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

Italian wines of the week

Wines of the week

Wines of the week

Fear not dear reader. This is not a top ten list or a call to promote the best of the worst. It is not, most thankfully, a post on what wines are being released at the LCBO through VINTAGES. No, a one or two-day break is being granted, mercifully, to explore some wines over at the SAQ in Quebec and others available, by the case, in consignment by way of Ontario agents.

WineAlign is ever so surely becoming the tasting office of choice. It offers the opportunity to explore that critic’s dream realm of “so many wines and so little time.” The home office checks in a close second, with samples ready and carefully kept under temperature control.  I tasted and scribbled with much verve last week and over the weekend. There will be more to follow, but for now, the Italian notes.

 

Torraccia Di Presura Leneo 2013, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $18.95, WineAlign)

Leneo is 100 per cent Sangiovese, half of which is matured in small oak French barrels for approximately six months. From vineyards near Greve in Chianti, this is the epitome of fresh. The strawberry and raspberry aromas are so very height of summer, the tension having long left the ferment. Fruit and buoyant acidity remain to lift and cut spirit. A late flavour of rosemary and olive adds a nice Mediterranean touch.  Tasted March 2015  @TorracciaPresur  @TheVine_RobGroh

Capoverso Cortona Syrah 2013, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $18.95, WineAlign)

There is noticeable volatility in this Syrah though it strikes a congenial balance between fruit and alcohol. The wine is not hot but is currently unsettled. That comes through in the sooty sinew and tree sap aromas. Black raspberry fruit abounds, as does liquorice and black tea. The overall accord works the parts but some time will be required for reconciliation. Sweet and sour is accented by a savoury, though moderately lengthened finish.  Tasted March 2015  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore Rosato 2014, Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

A Sangiovese blush made from organic grapes, arid as the Corso Vannucci is long, linear and direct as la strada centrale leads to the Fontana Maggiore. Has a savoury flex and a salinity that central Italian Rosé almost always displays, a pull from two seas not hard to reach heading either east or west. The glycerin texture and tangy, just this side shy of reductive aromas are a propriety of pure yet driven fruit. Has the slant of Sangiovese, even in the absence of its sour edge and devitalizing tannin. A very fine example of Umbrian Rosé.  Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore Fiordaliso Grechetto 2014, Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

Fashioned from organic (and specialized clones of) Grechetto di Todi and Trebbiano Spoletino. The ordinary is abutted with prejudice in this Roccafiore take, in full mineral action out of Umbria. This one speaks to me, never mind the current reductive accent. The organic vines exude healthy fruit and this fleur-de-lis is regal, royal and full of life. Wet stones, not flinty but certainly crouching on the rocky forefront. The balance between orchard fruit, the rocks and the load carrying acidity is spot on. This is an expertly crafted, intelligent and gratifying white.  Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Cantina Roccafiore ‘Melograno’ 2013, IGT Umbria, Italy (Ontario Agent, $20.95, WineAlign)

Sangiovese and Montepulciano combine forces in this organic Umbrian, the punica granatum or pomegranate. Like the uniquely variegated, sour, sweet and highly mineral fruit, this red mimics the savoury pleasures. It’s dry, possessive of natural salts and fruity, but not in a sugary way. The acids are citrusy, much like pomegranate, but void of true citrus. Very pure, penitent, clean and crisp, with mild tannins and a ferric touch. Very Umbrian, regal, Franciscan, Friars Minor to bigger, bolder Sangiovese. Tasted March 2015  @roccafiorewines  @TheVine_RobGroh

Brancaia Il Bianco 2013, Tuscany, Italy (SAQ 11797174,$21.35, WineAlign)

Sauvignon Blanc stands soprattutto to Viognier, Gewürztraminer and Sémillon in this tannic white wine from Castellina in Chianti, in the far south-east corner of Chianti Classico. Five months on yeasts has not only built breadth but also compensated for no oak or malolactic. The repercussion is a curtailment and a feigning of qualitative casting, as if from sea stones and ancient feelings. Pretty pleasures are a supraliminal by-product of the effect, in a leavening of lime and rock. This reminds me of a young, petite Stratus White, in which a mélange of grape varieties combine and effectively cancel one another out, with nary a dominant, alpha varietal limelight steal. This Bianco would create even more buzz with a 10-20 per cent barrel influence.  Tasted March 2015  Brancaia

