No 2006 Produttori

Thor, a wine writer and blogger whom I greatly admire and an all-around mensch, wrote the other day to winemaker Aldo Vacca (left) inquiring about his decision not to bottle his 2006 crus. Thor was kind enough to share Aldo’s response and Aldo was kind enough to allow me to post it here.

Technical reason: 2006 is a very good vintage, but warm and ripe, lacking a little bit of the finesse and complexity to make a truly great S[ingle]V[ineyard wine] and yet preserve excellent quality in the regular bottling. We think 2005, lighter in body, has more fruit and balance, at least in Barbaresco and at least for Produttori.

Marketing: with the current economy we thought it more appropriate to produce a larger quantity of solid, extremely good 2006 Barbaresco avoiding a flooding of the market with too many SV wines, since 2007, 2008, 2009 will all be produced. Had 2007 or 2008 been bad vintages, we would have released 2006 SV, but since we have so many great ones, we felt we could skip one and stay on the safe side of the fence.

—Aldo Vacca

via Do Bianchi

It is perhaps difficult to understand what unusual act is being reported here by Thor Iverson (oenoLogic) and Jeremy Parzen (Do Bianchi). Here is a producer declining to make his most sought after and highest priced wines simply because being good is not enough. Also they are not doing this in some dismal vintage full of rain and rot, but from a vintage whose only fault was too much sun. This is the very type of vintage lauded as perfect by The Wine Spectator in 2000 and nearly so in 2003. Standards like this are almost unknown in wine anymore. When was the last time there was no Chateau Lafite, Screaming Eagle and so on? I think Aldo Vacca is doing much more than just staying on the “safe side of the fence” with this decision. Standards like this are why the wines of the Produttori del Barbaresco are true cult wines in a world of pretenders.

The Pleasures of Youth

The 2008 Vietti Tre Vigne is here! The Vietti Dolcetto Tre Vigne Dolcetto d’Alba is always on my every day favorite list. Explosively fruity, brisk, zesty and bright. It’s all about immediate pleasure - no waiting required. That’s why I’m always excited when the new vintage arrives as it’s never more fun to drink as when it’s a charming adolescent and, anyway, it’s a boring adult so waiting is not recommended. Maturity is for nebbiolo not dolcetto. In fact I’m already anxiously waiting for the 2009.

It’s always frustrating that we can’t seem to make wines like this in California. That’s something I have to work on.

Oasi degli Angeli

In 2003 I wrote, “Kurni is on a whole different level of being.” I achieved that level of being this weekend when I opened a bottle of 1999 Oasi degli Angeli Kurni. This micro-estate in Italy’s beautiful Le Marche is the vision and labor-of-love of Eleonora Rossi and Marco Casolanetti. Kurni is a perennial winner of Tre Bicchieri Awards in the Gambero Rosso and has become a true cult wine in Italy. The production of Kurni is measured in bottles instead of cases with a scant 4000 available to grace fine tables. Most of this treasure is grabbed up by Italian restaurants, but some bottles do find their way here. If you see one don’t pass it by because you may never find it again.

Perhaps what is most interesting about this bottle is that it was from a difficult vintage and the wine that broke the string of Tre Bicchieri Awards that Kurni had achieved once again proving that vintage charts and wine ratings leave much to be desired. This 100% Montepulicano from their old vine vineyard is still a dark ruby and sizzles with acidity and deep, dark black fruit flavors. As vivacious as this wine is I think it is ready to drink. This is a wine at its zenith - that moment when bottle age has brought out the maximum complexity, but while the beauty of the fruit from which it was born still remains. The greatness that is Kurni is only achieved with age. In it’s youth it often seems just another oaky fruit bomb. It is only with age that it achieves its promise.

Here is the link to my story on Oasi degli Angeli in 2003:

Dog (liani) Gone Good

IMG_0271.jpgI’m trying to remember the first year I visited this estate - 82? 83? In those days Einaudi was ultra-traditional and in the 80’s that meant erratic. While those days are often a bit over romanticized, there is no debate that great wines have always been produced by the Einaudi estate - most of the time. Rustic would have been an over-polite way to describe the old Einaudi winery of the early eighties, but today’s Einaudi wines are produced in a sparkling clean modern winery. While some may debate the plusses and minuses of that, you cannot debate the pleasures of their wonderful dolcetto wines and the fact that the ups-and-downs of previous decades are no more. The Dogliani region of Piemonte is well established as a premier dolcetto region and Einaudi’s are among the very best wines from this region. The 2006 Einaudi Dolcetto di Dogliani is as brilliant and brightly fruity as you could hope for, but offers a lot more than that. Under the dense black fruit is a hard edge that comes not only from the electric acidity, but from a delicious warm earthiness that makes this wine reach beyond the simple fruity offered by so many of its siblings. Drink this wine up now before it dries out.

