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

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WineAlign

Special Report: Sicilia DOC

Nero d’Avola

A deep look into the island’s productive balance, qualitative probability, sustainability by nature and signature varieties in red and white

as seen on WineAlign

Sicily is, as they say, “casa quantu stai e tirrinu quantu viri,” or “home for as long as you need to be and land as far as the eye can see.” I always assumed it would be the water that surrounds the island that captivates and holds all attention, but from endless seas of wheat to grapevines covering plains, hills and terraces, the Sicilian quiddity would be its land.

You might also think this largest island spanning over 25,000 square km in the southern Mediterranean would ripen grapes with the sort of ease akin to some of the world’s warmest climates, like South Australia or the Western Cape of South Africa. Would that it were so simple. In Sicily they say, “austu e riustu capu i mmennu,” which says that “after August, winter starts.” Growing grapes is truly a matter of place. Sure there are arid and warm pockets all over the island but a grower must be specific with grape varieties matched to meso-climates but also soils. This is a Sicilian necessity. The farmers and producers in Sicily continue to prove that staying true to core values, paying attention to quality and limiting yields in the name of productive balance puts the island in a league with the country’s elite denominations. Where does this ring with more consistent truth than those that fall under the auspices of Sicilia DOC?

A recent concise and focused study by Jacky Blisson MW tells us that Sicily’s terrain is predominantly hilly and mountainous, with a mere 14 per cent flatlands. It is home to Europe’s highest active volcano, Mount Etna, which towers above the island’s other peaks at 3,350 m. A continuation of the Calabrian Apennines, Sicilian Ranges cover a large swathe of northeastern Sicily. Central and western Sicily are a mix of rolling hillsides and isolated mountains. The island’s only large expanse of flat land is the fertile plain of the Catanian central range from sea level to more than 1,000 metres on the slopes of Mount Etna. The wide range of grapes and altitudes means that harvest season across the island can last from the beginning of August until well into November.

 

Given its location, it is no surprise that Sicily enjoys a sunny Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, moderately rainy winters. Lack of rain in summer makes irrigation necessary in many of Sicily’s low-lying vineyards. Indeed, Sicily’s plains are its driest areas, with an average of 500 millimetres of rain annually. The mountainous regions are rainier, with up to 1,400 millimetres of precipitation per year. Vineyards in these higher altitude sites generally do not require irrigation. The island’s vineyards are located mainly in proximity to the island’s coastlines. Marine breezes ventilate the vineyards, resulting in lower disease pressure that allows for organic practices. Depending on the direction of the wind, temperatures can fluctuate significantly. On the southwest side of the island, the Sirocco, a hot, dusty wind from the deserts of northern Africa brings scorching summer highs.

The soil composition of Sicily’s vineyards are diverse – from sedimentary sandstone through limestone and granitic rocks, to volcanic areas. Ancient seas that receded over various geological eras are responsible for the calcareous nature of many vineyards. The chalky vineyards of the southeastern zones Noto and Eloro boast some of the oldest soils and are prized for their elegant wines. In south-central Sicily, soils of marine origin dominate alongside limestone-rich areas, but there are also sites with more sand and clay. The western provinces have sandy loam soils, as well as rockier areas with calcareous clay (and sandstone soils). Much of Sicily’s vineyards are planted on this fertile terrain. The northern provinces have sandy and rocky soils mixed with windblown silt. Volcanic soils are also prevalent, notably surrounding Mount Etna and the islands of Pantelleria and Salina. With multiple yearly eruptions, soil composition is constantly changing, which makes this the youngest soil type on the island. The volcanic areas are a mix of basalt pebbles, pumice, and black ash.

 

Take a trip to Italy’s southern-most wine region and you will be struck by the number of specificities Sicilian winemakers and producers have already figured out in order to make generational decisions. The success of any wine region depends on knowing where to denote qualitative probability so that it is possible to achieve the greatest results. Sicily’s vineyards are defined within a land of mono-estates, much like Tuscany, in that its crus are single-owner farmed. This means that in order to qualify their best blocks and single-vineyards they must do so with ambition and ego. Unlike Tuscany the complication is much greater because they are not going at the exercise with just one grape. This might be looked at as a most difficult undertaking but if you own your problems and your decisions you can make it happen. In micro terms there are two dozen DOCs and one DOCG. Look inward at the hundreds upon hundreds of “contrade” (districts within the Italian countryside), crus or small geographic areas defined in terms of soil types, including many layered volcanic lands. In macro terms this is also why the island has chosen to create an all-encompassing category, Sicilia DOC. It’s the only DOC unanimously chosen to represent the region as a whole. In terms of size Sicily is equal to South Africa, Germany and three New Zealands. The fact that a place of such breadth can unify under one umbrella is nothing short of an Italian miracle.

 

 

From relics of the Copper Age to present day quality:

A few years ago in Palermo, there was Maurizio Gily presenting a study by Gabriella De Lorenzis in which she explains that around ninth century BC the cultivated vine was introduced by the Greeks, in Southern Italy and in Sicily. Comparing the genetic profiles of Sicilian varieties with those from other wine-growing areas of the Mediterranean area, these are strictly connected with the vines of Southern Italy (Calabria, Campania, Basilicata and Puglia) and Greece. Numerous reports reveal how this area, historically known as Magna Graecia and defined as the Acclimatization Triangle for the varieties introduced by the Greeks, shows a certain genetic homogeneity.

Wine is an ancient Sicilian prospect. A study conducted by Davide Tanasi, Enrico Greco, Donatella Capitani and Domenica Gullì looks at fragments of jars dating back to the Copper Age in the third millennium BC found in some caves on the Kronio mount at Sciacca. The study has shed light on some components of the diet of the ancient population living there. Traces of cooked pig meat and of tartaric, proline and syringic acids have been found among the various remains. The last ones prove the presence of wine in the diet. The discovery dates back about two thousand years in the history of wine in the Mediterranean basin, whose production would be, therefore, much earlier than the colonization of Phoenicians and Greeks.

Sicily: sustainable by nature:

Where nature is generous, agriculture can also respond in the right way. Sicily is the first region in Italy dedicated to organic agricultural production, which results in excellence in the world of wine. The primacy is made possible by ideal climatic conditions, fertile soils and winds. But also, by prodigious human attention and professionalism that is maintained by individual producers and supported by the Consorzio di Tutela Vini Sicilia DOC (which, since 2012, has led the way in conservation and the promotion of the wine heritage).

The work of the Consortium was started and continues towards sustainability, reducing treatments on plants and vines that are not necessary, precisely because the island’s conditions are favourable for growth. Sicilian sustainability is therefore intertwined with respect for one’s activities and authenticity, aimed at protecting the richness and variety of the territory. The result is a high-quality product that fully respects the environment, a wine born from the privilege of an island that is sustainable by nature. Tradition remains the root of oenological culture, but does not limit its vision: new generations of Sicilian wine producers — which the Consortium supports — work on increasingly modern and fresh wines, which look to international cuisine.

A 2018 decision to allow producers and bottlers across the island to bottle under the appellative umbrella code of Sicilia DOC initially led to a 124 percent increase in the number of bottles produced compared to the first two months of 2017. “A just reward for quality and control,” noted Antonio Rallo, chairman of the Sicilia DOC consortium, also known as Consorzio di Tutela Vini Doc Sicilia. “This growth data is no surprise to us and confirms the level of interest companies are showing in the Sicilia DOC designation. An important element is that all of the Sicilian DOCs showed a pattern of growth in the first two months of 2018, confirming, as in the rest of Italy, that our aim is increasingly focused on a designation system capable of guaranteeing greater quality and controls throughout the entire supply chain, both in Italy and abroad.” In 2021 Sicilia Doc bottled 96-plus million bottles, a six per cent increase as compared to 2020.

 

 

Signature varieties in red and white:

Take nero d’Avola and now grillo as examples of how Sicily has wrapped its arms around native grape varieties to create market share. Both grillo and nero d’Avola can only be sold under the Sicilia DOC label. Grillo’s achievement as a top 10 selling Italian white wine confirms the legitimacy of this decision and above all that consumers have greater confidence in a product that is protected and guaranteed. Grillo’s bottling numbers increased 26 per cent in 2021 as compared to 2020.

“We are very proud of the results obtained for our Sicilian grillo wines, which further confirms the growth trend of the Sicilia DOC label,” says Antonio Rallo, “but, in particular, it highlights how safeguarding autochthonous vines can bring excellent results in terms of sales and induce greater confidence in a market that is increasingly aware of the importance of purchasing a traceable product. The adoption of monitoring and control activities highlights the value of our vine varieties and acknowledges the importance of a controlled and guaranteed supply chain.”

Grillo was born from the crossing of two varieties, lucido (known widely as catarratto) and the aromatic zibibbo. Both Italian and traditional method sparkling wines are becoming increasingly commonplace in addition to a plethora of stainless-steel raised and some oak-aged grillo. The variety has taken hold in more parts of the island as the most planted white variety and leads the Sicilia DOC category for white wines.

The most widely planted red cultivar, nero d’Avola is native to Sicily. More than 19,000 hectares are planted across the island. It’s surely much older than what records show, yet the first literary mention was made by Sicilian botanist Francesco Cupani in 1696. He called it calabrese. The word nero translates as “black” and Avola is the eponymous name of the southeastern town, where the variety is still heavily planted. The grape was a go to for the Tuscans, Piedmontese and also French winemakers looking to use the variety’s dark hues, flavours and acidity for blending. Now the unequivocal signature red and icon for the island’s and in particular DOC Sicilia’s wine production. Nero also plays so well with other indigenous Sicilian grape varieties, namely frappato and perricone, but also with international varieties such as merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon.

 

Sicily’s aromatic whites and wines today:

In Sicily, the climate and especially the many micro-climates bless the island with levels of aromatic complexity that come straight off the skins of the grapes, especially the whites. The winemaker in tune with terroir is not in search of fat wines because, quite frankly, Sicily already has so much of everything. So the question is asked, “why do they need bigger and richer styles of wine?” This fundamental approach is surely an existential one but also one that is highly practical and when followed always leads to some of the most truthful aromatic white wines on the planet. Beyond grillo, Sicily’s main indigenous white grapes include lucido (catarratto), inzolia, zibibbo, carricante and grecanico dorato. From Blisson’s report we know that some believe the modern era of Sicilian wine began with the planting of international grape varieties in the 1970s. The likes of chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah were just some of the grapes introduced to the island during this period. Producers have worked to showcase these wines around the world. In recent years, many of Sicily’s top producers have reoriented their efforts toward the island’s diverse range of indigenous grapes. Sicily boasts over 70 documented local cultivars. Major focuses include the crisp, subtly floral and savoury white wine blends featuring the grillo white variety and powerful red wines from the peppery, dark-fruit scented nero d’Avola grape.

Food pairings anyone?

The 2019 Best Sommelier of Italy, Mattia Antonio Cianca, has made some stellar suggestions in this regard — and so allow us to share them with you.

Grillo sparkling (charmat method) with freshly shucked oysters with lime dressing or cauliflower tempura with lemon mayonnaise; grillo sparkling (traditional method) with Maine lobster, remoulade, granny smith apple and black truffle or crispy fried chicken seasoned with aromatic rock salt; grillo (stainless steel) with Thai mango and shrimp salad or octopus cevichs, orange, ginger, and coriander; grillo (oak-aged) with roasted pork belly with cider and cream sauce or grilled scallops, walnuts, yoghurt, marjoram, anchovy; nero d’Avola (rosato) with radish, pomegranate and fresh mint salad or Sicilian tuna tartare; nero d’Avola (unoaked) with spaghetti with sardines, pine nuts, sultana and wild fennel or smoked beetroot carpaccio, maple syrup, and chives; nero d’Avola (oaked) with roasted venison loin with rosemary and pickled cherries or beef stew with coconut milk and salted peanuts.

I recently sat down to taste through a varied set of wines with a focus on grillo, nero d’Avola, perricone and aromatic whites. Here are the top picks from the group, available at the LCBO or through consignment channels in Ontario agents’ portfolios. Please contact the agent directly to order the consignment wines.

Buyers’ Guide to Sicilia DOC wines

Caruso & Minini Naturalemente Bio Cataratto 2021, Sicilia DOC

Friendly, nurturing and comforting, tart in the ways of tonics and their botanical inclinations, superlatively complex.

Vino Lauria Grillo Giardinello 2021, Sicilia DOC

A smashing specimen, taut, concentrated and fulfilling. As savoury as it is perfumed, swelling in unctuous viscosity and the essence of flora.

Serra Ferdinandea Rosato 2021, Sicilia DOC

A joint venture between Planeta and the Oddo family from the south of France. Here nero d’Avola and syrah are made in the airiest salty and light-tart way; quenching and satisfying. You can drink the town out of this Rosato, any day, any time.

Dolce & Gabbana Rosa Rosé 2021, Sicilia DOC

A blend of nerello mascalese and nocera, two apposite varieties, one being the Dolce and the other Gabbana. Together they combine for exotic fragrance but also sweet candied florals, cottony feels and salty streaks right on through. Can’t think of a time when this Rosato would fail to please.

Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2020, Sicilia DOC

Even at this consumer-friendly price you get the real varietal deal from all-estate fruit in a wine of silken texture and not a matter of wood. One of the most honest wines at this price made and readily available just about anywhere.

Planeta La Segreta Nero D’Avola 2020, Sicilia DOC

Light, pure and honest wine that speaks in an Ulmo varietal vernacular though there too is some fruit from Noto. More grip, pomp, power and oomph from 2020.

Feudo Montoni Lagnusa Nero d’Avola 2019, Sicilia DOC

The confidence and warmth exudes from this musky, violet floral and intoxicating wine that simply speaks to the grape’s ideal perfume. Fruit is ripe, at once delicate and then peaking with power, albeit tempered, purposed and restrained.

Centopassi Cimento Di Perricone 2019, Sicilia DOC

Perricone may have an uphill battle to rival nero d’Avola but its smoky-herbal nature also brings structure, fresh acids and earthy, lightly roasted fruit.

Vino Lauria Zio Paolo Nero d’Avola 2020, Sicilia DOC

Wise, seasoned and expertly reasoned, of herbals and fruits stirred and swirled. Some meaty or, better yet, cured salumi skin muskiness plus a sanguinity with a hint of raisin.

Caruso & Minini Naturalemente Bio Nero d’Avola 2019, Sicilia DOC

As unique as it gets, aromatically speaking, in the world of nero d’Avola of frutta di bosco (wild fruits) but also the nuts, woods, brush and soils of an equally natural and wild kind. A nero of musk and grape must hyperbole.

Good to go!

godello

Nero d’Avola

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Australasian tasting with Escarpment and Torbreck Vintners

Some of the worlds oldest vines continue to thrive in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and 3,600 kms away in Martinborough, New Zealand there are some vines upwards of 35 years of age now entering into their experiential phase. First there is the 1994 founded Torbreck Vintners, one of the Barossa’s upper echelon producers of bonzer shiraz, Rhône-inspired red blends, sémillon and a grenache to rival any in this world. Second along comes Escarpment Wines, a recent addition to the Torbreck portfolio created by the Marchesi of Martinborough himself, that being Larry McKenna back in 1999. The winery was originally established as a partnership between McKenna, his wife Sue, along with Robert and Mem Kirby, at a vineyard planted on the Te Muna river terraces, a few kilometres east of Martinborough town. McKenna had been in Martinborough since 1984, involved in the vineyards since ’86 and the winery was recently purchased by Torbreck in 2019.

With John Szabo MS and Torbreck’s Andrew Tierney

Back in September Torbreck’s Sales, Export and Marketing Director Andrew Tierney was in Toronto and so John Szabo MS and I sat down with him and his importing agent Craig de Blois of Noble Estates. We paced steadily with concerted haste through five Escarpment and eight Torbreck wines. Some will soon show up in VINTAGES and also by way of Classics catalogue releases from now through the Spring of 2023. Here are my notes on the 13 wines.

Escarpment Chardonnay 2021, Martinborough, New Zealand

Founder Larry McKenna had been in Martinborough since ’84, involved in the vineyards since ’86, started the property in ’99, mainly to chardonnay and pinot noir with a bit of pinot gris. Purchased by Torbreck in 2019. Alluvial-gravel soils and a property (Escarpment) that needed an infusion of commercial advantage. Quite a flinty strike, reminiscent of the Dog Point style in whites but here clearly attributable to the terroir. Low density in the new plantings and low volume output. From the original plantings (or at least those that survived Phylloxera) and a wine that sees no barrique, only puncheons. Intensity of tart and taut behaviour, lees-textured though nothing creamy caused by stirring. Gets to the top of the sides of the palate, lingers for a cocktail or two and slowly drifts away. Unique set of chardonnay circumstances right here. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment “Noir” Martinborough Pinot Noir 2020, Martinborough, New Zealand

Considered an “entry-level” pinot noir, poured first and leading into a few “Premier and Grand Cru” iterations. Consider this more of a mini or multi-Villages style or plan, done in stainless steel and old barrels. A combination of vineyard across Martinborough of fruit de-classified away from the Villages and Cru wines. Shows off that darker and mineral-stony intensity of varietal fruit and therefore quite typical for the greater sense of place. As floral as expected or better yet wanting it to be, strength of aromatic sense and then herbal though savoury so, like fennel and drying roses. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment Pinot Noir 2019, Martinborough, New Zealand

The next Escarpment steppe is a “Villages” level pinot noir, composed of 60-70 per cent estate fruit plus other Martinborough “Villages” sourced fruit. The next level concentration but more so the complex notions of fungi and Piedmontese-esque tar and roses take this to another level entirely. You need to take time here, allow the aromatics to rise and hover, pause again and then consider the range of flavour escaping with emotion. The encapsulation of Martinborough falls into and emerges from this Villages and my how it strikes a chord. Drink 2023-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment Pinot Noir Kiwa 2020, Martinborough, New Zealand

From the oldest (1.8 hectare) block with a higher level of alluvial-gravel, a township vineyard close to Ata Rangi, dating back to 1994. Expect high mineral and tannin though that is not necessarily what will come from sister bottling Kupe. Taking concentration, sensation and fascination to another level yet again, aromatic sure but harder to get and fully comprehend. Yet you know and intuit another dimension and scope of varietal fortitude, due to soil and place, someway, somehow. This is whole and a wine of breadth, clustered by 30-40 per cent intact berries and thereby a true gifting of the veritable pinot noir. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted September 2022

Escarpment Pinot Noir Kupe 2020, Martinborough, New Zealand

One hundred per cent Abel clone smothered and then smuggled from “somewhere” in France, here from a block that suggests 60-70 whole cluster fermentation and the winemaking team abides. There is a pickling effect, a reductive reticence and a demand in taut intensity by way of tension that would not want to open up any time soon. Showing some nightshade leafiness though subtly so and surely a component that will dissipate with time. A beast? Perhaps the term of endearment could be used but it should be considered more in terms of weaponry, medieval to a degree but a warrior’s accoutrement accruements for sure. Return before the next moment of strife to check in and see where Kupe is at. Drink 2025-2033.  Tasted September 2022

Ladies and gentlemen, Craig de Blois

Torbreck Woodcutter’s Sémillon 2022, Barossa Valley, South Australia

From plantings of 1984 and 1998 and yes indeed the first 2022 wine tasted (for now). Just over a third is aged in wood and the vintage was as non dramatic as it gets, “a good year,” tells Andrew Tierney, “no drought, no wildfires, no bad winds.” Bit more downy texture and fulsome mouthfeel than many which will surely equip this sémillon with the kind of stature to age into something elastic and forever. This will surely include buttered brioche and lemon curd, eventually. Just imagine how upper echelon, world class this wine could be were it’s vineyards farmed and crafting approached with religious reverence. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck Cuvée Juveniles 2021, Barossa Valley, South Australia

The first vintage that contains fruit from the recent carignan and cunoise plantings (2017) to go along with the syrah, grenache and mourvèdre. The “Côtes de Barossa” of Torbreck’s Rhône portfolio with such an added savoury element now that the C’s are involved and balancing out with the S, G and M. Gone are the days of confectionary pleasantries (a relative thing to say) and welcome to equanimity but better still Barossa Valley range. The new umami and depth descended than before. a great direction to be sure. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck The Steading 2020, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Here Torbreck’s world enters what can be considered and even referred to as “Châteauneuf de Barossa,” a place where a multitude of Rhône grapes gather for the full and complimentary layered effect. A true G-S-M, first made in 1996 and by many accounts the signature red wine of the company. Rich and structured, built for aging. Ages in large foudres and while it will almost certainly retract in a year or so, for now the open juiciness and up front beauty is there for the preview. Just wait until the 2017 plantings of carignan and counoise mature and join this mix. The future will be exciting indeed. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck Grenache Hillside Vineyard 2019, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Planted in 1949, all dry-farmed bush vine grenache on an estate property at 180m of elevation. The fruit used to go into The Steading but now finds its way into one large foudre for this lithe, elegant and copacetic example of pure grenache. Hard to find a Barossa Charter for Old Vines example any more impressive as a provider than this, a parent, grandparent and great-grandparent set of vines gifting a current vintage with all the acumen, experience and nurturing that is seemingly impossible but so very wanted. Started in 2017 with the elimination of small casks because grenache absorbs and then oxidizes, better best done up in foudres for the right result. Here the grenache swirls, inclusive of raspberry, then variegates (with far eastern Illicium Verum spices) and expands aromatically, in complex flavours and truth be told, über concentrated freshness. Gorgeous and honest wine. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck The Struie 2020, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Label does not say it (it’s a Torbreck thing) but this is solo shiraz, from “intermediate” vineyards in the 70-80 year range, 75 per cent from the Valley and the rest outside. Sure there is a feeling gained that’s expressly shiraz from Barossa but what’s more and truly important is this silken seamlessness, the glycerol and mint coulis that grabs the palate’s full attention. To grow at this quality level the yields have to be devilishly low, not an easy task when you’re working with 30 contract growers. Sustainably farmed and regionally framed in a shiraz of fruit, meat and sweet herbs, nothing tarry, charred or rustic about it. Smooth as it gets. Truth. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck Shiraz The Factor 2019, Barossa Valley, South Australia

The essential difference between Struie and Factor is complicated but the limiting is to four vineyards (90 to 125 years of age, in stone, sand, clay and red Barossa loam) and 40 per cent in French oak. The viscosity is again palpable but now so bloody accentuated, elongated, elasticized and multiplied in the Factor. Thus the name? Not exactly (or likely) but this is indeed a matter of place(s) and purpose. No deception in this depth, nor in the execution neither. Need to find more word hyperboles for glycerol and mouthfeel so bare with me for a moment.. Let’s call Factor a shiraz “triol bond multiplied by hydroxyl bomb” with the result being a diatomic molecule simply called “Radical.” Drink 2026-2037.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck RunRig 2019, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Six vineyards go into RunRig, 90-170 years of age, four estate and two by growers, from Lindoc to Ebeneezer. There is a tiny percentage of viognier added at bottling and the wines that are not chosen will end up in the Struie and The Factor. A drought year and there seems no real need to compare with those wines. The level of fortitude, intensity, trenchant purpose and just plain gumption is off the charts, shiraz or not, with a “willingness to get things done and just let this wine do the talking.” Not the solo black fruit that the others show but a full hematoma of hue and drupe, blues and reds in the scheme. Full varietal aperture, slow shutter speed and clarity like no other. Vintage snapshot captured that will live in infamy. Drink 2024-2039.  Tasted September 2022

Torbreck RunRig 2016, Barossa Valley, South Australia

Six vineyards go into RunRig, 90-170 years of age, four estate and two by growers, from Lindoc to Ebeneezer. There is a tiny percentage of viognier added at bottling and the wines that are not chosen will end up in the Struie and The Factor. Surely age has begun to make a minor difference but more than anything it is a vintage that sets the record straight. RunRig was one thing and like all great wines has to change so here the set is that of a twain. And so 2016 marks the turn from one era towards another and establishes a revised launch point to accrue the new benchmark. Shiraz yes but a wine of certitude and confidence to transcend varietal definitions and celebrate some of the oldest plots in the land. Sure the texture is silky smooth but the “it factor” concerns these layers to peel away and the depths of (opposite of despair) that put this wine where it wants to be. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted September 2022

Good to go!

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Simply Red: Rosso di Montalcino

Red Montalcino in the Fortezza di Montalcino

On June’s busy calendar a fast and intense 36-hour window opened for a flash visit in Montalcino, too short yet one so worth the sidle. A great privilege it was to attend the Consorzio Vino Brunello di Montalcino’s new Rosso event called “Red Montalcino.” In November of 2021 the decision was made to migrate away from the larger event of Anteprime di Toscane and with the launch of Red Montalcino the full division has now been made. Simply Red for Rosso, solo artist now, with Brunello di Montalcino’s Benvenuto event returning again this coming November.

With Consorzio President Fabrizio Bindocci of Il Poggione

Hours well spent with home away from home Il Giglio family, two masterclasses in the Chiesa di Sant’Agostino and a walk-around in the Chiostro Museo Montalcino. A fascinating retrospective look back at 10 years of Rosso di Montalcino in masterclass number one titled Dieci Anni di Rosso di Montalcino. Longevity and the subtleties in secondary characteristics came of age through the lens of eight stellar examples. Masterclass number two called Selezione di Rosso di Montalcino brought the idea of “cru” or “selection” to light for a DOC appellation of ever increasing importance. Vino Sapori e Inspirazioni Nel Cuore Di Montalcino is a sentiment that refers to so much more than just flavours. Rosso di Montalcino defines the new profound in Italian wine.

Montalcino

On arrival there was a hop into Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini’s car for a three-hour tour of Casato Prime Donne, a first and finally crossed off bucket list visit. The two night, one day sojourn culminated with an energizing Red Montalcino gala under the stars in the Fortezza di Montalcino where Lara Gilmore and Food for Soul Italia brought innovation and zero waste food execution to Toscana.

Related – A visit with Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini

Red Montalcino 2022

The 2020 Rosso di Montalcino vintage is best described as one of blanketing and nurturing, a child of a warm and dry season, devilishly if dangerously low in quantity and one in Rosso terms to envision as lasting for a very long time. There was less disease pressure and the plants just knew what to do. Also great temperature fluctuations, seemingly all through harvest to allow the complex development of aromatics with increasing intensity. This application is becoming an annual occurrence, a positive attribute of climate change, if you will. A season gifting viscosity and that deepest of red cherry fruit.

Montalcino by night

The vintage gains importance because 2020 holds both joy and also grip. Many estates only produced 20-30 per cent as compared to 2019 but surely a number as a factor of the average, norm or potential. Adversity and low yields aside the purity is unrivalled for Rosso, the liveliness too, before transitioning to true sanguine sangiovese coursing through. The dichotomy by way of a 2020 Rosso comes from swelling fruit and aching acids through tannins sweet and unsurprisingly supportive. At its best it is like discovering the first ever vintage of something profound. 

Awards presentation in the Montalcino Theatre

As for 2019, notes from the November 2021 Benvenuto and those tasted this past June transcribed below will tell a story of a vintage out of which quality is right up there with quantity. A season of purity and clarity, what Rosso should be. An exacting transcript of terroir, a mirror held up to località; profumato, sfumato, evocativo…the essence of the land. For a Godello primer on the most fascinating aspects about Rosso di Montalcino, please read on ahead.

Food for Soul Italia

Related – What the winemakers drink: Rosso di Montalcino

In the Godello article about Benvenuto Brunello 2021 the phrase “Much ado and what to do about Rosso di Montalcino” began a quest towards seeing the changes and more importantly the future of the appellation. As a reminder, “culturally speaking Rosso di Montalcino is the most important wine. It’s what the Montalcinese drink daily. More than one Montalcino winemaker has used the phrase “it’s what we like to drink” and just as many will tell you that Rosso must reflect sangiovese’s character more than any other wine. What we know is that the Rosso are the protagonists of the new market.” The attitude prevails. “Rosso di Montalcino could and should be elevated to DOCG status. To do so requires investment and also a mandatory minimum aging period in wood. More vineyards need to be designated as Rosso and were a DOCG awarded the rules would need to be altered to make sure the wines are pre-declared as such. There is enough Brunello to go around and the world needs more Rosso di Montalcino.”

Related – Montalcino Previews: 2020 and 2019 Rosso, 2017 Brunello Annata, Vigna and 2016 Riserva DOCG

Fortezza di Montalcino

Tasting Rosso di Montalcino over the course of two days in June proved with unequivocal doubt that quality across the board has never been greater or higher. This assessment is based on three crucial criteria; first are the guarantees of character and calibre in the two most recent vintages, they being 2020 and 2019; then there is the accordant longevity of both Selezione Rosso but also 2010s decade wines as noted through examples poured at the morning session in the church of Sant’Agostino. Here are the notes on the 44 Rosso di Montalcino tasted on June 10th and 11th, 2022.

