain and chocolate intensity, scents of dusty mulberry, menthol tobacco, eucalyptus and licorice. Works its international styling to great effect, if a bit heavy, woody and hollow up the middle. Lags just behind the stellar 2008 and yet this ’09 will have many a follower. Just a bit more structure would make it a prize.  89  Tasted December 2013

Rioja

The history: In northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (DOCA), established in 1926.

The lowdown: Confluence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climates, with soils ranging from chalky-clay, to ferrous-clay and alluvial. Tempranillo is the most planted (red) grape. Finest recent vintages include 2005, 2005, 2010 and 2011.

ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004, Rioja, Spain (725895, $25.95, WineAlign)

The animal that is an ’04 Rioja Reserva is a VINTAGES darling. Here is yet another example in a long line-up spread out over several months of releases. 2004 palate fatigue should certainly have set in but for this youthful yet learned Ontañón. The dichotomy is not lost with much wood to be nosed though it’s neither abstruse nor resinous. More like a smoking cedar plank beneath the rendering weight of a slow-roasting porcine slab. Tangy cherry, sour plum and really stretched length. Mineral finish. Brillo Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano.  91  Tasted December 2013  @TandemSelection

Good to go!

Wine is the new coffee

Photographs by peshkova (left) and Igor Klimov, Fotolia.com

Photographs by peshkova (left) and Igor Klimov, Fotolia.com

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Coffee, the object of reverential and religious affection. Prayed to by the addict, the aficionado, the connoisseur. They sniff, they swirl and they savour their brews like First Growth Bordeaux or 50-year old Auslese.

If  Starbucks acted as harbinger to the North American phenomenon and found itself relegated to chain status then the torch has been passed. Proof lies in the extreme world that is the specialty coffee industry. Ezra Braves, owner of two Toronto boutique coffee destinations called Ezra’s Pound, recently commented , “we’re not re-inventing the wheel, but we just really embrace the cafe culture here.” Today your cup of Joe will likely be organic, fair-trade, responsibly grown, bio dynamic, Eco-friendly, a bag of ethical beans, bird-friendly, shade-grown and even triple-certified. It’s no wonder your red wine smells and tastes like coffee. It’s hip, it’s trending and it sells.

Wine geeks and critics have spent the last 10-15 years coming to terms with so much of their wine smelling and tasting of coffee, or variations thereof. The consumer can’t get enough of the stuff, even if they’re not sure why. The question is increasingly becoming one of secret consternation for the masses. Are wine makers infusing red wines with essence of, or actual brewed coffee?

The answer is no but more red wines than not these days will whiff or indicate a flavour profile that might include black coffee, espresso, cappuccino or mocha java. The use of new French oak and sometimes barrels that have been deliberately charred will impart coffee characteristics into red wine.

Bio dynamics and sustainable practices are now mainstream in the world of wine but in contrast to the coffee universe, many vineyards don’t necessarily feel the need to shout it out. The subliminal or vainglorious addition of coffee notes is far more effective for a ka-ching effect at the cash register. Modern vintners have so many progressive and manipulative techniques at their disposal so making “coffee wine” has become commonplace.

Iconic red wines from Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, Napa Valley and Burgundy are heavily influenced by the barrels that house megalitres of famous juice, but for the most part, the premier or grand cru grape ferment is up to the splintered task. Value wine faces a much greater challenge.  Still, there are terrific examples out there that find the correct balance of fruit, oak and acidity. Here are five arriving VINTAGES releases that gracefully walk that fine line.

VINTAGES November 10th, 2012 Release

The grape: Malbec

The history: Blender of Bordeaux and ‘black” knight of Cahors in southern France

The lowdown: Mom and pop Mendoza outfit sells to big corporation but maintains parochial integrity

The food match: Pot Roast, roasted root vegetables

La Posta Angel Paulucci Vineyard Malbec 2010 (75515, $15.95) faintly hits at a mocha milkshake mentality. Smoking cedar boughs inside and blossoming purple Jacaranda outside. Volcanic and pitchy like Cahors or Etna. Mocha flavour finish brings it all full circle.  88

The grape: Montepulciano D’Abruzzo

The history: Not to be confused with Tuscany’s Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, this one comes from Abruzzo

The lowdown: MD’A’s are making use of new oak like never before. Crowds of new wine lovers are embracing the sweet and concentrated elixirs as go to value drinkers

The food match: Spaghetti with Veal Ragu, reggiano parmesan

Talamonti Tre Saggi Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2008  (204016, $15.95) is representative of the new age in Italian wine. A crooning Tommy that resides “here in my deep purple dreams.” Rich, lush, deep violet berry, oak-inspired MD’A. So much wine for $16 if a bit scary to a fruit dinosaur.  88