"Super"Tuscan Best Buy


Mobile Blogging from here.


Barco Reale di Carmignano from Capezzana has been a best buy for so many years it’s almost trite. Yet, there is something really special about such a low profile accomplishment. Their 2005 is yet another in a long line of lovely, lively wines at low prices. Structured and fragrant with a nice touch of complexity to boot. Here’s a wine that falls into the buy by the case category.


mascarello.0LU0amdHuReS.jpgA Barolo/Barbaresco tasting anywhere close to home is sure to attract me like a magnet. Is there anything more elusive than great nebbiolo? Outstanding examples of pinot and cabernet from around the world have long ago proven themselves, but nebbiolo from the Langhe Hills of Piemonte remains unchallenged.

The turf wars of traditionalist vs. modernist have calmed in recent times. The new wave has backed off on all the new oak and over-extraction (not yet far enough in my opinion), while the old guard is producing wines with softer tannins due to better vineyard management.

The St. Helena Wine Center hosted the following tasting last week. It was a bargain at only $20. I am always amazed more people don’t come to take advantage of such opportunities. The tasting:

Sottimano, Langhe Nebbiolo, 2006 ($24) - I bought three bottles and should have bought more. Perhaps the greatest value in nebbiolo anywhere, the Sottimano family could call this wine Barbaresco and sell it for four times as much. However as the vines are “only” fifteen years or so old they’ve decided to just sell it as Lange Nebbiolo. High toned, concentrated and still closed, this wine needs three for four more years to show itself. Sottimano is the most intelligent and light-handed of the modernists in the Langhe today. Simply great wines across the board.

Mauro Molino, Barolo Gallinotto, 2004 ($48) - The Molino wines are less over-the-top oaky these days and much better for it. Not my favorite style, but very well made and their wines show more nebbiolo varietal character than they did in the past. A very good wine at a very fair price.

Moccagatta Barbaresco Basarin, 2004 ($65) - I just could not find much to like here. Just not to my taste, but they’re a serious winery that deserves respect.

La Spinetta Barbaresco, Vigneto Gallina Vursu, 2004 ($120) - Ever see the huckster selling sham wows on late night TV? He must be the marketing director of La Spinetta. This is an almost silly wine at a price that would be silly too - except that some people actually pay it. A rip off. Why would anyone pay $120 for this wine when you can buy a great Zinfandel (which this wine tastes more-or-less like) for a quarter of the price. Anyone who drops $120 on this wine is a fool. The wine version of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Paolo Scavino Barolo, Bricco Ambrogio, 2003 ($62) - I have never really liked these wines, but respect Paolo Scavino for his passion and dedication to making great wine - that is just not to my taste. Unlike the cynical La Spinetta, which just went out to create wines that would get big points and big bucks, Scavino really believed in his vision. Happily he too has throttled back and is making more graceful wines. This wine is very good - very modern, but still tasting of nebbiolo and the Langhe Hills. If you like the modern style, this wine is for you, not the over-everythinged La Spinetta and it’s half the price to boot.

Mascarello Barolo Monprivato, 2003 ($88) - The nose just blew me away on this wine. Could this lifted, elegant and expansively delicate nose really be from the hot, hot, hot 2003 vintage? This is just a glorious wine and easily the best 2003 Barolo I’ve tasted. Sure their 04 is better, but this wine is nothing short of outstanding and a great accomplishment in such a hot year. This wine should really not be touched until 2013.

Rinaldi Barolo Brunate, 2004 ($150) - Well if you’re going to drop $150 on a wine you might as well get perfection and this wine is about as close to perfect nebbiolo as you’ll find. From a very, very great vintage, Rinaldi took the extraordinary fruit they got from the “Grand Cru” Brunate vineyard and got everything they could out of it. A true classic that should be aged for fifteen or more years before drinking. Today it’s all closed, tannic and promise, but this wine will deliver big time.

Oddero Barolo, 1996 ($70) - If a wine can cost $70 and be a bargain this is it. The 1996 vintage has proven itself to be among the very greatest vintages in Barolo and Barbaresco. However, if you think this wine is ready to drink you’re wrong as it’s still closed and young and needs many more years to reach its peak. Yes, it’s wonderful to drink now, but in five or six more years it should be astounding. If you think about the price of this wine in the context of how good it is and that it is already thirteen years old, I think you’ll agree this is a bargain. That a famous critic rated the flabby 1997’s higher than the regal 1996 vintage is a cruel joke on consumers.

