A Canadian summer for South African wines

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Great heart and value from the Western Cape, alcohol bans, limited time offers and 15 reasons why you should support the wineries of South Africa 

by Michael Godel

 

as seen on WineAlign

There is an undeniable truth that South Africa is responsible for producing some of the finest wines in the world, at all price points and for every imaginable palate. A local perspective shows how fortunate Canadians are to have access to so many of the Cape’s essentials. Wines so very helpful as chaperones whilst Canada finds itself in the throes of a steamy and canicular July, still weeks ahead of the dog days when the star Sirius will first appear in the night sky. Essentials, as in chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, Cap Classique, Rosé, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The Capelands are the proviso and if there were ever a time to spend Canadian dollars on South African wine, that time is now.

Winegrowing areas of South Africa

As Canadian vaccination rates rise to a global lead and the economy continues to trend in an open and forward direction, here at home many wine consumers finally find themselves in a charmed position. Yet the story is not the same around the world. In Ontario visits to local wineries can now increase in earnest while looking ahead in anticipation for six further weeks of summer filled with touring, tasting and relaxing. South Africa’s situation is less fortunate and it’s wine industry remains in static, suppressed and uncertain limbo. The government continues to enforce a total alcohol ban while ignoring sound proposals from its very own constituents, to dire consequences. There just seems to be no consideration for South Africans who face job losses and poverty as their employers struggle to meet even the base and necessary tenets of the bottom line.

South African wine producers will tell you that the current moratorium on selling locally is the stuff of crazy town. The collective contention will express the view that the government’s decision making is rash, ill-considered and reactionary in the most peculiar ways. The President’s claim states that the ban on selling or drinking alcohol “is to ease the pressure on hospitals which are under strain,” yet anyone worth their salt in common sense and trusting medical professionals will acknowledge that keeping booze away from alcohol dependants will only add to hospital visits. The shut downs (and other restrictive government decrees) are now leading to protests, violence and bootlegging tactics. Canadians have little power to effect political will abroad but consumers can make the choice to support their friends and colleagues in the wine industry.

New development: Following the publication of this article on WineAlign the government of South Africa has since lifted the alcohol ban.

Production areas of South Africa

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

The LCBO is now doing their part. To make things easier and wholly accessible to an Ontario consumer, a joint “Flexspace” program between Wines of South Africa Canada and the LCBO launches July 19 and runs through August 15 with eight General List products. These LTOs (limited time offers) offer four weeks of discounted prices as incentive during down time summer holidays for people to try South Africa, if indeed they haven’t before. The LTOs coincide with the VINTAGES July 24th release inclusive of a thematic promoting the idea of young Cape winemakers.

Cape Wine 2018

Cape Wine 2021(2)

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place just two months from now but the difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the industry has shifted preparations for a Spring 2022 “Capelands” revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. In the meantime we focus are attention here in Ontario to General List, VINTAGES Essentials and VINTAGES release wines to do our part in support of a heavily challenged, beleaguered and surely resilient community of WOSA estates, farms, winemakers, distributors, retailers, marketers and supporters.

Andrea Mullineux

The Cape’s Young Winemakers

In two visits to the Western Cape (in 2015 and 2018) I had the pleasure of meeting and tasting with some of the most impressive, erudite and promising young winemakers anywhere on the planet. The list is long and winding, the resumés noteworthy and the wines crafted nothing short of inspiring. They are the present and the future of South Africa’s wine scene; Andrea Mullineux, Duncan Rall, Nomonde Kubheka, Chris Alheit, Emul Ross, Duncan Savage, Marlise Niemann, Carmen Stevens, Sebastian Beaumont, David and Nadia Sadie, Ryan Mostert, Jacques de Klerk, Sheree Nothangel, Ntsiki Biyela, Christa Von La Chevallerie, Alex Milner, Callie Louw, Patrick Ngamane, Francois Haasbroek, Eben Sadie, Tariro Masayiti, Lukas van Loggerenberg, Mick and Jeanine Craven, Samatha O’Keefe, Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer. This is but a small sampling and my sincerest Canadian apologies to those I fail to mention and also to those I have not yet had the pleasure to meet.

In South African winemaking terms and schemes, as the boomers and now the next generation have grown older their collective winemaking continues to mature and become exceedingly wiser. There will and should not be any abandoning for the call to uprising, subversion and experimentation, but there is a contiguous and concerted effort to create wines that are simply pleasurable to drink. Isn’t that the point? By the time I looked at Cape wines in 2018 assessment it seems that everyone had it all figured out. Tasting through 2019, 2020 and half of 2021, albeit here in Canada causes a persistent thought pattern wherein South African wines are cleaner by ‘n landmyl, with as much precision, purity, transparency and honesty than ever before. Their recent decades long developing epiphany is now ours as together we synchronically enter this new world of next level, reinvented and deeper understanding.

Eben Sadie and Rosa Kruger

Heritage Vines

According to founder and viticulturist Rosa Kruger, “aged vines bring an intensity, a perceived freshness, a texture, and a sense of place. They show less fresh fruit and varietal character, and more terroir and soil.” No discussion of the South African landscape can be introduced without a nod to the biodiversity and heritage work associated with the Old Vine Project. With great kudos first and foremost to long time champion of the Cape’s oldest plantings and pioneer Rosa Kruger, but also winemakers Johan Reyneke, Eben Sadie and OVP Manager André Morgenthal. Kruger, along with a select few viticulturists, started scouting for South African old vines in and around 2002. Then, just beyond 2006 Sadie released his first wine under the Old Vineyard Series, a Stellenbosch wine made from the oldest chenin blanc in South Africa.

Today winemakers all over the Western Cape are seeking out these old sites of dry-farmed, (un)trained bush vine plots of gold. “Stories sell wine,” says winemaker Johan Kruger, “and what better story the tell than the old vine one.” The Old Vine Project is all about preserving vineyards 35 years and older, through trade initiatives and sustainable projects to protect South African heritage. Only South Africa offers the possibility for wine labels to ensure certification by the regulatory authority. “Members of the Old Vine Project (OVP) can put a Certified Heritage Vineyards seal on bottles of wine made from vineyards of 35 years or older, together with the planting date. This is a guarantee to the consumer of authentic wines grown according to the OVP viticultural and winemaking guidelines.”

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others take great promise from their old vine sources there can be little argument against chenin blanc being the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude, focus and acumen as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. Just last month a chenin blanc day Zoom session with four Cape winemakers yielded this Polkadraai gem from Bruwer Raats.

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($80.00, Lifford Wine & Spirits)

A single vineyard chenin blanc and the first vintage to the Ontario market for a unique project celebrating the family farm called Eden. From their Stellenbosch ward of Polkadraai and high density plantings on dolomitic, granitic soils. Of a richness, an intensity of parts and a presence only a handful of South African blanc ever reach. A wine that achieves a level of status by its work underground (through root competition) and a clone called Montpellier that produces small berries and even smaller yields, not to mention the plot is just 0.6 hectares in size. Eden is the mothership and matriarch of this clone and for that variety in South Africa. All parts contribute to a wine of outrageous acidity that is never sharp, vivid or dominant. Fruit, mineral, focus, elements and precision. Wet stone is pure Polkadraai, vaporous, omnipresent, all over the wine. “The most successful winemakers (and wine projects) are ones that specialize,” says Bruwer Raats. This Eden follows the credo to a “T” and with a capital “E.” Really cerebral and also age-worthy chenin, in the upper echelon of the finest in the pantheon. If ever a chenin signified “Bringing it all Back Home,” the Raats Eden is it. “Discuss what’s real and what is not. It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted June 2021

Braai

The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc. And is there a finer example that also happens to be stupidly affordable than this.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (23128, $17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Gets me every time. Not just one of the finest meets best value chenin blancs available out of South Africa but an example to hang all your hats on no matter where white wine comes from in this world. Still the knowing nod and incredulous head shake that $18 CDN can buy you fruit from six blocks that are mainly 38 years of age but could possibly include 1974 Helderberg planted vines in Stellenbosch. “Core of the business” and arrow through a chenin heart. Great ferment, like a (catherine) wheel. Layers of design, creamy with thanks to secondary lees aging but somehow still texturally chewy. Barrel notes make a point in a vanilla brûlée way and yet each sip is like taking a bite from a piece of firm, ripe fruit. “I need more texture. You need to give me more texture, texture, texture. You need to give me more texture.” Old Vine Reserve obliges every time. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted June 2020

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc 2020

Sometimes you just need some fun, spirit and energy in a well-priced chenin blanc that speaks to everyone. This by Bruce Jack and former Hidden Bench winemaker Marlize Beyers is just the ticket.

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape ($13.95, LCBO 13356, VINTAGES May 29th, Lifford Wine & Spirits)

There’s a whack of chenin blanc personality in the 2020 by Bruce Jack, proprietor of The Drift, literary philosopher. The vineyards are located in the Breedekloof, in the west of the Breede River Valley, an arid rift of alluvial soils with a river running through. Here from the Western Cape’s newer wine route area chenin blanc is exulted as a most important varietal component. Older barrels, the alluvial soils and a warm location are involved, which are duly noted in the platinum hue, tropical fruit and developed ripeness. Sunshine chenin blanc Superman, especially considering the price. Sharp and in flight. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted June 2021

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Buyers’ guide to South African wines from current LTOs and the July 24th VINTAGES release

Back in late June (and we will do so again next week) the WineAlign cru sits down to taste through the LCBO LTOs and July 24th VINTAGES South African releases. When asked for his four top picks my colleague and mentor David Lawrason exclaimed, “Here you go Michael!  Kinda tough to narrow down these good values.” That’s exactly what you will find from these collective picks. Great value, as well as great heart from South Africa.

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling, Traditional Method, WO Western Cape ($19.95, LCBO 18569, VINTAGES July 24th, LUSOCAPE)

This sparkling wine is part pinot noir, part Franschhoek and part traditional method in Cap Classique form. Haute Cabrière is the work of the von Arnim family in bubbles comfortably under a Brut number by residual sugar in attack mode made wholesome and free with a great pulse of acidity. Gingery and frothy, of red apple skins and a hint of blood orange. Also tannic, like rooibos tisane while ultimately sharp dressed, soda cracker crunchy and so properly defined. Good wine. Drink 2021-2025. Tasted June 2021

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2020

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2020, WO Stellenbosch ($14.95, LCBO 451773, VINTAGES July 24th, Woodman Wines & Spirits)

Here is what you get when you combine Rosé (first made in the 1980s) and petit verdot (first planted in the early 2000s). The grape is no longer employed solely for the John X Merriman Bordeaux blend but it is the same varietal stuff grown on Stellenbosch decomposed granite. Not exactly dry and salty with the specs tilting more to sugar over acidity but it is certainly balanced and quenching. Tons of fruit and flavour at $15 with a lovely side-step into adult lemonade. And it tastes like petit verdot, for what it’s worth. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2020

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Robertson Valley ($10.00, LCBO 495507, Univins)

Made by winemaker Rianco van Rooyen as part of the “cultivar” range, of moderate acidity and a slightly higher content of residual sugar. Soft and cuddly, fuzzy peach, pear and apple slices. Simple and effective, Expect lots of floral perfume and plan to make use of this tropical chenin at brunch. Drink 2021.  Tasted June 2021

Fleur Du Cap Essence Du Cap Chardonnay 2018

Fleur Du Cap Essence Du Cap Chardonnay 2018, WO Western Cape ($12.95, LCBO 358960, PMA Canada)

The grapes were sourced from Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Elgin and Robertson. The oldest vineyard located in Stellenbosch was planted in 1990 while the rest of the vineyards were planted between 2000 and 2006. For 20 per cent of the wine, fermentation started in tank and was completed in French (90) and American (10) oak barrels. The remaining 80 per cent fermented in tanks on French (55) and American (45) oak staves. Quite heady, spiced and developed chardonnay for the cost with a flinty smoulder and notable reduction. Lots of wood feels but well integrated and pretty well in balance. Crafted with specific intention and there is lots of wine here for $13. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Spier Seaward Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Spier Seaward Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Vegan, WO Cape Town ($15.95, VINTAGES July 24th, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

A coastal sauvignon blanc by winemaker Jacques Erasmus with plenty of marine influence. Healthy of alcohol and weight, with some sugar but even more so acidity to blow an ocean breeze through the wine. Notably pungent and exotically perfumed, all passion and grape fruit. More texture than many, crunchy, tin cup sweet and roasted cashew salty. Lots going on in here. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2019

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2019, WO Coastal Region ($14.95, LTO, Select Wine Merchants)

Always worth noting Boschedal’s connection to the natural world with the estate situated in the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest yet richest such plant biosphere on earth, with an astounding diversity of plant and animal life. Their lands are still in inhabited by indigenous creatures such as duiker, klipspringer, porcupine, mongoose, caracal and even leopard. Michael Langenhoven is Boschendal’s white winemaker, here with sources threefold; Stellenbosch, Elgin Valley and Boschendal Farm. Just lovely and amenable coastal-influenced chardonnay, easy, somewhat soft and no obstructions in the way. Neither reduction nor barrel do anything to distract and the wine’s touch of sweetness is well managed by herbs, elastic acidity and sapidity. Very well made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Lomond Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Lomond Sauvignon Blanc 2021, WO Cape Agulhas ($19.95, United Stars Corporation Group)

This 100 per cent Cape Agulhas sauvignon blanc is crafted and delivers specs eerily similar to the SSV, from the same sites on the farm’s upper reaches perched over the sea. Same soils and as a varietal wine the elements from various blocks are employed “to ensure that the result is greater than the sum of the parts.” Perhaps on a lower tier of complexity but surely expressive and satisfying. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Lomond Ssv 2021

Lomond SSV 2021, WO Cape Agulhas ($19.95, United Stars Corporation Group)

Mainly sauvignon blanc (80 per cent) with sémillon (15) and viognier (5) from the Cape Agulhas growing area. High ranking acidity and near to bone dry attitude make for a wine that shares it’s true sense of place, in this case south facing blocks on the higher reaches of the farm, as well as within views of the sea. The soils are sandy, gravelly and highly weathered with a clay substructure. If you have yet to discover these saline, sapid and spirited whites of the Cape Agulhas then it’s high time and tide you did. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted June 2021

Big Bill Shiraz 2018

Big Bill Shiraz 2018, WO Western Cape ($13.95, LCBO 10418, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

William “Big Bill” Millar was a boxing champ, decorated war hero and most celebrated for so many South Africans as their Springbok rugby captain. Also the first General Manager of KWV. Like the larger than life man it is the largest of barrels that houses this shiraz, a 22,000L oak stuk vat. Pretty much classic (Western) Cape shiraz of heavy set red fruit, bone density and rippling musculature. A commercially viable drop of work ethic and muscle memory exuding attitude and confidence. The Michael Jordan of South Africa. Be like Bill. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2019

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvèdre-Viognier 2019, WO Western Cape ($14.00, LCBO 292557, Univins)

Generally speaking the Wolftrap by Boekenhoutskloof is two-thirds syrah and one-third mourvèdre with a few points splash of viognier. Malmesbury in the Swartland is the source where the dominant soil type is the aptly named Malmesbury shale. The 2019 brings out the sweetest and most proficiently perfumed Wolftrap yet, with less grip, spice and bite. There is a warmth that is especially noted on the back end, like a hematic seep of plasmatic liquid but felt quite subtly so. Fine if not exceptional acids keep the pulse and truth be told the mourvèdre really stands out. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Glenelly The Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch ($17.95, LCBO 132992, VINTAGES July 24th, H.H.D. Imports)

Fruit is Simonsberg-Stellenbosch from a most arid vintage with all aspects of the growing season having occurred with haste. Less than normal winter rains, early bud break and harvest in the third week of February. This is 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon with thriving acidity and a minor pinch of sweetness, fully versed from Cassis to Kirsch for a truly gelid, glycol and glycerin cabernet sauvignon. While seemingly soft and fruity at first it gains speed, traction and vitality because of the well captured acidity. Still seems just a tad sweet but overall the balance is quite good. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted June 2021

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch ($24.95, LCBO 414151, VINTAGES July 24th, Woodman Wines & Spirits)

The artist formerly known as “Rustenberg Stellenbosch Syrah” is now the “Buzzard Kloof Syrah,” aptly named for the Jackal and Steppe Buzzards that circle the thermal currents rising above the kloof. The syrah vineyard sits in the Afrikaans ravine, a cool, sun-deprived location ideal for growing meaty, savoury and sapid syrah. This is in great Stelly hyperbole, like a grilled and sliced loin of lean, sweetly gamy and iron-rich Springbok. Optimum ripeness, cool acidity and finesse take this buzzard on swift currents through breezy skies. Bloody delicious. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2021

Kuier

Good to go!

godello

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Quality virtual time spent tasting with Querciabella

A few years back I made my first visit to Querciabella, in September 2017, to be exact. Their position in Ruffoli east of the Greve hamlet and the eponymous river is one of the most distinct and perhaps least travelled of Greve’s frazioni. With stunning views towards the Val di Greve, the Colle di Panzano and the amphitheatre of Lamole, Ruffoli carries its very own perspective, one that is unlike any other perch where the Classico are made in Chianti. Several weeks ago I caught up with Querciabella’s n groot winemaker Manfred Ing for a virtual session, replete with a ten-deep taste through of his (and their) lekker wines.

Ruffoli, Greve in Chiani

Related – A river runs through Greve

The Ruffoli hill may not qualify for Chianti Classico’s newly minted UGA (Ùnita Geografiche Aggiuntive), but make no mistake. Ruffoli is the definition of a communal sub-zone in requiem of introspective investigation for its distinct soils, elevation, singularities and peculiarities. It is, as I have said before, “the Chianti Classico poster child for seeing the vineyards through the trees.” Along with Jurji Fiore’s Poggio Scalette and Il Tagliato by Marco e Elena Kupfer there forms a special bond for Ruffoli’s combination of elevation, thick forests and conglomerate soils that have been excavated from beneath those heavy woods. If Querciabella’s decisive resource and secret weapon are vineyard holdings in two other Classico communes, those being Radda and Gaiole, Ruffoli remains the epicentre and the wines can be imagined as residing at the rooftop and pinnacle of Chianti Classico.

Querciabella was founded in 1974 by Giuseppe (Pepito) Castiglioni. His son Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, investor and entrepreneur, converted the estate to organic viticulture in 1988, making Querciabella one of the first wineries in Italy to employ this practice. In 2000 Sebastiano introduced a 100 per cent plant‑based approach to biodynamics that forbids the use of animal products in both the vineyards and in the cellars. The Chianti Classico estate that means “beautiful oak” has always been one that lives for today while always imagining and thinking about tomorrow. The wines arguably act as the most Bourguignons of any in the territory whilst always and unequivocally speaking for the land that gives them life.

In April of this year I asked Ing to assess the damage caused by uncharacteristic mid-Spring frosts. His response: “Unfortunately the cold weather that swiped through Tuscany on the April 6th and 7th caused us some frost damage, having hit especially those vineyards which were ahead in their development. Our team lead by Dales is still assessing the damage and it’s early to say how the affected vineyards will recuperate. We will know better in the coming weeks as the vines develop. In Chianti Classico, where our vineyard holdings are spread in different locations and altitude, isolated pockets of lower lying vineyards were affected, especially those around and below our cellar in Ruffoli. At a first glance, it appears that the frost bite hit some of the early budding Chardonnay and the young Sangiovese vines that were first out the blocks. Most of the higher altitude vineyards buds haven’t fully burst yet, so we are fortunate and remain hopeful. In Maremma, temperatures dipped to record lows in some areas, especially in the early hours of April 8th. The Sangiovese vines had an early start this year so were particularly exposed. Vines are an extraordinary plants which are known for bouncing back. At this stage we can only wait and see. It’s already clear, though, that we are among many other producers concerned about losing some crop to frost damage.”

It remains to be seen how pandemic and travel will play out over these next several weeks but I have every intention of climbing the Ruffoli hill this coming September (or anytime such an endeavour is possible) to see Manfred and team for a walk in the vineyards and a sit-down to taste more from their most excellent portfolio; Vineyard Operations Manager & Master Beekeeper Catiuscia Minori, Agronomist Chiara Capecci, Agronomist & Technical Director Dales D’Alessandro, Direct Sales & Visits Coordinator Daniela Krystyna Cappuccio, Head of Marketing and Communications Emilia Marinig, Global Sales Director Giorgio Fragiacomo, Winemaker Guido De Santi, Winemaking Director Luca Currado, Agronomist & Operations Manager Marco Torriti, CEO & Domestic Sales Director Roberto Lasorte, Marketing Assistant Manager Valentina Bertoli and of course Owner and Honorary Chairman Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni. In the meantime here are the 10 wines we tasted and discussed back on May 31, 2021.

Felt quite real to be talking Ruffoli, Greve, Maremma, Gaiole and Radda with Tuscany’s groot South African winemaker @bottleofgrapes ~ A virtual session with @querciabella maintains the ties that bind with @chianticlassico

Querciabella Mongrana 2019, Marermma Toscana DOC (13653, $23.95)

From 31 hectares south of Grosseto, divided into two re-planted parcels purchased in 1998-1999 near to Alberese, a village and frazione of the commune. Wines are crushed and fermented in Maremma and then transferred to Greve just before or just after malo takes place. The style comes from cement and stainless steel, of fruit purity kept intact and a coastal influence developing some muscle. Picked ahead of Chianti Classico with harvest always beginning two to two and a half weeks ahead of Greve. So much Tuscan coastal bushy and dusty herbology, of fennel and rosemary primarily. Managed by Agronomist & Operations Manager Marco Torriti and team who are responsible for this 50-25-25, sangiovese led blend with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Drink this by the glass everywhere you go, matching the pasta shape on the bottle, if you are so inclined, wherever possible. Mongrana goes as does L, Maquis shrubland ingrained into an easy drinking, fun, juicy and exuberant blend. Will never mess with any course, nor wine that comes before or after. Has been labelled DOC Maremma since 2017. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (728816, $45.95)

Remains 100 per cent sangiovese, as it has been since 2012, as a three-commune collection; Ruffoli in Greve (40 per cent), on the Volpaia side and across the valley to Radda (20) and San Polo in Rosso from Gaiole (20), across the ravine from Ama. The totality of the Gaiole fruit is raised on Alberese, the Radda in schisty Galestro and Ruffoli, well Ruffoli is really about elevation. A no extremities vintage following a very cold winter and no climate spikes save for the early August heat. The Querciabella richness is foiled but also optimized by a three-part mineral harmony that does not so much cut but adds three district notes to the wine. The epiphany may or not begin with this 2018 but the textural perception has undergone a transformational alteration, now in defence against the drying effect of sangiovese’s tannin. The winemaking team has moved forward from the experimental stage into a full-on working contract with Piedmontese cappello sommerso, keeping the cap submerged for extended periods (up to 45 days). The high elevation fruit is particularly promising, forging true connectivity with the process. You get it completely, intuit the polish and this Annata just melts straight into inherit structure, again with thanks for a portion that has settled early. The wheel is constantly turning for Querciabella’s wines. Stupendo. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 ($79.95)

Riserva, like most Riservas in Chianti Classico is usually more serious, often blended with cabernet sauvignon and/or merlot, subjected to more wood. Since 2011 Querciabella’s has been 100 per cent sangiovese but still a three commune (Greve, Radda and Gaiole) cuvée, a vibrant varietal wine, lush as it needs to be and what stands apart is its simple purity. The picking decisions are made throughout the season, not just at harvest and certain blocks are given the attention of dramatic foreshadowing. Riserva by Querciabella is a wine of evolution, including monthly tastings along the way (with 20 per cent new wood involved). Riserva is a factor of a trajectory, of sangiovese that is always rising, gaining character, fortitude and fruit in vessel that winemaker Manfred Ing knows in his heart is meant for Riserva. The tannins tell the story, croccante is how he describes or the flavour and texture he looks for, in my mind like crunchy and caramelized almonds and dried wild strawberries of a concentrated yet developing sweetness. A wine to age, surely, though not quite like ’16, but do sleep on this because the efficacy, youthful binding and wound intensity show the promise of great ability. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Turpino 2017, IGT Toscana ($59.95)

First commercial vintage was 2010 when at the time it was 50-50 Maremma and Greve. Since 2015 it identifies as 100 per cent Tuscan coast with more barrel exercise and power than Mongrana, now a cuvée of approximately 12,000 bottles. “Turpino,” as in a character from Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni’s favourite poem, like his son Orlando (and also for the names Mongrana and Palafreno). Frost was a major problem in 2017, followed by heat, no rain and vines that just went crazy. Small pickings were done in the first week of September and then the rain came. The vines dropped in alcohol potential by a degree but the vines were tired and so the fruit could not hang in there like it could (better so) in Ruffoli. A blend of 40 per cent each cabernet franc and syrah with (20) merlot. Spiciness but not in a traditionally Tuscan syrah (Cortona) way and so the franc is to thank for the pique, sharpness and pointed directive of this ripe wine agitative of pricks and sway. In the end this is truly Tuscan coast, carrying the dried and bushy herbs but with an extended olive branch, muscular arm and structured savour. Only 10,000 bottles were made of this succulent, strange bedfellows (for Tuscany) red wine. House wine, Querciabella style. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Camartina 2016, IGT Toscana

The first vintage for Camartina was 1981, originally mostly sangiovese, then in and around 2001-2003 turning towards becoming mostly cabernet sauvignon. Now at 70 per cent with (30) sangiovese since that 2003. With the most spectacular vintage in pocket the possibility and even more so the probability from 2016 is endless. A Vino da Tavola concept that has evolved to make for the most mature, wise and complex IGT from Ruffoli hillsides, but this vintage shows a special energy, liveliness and vim from acidity that gives the wine, regardless of grape varieties, so much youth and life. Another one of nature’s and Greve’s mysterious constants. So Querciabella, of pinpointed DNA. vibrancy and length. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Palafreno 2016, IGT Toscana ($214.95)

Since 2004 has always been 100 per cent merlot, before that being a 50-50 sangiovese and merlot joint. Has to be an ideal vintage for Sebastiano and Manfred to bottle this idealistic wine because it has to, must smell like Tuscany and Ruffoli. Places home to poetic settings which suggest inner meaning and invisible connections. With that essence of 2016, of high priority acidity, sapidity and vibrancy in mind, this drinks so well and truth is shows how merlot has been domesticated upon the Ruffoli hill. The vines average 20 years of age, with some vines nearly at 30, planted in 1995 and/or 1996. Sweet, verdant and grippy tannins with a little bit of grit are surely involved. This will show off some swarthy secondary character and essenza di tartufo in 10 years time. Only 3,000 bottles are made. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 1998 (728816, Price at release: $31.95)

Twenty plus years later and not by any means over the hill. Drinking with captured and preserved youth from a vintage that was passed over for being one to not give any sort of great attention or consideration. Fermented in 225L (some new wood) barrels, some big tanks, picked later than most Chianti Classico of the time and would not have been pure sangiovese. You can feel the botrytis induced blood orange and saffron from a vintage with pioggia, pioggio, pioggia, a.k.a. so much rain. Also liquorice, bokser pod and a smell of wet tar. Really textural Classico, holding firm and strong, with a few years of interest and more complexity developing potential left to seek out. Charm begets pleasure which leads to unadulterated enjoyment. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1999

The 1999 was the last (original) Riserva produced until it was again resurrected in 2011 and what’s so cool about this vintage is how it was held to some early esteem, though paling in comparison to that “vintage of the century” that was 1997. Underestimated over the last 20 years, drinking so beautifully now, with frutta di bosca, tertiary tartufo and fungi. Just doesn’t strike as a fully mature adult reminiscing about the way things used to be but more like a wine with an outlook for more promise, good times and adventures still ahead. If you are still holding onto ‘99s from this part of Toscana you will be very pleased. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Batàr 2018, Toscana IGT ($149.95)

A joint between pinot blanc and chardonnay, whole bunch pressed, with furthered finer attention to detail, picked early in the morning and a decreased amount of new oak over the last 10 years. Now at about 20 per cent and less bâtonnage as well, keeping the strings tight and the backbone straight in the wine. “We don’t need to worry about getting richness in our wines,” tells Manfred Ing, and yes, the creaminess is automatic. There’s more bite to Batàr now, along with focus and precision, with an intention to allow for five (minimum) years ahead for energy to develop, flesh to increase and textural richness to become something naturally orchestrated over time. Batàr is a wine that defies flamboyance, deflates extroversion and muffles the most exultant cry. It knows what it is and what’s up. Terrific vintage for this singular, dual-focused and one goal achieved Querciabella bianco. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted May 2021

Querciabella Batàr 2017, Toscana IGT ($149.95)

The effect of 2017 on white grapes meant a 40 per cent reduction in quantity and chardonnay surely suffered. Certainly true at 350m (south-facing) but also at 600m (on sandstone soils) where it thrives. The pinot bianco faces north so it did well in the season. The flinty reduction comes from the high elevation vineyard and you really notice it more in 2017, but also a fruit sweetness, like biting into a perfectly ripe apple, and also a peach. You still need to exercise patience with this wine because what it really shows you is how this particular cuvée will morph, oscillate and change, for sure and at least in its first five years. Definitely buttery, rich and creamy but let’s not sit on those laurels for too long because herbs, sapidity and a new kind of vim and vigour are just around the corner. A concentrated effort and one with many tricks up its Ruffoli sleeve. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted May 2021

Good to go!

