Month: April 2020
Il Molino di Grace, Il Margone Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011 DOCG – Deciphering the Label Code
While picking out a nice bottle to go with a red meat sauce Bucatini pasta, garlic bread and salad, decided on this aging bottle in the cellar. It dawned on me that the label on the bottle has a lot of valuable information. So I will break it down “phrase by phrase” to make this great wine more understandable.
The Winery & Land:
First, il Molino di Grace, means the “windmill of grace”. It was named for a 19th century windmill on the vineyard property that has been producing grapes on the property for over 350 years. The winery was built in 1997 by the Frank Grace family in the heart of Chianti region, Tuscany just north of Siena. The land has been certified “Certificato Biologico” since 2010, meaning the fertilizer used in the vineyards is organic, the yeast used in winemaking is indigenous, the grapes are harvested by hand, they use the cuttings of the vines to fuel the heating & air-conditioning of the winery to eliminate the use of gas and many more specific items.
There are three main designations for Chianti wines: Chianti Classico DOCG, Chianti Classico Riserva and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. Here is how they are broken down and differentiated.
**Chianti Classico DOCG – This refers to the hilly region between Siena and Florence. It represents about 18,000 acres of vineyards. This region was well known for making beautiful and full wines with it being delineated a special wine producing area in 1716. It wasn’t until 1996 that the government granted a separate DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) for wines within the region. Ever since, Chianti Classico considers itself no longer a subzone of Chianti. This area is known for complex, earthy and spicy Sangiovese wines. The wine with this designation require a one year period of aging before being released to the market.
** Chianti Classico Riserva – Is the next level up and has two additional quality levels, determined by additional aging and levels of quality. Labeled Chianti Classico Riserva, which requires aging for two years in barrel, plus an additional three months in bottle, before hitting the store shelves.
** Chianti Classico Gran Selezione – Lastly and the newest designation, decreed in 2014, within Chianti Classico is Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. This was developed to denote wines of superior quality. This designation requires wine to be 100 percent estate fruit, with at least 30 months of maturation in oak barrels. The Italian wine tasting board must confirm that the wine is worthy of this designation. Not every vintage is awarded Grand Selezione. This is a prized wine for Chianti Classico!
Many Classico’s are today made of 100% Sangiovese but can include up to 20% of other approved varieties grown within the Classico borders. The best Classico’s will have a bright acidity, sufficient tannins and be full-bodied with plenty of fruit (plums, black cherry, blackberry). Also common among the best Classico’s are expressive notes of cedar, dried herbs, fennel, balsamic or tobacco.
Finally the Wine:
So this 2011 wine lived up to all the expectations of storing it for years in the cellar. First on the eyes, it comes across as deep, dense ruby red coloring. The viscosity, is medium to medium heavy. On the nose, you are greeted with a symphony of aromas all in perfect pitch of black dried fruits, spices of pepper, prune, strawberry, bramble, clove, espresso and black cherry. What is distinct is the old world scent on the nose. If you are not transformed to rolling hills of Tuscany on the aroma, you will be on the first taste. In the mouth, the palate is treated to all the aromas mentioned in proportion and with a big full body that is well structured showing the complexity of this high designation. The cedar and spices with a smidgen of tobacco coupled with the sweetness of blackberry provide a delightfully long, exotic and quality finish.
Rating range from 92 points (Decanter/Wine Enthusiast) to 93 points by James Suckling. Personally on this scale, I would give it 95 points given it modest price point $40-45. Only 2,000 cases were produced.
Truly, this wine should be sought out for your next Italian meal.
Last night pulled a Laura Michael 2015 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. From this quite boutique winery just outside downtown Calistoga heading east on Lake County Highway. A beautiful dark red on the eyes with a medium heavy viscosity. Aromas of red cherry, sweet pipe tobacco and a hint of mocha. On the palate, additional smooth French oak coat the mouth with a modicum of dark chocolate and peppercorns. The famous Rutherford dust, is dominate after each perfect sip. Laura over the years has always produced excellent and enjoyable wines which are stocked in the cellar. Priced fairly for a classical Napa Cabernet Sauvignon at $65 for the consumer. This one will be hard to keep long in the cellar! #lauramichaelwines #calistogawines #napacabernetsauvignon
People often take Prosecco and Champagne as similar since they are “sparkling, bubbling wines”. Nothing could be further from the truth except the bubbles and there are differences also! Prosecco comes from northern Italy above Venice and Champagne comes from the region northeast of Paris called Champagne. But location, geography and country origin put aside there are many significant other characteristics which set them apart. A simple and quick overview follows.
Champagne uses typically three grapes in production of their wine: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes with varying percentages. Whereas Prosecco must use 85% of Glera grapes and can add up to 15% of Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, or Pinot Noir. The highest end Prosecco comes from designated vineyards on the hillsides of Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Asolo.
