Monthly Archives: July 2011

Is This Wine Too Old?

The question was a simple one: “Do you think that a 1964 Secco-Bertani Valpolicella Valpantena could still be good?” The answer was easy:  “The only way to tell is to open it.”

 Over the years I have had many older wines both red and white that according to all the vintage charts should have been way over the hill. Some were in excellent condition and others really were over the hill, but the only way to tell was to open and taste them.

 Once a month or so I have lunch at SD26 with friends who are really into older wines.

Nicole and Travis always bring wines that are much older than they are. This recent lunch was no exception and they brought three old wines.

 The first wine that they brought was a 1974 Arneis Roero DOC Bruno Giacosa 100% Arneis.  After being gently pressed the wine is vinified in temperature controlled stainless steel containers. The wine is fined and filtered before bottling. It remains in stainless steel tanks for 3 months before bottling. Giacosa might be the best producer of Arneis but this white wine is 37 years old and Arneis is not known for its aging potential, in fact it is recommended that it be drunk within the first few years. How could it still be good? The waiter poured the wine and I could not believe the color, it looked almost like a young wine.  I sniffed it and could not detect even a slight hint of oxidation.  There were aromas of fruit with a mineral character. It tasted ripe and fruity with good acidity, and a nice finish and aftertaste.  A few days later, Travis looked on line for older vintages of this wine, but the oldest one he could find was 5 years.

 The second wine they brought was the 1964 Secco-Bertani Valpolicella, most likely made from Corvina and Rondinella grapes.  Bertani

The present version of this wine is a Ripasso (Valpolicella is “passed over” the lees of the Recioto or Amarone) but I did not see it on the label of the 1964. The Ripasso method was first introduced by Masi with the Campofiorin in 1958.  Masi may have started in1958 but as far as I know it was not in general commerce until 1964.

The color was showing some signs of age and at first it tasted like a very old wine but after a few minutes in the glass it opened up and really went well with the food.

 Next was a 1958 Brolio-Riserva Chianti Classico Barone Ricasoli 75% Sangiovese, 12% Canaiolo, 8% Malvasia Bianco and 5% Colorino. The wine was aged for 3 years in large Slavonian oak barrels. The govern method( drying 10% of the grapes) was not used.

In his book Italy’s Noble Red Wines, the late Sheldon Wasserman called the ‘58 “a stunning wine”.  Sometimes I wonder what happened to Chianti Classico over the last 20 or so years. Here is a wine 53 years old and still showing very well. It has all of the classic characteristics of old Chianti and even a touch of sunshine on the Tuscan pines on the nose. Today, producers of Chianti Classico will tell you that wines made with white grapes do not last, but once again a wine such as this has proven them wrong. The present version has Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and is aged in barriques.

 1990 Pommard Louis Jadot 100% Pinot Noir

Fermentation takes place in tanks for 3-4 weeks. The wine is aged in barrels for 12-15 months before being bottled. 1990 was an exceptional vintage. This wine was darker in color then most Pinot Noirs and could have used more bottle age.

  1989 Chateauneuf –Du Pape “La Grappe des Papa” In some countries it is marketed under the name La Cedres Paul Jaboulet Aine.  The soil in the vineyards is very stony, composed mainly of pebbles and sandy red clay.  The grape blend is 65% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 5% Cinsault. (They have changed the blend a number of times.)  Traditional vinification and alcoholic fermentation take place in temperature controlled tanks. Maceration is for 3 weeks and the wine is aged in oak barrels for 12-18 months prior to bottling after filtration. This is a big complex wine that needed more time.

 1990 Mas de Daumas Gassac  Languedoc-Roussillon made from 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Pinot and Tannat. The grapes are hand harvested and the vinification is classic Medoc with a long fermentation and no filtration. The wine is aged between 12and 15 months in oak, but no new oak is used. 

 I had the 1989 about a year ago and this 1990 seemed even more intense. It needs a few more years. This is a big dark, complex wine with dark fruit aromas and flavors and a hint of cherry, spice and leather. It had a long finish and a lasting aftertaste.

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Italian Wines for Summer Under $20

I have always said that you don’t have to pay a lot of money for wine to drink well.

Here are 16 wines for summer drinking that are under $20, and a few are as low as $10. All the wines are made from native Italian grapes and they all go very well with food.

