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Veneto

Pointless Points and Some Good Wines

circle the wagons There is no worse situation for tasting wines than big trade and consumer tastings. The format is always the same; a hotel ballroom with tables arranged like circled wagons waiting for the Indians to attack staffed by local wine reps with knowledge or not of the wines being poured. The room is crowded, hot and it's tough to get through the crowds to taste and harder still to get to a spit bucket in time. It's difficult to think of a worse situation to judge a wine.

The format is not really the problem. After all, these events are really cocktail parties designed to entertain trade or consumers. Serious tasting is not on the menu and that's not a reason to attend. If you go for serious tasting, you'll be frustrated. It's a party, not a tasting and I think distributors and other wine shows have every right to put on such events as that's what people, professionals and consumers alike, really want. After all, there's nothing wrong with having a good time with wine.

What's unfortunate is that some writers and bloggers attend these wine keggers and actually score the wines they taste. I don't care if you're using the 100 point scale or a 10 point scale (which after all is just an abbreviation of the 100 point scale) to try to accurately score wines in such a situation is a disservice to your readers. The reason it's not legitimate is that the results are not repeatable. Everyone knows that if you took the same wines and blind tasted these writers that they would come up with different scores. To repeat scores comparing wines tasted in perfect conditions to the same wines tasted in perfect conditions is difficult at best. To assume that you could repeat them going from the terrible circumstances of mass tastings to prefect conditions is not only ridiculous, but dishonest. If a writer cannot be assured that their ratings would be repeated within a few decimal points if they retasted the wines under different circumstances they should not publish those scores. It not only shows disrespect for those that make wines, but those that drink them.

That being said, I offer a few notes of my favorites from a trade tasting of over 100 Italian wines in Portland Oregon hosted by Columbia Wine Company. As usual, all are recommended, but are points-free.

Admiralty Imports

Barolo Canubi, Brezza, 2001 - A classic beauty that is nowhere near ready to drink. Big time tar and roses in this wine.

Barolo Chiniera, Elio Grasso, 2004 - All you could want from one of Barolo's greats. Rich, powerful and structured.

Barbaresco Riserva, Gallina, Ugo Lequio, 2001 - Another elegant classic with great balance. An excellent nebbiolo.

Sagrantino Montefalco, Antonelli, 2004 - Deep, rich and powerful with substantial tannins. Needs age or some wild boar right now.

Brunello di Montalcino, Caprili, 2003 - Finally Brunello that tastes like Brunello instead of barrique. Earthy, structured and complex.

Toscana VDT, La Gioia, Riecine, 2004 - Yet another lovely wine from one of my favorite estates in Tuscany. As always with Riecine, the balance of this wine is impeccable. This is their Super Tuscan. 

 

Neil Empson Selections

Franciacorta Cuvee Brut, Bellavista, NV - Consistently my favorite Champagne method sparking wine producer from Italy. This wine did not disappoint with its creamy, frothy texture and toasty fruit.

Pinot Grigio, Bortoluzzi, 2006 - A big step up from industrial pinot grigio. Bright and citrusy with ripe, fresh apply fruit and good depth.

Soave Classico, Pieropan, 2006 - As always, just a stunning value in a crisp white that offers real complexity beyond its bright, refreshing character. A great white wine producer.

 

Kobrand

Isola dei Nuraghi I.G.T., Sardegna, Barrua, Agricola Punica, 2004 - A dead ringer for Spain's Priorat wines from an old carignane vineyard on Sardegna. Deep, rich and powerful with a touch of porty ripeness.

Bolgheri Sassicaia, Sassicaia, 2004 - A perfectly politically correct wine with just the right amount of everything. Svelte and stylish. Their website is just terrible.

Toscana IGT, Crognolo, Tenuta Sette Ponte, 2005 - Deeply colored, powerful, rich and velvety with big, sweet oak highlights. A modern Italian wine of the first degree. Not for traditionalists. 

