Tuscany


Often white wines that aren’t chardonnay or sauvignon blanc nonetheless come across as quite sauvignon blanc-like, as if there were no alternative to those two deeply inculcated tastes, so why bother being something with which people are not familiar and everybody loves sauvignon blanc, right? Today, however, I offer a white wine that’s an individual as all get-out and bears no resemblance to anything else. It’s the Prelius Vermentino 2011, Maremma Toscano, from down near the coast in southwestern Tuscany. The owners of Castello di Volpaia, well-known producers of Chianti Classico and other red wines, launched this organic venture in 2008. Prelius Vermentino 2011 was made completely from vermentino grapes and came all from stainless steel tanks, where the wine aged on the lees — the residue of dead yeast cells — to gain a little character. So, the wine begins in fresh, clean, breezy fashion, presenting whiffs of thyme and roasted lemon, almond and almond blossom, but a few minutes in the glass bring out notes that are distinctly spicy, savory and saline, with the fleshiness and pungency of macerated pears, some earthy-limestone-loamy quality and high-notes of tarragon and lilac. Brisk acidity keeps the balance between a lean texture and moderately rich, ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors, leading to a finish that’s packed with cloves and bracing elements of salt-marsh and sea-shell. A white wine — not chardonnay or sauvignon blanc — appropriate for the risotto and pasta dishes of Autumn or grilled fish and seafood. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.


Sorry that I produced no “Friday Wine Sips” last week, but here we are again and on a Friday as it should be. Eclecticism reigns, with three versions of pinot gris/grigio, a sauvignon blanc from Washington and an albariño from California’s Central Coast. For reds, there a blend dominated by syrah from Paso Robles, an “international” blend from Tuscany and a pure and intense pinot noir from Anderson Valley. No geeky technical information here, just blitzkrieg reviews designed to take no prisoners on the way to your hearts and minds and palates. There’s a quibble here and there but mainly these are all attractive wines. These were samples for review.
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Bivio Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2001, Italy. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; almond, sea-salt, roasted lemon and thyme; clean, vibrant acidity, heaps of limestone-like minerality; spiced pear, citrus, touch of jasmine; very dry, fairly stony finish, which falls a tad short. Still, quite enjoyable. Very Good. About $14.
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Barrymore Pinot Grigio delle Venezia 2011, Italy. 12% alc. Barrymore as in Drew. Very crisp and lively, powerful limestone and flint elements, very stony and austere; pushes the elegance and spareness at the expense of fruit, spice and floral aspects that would soften acidity and minerality. Very Good. About $17.
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Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Gris 2010, Alsace, France. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; very attractive tone and presence, smells good, feels good, tastes good; spiced pears, cloves and clover, quince and a hint of crystallized ginger; a golden wine, almost honeyed but quite dry, loaded with limestone and flint, but nothing bleak or austere. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $22.
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Cadaretta SBS 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 13.1% alc. Sauvignon blanc 76%, semillon 24%. Graceful, balanced, restrained; both scintillating and elegant, almost spare; spiced lemon and pear, thyme and tarragon, hint of leafy fig, notes of jasmine and honeysuckle; very attractive texture, lushness modulated by crisp acidity and an urgent limestone element; long, drawn-out, spicy finish, wrapped up by a touch of bracing grapefruit bitterness. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $23, and Worth a Search.
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Bonny Doon Vineyard Albariño 2011, Central Coast, California. 13.2% alc. Gosh, what a treat. Pale straw color, faint green highlights; so deftly polished, balanced and harmonious; roasted lemon and lemon balm, hints of verbena, jasmine, yellow plums and an invigorating breeze-borne sea-salt element; practically shimmers with resonant acidity and a clean limestone-shale element. Now through 2013 or ’14. 527 cases and one wishes there were more. Excellent. About $18, a Definite Bargain.
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Clayhouse Syrah 2010, Paso Robles, California. 13.5% alc. 77% syrah, 23% petite sirah. Medium to dark ruby color with a tinge of blue; black and red currants and plums, pepper, black olives, lavender and a hint of black licorice; heaps of earthy briers and brambles, dry, dusty and slightly leathery tannins but tasty red and black fruit flavors wrapped around tar and potpourri; medium-length finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.
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Tenuta di Biserno Insoglio del cinghiale 2010, Toscana, Italy. 14% alc. Cabernet franc 33%, syrah 32%, merlot 30%, petit verdot 5%. Smooth, burnished and polished, suave and elegant but plenty of earthy, loamy structure; plums, black currants and cherries, graphite, lavender, potpourri; touch of what the French call garrigue, implying the scent of warm, dusty, slightly resinous wild herbs; a bit velvety but buttressed by vibrant acidity and agreeable tannins. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $32.
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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, California. 14.5% alc. Entrancing medium ruby-violet color; cranberry, black cherry, hints of rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and sassafras; lovely satiny texture, almost lush but with the essential acidity to lend cut to the palate; smoky black cherry and red currant flavors; supple, spicy oak in the background. Very seductive. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $40.
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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.