Capoverso Rosso Di Montepulciano 2012, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

Here is Prugnolo Gentile with a swagger and quite the attitude. Don’t be fooled by the new adventist-adventurist, retro-romantic label. This Rosso has a mean streak. Funky aromas of the barn and the compost heap may be secondary to red fruit but they are definitely there. High iron content, less so in botany and rich like a long braise of dark veal shank ragu. Complexity is in, basics are out and there is much to dwell on in this Rosso, event if its intent is to induce simple pleasures. This needs salty protein, like the aforementioned idea of ragu.  Tasted March 2015   @TheVine_RobGroh

Argiano Non Confunditur 2012, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent 72397, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Argiano NC-IGT must be awarded points and applause for the sheer felicity it affords the discerning drinker who knows when they have been pleased. This is juicy stuff from a terrific vintage. A latin lover of voluptuous body and luscious-laden lips. A flirtatious Tuscan ragazza, outgoing, friendly, hand-holding and demonstrative. Liquid freshness, with layers of red fruit and circulating acidity. Very modern, in an Aussie Rhône-blend way, with liquorice, cocktail beginnings and Tawny Port ends. Quite a swirl of flavours and pulsations. Drink now and for another two years.  Tasted March 2015  @Argianowinery  @TrialtoON

Fontanafredda Barolo 2010, Piedmont, Italy (Ontario Agent 20214, $30.00, WineAlign)

Traditional Nebbiolo that is neither austere nor of such a hard shell to crack. Roses and street cover in summer give sweet and fume aromas. Has an elemental scent, like a science lab but with experiments that broadcast harmony, synthesis and balance. Glycerin and tannin revolve around in the Nebbiolo oscillator. Some late funk creeps in, indicating some time (five years) needed to see a proper fruition. Represents very good value at $30.  Tasted March 2015  @Fontanafredda_  @Noble_Estates

Tolaini Al Passo 2011, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent $37.99, SAQ 11794344, $28.40, Manitoba Banville and Jones $34.99, WineAlign)

This IGT from Castelnuovo Berardenga blends Merlot into Sangiovese, a push and pull varietal relationship if ever there was one. The Sangiovese is Mary while the Merlot whispers. The sacred and the profane. The ancient and the modern. “Uh-will the wind ever remember the (Tuscan wine) names it has blown in the past?” A red house of aromas, a gypsy’s soul and balance are found in this whirling, flavour-filled glass of noise. This is wild Tuscan magic, if a bit disjointed and occupied by strange, though harmonious bedfellows. Rippling red wine, tannic and in need of a few years to soften. “After all the jacks are in their boxes and the clowns have all gone to bed.”  Tasted March 2015  @TolainiWines  @BanvilleJones  @bwwines

Capoverso Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

In antithesis to the angular ’12 Rosso, this ’11 Vino Nobile is Prugnolo Gentile at its liquor-like most. This is a painted Sangiovese, with impasto, with style that is strong of colour and meaning. With very plush, oak-managed Caciotti brush stroke and thick creamy flavours. Intensely glycerin, polished and agreeable, especially considering the often tannic and ferric side of Vino Nobile. This will not be a 20-year Tuscan as it already exhibits signs of age, in dried fruit, velutinous toffee and baking blackberry pie. Oh but it will go beautifully with a rare slice of roast and a side of truffled spuds. Tasted March 2015   @TheVine_RobGroh

Tolaini Valdisanti Tenuta S. Giovanni 2009, Tuscany, Italy (Ontario Agent 137786, $49.00, Manitoba Banville and Jones $54.99, WineAlign)

The opposite, the antithesis, the polar paradox of to egregious IGT Tuscan blending is here in this delightful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc. Oak plays a prominent, spicy and sandalwood barmy role, as does the (mere five per cent) CF, giving currant energy and savoury plug-in to the softer CS. The middle notes and flavours are all Sangiovese, which is a good thing and a wise winemaking decision. The request begs for more Cabernet Franc in Tuscan composites, please. The Castelnuovo Bereardenga and Tuscan climate as a whole agrees with the variety, fleshes it, embraces it, encourages it to support Sangiovese and the less animale Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Here squares off a total package, in substance and in familiarity. Tasted March 2015  TolainiWines  @BanvilleJones  @bwwines

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Fall is the time for Tuscan wine

Ripe wine grapes
PHOTO: ANDY DEAN/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Tuscany. Entrenched in place as one of the most storied, time-tested and traditional wine regions of the world. For right reason, thanks in great measure to the chimerical, paragons of Brunello, Vino Nobile, Bolgheri, Maremma and of course, Chianti Classico.