Red Montalcino Masterclass

Dieci Anni di Rosso di Montalcino (Ten Years of Rosso di Montalcino)

Il Poggione Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2010

Truth straight and inherent from a Rosso nearly 12 years of age, fresh and immovable. Speaks the structure of a vintage, even for Rosso, were it crafted in this way and equipped to speak on behalf of sangiovese’s age-ability, no matter the what, where and why of the fruit. Camphor oil, anchovy and a melange of “salato” umami to speak of Sant’Angelo in Colle and then, all of Montalcino. Beautiful wine with a long, liquid chalky finish. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June 2022

Pietroso Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2011

Less grip and hold then 2010 and were it tasted here, also 2012 as well. This Rosso has moved into next level and territorial existence, now porcini and tobacco, frutta di bosco and all the earth, mulch and woods once waiting in the wings. Showing as a wise and well-aged Rosso that has seen its best days though drinks with sweet savoury clarity in the here and now. Drink 2022.  Tasted June 2022

Le Chiuse Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2013

From the producer, that being Lorenzo Magnelli, man who looks to the largest berries for his Rosso di Montalcino. The great surprise that is 2013 sangiovese from Montalcino resides in a glass like this, evolving yet holding its line with great acumen. The northern side of the village surely aids and abets in extending the life of Rosso. Hard to believe the beauty inherent and the elasticity of this fruit. Suave, assured and holding all the cards to keep on keeping on.  Drink 2022-2026. Tasted June 2022

Masterclass wines

Canalicchio Di Sopra Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2015

The Rosso ’15 from Francesco Rippacioli is not what should be called immovable or formidable yet there is some depth and even brood to its dark back cherry constitution. Rich and certainly the sort of sangiovese that leaves an impression, a mark and a depression on one’s palate, but also heart. Keep and enjoy this Rosso for several years still ahead. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

San Lorenzo Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2016

The Annata 2016 is the most democratic and elongated of them all, that is with respect to recent times. In Rosso this means elasticity, stretched tannins and fruit made leathery, adhering to the structural organization like no other vintages come earlier or soon to follow. San Lorenzo’s shows chewy fruit, part plum, part persimmon, part liquorice and also a pod aspect, like bokser as an example. Acids are along for the ride and chalkiness in not exactly sweet tannin persists. A Rosso in several parts, linear above all else, all of them interesting. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June 2022

With Asa Johansson in the Chiesa di Sant’Agostino

Ridolfi Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2018

Of lithe structure and fading light, a Rosso in descending denouement, trailing fruit and acids as it falls behind the horizon. Lovely in its maturity though the stuffing was not there to support more than a few years of flesh and depth. Drink up. Drink 2022.  Tasted June 2022

Poggio Di Sotto Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

From 2019 Rosso rests in a red fruit Poggio di Sotto vacuum, surrounded by walls of structure to maintain a vintage exaggeration, which is in fact what their Rosso style is consistently all about. Upon further examination the fruit is found to exists in a state of both precocious maturity and one that will hold for years. Understanding arrived early and yet there will be no great hurry to move forward with any great haste. A wise Rosso with some swagger and confidence. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Lara Gilmore in the Montalcino Theatre

Argiano Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Incomparable to the rest of this 10 years of Rosso di Montalcino flight. Raw, emotion-filled and aromatic of florals, wood spice and new fabric scents. Complexity abounds with an almost graphite-creosote-fresh tobacco trilogy, unresolved, staid and secure. Truth of the sensation is pure Argiano, chewy, leathery, rich and yet clear, transparent and open-knit. Should get really interesting in three to four years. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Masterclass two with Francesco Saverio Russo

Selezione di Rosso di Montalcino (Rosso di Montalcino Selection)

Fattoria Dei Barbi Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Selezione Colombini 2020

One whiff and Barbi it is, unequivocal, knowable of an ilk and administered idiom not to be denied. The scent of history and experience while perhaps not quite the democracy of say 2016, yet this Rosso 2020 comes eerily close. Purity of southerly red fruit picked and layered in equanimous fashion, confident and telling the breadth of a Barbi story. Lifted, rising weightless into high tonality. All this in the micro-vernacular of a selection made purposeful for the specificity of this cuvée. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Stefano Cinelli Colombini, Fattoria dei Barbi

Casanova Di Neri Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Giovanni Neri 2020

Named in light of proprietor Giacomo Neri’s son and produttore Giovanni. There are few Rosso as open, gregarious and generous as this 2020. Quando buono e buono, when it’s good, it’s good and that is what really matters in Neri’s Rosso Selezione. Round, circuitous, acids draughting fruit and tannin trailing acidity. Comes back to the beginning and starts the process all over again, on repeat. Humility and classicism are in this Rosso, which seems to make perfect sense. Wood needs to integrate before the best days arrive. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted June 2022

The Neri brothers, Gianlorenzo and Giovanni

Col d’Orcia Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Banditella 2019

There seems to be a trend forming with respect to Rosso Selezione because this by Col d’Orcia is so very eponymous and must be regarded as aching in notation of the estate and place from where it comes. The scents, of fruit blossoms, bosco and sweet tobacco link Banditella with Rosso and Brunello. In this sense Selezione is neither but instead the bridge connecting sangiovese to both. If that is the point then Col d’Orcia is a builder of relationships and new traditions. More barrel felt upon the finish, also the sharpness of yet to fully integrate acids and so with patience allow for a coming together. Can guarantee this will drink well in 2030. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted June 2022

Francesco Marone Cinzano, Col d’Orcia

Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Rossofonte 2019

From 33 year-old vines, more barrel than some other Rosso Selezione and thus the link is closer to Brunello than Rosso. Noting tobacco smoulder, brown butter, toasted nuts and vanilla, strong wafts that confirm the suspicion. A full and creamy Rosso is the result, classic for the lineage and highly representative of the house style. Needs another year for secondary notes to come out and replace some of the cloud cover created by the wood. Drink 2023-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Gabriele Gorelli MW

Il Marroneto Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Jacopo 2019

And now for something completely different. Aromas unlike any other Rosso Selezione in the flight, more fight than flee, that much is known and free. An intensity of spice, east and west, the full indy or monty, tied together by a vivid set of fruit on top. Might feel like a big Rosso, a.k.a Brunello but the truth is Jacopo is just a bit more grown up, ambitious and steadfast in conviction than many others. Expresses 2019 with utmost flesh, fruit (including blood orange) showing a slight mature to transformative edge. Great grip will send this further so that density and compactness can melt away. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted June 2022

Alessandro Mori, Il Marroneto

Caparzo Rosso Di Montalcino DOC La Caduta 2017

Once again the gears are changed, the climate and soils alter, the aromas deliver what the first five Selezione had not in this Rosso flight of eight. Quite fine, very mineral and surely the Rosso child of true Galestro terroir. Also warm and developed yet kept in check by northerly attitude, making things straight and right out of 2017. The affinity with La Casa (Brunello) seems obvious, with the stones and the slope bearing similar fruit. Showing some age and peppery heat but perfectly in the window right now. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June 2022

Fattoria Del Pino Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Il Jeccardo 2016

The conspiring factors are all quality ones to bring Fattoria del Pino’s Rosso into fine current form. The gift of vintage, the concept of Selezione and the block party that is Il Jeccardo. The soils are schist-marl (Galtesro), calcareous and sandy (Arenaria) for one of Montalcino’s most diverse. Brings the amenities for Rosso that are crushable, elegant and structured. These are all present in FdP’s 2016, accounting for and representative of the soil conglomerate that makes this a wine both special and humble. A joy to drink. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted June 2022

Alle Loggia della Piazza

Franco Pacenti Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Gemma 2015

Travelling back six-plus years for Rosso may have been an exercise once only reserved for a select few but the pastime is now a normal and oft repeated vocation. Franco Pacenti has captured 2015’s generosity and fruit first commentary with great distinction and the Selezione Gemma is filled with copious aromatics. Moves into stone rolled linearity running right through the middle of a fleshy wine that speaks in a structural vernacular. What’s amazing is how this truly stands out as a complete wine in a flight for 2015-2020 as the only truly resolved and ready to justify the means. Individually or collectively, either or for both. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Il Giglio

Simply Red: A Rosso di Montalcino walk-around tasting

Armilla Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Fine and classic if on the full and textured side, though nothing out of the ordinary as it pertains to the vintage. Does well to merge the rise of fruit into the structured spectrum. All fruit and spirit, a side show of acids and those tannins which support in full cohort. Does 2020’s warm and generous vintage proud. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Francesco Ripaccioli, Canalicchio di Sopra

Canalicchio Di Sopra Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Call this Rosso balanced, even if what emits is not quite the same the equanimity of 2019. Still there is nurturing from out of the blanketing warmth of 2020, a linear progression from grippy fruit through acid succulence. The construct of structural motion is more than just a notion and the wine is in constant flux, unsettled, not having arrived anywhere near its final, or intended destination. Will move with the times, be transferable, able to reinvent itself time and time again. As a Canalicchio di Sopra it most certainly will. Bottled only three months ago so understand why there is so much speculation. Francesco Ripaccioli believes the evolution will be like 2016. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted June 2022

Capanna Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Fragrant and floral Rosso from violets to roses, liquid chalky out of the gate and poised to burst with fruit in the glass. A fine and approachable Rosso with just a minor verdant grip in urgency at the finish. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June 2022

Giacomo Bartolommei, Caprili

Caprili Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Must find common ground here with Giacomo Bartolommei in thinking this will be a very long lasting vintage in Rosso terms. Not a wine so knowable from the start per se but one of evolution, of gaining stature because of inherent structure. More than seven months since this would have first been shown and there is a renewed potential, fruit quality and substance in action on a current high, estimably positive and representative of this ever-impressing estate. Grapes are chosen based on the differentiations of the vineyard, not de-classified from Brunello as in the past. Yet the elévage is similar, just shorter and crucial decisions are made after the first year. So good. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted June 2022

Elena Pellegrini and Marco La Brusco, Cerbaia

Cerbaia Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

“To us Rosso di Montalcino is important because we take from the Brunello vineyards and in 2020 only 4,000 bottles were made, though Rosso is not produced in every year,” tells Elena Pellegrini. From the youngest vines out of a single plot planted in 2002. Decision making occurs during harvest and at least two or three passes are made. The potential is 30,000 at Cerbaia and so Rosso is a special wine, never an afterthought, always carefully considered. It shows in the restrained power, the elegant confidence, the nurturing and matriarchal presence. Again there is dichotomy by way of a 2020 Rosso, from swelling fruit and aching acids through tannins sweet and unsurprisingly supportive. Spent four months in Grandi Botti 25-50 hL and readiness is just ahead. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Collemattoni Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Spent 18 months in 30 hl Slavonian Botti, longer than many and only bottled four months ago. From two vineyards, one near the cellar in Sant Angelo in Colle and the other on the road to Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The latter brings the chalky mineral to compliment Colle’s fruit and fleshy power. A push-pull Rosso, from sweet youth to rocks and sand of grit and fine-grained tannin. Persistence is a key factor and that classic Collemattoni red Rosso signalling all the way through. Will come together after another winter. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Corte Dei Venti Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Perfectly dusty like dried roses, pressed and petals crumbling. Potpourri fragrant and a clarity expressive of 2020, like discovering the first ever vintage of something profound. When Rosso has lift it acts just like this and yet there is some weight though also a weightlessness about the way it’s always rising. In that regard it should be chocked up to the concept of restrained power. Great showing. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted June 2022

Tommaso Cortonesi

Cortonesi La Mannella Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Rosso di Montalcino is the child of a warm and dry season of which incidentally Tommaso Cortonesi is a big fan. Less disease pressure and a vintage where the plants just “knew what to do.” Also great temperature fluctuations, seemingly all through harvest to allow the complex development of aromatics with increasing intensity. This application is becoming an annual occurrence, a positive attribute of climate change, if you will. Cortonesi has been increasing aging times over the past 15 years from six to 12 and now nearly 15 months, spending botti time (20 per cent new) for 14 out of 2020. Top edging fruit and edgy accents elevate the aromatics so that the terroir is allowed to shine on through. Behold this prime work ethic, use of wood and also time in all the right ways. Place is at the fore. Grande. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted June 2022

Godello and Violante

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Casato Prime Donne 2020

“We need to explain that this is a wine that is very different than the Brunello and during the harvest we decide which grapes will be for Rosso and for Brunello.” The words of Violante Gardini introduce a wine that respects nature in a very specific vintage, made for freshness, fun and not as a baby Brunello. “Otherwise it will be a disaster. It must have identity, to show this wine in a different way.” The vintage gains importance 2020 because 2020 holds both joy and also grip. It does not try too hard, nor is it asked to do too much. Extraction is low, oak usage big, in botti. Donatella would like the consumer to drink this young but this vintage will do well for a minimum three plus years. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Elisa Fanti

Fanti Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Fanti grows 15 hectares for Rosso for a potential of 120,000 bottles though only 50,000 were made from 2020. Ages for a year in big barrels plus some fourth passage barriques. As a rule this is a classic vintage, very different than 2019 and bottling happened in January. Another ilk, other worldly, no way to mix this season into the memories of any other. Fanti’s Rosso takes ownership, even at this stage just five months in, a standout to be counted 2020. Balance and execution are what brings it to this. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Fattoria Dei Barbi Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Now sweetly and juicily fruit forward, if a bit out of character as such. This is the “normale” Rosso (as opposed to the Selezione Colombini) and so elévage is just six months in wood. All in the name of approachability and amenability, perhaps the most ever, or a new chapter in Barbi Rosso. For the people, fresh as a rule, democratic.  Last tasted June 2022

A vintage of viscosity and deepest of red cherry fruit, off of vines five to fifteen years old. While really young there is access here for drinking a 2020 ahead of many others. Classically dark Barbi fruit and a Galestro feeling. Bottled just less than one month ago and settled into a calm state by now. Will remain stable for a few years, not necessarily gaining in complexity but surely keeping on. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted November 2021

Stefano Bambagioni, Fossacolle

Fossacolle Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Rosso sees 10 months in Botti (25 hL or less) plus some time in concrete. Selection is from young vines though as they age that availability lessens and so some barrel selection is necessary to be part of the mix. Makes decisions more difficult, having to include some barriques in Rosso. An underdog vintage things Stefano Bambagioni, one out of which after 12-18 months something magical will begin to happen. All this to say that Rosso is “something that is alive,” and balance is the ultimate goal, as witnessed here, in the result. Smooth as silk, of sweet tannins and clear as present danger of a potential for aging. Five to seven years easy. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted June 2022

Le Chiuse Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

The finest sangiovese grain and naturally occurring sweetness come from Lorenzo Magnelli’s 2020 Rosso, a varietal humectant of such pleasing mouthfeel to reside at the top of the region’s ever-improving appellative echelon. Few Rosso are able to achieve this ilk of floating nirvana, where once its largest of berries macerated towards fermentation in great solicitation of emotive capability. It all makes cause to pause and reflect. Really succulent and also architectural, a construct of stone, bone, acid and karst, vertical, linear, moving forward and winning. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted June 2022

Alessandra Pacini, La Lecciaia

La Lecciaia Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Seemingly night versus day in contrast with the soft and resolved 2018 but time is likely the reason. The force is felt immediately on the nose, not exactly hot but surely grippy, agitative and a bit bothered. A matter of early circumstance, the reason to exercise patience and wood in charge an unavoidable result of all these matters. Re-visit in 2024. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted June 2022

La Màgia Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Quite a dense mat and full mess of fruit for 2020, magnanimous, fulsome, fully set glycerin and pectin. There is balance despite the nearly jammy constitution as a by-product of the vintage. Raised at elevation (500m) in the southeast of Montalcino. From 15 hectares, all Brunello capable and in fact the affinity here is with the bigger wines with only elévage separating the Rosso. Prepares us for what the Grand Vin will be like as it pertains to this specific vintage. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted June 2022

Lisini Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Yet another archetypal 2020 Rosso, fragrantly perfumed to the calcareous hilt and also notably structured from all points leading out from go. Feeling a true mineral streak running through, elevating cherries in season, juicy and fleshy, ripe and fully formed. Well made, balanced and truly essential Rosso work. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Red Montalcino gala dinner

Piancornello Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Somewhat reductive though the fruit set is magnified and of a clarity in black cherry, followed by a waft of tobacco. Works the glass with credibly strong and accountably forceful tannin. In a Brunello vein, there is lots of wine here. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Andrea and Gloria Pignattai, Pietroso

Pietroso Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

A selection is made from all grapes coming in for 17,000 bottles of Rosso out of 2020. Ages one year in a combination of botti and tonneaux, from the start showing great promise. A warm vintage and it shows. Mainly Galestro, a stony soil that comes through in the combination of glycerol and chalkiness. Not gravelly but a sandy-stony feeling gained, of smooth grain, easily transferred over the palate and sweetly endowed with acid and tannin. Another star rising to the top of the Montalcino pantheon. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted June 2022

Riccardo Talenti

Talenti Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Heady, big-boned, exemplary of combing and combining two terroirs’ contribution to layer Rosso di Montalcino. The ripeness of 2020 fruit is at appellative peak, tightening further, compact, compressed and staid. For now and with two years further the fleshy juiciness will surely emerge. 25,000 bottles produced.   Last tasted June 2022 

Tight, young and early bracing Rosso from Talenti, showing off the darker fruit of the vintage and surely offering a glimpse into what the Brunello will bring three further years down the road. A vintage of well developed fruit and sharp acidity, vividly captured in a sangiovese just like this. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

With Filippo Bellini, Tenuta Buon Tempo

Tenuta Buon Tempo Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Just bottled two months ago, fermented spontaneously in steel, aged primarily in cement with a short stay in Slavonian oak. A late frost resulted in only 8,000 bottles being produced (as opposed to 55,000 in 2019) so hang on to these precious gems from rare Montalcinese alluvial soil just above the canyon of the Orcia River. Adversity and low yields aside the purity is unrivalled for Rosso, the liveliness too, before transitioning to true sanguine sangiovese coursing through. So right and proper, vanguard and directly linear for Rosso. Needs two years settling time. Treat this like a category within a category, or just as one on its own. It could be said that 2020 is like proprietor Filippo Bellini, a case of half and half. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted June 2022

Lunch at Alle Loggia della Piazza

Ucceliera Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Along with Voliero the Rosso at the hands of Andrea Cortonesi is one of agriculture, above all else. If the term may be used this way then Ucceliera is Riserva to Voliero’s Annata. Here the compactness of earth on fruit is layered, beginning with the strata below and culminating in the fruit above. Does indeed need to unwind, shed tannin and terroir while staying focused and in its contiguous state of meditation over agitation. This it will.  Last tasted June 2022

A Rosso further along than many, at least in terms of fermentative culmination and post-shock living. Shows off the hue and depth of vintage fruit with more redness, cherry ingress and tannic redress. You can feel the grip and the controlled power in this sangiovese. Will be a very good one because it already is. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021

Voliero Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

Farming, farming, farming. When Rosso come across this way, profumato, sfumato, evocativo…it is the essence of the land. Southerly Montalcino at elevation, taut, persuasive and meaningful, a seamless sangiovese missive. For Rosso, what is just, necessary and right.  Last tasted June 2022

Tight, taut, wound around itself like a wire around a spool and yet having found its way out of fermentation and through bottling. Less fruit than brother Ucceliera and also lower toned, earthbound, grounded and yet the acids are right on point. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted November 2021

Col Di Lamo Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

“A little Brunello, so we prefer more time,” tells Giovanna Neri. Spends eight to 10 months in large Botti, plus 10 per cent in tonneaux and barriques. Then two further years in bottle. Vineyards are on the road that connects Buonconvento with san Quirico. Still a touch reductive, of liquorice and spice, fennel and salumi. From sandy clay soil in a Rosso of intense hue but also texture. All red fruit with balsamic seasoning in a very specific Rosso style. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Lorenzo Pacenti

Franco Pacenti Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Rosso sees a year in 25 hL botti, the fruit coming from 10 hectares of vineyards with the youngest vines now 20 years of age. On average Rosso makes up 8,000-10,000 bottles of the total production. Here from 2019 purity and clarity, what Rosso should be. An exacting transcript of terroir, Località Canalicchio di Sopra snapshot of place and most importantly a right here, right now transcribing of vintage. Crisp and crunchy, of fine acids, easy and yet sneaky of structure, so very well composed. Always a pleasure to taste with Lorenzo Pacenti. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Mastrojanni Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

Still tight and terroir driven, that much is clear. Fragrant inclusive of earth and smoulder, woodsy in that aromatic way. Settling in just now yet quite structured and savoury for ’19 Rosso. Persistent, not of buzzing energy but surely from a place. Rosso as Rosso.  Last tasted June 2020

Firm yet a Rosso with more than ample charm and grace, full red fruit and tannin interposed, layered and sharing the sangiovese stage. Takes some time but the fulsome and dusty work here really gains and makes haste of your senses. Takes hold and really does not let go. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

What a good looking crew

Tenuta Buon Tempo Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2019

As mentioned in the 2020 note there are 55,000 bottles of this 2019 (as opposed to 8,000 for 2020) and yet quality is right up there with quantity. Balance arrives without adversity after an elévage “sensa” concrete, only Slavonian cask, or as it is said, “tronco conico,” 64 hL. An aromatic Rosso, so bloody ripe, arrived at nirvana with a sense of place intact, that being Podere Oliveto. From 2019 Rosso is defined by democracy and generosity.  Last tasted June 2022

For Alberto Machetti a similar and equally “cool” vintage with grapes in Castelnuovo facing Monte Amiata. Picking started on the 16th of September in a vintage with great freshness and in this case an intense level of savour. From the seven lowest hectares on alluvial clay soil only 50 metres from the Orcia River. Of double density and yields which work best for Rosso. Fine but relative ease and linear concentration for an easy but more than notable substantial essay of Rosso. Purple fruit and proper acids. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted November 2021

La Lecciaia Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2018

This ’18 is the current vintage because La Lecciaia chooses to hold their Rosso back in even years. The 2020 will release in November. All done up in 25-35 hL botti for a minimum six to eight months, often up to a year. “For us we need more time,” tells Alessandra Pacini. Rosso 2020 is warm and nurturing, a cross of sangiovese and cask, silky of texture, soft, juicy and also peppery. Fine and never cumbersome, unencumbered because of time gone by. Sweet tannins, fine acids, nicely done. Showing at peak. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Good to go!

godello

Red Montalcino in the Montalcino Fortress

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Get back to Cool Chardonnay

Chardonnay is one of the romantics. At the centre of cool belief are the fruits of isolated self-expression, of greatest importance and capable of discovering the highest truths. When chardonnay is treated with utmost respect it can commit to wines of sublime impulse that rearrange and execute the natural world in order to reflect its own preoccupations. Imagine chardonnay as a street scene, as a wine that might stumble into itself, of footsteps and flaring lights, of mystery beneath dreamy lamplight. It will always find the light. That’s what chardonnay does. Ontario is a place where people come to be intimate with the grape and while lovers of the cool stuff were unable to gather in July of 2020 or 2021 the movement has built momentum once again. In 2022 it was high time to get back to cool chardonnay.

School of Cool

Related – Niagara’s cool for chards

Yes, in 2021 visits are paid and wines are tasted, but there is no congress. In 2020, the writer leads a virtual thing. In July the School of Cool comes back to session at White Oaks Conference Resort where it belongs. The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario’s Magdalena Kaiser reunites the community and introduces the long-awaited keynote speaker, columnist at Decanter and World of Fine Wine Magazine. “Andrew Jefford writes about wine like no other. He is a poet and a legend.” She is spot on. The author of the recently published anthology called “Drinking with the Valkries” asks the audience to “imagine wine as music. It brings solace to our lives, sends us beyond ourselves, just like music. The potential grandeur of a wine is a factor of its milieu, but it’s silent without the human.” Jefford notes that because of a changing climate the instructions are changing. “The music of many places is beginning to slide out of tune…varieties are the litmus of the vineyard. The most useful and adaptable of instruments is the piano…and that variety is chardonnay. Ask for chardonnay and you’ll be played any old tune on the piano, all well and good, anodyne. Wines produced at higher elevations on stony soils tend to be more percussive. Quality of clay and aptitude of soil structure is just as important as limestone would be for chardonnay. It’s Proteus, if you will.”

Andrew Jefford advises, tacitly implores his audience to listen. Pay attention. Take nothing for granted and understand that the parameters, goal posts and reference points are always changing. Chardonnay is indeed on the move and we must move with it or risk losing our rhythm, our mojo, our music. Practice makes perfect but innovation, cooperation and collaboration are imperative. Varietally speaking chardonnay may be the piano but other instrumentation is the requiem for completeness, satisfaction and glory. Chardonnay can achieve grandeur and continue to be the spirit of the sea, exist as past, present, and future, assume all sorts of shapes. To be regarded as a symbol of the original matter from which the world of white wine created. Chardonnay must always be protean, must always be on the move.

Related – A Chardonnay toast to Cool and the gang

The Great Chardo Swap

Moderator Chris Waters takes control. He explains how the powers of Ontario minds devise a most devilish and transformative scheme. The “Chardo Swap” concerns chardonnay grape must from the 2017 and 2018 vintages. In reverse 300L from the west’s Montague Vineyard are sent to eastern Niagara winemakers and 300L of Thirty Bench chardonnay is conversely transferred to six winemakers in western Niagara. Until now the custodians of Montague fruit have only been the originals, like Karl Kaiser, Phillip Dowell and Bruce Nicholson. For continuity the juice provided is pre-settled. One of the wildcards is a matter of cross pollination, of sites and yeasts present on these grapes. So be it. Play and work with what you’ve got. The results are astonishing and compose a picture of subject matter as nature versus nurture. Which matters more? Read up on 12 wines made in reserve and decide for yourself.

Chardo Swap

Craig McDonald, Trius Winery – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

An ideal season to gift the rich and the restrained, right in the sweet spot between reduction and openly recognizable to getable purity. And yet it was “the summer we didn’t get,” tells Craig McDonald, a late season, cleaner, with more choices available, extended elévage in neutral wood. “I took the opportunity to push and stretch this into this kind of milieu.” Comes out more salty, stays clear of wild and woolly. Great approach and treatment of east side Bench fruit. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022.

Gabriel DeMarco, Cave Spring Vineyard – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Bottled with and making full use of its laissez faire if highly useful lees, acting on behalf of and representing every variety’s profound catalyst. Wound tighter than many vintages of Niagara chardonnay, even at this four to five year mark. Chalk it up to the “other” fruit but also the oxidative winemaking and creation of a “flor” to bring cloudiness and texture. A definite fino brininess and yet less barrel effect (only 10 months) and ultimately transforming Montague fruit into something it’s never been known to do before. Also apposite to a Cave Spring chardonnay so in the end all cards that were on a table were flipped over for all to begin again. Drink 2022-2024.Tasted July 2022

J-L Groux, Stratus Vineyards – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

A case of the most experienced winemaker experiencing a fermentation that caused nightmares, perhaps because of a first try with new fruit, a season turned on its head, or both. But it came around and eventually complexity, “because of the thick coat of fur,” says J-L Groux. Bottled with its lees like a Stratus chardonnay would be but as a chardonnay it could not have resulted further from the maker’s truth. Drink 2022-2024.Tasted July 2022

Casey Kulczyk, Westcott Vineyards – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Four chardonnay into the great chardo swap and this one begins to emit or rather implode within itself due to untracked, no cracks reduction. No shock that a Burgundian sensation grabs our attention because barrels are key and with a few years got behind also melted into the background behind the fruit. This is perhaps the wine that acts as it would were it made by a western Niagara producer in that the richness of clay and loam raised chardonnay meets its wood host for a double whammy effect. You really notice and feel it all. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Amélie Boury,  Château des Charmes – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Formerly Oliveira Vineyard, in Amelie Boury’s hands a sense of crispness and restraint. Quite fresh and laden with apple-terpene juice. A chardonnay straight to the point, lemon and lime, a style of evolution and not necessarily what winemaking would have done with this juice ten or more years ago. Drink 2022.Tasted July 2022

Thomas Bachelder, Bachelder Wines – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2018

If Montague Vineyard fruit could actually speak it might ask “why has it taken so long for me to fall into the winemaking hands of Thomas Bachelder?” Good coopers, the right toast and the pragmatic meets ambitious elévage transforms Montague chardonnay into something other. Something vivid and lyrical but mostly something linguistic and long in the tooth. “Montague Vineyard looms large in my life,” looking back at OG Le Clos Jordanne times, “not just because of lions inthe industry, Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo, but because Montague is a really good vineyard.” Golden in every way, platinum, gem-like, gilded and if intense, also round. Thomas has coaxed oyster shell and a kind of Muscadet sea spray from this tract, something that has been noted at least one time in past iterations but now coming to the surface. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Chardo Swap Labels

Ann Sperling, Southbrook Organic Vineyards – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Feels so much more ’18 than ’17, fresher and gilded, fruit and wood high, mighty and in synch. And yet the ’17 fruit has remained fresh with thanks to some early, slightly unsettled and oxidative juice used, opened then protected so that time would do little in these formative years. Fabulous western take on east chardonnay, balanced and expressed in a higher key of varietal life. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Shiraz Mottiar, Malivore Wine – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

From a Niagara-on-the-Lake neophyte, Shiraz Mottiar, who had never worked with fruit from that source. “All I know is that I had to be really gentle with the fruit. And I am adverse to risk. I had no understanding of Montague, how it was growing, or how it should be pressed. So for me, most of the winemaking had already been done.” Demure, taut, reserved and restrained. Lean aromatically speaking, green apple snap, backed up on the palate in a streak of linear and purposed focus. Things get a bit warming going down, a glow of charcoal though the effect is hypnotic, energy raising and ultimately nurturing. This is winemaking that makes pale chardonnay, phenolics dropped out, clean all the way. Just feels like an expression of place. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Nicholas Gizuk, Inniskillin Wines – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Sap and resin, vanilla, wood all in, vinyl and tropical intentions. Tart pineapple, textural yet not creamy so finding its way with some poise after all. A chardonnay predicated of professionalism and flavour. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Emma Garner, Thirty Bench Wine Makers – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Feeling the angles, juts, zigs and zags of this chardonnay, not to mention the tightly wound intensity. Crisp though also mighty substantial, Bench fruit for certain and of a clarity, placed under and scrutinized by the magnifier. Reveals site above all else so yes, an example of a winemaker that heeded place and let it be, or used what was available to make that happen. Making magic and magnifique with Montague fruit. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Fabian Reis, Ferox Estate Winery – Thirty Bench Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

So very caramel and vanilla, sweetly fruited and creamy, textural in the smoothest and fullest way. Spice cupboard for tartes, tatine and madeleine. Really quite reductive and almost a reserve, thickened, glycerol and what just feels like appassimento in addendum. Incredible richness gained from Montague fruit. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Lawrence Buhler, Henry of Pelham Family Estate – Montague Vineyard Chardonnay 2017

Of the 12 chardonnays in the great chardo swap this is the most reductive in that there is a shell that contains the fruit, part candied and part metallic. It’s a curious combination and solicits a response plus a focus of attention. The aspects of malolactic, textural in mouth feel and length are all fully formed and made longer by extension. So much wine and so little time but give it away and you will regret having acted with such haste. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

14C Friday night

Redefining Cool

Redefining Cool is much ado and to do about climate change. Winemaking is the proverbial canary in the cage, from cool latitude, altitude and attitude, devising an intellectual journey through a discussion on how to redefine Cool Chardonnay in 2022. “We are creatures of the interglacial…but we are flipping into a greenhouse world.” What does this means for winegrowers? Simply stated once again, “cool is on the move.” Six winemakers share their wines to help address and extoll the problems, virtues and answers toward this concern. Danielle Coetsee, Boschendal (White Wine Maker), South Africa; Clémentine Baud, Owner, Domaine Baud, Jura; Joseph Ryan, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager, Ernest Vineyards, Sonoma Coast; Nikki Callaway, Winemaker, O’Rourke Family Estate, Okanagan Valley, Lake Country, B.C.; Patricia Tóth, Winemaker, Planeta Winery, Sicily; Alex Baines, Winemaker, Hidden Bench Estate Winery, Beamsville Bench, Ontario.

