November 2010

November Music Pick: The CD name: Jubilant. The Performer: Jubilant Sykes. The album is billed as: “A fresh take on spirituals.”
Venue: Locanda Della Picca
I lead an Amarone tasting for this Umbrian wine fanciers club.

First things first: The grapes for Amarone are grown in the Veneto’s Valpolicella zone. These vineyards fan our around the city of Verona. It is a blended wine, whose primary grapes are Corvina or Corvinone, with the addition of Rondinella, Molinara and small percentages of other approved red varieties.

What sets this wine apart from other dry red wines is that it is made from semi-dried grapes. For a full description of Amarone production and my feelings about what has happened in the zone whiz to the Food and Wine section of this website.

When tasting an Amarone you should always find a scent of cherries (cherries under spirit, fresh cherries, sour cherries, black cherries). This is a characteristic of the Corvina grape. Also, as the wine is made from semi-dried grapes, the alcohol level tends to be higher than wines made from fresh grapes. So, a true Amarone provides a heady, rich experience.

I have written often about Amarone in these last twenty years and, those who have read my books and articles know that I have strong feelings about the wine. In 1999 I tasted every commercially available Amarone. At that time there were 55 of these, and any producer who made the wine did so because he believed in its worth. Today there are three times as many producers and, frankly some of them jumped on the Amarone bandwagon with dollar signs dancing in their eyes and little else.

The producers I chose to participate in this tasting have all been producing Amarone for decades, and all, in one way or another, are passionately dedicated to the production of fine wine.

Here are my notes on the wines we tasted:
Corte Sant’Alda Amarone della Valpolicella 2006
Zone: Valpolicella Est (Mezzane di Sotto). Production of this wine: 14,000 bottles annually. Price in a shop in Italy: around €37,50
This vintage has won, among other awards, Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri. Corte Sant’Alda wines are always awarded top prizes in wine guides.

Note: Rich, dense,heady. Fresh cherries in cream on the nose. On the palate there is a zippy cherry jam flavor with a warm spicy undertow. The long finish is filled with elegant fruit (dark cherries, blueberries) that is balanced with bright acidity. While very satisfying now, this wine is still young and will benefit from being cellared for a year or two.

For apartment dwellers (such as I) cellaring means keeping the wine in a dark, dry, vibration free environment. In my case, I keep my best wines in the non-functioning shower in the tiny front bathroom. It has thick walls, no windows and is seldom used. I also keep some wine on the floor of a closet that is seldom used (as it holds Christmas ornaments and clothes I can no longer wear but hate to abandon). The worst place to keep wine is in the kitchen. The vibration from appliances and the continual changes in temperature (from cooking) are not suitable for long term wine storage.

Antolini (Pier Paolo e Stefano) Amarone della Valpolicella “Moropio” 2006
Zona: Valpolicella Classico (Marano)
Annual Production of this wine: between 8,000 and 9,000 bottles.
Price in an Italian shop: around €40
This vintage won 2 Bicchieri (Gambero Rosso). Admitted to the Slow Food Guide, among other awards.

Note: An elegant fresh cherry note on the nose. The wine has a very silky texture. The lively zestiness on the palate extends through the finish. This wine, too, will benefit from a couple of years in bottle. It gives pleasure now but with a tad more ageing it will be able to offer fuller sensations on the nose and palate.

Viviani (Claudio) Amarone della Valpolicella 2004 “Casa dei Bepi”
Zona: Valpolicella Classico (VR) Negrar-Loc. Mazzano
Annual Produzione of this wine: 6,000 to 10,000, depending on the year.
Price in an Italian shop: around €70
Da Beppe has won 3 Bicchieri 7 or 8 times, 5 Grappole 12 times and received top marks in Veronelli, etc. Grapes are pressed and fermented after four months of drying (a month longer than the standard Amarone) towards the end of every February following the vintage.