 

Wilson Daniels

Castello di Volpaia:

Chianti, Borgianni, 2005 - This is a very, very nice Chianti for the price. Real character and personality. Best of all it tastes like sangiovese, not merlot.

Chianti Classico, 2005 - You can see what a great estate this is by its straight Chianti Classico, which is a structured beauty with touches of black truffle and porcini mixed in with the ripe clean fruit.

Chianti Classico Riserva, 2004 - A potentially exceptional wine with a few more years in bottle. Great character and complexity in a balanced wine of great length.

Coltasalla, 2004 - Always outstanding, Coltasalla is a single vineyard wine produced from sangiovese and mammolo only. Happily there's not a French variety to be found in the blend. A wine of great depth, complexity and personality that needs to be aged.

 

Winebow

Prosecco, Zardetto, NV - I've been seduced by this charmer for years. A delightful little pleasure.

Roero Arneis, Bruno Giacosa, 2007 - As with everything Giacosa produces, their Arneis is a perfect example of this variety.

IGT Veronese, Palazzo della Torre, Allegrini, 2005 - Smooth and velvety with a richness without heaviness. A good reminder how much I love wines from Valpolicella. This is a ripasso, which adds the extra texture on the palate.

Delle Venezie IGT, Pinot Noir, Kris, 2007 - This is just a pretty little pinot noir. Serve lightly chilled at summer picnics, with Asian food or pizza. Light, fruity and delicious, it's almost more like a dark rose than a red wine. Totally charming. It's a little sad to see it called pinot noir instead of the Italian pinot nero, but I understand the marketing decision.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Valdipiatta, 2004 - A blend of 85% prugnolo gentile (sangiovese) and 15% canaiolo that fortunately is not overwhelmed by a brief voyage in barrique before going into large casks. The angular, rustic character of Vino Nobile is preserved in this interesting wine. The edgy character makes this a great steak wine.

Wine Notes

Recent wines I have enjoyed, most under $20.

Veneto Bianco IGT, Anselmi, San Vincenzo, Italy, 2006 - The lovely light gold color is a proper prelude to the balance of this excellent wine. So few producers get the concept of balanced richness in white wines. Substantial without the least bit of heaviness or cloying fruit or oak, the smooth creamy texture has just enough bite to keep it refreshing. As usual this wine is a tremendous value offering far more complexity than almost anything at this price point. Best of all, the second glass is better than the first. ( find this wine )

Riesling, Bergterrassen Fedespiel, Johann Donabaum, Austria, 2006 - A delicate flower of wine. A lacy mixture of floral and mineral. This is a style of wine that just does not exist outside of Austria, Germany and Northeastern Italy. If it does, I have not tasted it. Lean and delicate, this is one of those wines if you don’t pay attention you’ll miss all it has to offer. The finish is dry, but mellowed by the lovely fruit. (find this wine )

Riesling, Private Lumpkin, Lazy River Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton District, Oregon, 2006 - While inspired by Old World Wines, you’ll know right away this wine is from the New World. Richly aromatic with ripe apricots and pungent petrol notes, this wine is quite lush with a bit of sweetness accentuated by its fruit-forward style. Not for aging, but perfect for the best Asian cuisine you can find.

Riesling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Essence, S.A. Prüm, Germany, 2006 - All charm and pleasure in this nice riesling for everyday drinking. Just off-dry, but with plenty of acidity to keep it alive, this is a wonderful wine for summer parties or for just keeping in your refrigerator for a glass when you get home from work. A very good starting place for those that don’t know the pleasures of riesling as it’s inexpensive and easy to find. One of those nice wines to enjoy without thinking too much about it. ( find this wine )