 Pinot Grigio Sudtirol Alto Aduge  DOC 2010 LahnhofTenuta Costa (Sudtirol-Alto Adige)

From the South Tyrol comes this classic Pinot Grigio. The grapes are handpicked and hand-sorted so only the best grapes go into the wine. Vinification takes place in stainless steel. The wine works well with fish, pasta with cream sauces such as Fettuccine Alfredo, and white meats. $18

 Beneventano Falanghina IGT 2009 Lava (Campania)

The name Lava evokes the volcanic soil of Campania that resulted from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on August 24th 79AD. Falanghina has been produced since ancient times and today it is one of the favorite whites of the city of Rome. The grapes are grown in an estate vineyard near the city of Benevento at elevations of 200-300 meters. The grapes are hand harvested, then vinified and aged in stainless steel. It is a unique wine with very good acidity and minerality with subtle citrus aromas and flavors and a touch of toasted almond and smoke. Try it with fish soups, grilled and roasted fish and cold meats. In Campania they drink it with bufala mozzarella! $14

 Malvasia Bianca IGT 2009 Rasciatano (Puglia) 100% Malvasia Bianca

There is a careful selection of the grapes in the vineyard. These select grapes are soft pressed and fermentation takes place partly in stainless steel tanks and partly in new French oak barrels. The wine is aged in stainless steel for 4 to 6 months and then bottled. There is pleasant floral bouquet with hints of apple and lime. It is full bodied and round with a nice minerality.  Serve it with shellfish and grilled fish steaks or whole fish.

$12

Gravina  DOP 2010 )Puglia) 60% Malvasia Bianco and 40% Greco, sometimes they add a little Fiano and Bianco di Alessano. Botromagano(Puglia)

Production area is the countryside surrounding the town of Gravina. There are between 1,215 and 1,416 vines per acre and they are spur-pruned cordon. The harvest takes place in late September and the wine is fermented in stainless steel at controlled temperatures for 15 days.  The wine does not undergo malolatic fermentation and is aged for four months in stainless steel tanks. It is a fruity fresh wine–almost like biting into a green apple with a slight touch of tropical fruit. Botromagno is the only producer of Gravina.    It goes well with fish and pasta with vegetables.    $12 

  Grillo “D’ Incanto” IGT 2009 100% Grillo Azzolino (Sicily)

The grapes for this food-friendly white wine are harvested in the middle of September. Fermentation, maceration and aging takes place in stainless steel tanks. The wine is well structured with varietal character, freshness, minerality and good acidity. It goes with grilled fish, shellfish, vegetable dishes and chicken. $14

 Cococciola Terre di Chieti  IGT 2010 100% CococcioloVallevo (Abruzzo)

This is an ancient indigenous grape variety of the province of Chieti mainly grown in the area around Rocco San Giovanni. The big grape bunches are irregular in shape and some are wing-tipped. It is a grape with good acidity and good yields. In the past it was only used for blending with other grapes. The harvest takes place towards the end of September. The grapes are soft pressed and fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures. Malolatic fermentation does not take place. The first time I had this unusual white wine was at Keste Pizza &Vino in NYC and I liked it right away. There is a slight herbal and mineral character to the wine, good body with aromas and flavors of apple and citrus fruit. Excellent with shell fish on the grill. $14

 Pecorino2010 DOC Abruzzo-Costa del Trabocchi 100% Pecorino Vallevo (Abruzzo)

 The grapes are crushed and have a short period of cryo-maceration of 6-7 hours and then soft pressed. Fermentation takes place at controlled temperatures in stainless steel tanks and the wine is refined on the lees with periodic remontage. Special yeast is used and the wine does not undergo malolatic fermentation. This is a medium-bodied wine with citrus aromas and flavors of lime, lemon and almond. The wine may have gotten its name because the sheep (pecora) coming down from the mountains were said to eat these grapes. Pairs well with shellfish and hard cheeses.  $15

 Frascati Superiore Secco DOC 2009  Fontana Candida(Lazio) Made from 60% Malvasia Bianca di Candia, 30% Trebbiano and 10% Malvasia del Lazio

The grapes come from hillside vineyards in the DOC zone located in the province of Lazio, in the communes of Frascati, Monteporzio Cantone, Grottaferrata, Montecompatri and Rome. The grapes are harvested between September and October and immediately transported to the cellar. Vinification takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and are gently pressed. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel and then bottled under nitrogen to protect its freshness and fruit. The wine has aromas and flavors of white peaches and apples. It has good acidity and minerality with a long finish and a nice aftertaste. This wine would be perfect with a porchetta sandwich. $12

