Tag Archives: wine travel

Old AND New World Style Wines

Drinking Too Many Napa Cabs…

Our trip to Italy last year brought one aspect of my wine consumption to the forefront… I drink too much New World style wine. The beginning of our trip, I was missing the oak and vanilla that I am comfortable with in many of the Cali & Washington reds I drink. American oak is much more of a flavor component, compared to the French, Hungarian and Slovenian oak used in Europe. In fact, of the 30 some odd wineries we visited in Italy, most were aging on neutral used oak… So why should this bother me? It is the idea of being able to enjoy and appreciate the subtleties of less manipulated wine. When we returned, drinking a Napa cab was a challenge initially. This realization has caused me to rethink how I would like to enjoy wine. Since then, I have expanded Italy and France in my cellar and pushed myself to drink more variety. No, I am not a masochist. I do really enjoy well made, balanced, less manipulated wines. I just find, now that I understand my palate better, I can appreciate both styles more fully.

Diversifying Your Cellar

This caused an interesting realization for me. Is it possible to move back and forth between each style and enjoy both? Certainly, there are extremes on both ends of the scale. Would I want to drink a Silver Oak Cab versus a Cain, or Ladera – where my palate is today? NO, but the Silver Oak is an extreme. Do I enjoy young Bordeaux, or Barolo in a cold vintage year? Not so much. You get the idea. I am trying to develop the palate and (I think more importantly) the mindset to appreciate both. This has been a challenge, especially after the change in palate I experienced after the two weeks in Italy. I think it was a good thing, though. Now, I find myself moving towards embracing more different wines. I may not choose to drink certain styles regularly, but I can enjoy the well-made ones, based on the quality they represent. I had a superb 2007 Sassicaia in Italy and last week I popped a wonderful 2001 Pride Mountain Reserve Cab. They were radically different, but I enjoyed them equally for what they were. Maybe this sounds ridiculous to some? Maybe it isn’t worth the effort? Don’t know… we’ll see where my palate takes me, as I continue down this path.

Drink the Wine You Like

OK, I am not saying you should drink certain wines strictly because of their quality, rather than the appeal to your palate. In fact, I truly hate that kind of wine snobbery. I am just trying to share what two weeks in Italy did to change me… Once the U.S. bias to my palate was purged, I discovered that I found some of these very subtle wines to be truly spectacular. A view that I had not reached, prior to the trip. If you too are immersed in wine as a hobby, perhaps, consider exploring a few weeks of wine that is a departure from the Parker faves. It may open your eyes to a deeper understanding of how you can enjoy less as more… one night, and then be hit over the head the next night… and be bowled over by both.

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Filed under Wine Collecting, Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Can Wine Education be Fun and Interesting?

I hold consumer wine education programs, typically at wine bars and restaurants. The classes are intended to draw additional traffic to the venues to build a clientele and drive paired food revenue… but ultimately, consumers are drawn by the desire for wine knowledge.

What Consumers Want to Know

Through a few years of experience I have found what works and what doesn’t.  You can put people to sleep with the information that interested me in my formal training… history of wine production and regions, impact of terroir on flavors, impact of wine making techniques on the wine, etc.  What do people enjoy learning about?

Wine – Food Flavor Pairings

Learning how different food flavors impact the perception of the white, red, sweet wines, etc.  Setting up paired tastings to reinforce the concept.  Most are very surprised how food impacts wine.  It is rare to find casual wine drinkers that have explored this.

What are Those Flavors I am Tasting in Cabernet, or Merlot?

People want help learning standard varietal profiles.  Take them through the blind tasting process and how to create wine tasting notes.  They want to know how to talk about wine with others.  Blind taste a few for the wow factor.

How Do I Describe What I Enjoy to Wine Attendants?

Teach them how to describe their wine preferences to assist in wine selection at restaurants and wine bars.

How Do I Select Wines to Purchase Based on My Preferences?

Walk through a wine selection process based on that description, without tasting the wine.

Would I Enjoy Exploring the Diversity in Wine?

Introduce people to the diversity of flavors in wine and provide specific examples.

Would I Enjoy Wine Travel?

Discuss wine travel and destinations – relate stories of individual wineries, their beauty and ambiance.

ULTIMATELY, MOST PEOPLE WANT WINE TO BE FUN!

When I first began presenting these programs, I was disappointed people were not interested in the academic side.  Took a few to understand, they don’t want to talk about bottle aging, cellaring strategies, AOC & DOC labeling laws…  People just want to learn how to facilitate buying wine they enjoy and how to enhance their shared wine experience with friends.

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Filed under Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

How Do You Perceive Value in Wine?

I find this topic very interesting, when the discussion includes someone from the supply side of the wine biz… I think there is a heavy dose of cynicism that the industry tends to develop regarding the consumer’s view of value. I work in only a part-time ancillary role to the industry and perhaps because of this, I see the irony… In my experience, the people truly passionate about wine are usually the consumers!

Wine and Brand Loyalty

Perhaps my view has been colored by 20 years of wine travel, meeting small winery owners and hearing their stories. I feel very connected to their life’s mission and can relate to their journey in some small way. Maybe, it is even envy for that kind of passion… to produce something exceptional. I can justify premium wine costs in my mind, based on the additional steps to quality many smaller wineries employ. I am also willing to spend my wine dollars based on a sliding scale associated with my enjoyment of the product.