Tuscan wine laws, while more relaxed and inclusive than they recently were, continue to hold on to stubborn and hardheaded ways and remain transfixed on tradition and patriarchy. In the 1970′s some miscreant and rebellious winemakers began bottling with foreign varieties and gulp, in blends with the local, beloved Sangiovese. They broke as many rules as possible. Wine hippies. The movement paid no heed to the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) laws and the wines came to be known as Super Tuscans. The new marketers labeled their bastardi as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). Antinori’s Tignanello, Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia, Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia’s Ornellaia and Masseto were the very expensive originals. So many followed and today a “Super Tuscan” can be had from $12 to $400. I turn to this concise and disseminated description on the genre from VinoinLove.

PHOTO: Daniela Scorza/Fotolia.com
Tuscan wines are to be found everywhere these days and tastings seem to teem with them in the fall.

All this in direct insult and dis to the salt of Tuscany’s wine earth, the sanguis Jovis, the “blood of Jove,” Sangiovese. Conventional and prescribed Chianti (Sangiovese), Brunello (Sangiovese Grosso) and Vino Nobile (Prugnolo Gentile) all contained, in majority proportions, a form or clone of the grape. Other autochthonous varieties were parochially permitted, like Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia and Mammolo. But Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah? No chance. Today, things have (somewhat) changed.

The Super Tuscan IGT holds court while Sangiovese-based wines fight for market share. Better yet, the IGT style paradigm is finally beginning to shift back to the future of Italian wine, in a focused, pure, fruit-driven style. Oak hindrance and high alcohol IGT, despite the reason for putting the genre on the map in the first place and while still so prevalent, will not survive the mode it has been mired in for the past 10-12 years.

Tuscan wines are to be found everywhere these days and tastings seem to teem with them in the fall. Tuscany was the themed centrepiece of the most recent VINTAGES September 28th, 2013 release. Wine importers have been showcasing their IGT’s at portfolio tastings and coming next month, Wines of Italy will offer more than a dozen among the 100+ wines on pour at that immense event. Here are five recently sampled Super-Tuscans and three rogue Sangiovese to seek out this fall.

Clockwise from left: Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2010, Fattoria Carpoli Sada Integolo 2010, San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009, Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Pertimali AZ. Livio Sassetti Fili di Seta IGT 2009, Terrabianca Campaccio IGT 2009, and Anima Libera Morellino di Scanzano 2011

VINTAGES September 28th, 2013 release

Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2010 (508531, $16.95) lets Sangiovese play chaperone to Cabernet Sauvignon and Canaiolo in its most modern and alluring incarnation to date. That’s not to say it clenches without tension, in seething red berry and cherry. Highly floral entry and dusty finish. Solid value. Will work for many a pasta.  88

Fattoria Carpoli Sada Integolo 2010 (350132, $18.95) the unheralded, consumer obscure yet not so unusual IGT blend from Cabernet Sauvignon, Montepulciano and Alicante feigns modernity at a refreshingly low, low alcohol by volume of 12.5 percent. Though not widely known, the blend is not so uncommon for the Tuscan coast. Uncomplicated and pure, dark red camera obscura with pitch emitting a ray of bright fruit light. Spit char roasting aroma, sun-dried flavour and energy in solar happiness, as “the rocks melt wi‚ the sun.”   89

San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 (716266, $26.95, SAQ, 703363, $27) clocks in at 12.8 per cent abv. Are you following the theme here? This CCR is just so flippin’ foxy and gorgeous to nose. It’s also demanding in iron, dried sanguine char and tough like the label’s Titian-painted medieval knight. CCR stretched out on the rack, Italianate through and through and likely in need of 10 years lay down time. Funkless which, considering the lack of coat and obfuscation, is very, very interesting.  92

Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (996553, $29.95) invites Chianciano/Montepulciano to the party mix and the result in 2007 is lush, lusty and downright funky. Usually one only finds this kind of funk and circumstance in a Napa valley Cabernet. So muttonous and crustaceous I’m tempted to say merroir but as my colleague JS notes, “withterroir like this who needs grapes.” Another IGT that dials my number at 12.5 per cent abv. Honesty thy name is balance.  90

Profile Wine Group Portfolio Tasting

Liberty Grand, September 24, 2013

Pertimali AZ. Livio Sassetti Fili di Seta IGT 2009 (Profile Wine Group private order, $37.95, B.C., International Wine Cellars, 16147, $46) is a Sangiovese (60 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40 per cent) Montalcino blend. Rosso di Toscano, as opposed to Rosso di Montalcino, or baby Brunello. Lush, jet pitchy and earthy fruit that dances the Brett line but never crosses over into dangerously funky territory.  90

Terrabianca Campaccio IGT 2009 (Profile Wine Group consignment, $39.95) combines fruit from two Tuscan appellations, Chianti Classico and Maremma. The 70 per cent Sangiovese and 30 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon blend has never wavered or waffled, nor has the price. Same 40 bucks I paid for my ’97′s. If perhaps it were accused of being less complex and idiosyncratic and more accessible, so be it. Such a virtuous expression of Sangiovese where Cabernet supports. Harmonious, red fruit and rampart acidity in a wine capable of abstruse behaviour.  91

Connexion Oenophilia

August 1, 2013

Anima Libera Chianti 2011 (Connexion Oenophilia Private Order, $16.95) is the child of a “garagiste” project from flying consultant winemaker Emiliano Falsini. Composed of 95 percent Sangiovese and five Canaiolo, it’s juicy, lively, certainly a “made” wine but bursting with western Chianti earth, raspberry and strawberry. Ultimately approachable and sociable “from love I long to taste.” Libera me Chianti.  89

Anima Libera Morellino di Scansano 2011 (Connexion Oenophilia Private Order, $22.95) is a mix of Sangiovese (90 per cent), Alicante (five) and Malvasia Nera (five). More depth and robust, studied consternation than most Morellino. Corporeal, developed cherry fruit deliberated by grainy, chalky tannin. There’s an iodine and roasted chestnut note but the fruit remains fresh, neither rustic nor bruised and the wine is conclusively rooted sub-mediterraneanly beyond the Chianti’s reach.  91

Good to go!

Your man wants these wines for Valentine’s

Valentine’s Day wines PHOTO: ANNA/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Cupid’s got a dilemma. He knows his arrow will pierce the man in the relationship’s heart, hypnotize him to hunt and gather the finest chocolate and sweet-smelling roses that money can buy. But what about the other, more feminine half? They just might not feel the same V-Day pressure. Besides, beyond the cliché, what exactly or specifically is the appropriate gift for Valentine’s Day?

Related – Current release wine recommendations

Even divas fuss over the pink holiday. Nicki Minaj has told us that Cupid’s Got a Gun. Carrie Underwood’s version is a shotgun. Yikes. If you ask me, all I really want this Thursday, like any other day of the year, is a decent bottle of wine. Is that not what every man wants? Matches the profile of the ones I hang out with. Your man probably likes Italian wine. Maybe he imagines himself Romeo to your Juliet?

While it would certainly put a smile on my face, I’m not holding my breath for a ripe, rare and bleeding Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (24190, $74.95, 91), though I wouldn’t kick one out of bed for cacophonous quacking.  Nor would I run away from a classic, opaque and rustic cherry Altesino Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (994095, $57.95, 91).  Here are six current and affordable releases sure to please the love of your life.

The grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

The history: Classic varietals and small lots from winemaker Emma Garner on the Beamsville Bench

The lowdown: TB’s Rieslings have long been blowing my mind but this Bordeaux-styled blend trips new light

The food match: Dry-Rubbed Grilled Chicken Breast Tacos, aged whited cheddar, tomato

Thirty Bench Red 2010 (320986, $24.00) shows off the ripeness of the vintage at an indubitably balanced 13.6% ABV. Exhibits red licorice, funk of the earth and currants in a demi-glace kind of way. Beamsville sand and gravel meet savoury herbs, lashed together by dusty tannin. Quite serious, more IGT than Bordeaux or Loire.  88  @ThirtyBench

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot

The history: Left Bank, Haut-Médoc Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Bordeaux blend

The lowdown: So unclassified you’ve likely never heard of it but so what?

