Sangiovese


The tale has often been told about how the wine we known as Brunello di Montalcino was created by Ferruccio Biondi-Santi (pictured at right) on his Tuscan estate Il Greppo and first bottled in 1888. The family was the only producer of Brunello di Montalcino until after World War II and had, in fact, released the wine only in 1888, 1891, 1925 and 1945, a fact that testifies to incredibly rigorous standards and deep pockets. As the wine’s prestige grew after the war, the number of producers markedly increased, particularly in the 1980s and ’90s.

The original regimen of barrel-aging for Brunello di Montalcino was a long 42 months, a procedure that resulted — no surprise — in wines of great hauteur and austerity that demanded many years, if not decades, to mellow. That requirement was lowered to three years barrel aging in 1990 and two years in 1998, though Brunello di Montalcino must still age four years before release in a combination of barrel and bottle-aging; it’s the producer’s prerogative as to what that process will be. The wine, first by custom and then by law, must be made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes, a regimen with which many winemakers disagree, seeing the necessity to blend portions of other grapes to soften the wine’s somewhat rigid character.

While modernization has come to all parts of Tuscany, Biondi-Santi serenely follows the path it forged generations ago. Ferruccio’s grandson Franco oversees the estate and the august reputation of its wines today, while his son Jacopo, who founded his own estate in Maremma in 1996, has broken away from the family after disagreements with his father. (The image above, from decanter.com, reveals Biondi-Santi father and son in an apparently rare mood of shared good humor.)

In this post, we look at one of Jacopo Biondi-Santi’s best-known wines, Sassoalloro, in its rendition of 2008, and the Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata 2005; both were made completely from sangiovese grapes. Are the wines different? Does the Pope wear a funny hat? Of course they’re different, but each is engaging and fully engaged in its vastly diverse task.

Imported by Vision Wines & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J. These wines were samples for review.
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The Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata 2005 aged 36 months in large Slovenian oak barrels; the vines for this wine are a minimum of 25 years old. From beginning to end, the wine is a monument to the sangiovese grape. The extraordinary bouquet is an intense and lofty amalgam of dried red and black currants and red cherries, violets and graphite, oolong tea, sandalwood, leather and moss and mushrooms, all seemingly ground by some ethereal mortar and pestal of the gods; you could live in it. While this bouquet is fantastically warm, spicy, inviting and seductive, in the mouth matters quickly turn serious; I did not use the word “monument” casually. The Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata 2005 is dense with iron-clad and finely-milled tannins and dry in an almost ecclesiastical way, in the sense of ancient, dusty wood polished by centuries of use and permeated by the slightly bitter austerity of old incense. The earthy aspects hinted at in the bouquet — the tea, graphite, leather, mushrooms and moss, along with some dusty dried porcini — penetrate the wine’s structure to its deepest foundations, while the clean, bright architecture of acidity gives it amazing vibrancy, despite its formidable depth and dimension; the finish is long, somber and dignified. Old-fashioned? You bet. Do I mind? Not a bit. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2025 to ’30 with roasted game birds or pappardelle with rabbit sauce. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Production was about 5,876 cases. Exceptional. About $149.
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The appellation for the Jacopo Biondi-Santi Sassoallora 2008 is Scansano, in southwestern Tuscany not far from the seacoast. The wine aged 14 months in untoasted French barriques, that is, small 60-gallon oak barrels. The color is deep ruby with a faint magenta rim; the bouquet is indeed sangiovese — violets and sour cherry, red currants with a touch of blueberry, black tea and brambles, a hint of pomander — but with a fruity and fruitful intensity of ripeness and immediate appeal, a pointed thrust of lead pencil, licorice and bay leaf, all marked by clarity and freshness. The wine is smooth and supple in the mouth, a stream of lithe, concentrated, spicy black and blue fruit flavors wrapped in velvet and tied off with graphite-like minerality and resonant acidity; firm, slightly chewy tannins plow through the long, spice-and-dust packed finish. New-fangled? You bet. Do I mind? Not a bit. 14 percent alcohol. Begs, I mean freakin’ begs, for a medium-rare rib-eye steak, smokin’ from the grill or one of those Florentine steaks for two, sliced and crunchy with rock salt. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $30.
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Sangiovese is the primary grape of Tuscany, of singular important to three regions: In the typically blended Chianti, though 100 percent sangiovese is allowed (with Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva); in Brunello di Montalcino, where it is the only grape authorized, though many producers would like to change that regulation; and in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, where the wine is also a blend and the sangiovese grape is known as prugnolo gentile, one of many variations on the grape’s name in Tuscany.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is not as well-known as Chianti and Brunello, and its wines tend to be more rustic (or regarded as more rustic by reputation) than its cousins. Our example today in the Wine of the Week, however, may be robust and full-bodied, but it’s certainly not rustic. The Avignonesi 2007, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, marries the sangiovese grape’s typical sour cherry, slightly bitter foresty nature with a deep, vibrant earthy, graphite character. The wine is a blend of 85 percent prugnolo gentile (sangiovese), 10 percent canaiolo nero and 5 percent mammolo; it aged 18 months in large oak casks and 18 months in second use French barriques. There’s great, supple firmness in the structure, yet the wine is drenched in red and black fruit flavors (and a hint of pomegranate) permeated by alluring notes of coffee and tobacco, potpourri and oolong tea, bay leaf and rosemary (with that touch of resin), while it’s packed with spices from the whole redolent, savory box. Tannins are immense, dense, chewy, and the whole package, indeed, feels multi-dimensional in size and scope. The finish is long, dusty, resonant and ultimately balanced and integrated. 13 percent alcohol. This may not be as sophisticated as many of the wines emanating from its neighboring regions, but, boy, you won’t care about that when you sit down with a bottle and a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Drink 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. I paid $26; prices around the country range from about $23 to $30.