I know bulk wine and mass distribution can introduce you to the least appealing side of the industry. This post is the direct result of a conversation regarding a vehement inability to find the value in wine over $40/btl. I have had a different experience, with winery visits, wine dinners, wine collectors groups, education programs and interaction with wine enthusiasts that have all been fun, built friendships and perhaps even romanticized the industry a bit for me. Perhaps, THAT is where the real value in wine lies. Early in my wine years, I would derive great pride in finding the lowest priced wine of the best quality to fill my cellar. Today, I think more about the wine I can enjoy best with my friends. Heck, I buy wine for my wife that I would never drink by myself, let alone pay top dollar for. I admit it, sometimes I buy wine just because I am fascinated by the winemaker’s passion for the trade.

Today, so much premium wine is sold without an understanding of who and why the consumer buys the product. Building brand loyalty at the upper end of the market demands an understanding of your customers and why they buy…

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California Clear Lake AVA – Up and Coming Cool-Climate Region

Tasting the Wines

I have recently tasted a few wines from this region: Ceago Merlot and Chacewater Malbec. While not yet having reached the status of other cool-climate growing regions such as Mendocino Ridge,  or Santa Barbara AVA’s, I was quite impressed with the improvement in the wines since my last taste through this area. Better structure and balance than in the past and the wines seem to be finding the cool-climate complexity that I have come to really appreciate.

The Future of Clear Lake AVA Wines

For a continental climate, the area has an extreme moderating factor – the largest freshwater lake in California in its midst. The climate is much cooler than the nearby North Napa Valley area, due to its elevation. The growing season seems to drop just cool enough to add character and acidity, but stays warm enough during the day to allow ripening of red varieties such as: cab sauv, merlot, syrah, petit sirah and malbec. It is time for me to visit the wine trail in this area again and talk with the winemakers. At prices in the $15-$30 range, the QPR (quality to price ratio) of these wines is good… but my hope is, the quality will continue to improve and I will have another area seriously contending for my wine dollars.

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Can We Make Heads or Tails Out of Wine Labels?

I am often flabbergasted at the “wine-speak” on so many labels. This is not a complete listing, just a shot over the bow at the most misused. Here is a go at cutting through the B.S.

American Wine Descriptors

Reserve

So, just what exactly are they reserving? Many wineries have you thinking this is the winemaker’s personal stash. Real meaning: this is the stuff we charge you more for, just because we can. Wineries are famous for including additional descriptors on this one, like “select reserve”, “private reserve”, or “premium reserve”.

Vintner Select

OK, would you really believe this one, if you saw it on a bottle? I have tasted wine from only one winery that uses this designation and fulfills the expectation: Pride Mountain Vineyards.

Estate Bottled

This is roughly what it says. The winery makes this wine from vineyards they own and control. The thought process here is, if the winemaker cares about the quality of the wine, he/she will watch over and tend to the quality of the fruit. While many of these wineries do produce very high quality wines, don’t count on it. There is a huge difference between a knowledgeable vineyard manager vs. a savvy winemaker.

Single Vineyard

All fruit used in the making of this wine came from one specific named vineyard. This CAN be a tool in selecting quality wines. If you track where the fruit originates in the wines you drink and you notice you consistently enjoy wines made from a specific vineyard… you just hit the veritable wine-o jackpot.

Single Block

All fruit used in the making of this wine came from one row, or section of one specific named vineyard. See Single Vineyard.

AVA – American Viticultural Area

This is the point of origin, such as the Napa Valley, Dry Creek, or Paso Robles (etc.) designation you see on the label. So guess what, only 85% of the fruit must come from that area to be referenced on the label. Here is another good one… by law in the U.S., if it says Cabernet Sauvignon on the label – only 75% of the wine must be made from that variety. The only restriction for the balance is, it must come from the same AVA. The possibilities stagger the mind.

Meritage

This applies when somebody paid the Meritage Association to use the name. For red wines, it represents a wine blended from any two or more of the following grape varieties: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carmenere. Absolutely no implication of quality.

Bordeaux Blend

For red wines, it represents a wine blended from any two or more of the following grape varieties: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carmenere. Absolutely no implication of quality. Geez, does that sound familiar? See Meritage.

European Wine Descriptors

Cru

A vineyard of notable quality, or specific terroir. Nothing to do with the quality of the wine. Single Cru – see Single Vineyard above.

Grand Cru

A vineyard producing an unusually high quality of fruit. Has a more specific meaning in the Burgundy region in France. See reference Beaune Committee of 1861, then forget you read it. You just have to ask yourself, who exactly is deciding this stuff? Also, just because the fruit is of high quality does not mean the wine is.

Premier Cru / 1er Cru

A vineyard producing an unusually high quality of fruit, just not as good as the Grand Cru. What? See reference Beaune Committee of 1861 and then forget it again.

1st Growth

Oh boy, here we go… best, most prestigious wineries in Bordeaux France. In reality, these were just the most expensive wineries at the time this classification was established – 1855. See Bordeaux Classification of 1855.

Be Skeptical of Wine-Speak and Make Your Own Evaluation

My guess is, at this point you have already lost interest, but for those of indomitable spirit… we trudge on with a few final comments.

