Pinot Gris goes National

One’s gris is another’s grigio but at any rate, more and more Canadian made pinot is coming your way

as seen on WineAlignGamay, Pinot Gris and Sparkling – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

We seem to be tasting and assessing a considerable amount of pinot gris slash grigio these days. In 2019 the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada bar was raised once again as increasingly the wines spoke to both matters of quantity and quality. The annual competition played host to this country’s largest gris/grigio gathering and 34 medallists prove that trends can also be realities. There are well upwards of 60,000 hectares of pinot gris/grigio planted worldwide and that number is growing, not surprising considering the varietal’s two-step, double-down rise in popularity.

The laconic story would say that when comparing pinot gris to pinot grigio the difference is mainly origin but increasingly so an inculcation of style. The endemically considered pinot grigio is traced to northeastern Italy just as pinot gris is to northeastern France. One grape, two places and ultimately each tracking an approach along one fork of the road. The simplest explanation says one is generally picked earlier and the other later, the former being fresher and crisper, the latter richer and more developed.

Call the grape what you will. Known as gris in Alsace, dry gives way more often than not to sweet, age-worthy, late-harvest styles. As grigio in Northern Italy it’s more straightforward and in Germany it’s also called grauburgunder or ruländer. In Hungary its moniker is zürkebarát. New Zealand may just be the great New World frontier for the pinot gris ideal. Or does that distinction belong to Oregon, a frontier many believe possessive of several AVAs more suitable to the gris stylistic than even chardonnay. It’s easier and less expensive to plant and maintain than chardonnay, harvests early and therefore puts cash flow reports in the green, or in this varietal case, also yellow, pink and orange. By the way, grigio and gris both mean “grey,” as noted by the pinkish-grey sheen of the ripe grape’s skin.

Vichyssoise by Albert Ponzo at The Grange

Where does that put the discussion concerning a homogeneity of Canadian style? Well at its simplest dissemination it means looking at a paradigm lying somewhere between Italy and Alsace. That being generally said it is simply ludicrous to imagine examples from British Columbia and Ontario (with few and far between examples from other provinces) to be looked at in one broad stroke of a brush. If you must ask and know, Ontario’s gris-grigio is generally leaner, more “mineral” and often crisper than B.C. counterparts but following that to the a letter of law would do great disservice to diversity and possibility. Get to know the producers and the greater picture will clear.

The grapes are in fact a mutation of Bourgogne’s pinot noir, are vigorous and lie somewhere is the middle of the moderate production mode. They are well adapted to and suited for cool climates with well-draining soils. Hardy, easy to grow with relatively small clusters and berries. Susceptible to Botrytis so can be a chameleon of a white wine for dry, off-dry and sweet styles but with some skin-contact also can produce pink coloured wines. Welcome to Canada.

It matters not which major appellation you look at in British Columbia you will always see pinot gris as one of its leading grape varieties. Kelowna, Penticton, Vaseaux-Oliver, Golden Mile, Black Sage-Osoyoos and Similkameen. At approximately 10 percent of the total plantings, only chardonnay is its equal and merlot greater in total acreage.

Snacks at Closson Chase

In Ontario pinot gris is the fifth most planted and harvested grape variety, trailing only chardonnay, riesling, merlot and cabernet franc. In terms of tonnage the number 3,627 from 2017 may still trail merlot by 1,600 tonnes but don’t be fooled by historical statistics. The gris-grigio juggernaut is losing no space-time ascension and continues to gain with exponential force. Ontario has defined three DVAs: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) and Prince Edward County (PEC). Within the Niagara Peninsula, five general grape climatic zones are further defined by 10 sub-appellations: Creek Shores, Lincoln Lakeshore, Vinemount Ridge, Beamsville Bench, Short Hill Bench, Twenty Mile Bench, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Lakeshore, Niagara River and St David’s Bench. Pelee Island is a sub-appellation of LENS. The pinots, gris and grigio are everywhere.

Why plant more pinot gris in Ontario? It’s more than simply a matter of market trends. If we look at cultivar by vineyard risk assessment, the professionals who study such things will tell us that a grape like merlot is less winter hardy and requires more heat and frost free days to reach acceptable maturity than both chardonnay and pinot gris. Do the math.

We also tasted some terrific pinot gris during our week-long stay in Prince Edward County, including the following six, all different, singular and stand alone.

Closson Chase K.J. Watson Vineyard Pinot Gris 2018, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($22.95, WineAlign)

Ask winemaker Keith Tyers what he thinks about pinot gris. “It can age,” he says, “if it’s made like gris.” The skin-contact affected hue is our first clue (if appearances mean anything) and the tannin from the vineyard is the second. In between these bookended ideals are dry extract, round to zaftig fruit texture and a chalkier consistency from out of this most curious vintage. The natural acidity and full fruit by way of low yields makes for a rock ‘n roll gris of inner mind and vision. Lush to a degree, full of metal motion, forward thinking and fine. Leaves a trail of mineral propulsion behind, a field of gris debris, to a degree, in hubris and in the end, so County and so Closson Chase. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Harwood Estate Pinot Gris 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($18.00, WineAlign)

Another light, airy, delicate and inching ever so close to the ethereal for pinot gris from Harwood with maturing vines now bringing some pear and peach flesh along for good measure. Still a bit obsequious and non-descript though the under the skin mineral Hillier accent is getting stronger and clearer in the context of an overall message. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted June 2019

Stanners Pinot Gris Cuivré 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($28.00, WineAlign)

All County fruit and Colin Stanners chooses a process of no de-stemming, no crushing and leaving the gris on its skins for three days. A highly textural wine is the result and one that in one respect creeps towards Rosé. There’s a salve within that mouthfeel and it’s one that feels so cool and smooth. Minty to be sure, if mineral were mentha, herbal, chilly and unconventional. The ebb and flow of its sensations are like the tide on the shore carrying the riches of the vineyard, in and out. Always appreciate the cadence of this wine and its confidence, but also its stoicism and its humility. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Hubbs Creek Pinot Gris Wild Ferment 2018, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95, WineAlign)

Now we know how, why and where we can find great love for pinot gris because a wine like this from John Battista Calvieri allows us to anticipate the very thing that makes us salivate. Sapidity. Aromatically speaking we are prepped by the early scents of flowers opening, followed by the sweet succulence of textural meanderings. Then balance is afforded and brings that sapidity straight to the salty surface. A very precise pinot gris will do this and texture is a crisp bite taken from a just picked piece of orchard fruit. Long, honest and understandable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Lighthall Pinot Gris 2018, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($25.00, WineAlign)

The fruit comes direct from the South Bay vineyard and one third finds its way into barrel. No shocker that this is both richly textured and developed pinot gris is an old-school mimic, like enriching valley fruit grown in the shadows of a Vosges Mountains canyon. It’s quite an abstraction this all-in mouthfeel, tripping the tongue, light show fantastic County gris. Creamy apples and pears meet expressive, raging, sapid and fortified acidities. Go big or go home I’d say. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Maggie Granger, The Grange of Prince Edward

The Grange Of Prince Edward Estate Pinot Gris 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95, WineAlign)

This right here is the newest epiphany from 2018 and again for 2019. What that means is Maggie and Caroline Granger have struck gold (or copper, platinum and orange), depending on your skin-contact white viewpoint. That it happens to be an orange wine is completely inconsequential to the math, science or for that matter, the art. Mature and gifted acidity supports the fruit-tannin compendium in pinot gris that knows where it’s from and who it purports to be. That is to say it’s naturally managed and acts that way. In fact it smells and tastes just like its kin pinot noir and so the adage of white wine made like a red fits this to a “P.” E-P-phany, as in extended play, skin-contact style. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2018, February and June 2019

Head judge D. J. Kearney, #NWAC2019

There were 34 medals awarded in this category, two Gold, 12 Silver and 20 Bronze. British Columbia (gris) and Ontario (grigio) split the Golds while B.C. gris took home all the Silvers, not to mention 24 of the total 32 medals. Six medals were grigio in origin/style and only one of those was from B.C. Origins aside the category results at the 2019 Nationals prove that this didactic grape is showing qualities not seen before which tells us one main thing. Farmers and producers are putting time and money into its production, lowering yields and treating it with varietal respect. The pale Vin Gris and Vendanges Tardives examples persist and sometimes excite but at the top of the judges’ heap were dry examples that expressed richness and ultimately flavour.