Imported by Classics USA, Napa, Ca.

An Italian pinot grigio and a Chianti Classico, and you’re thinking, “Ho-hum, hum-drum,” but you couldn’t be more wrong. Each is a superior and eloquent expression of grape variety and geography, and they should not be missed.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa Cal. These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform my readers by the FCC, though print journalists are not so required.
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Pinot grigio here, pinot grigio there, blah blah blah, and then I run across a pinot grigio wine that gives the distinct impression that it performs exactly as the grape was meant to perform in its Platonic ideal. This one is the Ascevi Luwa Pinot Grigio 2010 from Italy’s Collio D.O.C. in the northeastern Friuli Venezia Giulia region, right up near the border with Slovenia. Made completely in stainless steel, this pinot grigio exudes a floral-fruity-mineral-laced presence that feels not only irresistible but totally authentic and inevitable. The color is pale yellow-gold; the nose is a remarkable weaving of roasted lemons and lemon balm, verbena and mint, dried thyme, almond and almond blossom, a touch of hay or straw, and then, after a few moments in the glass, comes a waft of a bracing iodine-tinged salt-marsh briskness. No, friends, this is not your ordinary pinot grigio. In the mouth, the wine is smooth and sleek, tasty indeed with lemon, lime and lime peel flavors highlighted by cloves and a hint of licorice, all bolstered by crisp, clean acidity and a burgeoning limestone element, wrapped, finally, by a persistent lime-grapefruit finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. This is almost too good to serve merely as an aperitif, or if you ask it to perform such function make certain to accompany it with snacks like grilled baby octopus or white bean-and-sage bruschetta or a selection of mild charcuterie. Drink now through the end of 2012. Excellent. About $19.
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Italy, again, this time Tuscany, for the Vignole 2008, Chianti Classico, a wine made along modern lines — “modern” since the 1980s — that manages to be completely and happily old-fashioned in effect. The decree of 1984 called for a minimum of 75 percent sangiovese grapes and permitted small amounts of the traditional blending grapes for Chianti Classico, up to 10 percent red canaiolo grapes and five percent white trebbiano and malvasia, and up to 15 percent of what were called “authorized” grapes, that is nontraditional “outsider,” i.e., international, grapes such as merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The Vignole 2008 forgoes the traditional grapes by adding 15 percent merlot to 85 percent sangiovese. Aging in small French barriques is close to ubiquitous in Tuscany now, though Chianti Classico usually is not put through new oak and is better off so. This estate, located in Panzano, noted as a superior site for Chianti Classico since the mid-19th Century, ages the merlot in medium-size casks and the sangiovese in barriques, each for 12 months, followed by two years aging in bottles.