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Memories of South Africa in 60 notes

Water hole, South Africa

As this passage through weltschmerz marches on, the defining feeling of melancholy and world-weariness continues, no doubt magnified in the hearts and minds of the wanderlusts accustomed to consistent world travel. So the question begs, as it has for 12 months, how to summon thoughts that will keep a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world at bay? Speaking from a personal place, a simple and distracting way is to compose retroactive wine reviews, unearthing and editing nuggets of meaningful playfulness, tasting notes created in the past but never having found their way to the light of day. Recent thoughts about South Africa are the impetus for this story.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place six months from now but a difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the time has arrived for the industry to launch preparations for a Spring 2022 Capelands revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic, lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Fly me back to South Africa

Related – Spotlight on South Africa in VINTAGES August 6th

Wine trips afford tasting hundreds of wines in a week’s time and while all bottles poured by every producer are given full attention and solicit a hundred or so scribbled words on history, tradition, agriculture, winemaking, varietal and regional relativity, many remain in raw form, relegated to computer folders and on the pages of moleskin journals. Pulling them out months, if not years later can induce that elusive feeling of relief and in some extraordinary occasions, epiphany. This to the creator of course, not necessarily to the producer, wine prose seeker, consumer, regional administrator or marketer. Notwithstanding who may be watching or reading, the exercise is a satisfying one and stands on its own merit, if only to be soothed and take refuge in a safe prosaic haven, free from the savage talon grip of a world gone mad.

“What happens in Cape Town stays in Cape Town” carries a three year statute of limitation. With the inimitable Ken Forrester

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. During the last edition in 2018 I published several articles and many notes but these are the fruits of unfinished business left unsaid, scattered and streaming bits of consciousness having patiently waited it out for this moment in the sun. With thanks to all these erudite producers who shared a few ounces, engaged in conversation and offered up their time. These are the 60 wines tasted 30 months ago, assessed, critiqued, enjoyed and until now, unpublished.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2016, WO Swartland

Simply a case of “fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” small parcels from Adi Badenhorst’s Kalmoesfontein farm, around the Swartland and the greater Paardeberg Mountain. A tienvoudig veldversnit of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Hard to imagine that ten grapes could be so tactful and get together for such a discreet nose, but they are and they do. Secretive and seductive, full of mystery and enigma, ferments in 3000L vessels and then concrete, of a co-existence executing balance and a dedicated focus on texture. A ten-fold paradigm shift as part of the pioneering, Western Cape appellative white blend parade. Those who know it get lost in the varietal party and just like the makers the soirée will go on forever. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Pinot Noir Bokkeveld 2017, WO Swartland

Grown further afield of the great old white grape vineyards, higher into mountainous terrain on the famed Bokkeveld shales. Makes for transitory, lifted pinot noir, “rain-slick’d, rubbed-cool, ethereal,” a little pastiche in a glass. Provides a cool flush of red berries, a note of allspice and truth is the fruit is really quite naturally sweet. Clean, characterful and only an afterthought of subtle savour. More than anything this pinot noir drifts and rises, kind of like reciting poetry. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Hanneke Krüger, A.A. Badenhorst

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland

Of the Badenhorst second tier of wines, a red blend though mainly cinsault (82 per cent) with (10) syrah and (8) grenache. Though this is technically a tank sample it will be bottled next week so essentially across the finish line. There will be 130,000 bottles of this unfiltered wine. Red fruit incarnate Cape style, sweet baking spices and from a band knowing what is needed for playing live in concert, lekker balance seekers capable of working with any instrumentation, including 4,500 and 7,200L blending tanks. Badass sound, fury and energy, dry rocket fuel, pure, raw emotion and precision. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

A.A. Badenhorst Grenache Raaigras 2017, WO Swartland

From the home farm at Kalmoesfontein, a scant 1268 vines by lowest of low yields and considered to be the oldest (1951) grenache vines in South Africa. The Raaigras (ryegrass) is a vineyard choker so without human intervention it would literally strangle a vineyard. One of those wonderful whole bunch ferments though a portion is de-stemmed and well if this is not the right stuff from the right place, transparent, curative, a gastronomy of ancient meatiness and spice. Tannic yet elastic and one of those wines ready to go from creation but won’t likely change anytime soon. For now, long and wide. Feel free to think “see you in 15 years on the other side.” Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Springbock Burger anyone?

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

A chenin blanc blend of 35-65 year-old 1960s, 70s and early 80s, mainly Paardeberg dry-farmed bush vine vineyards in the Swartland. Some shale and clay soils mix in for a top end chenin meritage with a faint if feigned salty vanilla sweetness. High and dry extract and grape tannin conspire in their conscription and into a stretched intensity requiring some patience for the opening up. Lingers forever thereafter. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

David And Nadia Skaliekop 2017, WO Swartland

Skaliekop, “hill of shale,” a curious dale of fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock amongst the Paardeberg granite. For David and Nadia Sadie a chance to make a chenin blanc with both prescient soils lending their presence and tutelage. The people here speak of the Skaliekop, knowing well the wisdom and aridity, the windswept open space, exposed and warm. They recognize and tell of the difference it makes, how a wine such as this can act so implosive, salty, targeted and fervent. The vintage only serves to magnify a sentiment already assured, that fruitful and mineral will align, swell and expand as one from these first grapes to be harvested in the wider Paardeberg zone. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Aristargos 2017, WO Swartland

In 2017 a Swartland appellative white blend of chenin blanc (58 per cent), viognier (14), clairette blanche (13), sémillon (7), roussanne (5) and marsanne (3). David and Nadia’s only white that sees enough skin-contact to inch it up to but not quite breaching the natural-orange-amber stereotype so moving along now. A free-form, stacked blanc of multifarious juxtaposition, a Cape sensation that does this thing better and more interesting than anywhere else on the planet. Complex because florals and salinity get together and express the Swartland without a care in the world. What really comes across the palate is texture, downy and coddling with a finishing pesto of sweetly herbal fynbos and renosterveld. A perfectly broad expression overall though please don’t typecast or compartmentalize the Sadies’ white blend. Let it be. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Elpidios 2016, WO Swartland

An ever evolving or rather moving target, Rhône motivated but at this point in South Africa’s modern tenure just better to say Cape inspired. Has had many lead singers in its time; syrah, carignan and based on David Sadie’s language, who knows, perhaps grenache will take a turn at the microphone. Here in ’16 carignan (39 per cent) is centre stage with syrah (31), pinotage (16), cinsault (9) and grenache (5) rounding out the players. Elpidios means hope, as in “Cape of Good” and like the place itself there are so many layers to peel away from this heady foreland of a red wine. The berry aspect is magnified by the pinotage and you should know that David and Nadia treat this grape with utmost respect. A mix of styles and inspirations make this both muddled and brilliant as it stretches into breadth and potential. A nexus of varietal and micro-terroirs caught up in a whirlwind of extracts, flavours, liqueurs and expression. Still fresh, spirited and alive so drink this well over a ten year span. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Kreatuur Die Synachin 2017, WO Coastal Region

“A collaboration between a bunch of young blokes, making of-the-moment wines from little-known vineyards around the Cape,” and under monikers that refer to “pushmi-pullyu animals.” Also with the winemaking help of Alexander Milner from Natte Valleij. Really quite the drinkable Rhône-ish blend of 56 per cent syrah, (26) grenache and (18) cinsault. Iron in multifarious soils (mainly granitic) make this hematic and deeply plum but still, not so difficult to knock back. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Kop Ou Treffer Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Ou Treffer, as in the ‘old hit’ in Afrikaans, also the old workhorse, in reference to cinsault of the Western Cape. Or if you will, like a hit song as the grape just seems to be the it one in South Africa these days. Or perhaps Traffic, by the Stereophonics. Beautifully aromatic, rich fruit and a soild funk from the particularities in these Stellenbosch vineyards. Half the ferment is de-stemmed, meaning the other half is whole bunch and old vines surely concentrate the fruit, stem funk and spun feeling all-around. Besides, “is anyone going anywhere? Everyone’s gotta be somewhere.” Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Knapsekêrel 2016, WO Stellenbosch

The second cabernet franc release of the De Kleine Wijn Koöp boys’ Knapsekêrel (a.k.a the spiky little black Cape plant) comes from the Polkadraai Hills. Not just any vineyard mind you but one planted in 2000 and biodynamically farmed by Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger and current Stellenbosch guru Johan Reyneke. The winemaking hands of Lukas van Loggerenberg are to thank and while this shows the sultry smoky smoulder that often emits from Cape franc it is a challenge and work in project to find the varietal sweet spot. That’s because cool temps and long growing seasons are best but look out for this breadth of a team’s members to find what works. In the meantime the tobacco, dusty plum and pushed to the raisin precipice make up a tasty if humid treat in a glass. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

De Kleine Wijn Koöp Heimwee 2015, WO Stellenbosch

As with the Knapsekêrel cabernet franc, the Polkadraai west of Stellenbosch is the fruit source, a biodynamic vineyard farmed by Rosa Kruger and Johan Reyneke. The boys at the Koöp are back in varietal town and refer to this all-around floral spiced cabernet sauvignon as running “with tannins as smooth as your grandmother’s polished imbuia coffee table.” No doubt and you can almost hear them singing in Phil Lynott workingman’s poetry. That said, this cab is no thin Lizzy, more like thick as a brick. Hung long and well-developed, of a liqueur that oozes of red, red fruit. Or perhaps, “man when I tell you she was cool, she was red hot. I mean, she was steamin’…” Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Johannes de Wet in Robertson

De Wetshof Riesling 2017, WO Robertson

A known fact that riesling and limestone make a great couple so this look at de Wetshof’s Robertson ’17 is met with great mineral anticipation. Yes the finest calcareous blocks are dedicated to chardonnay because Bourgogne is the de Wet inspiration but anyone who has learned a thing about riesling around the world will know that limestone can work wonders. Alsace of course, as in Clos Windsbul but also The Niagara Escarpment’s dolomitic limestone and Germany’s Muschelkalk (especially in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Franconia). And so Robertson joins the list as witnessed by this linguistically aromatic example, working the glass with a pure lime distillate notion. A nod to Alsace more than anything else with acidity that doesn’t need to scream and shout but it’s truly there. The potential to pioneer the movement is here, along with Elgin as Cape riesling standard bearers. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Limestone Hll 2018, WO Robertson

Youth and drought make for the most naked and transparent of the past few Limestone Hill chardonnays. Absolute cool Kelvin freshness and a 270 degree vineyard scope to gather de Wetshof’s Robertson fruit from an amphitheatre of slope and aspect so subtle yet so meaningful. A fulsome regional DNA creates varietal layers gathered to make this cuvée a true spokes-wine for the limestone-based estate. Set foot on these soils, spin around, take it in. Then feel and intuit the truth in chardonnay that speaks to a place. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

De Wetshof Chardonnay Bataleur 2016, WO Robertson

Bataleur, as in a battalion of chardonnay soldiers, fruit up front, reduction and wood falling in, acids taking up the flanks and structure in support by land, air and sea. Or so it seems because this just marches like a military exercise in chardonnay. Flinty, biting back, yet buttered and toasted on the mid-palate with Roberston’s unique limestone felt from start to finish. Vanilla then white caramel with soft French cream fill and then the snap of lime acidity. Biting and downy, one and then the other, all tied up in robes and pearls, equalling out in the end. Fine work from 2016. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2000, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay

By this time 2000 is the 15th vintage of Hamilton Russell’s pinot noir and tasting both the 1986 and 1997 ahead of this only serves to heighten anticipation knowing full well longevity is by now a solid guarantee. The vintage seems like it must have been a demanding one because there is more hard grip, aridity and austerity here but it really has aged gracefully and beautifully. The posit tug between fruit and earth notes is performed like a string instrument’s bow, bending and angling with dexterity in balanced, fluid motion. Brings in the herbs and spices, wholly and truly of Hemel-en-Aarde origin, on hillsides and between rows of sagacious pinot vines. This is a treat and opens a portal into the future, beginning with the 2012 vintage that will usher in a string of sequentially impressive HR pinot noir. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie Circa Rosecco NV, WO Swartland

From a 32 year-old pinotage vineyard, great old vines that received some TLC from Old Vines Project pioneer Rosa Kruger. Secondary bottle fermented with a little help from “a special blend of liqueur de triage,” so unlike Prosecco in that regard. Early picked which is a given considering the granitic soil and therefore a “Rosecco” of low pH and severely high acidity. ‘Twas just a slight dosage and therefore comes across arid like the Swartland desert. A well cultured sparkling Rosé, crushable and easy like Sunday morning. Drink it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Jan Harmsgat Chardonnay 2015, WO Robertson

True reduction yet to dissipate as noted by the smoky smoulder with a healthy compliment of wood still needing to melt in and away. Looking to settle over the next six months or so and allow the combination of vanilla extract and green apple purée to integrate, compliment and go forward in agreement. Though creamy there is a bite back at the finish so while this is good now it still shows promise for improvement down the road. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2009, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 1994. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. A 100 per cent varietal wine, built by the soil and so bloody mineral as a result. Oak texture but really that’s the end of wood talk, a salty streak, so direct and so personal. The kind of sauvignon blanc that invades your airspace and a vintage more Bordeaux than the rest. Or, if you will Sancerre but not so much this time around. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 1994, WO Constantia

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside the 1987 labeled “Blanc de Blanc” and the 2009. The vines date back to 1979, with the first South African sauvignon blanc made in 1986. That ’87 was a B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. The ’94 vintage was another story altogether, apposite, far away from developing noble rot. Not the baller and perhaps even a bit “weak” with less weight but a saltiness that is more than intriguing. Perhaps more Sancerre-esque as a result but certainly lends longevity credibility to those passed over cool vintages neither celebrated nor considered to carry much staying power. May not be fleshy but is surely a curious and electric surprise. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Andrea Mullineux continues to foster the Leeu Passant line of heritage vines wines with work from Rosa KrMuger alongside. The “post (leaf-roll) virus vineyard,” of smuggled in clean material planted in Stellenbosch in the 1980s. The site is home to loam-rich soils of the Helderberg and the wine stylistically modelled after the oxidative approach to chardonnay. “Death and resurrection,” as Andrea puts it, meaning after the fermentation you allow the must to oxidize again, literally to the colour of cola. Risk reward actionable take and one that requires some shall we say, cojones. This chardonnay is not about luck and the methodology can’t help but connect you to the vineyard. You end up with this unctuous, astonishingly rich chardonnay that bears a resemblance to the vines and the place from whence it came. Unlike the Mullineux chenins or Swartland and so say hello to Meursault. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2016, WO Western Cape

The throwback, ode and homage to South African reds made in the 50s, 60s, 70s, rustic, tannic, structured and reeking of the ancient soils that gave them life. Three locales are in the mix; Wellington, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The vineyards are the first pro-Phylloxera planted sites, a willy-nilly varietal scattering, blocks of two cinsault, a cabernet sauvignon and a cabernet franc. “It’s a deconstructed reconstruction,” says Andrea Mullineux, “where you break down what you love and build it back up again.” First thing is to show utmost submissive respect to 95 and 117 year-olds, the oldest registered red wine vineyards in South Africa. So you hand harvest their low yields and keep a minimum half of the bunches intact for to ferment these wise and experienced grapes. They spend 20 months in barrel then emerge structured and fit for 20 years of longevity. As with those post mid-20th century wines the profile is rich, tart, spicy, robust and layered with serious grounding. Revivalist red, keeper of faith and a lost style, uniquely South African. Today that translates to vogue. Boom. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Greyton

The Cape’s south coast work of Samantha O’Keefe, a (500L) barrel fermented sauvignon blanc made in an oxidative way, or rather a wine of early introductions made with oxygen. Flinty no doubt then rich and full on the palate, of throttling grape tannin who’s antidote is a sense of settled calm. Late spice, Bordeaux in temperament but cooler still, an almost northern Sancerre-ish dexterity and layering. Composed and so very genteel. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Chardonnay Estate 2016, WO Greyton

From the Cape’s south coast and Samantha O’Keefe’s original Greyton Farm, in re-build for a promising future. This ’16 is 90 per cent estate fruit, a natural ferment and all done up in neutral (300L) barrels, 11 months on lees. No malo except when a great vintage comes along. Simply an orchard and gingered and delight, a woven tapestry of backroads eccentricities and southern exposures, with a kick and twist of finishing spice. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Lismore The Age Of Grace 2017, WO Elgin

From rose-quartz soil in cool Elgin, a 100 per cent viognier, so apposite relative to the achromatic shades of Greyton sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. High demeanour and a sense of vivid colour in the aromatic wonder but more so in the levels of palate, front through middle to back. They come like a rainbow, rolling, over stones, in “colours in the air, oh, everywhere.” Orange, peach, nectarine and fine, fine Elgin acidity. They are wrapped in sour spice yet sit cross-legged, in complete control. An aristocratic flower child, surely full of and situated in an age of grace. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape

Fruit from both Walker Bay and Elgin and 30 per cent whole bunch (the first vintage was 15). So very herbal, savoury, stemmy and honest. A beacon in pinot noir you want to drink that comes equipped with an edginess about it. Full purity on display, grip, intensity and packed with provisions for the picnic. Marks the early beginnings of a varietal journey with some naïveté and dreams but look out. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Alette de Boer, Lowerland

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, WO Prieksa, Noord Kap

From South Africa’s furthest northern wine-growing area, a joint effort between grower Bertie Coetzee and winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. Wow does this ever smell like tannat with its depth of earthy fruit and suspension of oxidative animation. High acidity reminds of the really cool climate, more Niagara per se than southwest France. There really is something special here, as with Lowerland’s stellar whites, something singular, yet undefined, in enigma and mystery. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Witgat Viognier 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

The viognier may scent of exotic flowers and tropical fruits but as with most of Alette de Beer and Bertie Coetzee’s range this is surely a cool climate wine. Subtly so and yet of a tension and a demand that accrue a sense of northerly South African wine-growing sense. The wine was made by JD Pretorius at the Constantia property Steenberg and it comes about quite normal, varietally speaking but also beautiful. There is a liquid chalky feel, a product no doubt of quality dry extract mixed with Prieksa soil of desert sand and silty clay. Lean and structured, a lanky viognier that in the end delivers quite the delight. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Die Verlore Bokooi 2016, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

Literally “easy drinking blend,” spoken through an indigenous vernacular from “the place of the lost goat.” At the time a blend of merlot, shiraz and tannat but like the Herd Sire Reserve that too will change over time. A racy and ripe red, earthy and parochial though fruitful in its red, black and blue mixed berry basket. There really is nothing to compare this too, neither old world origin or varietal mash up so assess it on its own terms. Just knock it back. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Herd Sire Reserve 2015, WO Prieska Noord Kaap

A red blend that will evolve (varietally speaking) but in 2015 it is based on cabernet sauvignon with petit verdot and a small amount of merlot. Bordeaux being the message but that too will change because the north of South Africa may actually share more affinity with the southwestern French wine-growing than anywhere else. This unique Noord Kaap Wyn van Oorsprong’s cool climate makes for early drinking reds and the 13 year-old vines here follow the party line for a red blend ripe enough to do what needs. There is more liqueur and spice here than what is noted in the merlot/shirtaz/tannat and also increased acid intensity. Somewhat oxidative but holding well and doling pleasure. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018

Nina Mari and Ernst Bruwer, Mont Blois

Mont Blois Estate Chardonnay Kweekkamp 2016, WO Robertson

After 28 of not bottling their own wines the husband and wife team of Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer began again in 2017. This is one of the first, a single vineyard chardonnay off of 12 year-old vines, barrel fermented and aged 11 months. Speaks of Robertson, not specifically by limestone but with that WO’s orchard fruit and realism, by passing spice that’s merely a thought. Lovely snap, crack and bite which is truly Robertson while in delivery of everyday texture and mellow disposition. The kind of chardonnay to stay quiet and simply sip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chardonnay Hoog en Laag 2016, WO Robertson

“High And low,” in reference to the vineyard being a terraced block on clay. Heavy clay that is, a Robertson specialty and the Hoog En Laag receives the same elévage as the Kweekkamp chardonnay. Certainly a richer and fruit fulsome expression, less snap and bite. No subtle spice either and yet the barrel notes are equally noted. What this has is full-fledged texture, creamy and smooth, all day long. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Mont Blois Chenin Blanc Groot Steen 2016, WO Robertson

The “big” chenin blanc because of the dense clay that gives nutrient life to the 32 year-old block of vines. Quite the steen intensity, ripping with fruit and a mineral streak for layer upon layer of Robertson quality. Naturally sweet pears, ripe and dripping, plus an unusual or unaccustomed to herbology. Perhaps it’s the famous local Rooibos talking. Really persistent chenin with loads of potential. Likely some flint and smoulder in its future. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Western Cape

A true Cape chenin blanc assemblage, in fact it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance to new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc that is bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do in the southern hemisphere where harvest happens in the first quarter months. Expectation always dictates value from the Kloof Street and 2018 does not disappoint with an attractive spiciness that speaks to the preservation of freshness in a chenin blanc possessive of no boundaries. One of the most versatile wines on the planet. Sheet pan sausages and fennel would be just ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Quartz 2017, WO Swartland

Soil is the single matter, catalyst and difference maker to dictate the peculiarities, idiosyncrasies and unique sets of behaviours in the Mullineux single-terroir wines. The chenin develops “freckles” in the sun, tells winemaker Andrea Mullineux and the warmth of the high presence of quartz retains and returns warmth, translating to a conduit of concentrated ripeness passing through the vines. Not a direct heat, otherwise the berries would burn but a reflected back-beat of light and one that is slowly transmitted with naturally occurring temperature control for how and when the plants are in need. The greatest positive is in the maturation of phenolics in the skins and not by a hasty overload in developed sugars. From out of the silica oxide comes vegetative growth that promotes and preserves a physiological process in retention of acid freshness. The result? A phenolic journey unique to chenin blanc as here with a striking 2017, dry as drought yet fresh as a daisy. Though there is some creamy texture there too is hyper intense clarity, a variegate of dappled aromatics and brindled flavours, all bound up in animated acid bounces. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2017, WO Swartland

In chenin blanc the Mullineuxs engage in this single-terroir comparison, first by Quartz and now through Granite. The reference is to the predominant mineral presence in the soil and in how it influences the chameleon varietal. In 2017 Quartz is a major concern but switching to sandy, decomposed rocky soil and everything changes. Berries leave the world of mottled and piebald to one of demure and decor with thanks to the diffused light set upon them. That and a place where roots must burrow, digging deeper through hunks of rock into the sub-strata. This is where trace elements and minerals are to be found in the water table below and while limestone and silex is not the tablet there is some ideological affinity here with the Loire. As such it is this Granite that speaks in a leaner, thoroughly mineral, less spice and increased sharpness vernacular. Precision cut, flint struck, metallic, a song of science and silence. Body and flesh are ambient, less “creamy” than in Quartz, linear in travels, long and of an aging potential surely cast forward. Focused all the way through, unrelenting but always in layers of overlap and subtlety. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Kloof Street Red 2017, WO Swartland

Kloof Street is a “heritage blend,” says Andrea Mullineux, “it’s a wine about the love for making wine, but having preferences.” From vintage to vintage maybe check the bottle for varieties because there is no steadfast formula. Heritage, as opposed to Rhône means playfulness, choices and the inclusion of a structure fortifying grape like tinta barocca, truly integral to the Western Cape meritage experience. Here in 2017 there are some notable added layers of flesh, drying tannin and largesse. An early extracted wine in fast stages of maceration to coax out the fruit and deter astringency. Comes away rich and robust, rocking the free and new world. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

“I still consider it a blend,” insists Andrea Mullineux,”because it comes from seven vineyards on three soils.” Spends up to six weeks on skins, depending on how big the tannins are. Big equals patience. Burly early with spice and elongation but that heft and girth will slowly melt away. An invisible friend called acidity will usher the transformation, those gnomes of silent structure. The next stage will celebrate the leathery cherry fruit and cumulative Swartland savour.  Last tasted September 2018

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah Schist 2016, WO Swartland

As with the two chenin blanc Quartz and Granite introspections there too is a Mullineux terroir combing of Swartland soils through the lens of syrah, there by Iron and here through Schist. The style or rather the result is befitting the monikers because Schist is the tamer one of the two and it is interesting to note that the syrah “blend” as Andrea Mullineux calls it is more like Iron than this elegant one. A huge January heat wave could have led this into the raisin danger zone because ripening under the shotgun is no way to approach harvest. Cooler heads and temperatures prevailed to allow for an unfurling, a plumping and a perking up. Schist comes out regal, aromatically civil and demure, but also juicier than a nosing might indicate. Acid retention is strong, sweet and quite friendly to work in cohorts with the cane and Baleni based spice. Dark in complexion, yes brooding yet sneakily serene, salty and so comfortable in its own skin. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Mullineux Syrah Iron 2016, WO Swartland

The second of two Mullineux soil investigations for syrah is this dramatic and hematic nonpareil exemplar. Cultivar meets terroir, raised off of a heavy, gravelly clay, rich in iron, impressive and hallowed as antediluvian viticultural ground. That may not be completely Cape uncommon but this is clearly a paradigm shifter for drilled down South African syrah in attack meets beast mode, cimmerian, ferric and intense. Modish though, while inexorable character oozes from every pore and a mid-palate wells of extraordinary fill. Sharpens its wits on bullish tannin and expresses Northwest of Malmesbury iron with raw emotion and power, though without rusticity. What it may lack in elegance is made up by sheer force in reckoning, at first engaging and then gripping the palate by all means necessary. The velvet glove future lies somewhere in the next decade, likely latter first half. Drink 2022-2034.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2013, WO Elgin

Just a hint of evolution is showing in this five year-old pinot noir which is something because you had to work to find any in the just tasted 2009. The sweetest fruit comes from 2013, on of the riper, purest and most pristine vintages to express what Elgin has to offer. Ethereal actually, not loosely but effortlessly structured with a seamless bond forged between fruit and acids. Tannins are already subsiding in this elegant, balanced and slightly spiced pinot. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2011, WO Elgin

Such a composed vintage, cool, calm and collected. A Beaune Villages feel here, perhaps Aloxe-Corton with darker pinot noir fruit, almost black cherry but less obvious, more complex, full of baking spice. A genial and genteel Seven Flags nonetheless, elastic, pliable, amenable but not without undeniable and underlying composure. That backbone may bend with curvature ease but will not break. Provides the basis to see this Cluver from Elgin live easily up to and likely beyond its 12th birthday. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2009, WO Elgin

Harkens back to a time when the 1987 planted 113 clone was no longer the sole provider for the Seven Flags family after 115 and 667 had been planted in 2001. From 2009 it seems quite obvious the vintage was one to create big, robust, ripe and warm pinot noir. Even as it approaches its ninth birthday the evolution equation remains in early steps computation, perhaps just now moving to the next stage. Secondary development is still around the bend or on the next page, noted by the persistence of a cool climate, liquid but still grainy chalk. Also acts just a bit reductive which seems almost impossible but stranger things have happened out of South African vineyards. Just imagine the futuristic possibilities when these vines soon achieve heritage age. Remind me to ask Paul Cluver for a look at vintages from 2022 onward at Cape Wine 2039. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw, Porseleinberg