Trisha Molokach, Godello and Magdalena Kaiser

Please scroll through below for notes on the wines they poured. In total there were 67 chardonnay tasted that I have now reviewed from i4c2022, Niagara’s Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. It was great to be back, with thanks to the cool concierge team led by the intrepid and tireless Trisha Molokach, the i4c22 Board of Directors and Educational Committee; Mark Torrance, Anne Weis-Pennachetti, Suzanne Janke, Magdalena Kaiser, Rob Power, Elsa MacDonald, Mary Delaney-Bachelder, J.J. Syers, Scott Wilkins and Belinda Kemp. Gratitude to all the Ontario member wineries, VQA Wines of Ontario, Grape Growers of Ontario and visiting Ambassadors of Cool.

Tasting Chardonnay

Ontario Chardonnay

13th Street Chardonnay L. Viscek Vineyard 2020, VQA Creek Shores

L. Viscek Vineyard does not give a reductive chardonnay so much as the über fresh kind in which transparency and site honesty are gifted at a serious premium. This is the green apple snap, bite and crunch one comes to expect, followed by a lees filled donut of a middle, no holes and a real Chablisienne mentality. Perhaps with a side of Loire like chenin roundness. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

2027 Cellars Chardonnay Wismer Vineyard Foxcroft Block 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Still trying to figure out how a chardonnay from the Wismer Vineyard, Foxcroft Block can come to a consumer’s glass at $24.95 yet here we are and thankful for the gift. A rich and relatively buttery one, snap, crackle and green apple bite included, aromatic, flavourful and textured all the while. Caramel crunch as the skin of that apple and plenty of length to stay and drink a while. What’s not to be smitten by? Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April and July 2022

Adamo Sogno Unoaked Chardonnay Lore Vineyard 2020, VQA Four Mile Creek

Crisp, clean, unadulterated fruit with a je ne sais quoi floral lift with thanks to some musqué clone vines interspersed in the chardonnay of the 1980s planted Lore Vineyard in the sub-appellation of Four Mile Creek. A vintage to recite from, act on behalf of and celebrate the execution of a no wood varietal purity extraction. Not so much a lees affectation but high in citrus and knowable as a chardonnay with a single vineyard attachment. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Vanessa McKean and Renan Theilloux, Adamo Estate

Adamo Estate Chardonnay 2019, VQA Ontario

Adamo based in the Hockley Valley (Mono, Ontario) makes fine use of Niagara fruit for their ubiquitous chardonnay. Here a wine started by former OG winemaker Shauna White and finished by the dynamic incumbent duo of (winemaker) Renan Theilloux and (vineyard manager and winemaker) Vanessa McKean. Quite focused and tightly wound with notable lees sensations, though no overt wood make-up. Does slide into an invigorating sour edge and then warming, almost nurturing upon the finish. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Youthful, fulsome, a slight tinge or rise to high tone. White caramel and a terrific zing to the palate. Lemon and lime in many ways; curd, zest and with the tell-tale green apple bite. Shows the focus of examples alight as if by a single block. Impressive and woven, warmth and yet wild of sprit. Great potential here. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

With Andrea Peters, Brock University

Bachelder Les Villages Bench Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Escarpment

While Les Villages pinot noir draws from and abides by Niagara-on-the-Lake it is the dolomitic outcrops of the Niagara Escarpment for chardonnay where hope springs eternal out of this geological source. Micro-climate too, where a vacuum between the long, semi-steep slope at the edge of the plateau and the lake make for a wondrous place to grow chardonnay. The space between the two separated areas at different heights and the limey clay creates this two-part harmony of metal-elemental fruit and reductive, barrel spiced accents. Bachelder’s Burgundian conceptualization comes to fruition with abundance and the fabric of oblate making. Correct and unsparing, a good combination.  Last tasted June and July 2022

“Les Villages” seems to be all in, fruit picked on the late side, wood complimenting with a wink and 2020 showing no signs of being left behind. Welcome to village chic, Escarpment style, full, luxe and round by design. Methinks Mr. Bachelder wants you to drink and enjoy this now, imagine a circle drawn through and around bench lands, all part of a community and a plan. This is life on “Le Bench.” Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted April 2022

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Foxcroft “Nord” 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Nord is a cool firecracker of a chardonnay, crisp and sweetly volatile, white peppery sharp and given some air time, also luxe and suave across the palate. One of the fullest, most accomplished and complete wines in so many respects, fruit sources imagined as being picked from orchards of all shapes, ilk and sizes. Apples to peaches, nectarines to pears. Oh hail great fruit and how cool it breathes. Nord for Wismer-Foxcroft is clearly the shizzle, not merely the best or most popular but the source for Bench chardonnay that can handle the truths of reduction and flint struck realities. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted December 2021 and July 2022

Thomas Pennacchetti and Gabriel Demarco, Cave Spring Vineyard

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Sharp and taut, an intense and fortified chardonnay. Precise and pure, exacting the Escarpment with focus like few others at this level and so indicative of a classic 2011-esque varietal Niagara vintage. Such performance in crunch and mystery with creative juices flowing, dreams realizing and a future filled with even greater potential. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Cave Spring Chardonnay Musqué Estate 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

A conversation with Thomas Pennacchetti and Gabriel Demarco wonders who has the most musqué planted in Ontario. No answer other than Cave Spring comes forth. Don’t sleep on both the intrigue and the significance of this chardonnay. Half the fruit is picked at 20/21 brix (early) and the other half in November. Acids and florals are each given their due. Skin contact time is 12-16 hours on both picks and so a “brownness” is pulled, “hard to get with musqué” tells Tom. A contract part terroir and part level of contact to achieve genuine character, but more so this candied orange peel aroma. In this warm vintage one could close their eyes and imagine friulano from Friuli, with thanks to the sticky wild yeasts leading to such an imagined result. Well also the bump in skin contact which also shows in the alcohol. As per the original statement: Intrigue and significance. This will age like old tokay. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Chardonnay in the Vineyard, Riverbend Inn

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Paul Bosc Estate 2020, VQA St. David’s Bench

Laden with dichotomously soft terpenes and the squeeze of orchard fruit juices. Just the chardonnay facts and nothing but, ultimately a spirited and focused chardonnay as lean as it is fleshy and saline with no barrel unction to distract from the main concern.  Last tasted July 2022

Takes no time at all to see this Paul Bosc Estate vintage of chardonnay by Château Des Charmes as a true crowd pleaser. It’s soft, delicate and supple on the palate. The oak is well integrated if sparsely adding any toast or nutty accents, with less than obvious salt and pepper seasoning. Even the vanilla is subtle, caramel too, the roundness just adding to the peaceful easy feeling. Hard to find more mildness and amenability in cool climate chardonnay. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted May 2022

Closson Chase Chardonnay The Brock 2019, VQA Niagara River

As a general rule the Brock is built upon K.J. Watson Vineyard fruit (in the Niagara River sub-appellation) with half seeing barrel time. For some reason it seems to show its oak more than the CCV and South Clos chardonnays albeit as a comfortably worn sweater in 2019. The scents are late summer, bergamot and then gardenia to tuberose. The bite is beneficial from out of this linear vintage and though there is a reductive quality the general outlook is aromatics above texture. Brock is a fine entry level chardonnay representative of Closson Chase working with Niagara fruit. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021 and July 2022

Closson Chase Chardonnay South Clos 2020, VQA Prince Edward County

More than 20 years of vine age, acumen and wisdom are the gain of a South Clos chardonnay and winemaker Keith Tyers is surely more than comfortable making it happen. Dry and warm vintage shows in the dried herbs, almost fennel to pollen dusting on the nose and a stoic presence in almost every respect. Would not go so far as to call this a taut and unforgiving chardonnay, nor is it particularly flinty or reductive. What it shows is utter purity and linearity, a platinum gemstone sheen and shine, controlled power and so much more packed away in reserve. The flavour bursts and energy spurts indicate just how long this will travel. Top, top. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

Cloudsley Chardonnay Twenty Mile Bench 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

A mix of Wismer fruit, part Wingfield and part Foxcroft, indigenous ferment and 18 months though only 28 per cent in new wood. Solid pH and also acidity numbers, more fruit and flesh, less flint, tension and spin. The accessible chardonnay for all to gain insight into the Twenty Mile Bench and how it raises these beautiful blancs. Length is outstanding in 2019. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Cloudsley Cellars Chardonnay Foxcroft Vineyard 2019, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Winemaker Adam Lowy likes to get at it, especially with Foxcroft fruit out of the Wismer Vineyard. And so aging is for 18 months in 50 per cent new barrels for a truly flinty, flexed and tense chardonnay. Vines are 23 years of age at this harvest and their potency meeting potential for balance seems poised at the apex of excellence and understanding. So close to pay dirt now and yet for a Cloudsley chardonnay, perhaps so far away. Wait just a wee bit. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Tradition 2020, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

A wild ferment and approximately 20 per cent new wood. Textural vintage for the Tradition, viscous and really very fluid, brioche imagined as a sweet liquid and also a liquor of buttery spice and botanicals. Quite a rich and developed chardonnay, product of a warm vintage resulting in ripe returns. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Réserve Du Domaine 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Much more intensity and higher ceiling of promise comes from the next level Réserve du Domaine, rising away from softness and up to a more rigid, biting and cracked spice precipice. Sharp at its most vital moments and vintage rich at times when generosity is warranted. Does it all really, with style and warmth. Still there is more nature than nurture in a chardonnay allowed to simply make it happen. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Ferox Estate Chardonnay “Vintages,” VQA Niagara Peninsula

Wholly unique aromatics, almost Icewine in favour, dense and intense with as much metallics as there are exotic fruits. A non vintage blend, also unusual but for reasons vintage related. And so this runs from 2016 to 2019, a blend of sites as well, warm moments and then turning cool, of yellow fruit from banana to pineapple and mango, then greens, in apple and herbals too. It’s pretty complex stuff if admittedly hard to wrap a brain about. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2016, Traditional Method, VQA Short Hills Bench

Never gets old does it? It’s like Christmas every time a new vintage of the Cuvée Catherine is opened, always with great anticipation and wonderment for what the most recent disgorgement will bring. In this case intensity juxtaposed by harmony in ways only the Carte Blanche can and with Niagara’s greatest fizz consistency. That’s the thing really. The bar and the pressure was set high long ago and this sparkling wine meets it, failing nothing, equally so, year in and year out. The 2016 is no exception with perfectly equanimous apple fruit and fine structural fortification. Just a delight, sturdy, openly fragrant, delectable and succulent. Resounding yes, as per expectation and adjudication. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted November 2021 and July 2022

Henry Of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2020, VQA Short Hills Bench

Whole bunch pressed, barrel fermented with a cocktail of yeasts, one third new French oak and some further older usage ones as well. So perfectly middle of the road, proper and accessible, well managed by acids and really just the right and quick answer to what is Niagara and even more specifically Short Hills Bench chardonnay. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Next generation Speck, Henry of Pelham Estate Winery

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Escarpment

Crisp and über clarity from the first nose and nary a moment of reduction, if any. Richness accumulates with aeration as the wood gains olfactory traction. Need to test the palate forces to know what goods and treasures lurk in this oh so young and impressionable chardonnay. Track record is more than a mere incendiary aspect of the Speck Family Reserve capability and knowing airtime and chronology are essential towards determining the future, well, you get the apple orchard and white caramelizing drift. So youthful and yet there is plenty of time. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted November 2021 and July 2022

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard Unfiltered 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Felseck sits at 37.59 North, a latitude working in cohorts with an escarpment’s nook and the lake laying low below.  Last tasted July 2022.

Don’t be fooled in thinking this is merely a reductive and green glade example of cool climate chardonnay. Solid and expected? Perhaps and yet also crunchy with shots of lemon and lime. Nothing out of sorts, tight enough to at times act hard to get and even anti-complex. There are secrets inherent in a cool climate world where so many chardonnays are made this is as interesting and innovative as the first.  Last tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

Tasted as part of an #14c21 seven year vertical Felseck Vineyard retrospective. No stirring, “I don’t like bâtonnage,” tells winemaker Jay Johnston, “unless I’m trying to get a wine to dry.” Never mind the lees aeration or the emulsification because texture in this ’19 is extraordinary to behold, gliding across the palate with Bench orchard fruit cleverness, penetrating perspicacity and juices running through unblemished flesh. Tighter and taut than ’18, while seemingly improbable but here yet unwound, far from the pinnacle at which point full expression will surely ache to be. The ’18 may be a beautiful thing but the ’19 is structured, manifold in destiny and ideal for those who know, or at least think they do. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted July 2021

With Magdalena Kaiser, Chardonnay in the Vineyard

Icellars Chardonnay Icel Vineyard 2019, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

Similar to 2017 at 13.5 per cent alcohol yet more phenolic and also in that sizeable frame of inclination that is captured in the full, ripe and potently efficacious 2018. This just feels like the best of both worlds in chardonnay, at once cream centred and then juxtaposed by just a bit of back bite. A lovely and somehow powerful wine of wine contrary forces in push and also pull, ying and yang, punches and then receives. Hard not to see everyone loving this chardonnay. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Icellars Chardonnay Icel Vineyard 2018, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

And then ’18, which was a warmer year in this sub-appellation and a chardonnay more reductive but also bolder, fulsome and phenolic, feeling a bit boozy (only 0.3 higher than ’17 and ’19) and definitely riper, even feeling sweeter. Was inoculated as the yeast cultures have not quite established in the cellar. Plenty of phenolics here, raising the bar all around. More age-ability to be sure.  Last tasted July 2022

Devilishly rich with full compliments of berries and barrel working side by each to create this tropical fruit split that reaches the heights of chardonnay decadence. Runs the gamut from pineapple to green apple and though it does not snap back there is a fine elasticity to how the texture stretches and then releases. For those who like to strike it rich. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted October 2020

Icellars Chardonnay Icel Vineyard 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

Favourite wine of Adnan Icel’s wife Elif, a fan of Bourgogne and made by (12 rows) planted on the property in the beginning in 2012, followed by eight rows in 2014. Always hand-picked, whole cluster pressed. As for 2017, fermented 12 months in 500L French barrels. Malo in barrel, stirred and two years in French oak kept on lees with no racking. A multitude of flavours, now fully emerged, developed and gifting to the very maximum. Showing so well.  Last tasted July 2022

From Niagara-on-the-Lake and 2010 founder Adnan Icel, a rich throttled chardonnay barrel fermented in 500L French oak puncheons, lees stirred for six months, then aged 12 months more. Tells us to expect rich, opulent, creamy and highly flavourful chardonnay. That it is. Flint-struck if only momentarily, correctly reductive in the sense of fresh encouragement combined with the Niagrified creamed corn, again, if only during this persistently youthful state. Maybe causes a note of bewilderment for some but stay with this wine, give it a year’s time and all will be worth it. Will drink in optimum and designed fashion eight months from now and for two-plus years thereafter. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Inniskillin Reserve Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Hard to ignore the Niagara peach character of this fruit in chardonnay that’s all about this and not really how residual oak might want to linger within. There are old blocks of chardonnay available and this is from Block 210, planted in 1993 through 1996. The peach leads to harder fruit drugs, golden pineapple and guava, some lees feel, plenty of nutrients and that oak then becomes one of low and slow accumulation, neither a piqued nor toasted. Well made indeed. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Blanc De Blanc Limited Release 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula

More than a moment of reduction requires agitation and then the apple/pear orchard fruit is released. More than lees affected blanc de blanc, ostensibly chardonnay and seemingly the first of its kind for J-T. More scintillant style than either the Brut or the sauvignon blanc, direct, linear and shedding a lovely lemon pith bitter set of flavours. Almost woolly for sparkling, like Loire or some Alsace and very long. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Kin Vineyards Chardonnay Carp Ridge 2019, VQA Ontario

Kin close to Ottawa is a fascinating species of Ontario wine where pinot noir and this chardonnay grows atop glacial till, clay loam over grey limestone of the Hazeldean Fault. Low to moderate alcohol (12.5 per cent), dry as the desert and expressive of the coolest of cool climate acidities all add up to something arriving this way with intensity through integrity. Green apple bites are what they should imagined to be in chardonnay and rusticity is only a state of mind. Must be tasted more than once, to appreciate the credence and join the new frontier seance. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

I believe it was April of 2017 when I first tasted the inaugural (2015) vintage of Ilya Senchuk’s The Fifty, a chardonnay that ferments in barrel but then transfers to finish up on lees in stainless steel. Not much has changed in five years but the wine has tightened and like a rare shelf fungi it is at its freshest finest when the teeth-like hymenium pores are barely visible. Senchuk bottles at precisely this point and that is something he has gotten really good at over the years. This chardonnay is remarkably precise, takes nothing for granted and delivers a layered experience in which more than one vineyard and sub-appellation contribute to the greater good. Might very well be the best one made of the six to date. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June and July 2022

Leaning Post Chardonnay Senchuk Vineyard 2019, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore

Ilya and Nadia Senchuk’s home playground is a matter of grey clay in alluvial soil with river stone, that is in terms of the vineyard and the winery’s back (or maybe front, as if it were a lake) location. The Winona-Grimsby couple are just starting to really understand, forge sensorial connections but even more so make their terroir relatable to the world. Even more piques and white peppery jolts than Wismer and Grimsby Hillside Vineyard combined, intense emotion and a crisp freshness that’s both hard to explain and also impossible to look away. Textural chardonnay that on the surface is nothing at all like Foxcroft or GHV. Come back again and again for five to seven years. My what a beautiful chardonnay world this is. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted June and July 2022

Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay Jordan Village 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula

The second iteration of the Village chardonnay is again a parcel amalgamation of Twenty Mile bench Le Clos and Claystone vineyards along with that of Talon Ridge in the Vinemount Ridge. If this is to be considered another standout vintage then the fact that early malolactic, sluggish ferments and moderate alcohol must all come together with a seamless whoosh. Another year in the triumvirate averaging of vine age puts less pressure on balance and more on concentration, here resulting in true LCJ favour. So much furthered collective warmth is 20’s call to body and then mind takes over with succulent bites and crafty control. Should settle by the spring of 2023. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Glenn Symons and Chris Thompson, Lighthall Vineyards

Glenn Symons and Chris Thompson, Lighthall Vineyards

Lighthall Chardonnay 2019, VQA Prince Edward County

Unique even for Prince Edward County chardonnay in a stainless meets barrel ferment with the latter a combination of new and third use 500L vessels. Warmer and fleshier than 2018, higher in alcohol by what feels like at least a per cent. Defines crisp pear, washed Phillipston Road cheese rind and crunchy bits of oyster shell but also salted white-spun aureate for local chardonnay. Pairing paraphrases aside this is made for the cheese board, a dozen oysters and a really good pretzel. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Lighthall Chardonnay 2018, VQA Prince Edward County

Mon dieu what a completely different animal than 2019, leaner, saltier and all about the oyster. No real orchard fruit flesh nor pith neither. Zest perhaps though the tight nature, lean disposition and more neutral flavours put this in wholly different regard, Alcohol is a mere 12.8 per cent (as compared to a minimum 13.5 in 2019). And so find some fattier fish (like halibut) and drink up. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Malivoire Chardonnay Estate Grown 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

“Estate” raises purposed and propping acids in 2020 with somewhat maintained if lessened pH (all as compared to Moira) if for no other reason than because (85 per cent) Moira fruit is accented by Mottiar and Estate. Comes away crisp, brisk and frisky, contagiously spiced by galangal and ginger, tastes like sweet lime without the sugar. Has been in bottle just under a year and while the quaff factor begin to run high it may be suggested that the best moments are still to come. Picking took place over three weeks in September and so the “stacked” cuvée makes for an omnipresent happening, variegated though contiguously seamless too. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Malivoire Chardonnay Moira 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

“Broad and tentative swipes” be done and so consistency thy name is Moira, or at least a vineyard’s persistence is manifest in a chardonnay that keeps the faith and the fluid movement of flavour alive. Lovely showing nine months on, window opening or at least now ajar to crawl through and feel the Beamsville love.  Last tasted July 2022.

Fun phantom power spirit on the aromatic front, perfumed to the hilt, creamy fruit and vanilla, well positioned and working as one. Quality if too youthful at present to fully appreciate. Causes a tragically hip perception of middle of the road but with an intention so great the future will change everything. “Don’t tell me what the poets are doing, on the street and the epitome of vague…Got to make it, that’ll make it by swimming” Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

Shiraz Mottiar, Malivoire and Dan Sullivan, Rosehall Run

Malivoire Chardonnay Mottiar 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

“I always hold my pH down below 3.2,” which is accomplished by understanding your vineyard, tells Shiraz Mottiar. “And you have to know (not only when but also) how to pick.” Which was October 5th in 2019 and so acidity remains high and persistent, fruit in a holding pattern and structure a real thing. More place resolved and revealed, vines clearly having well arrived into their state of balance and grace. As fine a chardonnay from the Beamsville Bench in this vintage as you are likely to find. So much more worthy than first considered.  Last tasted July 2022

Nicely, allegedly and properly reductive, especially as it pertains to chardonnay, a bit closed but nearly ready to spread its wings. Quite the fruit juicy tang, green apple bite and cool climate, sparked and piqued style. The sharpness of flavours works well with the wood and integration is just around the corner. Look for that moment in the Spring of 2022. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC2021, October 2021

On Seven The Pursuit Chardonnay 2018, VQA Niagara On The Lake

Seven acres, thus the name, in the hands of Vittorio de Stefano, “and a project paramount to wanting something sustainable that can compete at the international level and standard.” The vineyard is five acres and the property now 15.5. Planted half each to chardonnay and pinot noir, all organic. Bourgogne is the impetus, Niagara the goal. The genesis of planting decisions dates back to 2009, high vigour rootball SO4 rootstocks and clones finally acquired in 2014. Now at seven years of age the vines are ready to rock. A place of science, with oenological consultant/winemaker Peter Gamble at the fore and wines of minimalist approach starting out in reductive tendency, then finishing with longevity defining acidity. Richness and intensity meet at a general Côte d’Or vortex but in the end Niagara lake-proximate flesh and tension are the true meeting point. There is a distinct flintiness (and unlike other flinty chardonnays) but also a caramelization of high delectability and flavour. Vim and vigour, vivid and 20 per cent new oak over three years to gain such favour. Exotic too, with wood contributing to the extract, but surely essential trace elements; manganese, iron and calcium of causation allowing the minerals to make themselves heard. Intriguing wine if only at the beginning of a long story yet to be told. Only 82 cases made. The goal as the vines mature will be 800. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted July 2021 and July 2022

Lydia Tomek, Ravine Vineyard

Ravine Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2019, VQA St. David’s Bench

Fully glazed, honeyed and barrel affected to an nth degree. Unctuous, caramel and pineapple, a huge chardonnay expression that means business and is surely priced accordingly. Matters not where it’s from because the wood is everything here. That said there is plenty of substance, namely fruit to carry the weight. For a specific crowd that will enjoy the experience, west coast style of certain recurring eras. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022 and at i4C22, July 2022

Rosehall Run Ceremony Estate Grown And Bottled Blanc De Blancs 2017, VQA Prince Edward County

More than ample and credible chardonnay vintage, especially for sparkling with thanks to a longer season. There is some lees lounging in 500L puncheon which, coupled with the further 42 months post tirage adds up to complexities on charts and those not able to be found on charts. Really toasty bubble, invigorating and yet also of a calming or at least nurturing stance. Like biting into a fizzy apple and having it tingle in your mouth, followed by a jettison of herbal, citric and wild forest edible flavours. Even a fruity chanterelle. Devilish stuff once again from Dan Sullivan. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Rosehall Run Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2019, VQA Prince Edward County

Yet another stellar chardonnay from Rosehall’s JCR Vineyard and coupled with a most excellent varietal vintage the stars, Strats and stats are clearly aligned. Behold an increasingly accomplished wine that reveals the breadth and depth of this vineyard. It has been and continues to be made in a genre to gender bending approach, fusing the alternative with the electronic and achieving a rare balance of critical and commercial success. Dan Sullivan’s JCR, like St. Vincent is one to sing “I do a dance to make the rain come. Smile to keep the sky from falling down down down down. Collect the love that I’ve been given.” Marry Me JCR? Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April and July 2022

Southbrook Estate Grown Small Lot Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2020, VQA Four Mile Creek

As intense a grab of fruit, barrel and spice as ever in an Ann Sperling chardonnay. What with her classic handling whereby slightly unsettled juice receives some early oxidation, followed by an über protected elévage to bring it forward and into a now fruition. As a result drinks well right away but we known it will stall and little will change for the next few years. More chew than crunch, sweet and sour, encouraging and demanding at the same time. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Estate chardonnay, six years on the lees, traditional method. Generally speaking an inconsequential one gram of dosage, disgorged in February 2021. The other OG for Stratus based on the team’s research and development trials first executed back in 2006 and 2007. Another elevated autolytic example, not as toasty as ’13 but more textural and lees-directed. Further down the road to complexity of flavour washes, swarths and swaths as well. A woollen one, leaves a salve as it graces the palate and lingers long after the fluid thrill is gone. Everything is here, everyone should want some. It’s the Devil and Mr. Jones. Lucifer on the sofa. “There’s juju raining down all around you, yeah. Makes you heavy mental. It makes you tense.” Spoon-feed it to me when I can no longer do it myself. Drink 2022-2026. Tasted July 2022

Dean Stoyka, Stratus Vineyards

Stratus Chardonnay Unfiltered Bottled With Lees 2020, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

As with so many 2020s the virtuous exercise patience during a vintage of sluggish ferments. Ask winemaker Dean Stoyka and he’ll tell you “it’s all about canopy.” In a hot and arid season chardonnay is kept “beneath a sombrero effect,” to avoid sun scorching, to access dappling but avoid 10am to 3pm sun. This practice is not new to the team at Stratus but they are truly now in the “balanced zone.” Chardonnay is a matter of (60 per cent) wood, 30 white clay and 10 stainless steel. This and the lees make for a cloudy if ducky wine of downy texture and very refreshing feel. A whole lot of R & D for which the maker and the consumer are loving the results.  Last tasted July 2022