Nebiolo (yup, one b) d’Alba, Cappellano, Italy, 2003 - This is just a wonderful bottle of nebbiolo that is an amazing value. Unfortunately they don’t make enough to make it easy to find. Try Chambers St. in Manhattan and cross your fingers. A classic nebbiolo with lifting aromatics laced with tar, spice and that taught floral character only nebbiolo achieves. Still tannic and closed, it will improve for many years. Better than many expensive Baroli for a fraction of the price. Great wine from a great producer. Imported by Louis/Dressner

Pinot Noir, Rogue Valley, Skipper’s Cuvee, Dobbes Family Estate, Oregon, 2006 - This wine makes you wonder why more pinot noir producers are not looking more seriously at Southern Oregon. While the majority of top Oregon pinots are from the Northern Willamette, this wine is so good it should pique the interest of quite a few producers. Richly colored and very aromatic, it exhibits the classic cool climate personality that brought growers to Oregon in the first place. Compared to the price of most Oregon pinots these days this is a great bargain. ( find this wine )

Washington Red Table Wine, Three Wives, Remy Wines,  2006 - Young winemaker Remy Drabkin is someone to watch. Her tiny production under the Three Wives and Remy labels may be hard to find, but I suggest you try to get on her mailing list now. This release, a kitchen sink blend of Bordeaux an Rhone varieties from Washington is a very nice wine at a very nice price. Rich and brightly fruity, this is a great wine for sausages fresh off your grill. Remy has done a great job of crafting a distinctive wine with a clearly Northwestern style.

Rosso Orvietano, Rosso di Spicca, Tenuta Le Velette, Italy, 2005 - I love little Italian wines like this charming wine. Light, with an earthy fruit and lean, zesty character, it’s a perfect wine for simple pastas or pizza. Best drunk with a light chill in stubby bistro glasses on a warm Wednesday night, on your patio, with a dinner you quickly whipped together. Better yet it only costs about ten bucks.(find this wine )

Châteauneuf du Pape, Les Bartavelles, Jean-Luc Columbo, France, 2006 - Since Châteauneuf became a wine region on steroids, much loved by the Barry Bonds steak house crowd, it’s been hard to find a Châteauneuf you can drink with out blowing your palate and the next day. Here is a very nice wine, not a great wine mind you, but a very nice wine that is a pleasure to drink. Make no mistake this is not a light wine, but by New World standards it is quite restrained. With an alcohol level around 13.5% (many hotshot CdP’s push 16%), this is wine that can be drunk with ease and you can still go to work the next day. Most importantly, this is not a simple raspberry fruit bomb, but a wine that offers real varietal character and a rich earthiness and balance that is clearly and thankfully French.

Veneto Rosso IGT, Catullo, Bertani, Italy, 2002 (60% cabernet sauvignon, 40% corvina) - Normally I can stand these new wave Italian wines, but this is a very nice effort. Of course, the cabernet sauvignon overwhelms any touch of corvina character, but what I like is that that the wine is not overdone. You can taste the oak, but it is not over-oaked and is not at all over-extracted and still actually tastes like it not only came from Italy, but the Veneto. A nicely balanced wine that will pair well with lamb or veal. It is mature and ready to drink.

Moulis, Château Maucaillou, France, 2003 - It was with a tinge of sadness that I opened my last bottle of this excellent Bordeaux, but it was only a tinge. This wine, like most 2003 Bordeaux, is ready to drink. Frankly, I think letting wines from this super-hot vintage age is a very bad idea. The wines are lush and easy without the definition that is the hallmark of classic Bordeaux. Wonderfully fragrant, rich without ponderous fruit and with a long, soft cedar spiced finish I just adored this wine. As befitting the a last bottle of good Bordeaux, I served it with the best lamb chops I could buy. ( find this wine )

Pinot Noir, Corral Creek Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Chehalem,  Oregon, 2001 - I know that the 2001 vintage forced Oregon producers to a more lean style, but I admit that I love these wines as they age and wish more producers would make wines like this in more forgiving vintages. The nose is wonderfully layered with orange peel, spiced wild cherries and touches of wildflowers, vanilla and tart blackberries. Firm and almost taut on the palate with a graceful, almost delicate character with hints of tar, candied bitter orange and wild strawberries. I think this wine is perfectly ready to drink now and , in fact, may be at its high point. The tannins on the finish have evolved into that dusty, silky texture than only pinot noir achieves. A very good wine at its peak. ( find this wine )

 

Bet You 10 Bucks

bardolino-le-fontane I’ll bet you ten bucks you’ll love these two wines. They both cost ten bucks each on top of it.