By now you have probably figured out, what is on a wine label is so full of marketing gibberish, it is hard to distinguish what is of real relevance. Good luck on that one. In the U.S. vs. Europe, it is particularly a serious concern. In many parts of Europe, individual wine producing areas actually enforce practices to improve the quality of the wine from that area, unlike the U.S. with no such requirements.

I hear more and more from the industry that consumers are relying on their own tastes and making fewer buy decisions based on professional wine critics’ recommendations. In the same vein, it would be smart not to trust the wineries own professional claims printed on wine labels too! If you would like to share additional suspicious verbiage seen on a wine label, please email them to me at winedocg@cox.net.

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Wine: The New Breakfast Drink?

World Wine Culture

Consumption patterns across the world are so different it can be startling. Here in the U.S., the largest share of the wine market is Chardonnay as an aperitif. Last year I was in Alba, Italy and was lucky enough to witness a few local winemakers having a discussion about the proper wine to pair with breakfast! They settled on a Dolcetto table wine at 10% ABV

Wine, its place with cuisine and its socially acceptable consumption is perceived very differently from country to country. I was in Germany earlier that year at a wine festival in Stuttgart and there must have been 100 producers there, with a 1000+ Germans very happily drinking sweet Riesling and Spatburgunder with their schnitzel & spatzele (very little dry wine). What an awful wine-food pairing, based on the U.S. palate. To a large extent, wine demand represents local preference, i.e. the weak market for import wines in California.

Breakfast of Champions, or NOT

So, could a wine producer develop a market in the U.S. for a very light, low alcohol red wine with a minimum of fruit, like the breakfast Dolcetto in Italy? Doubtful… but it sure has me thinking about the lifestyle associated with that kind of demand. I may be living in a shack on the beach in Italy soon! Wait, it would never work. My wine cellar would never fit!

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Filed under German Wine, Italian Wine, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Sassicaia vs. Ornellaia Smackdown – The Battle of the Super Tuscans

In a recent trip to Italy, my wife and I stopped into Enoteca Tognoni and tasted all wines on tap.

In general for the price point, the wines tasted were disappointing, with a notable exception. All the wines were very much French Bordeaux in style, but missing the finesse of the fine wine making tradition in France. One of the exceptions was Tenuta San Guido. Sassicaia was a truly an amazing wine and far beyond the other wine there. We also tasted Le Macchiole, Ca’Marcanda, Sapaio, Guado al Tasso and Grattamacco, but the Sassicaia and Ornellaia were clearly above the others. Tasting notes below:

2009 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 95 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Tasted with a plate of prosciutto, cheese, olive oil and bread. Started just like a typical Super Tuscan… light texture, subdued alcohol, red and black cherry fruit with a dark chocolate finish… then, as you ponder what’s in the glass, the realization hits you. This wine is so well made, nothing is out of place and the entire experience is just right. All parts of the wine show themselves without overpowering. The texture is light, but silky and coats the mouth. There were strong tannins and acidity for a good backbone, but it did not prevent the wine from coming together. This wine presented a beautifully balanced, structured and harmonious profile.

2009 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Superiore Ornellaia 92 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Tasted with a plate of prosciutto, cheese, olive oil and bread. Again, a typical Super Tuscan… light texture, subdued alcohol, red and black cherry fruit with a dark chocolate finish. Definitely well made, but did not leave you with that “wow” factor. For the same rough price point (approx. $200/btl.), the Sassicaia had bowled me over, whereas the Ornellaia just had me thinking this is “pretty darn good”. Maybe a little too thin in comparison? There was good structure, with strong tannins and acidity here too.

Conclusion

Perhaps the comparison was unfair and it was simply that particular vintage, but the difference seemed to be in the vinification, rather than the quality of the fruit. Of course, it could just be a personal preference, but for me the Sassicaia was not only more accessible young, but showed tremendous bottle aging potential.

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Filed under Bolgheri, Cool Climate Wine, Italian Wine, Super Tuscan Blend, Toscana, Wine Collecting, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Wine Travel

Wine & the Football Couch Potato

My wife and I started our wine country vacations nearly twenty years ago. Not very long after, we began collecting wines. At first, we stored the wine in racks, then later in expensive environmentally controlled cellars. Initially, we bottle-aged reds only, then whites and finally sparkling. A couple of years ago, I was formally trained in a classroom, passed the Sommelier exam and received my certification. It has been a wild and crazy ride. If this already has you thinking, “I could do that!”… It is time to accept your secret inner wine-o and warn your children. The first one to move out will lose his/her bedroom to a well-decorated, Tuscan themed wine room!

The Transformation

I graduated from a beer and whiskey drinking male stereotype, to someone who spends a good chunk of his income on fine food and wine. How the heck does THAT happen? I think my path broke the mold when it comes to your typical wine-o/foodie archetype. For the 6-pack of Budweiser Sunday football guys everywhere (old me), I will attempt to look deep inside and reveal the wonder of this miraculous change.

1. Romance

No, not that namby-pamby touchy-feely kind. When a guy figures out that your honey can be talked into just about anything, after a few bottles of REALLY GOOD red wine on a patio overlooking a beautiful vineyard, you will understand the connection between wine and hormones.

2. “Mellow Buzz”

The red wine effect is unlike any other alcoholic beverage. You feel good, warm inside, relaxed, sexy, friendly and all the world’s problems are thoroughly pointless.