Champagne’s typical flavor profile contain: citrus, peach, white cherry, almond and toast. Prosecco’s profile contains: green apple, honeydew melon, pear, honey suckle and cream. Also the alcohol levels vary but as a guide there is less than 1% difference between Champagne and Prosecco, with Champagne typically being a bit higher.
The Method of Production:
Here is where the real difference comes into play. You have probably seen the champagne racks being riddled (bottles turned and raised small amounts) to get the lees (digested yeast) to settle in the neck. This and a few other items make this a costly and timely procedure called the “traditional method”. Depending on classification they will spend years in the limestone cellars in the Champagne region. The minimum age for non-vintage Champagne is three years. For vintage Champagne it can be between 4 to 10 years. Champagne is known for having longer lasting tiny bubbles.
For Prosecco, they use the Charmat Method, meaning tank method. Rather than aging in the bottle with sugar & yeast, they are processed in an autoclave tank for the secondary fermentation. This can be 30 days up to 6 months for clarification and cooling. This eliminates the process of the first bottling, riddling, aging and disgorgement of the lees associated with Champagne. The labor intense Champagne is significantly reduced and thus the lower price point. The Charmat Method, is also known to produce larger explosive bubbles.
One last important differentiation is the atmospheric pressure of these two bubbling wines. Prosecco has about 3.5 times the atmospheric pressure in a bottle. Champagne bottle is about 6 times. Thus this explains the heavier bottle required for Champagne. A key factor is why one can saber Champagne but never with Prosecco!!
Interesting to note that the Charmat Method was officially designated after World War II. Champagne has been attributed to be developed in 1693. Fortune Magazine recently declared that Prosecco is now the number one sparkling/bubbling wine sold in the world by volume (https://fortune.com/2018/12/17/prosecco-tops-champagne-as-the-best-selling-sparkling-wine-by-volume/). While Champagne has a rich and sorted history, Prosecco’s quality, taste and affordability has really caught the eye of the consumer.
2018 Tenbrink Chardonnay from Suisun Valley. Ever pick up a bottle of wine that tasted really good at the winery but a week or later, you taste it and it doesn’t seem as good!! While this is just the opposite!! Knowing full well of the San Francisco Bay fog streaming up into Suisun Valley, this wine was an immediate hit at the winery. I rated it on the nose alone. I can’t recall giving a “score” to wine before and then only on the nose! As I sipped the wine was inspirational. The pale straw coloring provided an array of honeysuckle, pear and apple on nose and later on the palate. It had a touch of citrus on the finish was clearly going to be a winner! This evening opening it open it still surpassed my high expectations set at the winery months ago! For sure it will be on my List of Top Wines of 2020. To show my support for this wine, I immediately purchased six bottles when I was at the winery and will have to reorder soon. A tremendous bargain at $28 retail price. See a previously written stories on all their wines at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2020/01/09/tenbrink-vineyards-and-tolenas-winery-a-family-story/
Another wine pulled for our social distance with another couple on the patio yesterday late afternoon. This was a solid recommendation from Jim Denham of The Wine Steward in Pleasanton, California. On the eyes a light golden color with lots of tiny bubbles. On the nose, white fruit (pear and apple) appeared without the sweetness. In the palate, light toasted nuts, slight apricot and a creamy bread dough. Most notable was the chalkiness of the Champagne region. A refreshing Champagne with temperatures reaching 87 degrees outside to awaken the senses. Made with 50% Chardonnay grapes and 50% Pinot Noir grapes.
Pulled this last evening for our social distancing with a neighbor on the patio. While all the Napa Valley mountain fruit (Mt Veeder, Spring Mountain, Diamond Mountain and Howell Mountain) are amongst my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon’s this was good but not great! Duckhorn Vineyards has historically made exceptional wines, specifically Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots (Three Palms). This had some great qualities of dark crimson coloring on the eyes and medium heavy viscosity in the glass. On the nose, the aromas of dark fruit, especially blackberries, with a sweet vanilla wafted into the senses. On the mouth licorice, leather and black tea filled the palate. All producing a medium and extremely smooth silky finish. So thus far all the makings of a “great wine from Howell Mountain”. Where it came short was in the structure and tannins providing a more typical Howell Mountain vintage. It was like a stoic comedian, as you keep waiting for the knockout punch line, but it never happened. In other words it was too reserved and meek. Could not find the percentage of Merlot but suspect it was high in the mix. While typically less expensive than most $150 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon’s at $100 it was still a good wine. It was in the cellar almost 5 years and stored correctly.
Pulled out this gem out of the cellar for tonight’s BBQed marinated tri-tip. 2010 O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Malbec and Merlot added for roundness. On the eyes an extremely dark purple and med-heavy viscosity. On the nose an almost overwhelming experience of aromas of violets and blackberries. On the palate everything imaginable from a mountain fruit from Napa Valley. Ranging from dark chocolate, granite to boysenberry. Largely structured similar to the Rock of Gibraltar with immense tannins but is balanced as a tightrope walker with a silky smooth finish. For the last 15+ years always a perennial favorite wine. This was a perfect wine with dinner. Robert Parker rated it 96 points, but I even believe it is higher! Current retail is $150 .
