Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Assemblea of Consorzio of Brunello: there will be no change for Brunello di Montalcino.

I transcribe as reported by the tenuta Il Poggione on his "Montalcino Report" the result of the Assembly of the Consorzio of Brunello di Montalcino that took place yesterday in Montalcino. The counting of the votes (based on the hectares of Brunello planted to vine) is the following:

Proposition 1: are you in favor of changing the ampelographic basis for Brunello di Montalcino?

662 NO
30 YES

Proposition 2: are you in favor of changing the ampelographic basis for Rosso di Montalcino?

540 NO
162 YES

Proposition 3: are you in favor of making other changes to the appellation rules? For example, changing the maximum yields for Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, Moscadello, and Sant'Antimo? Or allowing for the use of concentrated rectified must?

474 NO
228 YES

Proposition 4: are you in favor of grouping all the current appellations, except for Sant'Antimo, in a single Montalcino appellation?

684 NO

Proposition 5: are you in favor of grouping all the current appellations, except for Brunello di Montalcino, in a single Montalcino appellation?

572 NO
118 YES

Even if I am, like a few others, (positively) surprised by the large majority who has voted against any change to the terms of reference of Brunello (some producers who previously expressed in favour of the change seem to have now voted against, possibly under the public pressure and visibility that the issue was acquiring) the result must be read as a sign that producers do not want to change the basic elements that form the Brunello di Montalcino. I hope that this vote will end these long months of conflicts that have strongly damaged the image of brunello di Montalcino and also of Italian wine in general.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

While the Brunello Assembly discusses the sort of Brunello...Biondi Santi is the undisputed king of wine guides for 2003 brunello's

Tomorrow is taking place the Assembly of the Consortium of Brunello that should discuss (and possibly vote) about whether in the future Brunello should remain a 100%Sangiovese wine or if other grapes may concur for a small part in it.

I already had the possibility to discuss about this and expressed my view for the mantain of the current 100% Sangiovese composition that characterizes strongly this prestigious Italian wine.

I would like to stress that for this meeting 149 producers of Brunello, which should represent about 60% of votes in the assembly, have expressed support for maintaining the 100% sangiovese composition thus anticipating the today's battle. On the other side, Banfi, the large brunello producers owned by the Mariani family, has issued a statement of a different tone, asking to introduce the possibility to use up to 5% of other grapes to "correct winemaking errors in the cellar". This explanation, however, does not correspond to the arguments that have ben used to now, notably by the former Banfi manager Ezio Rivella, who has supported, notably during a debate transmitted in video-conference with journalist Franco Ziliani, that such a flexibility should be used to allow those winemakers who are located in areas not good enough to produce a brunello 100% sangiovese.

Well, tomorrow we will have a first result of this conflict round one of the most important Italian wines.

In the meantime, it is essential to underline that the wine that received the largest prize as the best brunello of 2003 (and notably the only brunello 2003 selected by the Gambero Rosso) is the Brunello Il Greppo 2003 of Biondi Santi, a pure expression of the tradition (ageing in big oak barrels and with great elegance and less extraction). A good sign for the General Assembly.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Analogy between red Burgundy and barolo..

Some two weeks ago I have been invited to dinner during a tour of the Douro region (on which I will report soon) by a great winemaker in his quinta besides the Douro river.

It was a dinner with a few friends in order to celebrate the end of the harvest, when the Douro area is still more charming with small trucks plenty of either grapes or "pisadores" (the men and women who are pressing the grapes in the traditional way).

At a certain moment of the dinner, after a long serie of charming wines (a splendid Batard-Montrachet 2001 from Morey, a typically vegetal Gruaud Larose 1979, a perfectly aged Rioja 1964...) all served blind by our guest in large decanters and rigorously in shared glasses, a dark liquid appeared in a decanter.

Since it was a guessing exercise, and I was in fact the first in the row, I approached my nose of the glass and tried to identify the mysterious living element in front of me. However, the anonymous wine was keeping his charme tightly closed to the outside and clearly needed to get used to the fresh air like a new born baby. The other friends around the table and notably another wine producer sitting besides me was of the same opinion and suspended his judgement and analysis.

Only after some 20 minutes and after the glass had circulated all around the table we started appreciating his powerful aroma combined with an extreme elegance and finesse. A clear and strong floral aroma (rose, violet) was appearing, together with a strong sensation of earthiness and black fruits. After a short moment when I was trying to figure out the roots of that wine I poured it and kept it for some seconds in the mouth. Elegant and soft tannins in a strongly structured wine, with a great concentration that confirmed the rather dark color in the glass.