3. Social Connections

You meet people when enjoying the wine country and drinking wine. It adds friends to your circle and you get the extra added benefit of impressing them with your manly description of floral aromas.

4. Cheap Wine vs. the Good Stuff

If only I had never traveled to Napa that first time, it would have saved me at least $100K over the last 10 years. Before that trip, I had never spent more than $15 on a bottle of red wine and it was all pretty awful. Had I been born in Italy, where the difference between cheap wine and the good stuff is not as great (topic for another day), my life would have been entirely different. I would have been wealthier, closer to retirement, much more good looking and writing this post from my villa on the Tuscany coast.

5. Crazy Flavors in Wine

How the heck do you make grape juice taste like graphite, or tobacco? Or for that matter… mint, bacon, or eucalyptus? The big guy upstairs really put some mojo in those grapes!

6. Adventure

Terroir is more than a Dictionary definition, it is a wonderfully engaging concept. Not just from the perspective of its impact on flavors, but the idea of “place” it brings with it. With every new wine region, it brings new expressions of different varietals, new flavors and aromas… and provides a very different experience. Tie that to the regional cuisines associated with each and you have an endless journey of discovery.

The Journey

There it is. I never pushed. I was always drawn along the path. Ladies, want to see if that Sunday football couch potato can transform into the kind of guy that talks YOU into a vacation in the wine country… here’s your template. Best of luck though, while he may become that dreamboat you always wanted, he is sure to be in the poorhouse begging for foie gras on the nearest street corner!

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Italian Wine Ramblings with 47 Tasting Notes

Italy Wine Adventure – Alto-Adige, Valpolicella, Soave, Bolgheri, Barbaresco & Barolo

General Comments on Italian Wine

Spent two weeks in Northern Italy visiting wineries. Used my Sommelier certification and wine consulting activities to arrange trade tastings at many wineries along the way. A few significant thoughts about the trip:

1) Pergola is starting to go away here and guyot is taking its place. Along with it, the practice of dropping fruit to improve concentration is becoming common. Very glad to see!
2) Every red wine producer I visited fermented in stainless steel, with automated pump-over. The wines were easily noticeable as less manipulated, more vintage character coming through each year and the tannins were finer than I am used to in the U.S.
3) NO AGING IN AMERICAN OAK! Generally, even limited contact with new French oak. I found myself missing the oak from these wines and having to adjust my palate. Although, the wines all clearly had a fresher fruit characteristic because of it.
4) All red wine producers worked with varietals and winemaking technique that tended to focus the wine away from texture. IMHO, the best wines here were those that focused on taking the local style and move it towards an emphasis on mouth-feel in the final product.
5) The red wines I enjoyed most, all seemed to have an element of mushroom, or wet earth on the nose. Not sure why that was, but consistently true for me on this trip. VERY STRANGE.
6) Also, a bitter dark chocolate finish of varying length and power was a characteristic of most red wines I tasted. When it was missing, the wines tasted incomplete.
7) FOOD – Don’t miss Piemonte… It is hard to describe how special this area is for a wonderful dining experience. No other region we visited was even close.
8) Barbera d’Alba is one of the best wine values in Italy and while it is a completely different wine, does not get enough respect in comparison to the Barolo and Barbaresco produced in the same region.
9) Almost all of the wine we drank in Italy was pretty good, even at $10Eur/btl. In my small sampling on this trip, it could be the Italian wine industry has a much better grasp of how to make reasonably good, value priced daily drinkers. The premium end of the fine wines was another story. I felt like there were only a few wineries that stood-out, but of course nowhere else is Nebbiolo like this.

I was very disappointed to have lost my Conterno Fantino and Cigliuti tasting notes. Great people and very good wine. I will limit the flights to the more notable visits. Too much content to bore you all with. For perspective on my tasting notes – I do not enjoy white wine, unless there is minerality. Start off with my impressions by region:

Trento-Alto-Adige

The clear winner here is Terlan. Simply fantastic white wines. The minerality is so heavy here, that they have to chip out precipitated minerals at the bottom of their large Hungarian Oak barrels every 8-10 years. They call it wine rock! The winery popped some 20 year old pinot bianco for us. These white wines age VERY WELL! So glad to have found this winery. It is something special in the world of white wines.

Valpolicella

This is the one area I wish I would have planned more time with. My life experience with Valpolicella Classico has not impressed me over much, but I have not really spent the money to explore Amarone, Ripasso and Recioto… my loss. These are truly exceptional wines. What I have been missing all these years…. aaaaah, lost opportunity.

Soave

Again, another area that has under-impressed over the years. In my experience, limited to lower priced wines selected by importers. I found a VERY SPECIAL producer here: Pieropan. I will seek out their white wine in the U.S.

Bolgheri

The wines tasted here generally were disappointing, with some notable exceptions. Very much, French Bordeaux style wines, but missing the fine wine making tradition to make the wine special. One of the very notable exceptions was Tenuta San Guido. Sassicaia was a truly amazing wine and so far beyond the other wine there, it was tragic.

Barbaresco

I fell in love with the Nebbiolo wines from this area. It is a pity the area is geographically so tiny and has such small production.

Barolo

This area was hit or miss for me. The better wineries here seemed to zero-in on making these massive tannins as fine as possible. When accomplished – FANTASTIC! When not, wines that will take 20 years before you can touch.