2017 Instigator a 100% Syrah from Shake Ridge Vineyard, Amador County is the real thing! Prospect 772 is located between Angels Camp and Copperopolis just off Highway 4. They received 94 points from Wine Enthusiast. On the eyes such a dark deep purple and heavy viscosity. On the nose blackberries, perfume and spices. On the palate, the blackberries oscillate between sweet and just enough tartness to liven the experience. Blueberries and a light roasted coffee complete the taste. The finish has an enduring and long quality, beckoning you to take another sip. Ron Pieretti has made one of his best wines at Prospect 772. This is one of the best Syrah’s I have tasted 2020 thus far. Only 94 cases produced and this will go fast!
2017 Rosa Fierro Cellars Oaked Chardonnay with Linguine with shrimp, spinach, garlic and spices. Accompanied with sautéed asparagus and mushrooms. Rosa Fierra Cellars is located in Livermore Calif. This was a Gold Medal winner at San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in 2019. The oak is a bit overwhelming but it allows pear and a unique marshmallow flavors to shine. Rosa Fierro Cellars also makes a non-Oaked version of Chardonnay.
Virtual Wine Tasting Continued – The Right Glassware for a Near Perfect Wine – 2010 Lineage Wine, Livermore, California
The Wine Maker:
Steven Kent Mirassou as a 6th generation family winemaker had to set new goals. He set as his pinnacle development to produce the best “Bordeaux style” wine California could produce. A lofty and perhaps extreme goal for one man in Livermore Valley. After many years as a successful winemaker at Steven Kent Winery, he decided to make 3 to 5 barrels a year of the absolute premier “Bordeaux style” wine. We just opened his 2010 vintage, which is the fourth of the Lineage release. This release entailed only five barrels. The blend which changes year to year based on flavor profiles, consisted of Cabernet Sauvignon 65%, Cabernet Franc 16%, Merlot 15%, Petit Verdot 3% and Malbec 1%. While blending is an “artistic” endeavor, Steven also is analytical in his pursuit of the perfect Bordeaux blend.
Here is Steven’s write up on why these varietals and clones were chosen. It is like an artist mixing paint colors for right shading and expression of a painting.
“Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 30: Dark cherry and cassis flavors, fine-grained tannins and acidity. Less opulent but more age worthy than Clone 4.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 191: Cassis, coffee, and mocha flavors, angular, tannic structure and lengthy, persistent finish.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 4: Powerhouse rich, viscous flavors of dark fruit and chocolate with broad tannins.
Cabernet Franc: Not as “big” as CS but with more finesse and an aromatic palate of sandalwood and chocolate. Acidity is the watchword of this variety. Its acid-based red fruit flavors marry well with the darker more tannic Cabernet Sauvignon to enliven and length Lineage’s finish.
Petit Verdot: Contributes tannin, color, and grapey aromas and flavors of violet and black fruit. This variety helps to build density in the mid-palate of the wine.
Malbec: Adds fruit and tannin; quite different from Cabernet in its sauvage mix of dried berry and raspberry fruit notes. It signature aromatic note is obvious when the wine is young. As Lineage ages, the Malbec takes on a dried-fruit edge and nice acidity.
Merlot: Noble variety of Bordeaux’s Right Bank; as counterpoint to CS’s austere structure, Merlot is fleshy and opulent; ripe red/dark cherry flavor, a touch of herbal complexity which adds to Lineage’s rich mid-palate.”
The key take way on blending is that it is extremely selective and requires rigorous decision making of not only varietals, but the correct Clones of the varietals to get the flavor profile. Add another step of both winemaking and personal craftsmanship and abracadabra you have a gorgeous and refined Bordeaux blend called Lineage. I am sure Steven wished it was that simple, but this is the shortened version.
Two of many other detailed undertakings are his hand selection of French oak barrels (Taransaud, Le Grand and Francois Freres) and his constant monitoring of the development of the wine in the barrel. The 2010 Lineage was aged 26 months in barrel and released approximately 35 months after harvest.
The flavor profile and experience of this wine is truly remarkable. First on the eye you see a medium to medium dark red tint and medium viscosity wine. Very different than some of the bold Cabernet Sauvignon’s coming out of Napa Valley. Your first impression is perhaps this may be a bit light. But hold on until you get your first whiff which reveals “black fruits, exotic woods and spice aromatics”. On the palate, you get all the above characteristics that Steven purposed in his selection of varietals and clones to produce a crescendo of semi-sweet mocha, dark cherry, dark roasted coffee, sweet tobacco, violets, black fruit, etc. You are a bit mesmerized in trying to dissect each essential trait in this wine drinking experience. But it is a wine to simple enjoy and savor the existential engagement and relationship of such a rare and eloquent treat.