The grapes: Grenache and Syrah

The history: Typical southern Rhône blend, 80% G and 20% S

The lowdown: The Amadieu family has a storied history in the region dating back to the 1920’s, and are the owners of this incredible Cru vineyard

The food match: Hand Made Ravioli, mushroom filling, white truffles

Pierre Amadieu La Grangelière Vacqueyras 2010 (76398, $19.95) first seeps as a black and red fruit Texas tisane but before long the toasted oak turns the tea to coffee with a hint of balsamic wood. Complex from AA to ZZ but not over the top. Some astringent, chalky tannin and talcy acidity is conquerable because the fruit is so lush. “Have mercy, a haw, haw, haw, haw, a haw.”  89

The grape: Barbera

The history: One of Barolo’s historic houses, this Barbera represents an avante-garde shift for the house style

The lowdown: Modern but nothing revolutionary about it. Nothing but a little bit of oak

The food match: Osso Bucco, gremolata, polenta

Giacomo Borgogno Barbera D’Alba Superiore 2010 (285486, $19.95, SAQ 10388088, $19.40) screams simply wow, this is not what I expected from the ancient winery. When I think of Borgogno I envision Barolo circa 1985, red rose rusty and opaque like weak tea. This one is purple pretty, black cherry pie yet retains a dry Piemontese attitude in search of braised shanks. Best Barbera.  90

The Splurge

The grape: Tempranillo

The history: Alejandro Fernandez has convinced the world that entry-level can mean $27

The lowdown: This could be Ribera Del Duero’s finest Crianza

The food match: Braised Lamb Shank, shiitake mushrooms

Alejandro Fernandez Tinto Pesquera Crianza 2009 (341461, $26.95, SAQ 10273109, $26.35) is the shocking blue Venus of Ribera Del Duero, round, voluptuous, smooth and let me tell you, “she’s got it.” Licorice liqueur, blue plum, citrus and laser acidity for a red wine. Always spot on.  90

Good to go!

The wine diaries: Italian masters

Photograph by bartuchna, Fotolia.com

Importers Robert Tomé and Tony Macchione are serious about wine, especially of the Italian variety. Who wouldn’t be bound and determined to taste through a portfolio that includes Siro Pacenti, Valdicava, Collemattoni, Argiolas, Masciarelli and their most recent addition, Gaja.

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On Monday, October 1st I joined the throng of thrill seekers at the Shangri-La Hotel, Toronto, to engage in some grape stem cell therapy. Here are my notes on 20 wines from seven noble Italian producers at the Stem Wine Group 7th Annual Family of Wines Gala Tasting 2012.

Azienda Agricola Masciarelli, Abruzzo

Trebbiano D’Abruzzo 2011 ($14.99) resounds fruit forward and redolent as grape must, more treble than bass, a chiave di violino. The ‘G’ clef is music to my sense of smell, straightforward and honest to taste. A snapshot to winemaker Marina Cvetic on a Sunday afternoon, relaxed, on the terrace, with a view of the sea to the east.  87

Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2011 ($14.99, $14.80 in Quebec) of aromatics pointing to volcanic ash, smoke, tar and lead feels like ancient wine yet goes vanilla cool and silky down the hatch. Made in the shadow of the Apennines, “even when mountains crumble to the sea,” there would still be Marina and me. Thank you Abruzzo.  88

Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ‘Marina Cvetic’ 2007 ($28.99, $27.35 in Quebec) shows more evolution since my previous tasting note, “long, harmonious expression of a much maligned grape. Jumping aromas as if an opened jar of raspberry jam on a winter’s morning. Great value from this winemaker mother of three’s (22, 13 and 3) namesake bottling.” Now in peak form, some splinters, nearing the plank.  90

Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ‘Villa Gemma’ 2005 ($74.99) of grace and flawless visage is, as I mentioned previously built of “major league fruit and ferocious grip but in danger of creeping over the edge. Time may be the factor but why wait. The MC is $40 cheaper and offers everything you could ask for in an MD’A.  91

Argiolas, Sardegna

Vermentino ‘Costamolino’ 2011 ($16.99, $21.99 in British Columbia) lives by the sea which makes Sardegna a bit like  “a land called Honah Lee.” There is tangy, tropical fruit and a puff of mineral salts, unquestionably typical of the Argiolas style. Pure Mediterranean white magic.  88

Cannonau “Is Solinas” 2009 ($24.95) from vines on the beach is still so young so “those seagulls are still out of reach.” The crystal salinity of the sea clings to the grape leaves, says Export Manager Beppe Pinna, imparting a minerality to the grapes unlike anywhere else. Made from 95% tough Carignano, the hipster Solinas needs time before it’s ready to face the crowd.  Should be a star.  89

Boroli, Alba, Piedmont

Barbera D’Alba 2008 ($15.99) is, as Mr. C. notes, so underrated, especially at this entry-level. A ripe bowl of cherries dusted with dry, ground cherry powder. Delivers the dry and dusty goods.  88

