Sangiovese


Since life and this blog cannot be about Champagne and sparkling wine for every post, damnit, we return to our regular programming for a red wine that should serve you well for the coming week or even longer, especially with the flavorful and savory dishes demanded by this chilly weather. In fact, in my neck o’ the woods, it’s gently raining and sleeting at this moment.

Of the three primary appellations for the sangiovese grape in Tuscany — Chianti Classico and Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano –the last is the least familiar and where it is known is generally considered the least refined, if not the most rustic, of the trio. The wines deserve to have a wider audience. A good place to start is with the Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2010. The estate was founded in 1961, when Dino Carletti acquired 22 hectares (about 56.5 acres) in Montepulciano, naming his property Poliziano after the 15th Century poet Angelo Ambrogini, nicknamed “Il Poliziano.” Federico, Dino’s son, operates the estate today, though he expanded the property to 120 hectares (about 308 acres), including vineyards in Maremma, near the coast in southwest Tuscany. Rosso di Montepulciano received official recognition as a D.O.C. wine in 1989. Though it can be made from declassified grapes from Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the practice at Poliziano is to select rows of vines that conform to the production of a younger, fruitier and more approachable wine.

Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2010 is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot; about 40 percent of the wine aged eight months in second-year French barriques, 60 percent in large vats. The wine presents a vivid medium ruby color with a tinge of mulberry at the center; aromas of red cherries and plums are highlighted by sour cherry, a touch of melon and hints of tobacco, black tea, cloves and orange rind. The robust nature of sangiovese has a fingerprint all over this wine, but it’s inextricably melded to and balanced with some of merlot’s refinement. Still, there’s vibrant acidity for an engaging presence and dry and moderately grainy tannins for structure. A hint of austerity sands the finish, but this is mainly a wine that’s juicy with red and black fruit flavors. Now through 2015 with hearty pizzas and pasta dishes or grilled beef, veal or lamb — or just a burger. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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Stop. Drop everything. Run out and buy a case of Piccini Chianti 2011, from, of course, Tuscany. You’ll pay less than $100 for those 12 bottles, with the standard 10 percent case discount. The estate was founded in 1882 by Angiolo Piccini and is now operated by the family’s fourth generation. Antonella Conti has been winemaker since 2006. The Piccini Chianti 2011, which the company calls “Chianti Orange” — let’s hope this device stirs no memories in the USA of the notorious Agent Orange — because of the label, is a blend of 95 percent sangiovese grapes and 5 percent ciliegiolo. Conti ( pictured here) employs the traditional but now little used governo technique of inducing a second fermentation by adding to the wine pressed dried grapes from the same harvest. The result is a slight tempering of the acidity of the sangiovese grape and a slight increase in carbon dioxide, making for an agreeable and quaffable wine. The Piccini Chianti 2011, however, is better than agreeable and quaffable. The color is deep ruby; aromas of fresh and dried black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of woody spices like cloves and sandalwood with a background of violets, leather and black tea. The wine offers tasty, spicy and macerated black and red fruit flavors — there’s an undertow of pomegranate — nestled in a firm supple structure of finely meshed but not self-important tannins. There’s satisfying balance between richness, the natural spareness of the sangiovese grape and a touch of graphite-like minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. This was a great pizza wine for us and would serve well with hearty pasta dishes, burgers and braised short ribs. Drink through 2013. Very Good+, and a Raving Bargain at about $9.

Imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore. A sample for review.

Sorry that I did not produce a Weekend Wine Sips this week. You know how it is, the world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our powers blah blah blah.

