Monthly Archives: December 2009

Wine Media Gulid Champagne Tasting and Lunch with Ed McCarthy


Ed talking about Champagne

When Ed McCarthy comes to my apartment for dinner he always brings champagne and it is always very good Champagne.  Ed has been doing this for almost 30 years.

 A few months ago after I poured the Champagne for all my guests, I overheard Ed saying something about the glasses to the person standing next to him. I asked him what he had said and with a smile answered “this is not the right glass for Champagne”.  The glass was a flute.  I said to Ed “next time you come, bring glasses, too,” and he replied “Ok”.  A few weeks later Ed arrived with champagne and eight tulip-shaped glasses.  He feels that this is a better glass for champagne.  He went on to say that he now prefers to drink champagne out of a white wine glass!

 Ed is a member of the Wine Media Guild and author of Champagne for Dummies. Every year in December he is the speaker for the Wine Media Guild’s champagne tasting and lunch at Felidia restaurant.

Fish in Salt at Felidia

 This year Ed asked for both Champagne glasses (tulip) and white wine glass to be at the tasting so the members could choose which they preferred for the Champagne. Most went with the white wine glass.

Following are the Champagnes Ed picked for the tasting and some of his remarks and comments by me.

 Vintage Champagne

 2000 Ayala Blanc de Blanc, 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay ($ 60-65). Light elegant style, dry.  Ed felt it would be great as an aperitif before dinner and a good buy. It had hints of apple and citrus with a touch of toast. I like it with food.

 1999 Delamont Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay Gran Cru ($75-80).  Ed said this was the inexpensive sister of Salone and this Champaghe house is a Blanc de Blancs specialist.  Ed felt it had more body and fruit than the Ayala. Delamont also makes a great Rose.

 1999 Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay from Grand Cru Vineyards in the Cete des Blancs  ($95-$105).  Ed believes that this is a great Blanc de Blancs. It was complex and full and one of his top 3 at the tasting and a good buy. I agreed. He also said he loved their Cuvee Winston Churchill.

 1999 Perrier- Jouet “Fleur de Champagne” Brut, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir ($115-$130, this is one of the best Chardonnay champagne houses). Ed liked it a lot and it was one of his top 3.  So did I

 2004 Deutz Brut Classic, a third Chardonnay, a third Pinot Meunier and a third Pinot Noir ($65).  This producer is not very well known in the United States but Ed likes it and feels it is a good buy.

 2002 Taittinger “Millesime” Brut, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir ($70).  It was very dry, needs more time and I think it will be a great wine. It is only made in very good years.

 2003 Louis Roederer Brut, 65%, Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay. Ed said that 2003 was not a good year in Champagne but Roederer was one of the few that made a good wine.

 1999 Laurent- Perrier Brut Vintage ,52% Chardonnay and 48% Pinot Noir ($60) I found it to be ripe and round with hints of preserved fruits.


1999 Pommery  Brut , 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir ($70)

Floral and elegant.

 2000 Charles Heidsieck, one third Pinot Noir, one third Chardonnay and one third Pinot Meunier. (($70) This was one of Ed’s top three and also one of mine. It is also underrated champagne.  It was rich and elegant at the same time with very good fruit.

 1999 Gosset “Millesime” Brut ($80). Mostly Chardonnay.  Ed liked this one but said it needed more time–it was still too young. This is a very good small house and not very well known. It does not undergo malalactic fermentation and goes very well with food.

 1998 G. H. Mumm “Cuvee Rene Lalou” Brut Prestige Cuvee, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir ($150) This was the most expensive wine and the only one Ed believed was ready to drink now and would not get any better.

 1998 Nicolas Feuillatte “Pames d’Or” Brut Cuvee  ($120).  needed more time. 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. Mineral character

 1999 Bolinger La Grande Anee Brut 63% Pinot Noir and 37% Chardonnay ($125) this was one of my top wines but Ed did not like it as much as I did. Both of us felt that it would age very well.

 1995 Henriot “Cuvee des Enchanteleurs” Brut Prestige Cuvee.   Mostly Chardonnay ($135) this is a big champagne, with hints of toast and a great finish and after taste.