The food match: Grilled Beef and Veal Baseballs, roasted garlic, parsley, artichoke aioli

Château Fort-Lignac 2009 (307264, $17.95) gives plum pudding heaped with baking spice and even a note of fine cigar. Judicious wood adds espresso, chew and chalk to this unassuming red. Lots of Bordeaux for $18.  89

The grape: Syrah

The history: Delas Frères is one of the smaller Rhone négociants but their recent run is nothing less than remarkable

The lowdown: Crozes-Hermitage at this price is so often thin and metallic but this ultra-modern ’10 is a hit

The food match: Lamb- and Rose-Stuffed Quails

Delas Frères Les Launes Crozes-Hermitage 2010 (701359, $20.95, B.C., 174664, $24.99, 2009) like hipster coffee dislikes authority and marches to the beat of a different drummer. Understated Syrah black pitch and no smoked meat or confit here. Instead there is purple, floral heliotrope gorgeousness and plum fruit. Big mineral component too. This one’s for the masculine gifter and the feminine giftee.  90  @HHDImports_Wine

The grape: Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile)

The history: From Montepulciano in Tuscany’s south

The lowdown: Bar none the best and most consistent value in Vino Nobile

The food match: Roast Beef Tenderloin, fried Tuscan potatoes

Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2009 (988055, $25.95, SAQ, 11194832, $26.20) is blessed with such a lush texture and post-modern attraction that a couple of sips could lead to some serious heavy petting. Retains just enough Italianate, gamey, iron mineral qualities to keep it real but this is berry, chocolate, acqua vitae equipped to reach many, many folk. Best VNM for the buck, year in and year out.  90  @Noble_Estates

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: From Diano d’Alba and Rodello in Piedmont’s Lower Langhe, characterized by vines and cereals

The lowdown: From third generation proprietor Mario Giribaldi, farmer at heart, lover of all things Langhe

The food match: Frico (cheese crisp) with Potato, Onion and Sausage Filling

Giribaldi Barbaresco 2006 (101147, $31.95) the dichotomous Nebbiolo of live rust looks old, as though it has lived hard when it’s actually quite young at heart. Classic Barbaresco bouquet of rose, tar, peeled orange and pepper berries. Banging acidity, coffee vapor and a powder finger of tannin. Don’t worry, there’s no real fear that this one “would fade away so young.”  91

The grapes: Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malvasia Nero

The history: Dates back to 1972, from Gaiole in Chianti, in the province of Siena

The lowdown: Self-described as “a place of cultic importance in the wine world.” Works for me

The food match: Bucatini with Pancetta, Tomato and Onion

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (39768, $34.95, SAQ, 11315403, $33.75) is always top quality CCR. So sweet and savoury at the same time, licorice whipped, tightly wound, with a foot marching to the future, yet still traditional. A righteous, sinless song of Sangiovese fruit, with a backing band of varietals, written for everyone. Proof that while some in Chianti have forgotten their past, many have not. “Somebody said it’s different now, look, it’s just the same.”  91  @CastellodiAma

Good to go!

The Italians are coming

Photograph by dutourdumonde, Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Tuscany’s landscape swells with rolling hills, grapevines, cypress and olive trees. It prospers with pine forests and rugged coastlines. Rosemary, basil and lavender grow wild, everywhere. Medieval hilltop towns brim with the castello, the torre, the fortezza and the piazza. The masters’ frescoes and sculptures hang and preside in the duomo, the museo and the palazzo. Land of quintessential cultural convergence. Panorama, art, architecture, food and wine. Who would question the temerity or not gesture in obeisance to its pleasures. “We’re not worthy!” Now imagine my little boy excitement as I approach a table set with an armament of 16 Tuscan reds. Bliss of anticipation.

Have you ever been asked, “if you were stranded on a desert island with only one bottle of wine, what would it be?” Mon dieu, certainly not a greatest vintage of the century Bordeaux. An exclamatory colour of the Virgin Mary’s cloak no!, not Grand Cru Burgundy. Quel désastre! Not even vintage Champagne.