All right, after consulting with my board of directors and executive committee and conducting a straw pool among undecided voters in swinging states, I decided to change the name of the “Friday Wine Sips” project to “Weekend Wine Sips,” mainly because I more often post this entry on Saturday or even Sunday than on Friday. At least I don’t have to feel guilty, which for me is a blessing since I would confess to the assassination of the Queen of Romania if pressed to do so; whew, don’t have to worry about that for a while. Anyway, today we have red wines that range from lighthearted to impressive, from drink-right-now to wait-a-few-years. We touch Argentina, Italy, France and California; we have organic wines; we have blends and 100 percent varietal. What we don’t have are reams of technical and historical information, the purpose of these Friday Wine Sips, oops, Weekend Wine Sips being to provide lightning quick appraisals designed to strike to the heart of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at trade events. Ratings vary from a sad “Good Only” to “Excellent.”
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Cavicchioli Lambrusco Dolce, nv, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. 7.5% alc. Startling bright cherry-mulberry color; mildly effervescent; pure cherry and raspberry, sweet and quite ripe initially but vibrant acidity dries the wine from mid-palate back, without subtracting from its dark juiciness; intriguing contrast and balance between the ripeness of the red fruit and the hints of spice and slightly earthy minerality; avoids the Kool-Aid® aspects of so many lambruscos. Quite charming and you’d be surprised how well it goes with savory food. Very Good. About $9, a Great Price.
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Cecchi Chianti Classico 2009, Tuscany, Italy. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% colorino Toscano. Rough and rustic, shaggy tannins, leans toward the anonymous, generic side of sangiovese. Should be better. Good only. About $13.
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Bonterra Merlot 2010, Mendocino County. 13.6% alc. Certified organic. “With added touches of petite sirah, syrah and carignane.” Dark purple with a lighter ruby-magenta rim; smoke, black currants and blueberries; quite dense and chewy with dusty tannins; barest hint of black olives and cedar; bright acidity, earthy finish where you feel the oak. Very Good. About $16.
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Bonterra Zinfandel 2010, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. With “a little petite sirah.” Beautiful ruby-magenta color; nice mouthful of wine but could be cabernet or merlot; what are the distinguishing characteristics, except for a bit of ripe, berryish vitality? Good+. About $16.
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Wild Horse Merlot 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 5% malbec, 2% cabernet sauvignon and 4% “other red.” Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, lavender and roasted fennel, cedar, black tea and loam; firm yet supple structure, sustaining acidity, almost succulent but balanced by slightly grainy tannins; no great depth but an attractive individual rendition. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $19.
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Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 1% syrah. Dark purple shading to medium ruby rim; cedar and tobacco, mint and eucalyptus, spicy black currants and plums; smooth, velvety, slightly dense and chewy; backnotes of oak and dusty tannins; clean, lively finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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Chakona Estate Selection Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple, close to opaque at the center; a strapping wine, deep and broad; formidable structure balances grainy tannins, spicy oak and vibrant acidity for a complete package — purposeful and dynamic — that doesn’t entirely conceal lovely character and breeding. Now (with grilled meat) or from 2014 to 2018. Excellent. About $25.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zinfandel. Deep ruby-purple color; fresh, bright and fruit, spicy and savory; not a blockbuster but immediately drinkable; black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of briers and brambles, tar and graphite; pulls up squinchy, mouth-coating tannins and adds some mineral-fueled power through the finish. Now through 2014. Production was 212 cases. Very Good+. About $25.
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Artezin Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley. 14.8% alc. With 3% petite sirah and 1% syrah. Dark ruby-purple; deep, rich and spicy; blackberries and plums with a hint of boysenberry and blueberry tart; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of fig paste, tapenade and soy sauce; very dry, with well-knit tannins and integrated, spicy oak; black and blue fruit a little fleshy; a strain of earthy, graphite-laden minerality dominates the vibrant and slightly austere finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 360 cases. Excellent.
About $25, representing Great Value.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.1% alc. 58% merlot, 22% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. From Margerum Wine Company. Consumed at a restaurant, later tasted at a trade event. Dark ruby color; seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants, touch of plums and black mulberries, deeply spicy and savory; lavender, violets, graphite; black olive and thyme; deep foundation of dusty, lithic tannins and smoky oak, coats the mouth and laves the palate with ripe and velvety black and blue fruit flavors that never get blatant or slushy; firm, gripping hand of vital acidity cuts a swath. Frankly delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Hecht & Bannier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2009, Languedoc, France. 14.5% alc. 55% grenache, 25% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 5% carignan. Dark ruby with a lighter ruby rim; meaty and fleshy red and black currants, wildly spiced and macerated, over hints of roses and violets; vibrant, lively, engaging yet deeply imbued with dense dusty tannins and a powerful earthy, graphite-like mineral character; smoke, brambles, touch of moss through the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba Rinaldi 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby color; dried spices and flowers, lavender and potpourri, hint of pomander, red and black fruit scents and flavors; deeply foresty and earthy, brushy and briery tannins, precisely balances succulence with a strict regimen of acidity and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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With Saturday night’s pizza, I opened a bottle of the Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico 2009, a wine drinking beautifully at not quite three years old.