Next vintage up for this singular Niagara Lakeshore chardonnay meets expectation where fruit substance and quality lees get to making some magic from out of the auspices of an hermetically sealed environment. Love it when chardonnay acts reductive without being either obvious or blatant, instead going about its high quality business like the natural professional it knows it can be. Whispering caramel and subtle smoulder set the bar high and as chardonnay there is this perching upon a gilded golden wire, in regal, confident and self-secured style. Most excellent rhythms, beats and tones set this up for a promising run. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Stratus Blanc De Blancs 2014, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake

Estate chardonnay, six years on the lees, traditional method. Generally speaking an inconsequential one gram of dosage, disgorged in February 2021. The other OG for Stratus based on the team’s research and development trials first executed back in 2006 and 2007. Another elevated autolytic example, not as toasty as ’13 but more textural and lees-directed. Further down the road to complexity of flavour washes, swarths and swaths as well. A woollen one, leaves a salve as it graces the palate and lingers long after the fluid thrill is gone. Everything is here, everyone should want some. It’s the Devil and Mr. Jones. Lucifer on the sofa. “There’s juju raining down all around you, yeah. Makes you heavy mental. It makes you tense.” Spoon-feed it to me when I can no longer do it myself. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Stratus Chardonnay Unfiltered Bottled With Lees 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the Lake

Same winemaking as the team put on the (Chardo swap) Thirty Bench Vineyards fruit and yet with these 30 year-old vines the result is night to the Bench’s day. Cloudier to a view, more advanced and developed, fully resolved citrus notes in juice, zest and pith entwine. Deeper and fuller intensity of flavours, fuller and dramatic. Conceptual.  Last tasted July 2022

Warm and ripe vintage if only because of a gorgeous September into October, more lees than ever before, no new wood and an extended elévage nearing a year in length. Alcohol has risen, as has the pH though neither are what you might call vivid. The palate is actually tightly strung, the texture fulfilling and a cloudiness so perfect for what the winemaking team had long wanted to achieve. Hard not to see 2017 as the teaching wine where lees usage is concerned, the (after the fact) ah-hah moment whereby knowing what to do and how deep to go was learned by how 2017 turned out. In this case fulsome of stone fruit, opaque clarity, an oxymoronic ying-yang of positives in apposite attractions. A Monet vintage, modernized and so very J-L Groux. A Stratus, unlike any other. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted July 2021

Tawse Estate David’s Block Spark Blanc De Blancs 2009, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

Quite exciting to get a look at a new disgorgement nearly 10 years later for a chardonnay that sat on its lees like a Berlucchi Riserva Familia Ziliana Franciacorta DOCG. While the ceiling of complexity may have reached maximum plateau a year, two or even three years ago, it matters little because this level of acidity and sparkling wine vintage favour met the terms of easy regard thrown to the wind. Gone is the woolliness, now replaced by flint and a vapour trail of David’s design. This was meant to wait and thanks to Tawse today is the day. Bears little resemblance to the wine tasted back in 2012. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Has thankfully shed its baby fat, the cheesy whey that sat atop all else last time I tasted. Today the epoisses is now mild Niagara Gold, or a creamy, Triple-Cream Brie. Still a wine of lees and leisure, with tangy green apple and sharp, piquant flavour.  Tasted December 2012

Jessica Otting, Tawse Estate Winery

Tawse Chardonnay Robyn’s Block 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench

While Robyn’s Block is always a unique chardonnay for the Twenty Mile Bench in 2020 it’s part of a community because of a slow, actually a very slow (as in sluggish) ferment. Didn’t actually finish until April, a remarkable happenstance because malolactic was completed back in November. As late as winemaker Jessica Otting has ever seen and it happened with all the chardonnays, save for Quarry Road. The whole cellar was like this and so what does it all mean? Perdition might be the answer but miracles happen and composure begets fortune, leading to a reward in most excellent textural deference. Alcohol and acidity are both exemplary and know this. Chardonnay left alone will find its way, unforced and uncompelled. We may be stupefied by the journey but we are most impressed by the result. Be patient with while offering up a little extra time and mind for these ’20 chards. As here with Robyn they are demure and they are at peace. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Thirty Bench Chardonnay Small Lot 2020, VQA Beamsville Bench

Really quite primary, an undisclosed while pleasingly reticent chardonnay from Emma Garner of gratitude and grace. The first because it thanks the Beamsville terroir and the second because it does so with soft spoken respect. A mélange of different fermentation batches, each small and precise come together for the final sumptuous and restrained blend. The tenets of fruit, acid and what ties them together is just about as seamless and easily layered as any of a Bench ilk and idiom. Not a chardonnay of style but instead stylish, not chic but surely sung with notes held, seemingly forever. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

Mackenzie Brisbois, Trail Estate

Trail Estate Chardonnay Cold Creek Vineyard 2020, VQA Prince Edward County

From a vineyard on the Danforth Road in Hillier and young vines of chardonnay. A 50/50 neutral and second fill barrel aging for 10 months in yet another 2020 fermentation that took seemingly forever to complete. This is attributed to a hot and dry summer and also harvest, with excess humidity causing sluggish and possibly even dormant yeasts. That said this Cold Creek shows plenty of zip and zest, clocking in at 14 per cent off of 23 brix. “Early” numbers though the pH was normal (3.2). Crazy for chardonnay, at heart and for trying, with plenty of dichotomously extrapolated energy and PEC drive. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Two Sisters Chardonnay 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench

Fruit is entirely taken from the 1959 planted Lenko Old Block, likely the first in Niagara. Twenty per cent new wood and no real sense of malo (up to a maximum 30 per cent) but says winemaker Adam Pearce, “we’re not looking for that route.” A brilliant chardonnay, cohesive and smart, taut and slowly revealing itself. The right and righteous stuff.  Last tasted July 2022

If unoaked takes full advantage of a terrific 2019 growing season then surely the oaked chardonnay will go after it with uninhibited abandon. Perhaps but just one sip and you see the cool demeanour, the artist restraint and the blessed balance afforded throughout the wine. Only hints of toast, smoulder and buttery biscuit wisp on through while the purity of warm terroir raised Niagara chardonnay shines, as it should. Most excellent work here from Adam Pearce and team. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted September 2021

Guest Chardonnay

Boschendal Chardonnay 2019, WO Elgin

The Elgin blocks are 15 kms from the Indian Ocean with sites ranging from 200-500m above the sea level and surrounded by mountains. Grown at an average of 300-plus metres at a latitude of 31.15 South. A prime example of the Elgin style, citrus led, stony and flinty from weathered shale soils but there can be no dispute about the fruit richness and sumptuous tactility for how this settles upon the palate. Thankfully a feeling of sea breeze passes through and maintains the freshness. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Ana Norris (Santillán) and Danielle Coetsee, Boschendal

Boschendal Cap Classique Jean Le Long Prestige Cuvée Blanc De Blancs 2009, WO Stellenbosch

Long on the lees (gotta be 120 months-plus) and as a 2009 well within a Cap Classique vernacular still with the “Méthode” verbiage at the lead. Long since developed its ceiling of complexity and although those last 12-18 months may have done little to advance, accelerate or diminish the returns, how can it even matter. Just consider the greatness here. Eloquently complex by nature and also design, all about fruit and earth, liquidity and dusty decomposition, delicasse and deconstruction. The level of acuity is commanding and beyond commendable for a comestible this long in reserve. A confession of wishing for just the slightest lessening of dosage, to avoid a softening and raise the energy bar. Otherwise this would be tops. As it stands it’s pretty special. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Catena Chardonnay Appellation Tupungato 2020, Mendoza, Argentina

Only Tupungato will do for chardonnay as this “High Mountain Vines” will do, equipping what could be the roundest, softest, creamiest and most delicious fruit set with a blast of freshness and atmospheric drive. This is exactly what you can expect from Catena’s work in specific appellative chardonnay, drilling down into the dirt of a place within a place with the same conviction found in their more expensive wines. No compromise. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Catena Alta Historic Rows Chardonnay 2019, Mendoza, Argentina

Kind of surprised how many years have passed since last seeing this über specialized Tupungato chardonnay in a VINTAGES release and thankful to see its auspicious return. The highest elevation and prized fruit from quantified rows put the specificity and trenchant expectation into a chardonnay of indelibly stamped, site explorative and barrel programmed richness. Truly fleshy but also elastic and stretched varietal wine of not only acumen and desire but also depth and understanding. The White Stones may be Catena’s chardonnay prize but do not sleep on this wine. It delivers all you could want from producer, place and grape. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted twice, July 2022

Côteau Rougemont Chardonnay La Côte 2020, Québec

The Robert Family takes chardonnay to the next level with their south facing vines on slopes of soils dotted by pebble and schist. A blessed sun dripping vintage for Québec chardonnay that takes full advantage of more climate change heat units and good fortune for no 2020 frosts. Crisp and crunchy to the nth degree, just reductive enough to stand taut and ever so slowly releasing its charm. Next chapter and a win win all around. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Baud Blanc De Blanc Brut, Crémant Du Jura

Varietal chardonnay that sees a year of lees aging with a dosage to reach the desired Brut. A richness and also dried herbal notes plus fennel that is offset by a creamy sweetness melting and melded through the pictorial texture of a wine so sharp and yet so soft. One imagines the Baud family being led by such humans and when a wine acts as an expression of they, well isn’t that the point in a wine like this? Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022.

Baud’s Crémant is made in true Blanc de Blancs style, from 100 per cent chardonnay and though faintly if beautifully oxidative, the cuvée pulses with great energy. The scents of fraying ginger batons, scraped orange skin and baking almond cookies are all a treat for the olfactory. Just enough but not too much sweetness fleshes the the body to get down to density in mouthfeel but never abandons its airy character. A terrific Champagne alternative that was disgorged in October of 2017. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2018

Clémentine Baud, Domaine Baud

Domaine Baud Cuvée Flor Côtes Du Jura 2020, Côtes Du Jura AOC

Clémentine Baud took over the family estate with her brother six years ago. The first father to daughter transition and with many to follow. The estate dates back to 1742, started by Jean-François. They farm 25 hectares, Clémentine’s father started with five and grew to 19 hectares when he retired. Picking for Sparkling now seems to happen in August, save for the difficult 2021 vintage. In 2017 70 per cent of the harvest was lost to the frosts, 50 in 2019 and 80 in 2021. “We have over 40 old varieties in the Jura, important for diversity, including those not allowed under the rules of the AOC,” tells Clém. The fruit for Cuvée Flor is grown at a latitude of 46.73 North and though very much a cool climate place for chardonnay the threats of warmer winters and seasonal frosts has wreaked havoc over the past 10 years. A chardonnay of remarkable lustre, concentration and purity, worked by way of oxidative aging, low alcohol expectation starting at 12 and finishing no higher than 14 to 14.5. A floral chardonnay, not one related to yeast and surely a pretty in Jura wine. From the younger vines, phenolic and hinting towards though remaining clear of emerging boozy. Filled with flavour, hazelnut and praline, peach and yellow plum. A world of its own. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Des Deux Roches Altugnac “Terres Amoureuses” 2020, AOP Limoux

From land at the edge of the Languedoc, on the Pyrenean foothills, “where the vines flirt with the scrubland.” A chardonnay of amorous lands, a golden hue of fortune and really fine balance. Light on its feet, forming a small wake, chardonnay of prosperity, dreams, space and a garden of thought. Alluring and inviting, ease of wood, spice and bites throughout. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Domaine Des Deux Roches Pouilly Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2020, Bourgogne aoc, France

There can be no doubt that an old vines cuvée in the hands of Deux Roches gifts impeccable and earnest profundity coupled with culpable concentration. A touch reserved in restraint though again expectation dictates that energy will release as the wine opens and ages. All the orchards are on the nose, transitioning into flavours full, layered and built by a liquid textural weave. Expansive chardonnay. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted July 2022

Joseph Ryan, Ernest Vineyards with Brooke Husband and Kelly Mason

Ernest Chardonnay Joyce Vineyard 2019, Sonoma Coast

Erin Brooks started the vineyard 10 years ago, as proximate to the ocean as much as any. West Sonoma Coast, now a new AVA with Brooks at the forefront of making that happen. Down at the bottom of the AVA, at 400ft of elevation, of marine bed, volcanic activity and metamorphic matter all present in one vineyard. Joseph Ryan is Winemaker and Vineyard Manager. Southeast facing at 38.44 North latitude on Goldridge soil, a sandy loam and a really mitigated diurnal shift of temperatures between 45 and 85 degrees (F). As such there is little cold or heat shock, plus what is gained by being so close to the ocean. Truth be told this is Sonoma Coast times 10 with a driven intensity of parts bloody captivating. Fruit and acids dancing intertwined and inseparable, unrelenting in a dizzying twirl of chardonnay wind and dust. “Oh, loving her was easy. The easiest thing in the world.” Hiss Golden Messenger. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Andrea Barker and Grant Chisholm, Foxtrot Vineyards

Foxtrot Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Quite wooden and also lean, tart and speaking in the kind of chardonnay tones that say professional and successful. Apples of greens and yellows, tart and creamy at the same time, blessedly flavourful if simply one dimensional. Solid and classic for a warm weather season out of a cool climate location losing that plus with every passing year. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022 and at 14C22, July 2022

Foxly Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Foxly is Foxtrot’s second label from Osoyoos and Similkameen fruit (as they only grown pinot noir on the Naramata Bench). This mix of northern and southern combines tension with roundness, two best worlds into one, hvac and evac. Fresh and taut with a downy cream centre.  Last tasted July 2022

Reductive to the point if just a bit stinky, not egregious mind you but the funk is in. These lees are in charge and upon the palate with a hit of true juicy fruit attacks, with beneficial fervour. In fact the lees do and are everything, living and dying with adamant behaviour to direct what will happen at every step along the way. Keep working with this chardonnay. It truly wants to offer up a just and pleasurable reward. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC2022, June 2022

With Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell

Hamilton Russell Vineyard Chardonnay 2021, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa

A new return to a manageable vintage of warmth and generosity in which the beauty of Hemel-en-Aarde chardonnay comes across with sweeping charm, just as a vista will take in the scroll of hills, mountains and eventual fall, 100 kilometres away into the sea. The taut nature, tight control and expertly wound fruit behaviour follows a line of HR acidity like never before. The magnificence of the balance occupied by parts so known like home is what emanates from this chardonnay and the gracious people who make it. Can’t think of much better in South Africa. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted July 2022

O’Rourke Family Estate Chardonnay Twisted Pine 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

O’Rourke’s Family Tree brand from Lake Country in the northerly Okanagan just feels warm and nurturing, a 2020 Twisted Pine chardonnay in this glass with drawn butter, soft brioche and mulled spice. Lightly caramelized, with soft serve vanilla and ease of amenability. Oak is a true factor though it melts nicely into the background of the wine. This is chardonnay of a deeply calming presence. It is warm bread. It is dry shelter. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

O’Rourke Family Estate Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Lake Country is one of the newest geographical locations of eight or nine wineries in the Okanagan and really only minted a month ago. The furthest north in the Valley and ostensibly the coolest as a result. First chardonnay by O’Rourke Family Estate with winemaker Nikki Callaway (famed for her work at Quails’ Gate). A young at heart wine and project with vines just three to six years of age grown at a latitude of 50.05 North. A fruit salad because it comes from all the blocks and clones on the property, built above ancient glaciers and caves. All indigenous ferments, with great freshness in abundance. A sharper expression than the Twisted Pine, with more snap, crackle and bite, not to mention pop. Hints at a reductive flintiness though it’s really quite open and even generous. Really quite effusive and brings chardonnay fruit to the fore, celebrates its Okanagan fullness and is developed enough to be ready and willing for to please. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Paddy Borthwick Chardonnay 2020, Wairarapa, New Zealand

An extension of 2019 to be clear, of flint and reduction as well, though less so in this vintage. Same sectarian or free thinking where herbs and lime get as much playing time as the stony qualities showing tight and tart in this 2020 wine. Caramel apple in the most seductive way, a bite through savoury spun sugar into the flesh of apples and or pears plucked straight from the tree. Flavours are ripe and seductive, at times verdant, other times spiced. No missing the barrel here. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted July 2022

Planeta Chardonnay 2020, Sicilia DOC

From 43.25 North latitude. Chardonnay comes from two vineyards, Storico which is the large white rock at 270m above the Menfi lake and Marrocoli, where red grapes (cabernet franc, merlot and syrah) really thrive. Here chardonnay is given roundness to mix with the stoic-stony and intense directness of what it could have been. A place of vibrations and nerves and so Marrocoli is needed to tame and soften Storico’s blunt edginess. That it does, injecting peach fleshy sunshine into the linearity of the wine. Keep in mind that 200,000 bottles a year are made and that doesn’t even keep up with the demand. Arch classic Planeta bread and butter wine, also in style. One of the planet’s great chardonnays of double Q effect. Quantity and quality. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March and July 2022

Ronan Stewart, Quails’ Gate Estate Winery

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Tasted with Rowan Stewart and in agreement that this is meant to be the freshest possible, a chardonnay of lemon zest and glaze, spicy piques and back bite. Acidity is the factor in a chardonnay lacking no moments of ripeness and can be round when needed. In other words it reacts and shapes to the palate’s needs, doing so simply and with no wasted movements. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted July 2022

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay Stewart Family Reserve 2019, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

From vines growing on Mt. Boucherie, a volcanic steppe right above the winery. Whole cluster and barrel fermented, combination of new and used wood, malo, lees and regular stirring. All because the top chardonnay fruit in the Stewart household wants and can handle this level of elévage truth, seeks the richesse and desires uncompromising complexity. A chardonnay rising and swelling with fruit flavours, spices and then lingering long after the liquid is gone. My goodness length is truly a six letter word. Like bezazz, jazzbo, pazazz and pizazz. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted July 2022

Vignoble Domaine Du Fleuve Chardonnay 2020, Québec

The drive for chardonnay to thrive in Québec vineyards is kept alive with this linear and driven example from de Fleuve. It is not good enough to just make chardonnay in the province and call out success. The variety must ripen well, find that sweet spot between phenolic and layered, in the zone where acids lift yet never lie. This does most things admirably well though there are some moments where sulphides and esters creep in. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted July 2022

Good to go!

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WineAlign

L’Etna and Parco Statella saved my Sicilian quarantine

Quarantine Passegiata

A few weeks back I experienced humanity in the vacuum of a chat with a man as proficient a listener as he is eloquent as a speaker. As for his writing prowess well, any words I can conjure only drift in mimic of what rhythms his melodies play. I am of course talking about Andrew C. Jefford. I recited my Covid story to the British born, France habituating composer about my quarantine up aboard the northern slopes of L’Etna and in kind he tuned in with great intent. The next day, after clearly having further considered my experience, the writer encouraged my going public with a recounting of the tale.

Parco Statella by night

Working through a bout of Covid-19 has been for each of us a personally possessive experience. We had all spent months and for some the better part of two years assimilating information, growing concern and formulating speculation as to what would happen when we contracted the virus. We also wondered how we might affect others. My turn involved only a few close connections, first my fostering and nurturing Sicilian hosts and chaperones at Planeta Winery. Then, aboard the mountain, the gracious and obliging staff at Shalai in Lingualossa. And finally the man so effing effable that is winemaker Giuseppe Russo. Sorry for the viral transfer Giuseppe. Cute sorry smiley Vector Art Stock Images | Depositphotos

Il Guercio

Let us back track for just a couple of paragraph’s moment. Travelling companion, beautiful friend, articulate writer and persuasive speaker Michaela Morris and I are having lunch with Il Guercio, the one and the only Sean O’Callaghan at Osteria Le Panzanelle in Lucarelli, Radda in Chianti. It’s the first truly warm day of March and so Nada Michelassi creates a table for us on the terrace. Sean hails from the U.K. and is asked to peek indoors on a distinguished and clearly famous solo British diner but he returns after not immediately recognizing the man. A moment later, as if having silently swept in like an apparition, he’s standing over our table. “May I join you?” he inquires, a chair is pulled up, a glass of Tenuta di Carleone is poured and introductions are made.

Sean O’Callaghan, Jeremy King, Michaela Morris and Godello

He is Jeremy King, London’s most famous restauranteur and we are treated to a story of his 44 million euro court predicament with investors. Sean takes a bite of Tagliata and he is suddenly choking, up desperately and stumbling over the stones, grabbing at his throat, liquids evacuating wherever they can find an outlet, terrified face turning blue. Still seated, legs crossed and calm as a hindu cow, Mr. King asks, “would you like me to do the Heimlich maneuver on you?” Sean shakes his head up and down hard, the towery King gets behind him and with one hoomph! the steak is dislodged and expectorating details aside, Sean falls back into his chair in heaving breaths. He’s fine. Saved. Left to live another day and enjoy another plate of Tagliata. King is back in his chair, story immediately in resume. Four days later I’m in Catania testing positive, alerting Michaela and Sean who in turn, both test positive with 24 hours. Coincidence? Perhaps. Fair trade? Absolutely. Like it or not Michaela Morris, Sean O’Callaghan, Nada Michelassi and Jeremy King, we are all inextricably linked for the duration of our times.

It was the Tagliata

Related – The five estates of Planeta earth

Which brings us to Sicilia and more specifically, L’Etna. My adventures with the candid and talented Patricia Tóth are visually chronicled and well documented in my previous article. After testing positive in Catania the winemaker picked up the necessary provisions of sustenance and medication then drove back up the mountain to the volcano’s northern slope. There at Parco Statella I passed my isolation for 11 days, albeit in one of the universe’s most spectacular, spiritual and enlightening locations. A few days of feeling quite unwell beget short walks and then full on treks through the forests and vineyards of this edenic playground. Friends were made and relationships forged with three sheep. two horses, a donkey and several sweet dogs. I ambled through the landscape in a Covid fog as easily as children might slip into their weariness like the soothing water of a warm bath. The effort of subterfuge was no match for Parco Statella’s beauty.

Verdant Parco Statella

Only came outside to watch the nightfall with the rain. I heard you making patterns rhyme

As the symptoms waned and the sun continued to warm Versante Nord there arrived, a case at a time, the wines of Etna producers, first Planeta and Donnafugata, followed by a stream of others. I began to taste and write in earnest, soaking up the innate imperfections and precise perfections of Etna Bianco, Rosso and variations on the parochial theme. Then there was the care provided by Manuela Scala, a plate of provisions here, a sublime slice of cake there. These gestures nourished some withered essential part of myself as I sat on the weathered wrought iron chairs at the table in Parco Statella’s piazzetta. I would fall gratefully on a perfect slice of cake, on this human gesture of connection and to know fortune smiles upon us. On the morning of my departure a caffé in Manuela’s presence made cause for true emotion and then, with the wind circling L’Etna and over the stones of the courtyard I was gone.

Una fetta d’amore

In the Planeta article I detailed the wines of Menfi-Ulmo, L’Etna, Noto, Vittoria and Capo Milazzo. Please click on the link to that post (above) to review those 45 wines. Here are 55 more tasting notes from Girolamo Russo, Emiliano Falsini, Donnafugata, Graci, Calcagno, Scirto, Eduardo Torres, Tascante, Vigneti Vecchio and Azienda Agricola Sofia. The wines on L’Etna that helped saved my quarantine.

With Giuseppe Russo

Girolamo Russo

Girolamo Russo Etna Bianco DOC Nerina 2021

Giuseppe Russo’s Etna Bianco honours his mother Nerina. Made from younger plants, including some planted three or four years old, but only carricante. That said Giuseppe will likely also plant some more grecanico in the San Lorenzo Vineyard because he likes the linearity and verticality it gives to the carricante. The Nerina is a startling and invigorating Bianco, as fresh, available and precocious as any on Versante Nord, or likely anywhere on L’Etna for that matter. A seven days a week wine for which there can be no reason not to engage. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Bianco DOC San Lorenzo 2020

From the single vineyard at 730-740m of elevation and vinified in tonneaux. The 2009 was the first vintage of San Lorenzo Bianco for a wine that leads amongst the 80-90 thousand total bottles made by Giuseppe Russo from 18 hectares. A strong selection from the plants of carricante with cattaratto and grecanico. The carricante are the oldest and they provide the breadth in the mouth, the texture in unction and the presence that really makes you feel the vineyard. The difference between it and Nerina is really in the selection of the grapes. Giuseppe wants his whites to speak for his territory, here to be a bit more generous and 2020 obliges first because it was easier and second because it is such a vintage specific to the white wines. Such beauty and emotion is purity and life. No stress and a wine you want to drink. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosato DOC 2021

Only nerello mascalese partly because cappuccia has more colour but also less body, acid and tannin than mascalese. And so the mascalese is the red Rosato variety, especially in Etna’s northern sector. Yes of course this is salty Rosé but that’s a given and hardly the point. Why does Giuseppe make it? Because it’s molto versate, literally “very poured” but meaning always worthy of consumption. For food, especially in summer and at low alcohol. He also believes it can age in fact he’s tasting some older Rosato here and there as witnessed by bottles laying around. Trust when it is said that Etna Rosato is a special breed. Indeed. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso DOC ‘A Rina 2019

First made in 2005 as the initial vintage for Giuseppe Russo and from more than one vineyard, inclusive of fruit from some of the younger vines as an assemblage of micro-vinifications. In terms of maceration Giuseppe only does 15 days, nothing close to the Piedmontese ways with nebbiolo, even if he adores those wines. So much freshness, red fruit forward vintage but also a linearity because these wines always carry some of this emotion. ‘a Rina can be consumed just about when you want to but carries a sort of structure that is subdola, sneaky enough to see it go long. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted March 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso DOC Feudo 2019

Many generations have been here but the story really begins with Giuseppe’s grandfather Giovanni Massimino, who planted the vineyard Feudo. Diversity of the vines is a profound part of the growing on these terraces, especially with the old vineyards, in Feudo 70-80 years old and also some as old as 100. Nerello mascalese with five per cent nerello cappuccio from a single vineyard cru and here 20 days maceration, five days longer than the on skins time for ‘a Rina. Again a vintage that Giuseppe Russo is a big fan of, rich and luxe to a great degree yet broad and deeply spiced. The depth and complexity are quite profound. First vintage was 2006 for a Rosso that needs the bottle in the ways of great grapes all over Italy. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted March 2022

Home cooking by Tóth and Russo

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso DOC San Lorenzo 2019

Giuseppe Russo’s father purchased San Lorenzo but Girolamo never bottled and sold off all the grapes. In 2003 Girolamo passed away. Giuseppe has worked with Emiliano Falsini from Toscana since 2005 and continues through to today. The selection is mainly from the vineyard’s highest point and it is in fact the largest at Girolamo Russo, making up seven of the 18 total hectares. Such a crunchy nerello mascalese though with plants up to 100 years old there are likely some other varieties mixed in for what is ostensibly a field blend. Also volcanic chalky (if there really is such a thing) and the one that reeks but also tastes of orange, mainly blood orange. While San Lorenzo may lack the richness of Feudo it does so much in terms of finezza and this after so much perfume. Fantastic vintage. Drink 2025-2035.  Tasted March 2022

Parco Statella fixer-upper

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso DOC San Lorenzo 2017

From a vintage that was very warm, like the rest of Italy and you’d not be fully paying attention were you not to notice this in the wine. You have to wonder when the fruit was picked and indeed though the alcohol was high in September it was Giuseppe Russo who waited well into October to pick his grapes. They are ripe through and through, even if the weight lays low and intensity runs high. This is by far the biggest wine of five Rosso tasted but at its height there is balance and togetherness. Brilliance in the face of adversity, covered in spice is a beautiful thing. Drink earlier than some vintages but also be surprised as to where this may go. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso DOC Calderara Sottana 2018

A label that was started in 2007 and from a contrada on the perimeter of the Russo property. From a very difficult vintage and a wine completely different from both Feudo and San Lorenzo, also because the contrada is so very different. A much more lifted Etna Rosso, edgy with some volatility but the kind that you can imagine settling in with this carefully picked, selected, sorted and vinified fruit. There is a wildness about this fruit that is specific to place but also the tannins that are spicier, grippier and forceful. This one really wakes you up and keeps you on your toes. Mi sveglia! I am awake! Drink 2025-2032.  Tasted March 2022

With a roof right over our heads

Emiliano Falsini

Feudo Pignatone Etna Rosso DOC 2020

Feudo Pignatore, from Emiano Falsini, the name of the contrada on L’Etna’s north side. A vintage a bit like 2018, difficult though not quite in the league of that challenge. Beautifully perfumed, youthful for sure and quite compact. Crunchy Rosso, red fruit in the currant and pomegranate vein, high acidity and showing its barriques though as a lithe, transparent and lifted wine it does so with great ease. Creates a cinnamon heart type spiciness and then you feel the wood on the back end. Very curious contrada Rosso. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted March 2022