My go to is Tuscan. Dry as the desert Sangiovese. It presented me 25 years ago with my true, romantic, prima facie wine experience. I did study and live there once upon a time and the Zoltan did refer to me as one last week at a Barque Smokehouse, Marc Kent wine dinner. I also have a very soft spot for foods ending in “ini” but no, I am not Italian.

Modernization and metanoia have brought a new Renaissance to a place of  “antiquity ennobled by the Christian faith.” The wines of Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Bolgheri, Maremma and Morellino di Scansano all celebrate the venerable Sangiovese. The addition of international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc has proselytized Tuscany to a whole new religion.

The contemporary Etruscans in bottle are potions (concerti, arie) so composed (tight knit, fluent) it’s as if their ends seems to scream beginning. Pure Tuscan wines are Sangiovese’s shot at the firmament.

Look for these Tuscan wines this coming weekend

VINTAGES September 29th release

Triacca Spadino 2010 (288001, $15.95) brings the Maremma to the world and the world to the Tuscan coast. A sheep in dog’s clothing, Sangiovese so modern you might swear there was Garnacha or Syrah in the mix. A Maremmano of citrus zest and acidity sidling seeping, weeping cherries. The wood effect is not chocofied but rather toasty vanilla. Really good effort with broad appeal.  88

Michele Satta Bolgheri Rosso 2009 (39834, $19.95) is resplendent in reverse. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, Teroldego and Syrah acts like a top quality Chianti Classico. The expectation was for a rich, mocha driven IGT but the wine is actually old school; reserved, gravity defying, “un po di grazie.”  88

Ruffino Modus 2008 (912956, $28.95) displays more elegance and restraint in ’08. The ’07 was flat out gorgeous but also oaked to the hilt. Here Brunello-like scents of roses, sweet cherries and cedar together walk the IGT Toscana line. The future doffing of a running current of iron minerality will be welcome. Will break away and flesh out with time too.  “Certo! All the Italians do it.”  90

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2008 (285510, $28.95) is a wow wine. Viscous, sweet nectar, full on concentrated berries and polished rocks au jus. An opus dei call to vinous holiness and sanctity. Rapturous feeling of punch drunk love falls over me after sipping this noble Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile).  92

Le Pupille Poggio Valente Morellino di Scansano Riserva 2007 (230680, $29.95) hails from the appellation’s pilgrim winemaker Elizabetta Geppetti’s fattoria straordinario. Crocodile teeth and molto plenitude in Sangiovese form. A screen star of Tuscany’s newest stage, a Euro, Neo-Classical, Olafur Arnalds composition in bottle, über-Tuscan, full of mineral verve and transcendent beauty.  91

Other wines tasted

Toscolo Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 (69369, $24.95) at it’s core is elemental, reductive, jumpy.  88

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino 2006 (651141, $59.95) appears rusty and old school but is oleaginous, glycolic licorice and anise with a case of hyperglycemia. Best since ’99.  93

Livio Sassetti Brunello Di Montalcino 2005 (287284, $39.95) is essentially a riserva in this vintage. Funkified but does dissipate with a swirl, yet still wound tight.  90

Silvio Nardi Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (922054, $41.95) is laid back but aching to burst and bleed red-blooded Sangiovese. Earth, pine and cool in the centre.  91

Poggio Al Tesoro Sondraia 2008 (292391, $44.95) is rich, dark and modern. Pure as mocha-driven snow. Fleeting and confounding, refined almost to a fault.  90

Luca Della Vite Luce 2009 (685263, $99.95) is crazy stuff. Berry filled truffles, licorice liqueur drops and carob from the tropics. Sensual, voluptuous, Sophia Loren.  92

Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno 2009 (735597, $71.95) is a mouth full of chocolate covered crushed rocks. Animal waste scent adds a tragicomic note.  Not sure about this O.  89

Good to go!

20 August, four plates, seven wines

Wine and food are always on the brain. Twenty-four seven. Produce picked from an Ontario backyard will seek out, then effortlessly accrete with Niagara and Prince Edward County grapes. Meats off the barbecue or out of the smoker are rapt to deeply cut, sub-tropical reds, voices possessive of a pantheistic tenor. Here are seven wines and four food ideas to wend pleasure your way for the last two weeks of summer.