A Three Sided Coin

jumbo_coin_quarter The old saying two sides of the same coin all to often applies to wines these days. Diversity is drowned in the head on pursuit of Points. We can’t really criticize wineries for seeking financial success. I know that it’s strange to think of an elite winery having to make a buck in these days of multi-multi-million dollar wine temples, but it’s a fact that some producers actually have to turn a  profit to stay in business. Blaming them for Point hunting seems a bit disingenuous when both the trade and wine buyers are so Point drunk.

Recently I tasted three wines from the same variety and region. Each could not have been more wonderful, lovely or good at what they were trying to be. Each winemaker had a different goal and achieved it. To somehow rank these wines is silly as they were made with different visions, but each accomplishes that vision with equal dexterity. Awarding these wines Pointless Points only confuses the consumer because to every wine  there is a season – Turn, Turn, Turn.

Here were three barbera wines from the Piemonte region of Northwestern Italy that have little in common except variety and the fact that when served with the right meal they’re almost perfect.

scarrone 2006 Vietti Barbera d’Alba, Scarrone – Scarrone  is barbera presented as a great wine. From old vines planted in a vineyard that by all rights should be planted in nebbiolo for Barolo, winemaker Luca Currado crafts a powerful, magnificent barbera that ages beautifully. That same evening we tasted the 2006 we had a 1996 Scarrone that had aged into a graceful beauty. Young Scarrone is deeply colored, concentrated, richly fruity and powerful. A wine that always gets big Points – how could it not?

brovia barbera2006 Brovia Barbera d'Alba DOC Sori Del Drago – Brickish with touches of brown in color, the wonderfully traditional Brovia winery has made a high strung graceful beauty.  With an aromatic complexity that will please Barolo traditionalists, this firm, structured zesty wine is a wonder with classic Northern Italian dishes – I’m thinking Ossobucco Milanese. This wine is all about complexity, structure and aromatics and power. Points are not what it’s about. I feel this is an exceptional barbera.

2007 Fontanafredda, Barbera Piemonte, Briccotondo – Purple, fresh and lip-smacking good.  A bright, fresh, fruity modern wine that still tips its hat to real barbera character. The nice acid pucker underneath the veneer of sweet dark fruit reminds you that this is indeed an Italian wine. I’m buying this for ten bucks at Cost Plus and I can think of few better values in a wine at this price. Most wines at this price range have a innocuous jammy sweet fruitiness that quickly bores. There is nothing boring about this fun and delicious wine.  Eating pizza or simple spaghetti con pomodoro? This is your wine.

To rank these three lovely wines is Pointless as each served with the right foods will appropriately show their charms. Appropriate is the right word and that responsibility lies with the consumer because if you follow Points, you’ll be led astray at the table.

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Protecting Prosecco

Italian Makers of Prosecco Seek Recognition -

It's hard to believe that a simple, charming wine like Prosecco needs protection, but it's true. Once normally dependable, the surge of popularity for bubbly Prosecco has prompted the invasion of an ocean of sparkling wines under that name that hold little charm - Proseccos main reason for existence. Recently I bought a bottle for $5.99 at Trader Joe's and was reminded of the truth that you can't get something for nothing. As New Year's Eve approaches remember an extra couple of bucks a bottle will buy you a much better wine. Let's hope the growers of Valdobbiadene succeed in protecting their good name.

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

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 )


Italy Guarantees Brunello

Italy ‘guarantees’ Brunello -

The recent “scandal” in Brunello di Montalcino has forced the Italian government to guarantee that all Brunello wines hitting the American shore are made from sangiovese and sangiovese alone. Funny, I thought that’s what the DOCG did.

The hypocrisy of the TTB in such matters is truly sad. Under the guise of consumer protection, the TTB continues to make the American market a mess with reams of confusing and contradictory regulations. Their wasting time on a matter the Italians were clearing handling on their own only shows how out of touch with the world of wine they are. Anyway, anyone who has gotten a look at the true majesty of Italian bureaucracy, which may be the most complex and convoluted in the world, would realize that the piling on of an American bureaucracy was redundant at best.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of this scandal is a new blog in English that comes from the heart of Montalcino itself. Alessandro Bindocci, who makes wine alongside his father Fabrizio at the outstanding Tenuta Il Poggione in Montalcino, has launched a blog that truly tells the story of making wine in Montalcino. The Montalcino Report gives you an insiders look at the news and vintage from people who really know what is happening. Anyone interested in the wines of Montalcino should subscribe to this blog.