The small hill town of Volpaia — “fox’s lair” — dates to the 11th Century, established as a frontier outpost by Florence against Siena. The village retains much of its medieval appearance today, thanks, in large part, to the restoration efforts of the Stianti Mascheroni family that owns about two-thirds of the town and has converted many of the old buildings to winery facilities and homes for their workers. Volpaia’s Chianti Classico is a combination of modern and traditional. For modernity, it’s a blend of 90 percent sangiovese with 10 percent “international” grapes — merlot and syrah; the vineyards are certified organic, and the age of the vines varies from about 10 to about 40 years old. For traditional, the wine was aged 12 months in large oak casks, not small French barriques, though the Chianti Classico Riserva (one level higher, theoretically) gets about 20 percent barrique treatment.

Anyway, Volpaia Chianti Classico 2009 sports an intense medium ruby color; aromas of dried cherries and currants are woven with spiced tea, violets, orange zest, a hint of briers and brambles and a bit of graphite. It’s quite alluring but in a subdued manner; there’s nothing flamboyant or opulent here. While this Chianti Classico’s structure is firm and a little dense with finely-milled and open-knit tannins, it also exhibits lovely lightness, delicacy and balance, along with vibrant acidity and juicy but spare flavors of red and black cherries and currants with a sprightly touch of mulberry, potpourri and sandalwood. The finish is of moderate length, sleek and elegant with a bit of woody spice and earthy minerality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Ca. A sample for review.

La Mozza estate was established in 2000 by three larger-than-life personalities who rule a great deal of the Italian restaurant and wine scene in New York, that is to say, Joe Bastianich and his business partner chef Mario Batali and his mother the restaurateur Lidia Bastianich. La Mozza is in Maremma, in southwest Tuscany by the coast of the Tyrrhennian, mare being Latin for sea; the province is Grosseto. Joe Bastianich and his mother also own the Bastianich winery, founded in 1997, in the Colli Orientali del Friuli region of northeast Italy. Maremma long lagged behind the central Chianti regions of Tuscany because of the swampy terrain, the presence of malaria and the tendency of the populace to banditry. Those problems were solved by the middle of the 20th Century, and the ambitious started buying land and planting vines. While the coastline is rife with resorts, the vineyard areas lie inland. La Mozza produces two wines, I Perazzi Morellino di Scansano, mainly sangiovese, morellino being the local name for the grape, and the more expensive, but not strenuously so, Aragone Maremma Toscana, in which sangiovese plays a smaller role. Winemakers are Gabriele Gadenz and Maurizio Castelli.

La Mozza I Perazzi 2010, Morellino di Scansano, is a blend of 85 percent sangiovese, 5 percent each syrah and alicante, 3 percent ciliegiolo and 2 percent colorino; colorino is a minor red grape of Chianti, little used now, while ciliegiolo is another minor grape about which there is some dispute that it is either a parent or an off-spring of sangiovese. “Morellino” means “little cherry,” and indeed I Perazzi, though named for an indigenous pear-like fruit, offers the vivid tint, scent and flavor of fresh black and red cherries, highlighted by hints of raspberries and mulberries. The wine is fermented by natural yeasts; 30 percent aged for 10 months in used French barriques. This is no simpleminded cherry-berry wine, however; the succulence of its tasty flavors is bolstered by vibrant acidity, a fine-grained texture and structure — I think of the texture as the surface of the structure — and well-balanced, slightly dusty tannins that nonetheless bring a bit of austerity to the finish. Elements of lavender and licorice, graphite and underbrush add detail to the wine’s dimensions. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 to ’15. We had I Perazzi 2010 with a hearty pizza topped with bacon and roasted tomatoes, onions and peppers; it would also serve excellently with burgers and steaks, grilled lamb chops and such. Very Good+. About $16, a price that merits Buying by the Case.

Dark Star Imports, New York. This was a sample for review.

Devotees of adding grape varieties to their Century Club roster may find a few candidates among the wines reviewed in this edition of Friday Wine Sips, posted for you actually on Friday! The theme today — not that we always have a theme — is blended red wines, and not the usual cab/merlot/cab franc/petit verdot or syrah/mourvèdre/grenache agenda but some blends that draw perhaps on those grapes but even more on eclectic notions of what grapes are right, fit and proper together. The inclusion of a couple of wines from Portugal that feature indigenous varieties guarantees a couple of grapes that some of my readers may be unfamiliar with, while for the first time in the epic history of this Higgs boson-haunted cosmos I feature a wine from Turkey and a pair of grapes that will tip the mercury in your thermometer of exoticism. Once a producer blends four or five or six red grapes from a broad area or from several regions, the point obviously is not to pay homage to the purity of a grape variety or the integrity of a vineyard but to assemble a wine that’s appealing and tasty or, perhaps more important, that structurally and philosophically makes sense on its own terms. Several of the wines considered today accomplish this task handily, a few range from decent and acceptable to a little iffy, and one employs five grape varieties from three counties in California and succeeds only in manufacturing something generic. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, I avoid most technical, historical, specifically geographical and personal information for the sake of quick, incisive notices designed to make you say “Hot damn, gimme some o’ that!” (Or not.)

These wines were samples for review.
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Esporão Alandra Red Table Wine nv, Portugal. 13% alc. A blend of moreto, castelão and trincadeira grapes. Dark mulberry-plum color; very smoky and spicy, ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors; deep, dense, chewy, sapid and savory, heaps of robust grainy tannins; finish packed with slate, forest, thyme and dried porcini; sort of amazing presence and personality for the price. Begs for grilled sausages (though it’s not a wine to beg, really, more like demand). Very Good. About $7, an Outrageous Bargain.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2010, California. 13.7% alcohol. 69% carignane, 31% syrah. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; pungent, ripe, fleshy, black cherry and black currant with hints of plums, blueberries, smoke, graphite; intense core of potpourri and bittersweet chocolate; very spicy, quite dense and chewy with grainy tannins, vibrant acidity, lots of structure; an old-fashioned, rather rustic, juicy, briery California quaffer for burgers, steaks, pizzas. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
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Peter Lehmann Layers 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. 55% shiraz, 18% tempranillo, 17% mourvèdre, 10% grenache. Dark ruby-purple color; intriguing aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums with touches of black pepper, iodine, cloves and foresty elements; dense and chewy yet smooth and mellow, drinks like a charm; deep, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, delicious and unfettered; a satisfying, moderately long finish packed with spice and earthy notes. We drank this wine with a hearty pizza. Very Good+. About $17.
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Ghost Pines Red Blend “Winemaker’s Blend” 2009, Napa County 46%, Sonoma County 36%, San Joaquin County 18%. (A Gallo label.) Cabernet sauvignon 33%, petite sirah 29%, zinfandel 22%, merlot 10%, syrah 6%. Solid, well-made, symmetrical and unexciting; good acidity and smooth tannins, tasty black fruit flavors, but lacks personality and delineation. Maybe it would be O.K. at five dollars less. Very Good. About $20.
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Highflyer Centerline 2008, California. 14.8% alc. 81% syrah, 12% petite sirah, 4% tempranillo, 3% zinfandel. Deep purple-black with a motor oil-like sheen; very intense, very concentrated; black currants, black raspberries and plums with some plum-skin bitterness and underbrush on the finish; iron and iodine, exotic, wild, coats the mouth with brooding tannins and yet elevating touches of sandalwood, cloves and fruitcake; still, needs a year or two or a huge medium-rare steak hot and crusty from the grill. Try 2013 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $20.
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Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2009, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. 42% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 6% zinfandel, 3% syrah, 3% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color; packed with spice, earth, shale-and-slate-like minerality; very intense and concentrated, pretty damned densely tannic and oaky; robust, almost exuberant, but needs a couple of years to ease the reins of its furled nature (furl its reins? rain on its fur?). Try 2013 or ’14 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $24.
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Kayra Imperial 2008, Elazig, Denizli, Turkey. 14% alc. Okuzgozü 80%, bogazkere 6%, syrah, 7%, petit verdot 7%. Very dark ruby-purple; bright, vivid, very spicy; blueberries and mulberries, smoke and graphite-like minerality; very appealing, furry tannins and a velvety texture, but oak and tannin also give it some structural rigor, all being nicely composed and well-knit; a bit of austerity on the finish. A fascinating wine. Very Good+. About $25.
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Esporão Reserva 2009, Alentejo, Portugal. 14.5% alcohol. A blend of aragonez (that is, tempranillo), trincadeira, alicante bouschet and cabernet sauvignon. Color is inky-purple; first impression: oak and tannins pretty blatant; smoky, fleshy and meaty, lots of spice, touch of mint, slightly herbal, dark and succulent black fruit flavors; there’s a personality here waiting to unfold but give it a year or two or three. Very Good+. About $25.
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Spelletich 3 Spells Blend GHK Red Wine 2007, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 57% merlot, 28% sangiovese, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby-purple; rates an initial “wow”; ink, iodine and iron, graphite, lavender and licorice, violets and bittersweet chocolate; black and red cherries, raspberries and plums; smooth and mellow but something born free about it, almost feral; plush and voluptuous but held in check by resonant acidity, substantial tannins and granite-like minerality; definitely Californian and all the better for it. 300 cases. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $26 and Worth a Search.
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I didn’t produce a Friday Wine Sips post this week, and I’m not going to do it today, so why not be forward-looking with the Wine of the Week?

I made the Bindi Sergardi Chianti Colli Senesi 2008, Toscana, one of my “Great Bargains of 2011.” I missed the rendition of 2009, but recently tasted the 2010, and it’s even better than its cousin from ’08. Chianti Colli Senesi means “Chianti from the hills of Siena,” a designation that gives you an idea where the D.O.C. fits within the geography of Tuscany, that is to say, Siena is about 32 miles south of Florence. The rivalry between Siena and Florence, the latter long considered the center of the Tuscan wine trade, goes back a thousand years, and at sporting events today, some Sienese may taunt their Florentine counterparts with “Remember Montaperti” — all in good fun! — a great battle the Sienese won on September 4, 1260. They have long memories in Europe.

Made entirely in stainless steel from 100 percent sangiovese grapes, Bindi Sergardi Chianti Colli Senesi 2010 offers a beautiful limpid cerise color and incredibly attractive aromas of red and black cherries, red currants, orange rind, black tea and cloves. The wine is quite dry yet juicy with black and red fruit flavors, touched with something slightly exotic like sandalwood and pomegranate, and enlivened by bright acidity, hints of mulberries, potpourri and pomander, and a persistent graphite quality. The texture is soft, almost velvety, but the tannins that burgeon from mid-palate through the finish bring in elements of briers, underbrush and dried porcini. Drink now through 2013 or ’14 with pizza, pasta dishes with tomato sauces and grilled beef, veal or lamb. Charming but with sufficient heft to be taken seriously. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15, a Terrific Value.

Imported by Le Vignole Fine Wines, Memphis, Tenn. A sample for review.

I first tasted the wines of Tenuta di Valgiano in March 2006, at the third “Return to Terroir” event in New York. I returned to that city at the end of February this year for the latest manifestation of that gathering of biodynamic wineries and tried the wines again. Happily, I see no reason to reject my initial notes, which followed the lines of “wonderful … fabulous… great character & tone & balance … vibrant … resonant…”

The estate, distinguished by a handsome 16th Century house, lies about 10 kilometers northeast of Lucca, in one of Tuscany’s neglected vineyard regions. Most people, that is, wine consumers, know about Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino and perhaps Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but fewer realize that wine is also made around the ancient towns of Siena and Pisa and Lucca. Tenuta di Valgiano is owned by husband-and-wife Moreno Petrini and Laura di Collobiano; she seems to be the face of the winery, traveling, officiating at tastings, giving interviews.

Tenuta di Valgiano has been run on biodynamic principles since 2002. In an interview with earthwine in April, Laura di Collobiano listed the methods utilized in the estate’s vineyards: sowing of various herbs and green manure, clay, copper and sulfur treatments, biological action against parasites, and careful management of the leaf canopy – hence yield, quality, health of the vines, and aromatic characteristics of the wine have improved. I find this recitation fascinating, because the practices di Collobiano mentions are, it seems to be, only common sense when farmers, vineyard managers and winemakers approach their jobs in truly thoughtful fashion. Of course one would want to exercise “careful management of the leaf canopy;” that has nothing to do with the philosophy of biodynamic farming.

“Green manure” is not the fresh poop of young cows; the term refers to the use of cover crops sown between rows of vines to retain nitrogen in the soil or to suppress weeds. Among the first group are cowpeas, soybeans, sweet clover and vetch; among the latter are such non-leguminous plants as millet, sorghum and buckwheat. I have trod the earth of many vineyards around the world that employ “green manure” techniques — the rows also look very pretty — and most of them did not operate by the methods of biodynamism but under the assumption that cover cropping made sense economically and agriculturally.

“Biological action against parasites” generally means using good insects to fight bad insects — sort of like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol — the approved predators including dragonflies and damselflies, mantids, lacewings, beetles and some species of wasps and ants. Again, many practitioners of sustainable or organic farming employ the techniques of “biological control”; they are not limited to biodynamic followers.

So while Petrini and di Collobiano subscribe, according to their statements, to the principles, the philosophy and the practices of the biodynamic movement, it sounds to me more as if their procedures embody a sensitive deployment of discrimination, deliberation and common sense as applied to the health of the vines and the well-being of the soil.

The property produces four wines, a bianco and rosso Palistorti di Valgiano; the single-vineyard Scasso dei Cesari, 100 percent sangiovese; and the simply named but powerfully framed Teunta di Valgiano, a blend of sangiovese, merlot and syrah.

Imported by several small companies. Cropped image of Laura di Collobiano from bbrblog.com.
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The winsome and terrifically appealing Palistorti di Valgiano 2010, Colline Lucchesi Bianco, is a blend of 50 percent vermentino grapes, 25 percent trebbiano and malvasia and 25 percent chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. It’s fresh and clean and bright, an amalgam of almond and almond blossom, roasted lemon and lemon balm with a touch of lime peel; there’s a hint of hay, and a touch of the sea about it in an intriguing whiff of sea-salt and salt-marsh. Spare and elegant, permeated by flint and limestone-like minerality, Palistorti Bianco 2010 still yields a gorgeous, almost golden texture as it unfurls aspects of dried spice and flowers, citrus and stone-fruit flavors and frisky acidity. Now through the end of 2012 or into 2013, with grilled fish or shellfish or marine-based pastas and risottos. Excellent. About $17 to $22.
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The blend of the Palistorti di Valgiano 2009, Colline Lucchesi Rosso, is 70 percent sangiovese, 20 percent merlot and 10 percent syrah. The wine is clean, fresh and very spicy, deeply imbued with scents and flavors of ripe black and red currants, blueberries and plums permeated by elements of briers and brambles and undertones of dried fruit and flowers, orange zest and black tea. Moderately dense but well-behaved tannins, vibrant acidity and a touch of mossy earth and granite-like minerality support juicy but not lush or blatant fruit, all this devolving to a mineral-packed and slightly austere finish. This calls for burgers, red-sauce pasta, barbecue brisket or a steak. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17 to $22.
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The flagship Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Lucchesi, is a serious wine with a structure that’s almost brooding in its intensity and concentration, yet it comports itself with finely honed dignity and a sense of resilience and expansiveness; in other words, great character, tone and presence in a wine that will begin to unfurl from about 2014 onward. It’s a blend of 60 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent each merlot and syrah that even in this state of youthful power and darkness manages to feel elegant in its balance and dimension. It’s not easy to spend time with a wine at a trade event, but I happened to take my meager glass of Tenuta di Valgiano 2008 to a fairly secluded corner and swirl, sniff and sip for a few minutes. Even that brief acquaintance allowed the wine to bloom a bit, so while the color of course remained deep kingly ruby-purple, my nose detected beguiling elements of lavender and violets, dusty graphite, a hint of iron and iodine and, almost more implied than in evidence, spiced and macerated black and red currants, plums and mulberries. Enormous potential, but the patient will give it two or three to five years. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55 to $60.

Image, much cropped, from magnusericsson.wordpress.com.
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I know, you’re thinking, “F.K., why don’t you just call this weekly series Saturday Wine Sips, since you seem to have so much trouble getting the thing written and posted on Friday?” Well, because Friday is the lead-in to the weekend, and I think of this series as brief reviews of wines My Readers would like to find for their weekend (moderate) drinking enjoyment. So I miss by a day here and there! So what!

A group of Italian wines today, whites and reds from Tuscany and Piedmont, including one of the best wines made from vermentino grapes that I have encountered; there’s also an excellent Dolcetto and Nebbiolo. As usual with the Friday Wine Sips, even when I post on Saturday, I deliberately keep matters brief and decisive by striking to the heart of the thing and eliminating the usual data about history, specific geographical matters, winery personnel and so on. What you read is what you get. The Poggiotondo wines were samples for review; the others were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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La Scolca White Label Gavi 2010, Piedmont. 13% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Pale straw-gold color, faint green highlights; spiced lemon with a touch of lemon balm, hints of almond and almond blossom, peach and pear; crisp, lively, alert; pleasing texture infused with limestone-and-shale-like minerality; spicy finish. Very attractive for drinking through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
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Poggiotondo Vermentino 2011, Toscana. 13.5% alc. 100% vermentino grapes. Radiant pale gold; fresh and floral as a spring garden; yellow plums and thyme, roasted lemon and pear; clean, bracing sea breeze and salt marsh astringency; quite spicy, very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone-like minerality supporting ripe stone-fruit flavors; long spice-thronged finish. Now through 2013 or ’14. One of the best vermentino wines I have encountered. Excellent. About $20, a Notable Value.
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Poggiotondo Rosso 2010, Toscana. 12.5% alc. 40% sangiovese, 30% merlot, 30% syrah. I was not as impressed by the Poggiotondo red wines as by the Vermentino, but I definitely liked the Rosso better than the Chianti. Simple and direct and tasty; gushes with spicy red and black fruit scents and flavors balanced by bright acidity and sleek, moderately chewy tannins; the finish adds leather, briers and brambles. A decent quaffer for red sauce pasta dishes, pizzas and burgers. Drink through the end of 2012. Very Good. About $11.
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Poggiotondo Chianti Cerro del Masso 2009, Toscano DOCG. 13% alc. 80% sangiovese, 10% merlot, 5% each syrah and colorino. A curious marriage of bland and harsh; takes rusticity to the edge of roughshod. Sangiovese deserves better. Not recommended. About $15.
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Marziano Abbona Dolcetto Dogliani “Papa Celso” 2009, Piedmont. 14% alc. 100% dolcetto grapes. Dark ruby color with a violet-magenta cast; warm, fleshy, meaty floral bouquet, spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums, undertones of lavender and leather; quite earthy, with touches of moss and underbrush, a little spare and austere yet almost succulent in texture, almost velvety; a graphite-like strain of minerality through the finish keeps it in line. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba “Rinaldi” 2009, Piedmont. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby-purple; leather, plums and mulberries, briers and brambles, a little fleshy and floral; very dry, packed with dried spices and dried red and black fruit flavors; fairly foresty, burgeoning underbrush, austere from mid-palate back through the finish where it picks up some granite-like minerality and a bit of heat. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $30.
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Marziano Abbona Nebbiolo d’Alba “Bricco Barone” 2009, Piedmont. 14% alc. 100% nebbiolo grapes. Classic. Deep ruby-purple; tar, earth, violets and truffles, rosemary and its bit of resiny astringency, black currants and plums; full-bodied, dense, very dry, jammed with finely milled and sifted tannins, graphite elements and woody spices; touches of fruitcake, potpourri and bitter chocolate; long, spun-out finish. Demands rabbit fricassee, game birds, venison. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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