Porseleinberg Syrah 2016, WO Swartland

Poured by Callie Louw at Cape Wine 2018, this Riebeek Kasteel, Porcelain Mountain syrah somehow sits at a pantheon’s peak vintage after vintage, as if each one is a once in a lifetime effort. This must have been the epitome of such a consideration because Louw calls it “a fucking hard vintage, eh.” Strong talking words from the stoic and pragmatic BBQ smoker, winemaker and cricket master. Callie may have experienced a craftsman’s pain but the 70 per cent foudres and 30 concrete elévage not only tamed the savage beast, it helped to turn heads and remind of where greatness comes from. Tasted side by each with 2012 and 2013 only magnifies the massive structure in this ’16, a reductively bouncy, glycerin and impenetrable syrah in need of getting lost in the cellar. Will also need an epic song, “into the blue again, after the money’s gone.” Through the next decade and well into the following one this syrah will remain in light. “Same as it ever was.” Drink 2022-2040.  Tasted September 2018

Callie Louw’s smoker hard at work in Malmesbury

The Sadie Family Palladius 2014, WO Swartland

If you Google “South African white appellative blend” the number one result should surely be Eben Sadie’s Palladius and these are the 11 reasons why; chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, sémillon, sémillon gris, viognier, clairette blanche, roussanne, verdelho, colombard and palomino. Eleven blocks, all on granites, some from the Riebeek-Kasteel side. If looking forward to the brilliant ’16 and seeing it as a wine of mixed tenses, then this ’14 speaks in the imperfect because it strikes as the one to talk about the past and to say what used to happen. As in language, love, war and the past continuous, all is fair when it comes to assessing the verticals of wine, especially in descriptions. The 2014 Palladius is the back to the future vintage, of warmth and spice when things were picked overripe and new beginnings are constantly forged. But the citrus preserve and sheer electric lemon-lime energy looks ahead to the intensity of a youthful 2016, leaving a taster confounded, satisfied and awake all at the same time. This may go forward before it retreats once again. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Palladius 2009, WO Swartland

When talking about the 2009 vintage Eben Sadie talks of the decision to add sémillon, clairette blanche and palomino to his appellative white blend that already held chenin blanc, colmbard, grenache blanc and viognier. “To up the acidity,” aid and abet the tendencies of fleshy fruit to fatten in overripe behaviour. More than just acidity mind you, Sadie also looked to heighten the “acoustics” in a wine that was quickly becoming a major Swartland concern. Tasting this is September 2018 it can’t help but be noted how development and evolution have nearly caught up to 2005, a vintage cause and effect action no doubt. Here is the spiciest, sauciest and flat out nasty attitude Palladius, unabashed and already having done most of its living. That said the track record of these wines tells us to stay put, be patient and continue to relish the sapid, saline and ever-changing paths carved out. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Pofadder 2017, WO Swartland

Part of Eben Sadie and family’s “Die Ouwingerdreeks,” the old vine series and a reference to either or both puff adder snakes and the small “bushman’s land” town in the Northern Cape. Can be 100 per cent cinsault though the percentage is 85 in 2017, aged in old but not Jurassic wood. The ideal, epitome and exemplar bench-land varietal wine, not to mention a pioneer in the South African paradigm shift to conscious exultation of a plan in collective commitment for varietal, heritage vine and whole cluster ferments. From granite shales (not the decomposed kind) and yet another red fruit incarnate, freshest of the fresh precision wines. Pure Cape cinsault is this, with tannin but the kind that is sweet and stretched. No bullshit here. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Treinspoor 2017, WO Swartland

Afrikaans for “railroad,” perhaps a reference to the method of transportation that brought these European grapes to the Cape, depending on how far back tinta barocca arrived in the Swartland. In fact it was in the 1920’s and now just a bit more than 200 ha’s of this hardy, rustic, dark-skinned, early ripening and versatile red lay scattered about, accounting for two one hundredth’s of a per cent for vineyard area in South Africa. Sadie’s is a single-vineyard line running through the Darling side of Malmesbury, a cimmerian blackish red reeking of Renosterbos which is ironic because animal activists have always believed that the railroads threaten Rhino habitat. Digressions aside this is a prime example of why some might consider tinta barocca to be the future grape of Swartland. Sweetly floral and in 2017 both ways perfectly ripe. Botanicals abound, bosplante in bloom while flowers await the bees. Where this shares affinities with cinsault and grenache is in the curative and salumi aromas leading to sweet yet elastic tannins. The finish and length are expressly Swartland in nature. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family Columella 2016, WO Swartland

Red counterpart to the Sadie white signature Palladius and residing in the upper echelon of Western Cape appellative blends. Ontario lays claim to the Stratus White and Red while the Cape knows these. Allowing for some levity there is a kinship to be considered between Eben Sadie and J-L Groulx, two of the more unlikely mad scientists able to capture the lit and woke disposition of mastered assemblage. Imagine Groulx also pouring varietal shots of many different farmed varieties from the back of his pick up truck during a lawn bowl in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The full name is Columella Liberatus in Castro Bonae Spei, Latin for “liberated in the Cape of Good Hope” and as a pillar of strength Columella’s syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and tinta barroca ascend to dramatic expression. Variegated in every respect; hue, perfume, flavour and structure, at once layered and then stratified with doric strength, able to bear the most concentrated weight. Relative acidity, fluted or grooved, wider in youth to help support and lengthen. Intensely fortified with help from the barocca, naturally and of itself, intuitively wild yet controlled. Such a focused wine one rarely comes upon. Drink 2019-2030.  Tasted September 2018

The Sadie Family ‘T Voetpad 2017, WO Swartland

The “footpath” from both the Dutch (het Voedpad) and Afrikaans, also the name of Dirk Brand’s rooibos and wheat farm next to this oldest vineyard in the Kapteinskloof near Piketberg. Some say the oldest in South Africa, planted between 1920 an 1928, but others will say the first vines went in around the 1890’s through to the early 1900’s. Takes the Sadie Family “Die Ouwingerdreeks” to the farthest, most extreme reaches of the old vineyards idea. “The vines have seen it all,” tells Eben Sadie, “don’t fuck with us” is their message. “Don’t mess this up.” And so Eben co-ferments in an as is format but more importantly works at the agriculture to a point of obsession. Newer inter-plantings will go in, of sémillon, sémillon gris and palomino from massal selected material. To deal with drought cover crops will also be added between rows, all of course through an organic approach. The blend is sémillon, sémillon gris, palomino, chenin blanc and muscat d’Alexandrie, all processed together, but this is not about extreme winemaking. More like extreme farming, finding ways to keep these twisted kurktrekker and cavatappi bending vines alive for to produce their magic. The wine that emerges is all about tendencies and multiplicities of texture. The dry extract here is off the charts making it seem forcefully and fiercely tannic. Fantasy and zeitgeist just happens and the results are right there in the bottle. A remarkable wine and vintage from an isolated vineyard where drought is always a factor. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted September 2018

Abrie Bruwer, Springfield Estate

Springfield Estate Chardonnay Méthode Ancienne 2016, WO Robertson

Burgundian ode, ancient method of making chardonnay, a rare approach these days, with wild yeasts and no fining or filtration. No surprise that Springfield Estate is willing to give it a go because that’s how they roll. The plan is for deep longevity by a method akin to anti-aging serum, though 15 to 20 years would be astonishing in any case. Ground control to major tang, circuits wired tohu vavohu and a lemon custard to curd constitution that is simply merveilleux. Yes it is true that a hint of orange could turn into Cointreau after a half decade or more and the mid-palate cloud cover will continue to deliver warmth and appeal. Curious methodology plus romantic acumen equates to one of a kind. We’ll see where this goes. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Break A Leg Blanc De Noirs 2017, WO Paarl

Often referred to as a pink wine but to choose this term to call Lukas van Loggerenberg’s 100 per cent cinsault grown on Helderberg granite would not tell the right story. Blanc de noirs is more apt but even then more detail is necessary to do it justice. Sees nine months of lees time, “to remove the tutti frutti,” snarks van Loggerenberg, without jest but can you really know when he’s being serious? Leaves the arena of the Rosé absurd and settles at a hue of proper B de N colour, as if that really matters. Saltiness is the thing, the granite kind, the sort to set your eyes ablaze and your heart to rest. Not really a wine about texture, though there is plenty, but that’s not the goal. Anything but sweet and a wresting away from norms into a matter of reckoning. And all about five knee surgeries, something the winemaker and the critic know all about. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Wines Chenin Blanc Trust Your Gut 2017, WO Western Cape

While there are wines in Lukas van Loggerenberg’s world that travel down the kamikaze viaduct, Trust Your Gut is not one of them. In fact there is a normalcy, a recognizable structure and an older Euro soul to the way this chenin blanc acts and feels. Sees 10 months sur lie in old French oak but no bâttonage, nor malo neither. Three zones bring the fruit; 45 per cent each Stellenbosch and Swartland plus 10 from Paarl. Take chenin blanc and treat it like a Villages wine by imagining Loire aromatics merging with Chablis texture. This my friends is a classic example of amalgamated Western Cape chenin style. There is irony in the name and no shocker there. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Early springtime in Cape Town

Van Loggerenberg Wines Cinsault Geronimo 2017, WO Western Cape

Geronimo is 100 per cent cinsault, 60 per cent from Stellenbosch and 40 “Break a Leg” Paarl. The get together finds energy that one without the other would not find “because cinsault doesn’t have high natural acidity,” explains Lukas van Loggerenberg, “it is a very good indicator of vintage.” The 2017 is, wait for it, 80 per cent whole bunch and while that is a factor of the Western Cape’s ripen anything, anywhere, anytime great advantage, it’s still an impressive strategy no matter where you are making wine. Spends nine months in barrel and comes out smelling like roses, candied petals mainly but other florals, hibiscus and such. A handsome cinsault to be sure and one that will take precious time to unwind, great acidity or not. Like the red Cape equivalent of white friulano in Collio, sneaky long and structured. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Van Loggerenberg Cabernet Franc Breton 2017, WO Stellenbosch

A more than obvious ode to the Loire Valley, 100 per cent cabernet franc bearing the old world varietal name. Fruit drawn from Stellenbosch’s decomposed granite soils gets the 60 per cent whole bunch treatment, followed by 11 months in barrel. Transparent as cabernet franc is the understatement, open wide, ease of alcohol at 12.8 per cent and in delivery for the rapture of being alive. Lots of verdant tones but nary a green tannic moment. Seems like the beginning of a beautiful friendship so the future too is wide open. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Sheree Nothnagel

Wildehurst Velo White 2016, WO Swartland

A testament to non-pareil, Cape appellative white blend equanimity, of colombard, grenache blanc and viognier, 33 of each, give or take one per cent. Only the viognier is barrel fermented though the equilibrium os never compromised. Intensely herbal, of a nose uncanny in its fynbos reek, lovely glycerin texture, again balanced and knowing the place it wants to be. Acid structure travels though in a pas trop travaillé, no trouble way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland

Barrel fermented and six months matured, 100 per cent chenin blanc, acting as if freshly spiced and in Cape terms, a really chewy white wine. Counterbalanced by a leanness in vintage while wound tight, just now perhaps beginning to unwind in repeat of its specific refrain. Acid structure makes up the lyrical couplets, sung again and again, as a reminder that fruit and wood will always align and submit to the citrus rhyme. Almost feels like still perlage and chenin blanc like this is very much a string of pearls, inclusive of tannins in long chains. Helps to explain the success of Wildehurst’s Méthode Cap Classique. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Red 2014, WO Swartland

A blend of shiraz, grenache, mourvèdre, viognier and cinsault, aged in old French barrels for 18 months. Like the solo cinsault but an even more held back and hard to crack the savoury and sweet candied shell. Both elements emerge with good agitation, first the sweet variegate of red fruit and then the brushy and dusty fynbos bushiness, here acting as an energizer for equal opportunity. Spills over with that Wildehurst acid-tannin continuum as all the wines take their time to ready, pivot in the glass and then speak of their age ability going forward. Big bursts are all power and no cake. Rich yet elastic and surely capable of going deep. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Cinsault 2017, WO Swartland

Just two barrels were found to be extraordinary and thus pulled by Sheree Nothnagel, away from the red blend and into this solo album. Quite the richly emulsified and ropey red fruit cinsault and while it follows along the varietal Swartland thread the differences are as great as they are to the party’s similarities. That is due in respect to the Wildehurst style, tighter and more acid-structure intense, higher-toned and less in the meaty-salumi-curative vein. Still possessive of that red as red can be fruit but here more akin to barbera or sangiovese from high altitudes and limestone soils. There must be something about Koringberg and the other Swartland sites that bring a special je ne sais quoi to Joanne Hurst’s wines. Maybe in thanks to Swartland shale, granite, silcrete and alluvium Renosterveld. Who does not love the smell of Renosterveld in the morning? Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018

The Wine Thief Costa Del Swart Viura 2017, WO Voor Paardeberg

From the Western Cape’s chameleon of a region where anything goes and all things are considered. Case in point this viura of Spanish roots as part of the single barrel series. Surely Swartland specific (as opposed to Paarl), 100 per cent viura and only 180 bottles produced. Less alchemy and more herbology, but flinty, sharp and exciting. Direct, full of fun and even a bit waxy, with a riesling or sémillon feel that can only mean some petrol in its future. So much citrus gets ya in the end. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

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50 California blasts from the past

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

As each calendar year counts down I set out on a long December inward journey, sifting through thousands of tasting notes, looking for reminders to trigger emotion. The purpose is a honing, a zeroing in process, first to create a shortlist and then a numbered final register to match the century’s yearly suffix. The latest was Godello’s Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020. A bit painstaking to agglomerate while simultaneously offering a grouping of days in recollection of the year’s finest sips though rumination over the previous 365. On this the first of March 2021 there is a looming and gloaming of a particular sort, forced upon us by circumstance as the auspicious anniversary approaches. Thus it seems like a reasonably credible idea to act upon the concept of creating more top lists, or rather further “gathered reminiscences,” blasts from the past. These are 50 California wines tasted years ago, assessments that up until now remained raw and unfinished, just now committed to public record.

Carneros, Napa Valley

Chardonnay

Patz & Hall Chardonnay Alder Springs Vineyard 2014, Mendocino County

A vineyard of altitude and cool seven miles from the ocean at 1200 ft with fruit also sold to Kosta Browne. Her for banana, lemon and intense dry extract. Crisp as possible, freshness, balance, length, carries it all. No butter, no oil, no gratuitous aromas or flavours. Exceptional. Donald Patz has now retired having sold to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Buy it up. May never be this exceptional again. Wild ferment, full malolactic, 70 per cent new French wood. $60-70 US. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley

In the zone, reduction blowing off to the edges of the compound. The liberally spread butter fully absorbed, the wood subsidy subsided, now all laid out in retrospect. Ripeness from that beautiful vintage has settled into a cool, lemon curd tart and nectarous nectarine delectation. All tolled the cumulative is an effect of elegance, though in this case not necessarily richesse. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Kutch Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2014

Santa Mateo County, really reductive, very mineral, the most thus far in a line-up of 13 California chardonnays , from what is surely the coolest spot from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Great rocks, stones and bones. Yes bones, by karst and the sea air reaching out to make this seriously cool. The great mountain tang and natural acidity, intense, snappy, snapping back and long. From Jamie Kutch, “Burgundian to a fault,” this being his first effort with chardonnay. An “abandoned” chardonnay vineyard, 12 per cent abv, pH to give you lemon juice but when you get lemons you know just what to do. $40 US. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2016

Keller Estate Chardonnay Oro De Plata 2014, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County

This makes the previous wine (RS) seem oxidative. Reductive is at the fore for the Keller, freshness locked in, really wound on the coastal spindle, intense fruit and even more so, acidity, circular, reeling, wild. A Petaluma Gap leader to be sure, chardonnay of heritage with a winemaking tie to Hansell. No malolactic and all neutral oak. This is so very Chablis, Côte de Lechet and so, wow. $35 US, 800 cases. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted August 2016

Benovia Chardonnay Fort Ross Seaview 2014, Sonoma County

A coastal vineyard (and fruit that is also employed by Flowers) and many will rank this as the coolest spot in California for growing grapes. Mike Sullivan is the winemaker, with fruit that used to go to Marquesan. This done in a richer, expressive, layered style. Some tropical notes, deeply hued, mango, nectarine, creamsicle. Fresh, tart depth, Champagne like with toast and brioche. Luscious custard, 40 per cent new wood, 400 cases made. $55-60 US. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted August 2016

Melville Verna’s Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Barbara County

Both rich and really reductive, deeply hued, fully sun-worshipped and deftly but intently extracted fruit. A bite into a barrel, a Mutsu apple and the inside of a platinum pipe. Big, unabashed style with never ending mineral, tart, ripping and wisely no real malolactic. Plenty of lees though and the oldest of the oak. It’s all fruit, lemon curd and so dessert-like chardonnay but of savour and spicy sapidity. Saline finish. $40-50 US. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Migration Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

The richest and most “old-school” California of the lucky 13 tasting, fruit orchard apple and pear albeit folded and blended through ripe and creamy custard. Or at least the renderings thereof. Likely able to attribute that opaque, cloudy, clotted cream sensation from the fog injection. $40-45 US. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Presqu’ile Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County

Nice reserve on this nose, teasing some tropical fruit but keeping it calm, cool and collected. The calcareous aromas are quite fine, delineated like a chalky streak though less so on the palate follow through. Quite tart and nicely dry extract turn to creamy texture but not so thick in fluidity. Like barrel fermented chenin blanc so a unique expression. Listed at 13.9 abv, low pH, neutral oak and stainless, half and half. Matt Murphy is winemaker and co-owner. $35-40 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley

Some reduction and quite a corpulent, sweet herbology, genovese basil, pine nut and quality olive oil. Pesto of herb, glade, lemon and fine acidity. Always perfectly Russian River Valley, with a warm steal but ultimately cool. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted August 2016

Ramey Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley

Really showing some age from not the top of the top vintage, holding up but in display of its new barrels, nose oxidized and flavours still buoyed by acidity. So the corrective structure seems out of balance now while the wine marches on. Musty and microbial at this point with a fading sweetness on the finish. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted August 2016

Sonoma County vines
Photo (c): https://www.facebook.com/SonomaCountyVintners

Beringer Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley

Continues along the Beringer scaling line of wood retreat, cool climate clarity and as a result a wider commercial appeal. Who would have predicted the success but it’s really working. There would never be a mistaking and the shining is always in play but the admiral work and practicum really does what is base, necessary and appreciated. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2015, Green Valley Of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

A greener understanding, like the smell of algae on rock in a pretty little creek. Carries some unction and creamy sherbet texture on the palate. Listed at 13.7 abv, toasty by 40 per cent new french oak, full malolactic. It leans delicious but also verdant and commercial. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Rodney Strong Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast

Classic taut and reductive chardonnay with Petaluma Wine Gap scream, in suffragette of creamy, rich fruit. Early harvest, compressed vintage. The fruit is caught in the wine’s vacuum, a wine tunnel creating this centrifuge of richness and acidity. Commercial, composed and so very effective. $25 US Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted August 2016

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

A Wagner Family of Wines property, a fine restraint and a shine to cooler thoughts come from this highland chardonnay, with more than enough orchard pressed fruit to fill a trough for the quiet and the masses. Really ramps up and fleshes on the palate with some wild biters late. Good length. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay 2015, Central Coast

San Luis Obispo County, ocean proximate, cool spot, from the oldest producer in Edna Valley. Nicely lean, briny, saline, good acidity. Add some fish or seafood flesh and it will sing. Fresh and crisp. $18 US. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Menage A Trois Gold Chardonnay 2015

From the Trinchero Family Estates stable, classic buttery rich and slightly toasty broad California style. Barrel rendered middle road taken, wax polish, enamel-oleaginous spray. Intensely inward and uni-dimensional for commercial lobster fishing, crack a shell and pour into red plastic cup enjoyment. You know what’s it’s good for. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Scheid Chardonnay Escolle Road Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County

The aromatics here are off the charts in the 13 strong grouping of this tasting. Waxy, caramel, smoky, flinty, butterscotch in gobs. Really odd conclusive nose and even stranger to taste, with a pencil lead and rubber tipped pencil flavour that reminds of childhood class boredom chewing mistakes. Inoculated, 7 per cent new oak, some of it “European.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted April 2016

Sonoma Coast
Photo (c): http://www.sonomawine.com/

Other White

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

Ripe and creamy aromas take this sauvignon blanc into fresh and exotic territory but it’s one of those wines that really improves on the palate, carrying weighty and energy together, expanding and elevating the status in so many ways. A gregarious and resourceful sauvignon blanc with more upside than many peers. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley

The high stirred SS, SB style, from high and dry extract effect, fine acidity and faux sugary spell. Full fleshy mouthfeel and terrific 2015 tang. Lays out the green carpet for the vintage, the varietal and what’s to come. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, California

J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015, which strikes as pinot grigio in style, dry extract to aromatic sweetness, warm and inviting. Tart and citrus intense, very appealing commercial style and a buttery finish which tells some barrel is involved. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Treana Blanc 2015, Central Coast

A blend of 45 each marsanne and roussanne plus viognier, a bit of aromatic reserve, quite rich and dense on the palate. Flavours of very ripe pear and even riper apple. A bit into the sauce and the purée. Could use a more purposed shot of acidity and courage. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted April 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon

Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

As only Heitz can do this provides the combination of elegance and structure and what may just be the finest tannins available from Napa Valley for cabernet sauvignon. That this is so understated speaks volumes about the essence and the incredulity of a Martha’s and with the dry backdrop of a perfect Napa growing season this clambers through its reps with effortless ease, muscular tension and satisfying performance. More ballerina than gymnast and certainly more statesman than warrior. Drink 2020-2033.  Tasted April 2016

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville, Napa Valley

Continues the thread of dry, dusty, beautifully savoury and fruit fleshy cabernet sauvignon from the Groth team. It’s like biting into that perfectly ripe and juicy plum, in texture, not sweetness or even specific to the fruit, but that texture, its unmistakeable. Seamless, tender, age worthy and so friendly (but at the same time serious) cabernet sauvignon. Grothiness refined and defined. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2016

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

A different world here, very floral, historic site with vines that go back as far as 1972, organic since the mid-1980’s. With a slice of reduction to grant forward structure where candied roses will always be there. Classic 1990’s Napa style, rich and full but focused, pure and detailed. Complex, 20 months in French wood, 60 per cent new, 88 per cent cabernet sauvignon 88 plus (8) cabernet franc and some petit verdot. The potential is great. This will become picture perfect. $185 US. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted September 2016

Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The combination of fruit (could it be any riper or improved upon), acumen and no expense spared makes this the cabernet sauvignon of great esteem in that echelon where few reside. Berries in many forms; fresh, puréed and in clafouti are fully engaged. What will this not do for you, for 20 years and more? Everything. The most refined and sophisticated such a wine can be. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted April 2016

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley

From Schramsberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley aromatic beauty, the most floral of any on this table and in so many ways the most Bordelais, or perhaps more specifically Margaux with such perfume only a scant few know or understand. So pretty and powerful, lovely, structured and intense. This will age for two decades easily and tasting this really puts it all into perspective. The palate brings more of the divine, silky, fleshy and with some spicy bite and chew. Really fine. Really, really fine. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted May 2016

 

Gallica Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Oakville valley floor Napa fruit gravelly soil, from Rosemary Cakebread. First wine in this haute line-up to amalgamate the blue, red and black fruit, with some volcanic aromatics. Acidity works in and all around and so this has it all going on with a chocolate finish more refined. Mainly (75 per cent cabernet sauvignon plus (25) cabernet franc, suave from blueberry to red currant to black berry. The corporeal tone is elegant and muscular. Has some real elegance and is is simply excellent. 249 cases. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted September 2016

Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley

Deep, low, bench land gravelly soils, extended maceration, rich concentrated depth, amazingly void of chalk and grain though the tannin is intense. Very refined, spicy and great acidity. It’s all in napa, all in from Josh. Wow, so long. $157 US. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, Unfiltered

From 1990 planted hillside, bench site vineyards, gravelly with good drainage, young but structured, just east of the Silverado Trail. Rich, black fruit, chalky, fine-grained and very sweet tannin. All natural yeasts, 22 months in 65 per cent new oak. All in but because the fruit is so rich and pure there is balance. Rich, spicy and focused, tempered chocolate finish, a prime example of today’s Bordelais in the retro-modern world. $156 US. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted September 2016

Silverado Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Also high-toned but the level of serious, depth and bad-ass intent is on the table. From steep shale soils, there is a mountain herb aroma that is distinct, ahead of the chocolate curve,. All in 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 45 per cent new wood, heat factor notably reduced. There is a cool-menthol note but the flavour is a change of pace, into cool, thin mountain air and the tannins are a beast. Tart and grainy finish. Needs five to seven years to integrate. Exceptional wine. $150 US. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2016

Y Rousseau Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Yannick’s work, in reduction and Mount Veeder depth. Further south with fog-maritime coverage so here winemaking is in, Bordelais for sure, reminds of St. Éstephe. Dark, pitchy, cimmerian, with a steep remoteness about it. Volcanic, serious at 2000 ft, so great acidity that just seems natural and raging. Candied flowers and this is just simply intense, gorgeous and alone. Eastern exposure, naturally fermented, 18 months in 75 per cent in new oak. The structure here is second to none with focus, determination and very aggressive tannins. Quite hot on the finish being the only detractor. 150 cases made. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted September 2016

Daou Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Soul Of A Lion 2013, Paso Robles

Carries a cool, Mediterranean savour on the nose, with spirit, vitality and a black olive tapenade. Seamless, ripe in acidity and intensely naked but never wavering from its energy. This is a massively structured wine and no doubt will last 25 years but touched anytime in the first 10 will require hours of aeration and a more than obvious, double-digit ounce weighed, protein fleshy sidekick. It may be big and high octane on the nose, carry a truck load of architectural bones on its corpulent frame but it never loses sight of finesse and dare it be said, elegance. Well, maybe not elegance but it is charming, handsome and fine, even in the face of massive extraction. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted April 2016

Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

Going deeper and darker on the floor, ripe and tart black raspberries, dusty Rutherford fruit, 87 cabernet with a long splash of petit verdot, with some merlot. Aged in 100 per cent American oak (30 new). Good valley floor fruit absorption, some exotic black and white fruit, pod and kernel. Acidity is low profile, tannin slightly more but this is quite easy to get at for a Honig. A wine of good volatility. $78 US. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted September 2016

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

High Mediterranean-savoury component, in black olive and caper volatility. So much ripe but tang-tart-sour raspberry, a product of high sun hours at elevation with the need for canopy management. Old vines, erosion hills, fog-influence, history and repetition. Very savoury and another wine with its very own kind of funk. Oak and spice with grainy tannins all over the finish. Wild, disparate and complex wine. A bit early to get to know and then it carries a bit of an advanced character or a natural cure to it that may always be there as it ages over a good long period of time. $175 US. Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted September 2016

Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley

Valley floor fruit where healthy ground cover leads for major florals and minor Mediterranean scents, namely black olive. Gravelly, Oak Knoll natural acidity giving rise to the AVA nature, that ripe and round acidity for a cool feel. Aridity, pinch of salinity, rises and lingers. Minor pitches from malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Overall epitome of red fruit. Better value than most. $60 US. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted September 2016

Rocca Family Vineyards 2013, Napa Valley

Single vineyard on a 21-acre farm, high toned, dark fruit from a warm bench land site, alluvial soil, organic. Sees 20 months in 75 per cent French oak and in this case it is necessary because the fruit and the acidity are ravers and ragers. Such a cooling back side, minty, chocolate mint, rubbed between the fingers, yes, like malbec. Oak is huge. $108 US. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Darioush Napa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley

More of a proprietary red, 75 cabernet with some merlot and a minor amount of cabernet franc, plus malbec and petit verdot. More acetic tendency, tart and direct, even stark at first. High octane over bullish concentration, not so subtle, aromatically closed but the acidity and the overall structure is gritty. This needs time to settle, for the composed acidity to get together and layer into the fruit. The finish while hot is more composed. There is some dried fruit advanced character. Multifarious, both by varietal and picking times, or so it would seem. $95 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Farella Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley

The tones are on the rise, up in the air, quite the herb influence, whiff of pipe tobacco, seems like a higher percent of malbec and/or petit verdot. From the most recently designated AVA, volcanic meets foxy, dried fruit with spice, fig, cherry, apricot, peach and plum. Chewy dried fruit, you need to work a while (it’s actually 100 per cent cabernet) some grainy, chalky tannin and really good length. New oak is well-integrated. Not as cultured and understood in fact perhaps a bit disjointed but so much potential and expectation runs high for what will come next. Oak is an imbalance factor. Simple finish. $65 US. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2016