I was completely beguiled by the bouquet of the Vignole 2008, Chianti Classico, a nuanced amalgam of slightly spiced and macerated blueberries and cranberries, with touches of mulberries and plums and undertones of briers and brambles and some wild, woody, foresty aspect; eight or 10 minutes in the glass bring out hints of rose petals and pomegranate. Those earthier elements, the warmth and spice, the red and blue fruit gather in the mouth to be cushioned by dense but soft, supple tannins and subtly-expressed oak, all unfolding around a core of black tea, dried orange zest, sandalwood and potpourri, and enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. What a pleasure to drink a Chianti Classico — this was with our Saturday Movie Night pizza — that’s not over-extracted or a slave to new French oak or New World dictates. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 to ’15 with rabbit or veal or small game birds. Excellent. About $37.
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It’s been raining for two days is this neck o’ the woods, the temperature is dropping like drones over Afghanistan and we lie poised under threat of snow ce soir. I guess Ol’ Man Winter, wily bastard, is chuckling up his frost-rimmed sleeve right about now. (Which means that the dogs have basically been confined to quarters for two days, and if you don’t believe things are getting pretty damned high-strung …) Obviously it’s time for a robust, flavorful red wine to go two throws out of three with that cauldron of short ribs you have toiling and troubling on the stove this very moment. My recommendation, at least on this direful Monday, is the Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2008 from Antinori. Whereas many other producers in Tuscany are enamored of new French oak barrels — “they’re French! they must be better!” — Pèppoli follows local tradition by being put into large Slovenian oak casks, with 10 percent going into American oak, all this for nine months. The result is a highly aromatic wine that teems with notes of oolong tea, orange rind, black currants and plums, leather and violets and, after a few moments in the glass, hints of cloves and fruitcake. Really heady stuff, though the stuffing comes as the black and red currants and plum flavors slide through your mouth with their display of supple tannic grip and sprightly acidity and a texture balanced between lithe and luxurious. The wine builds in intensity and depth as the minutes elapse, developing richness and concentration, yet it never ceases to offer warmth and generosity. This is a blend of 90 percent sangiovese grapes, with 10 percent merlot and syrah. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Excellent. About $27, though often discounted around the country to $20 or less.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wa. A sample for review, as I am required to inform you by the FCC.

Two Italian wines today, a white from Umbria and a red from Tuscany, both made in stainless steel, so no oak influence, both accessible, approachable and tasty.
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Two weeks ago, I made the Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2007 the Wine of the Week — here — so today it’s the turn of that wine’s cousin made from the white grechetto grape, the Arnaldo- Caprai Grecante 2009, Grechetto dei Colli Martani. The grape came from Greece — think El Greco — in ancient times, or else was thought to have been; the same claim is made for greco bianco, the grape that makes Greco di Tufo. Anyway, The Arnaldo-Caprai Grecante 2009, made from vineyards in the Martani hills in eastern Umbria, is delicately spicy and floral, a sort of tissue-like congeries of citrus effects: orange blossom, roasted lemon, lime peel and a hint of pink grapefruit; add a touch of peach, and there’s a great deal of winsome beauty in the wine. This is clean, fresh, spare, slightly lean and sinewy in texture but also lovely in its slightly talc-like weight, its ripeness and modest density. We enjoyed this wine with seared rare tuna and Romesco sauce. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca.
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The Bindi Sergardi Chianti Colli Senesi 2008 is made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes in Tuscany, not around Florence but near Siena; in fact, Chianti Colli Senesi means “Chianti from the hills of Siena.” The Bindi Sergardi family has been growing grapes and making wine on their estate for six centuries. The Bindi Sergardi Chianti Colli Senesi 2008 is a medium ruby color with a tinge of magenta. Because it receives no oak aging — it’s made all in stainless steel — the wine offers delightful purity and intensity of grapy mulberry and black and red currant aromas and flavors grounded in earthy touches of briers and brambles and leather. A few minutes in the glass bring up hints of lavender and violets, baking spices and black tea; the wine finishes with a smoky, slightly meaty aspect and dry, fairly dense tannins. The combination of fruit and spice, of smoke and vibrant acidity makes this wine attractive and highly drinkable, now through 2012 or ’13; great with burgers, pizzas, red sauce pasta dishes and steaks. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Le Vignoble Fine Wines, Memphis, Tenn.
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Speaking in vinous terms, Umbria tends to play second fiddle to Tuscany, its illustrious cousin to the north, yet this province of shadows offers many bright spots, not only in beautiful, historic towns and cities — Orvieto, Todi, Urbino, Perugia, Assisi — and varied landscape but in wine. Still relatively undiscovered are the wines made from the indigenous sagrantino grape around the tiny and fabulously cute hilltown of Montefalco — mount of the falcon — in eastern Umbria. Interestingly, though sagrantino is the area’s primary grape, Montefalco Rosso mainly involves the sangiovese grape, usually blended with sagrantino or other varieties. That’s the case with the Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2007, a blend of 70 percent sangiovese, 15 percent sagrantino and 15 percent merlot; the wine ages 12 months, half in botti (large oak casks) and half in small French barriques. This is a dark, deeply spicy, savory red wine that bursts with notes of black currants and red cherries unfolding to a smoldering core of black tea, lavender, licorice, sandalwood and graphite and just a hint of sangiovese’s characteristic dried orange peel. It takes a few minutes for the wine to build layers of intense, meaty, smoky qualities that infiltrate clean ripe black and red fruit flavors permeated by the briery-brambly nature of earthy, smoothly-knit tannins. Spend enough time with the wine and it begins to reveal some austerity, especially through the slightly woody finish, but that’s after two hours. Hugely enjoyable, especially with a rich, savory pizza (as we had) or with similarly styled pasta dishes or grilled or roasted beef or lamb. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $23.
Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