Now that I think it about I should reconsider. I could be out the $10 and I’d prefer to have a another bottle of either of these two simply beautiful wines.

  • Sauvignon, Marigny-Neuf, Vin de Pays du Val de Loire, 2007 - A bone jarring, slap in the face refreshing style of sauvignon blanc. Lovers of New Zealand sauvignon will love the ample “cat pee” punch, but there is more here with a bracing slate and mineral component. This is better than brushing your teeth as your mouth will never feel cleaner than it does after a gulp of this tart beauty. A baby Sancerre that longs for goat cheese or oysters.
  • Bardolino, Le Fontane, Corte Gardoni, 2006 - Light, almost delicate with a pure, simple clean fresh cherry nose and a lifting freshness on the palate driven by acidity and perhaps a bit of CO2. Lithe and quick from beginning to end, the mouthwatering finish makes you grab for your fork. Don’t think: eat, drink, talk and enjoy - preferably a bit chilled with your best homemade pizza. (Buy Online)

So I’m taking back my $10 bet as these wines are both too light and too acid driven for most consumers. Yet these are the types of wines I like for everyday drinking. They are not only moderate in alcohol, but so refreshing and uplifting with a meal that Wednesday night leftovers become a cause for celebration.

 

Wine Notes

Every time I have a wine I like I put the bottle on my desk so I can write about it. When space runs out you get one of these “Wine Notes” posts. These are all wines that I have consumed with meals and have usually tasted over a period of several days. They are more often than not under $30 as I frequently find more expensive wines not enjoyable with my day-to-day cooking as they are not ready to drink or just too big and woody. These posts are a true picture of the wines that I choose to serve at home with my own meals. All the wines in these posts are recommended. In fact, you’ll rarely find me writing about a wine I don’t like unless I think it’s an incredible rip-off or a pretentious, over-marketed wine of questionable quality like Veuve Cliquot.

