Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Villa Il Poggiolo, Carmignano, Tuscany (26/9/2011)

The town of Carmignano lies to the north-west of Firenze (Florence) and is actually in the Chianti Moltalbano region.  However, the grape growers here decided to relinquish their entitlement to make Chianti and instead obtained their own DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) of Carmignano.  Inevitably, the rules for Carmignano are different (hey! This is Italy after all) and require a minimum of 60% and a maximum of 90% Sangiovese in the wines which must also contain some Cabernet Sauvignon; someone obviously twigged to the need to beef up the more northerly grown Sangiovese with a bit of something else that I mentioned in the last article.
The spectacular view from Villa Il Poggiolo

Villa Il Poggiolo is on the top of a hill on the edge of the town of Carmignano.  Access is via a steep winding road with plenty of hairpins and not for the faint-hearted.  In the distance Florence is visible and the views all round are spectacular.  Here they make a white wine, a rose, 4 reds and a Vin Santo.  The reds are Rosso dei Colli Della Toscana Centrale (catchy name eh?) Barco Reale (a DO for younger or declassified Carmignano) a Carmignano and a Carmignano Riserva.  Villa Il Poggiolo have about 20 hectares of vines and make about 100,000 bottles of wine each year.  Their oldest vines are 40 years old and all the grapes have to be hand-picked because the grape varieties are mixed plantings throughout the vineyards and all ripen at different times.  Il Poggiolo wines are aged in old large oak casks which have a gentle toasting.  They do not use new oak barriques, believing them to be too aggressive for their wines.
Old casks at Villa Il Poggiolo
We tasted the following wines in the winery:  The 2010 Carmignano is 75% Sangiovese and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and is very fresh and fruity with youthful tannins.  It has notes of concentrated chocolate and cherry and,with still 9 months to go in cask, will fill out and soften.  The 2009 has 70% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Canaiolo and is gamey, rich and shows more oak; full, grippy,warming.  The 2008 Carmignano Riserva  is really quite big and grippy with rich fruitcake notes and hints of cherry.  A super wine already but will get better still.  There was a tremendous depth and concentration to these wines.

Over what was described as a “light lunch” (of local breads; proscuitto; chicken liver pate; cold dressed tripe; cured pigs cheeks on bruschetta with honey and rosemary; a salad of lamb’s lettuce, pine nuts, mint and anchovies; pumpkin risotto; pasta with beef shreds; rare roast rib of beef followed by a dessert made from the recently harvested grapes) we tasted the white, the rose and a couple of reds and then finished with the Vin Santo. 
The end of our "light lunch".
Just in time for our evening flight back....
Despite the obvious distraction on the table I managed to scribble a few notes which reveal the white – the 2010 Lacrima di Cantine Bianco – to be a 50/50 mix of Vermentino and Trebbiano which is unoaked, clean, fresh and herbaceous with good fresh fruit and zippy acidity.  It was perhaps a little short on the finish but otherwise sound enough.  The 2010 Rosato – a mix of Sangiovese and Canaiolo which varies depending on the vintage – is really quite dark for a rose with orange hints on the rim.  The nose is of pure strawberries leading to savoury notes in the mouth.  Wholesome stuff but perhaps a bit pricey in the light of the competition on our shelves back home.  The 2008 Barco Reale is 70% Sangiovese and 15% each Canaiolo and Cab.Sauv. all of which spend 6 months in cask and then 6 months in steel tank.  It’s round, savoury and has gentle leathery notes.  My notes record that I was relatively unmoved by this though.  The 2008 Carmignano is 70% Sangiovese with 20% Cab.Sauv. and 10% Canaiolo which is soft, fruity and easy on the palate.  It does look a bit on the expensive side though at the best part of £20 retail in the UK.  Though not currently available in the UK, the wines of Villa Il Poggiolo may become so if some work can be done on the prices.

We finished with the 2001 Vin Santo which is 80% Trebbiano and 10% Malvasia with the remaining 10% a mix of San Colombaro, Canaiolo Bianco and Vermentino.  A great wine to sign off with, this has notes of dried fig with a hint of liquorice and dried orange peel.  Again there is the almost sherry-like nuttiness on the nose as well.  In the mouth this is roundly sweet and rich with fresh sultana and citrus flavours with super cleansing acidity and a long finish.