Covid penicillin

Feudo Pignatone Etna Rosso DOC Davanti Casa 2020

Feudo Pignatore, the name of the contrada on L’Etna’s north side and the small cru/single vinyeyard Rosso. This is the selection, smaller quantity from Emiliano Falsini and a whole ‘nother expression altogether, here the wood and fruit conspiring for a frutta di bosco experience but also one with toasted coconut. Barriques and tonneaux are used and because the fruit is deeper and richer there is more depth, doubled down concentration and a feeling of that wood, earlier and throughout. This will need much time and there is definitely an affinity with nebbiolo this time around. Drink 2025-2032.  Tasted March 2022

Donnafugata

Donnafugata

Pantelleria

Donnafugata Lighea 2021, DOC Sicilia

Lighea, Sicilian for “light” is varietal zibibbo (a.k.a. muscat of Alexandria) grown on the Island of Pantelleria off the southwestern Sicilian coast. Not unexpectedly high in citrus both juiced (lemon and orange) but also floral with orange blossoms the obvious, ostensible and uncanny notation. So bright and popping, brimming with pressed acidity and waxy, spritzed, airy and vaporous of sea spray. Sun, afternoon and vacation are three words that easily come to mind. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Ben Ryé 2019, Passito Di Pantelleria DOC

Ben, as in “son of” and Ryé, a Sicilian riff on the concept of making strong mocker from the wheat grass. Think of grapes instead, in this case zibibbo (muscat of Alexandria) grown off the southwestern coast of Sicily on the Island of Pantelleria. Passito di Pantelleria DOC is one of the world’s great sweet wines, found only on this windswept promontory where the grapes concentrate, drink in the sea and express a view to which only this place commits. The warmest of vintages develops and comprises these particular sugars into something surreal. Extraordinary orange-ginger crème brûlée, perfectly embittered and made viscous in the most natural of ways. Layers of dedication and spice, health affirming herbs, respiratory fixing drops and sweetness captured, effortlessly and to gift plaisir. Apricots ripe and glazed, zen zero limone, giusto intenso. Nearly perfect. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Vineyards

Contessa Entellina Estate

Dolce & Gabbana Rosa Rosé 2021, DOC Sicilia

Donnafugata makes two Rosato, one from Etna and this on the northern side of the Contessa Entellina Estate. A blend of nerello mascalese and nocera, two apposite varieties, one being the Dolce and the other Gabbana. Together they combine for exotic fragrance but also sweet candied florals, cottony feels and salty streaks right on through. Healthy acids easily deal with, mitigate and assimilate whatever sugars might want to express themselves but truthfully they only come out in the aromatics, rising at dusk and bleeding into night. Can’t think of a time when this Rosato would fail to please. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Contrada Statella

Donnafugata Anthìlia Bianco 2021, DOC Sicilia

What’s in a name? Anthilìa is the name given to the city of Entella on the top of the Rocca in Roman times. As a Bianco it is composed of the local (Contessa Entellina Estate) lucido, known in other parts of Sicily as catarratto, blended with other unnamed autochthonous and international varieties. Regardless of the bit parts there is no questioning Anthilìa’s tart, tight and citrus to mineral posit tug of Sicilian style. There is an herbal quality in sweet basil or chervil typology but lemon-lime meeting salty stones halfway is really where it’s at. Beck and call, “a place we saw, the lights turn lo. The jigsaw jazz and the get-fresh flow.”  Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Sur Sur 2021, DOC Sicilia

Sur Sur is varietal grill0 from Donnafugata’s Contessa Entellina Estate in southwestern Sicily. More lemon and less mineral as compared to Anthilìa though sunshine is at an all time high. Sur Sur as in “On On” or in Italian Su Su. Like the lights and more to the point the sun, filling and lighting up this grillo. Light up the grill and throw on some fishes, large shrimps, even a squid or three. Sur Sur will compliment, alight and walk astride. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Sherazade Nero d’Avola 2020, DOC Sicilia

Sherazade, or Scheherazade is the fictional wife of a sultan and the narrator of the tales in the Arabian Nights. The Nero d’avola is taken from western Sicily’s Contessa Entellina Estate and nearby vineyards. Mixed cultures’ spice and exotica are the aromatic potpourri this calls home and nothing else scents as this. Nothing else is also so inviting, casting its varietal line and reeling you in to inhale, sip, smile and exhale. Red wine as aperitivo, unencumbered, calming and even a little bit divine. Track three, The French Dispatch, Alexandre Desplat. Drink 2022-2025.   Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Tancredi 2017, Terre Siciliane IGT

Tancredi, that exceptional Italian name is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, local nero d’Avola, tannat and ”other grapes,” field-ish so to speak, born in Donnafugata’s place of origin, Contessa Entellina Estate. Deeper in barrel, fruit substance, time and thought. All varieties well put, organized and once in conflagration now smouldering seamlessly together. What may have been an ignited engine of brush, tar and pressed juices is still tight and intense, raging in acidity and just now emerging with local style. Plenty of savour too, a western Sicilian kind, challenging the olfactory, making a concerted request for more time. Bordeaux, Madiran and Santa Margherita di Belice mixed, matched and melded together. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Parco Statella by day

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 2018, Rosso Sicilia DOC

Mille E Una Notte (1001 nights), a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age, a.k.a. the Arabian Nights. A Contessa Entellina Estate near Santa Margherita di Belice blend of nero d’Avola, petit verdot, syrah and in the typical Donnafugata field blend idiom, also inclusive of “other grapes.” The deepest and most profound if brooding and structured of the estate’s reds while also hauntingly familiar, succulent and beautiful. Clearly one of Sicily’s most age-worthy red wines, reeking of roses and steaming in highlands acidities. To say tasting 2018 this early in its tenure does little to open the gates of knowledge or pleasure would be a vast understatement but these many nights hint at hidden treasure, meaning and the aforementioned beauty. A serious wine with endless time laid out ahead. Drink 2025-2034.  Tasted April 2022

L’Etna

Donnafugata Sul Vulcano 2019, Etna Rosso DOC

The Rosso from L’Etna’s northern slope near Montelaguardia is essentially nerello mascalese though there is a small percentage of cappuccio involved. From vineyards adjacent the stunning Parco Statella to the east of the village of Passopisciaro. Alberello-trained vines mix with volcanic rock terraces, grazing sheep and the wild ferla. Really quite precise varietal, location and lava coming together in a Rosso that exhibits the limit of Etna’s volcanic savour. Really brushy and herbal, fruit singing a ripe acid song, slinging arrows of basaltic intensity, creating a true to form and peace experience. A broad brushstroke of Etna Nord and yet one with vim, victory and relish. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Sul Vulcano 2019, Etna Bianco DOC

Sul Vulcano, below L’Etna on the north slope, 100 per cent estate grown carricante adjacent the Parco Statella in Montelaguardia. Classic varietal profile, at once rich and then salty, volcanic soils and elevation so very present, buoyant and presenting this dramatic white wine. Richer and riper than some, vintage related and directed to be sure. Not so much croccante as much as being scorrevole for carricante, mid-palate and aromatic twin split between pomelo-mandarin and ferla-broom. Some structure here so wait a year and drink through the decade. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Vineyards adjacent Parco Statella

Donnafugata Fragore Contrada Montelaguardia 2019, Etna Rosso DOC

The single vineyard Fragore is an Etna Rosso out of the Montelaguardia contrada that announces itself with an ascoltami ruggire, in other words a roar. But a quietly controlled one, like a lion resting, expressing its content with the moment, using voice to engage, not warn. Take the Etna Rosso normale, improve and compress upon it multi-fold, concentrate all that savour, hillside naturalism and herbology, take things to an entirely unimaginable next level. This is the roar of Fragore, in control of emotions and sensibilities. Like a passegiata through Parco Statella on a windy Etna Spring day. An impressive vintage if just a bit barrel controlled, intimating fine chocolate and dusty espresso, needing time to integrate. Drink 2024-2031. Tasted April 2022

Vittoria

Donnafugata Floramundi 2019, Cerasuolo Di Vittoria DOCG

As per the Sicilian DOCG a blend of nero d’avola and frappato grown in the southeastern sector, the latter made deeper and more profound by the former. What may be lost in sheer consumer attack-ability is gained through strength and vigour. Cerasuolo is meant to concentrate but also percolate, simmering two complimentary varieties in liquid layers, increasingly volumetric and akin to new thought music in a red blend of moods. No Donnafugata’s does not exist by dint of such pressed heights because it persists in airy, openly fragrant and flute singing tones. A best of both worlds appellative juncture is met, acquiesced and compressed. Give it time or simply air to enjoy. Drink 2023-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Donnafugata Bell’Assai 2020, Vittoria DOC Frappato

Pure frappato from southeastern Sicily, fragrant and perfumed to the proverbial hilt and so bloody inviting. The freshest of summer strawberries, violets at peak and if aromatics could talk they would say hello. Juicy and justifiably tart, those peppery florals candied, inclusive of pansy and nasturtium. A veritable bouncing, fanciful and buzzing throttle frappato yet so easy to sip back. Inspiring. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted April 2022

Graci

Graci Etna Bianco DOC 2021

Graci’s viticultural epicentre is Contrada Arcurìa but they also grow in four other Etna north communes. The all-purpose Bianco is 85 per cent carricante with (15) catarratto harvested mid-October (on average) and raised in only stainless steel for nine months, on the lees. My how those lovely lees drive this wine, texturizing the local grapes and directing all the traffic. Rarely does an Etna Bianco recall Chablis but here is one in all glory and reminiscence. Fresh, luxe fruit round and abounding, mild yogurt to crème frâiche character derived by the infiltrations of those positive yeasts. Just salty enough to remind of the place in a generalized and beneficial way. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Parco Statella friends

Graci Etna Rosato DOC 2021

Etna Rosato comes from 100 per cent mascalese and the only grapes harvested in September. Just a soft press, no skin contact maceration and ultimately a salty, easy, light and rustic rose coloured meeting flavoured mingling with texture Rosato. Just what you want to drink in the sun, anytime after 11:00 am, preferably with the volcano looming above. Or anywhere the sun might hit in your place of living. Meets the non-plussed demands of delicious and satisfying, two most important blush ideals. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted April 2022

Graci Etna Rosso DOC 2020

From Alberto Graci in Passopisciaro, with vineyards in five contrade, Feudo di Mezzo, Santo Spirito, Mugnazzi, Arcurìa and Barbabecchi. A spontaneous varietal nerello mascalese in every way, from fermentation through emotive spirit. Smells like L’Etna by way of 18 months spent in grandi botti (tini), fruit skin musky, salumi curative and mint-scented without being minty. Fine acid crunch and fruit persistence, intensity yet in control, driven and determined. Clearly top echelon Rosso untethered to any one specific tract of contrada soil. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Graci Etna Bianco DOC Arcurìa 2020

Arcurìa is central to Graci’s farm and work, a contrada location on L’Etna’s northern slope at 600 to 700m of elevation. For Bianco only carricante is used, harvested mid-October, half in small wood and half in stainless, 12 months on lees followed by 12 in bottle. As a cool and windy place it refreshes, revitalizes and breathes great air into the carricante, joining forces with the multifarious volcanic soils to instil great salinity and ariosità in the Bianco. Even though it sees longer lees aging as compared to the normale there is less frâiche and more freshness but also depth, determination and desire. Great bite, snap and acutezza. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Graci Etna Bianco DOC Muganazzi 2020

Mugnazzi is Graci’s secret weapon property, five and a half hectares in Passopiscaro, once owned by Ettore Majorana, the “brilliant and mysterious gentleman.” Three of those are planted to carricante at 700m, harvested around the same time as Arcurìa, destined to shake, rattle and roll this Etna Bianco. Takes the grape and volcano to the next level, both in mineral salinity but also luxuriousness of substantial, fleshy and concentrated fruit. The most aromatic of the bianci, orchard and even exotics mingling with sea, lava and air. There is no end or conclusion to this Mugnazzi for it is both inspiring and one to take a breath away. Very special Etna Bianco indeed. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Graci Etna Rosso DOC Arcurìa 2019

Arcurìa is the homefront contrada location, flagship vineyard, late harvested nearing October’s finish and 100 per cent nerello mascalese. In the middle of 600 and 700m, on five types of layered volcanic mille-feuille, connected to the village of Passopisciaro. The best mascalese plants and rows are chosen for this single contrada Rosso, an Etna that takes the cumulative Rosso to a higher level of focus, preciseness and northerly understanding. This IS Graci, fruit and cure like a recipe passed down through generations, even if Alberto Graci is the family pioneer, at least in this place. Lightly chalky tannins present a structured notion for a Rosso that must be, has to be, can only be Arcurìa. Textured to settle on the palate and fortified just enough to explain something extra about the land. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022\

Walking on basalt

Graci Etna Rosso DOC Feudo Di Mezzo 2019

In Feudo di Mezzo a wholly antithetical experience is had, ninety degrees to the west from full on northerly Arcurìa, ancient and early vines of 80 years or more growing at 600m, sharing the already tiny 1.5 hectare space with free and sky reaching nerello cappuccio growing as alberello. The oppositional character does not end there, what with the finer soils, less volcanic variegation and earlier to ripen location. And so the (95 per cent) nerello mascalese plus cappuccio Rosso is blessed of fruit breadth, round, circulating and enriching acidity, not to mention luxurious tannins. Feudo di Mezzo makes for some of the volcanic idiom’s most generous and lavish Rosso with this by Graci up there with the best. Longer maceration and full acceptance of the large barrels make this a most impressive Rosso to gain and gather friends. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Jimmy

Graci Etna Rosso DOC Arcurìa Sopra Il Pozzo 2017

Sopra il Pozzo describes a special portion of the signature Arcurìa vineyard (and contrada of the same name), a block “above the well,” 100 per cent nerello mascalese picked in the last week of October. Treated to the same maceration and elévage as the Rosso for the same spontaneous style and time as Feudo di Mezzo. However Sopra il Pozzo’s refuse soil composition is different and requires patience in the name of time, due to its alternating layers of decomposed volcanics in stone and coarse sand. This is a section of recast material and the corresponding mascalese is both emasculated and chivalrous. The degree to which layers of fruit, mineral and umami incorporare and completare is finite and contiguous yet also lengthy, scorrevole and endless. There is rare Etna glycerin texture and perfectly timed acid tang. tempismo perfetto. Grande. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted April 2022

Calcagno

Calcagno Etna Bianco DOC Ginestra 2020

Ginestra, a.k.a Genista aetnensis, the Mount Etna broom. A no wood, only stainless Etna Bianco spent time on lees and yet freshness of airy and open character abounds. And so a saltiness and a mineral wealth mix with typically lime blossom floral and spicy scents. Classic unadulterated and naked carricante, citrus streaking, tight, tart and satisfying. Could drink and relish this Bianco seven days a week. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Calcagno Etna Bianco Superiore DOC Primazappa 2019

Primazappa comes from the commune of Milo, incidentally the only Etna area where it is allowed to bottle as Etna Bianco Superiore. A varietal carricante off of 30-40 year-old vines grown on both alberello and spalliera at 850m, picked in late September. The volcanic soils are quite weathered, decomposed and sandy, with a decided micro-mineral effect on this wood-aged and seriously flinty Bianco. Takes on a whole new appellative and stylistic meaning, clearly designed to age and enter another new Bianco world apart. Simultaneously smouldering and buzzing with mineral salts, fleshing if not yet quite fleshy. The curiosity and potentiality factors in this Bianco are developing and climbing off the charts. A bit wild now, it should settle into something really special. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Sicilian blood orange for what ails

Calcagno Etna Rosato DOC Romice Delle Sciare 2020

Romice refers to a Sicilian grass species and delle Sciare literally “of skiing” so clearly a Rosato referencing the flora and also the high Etna slopes. A north side, salty, sapid and pink pink citrus slinging nerello mascalese, infinitely fulfilling and drinkable. Acids sling right along and balance is had by all, including sugars and fragrant fruits. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted April 2022

Calcagno is the life work of Franco, Gianni and Giusy Calcagno, two brothers and a daughter, first vintage being 2006, now a full grown concern. From the Contrada Calderara the mixed soil consists of black pumice and basalt. Perhaps made most famous by Cottanera but never sleep on the passion and torch passing into this generation of Calcagno hands. Cherries and red fruit in concentration could never be dismissed and in fact must be celebrated in a nerello mascalese of sweet intoxication. I really wanna know this Rosso, I really wanna go with this mascalese, my sweet Calderara. Fresh and grounded, effusive and espansivo, meeting at both poles, one mission gained. Implosive Rosso from the famiglia and one to savour after many other wannabes have walked heavy in their soles and commercialized their souls. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Terroir

Calcagno Etna Rosso DOC Arcurìa 2019

Arcurìa contrada is a late October harvested cru for nerello mascalese grown at elevations between 600 and 700m, on five types of multi-layered volcanic soils associated with the village of Passopisciaro. The Calcagno profile is consistent with Calderara in red fruit as if cherries especially are prominent and yet sour-savoury and botanical tonic elements change the complexion of this particular Rosso. Less generous and effusive if more serious and even structured results. No, not the same wine at all, even if it is distinguished as being from Calcagno. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Calcagno Etna Rosso DOC Feudo Di Mezzo 2019

Feudo di Mezzo is neither Calderara nor Arcurìa, here much smaller plots of alberello vineyards with their twisted and ancient vines 60, 70 even 80 years or more growing at 600m.The nerello msacalese often shares space with less dominant and texture thickening cappuccio but most notable is the salumi and red fruit skin musk aromatics of these Rosso. There is nothing like Feudo di Mezzo, characterful, distinct, knowable and just plain funky. In a 70s bass beat way, not quite G.Q. but perhaps Love Train style. Calcagno’s is really special FdM, reaching for greatness and making itself noticed. Don’t sleep on this cru “‘cause if you miss it, I feel sorry, sorry for you, well.” Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Scirto

Scirto Don Pippinu Bianco Carricante 2019, Terre Siciliane IGT

From the Contrada Feudo di Mezzo and also Contrada Porcaria, at 650m on L’Etna’s north slope, planted in the 1930s. Soils are black volcanic sand, sub-acidic, skeletal, rich in potassium and poor in organic matter. Don Pippinu is a name attributed to Giuseppe Scirto’s grandfather and the wine is made from carricante, catarratto and white minnella. Ages for 10-12 months in steel and in the bottle. Just a raw white assemblage with no strings attached save for 100 years of history and a little bit of skin contact. No volatile distraction to speak of but yes this wine settles on the palate like a dissolving citrus, chamomile and orange blossom salve. Not loathe but perhaps reticent to use the word natural though how else to explain this thing of delicasse, elixir of kind heart and vial of virility. Acids are purely substrata drive, flavours layered by lava and mixed white grapes so in touch with one another’s realities. Peak performance happens late, often and with persistence. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Scirtu All’Anticas Vino Della Tradizione Nerello Mascalese 2019, Terre Siciliane IGT

The term is “Rosso della Tradizione” or “Vino della Tradizione,” in other words Rosato. You have to look at and consider tradition where a certain style of Rosato is concerned and in Etnean terms this is a wine that must also be looked at under a Rosato lens. Still a matter of ungrafted 80-100 year old nerello mascalese (here with some cappuccio) subjected to 36 hours of skin contact. Where this diverges from a wine like the Don Pippinu Rosso is in the foggy, murky, uncharted, uncooked and untested waters of varietal sensitivity. And aromatics, here rising, inciting and inviting investigation. There is also a matter on minor Brettanomyces not present in the other Scirto wines. So yes tradition is on display, as is an unbending relationship for which control and sulphuring are not going to happen. Terrific aromatic display, mostly floral but also old vines and volcanic induced fruit substance but the palate is a world apart and to its own. That said it oscillates, wavers and delivers new complexities each and every time sipped. Curiosity takes on a whole new meaning. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted April 2022

Un’altra fetta d’amore

Scirtu Don Pippinu Rosso Nerello Mascalese 2019, Terre Siciliane IGT

Scirto is the work of Giuseppe Scirto and Valeria Franco near Passopisciaro, with grapes since 2010 and from vineyards inherited from their grandparents. They have vines in Feudo di Mezzo and Porcaria, mainly nerello mascalese. Don Pippinu comes from a tiny plot of ungrafted 80-100 year old nerello mascalese and nothing off of the north slope of Mount Etna resembles what’s in this glass. Throws a light sediment, its hue is orange sky pastel at dawn and a flirtatious volatility marks the nose. Opens to an earthy if wild berry fragrance and then the salty-geological basaltic rock energy alights, if of a purpose to wake up the palate. Do not be fooled into any commercial space or domain for this is a natural expression of the Feud di Mezzo zone. Not on purpose mind you but a Rosso that is precise and as was unintentionally intended. So much beauty in the complexion of its flaws, a taste into the mirror of what is necessary and also possible. Wouldn’t age this too long but can think of many, many wine geeks who could crush the bottles of such a quietly provocative Rosso. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Scirtu A’Culonna Rosso Nerello Mascalese 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

monument in the centre of the nearby village of Passopisciaro. The volcanic stone was a three-sided carved obelisk indicating directions, to and from Milazzo, Taormina, Randazzo and Palermo. La Colonna was also the meeting place where peasants stopped for a chat and at the same time sold their wine. For Giuseppe Scirto and Valeria Franco it is predominantly nerello mascalese with some cappuccio picked in early October. Fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks using only natural yeasts, then aged 12 months in large and small used oak casks. Not filtered or fined with minimal use of sulphur at bottling. Clearly the most textural, glycerin and fruit pretty Rosso in Giuseppe Scirto’s Siciliane shed, flowers distilled into perfume, curious berry caramels swirling through the flavour profile. The swarthiness while there is perfectly seasoned and in check, the lasting impression is good, intuitive and reasoned one. A’Culonna is the bomb. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted April 2022

Eduardo Torres

Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticoltore Versante Nord Uve Bianche 2020, Bianco Terre Siciliane IGT

The white counterpart to the “north slope” cousins is this from old vineyards in six different districts: Pietramarina, Allegracore, Piano Daini, Friera, Zucconero and Marchesa. The red nerello mascalese dominates but the vines are always inclusive of 10-15 per cent white grapes. In this case half minnella (Bianca) equalized and complimented by (50) other endemic varieties, as in carricante, catarratto, inzolia and grecanico. Fine sands of volcanic ash are the product of various and recent lava eruptions. The “Uve Bianche” expresses purposeful clarity and seriously rich Etna intendment, giving away a fleshy and controlled lees-effected texture. The weave has melted and so the seamlessness with which this drinks is second to none. A white of glaze and shine, implosive acid zing and explosive flavour bursts. It’s bloody delicious, so expertly assembled and crafted, professionally and yet subtly designed. Saying yes to this glass is akin to being paid for telling people what you already know. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticoltore Versante Nord Nerello Mascalese 2020, Terre Siciliane IGT

Versante Nord, literally “north slope” is nerello mascalese (plus 15 per cent “varietà locali,” in other words nerello cappuccio and friends) from old (50-plus years) vines of the Pietramarina districts in Verzella, Capreri in Castiglione di Sicilia, Zucconero, Piano Daini in Solicchiata, Allegracore in Randazzo and Friera in Linguaglossa. The land is obviously volcanic, of mixed stones, sand and ashes from eruptions, several quite recent. Natural farming and fermentation, picked in the first two weeks of October and a 15 day, free to its own devices skin maceration. This gives the VS a raw feeling but truth be told the Rosso perfectly straddles the lines between the exposed and the sheltered, the volatile and the calm. Tart yet sweetly scented red fruits, edging to pomegranate but also a woven fabric in the mouth that suggests chalkiness, bend-ability and structure. Persistence is the surname, braiding the middle and “ascesa” the given. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticoultore Quotan Vino Di Contrada Piede Franco 2020, Rosso Terre Siciliane IGT

Quotan as in “quota” is an apt moniker, a part or personal share, easily discerned for producers on L’Etna and what land they have to use. The wine comes from an old vineyard in Piede Franco, in the Contrada Nave, on the northwest slope of the volcano. Quota N is also the name of the vineyard, Q being the stamp of locally known “roads quota nave.” A most unique assemblage, of half nerello mascalese, 20 per cent grenache and (30) uve bianche, of grecanico, carricante and coda di volpe. Allegedly if obviously lighter, brighter and airy finer than Versante Nord, multi citrus strewn and waxy with both yellow and red citrus giving it all away. Neither Rosato nor full on Rosso, nor somewhere in between but residing all on its own. Not a structured wine but wouldn’t put 10 years past it without something interesting happening, eventually leading to curiosity and pleasure. Crushable in any case, like semi-soft lemonade in the best way. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Tascante

Tascante Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Pianodario 2019

The vineyard was planted at 775m in 2010 in the contrada of Pianodario, one of four on the northern slope of Mount Etna, between the villages of Montelaguardia and Randazzo. Characterized by a degrading morphology from south to north on volcanics 15,000 and 4,000 years old. It is believed that the substrata is between 40,000 and 30,000 years of age. Pure nerello mascalese here is one of the latest picked in the last days of October, treated to a year in large Slavonian cask. Imagine sangiovese from somewhere like Montalcino but in this varietal world the lightness of being is palpable but also so accepting of the wood. If ever a mascalese from Etna were spoken in pure Sicilian blood orange terms this would be it. Tart yet never sour nor do you feel the acids in any sharp or inflammatory way. Really just purity and clarity, a well seasoned glass that comes from ripe fruit meeting nurturing barrel with the result being one of energy and spirit. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Tascante Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Sciaranuova 2019

Sciaranuova is located between the villages of Montelaguardia and Passopisciaro at 730m and is one of the four contrade (districts) farmed by Tasca on northern Mt. Etna. The terraces of nerello mascalese were planted in 2008 and are generally harvested a week earlier than Piandorio. Less intense, more calming, acids not as sharp and fruit more developed in a Rosso of great stage presence and nurturing feel. Acts with less emotion and more control, delivers the kind of perfume that makes you close your eyes to consider and inhale. Pure wild strawberry and while surely airy and stone-cut there is always something of ease about this wine. Spice in the form of nutmeg and then cinnamon heart give a light white peppery edge but all turns to liquid, seamlessly integrated and finishing long. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted April 2022

Tasca’s Tascante vineyard

Tascante Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Rampante 2019

This third of three Contrade Rosso farmed and bottled by Tasca on Etna is from a vineyard at 740m between Solicchiata and Passopisciaro. Same volcanic geological time period (between 15,000 and 4,000 years old) but a bit of a swing here towards the east, direction Feudo di Mezzo. Some really old vines exist here and Tasca’s are planted in 2000, making them eight to ten years older than Piandario and Sciaranuova. Also picked a bit earlier, stylistic tighter, wound and wrapped, like a rounded Napoleon or mille-feuille with so much to unravel, uncover and discover. Neither blood orange nor strawberry here but rather currants and pomegranate, with underlying botanical tonics and a layer of organza material. Increased curiosity, elevated enigma and mysteries to unfold. Wait longer on Rampante. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Contrada Rampante

 

Tascante Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Sciaranuova 2017

Northwesterly Sciaranuova at 730m is found between the villages of Montelaguardia and Passopisciao. These gently sloping terraces of nerello mascalese went in the volcanic soil in 2008 and harvest usually occurs in the second to last week of October. One nose of 2017 and one understands about vintages and also time. If 2019 Sciaranova feels like a nurturing and health affirming nerello mascalese than 2017 writes the proverbial book on the subject. The warmth of the season is to thank but so is two extra years of settling in bottle time. A fleshing and a reckoning have taken place but so have a refreshing and an awakening. It could be thought that ’17 would not have shown this fragrant, open and vital just a year ago but now, well something of a next level rejoicing has occurred. The ’17 is in a right honest, pure and giving place. It should remain here for three, possibly even five years deeper. All this bodes so well for the most excellent ’19. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Vigneti Vecchio

Vigneti Vecchio Etna Doc Rosso Sciare Vive 2020

From Solicchiata on the northeastern slope and the work of Carmelo Vecchio, mainly nerello mascalese with 10 per cent indigenous varieties (including minnella, inzolia, carricante, grecanico, catarratto and malvasia.) As per the disciplinare there can be up to 10 white grapes and in this living, scorrevole sledding Sciare Vive they bring lift, refreshment and a glide across the palate. Takes a page out of the Crasà book with some meaty juices but here they run rare, show little cured meat character and just bloody enliven the energy and spirit of this wine. There is some sneaky structure lurking but my you could really sip the you know what out of this blessed Rosso. Youthfulness does show through in a minor amount of austerity at the finish so let this ’20 rest a while. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Vigneti Vecchio Etna DOC Rosso Crasà Contrada 2019

Carmelo Vecchio and Rosa La Guzzaone farm one hectare of nerello mascalese in Crasà Contrada near Solicchiata on L’Etna’s north slope. Picked later in October, a wild ferment and a quick two week maceration on skins. Adds up to a stylish and perfumed Rosso, vibrant, pulsating and alive. The aromatics are curiously akin to the tightest lambrusco but with running meat juices, tonic, savour and pinpointed local accuracy. Cured meats too, impulsive and implosive fruit internment, definite block of a Contrada’s location intendment, trenchant in many purposed splendour. This Rosso means business and directs its own traffic. No affection or heirs, only truth out of Crasà effectuation. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Azienda Agricola Sofia