Related – Going Rhône for the dog days of August

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Fielding Estate’s top tier, Rock Pile Pinot Gris is a benchmark for Ontario

The lowdown: Winemaker Richie Roberts’ second vintage for his estate bottling of the varietal. Seems to be his Alsatian baby

The food match: Butter Greens, homegrown tomatoes, edible flowers and mustard vinaigrette

Fielding Pinot Gris 2011 (251108, $21.95) casts a copper penny penumbra where sweet lime and simple, prickly pear syrup buffets shake and bake. The catalyst tang of pit fruit would see this developing to honey, spice and Madeira, not unlike last night’s Trimbach 2008. My preference is for fresh PG so drink up, with eggs and sausage. Time waits for no one. “Drink in your summer, gather your corn.”  88

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: First planted vineyard in the Edna Valley of California’s Central Coast

The lowdown: A host of under $20 quality Chablis on the market is proof that unoaked Chardonnay is not only viable, but sustainable. California needs to follow suit

The food match: Pan-Roasted Herb, Lemon and Garlic Marinated Chicken, green beans, piri-piri sauce

Chamisal Unoaked Stainless Chardonnay 2011 (289223, $25.95) is an affidavit of California’s agrestal fruit quality and complexity so why more vineyards can’t lay off the manipulations and bottle this style is beyond me. Animated green apple, lime and orange zest are the spark for clean, resolute Chardonnay. Yum.  90

The grape: Riesling

The history: From Germany’s venerable Mosel Saar Ruwer region

The lowdown: Designated Prädikatswein, the highest level of German quality category

The food match: Blue Plate Special: Veal, pork and beef meatloaf with spicy bbq glaze

Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett 2011 (160846, $19.95) noses sweet, red apple, wet granite and Dr. My Eyes see a blue hue, like the shadowy, filtered light on mid-winter ice and snow. Meritorious fruit grown out of Devonian seabeds saturates juice before using. Tight grip of acidity and WASP terroir shows there is nothing loose about the good doctor’s Riesling.  89

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Dorothée, we’re not in Burgundy anymore

The lowdown: Calera has been lauded for some serious, single-vineyard Pinots. This one is sourced  from seven vineyards in San Luis Obispo, San Benito, Santa Clara and Monterey counties

The food match: Grilled Wild B.C. Salmon

Calera Pinot Noir 2009 (933044, $31.95) of wet Pacific clay colour is light and retains a wisp of Central Coast smoke and tar in its profile. No candy factory here, which is a good thing. I’m hopeful the restrained style will help to usher is a new Cal-era for Pinot. Earth shattering bottle? No. Greatest Pinot value? Not so much. Good juice? Absolutely.  89

The grape: Montepulciano

The history: From the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy, not to be confused with the southern Tuscany village of  Montepulciano

The lowdown: Two years ago these wines were not even on the radar. Now some of the best <$15> values on the planet

The food match: Barque’s Smoked Beef Brisket

Caldora Colle Dei Venti Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2009 (289629, $15.95) does not hide the rendering new oak influence to resemble an extra-large cup of Starbucks bold. MD’A of a dichotomous nature, Dominican and birch elegant, arboreal, fruity. Very vanilla.  88

The grape: Aglianico

The history: At its best in Campania but also flourishing in Basilicata and here, in Molise

The lowdown: Arguably the best producer in the newest region in Italy, located on the big toe of Italy’s foot

The food match: Grilled Flank Steak with warm tomato jam

Di Majo Norante Contado Riserva Aglianico Del Molise 2009 (967208, $15.95) is stark, raving modern. A wash of Rothko Black on Maroon colour of “oppressive, almost frightening, grandeur.” Heavily pedimented Aglianico, tasting of black licorice in fiery, Sambuca form.  88

The splurge

The grape: Sangiovese Grosso

The history: Sangiovese of irreverent ilk, from Montalcino in southern Tuscany

The lowdown: Not a sneeze of a price but still of the mortal world. An example for near-immediate enjoyment

The food match: Grilled Lamb Kebabs

Verbena Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 (165126, $37.95) seems at first bewitched by iron and animale but magically gives way to a twinkling, lulu Tabitha nose. A fleeting spell is cast to induce an impulse buy. If you want to experience Brunello, start here, find reverence for its narcissistic beauty and watch it be “turned to a flower.” Supper’s ready and waiting for the Verbena .  90

Good to go!