Please do not hesitate to ask about the availability of any of the wines featured in this series of blogs from Tuscany.  Not all make it as far as the UK, none are cheap, but many are great value for what they are given the level of care and attention that goes into making them and the experiences they bring.  Almost all need food but they provide a perfect illustration of the spiritual heart of Italy as far as wine is concerned.  You will not be disappointed!

Casa Emma, Chianti Classico, Tuscany (25/9/2011)

Towards the western edge of the Chianti Classico region, just south of the village of San Donato (which is about halfway between Poggibonsi and Greve in Chianti if you’re really that interested) lies the Casa Emma estate.  Casa Emma was bought by the Bucalossi family back in 1970 from the Fiorentine noblewoman Emma Bizzarri (hence the name) and sits amidst 34 hectares of land of which 21 hectares are vineyard.  They grow mainly Sangiovese here (surprise, surprise) but also have about 3 hectares of Merlot and smaller plantings of Malvasia Nera and Canaiolo.  There are the inevitable olive groves but also 5 hectares of botanical park where a Quercus Pubescens wood (or “oak” if you prefer to keep it simple – “downy oak” if you want to get more technical, but I’m stopping there…) is interspersed with plantings of cistus, broom, honeysuckle, privet, juniper shrubs and several species of wild rose and other herbaceous plantings.  Rose syrup, rose dressing and rose jam are produced here too.
Casa Emma
Casa Emma use the traditional grape blend for Chianti Classico of 80% Sangiovese with the remainder made up of Canaiolo and Malvasia Nera.  Fermentation usually takes about 20 days on the skins with the fermenting juice pumped over the “cap” to keep the maceration going.  The malo-lactic fermentation (the conversion of the harsher Malic Acid into the softer Lactic Acid which is encouraged in wine) takes about 6 months.  Once complete, the wine is moved to casks of French oak.  A combination of 225 litre (barrique) and 500 litre casks is used.  Casa Emma keep their barrels for 3 years using 1 and 2 year old casks for Riserva wines and the older ones for straight Chianti Chassico.

The 2010 Chianti Classico (tasted from cask) is clearly very young, but has good fruit and nice tannins underneath.  There is a hint of smoke from the oak and it promises well for the future.  A straight Merlot from 2007 was really showing unexpected youth for a wine that was already 4 years old while the 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva was full, rich and showed evident oak.  No doubt it promises well, but I found myself engaged in a bout of chin-stroking over the enthusiastic oak, wondering whether the fruit would be energetic enough to keep up. 

The 2009 Riserva, though really quite tannic, showed a little better I thought, while the 2009 straight Chianti Classico was slightly smokey and meaty on the nose compared to the others and on the lighter side in the mouth.  I suspect that this is nothing more than a common accusation levelled at Sangiovese though; I will explain.  If you’re far enough south in Tuscany in, say, Montalcino, Montepulciano or Orcia, you have less trouble getting your grapes nicely ripe and, in turn, produce fuller and more complete wines than it is possible to make in Chianti, which is that bit further north (different soil too) without the addition of other varieties to help the wine along.  Sangiovese is sometimes accused of seeming a little “hollow” somehow so the addition of other varieties makes perfect sense in some areas.  Sangiovese has plenty of flavour that’s for sure, but perhaps is sometimes in need of a bit body-building.  Some varieties do this better than others; Rietine use Merlot which works well, Casa Emma use Canaiolo and Malvasia Nera which tweaks the style a little in a lighter, some would say elegant, direction.  It’s all very subjective of course, but I generally found the Casa Emma style was less appealing.

We then tasted the 2007 Riserva and hit a problem.  Some were not happy and suspected a fault, but not one of the obvious ones, so a second bottle was brought forward.  The second bottle was better in the mouth but still had the same issue on the nose.  It was one of those frustrating experiences where the wine didn’t shine and no-one could quite put their finger on why.  The 2006 Riserva was a completely different experience, it had bigger fruit and was rounder and richer than the 2007.  The tannins were nicely ripe and there was a pleasant vanilla oak finish.  The 2005 Riserva again got us all quite animated.  It was savoury on the nose with a slightly cooked element (some spotted the prickle of sulphur) but in the mouth it was wholesome enough.