I won’t make the Benessere Rosato 2010, Napa Valley, the Wine of the Week because there’s not enough available. If it’s sold in your neck o’ the woods, however, or if you can order it from the winery, please do; this is a terrific rosé in the New World sense, meaning that it’s darker in color than the often much paler, “gris”-type rosés we see from Europe, particularly the South of France; those wines, indeed, occupy a sacred place in my heart. The color of the Benessere Rosato 2010, on the other hand, is an entrancing true crimson, that is deep, vibrant red — not ruby! — with a tinge of maroon, which in this case includes a pale brick-red or garnet rim, like the world’s most beautiful rose. The wine, made in stainless steel, is a blend of 49 percent zinfandel, 41 percent sangiovese and 10 percent merlot, a unique marriage that results in a heady bouquet of black and red currants, dried cherry, cranberry and an intriguing earthy hint of pomegranate. Limestone fills the background, with black cherry and red raspberry flavors given a savory quality by touches of dried thyme, cloves and briers. You’re thinking, “Gosh, FK, this sounds like a red wine,” but I promise that it is a rosé, just one with an unusual amount of dimension and character; it’s still a congeries of delicacy and nuance, light-hearted and carefree. I had a glass at lunch recently with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, scallions and black olives, though it would be equally appropriate with fried chicken, potato salad, quiche and other picnic and brunch fare. Serve chilled, through summer of 2012. Winemaker was Jack Stuart. 13.6 percent alcohol. The tag on the bottle said 350 cases; the printed material that came with this sample for review says 284 cases. In either case, mark this rosé Worth a Search. Excellent. About $16.

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.