The Champagne

 Ed and I had the same three top wines but when he was asked for a fourth he picked the Delamotte and mine was the Bollinger.

 He said that there are still a few champagne houses that do not make a blanc de blanc.

  On Vintages

 Ed believed the 1996 was the best vintage of the last 20 years. 1988 was excellent and 1995 was very good. 1999 and2000 were good years. 2002 was an excellent year.  2003 was a very warm year and few producers made a good wine and 2004 was a very good year. 1998 was not that good of a year but some producers made very good wine. He said that 2002 was the vintage to buy now.

 Two weeks later I attended a NY Wine Press tasting and lunch of Prestige Cuvee Champagnes and once again Ed was the speaker.

There were 13 champagnes.  According to Ed, “Cristal 02, Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 98 and Ayala Cuvee Perle d’ Ayala Brute Natural were standouts”.  I agree with Ed but other standouts for me were:  the Henriot ‘Cuvee Des Enchanteteus” 1995 which was showing better than it was two weeks ago, Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame 1998,  Gosset “Celebris“ 1998 and the Taittinger ‘Comte De Champagne’ Blanc De Blances Brut 1998.

 We all drank from tulip champagne glasses except for Ed who made them change his to white wine glasses!

Ed with His Book "Champagne for Dummies"

 Xavier Flouret of Cognac One, the importers of Ayala, was sitting at my table during lunch.  I asked him what type of glass they use in Champagne.   He said at dinner they would use a champagne glass but when they taste the wine in the cellar they use a white wine glass!

 Happy New Year and may you toast the New Year with Champagne


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Prosecco: A Wine for all Seasons

I’ve been thinking about and enjoying Prosecco a lot lately.  Over the last few months I have had the chance to meet several producers of Prosecco and taste their wines.  First there was a lunch with the marketing director of Mionetto, Enore Ceola.  A few weeks later I enjoyed lunch with Primo Franco of Nino Franco.  Then the region of the Veneto hired me to act as sommelier for a wine tasting in Grand Central Station, and Matteo Bisol was pouring his Bisol prosecco for visitors at the booth next to mine.  After these enc ounters, I wrote about the new DOC/DOCG laws for Prosecco on this blog.  Then Michele and I taught a wine and food class at De Gustibus at Macy’s – the first wine of the evening was Prosecco.  Most recently, I have just returned from the Veneto were I visited a few producers whose wine I had never tasted before.  It dawned on me that I drink a lot of Prosecco both here and in Italy.  Especially during the holiday season,  Michele serves dates stuffed with Grana Padano as an appetizer and we serve it with Prosecco. It seems to put everyone in a festive mood.  

 Prosecco is the largest selling sparkling (spumante) wine in Italy.  Italians drink it as an aperitif (no self- respecting Roman or Venetian goes out to dinner without having a glass of Prosecco first), with food, and to celebrate. When I am in Rome the first meal I have is at Da Giggetto in the Jewish Quarter. I always order the same dish, fried zucchini flowers stuffed with anchovies and mozzarella with a bottle of Prosecco. I think it goes great with any type of fried food and shellfish. 

Prosciutto di San Daniele

 In the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area of the Veneto we visited producers Bellenda and Le Vigne di Alice and drank Prosecco with Prosciutto di San Daniele, locally made salame, and Grana Padano cheese. It was a perfect combination and all you need is some bread for a great lunch!  

Cinzia Canzian of Vigna di Alice

 Both the Prosecco Spumante Brut from Bellenda and the Vigna di Alice Extra Dry are made from 100% Prosecco grapes (with the new laws Prosecco becomes a type of wine).   I had long conversations with Signor Cosmo of Bellenda  and Signora Cinzia Canzian of Vigna di Alice and enjoyed their wines.  We also visited the Bortolotti winery where Signor Bortolotti told us about their plans for expanding the winery and increasing their production.  He poured us a selection of his Prosecco, which I enjoyed very much. 