 Torre di Giano, Bianco di Torgiano DOC 2009 Lungarotti. (Umbria)  Made from 70% Trebbiano and 30% Grechetto. The soil is clay with good water retention and there are 4,000 vines per hectare. The Grechetto is harvested in the beginning of September and the Trebbiano in the middle of September. The wine is made from the free run juice, after a brief cryomaceration, and is vinified in stainless steel at low temperatures. It is kept on the lees at low temperatures until bottling.  Serve it with appetizers, fish and vegetable dishes. $15

 Soave Classico DOC 2008 Borgo Rocca Sveva 100% Garganega. Cantana di Soave (Veneto)The vines are planted in loose, medium-gravelly clay soil of volcanic origin. The wines are trained for the Pergola Veronese system. The grapes are soft pressed and fermented and aged in stainless steel.  Great with seafood. $14.99

Montepulciano D’ Abruzzo Cerasuolo 2010 DOC. Vallevo

The vines are 10-15 years old with an East/South-East exposure.  Fermentation talks place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures. The skins are in contact with the juice for 12 hours.  This is a rosé with a very deep color. It has flavors and aromas of strawberries and cherry. $14

Fichimori  Salento 2009 IGT 100% Negroamaro  Tormaresca  After the grapes are crushed a pre-fermentative maceration takes place and lasts for six days at 5ºC and then the fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. The wine is fresh and fruity with soft tannins and “only” 12% alcohol. It has flavors and aromas of cherries and other fresh red fruits and berries.  The wine could be served chilled but I liked it at room temperature.  Serve it with roast or grilled chicken.  $12

Remole  IGT 2009 Tuscany Frescobaldi

The wine is mostly Sangiovese with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes used for  Remole come from vineyards in central Tuscany and they are from the estate vineyards.  Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks for 10 days and maceration for seven days. It is aged in stainless steel for five months and 2 months in bottle before release. This is a wine with fresh red fruit flavors and aromas that should be drunk young. It is a bargain at $10.

Chianti DOCG 2009 Ruffino  (Tuscany)A minimum of 75% Sangiovese plus other varieties like Canaiolo and Colorino. Alcoholic fermentation takes place for two weeks aided by racking and punching down in stainless steel and concrete vats. The wine is aged for 4 four months in stainless steel vats and 1/2 months in bottle before it is released. Goes great with steak or lamb chops.  This wine is a great buy at $10

Valpolicella Classical Lucchin  DOC 2009 Tedeschi  (Veneto) is made from 25% Corvina, 25% Corvione, 30% Rondinella, 10% Mollinara and 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara and Dindarella.

 Lucchine is the name of the vineyard where the grapes are grown. It is located in the plains at the foot of the Piedmont hills in the historic heart of the Valpolicella area. The vines are over 25 years old. The grapes are hand harvested at the beginning of October. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. The grapes are in contact with the skins briefly–only eight days. This is to insure that the wine would be fresh and fruity. After malolatic fermentation the wine spends the winter in stainless steel and is bottled in March and released one month later. This wine has fresh red fruit flavors and aromas with hints of cherries, and very good acidity. It is the type of Valpolicella that many producers do not make any more. I could see myself drinking it with fish on Lake Garda. $18

Dolcetto “D’OH”  2010 Piedmont Dolcetto  DOC 100% Dolcetto Clavesana

 Fermented is temperature controlled stainless steel tanks this is a fresh fruity wine with hints of cherry that is the be drunk young. It is traditional Dolcetto to be enjoyed and as it says on the label “You D’OH Something to Me”. Good with salumi and grilled sausages. $10

Moscato Piedmonte DOC 2010 Linda Donna This is a sparkling aromatic Moscato with aromas and flavors of white peach and apricot. It is the perfect desert wine for summer and the alcohol is only 6%. Try it with fruit or lemon ices.  $10

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The Wines of the Costa Dei Trabocchi at Cantina Frentana

Abruzzo is one of the regions of Italy I do not get to often.  For the past 10 years, the local grape growers have used the Filone system of training vines which I had never seen.  I am familiar with the traditional Tendone system used in Abruzzo, Puglia and Campania, and I knew that Cantina Frentana utilizes both these methods to train their vines.  I was very happy to accept their invitation to visit the winery to learn just how they do it.  But I was in for a surprise.  Cantina Frentana also utilizes a third method for training vines called La Pergoletta Abruzzese.