The first thing that I said was that the first image was an association with a "brasato" (a beef braised in a sauce, typically a Barolo in Piedmont), and then a memory of great barolos. However, and was pretty sure of it, this was not a barolo. It reminds me very much of a barolo, both for its structure, elegance, floral aromas, but in the mouth in particular the tannic structure was rather different from a barolo, also a modern barolo (with shorter maceration and aged in barriques which acquires a less astringent character when young). It was clearly a French wine, but the association of aromas and concentration was making more difficult the final answer (yes...sure, everybody was focusing on the east France, but that was making even more difficult the guessing).

Our guest finally brought the bottle and we discovered a Romanée Conti, Vosne Romanée Cru Duvaul-Brochet 1999. It has been a very good year for Romanee Conti and that cru is actually made from a second selection of fruit picked from all 6 DRC Grand Cru vineyards. The result is a great wine that shows the great character of La Romanee Conti.

But the clear association between a great burgundy and barolo came again recently during a discussion with Elio Altare (a great winemaker from Piedmont who has been promoting the use of modern winemaking techniques in Piedmont). He is a great lover of Burgundy and strongly believe that Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo have a common root and this appears in particular with regard to the evolution of their aromas.

If we take some of the characteristics of these two grapes we find similarities, like the composition of antocyans (responsible for the coloration of wine, and giving this pale red color that tend to move into brick through aging: mainly a responsibility of the strong presence of malvidine compared to peonine), some floral aromas notably after some aging. However, the two grapes have also strong difference, notably with regard to the maturation (a much later harvest for nebbiolo, which receives his name because it is picked up during the beginning of foggy days - nebbia - in the Langhe late October) and to the tannic structure (nebbiolo grapes have a strong tannic component, both in the skin and notably in the seeds).

But apart from the technical characteristics of these two grapes I like the idea expressed by Elio Altare that they were born from the same father and that it is for that reason that these grapes may produce the most elegant and complex wines in the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Giro d'Italia 2008 at Licata wine (Belgium)