Casa Emma also make a Super Tuscan (see previous blog for definition) called Soloio.  It’s 100% Merlot.  The 2006 is much more New World in style and has a huge nose with rich plum fruit and a hint of smoke.  It’s quite round and grippy in the mouth with plenty of body and depth but, like so many such wines, it carries an overly-optimistic price tag and would be in the region of £40 a bottle in the UK.  Sorry chaps, nice wine, wrong price.  The 2005 Soloio showed evident age and had an odd nose, not faulty, but oddly whiffy in a meaty way.  Strange stuff.

Casa Emma make about 800 litres of Vin Santo a year made from air-dried Trebbiano and Malvasia picked in mid-October, once the main harvest is in.   The wine is aged in chestnut and cherry casks for 8 years before release.  We tasted the 2000 which has toffee and marmalade notes on the nose; a sort of Amontillado-meets-Rutherglen Muscat.  Fresh and fruity in the mouth it’s clean, pure and has good acidity to balance the concentrated sweetness.
The Casa Emma vineyards, just showing a hint of autumn.
A bit of a mixed bag here then.  Some nice wines, but also some that didn’t float my boat particularly.  The winery itself is modern and well presented, as are the staff with their Casa Emma shirts, and maybe this formulaic approach works for others, but as someone who has become accustomed to tasting in damp cellars the polished nature of the presentation seemed better suited to visiting tourists somehow.  Maybe Soloio works well for the Transatlantic market where mouthfilling oaky reds have a more immediate appeal, and where the preferences of Robert Parker seem to release many wine drinkers of the courage to formulate their own opinions, and the 2006 is good but I know we couldn’t sell it for £40 back home in Ipswich.  The Chiantis really come down to a preference in style and, of the two Classico estates we visited, Rietine get the nod as far as I’m concerned; Rietine’s wines are still elegant, but they have a bit more going on in the glass…

We can obtain the following wines from Casa Emma should you be interested – please contact us for details:

2006 Chianti Classico  £15.95
1998 Chianti Classico Riserva  £24.00
2000 Chianti Classico Riserva  £24.50
2001 Chianti Classico Riserva  £25.00
2004 Chianti Classico Riserva  £28.50
2005 Chianti Classico Riserva  £31.00

Vintages and prices correct as at 15th November 2011

Monday, 14 November 2011

Christmas Wine Ideas...

Well then, what are you eating at Christmas?  Traditional turkey, goose, beef perhaps or venison, maybe you’re a veggie or a fish fan; you can already see that wine recommendations need to cover a lot of ground.  Oh, and what’s your budget?  We’re always happy to advise customers individually according to menu and price but, realistically, we might not get the chance, so here are a few ideas to enjoy with your seasonal feasting.

Before the meal, why not have a glass of bubbles?  If it must be Champagne avoid the big brands - the shelf price reclaims such a whack of marketing expense that they are seldom good value.  Lallier Grand Cru, Reserve Brut, Ay at £26.50, is made only from Grand Cru vineyards, showing real class and more than enough flavour to match a tray of canapĂ©s.  Super value at less than half that is Mayerling Brut, Cremant d’Alsace at £12.95, made entirely from Pinot Blanc grapes.  It is brisk and cleansing with fresh fruit - a perfect appetiser.

Fish needs care: what goes well with shellfish may not work with smoked mackerel or salmon as the oil in them clashes with the acidity of a deliberately sharp wine like Muscadet, which is perfect with mussels.  For richer and smoked fish recipes, try 2010 Macon-SolutrĂ©, Domaine Denuziller at £11.25, a smooth, dry but ripe, entirely oak-free White Burgundy, boxing above its weight.  For a crisper, zestier option go for 2010 False Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa at £7.25 with the grape’s leafy freshness and zippy palate.

If turkey is on the menu a gentler red works well if it can stand up to stuffings and sauces without overpowering the meat.  2008 Herringbone Hills Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand at £10.95 offers just the right balance of flavour with freshness, but without clobbering alcohol.  It will take on rich gravy and traditional trimmings, but won’t send you to sleep in front of the queen who, obviously, deserves your full attention.

Richer meats demand bigger wines though available space allows just one or two ideas.  So, full enough to match beef, with sufficient edge to cut through the richness of goose and with a savoury character to compliment game - it’s time to visit Italy.  2005 Malintoppo, Azienda Agricola Simonelli-Santi, Orcia, Tuscany at £12.25 comes from a valley sandwiched between Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, yet is about half the price of the Vino Nobile and one third of the price of Brunello and cracking value relatively speaking. 

If a less high-falutin’, general purpose red is wanted, consider 2009 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Roble, Rioja, Bodegas Classica.  At £6.95 it won’t break the bank and at a quality above its price it won’t let the side down.  It is bursting with soft, ripe Tempranillo fruit with just a kiss of background oak spice, it will drink beautifully with red and white meats and it is perfect for entertaining a crowd.

For pud, one grape in two variants.  For palate refreshing zip try 2010 Moscato Frizzante, Cantine Volpi, Piemonte @ £8.60, sweet and grapey with a half-sparkle and at just 5.5% abv, it won’t frighten the vicar.  So fresh, so clean.  2009 Late Harvest Muscat, Tabali Estate, Limari Valley, Chile @ £6.50 per half bottle is stickier, richer and bubble-free with barley-sugar intensity.  Both will ease down a mince pie delightfully.

Cheese is a vital part of the Christmas table and traditionally this is accompanied by a glass or two of Port.  Here is a rich, lusciously fruity, fleshy example of generosity and warmth to put with your Stilton: it is Rio Torto, Reserva, Krohn, normally £12.50 but reduced to £10.50 until December 31st.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Rietine, Chianti Classico, Tuscany (25/9/2011)

This history of Chianti is long and complex and today the region of production is divided into several sub-regions with the Chianti Classico region – considered the best of them, and where it all began – at its heart sitting neatly between Firenze in the north and Siena in the south.  Early attempts to define what the make up of the wine should be resulted in too great a proportion of white grapes being permitted but this has, over time, been corrected to the point in 2006 where the use of white varieties in Chianti Classico was outlawed.  The traditional white varieties are still permitted (up to certain levels) in the surrounding regions of Chianti Colli Aretini, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colli Pisane, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Montalbano and Chianti Rufina but Chianti Classico wines now have a distinctive character all of their own, and are much the better for it.

Mario and Galina Lazarides own and run Rietine (pronounces Re-ee-tine-ay) a winery in the south of the Chianti Classico region, about 8km as the crow flies south east of the town of Radda in Chianti.  It feels like about 20km by road because you don’t go anywhere quickly in Tuscany. The undulating hills, sweeping valleys and mix of vineyards, olive groves and forest somehow always seem to be in the way and it’s one of the easiest, but nicest, places on the planet to get lost!
Mario & Galina in their cellar at Rietine
Mario explains that he has 12 hectares in total of which 7 hectares are vineyards.  There is an approximate mix of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot as well as a few small plantings of other varieties.  He aims to make about 5,000 litres per hectare as long as he has no vines missing, and many vineyards in Chianti Classico are missing vines – mostly white varieties that were grubbed up following the 2006 ruling.  Indeed some producers still make 5,000 litres per hectare even when their vineyards are missing vines which obviously has an effect on concentration. The Consorzio are now checking vineyards for missing vines and adjusting permitted yields accordingly.  “About time too!” says Mario.

Each vine is expected to yield 6 or 7 bunches of grapes, though vines destined for Chianti Classico Riserva production will be reduced to 4 or 5 bunches in about June to encourage concentration.   In August some leaves are removed from the vines to aid ripening and the grapes, once ripe, are hand-harvested enabling close inspection and selection of each bunch.  2011 is a good vintage but quantity is down by about 30%.
The vineyards of Chianti Classico
Mario has several different varieties on oak casks in his cellar, all French but from different oaks (Allier, Troncais, Limousin, Nevers and Vosges) each barrique is marked with a letter to denote its origin.  Chianti Classico Riserva and Rietine’s “Super Tuscan” (Tiziano) see 24 months in oak.  New casks are toasted gently for 45 mins before use.  Mario is quite particular about which oak variety is used for what.

Rietine’s 2007 Chianti Classico is 80% Sangiovese (which is must be by law) and 20% Merlot.  It is poised, balanced and fine with fresh cherry fruit on the nose expanding in the mouth to hints of damson.  The flavours are focussed and pure.  Mario explains that he is not 100% happy with the 2008 Chianti Classico which will be sold off as declassified wine.  This is honourable in my book and demonstrates Mario’s adherence to strict quality standards for his wines.  His 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva is 100% Sangiovese and is much more concentrated than the straight Classico; rich yet elegant, not simply bigger and oakier which many other Riserva can so often be.  The use of oak is very gentle adding, correctly, a seasoning to the wine to lift and enhance the natural fruit flavours and balance rather than dominating the palate.  There are complexities here which flesh out the finish.

Tiziano is Rietine’s “Super Tuscan”.  Super Tuscan wines are those which do not stick to the local rules (for example they include non-permitted varieties which prohibit the wine from being called Chianti).  Originally many had to be simply labelled as table wines because no other classification existed which produced the anomaly of “Vino da Tavola” selling for higher prices than much Chianti, but the introduction of the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) classification now gives them a more suitable “home” as far as labelling is concerned.  Tiziano is 90% Merlot and 10% Ancelotta the latter of which I never knew was a grape variety until this visit (I thought he used to be the Chelsea Manager…).  The 2004 Tiziano is ripe, plummy and rich.  It shows more evident vanilla oak than the Chiantis, but has the structure to take it.  The finish is long and rich with an almost sweet note at the end balanced by a nip of grape skin astringency.   The 2007 Tiziano is the same blend and has a more obvious note of Merlot on the nose, a youthful appearance and very pink edges.  It smells full ripe and rich with the oak bringing an almost sweet element.  In the mouth is a rich mouthful of chewy fruit with a gentle savoury edge.  It clearly needs a few years yet to reach its full potential.

From tank we tasted the 2009 Chianti Classico which Mario was due to bottle on 11th October.  It’s a super wine with lots of fruit and concentration and still some way to go to reach its full potential.  The 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva (again from tank) seems even better than the 2009 but it could be that it’s just more approachable.  Again Rietine’s well-judged use of oak is evident with ripe almost raisin-like notes on the finish.  The Riserva 2008 was due to be bottled on 20th October 2011.  The 2008 Tiziano is also a big wine, full rich and concentrated, almost difficult to taste because it’s so young.

Before we depart we are treated to a taste of the 1997 Vin Santo which reminded me of sherry in a sort of Oloroso-meets-PX way. The grapes for this are harvested late so are already very ripe when they leave the vines (in about October).  They are then dried over the winter and crushed in late January.  Normally you might expect to get 75 litres of juice from 100kg of grapes, but by the time these are dried 100kg of grapes will produce about 22 litres.  The wine is then aged in casks for over 10 years. It is wonderfully rich and concentrated.  Someone else said “Twiglets” which may seem like an odd flavour for a sweet wine, but I know exactly what they mean!  The Rietine Grappa di Chianti Classico is clean and pure and reminded me of some of the French Eaux de Vie de Fruits with its purely fruity nose.  We were able to compare it with the same Grappa which had seen 2 years in oak which was drier, fuller and just as elegant.  The group was split 50/50 on which they preferred.

The whole experience at Rietine was fascinating.  The wines are skilfully hand-crafted and Mario and Galina utterly charming.  They insisted we took a glass or two of Chianti Classico before we departed!  My final note records that this visit was like looking at Chianti through a microscope in terms of the level of detail, the elegance of the wines and the definition of the myriad of flavours.

We can obtain the following wines from Rietine should you be interested – please contact us for details:

2007 Chianti Classico, Rietine  £15.95
1998 Chianti Classico Riserva Rietine  £18.95
2000 Chianti Classico Riserva Rietine  £19.95

Vintages and prices correct as at 4th November 2011