 Felice Di Biase, the sales manager, greeted us and told us the program for the week.  As we approached Cantina Frentana, I noticed a tall cement tower rising high above the winery.  Located in Rocca San Giovanni in the province of Chieti in the southern part of Abruzzo near Lanciano and close to the Adriatic Sea, Cantina Frentana is a co-op made up of 400 grower-members.  I wondered what the purpose of the tower was.  

 Entering the winery I looked up and could see that the tower is made up of glass lined cement tanks stacked one on top of the other.  The enologist Gianni Pasquale said that it is 30 meters high and the tanks were at one time used to ferment and store the wine. Now only the uppermost tanks are used for storage.

In side the tower looking up

 Cantina Frentana’s vineyards are located within the boundaries of the village of Frentana, southeast of the Apennine Mountains near the city of Lanciano in the southern part of Abruzzo.  The soil was described to me as being generally muddy and sandy.

IL Trabocchi

The coastline is called the Costa dei Trabocchi.  Trabocchi were dwellings used by fishermen so they could fish in bad weather.  Made of wood, they stand in the water on long wooden legs with long poles and nets reaching out into the water. Some have been turned into restaurants and in fact one night we had an excellent dinner in the traboccho of the co-op’s President, Carlo Romanelli.

Felice Di Biase, told me that the members (growers) are assisted throughout the entire grape growing season, right up to harvest by the co-op’s agronomist Maurizio Piucci and the Mr. Pasquale.  Only 10-15 % of the wine is bottled, and the rest is sold in bulk. The bottled wine comes from the best 100 producers and they are paid more for their grapes. I asked Mr. Di Biase who their customers were for the bulk wine and he just smiled. The Cantina produces 15 million liters of wine.  I was impressed by how knowledgeable and open everyone was.

Agronomist Maurizio Piucci under the Tendone

The traditional vine training method is the Tendone system also known as Pergola Abruzzese. The vines are grown along vertical posts and wires to a height of about 6 feet. The vines are planted 2 meters apart in parallel rows 2 meters apart. The leaves grow over the top to form a canopy (pergola)to protect the grapes from the hot Abruzzo sun. The Tendone has always been the way to grow table grapes in the area and it is easier to pick the grapes without having to bend down.

Co-op President Carlo Romanelli in front of the Filone

About ten years ago another method was introduced called the Filone system. The vines are planted in rows 2 meters apart and look like big shields full of grapes and leaves. The leaves hang down and give the grapes some protection from the sun. Many feel it is not enough protection. It is easier to machine harvest with this system because of the straight line of rows. Mr. Piucci said that the Tendone is better on hilly terrain where it is more difficult to use machines.

La Pergoletta Abruzzese

The third method, called La Pergoletta Abruzzese, was devised in a collaboration between Cantina Frentana and the Consorzio Agrario e Valente Pali.  The collaborators felt there was a need to increase the number of vines per hectare and to produce what they believe to be better grapes.  The method is similar to the Tendone but with a few differences. Each plant has two shoots instead of the traditional four. The distance between the plants is less.  If I understood correctly, it is 1 meter 20 centimeters, but the distance between the rows is the same. They feel that this system lets in more light and lets out more humidity so they will get better grapes. It is only used for the Montepulciano grape. This will be the first year that wine will be made from grapes using this system. There are 3,200 plants per hectare which is more than the Tendone (which ranges from 1,100 to 2,200 vines per hectare). The top grape grower for Cantina Frentana will not change to this system.  It is more expensive because of the zinc iron that is used in the construction. Maybe the grower is waiting to see what happens, and if you are already number one, why change?

Cantina Frentana makes a few different lines of wines but the one I liked best was the Vallevo’ imported and distributed by Franco Bengasi from Wine Emporium.

Cococciola Terre di Chieti 2010 IGT 100% Cococciolo.  This is an ancient indigenous grape variety of the province of Chieti mainly grown in the area around Rocco San Giovanni. The big grape bunches are irregular in shape and some are wing-tipped. It is a grape with good acidity and good yields. In the past it was only used for blending with other grapes. The harvest takes place towards the end of September. The grapes are soft pressed and fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures. Malolatic fermentation does not take place. The first time I had this unusual white wine was at Keste Pizza &Vino in NYC and I liked it right away. There is a slight herbal and mineral character to the wine, good body with aromas and flavors of apple and citrus fruit.