Many changes are taking place under Prosecco’s new DOC/DOCG designation which includes  a numbered label system. There will be a salmon-colored numbered label on the top of every bottle of prosecco DOCG. This seal has an identification number which makes each bottle traceable so that every phase of the production of a specific bottle is known. The producers I met also clarified for me the Rive. Rive are very special and defined hillside areas used in the production of specific wines. Each Rive carries the name of its local area and is subject to even more stringent production regulations.  The highest quality prosecco still comes from the very limited Cartizze area. 

Hillside Vineyard in Valdobbiadene

  It is interesting to note that all the producers I spoke to both here and in Conegliano-Valdobbiadene felt the same about the new DOC/DOCG regulations. They all agreed that it was very good and that they would protect Prosecco and improve the quality. 

 For more information on Prosecco and  the new DOC/DOCG laws see the following two articles. 

 Prosecco DOC/DOCG with Primo Franco and Matteo Bisol. 

 New DOC/DOCG Designation for Prosecco 


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Part II Sagrantino di Montefalco:Tasting the Wine

After the conference there was a tasting of Montefalco Rosso DOC, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG and Passito.  47 producers are members of the Consortium (a few producers are not members) and about half of them were present at the tasting.

.I was impressed with the Sagrantino 2003 from Cantina Colle Ciocco. The wine was aged in 25hl French oak barrels. It was complex and very intense with aromas of blackberry and black cherry and a great finish and aftertaste. I also like their passito which is aged in 5hl barrels for five months. It was very well balanced and could be drunk with certain foods such as lamb.

 The Sagrantino 2005 from Cesarini Satori Signae had hints of blackberry, pepper with a touch of balsamic. Their passito Semel had hints of dried fruit and balsamic overtones with a great finish and aftertaste. It was a true dessert wine.

The Passito 2006 of Colle Del Saraceno- Az. Agraria di Francesco Botti was a big rich wine with flavors and aromas of blackberry, cinnamon and dried fruit– it was almost like liquor.

 I had visited the Perticaia Az. Agraria di Guido Guardigli last year and was very impressed with his wine. I felt the same way after tasting his wines this year; both the Sagrantino and the Passito were impressive.

 Colpetrone I also visited last year.  They make a more international style Sagrantino.

 Tenuta Alzatura is owned by the Cecchi family from Tuscany. The Sagrantino 2005 is aged in barriques for 16 months. There were undertones of blackberry plum and coffee; the wine had a nice finish and aftertaste.

 It was very interesting to me that most of the wines showed very well and that you can get a balanced wine from grapes that contain so much tannin. The passito is the most tannic dessert wine that I have ever tasted but it works.

When I saw the tasting sheet at Antonelli San Marco (Montefalco) I could not believe my eyes — Montelalco di Sagrantino 2001, 1998, 1995 and 1985 and the passito vintage 1985. The owner Filippo Antonelli said that he wanted to show us older vintages and that all of the wines were made by the former winemaker who had just retired.

 Tasting with Filippo Antonelli of Antonelli San Marco

Sagrantino di Montefalco – 100% Sagrantino is aged in 500 liter barrels for six months and 25 hl barrels for 12 months. The 1998 was aged in botti (large oak barrels) and the 1995 & 1985 were aged in cement containers. The barriques and the stainless steel came later. The wines all showed the same blackberry and plum aromas with a hint of mushroom. This was the first time I was able to taste Sagrantino this old.  It is one of the most tannic of wines but there was more than enough fruit to carry it. This tasting proved that Sagrantino is a wine that can age.

The 1985 Passito

The 1985 Passito was made from the grapes that receive the most sun. They are placed in crates and dried naturally on cane trellises for 75-90 days. The wine is unfiltered and aged 15 months in 25 hl barrels. It is a big tannic dessert wine with blackberry and raspberry jam aromas and flavors.  They also make a single vineyard Sagrantino di Montefalco called “Palone”  It was a very impressive tasting.

The Azienda Agricola Adanti on a Beautiful Fall Day

The next winery was Azienda Agricola Adanti (Bevagna) Here we had a tasting of Sagrantino 2005, 2004, 2001, 2000, 1999 1998, 1995, 1994 and 1993.  The wine is aged in large oak barrels and they also have a few 500 liter oak barrels. These wines were big and dark with flavors and aromas of blackberry, coffee, tar, smoke and a hint of almonds in the aftertaste. It is a family run operation and the son makes the same style of wine as his father did. These are very long lasting wines.

Tasting Sagrantino at Fattoria Colsanto

 Fattoria Colsanto  I first met Valneo Livon in Friuli really liked his white wine. He opened a winery in Bevagna to make Sagrantino. It is a very modern winery and it is only in the past few years that he is using his own grapes to make the wine. His Sagrantino is a touch more modern in style than some of the others but will age very well.  Malolatic fermentation takes place partially in barriques 70% and in steel 30% and then the wine is aged 15 months in oak barrels.  There are hints of red fruit and spices and undertones of tobacco.

Eating Coppa at Fattoria Colsanto

We had a great lunch here.  The highlight was the lamb prepared by Valneo’s wife that was the perfect combination with the Sagrantino.  It is traditional in the Montefalco area to eat lamb with passito at Easter time. This tradition started many years ago before Sagrantino became a dry wine and many still follow it today.

The large oak barrles-Botti- at Azienda Agricola Dionigi

The fourth winery of the day was Azienda Agricola Doinigi (Bevagna) and it was very cold in the cellar as we tasted the wine .We tasted Sagrantino from 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and from barrel 2008. These were very big wines that will last a long time and are aged in a combination of large and smaller oak barrels (used). The skins are in contact with the juice for 20 days. The 2006 tasted very different from the others. When I asked why they explained that some changes had been made in the vineyard and in the cellar.  They changed over to botti–large oak barrels and the wood was new!  I was very impressed with the 2001 Sagrantino and believe it will last a very long time. The passito 2005 was a true dessert wine aged in botti.

The last winery of the day was Di Filippo (Cannara). The vineyards of the winery are organically certified by the rules of the European Community – vini Umbri da agricoltura biologica. When I asked the owner Roberto Di Filippo about this he said that it was only for the vineyards and that the European Community did not have any rules once the grapes were in the winery. This is a family run winery and it was like tasting wine in someone’s home. The Sagrantino was a little on the modern side and not as big as some of the others but the oak really did not interfere with the taste.  The wine is aged for two years in oak casks and has red berry flavors and aromas. Like all the wines I have written about, it will age very well.

This was the first time in Montefalco that I was able to taste so many wines from so many producers and from so many different vintages going back to 1985.  I was very impressed with the wines. The Sagrantino di Montefalco will last a very long time because it is the most tannic of wines. It also has a enough fruit to go along with the tannin. The passito was very interesting; some of them being true dessert wines while others could go with food. I can only hope that these wines get the recognition they deserve.

 I also visited the Lungarotti winey in Montefalco and spent the morning and afternoon in the delightful company of Chiara Lungarotti but this is an article in itself.


Filed under Italian Red Wine, sagrantino

Sagrantino Inspired by Bordeaux to Show Off Its Qualities

The headline of the press release read, “Sagrantino inspired by Bordeaux to show off its qualities.”  Since it was the 30th anniversary of Montefalco Sagrantino receiving its DOC designation, this was a good time to make the announcement.  The wine also has been awarded the DOCG, so the consortium was looking for a way to bring more attention to the wine and the area.  What better way to do this than to imitate the French!

The Consorzio Tutela Montefalco, with the approval of The Ministry of Forests, Food and Agriculture, established a commission (the makeup has not been decided) to divide the wines into several quality classes, inspired by the model adopted by the Saint-Emilion area in Bordeaux in the mid-nineteen fifties. It will be known as: La Classification del Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG.

A conference on the Experimental Classification of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG was organized for November 19 and 20 in Montefalco primarily to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed classification.  I was part of a group of journalists both international and Italian who were invited to the conference.

Professor Dobourdieu, Professor Zampi and Daniele Cernilli speaking at the conference

A panel discussion moderated by Daniele Cernilli, Gambero Rosso magazine’s editor, included the distinguished Professor Vincent Zampi (Economics Professor of the Florence University). He explained the proposal and elaborated on it.

The other speakers were: Denis Dubourdieu (Oenology Professor at Bordeaux University), Attilio Scienza (Oenology Professor at Milan Univeristy), and French journalist Thierry Desseauve. Riccardo Ricci Curbastro (FederDOC president) and Stefano Raimondi (CE wine and food drink manger) also spoke. It was an interesting discussion and there were very good points made for and against the proposal. We will have to wait until next year to see what happens.

One of the questions that crossed my mind was why Montefalco Sagrantino was chosen as the first wine for this type of classification. The Consortium’s answer was that Sagrantino di Montefalco can be considered a unique laboratory for creating and perfecting a classification system. Of course the Consortium feels that the pros outweigh the cons.  They went on to say that the wine is neither well known, nor has it achieved the prestige that it deserves and that the classification may help to achieve these ends.  When I asked some of the producers how they felt about the proposed classification, there were mixed reviews.

To understand why the Consortium considers the wine unique and to understand it a little better, here is some information that I learned from my visits to Montefalco.

Sagrantino grapes

There are many different explanations on how the Sagrantino grape came to Umbria.  Pliny the Elder (d.79 A.D) in his Naturalis Historia writes that a grape called Itrola was cultivated there in Roman times. Some sources state that it might have been brought to Umbria by followers of St. Francis returning from Asia Minor in the 14th and 15th centuries.  Others think that it is native to Spain and may have been brought to Umbria by the Saracens.

Recent studies show that the Sagrantino variety does not have any similarity to any other grape variety cultivated in Central Italy, nor is it related to Sangiovese as some believed. The grape is only found around five hill towns, Montefalco being the best known. It is therefore a very local grape variety.

The name can be traced to the Latin “Sacer”, meaning sacred and related to the sacraments, since the grape was cultivated by monks to produce a raisin wine used for religious rites.  Sagrantino is first mentioned in a document dated 1549 when a Jewish trader named Guglielmo and his wife Stella placed an order for this grape.

Montefalco Sagrantino D.O.C.G. must be produced from 100% Sagrantino grapes.  In the beginning it was only made into a passito (dried grape) wine. It is an ideal grape for this process because it can dry for as long as four months and can conserve its sugar components intact.  By law, this version has to be aged for 30 months and have at least 14% alcohol. The dry version (secco) must also be aged for 30 months (as of this year 36 months) but 12 of the months must be in wooden barrels. The alcohol content must be at least 13%.  It was not until the early 1970’s that a dry version was produced.

Sagrantino Vintage 1985

The Sagrantino grape is very high in polyphenols (substances extracted from the skins of grapes that provide the coloring and texture for the wine) and also tannin which helps red wine to age.  We were told by Signore Mattivi from the Instituto Agrario Di San Michele all’Adige that of the 25 most popular grapes tested, Sagrantino was the highest in polyphenols and tannin. I also learned that the structure of tannin is different in the pits and the skins. Even though the Sagrantino grape is so high in tannins because of the nature of the grape, it is possible to have a balanced wine.   Phenolics (polyphenols)  have powerful antioxidant properties, but I will not go into this discussion!

Sagrantino is a wine with unique characteristics and a number of producers make exellent wines. They deserve to be better known and I wish them luck with their classification!

After the conference there was a tasting of Montefalco Rosso DOC, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG and Passito.  There are 47 producers that are members of the Consortium (a few producers are not members) and about half of them were present at the tasting.

***Next time my impressions on the tasting and my visits to Antonelli San Marco.where I tasted – 1985 Sagrantino and an 85 Passito., Adanti where I tasted wines from 2005- 1994. Di Filippi, an organic winery, Lungarotti  where I was given the grand tour by Chiara Lungarotti, Scacciadiavoli,. Fattoria Colsanto where I met my friend Valneo Livon and had a great lamb dish that worked perfectly with his wine. and Azienda Agricola Dionigi for a vertical tasting of Sagrantino

If anyone is interested I can e-mail the remarks on the classification made by Professor Vincenzo Zamoi which is in English.


Filed under Italian Red Wine, sagrantino