Barolo 2006 ($49.99) advances with rancorous grit and coarse determination. Tart red fruits prickle with feeling and analeptic assistance from their perch high up on a mountain of tannin. Expect nothing less than time from this gutsy effort.  88

Barolo ‘Cerequio’ 2004 ($87.99) from the prestigious Grand Cru single vineyard seems wise beyond its years. Dried cherries, flowers, orange peel and licorice salmagundi with a weedy dill overtone. The herbaceousness is not off-putting, as can be the case in some austere Nebbiolo or Brunello. Stately effort and not shy.  92

Collemattoni, Montalcino, Tuscany

Rosso Di Montalcino 2009 ($24.99) the teenage princess dai capelli scuri of shoulder length and silky red fruit is irresistible. Full on ripeness and glowing with genetically imprinted joy.  88

Brunello Di Montalcino 2006 ($52.99) is likewise approachable and sets forth to perfume the room with Pelargonium Zonale. But the ‘Mattoni is also bent on perpetuating a dogged determination befitting the dogmatic Sangiovese Grosso. A queen to the Rosso’s princess, confident of red fruit, built of solid brick befitting the house of its ancestry.  90

Siro Pacenti, Montalcino, Tuscany

Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 ($89.99, $87.25 in Quebec) is a closed wall of doom, aroma wise, save for a malinger of merda. Nothing a good swirl can’t aerate. A tactical deployment and early blending of north and south Montalcino grapes will help to harmonize this Brunello within a reasonable amount of time. While difficult to assess so young, speculation as to its future is not so obtuse a concept. Ripe cherries and plums are just a few years away from crawling out of the hoi polloi of leather and game. The wine will shine in 2015.   93

Valdicava, Montalcino, Tuscany

Rosso Di Montalcino 2009 ($33.99, $44.99 in British Columbia) extolls the winery’s virtue that cleanliness is next to godliness, echoing Tony’s story about WErproprietor Vincenzo Abbruzzese’s obsession with a clean cellar. Despite Valdicava’s omnipresent perfume of sheep off the vineyard floor, this Rosso is clean, pure and indicative of great Brunello.  90

Brunello Di Montalcino 2004 ($119.99) is the most benevolent and democratic of Valdicava’s Brunelli. Balanced design of smoky, red fruit, earth, spice, licorice and that unmistakable Valdicava perfume. Expertly crafted, impossible not to like. Like I wrote before, “softer, loaded with licorice, pureed sweet peppers and ruby minerality. Seductive, sensuous and really put together. “If she asks me, do i look alright? I say yes, you look wonderful tonight.”  93

Brunello Di Montalcino 2005 ($104.99) obliges the vineyard’s tenet with great intention and of a congenial nature. The red fruit, spice, panna and terra cotta notes are all in check but the vigor is buried in invisible circumstance. Basic for Valdicava but only because the other vintages are so extraordinary.  88

Brunello di Montalcino 2006 ($104.99, $137 in British Columbia), again, from an earlier note. “Initially softer in the mouth begins rolling furiously then is found going down hard stone lines. Finishes with gritty, chalky tannins. Crack one in ten years and it’s “gonna open up the throttle…bust another bottle.”  94

Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 ($139.99) is a romance of cheese and animale with its dueling scents of Pecorino di Pienza and pecora nera. Damp earth, wool and unwashed rind combine for the most unique set of Sangiovese smells. Sniff on past and note tobacco, licorice, black cherry and the mineral core beneath the hills.  Complexity of complexities.  95

Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva Madonna Del Piano 2005 ($134.99) is intensely concentrated, a dreamy and creamy correlated affair between fruit and oak. The sheep’s redolence returns and combines with the meracious, subterranean earth. The ubiquitous Valdicava perfume can only be brined to this level from the historic single vineyard set in the valley north of Montalcino.  Score is consistent with last year’s note. “Monstrous, hunts down the taste buds and renders them comfortably numb. Feeling down? This Madonna will, years from now, “ease your pain, get you on your feet again.”  95

Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva Madonna Del Piano 2006 ($169.99) is sacred Sangiovese, an inviolable reliquary of immaculacy deep beneath Montalcino’s altar. A vamp of essential Tuscan fruit. If you were to stand on a hill in Montalcino in winter time and listen carefully, you would hear a low sipping sound. That is the sound of the entire town drinking of the Madonna Del Piano.  97

Gaja, Barbaresco, Piedmont

Barbaresco 2008 ($218.95, $199 in British Columbia, $199 in Quebec) has not yet unfurled from earthly slumber. Subtle yet discernible greatness as previously noted. “Whiffs smoked beef tongue from the great merchant delicatessen in the sky. A maze of flavours complex like a Venetian neighborhood with interlocking canals and bridges set to and fro. Not your queen’s Barbaresco, nor Bardolino neither. More Shylock than Antonio. Currently a villain with its tongue lashing tannin. Fast forward 15 years to to act four when the integration of fruit causes the wine to become a victim of happy imbibers.”  94

Good to go!