Sara d’Amato, ROM September 2016

Pinot Noir

Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros

The fullest of fruit, with spice and San Pablo Bay influenced tension. The combination of ripe and ripping, rich and ricocheting. Has found the right place. Typically atypical for Carneros or rather as Carneros within a Napa to Sonoma connectivity. Holds an ability to age like few varietal sistren or brethren in either AVA. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Longoria Wines Pinot Noir Lovely Rita 2015, Sta. Rita Hills

“Nothing can come between us.” A wine with a song in its title, offering up the lowest hanging fruit and ready for lyrical association. Fine and elegant pinot fruit, with slender, long fingers and legs, plenty of confidence and so perfectly Sta. Rita Hills representative of place. Restrained, elegant, beautiful and ethereal. That’s a really fine pinot noir with a shot of garrigue. Drink early, If for no other reason that there is no way to resist temptation. Drink 202017-2020.  Tasted April 2016

Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County

Now under the ownership of Chateau St. Michelle Wine Estates, this is one of Donald Patz’s swan songs, a wine that has swept into a new price stratosphere, 50 per cent increase in the last what seems like five years (but is probably more like ten). Sweet pinot fruit in such a refined, elegant and classically secure Sonoma Coast style, with altitude, diurnal temperature changes and the maritime air all influencing the style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2013, Doña Margarita Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Marimar Estate’s Mas Cavalis 2013 pinot noir shows great tension as always, acts nominally rustic and engaging. A turnkey pinot noir, expertly ripe and accented with sweet if spicy oak, tart but never lactic. Just terrific varietal wine noting vineyard and AVA with alternating slash double entendre distinction. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Reata Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands

From out of the Santa Lucia Highlands and a property owned by Jamieson Ranch Vineyards. Rich and velvety, slightly spicy but certainly spiced, very consumer friendly at the higher end of the scale, interesting in that it hits all the right notes and lingers nicely but it’s almost too vivid and appealing. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016

Benovia Pinot Noir Cohn 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Sweet tension, red berry emotion, tar and roses, not as intense as perhaps expected. Great example however of Russian River Valley fruit, though low acidity, easy to like, hard to keep around. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Other Red

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2013, Sonoma County

Full on deep, dark, arid and ranging wide trodding a silk road. Extensively far reaching red blend and with great formidable tannin and structure so perhaps the best of its ilk in many a moon. Top quality from Margo Van Staaveren through the looking glass of vivid transparency and vibrancy. Best I’ve tasted. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted April 2016

Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

Duckhorn’s Three Palms ranks amongst the finest in Napa merlot and from 2012 I could paint my plate with this reduction. Thick, beautifully chocolatey and yet chalky, tart, angled and nearly bradding. It could pass for Masseto. Really Italianate and intense. So much chocolate and spice, clove, nutmeg, purple flowers. Not sure just anyone can handle its vivid truth but it’s a very intense and stylish merlot. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Twomey Merlot 2012, Napa Valley

From Silver Oak Cellars, just now coming into its window with the formidable barrel continuing its slow melt, now in a calm and gelid stage. Coconut and plum combine and then there is this chocolate smooth consistency and always the dusty feel of merlot. Still pulsing with energy but this is such a full on expression. All chocolate and espresso on the finish. So much oak. Silver oak. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2016

C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery Syrah 2012, Sierra Foothills

From the Sierra Foothills, this is deep mahogany red pitchy, meaty and cured syrah, full aromatic fleshy and mouth coating/filling with terrific silky addendum. A seamless syrah from start to finish. Turns into something firm (feels like granite) and even porcine at the finish. There’s a lot of fun complexity and ever-changing personality, from its roots to the Rhône and back again. Fascinating. approx. $40 CAN. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2016

Cline Big Break Zinfandel 2013, Contra Costa County

Cline’s Big Break zinfandel 2013 is rich, brambly and so full of dark berry fruit, though also a bit of oxidation. Chalky, lactic, not overtly tart and I like the fennel, tar and roses aspect. Complex and really big. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted April 2016

Good to go!

godello

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign

Grande, Chianti Classico

      Tasting through 175 Chianti Classico DOCG from the last three vintages confirms the territory’s ability to consistently achieve another level of quality

Passport to Chianti Classico

In February I made the annual pilgrimage to Tuscany for the Chianti Classico Collection to taste through a few hundred examples of the local sangiovese, a perennial workload that is my pleasure and indeed, my privilege. Feel free to scroll down past the next few thousand words to read the reviews. I have been repeatedly fortunate to take in the renowned history, food, olive oil and vineyards but most importantly have been the forged relationships with so many producers and custodians of what is affectionately called the Gallo Nero. At this time travel for work and also pleasure remains unknowable and it will be this way, at least for the immediate future. All of us have to wait and see when the next visit can be possible, to again take in the hills and landscapes where Italy’s most important grape variety is grown. That is why the partners at WineAlign have joined virtual hands with the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, Chairman Giovanni Manetti, the producers and sangiovese to orchestrate a different kind of sensory experience. They created an opportunity for the region’s wines to be delivered directly to the consumer’s doorstep. Two unique Chianti Classico mixed cases, each a masterclass in a box. A second set will follow in late summer/early fall.

The Passport cases are a culmination of years of learning, tasting and hard work. They are the first of their kind for WineAlign and the 12 wines chosen are foremost a decision made collectively after the critics each sat down to taste dozens of examples. The wines are also an extension of what new facets and nuances about Chianti Classico’s sangiovese John and I learned in Florence back in February. For me that continuing education goes back several years now. Since May of 2016 I have made nine visits to Chianti Classico and tasted more than 1,700 different wines. In February 2017 I was honoured as an official ambassador by the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico. I take my role as ambasciatore to heart and feel the profound weight of the title and the endearment. It is a great professional honour to speak, write and educate on behalf of the region but the work and the messaging from and for the farmers, producers and the land is a two-way street. The people who bottle Chianti Classico are shepherds of place and I, along with many others, act as messengers of their wines, but more importantly, their story. We all take this journey together. The sentiment is a shared one, the relationship symbiotic and the feeling entirely mutual. And so the Passport Cases are a product of much thought, purple teeth, blood, sweat and joyous sangiovese tears.

Since 1716 Chianti Classico has preserved the unique qualities of its native land and soils and it is the Black Rooster that protects the wines from all imitations.

Chianti Classico Consorzio President Giovanni Manetti

Sangiovese and the quality pyramid

Sangiovese. The grape that defines Chianti Classico. Other endemic grape varieties may or may not augment the wines; canaiolo, colorino, pugnitello, malvaisa nera and others. So too might cabernet sauvignon, merlot or syrah but at the heart and the crux (at a minimum 80 per cent to qualify for DOCG status) of the matter there is always the local and unwavering sangiovese. Then I would imagine many of you are wondering about the levels of appellation that make up the tiers of Chianti Classico’s DOCG pyramid. There are three, Chianti Classico DOCG, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG. Each and every bottle that is made from 100 per cent grapes grown in the delineated Chianti Classico area is stamped with the Gallo Nero, a 304 year-old symbol of guaranteed quality for the territory. What separates the tiers is aging in barrel and bottle (12, 24 and 30 months minimum) but also thresholds for extract and alcohol. As a general rule the price rises as the pyramid is ascended but some Annata (as they are referred to) can be more expensive than Riserva and vice versa. Same goes for each of these levels in relation to Gran Selezione, but for the purposes of simplicity, for an estate that bottles one, expect the GS to be at the peak of importance and also cost the most. For others the traditional Riserva or perhaps a self declared cru rises to the top. Keep in mind that Chianti Classico is a region of vineyards farmed by single estates. You need to get to know them, one at a time. We all want to compare apples to apples but one producer’s silver may be another’s gold.

PDO Olive Oil is a guarantee of quality

Partnerships also travel across commodity lines and one of Italy’s most symbiotic affairs lies within the joint ventures of Chianti Classico DOCG and Olio DOP Chianti Classico. The two are inextricably linked, not just by territory but by a shared passion of estates. Winemaker and Olive oil producer are in so many instances one in the same. While many consumers don’t know the difference between a PDO oil, an Italian extra virgin oil, and non-Italian or even non-extra virgin olive oils, there are profound reasons to care. Looking at price without understanding the real value of a PDP product is key to the message.

Start with preventative benefits and a healthy lifestyle. Two spoons a day of Italian extra virgin olive oil, or better still, PDO oilcan prevent serious illnesses. Some Italian doctors have proved that oleic acid creates an anti-inflammatory barrier that can prevent, for example, some forms of tumour from growing. The Food and Drugs Administration (USA), also maintains that oil is, to all intents and purposes, a “medicinal food”, if it contains at least 70 per cent of oleic acid: Italian extra virgin olive oil certainly does. But although this information is easily accessible to everyone though multiple means of communication, there is still a great deal of confusion and even ignorance surrounding the oil sector.

The first organized (and voluntary) Consortium of Extra Virgin olive oil produced in Chianti Classico dates back to 1975. From the beginning this structure defined strict regulations to obtain a traditional, fine quality product. In the year 2000 oil produced in the Gallo Nero hills obtained European recognition with PDO certification, thanks to those very specific chemical and organoleptic features that link it inextricably to its terroir of origin. Twenty years on, PDO Chianti Classico olive oil is still a small niche production of very high quality.

Gallo Nero Lounge, Chianti Classico Collection 2020

Regulations and the 2019 harvest

The fruit must be processed within three days of harvesting, in temperature-controlled conditions. All PDO Chianti Classico oil is cold-extracted and the processing temperature may not exceed 27°C. Yields may vary from 2-3 kg per tree, depending on the number of olive trees per hectare (but it is actually much lower). As with sangiovese for DOCG wines PDO Chianti Classico must include at least 80 per cent of olives from the four main varieties grown in the production zone; frantoio, correggiolo, leccino and moraiolo. The year of the olive harvest must always be shown on the label. Lastly, it must correspond to certain chemical and organoleptic parameters which are an improvement on and/or more selective than those for non-PDO extra virgin olive oil.

In 2019 the total quantities were hugely affected due to the weather and compared to the previous year’s harvest PDO Chianti Classico suffered a 75 per cent loss of oil destined for certification and 50 per cent of non-certified extra virgin oil. Despite all this organoleptic qualities were high, showing the pleasant, piquant hints of fresh and aromatic herbs on the nose, typical of Chianti Classico PDO oil and the bitter olive/raw artichoke flavours with a spicy finish of rocket, chilli pepper and black pepper. All these features are typical of Gallo Nero PDO oil, and of the terroir, problematic for olive growing but generous in the complex sensations it offers.

Stazione Leopolda, Firenze

Come on up for sangiovese’s rising

When we look retrospectively back at the last seven vintages in Chianti Classico the upward trend in quality argues in favour of the law of increasing returns. Producers have invested time, money and hard work, small farms have moved from home-gardening to professional vignaioli and larger estates have ticketed block-specific projects to compliment commercial continuity. Chianti Classico’s agglomerated return is more than proportionate to investment. Any graph will show the rising, from market share through qualitative studies of ripeness, extract and balance, to critical praise across the board. Writers everywhere are on the bandwagon, circling the region with written hyperbole in recognition of the good becoming great with a kind of religious and spiritual belief.

Chianti Classico Ambassadors, 2020

Vintage reports

The 2013 vintage saw great variabilities, first from the weather, in spikes and storms, then in the resulting wines of which no two seemed the same. The “blood orange” vintage I like to call it and the first in recent memory to really speak of sangiovese’s great complexity, multiplicity and diversity. What followed might have ended things altogether and prevented the current streak from continuing. The 2014 growing season was fraught with challenge; inclement weather of frosts, rain and cool temperatures, not ideal to make impressive and strutting sangiovese, but producers hunkered down and their mettle tested, showed what experience, acumen and forward thinking could produce. Like 1998 and 2008 before, 2014 was and still is a vintage of sneaky structure.

Sommeliers of the Chianti Classico Collection

Then comes along the easy, breezy and close your eyes year that is 2015. Virtually no climate hurdles and wines that make themselves. Is ’15 one for the ages? In a word, no. Will these sangiovese drink beautifully and defend cellars everywhere from bottles snatched, their corks pulled and the wine spilled too early? In another word, yes. All wine regions need a 2015 in the throes of enigma and glory. That’s where 2016 fits in, after the calm and before the storm, or in the case of 2017, the fire. The 2016 vintage was about as perfect as it gets, allowing sangiovese to fully ripen at 600, 650 and even more meters above sea level, to turn vineyards in places like Radda, Ruffoli, Lamole and Monti into veritable Edens. The wines of 2016 are glorious and structured. They will live in infamy, respectfully, without grandstanding, low and slow in development, long into a sangiovese night. This is where Chianti Classico became the future.

John Szabo M.S., a.k.a. Il Professore

It may have rained some in the last months of 2016 but after the calendar turned there was no precipitation until the beginning of the second week in September. Imagine what the berries looked like on vines before those rains. Picture the desiccation, consider the sugars and know the unevenness of phenolic ripening. Once again the farmer’s imperative for digging deep to trust intuition became paramount to save the vintage. Patience encouraged those sangiovese clusters to swell and take advantage of three blissful weeks that followed. Warm by day, cool at night, phenolics hitting their peak. The sangiovese of 2017 are singular and in the most concentrated wines their tannins are really something, at times dire, aforementioned in terms like “so-called death squads.” At the base of the appellative pyramid they can be consumed early but as a general rule, the higher you climb, the wider the gap becomes and the longer you may need to allow for the structural components to settle in. A complete about face comes with 2018 in Chianti Classico of grace, understated beauty and ease of drink-ability. They are a fresh collective breath of sangiovese air, a break from adversity and a set of wines to enjoy in advance of another vintage that will bring yet another step up in quality and ultimately glory.

If nine were eight

In Chianti Classico we break the territory down by commune. Chianti Classico will always come first but in all of Toscana only it is possessive of such distinct communes. I am not alone in truly believing that the sangiovese changes from commune to commune. Even recently it may have been far too difficult to say that each commune has a specific set of characteristics, but with so much good wine on the market the qualifying of definitions is becoming clearer and easier to do. The sangiovese made by each producer are in fact singular and surely related to the soils, however complex they may be, within the boundaries of their commune.

Through to December 31st, 2018 there were nine communes. Greve in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Castellina in Chianti, Poggibonsi, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Barberino Val d’Elsa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. On January 1, 2019 Barberino Tavarnelle became a new commune, thus reducing the total in Chianti Classico from nine to eight, by merging the municipalities of Barberino Val d’Elsa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. The joining is one of fourteen mergers of municipalities in Tuscany approved in recent years. These days of writing feature articles about a place within a commune inside a territory tells and potentially schools us about something highly profound. Riddles, mysteries and enigmas are now yielding to solutions, comprehension and understanding. The special nooks in Chianti Classico are geographically defined pockets where vineyards and villages align for organized, like-minded production and same-belief system marketing.

With Dario Cecchini and Nadia Fournier

The territory is commonly divided by commune but its tiers of structure do not end there. There lies within more specific sub-zones, zonazione, places of interest where microclimates and shared geologies bring land and producers together. Five of the nine Chianti Classico communes have their own Associazione Viticoltori or Vignaioli; Castellina in Chianti, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole in Chianti, Radda in Chianti and San Casciano Val di Pesa. San Donato in Poggio has also banded together within their commune of Barberino Tavarnelle. Greve is the notable exception because the precincts of Lamole, Montefioralle and Panzano in Chianti have each formed their own associations. These three exist inside the greater neighbourhood that is Greve in Chianti. Panzano may not be the only sub-zone of its kind but at this triennial level of the place within a place, within a place pyramid it is arguably the most unified and defined frazioni of all.

Chianti Classico Collection 2020, Stazione Leopolda, Firenze

The reviews

Which brings us to the wines. In February I tasted and reviewed the following 177 examples of sangiovese. Please feel free to advance forward to the DOCG level and vintage you wish to read about by right-clicking on their WineAlign-linked sub-headings.

Passport to Chianti Classico: Case #1

Passport to Chianti Classico: Case #2

Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (31 Notes)

Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (50 notes)

Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 (13 notes)

Chianti Classico DOCG 2015 (2 notes)

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 (12 notes)

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 (32 notes)

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2015 (6 notes)

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2014-2004 (5 notes)

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2017 (8 notes)

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016 (16 notes)

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015 (2 notes)

Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 ($29.02)

Tasted with Roberto Stucchi from a tank sample ready to be bottled. Stucchi reminds of the 220mm of rain in August which causes a déja vu Gaiole reminiscence for me going back to August of 1995.  A wet and auspicious start fasts forwards to a a happy ending. So fresh. Light yes but back up the truck and imbibe with reckless if joyous abandon. You just want to drink this while Roberto quips, “and present it as Grand Selezione.” Wink wink, nudge, nudge for the tongue-in-cheek gamay of sangiovese vintage in Chianti Classico. Shine sangiovese shine. Drink 2020-2025.   Tasted February 2020

Bibbiano Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (168286, $23.95)

The brightest Bibbiano to date is this 2018 from Tommaso, ripe to ripest and with an extended cappello sommerso feel to the glycerin fruit. Crunchy in as much as you could want, very Castellina (or at least Bibbiano’s two-pronged valley within) and perfectly positioned as a Chianti Classico sangiovese of character. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Cantine Bonacchi Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

Fresh sangiovese from Castelnuovo Berardenga and quite heady in its rich constitution with a wooly character and sneaky thick texture. There is a sour if supportive edging to the acidity and it rolls right along with the fruit. New version of old school if a label needed to be put on what this is. Still crazy after all these years. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Buondonno Chianti Classico DOCG Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza 2018

You need to consider the micro-climate of these terraced vineyards of Casavecchia alla Piazza in the heights of Castellina at the western limit of Panzano’s Conca d’Oro. ’Tis a weightless weightiness, a crafty way to compose sangiovese with energetic blood orange winter lightness of citrus being and to make for a wild ride in Chianti Classico expression. Big and invisible simultaneously while conversely stretched, elastic and regaling. You must taste this to not understanding but smile trying to do so. The only living boy in Chianti Classico. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Carpineto Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (356048, $19.95)

Classic Carpineto, savour in and out of every red fruit poured pore, sip and savour. Long as a Greve in Chianti summer’s day and so worthy of carrying across and through several winters. Keep warm with this comforting and soothing Chianti Classico. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Castagnoli Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

Extreme brightness of Castellina in Chianti sangiovese in Castagnoli’s 2018, tightly wound and crunchy herb and earth crusted, tart and properly focused on both its intentions and the small lot crafting it purports to tell. Good story right here and one worth knowing. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Castellare Di Castellina Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (970095, $24.95)

Solid work in 2018 from Castellina’s Castellare, fresh as you might desire and developed to a starting point that’s ready to enjoy as the words are spoken. Structure is somewhat sneaky, more so than initially realized. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico DOCG Ama 2018 ($34.95)

Forget about launching points for 2018, Castello di Ama’s is the whole matter, all points 360 degrees on the compass covered, at the beginning, through the middle and extended at the end. More than just a fresh face there is a density of fruit-acid circling on the palate and then this slow simmering warmth developing late, later and latest. “I never, never wanted water once.” Quenching. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Querceto Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 ($24.95)

Quite the startling and striking sangiovese from Querceto’s Dudda Valley in Greve vineyards from 2018. Real savour over fruit attack, short perhaps of full glycerin though no slouch in terms of macerated texture. Just a touch, if properly volatile. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Volpaia Chianti Classico DOCG Volpaia 2018 (953828, $28.95)

In terms of 2018 this from Volpaia is one of the harder vintage Annata to crack and in fact the traditional construct speaks to sangiovese’s need for time. A crunchy exterior protects the soft and layered interior to double down on suggestions that say wait five years before diving straight in. You of course can enter this Radda sanctum earlier but 2024 or 2025 will see the beginning of true glory. The worth will prepare, support and enrich the wait. Volpaia’s is truly one of the most structured Annata for the vintage. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico DOCG Guado Alto 2018

Guado Alto is indeed a high level Annata and spoken in upwardly mobile tones for Greve sangiovese. Rich as ’18 can thrust upon fruit and then really wound acidity that strides and even sings baritone along. Big wine, very red and layered with the tops of them. The smallest and the the first of four Vicchiomaggio cru that provides for only 50 hL (6,000 bottles). Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Coccia Giuliano/Castellinuzza E Piuca Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

Perfume of an ulterior sort, not just exotica but also something sappy, resinous, oozing even. Pine and more herbology than many this speaks to Lamole certainly but even more so altitude and all the Mediterranean shrubs that grow at altitude. Also speaks to wind and aromatics flying hither and thither. Such parochial stuff oh my. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Colle Bereto Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 ($31.95)

Radda perfume for sure and certain, but the most pertinent aspect to note and ultimately take away from Bernardo Bianchi’s 2018 is architecture. His is structured Annata that cries for patience and expects to be at best three years forward from Anteprima. The fruit content and variegated intermingling with the structural parts is elastic in its seamlessness so you can envision a ten year or more development before real secondary character interjects. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

Journalist taste at Chianti Classico Collection 2020

Famiglia Nunzi Conti Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 ($27.95)

Floral and candied aromas, rose petal and a liquid, San Casciano Galestro melted and stirred into red juice. Quite juicy and liquid chalky in fact. Simple, quite pretty and very drinkable straight away. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Fattoria Cigliano Di Sopra Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

From a place (San Casciano) that gifts perfume but in the most savoury of ways. There too is a deep red darkness to the fruit and here the full advantage of 2018 is taken into consideration. Everything here is done with acumen intention, including maceration, pressing and extraction. The redundancy effects the outcome, restricts the subtleties and brings immediate gratification. Fourth vintage for the estate’s young winemakers and expect two steps forward from 2019. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Fèlsina Chianti Classico DOCG Berardenga 2018 (730788, $29.95)

Fèlsina’s Berardenga is a fully developed 2018 with massive attack of the greatest generosities offered and with zero inhibition. Crunchy, Castelnuovo fluff-earthy and in a world where “you drink my wine, so why don’t you make your world mine.” Trouble moves away with a sip of this ’18, leaving a feeling of warmth and settled intensity. This will develop remarkable secondary attributes in only ways Fèlsina can. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Le Miccine Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

Subtly aromatic, seemingly brushy, forested and mountainous in origin. Gaiole in fact, surrounded by olive groves and plenty of cinghiale housing woods. You can feel the wood and the woods in the way it smothers, exhales and reels you in. Very rich and highly irascible in its voracious meatiness. Singular expression to be sure. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Fattoria Di Luiano Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 ($24.50)

This is perhaps the most approachable, amenable and refreshing Luiano ever made by the unflappable Alessandro Palombo. Beautiful wine here made by the man with the mitts, the maestro from San Casciano. Fruit first, fulsome, flying and mouth-filling. What else needs to be said? Perhaps that this will live in a certain kind of infamy, to be opened in 2055 at which point Palumbo will taste, shrug and walk away. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Brogioni Maurizio Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

Big, deep and low-toned sangiovese is just this, having taken full vintage advantage for the great welling effect. Dark, purposed and attacking. Leaves everything on the table, securely weighted and fastened. From Greve. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Monte Bernardi Chianti Classico DOCG Retromarcia 2018

Let’s talk about the passion. Let us discuss the care, the careful consternation and the vineyard work that leads to something so effusive, effulgent and expressive. Let’s consider this southern Panzano perfume. Once we have exhausted all the shadowy hyperbole we can then begin to understand how Michael Schmelzer builds or rather stands back and watches as his sangiovese constructs itself. The present and the future are right here. Drink now, then and forever. Would love to see this in 15 years, or perhaps more. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Monteraponi Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

There can be no denial or denying the knowing, no lack of understanding in fully accepting a Radda height accessed, performed and used for full effect. Sangiovese knows how to make über plausible use of its hillside altitude and by association the forested surroundings, but in certain cases it requires a sanctimonious winemaking intuition and that right re dihere is the crux of Monteraponi’s situation. A corner of Radda expressed by Michele Braganti in ways no one else may try and as such, exercised as it must be. This is Chianti Classico for what it is. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

Podere Poggio Scalette Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

If ever a Poggio Scalette adapted to, extended from and celebrated a vintage it is this from 2018 that hyperbolizes the context. Richesse like never before or perhaps memory serves short and blinders allow for new beginnings at every time and turn. Big sangiovese for Ruffoli in Greve here from Jurji Fiore and one that speaks to what can happen at heights in warm times. A bit apposite to expectation and causing some wild thoughts. Need to re-visit this time and time again. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Poggio Regini Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

Quite resinous and sappy sangiovese, reminding of Lamole but without the accompanying floral perfume. A touch beyond, on top of and reaching over the subtle line. Fine enough and better to drink this young. From Castellina in Chianti. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted February 2020

Riecine Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 ($28.95)

Fully conceived, attacked and modernized sangiovese in the brightest red fruit vein, of berry mixed with red lightning. Amazing Gaiole vineyard gives life to the 21st century. Fabulous acidity and freshness from the hands (or lack there) of Alesandro Campatelli. Structure creeps in and confirms without conforming to any static standard or typicality, in mixed levels of attack. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Rocca Di Castagnoli Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (222810, $19.95)

Full on attack from warm, ripe and concentrated 2018 fruit defines Rocca di Castagnoli’s 2018. This brings and delivers the whole lot of goods right from the top for immediate enjoyment. Total extraction to throw every iota of acidity and available tannin into the mix. Acts youthful and wise at the same time. Terrific three to five year Annata that expresses everything at once and all the time. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Rocca Di Montegrossi Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 ($34.95)

Monti in Chianti is gathered, accumulated and condensed into this Annata with extreme prejudice. That which is left to the imagination in the work of Marco Ricasoli Firidolfi is sottosuolo, in the Galestro of his Gaiole vineyards. Not that the ’18 is less than intense because Marco’s sangiovese takes nothing for granted and leaves little behind on the canes, spurs and leaves of his vines. It’s all here in this Annata, boasting of great confidence and every rock that can be bled into sangiovese’s varietal lifeblood. Extreme tightness of acidity and structure for to speak of freshness, protracted towards potential. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

San Fabiano Calcinaia Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (234308, $21.95)

Quite heady and excitable Castellina here in San Fabiano Calcinaia’s Annata out of 2018. Crunchy, classically rustic, in request of patience, time and the need to wait in bottle. Pretty traditional and fresh stuff right here for you who like what style of Chianti Classico you’ve known, seen and wish to continue drinking. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted February 2020

San Felice Chianti Classico DOCG 2018 (282996, $19.95)

The most extracted and distracting sangiovese comes from San Felice and in 2018 the fruit is met, matched and driven by the barrels from whence it came. What a full bodied, throttle and concentrated Annata this is, truly, unabashedly and completely. The hands of Leonardo Bellaccini go all out to brings even bigger parts for the all in example. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Tenuta Casenuove Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

From the southwest corner of Greve in Chianti, southwest of Montefioralle and close to Panzano. Modish and modern for 21st century sangiovese is just this, stylish, chic and highly motivated. Quite fully developed and felt red fruit of glycerin, pectin and mouthfeel but you want more and more. Impressive magnitude in bringing so much fruit into the mix. Not overtly high in acid or tannin so use this early and often. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted twice, February 2020

Terra Di Seta Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

Reductive and peppery stuff here from Kosher Chianti Classico producer Terra di Seta in Castelnuovo Berardenga. Quite representative for the capabilities of the commune in warmth, strength and early tension. The shell needs to crack before the charm may spill forth. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Panzano

Vallone Di Cecione Chianti Classico DOCG 2018

Newfangled and old-school actionable in simultaneousness Panzano activity, an entanglement of classic sangiovese and colorino in a web of reductive meets candied shell beauty. Very tannic in a surprising turn away from the fast and furious fruit welling. Wait for the twain to be met. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Bindi Sergardi Chianti Classico DOCG La Ghirlanda 2017

Such a pretty, focused and far from enigmatic 2017 is this comforting sangiovese, the floral and sweetly perfumed La Ghirlanda from Bindi Sergardi. Yes it’s an expression of Castelnuovo Berardenga but so much so a feeling of Mocenni, at least in great part. Also peppy, wryly and with a devilish smile, like an ironic Leonard Cohen song. “Is this what you wanted?” Not to worry, La Ghirlanda is not haunted by the ghost of you and me. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Borgo La Stella Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Warmth and altitude combine for Radda beauty in a modish sangiovese so much more fine than beast. The earliest onset of drinkable recognition comes straight from the charm of this well-made wine. Cracks the whip quickly to solicit structural notes for a fast interaction with fruit to find an immediate and insistent coefficient of existence. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (23325, $16.95)