FLIGHT 1 – ALTO-ADIGE (12 NOTES)

Terlan was amazing. Producing Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco (among other varietals) that handle age very well. Maybe not like Riesling, but certainly for a dry white… as interesting as White Burgundy. Their terroir produces wines with so much minerality that they have to chip out the precipitated minerals from the barrels every 8-10 years. They call it wine stone! Also, barrel aging (in lieu of bottle aging) of whites is very common here. They showed us a 1996 Chardonnay still in the barrel! Visited Foradori… very disappointed after reading some of the CellarTracker notes and professional reviews. Very old style vineyard management. Many of their vineyards were still arranged in the Pergola style and with this varietal, the harvest looked enormous. No dropping of fruit here to add concentration. Wines were all thin and undrinkable young.

2000 Cantina Terlan Chardonnay 93 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Alto Adige – Südtirol

This winery has changed my perception of Italian white wine. Chardonnay with dimension and complexity! This terroir produces Burgundy quality Chardonnay suitable for aging. 13 year-old Chardonnay with a powerful nose of lemon curd, red apple and a floral aspect. This follows through to a fruit forward palate with nice stoney minerality. Medium high acidity. The time in the bottle has crafted a beautifully balanced wine.

2010 Cantina Terlan Nova Domus Riserva 90 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Terlano

White blend. Nose of citrus and mown grass. Palate of citrus at front and then carmelized butter from mid-palate through to a long finish. As typical of Terlan – mineral overtones. They have really coaxed the lees into providing extracted flavors and texture. Only neutral oak.

2011 Cantina Terlan Sauvignon Blanc Quarz 88 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Terlano

Grassy on the nose. Palate of citrus and fresh mown grass, finishing with very noticeable minerality. I was aware of more alcohol than I would prefer. Very strong acidity with a refreshing bite. The nice structure moved the score higher to offset some of the other characteristics.

2011 Cantina Terlan Gewürztraminer Lunare 88 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Alto Adige – Südtirol

Nose of red roses that carries through to the palate. Very interesting, but too floral on the palate to be really enjoyable. Typical Gewurtz spice on the finish. Very strong acidity. Score reflects the unusual predominance of the rich red rose aroma. I could get lost in the nose on this wine.

2010 Cantina Terlan Lagrein Porphyr Riserva 88 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Alto Adige – Südtirol

Nose of red fruit with a buttery aspect. Fruit forward, lighter textured wine with raspberry and red cherry on the palate finishing with a medium short finish of dark chocolate. Medium tannins and acidity. Seemed like a cross between Sangiovese and Pinot Noir profiles. Good structure for a lighter style red.

1996 Cantina Terlan Pinot Bianco Classico 92 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Terlano

Wow, another beautiful aged white at Terlan! Nose of carmelized butter and honey that carries through to the palate. Completely dry though. Fruit is almost gone, but the structure is there. Very, very soft on the palate with mouth-watering high acidity. Mineral overtones that come through at the finish. Whole different experience than the aged Chardonnay, but almost as profound!

2011 Cantina Terlan Chardonnay Kreuth 91 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Alto Adige – Südtirol

This winery knows how to handle Chardonnay in a Burgundy style. The nose is full of butter with a palate of fruit forward red apple and quince. Has a long buttery finish. High acidity gives this very good structure and the usual Terlan mineral overtones are there too. Very nice mouth-coating texture. Good structure and balance and very enjoyable. If the other aged Chardonnays we tasted are any indication, this will age well too. Terlan ages many of their white wines in the barrel, rather than the bottle. Maybe a contributing factor to how well some vintages hold-up over time? Their sales agent showed us a 1996 Chardonnay still in the barrel!

2005 Cantina Terlan Sauvignon Winkl 90 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Terlano

Northern Italy can really pull New World flavors out of Sauv Blanc! This wine had a very strong honeysuckle and orange blossom nose that carried through to the palate with a long salted butter finish. Texture was a bit heavier, but I enjoyed the weight. Very soft, but off-setting high acidity. A very pretty Sauv Blanc. Putting some age on it, really developed the wine.

2012 Cantina Terlan Terlaner Classico 88 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Terlano

White blend. Nose of honeysuckle. The alcohol is a too prevalent for my liking in a white wine. The palate is full of honey and fruit-forward pineapple with mineral overtones. Very viscous texture. Medium high acidity. Interesting flavor profile for an Italian white, but a bit disjointed and the alcohol was immediately obvious.

2012 Cantina Terlan Pinot Bianco Classico 87 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Terlano

This would be a good food wine for white meats… Very acidic. Citrus on the nose, but very little fruit on the palate. Very crisp, fresh profile with a mineral edge, but all very subtle. After having tasted the 1996 Pinot Bianco, this may have enough structure to age and improve. It would be interesting to try this again in another 5 years. This whole aging white wine approach is new to me. I have tasted the result at Terlan and it works, but I do not have enough experience tasting aged whites to have a good feel. Wine… a lifetime of learning.

2012 Cantina Terlan Pinot Grigio 88 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Alto Adige – Südtirol

Nose of citrus and flowers. Fresh lemon on the palate with a medium long finish of honeydew melon. Nice, medium texture to add interest. More substantial than many lighter, less tasty Italian Pinot Grigios I have had.

