Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Notes from Vinexpo 2009

Vinexpo 2009, the important bi-annual rendez-vous for world wine in Bordeaux, is over.

As many have noted, it has been most likely (and many hope) an year of transition. The economic crisis was clearly visible both among the stands of the producers (many, important, absences) and in the public (some mentioned 10% less compared to 2 years ago). The budgetary restrictions have reduced the room for manoeuvre and, while there are some signs of recovery at world level, this will only start to appear towards the end of 2009 and it was then almost inevitable for Vinexpo to suffer from the bad economic moment. The absence of the American market was also visible, and many in Bordeaux are suffering due to the key reference of this market for the bordelais.

I noted in particular that all those producers, mostly small producers who were organised with consortium or other local organisations, who did not prepare well in advance the fair with previous contacts and rendez-vous suffered enormously from the diminution of customers (importeres, distributors etc.). I noted this not only for foreign, for example Italian or Spanish producers, but also for French wineries. A fair like Vinexpo needs to be well prepared in advance, either by the organisations (consortium..) or by the the producers themselves. The power of attraction of the fair, notably when fewer visitors are there, is not enough to make substantial business.

A last note with regard to a missed opportunity for the Italian wine: the parallel event "Italissima" which was organised outside Vinexpo (on the other side of the lake, besides the Palais des Congres). The event had all the cards to play a key role: a palette of important Italian producers, a list of intersting tastings guided by Michel Bettane and Enzo Vizzari and the enthusiasm of the producers present there. Unfortunately, the event suffered strongly from the conflict engaged with Vinexpo, which not only refused all kind of advertising (understandable but from my view not clever, since these events are also useful for the main fair), but put many obstacles (blocking bottles, sending controls for authorisations...). It is a pity, first of all for all those producers who suffered for this, that this occasion has been partly lost (to be noted that most guided tastings were sold out). And even more because I tasted great wines from those producers that I had the oportunity to visit: Roberto Voerzio and his great Barolo's and Barbera Annunziata; Borgo del Tiglio and his complex and rich white wines; San Leonardo and the balance of his bordelais wine; Vajra and his traditional barolos ; Albino Rocca with the balsamic barbaresco; Ca' del Bosco and the class of Franciacorta.

I tasted many other good wines at Vinexpo, but I just want to mention a few of them. First of all a tasting of the production of Kracher, the Austrian winery of the late Alois. I enjoyed greatly the tasting which confirmed the general high level of the whole collection, with a preference for the Grande Cuvee Nouvelle Vague number 6, a fantastic rich and balanced Trockenbeerenauslese. The tasting with the maison Chapoutier has also been very enjoyable, notably for the magnificent quality of all their Cote-Rotie La Mordorée and Hermitage Le Meal and Sizeranne. I also enjoyed a pleasant tasting with the Italian producer Gaja, covering both the Tuscan appendix (Pieve Santa Restituta at Montalcino and Ca'Marcanda at Bolgheri) and of course the main winery at Barbaresco. I only spent a small visit to the Champagne, where I appreciated the wines of Philipponnat, starting with a good Dosage Zero and finishing with the elegant and perfumed "Clos de Goisses". A last word on some burgundies that I enjoyed during the fair, notably the Chablis Le Clos 2007 of the Maison Faiveley, the Pouilly-Fuissé "Vers Cras" 2006 of the Chateau de Beauregard and the Vosne Romanee 2002 of Kerlann.

Well, possibly a note regarding a guided tasting where some Italian "bordelais" wines met the real bordelais. There was a clear loser, a Sassicaia 1998 that well defines the not great moment that this winery has been living recently. Concerning the winners, I was happy to see that San Leonardo 2001 (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet franc and Merlot) was standing well and "different" in front of wines like Chateau Pape Clement 2001, Chateau Trotanoy 2000 (the perfection of a Pomerol, balanced and so round that I was missing some angles) and Mouton Rothschild 2005.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Casanova di Neri tasting - an overview of the winery

Giacomo Neri is the man of all success of the recent years in Montalcino.

He has been able, though investments, a modernisation of his winery and the adoption of more "international" approach to winemaking (notably the use of small barriques) with the key contribution of enologist Carlo Ferrini (who is also advising Castello di Brolio) to achieve the highest recognition, notably in the American market where Wine Spectator has elected his Brunello Tenuta Nuova 2001 (see picture where Giacomo Neri shows a magnum of this wine) best wine of the year in 2006 and has given 100 points to his Brunello Cerretalto 2001, thus recognising at the same time the extraordinary success of the 2001 vintage in Tuscany.

