A couple of Aussie Cabs

So rare is the occasion that I can break myself free of my ever tightening preferences that when the urge to try something new came upon me at Woodland Hills Wine Company, I grabbed a couple <20$ Cab blends from Australia. A year ago if you had asked me what my least familiar wine region might have been, I would’ve wagered either Germany or Australia. Well a case or two of Kabinett later I’m afraid Australia is the lone wild west resident for this guy.  Part of it has always been the region’s reputation; I dislike huge wines that overwhelm or over-intoxicate. Like many wine regions Australia is not just one thing however, and particularly these days there is tremendous variety to be had.

My two choices were based solely on price (20 or less) and grape (Cabernet or Cab blend).

 

Girt by Sea 2012 by Voyager Estate (not Grit by the Sea as I first read, shame) is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend from Margaret River. At $20 this was right at the top of my targeted price. On opening and for the rest of the first night it was a huge initial disappointment. Uninteresting and monolithic, it was showcasing only unripe tannin and bitterness with a faint hint of fake grape candy, not my idea of fun. Fortunately, I did not think it was flawed and so tossed it in the fridge for a day. The next day it was much more interesting: smoky, with blue fruit and minerality, though with a touch of that volatile acidity (nail polish). Overall a very robust, earthy wine that you should absolutely decant for an hour or two at least.

 

Church Block Cabernet 2013 by Wirra Wirra was sourced from a vineyard in the McLaren Vale, a pretty well regarded Australian subzone. Far less Cabernet than the Girt, 50% Cab, 37% Shiraz, 13% Merlot to be precise. Appropriately priced (~17$). This was a robust, and muscular wine that never wowed me with any complexity, but unlike the Girt by Sea, it was ready to go as soon as I opened it (take this as a neutral observation). Big smoky aromas of mocha, dark blue and berry fruits, also baking spice, made me suspect a greater perceptible oak influence. The taste was surprisingly fresh with red fruits and med+ acid. Will drink well for 5-10 years. A good mid-week option for pairing with bigger foods or palates. In the trade you might say this tastes of the wine-maker not the vineyard. Very little of it tasted like Cabernet or Shiraz, as the oak and tannin and acid were all vying for attention. But blends are meant to have their own distinct personality and this one did have character, a touch more than you typically see for 17 bucks.

2013 Felsina Fontalloro

Felsina’s Fontalloro is a prestigious and semi-historical Sangiovese that is typically long lived and elegant and this 2012 is no exception. As a 100% Sangiovese from a special selection of high altitude vine in the Chianti Valley, Fontalloro could by all rights be labeled a Chianti. But Felsina bottles a single-vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva called ‘Rancia’ that is a similar price and highly regarded as well. Instead Fontalloro maintains its ‘Super-Tuscan’ roots, from a time when a Chianti could not be 100% Sangiovese, and so continues to use the IGT designation and the fantasy name of Fontalloro.

Very difficult to evaluate but loads of raw material lurking under the surface. 375ml, double decanted and left for a few hours, but still little change. Faint aromas of sweet cherry, vanilla, grilled herbs, and cigar smoke, distinct but faint. Palate is well textured with broad, sneaky tannin and distinctively sour finish. It gives the impression of a very well made wine but not giving anything up at the moment. Quite polished, like a Bordeaux not a Sangiovese, but that is the style of the Fontalloro.

Certainly enjoyable now with some fatty, grilled, herb-encrusted meat (or bitter chocolate), but worth laying down for ten years. In contrast to the Rancia, the Fontalloro reads as more polished, with a sweeter nose. The Rancia also sees time in new French oak barrels, but manages a more rustic and wild personality.

Elena Fucci ‘Titolo’ Aglianico del Vulture 2005

Aglianico and its most well known representation, Taurasi, has been called one of the great wines of Italy, as well as the catchy moniker ‘Barolo of the South,’ but despite the generally lavish praise it remains a relatively under-appreciated grape and wine. Hailing from Southern Italy, it is most commonly found in Campania and Basilicata. Campania’s ‘Taurasi’ is the most well known DOCG for Aglianico but Basilicata’s Vulture region is gaining traction, and for good reason.

Like Taurasi, Vulture is home to an incredibly diverse array of volcanic soil types, with vineyards at high elevations. Vulture however, because of its proximity to the sea (and exposure) tends to have even higher diurnal temperature variation than Taurasi, balancing out the effects of the unrelenting Southern Italian heat. That is why I believe in the best examples, Aglianico del Vulture beats out Taurasi for quality and ageability.

One of my favorites is Elena Fucci’s ‘Titolo.’ Elena Fucci makes only a single wine, 100% Aglianico, from old vine plantings in Vulture. In the late 90’s she convinced her family to let her making their own wine from the vineyards, which up to that point had been sold wholesale.