The warmth and the development make this the most approachable and get me now sangiovese you ever did encounter. Well done for 2017 in that the fruit was allowed to develop its phenolics across a broad spectrum of high yield vineyard fruit. Solid reasoning and seasoning makes this work. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Ca’ Di Pesa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Burrone 2017

Quite wildly aromatic this from new and exciting Ca’ di Pesa with a deeper set of structural values than the initial fruitiness would have led you to believe. Just feels like a conglomerate bleed, full of Panzano Galestro, Alberese and even a streak of wispy Arenaria running through like dark cherry in its veins. Very impressive indeed. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Cantalici Chianti Classico DOCG Baruffo 2017 (403733, $24.95)

Deep feelings from this Gaiole sense of sangiovese wonder. All that 2017 can gift is settling in with comfort, warmth and the R.E.M. subconsciousness of a Chianti Classico dream. Richly fruity, layered, dramatic and fine. Finest modern day Annata from the house in a vintage that makes the result even more impressive, poignant and important. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Caparsa Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

In bottle from a tank sample and essentially a finished wine yet bottled. Picking started on September 19th. Quite heady for 2017, full of all the acids and Caparsa tannin that came of 2016. Lively sangiovese with drive, structure and one of the greater abilities to age. There’s a perpetual triangle of motion and precision that keeps the drive alive. An Annata in Radda that clearly benefited from the heat of the vintage. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 ($33.60)

Tank sample – a finished wine but not yet bottled. The 2017 Annata from Carobbio comes as such a surprise, a complex equation identified with the sweetest tannins imaginable. Really quite unexpected, fresh and feels silky in the mouth, clearly one of the finer ’17 Annata’s produced. Structure’s candle may not hold up to the vintages that came before but that does not seem to matter. Don’t think too much, just drink this one and thank Dario Faccin for making it this way. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Castelvecchi Chianti Classico DOCG Capotondo 2017

Classic Radda and savoury, dusty and quickly reached sangiovese for Capotondo and exacted as would have been expected. The traditional quotient is reached, breached and put into full effect. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Casa Sola Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

From Barberino Tavarnelle. High tonality and dusty, reductive and closed young sangiovese. Pressed and picked early with heat and kept acidity though somewhat greenish tannins and not wholly formed phenols. Needs time and then not so much. Drink 2021-2023.   Tasted February 2020

Casale Dello Sparviero Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (10358, $17.95)

Such a big and polished wine, like something out of reach neither in the immediate nor in the deep past. The barrel is everything and yet nothing at all. Fruit swoons and hides behind the wood and waits in wings, static, without wings. Strong and not far from balsamic and cedar notes of the next stage to quickly come. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Casaloste Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

A subtle, quiet and reserved Annata from Panzano’s Casaloste, a bit in demure and not the 17s of many other. That said there is plenty of fruit traction and interaction. The warmth of the year is noticed, the pepperiness exaggerated and the acidity quite the same. Pretty big and boisterous. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Castelli Del Grevepesa Chianti Classico DOCG Clemente VII 2017

All sorts of fruit collects and weighs down in this attacking sangiovese, of tart raspberry, strawberries red and green, currants and a spice masala that speaks to sources here, there and everywhere. Savoury dried nuts, meats and cures make this complex if a bit all over the place. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Della Paneretta Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 ($24.00)

San Donato is Poggio orange, hematic and of a specific tang and that makes for a notably distinct and obvious sangiovese. This aromatic recognizability is comforting and conditions the palate to accept the reality that one need’s to pair this wide open red so that it and all feel supported. Fresh pasta ands cinghiale would do right. Such a proper version of ’17 for the frazione. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Albola Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (339937, $19.95)

Albola’s 2017 is one of the deepest sangiovese expressions, more flavourful than aromatic, fully formed, developed and realized. That means the vines, vintage and veins run deep in Radda’s blood and the feeling is of deep concentration. Nothing is left on the table. It’s all in the glass. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico DOCG Cavaliere d’Oro 2017 (219808, $18.95)

If the all-purpose Chianti Classico is what you seek from 2017 and for immediate gratification than you have arrived and that can be pronounced unequivocally. This is a Mercatale-San Casciano in Val di Pesa beeline straight to the right place. Crisp, clean, fresh and elastic fruit speaks of the grand time and place. Warm and inviting with a concrete freshness that does what needs. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Radda Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 ($22.95)

Quite bright and effusive in 2017 there’s a feeling of the gentle and the comforting in this from the Castello di Radda. The liquid chalky texture is a bit distracting while the wine strolls uncaringly along. A bit aloof and unremarkable but surely no offence meant or taken. Happy is a glass in hand. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Verrazzano Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 ($30.45)

Such a unique aromatic expression here from Castello di Verrazzano and the pattern is becoming a thing of great consistent beauty. The judgement is sound if nearly spot on from a challenge and so the structure supporting makes for a resounding drink of sangiovese speciality. Very impressive for the year. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Monterinaldi Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (383604, $19.95)

The bulk of the juice ferments and ages in concrete vats and a mere 20 per cent sees time in old barrels. A house that travels from strength to strength says so much about the supporting cast of characters that have elevated the game over these last three vintages. Just as this has happened you wonder what will come next. In the meantime this ’17 walks lightly, speaks confidently and pours a charming glass of deliciousness. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Tenuta Cinciano Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Pretty wine here from Cinciano, ripe and really acting out the vineyard play of multi-faceted sangiovese coming together for a seamless estate expression. No holes, plenty of charm and more than what is needed from varietal, vintage and place. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Conti Capponi/Villa Calcinaia Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 ($31.78)

Hard to imagine how a 2017 Chianti Classico can raise the bar across all its constituent parts as this from Conti Cappone is able to effect. The level of primary meeting intellectual notability is well, notable. Fruit rises up to meet acidity and acidity to rise for the challenge of sweet tannin., The bond and the chain is unbreakable. In Annata. No less. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Dievole La Vendemmia Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 ($23.95)

A sweet and salty liqueur from Dievole’s 2017 with all the layers that great modern aging vessels can gift. A highly skilled effectuation and subsequent result gives this Annata such a drinkable and amenable feeling. Very polished and chic wine right here. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Fattoria Di Valiano Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (354019, $19.95)

A wide array of fruit qualities come together with hope, dreams and anticipation. Along with the pressing also comes a reductive and slightly baritone note thats speaks to the style as it repeatedly goes out, seeking love. It will find some, in time and for a few good drinking years. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Fattorie Melini Chianti Classico DOCG Granaio 2017 (395145, $19.95)

Candied florals, a sour note with hard-pressed fruit and brittle tannins. Plenty of wood and a tough nut to crack. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Lamole

Fontodi Chianti Classico DOCG Filetta Di Lamole 2017 ($36.95)

Un unmistakeable moment begins right away with I Parfumi di Lamole, forging an immediate connection by way of aromatic emissions from the always suave and conversely strengthening Filetta from Fontodi. The vintage is both fortifying and also hyperbolizing for the frazione and with this stellar house’s ability it just comes out equal and right. So long and never dissipating. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Fontodi Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (933317, $39.95)

Equally if oppositely aromatic to the Filetta from Lamole and so properly judged, with wood less interested in taking over the project in this vintage. The production seems to have taken a step away and just allows the lightness of structure to mellow along with the litheness of being. Great decision making puts this in a league of its own. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

I Sodi Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (435123, $18.95)

Ripe and relatively pretty sangiovese from I Sodo, a touch pressed but within reason. Goes for all the marbles early and so that is when you must make use to pair, match, sip and enjoy. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (85209, $24.95)

Recently bottled and more than a pleasant surprise because 2017 is a vintage that you had to make exaggerated adjustments then wait to see if the chances taken would lead to positive results. For Il Molino di Grace the proof is in the depth of fruit expression but also in the consistency, or rather the torch taken and growth forward. The best 17s are those that adapted to challenge, adversity and were willing to change. In that way they resemble themselves and add new breath to the light that is sangiovese. Here Annata shows off idiosyncrasy, complexity and multiplicity. As fresh as 2017 can be with enough structure to keep moving forward. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Il Poggiolino Chianti Classico DOCG Il Classico 2017

The savour and dustiness of sangiovese coupled with a challenge are on display from this deeply rendered wine. Il Poggiolino’s is not uncommon for the vintage and the fruit is dug in so deep, into ripeness and the earth. There’s surely a dried component, both fruit and herbs but also acids and tannins in their tight angles. Will settle a bit and drink well for three years. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (704346, $34.95)

The vintage sends sangiovese in so many directions, some into the well filled with simple fruit and others over the wall into ultra-savoury territory. Paolo di Marchi’s does both and more. There’s a freshness and a depth to the not so serious but oh so serious conflagration. What’s special is the supple and actionable structure, of acidity embracing and unproblematic tannin. Works like an Isole e Olena Annata should, with imaginary Riserva folded in, with all stones rendered and all points looking north. Drink 2022-2031.  Tasted February 2020

Lamole Di Lamole Chianti Classico DOCG White Label 2017 (476317, $24.95)

A solidly constructed Annata from Lamole here with some advanced features that have it drinking well at exactly this juncture. Tart and rich in converse relationship but conjoined as required. Well made and a triumph for the estate. “Had to keep walking” to find the amazing. Sensei Lamole. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Fattoria Le Masse Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Very pretty wine again from Le Masse with greater acids and bigger tannins than many. That this was accomplished without too much consternation or pressed aggression is a true testament to all facets of the process. Commendable in many ways. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

L’erta Di Radda Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

A wild berry sangiovese if ever there was one from Radda and clearly a vintage matter coupled with the want of L’Erta to happen. So much fruit substance and not exactly a drive to age. Matters not in cases such as this. Crushable as a result. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted February 2020

Montefioralle Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Expect Montefioralle to deliver something other at all times but especially from this. Expect the unexpected, the idiosyncratic and the unusual. Look out for the beauty from things even if you have little frame of reference. Then take in the Damson plum and the dusty tannins. Most of all don’t be shocked at the acidity that can only come from Lorenzo Sieni’s parochial sangiovese.  Last tasted February 2020

Dry vintage, full fruit, deep red, almost out of cherry and into plum, better acidity than some of its ilk and says Lorenzo, “not greens tannins.” Agreed. Quite silky, almost glycerin and long. Well done Sieni, well done. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted September 2019

Monterotondo Chianti Classico DOCG Vigna Vaggiolata 2017

One of the tougher sangiovese nuts to crack, Gaiole or otherwise and yet this Vaggiolata vineyard Annata is so very brushy and bushy Chianti Classico. This maker is that kind and the heart is soft beneath the stony exterior. A perfect example of Chianti Classico needing time to enter the fields of agreeable and charming. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Podere Capaccia Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Things turn brighter in a sangiovese like this from Radda, not so much lighter as one from which fruit can shine. Light in terms of tannin but sneaky enough to elevate and extend. More chew than crunch in a pressed fruit roll-up carnival of the heart ’17. Drink 2020-2024. Tasted February 2020

Podere Cianfanelli Chianti Classico DOCG Cianfanello 2017

Quite a boat filled with sweet and herbal notes are part fruit and part tannin though less so in terms of acidity. A bit soft that way even while the grains keep things seized at present. Drying late in that way and not ready to say three words, like yes, now and integrate. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Podere La Cappella Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

A little bit of San Donato in Poggio goes a long way into defining a special sort of Chianti Classico with this by Podere La Cappella a prime example. The white Alberese is herein always a factor with the orange so deeply sensory and frankly distracting. In a good way to even better so think about fruit and acids as one with the strength to receive and work alongside structure. Rich 2017 here.  Last tasted February 2020

Sangiovese with merlot in two and three year old botti and barriques, to be bottled in two weeks. Smells like Colombino stone, licked by rain with the fruit at its highest La Cappella promise. It’s never been this rich or full but sapidity will always streak through these wines. It reminds me of really high quality mencìa, in a way, piqued by toasty spice, juicy and ready for great meats and roasted vegetables. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted February 2019

Poggerino Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 ($26.75)

Almost always set at the centre of the heart, of richness and hematic depth. The warmth and development of Piero Lanza’s Radda sangiovese are never to be underestimated nor should there ever be shock from the accumulated results. They are made exactly as the vineyard and the vintage dictate. And they are in balance. This 2017 falls right into line. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Poggio Al Sole Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Tons of fruit and fruit pectin content in Poggio al Sole make for a delightful if quite sumptuous 2017. There is nothing light or lacking here and in the short term it’s a good a bet as you are likely to taste. Not all vintages and every estate need to provide structure. Seek, find and imbibe. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Fattoria Pomona Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

The way of Pomona is carefree and natural yet knowing and exacting. The Castellina in Chianti sangiovese here may seem at ease, mellow and even soft but it can bite if it so chooses. The fruit sources are wise, the chance they are afforded high and the way the slow build careens then slides is magic. Few Chianti Classico can do what this can. Get to know the plan. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Francesca Semplici and Riccardo Nuti, Fattoria Montecchio

Fattoria Montecchio Chianti Classico DOCG ‘Primum Line’ 2017

From 95 per cent sangiovese with colorino, picked smartly over the course of September, if a bit variable the stacking and layering saves and fills, covers and extends so that the middle palate gains flesh and the tannins are ripe enough. Going strong.  Last tasted February 2020

Spring frost has resulted in minuscule quantities from a very young vineyard (though 22 years of age). Pretty impressive for Annata, with enough freshness to balance the weight and the sheer presence of this wine. This is the Premium (Primum) alternative to the original and much larger production Chianti Classico DOCG. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2019

Quercia Al Poggio Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Vineyard truths are spoken in a San Donato vernacular with exceptional grace and humility. This is a bit richer and pressing than might have been ideal so the tannins are somewhat brittle and drying but the overall togetherness is more than proper. Finds the ways to reach back for more when needed and to hold back when necessary. Mostly in balance as a result. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (728816, $48.95)

The Querciabella warmth and relative hedonism is on display in 2017 but knowing what a year or two can effect on this sangiovese is so essential to looking at them in their youth. This 2017 will turn into one of the finest of the territory for two most important reasons. A collection of grapes from more than one commune source and a stringent sorting process that pulls out then combines the best. The tannins are really fine here. Let it rest and look for the great relish between five and ten years on. Drink 2022-2031.  Tasted February 2020

Renzo Marinai Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Deep, hematic, rich and also ferric. This fully extracted and concentrated sangiovese brings it all up front, centred and with furious haste. Gives everything now and for all to want. Wants for nothing moving forward so use it, abuse it and don’t pause too much in case you are thinking to cellar and then reuse it. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Risotto, Caffe dell’Oro, Firenze

Ruffino Santedame Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (523076, $19.95)

The advantage in vintages like ’17 is clearly one enjoyed by larger estates because moving fruit around for cuvée speciality makes blending the crux of the matter. And so Ruffino’s is a well-managed, masterly arranged and all purpose Chianti Classico. This is a time to try Ruffino’s beautiful Annata. It will not disappoint. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Val Delle Corti Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Welcome to Roberto Bianchi’s wonderful world of sangiovese foraged, forged and formed by a cappello sommerso beginning. Creates a texture that captures Radda and the new Chianti Classico from out of the ashes of a hot vintage and a really old Piedmontese technique. Nowhere can locked in freshness and texture combine for such great effect. Dramatic and grounded, each with as much necessity as feeling and time will dictate. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Vecchie Terre Di Montefili Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Not so many reductive sangiovese in 2017 and those that are tend to be peppery with brittle tannin. Not the case in Vecchie Terre di Montefili’s as the shell protects freshness without compromise to safety. Aromatics therefore come through the cloud and talk in floral tones. This sits elevated at a lovely precipice but not so high as to extend volatility above and beyond the fruit. Organic, from Panzano and truth be told no other sangiovese smells as exotic as this. Just delicious and will age really well. A highlight of the year. Bravissimo. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted February 2020

Vignamaggio Chianti Classico DOCG Terre Di Prenzano 2017

The middle of the road is properly taken for a 2017 Annata of medium bodied notability. Hard to say what the winner is but going with fruit is a good bet. Acids and tannin are a bit soft and a bit hard, neither really winning or losing. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Villa Di Geggiano Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 ($35.95)

Truth be told this 2017 from Geggiano persists as a youthful and too early to call Annata. The particular Galestro and Alberese in these micro-climate championed western wing of Castelnuovo vineyards make for some of the communes most charming meets structured sangiovese. Why should the heat and the challenge effect anything otherwise. So much here, so many levels of Chianti Classico to unfurl. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Viticcio Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (283580, $23.95)

Beautifully drinking 2017 Annata with a Montefioralle smile and charm. All the adjustments have been made so that acidity fully supports, surrounds and extends the fruit. Some tannin at the finish but thankfully quick and not the point that matters most. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Giulia Bernini, Bindi Sergardi

Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Bindi Sergardi Chianti Classico DOCG Ser Gardo 2016

The newer of the two Bindi Sergardi Annata is Ser Gardo, taken from vineyards on the producer’s I Colli Estate. Dedicated to Niccolò Sergardi, a.k.a. Sir Gardo, Governor of the city of Siena (1530) and guardian of the city. I Colli gives way to the IGT (Achille) and this Chianti Classico off of stony, calcium carbonate soils rich in Alberese. Epitomizes the Bindi Sergardi-Castelnuovo Berardenga cherries and roses freshness. If lighter then great, if sneaky structured even better and it is those roses (mixed with nasturtium) in an imagined spice that comes from chewing on fresh petals. Ripe, 2016 and intensely satisfying. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Caparsa Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Caparsa, name of the estate and the main house. One hundred per cent sangiovese aged mainly in cement. A straight ahead and crunchy Annata with a noblesse and a natural accountability that speaks in Paolo Cianferoni’s body language. Still a touch aggressive and yet the acid-tannin structure is quite impressive. Also tasted from a bottle open four days ago and truth be told the difference is negligible at most.  Last tasted February 2020

Lovely glycerin and elastic sangiovese not without a generous component from barrel. A touch of greenish tannin from that wood but plenty of fruit to swallow it up, or at least will do so in time. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted September 2019

Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($33.60)

Stop in here for a rest and exult in the near perfect grace, charm and collective soul in the heart of an Annata. To say that the Novarese family and Dario Faccin should feel the greatest sangiovese reward from this appellation would be a grand understatement. This version of Panzano and Chainti Classico DOCG is what it is, what it can and must be. Should be. Has to be. Richly glorious and confidently understated. The cleanest sangiovese and the one that speaks most succinctly of the land. These are the reasons why Carobbio is the most underrated, but for how long? This ’16 will see proof to that and so much more. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Bossi Chianti Classico DOCG C. Berardenga 2016 (994608, $22.95)

The push-pull of conversion takes richesse and melts it into firm grip for sensations only a ’16 of such style can drift. The cherries of Chianti Classico are so magnified in maceration and liqueur, so much so this may just be the dictionary entry. Wild and so full of energy as if this were not Annata and yet not quite Riserva. Wow from this wine. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Monterinaldi Chianti Classico DOCG Dall’Anno Mille 2016 (383604, $19.95)

Five months in there is really not a huge amount of movement to speak of save for a rise in energy that indicates this Annata is coming out of its slumber. It also means that six more months should really see it blossom, flower and sing.  Last tasted February 2020

A huge leap in quality for the Radda producer, clearly a sign of work put in the vineyard and steps towards making the right, correct and delicious local sangiovese. A really textural wine and of really fine acidity. Molta buona. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2019

Castello Monterinaldi Chianti Classico DOCG Vigneto Boscone 2016

The single vineyard at the top of the hill at 450m is the Alberese dominant site for this stunning sangiovese of concrete and barrel, but the treatment is just about as hands off as it gets. The vineyard was planted in 1988 and these 28 year-old vines at the time are surely in their prime. Yes time is important but the actionable gestures are already playing with our emotions and tugging on our heartstrings. Such a focused wine. As a reminder there is no Gran Selezione produced at Monterinaldi and so think about the isolated cru in the best vineyard making this wine. Just think about it. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Fattoria di Valiano Chianti Classico DOCG Poggio Teo 2016 (250563, $17.95)

A solid Annata in 2016, fruit already moving forward in development, acidity hanging strong and tannins melting in. One of the more silky, creamy and chocolatey of Chianti Classico. Well-made to be sure and offering plenty of maximum consumer friendly pleasure. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Il Barlettaio Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Quite an extracted and well-pressed 2016 from Il Bartellaio that has steamed straight ahead and come into drinking window view. Take this and use it now for best results. Solid sangiovese to clear the senses and begin anew. Drink 2020-2021.  Tasted February 2020

Lornano Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 (211599, $18.95)

Lornano is one of those Chianti Classico estates that requires patience, both from its makers and its buyers. The soils and the compounding elévage work insist that the wines remain in bottle before revealing their charms. This 2016 is exactly one of those wines that speak to the manifesto. The fruit is here and the possibilities are long and endless. Wait to embrace them. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Losi Querciavalle Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($19.95)

Talk about time. Losi’s sangiovese demands it, insists it be granted and brings beauty when we are properly listening. The Alberese remains in charge and the fruit is aching, waiting, nearly ready to bust out. So crunchy and chewy in simultaneous rumination, so cherry hematic and full of vintage wealth. One of the estate’s best Annata to date. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Piemaggio Chianti Classico DOCG Le Fioraie 2016 ($29.99)

A remarkably rich and layered 2016 from Piemaggio, full on with impressively concentrated fruit. The cherry ooze and chocolate melt are unrelenting, coating the palate with each subsequent sip. Leaves a mark in many coats. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Tenuta Perano Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 (10360, $24.95)

The white and grey clay plus fine decomposed Galestro soil mixes with great 2016 promise for one of Gaiole and the greater territory’s most polished ’16s. Almost too good to be true and in just Frescobaldi’s second vintage. Almost feels like a peak has been reached so the question is, how far can this property go. Sky’s the limit? Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Villa A Sesta Chianti Classico DOCG Il Palei 2016 ($23.99)

Lovely wine from the kids at Catelnuovo’s Villa a Sesta in 2016 with so much grace and beauty. Not that this has been lacking before but this takes a wonderful step forward. Helps to wait another year to taste the pure cherries and the fine liqueur. Has really integrated and is ready to roll. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Chianti Classico DOCG 2015

Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico DOCG 2015

The wait is almost over and the opportunity nearly upon us to seek and find what grace comes from Castell’in Villa’s Annata 2015. There are few peers that require this much attention to detail and patience but it is the Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa who demands that she ands also we do this. The estate gifts sangiovese from so many plots, blocks and micro-climates and yet we still must wait for these parts to come together. They are and in rhyme will only slide in for the ultimate glide, in time from fruit, herbs, wood and in the fineness of what lives. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Pruneto Chianti Classico DOCG 2015

Developed dried fruit resides in Radda space, oxidative and old-school. A charmer with a very specific style. Know what it is. Spice all over the finish, both from wood and in that dried drupe. Drink 2020-2021. Tasted February 2020

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017

Buondonno Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Casavecchia Alla Piazza 2017

Gabriele Buondonno’s 2017 is what you might refer to as a tour de force, a recklessly controlled gangly and gregarious mulch of ripe fruit and massively structured maintenance. That it maintains its poise is remarkable considering the heft and the fortitude. Warm spot where these vines grow and so there was no avoiding the sun in this torching vintage. So young and far from innocent, fruit so priceless and anything but precious. Let it ride for a while. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Castellare Di Castellina Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 (508507, $29.95)

So much cherry and so little time. Not the biggest expression of Castellina though surely one of the most effulgent there is. Rich in the faux sugary ways of sangiovese from warmth and in youth. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 (705335, $40.00)

Quite reductive for a sangiovese from Volpaia and so indicative of what the land requests, matched be the efforts of the team. A liquid white pepper pique is so unique, so interesting and so much the catalyst to create the lift and the character. The possibilities for changes through the aging process are of a stronger potential here than from so many 17s, though time remains for the results to be seen. Real length from this high altitude sangiovese purports to promise that Volpaia’s ’17 Riserva is in true Radda form and charm. Drink 2022-2031.  Tasted February 2020

Fattoria Di Fèlsina Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Rància 2017 ($55.75)

Few Riserva can seem so far away and yet so close to within reach. Rancia would have survived the 2017 crazies as unscathed as any, of that there can be little doubt. Quite reductive and youthfully challenging the matter here is one of no holds barred and options yet unexplored. The mild astringency is perfectly normal and Rancia Riserva will find its way out. Bank on it. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 ($29.95)

Only from the upper vineyards closest to the cellar, one of the more pristine Riservas, of freshness, purity and clarity that Molino di Grace sangiovese did not used to show, but changes have led to this. You don’t think about the transitions or the structure because they just present themselves effortlessly and seamlessly. A remarkably fresh ’17 that was picked late, on time and best decisions were made in the cellar.  Last tasted February 2020

Wow ’17 Riserva could handle waiting until 2021 to be released. So grippy, such acidity, so much concentration and while quality is exceptional still the vintage quantities are so low. A number in and around 40 per cent of normal. Wooly tannins, so in control and very fine. Remember there was also a frost in May that decimated the vines, followed by three months of intense heat. Vineyard management and the most pragmatic, accepting and realistic team in place made sure to do everything right. “Corretta” to the nth degree. As is this organic and biodynamic Riserva. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted September 2019

Luiano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017 ($39.95)

Luiano’s ’17 Riserva is a bad boy, a troubled youth of rebellion and great strength, its frontal cerebral cortex not yet fully formed. Massive attack of fruit and tannin, not to mention natural acidity of another mother. Really wants to see you and be with you, ‘but it takes so long my Lord.“ Hmmn my lord. What a formidable San Casciano Riserva, still full of innocence, searching for its elegance. May turn out to be one of the best. Drink 2023-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Marchese Antinori 2017 (512384, $49.95)

Quite reductive and yet relenting for an Antinori Riserva with a dollop of cream silkening the formidable fruit and its shellac of structure. This is ’17 at the height of warmth and everything else that makes the vintage one of great interest, To some the tannins could be seen as unrelenting and more than challenging for balance. That they are yet when they give in the fruit should be at its peak. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Monte Bernardi Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2017

“I’m happy with our 17s but I don’t know that i would classify them as Monte Bernardi wines, in fact Retromarcia was missing 50 per cent of its fruit due to frost.” The honesty of Michael Schmelzer. That said it’s as delicate and pretty as it gets for the vintage and while a bit of an anti-Riserva so to speak, I have to beg to disagree because the mild swarthiness is very recognizable, comforting and always lends to energy and excitement in the wines, especially when they are young. What wan’t necessarily noted in Monte Bernardi’s Annata that shows in Riserva is the silky and elastic woolliness of the texture and the coating tannins. This is a most unique expression of Panzano and the vintage, a coagulated, hematic and crunchy earth-driven sangiovese with some of the finest varietal tannins around. Crisp and taut, fresh and promising with a long future laid out ahead. If Monte Bernardi is what you seek, this will satisfy your every desires, and your means. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

Poggerino Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Bugialla 2017 ($45.00)

Another hefty and balanced piece of Radda sangiovese heaven here from the Bugialla label, a Poggerino sign of true reality and success. A Riserva of the land, of the vineyards and of specific blocks, rows and vines. What tannins these are, demanding, of a time, certainly a vintage and a place. Make ‘em as they are given to you, That’s what winemakers like Piero Lanza do. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted February 2020

Riecine Chianti Classic Riserva DOCG 2017

Such a fine liquid intensity with deeply sensorial acidity makes Riecine’s 2017 an unmistakably dramatic one. You have to appreciate the lightning fruit matched against the savoury herbal Gaiole backdrop and the sheer luminosity that brightens the fruit. This is a formidable Riserva but for reasons not usually noted. In a world and a class of its very own. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Famiglia Zingarelli 2017 (930966, $24.95)

Rich and so developed, a Riserva for the people and one to hang an early hat on. So many have to wait but the Zingarelli is telling you the time is now to seek enjoyment. While the unapproachable ones work their way through trials and troubles this Famiglia will welcome you to the table. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Rocca Di Castagnoli Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Poggio A Frati 2017 (23358, $32.95)

Poggio a’ Frati is consistently layered with all its categorical character, beginning in the soil and finishing in the glass. Never overbearing and always filled to the tang in prim brim with ever-bearing berries. Quite tannic this 2017, less than ready, impressively structured and fashioned in a Gran(d) way of design. Could easily slide appellative categories, up, down, side to side. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

With the brothers Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

Cantalici Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Baruffo 2016 (541078, $32.95)