Azienda Agricola Sofia Etna Rosso DOC La Vigna Di Gioacchino 2020

The eponymous north Etna winery is run by Carmelo Sofia, son to Gioacchino who was born in 1953 in Castiglione di Sicilia. Dad had inherited vineyards in Solicchiata where the Piano dei Daini Contrada is located. Carmelo now has three hectares, two on that volcanic soil and one on clay in the Pietramarina Contrada, just outside of the village. This is vintage number four, all nerello mascalese grown at 600-700m. La Vigna di Gioacchino comes from Piano dei Daini and also Pietramarina, averaging out at 25 years, picked middle of October. Short skin contact, aging in concrete and as a result a level of kept freshness, but also the living, breathing feeling of cured meats and musky red fruit skins. No overt or purposeful structure but a true, honest and highly enjoyable Rosso experience. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Azienda Agricola Sofia Etna Rosso DOC La Vigna Di Gioacchino 2019

The 2019 was Carmelo Sofia’s third vintage in bottle, here from the label dedicated to his father Gioacchino and drawn from the two parcels he farms on Etna’s north slope. Both the volcanics of Piano dei Daini and the clay of Pietramarina Contrada contribute but in 2019 they are so entangled, meshed and together. A terrific vintage to match flesh against bone, substance versus karst and meaty depth in tandem with mineral sway. A brighter and more lifted Gioacchino as compared to 2020, sure it’s got another year under belt but here the layers coordinate and open. Ready for business. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Lava Flow of L’Etna eruption, 1981

Azienda Agricola Sofia Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Piano Dei Daini 2020

L’Etna’s north slope is the face of Contrada Piano dei Daini, here being the second vintage for which Carmelo Sofia decided to bottle as a single vineyard Rosso. The block is 65 year-old Alberello nerello mascalese that remains in contact with the skins a half week longer than Gioacchino and again there is no wood, only concrete for aging. Piano dei Daini straddles two worlds like few Etna Rosso can; swarthiness and clarity, lift and precision. Hard not to feel the volatility but it’s just so perfectly judged at the edge of the precipice in teasing, flirting and sly fashion. Whether intentional or nor it matters little because the ability to please both sides of that debate make this a deliciously risky and rewarding nerello mascalese. Confident and obvious, swagger and humility. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Azienda Agricola Sofia Etna Rosso DOC Contrada Piano Dei Daini 2019

The Contrada Piano dei Daini is on L’Etna’s north slope and Carmelo Sofia first made the decision to bottle a single vineyard/commune Rosso from the oldest (65 year-old) Alberello nerello mascalese in the previous ’18 vintage. Stays in contact with the skins a few days longer but again no wood is used, only concrete for aging. This went to bottle in September of 2021 but it still exhibits a reticence and hesitation to lift. The fruit is leathery and you feel a hidden musk pungency, a fruit meets salumi skin so typical of this vineyard and the volcanic strata it breathes upon. Great potential here, a year and a half away it would seem, before the florals, flavours and highlights begin to align and alight. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted April 2022

My friends are so lazy

Azienda Agricola Sofia La Vigna Di Gioacchino 2021, Terre Siciliane Bianco IGT

Carmelo Sofia’s Bianco scents of a singular set of circumstances and aromas, in part taken from 60-70 year-old Alberello carricante with a few percentage points of catarratto, minella and inzolia. Drawn from Piano dei Daini (volcanic) and also Pietramarina (clay) on the northern Etna range, picked late in September and staying in touch with the lees for the full five months in tonneaux. The crème frâiche quality and lemon curd viscosity are not as in charge as first thought with some (four months) of steely stainless extra time making sure to keep freshness and juicy behaviour a clear and present part of the style. Battles the urge to swirl in yogurt and comes away clean, chewy but clean. Seems like a work in progress to a certain extent, four years into its tenure, with great focus and precision to come. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Arrividerci bella Sicilia

Good to go!

godello

Quarantine Passegiata

Twitter: @mgodello

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A visit with Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini

From Casato Prime Donne to the western hills of Montalcino and beyond

Interactions and conversations with Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini over the years have been some of the most pleasurable and heartwarming, but most importantly they have been so very real. Violante’s approach is somewhere between extremely charming and matter of fact, specifically as it pertains to family history, Montalcinese culture and wines being made from two Tuscan estates. Her manner is inclusive and honest, her inherited view of societal matriarchy readily apparent. After all she is the daughter of Donatella Cinelli Colombini, founding mother, goddess and pioneering vigneron of Montalcino.

Godello and Violante

Donatella is the sister of Stefano Cinelli Colombini, proprietor of Fattoria dei Barbi, one of Montalcino’s most important and longest tenured, ancient estates. In 1998 she cast out on her own in the northern sector of Montalcino at the estate of Casato Prime Donne, the first Italian winery staffed entirely by women. In the Orcia Valley sits the second estate called Fattoria del Colle Trequanda. Back in 1998 a cellar master was needed but none were available. That is to say no unemployed men were in search of such a job. This sparked Donatella’s quest. To hire only women, promote equal representation and give life to the Progetto Prime Donne that is made up of four components: Casato Prime Donne winery, Brunello di Montalcino Prime Donne, Casato Prime Donne Award and Prime Donne Trail – Ilda Bartoloni Hall.

In 1998 Donatella Cinelli Colombini created a new estate giving it her name while incorporating two properties into one brand; Casato Prime Donne in Montalcino and Fattoria del Colle Trequanda. In 2001 and 2002 the two wineries were inaugurated and 34 hectares of vineyard were almost entirely replanted. Donatella’s husband Carlo Gardini was born in Siena and in 2010 concluded his banking career in Florence at the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro where he had been in charge of training personnel for the Tuscany, Umbria, Marche and Abruzzo branches. Which brings us to Violante, born in Montalcino in 1984 and graduated in Business and Economics at the University of Florence. After her Masters at OIV (International Organization of Vines and Wine) that took her all around the most famous viticulture areas of the world she now works in the marketing sector of her mother Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s wines. In 2008-2009 she was Tuscan president of the Leo (young Lions). From 2013 to 2019 she was President of the Movimento Turimso del Vino Italiano, from 2016 to 2019 she was Vice President AGIVI (Young Italian Vine and Wine entrepreneurs). In December 2019 she was elected President of AGIVI.

Heart marks the barrel

Sustainability and the Casato Prime Donne Awards

“Many wineries are committed to sustainability but few are capable of communicating it because they make ethical choices out of conviction and not out of marketing.” Donatella is a keen observer of women studying the work of other women, in this case a case project carried out by (Valpolicella’s) Marta Galli of Le Ragose at Milan’s University of the Sacred Heart, together with professors Roberta Sebastiani and Alessia Anzivino. The study in 2021 concluded that for many producers (in this case female producers) showed great respect for the environment and support for local communities, but as a way of living and working, not a marketing tool. Eco-sustainable choices are more widespread than they appear because they are not put in the spotlight. Donatella’s ultimate conclusion? “Choices regarding environmental, social and economic sustainability are part of us, of our way of being and are not dictated by marketing. I like to think that it is a widespread attitude, especially among women.”

Nature and nurture of Casato Prime Donne

After a two year Covid hiatus the 22nd annual Casato Prime Donne Awards were presented to three Italian journalists, given to those who have contributed to the affirmation of the new role and new contribution of women to society and the world of work. “The award has now the new “mission” of incubator of local talents. The goal is to stimulate young Tuscan people, strengthening their motivations, giving training and visibility opportunities so that their success becomes a positive example for their peers.” Chiara Beghelli was chosen for the podcast on “Il Sole 24 Ore” on 23.01.2022 in which she talks about Brunello di Montalcino following the Wine Intelligence investigation. The second recipient was Aldo Fiordelli for numerous articles including “Il Divin Brunello now also has its temple,” published in the newspaper “Corriere Fiorentino” on 10-07-2021. The third winner was Elena Testi, who covered the Covid front, then migrants and then Ukraine for Tagadà La7.

Theatre in the cellar

After a trip to Abruzzo this past June I made my way up to Montalcino for the Rosso Anteprima. Over the last several years I had tasted with Donatella and Violante, hosted Zoom seminars with them on as guests and corresponded with mom and daughter. But I had not visited Casato Prime Donne. Ahead of the opening Red Montalcino evening journalists’ dinner at Il Giglio I had time for one visit. There was zero doubt as to which Montalcino producer that needed to be. Violante obliged and on a breezy June 10th afternoon she fetched me on Via Soccorso Saloni for a few hours afternoon passeggiare at Casato Prime Donne, followed by a tasting of 10 wines.

Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini

Donatella Cinelli Colombini (Fattoria del Colle Trequanda) Sanchimento 2020, Toscana IGT

One hundred per cent traminer planted in the early 1980s down by the chapel in Trequanda by Violante Gardini’s grandfather Fausto Cinelli who received the property of Fattoria del Colle from his mother Lelia Socini. Violante’s mother Donatella has talked about living at Colle, tough at first “but right from the beginning strange things began happening, practically saying welcome, we have been waiting for you for a long time.” After white grapes could no longer be used with sangiovese for Chianti Fausto didn’t like the way his trebbiano made a white table wine. He planted traminer instead, if only as a trial at the beginning. Sanchimento in dialect is a simpler medieval way of saying San Clemente. So very aromatic, even for traminer, a bowl of yellow fruit, notable grape hyperbole and so refreshing. Less metallic and juicier than northern counterparts. Grandfather made a good choice. Made by the same women who make the wines at Donatella Cinelli Colombini under the consultancy of Valeri la Vigna. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June 2022

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Leone Rosso 2019, DOC Orcia

A wine dedicated to the Socini family in a blend of 60 per cent sangiovese and 40 merlot, fermented in stainless steel, aged just a few months in Slavonian oak. From the Fattoria Del Colle Estate at Trequanda in the Orcia Valley right in the middle between Montalcino and Montepulciano. Dark fruit, feels like raspberry, smooth and lightly peppery, juicy and easy. The kind of wine you choose “when you want to have fun,” simple stated and rendered with uncomplicated food, a slice of pizza or a piece of fish in tomato. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Looking east from Casato Prime Donne

Donatella Cinelli Colombini (Fattoria del Colle Trequanda) Il Drago E Le 8 Colombe 2019, Toscana IGT

Dedicated to Violante Gardini’s father Carlo. A blend of 60 per cent sangiovese with (20 each) merlot and sagrantino, all grown at Fattoria del Colle in Treqaunda. The sagrantino are vines taken from Marco Caprai in Umbria. Brings the spiciness, adding to the verdancy and roundness of merlot, both to compliment the acidity and elegance of the sangiovese. A complete package, affectionately referred to as le ali della colomba, the wings of the dove and then, the teeth of the dragon. Perhaps papa was sometimes tough and sometimes gentle but truth is in a sea of women he’s the only man in the office and on the team. Always a solid and delicious red blend, satiating and satisfying. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

The reds of Fattoria del Colle Trequanda

Donatella Cinelli Colombini (Fattoria del Colle Trequanda) Cenerentola 2018, DOC Orcia

Fattoria del Colle was where Sant’Egidio from Querciola made his hermitage, a saint from the XII century about whom very little is known. Livio Socini bought the estate in 1919 because “it was a real bargain.” As a wine from this Trequanda location Cenerentola (meaning Cinderella) was born in 2001, around the same time as the Orcia Consorzio. Her fairytale story is one of winning the prince, who chooses her over her two nasty sisters. The label shows a woman with no face, a pictorial allegory depicting an idea that if you put in all your efforts you can succeed and perhaps also win the prince. The blend is 65 per cent sangiovese and 35 fogliatonda, similar (in DNA only) but surely not the same. A richer, deeper and grippier red as compared with the Leone Rosso, acidity totally different and due to the fogliatonda acting out its passion play as a more beefy, pumped up and macho grape. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June 2022

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020

“We need to explain that this is a wine that is very different than the Brunello and during the harvest we decide which grapes will be for Rosso and for Brunello.” The words of Violante Gardini introduce a wine that respects nature in a very specific vintage, made for freshness, fun and not as a baby Brunello. “Otherwise it will be a disaster. It must have identity, to show this wine in a different way.” The vintage gains importance 2020 because 2020 holds both joy and also grip. It does not try too hard, nor is it asked to do too much. Extraction is low, oak usage big, in botti. Donatella would like the consumer to drink this young but this vintage will do well for a minimum three plus years. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2017

This Brunello is 38,000 bottles while the Prime Donne is only 3,000 and the third Annata (Progetto) is 3,300 (in 2017) to a maximum of 10,000 bottles made from a blind tasting by four women (including two masters of wine, Madelaine Stenwreth and Rosemary George) sampling top quality sangiovese aged in different barrels. This largest quantity Brunello was picked at exact maturation time, requiring 18 pickers and no stopping until the harvest was done. Freshness, aromatic clarity from northern Montalcino and equilibrium are the result. Bigger than many vintages with acidity captured through that haste plus fine, if still somewhat austere tannins. As good as it gets for the vintage in this style. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016

Riserva means “the best of the best, thinking about the future and expressing sangiovese in a wine that will become one for celebration. It must tell the story of a long life, eventually with more things to say.” As if one needed a clarification about a Donatella Riserva and yet these words from daughter Violante place you in a frozen trance, if only until the next wine is poured. Tannins are still in charge but the wine is beginning a new chapter. Look ahead one year for new words in and out of the glass.  Last tasted June 2022

The purest sangiovese of greatest clarity for the Donatella classics is this Riserva, not just because it comes from 2016 but for the very fact that time has had a great effect in resolving the special needs of such a wine. What’s so very special about a Casato Prime Donne Brunello di Montalcino is the complex weave of northerly fruit, swarthy sumptuousness and textural crema. Never more on display then in this Riserva and from this vintage, bright and you can almost sense the smile on the face of this expressive and inviting wine. Also structured with great sneak and sly movement, sure, unlike the others, so beautifully crafted, painted as opposed to sculpted. Timeless. Drink 2024-2033.  Tasted November 2021

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2015

Riserva is a wine “to celebrate the best moments of your life” explains Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini and in this case of more structured vintages you would have to exercise more patience. Those rigid sangiovese will be even better in the future but if you want to taste a superstar Riserva right now you can choose 2015 for such an experience. Just now entering this stage though not without continuing grip and plenty of pop. Boundless energy, warming and with chewy fruit all the way through. Definitely evolving faster than 2016 yet still quite a ways away from 2013. Even so both are in “the zone.” Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2013

Riserva is about times that will come. “Maybe you tell a story today that you will describe differently at another time in your life, or something new or different will become evident in those times.” Now fully entrenched in the secondary tales of its life, still with great pulse and presence. Some dried fruit and baking spice, good tart edges and boundless character.  Last tasted June 2022

Welcome to the Brunello Riserva you may just want to drink right now. From estate vineyards at Casato Prime Donne. The fruit is luscious and as full as ’13 can be, ripe to the max and this from the northern zone. Herbal in an Amaro way, some desiccation to create this red, black and blue sangiovese liqueur. Rich and chewy with a silky mouthfeel and even chewier tannins. Not particularly grippy or tannic by demand, it flows and apportions full circle, ode to the earth, all in and blood orange bright. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2019

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino “Io Sono Donatella” DOCG 2015

The first vintage of Io Sono Donatella was 2010, as a response to journalist comments on wines that were “different.” And so Donatella decided to say this is what I am and who I am. It remembers studying gold and enamels from the Middle Ages. Also made in 2012, 2013 and 2016. This ’15 is the current vintage made from only barrel. This is Brunello and not a Riserva, aged no more than 26 months and finished in cement eggs. The best expression of what Donatella likes and wants, from the vineyard, but then the women place hearts on the barrels to signify which she is to choose from. The most concentration but even more important is this tightly wound spool of acid and tannin making for the most profound barrel expression of Donatella’s Brunelli. Certainly more power and longevity here as compared to the other ‘15s. Wait two years. Drink 2024-2033.  Tasted June 2022

Good to go!

godello

From Casato Prime Donne to the western hills of Montalcino and beyond

Twitter: @mgodello

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What comes next for the wines of South Africa?

A deep dive into the wine regions of the Western Cape, chenin blanc, and a Buyers’ Guide to South African wines

This feature was commissioned by Wines of South Africa, as seen on WineAlign

 

Several years back I commented that “the act of intense immersion into any important wine-producing nation and its diverse regional expressions can only leave a lasting impression if the follow-up takes a long, cool sip of its meaning.”

That was just the beginning of what I hoped to be a life-lasting fascination with South African wine and, seven years later, I can safely say the journey is going very well, if still only in the early stages of deep understanding. Just about exactly two months from today I will return to the Western Cape to rekindle, reconnect and extend my relationship with South African winemakers and their fascinating wines. Curiosity, anticipation and excitement have never been greater and so the questions is worth asking: What comes next for the wines of South Africa? At current the only answer forthcoming is how Cape Wine 2022 will be the most lekker experience of the year.

In all their combined iterations, the wines of South Africa are exciting communicators of heritage, history, emotions and declarative attacks. Collectively they spread with ripples like a large rock dropped into a pool of water. They are the beneficiary of effects created by two oceans and the great ancient, preeminent, decomposed and weathered soils found anywhere on this planet. Maturity is breathed into every phrase these wines are wont to play.

Growing regions of the Western Cape

South Africa is a medium-sized country that would fit into Canada eight times. It has a diverse population of 58 million people and is affectionately known as the ‘Rainbow Nation,’ a phrase aptly coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Wine growing is limited to the southwestern region of South Africa, in the Western Cape Province, which is an area roughly the size of Greece. South Africa has been making wine for more than 360 years. The first grapes were pressed in 1659. The wines reflect the best of the old and the new; they present fruit-forward styles with elegance and finesse. The South African wine industry is one of the most technically advanced in the world of wine. There is an extremely rigorous Wine of Origin Certification Scheme, introduced in 1973, which guarantees that the wine is what it is designated or described. Each bottle carries a certification seal to guarantee that the claims regarding vintage, variety and origin on the packaging are true. South Africa has more certified Fairtrade wines than any other country. That is to say their products “guarantee a minimum price to cover the costs of sustainable production, as well as a premium to invest in social and economic initiatives in their communities.”

There are five officially demarcated regions of production — they are delineated based on the massive variations in soil, climate and location. The regions are: Breede River Valley, Coastal, Klein Karoo, Olifants River and Boberg. There is a commitment to environmentally sustainable wine production and wines can be certified by Sustainable Wine South Africa, which is part of the Wine and Spirit Board. The designation refers to grapes which are produced in harmony with nature, which allows vineyards to flourish alongside their natural habitat. The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is a unique partnership between conservation bodies and the wine industry.

Cape Floral Kingdom – A World Heritage Site

More than 95 percent of the wine is produced in the Cape Floral Kingdom, where there are more than 10,000 indigenous plant species, more than reside in the entire Northern Hemisphere. This Kingdom has been created by a diversity of soils, produced from granite, sandstone and shale; as well as a diversity of climates and geography. This, in turn, has created a treasure trove of winemaking possibilities. As a result, South African wines have a huge array of flavour and aroma profiles, which lead to wines with intriguing character and drinkability.

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While so many grape varieties take hold with utmost promise in the Western Cape, there is but one that persists, unwavering and timeless. Yes, it is true that grape varieties such as grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others are apt at aligning with covenant to their old vine sources but there can be little argument against chenin blanc residing at the top of that list, Chenin is the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude and focus as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, and can perform well in warm and dry conditions. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc.

Stellenbosch vines and heritage vines planted in the 1970s and before are now performing at their best. Johan Reyneke speaks of the illness that had been running through South African soils and how he sought to build immunity and disease resistance through a holistic farming approach. Things did not transform overnight, so fathers and neighbours may have doubted the long, arduous and yet understood process. But it is that organic and sustainable approach for which today’s health and prosperity can be thanked. When it comes to searching for chenin blanc plant material, vineyard sourcing can be quite broad, of multifarious soil types and elevations, 40 to 50 year blocks on average, sometimes also including old vine sémillon. The distance from the first to the last vineyard in a chenin blanc cuvée might be 200 kilometres or more but, when brought together well, magic often happens.

Windy places help in so many respects, allowing a larger canopy to remain in place and exaggerate the dappling effect which chenin blanc so dearly loves. Reyneke’s is South Africa’s oldest Demeter-certified biodynamic winery, with vineyards on the top of an ancient granite mound and on less weathered soils lower in the valley floors. The vine struggle is real, a positive one for the wines and ultimately for wine lovers. Granite soils further up the Stellenbosch hills are less colluvial, really old and weathered, predating microbial life. The vines produce lower yields and the weathered earth gives life to chenin blanc. For Mullineux Wines and a Cape chenin blanc assemblage, it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc may be bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do so in the southern hemisphere, where harvest happens in the first quarter months. The reasons are simple. Intense investigations through schist, granite and old vines floats the boat and raises the bar for more professional and accessible chenin blanc cuvées. With older heritage vines involved, as is the case for Chris and Suzaan Alheit, the concentration and density of the vines is inherent. The use of heritage material is the South African version of Atticism; that is a return to classical methods and rhythms in making really old chenin, but also the likes of sémillon.

Chardonnay vineyards in Robertson

Cap Classique

One of the sparkling wine world’s most important and impressive categories in origin is no longer called Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), but now Cap Classique. This South African term indicates a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. As it stands, Cap Classique must age on the lees for a minimum 12 months to be labelled as such, though this number will surely extend once the realization sets in that more is better. Cap Classique produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. In Champagne the annual production is somewhere in the vicinity of 350 million bottles so compare this to South Africa where a fraction of that amount is released to the tune of seven or eight million. Méthode Cap Classique bottles are made by 100-odd producers, 73 of which are listed on the website for the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), an organization established in 1992. The name was derived from the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced at the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle).

It’s also very much a wine about terroir. In Stellenbosch the sparkling is often made from early picked, old vines chenin blanc grown on Duplex soils, colluvial decomposed granite overlapping gravelly clay. Ask Ken Forrester and he will tell you the gravels allow for good draining and the clays deliver a time release of water. All this helps during drought and the restriction of water creates texture on the palate. There are pioneers like Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira who are attacking with Brut Zero style “based on the philosophy of grower’s Champagne.” For others, like For Christa Von La Chevallerie, it’s a matter of “how far I can go with [the combination of] chenin and lees.”

“We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum time on lees should be raised to 15 months. As for sugar dosage, he’s like a cook in the kitchen. “Dosage is like seasoning. If you do it properly you don’t taste it.” Ferreira has put in the time and the research over 20-plus years to really understand the category but, more importantly, the potential. “You are always looking to express terroir,” he says. As for Gerber, he will say “sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” “For Brut we have to extend [the lees aging time] to 60 months,” explains Ferreira. “So there is no lipstick or eye shadow. ”For a deeper dive into Cap Classique please read my article post Cape Wine 2018.

Bot Rivier 

Bot Rivier lies southeast of Cape Town, sandwiched from south to north between Hermanus and Stellenbosch. “From the top of the Houw Hoek Pass, one gets the first glimpse of the vast, rolling hills and big sky of the Bot River area, where real people make real wine.” This is the credo of the family of wineries that farm and produce in the area. There are 12 members of the wine-growing association, all within a 10 kilometre radius of one another. Here chenin blanc might be crafted with just a hint of residual sugar (at just above 5 g/L), to balance the effects of a long, slow, ocean-proximate Bot Rivier growing season.

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

Elgin

There is so much diversity in the Capelands. There are rock n’ roll stars in the Swartland, R & B, soul & Motown in Stellenbosch, Jazz in Elgin, Classical music wherever you want to hear it. But what there is everywhere is flow. Reggae flow, soulful Stevie Wonder flow, hip-hop flow, Stan Getz, Ahmad Jamal, Dexter Gordon flow. Elgin also has layering, in riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. The wines glide with cool climate ease of ability, with an unconscious penning of notes coming from a place that was always there from the beginning, with a creativity that comes out of effortless style.

Elgin’s Paul Cluver seems to be the first to label his chardonnay with the Bourgogne “Villages” idea. This tells us much about what we need to know — that Elgin vineyards are the fruit source if not site specific or singularly focused. But he also finds precision with his Seven Flags and Close Encounter wines. The wines of Thelema (and Sutherland) do the same, curating classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure.

The Helderberg, Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch in undoubtedly South Africa’s most well-known region and home to the eponymous town that is the country’s second-oldest town. It sits a mere 50 kilometres southeast of Cape Town, capital of the Western Cape. Stellenbosch is the lushest of the Cape’s valleys, home to more than 200 wine producers and surrounded by the Drakenstein and Stellenbosch mountains. False Bay acts as the mitigator of this Mediterranean climate, creating ideal wine-growing conditions where just about any sort of grape variety can achieve ripeness. The reds of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz predominate on the granite-based soils farther west, while chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc thrive in the sandstone soils of the east.

Swartland Independents

Swartland

The Swartland is Afrikaans for “Black Land,” so named because of the dark grey endemic renosterbos (rhinoceros bush) that covers the landscape and turns black after the rains. The region of the Western Cape begins some 50 kms north of Cape Town and consists of the area between the towns of Malmesbury to the south, Darling in the west and Piketberg in the north. Home to the Cape’s greatest of wine revolutions, followed by a swinging era — and what comes next is anybody’s guess. What we do know is that the Swartland’s decomposed shales and granites provide some of the most existential and powerful growing sites in all of South Africa.

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Franschhoek, South Africa

Buyers’ Guide to Wines of South Africa

Over the past two months there have been several opportunities to taste a wide range of wines from South Africa. Andrea Mullineux came through Toronto to give a seminar on chenin blanc, VINTAGES has seen releases with a dozen various examples and the WineAlign team recently tasted a box of stunning values. Just last week I taught a seminar on South Africa and poured five seminal wines. Here is a Buyers’ Guide that includes chenin blanc, Cap Classique, Bot Rivier, Elgin, Stellenbosch, Swartland and the Western Cape.

Western Cape

Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Hard to knock the consistency but even more so the varietal representation and transparency of this perennial steal of a chenin blanc. Fruit that sings, bones that stand upright and just textural enough to make you feel like chenin can do no wrong.

Spier Signature Chardonnay 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – Labeled as Western Cape though kind of essentially Stellenbsoch from Spier in a chardonnay of green apple, dried herbs and lime. A hint of reduction and then bitters and while not fleshy this is surely satisfying.

Franschhoek Cellar Statue De Femme Sauvignon Blanc 2020, W.O. Western Cape
$16.99, Perigon Beverage Group
Michael Godel – Franschhoek does sauvignon very well, not as cool as say Elgin but surely (on average) more complex than Stellenbosch. Note the elongated phenols and terpenes in this most stimulating and succulent sauvignon blanc. Steal of a deal.

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bush Vines 2019, W.O. Western Cape
$59.95, Groupe Soleil
Michael Godel –  Soil excellency layers in oscillations, waves and variegation in one of South Africa’s most curious to crafty blends in which chenin blanc is the focus to the core. You feel the sémillon, indeed you do because it streaks through the chenin, but not as a sprinter or a shooting star. Cartology is a correlated, traced and tabulated white blend that stands up to be counted.

Fairview Goats Do Roam Red 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$14.00, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Rhône blend based on syrah and the stylistic departure from the past to be über rich and dark is now more a matter of bright and effusive. Black fruit is now red, tar and tension given way to open and generous. Loving the modern acids, clarity, purity and simplicity.

Bot Rivier 

Beaumont Wines Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Bot Rivier
$29.95, The Small Winemakers Collection
Michael Godel – Hard to conceive and thus receive more aridity on the aromatics, surely flinty, part gun and part struck granite stone. Stretches this chenin blanc like the pull of elastics or fior di latte. Also herbal, sweetly so, with a chanterelle apricot note in the freshest of fungi specimens. Acids take over, spit and shine over this wise and elongated wine.

Elgin

Paul Cluver Village Elgin Chardonnay 2020, W.O. Elgin
$25.00, Buyers + Cellars Wine Purveyors
Michael Godel – Taut and tight, nicely reductive, orchard fruit focused with some bite and then a little bit of barrel smoulder. Not a smoky or toasty chardonnay but a balanced one with plenty of local, savour, savoir faire and flavour.

Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Sparklehorse Cap Classique 2018, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel –  This may just be Ken’s most phenolic sparkling wine to date, emitting as a combination of blanched nuts and precious metals. Spent eight months in fermentation followed by 28 further on lees, in bottle. Creates orchard fruit flavours and textures while acidity retention keeps the groove and the balance.

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – There is a feeling of warmth in Radford Dale’s 2020, not boozy per se yet the feeling is like cold sake going down. Then it’s all roundness and creamy fruit, ease and utter culpability.

Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Johan Reyneke’s chenin blanc is his and his alone, of South Africa’s first biodynamic winery and a level of say it as it is passion that can’t be touched. More like do as I do and Reyneke’s takes no liberties, asks no favours, gives and gives again. Spices and textural meanderings are concentrated and greater. An exotic notion as well, like ripe longan fruit and then a compound flavour profile going on forever.

