The IGT Learning Experience.

The problem with designating a wine a “Super Tuscan” can best be summed up by Forrest Gump’s memorable comment:  You never know what you’re gonna get.

That’s because, while most Super Tuscans give at least a bit of a nod to Sangiovese, and include it in the blend, they don’t have to, and not all of them do.  You’d think that since Sangiovese is the heritage grape of the region, that Tuscany, and especially Chianti, is the spiritual home of this varietal, you’d find it as a customary part of any Super Tuscan blend.

Think again, grasshopper.

To be clear:  a Super Tuscan is a wine made in the official geographic region of Tuscany that does not follow any of the traditional blending formulas.  Made of native grapes blended with so-called “international varietals (Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, etc.), the producers can pretty much throw in the bottle whatever they want.  And they do.  So to find a wine that’s to your taste, you have to know the producer, and the individual style each of them works in.  What’s more, if they don’t put the varietal on the back label, all you know is that you’re getting “red table wine,” and you won’t know whether you like it until you pop the cork or stab it with one of those newfangled Coravin contraptions (gotta get me one of those….)

This all leads up to thoughts about Bacci Regina di Renieri 2009, a Super Tuscan that turns out to be not a blend, but pretty much 100% Syrah.  But they don’t make it like the Aussies do.  This wine is absolutely black in the glass, which you pretty much expect from this varietal.  The nose gives you smoke and earth.  On the palate, it’s definitely not a New World approach to winemaking.  There are hints of sage, garrigue, and black plum, plus the overtones a big red gets when you leave it in oak for 18 months.  Plus, the stiff tannins scream for decanting, maybe a day or two before you want to drink it.

Make no mistake…we loved this bottle, and I’d give it at least 93-94 points. Besides, it’s a good lesson on what a Super Tuscan can be. Basically, anything it wants to be.

Tasty New Whites from Chile

Trade Tasting Discoveries

One of the best things about the wine biz is going to tastings that are open only to members of the trade. I’m sort of on the fringes of the industry, but sometimes I’m lucky enough to wangle a ticket and one of those cute little name tags to wear on a lanyard around my neck.

The most recent annual event was held by a distributor here in Southwest Florida, and I’m happy to say that even though I wasn’t familiar with all the producers, I made some interesting discoveries.

I can’t write all of them up in one shot, but that’s another benefit of going to these things. I sampled and evaluated so many different wines that I can pull three or four columns out of a single event.

A big discovery was Mayu Pedro Ximénez Blanco from Chile. When I lived in Spain centuries ago, the only PX we knew about was the intensely dark, sweet, dessert wine. It’s made by drying grapes in the sun, like raisins, then pressing and fermenting them. It tastes a lot like molasses.

But guess what. Now, some brave Chileans in the Elqui Valley are making a dry white from these grapes, and they’re doing a killer job. This wine was bright, minerally, and acidic, with very pleasing floral and fruit aromas. I’m told that “Mayu” in the ancient Incan word for “river of stars,” and I can see why. I’d put this wine in the same category as Sauvignon Blanc for food pairing, but it has its own unique qualities, and I can certainly see myself chilling down a bottle when I come home from work.  Maybe not every night, but most nights.  WW 89-90.

Another interesting white wine discovery from Chile was the La Playa Block Selection Reserve Chardonnay. This is produced in a pure style, with no malolactic conversion, and even though it spends four months in French oak, that particular flavor does not overwhelm the lean minerality and nicely balanced acidity. A classic Chardonnay, and another candidate for after-work sipping.  WW 90

The tasting lasted four hours, and incredibly enough, I remember most of it. So watch this spot for more suggestions in the coming days.

The Right Bank Gets It Right

At a recent tasting, we sampled through a whole raft of really interesting reds.  When you sniff and sip a lot of wines in that type of professional situation, any wine you remember afterward definitely deserves recognition…and a few more sips.

In this case, we were working our way across a selection that included some Languedocs, Chiantis, Portuguese table reds from the Douro, and a few from St. Emilion. Those are the ones that stopped us, made our eyes open a bit wider, and extend our glasses for a second pour.

The Right Bank of the Garonne River in Bordeaux is a whole ‘nother wine world. Just when you think you have a handle on the Medoc, with its famous regions like Pauillac, Margaux, St. Estephe, and all that, you discover that the other side of the river has not only its own separate winemaking traditions, but its own quality classification system. Think of it as just more wonderful stuff to discover.

In this case, we discovered Chateau Franc La Rose Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2010 – In keeping with the winemaking traditions of the Right Bank, this wine was predominantly Merlot, which made it very soft, approachable, and round in the mouth, with about 30% Cabernet Franc thrown in for structure and color. It was opaque in the glass, with a nose of lavender…but not much else at first. When we came back to it, the dark fruit aromas started to show, so it just needed time. At our very first sip we all said the same thing: “chocolate.” Very pronounced, too, followed by rich dark fruit flavors. Lovely stuff, with an attractive die-cut label.  WW 90.

More from Montefalco

Back to that Italian sampling I had a few weeks back with wine writer Jim McCracken.  He brought a BUNCH of bottles and I couldn’t get them all written up at once.  But we made some interesting discoveries, and here are the rest of them.

Romanelli Montefalco Rosso 2010 – I noted in a previous review that the “rosso” from this DOC is based on Sangiovese, with the native Sagrantino grape playing a bit of second fiddle.  It’s important to know the producers, because each one blends the grapes in different proportions, and adds some other varietals, as well.  Here, we had a 65% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, and 10% each of Cabernet and Merlot.  Like the other wines we tried, it was ruby translucent in the glass, but earthier on the nose and palate.  There were fresh berries and a major hit of cherry on the palate, with mild tannins and a bit of heat on the finish.  I’d decant it next time.  WW 88.

Scassiadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2008 – I think if you can even spell the producer they should give you a bottle for free.  In Italian, the word scassia means to dismiss or fight off.  So if this wine fights off the devil, that’s okay with me.

This was the real thing – 100% Sagrantino with the flavor profile you expect from this varietal.  After a preliminary sip, we decanted it and came back in about an hour.  Good thing, too.  Darker in the glass than the Rossos, the nose gave up dust, earth, and berries.  Real Old World juice.  The tannins were smooth, thanks to the age of the wine, with cherries and berries on the palate and a nice long finish.  Still, I’d give it more time in the cellar or decanter before trying it again.  This was the best of the samples we tried.  WW 90

Montefalco is a Must

Once again, my dear friend and faithful wine buddy Jim McCracken showed up at my door with a box full of wine samples.  Jim is the widely-read wine columnist for Florida Weekly, a newspaper that’s now up to five or six regional editions in Florida.  They’re kicking butt.

And, as a widely-read wine writer, Jim receives samples from distributors who are hoping to garner favorable mentions in his bi-weekly column.  This week, he brought in three Chenin Blancs from South Africa, and a whole gaggle of Italian reds from the Montefalco region.  We’ll save the whites for another time.

Montefalco is in Umbria, right next to Tuscany, and, like most Italian towns with the word “monte” in the name, it sits on top of a hill, with elegant verdant vineyard sloping away in almost every direction.  The signature wine of the area is made from the Sagrantino grape, a deep red, heavily tannic varietal which plays the same part in Umbrian wine as Sangiovese does next door in Tuscany.  Not surprisingly, it’s known as Sagrantino di Montefalco.  And that’s what Jim brought for us to taste.  Well, almost.

Turns out that there’s such a thing as what I’ll call a “Super Montefalco,” which is kind of like a Super Tuscan. That is, the historic, indigenous grape of the area blended with other varietals. Sometimes, these blending grapes are international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, but often they’re other traditional Italian grapes. They’re called simply Rosso.  We had both.

So, breaking out my special Helicium tasting glasses, Jim and I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon, swirling, sniffing, sipping, and spitting. Well, not a whole lot of spitting.  Here’s what we discovered.

Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2011 – Turns out that Sangiovese is a big dog over here in Umbria, too.  The DOC regulations require that Rossos have at least 50% Sangiovese, and puts a cap of 15% on all the other grapes.  This sample was 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, and 15% Merlot.  You’d expect the Merlot to calm down the heavy tannins, which it did.  Kind of.

The wine is ruby translucent in the glass with a nose of black plum, and blackberry. It was VERY tannic at first, but we came back to it at the end of the session and it had smoothed out remarkably well. On the palate, we discovered cherry, blackberry, and smoke, and came to the conclusion that this is definitely a food wine. The structure is huge, so consider pairing it with a hard cheese, like a Grana Padano.
WW 89-90.

Perticaia Montefalco Rosso 2010 – This sample had the same proportion of Sangiovese and Sagrantino as the Caprai, but instead of Merlot, they mixed in 15% Colorino, which is an interesting thing to do. It was darker in the glass, but still translucent, with a nose of black plum and berry. The black cherry on the palate was pleasant, probably because the tannins were well integrated and the balance was spot on. Guess an extra year in the bottle makes a difference.  WW 89-90.

Antonelli Montefalco Rosso 2010 — It just shows you how imaginative winemakers can be when they start mixing stuff together. This blend had a bit less Sangiovese (65%), 15% Sagrantino, and 10% each of Cabernet and Merlot. Like the others, it was translucent ruby/garnet. No inky monsters here. The nose had a subtle note of blueberry, which we both had to sip several times to detect. Good integrated tannins make this approachable now.  WW 85.

Watch for more from Montefalco in the next few days.  Cheers!

Beautiful Sisters — Gorgeous Wine

Beaux Freres Pinot Noir Belles Soeurs 2004

We’ve been sitting on a few bottles of this for quite a while, but I’m glad we decided to open one recently. Considering that Robert Parker is one of the partners in this winery, one has the right to pop the cork with high expectations.

No disappointment, here. The wine is very translucent in the glass, but we know that, unlike other wines, the color of Pinot in the glass gives absolutely no indication of how rich or full-bodied it will be on the palate.

There’s smoky plum on the nose, with a bit of a green note, but it’s not a flaw.  The Burgundian style is very evident on the palate, with plenty of earth and forest flavors nicely balanced by some typical strawberry fruitiness. Lovely.

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