When I open a bottle of wine for Pizza & Movie Night, I follow no pattern or motivation, no agenda. I usually just pluck what’s at hand and give it a try. It was coincidence, then, that the wines for the past two Pizza & Movie Nights were Italian, both from Tuscany yet very different sorts of wines.
Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Cal. Samples for review.
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First is a simple yet tasty Borgianni Chianti 2007, made by Castello di Volpaia from sangiovese grapes grown in the Chianti Colli Senesi area near Siena. The wine is made completely in stainless steel tanks and receives not the slightest kiss of oak; there’s a little canaiolo in the blend, which is traditional for Chianti. What do you want in a quaffable Chianti? How about a dark ruby-colored, robust and slightly sinewy wine that bursts with notes of black and red currants, smoky oolong tea, dried orange rind, cloves and potpourri? Would that get it for you? Borgianni 07 is nicely balanced, with moderately rich black and red fruit flavors cushioned by moderately dense and chewy tannins and enlivened by pert acidity. The wine is quite dry and a bit austere on the briery, foresty finish. 3,000 cases imported. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13 with pizza, burgers and red-sauce pasta dishes. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Deal.
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Tenuta di Biserno is a collaboration between the brothers Marchese Piero and Marchese Lodovico Antinori, of the well-known and venerable family that has been involved with winemaking in Tuscany since the middle of the 14th Century. Piero Antinori runs the vast family business from the Palazzo Antinori in Florence. Lodovico was the founder and owner of Tenuto Dell’Ornellaia in the Bolgheri region in southwestern Tuscany; the first vintage of the flagship “super Tuscan” Ornellaia was in 1985. After various complicated partnerships and buy-outs involving Robert Mondavi, the Frescobadli family and Constellation Brands, Lodovico lost the estate to the Frescobaldi family in 2005.

Tenuta di Biserno was established in 2001. The estate lies in the Alta Maremma region adjacent to Bolgheri near the town of Bibbona. The estate produces three wines, all red, of which Insoglio del cinghiale is considered the entry-level wine. No traditional Tuscan grapes are used here; all devolves upon “international” varieties, and indeed the blend of the Insoglio del cinghiale 2008 — syrah and merlot each 32 percent, cabernet franc 30 percent and petit verdot 6 percent — one might expect to see in California or Australia. Careful winemaking, however, allows Insoglio 2008 to retain individuality outside the category of mere internationalism.