2012 Cantina Terlan Chardonnay 87 Points

Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige, Alto Adige – Südtirol

A touch frizzante. Heavy mineral nose of wet rocks. The lemon zest on the nose carries through to a palate of subdued lemon with minerality… that continues in the mouth to a medium long finish. Very acidic. Medium texture. Would be better with food than as an aperitif.

FLIGHT 2 – VALPOLICELLA & SOAVE (7 NOTES)

Oh, I wish we had more time here. Allegrini was outstanding. Very experimental with wines produced from dried grapes, beyond Amarone and Ripasso.

2012 Pieropan Soave Classico Superiore 90 Points

Italy, Veneto, Soave

Drank a bottle with my wife at a restaurant in Soave with a beautiful garden patio at sunset with prosciutto, assorted cheese and crusty bread. This wine is not vineyard designate, but had the “Superiore” “reserve” designation printed on the label. No specific tasting notes, but this white wine made an impression, for both its profile AND its value. The first impression is of the texture… beautifully soft and silky, coats the mouth, (no oak) but with very high acidity. Very balanced. Fully integrated profile. Great nose of candied lemon peel and mineral. The nose carries through to the palate. Very fruit forward, but also completely dry and very acidic. I know the Soave available in the U.S. has a reputation for variable quality, but this wine truly surprised me and is the best Soave I have tasted!

2011 Allegrini Ripasso della Valpolicella 88 Points

Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella

Smokey nose. Fruit forward palate of black cherry and black pepper. Medium short finish of lingering smoke. Lighter texture with a minimum of mouth feel.

2009 Allegrini Recioto della Valpolicella Classico Giovanni 89 Points

Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella

First Recioto for me and I like it! Nose was very much like port, it had me fooled. The palate was full of bright red fresh cherries. Nice texture that fit the overall impression. A medium finish of sweet prune. Good acidity. This was nice! They do not stop the fermentation short to leave residual sugar, but add to the mixture for sweetness. The sweetness was not overpowering and the fruit was fresher than port.

2010 Allegrini La Grola Veronese IGT 92 Points

Italy, Veneto

I really enjoyed this wine. Put a few years on it and the score will be higher. I was told some of the assemblage came from apassiemento style fruit. I like the way it added to the texture of the wine. The blend of Corvina and Syrah provided a nice cross-section of black cherry and plum flavors with some spice. Fruit stays with you for a nice long finish. Strong tannins and medium acidity. I think this wine will come together in the bottle and improve. I hope I can find it in the U.S.

2010 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT 89 Points

Italy, Veneto

Blend. Nose of black cherry and plum that carries through to the palate. The blend adds more interest to the Corvina alone. Strong tannins and acidity. Very light texture, but with good structure and backbone.

2011 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 86 Points

Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella

Plum and prune on the palate with a good amount of black pepper. Tannins are strong and sharp. Long bitter finish. I didn’t care for this style of Amarone.

2011 Allegrini Valpolicella Classico 87 Points

Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella

Nose of black cherry and pepper with unresolved alcohol. Palate of sour black cherry and spice. Very light texture with medium tannins and acidity. Basic flavor profile and alcohol is too prevalent.

FLIGHT 3 – BOLGHERI (17 NOTES)

Overall, disappointed with the wine here. If wine is made in a lighter style, there needs to be SOME mouth-feel, otherwise the wine just seems like alcoholic flavored water. When most wines are produced in re-used French Oak barriques… the neutral oak doesn’t add anything to the wine. Sassicaia had it all though. A lighter French Bordeaux style blend… but with very fine tannins, a silky mouth-feel and EXTREMELY well integrated and balanced. The only way to describe is – perfectly harmonious. VERY well made!

2011 Castello di Bolgheri Varvàra 89 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Nose of blackberry and graphite. Fruit forward on the palate with blackberry and plum and a long dark chocolate finish. Nice easy drinking Super-Tuscan blend.

2010 Castello di Bolgheri Superiore 91 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Nose of black cherry and flowers and hint of tobacco. Good balance between acidity and tannins. Accessible now, but could put 10 years of age on this in your cellar. Fruit on the front of blackberry and plum, with a light tobacco flavor on the mid-palate and a medium length dark chocolate finish. Nice effort at a reasonable price.

2010 Michele Satta Giovin Re 88 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Big Viognier. Nose of citrus and pineapple that follows through to the palate. Nice viscous texture with off-setting high acidity.

2011 Michele Satta Rosso 87 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Simple red blend. Nose of fresh red cherry. Palate of red and black cherry. Light acidity with strong tannins. Thinner texture with long slightly bitter finish.

2010 Michele Satta Piastraia 86 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Simple red blend. Almost no nose. Sangiovese driven palate of sour red cherry. Short finish of a touch of dark chocolate. Table wine meant for food.

2009 Michele Satta Syrah IGT 89 Points

Italy, Tuscany

Nose of plum and black cherry. Fruit forward on the palate with black cherry and raspberry flavors. Decent backbone of tannins and acidity and a medium long dark chocolate finish. More red fruit than I am used to in a syrah.

2006 Michele Satta Cavaliere IGT 88 Points

Italy, Tuscany

Nose of bright red cherry and earth. Very soft on the palate with bright red cherry and a light cream sensation, but an unusual short bitter finish. Fairly enjoyable, but a bit of a disjointed experience.