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$49.00, Family Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – A barrel fermented style that shows in a flinty, caramel and pineapple way, part Burgundy plus California yet all South Africa. Heeds the Reserve moniker well with buttery brioche richness and full sun gathered consciousness. This one is all in with an effect to invite a wide ranging if specific consumer response.

Boschendal 1685 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Big, dark, brooding, as much about place as it is about grape variety.What’s special is the equally grippy and forceful fruit, exaggerated because the acidity is like a reduction of black currant syrup. Sharp and soil rich this is a serious mouthful of cabernet, firm, tannic and in charge. Roasted herbs and grilled vegetable notes, and a ferric-sanguine quality that brings the BBQ braai to mind.

Warwick Professor Black Pitch Black 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, NAVBEV INC
Michael Godel – Six grapes get together in Pitch Black, mostly made with cabernets with (13 per cent) cinsault, (10) merlot and then bits of malbec and petit verdot. Inky in feel if not pitch, tarry by natural nature if not by hue and also more Rhône meatiness then Bordeaux savour. A big, ferric and hematic example with strong bones and flesh all over.

Jordan Jardin The Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$30.00, Kolonaki Group
Michael Godel – Straight faced and matter of fact, all things being true in a cabernet sauvignon that reeks of variety and subtlety in spite of the violence required to excavate and plant a vineyard. Don’t sleep on the tension and the structure in a wine of meaning, profound as it gets for Stellenbosch.

Aslina By Ntskiki Biyela Umsasane 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$35.00, Gradwell Wine Agency
Michael Godel – Ntsiki Biyela is officially recognized as South Africa’s first black female winemaker and the meaning in her Bordeaux styled Umsasane blend is local vernacular for the umbrella acacia tree. The brand is called Aslina, tribute to Ntsiki’s grandmother and one can feel the love in this richly styled, boozy in relative balance blend.

Swartland

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Swartland
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – Essentially chenin blanc and an example that pulls the full blessings and richness of the sun into a generous and gracious wine. Kloof Street is chenin blanc of feel, touch and “tekstuur.” The old vines concentration and density is inherent, the “frâiche, agréable and couvert de rosée” all over the palate with license and privilege.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2018, W.O. Swartland
$57.99, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – The adage bears repeating as recited by Adi Badenhorst. “Fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” in a jazz mixtronic blend of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Yet another paradigm shift in Cape white appellative white blends that seduces with its steely veneer, vine experience and turbulent soul to deliver in every way imaginable.

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2019, W.O. Swartland
$79.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – All barrel fermented in only neutral oak, full malo and with the intention to truly experience and taste chenin blanc grown on granite soils. A wine kickstarted by natural stabilization, equally expressive of tart acidity and freshness, fully reasoned by sunshine yet also seasoned with effortless and variegate ease.  Such an experienced and robust wine without solicitation, nor swagger neither. The ability, presence and precision are tops. There’s no question.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2021, W.O. Swartland
$16.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Unmistakable syrah from the Boekenhoutskloof clan, always the meatiest and meat fats dripping example for the price. That and a profile more Swartland than what comes from say Stellenbosch syrah.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Always tasting Italian wines, doin’ allright

Toscana

Back in the summer of 1987 I attended the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia. This was considered “the benchmark year for Umbria Jazz in terms of the Festival’s appeal, its quality, its ability to combine popularity with exclusivity, with mass concerts in the football stadium and the fantastic evenings inside St. Francis’ church.” The memories of that July 16th to 18th weekend are strong, persistently vivid and what happened there was clearly transformational in my life. Sting had played the weekend previous and though my crew could not stay long enough to see Miles Davis on Sunday the 18th still there were grand moments indelibly stamped upon our lives. Walking the Piazza IV Novembre up to Nicola and Giovanni Pisano’s Fontana Maggiore, drinking in the cafés, Sly and Robbie sitting at the next table. But the highlight happened at the Stadio Renato Curi where Dexter Gordon blew his horn and our minds. The saxophonist was fresh off of a revivalist’s record and hit movie. He was Doin’ Allright, as were we.

 

Jazz and wine. Two inextricably linked subjects and emotions in the summer of 1987. Now 35 years later I’m listening to Gordon’s seminal record and tasting wine. Time spent Far Niente. Tasting Italian wines from a wide ranging group of producers while paraphrasing from thoughts about the music of the OG big man, with no disrespect intended to Clarence Clemons. Dexter’s life and this group of wines are representative of that kind of size. Their rhythm section plays for the grape, seeming to sense what it wants, following the varietal lead and never falling out of balance. Full toned manner of wines, loping in medium tempo, solos unhurried, logical, warming and full of Italian melodies.

Umbria, July 1987

There are white wines that play beautifully and pensively while others pick up the mood by spinning out solos, staying texturally relaxed and thoughtful, ending with some perfumed chords. There are short bits and interludes but ultimately the way these wines handle their ballads is an indication of their length and depth. They know what it’s all about. The reds are at times wines of catchy and contrasting themes but they truly know how to build a solo. In today’s warming climate they climb up in temperature, chorus after chorus, until finally they satisfy at their apex. There are moments when the reds seem to be skipping and marching, alternating between funky riffs, leaping rhythmic figures and brightly lit burning flames of fruit and acidities. They build more slowly to climax while expanding in tones and for longer periods of time. There are chordal explorations in reds, blacks and of course blues. What connects them all is underlying substance in waves and weaves throughout each ensemble. Tasted consecutively or together theses wines all prove to be mutually significant. Thank you to Ira Gitler for the inspirational notes, to Stefania Tacconi and the prodcuers for sharing their wines.

Inama Vin Soave Classico DOC 2020, Veneto

Anything but entry-level from the grape garganega once known as Graecanicum grown in the basaltic lava, volcanic tuffs and orizzonti rossi. About as correct and defining as it gets for Soave, yellow and green floral, fruit recall more of the same and then the volcanic rock alterations that give the mineral-salty feel. While there might be a wish for a little bit more complexity and grape spirit there is some gelid to viscous texture in this 2020. In any case Inama’s is well made, educational and right on the varietal money. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Abrigo Giovanni Favorita DOC 2020, Piedmont

As for white wines from Italy’s northern climes there are those that speak to many and then there is the “favorita” of others, the varietal Piedmontese white for the dreamers and the romantics. This from Abrigo out of Diano d’Alba avoids the bitters, pith and boozy thiol moments to instead capture all the white flowers and more. The scents are fruity over metallic and clean instead of waxy. There is precision and most importantly a toothsome grace over the palate that brings you back for more and more. A picnic in the hills, a chilled glass after the day’s movement and the scent of dusk. That is favorita when it’s right. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Terra Costantino Etna Bianco DOC Deaetna 2019, Sicily

Terra Costantino’s is from Contrada Blandano in the Comune Viagrande, on soils sabbie di matrice vulcanica, a blend of carricante and catarratto, three to one, at 500m, part bush vine and part spurred cordon. Were the flinty smoulder the only beautiful thing going for this Etna Bianco it might almost be enough but the gelid and sweetly ripened fruit takes every moment to a higher caste and level. The thought of these wines being honeyed is not all that common and yet he we are, aromatically speaking, lemon meringue and curd, angel food cake, with the barrel impart knowable in vanilla and light caramel terms. A metallic feel as well, pure platinum gold, texture and some age already put behind. Not so typical but curious and highly enjoyable nonetheless. A drink now chardonnay or chenin blanc alternative that will begin to oxidize in a couple of years time. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted May 2022

Poggio Argentiera Morellino Di Scansano DOCG Bellamarsilia 2020, Tuscany

High-toned in 2020 with a marked level of volatile acidity and good if not maximum ripeness from sangiovese grown either in a (relatively) cooler year near the (Maremma) Tuscan coast. It would seem the winemaker is also looking for restraint and maintaining positive acidity because at this low level (13.5 per cent) of alcohol the resinous and stemmy nature of sangiovese is duly noted, if also accentuated. Texture is a bit chalky, almost grainy and the tannins throw a touch of green. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted May 2022

Usiglian Del Vescovo Il Barbiglione 2015, Terre Di Pisa DOC, Tuscany

From estate grapes in the Pisa DOC and from a winery also producing wines both coastal and in Chianti appellations. Centred around syrah with small percentages of cabernet grown in greyish, dry, shallow, sandy soil with some clay, lime and fossils. A bright, currants and other red fruit syrah with notable tang and wood resins. A touch pectin sappy while satisfying and complete. Held back to tame its wild side and drink upon purchase. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June 2022

La Regola 2018, Toscana Rosso IGT

A place of Etruscan origin just five kms from the Tyrrhenian Sea at Riparbella in the Cecina Valley. The vineyard lays within the Montescudaio DOC at 150-200m with soils described as Mediterranean with an abundance of stones. La Regola’s (the rule) is varietal cabernet franc, abundant, heady and as compared to the blended reds, so unfettered and uncluttered. The varietal purity is expressly coastal, of saltiness, algae, seaweed, tar and fruit so much more than a plenty. This is truly a stylistic and a place that makes wines just like this here screaming with clarity and truth. There seems to be little doubt that cabernet franc fits, unlike sangiovese, syrah or cabernet sauvignon. Franc is the signature red and 2018 announces its success. The structure, unimpeded drive and length confirm the pronouncement. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted June 2022

Boscarelli Vino Nobile De Montepulciano DOCG 2019, Tuscany

Boscarelli is a name to conjure with, a producer from Montepulciano as direct and exciting as a communicator of sangiovese emotion as any, consistently declarative in attack. Case in point this 2019 though with the added advantage of a most generous and unselfish vintage. Fruit comes from estate vineyards in the parish or pieve of Cervognano, one of 12 newly minted UGAs, a.k.a. unità geografiche aggiuntive. These additional mentions for the overall appellation give us the consumer a more pinpointed sense of place and in Boscarelli’s world the vines were planted in the late 1990s. Depth burrows in an endless seeking of mineral wealth while highlights rise unencumbered, defying gravity and setting this local sangiovese free. When sangiovese does both it’s a bit of a revelation and in Montepulciano the truth is not always easy to come by. The wines can make you work for your pleasure and this 2019 gifts it freely. Drink now and for the next 10 years. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted May 2022

Il Bocale Montefalco Rosso DOC 2018, Umbria

The Umbrian work of i famiglia Valentini based around sangiovese accented by the local sagrantino, then merlot and colorino. Unequivocally balanced if not quite the increasingly generous vintage that will follow in 2019. The succulence and juiciness of the Montefalco Rosso appellation is captured with precise and succinct advantage and done so without any due stress or adversity. The fruit spreads with ripples into fine acidity and supple tannins like a large rock dropped into a pool of water. The rock disappears but the fluidity and gentle set of wakes linger on, ever so slowly decreasing their size and intensity. Bocale’s ’18 is an effortless Rosso, aromatic, flavourful and elastic. This is just what a top producer knows how to do. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Il Bocale Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2016, Umbria

From the Valentini family dating back to 2002 and a varietal sagrantino of the highest selection. “Bocale is the dialect word that indicates the two litre mug of wine or oil, but, above all, the name with which this family from Montefalco has always been identified.” From the most democratic of Montefalco vintages, long, studious and just, indeed a wine giusto e completo, time having settled the once formidable tannin and connecting the early unconnected parts. A wholly unique profile, indicative of tar, dark chocolate and espresso yet subtly so, with an allowance of many complexities to join the parade. Quite special in so many regards. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Il Palio, Siena, July 1987

Riecine Chianti Classico DOCG 2019, Tuscany

Grande Gaiole compass, cinch and girth in naturally swarthy sangiovese from Riecine in 2019, crunchy and tart. Inching up towards the volatile but such is the word in pace for the vintage. The fruit can handle the stark reality and veritable truth, equipped with grip and ready for the inevitable circumstance. Maybe wait a year for further resolution. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted February 2022

Villa Di Capezzana Carmignano DOCG 2017, Tuscany

Consistently presents with an evolved aromatic tendency as it breathes maturity into every phrase it plays. The jazzy mix of violet, spice cupboard and freshly baked earthenware speaks in open and knowable truth for a wine so upwardly representative of a DOCG with roots dating back to 1716. That is when Cosimo III de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany granted exclusive status to Carmignano at the same time he did so for the Classico territory of Chianti. Was not the easiest vintage to deal with and yet this is one of the Tuscan stars what with the piquant yet elastic spice condition rolling off of the palate with sage, fresh tobacco, finnocchi and tartufo. Deals with 14.5 per cent alcohol without adversity while modelling symbiosis between sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon. Hard to do much better with the aridity and warmth, breathe life and plan for five-plus more years of pleasure. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Azienda Agricola Reassi Sparviere 2018, Colli Euganei Cabernet DOC, Veneto

Reassi’s two-thirds cabernet sauvignon and one-third cabernet franc comes from the Padova area in the Veneto, famously home to some of Giotto’s most profound and important 13th/14th century frescoes housed in the Cappella degli Scrovegni. The estate’s 1997 planted wines are located in the zone of Carbonara di Rovolon, harvested near the end of September and only 3,500 bottles are produced. This is a cheeky cabernet at the lead for the Colli Euganei DOC, full of sweet tar and tobacco, petrol in cars, wood resins, fruit from pods that grown on trees and really quite bright in disposition. How can you not adore the vitality and low alcohol proposition (12.5 per cent) plus this genteel pectin and glycerol feel. “Oh, it’s magic, Uh oh, it’s magic. Just a little magic, you know it’s true.” Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted May 2022

Abrigo Giovanni Barbera d’Alba DOC Marminela 2019, Piedmont

At the DOC Barbera level it would be hard to find another example so open, forthright, up front, bright, getable and delicious than this Marminela by Abrigo. Classic interpretation indeed yet without rustic strings tethering it to the past, instead expressive of a freedom to explore. Here barbera throws aside traditions in a spirit of experimentation. This is a blend of grapes from two vineyards in the municipalities of Grinzane Cavour and Diano d’Alba and aging takes place for nine months in concrete vats. Freshness is dutifully captured, preserved and the barbera perseveres. Will drink this way for two, maybe even three full years ahead. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Rocche dei Frisu is Abrigo’s top end, purest expression of barbera, from vineyards in Diano d’Alba and also nearby. The sites range in elevation between 230-360m, on clay-based soils mixed with sand and limestone, depending on the block. The name could mean “cones of frieze” in the literal sense but probably a name given to a hill of natural architecture that when looked at from afar there would be some sort of illusory effect. As in art, whereby a trompe l’oeuil or trick of the eye is created by a broad horizontal band of sculpted or painted decoration. In any case the barbera in this bottle does the exact opposite with its openly blatant and striking set of ripe fruit, varietal acidity and full throttle potency. Not shy to be sure, nor heavy neither but there is power contained within this bottle. Even after nearly four years the Frisu does not relent and as a member of the Alba Superiore fraternity the representation is bang on. Plenty of stuffing will see this through to the end of this decade. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted May 2022

Abrigo Giovanni Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC 2019, Piedmont

Marked valuation in animal musk through the masculine scent of Abrigo’s nebbiolo from Diano d’Alba, a parochial example equally rich in classic DOC notes. Only the nebbiolo from Alba’s territory smells and tastes like this, accentuated by wood with spice infiltration inside and out. The animal magnetism is captivating, as much as the barrel accents are condiments to the fruit and earth that fill up this nebbiolo. Quite tight for 2019, needing some time, acids equally taut and being open three days helped immensely. Be patient with this Alba, it will reward those who are. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted June 2022

Abrigo Giovanni Barolo DOCG Ravera 2017, Piedmont

Diano d’Alba producer of a Barolo in the municipality/cru/MGA of Novello. Meets the specs of Tortonian soil, laminated Sant’Agata fossil marl, in other words calcareous clay, deeply entrenched, at 400m, vine age ranging 20 to 35 years. Fifty per cent is treated to long skin maceration i.e. cappello sommerso and despite the aridity and heat of 2017 there is freshness captured in Abrigo’s Ravera. Luminous and immediately spicy, a piquancy of pure nebbiolo spiked by time, vintage and lastly barrel. Amazingly persistent Barolo, full, substantial and in charge. Must give this three more years to integrate and allow us to grow as tasters, eventually to be ready and willing to enjoy this wine. Drink 2025-2032.  Tasted June 2022

Tenuta Di Pietrafusa Villa Matilde Avallone Fusonero 2015, Taurasi DOCG, Campania

Varietal aglianico from the Taurasi DOCG and a producer that also fashions top quality wines at IGT Campania prices coming in at under $20 CDN. This top drop comes from the production zone of Montemarano e Paternopoli off of vines planted in 1968 and 1985. The first commercial vintage was 2004 and so here in the 12th iteration is a most generous vintage from which the best of all worlds is accessed. The world of aglianico is reached earlier than that which hesitantly emerges out of some hard, at times sufferable and surely tannic vintages. Here the fruit is nearly up front, artistically open and and even playing with musical swagger. There is room for all the aglianico because they provide the opportunity to enjoy the standards, originals and forward thinking examples. Fusonero is a delightful combination of all three and for that we are grateful. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted June 2022

Good to go!

godello

Tuscany

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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The five estates of Planeta earth

Welcome to Planeta Earth

The question often asked, if you could go back in time and meet just one person, who would it be? Shakespeare, Golda Meir, Beethoven, Anne Frank, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, Galileo, Marie Curie, Einstein, or maybe Gandhi? In the winemaking world there would be many great men and women to consider but this current fascination with Sicilia leads to the name Diego Planeta. Pioneer, visionary and a man who considered the entire island an agricultural playground where anything was possible. The Planeta family has Spanish origins and roots dating back five hundred years. Diego Planeta was the former president of the Settesoli Cooperative and founder of Planeta winery. His passing in 2020 left an irreplaceable hole but 15 cousins, including Alessio, Francesca and Santi Planeta are the beneficiaries of their uncle’s plans and legacy. Five family members run the day-to day operation and more than 200 vinicultural, viticultural, administrative and marketing artisans share in the collective vision. Today they work, farm sustainably and reap the benefits of five distinct estates but more than that they bring the fruits of these locations to the world. No other producer in Sicilia does this, not with the scope and breadth they do. This is the story of the five Sicilian estates of Planeta earth.

Godello, L’Etna

Related – Planeta’s Sicily

Un percorso non casuale, fortemente legato alla diversità dei paesaggi, dei venti, del carattere degli uomini e quindi dei loro vini. Not an accidental journey but one inextricably linked to the diversity of five landscapes, in soil, wind, climate and the relationship between the custodians and the wines they shepherd. Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, L’Etna and Capo Milazzo. No two are the same and all five contribute to the fabric of Planeta’s extant association and alliance with Sicilia. The Planeta family and head winemaker Patricia Tóth abide by their surroundings, as do the agriculturalists, guardians and caretakers, of olive groves, orchards, hinterlands and plantations. The pentamerous grouping of estates in all its micro and collective diversity is at once staggering to consider and then a thing of sensory overload. Taking in one at a time and appreciating the profundity of each place is the key to understanding. In March of 2022 I had the honour and pleasure to visit two properties and were it not for Covid-19 and later in June travel misteps I would have seen a third, quite possibly a fourth and perhaps even all five. As it is my personal and professional life have become enriched in ways that could never have been imagined.

Menfi Coast

Only came outside to watch the nightfall with the rain. I heard you making patterns rhyme

Not to be overlooked is above all else, Planeta’s production of IGP olive oil. Their’s is a painstaking process to achieve uncompromising quality borne of the trees in a landscape destined to deliver greatness. The fields of hospitality and cultural ventures integrate into their viticultural activities, all purposed to enliven the Sicilian experience. Sustainability without exception,  respect for the land and wineries completely integrated within the landscape are the values which guide the company’s activities. Winemaker Patricia Tóth was born in Hungary and received a degree in 2004 at the University of Corvinus in Budapest in Food Science specializing in wine, beer and spirits. Tóth worked at Le Vigne di Zamò Friuli, Bava in Piemonte and Vylyan in Hungary. She began her 17 year Planeta run in 2005 at Noto, then in Vittoria, later managing the setup of the estate in Capo Milazzo and on L’Etna. She now splits her time at 900m above sea level on the volcano’s north face and also nearest the beating heart control centre of operations in Menfi.

Related – All the wines of Sicily

Baglio di Ulmo

In Menfi the variety of terroir is infinite and to walk the phrygana is to stop time. The fauna ignites in the olive oil and the wines from Ulmo in a variety of styles and varietal personalities as sundry as the numbers of women and men who create them. They can be fast or slow, rich or discreet, loud or soft, hard or tender, loving or intense. They can be so packed full of notes it may feel like life speeded up. They can also be calming and interpretive. They can be anything at all.

L’Etna eruption, 1981

On L’Etna space and melody, in particular aboard the volcano’s north face (versante nord) there is a use of space so artful it enables the melodies of the original lines in the wines. Though Planeta (and so many others) use improvisations and embellishments, they do so in order to integrate the leading voice to grow together with the supporting cast. The main declarations of nerello mascalese and carricante are joined by nerello cappuccio, catarratto and grecanico, all evolving together organically, swelling and retreating as the complete pulse of the wines, the inner pulse guiding the creativity itself, as it is dictated.

The inimitable human and paradigmatic winemaker Patricia Tóth

In Vittoria, Noto and Capo Milazzo the path indicated is that of quiet intensity, of melodies so phrased that the rhythm and the space together build wines of strong driving forces. Their collective agency is power achieved without volume, tension without distortion. Some wines grab you and drive everything else from your mind. They seduce, softly engage your whole attention and lure you into the grooves they are travelling. All this without you being aware, of what is happening until it has already happened.

This is planet earth you’re looking at planet earth
Bop bop bop bop bop bop bop bop this is planet earth

Alessio Planeta

Related – Sicily in review

Paraphrasing from something Alessio Planeta said back in 2018, Planeta looks to connect the island by the phrase stato stazione delle una perfetta, meaning the union is currently situated in a perfect state, working together for the common good. Alessio and his family’s rich set of wine-producing circumstances, whether it be the individual refrains of each estate or the collaborative effect of the group, is a constantly growing and changing undertaking but never with the kind of urgency implied in some other producers’ body of work. Planeta’s is more than methodical, it is meditative, contemplative and organic. Calculated? Of course but with the future in mind and the greater good always considered. Leadership incarnate, always hospitable and most importantly positive. When I fell ill with Covid whilst visiting with Alessio and Patricia I felt safe and set up for recovery. I can never thank them enough, for their humanity and support.

Meet next gen Planeta custodian and burgeoning chef, Costante Planeta

Here are the 45 Planeta wines tasted in late March and early April in a cross-section of a portfolio interconnected and jointly illustrative of five estates. Their quality is what makes it so satisfying to taste, assess, compose, edit and finally publish the results. Working through these wines, like listening to the albums of a band’s tenure, or sitting in a club while they play their songs, well this makes for a great trip through an intensely diverse and ever-evolving viticultural terrain.

Menfi phrygana

Menfi-Ulmo

The Menfi situation is really one of Ulmo, or rather Ulmo is Menfi. Here on the island’s southwest coast beneath Palermo is where Planeta’s first winery opened in 1995 near the village of Sambuca di Sicilia, Built near an ancient 16th-century baglio, or stone farmhouse, situated above Lake Arancio and blessed with chalky limestone soils. In the middle of the 1980’s Planeta planted their first vines around the baglio which the family has always owned. The Iter Vitis museum, surrounded by a “collection meadow’” of different Sicilian and Georgian vines, “inspired by the idea of enhancing the rich Sicilian winemaking tradition.” The nature footpath called La Segreta runs from the winery, connects with those that intersect the Menfi hills and also 250 cultivated hectares of vineyard. The name adorns the quadripartite set of wine labels that are arguably Sicily’s most well-known. The crux, core and heart is Dispensa where production, administration and planning all happen.

Beach at Menfi

The Infernotto, inside the small winery, is the family caveau, one of the most calming placing to read, rest and taste through Planeta’s portfolio of wines. Ulmo, Maroccoli, Cirami, Baglio di Ulmo and the 6th century B.C. Palmento di Bosco della Resinata; places of affinity, integration and varietal kinship. Of grillo, fiano, chardonnay, grecanico, sauvignon blanc, viognier, nero d’Avola, syrah, merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. The chardonnay stands out as the iconic label, a super chardonnay to be sure because no other varietal example delivers the two pillars of quality and quality like this Planeta label.

Planeta Serra Ferdinandea Rosato 2021, Sicilia DOC

A joint venture between Planeta and the family Oddo from the south of France. Rosato, Bianco and Rosso made high in the hills above the sea near Menfi, closer to Sambuca. Here nero d’avola and syrah made in the airiest, salty and light tart way, quenching and satisfying. The name refers to the story of a volcanic island that suddenly rose from the sea in 1831, fought over for claim by the Italians, French and British, before disappearing back in to the water many months later. There it sits 30 to 40 metres below the surface. You can drink the town dry out of this Rosato, any day, any time. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Ulmo Chardonnay

Planeta Chardonnay 2020, Sicilia DOC

Chardonnay comes from two vineyards, Storico which is the large white rock at 270m above the Menfi lake and Marrocoli, where red grapes (cabernet franc, merlot and syrah) really thrive. Here chardonnay is given roundness to mix with the stoic-stony and intense directness of what it could have been. A place of vibrations and nerves and so Marrocoli is needed to tame and soften Storico’s blunt edginess. That it does, injecting peach fleshy sunshine into the linearity of the wine. Keep in mind that 200,000 bottles a year are made and that doesn’t even keep up with the demand. Arch classic Planeta bread and butter wine, also in style. One of the planet’s great chardonnays of double Q effect. Quantity and quality. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Chardonnay 2019, Sicilia DOC

The two vineyards are Storico at 270m above the Menfi lake and Marrocoli where really white calcari predominates. While there is the plump presence of chardonnay giving “morbido” roundness in apposite to the mineral Storico fruit, there is also this persistent buzz and and nervy character. For a wine for which upwards of 200,000 bottles a year are produced it really is quite incredible how vintage dictates the personality of the wine. Fresh quality bread and churned butter in the glass. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Cometa 2020, Sicilia Menfi DOC

As a reminder Cometa comes from two vineyards, the important one being Dispensa right by the winery and Paso di Gura, 10 kms away. Fiano, not off of volcanics but clay soils close to the sea, well-ripened, in a place where it likes the sun, suffers and gets a bit bronzing and golden. A fiano of white and yellow flowers, chamomile and the like. While the universe busy was sending more than enough chaos to humanity, in this vintage there were only good conditions and therefore excellent to raise a proper Cometa. Feels plump and salty, full and herbal, bitters so minor and subtleties available to those who wait for it. The upward trend continues, towards greatness. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Cometa 2019, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Cometa is fiano “di Ulmo” in Menfi out of two vineyards, Dispensa and Paso di Gura. Clay soils over calcium carbonate and a place for full ripeness within the context of fulfilling the promise for golden grapes. The florals sing from 2019, more white than yellow and the vintage delivers a credibly balanced affair. In this last vintage before the world went mad Cometa seems at ease, confident and secure. Not as round and plump as the following 2020 yet equally saline, herbal if sweetly so and the crunchiest Cometa ever encountered. Not a shock because “every vintage of fiano is unpredictable” explains Alessio Planeta. More vertical, linear and direct. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Cometa 2018, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Experimental grape introduction of fiano to Menfi in 1994 with the first vintage being 2000. “They (Avellino) grow fiano on volcanic soil in the mountains and we grow it in clay soils by the sea,” tells Alessio Planeta. “With low yields and small bunches.” Here it can be tropical but it’s always herbal and breezy. Can’t help but be salty, after all the air is filled with marine life.  Last tasted March 2022

Cometa has changed or rather in its youthful state of ultimate reductive freshness is so straight-laced, linear, tightrope walking along a razor sharp edge. There’s a tonic injection that helps to propel it forward and the envisioning projects two years ahead to see it develop some sweeter fruit notes, straight from the orchard’s hip. Watch for this special vintage of fiano, the ancient noble variety from Campania that Planeta’s braintrust took a well-advised flyer on in the 1990s. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Didacus 2019, Sicilia Menfi DOC

The name Didacus is Diego, from the Latin, a chardonnay dedicated to Alessio Planeta’s visionary uncle, the late Diego Planeta. These Storico Vineyard Menfi vines were planted in 1985 on the hillside up to 270m of elevation and below the white rock on calcareous-clay soils above the lake. As a vintage 2019 was dryer and warmer than 2018, especially in summer. Results in a richly concentrated chardonnay but one picked earlier with acids in tact and phenols well developed. Plenty of water stocks in the soil after a wet 2018 allowed the plants to ease through ’19 and take full advantage of the dry season. Full malo feel, good mineral backbone and a long sensation swept across the palate puts this in a place of Menfi specificity while also leaving an impression that next level notes will emerge over a good period of time. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Didacus 2018, Sicilia Menfi DOC