Ahh, that Gaiole essence. The hills, the bush, the things that grow, all the scents and perfumes. All found tucked under the arm and laid beneath the skin of this glorious sangiovese. Carlo Cantalici is surely proud of this 2016 and he has pressed his fortune for a ticket to longevity. The wine is almost ready, almost but not quite. “Under my thumb, the girl who once had me down.” Won’t be for long.. soon the change will have come and it’s down to Baruffo. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Capannelle Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

Few Chianti Classico Riserva exhibit this combination of heft and also hard to get demure. Mildly smoky and with a tar-roses-char like some nebbiolo and more so because of the gangly wood spice and tannic thrush. Big wine with years to go before the herbs and the grains relent. The fruit needs to be patient and hope holds for that to happen.  Drink 2023-2027. Tasted February 2020

Caparsa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Caparsino 2016

If you can’t smell and taste the Galestro soil specific to Carparsa’s corner of Radda than you may need to heed a bit more attention. There’s an elegance and a fortitude mixed with a fine sour cherry that makes this singular, specific and a wine that mimics the place. Very structured, acids sharp, pointed and fine, linearity sure and trustworthy. Clean, finessed and definite with all the organic, natural and compost plusses kept in mind. Carries all the necessary bones and attributes to arrive at a seven year mark up to double that time. Inimitable saltiness that’s not really noted anywhere else.  Last tasted February 2020

From Paolo Cianferoni on a 12ha Radda estate at 450m. A citrus note lines the aromatic front, almost white grapefruit but also bleeding red, of pomegranate and red currant. Lovely mid palate, pure and purely ’16, with purest Radda acidity and chaste laser focus. Great attention to detail in the vineyard is more than apparent, translating with utmost unalloyed and unsullied clarity straight down through the glass. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted September 2019

Caparsa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Doccio A Matteo 2016

A single-vineyard Riserva from the plot above the smaller second house called Caparsino and filled with all the soils; argile, Galestro and Alberese. Surely an absolute about face expression with higher volatility and a high, near and nigh potential for advancing porcini notes. A deeper and darker black cherry. Characterful and mature in such a different way, The acidity is uncompromising even while the wine acts oxidative with more wood than the other Riserva. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 (47118, $29.95)

The classic Carpineto way, done in the vein of ancients with a look to the future. There’s a high tone running amok with a toast of the fruit and a plum maceration deeper down. High level acidity and “you can’t disguise” the type of work done here. Tell me lies? Not so much. The truth in clarity of a Carpineto CCR is always spoken. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Casa Emma Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

A San Donato in Poggio vernacular comes closer into view with this Riserva from Paolo Paffi. The orange is studded with aromatics and the local limestone runs through every vein. It also bleeds from every pore before talking tannins and the probabilities for a long future. Tightly structured wine here, compact, versatile and voracious in its virtuous pursuit to eat, drink, sleep and extoll the vintage. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Della Paneretta Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

Castello di Paneretta strives for clarity and purity from a gorgeous vintage that could have allowed for more depth and density. The decision to stay clear of overdone and overwrought is a beautiful thing and so much pleasure is our fortune. Lithe, open, fragrant and sumptuous. A Riserva reserved strictly for drinking. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Bossi Berardo Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 (113316, $38.95)

A Riserva from Bossi is one that makes so much sense in what we’ve come to expect from the appellation, that is sweetly rendered fruit, spice primarily oak derived and great punch. A crunchy Riserva this is, taut, tight, tannic and worthy of time. Give it that and more. The fruit is 2016 after all and from the great wide open Castelnuovo Berardenga space. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 (719864, $34.95)

Great godly perfume, San Donato to the nth degree, welling and simultaneously rising. The glass is full no matter the quality of the contents, the texture filling and seamless, the extension forever forward. What you have is the portal into Il Poggio and know this. That Riserva and that Gran Selezione can and must be extraordinary and off the charts. The launching point here seems plenty great enough for all combined and concerned. Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Verrazzano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 ($49.60)

Deep Riserva from Verrazzano in 2016, full of all things driven, ambitious and tonal. Volatile at this stage because of a reductiveness multiplied by fruit liqueur that can’t help but rage. Really needs to settle and become itself. For now there’s angst and intensity. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Agostino Petri 2016 (993360, $29.95)

The appellative category is looked at, considered, scrutinized and a decision on its stereotype lands here. Petri is the cornerstone and the exactitude, especially for Greve in that it just acts in ways you expect there to always be. Earthy crunch, crusted fruit, herbs, Amaro and sweet tannins. Drink this early. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Colle Bereto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 ($41.95)

You really do need to pay a visit to Colle Bereto’s slice of the amphitheatre pie in their sector of Radda in Chianti because the soil, expositions and micro-climate beg for this response. How else to try and understand the tenderness and desire multiplied for such high level and full-bodied result. Few if any combine richness with elegance, mid-level volatility with down to earth sensibility. Clear and animal magnetic together. It’s remarkable. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 (216309, $24.95)

Come and get me is the quick, early and olive branch extension from Castello di Gabbiano’s ’16 Riserva with all the Mercatele in Val di Pesa confluence that can be jam packed into one voluptuous bottle of sangiovese. Plenty of stuffing and deep red flavours, into plums and a clafouti full of softened berries. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Monterinaldi Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Dall’Anno Mille 2016

The Riserva is a highly refined wine but it is not wood that makes it this way. Concrete is the order of the way that wines are refined, with some old barrels and some amphora. No it is the vineyards the cause this Riserva to act so polished and stylish with so many herbal and woodsy hints it flashes before your nose, brain, taste and eyes. As a reminder there is no Gran Selezione produced at Monterinaldi and so think about the Riserva as being the wine of best selection and has always been this way. Hard to find a reason to change. Perhaps soon from another set of parameters (including concrete eggs and amphora) and vines.  Last tasted February 2020

Lovely vintage in Riserva form for Daniele Ciampi, of fruit sweetly developed, ripe and effusive. Full extract, tang and force all combine to grip the palate and keep it all swimming upstream. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2019

Castello Monterinaldi Chianti Classico DOCG Amphora 2016

From a tank sample. The in process sangiovese with no name that includes quite a compliment of concrete eggs and amphora raised fruit. Fermentation as with the others one year in concrete vats and then to the new vessels which could become the Monterinaldi answer to Gran Selezione. The fruit sources are part Boscone and part Riserva sites that are in the middle of the hill below the borgo. Same silk texture, same stylish classicism and yet the brushy, fennel savour is somewhat lost. Same but different and in this opinion completely worthy of the Gran Selezione appellation. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

Conti Capponi/Villa Calcinaia Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 ($43.95)

Still a youthful, closed and reductive 2016 in Riserva form there is a whole helluva lot going on in Capponi’s wine. Wooly, swarthy, volatile, uninhibited and nearly exhibitionist from all there is to nose and in showing its natural self. There’s something of a missive vernacular far from soft spoken in how this acts like whole bunches redacted in unstoppable fermentation. Like a waterfall rush of flavours, textures so wild and so free. What have you done here Sebastiano? Gotta give in and try, put some away and see if you can figure out the reasons why. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

Famiglia Cecchi Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Villa Cerna 2016 (14200, $29.95)

Proper, rich and savoury, very soil driven Riserva, ubiquitous in that it speaks for a large set of parcels and remains focused. Chewy with fully developed fruit sets, some dried sweetly in leather jackets, some perfectly ripe and yet to advance. A verdant note mixes in. All there, layered and at times disparate but complex as needed. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

Fattoria Montecchio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

Fashioned from 95 per cent sangiovese with a richness that reaches peak San Donato. Elevates so much so it speaks to layering, variegation and intention. Warm, inviting and alleviates any concerns about nervousness or undue tension. So carefully extracted, crafted and exacted. A house in flux of experimentation and the pushing of boundaries moves from strength to strength. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Il Palagio Di Panzano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 ($39.95)

A warm and fuzzy Panzano feeling felt straight away, humid, spicy, Galestro instructed. Some pretty serious tannin, weight, magnitude and a considerably deep impression. Quality with high acid notes acting as a foil to the formidable thing of it all. Bigger that ’15 in so many respects. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Istine Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Levigne 2016

Levigne from Angela Fronti delivers a duality that talks in a vernacular made of more than a commune. The concept is Gaiole meets Radda and each has its say though their mingle and intersectionality layering clouds the distinction in the way you’d hope they would. There’s a softness and a brut strength behind the exterior that tells something conceptual and educational is happening. Forget light, bright and easy. Bring on the ambition, the execution and the swagger. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted February 2020

Le Fonti Di Panzano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 (282921, $44.95)

The full compliment fills Le Fonti’s 2016, led by a purity of vintage fruit second to none and a fineness of aromatic spice that repeats with delicate bite after you taste and let it linger. So subtle and balanced, danced with agility and poise. A wonderfully understated and stealthily structured 2016. Remarkably delicate. Truly. 20 years easy. It’s the good shit from Guido Vitali. Drink 2021-2034.  Tasted February 2020

Ormanni Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Borro Del Diavolo 2016 (435149, $44.00)

So you say you want a feeling for how things once were, how there was a time when steeping in tradition made for comfort, understanding and nobility. So you want to taste sangiovese with the intuition of ancients but you want crisp, clean and pure. So look to Ormanni, dual commune citizen, Poggibonsi meets Barberino Tavarnelle soil and climate. Big and gracious this is, magnanimous and generous too. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Podere Capaccia Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

The bright light and fresh face of Capaccia is something exceptional, exciting and new. So much fruit and rose petal emits from the nose and while comparing sangiovese to other important grape varieties is neither necessary or my style I have to say that the Premier Cru (Nuits-Saint-Georges) feeling of this fruit can be imagined in pinot noir terms. Rarely do I feel the need to do this but this Riserva takes me there and then comes home. Huge stride forward for the estate. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted February 2020

Poggio Torselli Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 ($29.95)

Just what you might, would and will expect from a 2016 Riserva in the hands of Poggio Torselli, leader for the modern San Casciano. Silken, sweet fruit filled, creamy, soft oak and mellow. A menthol note runs through and cools. Drink 2020-2023. Tasted February 2020

Quercia Al Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

Surprising or not the ’16 Riserva from small batch Quercia al Poggio is a pretty heady and serious wine, reductive, rich and a tough nut to crack. Plenty of wood sheathing at this very stage brings texture, silken and quite creamy. A whole lot of everything that will require time. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

Querciabella is entrenched deep in its roots in that Riserva is a true extension of Classico, stylistically speaking. While there are moments of density and hedonism the grounded nature keeps it cool, calm and collected. The level of development is something that has begun but the low and slow process is born of a structural guarantee. Aging potential is really there. Drink 2021-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Renzo Marinai Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

Once again the same 90 sangiovese with 10 per cent cabernet sauvignon mix, an extra six months in bottle with some barriques. More of the same, an extension from the Annata and with great consistency. Two peas in a pod. Wood off the top, spice, spicy and full of sultry notes. So specific to place and its just understood. Crafty Riserva with sweet tannin and an effortless swagger. Soft enough to begin drinking well in late Spring 2020. In Riserva the notation is a big wine, of big oak and with big plans that will take quite some time to unfold. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted September 2019 and February 2020

Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Ser Gioveto 2016 (974964, $28.95)

Some Riserva need time and some are so fresh they beg to be had. Sergioveto is one unto itself, of a moniker that says I am a clone and a different sort of sangiovese. In fact the herbal and dried fruit notes mixes with graphite and incense make for a distinct Castellina affair. Drink this early and often for best results. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted February 2020

San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Il Grigio 2016 (716266, $29.95)

A Leonardo Bellacini sangiovese will always seek top ripeness and first rate barrel and so no shocker here. Reached the expected heights with 2016 fruit carefully crafted for best results. Leo did not press matters or go too far despite the vintage temptation and a really fine wine has been made. Classic, pristine and enticing. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Terreno Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

Greve is the source and Terreno’s gorgeous fruit comes from a Right Bank spot that warmed to the task in 2016. The silkiness and quality glycerin texture is so inviting and truth be told, born of fruit so pure and true. A highly polished wine with so much upside. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Villa A Sesta Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016

Rich and high acid Castelnuovo Berardenga ’16 from Villa a Sesta, warming, caring and smooth. No fruit has been missed or harmed in making this lush and lightly spiced Riserva. Real quality and clarity with just a hint of local savour. Makes this the real deal. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Viticcio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2016 (599308, $31.95)

Montefioralle savour and development covers the phenolically parochial fruit for Viticcio’s well made 2016. Pressed for success, showing its full plume and locally developed flavours. Very much a sangiovese with a sense of place. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Paolo Cianferoni, Caparsa

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2015

Caparsa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Caparsino 2015

Warm, inviting, broad shouldered but on the leaner side of muscular. Rich liqueur, fine tannins and here sharp acids. Crunchy Alberese and Galestro earthiness and real savoury as a textural ideal. Just drinking right well in the here and now. Use it up while waiting for the great 16s. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Lornano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Le Bandite 2015 (230672, $24.95)

Anyone who knows the Lornano oeuvre knows that looking at a 2015 Riserva so soon in its life is like looking at a stopped clock. Gets you thinking about wanting to leave. The zeppelin walls of tannic fortitude, faux reduction and rock led solid elemental credit are far from paying out. In this neck of the Castellina woods they make Alberese sangiovese the way they used to do. In five years time we’ll be able to say “I can hear it calling me back home.” Drink 2023-2031.  Tasted February 2020

Losi Querciavalle Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2015 ($24.95)

Losi Querciavlle, bastion of one of the globe’s most impressive Alberese landscapes and home to some of this territory’s finest chiselled sangiovese. Like marble structures slowly formed by only those who know how to separate the form from the mass. This is the intuition Pietro Losi and his prodigies know and gift to the world. Give their wines time and you will understand. Like this ’15 Riserva, strong, confident, understated, perhaps yet misunderstood but surely pure and true. Bravissimo. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted February 2020

Lunch, Terre di Seta

Terra Di Seta Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Pellegrini Della Seta 2015

A Kosher Chianti Classico Riserva made from 95 per cent sangiovese with cabernet sauvignon. Aged in tonneaux and barriques, half new. A smoky touch and very silky texture. A selection of grapes as opposed to the cru of the Gran Selezione. The first vintage was 2010 and while there persists the style of peppery reduction there too is a smoothness and a mentholated note to what happens when fruit hits wood. Sangivoese with agreeability, age ability and certainly a step up for the table when the category needs to be employed. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Villa Di Geggiano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2015

Now to introduce you to the Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli brothers, Alessandro and Andrea, two men who covet, own and articulate their western wing of Castelnuovo terroir. As custodians of these classic southern Chianti Classico Alberese and Galestro vineyards they have come to understand their nuance and their specialities. So, Riserva from 2015 now comes to its beginning having needed every bit of the extra two years in bottle it has received. Yes this Geggiano ’15 Riserva still needs time and if you abide by the premise it will come alive, surmise and in turn, surprise. In fact it will make a lasting impression and stay with you forever. Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Villa Trasqua Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Fanatico 2015

Villa Trasqua Riserva comes into its own no less than five years after vintage so the window of opportunity for pleasure seeking is really just now opening. The glimpse into what it can be reveals a recent school of stylistic thought, rich and extracted, full of concentrated sangiovese with a savoury edge. This ’15 is one of the warmest yet, resolute and resilient to keep moving with energy and constant speed. Riserva in the marathon, not the sprint. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2014-2004

Caparsa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Caparsino 2014

The quercetina vintage, from which vines protected themselves with flavinoid, anti-oxidant properties in response to solar radiation and changing weather. The crystals that form in the wines and on the corks are harmless and do not alter aromas or flavours and Paolo tells the world they are there. Funny because it was a cold and wet vintage. The Caparsa style, cool excitability, finesse and structure are here in the way they will be in ’16 albeit with more cool thoughts. Under appreciated and undervalued. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Caparsa, Radda in Chianti

Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Caparsa Doccio A Matteo 2012

Lovely bit of development from a vintage of great fortitude and possibility though seemingly only recently softened. Now smooth tannin and yet so, so very sangiovese. The red fruit carries a liquorice note not noted in later wines and here the complexities are blooming, changing and renewing their vows. Lovely look back and easy on the volatility scale. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2007 (1500ml, $115.00)

There is a depth here and a development that says ’07 will not last another fortnight though while it acts this way it will continue delving in the sort of secondary truffled and porcini notes that dole great pleasure. Solid start right here to a 13 year-old Riserva that is simply a treat to behold, wonder and nod in agreement at the 2020 Chianti Classico Collection. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Poggerino Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Bugialla 2007

A warm vintage and Piero Lanza would say “similar to 2015,” higher in extract and well-developed phenolics. Has aged really well, the secondary notes fine and so closely recalling a dried strawberry mind. Acids are very persistent and strengthen the drying tannin and the longevity of this wine. Won’t travel another 13 years but should linger nicely for a few more. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted February 2020

Poggerino Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Bugialla 2004

While 2004 has aged considerably as compared to 2007 the style and character are so different you would almost think they are not linked at all. Deeper, stronger and of a plum fruit way, with balsamic and lightly truffled notes. More wood, wood spice and a brown butter nuttiness. The palate is staying alive with a Tuscan flavour that was the order of that time and eventually leaves the door open for a Raddese character 10 years forward to take its place. Drink 2020-2022.  Tasted February 2020

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2017

Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG San Lorenzo 2017 ($48.95)

The first of the so-called death squads to be released, a.k.a 2017 Gran Selezione is this from Castello di Ama, collective soil of top estate Gaiole fruit and fully recognizing the soul from whence and where is came. Quintessentially Castello di Ama and full of all the warmth and succulence in the way that fruit can act out of such a heat-scorched and arid season. Crunchy and dusty, plenty of macerating plums and no lack of wishful tannin. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2017 ($75)

So apposite to the Fonterutoli Annata “normale” in that the tonality is high, mighty and still rising. More crisp notes, feathered ripeness and a liqueur that seeps, steeps and spills. Some might feel it hot, others bothered and here the sentiment is like indoor winter comfort. That must be the idea; farmhouse dining room, hearth alight, hearty fare, company, sangiovese to the maximum degree. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Vicoregio 36 2017

Of the Fonterutoli Gran Selezione Vicoregio 36 is the biggest, baddest and most tannic beast of them all. The fruit seems worthy and task equal though time is of that essence in understanding. Such a wild ride and yet so like 2017 to make that happen. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Badiola 2017

Badiola is an entirely new way to investigate Gran Selezione in that it hits all the high notes. Tripping the acidity light fantastic and sweet tannic grains of mighty proportion. Where the fruit is at is anyone’s guess but let’s assume it will emerge when the lights begin to dim. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Querceto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Il Picchio 2017 (938738, $49.00)

Il Pichio 2017 is a fully formed, rich endeavour of concentrated fruit and a bastion of structure. Delivers all the necessary goods to develop, pivot, morph and turn into something secondary that will be no less interesting to behold. Watch it unfold and behold the pleasure. Top styling, balance and wonder that captures, subdues and puts a vintage in its place. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Coltassala 2017 ($84.00)

Volpaia’s Coltassala is a really concentrated Gran Selezione and one of the vintage’s early risers. That tells us it will go to bed equally early and slumber for quite some time. The architectural wonders of Radda heights are acclimatizing as we speak but will not open up the shutters and the doors for years it seems. A full compliment of ready and willing fruit is there but kept and suppressed. The emergence will be a vintage exceptionality and live that way for longer than the average ’17. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted February 2020

Conte Capponi/Villa Calcinaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Vigna Bastignano 2017 ($74.95)

Magnificent and magnanimous perfume emanates from Bastignano 2017 in ways never noted, nosed or thought to be needed. Jackie Wilson Gran Selezione. A wine that can “step up and face the world.” Listen. The roses and violets mix with that ’17 savour and the dried notes match the fresh ones step for step. “Your love keeps lifting me higher and higher.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Querceto Di Castellina Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Sei 2017 ($57.95)

Querceto di Castellina’s varietal Gran Selezione sangiovese is the work of oenologist Gioia Cresti (Carpineta Fontalpino) and agronomist Valerio Grella. Sei is the number six in Italian and there were many instances of this number coinciding with the production of their Gran Selezione. The (Belvedere) single-vineyard wine comes from a special selection of grapes in a vineyard area measuring 6.6 hectares with a density of 6,666 vines per hectare. The tonneaux barrels predominantly used hold 666 bottles of wine and family matriarch Laura was born on 6/6/46. Another wild and carefree Gran Selezione from the Castellina estate brings acidity to new sangiovese heights, to no surprise at 480m, with a tone not oft seen in this territory. Serious tang and seriously tart, fruit buzzing of currants and citrus everywhere. Will evolve into the most singular GS that can be next level imagined. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016

Bibbiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Vigna Del Capannino 2016

Capannino’s side of the Bibbiano tracks makes Gran Selezione that dissolves like good dark chocolate on the tongue. Never relenting, piquing of energy and spice, here the land makes sangiovese buzz and pulse with drive and intensity. Rich and rendered, still a meaningful two to three years away from integration. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Bindi Sergardi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Mocenni ’89 2016

Mocenni takes all the advantage that 2016 can possibly pass its way and runs carefree into the wind. The fruit is pretty much as ripe as there can ever be in sangiovese struck by silver acidity and gold tannins, so you can imagine the result. This needs 10 years to fully unfurl, unwind and unfold. Please give it at least half that much time. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted February 2020

Cantalici Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016 ($60.00)

Just a lovely smooth, acidity supported, chocolate and spice Gran Selezione with stage presence and drawn by an artist’s fine line. Great attitude here, a mix of the new and the old. Presents Gaiole to the world in beautiful hyperbole and with accredited distinction. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2020

Carpineto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016

Classic Carpineto with big juicy fruit, high acidity and a dusty volatility that speaks to youth like few others of its ilk. Will settle and turn into something lengthy, characterful and fine. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Casa Emma Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016

From San Donato in Poggio and some of the territory’s juiciest sangiovese is magnified and hyperbolized in Gran Selezione form. Plenty of wood though not overly suppressive of the fruit. Nice balance and spice to boot. The vineyard is a piece of heaven on a hill and Paolo Paffi’s touch is full of grace. Drink 2021-2030.  Tasted February 2020

Castello Di Verrazzano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Sassello 2016

The richest of Verrazzano’s wines is this Sassello and the story is a great one. One of history, progression and birds with great taste. Grapes gone from table wine to Annata through Riserva and now in Gran Selezione form grown at 480m. So much chocolate and wood derived spice. Thick and unctuous for the category and that’s really saying something. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Dievole Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Vigna Disessina 2016

Vigna Dissesina occupies a Castelnuovo Berardenga world of high level fruit, acids and tannin encouraged and accumulated at the highest professional level around. All the necessities that resources can provide do what’s right necessary and abide by making high level Gran Selezione. All are here in this bottle. Exceptional wine with style, layering and class. Drink 2023-2031. Tasted February 2020

Fèlsina Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Colonia 2016 ($208.99)

The consistency of Fèlsina in terms of well pretty much everything reaches the summit, apex and summit of this Colonia. Fruit, acidity, style and effect are all accessed in a similar way while barriques fatten and enrich this Gran Selezione to the point of bracing. Perhaps the most accumulation ever in a Colonia fills this 2016 with supreme fruit quality and a base of acidity that drives the engine. Massive tannic extension and energy of intensity. Huge wine with big plans and twenty years lay ahead. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted September 2019 and February 2020

Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Il Margone 2016

Extremely youthful ’16 but the clarity of that vintage’s fruit can’t help but be up front and present. The accountability begins right here, with 2016s out of which fruit was allowed to stay fresh and yet in Gran Selezione form there has to be time. Allow for development and the accumulation of flesh, but also succulence. This sumptuous Margone comes replete without the old style of hammer on head mentality. It’s the new and elegant one. Tasting this offers a clear picture into how Iacopo Morganti has impressed his talents and his will onto the wines of this estate. Sip one here and there over the next 15 years and it will be as close as one gets to standing in these Panzano vineyards in a pair of the Grace’s shoes. Drink 2023-2036.  Tasted February 2020

Le Fonti Di Panzano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016

Begins at a point just exactly where the Riserva ’16 takes its leave and carries the torch of purity and delicacy. Efficacy too, efficiency for sure and an effusive level of strength that belies its lightness of being. Yes it takes richness in sangiovese from Panzano and this estate to another level but never forgets the heeded understatement it demands to pay forward. Another outstanding effort and worthy of 20 plus years in the cellar. Drink 2023-2035.  Tasted February 2020

Principe Corsini/Villa Le Corti Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Zac 2016

The transition from 2015 to 2016 takes Zac out of the IGT realm and into the appellative one occupied by Gran Selezione at the top of the heap. This new position atop the pyramid is the right and apropos one as a legacy of love and respect. Extreme juiciness defines this Zac from Duccio Corsini’s Le Corti and the amount of kudos it deserves has everything to do with how it has been given every opportunity to shine. Succulent acids and grand red ripeness are what you want and hope for. That and a long life ahead. Grande Duccio. Drink 2023-2033.  Tasted February 2020

Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Colledilà 2016 (293522, $59.95)

Of the three Ricasoli Gran Selezione Colledilà is the succulent and opulent one, of candied roses with spice and high quality, succinctly Gaiole acids. Sumptuous, unctuous and built for pleasure. Amore even. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted February 2020

Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Roncicone 2016

The Monti in Chianti artist formerly known as IGT is now a knight in shining Gran Selezione appellative armour. The 2016 vintage marks the launching point for one of Francesco Ricasoli’s sangiovese explorations and believe when it is said that one thousand years of Ricasoli thought have led to this. Roncicone is varietal strength embodied, also wisdom, methodology and in potion terms, herbolgy. Mixed an elemental Amaro with chewy red fruit in hyper-sangiovese reality. Ripe and concentrated, a tour de GS force. Single vineyard, proud and opulent. Drink 2023-2032.  Tasted February 2020

Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Ceniprimo 2016

As with the Roncicone, Ceniprimo moves from IGT to Gran Selezione in a catgory shift to peak pyramid appellative Chianti Classico that is, well, categorical. The dine first single terroir sangiovese exploration is the biggest of Ricasoli’s three and also the one submerged under the most amount of barrel. Gaiole and Monti are reasoned and seasoned in GS framing with richness and über smooth consistency. While surely a big big wine it too will silken and lengthen after enough time has elapsed. Sangiovese. It needs the bottle. Drink 2023-2035.  Tasted February 2020

Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Sergio Zingarelli 2016 ($122.95)

Sergio Zingarelli the Grand Selezione is the rock, the gentle giant, the patriarch of the company’s wines. As a Grand Selezione it allows its actions to speak for the rest of the portfolio to follow. It leads the estates; Macìe, Sant’Alphonso, Fizzano and La Tavelelle. In 2016 the sangiovese is so different and yet so Castellina in that red cherry fruit core teased by spice. Smells like roses and the feel in the mouth is swelling, rising like a tide increasing as it barrels in. In the scheme of timing it would be prudent to allow those waves in years to go out several times before looking for that window of Grand Selezione opportunity to begin. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted February 2020

Terra Di Seta Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Vendemmia Assai 2016

Assai is the estate cru, of the oldest vines on the property and 100 per cent sangioevse aged only in tonneaux A step up in fruit quality handles the wood and the category (including the Kosher angle) with more energy and finesse. Also a reductive rubberiness that so reminds of South Africa. Quite the dark chocolate component though also vanilla in waves. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2015

The acumen, wisdom and also the persistent reduction are formidable in this incredibly concentrated wine. So Monsanto, so in delivery of San Donato in Poggio, so Laura Bianchi. Seemingly equipped with the needed stuffing in the way that 1968 managed to accrue over 50 years of travels. Here in Gran Selezione form the tendencies and the abilities are multiplied tenfold. Magnificent and magnanimous, the concentration is foiled by focus and precision, from all that has come before, moving into the present and then going forward with everything that occupies, in hopes and dreams. Drink 2025-2037.  Tasted February 2020

Carpaccio at Terre di Seta

Terra Di Seta Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Vendemmia Assai 2015

Assai is the estate cru, of the oldest vines on the property and 100 per cent sangioevse aged only in tonneaux. A hyperbole of dark fruit, strong wood adage and fully reasoned meets seasoned Gran Selezione with all the protective, resinous, wood-spiced and tacky tannic bite. Really needs to settle and mellow. A top Kosher expression of firm, big-bodied reds will satisfy a high end corner of a very specific market. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted February 2020

Good to go!