Another important blog for those who, like me, are seriously smitten by Italian wines is Franco Ziliani’s VinoWire. Also in English, Ziliani, along with American writer Jeremy Parzen, author of one of my favorite American blogs Do Bianchi, offers up to the minute information on the entire Italian wine industry. Those that can read Italian will find Ziliani’s Vino al Vino blog another excellent resource.

Blogs like these really show how the Internet is changing the way you get information. If you follow these blogs and others like them the wine news you get from traditional print media will be old news by the time it arrives in your mailbox.

Great Grenache

sellamoscacannonau From the stony vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape comes great wines made primarily from grenache, some of which sell for hundreds of dollars and are fought over by collectors. From the wilds of Sardegna (Sardinia) comes great grenache that doesn’t cost fifteen dollars a bottle. While it doesn’t taste like the supercharged wines coming from Chateauneuf these days it certainly does remind of the wines from that region twenty years ago.

Proving itself year-in-and-year-out as a tremendous wine value is the Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva from Sella & Mosca and the 2004 vintage is no exception. Cannonau is the Italian name for grenache. Easily found for under $15 this is a great bargain and a quick look at WineZap showed some retailers under $10. If your reference point is grenache from Australia or new wave Spanish wines you won’t recognize this wine as a grenache. However, if traditionally styled wines are your thing you’ll love this wine for what it is not. It’s not purple, opaque, jammy or 15% alcohol. What it is, is graceful with with no small dose of complexity. Light ruby in color with a touch of garnet it is quite translucent as in good pinot noir. Leaning the glass over you can easily read through it. The nose is spicy and earthy with hints of leather, wild mushrooms, ripe plums and maybe, just maybe, a touch of brett. It hits the palate with a graceful lightness at first, but then firm tannins and warmth remind you it is indeed grenache. The finish is ripe and warm with a hint of prunes and closes with a tannic snap. While you can’t claim that this is a great wine, it is a very good wine and for the money a great deal.

Perhaps I like wines like this because they are so distinct. Wines made in traditional ways just have a more individual personality. I can’t imagine this wine coming from anywhere but Sardegna. I like that.

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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.



muzak Sometimes it’s embarrassing as an American to taste the incredible range of bargains available for under $15 from Europe and compare them to American wines at the same prices. The boring standardization of the American wine industry in this range is numbing. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different labels, but in the bottle you find only dozens of styles. As you stare at shelf-after-shelf of American cabernet, merlot or chardonnay in your local grocery store you can reliably just pick the one that’s on sale as they are all more-or-less the same wine. However, with just a little more work you can find an entire world of wine bargains that offer far more character than these homogenized industrial wines. It’s important to remember that these bargain reds should be served cool, 65°F or so, to bring out their freshness.

The red wines listed below are all under $15 and many of them are under $10. All of them were purchased in grocery stores, not fine wine shops, so it is possible to find them. Each has character, if not complexity, and best of all, they are great with food. Inexpensive American wines have become the elevator music of the wine world, wines like these are the original tunes.