I’ve purchased more than a few bottles of Titolo over the past few years, but they were optimistic purchases as I had never tried a mature example. This particular bottle is soaring at 12 years old with another decade of reliable enjoyment ahead!

The color was a memorizing dark maroon with an opaque core. Aromas of dark berry fruits, grilled herbs, tar, and smoke gave a good indication of the terroir while a refreshing streak of saline reminded you of the maritime winds that cool this vineyard at night.

The palate is smooth, with a lush array of dark black and red fruits with ripe, persistent tannin emerging with air and a very nice savory finish. This wine is in a great place, though with air it picks up considerable tannin and a rich, dark dried fruit quality. After a few hours it was far more tannic and robust, with the aromatics continuing to shift.

I saved a glass for day two. It started to take on the qualities of a middle-aged Bordeaux, with aromas of tobacco and cedar. This wine will age evenly and for a good many years.

A real mouthful: The 2003 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese ***

As you plunge into the world of German Riesling, like so many other novice wine geeks, you are quickly greeted with a reminder of why these wines remain so hard to understand for the general drinking populace. First off they are indecipherable to the uninitiated. Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben is the producer (and not the only one whose name starts as Joh. Jos., eg. Prum), Urziger Wurzgarten is the vineyard name and Riesling Auslese is the type of wine. The final part means the grapes are picked at advanced levels of ripeness (often starting to dry out on the vine) and more often than not sweet (Trocken Auslese, or dry, is somewhat rare). The three stars are part of the producer’s scheme for designating different styles of Auslese that would otherwise have an identical name. Other producers commonly use capsule color or a number for the same purpose.

Confused? Good, that confusion is why I can spend 25$ on a bottle of very well crafted Auslese that has decades of age ahead of it, from a well-respected producer. A Napa Cabernet that fit that same standard would cost me three or four times as much. Unfortunately sweeter wines are stilled viewed by the uninitiated as synonymous with cheap. Nicki Minaj’s brand of Moscato, that sweet low alcohol club beverage, is proof that if it is sweet and low alcohol, than it is not worth a look.

There are two reasons Riesling is worth the effort to understand. First, world class Riesling typically costs less than 100$ for the finest examples and even then there are plenty of top bottles with decades of potential selling for less than 40$. Second they are a glorious food wine, pairing with typically difficult Asian dishes, heavy spice, and frequently desserts (though not chocolate).

Today’s Riesling was chosen in part because I was able to secure it at auction for such a reasonable price. I have loved the young Rieslings I have tried recently but wanted more to experience the grape with some age. While 2003 was viewed as a extremely hot year in Europe, many producers made fine wine regardless, and this one was said to be among them. At 14 years old, I reasoned an Auslese from a ripe vintage would be drinking very well and offer a lovely opportunity.

A somewhat understated nose of petrol and beeswax greeted me (along with a wet rock kind of minerality), and though the aromatics never got as expressive as I wanted, the taste was perfect. Acid and sweetness were both quite robust and in balance. Tart tropical fruits like pineapple and stone fruits like white peach were in full force with a bit of green fruits and herbs playing second fiddle. This made my very unconventional pairing of Cacio e Pepe (Pecorino cheese and black pepper on spaghetti) a surprising match, though not the ideal on. Next time I will try a mild yellow curry, or a tart fruit dessert. That said, on its own is pretty darn special too.

2012 Gattinara Franco Patriarca

It’s not news that Barolo and Barbaresco don’t have the monopoly on top quality Nebbiolo that they were once perceived to have, yet it still is tough to find new quality wineries from competition, like Ghemme, Carema, and of course Gattinara.

It’s not news that Barolo and Barbaresco don’t have the monopoly on top quality Nebbiolo that they were once perceived to have, yet it still is tough to find new quality wineries from the competition, like Ghemme, Carema, and of course Gattinara. This Alto-Piemonte poster child is only just north of the Abla and Asti communes, yet with a substantial difference of terroir, that is its volcanic soil. Despite the Alto-Piemonte climate, Gattinara’s volcanic grown Nebbiolo creates deep, aromatic, and mineral wines thanks to the distinctive soil. The region had an unfortunate 15 minutes of limelight back in the 60’s when someone tried to make it fashionable, but being pre-DOC regulations, a flood of cheap knockoffs and downright fraudulent wines flooded the market and ruined its image.