During the week-end 18-19 October 2008 has taken place the annual "Giro d'Italia" organised by the Belgian wine importer "Licata" in its premises, closed to Hasselt.
It is the major event for Italian wine in Belgium, due to the excellent organisation of Calogero Licata and his son Laurent, who bring to Belgium some of the best Italian wine producers for a presentation of their wines during a three-day event. The stands in the main room are organised by region so that it is very easy to move across the stands and follow a precise program.
I went there with Anne, a French friend who was also able to taste much better than I who was still suffering from a big cold. The following is a list of the impressions of the day on the basis of the producers that we visited:
  • Bisol (Veneto). Prosecco di Valdobbiadene "Crede" is pleasant and fresh, while the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene "Vigneto del Fol" is more complex on the palate with some dry fruits flavour. The Riserva Brut Millesimato 2001 (pinot bianco, chardonnay and pinot noir) is very well done and of good complexity.
  • Ronco Calino (Lombardia). The Franciacorta Brut Millesimato 2003 has a good structure and complexity and is a good representative of Franciacorta quality.
  • Alois Lageder (Alto Adige). Moscato Giallo 2007 shows some spicey and lavanda scents and a very dry pleasant finish. Sauvignon 2007 has good flavours of dried fruits but lacking complexity on the palate. Pinot Grigio 2007 is rather disappointing with short finish and lacking structure. Pinot grigio "Benefizium Porer" 2007, instead, has an intriguing nose with strong white fruits (pear) and powerful taste with long finish. Finally, Chardonnay "Coreth" 2007 reveals good complexity and freshness.
  • Pieropan (Veneto). Unfortunately this time Pieropan did not bring an old vintage of his Soave "La Rocca", a wine that improves strongly with ageing. We tasted Soave Calvarino 2006, showing intriguing strong flavours but losing power on the palate with a rather short finish, and Soave La Rocca 2006, a great wine showing great complexity both in terms of flavours and taste. This latter will only improve with 3-4 years ageing.
  • Livio Felluga (Friuli venezia Giulia). An historical producer of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Livio Felluga arrived with a large range of wines. We only tried Friulano (new denomination for the Tocai) 2007, with good flavours but lacking power on the palate, and the Illivio 2006 (blend of pinot bianco, chardonnay and picolit), a powerful fruity wine spending 10 months in oak.
  • Feudi san Gregorio (Campania). It was the last serie of white wines tasted, starting with Fiano di Avellino 2007, showing pleasant white fruits with very long finish, and Greco di Tufo "Cutizzi" 2007, a complex wine showing good acidity and long finish.
  • San Leonardo (Trentino). A producer always keeping a great coherence during the years. We started with the Villa Gresti 2004, showing some vegetal character (green pepper) and good balance. The San Leonardo 2003 is in the classic style of the house a very well balanced wine with a very expressive nose, very good structure and finish.
  • Avignonesi (Tuscany). Rosso di Montepulciano 2007 represents one of the best quality/price ratio, with good red fruits aroma and lenght. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2005 was not particularly expressive, while Grandi Annate 2004 shows an expressive cassis nose combined with a good balanced taste. Desiderio 2005 (Merlot 80% and cabernet sauvignon 20%) is one of the best merlot-based wine of Tuscany, very powerful and deep.
  • Fanti (Tuscany). Sant'Antimo 2006 is an easy-to-drink pleasant wine with good aromas of red fruits. Rosso di Montalcino 2006 has additional complexity and represents a very good quality/price ratio.
  • Mazzei/Castello di Fonterutoli (Tuscany). One of the historical houses of Chianti Classico, they presented here a good Chianti Classico 2006 and a very good Castello di Fonterutoli 2005 (90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet sauvignon). Siepi 2005 (50% Sangiovese and 50% merlot) is a reference for Supertuscans with power and complexity..
  • Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona (Tuscany). Brunello di Montalcino 2003, not a great year for Brunello, has a good long finish and expressive aromas but it is still rather tannic.
  • Piaggia (Tuscany). Carmignano Riserva 2005 is pleasant and with long finish even if rather mono-dimensional.
  • Michele Satta (Tuscany). I spent some time here because I remembered last year a long conversation with Michele Satta (who did not come here this year) on the true natures of his wines and tha passion that he is able to transmit. The two white wines, Costa di Giulia 2007 (65% Vermentino, 35% Sauvignon) is very good and Gioven Re 2007 (Viognier 100%) is even better, a very good example of an experiment with a rather difficult grape. Also very pleasant is the simple Bolgheri Rosso 2006, while in the Cavaliere 2003 we find more complexity and a slightly vegetal nose. But it is Piastraia 2004 (Sangiovese, Merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah) that reaches the top, with an expressive black fruits nose, very good acidity (uncommon for the wines from Bolgheri), good structure and long finish.
  • Altesino (Tuscany). Its Rosso di Altesino 2006 (Sangiovese 80%, cabernet sauvignon and merlot) represents a good price/quality ratio with good aromas and freshness. The Brunello di Montalcino 2003 is a good effort for a not happy year for Montalcino, with very good aromas and balance.
  • Tenuta di Ghizzano (Tuscany). The wines of Ginevra Venerosi Pesciolini have been very successful in the last years and this is confirmed here with Veneroso 2004 (70% sangiovese, 30% cabernet sauvignon) showing spicey and fruity aromas with good acidity, and Nambrot 2004 (70% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 10% petit verdot) extremely balanced and powerful with black fruit and cassis aromas.
  • Tua Rita. While I was not convinced by Rosso dei Notri 2006 (vegetal nose not really corresponding to the grapes used: 60% sangiovese, 30% merlot, 10% syrah) and Perlato del Bosco Rosso 2005 (rather impersonal), Giusto di Notri, both in the vintage 2005 and 2006, is a good wine with expressive aromas of cassis and prune with good finish.
  • Villa Sparina (Piedmont). The two Gavi wines presented by villa Sparina were extremely different. Gavi di Gavi 2007 has good aromas of spices and cinnamon with great acidity and lenght, while the Gavi di Gavi "Monterotondo" 2006 shows a minty nose but a not well integrated oaky element.
  • Braida (Piedmont). Bricco dell'Uccellone is as usual a representative of modern winemaking. This barbera is extremely powerful, with a strong structure and balance. The Bricco della Bigotta looks slighty closer at present but on the palate has a similar power and structure.
  • Elio Altare (Piedmont). Elio is in Piedmont a symbol of modern winemaking in the Barolo area. He started three decades ago to experiment with shorter skin maceration and small barrels against the traditions of Barolo with the aims to create long ageing wines that were more drinkable in the short term and did not need the strong tannic component of long maceration. It was a pleasure discussing with him about the current situation in the wine world (for example the whole discussions about the future of Brunello). His wines were all remarkable, starting with Dolcetto d'Alba 2006 showing a perfect dolcetto nose. Barbera d'Alba 2006 is an example (opposite to Briada) of traditional barbera, and one of his best examples. Vigna Larigi 2005 (Barbera) is a very complex wine, powerful and long ageing.
  • Paolo Scavino (Piedmont). I only had the time to try the Barbera d'Alba 2007, an excellent barbera, showing very good fruits.
  • Parusso (Piedmont). The barolo's 2004 (Barolo and Barolo Bussia) while showing a very expressive nose, with the classic floral nebbiolo scents of violets/rose, are both a bit short on the finish.