Congratulations to all the winners and to those producers for offering high quality, well-proportioned and balanced pinot gris/grigio. The consumers are thankful as are we, the judges. Your attention to detail and dedication to crafting solid varietal wines will be repaid.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Canada knows Rosé

Quality Canadian made Rosé is more diverse and complex than ever before. That’s great news for consumers

as seen on WineAlignRosé Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

The 2019 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada were a huge success with 1,815 entries from 259 different wineries from six different provinces. The ‘Nationals’ are Canada’s largest wine awards and each year are held them in a different Canadian wine region. This year’s were hosted in Ontario’s bucolic Prince Edward County.

For we the 21 judges it was an intense week in assessment of more than 1,800 entries for wines made coast to coast, albeit surrounded by the beauty and the serenity of Prince Edward County at the 2019 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. It seems most apropos to open the results vault with the winners of the Rosé category, first because it’s one of life’s great apéritif wines, second because we tasted some lovely examples in PEC and third, quality was on full display at this year’s awards.

There were 44 medals awarded, six Gold, six Silver and 32 Bronze. British Columbian Rosé took home two thirds or 32 of those 48 medals in it’s strongest showing to date. Origins aside if a clearcut notion has emerged from out the Rosé category results at the 2019 Nationals it’s one that encourages both the asking and answering of a new question. Who needs only light, southern French styled Rosé when you can also have full fruit, plenty of colour and a healthy dose of personality. In many cases the nearly pale and vin gris examples still persist and excite but at the top of the judges’ heap are also those bled and rendered, heavily hued and teeming with fruit. Canadian made Rosé is more diverse, complex and multifarious than ever before. In terms of working for the consumer that means more choice and that’s a beautiful thing.

Judging at NWAC2019

A wonderful exercise would be to purchase and taste (as a line-up) the six Gold Medal winning Rosés from this competition. Five out of six hail from British Columbia so the playing field is as level as it’s going to get and the assessment would be a highly credible one. When you look at the six you’ll note the variance and heterogeneity of distinction, tenor and design. All of them, save for the great outlier from Quebec are raised within close geographical range and each fit to sing of their own singular merit and character. Yet they too show local variegation in representation, for the Okanagan Valley, Skaha Lake and Vancouver Island. Further proof that Rosé’s multiplicity is steeped in varietal, style and also place.

The variance of grapes employed in these top awarded wines are perhaps what stands out as the most obvious point of wide attack. One of the top wines is Sperling Vineyards Organic Pinot Noir Rosé, lithe, earthy, authentic and so varietally obvious. Another is Stag’s Hollow Syrah which uses a Rosé-dedicated block at Amalia Vineyard for a pale yet expressive, pure antithetical expectation. The combinative winemaking skills separate it from the pack, part light crushed, soaked and pressed plus part saignée method off of a syrah/viognier co-ferment. Skaha Rosé is whole cluster pressed, 100 percent, high acidity-led merlot while Blue Grouse Quill Rosé is entirely Cowichan Valley gamay, harvested over three days and fermented on its skins for 18 hours before pressing. Then along comes a terrific pinot gris example in Harper’s Trail Rosé. Gris can deliver citrus both yellow and red and a little added bit of red juice goes a long way for a current of currant and sweet red pepper. The stand apart or alone Gold Medal winner is the esteemed representative from Quebec, La Cantina Vallee D’Oka Rosé Du Calvaire. This was the sole blend in the mix of six, a chardonnay and pinot noir raised in the heart of the Basses-Laurentides which “perfectly accompanies the trout, the salmon, the bites with seafood, the sunny salads and the cheeses of Quebec.” A balanced Rosé, low in sugar, proper in high acidity and congratulations to La Cantina for the much deserved recognition.

Whether you are making yours to be a crowd pleaser with a heathy dose of residual sugar or dry as the desert, the unequivocal voice of necessary conscience will always whisper “balance in Rosé is key.” Sweetness sells, that much we know, not in the once popular White Zinfandel way but in the “hidden style,” in wines where enough acidity remains to make it feel like the overall sensation is a drier one than what is really in the bottle. There is nothing wrong with making Rosé with an equal quotient of 6.0 g/L of sugar and acidity, provided the free-run of fruit juice and the retention of optimum freshness are equally exercised to task. The six Silver Medal winners all took a page out of that balancing act book.

A low alcohol (under 12 per cent) and high acidity (above 8 g/L TA) style is typified by a producer like  Singletree out of Naramata in the Okanagan Valley while another like Trius gathers gamay noir, pinot noir, syrah and a pinch of pinot meunier for their effective and efficient Niagara Peninsula Rosé. The same might be said about Mission Hill‘s single-vineyard, Okanagan Valley blush “meritage” but where that wine shines is on behalf of merlot as the lead dancer in a talented ensemble. As noted above, British Columbia also has a way with using pinot gris in Rosé and when just a fourteenth or so of a red grape like cabernet franc is blended in you get both hue and style. Not that colour matters so much but a lovely lithe salmon pink hue can double down to match the personality of a pretty wine.

Spearhead Pinot Noir Rosé from the Okanagan Valley is a poster child for asking that new age question, who needs light, southern French Rosé when you can have this? Less so but in a similar vein and noted by David Lawrason from “the pale but bright sunset pink” is made by Tantalus with young vine pinot noir and some pinot meunier. Another Silver Medal winner is one wholly generous, fruit-equipped and settled of the finest balance, that being the CedarCreek Estate Pinot Noir Rosé.

Then there is the consideration of what can be possible out of Nova Scotia. Much in the way that province is able to make high quality Sparkling wine, so can they do yeoman’s work with Rosé. Sure the truth is such that the climate gives cold temperatures, wind, precipitation and the world’s greatest fluctuating ocean tides but it also breeds a long, phenolic ripening season from which growers are often able to extend grapes into late October and November for making wines that need much earlier picking everywhere else. Acidities are easily maintained in the Annapolis Valley and the skins of grapes imbued by many hues (white, green, orange, yellow, pink and red) can combine to Rosé it up in the most elegant and stylish ways. Luckett Vineyards joins the likes of Benjamin Bridge and Lightfoot & Wolfville to craft just such an example and to lead the way.