Dude’s wine night

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Wine writers are rarely accused of being overworked. Tasting through 100 wines at a sitting requires effort and focus but it’s still got nothing on Mike Rowe. There is work and then there is play, like accepting an invitation to dinner prepared by a passionate and skilled cook, with a bottle of wine the price of admission. Talk about a no-brainer.

On Friday night I dug deep into the cellar for a ’97 Tuscan and joined five fellow geeks, “The Wine Dudes,” for an adventure ride through 10 wines from 4 countries. A line up to leave oneself in bewilderment and utter presence. Wines of yeast, lees, late harvest and élevage en cuve. Wines made by celebrities, of iconic status, from historic locales, in times of peace and in times of war. What a trip.

Jacquesson Cuvée No. 734 Champagne is a blend of all Premier or Grand Cru fruit; Chardonnay (54%), Pinot Meunier (26%) and Pinot Noir (20%), based upon the 2006 vintage (73%). Essentially vintage authentic, it’s a balanced affair of toast, honey and grapefruit.  90

LOBSTER BISQUE, fresh tarragon

Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon 2005 by way of a note from JM is “really impressive with the bisque. Balanced richness and spiciness echoed the lobster, refreshing orchard fruit and dry honeyed finish, with lots of minerality to match the crushed shells.” Also from BE, “a honey pear start,  nice acid on the finish. Beeswaxy Sav nose.  Surprisingly harmonious match with the bisque. Rich enough to go toe to toe, but sharp enough on back end to cleanse palate.” Seems to me it “floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.”

Podere Castorani Jarno Bianco Colline Pescaresi IGT 2006 (111690, $59.95) released back in June 0f 2009 is now a bronzed, verging on patina Madeira cocktail. The oxidation is philosophical, post-secondary and welcome, like finding a ’75 Chablis from the depths of dad’s cellar, opening, tasting and reveling in its ability to survive. One of a kind formula blend of Trebbiano D’Abruzzo 70%, Malvasia 20% and Cococciola 10% from Italian race car driver Jarno Trulli. Piques intrigue and opens a new dossier to white wine investigation.  89

BEEF CHUCK AND HEART HAMBURGERS, american cheese, fresh romano beans, panzanella salad, fennel

Georges Duboeuf Morgon 2010 (946186, $18.95) is Gamay defined, chipper and jocund. The simpleton whose heart is revealed after stripping away its body. A cold pull of pressed plum, gateway and seamless segway to bigger reds.  87

I Giusti & Zanza Belcore Toscana IGT 2009 (652990, $23.95) uses (20%) Merlot as travel partner for (80%) Sangiovese to learn another language abroad. Studies the fruity fresh undergrad Gamay, moves quickly forward to post-graduate, earthy Right Bank, satellite Saint-Emilion and returns home to write a doctorate on sonorous and thermal IGT.  88

Château Fonroque St. Emilion Grand Cru 2000 unseats Talbot as the non pareil Bordeaux coalescence of value and longevity from that vintage. Resolute to immaculate balance, black fruit steadfast against crumbling tannins and yet I can see this pushing on for 10 or more. “You like drinking ghosts,” says JM. Yes I do, yes I do.  93

Bosquets Des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1998 is deep into tertiary life, displaying prune and dried, Amarone-like fruit. Hangs on with nary a sign of further development or decline for hours so good on the Papes for its frisson of retribution.  90

Castello Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura 1997 is bloody in so many ways; good, hell, yeah. “Like killing a stag and eating it” or ” like peeling a scab and eating it” is over heard. The elixir is pure silk, the fruit dark and divine. To be honest, this ’97 (nice coincidence) Brunello has entered a La Vita è bella window. All I can say to the now bite-less and bella Banfi is “Buono giorno Principessa!”  93

Château Musar 2002 (109413, $54.95) from the Bekaa Valley, a place more famous for air strikes than grapevines. The Bordeaux blend is here exceptional, prodigiously candied like Sonoma Pinot a la Merry Edwards, but with an added depth of ash and earth. A sponge of lush red fruit, “gargle material,” notes chef. Spends seven years in their cellars. In a peaceful world it would be called a shmita. Lebanon’s vinous muse.  91

FIRE POACHED FIGS, roasted chestnuts, ice cream

Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spätlese 2007 shows remarkable poise and lack of cloy. A cooperative of residual sweetness and acidity, still freshly ensconced in its primary stage of Riesling maturation. More perennial than petrol, more pear than paraffin.  92

Good to go!