Five red wine values to buy now for the coming long weekend

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/06/25/five-red-wines-to-buy-now-for-the-coming-long-weekend/

In my world there are so many wines and so little time. Perhaps in yours the wall of choices seems daunting but a bit of deconstruction is really all you need. A good Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Shiraz or Malbec work just fine on most days. I look to champion varietals outside the box. Portugal and lesser known Italian appellations are a very good place to start.

Trending wine values

The grapes: A blend of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Jaen

The history: Made by Agricola Castro de Pena Alba from indigenous varietals

The lowdown: Not all $12 Portuguese wines are this good, but I’d take my chances

The food match: Breaded Veal Sandwich with roasted, pickled red peppers

Serrado Colheita 2008 (283192, $11.95) from the emerging Dão is a big wine for $12! Tar, Hyacinth and Cravo with a mini citrus accent. Simple machine with juicy acidity and bite. A cake cut by a knife that’s “got a serrated edge that she moves back and forth.” Terrific IVR*.  87

The grape: Montepulciano

The history: Native to Abruzzo in east-central Italy

The lowdown: Modern Abruzzi winemakers are producing exceptional wines at affordable prices

The food match: Pasta with Braised Beef Short Ribs and Tomato

Niro Montepulciano D’abruzzo 2009 (278150, $15.95) dictates a directive towards low and slow fricasseed meats in their demi-glace with fresh summer tomatoes. De Niro is positively and cognitively possessed of a Machiavellian intelligence. A modern emperor and actor speaking perfect English, a vernacular host with the most. Projects a prejudiced discourse of atramentous espresso and haw.  88

The grape: Malbec

The history: Native to Bordeaux and Cahors in the southwest of France

The lowdown: Found its varietal fame in Argentina. This is a bold pick at a premium level.

The food match: Grilled Flank Steak in chile, parsley and olive oil marinade

The Seeker Malbec 2009 (271213, $18.95) is one of five global wines made by a marketing juggernaut, each featuring a specific grape growing region. Inspired by the musings of fictitious metalsmith/flying machine inventor Esteban Colombo from Mendoza, Argentina. Colombo is part Frank Lloyd Wright, part Leonardo Da Vinci. Like the man, the Seeker is an international wine of mystery. I rarely drink $19 Malbec, but when I do, I drink The Seeker. “I’ve been searching low and high” but here is a Malbec of an acceptable oaky smell like it’s just been out walking in the countryside. An herbal remedy, Malbec from and for the world, not really Mendozan at all, and that’s OK. I just might really like this.  89

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

The history: Native to Bordeaux in France

The lowdown: Benchmark IVR* achievement from the Barossa Valley of South Australia

The food match: BBQ Chicken with a honey-based glaze

Mountadam Vineyards Cabernet/Merlot 2008 (641860, $16.95) at 15% abv carries it with structure, elegance and balance. Currant jam, beetroot and garrigue are all there but the fruit, savoury, char, heat and acidity factors are all in check. What’s not to like?  90

Throwing caution to the wind

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: Native to Piedmont in Northern Italy

The lowdown: Traditional interpretation already aged and into its drinking window

The food match: Double-cut, French Veal Chop with Thyme, garlic and olive oil

Gemma Giblin Riserva Barolo 2005 (185025, $36.95) has begun to brick at the edges. Mouth rosewatering acidity binged by sour cherry and shellac. Wisp of Monte Cristo and withered rose only Barolo can smell of.  This Gemma is beautiful like a turning season, like something you know won’t last. For now and no more than two to three more years.  92

More notes from the VINTAGES June 23, 2012 release:

The Wine Diaries: Around the world in 20 whites

The Wine Diaries: Chardonnay close to the edge

Euro wine Rihanna need remember by name

The Wine Diaries: MMVA’s sparkling wine showers

IVR* – Vintage Direct Intrigue-to-Value Ratio

CVR** – Vintage Direct Curiosity-to-Value Ratio

Good to go!