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.



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.



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

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.

Terrabianca 2001

TerrabiancalogoThe disco music is pounding and the lights flashing. The photographers jostle for position. It’s another Milan fashion show on the 24 hour Italian Fashion Channel (there are two) and the models prance down the runway in strange concoctions that only faintly remind us of the clothing people wear in the real world. It is all flash and hype designed to get attention in a crowded market.

So it is with modern winemaking. You can almost hear the disco music pounding out of the bottle as you pour wines that are so big that they don’t seem to fit even the gigantic confines of the huge wineglasses so fashionable today. New oak flavors and aromas titillate the wine fashion show crowd just as strategically revealed breasts draw the cameras on the ramps of Milan. The fashion world and wine world are the same in that they like to show off things that you can’t really wear or drink on a regular basis.

Suddenly, the Fashion Channel changes shows and the mood shifts. The clothing is refined and elegant and you can easily imagine the models dining (if they eat) in an elegant Milan restaurant right after the show without changing a stitch. The designs are still modern and innovative, but they are not exaggerations designed mostly to shock. Fortunately there are modern-style winemakers with this sense of touch. Fortunately there is Terrabianca.

Terrabianca, the creation of Roberto Guldener, is located in the Chianti Classico zone and the continued improvement of their wines gives us hope for the future of fashion conscious Tuscany. If Milan is the capital of Italian fashion, Tuscany is the capital of Italian wine fashion and the wines of the region have been distorted out of recognition by the rush to the designer enologist of the moment. The misuse of barriques and the contest to see who can come up with the highest level of dry extract has created a sea of overpriced wines that just are not very interesting to drink and impossible to tell apart. However, while guilty of some over-oaked wines as they developed their style in years past, Terrabianca has evolved and is making some of the most refined, balanced and interesting modern-styled wines in Tuscany. Guldener’s wines are not over-extracted or over-oaked and show clearly the character of the Terrabianca vineyards and the varietals they grow. The flagship wine, Campaccio is not only delicious, but a relative bargain in the world of top Super-Tuscans and can easily found for under $40.00 a bottle (sometimes well under).

All the wines of Terrabianca present a seamless elegance and balance, just like Roberto Guldener himself. They improve in the bottle, but are delicious and drinkable from the day they are released making them among the best choices for restaurants and their clients. With this kind of quality we can assume the wines of Terrabianca will remain in fashion for years to come.

Focus Report 2001 Terrabianca

2001 Ceppate, Toscana IGT (cabernet sauvignon 75%, merlot 25%) ($75)
Brilliant rich ruby, just translucent. Smooth, seamless blackberry with a slight cassis tinge on the nose with touches of tree bark and cinnamon. The smooth, elegant flavors continue on the palate and the finish. The herbal notes are lighter than in past vintages: flavors and aromas that often mar Tuscan cabernet. The finish is elegant and very smooth with round easy tannins carrying refined dark fruit, but is a little too herbal on the finish for my taste. (B+)

2001 Il Tesoro Merlot, Maremma, Toscana IGT ($55)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Exotic plum and spice nose with hints of burnt cherry and mint. On the palate it is round and mouth filling without any heaviness. Ripe bitter cherry flavors blend with cranberry touches all brought together by touches of fresh mint and dark roasted coffee. The bittersweet ripe cherry flavors grow in the finish with soft yet apparent tannins that give a note of firmness to the smooth flavors. Very refined and balanced. (A-)

2001 Piano del Cipresso, Toscana IGT (sangiovese) ($35)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Firm mineral notes lead quickly into smooth cherry vanilla and light cedar aromas. On the palate everything is in its place with balance and elegance the defining characteristics. Clean cherry vanilla fruit leads to bitter cranberry notes with a touch of lively mint. The finish is lively and refined with firm, but very polite tannins to carry the minty sweet cherry fruit. (A-)

2001 Croce, Chianti Classico Riserva, DOCG (sangiovese 97%, canaiolo 3%) ($30)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Elegant mineral notes combine with bitter cherry aromas mixed with touches of porcini and fresh mint along with hints of fine cigars. Exceptional balance on the palate with earthy notes blending with bright fresh raspberry and touches of vanilla, yet not one component dominates. The tannins are firm, but not at all harsh and the earthy flavors grow and become more and more complex in the finish. A stunning combination of terroir and modern winemaking with a wonderful lively balance throughout. No barriques are used for Croce only large Slovenian casks. (A)

2001 Campaccio, Toscana IGT (70% sangiovese, 30% cabernet sauvignon) ($45)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Beautiful blends of cooking porcini, roses, dark cherries, vanilla and cedar blend into a fascinating complexity on the nose. On the palate deep burnt sweet cherry flavors blend with mint, tobacco and a warm earthiness into an exotic whole. The finish is exceptionally long and stops just short of powerful as the refined tannins blend with flavors that mirror everything on the nose and on the palate. Stunning balance for such a rich wine. (A)

Morellino di Scansano, Poggio Argentiera, Bellamarsilia, 2003

  • Poggioargentierabellamarsil2003 Poggio Argentiera, Bellamarsilia, Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany ($19) Morellino is the name of both a type of cherry and the local name of sangiovese in the booming Scansano zone of southern Tuscany. Poggio Argentiera has emerged as one of this Scansano’s best wineries and produces two excellent wines: Capatosta, the top of the line, and Bellamarsilia for those that just can’t wait to pull the cork. Bellamarsilia is a rich, forward deeply fruity wine that offers more than a little complexity. It is a deep ruby although still just translucent and is packed with the cherry fruit flavors that gave the wines of Scansano their name. The ripe, delicious fruit flavors continue into the long  satisfying finish. This is a wine designed for drinking while it is young and zesty. However, this is no simple everyday red, but a substantial wine that is an excellent value. A Neil Empson Selection-Imported by Empson USA.

Chianti, Rossetti, Tusco 2001

  • Rossettitinolinda2001 Rossetti Chianti, Tusco ($12) There should be a lot of red faces in Chianti after they taste this wine. How do Tino and Linda Rossetti (pictured above) do it? Vintage after vintage this winery produces a range of tremendous values. Their 2001 Tusco Chianti offers more substance than many wines with more famous names and much higher prices. Whenever you spot this wine on a restaurant’s wine-by-the-glass list you know that the buyer is doing their homework and is interested in delivering good wine at fair prices to their clients. The 2001 Tosco is a brilliant ruby and is just translucent. The nose is full of ripe plums and bitter cherries with a nice earthy touch to add complexity. It is firm and lively on the palate with lovely bittersweet cherry fruit and a clean, fruity finish with just a light touch of tannin at the end. Invest in cases of this charming Chianti to enjoy with all sorts of grilled meats this summer. A Jens Schmidt Selection - Imported by Montecastelli Selections.