The chardonnay dedicated to Diego Planeta, from the oldest Menfi vines, planted in 1985. The name Didacus is indeed Diego in Latin and the inherent plus inferred further meaning is as thought, a didactic one, which says something about many things. It speaks to the pioneer Mr. Planeta’s two-toned, ahead of its time work and to the way chardonnay takes Sicily into another realm and brings reductive freshness into buttery bites that ties two voices together. And they will speak as one. Soon. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted May 2019 and March 2022

Planeta Ulmo tasting

Planeta Didacus Cabernet Franc 2017, Sicilia Menfi DOC

The Didacus red is a varietal cabernet franc from a very specific Ulmo block, also named for Diego Planeta, visionary and pioneer for wines in Sicily. The Piano del Sommacco (sumac) is the source, treated to whole bunch fermentation and aged in tonneaux because of the fruit’s great potential. The heat did not come until just before harvest (after a cooler season early). This is good for franc when the heat comes late for more concentration though also one picked later as it should be. The uncanny smell of carob and even bokser pod fruit, properly herbal, just the right amount of pyrazine, balsamic and spice. Long, blue and true. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Didacus is Diego, from the Latin and like the chardonnay this cabernet franc is dedicated in kinship to Alessio Planeta’s uncle, pioneer and visionary, the late Diego Planeta. Storico Vineyard in Menfi was planted in 1985 on white rock-calcareous-clay soils above the lake. There is little surprise that 2016 was a serious franc vintage, long and drawn out, perfect to bring the ripeness of necessary phenols that the grape so clearly needs and dearly deserves. Shows off cabernet franc’s dreamy complexion with a side of pyrazine though depth of fruit and dearth of (including American) oak are really the pair in charge. There is something Rioja Gran Reserva about Didacus but even more so there is Sicilian depth, Moorish density and Planeta gravity. Or gravitas it should be conceded from and for a wine of many splendored seasoning and structure. Perfume flies in the air and dreams will someday come true. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted March 2022

Fishes by Costante Planeta

Planeta Alastro 2021, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Alsatro the yellow flower that appears all over Menfi in Spring. Mainly grecanico with some sauvignon blanc, the former essentially the same grape as garganega. Similar to a Soave ideal, to add some aromatic swagger in a friendship to work with a local grape. Lean and light, like garganega in wet concrete, straight ahead citrus, neutral and refreshing with just a hint of petrol. Cool white. Drink 2022-2025. Tasted March 2022

Planeta Grillo Terebinto 2021, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Terebinto the red flower all over the hills of Menfi in spring, especially as you approach the sea. A cross between the aromatics and intensity of cataratto and the gregarious flavours of zibbibo. Made as a pure variety but only since 2016 because Alessio Planeta realized it was a beautiful beast. While the sunshine and richness are very much accumulated there is also the sea in this gently rolling and saline white. A great vintage of this wine and just what grillo should be. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Plumbago Nero d’Avola 2019, Sicilia DOC

Plumbago or “Ploom-baggo” grows in Menfi and around Ulmo, coming out in Spring though not right away. In nero d’avola it is a red that manifests Menfi missives though Planeta chooses to label it not in menzione geographica terms but rather Sicilia DOC. This is because a new vineyard’s fruit is involved and so it was not requested to be Menfi, but again in 2021 will be. Always rolling deep and seasoned, a black cherry and seasoned meaty depth yet ’19 seems to have more stones, air and lightness, a relative thing but it makes a difference. This Plumbago really gets it, or maybe we get it and how it translates transparently. Less rustic than usual, a wood adjustment made and so here with a bit more sympathy and less dealing with the devil. Or more perhaps? It may say, “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name. But what’s puzzling you, is the nature of my game.” Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Maroccoli Syrah 2017, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Syrah, from a conca facing the lake in Ulmo, more calcareous than where the chardonnay grows, a sea of sediment that is more alluvial going down to the shore. This syrah grows on the white calcium carbonate which surely gives vivid florals to mitigate a hematic meatiness created by the clay, sun and varietal tendency. Not a syrah of bacon or smoked meat and also not overtly concentrated but instead quite pretty and elegant. It should be expected this direction will continue with subsequent vintages. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Vineyards in Ulmo

Planeta Maroccoli Syrah 2016, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Syrah is grown above the lake in Ulmo on a “conca“ of alluvial and calcareous clay soils notably white and the purple flower aromas are surely there in this vintage. So are the meaty ones but also those that imagine roasted melanzane and other toasty vegetative scents. While there used to be so much concentration in this wine it seems that 2016 marks a turn towards restraint and that thing we like to call elegance. Still the dripping meat juices fragrance and flavour rear up in this ’16, as they have always been known to do. Ready to go now with the first hints of balsamic and flint coming through. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Sito Dell’Ulmo Planeta Merlot 2016, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Pure merlot made since 1995, one of the first for Planeta and one that used to be called simply “merlot.” A style of spice and even balsamic but once again the florals, lighter activity and respect for vineyard in their sense of place is what really matters today. These were the first vineyards planted in 1985, along with chardonnay, nero d’avola and grecanico. The experimental early days. At 31 years-old these merlot vines are highly experienced, the varietal give is exactly of itself and the wine is almost OCD stringent. That is to say it knows what it is and wants to be. Not overtly rich but surely capable of aging and again a vintage of freshness meets long, cool and slow ripening. “A bit too fresh for me,” says Alessio Planeta and then “nordic style,” adds Patrica Tóth.” Beautifully chalky and like a Sicilian I will fight to the death to argue that soil has much to do with the mouthfeel of this merlot. Still needs one more year. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Burdese 2016, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Burdese (Boor-dee-say) from a Sicilian dialect, as in Bordelais, looking back in time at Bordeaux, using the two cabernets from Ulmo, sauvignon and franc, 70-30 in every vintage except ’97-99, when it was only sauvignon. There is an acidity that can only be described as “Burdese,” even when the sauvignon dries out a bit, by the calcareous raised franc and most importantly the freshest of Menfi vintages. Here a fragrant and bright Bordeaux (or perhaps Ulmese?) joint, a blend that sings and raises the bar for such wines in Sicily. Tart and chalky, structured and really long. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Burdese 2015, Sicilia Menfi DOC

Burdese, the Sicilian Bordeaux blend, a word brought back and employed here in Menfi as the French dispatch for cabernet sauvignon (70 per cent) and franc grown in Ulmo. Now settled into its Bordelais by way of Sicilian skin, tannins softened and acids too. Feels like a warm season created the resolve in this wine but then again it also seems like there are parts unknown and things yet revealed. After all “all great beauties withhold their deepest secrets.” Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Sicilia DOC

Planeta La Segreta Grillo 2021, Sicilia DOC

An extension from the original Bianco bottle, added a few years back (2016) when grillo and nero d’avola were recognized as protected varieties under the Sicilia DOC. While made in greater quantity and with less complexity than the Terebinto grillo the idea and the ideal are one in the same. Citrus and herbs, some fleshiness and sunshine though quiet and calm. Spot on balance and amenability. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta La Segreta Il Bianco 2021, Sicilia DOC

Il Bianco is the original La Segreta, a blend of (50 per cent) grecanico with viognier, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Remarkably the aromatics do tell of viognier but that changes across a palate that  s expressly grecanico with shades of the other grapes. Broader and more rounded than grillo, perhaps antithetically so but less specificity Makes Il Bianco the one to work for all. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta La Segreta Nero d’Avola 2021, Sicilia DOC

An extension from the original Rosso bottle, added a few years back (2016) when nero d’avola and grillo were recognized and added as protected varieties under the Sicilia DOC. Essentially Planeta’s varietal “lite,” a lithe and honest, pure and transparent entry into the Ulmo world for nero d’avola, with just a small portion from Noto. The key is all estate grapes, an entry into and sort of second set of wines for Planeta. The selection comes within the availability of 370 hectares of production. Safe, straightforward, varietally correct, tart and also too easy to knock back. Drink 2022-2024. T asted March 2022

Planeta La Segreta Il Rosso 2021, Sicilia DOC

As with Il Bianco, Il Rosso is the original red under the La Segreta label, a blend of (50 per cent) nero d’avola with merlot, syrah and splashes of cabernet franc. Deeper if not darker but certainly meatier and more ferric than the varietal nero. Herbal as well, a note of Amaro and dark chocolate shavings. As with the other three La Segreta wines the Rosso is a matter of different vineyard management as compared with the other Planeta wines, with the intendment to be less concentrated, less tannic and to drink right here and right now. That it does, especially with pasta in a sauce of eggplant and tomatoes from Vittoria. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Lava flow, Feudo di Mezzo

L’Etna

The year was 2008 when Planeta settled on the north side of Etna, among the lava flows and the woods which surround the village of Passopisciaro. Vines of planted nerello and carricante were planted and then in 2012 the winery was also established. The hospitality is housed to the north at Montelaguardia, in the middle of the Sciaranuova vineyard at more than 800m above sea level. Here the Etna cru are produced, in pinot nero, nerello mascalese, riesling and carricante. To the south the Feudo di Mezzo winery and vineyard (for Etna Rosso) are right in the centre of a 15th century lava flow. Nearby at Torreguarino and Rampante the vines are also best suited to red wines. At Sciaranuova the old terraces were transformed into a “Theatre in the Vineyard,” home to the Sciaranuova Festival.

Sciaranuova, Etna

To get a true sense of geography and location there are four passeggiate that will unlock the door to Etna enlightenment. The first is through the 15th century lava flow at Feudo di Mezzo and the vineyards with their gnarly bush vines. The second is the lava flow of “L’Etna 1981,” an eruption between the 17th and 23rd of March, at which time the village of Randazzo below came this close to being swallowed whole. The third is through Parco Statella to gain a sense of how Etna’s north face integrates Alberello vineyards, woods and homes. The fourth is ambling over volcanic boulder flows, admiring all the layers of lava rock, exploring the ancient, gnarly and propitious aboard L’Etna, as seen in Passopisciaro.

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2019, Terre Siciliane IGT

Eruzione is always picked later than the carricante for the Etna Bianco (from Monetalguardia), at least a week later, finished on the 20th of October, really early. You smell and taste the Bianco from 2019 and think it’s tight but then you do the same with the Eruzione and then realize just what tight is. In this amazingly compact ’19 there is the feeling of salts dissolving into the fine grain of the wine, volcanics in carricante disappearing with immediacy though their presence never leaves your palate. A vintage that so precisely and clearly defines what it means to grow this grape on the northern slope of the mountain between 810-900m, even though at this elevation it can’t qualify for DOC Etna. The higher you go, the tighter are the wines and the longer they live. That is a fact. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Parco Statella, Etna

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2014, Terre Siciliane IGT

This is just perfect. To re-taste Eruzione carricante five years later, almost to the day and just past the halfway point in this 1614’s expected tenure. In fact it barely feels like any time has passed save for a fumé moment of character that Tóth admits “I don’t know where it comes from,” meaning it’s not technologically possible. Which means it comes from the vineyard. Or, the original sapid part of the wine transforming into smoulder. The texture is not organza but sheer, you can feel through it. The salt has fully melted to now extend the flavour but the wine remains tight. And so the longevity abides. And the score also rises, as the sun. Drink through 2027.   Last tasted March 2022

“Not everyone can carry the weight of the world,” save perhaps Planeta’s Patricia Tóth, a winemaker who celebrates the past, the endemic varietal and in the present, the glaring truth. The name Eruzione is evocative of the estate’s Cru dell’Etna and in a mind’s eye transports history through the narrative of carricante (with 10 per cent riesling). It brings the legendary 1614 Mount Etna eruption to life, a longest ever recorded catastrophe that lasted ten years, halting just on the border of the vineyards of Sciaranuova. This is veritable mountain altitude wine, from high (790-890m) terraced, volcanic black soils delivering fresh conifer savour, saltiness and palpable mineral style. It is sharp and composed on the nose, with citrus distillate and elevated acidity. It does not matter whether you are wide awake or deep in R.E.M sleep. At all times it is a revelation for carricante. This is what it can be! There was no need for crop thinning, it was picked four to five weeks after the sparkling and it spent five months on the lees. The texture and the potential longevity are thankful for this. “Combien, combien, combien du temps?” At least seven years. Talk about the passion. Drink 2018-2025.   Tasted March 2017

Quarantine passegiata, Versante Nord, Etna

Planeta Riesling 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

What do you compare Etna riesling to? Nothing save perhaps Eden Valley but what’s the point? Texturally this from Planeta is quite soft but no matter the texture every sip goes salty. Volcanics, or more to the lava flow point, living, breathing and current (within the last 400 years) volcanics will do that, for real. Not like other “volcanic” soils, those from mountains that erupted maybe one million years ago. But that’s only half of the matter. The other and equally important matter is elevation, at 900m, less fancy, attractive and sexy. But this is real and this is what riesling wants and needs. Not Mosel, not Trentino, not Argentina but L’Etna heights. She is present and she presents. “Elevation is not as sexy as volcanics, “ said no one ever but this is the thing. Riesling was never that or like this but it has arrived. Say hello to my little friend TS-IGT. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Sciaranuova Vineyard

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Pinot Nero 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

Super fine pinot noir from Patricia Tóth on Etna’s north slope at 820m, like well-prepared sea urchin, straccato di manzo mantecato and fegato d’oca. If not the best Etna Rosso vineyard it may as well be in the conversation because this kind of pinot noir depth is usually reserved for nerello mascalese. Something cool this way comes every morning and dry, no matter the settling of precipitation the night before. Here the fineness of varietal and block share a feeling, a commonality of place within to the third degree, mimicking gastronomy and asking for the right set of partners. There is fennel and there are dried spices, cumin perhaps in how the delicate yet forceful south asianer’s carpet really ties the wine together. Sweet meanderings in dried rags really bring the rustica and the autentica. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Making friends in Parco Statella, Etna

Planeta Etna Bianco DOC 2020

Widest and most inviting smile yet from Planeta and winemaker Patricia Tóth’s 2020 Etna Bianco, generous gift of the volcano and the sun, elemental salts and even ripeness, controlled eruption and fleshy intensity. A relaxed bianco as an extension of the vineyard, 100 per cent carricante from Contrada Taccione in the village of Monetalguardia. The soil is deeply organic, nourishing, dark for Etna at 690-720m. Hard to find more direct accommodation and physical beauty than what this Bianco wants to share, without demands, strings or expecting anything in return. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Etna hospitality, Planeta

Planeta Etna Bianco DOC 2019

Though the next vintage of Etna Bianco DOC will be the perfect one, for everyone and all, this from 2019 is no difficult one, it’s just more linear, laser focused and intense. There are times when 100 per cent carricante can act this way, not because of any varietally finicky reason but just because the vintage makes it so. More central, linear, severe and seeking ways to branch out but that still may not be possible at this time. Super compact and it looks as though 2021 could also be this way. The grapes came early, seemingly counterintuitive to how things turned out and the winemaker looked around, not believing the harvest was done. But forget about it Patricia. It’s Etna. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Shalalingualossa

Planeta Etna Rosso DOC 2020

A 100 per cent nerello mascalese from Pietramarina and Feudo di Mezzo (where the cellar is located), two vineyards 5km between them at 600m of elevation. The nose is almost clay even though there is none on Etna making for a very clean aromatic profile. Made in the Piedmontese cappelo sommerso method, 35-40 days on skins, because nerello mascalese doesn’t like and doesn’t need oxygen, regardless of its tannic structure. The vintage is a round and gifting one for all, bianco and rosso alike, less compact than some and fleshy as a ripe plum, especially with reds. A 2020 in which recent volcanics are a matter of wringing out a basalt sponge with the resulting juices running with charismatic invitation. That said a Planeta Etna Rosso clearly needs some time, not forever mind you and in this case a depth of developed fruit and mineral swath keeps things wrapped and taut. Notable for the red citrus bite, pique and pith across the back end. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted March 2022

Feudo di Mezzo, Etna

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese 2018, Terre Siciliane IGT

Varietal nerello mascalese grown above the DOC line is a matter of great, compact and vertical concern from out of the 2018 vintage. Was a rainy and “fragile” vintage, a matter of nature putting more stress on bunches that can result in variegate meaning. The concept of rigorous table sorting and the use of a basket press are essential tools to getting pristine fruit and then juice. Etna’s conditions are so unique to Sicily and so here in Sciaranuova it is the last of Planeta’s estates to figure out the what, why and how for making quality wine. On the whites it was in and around ’16 and for the reds probably right here with this sharp, spiced and meaningful red. While it is quite compressed there is also an expansiveness that presses to the full extent in how the palate is swarmed and covered. My goodness. Drink 2025-2032.  Tasted March 2022

Parco Statella, Versante Nord, Etna

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese 2017, Terre Siciliane IGT

Sciaranuova is the place closest to the village of Passopisciaro for nerello mascalese of a very specific style. From a warm vintage and one when there was nine per cent cappuccio mixed in with the mascalese. More of a salumi, curative and dried skins vintage, not just with an extra year affecting the wine but also because of the cappuccio influence with an increase in oxidative feel. Feels quite ready to rock and roll, more of the latter perhaps and with the right moment there will be a scorrevole of mascalese sensation running and then sliding across the palate. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted March 2022

Capo Milazzo, Sicily

Capo Milazzo

Sicilia’s most extreme and dramatic northeast corner is home to some of Planeta’s most extreme and dramatic wines. Capo Milazzo’s soils are alluvial, deep soils, friables, born out of rivers that came from the northern mountains. The peninsula’s proximity to the sea leads to wines that are salty, with algae, black cherry and cypress. The four hectare vineyard is called La Baronia, used for the Sicilia DOCs in Nocera and Mamertino but also experimentally and for research in three ancient varieties known as varietà reliquie; vitraruolo, lucignola and catanese nera.

Planeta Nocera 2018, Nocero Sicilia DOC

Specific to Milazzo in the northeast of Sicily, in two appellations, Faro and Mamertino. Noce is “nuts,” growing in big bunches and blue-hued (much more so than cabernet sauvignon). Grows on volcanics, in a place with an active volcano (Stromboli) which is significant and in 2018 the vintage didn’t turn out the same beast of a bruiser in terms of the grape’s intensity of tannins. Forget the comparisons to sangiovese, barbera and tannat because this ’18 is a wonderfully harmonious and balanced varietal wine. Still the presence and obviousness of black cherry, peppery nocellara olive and just a kiss of orange. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted March 2022

Planeta Mamertino 2017, Mamertino Sicilia DOC

From the dramatic land and seascape that is Capo Milazzo and a wine surely as close to winemaker Patricia Tóth’s heart as any in her Planeta dreams. Blends 60 per cent nero d’Avola, with (40) nocera while paying homage to the Mamertini who produced a version of this wine at Milazzo, described by Pliny and beloved by Julius Caesar. First vintage was 2013 and so only the fifth by this warm vintage example. Can be a bruiser and a brooder but ’17 exhibits a surprising antithetical brightness and invitation for pleasure. Even when this young, now moving, not evolving but relenting, in structure and for spirit. The two grapes work in seamless if also delicious tandem, pushing and giving a little, extending an olive branch through clear Mediterranean scents, flavours and style. Like morning dew, soulfully guitar driven, modern jazzy in pure stone groove. Unexpected and warranted at the very same time. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

Noto

Noto is the birthplace of nero d’Avola, graced with calcareous soils like Jerez and Champagne, not really comparable to anywhere else. Noto is close to Vittoria in how the wines come to be but it’s a mobile texture, silken and with velvety tannins. The soft hills of Buonivini are blessed by soft breezes arising from the meeting of two seas, ideal for nero d’Avola and moscato, but also almonds, carobs and olives, symbolic plants of the Mediterranean location. The three vineyards are agliastro, buonvini and zuppardo on 45 hectares, acquired piece by piece, today producing the DOC wines Santa Cecilia, Moscato di Noto and Passito di Noto.

Planeta Allemanda 2021, Sicilia Noto DOC

Allemanda, opening baroque dance, 100 per cent moscato bianco, fully, completely Noto. The concept is before the meal, a winder upper, ahead of several courses and pairings, in lieu of that wine killing sundowner, Sicilian style. Quite a tart and powerfully stinging revivalist, to wake one up and keep the spirit alive well into the night. A palate refresher, making use of the indigenous and the parochial. Crisp, clean, tightly wound, acidity high, difficulty low. Revive your energy with a glass of Allemanda, dancer in the mouth. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Moscato Di Noto Dry 2021, Sicilia Noto DOC

Sister to Allemanda, 100 per cent moscato (di Noto) yet here dry as the southern Sicilian desert (proverbially speaking) and acids running jet propelled high. In the vein of riesling or say Hunter Valley sémillon, austere, intense, at present unknowable but tenable as time will surely race on by. Lime and the dream of petrol, sharp herbs and even sharper citrus, though not straightforward as such. Most curious and intense white wine, best with sea creatures now but with time, who knows, the sky just may be the limit. Age some and see what transpires. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Controdanza 2018, Sicilia Noto DOC

Not quite a year has passed and while a settling seems noticeable there still pulses and vibrates a dance of sorts. The white soils have yet to leave the floor and the wines continues to slide over the sleek surface. The nero needs more time, the austerity must chill out and the integration is still somewhat far away. Keep to the program.  Last tasted April 2022

Noto’s bianci soils on the Buonivini estate are the Controdanza source at of Sicily’s furthest southeastern point. Planeta’s relationship here dates back to 1998. The hoedown,”quadrille” or square dance is 85 per cent nero d’Avola plus (15) merlot, super Sicilian by way of Noto and no matter how many vintages pass on by there is still this irony between barn dancing and post-modern blending. It takes tasting this 2018 to realize how dominant the nero d’Avola really is and while merlot is supposed to soften and add a cream centre, in 2018 that’s a big request. Now 2017 makes even more sense and is a cream puff compared to this tannic and grippy 2018. A bigger wine of greater fortitude and one that needs some time to soften. Hold off on the Controdanza for now, the wine and the dance. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted June 2021

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2016, DOC Noto

That idea behind tertiary fungi and umami is still a dream and should be shelved for at least four to five years. That said there is some movement now into the secondary, just hints mind you but there are the plums baked into the minced meat of a sciachiatta pie. Even a note of red pepper flake, parsley and dandelion to accent the sausage. Drinking with most excellent gastronomy right now.  Last tasted April 2022

The flagship 100 per cent nero d’avola must be poured last because of the power and the fact that it’s not something so easily understood. If you were to try and taste other wines after this it would be like Eric Clapton going on after Jimi Hendrix. There’s a deep olive, blood orange, tar and ribena profile that you just know will seek out truffle, porcini, tar and roses. Welcome to the world of aging Sicilian wines and in this very specific world, nero d’avola from Noto. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted May 2019

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2011, DOC Noto

Santa Cecilia from 2011 is a special nero d’avola, balanced in silent but sweetly deadly acquiescence of Noto’s white chalky soils. Her tannins are abundant and smooth, running in one direction and so it’s a wonder how un-evolved and yet so involved this nero d’avola is equipped to believe about and with great kindred spirit with itself. That it presents this youthful and yet to advance is a thing magical and sincere. Inner strength is one thing but outward beauty is the real deal. Or is it the other way around? Either way they combine for one of Cecilia’s greatest acuity and remainder of structure. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted May 2018 and April 2022

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2008, DOC Noto

Having now tasted several vintages, including a few older examples of Santa Cecilia the idea of taking nothing for granted is now engrained. Something happens to this nero d’avola after several years in bottle, part chemistry and part magic. When 10 years get behind this wine it begins to dig, deep and purposefully into the Noto soil, finding minerals and elements that never seemed to before be present in this wine. Well past the fruit stage here in this 2008, now underlying, primitive and fundamental. And yet it reeks of nero, wood a thing of the past, a perfume cast with spellbound, gripping and intriguing fascination. No shortage of earth and cocoa derivations but mostly the curiosity of place. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2005, DOC Noto

Finding oneself in a state of utter disbelief upon nosing an older Santa Cecilia has just happened with thanks to this 2005 and the unthinkable aromatics it possesses. There have been some older examples like 2007, 2008 and 2011 which all showed morphological magic but this, this is something other. The state of perfumed preservation is impossible, the floral emanations and fruit continuance implausible and in suspension of belief. The 2005 is almost perfect, dark berries and red citrus alive, acids in perfect condition, wood dissolved, resolved and walked straight out the door. The life and vitality reside in the arena of the flawless, faultless and achievable. This is what nero d’avola, Santa Cecilia, Noto and Planeta can be, at its collective finest. Will drink this way (and also that) for five more years and with ease. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Passito Di Noto 2019, Sicilia Noto DOC

Planeta’s Passito di Noto is a rare and singular dessert wine, now in its 17th year of production, made with moscato (di Noto) and from vines so old it may not be known just how old they are. The grapes are dried using the appassimento method and then turned into this concentrated and naturally sweet dessert wine. This is a very particular viscosity and profile with resins and vapours as tenable as are the sugars, with herbs and plants nearby mixing with their vinous qualities for a sticky of superior savour and character. Imagine pineapple soaked in rosemary and vermouth, apricots bathing in fennel and golden Amaro, hazelnuts toasted with long pepper and green vines. Not unusual but particular, spoken personality and in the end, so very fine. Drink 2024-2035. Planeta’s Passito di Noto is a rare and singular dessert wine, now in its 17th year of production, made with moscato (di Noto) and from vines so old it may not be known just how old they are. The grapes are dried using the appassimento method and then turned into this concentrated and naturally sweet dessert wine. This is a very particular viscosity and profile with resins and vapours as tenable as are the sugars, with herbs and plants nearby mixing with their vinous qualities for a sticky of superior savour and character. Imagine pineapple soaked in rosemary and vermouth, apricots bathing in fennel and golden Amaro, hazelnuts toasted with long pepper and green vines. Not unusual but particular, spoken personality and in the end, so very fine. Drink 2024-2035. Tasted April 2022.Tasted April 2022

Vittoria

Southeastern Vittoria is home to the only Sicilian DOCG called Cerasuola di Vittoria, a blend of nero d’Avola and frappato grown on red sandy soils. As winemaker Patricia Tóth likes to say, “the main actor in all these wines is the beloved nero’d’Avola,” most important variety on the island, planted across 60 per cent of vinicultural surface area. Nero is the adaptable one, like pinot noir in France, nebbiolo in Piemonte and sangiovese in Tuscany. Vittoria’s are fresher and ignite more passion as compared to what comes from Noto and parts further east on Sicilia.

Diesel

Planeta Frappato Sicilia Vittoria DOC 2020

First vintage of Planeta’s frappato was 2013 so by count this eighth is a Vittoria DOC of experiential significance, rare, low output yielding and as always, never showy. The grape and the amazing singularity it possesses makes for comparisons that are desperate but ultimately useless. That frappato in Planeta’s way can deliver this fresh strawberry and reductively earthy combination is testament to soil and sea. Think of the ripest fruit cut clear and clean by wet stoniness and sharp imagery. Crystalline vintage here for Planeta, potent, vehement and heartfelt. There is no hiding from such clarity and tempered ethos. The 2020 shows a little of that Etna Rosso feeling and from a location so far away. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Planeta Frappato Sicilia Vittoria DOC 2019

An extra year effects a significant amount of change and difference, especially when that vintage was so warm and generous. In the realm of rare and dignified frappato there are moods, as if sounds, environment, beats and emotion have become involved, as if music saved my life. The strawberries are wilder and deeper, the herbals ground by pestle and the sea just a bit dark, turned up and stormy. The mid-palate on 2019 is completely filled in, the acids circulative, the finish weighty and defiant. Not the light and bright frappato of some years and yet always sharp, direct, pointed. It can’t help but be. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Winemaker or dog whisperer? Both

Planeta Cerasuolo Di Vittoria DOCG 2020

From the red soils of the Dorilli estate and Sicily’s only DOCG in capture of a seriously striking vintage. The southerly location lands between the sea and the Iblean mountains, the name coming from cerasa, cherry in Sicilian dialect. Typical for Planeta’s take, blend of 60 per cent nero d’Avola with (40) frappato, coming together like Hall and Oates, a little bit 80s, funky and pretty. Cerasuola as method of modern love, in which “dreams are made of a different stuff.” Cerasuola pitting strawberry and cherry against a red citrus backdrop, remarkably well constructed and produced. Two grapes in harmony, with strong hooks and overlaying melodies. Adheres to traditional soul traditions while turning out the pop. Thus the DOCG. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted April 2022

Dorilli Sicilia Cerasuola Di Vittoria Classico DOCG 2017

Dorilli represents the pinnacle of the eponymous estate sound and vision in a Cerasuolo more Bowie and Lennon than any duo aligned for hits. The 2017 is Planeta’s Fame, higher in nero d’Avola (70 per cent) and lesser (30) in frappato as compared to the normale. Named for the nearby river Dirillo, “landing place of brave Aeneas,” and a red blend that aches with both maturity and confidence. “Could it be the best, could it be? Really be really babe. Could it be my babe could it babe?” The answer is yes, in spite of a warm vintage with some dustiness and dried fruit. Fame can be and is had with bowie knife sharpness and young Sicilian intensity. Yes this 2017 is too youthful to call but time will be kind and this wine will be timeless. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted April 2022

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