Note: The richness of this wine is apparent from the very color – it has a rich, vibrant sheen over its near opaque dark cherry-ruby color. Vivacious is the word that comes to mind when I sniff it. On the palate there is the idea of velvet. It give pleasure on the palate: cherries, a blackberry undertow. Very well-knit – all of a piece.
After 40 minutes still fruit-filled, with a firm backbone. Its elegance persists.

Cecilia Beretta Amarone della Valpolicella 1998 “Terre di Cariano” Owner: Pasqua
Zona: Valpolicella Classico (VR)
Price in a shop (if you could indeed find this vintage), a representative of the Pasqua company told me, would be around €50
The Consorzio di Tutela della Valpolicella judged the 1998 to be a 5 star vintage – excellent.
This wine (the 1998 vintage) won 5 Grappoli in the Guida Duemilavini A.I.S. 2003 and 2 Bicchieri in the Gambero Rosso Guida Vini D’Italia 2003.

Note: It was so very interesting to try this wine. Twelve years from the vintage and it is still fresh, with a luscious layer of cherry-fruit. The texture is silky. Zesty acidity buoys the fruit. A very pleasing, fruit-filled finish. Elegance.

Masi Amarone Recioto della Valpolicella 1985
Zona: Valpolicella Classico (VR) Gargagnago di Valpolicella.
Prezzo in enoteca: Its price at auction varies, depending on the year and the location of the auction. The lowest price I found while whizzing around the internet was €150.
According to the Consorzio di Tutela della Valpolicella, 1985 was a 4 star vintage – very good.

Note: All of a piece. A lovely burr of spice. A fine, tasty weave of pleasing bruised plum fruit. An almost incense-like spice dances across the palate.

After 40 minutes, it still is firm and pleasing . A very impressive wine. 25 years from harvest and still giving pleasure.

I slipped the following wine into the tasting to see if anyone would recognize it as an interloper. They did – immediately. It is made from semi-dried Grasparosso grapes grown in Emilia Romagna. The owner told me that Romano Dal Forno had tasted the wine in a blind tasting and had rung him up the following day to congratulate him. The Guida Expresso awarded it 17 ½ points out of 20.

Tenuta Pederzana “Ubimaior” 2004 Owner:Francesco Gibellini
Zona: Castelvetro (Modena) Emilia-Romagna
Annual Production of this wine: between 1,000 and 2,500, depending on the year.
Price in an Italian shop: around €35
Note: A pleasing apply note on the nose. Very smooth, near-velvety sensation on the palate. Unfortunately, when tasted with the other wines in this august company, it was immediately unmasked as a ringer.

November 13 Chianti Rufina tasting at Villa Poggio Reale – headquarters of the Rufina Consortium
First things first, Rufina is the smallest sub-district of the Chianti zone. Wines from this tiny area east of Florence are given equal status with those of the larger Classico zone. The principal (if not only) grape variety used is Sangiovese. My identifier for Sangioveses is the flavor of the cherry flesh that clings to the pit. By this I mean a sharper (near sour) cherry flavor. Historic tasting notes often note delicate traces of violets in the fragrance of wines from Rufina.

In my book Bacchus at Baker Street ( I wrote about all the wines, spirits and cocktails mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes stories. The only Italian wine mentioned is Chianti. After much research into what was available on the London market in the Victorian and Edwardian period, I concluded that the Chianti referred to in the stories was most likely Chianti Rufina, and more specifically Frescobaldi di Nipozzano. The wines of Nipozzano were singled out in the 1800s by Doctor Paola Mantegazza who advised convalescents to drink this tonico genuino.
My goal during these tastings was to discover if the delicate note of violets still could be considered an identifier for the wines of Rufina.

My tasting table turned out to be a knowledgeable and lively place to be. My partners there were Isabelle Bachelard (from Paris) and Austrian Christian Bauer.

Generally speaking the wines were well made and had appealing fruitiness. I only found three that gave me that gentle floral whiff I hoped to find.
Here are the notes of the wines I found most interesting from this tasting (not in order preference):

Az. Agr. Colognole 2009 Chianti Rufina A rich saturation of bright ruby with a blue sheen. Sour cherries on the nose. Pleasingly vibrant on the palate. Medium- long finish.
After 5 minutes in the glass it is still firm

Az. Agr. Colognole 2008 Chianti Rufina “Riserva del Don” Fresh, fragrant, pleasing. Light and vibrant on the palate. A fine zestiness infuses the fruit (memories of cherries).