There too are examples made so much like red wines you might need a round table discussion to set the blending of categories straight. The fully hued pinot noir made by O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars is but one that straddles the line and breaches the twain while Leaning Post from Winona on the Niagara Peninsula shows off what can be done in a salty-strawberry vein when choosing the mixed varietal route. What we are not finding and thankful for it is the “dextrinization” of Rosé, meaning the sort of manipulations that change colour, but also aroma and flavour. Methodologies are mixed so light crush/press and saignée are both valid and fitting means to different Rosé ends, but the days of make-up and “blushing” it up seem to be fading well into the rear-view mirror. Congratulations to all the winners and the producers who are making proper, honest, quality and crushable Rosé in every corner of the country. The consumer thanks you, as do we, the judges. When it comes to purchasing choices it has never been clearer where to look. Canada knows Rosé.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

The diplomacy of Canadian Sauvignon Blanc

What is sauvignon blanc? More importantly why does it solicit so much winemaking interest, continue to be planted at increasing rates and produced with so much great heart? The Grape Growers of Ontario see it as “an extremely precocious and vigorous cultivar in Ontario, even on sites of low vigor potential.” Though it is very sensitive to extreme cold it is attractive “for its vegetal or herbaceous flavours.” In British Columbia sauvignon blanc experienced an explosion in the 1990s” and is made in a “style (that) benefits from the natural high acidity and fruit ripeness. Both the crisp, zingy, green bean, grass and asparagus style, as well as a riper, tropical fruit, richer version can be found. Some of the most successful wines are oak fermented and blended with sémillon to make wines in a white Bordeaux style.”

Related – Red Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

Related – Single white varietals: No roommates required

In Canada’s cool climate viticultural regions there just seems to be this persistent thirst for grassy, herbal and gooseberry gifting white wines embraced as sauvignon blanc but also those that are flinty, smoky, nutty, creamy and rich. This tells us that sauvignon blanc makes full use of its wiles to attain its ends. Whether or not you see its origins as Loire Valley (Sancerre, Touraine, Pouilly Fumé and Cheverny) or Bordeaux (Pessac-Léognan, Graves, Côtes de Bordeaux Blayes et Franc and Entre-Deux-Mers), Canada’s sauvignon blanc finds a way to please all camps.

Related – A Canadian preoccupation with White Blends

Related – Riding red blends from Canadian frontiers

There were 25 medals awarded to Canadian sauvignon blanc at the 2019 Nationals, one platinum, three Gold, four Silver and 16 Bronze. The split between Ontario and British Columbia was almost exact with the nod to the east by only one over the west. Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2017 from Niagara-on-the-Lake took home top honours, yet another varietal wine in the ever-increasingly impressive Showcase line-up fostered by winemaker Craig McDonald. This is a wine that won Silver in 2017, Gold in 2018 and now Platinum in 2019. I’d say that’s called moving in the right direction. Nearby to Trius out of Niagara vineyards is the Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018, a consistently high quality example that continues to show remarkable success for sauvignon blanc in Ontario with its second straight NWAC Gold.

Related – Pinot Gris goes National

Related – Canada knows Rosé 

The other two Gold winners are from British Columbia, first for the Howling Bluff Sauvignon Blanc Three Mile Creek 2018 noted by one judge as “exuberant…zesty acidity and a textural, multi-layered core.” The Hillside Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018 from the Naramata Bench impressed as well as a “very ripe style of sauvignon blanc…crisp and refreshing with a smooth, medium-bodied profile and a subtly sweet, fruity finish.” The Silver winners are split two and two from both provinces, as are the Bronze winners in equal numbers, eight to eight. It’s just so bloody obvious that sauvignon blanc offers consumers what they want; equality, diplomacy and something for everyone.

Here are more sauvignon blanc tasted in recent weeks.

G.Marquis Sauvignon Blanc The Red Line 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (556894, $13.95, WineAlign)

Yes. Barrel fermented and flinty, reductive, smoky and with full fruit compliment. Crunchy, juicy, in metal motion and full of varietal excitement. So Fumé Blanc in character, rich, layered, variegated and fine. Plenty of acidity, herbal pesto, savour lemon square and length. Really accomplished wine. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Nomad At Hinterbrook Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2018, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($16.95, WineAlign)

Steely, juicy, melons of yellow, orange and green, full fruit straight ahead. Just fruit and stainless steel acquiescing sauvignon blanc. Nothing off track here. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (57430, $22.95, WineAlign)

The hyper-spirited layers of fruit intensity are noted above and beyond the previous vintage of Mission Hill’s Reserve sauvignon blanc. A similar grapefruit to guava to mango to gooseberry accumulation gathers albeit on a drier and more focused frame. The result is a douse of lime and a sprinkle of herbal salt for more complexity and ultimately opening the door to greater and further far reaching food pairings. Great joy in Mission Hill-ville with a nod to Sancerre-land. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Reif Estate Drea’s Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($26.50, WineAlign)

Leafy, savoury, verdant and grassy sauvignon blanc. Metallic, orange juiced and then, more metallics. Not a matter of excitement but definitely a thing of botany, chemistry and integrated science. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

CedarCreek Platinum Sauvignon Blanc Border Vista 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($33.70, WineAlign)

Aromatic whites are integral to the CedarCreek project and so sauvignon blanc is a natural for joining the ranks and carrying a torch. The wild ferment, 1500L oak foudres and concrete egg all contribute towards this three-pronged effect; musky berry skin scents, creamy and nutty flavours and then the kicker in how texture swells and fills the mouth. You’ve likely never experienced sauvignon blanc this way, not in the Loire, not in the New World and not even in British Columbia. This vintage presents a magnanimous beginning for what will become a benchmark varietal wine when the wild, wooly and moving parts learn how to co-exist in a world of balance. Can’t wait to see how ’18, 19 and ’20 turn out. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Le Vieux Pin Sauvignon Blanc 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($34.59, WineAlign)

Wholly engrossing sauvignon blanc of great pungency and perhaps a kiss of barrel here. Grassy and in a sense a crossing of Casablanca with Marlborough though just for a fleeting cerebral moment. Some mango to pear fruit sweetness through texture. Ambitious and reminiscently woolly style but B.C. knows how to make this happen and considering the expressiveness, why not? Dry extract and tannin come across on the finish. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

To Chardonnay and beyond

Every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one man band, but #i4c Sunday @ravinevineyard is always #homewardbound

A week out and ahead of the greatest Rock ‘n Roll chardonnay weekend around it seems apropos to preview i4c, the Niagara Peninsula’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. Imagine Coachella, Collisioni and Glastonbury rolled into one big weekend of tasting chardonnay. Sort of. Equating chardonnay to infinity also seems relatively appropriate because the great white, genetically superior grape is in fact the world’s most planted white variety somewhere in the vicinity of 500,000 acres and counting.

Are you going to i4c? The ninth edition of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration is taking place in Ontario’s Niagara region from July 19-21. There are events already sold out but there are tickets still available for some of the weekend’s best venues and 51 wineries will be featured this year, split between locals and those from nine countries around the world. Food is varied and outstanding at the cumulative events and you can sample more 100 versions of chardonnay, plus some other specialities. For all the detailed information you could want about events, seminars and ticket purchases, go to http://www.coolchardonnay.org/. And of course this all would not be possible without the unwavering support of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario (WMAO). Visit their website for everything wine in Ontario at https://winecountryontario.ca/.

I have made some pretty heady statements about this event. Lines like “The Cool Chardonnay weekend-long event is the stuff of dreams” and so to get you prepped for i4c here are 10 recently tasted examples from Ontario that you really must try.