  • Château Bouissel, Fronton, Classic, 2003 - Southern French estates offer some of best bargains out of France. This wine is substantial without being heavy and with the structure coming from the negrette will improve for a year or two. Rich and warm with a dark color from the malbec the tannins in the finish make this perfect for rich stews. Cassoulet anyone? 50% negrette, 20% syrah, 20% cabernet franc, 10% cot (malbec) Imported by Normandie Imports
  • Covey Run, Syrah, Columbia Valley, 2004 - What we have here is an American Côtes du Rhône and that’s a great idea. Ripe and juicy with a soft fruitiness that should please any merlot drinker. Don’t think, just drink and you’ll love it. At $6.99 a great bargain. Drink up fast and cool. (Buy online)
  • Fattoria Laila, Rosso Piceno, 2005 - Marche wines continue to be ignored Italian treasures in America, but that keeps prices down. This blend of montepulciano and sangiovese is a classic Italian red with a firm acid backbone and warm earthy flavors over the bright black cherry fruit. This matched with my penne with lamb sausage ragù perfectly.  Imported by North Berkeley Imports and Zancanella Importing. (Buy online)
  • La Ferme de Gicon, Côtes du Rhône, Vignerons de Chusclan, 2006 - This is just an amazingly easy wine to gulp. Rich, zesty, fruity and alive this is a wine all about honest simple pleasure that is happy to leave complexity to the big boys. This is a buy by the case wine at under $10 that will match with any summer meal. A half-hour in the refrigerator is mandatory and during the dog days of summer I’d serve it out-and-out chilled. Imported by Cellar Door Selections  (Buy online)
  • Villa Pigna Briccaio, Marche IGT, 2003 - Briccaio - Here is a step up on the complexity meter as it not only offers easy drink-ability, but some real character. Showing the breed of montepulciano, from which it is entirely made, this wine combines classic Italian backbone with a generous personality. A great match for your best grilled steaks. Imported by Zancanella Imports (Buy online)
  • Quinta da Espiga, Casa Santos Lima, Estremadura, 2006 - Portugal continues to pump out great wine bargains. This is a big, robust, deeply fruity wine and is a real mouthful. Those that like bigger wines will love this $8 steal. These dry Portuguese reds almost remind me a bit of what Port would taste like without the sugar.
  • Bodegas Luzon, Jumilla, 2006 - 65% monastrell (mourvèdre) 35% syrah - A big lush, ripe modern-style Spanish wine that will seduce many a merlot lover with its soft richness. Another wine for steaks or chops at your next cookout. A Jorge Ordoñez Selection Imported by The Henry Wine Group
  • Regaleali, Tasca d”Almerita, IGT Sicilia, Nero d’Avola, 2006 - I have always found the big players in the Sicilian wine scene, Regaleali and Corvo great values. They offered personality and typicity at a fair price. While these wines have modernized a bit over the years they have not gone down the road of becoming more like Australian wines than Italian wines taken by so many Sicilian producers. This wine has great backbone, good varietal character and, most wonderful of all, tastes like it comes from Sicily. Imported by Winebow   (Buy online)
  • Clos Roche Blanche, Cuvée Pif, Touraine, 2004 -  I first tasted the 2004 back in September of 2006 and it keeps getting better and better. It’s hard to imagine a wine more lifting and filled with personality at this price. This wine is for those looking for grace and elegance in a wine. Originally I recommended drinking this cot (malbec) cabernet franc blend early, but obviously there was no hurry. Imported by Louis/Dressner  (Buy Online)
  • Protocolo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, 2005 - Usually Ordoñez selections tend towards the modern school of Spanish winemaking, but here is one with a more traditional style. Very fragrant and flashing a touch of spicy/sweet American oak its ripe red fruit flavors are held taught with just a touch of tannin. With a more classic European style and balance this is a great match for gilled lamb chops or sausages.  A Jorge Ordoñez Selection Imported by The Henry Wine Group  (Buy online)
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Barolo Bussia Dardi La Rose, Poderi Colla, Monforte d'Alba, 1999

Bright scarlet/ruby with hints of garnet. Translucent. Smoky, smoky, dried porcini aromas slowly open into tart raspberry fruit. Closed and intense on the palate with layers of flavors: mushrooms, leather, cherry, raspberry. The finish is concentrated long and very tannic. Truly an outstanding classic Barolo destined for long-term greatness. One of the wines of the vintage.

Barolo , Cavallotto Bricco Boschis, Castiglione Falletto, 1996

Bright, translucent ruby with just a touch of orange at the edge. Explosive, earthy smoky aromas with a touch of underlying caramelized rasaspberries and a hint of Graham’s 20 year-old Tawny Port. Exceptionally complex. On the palate it is at first lean and tannic, but this is a façade as the wine soon broadens into layer upon layer of complexity. Bitter chocolate and bitter cherry flavors lead into a long warm earthy finish. Try to keep this one at least until its tenth birthday. If you must drink it now decant it for at least three hours before serving. Traditionally made Barolo wines have a unique blend of aromas and flavors they make them among the most interesting wines in the world. No simple black fruit references here, but all sorts of one-of-a-kind sensations. Dried roses and leather are the classic ones and they are certainly there, but add to this mushrooms, truffles and a certain wildness.

Barolo, Fontanafredda, La Rosa, Serralunga d'Alba, 1999

Bright ruby/scarlet with just the lightest hint of orange. The aromas are an exotic mix of ripe dark fruits and leather and dried porcini mushrooms. Smoky ripe plums show in the nose and on the palate with layers of dusty burnt cherries and bitter oranges followed by firm, hard tannins that are somehow surprisingly round in their intensity. The finish is restrained by its intense tannins, but the powerful complex fruit flavors are already starting to show through. Tasted over a four day period and the wine was still fresh and showing now oxidation on the forth day. Definitely a wine for long-term cellaring.