With DOCG regulations as strict as Barolo/Barbaresco and an equally important, though quite different soil composition, Gattinara can produce some pretty stunning Nebbiolo that can last decades. Yet few quality producers remain after the mid-century exodus from the farmlands. It is still only a shadow of the wine-making region it once was, and while Travaligni and Antoniolo still hold the torch, new wineries just aren’t popping up that often. So imagine my surprise at Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, when I find a reasonably Gattinara from Franco Patriarca sitting on the shelf.

With only 250 cases made, this is truly a locally oriented gem. Fermented in steel and age in only large barrels, this is a clean, transparent Nebbiolo.

 

The color is a deep crystalline rose with a pale garnet reflection. The aromas of rosewater and bay dominate the nose, as well as a somewhat unappealing watermelon candy quality. As time goes on, a more tarry, mineral tinged quality lifts from the glass that puts it a very good place. The clean unpretentious quality of this wine is honest and intriguing at the same time. RECOMMENDED

Bedrock Wine Co., North Coast Syrah 2015

Bedrock Wine Company has fast become known for two things: characterful old vine field blends from vineyards like Pagani and Bedrock, and absolutely mind-blowing, critic-swooning Syrah. The North Coast Syrah is their introduction to the Syrah side of their portfolio.

Bedrock Wine Company has fast become known for two things: characterful old vine field blends from vineyards like Pagani and Bedrock, and absolutely mind-blowing, critic-swooning Syrah. The North Coast Syrah is their introduction to this half of their portfolio, and one of their most inexpensive wines at 20-24$ retail. Its a tired cliche to hear folks talk about a wine ‘punching above it weight’ but every single time I try a North Coast Syrah from these guys, I do a double take at my receipt. I would have no problem guessing 30-35$ for this wine if I tasted it blind. Hopefully it doesn’t go that high!

 

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This pours a deep dark purple and opens with aromas of dark fruit, pepper and olive brine. Saline, slate, and garrigue follow with a really delightful blend of savory and plummy fruits. The palate is concentrated and full bodied with damson, boysenberry, and saline qualities leading to a medium finish of gritty tannin. Great acidity, good with food and by itself for those who appreciate the oomph in the glass.

Despite the robust, well delineated structure and gritty tannin, I would peg this as a early to medium term wine, though developing really well over the next 5-7 years. For my taste, I have zero problem decanting one of these and drinking them asap.

A New Classic Brunello – Albatreti

About a year ago, several wine retailers/preachers/bloggers (K&L, Garagiste) all simultaneously started raving about a new producer in Montalcino, making Brunello and Rosso on a tiny plot just South-west of the town, at one of the higher elevations in the appellation. The vintner Gaetano Salvioni, was a hobbyist until the 2009 vintage, and with his 2010 vintage began to make waves. The prices were rock bottom, the style classic and pure, the only problem was availability as Mr Salvioni only makes about 5,000 or 6,000 bottles.

I managed to get my hands a few of his 2009 and 2010 Brunello, and the 2009 Rosso. As 2010 resulted in famously structured and long-lived Brunelli, I decided to open up his 2009s. My notes are below, but the take home is should you see these bottles, grab them with both hands. The prices are astounding for Brunello, and the quality is sky-high in a very unpretentious, character filled manner. You will find all the hallmarks of Brunello in these wines, wrapped in a pure classic style that does not appear to making a statement or trying too hard.

 

Albatreti 2009 Rosso di Montalcino

2009 Albatreti Rosso di Montalcino

This one needed a ton of air to unwind. Surprising concentration given its Rosso designation and the color. Some browning around the edges, aroma is muddy at first, but menthol and garden herbs emerge along with an overall sauvage quality. Exceptional Tuscan personality, and a sense of terroir that immediately brings vibrant images of the landscape to your mind. Underbrush and red earth, with warm, soft red fruits.
Palate also took a few hours but found balance eventually. A mid-weight, textured, red with fine tannin that cling to your tongue. Fruit is typical, and quite subdued. My only question about the wine going for longer is the rather buried or faded fruit. Given the mix of developed tertiary aromas and still vibrant structure, this wine is at its peak. The structure and balance are quite fine for a Rosso designation.

 

2009 Albatreti Brunello di Montalcino

2009 Albatreti Brunello di  Montalcino

Garnet color, medium concentration. Nose is a shifting aroma of burnt orange peel, bright red cherry, and a nice herbal component (mint/laurel). Palate is high toned, good acid and very fine tannin. There is nothing over ripe or lush, it has good tension.
This definitely has a long-ish life ahead of it, at least another 5 years. The wine has definitely found a nice balance and is drinking well but unlike the Rosso, has not revealed any signs of tertiary development yet. Overall this is a rustic style, not the big glamorous over-oaked Brunellos chasing parker-points, beloved by the inspirations for the casts of Wall Street or American Psycho. Good wine for food and company.