Took all night but it was so worth it. Welcome to #i4c17 @coolchardonnay #ilivechardonnay

Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2017, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (286278, $19.95, WineAlign)

Quiet and demurred chardonnay with salty-metallic feels and real oak intent. Lovely to nose, taste and drink. What more could you want? So long and extensive, if soft and just easy. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

The Farm Unmarked Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($22.00, WineAlign)

Unmarked as in a combination of earmarked and unoaked, I would think. This Neudorf family raised chardonnay is sharp, leesy and so clean on a line its in Petit Chablis to Chablis mimic, from fruit near Jordan though not of exact or pinpointed, i.e. unmarked origin. It’s (Twenty Mile) Benchland fruit one way or another, lovely, so drinkable, expertly tart and equipped with a smile. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

The posit tug between fruit and tension is so strong it extends straight through the great lengths travelled all the way into the finish. This CCV has rarely if almost never moved with such circulative pace, in fact there’s a lurching and a wraparound effect, of acidity and structure encapsulating the fruit. Safe, bound and secure as it can be in the present so that the unwind will bring more and more pleasure. When texture arrives on the scene this will have come full circle, back to and in completion of fine union. It’s penitent and courteous, a function of winemaker Keith Tyers’ understanding of vineyard and vine. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted June 2019

Rosehall Run Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($29.95, WineAlign)

As a follow-up to the warmth and phenolic heights of 2016 you’ll have to imagine a meandering through zig-zagging directions for ’17. Despite the ups, downs and ups again this chardonnay has indeed found its way, charming us with insights and how richness ensues. The surety of this fruit and this composure ensures and enriches the great sleeper County chardonnay that continues to explain the concept of cool climate viticulture done right. It’s not really all that reductive but it is protective and crafted with indefatigable structure in surround of high quality ingredients. Another winner from Dan Sullivan. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Cool Chardonnay at Ridley College

Château Des Charmes Blanc De Blancs 2015, Traditional Method, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (423111, $34.95, WineAlign)

Not unlike the previous ’14 with an almost almond-nougat creaminess, sweetness balanced by equal and opposing acidity, not to mention real richness. Winemaker Amélie Boury likes to pick later than many in Niagara and so that accumulation of style, chic and textural components really drive this chardonnay machine. That said you can never leave home too far behind and so place is the thing. Cool-climate sparkling wine that is, in Blanc de Blancs form. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted June 2019

Trail Estate Chardonnay Vintage Two Unfiltered 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($35.00, WineAlign)

Three acres of planted chardonnay (a bit more than a hectare) and 2017 was harvested on October 8th, set to natural ferment and put to 22 per cent new plus (22) 2nd use barrels half way through in for 11 months. Bottled unfined and unfiltered there is more flesh and complexity in number two. This is the first new, true leg of what will be a long relationship, the first that is crafted “as opposed to just seeing what we’ve got.” In many ways Mackenzie Brisbois’ first truly personal chardonnay. There’s a creamy apple custard vitalized by pulse and energy with good bite and it feels very seasoned, on it’s own, religiously made, slowly developed and with purpose. The acids are spot on. Bottled in November, wisdom already contained, herein. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted December 2018

Queenston Mile Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario (10137, $35.00, WineAlign)

So very inscribed in the drawn buttery realm with oak notation from and centre, incumbent on melting sooner rather than later. For now it’s a richly textured chardonnay set in substantial oleaginous ooze though minus its original spice so full integration is coming soon. Curvy, creamy and pure, cresting at tender with an lovely white salted caramel vein, Stylish chardonnay with just enough cool. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted June 2019

Tawse Chardonnay Lenko Vineyard 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($44.95, WineAlign)

Nice advancement here, moving past original fruit and now with mixed into creamed corn, certainly vintage related, of cold and cloud cover plus some wetness. Good representation of the vintage once reductive, now mineral and flinty chardonnay of intensity and structure. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Bachelder Chardonnay Wismer Wingfield Ouest 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($44.95, WineAlign)

Exceptional chardonnay right here. Expressive, of both orchard and stone fruit in the same basket, beads of humidity forming on the aromatic skins. Not sweet but ripe as must be, tight, tart and structured along right proper angles. The real deal in chardonnay, with integrated wood, balance, precision and focus. Noted last there is length. Great length! Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted May 2019

Hidden Bench Blanc De Blanc Zero Dosage 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($48.00, WineAlign)

Every pop of a Hidden Bench Blanc de Blanc sets off fireworks at zero hour. Every moment marks the beginning of a great event, profound and set in the autolysis of fine design. Chardonnay such as it is like this is perfectly dry and raised on the promises of Bench life, the frosting on a cake made of pure driven varietal snow. If any sparkling wine made in Ontario is of “grower style” this is the one, purposed, born in the vineyard, bred in the fields. It is fed by chardonnay raised with a sparkling consciousness, intended to illuminate the chemistry of traditional methodology, to indicate a metal complex acting as a single unit, a polyatomic ion, a blanc de blanc molecular scintillant. The linger is complex and as a travelling companion you would be hard pressed to do better. Makes you feel just right. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted June 2019

Good to go!

godello

Every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one man band, but #i4c Sunday @ravinevineyard is always #homewardbound

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Don’t you, forget about IGT

San Francesco, Il Molino di Grace

Multiple visits to Tuscany over the past 36 months and more specifically to Chianti Classico have meant that nearly a thousand sangiovese have been opened for tasting opportunities. The tours have also acted to allow for benefactor moments, to present table wines made in part or in whole that either do not or have been chosen to not qualify for DOCG appellative status. These cases are purely opportunistic, in the name of IGT Toscana (and other typical geographical notations) for the purpose of impressing the merits from well-maturing vines of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, blends with sangiovese and other solo sangiovese wines of Chianti Classico producers.

The Galestro of Isole e Olena, Barberino Val d’Elsa

The idea of the IGT practice goes back four-plus decades, to a time when Bordeaux grape varieties began to infiltrate and populate Chianti Classico soils. So much of what was planted through the 90s remains and because only 20 per cent of a Chianti Classico can be filled by grapes other than sangiovese, in many cases it is the “international” varieties that fill in and those grapes still need to go somewhere. It is also a consideration that Chianti Classico aged in new oak barrels is a scarcity these days and so those vessels need to be used for something so ecco, it is IGT, big, small, super or baby that gets the nod.

Fontodi vineyards in the Conco d’oro, Panzano

In the mid to late 1970s Tuscany there developed a quick ascent of the Super-Tuscan, wines that eventually came to be called “IGT” as a by-product of a perfect bureaucratic storm. The micro-nationalistic wave of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita) served Italy’s elite producers both a blessing and a curse because on one hand it afforded wines the highest level of (Italian) classification while on the other it added unbending restrictions on how those wines could be made. The rule breaking table reds thus became symbols of resistance, wines that told governments and consortiums where to go and in effect led to an eventuality of response, of a sweeping, money-grabbing movement across that region’s wine-producing territories.

Paolo de Marchi and Cepparello 1995

It was nigh twenty years later that authorities got wise to the situation and so Goria’s 1992 Law 164 was created, thus giving birth to the IGT designation. New monies began to line the government’s pockets. So much for rebellion though twenty years was plenty of time to establish and set up a group of famous wines for life.