Insoglio 08 is, first, a sleek, elegant and expressive wine whose oak regimen — 40 percent of the wine aged only four months in new and 1-year-old French barriques; the rest in stainless steel — lends it lovely suppleness and firm dimension. The whole effect is of engaging richness, presence and tone tempered by a background of clean, earthy, loamy and graphite-like mineral qualities married to polished and fine-grained tannins that slide through the mouth as if on well-oiled ball-bearings. As many well-made and ambitious wines do, Insoglio 2008 balances intensity and concentration with expansiveness and generosity, and while a few minutes in the glass unfurl depths of minerals and leather, the wine never loses grip on its innate, deeply spicy and macerated black and blue fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Essential drinking, I would think, with rare to medium rare steaks or braised veal shanks, though LL and I happily consumed it with last night’s pizza. Excellent. About $32
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I needed to taste the Nickel and Nickel Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros, and it happened that I was about to serve dinner, the cumin-spiced shrimp and chorizo gumbo, and while it didn’t occur to me beforehand that the wine and the gumbo would make a great (or even appropriate) match, together they actually formed one of those slightly edgy BINGO! moments. The zingy cumin- and chili powder-inflected gumbo, for which I concocted a moderately-dark roux, did not make a dent in the wine’s immense elan. This chardonnay is barrel-fermented and ages nine months in French oak, 48 percent new, but does not go through malolactic “fermentation,” the transformative shift that turns crisp malic (apple-like) acidity into creamy lactic (milk-like) acidity. The wine is a radiant medium gold color; it’s rich, spicy and generous, with notes of lemon drop and quince, mango and guava backed by a sprightly piquancy of ginger and clove. Boy, this is vibrant and resonant, a real mouthful of chardonnay, a Girl of the Golden West; it is, however, quite dry, amidst the delicious pineapple and grapefruit flavors (tinged with fig and pear), and your palate feels the tug of oak and woody spice pulling you into the long, dense yet filigreed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,484 cases. Excellent. About $45.
Winemaker is Darice Spinelli
A sample for review.
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I squeezed a little lime juice and dribbled a bit of soy sauce on two swordfish steaks and then patted into the surface a handful of an Asian-style rub. For the cooking process, LL heated olive oil in a cast-iron skillet until it was smoking and dropped the fish in and seared the steaks for a couple of minutes on each side. That was it. They were rare and juicy and filled with flavor. I opened a bottle of Highflyer Grenache Blanc 2008, Napa valley, a wine made 95 percent in stainless steel with five percent aged six months in new French oak. The grapes derive from a 2.7-acre block of the Somerston Vineyard, in the hills east of Rutherford at 1,100-feet elevation. The wine offers lovely balance and integration, beautifully combining spare elegance of structure with rich flavors of lemon drop, Bit o’ Honey (remember those?), pear and quince with a hint of ripe peach. While the wine is dry, crisp and lively, that five percent French oak provides a hint of spice in the background and some suppleness to the silken texture. This was delicious with the swordfish, with a great flavor-to-flavor profile and some keen acidity to cut the richness of the fish. Production was 720 cases. Alcohol content is 13.9 percent. Excellent. About $17, a Raving Bargain.
Craig Becker is owner and winemaker. Back in December, I reviewed the Highflyer Centerline 2007, a red wine blend.
A sample for review.
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I was nibbling, for lunch, an excellent dry, nutty “clothbound” Cheddar cheese, with a few fig and hazelnut flatbreads, and I opened a bottle of the Renaissance Mediterranean Red 2006, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. (The winery is about 70 miles north of Sacramento in Oregon House.) ’06 is the current vintage for this wine, which is a blend of 47 percent mourvedre grapes, 27 percent syrah and 25 percent grenache. It ages 36 months — yep, that’s three years — in a combination of one- to six-year-old oak barrels and large puncheons The color is dense ruby-red with a hint of magenta at the rim. This is a deeply spicy and savory wine, with scents and flavors of red and black currants and slightly macerated and stewed plums thoroughly imbued with briery-brambly forest-like elements, smoke and ash, dried flowers and spices and a burgeoning ripe, fleshy, meaty character. The Southern Rhone or “Mediterranean” nature of the wine is evident in its expressiveness and intensity married to a sense of delicacy and decorum. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Production was 244 cases. 14.1 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
Winemaker at Renaissance is Gideon Beinstock. A sample for review.
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We went to dine at Bari, the restaurant that features the cuisine of southeastern Italy. As usual, to start we ordered two glasses of the always delightful Vietti Rorero Arneis 2009, from Piedmont — the wine list is all Italian and so is the extensive menu of cheeses — and after a while I asked our waiter to open the bottle I brought to the restaurant. This was the Colognole Riserva del Don 2004, Chianti Rufina, produced at an estate in the historically highly-regarded Rufina region northeast of Florence; in fact, Rufina shares no border with the other Chianti areas and has a very different terrain. The property is owned by Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Coda Nunziante, a fact that almost dares the wine not to be great. At a little more than six years old, Colognole Riserva del Don 2004 is wonderfully smooth and mellow and seamless, with its characteristic sangiovese traits of red currants and red plums, moss and black tea, orange zest and potpourri thoroughly amalgamated with a modicum of woody spice and gently assertive, finely-milled tannins. A real treat and particularly good with our cheese course. Excellent. I paid $35 for this wine, though the national average is more like $30.
Imported by VinDiVino, Chicago.
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We didn’t finish the cheeses, so we brought them home, and the next day I made the Grandfather of All Cheese Toast, which included a truffled gorgonzola, Piave Vecchio, a pecorino, something unknown, grated Parmesan, Urfa pepper, mapuche spice and a dribble of good olive oil. Perhaps paradoxically, I opened a bottle of pinot noir, this being the Angela Pinot Noir 2008, Oregon, though the grapes are from the Clawson Creek Vineyard on Savannah Ridge in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Willamette Valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 57 percent new, and you feel that reticence (materially and philosophically) in the wine’s ineffable blending of suppleness and sinuosity, in its elegant spareness matched with a seductive satiny texture. The color is medium ruby shading somewhat darker at the center; aromas of red currants with a touch of cranberry and cola are fleshed out with a bit of smoke, briery and mossy earthiness, rose petals and just a hint of cedar and sandalwood. In the mouth, this pinot noir offers some sweet ripeness of black and red fruit, but it’s not opulent or pushy or showy; again, all is breeding and grace, poise and harmony. Just a freakin’ lovely pinot noir that emits authenticity and integrity. When LL got home from work, I gave her a glass and said, “Try this Oregon pinot.” She sniffed and sipped, thought for a moment, and said, “This tastes like a pinot made by Ken Wright.” And by golly, she was correct. Production was 821 cases. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.
A sample for review.
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