This has then prompted to the general attention a winery that was created by the father of Giacomo, Giovanni, in 1971 (first production of brunello in 1978) and that expanded over the years to the current 36 hectares of vineyards in various parts of the territory of Montalcino from the original location (and still current winery location) at the East of Montalcino (down the road Montalcino-San Quirico d'Orcia). Other vineyards can be found in Castelnuovo dell'Abate (Pietradonice), South-East of Montalcino (Cerretalto) and at Sant'Angelo in Colle (Cetine).

The tasting last week offered the opportunity to try both the two 2001 Brunello's that were getting so much attention and also the other key wines of Casanova di neri in the recent successful vintages of 2001 and 1999.

Apart from the basic brunello which is still aged in the traditional large Slavonian oak barrels, the other major wines of the winery, the two Brunello cru's Tenuta Nuova and Cerretalto, and the supertuscan "Pietradonice" are aged in small French barriques.

You will find detailed tasting notes by François, who was participating to the tasting, in the blog of the Grand Jury Européen, while I will give some general impressions on the wines.

In general, apart from the first two wines, that are still following a traditional winemaking process for Brunello (I found the 1999 more "rustic" but pleasant, while the 2001 is more balanced and round), the wines of Casanova di Neri follow a modern approach, with strong extraction, density, dark color and power, while at the same time presenting a well integrated tannic structure. The Tenuta Nuova cru, in particular the 2001, appears to be more powerful and riped, with the use of barriques being more evident. The Pietradonice 2003 that we tasted (supertuscan 90% Cabernet sauvignon, 10% sangiovese), reflected strongly the torrid climate of the year 2003 in Tuscany, with astringency and an unpleasant bitterness, despite the solid structure.

The Cerretalto cru clearly emerges, with more personality and finesse, mineral and balsamic notes with a strong spicey nose (I remember tasting a very good 1997 some years ago), but it seems to me very far from the level of complexity that I expect from a "perfect" wine (if any, objectively speaking). In addition, while I recognise that it is a classy wine on its own, it lacks the more polyedric and angular elements that chacterise Brunello, for example in its more traditional expressions like Biondi Santi, Poggio di Sotto, Cerbaiola or Case Basse.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Miani Tocai - Another face of Friuli

I have been waiting for two months to receive a bunch of wines that included a large number of Miani (Tocai, Chardonnay and Merlot) and yesterday, just after the arrival, I immediately opened a bottle of Tocai 1999.

Enzo Pontoni, the owner of Miani winery, is a peculiar producer from Friuli, a land famous for its white wines produced close to the Slovenian border (Collio e Colli Orientali) and increasingly also recognised for the production of red wines from Merlot (here acquiring a strong terroir expression with tangy taste with marasca cherry) and indigenuos grapes such as pignolo, schioppettino and refosco.

Miani is located in the area of Colli Orientali and produces tocai, sauvignon, chardonnay, ribolla gialla, merlot and the Calvari (a refosco from a small vineyard of 0,9 hectares that is his cult wine).

But Enzo Pontoni is largely considered to be a "cult" producer, a man with such an extreme attention and care in the vineyard that the yealds in his lands has been reduced to the limits. The man himself is considered a very reserved person, who is entertaining a very respectful relation with the terroir and his environment.

Since I have not met Enzo Pontoni (but I hope very much that I will enjoy this priviledge in the future), I prefer to tell you my sensations of the Tocai 1999 that I open after leaving it for a few hours to cool down.

First the impressions in the glass, a strong yellow and an onctuosity that leaves large tears in the glass. I literally dig my nose into the glass and try to find the aromas of the wine but it is not an easy wine, one of those that explodes his fruity/floral aromas once opened. It is a wine that needs time and curiosity, it opens step by step, and at a first glance provides only a reserved mineral flavour.

It is a wine that does not need and most likely, like its mentor, does not like an easy drinker, who is going to abandon it after the first disappointment.

But you only need to wait, and I know that wine lovers have this patience, and then it reveals growing aromas that, while keeping a strong minerality, develop a creamy taste of nuts, almond and strong, very strong and crispy white flowers. This takes some time, and I have not yet pour ed the wine. It is a 10 years old Tocai, but like a good old white Burgundy to which I can easily compare the sensations, it gives the impression to be there to stay and live for decades.

In the mouth the attack is strng, the acidity keeps the wine well together and guarantees its longevity and the sensations of power, great structure and finesse, an extreme elegance that accompanies the wine during the long time that it remains in my mouth.

It takes time before I plunge into the wine again, the structure and body of this wine does not allow to drink it like I would do for a lighter wine. I imagine this wine with an important fish, or also with a fantastic ham from San Daniele de Friuli, which has a stronger taste than the Parma ham.

I am curious to open the other bottles that I have bought, not tonight, but soon. And to visit Mr. Pontoni, whenever it will be possible.