Az. Agr. Travignoli 2009 Chianti Rufina The slight blue sheen of youth skims the bright ruby color. More subtle than the preceeding wine. Light elegant. The memory of fresh cherry juice. A very pleasing sensation on the palate. Elegant fruit is lifted on sprightly acidity. The memory of cherries on the nose is consistent with the palate. A “green” fell that is not unpleasant. Fruit lasts through the medium finish.

Az. Agr. Travignoli 2008 Chianti Rufina “Riserva Tegolaia” A texture like tweed. A nice shifting fruitiness. It would give pleasure at the table.

Az. Agr. Le Coste 2009 Chianti Rufina It has a floral nose. I convince myself that I can smell violets. A very attractive wine. There is a fine-ness that sets it apart. It is not a wine that shouts. It gives a firm, bright pleasure. Subtle.

Az. Agr. Le Coste 2008 Chianti Rufina “Riserva” More of a notion. I cannot fix it with words. I will have to try it again on another occasion.

Cantina Sociale Montulicuo 2009 Chianti Rufina Bright. Fresh. It is a simple, pleasant wine. You could order it with a light lunch and not be disappointed.

Castello di Nipozzano – Marchesi de Frescobaldi 2008 Chianti Rufina “Nipozzano Riserva” A richness on the nose and palate. A creamy texture holds the cherry fruit. Tannins tingle on the gums. A very satisfying wine.

Our tablemate, Christian, tells us that Frescobaldi accounts for some 20% of the total production of the zone.
Castello di Nipozzano – Marchesi de Frescobaldi 2008 Chianti Rufina “Vigneto Montesodi Riserva” Once again, I find a pleasing floral note on the nose. On the palate the appealing flavor of sour-cherries emerges. A pleasing wine.

Fattori I Veroni 2009 Chianti Rufina Lively. But a bit unfocused for my tastes.
Isabelle, however, noted its “good stinkiness”, by this she meant “a certain smell of undergrowth.” “In this sense, the comparison with Burgundy would make sense,” she said.

Fattoria Il Lago 2009 Chianti Rufina There is an affinity between this and Le Coste: subdued but firm fruit. The floral notes are present but muted.

Fattoria Selvapiana 2009 Chianti Rufina Round and silky on the palate. Firm, sensations of fruit on the finish. The flavor: memories of cherries with an undertow of moss. Very nice.

November 12 Florence at the Hotel Westin Ecelsior Rufina meets Burgundy tasting
Chianti Rufina Riserva 2007 Tenuta Bossi Marchesi Gondi Bright, vibrant, blue-tinged ruby. Tightly woven texture. The nose has an elegant silkiness and the fragrance of ripe cherries.
After 10 minutes: The wood emerges on the nose.
After 15 minutes: The wine turns in upon itself, by this I mean it becomes mute.
After 40 minutes: The fruit reemerges, along with a whiff of tobacco. It would be an interesting wine to try in a few years.

Chianti Rufina Riserva 2007 Frascole – Less dense than preceding. A grapefruit-frozen strawberry note on the nose. On the palate, a pleasing cherry-like fruit.
After 10 minutes: The middle palate thins.
After 15 minutes: It maintains its character.
After 30 minutes: Still firm on the nose.

Chianti Rufina Riserva 2007 Riserva I Veroni A wave of warm fruit (cherry) that gently opens into a candied cherry juiciness.
After 10 minutes: Very attractive on the palate. A firm line of elegant fruit.
After 15 minutes: Maintains its fruit and structure.
After 40 minutes: It broadens and softens.

Chianti Rufina 2007 Cedro Riverva Lavacchio It reminds me of closets in old houses – the fragrance of fading pomanders. On the palate the fruit it shot through with (at times) incongruous spice.

Chianti Rufina Montesodi 2007 Marchese de’ Frescobaldi Softer on the attack, with a tar-like undertow. Very firm on the palate. Fruit and acidity are distinct. This quality, in fact, renders the flavor more interesting.
After 20 minutes: It generously opens.
After 40 minutes. The fruit seems to blossom on the palate. I start thinking that that this wine would be fabulous with a nice juicy steak.

Chianti Rufina Riserva Bucerchiale 2007 Selvapiana Pencil lead. Very particular.
After 20 minutes: The fruit unfolds nicely. There is a pleasing custard-like sensation on the palate.
After 40 minutes: Still firm and pleasing. This bodes well for its future. At this point, it has become my favorite of this flight of wines.
At first whiff I was unconvinced…but with time it showed its worth.

Givry Domaine de la Ferte 2007 Baron Thenard/Domaine Devillard Fresh, clean. Lovely broad, plum-like hue. An acid snap on the finish.
After 10 minutes: A good wine. It needs food to show at its best.

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Fuees 2007 Domaine Ghislaine Barthod – High toned.
After five minutes: it softens and expands into an elegant wine.

Volnay 1er Cru La Carelle Sous la Chapelle 2007 Jean-Marc Boillot The idea of burnt grape skin on the nose that is not found on the palate.
After 15 minutes: There is a pronounced scent of wood on the nose. This wine would probably sell well in restaurants.

Pommard 1er Cru Les Jarollieres 2007 Jean-Marc Boillot Very fine. Very tightly woven. Firm from the attack to the finish.
After 15 minutes: Firm yet supple. Very nice wine.

Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Les Cherbaudes 2007 Domain Louis Boillot& Fils. Forgive me, but there is, for me, the idea of American Sandwich Spread (a blend of pimentos and mayonnaise). This is not a bad thing. I only mention it because a whiff of this wine worked like Proust’s madeleines taking me right back to childhood lunches. But back to my note, a line of minerality on the finish.
After 10 minutes: A very light caramel element on the nose and palate. Sprightly fruit still skips across the palate.

Nuit-Saint-Georges 1er Cru auz Perdrix 2007 Domaine des Perdix Floral, fragrant, silky texture.
After 40 minutes it still a pleasure. I swallowed. This is my highest accolade. I always spit at tastings…unless the wine is really, really interesting. Lovely texture, all of a piece. The same fine undulating flow of fruit from beginning to end. It expresses the character of Pinot Noir – supple and fragrant.

A collection of November wines. The following are wines I opened to accompany meals at home. All of them are wines that enhance vegetarian choices. Full notes and these wines are found in previous diaries.

Drei Dona 2005 Sangiovese Superiore Riserva “Pruno” This wine is produced in Emilia Romagna. Every time I taste it I am impressed with its rich, near-velvet texture and the warm, inviting fruit. It goes exceptionally well with bean-based vegetarian dishes. Frankly, I love this wine.

Villa Bucci Rosso 2006 Rosso Piceno Made from Montepulciano and Sangiovese grapes grown on the Bucci estate in the Marche. Rich, easy, fruity, elegant. What more can I say. This wine too has the soft tannins that make it a fine companion for baked eggplant and au gratin vegetarian dishes.

Unidea Valpolicella 2009 I have conducted Wine Tasting in English courses for the Donna del Vino Association (of which I am a member) over the years. Renato Gribaudo attended three of these. All the other participants were wine producers and restaurateurs. Renato is a dentist.

At the end of each course I would give a little blind tasting test. Renato got top marks (and a prize)for the first two years. The third year, he quietly came up while the other students were busily gnawing the erasers on their pencils and said: “Maybe you should give the prize to someone else.” He slipped his test paper over to me and, once again, he got all the wines right. What a taster! We became friends and he and his wife have from time to time invited Michael and me to dinner. Renato has a fine cellar. He also had a desire to make wines. I tasted his 2009 Unidea and was delighted. It is fresh, fruity, easy. It is, an old-fashioned Valpolicella in the best sense of the word.