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Looking out for San Donato in Poggio

Castello delle Paneretta portal to San Donato in Poggio

These days of writing feature articles about a place within a commune inside a territory tells and potentially schools us about something highly profound. Riddles, mysteries and enigmas are now yielding to solutions, comprehension and understanding. The special nooks in Chianti Classico are tenderly referred to as frazioni, geographically defined pockets where vineyards and villages align for organized, like-minded production and same-belief system marketing. San Donato in Poggio is one such frazione, a hilltop village, hamlet and fraction united by the make-up of both constituents and terroir.

Barberino Tavarnelle from Isole e Olena

San Donato is found inside Barberino Tavarnelle, a new commune established on January 1, 2019 (reducing the total in Chianti Classico from nine to eight) by merging the municipalities of Barberino Val d’Elsa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. The joining of Barberino Tavarnelle is one of fourteen mergers of municipalities in Tuscany approved in recent years. On May 26, 2019 the citizens of Barberino Tavarnelle were called for the first time to the polls for the 2019 municipal elections. Mayor David Baroncelli was elected.

Paolo de Marchi in the Galestro of Isole e Olena

Going back in time the near-northerly and fully-westerly section of Chianti Classico saw Barberino Val d’Elsa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa as border cousins sharing one particular mitigating and characterizing commonality; a ridge running from the southeast to the northwest affectionately housing the vineyards and paeselli of the people of San Donato in Poggio. SDP may not be household named to all but it’s surely the most prominent and prestigious of the angling, corrugated crests running through the entirety of the greater territory. 

Castello di Monsanto, Barberino Val d’Elsa

The Evolution of Chianti Classico

What was controversial only three or fours years ago is now part of everyday, commonplace discussion. While the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico has yet to take an official stance on frazioni, especially with regards to labelling or menzione geografica, the fact is they are open-minded and even encouraging towards promoting the associations in search of marketing for their collective soul. Several years ago it was Roberto Stucchi of (Gaiole’s) Badia a Coltibuono who spoke about the “The Evolution of Chianti Classico.” Stucchi wrote “this zone is too large and diverse to remain locked in the current DOCG regulations, which make no distinction between the extremely diverse expressions of Sangiovese in its original territory. The first natural level of evolution above the simple “Chianti Classico” appellation would be naming the commune [township] of origin of the grapes for wines that truly represent their territory. The next step would be to define the village appellations, the smaller zones that are distinctive and that would clearly define some of the top wines in the appellation. So we could have Panzano, Monti, Lamole, as possible zones as well as the many others that have a common geography and history. This type of classification wouldn’t eclipse the current definitions of Classico, Riserva, Gran Selezione.”

Without being able to categorize by geological commonality the defining of sub-zones is always somewhat arbitrary, conceived of subjective opinion and potentially discriminatory to fringe participants, either for reasons of location or ideology. Borders can’t be drawn underground and to try do so above is nearly impossible. The only way is seemingly by commune but in the case of San Donato in Poggio, the namesake village situated upon its prominent ridge allows for its constituents to double down on the prospect.

A great big hug

The San Donato in Poggio room is tied together by climate in a well-bounded area affected by the mistral wind coming off of the Tyrrhenian Sea wafting in from the northwest natural corridor of Monte Serra between Pisa and Lucca. Winters are warmer than the Chianti Classico interior average while summers are cooler and windier. Bud break comes early, seasons are stretched longer and later hang-time allows for top quality phenolics. While finesse and elegance are the two go-to descriptors, those of glycerin and high-toned grip should also be considered. San Donato’s are some of Chianti Classico’s sneakiest tannins, shrouded in the beauty of these wines in their youth. Potential and possibility for great longevity is a hallmark trait of SDP’s sangiovese. If you are looking for comfort or a hug in Chianti Classico, you’ve come to the right place.

The Galestro of Isole e Olena, Barberino Tavarnelle

Rocks in common

San Donato in Poggio’s lifted ridge is typical of the Ligurian sea’s platform push but here the cause and effect is two-fold. Flysch (an alternating sequence of sedimentary limestones, sandstones, and shales, the beds of which are thin, regular, and alternating) is this frazione‘s ace up the sleeve. That and the Galestro (schisty clay with friable white, grey, blue and charcoal rocks) typical of the greater territory are the soils with which all of these producers have in their vineyards to some varying degree. It may be argued that no other commune, village or valley shares such distinctly common terroir. Some compact limestone (like Alberese) exists as well but in some cases it is the Galestro clay and rock known as the Iolithium Unit that is found in large, hard and ghostly white Colombini that separates San Donato from the rest of the territory. Of great interest is to see how the sliding of the two platforms caused on the contact surface and the composition of blue clays prevents water loss in the deep layers. This creates natural availability of water, essential during drought vintages. Now you know where to look for 2017 Chianti Classico.

Natascia Rossini, Podere La Cappella

Associazione Viticoltori di San Donato in Poggio

The association of thirteen producers began their collective journey on January 24, 2018. Their total land holdings add up to just under 2000 hectares, 20 per cent of which are planted to vineyards.  “A time of change and exchanging ideas,” explains association secretary and Podere La Cappella’s Natascia Rossini. “Here there is a longer growing season and we tend to harvest late” and yet two years ago just a couple degrees cooler in temperatures meant that the frazione avoided damaging frost, with help from the winds blowing in 60-70 kms away from the coast. While it is difficult to find a commonality within a sub-zone, you can agree that the climate here is consistent throughout.

Passione per le nostre terre ed i suoi frutti, un territorio ed una cultura unici al mondo, un tesoro comune: il vino.
Siamo un gruppo di viticoltori, di un piccolo ma prodigioso territorio del Chianti Classico raccolto tra i comuni di Tavarnelle Val di Pesa e Barberino Val d’Elsa, che vogliono tutelare (o custodire) e far conoscerne la loro secolare tradizione agricola, storica e culturale evidenziandone le eccellenze vitivinicole, nonché le caratteristiche che le contraddistinguono sottolineando l’importanza degli aspetti climatici e geologici.

The manifesto translates as such. “Passion for our lands and its fruits, a unique territory and culture in the world, a common treasure: wine. We are a group of winemakers, from a small but prodigious Chianti Classico area gathered between the municipalities of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa and Barberino Val d’Elsa, who want to protect (or preserve) and make their secular agricultural, historical and cultural tradition known highlighting their wine excellence, as well as the characteristics that distinguish them, emphasizing the importance of climatic and geological aspects.”

Paolo de Marchi

The thirteen members currently ensconced in the all for one directive are Badia a Passignano, Casa Emma, Casa Sola, Castello delle Paneretta, Castello di Monsanto, Fattoria La Ripa, Fattoria Montecchio, Fattoria Quercia al Poggio, Fattoria Spadaio e Piecorto, Isole e Olena, Le Filigare, Podere La Cappella and Poggio al Sole. The following are 21 examples from the association’s 13 members (plus three likely soon to join) tasted in September 2019 with Alberto Albisetti at Castello delle Paneretta and with Paolo de Marchi at Isole e Olena.

Antinori Badia A Passignano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016 (384552, $49.95)

Presented by Stefano Carpaneto. From Barberino Tavarnelle and well entrenched in the association of vintners in San Donato in Poggio. Surprisingly high toned but also immensely structured in a 100 per cent sangiovese Gran Selezione. You can really feel both the calcari inlaid and braided through the Galestro clay by a richness albeit under the influence of the highest tone. Gains flesh, bone and energy as it goes. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted September 2019

Casa Emma Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 (56952)

From Paolo Paffi off of 25 hectares at 450m in production of 95,000 bottles. San Donato sangiovese with five per cent each canaiolo and malvasia nera, 70 per cent raised in tonneaux and 30 in Inox tank. What’s good for goose is great for sangiovese and so 60 are employed in the vineyard, helping to release the compaction in the clayey Galestro soil. Classic in every expected respect, in the specific savour, motivating intensity, high tonality, deeply good and plenty cherry fruit. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2019

Casa Sola Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

A 120 hectare property owned and operated by a Genovese family, third generation now. The Gambaro Family has been in Barberino Tavarnelle since 1960; Giuseppe, Claudia and their children, Matteo and Anna. Some canaiolo, cabernet sauvignon and colorino augment the sangiovese, for one year in barrel. A sapid and savoury sangiovese snack of red fruit deepening to dark and sullen. Deep toned wine. Really deep. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted September 2019

Castello Della Paneretta Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($24.00)

Presented by Alberto Albisetti, owner of the Castello della Paneretta. A mix of fruits fresh and dried mark the basket of this San Donato sangiovese, with 10 per cent canaiolo and (five) colorino off of 23 hectares of vines. Dry and duty, red ropey, some liquorice and a real estate cuvée blended from vines across the estate. True blue stylistic from large 5000L French barrels. Old school in some ways, classic, like old Rioja. Perfect for the style. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2019

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 

Showing in the only way Castello di Monsanto can, with forest scents, of cypress and all the brush you can shake into the fine liquid of a sangiovese off of these San Donato hills. Mainly Galestro schisty soils bringing the essential balance, along with some volcanic tufo. It all adds up to a posit tug between freshness and structure. Experience tells us that the possibility exists for 2016 to go long like 1968. Perhaps.  Last tasted September 2019

Annata of 90 per cent sangiovese with both canaiolo and colorino, traditional, loyal and streaked by the Galestro qualified off this ridge extended out of San Donato in Poggio. Juicy, fresh and forward, expressive of the vintage, not so muscular. Sangiovese like going home and crawling into the bed you slept in as a child. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted September 2018

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Il Poggio 2013 ($85.00)

Il Poggio from the San Donato in Poggio Galestro and Flysch has barely even climbed the hill of its first stage. Not even sure it has left the stable and surely has no current aspirations of making it to the fortress. The seventh year should show the first signs of initial ascent and transitions into secondary life. Formidable structure and presence are in surround of fruit from one of Chianti Classico’s most distinguished cru.  Last tasted September 2019

The cooler, cloudy vintage has been taking its time to emerge and 2018 is now live, in the present and in the flesh, ready for its time. This is confirmed by the grand artist known as Riserva from perhaps the most iconic hill in all of Chianti Classico. Still bright, effusive and not fully ready to let its tannin melt away. The sangiovese component is in the 90-95 per cent range, again with canaiolo and colorino coming around to complete the whole. The tension persists and the tannic structure in this “Selezione” is much tighter than the Annata or the first, non terroir specified Riserva. Still hard to believe how grippy this is. A soon to come epiphany with the 1968 helps to explain Il Poggio’s phenomenon. As a racer Monsanto’s Riserva 2013 is Marco Pantani, greatest climber of a generation, with so much grandiosity, potential and possibility, straight to the top of Il Poggio. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted September 2018

Fattoria Le Masse Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Though not in the association Le Masse is unequivocally a San Donato in Poggio institution, under the auspices of brother and sister Robin and Lea Mugnaini, owners and winemakers. Theirs out of Barberino in Val d’Elsa vineyards is a child of natural fermentation, has been organic 10 years and two as biodynamic. No sulphur, no pumps, all manual, a mano. This 2016 is the last year of barrel use, of those in their fourth year. The solo/varietal Annata is 100 per cent sangiovese of high energy, intensity and impressively developed structure, linear and so driven. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2019

Fattoria La Ripa Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by winemaker Nicholas Caramelli, La Ripa farms 12 hectares in Chianti Classico divided into two valleys, one marked by Alberese, the other alluvial deposits. Ten clones of sangiovese adding up to 90 per cent of the Annata, with other native varieties. Quite high-toned and graced by liquorice inflected red fruit, a touch leathery and dry. Only stays in tonneaux for six months. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2019

Fattoria Montecchio Chianti Classico DOCG ‘Primum Line’ 2016

Presented by Riccardo Nuti, of 95 per cent sangiovese with alicante in big (33hL) barrels for aging. The vineyard source happens to be the most recently planted, with a combination of Galestro and Flysch (rhythmic alternations of sandstone and fine-grained layers that contain siltstones, silty shales, and clayey shales) to the south of San Donato.  Last tasted September 2019

Quite reductive and wound with a tightness that moves the adage one step up the rung, the one that says sangiovese needs time. For ’16 it’s a matter more pressing and a story yet to be told. It’s tart but so very layered and there’s a feeling of Galestro here, with a darker chalky texture and mouthfeel. Perhaps not the same weight as 2015 but more power and structure by a mile. It’s about preference of style and vintage variation. You may have to drink 15s while this waits two or three years before seeing the glory unfold. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Il Poggiolino Chianti Classico DOCG Il Classico 2016

Alberto Fabbri is also not yet a member of the San Donato in Poggio association and his work from vineyards in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa is exquisite. A combination of reduction and cured meat, pancetta, from Galestro soils at 300m with five per cent canaiolo. Even finer touch from the most excellent 2016. Drink 2020-2024.  Tasted September 2019

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($34.95, 704346)

Was finally bottled in July, to be released in February. “I like 2016, it’s a very different vintage.” As usual there is 15 per cent canaiolo mixed in. Why Canaiolo? “Because it’s from here. And it’s a late ripening variety like sangiovese, and also not heavy and jammy like merlot.” Canaiolo is like sangiovese in that it must be selected and used in very particular ways. Paolo’s is actually a darker depth of fruit from 2016 while the spice is so much more sophisticated. There is so much wisdom now, more than even before and a calm, settling depth about this wine.  Last tasted November 2018, February and September 2019

Chianti Classico 2016 is composed of 80 per cent sangiovese, (15) canaiolo and (5) syrah, which since the 1980s has always held a spot, in fact it may have been as much as 10 two plus decades ago. Paolo de Marchi explains.”Syrah in my opinion, was really about thinking, about blending in an earlier ripening variety.” It also added colour, not for quality necessarily, but for pleasure. “If I were a consultant I don’t think I would recommend to plant it anymore.” But Paolo loves it, its bright acidity and lower pH, and loves the warmth. You can feel the liquid peppery hug from the combination of canaiolo and syrah in the constitution of this CC and now a new texture evolved from a traditional one, clearly passed on through generations. It is spoken in the clarity of this 2016, but it has taken decades to arrive here. Finessed, soft tannins and an effulgent acidity wrap fruit chewy and yet very crisp. Singular again and alone but quicker to please, at least for now. Perhaps it too will shut down in 2019. Perhaps not.  Drink 2019-2028. Tasted February 2018

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2013 (704346)

Poured from magnum. Should we expect an Isole e Olena ’13 to be the least unusual in the appellation? Yes. While higher in acid and lift it’s more a representation of the land and the soils, but also the style. In a way a classic vintage because grapes hung into October. Quite youthful, an uprising of energy, a pump up, not over. Quite seamless and full of Paolo de Marchi pride. Spice and strength, fortitude and extension.  Last tasted September 2019

Quite the syrupy aromatic liqueur fills the glass for the ripe and nearly floral brooding Chianti Classico from I e O out of the gregarious 2013 vintage. The stylistic makes me think Riserva but that just says so much about the quality and layering of the fruit. More than ample tart and variegated acidity up the equanimity and longevity factor so the house’s ability with Chianti Classico of less time in barrel is once again confirmed. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2017

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico DOCG 2010 (704346)

Poured from magnum. A beautiful vintage, certainly apposite to the challenge of wet, stretched then long 2013. A vintage with fine tannins that developed early enough and without much compromise to elongated structure. A top notch sangiovese vintage from which a great Cepparello was extracted. Wow factor winding and circling, dramatic and savoury with all the bushes and herbs magnified as they will be. Magnum perhaps but if nine years has only beget this, well then surely nine plus nine more will soothsay forward towards the secondary and tertiary numbers. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2019

Le Filigare Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by Alessandro Cassetti Burchi, proprietor of the smallest producer in the San Donato in Poggio association. Vineyards at 450m and from a winemaker who strikes an uncanny resemblance to American rock legend Tom Petty. With five per cent each colorino and canaiolo raised only in old barriques. Quite rich and savoury, of maritime pine, comfortable, old school, long developed with help from extended, even late harvests. So charming. This sangiovese belongs amongst the wildflowers, by a house in the woods, where “I ain’t got a neighbour for nine or ten miles, back in the tall pines.” Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2019

Ormanni Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by Ivan Batignani, from the family with a presence in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Immensely and incredibly rich in acidity and tannins over some pretty solid and heady fruit. Big Slavonian oak. Big aging, big vessels, big wine, all in balance. A 100 per cent sangiovese that still needs time.  Last tasted September 2019

The combination of Poggibonsi and Barberino val d’Elsa is Ormanni’s trump card, a straddling of commune borders that creates the ideal estate Annata in perfect alignment. It’s really layered and sumptuous, old school at heart but clear, pure and honest, always looking straight ahead. There’s no rusticity but there is this red fruit beauty that reminds of days of yore. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted February 2019

Ormanni Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Etichetta Storica Dugentanni 2013

Dugentanni, as in two hundred years, a reference to contiguous ownership by the Brini Batacchi family. The oldest vineyards in western Barberino Val d’Elsa supply the fruit for Ormanni’s top level sangiovese and one held back with traditional territory patience before its release to market. More loyal to the past then many, with a crisp clarity and the kind of Gran Selezione that wafts with nonno’s pipe tobacco flavour. Tells a story of tradition with unclouded vision and empathy for both family and place. Really smart Classico and ready to be enjoyed. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2019

Quercia Al Poggio Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by Michaela Rossi. Located on the hill in front of Paneretta, of 100 hectares with only 15 planted. Maximum altitude is 300m with 360 degrees of exposition. Organic practices since ’97 and officially certified since 2009. Clay and Galestro terroir with sangiovese, ciliegiolo, canaiolo, malvasia nera and colorino. This Annata is 80 sangiovese with the rest in 20 parts. One year in concrete after spending a year in wood. Terrific energy and balance, a wildly vibrant and driven Annata with great presence and intuition. Structure too. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2019

Quercia Al Poggio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2013

From Vittorio and Michaela Rossi and their best fruit from an amphitheatre of a hillside vineyard as rich in clay of any found in San Donato is Poggio. Pockets of Galestro and limestone take on some responsibility for the grip ins and structural outs of this glycerin beauty of a sangiovese but rich fruit is the catalyst and the star. That said there is a sculpted or architectural notation mixed with the excellence that this frazione in this commune (Barberino Tavarnelle) is able to provide and prove from a vintage of mixed feelings. The feelings are obvious from 2013 and for Quercia al Poggio, of sumptuousness and delight. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2019

Podere La Cappella Chianti Classico DOCG 2016 ($28.95)

Always something completely other. From vines six to seven years old. A blend of sangiovese (90) and 10 merlot. The elixir that the others in San Donato are not, a gentle syrup, a sweetly endowed savour and a texture silky fine.  Last tasted September 2019

Only San Donato in Poggio delves into this kind of specific calcaire, the Colombino in lieu of most other’s Galestro. The coolest of notes are broken down and fragmented in mimic of the soil and run like a river of savoury stone through stratified fruit. There is a perception of sweetness, imagined as perfectly ripe, low-lying fruit in early summer. But the sweetness is just a dream because with such a level of mineral, not salty but sapid, it is impression that supersedes expression. The young vines are growing up before our noses and eyes, lending impeccable balance in the here and now, with appreciable development laid out ahead. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2018

Poggio Al Sole Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by Project Manager Valentino Davaz. “Hill at the sun,” and the most northerly winery in the association of San Donato in Poggio, near to the abbey of Badia a Passignano. Organic and at good elevation, at 420m with five per cent each canaiolo and also merlot, in one quarter barriques for one year. One of the more wooded wines in the lot, lush, rich and silky smooth. Needs time to submit and gently glide into that sunset over the hill. Drink 2020–2024.  Tasted September 2019

Tenuta Bonomonte Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Presented by Sonia Gianni. Bonomonte is situated in front of the Paneretta hill in Barberino and their Annata’s sangiovese is blended with five per pent each canaiolo and colorino. A production that has been in play since 1982, the 2016 goes for the entirety of the vintage, a bit pressed with some overripe fruit and drying tannins. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted September 2019

Good to go!

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Castello delle Paneretta portal to San Donato in Poggio

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Nineteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2019

Love year-end lists? Stick around. Hate ’em? See ya. It is always a matter of great difficulty to contain the retrospective excitement in thinking about what happened over the previous 12 months with respect to Canadian wine. This while enjoying holiday down time, with December winding down. The exercise began on Godello in 2013 and this seventh instalment naturally not only includes six more than the first, it also happens to act as segue, transition and salvo to usher in a new decade.

Related – Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

Unity opinions aside this nineteen as a number is but a fraction of what could, should or would be celebrated in this coast to coast entity we call Canadian wine.  Allow a quote to be used again, in unabashed redundancy of repetition. This curated list is “biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”

Fearless #ontariowineawards leaders @tony.aspler and Deborah Benoit running a tight #owa2919 ship @gbcchca ~ best quality work coming out of Ontario folks

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

In 2019 the opportunities for tasting Canadian wine upped the ante and increased the possibilities hundreds fold. This despite doubling international travel over a year further afield and abroad which made it twice as difficult to keep up the Canadian pace of assessment. That said there were more than 1000 tasted once again. The WineAlign team never wavers in the relentless pursuit, often at the WineAlign headquarters and in 2019 in convene at the June WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada in Prince Edward County, Ontario.  Ontario wines were judged as well thanks to Tony Aspler and also with David Lawrason at The Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates.

Aldé blending session day @ravinevineyard ~ Rosé 2018 looking stellar

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

Over the past 12 months the little négoce project known as Interloper Wines with Scott Zebarth, Marty Werner and Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery continued the pursuit of Niagara Lakeshore and Niagara-on-the-Lake excellence with Aldé Rosé 2018, a 100 per cent cabernet franc. The third vintage of Interloper Cabernet Franc appeared with the 2018 release, as did the second incarnation of the As Is Field Blend 2018.

Oh hey @nicholaspearce_ thanks for making us look so good!

In 2017 there were 17 and in 2016 there were 16 noted. In 2015 that meant 15 and 14 for 2014, just as in 2013 the filtered list showed 13 as the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine. Last year? You would be correct if you guessed 18. Roll out the 2019 red carpet. Whence comes the sense of wonder we perceive when we encounter certain bottles of art? Here are the 19 most exciting Canadian wines of 2019.

Avondale Sky Sparkling Rosé Méthode Traditionnelle 2017, Nova Scotia ($27.82)

Leon Millet like you’ve never experienced with red currants folded into tomatillo salsa from a traditional method upbringing and a recent disgorgement. Energy, excitement and then boom, black currants and a whoosh tidal wave of Fundy exhilaration. An entirely new look at bubbles and from a Nova Scotia class where the sky is the limit. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted September 2019

NWAC19 Gold Medal Winner

The 2014 vintage, labelled as Balance Blanc de Blanc Brut, marks the Teaching Winery’s first venture into the style of Sparkling made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. It also marks the first product made 100 per cent from grapes grown on the College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus vineyards. “It celebrates the balance of knowledge, passion and creativity of the winemakers, professors and students who all pursue excellence in the field of winemaking.”

Niagara College Balance Blanc De Blanc Brut 2014, VQA St. David’s Bench, Ontario ($26.95)

Gingered entry for blanc de blanc of stoic beauty, marbled bust focus. Lemon and a dustiness indicative first of low yields, but then, the obviousness of do not disturb winemaking. Toasty and preserved lemon richesse, elegant and cumulative. So good. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

From a crown cap versus cork closure tasting with Flat Rock’s owner Ed Madronich and current winemaker David Sheppard. The two wines count as one for the purpose of this list.

Flat Rock Sparkling (Crown Cap Closure) 2006, Traditional Method, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (383315, $34.95)

Wines were all under crown for 36 months, disgorged in January 2010, three quarters pinot noir plus chardonnay and then re-sealed under crown, Six cases were sealed under cork but otherwise both wines are exactly the same, same cellar conditions, same dosage, same everything. Less hue in this number two (crown), same but different, less oxidation, less caramelization and yet on par or near in terms of that ginger-miso tone. Lemon adds to the milder orange crème brûlee and the energy, spirit and lift is more pronounced. Greater vision in acidity and even some lingering reduction. Like the first it is in fact full of sensibility, reason, plenty of seasoning. Likewise and differently so much fun to behold and to drink. Certainly more heightened sensation created by mousse and carbonation that actually affect the mouthfeel and texture. Made by Marelise Beyers. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2019

Flat Rock Sparkling (Cork Closure) 2006, Traditional Method, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (383315, $34.95)

Wines were all under crown for 36 months, disgorged in January 2010, three quarters pinot noir plus chardonnay and then re-sealed under crown, “However,” explains Ed Madronich and the big raison d’etre for this tasting is that six cases were sealed under cork, complicit with or perhaps explicitly for Ed’s Mom. Both wines are exactly the same, same cellar conditions, same dosage, same everything. Just the seal on 72 bottles changes the nature of the game. The colour is deeper in this number one (cork), more oxidation, more caramelization and more deep ginger-miso tone. Quite orange crème brûlee as well. Acidity persists, wealthy, rising, more than intact. In fact it’s well-reasoned, seasoned and in tact. So much fun to behold and to drink. Made by Marelise Beyers. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted September 2019

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (241182, $37.20)

Baker’s ’16 is the child of a great vintage’s phenolics and so without needing to concern oneself in wondering about ripeness or fruit quality it allows for a beeline straight to the tannic structure. That’s the crux of 2016, built upon a core that may as well be centred in the very heart of Colmar. Sugar may as well be nowhere and nothing because balance induces dreams utterly grounded in aridity. So reminded of Bernard Schoffit and The Rangen, austere yet entangled, lean, direct, sure, focused and precise. In the zone and will be for 12 blessedly slow developing years. Drink 2021-2030.  Tasted October 2019

Ravine Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (173377, $28.00)

Looking at this 2011 Chardonnay now and with learned imagination back through time this screams the vintage. Great Scott, cracker jack Chablis dressing up into Premier Cru status cloaked candidly in Ravine clothing. This eight year-old chardonnay shows off as one of then winemaker Shauna White’s great early moments, an achievement of planning through execution and clearly a success from a cool, austere and so very varietal vintage. Maybe even a legacy defining moment for what was and can continue to be. A purveyor of land, a youthful precociousness and all the local possibilities on offer. This is so pure and purposeful for the grape and for Ravine. Just great right now. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted September 2019

Le Clos Jordanne Winemaker Thomas Bachelder

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184549, $44.95)

Welcome back, to that grand vineyard place that we’ve talked about. Down on the farm near the water where chardonnay was purposed grown and put in the hands of a young Thomas Bachelder. The results were dramatic and now that unparalleled fruit is back in the monk’s world, he wiser and more experienced than ever. The transition is spooky seamless and the awe in hand providing breathtaking posits in moments more than fleeting. Behold the presence of orchards and their just ripened glow of fruit with sheen so fine. Let your glass allow the ease of the aromas and flavours to fall in and emit with conscious movement, without conscience or effort. That’s the 2017 Grand Clos. Chardonnay that is. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted November 2019

Closson Chase Churchside Chardonnay 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($44.95)

Platinum hue and reserved aromatics indicate a reductive tendency so give it some air. Comes out and away clean and more expressive, with periodic mineral notes, not exactly saline but certainly from the table. Lovely fruit in the melon to orchard way and elevated by acidity plus fine grape tannin. Lovely and composed wine right here.  Last tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Truth be submitted, discussed and told the 2017 Closson Chase Vineyard is a lovely, accessible, County for all chardonnay but this, this is something other. This Churchside ’17 from a block of vines at the prettiest little chapel around delivers the fullest fruit compliment of the times, in headline, lede and body of work. It does so with a posit tug of tension and spot on, pinpointed and precise attention to balance. States a case with best butter, better toast and even greater purpose. The ’17 Churchside undulates and circles, coming to rest in the moment where it all melts down, like a ball in place on the roulette wheel, always having known what number it would be.  Drink 2019-2026. Tasted June 2019

Meyer Micro Cuvée Chardonnay Old Main Rd Vineyard 2017, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($65.00)

The Old Main Road is a Naramata Bench growing site of silt over clay loams at 350m. The northerly aspect links fruit to indirect sun for higher acid-driven chardonnay. This specialized plot-block-pick-separation of origin intensifies the citrus and the savoury strike of scintillant. It’s reductive and not redacted in that it’s protected by a shell of tannin but bursts with rumbles and shakes. This is singular and unique in ways most Okanagan chardonnay does not begin to touch. Great potential and possibility exist so expect so much from this wine now and for a half decade minimum more. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Stratus White 2015, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.20)

The latest incarnation of Stratus White is a gem-like one, part reductive and part honeyed. The dual attack is duly noted and doubly paid great attention. Warmth and this remarkable phenolic multiplicity add up to the most strikingly reserved White in quite some time. It will develop more secondary personality and less fade into lean, smoky, shadowy and unfruitful feelings than many that have come before. By many stretches of imagination this is a deeply curious blend and ultimately a beautiful one. So bloody didactic and interesting. A ten years forward retrospective will regard White 2015 as a benchmark for the locomotive Ontario appellative white locution. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted February 2019

Congrats to Cliff and Colin @stannerswines for their The Narrow Rows Pinot Noir 2017 Gold Medal performance @judgement.of.kingston 2019. We the judges deliberated long and with great care to come to this well-deserved conclusion.

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir The Narrow Rows 2017, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario ($45.00)

A super-saturated, honed and zeroed in upon place in a vineyard ripeness with a touch foxiness. Reality from limestone bled into fruit wavering on a spectrum where berry fruit sits on one end and earthy beetroot all the way over on the other. Touches both and then properly meets in the middle. Cherries are red, herbs are green and tension stretches a wire between two poles. Tomato water and tomato leaf with fresh basil. That’s just matter of fact and a good struck balance in combination. You almost feel it’s at once too ripe and then a bit green but those moments are fleeting and so the summation in accumulation is the thing; must, seeds, stems and the work of kind, nurturing and gentle hands add up to great delicacy. It’s local and it’s so bloody good. Delicious even. Unlike any pinot noir ever made previously in Ontario. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at the Judgement of Kingston, November 2019

Hidden Bench Pinot Noir Locust Lane Vineyard 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($48.00)

Locust Lane is the one of greater tension and posit tug, holding court and keeping fruit on a short leash. The aromatics are not as sweetly floral but what you will note, if you wait for the fleshing is this glycerin texture and seamless weave of structure. This is the savoury, almost minty and surely cantilevering pinot noir, from the field and out over the length of the wine’s attention. Will linger, prosper and live long. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted March 2019

NWAC19 Platinum Medal Winner

Howling Bluff Pinot Noir Century Block 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($35.00)

Wow. Now we’ve come into pinot of some curious, unusual and stand up to be noticed excitement. The aromatics are circling, rising, elemental, exaggerated and complex. There’s umami here that few others seem to find or are capable of seeking out. Fine if slightly tonic tannins and structure, texture, architecture and blessed complexity. This will morph into many things by way of many stages. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Thirty Bench Winemaker Emma Garner

Thirty Bench Small Lot Cabernet Franc 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($75.00)

In many respects this is the flagship of all the Thirty Bench wines, a varietal exploration like no other, of direction, microcosm and intention. It’s an extracted and concentrated cabernet franc but stays free of encumbrance, hinderance or adulteration. It’s dramatically plush and yet shows nary a note of green or gritty, nor astringency neither. It’s a showpiece to be sure and even of an ambition not typical of its maker but as for structure, well that’s as impressive as the concentration. We’ll be tasting this at an Expert’s Tasting in the mid 20s. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted August 2019

NWAC19 Platinum Medal Winner

Desert Hills Estate Winery Ursa Major Syrah Eagle’s Nest Vineyard 2016, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($40.00)

Inky, ferric, serious, structured, regaling and ripping syrah. Full throttle, absolute ripeness, carefully extracted and utterly purposed. The acidity, tannin and overall structure seal all the deals and put this in a category of its own. Drink 2021-2026. Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Big Head Raw Syrah 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($65.00)

Never before have we encountered syrah this way in Ontario. A wild ferment and use of concrete vats is one thing but the Brettanomyces off the charts is intonate of something wholly other. The exclamation is emotion both Andrzej and Jakub Lipiniski acknowledge and embrace. The thought and the recognition lights up their faces. It expresses itself in peppery jolts, with sultry, hematic, ferric and magical notation. It’s like liquorice on steroids, melting into a feral liqueur. “Wow that syrah is crazy,” tasters are heard to exclaim and yet you can see how much they relish the experience. As I do, without knowing why, except for the fact that in its big headedness this is a very balanced wine. Some way, somehow. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted March and April 2019

Lawrason and Gismondi

NWAC19 Gold Medal Winner

Nk’mip Cellars, 51 percent owner by the Osoyoos Indian Band Cellars, part of the Arterra Wine Group, as per Anthony Gismondi is “ably guided by winemakers Randy Picton and Justin Hall. Nk’Mip Cellars took home one platinum, two gold, three silver and five bronze medals, adding to its legacy of consistent performances at the nationals. The unique, First Nations winery is well worth a visit, as is lunch on the patio.”

Nk’mip Cellars Winemakers Talon 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($23.99)

Really juicy shiraz based blend (44 per cent with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and pinot noir) with rich, ropey, red berry and savoury tones. Big fruit and if oaked with generosity it’s a construct that seems more than capable of the handling. Big effort, personality and acidity to carry it high. Boozy to a degree and again capable of finding balance. Isn’t this what cool climate blends should strive to achieve? Forget the formulas. Look to great agriculture and a master blender to realize goals. This reaches a milestone and likely at a ridiculously affordable price. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

Tawse winemaker Paul Pender

Tawse Meritage 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (581165, $67.95)

That aromatic combination of dark plummy fruit and tangy blood orange is a straight give away for many more impending complexities to come. A three-pronged Bordeaux varietal mix of merlot (45 percent), cabernet sauvignon (28) and cabernet franc (27) with so much going on you might not understand what it’s trying to say. It’s like Glossolalia, a “fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning,” a.k.a. in tongues. Never mind the distractions and the madness but instead head straight to the intersection of structure and balance because that’s what matters. The fruit is bold, the woodwork finely chiseled and precise and the end result is the work of masters; agriculturalists, oenologists and winemaking hands. This will live on through epochs of Canadian Meritage notability and infamy. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted blind at NWAC19, June 2019

With Phantom Creek’s Anne Vawter

Phantom Creek Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($100.00)

Some of the estate’s finest cabernet sauvignon makes its way into the flagship red, also made up of the other four Bordeaux red grapes. There is a sweetness that comes through from layering so much quality fruit in a way that neither the Becker blend nor the varietal cabernet sauvignon seem capable to manage. There’s also a deep sense of tannin and an almost dark brooding character, but also a smoky, savouriness that adds to the mystery and the dimension. So stylish and composed, amalgamated of the finest fruit bred from great attention to agricultural detail. Incredible length too. One of the most professional wines in Canada. Drink 2021-2030.  Tasted February 2019

Southbrook winemaker Ann Sperling

Southbrook Organic Vidal Icewine 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (581165, 375ml, $49.95)

The most unusually brick red-orange hue makes this vidal Icewine a one-of-a-kind wonder and the best news of all is how complex the wine is to follow suit. Yes the curiosity factor runs high but so do the gamut of aromatics and flavours. Coffee, toffee, crème brûlée, apricot, guava and strangely enough the spongey filling of a Crunchie Bar. What a childhood memory that digs up. Acids are strong, relevant and still humming so the sugars are carried along with great companionship. Benchmark vidal usage and to no surprise. Ann Sperling’s work with varietal orange wine combined with her knowledge of Icewine make for a union divine. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

1964

Tout vient à son heure pour qui sait attendre, wrote Clément Marot, Renaissance poet. Everything comes at its appointed time. From Cahors to Turin. War, peace, hate, love, fruit, acid and tannin. Wine is all about the pauses and the balances. At its core the value is in that feeling of things being natural and equal. That’s the way it should be. When you drink you enjoy what you have, without competition. One sensation after another. You feel like you have more, even if you have less. Like consomée with just a chop of vegetables.

Welcome to Godello’s annual list of the most conspicuous, head-turning and psychotropic moments, better known as his 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019. Godello first initiated the concept for a year-end culminating evaluation in 2012 though did not actually coin the phrase until publishing his 14 mind-blowing wines of 2014. Call it the sixth or the eighth but who really cares because the wines are the crux and the heart of the matter.

Related – Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

Hard to know how many wines he actually tasted in 2019 but the best guesstimate would be 2,500 because that is how many reviews have been posted to WineAlign in this calendar year. A couple hundred were for wines tasted in 2018 but the editing and posting of at least that many for wines tasted in 2019 have yet to become permanent. So the number is pretty close, one way or another.

There were at least a few dozen stellar and jaw-dropping wines that should of, could of, would of made this list. For every one chosen another was left behind for no reason other than necessity and its relationship to the mother of invention. These images exhibited are but a few that had every reason to be one of 19’s 19.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

With thanks to everyone who poured a glass. The producers, winemakers, export managers, friends, colleagues and pirates, please be encouraged and read on. Godello’s 19 mind-blowing wines of 2019.

AB Wines Opçāo Avesso “A” Vinho Verde 2016, Portugal

From winemaker/oenologist António Sousa’s personal label (with partner Bernardo) and a vineyard planted in 2003, in Amarante. These are avesso grapes just a few years away from what António considers the optimum age, when they reach 18 years, 10 years older than the age from which they begin to deliver excellence. This A is in position A, from a perfect vantage point out of a very good vintage. This is the role model and exemplar for avesso, from a project that began in 2016, with all the adjunct components in line; lemon, lime, orange, ripe acidity, juicy nature and just a minor creamy, fleshy and boozy happiness. Great balance. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2019

Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Tocai Friulano Collio DOC 1997, Friuli, Italy

So remarkable, from the old messaging in the riesling/tocai bottle, stricken from the consorzio record. This is now a wine bottled in Bordeaux style but this look back 20-plus years shows freshness, spirit and only the beginnings of secondary character. Gassy and lemon intense, a near-perfect example of what was and could be, of how aged whites of Collio can keep freshness and the saltiness of place. All thjis and without crazy acidity. That is the conundrum and the magic of Collio. The persistence is romanticism incarnate with fruit oozing out of pores in great remain. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted May 2019

Goisot Gulhem Et Jean Hugues Gondonne 2017, Bourgogne Côtes D’auxerre AOC, Bourgogne, France

A soil of kimmeridgian and marl, of white and blue, with great layering of fruit and that is in fact what you feel from Gondonne. There is something rich and overtly expressive here and while it’s anything but simple it could be imagined that so many consumers would understand this chardonnay, love it and want to drink it with abandon. That said the structure, goût de terroir and joie de vivre are just exceptional. The wood and the land just melt right in. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted November 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2007, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa

These Helderberg vines would have been 33 years of age at the time and to think the wine would have cost $10 or so. Now 12 years later we’re graced with this hyperbole of toast, smoulder, lit paraffin and the edge of saffron honey. It’s hard to believe and this the from the tier-two, non-selected grapes at the back of the line behind a Forrester wine like the FMC. Nothing less than incredible. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted October 2019

Ornellaia Bianco 2016, IGT Toscana Bianco, Tuscany, Italy

The Bianco was first introduced in 2013, following fast forward to the original 1980s and 1990s work with Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia. That project had been abandoned because says Axel Heinz “stylistically it just wasn’t right.” That wine was mainly sauvignon blanc on one of Ornellaia’s great vineyard sites. What was wanted was something more than a varietal wine and a new age of finding vineyard sites that were more than merely good for white wine. That means making use of northern slopes and those blocks favourable to whites, including the use of (indigenous) vermentino and viognier. The practice had already been proven with success by colleagues. Bianco is the alter ego to the Rosso, priced as such “and reflects the spirit of Ornellaia, but it had to build itself up to that premium level. We intend to make one of the great white wines of the world,” explains Heinz. That may sound like bragging swagger but the reality is that experience, acumen and especially confidence breed the truth. I Bianci are aged for 12-15 months in (30 per cent new) barriques before bottling. I do dare you to find a wine that smells anything like this Bianco. They are flowers unnamed or perhaps not yet discovered. The flinty reductiveness is also truly and wholly unique. Though the way sauvignon is raised and the place are surely not the same, the Bordeaux styling and sensibility of affinities are more than uncanny and even served by purpose. The vintage brings great maturity, fruitiness and salinity. Fruit presence under the spell of fleur de sel. Nothing but a brilliant combination. Says Heinz without equivocation, “it’s a benchmark for us, ’16 that is.” Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2019

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2017, AOC Bourgogne, France

The couverture is all encompassing acting as a full sheathing tapestry in surround of a fruit core of sheer concentration and yet as a whole so understated. It’s hard to imagine more coaxing and less pronouncement. Relatively speaking there’s no estate equal to what has happened here. Great mineral crash into life and love, into fruit and impossible acidity. A magnificent chardonnay with 25 years of life ahead. Drink 2021-2039.  Tasted September 2019

Adelsheim Pinot Noir Boulder Bluff 2015, Chehalem Mountains AVA, Oregon

From a steep, southwest facing site and picked really early, especially in the warm 2015 vintage. Again the confluence of vineyard conflagration of more than one soil type leads to an estate stylistic but let’s face it one that is bent into shape by focus and precision. There is great generosity and freshness, again in spite of or despite the hot vintage. More floral from this bluff and bigger, albeit finer quality signature tannin from this neighbourhood, with more thanks to basaltic blocks. Long ageing surely ahead with fruit turning to bramble, at times. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019

Tenute Bosco Etna Rosso DOC Vigna Vico Pre Phylloxera 2015, Sicily, Italy

The litheness of this nerello mascalese from Mount Etna off of 100-plus years of age pre-phylloxera vines cannot be over-stated or overstressed. The light, ethereal beauty of this wine may very well transport you to a place, to a vacuum within a bubble that is a hidden world inside a biodome. Few words are available when a wine speaks to you such as this Vico does to me at this time. This impossibility of such fruit concentration is also implausibly understated, as are the tannins and the acidity, yet all align and intertwine along a perfectly rendered line. You recognize the automatic brilliance, for the people and from the place. You just know it when you taste it. If you can find this wine, if you ever get the chance to purchase a bottle or two, you owe it to yourself to act, for you and for anyone you might happen to share it with. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2019

Donnafugata Mille E Una Notte 1996, DOC Contessa Entellina, Sicily, Italy

An arch classic from Sicilia sud Occidentale and more specifically Tenuta Contessa Entellina. Of the oldest wines this is one of the highest tonality, not unlike older and older schooled nebbiolo from Barbaresco, in a queen’s throne sort of way. There is siply no way to argue that this wine did not deserve to be aged this way and to be waited on for such a moment of appreciation. Age worthy and load management indeed, with every resolution hoped for and expected. Brilliance and a benchmark, with a half decade of life still ahead. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted May 2019

Scarpa Barbera d’Asti DOC La Bogliona 1996, Piedmont, Italy

At 23 years you just have to launch yourself headfirst into the blood orange. That this piece of barbera wow factor happened before the year 2000 is the thing, especially because climate was very different. Rain fell often and slowly through the year, as opposed to the deluges of globally disaster-orchestrated today. Higher acidity simply speaking and this of the great lean, salty and direct-fitted pieces of barbera composure. Still fresh with dried fruits and low alcohol (at 13.0 per cent declared) but who knows which way the marketing directed labelling in those days? More than a lovely look back. Educational, instructional, cerebral and mind-bending from the lesser appreciated Piedmontese sector. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

Maison Roche De Bellene Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2012, AOC Bourgogne, France

Do not adjust your set. The vintage brought everything to the table and while the foreground presents a picture crystalline and transparent the entirety of the frame is frozen clear. As for the aromatics this teases a meaty cure like few other and teases as if by the ambience of a cave, restricted of access, hiding what lurks, hangs and excites. Crunchy to say the least, layered to say more and complex to speak the ultimate truth. Magnifique and still twenty years away from the beginning of the end. Drink 2022-2037.  Tasted September 2019

Domaine De La Pousse D’or Pommard Premier Cru Les Jarollières 1964, Appellation Pommard Controlée, Bourgogne, France

Calling this 55 year-old Bourgogne Premier Cru a piece of history is not enough to do justice because family, lineage and the passing of the generational torch beyond domaine lines are everything that matters. Nicolas Potel pulled this one out of thin air and not merely by a human ability to disappear and reappear. No, Nico chose the way of disapparating and then apparating (in the wizard sense of “apparition,” a magical form of teleportation). His father Gérard’s ’64 was in his hands and a great big, merde-eating grin was posted all across his face. Les Jarollières is a 1.44 ha plot of marl and calcaire and even today half of the plantings are those that were fitted in 1925 and 1962. It was Gérard Potel who resurrected Domaine de la Pousse d’Or to its glory and in 1964 he acquired the domaine through a marriage to the then owner’s niece. Along with Henri Boillot this cru has been famous being meaty, earthy and owning an ability for supernatural integration. This 1964 had taken all that, everything and more, left nothing in the vineyard and had now become the epitome of the ethereal. The fruit was fully intact, so bloody strawberry, still with lightning quick reflexes and able to pour fresh glasses of spirit and energy over the course of a full hour. The experience was a once in a lifetime type, a shared moment and the kind to create a banked memory that will always be generous when a good one is needed. Thank you Nico. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted December 2019

 

I Fabbri Chianti Classico DOCG 2000, Tuscany, Italy

At the time it was labeled as an (Annata) Chianti Classico though it was really Riserva. Yes it has evolved but 18-plus years should have moved it much further along. Carries a spice like the exoticism in resemblance to 2006 but this is something other. Still some very fine, present and notable acidity. Amazing purity, honesty, luck, circumstance, place and gentile personality. The sapidity is there again and the age ability nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted February 2019

Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG Il Puro 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($150.00)

Il Puro takes her purity to another level in 2015 with fruit so silky fine and chalky tannins integrated into liquid even finer than that fine. The accumulation is just impressive and the charm meeting grace even more so than that. The Mascheroni-Stianti family has really found a stride in this GS to explain why it exists and how it can make many people happy. The structure here will take this through two or three decades of unfolding. There is a house record to prove it, ironically regardless and in spite of the bottle’s name. This is sangiovese. Drink 2023-2037.  Tasted February 2019

Le Chiuse Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Diecianni 2010, Tuscany, Italy

“A muscle vintage, of huge character,” tells Lorenzo Magnelli. The name of the wine is Diecianni to tell us that Lorenzo’s Riserva is not released until the 10th year. Brings about all the complexities that come from such an extended elévage. Tobacco, savour, forest floor, frutta di bosco and frutto secco but don’t be succumbing to depths and sottosuolo because the freshness persists. A wine so wise beyond its years, like its maker. Sure you can release a Riserva one year after Annata but when it has been protected and taken care of for you then it presents as it was intended to. We are thankful for the triage and the investment on our behalf. The fruit persists with great natural sweetness out of 2010. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted October 2019

Conti Costanti Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Colle Al Matrichese 2015, Tuscany, Italy

Andrea Costanti is convinced this is a great vintage. “One of the best.” The weather was perfect following a beneficial cold winter. The harvest was early but not compromisingly so and it saw no hurdles, obstacles or intendments. The barrel use is bigger, older and wiser. This is the sort of concentrated Costanti that speaks to the 2019 philosophy, of acidity, ripeness and balance. Time on skins was about a month (including two weeks of fermentation and oxidation introducing délestage) and no protective sulphur. There is a control in this sangiovese, a powerful restraint but more than that, more so a calm, but not before storm. Finesse, grip and beauty, like a statue of a stag, in a courtyard, lit by moonlight. Tannins are all pervasive, fully stated, yet to feel a necessity for attack. They will and we will retreat, Then we will advance, with caution, further to find full pleasure for two decades. At the very minimum. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted February 2019

Le Ragnaie Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Vigna Vecchia 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($177.00)

Planted in 1968 and from a warm vintage all the way to the end, into October. Riccardo Campinoti is smiling wryly, knowingly and confidently after he pours and begins to speak of it. “The longer you waited the riper it became” and the healthy grapes allowed for hanging to mid-October. Deeper and of more sponge-soaked earth in the old vines with a higher tone juxtaposed against the depth drawn by long vine roots. The aromatic complexities run, jump and ride off the proverbial charts and you may find yourself drunk and mystified just from the smells. Once you gain palate entry you are hooked and then you climb in, headfirst, unencumbered, no strings attached. A tour de force beloved of sangiovese, Montalcino and old vines. Vigna Vecchia is the epitome of a true structured wine, one which does not grow old, despite the passage of time. Drink 2023-2039.  Tasted October 2019

Antiche Cantine Dei Marchesi Di Barolo 1990, Barolo Riserva, Piemonte, Italy

A grande dame or marchesa in the parlance of these woods, a nebbiolo of persistence, resilience and strength of character. Initiates contact with the past and a contract with tradition by way of the things that matter most. Family for one, roots dug into the earth second and the vineyard’s tongue, if it were able to speak. The overall gist in the parlance is heard and even understood although the dialect is hard to decipher if you are not of this place. This 1990 is found to be of high though level tempered energy and then with an ear, a nose and a soul so close to the earth. Smells like the soils amalgamated, preserved and demonstrated through the tempered liquor of a wise old 29 year-old nebbiolo. So much more than a piece of the past, this is an auguri gathering of storytelling, kin, culture and DNA. You must pay thanks for a chance to taste a thing such as this. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì Tildìn 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piemonte, Italy ($810.00)

Angelo Gaja sees 2016 as a perfect vintage in Barbaresco and the one from which climate change is viewed with great irony in the wink-wink guise of parenthetical thanks. That means the cosmic and astronomical alignment makes for wines that are both pleasant in their youth and also impossibly structured to age. Named for the sunny position of the slope and Mr. Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde. Now the clay and the calcaire have conspired, along with the purchased land of which Clotilde was custodian and in how she pushed her husband to make great wine. The vines are now on average 50 years-old and the composition meeting aspect bring a depth of complexity as poignant as it gets in this tiny part of nebbiolo production. All the flowers, rocks and elements are contained within the interior walls of this gently forceful Langhe red. It mimics the matriarch by the strongest power of suggestion and will not take no for an answer. Perhaps never will. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

1964

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

San Casciano’s nascent time in Chianti Classico

Poggio Torselli

As per the recent wave of Chianti Classico producers creating regional associations because of their shared geographies and ideologies, so too has L’Associazione San Casciano Classico followed suit. Just about one year ago in the Fall of 2018 the producers of San Casciano Val di Pesa organized to promote and protect the wineries of the municipality. This past September there were 19 (of the 23) members of the association on hand to host 13 Canadian journalists and sommeliers for a San Casciano summit at the historical Villa Poggio Torselli.

Villa Poggio Torselli

The villa’s origins are recorded in the land registers as early as the beginning of the 15th century. It is approached by an awe-inspiring boulevard of cypresses and is one of the largest and most elegant residences in the area of the San Casciano Hills, near Florence. “Queen of all villas” as it is known dates back to 1427 bearing the name of Poggio Torselli. These noble family names are associated with the villa; Macchiavelli, Corsini, Strozzi, Antonori, Capponi and Orlandini, who owned the villa until 1722. Status is a draw for important figures, so visits were made by Pope Pius VII who stopped over on his way to Paris to crown Emperor Napoleon in 1804 and also Paul I, Emperor of Russia.

Poggio Torselli Seasons Garden

The gardens are astonishing and surely one of the Chianti Classico territory’s finest. Known as the “Seasons Garden” it was created in the 18th century, teeming with narcissus, tulips, hyacinths, dahlia, sage, clematis and giant Indian hibiscus. Most notable are the fritillaries, also known as “imperial crown” and the entire garden is surrounded by the golden crown of 120 secular lemon trees.

Related – If you’re going to San Casciano

San Casciano the village is also one of eight sub-zones in Chianti Classico’s most northwesterly sector. The full name San Casciano in Val di Pesa tells us that its location is proximate to the valley of the Pesa river and it shares a border with two other communes, Barberino Tavarnelle to the south and Greve in Chianti to the east and southeast.

 

The sangiovese of San Casciano are made in the image of their makers; stoic, serious, at times austere, surely classic and noble. They speak with a succinct and old-school vernacular that lends great credence to the adage that sangiovese needs the bottle. The wines are unabashedly uncompromising in that they talk the talk of a sense of place that shares affinities only with each other and themselves. Their time in the sun has come, with help no doubt from a changing climate. That glaring condition was on full display the day we met and tasted because a deluge the likes there was never seen rained down and for many hours. When the tasting was complete the skies cleared and the sun shone on what was a symbolic calling to San Casciano’s nascent rebirth. The time for their distinctive sangiovese has surely come.

These are 21 of the wines tasted in September at Fattoria Poggiopiano and with the L’Associazione San Casciano Classico at Poggio Torselli.

Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 (606541, $19.95)

Chianti Classico from Peppolì, 90 per cent sangiovese with merlot and syrah. An enriching wine and enriched by the international grapes, juicier and more refined, if not also a very concentrated version of these wines. It’s mature and stylish to be sure. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2019

Famous volumes

Carus Vini Chianti Classico DOCG Baldéro 2016

Presented by the estate’s Sales Manager Pamela Bernini. Estate grapes of 12-13 hectares grown on clay-calcareous soils. Eight are sangiovese, the other three being syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Baldéro is 100 per cent sangiovese with only a small portion raised in tonneaux. Rich, spirited and juicy stuff. Really fresh, effusive and expressive. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2019

Fattoria Cigliano Di Sopra Chianti Classico DOCG 2017

Only the second vintage of organic, 100 per cent sangiovese and an indigenous ferment. There were a mere 1400 bottles produced from a seven hectare plot, planted in 1982 and 2004. New plantings are going in. From Maddalena (age 26) in cohorts with Matteo (age 24). Quite sharp, fresh and also tannic. A start-up with experience on the fly. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2019

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

A threefold experience of fennel, blood orange and pancetta. There are equal parts five per cent merlot and “other complimentary varieties.” The classic in every respect, dark cherry fruit, dusty, savoury and taut. Fresh, elegant as need be and utterly solid.  Last tasted September 2019

Castello di Gabbiano’s Chianti Classico may repeat itself and act the obvious one, but once again in 2016 it is full and ripe, filled in at every turn, deep, dark and handsome. The ability to deal in pleasure is immense from gathered quality fruit and as always this Annata finds the quickest line for us to appreciate the unwavering sense of equilibrium. Simply put it is Gabbiano and winemaker Federico Cerelli who offer a quality guarantee at the most attractive price. Leaves no reason to doubt. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018

Azienda Agricola Mori Concetta Chianti Classico Morino DOCG 2018

Mainly sangiovese with canaiolo, colorino and pugnitello. An excessively savoury and forest brushy Classico with the fruit edging away from cherry and into plum. Peppery spice adds to the complexity of this grippy sangiovese. Juicy and sharp, totally in charge of all the fun and more. Reminds me of a slow ripened ’14 with more flesh and sapidity. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2019

La Querce Seconda Chianti Classico DOCG 2016

Niccolò Bernabei and this project that began in 1995. Organic since 2001 in the most northern spot of San Casciano. Fifty per cent comes from a newer property in the south, for lightness of being and balance. Clay with stones for one of the darker and developed sangiovese in the commune. Toffee and coffee juxtaposed against freshness and really elevated acidity. Also a product of long fermentation with plenty of extraction, tannin and structure. And it needs it desperately. Not green in any means but certainly pressed and expressed. Grows in stature and also widens into greater breadth with air and time.  Last tasted September 2019

Nicely funky volatile, a rich cherry liqueur, full of spice both out of the vineyard and from the barrel. There is this chewiness that is also marked by a mouthful of spice, candied flowers and calcareous chalkiness from big variegated stones in the soil. Crunchy Annata out of San Casciano in Val di Pesa. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted February 2019

La Sala Chianti Classico DOCG 2015

A combination of two estate vineyards and it shows in the depth of layering, rich, chocolaty and silky smooth. Dark berry fruit, a bit pressed and good high level acidity.  Last tasted September 2019

La Sala’s Annata 2015 is a bambino, a San Casciano in Val di Pesa sangiovese with 10 per cent merlot to speak for sites at 300m, seemingly more instructed by Galestro from out of the Argilla Rossa in 2015. It was raised in grande (45 hL) botti and has now only been in bottle for five months. It’s tart and firm, strong with doppio shots of espresso and very structured for the vintage. Tells a tale about the sort of sangiovese that comes from San Casciano. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2018

Fattoria Di Luiano Chianti Classico DOCG 2017 ($24.50)

This is San Casciano and the wines are linked by being characterized with soils prevalent in the Greve River Valley, in connection with Antinori’s Peppoli, of river stones and Alberese, into which roots can dive deep in search of water, trace elements and minerals. “A representation of a season for our place in Chianti Classico,” explains Alessandro Palombo. Classic Luiano florality and botanical lift in spite of ‘17s challenge. A tisane for sure, of violet and lavender but also spices. Rounded out by cabernet sauvignon and merlot planted at 330m on less rocky soils. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2019