Interesting, versatile and charming white wines today, appropriate for summer pleasure (though they don’t have to be limited to warm-weather usage), and each one utilizing different grapes, since variety, as someone said, is the spice of life. Actually, that someone was English poet and hymn-writer William Cowper (1731-1800), and the lines are from his book-length poem The Task of 1785, more properly: “Variety’s the very spice of life,/That gives it all its flavor.” Well-said, Bill. Anyway, we touch Germany, Italy and California in this post, while the prices range comfortably from $10 to $20. All these wines were samples for review. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, I eschew most technical, historical, geographical and philosophical info or data to bring you incisive and penetrating notices of the wines. Enjoy!
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Bex Riesling 2010, Nahe, Germany. 9.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; green apple, lychee and pear; slightly sweet initially but hints of melon and lemon curd are truncated by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint elements so dry they attain aching austerity; for riesling lovers devoted to intense minerality. Does not quite achieve the dimension and appeal of the 2009 version. Very Good. About $10, still Good Value for the style.
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Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2010, Veneto, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% garganega grapes. Pale straw color; roasted lemon and spiced pears, whiffs of green plums and grapefruit, hints of almonds and orange blossoms, wild thyme; sense of earthiness, lots of limestone; crisp acidity and liveliness; close to lush texture but borne by a distinct quality of spareness and reticence. Even better than the 2009 rendition, which I made a Wine of the Week in April 2011. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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McManis Family Vineyards Viognier 2011, California. 13.5% alc. 100% viognier grapes. Pale straw-gold color with a faint yellow blush; nicely balanced among floral, spicy and fruit elements, with hints of thyme and sage; lemons and pears, touches of peaches, tangerines and grapefruit; bit of lanolin and camellia; slightly powdery texture yet crisp with acidity, almost taut; quite dry, slightly bitter finish. Very Good+. About $12, representing Good Value.
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Bindi Sergardi Oriolus 2010, Toscana Bianco, Italy. 12% alc. Trebbiano, malvasia Toscana, chardonnay. Pale straw color; fragrant and floral, roasted lemons, yellow plums, hints of almonds, almond blossom; very crisp and lively, quite spicy, lots of limestone minerality, yet sleek and suave, with a seductive soft texture though it goes all dry and austere on the finish; begs for fresh shellfish. Very Good+. About $15.
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Beni di Batasiolo Bosc Dla Rei 2011, Moscato d’Asti, Italy. 5.5% alc. Pale gold color; pure apple and apple blossom, pear and tangerine, orange zest and lime peel; gently effervescent; ripe and modestly sweet entry followed by pert acidity and a dry limestone-infused finish. Quite charming and goes down oh so easily. Very Good+. About $17.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Sonoma County, California. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; beautifully fresh and appealing; slightly grassy and herbal with scents of lemon, lemon balm and lightly macerated pears, with celery seed, lemongrass and tarragon and a lovely touch of lilac; tart and crisp, jazzed by snappy acidity and bright, clean limestone and flint running through citrus and stone-fruit flavors; lean and sinewy, spare and bracing. Excellent and one of the best at the price, about $20.
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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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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.

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