2006 Michele Satta Superiore I Castagni 89 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Nose of bright red cherry. Fruit forward on the palate carrying the fresh red cherry in front with a mid-palate moving to black cherry flavors and a long finish of fresh cream moving to a dark chocolate at the end. Strong tannins and acidity. Interesting wine.

2012 Poggio al Tesoro Vermentino Solosole IGT 87 Points

Italy, Tuscany

Vermentino. Lemon rind and curdled milk nose. Light frizzante style with a distinct flavor of prepared lemonade. Medium acidity. Simple, straight-forward flavor profile.

2007 Poggio San Polo 88 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino

Nose and palate of bright red fresh cherries. Very light texture with strong tannins. Medium high acidity. Flavor profile was very one dimensional, but pleasant enough.

2009 Poggio al Tesoro Sondraia 87 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Nose of earthy mushroom and alcohol. Palate of black cherry with a long bitter dark chocolate finish. Strong tannins and medium acidity. Alcohol was not integrated and overpowered the perception of the wine. Flavor profile not balanced. Not sure this will come together.

2008 Poggio al Tesoro Dedicato a Walter IGT 88 Points

Italy, Tuscany

100% Cab Franc. Earthy mushroom nose. Fruit forward palate of bright red fresh cherries. Very light texture. Very high tannins and acidity. Clean, clear red fruit. A tad simple in its approach.

2011 Campo alla Sughera Arioso IGT 87 Points

Italy, Tuscany

Nose of lemon zest and steel. The palate was very clean and fresh, fruit forward and exactly like a lemon drop. Dry, with medium acidity. The fruit had a bit too much of a candied flavor for my taste.

2011 Campo alla Sughera Achenio 87 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Blend. Nose of lemon and oak. Palate of fresh lemon and oak. Good acidity and some structure. Viscous mouth-coating texture. Many of these Italian wineries seem to have mastered affecting the wines by aging on the lees. I think the oak may mask the sauv blanc notes (would have added some complexity). Lemon has been the consistent fruit theme for Tuscan white wine… ready for something different.

2010 Campo alla Sughera Adèo 88 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Super Tuscan blend. Nose of mushroom and black cherry. Palate of plum and black cherry in front with a long bitter dark chocolate finish. Not much of a mid-palate. Medium tannins and medium acidity. Very one-dimensional, but drinks reasonably well.

2008 Campo alla Sughera Arnione 88 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Nose of wet earth and black cherry. Texture is light, but the bit of Petit Verdot adds some substance. The palate has plum and black cherry in front with a short bit of dark chocolate on the finish. Tannins are strong and dusty with medium high acidity. Probably will mature and bring the tannins and acidity into balance, but needs to have more mid-palate, complexity and finish to be really interesting and elevate it.

2008 Campo alla Sughera Grappa Di Arnione 92 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

I really enjoyed this. My favorite product from this winery. Grappa is not usually for my palate, but this had exceptional flavor and texture. Very nutty on the nose… loved the aroma. There was a little fruit in front with a long finish of hazelnut. Very smooth. The alcohol had some bite, as you would expect and the acidity added some structure. This stuff is dangerous! I could have sat on that couch picked up a good book and sipped it all day…

FLIGHT 4 – BAROLO & BARBARESCO (9 NOTES)

Oh my gosh! Nebbiolo heaven. No other region in the world can come close to doing this with the Nebbiolo grape. Cigliutti was the stand-out for me here. My gosh, in a lighter style, no more beautiful wine on the planet. Visited Paolo Scavino also. Good Barolo and Barolo cru, but nothing particularly notable.

2012 Azienda Monsordo Bernardina (Ceretto) Arneis Blangé 87 Points

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe

Very little color in the glass. Nose of citrus and pear. Light frizzante style. Soft texture, medium acidity, with pear and lemon on the palate. Missing the structure and minerality I prefer in a white.

2009 Azienda Bricco Rocche (Ceretto) Prapò 88 Points

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

Nose was completely absent. Fresh red cherry on the palate, medium tannins and acidity. Short caramel finish. Perhaps too early for the wine to come together, but this will not be a vintage for extended aging.

2010 Azienda Monsordo Bernardina (Ceretto) Monsordo 88 Points

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe

A bordeaux style blend for the international market. Nose of brown sugar, blackberry, earth and green bell pepper. Soft in the mouth with plum and blackberry fruit, black pepper moving to green bell pepper on the mid-palate and a medium length finish of dark chocolate. Strong tannins, but light acidity. The under-ripe cab sauv was evident in the mid-palate, but not over-powering. Not very complex, easy drinking red blend.

2010 Azienda Bricco Asili (Ceretto) Bernardot 89 Points

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco

Nose of earthy mushroom and flowers. Beautiful silky texture. Red cherry in front moving to black cherry in the mid-palate. Strong tannins and medium acidity with a medium length dark chocolate finish. Wine struck me as lacking some structure and balance, but a very nice wine. 89+… It may come around after some time in the bottle.

2009 Azienda Bricco Rocche (Ceretto) Brunate 86 Points

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

Nose of earth, mushroom and black cherry. After about 10 mins., adds a strong caramel note. On the palate the texture was very thin, tannins were not bold like typical Barolo and only medium acidity (perhaps the vintage?). Red cherry flavors with a mid-palate of loamy earth and a short finish of caramel. This wine was too watery in the mouth.