Cococciolo Sparkling Brut Terre di Chieti IGT 100% Cococciolo.  Only the free run juice is used. This is an interesting sparkling wine made by the charmat method with citrus flavors and aromas and a hint of almonds.

 

Pecorino2010 DOC Abruzzo-Costa del Trabocchi .  The grapes are crushed and have a short period of cryo-maceration of 6-7 hours and then soft pressed. Fermentation takes place at controlled temperatures in stainless steel tanks and the wine is refined on the lees with periodic remontage. Special yeast is used and the wine does not undergo malolatic fermentation. This is a medium-bodied wine with citrus aromas and flavors of lime, lemon and almond. The wine may have gotten its name because the sheep (pecora) coming down from the mountains were said to eat these grapes.

Chardonnay IGT 2010 100% Chardonnay.  Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. This was my kind of Chardonnay — all stainless steel and no malolatic fermentation, the way I like my Chardonnay!

Trebbiano D’Abruzzo 2010 DOC 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.  The vines are 15-20 years old and have a North/North East exposure. The grapes are soft pressed and native yeasts are added.  Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures. Malolatic fermentation does not take place. The wine is aged in stainless steel for five months before it is bottled. It has aromas and flavors of citrus fruits and green apple with good acidity.

Montepulciano D’ Abruzzo Cerasuolo DOC 2010. The vines are 10-15 years old with an East/South-East exposure.  Fermentation talks place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures. The skins are in contact with the juice for 12 hours.  This is a rosé with a very deep color. It has flavors and aromas of strawberries and cherry.

Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2009 DOC 100 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. The soil is muddy clay and the vines are 5-15 years old with a West/South West exposure.   After a soft pressing, fermentation takes place with the skins for 7 to 10 days depending on the vintage. Malolatic fermentation takes place in stainless steel. It has aromas and flavors of fresh red fruit with a hint of prune and it should be drunk young.

Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC 2008 Costa Dei Trabocchi 100% Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. The soil is mostly clay and the vines are 10-15 years old with a West/South-West exposure. The grapes are soft pressed and fermentation takes place in stainless steel with skin contact for 10 to 15 days depending on the vintage. The wine is aged in 500 liter barrels of Allier oak and may see some second passage barriques for 12 months. The wine has aromas and flavors of violets and black cherry with a hint of vanilla.

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Chateau Ausone Premier Grand Clu Classe St-Emilion 1966

Chateau Ausone Premier Grand Cru Classe St-Emilion 1966

We were going out to dinner with friends to SD 26 and decided to bring our own wine. Albert and I discussed the wines in advance. I said I would bring an older Chianti and he said he would bring a French wine. When we arrived at the restaurant I put my 1988 Chianti Rufina from Grato Grati on the table and he did the same with his bottle. When I picked it up, I did not know what to say.  It was a 1966 Ausone, a great wine from a great year.

The wine felt a little warm. It was a very hot day but Albert had taken the wine from his cool storage the night before so that it could stand up.  By the time he arrived at the restaurant it was a little too warm, so we asked the waiter to put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes.  Albert said that he had three bottles of the 1966 and this had the best fill-it was at the shoulder. We drank the Chianti, which was showing very well and asked the waiter to decant the 1966.  It was only “on ice” for about 10 minutes.

When the waiter tried to open the wine, the cork fell into the bottle.  He decanted it through a filter and as I watched I could not believe the color–it did not have the color one would expect from a 45 year old wine.  In the glass it looked like it was only a few years old.  Holding the glass to my nose, I almost panicked–I thought it was corked from smelling the wine but the flavor was fine.  In fact, it was one of the greatest Bordeaux wines that I have ever tasted. We waited and hoped for the best. After the wine was poured into everyone’s class and a few more minutes passed, the wine opened up and all the off odors had gone away.

This wine is youthful, complex, full bodied and elegant. It is traditional classic Bordeaux and I still can taste the leather and cherry!  It is made from 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Franc.  The wine went very well with the roasted goat.

Albert still has two bottles of the 1966 Ausone left and I asked him to drink them only with me!

IL Trabocco

I just returned from Abruzzo where I had great wine and food and ate in a Trabocco! A full report next week.

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