The main reason for moving away from the appellation was the restrictive law that said you couldn’t make wine labeled as Chianti Classico if it contained 100 per cent sangiovese grapes. Later examples included Monteraponi when Michele Braganti changed from DOCG to IGT in 2012 because at 12.5 per cent alcohol it did not qualify for Chianti Classico and so it had to be Toscana Rosso. The great first wave began as Chianti Classico producers began to dismiss appellative laws by de-classifying their 100 per cent sangiovese. Fontodi’s Flaccianello delle Pieve and Isole e Olena’s Cepparello are two of the more famous examples. Outside the Classico territory and in other Tuscan lands there were others many consider to be the most rogue and famous of them all. Tenuta San Guido’s 1968 Sassicaia, Antinori’s 1971 Tignanello, 1986 Masseto and Ornellaia, first produced in 1985. But in 2019 the push for Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione category to become a 100 per cent sangiovese appellative wine has sparked not only new debate but also great speculation. Will those once rebellious producers return their top wines and in many cases, single-vineyard sangiovese back to the appellation? Along with Flaccianello delle Pieve and Cepparello, the list of possible returnees might also include the following:

  • Badia a Coltibuono – Sangioveto
  • Carobbio – Leone
  • Castello di Querceto – Le Corte
  • Castello di Rampola – Sangiovese di S. Lucia
  • Fattoria Montecchio – Priscus
  • Il Molino Di Grace Gratius
  • Monteraponi – Baron’Ugo
  • Montevertine – Le Pergola Torte
  • Podere Campriano – 80 (Ottonta)
  • Podere La Cappella – Corbezzolo
  • Principe Corsini Le Corti – ZAC
  • Valdellecorti – Extra
  • Vignavecchia – Raddese

San Marcellino Vineyard, Monti in Chianti

In February of 2019 I tasted 21 assorted IGT wines, from Rosato to Bianco to Rosso. I’ve also added three others tasted a year ago that had not yet made it to print. These are my notes on that 24 strong, eclectic and impressive lot.

Rocca Di Montegrossi Rosato 2018, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Rosato from sangiovese raised from Chianti Classico galestro soils found in Monti in Chianti and only 30 minutes time through press. A 100 per cent sangiovese stunner with absolutely no excess, no onion skin, no oxidation, from all estate vineyards, including San Marcellino’s grapes that once would have been green harvested. Texture, sapidity and character are written down and expressed as a scientific problem out of which complexity sets all to high. One of Tuscany’s great Rosatos, made with great purpose, structure and food friendly to say the least. So good. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted twice, February and April 2019

Lunch at Le Fonti

Le Fonti Di Panzano La Lepre Delle Fonti 2017, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Antipasti wine, house wine, smells like good salumi. The Lepre tank is all the juice from the vineyard blocks where the ripening isn’t perfect and also some pressed juice not used in Chianti Classico. Theoretically from “de-classifed” grapes but in good vintages it could very well be Chianti Classico from a quality standpoint, though wouldn’t qualify because it’s made with 30 per cent merlot. A top notch vintage for Le Lepre, juicy, somewhat tannic and finishing with seed-noted beneficial bitters. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted February 2019

Le Fonti Di Panzano La Lepre Delle Fonti 2014, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Three years forward and the (70 per cent) sangiovese aromatics are eerily similar to the fresher and very forward 2017. Perhaps more salumi and certainly finnochio pronounced. Holding well with tannins resolved and this from the challenging 2014 vintage though truth be told it was the right one, of structure to carry a “second wine” like this forward. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted February 2019

Vicky Scmitt-Vitali and Guido Vitali, Le Fonti in Panzano

Le Fonti Di Panzano Merlot 2016, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From vineyards planted in 1998 and 2000, this is the second vintage of the varietal hugger, with Le Fonti aromatics stronger than grape. It’s one year in barrel so in the baby Super Tuscan mold, fruity, juicy, lower in acidity and pretty much crushable. Easy and very proper. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Le Fonti Di Panzano Fontissimo 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Certainly crafted from an easier, less stressful vintage and the blend is about 55-60 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 35 merlot and 10-15 sangiovese. Still those Le Fonti aromatics, of salumi and fennel, but here also pepper, graphite, Cassis and chocolate. Very Tuscan so makes sense in such a vintage for the reference to be Toscana as opposed to the frazione within frazioni called Alta Valle della Greve. Very grippy meeting the expected liqueur elixir and black cherry meeting black currant. Acidity is quite fine, purposed and integrated. Impressed by the length. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Le Fonti Di Panzano Fontissimo 2014, IGT Alta Valle Della Greve, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Fontissimo is a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese. A wine made in Chianti Classico to break in new barrels and to express territory through the ulterior processes of grape blending and winemaking. Here is where Guido Vitali and Vicky-Schmitt Vitali can work on their chops and hone their craft. Hello 2014, vintage of stars and bars, vintage of ages and for those who are paying close attention. Also, welcome to the highly specific Alta Valle della Greve. There’s a commonality for sure that is found in this valley but there is also a simplicity and a sense of place within a place within a place. Easy drinking actually. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Iacopo Morganti, Il Molino di Grace

Il Molino Di Grace Gratius 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Gratius is the Molino di Grace 100 per cent sangiovese table wine that resides with a dozen other territorial greats in that existentialist realm outside of the appellation. If and when it will become Chianti Classico DOCG remains to be seen but this 2015 sits on the side of tangy, tart and so bloody structured side and yes, the dominant notes are distinctly blood orange. Elongated and elastic it’s offers up a free and equitable look in the varietal mirror, productive in perfectly perpetual inertia, firm, grippy and motivated. Will come together in a few years time and drift ever so slowly for seven more. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Oriana 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

“In my opinion it is young to drink,” shrugs Natascia Rosini. In fact it’s oft considered unusual to hold back white wines to drink, not just here but in Italy as a whole. Then again, who else makes vermentino from estate grapes in Chianti Classico. Salinity and sapidity reign in a shockingly good vermentino. Pear and herbal notes with richness that just put this over the top. Picked late at full maturity and kept in the cellar for two weeks (at four degrees) before pressing. Never failing San Donato vermentino. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Oriana 1997, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The last time I was able to taste such a comparison was 2014 versus 1998, two under-appreciated cool and wet vintages. Now we look at warm years, 2015 and 1997, the latter at the time considered the greatest. Many sangiovese have failed and fallen but this vermentino, well, even if the colour and the nose are far evolved, the palate has plenty of life. Salinity and sapidity still rock and stone their way, with that marine wind from the sea rushing through, into the air and the soil of San Donato in Poggio. Hard to decide between this and ’98 because there is more flesh here (bringing a honeyed apricot), but sometimes lean is so nice. Such a special moment. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Corbezzolo 2013, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From sangiovese planted in 1981 and 1982, a vineyard not certified as Chianti Classico so this wine can’t be called Gran Selezione. To say this is young and perhaps even being unaware of what it can be would be an understatement. It’s calm and powerful, elegant and ready to strike with force. Such identifiable, formidable, indestructible and yet malleable tannins. A mimic of the singular Colombino rock found only here in the territory, calcareous white stone both strong to build houses (and cellars) and schisty to break apart between your hands. Imagine how this will drink when it allows itself to break down in just the right way and at just the right time.  Last tasted February 2019

The Corbezzolo from vine and into bottle is 100 per cent sangiovese and in name “the fruit tree that produces a very tart berry for making jam.” This comes straight from the heart of the Rossini matter, out of the oldest vineyard planted in 1990-1991. It would be hard not too think on Podere La Cappella’s sangiovese as untethered to family, to meals and the kitchen’s hearth. The demi-glacé in Corbezzolo is deeper, richer, slower developing, of graceful, elegant and ethereal aromatics, even a bit exotic verging on quixotic. There is this far eastern temperament because the fruit seems to simmer with cool, jasmine-floral savour in a galestro clay pot. The acumen is variegated in the singular Corbezzolo concentration but this is not a factor of extract or density. Depth is sangiovese light, dancing from 2013, a gorgeous vintage that everyone will want a piece of. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted February 2017

Podere La Cappella Cantico 2012, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

As always 100 per cent merlot with a grafting connection to chardonnay and American rootstock. The vintage is a savoury one for the thirty-plus year-old IGT. It’s a very Mediterranean sensation, of black olive and balsamico, hematic ooze and woodsy floor. It’s actually still quite closed or perhaps it’s entered a dumb or quiet phase but don’t be fooled; there is powerful restraint and it may pounce anytime. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted February 2019

Podere La Cappella Cantico 1999, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

A beautifully advanced merlot from vines that would have been 17 and 18 years-old at picking time. If you’ve got a truffle dog, take this wine and go truffling because this merlot is at the head of that aromatic game for the territory. Such a creamy merlot, with plenty of necessary acidity and the freshness of truffle. Merlot as tartufo incarnate. Truly. Delicious. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2019

John Matta and John Szabo Vicchiomaggio

Castello Vicchiomaggio Ripa Delle Mandorle 2016, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Sangiovese (80 per cent) with cabernet sauvignon, all fruit and nothing but the fruit, plummy and with a nutty smokiness, but also manageable with simplicity from and for fruit. What works and gives from the basic and forthright IGT ideal. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted February 2019

Castello Vicchiomaggio Ripa Delle More 2016, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Sangiovese (50 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (30) and merlot (20), from “the hill of the blackberry.” A rich, purple flower aromatic, liquid chalky, deeply rendered red. Done up in a combination of new and pre-used barriques. There’s a salumi feel, a musky pancetta and a silky smooth mouthfeel. Nearing glycerin but staying its clay-mineral coarse. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2019

Castello Vicchiomaggio Villa Vallemaggiore Poggio Re 2016, Maremma Toscana DOC Rosso, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From cabernet sauvignon grown on sandy soils in the warmer maritime area near Grossetto. The grapes comes from “the hill of the king,” and the attributes are so bloody varietal obvious. Cassis, ribena, blackberry, savour and spice. Chocolate and rosemary, tarragon and cinnamon. Very expressive and with good elevated acidity. Quite the tannic beast. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2019

Castello Vicchiomaggio FSM 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

From a project that began in 1995, this is 100 per cent merlot of a small, 3,000 bottle lot. It’s hard to decide if it’s more varietal or more Toscana so let’s just say it straddles the two with perfect ease. Youthful, big and warm, very Mediterranean with gariga, black olive, rosemary and dusty notes. Silky smooth however and finishes in balsamic, viscous and reduced. High quality merlot to be sure, with fine tannic structure. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2019

Amphora, Fattoria Montecchio

Fattoria Montecchio Priscus 2015, Toscana Rosso IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The IGT is 100 per cent sangiovese of 1,200 bottles aged in 100 per cent terracotta amphora formed, forged and cured on the Montecchio property. Same must/juice as the Gran Selezione so the side by side comparison is the show. Winemaker Riccardo Nuti is interested in this investigation for family tradition, commercial continuity and passion project affirmation. Quick time on skins, fermented in terracotta tanks and racked into “amphora,” in this case elongated egg-shaped clay vessels for the next two plus years. The texture and the spice are higher, as is the volatility but the threshold is not in any danger of being breached. The tannins are more present, demanding and vivid. And I prefer them because they are just that more interesting. This is in fact a remarkable look at the relationship between grape, vessel, material, approach and place. Drink 2024-2033.  Tasted February 2019

Fattoria Montecchio Pietracupa 2016, Toscana Rosso IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

An IGT blend of sangiovese (60 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon with a percentage coming from San Donato in Poggio vineyards close by. Much deeper, bigger, broader and brooding as a blend with smooth silky consistency and fine silky tannins. Very oaky, completely mature and filled with the flavours that lie on the balsamic-chocolate-blackberry spectrum. Though the sangiovese character is lost it’s a real high-end charmer. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Fattoria Montecchio La Papesa 2015, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

A varietal merlot of high level ripeness and while it’s a bit overripe and certainly extracted the acidity is supportive, balancing and results in something charming. The tannins are soft and comforting with zero astringency so yes, think of this as a great big San Donato hug. Figs in reduced balsamico are the prevailing flavours, with lots of dark but not bitter chocolate coming through with the finishing next level morbido feelings. As big as it may seem to some palates it’s actually quite easy to drink. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2019

Monte Bernardi Tzingarella 2017, IGT Toscana Centrale, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend from young vines in frost spots and high humidity places not really suitable for sangiovese. The blend is merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and canaiolo. So what is it? Well for one thing it’s the “daughter of the gypsy,” and then it’s a high acid, taste of place before anything else red blend. High tonality, ripe purple fruit and and a boatload of currants. No pyrazine, well perhaps just a bit. Low alcohol for such an animal, remarkably so and once again it’s a great matter of sapidity. Just a hit of chocolate late, as per the grapes which needed to have a say. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2019

Monte Bernardi Tzingana 2015, IGT Toscana Centrale, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The “Gypsy,” from the old Greek, or in Italian, gitano or tzigane. This gypsy is the old vine version, of 50 years, top grafted on a sangiovese/malvasia/canaiolo/trebbiano vineyard planted by the previous owner in the late 80s. It’s made from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot (but no canaiolo) and also no sangiovese because tells Michael Schmelzer, there is no cannibalizing the Chianti Classico. This is deeper, richer, lower in acidity, still sapid but not as pronounced and higher in finishing chocolate. The wood needs a year more of integration. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Luca Martini di Cigala, San Giustro a Rentennano

San Giusto A Rentennano Percarlo 2013, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Percarlo IGT Toscana 2013 is the current vintage of the 100 per cent sangiovese that began in the 1980s when it was forbidden to label such a beast as Chianti Classico. “Percarlo is his identity so he will not come back,” insists Luca Martini di Cigala. Made from the smallest bunches and a selection of the best fruit, yet still from the same vineyards albeit blessed of more from tufo soil. Percarlo carries the same San Giusto richness and acidity working in silky tandem and the tannins are the most plush, which they’d have to be to match the high level of glycerin. Formidable and exceptionally refined sangiovese. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted February 2018

San Giusto A Rentennano Percarlo 2005, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Once again you would have no idea that any time may have passed, not just because the hue has yet to morph but because the aromatics and fresh gelée are one in the same, together as they have always been. The purity and exquisite texture also conspire for a sublime intertwine and then out of this comes the acidity, trailing like a comet. The tannins are still so strong and so the smoky spirit and intensity of variegated flavour persists, gets reprimanded and is held out for all to taste. Here the maximum coaxed from the grape is acceded above and exceeded beyond. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted February 2018

Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione 2015, IGT Alta Valle Della Greve, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Il Carbonaione is from the finest sangiovese on the Ruffoli property, a Chianti Classico vineyard declassified, with vines as old as 90 years but in reality, not exactly 100 per cent sangiovese. Some post-phylloxera ungrafted vines and many co-planted with no record of origin perhaps or likely place mammolo, colorino, canaiolo, malvasia, trebbiano and even occhiorosso in five to ten per cent amongst clones of sangiovese. The nose is like the Chianti Classico magnified, reduced, compressed and elevated. The florals rival the Lamole but they are more into potpourri and the acidity is super, super fine. The only comparison might be in acidity like Luca’s San Giusto a Rentennano, with the sandy soil base and the saltiness but the tannins here are set upon broader shoulders. With much less stone worked in the soil you lose the chalky grain streak but gain this broader complexity. With such beckoning and burgeoning acidity the vinatge is put on a great pedestal and the possibility seriously exists for two decades of aging. Ruffoli’s 400-600m elevation, with a long growing season (sometimes seeing pick times up the second week of October) means the full and complete phenolic ripeness is wholly realized. Not to put too much stock in here but 13.5 per cent alcohol. Just sayin’. Drink 2020-2034.  Tasted February 2018

Good to go!

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San Francesco, Il Molino di Grace

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Il costante sangiovese di Castell’In Villa

Castelnuovo Berardenga, February 2019

Simplicity. Just like today’s weather, blue and crisp. “Simplicity is the best thing in life,” tells Castell’In Villa’s kinben proprietor Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa. “Simplicity is freedom.” The sangiovese grown, fermented and bottled on her Castelnuovo Berardenga farm are surely one of the purest, most transparent and site-specific in the entirety of Chianti Classico. Il costante sangiovese di Castell’In Villa. Constant, inalterable, steadfast and true.

The Castelnuovo Berardenga farm is littered with shells from an ancient ocean and it is the Principessa’s honesty that helps to explain the estate style and the results in not just her wines, but as a way to also look at those of other producers in the territory. “Here at Castell’In Villa there is every (Chianti Classico) soil type and rock imaginable and also what’s left behind from that ocean of many millennium. This is the part I enjoy the most. To make wines from the fields. Which really comes through in the mineral of the Annata. The wood of the Riserva covers it up just a touch, though when the wood goes down I feel the sense of the earth.”

Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa

Just a shade more than 20 kilometres east from Siena and due south of San Felice is where you can find Castell’in Villa, a medieval hamlet dating back to the 1200’s at which time it was a borgo within the borders of Sienese control. The medieval stone tower is the home of the Principessa, who bought the estate with her Greek husband in 1968. The estate covers a particularly wooded area for Castelnuovo Berardenga of 298 hectares of which 54 are planted to vineyards and 32 for olive groves. Within the woodland the hunting ground teems with hare, pheasants and wild boar. The vineyards comprise eight highly distinct sites to which the diversity of the greater territorial countryside is reflected, both in soil types and microclimates.

The two essential wines produced are Chianti Classico DOCG and Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG. Two other reds are made, the IGTs Santacroce and Poggio delle Rose. A very small amount of traditional Vin Santo is also produced as well as a Grappa from the residue of the estates vendemmia. There are no trends or fashions followed here. As for the category of Gran Selezione, this is what the Principessa has to say, “It’s a good intentional and commercial decision. The Consorzio should have the courage to distinguish the producer on the bottle.”

Spaghettini al ragú di cervo

No visit to the estate is truly complete without experiencing Chef Massimo Di Fulvio’s attention to local detail, especially for the cervo and the cinghiale in exceptional and essential dishes that celebrate the hunt and the harvest. Castell’in Villa’s restaurant is not to be missed.

Tagliata alla Bistecca Fiorentina

I had the honour and il più grande piacere to visit with Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa twice in three months, first in November 2018 and then again this past February. On both occasions the days were perfect, the wines showing with full fruit capability and the meals were inextricably woven into the fabric of these wines. These are what I tasted and how I have assessed them in the context of grape, maker and place.

Castell’in Villa Rosato Gazzara IGT Toscana 2018, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

One hundred per cent sangiovese, sapid and salty, wound internally tart and so in command of its reasoning and seasoning. Good morning sangiovese sunshine, wake up and smell the cherries, le fragole and also the mineral salts in their assimilated liquid form. Mezzo perfecto. It’s Rosato after all. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted February 2019

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico DOCG 2014, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Immediate amore for the aromatics and the lack of supposition, for how this 100 per cent sangiovese is naturally careful, subtly handsome and respectfully direct. Lean but without angles or sharp, pointed edges, nor overtly weighted down in tang. Floral notes are stated in grace and like all of the Principessa’s wines from these Castelnuovo Berardenga vineyards, the singularity of restraint for power and and purity is duly recognized. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2018 and February 2019  castellinvilla  #castellinvilla  

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico DOCG 2011, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The warmth is quite special in spite of a troubling vintage and is felt through the conduit of fruit eight years on having gained a dried leather cherry hyperbole. I am reminded immediately of the particular acidity in these wines. Set on a tonal scale upon the highest but always out of finesse and in control. Life has really just begun for this youthful sangiovese gathered around and about the 50 hectares of Castell’in Villa vineyards. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2019

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico DOCG 2006, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Aromatic self-awareness always lends to self-control for the estate Annata, with fruit maintenance at the top of the vintage game. A very fine season was 2006, across Tuscany and certainly in Chianti Classico, ideal in Castelnuovo Berardenga. There is some black fruit here tipping towards and dipping into a pot of tartufo oil, some marinating black olives, porcini, carob, bokser and toasted almond. Or perhaps chestnut. Fruit so developed needs corresponding acidity and so it is always thankful to be a child the estate. The weight is fun and whimsical, with an earthiness that teases post-secondary to nearly ecumenical tertiary. Always a saltiness in amazing recall of an ancient ocean.  Love the temperature it’s served, to mimic who this sangiovese must have always been, cool as a mid-February day, expressive of both sunshine and savour, remembering a beautiful summer in a good vintage. This actually gains youth as it opens, starting out with that truffling gait and finishing cool, minty and fresh. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted November 2018 and February 2019

Ravioli al tartufo

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

A blend of parcels ”though we know more or less the fields from where they come,” says Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa. Here we are introduced to the clarity and functionality of what Castell’in Villa has always purported to be, traditional while always moving in a forward direction of evolutionary necessity. There is no guessing game being played and the aromas are expressive of the property, in everything that grows, plus all that sits beneath and slowly rises to the surface of the fields. Flowers and rocks, together with grapes. It’s that simple really. Finesse and reality. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted February 2019

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2011, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

“Is this normal for you,” is the question with regards to older vintages sharing the stage with current releases. “I always come out late,” answers Principessa Coralia. “If sangiovese is good it needs time.” The 2011 perfume comes from a place of almost no frame of reference, save for these formidably ecological Castelnuovo Berardenga fields. It’s a wild cherry wrapped inside an enigma with a sense of humour. Sangiovese 100 per cent of its own edenic Findhorn. So in control and colourful, with exceptional length. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted November 2018

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2010, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The bright perfume is elevated out of 2010 and brought to present day prominent, scintillant life. A sangiovese out of which the Principessa “feels the sense of the earth.” You somehow still feel the sweet naïveté of maceration, from a very promising now realized vintage of both fruit wealth and structure. Just a moment’s porcini breath characterizes the present, coming through to speak of a turning point and the next aromatic phase. Just a baby really. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2005, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

The acidity is first in line, in charge and in control. This particular 2005 is THE food wine of the lot so far, begging for some fat and protein. There is some funghi umami on the nose and then some dried fruit, from a vintage providing all the necessary tools and also some formidable tannins. I expected a further evolved Riserva from 2005 and this turns presuppositions on their head. The nose is there but the palate and the structure have plans to wait it out. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted February 2019

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1995, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

Every memory of the summer that was 1995 in Chianti Classico is important, not the least of which are 17 days spent there and the terrible weather that followed the communes all summer long. Perhaps that is why this 23-plus year-old sangiovese has lingered into the most finessed and pleasure gathered state of grace. It’s an older bird to be sure and even not the cleanest example there is or was but its tertiary place is still marked by fine acidity and grippy tannin. Classic Castelnuovo sangiovese with dried porcini scattered amongst the leaves of autumn. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted February 2019. (The slight TCA in this example really means the wine is not rated)

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico DOCG Poggio delle Rose 2010, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

From the hill parcel planted in 1990 to the old selezoine massale clones, from the original property, not the current “Chianti Classico” clones. “And there is a difference,” insists Principessa Coralia. Three or four years in grandi botti and older tonneaux so no, it’s not even close to ready. Yet the fcat that you don’t explicitly notice the tonneaux is its magic. A big and complex vintage with variability in temperature and precipitation but at the crucial moments it gave what was needed. There is a special presence about this sangiovese, because of the source but also how alive, bright-eyed and expressive it is. This pulses, vibrates and reverberates with ancient seabed salinity. No loss to finesse but more time will be required, to turn back time and back pages, for the true clarity and calm disposition to settle in. Extraordinary wine of restrained power and exceptional sangiovese. Has always been Riserva and “will never be Gran Selezione.” Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted November 2018 and February 2019

Castell’in Villa Santa Croce Di Castell’in Villa IGT Toscana 2008, Tuscany, Italy (Winery, WineAlign)

An 80-20 gathering between cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese, in ode to the early May local celebrations of the cross. Certainly a matter of Cassis and sweet savour but the place speaks louder than the grapes. More of a barrel-scented and texture-affected red for Castell’in Villa, naturally because of the cabernet but also because the barrels have to start somewhere. It’s quite floral, certainly dusty and pretty much in its right place, in time. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted February 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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Fifty years of Col d’Orcia

Back in February of 2019 I spent some time in Montalcino as part of a three and a half day Anteprime di Toscana visit at Benvenuto Brunello 2019 and also with producers at their estates. The most enchanting visit and one that sent journalists, sommeliers, chefs, servers and family members back to the future was at dinner hosted by Francesco Marone Cinzano at Col d’Orcia. Verticals of Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino were poured from the nines going back 50 years in time.

Related – Awash in Brunello di Montalcino

A few years back I chose Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 1997 as one of 14 Mind blowing wines of 2014. “From a golden vintage, this ’97 is crazy good. A fixed, double-edged blade fighting knife dipped into a warm pool of developed liqueur-like sweetness. Seventeen years of languorous modulation and wood-fruit integration had resulted in a gracious Brunello, intrinsically delicious and living large in senescence. Life for the Col D’orcia ’97 is a bowl of cherries. Open one now and for the next three to five years and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get. Me, “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.” Tasted April 2014. Strutura. Structure, ability and longevity. This is Col d’Orcia.

The Estate

History, tradition and strutura do not dig any deeper in Montalcino than at Col d’Orcia, an Orcia Valley, (Val d’Orcia) southern slope estate in the Montalcino territory. The lineage dates back to at least 1890, when records show the Franceschi family of Florence purchased the property, then known as Fattoria di Sant’Angelo in Colle. One of two brothers Stefano Franceschi inherited the property, split from Leopoldo in 1958 and then re-named it Col d’Orcia, “{hill above Orcia” after the river that runs through the property. Franceschi later married into the royal family of the future King of Spain Juan Carlos and sold the property to the Piemontese family Cinzano in 1973. At that time only a few hectares under vine and it was Count Alberto Marone Cinzano that pushed the reach up to 70 hectares by the early 1980s. Francesco continued plantings to the current number at 140 hectares, 108 of which are dedicated to Brunello production.

Cold d’Orcia’s soils are loose, skeletal and permeable, poor in clay, rich in limestone and inert materials. Fog, ice and late frosts are of little to no concern and breezes blow frequently for persistent and profitable vine health conditions. Climate is typically Mediterranean, with limited rainfalls concentrated in the months of March, April, November and December. Col d’Orcia the third largest owner of Brunello vineyards in Montalcino.

Plin farciti galletto, conditi con olio, parmigiano e pepe

The Dinner and the wines

Chef Roberto Rossi of Il Silene.

Montalcino, 14 Febbraiao 2019

Col d’Orcia Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2009, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $25.00, WineAlign)

So poignant for this to be poured alongside the Brunello of same vintage because we’re usually comparing Rosso to Brunello of the next and the next vintage. Both move with similar advancement though fruit in Rosso at nine years is far along the trampled path, deep into the bosco. If the aromatics have gone secondary than imagine how tertiary entrenched the palate is now. Lovely final chapter for this wine while still drinking with great charm. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Col d’Orcia Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2009, Tuscany, Italy (306852, $49.95, WineAlign)

Not a question of heat but clearly a matter of having taken full advantage of a vintage. Here Brunello sits compressed, of mille-feuille fruit layers intersected by spotting acidity and still important tannins. Col d’Orcia tannins specific to a place “in the middle of nowhere.” Tasted side by side with the Rosso of the same vintage the notable difference is a peppery shell, almost a still persistent reduction and clearly a kept freshness. This fruit is Col d’Orcia’s red fruit, wild in the forest and warming inside. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted February 2019

 

Col d’Orcia Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Poggio al Vento 1999, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Very youthful sangiovese, young Brunello, spritely Riserva and teenage Poggio al Vento. At 19 and a half years of age it acts like a kid, with unbridled energy and innocence. Still not in any real hurry to grow up, the pulse, energy and intensity are all plucked from barrel and left to play out in the yard. It feels as though it’s running and running. You can call it in for dinner but there’s no guarantee it will come in. Primary fruit is still a thing and food will sing along, happy to saddle up with this Montalcino cru king. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted February 2019

Col d’Orcia Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1979, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Quiet, not just at first, but in continuum, a good thing with just a few initial hints of age. There can be immediate concern of this being 40 years-old. It’s hidden talents prevent you from knowing and of those, fineness of acidity is at the top of the heap. I’d say there was some astringency and mean streak tannin in the first ten years, or perhaps maybe more. It seems this Riserva was a beast for so long and only the last ten years have allowed it to deliver such gentility and charm. It’s amazing really and glad this bottle hung in there. It’s very special. In fact it’s still unfolding. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2019

Coniglio in porchetta farcito con pistacchi, accompagnato da spinaci saltati e sformato di cavoli

Col d’Orcia Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 1989, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

A huge Col d’Orcia, perhaps the biggest, broadest and most ferric I’ve ever tasted. That pool may only be 25 but this bites twice and is far from shy. It’s obviously vintage but also feels like a vintage of ambitious winemaking. The oak, oak spice, alcohol, unami and dried fruit are all fully throttled and simply add up to deliver a vibrant massive attack. Red fruit is nowhere to be found, left instead in a void filled by porcini, sanguine carne and herbal potpourri. The acidity eventually brings out more charming moments but this is really an unrelenting sangiovese. Will live 15 more years easy although there wont be the type of fruit still lingering shown by the 1979. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Col d’Orcia Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 1969, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Tasted from three different bottles, the first showing TCA, the second alive and quiet, the third singing. Bottle variation is not surprising at all, especially in wines of this ilk and age. The family arrived at the estate in 1973 to find some vintages in barrel and this ’69 in concrete. Because the third sample was not just the best but the one with real personality we’ll just concentrate on it. The nose is very floral and full of toffee, toasted chestnut and burnt orange. The palate is lively, hopping really. A mild bitterness marks the finish, still pulsing with acidity though not with tannin. Great look back. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted February 2019

Millefoglie al pistacchio e caffè

Pascena, Moscadello di Montalcino 2014

Piccola pasticceria

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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