2011 Conterno Fantino Monprà 90 Points

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe

Very nice new world style blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo. Medium tannins and medium acidity. Mouth-coating texture with a fruit-forward palate of red and black fruit. Hint of dark chocolate on the finish. 50/50 mix of Langhe Barbera and Nebbiolo and you can recognize the two distinct varietals easily here. Step above your typical Italian Barbera table wine at a nice price.

2009 Conterno Fantino Riserva Sorì Ginestra 94 Points

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo

I thought, the best Barolo Cru of the trip. Nose of cherry and earthy mushroom. Non-traditional 2009 warm vintage puts the fruit out front with red and black cherry and a long finish of dark chocolate. Strong tannins and acidity for a fine backbone. Approachable now, but you could easily put 10 years on this. I don’t think this will take decades of aging like some Barolos. This is a wonderful example of of everything good about Barolo, with a new world influence. Great structure and balance.

2009 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba Superiore 92 Points

Italy, Piedmont, Alba

Holy cow! The richest Barbera I have tasted hands down! Drank at a restaurant in the Langhe area, no notes. Complex palate of red and black fruit and a mouth-coating texture. Long finish of fruit and dark chocolate. Medium high acidity and medium tannins. So different from the Barbera d’Alba we have been drinking here. Great for an aperitif! Not a refined, pretty wine, just a big bruiser. I hope I can find this in the U.S.

2009 Cigliuti Serraboella 96 Points

Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco

My favorite wine of the two weeks tasting in Italy and a great value for a quality Barbaresco! Interesting vintage. Warmest year of several warm years in the last decade and producers know this fruit-forward style matches the new world export market better, but the old guard will not call these vintages “typical” Barbaresco. I was very disappointed to have lost my notes from this winery. Two sisters run the vineyards/winery with their father and they were wonderfully accommodating. All the wines were of high quality, but this Barbaresco was special. Everything that makes Barbaresco beautiful and more of it. Super soft in the mouth, but with strong tannins and acidity – sexy, without being too plush. Little funk on the nose and minerality on the palate with a long, lingering finish. Just great structure and balance. Very accessible for such a recent vintage. Couldn’t help myself… bought a half case to lug back to the U.S.! More tasting notes in years to come!

FLIGHT 5 – SASSICAIA VS. ORNELLAIA (2 NOTES)

The original Super Tuscan smack-down! Stopped in at Enoteca Tognoni and tasted everything on tap! We also tasted Le Macchiole, Ca’Marcanda, Sapaio, Guado al Tasso and Grattamacco, but the Sassicaia and Ornellaia was so much more enjoyable than the others.

2009 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 95 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Sassicaia vs. Ornellaia Smack-Down – Tasted with a plate of prosciutto, cheese, olive oil and bread. No notes. This wine was the single outstanding bright spot in Bolgheri on this trip. Started as a typical Super Tuscan… light texture, subdued alcohol, red and black cherry fruit with a dark chocolate finish… then, at the end it hits you. This wine is so well made, everything just is as it should be. All flavors show themselves without overpowering. The texture is light, but silky and coats the mouth. Strong tannins and acidity, but neither is too much to prevent the wine from coming together. This wine presents a beautifully balanced, structured and harmonious profile.

2009 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Ornellaia 92 Points

Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri

Sassicaia vs. Ornellaia Smack-Down – Tasted with a plate of prosciutto, cheese, olive oil and bread. No notes. Typical Super Tuscan… light texture, subdued alcohol, red and black cherry fruit with a dark chocolate finish. Well made, but doesn’t leave you with that “wow” factor. For the same rough price point, the Sassicaia bowled me over, whereas the Ornellaia just had me thinking this is “pretty darn good”. Maybe a little too thin in comparison? Strong tannins and acidity. Perhaps the comparison was unfair and it was simply that particular vintage, but the difference seemed to be in the vinification, rather than the quality of the fruit. Of course, it could just be a personal preference and my palate matches the Sassicaia better…

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Filed under Barbaresco, Barolo, Bolgheri, Chardonnay, Italian Wine, Nebbiolo, Piedmonte, Sangiovese, Super Tuscan Blend, Terlano, Toscana, Trentino-Alto Adige, Valpolicella, Veneto, Wine Collecting, Wine Critics, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Wine Travel

Value Wines in California

What represents value in wine?

Quality vs. price, or drinkability vs. price? I choose the former, rather than the latter. Structure, acidity, tannins, texture are all important components of an enjoyable, rather than boring wine.

Hidden Gems

Cab Sauv Daily Drinker

Geyser Peak Walking Tree Vineyard

Street price – $15-$20/btl.

Syrah Daily Drinker

Andrew Murray (all releases)

Club pricing – $20-$30/btl.

Zinfandel Daily Drinker

Peachy Canyon Westside Vineyard

Street price – $15-$20/btl.

Pinot Noir Daily Drinker

Meiomi Belle Glos

Street price – $15-20/btl. (killed me not to pick an Oregon pinot here)

Premium Merlot

Paloma. Definitely the BEST U.S. made merlot being produced today.

$60/btl. from the winery a great value

Premium Cabernet Sauvignon

Jordan

Street price – $45-$55/btl.

Premium Old World Style Cabernet Sauvignon

Ladera

Street price – $65-$70/btl.

Premium Pinot Noir

Inman Family OGV

Street price – $35-40/btl.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel