Wed 27 Apr 2011
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Italy
, Piedmont No Comments
Coppo made its reputation, from the early 1900s, with Moscato, the ubiquitous low-alcohol, lightly-sparkling sparkling wine of Piedmont’s province of Asti. Located in the city of Canelli, the center of Moscato production, Coppo chugged happily along also producing Barbera d’Asti) until the family’s third generation busted the traces in the 1980s and began growing the “international” varieties cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay and using French barriques for maturing their wines. Quel difference, n’est-ce pas? as they say in Italian. So many producers of Barbera wines have succumbed to the lure of French oak since Giacomo Bologna launched his Bricco dell’Uccellone 1982 (released in 1986) that the question whether aging in 225-liter French barriques actually makes a better wine or just a woodier and therefore more structured wine never arises. Still, whatever caveats apply to intention and method, I was impressed by these examples of Coppo’s wines made from barbera and nebbiolo grapes, both contemporary and respecting their heritage. (For the record, I tasted the range of Giacomo Bologna’s recent releases last year in Asti, and I found the reds undrinkably oaky and tannic, but, man, people were standing in line to try them.)
Coppo recently changed American importers — now with Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca. — giving me an opportunity to try several of their products, two Barbera d’Asti wines and a chardonnay from 2007 and a Barolo from 2005. There’s also a Moscato, but I’ll save that for a post on that genre — “Is Moscato the New Prosecco???” — coming soon or at least on a time-line that embodies in fitful episodes the concept of sooniness.
The Coppo L’Avvocata 2007, Barbera d’Asti, was made from 100 percent barbera grapes (as it must be by law) and aged six to eight months in 2,500- to 5,000-liter French oak casks, that is, barrels that are much larger than 225-liter Bordeaux-style barriques. The color is dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim (where the wine touches the curve of the glass if you tilt the glass). Scents of black currants and plums are packed with dried spices and flowers with a backnote of oolong tea, for an effect that’s intense and concentrated as well as being, in the mouth, smooth and mellow. Still, there’s a structure of firm, dusty, fairly chewy tannins; earthy, graphite-like minerality; and vibrant acidity wrapped around ripe and dried black fruit flavors permeated by lavender and potpourri. Quite attractive in a manner that blends seriousness with sensual appeal. Now through 2013 or ’14. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Very Good+. About $15.
The Coppo Camp du Rouss 2007, Barbera d’Asti, on the other hand, matures in French barriques, 20 percent new barrels, for 12 months, and one feels more oak and tannin in the wine from first flush to final finish. The color is a little darker ruby, even unto ebon, than its cousin The Attorney, and the bouquet is amazingly fragrant with flowers, black olives, black tea and licorice, black currants and plums, all framed by woody spice that makes no pretense of nuance. Drenched with flavors of spiced and dried black and red fruit, Camp du Rouss 07 is vigorously earthy, notably dry to the point of some briery and underbrush-like austerity on the finish, and it certainly bears a more rigorous tone and sense of dimension than its cousin. While it’s no old-fashioned manifestation of the grape, with all the flaws and favors that old-fashionedness implied, this is a Barbera d’Asti of some class and distinction, best to drink from 2012 through 2015 to ’17. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent. Excellent. About $20.
While Camp du Rouss may be a modern interpretation of Barbera d’Asti, the Coppo Barolo 2005 is a relentlessly traditional model of the genre. The nebbiolo grapes for Coppo’s Barolo come from around the commune of Castiglione Falletto, whose soil tends to produce fruit that adds weight, vigor and longevity to the wines. Coppo Barolo 2005 fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged 30 months in 2,500-liter French oak casks. The wine seems a compound of ink and dust and granite and tar; traces of dusty potpourri, dusty fruitcake and dusty dried baking spices offer mitigating softness amid the intense and concentrated, macerated and roasted black fruit scents and flavors and the unassailable buttressing of (yes) dusty, shale-like tannins. It’s a wine of character and dignity, brooding but not truculent, enlivened by essential acidity and a few nuances — after an hour’s coaxing — of (yes) dusty rose petals, smoke and violets; an earthy wine, but clean and somehow fresh and invigorating. Best from 2012 or ’13 through 2020 to ’22. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. About $85.
Mon 25 Apr 2011
Forgive me for waxing rhapsodic (for the billionth time), but the Carlton Cellars Cannon Beach Pinot Gris 2010, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, falls certainly within the top handful of wines made from that grape in the United States of America. The winery is owned by Dave Grooters and Robin Russell; Grooters, former owner of a software company on Philadelphia, takes the duties of grower and winemaker. Though the Willamette Valley is indisputably inland, all the wines from Carlton Cellars feature magnificent artwork — this one from a photograph by Chip Phillips — and the names of sites along the Oregon coast, hence Cannon Beach. About halfway through my notes on the Carlton Cellars Cannon Beach Pinot Gris 2010, I wrote the word “ravishing.” Now this term is meant in complimentary fashion, but it could also signify faint dispraise, as if the wine were merely superficially pretty — “Pretty is as pretty does,” my late mother used to say — or spectacularly yet narrowly appealing. We have all had such wines, or met such people, however, no worries in this case. The seductive bouquet teems with notes of lime peel, apple and pear, with high tones of jasmine and acacia (with its slightly astringent complexity) and deeper whiffs of dusty limestone and flint; give the wine a few moments in the glass, and whimsical hints of dried tarragon and thyme emerge. Spicy citrus flavors, abetted by touches of roasted lemon and peach, are enveloped in a deeply satisfying texture that’s almost talc-like in cloud-buffed softness, yet the wine never lapses into mindless luxury because it’s ardently animated by scintillating acidity and glittering limestone-like minerality, the whole package being lively, vibrant and resonant. Now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Production was 600 cases. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value. (Interestingly, for local readers, in Memphis this wine is offered at $16.)
A sample for review.
Sun 24 Apr 2011
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under France
, Syrah  Comments
Wouldn’t you know it! No sooner do I review two wines from France’s Côtes du Roussillon Villages appellation, up in the valley of the Agly river, than two more show up at my threshold. These are produced by the venerable M. Chapoutier, one of the most highly respected estates in the Northern Rhone Valley; Roussillon is pretty far to the west, almost to Spain. The label is Vignes de Bila-Haut and the wines are charming, tasty and versatile. Both are blends of syrah, grenache and carignan grapes. As is the case with all wines from M. Chapoutier, the label includes Braille script for the sight-impaired.
These are R. Shack — Radio Shack??? — Selections for HB Wine Merchants, New York. Samples for review.
The Bila Haut 2009, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, which we drank with a dinner of ham and cheese strata — a casserole that’s sort of like eating breakfast at night because it has bread and eggs — is a creature of dusty graphite-like minerality, dusty herbs, dusty red and black currants and plums imbued with spice, potpourri and leather and undertones of briers and brambles. It’s robust, a little rustic and countrified, and it brings up earthy elements with black olives and smoky oolong tea that permeate the black fruit flavors. The wine sees no oak, maturing, instead, in concrete vats. Drink now through 2013. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $13.50.
For three and a half dollars more, you get, in the Bila-Haut L’esquera 2008, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerda, a far more sleek and polished wine that features full-blown scents and flavors of roasted, meaty and fleshy, spiced and macerated red and black currants with high notes of blueberries and mulberries and heaps of smoky, dried thyme and other dusty wild herbs and flowers. A few minutes in the glass unfurl notes of graphite and mineral-laced tannins and deeper tones of potpourri and violets. The wine bears little oak influence; 80 percent rests in cement vats, with 20 percent in 600-liter barrels. Not quite sophisticated or elegant, Bila-Haut L’esquera 2008 is lively with vibrant acidity and firm with a fairly dense chewy, slightly velvety texture. Boy, did this wine ever put me in mind of lamb chops grilled with garlic and rosemary! Drink now through 2014. Very Good+, and Great Value at about $18. A no-brainer for bistro-style restaurants.
Fri 22 Apr 2011
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Beer  Comments
I’ve been tasting a roster of Belgian beers for an article I’m writing on the subject for my former newspaper. Last night I opened the Westmalle Tripel Trappist Ale and decided after a few sips that it’s perhaps the best beer I have encountered in my life; it’s certainly right up there, anyway, or at least LL and I loved it. There are only seven Trappist monasteries authorized as breweries, six in Belgium and one in Holland. The monastery at Westmalle was founded in 1794. The monks first produced beer for consumption in 1836. Their tripel style beer was introduced in 1934. In Belgium, “tripel” — the origin of the term is obscure — indicates a strong pale ale, in the case of the Westmalle Tripel meaning 9.5 percent alcohol. This example undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, so it’s quite effervescent.
The color is a glowing light golden-amber; the head is deep, pale cream verging on white, persistent and lacy. Aromas of dried citrus fruit and pears, cloves and orange rind are twined with a clean, fragrant yeasty scent that lends a touch of wildness to the bouquet. This is a wonderfully smooth, mellow and supple beer, yet its true character resides in the ineffable balance among its liveliness, its fruity/fruitcake nature — citron, peach, coriander, a hint of almond brittle — and a sense of burgeoning bitterness that grows from mid-palate back through the finish. None of these elements is obtrusive or overstated; all is harmony and integration, though there’s something zesty and racy about the beer too. This rates Exceptional. About $6 for an 11.2-ounce bottle.
Imported by Merchant du Vin, Tukwila, Wa. A sample for review from the local distributor. Image from pubsub.com.
Mon 18 Apr 2011
Dow’s Vale do Bomfim 2008, from Portugal’s Douro Valley, is a great little wine to drink with pizza and red-sauce pasta dishes, burgers, braised meats, barbecue ribs and such. Dow is, of course, one of the distinguished Port houses owned by the Symington family; this wine is made from the same kinds of grapes that go into vintage and reserve Ports, in this case 55 percent tinta barroca, 22 percent tinta roriz (the Spanish tempranillo), 3 percent each tourga nacional and touriga franca and 17 percent “mixed old vines,” which I assume means a field blend of several “old vine” varieties. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged nine months in American oak barrels. Winemakers are Charles Symington and Pedro Correia. The wine is as dark as night, exuberantly smoky and spicy, plummy and peppery, with whole baskets, it seems, of black plums, blueberries and mulberries woven with notes of lavender, violets, potpourri and graphite and just a hint of dried thyme and black olive. If that description makes the wine sound irresistible, it is, though along the parameters of basic, direct appeal. Still, Vale do Bomfim 2008 gradually delves into depths of spice and granite-like minerals, dusty tannins and meaty black and blue fruit flavors supported by vibrant acidity. 13.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2012. Very Good+. About $12, representing Great Value.
Imported by Premier Port Wines, Inc., San Francisco.
Thu 14 Apr 2011
My Readers can tell from the title of this post that I’m a fan of Twomey Cellars, three of whose wines I encountered a few weeks ago at a local wholesaler’s trade tasting.
Raymond Duncan, an oilman from Colorado, partnered with former Christian Brother Justin Meyer, as winemaker, to start Silver Oak Cellars in 1972. Concentrating on cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley and Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, the winery quickly acquired a cult following, a situation that continues today. In 1999, Duncan, with his four sons, launched Twomey Cellars with winemaker Daniel Baron. The winery’s range is not quite as restricted at that of Silver Oak, though still pretty rigorous; Twomey makes only sauvignon blanc, pinor noir and merlot-based wines in limited quantities. Two of Duncan’s sons, Tim and David, are the estate’s managing partners. Winemaker for pinot noir is Ben Cane. Twomey has wineries in Calistoga, Napa Valley, and Healdsburg, Sonoma County.
Sampled at a wholesaler’s trade event.
With the Twomey Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Napa Valley, you feel as if you’re drinking the grape in its most concentrated and distilled character, though despite the intensity, the wine is generous, approachable and delicious. No zingers or palate-whiplash here; oh, yes, the acidity is crystalline and quenching, but it lends the wine appropriate structure and authority without the audacious citric/grapefruit snap that so many other sauvignon blancs deliver. The tale this sauvignon blanc tells is of balance and harmony, with just enough of a keen limestone edge and whiff of gunflint to get your attention in the finish. Tangerine and stone fruit, a whisper of baked pear, hints of fresh-mown grass and dried thyme form a seamless amalgam in bouquet, while similar flavors emphasize the grape’s slightly spicy, leafy, curranty side. The wine aged in oak barrels, steel drums and tanks, so any wood influence is almost subliminal. Drink through 2013. Alcohol content is 13.9 percent. Excellent. About $25.
The Twomey Pinot Noir 2008, Sonoma Coast, is frankly exquisite, revealing the delicate and necessary equilibrium between power and elegance, between deceptive lightness and satiny grace that distinguishes the best pinot noir wines. The color is radiant cerise with a slight bluish-magenta cast; ethereal aromas of black cherry, red and black currants and mulberry are etched with tracings of cranberry, cola and cloves. Despite its purity and intensity, this pinot noir feels transparent, its draping texture more supple and sensuous than obvious or weighty; it doesn’t hurt that vibrant acidity cuts a cleansing swath across the palate. The spicy aspect emerges more prominently through the finish, where a bit of oak — from 13 months in French barrels, 40 percent new — brings in some polish and grain. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $50.
Occasionally, in whatever setting and with whatever intention, I take a sniff and sip of a wine and think, “Oh yes, this is the grape with all its virtues revealed, intensified and concentrated.” That was my thought on first encountering the Twomey Merlot 2006, Napa Valley, a flawlessly, impeccably balanced wine of remarkable depth and surface appeal; it includes six percent cabernet franc grapes. The initial whiffs of mint and iodine, graphite and ripe black currants and blueberries give way to hints of cedar, black olive and dried thyme. This is truly a sizable wine, almost awesome in dimension, and deeply earthy and minerally (in the granite and slate realm), yet it moves, as it were, on little cat feet, utterly deft and refined and elegant. It aged 16 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels, 55 percent once- and twice-used, but there’s no interference of toasty wood here, only a firm yet resilient shapeliness throughout as support to spice-infused black and blue fruit flavors and dense chewy dusty tannins. A great merlot. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $50.
Tue 12 Apr 2011
In 1429, during the Hundred Years’ War, Joan of Arc made her headquarters in Blois, a city that maintains a good deal of its Medieval and Renaissance character. Not that such a fact has tremendous bearing on today’s Wine of the Week, except that Blois lies on the north bank of the Loire River, and if you cross the river at this point and drive south, you soon find the charming village of Cheverny, home of a notable chateau (in a region bursting with such edifices) and sleepy — I’ve been there — little seat of a minor winemaking region. This is not Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume, not Anjou or Saumur, yet the white wines — made primarily from sauvignon blanc — command respect for their liveliness and subtly woven delicacy as well as for their generally inexpensive nature. Today’s Wine of the Week is the Monmousseau Cheverny 2009, a blend of 70 percent sauvignon blanc and 30 percent chardonnay that offers hints of lemon balm and tangerine, almond and orange blossom and, as the wine spends a few moments in the glass, a strain of ginger and quince. Flavors of lime peel and grapefruit, animated by sassy acidity (and a brisk bite of spiced pear), are neatly poised with a tinge of dried grass and herbs and a finish that sends up a taut flag of limestone and gun-flint. Drink through 2012. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Very Good+. I paid $14, but it can be found around the country for $12.
Chardonnay is relatively rare in the Loire Valley, by the way, employed only as a blending grape and usually in restricted quantity.
USA Wine Imports, New York.
Mon 11 Apr 2011
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under France
, Syrah  Comments
As is the case with many European countries, modern France is composed of disparate regions that for centuries retained their independence and social and historic identity. Just as Bordeaux, for example, was once part of England –because of the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II — so the southwest part of France, now called Roussillon, was ruled from Majorca and Aragon, and even now the population identifies itself more closely with the Catalan culture of Spain than with the dominant “French” culture. (Though bull-fighting is officially banned in France, the sport is allowing where it is considered an essential part of local tradition; usually bloodless for the animal as practiced here, bull-fighting can be found from Nimes and Arles west to the Spanish border and across to the Atlantic.) Winemaking has flourished in the sunny (the sunniest vineyard region in France), dry and windy eastern foothills of the Pyrenees mountains since ancient times, when the Greeks introduced vines and then the Romans began cultivating extensive vineyards. Côtes du Roussillon received AOC designation in 1977. A slightly more limited designation, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, is theoretically superior, as in the model of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. The permitted grapes, for red wines, are the Rhone Valley varieties: syrah, grenache, mourvèdre and carignan, with the stipulation that syrah or mourvèdre (or a combination of the two) makes up at least 20 percent of the blend. The area is in the extreme southwest of France, where the coast finishes a great curve in a head-long run at the Spanish border; the Mediterranean is actually east of Roussillon. As you can see in the accompanying image (cavepartdesanges.com), the inland regions can be picturesque and forbidding.
Chateau de Jau, built in 1792, lies smack in the middle of the Côtes du Roussillon-Villages region, on the river Agly. Owned now by the Daure family, which extensively rebuilt the vineyards, the property also produces the well-known Le Jaja de Jau brand. Winemaker is Estelle Daure. The blend for the Chateau de Jau Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2008 is syrah, 45 percent; mourvèdre, 30 percent, carignan, 15 percent; and grenache, 10 percent, so the proportion of syrah and mourvèdre is much higher than is required by law. The wine receives no oak-aging, retaining an attractive sense of freshness and immediate appeal. The effect is pungently grapy, with full-blown scents of black currants and plums infused with lavender and rose petal, touches of dried spices and flowers and darker, spicier underpinnings. The plum aspect, with shadings of black and blue, intensifies in the mouth, with a richer, deeper aspect, while tannins are moderately grainy and chewy; the wine is supported by vibrant acidity and a hint of graphite-like minerality in the background. A really enjoyable pasta, pizza and burger wine — or to be French about it, try with a rabbit terrine, whole-grain mustard and crusty bread — to drink through 2012. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Very Good+. About $14, a Great Bargain.
Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.
Gregory Hecht and François Bannier founded their negociant house in 2002 to seek out appropriate vineyards and then “elevate” — the process of treating wine in a winery by a negociant is called elevage — the wine to produce authentic renditions of the wines of Roussillon. The H & B Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2008 is composed of 55 percent grenache, 25 percent syrah, 15 percent mourvèdre and 5 percent carignan; the wine ages in a combination of old demi-muids of 600 liters, neutral concrete vats and 20 percent new oak. The first impression is of roses and violets woven with meaty and fleshy red and black currants that quickly develop a sense of being spiced and macerated. This wine is vividly lively, imbued with acidity of almost poignant vivacity and wrapped in granite-laced tannins that feel broad and generous on the palate; it’s deeply flavorful, earthy and minerally, bringing into the finish notes of smoke, briers and brambles. Charming, yes, but with real stuffing and character. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $28 in my neck o’ the woods; starts at about $20 and goes up nationally.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
Sun 10 Apr 2011
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Argentina
, Paso Robles
, Petite sirah
, Sonoma County
, Zinfandel No Comments
Well, first, it wasn’t really a contest. I volunteered to take some appropriate red wines to a birthday lunch for my former father-in-law, Ed Harrison, who just turned 94, and while he may not be as spry as he once was, he’s a gracious, good-humored person and all-around gentleman. The fare was pulled pork shoulder with beans and slaw and sauce, brought in from a local purveyor, and (second) just to remind My Readers who live outside this vicinity, the word “barbecue” in Memphis is a noun, not a verb, and it refers to pork shoulder or ribs slow-cooked over hickory coals with a basting sauce. (Don’t believe the outside propaganda that “Memphis-style” barbecue is “dry”; traditionally it has been “wet,” that is, cooked with a basting sauce and served at table with a different sauce.) We don’t say “let’s barbecue tonight” or “let’s have a barbecue” as people apparently do in the North and West regions of this great, vast country. “Barbecue” is the stuff itself in these parts. Got that? And, yes, in these parts the slaw goes in the sandwich.
I pulled six hearty red wines from the rack to take to lunch, and here’s what they were:
*Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles.
*Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007, South Australia.
*Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2008, Russian River Valley.
*Villa Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007, Tuscany.
*Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, Lodi.
*Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.
These wines were samples for review. BBQ sandwich image from lifesambrosia.com; this is a great site for recipes for simple, authentic everyday food, with excellent art and thoughtful commentary.
Let’s eliminate three of these wines immediately. The Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, at 15.8 percent alcohol, epitomized everything that is shamelessly sweet and over-ripe and cloying and awful about high alcohol zinfandel, and I found it undrinkable. About $20. The Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. made from 90 percent sangiovese grapes with 10 percent mammolo and canaiolo nero, was lean and very dry and austere and not nearly ready to consume; frankly something about the angularity of the wine just didn’t feel right with the rich, smoky, slightly spicy barbecue. Try it in a couple of years, however, with porcini risotto or roasted game birds. About $30. Finally, the Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007 seemed unbalanced between its own smoky, fleshy spicy character and dry, almost rigorous austerity. Not a success. About $19 to $24.
Nickel & Nickel’s Darien Vineyard Syrah is consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California; I rated the 2007 version Exceptional and made it one of My Best 50 Wines of 2010. I think I would rate the 08 rendition Excellent, rather than Exceptional, but boy this is a deep, dense, darkling plain of a wine, headily fragrant, intense and concentrated in its spicy and macerated blackberry, black currant and plums scents and flavors and developing over 20 to 40 minutes added levels of detail and dimension. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels. 1,108 cases. About $50. Actually, this wine was too complex, too multi-dimensioned for the barbecue, which required a wine a little less magnificent, a little more down-to-earth and immediately appealing. Those qualities we found in the Clayhouse “Show Pony” Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles, and the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.
The fresh clean vibrant Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 07 is all smoky plums, spicy blueberries and graphite-laced blackberries, ensconced in a smooth, supple structure supported by authoritative, slightly grainy but non-threatening tannins. This went down very nicely with the pork shoulder barbecue, beans and sauce. An expressive version of the petite sirah grape that doesn’t try to knock you down with high alcohol and baroque over-ripeness. This aged 20 months in a combination of French, Eastern European and American oak. Very limited production, unfortunately. Excellent. About $40.
I kept going back and pouring a little more of the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, a blend of 85 percent malbec, 8 percent syrah and 7 percent cabernet sauvignon derived from Mendoza’s Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley areas. The wine was made in a partnership of Chile’s Veramonte winery and Carlos Pulenta, a third-generation vintner in Mendoza. Cruz Andina 08 aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 30 percent new. The whole package is smooth and mellow and tasty, with intense blueberry and red currant flavors supported by elements of smoke and cedar, black olive and potpourri and hints of pepper and spice. This was perfect with the barbecue and fun to drink. Very Good+. About $20.
Wed 6 Apr 2011
First, the terrifically tasty Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2009, produced by the Cantina di Soave, a cooperative founded in 1898 that now boasts 2,200 farmers as members. The Soave region lies east of the beautiful city of Verona, site of the annual giant VinItaly trade fair — coming right up, April 7-11 — with the Soave Classico zone rising in hills in the farther eastern reaches of Soave. The region was granted D.O.C. status in 1968; the theoretically higher or better D.O.C.G. ranking was bestowed in 2002 but only for Soave Classico and Soave Classico Superiore. This latter move was an attempt to separate the Classico and Classico Superiore vineyards in the hills from the inferior vineyards in the flatlands, the source of most of the bland, innocuous Soave wines with which the world is too boringly familiar. As is typically the case with the Italian wine laws, the situation is actually more complicated, but the simplification I offer here will be sufficient to our purpose.
Also complicated is the make-up of the grapes that comprise Soave. Principle among these is garganega, a grape that, given the appropriate climate, soil and elevation, is capable of making interesting and even complex, if not great, wines. For the DOCG wines of the hillsides, the characterless trebbiabo Toscana is now forbidden, though is it found ubiquitously in the Soaves of the plains. Other authorized grapes include trebbiano de Soave, chardonnay (which seems an odd choice) and pinot bianco. Garganega must be at least 70 percent of the blend.
The Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2009, as a matter of fact, is 100 percent garganega. The color is pale straw; the bouquet delivers seductive aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm, almond and almond blossom with hints of green plums, melons and dried thyme. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is notably clean, fresh and crisp, very lemony in flavor with touches of pear and grapefruit and a tremendous spicy element laid over a burgeoning layer of limestone-like minerality. The texture nicely balances scintillating acidity with moderate soft lushness. Thoroughly enjoyable with the bacon and leek risotto with poached egg that I cooked last week. 12.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Filippo Pedron. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.
MW Imports, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The recipe for the bacon and leek risotto with poached egg — wonderful dish! — is in the April 2011 issue of Bon Appetit. Here’s a link to the recipe at the magazine’s website.
Next, for a red wine, we try the Paul Durdilly “Les Grandes Coasses” Vieilles Vignes Beaujolais 2009, from a splendid year in Beaujolais. Notice that this is a “regular” Beaujolais, not a Beaujolais-Villages or a Cru Beaujolais from one of the 10 named communes, yet you would be hard pressed to find a wine that expressed the true nature of the gamay grape more eloquently than this one. The vines average 40 years old, with some going back 70 years. The wine matures in stainless steel tanks and large old barrels, so any wood influence is a subtle, supple sense of shaping and nuances of underlying spice. The wine is lovely in every aspect, from its radiant ruby-purple color with a faint blue cast to its pure and intense bouquet of black and red currants and red raspberries imbued with cloves, mulberries and a touch of graphite-like minerality. In the mouth, this is silken fruit draped over the stones and bones of clean, vibrant acidity and deftly etched limestone and shale, all stated with varietal intensity and concentration that do not cloud the wine’s utter delight. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $17; I paid $20 in Memphis.
North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal. The label in this image is slightly different from the label on the bottle I had.
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