Finally it was a big marathon and I needed some rest but as usual a big applause to Licata for organising such a wonderful opportunity for tasting an impressive range of good Italian wines and discussing them with their creators.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Are wine guides reliable....?

Fall is traditionally the wine guides period.

When the wine growers are approaching a critical time of the year, when they are waiting to decide the right moment for picking up the grapes, hoping that the weather does not create surprises and finally starting this great machine and feast that is the harvest...at this precise moment of great stress for the wine growers the wine guides reach the market.

If harvest was not enough stress for the farmer, then the wine guides provide an additional significant stress for him, since the wines selected by the guides are granted an easier access to the market.

It appears already bizarre that these two events happen at the same time, especially when you are a wine grower and you need to focus on the delicate moment of the harvest and the follow up process of the first steps of transformation of grapes into wine.

In addition to this, some guides have decided that this stress was not enough and have elaborated a "Countdown system", which is the discovery of the winners only step by step during a sort of Hitchcock or for some wine growers "horror" movie that is aimed at holding your breathe until the end, a system that is expected to attract a largest number of customers to their site (yes...internet is of course facilitating this exercise).

Newspapers or sites like the American Wine Spectator (which is starting the countdown in 3 weeks) or the Italian "Gambero Rosso" (which has decided to unveil his best wines, called "Tre Bicchieri", on a region by region basis, thus also creating an unecessary hierarchy between Italian regions) are following this route but others may be tempted by their success to follow-up in the future.

I do not know what wine growers feel about this (I guess they would deserve less stress in harvesting period), but I see a parallel between this exercise and beauty contest ("Miss ....), and I do not really appreciate much.

But this is somewhat secondary because I would like to focus here more on the reason for using a wine guide today.

First of all I want to clarify that I buy myself some wine guides and possibly this year I may buy more than ever because I would like to compare their different approaches and selections.

The main reasons for buying a wine guide appear to be linked to:

* a recognition that guides select the best wines on the market;

* a need to be get some indications for wines to taste and buy in a middle of the big wine world.

It is true that a big element of appeal for the wine guides is that they alawys advertise strongly their selction of the "best wines of the year", with more or less creative instruments (the classical system of points, mostly /100, like Wine Spectator; or the "glasses" like the Gambero Rosso, three glasses being the excellence).

However, we should note that there is a very limited rate of coherence between the different guides focusing on the same market: I remember in 2005 an Italian wine blogger stressing that only 8 wines could be found in all the 3 most popular Italian wine guides, less than 10% of the total number of the wine selected by each guide; and if we look at the points expressed by Wine Spectaor and Parker (clearly the two reference for the US wine market) we will notice the same differences.

The concept of "best wine" is then a rather arbitrary concept but, and this is even more important, guides do not cover the whole producers in a wine market, but cover usually only the wines that are directly sent to them by the producers (Note: these "samples" are not always representative of the average quality of the bottles that we'll find in the market). Now, just to take the example of Italy, a key producer of Montalcino, Gianfranco Soldera, is not sending his wines to wine guides at all, and several other producers only send their wines to 1-2 guides, making the reading of the result of the guides even less reliable.

There are then two fundamental problems related to wine guides in general: the first relates to the fact they do not cover the whole market due to the way of selecting wineries (as I said, usually those which are sending their samples); the second is related to the specific taste of the panel of the guide (preference for ripe, fruity wines or for more angular, light ones). Rarely these two elements are clearly indicated in the wine guides and this is clearly a key problem and the main limitation.

Obviously, an ideal solution would be to be able to taste during the year the largest number of wine to select them according to our taste and on the basis of the direct experience: wine fairs and tastings offer the best opportunity for this exercise. However, this is not always possible for all wine lovers, lacking time and possibility to follow wine fairs across many countries, and even for those who do it (I spent already quite a lot of time at wine events), I can only try a minimal number of wines in front of a growing and diversified offer.

Wine guides offer indeed an useful instrument, but wine lovers require to select them with attention and to use them more as indications, used in associations with other instruments, like participation to wine fairs, visiting wine blog on the internet that provide often information also on wineries that do not send samples to wine guides and then do not appear in most wine guides.

It is important not to rely only on wine guides, even less on only one guide. It is important to read about wine guides in order to understand their basic tasting approach (for example the "Luca Maroni" guide announces from the beginning its preference for "vini frutto", very fruity and jammy wines, an approach that is mostly banning traditional barolo or brunello).

Use a wine guide only if you know about that wine guide so that you can filter the information that are provided in it.