  • Prosecco, Montello d Colli Ascolani, Loredon Gasparini, NV - I’ve been gulping a glass of this charmer every night while cooking dinner lately and find it refreshing and uplifting after work treat. It is a lovely, creamy fruit-driven bubbly that is just barely off dry. At under $15 this is a pleasure that can be enjoyed often. I’ve been using a stopper and drinking over three or four days and the bubbles hang in there to the last glass.
  • Muscadet Sèvre e Maine sur lie, Cuvée Médaillée, Le “L“‘d’Or, Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Grange, 2005 - A steely laser of a wine. Very firm and tight with that stony minerality that only Muscadet delivers. I drank this wine over a week and it just kept getting better with air. Muscadet is the clear winner when it comes to the long wine name awards. It was perfect with some pan-fried Oregon oysters. I know it will be better with age, but I just don’t have the willpower not to drink it now.
  • Müller Thurgau Dry, Phalz, Weingut Ökonomierat Rebhotz, 2005 - This is one of those wines that have so much acidity you think your glass has a static charge as it touches your lips. Crisp with a zippy lemon-lime fruit, this was a great match to some Thai spring rolls. Wines like this should be used to define the usually misused term “dry” as this one is almost jarringly dry. As you know combining electric acidity with jarring dryness means that both me and my deep fryer love this wine.
  • Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, Torre di Ceparano, Fattoria Zerbina, 2003 - I’ve been a Zerbina fan for a long time. While their top expensive “Super” wines get big points, what I actually love are their least expensive wines like Ceregio and this wine. The Torre di Ceparano is consistently a great value in sangiovese. Structured with authentic, earthy sangiovese fruit and character, there are few Chiantis that can match this wine and those that do all cost a lot more. If you can’t figure out what the big deal with sangiovese is all about try this wine with some braised lamb shanks. In my opinion, Zerbina is the best producer in Romagna.
  • Nebbiolo Langhe, Produttori del Barbaresco, 2005 - An very good bargain in Piemonte nebbiolo, which is something that is getting harder and harder to find. Very classic with earthy fruit, drying tannins and distinctive aromatics. You’ll find plenty of the famed “tar and roses”, which are the defining characteristics of classic nebbiolo. It is definitely worth waiting a few years before drinking this fine wine.
  • Beaujolais Le Perreon, Nouveau, Domaine de la Madone, Jean Bererd et Fils, 2007 - Served lightly chilled with homemade pizza topped with lots of sweet onions and an egg, which made a perfect match and a very enjoyable dinner. Believe it or not, there are some very good Nouveau Beaujolais wines being produced by small estates. Good luck finding them though.
  • Dolcetto d’Alba, Pertinace, Treiso, 2006 - With so many Dolcetto wines on steroids these days (six are named in the Mitchell Report), it’s nice to find a wine that you can actually drink without going to the dentist to have your teeth cleaned. Fresh, brightly fruity, pleasantly zesty and under $15, which makes this a great wine to buy by the case for casual meals. No it’s not profound, but sometimes deliciously easy is more enjoyable than profound.
  • Cahors, Clos La Coutale, 2005 - If you ever wondered why people grow malbec after tasting yet another drab commercial grocery store wine from South America, try this rich blend of 80% malbec and 20% merlot. Robust with layers of flavors and a firm backbone that leads to a warm, earthy finish. An excellent choice for this winter’s hearty stews.
  • Bourgogne, Cuvée Sylvie, Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, 2005 - A great value in fine French pinot noir. Lately I’ve been having better luck finding good pinot in this price range than with more expensive bottles. As a Burgundy lover living in Oregon, I am always ordering bottles of Burgundy to convince locals of its superior charms. Often these wines do not present convincing arguments in support of my position. However, wines like this do. This is almost picture perfect pinot noir. No, it’s not the most complex pinot you’ll ever taste, but it is delicious and purely varietal. Rich, creamy and velvety from first sniff to the last lingering essence of the finish, this wine is pure pinot pleasure. One note, by the next day the wine had faded quite a bit. Therefore, I’d suggest drinking this wine up young and pretty.
  • Côte de Brouilly, Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, Nicole Chanrion, 2005 - This is one of those rich Cru Beaujolais wines that remind you more of pinot noir than the many insipid wines that carry the name Beaujolais these days. This is a classy gamay with great depth and richness. This wine is still actually a bit closed and needs a year or two more to really strut its stuff. Mixed with the brilliant gamy fruit flavors and aromas are touches of black truffles, herbs and a touch of black pepper. This is a wine that makes you sit up and take notice.
  • Château Aney, Haut Medoc, Cru Bourgeois, 2003 - Just a few decades ago Bordeaux was my go-to wine. It dominated my cellar and my table. Those days are long gone and now I taste more Bordeaux than I drink. However, when rack of lamb appears on my table my taste buds yearn for Bordeaux, or what Bordeaux used to be anyway. Now 2003 is not my favorite vintage and I had not tasted wines from the Chateau before, but with Kermit Lynch’s name on the back label I decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did. While like most 2003’s it is not the most structured Bordeaux you’ll ever taste it has enough of a tannic backbone that it reminds you it really came from the Haut Medoc. For me this wine is ready to drink now and over the next year or two and that nothing worthwhile will be gained by extended aging. It went perfectly with my lamb and cost less than $25. Now there’s a Bordeaux you can enjoy. It’s worth pointing out this wine is listed at 12.5% alcohol, that’s nice too.
  • Côtes du Rhône, Les Cailloux, Domaine Rabasse Charavin, 2004 - Here’s a big, ripe chewy wine that pulls it off. It took me a glass to adjust to it, but after that I found its ripe earthy warmth comforting and enjoyable. Having a big cheeseburger dripping with extra sharp cheddar tonight? Here’s your wine.

Pro-Bubbles

BellendaproseccoAfter a hard days work a stop at the bar for a quick drink is a tradition stretching back several millennium. In the USA it’s Miller time and in the UK a pint of bitter, but in northern Italy you are more likely to find working men with large work-hardened fingers holding a delicate fluted wine glass and quaffing Prosecco while munching on salami and potato chips. Sparking wine is part of everyday life in Italy, not something for anniversaries and New Years Eve - and it’s priced accordingly. Our local bar is decidedly blue collar, but behind the bar is always a magnum of Prosecco on ice and more than a few of the oversized bottles disappear down the throats of thirsty Italians every day.

While Prosecco is often thought to be the name of a sparking wine, it is actually the name of a grape. In Veneto, wines from prosecco grapes are made into still, frizzante (lightly sparkling) and Spumante (sparkling) wines with quality ranging from tasteless to deliciously fruity and charming. Charm is what Prosecco Spumante is all about and the lovely fresh peach and citrus flavors of this grape are brought alive by the bubbles. Prosecco is for fun and for enjoying as often as possible and while it will never challenge the complexity of Champagne - for pure easy pleasure and refreshment the frothy sparking wines of Prosecco can’t be beat. The simple pleasures of Prosecco remind us that very enjoyable wines can be created from humble varieties in the hands of dedicated and educated winemakers with the best vineyards.

Stretching out north and northwest of Venice are endless prosecco vineyards most of which produce flavorless frizzante and sparkling wines sold for a few Euros a bottle in grocery stores, which are often “improved” by adding a dollop of Campari or Aperol. However, on the hills around the town of Conegliano the prosecco vine is most at home and produces wines with such exceptional aromatics and freshness that the region has been awarded its own DOC, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. The sub-region of Cartizze is considered the finest of all and wines from this small zone add that name to their labels. These wines sell for a few more dollars than plain Prosecco, but are worth it due to their additional complexity and depth - all without giving up any of their charm. Dryness designations follow the Champagne model with Brut being the driest and Extra-dry being just off-dry. Prosecco sparkling wines are made by the Charmat method, which is the best method for preserving the luscious fruit flavors of this grape.

The delicious fruit flavors and aromatics of the best wines from Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene possess such a unique and pleasurable character that they should not be considered budget Champagnes, but sparkling wines with their own place in the wine world. The choice is not which is better, Champagne, Cava or Prosecco, but which is better for the moment and, of course the budget. Prosecco is a fruit driven wine and it is the quality of the fruit flavors that define the best wines from this region. These easy fruit flavors make Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene the perfect choice when you are looking for refreshment and one of the best of choices for brunch - Easter or not.

Recommeded wines:
2003 Bellenda Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, Brut

The elegant bottle with the long narrow neck contains a wine that lives up to its presentation. It has a brilliant green/gold color filled with lively tiny bubbles. The aromas are fresh and alive with touches of peaches and sweet apples. On the palate it is creamy and frothy with sweet peach and melon flavors balanced by crisp citrus and a refreshing acidity. The finish makes you take yet another sip. ($17)

A John Given Selection: Imported by John Given Wines

Also very highly recommended: Col Vetoraz
With vineyards centered in the elite Cartizze zone Col Vetoraz is producing an excellent range of Prosecco sparking wines. These are wines that exhibit exceptional fruit purity and elegance. The Cartizze di Valdobbiadene N/V, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut And Prosecco Millesimato Dry are superb examples of the best that can be coaxed from the prosecco grape.

A Jens Schmidt Selection: Imported by Montecastelli Selections